Chapter 8 – Taking Care of Business

The next month flew past in a haze of work, her weekly dinners with Marian, and her phone calls with Nick. Judy remained in contact with Mr. Big, using burner phones that were delivered to her by Mr. Otterton disguised as ‘gifts’ to go with beautiful bouquets of flowers. They had a plan, and Mr. Big had wanted to ensure no one would be able to link Judy to what was going to happen.

During one of her dinners with Marian, Judy had spotted the vixen’s bookshelf. Marian had been more than happy for Judy to borrow some books, so while she had been cooking Judy had browsed the shelves. She’d picked up a few books – a few Jane Pawsten and Virginia Woof novels – but the book that had caught her attention the most had been titled ‘The Young Vulpes Guide – Life, Love, Happiness, and everything in-between.’ Judy had flicked through the pages, the book a plethora of information on foxes. She’d slipped the book into her handbag before Marian had emerged from the kitchen, offering her a glass of elderflower wine.

When Judy had made it home after dinner, she’d opened the book to the first page and had started to read. When she’d next looked up, she was halfway through the book, and it was 3 am. By the time her next dinner with Marian had rolled around Judy had finished the book, having taken in as much information as possible. When Marian had disappeared to use the bathroom, Judy had slipped it back onto her bookshelf, returning to her seat in the kitchen before Marian had come back. She’d felt a little naughty sneaking around, and she was sure Marian would answer any fox related questions Judy would ask her, but ultimately she’d decided that it had been a better idea to read about certain aspects rather than ask Nick’s mom. She could only imagine how embarrassing it would be to ask her about their mating habits and, goodness forbid, knotting.

Judy blushed as she remembered that little chapter of the book. Some Zoogling and numerous websites later Judy had quite literally seen far more than she’d anticipated. “It was supposed to…? And it…?” Judy’s eyes had widened, and she’d seriously questioned whether it would fit. The question had led her to several online forums and website. She’d browsed them for a while, curiosity piqued. She wasn’t a prude, sex was common amongst rabbits, but when her thoughts had turned to Nick’s knot, her ears had turned bright red with her blush.

Thankfully the book had covered other, less intimate subjects. Judy had enjoyed reading up about their courting customs – both vixen and tod picked their den, but it was a vixen’s job to ensure the den was homely. The tod would follow the vixen around when interested in her, guard her against potential threats, and wrap his tail around her in a show of possessiveness and affection. The information had given Judy some food for thought.

She and Nick had picked their home, their den, together, and she’d already started decorating it while he was away – picking out some new furniture and bedding and rearranging existing furniture. Nick had followed her around for the duration of the missing mammal’s case too. Initially for her carrot pen, yes, but he’d stayed with her after, followed her back into the fray after she’d apologized. She discredited it. Nick hadn’t seen her as anything other than a friend then, and probably still only saw her like that now. However, he had moved between her and Akita when they’d first met her. He’d also wrapped his tail around her several times. Judy had contemplated whether it pointed to Nick caring for her considerably, but she wasn’t sure. Nick was different; he didn’t follow the status quo. She decided to wait, let Nick make any and all moves. Judy knew he struggled with his emotions and she didn’t want to push him. In the meantime, she’d drop hints; follow a few examples of vixen behavior in hope he’d figure it out.

Judy had also decided in the past month that she needed to become familiar with Nick’s food. Fish and bug produce didn’t bother her, Nick had different dietary requirements, and he needed them to survive. It had been one heck of an experience, venturing down the predator aisles of the supermarket. She’d finished work late one night, and the sun had set by the time she’d left the precinct. Popping into the supermarket, she’d made a beeline for the predator aisles. She’d received many strange looks as she’d stopped in front of one of the freezers. The vast amounts of choice had confused her, and she’d been completely unsure about what to buy. “You look lost, little lady.” The voice next to Judy had spooked her. Turning, she’d found herself looking into the brown eyes of a male arctic fox.

“My best friend, he’s a red fox. I want to get him something nice to eat but…” She’d gestured to herself, leaving the ‘…but I’m prey and have no idea what I’m doing here’ unspoken. The arctic fox had introduced himself as Bandit Whitmaw. He’d laughed, telling her that his mom had known he’d be a terrible kit from the moment he’d been born, hence his terrible name. The irony had then been too much for her when, amongst his bright white fur, one stripe of jet-black had appeared across his face, covering his eye area, making him look like a criminal. Judy had tried to contain her chuckle, but Bandit had let her laugh, not at all bothered. “Genetic mutation” he’d explained with a shrug. He’d helped her pick out food for Nick, starting with burgers, sausages, and bacon made from bugs. Judy had insisted on getting salmon filets too, having read online that foxes needed the taurine from them or else they’d go blind and suffer from seizures. Explaining that to Bandit had made the arctic fox question just how close she and Nick were if she was that invested in his health. Judy had dodged the question, but the knowing smile on the arctic foxes face told her he wasn’t fooled. With a basket full of food she’d thanked him, and Bandit had given her his number should she have any more fox related questions. They’d exchanged a couple of messages since. She hadn’t told Nick about her little shopping trip or about Bandit during their phone calls. She wanted the freezer full of food to be a surprise.

