When one spends most of their everyday life in an underground bunker, one of the important amenities they must have is something to keep their mind occupied.
It was for this reason that Honey had a rickety shelf full of books and board games with which she could entertain herself whenever she took a break from the computer. Neither Benjamin nor the little cheetah named Sherry knew a thing about playing chess, but the child had insisted on giving it a go.
Beginning with the white side on Honey's advice, Sherry moved a pawn three spaces. Benjamin perused the crumpled manual that had come with the game. "Sherry, it says here you can't move the pawn more than two spaces." Sherry pushed hers once back and Benjamin moved one of his red pawns twice. "Honey, what are rooks?"
"They're the castle towers in the corners!" Honey yelled from her desk. "Horses are knights, the pieces that look like screaming clowns are bishops. The shorter crown is the queen and the crown with the cross is the king."
Benjamin read the manual again. "It says here the rook can be moved any number of spaces but they can only go straight."
With the castle tower in the corner free to move, Sherry moved it all the way down and claimed one of his other pawns.
"Yeah!" She pumped her fists in the air. Benjamin swooped in and claimed her tower with his red tower. "Hey!"
Benjamin couldn't bring himself to smile as he set the white tower aside. "Your move, sweetie."
Sherry pouted as she moved another pawn twice. "These pawns are so slow."
"You have to follow the rules, Sherry." Honey said. "For the record, for a pawn to take a piece that piece has to be on one of the two diagonal spaces in front of them."
Sherry put her paws on her hips. "You break the rules all the time!"
"I break the law, sweetheart, also known as being a criminal. Just because I let you stay down here doesn't mean I want you following my example. You want to be a good grown up? Be more like Ben." Sherry blinked and stared at Benjamin's stomach. "You know what I mean! He's never broken a law in his life and now he's working for a bigwig in an ever bigger mansion."
Benjamin's heart lurched as he moved another pawn.
Honey frowned and spun her chair so she was fully facing him. "What's with you, Benji? You've claimed the first piece but you're acting like you're already in check."
"You're not a very good liar, Ben." Benjamin watched as Sherry moved her pawn closer to his line of red pawns. Honey scowled at his silence. "Sherry, could you sit in the bathroom for a bit?"
"But what if he cheats with my pieces?!"
"He won't. Like I said, he follows the rules. You can read the manual while you're in there."
Sherry sighed dramatically, grabbed the manual and shut herself in the little toilet. At her age, she would have started learning to read fairly recently. Reading that manual would take a while.
Honey picked up her soda and took the girl's place on the beanbag. "Okay, what's up?"
Benjamin twiddled his thumbs. "Do you think my working for Pottermass is too good to be true?"
Honey leaned forward on the crate on which the chessboard lay. "Okay, what happened?" She asked before raising the bottle to her lips.
Benjamin bit his lip. Even now, his horrible loss two years ago was difficult to talk about. "Did you know Pottermass's wife died in the same accident as my parents?"
Honey spat cherry soda all over the board. She coughed and wheezed and stared at Benjamin in horror. "What? What?!"
"I'll take that as a no." Benjamin started wiping the mess with his sleeve.
"Meredith Pottermass's death is one of the biggest sources of conspiracy theories in the city!" Honey gasped. "The sheep covered it all up so not even the press knew what had really happened! How did you find out?"
"You know how I went to my appointment with Dr. Lemming yesterday, only to find out he was dead?"
"And the fuzz implied it was murder, yeah?" No doubt Honey would be looking up every mad theory on the internet tonight.
"Well, one of the officers started quizzing me on whether or not Nick had something to do with the savage attacks, which he doesn't of course." Benjamin said. "When I told him that, he told me my life would be in danger if I didn't tell him what he wanted to hear. He said that I was only hired so Pottermass could get revenge on me for surviving the crash while his wife didn't." His skin was tingling with cold by now, and he hugged himself.
Honey squeezed the bottle, looking livid. "You know, I never trusted that hippo from the moment he chose you to work for him. I bet you more than anything the sheep put him up to this!"
Benjamin shot up. His collar beeped. "Honey! Will you forget about the stupid sheep for one minute?! What if that officer was right? What am I going to do?!"
"Woah, easy!" Honey moved around the crate and grabbed his arm. "Look, I'll do some digging on Pottermass. I've been trying to hack his computer for weeks, and I think I'm getting close to a breakthrough. If he's planning to do something to you, I'll find out soon enough. Here, drink this and calm down."
Benjamin accepted the cherry soda. "Thanks." He sipped the sweet and bubbly liquid and sat back down. He was still afraid, but the reminder that he wasn't alone made him feel better.
"Who was the officer who told you that, Ben?" Honey asked.
"Bogo called him Cunninghorn."
"Cunninghorn…" Honey's lips pressed together. "I know him. I suggest you stay clear of him from now on, Ben. In fact, stay clear of any officer you see. You can't trust any of them. You don't know who might be on Bellwether's payroll."
