‘Nick, come on, keep up with me!’ Judy raced across the green, feet hitting hard on the earth beneath. She turned to look back at her partner, now stumbling as he desperately struggled to keep up; he waved his arm dismissively.
‘Go on without me, Carrots, I’ll be right…’ Nick stopped, paws resting on his thighs as he struggled to regain his breath. His body ached, each laboured breath bringing a stabbing pain in his ribs. He gave a grim smile and a nod, only able to watch as Judy returned the gesture before sprinting onwards. ‘Well, maybe not right behind you.’
Judy gritted her teeth, ignoring the burning in her legs as her muscles strained to hold her pace. She could just make out her target now, silhouetted against the evening sky. Her focus shifted to the rifle in front of them, its stock nestled neatly in the crook of their shoulder, the long, sleek barrel supported by a bipod as it stretched over the hill’s summit. She surged onwards, large ears twitching behind her as a voice echoed across the green.
‘...Belief that real and lasting prosperity must be built by all and shared…’ The wind changed direction and the speech became an incoherent mess of sound, the amplifiers unable to compete with the air whipping through her ears. She was close now, close enough to make out their features, see their finger ready on the trigger. She made a move for her taser but stopped abruptly; she wouldn't be able to get in range, and even if she did, the ensuing shock could force them to squeeze the trigger.
She hesitated, glancing back. Nick was no longer in sight, not able to offer an affirming nod as she pulled out her handgun. She assessed the distance. They were what, forty, forty-five metres away? She'd never make a shot like that, maybe at a range but this was a high stakes game, a miss would mean death. She pulled the hammer back, heart pounding in her throat as she took aim.
‘You know, I’m starting to think you bring me to these places just to make me uncomfortable,’ Judy whispered, glancing around nervously at the entourage of unfriendly faces. This was not the sort of bar she’d have chosen, and certainly not one that seemed particularly hospitable to officers of the law.
‘Relax, Fluff. I happen to know the owner of this joint,’ Nick grinned. ‘But I will admit, seeing you squirm is an added bonus.’ He turned to the bartender, two digits raised. ‘Eyyy Suzie! Two whiskeys, neat.’ The badger grunted, grabbing a bottle and a couple of glasses.
‘Oh, actually, could I get some carrot ju-’
Nick grabbed her arm, leaning close as he muttered, ‘Trust me, Hopps, you don't wanna be drinking anything here that's not alcoholic enough to kill bacteria.’
‘Well, I’m not planning on walking home from here.’
‘Nah come on, we've got trams.’ He took his drink, shifting on his chair as he reached for his wallet. ‘`Sides, worst comes to worst you could always crash at my place.’
Judy paused, mulling it over. Sleeping on Nick’s couch was not an experience she’d like to repeat and the nearest stop was at least a 15 minute walk away, but if she was going to spend the next few hours in this dive bar alcohol might at least make the experience more bearable.
‘Well, as long as you're paying.’ She reluctantly nodded acquiescence to Suzie, a tight smile across her lips as the barmaid poured out her drink. Taking the glass, she made a mental note to check the tram timetable, watching as Nick placed his money on the counter. There was an awkward silence as they both inspected their drinks, struggling not to focus on their glasses, stained with many fingerprints and lipstick marks.
Judy wrinkled her nose as she swirled the brown liquid. It seemed safe enough. "So Nick, when you said the whole department was..." She paused when she noticed him peering back at the door. A pretty vixen in a black outfit had just stepped inside; large, amber eyes glancing around as she removed her coat. Judy looked back to Nick. His expression hadn't changed a bit. He probably hadn't even blinked. She scowled as the truth hit. ‘So when you said the whole department was going out for drinks, you meant you were going out for drinks and needed a wingman.’
Nick stretched his arms casually, one eye closed as he begrudgingly returned his attention to the rabbit. ‘C'mon Carrots, it's Friday night, everyone's out having fun. I know if I didn't drag you somewhere you'd only be working or at home… working.'
'So you're my babysitter now?'
