"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Seuss
10:00 P.M ; Precinct Four, Rainforest-District...
Judy could never get enough overtime.
Most other mammals despised it, but she had always found enjoyment from putting in the extra mile - Doing more than was required to make the world a better place. It was just a part of her personality, for better or worse. While Nick clocked out for the night to return home to Savanna-Central, Judy planned on channeling her inner nocturnal mammal to do some late-night research. Now she was alone at a vacant office computer fitted for rabbit-sized animals. In the distance, her ears could detect the voices of other officers milling around the precinct, but past that, the only sound she could hear was the occasional click of her mouse and keyboard as her fingers worked. The brightness of the computer monitor made it hard to focus on anything else around her in that dark room, but Judy wouldn't have had it any other way. Whatever helped her concentrate.
Back during the Chief's briefing about the Rainforest-District's criminal underworld, Judy had noticed a few important-looking things he had left untouched. Something about a family member of Al Catpone. With her curiosity piqued, the bunny had decided that putting in some extra studying of her own could prove a good way to help fill in the gaps. It didn't take her long to find the digital copy of Catpone's profile. She immediately clicked on the Family Members button, opening a drop-down where the picture of a young jaguar cub in a baby-blue suit acquired her attention. Albert Catpone, son of Alphonse Catpone. Seven years old. Completely unaffiliated with his father's criminal empire.
"There you are." She muttered softly to herself before taking out her mobile device.
Judy took a few pictures of the cub and all his family's information, from his crime-lord father to divorced mother. Judy had a feeling that this info would be needed for the future, especially if her and Nick ever encountered Catpone's family on their investigation. Having gotten what she needed, the bunny was just about to shut down the computer when a new thought reached her: A memory from Eugene's interrogation that morning. The mole had claimed he was assisted by a female vampire bat that had driven a truckload of Night-Howlers to the academy for him to use in his scheme, by order of Al Catpone himself. Judy only knew of one such bat with criminal ties.
Opening a new tab, Judy promptly turned to Zoogle, where she typed in the words vampire bat attack based on a hunch. A few news articles popped up on the screen. Clicking one from ZNN, the bunny was greeted with a page of info detailing a recent string of rodent attacks right there in the Rainforest-District. At least three had been bitten by a vampire bat over the past month.
A sigh escaped the rabbit's mouth. She may have no longer been that same naive little hick that Nick had once so degradingly referred to her as, but there were still times when Judy wished she could forget about all the bad in the world - All the violence, rage, and suffering. Sucking in a steady breath, Judy turned her eyes back to the screen before shutting down the computer for good. That news article more or less confirmed it - Her old enemy Lucy Sang was in the Rainforest-District, and was helping Al Catpone. Not very surprising, when Judy thought about it. As she recalled, that bat had helped Iluka and his gang of troublemaking marsupials back in the Deciduous-District by stealing from Precinct One's evidence archive for them, and torching it on her way out, costing the ZPD a lot of valuable intelligence. And now she was here, working her next job.
Judy wasn't sure what Lucy's game was, but had a feeling that she'd find out sooner or later, if they crossed paths on this case. The rabbit was admittedly hoping for the chance, if only to take that bat to jail once and for all. Judy promised herself to show Nick and the Chief what she had learned sooner or later, knowing that this information helped tie the case together, but for now, there was little that could be done, and quite frankly, she was tired enough as is. It was time to return home. Hopping down from her chair and making her way toward the exit, Judy was just about to leave when her phone started buzzing. She unlatched it from her utility belt before checking the number.
It was Nick. His icon was a goofy picture she had snapped of him during their last trip to Bunny-Burrow, trying to shove a too-large forkful of her mother's blueberry pie into his mouth. Judy allowed herself a small grin before accepting the call and bringing the phone to her ear. She immediately detected Nick's breathing on the other end.
"Hey, Nick. What's up?" She started.
"Oh, nothing much." His voice replied flatly. "Just got home for the night, brushed my teeth, and had a run-in with one of Zootopia's biggest criminals."
The bunny squinted. "Wait, what?"
It took a few minutes, but Judy listened closely as her husband detailed his surprise meeting with Al Catpone at their apartment, and how the jaguar had tried manipulating him into misleading the investigation before leaving with an ominous warning. Nick seemed particularly miffed that Al had stolen his favorite (and only) tranquilizer gun.
"I mean come on, what is it with me always meeting the bad guys alone in the middle of the night? This better not be a pattern." He groused. "And that dartgun-"
"Nick, it's okay." Judy interrupted. "I'll be sure to file a report while before I leave the precinct. You made the right choice calling me."
"Yeah," The fox grumbled. "Right now what I'm most worried about is finding a new place to stay. Don't wanna be waking up with any red dots between our eyes."
Judy bit her cheek. "We're definitely gonna need somewhere else to crash, at least for the remainder of the investigation. Any ideas?"
The other end of the line was silent to the count of three as Nick pondered over his options. "Actually, I think I do." He slowly claimed. "It might take a few days to vacate our apartment, but luckily, I know a place where we can settle down... Assuming the owner doesn't try to bite my face off at first glance."
5:00 P.M ; Three days later, somewhere in the Rainforest-District...
A soft clap of thunder roused the bat from her slumber.
Lucy Sang slowly opened her eyes, revealing the upside-down skyline of the Rainforest-District. Hanging from a vine high in the canopy, she could stare down to the forest floor hundreds of feet below, where ant-like pedestrians went about their daily routines cowering beneath glistening umbrellas. The evening was still early, but a small thunderstorm had already blanketed the Rainforest-District, providing ample shade to rest on her mission. It was difficult to resist nodding off. She stretched her jaws in a deep yawn that displayed her pointed fangs. Normally, she would have been fast asleep at this hour, cradled in the warm wings of Vladzotz, but Lucy recognized that she had a job to do.
