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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 8—Where There's Smoke…
(Continued…Pt. 3)

It was your typical police-interrogation room, done up in post-drab dreary. The light from the single, metal-shaded lamp was at once both harsh and dull, the table and chairs were minimalist at best, (and also about as ergonomic as orange crates.) and the walls were painted a dark, pea-soup gray—from floor to table height; above that level, they were the color of dead skin. Every sound made within the room seemed to hang lifelessly in the air and the smell was one of perpetually damp concrete.

And yet, in spite of the melancholy ambience, the atmosphere inside of Interview Room C was as charged up as an electron microscope, every surface seeming to crackle with St. Elmo's fire. (Nick Wilde would later liken it to a poker game with a mile-high stack of chips on the table.)

The word was out; Duke Weaselton was ready talk about The Phantom…and although Nick and Judy couldn't see them, they knew Claire Swinton had acquired some company in the past few minutes. Chief Bogo, Deputy Prosecutor Rudy Gamsbart, and Police Lieutenant Albert Tufts were all there, clustered around the one-way mirror and watching them with a fierce intensity. This was it, do or die; they'd either come away from this interview with the first solid lead on the mysterious loan-shark known as The Phantom—or else they'd come away with nothing, there was no middle ground here.

After another quick glance at the mirror, Judy Hopps flipped open her notepad and clicked her carrot-pen.

"All right Weaselton, let's have it."

In the exchange that followed, the weasel did most of the talking, with Nick Wilde offering the occasional mostly kept quiet and took notes. There were times to prod a witness, and there were times to just let him run. (And when this animal started running off at the mouth, he need about as much urging as a flash flood.)

"Okay," Duke was saying, "So my sister's married to this other weasel; came over across the pond from Edinburrow a few years back. Name's Shortal, Ian Shortal. He's what they call a stoat over there."

He turned suddenly sideways as if looking for a place to spit, but then seemed to catch himself in the nick of time.

"If you wanna know, I never much cared for the guy. Disgrace to our species, if you ask me."

Nick Wilde raised an ear.

"A disgrace to your species, what do you mean?"

In response to this,Weaselton stiffened, hissed, and then his face became study in distaste.

"Whaddaya think I mean lover-boy? The guy's, hard-working, loyal, helpful, trustworthy…" he braced himself as if preparing to slam down a noxious cocktail, "And HONEST! Can ya believe that stuff, an honest weasel!" He shook his head at the table-top, wincing as if he'd just stepped on a bee. "Tell me, WHAT is this world comin' to, huh?"

Judy rolled her eyes at Nick, who only shrugged with his pawlms turned upwards. 'Don't look at me, I'm a fox myself.' He seemed to be saying.

The Dukester, meanwhile continued with his statement.

"Ever since my brother-in-law first moved here to Zootopia, he's had this dream of opening up his own candy-store…ahhhh, no that ain't quite right, what'd he call it again…complexionary… confederacy?"

"I think the word you're looking for is confectionary." Nick Wilde corrected him, after exchanging an amused glance with Judy.

The weasel snapped his fingers.

"Confectionary…yeah, that's it. Fudge, toffees, and all kinds of candies…including some weird stuff I never heard of before. What'd he call it? Oh yeah, Edinburrow Rock. And he coulda made it work, too. According to what my sister says, he…"

Here was where Nick first interrupted him.

"I thought she never spoke to you."

"Well not to ME she don't," the weasel admitted, "But that don't mean I can't still lissen in on her when….heyyyy! You wanna hear the rest of this story or not?"

Nick rolled a paw in the air.

"Get on with it, Duke."

"Fine, thank you," the weasel responded, putting plenty of extra emphasis the second word, "Anyway, before he came over here, Ian was an apprentice under one of the best confess…ah, confectioners in Edinburrow. He had letters of recommendation from here to Meowria, a great work record, practically no debts and enough character references to fill a tractor-trailer…but he couldn't swing a bank loan to save his life. And no loan, no candy store."

A small silence filled the room as Judy waited for her partner to pose the inevitable question. When he didn't ask it, she did.

"Well, all right Weaselton, if he's so conscientious and such a hard worker, why couldn't he manage a bank loan?"

To her considerable befuddlement, the weasel exchanged a knowing look with her partner before answering.

"Didn't you hear me, copper? My brother-in-law's another weasel. Sheesh!"

