The phone was already ringing off the hook when Nick and Judy got to their office Monday morning, even though they'd decided to go in half-an-hour early. Their voicemail, still un-setup in all the rush, was full to overflowing. Three of them were from Mayor Lionheart earlier that morning, each of them increasingly more impatient than the last.
“I guess we call Mayor Furface first,” Nick quipped sarcastically after Lionheart's last roaring voicemail ended.
Judy's ears were flat, recoiling from the sheer volume of the Mayor's blast. She didn't even reprove Nick for his disrespect. “Be my guest,” she invited him, gesturing at the phone. “You're the slick Nick around here.”
He rolled his eyes. “Leave the humor to me, Carrots,” he told her as he dialed. Before he could add more the Mayor's secretary picked up. “Hi,” he said, “this is Detective Nick Wilde, Mayor Lio---, uh yeah, she is. Sure, we'll hold.” He put a paw over the receiver. “Sheesh!” he muttered, shaking his head.
Judy could hear Lionheart's voice from across the room. “Wilde! Hopps! Are you both there?”
Nick nodded automatically. “Yes sir, Mister Mayor. I'm putting you on speaker phone.” Judy shook her head but it was too late. Lionheart's voice boomed out of the speaker.
“I've got contractors by the dozens calling me trying to get in on this race track project,” he thundered “Give me your number so I can send them to you! I've got my own work to do without getting caught up in yours!” Even when he was angry he still sounded like a movie star.
Nick craned his neck to see the numbers on their respective desk phones and gave them to him.
“Finally!” Lionheart roared, and hung up with a bang.
Judy flinched, her ears laying flatter than ever. “He needs to work on that temper,” she muttered resentfully.
“He's a little different in private than he is in public, isn't he?” Nick agreed. He looked at the rapidly flashing voicemail light on their phone. “If he didn't have our number, who's calling us?”
Judy shrugged and pulled out a pad and pen. “Let's find out.” He nodded and punched up the first message.
Twenty minutes later they concluded the mammals bugging Lionheart had managed to get through the ZPD switchboard to find their number after coming to a dead end with the Mayor. It was one message after another from contractors, earth moving companies, vendors, surveyors, fence builders, pavilion providers, auto parts suppliers, portable grandstand installers, reporters, street racers, and average citizens; all wanting to be part of the project, all offering their services, and all demanding an immediate answer from them.
“The flip side of fame,” Judy noted sourly.
But Nick was rubbing his paws gleefully. “No, no, Fluff. This is great! It means interest in this thing is sky high, which means we can make some money on it on the side like I said.”
“Nick,” she warned him in dire tones.
He held up a quick paw. “I'm not getting greedy,” he protested. “Well, not much anyway.” He hurried on before she could respond to his quip. “If enough mammals are interested, and with Gazelle being onboard it seems a lot of them are, we can charge admission to watch the race and use part of the proceeds to post a reward for first place or something, use part of it to pay the contractors, and the remainder will be our profit.”
Judy was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable his plan was. “Not bad, Nick. You're planning on splitting it with Tyrone and Gazelle aren't you?” She heard his heart speed up with pleasure.
“Nope,” he shook his head, “with Tyrone and Gazelle, and Robert and Linda, and Lawrence and Shelly. Oh! And some for our parents too.” He watched as her face lit up and a surge of pheromones filled the air.
“Wonderful!” she clapped. She leaned across their desks to give him a quick peck on the lips as a reward, although the tingle that ran down to her toes let her know it was as much for her as for him.
A quick shudder ran through his body. “Come oooonnnn wedding night,” he enthused eagerly.
She giggled and another surge of pheromones saturated the air in the little office. Then her eyes widened as a sudden idea occurred to her. “Hey, mammal O'mine, I wonder if Tyrone and Gazelle know which of those grandstand installers are the best? Surely they must have used some of them for their concerts.”
“I'll bet you're right,” he smiled with admiration. “Let me call him and find out.” They'd all exchanged cell phone numbers at the 'conference' on Saturday so they could stay in touch.
