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Chapter 20

The Flip Side of Fame

The phone was already ringing off the hook when Nick and Judy got to their office Monday morning, even though they'd decided to go in half-an-hour early. Their voicemail, still not properly setup in all the rush, was full to overflowing. Three of them were from Mayor Lionheart earlier that morning, each of them increasingly more impatient than the last.

“I guess we call Mayor Furface, first,” Nick quipped sarcastically after Lionheart's last roaring voicemail ended.

Judy's ears were flat, recoiling from the sheer volume of the Mayor's blast. She didn't even reprove Nick for his disrespect. “Be my guest,” she invited him, gesturing at the phone. “You're the slick Nick around here.”

He rolled his eyes. “Leave the humor to me, Carrots,” he told her as he dialed. Before he could add more the Mayor's secretary picked up. “Hi,” he said, “this is Detective Nick Wilde, Mayor Lio---, uh yeah, she is. Sure, we'll hold.” He put a paw over the receiver. “Sheesh!” he muttered, shaking his head.

Judy could hear Lionheart's voice from across the room. “Wilde! Hopps! Are you both there?”

Nick nodded automatically. “Yes sir, Mister Mayor. I'm putting you on speakerphone.” Judy shook her head but it was too late. Lionheart's voice boomed out of the speaker.

“I've got contractors by the dozens calling me trying to get in on this race track project,” he thundered “Give me your number so I can send them to you! I've got my own work to do without getting caught up in yours!” Even when he was angry he still sounded like a movie star.

Nick craned his neck to see the numbers on their respective desk phones and gave them to him.

“Finally!” Lionheart roared and hung up with a bang.

Judy flinched, her ears laying flatter than ever. “He needs to work on that temper,” she muttered resentfully.

“He's a little different in private than he is in public, isn't he?” Nick agreed. He looked at the rapidly flashing voicemail light on their phone. “If he didn't have our number, how did he get our voice mail and who are all those other calls?”

“The switchboard probably put him through,” Judy shrugged. She looked at the number of messages still left and pulled out a pad and pen. “Let's find out who they are.” He nodded and punched up the first message.

Thirty minutes later they concluded the mammals bugging Lionheart had managed, like him, to get the ZPD switchboard to forward them to their voice mail after coming to a dead end with his office. It was one message after another from contractors, earthmoving companies, vendors, surveyors, fence builders, pavilion providers, auto parts suppliers, portable grandstand installers, reporters, street racers, and average citizens; all wanting to be part of the project, all offering their services, and all demanding an immediate answer from them.

“The flip side of fame,” Judy noted sourly.

But Nick was rubbing his paws gleefully. “No, no, Fluff. This is great! It means the interest in this thing is sky high, which means we can make some money on it on the side like I said.”

“Nick,” she warned him in dire tones.

He held up a quick paw. “I'm not getting greedy,” he protested. “Well, not much anyway.” He hurried on before she could respond to his quip. “If enough mammals are interested, and with Gazelle being onboard it seems a lot of them are, we can charge admission to watch the race and use part of the proceeds to post a reward for first place or something, use part of it to pay the contractors, and the remainder will be our profit.”

Judy was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable his plan was. “Not bad, Nick. You're planning on splitting it with Tyrone and Gazelle aren't you?” She heard his heart speed up with pleasure.

“Nope,” he shook his head, “with Tyrone and Gazelle, and Robert and Linda, and Lawrence and Shelly. Oh! And some for our parents too.” He watched as her face lit up and a surge of pheromones filled the air.

“Wonderful!” she clapped. She leaned across their desks to give him a quick peck on the lips as a reward, although the tingle that ran down to her toes let her know it was as much for her as for him.

A quick shudder ran through his body. “Come oooonnnn wedding night,” he enthused eagerly.

She giggled and another surge of pheromones saturated the air in the little office. Then her eyes widened as a sudden idea occurred to her. “Hey, mammal O' mine, I wonder if Tyrone and Gazelle know which of those grandstand installers are the best? Surely they must have used some of them for their concerts.”

“I'll bet you're right,” he smiled with admiration. “Let me call him and find out.” They'd all exchanged cell phone numbers at the 'conference' on Saturday so they could stay in touch.

Judy opened her bag of office supplies, putting them on her desk and in the drawers while listening to Nick's end of his conversation with Tyrone. Pens, pencils, erasers, pads of paper, paper clips, stapler and staples, pads of lavender colored sticky notes, a big flat desk calendar, and finally, a flower-covered trash can completed her domestic duties on her side of the office.

“That'd really help,” he was saying to Tyrone. “If you can take care of that, it would leave Judy and I free to work on the track itself.” He nodded in response to something Tyrone said. “Yep. Yep. That'll be great! Okay. Great. Thanks, Tyrone. You're a lifesaver. Alright. Will do. Bye.”

