Chapter 7 – Drop Day

They moved in the next day. Akita had been more than happy to take them on, and Judy had used her first pay cheque from the ZPD, which she hadn’t had the opportunity to spend given the whole press conference and her subsequent resignation, as the deposit. Some of Judy’s older brothers had been more than helpful, catching the train to Zootopia to drop off her belongings before they collected the farm truck, driving it back to Bunnyburrow. She’d kept them away from Nick, not out of shame, but more to stop the gossip back home. News traveled fast in the Hopps warren. She was pretty sure her brothers had cottoned on though if their twitching noses as they entered her new apartment were anything to go by. Marian helped them move in a few of Nick’s belongings once she’d finished work for the day, but in truth, he owned very little. Judy had kept her occupied while Nick had returned to the bridge, gathering his few belongings there. Marian had also insisted on a housewarming present, and had bought them blankets for lazy days on the couch – Nick’s was a soft gray, and Judy’s was reddish-orange.

Once their small amount of belongings were stored away, and Marian had left to go home, Nick sat Judy down on their couch to talk her through his drop-offs with Catstro. “I drop the funds off on the 10th of every month at a warehouse in the Rainforest District. The drop is next week. If you take the metro to Shady Place,” at that Judy snorted, the irony too much for her, “and follow this map,” Nick produced a piece of paper from his pocket, offering it to her, “You’ll find it. Inside there’s a little brown box, tucked in the far-right corner of the warehouse. If you just leave the cash there, they’ll find it. Please, Carrots, drop the money and go. All the info you need is on the paper,” Nick begged, not wanting Judy to spend any longer than necessary near Catstro and his cronies. He didn’t need them knowing about how much he cared for the bunny. They would use her as another bargaining chip, just like his mother.

“It’s fine, Nick. I’ve got this. Besides, I’ve taken down rhinos before. I don’t think a caracal is going to be too hard,” Judy assured him, examining the small map before she folded it, placing it on the coffee table.

Nick’s eyes widened, his paws shooting out to grasp at Judy. “No, Judy! Promise me you won’t provoke Catstro? He’s already threatened my mom, I can’t have him threaten you too.”

Judy shook her head, grasping Nick’s paws in her own. “It’s alright, Slick. I won’t provoke him, I promise,” She vowed, knowing full well she’d try to find some other way to get the caracal to wipe Nick’s debts. Maybe she’d be able to hustle a confession out of him and have him locked away forever.

“Whatever it is you’re thinking, stop thinking it. I’m serious, Carrots. Don’t mess with him,” Nick warned, pulling his paws from Judy’s. The seriousness of the conversation deserved the use of her full name. With a light thump, he landed on the floor, having scooted off the couch. He left the room, returning a moment later with a thick envelope. “There’s $750 in here. The monthly payment is $1000, so this month shouldn’t be too difficult to meet.” Nick handed the envelope to Judy. He hated that it had come to this, that she would have to carry his financial burden while he was away. It was only for nine months though, and once he’d graduated and had a job at the ZPD, he’d be able to ease the burden on her.

Judy took the envelope, flicking through the bills before she placed it on the coffee table too. “I got it, Nick. Don’t worry,” Nick scrabbled back up onto the couch, turning to sit sideways so he could see her. “You need to pack a bag you know, nine months is a long time to be away,” Judy changed the topic, not wanting to dwell on the Catstro mess.

Nick, grateful for the conversation change, though very much still on edge about Judy and the drop offs, shook his head. “I don’t have much, Carrots. Besides, surely I’ll get to come back to see you and mom once in a while?”

Judy stretched out, her small limbs not taking up much room on the couch. Nick was tempted to grab her hind paw and give it a rub – rabbit hind paws were lucky, no? “You might, it depends. If Major Friedkin likes you, then you might get a few weekends off.”

Nick raised an eyebrow “Major Friedkin?”

Judy hummed in affirmation. “Yup, she’s a polar bear. She’s also very creative with nicknames.”

“Bet she’s not as good as me, Officer Toot Toot,” Nick teased, offering his roomie a broad grin.

