Hello, my fellow Zootopians!

It may come as a surprise to many of you, but this is the final chapter of "Wound." Everything I may have said about more upcoming chapters can now be considered obsolete.

Why? Simple: The original plan for the remainder of this story was to let it segue directly into "Now Your Nightmare Comes to Life," my first story, with the last chapter of this one being a direct precursor of the first one in "Nightmare." I wanted to explain a few things I took for granted in "Nightmare," things like Nick's reconciliation with his mother, like the fate of Finnick, like the relationship between Nick and Judy's parents. Just stuff I felt like talking about.

And while this is my story and I can certainly deal with it as I see fit, there was just one tiny problem:

None of it is necessary.

This story, as told, basically ended with chapter sixteen, with the council session and the awards for Judy and Nick. The last five chapters, for example, the Judy/Delgato angle, don't really belong to the story.

Don't get me wrong, I like the angle very much and would certainly write it again. It just so happens that to understand "Nightmare" and its successor, "Hammer to Fall" (which I will finally return to in a few weeks), all the stuff simply wasn't necessary. (Maybe it would have been better if I had turned the last five chapters into a stand-alone affair.)

It was pretty much the same with everything I had in store for the remainder of this story. And I had a lot in store. As a matter of fact, over the course of the last three months, I must have written close to one hundred thousand words' worth of story, only to discard everything over and over again. It didn't matter which topic I wrote about, I was never fully satisfied. It all sounded awfully self-indulgent. There was no real progress, no real character development. Every single bit of writing felt redundant and outright pointless. I was trying so hard to find closure that it never really dawned on me that none was needed. Better to simply return to "Hammer" and call it a day with this blasted thing!

So I basically scrapped the whole idea of giving more explanation. There will be none. In case you want to know what has happened between "Wound" and "Nightmare," just read the latter story, it should provide you with all the explanation you need.

There is just one tiny piece left unexplained so far, one character I have mentioned once and are going to use extensively in "Hammer." The guy deserves a proper introduction, so that you know what I'm talking about in that story. Just read on, you'll soon know what I mean.

So here's the deal: We fast-forward a few years into the future, to early 2020, a few months before the events told in "Nightmare" take place. Both Judy and Nick are well-respected police officers, both having been promoted to Sergeant. Apart from that, everything that has transpired in the meantime can be found explained in "Nightmare."

The stats - final tally - look like this: More than 31,700 views (Awesome!), 272 reviews (Awesomer!), 165 alerts (Awesomest!) and 120 favorites (Most awesomest!) Thanks to all of you!

And yes, I like messing with comparatives! I just love the squiggly red line that MS Word puts under every word it doesn't know. (Yeah, I'm weird, I know!)

Which goes for most of the following words, the names of all the dedicated mammals who bestowed their insight upon me: Combat Engineer, GhostWolf88, niraD, Mogor, Dirtkid123, Canadian Crow, honeysucklecupcakes, LupinTheWolf, Story. Writer. 2015, Stubat, empirebuilder1, Blyddyn, Galaxyexplorer74, poynton90, Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps, DrummerMax64, Foxlover91, Missy2.0 Frozen forever, HawkTooth, and AJ. As always, I bow down deeply in gratitude! You guys rock!

Now, the obligatory quotes:

DrummerMax64 (who else?) found one of them: Dinah Washington had a major hit with "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes." (It was originally written in Spanish by the Mexican songwriter Maria Mendez Grever under the name "Cuando vuelva a tu lado." Stanley Adams provided the English text. The song itself was published on an album with the same name by Mercury Records in 1959.). It's what Judy thinks about the previous day. Kudos to you yet again, DrummerMax!

The other quotes, however, remained elusive. Since this is the last chapter of "Wound," I am going to reveal them all now:

1. The line from the movie "A Few Good Men" in Chapter Fourteen was spoken by Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise - by the way, "Kaffee" is the German word for coffee, so I still think the name's hilarious) near the end of the movie. After the infamous verbal duel between him and Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (the always sensational Jack Nicholson), Kaffee concludes with these words: "Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer, and an officer in the United States Navy. And you're under arrest, you son of a bitch!" I gave the line to Delgato to conclude the arrest of the two tigers, slightly altered of course.

2. The line from the "Harry Potter" movie I hid in Chapter Seventeen can be found in the very first movie, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." It's when Professor Severus Snape (the late, great Alan Rickman) sees Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) for the first time: "Our new celebrity." It's how Delgato describes Judy after watching her when she returns to full duty.

3. The line from "Tomb Raider: Legend" I hid in the last chapter can be found in the cutscene preceding the England level, when Lara Croft says: "At least, it should be educational." That's what Bogo thinks about the upcoming roll call.

4. And the line from the movie "Smokey and the Bandit" is, of course, "I was born ready," spoken by Carrie aka "Frog" (Sally Field) in the movie and by Judy in the last chapter. But honestly, it crops up in so many movies, I'm really surprised nobody found it!

There probably are some quotes hidden in this chapter as well, but I honestly didn't try and hide them. If you happen to find one, feel free to tell me, although there will be no more honorific mentions, seeing that this story will end here.

Finally, on a private note, one of our bunnies, the buck named Findus, died after battling cancer in the meantime. (Yet another reason for the delay in publishing this chapter. Man, the year 2017 sucked, badly!) So we were left with only our dear old lady Flocke (who'll turn 9 this year, which is really old for a domesticated bunny). Since bunnies shouldn't be kept alone, we've immediately taken a new bunny into care. She's a feisty little dwarf by the name of Bella, so as of now, I'm officially in the minority in our household - three girls, one guy. Hope they don't gang up on me …

The disclaimer can be found in the first chapter.


Chapter Twenty-Two

Straight and Narrow

A dark, black past is my most valued possession.

Megadeth: "Sweating Bullets" (Written by Dave Mustaine, from the album "Countdown to Extinction," Capitol, 1992)


ZPD Precinct One Headquarters, Second Floor, Office Cubicles, City Center, Zootopia

It was quite rare for someone working at Precinct One to be able to sneak up on Judy Hopps. Her outrageously good sense of hearing was stuff of legends. Therefore, Francine Pennington was deeply surprised when, after she had knocked softly at the wall of her tiny cubicle, Judy gave a visible jerk.

"What's up, Judy?" she asked. "Don't tell me you fell asleep!"

Judy gave her a somewhat sheepish grin. "I almost did."

"Quite boring when Nick's not around, eh? Where is he, by the way?"

"Oh, he asked for a few days off. He's helping his mother doing stuff."

"His mother? Didn't even know he had one."

Judy grinned. "Everybody has a mother, you know."

Francine rolled her eyes. "Wisenheimer! Didn't know his mother's still alive."

"He may be older than the two of us, but he's not that old."

"Right, but he never mentions her, so I sort-of assumed she was dead."

"You know how he is, he never mentions anything personal."

"Even with you?"

"Even with me. Keeps everything close to his chest." Judy shrugged. "I tried to get him to talk about his past for years, and while he certainly told me a lot of stories about his hustling days, he has hardly ever mentioned anything related to his family, to his childhood. Just tiny bits and pieces. Not enough to get more than a glimpse into his past. But yes, his mother's still alive, although I've never met her. She needs Nick's help for cleaning house or something. At least that's what Nick told me."

Francine nodded. "I see. So now, with him not being here, you're stuck doing paperwork."

"You're not saying!" Judy said mockingly before looking at her computer's screen and giving a sigh. "I mean, it's not like Nick doesn't deserve a few days off, but I'd rather work on the beat with him than catching up on paperwork." She made a pause. "Not necessarily my favorite pastime."

Francine grinned. "Rejoice! Your salvation is finally here!"

All tiredness seemed to leave Judy in an instant, to be replaced by joyous exuberance. "Really?"

"Yup. I need your help. Remember the case Markus and I are tackling right now?"

"You mean the string of robbed jewelry shops?"

"That's the one. Well, Clawhauser received a phone call half an hour ago. A private eye told him that he might be able to provide a bit of help on the case."

"A private eye?"

Francine nodded, making no effort to hide her disdain. Most police officers disliked private investigators on principle. The vast majority of them were a meddlesome bunch, sticking their noses in other peoples' businesses, obstructing police work in the process. "Yeah, and while I honestly don't see how this might give us a new lead in our case, the Chief thinks it's worth a shot, seeing that progress is almost non-existent so far."

"He's right. But, uhm, I don't see where I come in here. Just go over there, get his statement, and …"

"Well, and there's the catch. You see, the guy's an arctic fox by the name of Rockwell MacIntyre. He has an office in Happytown."

"Are you seriously telling me you don't wanna go there?" Judy grinned. "Afraid of foxes? Don't tell Nick if you are! To him, it'll be like Christmas came early."

"Har har. It's just, since this private eye's an arctic fox, which are even smaller than red foxes, his office is obviously fox-sized, so with me being an elephant and Markus a polar bear …"

"See, and that's why I'm always telling you that bigger isn't necessarily better." Judy closed her laptop computer and got up from her chair, stretching as she did so. "What are the details?" she added matter-of-factly.


Office of "MacIntyre Investigations," Happytown, Zootopia

Even before there was a solid knock at the door leading to his office, Rocky MacIntyre had already heard a mammal approaching, a rather small one, by the sound of it. No padded paws, no hooves either. Probably some small prey mammal.

Which was surprising. Most of his clients - the few there were - were smaller predators.

"Come in! The door's unlocked," he shouted.

The door opened, and indeed, the mammal entering the room …

Rabbit. Oryctolagus cuniculus. Small mammal. Little strength in upper torso and arms, but very strong legs. Therefore excellent at running, jumping, and kicking. Superior reflexes, able to dodge all but the fastest punches. Eyesight is below average, the other senses mediocre, but sense of hearing is outstanding. Sneaking up on them difficult. In paw-to-paw combat, caution is advised. Not the greatest of punchers, but extraordinarily good at avoiding punches and kicks and very dangerous when able to deliver kicks themselves. A rabbit well-trained in the martial arts can be a serious threat.

