They could smell the money that wafted through the air as vehicles passed through the guard shack that separated Canopy Heights from the world of the regular people. Home of the elite, the enclave was one of the extremely limited cases where the Zootopia Police Department could not freely enter without expressed direction from the Chief of Police and, as rumor has it, approval from the Mayor directly. There was enough money and power behind the meticulously manicured hedges to make anyone's eyes water at the sight. Of course, in a neighborhood like this, ordinary maintenance vans and construction crews would never be allowed through the main entrance. They were relegated to another entrance, away from the main gate so as to not offend the sensitive eyes of Zootopia's elite.
"Can you imagine living in here?" Officer Johnson said as he watched the guarded entrance as cars passed through the gate, his deep, growling voice reverberating within Nick's body as he spoke.
"Each one of those houses in there is probably worth more than all of our salaries combined." Nick replied.
They had a clear view of the main road into the neighborhood from their spot in a real estate office that had closed up for the day. The windows of the office had pictures and listings of various mansions that were on the market. In front of them, cars, SUV's, and the occasional limousine passed through the gate uninterrupted. The police officers watched as an RV tried to pass through the gate, they watched the body language of the guard and the driver of the house on wheels. After what looked like a testy exchange between the two, the guard eventually waved the massive vehicle through, likely because it would have been impossible for the RV to turn around, not to mention a line of cars starting to form behind them.
"Maybe we'll get to see Gazelle while we're here." Johnson said.
"She'll probably see us before we see her." Nick replied, taking a sip of coffee.
"You know, I read somewhere that if you mail one of these snobs a wedding invitation, there's a fifty-fifty chance they might actually send you something." Johnson said.
"In that case, wanna get married?" Nick said, turning to bat his eyes in a pseudo-flirtatious gaze.
Pffffttt! Johnson shook his head grinning.
"Guess they don't even bother reading the envelopes." Nick said.
"Guess not." Replied Johnson. "So, what's this Ringtail guy like, anyway?"
"Dunno, his wife says he's cheated on her in the past." Nick said.
Johnson scowled. "If I ever cheated on Catherine, her and her friends would have me served on a platter."
"What do you think would happen to me? Judy's family runs a farm out in the middle of nowhere. You'd never see my beautiful mug ever again." Nick chuckled slightly, fading rapidly as his mind was brought back to her.
"Hey, she's going to be alright, Wilde." Johnson said as he watched the expression changing on Nick's face. "They're probably digging her up right now." The lion tried sounding as enthusiastic as he could, hyping up finding someone buried under tons of concrete was a tough sell, even for the savviest of salesmen.
"If only…" Nick said glumly as he felt his phone buzzing in his pocket.
THIS IS ANDREA RINGTAIL, MY HUSBAND IS HERE. Nick read the text message from an unknown phone number.
"Showtime…" The fox said as he started to respond to the text message.
"Is that her?" Johnson asked.
ANDREA, THIS IS NICK WILDE, CAN I GET YOUR ADDRESS? He typed and sent.
"Yes it is." Nick said as he waited for a reply.
12125 MAHOGANY VISTA
"Got the address, do you have the letter from the Chief Bogo?" Nick asked.
"Tucked in the visor." Johnson said as he started the engine of the car, creeping out of the parking lot and toward the entrance to Canopy Heights.
"Good evening gentlemen, names please?" The guard asked as the car pulled up.
"Evening ma'am, I'm Officer Johnson; this is my partner, Officer Wilde." Johnson said as he motioned to himself and to Nick.
"What can I help you with, officer?" The guard replied.
"We need you to let us through the gate, please." The lion replied firmly.
"And to whom are you looking for?" The guard asked equally seriously.
"Ringtail, Theodore Ringtail." Johnson said.
"There is no resident by that name here." The guard said, folding her arms.
"Arconco, my partner meant Mr. and Mrs. Arconco, 12125 Mahogany Vista." Wilde said from the passenger seat.
"What purpose?" The guard grilled.
"Ma'am, this is an ongoing police investigation, we have a copy of the letter that the Chief of Police faxed to you earlier today, and a warrant." Johnson said as his frustration began to build while the car sat at the guard shack. The guard stepped back inside the shack and searched through some papers on the desk.
"Go on through, have a good evening." The guard said as she pushed a button raising the barrier blocking the lane.
Nick felt strangely excited as he passed by massive homes, barely visible through the tall hedges and trees lining the street. The road curved gracefully as wrought iron gates protected the homes from unwanted visitors. The neighborhood was built on a mountainside, several homes sat perched on bluffs overlooking the commoners below. As the car navigated the street, they felt like cattails drifting in the breeze, swaying gracefully in the wind. Nick was mildly surprised that most of the vehicles that passed were not ultra-expensive sports cars, or gold plated limousines, but rather ordinary cars, by Nick's standards anyway.
"Have you been back in here before?" Nick asked as he tried to catch a sight of some of the houses past the screening hedges.
"Never." Johnson said as he cruised slowly through the neighborhood, passing an RV heading in the opposite direction.
"12125, there it is." Nick said as Johnson turned into the driveway. "I think this is the only house I've seen without a gate in this neighborhood."
They parked next the garage and popped the doors. The warm, muggy air of the Rainforest District instantly greeted them. From the driveway they saw an impressive view of the Rainforest District, distant lights twinkling from thousands of magnificently tall trees and from the forest floor. It was like they were on a balcony with a close-up view of the nighttime stars. The house itself was relatively modest. A three story home, with a four car garage, built in a Georgian style. Surprisingly reserved given the other real estate. The pair approached the front door and Officer Johnson knocked loudly with his paw.
