"You might want to slow down there a little, Slugger," a worried Nick Wilde said to his partner Judy Hopps as she guzzled her drink. "You've had a bunch of those things and the game hasn't even started yet . . ."
Ah, the game! The hottest day of the year always heralded the annual charity baseball game between the Zootopia Police Department and the Fire Department. Billed as a "friendly sporting event", history had proven the intercity clash was never friendly, rarely sporting and pretty much always an event. The slow simmer of trash-talking between the ZFD and ZPD usually started months before the game, fueled by big egos and a long list of grievances accumulated throughout the year between the two departments. By the time the game actually arrived, each side was spoiling to settle scores, real and perceived.
The local sports writers started warming up their adjectives about a week before the game; "fiasco" was popular, seconded only by "farce" and "debacle". Comments from the businessanimals whose shops ringed the stadium tended to be unprintable, but if they weren't looking forward to the game, they were in scant company. For the rest of Zootopia, the game was much-beloved excuse for an epic piss-up that served a noble cause. Even after the skims, pay-offs and insurance deductibles, the game would put Zootopia Children's Hospital in the black for another year along with every liquor store within a 10-block radius of the stadium.
Tickets sold out instantly in equal parts to supporters of the ZFD, and a contingent that knew a good excuse to drink and be rowdy when they saw it. Conspicuously absent were the supporters of the ZPD, generally because the the ZPD supporters knew trouble when they saw it.
By tradition, the Zootopia Fire Department fans dressed in yellow shirts while ZPD fans wore blue and Nick had noted the stands seemed to be a sea of yellow as he took his seat a couple of rows behind home plate.
Judy looked up at the fox with a huge, lopsided bunny grin on her face and green margarita slush on her nose. "Aw, it tastes good and they're skimpy with the booze this time. No one wants a repeat of last year."
Nick looked down at Judy and snatched the cup away from her. "What happened last year?" he asked, taking a sniff of the drink.
"Overtime, lots of overtime - now gimme that back!" she replied, making futile grabs at the red plastic cup.
The fox wrinkled his muzzle as the astringent scent of cheap tequila made his eyes water.
"Hey, Carrots, I think this drink is a few shots of Senior Jose Hangover's Almost-Agave tequila and an eyedropper full of limeaid. How many of these have you had?"
Judy held up three fingers and announced, "Four!" then looked cross-eyed at her hand.
Nick groaned and put the cup back in her hands. "Both paws now, Fluff, you wouldn't want to spill that classic cocktail."
The little bunny took a big gulp. "S'good," she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her paw.
"You'd think they'd do this when it wasn't a thousand degrees out," Nick said, squinting at the brilliant blue and cloudless sky.
"ICE COLD BEER! GETCHER ICE-COLD BEER HERE!" barked a beer vendor. Spying an easy mark, he made a beeline for Nick. "Hey, fox, what'bout you? You look like you could use an ICE COLD beer about now . . ."
Nick looked over to Judy, who was upending her drink into her mouth. A dollop of green slush dropped into her mouth and then nothing. Annoyed, she held the cup above her head and gave it a good shake. The rest of the drink splashed down on her face. She turned, befuddled, and blinked at Nick. He groaned again, then turned to the beer vendor and held up one finger.
"One beer for the fox, coming up!" the vendor said cheerfully, opening up his red cooler. "Tallboy of Bore's it is. That'll be 25 cents, Sir."
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a buck. "I just have a one, could I get some ch -"
"Four it is, Sir! Lookit the big spender for the ZPD here buying a 4-pack!" the vendor called out to the animals seated nearby. A whole lot of animals in ZFD shirts turned in Nick's direction.
Nick sunk down into his seat, forfeited his dollar and put the four tallboy cans in his lap. A peanut flew by his head. Carefully he opened one of the beers: a crisp crack and then foam, lots of foam. Putting his mouth over opening, he sucked down the froth, and then took a sip. Then he took another, and then a third. It was indeed ice cold. So cold that he couldn't taste the beer, but it cut the heat wonderfully.
"Hey, Carrots, isn't 25 cents for a beer kind of cheap?" he asked the rabbit, licking the foam off his muzzle.
Judy was eyeing her cup for structural defects that would explain why her face and shirt were dripping with melted margarita. "It's a promotion; they do it every year. Besides, it's not beer, it's Bore's. I'd drink those quick because if there's anything worse than a cold Bore's, it's a warm Bore's," Judy said.
