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Strength of a Bear

Chapter Text

Carla, a black bear of Wabanaki descent, slipped her purse strap over her head, so she wouldn’t have to keep adjusting it. She carried her briefcase in her off paw. She had been allowed to  leave early in celebration for bringing a high-profile client into the firm’s fold. Quitting early was great, but once she got off the green line at County Line Road, it was too early for the bus. She was walking home; it was a little over three miles from the J-Street subway station to her home in Burgess County.

All the better; she needed to walk; at least that’s what HE had kept telling her over the past years.

“Why are you letting yourself go like that?” or, “You used to take better care of yourself. You look like an old lady.”

Involuntarily, her cream-colored lips curled up in a snarl exposing massive, sharp canines. She caught herself and forced herself to relax. “He is not worthy of concern,” she murmured to herself.

After what had seemed to be 26 years of marital bliss and raising two beautiful children to adulthood, Randall A. Ursane decided he wanted a divorce.

At the pronouncement, Carla couldn’t speak, only stare at him. After a long, gaping silence, she asked him why. Randy shrugged then explained the light had gone out of their marriage. Carla and the kids had held him back through the best years of his life. He could do better without her hanging onto him like a tick. He had used that exact word, “tick”. It hit her like a puss-filled balloon that burst.

Carla couldn’t believe her ears. She spun and fled to their room and barred the door. She cried all night her mood swinging from grief to anger and hitting every stair in between. One moment she denied what she heard, the next she berated Randy’s stupidity, then she’d dissolve into tears until the cycle started again.

The next morning Randy tried to get in. He banged on the door and said he needed to shower, shave, and change his clothes then go to work. Catching Carla during her angry swing, she flung open a window and began throwing all his belongings – clothes, shoes, boots, toiletries, everything – into the yard below.

“You no longer lived here, remember? Gather your stuff and go.” She shouted as she emptied her life of him

After Randy gathered his belongings from the yard and left in his truck, she called a locksmith, changed all the locks, then called in sick. Half-way through her third day of a rocky-road binge, her co-worker, Phillis Two-horns knocked on her door to check on her.

A couple of weeks later, she saw Randy with an Asian bear; she was in her early 20s with a small yet firm bump on her shoulder, taught muscles, luxurious fur, and no grey around her muzzle. Carla once had a fat bump and fur like that; but two children and 50 years of gravity had started to pull everything down, and the grey was creeping up toward her eyes.

“See how long it lasts after she finds out she’s the one doing all the supporting.” She muttered to herself.

Carla’s job with the law firm, Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws, had paid for their house, the utilities, provided health insurance, sent the kids to college, and guaranteed her a retirement. For years Randy had trouble finding work. When he did, they used that for the little extras – trips, Christmas presents, nights out.

Then the gangs were run out of Vulpington Commons, aka Happytown, and the area started experiencing a resurgence. The Castorman and Adame mills were being renovated; the neighborhoods were revitalizing, and Randy’s carpenter skills were suddenly in demand. For once he had regular work.

It was after witnessing him in the company of his girlfriend that Carla spoke to one of the principals in the firm, Agnes Hornsby. Agnes laid out all of Carla’s options then took on the mantel of Carla’s divorce attorney. Carla had to admit to a certain degree of satisfaction when the deputy went to serve Randy the papers, they couldn’t find him. Carla gave the sheriff a list of bars and dives to check. It was in one of those where the deputy found him.

Agnes had tried to get Carla to file for alimony. Carla didn’t want any attachment to Randy and had declined that.

She shook the bad memories out of her head. In her mood, she had covered a lot of ground quite quickly and found herself coming up on the J Street Fur Salon. She remembered when a cousin back in Maine had suggested she dye her grey. She had earned every, single pale hair and refused to color it. However, the salon reminded her it was time to get her claws trimmed.

She waved through the window at Mrs. Rabbinowitz, a brown and white rabbit getting her muzzle dyed brown. Mrs. Rabbinowitz’ reaction resulted in everyone in the salon smiling and waving through the window. Carla laughed and ducked in.

“Mrs. Ursane, how are you doing?” Matilda, the young coyote with her head fur died blue and yellow, at the front desk asked.

“I need to make an appointment for a pawdicure,” Carla said. “I’ve been a little neglectful of myself.” She admitted the last a little shamefaced.

A red paw on her arm caused her to look down at Amanda Adame, the Anatolian vixen who owned the salon, and a large part of Vulpington Commons. “That is understandable. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Help me hide the body?” Carla asked trying to sound humorous.

Everyone in the salon chuckled. That helped Carla feel better.

Amanda smiled. “I’ll look into that. If you ever need someone to talk to, you know where I am.”

“You made the right choice throwing his crap out the second-floor window,” Mrs. Rabbinowitz said.

Matilda handed a card with a date and time on it. “See you Saturday, Mrs. Ursane. Any word from Shelly or Danny?”

“Shelly is on a destroyer somewhere in the Indian Ocean, I think. Danny is already preparing for a recital in the Spring. I’m saving up and going to take a couple of weeks off to go to New Amsterdam for that. Anything you want me to tell them when I write?”

“Did you tell her Jacob ‘the terror’ Raibert is home?” Matilda asked with a grin.

“He is?” Carla asked remembering the black hare, tall for his specie.

“And he’s applied to the ZPD,” Katarin, the mother of the hare under discussion, announced proudly.

“I will surely tell Shelly. She and Jacob and Amelia were such good friends at the Basilica School before he got caught up in that gang. I better get going. I want to stop at Podanski’s before their fresh rolls are sold out.” Carla left the salon.

At least she had friends.

After she chucked Randy out, he was telling people he owned the house and was letting her live there, out of the goodness of his heart, until she could get her paws under her.

The thought of that made her snort a laugh. She turned onto Upper Canal Street and into Podanski’s Deli. She picked up bug-burger pies for lunch and bread, rolls, and cheese.

After she left the deli, she purchased fresh fish from an otter as he pulled it out of the river.

She noticed the renovation work on the old Castorman and Adame factory buildings and briefly wondered if Randy was there today.

It had been Randy’s idea to put the house in her name. As a matter of fact, all assets were in her name and all he was entitled to, were his work van, tools, and clothes.

She followed Upper Canal Street west back to Abram’s Square and picked up Union Street, which led her into Burgess County proper and Haresburg. She turned onto Humberston Road.

Though the area had originally been settled by hares and many of the small original homes still stood, larger mammals had moved into the area, fleeing Zootopia’s shock-collar laws during the Tannerman Era. They tended to build along Humberston Road. That was when her parents built their home, which her brother now owned and lived in.

She stopped in front of the wrought-iron gate leading up to the porch of the four-bedroom, late-Victorian house. A tire swing still hung from the bottom branch of an equally old Catalpa. Rattan furniture on the porch provided a pleasant area on warm summer evenings from which to greet neighbors.

When she and Randy were looking for a place to raise their family, she was the one who found the house for sale on the cheap; it needed work, the sort of work Randy was good at.

When their daughter was born, he happily became the stay-at-home dad and fixed the house up. Her brother Curtis supplied all the materials, gratis. He ran the family building supply company with a nearby lumber and hardware outlet.

The growing family was so happy for so many years. Carla loved the house and loved the location. With the revitalization of Foxburough Parish and the old mill buildings, property values were on the rise. When she reached the age of retirement and decided to downsize, this would provide a nice nest egg.

She pulled a wad of envelopes and leaflets out of the mailbox then opened the gate and stepped onto the bluestone walkway.

Once inside, she dropped the mail on the hallway table and took her groceries into the kitchen. She found a note on the counter beside the fridge from her sister-in-law. She had put a piece of cake from her son’s wedding into the fridge.

Carla knew what she was having for dessert. She hadn’t been able to attend the wedding; she was saving money and vacation time to visit Daniel; an appropriate dress and a flight to Pawaii as well as the cost of a hotel room and other expenses was too much. She had sent a wedding present.

She returned to the hallway and began sorting through the mail. Carla squealed with delight.

“Lt. JG S.T.Ursane, LFV Geneva.” Her daughter’s ship had set sail from Newport Naval Station over six months ago. The letter was postmarked three weeks ago from Chennai India.

“Dear Mom, I am so sorry to hear you and Dad split. However, I have to admit I’m not surprised. I tried to tell you he was having an affair with Lucile’s mom back when we were in middle school.”

Carla gasped and sagged into the nearest chair.

“Your Dad will take you two to the movies when he gets home.”

She was surprised at how suddenly clear that now ancient conversation was.

“No, he won’t,” the adolescent she-bear countered hotly. Her friend slunk into the shadows, tears seeping from the corners of her eyes. “He’s (air quotes) helping Lucy’s Mom. He won’t be home even in time for supper!”

He hadn’t come home for dinner.

Then there was the parent-teacher’s conference where Daniel’s young history teacher was making eyes at Randy. Later that evening, Randy had an emergency job and didn’t come home until after 2 a.m.

Carla swallowed against the tears threatening to rise. She had cried more than Randy deserved. She went back to the letter.

“I love my Dad, but I know his faults. Don’t let him have ANYTHING he doesn’t own; he’ll try to get the house from you.

“As for lighter news, as you can tell, we’ve put into Chennai India. Captain Cheval took us newbies on a tour of the countryside.” The letter drifted off into her adventures since leaving port six months ago and the friends she had made. “P.S. I sent Dad a letter telling him what an asshole he’s being. Double love Shell.”

Chapter Text

Carla dropped her purse and briefcase behind her desk and grabbed for the phone, which was already ringing at five minutes to eight in the morning. “Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws, how may I help you?”

She pulled the phone message pad over; “Ms. Hornsby is in court until 10 a.m. I will be happy to take a message and have her call you back as soon as she gets in.” She jotted down the information. “Of course, Ms. Lynex, I will ensure Ms. Hornsby gets your message.”

She finished the message and put it in Agnes Hornsby’s in-box.

“So how was your afternoon off, Carla?” Phillis, the paralegal, asked. “Did you do anything special?”

“I got a letter from my daughter; her ship put into India for a couple of days.” Carla said settling into her desk for the day.

Phillis Two-horns, a 31-year-old bison, smiled at her co-worker. “Living for the hell of it; way cool. What’s Ms. Lynex want?”

“She’s having conniptions about her divorce.” Carla shook her head. Agnus Hornsby was the best divorce lawyer in Zootopia; Carla should know. “Where is Mickey?” Carla indicated the empty receptionist’s desk.

“He’s stuck on the Blue line; apparently there was an accident and the trains are delayed. Sid left you something to type up for him.” Phillis pointed to a brief in Carla’s in-box. “I’d do it but…”

“You are typing up the Purry deposition. Get to work,” Carla glowered mockingly at her younger co-worker.

It took Carla a while to type up the brief between answering calls and handling walk-ins. Though she was now the office manager, she could easily fall back into her original role as receptionist.

She glanced up and smiled at Michio Ukisawa, aka Mickey. He finally entered the office at about 10:30. He was a Yamatonese Racoon Dog just out of high school and was working so he could take college pre-law courses. She frowned at his stricken expression.

“Are you all right? What happened?” she asked.

“There was a savage attack on the platform at the Baobab Boulevard Station. A Hyena attacked a zebra. They stopped all the trains and wouldn’t let anyone leave until they had our statements.” He sagged into his chair. “All I remember is blood.” He shivered.

Carla reflexively picked up the phone and Phillis put her massive arms around the small mammal.

“Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws, how may I help you?” Carla’s ears lay flat against her head. Phillis noticed the iron in Carla’s tone. “I know who you are; what do you want, Ms. Nguyen?”

When Carla actually growled, Phillis moved to be beside her. Mickey’s eyes popped wide. He had never witnessed the matronly black bear become angry.

“I hate to dissuade you from your illusions, Ms. Nguyen; but Randall does NOT own the house!”

Phillis lay a hand on Carla’s shoulder in hopes of keeping her calm. She signaled for Mickey to pick up a call on the other line.

“Oh, feel free. Might I suggest you go down to City Hall Record of Deeds and see for yourself. The deed is in my name. I signed all the closing documents. I paid the mortgage for 20 years and now I own it out right. You, my dear deluded friend, hooked up with a mam who owns no more than what he walked into your life with: clothes, tools, and that beat up van. Don’t you EVER call me again or I shall file harassment charges against you.” Carla slammed the receiver onto the cradle and roared, “Bitch!”

“Calm down dear sister. Don’t blame her for falling for his lies,” Phillis crooned. “She has the right of it now.”

Carla rolled her eyes. “The next call will be from HIM. I don’t want to talk to him.”

Phillis smiled demonically. “Then I shall; just let me know when to answer the phone.”

“I’m kidding, I’ll talk to him. Besides, he’ll call my cell.” Carla took off her glasses and rubbed her tiny eyes. Like all bears, she was nearsighted.

“I’m serious; when he calls, hand me the phone,” Phillis patted Carla’s shoulder. “My brother’s ex was equally insufferable. I can handle Randy.”

At 3:30, as instructed, when her cell phone gave the ring she had assigned to Randy, “their song” from better times, she handed the cell phone to Phillis.

“Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws, how may I help you?” Phillis cheerfully answered the call. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ms. Ursane had a lunch date with a potential client.” There was a pause as Phillis’ eyes widened as if in shock. “Randy, she has been wining and dining clients for quite some time now. Do you want me to tell her you called? She…” Phillis pretended to be flipping through a calendar. “Oh, look, she’s free next Thursday at 2 p.m. She can meet with you then.” Phillis took on a mock expression of affrontery. “Mr. Ursane, there is no call to be using that type of language; I am after all only the messenger. I can’t help it if your ex-wife is wildly successful, (her tone suddenly changed to threatening) unlike you. Could you please hold? I have another call coming in.” She put the cell phone on hold and set it back on Carla’s desk then returned to typing.

Carla looked at the buzzing phone for a bit then started to reach for it.

“Don’t!” Phillis ordered. “Let him stew. He’ll hang up after a bit.”

Sid Wolford came in and looked at the two. “What are you up to now?” he asked indicating the persistently buzzing phone.

“Oh, nothing,” Phillis responded in an excessively innocent sing-song voice. “It’s just Randall Ursane.”

Sid picked up the phone. “This is Sidney Carston Wolford, attorney at law. If you call my employee again, Mr. Ursane, I shall file a complaint of harassment and obtain a restraining order barring you from any communication with Ms. Ursane.” He ended the call and set the phone back down. “Carla, do not answer his calls; record the time whenever he calls and give me the information.” He returned to his office.

“We’ve got your back, sister.” Both Phillis and Carla were of First-nation descent; Phillis considered Carla her sister on that basis.

“You two can be so-o-o scary, you know that?” Mickey said and turned to his own work.

********

Bian Nguyen nervously paced the one-bedroom apartment she shared with Randall Ursane. She had met him when the apartment manager hired him to repair her door, over two years ago. As he worked, he told her about the beautiful house he owned just outside the city limits, with many rooms, a large yard, a garden, and trees.

He explained how his harpy of an ex-wife was squatting there; how he had given her three months to find another place to live. He explained how he had lived 20 years with a woman who was barren and cold and how he had always wanted to fill the house with the sound of small running paws.

When Bian met him again at a fish market, he suggested they have tea and a pastry at a nearby Snarlbucks. They had laughed and talked, and he told her exotic stories of growing up among the local native Salish tribe. He was a real Indian like she had seen in the movies. She gladly paid for their food when he realized he had left his wallet at his job site.

He told her how he was working for a very wealthy and very regular customer who paid him well. He told her how the client let him sleep in a spacious apartment at the job site while his harpy ex-wife wouldn’t move out of HIS house. He told her how he had bought it for a song and all the hard work he had done to make it livable. Then he invited her to dinner at Shiki.

The night of their first date, he showed up late in his work clothes and asked if he could shower and change at her apartment. He told her about problems with his crew and how they hadn’t done the work right and their ineptitude had cut the water main and how he had to fire them then clean up the water and do the job himself. He had come as soon as he could.

She didn’t mind; Randall was a hard-working, clever mam who made a lot of money, and could provide for a loving wife and family. When they got to Shiki, he slapped his forehead and groaned. He had forgotten to call and make reservations.

“If my head weren’t attached to my shoulders, I would lose my mind,” he had quipped with a laughing smile. He promised he knew a fine place, Panda Garden not far from Shiki.

It was a nice place with cloth tablecloths and napkins and two glasses at each setting, one for wine and one for water. They ordered cheese wantons, sweet-and-sour shrimp, and tea. They talked and laughed until nearly closing time. That was when Randall realized he had left his wallet in his work pants back at Bian’s apartment.

