When the rabbit was gone, Nick slowly turned to Benjamin. "Sorry, bud, but we're gonna be too busy for a visit. I've got an appointment in a few minutes."
Benjamin cheerfully placed a paper bag on the counter. "That's okay. I just came to drop off your lunch, and Honey needs me in the bunker to babysit this little kid she's been looking after. Then tomorrow morning I have to see someone called Dr. Lemming."
"That bullshitting hack?" Finnick snapped. "I was forced to see him a month ago, and he suggested that my 'anger management issues' could be solved if I took a vacation in the madhouse! So you got the letter too, huh?"
"Yeah. Apparently every predator in the city has been summoned to an appointment with that psychiatrist over the last couple of months or so, and tomorrow it'll be my turn. I'll see you after my appointment, right?"
Benjamin gave a happy wave as he left. Nick waited until the cheetah had been gone for ten seconds before flipping his shit.
"WHO THE FLYING FUCK HAD THE IDEA TO STITCH WILD TIMES ON THE MERCHANDISE?"
"DON'T YOU FUCKIN' LOOK AT ME! HONEY'S THE ONE WHO MADE THE LITTLE SHIRTS!"
Nick paced furiously back and forth, nearly knocking Finnick over. "WHAT'RE WE GONNA DO?! IF THAT BUNNY TAKES THAT THING BACK TO THE STATION…"
He stopped, and slowly pulled out the card Koslov have given him. One call would be all it took to fix this mess. Just one call, and that doll would never make it back to the precinct. On the other paw, neither would the bunny. He crushed the card in his paw and stuffed it back in his pocket, disgusted with himself. There had to be another way.
Cheryl Ransome burst into the room, holding a cheap phone and glared down at the profanity-ridden fennec. "Keep your bloody voice down!" She snapped. "The rabbit hasn't gone too far, yet!"
Nick gaped up at her, as did Finnick. "Fuck me. How much of that did you hear?"
"Oh, I heard all of it."
Nick was lucky he'd gone to the toilet before Judy had shown up. This was it. This was the end.
"Fuck." Finnick dug his tiny paws into his scalp. "Fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck."
"Will you watch your language and shut up?" Cheryl snapped. "Don't worry, I've got a plan to save your skins."
Nick blinked several times. "What?"
"As crazy at it sounds, I'm on your side."
Cheryl smirked. "What Pottermass doesn't know won't hurt him. I called a friend to buy us some time. Officer Hopps won't be going anywhere for a while."
"But the doll?" Nick was still in disbelief.
"We're going to get that back. Trust me."
Nick rubbed his face, eyes almost budging. "Okay. Okay. What do we do?"
"I could get my costume from our old hustling gig!" Finnick said. "I could pose as the kid missing his doll!"
"She'll see right through you." Cheryl said immediately. "Dumb bunnies don't make it all the way to valedictorian. Not in the ZPA."
"Okay then, what's your plan?"
"We're going to put Finnick's five finger discount skills to good use. That bunny won't hold onto that doll all the time. When she puts it down, that's when little Toot-toot will filch it."
"And how am I gonna pull that off without her seeing me?"
"That's where I come in. In one minute Officer Hopps is going to receive a phone call from her mother. I suggest you get in position."
Finnick stared. "Position?"
"The car is on the road near the clinic. Move it."
Finnick moved it, disappearing out the door.
By now Nick was both terrified and bewildered. "What're you up to, Ransome?"
Cheryl started dialing a number into her phone. "Be quiet."
Whether it was the fear of disaster should he not follow her instructions or the powerful commanding tone in her response, Nick fell silent as the striped feline held the phone to her ear.
When she spoke, his jaw dropped.
"Hi, sweetie! I hope I'm not interrupting your work, it should be lunchtime by now, right? Oh, good. How's your new job as a patrol cop coming along, honey?"
