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Chapter 15


The Horn Spire Conference


Dinner at the Crab Shanty had been a dream come true.

After getting Huffer and Fürlong to agree to appear as “expert witnesses” for the “conference” then making a brief appearance at Bogo's press conference in the main lobby of the police station, Nick and Judy had hurried home to change and get ready for dinner. Nick, once again wearing his tuxedo and James Bone persona, had arranged for a private booth for them. An overly generous tip beforehand also guaranteed their waitress would look the other way at anything she happened to see while waiting on them.

After a delicious dinner and several glasses of wine, soft music, and candlelight, Judy was ready to drift away on cloud nine she was so happy. But then Nick did the completely unexpected. Pulling out a small ring box he knelt on one knee and asked her to marry him. For a moment she was stunned into utter silence. Then she burst into tears saying yes, yes, yes, a hundred times over as he slipped the ring on her. She held on to him, her whole body shaking like a leaf from the intensity of her emotions. They kissed and cried, then kissed and cried some more. If the waitress noticed anything, Judy was too happy to care.

That morning she found herself humming and singing in the shower, stopped herself and grinned at her reflection in the glass door when she noticed, then promptly forgot and went right back to singing and humming again. She knew she still had to confront her parents about it, but knowing Nick's mother would be alright with it gave her the confidence they would come around too.

She dried off then pulled out the black pantsuit Nick urged her to wear. It wasn't a police uniform but despite a ruffled blouse under the jacket it had an official look and feel to it. She flipped open her detective’s badge and slid the back cover into her left breast pocket so the shiny badge was displayed for all the world to see. She skipped down the hall to the elevator and rode up to his floor. He heard her coming of course and opened his door just as she got there.

She whistled in appreciation. He was wearing a black suit, white shirt, and red rep tie. His badge, like hers, was hanging from the left breast pocket of his jacket. “Pretty slick, Nick,” she said approvingly.

“You're looking pretty good too, angel face,” he returned, kissing her as she came in. “Beautiful in fact.”

After breakfast she took off her engagement ring, slipping it into her pocket. They'd decided she shouldn't wear it in public just yet, but she wasn't about to leave it behind either. “This ring goes everywhere with me,” she told him fiercely.

“That's my girl,” he smiled.

In the elevator, he handed her a copy of the morning newspaper. Yesterday's press conference to announce today's meeting with Gazelle was page one news above the fold. GAZELLE HOLDS KEY TO STREET RACERS, the headline screamed. There was a huge picture of Bogo at the podium, then two smaller pictures, one of her at the podium and one of Nick. The sub-heading said, “Race track for cars needs a huge piece of land owned by pop star Gazelle.” The article took up half of page one, all of page two, all of page three, and most of page four. The sheer size of the race track seemed to hold almost as much interest for them as the problem it was intended to solve.

“Wow,” she exclaimed, flipping through it as she absently followed him to the car. “They really went all out didn't they?”

“That's nothing,” he laughed as they got in. “The news is running it 24/7 on every channel; the talking heads are going non-stop, and social media posts are off the charts – and climbing.” He gave her an off-hand salute as he pulled out of the garage. “All because of you, sweetheart.”

“Me?”

“This was your idea, Fluff. You get all the credit,” he smirked.

“Uh, not all of it,” she objected impishly. “Listen to this: Officer, now Detective, Judy Hopps and her partner, Detective Nick Wilde, who were so instrumental in solving the savage mammals’ case several months ago, both admitted the original concept for the gargantuan race track was Wilde's idea. 'I like to think big,' ZPD's newest detective told us.” She peered at him over the top of the paper. “I think some of the credit goes to you, Mister Wilde.”

“That's 'Detective Wilde' to you, sweetheart,” he said in his best Humphrey Boggy imitation.

He parked the car and they headed up to the main floor. They didn't recognize most of the weekend shift, and it was a bit unsettling for Judy to see someone else at what she thought of as Clawhauser's desk. Then Clawhauser came bustling down the stairs, confusing her even more. “There you are,” he exclaimed. “Bogo told me to bring you up as soon as you got here.”

