Hoping that Agent Skyefall got the message, Jack split up from her just before they reached the exit, not wanting to get mixed up with the companions she'd unwisely brought along. He left the sawmill through one of the open windows and trudged back through the forest towards the road, pondering over what he'd found in there.
He'd told a lie when he'd told Alyssa's he'd followed those dirty razorbacks to that building; in fact he'd already been in the building when Alyssa and her friends had shown up. After determining from the pine needle he'd found in Wild Times that Woolton had been in the forest at some point, he'd chosen the sawmill as the first place to check. What he'd found was unexpected, and it wasn't just the boxes; there had been blood too, so old it had turned brown. Behind an old crate of rusted parts he'd found a rusty chainsaw covered in the same dried blood. He'd pried open one of the crates to discover that it was full of T.A.M.E. collars, and that was right about when the bloodbath had started.
Who in God's name were those psychopaths anyway?
In any case, Slothfeld's secret facility either wasn't there or it was very well hidden. He'd check the other buildings on the mountain for the time being in search of further clues. When he was almost to the road he felt a pang of displeasure at himself for lying to Alyssa, before he remembered her connection to Cheryl Radames. If his suspicions about Radames were correct, then the agent closest to her couldn't be trusted either. Just when he thought this couldn't get any more complicated, he reached the road and saw a police car parked behind the T.U.S.K. van and a certain rabbit officer appear from the opposite treeline.
"Hopps?!" He was so stunned he actually shouted her name, starting the bunny.
"Mr. Savage?!" Hopps looked him up and down, noticed his attire and weaponry, and pulled out her dart gun before he could react.
Jack quickly put his paws up, hoping that Alyssa wouldn't show up and see this after the butt-chewing he'd just dealt her. "Hopps. Please lower your gun."
"Not a chance! Start. Talking!" Judy ordered through gritted teeth.
Jack gritted his own teeth. The weapons he'd brought with him were all designed to kill, and there was no way he was going to use them on an innocent officer. His mind raced for another option. "I want to know what you are doing here, first. Does your superior know you're here?"
Judy's hard glare faltered. Of course he didn't. She was too impulsive for her own good. "I'll radio him my location right now."
"Wait!" Jack growled, the word 'superior' reminding him of the fake badge he kept in case of emergencies like this. "Officer Hopps, do not drag your boss into this."
"Don't tell me what to do, Mr. Savage!" Judy snapped as she pulled her radio from her belt.
"It's for your own good, officer. You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into."
Judy cocked her head. "Really?"
"I'm going to very slowly take something out of my pocket. So please don't shoot me." Judy narrowed her eyes, but didn't pull the trigger as Jack slowly procured a fake badge and showed it to her.
"ZBI?!" Judy's eyes widened again. "You told me you were from the Congressional Research Service!"
"That's my cover." Jack said, choosing his words carefully. He didn't have a choice, he knew that now, not when the only other option was murder. No matter what, he must not mention Doctor Slothfeld. He just needed to say enough to convince Hopps to lower her weapon and interfere no further. "You are interfering with a very delicate operation and you need to lower than gun right now."
Judy shook her head. "What are you doing here, Agent Savage? If you really are ZBI."
Smart girl. "We think Mayor Swinton is breaking the law to try and keep her collars from being abolished."
Judy frowned. Jack could imagine her thinking about all those questions he'd asked her when they'd last spoken, and the seed of doubt he'd planted with the circumstances surrounding Wild Time's exposure. Please, please let that be enough.
"I'm going to let the precinct know that I'm looking for Mr. Wilde on Founder's Mountain. That'll at least let them know where to look if you make me go missing."
Jack shrugged. "Just don't mention me, okay?"
Judy made the quick call, and thankfully didn't mention Jack. Then she pocketed the radio and held out her paw. "Throw me that badge."
Jack obeyed. Judy caught the badge and scrutinized it closely, checking for signs of forgery. She wouldn't find any. That badge had been made by the ZIA itself. Eventually she tossed the badge back. "Okay. I'm convinced."
Thank God, Jack thought as she holstered her dart gun. "Now that you understand the situation, I suggest you get back in that car and go home."
"Out of the question." Judy said sternly. "I'm not entirely sure you're telling the truth. Wherever you're going, I'm going too."
Jack sucked in a deep breath. "Officer Hopps, with respect, we're dealing with very dangerous mammals here."
