Disclaimer: Zootopia stories, characters, settings, and properties belong to the Walt Disney Co. This story is written under Fair Use Copyright laws.


The Fire Triangle—A Zootopia Fanfiction


Part One:

Fuel


Chapter 8—Where There's Smoke...
(Continued…Pt. 2)

Judy Hopps could not have been more pleased…or less surprised

Standing beside Precinct-1's front entrance, waving and grinning, was the familiar, feline form of Burrow County Sheriff's Deputy Mac Cannon—and who else would the BCSD have sent to talk to Craig Guilford? After all the previous times the bobcat had been questioned him, that choice was a slam dunk. The hog accompanying Mac, on the other paw, was a wholly different story. HE looked like someone who'd be more at home sitting in a rocking chair, sipping lemonade and telling stories to his grandchildren; his liver-spotted face was grizzled with gray, and his ample belly hung over the rim of his chinos like a loaf of bread baked in too small a pan. The rest of his ensemble consisted of suspenders and a striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and—especially inappropriate for a hot day like today—a bow-tie. The topper was pair of tiny, steel-rimmed spectacles perched precariously on his muzzle as if preparing to take flight. The only sign that he was a law enforcement official was the well-worn badge clipped to his belt.

Looks, however, could be deceiving…and no one knew that better than Judy Hopps. Sheriff's Detective Walter Root had been with the BCSD since before she'd learned to walk…and don't let that laid back grandpa routine fool you. Around the Sheriff's Office, he was affectionately known as Ol' Razor-Head for the sharpness of his mind. (He'd been a big factor in the bunny-cop's decision to become a police officer.)

"Deputy Cannon, Detective Root," she said, thrusting out a paw. This was business, not pleasure and she thought she should keep things on a professional level.

Root however, had other ideas. "Aw never the titles, we're all friends here, Wally and Mac'll do." He spoke in a curious mixture of Midwestern twang and Southern drawl.

"Same here," Mac Cannon said when it was his turn to shake.

When they moved on to her partner, Judy was surprised to hear the old hog say, "Good to see you again too, Nick,"

What the…? When had HE ever…? Then she remembered, Detective Root had been one of the animals who had taken Nick's statement, the morning after the Guilford Attack, (as it was coming to be known in the Burrow,)

"Likewise, I'm sure," The fox responded, warmly pumping the hog's hoof. Whether his sullen mood had finally evaporated or whether he was simply putting in his best behavior for their visitors, Judy couldn't say.

"So," Root asked them, reaching around to scratch the back of his neck, "Our boy have anything new to tell us since last we talked?"

"Nope," Nick shook his head, "Same old, same old; nothing but threats and insults."

"Yeah, I figgered as much," the Sheriff's hog answered, snorting indifferently.

"What about his girlfriend, Amanda Hill, anything new out of her?" It was Mac Cannon.

"No, it's more or less the same old story there, too." Judy said. "She just keeps hugging herself and whimpering that she wants to go home."

"We'll want to talk to her first, of course," Wally Root sounded a little embarrassed at having to state the obvious. Naturally, they'd want to question Amanda before they talked to Craig; she was being cooperative. Get her statement on tape, play it back for her boyfriend, and see if that might put a chink or two in his defenses. It was a police interrogation technique as old as Good Cop / Bad-Cop.

"What's the latest on Craig's dad and uncle?" Nick Wilde asked, unable to keep the hopeful note out of his voice.

"Not good," Root answered him, "you heard yet who they finally got to represent them? Dare Kaprinos."

Nick let out a groan that was almost a whine. Darius 'Dare' Kaprinos, Attorney at Law, was a wild goat and an even wilder conspiracy theorist. He specialized in representing other extremists in court, and was noteworthy for turning every trial at which he appeared into a burlesque show. (He also had a less-than-enviable conviction rate, but who cared, as long as he got headlines?) The only attorney Nick would have less preferred to face as a hostile witness was Vern Rodenberg, his own former counsel.

