"'Potential!'!" said Judy, her purple eyes shining even more brightly than usual. "He said I have 'potential' to be an 'asset' to the whole department!"
Clawhauser beamed at her from behind his desk. "That's great! That's about as nice a compliment you're gonna get from Chief Bogo. You must've really impressed him!"
"Yeah..." Judy looked out over the lobby; more and more officers were holding envelopes like the one in her own paws. "I have to admit, I was nervous about getting my first ever performance report..."
"Pssh," said Clawhauser, gesturing with his hand and tail at the same time. "You never had anything to worry about, Judy. You've done an amazing job these last few months – I mean, you saved the whole dang city!"
"I know, I know," she said sheepishly, smiling at the floor. "But it's just kinda... scary. A report card is one thing, but a face-to-face interview with Bogo, even a short one, is kinda..."
"I getcha. I was terrified my first year!"
"Yeah?" She looked up at him. "What about now?"
"Nah," he said, smiling. "He says the same thing every time." He checked his watch. "Oh, looks like it's my turn in a couple minutes. I'll catch you later!"
"Oh, alright!" said Judy as Clawhauser stood. "Good luck!"
"Thanks, you too!" He frowned. "Wait, no. You already had yours. Um... good luck in general?"
Judy giggled. "Thanks, Clawhauser."
At precisely 2:15, the door to Chief Bogo's office swung open. Officer Delgato stepped out, envelope in paw. The lion saw Clawhauser sitting on the chair opposite the door and gave him a friendly nod as he passed.
"Next," called Bogo from within his office. Clawhauser hopped to his feet, breaking into a smile.
Bogo glanced up, adjusting his reading glasses. "Clawhauser. Take a seat."
"Sure thing, chief!" The cheetah clicked the door shut behind him and sat across from Bogo.
The chief steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair, which let out a quiet creak. He paused before speaking, watching Clawhauser carefully. "Well," he said finally. "You seem at ease."
"I guess so, chief!" chirped Clawhauser. "I like performance report season."
"Yes." Bogo straightened his papers. "I suppose you would. Your reports tend to be quite positive, don't they? And for good reason. You're the backbone of this precinct when it comes to administration. No officer does more to help the day-to-day running of this department."
"Well, thanks, chief!" said Clawhauser brightly, satisfied with his yearly kernel of praise. "It's a real pleasure to –"
"Clawhauser," said Bogo firmly, "do you know why no other officer does as much desk work as you?"
Clawhauser blinked. "Uh–"
"It's because they all do street work as well," said Bogo, eyes hard. "You are an officer of the ZPD. You aren't supposed to man a desk all year, every year. We've got civilian administrative staff for that. You have a badge. You have a uniform. You need to be able to use them." He grimaced. "I elected not to point this out earlier, in the hopes you'd realize it yourself sooner or later. But it appears you haven't. I mean, really. You've made one arrest in the last five years. One."
"In fairness, chief, that was the Noodle Bar Arrest," said Clawhauser.
"Indeed it was. And our shared pride in your actions that day cannot be overstated. But I refuse to let one of my officers coast on one achievement forever," he snapped. "I need you to demonstrate that you're still a competent officer. I'm not asking for much. Just go out into the field and take part in an operation. Do some legwork. Then you can go back to playing receptionist," he drawled.
"Um, sure," said Clawhauser, scratching at his cheek nervously. "That... doesn't sound too hard. What did you have in mind?"
Bogo flicked open a folder. "Officer McHorn is leading a raid tomorrow afternoon, alongside Officers Fangmeyer, Pennington, Wolfard and Jackson. A small cabal of money launderers. It should be simple enough. Fast, clean, in and out. If you tag along, you could quite easily –"
Clawhauser's eyes shone. "What's Judy doing?"
