At 10:00 o'clock sharp the two of them were waiting outside Mayor Lionheart's sumptuous office in City Hall, wearing their finest dress uniforms, hats tucked neatly under their arms. The longer they waited the more nervous Judy became. The last time she'd seen Lionheart had been when she was arresting him, just days after he'd been so proud of her for graduating from the Academy at the top of her class. She had no idea how he'd react to her this morning and her nervousness was infecting Nick.
He sniffed the air. “Knock it off, Carrots,” he whispered from the side of his mouth. “His nose isn't as good as mine but anyone can tell you're scared. Do multiplication tables in your head or something.”
It was probably a good idea but she wasn't given a chance to try it. His secretary, another ewe, Judy noted in passing, glanced at them over her spectacles. “Mayor Lionheart will see you now,” she said in a no-nonsense, schoolmarm voice.
They stood up in unison. Nick pushed open the door for Judy, then followed her in. Her heart warmed at his little gesture of gentlemanly concern, but it put her front and center in Lionheart's gaze as they approached his desk, the same desk where she'd once tried to resign. She marched in, doing her best to keep her emotions in check. They stopped at attention in front of his desk.
“Officer Hopps reporting,” she said stiffly.
“Office Wilde reporting,” Nick echoed her.
Lionheart nodded. “At ease, have a seat,” he said in his warm, movie star voice. They sat down and he fixed his eyes on Judy. “Officer Hopps, I understand why you did what you did, based on what you knew at the time, but since I've been reinstated and everything is back to normal, why don't we let bygones be bygones and start over?” He stuck a friendly paw over the desk to her.
Startled into complying she shook with him.
He sat back in his chair smiling widely. “I do have to say though, I was fairly impressed at how quickly you found me, especially considering that Bogo had been looking for the missing mammals for nearly two weeks.”
“I had help, Mister Mayor,” she said, indicating Nick. “I'd never have made it if it wasn't for him.”
“So I've heard,” he rejoined. “In fact, it prompted me to keep tabs on his progress at the Academy, just to see if he was as good as the newspapers said he was.” Nick was startled. Lionheart nodded at him, “And it seems you are.” He picked up a folder on his desk and opened it. “Except for the names, this could be officer Hopps' file; top of your class, near-perfect scores, everything.” He tossed it down. “So . . . if Bogo thinks I should talk to the two of you about these street racers,” he indicated another file on his crowded desk, “I listen to him.” He waved a paw at them. “Start talking.”
Nick took the lead, quickly going over their initial encounter with Flash and Lance, then their second encounter the very next day. He talked about Lance's thrill of the hunt idea and how it dovetailed with the report from Zootopia University's Department of Anthropology, minimizing the predator-prey aspects of the paper while emphasizing the asteroid-strike theory and it's application to the thrill of the hunt and their theory that it might even explain the night howler effect on mammals.
Lionheart leaned forward interestedly. “Bogo didn't mention the night howler part.”
“We haven't had time to tell him, sir,” Judy said, speaking for the first time since her initial exchange with him. “It's all happened pretty fast.” But his comment caused her to wonder just how closely Bogo and Lionheart worked together. He seemed to know everything Bogo did.
The mayor nodded, waving for them to continue. Nick plunged in again, explaining that if the theory was right, it meant the thrill of the hunt was genetic and wouldn't be going away anytime soon. Then he launched into his idea for a race track big enough for cars to drive on.
“How many cars?” Lionheart prompted him with a worried frown.
They both shrugged. “It's hard to say, sir,” Judy told him, “but from what Flash and Lance said, I got the impression there might be 20 or 30 of them.”
“20 or 30?” he roared in astonishment. “Do you have any idea how big a track would have to be for 20 or 30 cars? It'd have to be huge!”
Judy nodded sympathetically. “That was my first reaction too.”
“And that's why Chief Bogo sent us to you,” Nick added quickly. “He said it was way too big for cops to put together. It'd have to be done by the city.”
“Oh, you think?” the mayor snorted sarcastically. He stood up to pace back and forth before the window looking out over the city. “I've been following this asteroid-strike theory ever since it came out about ten years ago,” he told them, “which would be just a year or so before that paper was written, so I'm well aware of the implications of it, including the predator-prey stuff you skimmed over.” He shot a stern look at Nick, who had the grace to look abashed. “I'm not as squeamish as most mammals so you don't have to hide anything from me; my family is directly descended from Mars, the founder those researchers talked about. We know all about his little affair with Venus; the idiot kept a diary!” That last was delivered with a roar of frustration.
“Wait!” Judy interjected, “Mars had a diary?” She stared at him in shock, “And you've got it?”
“It's one of our bigger family secrets,” Lionheart retorted sharply. He paused, “And one we'd rather not have nosed about in public,” he added pointedly.
“But the University and the museum need those kinds of historical documents,” she protested. “It's too important for one family to keep all to themselves!”
“They've got a copy!” he roared at her. She shrank back. Nick instinctively sprang to his feet to defend her, then stopped and sat back down. Lionheart looked at him in confusion then ignored it. “My grandfather gave them a copy years ago for research, on the condition that it never, ever, see the light of day.”
