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Under the Gritty Streets

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Deadend station let out at the back of the Canyonlands neighbourhood in Sahara Square. It lived up to its name. When a mammal stepped off the train, they were greeted with a narrow platform, a sheer rock wall, and no apparent exit. It was easy to tell who was familiar with the station and who wasn’t. Yuma enjoyed hanging off of the station clock and watching departing passengers panic as the train pulled away and they realized that they had no idea how to move forward. The diurnal mammals always seemed especially freaked out by the neighbourhood’s low lighting.

As a vesper bat, Yuma wasn’t bothered at all. He knew the Canyonlands like the back of his wing, and he would happily play the role of tour guide – for a price. The trick was knowing when to swoop in with his offer of salvation.

The train pulled up. Yuma primed himself for action. The passengers disembarked. First came a big horned sheep couple who easily ran up the cliff away from the station. Next came a sugar glider who took the same vertical route as the sheep. Finally, there was a rabbit.

Her blue button-down dress and purse looked like job interview attire, and the way she kept glancing at the station clock (and, without realizing it, at Yuma as well) showed that she was nervous to keep an appointment. Very promising. A late mammal was so much more likely to grasp onto an offer of aid, and so much less likely to ask questions about any little irregularities.

Yuma smiled as the rabbit looked up the cliff before attempting to check her phone for directions. The Canyonlands were a notorious signal dead spot. Next, the rabbit tried to read the cryptic station map and time table. Yuma knew that they were cryptic, because he’d taken the time to design and print out his own special replacements for the official ZTA maps.

He waited until the rabbit was nearly in tears before flapping down from the clock to offer a helping wing.

“Madam, I notice that you appear to be in distress. Might it be that you are lost?” Yuma asked, hovering at eye-level.

The rabbit sniffed, wiping at her snout with the back of her paw. “There’s this appointment, and they gave me the address, but nothing makes sense. It says get off at Deadend and go straight, but there is no straight! Well, there’s straight up, but I can’t do that, and my phone isn’t working, and – ”

“A tragic tale,” Yuma said, with as much sympathy as he could muster. “But never fear! I will help you to your destination! For I am Yuma Battington!” He performed a mid-air bow

The rabbit blubbered her thanks along with the address she was trying to reach. Yuma led her a little way down the platform and instructed her to stand close before hitting the elevator summons button (which he had artfully concealed earlier in the day). The rabbit gave a little yelp as the safety rail came up from the ground.

“It takes five dollars in coin to operate,” Yuma said, perching on one of the rails. The rabbit nodded and fished the money out of her purse. Yuma made a grand show of shoving the coins into a crack in the rock (safe and secure for him to collect later), before pressing the button to lift the platform up to Night street; an operation which required no coins whatsoever.

Yuma watched the rabbit’s purple eyes widen as she stepped off the elevator and into Night street. The Canyonlands had a few dozen interconnected streets tunnelled through its walls. The Deadend station elevator could access roughly half of them. Yuma always choose Night street when he was acting as a guide, regardless of where the mammal he was ‘helping’ actually needed to get to. It was by far the most disorienting.

Blazing neon signs hung above the stores and bars lining the tunnel walls. The patrons were mostly nocturnal mammals – cats, rats, skunks, and other nightlife loving creatures. The street itself was wide enough to accommodate three lanes of traffic (small, medium, and large vehicles) both ways. The sound of traffic echoing off the tunnel walls was deafening. The rabbit’s ears folded down under the onslaught.

“It’s like a whole other Zootopia under here,” she said.

“Indeed.” Yuma landed between her ears. “But never fear. Yuma Battington is here to help. Would you like me to hail you a cab? Now that we’re at street level the battle is half won and getting you to your appointment will be as easy as grabbing a moth on the wing.”

“You’re so kind. Thank you,” said the rabbit.

This was the trickiest part of the scam. Most, but not all, of the cab drivers in the Canyonlands were friends with Yuma and willing to split the gains on a client taking an extra long taxi tour of the neighbourhood. Yuma scanned the street for one of his friend’s cars. While he was still looking, a medium-sized cab pulled to the curb side.

