Judy stifled a yawn as she drove through the city streets. 3 pm, five coffees in and I’m still tired, she thought. She took a small amount of comfort in knowing that she wasn’t the only one suffering the same symptoms, as Nick let out a big yawn as he stared out the car window. That comfort was mitigated by the reason why they were both tired. They had gotten everything they needed at the penthouse crime scene with just enough time to get back to the precinct and write their report before clocking out for the evening. When they'd gotten home, they’d barely been in the mood to do anything but collapse on the couch and try and watch something on Petflix, neither of them feeling like eating. After a while, they decided to call it an early night, hoping they’d regain their appetite for a decent breakfast the next morning.
Unfortunately, their subconscious minds had different ideas.
Judy’s dream was more weird than scary. She dreamed of a faceless polar bear standing in front of her. Without warning, the faceless creature drew a zipper down their front, allowing most of their internal organs to spill to floor, threatening to drown the rabbit in an avalanche of viscera. However, the organs themselves had faces and began dancing around her mind in a scene reminiscent of the Elephant Parade from the movie Dumbo, except marginally less terrifying. Hell, it didn’t even wake her up.
Nick wasn’t as lucky.
He woke screaming, accidentally kicking Judy in her side and waking her as well. In a mad scramble, he found himself on the floor breathing hard, eyes frantically darting back and forth. Pain forgotten, Judy launched herself at her mate, grabbing him around the neck and moving his nose under her chin, right where her scent gland was. Being a canid, smell was one of the first things Nick noticed, and he’d told her on more than one occasion that her scent was one of the first things he detected when she entered a room. With her most aromatic part right on his nose, Nick quickly snapped out of his panic. Immediately after, however, he looked at Judy like she was about to break before running his hands and roving his eyes over her.
Eventually, he calmed down enough for her to start getting coherent answers out of him. She found out why he had woken up like he did. While she had a weird dream, Nick had described his as a full-on nightmare. Most of the details had escaped him after he awoke, but he had one harrowing image burned into his mind.
An indistinct predator muzzle biting down on Judy’s neck. Hard.
After that revelation, he decided he really didn’t want to go to sleep again that night and went into the front room to try and relax. Judy tried to get back to sleep, but found it rather difficult due to a combination of worrying about Nick and not having him in bed to cuddle into. After an hour, she joined him in the front room, finding him watching some animated movie on Petflix. Having him close let her doze a bit while he wrapped his arms around her, but she never managed to fall back into a deep sleep.
Thankfully, their appetites had returned during the morning at the precinct, so they had managed to gain a little energy. However, they were still pretty much dead on their feet otherwise. Compounding this was the lack of progress in their case, as they were still waiting on a full autopsy and identification of the unknown mammals that were killed in the penthouse. After a frustrating, argumentative call to the Chinese embassy where Judy had to essentially browbeat the ambassadorial staff to try and get help in positively identifying the bat and red panda, Nick suggested they could at least go see Luther Hill to confirm if they were indeed his attackers. He reasoned it could be a useful visit for them, plus it would be nice just to get out of the office and be a little active after their eventful night.
Before doing so, they’d spoken to Captain Vines, who had just gotten off the phone with Precinct 26 about some unusual activity from the Stallion Mafia in the area. A long-time ally of the Big organisation, there were rumours of them looking for another syndicate. Nothing concrete, but enough for the MCU to be kept abreast of the situation considering the multiple cases involving the various criminal syndicates in the city. No description of the mammals involved were reported, but if there was even a hint of it being connected to Nick and Judy's case, they needed to be made aware.
After that, Nick had tried calling Luther, but found the phone going to voicemail. A call to Harry had them finding out the badger was, in fact, at work. Apparently, he didn’t like the idea of leaving security to anyone else and had gone in to see how the preparations for tonight’s opening was going. The fact that he could barely move unassisted and had one of his arms in a sling, among other injuries, wasn't as big of a concern to him. So, the duo determined they would head to where Luther currently was, the Inferno strip club.
“Stubborn doesn’t really describe it accurately when it comes to Luther, does it?” Judy asked, trying to get a conversation going. While they were both tired, keeping their brains engaged would at least keep them going until they could get home.
