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Chapter 26


Dinner at Giordano's


After a hurried lunch, they snuck back into their offices, tiptoeing past Bogo's office. Once behind their locked office door, Judy let out a whuff! of relief. “I thought Bogo and Lionheart had patched things up between them,” she exclaimed.

Nick nodded. “You and me both, Carrots, but I guess the patch didn't hold,” he shrugged.

She grimaced at his feeble attempt at humor and tossed a stack of papers at him. “Come on, let's see what else we can find.”

Hours later they were still at it when the alarm on her phone went off, reminding them to head for Giordano's. She straightened her back with a groan. “This isn't nearly as much fun as chasing bad guys,” she mumbled, massaging her back.

He nodded, twisting from side-to-side to stretch his own back. A sparkle blossomed in his eyes. “Want me to massage it for you, Fluff?” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Her ears perked up hearing his heartbeat change, but she shook her paw at him. “Nick.”

“I'll be good,” he promised teasingly.

“That's what I'm afraid of,” she teased back in the same voice. A sudden whiff of pheromones filled the office.

“Oooh, good one, Bright Eyes,” he grinned roguishly. “And you're right to be afraid. I am good, very good.”

Her eyes were as eager as his but she still backed away. “It's only six days until the wedding,” she reminded him. “We can wait until then.” Her pheromones surged as her ears wiggled enticingly. “And I promise, it will be worth it.”

She heard his heart skip a beat. “Alright,” he conceded. He glanced at the clock. “Besides, I guess we need to get going if we're going to make it Giordano's on time.”

They let themselves indulge in some more lighthearted teasing during the short drive to Tundratown, and a quick kiss in the darkness of Giordano's parking lot. By the time they made it inside both their hearts were pounding like trip hammers.

Giordano's dimly lit interior had mottled stone tiles on the floor surrounded by golden brown walls and brick arches. Tables covered by red-and-white table clothes were spaced in even rows, comfortably far enough apart to prevent over-hearing your neighbor's conversation. Candlelit alcoves provided extra privacy for those who needed it.

A grayish-white ibex with long sweeping horns and a fancy towel draped over his arm, bowed as they came in. “Welcome to Giordano's Pizzeria,” he said with an exaggerated accent. He lowered his voice. “Hopps and Wilde?”

They nodded.

“This way,” he urged them. He led them through the busy main dining room, through a small bricked archway into a smaller dining room. In here every table had a private alcove for maximum privacy. In the back corner, Bogo and Lionheart were sitting on opposite sides of the furthermost table.

Halfway back Nick saw Mister Big sitting at his usual table, surrounded by his bears and Family members. They were loud and jovial. Mister Big didn't appear to notice them but he was sure that was just an act. He didn't get to be the biggest crime boss in Tundratown by missing important details. Judy saw him too.

The waiter sat them at their table. Rich red wine had already been poured for them. “Dinner will be served shortly,” the waiter said. He turned and vanished before Judy could try to place her order.

“I took the liberty of ordering for all of us,” Lionheart told her before she could protest. “It seemed easier that way.”

An awkward silence descended, punctuated by an occasional burst of laughter from Mister Big's table. After one outburst Nick said, “Do you know who's at that table?”

Bogo tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. “Of course we do. We're ignoring each other.” He glanced sideways at Lionheart. “It seemed easier that way.”

The Mayor took the jab with good grace. “Now perhaps you can tell me what I'm doing here?”

The waiter returned with a tray of spicy steaming food. He set pasta, pizza, and a loaf of fresh bread, hot from the oven, on the table. There was a seafood salad for each of them and a small plate with four cannolis for dessert. He turned and left as quickly as he'd arrived.

They dug in with relish.