Bogo glared. "... Since you ask, Officer Hopps has been assigned to a stakeout. She'll be spending tomorrow night keeping an eye on Boris Koslov, who –"
"Oh, oh! Mr Big's right hand man!" Clawhauser bounced on his seat a little. "The chief enforcer of the Big criminal empire, having risen through the ranks from street thug to personal bodyguard to the don himself, Koslov has a large degree of autonomy in the everyday operations of the syndicate but recently he's been pursuing more aggressive tactics against rival gangs which our informants, well, inform us is angering Mr Big because Mr Big is oldschool and doesn't like that kind of unnecessary violence so there's been friction within the organization and the word on the street is that if Koslov got arrested Mr Big probably wouldn't do much about it because he thinks he needs to be taken down a peg." Clawhauser gasped in a breath. "...Proverbially."
Bogo raised an eyebrow. Slightly. "You're familiar with the case?"
"Oh, sure! I read case files when I don't have anything else to do."
"I see." Bogo tapped his forefingers together, his gaze thoughtful but firm. "Alright. Your grasp of the situation has impressed me, Clawhauser. If you'd rather accompany Hopps on her stakeout, that's your own – ill-advised – decision. I'll sign off on it." His eyes glinted under his glasses. "On one condition."
Clawhauser gasped, his tail curling. "Oh. Em. Goodness," he breathed, "am I getting a patented Chief Bogo deal?" He did a manic little dance where he sat, unable to contain himself. "Ohohoh! This is so cool!"
Bogo leaned forward. "I know how you idolise Hopps. If you can assist her without screwing anything up, I'll take it as proof that you can function as an officer even in times of..." He took a moment to watch how Clawhauser's hands were flapping "...high emotion. You won't need to do much, just provide her with an adequate amount of support." His tone darkened. "But if you fail..."
Clawhauser's eyes widened. "Will I have to... turn in my badge...?"
"What? No." Bogo folded his massive arms. "I mean, you will if you do something stupid enough to be worthy of dismissal. But that's not what I had in mind."
"And you don't have to worry about being reassigned to Records or anything like that, either. You do your best work on front desk. I appreciate how important it is to you."
"Awh, Chief! Thanks!" Clawhauser's smile gave way to confusion. "So... what were you thinking?"
"Simple." Bogo's mouth curled upwards as he indulged himself in a sadistic smirk. "You mess this up, and I'll finally approve Amendment Fifteen of the ZPD Internal Conduct Protocol."
Clawhauser's eyes widened. "Chief, no." His voice was hollow. "You wouldn't."
"Oh, but I would. It's been a long time coming. I can't ignore the bureaucrats forever."
"Chief!" protested Clawhauser. "I'll be ruined! You can't do this!"
"Clawhauser, I was relatively certain you were able to read," replied Bogo. "And yet you seem to be unaware that my door bears the words 'Chief Bogo'. I can do whatever I want."
Clawhauser clapped his hands to his chubby cheeks. "Oh no, ohnoohno..."
"Oh yes, ohyesohyes," said Bogo, who was enjoying this perhaps more than he should have been. "How does it go again?" He rubbed his chin, reciting the suggested amendment from memory. "'No officer of the Zootopia Police Department shall, while on duty inside a ZPD facility, consume food or drink of any description outside of designated cafeteria areas. All desks and work stations are to be kept entirely clear of such items. Repeated breaches of this protocol will result in minor disciplinary action.'"
Clawhauser let out a low, muted whine, like a photocopier which had doughnut crumbs clogged in its vital components, which happened to be a noise he had heard multiple times before.
"Well?" said Bogo. "Think you can handle it?"
Clawhauser went silent, like a photocopier which had doughnut crumbs clogged in the primary power supply. Then his face hardened and he nodded. "Y'know what, Chief? I do think I can handle it! You have a deal!"
"Splendid," said Bogo with a slight smile. "Good luck. I expect you may need it."
Clawhauser's first step was to actually inform Judy. Only once he left Bogo's office did he realize she might not want him tagging along. Sure enough, when he asked, her face scrunched into an awkward wince before she could stop herself.
"I'm sorry!" he said quickly. "I shouldn't've agreed to anything before letting you know! I just got caught up in the moment – it was so dramatic, he was offering me a deal, and –"
"Hey, easy, easy!" said Judy, holding up her paws in a desperate bid to slow him down. "I don't mind you coming, really."
"You don't?" said Clawhauser. "Aren't you worried I might mess everything up?"
