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Guardian Blue: Season 3

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Guardian Blue: Season Three

Episode 11: Witness

 

 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Nick asked for probably the eleventh time. Judy took a hard hit. She wasn’t going to deny that. Fortunately, Cherry didn’t catch her with claws, it was all paw. Still, bending down to put her foot-braces on in the morning was going to be a miserable experience for a few days. Judy didn’t feel throbbing or stabbing pain inside, so she was pretty sure she was okay. Being a small mammal with the possibility of being sat on or stepped on, one learned early the warning signs of more serious injuries.

 

“I’m fine, Slick. I’m just sore.” She leaned back in her chair, looking at the sixteen page report she and Nick had worked together to type. It had taken more time to do the report on a tiny segment of their investigation than they had spent fully on the investigation itself that day. Nearly four hours. “Well, at least this is done,” the doe pointed out. “Your spelling is impeccable, as always.” She wanted to distract her partner from his obsession with her injuries. It hurt less when she wasn’t thinking about it.

 

“Yes, and you misspelled wolf twice,” the fox replied. They had edited the report opposite of how they wrote it. One wrote one half, the other did the other half. They split work up seamlessly and efficiently.

 

“I misspelled… wolf?” the doe asked incredulously. Nick slowly nodded with a look of concern.

 

“I think… maybe you were just tired of typing, Fluff,” he offered softly. “Not much else was wrong… just… Please promise you’ll let me know if you don’t feel right.” Judy laid her ears back. “I’m serious. I know you’re a tough bunny but you’re my tough bunny. All right?” His wide, expressive green eyes were fixed intently on her as if monitoring her very heartbeat. Judy glanced around to make sure that no one was standing right by their shared cubicle and then leaned in to nuzzle her partner. She pushed her chin up against his jaw as well.

 

“I promise, Nick. I won’t take chances. Not with that.” Her heart ached for how much he desperately cared for her. Often things were busy enough that it was harder to stop and appreciate all the little things he did for her, but he made it obvious from time to time that she meant everything to him, and it was always a sobering realization for a bunny who was used to the attention of even her own parents being spread thin. Being the complete focus of another was still new and slightly alarming to her.

 

There was a muffled yap from Nick’s backside. Judy was not so tired that she could resist cracking a smile at that. It was always funny to her. Nick thought nothing of it, of course, and simply took his phone out of his back pocket and checked it. He sighed. “My mom has to set up a delivery for a big company picnic and has a meeting with the customer when he gets off work today so… she said she might not be able to watch Sam.”

 

Judy rubbed her ears in frustration. “Tandy hasn’t replied to the message I sent earlier, so I’m not sure if she’s able to reschedule or not. I want to get moving on this lead as fast as we can, but one of us will probably have to take Sam tonight,” the doe returned. “Did you get the kit from Pawlander?” the doe asked. Once the detective had mostly recovered from his run in with Cherry, they had requested some supplies they would need for their meeting tonight.

 

The fox nodded. “I did, and Judy… I would suggest it be you who stays home, Carrots. I want you to rest a bit and just kind of monitor yourself.”

 

“I know. I should, but I know you are still gonna worry the whole time if I’m not with you.” Nick lowered his muzzle, making it clear she was right. Judy’s phone rang. She expected it to be her parents, for some reason. It wasn’t like the fight in the precinct had been broadcast on the news, but it felt like every time something painful happened to her, they somehow knew. She didn’t immediately recognize the number.

 

“Sargent Judy… Wilde… how my I help you?” she answered. Using her new last name was still taking a little getting used to.

 

“Hey, Judy, it’s Kris,” came the hushed but high pitched voice on the other end of the line.

 

“Oh, Kris! How’s it going?” the doe asked. She motioned to Nick to bring his ear closer to the conversation. The little otter had immediately sounded stressed.

 

“So… uh… I just had a concerning experience…” She drew that out in such a way that it made Judy think she was hastily walking somewhere.

 

“What happened?” Judy inquired in an unnecessarily hushed tone.

 

“I came out of my apartment to take out the recycling, and I was met right in front of my door by two huge rats,” she explained quietly. Nick and Judy’s ears shot up.

 

“Rats?” Judy clarified.

