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Chapter 14


Setting Up a Meeting


Wondering what he was doing, Judy and Nick followed Robert outside. He led them to the south end of the gravel parking lot. “See all that land?” he asked, pointing to the wide flat valley floor. “It's divided into six pieces, but about seven or eight years ago some big celebrity from town bought all six of them for a tax write off.”

“Who?” Judy asked excitedly.

“No one knows, but there should be records at City Hall,” Linda reminded them. “Since you're cops . . .” She trailed off, leaving them to come to the obvious conclusion.

“We can get them!” Nick grinned.

Before they left they exchanged phone numbers with their new friends and urged them to reconnect with Huffer and Fürlong. “There aren't many of us and we need to support and help each other all we can. Think about it,” Judy prompted them. They promised to consider it as they waved good-bye.

“Wow,” Nick muttered as they headed back across the bridge into town. “You may be right, Judy, maybe couples like us are drawn to each other somehow. They had what we needed and we may have had what they needed, or at least the encouragement they needed.”

She laid a soft paw on his arm as he drove. “You have what I need and I have what you need, why shouldn't it work on a larger scale too?”

“Well, all things considered, I'd have to say you're right,” he agreed in his most reasonable tone. “Of course it's not all fun and games, we're gonna have to deal with that old stick-in-the-mud clerk at City Hall again.”

Sure enough, the clerk was just as slow and officious as before. He almost reminded Judy of the sloths at the DMV with his ponderously slow movements and speech. But his attitude of barely deigning to condescend to stoop to their level made him a million times worse to put up than the merely slow-moving sloths.

By the time they got out of his office with a sealed envelope in their possession, Judy was fit to be tied. “I'll take Flash over that idiot any day of the week and twice on Sunday,” she griped as they headed toward the station. He'd demanded they sign a waiver committing them to open the envelope only in absolute privacy. Their office was the closest place they could think of.

“I told you,” Nick responded smoothly, “but I know the feeling. Flash at least has a sense of humor. That guy looks like he bit into a lemon.”

They managed to avoid running into Bogo on the way to their office. They didn't want to face him until they had some good news. The number of street racers was growing and the police couldn't keep up. Bogo's attitude wouldn't be helped by a negative report from them.

They closed the door and sat down at their respective desks. The little room was still bare as a banker's promise but at least it was private. “Open it up, sweetheart,” he told her with a smile. “Let's see who the lucky contestant is.”

She opened it up and ran her eyes down the page. She found the name – and her jaw dropped.

He sat forward, alarmed. “Judy? What is it?”

“Sweet cheese and crackers,” she whispered. “It's Tyrone Stripeson!”

“WHAT??”

She shoved the paper at him. “See for yourself.”

He snatched it up and his eyes widened. “Holy mackerel!” He shook his head in disbelief. “What are the odds?”

She sniffed at him. “Beyond counting. I told you couples like us are drawn together.”

He held up a placating paw. “Fluff, I am now officially a believer. Two predator-prey couples in one day is too much of a coincidence even for a cynic like me.” His chair creaked as he leaned back in it. “Now what?”

“We have to tell Bogo,” she answered promptly, “and get him to get us an invitation to see them. It'll be like with Huffer and Fürlong, two birds with one stone; work the case and meet another predator-prey couple like us.”

“Obviously,” he agreed, “but you realize this is Gazelle we're talking about. You can't just walk up and request an appointment to see the most famous singer in the world, you know.”

“Bogo said he and Tyrone were partners and he did their marriage,” Judy countered. “If anyone can get us in, it's him.”

Nick shrugged. “Lead the way, Fluff,” he said, gesturing at the door.

She bounced up, grabbed the sheet and headed out with him fast on her heels. When she knocked on Bogo's door, his gruff voice answered, “Who's there?”

“Detectives Hopps and Wilde, sir. We've got something to show you about the racers,” she answered.

“About time!” he roared. “Get in here!”

They went in and Judy started talking before Nick even got the door closed behind them. In her rapid-fire delivery, she filled him in on their lack of progress with the large tracts of land and Robert's suggestion of several smaller ones owned by the same person. “We looked it up at City Hall and the owner is your old partner, Tyrone Stripeson,” she finished, handing him the sheet the clerk had given them.

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You know, I remember when they bought that land. Taxes were eating them alive and they needed some kind of tax shelter to keep from going broke, but I never knew how big the parcels were or where they were located.” He fished a little black book out of a desk drawer and began thumbing through it. “Things have changed since then so they may not need them anymore.” He found what he was looking for and began dialing the number. He put it on speakerphone.

After three rings there was a click and a smooth voice answered with a hint of suspicion. “Hello?”

“Ty, it's me, Bogo.”

The suspicion vanished instantly. “Bogo! How are you, you old sourpuss?”

Nick and Judy fought to keep from laughing at Tyrone's nickname for the Chief. He glared at them, then turned back to the phone. “I'm good, partner, I'm good. Hey, remember those two officers I told you about? The ones that are like the two of you?”

“Are you kidding? We haven't talked about anything else. We've been trying to figure out how to get together without the tabloids getting wind of it. She really wants to meet them.”

Nick and Judy shared a wondering look.

“Well, hold on to your seat partner. They're right here in my office and they're working a case that involves that land you bought outside of town back when.”

“What? Wait . . . they're in your office, right now?”

“Yep,” Bogo chuckled. “And I've got you on speakerphone so they're listening to every word.”

The most famous voice in the world suddenly came on. “Officer Wilde? Office Hopps? Are you really there? Can you hear us?”

Judy was hit with a sudden attack of stage fright worse than her first press conference on the savage mammals’ case. Nick quickly took over. “Yes, Ma'am,” he answered smoothly, without betraying any of the awe he was feeling at that moment. “We're here, but Judy is a little, uh, intimidated, at the moment. Sorry.”

