The madness outside the ZNN building didn't fully dissipate until late afternoon, and by then Commissioner Elba had managed to extricate himself from the ambulance they'd summoned to the back of the skyscraper and make it back to Precinct One. Nursing a leg that hadn't stopped aching since he'd lost his cane in the riot, he listened and fumed as Chief Trunchbull grimly gave his report.
Miraculously the riot hadn't lasted long enough to take any lives, or spread beyond the streets surrounding the ZNN building. They had the swift response of the riot police to thank for that. Pottermass's naturally hard skull had saved him from a concussion, but not from half a dozen stitches from the blow from that brick fragment. The public had no love for the leader of the company distributing deficient TAME collars, it seemed. On the other hand, scores of mammals, predator and prey alike, had been injured in the chaos, and two of the ZNN hostages had succumbed to terror and triggered the blue lights of their collars. The ZBI officers had managed to incapacitate them in the nick of time and lock them up in an armored vehicle along with Bellwether. Llamadeus had reported spotting Officer Hopps in the crowd with her parents, only for her to disappear again when everything went to hell. As for the parents, they wound up being apprehended after the father tried tazed a riot officer in a wild panic, the paralyzing arc failing to penetrate the body armor. Both were currently sitting in a holding cell awaiting charges.
Riot officers found Judy hiding behind a cluster of trashcans in one of the alleys, with half her gear in a knapsack and a radio that wasn't police issued. The detectives were downstairs questioning her now.
"It's a mess." Trunchbull was turning his paperweight over and over in his hooves, staring at his desktop. "That conference was supposed to keep the public informed, not drive them to madness. What a goddamn mess."
Elba said nothing, letting the elephant vent.
"I blame Bellwether for this. If she hadn't been making such inflammatory accusations over the last few weeks, things might never have reached boiling point. We should have dealt with her sooner."
Elba nodded, watching the paperweight slowly spin.
"We should have had more officers watching her and those hostages, but they're too busy hunting for the fox and that cursed Koslov."
"Sounds like a change of plan is in order." Elba said, his calm voice disguising his black mood.
Trunchbull sighed. "I'm just happy you're alright, Commissioner."
"Thank you." Elba stopped massaging his leg. "And you have a point. For the time being, Precinct One will change its priorities. You will cease the hunt for Nicholas Wilde and focus on apprehending Koslov Polarnova."
Trunchbull stopped turning the paperweight and looked directly at Elba for the first time since the water buffalo had entered his office. "Don't we have enough TUSK officers on the turf war at the moment? Two thirds, at least?"
"Not to criticize their abilities, but that is not good enough." Elba's inner fury started to rise to the surface, hardening his tone. "Have you been reading the Meadowland Gazette up to now?"
"No. But I've been hearing the accusations."
"Then you know that Bellwether has been accusing us of being accountable for a lot of things, not just the death of Carlton Woolton. She feels that we could have discovered the terrorists' plans and stopped them preemptively, had we not been distracted by a turf war that we started."
Trunchbull rumbled indignantly. "Disgraceful. Actually, I meant to tell you we've discovered who's been giving Bellwether the ammunition to feed those ridiculous lies."
"Who? I didn't even know there was a leak."
"Neither did we, until just before the conference started, Llamadeus's PA was caught calling a number we discovered to be Dawn Bellwether's. He's the one who told her about the terrorists' demands."
"Why?" Elba asked out of reflex, not really expecting answers so soon.
"His son was one of the victims of the Iceberg Arch Pileup." Trunchbull said. "He survived, but the surgeries to repair the damage were costing the poor soul hundreds of thousands. Bellwether had been paying off the debts piece by piece in exchange for information." Trunchbull set the paperweight down on a folder. "He confessed that he also did it out of anger."
"Many betrayals are motivated by anger. What motivated this one?"
"Standard misplaced retribution. The lion whose collar malfunctioned died in that same accident, so the blame was shifted to someone else. After all, it was Swinton's father who introduced the TAME Collar laws."
Elba felt the pain in his leg suddenly intensify. Of course Theodore Goddamn Swinton had to be brought into this. "What does Llamadeus have to say about this?"