"I know, I know," Root nodded in grim sympathy, "That boy should've been disbarred years ago. But, it is what it is, son; we can't hardly tell Jerry Guilford, 'Sorry, Mr. Kaprinos ain't acceptable as your lawyer'."

"Probably only encourage him, if we did," Mac Cannon observed sardonically from the sidelines, "I guess you don't want to know that sleaze-bag goat is standing 100% behind him and his brother's decision to plead not guilty."

"'Course he is," Wally Root responded with a cynical grunt, "If them boys DO cop a plea, Mr. Kaprinos don't get hisself the spotlight anymore."

"Well the good news is, we got a deal worked out with the Zootopia Attorney General's office." Mac's smile was both wicked and feral, "If Jerry, Joe, and Dean decide to insist on going through with that plea, they're gonna end up serve their sentences in that new Viomax Prison, just opened up here in Zootopia." He seemed to take for granted that the three coyote brothers would all be found guilty.

At the mention of the name Viomax, Nick Wilde shuddered inwardly. Although and he Judy had never been back there—not since the days when it had still been known as the Cliffside Sanitarium—the memories of what they'd found inside were still as fresh as yesterday. Imagine having to spend the rest of your natural life inside of that place, brrrrr,

Judy Hopps, for her part, didn't think even that bit of news would be enough to persuade the Guilford brothers to change their plea. But then she realized something; neither did Mac, the bobcat was simply relishing the thought; he loved the idea of the three coyotes serving their time in a place that made Lemmingworth look like an amusement park.

"Sweet cheez n' crackers, he really hates the Guilfords," the bunny-cop thought to herself, wondering if maybe their history didn't go back little further than she'd first believed. Then she asked, "How'd you manage to work that out?"

"T'weren't hard," Detective Root answered her with a laconic shrug, "There were more'n a few folks down from Zootopia at that dance, y'know."

"Right, right," Judy answered, wanting to face pawlm herself. Yes, there had and she should know, she'd been one of them.

"Before we start, I need to go find me a restroom," Wally Root was grimacing slightly, "Dang docs've got me on these new meds."

When two Bunnyburrow deputies stepped through the door of Interview Room 'A', the effect was like opening up a floodgate. Amanda Hill leaped from her chair, speaking so rapidly, Judy had trouble following what she was saying. The gist of her remarks revolved around a promise to tell the Sheriff's deputies everything she knew if they would only just let her go home.

"Now, now little lady," Wally Root made gentle pushing motions with his hooves, "We'll try to get you back with your folks as quickly as possible, but first we need to ask you just a few quick questions, all right?"

"O-Okay?" the young vixen answered, sniffling pitifully and then sitting back down again.

On the other side of the one-way mirror, Nick turned and winked at his partner, "Detective Root sounds just like your favorite uncle, doesn't he? I can see why the Burrow County Sheriff's Department sent him here."

"You got that right," Judy answered, keeping her eyes on the action inside the interview room, (the ZPD never called them an 'interrogation rooms'.) Privately, she was hedging her bets; this was the easy part. Craig Guilford was going to be a much tougher nut to crack than his girlfriend...MUCH tougher, even for someone as skilled and experienced as Burrow County Sheriff's Detective Walter J. Root.

As things turned out, Amanda was so eager to co-operate with the two deputies, they had to tell her to slow down every few minutes. In the end, she looked so wretched and pitiable that Judy almost began to feel sorry for her.

Almost; there was still the small matter of the way the young red-fox vixen had trolled her sister, Erin. As for Nick, he appeared to be feeling even less sympathy for Amanda Hill than she did. Judy thought she knew why; it was foxes like her that gave their species a bad name.

When the two Sheriff's Officers emerged from the room an hour later, the looks on their faces could only be described as expressions of quiet satisfaction. Amanda had answered all of their questions and signed everything they'd put in front of her; she had even told them, point blank, that she didn't want a lawyer. "I just wanna go home!"

"Mac, run that back to where Amanda told us the Guilford kid threatened her family if she wouldn't come with him. You know the spot." Root was pointing at a voice recorder tucked underneath the bobcat's arm.

