" It's up to you now, Tilly. Protect the collars. No matter what it takes."
That had been the last thing Theodore Swinton had told his daughter before being taken to his final resting place in the Swinton family's hometown of Roarcadia. Tilda had far too much on her plate, in between her political battle with Bitchwether and keeping an eye on her asset up on Founder's Mountain, to set up and attend a funeral that far away, so they'd had an extravagant ceremony in the Savanna Central Cathedral before Theodore was sent on his way. Tilda had watched with dry eyes as the rosewood coffin was slid into the hearse and disappeared forever into the distance, painfully aware that there was too much at stake to waste time grieving.
Even months later, as she sat alone in her office awaiting news that Nicholas Wilde and his allies had been recaptured, she had so many different things on her mind she was resorting to writing down potential strategies on the back of a paid electricity bill. Reflected in the black computer screen nearby was the city skyline behind her, dim as night and speckled with window lights. She should have gone home hours ago, but her thinking worked best when she was sitting on the blood red chair behind the mayor's desk, big enough to be a throne, a reminder of the legacy she had to protect.
Swinton circled the acronym ZNN in black ink before tapping her pen on the paper, thinking how to deal with her most immediate problem.
Llamadeus had used all his influence as the de-facto head of Zootopia News Network to sway the public's opinion, but Tilda could no longer deny the truth in her heart; times had changed. Mammals no longer believed in the TAME Collars anymore. Thousands still did, but a rapidly growing fraction of the populace was demanding an alternative to put an end to the accidents. The pile up on the bridge had been a 'wake-up call' for many, as the smaller papers not under Llamadaeus's control had put it, making them realize that the pros no longer outweighed the cons anymore. Over the last several months every press conference had included at least one nosy parker demanding an answer from the Mayor concerning these claims.
That was Swinton's answer, the crude word ringing in her head but never leaving her mouth. Instead she would follow the script she would write a day before each conference, giving every assurance that steps were being taken to curb the accidents while insisting that the collars were still necessary. The fox's disastrous illegal theme park was proof of that. Removing the collars on a regular basis had inevitably led to predators reverting back to their primitive savage ways, and restored some faith in Swinton's policies.
But it wasn't enough. Only last week the spark of a collar zapping a wolf had caused a small explosion at a gas station. Making the fox a scapegoat had solved only half of her problem, but it was up to the sloth on Founder's Mountain to solve the other.
Swinton wrote down the possibility of absorbing the other news companies, which would give ZNN and by extension the mayor more control over what was released to the public. Money would be required, a lot of money. More unethical coercion would be required for the more stubborn enterprises, but Llamadaeus was ruthless enough to handle that. She would call him as soon as it was late enough to call him without disturbing his sleep. Meadowlands Gazette, the newspaper currently under Bitchwether's control, was out of the question, but once the reelection was over Swinton would make them regret exposing what had really happened to Mansa Bogo.
Swinton's reaction to reading the article that morning had been regretfully undignified. The pig blamed it on her growing frustration with her rival; she couldn't just have that miniature ewe disposed of. In the current political climate even a genuine accident would turn suspicious eyes towards the mammal who had the most to gain from her death. Swinton could have Pottermass arrange a frameup, but there was the risk of the elite officers of Precinct One figuring it out.
"Bitch." Swinton had used that phrase so much it had unofficially become her personal nickname for Dawn Bellwether. Ever since Carlton Woolton died his ex-girlfriend had dedicated her campaign to turning the public against Swinton's TAME Collar policy. It was clear that she still had no love for predators, and she was planning to abolish the collars solely to destroy Theodore's legacy, but at this point she was succeeding.
But not for long, Swinton thought with a sneer. Bitchwether's arrogance was misplaced. She may be popular now, but in the long run Swinton would retain her place at the mayor's desk. If that ewe thought she could displace the family that has ruled Zootopia for three generations, she had god-damn well think again.
She wrote down 'Mark II' and linked it with a line to 'cheetah.' Mark II was the codename for the assassin she had summoned to replace Carlton.
The day Carlton had entered Swinton's employ, he had given her a ragged slip of paper bearing a phone number and the name 'Doug Ramses.' Ramses was the cousin Carlton had trained beside before they'd parted ways, Carlton going on to serve Swinton and Ramses going on to become an assassin for hire. "Just in case something happens to me." He'd told her simply.
When something happened to Carlton, Swinton had called the number the next day. Ramses had not taken the news well. Swinton had endured five minutes of profanities and the sounds of things being broken before Ramses had agreed to come to Zootopia and become the Wolf in his cousin's place.
When the ram had showed up in Swinton's office, the resemblance to the late Carlton had almost made Swinton lose her composure. Ramses had been wearing a wrist brace at the time and his nose looked broken, from a bad fall as he'd explained, but he'd assured her that he was more than capable of finishing Carlton's work. When she'd offered a fee, Ramses had told her to keep it. All he wanted was the right to kill the mammal responsible for his cousin's death. Swinton had agreed immediately and less than a day later another predator had turned savage.
Even with a wrist brace, Ramses had proved more than equal to his task. With predators going savage at an increasing pace, prey were beginning to have more faith in Swinton, especially after she had announced the impending introduction of a new TAME Collar that did not shock the wearer. Even his results at the Arctic House had been satisfactory, despite his failure to eliminate the cheetah; he would have killed Clawhauser with the first shot if the window hadn't been bullet-resistant, something they'd had no way of knowing. At this moment he was on his way to the safe house to finish the job.