Nick smiled broadly, ‘I prefer the term nanny, but sure, we can work with that.'
Judy huffed and rolled her eyes, her gaze roaming across the various bottles behind the bar before eventually fixing on the television screen.
Nick continued, undeterred by her lack of focus. ‘You're just such a workaholic Hopps, I mean I-'
'No, I mean it, it's okay to take a break ev-'
'Nick, shut up.'
'I'm only saying this becau-' Judy clamped a paw to his muzzle, forcing it shut as she leant across the bar.
'Excuse me,' Judy smiled sweetly at the barkeep, giving a small wave. ‘Suzie, is it? Would you mind turning that up?' She pointed to the set, nodding her thanks as the badger jammed her podgy finger against the button. Nick extricated himself from her grip, swivelling round, his ears pricked as the set faded in.
'...horror as a fire broke out in the Albatross Hotel on Mane Square. Firefighters are working hard to tackle the blaze, and no casualties have yet been reported. Tom Llamas is our live correspondent at the scene.'
Judy gaped at the screen, violet eyes widening as she drank in the shots of the inferno. Nick gave a low whistle, eyebrows raised as he turned back to face his partner. ‘Well, let's hope they've got good insurance.'
She jumped up from her barstool, pulling Nick unwillingly to his feet as she made for the exit. ‘That's our cue.'
'Hopps, we're off duty!' He protested, heels digging into the lacquered floor as he resisted her determined tugging. ‘The firefighters seem to have a pretty good han…' He winced at the sound of an explosion from the TV, padded feet starting to slip as the rabbit's unrelenting pull slowly inched him closer to the door. Twisting round, he gazed longingly at the two drinks sat on the bar, and Suzie with a smug grin plastered across her face as she began pouring them back in the bottle.
'But… but I already paid…' He finally gave in, allowing the rabbit to pull him the rest of the way to the car. 'You know, Carrots,' he said as he climbed into the passenger seat. 'If we'd gotten here that much earlier, neither of us would be able to drive, and my night would've been a whole lot better.' He made a small gap between his thumb and forefinger, holding it aggressively before the bunny. 'That much.'
Judy gave him a patronising pat as she started the engine. 'I know, and such a shame. I bet you had to wait weeks to get a seat at that place.’ She reached forward, picking up the crackling police radio before holding it out for the fox. ‘Now, will you do the honours or shall I?'
Nick took it begrudgingly, unable to stop himself as the corners of his lips curled into a grin. 'Are you kidding me? This is the best part.' He took the radio, holding it close to his mouth, tone taking on a mocking professionalism. 'Officer Wilde and Hopps to dispatch, checking if assistance is required for the 10-' Eyes widening in panic, he looked to Judy for guidance.
'Ssssss?' she guided.
'Siii...eeventy? Seventy...? Seventy.'
'How can you not have learnt them by now?' Judy hissed.
'Hey, there's a lot of numbers,' he whispered back. 'Besides, I don't need to if you have.'
A voice crackled over the radio. 'Affirmative, Code 2, Officer Trunkaby and McHorn are at the scene and are requesting assistance.'
'Ten-four, We are on our way.' Nick grinned satisfactorily, placing the radio back in its holder. He turned to Judy. 'Code 2, you know what that means.' She sighed as he wiggled his eyebrow, silent as the fox reached forward and flicked on the sirens. 'Oh yeah...'
'It also means semi-life-threatening emergency response so I'd try and look a little more concerned.'
‘Semi,' Nick reminded, ‘and besides, it's Friday night, everyone will be out partying.’ Judy arched an eyebrow. ‘Except you of course.’
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the scene, Nick giving an impressed whistle as he stepped out of the squad car. It was a spectacular sight; all ten stories of the hotel now engulfed in flame, plumes of black smoke billowing out into the night sky. A large feature stood defiantly in the middle of the square, water running along the sides of the arched metal wall as it reflected the brilliant orange of the fire.