“What are you doing here on the weekend?” she asked him as he practically ran back up the stairs.

“Overtime,” he puffed. “Bogo doesn't want to pull anyone off the streets, but we need security for the meeting so he called a lot of us in. It's actually double time because it's such short notice, so there's going to be a lot of happy officers around here come next payday.”

They grinned at each other behind his back.

He led them to the second-floor conference room instead of Bogo's office. Bogo was there, working the phones. Professors Huffer and Fürlong were already there, along with Officers Snarlof, Fangmeyer, and Rhinowitz. Mayor Lionheart was sitting at the head of the table along with Meredith, his sheep secretary and a couple of nameless functionaries from City Hall. He waved at them as they came in but continued dictating a letter or something to his secretary.

Judy looked around. “Where are Robert Padfoot and Linda Stepps? I thought they were coming too.”

Clawhauser nodded, trying to catch his breath. “Captain Tongas sent a car out to get them,” he wheezed. “They're on their way.”

Lionheart finished whatever he was doing with his secretary. She gathered her things and rushed out, followed by the two bureaucrats. The Mayor waved them over. “You two don't do things in a small way do you?” he began in his movie star voice. “Not that I object, mind you; actually I wish I had more like you on my campaign staff.” He waved it off. “But never mind that. Do you think you can get Gazelle to agree to this? Condemning her property just to get it for a race track is out of the question. My predecessor did that kind of thing and I ran against him by promising not to.”

“Mayor Bogo and the railroad through old McDonald's farm,” Nick interjected smartly.

Lionheart blinked. Ever the consummate politician though, he recovered quickly. “Exactly! And I like to keep my campaign promises.”

The door opened just then and Robert and Linda were escorted in by one of the detectives. Nick said, “Excuse me, Mister Mayor,” and hurried over to greet them, leaving Judy and Lionheart alone.

“Mayor Lionheart?”

“Yes, Detective Hopps?”

Judy bit her lip. “I just want you to know, Nick and I don't care about politics. We really don't. And whatever is between you and Chief Bogo is none of our business. We like both of you. All we want is to protect Zootopia and keep everyone safe.”

He stared at her thoughtfully for a moment. “I admire your honesty and passion, Hopps. But the way you and Wilde are going, you'd better start caring about politics, because it's going to start caring about you. Not everyone on the City Council likes this idea – and they know your names,” he added warningly. “And . . . they're not all as forgiving as I am. A word to the wise, eh?” He walked away to talk to Bogo before she could think of an answer.

Nick was waving at her and she hurried over. Lawrence and Shelly had joined him, carefully, to greet Robert and Linda, aware of the crowded room. The six of them formed a little rump group away from the growing crowd of big wigs around the conference table.

Bogo finally rapped on the table and called for order then nodded at Lionheart.

“We all know why we're here,” the Mayor began. “These street racers are becoming a serious problem, and from what Dr's Huffer and Fürlong tell me it's going to get worse and other mammals may start exhibiting similar behavior in other fields.” Lawrence and Shelly nodded timidly at the assembled crowd of dignitaries. “But the only way to solve it is one problem at a time,” he emphasized, glaring sternly at some of the council members at the table. “Therefore officers Hopps and Wilde have come up with a possible solution for the street racers; this race track idea that's in the news. For that, we need Gazelle's cooperation, so they're taking Huffer and Fürlong with them to a meeting with her, as well as some local citizens who live in that area,” he added, indicating a nervous Robert and Linda, “to try persuading her to let the city use her land.”

An elderly pig with heavy, horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, wearing a rumpled tweed suit, peered over the top of them. “And if they can't?” he asked in a quarrelsome voice.

Lionheart sighed in exasperation “One thing at a time, Elmer, one thing at a time.”

“That's Councilman Fudge, to you youngster,” Elmer snapped.

“We're not in chambers!” Lionheart roared angrily.