Working during daylight hours wasn't her forte, but her latest employer - that pompous jaguar, Al Catpone - had insisted she delivered his latest batch of mushrooms before nightfall. Something about an important deadline. As much as Lucy hated taking orders, especially the kind that interfered with her sleep schedule, she couldn't deny her desire to help Al in his plan, if only to see what sort of opportunities arose from it. And so, she had accepted his call. That wasn't to say she liked the guy, though. Just thinking about him was enough to make her grit her fangs. She just hoped that Al followed through with his promise of rewarding her for all her hard work. Hanging around in this mucky weather definitely warranted some profit. Chilled raindrops slid through her fur and down the length of her bodysuit, lubricating it like wet rubber, and helping to keep her awake. It was cold, wet, and boring. Lucy wished she could be somewhere comfier, back with Vlad in the Nocturnal-District, perhaps listening to him play his organ.
At the thought of Vlad, Lucy reminisced to what he had told her a few days ago, during that meeting between the crime-lords - How the two of them could one day start a family, if they so desired. She had to admit that the idea was appealing. Vladzotz would certainly make a better father than her own ever was.
One of the bat's ears twitched, and her reminiscent smile quickly melted into a scowl. The moment was ruined.
There you go again... All these years later, and thinking about him still gets you riled up... She thought to herself.
Lucy had hated her father, and the conformative, emotionally abusive life he had forced upon her. She had hated growing up in a wealthy household that cared more about the family name than personal happiness. She had hated being the daughter of a businessmammal whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to crush her aspirations of becoming an artist. But most of all, she hated thinking about how her own family had turned against her - How they had sent her off to prison, blaming her for the death of her beloved brother when the mammal that had truly done it had walked free. They had been more than happy to cast her aside if it meant eliminating the family's figurative black sheep. It was in prison where Lucy had learned to fight, steal, and survive. It was all she could do in a world that harsh. It had helped turn her into the mammal she was today. But she didn't like to think about it, especially not now, when she was free. Yet the oppressive cold was starting to remind her all too much of what it was like in prison.
She blinked her eyes shut for a moment, and could do nothing to stop the memory as it flashed in her mind.
The metallic blare of the alarm ripped through the bat's eardrums, forcing her to wake. She'd only been in Zootopia County Prison a few weeks, but it didn't take her long to recognize the signal for lunchtime. The prison wasn't designed for nocturnal mammals, so Lucy had to get used to waking up during the middle of what was usually her sleeping hours to shuffle off in lines for food.
The drab gray walls of the prison's mess hall were about as exciting as concrete could get. The bat wished she could add some color to them, to redesign the prison to make it more appealing, and for a moment, she smiled. It was her first time smiling in days. It didn't last, though as she quickly remembered where she was - Locked up and unable to paint like she used to. Lucy sighed, taking her tray of grayish mush before sitting down at an empty table. Most of the other inmates ate very quickly, knowing that lunchtime only lasted fifteen minutes, but the bat couldn't bring herself to do anything more than poke at her food with her spoon, despite how hungry she was.
Lucy just wiped at her eyes. 19 years old and she was in prison, forced to eat mashed grub with incarcerated thieves and murderers.
A looming shadow passed over the table, and just as the bat was about to turn around and stare up at whatever was hovering behind, she suddenly felt a strong force push against the back of her head, shoving her face-first into her own tray of disgusting prison slop.
"Look what we have here!" A feminine, yet surprisingly deep spoke out from behind her. "A little baby bat flown too far from home."
Lucy shifted her gaze against the pressure on the back of her head, causing the prison food to mush against her face like mud. She forced one of her eyes to glare up at whoever was driving her head into the table, and took in the sight of a heavy-set tasmanian-devil. Her muscular body was coated in the same orange attire as every other inmate in the prison. The devil's jet-black fur was coarse and wiry, as though it hadn't gotten a good combing in several decades, and as her thick muzzle split into a smug grin, Lucy could count at least half-a-dozen cavities sprinkled throughout the devil's teeth.
"I saw the guards bring you in the other week." She remarked. "New meat, huh? Well, allow me to give you the welcome you deserve!"
The tasmanian-devil added more pressure to her grip on the back of Lucy's head, forcing her eye back down into the glop. Lucy tried squirming against her oppressor, but she was outclassed in terms of weight and strength. It was a futile effort. The devil simply let loose another slew of sadistic chortles beneath her breath before wiping Lucy's cheeks around in the mushy food like she was a cleaning up a spill. A few other nearby prisoners laughed at Lucy's misfortunate.
"Leave her alone, Beth!" One of the prisoners cried out.
"Aw, you hear that, baby bat?" The tasmanian-devil, apparently named Beth, crooned to Lucy as she slightly lifted her head out of the gunk. "You've got a friend!"
As soon as the words left her mouth, Beth slammed Lucy's head back into the tray. A brief pang of dizziness ailed her, causing her vision to blur like fog.
"Stop it!" That same inmate from earlier - a lean mongoose - demanded, reaching over and grabbing the devil's forearm. "You're hurting her!"
Snarling, Beth easily shoved the mongoose away and onto the ground, her body hitting the concrete with a light thud.
"Don't act so surprised! All you fine ladies got the welcoming treatment!" Beth stated with a cruel laugh. "It's only fair that the baby bat gets hers too!"