Johnson and Wilde looked at each other. There were lights on in the house, but no sign that anyone was home.
BANGBANGBANG! Johnson knocked on the door again.
"Let me check around back." Nick said as he walked around the house. He couldn't help but admire the view of the Rainforest District as he opened the gate into the back patio of the house. Walking carefully through the patio, he peered through one of the sliding doors. Among all the things inside the house, Nick's eyes locked to a staircase where clothes were strewn on it like someone threw a laundry basket down the stairs. As Nick followed the steps downward, he saw a pair of suitcases that had popped open. Finally, his eyes reached the bottom of the stairs.
"JOHNSON!" Nick yelled as he scrambled back to the front of the house. "Johnson! Is that door unlocked?" The lion tried the handle, opening the door into the house without resistance.
"What'd you find, Wilde?" Asked a surprised Johnson.
"Andrea!" The fox bolted through the door, the lion following closely behind him. They reached the raccoon as she lay at the bottom of the stairs, in the same clothes she had on during their meeting in the interrogation room, partially tangled in a pair of pants from the luggage that rested midway up the stairs.
"Ms. Ringtail!" Nick said frantically trying to get her attention as Officer Johnson called for back-up.
The raccoon started to stir, becoming conscious, she started shrieking in pain.
"Okay! Don't move! Just relax, okay?" The fox said as he tried to keep her still.
She groaned as she tried to move her body, her face contorted in pain.
"Don't move, Andrea, okay?" Nick replied quickly. "Do you remember what happened?"
Nick watched Andrea as her mind began spinning, trying to recall the events that lead up to where they were now. "He came home…" She said as she started breathing heavily as the shock wore off, still trying to move despite Nick's pleas. "He told me to get my bags together…" The raccoon started crying. "I laid my phone on the night stand… and he saw the text… He smacked me and started screaming at me…" Her paw went up to cover her face as tears streamed from her eyes. "Your card fell out of my pocket…" Andrea gasped and she was openly crying, her face contorting almost beyond recognition. "…and he threw me down the stairs…"
Nick turned back to look at Johnson, his face burning with anger. They listened as anything else Andrea Ringtail said became a distorted cacophony of gasping and wailing. Johnson let out a low rumble as he folded his arms together tightly, his fingers pinching the bridge between his eyes as he listened to the woman lying on the floor.
"Did you happen to see what he was driving?" Nick asked gently as he could.
"No…" Ms. Ringtail said through sobs.
"The ambulance just passed through the gate." Johnson said listening to the chatter on their radio.
"I'll go flag them down." Nick left the raccoon with his partner and opened the door back outside. The moist air swallowed him as he walked through the driveway and up to the street. He stood out into the street, waving down the ambulance and the backup that followed. As he walked down the concrete path toward the front door, he could hear the loud shrieking of Andrea Ringtail as she was being lifted onto the stretcher and watched the raccoon be loaded into the ambulance. Her face was barely visible with the neck brace.
"Hey Wilde!" Johnson called as he stopped at the front door.
"What's up?" Nick replied, turning to look at the lion.
"You remember that RV we passed earlier?" Johnson asked.
"Yeah… why?" The fox said raising an eyebrow.
"Take a look at the security camera video." The lion waved Nick back into the house and followed him into the kitchen. In the corner, was a small flat screen television, connected to different security cameras around the house. Nick watched the images from the back patio, front door, the garage, and the driveway. Johnson picked up the remote that had rested on top of the DVR box and started scrolling through a menu.
Suddenly, a recorded image of the driveway was displayed on the full screen of the television.
"This was about two hours ago…" Johnson said as he pressed fast forward on the remote. For a while, everything seemed quiet and ordinary, just the lights of passing cars rushing by. Johnson hit play as a large RV came into view, the two watched as the lumbering giant slowly crept into the driveway. In the darkness, he saw a small animal emerging from the RV. Nick had to squint his eyes to try and see who the creature was in the darkness, but evaded the image of the camera as he went toward the front door. Johnson fast forwarded just a few moments later to see the creature scrambling out of the front door and back into the RV, turning it around in the driveway and exiting. Nick felt frustration boiling within him as he watched the car driven by Officer Johnson cruise into the driveway only a few minutes later.
Johnson pressed a few more buttons on the remote and pulled up the camera guarding the front door. Again, they watched as the video fast forwarded through an ordinary evening, until the RV came into view. This time, with the help of a nighttime mode on this camera, they were able to see the image of a raccoon wearing a poorly fitting business suit walking up to the front door.
"We were this close…" Nick snarled to himself as he watched the raccoon rush out of the house and leave in the RV. He wanted to throw something. He wanted to hit something… or someone. The man who was responsible for Judy being trapped in a collapsed shopping mall, the man who threw his own wife down the stairs had slipped through his fingers. His fists clenched as he felt himself trying to grasp onto the sands of justice that were slipping away from him.
"We're going to find him, Wilde." Johnson said as he watched his partner seething.
"Now he knows we're on to him, and he's going to do everything he can to lay low." Nick replied angrily.
"He's driving an RV; we won't be able to miss him." Johnson reassured Wilde.
"We don't have a plate; we barely know what it looks like." Nick replied rubbing his face. He looked down as his phone began vibrating against his leg, pulling it out of his pocket; he saw a phone number he didn't recognize.
"This is Nick Wilde…" He said in his business-professional tone he saved for phone calls and interactions with a customer service representative, or cashier at the grocery store.