Strengths: Quickness and agility, avoiding punches, kicks.

Weak spots: Due to their small size, virtually every part of their body.

This particular rabbit … female, not overly tall, but with excellent poise and stance. Very muscular for a rabbit, the muscles themselves are well-defined, so probably very strong for her size. Posture of a seasoned fighter, ready and able to deliver a flurry of punches and kicks at a moments' notice. Very dangerous opponent, if …

Rocky shook his head, silencing the tiny voice in the back of his mind. Threat assessment was one of the first things he had learned in the Nagerian Armed Forces, and it still was one of the things he excelled at. But there were times when it was little more than an annoyance.

But sometimes, it gave him all the info he needed.

"Ah, Officer Hopps, I presume," Rocky said, getting up and walking around his office desk.

The doe stopped in her stride, looking down at her civilian clothing, a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Which was the smart thing to wear for her. With Happytown being as close to skid row as you can be in a city which, officially, had no slums, with being in a district where people were poor and crime was thriving, appearing in full uniform by your lonesome wasn't the most intelligent of moves. "You know who I am?"

"Of course. As far as I know, there are no rabbits in law enforcement, other than you." He extended his paw. "Rockwell MacIntyre, at your service."

Hopps narrowed her eyes while returning the pawshake. "Are you one of those guys who recognizes a cop when he sees one?"

"I certainly am. So, what may I do for you?" He pointed at the chair standing in front of the desk. "Please take a seat."

"Thank you, sir." Hopps jumped onto the chair, which was slightly too big for her, and sat down. "You gave us a call, saying that you wanted to make a statement."

"I did indeed. You are looking for the culprits breaking into all those jewelry shops, right?"

"That's right, yes."

"Good. I can give you both their names and their current hideout."

Hopps proceeded to take a notepad and a somewhat big pen the size and shape of a carrot out of her purse. "You do?"

"Yes. They are a trio of buffaloes."

"Buffaloes?"

"Cape buffaloes, to be more precise. Their leader is a guy named Damon Bosston. Runs a pawn shop in the Rainforest District by daylight, which he uses to sell the goods he steals during nighttime, claiming they had been sold to him, but their owners were incapable of redeeming them."

"That's why they only steal so few, but very valuable items."

"Correct. He can't sell half the contents you find in a jewelry shop, not without attracting suspicion."

"How did you learn of this?" Hopps asked, scribbling furiously.

Rocky shrugged. "In my line of work, you get around, you listen, you see. If you are attentive, you can find the most astonishing things."

"So you were working on a case yourself."

"Yes, I was, and before you ask, that job's none of your business. I offer my clients complete secrecy, so none of the cases …"

Hopps smiled. "I wasn't about to ask you about your case. It's of no concern to me, and to be honest, I couldn't care less about your work. But I wanna know how exactly you came by that information?"

"Why? So you'll know if the information can be trusted?"

On this, Hopps put down the pen and looked up. "Of course! I didn't mean to insinuate that I don't trust you."

"I know you trust foxes. Your partner's one, after all."

"How do you know?"

"Gee, I don't know. Maybe because the two of you happen to be on the news at least once a month, lauded for having solved yet another heinous crime."

Hopps gave him a somewhat embarrassed smile. "You are exaggerating, sir."

"Am I? In the last year, you arrested no less than 182 mammals for bank heists, burglary, aggravated assault, and heaven knows how many other crimes."

"You seem to have taken a tally."

"I may have, yes."

"Why?"

Rocky just gave her a smile, opting to ignore the question. "I was visiting the aforementioned pawn shop and overheard Mr. Bosston in a conversation with another buffalo." He noticed that Hopps had started writing again. "They were talking about a really valuable ring he was about to sell to a customer. At first, I paid this little heed, but then I got to see the ring. It looked an awful lot like one of the items that have been stolen a few days earlier in a jewelry shop in Sahara Square. A gold ring, with an almost pure 3-carat diamond, three small rubies and twelve even smaller diamonds. If I remember correctly, it's an individual item and worth more money than the two of us make in ten years."

"Where did you learn about this particular item? How it looked, when and where it was stolen?"

"I've made it a habit to read the official publications made by the ZPD. Which is why I know that you and your workmates are asking the public for help finding that very ring."

"So you gave us a call?"

Rocky shook his head. "No, I paid that pawn shop another visit first. And I was armed with this." He pointed at the small camera that was lying on his desk. "And these," he pointed at a stack of small pieces of paper lying next to it, "are the pictures I took. There's a picture of the ring in there, a bit blurry, but the ring is easily identifiable. And I have pictures of the three guys. All of them are buffalos. And there's yet another interesting similarity between the three: In his youth, Mr. Bosston was an accomplished mountaineer, able to climb even the steepest cliffs with ease. And so are his colleagues. Their names are Ismail Manda and Gordan Bivol. In 2012, they came in first and third in the free climbing event at the X-Games."

"You know them?"

"I know Mr. Bosston, but I didn't know his cronies. But then I came across an old newspaper article about Bosston which told me that, apart from running the pawn shop, he has at one point been the head trainer of one of Zootopia's free climbing teams, and the article also named Manda and Bivol as his two best students. Two years ago, he was kicked out after being accused of some misdemeanor or another, and now he's in league with his students. My guess is that they simply climb the buildings to enter them on the top floor, thus circumventing the alarms. Plus, I overheard them making plans for another heist, which is about to take place tonight, at another shop in Sahara Square."

"That's spectacular news, sir," Hopps said, excitement in her voice. "Do you know where the heist is going to take place exactly?"

"Unfortunately not. But as far as I know, there are only five possibilities, five shops that fit the bill. We're looking for shops on the ground floor of apartment buildings. Since they robbed two of them already, which means that security on these shops will have tightened severely, three remain. I've added a list of all possible addresses. It's there, with the pictures."

"May I?"

"Go ahead."

She took the pictures, examining them closely. "Well, that seems to be good enough. How were you able to get that close without being seen?"

Rocky shrugged. "Professional secret."

Hopps made a face. "Why do all you foxes keep so many secrets?" she muttered, just loud enough for him to be able to hear it.

"Are you referring to your partner?" he asked nonchalantly.

"Of course I …" Hopps looked up and stared at him. "You know him?"

"I do, yes."

"How?"

"I am not at liberty to divulge that piece of information."

Hopps grunted. "That sounds like something he would have said."

"I know. He said it all the time, back in the days."

"The days of what?"

He grinned. "I am not at liberty …" He made a pause. "He's not just your partner, he's your friend, right?"

"Of course he is! We've been working together for more than two, almost three years. Of course we're friends. Best of friends actually!"

"Well, that's one thing we have - had - in common. Nick was one of my best friends for years."

"Was?"

"I haven't seen him in over five years."

"So when you gave the ZPD a call, you were hoping he'd come here?"

"I may have hoped for it, yes, but in the end, you have a crime to solve, you were asking the public for clues, with the promise of quite a substantial reward, so I'm merely fulfilling my obligations as a citizen of Zootopia."

"Hoping for said reward, right?" Hopps said, looking around.

Rocky made a face. His office was quite run-down, not seedy, but certainly not the office of a rich mammal. "You, of all mammals, should know how it is with foxes. Most mammals look down on us with disdain, so work isn't exactly flourishing. Or why do you think we are in Happytown? I simply can't afford the rents they ask for in Tundratown."

Now Hopps made a face. "Yeah, I know. Despite everything Nick's done, there still are idiots who treat him like he's absolutely useless as a cop, like he's not trustworthy at all. Then again, they also say a lot of ugly things about rabbits. Useless, weak, cute, good only at multiplying, that sort of stuff. So, yeah, I know where you come from."

Both fell silent for a few seconds. Finally, Rocky cleared his throat. "So, where is this partner of yours?"

"Oh, Nick has a few days off. He's helping his mother clean house or something, you know."

"His mother? They are on speaking terms again?"

"Uh, what are you talking about?"

Rocky made a dismissive gesture. "Forget it." He hesitated.

Hopps gave him a warm smile. "Should I give him a call? You really wanna see him again, right?"

Rocky sighed. "I do, yes."

Instead of a reply, Hopps got a cell phone out of her purse. Wiping the screen and executing a few quick inputs, she looked at the phone's camera with a grin. After a few seconds, a male voice piped up. "Carrots! How nice of you to give me a call."

"Hello, Slick," Hopps said with a smile. "Am I disturbing you?"

"No, not at all. My mom just asked me to help her sift through some old stuff in her attic. Right now we're sitting in a café, sipping hot coffee and trying to make up our minds what to keep, what to donate to charity and what to throw out."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Everything from kitchen appliances to clothes to porcelain figurines to furniture."

"Anything I might be interested in?"

"I don't think so. Most of the stuff won't fit in your apartment anyway."

"There really is nothing?"

"Well, there was one old dresser which might have fit the bill, but I'm afraid that thing's FUBAR. Won a one-way trip to the dumpsite, I guess."

"You are hauling dressers?"

"Among other things, yes."

"Back's hurting already?"

"Are you kidding? I'm just getting warmed up, you know."

"Funny," Rocky said before Hopps was able to say anything. "The Nick Wilde I knew refused to lift anything heavier than a pawpsicle."

There was silence at the other end of the line. "Excuse me? Who are you?" Nick said finally.

Rocky gave a grin. "Fried potatoes blossom in blue."

"What?" Hopps said.

Rocky merely kept grinning at her, while the line was silent. Finally, after several seconds, Nick's voice piped up again - and it sounded very urgent: "Where are you, Carrots?"

"Uhm, a private detective's office in Happytown, at Scarborough Lane, above the …" she hesitated. "Hello? Nick?"

"Hung up on you?" Rocky said with a smile.

Instead of an answer, Hopps returned the cell phone to her purse. "What was that about fried potatoes?"

Rocky shrugged. "I don't know if I'm out of line here, but you do know Nick quite well, right?"