With another thrust of her paw, the tasmanian-devil shoved Lucy's face back into the tray. She could feel the cold, slimy substance that was supposed to be her meal forcing its way up her nostrils, and into her mouth and eyes. She wanted to cry. Where were the guards? Weren't they supposed to keep stuff like this from happening? Lucy tried calling out for help, but as one of her eyes managed to briefly rise above the edge of the tray, her plea caught in her throat, for all that she saw were scared faces and shivering bodies. Beth was the biggest, strongest prisoner in the entire small-mammals ward of the compound. No one could stand up to her. They all just sat back, watching in silence and letting Lucy suffer as Beth had her way with her. The tasmanian-devil barked another round of harsh laughter.
"You enjoyin' that sump, baby bat? No? Then ya better get used to it!"
This was the final straw. Lucy felt her eyes begin to water. She wanted nothing more than to fly away and tuck herself into her own wings, where no one could bother her. She wanted to flee from this hellhole that had held her hostage for the past several weeks, and return home to a family she knew she couldn't have. Ever since she had been locked up here, she had been trying her best to hold down her bitterest feelings: The piercing sorrow that took hold of her being when she first spotted her dear brother sprawled out, dead on the ground, the pain of being torn away from her friends and family after that fateful evening, and worst of all, perhaps; the feeling of betrayal that weighed heavy on her heart as she watched her own family testify against her during the trial, pinning the blame of her brother's death on her when the true culprit - a family friend she knew had held a grudge - had walked free. The hopelessness of it all had slowly robbed her of every last drop of happiness and aspiration that she had left.
For weeks, Lucy had been trapped in this depressive state of mind, going about her days in a trance-like state, wondering what she did wrong, and what could have been. All the while, her own emotions continued to bubble up from within. She had silently wept herself to sleep for days, knowing that her life as she had knew it was over. Never again would she be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of flying through the air without a care in the world. Her love of painting, which she had spent years developing as both a passion and a potential career, was now never to be used again. But heaviest of all, Lucy knew that she'd never be able to see her brother again.
My family...The two words resonated through her mind like the ripples of a stone thrown against a pool of water.
Her beloved brother was dead. That much couldn't be changed, no matter how much she wanted it to. But her own living, breathing family... It was they who had all of the new chances that life could offer. Yet they had made their choice of casting Lucy out, ostracizing her in favor of mourning their lost relative. Her brother had died to an ungrateful family, and Lucy had been punished for it - Sent to a place she did not belong because of a thing she had not done. They had never cared about her nor her brother.
The young bat felt her anger begin to grow. For as much as she had been harboring profound despair for these past few weeks, she had also been nurturing a burning pit of anger deep within her being: Anger at herself for not being able to save her brother. Anger at her family for throwing her under the bus. Anger at even life itself, for forcing her through such a disastrous turn of events in the span of a few weeks. In that short time, her whole world had been turned upside down, and gut like a fish.
But enough was enough. Lucy was tired of feeling sorry for herself, and she wasn't going to let this bully have her way with her any longer.
As Beth's paw smushed her face into the gunk once more, Lucy caught sight of one of her fingers as it dangled just in front of her mouth, and she knew what she had to do.
Opening her jaws and reaching out, she bit down on the tasmanian-devil's thumb. Her sharp fangs easily pierced through the fur and flesh. Beth shrieked with pain before tearing her paw away from Lucy and stumbling back, tripping over herself and landing on her tail. The surrounding crowd of inmates gasped with shock, and the laughter of the masses was no more. The bat picked herself up off of the bench before rising to her feet and stepping back nervously, her anger having faded. Lucy then messily wiped at her snout and muzzle with one of her wings, cleaning off all the prison mush as best she could.
She watched as Beth hauled herself to her feet, clutching at her shaking black paw and huffing angrily beneath her breath, temper rising by the second. "You little skank! You bit me!" She shouted before groaning in pain. A small stream of blood dribbled from her thumb and onto the gray surface of the concrete floor below, staining it bright red. "You'll pay for that!" Beth roared. "You hear me?! You'll pay!"
Lucy only had enough time to gasp as the tasmanian-devil charged and tackled her to the floor before raising her good fist up and socking the bat directly in the cheek. Pain instantly flooded her nerves, and Lucy had to resist blacking out as she tethered herself to reality; focusing on her physical body to prevent herself from going unconscious. She raised her gaze just in time for another punch to connect near her right eye, causing her vision to momentarily blur. Past the surprise and pain of the assault, Lucy knew that she couldn't stay like this forever - She had to get herself back on her feet again.
She then pulled one of her legs out from under her before kicking her attacker in the gut, causing her to cough before falling back a bit, allowing Lucy just enough wiggle room to free herself. Using her wings, she then took to the air before landing another solid kick against the devil's jaw, causing Beth to flail back from the force of her mid-air strike. As Beth struggled from the pain, Lucy flapped away, landing several feet away. She tried fleeing, but the mob pushed her back in Beth's direction before crowding around the two of them in a crude circle, forcing them together into an unmistakable fighting pit. The crowd began to take up a hearty chant.
"Fight, fight, fight!" They cheered as they forced Lucy and Beth into a tighter ring. The devil lifted her arms into a pugilistic pose.
Lucy returned the gesture; raising her own comparatively stick-like arms up to her face and balling her clawed fingers into as good of fist as she could. She admittedly knew very little about fighting, but there was little else that she could do. Beth snarled before swiftly stepping forward and throwing a solid punch directly towards Lucy's face. Being smaller and lighter, and therefore much quicker and more agile, Lucy was easily able to dodge this first strike. She tried returning a punch of her own, but was caught by surprise as Beth's other fist sailed out from the side and jabbed her in the temple, causing a throbbing pain to pulse against her skull.
