Hello, my fellow Zootopians!

Sorry for the delay, but the weeks before Easter are always chock-full with things I need to do - singing mostly. Over the course of the last weeks, I had no less than five concerts to take part in, plus one church service where it was my duty to be the cantor. My voice was a bit strained after that ordeal, but apart from that, everything's fine ... for a change!

Well, almost everything.

My mother-in-law who, to everybody's surprise, had been able to deal with her husband's death two years ago much better than everybody had assumed, is in hospital right now, and she's in a really bad shape. It's quite possible, maybe even likely, that she won't be alive anymore by the time the next chapter is published. She's 95 years of age, and to call her frail would be an understatement. When I got to know her, almost twenty years ago, she was weighing in at about 140 pounds, which is plenty on a five foot frame. Now, she probably weighs in at about 90 pounds, soaking wet, maybe even less. I guess that's all you need to know about the shape she's in right now.

Like they wrote in the "Washington Post" in 1982, quoting a young man named Tony Daniels: "Life's a bitch, then you die."

My wife will be down in the dumps, that's for sure!

*sigh*

Anyway, back to the story!

This chapter underwent a complete transformation during the writing process. It started as a small doodle which did little more than explain a few things, but then I started pondering on the plot and realized that a major shift in focus is in order. You may not realize it yet, but things are going to change massively, and it won't take all that long. The shift in focus has in fact been in the pipeline for a long time, but it should have started much later. But it seems I was getting ahead of myself a bit, so I need to tackle the stuff now, otherwise I might end up with a big old mess.

With that being said, it still is little more than a transitional chapter which takes care of some topics that came up in some of the reviews I received. I just want to cover all the bases, and the way I see it, several things just need explaining. But don't worry, action is to commence ... soon ...

These are the stats of the story thus far: Almost 33,600 views, 269 reviews, 163 favorites, 248 alerts. Your continued support keeps staggering me! Thanks a lot to all of you!

I received reviews from these dedicated mammals: J Shute Norway, Combat Engineer, Dirtkid123 (Your wish is my command!), Loop (Conversations between my wife and me usually are quite similar, which is where I got the idea from.), my Spanish buddy, niraD, tweiler18, HawkTooth, jgk641, and Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps. Can you see my bow of gratitude? Probably not. What a shame! Anyway, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!

It was, again, tweiler18 who found the "Dark Knight" quote. At one point in the movie, Bruce Wayne is told by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), that "some men just want to watch the world burn." Particularly in regards of the state of the world today, I find myself being reminded of that very same sentence quite often - it has to be one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. Be that as it may, congrats to you, tweiler18, for spotting that one!

Two quotes, however, are still unaccounted for. One is a line from a song, and another one can be found in the movie "X-Men - The Last Stand." Curious to see if somebody manages to find them!

The disclaimer can be found in the first chapter.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Caught, But Not Caught

They've got to catch me if they want me to hang.

AC/DC: "Back in Black" (Written by Malcolm Young, Angus Young, and Brian Johnson, from the album "Back in Black," Albert/Atlantic, 1980)


Looking at her wristwatch, Judy made a face. It wasn't her fault, she knew it, still she hated being late.

But what could she have done? Billy had given her the call so late, well after the computer shop KayDee worked at had closed for the night, and the trip from Savanna Central to the Rainforest District, while not exactly a long commute, still took almost half an hour, even when traffic wasn't that dense anymore.

Making the turn onto the parking lot in front of the computer shop, she saw that KayDee was already standing outside the building, but to Judy's surprise, she wasn't alone. A rather small male aardwolf was standing next to her, holding a cigarette in one paw while holding an umbrella in the other one, under which he and KayDee were standing. Both seemed to be engrossed in an animated conversation, and if their respective postures were any indication, they were enjoying themselves, despite the weather which, even for Rainforest District standards, was positively appalling - it was raining buckets.

Coming to a stop next to them, she waited for KayDee to walk over to the car - while Nick and Judy had bought a booster seat which allowed her to drive a car which was slightly too big for her to handle, she wasn't tall enough to be able to lean over and reach the passenger door. KayDee had to open the door by herself.