 

“Yeah, biggest I’ve ever seen. One was maybe bigger than me. They asked me a bunch of weird questions and were being very threatening and I… I don’t feel safe. I’m going to my dad’s house. He’s not home, but I feel safer there than a place those guys know to look for me.” The mustelid sounded more anxious the more she talked. “Oh no. Oh no, Judy, I think I’m being followed.” Nick stood up. He gestured in such a way that the bunny understood that they needed to meet her.

 

“I don’t want you going anywhere alone,” Judy expressed quickly as she followed her partner toward the lobby of the station. “Head someplace with lots of other mammals around. We will have someone pick you up. What are you close to right now?” They got onto the elevator and Nick began setting up their Zuber ride.

 

“I’m by the Palm hotel,” she answered in a wavering, worried voice.

 

“Wolfard’s assigned to traffic for an event there,” Nick whispered. Judy agreed with Nick. Kris couldn’t wait for them to come to her if she was being followed. She had to get to where help would be.

 

“Head for the Palm. You still have that flower you wear?” Judy inquired.

 

“Y-yeah, you can’t miss me,” the small voice on the other end responded. “I think the guys are in a little black car behind me. Can we stay on the phone? I really don’t want to hang up. Oh, Judy… I’m scared. What do they want?”

 

“Don’t worry, we’ll stay on the phone,” Judy said quickly. “What kind of questions were these rats asking?” The more information they could get, the better chance they had of helping Kris if she got snatched. As the pair of officers got off the elevator, Judy could hear that Nick was on the phone with Wolfard. He told the other officer to wait by the front desk for a little otter with a flower on her ear.

 

Kris spoke a little louder, asking it apparent she was likely walking faster. “They asked who I thought I was, and if I thought I was being cute. Then they asked about someone named Mr. Big, and they said that if he really thought he was gonna run Happy Town too, he was gonna get a taste of his own ice. I don’t know what any of that means, and I told them I didn’t know anything about any of that and I didn’t want to talk to them, so I just walked away.” Judy felt icy daggers push into her core.

 

So, yes, they had a little help with the big Bellwether case from Mr. Big, but at the time that Judy had sought his help, she wasn’t a cop. She was just a reckless civilian trying to clean up her own mess. After the bunny took her badge back Judy was wise to steer completely clear of the arctic shrew. Nick personally met with Big before reporting to the academy to explain that he intended to follow the bunny’s lead. He needed to make it clear that he did not intend to compromise “The Family” with any of their previous dealings. Mr. Big stated that this was fair, but that fairness dictated that his enterprise would not be inclined to offer them further assistance himself. All debts were squared.

 

To Nick and Judy, this merely normalized their roles as officers and crime family. Big’s continued gratitude for the life of his daughter extended only in that he would not complicate their lives as officers in return for their silence on their dealings with his organization up to that point. It was a deal they had to make, as threatening Weasleton the way they had was far outside what would have been allowed an officer. The fox and bunny could have gotten into some hot water for that. Weasleton had fortunately left that part out in his testimony. Nick explained to Judy back then that this was because Duke knew that having to be coerced to give the details about who wanted those flowers would have suggested he was knowingly working for Bellwether. He wasn’t. So he allowed the DA to believe that he had been forthcoming with Judy and Nick when they told him what the Nighthowers might have been used for. It would make him look far less involved in that scandal. That had ultimately paid off for Duke.

 

Later, as patrol officers, Nick and Judy had little cause to investigate or deal with Big himself. That day may eventually come, but it had not, thus far, been a concern. They had arrested associates of Mr. Big for crimes committed, but nothing tied specifically to him. It had been almost as if he were keeping his nose clean for the time being. There was no question that he was a criminal, but he had been entirely off of Nick and Judy’s radar.

 

Until that very moment.

 

“Did you say Mr. Big?” Judy asked shakily.

 

“Ride’s on the way,” Nick informed, looking ill himself. Neither of them looked forward to any kind of interaction with Nick’s former unlawful employer.

 

“Y-yeah. Do you guys know who that is?” the otter whispered. “I’m walking up to the hotel. The rats got out of the car. They’re definitely following me. Should I run?” Kris whimpered at her situation. Judy gritted her teeth. This poor otter was so scared.