"What? No, of course not," said Judy gently, her bright eyes and quiet smile easily covering up the fact she was lying. "I'm just a little concerned about... see, I already arranged for somebody else do the stakeout with me."
Clawhauser blinked, confused. "Chief Bogo didn't say anything about other officers."
Judy looked around conspiratorially before continuing. "That's because there aren't any," she whispered with a sly smile. "Y'know Nick? The fox I told you about?"
"Oh, of course! Your city-saving buddy! He's coming too?" He shrank a little. "I'd like to meet him, but I don't wanna mess up your plans..."
"Don't worry about it," said Judy. "I'll call him after work and let him know. I wouldn't leave you hanging, and I'm sure Nick will be glad to help too."
"Thank you thank you thank you!" Without warning Clawhauser scooped Judy up and pulled her into a tight hug, her legs hanging limply. "You're the best, Judy! I swear I won't let you down – or my name isn't Benjamin Franklin Delano Clawhauser!"
"Oh gosh, is it?" wheezed Judy.
Judy had received a tip from a certain local fox that Koslov would be at an abandoned warehouse in southern Savannah Central. The area was run down and saw little traffic – a perfectly workable location for a bear like Koslov to hold a business meeting.
Judy and Clawhauser were sitting in a nondescript red car, in the driver and front passenger seats respectively. The ZPD kept a constant cycle of civilian cars on hand for such assignments.
Judy looked over to Clawhauser, who was fiddling with the empty wrapping of chocolate bar. He'd eaten four already. "Hey," she said, giving him a smile. "How are you doing?"
Clawhauser returned the smile, but his fingers didn't slow. "Well, I'm nervous," he admitted.
"I understand. But it's gonna be fine, okay?"
"Easy for you to say!" said Clawhauser with difficulty. "He's your friend!"
Judy blinked. "Um... what?"
"He just seems really cool, y'know? And I've never gotten the chance to properly meet him. I don't wanna mess up my first impression."
Judy's eyes slowly narrowed. "Are... are you talking about Nick?"
"Yeah. Why? Did you mean something else?"
Judy thrust a hand at the warehouse. "The stakeout, Clawhauser! I was asking how you felt about being on the stakeout!"
"Oh. Ohhhhh!" Clawhauser lightly hit a paw against his forehead. "Of course. I totally forgot!" His face fell. "And now that I remember, I'm... really, really terrified. Oh jeez. The Chief was right...!"
"Everything's gonna be fine, Ben," said Judy evenly. "Just try to stay focused."
"Right, sure." He nodded. "I'm pretty scared, honestly, but if I just focus I'm sure I can –"
The back door of the car opened and Clawhauser yelped.
Nick's usual smirk froze as he slipped into the back seat. The suave opening line he had prepared was knocked out of his head by Clawhauser's scream, so instead he said "Uh, hi."
"Nick, good to see you!" said Judy, determined to keep things moving swiftly. "Did you get here okay? It would've been no trouble to pick you up."
"Like I said, Carrots, it's fine. I know this area like the back of my paw." His eyes wandered to Clawhauser, who was staring at him whitely. "Is... your friend okay?"
"YeahI'mjustfineit'sgreattomeetyouIthinkyou'rereallycool!" said Clawhauser.
Nick's smirk smoothly slid back into place. "Thanks. You too." Clawhauser let out a breath, relieved.
"Nick, this is Ben Clawhauser," said Judy. "I told you about him a couple times...?"
"Don't worry, I remember. Nice to finally meet you, Officer Clawhauser."
Clawhauser eagerly stuck out a paw. "Oh, Officer Clawhauser was my dad's name! Well, actually, no, my dad was Mister Clawhauser, my mom was Officer Clawhauser! Until she made detective, 'cause then she was Detective Clawhauser, duh, but that's not important! Well obviously it was important, at the time, and in general! But not to this conversation. What I mean is, you can just call me Ben when I'm not on duty!"
Nick shook his hand, squinting at him uncertainly. "You... are on duty?" It lilted upwards at the end, like a question.
"Oh, right, yes! I sure am!" Clawhauser nodded excitedly. "Let's stop some crime! Together."
