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Chapter 16

Getting Acquainted

Nick’s lighthearted question broke the tension of the moment and they all laughed. Judy grabbed his arm and impulsively kissed him on the cheek. “Now you can see why I said yes when he asked me to marry him,” she said with forced gaiety. They broke into a stunned babble of congratulations and hugs and more shaking. Judy pulled out her engagement ring and put it back on, explaining she couldn't wear it in public.

The group pleasure in their announcement dimmed. Gazelle's eyes filled with tears. “Tyrone and I have been married nearly ten years and we can't tell anyone,” she sobbed quietly. All at once she was no longer a pop star in their eyes, but a female in pain. They gathered around as Tyrone hugged her, patting her back and murmuring it would be alright.

Eventually, she recovered enough to lead them into a large living room. Couches and sofas were scattered about in a loose circle. They paired up and sat down, watching each other curiously.

“I've always wondered what we looked like together,” Linda said, looking around the circle, “but I never had the chance to see until now.”

“And?” Shelly prompted.

“We look pretty darned good!” she said firmly. Smiles answered her from around the room.

“Well, we're the ones who made a study of us,” Lawrence replied, pulling Shelly into his lap. “Would anyone like to know what we found?”

“Yes!” Gazelle practically shouted. “We didn't know there were any others until Bogo called us earlier this week. We thought we were the only freaks.”

“We're not freaks,” Shelly told her sharply, a bit of the school teacher coming to the fore. “We're rare, but not freaks.”

Gazelle and Tyrone nodded. “Explain away,” he said for both of them.

Lawrence proceeded to repeat most of what Nick and Judy already knew from reading their published paper. Then he added to it. “Mayor Lionheart's family is descended from Mars, one of the founding fathers of Zootopia. Mars kept a diary detailing his love affair with a zebra named Venus. According to his diary, they were attracted to one another when they met at the watering hole during the signing of the New Beginning treaty, which of course is how we date everything. A few months later they were nearly killed by a fire that was started by lightning. Their love affair started soon afterward, a love affair he wrote about in very detailed terms.”

“The Mayor told us he didn't want the diary becoming public,” Nick interjected. “He said it's pretty embarrassing.”

Shelly gave a nervous laugh. “Embarrassing isn't the word for it. It's as graphic as anything I've ever read. I'm not sure discretion was part of Mars' vocabulary.” She saw Gazelle and Tyrone's puzzled looks. “Lionheart's grandfather donated a copy to the University, on the condition that it would never be released to the public,” she hurried to explain.

They nodded in understanding.

“The only other historical predator-prey relationship we know of for sure was the pirate, Redmane the wolf and his sheep lover, Elvira Blackstone, around 1000 NB,” Lawrence continued. “They were simple villagers who'd been friends all their young lives until they fell into a pit full of poisonous snakes and had to work together to get out alive. They made it but when their family and friends found out about their love they tried to lynch them.”

Linda gasped in horror, shrinking back into Robert’s arms. “Their own family tried to kill them because they loved each other?”

“I'm afraid so,” Lawrence nodded. “They managed to escape though and swore revenge on the villagers and all others like them. They went on to become the most notorious pirates in history, raiding up and down the ocean lanes for five years before they were finally caught and executed. Their captured shipmates confirmed their relationship and how it started. The University has the original manuscripts in a helium-filled glass case in the vaults.”

“Why helium?” Tyrone asked curiously.

“The manuscripts are so old they're almost falling apart,” Shelly explained. “Since helium is an inert gas it doesn't react with anything and protects them from further decay.”

“Shelly and I have pretty much the same story as them,” Lawrence continued, “but without all the drama. We grew up in the Article Circle, in a village called Icing Dale. We were always friends, and as we got older we began to be attracted to each other until the day we were almost killed in an avalanche. We became lovers but very quickly realized we wouldn't be able to keep it a secret in such a small village. We moved to Zootopia and majored in anthropology as a means of researching what happened to us. Our final, joint paper on the subject of predator-prey relationships cemented our tenure as professors but for the most part, has been ignored by the rest of the world.”

After that, one-by-one, each couple explained their own history to the others. When they were finished, Lawrence added, “Now you can see the same pattern we did; an initial attraction followed by a period of growing trust and closeness, then a violent life-and-death experience that tears down the final barriers between us and lets us fall in love.”

“Why does it have to be so extreme?” Robert wondered.

Lawrence shrugged his shoulders. “Well, predator-prey relationships are extreme. It'd take an extreme experience to break through our biological and cultural taboos against them, especially after the example of Hannibally.”

