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The Fire Triangle -- Part One: Fuel

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Disclaimer: Zootopia stories, characters, settings, and properties belong to the Walt Disney Co. This story is written under Fair Use Copyright laws.


The Fire Triangle—A Zootopia Fanfiction


Part One:

Fuel


Chapter 7—A Loose End
(Pt. 1)

As a rule of thumb, Judy Hopps was not normally given to pacing—but it was that, or beat her foot against the floor. And as she had learned, the hard way, some time ago, as long as the door to Chief Bogo's office remained tightly closed you could throw a conniption in the hallway outside and he wouldn't hear a thing; you could yell, scream, howl, rant, roar—nothing. But thump your foot on the carpet and it would carry through the floorboards like a seismic telegraph.

"Hopps, will you please stop trying to knock everything off my desk and onto the FLOOR?" the Cape buffalo had bellowed the first (and last) time she had given vent to her bunny instincts while waiting to see him.

And so here she was, striding back and forth in front of Chief's private domain, awaiting the outcome of his interview with Nick Wilde. Every half minute or so, she would pause and glance up at the door, thinking it was about to open, (it never did.) Well, at least the glass wasn't vibrating; the Chief wasn't yelling at Nick.

Nick…

Judy was proud of her partner, but at same time terrified for him. What would happen when he confessed to Chief Bogo that he'd lied on his application to join the ZPD? Would he get off with a suspension, or would Bogo, however reluctantly, be forced to ask for his resignation?"

"Dangit, they CAN'T let him go!" she told herself with sudden resolve. "I swear, if Bogo makes Nick quit the force, he can have MY resignation, too."

Before she had time to wonder where the heck THAT crazy notion had come from, Judy became aware that the floor was quivering. It wasn't coming from inside the office, so that could only mean…yep, here came the rotund form of Benjamin Clawhauser, huffing his way up the concourse ramp with a Manila folder clutched in his paw.

"Hello…Judy…" he wheezed, and she was abruptly reminded of the Gazelle Tour shirt she and Nick had purchased for the plus-size cheetah at the Carrot Days Festival; they had remembered to bring it to work, but had forgotten to give it to him before heading upstairs to see the Chief. Darn it, they would have to take care of that before clocking out for the day.

"If Nick still has a job to clock out FROM," Judy's inner voice perversely reminded her. She hurriedly stuffed the message back in the corner of her mind from which it sprung and tried to forget about it.

"Hi Benjamin," she said, hoping he wouldn't mention the shirt; it was the last thing she wanted to talk about right now. As it turned out, she needn't have worried; Clawhauser had either forgotten about it himself or else was too winded to care; he only nodded at her, and then rapped on the door glass. After several seconds, it cracked open just a sliver, and a gruff, familiar voice was heard.

"Yes?"

"Chief…*huff*….It's …Claw…*huff*…hauser…*wheeze*… I…have that file…*huff*…you asked for."

"Bring it in then," said the voice beyond the opening. Clawhauser reached for the door-handle, and as he did, Judy felt her nose beginning to twitch. There, printed on the tab of the folder in his other paw was a single word, 'Wilde.' The Chief had asked for Nick's fursonell file—which of course would include his job application as well.

Hmmm, was that a good sign or a bad one? Judy forced herself not to raise an ear and try to listen through the door-crack. (If Bogo caught her at it, she'd be the one looking at a pink-slip.)

Clawhauser was inside the office for a only a few seconds before emerging through the doorway again. As soon as he was gone, Judy resumed her pacing.


On the other side of the door, Chief Bogo also waited for the cheetah to depart before getting down to business. As soon as the floor stopped vibrating, he opened Nick's file and began to leaf testily through the pages, at the same time muttering to himself.

"Mmmph….hmph….where IS that…? S'in here somewhere…Mrrrrrf."

Watching him, Nick Wilde felt like a schoolkit who'd been called to the principal's office. Yes, yes…he was the one who'd asked for this interview, not the Chief but still…

Bogo ceased his thumbing and extracted a triple-creased sheet of paper from the folder, holding it up in front of his face and examining it for a moment with a short frown. And then his gaze shifted downwards to the red fox seated in front of him.