"Never let it be said that I passed up advice on alcohol from a drunken bunny," Nick said and took another couple of swallows of cold beer. Despite Judy's learned advice, Nick found the brew to be quite appealing - if he drank it quick enough.
Judy hopped over him and into the aisle, bound for the lady's room. "Don't let 'em start the game without me, Nick! And remember: ZPD RULES! WHOOOOO!" she called out and hopped her way up the stairs.
"A little louder, Fluff, I don't think they quite heard you on the other side of the stadium . . ." Nick muttered to himself, feeling about a thousand pairs of ZFD eyes boring into the back of his head. He consoled himself with a few more swallows. For a moment, he studied the can. "Bore's Malt liquor: 14% Pure Malted Goodness." then near the bottom of the can, "Required Legal Disclaimer: Not for Veterinary Use."
"Huh," was his studied opinion of the disclaimer. "Not a vet, doesn't apply to me."
"LADIES AND GENTLEMAMMALS, PUT DOWN YOUR BEERS AND RISE FOR OUR NATIONAL ZOOTOPIAN ANTHEM," came a deafening voice from the loudspeaker two seats behind Nick. He quickly slammed the rest of his beer and stood up. Solemnly, he put his hand over his heart as a peanut bounced off the back of his head.
"We ask that you please refrain from throwing things or booing until after the song has completed. Thank you," the announcer continued. "Now, from the Zootopia Police Department . . ."
"BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" the yellow shirts in the stands cried out to a mammal.
". . . Officer Francine . . ."
"GET OFF THE STAGE!" hollered a cheetah wearing the yellow ZFD t-shirt.
"BEFORE YOU BREAK IT!" cat-called a pig dressed in the same shirt.
Rude laughter and hoots followed, but Francine soldiered on:
"Zoo-topia / Oh, Zoo-topia / I have always been your son . . ." Francine began, her unamplified elephantine voice filling the stadium as she belted out the song. Uneasy silence followed as reverence for the anthem momentarily won out over hooliganism. It was still early, so no need to get too crazy yet.
By the time Francine had finished to a smattering of weak applause, Judy was back and Nick was opening his second beer.
"All clean, Fluff?" he asked, looking at her freshly-washed face and paws.
"I had to use the men's room — the line for the lady's room was around the block — but I got my shirt clean, too! And the nice Oryx at the drink stand gave me one on the house!" she said triumphantly, holding aloft another red plastic party cup filled to the brim with green slush.
Nick looked over at her with alarm, "You went in the men's room and took your shirt off?!"
"Hey, I'm wearing my sports bra, see?" She lifted her shirt over hear head and flashed her black bra.
The fox ACK'd in surprise and quickly pulled her blue ZPD shirt back down. Too late, as he heard the distinct sound of laughter from all around him. He hiss-whispered in Judy's ear, "No men's room, no lifting your shirt and no more of those!" He stabbed a finger at the rabbit's drink.
Judy turned her head and stuck her tongue out at Nick. "Ok, whatever, Officer Buzzkill," she giggled.
"Rambunctious rabbit," Nick muttered.
Meanwhile, down in the ZPD bullpen, Chief Bogo was issuing marching orders.
"We will NOT have a repeat of last year," the buffalo said in his sonorous voice, "whatever happens, the ZPD will not throw the first punch. I'm looking at you, Delgato. Now, everyone's wearing their cup, correct?"
The team nodded in unison.
Bogo grunted in approval. "We don't need a repeat of -that- little incident. We're going to play a good, fair game. No bean-balls, no thrown bats, no body-slams into home. Do I make myself clear?"
The team nodded in unison.
"Let's go," Bogo said and lead his team onto the field to a lusty chorus of boos and peanuts.
In the other dugout, ZFD Chief Langford was firing up his players.
"We will NOT have a repeat of last year," the moose began, "whatever happens, the ZFD will not lose the fight. Now, how many of you are drunk?"
Paws and hooves shot into the air.
"And how many of you are FIGHTING drunk?" he asked enthusiastically.
"AYE!" came the reply from every animal in the bullpen, including the batboy.
"Good!" Langford said, "Remember, make them throw the FIRST punch and we'll throw the LAST one!"
With that, Langford led his team onto the field to rowdy applause and cheers.
Thus, a year's worth of animosity, gripes, minor feuds and un-settled scores took the field for nine innings of pure catharsis.
Things started out well enough in the first inning with the ZPD scoring two RBIs while the ZFD kept stranding players on second base. Having a giraffe for an outfielder didn't hurt the ZPD any, either. A feeling of good-natured rivalry settled in, fueled by the warm glow of potent margaritas and cold beer.