Seeing where this train of conversation was going, Nick Wilde moved quickly to shunt it to a siding.

"What Weaselton means Carrots, is that if you're a weasel…" he took a deep breath, "or a fox, or any of a few other species I could mention, even these days it's nearly impossible to find a bank that will stake you to a small-business loan."

It took all of half a second for Judy's ears to turn backwards. "But that's illegal Nick," she protested, "I know it wasn't…before." (She had almost said, 'back when you were a kid' but caught herself just in time; not in front of the Dukester,) "But today it sure as heck is; the law specifically states that no animal may be refused credit for reasons of species, gender, or…"

Duke Weaselton interrupted her with a quick burst of laughter, a hard, bitter bray that shut her off like a switch.

"Oh, pul-LEASE…You really are a dumb bunny ain'tcha, flatfoot? The banks never tell you it's coz of your species they ain't lending you no money…they always got some other reason. And if you think a two-bit nobody like my brother-in-law has a chance of provin' otherwise against an umpty-million-dollar bank, I got this bridge in Brooklynx might interest you."

Judy struggled not to fall over backwards in her chair. She was knew of course that Nick's father had been unable to secure a bank loan back when he was a cub, but that was then and this was now…wasn't it? That kind of thing didn't still happen today…did it?

And how the heck had this happened? Less than half an hour ago, she'd had Duke Weaselton practically begging for mercy. Now he was the one cracking the whip.

What he'd just told her couldn't be true…could it?

She felt her eyes darting anxiously towards the mirror again, imagining the scowl that must be plastered across Chief Bogo's face. She could only hope that he and Rudy Gamsbart wouldn't come barging through the door at any second. "Thanks you Hopps…Wilde; we'll take it from here."

Then Nick cleared his throat.

"Fine Weaselton…but that still doesn't explain how you know he's doing business with The Phantom."

The weasel settled back in his chair with a self-satisfied expression.

"Found out entirely by accident, fox. And who'd a' thunk a straight-laced ranger-scout like my brother-in-law would ever go to that guy for help, huh? I knew he was startin' to get desperate, but sheesh…"

Telling the tale seemed to transport the Dukester back in time. On that particular night, he'd been standing at the door of a red-brick home in the Otterdam neighborhood of Savanna Central, frantically pressing the buzzer. It had been a filthy night, lashed by fierce winds, and a hard, driving drizzle; with no umbrella or raincoat, Weaselton's only recourse for shielding himself had been to pull his shirt up over his head.

No one answered him on the first ring, so he'd tried it again. After a moment that seemed to last forever, his sister Grace had opened the door.

"Lesssee….when was it, again?" Weaselton tapped his fingers again the side of his mouth. "Oh yeah, Sunday…the Sunday before last was when she invited me to dinner."

"When you invited yourself to dinner," Nick corrected him. The Dukester just hissed and then continued.

After one look at who was standing on her doorstep, Grace Shortal had nearly slammed the door in his face. And she would have too, if her husband hadn't appeared just then and invited his brother-in-law to join them for dinner.

"Can't leave anyone out in this muck, dear." He'd said to his wife.

Once inside the house, Duke had found himself looking around in wonder and surprise.

"It was the first time I'd been inside my sister's digs in like almost a year…"

"The first time you'd been ALLOWED inside…"

"An' I was just amazed at all the new stuff they had…"

"And wondering which ones you could fence."

"Hey fox, who's tellin' this story, you or me?"

"Sorry, go ahead."

Around the dinner table, Ian had been in a jubilant mood, talking animatedly and gesturing with his paws. Unlike the Dukester, with his scrawny frame, Ian Shortal was of an almost burly stature (for a weasel.) Seated on his right had been his two kids, Katie and Gordon, while his wife had sat on the left, keeping a jaundiced eye on the younger brother sitting by himself on the other side of the tabletop, (her insistence.)

"While we were eatin', Ian let on that he'd done it, he'd managed to open up that candy shop…and it was going like sixty. He was doin' so good, wouldja believe, somedays, he sold OUT of his best stuff. I tell ya Wilde, if I hadn't awready seen it for myself, I never woulda believed it."

In Tundratown, the day before, Weaselton had goggled in amazement at the mile-long line of animals waiting to get into Sweetie's Scots Confectionary Shop.

"It almost blew me outta my seat when I made the connection," he was saying, "So I asks my brother- in-law, 'Wait a minute, that was YOUR place I saw?'"

