Dr. Tolmie soon returned carrying two battered rectangular tins that looked as though they might have begun their lives as elephant-sized pencil cases. Each was labeled with a strip of masking tape with a name written in an untidy scrawl, one reading "SCURSLY, THEODORE M." and the other "BAUSON, RICHARD S."
As Tolmie gave the tins to Judy, which weren't particularly heavy, he fumbled to remove a sheaf of papers from where he had held it clenched in his armpit and place it on a relatively clear portion of his desk. "Not much there, I'm afraid," he said, nodding at the two tins now in Judy's paws, "If you wouldn't mind, ah, checking the contents?"
The wombat pulled out a pen and held it over his documentation. "For Mr. Bauson, I see... a wallet... five Chesterfieldmouse cigarettes in a silver cigarette case... a book of matches, and... a penknife," he read off with an almost painful amount of deliberation.
Judy opened the tin labeled with Bauson's name as briefly as possible, but the horrible smell of the Zootopia River filled Tolmie's office anyway. Fortunately enough, the tin was so close to empty that a quick look was all it took for her to verify what Tolmie had written down. Bauson's wallet looked as though it was made of snakeskin; the shiny scales of the material looked damp and had been tightly stretched as the contents of the wallet had swollen from absorbed moisture. The cigarette case, being made of silver, looked as though it had survived its trip into the river water without incident, although Judy didn't bother opening it to see if Tolmie was right about either the count or the brand of cigarettes inside it. The matchbook was little more than a wet piece of white cardboard with no label that Judy could see, and the penknife looked surprisingly cheap considering how expensive the cigarette case seemed by way of contrast. While the silver of the cigarette case had been finely engraved with Bauson's monogram, the penknife had a scratched handle of black Baelklite held together with two rusting rivets and the part of the blade visible with it folded into the handle looked nearly as rust-spotted.
"All here," Judy said, closing the tin again.
She noticed Nick suddenly take in a deep breath and realized he had been holding it the entire time she had the tin open. Tolmie paid him no mind and scrawled something on his paperwork and then shuffled another page to the top. "For Mr. Scursly... Let's see... A money clip with forty-five dollars in bills... a wristwatch... an empty hip flask...a key ring with two keys... a lighter... and a ruby ring," he read, just as slowly as before.
Judy verified the contents, which once again were exactly as the doctor had said. From his personal effects, Scursly seemed to have expensive tastes and the means to satisfy them; his money clip was made of gold, as was his wristwatch and the band of his ring. The face of the watch was shattered and the hands were missing, but it had obviously been expensive. The ruby ring was almost vulgar, the band was so thick and the stone was so large, and Judy couldn't even begin to guess at how much it had cost. The keys on the key ring were unremarkable and could have gone to just about anything, but there was also a golden heart-shaped charm with a minuscule diamond set into it dangling from the ring. His lighter had been plated in gold, although brass was visible in a few spots where the gold had worn away. Compared to the other items the hip flask was somewhat more pedestrian since it completely lacked gold, but it was made out of silver and had the scuffs and scratches of long and likely heavy use.
"Everything's here," Judy said and closed the tin as fast as she could.
Tolmie took a moment to scribble something on his papers and then looked up. "That takes care of that," he said cheerfully, "I'll let you know once I finish my other blood tests. This really has been quite interesting, you know."
"I'm sure," Nick said, completely deadpan.
"Thank you again," Judy jumped in as she stood up to leave, Nick mirroring her action.
"Oh certainly, you're welcome of course," Tolmie replied, "I do hope I see the both of you again soon."
Although the wombat had frequently struck Judy as being somewhat oblivious to anything unrelated to his job, he did apparently have enough self-awareness to realize how that could be interpreted, and he hastily added, "In a professional capacity, of course. Ah, your professional capacity, I mean, as investigators, that is to say, not my—"
He broke off into a nervous sounding chuckle, running his paws through the fur atop his head. "Well, I'd rather neither of you end up on my slab."
Nick gave the doctor a winning smile. "Neither would we," he said, gesturing from himself to Judy, and then started for the door as Judy finished saying goodbye.
Once they were outside the building on their way back to the car, Nick turned to Judy. "So what'll it be first?" he asked, and then nodded in the direction of the tins Judy was carrying, "Looking through those or looking at the Camellac?"
Judy thought about it a moment. "Maybe we can do both at the same time," she said, "Do you know where the impound lot is?"
Nick took the passenger seat of the Buchatti and grabbed the tins from Judy, placing them on his lap. "Sure," he said, "I had to go there when my Moosenburg got towed."
