Climbing down from the armored truck's rear door, Judy strode purposefully across the secured section of the Precinct One parking garage. Nick followed quietly behind her as he stared at his phone. "So, I just Zoogled 'pangea' and the top result is about how all the continents used to be one big landmass before they broke up, which is both fascinating and completely useless to us."
"Does the word itself mean anything specific?" she asked.
"Lemme check." She listened to the sound of Nick's claws tapping the screen. "Here we go. Woolypedia says it's old Mammalian for 'all lands'. That is also fascinating and useless."
"It's too early to rule anything out yet, Nick."
Smoothly navigating the maze of corridors that make up the Precinct One building on their way to the holding bells, they made the foolish decision to take a shortcut past the reception desk. That was why, only two steps into the Precinct One atrium, they were suddenly brought to a slamming halt when the Chief's bellow hit their ears, echoing off the walls like thunder.
Judy felt herself flinch, her air of confidence crumbling. Slowly moving her eyes upward, she spotted the buffalo standing at the railing of the second-floor mezzanine. Even at a distance, she could see the veins in his neck bulging.
Beside her, Nick shook his head ruefully. "I always wondered how the world would end."
"It won't be that bad," Judy insisted, trying to convince herself as much than her partner. "I mean, remember what happened after the Night Fury case?"
"No," he countered. "I've quite happily repressed that memory, thank you."
"IN MY OFFICE, HOPPS! NOW!"
"It'll be alright." She took a slow breath. "We'll get through this."
"What do you mean 'we', Carrots? I didn't hear him shout my na-"
"YOU TOO, WILDE!"
"And there it is." He turned to the pair of amused-looking tactical officers. "Aren't you two supposed to protect us or something?"
"Sorry, Wilde." Cooper grinned as Fraser turned to escort a thoroughly confused Simone to a holding cell. "You're on your own for this one."
Watching Bogo glare murderously at them from across his desk, Nick couldn't help but reflect on the uncomfortable familiarity of the situation. In particular, the way the look in the buffalo's eyes conjured up buried memories from a little more than two years earlier. Swallowing lightly, he tried to ignore the inexplicable taste of Buga-Burger that seemed to cling to the back of his throat.
Eventually, the Chief let out a long, slow breath. "Do the two of you enjoy coffee in the morning?"
The two of them glanced at one another, not sure if they were actually expected to answer the unexpected question.
"I enjoy coffee in the morning," he continued, his voice disturbingly calm. "I enjoy it very much, in fact. But I haven't had any today because when I came in to work, there were already two messages waiting on my desk. Once was from the captain of Precinct Nine, the other was from the warden of Zootopia Female's Penitentiary, and both seemed to be related to the same matter." He leaned forward, his desk creaking under the weight. "Tell me, Detectives. What matter do think was so significant that I had to forgo my delicious morning coffee in order to smooth things over? Why was I forced to make that sacrifice?"
Nick opened his mouth to answer, paused, furrowed his brow, then closed it again. He tried again to the same result, his mind practically frozen with terror.
"How very informative, Wilde" Bogo rumbled, turning to the bunny. "Care to hazard a guess, Hopps?"
Judy hesitated, swallowed heavily, then met Bogo's stare and took as deep a breath as she could manage.
"Arriving at Zootopia Female's Penitentiary in response to the murder of Dawn Bellwether, we were met by two detectives from Precinct Nine whose names I can't recall at this juncture. Per standard jurisdictional procedure these detectives took lead on interviewing an inmate named Simone Blaireau, a honey badger who was the last mammal to have spoken to Bellwether prior to her death. After the Precinct Nine detectives demonstrated a distinct lack of professionalism, Detective Wilde and I took over the interview ourselves. Ms. Blaireau confirmed that Bellwether's assailants were a pair of predator inmates named Margaret Simms and Megan Poema, and that - per her previous statement – upon discovering them in the prison library, Ms. Blaireau had attacked and severely injured Megan Poema. Margaret Simms fled the scene shortly thereafter and was later found dead in her cell, apparently having overdosed on contraband narcotics."
Before the Chief could respond, Judy took another deep breath and continued.
"In the process of confirming these details, Ms. Blaireau revealed a previously unreported word that Bellwether had spoken immediately prior to her death: Pangea. When she spoke the word aloud, the interview room's recording devices were turned off. A moment later I received an email notifying me that Megan Poema had died as a result of a previously undocumented medication allergy, leaving Ms. Blaireau as the last living mammal to have been present at the time of Bellwether's death. Based on this, I concluded that remaining at Zootopia Female's Penitentiary constituted a credible threat to Ms. Blaireau's life and determined the best course of action was to place her in ZPD protective custody until such time as the aforementioned potential threat had been identified and neutralized."