Nick and Judy settled into their seats, both enjoying a good, solid buzz. Nick slurped his third beer while Judy lapped at the dregs of her drink. Even the peanut-pelters had knocked off for the moment.
* CRACK! *
The second inning opened with a mighty hit from Francine that sent the ball flying out of the park and possibly out of the Zootopia city limits. As she pounded around the bases, following two other runners, something in the crowd's mood started to change. A little grumbling from the yellow-shirts; the game looked like it was already slipping away only two innings in. Perhaps measures were required — but not quite yet. There was still time and still beer to be consumed.
Two more innings dragged on in the heat and the ZPD continued to make a fool of the ZFD's slow-paw cheetah pitcher. The antagonism game wasn't working in the ZFD's favor, either. To their credit, not a single ZPD player rose to the bait of near-miss pitches or jeering cat-calls. Each stepped to the plate and did their duty. It was a brilliant strategy which only made the loaded ZFD players seethe more. The 9-2 score didn't help matters, either.
In the stands, Nick and Judy were oblivious as the mood darkened among the ZFD fans. Nick was on his fourth beer and feeling very relaxed. Judy was simply out cold with her ears flopped over her eyes and her hands folded around the plastic cup in her lap. The fox leaned over and peered into it: empty as the tomb. He shook his head.
"Bunnies," he said with a slight beer burp.
Judy's ears shot straight up and her eyes snapped open. She turned to Nick and asked accusingly, "Did you just call me cute?" Her breath was a blast of alcohol and lime.
Nick shook his head, "I did not. On my honor."
The rabbit stood up on her seat looked back at the sea of ZFD supporters. "I'll bet one of THEM did," she said, narrowing her gaze as she appraised the crowd. A number of them looked back at her with open disdain.
"SIDDOWN, RABBIT!" a rhino shouted at her, and then flicked a peanut in her direction. Nick instantly cringed: he didn't need to look back to know what color shirt was being worn. He put his hand atop Judy's head and pushed her back down into her seat.
"No one called you cute and little mouths can start big fights," he said in his even, controlled demeanor, "How about we watch the baseball game — look, we're winning."
He hadn't gambled on Judy's reaction:
"WHOOO!" she shouted, standing back up on her seat, "Zootopia PD RULES!"
The hail of peanuts was instantaneous. One entered Nick's ear and he shook his head to dislodge it. The motion left him slightly dizzy and for the first time, he realized he was what was best described as completely buzzed.
Judy, on the other hand, was feeling no pain and certainly no fear. She was naturally spunky and fearless; the booze just made her more so and added an edge of fiestiness.
"Don't you throw peanuts at my partner! He's a fox, not an elephant!" Judy shouted at the seats behind her as legumes continued to fly.
Nick grimaced and grabbed her tail. "Car-rots," he said in a near whisper, "let's not antagonize the nice animals . . . they're bigger than we are."
"I'M NOT AFRAID OF NO MAMMALS!" the drunken bunny yelled out, making Nick sink all the way down in his seat; he began to wonder if he'd filled out a will or not. But he was able to drag Judy back down in her seat again.
Another resounding crack and three runs were batted in. The score was as out of reach as Mars now and the crowd knew it. Deprived of a close game, the beer-filled yellow shirts began to seek other entertainment: they'd had their bread, now they wanted their circus.
ZPD had held firm against an increasing onslaught of base-bumps, near-misses with thrown bats and increasingly lewd and rude chatter that generally involved every female in the family, from mother to wife to daughter. But the incessant needling, combined with the heat, was getting under the entire team's fur. Bogo hadn't said anything about growling.
Things took a bad turn when the team's raccoon officer took the plate. The only small mammal on the team, he stood steadfastly as the cheetah on the mound called out, "Look sharp, Trash Panda!" and hummed a sinker within an inch of his head.
"DON'T PUT UP WITH THAT KINDA CRAP, TRASH PANDA!" Judy yelled, then oopsed. "Sorry!"
The rest of the team growled and grr'd at the pitcher, who reciprocated with another brush-back pitch. Two more near misses and the raccoon walked to first base.
"Nice batting there, Dumpster Diver!" Langford yelled from the ZFD dugout.
"LET ME TELL YOU WHY THAT'S BULLSHIT!" Judy drunkenly hollered from her seat at the opposing coach, only to find her mouth covered by Nick's hand a second later.
