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. 11)

Zootopia Canal District, 03:30, Monday:

It was quiet along the Quarentena Canal; the only sounds to be heard were the sonorous clanging of a bell buoy, and the occasional splash of a small fish. It was dark, too; a drizzly fog had settled over the canal, wiping the stars from the sky and reducing the dock lights to sickly, greenish-yellow fuzzballs; in other words, just another, very-early morning in the district.

The Quarentena was a wide but relatively short expanse of water, located near the center of Logwood Island, just south of Banana Street. The waterway took its name from the 'mercy' barges moored here more than more than two centuries previously, in a vain effort to curb the Great Distemper by keeping the victims isolated. The canal had been both shallower and more constricted then—and also much more remote.

These days, the waterway served as part of the Canal District's industrial hub. Here you would find a dredging company, a towboat company, and a business that specialized in the service and repair of construction barges. Here too was the local branch of Interspecies Recycling Systems; (the initials were a private joke on the part of the company's owner and founder…an animal whose tax issues made Nick Wilde's debt to the government look like a minor oversight.)

Like every other business on the Quarantena, IR Systems was ensconced on its own private, concrete pier. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about the place, (nor was that necessary, given the location; none of the firms on this block had been intended as tourist attractions.) The facility consisted of two simple, slab-sided, cinderblock constructions, each with vault-thick walls and an insulated steel roof; (recycling is a noisy business,) The smaller structure, the one that fronted on the canal, was fitted with rows of roll-up, steel dock-doors facing the water on three sides, all of them painted in dull red with the company logo in the center. The building itself was done up in an eggshell white that had long since faded to a dull, pasty grey.

If Interspecies Recycling's façade wasn't pleasing to the eye, no one could deny that it was a secure facility. (Theft of recyclables is a much bigger business than many mammals might realize.) Rock solid and equipped with a state of the art alarm system—including both motion and scent detectors—the building was all but impenetrable after the last employee clocked out for the day. (The plant manager liked to boast, 'a fly couldn't get in here without us knowing.')

That, however, only applied to the parts of the structure located above the water-line…but down below, the place was equally secure, hemmed in by a cage of steel rails and cyclone mesh. As for gaining access by slipping in under the dock doors, good luck with that! They all closed tightly against the barrier-cage...and at a depth well below the surface. The owner of IR Systems would brook no outside intruders in any of his facilities—for reasons that some said went well beyond the need to deter any would-be thieves. (The two giant shredding machines inside the recycling plant were rumored to be employed, on occasion, for the disposal of 'other things' besides unwanted plastic.) That made the place even more protected; no one wanted to run afoul of an animal capable of something that monstrous.

And yet…there were those for whom all of this was not a deterrent but an encouragement—such as the four large animals gliding silently towards the recycling plant on this fogbound Monday morning (Actually, it was the individual employing them who'd found the information useful)

It was an uncomfortable environment for the team, although it wasn't the water they minded; all four of them were members of a semi-aquatic species, (although you might not know it to look at them, with their bulky, rounded physiques.)

No, the problem had to do more with the fact that their particular species was much more accustomed to a frigid environment than to the bathtub-warm waters of the Canal District. Without exception, they wanted to get this business over with and get home to where it was cold.

Nonetheless, they did not rush. The animal who had recently taken charge of the operation had made it abundantly clear that they were not to push themselves. "Take your time and be methodical," he'd said.

And so they would be; they knew better than to get on the bad side of that individual. Even though he was perhaps a third the size of any single one of them, he could take any two of them single pawed—and in any case, he had practically an army of backup at his beck and call.

No bubbles trailed in the wake of the four as they approached the perimeter of IR Systems' Canal District facility; they'd been outfitted with the latest and best in rebreathing equipment. Likewise, they felt no need to paddle or otherwise exert themselves. Two of the team members were pulling themselves along by way of undersea scooters, while the other two, (one of whom was the lead animal,) were seated astride a submarine jet-bike. Behind this was towed a motley array of gear and supplies. First came a 300-gallon, ovular, plastic tank…which was actually quite easy to move; the contents being slightly less dense than water. Next came what looked like an elongated scuba tank. Much heavier than the first container, this piece needed a pair of attached air floats to keep it buoyed. Last, but not least was a tightly bound bundle of pipes and hoses…and of all things, a pool noodle.