One of Judy’s hind paws shot out, clumping Nick’s knee. The fox winced; his paw going to rub at the spot as Judy chuckled. “Call me that again, Slick, and I’ll never bring you some of my family’s blueberries.”

Nick froze; paw no longer rubbing his knee. “You wouldn’t dare…” he asked, horrified.

“If you can stay on Major Friedkin’s good side and get a weekend back here, I’ll make sure there are plenty of blueberries in the fridge,” Judy bargained. She wasn’t sure how she’d manage months at a time without Nick, and tempting him with food to be on his best behavior would ensure he’d get to come home for a few weekends. She’d been allowed back a few times during her training, and it had always felt good to recharge a little with her family. The academy was grueling.

“You got a deal, Fluff. Want to help me pack?” Nick gestured towards his room, already sliding off the couch.

“By that you mean I pack for you, right?” Judy called out after him, rolling her eyes as she too slid from the couch.

“Carrots, how dare you accuse me of such laziness! But you’re so kind for offering, thank you,” the fox grinned at the sound of Judy’s hind paws on the carpet behind him. She’d gained a little more speed and was able to carry her weight on her bad leg now. She still limped a little, and she’d popped a stitch when they’d moved in, but nothing was going to slow the bunny down. The sky was blue, the grass was green, his mom always wore her favorite pearl necklace, and Judy would never let anything slow her down.

The next morning, they stood together on platform four at Savannah Central. In one paw Nick clutched a small duffle bag, and in the other, he held his train ticket. Judy’s paws were empty, and she found herself wringing them. She was so proud of Nick, and she was so excited for him to graduate and join her on the force. They were one hell of a pair. On the other paw, though, she was worried about them being apart for so long. What if Nick realized the academy wasn’t for him? What if he found someone else at the academy he’d rather live with once he graduated? What if he…

“I can hear you thinking, Carrots,” Nick teased, pocketing his ticket. His tail flicked out to wrap around her ankles, and he threw an arm around her shoulders, pulling her to his side. “It’ll be fine. I’ll kick ass, get my badge, and then we’ll kick ass together. I’ll sweet-talk the Major and come see you a few times too. Don’t worry, Fluff,” Judy sighed, leaning against Nick. She would have to find some way of keeping in contact with him. Phones weren’t exactly banned at the academy, but they were a privilege item – good performance meant you had access to the phones, but all the calls were monitored. Maybe she could send him letters?

“Just, don’t annoy the other cadets, okay? I don’t want to hear about an elephant stepping on you because you sassed him about his tusk length or made a joke about his ears.” Judy wouldn’t put it past Nick to run his mouth. It was one of his many charms.

“Not promising anything,” Nick didn’t want to make a promise he couldn’t keep.

The PA System made its announcement. “The train now approaching platform four is the ten-thirty Zootopia Express to Bunnyburrow, calling at….”

Judy rocked on the balls of her hind paws. The Zootopia Express went all the way back to Bunnyburrow, but it stopped just outside the academy, midway between Zootopia and the Burrows.

“That’s me, Fluff.” Nick’s arm slipped from around Judy, his tail unfurling from around her legs. Judy’s paws shot out, and she grabbed him, pulling him in for a tight hug. Placing his bag on the ground, Nick pulled Judy close, resting his muzzle atop her head. “I’ll try to see you soon. It might take me a while to find Major Friedkin’s weakness and exploit it in return for a weekend off.”

Judy laughed despite herself, holding Nick tight. Her eyes were stinging, tears gathering. “Good luck, Nick. I believe in you.”

“Thanks, Carrots.” Reluctantly Nick let go of Judy and picked up his duffle bag. “See you soon.” He traced a claw down the center of her face, booping her nose in a playful gesture before he boarded the train.

His actions made Judy laugh, pushing her tears back. She couldn’t understand why she was getting so emotional. She’d get Nick back. He wasn’t going forever. “Have fun, Slick,” Judy called out after him as he took his seat. Nick had chosen a window seat, not only so he could wave to Judy, goodness knows she’d thump her foot angrily if he didn’t wave goodbye, but because he’d never been outside the city limits before. He’d get to see the countryside, Judy’s stomping grounds.

