"Hey Carrots, what does a magician working in a morgue say?" Nick asked as the heavy metal doors of the Bunny Burrow mortuary shut behind the three mammals.
Judy's head snapped to her left, furrowing her brows. "Nick, now's not an appropriate time for that kind of a joke."
"Who am I going to offend? Come on, I bet you're just dying to know the answer!"
"I'll bite. What does a magician working on a morgue say?" Peter asked, grinning.
"Abracadaver!" Nick replied waving a paw in the air.
Judy shook her head, a sigh of disappointment slipping from her lips. "Why would you encourage him Peter?"
"Because it amuses me. Hey, door 17 is over here," he replied, giving a soft grunt as he rigged at the refrigerated door handle. With a creek it slide open, revealing the ice cold body of a middle aged hare laying on his back. Peter passed around a box of latex gloves, sliding a pair on as he stepped up to the body. A quiet calm filled the air, as reviewing an autopsy wasn't new to anyone in the room. Peter had seen his fair share of bullet wounds and slit throats, but the brutality of an execution style shot through the head still made him grimace. "Single gunshot through the head, just as they said. Nothing too surprising on first glance."
"Huh, it seems the medical examiner ran a second report," Judy said, picking a file up off the table. "The number ‘8’ that was carved into his back - the gashes are consistent with a kitchen knife. We didn't find a kitchen knife at the scene, did we?"
"No, there wasn't even a mention of one in any report. Speaking of the medical examiner, where is he? I don't think I've ever been in a morgue without one," Nick replied.
"Unfortunately with so many rabbits, the medical examiner tends to have his plate full. He had 4 autopsies this morning, and agreed to allow us to visit the body without him so he didn't get backed up on work," Judy replied.
“Uh - when this thing goes to trial, the defense attorney is going to have a field day if anyone realizes we were alone with the body,” Nick said dubiously. “They’re going to imply that we faked the whole thing, and you know how much juries love a good conspiracy theory.”
Judy pointed to two different cameras that sat perched at the top of two opposite corners in the room.
“Smile - you’re on video Slick” she said with a wink and turned back to the corpse.
Peter flipped the body over, examining the large number eight carved into the victims back, his gloved paw lightly tracing the number. "Well … as for the knife, either the murderer ditched it somewhere, or they still have it. Also, look at the way the eight is carved. It's sloppy and brutal, not a precise or clean cut. It was definitely done in a hurry. If I were to guess, I'd say carving the number was an afterthought."
"Not a bad idea in theory. You murder someone and no one ever suspects it was you. They’ll just assume it's another victim of a deranged killer.Does the report say anything about the bruising on his chest?It looks consistent with other cases we've had in which the victim was punched or hit before being killed."
Judy flipped through the report, nodding. "He says the bruising appeared after the first report, and more then likely the victim sustained the injury moments before being shot."
"So our killer sucker-punched him in the chest, knocked him to his knees, and then shot him. Sounds like a pretty pissed off guy."
Judy walked around the cadaver and table to a series of lockers on the other side of the room. "These should be the personal effects lockers. And … ah here we go!," she said, pulling one open. She delicately removed a clear plastic bag that held the clothing of the victim. "Let's see what we have here."
Unsealing the bag, Judy carefully laid out the contents of the bag. The cream white dress shirt was wrinkled and splattered with drops of blood, contrasting with the stain free pants next to it. The contents also included the victim’s wallet and phone, as well as a half torn cloth with a buckle on one end and a pink stylized B visible near the other end.
With a slight frown, Judy picked up the piece of cloth, showing it to the others. "Guys, Thomas didn't grow up in Bunny Burrow. So then, why is there half of a Bunny Burrow Community College lanyard in his bag of possessions?"
"He did work at a bank not to far from the college. It's not out of the question that he would support them, is it?" Peter asked, tossing his used gloves into the trash bin before sliding the body back into the refrigerated drawer.