She paid for their meal and they retired to her apartment. He spent the night, though he left in the morning’s early hours. That had been a year and a half ago. Six months ago, his lucrative job ended, and he needed a place to spend the night while he wrestled his beloved house from him harpy ex-wife. He had been living with her ever since.

She bit her claw. This morning she learned that she was pregnant. She decided to talk to Randall’s harpy ex-wife. She figured he’d be so pleased when he came home, and she told them she had taken care of matters regarding his house. She called the place Randall said his harpy ex-wife worked. She had been shocked when the female Randall said always screamed did not scream at all. She was not happy, angry to be sure, but not mean. However, it was what this she-bear told her that rattled her to the tips of her pedal claws; Randall did not own the house. The she-bear even told Bian how to check the facts. She did. She went to the Registry of Deeds in City Hall in Savanah Square. She looked up the house and saw… Carla White-heart Ursane holder of the deed. Randall’s name was nowhere.

As she was leaving City Hall, she saw Randall. She was about to call to him when she saw him greet a female panda with a kiss, on the mouth. They walked out hand in hand laughing and talking. Bian followed them from a distance and saw them go into an up-scale apartment building a block from City Hall.

Now she sat alone in her modest Rainforest 1-bedroom apartment feeling… she didn’t know how she felt. She looked over the past year; Randall had never taken her to see his house. She only ever saw him driving his beat-up white van. All his clothes looked a little worn at the cuffs and collars; he had no new items of clothing, which was odd for someone who made the amount of money he said he made. She realized had never seen any of the money he claimed he made. She always ended up paying for their nights out because he forgot…

She sat on her couch and cried. She needed to talk to someone; but right now, she felt very alone.

Chapter Text

Carla walked into the J-Street Salon exactly two minutes before her 2 p.m. appointment. Matilda was sweeping up after Father Niko Tatopolis, the priest in charge of St. Augustin’s Orthodox Cathedral; he had gotten his beard trimmed. Katarin Rautha was at the desk taking care of his payment.

The elderly goat bowed his head to the towering bear. “Cub.”

“Father,” Carla returned the greeting. Even though she honored the Spirit as did her ancestors, she knew all the clerics in the close-knit community.

“Carla, you look well,” the matronly hare greeted. “Winifred will be with you in a moment.” Katarin indicated a chair. “Have a seat.”

Katarin came over after the Presbyter left. “I saw your brother at his store. He showed me your nephew’s wedding photos. Such a romantic place, Pawaii, so lush and green. Perhaps Kadir and I shall go there.” She started absent-mindedly fussing with the unruly hair on top of Carla’s head.

Carla could tell she was picturing how she would style the long hair. “What were you doing at the hardware store?” she asked with amusement. “Do you think you might have time to give me a trim?”

Katarin pulled her hands away. “I was with Kadir. His Anglian is not very good, and I was helping him buy hardware to repair our kitchen cupboards.”

“Has he had any luck finding work?” Carla asked.

“When his Anglian is better. Pappa has him helping in the workshop; people are getting to know him and what he does. Perhaps someone will hire Kadir. Winifred is here. I will pencil you in for 3.” Katarin winked at Carla and returned to her station.

Two hours later, Carla left the salon feeling like a new bear. Manual and pedal claws trimmed, and her hair freshly washed and trimmed.

“Hello, Ms Daveed,” Carla greeted the Eweden.

Rebekah Daveed was an Aegean Ibex who, with her husband, had emigrated from Judea about a year ago. “Ms. Ursane,” Rebekah responded and fell in step. “Mishka’s pierogi should be fresh out of the oven by the time we get there.” Rebekah’s eyes glint naughtily.

“I should watch my weight,” Carla looked down at herself, remembering all the times Randy had told she was letting herself go.

“Nonsense! You look great,” Rebekah cheered. She hooked her arm around Carla’s and started guiding her to the Canal Street deli. “With the amount of walking you do; a pierogi treat won’t hurt.

The two entered the deli, then lost track of time chatting with the owner and his wife. It was after five when they finally made their purchases and parted ways. Carla headed home. Tomorrow afternoon, she would have Sunday Dinner with her brother and his family. Randy and Curtis never got along well, so it was a real treat being able to visit family without listening to Randy’s whining about the mis-treatment he felt he received from her brother. Curtis had probably figured Randy out long before she learned the truth.

As she walked up to her front door, a hoot drew her attention to the old catalpa. She was startled to see a Barn Owl on the lowest branch next to the rope holding the tire swing, in broad daylight. Her heart raced. Among her people, owls were the harbingers of death.

She spun and hurried into the house. She leaned on the foyer table drinking in air. When her heart stopped thundering in her throat, she made her way to the kitchen and turned on the heat under the tea pot. Who in her family would die? Please, dear Spirit, not one of her children.

The visit from the owl, ruined her appetite. She stuck the pierogi in the fridge and went upstairs to run a hot, bubble bath. She poured herself a glass of sherry over ice, lit a lavender candle, and soaked in the tub until the water was lukewarm.

When she dried off and dressed in her pajamas, she called her son.

“Mom, what’s up?”

“Daniel,” she said the name with relief.

“What’s wrong Ma?” he asked picking up her distressed tone.

“I saw an owl today. I needed…” It seemed stupid to say the words.

Daniel laughed. “I’m fine, Ma. Norman and I are staying in tonight. Oh, I went up to the Penobscot Maine Powwow last weekend. You know to get in touch with my native roots. Heard some totally awesome music.” He went off on what he had heard and his plans to write a symphony based on the drums and flute music of his native ancestors.

Carla lay on her bed and drank in the news. Talking to him pushed the owl to the back of her mind. This was after all the 21st Century. There was no place for omens and superstitions.

********

Carla, Curtis, Renee, and their two children, who were still at home, were gathered around the dining room table. The table brought back so many childhood memories. Her parents had purchased it in Yamato when her father was assigned as a diplomat there. It was cherry wood carved with lotus flowers around the edges and opened to be large enough to hold up to 12 bears.

This had been where they had eaten every meal, and the family had gathered for seasonal feasts. Carla even sat in the same seat she had growing up. The right east end; it would have been next to her dad.

The two teens, Eloise and Edmund, were talking about the homecoming game, parade, and dance.

“And how are Shelly and Dan?” Renee asked, finally shutting up her two talkative cubs.

Carla relayed the lighter details from Shelly’s letter then admitted to seeing the owl and calling Daniel the night before.

Curtis frowned and tapped the table. “An owl?” He grunted.

“Don’t get her worried, Curt,” Renee scolded. “It could be anything, not just death.” Renee was so practical, but then she was a scientist.

“It’s just that Dad’s health is waning,” Curtis said shaking his head.

“In that case, death would be a release,” Carla said then pushed her plate away.

“I don’t want Gramps to die,” Eloise said morosely.

“It is the way of all things,” Carla said patting her niece’s paw. “Besides, do you want him to go on living not knowing us?”

Eloise shook her head. “I want him the way he was when we were little.”

Renee went over and hugged her. “We all do, baby; we all do.”

By the time Carla walked home, the owl had taken up residence in the back of her mind. Her dad was 85 and had Alzheimer’s; he was in a nursing home. His death was expected and, as she had said, would be a release for him. She laughed at herself for jumping to wild conclusions.

Even though it was after dark, there were no owls anywhere when she walked up to her front door. The house was tall and silent. She debated the idea of getting a pet, something to keep her company, to greet her when she got home. She was glad Curtis had installed the motion-sensor light on the front porch; it lit up the walkway and the door.

********

Monday was a normal Monday at work. She and Phillis and Mickey worked through the phone messages received over the weekend. Five calls for Sidney Wolford to represent a Jackal for parking and speeding tickets and a DUI he had received on Saturday. Four calls for Agnes Hornsby for representation in divorces. Seven calls for Dexter Claws to represent property purchasers and sellers. Nine calls for Esmerelda Abril from three people who wanted her help with contract negotiations. The list went on. Each call was carefully noted and directed to the appropriate attorney. Three misdials for Luigi’s Pizzeria were deleted.

Monday was a bad day to try to reach Ms. Hornsby or Mr. Wolford; both attorneys were in court. A client of Ms. Hornsby’s was bringing charges of failure to comply with a restraining order. Mr. Wolford was trying to keep a client out of jail on drunk and disorderly, assault with intent to do bodily harm, resisting arrest, and a few other charges. Fortunately for him, his client had never been in any trouble before. Fortunately for Ms. Hornsby, her client’s ex had been in trouble before.

Carla was getting ready to go to lunch when two police officers walked in; one was in plain clothes and the other in uniform. She glanced up when Mickey greeted them.

The plain-clothes detective, a large chestnut-colored horse, flashed his badge and locked eyes on Carla. “Ms. Carla Ursane?”

Carla panicked. Police only visited if something went wrong. She had immediate visions of one of her children in a hospital somewhere. “Yes,” she answered with trepidation.

“I’m Detective Oates, First Precinct, ZPD. Would you please come with us? We need to speak with you.” The detective advanced as Phillis jumped up and moved between the two. The horse, descended from the warriors of County Clyde, stood nose to nose with the First Nation bison.

Carla set her purse on her desk. “What is this about? I’m not going anywhere until I know what is going on.” Her eyes were small, but they bore great holes into the detective.

“It’s about your husband.” He shifted his gaze and watched her intently despite her glare.

“My ex-husband,” she corrected. “We’ve been divorced five months. What about him?” She crossed her arms over her chest.

“He’s dead.”

********

It had taken the whole office to get Carla back on her feet. She had dropped to the floor repeating, “No it can’t be,” over and over.

Detective Oates and the uniformed officer, a polar bear, then drove her to Zootopia University Teaching Hospital, or ZUTH, and led her into the basement.

She stood in the chilly, metal, room over a table with a figure covered with a sheet. Across from her was the coroner, a bovine bull named Dr. William Bos. In a corner of the room was a silent male Ass in a police uniform with a Port Authority patch on his shoulder. He was watching her intently, his face hidden by shadows. There was something about him that was cold and unpleasant; he didn’t greet her, just stared.

“This is Detective Lt. Adom Selah of the Port Authority Police; the case is technically within their jurisdiction,” Oates explained.

She said hello then tore her eyes from the silent officer and looked down at the covered corpse. Her heart was racing; it felt like it would come out through her chest or jump up into her throat. This couldn’t be real.

“I don’t want it to be him,” she whimpered as she looked at the smaller table beside the gurney; on it lay a familiar looking wallet soaked with water, a drenched cell phone, and a multi-covered plastic bracelet. All were sealed in clear, plastic zip-lock bags with numbered labels and descriptions.

She touched the bag that held the bracelet, tears coming to her eyes. “Shelly made that for Randy her first year at camp. She was eight. (Sniff) He never took it off.” It was obvious that the bracelet had been cut off the wrist. She dabbed her tears with a tissue, took a centering breath, and nodded at the doctor.

Her heart sank when she saw the face. She didn’t immediately identify him, but she knew it was Randy. She leaned over the table and touched her forehead to his, as they used to do in happier days.

“Don’t…” Selah stepped forward reaching to stop her. She would contaminate the body. Oates shot out one manual hoof and glared at the PoA detective. Selah retreated silently to his dark corner returning the Precinct One detective’s glare with animosity.

Oates had warned her that Randall had been pulled out of the water; that he’d been found floating in the harbor by some otters fishing.

“He had such beautiful brown eyes,” she murmured. One eye had a greyish film over it; the other eye was gone, eaten by fish and crabs. The creamy fur around his lips and part of his lips had also been chewed away showing his gums, which were pasty white. It gave his expression an unpleasant smile. She remembered the grin of pride on his face when Shelly walked across the LoN Naval Academy stage in her dress whites and was handed her diploma. “He was so proud when she graduated from the Naval Academy.”

She smiled at another memory. “He was such a doting father; he loved cubs. He made our house the center of the county for all cubs, big or small, herbivore-omnivore-carnivore. It didn’t matter, he loved them all as if they were his own. I couldn’t have any more after Daniel. He used to take them fishing up in the mountains. He’d play catch with Shelly for hours; she was the athletic one. But he loved listening to Danny play his music. What will I tell them?” She picked up Randall’s left paw.

“He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring,” Dr. Bos told her.

She shook her head. “He broke his hand about fifteen years ago. They had to cut the ring off; the finger never healed right.” She indicated the misshapen digit.

Oates lay a hoof on her shoulder. “We need you to identify him, verbally.”

Carla nodded. “This is Randall A. Ursane, born in Zootopia on August 7, 1966.” She gasped and staggered back. A chair bumped her legs and she sat dropping her head in her hands. She cried. “I was angry with him, but… I didn’t want him dead. Who did this? Why?” She raised her tear-stained face to Oates and the coroner.

“It could be something as simple as another savage attack,” Oates said.

Carla looked at the body and shook her head. “If it had been a savage attack, you would have the perpetrator in custody. All those have been in public places and the savaging mammal restrained and confined. If it’s that would also mean that there is an unidentified savage mammal roaming the streets.” She looked at the coroner. “How did he end up in the river and when?”

Dr. Bos shrugged. “From the damage, we estimate he had been in the water a couple of days. Obviously, he was in a fight.” The bull indicated the gashes that tore open Randall’s throat. “He was probably dead when he went into the water. We won’t know until we complete the autopsy. May we have a sample of your DNA? To eliminate any residue from you.”

“I haven’t been with him since the night before I threw him out six months ago; but yes, of course. Do you need saliva?”

Bos nodded and picked up vial and asked for her spit. Once full, He slipped the vial into an evidence bag. “It will take several weeks to get back the DNA test results.”

“Do your children know about the divorce?” Oates asked.

Carla nodded. “I told them about it as soon as I filed the paperwork.”

“How did they react?” He asked.

“Well, I just got a letter from Shelly on Thursday. She’s in the navy in the Indian Ocean. She said she was going to tell him what an ass he was being.” Shelly never pulled any punches with her opinions.

“Your other child?” Oates prompted.

“He’s at Julliard School of Music in New Amsterdam. I think he’s a little in denial. When I told him, I could hear him crying. He hasn’t said anything about it since.” She took a shuddering breath. “Now I have to tell them their father is dead.” She started crying again.

“Why don’t we go to my office. I’ll be with you while you call your children and tell them,” Oates suggested.

Carla forced a smile. “You are very kind. Daniel would be in class in New Amsterdam and Shelly… I need to call her headquarters in Newport of the Virginia Commonwealth. She’s on the LoN destroyer Geneva.”

That is how Carla ended up in the First Precinct Investigation office talking to a LoN-F officer across the Amerigo landmass about getting a message to a lieutenant junior grade on a ship at sea half-way around the world.

When the lieutenant commander asked if Shelly needed to be sent home, Carla was in a quandary. She wanted Shelly there, but it wasn’t necessary for Shelly to be there. “I… I don’t know when the funeral will be.” She looked up at Det. Oates. “When will the funeral be?”

Oates took the phone, identified himself, and explained the situation. “I would suggest not sending Lt. Ursane home until we have a funeral date.”

The next call was to Daniel’s faculty advisor. The professor put them on hold and left them hanging for almost ten minutes.

“Ma, what’s up?” Daniel’s tone was frantic.

Carla swallowed a lump in her throat and told him, “Your father is dead, Danny.” There was stunned silence then a pained roar and sobbing. “Danny, Daniel,” she called. He had always been the sensitive one.

“Wh… what happened?” Daniel finally managed.

“He was k-k-killed in an assault,” she said trying hard to be brave and strong for her little cub. Mother and son cried over the phone.

“I want to come home,” he said, his voice small like when he was little and afraid from a bad dream.

“But…”

“Mrs. Ursane,” it was Daniel’s advisor. “That can be arranged. He’ll be on the first dirigible out of Manhattan. I’ll wire you the details. Do you have someone who can take you home? Be with you?”

“I need to get back to work,” Carla said as if in a dream.

“Daniel says you should call your brother,” the professor suggested.

“He’s right,” Oates confirmed. He could hear what was being said on the other end as the phone hung limp in Carla’s paw. “You call your brother. I’ll inform your co-workers.”

Oates ensured Carla had arrangements for Renee to pick her up at Precinct One. He called her office and spoke to Agnes Hornsby, who assured Carla could take as much time off as she needed.

“But I want to save up my vacation to visit Daniel in the Spring,” Carla argued. Agnes would hear none of that nonsense. Carla was to go home with her sister-in-law and take care of herself.

Carla stayed in the company of her brother’s family for two days. During that time, her mood swung from heart-wrenching sobs to anger and demanding why this was happening to her and the children. What had they done to deserve such a turn of events? Fortunately, the couple were understanding and worked to sooth her.