 

“No, walk casual,” Judy instructed. “Wolfard’s a uniformed officer. He’s waiting right by the front desk. Don’t talk directly to him, just pretend like you’re talking to the front desk attendant. We’ll make contact with the rats when we get there, and the officer will get you out of there, alright?”

 

“Thank you,” whispered the otter. “I… I’m going through the door. I see him. He sees me too. I’m gonna hang up. I’ll… I’ll wait for you. Thank you.” She sniffled. Judy sighed as well, relieved. Kris was safe. The line beeped and Judy sighed as she waited on the front steps of the ZPD headquarters.

 

“She did the right thing, calling us. That was smart,” Judy told her partner.

 

“Sounds like a rival gang’s puffing up against the Big family,” Nick replied in a casual tone.

 

Judy rubbed her face slowly. “But why hassle some girl otter? Do you think she’s hiding something? Think maybe she’s in with Big?”

 

“I don’t think so, but we know that at least at one time her uncle was,” Nick replied. Judy had told him about the family link that Kris had revealed. It felt like days ago, but it had only been that morning. What a busy day. “The rights might know he has dealt with Big’s family, and they may assume that family is family.”

 

“So, you think she’s clueless about her uncle’s involvement?” asked the doe.

 

“I feel like Otterton’s the sort who would absolutely never have gotten his family involved in any of that. Even his own wife knew nothing about the link. If she had, I’m pretty sure she’d have told the police when he went missing, since that’s a pretty obvious avenue of investigation,” explained the fox. He looked at his phone. “Okay, Wolfard just texted me, says the rats did an about-face the moment Kris walked up to the front desk. If they’re still there, they’ll be outside.”

 

“Good, at least we don’t have to worry.” Judy sighed. “Well, now we know why Mike wasn’t willing to give us more than a place to look around.” It was unfortunate, but it proved that Mike was involved, even if just loosely, in a larger criminal enterprise. This pained the bunny because she had hoped that their dealings with him, and the trust he’d earned with Nick’s mom, had been enough to at least divert him from worse troubles. She knew from dealing with so many who had lost their way, however, that once a mammal got caught up in the life, it was pretty hard to just walk away from it. Judy leaned against her partner. Duke got out because he didn’t work well with others. More social mammals had a harder time giving it up. It wasn’t always just easier, sometimes it was literally every single pillar holding up their world.

 

Judy pulled her ears back in quiet frustration. They still had to pick up Sam. They didn’t have time for this right now.

 

Their ride arrived and Nick kept up with Wolfard via text messages, checking in on the otter every few minutes as they moved quickly to the Palm Hotel. It was a popular landmark, being one of the largest buildings in all of Zootopia. It was certainly one of the most recognizable. They asked the driver to stop a little bit before they got to the hotel itself. Nick and Judy did a search of the parking deck, splitting up to do so, and then moved together around the back of the hotel.

 

They didn’t see any small black cars that fit the description. Content with the knowledge that Kris was safe inside with another capable officer, they were thorough in their search of the area around the hotel. It was clear after a few moments that the rats were very cautious and had likely left when the otter joined the officer at the desk. That made it seem more possible that these were organized professional criminals.

 

Judy listened carefully for anything her ears might pick up around them, and Nick took the quiet moment to text Pawlander about the development in their case. They certainly didn’t want to get dressed down about communication twice in one day. Keeping necessary parties in the loop was critical, especially as the clues suggested something that could be more complicated than a couple of mammals in over their head with a weird get rich quick scheme.

 

“How you feelin’, Fluff?” Nick asked once again as they moved alongside the hotel by the service entrance. It was quiet there and the location was not a customer parking area, so the fox apparently took advantage of the chance to be candid.

 

Judy took a deep breath. Again with this question. “I’m still okay, Slick. My side hurts. My shoulder hurts now - yeah, that one. I think it was jarred when I landed. I’ll probably take something for it when we get home.” She stopped and took a moment to consider her caring partner. He looked absolutely haunted. The bunny winced at that. She fought a crazed wolf. It was a life or death situation and he was right to be afraid of losing her. She looked around and noted that there wasn’t anyone hanging about as the sun sank lower in the sky. “Nick… I’m sorry. You know I didn’t go looking for trouble. It should not have been that out of control.” She hugged him and he wrapped his tail around her.