“The example of who?” Judy asked in confusion.

Shelly shook her head sadly. “What are they teaching in school these days?” Lawrence touched her shoulder gently. She sighed. “Okay, okay. Hannibally was an elephant, a general beyond compare, who marched his troops across the Alps in the dead of winter around 700 NB to conquer the city-states on the western side.” She looked around; seeing she had their attention, she went on:

“After Mars and Venus died there weren't any more confirmed stories of predator-prey relationships, but there were unconfirmed rumors by the score, enough that most historians think it's more common than most mammals believe. Hannibally was a great general because he was a purist. He focused on one thing and one thing only, victory in battle. Anything that interfered with that goal had to be destroyed. So, when he discovered two of his troops were in a predator-prey relationship he was so shocked, angry, and outraged he had both of them drawn and quartered. This drastic punishment must have been told and retold over the centuries because throughout the world there are stories, legends, and fables about predator-prey couples being drawn and quartered after the example of Hannibally.”

Tyrone was frowning. “How come we've never heard this before?

Lawrence smiled paternalistically. “We're in the 'modern age' my young friend,” he said, making quote marks in the air. “Most of these stories have faded into the dustbin of history. They're not taught anymore. No one but historians and a few lonely researchers even knows about them these days.”

Robert raised his paw like he was in class.

Shelly smiled. “Yes?”

“You said historians think predator-prey relationships are more common than most mammals believe. How common?” he asked. Everyone perked up at his question.

“Ah! A real student,” Shelly sighed with delight. “By the time Redmane and Elvira were executed – for piracy by the way, not for their relationship – there seems to have been approximately six to ten couples every fifty years or so. Today . . .” she paused, “. . . I'd have to say it's probably about one couple for every 400,000 mammals. We're not sure, but it seems to be a good estimate.”

“That's impossible!” Gazelle exclaimed. “Tyrone and I have been together for nearly twenty years, married for almost ten, and we've never seen another couple until today!”

“And you were so out in the open about your relationship,” Linda quipped, the first thing she'd said in quite a while. Gazelle had the grace to be embarrassed, but Linda wasn't done. “I don't know about that example of Hannibally stuff, but I do know the moment mammals at work found out about Robert and me, we were fired on the spot. We've been keeping a low profile ever since. Who wouldn't?” she asked reasonably.

Shelly nodded her sympathy to Linda. “We kept out of sight for pretty much the same reason. In fact, if it weren't for Nick and Judy, we'd still be hiding in our ivory tower.”

Gazelle giggled unexpectedly. Everyone looked at her. “That's what Tyrone calls this place,” she explained. They all laughed.

“Linda and I wouldn't have come here if it weren't for Nick and Judy,” Robert added quietly. She snuggled tighter against his chest.

“I certainly wouldn't have let anyone come up if Bogo hadn't told me about them,” Tyrone added. He looked them over. “So, it looks like the two of you are responsible for all of us being here.”

“So what makes you two so different?” Gazelle quizzed them.

Nick and Judy exchanged a quick look. She indicated for him to answer it. “I don't know that we're necessarily any different per sé, but . . . we're cops. We follow the evidence and solve riddles, puzzles, cases, whatever you want to call it. It's what we do.” He looked to Tyrone, the only other cop in the room, for back up.

Tyrone frowned, thinking about it. Gazelle shifted in his arms, turning her head to look up at him. “Babe?”

“Yeah,” he said slowly, “but I never brought us all together like this.”

“Nick and I are both cops,” Judy pointed out. “Gazelle isn't, and you retired to be with her.”

“It was the right decision,” he defended himself. “But yeah, I see your point.”

“Judy and I also had the advantage of working a strange case right out of the starting gate,” Nick continued. “It forced us not only to work together but to really put on our thinking caps, find answers outside of the box.”

“Then we got this street racing case just as we were falling in love,” Judy put in, seeing where he was going with this. “Then almost immediately after that, we found the paper about predator-prey relationships and boom!, done deal.”

“We were the right mammals in the right place at the right time,” Nick concluded.

“It was like dominoes falling one after another because they're all connected,” Judy argued, warming to her theme. “The meteor or asteroid strike theory explains so much; it explains how mammals could go from bored businessmen to maniac street racers who can't stop themselves, it explains how predator-prey relationships are even possible, it explains why the diets of predators and prey have overlapped to the point they're virtually indistinguishable, it even explains why the night howlers were able to affect mammals in a way no other drug ever has!”