"Well Wilde, according to what I'm seeing here, you first checked 'yes' response to the question about whether or not you had ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime…but then you seem to have partially scratched out the 'yes' and checked 'no' instead."

Nick saw him reach for his half-moon glasses, and felt his ears pricking up…though he hadn't the slightest idea what they were doing that for.

The Chief studied the form more closely for a minute, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips, (as much as was possible for a Cape buffalo.) Then he looked over the top of the paper at Nick.

"Doesn't seem to me as if you lied here, Wilde…looks more as if this was your way of trying to say that yes you were arrested, and yes you were convicted—that's why you checked 'yes'—but then you were fully exonerated; that's why you halfway scratched-out the affirmative answer and checked no instead."

He lowered the sheet and leaned across his desk. "That IS what happened, yes?"

Nick almost answered 'no' without thinking, but then caught himself just as the unspoken part of Bogo's question sank home.

"Absolutely Chief," he said, speaking so rapidly, he nearly treated Bogo to the rare spectacle of Nick Wilde tripping over his own words, "I don't know how I could have forgotten about it."

"Yes," The Chief was adjusting his glasses again and turning the paper over, "But you seem to have neglected to provide an explanation on the reverse side." He slid the application across his desk, at the same time reaching for a pen, "I'd suggest you take care of that immediately Wilde…and don't let it happen again!"

It was all Nick could do to keep from writing so fast that his words became an illegible scrawl. Could this really be happening? He almost felt like pinching himself.

Instead, he nearly dropped the document when Bogo snorted and then mused, "So the Flying Sparks boys were the same gang that burnt down Wilde Times; humph, imagine my surprise."

"Y-You know about that, sir?" Nick was staring open-mouthed. He hadn't mentioned the fireflies by name, so how could Bogo possibly be aware…?

It was as if the Cape buffalo had read his mind; leaning across his desk again, but this time with a sardonic wink.

"Who d'you think was the Officer in Charge when we caught the Sparks trying to burn down that auto-dealer, eh?" he said. And then quickly, before Nick could respond, he sat back and folded his arms—with an expression that clearly indicated the fox's wisest course of action would be to make no further inquiries on the subject.

Nick heeded The Chief's silent caveat, and resumed working on the addendum to his job application. When he finished, Bogo took the document and, almost without looking at it, appended a notation of his own.

"Here then," he said, returning the papers to Nick for a final perusal. The red fox took it and began to read.

"As the subject, Nicholas Piberius Wilde was fully exonerated of the crime for which he was arrested, tried, and convicted, he is therefore considered to be well qualified to serve in the Zootopia Police Department. Pending further examination of the relevant court documents, no disciplinary action is recommended at this time."

"Chief Bogo, ZPD"

With trembling paws, Nick lowered the application and stared again. Although technically, he wasn't off the hook, both he and the Chief were well aware of what those court documents would reveal. Like Mr. Big before him, Bogo had just given Nick Wilde a pass; only this one seemed to come with no strings attached.

His reverie was interrupted when the Cape buffalo thrust out a hoof in his direction.

"That's not for you to keep, Wilde," he informed his officer, drily. Nick hastily returned the document, and Bogo slipped it back into the folder. "Right then, get y'self along to roll-call, Wilde," he said, and then turned towards the door with a cantankerous scowl. "And tell Hopps to stop that pacing!"

As it turned out, Nick didn't need to tell her. No sooner had he opened the door than Judy stopped what she was doing and, unable to restrain herself any longer, began thumping her foot on the carpet.

At once, a deep voice belled from beyond the doorway, "HOPPS!" And she ceased her percussion solo.

Then she took a deep breath and said, "O-Okay Nick, Give it to me straight; how'd it go in there?"

The next thing she said was, "What are you crazy!" The fox was hugging her tight, and whirling her around the concourse in an ad-hoc ballroom number.

He didn't seem to hear her and at once, Judy's voice became a growling whisper, "Put me down before someone sees us, dumb fox!"