Beth grinned before planting another punch into Lucy's belly, causing her to fold over around the devil's fist before falling to her knees. She sputtered weakly, resisting the urge to vomit. Lucy then wretched horribly, and would have emptied her stomach were it not completely empty. The hoarse, dry heaves strained against her throat, and the bat began to feel more tears well up in the corners of her eyes. Her body was in pain, and she knew that it was still not over. The tasmanian-devil then threw her foot out in a strong kick that connected directly to the bat's chest. Lucy's ribs ached with agony as fell to the ground.
Her opponent was simply too strong. And as the devil leered over her with fists raised like clubs, for a moment, Lucy feared that she was going to die.
Then another sound pierced the air: A powerful, rumbling spur like a chainsaw. Lucy's looked up to see a small army of prison guards descending upon their location. One of them had a gun filled with rubber bullets, and judging from the flaky impression on the nearby concrete wall, must have fired a few of them as a warning.
"EVERYONE GET DOWN, NOW!" One of the guards yelled. "BACK AWAY!"
All of the prisoners quickly dispersed, with some running away and hiding beneath tables while others dropped to the ground entirely as armored guards of hares and ferrets pummeled the crowd into submission. Past the chaos, Lucy locked eyes with Beth, who snarled at her with hate before lowering herself to the ground. Despite being new to prison life, Lucy knew better than to disobey the orders of heavily armored guardsmammals. She tucked her palms behind her head before laying down on the ground along with the other inmates. The bat sighed with both relief and disappointment.
The guards cuffed them both, and Lucy swallowed nervously, wondering what sort of punishment they might inflict upon her. Ignoring the devil's withering glare of anger, Lucy was ordered to march down the hall alongside the other guards, no doubt to whatever harsh lecture awaited her for breaking the rules. The bat's eyes were still somewhat red from her earlier tears, and the pain in her chest leftover from Beth's strikes began to return, but Lucy kept her cool, focusing on her other senses in an effort to ignore the pain.
It didn't take long for her to notice the blood dripping down her lips and pooling against her teeth. She realized it to be the remnants of Beth's blood, from when she had bitten her on the thumb. Lucy dabbed it with the tip of her thin tongue. It tasted... Good. Really good. She lapped up the substance, relishing in the sweet iron taste before swallowing it in a single gulp. It was unlike anything she had ever tasted before. In the past, she'd only been able to taste blood during special occasions with her fellow vampire bat family, and even then, the city itself provided it through donations gathered from hospitals. Beth's blood tasted fresh, and sweetly flavorful, like a metallic wine.
Something about it was indescribably thrilling. As the aftertaste slithered between her tastebuds, Lucy felt a slight smile grow upon her lips, exposing her bloodstained fangs. Despite all the pain and sorrow of these past few weeks, the bat allowed herself this single smile shaped from the taste of her enemy's blood. She enjoyed it.
Lucy opened her eyes as another muffled thunderclap shook her from her daydreaming.
She sighed, wings gripping against her body a bit tighter. It was moments like these when she wished she wasn't alone. The bat remembered her time in prison clearly - All those years spent behind bars, honing her skills before she had finally made her escape, taking to the streets of Zootopia as a professional thief. So much time spent locked away had also honed her appetite for blood. After her first taste of fresh blood from that bully's paw, she had started drinking from other prisoners in their sleep, taking just enough to satisfy her urges. But each time she struck would only cause her to drink more and more. With disgusting prison meals being her only alternative, blood became so much more to Lucy than just a food source - It became a symbol of freedom and rebellion. When she broke out of prison, she never shied away from an opportunity for a free drink, mostly from dozing mammals in households that she robbed, though there was the infrequent mouse that she attacked on the streets at night.
Lucy may have never fulfilled her dream of becoming an artist, but she still loved to make paintings every once and a while. At least Vladzotz liked them. Perhaps going to prison had completely screwed-up the life she had known before, but it had led her to where she was now, as a successful criminal with a life free of chains, and that was something she would never regret. It had also led her to meet Vladzotz, and that was definitely something she'd never regret. If there was any mammal in this cruel world that Lucy truly loved, it was him. He made her feel safe and appreciated, treated her like a real mammal rather than some tool or monster, and reminded her that for as cruel as life could be, that joy could still be found from it, and she was happy to share that joy with Vlad.
Past all that she had grown to cherish, however, there were still times when Lucy could practically feel the cold of the prison causing her fur to rise. The bat shook her head.
"I gotta get my mind off the past. I-" Her words were cut off as a loud rumble emanated from her stomach. "I need a bite of something." She panted.
8:00 P.M ; Rainforest-District...
"Surprise!" Nick greeted as the door creaked ajar, spreading his paws with a smile.
Finnick's flat expression remained unchanged as he slammed the door in Nick's face without hesitation. Judy glanced up to her husband skeptically.
"Great start." He muttered before knocking on the door again. "C'mon, Fin! Don't be like that! Can ya open up?"
It had been three days since Nick's run-in with Al Catpone. Throughout that time, he and Judy had spent just about every waking moment discussing and following what little leads they had on their case. The evidence seizure from the soup kitchen was a start, but there was still progress to be made, and as both officers knew all too well, not every case came quickly. Past the professional problems and into the personal ones, however, the two of them were still in need of a safe place to stay during the remainder of the investigation, and Nick had assured his partner that no mammal was better than his old pal Finnick. Nick had promised her that he'd be able to help on their case, and also provide a place to live right in the Rainforest-District, close to where they'd be working. Judging by their current situation though, it wouldn't come so easy.