 

“I’ll get over it, Carrots,” the fox responded in an anxious voice. “You know I will, but… I saw you get hit, and I heard the thump… I’ve never seen you thrown like that before and…” The fox looked away, pulling the bunny’s heart hard with his averted gaze. “It’s gonna take me a while to process it, okay? I’m sorry I'm being weird and clingy. Humor it just for tonight, okay? I’m gonna keep asking, and you can keep telling me you’re okay, Judy, but I’m gonna still ask.”

 

“Nick,” Judy half whispered, taking her partner by the paw. “Nick, it’s okay. I’m not mad at you for asking. I know you didn’t like seeing me get hurt. We both know it’s a part of the job, a real possibility every day… but it doesn’t mean we have to like it. I promise if I am having any trouble at all I’ll tell you, okay? I know you’ll keep asking, just… know that when I answer I’m telling you the truth.” the bunny pressed. “No pointless tough bunny act, okay?”

 

“Okay. Yeah.” Nick nodded, appearing to feel a little better from that. The hug helped at least. It was still touching for Judy to consider that this fox, who wouldn’t let anyone see that they got to him, could be so vulnerable around her. They finally moved around the building and went inside. The spacious lobby of the Palm hotel was large enough for even the largest mammals to feel overwhelmed. This place was not only a hotel, but had condos for the very wealthy as well.

 

The polished white marble floor was laminated and hardened to resist the hooves and claws of all who trod upon it. The tall green marble columns were patterned to look like the stacked rings of palm bark, and there were plentiful indoor potted plants and decorations to give it the most posh feel imaginable. It was made to be inviting to so many species. Judy had only been in this place a handful of times, but this was the first time she’d been here in the evening when it was so busy.

 

“There she is, Fluff,” Nick informed her.

 

“She seems less upset now,” the bunny admitted.

 

“She’s standing by a wolf. That helps,” the fox laughed. Judy was happy to hear a little more of Nick’s usual smug attitude seep back into him.

 

“Anything outside?” Wolfard asked as they approached. He was obviously trying to look more like he was providing a relaxed greeting to fellow officers, and not responding to a case.

 

The little otter wrung her paws nervously. “I’m sorry for calling you. It might have been nothing so bad, but they were so menacing. Officer Wolfard told me it might have been gang related and a complete misunderstanding or something, but I sure don’t feel safer knowing that!”

 

Nick interjected, “You’re fine now. We let detective Pawlander know about the incident tonight, but you probably do not want to go home right now, that’s a given.”

 

“Do you think it’s about the cheese in the gas station?” offered the otter.

 

“We got a lead today suggesting there may be rodents involved, yes,” Nick stated. Judy tensed up. They should not speak so freely of the case with Kris.

 

“You know,” Wolfard stated, “Sometimes, Detective Pawlander spends six weeks on a case without finding so much as a funny smell, but this cheese thing seems to be coming at you two like bad weather on a parade. You just can’t get away from it.”

 

“You doing okay, Wolfard?” asked Nick, trying to deflect the possible compliment. The bunny understood. He didn’t want to be further aggrandized in front of the otter. Still, Judy put her ears back at the topic of discussion. Wolfard was there in the lobby of the ZPD when things went wrong earlier in the day. The doe was honestly surprised to see that he’d gone back on duty, and felt bad for not even considering that when she’d seen him. It was easy, perhaps, to think of the larger officers on the force as less vulnerable.

 

“I’m as good as I can be, I think,” insisted the earth-toned timber wolf. “You took a hard hit too, Hopps, are you okay?” he asked.

 

“Judy got hit? At work?” asked the otter. “Who… Who hits a bunny?”

 

“It was a rough day,” Nick explained to Kris, nodding.

 

Judy crossed her arms. “I got slapped down. You got hit in the face with an entire lion, Wolfard,” Judy redirected. Kris looked patently horrified. She did not want a tiny otter obsessing over her non-injuries the way her overprotective husband was already. It was embarrassing. She could worry about the wolf instead.

