An unfortunate truth Bogo had learned early in his career was that there was simply never enough time for everything that needed to be done. Even a full day after learning that all communication with Phoenix had been severed, Bogo still hadn't left the palace. Or slept.
He had holed up in his office, coordinating the flow of the City Guard and drinking mug after mug of cacahuatl until the jitteriness of his eyes overcame the dull pressure building behind them. Bogo was exhausted, bone-weary in a way he couldn't remember ever having been in his youth when it had seemed as though his reserves of energy were infinite, but still he pressed on. After dispatching the two teams he had assigned to travel to Phoenix and report back, he had called for all the information that could be assembled about the last mammals to go to or return from the settlement.
The answers, unfortunately, were rather thin. Messengers to and from Phoenix were relatively rare, but there were enough of them that tracking down the most recent visitors to Phoenix was proving difficult. And that was only the official messengers who paid the taxes assessed on correspondences; Bogo was not foolish enough to believe that there weren't some unlicensed messengers who belonged to no official guild. No matter how much the City Guard tried to clamp down on those unlicensed messengers, there were always those who could slip through the cracks. Birds were simply too capable, especially when paired with an experienced rider, of getting past any kind of observation. The solution Bogo had proposed, shortly after becoming Captain General, had been to add stricter licensing requirements for aviaries within the city walls; if he couldn't stop messengers from sneaking into the city he would simply prevent them from hiding their birds once they had done so.
Bogo didn't believe for a moment that the city was completely free of unlicensed aviaries, but his measures had seemed to greatly reduce the number of covert messengers. Or, he thought with a sigh as he flipped over to the next report on his desk, they just got better at hiding. In any case, he had dispatched members of the City Guard to both the Messenger's Guild and to the three officially licensed aviary guilds, but none of them had turned up anything yet. The last few messengers who had successfully returned from Phoenix reported nothing out of the ordinary, and Bogo had authorized a reward for anyone capable of tracking down messengers who had gone missing. There were only three officially licensed messengers—a male mouse, a female vole, and a female jerboa—who had yet to be accounted for. They might be trapped in Phoenix, or drinking away their pay in Zootopia for all Bogo knew, but it was a better lead than none at all.
Other than messengers, there was a recently returned merchant caravan that had arrived in Zootopia without incident, and another caravan was due to depart Phoenix Bogo somehow doubted would make it. There was, however, one more scheduled trip to Phoenix that he couldn't help but find particularly interesting. A member of the City Guard—Corazón's prized example of a non-traditional mammal succeeding in the academy, he had noted with a scowl—had been dispatched to escort an alchemist to put in a bid on a water purification project. An alchemist who was a fox and obviously not a member of the Alchemist Guild. Bogo couldn't help but wonder if the oddly matched pair had some kind of significance in whatever was going on. Was this Judy of Tochtli Barony secretly loyal to Jaime and whoever else the jaguar was working with? A bunny who had managed the extraordinary feat of graduating at the top of her class from the military academy could be a valuable asset, he had to admit. She would be weak, feeble in a real fight and likely too emotional to be much help in a crisis, but what could she manage to do with the access membership in the City Guard gave her? Somehow prevent Phoenix from communicating at all, perhaps?
Then again, perhaps it was the fox who was the real culprit. Judy of Tochtli Barony, Bogo noted, had been a last-minute replacement for a more experienced member of the City Guard who had fallen ill shortly before his scheduled departure. Unfortunate timing, perhaps. Or perhaps someone had wanted to make sure that the fox had a meek and easily overpowered member of the City Guard at his side; perhaps the fox had even poisoned Phoenix's water supply in the course of submitting his bid. There was next to no information on Nicholas of the Middle Baronies; he hadn't even taken a family name or the name of a barony for his own. Nicholas had demonstrated sufficient talent, at some time years ago, to officially qualify to be considered for government alchemy contracts, but if he had any existence outside of that there was no record. He had never been arrested, or questioned, or even forced to explain how a fox had come to know the secrets of alchemy.