During that time, she learned that the preliminary review of particles taken from Randy’s body indicated he had gone into the water around the Mort Morrison Bridge and that he was already dead at that time. Which side of the bridge he had been killed on was inconclusive since the vegetation was similar on both banks near the bridge. The particles and tufts of loose fur were being sent to the west-coast CLEAn lab in San Andreas.

Chapter Text

All day Friday, Carla was excited. Daniel would be arriving; he hadn’t been home since he left for the premier music school on the east coast; that was a year ago.

As she stepped off the bus at the end of Humberston Lane, she reflected on how quiet the investigation into Randy’s murder seemed to be. Since the information earlier in the week, no one had contacted her. With Daniel beside her, she felt ready to start making funeral arrangements. She still didn’t know when the body would be released, but she would have everything in place and ready to move.

Randy was raised Presbyterian but never went to church; he had felt more at ease with the Wabanaki spiritual observances, that Curtis led for the family, even though the two didn’t see eye to eye. She decided he would have a Wabanaki funeral. She’d talk it over with Daniel but was certain he’d concur.

“Hello, Tom,” she greeted the young wolf. This was the second day the Burgess County deputy was parked across from her house. He hadn’t volunteered why, and she didn’t ask.

Deputy Tom Flynn tucked his phone away and leaned on the window. “Tell Daniel I’ll give him a call; we’ll go out for a drink and talk about old times at school; maybe get some of the old gang together.” He laughed at her expression. “Not any of THOSE gangs, you know guys from the band and glee club and drama club. You will be pleased to know that no curiosity seekers have come by while you were gone.”

“Is that why you’ve been watching my house?” She put her paws on her hips. “I thought it was because you were hoping I’d give you some rhubarb pie.”

He grinned from ear to ear. “I wouldn’t say no to that if you have any. But no, the news of Mr. Ursane’s death hit the papers and they mentioned you. The sheriff didn’t want any trespassers trying to snitch souvenirs. There are some pretty weird and morbid curiosity seekers out there. Call if you have any problems. You know, maybe you should get a watch bird.” He started his cruiser, waved, and headed off on patrol.

Carla thought about that suggestion as she opened the front door. She would research breeders; find a promising bird that could be her pet and guard the house.

She was researching various birds and was leaning towards the Hyacinth Macaw, her mother had one as Carla was growing up, when the front door swung open.

“MA!”

She squealed and ran to hug her son. Over Daniel’s shoulder, she saw her brother drop a bag, make a call-me sign, wave, and leave.

Daniel stepped back and looked at her intently. “Are you okay, Ma? You look… weary.”

“I won’t say it hasn’t been a trying week.” She started guiding him to the kitchen. “I made your favorite, fish bisque, crispy sprouts, cornbread, and blackberry compote. We’ll talk over dinner.”

Daniel listened and ate while Carla told him everything from the phone calls last Friday to the present.

“You didn’t tell the cops about that female calling you? Maybe she’s behind Dad’s…” Daniel couldn’t say the word.

Carla shrugged. “I’ve seen her; she’s too small to cause the damage he suffered, much less lug his body around to dump in the river.”

Daniel stared at his plate then shuddered. “Can I see his body? Can I see my dad?”

Carla shook her head. “I don’t think so. The autopsy is still on-going.” She lay a paw on his shoulder. “They will find who did this and bring them to justice.”

He dropped his fork, pushed his plate away, and slumped in his chair. “I feel so helpless. What can I do to help you?”

“Just be here; remind me to keep moving forward. Tomorrow, I need to talk to the mortician.” She gave him a worried look. “I’m hoping you’ll come with me.” She could see fear in his face.

“Yeah, I’ll be with you. We’ll send Dad off proudly. Where’s Shelly?

Carla sighed happy at his resilience. “I told her commander that I’d send for her when we have a funeral date.” She pushed his plate back to him. “Finish; we’ll clean up and take a walk.”

The sun was slipping into the west reflecting in electrifying reds, yellows, oranges, and purples off the altocumulus clouds. The mountains west of Haresburg were on fire with the color. Carla hugged Daniel’s arm and leaned on her tall son’s shoulder. He had his father’s physique and good looks, but Daniel had a very different personality.

“So, what have the cops asked you?” He asked.

“I spoke to a Detective Oates from First Precinct. He asked if I knew any of your father’s friends and did he owe someone money?”

“Did he owe someone money?” Daniel asked.

Carla shrugged. “Other than me, not that I know of.” She glanced up at Daniel. “I gave him all of $40 for gas several weeks ago; not worth killing him. I told him not to worry about paying me back.” She squeezed his arm.

“Did you tell the cops about that girl he was seeing?”

“No one asked.”

“Why did she call you?” Daniel asked.

Carla sighed. “Randy told her he owned the house and I was squatting. She was telling me I should move out, so the rightful owner could take possession. I set her straight, even told her to go check with the Registry of Deeds.”

There was a long silence. “Did you see Dad?”

“Yes, I identified the body,” Carla admitted.

“How… How did he look?”

Carla saw Daniel looking off at the distant fiery mountains. “You don’t want to know; just remember him as you last saw him.” When his shoulder convulsed, she turned and pulled his head to her shoulder. She held him and cooed as he cried. “The Spirit knows I wish I could have spared you this grief.”

Daniel barked a pained laugh. “What, not tell us? Not a good idea Ma.” He straightened and rubbed his face forcing a smile. “Let’s go over to Bob & JoJo’s for a Scotty MacScotchface ice cream cone.”

********

“So, what was with the research on the Macaw?” Daniel asked as they walked into Vulpington Commons the next morning.

“Deputy Flynn, Tom Flynn, suggested I get one. They make noise that scares off potential burglars. Remember Nana’s Hyacinth Macaw?” she asked as they passed between the Baptist church and the synagogue.

“Yeah I remember Polly.” Daniel shuddered. “That bird could be mean when it put its mind to it.”

They crossed Abrams Square going out the north side past the basilica.

“But she was so sweet with Nana. I’d also like to have something to come home to. The house feels so empty with ev… everyone gone.” Her tone and head drooped a bit. “Well, this is it.”

They stopped in front of an old brick federal with a coffin swinging from an armature over the door. It was evident the building had recently undergone a face lift. “Funeral Home” was in fresh gold paint against the black background of the coffin sign. Carla felt Daniel shudder; she took his hand and entered the building.

“Mrs. Ursane? Daniel Ursane?” when the pair nodded the tall 30-something hare bowed and greeted them formally, “A, Bralathuatha Thlay, lay dayn asith u Vaorah ol Frith.” He led them into a nicely appointed parlor with a pot of tea waiting for them. “How may I help you in this trying time?” Thlay asked.

Daniel tried to speak but his voice choked. That morning, Carla had heard him plinking out a sad tune on the piano in the parlor. She explained the sudden death of her husband and the delay; but that she wanted to have everything ready for when the authorities released his body.

“I understand; I have had to deal with similar circumstances in the past; it makes it so hard for the family to find closure. Will you have a church service or a service in our chapel?” He indicated a room, well-lit by tall wide windows and filled with chairs, that ran the length of the building.

“My brother has agreed to lead a Wabanaki, oh, that’s our people, Wabanaki burial ceremony; it will all be at the grave side,” Carla explained.

Thlay jotted down some notes. “In the event of bad weather, we will need a tent for the celebrants and immediate family and to keep the grave dry. What might be needed for the ceremony itself.”

Carla shook her head. “We will supply the musicians and instruments and sage smudges.”

Notes. “Was Mr. Ursane a member of any organization that might want to participate or have some special iconography present?”

Carla shook her head and held her son’s hand.

Daniel was crying openly now. This whole discussion was hammering home the reality of his father’s death. He would never go fishing with him again; damn they used to have such good times out at the Rorkes Cliffs Falls.

“More mundane matters. Where is he to be laid to rest?”

“Cemetery on The Hill Haresburg.”

“Is there anyone who will make a special speech?”

“I’m sure there will be. He may have been unfaithful but, people liked him.” Carla looked at the wedding ring still on her left paw.

A small paw softly touched her hand. “You still love him.” Thlay made some notes. “Once you know who will be doing what at the ceremony, get the list to me so that I can print up a bulletin. The sooner the better. I can have it ready to go except for the date and time. Do you want to rest a bit or are you ready to pick out a coffin and a liner?”

Daniel stood indicating he was ready. Carla smiled, proud of her son. Thlay led them to a room behind the parlor. Along the walls were caskets of different wood types sitting on display stands.

Daniel was drawn to a natural-red-cedar casket. “Dad loved working with cedar; he would think this is beautiful.” He ran his paw along the polished surface.

“We’ll take that one,” Carla announced pointing at the cedar casket.

“How tall and broad was he and what was his weight?” When Carla told him, Thlay made a note. “What sort of lining.”

“Something to show off his coloring; he had such luxurious black fur,” Carla said looking at some paler colors.

“Do you want an open coffin?” Thlay was a little surprised. From what he understood, the bear had been nearly beheaded. Though he could be sewn back together after the autopsy, it would not be a pretty sight. He sighed with relief when Carla shook her head.

“No, but I’ll see him, in my mind’s eye.” She tapped her temple.

“And plain, nothing all frilly.” Daniel forced a smile. “Frilly is more my style.”

Carla and Thlay chuckled.

They signed the contract and made a down payment; the rest would be paid over time. When they left, Carla took Daniel’s hand and suggested Fangs Garden. Daniel wasn’t sure he wanted to face happy people.

“These are your schoolmates and friends; they know what happened. They aren’t expecting you to be on top of your game.” They found a seat at the popular restaurant and ordered a light lunch.

“Ma look at that,” Daniel pointed at a poster taped to the window next to them. He took it off. “The community is starting a neighborhood watch type program. They’ll teach self-defense techniques. You should take that.”

Carla blushed. “I could never.”

“Well it also says there will be lectures on rights and permissible force and… Next Thursday at 5 pm. at the Basilica School gym, it’s just a gathering to discuss it. We should go.” He stuck the flyer in his pocket while pasting on a smile he hoped would inspire his mother.

“Maybe. Stop making that silly face; it’ll freeze that way and you’ll look like that forever.” She gave him a mock scowl.

Daniel laughed with relief. He hadn’t heard that admonishment in years.

Carla shivered; Daniel’s forced smile looked too much like the            unnatural grin on Randy’s face in the morgue. “Oh, look, there’s Matilda Alvaredo Suarez; you remember her, she was a classmate of Shelly. Oh, dear what happened to you?” Carla asked the young coyote.

Matilda delicately touched bandages on her face. “I… I was mugged a… a few nights ago.”

Daniel stood and pulled a chair over from another table. “Is that the reason for this?” He showed her the flier.

Matilda nodded. “It was Jacob Raibert’s idea.” She started telling them how Jacob, the new savior of the neighborhood, had gotten the police involved and lined up several masters from martial arts dojos; how it was going to be like the old-fashioned militias and would draw on the energy of youth and the wisdom of years. “You should come. Everyone will be there. We are having a pot-luck dinner. The chief of the new precinct, the 7th, will speak. Her name is Winterhorn; she used to be in the cutter service.” She went into the list of names of everyone she had learned would be there forgetting completely about her injuries.

Chapter Text

While Daniel and some of his former classmates were in Savanna Central the following Monday evening, they witnessed a savage outbreak. A family of Okapi were attacked when a lioness leapt from hiding in bushes and latched onto the calf. The mother and father struggled to fight off the deranged lioness. Daniel’s friends, which included Deputy Flynn, jumped in to help subdue the enraged predator while Daniel called 9-1-1. He was very shaken by the incident and told his mother that there was no longer any question about attending the event mentioned in the flier; they were going.

Thursday evening, Daniel and Carla were at the event advertised on the flier. Though Daniel didn’t grow up in Vulpington Commons, he had gone to school at the Basilica and the Rainforest District High School as did most children in “Happytown”. They were as warmly greeted as if they had spent their lives living on Claremont Avenue. They weren’t the only residents from Burgess County to attend. Carla nodded to several neighbors and waved to the Leporols, descended from the founding family of Haresburg.

When Jacob Raibert finished his presentation of what he envisaged, Daniel stood. “Jacob,” he glanced at the other people from Burgess County, this included the sheriff and his wife. “Do you think this idea would be good for all communities? I mean, could we start a similar program in The County?”

“Of course, you could,” the tall, black hare responded. “I don’t have a copyright on this idea. As a matter of fact, I don’t see why all communities couldn’t have a similar program.”

“Then you won’t mind if I meet with you and Chief Winterhorn at a later date,” Burgess County Sheriff Padrig ÓCochláin, an Irish goat in his late 40s, said coming to his feet. His family had moved to Zootopia from the ‘Old Sod’ when he and his five siblings were kids.

The towering reindeer chief of the 7th stood. “I would be happy to discuss this with you, Padrig; and you as well Jacob.”

“Thomas, take notes,” the goat told his deputy. “Mary and I have dinner reservations.”

The event moved on to several demonstrations of fighting styles.

After the event, Tom drove Daniel and Carla home. He leaned on the steering wheel looking up at the large old house. The sun had been out when they left; it was now setting. The Victorian stood dark and foreboding on a small knoll. “I really think you ought to get a bird, Ms. Ursane.”

“I’ve been researching Hyacinth Macaw breeders.” Carla glanced at Daniel in the back seat. “I called several and narrowed it down to one in the Rainforest District. I arranged to visit her Saturday morning.”

“A bird can’t protect my mom,” Daniel pointed out.

“No but it can make a damned lot of noise and alert her to an attempted break in,” Tom pointed out. “If you want something that will attack, you’d want an ostrich; but those are a handful for a house pet. The Macaw screeching would be plenty to turn off a potential burglar.” He grinned. “Teach it to whistle like police sirens.”

Carla and Daniel got out, said good bye, and went inside. Almost immediately, Carla’s cell phone went off. She looked stricken at Daniel when she saw it was from Shelly. She hurried into the parlor and sat as she accepted the call.

“Shelly,”

“Oh my god, Mom. What the hell happened?”

Carla winced at the pain in her eldest’s voice. Her heart was in her throat; she had heard the phrase but never before experienced the sensation. “Your father is dead, murdered.” She gathered her wits and told Shelly everything she knew about Randy’s death. All three were crying by the time Carla finished.

“Mom, I’m putting in for hardship leave…”

“No, don’t. Shelly, there isn’t anything for you to do, and no one knows when your father’s body will be released for the funeral. I’d rather you be here for that than for your time to run out and you have to go back and miss his funeral. Besides, Daniel is here to help me.”

“Hi Shell,” he called good-naturedly to the phone.

“Mom, he’s… he was my dad, a jackass but my dad, nonetheless. I’m coming home. We put into Hong Kong in three days; I’ll let you know when I’m arriving once I’ve made travel arrangements. Capt. Cheval already signed my hardship leave paperwork and it’s open-ended.”

Carla sighed. “It’ll be good to see you and have you both home; together again. Who’s that with you?” She could hear a voice in the background.

“The ship’s chaplain.” Shelly said. “How long is Danny able to stay?”

Daniel leaned in. “I can skype a bunch of my courses and lessons. I’m fine.”

The conversation turned to more pleasant subjects until the ship was moving out of range of the satellite.

Daniel rose from his chair and went to the upright piano against the inside wall. He began playing.

Carla recognize the tune as the one he had been meddling with since he arrived. “What is that you’re playing?”

“Oh, I don’t know; I haven’t named it. I think it’ll be a requiem to dad.”

“Randy loved listening to you play. You were taking piano lessons from Mr. Mousel but had to practice at one of the churches or at school. Then one day, your father found this beat-up, old-piece-of-crap piano sitting in an empty lot in the Meadowlands. He got some folks to help him load it into the van and dragged it home.” She chuckled. “He knew nothing about pianos but got books from the library, watched endless Ewe-tube videos, and rebuilt it.”

“What are you going to do with it, Ma?” Daniel asked pausing in his playing and looking at the instrument his father had practically built for him.

“Why would I do anything with it? It’s yours when you want it; or it’s here for you when you visit.” She walked up behind him and caressed the top of his head. “Danny, I loved your father. I don’t hate him for what he did; I am extremely angry and hurt by it. I threw his clothes and toiletries out the bedroom window. I wanted to kick his ass around the block and slap some sense into his stupid skull. I don’t want to hate him; and I definitely don’t want him dead. As a matter of fact, I want him back.”

She sagged into a chair and began crying. She hadn’t finished grieving over the death of her marriage when she found herself grieving over the death of her ex-husband. She was giving in to the sense of being overwhelmed. She would never admit to her cubs how much she needed them right now, both of them.

“Sometimes I wonder what I could have done to make things right for him. What did I do to drive him away, into the arms of another?”