"You parked it illegally?" Judy asked, and she was about to add, "After everything you've said about my driving?" before Nick replied.
"No," he said simply.
His expression hadn't changed from its usual look, and he had said the word blandly enough, but Judy's teasing retort instantly died in her throat. Perhaps Nick saw the way her expression had changed, because he offered her a crooked smile. "They didn't think a fox could own such a nice car," he said, "I had to talk Mr. Big out of trying to make it right in his own way, but he did insist on buying me this."
As Nick spoke, he gestured to take in the Buchatti and then continued, "He didn't think there could be any more misunderstandings in something like this."
Judy hadn't missed the dark implication about the way in which Mr. Big had wanted to make up for the inconvenience to Nick, and she wondered if the experience had been one of the tipping points for him to realize the brutal lengths to which his employer was willing to go. Nick didn't seem inclined to reflect on the incident any further in the present, because he clapped his paws together briskly. "Come on, let's go," he said, and Judy reluctantly started the Buchatti, the roar of the engine killing any further possibility of conversation.
As Nick called off the first turn after Judy got the sleek blue car into motion, she found herself wishing that it wasn't so.
The impound lot wasn't much to look at. It was on the outskirts of the city, where the buildings tended to be lower and more spread out, and it was far uglier than any of its neighbors. The compound was at least the size of a city block, surrounded by a wooden plank fence that had to be at least ten feet tall. The fence was in pretty sorry shape, with a number of boards missing or rotting away, exposing a rusty chain-link fence that was immediately behind the warping wood. A number of advertisements had been haphazardly attached to the fence at a variety of heights, and none of them looked as though they had the approval of the city; as they approached the main gate Judy caught a glimpse of a yellowing poster for a jazz cabaret and a flier for a tonic promising to restore the glossy sheen of youth to fur. The only official looking sign was simply a large board that had been painted white with black text in three lines positioned near the gate. The words "POLICE IMPOUND" were immediately above "TRESPASSING ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITED," which were in turn above the last line, which read "NO PRIVATE VEHICLES ALLOWED."
The main gate was currently open, and was built the same way that the rest of the fence was, with wooden planks on the outside of a core of chain-link. There were grooves carved into the gravel that formed the surface of the lot where the gate swung through its arc. There was no guard house at the gate, but there was a small building that wasn't much more than a shack at the center of the gravel lot. It was clear that some effort had been taken to organize the cars by size, with the largest in one corner and the smallest in the one diagonally opposite it, but there were so many vehicles filling the lot that it was clear some shortcuts were being taken. There were rodent-sized cars pushed underneath larger ones or stacked atop each other like building blocks, and a car that was clearly sized for a giraffe had had its windshield removed so that it wouldn't take up as much room. The windshield, an enormous and heavy-looking arrangement of glass panels set into a metal frame, was wedged between the fence and the side of the car.
Judy walked towards the building at the center of the lot, Nick following in her wake. As they got closer to the building, Judy saw that it looked just as ill-kept as the rest of the facility. There were weeds sprouting here and there between the gravel of the lot, and the building's walls were made of wooden planks painted a white that might have been bright years ago, but had faded almost to gray and was peeling away. There was only a single filthy window set into the building, facing the gate, and behind it Judy could barely make out the distinctive black and white features of a skunk who looked like the building's lone occupant. The skunk had clearly noticed their approach, and had opened the door before Judy even had the chance to knock.
The skunk was about halfway between her height and Nick's, with a bulky build just short of being chubby. His blue police uniform clashed with the sleek black fur that covered most of the visible parts of his body, and while the fur covering his head was relatively short, his tail seemed almost comically out-sized due to how long the black and white fur covering it was. Neither he nor the shack he appeared to be in charge of smelled particularly good; the smell was something like Nick's natural musk but at least twice as strong. He looked more interested by the fact that Nick and Judy had arrived at his impound lot than angry at the disturbance, and Judy took the opportunity to introduce herself, pulling out her badge to show him. "Good morning," she said brightly, "I'm Agent Judy Hopps with the Bureau of Prohibition, and this is Nick Wilde."
"I'm a consultant," Nick interjected with what Judy thought might be his best imitation of her tone; he had seemed amused at being introduced as a consultant when they had first met Dr. Tolmie, and she supposed that he was going to see how long he could ride it out.
The interested expression on the skunk's face sharpened; clearly they were a break from his routine. "Hugh Zorillo," he said, offering Judy his paw to shake, "Come on in."
