"Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it's enough." - Robert Heller
9:30 P.M ; Precinct Four, Rainforest-District...
Nick and Judy had been to countless post-mission briefings before, but never had the stakes seemed so high. After having just completed their undercover sting at the Green Mill Bar, the two cops had reunited at Precinct Four alongside Chief Bogo and Chief Myreme. Now, all four officers stood before a medium-mammal's-sized computer in the building's evidence archive, intent on pooling the information they had gathered for their case. Judy sat at the computer, with Myreme standing calmly nearby while Bogo towered over the back of the rabbit's chair, staring down the monitor with a stony expression. Meanwhile, Nick was busy unsuiting himself from his wolf disguise a few yards back.
"Okay, am I gonna be the first one to point out that for as itchy as these things are, they make for a really convincing disguise?" He remarked as he pulled his real tail out from the fake wolf's tail before gingerly fluffing it out with his fingers. "I mean, I looked a crime-lord dead in the eye, and he didn't suspect a thing."
"Until you opened your mouth, that is." Bogo grumbled. "Need I remind you that you almost cost us the entire mission?"
The fox gave a quick shrug. "Okay, so he nearly recognized my voice, but the important thing is that we all made it out scratch-free, right?"
"And with a mountain of new leads." Judy added, looking over her shoulder. "The recorder in Nick's disguise picked up everything. We have more than enough evidence to make a warrant and bring down Al."
"The only problem now is finding where his organization operates from." Chief Myreme added before glancing to Judy. "You said you had a hunch, yes?"
"Not a hunch." Judy corrected. "I'm almost certain that the Rainforest-Outfit is operating out of this building."
Retrieving her phone, Judy scrolled through her photo gallery before settling on the picture she had snapped during her undercover pursuit and showing it to the two district chiefs. The picture displayed a massive tree-shaped building deep in the Rainforest-District, with steel balconies jutting from the trunk, wooden offices nestled in the branches, and doors built between the roots stretching along the forest floor. A pack of rowdy, well-dressed jungle cats could be seen entering through one of them.
Chief Myreme narrowed his eyes. "I know this building." The anteater muttered in his exotic accent. "That's the headquarters for the district waterworks."
"The district waterworks?" Nick repeated as he yanked one of his legs from the costume.
"Yes, the department that manages the flow of water in the Rainforest-District - The sprinklers, irrigation, and sewer systems. This building is their main office."
"Well, it looks like Al has turned it into his own private criminal HQ." Judy said. "The actual department offices must be a front that he's been hiding behind."
"Sounds to me like a raid is in order." Chief Bogo grunted, crossing his arms.
"It won't be so simple." Chief Myreme claimed. "The building is in the heart of the Rainforest-District. It is a place of little light and much crime. Transporting the mammals and supplies needed to conduct a raid on the building would be difficult. And that's not to mention that the enemy has the literal high ground."
Nick cleared his throat loudly as he approached the computer, having finally freed himself from the wolf costume. Judy and the two chiefs turned to stare him down.
"If I may, what do you do if you encounter a wall that you can't climb over?" He mused.
Judy's smile grew as she thought back to an old memory from the Night-Howler investigation of her digging under a fence in Tundra-Town just to make a point.
"You go under." She concluded.
"What are you two getting at?" Bogo asked.
"You said this place is a water-control facility, right?" Nick said with a smirk as he leaned on the computer desk with his arm. "What if it's connected to the sewers?"
"Ah, now that might just be the breakthrough we're looking for!" Myreme exclaimed.
"I see." Bogo rumbled, scratching at his chin. "If we go in through the sewers, we'll catch them by surprise. We could secure the whole facility from the ground up."
"That's the spirit. Who says I don't have good ideas?" Nick chuckled, spreading his arms.
"Save the gloating until after the raid, Slick." Judy chided. "We still need a few days to build a warrant from the evidence we have."
"Speaking of which, I believe you have some information of your own to share, yes?" The anteater inquired as he gestured to Nick. The fox furrowed his brow.
"Yeah, there's a few things. Apparently, Al really was behind the incident at the academy. Not only that, but he plans to strike again in three days... At Happytown."