They were perhaps 10 yards away from their target when the leader raised a fist to call a halt. All three vehicles slowed, but did come immediately to a full stop, (a nearly impossible feat while underwater.) Nonetheless it was a perfectly timed move; the trio of water-sleds edged to a halt exactly two feet shy of Interspecies Recycling's underwater barrier-cage.

Dismounting from the submarine bike, the leader finned his way up to the fence-wall, attempting to peer through a gap in the barrier and determine what lay beyond. It was no use; even with the aid of night-vision scuba-goggles, there was nothing visible through the partition except a swirling, green curtain of flotsam and jetsam. Eee-yech, didn't they ever clean up around here? He couldn't wait to get out of this filthy place. Reaching over with his right paw, he tapped an LED screen affixed to his other arm. At once a graphic display appeared, showing the interior layout of Interspecies Recycling's Canal District branch. Good, he and his team were right where they were supposed to be.

In actuality, this was the smallest of IR Systems' several recycling plants, (and the only one that employed boats rather than trucks for the purpose collecting material.) The reason for its comparatively small stature was actually quite simple; IR Systems' mainstay was the collection and repurposing of used automobile tires—and in a district where nearly all of the thoroughfares were waterways, these were a singularly scarce commodity. Nonetheless, every year the facility managed to turn a decent profit, with good prospects for the future.

"Not anymore," the team-leader thought as he angled his eyes upwards. Almost directly above the space in front of him was a floating dock with slips for eight diesel-powered vessels, all of which resembled vintage landing-craft, with an odd piece of equipment attached to their aft superstructure, a contraption resembling a cross between a crane and a robotic arm. Behind and to the left of the dock, inside of the main building, were the administrative offices, and on the opposite side of these was the recycling facility, with its pair of giant shredding machines, (now lying dormant in the darkness.)

The leader reached out and stroked the underwater security fence, delicately, almost lovingly; this was the single biggest chink in the recycling-plant's armor. While there were plenty of security cameras on the other side of the barrier-cage, none were set at more than five feet below the surface—and there were none at all covering the facility's underwater exterior. This was because…A, the dirty-green soup filling the canal was murky enough to deter the range and effectiveness of any CCTV surveillance system…and B, who needs cameras when you got the Bearlin wall?

"It'd take a guy with an acetylene torch HOURS to cut through that security fence," the branch manager had once sneered to a doubting employee, "if they was lucky! And even if it'd only take 'em a few minutes, that'd still set off the alarm sooo stinkin' fast." What he hadn't bothered to mention was that the barrier alarm was not particularly sensitive; it would take at LEAST a cutting torch or a carbide-saw to set it off…and the quartet of polar bears parked outside had no intentions of trying to breach it in any case; their purpose here was not robbery but something else. All they needed for their purpose was a gap in the cage-wall the circumference of a pine-cone—and the barrier-fence had plenty of those.

Now the foursome moved quickly, attaching a pair of hoses to the top of the big, ovular tank, and attaching these to a pair of ten foot PVC pipes. The pipes were then pushed through two of the openings in the barrier-cage, nearly to their full length. As soon as this was done, valves were opened, a switch was thrown, and a battery-powered pump began to churn.

And the team of polar-bears settled down to wait.

The only sign that anything was happening was a pair of nearly invisible rainbow-plumes curing upwards towards the surface from the end of each pipe, both of them suffused with what looked like tiny sparkles of glitter, a mixture of powdered magnesium and aluminum oxide. Even in broad daylight, they wouldn't have been especially noticeable; in the stygian darkness of predawn, they were completely imperceptible. Oh, the scent detectors might have noted that something was amiss, once the fumes began to spread—except they were calibrated for animal pheromones, rather than chemical odors.

As the kerosene emptied from the top of the tank, it was replaced by water coming in from below, so as not to upset the vessel's buoyancy. The whole process seemed to take forever, (it actually took 20 minutes.) When the last of the accelerant had been pumped from the tank, the pipes and hoses were stowed, and the vessel was moved away from the barrier, to be replaced by the smaller, metallic tank. Once again, a hose and pipe were attached…although this particular pipe was of a somewhat different breed than the two that had preceded it. Perforated along its length, it resembled nothing so much as a gigantic flute, and being somewhat narrower than its predecessors, it fit through the barrier even more easily than they had.

Here, no pump was necessary; when the team-leader opened the valve, the contents of the cylinder hissed out on its own, rising quickly to the surface in a curtain of tiny bubbles.

