Bogo brought the car at the front of the line to another halt when they reached the front gate. The gate was sealed. Blocking the way into the old Fauna estate were the backs of three massive semis, the rear doors sealed and dented.
"What the hell is this?" Yaxley hissed.
"Vercus is trying to keep us out." Nick said. "According to the old blueprints we found, this is the only way into the estate that doesn't involve climbing over the fence. I'm just saying 'cause those explosions are totally his doing."
Bogo grabbed his radio, but he all got was an abnormal noise. "Something's jamming the signal. Damn it, they knew we were coming!"
"Or they had a jammer just in case we found them." Judy suggested. "Sir, I think Vercus is setting a trap."
"I think so, too." Bogo snarled. "And that may mean he already has Ben." He punched the dashboard again, this time hard enough to crack the plastic.
"Take it easy, Bogo." Yaxley said. "We'll get him back. If we can't use the radio, we'll just have to communicate the old fashioned way. Hopps, Wilde, when we get out this car go to the other vehicles and tell them I want a perimeter set up around the fence and make sure this gate is the only way in and out of the estate."
"Yes, sir." Judy said. They got out of the car, and Bogo and Yaxley took cover behind the vehicle while the smaller officers made their way down the line to give out the yak's orders. Bogo glared anxiously at the bulky semis blocking the way into the estate. Through the fence he spied two more semis wreathed in flame, the source of the smoke they'd seen on their way to the estate.
"What're you planning, a siege?" The buffalo asked, his voice thick with tension.
"We're securing all exits until we find out what the hell in going on in there." Yaxley already had his gun out. Despite being on the verge of being overwhelmed with fear and rage for Benjamin, Bogo felt a twinge of dread when he saw that the gun wasn't a model that fired darts. "Something about this whole mess stinks, and it's not the smoke."
"I know what you're thinking." Bogo agreed as their men piled out the vans and cars, fully decked out in body armor, and set out to surround the estate. "All those bombs went off inside the estate. Only someone on the inside could have pulled that off."
"I wonder what that means for Dr. Fauna." Yaxley checked that he had a full magazine and slammed it back into the gun. "If she's dead, that leaves Gruff as the only one we know who can identify 'Nishimura.'"
"Aren't you forgetting someone?"
Yaxley swung his gaze down to the radio in his possession. "What the- how the hell did you get on this channel, Casel?!"
There was a loud bang, and a flash of sparks out the corner of Bogo's eye. There were shouts from the officers as they took cover behind cars and trees. Bogo turned his head. There was a black dent on the surface of the hood of the car they were hiding behind. The mark of a ricocheting bullet.
"The next primeval moron who calls me that will get his brain liquefied!" Vercus snarled through the radio.
Judy and Nick, who had been returning to their superiors when the shot was fired, quickly joined them behind the front car. "My guess is that he acquired one of our radios during the raid on the cathedral." Nick said.
"Clever fox. Give the radio to Mansa. I know he's with you."
Yaxley quickly passed the radio. Bogo did his best to keep a cool head as he held the device to his ear. "Where did you get a sniper rifle, Vercus?"
"From the sharpshooter who got his face caved in when the chimney blew up. Why don't you take a look, see if you can see where I am before I put one through your muddy brown eye."
"Where's Ben?" Bogo snarled.
"Safe and sound, until I can get the damn door open. Alec's not the only one who can throw a murder mystery. Maybe I'll pay him a visit afterward. Show him how it's really done!"
Bogo nearly crushed the radio in his hoof. "You need to turn yourself in before we put you down like the rabid animal you are."
"Rabid? Says the upstart gutter ox who has hounded me since day one. The party animals can help you lighten up, I reckon. Spilling your intestines and ripping our your spine will take the pounds right off."
"Party animals?" Judy asked, frowning.
"Alright." Bogo sneered into the radio. "If it gets me closer to you, I'll play your sick games. Who's the murder victim?"
"The good Doctor Fauna. Unless you can get to her in time."
"She's alive?" Yaxley's ears perked.
"The mystery tonight is whether or not you can gather up all the clues and save Fauna before she loses her head and the whereabouts of the infamous Yokai Nishimura, and still have time to stop me from reaching Benji. Maybe you'll even catch me before I take my remaining grievances up with Tirari Town, but I wouldn't count on it."
"We'll see about that." Bogo retorted. "What's the first game?"
"The first game is an all time classic! A dancing competition! You see these big trucks blocking the gate? Inside is the competition. Once they open, you'll have to compete to determine who is the best dancer. The last team standing wins the game and gets the first clue to Fauna's location! Understand?"
"I understand, you little creep."
"Good. You can come out of hiding now. I've got work to do. You have two minutes before the game begins."
A few seconds later the gate slid open, leaving the semis the only things blocking their way into the estate.
Bogo tried the radio, but he heard the same strange noise. The frequency had been re-jammed. "This is crazy, even for him. What is he up to?"
"He's buying himself time." Judy said. "He's not just after Benji. I think he's doing something else in that house."
"And if he's telling the truth, our only chance of catching both him and Mr. Sushimura is to find Fauna." Nick said. "Couldn't we just ditch the dance party and go over the fence?"