As they settled down to eat, Bogo launched in a speech that felt rehearsed. “When my father was Mayor he got careless and started letting his secretary handle all the day-to-day affairs he thought were too boring to be bothered with. That's how the disaster with the McDonald farm happened; his secretary had an old family grudge against the McDonald's and used my father's inattentiveness to influence where the train track would go, cutting his farm in half.” He paused to swallow a huge bite of pizza. “She got her revenge and my father was blamed for it. That's how you beat him when you ran against him.”

Lionheart's eyes narrowed. “So?”

“You had the same problem with Bellwether, and they have the proof of it,” he nodded at Nick and Judy.

The Mayor gave them a cautious examination. “Sometimes I wonder if my Mammal Inclusion Initiative was worth it after all,” he sighed. “Are you going to arrest me again?” he asked curiously.

Judy shook her head. “You didn't do anything illegal, Mister Mayor, just extremely careless.”

“And Bellwether took advantage of it to do a lot more than putting three friends to work at the prison,” Nick added. He pulled out the winnowed down file they'd brought with them.

Judy flipped it open, turning it for him to see. “We spend all day going through the records and found close to four hundred mammals Bellwether either reassigned or hired by forging your signature on the orders.”

Lionheart sat up with a jerk. “What?!”

She allowed herself a saccharine smile. “And twenty-seven executive orders, fourteen court filings on behalf of the city, and dozens of questionable regulations.”

Lionheart's eyes were getting wider and wider as he pawed through the pages listening to her recitation.

“Plus the criminal background check she signed off on for Councilor Fudge when he was running for office,” Nick added with malicious glee.

“Fudge?!” Lionheart exploded.

Judy's hearing, always preternaturally sharp, picked up on the complete lack of sound coming from Mister Big's table. The only thing she could hear was their breathing. She knew he had some mammals on his staff whose hearing was almost as good as hers. “Keep it down,” she hissed worriedly. Mister Big’s granddaughter might be named after her but she didn't entertain any illusions about him; he was still a crime boss. She didn't want to give him any ammunition he could use against Zootopia.

But the Mayor wasn't cooperating. “What about Fudge?” he roared.

Nick rolled his eyes. “Hey Fur Face! Why don't you tell the whole world we're here?” he snapped irritably. “Sheesh!”

Lionheart swelled up to deliver an angry blast but his better judgment got the best of him. He deflated and nodded. “Fine. But what about Fudge?”

“He had to fill out a form CBC-23, Zootopia Criminal Background Check 23, required for all candidates running for public office,” Judy answered. “The results don't keep anyone from running, but if anything embarrassing shows up the other side can use it against them.” She pulled out a separate folder and shoved it across the table. “Fudge owes nearly seven years worth of back taxes on his five apartment complexes. He's even further behind on repairs, maintenance and upkeep, not to mention half-a-dozen court actions against him for being a slum lord; but all of that was swept under the rug when Bellwether forged your signature on his CBC-23 then issued an executive order – under your name – to seal all his records.”

“We had to get Chief Bogo to order the IT clerks to let us access the records,” Nick finished. Bogo nodded confirmation. “They were trying to keep us from looking at them.” Then he added as if it had just occurred to him, “They were hired by Bellwether too.”

Lionheart was aghast. “Fudge has been the number one thorn in my paw since the day he was elected. If I'd known all this we could have used it against him in the campaign. It probably would have been enough to keep him out of office,” he said meditatively, calming down a bit. “He barely squeaked by as it was.”

Judy held up a tentative paw.

He smiled with faint amusement. “What?”

“Based on what we found, we have reason to believe Bellwether may have rigged the vote as well,” she said timidly, not wanting to trigger another outburst.

He froze. They could see him gritting his teeth. He exhaled sharply and sat back. “I see.”

They all relaxed. Bogo sat forward though. “I don't think you do,” he said forcefully. “You're making all the same mistakes my father did, and it's going to get you thrown out of office the same as him – unless you find a way to fix all these problems.”