“I’d say hard-headed, arrogant, and very bad at delegation,” Nick replied with a smile, turning his half-lidded eyes to his mate.
“Sounds like he and Finnick will get along just fine,” Judy said, a snort of laughter escaping her.
“Oh crap, that’s right! I forgot I had gotten him that job there. We gotta get their quick, Fluff!” Nick said, excitement in his voice.
“Why? Worried they’ll get into it?”
“No, I’m worried we’ll miss the show! Got any popcorn?”
A few minutes later, a sufficiently energised Nick led the way to the Inferno club, a skip in his step and Judy’s eyes rolling at her fox’s antics.
“Hey Nick… Wow, you look like warmed-over shit,” Harry said, greeting them at the door. He looked over to Judy. “You look only slightly better, Judy.”
“Such a charmer,” Judy replied. She let out a large yawn. “Is Luther able to talk?”
“Yeah, he’s at the bar with Kyle and Finnick.”
“Oooh, I don’t want to miss this!” Nick said, hurrying inside, his tail wagging like an excited kit’s. Judy followed, shaking her head as Harry closed and locked the brand-new front door. She glanced at it, noting the solid build and brand-new electronic locks. While it didn’t look any heavier than the old one, it seemed more sturdy, with additional bolts on the inside. There also seemed to be some sort of assisted opening system on the inside with motors. It was easy to open from the inside, and with the appropriate key from the outside as well, but it’d be damned hard to try and break it down. It seemed Harry wasn’t taking any more chances after Luther’s assault.
Judy made her way down to the bar, following close behind Nick and Harry. She’d never seen the club lit up in anything but its painful “Hell” motif, all reds and oranges. Here, under the standard neon lights that were used before its opening, the novelty flame and smoke-themed chairs looked like some sort of kit’s playset. An expensive one to be fair, but still. Plus, the smoke-based furniture looked more like mushrooms than anything.
Harry pointed Judy to a small and medium-sized mammal bar, the one Nick had already started making his way towards. Harry walked away to attend to some filing work in his office behind the main stage, so Judy kept following her partner. She saw Luther and Finnick, and to Nick’s slight disappointment and Judy's surprise, the two seemed to be chatting quite amicably, or as amicably as two angry mammals with zero interpersonal skills could manage. Luther looked better, but Judy could see some bumps from his bandages underneath his plain black t-shirt, and his left eye was still covered by a clear patch taped over some cotton.
“I’m telling you, that’s bullshit! No way cricket is more boring than baseball!” Finnick yelled.
“Hand to God short-arse! Do baseball games have a specific game type that can last up to five days?”
“Yeah, I told my Dad that. He said the pain I cause his heart was worse than when he got a gut shot in his engineer corps days!”
“Jeez, bro,” another voice said. Judy turned and saw Luther’s platypus brother Kyle perched on the end of the bar, typing away on his laptop.
“What? It’s what he said!”
“Good to see you getting back to your old self, Luther,” said Nick, interrupting the conversation. “And good to see you too, Fin.”
“What, you think just because I nearly got killed that that’s gonna change who I am?” Luther said, acknowledging the fox.
“You are carrying the gun on you now, in fairness,” said Judy, pointing at the holster she could see under the badger’s shirt.
“Yeah, well…maybe I’m a little more paranoid, alright?”
“And you’re sure carrying a gun around while paranoid is the best thing? Especially with your lack of depth perception?” Judy gestured at his covered eye.
“Eh, only gotta keep this on for another day. Plus, I spent four years as a soldier, two of which I was deployed overseas. I spent more times carrying a gun while nervy than I care to admit. I can probably recognise immediate danger better than you, at least in a combat encounter. So, I am NOT going around defenceless while I can only use one of my arms. I know what trigger control is, I know how to identify civilians…”
“And your injuries don’t hinder you in anyway?” Nick asked.
“Pfft, watch this!” Luther said. He moved to grab his gun, wincing in pain as he did so. As he tried to reach for it with his arm, drawing it slowly out of its holster, another wince of pain caused him to fumble with the pistol. It dropped to the floor, causing the civilian mammals around them who had seen one too many action movies to duck, afraid of it going off. Of course, that didn’t happen because real life is surprisingly less tarrying than most movies, and guns are built so they don’t go off when dropped.