“Oh my! You got one so fast!” the rabbit said, fluttering her eyes. “I could never do that.”

“Uh, yes, it is my skill! Because I am Battington!” Yuma said, flapping nervously because he hadn’t so much as waved a wing towards the road. The driver was a red fox. Yuma squinted at him. Foxes were common in the Canyonlands, and Yuma knew several, but he had a hard time telling them apart when they weren’t standing one next to the other. This one looked vaguely familiar, but Yuma didn’t think he was in on the con.

“But I think we should try again,” Yuma said to the rabbit as she pulled open the rear passenger side door. “I know this driver, and he’s… well… he’s notorious for trying to scam mammals unfamiliar with the area.” It was an ironic lie, but the best Yuma could come up with on the fly. He supposed he could make a comment about foxes being intrinsically dangerous, but just because Yuma was a con-artist didn’t mean he had to be completely lacking in moral standards. Using speciest tactics to manipulate his marks was a low he did his best to avoid.

“Gosh,” said the rabbit. She already had one foot in the door. “But maybe you could come with me? With an experienced bat like yourself by my side, he wouldn’t dare, would he?”

Before Yuma could protest, the rabbit hopped inside, taking Yuma (still perched between her ears) along against his will. The rabbit happily slammed the door shut before he could escape and started doing up her seat belt.

“I apologize, but I think you may have taken the wrong impression of me,” Yuma said, feeling vaguely panicked. It was one thing to be in a friend’s car, where he knew what was what and the doors had batwing friendly locks and latches, but the way this cab was set up, he was at the distressed rabbit’s mercy. Yuma flapped off the rabbit’s head and onto her lap as the cab pulled into traffic. “I have no desire to accompany you all the way to your appointment!”

“Oh, but kind Sir, I thought that you were devoted to helping distressed damsels like myself!” the rabbit said, fluttering her eyelashes dramatically. “Besides, I should have said at the beginning, it’s not my appointment, it’s yours!”

“No, I think you are mistaken,” Yuma said, slinking across the seat away from the mad rabbit woman. He wondered if he could get into her purse. If her phone was unlocked, perhaps he could call the police? But then, even if the cab drove through an area with reception, what would he say? Yuma was a wanted bat.

“Carrots, you can put him out of his misery,” the fox driver said, grabbing the cab radio with one paw while keeping the other on the wheel. He spoke into it: “Clawhauser, inform Sergeant Bogo that we have the suspect in custody and are on route to ZPD Headquarters.”

“On charges of fraud and defacing public property,” said the rabbit. She pulled open the front of her dress, revealing a police uniform. “Officer Hopps, at your service.” She looked through the grating at the fox driver. “Was that a good dramatic reveal?”

“It was top of the class and I look forward to the dramatic re-enactments later. Now get his wings cuffed.”

“On it,” Officer Hopps said, grabbing Yuma from behind and tightening a pair of medium mammal sized cuffs around his entire body, pinning his wings to his sides.

“This is entrapment!” Zuma shouted. “I have rights!”

“You have the right to a lawyer,” Officer Hopps said cheerfully.

“And the right to remain silent,” the fox chimed in from the front. “Are you enjoying yourself back there?”

“No!” Yuma yelled.

“Yes!” Officer Hopps said, grinning. “We have to talk to Bogo about going undercover more often. I love getting use my acting skills. And you, Officer Wilde, are a top-notch cabby and get away driver.”

“You’re going to inflate my ego, talking like that.”

“Cocky fox.”

“Just wait until we get off duty.”

Officer Wilde smiled slyly. Officer Hopps twitched her nose in anticipation.

Yuma Battington slouched on the seat, encased in handcuffs, muttering about bad platform design, and how he wasn’t really any kind of fraudster or con-artist:

“I only try to help, and sometimes I get paid a little for my aid. It’s called a hustle.”

“Oh yes,” said Officer Wilde, “I am familiar with those, and a word of advice? Don’t try to out-hustle my partner. It never works. And once she has you, you are well and truly caught.”