It was the 10th of May, the next drop day, and Judy worked through her lunch hour so she could leave the precinct early. At 4 pm she left her desk, heading to the locker room. Changing quickly Judy grabbed her bag. Tapping her phone, she called for a Zuber. Emerging from the locker room, Judy decided to wait in the atrium for her ride. Clawhauser and Wolford were at the desk, and her sharp hearing picked up on them whispering. She couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but Wolford had pulled out his wallet, counting out some bills. “Hey, guys!” She bounced up to them, offering both a broad smile. “What’re you doing?”

Both predators froze for a second, caught off-guard. Wolford was first to recover. “I owe Ben here some money for lunch.” He lied, offering his temporary partner a smile.

Judy frowned. They’d been partners for weeks now and always got lunch together. “You’ve taken ages to pay your debt back then Wolford, we’ve had lunch together every day for the past few weeks.” Judy was sure she could smell something fishy.

“Yeah, Wolford here is a pain when it comes to paying mammals back.” Clawhauser interrupted, nodding his head as he took the cash from Wolford.

“Funny, he’s always quick to pay me back for lunch.” Judy mused. Wolford was a gentlemammal, always wanting to pay his way. Judy had tried suggested that they alternated the days on which they paid for lunch in the spirit of fairness, but the timber wolf had declined, insisting on always paying her back.

“Well you’re a lady, and it would be rude for a gentlemammal to let a lady pay.” Clawhauser scrabbled for an excuse. Wolford silently prayed that Judy would leave soon. His prayers were answered when her phone pinged.

Judy glanced down at her phone, a message from her Zuber informing her it was outside. “That’s my ride, I’ll see you tomorrow. Enjoy your night!” She made her way to the exit, trying to keep her pace leisurely so as not to draw attention to herself.

Once Judy was out of sight, and out of hearing range, Wolford and Clawhauser sighed in relief. “You put that $20 on the day Wilde graduates from the academy,” Wolford demanded as Clawhauser pulled out one of his notebooks, flicking to the back page. The page was already covered in scribbles.

“Who do you think will make the first move?” Clawhauser had to hide his excitement at the thought of the fox and rabbit finally getting together. He hadn’t meant for it to evolve into a precinct-wide betting pool, but they were just too adorable!

“Wilde. Graduation is the end of January, and that’s in mating season.” Wolford failed to hide his smirk. “Plus, don’t they say absence makes the heart grow fonder? He’ll jump her bones, then the idiots will realize they’re in love.” Wolford stole a quick glance at the notebook as Clawhauser wrote down his bet. Bogo had placed a bet too? Wolford made a small noise of surprise.

Finding her Zuber outside, Judy climbed onto the back seats. The Zuber pulled back into the traffic. Judy had booked the cab to take her to the Fishtown Market in Tundratown. Once there she would walk through the market, taking several twists and turns in case she was being followed before slipping out of the back door. Mr. Manchas would collect her from the alley behind the building in his limo and take her to Mr. Big’s home. Living with a fox, and having dinner on a regular basis with one, made for a logical explain as to why she’d been at the fish market if someone saw her there.

From her bag Judy pulled out a sweater, slipping it on as the Zuber entered Tundratown. She’d never get used to the cold, no matter how many times the Chief sent her and Wolford to patrol the area. The car slowed to a stop outside of the Fishtown Market, and Judy made sure to give the driver a couple of dollars as a tip.

Entering the building, Judy had to stop herself from sneezing in a desperate attempt to clear her nose of the smell of fish. She’d gotten used to the scent a little over her dinners with Marian, but with the vast amounts of it on offer in the market, Judy found it overpowering.

