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 9 –Fire And Mirrors
(Continued…Pt. 10)

"Long time, no see, Booby,"

The small, affable voice spoke up from about a foot to the left of Nick Wilde's elbow…and the fox jumped nearly four feet in the air. Wha…? Where the heck had HE come from?

Nick had been standing at a sink in the Pizzeria Pianeta Male's Room, rinsing soap-suds from his paws. (It had long been his contention that pizza wasn't pizza if it didn't leave your fingers at least a little bit greasy,) and then all of a sudden—bang, out of nowhere!

Looking down and to the left…yep, there he was, the red fox's former attorney, parked on the edge of the rodent-size sink- basin next to his. He was buffing his paws over his face and head, the way rats will do when cleaning themselves.

Finishing up, Vern Rodenberg angled a twinkling eye upwards at Nick.

"Well? Say something, already…even if it's only, 'Get Your Pawpsicles!"

Nick tried not to laugh, he really did give it his best effort…but it was no use; the best he could manage was to choke his laughter down to a snigger, bracing his paws against the sink counter, and hissing through clenched teeth.

"Honestly Nick," the grey rat was shaking his head; he'd had his fun and now it was time to get serious, "What the heck made you ask me why I took on that silver-fox kid as a client? You, of all mammals, should have known you weren't going to get an answer."

"Yes, I knew that," Nick felt suddenly as if this day was taking forever, "but I had to try; I'm going to have to face you from the witness stand, now."

"Yeah-h-h, about that," Rodenberg studied his incisors in the mirror for a second; Nick wasn't fooled, the grey rat was trying to hide his embarrassment. Then he turned and looked up again. "Nick, I wish to God it had been any other cop on the force besides you that got bitten by my client—because when it's my turn to start asking questions, I'm going to pound you."

Nick must have looked horrified at this, because Rodenberg immediately raised his paws. "Nothing fursonal Booby, I always liked you…and nobody's happier than I am at how you turned your life around." He stopped and raised a finger above his head, in the gesture his former client knew oh-so-well. "But my first duty is, was, and always will be to the client I'm representing right now—and if hammering on you is what I have to do to bring in an acquittal for Conor Lewis, make no mistake, I'll do it."

At this revelation, Nick's ears shot upwards in confusion, but not for any reason that the grey rat might have surmised.

"What, you're…happy that I joined the ZPD?" He was staring incredulously at the grey-furred rodent. "I'm surprised you didn't throw something and call me 'traitor' when you saw me just now." Vernon J. Rodenberg's attitude towards law enforcement officials was a matter of public record.

"Nick, I'm past that now," the rat answered quietly, and then patted the kippah cap affixed to his head, "You see, I found something. And when I did, I also found that I don't need to hate anymore."

"Yes, I noticed," the red fox told him, "Could have knocked me over with hummingbird feather when I saw you wearing that thing."

Rodenberg's whiskers began to vibrate.. "Every seen 'The Day The Earth Stood Still', Booby? There's a line from that movie: 'We don't claim to have achieved perfection, but we have a system…and it works.'" He patted the yarmulke again. "That's what this does for me Nicky; it wasn't the end of all my problems, but I'm in a lot better place than I was a few years ago." He winked and his dark eyes sparkled again, "and don't let it fool you; I'm not that observant."

It was too much for a sly fox to resist.

"Yeah, I saw that too," he noted somberly, "here it is Sunday and you're having pizza instead of Chinese."

Now it was Rodenberg's turn to suppress a laugh, clasping his paws to his muzzle and snickering through his fingers.

"Ahhhh…same, old Nick; you're really gonna make this hard on me, aren't you?" A crooked smile went scrawling across his face, "For what it's worth, at least you won't have to face me twice."

Nick's head tilted sideways.

"Hrm? What you mean?"

By way of response, the grey rat pointed over his shoulder, in roughly the direction of Bunnyburrow.

"Did you know that meshugenneh coyote, Jerry Guilford, tried to hire me as HIS attorney? Yeah, that's right; I told him to go take a hike."

"I'm not surprised," Nick folded his arms, "Not your kind of client, Counselor…and that whole business with Guilfords started when the bank foreclosed on their property," (Not much money to be had from someone in that position, the red fox reasoned.)

Rodenberg let out a derisive squeak and then made another, equally disagreeable noise.

"Pah! I wouldn't go to bat for that bum if he owned a zillion oil-wells and a platinum mine. Tries to hurt all those innocent mammals, and then acts like HE'S the stinkin' victim! I'm telling you Booby, him and that two-bit snake-oil peddler, Dave Kaprinos, deserve each other." He stopped in his tracks, looking suddenly rueful, "Ahhh, but that means you're gonna have to face HIM in court, too."