Nick relaxed, elbows resting on the back of the seat. "I'd like that. Gotta start practising, I guess."
Judy grinned, her eyes bright. "Well, Clawhauser, the thing is..." She looked to Nick. "No, no. I should let you tell it."
Nick smirked, reserved but warm. "It was your idea, Carrots."
"But you're the one doing it!"
"True. But you tell it with such enthusiasm."
"Nick, please. You're just trying to embarrass me."
"Not actively. You make it too easy. But I did mean it as a compliment."
Clawhauser's eyes bounced between them, struggling to match the pace of their exchange. He was starting to regret intruding on them. Clearly they were even closer than he had thought.
Finally, Nick relented. "Long story short, Clawhauser, I'm considering a change in career. Though, as I said, Carrots was the one who... suggested it." He paused for a second, his gaze on Judy, before leaning his head back, his eyes closed. "So, yeah. That's a whole thing."
"Oh, wow!" said Clawhauser. "When do you start at the academy?"
Nick frowned, eyes still shut. "Eh... soon, hopefully. Putting together everything I need to apply is a bit of an uphill battle. It's not like I have this planned a long time, y'know?"
"Luckily, Nick's always been great with paperwork," said Judy. "The application process is daunting, sure, but you'll sort it out in no time."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Carrots." He cracked open an eye. "Still, thought it might be a good idea to observe some of the ZPD's finest, out in the field."
"Gee, thanks," said Clawhauser sheepishly.
Judy chuckled. "Sorry to disappoint, Nick, but this won't be too exciting. Stakeouts are pretty dull. Most end without the suspect doing anything. Which suits us just fine; Clawhauser just needs to do something simple."
Nick opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling. "...Oh."
"'Oh'?" said Clawhauser, his tail curling nervously. "What's 'oh'?"
"I think there's been a slight miscommunication." Nick leaned forward. "See, I pride myself on giving anonymous tips that are useful. I'd be letting down the fine brand of the name 'Nick Wilde' if I didn't."
"I think you missed the point of anonymous tips," murmured Judy.
"I wouldn't waste your time by saying 'Oh, Koslov's going to be here at such and such a time'. Just... standing around." He folded his arms resolutely. "No, you're about to witness a crime, officers. Sometime in the next... let's say, thirty seconds."
"What makes you say that?" said Clawhauser, eyes wide.
Nick gestured vaguely to the warehouse. "'Cause the guy he's meeting is very, very irritating."
Twenty three seconds later, it happened. The door of the warehouse exploded open, steel banging against the grey wall, and Duke Weaselton flew out into the street.
He hit the ground in an awkward roll and flipped upright with surprising speed – almost as if getting hurled out of buildings was a daily hazard for him. "Alright alright alright!" he said, raising his paws. "I'm sorry about the crack about yer eyebrows! But we can still talk business, right?"
Koslov emerged from the darkness, stooping his head to fit through the doorway. He glared down at Weaselton, his nose flaring.
"Uh, wrong choice of words," said Weaselton. "What I meant was, I can still talk business and you can still stand there and listen and not kill me. Sound good?"
Koslov cracked his knuckles.
"Hoh jeez," said Weaselton.
In the cruiser, Judy's face hardened. "Alright. Let's move in before this escalates. Nick, stay in the car."
"You're the boss," said Nick quietly. "You sure you'll be okay?"
"Of course," she said, beaming at him through the rear-view mirror. "I got my back-up right here. Ready, Clawhauser?"
He nodded whitely. "Right. Sure. Let's go."
Koslov advanced on Weaselton, who skittered backwards. "L-listen, big guy, it's tough for a fella like me to make a living in this economy! And it'll be a lot tougher if you break all of my bones! Is a little compassion so much to ask? Mr Big wouldn't want –" and here Weaselton cut himself off as Koslov abruptly snarled. "Okay okay! Forget what Mr Big would or would not want just please don't kill me ohgodi'mgonnahurl!"
"Stop right there!" called Judy, flashing her badge. Clawhauser watched uncertainly as she stomped toward Koslov. "Officer Hopps, ZPD. Step away from the weasel."