Her police training kicked in as she started to walk. She’d scoped the place out last week, discovered where the back door was. Unsure if she was being followed, as she wouldn’t put it past Catstro to have one of his cronies tail her to make sure she didn’t skip town either, Judy set a leisurely pace as she walked between the stalls. She stopped every now and then to examine some fish, making it look like she was contemplating buying something before she moved on. She didn’t keep a distinct pattern, instead weaving between the stalls, changing direction on occasion and finding as many reflective metal surfaces as possible to watch her six. Turning around frequently would give away that she was nervous, or that she suspected she was being followed. Thirty minutes after entering the market, and sure she wasn’t being followed, Judy slipped through the loading bay and out the back door. A limo idled in the alleyway and Judy made her way inside quickly, the car pulling out smoothly to join the traffic.

“Good evening Miss Hopps. How are you?” Mr. Manchas greeted her, glancing up at his rear-view mirror.

Judy met his gaze in the mirror. “Good evening Mr. Manchas. I’m good thank you, how about yourself?” The pair had formed a friendship over the past few weeks. He’d tracked her down to her home one evening and had gifted her with a large bouquet of flowers as a thank you for her work in the night howler case. Judy had been touched by his kindness when all she’d been doing was her job. They’d swapped numbers, and he’d promised that should she ever need transport anywhere, he’d be happy to oblige. Though Judy wasn’t in the business of collecting favors, she was waiting for the right moment to use it. She was considering cashing it in for Nick’s graduation, but that depended on whether or not she could get the booking she was after.

“I’m very well, thank you.” Mr. Manchas fell silent, attention focused on the road. Judy was grateful for the silence. She was nervous about this evening and the plan she and Mr. Big had come up with. She trusted their plan, knew they had all their bases covered – Mr. Big hadn’t gotten to where he was by being sloppy – but that didn’t stop Judy from worrying. Needing a distraction, Judy pulled her phone from her pocket. She checked the time, relieved to find that she was on time. Her home screen made her smile, a silly photo of her and Nick that had been taken while they’d been moving in. Judy hadn’t been able to reach the top shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets, so Nick had lifted her up. Marian had snapped it on her phone, and when Judy had gone over for dinner one night, the vixen had sent it to her. The sight of her best friend, the fox she was in love with, reminded her that what she was about to do was all for him. Unlocking the phone she pulled up Zoogle, returning to her research on foxes. While the book from Marian had been useful, Judy had taken to researching some topics in more detail. Her current research topic was fox vocal cues. She’d watched several Zootube videos on the subject while kitsitting, once the kits had gone to bed, and had listened to some clips. She’d heard a few of the noises from Nick before, but she’d found a website explaining in detail why foxes still relied so heavily on their old vocal cues.

Engrossed in her reading, Judy lost track of time. The limo coming to a stop jolted her from her research, and she quickly shut down the web page. The door opened, and a giant white paw appeared. Grabbing her bag and sliding her phone into her pocket, Judy took the offered paw, accepting the help while getting out of the vehicle. The purple tracksuit told her this was Amos. Though Judy was making a conscious effort to try and tell Mr. Big’s polar bears apart, when they were all dressed in formal suits it was difficult. She relied heavily on seeing them in their casual wear. So far she knew Kevin, Raymond, Koslov, and Amos.

“Miss Hopps.” Amos greeted her, offering to take her bag. Judy let him carry it as she followed him into the house.

“Good evening Amos,” Judy took several small strides for each of Amos’ large ones. He led her through the house and up a flight of stairs. Offering her back her bag, he knocked on the door.

“Come in.” Koslov rumbled from behind the door. Amos pushed the door open, letting Judy enter before it shut. The polar bear took his position outside the door, protecting the mammals inside.

Stepping in, Judy gave the room a quick glance over, spotting Koslov sat in a large chair by another door. “Come here, my child.” Mr. Big broke the silence. Judy followed the sound, large ears twisting to pinpoint the mob bosses location. She found him sat on a small sofa by the fireplace, dressed in his usual suit. Placing her bag on the floor, Judy knelt beside the couch, lowering herself to a more suitable height. Mr. Big opened his arms, and Judy leaned in, leaving light kisses on each of his cheeks. “I trust you had no problems on your way here?” He asked as Judy moved back, taking a moment to observe the rabbit. She looked tense. Mr. Big knew this evening would be difficult for the godmother of his grandkit.

“Everything was fine Sir, no one followed me or suspected anything.” Judy knew that the riskiest part of the night was now over.

“Good, that’s good. This evening should go to plan, we have covered all our bases.” Mr. Big was sure the night would go without a hitch.

Judy nodded, comforted by Mr. Big’s confidence. “Just let me know whenever you want something, I’m aware this puts me in your debt.” Judy had come to terms with the fact she would owe a mob boss a favor. It wasn’t exactly ideal, a cop owing a mob boss, but Nick and Marian’s safety was more important.