KayDee looked at the convertible with a puzzled expression. Judy shrugged in such a way that KayDee would be able to see it. KayDee shrugged as well, then she turned towards the aardwolf, who had also looked at Judy, a smile on his face. The two mammals shook paws, then KayDee sprinted over to the car, opened the door and literally jumped into the seat. "Water, water every where! Yuck!"

"What do you expect?" Judy replied with a smile. "This is the Rainforest District."

KayDee grinned. "You're not Billy, alright." She shook her head, showering Judy with a few droplets of water in the process.

"Hey, watch it! I've showered already," Judy said with a grin.

"Wussy!"

"And what do you mean? Of course I'm not Billy!"

Now KayDee chuckled. "Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink."

"Is this some kind of secret code or something?"

"You're not interested in literature, are you?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Driving off the parking lot, she merged with traffic. "I'm a cop, not a bookworm."

"That's obvious." KayDee made a pause. "But seriously, where's Billy?"

Judy shrugged. "He gave me a call, saying that something came up at work."

"Isn't there always something?"

"Sometimes it does seem that way, yes."

"Thanks for picking me up!"

Judy gave a grin. "That's what we do at the ZPD."

"Yeah, right! Makes me sound like a damsel in distress."

"A young lady standing under an umbrella in the pouring rain, waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up? Nah, I don't think this qualifies."

"Did you ever have emergency calls like that?"

Judy chuckled. "One day, a young kit gave us a call, complaining that his father was a criminal. When Clawhauser asked him about the nature of the crime, he replied, and I'm not joking here: 'He won't allow me to watch TV.'"

KayDee guffawed. "For realsies?"

"You can ask Clawhauser if you want. He'll certainly have more stories like that in store."

"I think I'll do that. Ever thought of writing a book, collecting the funniest stories you hear about or experience yourself in the line of duty?"

"I don't think I could. Most of the stuff is not for public eyes anyway."

"Ah. Figures."

Judy made a turn towards Savanna Central. "May I ask who that aardwolf was?"

"Of course. That was my probation officer."

"That was Isidore Saint-Hilaire?"

"You know him?"

"Sort of. After Nick and I had given your boss a dressing-down for harassing you, we filed a report, and ..."

"Wait a minute, you filed a report?" Upon Judy's look, she added: "I thought this was just a friendly turn, seeing that Nick and I go way back."

Judy gave a smile. "To be honest, when you told us the story, I didn't consider you an old friend of Nick telling us about her grief. And neither did Nick. To us, the fact that you're an old friend of his didn't even enter into it. The moment you told us what a nice chap your boss really is, you were just a citizen filing a complaint, and that was the moment it turned into just another job for two police officers. So we went to Cavia, and the first thing we did was flash our badges, thus making it official police work. And since that's the case, of course we had to file a report, or rather, Nick did. This report was sent to Mr. Saint-Hilaire as well, as per regulations. So he gave us a call, asking us about the details."

"I see. That's the source he was talking about. That's why he was here today."

"What happened?"

KayDee grinned. "Let's just say that I'm no longer obliged to work for that asshole."

"Not? That's surprising. Why?"

KayDee shrugged. "At around half past five pm, Saint-Hilaire showed up unannounced. He had done that several times in the past, so I wasn't thinking too much into it. He asked me how things were, and I told them that they were mostly fine. 'Mostly?' he asked, and I simply shrugged and said that the workplace environment could certainly be better."

"Wait a minute, didn't you tell me that there was no more harassment?"

"There wasn't, but ... let's just say that respectful treatment still was in really short supply." She sighed. "About the only good thing that happened was that my tools finally stopped disappearing."

"Still the belittling nicknames?"

"Sometimes, yes. But when you're a fox, you get used to this at one point. Believe me, I suffered worse in prison."

"What did Saint-Hilaire do?"

"He simply nodded, walked over to Cavia's office and disappeared in there for some fifteen minutes. Then, suddenly, the door opened again, Saint-Hilaire came out, walked over to me and simply said: 'Pack your stuff, we're leaving.'"

