Chapter 1: Run Foxy, Run
The phone rang; it was the low inoffensive bleating of an office line, meant to attract attention instead of demanding it. A hoofed hand lazily reached over and turned on the speakerphone. “Yes, Ms. Muston?”
The squeaky, timid voice of Jackie Muston, the front desk secretary, sounded over the speaker. “Your two ‘o’clock with the Paws’n’Claws Organization is here, Mayor Swinton. Also, your three ‘o’clock canceled.”
“Understood. Thank you,” Swinton drawled, knocking back the last finger in her Lalique lowball tumbler. “Send them up, please.”
Swinton sighed and lolled her head back, staring up at the ceiling, getting into character. There was a knock on the door and she smiled winsomely. “Come in!”
A small parade of representatives, Predators all, filed into her office and sat down across from her. “Welcome! Rachel! How’s the family?”
“Good, good,” Rachel said, smiling. “My son really appreciates the letter of recommendation you gave Springbok University on his behalf.”
Swinton laughed and shook her head. “Think nothing of it! I’m just glad he has the opportunity to put his talents to use! Now, let’s get down to business. How much?”
The assembled managers of the charity exchanged nervous glances, after some quiet prodding, Rachel reluctantly spoke up. “Eight million dollars. It’ll cost at least that much to buy the old Aardvard school building, and then at least two more to renovate and bring it up to code. Leasing is not an option, we’ve spoken with assessor, but he’s unwilling to put the lot up for it.”
A tiger by the name of Bahga spoke up, “Despite the cost, it’s the cheapest option. The current institute building is barely up to code, and we’re really tight for space since the Wary Wooly Warriors torched the second wing.”
“Allegedly,” Swinton said, before shaking her head. “Can you raise the money?”
“If given enough time, yes. We’ve already raised five million through drives and donations,” Rachel said. “But between expenses and the upcoming review by the safety board, we could be evicted from the old building by the end of the month.”
“So you came to me for…” Swinton leaned forward on her desk, her eyes narrowing as her smile widened, “…what, exactly?”
Rachel marshaled her courage and rose to her feet. “W-we would like to arrange for a sizable donation to your upcoming campaign in exchange for a six month delay on the safety inspection. Five hundred thousand dollars.”
Swinton’s smile dropped and she leaned back in her chair. “The safety board is not within my purview, they’re a federal institution whose budget is beyond my ability to control. I’m sorry, but this is out of my jurisdiction.”
“B-but!” Rachel began to say.Swinton raised her hand and silenced her. “How about this, instead? I pull some strings and arrange for the Aardvard school building to go up for lease. For a small down payment, say, five hundred thousand dollars, I could see to it that your organization can move onto the grounds post-haste. From there, it’s up to you to renovate the place as you see fit.”
Rachel beamed and lunged forward, taking Swinton’s hoof in her paws. “Oh! Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’ve done well by a lot of kids, Mayor Swinton!”
Swinton smiled warmly and patted the back of her paw. “Think nothing of it! What with the size and, more importantly, location of the Aardvard building, you could brighten the future of hundreds of kids who otherwise would have been pressured into a life of crime! It’s my civic duty as mayor to do everything in my power to help!”
“If there’s anything you need, Mayor Swinton, all you need do is ask,” Rachel said, her eyes brimming with happy tears.
Swinton cleared her throat and rose to her feet. “Well…now that you mention it…this action I’m taking, well, it cuts through a lot of red tape. In addition to your down payment, I’m afraid I may have to ask the occasional favor from time to time.”
“What kind of favor?” Mr. Bahga asked, cautiously.
“Oh, nothing too serious! Some extra paws and mouths during elections, the odd job here and there. Nothing the kids can’t handle.” Swinton chuckled, glancing aside. “Nothing most of them haven’t already done before.”
“The children?” Mr. Bahga exclaimed. “Uh, Mayor Swinton, if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer the children be kept out of this.”
“Would you?” Swinton said, her eyes cold and set above a warm smile. “What else would you prefer them to be kept out of?”
Mr. Bahga scowled and prepared to speak when Rachel stepped in, her expression desperate. “Nothing, Mayor Swinton! Mr. Bahga just spoke without thinking! We can’t have the kids expecting something for nothing, can we, Klaus?”
Mr. Bahga quailed as Rachel and the others glowered at him. He shook his head and sat back down. Swinton laughed and clapped her hands. “Wonderful! I’ll see to it that a lease is written up in your name. You should be cleared to move in by the end of the week! Maybe you can have the kids learn a thing or two from the contractors as they work on the restoration. A valuable skill! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a three ‘o’clock to prepare for.”
The group nodded and rose to their feet, each extending their various thanks and appreciation towards her, save for Mr. Bahga, who simply followed the line out the door.
Swinton’s smile vanished as soon as the door slammed shut. She planted herself back down into the seat and poured herself a glass of scotch, plunking two ice cubes into it. “Something for nothing. That’s always the way with these people, isn’t it?”
She sipped her scotch and snorted, glancing aside. “Interesting, isn’t it? Some people you have to reward, some people you have to threaten, but at the end of the day it’s their own convictions that keep them under control. They live for those children, they’d do anything to keep them off the streets and out of the wrong paws.” Swinton examined her hoof, smirking lightly. “Or the wrong hooves. I’ll have to take this slow, let them feel safe, secure, and comfortable. And just when those precious little children finally have something valuable enough to lose, I ask for my favor. Down town, on skid row, I have my thumbs in a lot of different pies. A few hundred local kids, born and raised in the slums, would get my various products where they need to go in a discreet, unnoticeable manner. Something for nothing. Brilliant, don’t you think?” Swinton scoffed and flicked her hair out of her eyes. “I’d like to see Wilde shut this one down. Not even he is heartless enough to gun for a charity. And if he is, I’ll see to it that the media crucify him for it.”