Judy opened her bag of office supplies, putting them on her desk and in the drawers while listening to Nick's end of his conversation with Tyrone. Pens, pencils, erasers, pads of paper, paper clips, stapler and staples, pads of lavender colored sticky notes, a big flat desk calendar, and finally a flowered trash can completed her domestic duties on her side of the office.
“That'd really help,” he was saying to Tyrone. “If you can take care of that, it would leave Judy and I free to work on the track itself.” He nodded in response to something Tyrone said. “Yep. Yep. That'll be great! Okay. Great. Thanks Tyrone. You're a life saver. Alright. Will do. Bye.”
Judy smothered a grin. Listening to half a conversation on the phone was so entertaining it always made her want to laugh. It sounded disjointed.
Nick hung up. “Tyrone said to tell you Gazelle wants to figure out some way for all of us to get together on a regular basis from now on. She's sick and tired of being alone in their Ivory Tower.”
“I'd like that,” Judy smiled. She became more serious. “And I don't blame her for being tired of being alone. I can't imagine what its been like for them all these years.”
He nodded. “That's why we'll never go into hiding like them. AND,” he added, “it's one of the reasons I want us to make some money off this race track thing. If the public turns against us and we have to leave the ZPD, at least we'll have a nest egg to keep us going while we figure out what to do.”
Fear came to life in her eyes. “Do you really think that'll happen?” she asked slowly.
He tried to shrug it off. “I don't know, I'm just trying to cover all the possibilities.” He took her paws in his. “I'd rather be safe than sorry, you know?”
She nodded, fighting back tears. “No matter what we do it's going to be hard.” It wasn't a question but he answered it anyway.
“Yeah, it will. I wouldn't give you up for anything in the world angel face, but yeah, no matter what what we do or say or what happens, it'll be hard.” He was unusually somber. He took a deep breath. “But first things first: let's get this race track built.”
Judy decided to follow his lead. “Yes. And get those racers off our streets!”
He burst out laughing. “Rhinowitz is right, you do sound like Bogo.”
She stuck out her tongue at him and grabbed the list of callers. “I'll take the top half, you take the bottom half and we'll meet in the middle.” He nodded with a hopeful smile and they got to work.
By lunch they'd managed to set up an appointment to meet the surveyors that afternoon and gotten a firm commitment from the earth moving company to have a team of bulldozers and other heavy equipment out on site first thing in the morning. Judy hung up and straightened her back with a groan.
“I need to get out of this chair,” she muttered, massaging her lower back.
Nick nodded sympathetically. “You and me both, Fluff.” He suddenly brightened. “Hey! You want to go to the Hoof & Claw for lunch?”
“And see Bob and Linda while we're at it?” she grinned in delight.
“Sly bunny,” he grinned.
It was an obvious set-up line but she couldn't resist taking it. “You know you love me,” she teased, glad to put work behind them for a few minutes.
He cocked his head. “Do I know that?” He nodded as if in decision. “Yes, yes I do,” he declared with a toothy grin.
She grinned back, loving the way his heart pattered when he said it. “Come on then,” she said gaily as she slipped out of her chair. He followed close on her heels, sniffing the air wafting off her.
“Hmm,” he moaned quietly. “You smell wonderful.”
She slapped at him affectionately. “You're terrible.”
Unfortunately for their good mood Bogo's door was open and he heard them coming down the hall. “Hopps! Wilde! Report!” he voice boomed out as they approached. Their shoulders slumped and they detoured into his office. “Well?” he asked without preamble.
Judy explained quickly about meeting the surveyors out at the site right after lunch, to which Nick added the earth movers would start working at first light in the morning. Bogo nodded approvingly. “Just keep them off the Mayor's line,” he grumbled. “He nearly burned my ears off shouting about it this morning.”
Judy had to fight to keep from giggling at his expression. Tyrone's nickname for Bogo, 'old sourpuss', fit him to a T right then. “Us too,” she managed to say without laughing.
Bogo wasn't fooled though. He could see her trying to restrain her mirth. He changed the subject abruptly. “Remember that goat you arrested last week?” he said to Nick.