 

It worked.

 

“They were throwing lions?!” she whimpered.

 

Wolfard laughed. “I’m fine, you two. It wasn’t that bad. Delgato’s softer than he looks.”

 

Kris wrung her paws nervously again. “I hate to be a bother after you all have had.. oh you’ve had just a terrible day, I can tell but… can someone drive me to my dad’s?”

 

Nick took a slow, deep breath, and then cleared his throat.

 

“Actually, I may have an idea that will offer you better security, and help us out with the case, as we have a very hot lead to follow on it.” Judy looked back at her fox, and tilted her head, ears flicking up tall.

 

Kris blinked at that curiously. “Oh? I can try to help, but… I’ll be honest, I’m really scared. If you want someone going under cover, I… I don’t know.”

 

No, no, nothing like that,” Nick explained. Wolfard was watching him as well, seeming just as confused.

 

“Okay… what can I do, then?” asked the little otter.

 

“So… Judy and I have a kit at home who needs watching-…” Nick was cut off by a hard squeak, not from the otter, but from Wolfard.

 

“What?!” he croaked as he regained some of his composure.

 

“Visiting, Wolfard! Geeze!” Judy huffed.

 

“Oh…” Timothy cleared his throat. “Yes. Knew that.” Kris was startled by the outburst from the lupine, but finally relaxed again.

 

“So… you want me to … kit-sit?” she asked. “Who’s kit is it?”

 

“He’s my cousin,” Nick stated.

 

“Visiting from New Reynard,” the bunny elaborated.

 

“How old is he? I’m terrified of … the really little ones,” Kris admitted with some obvious shame. It wasn’t shameful. Everyone was scared of the really little ones.

 

“He’s on the edge of ten,” the fox officer chuckled. “And very well adjusted, I promise you. He’s at our apartment… or will be when we pick him up from my mom.” Judy rubbed her chin, finally truly catching up. Oh. If Kris could take care of Sam, then they could both meet with Tandy tonight. That would be a perfect solution. The fact that her partner thought of it made it clear he could be an opportunist. This was a very good trait for one’s mate to have. Yes, Judy married exactly the right fox.

 

“I could do that, sure. I think I would feel really safe in a police officer’s apartment, and Uncle Emmett would be happy to know I helped you both out, case or not. Will you be out all night?” she asked.

 

Wolfard shook his paws. “Wait… this otter is related to… Otterton?”

 

“I am… You know my uncle?” Kris asked.

 

“Not personally, but he was part of the first case Officer Hop… err… Wilde… actually solved,” the lupine corrected. Judy smiled reassuringly at him. It was gonna take time. She didn’t mind.

 

“Really?” Kris murmured. “I didn’t know. I thought she’d been with the force longer than that.” She looked blankly at the bunny. “And your apartment… With Officer Wilde… and you’re also officer Wilde. So you really weren’t kidding, then. You two tied the knot.” Wolfard whined, obviously holding back a crude laugh. Judy made no comment. It obviously referred to hand-fasting for otters, not anything else. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Canids.

 

“We did,” Nick clarified without as much as a smirk. He was getting better at being professionally stoic where the situation demanded.

 

“I guess I didn’t really register it as a real thing. No offense. It just sounds… you know…”

 

“Like we were joking?” asked Nick with a grin.

 

“Maybe?” offered the little otter, blushing.

 

Wolfard gave a big grin. “I promise you it’s real. I got to howl at their wedding,” the lupine bragged.

 

“Oh… wow…” was all Kris could offer in response. She would nothave likely known the significance to their friend and colleague. “But, like… sure, I can help you, sure. When is it?” she asked.

 

“We need to head out shortly, actually. Can you ride with us to my mom’s shop and we can pick him up?” Nick questioned.

 

“I can do that,” Kris replied. “I don’t wanna go anywhere alone, that’s for sure!”

 

“We need to get a Zuber out here first, and then we will head out,” Judy commented.

 

“What happened to your patrol car?” asked the little otter.

 

“Oh!” barked Wolfard loudly, startling pretty much everyone. Nick and Judy stared at him. “That’s what I forgot to tell you! Your car is ready. I totally forgot. I was supposed to tell you after roll call, but you two apparently had stuff to do. You slipped out before I could catch up with you.”