Daniel hugged her. “It wasn’t you, Ma. Dad always had an issue with… The guys at the bar didn’t call him randy Randall for nothing.”

“All the signs that he was seeing other females were there and I didn’t see it. Perhaps…”

“Don’t get into second-guessing yourself, Ma. If it’s any consolation, I know Dad loved you. He always told me to find a wife just like you, well, a partner.” Daniel hugged her more tightly.

Carla shook her head. “If he were satisfied at home, he…”

“Ma, stop that. Dad just couldn’t keep his business in his pants. It was no reflection on you; it was a symptom of something wrong with him, an addiction or something.”

“You think your dad was addicted to sex?” Carla asked incredulous. Daniel held her so tightly she couldn’t turn to see his face. She felt him nod. “Is that even a real addiction?”

“Norman’s mom has… issues. We’ve both researched it and yes, it’s real.” He carefully let her go and turned back to the keyboard.

“Tell me about Norman,” Carla encouraged.

She listened while Daniel told her about his partner and played out his requiem on the formerly beat-up, abandoned piano that now had a loving forever home.

********

Saturday, she and Daniel exited Precipitation Station, the last stop for the green-line subway. They headed south deeper into the Ficus Grove section of the Rainforest District. When they reached Tujunga, they turned right and headed for Orchid Lane, where the breeder lived.

They found the home without trouble, knocked on the door, and were admitted by a female sloth wearing lavender glasses and with lavender and pink highlights in her bangs and wearing matching lavender fleece outfit. She introduced herself as Priscilla Tripletoe.

Priscilla led them through the Townhouse to an enclosed porch. The two bears had to duck going through the doors, but otherwise could stand comfortably. On the porch, ten Hyacinth Macaws were flying about and making a lot of noise.

“I have too many; neighbors are complaining.” Priscilla spoke as slowly as she walked. “I’m keeping the original pair – Plucky and Chucky. The rest are for sale. I’ll leave you alone with them to pick out the one you best get along with. Would you like some tea?”

After Daniel and Carla accepted the offer, Priscilla left. There were several wrought-iron garden chairs and a table, so the two sat and watched the birds.

“They all look like they are planning something completely naughty,” Daniel chuckled. “Just like Nanna’s Polly.”

“Hi there little one,” Carla held out one claw to a particularly curious Macaw. It was sidling toward her with little shuffling steps and intermittent small hops. It studied Carla out of one eye. “You are a brave little one,” Carla said.

She picked up a loose seed and held it out to the bird. It took the seed with little concern and immediately cracked the shell to eat the softer meat.

They visited with Priscilla and the little bird, which turned out to be a two-years-old female. They agreed on a price, which included starter supplies. Carla and Daniel walked out carrying Carla’s new companion in a bird carrier, a bag of bird food, food and water bowls, a cuttlebone, and a perch with a leash. Priscilla said she refused to clip their wings. If she wanted them contained, she would hook the leash to a foot; otherwise they had free reign of the porch.

“What are you gonna name her?” Daniel asked adjusting the load he was carrying.

Carla smiled, “Oh, I don’t know; it’ll…” Suddenly she froze with a look of horror that mutated almost instantly to anger.

“What it is?” Daniel looked at where she stared. He saw two Asian Sun Bears walking toward them. They were involved in an intense conversation.

“It’s her,” Carla ducked into a nearby book store dragging Daniel with her. She peered out the display window.

“Who her?” Daniel asked.

“Randy’s last girlfriend, the one who called me. I saw her with him once, but I’ll never forget her maw.”

“Who’s that with her?” Daniel asked indicating the large, male, Asian Sun Bear.

Carla shrugged. “Perhaps she’s already replaced Randy.”

“What if that guy is her husband? What if he’s the guy who killed Dad?”

“He’s not her husband, your dad was living with her the past six months since I threw him out.” When the two Asian Bears passed the store, Carla returned to the street. Daniel came out a moment later with a book on keeping birds. He grinned at Carla and the two hurried toward the subway station.

It wasn’t until they were seated on the subway headed back toward the J Street Station that Daniel broached the subject again, “Ma, he could be the reason Dad is dead, if he’s a jealous boyfriend. Maybe she dumped him and took up with Dad; he found out and attacked Dad.”

Carla shrugged. She really didn’t want to talk about this. It was all so raw and sore. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from crying in public.

“You have to tell the cops about this. It could be a lead.”

Still unable to speak, Carla shook her head tersely. Daniel saw the tears trying to escape. He set his stuff on the floor beside him and pulled her into a hug. “I’ll call someone when we get home. Just tell me who.” He patted her back as she cried.

Curtis met them at the J Street Station with his pick-up. As he drove them to the house, Daniel told him about what they saw.

“Do you have a phone number to call?” Curtis asked Carla.

She pulled out her purse and went through the cards. “This is Det. Oates’ card.”

Daniel snatched it out of her paw. “Thanks.” He dialed the number; it went to voice mail. He identified himself then left a message about seeing his dad’s latest girlfriend with a male bear and gave the street and cross street. “There, done!” He handed the card back to Carla. “Our civic duty is complete.”

Chapter Text

Carla was at work on Wednesday morning when Western Union called. They had a wire from Shelly stating she would arrive in Zootopia Saturday morning at the aerodrome on the 11:45 flight. It was just under three days to San Francisco with a layover then the flight from there to Zootopia. The actual wire would be delivered at her place of work within the hour.

Phillis gave her a hug. “That’s great; your support system will be fully in place. How about we celebrate and get lunch at that new Shawarma place down the block?” She glanced over at Mickey, who eagerly nodded his agreement.

“If we all three leave, who will watch the office?” Carla worried. It wasn’t unprecedented for all three of the clerical staff to leave but it was exceedingly rare.

Phillis narrowed her eyes meaningfully. Carla laughed. “All right. Mr. Claws,” she called him on the intercom.

“What is it Ms. Ursane?”

“The three of us will be taking lunch together. When would be the most convenient time that you and Señora Abril can handle the calls?”

“Uh, how about between 12:30 and 1:30? Sid and Agnes should be back by then. Might I suggest the Pacifica? I hear they make an excellent Ostrich Shawarma.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, thank you. I’ll let you know when we leave.” Carla shut off the intercom and smiled up at Phillis.

“Now wasn’t that easy?” Phillis patted Carla’s paw and returned to her desk.

At 12:40, the three were seated by a window in the new middle-eastern eatery, Pacifica.

“I feel so exposed,” Mickey glanced around nervously.

“Why?” Carla asked.

“One guy out with two older females; everyone’s staring at me.”

“They are thinking, ‘What a lucky stud that one is, to be in the company of two such devastatingly gorgeous females.” Phillis preened with a grin on her face.

“How are your classes coming?” Carla asked to alleviate the young male’s discomfort.

Mickey perked right up. He was happy to tell him how well he was doing and how the attorneys in the office were such a help.

It was a wonderful time that got everyone’s mind off the troubles: the savage outbreaks, demonstrations against the predator community, that new bunny-cop’s very bad press conference that started the whole kerfuffle, and Randall’s murder.

Instead they heard about Mickey’s girlfriend, Carla’s new pet Macaw, and Phillis’ planned vacation to Porta Vallarta in February, Mickey’s baby sister making the Junior Olympic team for gymnastics, Daniel’s requiem for Randall, and Phillis two-year-old twins.

Carla was even able to find a seat on the subway that evening. She felt like she was right with the world for the first time in weeks. She sighed and closed her eyes in order to further enjoy the feeling of peace.

Dan met her at the subway station. “Walking ya home,” he told her taking her briefcase. “How was your day?”

“I got word Shelly is arriving on an 11:45 flight on Saturday.”

“Saturday? Already? She’s traveling what, 12,000 miles and makes it in three and a half days and I traveled like a quarter that distance in the same amount of time? That ain’t fair.”

“You’ll have to ask her about that sort of magic,” Carla chuckled. “So, how’s the requiem coming?”

The rest of the week passed uneventfully. Carla hired a taxi so she and Daniel could meet Shelly at the aerodrome. Carla was shocked when she saw her daughter; Shelly was nearly rail thin but in obvious excellent health. She was in her summer whites and drew looks of admiration from nearly every male in the terminal. The family didn’t care. They fell into each other’s arms crying.

The taxi took them home. As they entered the house, the bird greeted them with squawks and whistles.

“I hope you didn’t name it Polly,” Shelly laughed extending a claw at which the bird pecked.

“She has yet to let her name be known.”

“How about She-who-makes-loud-noises,” Daniel suggested pretending his ears hurt.

They spent the afternoon settling Shelly in and updating her with all that had happened. She happily shared her experiences aboard the ship.

“Heh, how come you traveled like 12,000 miles in three days and it took me that long to get from New Amsterdam?” Daniel asked as they sat on the front porch, watching the world go by.

Shelly grinned. “The jet stream, my dear baby brother, the jet stream.”

“Mom, what do you know about this female Dad was living with?” Shelly finally asked.

Carla shrugged. “Just her name.” She thought a moment. “From that one phone conversation we had, she sounded panicky, frantic, even moody.

“Why do you say that?” Daniel asked.

“Well, when she first spoke, she sounded quite assured of herself and told me that I was hindering Randy’s forward growth by not allowing him to move into his house. When I told her that Randy did not own the house, that I did, her entire mood shifted, and she sounded quite fearful. By the time I finished telling her to go to the Registry of Deeds, she was near tears and kept saying I was lying. That’s when I hung up.”

“O-oh, Ma hung up on her. Ma never hangs up without being cordial,” Daniel teased.

Shelly laughed. “It is hard to believe,” she said.

“Then you’ll never believe that I actually called her a bitch; not to her face, after she hung up.”

“Call the asylum; Mom’s gone over the edge!” Shelly shouted to the wind.

Chapter Text

The family spent the weekend working on training the bird to whistle and squawk if someone was rattling the doors or windows from outside the house.

It was a typical Monday at work. Hornsby and Wolford spent the morning in court. The staff fielded phone calls. The weather was bad, so they ordered pizza for the office then settled down to work for the afternoon.

Suddenly, the door slammed open startling everyone in the outer office. An African Wild Ass in police blues with a PoA patch followed by a Capybara similarly dressed strode into the office flashing badges.

“I am Lt. Adom Selah with the Port Authority Police Investigation Division. Carla Ursane, you need to come with me to headquarters.” He had barely finished the sentence when every office door to every attorney in the practice flew open and the occupants emerged.

“Don’t move, Carla,” Sid, flanked by an angry Aardwolf and glaring Chillingham cow, ordered and advanced on the equine. Esmerelda Abril, a Lapino Hare, took a position by the door. Mickey slid his chair as far out of the way as possible and attempted to answer phones in a manner that didn’t seem like something awkward was happening.

“This doesn’t concern you, sir.” Selah said still moving toward Carla. “I am authorized to use force if necessary.” The Capybara’s eyes widened, but he loosened his taser.

“This has everything to do with me. I am Sidney Carston Wolford Attorney at law. You are in my practice threatening my employee. I want to see a warrant!” The wolf bared his teeth.

“Sid, stop it.” Agnes stepped between the wolf and the ass. “He’s right. Do you have a warrant?” She kept her tone level, but her head dipped unconsciously bringing her horns closer to the ass’s head.

Adom took a breath and stood erect. “Mrs. Ursane is a mammal of interest in the murder of one Randall Aloysius Ursane.”

“What?” The entire group chorused.

There was a buzz and Mickey picked up the phone. “Hornsby, Wolford and Claws, how may I harass… er, help you?”

Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws turned their backs on the detective and looked at Carla. She looked horrified and terrified at the same time. “I did n…”

“We know you didn’t,” Sid said in a deep soothing voice. “He doesn’t have a warrant for your arrest. You don’t have to go with him.”

“But if I don’t, I’ll look like I’m hiding something. I…”

“You couldn’t hurt a fly,” Dexter Claws said with a sigh. “You were the one that caught that bee and let it go outside when I was trying to swat it.” He smiled gently at her.

“I’ll go with you,” Sid said with finality and stepped into his office.

Agnes addressed Carla. “Mr. Wolford will drive you to their headquarters, where they may ask you appropriate questions in the presence of your attorney,” She turned and gave the two police officers a saccharine smile. “Is that not correct officers?”

Selah clenched his fists and grimaced. “Fine! See that she gets there, or I shall return with a warrant. Come on, Bill.” He led the way back out.

Abril stepped out of their way and smiled cheerfully, “Have a nice day.”

“I can’t afford Sid as my lawyer,” Carla gasped when the two officers were gone. “I can’t afford you,” she told Sid as he came out of his office with his briefcase in hand.

“I can afford a pro-bono case. Come along Carla; let’s go see what that grumpy ass wants.”

Carla scooped up her purse and followed Sid to the parking garage. As they were leaving the garage, they noticed the PoAP car waiting across the street.

“He didn’t think I would come?” Carla asked bewildered.

Sid snorted. “I’ve heard about Selah, through my brother and the D-A’s office. He has a reputation for bullying those he questions. That’s why I want to be there; keep him in line. We will prove him wrong; I want you to have that. I don’t want you to win because it was thrown out of court due to a procedural error; that leaves a question on everyone’s mind.”

The pair walked into the PoA Police building near the aerodrome. Since they had to find public parking, the two officers preceded them. She and Sid were greeted by a bellowing that would have put First Precinct Chief Bogo to shame.

“Where the hell did you think you were going? To a daycare center named Hornsby, Wolford, and Claws? Even my ten-year-old knows that is one of the top law firms in the city. If I EVER get a call from an attorney’s office again complaining of you bullying one of their employees, I will personally rip that patch off your shirt and put it, your ID, and badge through a shredder. Now try not to screw this up, Selah!”

Selah and his Capybara sidekick were standing at rigid attention next to the information desk. The PoAP chief, a normally soft-spoken jaguar by the name of Ernesto Yenez, disappeared into a door leading back to his office.

“Are you ready, officer?” Sid asked not allowing Selah a chance to recover. He wanted the growly officer off guard. “Remind me I owe Agnes a box of caviar,” he whispered to Carla.

Carla chuckled. “Yes, Mr. Wolford.”

Selah shook himself out of his shock and took them through another door back to the detective offices. He led them into a well-lit room with a table and several comfortable chairs. “Bill, get my recorder.”

“Mrs. Ursane, where were you on the evening of September 10th?” Selah asked without preamble as soon as the recorder arrived.

Carla glanced at Sid who nodded. “I was at home.”

“Who was with you?” Selah didn’t look at her, just referred to a note pad and jotted down her answer.

At Sid’s nod, Carla answered. “No one, since my…”

“Is there anyone who can corroborate that you were home?”

“I spoke with my son, Daniel; he was in New Amsterdam.”

“Did you at any time leave your house the evening of September 10th?”

Sid put a paw on Carla’s paw. “I advise no more answering his questions until we know what he wants.” He glared at the detective.

Selah lay down his pen and put on a pedantic air. “I am trying to establish her whereabouts at the approximate time of death.”

“No, you are trying to establish whether or not she has an alibi. She has not been charged. What makes Ms. Ursane a suspect?”

Selah smiled unpleasantly. “A piece of broken bear claw was found embedded in Mr. Ursane’s neck. I noticed at the morgue that Mrs. Ursane had VERY recently had her claws trimmed and painted.” He fixed that unpleasant smile on Carla. “When was the last time you saw your husband?”

“The last time I saw my EX was seven weeks ago. He came by the office.”

Sid remembered that visit, but he held up a paw. “Carla, when did you get your nails done?”

“Saturday, September 10th; I had a 2 p.m. appointment at the J Street Salon,” Carla answered somewhat bewildered.

“Why did…” Selah tried to ask but was interrupted.

“When did you make that appointment?” Sid asked.

“The Thursday before when you let me go home early.”

Sid nodded. “Long before Randall Ursane was murdered,” he said shifting his gaze to Selah. “Your turn.”

Selah snorted glaring at the wolf. He addressed Carla. “Why did you husband want to see you?”

“My EX wanted to borrow some money.” Carla emphasized the fact that the divorce was final, and Randy was no longer her husband.

“What did he want to borrow money for?” Selah asked irritated the information wasn’t volunteered.

“Gas.” Carla glanced at Sid. “I gave him $40 to fill up and he left.”

Both she and Sid noticed the Selah blinked in surprise. For some reason, that wasn’t the answer he was expecting.

“Tell the nice man why you gave Randall the money,” Sid prompted. “For the record,” he added helpfully.

“Earlier I had gotten a call from Father Flaherty of the Basilica School in Vulpington Commons. They had some work they wanted Randy to do but Father Flaherty needed Randy’s phone number. When Randy came to the office, he had talked to Father Flaherty but didn’t have the gas to get there; he’d been working in Sahara Square.”