"I don't know. Last I saw him, Swinton was reading him the riot ac-" Trunchbull stopped, scowling at his poor choice of phrase. "I mean, she was busy tearing him a new one over not catching the leak sooner."
"She's still at ZNN?"
"No, in her office."
Elba stiffened in his seat. "Llamadeus is supposed to stay in ZNN with the other hostages."
Trunchbull weakly waved his arms in a display of helplessness. "I know. Somehow she managed to use Bisoniing's incident to convince the ZBI to continue to let her oversee Llamadeus's protection. He's staying in City Hall until they find a way to get his collar off."
Elba could understand her reasoning. With one member of the Triumverate gone, Swinton wouldn't want to risk losing another. "They'll still be up there, right? I want to speak to her again."
Trunchbull shrugged and pointed his trunk at the door. "Very well, sir. Be warned, she may not be in the mood for small talk."
Without his cane to ease his old wound, Elba had to suffer the embarrassment of chartering a squad car to make the twenty second drive around the park to City Hall. Before leaving the car, he ordered the driver to find him a new cane. "Get a metal one, wooden one, one from the lost and found, I frankly don't give a damn. Just make sure there's a cane waiting for me when I walk out of that building!"
He limped past the secretary without so much as a how-do-you-do, stopping outside the doors when he heard voices inside. Either the ass-chewing had long since passed or Trunchbull had been exaggerating. He pushed through just as the secretary was running over to stop him.
He paused, taking in the scene; Swinton behind her desk, Llamadeus and Pottermass sitting in plush chairs across from her, a bright red folder in the mayor's hooves. Swinton looked up, snapping the folder closed as she did so, and waved away the secretary before they could interfere. "Commissioner. I see you made it back in one piece."
"As did the three of you. I heard you discovered a leak in ZNN. Have you discussed it with Mr. Llamadeus, yet?"
Swinton glanced, merely glanced, at Llamadeus, but the long-necked llama cringed in his seat nonetheless. "I have. He knows full well what will become of him if it happens again. Not that it will, now that Bitchwether is no longer in her right mind." She finished the sentence with a smile.
Elba dug his fingers into the doorframe he was using to support himself. "Let me ask you a question. Why did you choose the ZNN building of all places to hold such a perilous press conference?"
"'Perilous,' he calls it." Swinton muttered. "You've got King Arthur on the brain again, haven't you?"
"Stop sounding like your father and answer the question!"
Swinton pushed the red folder into a desk drawer. "I don't understand the question. It was a press conference. Outside a News Network building. Do the math."
Elba tensed with frustration. She was doing it again. "That building was full of hostages, one of which is an emotionally unstable political figure who blames you for the death of her ex-boyfriend. You had to know she would kick off." He paused. Swinton was still smiling. "Do you have any idea how many mammals were injured today? It's a miracle no-one was killed!"
"I thought the ZBI would have it under control but evidently I was wrong."
Elba stepped further into the office and slammed the doors behind him, causing Llamadeus and Pottermass to flinch. "Her collar triggered because you wouldn't stop riling her up! Because of you, she may never be sane again!"
"Hey, hey, hey now, you can't pin this on her!" Llamadeus spun his chair around to point a scolding finger at the Commissioner.
"Easy, Llamadeus. You can get yourself back in my good books later." Swinton stood up and started to pace behind her desk, her smile becoming less pronounced. "I won't deny that we could have done more to stop that situation from getting out of control. But at the same time, Bellwether was a danger to the city."
Elba hesitated. "A danger? Is that what you think?"
"It is what I think. Blame me all you want, but I never asked Llamadeus to use the ZNN news to make inflammatory accusations. Accusations which I must add were purposely intended to incite unrest within a populace already on edge from savage attacks and collar accidents."
Elba fell silent, trying and failing to come up with a sufficient argument.
"Bellwether was right there to fan those flames." Pottermass waved his thick hoof at the city skyline behind Swinton. "We all knew she was a hindrance to our efforts restore peace. I hate to say it, but this is for the best."
Elba realized he was grounding his teeth by this point and stopped. The fact he was tightening his fists as well did not go unnoticed.
"Commissioner, what exactly is your problem?" Swinton asked coolly.
Elba considered not explaining at all, but the mature part of him insisted on knowing what was going on in Swinton's head. "The problem is that you're acting like having a riot occur in City Central is a good thing."