Nick gaped at Cheryl as she sat herself on the counter, chatting all the while in that countryside accent, a voice utterly alien to how she usually spoke. Sweetie? Honey? What the frack?
"Ransome, what the-"
"Settle down, Pop-pop! I'll make your potato salad later!" Cheryl's eyes flashed dangerously at the fox. "Sorry, sweetheart, what were you saying? Not a good time? What's wrong? You don't sound fine, Judy. Has something happened? Do you need us to come over there? Stu, pack the car!"
Judy? Was Cheryl speaking to that rabbit cop? The faint, tinny sound of Judy frantically placating her 'mother' confirmed Nick's assumption.
"Alright, if you're sure… Okay, you got me, I need your help with something… No, it's not the wedding, it's your grandfather. At this rate, he's going to have a coronary if we can't convince him that you'll be safe from those predators. I believe you keep most of your gear in the trunk of your car, right? Do you think you could take a look, make sure you have everything you need?"
There was a knock on the door. Cheryl covered the phone with her paw. "We can't let anyone see me making this call. Make sure no-one goes in the storeroom." She ducked into the storeroom and shut the door behind her.
Nick was borderline shell-shocked as he answered the door, and was snapped out of his shock when he came face to face with a beautiful arctic vixen.
"Good afternoon." The vixen spoke sweetly. "Honey said to come see you if she wasn't in her bunker."
Nick's eyebrows rose along with his temperature. He seemed to be running into a lot of attractive females lately. "You know Honey?"
"Yes, and I know about Wild Times as well. Is she here?"
Nick was sure she was still doing ride maintenance down below. "Let me check."
Casting a wary glance at the storeroom door, Nick called Honey.
"Nick, for god's sake! What have I told you about calling me when I'm out the bunker? What if the sheep hacked your phone?"
"I'm sorry, Hun, but there's someone here to see you. Someone called…"
"Skyefall." The vixen said.
"Skyefall." Nick repeated.
There was a long pause. "You don't mind if I borrow your office for a few minutes, do ya?"
"… Not particularly."
"Tell her to get her butt down the chute and I'll meet her there. Sorry, Nick, but this is private. As in top secret private."
Nick grimaced as the badger hung up. His mind was going to blow at this rate. First the security guard flawlessly mimicking a bunny cop's mother, now this. Honey never kept secrets from him. Never.
"Is she here?" Skyefall asked.
"She said she'll meet you in my office down below." Nick said as he crossed the exam room and pried open the secret door. "Please don't touch anything while you're in there. The stairs to the office are beside the carousel, you can't miss them."
"Cheers." Skyefall whooped as she dropped herself down the slide.
Nick closed the secret door and knocked on the storeroom door. "It's clear!" He called.
Cheryl stepped out, still talking like a carrot farmer. "… And you still have your fox repellent, right? Your fox taser? Good, good." The door opened once more, and in walked an anxious Finnick clutching a stuffed fennec. "Well, I'll just let you get back to your break. Keep making the world a better place, sweetheart; just be careful while you're doing it. Love you, bye!"
Cheryl hung up and smiled down at the two flabbergasted foxes. "You're welcome." She said, before returning to her post outside.
Nick collapsed into his desk chair. "You got it?" He asked, too stunned to care that he was stating the obvious.
"Yeah." Finnick tossed the doll onto the counter. "I got lucky. The bunny got a call from her momma, then went to check the car trunk, and left that fuckin' thing on the hood. I swooped in, snatched it, and that was that."
"Did Benji see you?"
"Nah, and neither did that fine vixen who came along. We should stay low 'til the tow truck takes the car away."
"Some asshole slashed her tire while she was questioning us."
Nick glared at the exit door. Too much weird shit had just happened in the span of four minutes, and he didn't like any of it. "Mind the place for a bit, will you? I'm heading down below."
"Nick, wait, what the hell went on in here?"
"I'll explain when I come back." Nick opened the secret door and leapt down the chute himself.
