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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. 6)

"Owww…Car-ROTS!" Nick Wilde shot up out of his chair like a jumping-jackal, dancing in place and yelping. Grabbing a napkin from basket in the center of the table, he dabbed frenziedly at the spots where Judy had spilled her coffee on him.

She appeared to take no notice.

"Sweet cheez n' crackers, I can't believe this, Nick. What on earth were you THINKING?"

"I had no choice, Fluff!" the fox retorted, waving his arms as if to ward off an apparition, (or maybe it was just the hot coffee) "Swearing to keep it a secret was the only way I could talk Conor into helping me—and like I already told you, I couldn't have done it without him."

They were seated in the back booth of a tiny coffee and pastry shop, nestled deep in a side street, just off Savanna Central's main plaza. Known simply as Le Nook, it was one of those blink-and-you-miss-it types of establishments. (Judy had chased Duke Weaselton right past it, when he'd snatched those Nighthowler bulbs.) There was just enough room in here for her, Nick, and perhaps three other patrons, (or just one if an elephant, hippo, or rhino came through the door.) It was the only place in the district where you could get gen-u-wine French-press coffee.

Unlike the Raccoon Lodge, Le Nook was nobody's cop-shop, (which was the whole point of their being here.) Nick had known about it for years, or that was what he'd told Judy. The owner/proprietor was an old dun goat with what the red fox liked to call 'selective hearing'. She could tune out a boom box cranked up to earthquake level if the spirit moved her…and she was always so moved if a customer asked for some 'privacy,' (and if they slipped a little something extra into the tip jar.)

"You have to understand something Carrots," Nick was saying as he took his seat again "When a fox gives his word to another fox, it's something like a sacred vow. No other species will trust us—please don't say it, I know—so we have to be able to trust each other. Like Finnick used to say, 'we're all we got.'"

Judy bit her lip for a second; there was more to this than he was telling her. The biggest regret of her partner's life was the time when he HAD broken his word to another fox, to the vixen he'd loved and then lost because of it. Could she honestly blame him for not wanting to repeat that mistake?

No, she decided, looking away towards the shop's front window…no, she couldn't.

"Hm, only a few animals out there," she noted. Wel-l-ll, that was only par for the course, Sunday mornings were always the quiet time here in Savanna Central.

She turned her attention back to her partner.

"Oh-kay Nick, I think I understand. I'm still none too happy with this…but I understand." She shook her head, "but still…"

"What?"

Judy laid her paws on the table and flexed them. Nothing annoyed her more than having someone answer a question with another question, but there was no getting around it; she had to know…and so she allowed herself the minor hypocrisy.

"Nick, who else knows about this besides you, me, and Conor?"

His eyes turned upwards at the ceiling for a moment.

"Uhhh, you might want to swallow that coffee first, Carrots. Okay, your sister Erin; she knows."

"WHAT?!" Whoa, it was good thing Nick had warned her; she would have gotten him right in the face this time. As it was, her next words came out as an unintelligible sputter.

Nick meanwhile was raising his paws defensively. "Don't look at me bunny-lady, it was Conor who brought her into it; he said he needed her help to get the lights doused."

Judy coughed, tried to speak, and then coughed again.

"All right Nick, okay," she finally said. She didn't know why that information made the situation any more acceptable…but somehow it did, and she wasn't about to be choosy at a time like this. Besides, this was Erin he was talking about…and the more she thought about it…

Nick apparently thought otherwise.

"You think she might tell anyone?" he asked her, sounding not a little hopeful. Since when were girls at 'that age' adept at keeping secrets?

"Nooo, not my little sis," the grey-furred bunny-cop answered, a wry smile spreading across her face, "If Erin was going to spill the beans, I'd already know about Conor helping you; she'd have told me night, when I called." (Judy had insisted upon fursonally breaking the news about the young fox's arrest to her younger sister.) "Besides, if I know her, she won't want anyone knowing the part she played in stopping that attack either…afraid the Guilfords might find out."

"But they're all in jail!" The red fox protested, and now it was his partner's turn to throw up her paws in frustration.