Nick's chest puffed out with pride. “I sure do!”
“Well, it turns out it was our old friend Ramses who hired him and his pals to rob that pharmacy,” Bogo told them.
“What?!” Both of them nearly shouted it at once.
Now it was Bogo's turn to fight off a self-satisfied smile at their shocked expressions. “He contacted them by phone and had a prearranged drop point for them to stash the medical stuff and pick up their money.” He gave them the address; it was basically just a random address in the middle of town, as anonymous as possible.
“So he's still in town and still working on who-knows-what?” Judy said wonderingly.
“But where's he getting the money?” Nick quizzed the chief before he could answer her.
“Yes, and we don't know,” Bogo said, answering them in order. “The faster you can finish this race track deal the faster we can get you back out on the streets to stop him.”
Nick and Judy exchanged a look of agreement. “Then what are we standing around for?” she asked. “Let's get moving.”
“That's my girl,” Nick nodded approvingly as they headed out of Bogo's office.
The Chief shook his head with a grin behind their backs. Rhinowitz was right, she did sound like him.
It was Nick's turn to drive so Judy settled back in the passenger seat, frowning thoughtfully out the window as he steered them out of town. After a few minutes of silence she turned back to him. “Nick? I don't think he's going to use that nitrogen to break Bellwether out of prison, at least not the way you thought.”
He nodded. “I was thinking the same thing, Fluff. But if not, what's he up to then?”
She shook her head. “That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Bellwether was the driving force behind their savage mammal deal because she wanted power, but Ramses was the brains that made it possible. What if he's finally come out of his sister's shadow and is striking out on his own for a change?”
Nick frowned. “If so, who knows what he's after? It could be anything.” He turned onto the bridge taking them across the water toward the diner. His frown deepened. “How much nitrogen did he take? Did we ever find out?”
Judy shook her head. “No, but we can ask.” She grabbed the mic. “Delta 9 to base, come in base.”
Clawhauser answered after a brief pause. “Yeah, Delta 9?” He sounded like he was swallowing a bite of food.
She grinned briefly, then turned serious. “How much nitrogen did Ramses make off with from that company he robbed last week?”
“Hang on a minute,” he answered. In the background she could hear him punching keys on his computer. “Found it. It says he made off with a tank with 400 gallons of liquid nitrogen in it.”
“Nitrogen has to be pressurized to remain a liquid,” she said. “Was it a steel tank? Single hulled, double hulled?”
“Uh . . .” Clawhauser fumbled a bit. “I don't know. It doesn't say.”
“And how did he move it?” Nick interjected as they left the bridge. “Was it on a trailer or in the back of a work truck or van?” Judy passed the questions on to the pudgy dispatcher.
“No info on either of those,” Clawhauser replied sheepishly.
“Have someone call the company and find out,” Judy instructed him gently, aware she was still a relative rookie at the ZPD despite her – temporary – status as a detective. “If it's a single hulled steel tank our aerial units might be able to find it with thermal scans. It'd be cooler than anything around it.”
“Especially if it's on the back of a trailer or open-bed work truck,” Nick added. “It'd be more exposed.”
Judy nodded and passed it on to Clawhauser.
“Uh, wow. Okay then, I'll have someone check it out and get back to you,” the good-natured cheetah answered. He sounded suitably awed by their questions and explanations.
“The heavy hitters are at it again,” someone piped in over the radio without identifying themselves.
Nick winked at Judy then turned serious. “You know, I've been thinking about that address for the drop point, Bogo told us about. Isn't that near the ice cream shop where we first met?”
Judy shrugged, “I don't know.” She pulled out her phone and opened Zooglemaps. She punched a few keys. “It is!” she exclaimed excitedly. “It's right next door to it in fact.”
Nick nodded in satisfaction. “You know, right before I went into the ice cream shop a ram in a Fresh Doe panel truck pulling out of the alley next to it nearly ran me over, even yelled at me to watch where I was going. I just caught a glimpse of him, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it was ole Douggie himself.”