"There's nothing in the reports about it. I think we should make a stop at the sheriff's office on our way to interview our suspects. Maybe they can tell us where exactly it was found."
The fox closed the locker, securing the victims belongings and placed the broken lanyard in a new evidence bag. "You know, Jenny from the bank mentioned a college student that was mad at Thomas."
"It's a solid theory. Let's see if we can chat with this guy after hitting up the sheriff's office," Judy replied. "I have a feeling this won't take too long to crack."
"Is…. Is That dial up? Christ almighty you guys need an upgrade!" Nick said in surprise.
The interior of the Tri-Burrows Sheriff’s department was outdated at best, fake wood panels made up the interior walls. Below the mammals feet was a brownish grey carpet, worn down over the years and stained to oblivion. An ancient CRT monitor sat atop a wooden desk, and the telltale noise of dial up screeched out from the speakers.
"Unfortunately none of the big providers seems all that interested in running a broadband cable all the way out here just for us. But I'm working on findin' a fix to it - know a few folks thinking of setting up some relays on a few radio towers to set up their own little ISP." Sheriff Hopper said with a sigh. “But in the meantime, we make do.”
"My honest condolences to the amount of time you've lost waiting for things to load. We were stopping by to talk to the officers that collected the evidence from the scene. We're hoping they remember where they found this," Nick said, holding the evidence bag up.
"Yeah, that would be Bucky and Vince. Hold on, I'll grab them," the Sheriff replied. He walked over to the door connecting his office to the main police station, calling the two officers over. "Hey, our detectives want to know a bit more about a piece of evidence found on the body."
"Sure thing Sheriff," a muffled voice answered from the other room.
. The three detectives took a step back as the two deputies stepped into the room. The difference between the two was almost comical; Standing side by side was a large brown white-tailed deer buck, his antlers barely missing the ceiling. Standing beside him was a jet black rabbit, the tips of his ears barely clearing the deer's belly next to him.
"Whatchya guys need to know?" the rabbit asked, leaning against the sheriff's desk.
"Do you remember where exactly you found this?" Judy asked, handing the duo the broken lanyard.
"Yeah, of course. It was awfully strange. He had it shoved up the arm of his shirt. I only noticed it when I lifted his paw up to check for any signs of the murderers fur. It was slightly sticking out. I pulled it and added it to the evidence bag," the deer said.
"Why wouldn't you add that to your report? This could be a pretty big lead," Judy asked, a hint of irritation on her voice.
The rabbit glanced at the Sheriff, visibly nervous. "Oh … , you are completely right, we should have mentioned it. I’m sorry Mrs. Ju-” the rabbit caught himself. “Detective Hopps, but you have to understand this is our first murder in years, and it shook us a bit. We’re only deputies, and it was such a small price of cloth we didn't think anything of it. I mean, it's just a buckle, it could be anything, right?"
A wave of disappointment and irritation washed over Judy, her ears flicking towards the two. For her, the book of procedures was also close at hand, and not following it was akin to a sin. She knew that many criminals had been let go due to officers not following procedures, but she had always vowed that wouldn't happen because of her.
Nick placed a paw on Judy's shoulder, pulling her back slightly as he stepped forward. He could feel the irritation dripping out of Judy's pores, a feeling which he had gotten to know over the years. It was this feeling that alerted him that it was time to step in, giving the doe a chance to compose herself. "I get it. Murder isn't an easy thing to deal with, even for us, and we pretty much deal exclusively with it. We just want to make sure we have all the evidence, as even the smallest thing can make a difference. Now, is there any other evidence that we should know about that wasn't in the reports?"
The deer rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced. "Would finding the bank keys on the porch as we were about to leave count?"
Judy's eyes snapped closed as she gave a growl, her fists balled. Taking a breath she relaxed her self, her piercing gaze making the two officers shudder. "Yes, that would be something worth sharing."
"I didn't know rabbits could growl," the deer said, leaning over to his partner.