She stopped just long enough to take another deep breath.
"Pursuant to the protocols surrounding the placement of a mammal in protective custody, I ordered Constable Paul Fraser to contact Officer Kalvin Cooper and have him respond to our location, while preventing anyone else from entering the interview room or otherwise interacting with Ms. Blaireau. While I arranged for a secured mode of transportation – in this case, an armored truck normally utilized by ZPD SWAT officers while approaching high-risk situations – two of the prison's guards approached and stated their intent to take Ms. Blaireau with them. Constable Fraser commanded them to stop their approach. When they failed to do so and indicated an aggressive intent, Constable Fraser escalated to a threat of deadly force, halting their advance."
Neither Nick nor Bogo bothered to try and interrupt as she pulled back one last breath.
"Officer Cooper arrived shortly after and restrained the guards. Then he and Constable Fraser escorted myself, Detective Wilde, and Ms. Blaireau past prison security with moderate effort, out of the building, and into the previously mentioned armored vehicle. Once all involved mammals were secured in the vehicle, we departed prison property and followed the most direct path back to the Precinct One building. Upon arrival, Constable Fraser escorted Ms. Blaireau to a secure holding cell while Detective Wilde and I reported to your office, as ordered, with the intention of following up on the new information Ms. Blaireau provided immediately following our debriefing." She paused. "Sir."
A long silence followed as the other two mammals waited to see if there was any more to come. Judy stood utterly stock still, while Nick just tried not to fidget.
"I see," Bogo finally said, leaning back in his chair. "Is that all, Detective?"
He turned to peer at Nick. "Anything to add, Wilde?"
"Hm." He regarded the detectives for another long moment. "Very well. Return to your investigation, notify me of any major developments, and try not to break anyone else out of prison in the process. Dismissed."
"I just got off the phone with Precinct Twelve," Nick said, dropping his phone into his pocket as he approached his and Judy's shared desk. "They're going to get Blaireau tucked away in one of those safehouses they've got hidden in the Meadowlands."
"Well, that's one less thing to worry about, at least." Rubbing her eyes, Judy gestured to the sheaf of papers in her partner's paw. "Are those the pangea results?"
"Sure are. I ran it through every database I could think of, and these are the most significant hits." Leaning against the side of the desk, Nick began to rattle off the list. "We've got a Canal District spa called Pangea Springs, a manufacturing conglomerate called the Pangea Group, a Tundratown death metal band named Pangean Blood Orgy..."
"Trust me, I've heard worse," Nick shrugged. "Lemme see here. There's an environmental activist group calling themselves the Army of Pangea."
"That one sounds promising."
"I thought so too, but it turned out that the "Army of Pangea" is just a bunch of college kids playing hacky sack and handing out flyers outside the ZU Student Union. ZBI's never even heard of them, and the connection to Bellwether is nonexistent."
"Then why'd you include them?"
"Because I find twenty-year-olds trying to get laid under the pretense of social activism to be hilarious," he chuckled. "Anyway, next is a brand of organic fruit juices called Pangea Orchards - isn't all fruit organic?"
"Don't even get me started." She murmured. "What else?"
"Right. There's a pizza place called Pangea's, but I'm pretty sure that one's a typo. The pharmaceutical company Weller-Howle produces an antidepressant named Pangea for some reason. And, last but not least, a list of one-hundred and sixty-eight Zootopian citizens with some variant of Pangea in their name." He placed the list on the desk in front of her. "I already ran them all for priors, and only four have criminal records."
"Afraid not." He glanced down at the list again, pointing to a few names. "This one did six months for theft under $5000, but that was almost ten years ago. These two are brothers who both plead guilty on some minor drug charges last year. Not exactly hardened criminals, since the judge let them slide with probation and community service. The last one has a pawful of public intoxication charges, but that's all."
"What about Longfellow? Something about him must've mattered to Bellwether, if her reaction is anything to go by."
"Supposed reaction. We only have Blaireau's word on that, and you know how mammals can get when they recall something traumatic. Some things always get a little blown out of proportion."
"Look, it might be noteworthy and I'm not saying it isn't worth looking into, but there's a million reasons why his name might've gotten a reaction out of Bellwether. She might just have been surprised to find out that the TSP have a shot at the mayor's office. I know I was."
"So basically, you think we've got nothing?"
"No. I think we've got a little and that there's still plenty of digging we can do."
Groaning, she let her head drop onto the desk's surface, not looking up until Cooper arrived to briefly relieve Fraser. The tired-looking arctic wolf left to get something to eat, leaving them in the dingo's care.