The original plan had been to use propane gas, but the animal recently put in charge of the operation had vetoed that idea in favor of something else. It was a change with which the team leader had no quarrel; the new cylinder's contents were both colorless and odorless—and they wouldn't kill you if you inhaled them.

It took far less time for the smaller tank to empty than the first one, and now the quartet of bears brought up the pool noodle, pushing it through another gap in the security cage and letting it float up towards the surface on its own. This was another alteration from the initial plan; the original device had been a bar of sodium, wrapped in a casing designed to slowly dissolve in water. The new animal in charge had nixed that idea in favor of an electronically activated incendiary charge..

"That first infernal was much too imprecise," he'd said, and while the lead polar bear had wholeheartedly agreed, he had also been slightly miffed; HE had been saying the same thing since day one—and nobody'd wanted to listen, not to him.

Working with a brisk efficiency, the quartet gathered their gear and performed a quick check of the perimeter. Once they were certain they'd left nothing behind, they mounted their scooters and scuba-bike, and motored silently away from the recycling plant, headed outwards and into the main channel of Zootopia Sound.

Once free of the canal, the water began to clear rapidly. Nonetheless, it was still dark up above, and they continued to rely on their GPS displays for navigation. They were about 1200 yards off shore when the leader raised a fist to call a halt and pointed upwards, signaling for them to surface. The boat should be almost directly over their heads right about now.

It was; in fact, the GPS system had worked just a little too well, one of the bears nearly banged his head on the hull trying to reach the surface. No time to think; the instant their heads bobbed free of the water all four of them were grabbed and hauled quickly aboard the craft, along with their scooters and gear, (on the side facing AWAY from the shoreline.)

The only piece of equipment that couldn't be brought on board was the big, plastic fuel tank. This was weighted and allowed to sink to the bottom. While it might be found later by the ZPD, the chances were minimal; they were over the part of The Sound jocularly referred to as 'the boneyard', the final resting place for several decades' worth of unwanted junk and machinery from a century gone by. (That was also about how long the city had been promising to get it cleaned up.)

The pick-up boat was a thing of rakish beauty, with a hull and superstructure constructed of brushed steel and polished aluminum, ringed all around with midnight blue air-chambers, that gave it the appearance the world's most aggressive Zodiyak launch. It was a vessel built for serious speed, with emphasis on the serious; fitted with a pair of outboards the size of refrigerators, and with a light-bar, siren, and radar array mounted atop of the main cabin. The sides of the vessel were adorned with three simple letters 'ASM.'

Hitting the deck, the team leader found himself gazing into the eyes of the animal recently put in charge of the op, a wolverine with a single, dirty-white paw. The big bear nearly looked away; the top of the other animal's only came up to the center of his chest…but both of them knew that the wolverine could tear him apart without blinking if the spirit moved him; he too had been fitted with 'the device', and HIS implant didn't need to be armed remotely.

"Any friction?" Seth Whitepaugh asked him, deadpan.

"Nope, it all went like clockwork," the team leader answered, stripping off his neoprene hood; he wanted nothing more right now than to get home and take an ice-cold shower.

"Good," the wolverine answered, whirling a paw in the air to signal they were getting under way. A moment later the engines revved and the boat began to move…at cruising speed. While Whitepaugh was as eager as any of the others to be away from here, he understood the necessity of not attracting undue attention. No one would think twice if they saw an Aker Security Management patrol boat traversing The Sound in the wee hours of the morning; the firm had numerous clients along the waterfront. An ASM boat moving flat out, however…THAT was a different story, especially at this early hour.

After ten long minutes, the craft came abreast of Muddy Swamp Island, the demarcation line between the Canal District and Savanna Central. From here, the channel widened rapidly; they could kick up the speed to a higher notch with no difficulty.

But first thing's first; Whitepaugh pulled out a radio and spoke into a headset.

"Red-Fire One to all posts; what is your situation? Over…"

The first answer came back almost immediately.

"Post number two reporting, all quiet; no possible collateral targets."

The updates from observation posts one and three were almost identical to the first. Satisfied, Whitepaugh stowed the radio, exchanging it for a cell-phone—a disposable model. He dialed a number, and was about to press 'send' when he once more took notice of the lead polar-bear.

"Do you want to do the honors?" he asked, offering him the cellphone. The bear politely waved him off, "Nope, doesn't matter to me who pulls the pin," he said, earning himself a measure of respect from the wolverine; that was the attitude of a strict professional.