"I know, I know; tell Erin, not me…and honestly, can you blame her? Remember all those things Craig said when we brought him into the precinct? 'When I get out of here, I'm gonna bite your ears off, cottontail—you AND your dumb bunny sister'…uh, what?"

Nick had stiffened in his chair and his tail was frizzing.

"Craig…oh foxtrot, how could I have …? He's upstairs in City Juvie right now…with Conor! If he's crazy enough to want some payback on your sister…"

"That's why I asked you who knows what happened, besides him and us," Judy interrupted, "because we can't tell anyone else about it—and Craig Guilford isn't the only reason we can't."

Nick tail dropped downward and his tail fur smoothed out again. Judy saw his head tilt sideways and wondered why he always looked so cute whenever he did that.

"Okay, I'll bite; what's the other reason?" he asked her.

Judy felt her ears pull backwards, laying tight against the nape of her neck.

"Jerry Guilford! If his lawyer finds out you held something back when you made your report to the Burrow County Sheriff's Department, what do you think HE'LL do?"

It might or might not have been rhetorical question, but the red fox answered her anyway

"Probably move for a dismissal of charges, on the grounds of a false police report," he said…and then let out a snort that would have made Chief Bogo turn green with envy. "Come on, Fluff; how does that change anything? Burrow County has more than enough evidence to convict the Guilford brothers, Conor or no Conor. The courts won't buy that line of defense and you know it."

"No, but Jerry Guilford might." Judy countered, aiming a finger to underline the point, "and then, Craig or no Craig, he might decide to stick with that Not Guilty plea after all …and then you'll have to testify against him."

Nick's response to this could not have been more surprising if he'd jumped up on the table and started performing a break-dance.

"Well then, as Conor would say, 'that's what's going to happen." He leaned towards her, tapping the table as he spoke, his face a mask of resolve. "You asked me a minute ago what the heck I was thinking when I made that promise to him? Well, I'll tell you, Carrots; I was thinking that someone very special to me—that a whole bunch of bunnies very special to me were in danger…and that I had to move NOW if I was going to help protect them, never mind however much it might cost me later on."

Judy fell back in her chair, stunned, unable to find a reply. Even for him this was being incredibly forthright. "Nick you could have…" she started to say, but he already had his paw up.

"No I couldn't, Carrots; I know what you're going to say, and no, it wouldn't have worked. This was right after that mess I caused with the fire hose, remember? Not a lot of animals were ready to listen to me right then."

The rest of Judy's words died instantly in her throat; no they hadn't been, and she'd completely forgotten about that fire hose business. Then she felt something and realized that Nick had taken hold of her paws. She tried to pull away, but her arms refusing all orders from her brain.

"If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing, Carrots." he said meeting her gaze with his own. "Because we did it, we kept the animals at the Big Dance safe…and that's the only thing that matters."

Once again, Judy felt her words failing her…and why had she never noticed before how deep her partner's eyes were…

And then her hip began to buzz and the spell was broken.

Hastily, perhaps a little too hastily, she and Nick let go of each other.

Reaching for her phone, Judy found herself trying hard not to look at the fox on the other side of the table, (who seemed to have taken a sudden interest in his fingers.) Meanwhile her phone continued with its purring summons.

When she picked up, it was Chief Bogo on the other end.

"Hopps, where are you? The public defender that young Mister Lewis's been demanding is here at the precinct. They're bringing the boy down to meet him now. Is Wilde there with you?"

"Yes he's here, Chief," she answered, barely glancing at Nick, "And we're right across Central Plaza from you; we can be there in five, ten minutes tops."

"Right-o, I'll see you shortly," the Cape buffalo said and rang off,

"So they got a Public Defender for Conor?" Nick asked her, as she put the phone away. (He had heard enough to piece together what the Chief had been saying.)

"Yep, let's go," she said, pushing back her chair from the table—reluctantly; neither one of them was much looking forward to this.

For the next few moments, they walked in an uneasy silence, one that Judy knew was not going to last; Nick would break it, he always did. They were just mounting the precinct's front steps when her prediction at last came true.