A whistle rang out, signaling the train was ready to leave. Nick stowed his luggage above him, turning to look out the window, finding Judy on the platform: The little bunny who’d managed to convince him to do something with his life. Finnick was probably laughing his head off. As the train lurched into life, Judy started frantically waving, her small paw going crazy. Nick smiled, shaking his head fondly. Raising a paw, he returned her wave, continuing to do so as the train pulled out of the station until Judy was no longer in sight. Nine months. Nine months and he’d have a shiny badge and a steady income. Nick leaned back in his seat, ignoring the looks he received from other mammals. He was used to them by now. “Right, what was it Judy said about monkey bars?”

Judy waved until the train was out of sight, her paw slowing to a stop. “Now what?” She sighed, already missing Nick. His scent lingered on her fur, reminding her that he’d be back soon. It was good for him to be training for an honest job; the time apart would be good. Ever since they’d met, bar her three months back home, they’d been together 24/7. Space would be good for them.

It wasn’t good.

Judy walked around their apartment like a lost soul and would start talking only to realize no one was there to answer her. By the time Monday rolled around, and she was allowed back to work, Judy was itching for a case. As Chief Bogo dished out work for the day, Judy was relieved to have her paws on a case regarding a stolen necklace. “Oh, Chief!” Judy called out as the cape buffalo went to leave the bullpen.

“What is it, Hopps?” Bogo turned to look down at the small mammal. He had time for her, given her accomplishments, but she didn’t need to know that.

“Any word on how Nick’s doing, Sir?” Judy felt a little silly asking, but she was worried about Nick.

Bogo stared at the small bunny. “Why would I know how Wilde is doing, Hopps?”

Judy shifted her weight, small paws playing with the case file. “Well I mean, Sir, he was instrumental in the missing mammal’s case, and he’ll be part of this precinct and…”

“I know nothing about how Wilde is doing. I wouldn’t worry about him. That fox can take care of himself,” Bogo interrupted, enjoying the frustrated look on Judy’s face. He was telling a tiny white lie – he’d spoken to Major Friedkin when all the new recruits had arrived, just to double check that the fox had turned up. Hopps didn’t need to know that, though. “Dismissed,” he ended their conversation before the energetic bunny could start another line of questioning, leaving the room to return to his office.

“Right, thanks, Chief,” Judy spoke to the vacant spot Chief Bogo had just inhabited.

Judy spent the day working on her case, chatting with her co-workers, and cultivating leads. Before she knew it, the day was over. Stopping by the locker room to change Judy grabbed her bag, feeling the weight of it settle across her small body. She had Nick’s payment in there, along with the map. It was the first drop day. Usually, she went home in her police blues, but she didn’t want to alert Catstro to her job, so she changed into a pair of jeans and a soft brown jumper, stuffing her uniform into her bag.

Judy took the metro, trying to remain as calm as possible. Her mind was racing. She had no idea who this Catstro was, and knowing he came from the Nocturnal district made Judy uneasy. She was an officer, a damn good one, and that gave her the upper hand. It didn’t stop her from worrying, though.

“Now approaching: Shady Place.” The announcement made her snort. Even a week later she still found it hilariously ironic. Pulling her bag closer, she disembarked once the train came to a stop. Navigating her way out of the station she stood in the doorway of a small bakery, which was shut for the evening. Fishing Nick’s little map from her pocket she examined it in the dim light. Memorizing the way, she slipped the bit of paper into her pocket and took off.

The warehouse hadn’t been used for some time. “Someone really needs to dust.” Judy mused as she stepped through a crumbling side-door, watching her hind paws so she wouldn’t stumble over the wreckage of the building that littered the ground. Roof panels were missing, throwing moonlight over the ground. The windows had been smashed, leaving the windowpanes empty, and graffiti covered the exposed brick walls. The place was damp and smelt like mold, and Judy swore she could smell the lingering scent of death. A chain hanging from one of the roof rafters swung ominously in the light breeze. “Dare I even question why that’s there?”