Luther stared at the gun for a few seconds before sighing. “Yeah yeah, point taken. Kyle?” He turned to his brother. The platypus left his seat and picked up the gun, and to Nick and Judy’s surprise he handled it expertly, emptying the unspent chamber bullet, taking out the magazine and placing the round from the chamber back in the magazine. “Cheers bro, can you put it in the safe under the bar?” Kyle nodded and did so. “What? We’re army brats,” Luther said to the surprised detectives. “You think our old man ain't gonna show us how to do that even if one of us didn’t go in?”
“Sorry, just assumed Kyle didn’t know how to handle a gun,” Judy said, still stunned.
“Yeah, dad taught me while Luther was in the army. Technically illegal in the UK, but well, nothing anyone can do about that now.”
“Hard to prosecute a dead man. Heart attack last year.”
“Oh, sorry,” Judy replied, unsure of what else to say. Kyle shrugged in response.
“I’m guessing this isn’t a social call?” Luther asked, wincing slightly as he rotated his good arm.
“Partly,” Judy said, and nodded over to Finnick. “Go talk to your friend, Nick, I got this,” she added. Nick shrugged and went over to Fin, giving the fennec a fist bump as he sat. Judy turned her attention back to Luther as Kyle made his way over to his brother. She tried not to coo at the gesture of the platypus trying to protect his older, larger, and certainly more aggressive brother. Instead, she pulled out her phone and brought up the Interpol photo of the now deceased bat that she and Nick suspected was one of Luther’s attackers. “Is this one of the mammals that assaulted you?” she asked, handing the phone to the badger.
After a few seconds of adjusting the phone due to his lack of depth perception, Luther stared at it and nodded. “Yeah, that was one of the bastards. You got him?” he asked, handing the phone back.
“Someone did,” she answered. “He’s dead.”
“Wasn’t me, though not for lack of hope,” Luther admitted, smiling a little at the news. “What about the others?”
“Investigation is ongoing I’m afraid,” said Judy. “But you’re the closest we’ve got to someone who can identify him, and it helps. And we know you didn’t do it,” she continued, wanting to put any possibility of Luther being a suspect in the bat’s murder to rest. Not that he seemed to be bothered by the idea.
“How’d it happen?”
“That I can’t tell you, sorry,” she responded. “It is part of an ongoing investigation, but we felt that in addition to you helping us identify this mammal it might make you feel better.” That was true enough. This was one of those grey areas of law enforcement, giving what comfort you can to victims. Strictly speaking, the proper way would be to keep everything quiet until as late as possible, after the perpetrators had been caught for one. Police had to be seen doing their jobs, but at the same time playing your cards close to the chest was part of any investigation. It was always a bit murky when there was a still living victim factored into it all.
“I’m fine,” Luther said, but his body language said something different. Judy was nowhere near as good at reading mammals via non-verbal cues as Nick was, but she’d picked up enough to know that Luther was more relaxed, mainly by how his good shoulder sagged slightly. Kyle, however, looked anything but relaxed. When Judy moved her eyes to him, Luther noticed and followed her gaze to his brother, who was doing his best to look tough. The wringing of his…paws? Hands? Flippers? Whatever they were, they were was also a dead giveaway.
“I am not going anywhere, bruv,” Luther said, placing his arm on Kyle’s shoulder. “Seems like these guys have got much bigger problems on their hands.”
“You’d be correct there, but that’s about all I can tell you. Sorry to bother you at work, felt it was better coming to you than you coming to us for the moment.”
“Appreciated, thanks,” Luther said.
“We best be heading out now. C’mon, Nick,” Judy called to her partner. He looked up, nodded and said his goodbyes to Finnick, who waved to Judy in response. The detectives were shown out by Kyle, who locked the door behind them as they exited the entrance tunnel to the club.
“Well, least we got as close to a positive I.D. as we’re going to get,” Judy said, writing a few things in her notebook. “How’s Finnick doing?” she asked.