Nick swallowed hard, letting that statement sink in. Happytown may have been the poorest predator neighborhood in Zootopia, but it was still where Nick had grown up. And more importantly, it was where his mother still lived. The last thing he wanted was for her to get caught in the middle of whatever Al had planned for the ghetto. Judy quickly took note of her partner's glum demeanor. He may have been good at hiding his true emotions, but whenever they broke through, Judy always took careful notice.
The bunny placed a paw on his shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll stop Al before then. We have three days. That's more than enough time to get our warrant."
Chief Bogo snorted through his nostrils. "If what that anonymous tip of yours said is true, and Al plans to stir chaos against City-Hall with violent protests by introducing his Night-Howler drugs into Happytown, then the ZPD will need to start gathering its forces there. We'll send in riot police and barricades to minimize damage."
"I advise against that." Chief Myreme retorted. "If we quarantine an entire neighborhood, that might ignite the very tensions that Al seeks to cause."
"So what, are you saying we should stand by and do nothing while that jaguar turns an entire neighborhood into feral beasts?" The cape-buffalo growled.
"No. But if the ZPD wishes to stop this plot before it happens, we must be discreet about it. Gradually increase the amount of peace officers stationed in Happy-"
"In case you've forgotten, Happytown is in Savanna-Central, my district of operations!" Bogo thundered. "I will handle this problem as I see fit."
While the two chiefs argued, Judy's ears flickered as she heard what sounded like a metallic shuffle nearby. She looked up to the air vent in the roof and narrowed her eyes. The bunny listened even closer, but heard nothing suspicious. She glanced away, writing it off as air flow. Meanwhile, Nick positioned his arms into a time-out gesture.
"Whoa whoa, easy there, you two." He urged to his superior officers. "We get it, you're both stressed, but now's not the time to argue."
Chief Myreme let out an exhale from his long muzzle. "You are right. Forgive us. We must focus on the tasks at hand."
Bogo gave another thick snort through his nostrils. "Agreed. But don't think for a second that I'm going to sit back and let that crime-lord have his way over my city."
"Don't worry, we won't let him." Judy promised. "We can do what we can to keep an eye on Happytown, but we should focus on trying to take down Al before the three-day deadline, and prepare for the raid while we wait for a warrant to be issued."
"I'll handle the warrant." Bogo said. "When it's ready, we'll strike from the sewers, and finally bring Al to justice."
"And I shall take care of the planning for the raid." Myreme added. "The ZPD won't get far without a map of the sewer system, and the means to access it."
"Great!" Nick exclaimed, clasping his paws together. "Then it's settled. Now, officer Hopps and I have had a long day, so we're gonna-"
"Wait, before we go, I have something else to show you all," Judy piped up. "Something I've been doing some research on, over the past few days."
The rabbit turned back toward the computer and began to type. Nick and the two chiefs huddled behind her, watching the screen as a news article opened across it.
"I've been thinking a lot lately about a series of clues I've uncovered that I think might be connected to Al's plan. When we interrogated Eugene after the incident at the academy, he mentioned that he had the help of a vampire bat - a female one - to ferry the Night-Howlers he needed to the academy. And just recently, the news has been reporting about a string of rodent disappearances here in the Rainforest-District. A few were even found drained of their blood, just like that forensic reporter we investigated in the Nocturnal-District that Vladzotz had killed. It can't be a coincidence. I only know of one vampire bat that fits those parameters."
Chief Bogo's nodded. "You're talking about that bat you fought with back in Beaverdam, aren't you? Chief Urzo told me about that."
"That's right. Lucy was her name. I remember Major Friedkin mentioned her during that briefing at the academy. Apparently, she's some kind of freelance criminal - A professional thief-for-hire with a taste for blood. Friedkin said that she works closest with the Nocturnal-Mob, though. She's also the one responsible for sabotaging the evidence archive at Precinct One. I have reason to believe that Lucy, alongside helping Al with his plan, has been attacking mice here in the Rainforest-District. And something tells me her feeding isn't limited to the jungle, either." Judy shook her head with distaste. "That bat's stomach is a graveyard."
"Don't vampire bats get their meals from hospital donations?" Chief Myreme asked. "That blood-tax bill that the city government passed long ago, yes?"