Or perhaps the presence of a highly suspicious fox and a nearly equally suspicious bunny was just a coincidence. Then again, the bunny would have never become a member of the City Guard without the ludicrous "reforms" Corazón had pushed through. Was she working directly for the lion on some kind of scheme?
Bogo lifted his reading glasses and rubbed at his eyes; he didn't seem able to keep the words on the pages of the reports he was reading in focus anymore. His thoughts kept running in circles, going around and around as he tried to cudgel his tired brains into coming up with a new angle to look at things from. Bogo looked back down at the report, and for a moment had a daydream of the time when his career had just started and never involved this sort of detective work.
It was a pleasant thought, but Bogo was startled out of his reverie by a loud knock at his office door. The voice of a guardsmammal, somewhat muffled by the thickness of the door, came through. "Captain General Bogo, sir, there's someone claiming—"
"Is it the queen?" Bogo interrupted, more than a little testily.
He had left specific orders about when he was to be interrupted, and it certainly wasn't to humor random mammals.
"No, but—" the answer began, but Bogo cut the guardsmammal off again.
"Is it the princess?" he asked.
"Well, no, but—"
"Then tell them to leave a message and go away. I'm very—"
Before Bogo could finish, he found himself cut off by the sound of his office door being knocked off its hinges and loudly falling to the floor. "Samuel!" a very familiar voice thundered, "Is that any way to talk to your wife?"
Maria stood in the doorway, a fine cloud of dust settling from the ruined door around her. She was almost as tall as Bogo was, and just as solidly built; Bogo could never understand the nobles who preferred their wives (or mistresses) waif-thin. Her nostrils were flaring with emotion, her dark brown eyes narrowed in a face streaked with far less white fur than his own. She did have, Bogo noted, a new platinum torc at her neck, but she was still wearing one of the plain and simple dresses that she favored; Maria had always said that nice dresses were wasted on schoolteachers with young charges. At her sides, and absolutely dwarfed by the angry buffalo, two guardsmammals had futilely grabbed her wrists.
Bogo knew that if Maria wanted to enter, a horse and a zebra wouldn't be able to do anything to stop her, and quickly gestured for the guards to release her. "If my wife had been an assassin, I would already be dead," he told the guards dryly.
"Don't think that still isn't a possibility!" Maria snapped, pointing one massive finger at him.
"You write me these little notes," she continued, holding up the crumpled pages like an accusation as she strode into his office, "But you're not saying anything. When they showed up with this shiny new torc, I thought they were coming to say you died saving the princess!"
Her chest heaved with emotion, and the two guardsmammals behind her seemed to be doing their best to blend into the wall of the corridor. "Be more thorough with the security next time," Bogo snapped at them, "Anyone could have claimed to be my wife."
"As if anyone else would want to," Maria muttered, just loudly enough to be heard.
"And get someone to fix the door," Bogo finished, and the guards vanished down the corridor just about instantly.
"Is that all you have to say?" Maria asked, a frown darkening her face as she crossed her arms.
"I'm sorry," Bogo said, quietly, "You're right. I should have written more. Or called for you. It's—"
He never got the chance to finish. Maria had run across the room and pulled him into the tightest hug he could ever remember. She kissed him forcefully, and then rested her head on his shoulder. "Never scare me like that again, Samuel," she said fiercely, her mouth right against his ear, "Never."
Their embrace couldn't have lasted more than half a minute, and it was nowhere near long enough. Bogo wished he could have stayed there forever, his wife warm and comforting in his arms and against his chest, but he couldn't, and he gently disengaged himself. "It's a bad one, Ria," Bogo said, "The worst I've ever been on."
It was one of the little shorthands of their marriage, just as Ria was his pet name for her. Duty demanded that Bogo not share anything from his work that had any potential to compromise security. In the absence of details, Maria had taken to asking if he was working on a "bad one." Even without being able to say much more than yes or no, it somehow helped keep the work manageable, knowing that there was someone who cared so deeply about him that she'd be his sympathetic ear even when he couldn't say anything about what was bothering him.
"So it's true what the papers are saying?" Maria asked, and there was a slight anxious edge to her voice, "Someone really did try killing the princess?"
