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Chapter 25

Forgeries Galore

“I want to thank all of you for coming down here so early,” Mayor Lionheart said in his best politician's voice to the assembled reporters and the growing crowd behind them. “As you can probably tell we've got some major announcements to make this morning.” Gazelle and Tyrone stood behind him surrounded by a phalanx of uniformed cops to keep the mob at bay. Nick and Judy, sporting their new badges, stood just off to the side next to Chief Bogo.

“First things first,” Lionheart continued smoothly. “We have an announcement from my good friend, Police Chief Bogo.” He waved Bogo to the hastily positioned podium in front of City Hall.

“Good friend?” Nick whispered sarcastically to Judy out of the side of his mouth.

“Shh!” she hissed back, fighting to keep a straight face.

“Thank you, Mister Mayor,” Bogo was saying. “As you know, Officers Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde,” he waved at them, “have provided indispensable services to Zootopia over the last several months, including the near-capture of Doug Ramses last week. As a result of their efforts, the Mayor and I have jointly decided to make their temporary promotion to Detective a permanent promotion.”

Startled applause broke out then swelled to a thunderous roar of approval. Bogo and Lionheart motioned them forward to the edge of the stairs. The crowd hooted and hollered, stomping their feet in unison. “Wilde Hopps! Wilde Hopps! Wilde Hopps!” they chanted.

Judy was round-eyed with wonder at the uproarious ovation. Nick couldn't stop himself from grinning ear-to-ear, wondering what those idiots who'd kicked him out of the Junior Ranger Scouts thought about him now? He grabbed Judy's paw and held it up like a winning boxer in the ring. The crowd grew even noisier.

Nick risked a backward glance at Tyrone and Gazelle as the crowd seemed determined to keep clapping forever. Behind the officers surrounding them, where no one could see, they were holding each other's paws so tightly he was afraid they were going to cut off the circulation. Gazelle was misty-eyed at the sustained reaction to two of Zootopia's finest, and Tyrone, who caught him looking, gave him a covert thumbs-up.

Lionheart finally moved to quiet the crowd. “Well, I'll take that as a vote of approval,” he quipped. Chuckles rippled through the gathered mammals, finally subduing their ovation. “Just don't run against me,” he admonished them jokingly. Nick and Judy laughed dutifully, but she couldn't help remembering his comment about politics caring about them and wondered just how much of a joke it really was?

“And now,” the Mayor continued as the laughter and applause died away, “our two newest Detectives have a report for you on the status of the Wilde-Hopps Race Track.” He stepped back. “Detectives?”

Nick and Judy bounded up the built-in steps on the back of the podium to another round of applause. He nodded for her to go first. She nodded back then help up her paws for silence. The crowd settled down quickly.

“Thank you,” she smiled brilliantly at them. “But Mayor Lionheart and Chief Bogo really deserve your thanks for creating the Mammal Inclusion Initiative, and the tough training regime that made our service possible. Without them, we'd never have been police officers in the first place, or had the skills to accomplish everything we have.” She turned to face them. “Mayor Lionheart and Police Chief Bogo!” she said brightly, clapping for them.

Nick immediately joined her, prompting the rest of the crowd to follow suit. Lionheart and Bogo smiled and bowed for the cameras. “Sly bunny,” Nick whispered.

She grinned. “You know you love me,” she replied impertinently, making sure the microphone couldn't pick them up.

The applause was dying away too quickly for him to respond but both of them heard him say it in their mind's eye, “Do I know that? Yes, yes I do.”

She inclined her head for him to take it from there. “We're pleased to announce that the track is nearly complete and the first race is scheduled to start at 11:00 am this coming Sunday morning,” he announced in ringing tones.

The assembled street racers, huddled together off to one side burst into wild applause, jumping up and down with unrestrained glee. Even Flash was moving faster than normal, he was so excited. The cameras immediately swung away from the podium to capture their jubilation.

Nick waited until the excitement was dying away to continue. “We're still waiting on some vendors to deliver what they promised us for the concession stands and such but everything is ready to go. There will also be some pre-race entertainment, events, and announcements beginning 8:30 so be sure to get there early before all the best seats are gone. And . . .” he paused for dramatic effect, “. . . part of the entertainment will be someone you all know and love . . . Gazelle!”

A roar burst from the growing crowd as Gazelle and Tyrone made their way to the podium. He handed her forward then stepped back. Nick and Judy gracefully made way for her too.

“Thank you, Zootopia,” she said in her famously recognizable voice. “Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.” She had to keep saying it for nearly a full minute before they finally settled down enough for her to speak.

“After Nick and Judy – forgive me – Detective Wilde and Detective Hopps, approached me last week about using my land for a race track I was surprised at how much attention it gathered. Even after the professors explained the extent of the biological problem we seem to be facing it took a few days for it sink in. I love Zootopia, and I want to do everything I can to help it overcome whatever it faces. So, I'm putting on a pre-race concert next Sunday to raise awareness and help bring peace to our beautiful city.”