"That you were CASING…"

"Hey, you wanna hear this or not?"

"Nick, let him talk."

"Sorry, Carrots."

"Thanks, cutie-bun."

"Think nothing of it, burned-match-nose."

"Heyyyy! So I asked my brother-in-law how he done it. Where'd he get the dough-ray-me to open that candy-store when none of the banks would back him?"

Before he could answer the question, Ian's wife had shot him a look that caused him to become suddenly and deeply engrossed in his dinner.

"Well, he just kinda waved me off after that." Duke shrugged as he recalled it, "Wouldn't talk nuthin' about how he'd managed to get the green to start that place. Every time I tried to bring it up again, he'd change the subject. The only thing I knew for sure was that wherever he got that money, it wasn't from no place he wanted anyone else to know about."

"That he wanted YOU to know about..."

For once Nick's barb drew no blood

"No Wilde," Weaselton folded his arms beneath a sneering expression, "that he wanted anybody to know about. One of the kids tried to ask him about it too, and my sister nearly sent him to his room."

That prompted Judy to join the discussion; this was all very interesting but it wasn't what they'd come here for. She leaned over the table, tapping a finger.

"Nice try Duke…but just because your brother-in-law wouldn't say where he got the money, that doesn't mean it came from The Phantom. It could have been from any one of a hundred other places." She looked at her partner and then at the door, "Come on Nick, I told you this was a waste of time."

"Hold yer lizards powder-puff, I ain't done yet!" Weaselton rose up halfway from his chair with his paws on the table…and then he sat back down again, remembering the dinner once more.

"So then right before dessert, my brother in law gets this text message…"

And when he got it, Ian abruptly excused himself from the table and went upstairs. When he came back down a few minutes later, the Scottish Stoat was almost giddy with excitement.

"It's all set, my bonny Grace," he said, giving his wife a peck on the cheek, "After Saturday next, Sweeties will be all ours."

Instead of hugging him back, Grace hissed though her teeth while shooting an icy look at her brother….and Ian had scurried back to his chair, thoroughly chastised.

"So after we finished eatin'," Weaselton was telling them, "I excused myself to go use the little weasel's room…"

"… and get out of helping to clear the table." Nick Wilde put in, "Which one of the kids did your sister send to check up on you?"

"Katie, but I can always give her the slip…HEYYY! So I goes upstairs to use the head offside of the big bedroom…"

"Find anything interesting in the dresser?"

"Nothing worth…willya quiddit, already, fox? So, I was just about to leave, when…"

The Dukester had just about to make his exit when he'd happened to glance over in the corner. There, neatly ensconced on blonde-oak workstation was a desktop computer; the screen was dark but the tower lights were still aglow, meaning it was running in 'sleep' mode.

"So, just maybe, accidentally, I kinda moved the mouse. And poof! There's this e-mail, right in front of me….and whaddaya think it said, foxy?" He flashed Nick Wilde a toothy smile,

Nick flashed him one right back.

"Here is our price for packing your brother-in-law in a crate and shipping him to Koala Lumpurr?"

"Ha, Ha…yer a real comedian, bun-kisser. No, this is what it said…"

"Mr. Shortal:

Once again, do not open this message except on your desktop and while you are alone

Meerkat Market, Saturday after next. Before 9 AM, LB6. Use the pelican case again and the last of the codes I gave you. Please acknowledge as soon as you get this, but do not expect a reply. If all goes well, this will be my last communication with you. After you respond, be certain to delete both emails.

PS. Congratulations on all your success. I am very pleased we were able work things out. And BTW, that vanilla fudge of yours isn't just the bomb, it's the dang NUKE."

"Not bad," Nick had to admit.

"Thanks fox."

"Not you Weaselton, whoever sent that email. Never signed it, and didn't leave a clue as to his true identity…but threw in that little blurb at the end, just to let your brother-in-law know that he's watching."

Judy Hopps felt her nose begin to twitch and tapped a finger against her cheek. There was something else about that last line of that postscript; it had been written in a style completely at odds with the rest of the email. She was about to ask Weaselton if those had been the exact words when a crooked grin spread outwards along the rim of his muzzle.

"Yeah, well that ain't the last of it, kissy-fox. There was this little arrow up in the corner of that email, too."