“Oh, so you gave him the money so that he could go to a job and make money. Did he pay you back?” Sid asked as if he didn’t already know.

“I told him he didn’t have to. I don’t (her voice cracked) didn’t want anything from him.” She pulled a tissue out of her purse and wiped her eyes. She was horrifically angry at him; but love doesn’t die that quickly. He wouldn’t be at any more of their children’s landmark moments: weddings, births, Danny’s graduation… She shuddered as her grief tried to consume her.

“Any more questions detective?” Sid asked.

“When was the last time you spoke to him?”

“That day,” Carla said with a small voice.

“Isn’t it true you spoke to him on the 9th at about 3:30 p.m.?” Selah challenged too eagerly.

“I did not speak to him.” Carla answered. This whole thing was bewildering.

Selah eyes gleamed; he had her. “His cell phone record indicates he called your cell number at 3:30 and spoke to you for about 15 minutes.”

“I didn’t talk to him, Phillis Two-Horns talked to him.”

Sid leaned forward glowering at Selah. “And I told him that if he called Carla again, I would file harassment charges.” He leaned even closer. “I was there when the call came in.”

Selah gathered himself from that minor setback. “What was the call about?”

Carla shrugged. “I don’t know; I didn’t talk to him,” she repeated firmly.

“What did he want?” Selah asked.

Carla tried not to lose her patience.

Sid didn’t bother not to lose his. “We have told you twice that she did not talk to him and I am witness to the fact that she did not talk to him. I talked to him, but even I don’t know why he called. We are not going to make something up just to satisfy some itch you have.”

Carla was fairly certain that call was connected to the call his girlfriend had made earlier. But that was supposition and she knew enough about Law to know that was inadmissible.

“Why did you throw him out?” Selah asked at last.

“That is irrelevant to this interview,” Sid snarled.

“I need to…”

“Establish what she might know about Mr. Ursane’s murder. Their marital problems are irrelevant. Of that, all that is relevant is the fact that they were divorced at the time of Mr. Ursane’s death.” Sid was moving full-bore into courtroom mode.

“Was she estranged to the point she would murder him,” Selah blurted angrily slapping the table top.

Carla gasped. Sid stood ramrod straight. “For the answer to that question, you damn well better have a warrant for her arrest. Come, Ms. Ursane, we are finished here.”

Carla said nothing until they were in the car and on Intra-district-29 headed back for the office. “Now what?”

“Now we hope someone straightens that ass of an ass out and the investigation can get under way.”

Chapter Text

Adom Selah listened to the recording of the interview for the fifth time. Photos and reports covered his desk. Randall A. Ursane was murdered by another bear slightly smaller than him and dumped into the river at the Mort Morrison Bridge between Happytown and the Rainforest District and just south of the Canal District. Carla was a powerful female bear who lived just outside Happytown and she had a motive.

The listed reason for the divorce was infidelity. That was enough to enrage any woman. He should know; his ex-wife had brandished a cleaver at him just for meeting another woman for lunch one day. His divorce had been very messy; she got everything, the house, the kids, alimony, the car, even  his new 72-inch, hi-def, surround-sound TV.

Carla Ursane murdered her husband out of jealousy; he was sure of it. All he had to do was find probable cause then he could get a warrant and bring her in for questioning. Of course, that would be very hard because she worked for attorneys. They probably wouldn’t let her take a piss without being at her side.

If she were innocent, that damned head-up-his-ass pred lawyer would have let him ask about the phone call with her son. What time did she talk to him? How long was the call? Who was the last person to see her that day? These were simple questions that implicated NOTHING!

He slammed his hoof on his desk. He would just have to go to her neighborhood and do some good-ole gumshoe work. “Bill, let’s go.”

“Where?” the Capybara asked grabbing his badge and taser.

“Happytown. I want to find someone who saw Mrs. Ursane with Mr. Ursane on September 10th.”

********

Selah parked his patrol car outside of TUSK Blockhouse 11, which was serving as the headquarters for the newly-established 7th Precinct. He walked up to the desk sergeant and showed his credentials then explained he was in the area investigating a murder.

The female rhino at the desk gave him a sour look and reminded him that he was outside his jurisdiction and not to make any arrests without a 7th Precinct officer present.

“Yeah, yeah, yada-yada-yada not my territory. I know the drill, Sgt. Sunshine.” Selah grimaced at the sergeant.

“You are making an extremely poor impression regarding the Port of Authority Police Department.”

Selah spun and found himself eye-to-kneecap with and being glared down at by the chief of the 7th. He took a step back from the towering reindeer with the stars on her epaulettes. “That was not my intention, ma-am.”

“While you are in my jurisdiction, you will address my officers by their rank and proper name. Try again.”

Selah turned around and checked the desk sergeant’s name tag. “I shall take your advice under advisement, Sgt. Greyson,” he snapped with no courtesy in his voice.

“It’s not advice,” Greyson rumbled. “It is procedure. Go on; get it done and get gone.” “Prick,” Greyson spit as the ass walked out the door.

“Sergeant, that comment was inappropriate,” Chief Winterhorn scolded. She was next to the Rhino’s ear when she added, “That was an ass, not a prick. Different body part.” She headed for her office.

Selah and his partner got back in the car and started driving around. The roads here were narrow and winding and it wasn’t long before he was lost. He pointed the car in the direction of a couple of steeples and made his way to a large square with two very large churches in pride of place at the north and south ends. Smaller churches and places of worship filled in along the side. The road here was wide with plenty of room to park on both sides.

They locked the car and started to walk.

“So, does she go to church? We could ask one of the ministers,” Bill suggested.

“There was nothing in the reports about that.”

“So, what is your plan? Walk around and hope someone goes, ‘Oh hi are you looking for dirt on Carla Ursane?’ and get led to what you want?”

“Your snark is not appreciated,” Selah growled.

William Williamson shook his head and kept quiet. It didn’t do any good to point out procedural errors to his senior partner. Even though he was a brand-new detective, he could see where Selah was making mistakes and digging himself an investigative pit.

Bill saw a nun approaching. “Sister,” he called ignoring Selah’s grumble. “Do you know Ms. Carla Ursane?”

“Yes,” the nun answered cheerfully.

“Do you know where she goes to church?” He asked.

“Oh, she doesn’t go to church. Her family is First Nation. Talk to her brother. He has a hardware store on K Street two blocks that way.” She pointed east, the direction they should go, then continued her walk around the square.

They found the hardware store easily enough. A middle-aged black bear was at the counter helping a young hare who looked to be about high-school age. The bear was huge; almost as large as a grizzly but he was very patient with the small youth.

Bill figured the bear could crush both him and Selah at the same time. He shot a side glance at his senior partner and saw that Selah was envisioning Ms. Ursane’s towering brother helping her to murder and dump her ex-husband’s body. He knew Selah was out to prove he was right, not to find out who actually murdered the carpenter.

“Watch the till, Manuel; you’ll be fine,” the bear gently squeezed the hare’s shoulder then addressed the two detectives.  “Gentlemammals, may I help you?”

He wore a suit and open-collared shirt. Around his neck was a two-tiered choker made of purple and white shell that matched his watch band.

“Curtis Ursane?” Selah asked respectfully. When the bear nodded, he introduced himself and his partner.

Bill saw the bear’s brow furrow but otherwise his expression remained calm. “You have questions about my sister?” He asked.

“I am trying to find someone who can confirm she was at home on September 10th between the hours of 2:30 and midnight,” Selah said.

“I didn’t see her until Sunday dinner. She said she got home at about 6-ish; she had an appointment at the J Street Salon between 2 and 4.” He walked toward the door and pointed at the end of the block. “Take St. Simeon Street one block east then follow J Street three blocks north. You’ll come to the salon. They can tell you when she arrived and when she left.”

“Did she tell you what time she talked to her son? She said she had called him.” Selah asked.

Curtis thought a bit. “She said she took a long hot bath and it was about seven when she called him; I think she said they talked about an hour. Daniel is here now and could tell you himself.”

“So, no one knows where she was from the time she left the salon to when she called her son at seven and between eight and midnight. Thank you, Mr. Ursane.” Selah started to leave.

“Detective, my sister would need a car to transport the body from wherever Randy was killed to the bridge. She doesn’t have a car, nor does she have a license. Thought you might want to know.”

Selah scowled. It was helpful. But how hard was it to get someone to drive you around, like a very large brother with a truck? He forced a smile at Curtis, thanked him and left.

“Confirm the time she left the Salon and was anyone with her,” he muttered as he followed the directions. The salon was easy enough to find.

“May I help you?” a young coyote girl asked with a broad smile. He noticed a cut on her cheek and one above her eye. He wasn’t surprised, coyotes tended to get into fights.

“Detective Adom Selah, I’m here about one of your customers, Carla Ursane.” Suddenly a small red fox was between him and the desk.

“My name is Amanda Adame; I own this establishment. If you have any questions, you may ask me.” She crossed her paws over her chest and stood her ground.

“Was or was not Mrs. Carla Ursane at this salon on September 10th?” Selah asked brusquely.

“Matilda, get me the bookings for Saturday September 10th.” Amanda held out a hand and waited. She reviewed the appointments. “She was here at two for a pawdicure and three for a cut, style, and blow dry; that takes about an hour, so she left around four p.m.” She handed the book back to Matilda. “Matilda, print off a copy of Ms. Ursane’s receipt; that will have the time she paid.”

“Who picked her up?” Selah asked.

Amanda cocked her head. “No one; she walked.”

“All the way from Haresburg to Happytown? No one walks that far.” Selah gave the small vixen his best glare.

Amanda smiled. “Carla does, unless she takes the bus. The bus doesn’t run on Saturday. It would take her about an hour to walk from her home to here and another hour back.” She put a paw on her chin and tapped a claw. “As a matter of fact, Rebekah Daveed and she left at the same time; something about getting a pierogi from Mishka Podanski’s deli. If she went by the deli, she would have gotten home probably around 5:30.”

Selah ground his teeth. “Where is this deli?”

Amanda walked them out the door and pointed south down the street. “Follow J to Upper Canal; turn left and go four blocks east. To get to Carla’s house, you would follow Upper Canal to Abrams Square and take Union Street west; it passes between the Baptist Church and Synagogue. Union Street will take you into Burgess County proper. Follow Union to Humberston Lane. I suggest you walk the route as she does, so you understand how long it takes.” She ducked back inside and pointedly shut and locked the door.

Selah glared at the retreating back of the fox then spit on the sidewalk. Foxes were arrogant and female foxes were the absolute worse. Where did she get off thinking she was better than he? He hoped the foolish chief of the 7th was watching this establishment carefully. They were probably laundering money for one of Zootopia’s crime bosses; hell, that fox probably was a crime boss.

Bill was already walking toward the canal. Selah jogged to catch up and stopped the Capybara. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To check out the report she went to the deli. If you want to drive to her home, I’ll meet you back at headquarters.”

“I’m the senior investigator; I say what goes.” Selah crossed his hooves and glowered.

Bill shook his head, Adom was actually pouting. “So, what do you want to do? We can stick together or split up and cover more ground.”

Selah made a decision. “You go to the deli; I’ll go to the house. Call me when you’re done and tell me where to pick you up.” Selah started back in the direction they had left their car.

“Good idea,” Bill muttered and headed again toward the canal.

Selah easily found the road leading to Haresburg. He followed it as the vixen had told him. When he got to the first large intersection, he realized he couldn’t remember the name of the road she said to turn onto; she also hadn’t said which direction to go.

He looked up and down the cross-street, Northington Road. This couldn’t be right; these were homes for small mammals. A horn behind him startled him into action and he crossed the intersection. The next intersection was for Hairpin Turn Road. He pulled over and got out to look up and down the cross street. The houses were still too small for a family of bears.

His phone beeped. “Yeah, Bill?”

“I got a copy of a receipt for Ms. Ursane’s purchase on September 10th. It’s timecheck is 1648, 4:48 p.m. If Ms. Adame was right, that would put Ms. Ursane home close to 6 p.m.”

“If she went home,” Selah pointed out.

“I’m headed back to Abrams Square. I’ll meet you there,” Williamson said.

“Hey, Bill, what was the name of the street that fox gave us?”

“Humberston Lane.” There was some fussing. “Her address is 125 Humberston Lane. You still want to meet at Abrams Square?”

“Yeah,” Selah ended the call, got back in the cruiser, and continued. He nearly missed Humberston Lane, which came into Union Street on the south side. It was not a cross street. He pulled a U-turn in the first gas station then began the crawl up Humberston. The first house was 1 Humberston. Selah groaned and sped up for several blocks before checking again. 81 Humberston. He drove four blocks before checking the street number. The houses here were larger and more spread out. The first one was 121 Humberston; 125 was two down.

It was still midday; Mrs. Ursane would be at work. He parked the car and stepped through the gate. There was a driveway and garage. He peeked into the garage and saw that it was filled with lawn furniture, children’s bikes, a partially dismantled swing set, camping gear, fishing gear, several sets of skis, and two sleds. No car; not even room for a car. He studied the driveway. There was a stain from a small oil leak, but it was very old. He scraped the spot; he didn’t get anything but a small abrasion on his hoof. He walked around the house. There was a garden with the last of the season’s vegetables waiting to be picked. A koi pond held several very large koi. “Probably raises them for eating.” He mumbled with disgust. He peaked in the kitchen window. It was very tidy and spacious. He was startled by a raucous noise from deeper in the house. He backed away from the window when something multi-colored flew at it.

There was a shout from the road. He walked around the house to see a Burgess County deputy with weapon drawn standing by the gate. “Keep your hands where I can see them,” the nervous young wolf ordered.

“It’s okay, I’m Detective Adom Selah, PAP.” Selah kept his hooves up even though he was in uniform.

The deputy relaxed. “What are you doing here?” His eyes widened. “Oh, Randall’s murder.”

‘Rube’, Selah thought to himself lowering his hooves. “Mrs. Ursane is a MOI, mammal of interest,” he added not expecting the young deputy to know. “I was trying to meet her at home,” he said congenially.

The deputy kept the taser out and looked at Selah askance. “If you are investigating this case and looking for her, you would know that she works and isn’t home during the weekday and doesn’t get home before 5 p.m. Show me your badge. Slowly!” he barked and brought the taser back up. He started speaking into his radio calling for backup. “Stay inside, Shelly,” he shouted past Selah.

Selah turned to see a young, female black bear step back inside and close the door. So, someone WAS home. He did as he’d been ordered; he slowly pulled his badge out of his breast pocket and opened it as he slowly walked toward the deputy. When the deputy relaxed and holstered his taser, Selah smiled sheepishly. “You are of course correct.” He glanced at his watch. “I lost track of time and thought it was much later than it is.”

Just then, the sheriff with his blue and whites going came to a sliding stop. “What is it Thomas?” he called as he got out of his Burgess County cruiser.

The deputy explained the situation while Selah looked as apologetic as possible.

The sheriff glared at Selah. “This is not your jurisdiction. You have NO authority here. I do not ever want to see you in my county again without an advanced written request from your chief. Now get the hell out of here before I arrest you for trespassing.”

Selah moved quickly. This guy meant it. As he apologized profusely, he got in his car, turned around, and headed out.

“How did you know?” the sheriff asked the deputy as the city car left.

“A classmate of my brother, Jacob Raibert; said his mom called him and told him this tool was in the J Street Salon pushing Ms. Adame around. Isn’t that where your wife gets her hair and hooves done?”

“Yeah, and as far as she’s concerned, the sun rises and sets on the ladies there.” The sheriff snorted.

“How did you know?” the deputy asked with a sly smile.

The goat snorted again and jerked his chin at the house. “Shelly called. Hi, Shelly. It’s safe. Stay here a bit, Tom, and make sure he doesn’t come back. Those PoA cops think we’re just a bunch of dumb hicks and easy to outsmart.” The sheriff waved to Shelly and Daniel.

“Yes, Sir,” Tom opened the gate and walked up onto the porch with the two Ursanes. “That bird worked.”

“Hell, it nearly made me pee my pants,” Daniel indicated the direction the PoA car had gone. “What was that all about?”

“Some detective from Port Authority snooping about. What’s up?” Tom asked.

Shelly growled. “Mom was telling us how the other day some cops from Port Authority came in and nearly accused her of murdering Dad.”

Tom barked a laugh. “Your mom, a murderer?” He shook his head. “Isn’t this the she-bear that can’t bring herself to put pesticide in her vegetable patch because it would kill the bugs?”

“Yeah,” Shelly said crossing her arms over her chest. “Padraig told you to stick around. Want something, tea or soda?”

