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. 12)

Vern Rodenberg felt his whiskers quivering; guy-wires in a thunderstorm. Uh-Ohhhh…His Honor was in a bad mood this morning; he usually ASKED his bailiff to 'please call the first case.'

Only…was Schatten's foul temper necessarily such a bad thing on this particular morning? No…it wasn't, the grey rat decided. In fact, if he played his cards right, it might turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.

The Bison performing the bailiff duties was meanwhile adjusting his glasses and consulting a clipboard; he too had caught the absence of warmth in His Honor's instructions; (so had Rudy Gamsbart, who scowled deeply.)

Raising the clipboard an inch or two higher, he sonorously intoned, "The Mammals of Zootopia versus the Mammal Known as Conor Severus Lewis. This is an arraignment hearing…" A minute or two of legal boilerplate followed, after which Conor was escorted to the defendant's table by the wolf that had brought him here. Judge Schatten gave him a moment to get seated, and then leaned forward with an apparently benign expression on his face.

"Mr. Lewis, are you represented by counsel here today?"

The answer came from the young fox's shoulder.

"Yes Your Honor, I'll be representing Mr. Lewis this morning, Vernon J. Rodenberg, attorney at law." He tapped Conor lightly on the neck, and the young fox reached up and set him down on the table.

"Ahhh, Mr. Rodenberg," Judge Schatten's expression was almost pleasant—which made the grey rat doubly apprehensive. "Juvenile Court, eh? Isn't that a bit out of the ordinary for you?"

"I go where I feel I'm needed, Your Honor," the diminutive attorney answered, wondering what in the name of Dear Jurisprudence had gotten into His Honor today? He never engaged in this kind of banter with defense counsel.

On the other side of the courtroom, Rudy Gamsbart's right eyebrow was arcing upwards; he was beginning to wonder the same thing.

"Bailiff, would you please read the charges?" Judge Schatten had at last reverted to his normal mode of speaking. Judy relaxed and so did Nick, (but to a much lesser degree than her.) Vern Rodenberg and Rudy Gamsbart did not; they had seen His Honor deploy this smokescreen all too many times before.

But why was he doing this?

The court fell silent as the bison adjusted his spectacles and began to read aloud.

Conor was charged with one count of attempting to evade, one count of illegally entering a fire zone, one count of disorderly conduct, one count of resisting arrest, and finally the big Kahuna, Felonious Assault of a Peace Officer. Except for the final charge, all of these complaints were superfluous, bargaining chips to be put in play in the event the young silver fox decided to ask for a plea-deal, (as IF!)

As the final charge was spelled out, Judge Schatten leaned forward over the bench, once again focusing on Vern Rodenberg, the pleasant smile on his face morphing quickly to a flint-eyed sneer. In the gallery behind the defendant's table, Nick Wilde's tail stiffened like a bottle-brush. This was the exact same change of expression he'd seen when the woodchuck had asked him, 'Even though…you're a FOX?'

"Counselor," he said, "Am I to understand that you do not intend to immediately plead your client guilty to this crime?"

Rodenberg reeled back, stunned. What the heck? A statement like that in an arraignment hearing was one step away from judicial malfeasance. Judy Hopps nearly gasped and Nick Wilde did gasp.

But no one in that courtroom was more staggered than Deputy Prosecutor Rudolph Gamsbart. What the holy heck He had specifically instructed Judge Schatten to lay off the theatrics for once; it was as if His Honor had accidentally slipped the wrong disc into his DVD player…and why did his gaze keep shifting to the seats behind the defendant's table?

The chamois looked…and immediately had his answer. Of all the…the…

"You DUMB bunny, get your fluffy, little booty out of here!" He could have screamed his lungs out—but even if Judy high-tailed it out of the courtroom right now, too late, the damage was already done. Judge Schatten had climbed into his high dudgeon and slammed the door behind him. There was nothing for Rudy Gamsbart to do but ride it out and hope the woodchuck wouldn't go TOO far over the edge.

Ohhhh, but when they were done here, he was going to have a few choice words with a certain bunny-cop—and especially with her partner. Dangit, Judge Schatten was an even bigger fan of the Rock Hardesty show than HE was.

Meanwhile, over at the defendant's table, Vern Rodenberg had already recovered his composure—and then some; his whiskers were bobbing and his incisors were once more honing against each other. He had no idea where the opportunity just presented to him had come from, but 'don't look a gift Swiss-cheese in the holes,' as he always liked to say.