Hopps shrugged as well. "As good as he allows anyone to know him. He has a lot of secrets, but I guess I know him better than most other mammals in Zootopia."

"Did he tell you what he did before joining the ZPD?"

"Yes, I know that he worked as a con artist. That's the first thing I learned about him." Hopps smiled. "During our first meeting, he hustled me into buying a jumbo pop for him which he and his buddy Finnick turned into dozens of tiny pawpsicles which he could then sell for good cash."

Rocky grinned. "Did he ever return the money?"

Hopps looked at him with a startled expression. "Actually … no, he never did. Sort of slipped our minds, I guess." Suddenly, she gave him a grin that looked somewhat dirty. "But seeing that I hustled him, too, I guess we're even."

"You hustled him?"

"Yeah, into helping me with my first case."

Rocky nodded. "Right, the Missing Mammals case, I remember. What did you do to him exactly, if I may ask?"

"I threatened him with arresting him for felony tax evasion unless he would help me solve the case."

Rocky made a frown. "How is that hustling? That's blackmail!"

"Not quite. Felony tax evasion is a federal offense, not a municipal one. Since I'm a city cop, not a federal cop, it's not my duty to pursue tax dodgers. I'm only allowed to do it when I receive such an order from my superiors or a federal agency."

"Ah. I had no idea. He didn't know it either, eh?"

"He didn't. Fell for it hook, line, and sinker."

"Clever. Really clever. So you do know what he did exactly."

"I do. And on top of hustling mammals out of their hard-earned money, he also used to work for a crime boss, but he had ended that association before I met him."

"You can call Mr. Big by name in here."

"You know him?"

"I worked for him, too. That's how Nick and I first met. And the fried potatoes line was one of the catchphrases we used when talking to each other on the phone."

"Why did you use a catchphrase?"

"Well, you can probably imagine that life on the fringes of society isn't exactly what I would call healthy. You never know if a guy whose face you rearranged a few weeks earlier might be after your blood. Since there was no such thing as MuzzleTime back then, you never knew if the guy who gave you the call was the real deal. Hence the catchphrases. Nobody would come up with phrases like 'Fried potatoes blossom in blue' or 'For little knows my royal dame that Rumpelstiltskin is my name.'"

"What the heck's a Rumpel … pumpel?"

"Rumpelstiltskin? I have no idea. Nick came up with all that stuff. I never really cared, as long as it worked. And it did. He said one of those sentences, I knew it really was him."

"You've been working together quite closely, I gather."

"I was assigned to be his bodyguard."

"Say again!"

"When Nick started working for Mr. Big, he started small, like everyone did. He was little more than one of the countless hustlers. But he was way more successful than most of the other guys working for Mr. Big, and after he had won the old shrews' confidence, he was entrusted with more significant stuff, like fetching valuable packages or delivering important messages. And whenever he was sent on one of those errands, I was assigned to be his bodyguard, since Nick knew nothing about self-defense. So, whenever Nick was sent on an important errand by Mr. Big, I was told to offer him protection. Not that it had ever been necessary, but orders are orders. Be that as it may, we spent a lot of time together. And over time, we became friends."

"If you were assigned to protect Nick, it means that you must be quite good at self-defense, right?"

"I like to think that I am, yes."

Hopps grinned. "Are you at liberty to divulge the information of how you came by your skills?"

He pointed at a picture on the wall. It showed an arctic fox in military combat gear, complete with a steel helmet, carrying an assault rifle. His almost white face was covered in camouflage face paint. He was standing next to a troop carrier, about to enter the vehicle.

Hopps nodded. "Doesn't look like the Zootopian forces."

"I'm impressed. Most people don't recognize this."

Hopps shrugged. "Met a few soldiers a couple of months ago. Their gear looked different."

"It is. Mine's from the Royal Armed Forces, Nageria."

"What did you do exactly? Sniper? Marine?"

"The latter."

"Ah. Maybe I …" she interrupted herself, ears erect and pivoting. "That was quick!"

Rocky frowned. "What do you mean?"

Before Hopps was able to answer, Rocky heard it himself - fast, yet heavy pawsteps, as if someone was in a full sprint. Merely three seconds later, the approaching mammal had reached the door, but didn't give it a knock. He simply yanked the door open.

And Nick Wilde stood in the door frame.

Red fox. Vulpes vulpes. Small mammal. Agile, able to run quite quickly and cover great distances in a jump, despite having rather short legs. Not the greatest stamina, prefer sneaking up on opponents. Excellent eyesight, good sense of hearing, good sense of smell …

Rocky shook his head to silence the voice, then he took in the looks of his old friend.

The changes he saw in Nick were nothing short of astounding. The red fox had gained a considerable amount of weight, and in muscles only. And his more muscular frame had changed his posture completely. Gone was the slouching, to be replaced with alertness, with battle-readiness. The changes were so dramatic, only Nick's face indicated that he was still the same mammal he'd met all those years ago.

In earlier years, Rocky had always maintained that even a wet blanket would be able to wrestle Nick to the ground.

Now he wasn't sure if even a battle-hardened wolf could do the trick.

"That was quick," Hopps said. "Where've you been?"

"Oh, we were sitting in that little café near Hickory Fields. Mom loves that place. We've been there all the time when I was a cub. I grew up in Happytown after all, Carrots."

"Wait, that's where that car repair shop is, right? That's more than a mile, Nick."

"Yeah. So?"

"That's fast!"

Rocky couldn't help feeling impressed. Nick had obviously covered the distance to his office at a full sprint, yet he wasn't out of breath, not even remotely.

Nick walked into the office slowly, looking at Rocky as if he had seen a ghost. "I really thought you were dead, that someone had finally offed you."

Rocky got up from his chair. "And hello to you, too, old buddy!"

Nick walked around the desk and flung his arms around Rocky. "Boy, am I glad to see you!"

"The feeling's mutual, Nick," Rocky said, returning the embrace.

For a few seconds, they stood in their embrace, then Nick took a few steps back. "Damn! Where've you been? Last I heard, you were on the run from Mr. Big!"

"I was. But we buried the hatchet."

Suddenly, Rocky heard someone clear his throat. "What happened?" Hopps asked.

Rocky looked at the bunny and shrugged. "Everything fell apart, that's what happened."

"What do you mean?" Nick asked.

"You had your falling-out with Mr. Big, and guess who was dispatched to teach you a lesson?"

Nick made a pause. "So how comes that I didn't end up in hospital in the shape of a pretzel?"

Rocky raised an eyebrow. "Do you really need to ask, brother?"

Nick made a face. "Bet Mr. Big didn't like that?"

"Not one bit. Sent Kevin and Raymond after me. And afterwards, I had to disappear."

"Wait a second!" Hopps shouted. "You were attacked by two polar bears?"

"You know them?" Rocky asked.

"We've met, yes. How did you manage to get out of that?"

Nick guffawed. "That was a walk in the park for him, Carrots, believe me! You ever heard the name Arctic Fire?"

"Uh, no. You sound like I should have."

Nick heaved a sigh. "I keep forgetting you didn't grow up here, Fluff. This mammal here," he pointed at Rocky, "took down a rhino, a tiger, and three horses at the same time without breaking a sweat. You consider yourself to be a great fighter, Carrots? Wait until you've seen him in action."

Rocky looked down at Hopps. He had already decided that she would probably be able to hold her ground in a fight, still … "A great fighter?"

"You are talking to the defending ZPD MMA champion," Nick said. "Won two titles in a row, after being runner-up in her first year. At Precinct One, she's undefeated so far."

Rocky nodded. "To be honest, I'm not surprised. You have the stance of a seasoned fighter." He gave a slight bow. "Truth be told, I would love to pit my skills against yours."

Hopps gave a grin. "You're on! There's a gym nearby, you know."

Rocky had to laugh at that. "And eager, too."

"You have no idea," Nick said.

"Such a bother, eh?"

"Rather the opposite. Her eagerness has saved my hide several times. I wouldn't wanna change anything about it any time soon. She's my partner, my best buddy, the reason I'm a cop and no longer hustling mammals. And before you ask, I wouldn't want it any other way."

"You remember when Mr. Big told you that you were no hustler? Seems like he was right."

Nick shrugged. "You know what? He was. I never was a true hustler. I always wanted to do good, I always wanted to help people. Sadly, people gave me no chance. You know what that feels like, don't you?"

"I do indeed." Rocky looked at Hopps again. "And it took a bunny to make you see the error of your ways?"

Nick grinned. "Stranger things have happened." He looked around. "So, private eye?"

"Yup. After Mr. Big and I cleared the air, he offered me another shot, but I declined. Seeing that you were on the straight and narrow, I honestly didn't want to return to my old ways either. So I tried my luck at honest work. Took some time, but I finally found this place and opened my own detective agency."

"Does it pay the bills?"

"It does, barely. The rent is small, fortunately, otherwise I wouldn't be able to keep on doing this."

"Same old story?"

"Same old story, yes."

Nick gave him a smile. "You know, I think I have something better for you."


ZPD Precinct One Headquarters, Office of the Chief of Police, City Center, Zootopia

Adrian Bogo was just in the process of signing the last report when there was a knock at the door. "Enter!" he shouted.

The mammal who entered the room was among the last ones he'd expected to appear, particularly not in that garb. "Wilde? Since when do you come to your workplace on a day off?"

Nick Wilde approached the desk, one of his legendary smirks on his face. He was wearing a blue coverall, a far cry from his usual civilian clothes which, as far as Bogo was concerned, were little more than an eyesore. He held several files in one of his paws. "How about we start this conversation with a nice 'Good afternoon?'"

Bogo made a dismissive gesture. "Yeah, yeah! Get to the point!"

"Busy?"

Bogo looked down at his desktop, which, at this point, was almost empty. "I have a few minutes to spare, if that's what you want to know."

"Great. I may have to ask you a favor."

"A favor? Do you need my help?" He pointed at the chair in front of his desk.

"Oh no, not me. An old friend of mine." Wilde placed the files onto the desktop and climbed into the chair.