"That's not very becoming language for a lady, especially one as – OWWWW! You BIT me!" Nick jerked back his hand and looked to see if Judy had drawn blood.
"You've got some chompers on you, Carrots," he said, shaking his hand. "Your mouth had better be clean . . . oh, what am I talking about: you've been drinking tequila-flavored mouthwash since we got here."
Judy grinned toothily at him before being pelted with more peanuts. She scowled and looked around for the miscreant who was chucking snacks at her. The rhino sitting two rows back pocked her between the eyes with one and smirked. Judy's draw dropped at the audacity of the action and she said, "Nick, that rhino just hit me with a peanut!" in utter shock.
"Whatcha gonna do about it, Rabbit?" the rhino in the yellow shirt laughed. More peanuts hailed down on Judy as she looked on aghast that anyone would ever throw peanuts at someone as sweet and lovable and drunk as her. Then her ultra-sensitive ears picked up "Peanuts! Getcher peanuts here!"
Holding up a finger, she said "Be RIGHT back" and leaped over the boozy fox.
"Peanuts, fresh peanuts here! Get 'em while they're - AHHHHH! JESUS-GOD, GET HER OFF ME! HELP!"
A moment later Judy returned with a triumphant smile - and a huge bag of peanuts. Nick said nothing, he just high-fived her. Now well-armed, Judy plotted her revenge, which consisted of flinging handfuls of nuts at the rhino while ducking his return fire.
"Oh well," Nick muttered to himself, "it keeps her occupied . . ."
The game continued.
Now Chief Langford sensed the edginess in the crowd and knew his moment had arrived. He nodded to his lack-luster pitcher and smiled. The cheetah with the lame curve ball nodded back and grinned at Snarlov as the huge polar bear took the plate and cocked his bat back.
"Easy run!" Bogo shouted from the dugout.
Scuffing the dirt on the mound, the pitcher drew his arm back, lifted his leg and launched a missile of a fastball. Snarlov barely had time to blink before it beaned him in the side of the head and sent his helmet flying into the stands.
Every animal in the ZPD dugout stood up.
"Don't you do it . . ." Bogo warned menacingly.
"Chief," Wolford said almost apologetically.
"Don't you DARE do it," the chief snarled.
No one gave the message to Snarlov who all but leaped the distance between home plate and the pitcher's mound, knocking the cheetah onto his butt with a single punch.
"BOOOOOOOOOOOO!" The crowd in yellow came into full voice. Bogo turned around to see what happened and his team suddenly swarmed out of the dugout. They knew Bogo's wrath would be implacable tomorrow, but today, there was safety in numbers – and there was payback to be had!
The ZFD had no such illusions of restraint. They piled out of their dugout, led by an angry moose, and stormed the diamond. The two sides crashed into each at mid-field and the punches started to fly. Instantly, the entire stadium came to their feet with a thunderous roar! At last, the game they came to see had begun!
Bogo looked back into the dugout and saw the lone figure of Delgato, looking dejected as his team-mate administered beatings.
"I promised, Chief," the tiger said.
Bogo looked over his shoulder at the fracas and then back to Delgato. "50 bucks and no parking duty for a month if you take out Langford," he said, then turned back to the fight. The tiger rushed by in an orange-striped flash, locked on the moose who was busy trying to punch Snarlov's lights out.
For Nick, the sight was one of horror. Behind him, around him, much bigger animals in ZFD shirts were screaming their lungs out and throwing anything that wasn't nailed down onto the field. Some were already jumping over the crowd barrier to join the melee. He crouched as low as he could go in his seat and prayed for holy beneficence in getting out alive.
Judy, extremely-drunken Judy, on the other hand experienced an epiphany equal to Christmas, her birthday and the opening of the Arc of the Covenant all in one. Her eyes opened wide and a crooked smile blessed her face.
"Sweet cheese and crackers," she said in awe, "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" She sprung from her seat and bolted onto the grass, running right into the heart of the fight!
"What's the matter, Bogo, can't take a punch?!" Langford yelled from the edge of the fray. The last thing the ZFD chief saw were a huge tiger and a little bunny both delivering haymakers at the same time.
As the moose collapsed in a heap, Bogo smiled and said, "Apparently you can't either." Delgato gave his boss thumbs-up right before a trouble-making lion in a yellow shirt punched him in the nose.
Judy vanished into the riot.
"Hey, fox!" the rhino yelled from behind Nick, "Your rabbit is about to be squished into a bunny-burger. You might want to go save her!"