“Seems to be OK. Harry’s taking him on full time even after Luther gets back. Seem he’s got a knack for the job,” Nick replied
“Well, that’s good to hear. We should take him out to celebrate.”
“Yeah, we’re gonna see him this weekend, if that’s OK? And he asked if we could invite Kate, Bhrast and Minhele. He wants to apologise and pay for a round or two for ruining the other night.”
“We’ll see if they’re up for it. Kate’s back at school now but since it’s the first few weeks her workload should be fine.”
Judy hopped into the driver’s seat as Nick entered the passenger side. She drove off after he buckled in, planning on doing nothing more arduous than some paperwork before heading home.
Detective Hunter, meanwhile, was annoyed that his day was dragging on and wished he was on his way home to his wife and kids. But no, here he was, three hours past his shift’s end, all because he and his partner had been pulled into the shit by that damn rabbit and fox.
“Hey, cheer up Charlie, least we’re not working that drug case anymore,” his senior partner, Henry Coulton, said as he turned their car’s wheel. They’d managed to wrap up a drugs investigation, which had been going on for months thanks to one of the major dealers skipping town. They’d cracked it finally, but it had dragged on for so long that it nearly went to the cold case files. It happened, but no detective liked admitting they couldn’t solve a case.
“Yeah, but why the hell do we have to get dragged into Hopps and Wilde’s bullshit?”
“Probably because Vines and Bogo are still annoyed when we tried to take that case off them all those months ago,” Hunter answered, knowing full well that those two could hold a grudge like few other mammals.
“Or those shrimps got them to do it…” Coulton replied, but not with any conviction. Despite his dislike for them, he knew the two celebrity detectives wouldn’t do that. They hadn’t been detectives long enough to be that jaded and resentful.
“Yeah, they needed the real detectives to do the hard stuff,” Coulton replied. That got a small laugh from the cougar. Henry always managed to get a laugh out of him. He was as cynical as any other detective with almost 25 years’ experience, but he always managed to find the humour. His attitude managed to rub every other partner he had the wrong way, to the point where the ten-year veteran had run through one partner per annum until three years ago.
Turning back to the task at hand, Hunter asked, “So, you think this is gonna be worth it?”
“Probably not, but Bogo and Vines think it’s worth talking to some of our contacts. I mean, since these new Triad guys need contacts within the city. Rumour is they burned their bridges with Big,” Coulton replied.
“I guess, but the rest of the families would have to be nuts to go against him,” Hunter said. “You were around when the last mob war went down, right?”
“Still a patrol-mammal at the time, but yeah, wasn't pretty, to put it mildly. Still, there were plenty of mammals who thought it was crazy to ally themselves with Big at the time, and he was the new kingpin on the block then.”
“I guess,” Hunter answered, shrugging. “So, who’s this contact of yours?”
“Louie St Louis. Runs an Italian place not too far from the docks.”
“Wait, he’s Louie St Louis? So…Louie Louie?”
“Heh, yeah, but don’t call him that more than once. He’s a brown bear, and he used to run with the Stallion mob back when he was a kid. Got busted a few times and tried to turn over a new leaf.”
“Well, successful for the most part? He’s friends with one of Big’s lieutenants back when they were kids. Jack Khartoum.”
“Wait, the same Jack Khartoum who cuts mammal’s heads off?”
“Allegedly cuts mammal’s heads off. Never could get shit to stick, the fucking scum,” Coulter replied. “But yeah, he and Jack have an agreement. Louis doesn’t talk, Jack makes sure no one bothers him. They use his place as a neutral ground, for meetings and such. Also, he’s been used as an alibi for some of the other higher-ups, so they’re obviously somewhere public with good security cameras when, say, a rival ends up with a bullet in their head. Not that there’s been anything like that for a while,” he added. “Big keeps the other syndicates in line, but it’s not like they did it out of politeness.”
“So, if the agreement is that this guy doesn’t talk, why would he tell us anything?” Hunter queried, turning down the street that Coulter had pointed at.
“Oh, he won’t talk, but this way we get to hang out and get some of the best pasta in the city,” Coulter said with a smirk. “Besides, I said this place is used as a sort of neutral ground for the syndicates in this part of the city. Might get lucky, find someone who will talk.”