"A friend of yours? Back from your hustling days?"

"Exactly." He reached into the breast pocket to produce a photo which he gave to Bogo.

Bogo looked at the picture. "I never imagined you being friends with a soldier."

"Yeah, weird, right? Chief, meet Sergeant Rockwell Alexander MacIntyre, Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Nageria, Naval Infantry."

"A marine?"

"Yes. One of the best."

"Ah. I take it he's no longer a soldier."

"No, that picture was taken more than ten years ago. That was the time when everything was still peachy." Wilde made a pause. "For you to understand what I want to ask you to do, I need to tell you first what you're dealing with, sir."

"Alright, if it doesn't take to long."

"I'll try to be brief. Rocky's from old military stock. Most of his ancestors picked up the rifle and swore the oath of service. But since Nageria and Zootopia aren't all that different, they were facing the same prejudices foxes are facing here. So none of his ancestors ever made it above Private First Class.

"Rocky did. He simply was a natural. Not only was he good enough to become a marine, he was so good that his Lieutenant, who had taken a liking to him, suggested him for a special training program, instigated by the government, which was aimed at creating some sort of super soldier. The program ultimately folded, because the results were lackluster. They wanted the ultimate leaders, they got the ultimate followers. But those followers, they were something. Rocky was one of them. His skills became absolutely astonishing. So astonishing that his superiors made him a Sergeant after less than two years. He was one of the youngest Sergeants in history, and the first fox in the Nagerian Armed Forces to become one. He was given a platoon to lead, and he and his platoon soon excelled at everything they did."

"Didn't you just say that program didn't produce leaders?"

"Yes, I did. His platoon didn't excel because Rocky was a great leader. He's the first one to admit that he isn't, he told me so himself. All he could do was lead by example, but that example was so good, his subordinates improved almost automatically. The company he was a member of already had an outstanding reputation, but the third platoon was its pièce de résistance. You needed success at all costs, they were the guys who were dispatched to solve the problem. And they were always successful.

"This success created envy, especially among several of his so-called comrades who had hoped to get the spot he had been given. He had been promoted ahead of them, so they were jealous. And of course they didn't like foxes all that much, like so many mammals on this planet. So, after a get-together, probably beer-fueled, they decided to teach him a lesson. Five guys. Two antelopes, two rhinos, one hippo.

"They ambushed him, probably just to give him a good beating. What they didn't count on was that Rocky would defend himself. And defend himself he did. He broke both arms of one of the rhinos and blinded one of the antelopes on one eye. That's when one of the other guys, Rocky thinks it was the hippo, but he can't remember clearly, produced a knife to leave a more permanent message."

Wilde made a pause, allowing Bogo to say: "So now he's a cripple and needs money …"

"He won the fight."

"He did?"

"Rocky was stabbed five times, still he won. Spent two months in hospital afterwards. But the guys who attacked him, they had gotten the really short end of the stick. None of them was fit for duty anymore, unlike Rocky, who recovered completely."

"Impressive."

"Yeah. But that's when things took a nasty turn. The moment he left the hospital, he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and attempted mammalslaughter."

"Wait a second! He was attacked, he defended himself, and he was arrested? Not the other guys?"

"No. There were no eye witnesses - it all took place in the dead of night, and the guys attacking him had taken great care to not let anyone see what was going on. So they were able to gang up on him again, accusing him of having attacked them."

"That's ridiculous!"

"I'm glad that you see it that way. His garrison commander, however, had a different opinion. Even when nobody was able to give proof that Rocky had attacked first, the commander, a zebra, obviously had it in for him. To him, Rocky was obviously guilty by default. His other superiors, especially the Lieutenant I mentioned earlier, who held Rocky in much higher esteem, thought otherwise, but it didn't matter. As the garrison commander, the zebra trumped them all. Despite the fact that every accusation crumbled under closer inspection, he still gave Rocky a dishonorable discharge for conduct unbecoming a Nagerian marine. On a side note, the guys who attacked him got away scot-free, apart from the fact that their military careers were over as well. They were never even charged with any crime."

"That's an outrage!" Bogo thundered.

"It is. Can you imagine what Rocky did next?"

"I'm guessing he went for revenge."

"He did. But not on the guys who attacked him."

Bogo sat up straighter. "He went after the commander?"

"He did. Put him in a wheelchair. Broke his back to the point of being beyond healing. The guy ended up a paraplegic."

"Which made your friend a fugitive."

"Sorry, wrong again, Chief. After he had beaten the zebra to a pulp, he patiently waited next to the poor sod for the military police to arrive and arrest him."

"What? Why?"

Nick shrugged. "Because that's what good soldiers do. If they commit a crime, they admit to it and await their just punishment. The ZPD has similar rules, right?"

"It sure has. So he was arrested and convicted."

"Twelve years in the pen."

Bogo leaned back in his chair. "I hope you don't mind me saying that he deserved it."

"I agree. What he did, that was absolutely inexcusable. The thing had simply infuriated him, and in his fury, he made a major mistake. He says so himself, I was actually quoting him here. Even now, some ten years later, he still regrets it. While beating the guy up, he simply got carried away. He wanted to harm the guy, yes, but he never intended to put him in a wheelchair."

Bogo heaved a sigh. "Like I always say, don't let your emotions get the better of you."

Wilde gave him a grin. "I actually never heard you say this."

"Because you never gave me any reason to. Like you always say, never let them see that they get to you. You have kept your cool under the most precarious circumstances. So why should I have told you to keep your emotions in check? You are better at it than me anyway."

"Why, thank you, Chief! Anyway, so Rocky went to prison and would have stayed there until, well, he would probably still be in prison."

"What happened?"

"An arctic shrew happened, an arctic shrew you know quite well, I think."

Bogo snorted. His dislike for crime bosses was almost proverbial. When asked about his single deepest regret, he invariably said that being unable to put all the crime bosses thriving in Zootopia behind bars was his. "Let me guess, Mr. Big gave them a heap of cash, and all charges were dropped."

"Something like that. One of the girls working for him was from Nageria, and she'd heard the whole, sad story and told it to Mr. Big. Who sensed an opportunity immediately. So he made sure Rocky would be released, and he invited him over to Zootopia, into his home, treating him like a king. After a few days of pampering Rocky, he made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"And so the former marine became Mr. Big's most trusted enforcer."

"An arctic fox." Bogo looked at the picture again. "Somehow I find that hard to believe."

"You ever heard the name Arctic Fire?"

"Of course I …" Bogo made a pause. "This … this is Arctic Fire?!"

"In the flesh."

"An arctic fox?"

"An arctic fox he is, yes."

"How … how is that possible? He put way more than one hundred mammals in hospital! Rhinos, horses, tigers, lions … how did he do that?"

Wilde grinned. "He's just that good." He became serious again. "His training has turned him into the best soldier you can possibly imagine. His skills in paw-to-paw combat are unrivaled, he's an expert marksmammal, …"

"Better than you?"

Wilde snorted. "I can hit a fly at one hundred paces. Rocky can hit a fly's legs at one hundred paces. And he's a master infiltrator. If he doesn't want to be found, you won't find him if he's sitting under your very nose. He can sneak in undetected, take out the target, and get away undetected. All you end up with is an unconscious victim and a lot of questions."

Bogo looked at the picture again. "I still don't believe it."

"Nobody does. I didn't either, when I first met him. He simply doesn't look that dangerous, and when you meet him on the street, he's just the nicest, funniest guy on this planet. But once he enters a fight, it's like a switch is flicked. He turns into a machine, I have no other words for it. He certainly isn't the biggest or strongest mammal on this planet - heck, he's smaller than me -, but he's so fast, so ferocious, so precise, most of his opponents merely catch a glimpse at him before they collapse in an unconscious heap. He has an extensive knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of other mammals, so he knows exactly where to strike, how hard to strike, how to move to avoid attacks. With him, fighting turns into an art form. It simply doesn't matter how skilled, how strong, how big they are. He simply takes them out, just like that." Nick snapped his digits to illustrate the quickness of execution. "And I should know, I watched him do it countless times."

"Is he as good as Hopps?"

"Better." He made a pause. "I can't believe I just said that."

Bogo allowed himself a grin. "You better not let Hopps hear that one."

"Oh, they're already talking about pitting their skills against each other."

"This is a fight I have to see."

"You and everybody else, I guess."

"Is he still working for Mr. Big? Does he need our help to find his way out?"

"No, he stopped working for Mr. Big long ago. About the same time I had my … misadventure with Mr. Big."

"Don't tell me you had something to do with it."

"I have, albeit indirectly. You know, Rocky fulfilled several tasks during his time with Mr. Big. He was one of his personal bodyguards. The one nobody even recognized as such. While everybody saw the polar bears and considered them to be the threat, nobody even noticed the small arctic fox waiting in the shadows. He was, in a manner of speaking, the last line of defense in case everything else failed. During his time with Mr. Big, he, personally, thwarted three assassination attempts. You can imagine how grateful Mr. Big was.

"This bodyguard job was sometimes extended on other mammals. I was one of them. Whenever I was on an important errand, Rocky protected me. Not that it had ever been necessary, but Mr. Big deemed it prudent, and we certainly didn't contradict him. Particularly after we had found out that we liked each other very much. He became the brother I never had. We did lots of stuff together, for Mr. Big and on our own. He was my closest friend by far and away. We were so different, yet so alike. I loved him to death, and I know for a fact that he would gladly have given his life for me."

Wilde made a pause and cleared his throat. "Yet another job he did for Mr. Big was that of an enforcer. Someone disappointed the old shrew, he was dispatched to beat some sense into the mammal. He would sneak in, beat the culprit senseless, leave a note, and vanish again. After a while, it became so boring to him, so little of a challenge, that he started taunting his victims from his vantage point before finally attacking them. That's how he garnered his reputation. He alerted his victims to his presence, to the fact that they were about to be attacked, only to prove that this was not to their advantage."

"I'm starting to sense where this is heading," Bogo said softly.