"Doesn't stop some from getting their blood fix from a fresher source, apparently." Nick muttered.
"That's beside the point. If Lucy's here in the jungle too, then we need to stop her along with Al." Judy stated.
"Two for the price of one. I like it." The fox remarked. "How do you propose we catch her?"
"Hmm. She's a lot more off-the-grid than most of the other criminals we've dealt with. I'm honestly not sure where to start."
"Her criminal profile might be a good place to start, assuming she has one." Chief Bogo suggested. "Have you tried putting her name into the database?"
"I... Haven't, actually. That's a good idea. I always figured she kept her tracks clean, but it wouldn't hurt to check." Judy muttered before facing the computer.
Within moments of typing, the ZPD's criminal database was across the screen. Judy narrowed the search field to the vampire bat species, and then typed in Lucy's name into the search bar. Instantly, a single profile popped up onto the screen. In it was a mugshot of a female vampire bat holding up a name card with the words Lucy Sang written in black marker. However, this bat looked a lot different than the one Judy had known. She seemed younger, and her eyes were reddened, like she had been crying.
"Lucy Sang... So that's her full name." Judy mused, scanning the name card. "But nineteen years old? That can't be right. When was this mugshot taken?"
"Over ten years ago." Bogo noted, pointing to the personal information displayed on the screen. Judy looked closer at the details of the bat's imprisonment.
"Says here that she was accused of killing her own brother, and spent several years in prison before breaking out and pursuing a life of crime." The bunny paraphrased.
Nick made a few tsk-tsk noises beneath his breath. "Those prison systems never do their job, do they? Always seem to make more criminals than break them."
"Lucy didn't exactly strike me as the morally-sound type, but killing her own brother? From what I've learned about her, that doesn't seem like something she'd do." Judy said.
"I don't care what she has or hasn't done." Bogo interjected. "What I'm wondering is why she's working with Al Catpone."
The bunny pursed her lips. Perhaps she'd have to do more research later. She then pulled up a separate tab showing the profiles of all five district crime-lords.
"She may have ties strongest to the Nocturnal-Mob, for whatever reason, but she's still a freelance criminal, yes?" Myreme remarked. "Maybe Catpone paid her to help him."
Nick snapped his fingers. "Just like Iluka did! You remember that?"
"Yeah, I remember." The bunny confirmed. Iluka's past shenanigans weren't exactly easy to forget.
"But I wonder why she works so closely with the Nocturnal-Mob, as opposed to all the others. You don't think...?" Nick trailed off, gesturing to the profile of Vladzotz.
Judy thought back to something Lucy had said during their fight in Beaverdam. We make a good team, him and I. "No way." She muttered in disbelief.
Nick laughed dryly. "Oh, I bet. Her and Flappy-Bat, the most twisted crime-lord of them all? A match made in paradise."
The rabbit let that statement sink in for a few seconds. She of all mammals knew of Vladzotz's cruelty firsthand. He had tried to kill Nick multiple times, after all, apparently drank mammals to death as a method of mob execution, and there were even suspicions that he had been the one behind the mysterious fire of Blackwood in the Nocturnal-District, many years ago. If he truly was working together with Lucy Sang, then their partnership was a dangerous one for the ZPD, indeed.
"It doesn't matter." Bogo huffed. "Happy couple or not, we'll do our best to take them down. All of them."
"Indeed." Myreme said. "Focusing on Al should be our priority, but that doesn't mean we won't keep an eye on these others. Your suspicions about this Lucy character match with what the ZPD has gathered, officer Hopps." He said before gesturing to Lucy's profile and beginning to read from it. "She's already been suspected of a string of rodent attacks throughout the city. Says here she has an arrest warrant for multiple suspected counts of burglary, grand larceny, breaking and entering... And one moving violation."
Nick blinked. "Huh. I guess even master criminals can't escape traffic laws."
Chief Myreme chuckled good-naturedly. "The point is, I can assure you, the ZPD has been doing, and will do everything in its power to bring the guilty to justice." He paused, stroking his chin. "In fact, this talk of local mouse attacks matches with identical reports that Precinct Four has been gathering over the past several weeks. A family of mice came in just today to provide information about a family member that had recently gone missing, you know. Perhaps they're connected."