"Very well," Whitepaugh nodded, and hit the 'send' button.

Two miles aft…

A fire requires three separate elements to start burning. The first two were already well in place within the confines of IR Systems' Canal District facility—fuel, in the form of the kerosene pumped in from the first tank, and oxidizer, in this case 130lbs of welder's oxygen released into facility from the smaller cylinder. All that was needed now to complete the Fire Triangle was the third element—heat. It came in the form of the thermal charge, detonating inside the pool noodle. A loud bang and a bright flash followed…and then a thick 'whoompf' as the kerosene slick caught fire.

This was no ordinary kerosene; infused with thermite powder, it had been transformed into a crude form of rocket fuel. At once a bright-yellow lake of fire whooshed out along the surface of the water. A microsecond later it made contact with the oxygen-enriched air above, the flames changing instantly from yellow to white hot, burning so brightly, it would have been nearly impossible to observe the blaze, except through a pair of welder's goggles.

Not that this would have made much difference, anyone that close enough to see the fire would probably be dead already; in less than ten seconds the ambient temperature inside the recycling plant had risen to an astonishing 1800 degrees Fahrenheit; hotter than the interior of a lime-kiln or a crematorium.

A split second later, the flames caught up with the first of the recycling-vessels' fuel-tanks.

Under normal circumstances, diesel fuel is not an especially volatile substance; compared to gasoline, it's downright passive. Heat it to quadruple digits however, and you better stand back…way, way back!. The boats went up like a string of ginormous firecrackers, adding even more fuel to the conflagration.

Thanks to the facility's thick, cinderblock walls, the ambient heat had nowhere to go, no way to escape…and so it took out its rage on whatever it could find within the structure. Bursting through the office wall, it turned chairs, desks, and other furniture to piles of ash in practically the blink of an eye. Over on the industrial side, a soda machine exploded in a cloud of superhot steam, while all throughout the work area, wiring and electrical cables sizzled, sputtered, and melted into gobs of weirdly colored metal. Moments later, the gears of the two giant shredding machines warped, buckled, and fused together, transforming them into a pair of useless junk-heaps. (The destruction of the shredders had not been part of the original plan, but when Seth Whitepaugh learned of it, he was delighted rather than dismayed. "Even better than we'd hoped," he would say in his final report.)

So swiftly did the fire engulf the IRS facility, that every single one of the building's smoke detectors was incinerated before it had time to sense anything, much less sound the alarm; by the time the first ZFD fire boat was revving up its engine, IR Systems' Canal District Plant was already a write-off.

Three miles away, Seth Whitepaugh crushed the disposable cell-phone in his oversized paws, and flung the pieces into the water. Slapping them against each other, in a 'that's that' gesture, he became aware of an angry exchange, over on his left.

He turned, and saw the lead polar bear, now clad in grey coveralls, snatching a baseball cap off the head of one of his team members. "Just what the heck do you think you're doing, wearing that thing?"

At first, the wolverine didn't understand…until he looked closer and saw that the cap was emblazoned with the letters, 'ZPD'.

"You can-not be seen, with THAT on your head," the lead bear snarled, and whipped it over the side.

Immediately the other polar bear was on his feet. (He was at least a foot taller than the lead animal.) "You moron; who the heck would've seen me, anyway?"

Seth Whitepaugh thought that called for an intervention, and got quickly between them, speaking first to the polar-bear that had lost his head-gear.

"Supposing the ZFD calls Aker for assistance in keeping the crowds back from that fire, hrm? They know we have a boat out here," he folded his arms beneath cold, flinty eyes, nodding over his shoulder at the red glow pulsing in their wake. "In that case, we'd have no choice but assist them." This was a highly unlikely scenario, the wolverine knew, but not outside the realm of possibility. In response, the bear who'd been wearing the police-cap snuffled an apology and quickly slunk away. Whitepaugh watched him go and then turned his attention to the lead bear.

"Well done," he said. Oh yes, they had been exactly right in accepting this animal for the 'infusion corps.'

Four miles behind him, the interior of IR Systems continued to burn brightly. And then, almost as quickly as it had started, the blaze snuffed itself out, its fuel supply exhausted. ('The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long,' as the line in the movie says.)