“Don't be sorry,” she replied quickly. “I've been in your place myself when I was first starting out. But don't let it stop you either.” She shifted gears. “Judy? If you're like us then we have more in common than in differences.”

Judy couldn't believe Gazelle was actually talking directly to her. She cleared her throat nervously. “Th . . . thank you, Ma'am.”

She laughed, “Ma'am sounds like you're talking to my mother. I'm not that old, not yet at least. Call me Gazelle.”

Judy had to laugh a little at that. “Okay,” she answered, a trifle less nervously. “I'll try.”

“We have been wanting to meet you,” Gazelle went on, “but we didn't know how to set it up. The tabloids have really been hounding us lately and it's getting harder and harder to avoid them.”

“Well, if you weren't so famous you could get away with it like Robert and Linda do,” Nick interjected.

“Who?” she asked.

“Robert and Linda, a predator-prey couple who run a diner outside of town near that land of yours,” he told her.

“There's more of us?” she exclaimed in disbelief.

“You're kidding!” Tyrone exclaimed in the background.

“Plus there's a couple who teach at the university,” Judy added, suddenly feeling more at ease at Gazelle's “us” comment. Despite her fame and fortune, when you got right down to it she was still a mammal just like everyone else, and like everyone else, she wanted a life with someone she loved.

Judy's statement was like a bombshell going off; Gazelle and Tyrone were so excited they both started talking at once, stepping on each other’s words. It was impossible to understand them. Finally, they slowed down enough for them to hear Gazelle pleading with Tyrone to let them meet the others. “We've been alone so long,” she whimpered brokenheartedly. “Please, baby, please.”

“I've just been trying to protect you,” he said sorrowfully.

“I know you have, I know you have,” she agreed quickly, “and you're the best one in the world at it, but I need someone to talk to now and then, someone like us.”

Judy felt embarrassed like she was eavesdropping on someone's private conversation. Then out of nowhere, she had a sudden brainstorm. “How about tomorrow?” she interrupted them. “And you can make the tabloids work for you for a change.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone, and both Nick and Bogo turned to look at her questioningly. Judy took advantage of the moment to launch into a quick recitation of the problems with the street racers and their conversation with Huffer and Fürlong on the long term implications.

“The media is starting to report on the street racers anyway, so why not use that to our advantage? We can hold a press conference here at the station this afternoon telling everyone we're coming up with a solution but it involves some land owned by Gazelle and we need to talk to her about using it. We can even say we're bringing in some experts from the university as well as some folks who live out by the site to make sure we're not stepping on anyone's toes. Then tomorrow we all head for your place for a, I don't know, a 'conference' let's call it, to discuss the plan,” she finished triumphantly. “It'll be a legitimate excuse to get together and no one will be the wiser.”

Tyrone's response surprised everyone; he burst out laughing. “Sounds like you got a heavy hitter on your paws, Bogo. Better watch it, she might be after your job!” he guffawed.

“Haha,” Bogo half-snarled. “Your sense of humor hasn't improved any, I see.” Tyrone only laughed harder. “Still, it actually sounds like a decent plan,” the Chief sighed.

Nick gave Judy a surreptitious thumbs up. 'Sly bunny,' he mouthed silently. She grinned.

Tyrone finally ran down. “I think so too,” he chucked. “Let's do it.”

They heard Gazelle gasp with delight. “Really? You mean it, baby?”

“I mean it, doll britches,” he assured her fondly.

“Okay, okay, enough with all the lovey-dovey stuff,” Bogo grumbled. He glanced at the clock. “If we're going to make this work we need to get the press conference set up for about an hour from now. If I can use your name when I tell them about it, it'll guarantee they'll all come.”

They could almost hear Gazelle nodding as she answered. “Of course, Chief Bogo. That's the whole point of Judy's plan.” She couldn't keep the evident excitement out of her voice. “I can't believe I'm finally going to meet some others like us!”

Nick felt an unaccustomed surge of sympathy for the world's most famous pop star. Fame and fortune couldn't make up for loneliness. He promised himself then and there, Judy would never have reason to be lonely. He'd make sure of it. After a few “good-byes” and “see you tomorrow's” they hung up the phone. Before Bogo could say anything he did. “I can call Robert and Linda while you're setting up the presser, Chief. And maybe Judy can get a hold of the professors.”

Bogo nodded, all business once again. “Tomorrow is Saturday so we'll tell them the meeting starts at 11:00. We’ll meet here about 15-20 minutes before that then head over to the Horn Spire building. Get cracking you two. The faster we get this done, the faster we can get those racers off my streets.”

The Horn Spire building where Gazelle and Tyrone lived was a tall horn-shaped building that twisted slightly as it rose. Although not the tallest building in Zootopia, it was arguably the most recognizable.

“I think we should visit them in person instead of calling by phone,” Judy said flatly as they left Bogo's office. “Something like this needs to be done face-to-face.”

“Agreed,” Nick nodded. “You want the car or the truck?” The truck her parents had given her was still sitting in a parking spot under their apartment building.

“The truck,” Judy said. “You've never driven it before but I have. I know all its little quirks.”

“Come on then,” he said. “I'll drop you off at the apartment then go see Robert and Linda. After that, how about dinner at the Crab Shanty to celebrate?” The Crab Shanty, easily the most romantic restaurant in town, was in the Canal District on a pier overlooking the water.

Judy loved the idea but hesitated for fear of public exposure. “Will it be safe?”

He glanced around the parking garage under the police station. It was empty for the moment. Pulling her close he whispered in her ear, “I'll never let anything happen to you, Judy. Never.”

She melted. “Alright. The Crab Shanty it is. I've always wanted to go there.”

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