"Any luck?" Cooper asked, peering curiously at the scattered paperwork.
"Not yet," Judy chuckled. "But did you know there's a band called Pangean Blood Orgy in Tundratown?"
"Yeah, sure." The dingo nodded. "They usually play at The Hive on Fridays."
"Oh," Judy blinked, surprised. "...are they any good?"
"They're okay," Cooper shrugged. "I thought their last album was kinda gutless. I mean, there's nothing on it that Tooth & Claw haven't already done better."
Nick perked up. "You listen to Tooth & Claw?"
"Yeah, of course. They're one of the greats."
"Damn right they are. I spent most of high school listening to them and the Graveyard Beasts."
"Right on," Cooper said with an appreciative nod. "It was a dark day when the Beasts broke up."
"At least their drummer kinda made up for it when he helped form GoatCorpse. I saw them when they toured with Brutal Hibernation a few years ago." Nick chuckled. "Now that was a show. My ears must have been ringing for a week."
"If you say so. I'm not a big fan of Brutal Hibernation," Cooper admitted, smirking at the fox's somewhat offended expression. "I'm not into that whole sword & sorcery power ballad thing, y'know?"
"What can I say, Wilde? I'm just more of a thrash metal kind of mammal."
Nick snorted. "At least that's better than Bogo. Would you believe he actually hates Furv-"
"Not the time, Nick." Judy interrupted before he could get started on the Chief's dubious taste in music.
"Right. Sorry, Carrots." He shrugged, not looking especially apologetic. "You know how it is."
"I know." She admitted, her stern expression giving way to a kind of fond annoyance. "But we have work to do, remember?"
Nick gave Cooper a look that said we'll talk later. Nodding, the dingo stood to one side to let them return to their search.
The pair spent the next few hours in relative silence, pouring over whatever they could find that related to the word 'pangea' and slowly sorting each possibility into one of three piles; Maybe, Possibly, and Definitely Not Involved. To their frustration, the first two piles were both much larger than the third. Neither of them wanted to talk about the very real possibility that 'pangea' might be something as simple as a computer login or spoken password; something they'd never know about unless they literally stumbled across it.
They had just rolled into their sixth straight hour of digging when Nick's computer let out the faint ping of a new email. Opening it, he studied its contents for a moment as his brow furrowed. "Huh...weird."
Judy glanced up from the Pangea Orchards financial records. "What's weird?"
He pointed to his monitor. "I got an email from the overnight duty operator for the Precinct One switchboard. Apparently, around nine o'clock last night there was an incoming call from the Zootopia Female's Penitentiary. Specifically, from the prison library."
"What?" Surprised, Judy leaned over to look at her partner's computer. "Bellwether called here?"
"Maybe. The operator says the caller hung up just after the line connected."
"How did Precinct Nine miss something like that?"
"That's the really weird part. There's no record of the call in either the switchboard call log or the prison's outgoing call records."
"I thought those logs were saved to a secure server."
"They are. The only mammals with the authority to access or modify secure records are Captain Felton from the cybercrime division or the Chief. Felton is on maternity leave, and the Chief...?"
Judy waved the possibility of Bogo's involvement away. "Maybe the duty operator was wrong?"
"I doubt it. She's been working here for seventeen years and she's old-school. Keeps a paw-written log of all incoming and outgoing calls and has the logbook secured in the evidence locker as soon as she goes off shift. She attached a photo of her logs from last night."
"Forward that to me?" He did so, and she spent the next few minutes scowling at her screen. "This is looking more and more like a cover-up. We really need to tell Bogo about thi-"
"Hopps. Wilde. Time to go."
Turning to the door, Judy found all four tactical officers looking at her expectantly. "What?"
"Time to go, Hopps," Winters repeated. "You and your partner are leaving the building, now."
She glanced up at the clock, frowning. "But it's not even five o'clock yet."
Winters and Galil glanced at one another, the lynx turning to give the detectives an unusually sharp look. "When was the last time either of you looked outside?"
Judy shrugged and looked to her partner, who did the same. Their shared desk was near the centre of the bullpen, well away from both the windows and the atrium, and walking to the coffee machine or restrooms didn't bring them close to either. "Not since we got back, I guess."
"Then you probably haven't noticed the several hundred mammals protesting on the precinct's front steps."
"They've been gathering since Bellwether's murder hit the news cycle." Winters glanced back over his shoulder. "Mamífero put out another one of those articles of his. He claims we're sheltering her murderer."
Judy's mouth fell open in surprise. "Sheltering her murderer? We aren't...wait, is he talking about Simone Blaireau?"