"If you're so inclined to build on this case, then you should speak with the mice while we wait for our warrant." Bogo suggested.
"Good idea!" Judy agreed as she stood from her chair. "Where can I find them?"
"They're in the lobby, by the receptions desk." Chief Myreme explained.
"Okay, thank you! I'll see what I can learn from them and then report back to you."
At that, the rabbit began making her way to the lobby. If what Chief Myreme said was true, then Judy would be able to acquire a plethora of new info from these mice to help in her case. As she walked away, however, she couldn't help staring back at the air vent, wondering if it was really the air flow that had caused that odd sound.
9:40 P.M ; Precinct Four Air Ducts, Rainforest-District...
It'll be just like any other heist, Lucy silently told herself. Get in, get out, and profit.
Crawling her way through the air ducts in the heart of a ZPD precinct wasn't exactly something Lucy was fond of. She much preferred her heists to take place away from the police, rather than right above their heads. Her last mission of such circumstances - the arson attempt on Precinct Once - was still fresh in her mind. Burning down that evidence archive had been nothing if not satisfying. Not only had it prevented the ZPD from using the information they had gathered on the city's criminal underworld from that blackmailing rat's home, but it had also earned her a good rep with the crime-lords. Gaining favor from the most powerful criminals in the city was something Lucy understood the value of. She may have had Vladzotz's connections, on part of being his mate and partner-in-crime, but getting in good with the other crime-lords like him certainly helped.
And now, one of those same crime-lords had given her a brand new mission. Her mind pulled itself into the past, reminiscing over the objective of her latest job.
"How do you feel 'bout another mission?" Al asked as he leaned forward in his desk.
Lucy just smiled. "Like it took you long enough to ask." She said. "So... What's the new gig?"
"It involves a break-in at Precinct Four. After your little arson job at Precinct One a few months back, the ZPD has heavily tightened security in all its branches. Getting in won't be easy, but if there's anyone with the skills to do it, it's you. If you can manage to pull through with this mission, it'll throw the ZPD off our backs for weeks."
"Sweet." The bat remarked softly, smiling wide and showing off her razor fangs. "Break-ins are always fun."
"It's more than just that." Al warned. "You may use your skill-set mostly for thievin' and espionage, but I know you have the makings of an assassin as well."
"And if I do?" Lucy said flatly.
The jaguar smiled. "That's easy. You put those makings to good use for me."
He then reached into one of the pockets on his overcoat before pulling out a tiny vial of white powder and holding it up for Lucy to see.
"You ever heard of castor beans?" The crime-lord began slowly. "They have a wide variety of uses. Fur products, food flavoring, medicine... But my favorite has got to be when it's crushed into a fine powder called ricin. I like ricin. It's useful stuff. More useful than fur product. A few grains of this are enough to kill a medium-sized mammal."
Lucy stared at the vial of toxic powder with no small amount of wonder. A wicked grin grew across her face. "I see what you're getting at. So what do I do with it?"
"I want you to sneak into Precinct Four and find the office of the district chief, an anteater named Roberto Myreme. He's a real wiseguy. Been a thorn in my side for years. I've had plenty of time to do my research on him. He likes his coffee in the evenings to work late hours at the precinct. Sneak in, find his office, and pour every last grain of this ricin into his coffee. He'll be dead in a few hours. With him out of the way, the investigation will lose its spearhead and fall apart, and no one will stand in our way."
The vampire bat flapped up onto Al's desk before taking the vile from his paws and fingering it curiously. "Alright, you've swayed me." She admitted.
"And if he just so happens to be in his office at the time, or walk in on you while you're in there," Al continued flatly. "Kill him immediately."
