DISCLAIMER: I chartered a ship to help me find the loot of a thousand worlds. It even had a good looking captain! Unfortunately, the loot, along with my bid to own Zootopia, was consumed in a booby trap, so now not only do I not own Zootopia, I am out the cost of the ship.
My awesome editor, TheoreticallyEva, just keeps on making this story better! Give her a round of applause!
After having checked out of the hospital, Nick and Judy made their way to the nearest subway station, intending to take it back to Savannah Central. This proved easier said than done, however, as the Zootopia Loop and Inner Loop subway lines were both truncated, thanks to the closure of the Rainforest and Canal Districts, while the Zootopia Express was shut down completely.
They ended up taking a bus to Hailstone Street station, then the Tundratown subway line to Glacier Falls, where they transferred to a southbound Zootopia line train. The latter car ended up being completely empty, to their surprise, though neither mammal complained. It gave them a chance to reflect on the days' events.
As they sat in the car, Nick looked down at his bunny, his partner, friend, and mate, and couldn't help but notice the troubled expression on her face. "You doing OK, there, Carrots?"
There was a long silence as Judy considered her answer. "I don't know, Nick. I don't think so."
Rather than prod her, Nick elected to just sit and wait while she processed. Tundra Gate station came and went. After another long moment, Judy sighed. "I don't know how I feel, Nick. Doug's dead. Eric's killer is dead, and I killed him. I just don't know."
Nick said nothing but instead reached out and stroked the bunny's ears encouragingly.
"I don't know what to feel, what I should feel, either. On one paw, I shot a mammal. Someone is dead because of me, Nick. He was living and breathing yesterday, and now he's dead. And I pulled the trigger." She shuddered and pulled herself closer to Nick. "Then, on the other paw, this is Doug we're talking about. And that part of me is reminding me that this was the same mammal that endangered countless lives, murdered Eric and Callahan, and engineered a drug that killed thousands, and was GOING to kill you. I thought maybe once we brought Doug to justice for what he did, it would help, but I don't feel like it did. More like I jumped out of one hole and landed in another."
Nick nodded, as he continued to stroke his bunny's ears. He hadn't known the wolf long—really only the few minutes they'd talked before the wolf had gone undercover, and by proxy through Judy—but he knew that Eric had held a place in Judy's big heart.
The doe sighed before continuing. "It's like there's this hole in me. Like when I lost my sisters and brother. He was like a brother."
The fox nodded, remembering what she'd told him the morning after they'd found Eric's body and again in Bunnyburrow.
He couldn't deny that he'd been affected by that night as well, and he knew that in a different life, he and Eric could have become great friends. Over the last few months, though, he'd gotten more comfortable around their colleagues, particularly Liz Fangmeyer. For a moment, he closed his eyes and tried to put himself in the doe's footprints. It wasn't something he ever wanted to happen again, certainly not to the doe who sat next to him, shamelessly leaning into his embrace.
Nick let out a sigh and pulled her closer. His anger at himself for their predicament from earlier was long gone, and he could clearly see Judy's inner conflict. This was a doe who wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place, forced into an 'us or him' situation with only one victor. "I wish I knew what to say, Judy."
His use of her first name made her look up to see him staring down at her with unwavering intensity.
"This is kind of new territory for me, too," he continued. "But by killing him you saved me, probably yourself, too, and countless others that he would probably go on to experiment on or even drug, along with their casualties. You ended a killing spree, Judy. And you know I'll stand up for you against whatever Internal Affairs wants to throw at us." He gave her a grin. "I'll even bet that Buffalo Butt is organizing extra counselling for us, too, since he loves us so much."
Judy snorted, and a ghost of a smile appeared on her muzzle. "He just wants to get you out of his fur, Slick."
"Perish the thought, Fluff! Why in the world would he want that?" The fox's false-hurt tone made her smile a little more noticeably.
"Oh, hmmm, I don't know, driving him stark-raving mad all the time?" She poked him in the side.
"He just can't handle all this awesome fox-ness." The fox struck a cheesy aloof pose. It finally got Judy to laugh, even if it was only a brief, quiet one.