Judy's eyes sparkled and her ears shot straight up. “You think he has a hideout there?”
“Or somewhere close by,” Nick agreed, his own excitement mirroring hers. “Wanna put lunch on hold and go check it out?”
“Of course!” she laughed excitedly. “Catching bad guys is our thrill of the hunt!”
“Then here we go!” Nick spun the wheel, tires squealing.
Judy grabbed the mic. “Delta 9, calling any car near the ice cream shop at . . .” she paused to read off the address.
Wolford answered right away. “Delta 9 this is 37, my 20 is about 2 blocks from there. What do you need?”
She gave him a quick rundown of their suspicions Ramses might have a place there and why. “But hang back,” she cautioned him. “We don't want him seeing a black-and-white with the lights going and get scared off. Park around the corner and be ready to back us up if we flush him out.”
“10-4!” Wolford enthused. “I was getting bored anyway.”
“Delta 9, this is 24,” Grizzoli interrupted them. “I'm close to that address too. Want some additional backup?”
Nick and Judy exchanged grins at Grizzoli's obvious plea to be included in the excitement. “Sure,” she answered. “You and 37 can flank him east and west. How's that?”
“10-4,” Grizzoli responded quickly. “Best thing I've heard all morning.”
“Everyone needs a little thrill of the hunt sometimes,” Judy giggled, tossing down the mic.
Nick gave her a quick wink. “Maybe we should get Lawrence and Shelly to do a ride-along with some cops for a while and see it first hand. It might give them some more ideas for their theories.”
Judy gave him an admiring look. “Pretty slick idea, mammal O'mine.”
“There's Wolford,” he said as they pulled up beside to a parked police car.
Judy rolled down her window. “Ready to rip and run?” she asked him.
“You know it,” he answered with a toothy grin.
Both their radios crackled as Grizzoli called in he was 10-23, on scene. Judy answered with a quick 10-4, and they pulled around the corner. The ice cream shop was there with the ally right beside it. “Is that the one?” she asked.
Nick nodded as he parked across the street. “Look,” he pointed. A white panel truck with a red cab was parked back in the alley, nearly out of sight in the shadows. “Can you see what's written on the side?”
She shook her head. “It looks like there might be a logo but we'll have to get closer to tell for sure.” They got out and sauntered across the street as if they hadn't a care in the world. As they walked Judy continued in a casual, conversational tone of voice, “I was right, it is a logo of some kind.”
Nick tried not to peer too anxiously at it. “I think you're right. It definitely looks like the same truck.” He glanced around with a bored attitude; no one was paying any attention to them. He slipped into the alley with Judy close on his heels. After a few feet they both said it at the same time, “Fresh Doe!” when they saw the logo.
Nick tried the cab door but it was locked. He climbed up to look inside. Judy explored a few feet further into the shadowy alley. “Nick!” she hissed to get his attention.
He jumped down and hurried over. “What?” He kept his voice down to match hers.
She pointed at a door opposite the ice cream shop. “That's the only door.” A brick wall cut the alleyway in half so there was only one way in or out. “If this is Ramses' truck, he has to be in there.” For the first time since she'd become a cop she pulled out her sidearm.
Nick followed suit. “Be careful, Judy,” he whispered seriously. “I don't want to lose you.”
She smiled brilliantly at him for a moment, then added. “And I don't want to lose you.” She eased toward the door, pistol at the ready in both paws. A reflected bit of light on the ground caught her eye. Puzzled, she looked around until she saw it; a security camera mounted above the door, reflecting the lone beam of sunlight penetrating the steep sides of the alley. “Uh oh.”
A moment later Nick saw it too but before they could react the door burst open and Doug Ramses charged out, flanked by two goats, all with their horns lowered in a mad rush at them. Judy yelped and bounded out of the way, bouncing off the side of the panel truck to land behind them. Nick dove under the truck, rolling quickly to his feet on the other side.
Judy was screaming into her radio, “It's Ramses and two goats! They're trying to get away in a Fresh Doe panel truck! Stop 'em, stop 'em!”
