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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 –Fire And Mirrors
(Continued…Pt. 4)

Around…and around…and around…and around…

Judy Hopps was sitting by herself, alone at one of the tables in the Precinct-1 Commissary, running her finger in an endless circle around the rim of her coffee cup.

She had insisted upon riding with Nick to the ER…and Chief Bogo had given her permission. He'd needed little or no persuading—but there'd been a catch; Officer Hopps could accompany her partner to the hospital only if she allowed herself to be checked out as well. (Sly one, that Cape buffalo…)

As things turned out, Judy hadn't had her bell rung quite as loudly as she'd imagined; the scans had shown no sign of concussion. Her dizziness and the disorientation she'd experienced upon regaining consciousness had owed as much to smoke inhalation as to any meeting of head against pavement.

Nick's injuries hadn't been as bad as they'd looked either. Although in the beginning he'd bled fairly profusely from where Conor had bitten him, the wound hadn't even required any stitches, just shave the fur from the affected area, clean it up, disinfect it, apply a fresh bandage and voila, all is done! Afterwards, the red fox had refused to let Bogo send him home…and once again, the Chief had complied without argument. (It was a common occurrence among officers injured in the line of duty; they invariably wanted to return to work right now.)

Judy watched as her finger went around and around and around…

Upon arriving back at Precinct-1, she'd made beeline for the showers, turning up the heat to a nearly scalding temperature as soon as she stepped beneath the shower-head.

Not all of the water running down her face had come out of the pipes; at least some of it had originated in her eyes. Judy had been unable to help herself and hadn't wanted to; it was then and there that the full impact of what had nearly happened finally hit her—water…she had almost DIED while standing in water. If it hadn't been for Conor and that flying tackle…

That thought had only made her want to cry even harder. Oh it was all so wrong… Just! So! Wrong!

After her shower, (which had left her feeling about as clean as Lady MacBats,) Judy had gone to her locker and changed into a fresh uniform. From there, she had headed for the interrogation rooms, in order to attend the questioning of Conor Lewis. Passing by the commissary, she'd made a quick detour to grab a cup of coffee.

She had been here ever since—tracing her finger around and around and around and around…

There'd been a few other officers here when she'd arrived, seated on the far side of the room …but whoa, when had they left? Now Judy had the commissary entirely to herself…except for a phalanx of vending machines, watching her like silent, dark sentinels, all of them too tall for a bunny-cop to operate any without the aid of a foot-stool.

Around...and around…and around…and…

Conor had given Kii Catano and the other officers no trouble following his arrest. Tad Howell had wanted to putt a muzzle on the kid—SOP in the case of a suspect biting an officer—but in the end he'd been dissuaded by a furious protest from Nick Wilde; the thought of a fox-kit having a muzzle applied to his face, even now, even one who had bitten him, had been more than he could take.

Around and around and around and…

"Hopps? Hopps!"

Startled out of her reverie, Judy looked up to see Chief Bogo standing in the doorway…hooves propped against the frame as if he were preparing to bring down the building, like Ramson toppling the temple of Baaa-al.

"Hopps, what the devil are you doing here?" the Cape buffalo demanded, taking two big steps into the room, "You're supposed to be…"

"He saved my life, Chief!"

Judy tried to put a paw up to block the words, but they were out before she could even begin to move her arm; nothing for it now but to brace up prepare for the inevitable, angry tirade.

It never came.

Instead, Bogo said quietly, "Right, who was it then, Hopps? D'you mean your suspect, that boy, Conor Lewis?" He had obviously heard at least part of the story already.

Judy nodded, tight-lipped, only barely able to keep the tears from returning.

"'Never let them see that they get to you'. I'm  trying , Nick!"

Bogo nodded and went to the coffee-maker, poured himself a cup and then pulled up a chair across the table from Judy, his expression much softer than when he'd arrived.

"Right…tell me what happened."

Judy did, going back much further than she'd intended. She opened with the tale of how Conor had helped her sister Erin at the Carrot-Days Festival and wrapped things up by recalling the young fox's Hail-Mary tackle in the alleyway behind Tux-On.

"You'd be notifying my parents right now if hadn't been for him," she said, unable to keep herself from sniffling.

Bogo regarded her for a second, and nodded knowingly.

And then, to Judy's utter amazement, he offered a hoof.

"Well Hopps…congratulations; you are now officially a real police officer."

She felt an eyebrow rising and her nose beginning to twitch.

"Sir?"

A rare smile creased the Cape buffalo's face.

"Something my first partner, Markus Veldt once told me, 'You've only become a real cop after you've had your first crisis of conscience.'" He raised a brow of his own, "Frankly Hopps, I'm surprised that it took you so long."

Judy blinked…and then took hold of the Chief's hoof—cautiously, tentatively, as if he might be pawlming a joy buzzer.

He shook it once and then sat back again, taking a small sip of his coffee.

"It happens to every officer sooner or later, when you've got to take in a suspect you had rather let go….or worse, when you've got to let someone go that you KNOW is guilty."

Judy chewed on one side of her mouth for a second.