Swinton took another swig and sniffed disinterestedly. “Wilde? A dye-in-the-wool bastard if ever there was one. Worst part about him is that he’d be damn near my best friend if he’d just play ball. He knows how the game works, knows it like his own tail, but he’s got a dead bunny on his back keeping him on the straight and narrow. Funny how something like a friend or an enemy is decided by want of a nail.”
She leaned forward and pulled up a file, inside was the graduation confirmation and transfer papers of one July Hopps, a wicked smiled pulled at the corners of Swinton’s mouth. “Ah, now, that’s interesting. When the rabbit screams, the fox comes a’runnin’…run foxy, run.” Swinton laughed and set her glass down, shooting to her feet. “So, how about you stick around for a while, watch me play the game and show you how Zootopia really works? You just might learn something. Come along, then.”
The ice cubes clinked together in the Lalique crystal glass, the ambrosial scotch rippling and lightening as the chilled water mixed in. She brought it up to her snout and sipped delicately, savoring the smoky, peaty flavor of the 25-year single malt. The bite of the overproof and following warmth in her belly eased some of the tension in her shoulders.
‘I can’t say,’ the foreman had said. ‘You’d better get down here.’
She grit her teeth, taking another hearty sip, glancing in the mirror. “Telling me what to do. Can you imagine the gall? He’d still be working at a mad house if it weren’t for me!” she looked out the window, watching the slum houses rush by in a blur; the tinted windows were up and was her lip as it curled into a sneer. “Honestly, what could I expect from such stock? If you hire local, you get local; and when the work’s on skid row, well…”
She set the glass down on the mini-bar; the pillowy soft suspension of the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman ensured that there would be no spillage. “I suppose you’re wondering who I’m talking to. And now, you’re not. You’re probably wondering ‘where are we? Where are we going?’ That’s not my problem. You just wait and see. Trust me, you’re going to love this.”
The Pullman pulled up to a large, spacious-looking building surrounded by slum apartments and a few greasy spoons. Waiting on the steps of the building was a nervous-looking marmot; he was wearing a hardhat and high-visibility vest, just like he had been instructed to.
“That’s him, his name is Marshal…something, I didn’t bother to remember,” Swinton said as she stepped out of the Pullman. “He’s quite good at what he does, and cheap, too. Though, I suppose one hundred thousand a year, tax-free, is better than whatever crumbs he was getting before at the mental institution. The clientele are similar, too.”
She looked up at Marshal as she walked up the steps. “This had better be good, Marshal! I can only write off so many trips down here as inspections before the wrong eyebrows start to rise!” She stomped up to the cowering marmot, towering over him. “Now, what is so bloody important that you can’t talk about it over the phone?!”
“Your business partner,” he mumbled, avoiding her gaze. “S-she showed up about twenty minutes ago at the…the farm. She wouldn’t leave when I asked her to, said I had to get you to talk to her.”
“Oh,” Swinton stepped back. “Marshal’s a good boy. He has a good head for this business, very discreet.” She leaned back in, a winning smile on her face. “You did the right thing, Marshal, that’s definitely not a name I want uttered on my phone, where anyone could be listening. Expect a raise at the end of the month.”
“Th-thank you!” Marshal stammered, bowing his head and handing her a hardhat. “This way, Ma’am.”
She walked through the huge main hall of the building, long tables stretched from one end to the other in massive lines, with seating and accommodations for mammals of all sizes. The heavy, chemical smell of fresh paint hung in the air, mingling with the scent of sawdust and drywall. It was the newest building this side of Pack Street by at least twenty years. “A homeless shelter, in case you were wondering. The homeless shelter, in fact. The largest, most accommodating, most well funded shelter in the city! It has it’s own trust fund and everything. When it opens next week, it’ll be able to hold nearly five hundred medium-sized mammals. The filth flows in and flows back out, when there’s that many of them, who’s going to miss one or two here and there? Confused? Follow me, then. Don’t dawdle.”
Swinton and Marshal entered the kitchen area and walked into the massive refrigerator. Marshal reached down and pried open the drain grate; he reached down into the hole and pulled the release cable within. There was a clunk and the floor rose up before falling away, the tiles parting to form stairs. They descended the stairs and came upon a set of rails that stretched off into a dark, sporadically lit tunnel. Marshal hopped onto a nearby tram and opened the door for her, he powered up the little platform as she seated herself.
“Not the most stylish way to travel,” Swinton muttered, before smiling, “But then, it wasn’t meant for me, was it? In fact, most of the people who’ll see this tunnel will have only a bike seat or vinyl covered transit bench for comparison. Still confused? Good. The surprise will make it better.”
The tram squeaked to a stop at the foot of another set of concrete stairs. Swinton and Marshal ascended them and stepped into a hallway lined with cells, the plexiglass doors revealed rooms with simple toiletries and a sturdy-if- austere bunk. Many of the cells were empty, but some were not. Marshal tried his best to keep his eyes ahead, not looking at the vacant, forlorn eyes staring out at them as they walked by. Swinton had no such compunctions.