Nick has always subscribed to the "better to be named Live Coward than Dead Hero" school of thought, but when he saw the brawl, he knew Judy was in quite a bit of danger. Huge animals were busy clobbering each other and a little rabbit could easily get stepped on - or worse. In all the ruckus, he lost sight of Judy and he sat dizzily upright.
"C'mon, Copper, before they wheel her out on a stretcher," the rhino chided.
Nick leapt to his feet and made a more or less straight beeline onto the field, desperate to save his partner.
"Judy!" he cried out, passing fallen mammals — some knocked out and others merely winded — aiming for the huge crowd gathered at the pitcher's mound. An elephant staggered by in the opposite direction with a huge blood smear on his yellow shirt. Nick swallowed hard, wondering if that could be all that was left of Judy. He was about to ask the pachyderm if he'd seen the rabbit when two lions in blue blind-sided the grey-skinned mammal and proceeded to pummel him. Nick quickly stepped by the fighting trio, eyes and ears on full alert. The crowd on the mound grew and he knew that if Judy was in the middle of that, she was in deep trouble. He steeled himself, ready to take whatever blow was necessary to rescue his partner. But as he got closer, he realized everyone's backs were turned to him. The entire fight had come to a screeching halt.
Nick poked his way carefully through the much larger animals until he found Judy.
The feisty, roaring-drunk rabbit was ringed by huge mammals and throwing punches like crazy — not that any were connecting. Her nose was bloody and her shirt was off. In her black sports bra, the toned lapin kept swinging wildly at opponents only she could see. The real mammals simply looked on in bemusement or confusion at the scene before them.
"Who wants a piece of this?! Huh?! Who's ready to go here?!" Judy sputtered as she continued to throw roundhouses at her imaginary foes.
"Nobody touches the bunny," a bloodied Fangmeyer said. There seemed to be a mutual agreement on this point.
Nick broke his way into the circle, approaching the pugilistic Judy.
"How'bout the fox? Can we beat up the fox?" one of the ZFD leopards asked.
Bogo waded through the crowd. "No one touches the fox, either." The water buffalo's bulk and reputation were enough to put to rest any thought of stomping Nick into paste. "Officer Wilde, would you please escort your partner out of the park?" he asked politely. Even Judy stopped swinging as she looked up at her boss.
"Time for you to get home," Bogo said to his rabbit officer.
Nick took his partner's paw and walked smilingly past the beaten and bloodied mammals. As soon as he was clear, he looked backed and watched the entire fray suddenly start anew. A rousing cheer went up for Act 2. Wisely, he and Judy quit the field and walked to the nearest park.
Nick found a shaded bench and sat down. Judy woozily sat beside him. His buzz had decreased to an even, comfortable level.
"Nick," she asked, laying her head on his lap. He reached down and scratched her lightly between her bunny ears.
"What, Fluff?" he asked.
"Do you love me?" she asked back.
"You're drunk and I'm drunk. I'm not answering that question in this state," he said.
"Well, I love you," she said. Nick's heart swelled with emotion. "And I love him, and her . . . I love everyone!"
Nick just had to laugh. "I'm sure they appreciate that, Carrots."
A few minutes passed in silence. Judy breathed deeply while Nick continued to scratch her, this time on the back the neck.
"Nick?" Judy asked.
"What, Fluff," Nick asked again.
"Would you hold my ears back?" she asked.
Nick looked down and shrugged. "Sure, Carrots." He pulled her ears up gently. "Why do you want me to . . . oh, no!"
The little grey rabbit shuddered and heaved, losing her drinks with fabulous (and copious) aplomb - all over Nick's lap.
"Ahh," he said with a wan smile, "The perfect end to the perfect day."
He patted Judy's back sympathetically and said, "I am never going to a baseball game again as long as I live."
"There's a football game in November," Judy groaned before performing another Technicolor yawn, which at least was over the edge of the bench.
"I suppose I'd better buy tickets now, then," he said with a foxish grin, trying to ignore what was seeping into the fur on his thighs.
"Naw," Judy said wearily, "it's against Tundratown Precinct 3; those guys just want fight. And they make their drinks too strong."
Nick hmmph'd, "Well, we shan't be attending that little foray then, shall we?"
A couple more minutes passed in silence, then Nick looked at his phone.
"Well, would you look at that," he said in bemusement, "Final score: 16-5, but Langford is tweeting that the ZFD won the fight. Take your victories where you can, I guess . . . Fluff?"
He looked down and saw that Judy's eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply. He picked her up and carried her cradled in his arms as he looked for a taxi.