THAT did it; Nick ceased his gyrations and set her back down on the carpet…too late. There were at least three other officers close by—Anderson, Barrow, and McHorn—and all of them were staring. While the two polar bears seemed to find the spectacle amusing, the rhino's expression was one of unbridled contempt.

"Sorry, Carrots." Nick told her assuming his patented bad-little-fox-cub fursona.

"So I take it things went well in there?" Judy asked him with a wry (and hopeful) smile.

Nick looked at his watch, "I'll tell you on the way to roll-call."

"First things first, we've got a t-shirt to deliver," Judy nodded downstairs in the direction of the reception desk.

Nick's mouth angled sideway in a dubious pout. "Carrots, I'm not sure…"

"We have time," she answered firmly. (Actually, she wasn't quite sure if they did, but she was fairly certain that if they didn't run this errand now, they'd probably forget to take care of it later.)

Nick told her the story on the way down to the locker room to get the t-shirt. He was so wound up, Judy almost wondered if he'd been slamming energy drinks on his way to work again, (something he frequently did after staying up too late on a work-night.)

"And no worries about that 'pending examination of the court documents' business either Carrots." He was practically whooping. "Heck I wish they'd examine those court docs right now."

"Great," Judy told him. Nick stopped and turned to look at her. Even in his current state of euphoria, he could hardly miss the almost complete lack of enthusiasm in her response.

"All right Carrots, what is it?" he said, ears canting backwards in annoyance. Darn it, Judy Hopps could be a one-bunny Greek Chorus sometimes.

She responded by waving a paw at the nearest door; for your ears only, fox.

This time, they found themselves in an empty conference room rather than an office. As soon the door closed, Nick turned to her.

"Okay Fluff, is it me or are you just a little bit less than thrilled that I didn't get suspended or fired?"

Judy barely kept herself from wincing. Oh great, now he was in one of his 'put-up-your-dukes' moods. She was going to have to choose her next words very carefully.

She decided to skip the drama and cut right to the chase.

"Nick, Bogo didn't deal with you lying on your job application…he swept it under the rug. And yes, it bothers me; that's not like the Chief I know, not at all."

Nick's ears went ALL the way back.

"So would you rather I had…?"

"Of course not," Judy cut him off, having anticipated the fox's response, "And if I have to choose between the Chief covering up for you, or you losing your job, I'll go with the cover-up any day of the week, I admit that."

"But…?" Nick's ears had moved forward again, if only ever-so-slightly.

"But…WAS that the only choice?" Judy queried, punctuating he words with upturned pawlms. "Maybe it was, I don't know, but it sounds to me as if the Chief didn't know either, and took the easy way out without even considering the alternatives."

"So what do you want me to do, huh?" Nick's ears had pulled aback again and now he was also waving a paw. "Go to the Police Board and demand a hearing? 'C'mon everybody, let's lay it all out in the open!'"

Judy felt her own ears falling backwards. Okay, no more Ms. Nice Bunny, it was time to fight fire with fire.

"I want you to be aware that this isn't something to celebrate, Slick." She said, glowering up at the fox with her paws on her hips. "Look, you did all that could have been asked of you, maybe more than that…and no, you don't need to take it any further. But at the same time, you need to understand that one day…"

"That's it, I've heard enough." Nick spun on his heel and reached for the door, staring daggers over his shoulder at here. "Honestly Fluff, have you ever met a parade you wouldn't rain on?" But then his paw only brushed the knob before dropping back to his side once more.

And then Judy saw his shoulders collapsing; it reminded her of a bridge demolition.

"Darn you Carrots, why do you have to be right so much?"

He turned towards her again, but this time with a look more appropriate to the end of a tough workday rather than the beginning.

"It's worse than you think, Judy. Bogo knew what was on that job application before he even read it."

"What?" Now she was staring—with her nose twitching. "Nick, are you serious?"

The fox seemed not to know whether to nod, or shake his head.

"Perfectly; the Chief described the way I'd filled out the question about whether or not I'd ever been arrested—before he put on his glasses."

Judy's paws went up to her mouth. "Sweet Cheez n' crackers, he knew all along…maybe about everything."