A voice bellowed from the front of the crowd and their attention shifted to its owner; A large, uniformed rhino stood gesticulating madly at the mass of people; Even from a distance it was obvious he wasn’t having a whole lot of success. Judy and Nick forced their way forward, Judy slipping between the legs of the larger mammals, Nick having less success with that tactic. She reached the rhino, tugging on his trouser leg to grab his attention. ‘McHorn, what do you need?’
The rhino glanced down at the rabbit before scanning the crowd, watching as Nick awkwardly pulled himself free from the throng of mammals, the fox using Judy as a prop to regain his balance. 'Aren’t you two off duty?' McHorn asked.
'We figured we’d put in some overtime,' she replied, pointedly ignoring Nick’s deadpan gaze. 'How can we help?'
The rhino sighed, rubbing his chin as he looked them over. 'Everyone’s been evacuated,' he grunted. 'We just need you to keep these guys back while we set up a perimeter.' He gestured to the growing crowd of onlookers and evacuees, the majority holding up phones and tablets, desperate to get any footage of the blaze. Judy turned, looking up at the burning skeleton of what had once been the hotel. It was clear that even if by some miracle they managed to get the fire under control, the building wasn’t going to be standing for much longer. They nodded to the rhino before making their way to the front of the crowd.
'All right, people, back it up.' Nick said, arms waving in a gentle herding motion. 'We need you all to get clea- Ow!' Nick yelped as his leg struck the back of a very juvenile porcupine, who was knocked to the ground by the unexpected blow. Apologising, he helped the porcupine to his feet. 'You okay, bud?' The toddler shook his head, mouth quivering as he looked up at the fox. 'No?' Nick scanned the crowd, unable to pick out anyone that could be responsible for the porcupette. 'All right then… What’s your name, lil’ fella?'
'Spike huh? And who’s looking after you, Spike?' The porcupine turned, pointing to the crowd. 'Momma and pappa?' A nod. 'Okay… I’m gonna take you over to Officer Hopps, and she’ll look after you while I find them. That sound okay?' Nick took Spike’s paw, walking towards Judy. He placed his hand on the rabbit’s shoulder. 'Carrots, you mind keeping an eye on junior here while I go on a porcupine hunt?'
Judy pulled a face, mouthing ‘You owe me’ before breaking into a big smile, squatting to get level with the toddler. 'Hey there little guy, I need you to help me with some very…' Her voice faded as Nick moved away, pushing into the crowd as he sought out the couple. He groaned internally, the words ‘needle in a haystack’ coming to mind as he weaved through the ever growing crowd.
His search couldn’t have taken more than five minutes before he came to a small gap in the otherwise tightly packed throng. Nick squeezed between a caribou and panda to find a bickering porcupine couple behind, the surrounding mammals flashing occasional nervous glances at their quills.
'Excuse me,' Nick gave a wave to the couple. 'Hi. I don’t mean to interrupt, but did you happen to lose a small porcupine, goes by Spike?' The mother turned to Nick, eyes filled with tears as she beamed at him. Nick grinned and winked before nodding towards the front of the mob. ‘This way.’
He made his way back, the parents close behind. ‘He should be right by…’ Nick’s heart sank as he saw Judy, sans porcupine. Everything seemed to slow as he heard McHorn roar; spinning round, he surveyed the square, eyes finally alighting on the toddler.
Spike stood obliviously at the side of the water feature, small hands outstretched, pressed against its cool metal surface.
Nick took off, ignoring the various screams and panicked cries as he raced towards the fountain. He could feel the huge steel frame collapsing, earth shaking beneath his paws as the supports folded in on themselves, metal beams shrieking as they buckled. He kept moving, nearly within reach of the toddler. With a final effort, he lunged forward, tackling the boy and pulling him back against the base of the fountain, shielding the small body with his own. The icy water ran down his back, seeping through his uniform. Nick counted his breaths as he braced himself against the metal, the seconds seeming to stretch out. He managed two, his heart pounding in his ears as an unnerving silence filled the square. There was a soft whooshing noise, dust and debris flying overhead. Then, darkness.