Through the window Nick saw Ramses throw open the door and scramble in with the goats right behind him. The truck started with a roar, nearly deafening in the close confines of the alley. He bared his teeth and fired point blank through the window of the passenger door.
The glass starred from the impact but the bullet ricocheted, kicking up dust where it hit the brick wall of the ice cream shop, barely two inches from Nick's head. He grabbed his own radio. “Bullet proof glass,” he yelled, “bullet proof glass!”
Ramses gave him an evil grin through the window as he slammed the truck into gear and took off, his spinning tires throwing bits of debris all over them. Judy growled in frustration and bounded after them, making a beeline for their car. “24! He's headed your way!”
“10-4, I see him,” Grizzoli answered. His car swung into the street, slewing sideways to block both lanes.
Ramses didn't even slow down; his truck rammed the rear end of Grizzoli's car, spinning it around in circles until it slammed into a parked car on the side of the road. It rocked on it's wheels before settling to a stop.
Judy changed course in an instant. She got to Grizzoli just was he was forcing the door open. “Are you alright?” she asked quickly. Behind her she heard Nick starting their own car just as Wolford went tearing past in his black-and-white, sirens blaring.
The big grizzly staggered a bit as he emerged, blood trickling down one side of his head. “I'm fine,” he slurred. “Just get that snake in the grass!” He pushed her away toward the car Nick was pulling up beside them in. “Go!”
“Right!” She ran and slid across the hood of their car then jumped inside. Nick pealed out before she even had the door closed. She grabbed the mic off the dash. “Officer down!” she called. “Car 24 was hit and Grizzoli is conscious but bleeding from a head wound.” The radio was alive with officers as Wolford called for backup and a blockade, but Clawhauser heard her and radioed a quick 10-4 and added he'd send an ambulance.
Ahead of them they saw a row of pipes sticking out under the back bumper of Ramses' truck. Judy frowned. “What are those?”
Nick shook his head slightly, concentrating on driving. “I was wondering the same thing.”
A moment later they got an answer. Clear liquid, bubbling and steaming sprayed out of them, covering the whole road. Wolford drove through it; instantly his tires froze then shattered into a million pieces. His car dropped to the ground, slewing out of control until he ran into a light pole.
“NICK!” Judy screamed.
He whipped the wheel over, sending them bouncing violently as he drove over the curb up onto the sidewalk. A lone rhino, talking on his phone as he stumped slowly along, roared in surprise, barely managing to roll up on the hood of a parked car to avoid being hit. They passed the spilled liquid and Nick steered them back onto the road, bouncing them around again as they dropped off the curb. Sparks flew as they bottomed out for a moment.
Judy grabbed frantically for the mic as she saw Wolford getting ready to get out of his ruined car. “Wolford! Don't! It's liquid nitrogen! If you step in it your feet will freeze solid and have to be amputated! Stay in your car!” He must have heard her because he stopped trying to get out and waved acknowledgment.
Nick growled angrily, teeth bared in the kind of snarl she hadn't seen on him since he pretended to go savage in the museum. This time though she knew in her heart he was her savage predator. “Get us some aerial support,” he barked harshly, “we'll never catch him like this!”
She nodded, turning to the mic. “Delta 9 to base and all cars. Ramses is spraying liquid nitrogen all over the streets. If anyone drives through it their tires freeze and shatter, disabling them. Hang back and be careful. Clawhauser! We need helicopters to track him.”
A chorus of 10-4's blacked out his reply for a minute then the chubby cheetah came through in the clear. “Negative on the helicopters. They're all having engine trouble this morning and maintenance is short-handed because some of the mechanics didn't come into work.”
Nick and Judy glanced at each other. “ALL of them are having engine problems?” Judy asked.
“Sorry,” Clawhauser responded. “It's just bad timing.”
“Or good planning,” Nick grunted as he fought the steering wheel, trying to keep Ramses in view while staying far enough back to be able to avoid any nitrogen spills he might unleash on them. “I wonder if it was the missing mechanics who sabotaged them?”