“Part of being a responsible farmer is resource management,” Swinton said as she stopped to examine the stock, a thin, hollow-cheeked snow leopard dressed in nothing but a white hospital gown; her pale green eyes gazed back as she cowered away. “Like this. A new acquisition, but one of interest. Our customers will pay top dollar for her coat, but as is she’s not in the best of shape, too thin, too fragile. We’ll need to fatten her up before we shave her. It’s the only compassionate option, you see.” Swinton turned to Marshal. “This one! She’s a little thin, isn’t she? I was in here not two weeks ago and she looks like she hasn’t gained a pound!”
Marshal nodded and stepped forward, not looking at the captive. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but she won’t eat; not a bite for days! We’ll have to put her on an I.V. if this keeps up.”
“Marshal. He’s got a good head, but a soft heart,” Swinton grunted, turning back to Marshal. “An I.V will only keep her alive. We need her to be healthy and fat! Put her under and make her eat through a tube!”
“But Ma’am–!” Marshal began.
“But what?!” Swinton hissed. “She’s a snow leopard! Dense, rich, thick fur in a naturally beautiful pattern! Do you have any idea how much the Reptilians will pay for a square foot of her pelt? Get her healthy again, then hook her on ‘nip or something and withhold it until she eats. It’s that simple!”
Marshal blinked, his expression shocked, before he looked down at his feet and nodded. “Y-yes, Ma’am. I’ll get some nurses on it ASAP.”
“See that you do,” Swinton said, flicking her blonde hair out of her eyes as she resumed back down the hall. “See what I have to work with here? Honestly, it’s like I have to do everything myself!”
Swinton stepped out into the parking lot outside the farm building, a large, abandoned-looking warehouse with boarded over windows and gang-tags scrawling the walls. She was assured somewhat by the high walls surrounding the lot that they would not be spied on. Swinton looked around, unconsciously sniffing the air. “I’m here now. You can come out of hiding.”
There was a rustling sound followed by a dull electric keening, Swinton looked over to see a ripple and crease in the air, the image shimmered and distorted before retracting upwards, eventually revealing a large grey cantilevered parasol with curtains that stretched to the ground. The curtains lifted, retracting into the parasol, which itself took on a shifting floral pattern. Beneath the beautiful display was a polished metal emerald-green platform styled after a huge lily pad, balanced upon a single black sphere embedded into the bottom. Upon this platform was a massive pod in the shape of the bud of a water lily, the interlocking metal petals plated with glittering rose gold. A pleasing, metallic click was heard and the petals rustled, peeling apart and opening with a delicate, almost musical series of clicks and whirs. The great golden flower opened and thermal fans in the shape of palm leaves sprang up, glowing orange as they gently wafted heated air towards their sole occupant of the lavish transportation device.
Lazing in the shade atop a decadent snow-leopard fur cushion was the endless, overlapping coils of an exceptionally huge and imposing green anaconda: the visiting envoy from Herpetopia. Her thirty foot body was a dim and lustrous earthy green with black and brown spots mottling up and down her length; the quiet, tasteful earth tones complimented the polished gold metal plates and quetzal feathers of her articulated headdress; truly, a regal creature.
“Ambassador Eunectes,” Swinton said, bowing shallowly to convey respect but not submission. “To what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
“No special reason, Mayor Swinton,” the enormous snake said, her voice was low and almost soothing in its gelid timbre, like a slow trickle of ice water. “I merely wished to inspect the workings of our mutual business arrangement. Naturally, I must gauge the potential output of such a facility.”
“Naturally,” Swinton said, smirking as she looked aside. “Repulsive creatures, truly, but they make good business partners. See, walk a mammal through the farm and they’re liable to fly into some kind of moral outrage. But a Reptile? Their first question would be ‘do you charge by the square foot, or the square meter?’ followed quickly by ‘what is your projected annual output?’ From there it’s all about negotiation.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Marshal said from behind. “I tried to explain to her why she couldn’t be here, but she refused to leave.”
“But, of course,” Swinton said, not breaking eye-contact with Eunectes. “You’re not talking to a Mammal, here, Marshal. You probably told her to leave and then tried to explain why. It doesn’t matter how good of a reason you gave, you, as an inferior, issued orders to her, a highly venerated and respected member of the aristocracy; she was practically obliged to disregard your request.”
“Uh–” Marshal looked at his feet, confused.
“Your groundskeeper stank of earth and moldy onions,” Eunectes murmured, locking a glassy, predatory glare on the terrified marmot. “Interesting that you would elect a farmhand to oversee this operation.”
“Marshal has an advanced skill set outside of his burgeoning talents in horticulture,” Swinton countered, her tone carrying just the right amount of veiled conceit as to excite the Reptile’s curiosity. “He’s presently working on a… side-project. Cultivating exotic flora and the like.”
“M-ma’am!” Marshal exclaimed, fidgeting nervously.
“Ah!” Swinton interrupted. “Go inside and make sure our finest stock is on display. Prepare the samples and some refreshments for our guests.”
“Guests?” Marshal muttered. “But she’s the only–”
Two massive saltwater crocodiles stepped forward, their cloaks flickering as they attempted to emulate the change in surroundings; with a deliberate flair they pushed the chameleo-lattice back over their shoulders. They were intimidating specimens; reared up on their hind legs they must have been twelve feet tall if not a foot, and probably weighed upwards of two thousand pounds. Her guards stepped forward and uttered deep thunderous bellows; Marshal squeaked and scurried towards the building.
“Porosus!” Swinton exclaimed, smiling toothily as she approached the larger of the two. “You’ve grown since I last saw you. You’ve been eating well, I trust?”