The interior of the shack was packed so tight that it was difficult to move around. There was a desk with two stools in front of it and a chair behind it, and the furniture all looked as though it was the least expensive items that money could buy. The desk was sloppily piled high with paperwork, which spilled over a telephone that was nearly invisible beneath the veritable avalanche. On the desk's lone relatively clear spot was a thick ledger that matched dozens more that filled the shelf opposite the room's lone window nearly to bursting. The floor, covered with cheap and rough gray carpeting, was clear, as were the walls, which were empty except for a calendar that looked as though it showed the shifts for the impound lot; if Judy was reading it correctly it looked as though the responsibility was divided between Zorillo and three other officers who rotated through day and night shifts and the different days of the week. "So what brings you here, Agent Hopps?" Zorillo asked as he took a seat in the chair behind the desk, gesturing at the stools in front of it.
"We'd like to take a look at a car you have here," Judy said, "A Camellac Series 314."
"Oh, that?" Zorillo asked, leaning back in his chair, "Sure, sure."
He flipped his ledger open and began thumbing through it until he found the page he was looking for, and then trailed a finger down it. "Northeast corner of the lot," he said, "Doubt you can miss it; that hayburner stinks to high heaven. Such a shame it'll be a total loss, though. I'd buy one for myself, if I could."
Nick seemed moderately amused by the skunk describing something as smelling bad, although he didn't say anything. Before Judy could begin thanking him, the skunk leaned over his desk and asked, "So what's all this about, anyway? Some kind of Bureau operation?"
Zorillo sounded eager, his eyes bright with interest, and Judy imagined that there was very little excitement in the course of his normal job. While she thought she could understand his interest—certainly if she had been in his position, she would have been desperate for anything to break up the boredom—she had only just confided in Nick her concerns about the police, concerns he seemed to share. Zorillo seemed to be pretty low in the pecking order of the police, but she wasn't going to risk saying too much. "Something like that," Nick said before she could come up with something, making a vague gesture with one paw.
It didn't seem to be the answer the skunk was looking for, and he turned his attention to Nick. "Is that so?" he asked, and then he frowned, seeming to really look at the fox for the first time.
"It is," Judy said, and while she regained Zorillo's attention he had the look of a mammal with something on the tip of his tongue.
Zorillo turned back to Nick. "Do I know you from somewhere?" he asked, "You look awful familiar. What'd she say your name was?"
"Nick Wilde," he replied, "But I can't say I know you."
"Hmm," Zorillo said, and then he shook his head as if to clear it.
"Ah, maybe I'm thinking of Mickey Skulker. You do look like him a little. Anyone ever tell you that? I'm big into boxing, see. You like boxing?"
"You're the first to say that," Nick said, what seemed to be his most disarming smile fixed across his face, "And I've caught a match or two."
"You ever see the Wild Bull?" Zorillo asked eagerly, "He had a head like a pred, that one. Just wouldn't go down! I just can't believe he retired. You think he'll come back?"
The skunk seemed eager to draw Nick into a conversation, but Nick gave Judy a quick glance, noting her growing impatience no matter how she tried to hide it. "I'm afraid not," Nick said, "But we better get going."
"Oh," Zorillo replied, disappointment evident in his voice, "Oh, sure."
After Judy had thanked Zorillo and they had made their escape from his little office, Judy turned to Nick as they walked towards the Northeast corner of the lot, their feet making the gravel crunch. "Did you know him?" she asked, wondering if Nick did have some kind of past with the officer.
"No," Nick replied, although he stroked his muzzle thoughtfully, "I bet he's just lonely in there. It's not like I'd expect him to be able to tell foxes apart anyway."
Judy spared a glance back at the little office, and then turned back to Nick. "Was the skunk you saved—" she began slowly, remembering the story Nick had told her of how the absolute final straw for him when it came to Mr. Big had been when the shrew ordered him to skin a skunk alive as proof of his loyalty.
"Different skunk, Carrots," Nick cut her off before she had a chance to finish the thought, "Different family. Maybe word got around, though."
"Maybe," Judy said, and she reached up and gave his paw a brief squeeze, "You deserve a lot of credit for that."
Nick took a moment before he replied, "I hope you'll keep that in mind the next time you see Bellwether."
He was smiling, at least, and to Judy it appeared genuine. "I won't let her get her hooves on you," she said, and Nick actually took a step away from her tone.
"My," he said, his smile broadening, "You—"
Nick suddenly stopped, his expression turning in an instant as he gagged at something, his muzzle wrinkling in disgust and his ears flat against his skull. He paused, and then took in a breath through his mouth. "That's bad," he said, his tone almost conversational, "That's worse than the bodies."
