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Chapter 9


Race Track for Cars


Even the prospect of filling out forms couldn't dampen Nick's spirits. He glanced at the big wall clock. “As soon as I finish, why don't we grab something from the lunch wagons outside,” he suggested to Judy.

The watering hole in city central was a natural gathering place for downtown workers to congregate during their lunch breaks, so every day dozens of lunch wagons, selling every kind of food imaginable, gathered too, competing for customers and prime locations to attract them. The combined menu from them was better than the highest priced restaurant in town.

“Sounds good,” she answered brightly. She trailed along behind him as he found a table in the squad room and began filling out his forms before transferring them to the computer. She thought she might have to correct his work but he proved he'd been an apt pupil at the Academy; he got everything right on his first try.

“You probably don't know,” he asked over his shoulder, “but why fill out forms with pen and paper then turn around and do it online? That's kinda stupid.”

“Nope, it's very stupid,” she countered, “and you're right; I don't know. I asked around once and nobody knows. It's just,” she made quote marks in the air, “the way things are done.”

He shook his head in disgust. “Figures.” He shoved himself back from the table. “Let's go.” He dropped the arrest form on Clawhauser's desk as they walked out.

A profusion of delectable odors hit them as they stepped outside. Judy took a big whiff. “Ooh! Is that shrimp fried rice I smell?” She turned her head back and forth trying to locate it.

Nick sniffed once. “Sure thing. This way.” He led off confidently around the watering hole to a lunch truck covered in oriental designs. “Two orders of shrimp fried rice,” he told the busy kola behind the high counter.

“Today was his first arrest,” Judy told cook quickly. Nick gave her a puzzled glance.

The kola's eyes widened and he broke into a big smile. “Congratulations, officer . . .?”

“Wilde,” Nick told him.

“Congratulations, officer Wilde. Your first arrest means your first order is on the house!” He scurried away to fill their order.

Nick looked at Judy in surprise. “Really?”

She nodded, enjoying his reaction. “Yep. These guys are out in the open where it’s easy for them to be robbed, so they always support the police any way they can. This is one of those ways.”

Nick was suitably impressed. “Wow.” When the cook returned with their orders he thanked him gratefully. They found a nearby bench that had just been vacated and sat down to eat. “Did this happen to you too?”

“You mean after Bogo nearly fired me for arresting Duke Weaselton?” she quipped. “Yeah, Clawhauser told me about it so I came out and got some lunch before I tracked you down that day.” They ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes, content to simply enjoy being together. “Remember when I said everyone wanted to get in on the chase, and you said it was the thrill of the hunt?” Judy finally asked, breaking the long quiet.

He nodded, “Sure do. Bogo even said he misses the excitement.” He finished his lunch and tossed their containers in the trash.

“He did, didn't he?” Judy agreed. “I think Lance is really on to something with this whole thrill of the hunt thing, and it fits with what we were reading last night in that article.” She set her drink down. “If we're only a couple of thousand years away from the jungle instead of millions, it stands to reason we'd still have a lot of those old instincts in us . . . and it would explain the night howlers like you were talking about.” Her excitement was building. “Nick! This could really be something big!”

“It could also be a problem,” he cautioned her.

“What?”

He nodded. “Think about it, Judy. If any of this stuff is actually true, it means Flash and Lance and all the rest of them aren't going to be cured of their racing by – well, by anything. It's in their DNA.” He spread his paws helplessly. “How do you cure that?”

Roadblocks seemed to spring up all around her. She shook her head, “You can't. Nick! We have to find something safe for them to do before they hurt someone.” Desperation tinged her voice.

He turned to watch some cubs playing and running around the grounds. “Like what?” he wondered. “You want 'em to chase each other around like a bunch of cubs? They're a little too old for that.” Two cubs were chasing a third, who ran around a tree to lose them, but they followed him.

“There's got to be something,” she insisted. “I don't want them hurting anybody, but it's not right to throw them in jail either, not over something they don't have any control over. It'd be like throwing us in jail for, you know, us,” she finished in a whisper, looking around to make sure no one heard.

Nick nodded absently, still watching the cubs. They rounded another tree then started back toward the first one, following an oval path in the dirt where other cubs had chased each other before. He sat up suddenly as lightning struck his brain. “Hey!” He grabbed her and pointed at the cubs. “That's it!”

Her ears stood up straight in surprise. “What's it?” She could hear his heart racing like Flash's car.

“A race track,” he exclaimed, pointing at the dirt path the cubs were following. “A race track for cars!”

She looked back and forth from him to the cubs. “For cars? Nick, it'd have to be huge!”