Only…what was the best way to handle this? The ol' humble shtick, yeah that was the way to go. He put on his most meek and penitent expression, clasping his paws like an errant son, begging his father's indulgence.

"No, Your Honor…we do not," he said, "We intend to plead not guilty on all charges." He quickened the pace of his speech, wanting to get as much said as possible before the woodchuck's gavel banged him into silence.

"Your Honor this is a tragedy not a crime; my client never meant to bite a police officer; and he absolutely wouldn't have done it had he known it was Nick Wilde who grabbed him. I remind the court the court that they're both fox…"

That was as far as he got before gavel came down, but Rodenberg figured he just had time to get it in.

"Have you yourself not several times remarked on the fact that their species always sticks toge…"

"Objection!" Rudy Gamsbart was on his feet and throwing a hoof in the air. "This is an arraignment Your Honor; defense can save their arguments for the trial." He was glaring across the room at his opponent, who responded with only a mild shrug.

"The bench asked me a question, and I felt obliged to answer, Mr. Prosecutor."

"Never mind, sustained!" Judge Schatten all but growled, banging his gavel again. It didn't matter to Rodenberg, his ploy had accomplished its purpose. The woodchuck had indeed offered that opinion, and on more than several different occasions. And there was nothing…nuh-THING guaranteed to get the Honorable George Schatten wound up like throwing his own words back at him—and the grey rat had done it without even the slightest show of hostility, appearing almost deferential in his remarks. Rudy Gamsbart knew it, and he'd also realized what his opponent was up to; he simply hadn't figured it out in time to put a stop to it.

Or…had he? Would the judge bite, or wouldn't he?

Rodenberg got his answer when the woodchuck's features darkened and he raised his gavel again…this time as if to hurl it, not to bang it.

"Oy, the things I DO for my clients," the rat-attorney thought to himself…and then battened down the hatches, preparing to weather the coming storm.

It turned out be a Cat-4 Hurricane.

"Don't you ever presume to quote ME out of context, Counselor!" Judge Schatten was halfway out of his seat, aiming the gavel at him as though it were the Hammer of the Gods. "I'm perfectly aware of what I said, and yes foxes do tend shore each other up in the face of authority…but that doesn't mean they're incapable of turning on each other in an 'it's you or me' situation." He drew himself up to his full height, (such as it was.) "Their reputation speaks for itself, I think."

Rodenberg would have loved to ask him to elaborate on that last statement, but he'd already pushed it as far as he dared…or that he needed to. Rudy Gamsbart looked like he wanted to crawl out of the courtroom, rather than endure any more of the groundhog's jingoism.

"My apologies if I stepped out of line, Your Honor," Rodenberg bowed his head slightly…and then figuring he could push it just a tiny bit further, he added, "But you did ask."

"Your Honor, might we move things along, here?" It was Gamsbart again, this time pointing at his watch. The question seemed to sober Judge Schatten, just ever so slightly, and he sat back down in his chair and cleared his throat; after all, HE was the one that supposedly liked to keep the rhythm flowing.

"Very well," he said, speaking to Vern Rodenberg, "In regards to the first charge, attempting to evade, how does the defense plead?"

"Not guilty, Your Honor," the grey rat responded, hiding his disappointment. Dangit, he'd just about had 'Judge Predd' right where he'd wanted him and then that blankety-blank chamois had gone and yanked the rug out. Wel-l-ll, he had warned his client not to underestimate Rudy Gamsbart. Oops, His Honor had moved on to the second charge, illegal entry of a fire-zone.

"Not guilty, Your Honor," he answered quickly.

The rest of it went pretty much the same, Rodenberg pleading his client Not Guilty on all the charges. For his part, the Judge read the list in an almost desultory fashion; like everyone else in the courtroom, he understood that all but one of the charges were largely meaningless. It was only when he came to the big one that the woodchuck's interest seemed to sharpen.

"On the charge of Felonious Assault of a Peace Officer, how done the defense plead?"

"Not Guilty, Your Honor," Rodenberg answered, earning withering looks from both the bench and the prosecutor's table. That told the grey rat he'd better move fast; he still had one more card to play.