"Point is, you and I have a lot to sort out. You know that, I know that. But you did the right thing, Judy." His gaze drilled deep into hers, and for a moment, they both forgot they were on a subway car heading into Downtown Zootopia after having been in a hospital. "You did the right thing in putting him down. For yourself, for me, and for everyone in this city. You made the world a better place."
Judy broke his gaze and stared at nothingness for a while. It was a long moment before she spoke again, and when she did, it was only five words. "Thanks, Nick. I love you."
"And I love you too, Judy."
Chief Bogo glared down at the wildebeest mechanic in the ZPD's garage. "What I'd like to know is why Hopps and Wilde dropped out of contact. They said they tried to radio out for help, but no one heard them."
The mechanic shifted nervously under his burning gaze. "It'd be easier if I walk you through the damage to their cruiser first, sir. May I?"
The chief sighed and made a gesture for the smaller ungulate to continue.
"As you know, the two were involved in an extended chase and firefight. We counted a total of twenty-three bullet hits on their cruiser. Seven in the grille, four in the passenger's side door, six in the driver's, five in the windshield, and one embedded in the lightbar. That one ricocheted off the roof."
The wildebeest walked around the disabled cruiser, pointing out the holes in the body paneling. "From what we can tell, the ballistic armoring in the doors stopped any rounds from penetrating through them to hit Hopps and Wilde, but the shots did a number on everything else."
"Thank goodness that's on our list of standard equipment," the chief grumbled as he assessed the damage. "What else?"
"Well, honestly, the windshield looks worse than it is. None of the bullets that went through it would have hit them. Either that shooter had really bad aim, or the vehicles were moving too much to get a decent shot. We found all the bullets embedded in the divider and the dashboard. None of them hit the seats. The one that hit the lightbar didn't do much either, except take out an LED segment."
The wildebeest moved around to the front of the car, the hood already propped open. "This is where the real damage is, sir. Seven bullets in the grille, four on the right side and three on the left. Two of the ones on the left just hit the engine block and stopped. The third hit the alternator. We can't get anything from that. It's dead, so they would have been running on all battery power. But that brings up the right side. One bullet missed everything and hit the firewall, another stuck in the radiator, took that out. The third went through and out the driver's side wheel well. Again, missed anything important. The fourth nicked another coolant line and penetrated the battery." The wildebeest looked at the police chief pointedly for a moment, to see if he made the connection.
He did. "They would have had no power."
The mechanic nodded. "Little to none, that's for sure. And since the portable radios they use are relayed through the cruiser, their connection to the rest of the police network was gone. And without that network connection, they had no way of talking to anyone."
"Not even the helicopter overhead."
"Not even them. It's like the wireless headset for your phone. If your phone dies, your headset is useless, even if you're calling next door."
The cape buffalo let out a long, exasperated sigh. "Contact the equipment manufacturer. We were going to roll this out in all of our cruisers, but if this is the kind of shortcoming we can expect, I don't want it, and I don't want my mammals anywhere near it. How did this get past testing?"
The mechanic shuffled nervously. "Well, sir, I don't know about the manufacturer's testing, but our equipment testing… It doesn't cover an electrically disabled vehicle."
There was a long silence as the chief stared at the smaller mammal. "Then maybe we need to change that, don't you think?" The imposing cape buffalo's tone made it clear that this was NOT a question, nor even a request. It was an order. "Hopps and Wilde will be back on duty in a few months. I expect their cruiser to be repaired by then and for them to not have to worry about a disabled cruiser keeping them from calling for help or receiving vital intel."
As the chief left, the wildebeest mechanic let out a groan. "I guess if it means pampering your prize officers even more, I don't have much choice."
Nick and Judy made their way up the steps of Precinct One and through the doors. In contrast to the eerie stillness outside, the interior of the police station was a hive of activity and a cacophony of noise. Everywhere you looked, an officer was hustling a cuffed suspect to holding, talking on the phone or the radio, taking something to the lab, conversing with fellow officers, or running out to another emergency call. The place resembled ants on an anthill that had been kicked over by some huge unseen mammal. Even Officer Antlerson at the reception and dispatch desk had one ear to the phone while he yelled into the dispatcher's microphone.