“And where did the mechanics come from in the first place?” Judy added. She relayed their questions and concerns to Clawhauser.
He gulped in dismay as the import of them became apparent. “I'll check into it,” he stuttered.
Ahead a black-and-white swung in directly behind Ramses' truck. “35, I'm 10-80 behind red and white panel truck,” McHorn radioed in.
“49 enroute, ETA, 1 minute,” another officer answered. 49 was Fangmeyer but it didn't sound like him.
Judy frowned at the radio. “Did that sound like Tyrone?” she asked Nick.
“Sounded like it to me,” he answered, still concentrating on Ramses, “but you better tell McHorn to back off before he gets . . .”
Before he could finish getting the words out, liquid sprayed from the back of Ramses' truck, McHorn ran into it and all his tires froze then exploded like a machine gun going off. His car dropped to the ground, sliding across the street in a shower of sparks until he careened into a row of bushes. Judy pounded the dash with her fist in anger then had to grab on for dear life as Nick was forced to brake and fishtail around the dangerous pool of freezing nitrogen. They lost more ground on their quarry. “Get some backup!” Nick yelled, “we're losing him!”
Judy nodded. “Delta 9 to all cars, don't get right on Ramses' tail! We just lost 35 that way. McHorn! Are you alright?” she added.
“Fine,” he answered with disgust. “Just bruised and banged up.”
“We need backup,” she continued almost without pausing. “We've got to box him in, it's the only way to stop him! 49, where are you?”
Up ahead Ramses' truck suddenly swerved violently as a patrol car shot out of a side street and nearly rammed him. “Trying to ram him,” 49 shouted. They could see two tigers in the front seat. Ramses managed to straighten out and pull away from them, spewing more nitrogen behind him. 49 had to run up on the sidewalk to avoid it. Nick yanked hard on the wheel, taking them up on the opposite sidewalk.
Judy was prepared this time and held on tight but the car still bounced them around wildly. “Tyrone! Is that you?”
“Yep! I was doing a right-along for old times sake when it hit the fan,” Tyrone radioed back.
“51, en route. Where is Ramses headed? I'll set up a 10-93 for you,” Rhinowitz butted in.
Nick glanced at the street they were on and his eyes widened. “He's headed for the prison!” he shouted. “He's going to try to spring Bellwether after all.”
Judy relayed the information quickly. Pennington, in car 17 radioed in she was near the prison and would assist 51 in setting up the 10-93. “Make it fast,” Judy implored her. “We can't get close enough to keep him in sight! If he turns off we'll lose him.”
Nick waited until she was done. “We won't lose him,” he said confidently. “He's going for his sister, count on it.”
Judy had to agree; everything pointed to a well thought-out plan to break Bellwether out of jail. She had one objection though. “He didn't know we'd be coming to his hideout,” she said, hanging on as Nick slid them around another corner, still desperately trying to keep Ramses in sight. “Maybe we forced him to move before everything was ready.”
Nick and Fangmeyer slammed on their brakes simultaneously as Ramses' truck spewed liquid nitrogen across the entire alley he had turned into. Judy nearly slid off her seat onto the floorboards as they screeched to a halt.
Tyrone yelled at them on the radio. “My nephew grew up around here! He knows a shortcut!”
Nick waved at him then threw it into reverse. Tires squealed as they backed up, lurched to a stop, then peeled out again after Fangmeyer, laying down rubber the whole way. Judy fumbled hastily for her seat belt. “I'm gonna be black-and-blue after this,” she yelled over the engine.
In spite of everything Nick still found time to leer briefly at her. “Want me to massage it and make it all better?” he purred. She laughed and didn't answer.
Fangmeyer whipped his car around a corner and into a major thoroughfare. Way ahead, just barely visible, was the top of Ramses' truck. A panel was open and his two goat assistants were visible from the waist up, holding some bulky tubing or something.
“Delta 9, are you seeing this?” Tyrone called. “What is that? Can you tell?”