Judy folded her arms. "Mr. Wilde is out here somewhere. I'm not going back without him."
"On your own?" Jack demanded, remembering the psychopathic wolves that were probably still lurking about the forest.
"If need be." Judy replied defiantly.
Jack paused. He understood Judy's feelings all too well. However, he couldn't leave her out here on her own.
"Fine, but at the first sign of trouble we're out of here."
"Officers do not back down from anything!"
Jack was upon her in an instant. Judy grabbed her gun, only for Jack to grab her wrist and hold it out while he brought his face right up to hers. His blue eyes burned with frustration as they bore into Judy's shocked purple eyes.
"Officer Hopps, this is not worth dying over!" He snarled.
Judy stared up at him in shock before nodding. "Okay. Okay."
Jack released her wrist, and she holstered her weapon. "Okay, we'll leave at the first sign of trouble, deal."
"Good." Jack said coldly. Inwardly he regretted manhandled her like that. He knew what it was like to be a token bunny in a mega-fauna oriented organization, and what the constant discrimination could do a mammal. He'd heard about Judy's promotion to 'real cop.' It must have been a very big deal for her. He wondered how much of her obsession with Wilde was borne of prejudice and how much of it was borne of desperation to not let Captain Bogo down.
"So where are we going now?" Judy asked.
"There's a lodge further up the mountain that I want to search for evidence." Hopefully Jack would find a way to convince Judy to go back to the city before they got there. "If you're going to insist on coming, then let's go already. And no headlights."
"Okay. Let me at least get some extra gear." Judy returned to her car, opened the trunk, and pulled out some equipment. "I'm taking a flare gun, some extra darts and a bunch of evidence bags. Is that okay?"
With that they got into the car and continued up the road, driving at a slow speed to decrease the amount of noise they made. Taking the wheel, Judy ensured all the lights were off and the car was covered by the darkness of the forest.
"Where's the T.U.S.K. team?" She asked.
"Dead." Jack said, knowing the ZPD would find out eventually. "They were sent to capture Wilde, but someone got them first."
Judy's ears flattened with horror. "You?"
"No. It was not me." Jack assured her. "That's why I don't want you here, Hopps. You're in over your head."
Judy swallowed, finally having second thoughts. Then she clenched her fists and glared at Jack. "I can't just run when there're dangerous mammals on the loose. If they're out there and they've really killed the T.U.S.K. team, then I have to report this to Precinct One." She picked up the radio, and then she froze.
Jack gently put a paw over the radio, preventing Judy from putting it to her face. "Be very careful what you tell them, Hopps. If Swinton really is behind this, she may decide that you're a loose end."
Judy looked stricken. "But… she's supported me every step of the way. I'd never have made the academy if it weren't for her."
Jack sighed with true empathy. "She's a politician and you're a token. That makes you expendable. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is."
Judy brought the car to a stop in the middle of the road and rested her arms on the steering wheel. She had a faraway gaze as she pondered on his words. "I'll just tell them the truth. I found their vehicle empty and the team missing. They should find the sawmill soon enough."
Jack nodded. Judy made the call, looking downcast as she spoke. Then she put the radio down and gazed through the windshield. She blinked, and then turned on the headlights.
"Agent Savage." She breathed.
Jack saw what the headlights were illuminating; a forest jeep covered in fallen leaves on the side of the bended road up ahead, its hood crumpled against a boulder. All four doors were shut, and the windows were so filthy even the lights couldn't penetrate them. The remains of the headlights were scattered all over the road.
"Oh my gosh!" Judy was to first to get out.
"Hopps, wait! Don't go alone!" Jack leapt out after her, keeping his eyes and ears open. He could see Judy's own ears swiveling as she slowly approached the silent vehicle and felt some relief that she also was being vigilant. She reached the car and peered through the front passenger's window. She rubbed at the dirt only to see that the inside of the car was also obscured. Jack could make out still figures through the interior dirt, and felt a chill. Judy tapped the window. "Hello? Can you hear me in there?" Silence. "This is Officer Hopps, ZPD. If you can hear me, please make noise."
The car and its occupants didn't make a sound. Judy tried the handle but the door didn't open. Jack stepped forward, even though everything about the jeep was making his skin crawl. "Hold on, my lockpicks might work here."
He knelt down and set to work, utilizing the set of lock picks specially designed for vehicles. He worked for less than half a minute before he stopped. "Hold on, the door's already unlocked. I think it's just stuck."