"Come on, Nick, the Chief wants to see us." The doe tugged on the fox's paw and the two made their way to the stairs.
After a moment of thought, though, Nick redirected them to the elevator. "You had trouble just getting up the stairs from the subway, Fluff. Getting up three floors to Bogo's office won't do you any good."
The doe pouted but grudgingly agreed with Nick's point. They had barely made it three more steps, however, before they heard a voice call out to them. "Judy! Nick!" The duo turned to see Elizabeth Fangmeyer waving and headed their way.
"Hey, Stripes, how're you doing?"
"I should be asking you that! Judy, the last I saw, both of you were being whisked away in an ambulance. Are you OK?"
The doe nodded. "I'll be out of action for a few weeks, but I'm OK."
Nick rolled his eyes and smirked. "She's understating it. Cracked sternum. She'll be out for a couple months at least."
The doe glared at Nick, as though he'd just revealed some terrible secret, and he just grinned back at her.
Of course, Nick's reveal alarmed the tigress, and she looked at Judy with concern. "What are you doing here, then? You should be at home, resting!"
"You know her, Stripes. If you tie her to a bed, she'll drag the bed to work."
Liz Fangmeyer laughed at the little growl Judy let out. "Relax, Judy, leave some game for the rest of us. Take some downtime and let us do the heavy pulling for a bit." The tigress' expression turned serious. "Seriously, though, are you OK, Judy? I…I know what happened out there. With…that ram." The tigress couldn't help the dangerous growl that slipped into her voice as she spoke the last two words, and her ears folded back against her head.
The doe sighed. "I'll be OK, Liz. I…just need time."
The tigress nodded slowly and bent down to give the doe a gentle hug, which Judy reciprocated. After a moment, she pulled back and looked Judy in the eye. "You know we're here for you. Whatever you need, just tell us."
The doe smiled. "Thanks, Liz. Soon as this is all over, you, me, Nick, and Nick's mom are going for lunch somewhere."
Elizabeth grinned. "It's a date, then." She turned to the fox standing next to them. "You take care of her, Nick."
"Stripes, if you know Superbunny there, she'll be the one taking care of me, even with that cracked sternum." Nick seemed to want to say something more but decided against it. His fox nature was telling him, quietly, that his mate needed caring for, and that he needed to tend to that.
"I won't keep you two any longer…" Fangmeyer said. "Gotta sort out some more bookings for the detectives. And Judy? Whatever anyone says, you did the right thing. I know it's not easy. The first time I had to take a life on the beat, I had Eric to help me through, and he's what kept me from going too far into depression. You have Nick and me. So, don't be a stranger, OK? We need you around here to make the world a better place."
"Don't worry, Liz, I'm not going anywhere." The doe in question raised her fist for a bump, the tigress gladly reciprocating.
Elizabeth Fangmeyer got to her feet again and looked around. "I better get going before the detectives start a missing mammal search for me."
Judy nodded. "Bogo wants to see us as well, and if he doesn't know we're here already, he will soon, and you know he doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Especially not now. I heard he ripped someone over at city hall a new one for pulling that utilities crew out early." The tigress bade them both farewell and hurried off to the stairs to the basement while the two smaller officers made their way to the elevator.
"By the way, Nick, your mom, have you called her yet today?" Judy was about to jump up to hit the button for the elevator before being stopped by Nick.
"No way, Fluff. No extra strain, remember?" He reached up on his tiptoes and hit the button. "As for your question, no, I haven't. Not much to tell her right now anyway. 'Oh, just another day on the job. Had a raid, got in a car chase, ended up with Carrots getting shot in a shootout, and now just heading to see the boss. How is that book you're reading?' Besides, I know YOU haven't called your parents. What do you think they would say?"
The elevator arrived, and they boarded, selecting the third floor. Judy shook her head as she thought of the impending conversation with her parents. "They're going to freak out, no two ways about it. And if word gets around the burrow, and believe you me, it will, some of my…overprotective…big brothers might try to sneak through the city roadblocks to come get me. Or something."