"Nick, I don't think this is working. We should just go stay in a motel." Judy advised. Ignoring her, Nick stepped closer to the door, and cleared his throat.
"Fin, look, I know it's been a while, but we really need your help. Our home... It isn't safe. You were the first one I thought to that could help us out. You're my main mammal, you've always been! And the truth is, if we don't find somewhere safe to stay soon... We might be in danger. So please... Help us this once. Open the door, Fin."
An uneasy silence filled the air. Somewhere behind the door, Judy's ears detected a faint sigh. The door creaked open once more.
"Alright, fine." Finnick relented, peeking through the crack. "I guess you can crash on the couch, or something." He grumbled.
The fennec spent about eight seconds unlocking the door - One after the other until it finally swung open, and the two officers stepped inside. The apartment's interior wasn't any less crummy than the exterior. It was small, with a creaking wooden floor in every room except the kitchen, where the tiles were a cracking checkerboard. Crushed soda cans and dirty gym clothes littered the floor. Stacks of used bowls were piled around the entry, and a couple potted flowers sat wilting around the windows. As usual with most structures in the Rainforest-District, vines crept along the walls and ceiling, and there were a few roots crawling across the floor, making nice stubs to trip on.
"Don't touch my stuff." Finnick warned, pointing to a pile of dirty clothes. "You might release a toxic fungus from the floorboards and kill everyone in the house."
Judy chuckled nervously, unsure if he was joking or not. She stared around the apartment, taking note of the grease stains on the kitchen walls.
"This place isn't half bad!" Nick exclaimed. "Better than living under a bridge, at least. Also better than living in that nasty old van. How'd you get it?"
"Well, I didn't wanna live in my van forever, so I took some of the money we had leftover from our connin' days," Finnick began, briefly glancing to Judy, who just frowned in disapproval. "And used it to buy me this apartment. I've been trynna... Tone down on the, uh, business. Ya know, get out of the life, and make myself an actual life."
The bunny leaned down and opened a nearby cooler full of Pawpsicles. She raised an eyebrow pointedly at Finnick.
"What?" He grumbled. "I said I was trying."
"Old habits do die hard." Nick added. "And hey, that Pawpsicle scam was pretty good."
"Yeah, it sure was." Finnick grumbled as he tromped into the living room. Nick's charming expression melted. He could hear the bitterness in his old friend's voice.
"I'm gonna go unpack and take a shower..." Judy started. "Assuming this place has any running water. I'll let you and Finnick do some catching up."
She gave her husband a reassuring nod before setting out to find the bathroom. Nick allowed himself a momentary smile before turning back to their host. He watched as Finnick opened up the Pawpsicle cooler and plucked out a soda. He then picked up a TV remote from the floor before plopping himself down in a comparatively large beanbag chair and turning on the sports channel. Nick repeated the act - Grabbing himself a soda and then sitting in another beanbag beside him, watching the colors from the screen flash across the fennec's muzzle like a kaleidoscope. He was admittedly surprised that Finnick had allowed them to stay, especially with nothing in it for him.
Nick wanted to say something, but for once couldn't find his words. What could he have said? It had been months - nearly a full year - since he had last even spoke to Finnick, and after living with him for near of a decade on the streets, that sort of lack of communication wasn't appreciated. That, and he was pretty sure Finnick was still mad at him for becoming a cop, even after all these years. Instead, Nick just sat staring at the screen, though his mind wandered elsewhere. It didn't take long for memories from he and Finnick's glory days to resurface, ranging from successful cons to heated arguments. But the day they first became partners was the one that stuck out the most.
Nick had managed to corner a mouse in an alley near Little Rodentia, and was just about to sell one of his stolen toy-like cars to him when Finnick had inconveniently shown up.
"I got that same model for 950 bucks!" The sand-fox piped up, showing his own car. But Nick wasn't about to let an easy sale get away - Not when his life was on the line.
"900 bucks!" He countered. The red fox grinned smugly to himself as the rodent began to approach the tiny car.
Finnick wasn't done yet, however. With hostile eyes narrowed at his rival, he pushed his own car forward.
"I have a 100-dolla' instant coupon ova' here!" He lied. "That makes it 700 bucks!"
The mouse stopped, looking back and forth between the two foxes and counting on his fingers as he realized Finnick's calculation didn't add up correctly.
"His cars are as bad as his math." Nick said with a chuckle. "You can't trust him! Tell ya what, you can have this car for 600 bucks. It runs like a dream, I promise you!"
"200!" Finnick suddenly shouted, desperation lacing his facial features. Still, he tried to hide it behind a toothy smile. "Plus a free wash!" The fennec added.
He then spat on the windshield before wiping it down with the palm of his paw. The mouse's jaw dropped with horror.
"You see?" Nick interjected, scooting forward with his car in hand. "That guy's nuts! And he has rabies! 150 bucks for mine, final offer. It's disease-and-spit-free!"
As the mouse scampered over toward Nick, he thought that he had finally won him over, that was, before Finnick stomped his foot and cried; "Zero!"
"I'll take it!" The mouse squeaked in a high-pitched voice.
He then hopped in the car, started the ignition, and drove off; tendrils of Finnick's saliva still streaming from the sides of the windshield. Nick shot to his feet, growling beneath his breath. Finnick just threw his head back and cackled harshly, clearly more satisfied with showing-up Nick than making a profit.
"For free? Seriously?" The red fox snarled. "What's wrong with you?"
"A lotta things." Finnick replied flatly, as if he were asked that question a lot. "Now unless you wanna buy a tiny car, get lost!"