He expected Swinton's smile to slide right off her face. Instead it grew wider as her eyes suddenly brightened with a sudden idea. "You're right. It wasn't. Thank you for reminding me." With her hooves clasped together, she put the smile back on her face and turned to Llamadeus. "Louis, as soon as they give the all clear at ZNN, I want you to prepare tonight's report. Zootopia needs to know all about how Dawn Bellwether's inflammatory accusations against her political rival incited a riot right on your doorstep."
Llamadeus nodded quickly. "Consider it done, Mayor Swinton."
Swinton leaned against the desk. "Do it by phone. I don't want you leaving City Hall until this crisis is resolved. That goes to all three of you. That's it. Dismissed." He quickly strode past Elba, evading the Commissioner's burning glare, and left the office. Pottermass got up and went to do the same. He and Swinton both raised their eyebrows when Elba's hoof barred his way. The Commissioner leaned in but didn't whisper.
"Has she told you?"
Pottermass's expression didn't change. "Tell me what?"
Elba wrinkled his snout. "About Benjamin Clawhauser. The predator you borderline coerced into becoming your new servant."
"Oh, that. A shame what happened to him. Your safehouse wasn't as safe as you thought it was, was it?"
Having more infuriating thoughts on his mind, Elba ignored the jab. "I'm more concerned about why Cunninghorn would believe he could save himself by going after that boy."
"How would I know? That rhino's a madmammal, and a desperate one at that. Who knows what he's thinking?" Pottermass made a show of stroking his chin. "Maybe he wanted revenge on Clawhauser for screwing up his murder plot."
Elba made a decision and hoped it wasn't lethally stupid. "He mentioned taking Clawhauser to someone called Slothfeld."
Swinton blinked, her feelings of smug triumph over 'Bitchwether' almost visibly evaporating from her face and body. Pottermass looked even more shocked. "Cunninghorn really is crazy. Dr. Slothfeld has been dead for years."
Swinton glared molten daggers at Pottermass, but Elba beat her to the punch. "I never said he was a doctor."
He could see Pottermass starting to sweat. He'd seen the hippo's infamous 'blood' sweat once before, when he'd visited him and his wife at his mansion for police business one hot summer morning. Pottermass had taken to his typical morning routine of jogging back and forth at the bottom of the pool and leaving Meredith to explain in detail why it only looked like they had just suffered a violent domestic dispute; hippos naturally secreted a natural sunblock and antibiotic that changed from clear to a bloody red color due to pigments within the secretion.
With that in mind Elba decided to give Pottermass some important advice. "Go take a shower, before you start looking like a mass murderer."
As he watched Pottermass wipe his brow and leave, his thoughts began to focus on Meredith. He remembered her to be a refined middle-aged socialite, slightly spoiled but with a good heart. A long time ago she had been the heiress to the owner of Neomed Technologies, one of the businesses currently owned by Zoocell. That conversation by the poolside had been the last time he saw her alive.
When Elba turned back to Swinton, she was back behind her desk, hooves planted on the lustrous surface. "Swinton, it's time to tell me the truth."
Swinton lowered herself back into her chair and clasped her hooves before her face. Elba watched, and waited. Eventually she lowered her hooves and spoke. "What choice do I have?"
"You're right. Dr. Slothfeld is still alive."
"… why is he here, Swinton?" Elba asked, not willing to make any accusations without proof. But so help him if she had something to do with Starlight's abduction…
"He's the Chief Researcher for the development of the new TAME Collar."
"The collar the terrorists used on the hostages, right?"
Swinton glared at him. "We don't know that. He knows the consequences of betraying us. He wouldn't do something like this."
Elba hobbled up to the desk. "The day he 'died,' he was about to be arrested for developing weapons for terrorists!"
Swinton straightened in her chair, her pose becoming firmer and more commanding. "He was only wanted for questioning about the chemical weapons used in recent attacks in Boarland."
Elba leaned over the desk. "Unfortunately the Boarland authorities don't see it that way! At what point did it seem like a good idea to harbor a mammal whose name is listed on Ewerope's Most Wanted?"