“My former commander did not swim strongly enough,” Porosus rumbled. “The current of the capitol pushed him into my jaws. My inheritance by him has seen me well fed this past year.”
“You wouldn’t guess it from looking at them, but Reptilians pride themselves on florid metaphors and wordplay in common conversation. Though brutal as a race, they see it as a sign of civility to cultivate an advanced vocabulary and wit.” Swinton chuckled and nodded respectfully. “Make no mistake, though, even metaphors can be deadly.”
“I assume you have some questions, then, Ambassador?” Swinton said, gesturing for them to follow.
They did, Swinton held open the door and took care to make her back was to them, as a sign of confidence in their mutual agreement. “Ah, Reptilians. Older, wiser, much more advanced. If they were Mammals, they would have conquered the world by now! Luckily, their basic psychology prevents them from trusting one another long enough to do anything but hold onto what they have. They’re intelligent, ruthless, self-absorbed, and intrinsically untrustworthy. Utterly predictable. The perfect business partners.”
“And through here, you’ll notice a few samples of our stock,” Swinton said, gesturing at the five or so Mammals standing at attention in their cells. “As you can plainly see, they are healthy, well-fed, and meticulously groomed. Their fur should be ready for harvest within a week. After their fur is shaved and affixed to a sheet, the stock is sent to the care wing to recuperate while another lot is prepped for harvest.” Swinton turned to her company. “At present, we can maintain an output of 150 square feet per month, and the best part is, it’s renewable!”
“Indeed, and the slow-growing crop yields the highest demand,” Eunectes said, extending her thick body to examine one of the captives, a cowering coypu. “From whence do these wretches come? I understand Mammals can find room in their hearts for many, who are these that their absence goes unheeded?”
“Vagrants and indigents, mostly,” Swinton said, with a snort. “The homeless, the insane, the lazy. At least here they are of use to someone.”
“Mmmm…” Eunectes cooed. “Such flaws in character and blood are not suffered in Herpetopia. Citizens flaunting such traits are recycled, as is their right as weaklings. That you have divined such a use for the detritus of your race speaks volumes of your business acumen. We will renew our contract.”
“There’s the bait,” Swinton grumbled. “Here comes the switch. If I don’t impress now, they’ll be a lot less coy next time around.”
“However,” Eunectes hissed.
“There is a concern regarding output,” she continued. “While 150 square feet per month is certainly ideal for maintaining demand, we must be able to accommodate at least ten times that amount for…extraordinary circumstances. There are hisses of the Empress taking an interest in Mammalian products; therefore we must be prepared to fulfill any outrageous demand. Can you be relied upon to oblige her potential appetites?”
Swinton smirked and flipped a switch on the wall, the lights in the long hallway snapped on in sequence, revealing row after row of cells. “There are five more wings like this one in the building. At present, we are operating at 1% capacity. With a nearby shelter providing quick, easy access to resources, each one of those cells should be full by the end of the year. I hope your Empress likes fur.”
Eunectes hissed appreciatively, her beady, lidless eyes glittered in the florescent lights.
Back out in the parking lot, Swinton was accompanying Eunectes and her smaller guard out of the building.
“Porosus will stay and oversee the project in my stead,” Eunectes said. “I hope that is not too great an imposition.”
“Not at all,” Swinton said, shaking her head. “He will bring a certain respectability and elegance to the place, I’m sure.”
“Mmm,” Eunectes said, nodding appreciatively. “I must say, Mayor Swinton, it is rare to meet a Mammal with so many admirable traits as yourself. I am pleased to resume business with you.”
“Admirable traits,” Swinton scoffed. “No doubt she’s referring to my casual disregard for the stock in there. Not many people know this, but willful cruelty is a distinctly Mammalian trait. Reptiles, on the other hand, simply have no regard for the wellbeing of others; they have no need to inflict pointless cruelty. Typically, they see our social interactions as quaint at best, and as obstructions of business at worst. My disregard for the stock as people but my good treatment of them as product has no doubt left a good impression.” She turned and smiled, laughing airily. “Oh, why thank you, Ambassador! Might I say that I find your taste in business partners to be flawless! Also, that headdress, that’s gold, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” said Eunectes. “24 karat gold. Hand crafted.”
“Is that–” Swinton began to say before a thunderous bellow cut through the air.
She spun around to see the other crocodile guard streak towards a dumpster in the corner of the parking lot. He flung the heavy steel dumpster through the air as though it were a cardboard box, there was a loud clacking sound as his jaws snapped shut. The huge crocodile shambled over, stopping in front of Swinton. He stooped over and spat a tiny, trembling mass at her feet.
Swinton did her best to not appear surprised. “Bobby, is that you?”
“A-a-a-a-a-aaaaah…” the little, shivering feline stammered.
“Enough of that,” Swinton commanded, offering her hand. “Stand up, Bobby.”
He rose to his feet, his eyes were huge inky pools lined with green. “Uhhh…”
“He is with you?” Eunectes crooned as she slithered forward to examine the child.
“Yes,” Swinton said, patting him on the shoulder. “He’s from an at-risk children’s home that I have in my debt. Every so often I have the children make deliveries for me. Isn’t that right, Bobby?”
“Muh-mew-m-medicine,” Bobby stuttered, unshouldering his backpack.
“Ah yes, the ‘medicine’. For the stock, you see,” Swinton clarified. “To keep them placid.”