“Your mom’s famous sun tea would be great.” Flynn grinned easing into a porch chair.

Chapter Text

The following weekend with Daniel and Shelly flew by. Saturday evening, the three went down to the early showing at Northington Road Movie House to see Spidermam: Homecoming; that was followed by dinner at Dos Amigos: Ristorante Mexicano, a new restaurant that moved into the small business center of Haresburg. It seemed that while Vulpington Commons was seeing an economic recovery, so was Burgess County. Sunday, they spent with Curtis and his family. Much of their talk was about the Wabanaki ceremony for Randall.

Monday morning, Carla walked into the office to find Detective Selah waiting for her. She ignored him until she had settled at her desk. He was very aware that she made no effort to find them a private place to speak; EVERYONE was standing by leaning on a cubicle wall or rolling up in a chair to listen in.

Sid Wolford placed himself obnoxiously close by leaning on the cubicle right next to Selah’s head; He opened the conversation. “No warrant. I take it that means you will be asking civil and appropriate questions?”

Selah ground his teeth and focused on Carla. “Would it be too much to ask to get a list of names and phone numbers for Mr. Ursane’s friends?” His friendly tone was obviously forced.

“Were you unable to get anything off his phone?” Carla asked, not wanting to talk to this mam.

Selah shook his head. “You saw it, the phone was waterlogged. CLEAn is trying to … uh … clean up the data.” He winced at the titter of laughter around him. He didn’t like the pun but couldn’t think of another way to say it. “All we have is from the service provider and without a warrant, they won’t give us any more than a partial number, time, and length of call.”

Carla looked to the attorneys surrounding her. Finally, Sid nodded. Carla pulled out her phone and lay it on the table where everyone could see the screen. She had nothing to hide. She opened her contacts list and began going through it.

Only some of the listings were someone Carla identified as a friend of Randall’s. When she finished, Selah only had about ten names from the 50 on Carla’s phone.

“I’m sorry there aren’t more; those are our mutual friends, other married couples. If he had any close male friends and …” she swallowed down bile and forced her jaw to unclench, “and any girlfriends, those would be on his phone.”

“Come on, you must be able to tell me something else about Mr. Ursane’s habits: his hobbies, his interests…”

“Shagging females who weren’t his wife,” Mickey muttered but not quietly enough. That earned him a hiss from Agnes. He rolled his chair over to his desk and paid close attention to the office phone.

“Your tone is not appreciated Detective Selah,” Agnes growled.

Selah glared after the flippant youth then turned his attention back to Carla. He had spent all day Friday getting dressed down by Chief Yenez. Apparently, Sheriff ÓCochláin called and noted that Selah was snooping around a property WAY out of his jurisdiction without a warrant. A few snarky remarks from Bill – something about how he proved that without a car Carla could not commit the murder – led Selah to believe he had spoken out against Selah’s tactics. This morning, he learned Bill was now an independent investigator in the same murder. Selah was assigned with getting the names of people Randall Ursane would have known. That included his many girlfriends. Bill was hobnobbing with the noses-up-their-asses CLEAn agents and other precincts special investigators coordinating evidence collection. He was the senior, that should be his assignment.

“Do you know the name of his latest doxy?” He asked in frustration. He was met with silence. “Trollup, floozy, hootchi-kootchi, lay, cun…

“Enough!” Claws shouted. “It is time you left… NOW! We do not want to see you back in this office EVER again, with or without a warrant.”

“You are interfering with a murder investigation!” Selah countered coming to his feet.

“Mickey, call the police; we have an intruder who must be removed.”

“I am the police,” Selah started to reach for his badge.

“Not in this precinct. You are the Port Authority and though the murdered was found within your jurisdiction, your investigational jurisdiction is the waterways, bus stations, train depot, and aerodrome.” Agnes came around and insinuated herself between Carla and the angry African Ass.

“Police are on their way, Ms. Hornsby,” Mickey announced. He moved around putting a cubicle wall between him and the angry equine. He was smaller than all but Ms. Abril. Even Phillis was making herself part of the living wall that was forcing Selah back toward the door.

The door opened, and two 1st Precinct police officers walked in, Wolford and Delgato.

“Aw,  hell, Sid, what ya doing threatening this poor little P-O-A?” Wolford asked putting his hand on the ass’s head and moving him back into Delgato’ waiting arms.

“Should a figured they’d send a near washout like you, Ralph,” Sid grinned and moved over to give his baby brother a hug. “Phillis, playback MISTER Selah’s questioning.”

The bison grinned and punched the play button on a digital recorder.

Delgato’s grip on Selah’s shoulders tightened as he started running through the derogatory names he’d used. “STOP, I’ve heard enough. Ralph, Mr. Selah and I are going to have a nice chat about sexual harassment and abuse in the cruiser. Ralph, you get what you need here. Nice to see you all again.” The lion spun the African Ass around and started to head him out the door.

“Her name is Bian Nguyen,” Carla stated so everyone could hear. “And she seemed like she was probably once a nice girl, until Randy got ahold of her.”

“Where does she live?” Ralph Wolford asked.

Carla shrugged. “I believe in the Rainforest District.” She fidgeted with her claws. “The only time I saw her with Randy was… I was on my way to deliver a signed Purchase and Sales agreement to an attorney for a property buyer Mr. Claws’ was representing. I was in the Black Jungle area; I’d gotten off at the Cloud Alley Station and just turned onto Tujunga when I saw her and Randy come out of the door of an apartment building. She was in her robe and he… only had his pants on. I noticed she was an Asian Bear but beyond that…” Carla dropped her head as she relived the heartbreak of seeing that tender loving exchange of goodbye.

Abril eased her into her chair and sent Claws for a glass of water.

“Thank you for the information, Ms. Ursane. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. Ms. Two-horns, could you send me a copy of that recording? I will see to it that Chief Yenez gets it and this information.” Ralph Wolford waggled his note book at her, smiled comfortingly, and hit his brother on the shoulder. “Dinner, Mom’s birthday, Wednesday, don’t make me come get you.” He left.

“I sure hope that’s the last we see of him. I was beginning to think he was going to start shooting everyone,” Mickey said coming out of hiding from behind his cubicle.

“Interesting factoid,” Agnes announced. “Not long ago, he was party to a very messy divorce; his wife got everything including full custody of their colt and filly. The stated cause was irreconcilable differences; the truth is he was caught having an affair.” She looked pointedly at Carla.

“Like me and Randy,” Carla said feeling numb. Was the officer taking out his frustration on her?

The office was silent as everyone made their way back to their seats. Except Sid, he hung by Carla’s desk. “You okay?”

“Who do I talk to if I think of something useful?” She looked up at him pleadingly.

“I would suggest you call Chief Yenez directly, unless someone tells you otherwise. Whatever you do, do NOT talk to Det. Selah, for any reason. If he contacts you, you call me immediately.” He saw her brow furrow. “Are you okay?” He patted her shoulder.

She smiled and nodded. “Shelly and Danny are meeting me for lunch. They’re spending the afternoon in the city with some friends from high school. We’ll go home together.”

“Do you think it wise? What with the savage outbreaks?”

“Is it possible that’s what happened to Ralph? A savage attack; then someone tried to hide the body?”

Sid shrugged. “Could be; but there hasn’t been any indication that the savage mammals are aware enough to think to hide the body.”

“Unless maybe someone is covering for the animal that went savage,” Carla suggested.

Sid shrugged. “Could be. Warn your children to be careful about the attacks.”

Chapter Text

On her way home that Friday, Carla had paid a visit to Ms. Tripletoes to get some training tips for her Macaw. After the visit, she was headed for Precipitation Station. She was madly bouncing two names for the bird about in her head when she realized she was near the building where Bian Nguyen lived. She decided to duck through a park rather than walk past the building. It harbored bad memories.

It was a small park with a playground and walks where mothers watched their children play. She saw young mothers pushing strollers and smiled inwardly remembering those days. She heard a strange noise and looked to see none other than Bian sitting on a bench.

Reflexively Carla stepped behind a tree. Her heart raced as she tried to choose the best way to get out of there without Bian seeing her. She then heard the Asian bear wail in grief. Carla glanced around the tree and saw how distraught the young female, not much older than Shelly, was.

Bian had picked up a newspaper on her way home from her job at the library and was reading it when a name in the obituary caught her eye, Randall A. Ursane. She staggered at the shock and dropped onto the nearest bench. She had carefully read about how he was succeeded by his sister Rebecca Lorin in Podunk and his daughter LoNN LtJG Shelly and his son, Daniel at school in New Amsterdam.

The betrayal of his lies to her overwhelmed her and left her sobbing. She thought he loved her, and she believed his heart-rending stories. First, she learned he didn’t own the house, then she saw him with another she-bear, now she learned he did have children, two grown.

As Carla watched the distraught female, her heart began to ache. She realized that Randy hadn’t just lied to and betrayed her; this girl had also been lied to and betrayed. Also, in this time of random savage attacks, no one was coming to Bian’s aid; she sat in a pocket of loneliness as others in the busy park avoided her. Bian needed a friend, so did Carla.

She squared her shoulders and hurried over to sit on the bench beside the small Asian Sun Bear. “Why are you so upset?” she would play the ignorant stranger. “Do you need help?” When Bian raised her eyes to Carla, Carla’s heart broke. “Oh, poor dear.” She pulled Bian into a motherly hug. “Sometimes talking to a stranger helps.”

Bian was sobbing and barely able to speak. “He told me he loved me.” Carla said nothing. “I loved him. I wanted us to spend our lives together.” Carla hugged her tightly remembering how her own similar dream had been dashed. “I was going to fix everything, so we could; but… (sob) it all went wrong.” Bian leaned into the sympathetic arms and wept.

Carla bit her lip at the rising anger toward Randall and herself. How many hearts and lives had he broken while she was ignorantly living in a dream?

Bian continued. “He told me his harpy of an ex-wife, those are his exact words to describe her, was keeping him from his house. He told me she was barren and angry and how he wanted cubs of his own, he told me how she had held him back from success.” Bian sobbed some more. “Then I learned it was all a lie. I learned that his ex-wife, who was not a harpy, owned the house. She even told me how to prove it. Then that same day I see him loving on a she-panda; I followed them to their love-nest.” Bian was trembling. “Then I must learn from the newspaper that he was murdered and never to hold me in his arms again. And the last lie.” She spat and shook the obituaries. “I learn his wife was not barren, that he had two adult cubs.”

Carla twigged onto something Bian said. “You said you saw him with a she-panda?” Bian nodded against Carla’s chest. “Oh, dear, you must tell the police. They must know that.” She pushed Bian far enough away to look into her eyes and bit her lip. “I have a confession to make. I am Carla Ursane.” Bian tried to pull away but Carla held her gently. “He lied to and betrayed both of us. I saw you with him the day I threw him out; that was about a year ago.” She forced a smile. “I felt the way you did when you saw him with the she-panda. But think, he lied to her too. How many have been hurt by his excesses?”

Bian reached up and touched Carla’s cheek. She felt the dampness of tears. “You say I must tell the police. Why?”

“Because Randall could have been murdered by her jealous husband or boyfriend. I thought it might have been your jealous boyfriend, but I see now that’s not true. The Police are looking for leads; that panda might be the lead they need.” Carla paused seeing resolve come into the stricken bear’s face.

“I carry our child,” Bian dropped the bomb and saw Carla’s momentary shocked expression.

She pulled her back into a hug. “Oh, dear cub. It wasn’t all lies he told you. After I had Danny, I couldn’t have any more cubs. I bought the house, but he put in a lot of work restoring it; you would be so pleased to see the quality and beauty of his work. I suppose he thought that made him part owner; but the law is not judged by the heart but by hard, cold facts. He had cheated on me for many years and I was blithely ignorant.” She leaned her cheek on the top of Bian’s head. “He did love little ones; all little ones. He would have loved your cub with an excess you cannot imagine.” As she held Bian, she told her about Randy and his two cubs and how children from all over Burgess County and Vulpington Commons would end up at their house with Randy organizing games; as a result, her two cubs now had many friends. She admitted how much she missed those days. She told how she was certain Randall would have done the same for Bian’s cub.

“How do your cubs feel about all this?” Bian asked pushing herself up right and wiping her tears. She couldn’t believe how much better she felt in this commiseration.

Carla chuckled. “They both say he behaved stupidly; but they love him. They have lost a father who loved them. Oh, you should have seen his silly expression when Shelly, in dress whites, accepted her diploma… Wait I have a picture.” She pulled out her phone and leafed through the photos. “There he is grinning like an idiot.” She showed Bian the picture. She put her arm around Bian. “Now neither Danny nor your cub will know that joyful pride.”

“I am ashamed,” Bian said shrinking from Carla. “I stole your beloved from you.”

Carla shook her head. “No, you didn’t; he took himself away from me as he was taking himself from you. As Danny put it, Randy just couldn’t keep his junk private; said there was a nickname for him, Randy Randall.” Carla was surprised she wasn’t angry or aggrieved, just resolved to the situation. “But you must tell the police about the panda. The 3rd Precinct is not far from here. I’ll go with you.” She stood tugging Bian’s paw.

“Now?”

“Now,” Carla urged in a motherly tone.

Bian forced a smile and stood, not letting go of Carla’s paw. As they walked beneath the early fall trees, Bian squeezed Carla’s paw. “I told my family about the baby; they are very angry at me and won’t talk to me.”

Carla shifted Bian’s paw into her other paw and put her free arm over her shoulder. “Give them time. They will come around. Are they nearby to help you?”

“Only my brother and his wife. They won’t speak to me. I am unclean to them.”

“Well, I’m here. I still have all of the cubs’ baby things. I was saving them for grandcubs but you will need them more. If you ever need me, call. There’s the police station.” Carla escorted Bian into the station and up to the desk. She explained to the sergeant why she and Bian were there.

“Ms. Ursane?” The detective, a small agouti in a crisp, new polo shirt and creased khakis, was quite surprised.

Carla liked him immediately; once past his surprise, he greeted the two she-bears graciously and listened attentively as Carla repeated why she had brought Bian in. He assured Bian was doing the right thing.

He wouldn’t let Carla escort Bian back, so Carla jotted down her cell phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Bian. “If I can do anything to help you, you call.” She smiled. “Think of me as your other mother.” She kissed Bian on the cheek and waved as the detective led the Asian bear away.

Carla felt so happy, so elated, like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She almost skipped out of the Precinct building. She couldn’t understand the feeling at first. As she headed back for the green-line station, she analyzed her feelings. She was sitting on the subway when she figured it out. It was all behind her: the divorce, Randy’s infidelity, her shame, all of it. Yes, there was the sense of loss but not grief over the divorce. His infidelity suddenly had no power over her. She had nothing to be ashamed of; neither did Bian. She could still feel the grief at Randy’s death but that was almost more for Shelly’s and Danny’s loss, not hers.

Tomorrow she and the cubs were planning to drive out to Rourke’s Cliffs Falls, to do some fishing and hiking. Shelly had a driver’s license and was renting a car for the weekend. It would be a good time. Her cellphone rang, and she realized she was late meeting them at the J-Street station. She chuckled, she had some explaining to do.

Chapter Text

“You were with Dad’s lover?” Shelly was shocked. “I can’t believe it; you were with the female who took Dad away.”

“She didn’t take your father from me; he took himself away.” Carla was packing a picnic basket for their day in the country.

“What was she like?” Daniel asked uncertainly. He didn’t share his sister’s horror, but it did seem odd for his mom to befriend her ex-husband’s ex-lover.

Carla paused and stared into space. “She’s such a frightened, lost, little thing. Her family is angry about her affair.” She turned a motherly gaze at her two. “It is compounded by the fact that she carries your half sibling.”

“What!?” both stared at Carla in shock.

Carla laughed. “You always wanted a little brother or sister; now you will have one. Shelly, get a bottle of wine from the basement cooler.”

“Are you going to invite her over for supper?” Shelly asked with an almost accusing tone before she disappeared down the basement stairs.

“No, but I am going to give her all your old baby things. The Spirit knows neither of you seem inclined to give me grandcubs.”

“That would be a little hard for Norman and me,” Danny said with a shrug.

Carla’s eyes opened. “Is that an admission of having found your life mate?”

“What is this?” Shelly popped up out of the basement with a bottle in her hand. “Are you and Norman legitimizing your illicit relationship?”

“Shell! It’s not illicit…” Daniel saw her grin. She got him again. He shook his head. “We’ve talked about it; that’s all.”

“We have to meet him and approve,” Shelly announced in her command voice.

Carla took the bottle, rinsed the dust off, and stuck it into the basket with a corkscrew. “Let’s talk about this when we reach the falls. Danny, did you pack the rods?”