"Actually, Chief…that I could handle; I mean, I always knew, even when I was a kid, that when I became a police officer, I'd eventually have to let a guilty perp walk." Her expression became half-bitter, half-sardonic, "or that the courts would turn him loose. But having to bring in someone who saved my life, who risked his own life to save mine, I never could have expected anything like that."

"I've yet to meet the officer who expects a suspect to help them," Bogo told her, taking another short sip of coffee, "But it does happen. I remember one time during my second year on the force. I'd pulled over a pair of hyenas for making an illegal ewe-turn…and spotted a load of burglars' tools in the back seat of their car, together with a bagful of jewelry. When he realized I'd made him, the driver tried to go for me with a crowbar…but his partner stopped him. 'No homes, you can't hurt no cop.'"

"What happened?" Judy asked, fascinated. She couldn't imagine any suspect being fool enough to go after Chief Bogo—with any kind of weapon.

He let out a small snort and waved a dismissive hoof.

"The hyena with the crowbar had one prior, so he got 10 years; 5 plus an extra 5, for the attempted assault of a police officer. His partner, the one who stopped him had a clean sheet; he pleaded guilty to the burglary charge, got 2 years and was out after 90 days…partly thanks to my having put in a good word with the parole board." He smiled again, "And the courts will remember Conor Lewis's action on your behalf as well, Hopps," He raised a thick finger, "and there's one more thing you might want to consider…"

"What's that, sir?" Judy's nose was twitching again.

Before answering her, Bogo folded his massive arms across his chest, his voice becoming as formal as a Victorian schoolmaster's.

"Young Mr. Lewis shouldn't have needed to save your life if he hadn't tried to get away from you by cutting through a fire zone…would he then?"

Judy felt her eyes widening, and then her back began to straighten.

"Whoa, I never thought of it that way. You're right, Chief…thanks."

Bogo raised his hooves, pretending to be stern, but with a grin peeking out of one corner of his face..

"Just don't hug me, O-kay?"

Judy placed a paw over her heart.

"Promise."

They both got up from the table.

"Right," the Chief rumbled, tossing his cup into the commissary sink, "now let's go and see what our young fox has to say."

Judy followed her boss with a lively step…but her anxiety hadn't evaporated completely. Things were better but they still weren't right.

When they got to the interrogation rooms, the first thing she saw was Nick, standing with his arms folded, staring fixedly through the two-way mirror of Room Number 2, his eyes resembling pieces of jade flint. Like her, he had changed into a fresh uniform but owing to the bandage on his arm, he had yet to hit the showers.

Seated in front of the table beside him was the hippo, Officer Higgins, listening intently to the proceedings on the other side of the glass through a pair of headphones.

The expression on Nick's face was more than a little disconcerting—and disheartening; when Conor had attempted to take that bite out of him he had also managed to take away of the older fox's anger …or that was how it had seemed at the time. Right now though, Judy's partner resembled nothing so much as a kettle on the verge of boiling over.

But then she realized something; if Nick was out here, then who the heck was inside with…?

The question must have been shown on her face, because Higgins immediately answered it.

"Mr. Gamsbart and Lieutenant Tufts are in there with him now," he said.

"WHAT?" Judy's ears went back so fast and hard it felt as if someone had just slapped her on the back. Gamsbart's presence she could understand, but Tufts? After all the trash-talk that arrogant, little jerk had laid on her and Nick, he had about as much right to participate in the questioning of Conor Lewis as an elephant has to take a shortcut through Little Rodentia.

"Easy Hopps," a deep voice rumbled beside her, "Let me deal with him." It was clear that Chief Bogo wasn't any happier with this development than she was.

Or Nick; Judy understood now that the fox's smoldering fury wasn't directed at Conor, but at the squirrel sitting on the tabletop, facing him.

"So has our young chap said anything yet?" Bogo spoke to Higgins while nodding at the animals on the other side of the two-way mirror.

The hippo's expression became asymmetrical, "Yes…and no; by that I mean, he's been talking plenty, but he hasn't said anything," and in response to the Chief's arcing eyebrow, he added hastily, "Listen for yourself."

He flipped a switch on the console in front of him, and Albert Tufts' voice became audible through the speaker beside the door.

"We're going to find that money kid…make no mistake about that; how it works out for you depends on whether or not you decide to help us find it. So, one more time; where's the case that the stoat left for you?"

Conor only regarded him, deadpan. As with all new arrivals at the City Jail's Juvenile Wing, they had switched him into orange-juvie coveralls and cleaned him up. That alteration rendered some kids all but unrecognizable from before their arrest…and not just in appearance but in attitude; one minute a tough-talking bone-thug, and then presto-chango—in the next instant, a cowering penitent.

Not Conor Lewis…

"I want a lawyer," was his only reply, delivered with all the passion of a concrete slab—a flat voice and an even flatter expression.

"That's been his answer for everything they say to him," Nick Wilde was drumming his fingers in the crook of his arm. He seemed almost amused by the whole thing. "Either that, or he demands his phone call." Judy wondered for a second how her partner could have known that with the sound turned off…and then remembered that he was a lip reader.

Tufts, meanwhile, was trying a different approach.