“Mmmmmm…” Eunectes cooed, bringing her head very close to the terrified child. “Oh, but I do love children, although I could never finish a whole one.” She chuckled softly as Bobby went stiff with terror, as though galvanized. “So I content myself with but a taste.”
Her large, bruise-purple tongue flicked out and dabbed Bobby’s cheek, the light flick of contact enough to make him squirm away.
Swinton rolled her eyes and gave him a pat on the rump. “Well? Are you just going to stand and gawk all day? Get the medicine inside and leave out back. Quickly, now, don’t dawdle!”
Bobby didn’t need much convincing and scurried away in a hurry. Swinton sighed and turned back to Eunectes. “One must keep them busy, otherwise they get–”
“Soft,” Eunectes said, her tongue flicking out. “Very soft. Thick, plush, downy.”
Swinton glanced aside, a smile pulling at the sides of her mouth. “You know what they say: if there’s a market, make a product.”
Chapter 3: Like Lalique
Chapter by WriteAnon
Swinton runs afoul of a certain bunny
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Swinton sat at her custom-made mahogany desk, watching her computer screen intently. She tapped her fingers happily on the shiny, near-mirror finish of the dense, hard wood inlaid with gold leaf; she loved watching her various accounts swell with Reptilian revenue. Even though the currency had to be laundered somewhat before it got to her, Herpetopian dinars raised a few eyebrows unless they were spread to the right pockets. Not that she needed to worry about any of that, she had set up that whole kit and kaboodle years ago, and there was no way anyone would sniff it out. Not without her knowing, anyway.
There was a thump at the door, Swinton’s eyebrow arched at the muffled “…Ow,” that followed.
“A twenty pound rabbit vs a two-hundred pound ironwood door.” She smirked and “It’s open, come in.”
The heavy, bull-oak wood door creaked open and Officer Hopps limped in, looking somewhat put off. She rallied quickly, though, and marched over to Swinton. “Alright, Swinton, I’m on to you! The pi–the gig is up! I know what you’re up to!”
Swinton steepled her fingers and donned a bemused expression. “Oh? To what ‘gig’ are you referring?”
Hopps scowled and threw her hands up. “You have the nerve to–! Don’t try and hide it, Swinton! You’re as dirty as a pi…” her rancor dropped for a moment as she realized what she was a about to say and to whom, “…a p-person who’s, uh, not very clean.”
“Well said,” Swinton chuckled. “No, dear, you misunderstand. I was asking after which particular caper you were referring. Is it the drug ring, the fur farm, or the money laundering?”
July’s jaw dropped, her nonplussed expression nearly drove Swinton to hysterics. “Uhh…th-the money laundering.”
“Psssh!” Swinton scoffed, waving the bunny off dismissively. “Please! The fur farm is much worse than that. No kidding, there are cells, drugs, doctors, all sorts of stuff.”
“What?” July said, regaining her footing. “Are you insane?! I’m a cop! You can’t just tell me this stuff! I can arrest you!”
“This is even easier than I thought. She’s so desperate to make a name for herself she can’t see when she’s being led!” Swinton rolled her eyes and got to her feet, gratified when the bunny drew back as she walked forward. “No, you’re a meter-maid, you write tickets and get yelled at by entitled wage-slaves down on skid-row, that’s your job and you excel at it. I admit, following the money from one of my associate’s outstanding parking tickets was clever, but running up here and confronting me about it? What exactly were you trying to accomplish? Yet another ‘Hopps busts the mayor’ headline?”
“Something like that!” July reached into her pocket, her expression shifting from triumph to horror.
“You’ll find your phone in your locker at the precinct,” Swinton grunted, pouring herself a glass of scotch. “I had eyes on you the second you got too close down on Pack Street. Not hard to arrange for some poor inner-city youth to bump into a meter-maid, is it? Incidentally, there are some excellent pick-pockets down there.”
July fumed and grit her teeth. “I still have my findings.”
“Maybe,” Swinton said, casually. “But that’s not even enough to get a rejection from the four or five judges that I don’t own. You’ll need something a little more…concrete. Besides, when you try to run with this and when it fails, expect major cutbacks in ZPD funding, not to mention strict background checks on all academy trainees. Officers will be lost and not replaced, wages will plummet, crime will run rampant and I’ll have all the reason I need to see that tod Wilde out on his bushy tail without pension! Maybe I’ll see him down at the shelter? Hell, maybe all you cops’ll wind up there and have a little reunion!”
July sighed and deflated. “And if I keep quiet about it?”
“If you do,” Swinton said, smirking. “Then nothing changes apart from my opinion on bunnies and their intelligence. Are we clear, Hopps?”
“Like Lalique,” Hopps grumbled, nodding at the glass in Swinton’s hand.
“Ah! A rabbit with taste! Stop the presses!” Swinton laughed flintily and downed her glass, turning her back on the bunny. “You may leave, now.”
The bunny sighed and shuffled out, defeated. Swinton waited for the door to shut before hurrying around her desk and picking up her cellphone. “She’s good, much better than I thought, playing the beaten and broken card like that. But make no mistake; you have to wake up pretty early to pull one over on me. If she’s anything like her aunt, all the clues I dropped in that little back-and-forth should have put her on the right track. Better call Porosus, let him know she’s coming. Heh! She’ll probably scout the place out before she calls in back-up, the timid little greenhorn. I can just imagine her surprise when she comes face to face with that old dinosaur! She’ll barely get stuck in his teeth!”
Swinton texted Marshal, smirking mirthlessly. ‘Heads up, Marshal, you’ve got a cop inbound.’