Nick and Judy shook their heads together. She keyed the mic as Nick stood on the accelerator. “No idea,” she answered, “but it can't be good. 17 and 51, be advised, suspect ETA at your 20 in less than a minute, and they're up to something on the roof of the truck so be careful.”
Both cars 10-4'd as others radioed in they were approaching the scene as well. There were so many coming it was practically the whole ZPD. Nick frowned. Ramses was smarter than this. He had to know they'd radioed ahead to set up a blockade and surround him. What was he up to? He didn't really think he could get away with this did he?
Judy heard his heartbeat change and looked over at him. “What?”
“I don't know,” he growled. “Everything we know about Ramses says he's careful and methodical. This is too slap-dash and haphazard. It doesn't feel right.”
Worry lines etched themselves between Judy's eyes. “We're about to find out,” she said. “Look!”
Up ahead the truck fishtailed as it screeched to a halt in the entrance to the prison parking lot. They could see flashing lights everywhere and more moving in to surround him. The goats had the tubing on their shoulders. Fire and smoke shot out of the back ends of them, followed an instant later by twin explosions on the ground halfway between them and the nearest squad car.
“Rocket launchers!” Judy shouted in fear.
A wild crackle of gunfire ripped the air as every officer there opened up on them. Behind the ranked police cars they could see prison guards peering over the high walls, aiming rifles at the panel truck. Even in the daylight they could see muzzle flashes as the guards fired.
A stray round spanged off the hood of their car. Nick and Judy ducked involuntarily. “Yikes!” He yanked the wheel over to get out of the line of fire. Beside them, Fangmeyer did the same thing in the opposite direction.
Before Nick could get the car stopped two things happened: first, a ramp in the side of the truck dropped down and Ramses sped out of it on a motorcycle. Then at virtually the same instant there was a huge explosion, followed by liquid nitrogen spraying in every direction around the truck. It flew twenty yards in every direction, coating and freezing everything it touched. A huge pool of it followed, expanding rapidly as rivers of the dangerous liquid flowed out of gaps torn in the truck by the initial blast. The two goats at the top of the truck, standing in their hatches, were frozen solid in mid-motion.
Judy gasped as her seat belt nearly cut her in half when Nick slammed on the brakes. They slide to a halt just inches from the spreading pool of nitrogen. He threw it into reverse to get away from it. Around them, officers were running for their lives as the pool reached their cars, freezing the tires and everything it touched.
Ramses launched his motorcycle into a narrow alley and moments later the growing pool of nitrogen complete engulfed the entrance preventing anyone from following him. The sound of his engine quickly died in the distance.
Ice cold fog drifted up from the bubbling nitrogen, giving the warm day a wintry chill. Judy shivered as she pushed open the door and climbed out. Nick came around to her side of the car to survey the area. Fangmeyer and Tyrone silently joined them. The rest of the police officers stopped running and began quietly drifting back toward them as the nitrogen slowed down and quit spreading.
The panel truck, ripped and burned, was frosted white with the sub-zero cold, as were Ramses' two cohorts on top of it. He'd sacrificed them for his own safety without so much as a backward glance.
A low, angry rumble caught Judy's attention. She glanced sideways at Tyrone. He was growling deep in his chest. He saw the three of them looking at him and growled louder. “If I ever get my claws on Ramses I'll have him for lunch! I wanted to be a cop to stop things like this!”
“I know what you mean, Unc,” Fangmeyer nodded in agreement, the tone in his voice matching his uncle's.
“I think we can all say 'amen' to that,” Nick added. Cold fury was stamped on his face, obscuring his normally pleasant demeanor.
“I wanted to make the world a better place,” Judy said, remembering a line from her long-ago, childhood play about Zootopia. “But this,” she waved a paw at the devastation before them, “isn't what I had in mind.” Their radios crackled with Clawhauser demanding an update. She reached through her open door and snagged the mic. “Ramses escaped and his two accomplices are dead,” she snapped more harshly than she intended.
Bogo's voice interrupted Clawhauser before he could do more than gasp. “Charlie Papa to Delta 9, say again?” Charlie Papa, C.P., short for Chief of Police, was Bogo's normal call sign on the radio.