Judy spotted the little brown box Nick had mentioned, tucked in the far-right corner of the building. With steady steps, she crossed to it. Flicking the lid back revealed that it was empty. Judy rummaged in her bag, paws grasping the thick envelope. She didn’t particularly want to give Catstro the money, and part of her wondered what would happen if the Chief ever found out that she was helping repay Nick’s debts to some shady criminal. The thought of Marian being hurt by these monsters, the idea that they could hurt Nick, steeled her resolve.

“Well, you’re certainly not dear ol’ Nicholas,” The voice behind her made her freeze, mentally cursing herself for being so lost in thought that she hadn’t heard whoever it was approaching. “What use are your big ears if you don’t use them, Judy?” She scolded herself.

Swallowing, Judy rose to her feet, paws still clutching the envelope. Slowly, she turned. “Wowee! Got ourselves a sweet little bunny, boys!” The jackal whistled, eyeing Judy. From the shadows, Judy saw several other mammals emerge – a lynx, a wolverine, two raccoons, and a maned wolf.

Judy had to stop herself from grinding her teeth in aggravation as she glared at them. “Just making the drop, no need for alarm,” She lifted the paw holding the envelope so they could see it.

A deep rumble from the back of the room had Judy’s attention, and the crowd of mammals parted to allow a caracal though. “Catstro.” His ears were alert, tufts of black fur on the tips deceptively sweet looking, but the hardness in his amber eyes and the flash of his canines as he laughed suggested otherwise. “I didn’t think you’d be here,” Judy couldn’t stop herself from addressing him.

Catstro observed the bunny, noted how she ever so slightly favored one leg, how she held herself tall and had no problem meeting his gaze. “I had to make sure Nicholas made his monthly payment. Rumour has it he’s left town. I was waiting to see if I would have to go and speak with his mother,” he purred; head cocking as he noted the envelope in Judy’s paw.

“Nick’s busy, but I have your money, and I’ll be making the drops for the time being so you can forget about bothering his mother,” Judy sounded stronger than she felt. She was in an unknown location, with strange mammals, and had no backup. “However, I want to negotiate a new deal.” She dove straight in. She had a feeling Catstro was a ‘get to the point and get to it quickly’ mammal.

The predators laughed, and Catstro gave a small chuckle. The slight lifting of his paw silenced the group. “What sort of deal do you want to make, little bunny? Are you going to take on Nicholas’ debt?”

“Take me, spare him!” The raccoon squealed in a high-pitched voice, a pathetic attempt at a damsel in distress. The predators laughed, and the corners of Catstro’s mouth quirked upwards before silence fell again.

Judy shook her head, scowling. “In for a nickel…” She took a deep breath. “I want you to stop adding interest. The balance will never be paid off at this rate.”

Catstro smirked. “That’s the point, little bunny. Nicholas is in my debt and will be for the rest of his life, and once he’s gone then his mother will pick up the slack, and if she’s gone, well, judging by Nicholas’ scent on you, then you’ll be next.”

Judy paused. Nick’s scent was still on her? His belongings were in their home, perhaps their smells had combined now? Shaking away the thought, Judy tightened her grip on the envelope. “Then at least lower his monthly payments.” If Catstro wanted to own Nick for his whole life, then surely reducing the payments would ensure that.

The group laughed, and Catstro shook his head. “I like to see the fox squirm. Call it entertainment. Now, I’ve entertained you and your requests enough for this evening. Hand over the money and be on your way, Officer Hopps.”

Judy froze, eyes widening as her ears pricked up.

“What? You think I don’t know who you are? Your face was plastered all over this city recently, and my sources did see you saying goodbye to ol’ Nicholas at the station. Tell me, did you send him back to your carrot farm?” Catstro’s smirk made Judy uneasy, the edges of his canines just visible in the moonlight as he took a step towards her, his cronies laughing. “Don’t play with fire, little bunny. Besides, surely you being here and trying to negotiate with me is illegal, is it not? I’m sure your boss would just love to know that his golden girl is out making deals with other mammals and paying off con-mammals debts. So, hand over the envelope every month without a word, and we’ll pretend we’ve never crossed paths, and I won’t tell your boss your dirty secret. Oh, and when ol’ Nicholas returns from whatever country hovel you’ve sent him to, I expect him to make the drops himself,” Catstro extended a paw.