“But . . . why?” she stuttered.
His shoulders slumped. “Because it's embarrassing,” he sighed. “Mars wrote down everything. In embarrassing detail.”
“Oh,” she said, then her eyes widened as his words sank in. “Oh!”
He favored her with a pained smile. “Oh, indeed.” He sat back down with a sigh. “We can't blame him too much, I guess. They were just starting out, didn't know what they were doing, didn't know how to be discreet.” He shrugged. “Mars was a product of his times. But this is today, and that diary will never be released to the public.” He fixed them with a hard look. “Understood?”
They both nodded. “Yes sir,” Judy added quietly.
“Good.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “The point I was getting at is; I've known about this asteroid-strike theory for a long time, and this research paper, plus this thrill of the hunt stuff, and your ideas about the night howlers all point in the same direction. Which means,” he sighed, “these street racers won't be stopped, can't be stopped, unless they're locked up like the savage mammals were, and that doesn't seem fair.” Judy felt a surge of excitement. Was he really heading where she thought he was? A quick look at Nick confirmed he was feeling it too. If Lionheart noticed their reactions, he hid it well. He made up his mind. “A race track for cars would be too big to put in the city; it'll have to be outside the city, in a farmer's field or something.” He paused for a moment, a twinkle in his eye. “And since the two of you brought all this up, you'll be the ones to scout out a location for it.”
“Uh . . .” For once Nick was speechless.
Judy wasn't though. “But sir! We have patrol duties, we're at work all day! When would we do it? You're not telling us to do it in our off time are you?” Panic seized her, “Are you?” When would she and Nick have any time for themselves?
The mayor laughed softly at her obvious distress. “Calm down, Hopps. It's nothing like that. I'll get Bogo to put you on a temporary duty assignment so you can give it your full attention, during the day.” She and Nick left out huge sighs of relief. Lionheart paused for a moment, looking back and forth between them with a puzzled expression, then dismissed it and pressed the intercom. “Meredith, get Chief Bogo on the line for me.”
'Meredith', the sheep secretary probably, responded immediately, “Right away, Mister Mayor.”
Bogo must have been waiting for the call. Meredith came back on the intercom within seconds to tell him, “Chief Bogo is on line 2, sir.”
“Thanks.” He punched line 2, putting him on speakerphone. “Chief Bogo?”
“Yes, Mister Mayor?”
“Your problem children are here,” he gave them a conspiratorial wink, “and they've convinced me we need to build a race track for cars so these idiot racers don't kill themselves on the streets.”
“Or anyone else,” Bogo interrupted darkly. “We just had another incident, over in the Canal District; three cars. One of them went into the water; we're not sure about the other two, or if there are any casualties. Reports are still coming in.”
Lionheart growled deep in his chest. He stifled it by taking a deep breath. “Alright. That just means we have to get moving. This situation is too close to the 'savage mammal' kind of deal; we've got to nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand.”
“I agree,” Bogo affirmed. “What do you need from me?”
“I need Wilde and Hopps assigned to some kind of temporary duty assignment so they can be free to spend all their time looking for someplace to put this race track of theirs.”
“It's not our race track,” Judy objected indignantly. “It's just our idea to . . .”
Lionheart waved her to silence as Bogo shouted over the phone, “Shut it!” She slumped back with a resentful glare at the mayor. “Send 'em back, Mister Mayor. I've got some new ID's ready and waiting for them.”
Lionheart arched an eyebrow at the phone. “You already had new ID's for them before I made my decision? I thought we were going to play it straight with each other from now on?”
Judy gave Nick a questioning peek, but he shook his head in confusion. “Beats me,” he whispered. This level of politics was over his head.
“I am playing it straight with you, Leodore,” the Chief answered slowly and distinctly after a brief pause, “I just knew there wasn't any other solution. I'm not the stick-in-the-mud you think I am. I can see where this is headed and I don't want to see the city to go through another big scare any more than you do.”
Lionheart nodded slowly, then realized Bogo couldn't see him. “Alright,” he rumbled. “I'm sending them back. Keep me posted.”
“Yes Sir, Mister Mayor,” Bogo replied smartly, like a cadet on the parade ground. He hung up.
Lionheart saw the questioning expression on their faces. “After the savage mammal incident was over and I was reinstated, Bogo and I came to an understanding of sorts. We hadn't been getting along for a while and that whole thing showed us we needed to.”
Nick held up a placating paw. “Say no more, Mister Mayor. This city needs both of you. Judy and I won't do anything to change it.”
“Officer Hopps, you mean,” Lionheart corrected him.
Nick was confused. “Hunh?”
“You called her Judy instead of Officer Hopps,” the mayor said kindly as if talking to a child.
“Oh! Well, we're partners, you know. We're on a first-name basis.”
“I see,” Lionheart nodded. “I just thought most officers usually called each other by their last names. My mistake,” he smiled grandly, ever the politician. He stood up in dismissal. “Go see Chief Bogo, get your new ID's and find me somewhere to put that race track of yours before mammals start getting killed out there.”
“Yes sir,” they said in unison. They turned and left. Judy managed to peek back at the mayor as they were exiting the door; he was staring at them with a strange, wondering expression.