"Your Honor, before the clerk formally enters my client's plea in the court record, he has a brief statement that he wishes to make." He nodded over at Conor, and at the same time, Rudy Gamsbart crossed his fingers under the table, chanting a silent mantra, "Let him speak….Let hit…Let him…Let him…" If Schatten denied the young fox the right to make a statement, he'd be playing straight into the defense table's paws. The Deputy prosecutor's prayers were answered when the Judge rolled his paw in the air, his stock method of indicating, 'get on with it.'

"Very well Mr. Lewis, but make sure you keep it brief." He said, casting a stern eye towards the defendant.

What happened next was an almost textbook example of the chain-reaction known as The Butterfly Effect. (A butterfly flaps its wings in Afurica—and three weeks later a tornado wipes out a town in Minnestoata.) As Conor got up out of his chair, he happened to glance over his shoulder at the seats behind him…where he saw Nick Wilde, looking perfectly miserable. At this point the young fox had no knowledge of the video of him and Judy kissing…much less was he aware of it having aired on cable the previous evening. (The ZPD youth jail TV carried exactly three channels, and Brightbat wasn't one of them.) Nor could he have known about Nick's history with the woodchuck seated at the Judge's bench. Thus it was that he had no idea as to why the older fox was looking so down in the mouth; and yet he couldn't help but feel some sympathy…and not a little guilt. Intentionally or otherwise, he HAD sunk his fangs into the older fox's arm. And so, hardly even thinking about it, he offered up a gesture that was half a wave and half a salute, fox-speak for 'hang in there."

Nick didn't notice him, but Judy did, and immediately returned the young fox's salutation.

Her partner didn't see that either.

…but Judge Schatten did, and from his angle, (and to his eyes,) it looked as if that smartmouth fox-kid was offering his approval, even an endorsement of the older fox and Bunny-cop's inexcusable behavior.

Once again he felt his grip tightening around his gavel. "You are SO going to regret that, you little snot. Gamsbart wanted me to come down hard on you…and now I'm going to drop on you like the wrath of all perdition…and even then it'll only be a sideshow."

All this happened in less than three seconds; when Conor stood up to address the court, his words meant nothing to Judge Schatten; the woodchuck's mind was already firmly made up.

Slipping the chair back under the table, the young fox stood up behind it and squared his shoulders, the way his lawyer had told him to.

"I'll be quick, Your Honor," he promised, and then he said, "I only wanna make it clear to the court, that I am entering into this Not Guilty plea voluntarily and entirely of my own volition; no undue influence was exerted on me in order to bring me to this decision; it is entirely my own choice."

Judy Hopps felt one ear lifting high than the other. Her first thought was that Rodenberg must have coached the kid; almost certainly he had. And yet—the words just seemed to come so naturally to the young silver fox; yes it had been HIS decision to plead 'Not Guilty.'.

"Very well, so noted," the Judge replied solemnly, and then shot a quick glance at Nick and Judy—and not a pleasant one.

Then he turned his attention back to the defendant.

"Mr. Lewis, I appreciate the fact that you think you're smart enough to make that kind of decision." He pretended to consult a document, "In fact everything I've seen and heard about you tells me you're a VERY smart little fox."

On the other side of the courtroom, Rudy Gamsbart was stifling a grimace.

"'Mammal', you idiot, not 'FOX'!"

"…accepted to the Performing Arts Academy, high score on all intelligence tests, etc." the judge went on, looking duly impressed with what was on the papers before him—before he slapped them down hard on the bench, his tone shifting instantly from congenial warmth to pure ice water.

"Unfortunately Mr. Lewis, you also seem to have a mouth that's every bit as smart as your head. I am aware of that little game you pulled when you were questioned the other day—the Usual Suspects, was it? And this court is NOT amused."

Conor said nothing only swallowed and nodded slightly; he couldn't say that Mr. Rodenberg hadn't warned him.

The reaction elsewhere was somewhat more positive.

"Ohhh-kay, now THIS is more like it," Rudy Gamsbart thought, laying an elbow on the table in front of him.

His complacency was destined to be very short-lived. Now Judge Schatten thrust an accusing finger at Conor; no more Mr. Nice Groundhog.

"Don't think for a moment that you're the first clever young fox to come before me, Mr. Lewis, the type of animal that also thinks they're smart enough to put one over on this court." He leaned as far over the bench as was possible for someone of his species; in other circumstances, it would have looked almost comical, "Well, guess what? That's not happening…and I'm not going to go easy on you."