He hit the cushions at the bottom and immediately leapt to his feet, racing through the wooden gates and into the heart of Wild Times. It was quieter during the day, and that made it easier for the fox to sprint through the massive warehouse until he reached the stairs. He avoided all the creaky steps as he crept up to the closed door to what used to be the manager's office, the little room that overlooked the entire warehouse interior. He pressed his ear against the door, glad that the clamor of the rides and visitors wasn't as loud up here.
"… with Mr. Big?" He recognized Skyefall's voice.
"He didn't really have a choice in the matter, but she's with me now. I've been looking after her for the last couple of weeks, but since then he's been repaying the favor by working as Mr. Big's personal spy. He's been gathering intel on rival gangs for months, while gathering resources for his eventual return to the facility."
"Where is the facility?"
"He doesn't remember. Whatever Slothfeld did to him has made his memory a bit blotchy."
"I'll take whatever answers I can get. I take it we're not going to meet on Mr. Big's turf?"
"Gabe and a bunch of Mr. Big's boys are going to Paradise Poolhouse tomorrow night and you'll meet him there."
Honey laughed. "Don't worry about it. You'll need to find something to wear, though."
"Oh, ha ha."
"Just wander around and pretend you're looking for something to rub. He'll come to you. You'll go to a private booth and talk there. His memory of the facility's location might come back, you never know."
"Let's hope so, Honey."
"Okay, I've gotta finish checking on the rides and get back to the bunker. I don't wanna leave Sherry alone with Ben for too long. She might say something she shouldn't."
Nick heard footsteps and did the first thing that popped into his head; he leapt over the stair railing and onto the canopy of the carousel. He rolled off and landed in a heap on the floor at the feet of a bewildered family of otters.
The fox got up and dusted himself off. "Canopy's solid as a rock. Keep having a fun time, everyone!" He said as he hurriedly strode to the nearest exit.
Luckily for Nick, Finnick knew Paradise Poolhouse like the back of his paw. There was a booth in the corner right behind a painted wooden partition where they could spy on the entrance without being immediately spotted. Finnick took a good long swig of brandy and glared at the redder fox staring at the entrance. "Not that I don't enjoy a good massage every now and then, but I still say we should have talked to Honey first."
"She'd just blow us off, and I want some answers." Nick said. He'd be talking out of his ass if he said the scantily clad babes massaging or otherwise helping their collared guests to relax weren't constantly distracting him. A pretty wolf in black was the closest to the entrance, but the worst offender by far was a grey-furred otter carrying around a tray of martinits in a blue bikini. Every time his eyes strayed to her he'd imagine that recurring cop in her place, and he'd mentally kick himself for thinking that way. He ended up having to force himself to turn away from the otter again to check on Skyefall. She was serving drinks farther away from their booth, dressed in a deep red dress with one sleeve and a rose pattern. Unless she took a good look through the gaps in the wooden partition, they were hidden from her sight.
"Come on, man. I know you got freaked out when Cheryl made that phony phone call, but she saved our butts."
"And I am eternally grateful for that, but I don't think she is what she says she is. But we're not here about that. I want to know who this Skyefall really is, and I want to know about this Gabe guy she's meeting."
"Why's spying on them so important to you?"
"Because Gabe works for Mr. Big."
"Who became yer enemy the second Coleslaw gave you that loan! Nick, this is a bad idea!"
"Coleslaw? That's it, no more drink!" Nick whispered furiously and snatched the bottle. "The point is that it'll be bad for our business if Skyefall leads Mr. Big right to Wild Time's doorstep. If we don't find out what's going on, we could get caught right in the middle of a gang war! Is that what you want, Fin?"
Finnick grimaced, finally understanding through the haze of booze. "Hell, no. So how're we gonna eavesdrop without getting caught?"
Nick sighed. "I haven't thought that far ahead. At the very least I want to get a good look at this Gabe guy so I can warn Koslov about him."
