The moment they were out of earshot of Lionheart’s office. Nick let out a huge exhalation of air.
“That was the biggest fake smile I've ever seen!” he exclaimed. “My mistake,” he mimicked the Mayor’s words to them. He shook his head sorrowfully. “I'm sorry, Fluff, I gave us away for sure.”
She laid a gentle paw on his arm. “Don't bet on it, Nick. I caught a glimpse of him as we were leaving; he's curious, he's knows something is up but I don't think he knows what. Not yet at least.”
His ears were laying flat. “I hope you're right, Judy, I hope you're right.”
Seeing his obvious disappointment in himself, she glanced quickly around the parking garage under City Hall where they'd parked their squad car. Seeing no obvious cameras or anyone coming, she pulled him behind a concrete pillar and gave him a searing kiss. As always she felt it right down to her toes. It reached him too; she heard his heart start to race, thudding in his chest like a jackhammer. She smiled to herself; it was nice to know she could do that to him even when he was down and out. Her knees were weak and shaky when she pulled back from him; it was nice to know he could do that to her too.
“Better?” she asked teasingly, struggling to catch her breath.
His eyes were dancing. “I don't know, Fluff. I might need a second treatment,” he grinned rakishly, reaching for her.
She eeled away from his grasp. “Not now,” she squeaked. “I was trying to cheer you up, but let's not push our luck,” she said, looking around. Just then a car cruised slowly past, the driver looking for a parking spot. It brought them both back to earth.
“Alright,” he sighed regretfully. “But . . . thank you for uh, what was it you said? . . . cheering me up,” he winked.
She giggled and punched him. “Get in the car, silly.”
City Hall was so close to the station, on opposite sides of the watering hole, it almost would have been faster to walk. The moment they came in, Clawhauser began gesturing for them to get up to Bogo's office. “Where have you been?” he said frantically. “He keeps calling down every minute wanting to know if you're here yet. Get in there before he burns my ears off.”
“Clawhauser! Where are they?” Bogo's voice echoed all over the reception area.
“They're on their way up right now!” Clawhauser yelled back. He shooed them away.
“Wilde! Hopps! Get in here! On the double!” the Chief roared. They broke into a run until they skidded to a halt in front of his desk. He shook a paw full of papers at them. “An antelope was hit by one of those racers in the Canal District. Her two fawns were scared half to death, and she's in the hospital with a broken leg. If she'd fallen in the water she might have drowned,” he growled in furious anger. “Now it's gonna be all over the news.” He threw some badges at them. “Both of you are temporarily promoted to Detective, effective immediately, and assigned to this case to the exclusion of all else! Understand?”
Nick caught the badges out of the air, examined them briefly then handed Judy hers. They nodded, awestruck by how fast everything was happening, but Bogo was still talking.
“You'll draw Detective's pay and have offices up here with the rest of the detectives, but don't let it go to your heads; the moment this thing is over, you go back on patrol. Got it?”
“Yes sir,” they both said.
“Good,” he grumbled. “Get out of those uniforms, put on some street clothes, and get out there and find me someplace for that race track before the city gets turned into a war zone!” He went over to the door and bellowed, “Tongas!”
A moment later a wolf, Captain Tongas showed up. “Yeah, Chief?”
“Show Wilde and Hopps where their office is and get 'em situated.” He turned and fixed them with a gimlet eye, “I don't want to see you two in there for long though; I want you out finding a place for that track.” He pushed them out of his office and slammed the door.
They stared at the door for a moment of stunned silence. Finally, they turned and found Tongas watching them with amusement. “Don't you just love how sweet and cuddly he is?” Judy gasped with shock but Nick erupted in soft laughter. “Come on, I'll show you your office, but it doesn't sound like you're going to get much use out of it.”
He led them down a short hall to a set of double doors that simply said – Detectives. He pushed through them into a large square room filled with tables and chairs. Offices lined all the walls. He pointed off to the right, “Office 6N is yours, the 'n' is for North. Your computer logins have been upgraded to detective level, so you'll see some new options when you log in.” He pointed to another set of doors opposite the ones they'd come in through. “My office is down that hall at the end, but don't come down there unless the building is on fire. If you've got any questions, ask someone else.” He took off and left them standing there.
“Uh . . .” Judy stared after his retreating backside in surprise. Whatever she'd thought being a detective would be like, this wasn't it.
“My thoughts exactly,” Nick said in a bemused tone. He shrugged. “Come on, Fluff. Let's see what our office looks like.” He wove his way across the room and opened the door of 6N.
The office was 12x12, with two desks shoved together facing each other in the middle of the room, with chairs that had seen better days for each of them. There was a row of empty filing cabinets along the back wall. A phone sat on each desk, next to a flickering computer monitor displaying a login screen. In the corner behind the door was a coat rack. Otherwise, the room was achingly empty and bare. The walls were a drab, institutional green.
Judy shook her head in despair. “Oh joy,” she muttered. “Just what I always wanted.”