Judy bit her tongue, her pulse racing. She wanted to beat the pulp out of the smug caracal and his cronies, but it wasn’t smart. He was right; the Chief would be furious with her and would no doubt fire her if he knew what she was doing. It was for Nick, though. For Marian.

Reluctantly, Judy handed over the envelope. “Good girl.” Catstro took the envelope from her, handing it off to the wolverine behind him. The mammal counted the contents, giving a nod when he counted the full amount. “See you next month, Officer Hopps. Stay safe out there.” His cronies turned, and Catstro departed with them, leaving Judy alone in the abandoned warehouse.

When she could no longer hear them, she let out a frustrated squeal, kicking a rock on the floor. It pinged against the brick wall, breaking. She’d hated Catstro the moment Nick had mentioned him, but now she’d met him she hated him even more. Her requests had been reasonable, she believed, but the predator was difficult. “Find a weakness Judy and exploit it, just like he exploited Nick’s.”

The metro ride home was uneventful, and Judy tried to work out how she could gather some dirt on Catstro without bringing too much attention to herself. She couldn’t speak to her co-workers or check the ZPD database, as it would be too suspicious. She’d have to find some other method.

Key’s jangling; Judy unlocked her front door, throwing the keys down on the table inside. The sight of Nick’s missing keys made her scowl. She missed his presence, his witty comebacks, and his stupid fluffy tail. Depositing her bag by the table, she took the few steps into the living room, flicking on the table lamp before face planting on the couch. Tomorrow was her day off: in the morning she’d look for some extra work to help with funds and then she was due to have dinner with Marian. She’d need to pick up some flowers en route, and a bottle of wine. “Dang, I didn’t ask Nick what kind of wine his mom likes.” She spoke aloud, needing to break the silence of the apartment.

Her phone buzzed in her back pocket, pulling Judy from her musings. With a deft paw, she pulled the offending item free, accepting the Muzzletime without even checking the ID. “What?” She grumbled nose still buried in the couch.

“The weeks been that bad eh, Carrots?”

“NICK!” Judy’s head shot up as she pulled her phone closer to her face, Nick filling her screen.

“Hey Fluff,” he grinned at his bunny, even though his whole body was tense. It was drop day, and the nerves had gotten the better of him several times. They’d had to scale the ice wall in the afternoon and with his mind on Judy and the drop he hadn’t made it over the obstacle, landing instead in the freezing water. He could still hear Major Friedkin shouting at him – “You’re dead, foxtrot!” It was one of her less insulting nicknames. He hadn’t appreciated firefox or foxy loxy, either. They were only a week in, too. He had eight months and three weeks left of her nicknames. “Give me strength.”

“How’d you get a phone? It’s only been a week, surely you haven’t been that good? How are things? Have you made any friends?” Judy rattled off, overwhelming the fox.

“Whoa there energizer bunny, slow down!” Nick laughed, glad to see Judy so animated. It eased some of his tension, and his tail started to wag. He’d stolen away to the canteen after changing into his sleep clothes, while the other cadets were preparing to turn in for the night. “I have a phone and the privilege of two calls a week because apparently some small and fluffy bunny pestered a big scary cape buffalo, and to spare the cape buffalo any further aggravation he decided to cut himself out as the messenger. Really, it was more like ‘give that damn fox a phone, so I don’t have to deal with Hopps pestering me every week for the next nine months!’” Nick tried to imitate the Chief and knew he’d failed miserably when Judy laughed. It was worth the embarrassment of his bad imitation it to hear her laugh. “So, have you been worried about me?” He teased.

“I asked him once, this morning,” Judy argued, raising a paw in a bunny scout gesture.