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

"Did he tell you why?"

KayDee smiled. "He did. Seems like Cavia had, for some two months, given him at least one phone call every other day, claiming that I was violating my probation on a regular basis."

"Which you haven't, I presume."

KayDee snorted. "Certainly not. I told you, this is my only shot at redemption. I will not violate my probation, come hell or high water."

Judy nodded. "Didn't think so. Saint-Hilaire didn't think so either, right?"

"At least he told me so, yes. He did mention a source which had told him that I had accused Cavia of harassment. Your report, I guess."

"You can bet it was."

"Anyway, Saint-Hilaire told me that he had asked Cavia for proof, which he obviously wasn't able to give. Which was the point when Saint-Hilaire accused Cavia of still harassing me on a constant basis, but by different means. In Saint-Hilaire's own words, that rules Cavia's shop out as a place where probationers like me could find work. And that's the end of it."

Judy looked at KayDee, who returned the look with a grin. "Which suits you fine, I guess."

"It does. On top of that, I have a few days off now, until Saint-Hilaire finds a different place to work for me. Which might take a while, he said. But, and I'm quoting him here, there are always options."

"So no more commutes to the Rainforest District."

"At least not for the foreseeable future." KayDee stretched languorously. "Somewhere dry, warm, and nice would suit me fine."

"That's not for you to decide," Judy reminded her.

"I know, but ... can't you let a girl hang on to her dreams?"

Judy grinned. "You could work for the ZPD, you know."

KayDee's smile vanished. "What?"

"You could work for the ZPD, or rather it's IT department. It's woefully understaffed, given the fact that it needs to take care of all computer systems in all ZPD precincts. They could certainly need another mammal capable of ..."

KeyDee interrupted her. "Do I look like someone who wants to become a cop?"

"You wouldn't need to become a cop. There are a lot of civilians working at and for the ZPD. Logistics, catering, IT maintenance, forensics ... the number of civilian employees working at Precinct One is surprisingly high. Simply because it's more effective to have a master electrician work on faulty wiring than a police officer who only knows how to arrest criminals."

"You would want me to work with the fuzz? Me, a convict? An ex-prisoner?"

Judy shrugged. "Rocky's an ex-convict, too, and Nick sure has his shady past to deal with as well. Heck, there are at least four other officers working on the roster right now who have a history of juvenile delinquency. Freddie Delgato, for one, was well known for bullying smaller and weaker mammals in his youth. And given the fact that he's a lion, that was virtually all mammals he came across." She made a turn onto the road leading towards the climate wall separating the Rainforest District from Savanna Central.

"Really?"

"Yup. But then he took up judo, which he credits as the place where he learned how to control both his power and his temper. And to make up for the mistakes he made as a kid, he pursued a career in law enforcement. But he obviously was quite the different beast in his youth. And now, he's deeply ashamed that he was." She looked at KayDee. "So, you working at the ZPD, that would hardly raise any eyebrows."

"Thanks, but I don't think I'm enough of a do-gooder to even get near the ZPD."

Judy shrugged. "It was just a suggestion."

"And I appreciate it, believe me. But one, it isn't for me to decide where I will work next, and two, no, I can't see myself working with the fuzz. Not now, not ever."

"Sorry, but I just have to ask, why the resentment?"

"When half a dozen police officers raid your home, arrest you in a borderline violent manner and confiscate all your belongings, it tends to color your perception. In a not-so-comfortable way." She looked at Judy. "Truth be told, it's fortunate that you don't wear your uniforms when you go to work. When this rhino, uh, McHorn was his name, right? When he turned up in his full uniform, it almost freaked me out."

"He was just returning some Blu-ray disks he had borrowed."

"I know, but it was still weird." KayDee reached for the car's radio.

"You know that Nick just listens to ZNN's news channel."

"Yeah, but seeing that I haven't been able to listen to the news yet, and seeing that the radio stations never play the stuff I like, that's fine with me."