Nick had to agree. “Our cubicles downstairs are better than this.” He sighed, “Which desk do you want?”
“The one next to the door,” she said right away. “The way the door swings open doesn't leave much room. It'll be easier for me to get in and out than it will be for you.”
His eyebrows climbed. “Hadn't thought of that,” he admitted.
“Sly bunny, dumb fox,” she grinned, plopping down in her chair.
He closed the door with a laugh. Testing his chair he found he had to adjust the height and tilt somewhat to make it comfortable. Judy was already doing the same for hers. He opened the metal drawers one at a time – all empty except for the middle one, that had a few pencils and frayed rubber bands in it. “We'll need some office supplies,” he noted dryly. He looked around. “And a trash can,” he added sourly, reaching for the phone.
She stopped him quickly. “Don't bother. It'll probably take too long. Let's just get our own stuff at the store later today. It'll be quicker, and we'll get what we want without having to fill out a million requisition forms or something. Then we'll apply for a reimbursement.”
He sketched a salute. “Alrighty then, what's our first step?” he asked, leaning back in his creaking chair.
Before she could answer the door swung open and Tongas tossed a set of keys on her desk. “You can't drive a squad car here. We all have sedans. Yours is Delta 9. Be sure to fill it up at the same stations you used for your squad car.” He shut the door again before they could say anything.
“Well, that answers a question I hadn't even thought to ask,” Judy snorted, twirling the keys. She looked at Nick. “I guess we need a list of parcels of land big enough to hold a race track.”
He nodded. “Which means back to City Hall.”
“After we change clothes,” she reminded him.
“Ah, that I don't mind,” he smiled. “I like the uniform, but I like my own clothes better.”
Half an hour later they met in the elevator at their apartment building. He was dressed once more pretty much as he always was, but she'd chosen some comfortable jeans, a casual top, and a light summer jacket. “You're looking good today, Detective Hopps,” he said, giving her a quick kiss as they rode the elevator down to the lobby.
As always his kisses took her breath away. “Why thank you, Detective Wilde,” she whispered against his lips. “You're not looking too bad yourself.” The elevator chimed and they stepped away from each other before the door opened.
Forcing herself to focus on the task at hand instead of her handsome partner, she mused aloud, “So exactly how big a parcel are we looking for? We haven't sat down to figure out how big the track should be.”
“I've been thinking about it,” he smirked, “and I'd say the track itself needs to be at least a mile long with turns at either end that are around half to three-quarters of a mile long, and wide enough for 8-10 cars to drive abreast all the way around.” Her eyes widened. He nodded but kept going, “So a parcel big enough to hold that, with room left over for unforeseen needs should probably be at least two miles long and a mile-and-a-half wide.”
“You don't think small, do you?” She shook her head in bemusement.
“You saw Flash and Lance's cars, how fast they are. If they can't really open them up on the track, they'll go back to the streets. It's got to be big enough so they can go all out,” he countered reasonably. He opened the passenger door of their new car and got in. The “sedan” as Tongas referred to it was simply a black, unmarked squad car. Aside from not having a partition between the front and back seats, it had everything a regular squad car did. They had magnetic lights they could put on the roof during a chase, and the siren was hidden behind the front grill, but otherwise, it was identical to the cars the patrol officers used.
“I guess,” Judy answered uncertainly, “but it's going to narrow down our options. There aren't many parcels that big.”
Her prediction was born out two hours later when the officious clerk at City Hall finally handed them a printout of land parcels in the area matching their needs; it was distressingly short. “That's it?” Judy exclaimed. “Only 8?”
The aging badger behind the desk shrugged unconcernedly. “City jurisdiction only goes so far. After that, you'll need to see the county commissioners.”
Judy wanted to wring his furry neck but she turned and walked out, clenching her teeth. “Of all the hide-bound, bureaucratic idiots in town, we had to get stuck with him,” she gritted. “We ought to shoot him out a cannon.”
Nick laughed softly. “You take life too seriously, sweetheart. Loosen up before life takes you seriously. Besides,” he reached over her head to pluck the list out of her paw, “one these will be fun to investigate no matter what.”
“Because,” he answered smoothly, “it belongs to Zootopia University, where that paper was written.”
Her head whipped around so fast he was afraid she was going to break her neck. “What?!?!” She snatched the paper out of his paw and ran her eyes down the list. “Sweet cheese and crackers! I've been wanting to talk to those researchers –”
“– and now we can without taking any time away from our street racer case,” he finished for her. “Or very much time anyway.”
She jumped up and down. “Yes! Nick, you're a genius!”
“Well, above average maybe,” he smiled indulgently.
“Nope! Loving you makes me a smart bunny, remember? And I'm smart enough to declare you a genius, so there!” she giggled, nearly giddy with delight at the prospect of getting to interview the people who'd written the paper that turned her life upside-down.
“Well, who am I to argue with that kind of logic?” he drawled. He waved her ahead of him out the door. “After you milady.”