"If they did that, what would you do?"
The doe smirked at him. "I think having their little sister throw them in the cooler to chill out for a while would give them a harsh dose of reality."
"You didn't do that when you lived at home?"
The doors opened in front of them, and they squeezed through the mass of mammals that were waiting for the elevator car. "No, they tended to limit themselves to comments, so I never gave them much mind, but I know of a few who would now, given the climate here. Speciesist ones that think a doe shouldn't be anywhere near big scary predators and untrustworthy foxes."
"There's one in every family, I guess." Nick paused for a moment. "Well, one in every family with more than one child. And maybe some that still only have the one child."
"In a family my size, you're going to have more than a few bigots. A few are the activists. Some are the outspoken type. Most just sit in bars or at the dinner table and grumble but do nothing. You still have to watch out for them, though, because as soon as they think they have a platform to stand on, they come out of the woodwork."
"Yeah, no kidding. And in a warren of bunnies, mob mentality is a very dangerous thing." The two reached Bogo's office, and Judy rapped on the door.
Judy pushed open the door to find her chief on yet another conference call.
"I don't know, Chief. He skipped out about an hour ago. No one's seen him since."
"Well, FIND HIM. Order your men to start sweeping the building and have the mammals from Precinct Two start with the downtown core. If you find him, he's under arrest for evading police."
"Yes, sir, Chief."
The chief slammed down the phone and rubbed his temple. Judy gave him a concerned, though slightly pained, look. "Did we miss someone, chief?"
The cape buffalo shook his head. "I think we all did. Cybercrime found out that Doug's access into the city's water control systems was still active. They deactivated him and went digging to find out why a terminated employee and wanted mammal was still given system access. Turns out Doug had the city utilities boss in his pocket. Cyber figured it out just a few minutes ago."
"So, he's on the run." Judy's ears drooped.
"He is, but he's not your concern, Hopps. We have a city-wide search going for him. If you want to continue to work, you'll do as I say. Interviews and office work only, or you'll be sent home. And Wilde, I expect you to make sure she gets there and stays there if that's the case."
"Yes, sir, Chief, sir!" At Nick's response, the doe gave a resigned sigh and just nodded.
"Hopps, the doctor forwarded me his recommendations for you, so I'm already bending the rules as it is," Bogo continued. "The thing is, we need all the help we can get, but if I think you are pushing yourself too much, or if Nick does, that's it. And once things calm down here, you are GOING to be taking another medical leave. Not giving you a choice on this one."
The chief looked down at the file in his hooves. "Your first interview will be Damian Hornby. Given what we've gotten from the others, we're hoping he will be a little more…loquacious." He reached over and handed the file to the two small officers, who opened and read it.
"What did you get out of the others?" Judy scanned the document in her paws.
"A whole lot of nothing, with a large helping of snark—don't go there, Wilde. Most either shut up, repeated some mantra, or spouted nonsense or smart comments. The few confessions we did get, I'm not sure we'd be able to use in court. We'll see."
Nick looked at his boss. "So, why have us talk to this guy, Chief? We did such a spectacular job of taking him down that he's scared of us, or something?"
"I'm sure your wit will win some points with this guy, Wilde. If he doesn't spill the beans just to get you to shut up." Bogo raised his eyebrow at the fox.
"Hmmm, annoyed into a confession. That's a new one. Think it would work, Carrots?"
Judy glared at the fox.
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Nick went back to reading the file in front of him.
Judy, meanwhile, closed the folder and gave it to Nick for safekeeping. "When is Hornby due to arrive, sir?"
"Convoy left the same hospital you were in ten minutes ago. I'd guess you have about that time before they arrive."
Judy nodded, then tugged on Nick's paw. "Come on, we'd better get ready for his arrival, Nick."
The two left the office, and Chief Bogo let out a sigh. After they took care of Hornby, he'd send them home. 'Maybe I should post a uni outside to make sure that Hopps stays there,' the cape buffalo thought with a wry smirk.
Outside the office, Judy nudged Nick. "Call your mom. We might not get the chance to later."
The fox nodded and pulled out his phone.