“Yup, and Shell picked up bait.”

Northington Road took them straight north out of Haresburg into the mountains west of Zootopia. Suburbia fell away quickly to steep, old-forest trees covering the side of the rising mountains. There were scenic overlooks placed along the road where they could see the water between the west bank and the canal district with the spires of Savanah Central rising in the distance. The trees were starting to change color, but the sky was blue and the air warm. All three were looking forward to the chance to put their worries behind them.

Shelly pulled off the main road at a green sign with a tree on it stating this was the beginning of the Rourke’s Cliffs Protected Forest. The dirt road led them to a parking area with an information kiosk and rest room. Several paths branched away; all had signs. Daniel carried the basket and struck off immediately along the trail that would lead them to falls. Shelly followed carrying the fishing rods and a krill with the bait. Carla sauntered at her own pace bringing up the rear.

It was about two miles along a winding path that rose gently. They stepped out of the canopy onto a grassy bluff besides the crest of the falls. The bluff overlooked the creek 100 feet below that hurried down toward the bay.

There was a family of gazelles there as well. Carla picked a place that wouldn’t intrude on their privacy. The three sat down and became silent, each with their own memories and thoughts.

“Remember the first time Dad brought us here?” Shelly asked at last. “He bought us those toy fishing poles and taught us how to cast and stuff.” She indicated the swirling pools of water just before the cataract.

“You fell in when that trout took your line.” Daniel chuckled.

“But I landed it,” Shelly was quick to defend.

“And we had it for dinner,” Carla said. “Your dad fileted it and grilled it.”

Daniel opened the wine bottle and poured three glasses. He raised his to the sky. “Here’s to you Dad. You screwed up a sweet deal, but we love you anyway; we miss you.”

“Hear, hear,” Shelly murmured.

Carla sighed and held her glass. “I miss him too. We used to have such fun.” She shook her head. “What went wrong?”

Both her children realized it was rhetorical. There was no answer. No one thing went wrong; it was a series of things beginning with Randall’s inability to be faithful.

“A mountain bluebird,” Daniel said cocking his ear. He gave a whistle that was answered.

“Your dad taught you to do bird calls,” Carla reminded.

“I tried but never could get the hang of it.” Shelly chuckled.

“Your gift is shouting orders to be heard on the top-gallant spars during the howling gale of an ocean storm.” Daniel poked her arm.

“This isn’t the age of sails; this is the age of technology,” she countered. “We don’t have to shout, we all have headsets.”

“So, Daniel, tell us about you and Norman,” Carla prompted with the eagerness only a mother could have for the life-time happiness of her son.

Daniel smiled shyly. “We’ve talked but nothing serious. Sorta along the lines of ‘what would we do if…’” He noticed Shelly wringing her paws. “What’s wrong, Shell?”

She bit her lower lip, obviously reluctant to voice a concern. “I… I wonder about… Do you… Is he faithful?” She finally blurted. “I mean all those years Mom, thought Dad was her one and only and she his, and then he goes and…”

Carla pulled her into a hug. “Norman and Danny aren’t your father and I. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

Shelly was crying into her mother’s shoulder. Carla held her and let her get it out. Daniel reached over and petted his sister on her back. No one said a word as Shelly cried herself out.

At last she pushed herself upright and rubbed her eyes. “Doesn’t it make you angry, Mom?”

Carla handed her a napkin. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe how angry I was.” She chuckled at herself. “I threw all his stuff out the second-story window so hard I was hoping it would all break when it hit the ground. Shirts don’t break.” She shook her head. “I don’t even think his clippers broke when they hit the ground. And the names I called him. I didn’t know I knew so many bad words. I wanted to hurt him in the worst way.” She stared at the sky and sighed. “That passed, and I grieved for the loss of what had been.” She looked at both her children. “Just as you must. Don’t carry this forward and let it poison your life. Remember the good times: the fishing trips, the vacation to Walrus World, hiking in the Tetons, pick-up baseball games in the back yard with all your school friends, how proud he was of you.”

“I’m young; there’s plenty of time for me to find love. But what about you?” Shelly looked pleadingly at Carla.

Carla huffed and put on a mock-offended expression. “Are you implying I’m too old to find a new love?” She laughed at Shelly’s embarrassed expression. “I’ll be fine. I’m worried more about you and your fears. How do you know if your partner is true and faithful to you? You have to believe he or she is. If you don’t, you have no basis for a trusting relationship.” She turned to Daniel. “Do you have doubts about Norman’s fidelity?”

There wasn’t a hesitation when Daniel shook his head. “No.”

“And you’re not mad at his lover?” Shelly was still amazed at Carla for befriending the Asian Sunbear.

“Again, I was at first, but when I saw how much his actions had hurt her, I couldn’t be mad at her. Randall caused all the pain she and I feel. Bian and I never intended to hurt each other. That was all Randall’s doing.” She stroked Shelly’s cheek. “She’s not much older than you and pregnant and alone in a foreign land. She needs friends, not condemnation. She knows more than anyone the mistake she made, as I know more than anyone the mistake I made.”

“What mistake is that, Mom?” Daniel asked.

“Not listening to everyone’s warnings about your father being unfaithful.” Carla shrugged. “I wanted the dream I had created to continue. It did, in my mind, until it could no longer sustain itself.” She looked at Shelly. “So, what are YOU going to do when you meet a male who makes you feel like a little girl again, who brings joy and happiness into your life, who says you bring him joy and happiness.”

Shelly looked over toward the family of gazelles. The three children were laughing and piling up on their father. She wondered if that life was for her; she loved the Navy. She shook her head. “I don’t know.” She looked at the ground. “I just don’t know.”

Chapter Text

Selah listened to the phone message from the 3rd Precinct detective and ground his teeth. He could fathom no reason why Mrs. Ursane would cozy up to Mr. Ursane’s girlfriend, the wench that caused a man to cheat on his wife and get her to tell some story about yet another female he was allegedly involved with. The only reason was deflection; Mrs. Ursane was drawing police attention away from her as a suspect. Well, he had been in this job long enough to recognize a ploy when he saw one. This third female was a red herring.

He pulled out all the evidence he had pointing to Randall Ursane’s ex-wife as the prime suspect for his murder. She had no alibi after 4:30 for the evening of September 10th; she had a cell phone, she could have been anywhere when she called her son. A bear claw was found in a wound on Randall Ursane; Mrs. Ursane had a very recent pawdicure job. Her brother had a pickup truck and was plenty large enough to help her move the body and dump it in the river; or let her take the truck without knowing the reason; just because she didn’t have a license didn’t mean she didn’t know how to drive. She said she hadn’t been with her husband in months, but her DNA was all over the body; that much of the testing was back. Ripping someone’s throat out with your teeth was a crime of passion; she had motive.

He gathered up the information and headed for the magistrate the Port of Authority used. He would get his warrant; he would bring her in and break her. The magistrate didn’t question Selah’s explanation or evidence; she smiled warmly at her fellow ass and handed him the warrant.

Back in his office, the glow of victory started to spread through him. He should take that cute little ass out to dinner in celebration once he had Mrs. Ursane behind bars. First, however, he had to get to her away from her office and all those butinski lawyers.

He studied Mrs. Ursane’s routine. She almost always caught the 4:20 green-line out of Precipitation Station. That was 3rd Precinct and would require officers with authority in that area. He grumbled at the bullshit about jurisdiction. Zootopia was one city, including the ports of call; all the police should have power of arrest through the entire city. Well, he could commandeer a couple of large officers now that he had a warrant.

It was a couple of days before he had everything in place.

********

“Mrs. Ursane,” she started at the extremely unpleasant tone coming from the African Ass that was Det. Selah. “I have a warrant for your arrest.” He flashed an official looking document.

She looked past Det. Selah and saw he was in the company of two ZPD TUSK officers, a rhino and an African elephant, in full riot gear. Passengers were showing anxiety at the presence of the heavily armored police focused on the female bear. If Selah chose to use force, some innocent would be injured; perhaps the little agouti with his mother. The horrified expression on the mother’s face cemented Carla’s resolve to ensure there was no for force.

“I’ll go with you so as not to cause a scene. However, I’ve been told not to speak with you.” She pulled out her phone and called up Sid’s number. The moment they stepped out of the subway station at the next stop, she hit the green call button and told Sid what was happening.

“Say nothing, has he read you your rights?”

“No.”

“Has he shown you a warrant?”

“Sort of.”

“Has he said specifically that you are under arrest?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, tell him you will not speak until your attorney is present; anything he asks, just repeat that like a broken record. I’ll meet you at PoA headquarters.”

“Will you cuff her dammit?” Selah nearly shouted snatching away her phone.

Carla put her paws behind her back. She insisted on walking tall among the three officers. She would not resist but neither would she give them a victory by appearing afraid. That fear she kept tucked deep inside; though doing that made her throat hurt.

By the time Selah and the two TUSK officers had escorted her into PoA headquarters, the two mega-faunae were grousing. Carla caught, “… about as savage as a flower.” That was followed by a grunt of affirmation from the elephant, a sergeant.

“Det. Selah, we have helped bring in this most savage and vicious of dangerous perpetrators. One of your own can take it from here. We have work to do,” the elephant sergeant announced. He nodded his head to Carla; she returned the gesture. The two 3rd Precinct officers turned around and left.

Selah was steaming. Technically he outranked them being a police lieutenant. However, their jurisdiction was with 3rd Precinct, Sahara Square and he couldn’t order them to stay. He saw a new Panda officer come out of administration.

“You, rookie, what’s your name?”

“Sir, Officer Pao.”

“Do you have your sidearm issue?”

“Yes, sir.” Officer Pao patted the taser.

“Come with me.”

“But…” Pao looked back at the way he had come and the paperwork in his paw. He hadn’t even finished his in-processing and was being ordered about by someone other than the chief.

“No buts, I’m a lieutenant; when I tell you to do something, you do it. I need you to be the interior guard during my interrogation of this murder suspect.” Selah pointed at a door indicating Carla to start moving.

Pao shrugged, folded the paperwork, stuck it in his pocket, and followed. He was low mam on the totem pole as it were; stuff rolled downhill. He glanced back when there was a yell for Selah and saw a grey wolf in a fitted, flax, 3-piece suit carrying a briefcase rushing toward them.

“Hold on, not without her attorney,” Wolford snarled at Selah. Once he was at Carla’s side he smiled unpleasantly at Selah. “Now we may proceed.”

Selah snorted in frustration but led them to an interrogation room. This was not a comfortable interview room such as they had used before. This was a barren room with a metal table and chairs, harsh bright over-head lighting, and on one wall a giant mirror that wasn’t really a mirror.

Pao stood by the door where Selah indicated. Carla and Sid sat at the table facing the door with the mirror to their right.

Sid took the warrant and read over it. “Did you Mirandize her?”

“Of course,” Selah snapped.

“That’s not what she told me when she called.” When Selah started reciting the list, Sid stopped him. “Too late now. Get this charade over with.”

“Where were you on the night of September 10th between the hours of 4:45 and 7 p.m.?” Selah demanded as he leaned on the back of a chair facing them.

Carla glanced at Sid who nodded. “I left Podanski’s Deli at almost five; I arrived home about 6 p.m.,” Carla responded keeping her tone calm and even. It was easier now that Sid was at her side.

“So, you say. That was plenty of time for someone to drive you to your husband’s home, savagely murder him, then help you take the body to the river and dump it. Isn’t that what actually happened?”

“Don’t answer that,” Sid ordered.

“Are you afraid the vile truth of your precious office manager will come out if she…”

The door banged open and a Coyote and Capybara walked in.

“Chief,” Selah came to attention with a shocked expression.

“Explain to me why I got a call from Attorney Wolford AND the wife of 3rd Precinct Detective Sousa-Oliveira stating that you had blindsided Atty. Wolford’s client on a crowded, busy, moving subway car and, with two 3rd Precinct TUSK officers, and arrested her without reading her her rights? Explain to me why you have co-opted one of MY new officers? And explain to me why I received a call earlier today from 1st Precinct Detective Oates AND 3rd Precinct Detective Sousa-Oliveira with information about your case and why, after that information was passed to you, you have not followed up on it?” Chief Yenez leaned on the table, his back to the mirror glowering at Selah.

Det. Williamson stood quietly beside Officer Pao.

“Don’t answer me now,” Yenez stopped Selah from speaking. “You will have plenty of time to write up a report because as of this moment, you are on suspension pending an I.A. investigation for harassment and abuse of authority.” Yenez straightened and pointed at the door. “Turn in your badge and your sidearm before you leave the building.”

“Yes, sir,” Selah said and dutifully left the room.

Yenez heaved a big sigh. “You may go on about your business, Officer Pao; I want you street-ready by tomorrow. Det. Williamson and I will handle this.”

“Yes, sir,” Pao saluted and left.

After the young panda left, Yenez eased into one of the chairs.

“Uncuff her, Bill. I am extremely sorry about how you have been treated, Ms. Ursane,” he said.

“I suppose after what I’ve heard about his divorce, he might be a little angry,” she said rubbing her wrists. “But I don’t know why he chose me to take it out on.”

“How do you know about his divorce?” Williamson asked.

“Agnes Hornsby knows the attorneys who handled it,” Sid answered. “Zootopia might be a city of two million but there still is a grapevine.”

Yenez snorted an unamused laugh and nodded. “Ms. Ursane, Det. Oates of the 1st Precinct got back from a two-week vacation to find a voice message from your son with information pertinent to this case; could you please tell us what that was about?”

Carla had to think back; two weeks was a long time. “Oh, yes, Daniel, that’s my son, and I were in the Rainforest District one Saturday morning; I was there to buy a Macaw. We were on our way back to Precipitation Station…” she paused wondering what sub-genius came up with that stupid name. “We were on Tujunga when I saw Ms Nguyen with a male Asian bear. I didn’t think much of it but Danny, my son, suggested that perhaps he was a boyfriend or husband who had killed Randy in a jealous rage. He insisted that someone be informed.”

“Why didn’t you call Det. Selah?” Yenez asked.

Carla shrugged. “I don’t have a number for him; Det. Oates gave me a card, but Det. Selah never did.”

“I’ll vouch for that,” Williamson said.

“Are you sure it was Ms. Nguyen?” Yenez pressed.

“Yes, I saw her only once before, but I’ll never forget her maw.”

“Where was she when you saw her before?” Williamson asked.

“Coming out of an apartment building on Tujunga at Water Street; she was with Randy and she was in her negligee and robe.” Her head drooped.

“Do you know her address?” Williamson asked gently.

Carla shook her head. Remembering this was probably being recorded she said, “No.”

“But you saw her again and took her to 3rd Precinct,” Williamson said somewhat hopefully.

“Yes,” Carla explained that meeting.

Williamson handed her a card. “If you see the mammal Ms. Nguyen was with or have any questions, please call me.” He smiled amusingly. “I have no life so can come at your beck and call.”

Carla took the card chuckling. “Thank you, Det. Williamson.”

Sid glowered at Chief Yenez. “Do I have your assurance that Adom Selah will no longer harass Ms. Ursane?”

“You have my word,” Yenez emphasized. “Again, please accept my apologies on behalf of the Port of Authority Police. You are free to leave.”

Carla stood. “Thank you, Chief Yenez, Det. Williamson.”

“I’ll drive you home,” Sid told her once they left the building.

When they pulled up to the house, Daniel came running out. “Ma, what happened? Why are you late? Heh, Mr. Wolford. Why did you drive Ma home?” He pulled Carla into a hug.

“I’m fine. I’ll tell you all about it over supper.” Carla turned to Sid and thanked him for his help and the ride home.

“It was my pleasure; it’s been ages since I was in Happytown; the place has really cleaned up.” Sid got back in his car and left.

Chapter Text

The next day, Carla received a formal apology from Chief Yenez along with the assurance that Adom Selah was permanently off the case. That afternoon, the debacle hit the morning papers making the PoA police look like incompetent, jack-booted, fools.

Mickey had to verbally dodge reporters who kept calling to interview Carla. She didn’t need Sid to tell her not to talk to the media; she really did not want to. The entire experience with Selah left a foul taste in her mouth.

What did surprise her was to learn that the horrified agouti mother on the subway wasn’t terrified for her child; she was a former police officer and wife to the 3rd Precinct detective with whom Carla had left Bian. She had recognized a false arrest as it was happening; and called her former chief.

At lunch, Det. Oates and Det. Sousa-Oliveira arrived at the office and asked to speak with her about the case. They would speak there.

“We brought Pizza,” Sousa-Oliveira announced setting down several large boxes from Deli Siciliano. “A peace offering for everyone.”