Flashbulbs were going off like strobe lights, but her announcement pushed them into overtime. It was like an explosion of chain lightning in every direction.

Tyrone stepped up beside her. Leaning over her he spoke directly into the microphone, “And we expect all of our usual vendors to work with Detective Wilde and Detective Hopps as if they were us . . . if you want to keep our business.” He favored them with a fang-filled grin that sent chills down the backs of everyone there.

Gazelle smiled indulgently. “You'll have to forgive my lead dancer,” she told them. “He used to be a cop and he takes things SO seriously sometimes.” It was a thinly veiled threat without much veil to it. She patted Tyrone's arm and he backed away like one of Mister Big's muscle-bound bears.

Judy had to use all her willpower to keep from bursting out laughing. Beside her, she could tell Nick was fighting the same battle. Even though they'd known what was coming, Gazelle and Tyrone were so over-the-top it was hard to keep a straight face.

Gazelle smiled and posed for the cameras for a moment, then bent over to air kiss Judy and Nick before allowing Tyrone and the police to whisk her away.

Judy reclaimed the microphone before Lionheart could grab it and steal the show. “Be sure to get your tickets right away!” she chirped brightly. “Like she said, it's for a good cause!”

“What time does her concert start?” a pig in the front row yelled, thrusting his microphone up in the air like a lance.

“Does Gazelle's concert start before the race?” Judy responded smoothly. “Yes, yes it does.” Beside her, she could hear Nick's heart thumping wildly as he fought to contain his amusement. “We open at 8:00 so don't be late,” she finished in a child's sing-song voice. She waved gaily then skipped down from the podium, Nick hard on her heels, wheezing from the struggle to hold in his laughter.

Lionheart cast a jaundiced eye on her as he passed her on his way to the podium. “And there you have it,” he exclaimed in his buttery smooth tenor. “Gates open at 8:00, race at 11:00 and Gazelle in-between. What's not to like?” He gave them a politician's wave then strode away importantly. He pointedly didn't meet Nick and Judy's eyes.

Bogo didn't have that luxury so he just sighed in tired resignation. “And here I thought Nick was the one I was going to have to worry about,” he muttered to Judy as they made their way inside. He shook his head and held up a quick paw to forestall anything she had to say. “Just get that thing finished before the next big crisis hits us.” He stalked away. “And find Bellwether and Ramses!” he tossed over his shoulder.

“Yes, sir!” they answered in unison, then grinned at each other.

They had to use the service tunnel between City Hall and the Police Station to avoid the surging crowds outside. Once back in the station they were mobbed by their fellow officers congratulating them on their promotions.

Rhinowitz pulled them into the bullpen where cake, ice cream, drinks, and a huge card waited for them. Everyone had signed it, usually along with some bit of “wisdom” or off-color joke. It was all good clean fun and they reveled in it for as long as they could before heading upstairs, each of them toting a paper plate with the last of the cake and ice cream on it.

Captain Tongas had assigned them a new, permanent office one door over from their old office. Instead of 6N, they were now in 7N. Tongas explained that the even-numbered offices were the small ones and the odd-numbers ones were the large ones.

Nick popped it open and peered inside. The layout was the same. It had a couple of extra feet in each direction so technically it was larger, but not by much. Most of the added space was occupied by filing cabinets. Judy shrugged at it.

“Oh well, every little bit helps,” she said optimistically, trying to put a good spin on it. “Let's move our stuff over from the old one.”

They didn't have much “stuff” to move so it didn't take long. While she rearranged her new desk Nick was already on the phone to their problem vendors. Tyrone's comments at the press conference must have been magic because in no time he had assurances from all of them that everything would be taken care of ahead of schedule.

Their new office had a small sofa table, longer than it was wide, pushed up against the sides of their two desks, which were facing each other just like in their first office. The super villain file was sitting in the middle of it where they'd dropped it. There were some stools under the sofa table. She pulled one out and hopped up to thumb through the voluminous file.

A few minutes later Nick joined her. “Anything interesting?”

Judy smiled, enjoying his nearness then shrugged. “Yes and no. A lot of dates and addresses, pretty dry stuff. I'm trying to find the names of the mammals Bellwether hired or moved around while she was the Mayor or Assistant Mayor.”

Nick nodded his understanding. “We need to talk to 'em, individually,” he stressed.

“And we can play good cop/bad cop,” Judy giggled with anticipation. Her eyes flashed with excitement as she found the section that listed the names and departments of the mammals hired or transferred during her tenure. “Here it is!”

They bent to examine it together.

Nick let out a long whistle after only a few moments. “She wasn't kidding around was she?” There was page after page of transfers and new hires, starting almost from the moment she and Lionheart were elected together. Lionheart's habit of shoving all his work off onto her had given her near carte blanché to reshape the city's workforce to her own liking.