He sat back in his chair again, looking suddenly weary. Like the blaze that had destroyed the IR Systems recycling facility, his anger seemed to have already spent itself. "As a matter of fact I couldn't, if I wanted to. You are accused of a committing a violent offense, Mr. Lewis, not some petty misdemeanor, like shoplifting a pack of gum or spraying graffiti on a bus-bench. And you're not just up for any violent offense but the felonious assault of a police officer." He paused to take a sip of water and then went on. "The law is quite clear on this, young mammal. However much you may profess that what you did was unintentional, the fact remains that I cannot take the chance that it won't happen again; therefore, with deepest regrets…"

15 feet to Conor's right, Rudy Gamsbart wanted to relax but knew better by now. After making yet another prejudicial remark about foxes Judge Schatten had seemed to catch himself and gone hurriedly back on script; all well and good…except the chamois couldn't shake the feeling that this was yet another of his charades.

Gamsbart's caution turned out to be well founded; the next thing Judge Schatten said was, "I am therefore ordering that you be held forthwith in V-3 restraint, pending trial."

Not everyone gasped, (not everyone knew what the term meant,) but those who did were beyond horrified; Vern Rodenberg shrieked, Nick Wilde fox-screamed, and Judy Hopps's cry of alarm was almost a match for it. The noise made by Rudy Gamsbart sounded something like a cross between a foghorn and a factory whistle.

"Wha…What are you DOING?"

V-3 was a method of restraint normally reserved for only the most violent of the violent, serial offenders and hard-core lunatics. Certainly, it had never been intended for a first-time offender in his early teens. In fact, as far any anyone in the courtroom was aware, V-3 restraint had never been applied to ANY juvenile defendant, not even one on the cusp of adulthood.

What it meant was that Conor would be held in what was known as No Mammalian Contact status for the duration of his pre-trial incarceration, solitary confinement, with no other kid allowed to speak to him, on pain of getting tossed in the hole themselves. Even the guards would not be permitted to talk to him, except to issue instructions. Whenever he left his cell, he'd be wearing both manacles and shackles. He would also be required to wear a muzzle while outside his cell—and not just any muzzle, but one of those full face jobs that covered your entire head. Last but not least, the cuffs would be fixed to a pair of Kevlar mittens, whose purpose was to keep him from using his claws.

As before, it was Vern Rodenberg who recovered first, storming to the front of the defense table with his tail shivering in outrage. Oy-VEY! He had been hoping to provoke Judge Schatten into overreacting but this was going too far even for him.

"Your Honor, this is worse than disgraceful; you've had kids before this bench accused of far more violent offenses than my client…and you never treated any of them so harshly. May I remind you of Shay Tigrani? You never ordered him to be put in that kind of restraint."

"Yes," the woodchuck coolly admitted, "and given what happened after I sentenced him, I wish now that I had,"

Rodenberg could have bitten his own tongue off; he didn't make many mistakes in court, but that one had been a beaut. Shay Tigrani, a hot-headed young Sumatran tiger, had been sentenced to two years in Juvie, and then back to court when he came of age, for trial as an adult. It was one of the few times Judge Schatten had been criticized for going too easy on a defendant. Tigrani, (who by then already had a rap-sheet as long as a bunting streamer.) had brutally attacked two elderly mountain goats in a fit of road-rage.

The instant he'd been returned to jail, he'd gone on another rampage, one that sent two inmates and a correctional office to the ER; (the guard had barely survived, and quit Zootopia Corrections upon his recovery.) Had the crazed young tiger been put V-3 restraint before they'd returned him to custody, none of that would have happened.

But even so…

"Your Honor, you can't equate my client with a habitual offender like Shay Tigrani; on what grounds do you justify holding him in such harsh confinement?"

The woodchuck leaned forward again, attempting without much success to maintain a poker-face.

"On the grounds that your client is a cipher, Counselor—living under a false identity; we don't know anything about him going back further than three years, not even his real name." He shifted his gaze to Conor. "We could find out, except that Mr. Lewis—or whoever he is—has consistently, and stubbornly, refused to co-operate with authorities. We have no idea how much of a real danger he is, either to himself or to others. For all anyone knows, your client could be a budding Ted Bunny."

He said this while looking at Judy, whose ears shot backwards and eyes narrowed, as if she'd just walked into a sandstorm. Judge Schatten saw this and allowed himself a tiny smirk.

Then he returned his attention to the defense table.