“Oh dear me, how right you are,” Elmer pretended. “My mistake,” he said with false humility and an even falser smile.

Lionheart gritted his teeth. He looked at the clock over the door. “It's time to head over to the Horn Spire building so our emissaries,” he indicated the six of them with a sweep of his paw, “can get to work and hopefully come to an arrangement with Gazelle.”

Everyone trooped out of the room heading for the garage. Nick gave Robert a police jacket. “Wear this until we get inside the building,” he said quietly. “Anyone who sees you will think you're just another cop.” He nodded and slipped it on.

They got into a police van along with several officers, while more officers piled into two other vans, one in front and the other behind them. Fangmeyer was one of the cops in their van. “Bogo is going to be paying a lot of double-time on this one,” Nick told him with a grin.

“And I ain't complaining one bit,” Fangmeyer laughed. “I got bills to pay.” The other cops in the van added their agreement

The drive to the Horn Spire building took less than five minutes. When the back door of the van opened the sound of the crowd told them it was huge. When Judy climbed out she saw more mammals than she would have imagined. It looked like a larger crowd than Gazelle's last concert. Pressed up against the barricades she saw Flash and some of the street racers, grinning like baboons, giving them a frantic thumbs up.

Flashbulbs went off everywhere as they emerged from the van. Judy was thankful she'd listened to Nick and worn sunglasses like his as the flashbulbs went off like chain lightning. Lawrence and Shelly blinked and had to shield their eyes to keep from being blinded. Robert, playing the part of a cop with his own cop glasses, helped Linda out of the van as she shielded her own eyes. Cops from all three vans swarmed around them, providing a protective barrier three rows deep as they moved toward the main entrance.

They made it safely inside, down a corridor then through a door to the private elevator that would take them to Gazelle and Tyrone's home on the upper floors. Bogo crowded into the elevator with the three couples. “Give me those,” he told Robert as the car started up. Robert dutifully took off his police jacket and sunglasses.

As the elevator neared the top Bogo looked around the group, sensing their nervousness. “I've known both of them for over twenty years,” he said gruffly, but not unkindly. “They're just mammals like everyone else. Treat 'em that way and you'll be fine.”

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. They found themselves facing a short hallway that ended at a plain set of double doors. Bogo marched up and banged on the door with a fist. “Open up in the name of the law you double-crossing sidewinder!” he roared.

Before they could react, the door popped open and Tyrone grabbed Bogo in a huge bear hug. “You remembered!” he crowed, pounding him on the back.

Bogo was hugging and pounding him too. “How could I forget,” he laughed. “You scared that poor little sheep out of a year's growth!”

“Nearly got suspended for it too,” Tyrone chuckled fondly.

Nick and Judy exchanged amused glances. “Therein lies a tale worth hearing,” Nick mused lightly. She giggled.

It broke up Bogo and Tyrone's reunion. Bogo turned around to them. “Everyone, may I present my former partner Tyrone Stripeson and his wife Gazelle.” Her lithe figure had been hidden behind the two bigger mammals but once she came into view she suddenly seemed larger than life.

Bogo did the introductions. “Detectives Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde.” They shook with each of them in turn. “Zootopia University Professors Dr. Lawrence Huffer and Dr. Shelly Fürlong.” They also shook. “Hoof & Claw Diner owners, who are also your country neighbors, Robert Padfoot and Linda Stepps.” They shook their paws nervously. Bogo took a step back. “Call me when you're done.”

Tyrone stopped him. “Whoa! You're not leaving are you?”

Bogo smiled a little sadly. “You know this isn't for me, Ty. It's for all of you.”

Tyrone paused then nodded. “Yeah.” He looked hard at him. “But don't be such a stranger from now on, partner. I mean it.”

“You got it, partner.” Bogo turned and marched away.

Tyrone closed the door and for a moment they all stood silently, looking at each other awkwardly, wondering what to do, then Nick came to the rescue. “Well, as much as I've always wanted to stand around doing and saying nothing, I think we've been there, done that by now. Any chance we can get a seat?”

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