"Look kid, we've got you dead to rights for assaulting police officer, three witnesses and footage from both Officer Wilde and Officer Hopp's body-cams. "

At this just a hint of smirk seemed to cross Conor's face and Judy thought she knew; if the cams had seen that, they'd also caught the young fox saving her life.

Tufts either missed it or didn't catch the significance, continuing along the same line.

"Whatever else you think, you're not going to walk on that charge…and maybe you don't know this, but the City of Zootopia takes a really dim view of animals who assault a peace officer, regardless of their age."

He stood up and walked halfway across the table, staring up at the young silver fox with his paws on his hips.

"And you didn't just assault a police officer kid, you bit him. You know what that means? It means we can stick a muzzle on your face and leave it there until your trial date; you'll get it taken off only at mealtimes. Is that what you want?"

Conor looked at him and shrugged, "Then that's what's gonna happen…and I want a lawyer."

"Well at least they got him to change his tune a little," Judy snickered and looked at Nick…and immediately felt her blood turn to ice-water.

The red fox was standing with his fists balled into hammers, grimacing in outrage; teeth bared and tightly clenched.

Ohhh sweet cheez n' crackers how could she have forgotten already what a sore point muzzles were with him?

On the other side of the glass, Gamsbart had stepped forward and was motioning Tufts backwards. At first, the Kaibab squirrel only glared at him defiantly, but then reluctantly retreated to a far corner of the table.

The chamois watched him take his seat and then sat down himself, laying an elbow on the tabletop as he did.

"It's not that important, but I am curious about one thing, Conor. That cellphone you were carrying was a disposable model. Why didn't you break it when you had the chance?"

It was the old ploy of trying to get a suspect talking by pretending to be cordial—he'd said 'Conor', not 'kid'—and by asking an apparently harmless question; Judy recognized the tactic at once, she'd employed it herself a few times

"I want a lawyer." Conor told the chamois.

Gamsbart threw up his hooves and rolled his eyes. From the far side of the table, Albert Tufts butted in again.

"Is that ALL you're going to say kid, what, are you a parrot or something?"

Conor looked at him.

"I want my phone-call." There was just the slightest edge of sarcasm to his voice,

"I'M talking to him now, Lieutenant." Rudy Gamsbart was aiming a finger in the squirrel's direction…while Judy Hopps tried not to groan; one of the first rules of playing good cop/bad cop was not to be too obvious about it, and these two were being about as subtle as a rhino-charge.

"Just because he's a kid …" Nick Wilde muttered, shaking his head. Yes, that was probably true, Judy decided; if Conor Lewis had been an adult fox, you had BETTER believe Tufts and Gamsbart wouldn't be employing such crude tactics to get him to open up.

"Let's forget about The Phantom for right now, Conor." The deputy prosecutor was leaning across the table, "Bottom line son, we have you cold on the charge of assaulting a police officer. Like Lieutenant Tufts said, when you bit Officer Wilde, it was caught by not one but two body cameras and seen by at least one other officer besides him and Officer Hopps."

Judy felt her nose began to twitch. Wait a minute, her body cam, had it been turned on, or…? She couldn't remember. Were Tufts and Gamsbart bluffing, or did they really have the kid dead to rights on video?

"We took a saliva sample from Officer Wilde's arm wound too, son," the chamois was saying, "if it matches the cheek swab we took from you—and we both know that it will—then you're really cooked."

"I want a lawyer."

Judy's ears went up; it was the same statement as he'd made at least fifty times already, but in this instance…had the young fox sounded just a little bit whiny?

Yes…but he'd also sounded as if he was trying to give that impression.

"Hang on Conor, I'm getting to that," Gamsbart was waving a dismissive hoof, "If want an attorney, we'll get you one," he stood abruptly, with both hooves on the tabletop, "But let me tell you something as an attorney myself, that's the worst possible mistake you can make right now."

Judy felt her ears shoot upwards and saw Nick Wilde's do the same; even Chief Bogo was staring, wide-eyed and dumfounded. Had they really just heard a Zootopia City Prosecutor tell their suspect he'd be better off without any sort of legal representation?

"What the devil d'you think you're doing, Gamsbart?" Bogo grumbled under his breath.

"Aaah, he does this all the time with juvies," Higgins offered from his position at the console.

"And that makes it right I suppose?" The Chief queried rhetorically…and sarcastically. Higgins wisely chose not to say anything further.

On the other side of the glass, Gamsbart continued to speak.

"A lawyer's only going to delay the inevitable Conor….and I happen to know the judge you'll be facing; he likes to keep his courtroom running smoothly and has a habit of coming down hard on juvenile defendants who insist on gumming up the works. You show up in front of HIM with an attorney, and you'll not only be convicted—the best lawyer in Zootopia couldn't bring in an acquittal on this one—he'll also throw the book at you for wasting the court's time. The only way you're going to get any leniency from that rodent is to forget about a lawyer and plead guilty right away. That being said let me tell you the REAL reason you need to quit stonewalling and start co-operating."

He got up and sat down again, this time on the edge of the table.