Det. Oates provided two 2-litre bottles of soda.

“Are you handling the case now?” Carla asked, daintily accepting a piece of Heavy-veggi-chunky-cheesy pizza.

“It is still under the jurisdiction of PoA,” Oates said. “But, they only have two detectives and one is now suspended.”

“Chief Yenez asked us to help since Det. Williamson is at the CLEAn testing lab in Angel City,” Sousa-Oliveira explained. “I had a very long talk with Ms. Nguyen and was able to track down the she-panda she saw with Randall the day before he was murdered. She has a rock-solid alibi, she was on a flight to visit her father who is ill. He lives in Shanxii.”

“Ms. Bian’s alibi is…”

“She is much too small and gentle to have done such damage to Randall,” Carla said. “She couldn’t have done it.”

Oates chuckled. “There is that but also she works for the Zootopia Public Library Rainforest branch and was facilitating an all-day symposium about tracing your ancestry that ended at 4:30 then she hosted a talk about the history of Zootopia from 5 to 10 p.m.”

Carla sighed. “I remember when I had that much energy. I am worn out after an 8-hour day these years. So, what do you want of me?”

“Your son’s message said you saw Ms. Nguyen with a male Asian Sun Bear. Could you tell us about that encounter?” Oates asked.

“Oh,” Carla muttered and dragged her memory back to the day she bought Barulhenta, her bird. Shelly found out that meant noisy in Portuguese. She explained what she and Daniel were doing in the Rainforest District and seeing Bian and the male and hiding.

“Why did you hide?” Oates asked.

“I didn’t want her to see me. That was silly because she didn’t know me from a hole in the wall,” she explained with a self-deprecating chuckle.

“Did you hear what they were talking about?” Oates asked.

Carla shook her head. “The day I introduced myself to Bian, it never occurred to me to ask her who he was. She did say her brother and his wife are in Zootopia, so I guess that’s who it was.”

Sousa-Oliveira nodded. “She told me about him. He didn’t take the news she was pregnant and unmarried very well. She said he was so angry, he hasn’t spoken to her much.”

“When did she tell him?” Oates asked.

“The day she called you, Ms. Ursane, after she saw Randall with the she-panda.” He glanced at the curious faces. “His alibi checks out; he was home with his wife and child all day.”

“So where does that leave you?” Carla asked a little afraid of the answer. “A… are you still looking at me?”

“No,” Oates answered. “Ms. Adame let us review the security footage the day you had a pawdicure. You walked in with no broken claws. We confirmed the time you spoke with your son through his partner. You talked almost two hours with him from 7 to 9.” Oates was surprised by that.

Carla giggled, “I did lose track of time.”

“Also, one nosy little Deputy Flynn said he patrols your area and you were home all evening.” Sousa-Oliveira smiled with amusement.

“I suppose I now OWE him a rhubarb pie,” Carla admitted. She frowned. “But that leaves you with no suspect.” Panic hit. “Will Randy have no justice?”

“The DNA testing should be wrapping up and we should have all that evidence when Det. Williamson returns from the CLEAn lab. We wanted you to know where the case stands,” Sousa-Oliveira said patting Carla’s paw. “By the way, my wife was incredibly impressed with how you handled yourself on the subway with Adom Selah. She said you avoided what could have been a terrible scene. I wanted to thank you for that; my son is autistic and was on the verge of a public meltdown. Your calm demeanor prevented that.”

The rest of the lunch was almost celebratory. The detectives left, lunch was cleaned up, and the office fell back into its normal routine.

Chapter Text

Once again, the Ursane family was enjoying their front porch. Daniel shared a song he had composed about his father; it would be part of the requiem he was writing. He planned to have his uncle, who he thought had the better singing voice, sing it at Randall’s funeral.

“Do you have anything planned?” He asked his sister.

Shelly shrugged. “I don’t think a soccer game in which I crush the opponent team is appropriate for a funeral.”

Daniel and Carla chuckled. “You should do the eulogy. You are well spoken, have a nice voice, and can write a fitting farewell.”

“Maybe you could do a fighting demonstration using Det. Selah as you practice dummy,” Daniel offered facetiously.

“I hope never to see that or any ZPD cop ever again,” Shelly groaned.

As if cued by an unseen director, two police cars stopped in front of the house; one was Burgess County and the other PoA.

“Ugh, spoke too soon,” Shelly sagged then brightened. “Heh, Tom!” She waved at the Burgess County deputy.

Deputy Flynn exited his cruiser waving back to Shelly as Det. Williamson exited his.

“May I speak with you, Ms. Ursane?” Williamson called standing respectfully by the front gate.

“Of course, please come sit. Would you like something to drink?”

“Mom, they are cops on business; you don’t offer them a drink.” Shelly rolled her eyes.

“One must always be cordial. Danny, get the pitcher of sun tea and five glasses.”

“Heh, back atchuh, Shelly. I’ll help, ya, Dan.” Flynn took the porch steps two at a time and followed Daniel inside.

Carla introduced Shelly and Williamson. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked after everyone had a glass of tea and was seated.

“First, all the test results are in. Amongst all the debris that was cleaned out of your ex’s wound was a piece of claw.” He saw Carla clasp her paws. He pulled out a photo. “It’s the right index claw off a male Asian Sunbear in his 20s to 30s. The same DNA as the claw was found in the hairs around the wound site. Through the particulates, we were able to narrow down where your ex-husband was that day; where he was last seen alive, The Canopy.”

“Isn’t that an RFD nightclub?” Shelly asked.

Williamson nodded. “I spent this afternoon questioning the employees there. They confirmed what he ate and drank what the coroner found in his stomach. They said Randall was at the club from noon to about 3 p.m. when a male Sunbear walked in and started arguing with him. The bartender said they were there for about an hour. He said that when Randall walked out apparently angry, the other bear followed him, equally angry.” He pulled out a photo. “Do you recognize this bear?” The photo was a very grainy still from a CCTV.

“Hey, that looks like the bear we saw with Dad’s girlfriend the day we picked up She-who-makes-loud-noises?” Daniel said.

“That is not the bird’s name,” Shelly countered. “It’s Barulhenta.”

Carla shook her head at the two but looked at the picture carefully. “I believe Danny is correct.” She looked up at Williamson. He was grinning from ear to ear. “What now?”

“I will pay a social visit to Ms. Bian Nguyen.” Williamson pocketed the photos, finished off his tea, thanked Carla, and left.

“Now, we’ll see this case solved,” Flynn said leaning back to enjoy his tea.

“What will they do?” Daniel asked.

“Check her DNA against the suspect’s. If it matches, that narrows down their search. If that doesn’t pan out, they will question Ms. Nguyen about boyfriends and acquaintances. If it still doesn’t bring results, they check the DNA against the database of known criminals.” Shelly rattled off.

“Very impressed,” Flynn said. “There was always an excellent chance that the suspect would be acquainted with Ms. Nguyen even before you identified the bear in the photo.”

“I think we should celebrate,” Daniel announced. “Thor: Ragnarok is opening Thursday. Anyone up for Friday night movies?”

“Oh, mam yeah! I’ll get the tickets. I’ll make dinner reservations and we’ll make an elegant night of it.” The three 20-somethings were talking at once.

When Shelly looked at her mom expectantly, Carla shook her head. “Spidermam was my limit for action movies. You know I like rom-coms. Anyway, I can relax quietly after a week at work.”

“Aw, Mrs. U you’re being an old fuddy-duddy,” Flynn teased.

“Yes, I am. I’m allowed,” she smiled at him.

His phone beeped and he started. “Oh, mam, I lost track.” He stood. “I think you’ll see the end of this fairly soon. Thank you for the tea. I’m still holding out for a rhubarb pie.”

Shelly threw a paper napkin at him. “Get out you mooch!”

“Aye-aye lieutenant!” Flynn executed a snappy salute, spun on his heels, and headed for his cruiser. “See ya Friday at 5 pm.” He waved from his cruiser then left.

“That bozo Selah isn’t off the case two days and a rookie detective solves it,” Daniel shook his head.

********

The young adults were gone by the time Carla got home on Friday. They were going to dinner at Dos Amigos: Ristorante Mexicano then catching the 7:30 showing. That would put them home around 10.

Carla had picked up a fish pierogi from Podanski’s Deli. She tucked it into the fridge and spent the evening on the front porch waving to passers-by and sipping tea. The air coming in from the ocean smelled of fall leaves and salt water but still held the warmth of late summer.

When she was alone, she missed her children. But now that they were here, she realized she missed her alone time. She went in as the sun began to set and heated up her pierogi and ate it with a salad.

She then poured a glass of wine, ran a hot bubble-bath, put on some soothing music and soaked and sipped the cares of the past month away. As the water cooled, she climbed out and dried off then slipped into loose fitting PJs and a robe and headed downstairs to watch some TV.

She fell asleep during a BBC comedy, “The Vixen of Dibley.”

Barulhenta squawking in the hallway woke her. She poked her head out the front door and saw nothing that would alarm the bird. She went back into the living room, turned off the TV, and told the bird to hush its fussing it was probably just the kids coming home.

“EEEEOOOOEEEEOOOOEEEEOOOOEEEEOOOO,” the bird keened as Shelly and Daniel had taught her if someone was outside.

Carla was on the stairs and reached over to hush the bird and listen. She heard a board creak outside the kitchen door. Her heart began to race. She hurried back down the stairs to get her phone, which she left sitting by the sofa.

Her paws were shaking as she heard something slam against the kitchen door. She dropped the phone and hurried to bar the door into the room. Just as she picked up her phone, there was a crash and the kitchen door gave with a shattering of glass.

Barulhenta started squawking with alarm. Carla was shaking so hard she could barely hit 911.

“I know you’re in there, bitch.” Carla cringed at the familiar voice of Det. Selah.

“Why are you doing this? They’ve arrested Bian’s brother for the murder; he confessed, just today,” she responded hoping beyond hope he might see reason.

“I’m going to beat a confession out of you if I have too. I KNOW you killed your ex, framed an innocent mam, and destroyed my career.” he was throwing himself against the living room door. The straight chair wedged under the knob was creaking and cracking. Suddenly he stopped, and she heard his hoofsteps heading out the front door.

Carla followed the sound and saw him glaring in the window at her from the front porch. He threw himself against the glass and started climbing in. Carla threw the chair holding the door shut at him and bolted into the hallway and up the stairs.

She was at the top of the stairs when she heard Daniel yell. “Leave my Ma alone.” She and her assailant spun at the call.

“Danny, no!” She cried out just as the Selah growled and jumped for Daniel.

Daniel was bigger but not a fighter. He staggered back at the impact and just managed to push his attacker off.

Selah drew back his hoof and swung at Daniel’s face.

“Don’t touch my baby!” Carla bared her teeth and leapt at the former officer. She slammed into his back knocking him out the front door, down the porch stairs, and into the yard.

He rolled and was half-way up when the mother bear charged him, rising to her full height; her teeth gleaming in the moonlight; roaring in anger and her claws bared as she came at him.

The series of thoughts that ran through his head happened in the instant before impact. He had watched this meek and mild she-bear. He was now the recipient of the full wrath of an angry mother bear. He screamed in pain as the claws dug into his chest and the teeth bit down on his shoulder.

“Ma. Mom. Ms. U.” There were voices calling her from far away. Paws were clutching at her arms and around her chest pulling her away. The screech of sirens pierced the red haze that had engulfed her, and she sagged back.

Shelly’s tear-stained face was in hers. “Mom, stop, stop, Danny’s okay.”

“I’m here Ma, I’m all right. Those FCDC lessons paid off. He never laid a paw on me.” Daniel took her paw and kissed it.

They were both crying; no all three were crying. She hugged her two children to her.

“You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney,...” Carla looked up and saw Tommy Flynn reading a card, mirandizing Selah, who was laid out on a stretcher as EMTs stemmed the flow of blood.

“Little Tommy Flynn,” she chuckled. “He was such a troublemaker. To think he’s such a good police officer now.”

Daniel and Shelly pulled Carla to her feet and got her into a chair on the porch. An EMT checked her over; both she and Daniel refused to go to the hospital.

“Aw, Shell, you tore your pretty dress,” Flynn said sadly as he climbed the porch steps. He leaned against a post.

“I didn’t know you cared,” Shelly teased.

Flynn shrugged. “I care about all my peeps. Someone tell that bird she can stop squawking.”

Everyone laughed. “She’s doing what you wanted her to do; acting as an alarm.” Carla said. She studied the young deputy for a bit. “Come by tomorrow about 5; I’ll have that rhubarb pie for you.”

He grinned, revived by the promise. “Is there plywood in the garage?” he asked studying the broken window.

It was after midnight before all four had shuttered the broken window and kitchen door. Carla wouldn’t let Tom drive home and called his father to come get him.

Chapter Text

Curtis Ursane was dressed in his native regalia, to include a feathered headdress, and a gourd rattle decorated with feathers. To his left was the drum surrounded by members of the nearby Salish tribe. To his right was his wife and children and Carla, Shelly and Daniel, also dressed in native garb.

Mourners were gathered around the open grave with the casket suspended over it waiting to be lowered. Those who were First Nation wore their native dress; the rest were dressed in muted colors.

The mortician, Bralathuatha Thlay, and his two assistants stood discretely by, dressed in black suits. He had planned for a tent, but when the day proved to be sunny and dry, Carla asked that it be eliminated to allow the Spirit to look down unobstructed on Randall and the family.

The heart-beat of the drum was soft and steady and penetrated everyone who joined the family to say good bye. Carla shifted unconsciously from paw to paw with the rhythm and hummed low in her throat, quietly to herself. Her eyes were closed, and she took in the heart-beat of the music as she would the sun.

When the drumming stopped, indicating the beginning of the actual service, Carla opened her eyes and looked about. Her co-workers, neighbors, friends, even detective Williamson were there. A small figure hiding in the back on the opposite side of the grave caught her eye.

“Curtis, hold on one second.” She hurried around and through the crowd and stopped before Bian Nguyen. She held out her paw. When Bian shyly took the hand, Carla squeezed it and said, “You are one of us. You will stand with me.” To everyone’s surprise, she brought “her rival” around to stand with the family.

Bian looked about at the group of natives wearing primitive clothing. She wore a loose-fitting navy dress and gloves. Eloise had a hand-woven, beaded shawl, which she draped over Bian’s shoulders. Shelly handed Bian a rattle similar to Curtis’.

Carla nodded to her brother.

He looked around. “I can’t say my brother-in-law and I were friends; and I can’t say that after the pain he caused Carla and his kids that I liked him. But he was family for nearly 30 years, and he learned the ways of the First Nation Mammals and followed them respectfully. Carla White Heart and I agreed that a native funeral would please him. Daniel Makes Music wrote this song for Randall; it tells of his being a good father, if not a good husband.”

The drum began again with the heartbeat, Curtis shook the rattle in time then began to sing in the language of the Wabanaki. No one had to understand the words to understand the loving tone of the song.

Bian looked around her at the group of larger bears pacing to the beat in place and found herself caught up in it. She was surprised when Carla and Shelly took her paws and began to move to the side, first to the right a number of paces then to the left. Daniel and several other males were dancing individually as Curtis sang.

“That was beautiful, Randall truly would have appreciated it,” Bian said when the service was over, and mammals were drifting away into groups to chat or to leave.

Carla stroked her head. “As I said, you are one of us now. You carry my children’s half-sibling.” She indicated Bian’s swelling stomach. “Daniel bring the box from the car.”

When he returned with the box, Carla placed it in Bian’s arms. “These are their baby things and first-year clothes. They are for your baby. Call me when you get close; Curtis and I shall deliver the crib, dresser, and changing table.” She noted Bian’s expression of wonder. “My cellphone number is in the box. If there is ever anything which I can do to help you, let me know. How did you get here?”

“I rode the bus,” Bian explained shyly.

Daniel pressed money into her hand. “I’ll call a taxi.” He walked away dialing his cellphone.

“I… I hope it’s a girl,” Shelly said.

“Why? A male has a much better purpose in life,” Bian said.

Shelly shook her head. “No, they don’t; the struggle a girl faces will make her stronger. Besides, brothers are a pain in the ass.”

“Not nearly as much as a bossy sister,” Daniel called. “A taxi is on its way.”

They stayed with Bian until she was in the taxi and headed home. They then climbed into the back of Curtis’ pickup truck to head to their home.

Barulhenta greeted them with a squawk and flew onto Carla’s shoulder.

She eased onto the couch in the living room, the bird still on her shoulder. Her children would be leaving soon, but she felt alright with that. They had their lives to live and she had hers. She had friends and family she would enjoy. And, she would be a grandmother to Bian’s cub.