Nick and Judy said nothing to this; the fox only buzzed for someone to come take Amanda Hill back to her cell, while the bunny-cop's face remained implacable.

Of course, Amanda had been exaggerating when she'd said that. The furthest Craig had probably gone in that direction was when he'd tried to lay some emotional blackmail on her; "I thought you said you CARED about me," etc.

But that wasn't why the grizzled old boar was having his partner wind the recording back to that particular point. He had something else in mind, and Judy was all but certain that she knew what it was—exactly what she would have done, had she been in his place.

"Okay, got it," Mac looked up from the recorder again.

"All righty," Root answered, pressing his hooves against his kidneys and stretching his back. The sound reminded Judy Hopps of someone shuffling a deck of cards, "Then I think we're about ready for the boy."

"He's down here in Room D," Nick Wilde answered, indicating the direction with a paw. (They had wanted to keep him as far apart from his girlfriend as possible,)

This time, the two Burrow County Deputies didn't go inside right away; they wanted to have a look at their suspect through the one-way mirror first. They saw him sitting with his paws clenched on the table-top, staring fixedly at the wall with no expression on his face. His fur was going in every which direction, as if he'd just taken a ride in a tumble-dryer.

"I see you got him cuffed," Detective Root said, peering narrowly through the glass. He turned to Nick and Judy, "Mind lettin' us have the key?"

Judy's nose began o twitch.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" she asked while Nick flipped open his pawcuff holster, searching for the requested item.

"Yeah, that boy's more like to come at you if he's shackled than if'n he ain't," the old hog answered her, "he's funny that way. Anyway, he won't try nothin' with Mac in there."

"Not if he remembers what happened last time," the bobcat added with that vulture's grin again.

When they entered the interview room, Craig Guilford said nothing at first, only looked up at the deputies with his eyes flashing, first in recognitions and then in open hostility.

"Well boy," Detective Root said, putting his hooves on his hips and shaking his head, "you sure tore the rag off the bush this time, didn't you?" He sounded more disappointed than angry.

"Don't call me boy, you fat load of snail guts," the young coyote snarled, starting to rise from his chair…and quickly thinking better of it when Mac Cannon took a step forward.

Root just continued on as if he hadn't heard a thing.

"You ain't going to Youth Authority Camp this time, son…"

"Don't call me son!"

"…this time it's prison you're lookin' at."

Craig Guilford just slumped in his seat with a baleful expression. Nick Wilde, however, wasn't fooled.

"That's right kid; let them see they're getting to you." He sniggered.

"I know, right?" Judy agreed, throwing a nod in her partner's direction. Could it possibly have been more obvious? She had to admire how quickly Detective Root had located his suspect's weak spot.

"Okay, I'm going to have deputy Cannon uncuff you," the old boar was saying, "I know you won't try anything—coz you know what'll happen, if you do."

Mac bared his teeth and claws to make sure the young coyote got the point, and then unlocked the cuffs.

Craig Guilford spent the next minute massaging his wrists and looking in every direction but at his visitors, another sign that they were getting to him. And then without warning, his eyes bored straight into Detective Root.

"I wanna talk to my dad!"

The hog said nothing to this and his face showed no expression whatsoever. But Mac Cannon hurriedly turned his face away from the young coyote—and towards the one-way mirror.

"Huh, what's up with him?" Judy's ears were standing on end and her nose was twitching rapidly. "He looks like he just drew four aces in poker game."

"I-I-I think I know," her partner said, suppressing a grin of his own. On the other side of the glass, Detective Root's face had turned somber and mournful.

"No…Craig, you don't want to talk to him," he said, shaking his head sadly.

"Yes, I do!" the young coyote snarled, "I know my rights and you can't keep me from speaking to my father."

Out in the hallway, Nick and Judy moved quickly away from the mirror, so the animals on the other side couldn't hear them trying not to bust a gut. Dang, this kid was even dumber than they'd thought; he should have been insisting upon speaking to an attorney, not his dad.