Although they had gotten close enough to the Camellac for Nick's more sensitive nose to pick up its stench, it wasn't until they were much closer that Judy was able to catch a whiff of it. As Zorillo had said, there was no mistaking the car, and not only because it was one of only two Series 314 Imperial Sedans in the city. While most of the other cars in the impound lot looked as though they were in the lot for mundane reasons (although they had passed a beat-up Model T with what looked like bullet holes in the side), the Camellac had unquestionably taken a dip into the river. The front of the car was caved in, the headlights smashed and the front driver's side wheel missing. The car was caked in a film of something that was an unpleasant brown-gray with a number of lumps and even some filthy looking feathers in it. Judy tried to avoid thinking about what the filth was made of, focusing instead on the rest of the vehicle. The way that the car had gone into the water was perfectly preserved; the Camellac had clearly gone in nose-first up to about halfway along the rear doors, as the coating of muck ended almost perfectly at that point. There were a few scratches on the back of the car that Judy guessed were from it being pulled out of the water; she certainly couldn't blame whoever had done it for not wanting to get too close.
"Could I borrow your handkerchief?" Judy asked, and Nick immediately gave it to her.
"You can have my handkerchief. We're burning these clothes when we're done," Nick said, and he didn't seem to be joking.
Judy nodded, and used the handkerchief to pull the driver's side door open. The interior of the car didn't look much better than the outside; the windshield was completely opaque, although she could see a large crack running through it. The dashboard was completely coated, and when Judy wiped the horrible smelling ooze away she didn't see anything out of the ordinary. The interior had clearly been nice at one point, with rich wood trim and chrome accents, but aside from the layer of filth covering everything nothing seemed to be broken. Judy thought back to what Dr. Tolmie had said about carbon monoxide poisoning and the lack of any wounds that would indicate self-defense on the bodies of Scursly and Bauson. Judy carefully examined the interior of the car, front and back, but it didn't seem as though there were any signs of struggle in the Camellac, either, and she was about to extricate herself from the car when she caught a glimpse of something glittering in the foot well of the front passenger side of the car. "Do you see that?" she asked, and turned her head to look at Nick.
Nick had stood near the door and leaned his head in, but he hadn't climbed into the car the way that Judy had. He leaned in further, delicately keeping his body from touching the car, and nodded. "It looks like gold," he said, and Judy carefully reached over and picked up the object with Nick's handkerchief.
She stepped outside the car and set it gently on the ground next to the two tins of personal effects from Scursly and Bauson. Once Judy had the object outside the Camellac, she saw why she had spotted it; the thin layer of muck coating the object had dried and cracked, exposing part of the shiny golden surface. The disgusting coating came off easily enough as she brushed at it with the increasingly filthy handkerchief, exposing a golden cigarette case.
Nick opened the tin that had Scursly's name on it. "Scursly had a lighter, but not a pipe or cigarettes," Nick said, looking from the golden contents of the tin to the equally golden cigarette case, "Do you think..."
Judy flipped the cigarette case over and wiped the other side clean; since it had been in contact with the floor of the car and hadn't dried, the filth came off in thick congealing clumps. Neither side had any identifying marks on it, and after Judy wiped her paws more or less clean against the gravel on the ground she opened the cigarette case. Inside there were nineteen cigarettes, ten filling one side and the other side one short of being full. The cigarettes were held in place with golden clips, and on the side with ten cigarettes a scrap of paper had also been tucked under the clip. The cigarette case had closed tightly, and neither the cigarettes nor the piece of paper was damp. Judy delicately pulled the slip of paper free and unfolded it, revealing what seemed to be a hastily scrawled note that read "Canopy Hotel" with an address written beneath it: "300 W. Grand Ave."
"This might be Carajou's address!" Judy said, and unable to contain her excitement she pulled Nick into a hug, "We might have it!"
Nick laughed, patting her briefly on the back before pulling away. "It's a good thing I was already planning on burning this suit," he said, and Judy saw the spots on his torso where some of the muck had transferred onto him.
"I'm sorry," Judy said, and she was, but it was nothing compared to how her heart was pumping, "But come on, let's go!"
"Just a minute," Nick said.
Nick had pulled the money clip out of the tin and then rifled through the bills before coming to a driver's license that had been folded in half at the center. Scursly's signature had turned into an illegible smudge when the license had gotten wet, but his address was still readable, and it definitely wasn't 300 West Grand Avenue. Nick then opened the tin for Bauson's effects and with some difficulty freed his driver's license from the swollen wallet, which again showed a different address. "I think we're onto something," he said, "Do you still have that hotel key?"