“I wonder how many of these he ever saw, or read if he did see them?” Judy wondered, shaking her head at Bellwether's thoroughness. The only department she hadn't completely reshaped was the ZPD, but only because Bogo had pushed back thinking it was his nemesis' idea.

Nick had pulled some of the forms out to examine them more closely. “Do these look like the same signature?” he asked her, pointing at Lionheart's signature on two transfer orders. One was from early in his administration, the other was nearly two years later.

Judy could tell at a glance they weren't the same. They were similar enough to fool the casual observer but their training at the Academy had covered forgeries, teaching them how to spot the little tell-tale giveaways that revealed a fake. She pursed her lips at the date on the second one; it was nearly a year before she'd gone to the Academy. “She's been forging his signature for a long time.” She fanned the endless pages of transfers and hiring forms. “Nick! There are hundreds of them!”

“It's more than that,” he countered. “Look at this.” He shoved a form at her.

It was a form CBC-23 declaring a mammal's intent to run for city office and agreeing to a thorough background check. Before their name could be put on the ballet the Chief of Police or the Mayor had to sign it verifying that a criminal background check had been run on the candidate. “Bellwether signed it,” she muttered in disgust.

“Yeah,” he agreed, “but look at the candidate's name.” He reached across her arm to point to the name at the top.

“Elmer Fudge,” she gasped. “That's the city Councilor who gave Lionheart a hard time before we went to see Gazelle and Tyrone the first time.”

“Yep. Looks like Bellwether was trying to stack the City Council,” he said ominously.

Judy felt herself getting angry. “This is as much Lionheart's fault as it is hers,” she growled. “If he'd done his job instead of shoving it off on her, none of this would have happened.” She looked at the mountain of forms stacked up in the file. “I wonder what else we're going to find it there?”

Nick shook his head. “I don't know, Carrots but I don't think we're gonna like it.”

His words were prophetic. By lunchtime, they'd found dozens of suspicious applications, transfers, and orders, so much so that their stack of “investigate at once” forms was three times the height of their “get to 'em later” stack. Bellwether had also forged Lionheart's signature on all kinds of executive orders, regulatory notices, and court documents. As far as they could tell the Mammal Inclusion Initiative was literally the only thing Lionheart had actually signed in nearly three years.

After discussing it they went to Bogo to give him an overview of what they'd found. His expression, never a happy one, had got progressively worse as he listened. He slammed a fist on his desk. “That idiot!” he snarled. “I always knew he was spending too much time out of the office on public relations and photo ops but I had no idea it was this bad. Bellwether was practically the Mayor before she was the Mayor!”

Judy jumped a little but by now she was getting used to his temper tantrums. Besides, she agreed with him on this one. “And there’s hundreds of them,” she sniffed, waving a fist full of papers. “We're going to have to go through every one of them to figure out what she did, who can be trusted, who can't, and how to fix it.”

“In the meantime, we have to assume some of them, maybe most of them, are spying for her,” Nick added, “telling her everything we do.”

Judy's ears were drooping. “What's worse, we have to assume some of them will be trying to undermine us and reverse any gains we make.”

Bogo came to an abrupt decision. He punched a button on his phone. “Clawhauser!”

The friendly cheetah came on. “Yeah Chief?”

“Get me, Mayor Lionheart!”

“Right away,” he said cheerfully, ignoring Bogo's tone.

Bogo lapsed into silence waiting for the Mayor. Judy could hear the clock ticking on the wall. It seemed like forever, but eventually, the phone buzzed. Bogo stabbed the button. “Chief Bogo.”

“What do you want?” Lionheart asked without bothering with introductions.

“Our newest detectives have uncovered some disturbing news about Bellwether,” Bogo told him. “But we can't discuss it on the phone. Dinner tonight at Giordano's. 6 o'clock.”

Lionheart hesitated. “That bad?”

“Don't be late,” Bogo advised him.

“6 o'clock,” the Mayor agreed reluctantly.

Nick and Judy exchanged glances. Giordano's was a pizzeria in Tundratown. Mister Big was fond of it. The Mayor's response indicated he and Bogo had eaten there before.

“A lot of mob figures eat there,” Nick said cautiously after Bogo hung up.

“I know,” Bogo nodded, “but it's one of the few places Bellwether and her cohorts would never go. Sheep aren't exactly welcome there.”

“Neither are cops,” Judy ventured.

“I won't wear my uniform,” Bogo answered, “and the two of you keep your badges out of sight,” he added, nodding at their badges dangling from their coat pockets. After a brief pause to collect his thoughts, he continued. “Collect as much information as you can before tonight, especially things like this,” he tapped Fudge's CBC form, “and bring it with you. I want to beat Lionheart over the head with it.”

They nodded and slipped out as fast as they could.

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