Swinton drummed her fingers as she glared down at the acronym ZPD on the paper. Branching from the circled initials were the word TUSK and BOGO, and both were being problematic in their own way. T.U.S.K. had lost too many mammals because of that damned bear in the plague doctor mask and before that they had been making no progress in tracking down that shifty devil-fox. Then there was Cunninghorn's conduct in general. Trunchbull had been right about Cunninghorn. He may be a competent officer, but he didn't have the pragmatism or diplomacy to be a chief. Retiring Commissioner Elba would have to wait, and even then Swinton didn't think she could bring herself to force that on the water buffalo. Elba was entering his fifties, but alas he was too competent to part with.
As for Captain Mansa Bogo, Swinton didn't know if he was a solution or a problem. His grudge against City Hall for twisting the truth five years ago was only a hindrance because there was too much benefit in electing him as Chief over Cunninghorn. Whereas Cunninghorn's loyalty was to himself, Bogo's loyalty was to the city. If Swinton agreed to have him elected as Chief of Police, Cunninghorn's loyalty would surely waver. Ever since Trunchbull had made his feelings toward the rhino clear, Cunninghorn had become increasingly mercurial. Or stupid, as Swinton would say if she hadn't known what mercurial meant. Maybe becoming the new Head of Security at Slothfeld's facility would make him feel important again. If he weren't up to that task, well…
Swinton wrote down the possibility, then wrote down and circled the name 'Fox.'
Nicholas Wilde… the only predator to have regained his sanity after being shot with Dr. Slothfeld's serum. Swinton had called Slothfeld countless times to demand an explanation, and it had taken the sloth a few hours to give an explanation. Like many drugs developed from plant life, the serum was not one hundred percent predictable. There were bound to be anomalies, unusual reactions, as the case may have been with Wilde. His recovery had the same probability as a plane crashing. This hadn't satisfied Swinton at all, and she'd brought up the possibility that the fox had been given an antidote. Slothfeld had merely replied that he would investigate.
Egotistical little prick… Swinton thought as she connected a line from 'Fox' to 'Hopps,' who despite her minimal experience and species had come the closest out of anyone to recapturing Wilde. Twice. Maybe comparing her to Cunninghorn would give him the incentive he needed to try harder. Better yet, Swinton could increase her support of the young rabbit, which would surely gain more of the public's favor if Hopps succeeded.
So many ideas, so many plans… it was a wonder she could think at all considering she had an empty bottle of red wine in the trash can. She blamed the civil war in Tundratown for that. There was a sliver of a silver lining to that one, thanks to ZNN. The subtle insinuation that the new TAME Collars would bring the Koslov and Mr. Big's little gangsters under control had managed score some political points for Swinton in spite of the Meadowland Gazette's efforts. Even so Swinton now had two wars to battle, and it was enough to turn her to drink, especially when it became apparent that there may be a third war on the horizon.
The horrific assault on Boris Antlerson. The nightmarish lobotomy on the psychiatrist Dr. Lemming. Her Assistant Mayor being eaten alive. The decomposing bodies of the John Does on Founder's Mountain. Finally, the attempted murder of Benjamin Clawhauser by Carlton's killer during the gunfight at the Arctic House. The instant she'd learned that Sedor Valentino was the killer she'd called Slothfeld demanding an explanation. Slothfeld, in his irritatingly smooth, smug voice, admitting that three members of staff at the facility had tried to steal information to sell to the highest bidder and released the insane Sedor as a distraction. Slothfeld had decided it would be a perfect opportunity to give the new collars a field test. Two more test subjects had been sent out, completely under the collars' control. They'd hunted down the three traitors and killed them, but were unable to track down the escaped Sedor before he murdered Lemming and Carlton. Fed up of his twaddle, Swinton had given Slothfeld forty-eight hours to retrieve Sedor dead or alive before handing up on him.
Thank God Jack Savage was in the hospital when all this was happening. Swinton diverted her train of thought to the striped rabbit who held the future of the collars in his paws. When she'd spoken with a reprehensibly hungover Bisoniing over brunch, he'd given her some intriguing gossip; while he was pleasuring himself at the Palm Hotel, he'd seen Savage doing the same with an arctic vixen. The stone-hearted rabbit was not so above it all, it seemed. If he decided to report to his superiors that the collars had to be abolished, maybe the threat of his predophilic tendencies becoming public would change his mind…
Someone knocked on the doors at a frantic pace. Swinton quickly slid her mind map into her lap out of sight. "Come in!"
Her secretary Felix Llater burst through the doors and stopped halfway across the office. "Mayor Swinton!" He gasped.
Swinton held up a hoof, keeping Llater at bay so he wouldn't smell the wine. "This had better be important."
"There's been an attack at Clawhauser's safe house! The cheetah, he-"
"Oh God, no." Swinton breathed, savoring the news that the feline was no longer in danger of remembering that Cartlon had been bearing a wolf mask and pellet gun at the time of his murder. Stupid little boy. If you just hadn't gone into the staff area we might have left you alone…
"He's unharmed, but Captain Bogo… he was found in the living room with his throat cut."
The air conditioning in the large office seemed to decrease by several degrees. "What did you say?" Swinton asked frigidly.
"Captain Bogo was found with his throat cut." Llater said slowly. "They don't yet know what he was doing there, and all the officers guarding the safe house are dead."
"What about Commander Cunninghorn?" Swinton knew the rhino was supposed to be there to help sneak Ramses past the guards at the front entrance. Surely Cunninghorn would have stopped Bogo from going up to the penthouse? After all, that was the other part of his task.
"Missing. He was last seen at a bar in Savanna Central."
Swinton let her mind map slip from her thighs as she stood up, bearing a mask of tranquil fury even as her mind screamed every profanity she knew. Bogo wasn't supposed to be there. No other officer was supposed to be there. When Commissioner Elba hears of this…
"Call my chauffer. We're going to Precinct One."