When the ZFD fireboats arrived on the scene, there was nothing for them to do but turn their hoses on the smoldering structure, attempting to cool it down enough for them to enter. Surveying the damage, the fire-captain in charge, a water deer named Devi Parubjah could only gape in awe at the precision of the blaze. While Interspecies Recycling's facility was a blackened husk, the businesses on either side of it had barely been scorched. She felt her tail begin to clock back and forth like a metronome; this was all just a little bit TOO exact for her blood.

She turned to the hippo standing next to her.

"Herus, alert the ZPD. Tell them to have someone from the Arson Squad over here, A.S.A.P."

She immediately wondered if that was such a good idea; it would be hours before the structure would cool enough to enter. In fact, the first investigator was not able to set foot inside the facility until almost 9:07 AM—about the same time the Zootopia Juvenile Court was opening for business.

Juvie Court, as the kids called it was housed in an annex to the main courthouse, a squat, ugly edifice the looked like nothing so much as a brick-by-brick replica of a DMV Office, (specifically the one where Nick had introduced Judy to Flash.)

"Hmmm, what the heck is that sloth up to these days?" The red fox caught himself wondering; he had lost track of his old high-school bud after he and Judy had tagged him for street-racing.

He heard a clicking sound and looked up to see that the doors had been unlocked and the line was starting to move. "Almost on time for once," the red fox noted, checking his watch; there was nothing he wanted more than to get this farce over with and get out of this place. Did Gamsbart really need for him to be here?

The first hint of trouble came while Nick was going through security. Normally, showing his badge to the officer in charge was all it took for him to be waved through, with only a cursory inspection at best.

Not this time…the Bighorn sheep in charge of the metal detector, (Who worked for Aker Security, not the city.) made him turned out all his pockets and remove his belt, and then wanded him over twice—all the while glaring at the fox as if HE were here on trial, and for a particularly vile offense.

And judging by the groans and grumbles of the animals waiting in line behind him, Nick surmised that this was NOT any sort of standard procedure. One or two of the others were also giving him dirty looks and someone else, a porcupine, was even pointing…and try as he might, Nick couldn't shake the feeling that this had nothing to do with the line being held up.

When he finally made to 'Juvie Court', the inside décor turned out to be no great shakes on the building's exterior. The place looked like a hastily refurbished storeroom, fitted out with props and set-pieces left over from a high-school production of Twelve Angry Mammals. Everything had a fake appearance to it, from the cheesy wall-paneling, to the 'yard sale' prosecutor's and the defense tables, to the paw-me-down seats in the gallery. Even the judge's bench sported a thrown-together quality, covered in veneer that could not possibly have been real wood. The carpeting on the floor looked like something an airport would have turned down, and to top it all off, the lighting wasn't quite right, either—projecting what looked like a purplish tinge onto Nick's red fur. There was no jury box; young offenders accused of serious crimes were taken elsewhere to be tried.

That was probably what would happen to Conor Lewis, unless he decided to co-operate with the Attorney General's office and give up The Phantom. (At this point, Nick thought the odds of that happening were about on a par with the chances of sneaking an elephant through Little Rodentia without anybody noticing—in broad daylight.)

Already, half the seats on the right side of the gallery were occupied, (the section reserved for defendants, their parents, attorneys, etc.) Nearly all of the chairs on the left of the aisle were empty however, and Nick quickly found a seat in the small-mammal section up in front.

Glancing across to the other side, he saw that many of the seats were held by what looked like one or more family members of the kids awaiting their turn before the judge. He frowned slightly; there was perhaps one young mammal over there accompanied by an attorney—and it wasn't Conor Lewis.

"Where the heck IS that kid, anyway?" the red fox wondered silently. They'd better not have postponed Conor's arraignment without telling him. (It would be the first time.)

At that moment, as if in answer to his inquiry, the courtroom door swung open and the young silver fox came in, followed closely by a wolf in a correctional officer's uniform. There seemed to be no sign of Vern Rodenberg—no, wait, there he was, perched once again on his client's shoulder.

Conor had shed his orange coveralls for something more presentable, a pair of Duicker pants and a dark blue polo shirt. He had also washed his fur, Nick could smell it from where he was sitting; the younger fox even appeared to have been freshly barbered. In fact, he looked almost exactly like a postcard version of an honor student, (which he was, Nick had to remind himself. Vern Rodenberg would no doubt remind the court of that fact if he got the chance.)