Falling into a short, brooding silence, the grey rat pulled thoughtfully at a whisker; when he spoke again, he appeared to be talking mostly to himself. "Unless-s-s Mr. Guilford decides to change his plea to guilty—only you better believe that if he does, that dirt-bag-goat representing him is gonna fight it every step of the way."

"I'm still hopeful that's what will happen," Nick said, and though he didn't say anything more, Rodenberg's ears shot up and his whiskers started to quiver again, as if someone had just given him a jolt of electricity—or as if something had just occurred to him. That made the fox's ears rise up as well. Could his former attorney possibly be aware that Craig Guilford had agreed to testify against his father, (in exchange for a recommendation of leniency from the Burrow County Prosecutor's office?) Noooo, ever since the young coyote had flipped, the ZPD had been keeping the lid on that deal screwed down tight.

Except…well, this WAS Vernon J. Rodenberg after all…and Craig Guilford wasn't exactly the soul of discretion either.


Ordinarily, Judy Hopps might have wondered, what the heck was the hold-up; how long did it take for Nick to wash his danged paws?

This, however, was not your standard situation; at the moment Judy was having an unexpected encounter of her own.

She had just exited the female's restroom, when she'd spotted him, a blacktail deer buck sitting alone at one of the window tables, dividing his time between a manila file-folder, a tablet computer, and the slice of pizza in front of him.

At first, Judy wasn't quite sure it was him; the two of them had never actually met…and the antlers sprouting from the deer's forehead were still in the velvet stage. He could have been a completely different buck from the one whose picture she'd seen in the ZPD registry. (Buck… doe; Judy had always wondered why deer had borrowed the bunny term for males and female to describe their own species.)

No…it probably wasn't him; and even if it was, today was Sunday, for crying out loud. He wouldn't want to…noooo, she should wait and call him tomorrow, during business…"

"Shut up and get over there!"

Judy winced and meekly obeyed her inner voice.

"Uhm, excuse me?" she called, waving cautiously as she approached the table, "I…hope I'm not intruding, but uhm, would be you Doctor Hind…Doctor Robert Hind?"

"Yes, that's me," the ZPD's consulting psychologist said, turning halfway in his seat to face her; he seemed to be bothered not at all by the interruption. Narrowing his eyes just ever so slightly, he cocked a finger in her direction, "and you would beeeee…Officer Judy Hopps, is that right?

"Uhhhm, yes that right," the bunny-cop answered, trying not to wring her paws, like a schoolbunny called before the vice-principal.

The deer-buck turned completely to face her, smiling pleasantly.

"Uh-huh, thought so…soooo, what can a do for you Officer Hopps?"

For perhaps half a second, Judy was at a loss for words…and then it all came rushing out of her, as if someone had opened a floodgate.

"Well, I had a problem last week, where I was pursuing a suspect and acted kind of impulsively and could've hurt myself, and so I decided to…look, I know this is a bad time, being Sunday and all, so if you'd rather I call you later, I understand but I'm afraid if I don't do this now…"

"Hold on, hold on, let me take a look at something," Dr. Hind was consulting his tablet. He scrolled with his thumbs for a second, muttering to himself, "let me see; was that for tomorrow or…?" and then looked up and nodded. "Well, it's kind of short notice, Officer Hopps but if you're interested, I had a cancellation for tomorrow."

Judy almost said 'yes' right away, (do it quickly before you have time to think up an excuse,) but then she remembered something—and this wasn't an excuse. "Uhmmm, what time, doctor? I have to be in court tomorrow morning." (Not exactly100% true, but close enough,)

"It's at 1:00 in the afternoon," the blacktail buck informed her…and now Judy did jump in with both feet.

"Oh yes, that'd be perfect," she said.

Dr. Hind made a quick notation on his FDA and then stowed it. "Okay, we're all set; you'll want to get there about 15-20 minutes early to fill out some paperwork. Oh, and do you know where my office is? It's not inside the precinct; it's acoss the plaza on Pampas Street, between the train station and the Museum of Natural History."

Judy rummaged in her pockets. "Whoa, I'd better find a pen." While she normally had a good head for locations, she understood that in her current state of mind, she just might up and forget this one, 'accidentally-on-purpose.'

"No need, let me give you one of my cards," the deer-buck said, extracting one from the folder in front of him. He jotted a quick notation on the back and gave it to her. It was little large for a bunny; closer to the size to a greeting card than a business card, but nothing she couldn't manage. On the front was the name, Dr. Robert M. Hinds followed by his office address and a suite number. When she turned the card over, Judy saw her appointment-time written there. Clearly she wasn't the first of the deer-buck's patients to get a case of the first-time jitters. In fact, now that she thought of it, he'd known she'd wanted to make an appointment without her having said so. Somehow, that took a lot of the edge off.