 

Judy felt her eye twitch.

 

“Wolfard, you need to run,” Nick stated.

 

“I need to run.” The wolf replied.

 

“Oh goodness,” Kris said, cupping her muzzle.

 

“Good luck, Kris,” the lupine stated, beating a hasty retreat.

 

“I’ll… I’ll call for our ride,” Nick stated as the bunny clenched her little paws tighter and tighter.

 

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The ride to Gideon Gray's Really Good Baked Stuff was thankfully shorter than its name. By that time of day, traffic had died down a little. The prevalence of nocturnal mammals in the city of Zootopia helped to alleviate the severity of rush hour so it was generally less than a full hour. That was, to Judy, pretty helpful. In Bunnyburrow, the one main road could get muddled up for hours if there was an accident or something.

 

Vivienne was surprised to find that Judy and Nick were accompanied by a small otter, but she gladly welcomed her in despite the shop being closed. Kris was delighted to hang out with the officers who helped her uncle, and seemed doubly delighted to get to meet Nick’s mom.

 

“It smells amazing in here,” Kris observed.

 

“Thank you, dear,” Viv stated kindly, moving trays from the last tables where they’d been left.

 

“Where’s Duke?” Nick asked.

 

“Headed over to the shelter with leftovers,” explained Nick’s mom.

 

“The shelter?” inquired Kris curiously.

 

“Oh…” Judy smiled as she considered that. It shouldn’t have surprised her. Vivienne was helping. And Duke was helping, too. It really warmed Judy’s heart. He had a crass attitude and quarreled with Nick comically, but he really did have a measure of something special in him. Whether it formed because of them, or Vivienne, or it was just hidden away, she might never know.

 

“There’s a shelter for mammals who are displaced by fire, floods, that sort of thing,” the lady fox explained. “We give them treats every week. They’d go to waste otherwise. Other extras go to other places, of course, but tonight it’s for the shelter.”

 

“Awwww,” the otter responded appropriately.

 

“Kris, this is Vivienne, Nick’s mother,” introduced Judy. “Viv, this is Emmett Otterton’s niece, Kris. We are dealing with a case that involves some of their family property but due to some… uhh… complications… she will stay at our place tonight, but that means she can look after Sam while we meet Tandy.”

 

“It’s nice to meet you!” she squeaked with a little too much enthusiasm.

 

“Ahh… Nice to meet you too,” the older fox remarked with palpable uneasiness. Judy reminded herself that Kris seemed to have a pretty fanatic attitude about her fox, and while his vows were absolute and she was unconcerned, surely Nick’s mom could see the eagerness for herself.

 

“So, where’s Sam?” inquired Nick.

 

“He’s upstairs. I’ll get him. He was reading one of the Hairy Otter books. Duke’s got the whole set, and he apparently hadn’t read all of them.”

 

“He’s gonna be awful sore to go home without them,” Nick laughed.

 

“I think Duke’s gonna let him borrow them,” the lady fox replied.

 

“That’s generous of him,” Judy nodded. “He’s come a long way.”

 

“Oh, he’s a gentlemammal, even if he’s an insatiable flirt,” laughed Vivienne.

 

“What?” Nick deadpanned.

 

“Hey Nick!” Sam piped from the entryway that led upstairs. He had a book in his paws as advertised.

 

“I wasn’t ready,” Kris whined. Judy understood. This fox kit was cute even by bunny standards.

 

“Judy! Viv let me make a pie by myself! We couldn’t sell it because it looked weird but it tasted pretty great!” The bunny had to restrain the desire to give a little binkie. That little joyful bunny hop seemed almost inadequate to express how seeing that little fox so happy delighted her. It was so easy to be attached to a charming little kit like him. He could be a handful, but the best kits always were! Judy looked at her stunned husband and back to the jubilant little fox kit.

 

“That’s really cool, Sam!” she said positively. She regarded her concerned partner again. What was he fixated on? Oh… He shouldn’t worry about that stuff. The vows, right? That wasn’t even a thing!

