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Chapter 29

The Rumors Are True

Finnick was waiting for him with his tuxedo, his over-sized ears twitching with impatience. “Where have you been?” he snapped in his gravely voice when Nick came in. “The pre-race stuff starts in less than 20 minutes!”

Nick shook his head in amusement. At least that hadn't changed. “Take it easy, big guy. I'm here now and it only takes a couple of minutes for me to dress.” Suiting actions to words he slipped out of his regular clothes and began throwing on his tux. Finnick had to help him with the bow tie, ordering him to lie down so he could tie it, but true to his word he was soon changed and ready to go. “How do I look?” he asked, turning around slowly.

“Not bad . . . for a cop,” Finnick said.

McHorn stuck his head around the partition separating them from the rest of the tent. “Hey Wilde, your mom is here.” He eyed Nick's tuxedo. “What's with the monkey suit? You getting married or something?”

“Or something,” Nick temporized. “Tell my Mom to come on in.”

“Sure thing.” McHorn pulled the partition further back. “He's right in here, Ma'am. Go on in.”

Faye came in wearing her Sunday-go-to-meeting best. McHorn dropped the curtain behind her and she paused to look him over. Tears started to form. She dabbed at them. “My little boy, all grown up, a big strong cop, and getting married too,” she sniffled. She rushed over to wrap her arms around him in a fierce hug.

He was startled for an instant then his emotions got the better of him and he hugged her back, nearly lifting her off her feet. She squeaked in surprise. “When did you get so strong?” she gasped when he let her go. He just smiled and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.

She put a soft hand on his face. “Judy is getting the pick of the litter,” she smiled proudly.

He grimaced. “Mom! I'm an only child.”

She patted his arm. “You know what I mean.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I know.” He hugged her again. “Are Judy's parents here yet? I didn't see them come in.” Behind her, Finnick hooked a thumb over his should and waved goodbye. He slid out through the partitions to give them some privacy.

“They've been here for quite a while,” she told him. “They told me Judy had some big shot in Tundratown send a limousine to pick them up. They'd never been in one before; they couldn't stop talking about it.”

Nick fought to keep his surprise from showing. “Uh, great,” he managed. Judy had asked Mister Big to pick up her parents? Since when did cops ask crime bosses for favors? Between the shopping trips with Fru-Fru and now this, she was spending a little too much time with them for his comfort. He was gonna have to ask her to cool it – after the wedding of course. He smiled at his Mom. “We've got some seats set aside for families right down front in the VIP section. McHorn can show you where they are.” He pulled the curtain back and escorted her out.

McHorn was standing close enough to be available when they emerged but not so close he'd intrude on their privacy. He spotted them and hurried over. “Ready for me to show you to your seat, Mrs. Wilde?”

She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Officer McHorn.” She kissed Nick on the cheek then followed McHorn outside.

He waved at her as she disappeared then looked around. Lawrence and Shelly were standing with Gazelle, Tyrone, and their dancers. In the middle of their conversation, his phone rang and he had to answer it. He lifted a finger at Nick when he spotted him, then suddenly turned his whole attention to whatever the mammal on the phone was telling him. All at once the polar bear was nearly jumping up and down with excitement.

Nick headed their way, slowed down by fellow officers congratulating him on the race track and how well everything was going. Fangmeyer, assigned today as part of Mayor Lionheart's security, whispered, “Congratulations on the marriage.”

By the time Nick got to Lawrence, he'd hung up and was talking rapid-fire to Shelly. “What's going on?” he asked everyone and no one.

“We don't know,” Tyrone grumped. “They're so busy talking 'science' to each other we can't figure out what they're saying.”

Nick felt his pain. Every other word out of their mouths seemed to have ology or ism or para in it. Or maybe it was endo, they were talking so fast it was hard to tell. “Hey!” he yelled. “What's going on?”

They jumped in surprise.

“What? Oh! Hi, Nick,” Lawrence said. “I just got a call from the answering service at the university. They got messages from all four of the university labs we sent the samples to. They all confirmed Hippocore's results; it is the meteor!”