Judy repeated her first report, adding, “Ramses had his truck set for self-destruct or something. It blew up sending nitrogen all over the place. It froze his buddies in their tracks and stopped the rest of us from following him when he made off on a motorcycle.”
Bogo's voice was more subdued when he answered her. “10-4, Delta 9. So he didn't make it to the prison to spring Bellwether?”
“Negative,” she replied. “He was giving it everything he had though. It was definitely his target.”
“10-4,” he said. “Seal off the area, I'm on my way down.”
“10-4,” she said absently.
Clawhauser came back on, his voice eager and helpful. “By the way Delta 9, I checked on those mechanics you asked about? It seems Bellwether hired a bunch of new employees while she was in office. Two of them were goats who were assigned to maintenance in the helicopter hangar. They're the ones who didn't come in this morning.”
The four of them stared at each other in surprise and mounting anger. “How many is 'a bunch', Clawhauser?” Judy asked quickly, eyeing the frozen forms on the truck.
“43,” he answered cheerfully. “She assigned 'em everywhere. There's even three of them working at the prison.”
“The prison?!” Nick shouted, swinging around to take in all the guards still looking at them from the walls. “No! No! No!” he gritted yanking out his phone and dialing frantically.
“Nick?” Judy looked at him.
“Calling the warden, get him to check on Bellwether,” he explained in rapid fire patter. “Come on!” he shouted at the phone, “Pick up! Pick up!”
Finally someone answered and he started talking before they could finish their introduction. “Bellwether assigned some new guards to the prison while she was mayor! They may be trying to break her out! Get someone down there to check it out! Hurry!”
Whoever it was said something indistinct and questioning.
“Detective Nick Wilde!” he practically screamed in frustration. “I'm one of the cops outside right now! Get someone to check it out!” This time Judy didn't find listening to half a conversation entertaining at all.
He hung up, stabbing viciously at the button. Fangmeyer and Tyrone were staring fixedly at the prison, their paws balled up into fists. Sirens in the distance, growing louder, bespoke of other police cars coming their way. TV vans were approaching down the street as well.
Judy laid a gentle paw on Nick's arm to calm him down. He glanced down at her and took a deep breath. “Don't worry, angel face, We're not going to go off the deep end. Well, not yet anyway.”
Fangmeyer barely glanced at him. “Speak for yourself, buddy. I don't need the Night Howlers to make me go savage right now.” Tyrone, standing beside him, growled in agreement.
Judy felt a measure of sympathy for them. She felt the same way. “If they did break her out, it means all this,” she waved a paw at the scene before them, “was just a diversion to draw the guards away from their posts and pin us down so we couldn't follow them.”
Nick laughed bitterly. “Yeah, and we didn't even see it coming! Some 'heavy hitters' we are,” he added morosely.
“Knock it off,” Tyrone snarled. “Ramses had weeks to plan this thing. You can't blame yourself for not figuring it out during the middle a high speed chase. No one could.”
Judy laid her head on Nick's shoulder. “He's right . . .” she started to say before being interrupted.
Clawhauser's frantic voice suddenly came over the radio, cutting her off. “Calling all cars! Calling all cars! Warden Anderson reports three guards have aided and abetted Dawn Bellwether in escaping from prison! All four of them are to be considered armed and extremely dangerous.”
Fangmeyer slammed his fist down on the hood of his squad car, leaving a huge dent in it. He let out a jungle roar of frustration and anger at the top of his lungs. Tyrone and the other officers all around them echoed him so loudly it sounded as if they were actually back in the jungle for a minute. Pennington was trumping in anger, her higher pitched trump sounding loud and clear over the noise of the howls and roars coming from all sides. Judy even found herself growling in rage.
In spite of everything Nick couldn't stop himself from grinning down at her. “You know, it still sounds cute when bunnies growl.”
She punched him in the side. “Oh, ha ha.” She turned back to the prison. “In the meantime, it looks like Zootopia just got it's first pair of super villains.”