Nick grimaced, and then shuddered; his partner had just made a left-pawed reference to that-which-was-never-to-be-discussed-publicly…Mr. Big, Duke Weaselton, and Doug.

"Could be," He finally said, "Did you know he was the OIC when they busted the crew that burned down Wilde Times?"

"What, no kidding?" Just when Judy had begun to think her partner had run out of surprises…

"Yep," Nick answered her with a grim nod. "He knew the name of the gang without my having to tell him." He shrugged again, but nervously, "The question is now, where the heck do I go from here?"

Judy sucked at her lower lip for a second.

"Wellll, I think we need to get going on down to roll call…and stop looking at me like that Nicholas Wilde. What, do you think you're the only animal here that knows how to punt?"

The red fox snickered, but then followed her out the door.

"What about Clawhauser and that T-shirt?" he asked, hurrying to catch up with her. Like all bunnies, Judy could move quickly when she needed too.

"No time," she said, looking at her watch and shaking her head, "We'll have to do that later, before we go home for the day."

That was when she finally realized something; Nick DID still have his job…so stop being such a gloom-and-doom bunny, Judy Hopps.

As it happened, they would have had time to deliver the T-shirt after all. When Nick opened the door to the bullpen, Judy saw at once that yes, they were several minutes late—but what she didn't see, (thank heaven) was any sign of Chief Bogo. As sometimes occurred now and then, he was running behind schedule himself.

But then whatever relief she might have been feeling was shunted quickly to the side when Officer Fangmeier abruptly rose from her chair and started applauding. Judy barely had time to register this, before Officers Jackson and Simmers joined her, and then Wolford and Grizzoli were not only clapping but also howling. And then every cop in the bullpen was on his or her feet and banging their paws and hooves together; Pennington, Stevens, and Francine Trunkaby were blowing fanfares through their trunks.

At first, Judy was thoroughly baffled, but then she realized that the object of the other cops acclimation was the fox walking beside her, a fact made crystal clear when Snarlov offered him a big thumbs-up.

"Way to go, Nick!" he growled.

"Good job!" someone else added.

Judy felt her ears standing up and saw Nick Wilde's doing the same. But then everything fell into place when Claire Swinton said, "My sister's family was at that dance, Nick. Thank God, you were there too."

Bang! All right, NOW Judy understood, and she felt more than a little foolish for not having realized immediately what all the fuss was about. Foiling the Guilford brothers' chemical attack had been Nick Wilde's biggest coup since the Savage Predator crisis. Why wouldn't the other cops want to give him an ovation, because it hadn't happened here in Zootopia? Puh-LEEZE, good police work was good police work, no matter where you were.

"DUMB bunny!" Judy chided herself, but not too harshly; Nick had missed what was going on himself, after all.

But now that the fox realized what was happening he was unable to resist reverting to form, raising his arms in a triumphant V as if he'd just scored the winning goal in a soccer game.

All the way to their seats, Nick was basking in it, accepting every fist-bump and high-five offered him, (nearly getting his knuckles broken in the case of officer Rhinowitz.) Judy, for her part, took it all in stride. If anyone was entitled to a little puffing, it was…wait minute, what the heck was he doing?

"Nick, what are you doing?" The fox has walked right past their seats and now he was… "Nick, get away from that podium!" ("Ohhh, sweet cheez n' crackers; parking duty, here we come!")

Nick meanwhile had raised his paws for silence. The frenzy died to a low hubbub, and then he began to speak.

"Guys, I thank you for that…but I have to tell you, a lot of it was just plain, dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time." He paused and his eyes fell on Judy for just a second. "And I think—no, I KNOW there isn't an officer in this room who wouldn't have done the same thing if it had been them instead of me. We're all part of the ZPD folks, the finest law enforcement agency I've ever known." His face crinkled puckishly, "And believe me, I've known a few others—though not necessarily from this side." He paused again as a wave of laughter swept the room. He was about to say more, when Judy's ears shot upwards.

"Nick!"

That was all she needed to say. Quick as the flash of lightning bug Nick dropped from the lectern and scooted away under the table where she was sitting. He popped up into his seat just as Higgins called 'Ten-SHUN' and Chief Bogo banged the door open. Judy didn't know whether to hug her partner or clobber him with a chair.