Judy nodded, barely able to contain herself as Nick repacked the tins, her foot tapping a rhythm against the ground. At last he stood up, the tins tucked under one arm. "Let's—" he began, but the word was barely out of his mouth before Judy grabbed him by the paw and started pulling until they were running for the Buchatti.
The title of this chapter, "Muddy Water," comes from a 1926 song by Ben Bernie. It seemed appropriate, considering the filth coating the Camellac, although it's more sewage and industrial runoff than mud.
Masking tape, which Dr. Tolmie used to label the tins that he put Scursly's and Bauson's personal effects in, was invented in 1925, so it's period-accurate to have it available in 1927.
Chesterfieldmouse cigarettes are an obvious reference to the real-life brand Chesterfield, which was at its most popular in the beginning of the 20th century, and the field mouse.
Baelklite is a pun on Bakelite, an early plastic invented in 1907 by the chemist Leo Baekeland, hence the name. As the first synthetic plastic, there were a huge number of products made out of Bakelite due to its various attractive properties: it's cheap to manufacture, is a good electrical insulator, is relatively strong and hard wearing, and it can easily be cast into complex shapes. Everything from telephone parts to buttons to pipes to billiard balls was made out of Bakelite, and a penknife made from it would be pretty common in the 1920s and quite cheap.
Wristwatches used to be seen as feminine, with men preferring pocket watches, until World War I. The practicality of wristwatches, combined with an increasing military requirement for precisely-timed maneuvers, saw to the widespread issuance of wristwatches to soldiers, who continued to wear them after the war ended. By 1927, wearing a pocket watch was already old-fashioned, the victim of how rapidly fashions shifted. Thus, Scursly's wristwatch is what a modern man of the time would wear.
Although Zippo lighters weren't invented until 1932 and disposable Bic lighters didn't come out until 1976, lighters did exist in the 1920s. There were a number of different styles available, but it would be possible to own something that looked very similar to a modern Zippo and operated in more or less the same fashion. Some soldiers in WWI even crafted their own lighters out of used cartridges; the fact that Scursly's lighter is brass under a thin layer of gold suggests that this may be the case for him.
Nick mentioned owning a Moosenburg back in chapter 11. In that same chapter, I mentioned in the author's notes that the Buchatti is based on a 1924 model, which means he really hadn't owned it all that long before leaving the city.
Tow trucks were invented in 1916, which makes it perfectly possible for Nick's car to have been towed at some point in the early to middle 1920s. Early tow trucks tended to simply be trucks with a series of pulleys built into the bed to get leverage, with hydraulic or pneumatic assists coming later as the technology was refined.
Chain-link fencing was invented in 1844, and was actually a clever application of a principle that was already being applied to weaving fabric. Even in the 1920s chain-link fencing was inexpensive, although at that time it would have been unfashionable for more domestic uses; houses were idealized to have white picket fences as a sort of cliché of the middle class. However, it's difficult to beat the cost of a chain-link fence, and chain-link fences tend to be both easy to put up and have minimal upkeep required, unlike a wooden white picket fence that needs to be periodically re-painted.
As previously mentioned, the musk of foxes is somewhat skunk-like, which means that the opposite is also true. A skunk in Zootopia would probably smell better than a skunk in the wild, since they'd probably take great care to avoid spraying except in self-defense, but their natural scent seems like it would likely still be notable. Officer Zorillo's name comes from his species of skunk, also known as the Western Spotted Skunk. "Zorillo" is actually Spanish for "little fox," which kind of makes me wonder if the person who named it that had ever seen a fox.
A hayburner was a car that used a lot of gas in 1920s slang; as a large and heavy sedan with an eight cylinder engine, a Cadillac Series 314 Imperial Sedan would definitely qualify.
Mickey Skulker is a reference to real-life boxer Mickey Walker, who enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in the 1920s. Skulker is derived from the word "skulk" to mean a group of foxes. Luis Firpo was another boxer of the 1920s, nicknamed the Wild Bull of the Pampas, and he had retired from the sport in 1926 before making a return in 1936. He was widely regarded as one of the best boxers of the time, after Jack Dempsey, and their fight for the heavyweight title in 1923 is still regarded as one of the greatest boxing matches ever. For someone following the sport, it'd definitely be a topic of interest in 1927 as to whether or not Firpo would ever return to boxing.
That Scursly would have his driver's license folded in half probably sounds a bit strange in modern times, as at least in the US driver's licenses are printed on plastic that would likely snap if you tried. However, in the 1920s driver's licenses were simply pieces of paper pre-printed with the proper fields and the information added by typewriter and then signed. They also didn't have photographs on them, although they were still frequently used as an ID.
As always, thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you thought!