Lucy's mind snapped itself back into the present. As she recalled, from there, she had made a joke about "winging it" if the plan went awry, which Catpone hadn't laughed at, before he kicked her out to start the mission. And now she was here, crawling through these dusty air ducts in search of the anteater chief's office. Problem was, Al hadn't bothered to give her any maps or blueprints of the building's design, so she was forced to crawl around in search of her destination. Perhaps she was winging it a bit after all. Not that she cared. She may have plotted her own heists and missions as flawlessly as possible, but when it came to paid work for stuck-up criminals too proud to do heavy-lifting for themselves, like Al Catpone, Lucy wasn't afraid to make it up as she went along. The mission was an uneventful one, anyways. If it went as planned, she'd be in and out without a sound, and the only thing she'd leave behind would be a nice serving of ricin for her target. Assassinations weren't her favorite type of jobs, given that she'd always had a soft spot for stealing shiny objects, but she didn't object to giving them her best if the situation called for it, or in this case, if her employer paid for it.
Wiggling through the ducts was a tedious job. Not only were their dust-bunnies everywhere, but the moisture in the jungle air turned the ducts into a humid, damp maze.
What I'd give for a nice bloody drink right about now, Lucy's mind complained.
After another few dozen yards of tight turns and squeezing through grates, Lucy came upon a large, open duct with multiple rotating metal fans bolted along the walls. Each blade was bigger than her entire body, and looked sharp enough to slice clean through dust-bunnies. They rotated at a slow pace, but still fast enough to leave no doubt of injury in Lucy's mind, if she were struck, that was.
Oh... So that's what he meant by tightened security, the bat thought to herself. This might be harder than I thought.
Whether the fans were for extra security or just to help clear out the thick jungle air, Lucy didn't know, but either way, they were like little else she had seen before. It would take some serious mid-air maneuvering just to avoid getting hit. But Lucy was nothing if not a lover of challenges. Without any further hesitation, the bat lept from her side of the duct and took to the air, flapping through the fans one at a time. She ducked beneath one, flew over another, and pirouetted between two more, giggling all the while. Nearly clipping her side on the final fan, Lucy stifled a yelp of surprise before landing into the next duct with a roll. After coming to a graceful stop, Lucy bent over and blew a kiss to an invisible crowd, pleased with her efforts. Letting out a sigh of relief, the bat resumed her adventure into the heart of Precinct Four.
A few more minutes of quiet crawling passed, with Lucy using her echolocation abilities to chart out her path deeper into the building. Eventually, she came upon a small grate in the side of a wall. Peeking through the metal blinds, she could see a large office with various papers stacked in orderly towers across a large mahogany desk. Definitely the district chief's office. Briefly zipping down her bodysuit, Lucy reached inside and pulled out her pair of lucky lock-picks. As it happened, they were also good for unscrewing small bolts. Lucy carefully removed the grate before hiding it in the duct and then touching down in the office. She stood up straight and stretched out her back, glad to finally be out of that tight metal labyrinth. The bat scanned over the office, quickly spotting the coffee mug that Al had mentioned still steaming atop the chief's desk. Flapping up onto its surface, she zipped down her bodysuit once more to pull out the vial of ricin Al had given her. After gingerly removing the cap, Lucy poured every last grain into the mug.
Another job well done, her mind congratulated itself.
Meanwhile, in the Precinct Four lobby...
Jogging past the reception's desk, it wasn't long before Judy caught sight of the pack of mice that chief Myreme has told her about. The rodents were milling around, nibbling on crumbs of bread and cheese, staring up in awe at the size of the precinct, and occasionally flinching at loud noises or sudden movements. They were definitely mice, all right. Approaching the pack, which she counted to be at least sixteen strong, Judy cleared her throat before kneeling down beside them to close the distance.
"Hi. Officer Judy Hopps, at your service." The bunny greeted. "I was sent to ask about your report. We think it might be connected to another case the ZPD is working on."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" An elderly female mouse said as she stepped forward and shook Judy's finger. "We've been waiting for some good news."
The other mice murmured in agreement as they approached Judy, who just smiled warmly and shook the mouse's paw, even if it was an awkward size difference.
"Okay, you can start by telling me what happened." Judy stated as she took out her yellow notepad. "Be as detailed as you can."
Once the female mouse let go of Judy's finger, she took in a deep breath before exhaling bitterly.
"I don't even know where to start... It's horrible." She claimed. "One day, my son Jeremy went out to work his nightshift, and he never returned. I tried everything - Calling, texting, emailing, but he just wouldn't answer! A few days later, the police-" The mouse trailed off, swallowing hard. "The police found his body in the jungle."