"Therefore, it falls upon me, however painful my duty, to ensure, absolutely, that that there will be no repeat of the incident that took place between the defendant and Officer Wilde."

Rodenberg only stared with his whiskers twitching. That was not a bad argument, except…when he happened to glance over at Rudy Gamsbart, why did the chamois look every bit as aghast as HE felt?

It was because while the Judge's assessment of the potential threat posed by Conor Lewis had been nearly pitch-perfect, his solution to the conundrum had been anything but. Even if the young silver fox had been ten times more violent by nature than Shay Tigrani, he was still only a fox. While V-3 restraint might be called for to keep a nearly full-grown apex predator in check, for a third-tier pred just hitting his early teens, it was overkill on overdrive; there were numerous, far less stringent methods of restraint that would be more than enough to keep a fox-kid Conor's age from harming himself or anyone else…and practically everyone in the courtroom knew it.

Gamsbart had to force himself to keep silent; dangit, he had told Schatten to play hardball with the kid—but this was edging into cruel and unusual territory. And there, across the courtroom, was Vernon J. Rodenberg, no doubt already calculating how he could best turn this ruling to his client's advantage.

Not only that; while the Deputy Prosecutor indeed instructed Judge Schatten to come down hard on the defendant, he had also insisted that the woodchuck appear to do so reluctantly. No such luck now; His Honor's expressions of regret weren't fooling anybody, a gibbering idiot could see that he was RELISHING this.

And you had better believe that the Opposing Counsel was seeing it as well. Gamsbart didn't know who he most wanted to throttle—Hopps, Wilde, Vern Rodenberg, or that black-robed pinhead, presiding from the bench.

"Your Honor, this is completely unnecessary," Rodenberg continued to protest, "My client is only…"

Schatten cut him off with bang of the gavel. "The decision is made Counselor. If you have a problem with it, feel free to file a motion with the SCCZ," (the Supreme Court of the City of Zootopia)

"Oh I will, Your Honor, I will," Rodenberg instantly shot back, "I'll be filing so many motions, you just might catch cold from the breeze."

The woodchuck banged the gavel again, harder.

"You are that close to a contempt citation, Mr. Rodenberg," he snapped, once more ignoring his earlier instructions from Rudy Gamsbart.

"For what, may I ask, Your Honor?" the grey rat demanded, putting his paws on hips.

Judge Schatten responded by changing the subject.

"Did you just bare your fangs at me, Counselor?"

It took a lot to get Vernon J. Rodenberg to throw caution to the winds, but this was more than enough for that purpose. He spread his arms in a gesture of bewilderment.

"Fangs? Fangs! How could I do that anyway? Us rodents don't have fangs, we have incisor…"

BANG! "That's it Counselor, you're in contempt, $500.00 fine!"

Rodenberg stopped, and stepped backwards, looking properly contrite. But inside, he was almost smiling…almost. "The things I do for my clients…!"

A brief silence fell over the courtroom as the bailiff brought the shackles and cuffs and attached them to Conor's ankles and wrists. After that there was a brief delay. No claw-mittens, or full-face muzzles were readily available here, even the main courthouse building didn't have them, at least not in the proper size; His Honor was obliged to send someone over to the adult jail to fetch them. He did so without even the slightest show of embarrassment.

The mittens arrived first, and when the bailiff affixed them to Conor's paw-cuffs, Nick Wilde found the sight so disturbing that Judy was obliged to hold him close to keep him steady.

(Her gesture did not escape the attention of the Judge's bench—or the prosecution table.)

Judy Hopps remained completely unaware of their attentions; her only thoughts were, if this was how Nick reacted upon seeing the younger fox's claws being sheathed, what the heck was going to happen when they put a full-face MUZZLE on the kid?

When another officer, a panda-bear, brought it into the courtroom, her partner at first seemed to be okay with the idea. The muzzle was constructed of carbon fiber rather than metal, and to tell the truth, if you didn't know better, you might almost have mistaken it for a motocross helmet. The snout was a little long for a fox; Judy guessed it was a model dedicated to an adult member of the weasel family, one of the bigger species. (Mustelids were known to lose it completely when cornered.)

Nick's perception of the muzzle changed instantly when the panda produced a key and unlocked it; flipping the back upwards on a hinge just aft of the forehead before passing it over to the bailiff. At once the device transformed from a cool piece of head-gear into a positively evil-looking thing, (at least in the fox's mind.)