"That laptop computer we found in your backpack, very sophisticated and almost bombproof. Lieutenant Tufts there tell me that it's…" he turned and looked over his shoulder, "what was it you said again?"

"At least two grades above mil-spec," the squirrel responded testily.

"Right," Gamsbart turned his attention back to Conor, "And when we opened it we found the database was locked and encrypted to a level even the ZSA couldn't crack; heckuva computer for a fourteen-year-old kid to have," he leaned across the table a second time, "…if that's your actual age, which I have reason to doubt. You see, we also ran a background check on you, and you know what else we found? Nothing! Nearly every detail of your life up until the last three years turned out to be fake, the schools you supposedly went to back in Zoo York, the hospital where you had your face fixed after your accident, even the clinic where you went for dental work…they've all got computer records for you, but absolutely nothing on paper…and nobody that we talked to remembers you—out of more than thirty animals. One or two instances I can see, but THAT many? I don't think so."

Judy let out a silent breath of air; this WAS a bluff; there was no way Gamsbart could have obtained all that information in such a short space of time.

No, she decided, not a bluff, the chamois was playing a hunch; he was finally beginning to get the measure of Conor Lewis.

Or…had he? Even now, she wasn't so sure.

"I have to say kid," Albert Tufts chittered, jumping back into the conversation, (and this time Gambsbart didn't try to stop him,) "I've never seen a better job of creating a fake identity—almost Druid-level work; and it doesn't end at three years either, not completely. We also checked your home address; belongs to a nice, retired pair of badgers over in the Otterdam neighborhood—who never heard of you. My guess is that you don't have any parents…No, don't say it; we heard you the first time…yeah, you want a lawyer."

On the other side of the two-way mirror, Chief Bogo was pinching the bridge of his muzzle and muttering to no one in particular. "Oh please, not The Druid…again."

Judy looked at him curiously but the Cape Buffalo only waved her off as if to say 'not now'. His concerns were superfluous anyway; Rudy Gamsbart had taken over the interrogation once more.

"The point is Conor, there's no way a kid your age could have done all those things on his own. Someone had to have helped you, someone with a high degree of computer skills," he paused for effect and lowered his voice, "someone like…the Phantom." He turned and nodded at Tufts, who happily picked up the cue.

"When we first starting tracking you kid, we assumed that you were just some shill who didn't know who he was working for." He grinned, showing all four of his incisors, "Not any more. For you to own laptop like that and have that level of fake ID, you'd have to have met The Phantom, or at least have had semi-regular contact with him."

"And that's actually the good news, son," Rudy Gamsbart was almost beaming, "because the ZPD and the Zootopia Attorney General's Office have wanted to put that animal out of business for a long time…and very, very badly." He studied his hoof for a second, "bad enough to be willing to let a lot of other things pass, perhaps even, say, a charge of assaulting a police officer."

He stopped looking at his hoof and looked directly at Conor, "But not if you're going to force the issue of a lawyer. So, what's it going to be? Do you want to help us help you…or are you prepared to go to juvie with a 'violent offender' stamp on your jacket?

Conor stared and then sagged in his chair; he looked to Judy like pool-toy with its air valve popped.

Finally his eyes met Gamsbart's again.

And then he shook his head, speaking in mournful, almost fatalistic tone.

"Where's your head, Mr. Prosecutor? You think you can catch The Phantom—or whatever you want to call him? You think a guy like that comes this close to getting caught and sticks his head out? He knows where I am right now; if he comes up for anything, it will be to get rid of me. After that... my guess is you'll never hear from him again.

"That's where you're wrong, son." The chamois was folding his arms again, "The ZPD can protect you…but only if you tell us what you know about The Phantom."

On the other side of the two way mirror Judy Hopps was nodding in agreement—with the first part of Gamsbart's statement if not the second; (they'd protect the kid regardless of whether or not he chose to cooperate.) But at the same time, she could feel her nose twitching again and a puzzled expression creasing her face; it seemed to her as if Conor had broken just a little too easily.

And there was something about those words of his…

"Oh, gee, thanks, Gamsbart, bang-up job so far." The young fox had his arms raised in a hallelujah gesture. "Who's the Phantom? All I know is what I heard; he's supposed to be feline, some say his father's a lion. Nobody I ever talked to believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but any one of THEM could have been working for The Phantom. You never know; that's his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And then just like that, poof. He's gone." Conor blew across his pawlm, as if to emphasize his final point.

THAT was what tore it, that—and those last two lines; now Judy recognized the words, and so did everybody else within earshot. Except for a few minor changes it had been an almost verbatim recital of Gerbil Kit's monologue from the film the Usual Suspects, the one in which he'd described the elusive criminal mastermind, Tyger Soze.

Gamsbart and Tufts had just been played for chumps…and they were none too happy about it. The Kaibab squirrel leaped up out of his chair baring his incisor at the young silver fox.

"Oh, you think you're really smart, huh kid?"

Conor gave him a withering look.

"Nah, I just think you're a moron."

"Now you listen to ME, you snotty little…"

"Back off Tufts," Gamsbart hastily laid a hoof on the table in front of him. "Right now, you hear me?"