The mouse began to cry. The other mice comforted her with gentle pats and hugs, and Judy's ears flattened themselves against her back with sympathy.
"All his blood was gone." Another mouse answered, continuing the conversation. "Just like the Sleet-Street homicide from the news a while back."
Judy nodded. "My partner and I actually worked on that case." She said, trying her best not to remember Vladzotz's fanged smile, and the sound of his wine glass crashing to the carpet of his mansion as he confessed to drinking that investigative reporter to death just for snooping too far. "The culprit was a vampire bat. The ZPD has reason to believe that the mammal that attacked your son was a vampire bat as well, and we're doing all we can to figure it out. Do you know if there were any... Bite marks?"
The elderly mouse began to cry even harder, making Judy immediately regret asking. Fortunately, one of the other mice piped up. "Yeah, the cops said Jeremy got bit!"
Nodding, Judy jotted down that info on her notepad. "Do you know what street the attack took place on? And when it took place?"
"Uh, near Cloud Alley, in the Rainforest-District." One mouse said. "Three days ago."
"Alright, I have an idea." Judy announced. "I'm going to go check some video footage from traffic cameras in the area around that time. I'll be right back." She then turned toward the crying mouse. "Thank you for your courage, ma'am. We'll do everything we can to bring whoever was responsible to justice. I promise you."
The mice all shook their heads in agreement before backing away from Judy, giving her room to begin jogging deeper into the precinct. If Lucy really was the one responsible for attacking those mice, then there was a chance she might have gotten recorded by a traffic camera. With the whole world going digital, Judy had a good feeling that she'd be able to find at least some shred of evidence to build off of. Ever since the defeat of Mayor Bellwether, the ZPD had started making use of traffic footage to solve crimes more than ever before, and most precinct computers now had the ability to connect to the cameras. Now all Judy had to do was find the nearest computer, log in, and see for herself.
As she jogged deeper into the precinct, Judy passed directly by Chief Myreme's office. A strange scratching noise from inside caught her attention, causing her to stop in her tracks and stare down the door. She looked around, curious if there was anyone else nearby that might have heard the noise, but she was the only mammal in the entire hallway. Judy gingerly leaned in closer to the door and focused hard. Her sensitive ears detected the sound of a fast heartbeat inside, and light scratching noises like a set of tiny claws clicking on glossy wood. Whatever it was, Judy didn't like it, and promptly reached out to the door handle before turning it and pushing against the door.
As it swung open, revealing the chief's office, the bunny gasped, nearly unable to believe her own eyes. Standing atop the desk was none other than Lucy Sang, pouring a vial of white powder into a coffee mug. The vampire bat looked up from her work and locked eyes with the bunny standing in the doorway.
"You!" Judy shouted, immediately taking a defensive stance.
Lucy blinked, surprised by the rabbit's sudden entrance. Her shock left her as she licked her lips and smiled mischievously.
"Oh, now this should be fun."
A bit of a shorter, intermediary chapter, but I figured this would be a good place to end it. That and I also didn't want to keep you waiting for too much longer. I apologize for the time it took to get this chapter out. Real life has proven surprisingly extra time-consuming these past few weeks, and I didn't want to rush the chapter. Quality over quantity, right? But rest assured, the next chapter will be much longer, and is already over halfway done. It will be here before you know it. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this one! Seems like Nick and Judy are preparing for another raid again, aren't they? This is the second time we've had events unfold like this, with them planning a raid to take down a crime-lord holed up in some secluded place - I recognize that much - but I can assure you that the similarities end there. What's to come will be very different than the finale of the previous arc in the Deciduous-District. Just wanted to let you know, in case you were worried we're retreading ground.
In other news, I wanted to mention that this story of ours is being adapted into a comic! Isn't that awesome? If you'd like to check it out, you can find the first four pages, among other related art and details about the comic, up on my DeviantArt and tumblr accounts.
That's all the announcements I've got. Please stay tuned for the next chapter! I've been looking forward to releasing it for a long time! You won't want to miss it! It's gonna be action-packed, and full of emotional character moments that really bring things full-circle. Regardless, I thank you for reading!
'Till next time...