"Say Carrots, I almost forgot to ask; how did Erin take it when you told her about what happened with Conor?"

The corners of Judy's mouth went in two different directions, and then she rubbed her chin with a finger, pretending to look thoughtful.

"Let's see…she hates me, she doesn't ever want to speak to me again, and I am now officially the Worst! Sister! EVER!" She once more regarded him with that skewed expression, "Other than that, she took it just fine."

Nick sighed and she saw him suppressing a smirk. And then he said, "For what it's worth Carrots, none of that is anything she can't take back later."

Judy heaved a sigh of her own, "Yes, I know; that's only the first stage…and it won't last. Heck, Erin's probably moved on to denial already, maybe even bargaining. Girls that age, you know how it goes."

"Right," her partner nodded, the expression on his face indicating that when it came to bunny-girls at the age of 13, he knew nu-thing, nu-thing, nu-thing.

Just then, a car came lumbering around the corner behind them, on course for the Precinct-1 visitor's lot, a mist-green, vintage, fully restored, Meercury Super 8, complete with windshield visor. Neither of them noticed it…but that was hardly surprising; the vehicle was only about the size of a wolf's lunchbox.

Arriving at Interview Room #2, Nick and Judy quickly discovered the action had been moved next door to Room #1, the cell normally reserved for large-mammal suspects. It was easy to see why, what with all the bodies in here. In addition to Rudy Gamsbart and Lieutenant Tufts, Chief Bogo was present, along with Claire Swinton and Officer Joe Pennington, the elephant standing behind the chair where Conor Lewis was sitting.

They had put him in a booster seat, which had the effect of giving the young silver fox something of the appearance of a toddler in a high chair, (much to the amusement of Albert Tufts.) There was also an animal present that Judy didn't recognize, a wildebeest in a natty suit and a bow-tie, no doubt the young fox's court-appointed attorney.

(Oh yes, that's who he was all right; he couldn't have looked more unhappy to be here if Chief Bogo had been holding him in a wrist-lock.)

"Good, you're here, we can get started," Gamsbart nodded a greeting to the fox and bunny and then turned to usher the wildebeest in Conor's direction.

"All right Mister Lewis, you wanted a lawyer, you've got one. This is Mr. Bradley Hickenbocker of the Zootopia Public Defender's Office; he's been assigned to represent you in your case.

The wildebeest glanced uneasily at Gamsbart for a second before speaking—and Judy noticed for the first time how young he was; fresh out of law school by the look of him, maybe only just passed the bar a month ago. Seriously, this animal looked so wet behind the ears she could almost see the excess moisture, running down the side of his neck.

"Well that's what Conor gets for pushing the issue of a lawyer on a weekend," Judy told herself, qualifying the thought with a half-hearted, "I suppose."

Hickenbocker, meanwhile, was reaching out to offer a hoof to this new client.

"Hello Conor," he said, and Judy felt her teeth begin to grind against each other. The wildebeest had a voice like someone rubbing finger on a balloon; how was that likely to go over with a judge?

"Well, like Mr. Gamsbart said, I'll be representing you," he started to say…before another voice from down near the floor level interrupted him.

"Ahhh, that won't be necessary, Mr. Hickenbocker."

Every head in the room turned, their faces undergoing a bewildering change of emotions, first surprise, then confusion, then horror, and ultimately loathing.

Standing in the doorway of the interrogation cell was a grey rat in an off-white linen suit and a kippah cap. In one paw, he held a briefcase; in the other, a rodent-size folding quad chair.

"I'll be handling Mr. Lewis's case from here on out," he said to the wildebeest…in a tone reminiscent of W.C. Fieldmouse informing a pesky child, 'Go away boy, ya bother me.'

In response, the public defender looked over at Rudy Gamsbart…who looked like HE was about ready to come right out of his hide.

It would have been no small task to find an animal more despised by Zootopia's law enforcement community than Vernon J. Rodenberg, Attorney at Law; he was the mob lawyer's mob lawyer. While he might not be the only reason Mr. Big and his Sahara Square counterparts were currently walking the streets instead of The Yard, he had certainly been a factor.