"You haven't been listening to the news?"

"No. While there's a radio at Cavia's workshop, it's never used much. The other idiots working there just pop in music CDs even you would probably not like very much."

Judy gave her a look. "Be prepared for some major shock then."

"What do you mean?"

"This morning, a cheetah turned savage at a kindergarten. She killed several kids and adults until Rocky was able to bring her down."

KayDee's chin dropped, and she just stared at Judy. "A cheetah turned savage?" she finally said after almost one minute of silence.

"Obviously."

"Was it the Nighthowlers again?"

"Probably. As far as I know, nobody knows for sure yet."

"Damn!" She put her head against the headrest. "Back then, I was still in prison, as you know. You can't imagine how scary it had been. After you found the missing predators, tensions were very high. A lot of prey mammals were running about, threatening to solve the 'pred problem,' as they called it, by their own means."

"There probably were way more herbivores in there than carnivores, right?"

"Of course. About ten times more. There were just four predators in my cell block of almost fifty mammals, including me. And given the fact that more than half of the inmates had a history of violence, there was a very real sense of threat in the air. I got away scot-free, probably because there was one particular rhino who had taken a liking to me, somebody with such a scary reputation, nobody dared to mess with him. Others ... weren't so lucky."

"There were scuffles?"

"Do you call it a scuffle when a zebra bashes in the face of a black panther? I don't."

Judy looked at her for a second. "I see. The guards had their paws full, I guess."

"That's one way to put it." With a quick movement, she turned the car's radio on. "Let's get this over with."

Immediately, a female voice filled the car's interior. "... we have little more than the statement released by 'The Sun.' As of now, there has been no confirmation from the ZPD, although it is rumored that Chief Adrian Bogo will address the press tomorrow morning."

Another female voice took over. "Is there any information regarding the possible suspect?"

"There are contradictory reports. The only thing that can be said with certainty at the moment is that there was an incident at ZPDs Precinct One. Apparently, the place is in complete lockdown. But as far as the nature of the incident is concerned, information is sketchy at best."

KayDee stared at Judy. "An incident at Precinct One?"

"First time I hear of it."

The reporter continued. "If 'The Sun's' information is indeed accurate, however, it seems that we are looking at another attempt at poisoning predators to turn them savage."

"So it has been confirmed that the savage kindergarten teacher was poisoned with Nighthowler serum?"

"There has been no confirmation by any officials at this stage, but it virtually is the only possible scenario that is mentioned around here."

"Thank you for your update on the situation. That was Belinda Reeves for ZNN. After the incident at a kindergarten in Savanna Central, it was reported by local newspapers that another mammal turned savage this evening. We will keep you informed on all further developments. And this sums it up for tonight's Echo of the Day. For ZNN, I'm Sophie Haas. The clock strikes seven pm. Time for the news."

A short jungle was played, then a male voice took over. "The Zootopia News Network ... The news. My name is Patrick Davenport. Good evening. The number of casualties caused by a savage cheetah at a kindergarten has risen to nine. Newspaper reports claim that another predator turned savage at ZPDs Precinct One. Day four of the World Climate Council Summit ..."

Neither KayDee nor Judy were listening anymore.


"And the place really was in complete lockdown?" While saying this, Nick looked through the oven door's window at the tart he was preparing.

Immediately, a male voice broke forth from the telephone propped up against a toaster. "Well, as complete as we could have made it. Which obviously wasn't complete enough."

"So he escaped."

"That he did. Found neither hide nor hair of the guy."

"That's terrific news," Nick said in a humorless voice. Upon hearing some noise from the garage, he added: "Hang on, I think Judy's back."

And sure enough, a few seconds later, Judy burst through the door, obviously in great haste. "Did you hear the news?" she said.

Nick pointed at the radio, now switched off and silent. "Of course I did, probably about the same time you did."

"Do you know who it was?"

The voice from the phone piped up again. "Yeah, but you won't like this very much."

"Is that you, Adimar?" Judy asked.

"It's me, yes. Are you seated?"

"Why? It's that bad?"