Nick broke into a huge grin. “That's great! Now you'll really have something to tell everyone when you get out there.”

A familiar movie star voice interrupted him from behind. “And what would that be?”

Nick turned. Lionheart was standing over him, managing to look both worried and confident all at the same time. “Hello, Mister Mayor.” He glanced at the clock hanging from one of the tent poles. It was almost 8:30. “Professor Huffer just received confirmation of something that has a direct bearing on our street racers and future problems like them. He'll have to explain it when he and Professor Fürlong address the crowd.” He gestured at the clock. “But for right now, we need to start heading out to the dignitaries box.”

He tried to lead the Mayor outside as if it were a foregone conclusion but Lionheart wasn't having any. “What's going on?” he nearly roared. “Confirmation of what?” He looked around. “And where's Hopps?”

“She had to change,” Gazelle butted in quickly. She wound her arm through the Mayors. “Won't you be my escort to the platform? Please?” she begged coquettishly, batting her eyes.

He heaved a frustrated sigh, then summoned a pained smile. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.” He let her lead him away, giving Nick the evil eye over his shoulder.

Tyrone and his fellow dancers shook their heads in amusement. “She always gets her way when she does that,” he chuckled. He gestured at the other dancers. “Come on guys, let's get out there before she convinces him to abdicate or something.” A huge roar outside told them the crowd had just spotted her.

After they left, Nick looked around. “Where are Robert and Linda?”

“They're already in the dignitaries box on the platform,” Shelly told him. “They're doing the catering there, remember?”

Nick shook his head. “No. To be honest I'd forgotten.” He fixed them with a stare as they all followed Tyrone's dancers. “They're not actually working, are they? This is their wedding day too.”

“Of course not,” Lawrence assured him. “Robert cooked everything before they came but they hired some temporary help to do the serving.”

Things started happening very fast after that. No sooner had they taken their seats than it was time for Nick to get up and get the ball rolling. Officially, Mayor Lionheart was the Master of Ceremonies, but someone had to introduce him first.

Nick tried not to let his surprise show when he saw the size of the crowd. He knew they'd sold out, installed some extra grandstands, then sold out of those too, but it was still amazing to see every seat filled, and mammals standing in every possible spot besides. It was the biggest crowd he'd ever seen.

He stepped up to the microphone and the crowd burst into wild cheers as his presence signaled the start of the day's activities. He gave them a moment to quiet down then thumped on the microphone. “Thank you, thank you. Thank you, everyone. Alright, settle down, settle down.” When they kept on cheering he gave Chief Bogo an apologetic look then leaned over the microphone and bellowed, “Shut it!”

Shocked silence held for a split second then laughter slowly rolled through the grandstands, but it had the desired effect; they began quieting and sitting down. He saw a number of puzzled looks being directed at his tuxedo because it seemed so out of place.

The raised platform occupied the middle of the infield. In front of it were several rows of VIP seats, then the tent-garage, then the pit, then the track, and finally the grandstands. Powerful speakers on the edges of the platform, set up for Gazelle's concert, broadcast his voice over the whole area, all the way to the fringes of the parking lots outside.

“Thank you,” he started. “Today's Master of Ceremonies needs no introduction . . . so I'm going to introduce him anyway!” The crowd was in a good mood so they laughed dutifully at his joke. Nick waited a moment or two. “He's a direct descendant of Mars, one of Zootopia's Founders, the Mayor of our city, and one of the most photogenic mammals of all time; Mayor Lionheart!” He waved the Mayor forward.

Lionheart was at his best as he strode to the podium, smiling and waving, shaking paws with Nick, and posing with him to give the reporters time to take their pictures. Ever the consummate politician, he made sure they were done and he was at the mic before the applause died down.

“Thank you for that unnecessary introduction, Detective Wilde. Thank you very much,” he began, his smooth voice rolling out across the field. “All of Zootopia owes you and Detective Hopps a debt of gratitude for recognizing the gravity of the problem with the street racers and coming up with this magnificent solution.” He gestured grandly at the track. He looked around. “Detective Hopps is around here someplace but I'm told she had to change clothes. Working does that, I guess” he grinned at the cameras.