What the heck was he doing here? No one said it, but that's what everyone was thinking. As the old mob chestnut went, Vern Rodenberg didn't come cheap—and if he didn't get what he asked for, he didn't come at all. When Gamsbart queried him about it, he only shrugged, "I got a phone call," and nodded upwards in Conor's direction.

Judy felt her ears shooting skywards. So THAT'S who the kid had called yesterday. Only…why did he look as surprised as everyone else at the grey rat's presence? Weirder and weirder...

"And you're only just NOW responding?" Rudy Gamsbart demanded, incredulous.

In response, Rodenberg spread his arms, speaking in the indulgent tone of an uncle chiding an errant nephew.

"COUN-selorrrr, you know I never conduct business on a Saturday." To illustrate what he meant, he patted the skullcap affixed to his head.

And that was the last show of bonhomie Gamsbart was going to get from him. Setting his load down, the grey rat slapped his paws on hips and fixed the chamois in a flinty gaze.

"All right Mr. Prosecutor, you know the drill," he pointed at the doorway, and then at the two-way mirror, "everyone outta the pool, kill the recorders, and draw the curtains. I want to speak with my client in private."

"Just a minute, Counselor…" Rudy Gamsbart started to say, but was cut off by an interjection from Conor.

"Yes, I want Mr. Rodenberg to represent me," he said, the words practically flying out of his mouth; even he could see where the chamois had been going with this.

"Very well," the deputy prosecutor stood up, unruffled as always, and nodded at Brad Hickenbocker, "All right, you can go."

The wildebeest nodded and all but bolted through the doorway, followed by Gamsbart and the others, who exited in a more stately fashion. As they passed by Vern Rodenberg, several of them took the opportunity to offer him a withering glare. (Chief Bogo looked as if he was ready to stomp the little grey so-and-so straight through the floor.)

The one exception was Nick Wilde; when he filed past the rat, he made a point of looking elsewhere, his expression one of confusion rather than hostility. Many moons previously, in another, all-but-forgotten life, Vern Rodenberg had represented HIM in a case, (and thank goodness he had.) Thus it was that the red-fox's feelings about the rat were much more mixed that those of his compatriots. Not to put too fine a point on it, he didn't know what to think.

"You done with that coffee cup?" Rodenberg said to Claire Swinton as the pig-cop prepared to make her exit. He held out his paws. "Give it here, I need something to use as a desk."

"Sure," Swinton nodded and gave it to him…after crushing it into an ersatz golf-ball.

"Nice one, Officer." he said, staring up at her with quivering whiskers.

"Someone get him another one," Rudy Gamsbart called from outside the room, and a moment later Joe Penningon returned with another empty coffee-cup in his trunk…which he set on the table so gingerly, it could not possibly have been anything but a gesture of sarcasm.

When the door finally closed, Rodenberg looked up and for the first time spoke directly to Conor.

"Gimme a boost up the tabletop, kid…and don't pick me up…."

"Yeah, I know; one of my best buds from school is a rat," the young fox answered him, and then slid partway down the side of the chair, bending nearly all the way over and laying the flat of his pawlm on the floor. He lifted Rodenberg up onto the table and then twisted upright in his seat again. By that time, the rodent was already spreading the quad chair open. Plopping himself into it, he ignored his briefcase for the moment and made no effort to pull himself up to the inverted coffee cup, instead pointing a finger at his client.

"Okay kid, before we get down to cases, coupla things you're not gonna like, but they need to be said anyway. First of all," he turned his finger inwards pointing it at himself, "If you think you're going to walk before lunchtime, just coz you got me for an attorney, you can lose that idea right now. You ain't gettin' out of here anytime soon; I don't deliver miracles. Second," he leaned forward in his chair gripping the armrests tightly, "That was a really stupid thing you did, pulling that Usual Suspects shtick on Rudy Gamsbart. You may have thought you were being oh-so-cool-and-clever at the time…but watch what happens when the judge hears about it."