Hunter shrugged. It wasn't the worst plan – they’d found enough leads through similar methods in the past. Besides, just because Hopps and Wilde were out of their depth didn’t mean they were responsible for pulling their slack. “How the hell did Hopps and Wilde get in the MCU anyway?”
“Politics,” Hunter said, tapping his nose with his hoof. “Look, fair play to them, they’re good at their jobs for the most part. But I heard that Lionheart pulled some strings to get them into the MCU. They’re a pred-prey pairing. Looks good for his opinion poll numbers.”
“Yeah, but we’re a pred-prey pairing,” Hunter pointed out.
“Yeah, but we’re not sleeping with each other. The whole pred-prey relationship plays really well with the younger voters.”
“Fucking disgusting if you ask me,” Hunter said, digging his claws into the steering wheel. “Mammals should be with their own kind, otherwise what was the point of getting together with someone? I mean, look at all that shit Captain Higgins at Precinct 99 caused all because he couldn’t keep it in his pants around wolves. OK yes, he somehow doubted that Hopps and Wilde would end up going down that dark path. But it just makes no sense. How they gonna have kids?”
“Fuck knows, bud. Maybe they’ll adopt an elephant or something?” Coulton answered with a huff. “Eh, fuck it, who cares.”
“Well I do for a start,” Hunter said. “What, you down for interspecies? Got your eyes on a polar bear for wife number four?”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Coulton replied. “Nah, it’s just…I dunno, can’t be arsed giving a shit anymore, ya know. Not like it’s gonna do anything.”
“I guess,” Hunter answered back, and though he was loathed to admit it, he agreed. He was raised by strict, loving parents. Some might say that their views were old-fashioned, but well, traditional and stable family values had founded America, and every year it seemed some of that stability was eroded. That being said, a lot of the things they'd said would happen, things like if gay marriage came to be then mammals would be fornicating in the streets, hadn’t happened. And Hunter had seen what happened when people really went too far with the same lessons he’d been taught. Disagreeing with gay marriage was one thing, but trying to kill your daughter because she was marrying another doe? Senseless.
“There’s Louie’s on the left. Just park across the street, no parking restrictions at this time of night,” Coulton said, pointing to a gap between two cars. Hunter obliged, pulling into the space. As he applied the paw brake and and unbuckled his belt, he heard Coulton mumble ‘shit.’
“What? Closed early?” Hunter asked as he looked to his partner. Something had spooked Coulton enough that he hadn’t even unbuckled yet, as he was still staring out the window. He followed the horse’s gaze, looking through the large plate glass window that let them see into the restaurant. He didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary, aside from the restaurant seeming a little quiet for this time of night. Only a few people were eating, and only a couple of mammals were at the bar. Looked like a nice place though.
“Table next to the bar, left side,” Coulton gestured with a hoof. Hunter followed it and saw two mammals locked in discussion. One horse, and one panda.
“Oh…” Hunter replied, putting two and two together. “Hold on.” He brought out his phone and scrolled through some pictures, pulling up an image Bogo had sent him before they set out earlier that evening. He looked at the panda in the picture and back to the one in the restaurant. Hard to tell at this distance, but he looked very similar to the one in the photo. “So, if that's this Dragon guy, who’s the other mammal?” Hunter asked, looking at the dark brown…possibly black horse. He seemed familiar too, the white mark on his head prominent amid his dark fur coloring.
“That’s Jack Khartoum,” Coulton answered. “That cannot be just a casual chat.”
“Damn right,” Hunter said, reaching for the car door. “Come on, let’s get the bastard.”
“Better report this in first. If that is the panda, he’s already killed at least one polar bear in the city with his fists.”
“Bullshit,” Hunter said, shaking his head. “You ever heard of a mammal that small killing a polar bear?”
“No, but I also never heard of a rabbit knocking out a rhino before Hopps turned up,” Coulton answered.
“And I call bullshit on that as well,” Hunter said. He hadn’t believed that for a second, even if the rhino in question, Officer Rotaxes, had ‘confirmed’ the story. Hunter hadn’t put it past Hopps to pay him off to boost her reputation up. “Look, even if he did do that, he was unarmed. We’ve got guns.”