The Chief was his usual, convivial self this morning. "Right, right, wrap up…pipe DOWN!"

A quick silence fell over the bullpen as the Cape buffalo took his usual place at the lectern, shuffling papers and muttering to himself.

Then he looked up.

"We have several items on the docket today. First off, as you're all no doubt aware, one of our officers was responsible for stopping a serious crime up in Bunnyburrow over the weekend."

There were cheers and hoots and then Bogo adjusted his glasses. "However, since you already know about it, there's no need for me to bring it up again, is there?"

Judy hastily turned her gaze on Nick—and was instantly relieved to see that the fox had no intention of making a 'clever' comeback; he simply folded his arms and sat back with an amused expression.

"Now," Bogo said, moving to the next item, "summer has arrived, and you know what that means; the usual increase in property crime and street gang activity. Commensurate with that is the city's new anti-vandalism ordnance, calling for either full restitution to the victims or a mandatory 30-day jail sentence minimum—to be served in the Zootopia Juvenile System in the case of underage offenders. Be sure to make a note of it...and make certain any suspects you pull in are made aware of it as well."

This was met by grunts, growls and a few painful groans. Catching a vandal in the act these days was about as easy as catching a hard line-drive while wearing Teflon-coated baseball gloves…and a blindfold. The kids who got their kicks by defacing property—it was almost always kids—could sense the cops coming from ten blocks away; it was almost as if they had built-in radar. And even if you did get lucky enough to nab one of them, then you had to deal with the PARENTS.

"My son is a GOOD boy, and how  dare  you accuse him of something like that? I'm calling a lawyer and suing your department…"

There wasn't a cop in the bullpen this morning who hadn't heard that shtick at least once, Nick and Judy included. Still, you could hardly fault the city for wanting to get tough with these budding nihilists; the previous summer, they had practically wrecked the Lion's Tail shopping district, slashing tires, breaking store windows, pulling down street signs, and spraying everything with graffiti. Supposedly, there were at least two animals on the City Council who thought Zootopia's new anti-vandalism laws didn't go far enough; for sure, there were plenty of citizens who felt that way.

"Right then, assignments," Bogo had moved on to the next page of documents. "Wolford, Grizzoli, Barrow, Delgato and Swinton, you're on that downtown bank stakeout. Rhinowitz, McHorn, of our CI's just tipped us off to a fencing operation, running out of the back of a warehouse in the Canyonlands District." He held up a tri-folded document. "Here's your warrant; get moving."

Several other assignments followed, some interesting, but mostly mundane. And then finally Bogo's roving eye fell on Nick and Judy.

"Hopps…Wilde." He consulted the documents in front of him, at the same time adjusting his spectacles. "Well, here's something that should be tailor-made for you two; seems your young miscreant, Craig Guilford is hiding out somewhere here in Zootopia, together with his girlfriennnnd…" he scanned the papers again. "Amanda Hill. Right Wilde, according to this, you've got his scent imprinted, is that correct?"

"Yes sir," the red fox answered immediately. Judy could tell that he was relishing this assignment. He tapped the side of his muzzle adding, "And his girlfriend's scent, too."

"Very good," the Chief nodded tartly before passing the folder to Higgins the hippo, who dropped it on the table in front of Nick and Judy. "Go out and find him, then. I want him safely `in custody, the sooner the better…and so does the Burrow County Sheriff's Office."

"We're on it Chief." The red fox said, swiping the papers off the table top. He and Judy were halfway out the door when Bogo called them back again. "Oh, uh… one more thing…Wilde?"

"Yes, Chief?" the red fox queried turning around with beaming smile.

Chief Bogo was smiling too, except his expression was etched in acid.

"The next time I come in here and find you giving speeches from this podium without permission, you'll be on sewer patrol for a month." His smile widened nastily and he let out a satirical snort. "Do I make myself clear, Officer Wilde?"

"P-Perfectly sir," the red fox stammered…while Judy bit her lip to keep from laughing. Then the two of them beat a hasty retreat out the door.