"You could say that. It was Ben, Judy."

Judy froze on the spot, all color was draining from her face. "You cannot possibly be serious."

Adimar Mastiff sighed. "Unfortunately, I am very serious, Judy. Ben went savage. Right when your old friend Gideon Grey was here for his usual delivery of leftover doughnuts."

"Was Gideon injured?"

"No, Brian McHorn evidently pushed him out of harm's way. So Ben attacked him instead."

"Ben attacked Brian?"

"Yup. Gave him a nasty slash on the thigh, but the cut's not too bad. Delgato managed to tackle him, but even with the help of Fangmeyer, Rhinowitz, and Trunkaby, they weren't able to pin him down. Until Bogo shot Ben with a tranquilizer."

"Bogo himself?"

"Yup."

"Let me guess, he needed a black dart to do the job", Nick said deadpan.

"Nick!" Judy shouted. "He will not have used a black ..."

"You're perfectly right," Adimar interrupted her. "He used the Black Death." Judy stared at Nick open-mouthed while Nick just closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. "How did you know?" Adimar added.

"We were at the hospital today, just when they brought in the injured mammals from the incident at the kindergarten. That's where we met the new recruit who was at the scene. She's an old friend of Judy. She told us that even shooting the cheetah with a red dart didn't bring her down. So, logic dictates that the Chief shot Ben with a black one."

"You know, Nick, sometimes that clinical mind of yours gives me the creeps," Adimar said.

Nick shrugged. "Guess Bogo's in tatters now."

"Oh, he pulled himself together quite nicely, but how would you feel if you shot one of your subordinates, someone you like very much even, with a potentially very deadly weapon?"

"I would probably feel quite lousy."

"How's Ben?" Judy asked.

"Armando is taking care of him. As far as I know, he put him in a drug-induced slumber. Don't know much else. We were quite preoccupied with looking after the culprit."

Nick nodded. "Of course. You caught him on camera, I guess."

"We did."

"So you got him?" Judy asked.

"Actually, no. He was nowhere to be found."

"Hang on, if you caught him on camera ..."

"Carrots," Nick said in a patient voice, "there may be 47 cameras at Precinct One, but it's quite the big building, and there are tons of corners no camera covers. I can point out at least four spots up on the mezzanine where you can stay for weeks without anyone seeing you and no camera catching you."

"Corners which allow you to watch what is happening at the receptionist's counter without being watched yourself," Adimar added. "We caught footage of an unknown guy entering the building, carrying a big duffel bag, we caught him again on one of the cameras covering the elevator on the first floor, then he turns up again on two cameras on the mezzanine, but that's all we have."

"Who is it?"

"No idea. It was a ram, middle-aged, wearing glasses. Quite slender actually, with dark fleece, almost black."

Judy and Nick exchanged a look. "Well, he could have used fur dye," Judy said.

"You think it was Doug Ramses." Adimar said. It was a statement, not a question.

"You do think the same, don't you?"

"Of course I do. We all do. But if it was him, his looks sure changed a lot since I last saw pictures of him."

"What do you mean?"

"Even when disregarding the fleece color, the mammal who entered the building was quite lean, and while Doug certainly shed some weight during his imprisonment, he still was rather stout when he managed to escape, according to the mug shots we have. If it was him, he must have lost a lot of weight in just a few months."

"Which is perfectly possible," Nick said. "I saw one of the polar bears working for Mr. Big shed some 100 pounds in less than three months, all because he wanted to impress some girl and had started pumping iron."

"Did it work?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it doesn't, but ... Anyway, we can't say with certainty that it's Ramses. It probably was, but the disguise worked well enough to render him unrecognizable."

"And you caught him entering the building, but you didn't see him leave."

"That's right."

"He must have used one of the emergency exits in the back of the building."

Judy looked at Nick. "There are four of those at Precinct One, right?"

Nick nodded. "Three of which are not covered by any camera."

"One of which he certainly used," Mastiff said. "But again, there are no leads or tracks to follow. We don't know where he was while he was at Precinct One, we don't know what he did, we don't know how he left. That's the bottom line."