The squirrel retreated to his corner again, but this time casting a baleful glance at Conor every step of the way. Gamsbart waited until he had taken his seat again before returning his attention to the young fox on the other side of the table.

"Actually son…"

That was as far as he got.

"Stop calling me son, okay? My mom never went for guys like you…and you're the wrong species anyway." The young fox's arms were folded defiantly across his chest.

"Fine, Conor," the chamois went on smoothly, "But what I was about to say was, that was a really stupid mistake you made just now." he tapped himself on the chest, "Me, I'm willing to let a stunt like that pass—not because I'm nice guy but because I want the Phantom just hat badly." He leaned in close, lowering his voice to a near whisper. "But not the Lieutenant there; he can be a real jerk, even when…"

"As far as I'm concerned, you're both jerks," Conor interrupted him once again.

Gamsbart remained unfazed.

"That's right, keep digging yourself in deeper, I don't care. I'll walk out of here with a clear conscience…and maybe have the Phantom nailed with or without your help."

As if to demonstrate his meaning, he pulled out his cell-phone and punched in a number, propping it against his cheek.

"McHill, this is Gamsbart; any progress over there?"

The corners of his mouth turned downwards in a pensive frown and then bounced back up again.

"Good…very good. Have you got it on tape? Excellent! No, not yet, I'll see you later."

He rang off and slipped the phone into his pocket; at the same time his eyes narrowed and his face creased, transforming the smile on his face into a wicked, nearly demonic grin.

"Know who that was Conor? That was my assistant Dan McHill." He pointed in the direction of the outside corridor. "And guess what? He's got your 'customer', Ian Shortal in the room three doors down from here… and that weasel's telling us everything he knows."

The young fox only leaned back and shrugged

"I got no idea who you have in that room, but if he told you he committed a crime, why don't you book him?"

At this Tufts nearly came across the table again, but was once again held back by Rudy Gamsbart…who remained completely unruffled by the rejoinder. 'So you saw through my ploy, so what?' he seemed to be saying.

"Okay kid, you had your fun; I hope you think it was worth it."

He laid his hoof on the tabletop for Lieutenant Tufts to use. The Kaibab squirrel climbed up into it and then the two of them turned to leave. Higgins was just opening the door when Conor suddenly stood up from his chair.

"Mr. Gamsbart?"

"Yes?" the chamois turned halfway around—and the young fox's voice rose instantly to a ragged scream.

"I WANT A LAWYER, YOU HEAR ME? AND I WANT MY STINKIN' PHONE CALL—NOW!"

Outside in the corridor, Judy felt Nick nudging her shoulder.

"Dang, he's good; notice how he waited until the door was open before screaming for a lawyer?"

Judy looked up at her partner, blinking in surprise. What the…? He sounded almost proud of the younger fox.

"Okay, but why?" she whispered.

Nick nodded in the direction of the doorway. "To make sure that you, me, the Chief, and Higgins all heard it too."

But if Conor was good, so was Rudy Gamsbart; he only regarded the young fox indifferently.

"You'll get them, Conor…you'll get them. Only don't expect a lawyer right now; in case you've forgotten, today is Saturday and the Public Defender's Office is closed for the weekend. We'll have to start calling mammals at home, see if anyone's willing to come in on their day off." his face assumed that wicked expression once again. "And even if someone from the PD's office does agree to come down and represent you, don't expect them to be any too happy about it; so long, son."

He swept out the door with Tufts in his hoof, and Higgins closed it behind them.

Judy had a question for the chamois, but she never got to ask it; no sooner had he and Lieutenant Tufts returned to the corridor than the Kaibab squirrel proceeded to lay into her and Nick both…especially Nick.

"Wellll you two…are you happy now, huh?" He stabbed a finger at the two-way mirror, bushy tail snapping like a ringmaster's whip. "I told you we should have busted the Phantom's courier instead of trying to track him but nooo, YOU didn't want to listen."

"Excuse me, but we did bust him." Nick Wilde growled taking a step in the squirrel's direction; he'd had just about his fill of this little bag of snarks.

"You got him, but not the money!" Tufts countered, jumping out of Gamsbart's hoof and down to the floor again, not caring that he had landed within easy reach of the red fox's foot; he might be arrogant, but he was nobody's coward.

"Well, duh!" Nick wasn't about to yield any ground either, never mind if this tree rat had Lieutenant's bars on his uniform, "Of course he ditched the money, anyone could have seen that coming the minute he made us."

Tufts responded with a toothy sneer.

"Except he wouldn't have made you—or had time to get rid of the cash—if you'd taken him down as soon as he came out of that locker, instead of following him all the way to Flock Street!"

Judy felt her ears trying to stand up; at first she'd thought the squirrel was only trying to cover his own tail but no, he really was that upset.

As for Nick, for once her partner was left without a comeback. Like it or not, the Lieutenant was right.

Tufts could probably have won the argument right then and there—except some animals just don't know enough to quit while they're ahead…

"And maybe if you two had been paying attention to your job instead of each other..."

"That's ENOUGH!" Bogo stamped his foot so hard that the Kaibab squirrel nearly fell over backwards, while on the other side of the two-way, Conor Lewis performed a hasty duck and cover.