But then she heard him clear his throat.

"Listen, I don't mean to be standoffish Officer Hopps, but I'm errrr, waiting for someone…"

"Oh no problem, I think we're good, "Judy told him quickly. She heard familiar footsteps coming up behind her, and cocked a thumb over her shoulder, "I need to get going anyway; here comes my partner now."

Dr. Hind looked over the top of her head…and smiled.

"Hello Nick."

"Hi, Doc," the red fox waved as he approached, "What up?"

Judy felt her nose begin to twitch. Hmmmm, so Nick HAD once consulted with Dr. Hind—just as he'd said earlier. But then she noticed the fox was looking at her.

"So did you…?" he started to ask, and she knew what he meant at once.

"Yep, and I got lucky Nick," she said, "Dr. Hind has an opening, tomorrow at One."

Oops, that hadn't come out quite the way she'd wanted; admitting to Nick that she'd only just now made the appointment. Not to worry; he simply nodded approvingly. (He didn't care when she'd made the appointment; the important thing was that she'd done it on her own, no prompting or pestering required.)

"Listen Nick, I'd love to chat," the deer-buck told him, repeating his line to Judy almost verbatim. "But right now, I'm waiting for someone." To give further emphasis to his meaning, he angled his eyes in the direction of the door.

"Oh yeah, sure, we understand," Nick told him, nodding, "We need to get going anyway. Come on Carrots, we're out of here."

They were halfway down the block when another, familiar voice hailed them from across the street.

"Hey Hopps, Wilde…hold up a sec."

They turned and saw Kii Catano sprinting towards them. She was smack in the middle of the street when the light changed, and the traffic came barreling towards her. No need for concern; the cheetah-cop put the hammer down and made it to the opposite curb with 5 good yards to spare.

"Careful Catano," Nick Wilde teased, "If we were on duty, we'd have to cite you for jaywalking."

"Yes, probably," the big cat admitted, paws on hips and pursing her lips; her expression was entirely serious, "But there's something I just have to know. Is it true that our suspect has Vern Rodenberg representing him?"

Before answering, Nick looked furtively around to see if the grey rat was anywhere within earshot; (he had not yet informed Judy of their encounter in the washroom.)

Nope, no sign of him anywhere…

Judy, meanwhile, had already beaten him to the draw.

"Yep, I'm afraid so," she said, understanding the cheetah's concern; Kii Catano had been the officer closest to Nick when Conor had bitten him, and had later been the one who'd put the cuffs on the kid. There was a very good chance she'd be called on to testify at his trial, if not by the prosecution, then probably by the defense.

"Dangit!" Catano kicked at the sidewalk, snarling in frustration, "I do NOT need that again!"

"Again?" Judy asked, feeling her nose once more starting to twitch, "you've been cross-examined by him before?"

"Yep," the cheetah-cop nodded, looked more frustrated than ever, "in that extortion and conspiracy case, the one the Attorney General's Office tried to bring against the Red Pig last year." She raised an eyebrow, "Not one of my favorite memories, guys. It would have been worth it if Peccari had been convicted, but of course the jury let him walk, the lame-brained idiots; I had to call in sick for work the next day, I was so upset."

"Mmm, right," Nick and Judy both nodded sympathetically. Was there anything more frustrating than watching the courts turn loose a suspect that you knew was guilty?

Taking their leave of Kii Catano, (who seemed to be in a hurry herself,) Nick and Judy made their way towards the Baobab Blvd Metro Station. Normally they parted company at the Savanna Central Station, but Baobab was a lot closer to Pizzeria Pianeta—and both the Red and Blue line trains stopped there.

Nick was about a third of the way down the steps when he realized that Judy was no longer with him. Turning around he saw her standing at the top of the stairs gazing off into the middle-distance.

"Carrots?" he asked her, tilting his head to the side. There was no answer and so he made a quick about-face, sprinting back up the small-mammal staircase, two steps at a time.

When he exited the station, Nick understood immediately what was happening; almost directly across the street was the stone-and-brick façade of the Zootopia Academy for the Performing Arts…and now he could see that Judy's arms were folded and her ears were trembling.

"What a waste Nick," she sniffed, her voice cracking into shards, "Even if Rodenberg does somehow manage to get him off, they'll probably take away his scholarship and kick him out of there; you know how tough their standards are." She did not say who 'him' was, nor was it necessary; Nick understood immediately exactly which young silver fox she was talking about.

Judy's arms moved upward and she hugged herself, and then she was looking at him with big, wet eyes.

"I-I know he bit you Nick, and…and I know who he was working for, but…h-he saved my life…and he helped save all those animals at the Carrot Days Dance." She thumped her foot in frustration; harder than Nick had ever seen, "Doesn't that count for anything?" Her voice was almost a sob.