"How long was he in the building until Ben turned savage?"

"About half an hour."

"That's plenty of time for him to discover all the important cameras and find a spot where none point. It's not that they're that hard to find. Most cameras are in plain sight - those around the receptionist's counter all are."

"Can we at least prove that Ben was poisoned," Judy asked.

"No, even that we can't do," Adimar said.

Judy stared at the phone. "Hang on, there are two cameras pointing directly at the receptionist's counter. Even I spotted them!"

Nick shook his head. "Yeah, but those point at the mammals in front of the counter, not at the one behind it. And since Ben usually stands in the middle of the counter, the wall behind him will have covered him completely. Right, Adimar?"

"Color me impressed," Adimar replied. "You know the building better than me, and I have more than thirty years' worth of experience over you."

"You know, when you are a hustler, the first thing you do when entering a building is looking for cameras. Prior to Judy's first press conference, when I entered Precinct One HQ for the first time, I spotted no less than 24 cameras immediately, and some ten more on my way out. Like I said, it's not that they're exactly hidden."

Judy sighed. "So the cameras show Ben only after he turned savage?"

"Exactly," Adimar said. "They show Gideon Grey talking to someone behind the counter, then Freddie and Brian join them, and suddenly Gideon starts to walk around the corner, Brian follows him and pushes him to the ground, and it's only then that Ben appears for the first time. By that time, he was already savage."

Nick nodded. "Whoever that guy is who poisoned Ben, he's very clever. He waited until Ben wouldn't show up on any camera, then he took the shot."

"That's what we thought, too."

"And what happens next?"

"Well, we put the ram on the Wanted list, although I have the feeling he's already on it. Apart from that, we can't do all that much. Armando Peralta has asked his old team for assistance again, on the assumption that we're indeed looking at Nighthowler poisoning. By the way, your brother's a member of the team, too, Judy. Saw him enter the building with Doctor Badger."

Judy nodded. "That explains why I needed to collect his girlfriend from work today."

"Ah. Well, he left some two minutes ago, so he should be with you shortly."

"Good," Nick said. "Food's about ready."

"What's for dinner?"

"Tomato-zucchini tart. An old family recipe. Want me to give it to you?"

"Tomatoes and zucchini? Thanks, but I'll pass. Sounds too vegetarian for me."

"Don't knock it until you try it."

Adimar chuckled, then he heaved a sigh. "Well, what a rotten day that has been! You're really lucky you missed out on all the fun."

"You're going home?"

"Yes. Bogo's just called off the mammalhunt for the night. We went over the whole building with a toothcomb and came up empty. It makes no sense to stay any longer." He sighed again. "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes tomorrow."

"Why?" Judy asked.

"Well, you heard about it on the radio, so somehow the story leaked out."

"Do you know how?" Nick asked.

"No idea yet, but we have a suspicion."

"Which is?"

"Did you watch the reports on the savage kindergarten teacher on TV?"

"Yes, we did."

"You saw Bogo give his statement to the press?"

"Yeah, and we also heard a lot of uncomfortable question by one particular reporter of rather dubious reputation."

"You know him?" Adimar made a pause. "Look who I'm talking to! Of course you do."

"Well, I don't," Judy said. "You're talking about that horse, right? Who was that guy?"

"That was Damdin Takhi," Nick replied. "Works for 'The Sun' and has a solid reputation of relying more on fake news than real ones. And of course spreading them. To him, everything's fair game as long as it increases the circulation."

"You don't know half of it," Adimar said in a rather dark voice. "One hour after the kindergarten teacher turned savage, Takhi went public with an interview which confirms his opinion that the teacher went savage without being poisoned."

Nick narrowed his eyes. "Interesting. Which in turn means that there indeed is a poison involved, that there are several mammals behind this, with one of them probably being Doug Ramses, and that Takhi is in cahoots with them."

"Yeah, that's what we think too. He was trying too hard to make believe there was no poison involved, so it's quite the safe bet to say that there was. Unfortunately, we can't prove it."