Benjamin stared at the red liquid in the bottle; despite his friends' past experiences with the ZPD, a small part of him was opposing Honey's opinion. "I met one at Pottermass's party the other week."
"Not Chief Trunchbull himself!" Honey gasped.
"No, no! He was there, but there was another officer." Benjamin said. "Captain Bogo of Precinct One. He's the one Trunchbull wants to take his place when he retires."
"Bogo?" Honey was surprised. "He's the superior of that cutesy rabbit officer who's been giving Nicholas so much trouble. How do you know he's not trying to scare you into giving false testimony for when he arrests Nick on some trumped up charge?"
"Because he hasn't asked yet. He gave me a giant strawberry from one of those fancy cocktails. We even took turns playing the piano." He gestured to the cheap electric piano in the corner.
"He gave you a giant strawberry."
"Yeah, you should have seen it! It was this big!" He formed a circular shape with his paws.
Honey whistled. "If I didn't hate the bigwigs so much, I'd be jealous of you."
"Pottermass spares no expense, that's for sure. Still it's pretty amazing how much he spent when I convinced him to help invest in Nick's clinic."
"He's doing this for his own benefit, Benji. Don't forget that." The badger stopped. "Say that again."
"'I said it's amazing how much he spent on Nick after I talked him into it."
"... I thought Nick had approached him personally!"
"No, he asked me to talk to Pottermass."
Honey stiffened. Her eyes widened, then narrowed in the space of five seconds. Benjamin wondered why this had suddenly upset her so much. "Could you go and get Sherry out the bathroom for me? I need to go send an email!"
Benjamin got up from his beanbag. "Where are her parents, anyway? I never thought you were the babysitting type."
"Long story. Go let her out."
"Alright. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
Honey quickly returned to her computer, stabbed at the keyboard until the message was completely written and clicked send. Meanwhile Benjamin knocked on the bathroom door, letting Sherry back into the main bunker. With the manual still in her paws, she rejoined the larger feline back at the chessboard.
"Kings rule kingdoms, right?" She asked.
"Yeah." Benjamin replied as he wiped some leftover soda from the corner of the chessboard.
"So why is the queen the best piece?"
"I dunno. Maybe 'cause women are wiser?"
Half an hour later, the match ended with every piece but the kings taken. Benjamin had spent another few minutes chasing Sherry's king around the board before the girl decided she was hungry. Benjamin would have joined Honey and Sherry for dinner, but then he received a call from Nick.
" Benji, I need a favor."
"What's the matter, Nick? You sound worried." He waved goodbye to Honey and Sherry and pinned the phone between his head and shoulder as he started up the ladder.
" I had a little accident in the clinic and now I need more glasses. I bought some this morning, but I left them in my apartment. I'm… er… all the way on the side of city and won't be able to get them until late. Could you stop by my pad and take them with you to the clinic?"
"Sure thing, Nick!" Benjamin put the phone on the floor as he pulled himself up through the trapdoor and closed it behind him. "Where are they exactly?"
" They're on the table as soon as you walk in. Just be careful while you're carrying them. They're very, very, very, very-"
"Fragile, I know." Benjamin said with a chuckle. He picked up his phone "I'll be careful, Nick. Don't worry."
" You've got that new key I sent you, right? I really appreciate this, Benji."
"Don't mention it. I promised you before when you told me you were going to go straight, I'll be more than happy to do everything I can to support you."
" Er… yeah. Thanks. Just don't open the package when you see it. You might get them dirty. See you tonight."
Benjamin whistled one of Gazelle's songs as he walked out the door.
When Benjamin reached the apartment block, a recent and much improved change to the grubby, dripping basement that had been Nick's old home, he was surprised to see a small squad car parked outside. Then when he reached Nick's floor, he was more than a little alarmed to see a bunny rabbit in blue knocking on the door like a jackhammer.
"Officer Hopps?" He asked, drawing her attention. "What are you doing here?"
"How do you know my name?" She asked.
"We met yesterday. Outside the office of that poor lemming."
"Oh, that's right, we did." Hopps seemed hasty, even for a rabbit. "Where is Mr. Wilde?"
"He said he was on the other side of town. What do you want with him?" He asked with a pang of fear.
"I finally got a warrant to search Wilde's residence and business!" She showed him the document. "I need to know where he is so I can enter the premises!"
"He's not here. He's on the other side of the city." Benjamin crossed his arms, feeling the first inklings of anger. This was getting ridiculous. "What are you going to do in there? I hope you're not going to break anything!"
"Of course not! But that fox is up to something and I'm going to find out what it is!"
Benjamin huffed. "Officer Hopps, if you're going to insist on bothering a fox when there's no proof he's doing anything wrong, then maybe you shouldn't be a cop! Why don't you forget about his species for a few seconds and think about what you're doing!"
Hopps stared up at him, frozen in shock at his outburst. The feline tensed, expecting a tiny gun to be pointed at his face any moment.