Angrily picking up his own mouse-sized car, Nick was just about to whack his rival over the head with it when a large white limousine pulled up to the nearby curb. The red fox swallowed nervously, recognizing the vehicle to belong to Mr. Big. Sure enough, two flabby polar-bears in black running-suits stepped out of the limo's front before opening up one of the side doors, revealing the arctic-shrew himself as he lounged in his tiny chair, of which was perched atop the regular-sized seating of the limo's interior.
"Your time is up." Mr. Big announced. "I'm here to collect what you both owe me."
Nick's previous anger evaporated. Finnick owed Mr. Big too? He hadn't known, and judging by the look of fear on the sand-fox's face, it must have been true.
"Uh..." Finnick started. "I've been, uh... Havin' some trouble. Will you accept-" He muttered before reaching down and picking up his mouse car. "-This?"
Mr. Big looked unimpressed, sitting in his sleek, pristine limousine built for mammals hundreds of times his own size. He then sighed, as if he were disappointed.
"I had faith in you, I really did." The shrew murmured. "A shame it has to come to this." He said before nodding at one of his polar bear lackeys and flicking his wrist.
"Wait, wait!" Nick interjected, making a time-out pose with his arms. "What if I told you we could double the money we both owe you by sundown?"
The crime-lord seemed to consider this. "Go on."
Nick's mind shook itself back into the present. The memories from the rest of that day had been a bit of a panic-induced blur, but he did remember some things.
After that proposal, it had been hook, line, and sinker. Nick had convinced Mr. Big to give them another chance, and combining their conning skills to work together, the two foxes had managed to double their owed money by the end of the day, and even had some leftover for themselves. Betting against Mr. Big in those horse races had been a mistake, but it had all worked out. From that day onward, Nick and Finnick had worked together as partners-in-crime, pulling off their largest cons as a team. However, that day wasn't just marked by the formation of their lucrative friendship, but also by the start of Nick's relationship with Mr. Big, solidifying his place in the crime world for good. Over time, Nick developed a stable partnership with Mr. Big, eventually even being welcomed as a full-member of his crime syndicate, complete with celebratory cannolis.
For a while, Nick had rode the wave, hoping to establish a seat of power for himself that would keep him in riches for years. Little did he know, at the time, was that organized crime was a dangerous step up from petty street grifting. It was only a matter of time before Mr. Big had came to him with the demand for a job to prove his worth: The arson attempt on Castle Fangpyre. It was only then that Nick had realized he had gotten in too deep. This world wasn't for him. He had reluctantly agreed to the job, hoping to gain one last bit of favor with the Tundra-Town crime-lord before he backed out of the syndicate for good. It had been the biggest mistake of his life, and he would grow to regret ever associating with Mr. Big and his mob. He just thanked his lucky stars that he was able to get out of that life before it fully consumed him. The skunk-butt rug incident certainly helped speed things along, even if it had further tainted his relationship with Mr. Big, afterwards.
Thankfully though, even with his hazing in the form of the failed arson job, and the skutt-butt rug incident, it seemed that Mr. Big was more than happy to forgive and forget after finding out that Judy Hopps had saved his daughter's life in Little Rodentia. Nick was beyond thankful for the coincidence that saved his own life. And now, thanks to all those lifesaving coincidences, here Nick was, all these years later, sitting around beneath the same roof as the two closest mammals in the world to him. Judy would always be his partner and wife, but Nick could never forget the friendship he had sparked with Finnick, even if it was testy and money-driven, at times.
The red fox glanced over to his smaller counterpart, and finally found the words he wanted to say. "Thank you for letting us stay here, Fin. You really helped us out."
"Tsch." The fennec scoffed. "Don't mention it." He grumbled before sipping from his soda, not taking his eyes off the game.
An awkward moment of silence ensued. Nick let it fester for nearly ten seconds before he spoke out once more. "Are you still mad at me?" He started.
"What for?" Finnick asked with a uninterested tone.
"I don't know, for leaving you and becoming a cop. I know it was a long time ago, but I did leave pretty suddenly, and you always have seemed kinda... Hurt by it."
Finnick's gaze drooped as he let out a sigh. "I was mad at you for a while, but not anymore." He claimed, fiddling with his soda can. "Ever since you took up the blue, I've been doin' pretty well on my own. S'not as easy, goin' solo, but it still works. Plenty of suckas out there. I guess I never needed you after all."
"Ha ha, very funny." The red fox grumbled, grinning slightly. Finnick lifted his head and smiled at him, though quickly retrained his gaze back to the floor.
"I'm not gonna lie to you, Nick, as annoying as you were, sometimes I wish we could get back together again... You know, like the old days. We were a real team."
"Yeah, we sure were." Nick sighed, but then perked up. "You know, if you'd really like to get back together like the old days, you could always join the ZPD."
Finnick barked a laugh. "Do I look like the kinda mammal that'd make a good cop?"
Nick shrugged, though not without his favorite half-lidded grin still plastered across his muzzle. "I dunno, did ya ever think I'd make a good cop?" He countered.
The sand-fox titled his head. "Touché." He muttered before taking another sip from his soda. Another moment of silence followed.
Nick broke it with a dry chuckle. "Well, maybe being a cop isn't your thing, but a consultant?" He paused, tilting his head. "Might be a possibility."
"What makes you think that?" Finnick grumbled, to which his former partner shifted a bit closer in his beanbag.
"Because you know everyone around here," He jabbed a finger at the smaller fox. "Don't tell me you don't! I know you do. You're a con-artist, Fin - The kind of mammal that talks to others, makes connections, knows the streets. Even if you're trying to cut back on the cons, if you're living here in the rainforest, then you must know something."