‘Calm down. Just tell Porosus and his little lizard henchmen to keep an eye out for a bunny. Permission to kill has been granted.’
‘A bunny cop?!’
‘Well, technically a meter maid.’ Swinton snorted in irritation. “Keep your head on, Marshal, if you know what’s good for you…”
‘When?’ he was ‘sounding’ much calmer.
‘Don’t know,’ Swinton typed, airily. ‘Maybe later today. Maybe never. It’s not like I gave her a map! Just be on guard, she’s a sharp one.’
‘Okay, will do.’
‘Glad to hear it!’ Swinton typed. ‘Oh, and Marshal…?’
‘Don’t fuck up.’ Swinton let that sink in for a while. ‘Ciao!’
~Three days later~
The paper read 'International Crisis! Reptilian Emissary Arrested'. The farm was lost, Marshal, Porosus, and everyone else was in custody and the stock had been freed. Swinton gritted her teeth, there was no chance of this leading back to her, no one would talk and nothing the stock had to say would hold up under the scrutiny of a competent defense attorney. But it still stung. It wasn't just money she had lost, and she had lost a lot, but her connections in Herpetopia were now an utter shambles; Eunectes would distance herself from this fiasco, likely never to return, and with her Swinton's hoof in the door with an ancient and extremely wealthy market. More that, more than the money and the connections, Swinton had lost. For the first time, things had not gone according to plan, all because of a tiny, impulsive rabbit.
No. It wasn't the money at all.
Swinton reclined in her chair, staring the Lalique crystal in her hand. She poured the ice cubes out and onto the carpet and hurled the beautifully crafted glass at the opposite wall. It shattered spectacularly, the shards glittered incandescently in the soft light of the 60-watt bulbs suspended above. The sound was hard, sharp, and tinkling, clear as a bell and piercing.
“Six hundred dollars,” Swinton hissed, “I don't miss it. This desk?”
She drew a hard, pedicured hoof across the polished wood, gouging the surface. “Five thousand. I don't care. It's just money. All this, everything, is only money. I am long, long, past the point of caring about money.”
Swinton held up a bottle of scotch. “Highland Scotch, aged 25 years and finished in a port barrel. Four hundred dollars a bottle...” The amber liquid pooled on the gouged mahogany as she poured it out. “Might as well be a plastic bottle of bargain bin ripple for all I care…the things my father would have done for this expensive swill, and here I am, pouring it out. He'd have a heart attack! If he weren’t already dead, that is…”
Swinton set the empty bottle down, glaring at her reflection in the puddle. “My father…a drinker and a lout. Coasting through life on welfare cheques, drinking through half of mother's pay and gambling away the rest. Two brothers, a sister, my mother, me, he kept us all under his hoof. To this day I don't know how he did it, he was a man of few talents, fewer scruples, and truly breathtaking ignorance; yet he swaggered about our hovel like some gilded king.”
Swinton turned around and gazed out the window, overseeing the sprawl of Zootopia. “If he taught me anything, it was this: money is a means to an end, and that end is control. Withholding our money, he controlled us, he dominated us, and through us he got all he ever needed out of life.” Swinton grinned, toothily. “He also taught me that one need only drop a little bait for a boar to charge headlong into a trap. Our hovel was spartan, with steep, sharp stairs...The fall didn't kill him, not right away. I remember how he looked up at me as I knelt down next to him, his eyes wide and wild and enraged. His airway was twisted shut, he couldn't speak, but not for lack of trying. He gurgled and sputtered, the closest he ever came to giving his final words was a mewling '...please'. I sat and watched for thirty minutes, and when I was sure he was dead I ran into the night, shouting and crying as loud as I could. There was a suitable uproar, a funeral, the whole nine. We were the talk of the neighborhood for weeks. It felt good, like a reward, almost. It was then that I learned how easy it was to sway the public, how trivial a task to get a group of people to agree on an absolute farce. To this day people still speak of Oscar Swinton fondly. It was then that I knew my calling. The media, public opinion, politics. It was my kind of game and I play dirty.”
Swinton examined the mess she had made, her lip curling in disgust. “Speaking of dirty.” She depressed a labeled button on her intercom. “Lydia. Be a dear and give my office a once over. I'm afraid there's been an accident.”
Lydia, a stoic and obedient sow from one of Swinton's housing projects, hurried in with her broom and dustpan, a rag tucked into her waistband. Swinton liked her because she rarely stole, barely spoke, and never asked questions. “Mind the broken glass, dear.”
Lydia quickly and efficiently cleaned up the office and scurried out, before long Stevens padded softly into the room, a new glass and bottle of scotch in his huge stripy hands. “Laphroaig 18 year single malt, as you like, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Stevens, you know just how to cheer me up.” Swinton said, smiling. “Stay for a drink?”
The burly, one-eyed tiger shook his head. “Not while on duty, ma'am. But thank you.”
“I'll get you across from me one of these days, Stevens, mark my words.” Swinton laughed, gesturing for him to leave. “Stevens is the heart and soul of this administration.
Calm, collected, professional; he makes things hop when I'm not around to crack the whip.”
Stevens nodded and left the room. Swinton turned around and gazed out the window at the city, her city. “It's all I ever need and it's still not enough.”
Ms. Muston’s low, timid voice squeaked over the speakerphone. “Mayor Swinton? Chief Wilde is here to speak with you, he says it’s urgent.”