"You assume he was told by whoever's behind all this to go public with what happened, right?"

"Exactly. Another thing we can't prove. All we can point is fingers, and that's not enough for an arrest warrant."

"And Bogo needs to address the press gaggle tomorrow, right?"

"He does. The press knows what has happened, and they want answers. Bogo will stage a press conference tomorrow, because he can't stall them any longer."

"And he has no answers," Nick concluded.

"None at all. We can't say with certainty that Ben was poisoned, and even if we could, we can't say who did it. All we have is suspicions, and that simply won't do."

Nick looked down at Judy with a frown. "I can't help thinking that we're in for some quite nasty weeks."

"You sure?" Judy asked.

"Carrots, if what we think is true, if Takhi is involved in all this, that interview he published was a big mistake. It told us that there was poison involved, and when we know it, others know it, too. So they need to strike the iron while it's hot, which means way more savage mammals. This is always risky for them, because everybody's alerted to the presence of a new Nighthowler serum now, and sooner or later somebody might spot them targeting predators, which will blow their plan to smithereens. But it's risky for everyone as well, of course, because unlike Bellwether, who always made sure that there were no casualties among the population, these new guys obviously don't share the sentiment. Regardless of the number of mammals they manage to turn savage, however, they'll still have a hard time making the public believe that predators turn savage on their own volition. So they'll need to come up with something else. Something even more sinister."

Judy looked up at him. "Is that the pessimist speaking, or ..."

"This isn't pessimism, Judy, it's the truth. Takhi tried to make believe that there is no Nighthowler poison, and he failed. In fact, he achieved almost the exact opposite. If they really want their plan to succeed, they need to up the ante. And this could go in all possible directions, and some of those are quite nasty."

"I agree," Adimar said. "This could go wrong in so many ways, I shudder to think about it. The guys behind this have proven that they have no qualms to go after innocent mammals, children even, to achieve whatever they want to achieve. We need to prevent them from doing so, and we need to do it quickly. Otherwise this will go south with a vengeance."

Nick heaved a sigh. "And just when we thought everything was quiet and peaceful."

"I have the feeling peace and quiet will be in really short supply in the near ..." He was interrupted by the kitchen timer ringing. "Sounds like dinner's ready."

Nick looked at the tart in the oven. "That it is."

"Good. Don't let me keep you. Bon app├ętit!"

"Thanks! Have a good one!"

Adimar snorted. "I guess it's too late for that. So long!"

Nick cut the connection and put on a pair of oven mitts. "KayDee, dinner's ready!" he shouted.

"Coming!" the vixen shouted from somewhere outside the kitchen.

"Did you give Adimar a call, or did he call you?" Judy asked, pointing at the phone.

"I did. Just wanted to know who it was." He shook his head while opening the oven. "Of all the possible mammals, it just had to be Ben."

He pulled the tart out of the oven, just as the door opened. KayDee entered, a smile on her face. "Are you done with your phone call? Good. It was none of my ..." Upon seeing the looks on their faces, her own face fell. "Uh oh! Bad news?"

Judy and Nick exchanged looks. Since KayDee wasn't a police officer, talking about police work with her was strictly off limits. "You could say that," Nick said slowly. "Might as well tell you; most of it will be known to the public soon enough anyway. You remember Benjamin Clawhauser?"

"How could I have forgotten him? Until I met him, I never thought any guy would consider an earring with a skull and crossbones cute." Her jaw dropped. "Oh no! Don't tell me he ..."

Nick took a deep breath. "Yes, he was the one who was probably shot with some Nighthowler serum and turned savage in the midst of Precinct One."

KayDee stared at him, her mouth open, her eyes wide in shock. "Holy shit!"

"You take the words right out of our mouths," Nick said while carrying the tart over to the table.

"How is he?"

"Obviously as well as all those predators were who were targeted the first time round. Once they find an antidote, he'll probably be fine, but right now, he's probably all but."

"Do you know who's behind it?"

Nick shook his head. "Probably the same guys who did it the first time around, but we can't say for certain."