"And she really did give a direct address," Bogo said, nodding.
Maria was silent a long moment, and then she stretched out her hooves and put them at his sides. It wasn't quite a hug, not with nearly two feet between them, but the feel of her was still welcome. "You're not going to figure this out if you're too tired to think straight," she said at last, "Look at you!"
She ran one finger gently across his face. "You look like you've aged about five years since I last saw you," she said, and from the worry Bogo saw in her eyes he didn't think she was exaggerating; he had always appreciated her tendency towards bluntness, and had only grown to appreciate it more after spending so much time working around so many mammals who would do anything they could to avoid simply saying exactly what they meant.
That was what it all came down to, really; torcs could keep mammals from directly killing or hurting each other, but they couldn't keep mammals honest. As his immediate predecessor as Captain General had been fond of saying, as long as mammals lied, there would still be a need for the City Guard. There was something about that old memory that seemed to catch inside his head, and Bogo spoke before he realized what he was going to say. "Suppose you had a student steal something from one of the others," Bogo said, "But you can't find what was stolen and everyone says they didn't do it. How would you handle it?"
Maria laughed. "You want to treat the most powerful mammals in Zootopia like naughty calves?" she asked; clearly she saw the point he was getting at.
"Your students might be better behaved," Bogo replied, "But what would you do?"
Maria thought a moment. "I could punish the entire class until the thief confesses," she said, "Make them work it out themselves."
Bogo grunted. It would be extremely satisfying to simply arrest his prime suspects, but that was one way in which nobles had an advantage over students. "Suppose the thief could pay someone else off to take the fall for them," Bogo said.
"Then I wouldn't have to figure it out, would I?" Maria asked.
"What?" Bogo asked; he had a vague inkling of where she was going, but he was too tired to figure it out.
"If the thief paid someone to take the blame for them, I wouldn't know I had the wrong student, would I? Not unless the calf who confessed obviously couldn't be the thief."
Bogo had seen both Jorge de Cuvier and Jaime attempt murder, so he knew that they were at least perpetrators if not the masterminds. "Of course, it might also help to figure out why the thief stole what they did," Maria continued when Bogo remained silent, "And what they were expecting to do with it once they had it."
That was the piece that Bogo was struggling with as he turned ideas over in his head. What was the endgame of the mammal trying to kill the princess? Was it a direct grab for power? Or was it an indirect attempt? Perhaps someone was trying to frame someone else for a terrible crime simply to get them out of the way. Bogo considered his top suspects again. With the added complication of whatever had happened to Phoenix, Cencerro had become somewhat more suspicious in his mind; the commander of the Phoenix City Guard was her cousin, after all, and Diego Cencerro's knowledge would be incredibly valuable to any attempt to shut the settlement down. One of the last mammals to enter Phoenix—quite possibly the last, depending on what had happened—had been the City Guard's first rabbit officer, who never would have been able to join the City Guard without Corazón's influence. There was also how, in the last attack, Corazón hadn't lifted a finger to help. Bogo had interviewed all three of the nobles who had been witnesses, and what they said matched up with what little Bogo remembered. Cencerro had claimed to be too weak to do anything against a jaguar. Corazón said it happened too quickly for him to react.
And then there was Cerdo.
Cerdo, who had admitted to becoming paralyzed by fear. Cerdo, who had the sort of humility and ability to admit his own mistakes that was quite rare for a noble. He had no obvious connection to anything that had happened, but was that because he was innocent or because he was guilty and carefully cultivating his impression? Bogo didn't think the pig had it in him, but—"From the look on your face, I don't think I'm saying anything you haven't already thought of," Maria said, interrupting Bogo's thoughts.
Bogo repressed a yawn. "I'm thinking," he said at last, "Of the indirect paths."
Maria raised an eyebrow, but Bogo suddenly felt more certain that he was thinking about the problem the right way. What mattered were the things that only the guilty party could have done. The mysterious quauhxicallis made from the very life of a cheetah, for instance. With Phoenix suddenly having gone dark, Bogo felt more convinced than ever that the work had been done in Phoenix, which gave him a blood magician who Diego Cencerro should have arrested. But what if there was a reason he couldn't?