Alone in the safe house, Marian was indulging herself in yet another book with the news on low when her cell phone rang. The news itself hadn't been very interesting—only recaps of the previous day and some information about the situation in the surrounding towns and villages, but no new developments. The vixen figured that her son and his colleagues were keeping things bottled up and controlling the flow of information so as not to miss any opportunities to nab the terrorists.
The room was so quiet, though, that the harsh trilling of the ringtone nearly scared her out of her fur. She reached over and grabbed the offending device, checked the screen to see the smiling face of her son on his graduation day, and immediately answered it.
"Nicky, honey? That you?
"Of course it's me, Mom. How are you doing?"
Marian sighed. "I'm a bit lonesome, sweetheart. This is an awful big house for a fox already, and I'm the only one here. TV's just showing recaps of yesterday, and news from out of town. Oh, tell Judy that her hometown was on the news. The fox that runs the bakery out there commented in support of you guys."
"Yeah, that's an old friend of Judy's. Speaking of her, we ran into a bit of trouble this morning and she got herself hurt. When you get out of the safehouse, think you could give her a hand? She's out of beat work for at least a couple months."
THAT got the vixen's attention. "Nicky, what happened?"
"She'll be all right, Mom."
The vixen sighed. "Nicholas Wilde, you know evading the question won't work on me. What happened?"
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
"We were in a fight, Mom. Judy got hurt."
Marian just waited expectantly for her son to finally break. A sigh on the other end signaled her success.
"OK, we got into a car chase and a firefight. Judy got hit. Cracked her chest bone."
The vixen's heart almost stopped. She knew their job was dangerous, but it hit home for her that they'd come INCREDIBLY close to losing her son's mate.
"Is she OK? Is she in pain? Where are you guys? What do you need?"
"Relax, mom. We're at the station. But that's kind of the reason I called you. We're still wrapping things up here, and Judy's already been to the hospital. They cleared her for a little desk work but not much more than that. I was calling to ask if, once we get you out of that safe house, you would want to help me take care of Superbunny? You know… Female things."
Marian didn't even hesitate. "Of course, Nicky. You don't even need to ask. I'll be there." She frowned. "I'll probably have a lot of free time after this all blows over."
"What do you mean, Mom?"
"Well, Nicky, you know how hard it is for foxes in the corporate world, honey. You know they're looking for any excuse to get rid of me, and deserting with almost no notice, and then finding out my immediate superior is complicit in terrorism—that's all they'll need. They'll come up with some excuse. Can I talk to Judy?"
"Actually, she's on the phone right now… And from what I can tell, it's not a pleasant conversation."
The fox's words were certainly an understatement. Judy had decided to call her own family while Nick was calling his mother. Rip the proverbial band-aid off.
A decision she regretted the moment her mother picked up the phone.
"Judy? Oh my God, why didn't you call sooner? The news is saying there was a big chase in the city, but not what happened after! Are you OK? Is Nick OK?"
The Hopps matron's opening statement surprised the younger doe. She hadn't seen any segments on TV about the chase, nor had they been on the radio. Shaking her head, she focused back on the conversation. "I got… well, I got a little hurt, but I'll be fine, Mom. I'll need some time away from work, though."
"Who is that? Is that Judy?! She's hurt? Oh gosh, how badly?!" Her father must have been in the room with her mother and overheard. Great. Her dad still wasn't completely over his overprotectiveness, and if she didn't diffuse this quickly, it'd probably get worse.
"I just cracked a few bones, Mom. Jeremy got hurt worse when he fell off the combine harvester, remember that? Now can you and Dad please calm down? I just need to take it easy for a few months."
"Do you need to come home for a bit?"
Judy shook her head as though her mother could see her. "No, Mom, not this time. I wanted to see if Madison was around and if she could come to the city? It would help if she was around for a bit."
"I'll see if she's around and have her call you back. She's been spending a lot of time at Gideon's shop, though, so she may not be able to answer. Gideon was even on the news. Said he supported you guys specifically. They were doing a segment on interspecies cooperation, and they interviewed him because of our partnership."