"Maybe if we both pulled." Judy stood by Jack's side and grabbed the handle with him. Together they pulled at the handle with all their might, but it didn't budge. Jack lifted his lower body, pressed his feet against the side of the car, and motioned for Judy to keep pulling.
With one great yank from both bunnies, the door came free, swinging fiercely enough to make them lose their grip and fall to the mud. Jack recovered first, standing up and looking into the car.
It was the stench he noticed first, the unmistakable smell of old rotting flesh. Then he saw the bodies. A rhino in the driver's seat and a beaver beside him, recognizable only by the horns and tail. Both were so decomposed they had turned black and eyeless, but that wasn't the worst of it. They had sustained horrific wounds that couldn't possibly have been inflicted by the crash. Jack saw punctures. Gashes. Open throats. The mess on the inside of the windows was the same brown color as the dried blood in the sawmill. A bloody, gruesome death, just like all the others.
He heard a squeak behind him as Judy saw the corpses and stifled a scream. When he turned to look, he saw tears in her eyes.
"When is this going to end?" She whimpered through the paw she held to her mouth. After Dr. Lemming and Woolton, Jack couldn't blame her for wanting an conclusion to the gruesome murders.
"Leaving would be a good idea." He said calmly.
Judy shook her head. "Captain Bogo needs to know about this. I need to stay, secure the crime scene. You should go."
"I'm not leaving you alone with those killers out there." Jack retorted. "I'll stay until I hear sirens. Go radio your people while I secure the area."
"O-okay. Just don't mess with the crime scene."
Jack pulled out his pistol and checked the area surrounding the car while he thought about what he'd just seen. Those mammals had been dead for months, and almost certainly had come from Slothfeld's facility. The rhino was dressed in the remains of a black security guard uniform, and the beaver was wearing the white coat of a researcher… yet in all that time no-one, not even Slothfeld or Swinton, had made an effort to retrieve the bodies.
"What the hell is going on around here?" He muttered to himself.
When he was sure they were alone, he returned to the car to find Judy gingerly shining a flashlight into the car. "The weather will have removed any evidence on the outside by now, but just in case be careful where you step." She said weakly. "It's rained a fair few times these last few months. If the ground was wet enough, the car could have lost control on the bend and hit this boulder here. But who could have done this to them?"
"Maybe these two can give us some answers." Jack started to climb into the vehicle, only to feel Judy's paw around his arm.
"Hey, you can't just go in there!"
"Watch me." Jack pulled his arm out of her grip. "Seriously. Watch me so you can see I'm not stealing anything. There may be something here that can help my own investigation."
"What makes you say that?"
"Just a feeling." Jack said. There was indeed a feeling growing in his gut that could either be excitement or anxiety. If Judy's theory about the crash was right, they must have been going quite fast, and if they were going fast they must have been trying to get away from something. Getting away from Slothfeld, perhaps? Why would they do that?
Had they taken something they shouldn't?
Jack searched the bodies, avoiding touching what remained of the flesh as much as possible. Then he searched the rest of the car, all the while being illuminated by the flashlight wielded by his suspicious companion.
Nothing. Not even the car keys. Jack mentally kicked himself for getting his hopes up. He clambered out the car and dropped to the ground beside Judy. "Okay, I'm done. You didn't see me take anything, did you?"
"No." Judy admitted, the flashlight's beam tilting downward as she lowered her arms. "We should step away from the car until backup gets here… wait a minute. What's this?"
She shone the flashlight on something mostly buried beneath the mud under the front tire. She took a picture of the item and then bent down to examine it closely.
"Are those car keys?" She asked.
"I'm fairly sure." Jack said. "Looks like our victims had gotten out the car at some point."
There was a rustle in the bushes on the other side of the road. Jack tensed and readied his weapon. "Stay here."
He cautiously crossed the road, pistol trained on the bush that had twitched. Meanwhile Judy walked slightly up the car to examine the crumpled hood.
"A crowbar?" Jack heard her mutter. "The hood was forced open... old blood spatter. One of them got out the car to see if the engine was fixable... Something happened… They got attacked… Maybe there's something in the engine compartment…"
"Hopps, what are you doing?" Jack demanded as he reached the bush.
"I think there may have been a third victim!" Judy called. "I noticed blood in the back seat while I was watching you search! I'm just gonna shine my light under the front of the car and check!"
