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Chapter 1

Flash Isn't Alone

“Flash, Flash, hundred-yard dash!” Nick exclaimed in unabashed delight at the discovery that the street racer tearing up Savannah Central was Flash Slothmore, his friend from the DMV. Despite Judy's somewhat more law-and-order outlook on life, he could tell she was fairly amused as well. The incongruity of a sloth being a high-speed street racer tickled her funny bone. She fought to keep her face straight as she pulled out her ticket book.

Flash handed over his driver's license and registration – slowly of course – then waited patiently as she wrote his ticket. “115 in a 35 mph zone,” she noted lightly. “You're looking at a pretty hefty fine there, big fella. I hope it was worth it. Where were you headed in such a hurry?” she asked as she tore off the ticket and handed it to him. Nick cocked his head with interest. He was curious too. What could induce a sloth (!) to move at such speeds?

“Meeting . . . my . . . friend . . . Lance,” Flash answered with his customarily molasses-like manner. A green sports car with blue lightning on the sides shot past them just then. The wind from its passage nearly pulled Nick and Judy off their feet. “There . . . he . . . goes,” he added.

After a stunned moment, they sprang into action, racing for their squad car. “Stay out of trouble!” Nick shouted out the window at Flash as they peeled out, tires squealing and laying down rubber.

Their quarry turned this way and that trying to shake them, but Judy stayed on his tail with grim determination, a wild gleam in her eyes as she fought the wheel, wrestling them around corners. Nick laughed wildly, “Go get 'em, Carrots! Left! Left, left, left!” he shouted, hanging on to the safety bar, as Lance tried to circle behind them. The tires kicked up loose gravel as they spun recklessly around the streets. Lance must have finally realized he couldn't shake them and pulled over on a dusty side street in Sahara Square. Judy and Nick high-fived each other exuberantly, blood pumping in their veins.

“Woo hoo!” Judy exulted. “We got 'em!” She bounced out of the car, and practically danced her way up to the driver's window of the sports car. “License, registration, and proof of insurance,” she chirped brightly at the sour-faced beaver sitting behind the wheel.

“Lance Furbur!” Nick exclaimed in recognition.

“You know him?” Judy asked as she began writing the ticket.

Nick favored her with his patented, patronizing smile. “I told you, I know everybody.” He gestured at the beaver. “He's a gear head who went straight. He owns several auto parts stores around town, don't ya, old buddy?” He directed that last to Lance.

“Buddy?” the beaver growled in an irritated voice. “You went straighter than I ever did! Finnick told me you became a cop, but I didn't believe it until now.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?”

Nick tried to keep his eyes from flicking toward Judy but didn't quite make it. Fortunately, Lance didn't appear to notice. “Let's just say I had my reasons,” he smiled. His heart was still pumping from the exhilaration of the chase, and Judy appeared to be the same; her color was high and her scent was tinged with pheromones bespeaking her own, aroused excitement. She looked up and caught him staring at her; she smiled brightly at him, her eyes dancing. Nick smiled back then forced himself to look away from her beauty, a beauty that seemed to grow every time he saw her. And why did she have to smell so good? He shook his head to clear it. “So how come you and Flash are roaring around town like a couple of whirling dervishes? He said he was on his way to meet you when we pulled him over.”

Lance shrugged. “It's hard to explain,” he said. “It only started a few months ago when a bunch of us were sitting around grumbling about getting old and lazy and fat because we were so civilized; bored really. Then someone started bragging about how fast their car was, and someone else challenged 'em to prove it, and . . . I dunno,” he waved an uncertain paw in the air, “one thing led to another and pretty soon all of us were racing each other.” His expression lit up. “And it's the wildest thing ever!” he said excitedly. “It gets your heart going, wakes you up, makes you feel twenty years younger! It's great!” he enthused. “It's almost like being back in the jungle all over again; the thrill of the hunt I call it. They tell us we're evolved but we're not all that civilized because we still hurt each other and stuff. Well, I think it's the other way around; we're civilized, but we're not all that evolved. There's still a lot of the old animal left in us.” He glanced at Nick and Judy by turns. “Come on,” he urged them, “tell the truth; when you were chasing me just now, didn't you feel it?”

Nick barely hesitated. “Yeah,” he admitted, “it was kinda fun.”