He got halfway out of his seat and pointed again, this time aiming his finger right between the young fox's burning-amber eyes.

"Get this through your head, Junior; life's not some bad cartoon movie, where the adults are all morons, the kids are all geniuses, and they make chumps out of the grownups at every turn. I need a client with that kind of attitude like Mars needs Moms."

The reaction from Conor made the grey rat's whiskers quiver in surprise. No argument, no protest, nothing even close to 'copping a 'tude', as the kids of today liked to put it. Instead the young fox only nodded glumly. "Yeah, I know. What can I say, I was torqued; that hornheaded jerk kept trying to make me waive my right to counsel. I know that's no excuse," he added hastily, "but I want you to know I wasn't just being a smartmouth back there."

Had he known his attorney a little better, the young fox would have been stymied by what transpired next. Vern Rodenberg…left speechless? That was something you saw about as often as a total eclipse of the sun. The last thing the grey rat had expected from this kid—or from any kid, let's be honest here—was a terse admission of error. And this kinder knew the lingua franca too; 'waive my right to counsel' he'd said, not 'forget about a lawyer.' That was the kind of language hardened wiseguys used, not a fourteen-year-old first-timer.

Conor, meanwhile, had misinterpreted his silence for something else.

"Mr. Rodenberg," he said, "When I left you that voice-mail yesterday, I honestly didn't expect you to return my call. Heck, I didn't even know if the number I had was still any good; I never dreamed that you'd actually show up here." Now he leaned forward. "But you did show up and so…look, I know you're not going to get me out of here any time soon, maybe not at all, but you're still the best chance I got at making a decent outcome here. And I'm not gonna ruin it by doing any more stupid stuff, you follow what I'm bringing out?"

"I get your drift, kid." The grey rat answered, nodding soberly, "And for what it's worth, you did everything else perfect. You may have ticked Gamsbart off a little, but you gave him zippity-do-dah that he can use against you; ditto for the cops." He showed his incisors in toothy grin, "I especially like the way you told Nick Wilde you were sorry without ever actually owning up to biting him. THAT was using your head, Booby."

He was about to say more when he noticed the young fox's ears were canted in his direction. It was on the tip of his tongue to explain that Booby, a corruption of the Yiddish word bubeleh was actually a term of camaraderie. But then the real reason for the fox kid's sudden attentiveness struck him.

"Riiiiiight…"

"Yeah, I know Nick," he said, "I had him for a client once, a long time ago." His whiskerd stiffened abruptly. "And that's all I'm gonna say about it, so don't ask."

"Right, I gotcha." The young fox nodded. Rodenberg nodded back and then reached for his briefcase. "Conor, I got a whole lot of questions that I want to ask, but what I don't have—what WE don't have—is a whole lot of time. Right now, I just want to get the essentials. By that, I mean I want you to stick to answering my questions and that's all, okay?"

"Okay," the young fox answered, tensing like a runner on the block. There was a brief delay while Rodenberg reached inside his briefcase, extracting a scaled down copy of the police report and a notepad, together with a pen that looked like a prop from an old-school gangster flick. (it was hard to tell, being as it was rat-sized.) He spent the next few seconds flipping through the pad until he found a blank page and then sat back, ready to begin.


"What do you want from me, Carrots? I'm a lip reader, not a MIND-reader."

They were back in the precinct commissary, nibbling muffins and sipping coffee. Or, that was what they would have been doing if Judy had been willing to take, 'I don't know' for an answer. When she'd asked Nickwhy a high-powered attorney like Vern Rodenberg would be willing to represent a small-fry like Conor Lewis, the red fox had helplessly thrown up his paws, "beats me, Carrots."

That, of course, had not been good enough for her. What did he mean, 'beats me,' hadn't Vern Rodenberg once represented HIM?

"Yes, he was my lawyer once…once," Nick told her, raising a finger for emphasis, "but I've barely talked to him since then. If we've said hello on the street more than twice in the last five years, that's a lot. Honestly, why don't you go pick on Rudy Gamsbart? It's pretty darn obvious he and Rodenberg know a lot about each other—even if they can't stand one another."