A short while later, they were back in the meeting room, with the documents fanned out on the table before them, wrapped around a purring device that resembled a three-sided boomerang—a conference call phone.

On the third ring, they heard a click and a familiar voice.

"This is Deputy Cannon."

"Mac, this is Judy Hopps, in Zootopia." she said, giving in to the temptation to lean forward so as to be heard better, (completely unnecessary with newer devices such as this one.)

The voice on the other end brightened immediately.

"Ah, hi Judy; to what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Not pleasure Mac, business." she informed him, becoming serious. "Nick and I just got word that Craig Guilford is hiding out here in Zootopia; our Chief gave us the job of bringing him in."

"Oh right, should have known it might be that," the bobcat answered with a low self-deprecating growl, "Any way, it's good to hear that you and Nick are on the case, Ju…I-I mean Officer Hopps. What can I do to help?"

"We've got the BCSD's report here in front of us, and we'd like to do a quick review, "Nick Wilde answered, joining the conversion. Actually a good 1/3 of that report had come from him, but there were plenty of other details he hadn't been aware of until now. He rummaged through the documents for a second before finding the one he wanted. "According to what I'm reading here, they drove to Podunk, and then took the train to Zootopia—doubling back through Bunnyburrow"' He set the paper down again, "I have to admit Mac, that was a gutsy move, and a lot more clever than I would have given that coyote-kid credit for."

A harsh laugh came over the phone speaker.

"Keep your credit Nick; there's some new information…and you're right. Craig Guilford didn't plan any of that. He only stopped in Podunk because the truck he was driving up and quit on him. We have three witnesses who helped him push it into a parking space. And then we're pretty sure he and his girlfriend jumped onto the first train that came along without even looking to see where it was going. According to the train-conductor, Amanda Hill nearly had a heart-attack when she realized they were headed back towards Bunnyburrow."

"Then why didn't he call you right then?" Judy wanted to know, thumping her foot in annoyance.

The answer was more caustic laughter, but this time with an odd note of respect.

"You can thank her boyfriend for that, Judy; he managed to convince the conductor that Amanda was running back to her mother to get away from an abusive dad—without ever actually saying so. Craig Guilford may be none too bright but you have to give him this much, he knows how to keep his cool under pressure."

"Except when his father leans on him," Nick offered.

"Except when his father leans on him," the bobcat deputy agreed, "Oh and that reminds me; here's something else that isn't in the report. Jerry Guilford blames Craig for getting hit by those fireworks when him and his brother tried to spray-bomb the Carrot Days Festival."

"He does?"

"Seriously?"

Nick's ears were standing up and so were Judy's.

"Yep," Mac's voice was both terse and grim, "he still thinks it was his son that told him Jack LaPeigne was over on the north side of the dance; swears if he ever gets his paws on that boy, he's apt to do something I won't describe over the phone. I don't know, but if you manage to collar that kid it might be something you can use to get him to co-operate."

"Well, first, we have to make the collar," Judy reminded the bobcat, "Is there anything else you can tell us? What about the girlfriend? It seems to me that she's the weak in the chain."

"What the bunny said, "Nick Wilde nodded in agreement, "The vixen I saw up on that hillside Sunday night looked about as tough as a banana-cream pie."

"Has she tried to contact her parents, do you know?" Judy asked.

"No, and we'd know if she had, believe me." Mac told them both, "Amanda's folks are worried sick; her dad even tried to put up a $1000.00 reward for her safe return."

"Whoa, I hope he doesn't," Nick Wilde was shaking his head, "If that happens, you guys'll get buried under an avalanche of crank phone-calls."

"Tell me about it." Mac Cannon growled again, "But like I said, he only TRIED to make the offer; Sheriff Sauer talked him out of it—barely." He stopped speaking for a moment and the air in the conference room seemed to be growing uncomfortable when he opened up again. "Listen…stupid question, but I have to ask it; are you sure Craig Guilford is still there in Zootopia?"