That made sense to Jack. If the third victim was a small mammal, they could have ended up anywhere in the car. He shone a light into the bush, but didn't see anything other than leaves and dirt. He moved around the bush, and his foot nudged something in the grass behind it. He shone the flashlight down and grunted in disgust.
"Found your third victim!" He called. "It's a porcupine! He must have been killed when he got out to examine the engine and dragged over here!"
He searched the body, but other than his white researcher coat, he found nothing significant. He started back towards the jeep and saw that Judy had crawled underneath the front of the car. "What are you doing now?" He demanded.
"I heard something fall out the compartment." Judy said, her feet the only part of her that was visible. "We may have dislodged something when we forced the door open. Darn, there's a huge puddle under here!"
"Here, let me help you out." Jack crawled under her, finding himself in a deep muddy puddle beside the doe as she rummaged through the water. After a few seconds of rummaging through the muddy bottom, Judy let out a short laugh. Her arms worked back and forth, the puddle water turning even cloudier as she worked to remove the mud holding the item under. Then she lifted the item out the water.
"My God." Jack whispered.
When the water had almost completely dripped away from the object, leaving only translucent beads on the plastic surface, there was no mistaking the Data Disk. It glinted in the flashlight's beam like a blue diamond in Judy's gloved paw. Very few things amazed Jack these days, but finding Slothfeld's most precious possession in a muddy puddle under a car full of dead bodies was one of them.
"I think the disk's okay." Judy said as she examined the disk. "It doesn't look like the water penetrated the casing. Forensics should be able to get a good amount of evidence out of it."
She blinked when Jack held out a paw. "Hopps, give me that disk."
"Give me the disk."
Judy held the disk to her chest. "You can't be serious! It's evidence!"
Jack put on a calm façade. He didn't want to act too threatening. "If you take that disk to the ZPD, I guarantee that it won't make it to Forensics. Swinton would sooner put a bomb in your car than let the contents of that disk be made public."
Judy gazed down at the disk. "And what about you? What are you going to do with it?"
"Take it to HQ. With that disk, we could solve ten years worth of unsolved cases worldwide. Hopps, don't make me take it from you… hold it." He froze, his ears pricking as he caught the sound of a car coming from up the road. He shushed Hopps, who wisely shut up.
They saw the tires and lower body of a white car slow to a stop Beside the police car. Three pairs of feet came down, the wide white paws of polar bears. One pair of white paws lightly splashed on the wet road as he approached the jeep. "Fucking shit, that's sick."
Jack shared the sentiment. Even under the jeep, almost chest deep in liquid mud, the scent of death was sickeningly strong. With luck it was overpowering the scent of the two rabbits as well.
"Anyone alive in there?" Asked the second polar bear who was staying beside the white car.
"Hell no, they've been dead for weeks at least."
"Nah. No bears either. They're both leaf-shitters."
Judy frowned at the mention of foxes.
During the exchange, the feet of the third bear had wandered over to the cop car. "That's weird. There's no cops here either, but we should get out of here before the fuzz comes back." The velvety pipes of Jerry Vole suddenly blared out. "Hang on, that could be Koslov." While he answered the call, the first bear slammed the jeep door shut to seal in the smell and returned to the white car. The third bear finished the call and raced back to the others. "That was one of our boys! They spotted the fox and some friends taking off in a car! If we hurry we can pick up the trail!"
They were almost back in the white car when Judy's radio crackled.
"Crap!" Judy silenced the radio, but it was too late.
"What was that?" A bear asked as the six feet splashed back down on the road.
"Sounded like a radio." Said another. "It was coming from under that car."
Judy tucked the Data Disk in an evidence bag and stuffed it in the biggest pouch on her belt before tugging at Jack's arm. "Come on, let's get out the other side." She whispered.
Take care not to splash in the water, they climbed out from under the other side of the car and snuck into a thick bush. Judy grabbed her phone, put it on silent, and started frantically texting. Jack spied the name 'Bogo' on the screen. Judy clicked send, pocketed the phone, and pulled out her dart gun. Keeping his eye on the bears as they checked out the car again, Jack kept his pistol at the ready. He had a feeling that Judy wouldn't approve of him killing these mammals, and he still had to convince her to relinquish the Data Disk.
One of the bears wandered around to the other side of the car and tilted his nose downward. "Guys, I smell something!"