“Wilde? Oh, right, his bunny-buddy. This will be fun…” Swinton grinned. “Tell him to come back when he’s made an appointment.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Muston said, nervously.
“Nothing will get a fox through your door faster than telling him he’s not invited,” Swinton said, folding her hands in front of her. “Three…two…one…”
Continued in the link!
Oh, look at that, we've come full circle.
Chapter 4: Enjoy The Encore
Chapter by WriteAnon
Will this little piggy to prison, or will she go weee-weee-weee all they way home?
Read and find out!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Swinton walked down the hall, her heavy Preyda purse bumped against her hip in time with her slow, casual stride, her security entourage followed closely behind her as she strode through the doorway and onto the field. Swinton couldn't help but gawk; the Oasis Stadium, a massive structure designed to seat a respectable percentage of the city's population, was bustling with countless citizens and visitors. Reflexively she smiled and waved, but was greeted not with cheers, but ire as the massive crowd burst into a hissing, angry buzz, a jostled hornet's nest of indignant mammals. There was little she could make out, but the overall message was clear, this crowd was only a precious few increments away from storming the field and stringing her up from the nearest street lamp.
“All these repressed urges I'm sensing,” Swinton sneered as she approached the podium, already sweating under the blazing Sahara sun. “Holding it all in, it can't be healthy. Well, I suppose Marshal's botanical pursuits are about to pay off, hmm? If I can't make the people love me, I can make them hate everyone else a whole lot more.”
Swinton set her hands down on the podium, sipping from a glass of mineral water laid out for her. She cleared her throat and spoke into the mic. “Assembled citizens of Zootopia, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me to address this most esteemed event in light of more recent controversy.”
The crowd bellowed, the teeming mass in the bleachers began to wave signs and effigies of her, some of which had already burst into flame. Swinton gave no indication that the display had affected her and continued. “I will make no attempt to deny the veracity of the recording, nor will I comment on the charges brought against me, I would simply like to reiterate: thank you for permitting me to address you, all of you, the tens of thousands of you who attended this event, thank you. You…idiots.”
The crowd's angry buzz died down, if she squinted, she could see them turning to one another, questioning if they had heard correctly.
Swinton chuckled, smiling winsomely. “You heard me. Look at you, all of you, you despise me and yet you came out to jeer. You don't know how happy I am that your spiteful, petty urges got the better of you and brought you here, to me, so that I can tell you this: the only thing I regret is the fact that I had to peddle and pander to you imbeciles to get into power. Getting elected is the worst part of politics by far, if only because it means I have to pretend that you things are my equals, to give speeches not one of you creatures comprehends, much less appreciates! Democracy is a vanity project for idiots, to make even dregs such as yourselves feel that your existence is validated. Well, how does it feel, Zootopia? You put me up here, you cast the ballots, and in record numbers! How does it feel, knowing that you voted for monster like me? That I, for years on end, had each and every one of your petty, puerile opinions wrapped around my finger?” The crowd was silent, shocked, Swinton continued. “Nothing to say? That's fine. You don't need to say anything. All you need to do is sit there and stew in the knowledge that I'm going to get away and that you're going to help me. I played you, Zootopia; I played you like a harp from hell. But now the song's over, so enjoy the encore.”
Swinton raised her arms and grinned, all around the stadium dozens upon dozens of enormous confetti balloons began to inflate. The crowd murmured in alarm as they rose into the air, position themselves directly above the bleachers, several hundred feet over their heads. The balloons tumbled and gyred as they rose, their distended forms filled with millions upon millions of tiny blue pellets mixed in with the ribbons of string and tabs of paper.
A cry went out and the attendees flinched simultaneously as one of the balloons burst with a thunderous crack, disappearing in a cloud swirling red, white, and blue. Amidst the fluttering debris, millions of murderous pellets the size of BBs streaked out of the sky onto the people below, peppering them with splotches of cerulean jelly. Those affected blinked in confusion for a moment, dabbing the substances dotting their bodies with their fingers. More than a few sniffed the goo, swirling it around between their fingers. Then, they began to twitch. A few spasms at first, but soon the bleachers were a sea of apoplexy and contorting bodies. As the poison took hold, many found themselves gasping for air as their heart rates skyrocketed, a jittery rush of adrenaline followed by an overwhelming surge of horror. Unbidden, a deep bestial rage seized them, their cries of alarm and fear fast becoming horrible, livid bellows of hate and fury.
Those surrounding them began to shriek in terror as the now savage animals teemed forth and sunk their teeth, claws, and horns into those around them. In succession, the rest of the balloons burst, dousing mammals by the tens of thousands. Swinton’s entourage formed a protective circle around her as screaming savages swarmed out of the bleachers and onto the field, their paws tearing up the sod. She sniffed disinterestedly as she ambled towards the exit.
“Ma’am!” Stevens bellowed, his sidearm drawn. “Get out of here, we’ll hold them off!”
“Yes,” Swinton chuckled airily, drawing an airgun from her purse. “You will.”
Six times the weapon hissed and her six guards lurched forward, clutching their necks. Swinton hurried towards the exit and pulled the door shut behind her. “A bit of a gamble, but I’m willing to bet that if a savage tiger sees a bunch of enraged animals bearing down on him, he’s not going to notice the pig behind him. Those six ought to keep that lot off the door out of sheer territoriality, and more effectively, too.”
A deafening roar rumbled through the door, sounds of carnage and battle raged from the other side. “See? Come on, then. We’ve got a chopper to get to.”