Nick took a step towards her, but she waved him back…or that is, she tried to. Ignoring her attempt to put him off, he wrapped her in his arms and held on tight.

Judy pressed her face into him, unable to hold it back any longer.

"Oh God, Nick…I-I never thought I'd hear myself saying this…but right now, I hate being a police officer." She pounded a fist against his chest. Nick grunted but took it in stride. "I HATE it!"

"Shhh Carrots, take it easy," the red-fox crooned, rocking her gently back and forth, "C'mon…deep breaths."

He was completely unaware—and so was she—that they were directly within the line-of-sight of a ZTA security camera.

By the time she and Nick finally boarded their separate trains, Judy felt a lot better, although not completely. Darnit, she'd thought that session with Chief Bogo had put an end to her guilt tripping. "Guess not," she thought, gazing out the window at the passing scenery.

Well, she decided, straightening up in her seat, she couldn't let it hold her back; she had a couple of errands to run before heading for home, and some cleaning to do when she got there, (and keeping busy was a darn good way to deal with the blues.)

She began at CatsCo, stopping off to pick up some ammonia and white-vinegar, the basic ingredients for making what she jokingly called her 'private blend' of tile-and-glass cleaner. "Work's way better than anything you get in the stores," she'd once told Nick, "and it's a whole lot cheaper, too."

From there, she moved on to the Savanna Central Farmers Market, hoping to pick up something nice for dinner.

Wandering among the booths and stalls, it occurred to Judy that this place almost perfectly exemplified the way her skills and those of her partner so perfectly complimented each other. Nick was the one who'd told her about this place, and he'd known which vendors were which almost instinctively. But it had been Judy Hopps, farm-girl extraordinaire, who had taught [i]him[/i] the finer points of picking out the best and freshest produce from amongst the many offerings. (In terms of bargaining skills, the two of them had been about evenly matched.)

It was still a little bit early in the season for blueberries, at least here in Zootopia, but the strawberries were in like Flynn. Judy purchased two baskets of them, along with some alfalfa sprouts, zucchini squash, and an eggplant that was almost too gorgeous to eat. She would though, along with the carrots she had brought back with her from Bunnyburrow; (she had yet to find a carrot in the city that was anywhere near as good as the family product.)

On her way back to the Metro Station, Judy paused to gaze longingly through the window of an auto dealership. Even with such an exceptional Public Transit System, Zootopia could never be called fully accessible to someone without a car; she had found that out for herself, soon after settling here.

Cupping her paws to the sides of her face, in order to get a better view of the models on display, Judy wondered for a moment what had happened with the Carrot-Days car-raffle. In the wake of the Guilford Brothers thwarted assault on the Big Dance, the drawing had been cancelled, at least temporarily. Had they finally held it? And if so, who had been the winner? (Not her, Judy knew, or she'd have already heard by now; ditto for Nick and also for the rest of her family.)

By the time she got back to The Crying Pangolin Arms, Judy was even more acutely aware of the lack of a vehicle in her life; her arms were beginning to feel almost numb from the load she was carrying, and she literally had to weave her way up the stairs to her flat.

And then, just as she was pushing the door open…

Article 387, paragraph 217 of Murphy's Law specifically states, 'Your phone always rings when…

A. You're too far away to reach it in time, or…

B. You have your paws full.'

In this case, Judy Hopps' paws were not only fully occupied; she was trying to edge her way past a sticky door without managing to drop anything.

By now, well acquainted with this situation, the doe-bunny made no attempt to get to her phone before it stopped ringing; she knew she'd only end up with most of her purchases on the floor—and then she'd still miss her call. Oh well, tough luck for whoever was on the other end; they'd just have to hold up and be patient.

Sure enough, after the third rendition of the refrain from Try Everything, the phone went abruptly silent.

Kicking the door shut behind her, Judy refused to check the caller ID until she'd at least gotten the perishable items stowed. When she finally looked at her phone, the corners of her mouth turned downwards in surprise.

"What the…? Erin? What the heck would she be calling me for?"

Judy had known, ever since their last conversation, that her kid sister's fury over Conor's arrest wasn't going to last. Of course technically, she hadn't busted the young silver fox, but never mind; no way should Erin be ready to apologize for her earlier behavior this soon afterwards…or this suddenly; it should have been more of a gradual process. "Unless mom's been leaning on her," the doe-bunny realized, a wry smile scrawling across her muzzle.

Yes, that would do it; she pressed the 'call back' button, and waited. The phone had barely begun to ring when Erin's face appeared, looking all out of breath as if she'd run the length of a football field in order to reach her phone in time.

She immediately dispensed with any greeting.