Just then a ZBI officer joined them by the car. "Sir, we've got the entire estate surrounded, but the fence is electrified. The only way in is past those semis."
"Crap." Nick muttered. "Couldn't we just push the trucks out the way?"
"See those explosives?" Yaxley pointed to the tiny white blocks beside the padlocks holding the semi doors closed, and the slightly bigger blocks fixed to the tires.
Judy's ears swiveled. "Sir, I can hear something moving around in there."
"How many, Hopps?"
Bogo readied his weapon. "We have less than a minute before that semi opens! Everyone get ready!"
With the radio out of commission Yaxley had to yell out his orders. With most of their men surrounding the estate, only ten were available to assist in fighting off whatever came out that semi, including Fangmeyer and Higgins. To Bogo's relief Yaxley acceded to his request to put his gun away to use a less lethal dart gun in the fighting.
When fifteen seconds were left, they were ready. Every gun was pointed straight at the semis. Bogo hoped to God it was enough.
Fifteen seconds came and went. The little block detonated, blowing off the padlock. The doors swung open.
And then all hell broke loose.
Judy gasped in terror when more than thirty savage prey mammals poured out of the three semis, howling for blood.
Nevertheless she took the first shot, taking down a goat. In the blink of an eye the rest followed suit, demonstrating just why each of them had made it to Precinct One and the ZBI. But the beasts were too fast, the dart guns' firing rate too slow, their marksmanship not perfect enough.
"Retreat and keep firing!" Yaxley bellowed. They didn't need telling twice, backing back down the path through the forest.
Judy felt a frightening sense of déjà vu before her back hit a tree, just as a rhino took noticed and charged. She fired her weapon, but she'd run out of darts. Her mind went blank and her body went stiff as she watched death racing right at her. "Carrots!" She heard Nick scream from behind the rhino. That was all she needed. She bent her legs and leapt, her body doing a one-eighty in the air as the rhino skidded beneath her and hit the tree hard enough to rip the roots from the frozen ground. She land behind the fallen mammal, miraculously ended up right beside Nick. His arms were stretched out, his empty dart gun pointed right at the rhino's dart-ridden hindquarters.
Judy's heart was pounding. "Okay, we're sticking together from now on!"
"Isn't that always the case?" Nick replied before they continued the fight.
They reloaded and fired and fought, but it did not look good for them. Three more rhinos pulled an elephant officer to the ground and nearly beat him to a bloody pulp, only some well-aimed darts from Bogo and Fangmeyer saving his hide. Yaxley had to clamber onto one of the armored vans to save himself from a vicious goring by a boar, having already taken a gash to his thigh. Judy ran out of darts again just as a beaver attacked, buck teeth gleaming red with blood. This time she took him down with a roundhouse kick and a dart to the shoulder. Nick seemed to hear something coming up behind them, for he spun round and threw a punch, catching a woodchuck square in the mouth.
"Wow!" He gasped as he shook his paw. "This is actually getting cathartic!"
"Hey, you can't deny these guys deserve this!"
"Just stick to darts alright?!"
"I will if they stop running out!"
"BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP AND FIGHT!" Bogo roared. A bison tackled him, sending them both tumbling through an open car door and into the front seats. Judy and Nick were already on their way to assist when there was a colossal bang. They caught a glimpse of Bogo swinging an arm and the bison went flying back out the car. Bogo clambered back out, looking slightly dazed with a piece of something white stuck on the point of his horn.
"Are you alright, sir?" Judy asked.
"Damn airbag went off!" Bogo grunted. "When I get my hooves on that son of a-" He suddenly fired his dart gun between Nick and Judy, taking down a horse. "No more talking 'til they're all down!"
The bunny and fox nodded and resumed firing, racing along the road to assist the others however they could. Judy was no longer sure there had been thirty mammals in the three semis. Once again she kept firing until the gun ran empty. She reached for more darts, but this time her pouch was empty.
Nick noticed her predicament. "Hold on, I've got more here-"
"No time, Nick!" Judy had just seen three beavers, two sheep and a porcupine coming right at them from different directions. She reached behind and pulled out a retractable metallic baton.
She'd hoped she wouldn't have to use it.
The first swing swept the closest beaver's legs from under him, buying Nick time to take out the second and one of the sheep. The second swing smashed the buckteeth off the third beaver as it lunged to bite her throat, but it wasn't a fatal blow. The third batted the porcupine away from Nick when he tried to render the fox a ruddy pincushion. The last sheep succeeded in barging into the fox, knocking some darts from his paw. Judy raised her baton to break the maddened mammal's nose, only for the toothless beaver to knock her down and pin her to the ground. With one arm holding the sheep's horns at bay, Nick grabbed one of the dropped darts and stabbed it into his attacker's neck like an ice pick. He grabbed a second dart and plunged it into the back of the beaver tearing at Judy.
He checked her over, but Judy had only suffered a few scratches and a missing stab vest. Nick himself would likely be sore for weeks. He offered a paw and helped her up.
"Could I have one of those?" He asked.