"He was as of 18:05 yesterday," Judy said, picking up another document. A traffic cam caught him changing trains in Zootopia Central Station. We have him and his girlfriend getting onto a Red-Line train, but after that the cameras lost him. It was rush hour and the Red Line is the second busiest one in Zootopia; every station was wall-to-wall bodies right then. We're reviewing the tapes, but so far, no sign of him."

"Well that's certainly probable cause for assuming he's still there," Mac Cannon said, purring in agreement, "But I honestly can't see him hanging around for too much longer. Craig Guilford is strictly a country boy. If he's been to Zootopia more than twice in his life, I'd call that a lot; the big city's got to feel like being on another planet for that kid. If he's there, I predict he won't stick around for more than another day or two; and he's got more than enough cash to move on. That bag of money you saw sticking out under the car seat when you checked out the truck? Almost $3000, according to his dad."

"Hold, it Jerry Guilford told you that?" Judy's nose was twitching again. Though she'd never actually met the Guilford clan leader—except for that one all-too-brief encounter at the irrigation pond—he had seemed to her like the last animal that'd be willing to cooperate with the law.

"Are you kidding?," The bobcat sniggered again, "He won't shut up about it; that's another thing he's mad at Craig for." His voice took on an angry twang, "'Little so-and-so thinks he can steal from ME and get away with it…!' You get the idea."

"We do." Nick and Judy answered in unison, and then Judy said, "Okay, Mac, anything else you can think of that might be useful?"

There was silence on the line while the bobcat mulled it over.

"Mmmm, this is probably a dead end, but there's something else that wasn't in the report. Jerry Guilford has another brother, Jake Guilford; he's the oldest member of the family."

Judy's nose began to twitch again.

"Okay, Mac, why is that important? "

"Because he lives in Zootopia," the deputy told her, "got a place in Meadowfield."

It was actually the Meadowlands, but Judy didn't correct him. This was an important piece of news, and why did Mac seem to think it was so trivial? For that matter, why hadn't it been included in the report?

"Why do you think it's a dead end?" Nick Wilde was asking with his ears pricked up.

"Because Jake and Jerry Guilford don't get along," Mac answered with a derisive chuckle, "to put it mildly; they can't stand each other. Jake's an honest mammal, an airline pilot, and he won't have anything to do with his younger brothers' family. About four years ago, when he came here for Carrot Days, Jerry tried to squeeze a loan out of him and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Took five deputies to break up that fight, and that was the last time Jake Guilford ever set foot in the Burrow. Jerry supposedly tried to sue him—Jake knocked out two of his teeth—but he couldn't find a lawyer willing to take the case."

"What case?" Judy didn't mean to interrupt, but couldn't help it. No lawyer with half a brain would go near a lawsuit that frivolous.

"I know, right?" the bobcat was sniggering again, "But that's Jerry Guilford for you; he's threatening to sue Jack LaPeigne too. Anyways, now you know what I mean when I say that Jake Guilford is a dead end; if Craig tries to go THERE for help, he'll get turned in so fast he'll never know what hit him."

"We should be so lucky," Nick Wilde answered with a lopsided smile, and then the corners of his mouth turned downwards. "Is Jerry Guilford still trying to plead 'not guilty?''

"Yeah, 'fraid he is," Mac's voice came over the conference phone speaker as a sullen hiss of resignation, "He's already had one lawyer quit out from under him because of it, but he still refuses to back down. Stupid coyote, he seems to think he's some kind of folk hero coz of what he did; a martyr for everyone that's ever had their property foreclosed. Even for him, that's nuts. I'm beginning to think the Harequatiline didn't just take off his fur, it wiped out whatever little common sense he still had left."

"Wonderful!" Nick Wilde groaned and threw up his paws.

"Yeah, I hear what you're saying, Nick." The bobcat's voice was not unsympathetic, "I had to take the witness stand against that crazy coyote once or twice myself. Not a lot of fun, I can tell you." His voice seemed to brighten again. "However at times like this, there's one thing I always tell myself. Never fails to cheer me up."

"What's that?" Nick asked him.

"Better you than me," Mac answered deadpan.

Nick's paw slapped over his eyes. "I'm surrounded by comedians!"

Beside him, Judy Hopps was nearly rolling on the floor, laughing.