“Guns that we’re not supposed to use unless absolutely necessary…though I’d say going up against a Triad is a good enough reason. But let’s not confront him in the restaurant, OK? Too many civvies.”
Hunter nodded in agreement. In his haste to get this supposed killer panda, he’d almost made a rookie mistake putting civilians in danger. “In that case, let’s wait until he leaves and follow him, see if we can get him alone.”
“Good idea,” Coulton agreed and went to grab the car’s radio.
“What are you doing?” Hunter asked.
“Calling it in, kid,” Coulton answered, but his hoof was stayed by Hunter’s paw.
“Come on, man,” the cougar said. “Think we can’t take a panda? A prey species that weighs the same as me and about, what? A third of what you do? OK no, make that a fifth.”
“Oh, fuck off,” Coulton said, but he did withdraw his hoof from the radio. “Yeah, it’d be a feather in our caps if we get the fucker ourselves. Might even get us on the MCU shortlist.”
“Plus, it would piss off Wilde and Hopps,” Hunter said, snickering afterwards. Coulton nodded, and the two settled down to wait, watching the conversation between the panda and Khartoum. After an hour, the restaurant had cleared out, and the two mammals got up and shook on whatever they had been discussing. Khartoum left first, taking a short walk down the street and getting into his Mustang that growled as it drove off. The panda remained at his seat, seemingly having ordered a dessert…no, make that three desserts. He was staring vacantly out of the window. After a while, he finished the last piece of cake, picked up a bag from the floor that the two detectives hadn’t been able to see, and made his way out of the restaurant. He turned immediately to his right, walking briskly away.
Waiting a few seconds for the panda to gain a lead, Hunter and Coulton exited their car and followed on the opposite side of the street. There were a few pedestrians around, but not enough for them to get any closer without arousing suspicion. After a couple of blocks, the panda turned lazily into a shop, causing the detectives to pause and duck out of sight. A few seconds later, the panda came out, a plastic bottle in his hand. He continued for another block before suddenly turning sharply and running down an alley.
“Shit!” Hunter cursed, running across the street and drawing his gun. He sprinted ahead of his partner, who called out to him to slow down, but he couldn’t. After all this, he couldn’t just let this bastard go. Besides, he was a panda, no way he could out-sprint a cougar over this short of a distance. Coulton would catch up easily enough, anyway.
Hunter approached the alley at a dead run, slowing down only a bit to take the corner and step into the mouth of the alley.
Pity the panda, about ten metres away, had a shotgun up and waiting for him.
He heard the boom, felt a huge pain in his side, and found himself flying sideways, his ribs screaming in agony. He slammed into the alley wall and fell over, landing with a grunt on his front. Panic. Disorientation. Oh shit, I’ve been shot ohshitohshitohshit, Hunter thought, waiting for the cold, burning sensation of the shotgun wound to start and really hoping his partner wasn't too far behind so he could be ready to call in an ambulance. But after a few seconds, he felt nothing but the incessant throbbing in his ribs. He touched them, and aside from an increased intensity to the throbbing, felt nothing else. No blood or exposed skin. His hearing had been temporarily affected by the blast being so close, but the high-pitched ringing started to abate just as he heard what sounded like footsteps running.
Thank Christ, it’s Coulton, Hunter thought at first. However, the sound of running started to lessen, meaning it was someone running away from the scene, not towards it. Knowing his partner wouldn’t be the one to run, he assumed the panda had left… but where was Coulton? Struggling to breathe, the cougar rolled over, hoping to see his friend arriving.
Instead, he saw the unmoving form of Coulton on his back and missing a good chunk of his chest.
“COULTON!” Hunter tried to scream as he scrambled over to his friend. “C’MON MAN, GET UP! COULTON!” he screamed. The pain in his ribs was forgotten, as a greater one started up in his head and stomach. He made it to his friend and began shaking him, even as the last rational part of his brain told him that it was already far too late.
Nearby, a voice he didn’t recognise started speaking frantically. “Yes, I need an ambulance! Someone’s been shot! A police horse, I think. He’s…I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
Not needing to wait for the ambulance to confirm it, Hunter collapsed over his partner and wept.