"This…" She hesitated. "This isn't about species. Pottermass finally relented so we could determine Wilde's guilt once and for all and put an end to this. I was given orders from the Chief himself to complete the investigation and to do that I have to search his apartment."
Benjamin looked behind her at the empty hallway. "Don't you usually have more than one officer to do that?"
"They're all a bit big for Wilde's room, and we've been warned about causing him any unnecessary distress." Hopps scowled as she said this, as if even she found it slightly odd. "I'm only telling you this to assure you that I truly don't intend to hurt Wilde."
"Because Pottermass would have your badges for hurting his investment." Benjamin had overheard Pottermass himself promise to ruin the careers of anyone stupid enough to mess with his business.
Hopps's ears drooped. "Yeah. But the savage attacks are getting worse and we're getting nowhere. I have a feeling you've got a key, Clawhauser. You can help eliminate your friend as a suspect. If he's truly innocent, then this will be the last time we bother him."
Benjamin drummed his fingers on his forearm. "You promise you won't break anything?"
Hopps nodded. "I will be very careful."
The cheetah sighed and walked up to the door with the spare key. As he slid the key into the lock, he glanced down at the rabbit, who looked relieved that he was cooperating. The sight of her reminded him of her superior.
"So, um, how is Captain Bogo? Is he still okay?"
"He's fine. Why do you ask?"
"He looked awful after that panic attack, whatever it was. I thought he was going to faint." He could remember it like it had happened this very afternoon. It had terrified the feline to see the captain like that; his first thought was that he'd been having a seizure. He'd had to resist the urge to hold the buffalo throughout the entire ordeal. Even now he wondered what it would have felt like. How hard would Bogo's muscles have been?
He opened the door, and obeyed Hopps's order to stay outside while she searched the apartment. It was the same size as the old basement, but less decrepit. Benjamin figured the search wouldn't take long.
"Do you know what's in this plastic bag here?" He heard her call.
"What plastic bag?" Benjamin looked through the doorway to see a black garbage bag on the short oval table. "I have no idea, officer. I was sent here to get glasses."
"Glasses?" Hopps asked while untying the crumpled knot.
"For the clinic. I figured he meant beakers or something."
The bunny opened the bag and looked at Benjamin with a quizzical expression. "Beakers, you said? These look more like pilsners to me."
Benjain's ears pricked. "What?" Having no idea what the bunny was talking about, he entered the living room and peered into the bag himself.
Apparently pilsners were drinking glasses.
"Is this what Wilde sent you to get?" Hopps asked in a low tone.
Benjamin blinked several times at the contents. "He must be planning to serve drinks to waiting patients."
"That's for salons and restaurants, Clawhauser. What would a clinic need drinking glasses for? And why aren't they stored in a crate?"
Benjamin's shoulders slumped. "I don't know."
Hopps rubbed her chin. "Maybe it's to disguise them as trash. Maybe he didn't want them seen."
"No." Benjamin shook his head. "Why would he do that? They must be for waiting patients. That's all they can be."
Hopps searched the rest of the room, and Benjamin's doubts faded when she founded nothing else that was strange. They didn't fade entirely, however. Hopps had a point. What would a medical practice want with drinking glasses?
"Can I take the bag, now?" He asked when the officer was done. She consented, and they left the apartment. Benjamin locked the door behind them, his mind swimming in search of a better explanation.
"You're taking that bag to the clinic, right?" Hopps asked. Benjamin nodded. "My car won't take a mammal your size, so I'll have to go without you. I'm warning you now, if you or that bag don't show up, we'll be coming for you."
"Don't worry about me." The cheetah replied quietly. Hopps took off down the hall and down the stairs. He lifted the bag, which clinked like chimes, and walked after her.
She and her police car were already gone by the time he exited the building. Benjamin walked to the empty bus stop, leaned against the pole, and pulled out his phone.
" Good day, this is Nicholas Wilde, the sexiest fox in all the kingdom! Please leave a message after the beep!"
Benjamin swallowed. "Nick, an officer just searched your apartment and looked in the package. What the heck do you want with all these drinking glasses? I'm scared, Nick. The police think you have something to do with all these predators going savage and I don't know what to think right now! I want an explanation as soon as possible, do you hear me?"
He shoved the phone back into his pocket and waited for the bus. It showed up seventeen minutes later, giving him a temporary reprieve from the cold. He took his place at the back of the bus, paws tight around the garbage bag.
Was he being too quick to doubt Nick? Were years of watching Nick evade the law time and time again clouding the cheetah's judgment? Benjamin closed his eyes, remembered Nick's voice on the phone asking him to plead his case to Pottermass, and begged his growing feelings of trepidation to be misplaced. The glasses were for waiting patients. They had to be.
They had to be.
Lights flashed through his eyelids as he felt the bus crawl to a stop. He opened his eyes and saw a line of squad cars speeding down the sloped road to Nick's clinic like a luminescent red and blue serpent.