By the time she reached the helipad, the pilot was already halfway through the take-off sequence; the deafening whir of the copter blades as they whirled through the air only served to backdrop the undulating feral roars permeating the Oasis. Swinton rushed over to the door and leapt in, pulling on her flight helmet. “Parker! You coward, you were going to leave without me!”
The pilot snapped around and looked at her, his eyes wide. “Mayor Swinton! What the hell is going on out there?! There was this group of animals that came nowhere! The guards you left here, they…” he swallowed thickly, as though the memory alone nauseated him. “I managed to scare them off by turning on the chopper, I wasn’t going to leave without you, I promise!”
“Shut up and take off!” Swinton bellowed, buckling herself in.
The helicopter lurched into the air as the engine thundered anew. The small, nimble craft gimbaled through the sky over the stadium, Swinton looked out at her handiwork; writhing throngs of animals poured out of the stadium and into the surrounding city, attacking all they saw. “Hm. That should keep Wilde busy for a few hours while I procure my bugout kit. What’s that? Oh, I always knew it would come to this, one way or another, so I have a few articles that have all I need to start fresh in another city; a few million dollars, a fake passport, the names and numbers of the best forgers and plastic surgeons, the whole nine. I just have to get to my penthouse first.”
The helicopter circled and began its descent above a lavish, hillside mansion. It settled on the rooftop helipad, before the chopper had even settled, Swinton had hopped out and was scampering across the flat plateau and towards the door. She clambered down the stairs and hurried into her spacious, tastefully appointed living room. She turned on the TV and selected the news channel. Already reports of the deluge of savages was pouring in, with footage of panicked crowds and roving packs dragging down and mauling those unable to escape. Swinton heaved a sigh of relief, Marshal had managed to cook up a batch strong enough to overcome any and all sense of self-preservation, the city was now infested with nearly a hundred thousand rabid beasts. The odds of them being able to spare enough cops to take her in was just about nil.
Just as well, she had made quite the speech and put on bit of a show back there. "What can I say, I have a flair for the dramatic."
She strode into her palatial room, the red satin bedsheets shone dimly in the soft light emanating from her chandelier. Swinton sighed and looked around at her possessions, off the top of her head she estimated that between the furniture and jewelry that there was something on the order of a million dollars in that room alone. She relented; it was only money, after all.
"I don't need much," she said, sighing. "Never have. I simply like to have the best. I suppose that indulgence is what led to all this…"
A low, sighing hiss from behind drew her attention to the door, she spun around to see a large, serpentine form slither into view. "My, but you've made a mess out there, hmmm?"
Swinton loosed a shuddering breath, her heart thundering in her chest. "Eunectes! What are you doing here?"
The snake's massive head lifted up off the floor, her body slithered onward slowly in a seemingly endless coil. "Those people at the stadium, they were no threat to you. They were not your enemies or rivals, yet you poisoned them, set them to kill their neighbors, your citizens, your fellow mammals."
"I never took you for the sentimental type, Your Excellency," Swinton sneered as she opened her closet and pulled out a suitcase filled with bank bonds.
"Your actions confuse me, is all," Eunectes said, her front quarter rearing up off the ground, her head brushing the 8-foot ceiling. "In Herpetopia, a failure such as yours is met with death, and those responsible are obliged to either accept their failure or find the weak link in the operation and dispose of it."
Swinton snorted hauled the suitcase across the room towards the door. "I guess your fancy snekway doesn't have a GPS, otherwise you'd have realized that we're not in your horrid country! Now, the way I see it, you need me to get away!"
"Do I, now?" the giant snake rumbled. "Oh, by all means, elaborate."
"If I go down, you go down! I'll squeal, to the cops, to Interpol, to anyone who will listen! You will be complicit in this clusterfuck, and even if you have diplomatic immunity, I don't imagine relations between our nations will continue long afterwards! Ties will break down and you'll be responsible, in the eyes of your peers and your Empress! How long do you think you'll last with that hanging over your head?" Swinton spun around to glare at her uninvited guest, only to almost walk into Eunectes' reared up body. Swinton looked up, and up, and up until, finally, she met the eyes of the snake towering four feet over her head. "W-what are you doing?"
Eunectes' mouth split into a decidedly unfriendly grin, her tail slowly coiling around Swinton's ankle. "Just tying up a loose end."
Eunectes slithered out and onto the impeccably groomed lawn, her long, somewhat bulbous body gliding over the grass with an eerie, fluid elegance. She flicked her tongue out and nodded. “Reveal yourself, Captain Niloticus.”
The huge, burly crocodile shrugged off his chameleolattice. “By your command, Excellency. The pig?”
“Complacent, distracted,” Eunectes said, disinterestedly. “I elected to terminate our business arrangement.”
“I disabled her means of escape, as per your instruction,” Niloticus said, gesturing at the wrecked helicopter smoldering on the hillside.
“And the pilot?” Eunectes said, coiling around her transport platform.
Niloticus grunted and picked a strand of meat from between his teeth with his claw-tip.
“Hmm…” Eunectes cooed, amused. “Your vocabulary needs work, but results are what matters. Now, help me onto my ‘snekway’, I appear to have put on some weight.”
Niloticus chuckled and walked over, plucking her coiled body from the ground. “The years have been good to you, Nomarch, you are too fat to move.”
“Thank you,” Eunectes said, chuckling airily. “I do so love a satisfying meal.”
Aaaaaaand that's it for Swinton!
Hope you guys liked this little project, it was a hoot and a holler working with Mead and his devious creation.