He never did; instead he just kept on escalating his demands to speak with his father—while Detective Root's attempts to dissuade him became more and more plaintive. After five minutes, he was practically begging the young coyote not to go down this path…which was tantamount to trying to get rid of ants with maple syrup. The more he tried to dissuade Craig Guilford from making that demand, the more belligerent the young coyote became…until finally the grizzled old boar abruptly raised his hooves and turned his head away

"Okay…Okayyyy,"

Judy watched as Craig sat down again, folding his arms and smiling triumphantly from ear to ear. She wasn't bothered; by now she too had figured out the hog detective's game-plan…or at least enough of it to smile in anticipation of the other hoof dropping.

Root gave his suspect a few extra seconds before he dropped it.

"All right, I didn't want to have to do this," he said, reaching into his jacket with a snuffling sigh, "but I guess now I got no choice."

He pulled out a weathered voice recorder, laying it on the table between them.

"Better brace yourself kid, this is gonna hurt." Mac Cannon said, as his partner pushed the playback button.

Right away they heard Jerry Guilford's voice…and he was not a happy camper.

"Craig? Craig! That stupid, worthless, incompetent, little snot! He had one job…ONE job! Don't mention his name in my presence again, Dean. As of right now, I GOT no son!"

"But Jerry…"

"I said, SHUT UP!"

Craig Guilford plopped back into his seat with a dazed expression on his face. Judy thought he looked as if he'd been sucker-punched. (Actually that was a pretty good description of what had just happened.)

And it only went south from there; in the next segment Craig's father was heard to say, "I hope that kid gets caught; gets caught and they put his worthless tail in here with us. When I get my paws on him, he's dead, you hear me? DEAD! MEAT!"

"Jerry…you don't mean that…!"

"Yes, I do!"

That was enough to make the young coyote's eyes water and bring a quiver to his lower lip. Bad enough to be disowned by your father, but to hear him say he wanted to kill you? Mac had been right; this DID hurt…a lot.

What Jerry Guilford had to say a few minutes later brought his boy full circle, right back into a state of high fury, (although the tears never left his face.)

"Craig had no idea where that Jack La Peigne was. He only told me that big, jerk-bunny was over on the east side of the festival to get me off his back…and look what happened because of it. Of all the lazy, stupid, idiotic…!"

"WHAT?!" The young coyote came rocketing out of his chair…and this time Mac Cannon didn't move to stop him. "That's totally bogus; I never told him anything like that; I didn't talk to him AT ALL after him and my uncle Joe got their planes off the ground!"

"Hey kid, tell your dad not us," the bobcat answered, shrugging. And then there was that wicked smirk again, "only better make it fast, boy—coz I don't think you'll have much time to get it out."

Craig fell back in his seat again and buried his face in his paws. They didn't quite have him yet, but they were getting there.

"Sorry son, but I did warn you," Wally Root sounded almost compassionate. And then he added, "For what it's worth, your daddy ain't got his head on right at the moment; he's even tryin' to plead Not Guilty, never mind there's about a hundred witnesses and a warehouse full of evidence against him."

"Yeah, and you know where he's going for that, kid?" Mac Cannon appeared to be unable to restrain himself any longer, "Viomax, ever heard of that place? It's only the meanest joint in the Zootopia prison system. And get this, it's a private slam…run by Aker Correctional Corporation!"

"Mac…!" Wally Root interjected sharply but the bobcat appeared to ignore him.

On the other side of the one-way, Nick Wilde snickered. "Root wasn't serious there, Carrots. Did you notice?"

"Yep," she answered, nodding dryly. If the hog had really been upset with his partner he would have addressed him as 'Deputy Cannon,' not 'Mac.'

For his part, Mac was wearing that feral smirk again.

"Aker Correctional happens to be owned by Jack LaPeigne…and don't tell me you don't know that name, kid. If your dad thinks he can get some revenge on Burrow County by putting us though the expense of a circus-trial…"

"Mac, that's enough!" Root slapped his hoof on the table.

The bobcat wheeled on him.

"I don't care, my little girl Susie was at that dance!" This time his anger was genuine.