As he passed within eyesight of where Nick was sitting, Conor glanced at him briefly, but offered no nod or any other sort of acknowledgement of the older fox's presence. Nick didn't blame him; he would have done exactly the same, had it been him appearing before the judge today. 'So where's the guy I'm supposed to have bitten?' the young fox to be telling the world.

Oh yes, Nick understood this kid all right. Thinking about it, he was actually grateful to Rudy Gamsbart for…well, speak of the devil again; here HE was too, entering the courtroom at a brisk stride with a nerdy-looking female kangaroo hopping in his wake; probably his law clerk.

"Hello, ," Nick stood up and waved, although without much enthusiasm; the Deputy Prosecutor had ordered him to be here, so he figured he'd better make it known that he'd followed his instructions like a good, little fox.

Seeing him, the chamois waved back, equally indifferent….no, scratch that; was it Nick's imagination or had the temperature in here suddenly cooled thirty degrees? The look on Gamsbart's face was borderline hostile, in fact nearly identical to the one he'd gotten from the bighorn sheep at the security checkpoint. What the heck was going on here? Wait, hang on a second…this couldn't possibly have anything to do with that business Judy had called him about last ni…?

Ohhhh, NO! Speak of the devil again! Here SHE was, moving smartly down the aisle in beige slacks and a chambray shirt. Agggh, grrr…dumb fox! He should have known better than to tell her to stay away. (To this bunny, the words, 'you can't' were one step removed from an engraved invitation.) At least she wasn't in uniform, the red fox told himself, hunkering down in his seat and trying to look invisible.

"Hi Nick!' the doe-bunny waved as she approached. (Oh great, she'd spotted him anyway.)

Instead of answering, the red fox let his eyes flicker nervously in the direction of the prosecutor's table. Whoa, thank goodness Gamsbart's back was turned; he hadn't seen or heard her yet.

He turned his gaze back in Judy's direction, growling under his breath.

"Carrots, what the heck are you doing here? I thought I said…"

"Yes, and I said I thought you were wrong," she responded curtly, sliding in beside him. And then her right ear lifted higher than the left. "Honestly Nick, what do think, the judge is going to let Conor walk, just because I came?"

"Uh, no," the red fox had to admit; trust her to make such a devastating point. At the end of the day, Judy Hopps's presence here could have no effect on the outcome of Conor's arraignment; this kid wasn't going anywhere, no matter how many cops' lives he'd saved. Really, the only problem Nick had with his partner being here was that Rudy Gamsbart had a problem with it…and even that was only conjecture. And as Judy herself had pointed out yesterday, no one had ordered her not to be here.

All very nice, except…what about the treatment Nick had gotten from Gamsbart and the bighorn sheep? If that had been about what he'd thought it was about…

"Looks like a busy day in the neighborhood." Judy waved a paw at the packed gallery on the other side of the aisle.

Nick sucked at his lower lip. What the heck, it couldn't hurt to make small talk.

"It's that anti-vandalism crackdown, I bet; the one the Chief mentioned last week. You watch; once the message sinks in that we're serious about this, I bet we'll see a lot fewer kids in here."

"If it sinks in," Judy cautioned him. She was about to say more when the door to the judge's chambers opened and a bison in a bailiff's uniform entered the courtroom, raising a hoof as if preparing to recite an oath.

"All rise; quiet in the court, please."

He waited until everyone had stood up and then recited the familiar litany.

''Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All mammals having business before this court are now admonished to draw near and give their attention. The Juvenile Justice Court for the City of Zootopia is now in session; the honorable Judge George L. Schatten presiding…"

That was all Nick heard; the thundering of his heart drowned out the rest. George Schatten….Georgie Schatten; he was a JUDGE now? Oh no, it couldn't be him; it had to be some other mammal.

The door to the judge's chambers swung open again and a diminutive figure entered. Nick could only see the top of his head, but he was definitely the right size for a woodchuck.

But no, it couldn't be him…

And then Judge Schatten took his place at the bench—and he was a woodchuck. Still, Nick told himself, that didn't mean anything for certain; no, it COULDN'T be him.

A faint ripple of scent teased the insides of the nostrils, and just like that, denial was only a river in Egypt. The odor was barely perceptible, but Nick recognized it immediately; he could never forget THAT scent—no matter how hard he tried.

It was him!