"Meaning your brother-in-law replied to it." Judy said, forgetting her question for the moment; (that had probably just been Weaselton's interpretation anyway.)

"Hey look at that." he smirked at her, "Well, they say even a blind, deaf, and dumb bunny finds a carrot once in a while. Yeah, that's right…so I went to the 'sent' file, and my brother-in-law may be honest, but he ain't so bright. He forgot to toast THAT one, too."

"So what did it say, Duke?" Nick Wilde said to him, "And this time, skip the drum-roll and just give it to us straight."

The weasel looked instantly disappointed, "Awright, awright…"

Face bathed in the light of the monitor screen, Weaselton had moved his lips as he read. His brother-in-law's reply had been short, but (literally) sweet.

"Message Rcvd. Package will be dlvrd as promised at appt'd time & plc.

I. Shortal.

PS Cannot thank you enough for all you've done for me and mine. You came along just as I was ready to give up hope. Bless you, sir. If there's ever anything I can do for you, you know where to find me."

Weaselton leaned back in his chair again, folding his arms and chewing on an imaginary toothpick.

Judy Hopps seemed unimpressed and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"And that's it? That's all you have?" (It was one of the first things she'd learned about police-interrogation techniques; no matter how valuable your suspect's information isNEVER let them see it.)

"Not quite, cutie." Weaselton's wink was almost conspiratorial, "When I got up from the computer, I accidentally dropped my keys under the bed."

"Accidentally…uh-huh, right." Nick's growl was like two cinder blocks, scraping against each other.

But when the Dukester had reached for his keys, he'd found something else lying sandwiched between the mattress and the floor, a king-size, bullet-proof briefcase, done up in dull carbon-fiber black. And when he turned it over…

"Never seen nothin' like it," he said, "The darn thing had a digital display and a keypad. For a second there I thought I saw a keyhole, but no, it was only one of them USP ports."

"I think you mean USB port." Nick corrected him with a half snigger.

"Whatever fox," the weasel answered, flipping a paw back and forth, "But I'll betcha a sawbuck that was the case the Phantom was talking about."

"Yes, IF it was The Phantom," Judy told him, folding her arms, "You're giving us an awful lot of 'maybes' here, Duke."

"Hey, whaddaya want from me Flopsie, a bronze plaque with pawprints?" Weaselton was fuming. "No, I don't got the Phantom's name, but I got my brudder-in-law able to open up a business after every bank in town showed 'im the door, I got him makin' a delivery at some prearranged location, just like the way The Phantom always works, and I got 'im talkin' with the other guy by email and text, also how The Phantom does his business." He tapped the table with a finger, inadvertently mimicking Judy's earlier gesture. "And then there's all that secret stuff, 'delete after reading' and whatever. So no, I ain't sure it's the Phantom….but I AM sure of where a drop is going down this Saturday that has the way he operates written all over it!"

"Not quite, Duke," Judy leaned forward, "Where the heck is LB6?"

The weasel just shrugged. "You're the copper, Kissy-Face…you figger it out. That's all there was in that e-mail."

Once again, Judy didn't rise to the bait; instead she simply rose up from her chair.

"All right, Weaselton," she said, motioning for her partner to do the same, "I think you've possibly given us something we can work with. We'll let you know how it pans out. Nick, get the recorder?"

They were halfway to the door when Duke Weaselton suddenly remembered something, and went shooting up out of his chair.

"Heyyy, wait a minnit. What about my plea deal? You promised me I could plead down to possession of stolen property if I helped yas with The Phantom."

Judy turned at the door with her paw resting on her hip and one knee slightly raised. In another circumstance, it would have been a sultry pose.

"Actually, Duke…no. I only said that was what you weren't getting after you decided to play it snarky instead of talking business. I never made any kind of promises after that." She paused to let that sink in a little, and then fixed him with that sweet-venom smile again. "Oh, and by the way," she tapped herself in the chest with her carrot-pen, "It's called Officer Hopps, sweetheart…not, 'Flopsie', or 'Sweety-Cheeks', or 'Kissy-Face'…and I may be a dumb bunny, but I'M not one walking out of here with nothing to show for it."

She turned and headed for the exit once more…while the Dukester's claws etched furrows into the table-top and his voice became a ragged fury-scream.

"WHY YOU NO-GOOD, DOUBLE-CROSSIN', LONG-EARED…!"

His rant was cut off as the door closed.