The fight went much easier after that. Even as they lose three of their own to injury, the officers whittled down the marauding savages until only one remained, the rhino trying to knock Yaxley off the roof of the van. He loaded his last dart, reached over the side in the split second the van stopped shaking, and took the beast down. Panting, he looked around the battlefield. "Is that all of them?"
Nick took a look around himself and gave a thumbs up. Yaxley exhaled and carefully made his way down. "Excellent work, everyone! Fangmeyer, Higgins, our radios are still jammed so you'll have to go around and tell our sentries what happened here! The rest of you, tend to the injured and get every last one of these mammals cuffed and muzzled!" He then turned his furious gaze to the semis. "That sick little freak! Take a look!"
Judy and Nick raised their flashlights and looked. A second later they had to turn away so they wouldn't throw up. The semis weren't entirely empty.
"Did you see those grenades in there?" Yaxley said and he leaned against the front car for support, practically squeezing his injured leg in his rage. "He must have rounded up the survivors. Forced them into those vans. Chucked a nightfall grenade in each van and locked those sorry souls in with them."
"Oh god." Judy whimpered. She was grateful for the one armed hug Nick gave her. "How could he do that?"
"Who cares, Hopps? All that matters is that he's gone too far. Where's my sharpshooter?" Yaxley barked. A wolf came running up. "Take your rifle and get up that tree over there. The instant you catch sight of Vercus Casel, kill him."
The wolf nodded grimly and rushed to one of the vans to retrieve the fifty-caliber gun. Judy couldn't bring herself to object to such lethal measures.
"In the meantime, some get the bomb disposal to see to those explosives still on the trucks!" Bogo ordered.
Their bomb disposal experts, three mammals from the ZBI they'd brought along in case they ran into a situation such as this, cautiously approached the semis. After a few minutes the one in charge returned to Bogo and Yaxley. "Sir, they're all attacked to a keypad on the center truck. We'll need a code to disarm it."
"Maybe it's the first clue Vercus was talking about." Yaxley said. "Everyone spread out! Search everywhere and everyone!"
"I don't think we have to." Nick had knelt down beside the beaver missing some teeth. "There's something drawn on his fur. Two, six, four, six."
"Sir, that same number is on this rhino, here!" A bear called from further down the road.
"They all have the number!" A rhino yelled.
The bomb disposal expert shrugged. "The keypad wants a four digit code. It's our only clue."
"Hang on, it could be another trap!" Judy said. "What if that code just triggers the bombs?"
"And risk Mansa dying a quick death?"
This time Bogo snatched the radio from Yaxley. "We know you're just buying time, Vercus. What are you up to?"
"That's for me to know. And you to die trying to find out."
"You seem upset that we won the game."
"Don't get cute, beef cake! You're only just getting started! You think I did all this on my own? The survivors found out who I really was. That their rightful leader is still alive. Realized Fauna lied. Most of them joined my side. Put the dissenters in the trucks. Helped me set up the party. Now they're waiting. On the other side. They've got guns. Real guns. Take them out. Then they'll lead you to Fauna."
"And if we just forget about Fauna and force our way through that entrance?" Bogo asked.
"Then you'll get your face blown off." Vercus hung up.
"You think he's telling the truth about the code?" Yaxley asked.
"He's obviously got plans for me." Bogo grunted. "And he's not going to risk those bombs blowing those plans out the window. I think it'll work."
"Did you notice the way he was talking?" Nick asked.
Bogo thrust the radio at Yaxley when he requested it back. "Whatever happened here must be making him lose his grip. We have to get in there and find Ben."
Just then the sharpshooter shouted down from his perch. "Sir, I think I see Clawhauser!"
Judy's heart leapt. Bogo raced up to the tree. "Where is he?"
The wolf peered through the scope. "In the bedroom with the balcony, sir. He blocked the door. That must be what's keeping Vercus from getting to him. He looks hurt, sir. I see blood on his left side."
Bogo tensed, digging his hooves into the tree. "How bad?"
"I just see the one wound. He's got a piece of glass in him. Looks like he's doing the smart thing and not taking it out."
Judy clenched her fists. "How is he doing?"
The wolf paused. "He's sitting by the drawers. He's put some kind of cloth around the glass shard and now he's taping it in place."
"He is smart." Yaxley said.
"He's going through the drawers again. Looks like he's found some papers and a book. Could be evidence." The wolf paused again. "What the hell is he doing?"
"What is it?" Judy asked, alarmed.
"He's unblocking the door! He's leaving the bedroom!"
"Benji, no!" Judy cried.
"What the hell is he playing at?" Bogo yelled.
"It must be whatever was on those documents." Yaxley replied dourly. "He's learned something important enough to make him come out of hiding."
"He's out the door!" The sharpshooter called. "He's gone."
"Damn it!" Bogo growled. "Any sign of Vercus?"
"None, sir. I don't think he knows Clawhauser has left."
"Then we'd better get in before he finds out." Nick said.
Bogo glared down at the fox. "What's that smirk on your face?"
Judy smiled along with Nick. She knew that look all too well, and it only grew wider as the fox spoke. "This is starting to remind me of Bellwether. She thought she had all the cards too. If we're gonna be playing more of his games, then I say we throw some cheaters into the mix."