Weaselton whirled around, breaking into a smile. "Good timing! Man, am I glad to see you, Cottonta- Flatfoo- Flops- …Hopps!"
Koslov took one look at Judy, glanced back down to Weaselton, then punted the weasel like a dingy, misshapen soccer ball. Judy's eyes widened but she didn't react in time. Weaselton slammed into her with a high-pitched yelp and they both fell back near the cruiser.
"Agh!" Nick jumped out of the car and scrambled up to Judy. He relaxed when he saw she was unhurt. "You alright, Carrots?" he said, gently disentangling her from Wesealton.
"Yeah. It's nothing."
"I'm okay too, not that you care," mumbled Weaselton. He lay on the ground and made no move to stand.
Judy watched as Koslov ran down a nearby alleyway. "Ugh, we're gonna need backup. Nick, tell Clawhauser to..." She trailed off, looking around. "Wait, where is he?"
Clawhauser ran by, screaming.
As any student of physics knows, the force of an object is its mass multiplied by its acceleration. This means that, in order to be effective in a fight, small objects such as bullets and throwing knives and bunny cops have to achieve very high speeds.
Benjamin Clawhauser is only a small object by especially broad standards of measurement. From the perspective of the planet, he and Judy are essentially the same size. But from the perspective of, say, a polar bear, there is a noticeable difference between them. Yet Clawhauser nonetheless managed to achieve a high rate of acceleration as he sprinted towards Koslov, because even though his legs saw little in the way of strenuous use, they were still attached to a cheetah.
In short, Koslov found himself being chased by an object which had both high acceleration and no small amount of mass, leading to quite a bit of force.
Koslov came to the end of the alley. There was a wooden fence, about the height of Clawhauser himself, blocking off access to a empty stretch of patchy grass. Koslov didn't slow. He vaulted the fence, the old wood creaking under his weight – but he was over in an instant. Then he was on the other side, confident he had lost the cheetah.
Clawhauser didn't slow down either.
With a shriek, he hit the fence and kept running.
A small chunk of wood flicked against the back of Koslov's head, but it was the terrible splintering noise a second beforehand that really caught his attention. He continued sprinting, for whatever good it would do him.
The chase was over in seconds. It wasn't even actual tackle; Clawhauser handled Koslov as he had the fence, by running full-pelt for the space on the other side on the polar bear. He slammed into Koslov's back, bringing all his force with him. They both fell, tangled and disoriented.
But Clawhauser was on top. He recovered, kneeling on Koslov's back and using both hands to pin him at the neck. "Yuuhavrih," he said. He wheezed. "Yuurighrem," he said. Another wheeze. "Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu," he said, and then he gave up.
Judy bounded up, her eyes wide. "Clawhauser, that was incredible! Great job!"
Clawhauser choked. "Please... words. Can't... lungs...!"
Judy tilted her head, confused. Nick sauntered up behind her. "I believe what Officer Clawhauser is trying to say is that he'd like you to read Mister Koslov his rights, because after that impressive display of speed he's too out of breath to do it himself."
"Oh!" said Judy. "Sure, I can do that."
"Got ya covered, Ben," said Nick with a gentle smirk.
"Thank," wheezed Clawhauser.
The formalities were soon dispensed with. Weaselton went to the station in order to make an official statement, although he was unwilling to do so until Nick casually brought up the fact that victims of assault were given free coffee by the ZPD.
Koslov, in turn, was sent to a holding cell for the night. What would happen next was uncertain, and depended on how willing Mr Big would be to flex his considerable influence to help his recalcitrant right-hand bear. What was not uncertain, however, was the fact that the operation had been a sweeping success.
"Hmph," said Bogo. "I suppose you did alright."
Clawhauser beamed. "Thanks, Chief!"
Bogo laid his elbows on his desk. "Well, you did as I asked without screwing up. You can return to front desk if that's what you want."
"Yes!" yelled Clawhauser. "I mean, uh, yeah. That'd be nice."
"Very well then." Bogo gave him the barest hint of a smile. "Though you're free to work outside any time. Clearly you're up to the task."