It was all too much for Nick, and he shot up out of his chair, pleading pitifully with the bison holding the muzzle.

"No, come on, don't put that thing on him; please, he's not going to hurt anyone!"

"You there; sit DOWN and be QUIET!" It was coming from the judge's bench. At the same time, Judy began tugging at his elbow.

"Nick…please."

He ignored them both, turning his attention from the bailiff to the woodchuck behind the judge's bench.

"Come on Your Honor, you can't put that thing on him; he's just a kid."

Perhaps it was the red fox's words, perhaps it was his anguished tone of voice, possibly it was the expression on his face, but whatever the case, it was more than the Honorable Judge George Schatten could ever even hope to resist. He felt that oily sneer suffusing his features again…and this time he didn't try to fight it.

Leaning forward once more, he lowered his voice to a menacing purr, "Did that ever stop me before?"

Nick's paws fell down to his sides; at the same time his mouth fell open and his eyes went wide; Judy had only seen that look on his face one time before—when Mr. Big had kissed her on both cheeks after nearly having both of them iced. That time, her partner's facial expression had looked almost funny; now she hurriedly grabbed his arm, trying to hold him back.

"No Nick, DON'T!"

The red fox hardly felt her presence; now he understood—everything! This wasn't about Conor; the kid was nothing more than a stage-prop here. Nick didn't know why, he didn't care why, but Schatten was doing this to get to him...HIM!

He shrugged Judy off of him, completely unaware of what he was doing. All he knew was the look on that black-robed, little jerk's face. And hey, what do you know? Now that they were adults, he was bigger than the woodchuck. Why hadn't he noticed it before?

'Never let them see that they get to you' Nick Wilde liked to say.

'Oh yeah, guess what, I'M seeing?' George Schatten's mocking expression seemed to say right back. Nick felt the hairs on the nape of his neck, beginning to stand on end…

"Nick, it's okay!"

Conor Lewis's voice cut through the tension like a diamond-blade through cheesecloth.

"It's okay, big guy," he said again, raising his paws as best as he could, "It's okay, don't worry about me, I can handle it."

Nick froze in place, but didn't sit down again either.

"I can HANDLE it," the young fox insisted, and Nick fell back in his chair, looking as if he didn't know how he had gotten there. (Judge Schatten looked thoroughly disappointed; Rudy Gamsbart looked as if he'd just watched a pipe-bomb being successfully disarmed. "Whoa-ho-ho, I never thought I'd be glad to hear THAT kid open his mouth.")

But no one was more relieved than Conor Lewis—because nobody understands a fox's body language like another fox. Holy Croke, had Nick really been about to…and what was his problem with Judge Predd anyway? The young fox didn't know, but if what he'd thought was about to happen, had happened…well, it better not have.

When he'd said he could handle it, he'd been telling the truth, but ironically enough, it was the very brutality of the muzzle about to be applied to his face that had made it possible; this thing looked nothing like the one that had been forced on his face right before he'd gotten it broken.

"Lift your nose," the bailiff ordered, sounding none-too-comfortable with his task. Conor dutifully tilted his face skywards, instinctively closing his eyes as the bison slipped the muzzle over his features.

It was surprisingly light; a featherweight compared to the face-casts he'd had to endure, following his injury and later, after the surgery to correct it, It was also well-padded, there would be no chafing. Whatever the judge's intentions might have been, in ordering him to wear this thing, it was clearly meant as an object of restraint, not punishment.

Equally fortunate was the fact that it locked from the side rather than in back; the bailiff was not obliged to step behind him in order to secure it. Conor felt and heard the buzz of a ratchet as the muzzle was adjusted to fit his neck, followed by the click of a lock. All the while, Vern Rodenberg, kept offering him encouragement.

"Don't worry, kid…I'll get you outta those things; the judge can't get away with this, you'll see."

Conor was touched; this was the first time the grey rat had shown any genuine concern for him. He really did care after all…and that made what the young silver fox knew was coming all the more difficult to stomach.

But then again, what other choice did he have?

Judge Schatten chose that moment to speak up again, in solemn mode once more.

"Very well," he said, consulting a tablet on the bench beside him, "I'm setting a tentative trial date for Tuesday, the 5th of November." He was about to say more, but was instead required to abruptly bang his gavel, "Order in the court!"