"Obvious, isn't it? When I had disappointed Mr. Big, he was sent to teach me a lesson. And he found me, despite my best efforts to stay out of sight. Yet another one of his countless skills: You weren't able to hide from him. No matter where you went, he found you. He always found his mark.

"But after he had found me, after he was prepared to give me the beating I may have deserved, he found out to his dismay that he wasn't able to pull the trigger."

"He was supposed to kill you?"

"Of course not! It was just a figure of speech." Wilde made another pause. "I was his only friend, the only guy, apart from Mr. Big, who had always treated him with respect. Apart from me, he had nobody. And he found out that he simply wasn't able to attack me.

"So he returned to Mr. Big and told him about his failure, just as he had waited next to the commander he had beaten up. As you can probably imagine, Mr. Big didn't take too kindly to hearing that kind of unwelcome news. So he sicced two of his polar bears on him."

"Which he took out."

"And with ease at that. Afterwards, he went into hiding, and no matter how hard Mr. Big tried to find him, Rocky had simply vanished. Most people thought he was dead, me included.

"And then the Missing Mammals case happened, and I made amends with Mr. Big, sort of."

"What do you mean, sort of?"

Wilde shrugged. "Mr. Big doesn't seem to consider me an enemy anymore, but he never told me that I was in his good graces again either. We've buried the hatchet, nothing more, nothing less. And that's okay, I can live with that. Especially since my current line of work doesn't agree with his.

"Anyway, once Mr. Big and I had cleared the air, he sent out feelers for Rocky. When Rocky learned of this, he went to Mr. Big, who apologized to him and offered him his old job again. But Rocky declined the offer."

"He did? Why?"

"Because of me. I had just entered the ZPA, I was on my way to become a cop, and he thought that maybe he should take the hint. He left Mr. Big and did so on good terms, then he opened his own detective agency. Trying to put all his skills at finding mammals to good use. Staying on the good side of the law this time."

"Let me guess, it doesn't really pay the bills, right?"

"It doesn't. He still is a fox, he still is disrespected by many mammals, so jobs are scarce. He makes a living, barely. Which is a pity, because he can be so much more." Wilde leaned back in his chair. "He could be an outstanding police officer."

"You think so?"

"I wouldn't say it if I didn't."

"Does he have a criminal record?"

"No. I just read his file." He pointed at the files on the desk. "It's empty. Not even a traffic violation. And while it's mentioned that he is a former marine, you won't find anything related to his dishonorable discharge, his arrest or his conviction. Mr. Big took care of that, I guess."

"So as far as the ZPD knows, he's just an honest, hard-working mammal with a military background and skills we could put to good use in our TUSK team."

"Exactly. Imagine a bank heist. The whole place is surrounded, the perps have nowhere to go, but they've taken hostages. You send in Rocky, he somehow sneaks in, and ten minutes later you receive the 'all clear.'"

"You think he could do it?"

"Blindfolded."

Bogo made a pause. "Why do they call him Arctic Fire? I mean, I understand the 'arctic' part, but 'fire?'"

"Well, he has something of a temper. Remember the attack on his commander. He was pissed off, so he went on a rampage. "

"Is he safe to work with? I don't want a powder keg with a lit fuse on my roster."

"You won't get one. He's not unstable by any means, rather the opposite. He's good at keeping his temper in check, and it isn't easy to provoke him. However, if you manage to do it, if you really piss him off, you should give him a wide berth afterwards. His temper will get the better of him. And if that's the case, pain ensues. But as long as you don't give him any reason to lose his temper, he's the nicest guy you can possibly imagine."

"So you vouch for him."

"That goes without saying, sir."

"Where is he?"

"Oh, he's waiting down in the lobby with Judy."

"Ah. He's the private eye who wanted to give us a lead on the robbed jewelry shops?"

"Not only that. He basically solved the case."

"Really?"

"Yep." Nick pointed at the files again. "A buffalo by the name of Damon Bosston and two cronies, also buffaloes."

"Bosston? Doesn't he run a pawn shop in Rainforest District?"

"He does. That's where he sells the stolen goods. You can find more on him and his two henchmammals in the files. Including information on how they may have entered the buildings. Rocky believes they have been scaling the walls, entered the buildings via one of the top floors and made it down into the shops proper."

"Without triggering the alarm."

"Correct."

"A buffalo scaling the wall of a building?"

"Bosston was an expert mountaineer in his youth, and his two cronies won several free climbing contests."

"I see. Well, I guess a trip to Bosston's pawn shop is in order."

Wilde shook his head. "According to Rocky, they're planning another heist tonight, somewhere in Sahara Square. Pennington and Grizzoli are currently setting up teams to catch them in the act."

Bogo nodded in approval. "Excellent. Could you please ask your friend to come up here? I would like to meet the mammal in person."

"Of course, Chief!" Wilde got up and left the office.


ZPD Precinct One Headquarters, Lobby, City Center, Zootopia

With half-closed eyes, Rocky watched the turmoil around him. At least two dozen police officers of all shapes and sizes were bustling about, deeply engrossed in their daily work. A few civilians were begging for attention as well, bombarding the chubby cheetah behind the receptionists' counter with questions. "Is it always this crowded here?" he asked Hopps, who was sitting next to him on one of the benches adorning the lobby.

"Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. This seems to be quite a busy day," the doe replied.

"I can't help but notice that Nick and you seem to be the only small mammals around."

"Oh, there are a few more now. But most of them work in administration, although a coati became a beat cop recently. Plus there's a bunny who'll enter the ZPA soon."

"A bunny?"

"Yes. I know her since high school. She's a few years younger than me. She's from Bunnyburrow, too."

"Interesting. So you set a good example."

"I'm trying to."

Rocky looked down at her with a smile. "When considering all the arrests you made, you seem to be doing a great job."

"Thank you! Nick's a tremendous help."

"Of course he is! Always was. Among hustlers, he was the Good Samaritan. Always helpful, always supportive. You had a problem, Nick was there to help you." Rocky looked around. "Yeah, I guess he fits in well here."

"You knew he'd succeed as a cop?"

"I was fairly certain, yes. When I heard he'd become a cop, my only thought was: Good thing I'm on the right side of the law now. Wouldn't want to face him."

"Why did you never try and meet him?"

Rocky hesitated. "You know, that's a really good question, Judy … may I call you Judy?"

Hopps smiled. "Only if I may call you Rockwell."

"I like Rocky better."

"Okay. Rocky it is."

"Deal." Rocky made a pause. "I don't know. I had started a new life, I had broken with my previous life of crime completely. Guess I thought that included him."

"That's a real pity. You two seem to be the greatest of friends."

"And you two seem to be the greatest of partners."

Instead of an answer, Hopps opened her purse to pull out her phone. Making a few entries, she held it up for Rocky to see the picture. It was a photo that somebody had obviously taken in this very lobby, showing a rhino lying on his stomach, obviously out cold. Another rhino and a lion were standing next to the rhino, both clad in the uniform of a police officer. So were Nick and Hopps, who were standing side by side on the rhino's massive back. Their posture was highly peculiar. While Hopps was standing upright, her ears were bent down. That was because Nick had put his arm on her head, using her as a support to lean into her in a most nonchalant manner. They were both grinning. The picture even had a caption - somebody had written "WildeHopps strikes again!" over the empty space below the rhino. "Ben took the picture," she said in explanation, pointing at the chubby cheetah standing behind the receptionist's desk. "After we had brought in the rhino drug trafficker, he came up with the idea, and this is what we ended up with."

"WildeHopps?"

"Yeah. It's what most guys in here call us. Like we are a single entity."

"You can't have one without the other, eh?"

"Something like that." She put the phone into her purse again. "We've been partners since Day One, and apart from a few weeks where we were teaming up with other officers, we've been partners ever since. On duty as well as in private life. As a matter of fact, we spend a lot of our free time together."

Rocky grinned. "Sounds like him and me, some eight years ago."

Hopps smiled. "Good memories, eh?"

"Good memories. He was the best friend I can possibly imagine."

"That he is. And speak of the devil …"

Rocky looked up to see Nick approaching, a wide grin on his muzzle. "Come on, Rocky! The Chief wants to meet you."

Rocky nodded and got up, along with Hopps. They ascended the stairs and walked towards a nondescript door simply bearing the words "Chief Bogo" on the pane of glass. Wilde gave the door a knock, and immediately, an immensely loud voice shouted: "Enter!" They entered the room, and Rocky got a glimpse at the Chief of Police for the first …

Cape buffalo. Syncerus caffer caffer. Large mammal. High physical strength, particularly in the arms. The legs are somewhat weaker. Eyesight is …

SHUT UP!

The buffalo rose from his chair, towering over Rocky, Nick, and Hopps. "I am Chief Adrian Bogo. Welcome to the ZPD, Mr. MacIntyre. Please, have a seat."

"Thank you, sir." For a fleeting second, Rocky felt like a meek recruit again. Bogo exuded superiority merely through his presence. The air of command around him was almost palpable.

While Rocky sat down on the chair, Bogo turned towards Nick and Hopps. "I would like to speak to Mr. MacIntyre in private."

"Of course, Chief," Hopps said immediately and turned to leave. When Nick didn't follow her on the spot, she lunged for his tail and pulled him after her, which elicited a slight yelp from Nick. To Rocky's surprise, Nick didn't react violently to this kind of mistreatment, but merely turned around and left the room with Hopps.

No fox in his right mind will ever let another mammal touch his tail, unless it's a vixen he's madly in love with. Yet Nick was okay with her pulling his tail.

I guess calling them best friends is the mother of all understatements.

He looked back at Bogo who was sitting behind his desk again, still towering over Rocky. What Hopps had done to Nick seemed to be something of a normal occurrence between them, because the Chief hadn't reacted to their actions in any way, shape, or form. He was all business. "It is my understanding that you want to join the ZPD," he said matter-of-factly.