"Well, I dunno," smiled Clawhauser sheepishly. "It was a team effort."
"Ah yes, of course." Bogo turned to address the two smaller mammals waiting patiently behind the cheetah. "You two did good work as well. Hopps and..." He adjusted his reading glasses. "... whatever your name was."
"Uh, Nick, Chief," said Judy. "Nick Wilde? You actually met him during the Night Howler case, and I properly introduced you at the museum, right after Bellwether's arrest, and his name came up a lot in my official report which you –"
"Carrots, Carrots." Nick patted her shoulder. "He's just pretending not to remember to seem cool."
"Dismissed, all of you," said Bogo, which was not a denial.
Nick held open the door for Judy and Clawhauser, then gave Bogo a brisk salute. "Don't worry, Chief. You'll pick up my name in no time – we're gonna be seeing a lot more of each other real soon!"
"Yes," said Bogo absently, already back to his paperwork. The door clicked shut. After a moment he looked up. "Wait, what?"
"So, Clawhauser!" said Judy as the three headed toward the lobby. "How are you feeling?"
"Just swell!" He beamed. "I sure am glad that's over."
"Oh, don't talk like that. You did great out there."
"Thanks," he said bashfully. "But I meant what I said to Bogo. It was a team effort."
Nick shrugged. "We're not the ones who chased down Koslov."
"Yeah, but..." Clawhauser smiled at the floor. "I don't think I'd have been brave enough to do that if I was alone. You guys are great. You just... you're both really cool! You've got tons of confidence. Guess some rubbed off."
Nick and Judy shared a look, smiling. "Glad we could help," said Judy.
Clawhauser sighed, contented. "Life is just a series of challenges, y'know? Every so often you gotta get out of your comfort zone."
"Yeah!" said Judy. "Exactly."
"And then you deal with the challenge, and it goes away, and you can go back to your comfort zone!" he continued brightly. "Until the next challenge comes along, of course. But that's Future Clawhauser's problem!"
Judy's ears wilted. "I'm... not sure that's the best lesson to take away from this."
"Just let him have it, Carrots."
They came to the front desk, taking the three drinks they had ordered from Officer Grizzoli's coffee run. A rabbit-sized cappuccino for Judy, a fox-sized mocha for Nick, and an elephant-sized hot chocolate for Clawhauser.
Nick took a sip of his coffee, smirking. "Guess I could get used to this. Especially if every night goes as smoothly as this one."
Judy laughed. "Be warned, Nick, nights like this are rare. I mean, I'm honestly a little amazed that nothing went wrong!"
Clawhauser sat heavily into his chair. "Judy, you don't have to lie to make me feel better. Something did go wrong."
Judy blinked, taken aback. "What are you talking about?"
"I just..." Clawhauser fiddled with his drink. "I'm really sorry I messed up your date!"
Nick choked on his coffee.
"It's all on me," continued Clawhauser morosely. "I got caught up in my excitement, and I should've just left you two alone. It won't happen again."
"Clawhauser, don't worry," said Judy, as Nick bent double behind her. "Both of us were happy to help out. And for the record, I did want to catch up with Nick a little, sure. But this was still a stakeout. The priority was the assignment, not my social life." She laughed, rolling her eyes. "And it was definitely not a date! That isn't – I mean, really, a date? Yikes. We're not – c'mon, that's ridiculous!" She slapped Nick's arm without looking at him. "Isn't that ridiculous, Nick?"
"Ridikluhhhhh," wheezed Nick, who was still trying to get coffee out of his windpipe.
So ends the tale which would later be dubbed by future ZPD officer Nicholas Wilde as 'the Fence-Busting Bust'. While Precinct One was proud to see its beloved receptionist could still take names in the field, it goes without saying that it was little more than a footnote compared to the epic saga of heroism known only as The Noodle Bar Arrest. That remained Benjamin Clawhauser's crowning achievement; a story urgently whispered to new recruits if they had the bad taste to insult the cheetah behind his back. It was thrilling, it was astonishing, it was mildly terrifying – and it was, put bluntly, a much more interesting story than this one.