He got up, unable to contain his excitement. “Yeah, yeah, but think about it, Judy. A giant, oval track, maybe somewhere outside of town, where they could all race each other around and around in circles; no traffic in the way, no lights or stop signs, nothing to run into, no pedestrians to worry about,” he was grinning ear-to-ear, “it'd be perfect!”

She was still trying to wrap her mind around the size of a track for cars to race on. “It'd have to be gigantic,” she protested. “Where would you put something like that? How would you make it?” Her eyes bugged out as another thought occurred to her, “How much would it cost? Nick!” Her voice was desperate. “That's impossible!”

“Dumb bunny, sly fox,” he chuckled. “I specialize in the impossible.”

She punched him, but couldn't help but grin anyway. “Alright, so how you're going to do it, Mister Smart Alec?”

“Easy,” he grinned, “I'll tell Bogo and let him have all the headaches of setting it up.”

“Ha!” she snorted. “If he's crazy enough to go for that idea, he's smart enough to make sure you have all the headaches of setting it up.”

They were both wrong.

Bogo shook his head after Nick finally ran down from explaining the idea. “That's way too big for any of us,” he began slowly. He held up a placating paw, “I'm not saying it's a bad idea; actually it's pretty good, but we're just cops, Wilde, we can't tackle a project this size. You're going to have to get City Hall in on it. You know Lionheart has been reinstated as Mayor by the City Council,” they nodded, “so it'll have to be up to him. Of course,” he cast a jaundiced eye on Judy, “since you arrested him in the first place, I'm not sure how well he'll take to helping you.”

She blushed but refused to back down. “I was just doing my job,” she insisted stubbornly.

Bogo nodded sympathetically. “I know, I'm just warning you.” He glanced at Nick. “Maybe you should leave Hopps out of this one.”

“No!”

They both said it at once. Bogo wasn't surprised. “Don't say I didn't warn you,” he shrugged. He pushed a button on the intercom. “Clawhauser, officers Wilde and Hopps need an appointment to see Mayor Lionheart about the street racers. The sooner the better.”

“The mayor? Give me a minute to check,” the cheetah puffed good-naturedly.

“Fine.” Bogo turned back to them. “While we wait, I read that article you sent me. I forwarded it to Lionheart. He wrote back to say he's been following the meteor strike theory for several years, but he'd never heard of the predator-prey angle being connected to it.” He gave them a stern look. “I'd keep that one to yourselves if I were you.”

They nodded. “Uh,” Nick said.

“What?”

“Fangmeyer knows. He said Tyrone was his cousin?”

Bogo nodded casually, “Yeah. He was royally bent out of shape when Tyrone quit the force but he finally came around. I think it was Gazelle who convinced him, but I never asked.” He shrugged, “Fangmeyer won't be a problem. He's a good mammal.” He paused. “Have you thought about marriage,” he asked, clearly uncomfortable with such a personal question.

They exchanged looks. Judy’s silence indicated to Nick he should take the lead. “We're still working on it, sir. Judy doesn't want to do anything without her family knowing, but they'll argue against it for sure. My mom,” he hesitated, “I haven't seen her in so many years I don't know what she'd say.”

Before he could say more he was interrupted by the intercom. “Chief Bogo?”

He pressed the button in relief. “Yeah?”

“I got them an appointment tomorrow morning at 10,” Clawhauser reported enthusiastically.

“Good.” He looked at them. “Ten o'clock tomorrow morning, full dress uniforms.” Without waiting for their answer he glanced at the clock over his door. “But you've still got several hours before your shift is done. Get out there and catch some more bad guys.”

It was a clear dismissal so they left quickly.

The rest of the afternoon was slow though, so slow the hours began to drag. They took another rotation guarding the prison for an hour, this time on the north side.

When their shift was finally done, all the officers wanted to take Nick out to a cop bar for drinks to celebrate his first arrest. He was more than happy to go along with it, so the rest of the night was spent in semi-drunken revelry, drinking, swapping stories, telling jokes, and even dancing when a live band came out and began playing.

Regina, one of the lionesses from Precinct 3, was there, teasing all the predators, dancing with first one then another. Even in her uniform, she cut a striking figure, garnering most of the attention for the night.

It was getting late when Judy finally steered Nick out of the bar. They wobbled back to the station to get her truck then slowly drove home. He was already snoozing by the time she parked and she had to wake him. She stayed with him until he was safely in his apartment. They shared a tipsy kiss then said good-night.

Back in her place she tossed her clothes to the four winds, collapsed on her bed, and was out like a light.

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