When Nick and Judy returned to the hallway, they found the animals waiting for them were also screaming.

…with laughter. Rudy Gamsbart was nearly doubling over and Chief Bogo was practically rolling the floor. Even Albert Tufts was chittering with glee.

The first to recover was Claire Swinton.

"I swear," she said, raising her hooves to Judy as if offering a Hosanna, "That had to be the best twist on good cop/bad cop I have EVER seen!"

Nick, meanwhile, was peering through the one-way mirror with a disappointed look on his face.

"My…My," he said, shaking his head in a 'tut-tut' gesture. "You know, there are times when I almost wish I'd never learned to lip-read." He pointed at the little, black box, mounted on the wall beside the doorway, "Whatever you do Swinton, don't turn that speaker on, it'll probably explode."

"I didn't know you could lip-read, Nick." Judy said to him, nose twitching once again. Even now, more than two years after they'd first met, he was still able to surprise her.

"Wel-l-lll, only with sharp muzzled species," the fox admitted, pointing towards his nose and then through the mirror, "With any other animals, I run into trouble."

"So what's he saying then?" It was Chief Bogo.

Nick cast a wary eye on Judy before answering.

"Ahhh, it's…mostly stuff about rabbits in general and what he'd like to do to them."

That got another laugh from everybody.

But then the fox grew serious.

"Uhhh, Carrots?" he said, picking his words with infinite care, "You're not…REALLY going to stiff Duke Weaselton on that plea-deal, are you?"

Judy's left paw found her hip again and she waved the other one dismissively.

"Oh, of course not, Nick…a deal's a deal. If Weaselton's info turns out to be legitimate, he'll get his charges reduced." She looked for confirmation to Rudy Gamsbart, who responded with a short nod. Judy nodded back and then her eyes narrowed and her face split open in a wicked grin. "Only why should I tell HIM?" she said, corking a thumb at the weasel going into meltdown on the other side of the mirror.

That got an even bigger laugh, although Nick's was just a tiny bit edgy.

"Are you sure you're not part fox, Carrots?"

Judy tossed her ears while pretending to look indignant, "Hmph, how dare you?"

"Right then." Chief Bogo was back in 'take charge' mode. "Swinton, I believe we're finished with you for the moment—and thanks for your assistance. Everyone else, let's re-convene in my office in fifteen minutes; we've got a decision to make, haven't we?"


On the other side of Savanna Central plaza, Burrow County Sheriff's Detective Wally Root was just then settling back in his chair with a belch and a grunt of contentment. Nick Wilde had been right; the eats here at The Raccoon Lodge were excellent. Oh, he and Mac Cannon had had to sit down on the floor with the larger animals, (the upper tiers had all been packed,) but luckily the lower deck had a mid-sized 'overflow' table for just such occasions, and it was still unoccupied, (and Root was none too small for his species anyway.) And as soon as he and the bobcat deputy had shown their badges they been seated here straightaway; Nick had been right about that, too.

At the moment, Mac was exchanging texts with the Burrow County Sheriff's Department, verifying their expense voucher for the meal they'd just eaten, and the overnight stay still to come. (The BCSD was a first-class stickler when it came to travel expenses.)

There'd been the usual snickering and whispered comments when Mac had submitted their application for an overnight stay in Zootopia. Root had quickly lost count of the number of times he'd heard someone muttering, 'free vacation' under their breath. What irked him the most was that the individuals making those comments didn't know Mac Cannon, and they certainly didn't know him. All he wanted to do right now was lay down and take a nap. As for Mac, if the old hog knew THAT bobcat, he'd end up spending most of the evening on the phone with his wife and kits; there was no more dedicated family mammal in all of Bunnyburrow.

Wally Root grunted again and studied his erstwhile partner. Mac could be a little bit too much of a hardcase for his liking sometimes, and he occasionally took thinks a little too fursonally…but no one was perfect and other than that, he was a darn fine deputy. In fact, the old hog was already considering the idea of grooming him as a possible successor. (The year after next, Detective Walter J. Root would reach the mandatory retirement age for the Burrow County Sheriff's Department.)

Mac meanwhile, had finished with his text exchange and was stowing away his cell phone.

"So, did they approve it?" Root asked him.

The answer came out as half a yowl.