Laughter rippled through the stands.

The teleprompter flickered to the next slide, the slender, almost invisible glass screens on either side of the podium reflecting the words written by his staff, along with a few additions from Nick and Judy.

Lionheart glanced at the screens. “One thing we've all wondered about is the extent to which problems like this might be inherent in our biology. I know you're probably as curious as I am, so here to explain it to us are the two professors from the Department of Anthropology at Zootopia University, Dr. Lawrence Huffer and his colleague Dr. Shelly Fürlong.”

The crowd applauded politely. Most of them were only there to see Gazelle or watch the race but a lot of them were curious.

Lawrence and Shelly took the podium, standing side-by-side. Taking turns they explained their theory about mammals being mutated by a meteor crash 2000 years ago instead of evolving over millions of years. They covered the fragmentary evidence of rare minerals in the ground, the sudden rise of intelligence in all mammals at exactly the same time – but only in mammals; birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects were unaffected.

Then they began covering the paper Judy had found online, giving the rundown on predator-prey relationships over the years, starting with Mars and Venus, through the pirate Redmane and Elvira, and the few other suspected couples scattered throughout history. Then they told the crowd about finding contemporary predator-prey couples.

Lionheart frowned in puzzlement at that part, glancing suspiciously at Nick. Nick shook his head that he and Judy weren't one of the couples the professors had interviewed.

The crowd was leaning forward intently, fascinated by the material they were presenting. When they got to the dietary parallels between modern predators and prey, a buzz of excitement ran through the stands as everyone began comparing notes with their neighbors. This was something they could all identify with.

Lawrence and Shelly emphasized the mutations they'd undergone didn't demand predator-prey romances, they simply opened to the door to allow them, then they quickly ran through the four steps that had to take place for them to develop and their efforts to interview modern couples.

Finally, they dropped the bombshell about the meteor, culminating with the message Lawrence had received just minutes ago that Dr. Hippocore's findings had been corroborated by four different labs at universities around the country.

The crowd was buzzing with confusion mixed with excitement.

“You see,” Shelly was concluding, “our origins, the problems with the street racers, our diets, and even predator-prey romances are all part-and-parcel of the same issue. They're all intertwined.”

Lionheart was preparing to stand when Lawrence stopped him with another bombshell. “And just to show you what we're saying is true, there are four predator-prey couples here today, starting with us.” He turned to Shelly and kissed her briefly. The crowd stared in shock.

Before they could react, Gazelle and Tyrone stood up. A stunned hush settled over the crowd as they watch them stride to the podium to join Lawrence and Shelly. The professors stepped aside to make room for them.

Gazelle looked out over the crowd. “I know many of you have heard rumors about me and Tyrone. We are here to put those rumors to rest.” She paused. “They are true.” And right there, in front of the crowd and the cameras, she kissed him.

The crowd exploded as flashbulbs went off everywhere. Some animals were yelling at them in anger, while others silently shook their heads in disappointment. But others, more than they'd expected, were cheering for them. Some were even clapping.

Then Robert and Linda stood up. Their approach to the podium, unnoticed at first, finally drew the crowd's attention as they got close and they quieted expectantly.

Gazelle told the crowd, “But we are not the only ones.” She and Tyrone moved aside.

Robert addressed them. “I'm Robert Padfoot and this is Linda Stepps. We own the Hoof & Claw diner just down the road from here, and we used to work at Garlic & Clove Trucking Company until we were fired for being in love.” Following the other's lead, he leaned over and kissed Linda.

Flashbulbs exploded again.

Nick smelled Judy before she even sat down beside him, her long white wedding dress rustling as she moved. He looked at her, nearly blinded by her beauty and smiled. She nodded, her eyes alive with fear and anticipation. They stood up together and moved toward the podium. The crowd spotted them instantly; their obvious wedding attire provoking gasps of disbelief.

In the VIP section below the stage, Faye tensed as they came forward but Judy's parents began crying.

Their friends made way for them. Nick didn't bother saying anything; everyone knew who they were. He drew Judy into his arms and kissed her in full view of the world.

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