He heard Judy saying something, it sounded like, "Ni…? Ni-wa-rong?" Or…something like that; he couldn't sure. All of his attention was focused on the woodchuck presiding from the judge's bench…only he wasn't wearing robes anymore; instead he was clad in the uniform of a Junior Ranger-Scout. And he wasn't seated; he was standing over Nick in the darkened basement of a community center, an arrogant sneer plastered across his face. "You think we'd trust a fox without a muzzle? You're even dumber than you look!"

Nick heard the words as clearly as if he was just now hearing them for the very first time.

It WAS him!

On the other side of the aisle-way, another fox had also recognized the woodchuck, a fact which did not escape the notice of the grey rat seated on his shoulder.

"That him, Booby; the groundhog from the airplane?"

"Yep, same dude." Conor answered with a small nod. He was far more sanguine about the state of things than Nick…but then again, refusing to sit next to a fox on an airline flight was hardly in the same category as forcing a muzzle onto his face.

At that moment, Judge Schatten spotted Conor as well, subjecting him to a short, intense scrutiny. It came as no surprise to the young silver fox, but it did wonders to strengthen his resolve.

He was just glad that Mr. Rodenberg's position made it impossible for the grey rat to see his face.

George Schatten could see it though. Humph, so this was the little miscreant who had given the ZPD so much trouble. Of course the REAL troublemaker was the piece of vermin seated on his shoulder; oh yes, the woodchuck had spotted him too

He sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers and reviewing what Gamsbart had told him earlier; no fireworks, keep it low key…until it's time to lower the boom and then come down on the kid like a crate full of anvils.

That was actually going to be a lot easier than it might have been. Normally a kid brought into his court for assaulting a police officer was enough to send the woodchuck's righteous indignation clear into the O-zone.

Not so much this time; yes, Conor Lewis had bitten a cop, but he had also bitten another fox. If he hadn't been a fox himself, His Honor might even have felt inclined to cut him some slack—especially since his victim had been none other than that arrogant jerk, Nicholas P. Wilde. Hmph, now there was someone who'd never learned his lesson; you would think, after what had happened when he tried to join the Junior Ranger Scouts, that this idiot would understand his place in the world, but nooooo…the shifty so-and-so had up and joined the ZPD! And then just when the woodchuck had thought that Wilde couldn't push it any further beyond the pale…Ohhhh, he was going to need a gallon of brain-bleach to erase the memory of what he'd seen on cable last night; he should have taken the kids to Lityak's when he'd had the chance.

Wel-l-ll, never mind about that for now; where WAS Nick Wilde anyway? Deputy Prosecutor Rudy Gamsbart, (another animal getting too big for his britches,) had left specific instructions for him to be here this morning. Hmmmm, now where…? Wait, yes…this was only an arraignment, Wilde wouldn't be testifying, so he'd be over on the other side of the…WHAT THE FRESH HECK?!

Feeling his jaw about to drop clear through the judge's bench, the woodchuck hurriedly clasped his chin, the only way to stop the deadfall. There was Wilde all right…sitting together with Judy Hopps, with that bunny, the one from the video he'd seen on the Rock Hardesty show last night. The two of them were leaning towards one another, foreheads touching, obviously in the midst of an intimate conversation…in his courtroom; carrying on their inappropriate behavior in HIS courtroom.

His paw began to tighten around the stem of his gavel. Foxes! And was that a cracking noise?

At that instant, Rudy Gamsbart looked up from his notes with a startled expression. What the…? He could have sworn he'd heard a flapping noise just now.

He had; it was the sound of all his instructions to Judge Schatten flying straight out the window. The only thing on the woodchuck's mind was Nick Wilde—and the bunny he'd brought here with him. Oooo, if that bushy-tailed jerk thought he could get away with that sort of thing in here, he was in for a VERY rude awakening.

"Because I know your weak spot…fox!" he thought staring hard enough to bore holes through reinforced concrete.

15 feet away, Nick Wilde was unaware of the woodchuck's attentions; at the moment he was focused on the text message showing on Judy's smart-phone, the two of them huddling over it in order to be able to see the display-screen, (dang that lousy light in here!)

It was a confirmation of Judy's appointment with Dr. Hind that afternoon.

"See Nick, I had to be here anyway." She said, speaking in hushed tones. The red fox was having none of it.

"Come on Carrots, 1:30? That's not for another four hours. And Dr. Hind's office is all the way over…"

It was as far their conversation went before the bang of the judge's gavel cut it off.

"All right, order in the court; bailiff, call the first case."


Another update will be coming this Wednesday or Thursday.