“We can't catch Bellwether and Ramses while all these mammals are still working for the city,” Judy pressed him. “At first we thought we could handle it but the more we found the more we realized it has to be you. Anyone of them, or most of them, could be spies, telling her everything we do. We're cops, you're the politician; you're the only one who can handle it.”

Nick sat forward too. “Once you get rid of the spies we can do our stuff, and put Bellwether and Ramses behind bars for good.”

Lionheart's eyes went past them in surprise.

“You should listen to them, Mister Mayor,” a familiar voice rasped from behind them. “These two are some sharp cookies.”

Nick and Judy turned resignedly. Sure enough, there was a giant bear holding a tiny chair with Mister Big sitting in it. Behind him the room was dead silent; a partition had been put in place to cut them off from the rest of the restaurant.

The Mayor gave the crime boss a hard stare. “Since when do you want to help the city?”

Mister Big wasn't offended. “You misunderstand me. I'm a businessman. Whether you agree with my business or not, that's what I am. And strange as it may sound, law-and-order is good for business.” He gave them a toothy smile.

Lionheart wasn't budging. “So?”

“So Dawn Bellwether was trying to start a war between predators and prey. Maybe she still is. Wars are definitely bad for business,” he shrugged, “especially when most of my 'associates' are in the predator class she wants to destroy. I'm just looking out for my business interests.”

“I see,” Lionheart mused, unbending slightly. Bogo, however, was sitting ramrod straight in his chair, refusing to be drawn into a conversation with a criminal. “But how do you know Detectives Hopps and Wilde are sharp cookies?”

“We ran into each other during the savage mammals’ case. My driver was one of the mammals affected by Ramses' serum. I'm grateful to them for his return to health,” he smiled benignly. He tapped the paw of the bear holding his chair. He looked at Nick and Judy as the bear began turning to leave. “Anything I find out I'll have it forwarded to you.”

They waved at him. Turning back to the table they found themselves on the receiving end of equally hard stares coming from both Bogo and Lionheart.

“Consorting with known criminals is not acceptable behavior in the ZPD,” Bogo gritted.

“But keeping snitches on the line is,” Nick countered lightly as if he didn't have a care in the world. “Tyrone said the two of you worked Vice for several years. Didn't you have any informants you used?” Judy smothered a grin at his quick thinking.

Bogo paused to consider it. “Snitches and mob bosses are two different things. You're walking a fine line,” he warned darkly.

Nick shrugged. “I've got good balance.”

Judy touched his arm. “Nick.” Confidence was one thing but being cocky could get them fired in a hurry.

He deflated a bit. “Alright. Sorry, Chief.”

A light suddenly went on in Lionheart's eyes as he watched their little by-play. “Holy scratching post!” he swore in surprise. “You two are in love!” Another light went on in his gaze. “No wonder you were so interested in Mar's diary!”

“Uh . . .” Always so quick with a verbal riposte, Nick felt flatfooted when someone discovered their predator-prey romance.

The Mayor waved it off. “No need for the deer in the headlights look, it's no skin off my nose,” he rumbled easily, “but it does explain a lot about you two.” Judy let herself relax as she realized he wasn't disgusted by them. He glanced at Bogo. “You don't seem surprised,” he noted.

The chief shrugged, reaching for a cannoli since it was obvious the stressful part of the evening was over. “I've known for a while. Besides, they're not the first predator-prey couple I've run into,” he said around a mouthful of the delightful pastry. “As long as they do their job, what do I care?”

The Mayor grabbed a cannoli as well. “Very open-minded of you,” he approved.

Bogo shrugged his massive shoulders. “If we could ever stop being enemies you'd find out I'm not the sourpuss you think I am.”

Lionheart took his time answering as he savored his cannoli. “I didn't think we were enemies, I just thought we didn't like each other very much.”

“What's the difference?”

The Mayor shrugged. “Good point.” Nick and Judy watched in amazement. Lionheart saw them. “If you don't eat those cannolis I will,” he threatened mockingly.

They snatched them up.

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