KayDee frowned. "The first time around? Hang on, I thought Bellwether was killed."

Nick gave her a cynical grin. "Do you honestly think she came up with this plan all by her lonesome? No, we're fairly certain that she had help back then, and a whole lot of it, and those culprits are still at large. We don't even know who those might be."

"And now it's up to you to catch them."

Judy sighed. "I think we need to find out who they are first." She looked at the slice of tart Nick had put on her plate. "Pity Billy isn't here yet. It'll be stone-cold by the time he arrives here."

Nick shrugged. "It'll taste fine just the same. Dig in!"

Judy smiled. "It smells delicious."

"I hope it tastes just as good. That's the first time I made it in years. It's not that difficult to prepare, but my mom is a master chef, and I'm nowhere near what she is able to come up with. I often use way too much salt."

"Dobt be fo modeft. Itf great," they heard KayDee say. Both looked up from their plates to see that KayDee had already devoured half of her slice.

Nick put on a grin. "How are you able to tell that? You're wolfing it down so quickly, you will hardly have been able to taste anything. Besides, it's still so hot, it probably has burned your taste buds to a crisp."

KayDee froze, then she looked down at her plate. Then she rolled her eyes. "Old habits die hard. Back in prison, if you weren't a fast eater, you were left with scraps."

Judy felt the corners of her mouth twitch. She looked around. "Does this look like a prison to you?"

KayDee heaved a sigh. "I guess I'm still not really used to being a free mammal again."

Judy placed a paw on hers. "Don't worry. Nobody's going to steal your food. We still have plenty of it. So, slow down and enjoy the taste." She took a bite herself. "Hmm, yummy!"

"Glad you like it," Nick said with a smile, then he started eating himself.


Like I said, this story's focus is starting to shift already, much earlier than I had planned. So prepare for some ugly twists and turns ...

When I listen to the radio while in the car, I usually stick to the local news channel - I just like to keep informed on what happens in the world. Besides, I have little use for the current line of radio pop - most of the songs I like to listen to are stuff you rarely hear on the airwaves. (I have yet to hear them play Megadeth or Iron Maiden.) I like to think that Nick, who didn't appreciate Gazelle's music very much, thinks along the same lines, hence the news channel on the radio. By the way, "Echo des Tages" ("Echo of the Day") is a certain news segment which can be heard at NDR Info, the news channel I usually listen to.

As far as the probation officer is concerned, his name was derived from Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a French zoologist who had specialized in scientific study of animal behavior, among other things. On top of that, he also taxed several kinds of mammals, one of which, the genus Proteles, the aardwolf, Proteles cristata, belongs to. (On a side note, it came as quite the surprise to me when I found out that, despite the name, the aardwolf is a hyena, not a wolf. Until I started writing these Zootopia stories, my knowledge of flora and fauna was bordering on being non-existent. At the very least, writing fanfiction has seriously broadened my horizon.)

And yes, he will return. Will take quite a lot of time, but he will.

The tomato-zucchini tart is a favorite of my wife and me, one that's easy to prepare while tasting delicious, even when cold. In case you're interested, I can give you the recipe. (Yes, I can cook. My parents taught me the basics, but it was only when I started living on my own, which I did for some seven years, that I really learned the ins and outs of cooking. The choice I had was this: Either learn how to cook, go out for dinner every day, which I wasn't able to afford, or starve. What would you have done?)

The fact that KayDee wolfs down her food in record time is a nod to one of my most faithful readers, J Shute Norway, who pointed out a text to me which can be found on Reddit, concerning prison habits that ex-convicts find most hard to break. Thanks for sharing this with me, J! It sure had been a long time since you told me (more than a year in fact, if I remember correctly), but it took me that long to finally find a place where I could put it to good use.

Which work of literature is KayDee referring to? Shouldn't be too hard to find. (And yes, giving the appertaining song is also okay!)

Well, that's about wraps it up for today! Thanks for reading! And can I persuade you to send a review my way? That would be awesome!

Take care!

J.O. aka TheCatweazle