"Jude, are you watching TV right now?"

Judy's ears went up and her nose began to quiver like a seismograph needle. What the fresh heck was THIS?

"No Erin, I just got home, now would you mind telling me…?

"Turn on The Brightbat Channel!"

Judy pulled the phone away from her face, staring as if she couldn't understand how the heck it had gotten into her paw. The Brightbat channel, what the heck was on the Brightbat channel? She never watched that THAT thing.

"Judy, please!" Erin's voice sounded almost like a cry for help. Annoyed, but at the same time apprehensive, Judy snatched up the remote from her bedside table and hit the power button.

It took her several clicks and some scrolling before she was able to find the Brightbat Channel…but when she did, both the cellphone and the remote nearly went tumbling out of her paws. "Ohhhh, sweet cheese n' CRAAACKERS!"

"Judy, are you seeing this? It sounded like Erin was speaking from somewhere far away.

"Yeah sis, I see it," she answered—in a voice half choked with anguish and half with rage.

There was no sound—the mute function was on—but none was necessary; the image on the screen said it all.

There, seated behind a circular desk was Rock Hardesty, easily recognizable from his billboard images. At the moment he appeared to be delivering a soliloquy with a smug, self-righteous look on his face. Judy barely noticed him, it was the image on the screen behind the hyrax that was drawing the bulk of her attention, a high-definition, freeze-frame image of her and Nick, kissing inside of Rafaj Brothers Jewelers. Emblazoned across the picture in bright, red, spray-paint font was the caption, 'Police Behaving Badly'.

Judy pressed the button to increase the volume; nothing happened, the image remained a silent pantomime. Oops, that was her cell-phone, not the remote. She tried again, and was rewarded with the sound of Rock Hardesty's voice, speaking in high dudgeon.

"Now I know some of you do-gooders out there are going to say, 'It's not anyone else's business.'" He sat back in his chair, haughtily folding his arms, a king about to pass judgement on a knave. "Wel-l-lll, aside from the hypocrisy of YOU telling anyone else to mind their own business, I would RE-mind you folks that police officers are PUBLIC servants. Let's pause to let that sink in for moment… That's right; police officers' salaries come out of our taxes…so are we not entitled to…?"

The TV went silent as Judy hit the mute button once again; she'd heard enough. Oooo, that dirty, little so-and-so, Hardesty! Chief Bogo was going to…wait a minute, did he even know about this? She set down the remote and spoke into her cell. .

"Sis, I need to let you go for a minute and call my Chief about this. I'll get back to you as soon as I'm done, okay?"

"'Kay," the younger bunny nodded, and then offered a suggestion. "Why don't we talk on Slyphe when you're finished?"

"Good idea sis," Judy told her, "Oh, and Erin?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"No problem, Jude."

Judy disconnected and thumbed quickly through her contacts list, found the number for Precinct-1 Dispatch and pressed it. Under different circumstances Erin's phone-call might have been good for a laugh or two. Less than 24 hours previously the younger bunny had sworn that the two of them would never speak again…and now here she was, calling to deliver a heads-up; she really was at 'that' age… Oops, someone was picking up on the other end.

Dispensing with any formalities, Judy got right down to the point.

"Dispatch, this is Officer Judy Hopps; I need to speak to Chief Bogo right away; I know he's probably at home right now, but this is urgent."

There was silence on the line for moment and then she heard ringing, a click and the big Cape buffalo's familiar, rolling basso-profundo.

"What is it, then, Hopps?" he demanded tersely, and Judy decided that she'd better cut straight to the chase.

"Rock Hardesty made that surveillance tape from Rafaj Jewelers the subject of his show tonight. I just saw it on the Brightbat Channel." She could not bring herself to say, 'the one of Nick and me kissing,' and hopefully, it wouldn't be necessary; the Chief would know which tape she meant without needing to hear any more.

For a long moment, Judy wasn't sure if he'd even heard her at all; there was silence on the line, except for a deep, wheezing noise, like the sound of forge-bellows. It took a few seconds for Judy to recognize it, and then oooo…Chief Bogo was really mad.

Well, why the heck not? So was she!

"I see," the Cape buffalo finally said, in voice so heavy with portent, it felt like the roof might come crashing down around her at any second, and then his voice adjusted to a sudden, clipped formality, "Officer Hopps, I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. But now, if you'll excuse me, I've got calls of my own to make."

"Yes sir, of course," Judy answered, perfectly happy to have this conversation nipped in the bud.

Disconnecting, she went to her desk and booted up her laptop. When she logged on to Slyfe, she found that Erin was already waiting for her.

"Hey, little sis."

"Hey, Judy….how did it go with your boss?"