Judy thought back to her first hot pursuit, chasing Duke Weaselton when he stole the night howlers, her relief at getting out of the “three-wheeled joke-mobile,” as Nick called it, and into the game. As dangerous as it had been, she'd never felt so alive in all her life before that moment. Then over and over again during the investigation of the missing mammals, she and Nick had been thrust into one high-stakes chase, or escape, or battle after another. Throughout it all, she'd felt the same sense of overpowering excitement and joy. She smiled shyly. “I loved it!” She poked Nick in the shoulder. “And so did you,” she told him. “I saw you grinning like a hyena the whole time.” She wasn't just guessing either; she'd been able to hear his heart pounding in his chest in time with hers throughout the whole thing. His wonderful heart, she caught herself thinking.

He shuddered. “Have you ever seen a hyena grin? Their oral hygiene is terrible.”

She punched him again.

“Ow! Okay, okay,” he capitulated, “it was fun.” He let himself go and grinned. “Actually it was a blast!”

Judy laughed as she finished writing the ticket. She handed it to Lance, demanding that he promise to knock off the racing. He nodded and took it with good grace, even after seeing the price range for the fine. “But you know the funny part?” he asked, putting everything away.

Nick cocked his head questioningly. “What?”

“Since we started doing this, I actually feel younger and stronger overall,” Lance told them with wonder in his voice. “It's like it stirs up our hormones or something; I don't know. I just know I feel better and more alive than I have in years. And I have to tell you, this thrill of the hunt thing?; it's addictive, really addictive!” He started up his car and the big v-8 engine came to life with a deep, satisfying rumble of high-octane power. He put it in gear. “See you around!” He took off with a roar.

Judy stared after him. “You know, I believe we will be seeing him around again,” she mused meditatively. “Probably the next time we give him a ticket,” she giggled lightly.

“Well Carrots, he did say it was addictive,” Nick agreed, making his way back to their squad car. He radioed in that they'd given out two 10-94 (drag racing) tickets. Dispatch gave them a 10-4 and told them to stay on patrol in Savannah Central. Other calls came and Nick turned the volume down so they could hear themselves over it.

Judy got their car turned around and headed back to Savannah Central. “What do you think about that thrill of the hunt thing he was talking about?” she asked. “I mean, I have to admit, it really was a lot of fun chasing him down.”

“Almost as much fun as carrying you up and down the stairs,” Nick agreed with a knowing smile.

Judy blushed.

After Bellwether's arrest, Nick had taken her to the hospital to get her leg taken care of. Bogo had appeared in the ER with her badge and most of the ZPD officers in tow. After welcoming her back from her “vacation” he returned the badge to her with gruff instructions not to lose it again. Then he put her on medical leave until she could return to active duty. She did her best not to tear up, gripping Nick's paw so hard she'd left nail marks that lasted nearly a week. After everyone finished crowding around to congratulate her and Nick (!), on solving the case, Bogo shooed everyone out, then Nick drove her home in her parent's truck.

Because of her injuries, he'd insisted on carrying her upstairs in his arms to her room each night and bringing her back down the same way each morning. Her brothers and sisters giggled and laughed at her expense every time, but later they turned to suggestive oohs and aahs as it became obvious she enjoyed being in his arms. Her parents had overcome their aversion to foxes well enough to let him have a guest room during her convalescence, the first fox to ever sleep under their roof. Between that and her increasingly unmistakable affection for him, her brothers and sisters had progressed to calling him Uncle Nicky by the time they left. The fact he was surprisingly good with kids made it even easier.

She'd long since defaulted on the lease of her first place at the Grand Pangolin Arms Apartments. Nick worked the phones until he found her a new apartment at the Covington Arms, a Downtown high rise. Founded nearly a hundred years ago by a group of retired police officers, the Covington Arms Company had apartment buildings in every district in Zootopia, always with a few apartments held in reserve for any police officer who needed one. Nick got her an apartment on the 16th floor, Apartment 1603, complete with a parking space for the family truck, which her parents had now given her as a present. He got himself an apartment on the 17th floor, number 1714.

After she went back on duty, and he went to the Academy, she'd come to visit him every weekend, bringing him home to his place, then taking him back again every Monday morning.

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