A few of the kids awaiting their turn had begun to recite something under their breath…while the others tried not to snigger. You didn't have to be a grade-a genius to know what it was they were chanting…

"Remember, remember….the 5th of November…"

Judy stifled a smile, and so did Nick, (although it was whole lot easier for him to keep from smiling than it was for her.) Vern Rodenberg was trying not to grin as well. Rudy Gamsbart was shooting a look at the bench that fairly screamed, 'What did you expect, stupid?'

(The central figure of Powder-Plot Day had been named for his species…and one guess as to which species that had been.)

Judge Schatten pretended not to notice, speaking to the chamois and Vern Rodenberg collectively.

"Is that date acceptable to counsel?"

"Acceptable enough," Rudy Gamsbart answered, stone faced.

"Acceptable," Vern Rodenberge echoed, in an almost cheery voice. (Actually, it wasn't acceptable, but he'd have plenty of opportunity to try and get the date changed later. And besides, Judge Schatten had stuck his OWN foot in his mouth just now; let him be the one to pry it loose.)

"Officer," the judge said, speaking to a snow-leopard in a correctional officer's uniform, standing beside door to his left, "Would you please escort the defendant to the holding area?" Conor would remain there to await the arrival of a police cruiser to take him back to the city youth jail. (As an animal held in V-3 status, he could not be transported in company with another defendant.)

The big cat came over, but when she arrived at the defendant's table, her manner was almost solicitous, (something that seemed to irk the judge to no end.)

"Can you stand on your own, son?" she asked.

"I…can manage it," the young silver fox answered, getting slowly to his feet, "just don't ask me to move too fast, 'kay?"

"Right," the snow-leopardess answered, and helped him to his feet anyway. Then Vern Rodenberg spoke up again.

"Give me a boost up to my client's shoulder, Officer?" he asked. "I don't think he can manage it with those things on his paws.""

"Sorry Counselor," The voice from the judge's bench was almost sorrowful…and about as sincere as a late-night infomercial for a miracle dietary supplement. "V-3 status specifically forbids extended physical contact between the defendant and another individual, and I'm afraid that includes legal counsel."

The grey rat's paws went straight to his hips. If he was cited for contempt again, it would be jail and not just a fine, but right now he didn't care

"With all due respect Your Honor..."

"Boucher, would you give Mr. Rodenberg some assistance please?"

It was Gamsbart, speaking to his law clerk. She came hopping around the prosecutor's table and over to other side of the courtroom, laying a paw on the defense table and waiting for the grey rat to climb on board.

Rodenberg felt his whiskers stiffen; he had hitched a ride on a kangaroo only once before…and once had been enough. (He'd later described the experience to Mr. Big as 'Speed-Bump Hell;' the arctic shrew had thought that was uproariously funny.) Still, he could hardly refuse…and as he gathered his papers and tablet into his briefcase, he couldn't help wondering if Gamsbart had planned it this way. If there was one thing he'd learned in all his years of practicing law, it was that it didn't take much to turn a courtroom into a middle-school flamewar; anyone who thought otherwise need only be reminded of Judge Schatten's little exchange with Nick Wilde a moment ago, (and what the heck had that woodchuck meant by 'did that ever stop me before?')

He pulled himself up onto the 'roo's paw and the two of them were off.

It was easier going than Rodenberg might have expected, for the simple reason that his client was obliged to move at a slow shuffle, and this meant the kangaroo also had to keep the pace to a minimum.

As the young fox shambled along, Rodenberg heard him starting to whistle; he recognized the tune and couldn't help smiling.

Nick Wilde recognized it as well, and hurriedly turned away. So did Judy, who wanted that big lump out of her throat right NOW.

At least one of the kids in the gallery, a young axis deer-buck, also recognized it…and immediately stood up and started clapping. Judge Schatten just as quickly banged his gavel, but the finger was out of the dike. A young coati girl immediately joined in with the deer-buck, and then young red squirrel and a Pallas' Cat…and then it seemed like every kid in the courtroom was on their feet, banging their paws together…while the judge banged his gavel in impotent fury, vainly attempting to restore order….

(…while Rudy Gamsbart's hoof remained firmly plastered to the center of his own face.)

"Schatten, you…moron!"

The chaos lasted until Conor and his lawyer were gone from the courtroom, leaving behind them only the earworm of the tune the young fox had been whistling.

"I fought the law…and the law won,
I fought the law…and the law won."