Nick snorted. “Somehow I don’t doubt you were a bunny scout. You probably had all the badges too, didn’t you?”

Judy blushed, her fur and the darkness of the living room hiding most of it. “Maybe,” she grumbled.

Nick tried to hide his smile. “How was your week?” He settled for a safe topic, knowing his time on the phone with Judy was limited. He’d use one call a week for Judy, and the other for his mom.

“It was okay, I guess. Chief’s got me working a missing necklace case. Most of it is interviewing witnesses, running evidence to the lab, and working out leads, that kind of thing. Nothing hard, ‘cause I’m waiting for my partner,” Judy teased. She wanted to keep Nick in the loop with the goings on back in Zootopia. She knew how isolating the academy could be, but that was the point. They needed you in a certain mindset, and you didn’t get that by going home every weekend. Nick was a worrier, though, underneath all his bravado, and knowing everything was fine would soothe him and help him perform better.

Nick appreciated that Judy was keeping him informed. “Eight months and three weeks until we can kick ass together, Carrots.”

Judy groaned. “Speaking of ass kicking, Catstro is a jerk.”

Nick’s eyes widened, tail-stilling, ears flattening. “Judy. What happened? He wasn’t meant to be there. Did he hurt you? I can come back…”

Judy shook her head quickly, seeing Nick’s panic. “It’s okay, Nick! Someone saw you leaving the city and told him, so he wanted to see if the money would still turn up. I handed it over to him, nothing bad happened; he just gave me the creeps. I wanted to smack the smirk off his muzzle. I refrained, though, for your sake.”

Nick still didn’t relax entirely, his face shifting to a look of anger, but it was aimed at himself. “Stupid, so stupid! How could you think he wouldn’t know? Of course, he’d be there to check. Now he knows about Carrots. Dammit.”

“Whatever it is you’re thinking, Nick, stop thinking it,” she threw his words back at him, not liking the look on his face. He was beating himself up, again.

“He didn’t hurt you?” Nick asked, jaw clenching.

“No,” Judy shook her head, aching to reach out and soothe Nick. Bunnies were very physical creatures, especially when emotional. “I turned up, he turned up, I told him I was doing the drops for a little while as you’re busy, he accepted that, took the money, said same time next month, and he left,” Judy shortened the chain of events. She felt awful lying to Nick, but it was only a little lie, and it was to protect him. It was worth it to protect him, to keep him at the academy and on his new path.

Nick relaxed his jaw, nodding slowly as he let out a deep sigh. It was inevitable that Catstro would find out about his connection with Judy, but he’d hoped it wouldn’t happen so soon.

“Tell me what you did this week,” Judy asked, navigating the conversation into calmer waters.

Emerald eyes found violet, and Nick raised a paw, pointing it accusingly at the bunny. “You never mentioned anything about an ice wall and freezing water!”

Judy chuffed, the paw not holding her phone covering her muzzle. “You never asked,” she grinned, her paw falling to land on the couch she was sprawled on.

“Don’t be sly, that’s my job.” Nick wagged a claw at her.

“Well don’t fall in the water then, dummy.” They fell back into their usual routine, and Judy was glad for the distraction. Nick looked well, even though he’d only been gone a week. He told her all about his training for the week, a few of the other cadets he’d started to form friendships with, and even that he’d overheard Major Friedkin complimenting him when she’d been talking on the phone. Nick preened a little as he told Judy that.

Half an hour had passed before Nick knew it. “Wilde, lights out in ten,” Major Friedkin barked from behind the closed canteen doors. It didn’t surprise Nick that the stern polar bear had found him. He sighed, disappointed that he’d have to end his conversation with Judy.

Judy’s sharp hearing picked up on Major Friedkin, and she was tempted to call out a hello to her former teacher. “Looks like I’m going to have to go Fluff,” Nick offered her a rueful smile, free paw scratching behind one of his ears. He swore there was still some mud there from his training that morning. In truth, the academy was a lot harder than he’d thought it would be, but he wanted to do his best to make his mom proud, to make Judy proud.