Judy wasn't surprised. Hurting a child was considered the Cardinal Sin in the Burrow. As far as she was concerned, the bobcat deputy had every right to feel the way he did.

Meanwhile Detective Root was pointing at the door.

"One more word, Mac; I mean it now."

The Deputy hurriedly forced himself to calm down. "Sorry," he said, sounding anything but apologetic.

Craig Guilford seemed not to have heard any of it. He just kept shaking his head and mumbling. "My dad wouldn't do that, never do that to me…never say that about me…"

His whining seemed to revive Mac's ire…but this time he held himself in check.

"Well, you better believe it kid." He said, "And did you hear what ELSE your father said? He basically told us everything we need to know about the part you played in the attack on the Big Dance. That's right Craig, thanks to him we've got you dead to rights."

At this, Craig's head snapped up as if spring loaded; he clearly hadn't thought about it that way, not until now; the bobcat was right, in his wrath at his son's failure Jerry Guilford had unwittingly sold him out to John Law. And as that realization finally began to seep in, the young coyote's features commenced to harden into chilled flint.

"I'm afraid that's true, son." Root said, giving the deputy another sharp look, "Everything your daddy said about you on those recordings has already been ruled admissible in court. And by the way, yes, we have corroboration."

He nodded to his partner, who pulled out the second voice recorder and switched it on. This time, the voice they heard was high, female, shrill…and frightened, "I didn't want to go with Craig, but he said he'd come back and hurt my mom and dad…"

This time the young coyote came up out of the chair so fast, it was as if someone had lit off a cherry-bomb under his tail.

"That lying…! She wanted to come with me, I NEVER THREATENED HER!"

That was enough to set Mac off too. He leaned across the table with his fangs showing, getting right in the young coyote's face.

"Yeah, kid….everybody's lying except YOU!"

For a moment, it looked as if Craig might actually be foolish enough to make a move at the bobcat, (something Judy suspected Mac would have enjoyed.) But then he fell back in his seat again, totally spent and demoralized. Now, at last, he understood, he was utterly and completely alone; him against the entire world.

Finally, he looked up, teary-eyed and miserable.

"I want to make a plea deal." His voice was little more than a frog's croak

Wally Root removed his spectacles, shutting his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his snout.

"Ahhh…for that to happen you have to have something to give us, son. You can't just plead guilty and expect the court to go easy on you, cuz you saved them the trouble of a trial; doesn't work that way." He appeared to be starting to ramble, "If you plead not guilty, make extra trouble for the county, like your daddy's doin', well…much as we'd like to save ourselves that trouble, even if he does change his mind and plead guilty, he's won't get anything better than if he'd done it in the first place."

"And that's not happening anyway," Mac Cannon added with a hiss, "Your super genius dad still thinks he has a chance to beat this case, as long as him and your uncles stick together."

Craig Guilford didn't respond to this; huddling deep into his chair and hugging himself, he looked shockingly like his girlfriend at the moment…or no, it was even worse. He appeared to be on the verge of slipping into a state of catatonia.

Root studied him for a second, and then turned to his partner.

"Okayyy, looks like we ain't getting any more out of him right now; let's go, Mac."

Outside in the hall, their mood changed considerably, smiling broadly and slapping each other on the back

"Nice work in there," Nick Wilde told them. Detective Root just waved a hoof.

"Awww, fish in a barrel, Nick; that boy played right into our paws."

"Yep, for sure, that." Mac Cannon was shaking his head as if he couldn't quite believe their good fortune, "I knew Craig'd ask to talk his dad eventually, but right out of the gate?" He raised his pawlms upward, towards the ceiling, "Hallelujah!"

"So, what happens next?" It was Judy Hopps.

Root rubbed the back of his neck again, "We'll see him again tomorrow—unless he asks to see us first."

"That's actually what we're hoping for," Mac Cannon explained. "We'd much rather Craig offers to testify against his father, than for us to have to suggest it."

"Right, that way it'll be a lot harder for him to change his mind later on." Judy said, while her partner nodded in agreement. And then she asked, "What about Amanda Hill, what do you think will happen to her?"