"Meeeyeaeeahhhh, but it was like pulling teeth, Wally. I swear, you think they'd cut us a little slack; the Guilford attack is only the biggest case to hit Bunnyburrow since…heck, I can't remember the last time we ever had something this big."

"It is what it is, son," Root answered, folding his hooves across his ample belly and speaking in the voice of a wizened sage, "That's how it was with the Burrow County Sherriff's Office back when I first started, and that's how it'll be long after I'm gone. Death, taxes…and budget cuts; it oughta be three things, not just two."

"Amen," the bobcat said, raising his glass in a satirical toast, and then he grew serious again. "So, how long do you think it'll take that Guilford kid to crack?" It was a given that he would, the only question now was when.

Root let out a small snort and then shrugged.

"Can't rightly say Mac; if that boy had any smarts, he'd have given it up already."

"Only he doesn't have too many smarts, that's the problem." The bobcat laid his ears back slightly, and then they swiveled forward again. "Course, of he did, we'd probably still be back at the precinct, talking to him."

"Probably that," the old hog acknowledged, with another grunt. He could tell that Mac was gearing up to change subjects.

The bobcat did not disappoint him; growling and leaning in closer, he queried, "What do you think of the way Judy Hopps took down that Guilford kid and his girlfriend, huh? Jumping off the roof of that hangar and onto that airplane? Crikes, and I thought I had a Jones to nail that yay-hoo coyote-kid."

Root snorted again, but this time uncomfortably.

"Well, I can't call that anything but leading with your head, Mac. Much as I don't like to play Monday morning quarterback, what she should have done was scooted on back to her car and then driven 'er out onto the runway—like those officers from the other precinct did when they finally showed up. If they had time to make it before them kids could get airborne, so did she. That being said, I have to give Judy Hopps credit for one thing, figgering out so fast where Craig and has girlfriend were…Mac what is it? The bobcat's ears were raised and his whiskers were quivering

"I-I'm not sure, Wally," Mac Cannon finally admitted and then leaned in close again, this time lowering his voice. "But I could have sworn that both times when we mentioned Judy's name just now, a bunch of the other animals in here kind of looked at us, and then looked away."

"Yeah, I noticed that too, actually." The old hog replied, raising an eyebrow and letting his eyes drift around the room. Yes they had, and all of them had been wearing police uniforms. He allowed his voice to kick up a little. "Wonder what that's all about; can't hardly have had anything to do with the Craig Guilford bust."

It was the type of rhetorical question that isn't really rhetorical…and it didn't long to get an answer; almost immediately, they heard a voice blurt out from somewhere nearby, "It's doesn't."

Wally and Mac spun sharply in their seats. At the next table over, a big cow elephant in police blues had her hooves clasped over her mouth and mortified expression on face.

But then she let them drop away again, sighing with resignation.

"Ohhhh what the heck," Francine Trunkaby shrugged, "the whole precinct already knows about it anyway."

In response to this, one or two of the other officers made slashing motions with their paws; a few more nodded in agreement, but most just looked away, appearing to have heard nothing and seen nothing.

"All right," Francine went on, toning down her voice to a near-whisper, "I can't give out any details you understand, but late last week, when Hopps and Wilde were out on an assignment in Sahara Square…"


"Right, you've all heard what the weasel said; opinions, anyone?" Chief Bogo swept his gaze over the gathering in his office as his spoke.

The first one to answer him was Nick Wilde.

"He had me at, 'It's my brother-in-law,' Chief. Selling out his family to save his own hide? That's classic Duke Weaselton."

"It felt real to me too, sir." Judy Hopps nodded, "He left out at least one key detail that we're going to have to figure out for ourselves before we move. So, either Duke Weaselton's a lot smarter than he looks—I don't THINK so—or else what he gave us is genuine." She looked at him directly. "And like you said Chief, he isn't getting anything in advance, for his information."

"Yesss," Bogo ruminated thoughtfully, and then shifted his gaze to Rudy Gamsbart. "Mr. Prosecutor, what are your thoughts?"

The chamois frowned slightly before answering.

"Well, I'm inclined to believe him too, but like the old saying goes, 'trust everyone…but cut the cards.' Does Duke Weaselton have a brother-in-law who owns a candy shop…and WAS that animal recently turned down for a bank loan? Before I can say yea or nay, I need to know those things."

Chief Bogo only nodded, unsurprised by the Deputy Prosecutor's reply; it figured that Gamsbart would be the skeptic here. After all, he had the most to lose if it turned out that Weaselton was playing them.