Rocky carefully waited a few seconds before answering. Of course Nick had told him where he had wanted to take him, and why. And it had taken Rocky basically no time at all to make up his mind. Not wanting to appear over-eager, however, he had decided not to tell Bogo about it, yet. "To be perfectly honest, sir, I don't really know."

"What do you mean?"

"This was Nick's idea. He brought me here, telling me that I'm wasting my talents working as a private investigator. Until he told me, half an hour ago maybe, I never entertained ideas of joining the ZPD. So excuse me, sir, but this is all a bit sudden for me."

"I understand. Wilde is known for acting on impulse, but his impulses are usually very good." Bogo made a pause. "He told me of your accomplishments. And to be honest, I didn't believe him."

Rocky had no idea how to respond to that, but it seemed like Bogo hadn't expected an answer anyway, for he picked up a file from his desk and started reading it. After about two minutes of the most pregnant silence Rocky had ever had to experience, Bogo spoke up again. "And nothing in this file indicates that anything of it is true."

"This is my file?"

"It is."

Before he was able to stop himself, Rocky blurted out: "So you think Nick lied to you?"

"No, I believe him. He may be a jokester who likes to poke fun at all and sundry, but Wilde has always been completely honest with me. Many mammals tend to believe that foxes are sneaky and untrustworthy. Wilde's the living proof that this is nothing but prejudiced, speciesist bullshit. He has proven his trustworthiness over and over again. He gave me a thorough account of his own accomplishments, for example, even the most sordid, embarrassing details. So if he tells me something, I can always, and safely, assume that it is indeed the truth and nothing but the truth." He made another pause. "I would never mistrust his judgment, as I know it is always good and based on solid facts. Still, I just find it hard to believe that a tiny arctic fox was the bane of criminals all over Zootopia."

Rocky shrugged. "I was trained to be a lethal weapon, sir."

"Could you take me down?"

"Excuse me?"

"Could you take me down?" Bogo repeated.

"I would never dare to attack a police officer, much less the Chief of Police, sir."

"Noted. But if I wasn't, if I was just another target you were assigned to take down, would you be able to do it?"

Rocky hesitated. Not that he didn't want to answer the question, he simply couldn't. He had never had to face a cape buffalo before. Through his abilities at threat assessment, he knew that cape buffaloes were notoriously difficult opponents, notoriously hard to take down, notoriously dangerous when attacking themselves. But that was where his knowledge ended. "I really can't say, Chief. I never had to take down a cape buffalo, so I honestly can't answer the question."

"But you certainly faced other mammals like lions and elephants?"

"Yes, I did, both lions and elephants actually."

"And you took them down."

"I did."

"So everything they say about Arctic Fire is true."

"What do they say, sir?"

"They say, for instance, that he took down two armed tigers in less than five seconds."

"Who said that?"

"One of my officers, Sergeant Frederick Delgato. He claims that he met you during the protests after the Savage Predators case had been solved. He also claims that he hadn't taken out the tigers, but a tiny arctic fox who'd moved faster than his own shadow." When Rocky opened his mouth to say something, Bogo raised his hoof. "That's not what you'll find in the official report, of course. He told me himself, months later. Me and some of our workmates. But nobody believed him."

Rocky had to rack his brain. "That Sergeant of yours, he's a lion?"

"That he is."

"I remember. I was on the run back then …"

"From Mr. Big."

"Nick told you?"

"He did. He basically told me the whole story of your life. Lots of illicit activities." He looked down at the file. "Yet none of them show up here, not even your time in jail. But we both know that Mr. Big's probably responsible for this. In other words, this file is useless." He tossed it onto the desk again.

Rocky raised an eyebrow, not knowing where this was heading. "So?"

Bogo leaned forward, fixing his stare on Rocky. "I know that you're guilty of numerous cases of aggravated assault and battery, maybe even of attempted mammalslaughter."

"So you want to arrest me."

Bogo snorted. "Don't be silly! Even if I wanted to, which I don't, I wouldn't be able to. There is no proof. So I have to assume that you are an honest, hard-working citizen living on the right side of the law. And if I have to do it, everybody has."

"Sir?"

"If everybody keeps his mouth shut, nobody will be any the wiser. Which in turn means that your application to the ZPA would be accepted without compunction, despite your age. Most cadets enter the ZPA directly after having graduated from high school or college, not after they have turned 35."

"Nick was 32."

"Exactly. In the end, it's not the age that matters, it's what you can do. And if it really is true what Wilde told me, if you really are that capable a fighter, you could certainly excel here. So I'm asking you: Do you want to apply to the ZPA?" He made a pause. "And if you do, let it be known to you that you have my full support. I trust Wilde's judgment, and he trusts you."

Rocky took a deep breath. "How long do I have to make that decision?"

"Two weeks. That's the deadline for applications for the upcoming class."

"You wouldn't mind if I'm taking those two weeks, sir?"

"I certainly wouldn't mind. I'm telling you the exact same thing I told your friend when he applied to the ZPA: The ZPD demands full commitment. You either do this and walk the full mile, or you leave it be. There is no middle ground. You either make it, or somebody will break you." He made another pause. "If you haven't made up your mind yet, you won't be able to persevere. So, take your time. I don't need to hear your 'yes' immediately. But the moment I hear that 'yes,' I expect full commitment. If you have doubts, you will fail. So, consult your pillow for a few days, and after you've made up your mind, come back here and tell me your decision. Even if the answer is 'no.' I'd much rather hear an honest 'no' than a half-assed 'yes.'"

"That's … good to hear, sir."

Bogo nodded. "No pressure. It's your life, your decision. But if you make said decision, you have to stand by it through hell and high water."

"Of course."

"Good. You have any questions? If not, I have an ambush to prepare."

"You are going after Bosston and his cronies?"

"We are. And by the way, thank you for your cooperation."

"You're welcome." Rocky got up from his chair. "Thank you for taking the time to talk me through this, sir."

For the first time since Rocky had entered the office, Bogo gave him a smile. "You are welcome."

"Good day to you, sir."

"Likewise."


Outside of "Wambui's Jewelry Shop," Sahara Square, Zootopia

They arrived separately within the time span of four minutes, three tall cape buffaloes, armed with a grappling hook attached to a long rope and wearing special climbing shoes over their hooves. After having examined the area during the daylight hours, they knew exactly where the traffic surveillance cameras were situated, and they managed to keep out of their direct angles of view. But even if they hadn't, the cameras wouldn't have been able to pick up much, for they were dressed in black, and along with their dark coat of fur, they were virtually invisible to all but the keenest eyes. Shortly after their arrival, one of them threw the grappling hook onto the roof of the building. The first two attempts failed, but after the third throw, the hook found purchase, and the three large mammals soon started to climb the wall with astonishing swiftness, considering their size.

They were completely unaware that their performance was closely watched by quite a lot of mammals.

In a dark alley opposite the jewelry shop, no less than seven police officers were watching the heist, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, the perfect moment to catch the culprits in the act.

Little did they know that they were, in turn, also being watched by a pair of bright eyes.

High above the cops, Rocky MacIntyre was sitting on a window sill which may have seemed small when looking at it from street level, but was spacious enough for him to sit upon without any difficulties whatsoever. He had arrived much earlier, waiting for events to unfold. Now, after more than three hours of sitting in a crouched position, so high above the ground that the height alone would have made most mammals feel decidedly dizzy, he slowly started to move his legs to encourage the blood circulation again - he needed his legs to be fully functional.

After all, he had a gift to prepare.

He was secretly glad that the mammal he wanted to give the gift to was also present. Not that he had counted on it - it probably was highly unusual for a Chief of Police to go into the think of things. Then again, during their conversation, Bogo had left the impression of being a mammal of action, not a superior officer who lets his subordinates do the dirty work while he sits on a bench, munching a donut. On top of that, they were facing three cape buffaloes, considered to be among the most dangerous mammals in existence. Maybe he had thought that with him being a cape buffalo himself, their odds would improve.

When it came to the officers who had accompanied him, he had certainly gone for size. Rocky saw one elephant and one polar bear, one tiger and one lion. And two small mammals who seemed ill-fitting among all those massive officers. Yet one of them in particular seemed to be at the very center of attention.

Despite the fact that Nick Wilde was officially on leave, he had obviously volunteered to help taking down the three burglars. No real surprise there - the other small mammal was Judy Hopps, and since they seemed to be joined at the hip, he had probably seen no other choice but to come along when she had volunteered. Right now, Nick was watching the proceedings through the binoculars. Since his eyesight was excellent, even when the lights were low, he was the one to provide the other officers with information on what was going on, talking so softly that Rocky wasn't able to hear anything.

Not that he needed to. Possessing excellent eyesight himself, he had no difficulties following the ascent of the three huge mammals. The first of them, Bosston himself, used a switchblade to open a window on the fifth floor. With extraordinary dexterity, he managed to open the window in less than three seconds, despite the fact that he was only able to use one hoof, since the other one was holding to the rope. Less than ten seconds later, all three mammals had climbed through the window and disappeared in the darkened building. All in all, it was an outstanding display of agility and efficiency.

For the last time, Rocky checked his gear, his grappling hook, the rope, the grappling gloves, the combat boots. It had felt strange to put on that gear again, after more than three years of having not even looked at it. Arctic Fire had, for all intents and purposes, died the night he had left Mr. Big's mansion for the final time. He had never thought he'd feel the urge to reanimate the character.

But after what he had gotten to experience a few hours earlier, he had done so gladly.

Nick's initial suggestion to apply to the ZPA had come as a surprise to Rocky. He had never imagined himself to ever wear the badge, to ever try and uphold law and order. With his more than shady past, he had been absolutely sure that nobody would want him anywhere near the ZPA.

The again, Nick was a former hustler, whose antics obviously were quite well-known - both Judy Hopps and Chief Bogo seemed to possess quite an intimate knowledge of Nick's accomplishments as a hustler. And yet he had become valedictorian of his class and an immensely successful and highly decorated police officer.

As well as a highly respected one.