Finnick narrowed his eyes. "What are you trynna say?"
Nick smirked. "Just that I think you might be able to help Hopps and I on our case."
"What could I possibly offer you?" Finnick spat. "And a better question is why?"
"Why? Because I know that somewhere in that two-foot-five body of yours, there's a heart. I've seen it before. Hopps and I are tracking some really bad mammals, and we need all the help we can get. And that leads me to what you can offer: Intel. You're a well-connected mammal, Fin. I was once too, but things have changed since I became a cop. But you're still you, even if you're trying to tone down on the hustling. I think you might be able help us figure things out by giving us leads to follow."
Finnick shifted his weight uncomfortably in the beanbag. "I dunno, Nick... I'm not a snitch."
"Fin, I'm not asking you to tattle on your conning friends." Nick asserted. "I'm talking about real organized crime. Drugs, guns, murder - The kind of crime that really hurts innocent mammals. All I'm asking is for you to help us by reporting whatever you might know. I know you, Fin. You're not a mobster. You're not a true criminal. But you know mammals who are, and mammals that have ties to them." He reached out and placed a paw on his friend's shoulder. "If you think you know anything, tell us."
Nick let that statement sink in for a few seconds. He could sense the reluctance clouding the air, and feel the tension in his friend's shoulder.
The fennec just sighed. "Alright. I'll let you know if I remember anything. But if this comes back to bite me, I'll be biting you!" He promised, causing Nick to smile.
"There's the Fin I know and love. Don't worry, you'll just be a consultant from here at casa de pigpen. No danger involved. We'll be doing all the heavy lifting."
Finnick chuckled dryly. "Now that I can drink to."
"Is it something you can toast to?" Nick offered, holding out his soda can.
Finnick grinned, and the two foxes clicked their drinks together before chugging them in unison and then crushing the cans against their foreheads, like a ritual that had been repeated and perfected dozens of times in the past. Nick wasn't certain of the future, but had a feeling it would be fruitful with his best friend by his side once more.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Rainforest-District...
Al Catpone had always considered himself somewhat of a father-figure to his henchmammals.
He had always strived to be both boss and mentor to those under his employ. To see them up in a rut over his decisions, however, was something new to him. Holed up in one of the more furnished rooms of their jungle compound, the jaguar kept his temper under check as he watched his head interrogator pace around in frustration.
"You visited Nick Wilde and didn't kill him while you were there? What's wrong with you?!" Pazzo roared. "You should have yanked his spine out through his mouth!"
"Easy, Pazzo," Al warned, his soft words a stark contrast to the tayra's screams. "Nick Wilde would be of no use to us dead. Better to leave him alive, at least for now."
"I say we kill him!" Pazzo growled, clenching his fists. "It's bad enough you took this long to tell us. We should go back there and make an example outta-"
The tayra's rant was cut off as his boss grabbed him by the collar and yanked him forward. "I call the shots around here, you understand?!" Al hissed, his breath so close that it parted the fur on his minion's face with each word. "If you so much as lay a finger on any cop without my permission, I'll bury you deeper than the Nocturnal-District!" He then shoved Pazzo forward, causing the tayra to trip over his tail and fall to the ground. The jaguar loomed over him, staring down at the jungle weasel with intense green eyes.
"Consider this a warnin' to all of you!" Catpone declared, jabbing a claw at the crowd. "We play this thing accordin' to the plan. No deviatin' unless I say so! Got it?"
"Y-Yes sir!" Many of them stammered. Pazzo just spat onto the concrete floor and shakily raised himself to his feet. Al glared at him until he reluctantly nodded.
"Good. Don't be forgettin' that." The jaguar grumbled. "You need to understand that I visited Nick to see if I could convince him to help us. He didn't budge, but it doesn't matter. I planted the seeds of doubt in his head, and still think he might be useful to us. Besides, we have other ways of influencing the investigation, anyways."
The sound of a door being thrown open filled the room. "Sir!" An ocelot shouted as he barged in. "That bat you hired is here!"
Catpone snorted dryly through his nostrils. "Speakin' of which." He muttered to himself before lumbering toward the door. "I'll be in my office. Send her my way."
With her latest mushroom delivery strapped to her back, Lucy touched down on the metal overhang of Al's compound. The building was shaped like a giant artificial tree, with live vines climbing up the walls. From the balcony, the dark skyline of the Rainforest-District stretched as far as the eye could see. Lucy flapped her wings a few times, shaking the water droplets from the skin between her elongated fingers before turning her attention to the ovular opening in the building. Inside, a small crowd of mobsters ranging from big cats to pigs were busy lounging around a table, playing cards. Their eyes looked down at the bat as she approached, unslinging the backpack from her shoulder.
"You have to get invited in first, don't ya, vampire?" One of them piped out. The crowd of mobsters all laughed boisterously, thwacking each other on the back. Lucy just smiled.
"Usually I just let myself in." She retorted. "It's the curse of being good at my job. You should try it sometime."
Without another word, the bat waltzed past the pack of mobsters, green eyes trained on the hallway in front of her. She walked down it for a short time before eventually reaching Catpone's office. Not bothering to knock, she jumped up to the handle, pulling it down and unlocking the door before slipping inside and closing it behind her. The office was dark, with a cheap chandelier hanging above and a few dimly lit candles strewn throughout the room. The smell of tobacco lingered in the air, and trace amounts of smoke could be seen curling near the ceiling. There were a few expensive-looking paintings hanging around the walls of the office, which Lucy could admittedly admire, being both an artist and an art thief. The back wall was one large window, where the nighttime skyline of the Rainforest-District could be seen just barely peeking through the floor-to-ceiling blinds. Sitting behind his desk, Al Catpone stared down his visitor with a hard gaze, paws resting calmly atop the armrests of a tall black chair.