"They normally can't," the black rabbit replied, his eyes wide with fear.
"Careful boys, this bunny is part fox, and she can bite. She makes the tigers and bears on the swat team nervous. You got anything else you'd like to share?" Nick asked.
The two deputies shook their heads, backing up slowly.
"Dismissed then," Hopper said, shooing the two off. With a sigh, the sheriff sat at his desk, looking up at the three mammals in front of him sheepishly. "I really am sorry about the oversight. It's true, we haven't actually needed to follow the procedures for a murder in years, as we haven't had one in years. That's not an excuse for not doing things the way we're supposed to."
"It's alright Hopper. We got everything cleared up, and we have some genuinely good leads now. We'll catch this guy in no time," Judy said.
"Speaking of, we got a suspect to interview. We'll keep you updated," Nick said, flipping his glasses out of his pocket and onto his face. "Let's roll."
The three mammals bid the Sheriff goodbye, heading out past the two officers sitting at their desks in the main station.
The sudden silence that followed the sound of the truck engine being killed shook Nick out of a thoughtful half-doze. He pulled the handle and the door to the truck creaked open. He and his partners spilled out of the truck to find themselves in front of a quaint looking ranch house at the end of a dirt road that wound away from the highway.. The walls of the house were covered in a growing jasmine vine, and short shrubs lined the brick walkway to the door.
"So he still lives at home then. No way this is his house," Nick said, leading the group to the door. He rang the bell, peering into the window. A moment later, an older bobcat answered the door. A look of surprise and confusion seemed to cross her face, opening the screen door.
"Hey there folks, is everything alright?" she asked.
"Hello ma’am, my name is Nick Wilde - I’m a detective with the ZPD working with the Sheriff’s department. These are my partners, Detectives Judy Hopps and Peter Baxter. We were hoping to speak to Jake. Is he home?"
" He's just down in his room. Is everything ok? He's not in trouble is he?" she asked, her voice laced with concern.
"We just want to ask him a few questions about his old employer is all ma’am," Judy replied, reassuring the older feline.
Nick noted with some amusement that Judy’s voice had subconsciously adopted a bit of the country twang prevalent in the region.
"Who's at the door ma?" came a voice from down the hall. A second later Jake appeared behind his mother. He was slightly taller than Nick, with the defined muscles of someone that worked out semi regularly. 'Muscles that could bruise a hare's chest' Judy thought.
The younger bobcat's eyes furrowed in confusion. "What's going on?"
"It's the police hun. They say they have some questions about your old employer."
"If you wouldn't mind Jake, perhaps we can talk out here just us? We don't want to involve more people than necessary on an ongoing investigation," Peter said.
Jake nodded, patting his mom on the shoulder and reassuring her he would be fine. Stepping outside he closed the door behind him. "How can I help?"
"Have you heard about Thomas Stone?" Nick asked, leaning against the porch railing.
"Yeah, he was murdered by that serial killer guy. It's a shame, but I only worked with the guy for a month or so. Never really got to know the guy."
"Funny, because we talked to some of the other bank employees. It seems to us that you worked enough with Thomas to get to know him. In fact, it seems to be the general consensus of the bank that you weren't exactly fond of the hare," Judy pressed. "I know I wouldn't be happy if I was fired unjustly."
The bobcat tilted his head, reading the cops as best he could. "I agree. And I was definitely mad when I was fired. Anyone would be, as I wasn't fired for being a bad worker but because of his own poor scheduling. I talked to him multiple times about the fact that I just needed an extra 15 minutes to get to the bank from school to be on time, but there was never any flexibility. But what does my being fired have anything to do with a serial killer murdering him?"
"Well you know how it is - even when we’re certain we already know the guy was a victim to a serial killer, we have to go follow up a bunch of loose ends. ‘Proper procedure’ and all that,” Nick said in an apologetic tone. He flashed Jake with a friendly smile that was at odds with the steely gaze he fixed on the bobcat. “Just to make sure I understand, you were fired but you never retaliated against Thomas in anyway?". The fox's eyes scanned across the young Bobcats features, reading the subtle flicks of his ears and twitches in his eye with a finesse honed from years of reading people on the streets.