"Sorry, sorry!' Judy raised her paws defensively, "For crying out loud Nick, I was only asking."

"Yes you did—three times," the red fox observed with a sardonic grin, "and I'll say it again, I have no idea why he's offering to represent Conor."

"Well," a familiar basso-profundo rumbled from off to the left, "the way I see it, there are two possible answers to that question."

Nick and Judy both straightened in their seats. Wha…? Where the heck had Chief Bogo come from? They hadn't seen, heard, (or smelled) a thing.

He came lumbering over to their table, taking a sip of his own coffee. His ire at Rodenberg's unexpected appearance seemed by now to have cooled considerably.

"The first possibility is that the Phantom's the one footing the bill; it's not inconceivable that a big-time loanshark would have the resources to retain Mr. Rodenberg's services."

He took another sip and Nick felt the corners his mouth stretching backwards in a fox-grimace. Yes, that was the obvious answer—a little too obvious.

"I don't know Chief," he finally said, "spending THAT kind of money just to protect a courier? Mr. Big never would have; I may not remember too much about Vern Rodenberg, but HIM I can't forget."

"Well maybe that just goes to prove something—that our suspect's a lot more to The Phantom than just a courier," Judy Hopps was playing the Devil's advocate, but even so, she made a good point.

But not good enough as far as Nick was concerned.

"Look, I know it's not a fair comparison," he said, "but our suspect would have needed to be at least a capo for Mr. Big to have hired Vern Rodenberg to defend him." He pointed downwards, in the direction of the interview rooms. "And The Phantom would have had to be an idiot to promote a kid to a position like that, even one as smart as Conor …and as we all know, this animal is no idiot."

"Then maybe this is a 'Great Expectation's type of situation," Judy thought but did not say, recalling her high-school English class "Maybe the Phantom feels he owes this to Conor."

She had wisely chosen not to say it in front of the Chief, but the look on her face said it all to her partner; that was how HE had come to be the grey rat's client those many long years ago. Mr. Big had felt indebted to Nick, after the fox had refused to implicate him in the destruction of Wild Times Amusement Park. Sending Vern Rodenberg to represent him had been the Tundratown boss's way of returning the favor.

While that was certainly true, Nick Wilde saw things a little differently; he was all too aware that this had taken place back when the grey rat was just getting started in his law practice. In fact, the more the fox thought about it, the more convinced he was that sending Rodenberg to defend him had been a test on Mr. Big's part, "Let us see how he handles the Wilde case before we hire him to represent anyone higher up the ladder."

"And…the second possibility?" Judy Hopps was looking at Bogo again. She seemed eager to steer the conversation away from Mr. Big, (as always, whenever the Chief was within earshot.)

He snorted and sipped more coffee.

"That's…a bit more complicated."

Vern Rodenberg had gotten his start in practicing law while serving a 25 years-to-life as an accessory to murder…a crime for which he always insisted he'd been wrongfully convicted. In his quest to have that guilty verdict overturned, he had earned not one but two law degrees via correspondence courses he'd taken while behind bars.

Eventually his guilty verdict had been negated, and he'd been acquitted on retrial. "By way of proven innocence, NOT on any technicality!" he had boasted to the press after exiting the courtroom.

Following his release from prison, the grey rat had enrolled in the University of Zootopia Law School, earning yet a third degree. ('So's nobody can say I ain't a real lawyer.')

After that, he had sailed through his bar exam and found no shortage of clients ready and willing to hire him. Prior to his own release from jail, Rodenberg had represented literally dozens of other inmates who had lacked either the funds or the knowledge to hire a decent attorney. In the process, he had made new law, quashed several convictions…and destroyed the career of at least one prosecuting attorney. (That action had left the grey rat completely unmoved, 'Nobody made the jerk destroy evidence,' he'd said.)