Swinton seemed deep in thought, considering his words. Then, to Elba's bewilderment, she opened a desk drawer different from the one holding the red folder and pulled out a half-full bottle of red wine. A glass came next, which was swiftly filled to the brim and then drained in one go Swinton paused, her face flushed pinker than usual, and then refilled the glass. The sight caused Elba to reminisce of the time he'd caught Starlight, a cute little vixen at the time, sampling his Zoofaunia Merlot. After spitting it out all over his white carpet, she'd turned around, looked the large buffalo in the eye without a hint of fear, and informed him that someone had poisoned his fruit juice with battery acid. Four hundred dollars was the cost to replace the carpet, but it was worth it to have a memory he could smile at, even now as he confronted the most dangerous pig in the city.
"It wasn't your idea, was it?" Elba concluded quietly, watching the Mayor drink. "Who's was it, then? Your father's? Theodore was that desperate to save the family legacy?"
"He did what was necessary!" Swinton raged suddenly. "Times have changed! Shocking the savagery out of those predators isn't enough anymore!"
"He risked an international incident just for that?" Elba asked.
"The Eweropean Union has already turned against us, have you forgotten?" Swinton pointed at him with the neck of the bottle, its contents swishing within. "My family brought TAME Collars into the world. We ensured world peace. And how did the EU repay us ten years later? By abolishing collars in every country under their control just because of a few deaths!"
"Have you considered that they may have had a point?" Elba asked.
He was answered by a loud bang from the bottle being slammed on the desk. "And they lost it the moment they took the easy way out! This is how you deal with a disease! You create a vaccine and alter it each time the strain changes before it destroys everything you cherish!"
Elba rubbed his temple. "Now you really sound like your father."
"Don't-" Swinton stopped herself and finished her glass instead. She considered the wine left in the bottle before recorking it and putting it back in the drawer. "You say you want to help, but all you do is criticize everything my family has done. You have no idea what it means to be a Swinton."
"Tilda, you can stop right there. We're not going to see eye to eye on this." Elba exhaled through his nostrils and sat down on the chair formerly occupied by Llamadeus.
Swinton pushed her glass to the side of the desk. "And I accept that. So long as you can keep your mouth shut."
Elba suspected the consequences of saying no. Instead of risking his neck, he nodded. "Not to stoke the fire, but what makes you so sure Slothfeld isn't responsible for this?"
Swinton pointed to the ceiling, and Elba immediately understood. "They've been watching him for months. If he stepped out of line, they would have informed me by now."
Elba tried not to twist his face at the thought of the unethical operations going on right above his horned head. "What of Wilde and the other fugitives? Clawhauser?"
"No sign of them on the streets, or the tracking system. They're laying low, without their collars, but there is no way out the city. Your people are making sure of that. As for the cheetah, you had his collar removed before you took him to your secret safehouse. You never did explain why."
"The fact that Sedor found him the first time had me concerned." Elba said easily. "The tracking system may have been hacked."
"That is absolutely impossible." Swinton said. "We have the best security on the planet. Not even Anonymous can penetrate our defenses. Not without us knowing, at least. Are there any more questions?"
"Just one. Koslov's wife came around and told us someone kidnapped their son just as their hideout was raided. Should I reassign my detectives to investigate?"
Swinton's eyes narrowed in thought. "Do what you must, Commissioner."
The driver of the squad car had a cane ready and waiting when Elba limped out of City Hall ten minutes later, chestnut wood with an elegant spiral pattern. The Commissioner graciously thanked the driver before ordering him back to his desk. Elba let the cool air of early Fall and memories of walking through the forest near his first home with Starlight soothe his burning temperament as he made the relaxing stroll across the square. The moment he pushed through the glass revolving door of Precinct One, the receptionist informed him that Hopps was done being questioned and she was currently awaiting the return of Bogo and his other subordinates. Elba briefly debated going to find the officer who questioned her first, but gut instinct directed him to the West Office.
When he entered the West Office, he found every desk empty, and Hopps absent. Then he noticed the door to Bogo's office was open. He peered through the doorway, got a clear view of the desk, and saw Hopps halfway inside the cardboard box of the Captain's things. Elba was about to ask what she was doing when she suddenly gasped and pushed herself out. In her paws was a slightly dirty Gazelle CD.