"Hard to say, Erin," she shrugged, "he hung up right after I told him. Can't blame him, really; he's got a whole bunch of other mammals to notify about this."

"I'll bet," her kid sister nodded, taking a short sip from a glass of lemonade, and then she said, "You okay, Jude?"

"I'm…still processing," the older bunny answered, not sure how she felt at the moment. Except…there was a question that she absolutely didn't want to ask, but knew that she was going to HAVE to ask. "Sis…have mom and dad seen that…seen what Hardesty had on his show?"

Erin let out a sigh that seemed to halfway deflate her—and Judy knew the answer without being told; DANG that so-and-so hyrax!

"Yeah Judy." The younger bunny was telling her, "In fact, that's how I found out. I was on my way back to my hutch after taking a shower, when I heard this big commotion in the den, lots of yelling and stuff. When I peeked around the corner, there was mom, holding dad while he did that 'waterworks thing'. Junior wasn't any too happy either, he looked so mad I thought he was going to put his foot through the TV screen." She blew a puff of air against her nose, "Anyway, that's it, pretty much; when I saw what they were watching, I got out of there fast and then called you."

"Probably the smartest thing you could have done, Erin," Judy acknowledged, making the 'O.K' sign with her fingers. Given her younger sister's own close friendship with a fox—one who'd just been arrested for assaulting a police officer no less—the Hopps TV den would not have been the best place for her at that particular moment.

And that brought up another question that Judy didn't want to ask, but knew she'd have to.

"Erin…I'm not quite sure how to put this, but …how do you feel about…er, that video of Nick and me?" This was the girl who'd laid one upside of Conor Lewis's face for even joking about kissing her.

The young, white-furred bunny looked over her shoulder at the door to her hutch, as if to make certain it was bolted. When she looked back into her webcam again, Judy could tell that her fingers were crossed, even though she couldn't see them.

"There's…a-a reason why you did that…right?" Erin's voice was possibly the most hopeful Judy had ever heard. Fortunately, it was question she could answer without hedging.

"Yeah, sis… we were on an undercover assignment and our suspects were beginning to get suspicious. Nick kissed me in order to throw them off."

Judy felt her throat beginning tighten and why, for heaven's sake? It was the truth, wasn't it? So, how come it didn't feel like the truth?

"Ohhh, I get it," Erin's voice broke in brightly, "The idea was to make them so mad they'd forget to be suspicious, right?"

"Yes—exactly that." Judy couldn't help but marvel at how sharp her kid sister could be sometimes. If it wasn't for all her musical talent, she'd make a pretty decent cop herself. "It worked too," she told the younger bunny, "our suspects practically threw us out of there…WITH the evidence in our possession."

"Yay!" Erin threw up her paws as if she'd just scored a winning goal. It had been hardly a full explanation of the incident, but it was all that Judy's sister apparently needed to hear. Good thing, too, because—assuming the case against the Rafaj Brothers hadn't already been blown right out of the water—there was nothing more Judy could have told her without stepping over the line.

She could, however, tell what Erin was thinking right now; (her sister wasn't the only clever bunny in the Hopps family,) and she aslo knew that she'd better move quickly to pre-empt it.

"No Erin, don't…I should be the one to tell Mom and Dad what happened. And anyway, you probably ought to try and steer clear of them as best you can for a while. You're friends with a fox yourself, y'know…and they won't be any too happy about it."

At the mention of Conor Lewis, Erin's gaze shifted sideways, and she rubbed her nose with a finger.

"Uhhh yeah…Conor." She looked into the webcam again, "Judy…I-I'm sorry I went off on you back there; it wasn't your fault, what happened. How were you s'posed to know it was HIM going to show up at that locker?" It sounded to Judy as if her sister was repeating back something that their mother had told her earlier. But that okay, because Erin clearly meant what she was saying.

"Honestly sis," Judy told her, "if I'd know it was going to be Conor, I would have declined that assignment." It was only when the words were out of her mouth, that she realized she'd spoken the truth.

"Would the ZPD have let you walk away?" Erin's nose was twitching dubiously.

Judy leaned back in her chair.

"Heck Erin, if that was the case; the ZPD probably would have insisted that Nick and I recuse ourselves. The last officer you want tailing a suspect without their knowing it is someone that they'll recognize right away, by both sight and scent." This was only about 75% accurate, but Erin seemed to accept it wholeheartedly.

She then proceeded to demonstrate that she was still just as angry as before, only now her outrage had shifted to a different target.

"That STUPID silver-fox!" Erin spat the words like cobra-venom, "He had everything going for him, and he threw it all away just…just…"

She grabbed her ears and screamed in frustration…and then her eyes misted over and her voice began to crack. Judy wondered for a second if that was how she had looked, back at the Baobab Boulevard Metro station

"Dangit Jude, Conor's a good kid; I know he is, how could he do a thing like that?"