Getting quickly to his feet again, Tufts looked hastily upwards at Rudy Gamsbart, who only shrugged and shook his head.

"Nuh-uh Lieutenant, don't go looking to me for any support; that was WAY out of line."

"Too right it was," Chief Bogo flared, and then pointed with an angry finger, "I'll see you in my office Tufts—right now…and don't threaten to resign again, because I swear this time I'll accept it. "

That was what finally silenced the squirrel—and also every other officer in the corridor; Bogo wasn't kidding and they all knew it.

He snorted and then looked over at Gamsbart. "I'd like you there as well," he said…in a voice that clearly stated he'd have made it an order if he could. Fortunately, the chamois only nodded agreeably.

"Yes, certainly,"

"Right then," the Chief nodded back and then shifted his attention to Nick and Judy. "Hopps…Wilde," He angled his nose in the direction of the two-way mirror, "See you can get anything out of our young miscreant…besides more demands for an attorney. If he tells you anything useful, notify me at once."

It was clear from the Cape buffalo's tone that he didn't think they would…but what did they have to lose by trying?

When the Chief and the others had gone, Nick wanted to confront the younger fox immediately, but Judy held him back for a moment.

"Just a minute, let's at least figure out some kind of plan first."

"Okay," the fox agreed reluctantly, "What are your ideas, Carrots?"

Judy thoughtfully stroked her chin.

"Well…that little 'Usual Suspects' stunt Conor pulled; I-I-I don't think that was spontaneous Nick, something triggered it."

"Yesss, I thought so too." The red fox's mouth had compressed to almost a pucker; he was already coming to see things her way. "Okay, what was the last thing Gamsbart said before the kid started getting smart-mouthed?"

"He said…" Judy closed her eyes, thinking for a second, "…and I can't believe he said it; he was telling Conor that he'd be better off without a lawyer. Is that what did it, you think?"

"Don't know," Nick admitted with a shrug, "But it was sure as heck an insult to MY intelligence; I'll give you that without asking for a receipt." He chewed his lip for second, "But…that's now, not back when I was fourteen. To tell you the truth…I-I really don't know."

"Mmmm," Judy's nose was twitching again, "But tell me something else Nick; when you were Conor's age, had you ever been busted before?"

She saw his mouth pull sideways for a moment.

"Mmmm, nooo; I'd been rousted a few times and once or twice I got put in the back of a police cruiser…but no, I'd never been cuffed and read my rights if that's what you mean, why?"

"Because I think HE has," Judy nodded at the silver-fox on the other side of the two-way mirror, "Did you notice how quickly he assumed the position after he bit you…without being told?"

Nick blinked, and then his eyes widened.

"Dang Carrots, you're right; why didn't I notice that?"

"Well for one thing, you were bleeding at the time," Judy reminded her partner with a tilted smile. "But whatever the case is, the kid in that interrogation room isn't any little babe-in-the-woods."

"I couldn't agree more," Nick shaded his eye with a paw, peering narrowly through the glass for a second and then turned to her, "So, you said we shouldn't go talk to him without a plan; any thoughts about that, Carrots?"

"Well…" Judy tapped at her cheek with her finger, "I can tell you what we shouldn't do; no games, no gimmicks, no 'good cop/bad cop': that's only going to make him start repeating his demands for a lawyer." She compressed her lips for second. "Beyond that, the only thing I can think of is we should forget about trying to get him to admit to anything. "

"Then, what…?" Nick started to say.

"First thing's first; let's try to see if we can at least get through to the kid."

When they entered the interrogation room a moment later, their suspect immediately began to getting to his feet, but then checked himself at the last instant.

"Hello Conor," Judy said taking the seat opposite the young silver fox. For once, it was a bit small for her species. (She guessed it had been brought in for Lieutenant Tufts, who as usual had insisted on seating himself on the table-top, using whatever materials were handy to construct a makeshift chair.)

Conor looked warily at each of them before speaking.

"Hello Judy…Nick, or do I have to call you Officers Hopps and Wilde?"

"No, Nick and Judy are fine," the bunny-cop assured him. He didn't look reassured…or like anything at all. His face had once again become a featureless mask.

And Judy felt that coldness in her veins again—and also a quivering sensation in her spine; this was the same completely unemotional visage Craig Guilford had affected after HE'D been arrested…but with a difference. The young coyote's lack of expression had stemmed from a deeply suppressed anger…while Conor's stony countenance was strictly cold and calculating. He was studying her and Nick as if they were specimens under a microscope.

"Who ARE you kid?" she wondered silently.

Then the young fox spoke again, breaking the spell.

"How's the arm, Nick?" There was only barest hint of sympathy in his voice.

Nick studied his bandage for a second before answering.

"Not too bad," he finally said, "Bled a lot, but not as deep as it looked; the docs say there probably want be any scarring."

Judy forced her nose not to twitch; the actual verdict had been that there would definitely not be any scarring. Nick was sounding out Conor even as the younger fox was sounding him out.

"That's good, I'm glad to hear it." The young silver fox nodded slowly, and then he said, "I'm so sorry about that Nick…really, I mean it."