That caught Judy by surprise. Apparently, she'd been watching all the wrong channels, not that she'd had much of a choice in channels at the hospital. Despite the circumstances, it would have been nice to see.
"I'll have to ask him about that. I'd like to know what he said." The doe thought a moment. "Did he say anything about Madison?"
"He did. He said he couldn't ask for better help around the bakery, and that's how he mentioned you guys. Anyway, do you need anything from home, while I have you? Your plushies? Some stuff from the farm? From Gideon's bakery?"
"I'll let you know, though a basket of blueberries and maybe some veggies for me would be nice. The produce from the markets here isn't as good."
Judy noticed that Nick had wrapped up his call with his mother and decided she should do the same. "I gotta go, Mom. Nick and I are still on the job, and we have work to do."
"You're injured and still at work? Judith Laverne Hopps, you should be at home resting!"
"I know, Mom, but right now, we can't spare that. I'm not chasing criminals—just interviewing a suspect and doing office work. I'll be fine."
"You're an adult, so you can make your own decisions, but we worry about you, Bun-Bun. Every time you put yourself in danger, your father and I get a bit more old-age fur."
The younger doe sighed. This had been their worry ever since she'd joined the force, and, though they'd grown more accepting, it still grated on her. She knew it was dangerous, and she'd accepted that as part of the lifestyle. "I know, Mom. You tell me that after every big chase or arrest. I gotta go. Love you!"
Bonnie sighed. "I love you, too, Bun-Bun. Stay safe, please."
After Judy had disconnected, she let out a pained breath and turned to the fox watching her.
"Everything OK on the homefront, Carrots?"
"Worrying parents, as usual. I'm surprised Dad didn't try to do his overprotective dad thing and wrangle up some of my brothers to drag me home. You know they did that for the whole time I was in the academy and for the first week or two I was on the force."
"Yeah, I remember you telling me that before. Anyway, Mom was more than enthusiastic about the idea of helping out at home." Nick sighed. "She's pretty much certain she's not going to have a job after all this."
The doe's ears drooped. "I'm sorry, Nick."
The fox shrugged. "She knew what she was getting into when she handed us the evidence, Carrots. We may just have a roommate for a while. Don't feel sorry for her."
The CEO of Furston pharmaceuticals, Steve Furshaw, stared at the security lion in front of him.
"So, you're saying that both McStripeson and his assistant were complicit in revealing company secrets and embezzling company funds?"
The feline nodded. "That's what we can see here. James McStripeson, Marian Wilde, and Aiden Hogsmeed were all involved in the embezzling of millions of dollars through questionable charities that don't even appear to exist. Both also took unscheduled time off, McStripeson facilitated by Wilde, and Wilde disappeared right when all hell was breaking loose in the Rainforest District yesterday."
"Did anyone hear from her?"
"She said she was going to take care of family in an email to HR, right about the time she disappeared. No one has seen her since, and HR's attempts to connect with her have gone unanswered." The lion handed over transcripts of HR's voicemails to Wilde, along with a printout of her email to HR.
"Wilde's a predator. Why would she participate in an action that paints them in a bad light?"
"You know foxes. Always trying sleazy underhanded ways to get ahead. You know her son conned his way onto the police force. They may be using that, somehow."
The chief executive officer frowned. He didn't like the implications either way, but the only evidence he had was that all three had been involved in some sort of scheme, and that was evidence enough. "OK. Have HR terminate Wilde's and Hogsmeed's employment, effective immediately, no compensation. Put McStripeson on suspension pending investigation and a vote from the board of directors on his future. Assuming he even avoids jail."
The Furston head turned and left the security office. His next stop would be the legal department to see what charges could be brought against the three former employees.
Well, that happened. Not much forward progress, but we still see a bit of the family, both in the ZPD and out. And of course, Marian's good deed can't go unpunished.
I hope everyone is doing well. COVID still has my corner of the world locked up tight. My car hasn't left the garage for more than groceries in almost a month. Cabin fever is driving me crazy!
No one found the references in the last chapter! Can you find any in this one?
Coming up on May 15: Not So Dumb!
Questions? Critiques? Did a little jello alien turn into a lookalike of you and start mocking you? Leave a message!