Bogo felt the pieces suddenly start clicking into place in his head. The connection between Diego Cencerro and Alba Cencerro was an obvious one that pointed in the ewe's direction as being involved. But if Lady Cencerro really was the guilty party, would she allow so obvious a connection to exist? He felt she was too clever for that. And if she was being framed, who was best positioned for that?
Who else but Lord Corazón? Unlike either Cencerro or Cerdo, the lion had significant investments associated with blood magicians. Was it so hard to believe he could have used those connections to find a particularly amoral one to do his dirty work? Corazón was also the only predator on the Queen's Council, and while he spoke loftily of cooperation between predator and prey, was it so difficult to believe that it was all a sham? Bogo had always been suspicious of the lord's mannerisms, which always struck him as supremely fake.
And then there were the last two pieces: the bunny member of the City Guard and the fox alchemist who would have both happened to have arrived in Phoenix right before it went dark. The bunny had an obvious connection to Corazón, and it didn't take much to imagine that a fox who had learned alchemy would have fairly flexible morals. Everything pointed perfectly in Corazón's direction, Bogo felt, everything suggesting that the lion was to blame. Or was it too perfect? Was it all a frame up?
"You're glaring at your desk like it owes you money," Maria observed, and Bogo briefly wondered how long he had been lost inside his own thoughts.
"You know," Maria observed, tapping one thoughtful finger against her lips, "There's something else I could do if I suspected a student of stealing something."
"Make them think I already know that they're guilty."
An idea began taking shape in Bogo's head. He would have to be careful, of course; he'd only have one shot at it, and he'd have to arrange things so none of his top suspects knew what he was going to do. "Now there's the smile that I love," Maria said, curling an arm around Bogo's shoulder and drawing herself close, "It's just a shame I don't get to see it very often."
"I have an idea," Bogo said.
Maria chuckled. "Going to treat the lords and ladies like naughty students after all?" she asked.
"Something like that," Bogo said, stifling another yawn.
"You're in no shape to try anything now," she said, and suddenly she was pushing him away from his desk.
"You have a cot in here, don't you? You need to get some sleep before you try anything."
"I—" Bogo began, but she cut him off.
"The city isn't going to fall apart if you sleep for a few hours. I promise I'll wake you up," she said, smiling once he gave in and pushed aside the tapestry that hid the entrance to his small personal chamber.
It occurred to Bogo that it was the first time Maria had ever entered the little room; she had almost never visited him at the palace, and there had certainly never been a reason to show off the painfully utilitarian cot and bathroom. "You know what?" she asked once they were both inside, "That cot looks about the perfect size for two."
Bogo couldn't help but look first at her, then at the cot, and then back at her. It was uncomfortably small for him; two buffalo would be extremely cramped on it. "It does?" he asked, unable to keep the skepticism out of his voice.
"Cacahuatl" literally means "cacao water" and was perhaps the earliest form of chocolate beverage. It consisted of hot water mixed with ground cacao beans, often with other flavors added for taste. Chocolate is a stimulant, but it's definitely not a substitute for sleep.
Taxing messengers for revenue is, I suppose, not too different from how stamps are used on physical mail in the real world.
A convoy scheduled to leave Phoenix was mentioned in chapter 15; here Bogo expresses his skepticism that any such action will occur.
After several chapters of being mentioned in passing, Bogo's wife finally shows up. I had a lot of fun writing her, and I hope she makes an entertaining character to read. She also finally reveals that Bogo does have a first name that simply hadn't been used by anyone else yet.
Bogo's cot was mentioned back in chapter 14, where he noted that it was just ever so slightly too small for him to sleep comfortably on.
One of the things I've enjoyed writing a mystery in this fashion, with multiple viewpoints, is that it provides a lot of great opportunities for showing the puzzle from multiple angles. Thank you for reading, and if you're so inclined as to leave a comment I'd love to know what you thought!