"Sorry I'm late." Lucy began, taking note of Al's displeased expression. "Well, not really, but I saw a tasty-looking mouse on the way here, and just couldn't help myself. Don't worry, I only took a few sips."
The jaguar grimaced. "I have no idea what Vladzotz sees in you." He confessed.
Lucy just tilted her head to the side. "More than you." Was all she said before carelessly tossing her backpack onto his desk. "Brought your mushrooms, by the way."
Al leaned forward and opened the pack, sniffing it once before reeling back in disgust. "You sure did." He grumbled before zipping the bag back up. It was then that he noticed a few red droplets splattered against the outside. "Is this blood?" The jaguar asked, locking eyes with his guest. "I presume it's not yours."
"Oh, some of it must have gotten on there when I was wrestling with the mouse. Prey doesn't always go down without a fight... Or a mess." Lucy replied, licking at her lips.
Catpone glared at her with a dumbfounded look. "This is sloppy. Are you tryin' to risk our entire operation?"
"Hey, you do realize I can't survive without at least some blood, right? I usually get it from Vlad when he's feeling generous, or whoever he's interrogating on any given week," Lucy let out a giggle. "But as delicious as he is, there's just something about drinking it after a hunt, straight from the body, warm and fresh..." Lucy trailed off, wrapping her wings around herself and rubbing at her sides, eyes closing shut in reminiscence. "Mhmm." She shuddered, one thigh rubbing softly against the other. "It-Is-Great."
Al just dropped the bag onto his desk, unimpressed by the vampire bat's fawning. "Right. Just don't do anything that'll draw too much attention. You're our link to the Nocturnal-District, and as of now, our only supplier for these mushrooms that we need as an ingredient for our formula. We can't have that supply line severed."
Lucy snapped out of her daydreaming. "Yeah, yeah." She muttered, placing her wings on her hips. "Oh, that reminds me, when are you gonna fork over my reward?"
The jaguar nodded, wordlessly reaching into a drawer on his desk before pulling out a thick wad of cash and tossing it to the bat below, who caught it in her claws.
She quickly sifted through the stack. "Hey, this isn't even four thousand bucks! That's not even half of what you promised me for the truffle-running! What gives?"
"Relax, I'll pay you more on your next visit." Al assured, waving one of his paws in exasperation. "Besides, this is a long-term agreement - Not one of your one-time heist jobs. You need to get used to being paid in more than one sitting. You won't be getting those Apex-Affluent samples I promised until our mission is done, either, as we need all the doses we can spare for the remainin' steps in our plan. Once the plan is finished, we'll be able to offer you a few, but until then, just keep doing your job."
Lucy sneered, internally fantasizing about putting Al through a series of theatrical death traps, but otherwise didn't object.
"Fine." She said as she pulled on the zipper running down her bodysuit and stuffed the cash inside. "I'll be taking this anyway." The bat huffed before zipping herself back up. "I'm thinking a nice spa day to relieve all the stress of working with a certain incompetent employer." She mused, patting her chest with both wings. "What do you think?"
Al snorted. "Don't call me incompetent. I'm still the one payin' your salary, here." He stated, causing the vampire bat to roll her eyes and cock her hip to the side.
"Please. I can make twice what you're paying me on my own time, plotting heists with Vladdy. The biggest reason I'm helping you is because I wanna see what happens if you succeed! And as for being incompetent, well, you couldn't even convince Vladdy and Mr. Big to help you out in your time of need, could you? I wouldn't call that capable."
"Comin' from a freelance thief." Al countered. "I still haven't entirely forgiven you for that ten grand you stole from me seven years ago."
"Yeah, and I'm real broken up about that." Lucy taunted, examining her polished clawtips.
"That safe was supposed to be uncrackable!"
"Oops." The bat purred sarcastically. "Nobody told me it was uncrackable."
Al just sighed with exasperation as he slumped back in his seat, massaging the spot between his eyes with his fingertips. "Workin' with you is such a pain."
"Just be glad I didn't sink my fangs into your neck when you insulted me and Vlad at that meeting the other day. That would have been painful. Now tell me what's next."
Catpone looked up. "What's next?" He repeated, causing Lucy to roll her eyes.
"The next step in your plan, obviously. I want to know more, because if you don't tell me everything, then I have no reason to keep your best interests in mind."
A chuckle broke through the crime-lord's mouth, admittedly surprising the bat. "You know what you want, don't you? That's good." Al said. "Don't worry, I was actually just about to get to that. I have plans to make more use of your... Particular skill-set." The jaguar leaned forward on his desk. "How do you feel 'bout another mission?"
The bat gave him a fanged grin. "Like it took you long enough to ask."
I hope you enjoyed this latest chapter! It was definitely a real character-driven one, but the action will resume soon. I should also point out that that one flashback scene with Lucy also appears in Bloodlines, a story about her origins written by my friend MindJack, who I got permission to use it from, so if you're interested in reading more directly about Lucy's past, then feel free to check that story out! I should also note that the bartering scene with the mouse cars was inspired by an official comic on how Nick and Finnick first met. So, what did you think of the bits on Lucy's backstory and scenes, and Finnick's return? I'd love to know! Regardless, I thank you all for reading, and hope you stay tuned for the next chapter, coming your way soon.
'Till next time...