Judy let out a long, deep sigh. Yep, Erin was at 'that age' all right. She wondered for a moment if she dared tell her sister about…? Yes, she should, it was better if the younger bunny heard if from her.

"Erin…I didn't have time to tell you this the last time we talked, but there's something I want you to know. Before he bit Nick, Conor saved my life."

"Did WHAT?" Erin was staring so closely at the laptop-screen her face was only a fuzzy blur.

Judy quickly related the story of what had happened; the building fire, the high-voltage wires, the standing water, and the flying tackle that had carried her to safety.

Erin's paw went flying up to her mouth. "Oh-me-Gaw…! Judy, are you all right, y-you weren't hurt at all?

"Calm down Erin, I'm fine," the doe-bunny assured her younger sister. "They checked me out at the ER and let me go. Only," she felt her mouth pull sideways, and leaned in closer to her web-cam, "do me a favor and keep this to yourself, okay, sis? Mom and Dad worry about me too much as it is."

Erin sniggered and raised a paw in a bunny-scout salute, at the same time pantomiming the act of zipping her mouth shut.

"Won't say a word, swear to God,"

Judy snickered back and raised a thumb, "Thanks, Erin." The levity notwithstanding, she knew the younger bunny would keep her word.

And on that subject…

"Oh, and that reminds me Erin, I know about Conor helping to stop the Guilfords; Nick told me." Seeing the younger bunny's alarmed expression, she added quickly, "It's okay; he gave Nick permission to tell me." She raised an ear and an eyebrow, "He also told me you helped out, too."

Erin's face flushed so deeply, it was visible even though the whiteness of her facial fur. Judy saw her turn sideways, biting her lip. "You won't say anything about THIS to mom and dad, right?"

Judy clapped her paws together, "Ho! After want I just saw on TV? No way, little sis; you're already going to be walking on eggshells for at least the next two weeks."

"Yeahhh," The younger bunny's deep-blue eyes rolled upwards and sideways, "Tell me about it, Jude." And the two of them shared an uneasy laugh.

But then Judy got serious.

"I have to say Erin, that was one heck of a leap of faith, helping Conor cut that lock and get the power off, just because he asked you to," she smiled, "Especially when you were about ready to clobber him for taking off on you like that."

The blush on her sister's face was even deeper than the first time.

"I…I still don't what made me do that, Judy. Conor told me that a lot of animals were going to get hurt if he couldn't get the lights off—and I believed him; don't ask me why, but I did." She scratched at her nose for a second, frowning thoughtfully. "There's something about that silver fox kid, like…like he just can't leave it alone when he thinks someone's in trouble—and I think a little bit of it rubbed off on me that night" She sucked at a corner of her mouth for a second, "Does…Am I making any sense, big sis?"

"Yes Erin, you are," Judy nodded…and in an odd way, she was. The older bunny had more than a little bit of that in herself.

And yet, and yet…

Exactly how did that fit in with Conor running cash for a Shylock? It seemed totally at odds with the part of his character that Erin had just described—if it even existed, and at this point Judy wasn't so sure.

The younger bunny seemed to sense it as well.

"I just don't understand him, Judy. Is Conor allowed to have visitors? I'd like to…"

"Whoa-hoh, don't even think about it, little sis!" Judy was staring horrified at her laptop screen, "Mom'll have you pulling weeds until school starts if she hears you talking like that—especially now."

"Oooo, yeah, right," Erin winced as if she'd only just realized what it was she'd said, "Sorry Jude. Ummm, so what happens next?"

It was about as subtle as shifting from the granny-gear into overdrive—without using the clutch. Judy didn't care; as long as Erin wasn't going to argue about coming to the city to see Conor, a change of subject was fine by her. (If there was one thing the two of them had in common, it was refusing to back down in the face of a challenge.)

"Well, tomorrow morning, he's being arraigned," she said, "You know what that means, right?"

"Mmm, yeah, that's where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, right?" Erin sounded as if she was mostly, but not entirely sure.

"Yes, that's right," Judy told her. "In juvenile court, they often combine an arraignment with a bail hearing…although not this time, since Conor's being charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor."

"Ahhh, he prolly wouldn't make bail anyway," Erin flipped a paw dismissively, "He bit a COP, after all."

"Exactly," Judy nodded, although there was a lot more to it than that. The young silver fox was also far too valuable to set free on bail; he was the ZPD's only link to an elusive cyber-criminal and loanshark—The Phantom, or whatever you wanted to call him.

And yet somehow she suspected that none of this was going to stop the young silver fox's attorney from attempting to seek bail for him anyway; by all accounts, Vern Rodenberg was another mammal who didn't know when to quit.