 

Sam stopped her from trying to redirect her partner’s thoughts. “Oh! We still have customers. Welcome to -…”

 

“She’s with us,” Judy corrected. It was cute that he was greeting customers though. He really was a polite and responsible kit. That seemed to be more of a thing that happened in a less urban area, and the doe was not entirely sure why. Maybe it had to do with how much time parents could be around without distraction.

 

The otter smiled sweetly. “I... I’m Kris. I’ll be looking after you tonight.”

 

“Oh. It’s ‘cause I snore, huh?” Sam asked.

 

“You snore?” inquired Vivienne.

 

“Mom says I do,” Sam replied.

 

“It means you go to bed too late, young fox,” the doting mother vixen insisted.

 

“Our ride’s still waiting,” Judy informed.

 

“Of course. Sorry I couldn’t watch him tonight. I have another three hours of baking to do for that event,” Viv apologized.

 

“Oh, it’s fine!” chimed Judy. “I appreciate that you were able to look after him while we were at work all day. We just really have to follow up on this lead. Good luck with the baking!”

 

“Thank you, dear. And you behave for Miss Kris,” Vivienne instructed the youngest of foxes.

 

“Flirt?” Nick asked in an anxious voice.

 

“I will! Promise,” Sam stated earnestly.

 

“And tell your mother to let you come visit again,” Vivienne ignored.

 

“I will! I really like it here!” chimed the kit.

 

“C’mon, we gotta go,” Judy insisted. She didn’t want to have to wait even longer for another ride when they were already going to have to get one from the apartment to get to the edge of Little Rodentia.

 

“Wait,” Nick interjected.

 

“You mother’s so sweet,” Kris giggled as they headed back to the blue sedan waiting outside.

 

“She is,” Nick said with a tone of dread.

 

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It didn’t take too long to get Kris set up in their apartment with Sam. It wasn’t like it would be hard to look after him. Nick let him borrow a stack of graphic novels that he assured Judy would be fine for his age and maturity level. He’d be busy with that until he passed out. Judy had, in the ride back from the bakery, gotten a text back from Tandy. The lady rat offered to reschedule, but as luck had it, that was not necessary. They had their kit-sitter, they had their ride, and they had the supplies they would need.

 

They took a Zuber and spent the entire trip out to the Little Rodentia wall, where the Diner was found, talking about their next absolutely necessary endeavor. Since they were sitting on a sufficient savings from their trip out to the Interior, hazard pay, and the added bonuses as a result, the pair were going to shop for a car of their own. With all the trouble of taking Zubers around the city, this was arguably no longer a luxury. They needed it.

 

They got out of their ride, a sleek silver four-door and headed for the diner.

 

The setup of this diner was one of the most unique in all of Zootopia. There was a long, long single canopy over the edge of part of the wall that wrapped around Little Rodentia. At several levels, slowly going up, there were platforms that were faceted into the other side of the wall with little columns that only slightly separated one side from the other. Little tables for various sizes of small mammals were there, and then, on the outside of the wall, there were tables for larger mammals. The result was that mammals on the larger city-side could have lunch meetings with the smallest of the residents of Zootopia. They met Tandy at such a table. She was dressed attractively in a sleek black dress that Judy could not remember ever having seen a rodent wear.

 

“Sorry I’ve put you guys out. I could have probably managed this meeting with a phone call, to be honest,” she offered.

 

“You undervalue your help to us,” Nick stated firmly.

 

“So, we shall cut to the chase, as I know you have a little one to look after and I could spend more than your investigation time frame asking you all about that!” the rat laughed. “What do you feel I might be able to manage for you? What needs to be done?”

 

“We need you to get information for us about a very specific kind of gourmet cheese, actually,” explained Nick.

 

“Oh god, that stereotype?” laughed Tandy.

 

“It’s not… It’s not like that,” Judy defended.

 

“It’s cheese. You are investigating in Little Rodentia about cheese, Judy. How else can that look?” giggled the rat, her tone making it clear she wasn’t offended. Judy was still flustered by being called out about it, even jokingly, because of how sensitive she’d become about perceived bias. A waiter showed up and interrupted the awkwardness so that they could order their food and drinks.

 

“Okay, first off,” Nick explained to the rat reporter, “do you like cheese?”