It was Root who answered her.

"Probably not a whole lot," he responded with a shrug, "Probation, a couple hundred hours of community service, counseling; she might get a week or two with the Youth Authority Camp if the judge is having a particularly bad day, but that's about it." He lifted an ear, "But is it my imagination Officer Hopps, or do you have kind of an interest here?"

Judy tried not to wince; she should have known that a sharp, old hog like Wally Root would figure it out.

But before she could speak, Mac Cannon intervened.

"Well yeah, she does Wally. Remember what we found on that Hill girl's computer? Judy's little sister Erin was one of her targets." Root looked at him with his ear raised even higher and the bobcat added quickly, "She's good friends with Susie, that's how I know."

"Right, right," the old boar said quickly and then looked at his watch. "Gettin' on about one, I see. Nick…Judy, any good places 'round her to grab a lunch?"

"Yep, try the Raccoon Lodge Pub and Grill," the red fox offered, helpfully, "It's just across the plaza, hang a left as you go past the Natural History Museum and you can't miss it."

"Okay, sounds like a plan," Mac Cannon answered, mentally jotting down the information.

"And be sure to show your badges when you walk in," Judy added, "They'll treat you right."

"Ahhh, cop hangout, huh? Sounds good," the bobcat said, raising a thumb.

"You're not joining us?" Wally Root asked, sounding disappointed. Somehow, he knew without asking; 'Ol Razor-Head.

Judy sighed and shook her head. "We'd love to Wally, but right now, Officer Wilde and I have a suspect of our own to talk to."

"Duty before pleasure, you know how it goes," the red fox added.

"Really?" Root's expression morphed from disappointment to one of keen interest, "any chance of us sitting in? I'd like to see how y'all work."

""Sorry Detective, but no can do, it's a sensitive case," Nick answered him with genuine regret.

"Yep, our Chief would have our heads on a spike if we did," Judy Hopps put in.

"It's all right, we understand," the hog replied, raising his hooves again. He'd no doubt worked a few sensitive cases himself, back in the day. "If you get the chance, come on by and join us after you're done.

"We will," Judy promised, although she knew that was about as likely as a blizzard in Sahara Square; their upcoming Q-and-A session was going to be long one, which meant the sooner they got started, the better. When the deputies had gone, she unclipped her cell phone and punched in an inter-office number.

"This is Officer Hopps. Do you…? Yes, that's right, we're ready for him…Ahhh, let's see…" she peered down the hallway with her nose twitching. Outside the third door down, a green light glowed, meaning the room was unoccupied. "Put him in room C…yeah, and we'll need someone to ride shotgun, too.. Do you have…? Oh good, perfect. Yep…thanks."

She disconnected and looked at Nick.

"They're sending down Officer Swinton."

"Good deal Carrots," the red fox said to her. "but right now, we need get out of sight," There was no need for him to explain; they had both agreed earlier that the informant shouldn't know it was them until they came through the door to the interview room; the less time he had to prepare the better.

And so, they ducked swiftly around the corner and waited.

It didn't take long, after only five more minutes, Judy's phone buzzed.

When they returned to the corridor they found Claire Swinton seated outside of Room C with a voice recorder on the table in front of her, hooked up and ready to go. (Judy had one of her own, but wanted back-up just in case.)

At her and Nick's approach, the pig-cop's nostrils swelled.

"Hmmmm, does my nose deceive me, or have you two been keeping company with another member of my species?"

Nick grinned and threw his paws up as if to say 'Ya got me, copper.' It was Judy who answered her though.

"Nope, your nose is working fine. Burrow County Sheriff's detective Walter Root; we just got done assisting him with an interrogation."

"We were helping him and his partner with that coyote kid, Craig Guilford." Nick Wilde added.

Swinton grinned and aimed a finger at Judy, "Oh right, Mr. Hold-My-Carrot-Juice. Anyway, your suspect is inside, ready and waiting."