Ah yes, Mr. Rodenberg…

"Oh, and there's something else I didn't mention, sis. Somehow—and don't ask, cause I don't know either—but somehow Conor managed to get a big-time mob lawyer to represent him, a rat named Vern Rodenberg."

Erin's face screwed up and her nose started twitching.

"Wha…? Why would a mob lawyer….?" She cut herself off and raised a paw, "I know I know, you already said you have no idea…"

Someone knocked on Erin's door and Judy heard their mother's voice speaking.

"Erin? Dinner…!"

The young white-furred bunny turned and called over her shoulder, "In a minute mom, I just need to get dressed real quick." And then turning back to the laptop screen, she lowered her voice to a near-whisper, "Gotta go Jude. I'll call you tomorrow with an update. "

Judy thought for a second and then lowered her voice as well.

"Thanks, sis…Uhm, can you try to make it later on in the afternoon, like about three or so? I'll be busy kind of busy until then."

"No sweat." The younger bunny answered, nodding, and then, "Okay Judy I'm going….but, erm, before I take off, can I ask you something?"

The expression on her face raised several red flags, and Judy was sorely tempted to tell her sister, 'Not now, maybe later,' ('later', of course meaning 'never'.)

"Ummm….yeah, okay," she said.

Erin looked around her hutch again, and then leaned in even closer to the screen, lowering her voice to the point where Judy could barely hear her.

"What was it like, kissing…Nick?"

The sudden surprise of her kid sister's inquiry blew Judy clear through the opposite wall of her apartment—or that was how it felt. Wha…? How the heck was she supposed to answer THAT question? (Especially since it sounded as if Erin had come within an eyelash of asking her what was it like, 'kissing a fox' instead of what was it like, 'kissing Nick.')

Judy wanted to tell the younger bunny that it was none of her business—except she knew that this would be like trying to get rid of a sugar-ant infestation by painting the baseboards with maple syrup.

"To tell the truth, I don't what it felt like, Erin," She said, "it happened so fast. Right then, all I cared about was how were we going to get out of that place?" (Okay, that was a lie; she hadn't known the Rafaj brothers were becoming suspicious until Nick had told her afterwards.) "I'll tell you this though, first thing I did after we got out of there was go find a drinking fountain and wash out my mouth." (Better…except that had been about Nick's breath, and not his species.)

Erin's face screwed up in an expression of distaste…and was that also disappointment Judy saw?

Someone knocked on her door again, their dad this time.

"Erin sweetie, didn't you hear your mother? Dinner time…"

Judy felt something twist in her throat, her dad still sounded a little bit 'sniffly'.

"Be right there," Erin called, and to Judy she said, "Okay, now I really have to go. Take care, big sis, I love you."

"Love you too, Erin, bye." Judy said, and the Slyphe window on her laptop screen went blank, and then turned blue.

Folding the computer shut, Judy sighed as she became aware of a silent presence, on the table just to her right. She tried not to look, but her cell-phone refused to be put off.

"Well," it seemed to be saying, "What are you waiting for? You know you can't get away from this…he HAS to be told, and right now!"

Judy groaned, grumbled, and then snatched up her cell from the tabletop, scrolling through her contacts list and looking for Nick Wilde.

This was going to be about as enjoyable as delivering a big block of ice to the North Pole.

She found his name and was preparing to tap on it, when her finger abruptly froze in mid-air.

What HAD it been like, when he'd kissed her…what had it really been like?


Author's Note:
A Few Words About Vern Rodenberg:

Vernon J. Rodenberg, Attorney at Law, is one of my favorite OCs that I came up with for this story. He's based, in part, on three real-life mob lawyers, Bruce Cutler, Lawrence, 'Larry' Hocheiser, and especially Jerry 'The Jew' Rosenberg,

Bruce Cutler was John Gotti's attorney. 'Pounding' a witness was a favorite expression of his. Larry Hocheiser made a name for himself defending the notorious Westies enforcer Mickey Featherstone, securing acquittals in at least two trials that everyone else had thought unwinnable. 'Booby' was the favored term of address by his mentor.

And then there's Jerry Rosenberg.

Possibly the most famous (or infamous) jailhouse lawyer of all time, he, like Vern Rodenberg earned two law degrees from correspondence courses he'd taken while serving time for murder—a crime for which he always insisted he'd been falsely convicted. Like Vern Rodenberg, Jerry The Jew (he reveled in his nickname,) represented literally dozens of other inmates in criminal cases, including several prominent mobsters, making new law and instituting many prison reforms that still stand today. UN-like the grey rat, he was never able to secure a new trial in his own case. He died in 2009 at the Wende Correctional Facility in upstate New York, the longest serving inmate in the history of that state.