 

Tandy looked back at Nick blankly. “Uh…” She looked down. “That’s like me asking if you like…”

 

“I love bunnies,” Nick said bluntly. The answer appeared to alarm their reporter friend. “But no… Do. You. Like. Cheese?”

 

“Sure, I enjoy it, but…”

 

“I bet I love it more,” the fox promised, cutting her off. “But we have a real case, and real cheese, and a real crime, and we need a real helper to get to the bottom of it because that’s what we do.” Judy was honestly a little stunned at how fast her partner made it as serious as it needed to be.

 

“Well, I could argue whether you actually love cheese more, but I won’t,” Tandy offered. “But... how bad can a cheese caper be?” she inquired with a somewhat dismissive grin.

 

Nick responded with a flat tone. “They were waiting for Judy to die before selling cheese they claimed came from her milk.”

 

“Uh…” Tandy dropped blankly.

 

“Nick!” the bunny hissed. He wasn’t allowed to tell her that. Why was he always so loose with the facts of the case? That was going to eventually come back and bite him in the tail!

 

The fox continued, sounding irritated. “If they did that, anyone buying it or even seeing it would believe she was unfaithful to her mate. That is me. I would never be able to convince some mammals otherwise.” His tone was one of duress. Tandy had admitted over the holidays to being involved with a ferret. She could understand just how deep that would hurt. Nick had just made this case personal to her. She understood why he did that, but she worried suddenly that nick really was worried about that. He sounded so genuine!

 

“Nick, no one who matters is gonna think that,” the doe pressed.

 

“They… They had cheese with Judy’s name on it?” asked the rat.

 

“Yes. Hoppin’ Hopps Cheddar.” Nick explained. Tandy burst with laughter and physically had to get herself under control.

 

“I’m sorry,” she finally gasped. “I’m so sorry, this is terrible, but oh my God, how cheeseeeeeeHehehe!” Her laughter renewed. Fortunately, rats were not terribly loud so while it was an awkward moment it was at least not terribly disruptive. She finally snorted a few times, and got herself recomposed. “Sorry. Aheh. Sorry about that. No. This is serious. Ehem. So, you are trying to find these mammals responsible for the cheese. And you think they are in Little Rodentia?”

 

Judy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nick gave Tandy that earlier information because he knew it would hook her. He had been right, as was often the case. When he said he knew everybody, it sometimes meant he just knew what made them tick. He knew how to get to them. He was a confidence mammal. He was almost always had the advantage in social situations. The little bunny learned that the hard way day one.

 

Judy finally answered, taking the initiative from her mate’s silence. “We have… actionable intelligence that they are at a place on Victor Street.”

 

“Victor Street is … not a good area,” informed Tandy.

 

“You won’t be going alone,” Nick expressed.

 

“The reason you need me suggests I will be,” the rat responded.

 

The vulpine nodded. “Physically, yes. You will be taking a camera with you. Judy and I will be just outside the city walls. We can be at your location at this time of day in less than two minutes.”

 

“Won’t a camera be obvious?” inquired Tandy. “I’m not an elephant, you can’t just tuck something like that in my nose or something.”

 

“Not with these...” Nick held up the item they had obtained from Pawlander. It was a tiny rodent-sized set of headphones that went over the ear like a real music aficionado might wear. They were popular with the smaller mammals. These, however, were special and unique. “You like music, right?” he asked.

 

“I do,” she agreed.

 

Judy explained. “Wear these as you walk around. They have two cameras in them, one front, one back, and we can talk to you directly through them. We just need you to be able to get into the place, allow us to see who is there, and determine if anyone has a history that would allow us to bring them in for questioning as a suspect in the case.”

 

“So… Do I have to talk to anyone?” she asked. She still sounded nervous, but this was not that far outside of what she would do as a reporter. Observe and report. Except that the reporting would be live to Nick and Judy’s laptop.

 

“You may,” Nick replied, “But if you do, you will basically just be repeating what we say. If things get dangerous, we will tell you what you need to do.”

 

“Will I have to fight?” she asked.

 

“Oh good lord no,” Judy laughed.

 

“Absolutely not,” Nick chuckled.