That had been the biggest surprise yet: After he had left Bogo's office, he had met Nick and his friend Judy again. Instead of taking him to the exit to say their farewells, the two had proceeded to introduce him to a few of their coworkers: Benjamin Clawhauser, the cheetah working at Dispatch, a lioness named Suzanne Sarabi, who worked at Service of Supply, Thomas Higgins, who was a hippo and Bogo's orderly, a massive rhino named Brian McHorn and an even bigger female elephant named Francine Pennington.

And each of those mammals had treated Rocky with genuine cordiality. Simply because he was a friend of Nick, whom they all held in the highest esteem imaginable.

All his life, Rocky had always had to fight an uphill battle for respect. Despite his successes as a marine in the Royal Nagerian Armed Forces, he had always been shunned and disrespected, even by his own subordinates. The mammals who had supported him had been few and far between.

It had pretty much been the same story during his stint with Mr. Big. Of course the shrew had treated him with respect, but never with genuine, cordial acceptance. To him, Rocky had always been little more than a highly useful tool. And while nobody working for Mr. Big had dared to openly treat Rocky with disdain, he had received enough stink eyes to last a lifetime.

Being a fox sometimes was little more than a nuisance.

He had experienced nothing of that sort at the ZPD.

Of course he had no idea what the mammals he had met earlier that day had been thinking, but if their reactions to his presence had been any indication, nobody had held any resentment towards foxes. Everybody had treated Nick as if he was their best friend, and the friendliness had been extended to include Rocky as well.

Never before in his entire life had Rocky been treated as respectful as he had been treated in that short minutes at Precinct One.

This was what he had always wanted: Being treated with respect.

It was as if nobody had cared that he was a fox.

Just as nobody seemed to care that Nick was one.

The scene he got to see down in the street was a perfect example: As the mammal with the best eyesight, Nick was the obvious choice to watch what was going on. And everybody, his Chief and his coworkers, seemed to value his input highly.

Just because he was the best mammal for the job.

The fact that he was a fox didn't even enter into it.

Not for one second during their conversation had Chief Bogo treated Rocky disrespectfully. To the contrary: He obviously valued Nick's opinion highly, and thus he had been willing to overlook Rocky's shady past and had offered him the chance of his lifetime.

He had offered him his full support.

Do you say "No!" to something like that?

Rocky had already made up his mind to accept the offer, to apply to the ZPA, even before he had talked to Bogo, but what he had gotten to experience during the conversation and afterwards had only served to strengthen his resolve.

He would enter the ZPA. He would become a cop. He would work at Precinct One, offering them his blood, sweat, toil and tears.

Because he knew for a fact that he would be rewarded with respect.

That was why he was now sitting on the window sill, preparing to jump into the building to take out the three cape buffaloes. He wanted to deliver a message to Bogo, a message which was now resting in the pocket of his black trousers. A small envelope, with just one piece of paper in it, bearing just two words.

Of course, there was another reason he was sitting there, preparing to assault the culprits.

Was he able to take down a cape buffalo? Or rather, three of them?

Not that he doubted it - he was just curious. After all, he had never faced one before, much less three of them.

"Let's find out," he whispered.

Luck had been with him: The window the buffaloes had used to enter the building was directly opposite his vantage point, a few feet lower. The height difference and angle were perfect for him.

Unlike Bosston, he only needed one attempt to let his grappling hook find purchase on the roof of the other building. He took a deep breath and flung himself forward. The rope became taut, the jump became a swing, and with the precision of a well-placed bullet, he shot through the open window into the darkened room, catching himself in a combat roll, hardly making any sound.

Now for the interesting part.

With silent steps, he followed the buffaloes down the only available path, out of the room, into a staircase and down several sets of stairs into the shop proper.

Even before he was able to enter the room, he heard the three mammals talk to each other. "No, not that one. This one here's the real deal. That one's just an eye catcher."

"Are you sure? It looks pretty."

"And it isn't worth a dime, trust me."

The beam of a flashlight shone through the open door.

Not exactly subtle, those idiots, Rocky thought as he approached the door. Nick'll have a field day out there.

He lunged into the pocket of his trousers, grabbing the tiny disc resting there. It was a very special piece of equipment Mr. Big had procured for him, basically little more than a tiny speaker. The Bluetooth headset he was wearing was connected to the device, so he was able to talk from the shadows and would be heard at a very different location, as if he was standing there. After he had started taunting his victims, Mr. Big had given it to him as the means to enhance the mystique around the character of Arctic Fire. Checking one final time that the battery was properly charged and the connection was working, he tossed the disc into the room. It landed on the floor with a quiet tinkle, probably not loud enough for the buffaloes to hear it. When they commenced their conversation as if nothing had happened, he knew he had succeeded.

Alright! Showtime!

"Shame on you!" he said into his microphone.

There was a noisy crash inside the job, a muffled curse, then silence.

Suddenly, a voice, loud and strong: "Who's there?"

"Why, I'm your worst nightmare, bub. I'm the guy who tells you that you shouldn't rob other people's houses."

"Yeah, so what're you gonna do about it?"

"Oh, that's easy. Here's the situation. If I hit you, I'll kill you. If I miss, the wind behind the punch will give you pneumonia and you'll die anyway, so the choice is yours, jabroni!"

"Damn it!" another voice says. "That's Arctic Fire!"

"Nonsense! He's dead," the first voice again. "I think …"

Rocky smiled. "It doesn't matter what you think!"

"I'm telling you, it's him!" Whoever the guy was the second voice belonged to, he sounded quite frantic."

"Yeah, sure! As if he would ever …"

During their heated exchange, Rocky changed his position, peering into the shop. Thanks to the flashlights all three of them were holding in their hooves, it was easy for him to make out his victims.

Cape buffalo. Syncerus caffer caffer. Large mammal. High physical strength, particularly in the arms. The legs are somewhat weaker. Eyesight is rather bad, the other senses average. Stamina is also average. Both hooves and horns are extremely dangerous weapons. Rather slow and sluggish, but once they get moving, stopping them is highly difficult. Due to the big bone shield between their horns, they can run into brick walls and emerge virtually unscathed. Or through mammals unfortunate enough to be in their path. Very dangerous opponents who are very hard to take down, due to sheer size, strength, and the heavily protected skull. A cape buffalo trained in martial arts always is an extreme threat.

Strengths: Physical strength, horns, head butts, hooves. Body well protected in general.

Weak spots: Throat, knees, testicles, stomach.

Time to get to work!


Back outside of "Wambui's Jewelry Shop," Sahara Square, Zootopia

"Not exactly subtle, those idiots," Wilde said. "Every pedestrian walking by could notice the flashlights."

Bogo nodded. Even he was able to see the beams of light shining through the shop windows. "It's a miracle nobody had spotted them during the first heists."

"Well, it's two in the morning. Most mammals are in bed, and those who aren't probably are so drunk that they think they're suffering from hallucinations."

Bogo looked down at Wilde. "Not everybody who's around at this time of night is drunk, you know."

"I was just joking, Chief!" Wilde sounded slightly exasperated.

"I think the Chief doesn't appreciate your sense of humor, Slick", Hopps, who was standing next to Wilde, said with a grin.

Bogo folded his arms over his chests. "Oh, the Chief appreciates a good joke. If he hears one."

Wilde chuckled. "What, do you want me to put in more effort, Chief?"

"I would prefer it if you kept your tiny mouth shut, Wilde."

"I thought you wanted me to tell you what's going on."

"Even a mole would be able to see now what's going on."

"Probably." Wilde put the binoculars back into a little pouch hanging off his utility belt. "If I may make a suggestion, I'd say we should go in now. Don't know how long it'll take them to grab the good stuff, and we want to catch them red-hoofed."

"Agreed." Bogo looked at Pennington. "You have the keys?"

The elephant nodded and produced a set of keys almost as big as Hopps was. "Of course, Chief. Got them from Mr. Wambui himself."

"Good. By the way, good work figuring out where they would strike."

"Oh, it was easy," Pennington said with a smile. ""Markus and I," she pointed at the polar bear, "have figured out what our missing link was. Of all the jewelry shops in Sahara Square, this is the only one that fits the bill: new delivery of jewelry, several ads in the newspapers - just as it was with the previous thefts."

Grizzoli added: "All store owners who were robbed had just made the fact known that a few new and valuable items had just arrived. Up for grabs, so to speak."

"Exactly. They were shouting their new acquisitions out to the world, and those perps certainly took the hint. All we needed was the exact time when they would …"

She was interrupted by a gasp. Irritated, Bogo looked down at Hopps, who had made the sound, probably involuntarily. "What is it, Hopps?"

"Something got broken in the shop," Hopps said tensely. Her ears were erect and swiveling.

"Really?"

"It was very faint, but … And now I swear I can hear voices."

Not for the first time, Bogo had to marvel at Hopps's sense of hearing. He had heard absolutely nothing, nor had the other police officers. "Can you make out what they say?"

"Difficult." She closed her eyes, furrowing her brow in intense concentration. "Nightmare … rob … about … situation … pneumonia … that makes no sense!" Suddenly she gasped again. "Arctic Fire …"

"What?" Bogo and Wilde shouted at the same time.

"I distinctly heard the name Arctic Fire."

"You sure?" Wilde asked.

"Dead sure."

"Shit!" Wilde had already pulled the binoculars out of the pouch and was peering into the store again. "Too dark to make out anything … I just see the flashlights moving. Only two of them now though."

"What do you mean?"

"Two are moving. One is … stationary on the ground. I'd say we have an unconscious mammal. Now two."

"Just one left?"

"Just one left, that's it. Swinging wildly, like a baton. I see a lot of movement on top of that, but it's just too dark for me to make out details."

Bogo looked at the storefront himself. And sure enough, there was only one moving source of light left.

And then it stopped moving, too.

But only for a few seconds. Then it started flashing in irregular impulses.

"Er, what …" Bogo began.

"That's Morse code!" Patrick Johnson spoke up.

"You sure, Officer?"

"My father taught it to me."

"What does it say?"