"You gonna tell him about this Slothfeld guy, too?"
Suddenly Finnick lowered his glass and tugged Nick's sleeve. "Incoming!"
Nick looked back to the entrance to see half a dozen wolves and polar bears saunter into the room. When they started to spread out in search of a warm body to take their pain away he spied a seventh visitor, an unusually short cheetah with a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek, dressed in an oversized trench coat. When he locked eyes with Skyefall, Nick knew he was their guy.
"That Gabe?" Finnick had lowered his voice.
"Yeah. Let's see what he does."
They watched, paws clamped around their cold, wet glasses. Gabe broke away from the group of gangsters and took an empty booth to himself. Instead of passing the time with a beer, he took what looked like a ring off his finger and held it in both paws. Gabe didn't stop morosely staring at the ring until Skyefall sauntered up to him.
If Nick didn't know it was an act, he'd thought have thought the following exchange was no different from what was going on in nearly every other booth in the room. Skyefall eventually bent over and whispered something into Gabe's ear. She then teasingly stroked his face before making her way up the stairs. Gabe slipped the ring into his pocket before following her tracks.
"Okay, we know what the asshole looks like. Let's get out of here before Big's boys see us." Finnick said.
Nick shook his head. They needed more to go on. "Fin, how thick are the walls upstairs?"
"As thick as sliced bread."
"Fuck you, Redneck." Nevertheless Finnick followed Nick as they made their way through the busy room, making sure to take their collars with them; though they could have them removed, it was the responsibility of the customer to look after their collars and put them back on before leaving. The two foxes moved quickly, nearly barging into a wolf in another black trench coat as he made his own way to the stairs with the pretty wolf in black. The wolf scowled in their direction, a paw tucked deep into his pocket, but let them pass as they reached the stairs first and went up.
They reached the upper floor just in time to see Gabe disappear into room thirteen. They spied an empty room next door and ducked into it.
"I've been in this room before." Finnick said quietly. "There's a drainage pipe just out the window, so we can make a run for it if we get caught."
"Good." Nick leapt onto the low bed and pressed his ear to the wall, and Finnick rolled his eyes before he followed suit.
"Hear anything yet?' Nick asked.
"They're playing music." Finnick said after a moment. "Crap."
"I know. We're not gonna hear a word of it."
"No, crap as in 'we've got company!'"
Nick turned his head to see the lady wolf in black slowly crawling onto the bed. Her tail leisurely lashed behind her. Her bikini was black as night against her light grey fur. She had curves in all the right places. Nick's collar beeped as his pulse quickened. Didn't she already have a client? She crawled completely onto the bed, her paws and knees sinking into the mattress as she came closer to the two foxes.
"Uh, could you find another room, please?" Nick asked. Damn, she was hot when she got down on all fours like that, but she was a masseuse, not a hooker. There was a reason there are no predator prostitutes in Zootopia. He needed her out of here, and fast, before his pants got too tight. He glanced down and saw that it was already too late for Finnick.
The wolf was almost on top of them. "Miss, we're kinda busy here. Don't you have a client to get back to?" He frowned when she didn't answer. He looked into her grey eyes, and saw that they were slits. "Lady?"
The glint of the wolf's bared teeth in the lamplight was the only warning they had before she lunged at them, howling.
"FUCKING SHIT ON A STICK!" Finnick threw himself into Nick's stomach, knocking them both back as the wolf's teeth snapped at the spot where he'd just been. Nick fell back and bounced on the mattress, nearly head-butting the wall behind them. He grabbed Finnick and rolled off the bed, dodging a swipe from the madwoman.
He felt claws grab his shoulder, making him drop his buddy. Another set of claws grabbed his jaw and forced his head back, fully exposing his cream colored throat. Nick heard Finnick scream, felt the zap of his collar, saw the teeth of the wolf descending on him.
He should have listened to Finnick when he had the chance.