“That you are, Slick. Take care, okay? Call me whenever you get the chance.” Judy’s ears drooped, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but she was grateful that she’d get the opportunity to chat to Nick on a regular basis now. The Chief would find a basket of goodies on his desk soon.

“Don’t worry, Carrots. Same time next week?” Judy nodded at Nick’s question. “Alright. Stay safe, goodness knows I’m not there to watch your tail, and we both know how gung-ho you are,” he teased.

“Hey!” Judy whined, but she couldn’t argue. She was a little impulsive it had to be said. “Oh and watch out for the ice wall,” Judy winked, earning herself a bark of laughter from the tod. “Miss you,” she blurted out. She couldn’t help herself; it was as if part of her was missing.

Nick’s smile faltered, becoming something a little more serious. Trust his emotional bunny to throw him a curveball. “Miss you too, sweetheart. See you next week,” Nick ended the Muzzletime call, face falling forward to smack against the metal table he was sitting at. He missed his mom, Zootopia, and Judy, but it would all be worth it to finally have his badge, to finally have something to be proud of, for the mammals in his life to be proud of him. He still felt uneasy about Judy making the drops for him, especially since Catstro now knew he was out of town. Judy was smart, though. If there was one mammal in the world Nick trusted with the job, it was Judy.

“Five minutes, Wilde,” Major Friedkin banged on the canteen door. Lifting his face from the table Nick sighed. Dragging himself from his seat he crossed the room, opening the door to see the intimidating polar bear looking down at him. Her features softened a little as Nick offered her back the phone. He wasn’t allowed to keep it on him; it was only in his possession during his two calls.

“How’s Officer Hopps?” Major Friedkin took the phone back from Nick. She’d been surprised when Chief Bogo had informed her of a fox joining the recruits, but when she’d heard about his connection to Officer Hopps her surprise had turned to amusement. Major Friedkin wasn’t an idiot, she could tell that some of the recruits disliked Nick’s presence, that some of them said cruel things to him, but the fox took it all in his stride, giving smart-ass comebacks. She’d seen plenty of cadets hazed, plenty of them suffer from homesickness too, but Nick never outwardly looked to be bothered. Major Friedkin saw through him. She’d been about to call Chief Bogo when he’d called her, and it they’d agreed on giving Nick access to a phone twice a week to speak with Officer Hopps, to boost his morale. Major Friedkin was pleased that the little bunny had finally branched out from thinking solely about her job. A friend would do her some good.

“She’s good, but she’s running around like a lost kit without me there to guide her,” Nick forced a grin, falling back into his old con-mammal persona.

“At least she wouldn’t run into a tree,” Major Friedkin deadpanned, remembering the 2-mile run in the rain that she’d made the cadets do on their first day, as practice for the Rainforest District and to test their fitness level. As the smallest mammal, Nick had used his agility to overtake the other cadets, but he’d face planted into a fallen tree when he’d turned to gloat. It’d dazed him for a few minutes, but he’d sheepishly picked himself up and carried on with the run.

“Oh, come on! I’m pretty sure you pushed that tree over on purpose,” Nick protested, starting the short walk back to the dorms.

“You caught me, firefox. Dorm room, now,” Major Friedkin ushered Nick into the dorms, where the fox quickly climbed up onto his bunk. Major Friedkin turned out the lights, plunging Nick and the other cadets into darkness. Nick was a little more relaxed now that he’d spoken to Judy, and sleep came easily.

Judy groaned as Nick’s face disappeared from her screen. “Damn it! You forgot to ask about the wine!” She sighed, knowing it would be futile to call back. Judy let it go. She’d take a wild guess tomorrow and pray.

While getting to speak to her best friend had eased her worry, and boy had it been great to see Nick’s face and hear his voice, it only made her feel even worse about lying to him. “It’s for his own good. You’re trying to help him.” She reassured herself. Judy couldn’t get Catstro out of her head though. She needed some more information on the caracal before she would try to tempt him with another deal. Picking up her phone again, Judy called a familiar number. She really didn’t know when to quit.

It only took three rings before the call was answered. “Hey, Fru! Is your dad around?”


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