"The northern wind … sings … in … the … stove … pipe."

"Say again?"

"The northern wind sings in the stove pipe. Nothing else."

"What does it mean?"

"It means," said Wilde, "that the heist has just come to an untimely end." He gave a small chuckle. "Rocky, you crazy son-of-a-bitch!"

"What happened?" Bogo asked. "Is MacIntyre in there? How did he get in?"

"No idea. He must have watched us arrive, because he knows I'm here, hence the stove pipe line. Maybe he entered the building after our arrival to wait for them. Maybe he entered after them. Who knows? Who cares?" Wilde looked up at Bogo. "All I know is that we have three unconscious buffaloes to collect."


Inside of "Wambui's Jewelry Shop," Sahara Square, Zootopia

Rocky dropped the flashlight he had used to deliver the message to Nick, then he turned around and beheld his handiwork. "What a disappointment!" he said aloud.

After their stunning acrobatic display, he had expected the three buffaloes to be in better shape, to give him more of a challenge.

It had quickly become painfully obvious - painfully for them - that neither of them had had any idea of how to fight.

Granted, he had the advantage of better eyesight in the dark, the advantage of agility and quickness, and the advantage of being a highly trained, seasoned fighter. But apart from that, they had had the upper hoof in every other regard - size, strength, reach, protection. Plus they had been holding flashlights which, in their hooves, would have had the potential of becoming veritable and highly dangerous weapons. He only had his claws.

It had still taken him less than 30 seconds to take them all out.

I'm sure Bogo would have given me a harder time.

Rocky looked through the window in the direction of the police officers. It seemed like they had taken the hint. Led by Bogo, all seven of them crossed the street and approached the shop.

Time was running out.

For a second, he asked himself why he was so keen to disappear. Nick, Bogo and the other officers had surely realized what was going on in the shop. And despite the fact that vigilantes, in general, were frowned upon by police forces, he was quite certain that Bogo wouldn't mind this particular piece of assistance.

Maybe it was just what he had always done - pop up somewhere, raise hell, leave.

Wouldn't want to ruin my reputation.

He collected the device from where it had landed, lunged into the pocket of his trousers and was just about to put the envelope next to the culprits. But then he hesitated, and a slight smile crossed his face under the piece of cloth which hid his muzzle.

Looking around, he found a pen on one of the counters. Opening the envelope again, he hastily scribbled a few additional words onto the piece of paper, put it back in the envelope, and finally placed it on the floor next to the unconscious buffaloes, in plain sight. Then he made for the door leading to the staircase.

And not a moment too soon. He had hardly left the room when he heard a key being turned in the lock. Seconds later, he heard the unmistakable sound of heavy footsteps entering the shop. A loud and strong "Clear!" indicated that they had found nothing amiss.

Apart from three burglars resting in the arms of Morpheus.

And a note severing his ties with his past.

He hardly made a sound when he walked up the stairs back into the room on the fifth floor. Looking through the window to make sure the streets were deserted, he used his own rope to climb to the roof. Collecting grappling hook and rope, he ran over to the side of the building, jumped over to the one next to it, climbed down the fire escape and disappeared into the night.


Back inside of "Wambui's Jewelry Shop," Sahara Square, Zootopia

After Grizzoli, Fangmeyer and Johnson had taken the three robbers into custody, Bogo had asked Pennington, Hopps and Wilde to conduct a thorough search of the entire shop. He didn't think there would be something they hadn't seen so far, and was therefore slightly surprised when the two small mammals approached him. "You found something?"

Wilde cleared his throat. "This was lying on the floor, next to where the three perps were when we found them." He handed Bogo a small envelope.

A fox-sized envelope, way too small for Bogo to open. And certainly too small for him to read without glasses. "What does it say?"

"Haven't opened it yet," Wilde said. "It's personally addressed to you, Chief."

Bogo gave the envelope back to Wilde. "Please open it and read it to me."

"Of course, sir." Wilde opened the envelope and took out a small piece of paper. He read the note, and a wide grin appeared on his muzzle. "'I'm in.' That's all it says."

Bogo snorted. "He could just have told me over the phone."

Wilde chuckled. "But you have to admit, this adds pizzazz."

"Hang on!" Hopps said, looking at the piece of paper herself. "There's a postscript."

"What does it say?" Bogo asked.

"'I tend to think so, Chief.'" She raised her voice when saying the last word, as if it was a question.

Bogo snorted. "And he could just have gone to the gym to find out."

"Excuse me?"

"Forget it, Hopps. That's between MacIntyre and me. Anything else?"

Hopps shook her head. "One display was broken, probably by Mr. Bivol - we found a glass shard embedded in his arm. Apart from that, the three seem to be unharmed, or rather, there are no visible injuries. If I may haphazard a guess, they probably suffer from concussions."

"Any clues pointing towards our … ally?"

"None. Not a single hair. At least as far as we can make out. Maybe forensics might come up with something, but somehow I doubt it."

Bogo looked around. Apart from the broken pane of glass, the place looked untouched, unspoiled. "They probably won't, right." He raised his voice. "Well, I guess we can blow this pawpsicle stand."

"Sir!" Pennington piped up. "What shall I write in my report?"

"I don't care," Bogo said quickly. "But you better make sure the Chief never hears of this, Francine."

Pennington looked at him for a few seconds, astonishment on her features, then she grinned. "Don't worry, Adrian, he'll never know."

"Good. Alright, let's go." He turned towards the exit, Pennington, Hopps and Wilde in tow.


If you think that this is quite an abrupt end to "Wound," with no real closure to speak of, you're perfectly right. But it was never intended to be more than a story which explains a few concepts that I thought need explaining. There never was any intention for real character development, nor was there a real storyline I had had in mind when first thinking about tackling these issues. I actually had to remind myself that this was the case - "Wound" took up so much of my time, and "Hammer" had to pay the price.

"Wound" grew so much in fact that I now consider it to be the first story of my intended story arc, Part One of a trilogy of stories, so to speak. The trilogy starts with "Wound," is continued in "Nightmare" and will eventually find its conclusion in "Hammer." This is why I originally intended to give more explanations in this story which would come into fruition in "Nightmare." But like I said, I no longer think it's necessary.

The idea of this being Part One of a trilogy sounds fine in theory, but it leads to some nasty repercussions. When talking about three stories which belong together, you need to make sure the stories are in sync. Which these are not. "Wound" ripped quite a few sizeable gaps into both "Hammer" as well as my first story, "Nightmare." For example, in one of the early chapters of "Hammer," I have Nick, Judy, and Mastiff talk to each other over the phone, talking as if they hardly know each other. In this story, however, I have established that they do know each other, and quite well at that. Heck, Judy's on first name terms with Mastiff! At this stage, Nick probably is, too. So I need to change this in "Hammer" before I will be able to move on. And I also, and finally, need to deal with Delgato in "Nightmare." When I started writing the story, I still thought he was a tiger. And these are just two of many shortcomings I see when re-reading my stories.

In other words, I feel the need to tackle those shortcomings before I'll be able to set my sights on "Hammer" again. But seeing that "Hammer" has been sitting on a shelf for more than a year, a few more weeks of staying there is no big deal, I think.

So, that's Arctic Fire for you. I said it before, but I'm gladly saying it again: Most of the character was suggested to me by tweiler18, who really deserves most of the credit. I merely added some bits and pieces. Thanks yet again for giving me the character, tweiler18! He promises to be a lot of fun when I finally get to use him in "Hammer," I guess. Even with his dark, black past …

The way Rocky was treated by Mr. Big after having been sprung from prison was inspired by the way Michael Corleone treated the former cop Albert Neri when he wanted him to become his enforcer. The story can be found in the outstanding book "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo, Book VIII, Chapter 30. It's so good, it's scary!

The bone shield connecting the horns of a cape buffalo is commonly called "boss," hence the name Bosston. Manda is the Turkish word for buffalo, and bivol the Croatian version.

The silly catchphrases Rocky refers to were taken out of a rather old song by the famous German singer/songwriter Reinhard Mey. In 1971, he released an album called "Ich bin aus jenem Holze," and on this album, the song "Das Geheimnis im Hefeteig oder Der Schuss im Backofen" (The Secret in the Yeast Dough aka The Shot in the Oven) can be found. In it, Mey describes a household accident - an apple pie which explodes in his oven - that leads secret agents to believe he had managed to create some new and very powerful sort of explosive. After having been kidnapped by said agents, he hears one of them, called Robinson, tell another one named Mäusezähnchen that "Bratkartoffeln blühen blau," fried potatoes blossom in blue. Another agent called Butterblume tells Dornröschen that "Nordwind singt im Ofenrohr," the northern wind sings in the stove pipe. And if you think now that this makes no sense, you're perfectly right - it makes no sense. ;-) The song is absolutely hilarious! And while I was at it, I also added Rumpel … pumpel, er, Rumpelstiltskin, just for good measure.

So, that's it, finally! "How to Treat a Festering Wound" is done! This little one-shot became a 180,000+ words juggernaut! (For all you geeks out there: That's a novel of some 600 pages!) And it took me more than a year to complete!

I stated in my first story, "Nightmare," that I never start writing with a complete story in mind. I know the point from where to start, I know where I want to end up, I have a rough idea of what I want to tell, but most of the details develop while I'm writing them down. I try to imagine being one of the protagonists and simply listen to them telling me the story. Which often leads to stories spinning out of control with a vengeance.

This story certainly is a case in point, but never, never ever, has one of my stories spun out of control that fiercely!

Then again, of course it did! After all, I had never even intended to write it in the first place! This was just a spur-of-the-moment affair which grew to abnormal proportions.

As a rule, stuff like this is something that bothers me. Not this time, though! I was having a ball!

And I have you, my dear readers, to thank for it!

So, I hope to see all of you again in a few weeks in "Hammer to Fall" - FINALLY!

Thanks to all of you for sticking with me over the course of the last months! Please send me your reviews!

And, of course, take care!

J.O. aka TheCatweazle