"No, I never retaliated for being fired. I'm a full time college student, and I needed to find another job. I wouldn't have had the time to retaliate. If it wasn't your killer that killed Thomas though, whoever did is smart to try and stage it as such. Now if there's nothing else, I have to start getting ready for my current job. Hope your hunt goes well," he replied, his eyes flickering dangerously.
"Oh of course, thank you for your time,” Judy nodded and started to turn to leave. She then stopped and whirled back as though something had just occurred to her. “Just one more thing, real quick. I grew up here in Bunnyburrow, and I was just wondering if you knew if the college bookstore still sold those lanyards? I'm thinking of getting one, that way I can represent my alma mater and hometown when I'm back in the big city."
Judy’s stance was relaxed and her smile held no trace of any suspicion or hostility. Peter saw Nick turn slightly to hide a smirk and heard him whisper, “Perfect, Carrots.”
"Of course they do. In fact, I’ve got one right here!” " the bobcat grinned, pulling out a lanyard from his back pocket, his keys attached at the end. “I'd be a terrible student if I didn't support my school!” Judy took the lanyard, looking it over, the buckle was perfectly intact,not a repair stitch to be found.
“Oh that’s exactly what I’m looking for ... and this one’s in great condition,” she noted conversationally as she handed the lanyard back.
"Thank you officer. I take real good care of my stuff. I'm sure the college store would be happy to sell ya one. You should definitely check it out.”
“I’ll make a point of it,” Judy said calmly. “Thanks Jake, I think that’s everything we needed to see.”
“Have a good day officers," Jakereplied, closing the door walking back inside.
Judy turned around, her feigned smile dropping from her face like a ton of bricks."Brazen little punk. "
"That was bold of him. He's practically taunting us," Nick said in agreement.
“Wait a second,” Peter said as he stopped dead in his tracks. “Did you just Columbat him?”
Judy grinned sheepishly. “Maybe?”
“Oh don’t be modest Carrots - that was a masterful performance. It’s one of the oldest conning tricks - if you act like a moron, people assume you are one,” Nick explained as they walked back to the truck. He suddenly stopped and looked around. Something was trying to connect in his brain, something he was seeing was giving him an idea. His ears suddenly shot up, and he raised his eyebrows, the connection finally clicking.. "Do you guys realize what tomorrow is?"
Peter stopped, staring at the fox. "Its Friday?"
"Yes, which for this street," he started, pointing at the trash cans lined up along the curb, "means it's trash day. Wanna bet the other end of that lanyard is buried somewhere in that trash?"
"And since it's now on the public street, anything in that trash can will be considered abandoned property and we can legally search it!" Judy said. "We should do it at night though, give us a chance to search it without his knowledge. If we find it, it'll be just enough for a warrant and we can search his house for the knife and gun!"
"Bingo Carrots. Bingo," Nick replied with a grin. "I'm thinking we come back later tonight and just take the trash cans with us back down the road to the highway. It'll give us some privacy to search the trash cans, but keep us close enough to return the cans without having to drive too far."
"Nick that's freaking brilliant," Judy said with a chuckle. "However, as convinced as I am that this guy is it, we still have a lead completely untouched. Let's not forget that our hare was having an affair."
Peter nodded in agreement, snippets of his training flashing through his head. "That's true, but at this moment we have a heavy amount of evidence that's pointing us in a specific direction, so wouldn't it be more beneficial to focus on this lead until we have a definitive answer about it?"
"Typically yes, but we do have a good six hours or so to waste until we can come back. Why not use it productively and see what we can find out about this affair?" Judy replied.
"And if we find something of use there, then so be it. Either way, by sunrise, I'm confident that we'll have our guy in cuffs and can enjoy the weekend here in the Burrows."