"More or less, but you know how Mamífero works. The only things he explicitly stated as facts are that Bellwether was killed by a predator and that the ZPD rushed a predator into protective custody not long after. The rest is just hearsay and veiled supposition. Nothing he could ever be called on to prove."
"Doesn't stop his fans from getting themselves all worked up," Cooper muttered from his seat in the corner. "Morons."
Winters gave the dingo a side-eyed look. "It's been more or less peaceful so far, but protests like this can provide cover for mammals looking to cause trouble. Bogo wants both of you out of the building before that can happen."
Judy waved a paw at the papers covering the desk, as though Winters might not have noticed it. "But we've got work t-"
"I swear I'm going to have rule number one tattooed on the back of your damned paw," The snow leopard grumbled. "It's all going to be here tomorrow. Let's go."
"Could you just give me a second to copy some files?" Judy asked, ignoring her partner's soft groan.
"Fine." Winters sighed. "If you want to be a workaholic, I'm not going to stop you."
Moving the most relevant files to a radish-shaped flash drive, Judy dropped it into her pocket and dropped down to stand next to Nick. "Okay, we can go now."
"I'm so glad," he drawled. "Shall we?"
Winters waited until the pair had moved into position between the tactical officers, both doing an admirable job at pretending to be nonchalant. Leading them out of the bullpen, he allowed his eyes rove back and forth over their surroundings, letting thousands of years of evolution do what they did best. Keeping a silent mental tally of every weapon in sight and every potentially dangerous mammal that passed within fifty feet.
Despite the sound of angry mammals shouting outside, the only mammals nearby were officers, support staff, and a few journalists who were undoubtedly waiting for something dramatic to happen. It wasn't until they stepped out into the atrium proper that he was struck by the feeling that something was wrong.
He couldn't quite put a claw on what it was. He scanned the atrium again, more slowly than before, picking at the little details like loose threads, but couldn't spot anything dangerously out of place. Everything looked nice and dull, just the way he liked it, but that didn't do anything to put him at ease.
Glancing back to Galil, he wasn't surprised to find the lynx looking back at him with a similarly tense and uncertain expression. Reaching up, he keyed his radio and spoke very softly into the mic. "Cooper. Fraser. You two see anything out of place?"
Both of the canine officers stiffened slightly, then began to look more intently at their surroundings.
"Nothing on the left," Fraser reported.
"Don't see anything on the right eith...hang on." Cooper paused. "Twitchy fella at our three o'clock. About seventy feet away and wearing a tan jacket. Looks like he's got a press pass."
"It's not that idiot Mamífero again, is it?"
"Too big. A goat, maybe? I don't recognize him."
Winters glanced to the right, careful not to let his eyes come to rest on anything, and quickly spotted a mammal with an unusually bulky jacket and a laminated press ID clipped to their belt. They were dressed fairly plainly; enough, at least, that they hadn't immediately stood out from the small clutch of reporters near them. They had a hat pulled low over their eyes, the jacket's collar hiked up, and kept shifting from one foot to the other. It looked like they were trying to stay in the shadow of a nearby potted plant, and everything about the mammal's posture made the snow leopard's fur bristle.
Locating the nearest cluster of patrol officers, he keyed his radio again and spoke softly. "Alright, I want to get some distance. Ease left and pick up the pace. Fraser, when we pass that group of officers, you're going to peel off and point them toward our mystery mammal."
Fraser replied by keying his own radio twice; the two faint clicks on the channel were the only acknowledgement necessary.
"Hopps. Wilde. Change of plans. Follow our lead." He said, glancing over his shoulder. Without waiting for them to respond, he began to shift their course to the left, moving in small increments so as not to alert the potential threat that they'd been spotted. He didn't have to look to know that the others were doing the same.
As ordered, Fraser broke off to subtly alert the other officers before returning to their formation; a pair of them began moving in the direction of the suspicious mammal. They'd barely made it halfway when the mammal turned in their direction and looked up. The shadow cast by his hat's brim fell away to expose the crazed look in their eyes, and time seemed to slow to a crawl as they raised one arm, revealing the switch clutched in one hoof.
"BOMB!" Winters snapped. "DROP HIM!"
Grabbing Wilde by the scruff of the neck, he shoved the fox toward the cover of the reception desk. From the corner of his eye he saw Fraser take hold of Hopps just before they were both swept off their feet by Officer Pennington. The unmistakable staccato of Galil's submachine gun filled the air, punctuated by the roar of Cooper's shotgun, as the pair opened fire on the bomber. Winters kept waiting for the wet thump that would signal the mammal's death, but the sound never came.
He was less than an arm's length away from cover when he was struck by an ear-shattering blast and the world exploded into fire.
END PART 6