Judy smothered a grin. Listening to half a conversation on the phone was so entertaining it always made her want to laugh because it sounded so disjointed.

Nick hung up. “Tyrone said to tell you Gazelle wants to figure out some way for all of us to get together on a regular basis from now on. She's sick and tired of being alone in their Ivory Tower.”

“I'd like that,” Judy smiled. She became more serious. “And I don't blame her for being tired of being alone. I can't imagine what its been like for them all these years.”

He nodded. “That's why we'll never go into hiding like them. AND,” he added, “it's one of the reasons I want us to make some money off this race track thing. If the public turns against us and we have to leave the ZPD, at least we'll have a nest egg to keep us going while we figure out what to do.”

Fear blossomed in her eyes. “Do you really think that'll happen?” she asked slowly.

He tried to shrug it off. “I don't know, I'm just trying to cover all the possibilities.” He took her paws in his. “I'd rather be safe than sorry, you know?”

She nodded, fighting back tears. “No matter what we do it's going to be hard.” It wasn't a question but he answered it anyway.

“Yeah, it will. I wouldn't give you up for anything in the world angel face, but yeah, no matter what we do or say or what happens, it'll be hard.” He was unusually somber. He took a deep breath. “But first things first: let's get this race track built.”

Judy decided to follow his lead. “Yes. And get those racers off our streets!”

He burst out laughing. “Rhinowitz is right, you do sound like Bogo.”

She stuck out her tongue at him and grabbed the list of callers. “I'll take the top half, you take the bottom half and we'll meet in the middle.” He nodded with a hopeful smile and they got to work.

By lunch, they'd managed to set up an appointment to meet the surveyors that afternoon and had gotten a firm commitment from the earthmoving company to have a team of bulldozers and other heavy equipment out on-site first thing in the morning. Judy hung up and straightened her back with a groan.

“I need to get out of this chair,” she muttered, massaging her lower back.

Nick nodded sympathetically. “You and me both, Fluff.” He suddenly brightened. “Hey! You want to go to the Hoof & Claw for lunch?”

“And see Bob and Linda while we're at it?” she grinned in delight.

“Sly bunny,” he grinned.

It was an obvious set-up line but she couldn't resist taking it. “You know you love me,” she teased, glad to put work behind them for a few minutes.

He cocked his head. “Do I know that?” He nodded as if making a decision. “Yes, yes I do,” he declared with a toothy grin.

She grinned back, loving the way his heart pattered when he said it. “Come on then,” she said gaily as she slipped out of her chair. He followed close on her heels, sniffing the air wafting off her.

“Hmm,” he moaned quietly. “You smell wonderful.”

She slapped at him affectionately. “You're terrible.”

Unfortunately for their good mood, Bogo's door was open and he heard them coming down the hall. “Hopps! Wilde! Report!” his voice boomed out as they approached. Their shoulders slumped and they detoured into his office. “Well?” he asked without preamble.

Judy explained quickly about meeting the surveyors out at the site right after lunch, to which Nick added the earthmovers would start working at first light in the morning. Bogo nodded approvingly. “Just keep them off the Mayor's line,” he grumbled. “He nearly burned my ears off shouting about it this morning.”

Judy had to fight to keep from giggling at his expression. Tyrone's nickname for Bogo, 'old sourpuss', fit him to a T right then. “Us too,” she managed to say without laughing.

Bogo wasn't fooled though. He could see her trying to restrain her mirth. He changed the subject abruptly. “Remember that goat you arrested last week?” he said to Nick.

Nick's chest puffed out with pride. “I sure do!”

“Well, it turns out it was our old friend Ramses who hired him and his pals to rob that pharmacy,” Bogo told them.

“What?!” Both of them nearly shouted at once.

Now it was Bogo's turn to indulge in a self-satisfied smile at their shocked expressions. “He contacted them by phone and had a prearranged drop point for them to stash the medical stuff and pick up their money.” He gave them the address; it was basically just a random address in the middle of town, as anonymous as possible.

“So he's still in town and still working on who-knows-what?” Judy said wonderingly.

“But where's he getting the money?” Nick quizzed the chief before he could answer her.

“Yes, and we don't know,” Bogo said, answering them in order. “The faster you can finish this race track deal the faster we can get you back out on the streets to stop him.”

Nick and Judy exchanged a look of agreement. “Then what are we standing around for?” she asked. “Let's get moving.”

“That's my girl,” Nick nodded approvingly as they headed out of Bogo's office.

The Chief shook his head with a grin behind their backs. Rhinowitz was right, she did sound like him.

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