“Whoa! Wait a minute there,” Tyrone sat up abruptly, dislodging Gazelle from her comfortable position. She squawked in protest. “Sorry, babe,” he told her apologetically. “What do you mean in a way no other drug has? Bogo and I worked Vice for three years. Drugs can make mammals do all kinds of crazy stuff, just like those night howlers.”

“But the effects always wear off,” Judy reminded him. “The night howlers were permanent until they came up with an antidote.”

There was a babble of confusion from around the room but Tyrone shouted them all down. “Hold it, hold it!” They subsided finally. He turned a grim eye on Judy. “I don't remember anything in the news about the night howlers being permanent.”

“Why did you think they needed an antidote?” Nick asked sarcastically.

“To help them get over the shakes or withdrawals or whatever,” Tyrone growled.

“Nope,” Judy shook her head. “If you don't believe us, call Bogo and ask him. We'll wait.”

He glared at them suspiciously then pulled out his phone and dialed quickly. A few minutes later he hung up in shocked disbelief. “He says it's true,” he told the others, who'd only heard his side of the conversation. “The night howlers are permanent without the antidote, but they didn't want to scare the public by coming right out and saying it.”

Shelly held up a timid paw. “Can I say something?”

He gestured helplessly. “Sure, why not?”

“The University was called in to interview the victims after they recovered. Lawrence and I were part of the team they sent,” she told them. “We discovered none of the victims could remember anything after being hit with the night howlers. They remembered the initial impact of being shot, then a rising sense of anger and rage, then after that – nothing, until they woke up in the hospital.”

“Nothing?” Robert shook his head. “Why not?”

“We don't know,” Lawrence added. “The University's medical team is still working on it, but so far they don't even know how the night howlers work, let alone where all the side effects come from.”

“That's not a very comforting thought,” Nick mused.

“No it isn't,” Lawrence agreed readily. “But it's what we're stuck with.”

“Which brings me back to the point I was trying to make before we got sidetracked,” Judy put in.

Tyrone shook his head. “Sorry, I don't even remember what you were saying.”

“About everything being connected to the meteor or asteroid strike theory,” she reminded him.

“Oh! Yeah, that,” he nodded. “Didn't mean to change the subject. Sorry. Go ahead,” he told her contritely.

She nodded her forgiveness. “That's alright.” She returned to her theme, “Since everything is connected it means the street racer problem isn't going to go away, and if Lawrence and Shelly's theory about modern technology giving us time to be bored is right, it means there's going to be more problems cropping up in the future.”

She paused to take a breath, then addressed Tyrone and Gazelle directly. “You know, Nick and I set all this up mainly so we could ask you about using your property south of town for a race track.” She paused again. “But I didn't expect to enjoy meeting all of you so much.” She smiled brightly at them.

Everyone smiled their agreement.

“But we really do need to set up a race track,” Nick said, taking up the burden. “We need to solve this problem before the next one rears its ugly head.”

“Of course you can use it,” Gazelle said, glancing at Tyrone for confirmation. He nodded. “We haven't really needed it for several years now. Treat it like it's yours,” she invited them.

“Thanks,” they said together. “But you know,” Nick continued, “depending on how it's done, we might make some money off it.”

Judy shook her head. “Nick.”

“I'm not being greedy,” he protested, “but there's nothing wrong with making money while you help mammals.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “As long as the helping part comes first,” she conceded. “But no funny business!”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “Come on, you know you love me.”

She recognized their favorite repartee. “Do I know that? Yes, yes I do.” She reached up to kiss him then suddenly remembered they weren't alone. She looked around to find everyone watching them with undisguised interest. She blushed furiously.

“Don't stop on our account,” Linda breathed. “It's beautiful to see.”

“You don't have to hide it from us,” Shelly reminded her.

“No, but some things are private no matter what,” Judy answered, blushing even harder.

Tyrone whispered something in Gazelle's ear, too low even for Judy to hear. Gazelle turned beet-red. “Tyrone!” she protested, poking him in the ribs. He laughed low in his throat. Trying to change the subject she jumped up. “I never offered you anything to drink,” she exclaimed. “Forgive me. What would you like? Name it and we've got it.”

They all rattled off their preferences and Linda got up to help her. “I”m a waitress,” she reminded her when Gazelle tried to protest. “It's what I do at our diner.”

Gazelle smiled. “I was a waitress when I met Tyrone.” They hurried off to the kitchen like best friends.

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