But then Bogo turned his gaze on Nick and Judy; the bunny got the hint before her partner.

"I'll get on it as soon as we're done here, sir."

The big Cape buffalo nodded, snorted, and then moved on to Albert Tufts, who seemed irritated at being called on last.

"I think it's good," was all the Kaibab squirrel had to say. Bogo rumbled again and then sat back with his arms folded across his chest.

"Right then; it's tentatively unanimous…unless someone here has an objection.

Someone did…and it came from a wholly unexpected quarter. Nick Wilde swiftly raised a paw.

"Excuse me sir, but someone has to say this… ".

Everyone turned to look at him. Nick flexed his paws on the arms of his chair for a second and then stood up.

"You're not going to like this," he said, "and I don't like it either, but even if Weaselton's information turns out to be spot on, we're not going to get the Phantom…at least not yet."

At this, four sets of eyebrows lifted upwards and the red fox hurriedly explained.

"Look, if this Phantom character is really as smart as everyone says he is, then there's no WAY he makes his own pick-ups and deliveries; I'll bet you just about anything he has a courier and I'll double down on my bet that he uses two dead-drops, not just one. That's what I'd do if I was running that cash, and I'm just a two-bit, former pawpsicle hustler. If I can think of it, HE sure as heck can."

What happened next made him wonder what the squirrel on Bogo's desk had done with the real Lieutenant Tufts.

"Right!" the bushytailed rodent chittered, slapping his paw against his knee to emphasize the point, "After all, why would The Phantom risk letting his borrowers see his face after all those times he refused to let them even hear his voice? I think the fox is right, Chief; he's using a mule to make those exchanges…and I'll bet you anything that bag-mammal has no idea who he's working for."

"And he almost certainly has no idea how much money he's handling," Nick added, trying not to look surprised. Albert Tufts was the LAST animal he would have expected to give him a vote of confidence. Oh well, any port in a storm; he looked at Bogo again. "That's another thing you said Chief, you can only put that kind of cash in front of someone so many times before they finally give in to temptation."

Bogo was almost, but not quite convinced. He leaned across his desk at the fox, "And just how many times can a bag mammal be expected to make that kind of blind transfer without their curiosity getting the better of them?"

"More time than you might think, Chief." Nick responded immediately, waving his paw in a throwaway gesture. If Bogo could play the Devil's advocate, then HE could get his street fox on, "I could walk out of here right now, and in ten minutes I could find someone willing to make a weekly delivery for me, no questions asked, at hundred bucks a pop."

"And what about that case Duke Weaselton says he found under the bed, sir?" It was Judy again. "That didn't sound like something anyone but an expert could get open very easily, no matter how badly they wanted to see what's inside." She paused for a second and then threw in a wrench of her own.

"But sir…I think need to remind everyone of something. Remember that key detail I mentioned, the one Duke Weaselton left out? We still don't know the exact location of The Phantom's dead-drop; only that it'll be somewhere in the Meerkat Market this coming Saturday, at a place called LB6." She looked across the desk at Bogo. "Have you ever been to The Market, Chief? It's not some little yard-sale."

It was probably stupid to remind him of something so obvious, but the Cape buffalo only nodded and then grimaced.

"Hmmmph, I see what you mean Hopps, the Meerkat Market IS a huge place, especially at this time of year, with all the tourists about. Yesss, I'm afraid you're right; until we figure out exactly where LB6 is, who is making the pickup there won't matter very much will it?"

Judy started to answer him, but then she noticed that Nick was looking at her as if he wanted to bite her face off. What, now? What the heck could she possibly have said to put him in that frame of mind?

She found out quickly when Bogo said, "Right then, when you're done talking to the banks Hopps, you and Wilde had best run along to Sahara Square and try to see if you can find this LB6, yes?" It was phrased as a suggestion, but the tone was, 'that's an order!'

Judy wondered for a moment if it was possible to bite her own face off. Sahara Square—today, and the hottest part of the day, too. Sweet cheez n' crackers, no wonder Nick was looking at her like that. She could almost hear his thoughts. 'Way to go, Fluff! Anything else you'd like to put in your mouth while it's open?'

And she was none too happy with herself right now, either.

"D'ohhhhh, darn that weasel, he was right; I really AM a dumb bunny!"