Now Judy was no longer able to stop her nose from twitching. Conor had spoken his words with genuine remorse—but at the same time he'd said 'Sorry about that', not 'Sorry I bit you.' However sincere he might have been in his apology, he had admitted to absolutely nothing.

"Even though he knows we have him cold on that count," she had to marvel.

She opened her mouth to speak but Nick Wilde beat her to the draw.

"Conor, before we go any further, there's one thing I need to know…"

"What…!" Judy's ears shot backwards and her brow flat-lined. Dangit, what part of 'no games' had this DUMB fox not understood? (And she couldn't reproach him for it, not in front of the kid.)

"Please just tell me this," Nick went on, "Please tell me at least that Finnick had nothing to do with any of this."

Judy rolled her eyes. "Here it comes again, 'I want a lawyer…'"

Conor leveled his gaze with Nick's and raised a paw.

"In all the time I've known him, Finnick has never been involved in anything illegal…or even questionable; not one single time, I swear."

It was another neat answer…once again the young silver fox had offered no admission of guilt. Judy hardly noticed however; what caught her eyes was the incredible look of relief on her partner's face.

Whoa, now she understood…about a lot of things.

Nick hadn't been playing a game just now; he'd truly wanted to know whether Finnick too was involved with The Phantom. And even though the red fox probably didn't realize it that was what most likely lay at the root of all his anger at Conor Lewis. 'You want to mess up your OWN life kid? Fine but don't go bringing my friends into it!"

And he hadn't; Judy had to give the young fox that much if nothing else.

As a matter of fact there was a lot MORE she had to give him—as he pointedly reminded her with the next words he spoke.

"How about you Judy, are you okay?"

"Dangit!"

"I'm fine, a few scrapes and bruises but otherwise I'm okay." She met his eyes with her own, a part of her wondering why it was so hard to hold this kid's gaze. "Thank you Conor, thank you for saving my life."

To her utter amazement, now HE looked away, voice dropping to a confused near mumble.

"'S all right. I-I had to do it; couldn't just stand there and do nothing."

Judy blinked and leaned in closer, watching Nick Wilde do the same. The young fox hadn't said it, but it was right there in front of all of them, 'I couldn't just stand there and do nothing—AGAIN!' that was his real meaning.

But what had happened that first time?

They were never going to find out; right then, just as quickly as the door had cracked open, it swung shut again; Conor's face became once more the mask of a foxy sphinx.

"All right…" Judy decided, and to the young fox sitting across the table from her she said, "Conor, we're not going to ask you any more questions, we know you're not going to say anything without a lawyer present; we get that." She nodded at the older fox seated beside her, "Nick and I just want you to hear us out, okay?"

He responded with a gesture that could have indicated anything, but probably meant, 'Go ahead, I don't have a choice anyway.'

Judy chose to ignore that possibility.

"Conor, you're a good kid. Nobody knows that betters than me, but what I also know is that even the best kids can do bad things once in a while...and make no mistake, you've come to the dark side here. I don't' know how much you know about the individual you're working for but he's a loan-shark…and believe me he's not lending that money out of the goodness of his heart." She tapped herself in the chest, "I've seen what his kind does to animals that can't make their payments on time—and trust me, it's not pretty."

"What Judy said," Nick nodded taking over for a moment, "When I was lot younger than I am now, I did some things that I'm not proud of…things I still regret." He leaned across the table tapping it with his finger. "When I finally came clean, that was the best decision I ever made; my only regret was that I didn't do it a lot sooner." He sat back again, "No details kid, every fox has secrets that they can't reveal." He paused for just a second and then pinned his gaze on the boy, "even if they wish they could."

At once Conor's ears pricked up…and then fell slowly back into position.

"I understand," he finally said, "and it's okay Nick, you don't have to hold back for my sake."

"Thanks kid," Nick nodded, but then flicked his eyes in the direction of the two-way mirror, "but I think I'll keep mum for now, okay?"

"Yeah, right." the young fox nodded, saying no more…and leaving Judy to puzzle over what the heck THAT was all about, (and why did Nick look like a dental patient whose X-Rays had just come back showing no cavities?) Wellll… she could ask him about it later, after they were finished in here.

He knew of course; without actually saying so, Conor had just released him from his promise. At last he could reveal what he knew about the role the younger fox had played in stopping the Guilford brothers' attack on the Carrot Days festival.

Only…not yet; not with Higgins listening and the tapes rolling; he'd have to wait until he and Judy were alone before telling her. After that…Nick had no idea where to go with it.

"So, can I have my phone call now?" Conor asked him without warning—and just like that, the spell was broken.

"One last thing, okay…and then we'll see about it." Nick glanced in Judy's direction, and she responded with a barely perceptible nod. Conor's reaction was once again the different shrug of an animal who knows he has no choice in the matter.

"It's never too late to do the right thing, kid." Nick sat up in his chair as he spoke, "No, don't say anything; just think about it for a while, can you do that?"

"Okay," the young fox nodded quietly, his expression wholly sincere. Whether it was genuine or another calculated response; Judy had no idea.