The case that had cemented Vernon J. Rodenberg's reputation as a mob attorney, (his notoriety, if you were in law enforcement,) had occurred when he'd journeyed to Zoo York City to represent the dreaded east coast crime-lord, James 'The Mister' McCrodon on a charge of arms smuggling and conspiracy. It had seemed like an open and shut case at the time; the buyers had actually been undercover firearms agents, and they'd had both McCrodon and his weapons expert Danny, 'The Danaconda' Tipperin cold on both tape and audio. With that in mind, McCrodon's Zoo York lawyers had all but begged him to let them plea-bargain the case. Instead the sea-mink had reached out all the way to the city of Zootopia and the up-and-coming hot-shot attorney Vernon J. Rodenberg. Upon his arrival in Zoo York, the grey rat had gone after the government's case hammer and tongs. Claiming entrapment, he had shown in court that several of The State's surveillance tapes had been edited, 'doctored' in his words. The trial had ended in a hung jury, and so had the retrial—which for all practical purposes was an acquittal, since the state declined to prosecute The Mister a third time. It might not have been a spectacular victory, but it was still one for the win column.

What had mostly done in the prosecution's case, however, had been the grey rat's skills at confronting hostile witnesses.

"You've heard what they say about Mr. Rodenberg's cross-examination style then?" Chief Bogo was asking, as he added more sugar to his coffee.

Nick Wilde had heard it as matter of fact, but shook his head no anyway; let the boss have his joke.

"He treats hostile witnesses as if he's making hash-brown potatoes," Bogo grinned sourly. "Do y'know how to make hash-browns? First you take a potato, then you skin it, then you shred it, then you fry it on a griddle …and then you eat it. That's what Rodenberg did to those firearms agents; one of them was practically been in tears by the time he left the witness stand." He emitted a small snort. "And that's why the prosecution never went for another trial; their witnesses refused, point blank, to face Rodenberg from the witness stand again. One of them even resigned because of it."

Over on his left, Nick Wilde was grimacing and clutching his midsection. Bogo had just reminded him of something he didn't want to think about; in the not-too-distant future, HE was going to have to face Vern Rodenberg as a hostile witness; thanks a lot, Chief Buffalo Butt!

Meanwhile Judy's ears were standing up and her nose had begun to twitch.

"Sir, that's all very interesting, but what does it have do with…"

"Keep your fur on Hopps, I'm getting to that." Bogo looked into his cup for a second, like a fortune teller reading tea-leaves, and then went on to explain.

"It's no big secret that skilled as he is at representing underworld figures Mr. Rodenberg cares very little for that part of his job. I heard him say it meself once. His voice turned high and flat in a poor rendition of the diminutive attorney's nasal tone. "These guys may be bums, but they're bums who pay their legal fees…and a rat's gotta eat, y'know."

No, the work that Vernon J. Rodenberg genuinely enjoyed was the pro-bono side of his practice, representing indigent clients that he considered to have been ill-served by the Justice System, the bicycle thief, looking at a twenty year sentence because this would be his third strike—never mind that his last conviction had happened more than a decade earlier, the badger, about to go away for felonious assault after he'd mistaken a repo-mammal for a car thief and sent him to the ER, (The repo animal had gone to the wrong address and, incredibly, hadn't even bothered to check the license-plate number of the car he was about to tow.) Then there was the hedgehog, looking at a $75,000 fine after her estranged husband bought a junker car, registered it in her name and dumped it in a restricted-parking area at the airport.

"Those are the sorts of cases that make Mr. Rodenberg's day." Bogo told them, "and that's the other possible reason why he's offered to represent Conor Lewis."

This time, Judy was the skeptical one.

"I-I-I don't know Chief. Much as I hate to say it, since when is Conor Lewis a victim here? This isn't some circumstantial case that we're only pursuing because of his species…uh, no offense Nick. Sweet cheez n' crackers, he bit a cop, another fox for heaven's sake; we have it on video from two different angles. With all due respect sir, your suggestion makes even less sense than The Phantom having hired Mr. Rodenberg to represent his go-fer."

Bogo looked at her for a second, and then grunted, snorted, and got up from the table to get himself a refresher. That told Nick that while the Cape buffalo didn't much care for her assessment, he couldn't disagree with it either.

And what WAS Vern Rodenberg doing here?