As if he didn't believe it, Nick leaned in close and peered through the one-way mirror. At once his face became a mask of contempt—and that told Judy all she needed to know; yeah, it was him in there all right.

"We'll have a recorder with us," she said to Officer Swinton, "but I want you to keep monitoring as well. This CI may have some extremely valuable information for us."

"I doubt it," the pig cop answered, shaking her head. She was clearly familiar with the individual on the other side of the glass.

"Maybe so, but orders are orders,' Nick told her, neatly curtailing any further discussion of the matter. And then to Judy he said, "Come on Carrots, no sense in putting this off any longer."

He went to the door and waited for her to join him, and then after each of them took a deep breath, he opened it and they went inside.

It was even worse than they had expected. As soon as they entered the room, Duke Weaselton was all over them.

"Well welllll…if ain't Cutie and the Beast!" And just to make sure they knew what he was talking about, he lasciviously pantomimed the act of kissing.

Judy Hopps wanted to slap a paw over her eyes and leave it there all year. It was a given that by now every officer in the precinct would be aware of what had happened between her and Nick during that blood-diamond sting…but sweet cheez n' crackers,, even the city jail inmates knew about it? She had never needed to scream so badly.

"Don't call her that, WESELton." Nick Wilde told him flatly. (You push my buttons, I'll push yours.)

Not this time; for once, the gibe had no effect...or at least not the one Nick was hoping for. The Dukester's face seemed to wilt halfway and then a look of exaggerated contrition crossed his features.

"Aw geeeeee, I forgot …anyone else calls her a 'beast' an' you'll rip their lungs out."

He fell back in his chair, clutching his sides and laughing uproariously, loving every second of this. His whole manner seemed to be telling them, 'and THIS time, you ain't got Mr. Big to help you!'

But Judy had already recovered from her initial shock. Taking the seat across from the weasel, she set the voice-recorder down on the table top and pressed the record button, reciting the usual litany:

"This interrogation is taking place in interview Room C, at 12:57…"

"Exactly one week after the kiss-heard-round-the-world!" Weaselton interjected smarmily.

Nick looked as if he'd like to pounce on Mr. Smartmouth, but Judy just calmly continued…ever the bunny-scout.

"The suspect's name is Duke Weaselton…"

… or maybe she wasn't such a girl-scout.

"…alias Corkscrew-Face…"

"HEY!"

Judy just went on in that same monotone.

"…alias The Duke of Bootleg…"

"Knock it off, bun-bun!" his voice had become a high, staccato chitter.

"...more commonly known as Duke Weselton."

"That's WEASELTON, lover-girl." (Now, she was getting under his fur…while in the background Nick Wilde had to stand on his own tail to keep from laughing.)

Judy leaned forward, slapping an arm on the table.

"I can do this all day, Weaselton…can you?"

"Kiss my tail, sweety cheeks!" the weasel sneered, and then pointed at Nick "Or do I have to wait in line behind him first?"

The answer to this was Judy shutting down the recorder and swiping it off the table.

"Uh-huh…just as I thought," she said, and then waved a paw at her partner, "Come on Nick, we're out of here."

She got up and strode to the door, beckoning for the fox to follow—while Duke Weaselton popped out of his chair like a jack-in-the-box on espresso beans.

"Hey, where ya think you're going cutie-pie?"

Judy looked at him over a shoulder, "To make our report to the Chief…that you don't know a thing about The Phantom, that you're just playing games—again."

Nick Wilde immediately raised his paws.

"Hey, hold it, Carrots. We can't just leave before we even…"

"Watch me."

Duke Weaselton aimed a warning finger.

"You walk outta here now Flopsie, and you can kiss busting The Phantom good-bye."

Judy leveled her finger right back at him.

"As IF we were going to get anything about him from a mammal that's already been caught lying on the witness stand," She offered him a honeyed smile, dipped in lye, "You really don't get it, do you, Weselton? We were sent here to verify the truth of your story, not to take your statement…and I've seen and heard enough to know there isn't anything here." At once the honey vanished, leaving only the caustic behind. "The only thing YOU have to offer is more of your fake news," she said.