She knew she was going to regret what she had to say next—but it had to be said, so let's get it over with and try to make it as much of a soft landing as possible.

"I'm going to have to tell Erin about this, Conor; it's better if she hears it from me. Is there a message you'd like me to pass on?

The young fox sighed and regarded the table top for second, and then slowly shook his head before looking up again.

"Sorry Judy…but I'm can't tell you anything more without a lawyer, not even that."

"Okay," she answered, nodding sadly and trying to ignore the taste of bile in her mouth, "Now let's see about getting you that phone call."

As if to demonstrate her meaning, she saw Nick pull out his own smartphone and key in a number, "Clawhauser, this is Nick Wilde. Our suspect wants his phone-call, can you see if that's okay with…?" He stopped rolling his eyes, "Yes, I know what day it is and what time it is; so does the suspect." He said this while looking at Conor, who nodded while mouthing the word 'yeah.'

"Yes, I'll wait," Nick said into the phone. A moment of silence followed and then, "Right, got it. Thanks Clawhauser."

He stowed the phone and looked at Conor.

"Chief says okay; you got your call."

"I need to use my cell phone, "the young fox told him, dispensing with any 'thank you'. "The number I wanna call is on speed-dial; I don't have it memorized." It caused Nick's face to harden a little.

"You can use your own cell-phone if you want kid, but you'll have to give us the number so we can monitor the call." He leaned closer, showing only the barest tip of his left fang. "And fair warning junior, you try to break that phone when you're done and you'll be looking at an obstruction charge on top of everything else. Do you hear me?"

"I hear you," Conor answered as if he'd expected no less for the older fox.

It took about ten minutes for the phone to arrive and another ten to set up the tap. Then, finally, Judy gave the nod for Conor to go ahead and make his call, carefully watching the young silver fox as he pulled up the speed-dial menu and pressed a number.

They heard three purring rings, (the tap was hooked into the interrogation room's intercom speaker.) and then a droning female voice.

"If you know your party's extension, please dial it now, otherwise…"

Conor entered four more numbers; after a short pause, another canned voice spoke.

"Hello…our office is currently closed. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message at the tone, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible."

Nick frowned as he listened and saw Judy do the same; whoever Conor was talking to, their message had offered not even a clue as to their identity; the kid could be ordering delivery from Mondo Pizza for all they knew. For a moment he considered reaching over and summarily ending the call, but then decided against it. Anyway it was too late; the beep had sounded and Conor was delivering his message.

"Hello my name is Conor Lewis, I've been arrested and I need some help. They're holding me in ZPD Precinct-1. My case number is…" He looked expectantly at Judy, snapping his fingers. She hastily consulted her own cell.

While she did this, Conor's thumb moved swiftly and discreetly to his cell phone's 'home' button. At once the phone-call display shrank to a blue bar on top of the screen. In a quick, smooth, practiced move, the young fox found the 'messages' icon and tapped it, tapped again, and then tapped 'send', repeating the process a second time and then pressing the home button once again and then then blue bar a the top of the screen, bringing back the call-display.

The entire process took him less than three seconds, during which the young fox never so much as glanced at his phone, instead rolling his paw at Judy in a gesture of, 'Will you hurry up already?' (…much to the annoyance of both his 'companions'; just where the heck did this kid get off, trying to give them orders?)

"It's case number 3042016." Judy repeated the number a second time and the young fox recited it into his cell phone…and then, as if unable to resist, he said, "The prosecutor told me not to bother calling a lawyer; I think you can guess what I think of THAT load." He repeated his name and the case number and then rung off and returned the phone to Nick.

While her partner put the cell away, Judy went to the door and knocked. Higgins opened it almost immediately.

"Okay, we're done in here." She told the hippo, and then nodded backwards at the young, silver fox still seated at the table. "Can you get someone to take our suspect upstairs? ('Upstairs,' meaning the City Jail's Juvenile Offender wing.)

"On it," Higgins said,

When Nick came through the door a moment later with Conor beside him, he stopped and put his paw on the younger fox's shoulder for a second. At once Higgin's ears stood up and his eyes widened in alarm. Did this idiot want to get bitten a second time?

Nothing happened; Conor only halted in in his tracks, waiting.

"If I leave instructions not to muzzle you, can I count on you behave?' Nick asked him, and once again the young fox seemed to find the floor interesting."

"I-I won't do anything stupid," he said, speaking in that same low murmur, "promise."

"Okay," Nick let the young fox go and looked at Higgins, "All right, you heard me; no muzzle. If there's a problem, I take full…"

Before he could say any more, his cell-phone began to buzz.

"This is Wilde," he said, and then abruptly stiffened, "Yes Chief…okay. Can you tell us what this is…? Yes sir, yes…we'll be right there; yes sir."

"What the heck does Bogo want us for, all of a sudden?" Judy asked him. She didn't need to have heard it to know that the Cape buffalo's summons had been an urgent one.

Nick responded by motioning her down the hallway and around the corner…out of earshot of both Higgins and Conor.

"No idea, Carrots," he told her, when they were finally alone, and then a hiss of air escaped from between his teeth, "but whatever it is, it's nothing good."