"Me too." Said the second bear, wrinkling his nose at the lingering scent of decay.
"Not that, you dumbass!" The first bear sniffed the air. "I smell rabbit."
Judy chose that exact moment to fire a dart into the bear's hip, dropping him to the ground.
"Shit! One down!' The other two bears sprung into action, pulling out their .45s as they charged around the car in search of the shooter. By now both rabbits had split up, taking different directions to divide the two bears.
"Hey, butthole!" Judy yelled, drawing the attention of one bear. He raced after her, firing blindly into the dark wild shrubs she had concealed herself in. Before he knew it a grey and blue blur fly out of a tall evergreen and into the side of his muzzle, sending him tumbling to into the wet grass. Judy landed on his back and fired a dart into his shoulder, putting him down.
Jack took the quieter approach, deliberately stomping of a dead branch as he took off into the foliage. The bear heard and followed, gun at the ready, unaware that Jack was circling around, silent as a wraith as he made his way behind the bear and poised himself to strike.
The bear spun round prematurely, drawn by the sound of Judy's third dart firing and missing him. He spotted Jack and aimed. The rabbit leapt forward feet first, the bullet striking the dirt behind him as he slid up and kicked the last bear's right foot from under him. The bear crashed to the ground, the gun falling from his paw, and this time Judy's dart didn't miss.
Jack straightened himself and rejoined Judy beside the car. "And now we know how Judith Hopps became Valedictorian."
Judy smirked despite herself, but the smirk quickly vanished. "Sweet cheese and crackers, their friends are after Wilde."
"Go." Jack said immediately. "You need to get in that car and go after them."
Somewhere in the forest, a bird chirped.
"I can't just…"
"Your buddies will be here to secure the crime scene any minute now!" Jack urged. "You need to get to that fox before Koslov's men do!"
"What about you?" Judy demanded.
"I still have an assignment to complete." Jack said. "Speaking of which, I still need that disk." Judy pulled out the disk, looking uncertain. Jack pressed on. "Trust me, Hopps. You don't want Swinton to know you know that disk exists. Think of your family, the people you love. You take that disk to the station, you're putting them all in danger."
Judy swallowed, held the disk to her chest again for a moment. Slowly, at long last, Judy held the disk out to Jack. "I'm still not sure this is the right thing to do, but I can't obstruct the ZBI."
Jack exhaled and took the disk. He opened the case, just to make sure that Judy had been right about the disk being clean. It was. Jack closed the case and looked for a place to store it. Being sloth sized, the disk was barely small enough to fit into the biggest pouch on his belt without the flap buttoned.
Finding the facility could wait. It was second priority compared to the Data Disk. He needed to get it back to his hotel room as soon as possible.
"You've made the right choice, Officer Hopps." He heard the chirping again, and paused. That hadn't really sounded like a bird. It was closer too, somewhere in the bushes behind the bears' white car. Jack was instantly on edge. He didn't know if it was spy's intuition or primal instinct, but he had the feeling that something even more dangerous than Koslov's boys was lurking just out of sight.
"Hopps, you need to go. Now. Find Wilde before the bears do."
Judy's expression hardened. She ran to the police car, slammed the door shut, and took off down the road.
Jack watched her leave, glad that she was finally no longer a part of this, and then turned his attention to the direction of the chirping.
He heard the rustling of bushes once more, somewhere on the left hand side of the road. Jack glared at the three bears, but they were all still unconscious. He sniffed the air, but the scent of the new threat couldn't be detected beyond the scent of bears and decay.
A light splash to his right. His ears caught the sound a second too late. A black shape slightly smaller than Jack lunged at him. The rabbit twisted his body to dodge the assailant, letting out a sharp yell when he felt something slash into the flesh of his left forearm. In the split second the attack lasted he smelled otter, and then the attacker was gone from his sight. Gripping his arm, he saw a long deep cut bleeding into his sleeve and glove. He'd lost his gun in the fight, and it wasn't on the ground either. The otter must have taken it. Why did they give up the attack so quickly? Why weren't they attacking again?
He heard the chirping again, closer than ever. Then the low growl of a wolf. Another growl from further up the road. Three hostiles, maybe more. The crossbow would take too long to assemble, especially with an injured arm. He had to retreat. It was all he could do.
Clamping a paw tight around the red and itchy cut, Jack fled into the cover of the dark forest, all the while wondering what the unseen enemy was waiting for.