"Waiiiit, we don't know that." Nick tried to intervene a second time. While he didn't appear to trust the Dukester any more than his partner, even less did he want to risk losing a shot at nailing The Phantom.

"Oh come on, fox." Judy sniffed, waving her fingers at the weasel, "You know him as well as I do; if his information was any good, he'd have given us a peek when we came in here and saved the slimy stuff for later."

Nick pursed his lips and growled. He still didn't like it, but he had to admit that she was she's right.

Duke Weaselton let out a growl of his own, more of a hiss, actually

"Okay, fine…go on and take a hike, Cutie. But first you gotta ask yourself a question. What if you shine me on and it turns out what I got on The Phantom is legit? What happens to you then, huh? You ever think of that?"

Judy turned a smug face on the weasel.

"Nothing happens to us, Duke…because if no one acts on your so-called lead, no one's going to KNOW whether or not it was any good." She smirked showing her front teeth, "Too bad…you were looking at getting that burglary charge reduced to possession of stolen property…which would have meant the city jail instead of prison; no such luck, now."

That was what finally broke through Weaselton's oily façade. Judy saw his eyes expand and his lips pull back in a horrified grimace. What she had just told him was 100% accurate—and he should have thought about it before he'd tried to have some fun at her and Nick's expense.

Chittering like a kit, he threw out a paw as if making a last-ditch grab for a lifeline.

"WAIT!"

But Nick and Judy were already out the door.

A moment later, it opened again, and Officer Sam Simmers entered, his arm still bandaged from his encounter with the hippo Rashid in the alley behind Rafaj Brothers Fine Jewelry. A pair of small-mammal paw-cuffs jingled between the grizzly bear's inch-thick fingers.

"All right, Weaselton, assume the position."

The weasel waved his arms as if trying to ward off an apparition.

"Wait no, listen…c'mon, if I go down on this burglary rap it's my third strike."

"Turn around and put your paws behind your back," the big bear informed him, coldly. "You know what happens if I have to ask you again."

The Dukester complied, but continued to protest.

"Wait, c'mon, you can't do this…I tell you I got good information over here."

Simmers turned him around and began to move him towards the door. All at once, he stopped, screwing his nose into a prune.

"Eeeyeeeewww, did you just let your musk glands go, Weaselton?"

Duke squirmed uncomfortably for a second.

"Hey, I'm a weasel, that's what happens when my species gets agitated, okay?"

"Just be glad he's not a mink or a wolverine," Officer Swinton noted from around the corner.

Being none-too-gentle about it Simmers hauled Duke Weaselton through the door. Outside in the hallway, Nick and Judy were in the midst of a heated argument.

"I'm telling you, we're giving up on this way too quickly, Carrots."

"Oh come on Nick. Didn't you hear what he said, 'a three time loser'? A felon in that bind would say anything to …"

"It's good, I swear!" Weaselton shouted as he was frog-marched past the fox and bunny, scuffling his feet every step of the way.

Judy folded her arms and raised a sardonic eyebrow

"Uh-huh, isn't that's what you always used to say about those bootleg DVDs?"

Struggling desperately, Duke managed to turn partway around for a second. His scream was like claws on a blackboard.

"IT'S MY BROTHER-IN-LAW!"

Nick Wilde's paw shot upwards towards the ceiling

"Wait, hold up a second."

Judy's reaction was a little different; she looked as if she'd just been told the lamest joke ever.

"Seriously, Weselton? Out of something like a zillion-odd animals in this city, The Phantom just happens to be your brother-in-law?" She laid a paw on her hip and narrowed her eyes, "What's next, Mr. Bootleg? No wait, don't tell me, let me guess; your second cousin runs the Royal Bank of Furona, right?"

The weasel's voice became half panicked, half-pleading.

"Noooo, my sister's husband ain't the Phantom…he borrowed from The Phantom!"

That put the brakes on it; Nick and Judy regarded each other for a long 20 seconds

And then, very reluctantly, the bunny-cop motioned for Weaselton to be brought back inside of the interview room.