“No no, my child.” Mr. Big shook a paw, brushing aside her comment. “You know that for me this is personal.” When she had first spoken with Mr. Big after Fru had handed the phone over she had explained the situation with Nick’s crippling debt, Catstro’s threats against him, his mother, and now her. As soon as Judy had mentioned Catstro’s name, Mr. Big had been on board.

During one of their subsequent calls, he had confessed that when Fru had been a kit, he had fallen for one of Catstro’s scams. The caracal had seemed honest and had been confident in his approach, introducing himself as a banker with Goldman Cats. He’d promised Mr. Big a strong return if he invested $1 million with the bank. The figures Catstro had been spouting had sounded good, well thought out, and with little evidence of the caracal’s shady dealings, Mr. Big had invested. Catstro had vowed that the money would be available upon Fru Fru’s 18th birthday, and Mr. Big had set it aside as a trust fund of sorts for her, enough money so she could strike out on her own and do whatever she wanted with her life. Catstro had maintained contact with him for several years, but when Fru had turned 12, the caracal had disappeared.

When Fru had turned 18, the money never materialized, and Mr. Big had sent his lawyer to Goldman Cats. They’d informed him that they’d never hired Catstro, that they had no knowledge of him or a $1 million investment in Fru’s name. Infuriated, Mr. Big had used all of his informants to try and hunt down the caracal, but every time they’d gotten close enough, they’d ended up dead. Catstro may have been one step ahead of him before, but the cat had underestimated Judy. She had passed along information to Mr. Big as to where he could find Catstro during one of their calls.

Judy still felt like she owed him. This evening’s task would be a huge weight off her shoulders. “I know Sir, but-“

“You and Nicky are family.” Mr. Big interrupted her. “I have known Nicky for eleven years, ten of them he was in my employ. When that boy came to me, he was willing to do anything to earn money. He undertook all the jobs I gave him, but I could see he was struggling with the morality of it all. He may hustle, and he may pretend that nothing bothers him, but that boy has beliefs and morals, he feels. He has a good heart, and good hearts are destroyed in this world. Yes he disrespected me, he disrespected grandmamma, but that boy needed a way out of this world and back to the surface, and his actions provided me with the opportunity to get him out. This world was not meant for him.”

“If he disrespected you and grandmamma, why did you provide him with a way out?” Judy couldn’t make sense of it. She also couldn’t understand why after ten years in Mr. Big’s employ Nick had sold him the rug that had ultimately cost him his job.

“I am not an unnecessarily cruel mammal, Judy. I do not take lightly those who insult me, but Nicky gave me ten years of his life. It was my way of thanking him for his service while also getting him out of my sight.” He had been furious with the fox for his betrayal, hurt by the boys’ greed, but having spent ten years with him on his payroll, he had not been willing to hurt him. Instead, he had given him an ultimatum – get out of his sight and never show his face in his part of Tundratown again, or be iced. The fox had taken the former; fleeing his home the moment Raymond had put his paws back on the ground. Hearing now that Nick had been buried to his neck in debt at the time helped explain some of his more questionable actions. It didn’t get him off the hook, but it provided Mr. Big with the insight that Nick had doing all he could to survive, that he had been living day to day trying to make ends meet. Many mammals lived a similar lifestyle, many animals deserved it, but he knew deep down that Nick deserved better.

“He’s never mentioned that he spent ten years working for you.” Nick had told Judy a lot before he left for the academy, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about the jobs and hustles he’d worked in the sixteen years between his deal with Catstro and meeting Judy.

“There is a lot he has probably not told you yet. Nicky does not open up easily. Do not take it personally. Too many mammals have trampled on that boy. It is fortunate you found each other, you are good for him, and he is good for you.” Mr. Big couldn’t deny the fact.

“He’s more forthcoming with information, especially since we’re living together.” It still felt strange for Judy to talk about them living together, not used to having a roomie, let alone a roomie she was in love with.

“Ah yes, Fru mentioned that you have moved in together. When you pick a date, please let me know, I wish to throw you a beautiful party.” When his daughter had returned home from dinner with Judy one night, she had excitedly informed him of the fox and rabbits new living arrangements. He’d been surprised by how quickly they’d moved their relationship along, but he liked the idea of them together.

“Pick a date?” Judy frowned, ears dropping as Mr. Big confused her.

“Yes, for when you marry.” He found it only natural that soon there would be wedding bells, perhaps even the sounds of little paws to follow.

Judy’s ears shot back up in surprise. “O-oh no, Sir, we’re not-“

“Interspecies relationships do not bother me, Judy.” He had seen his fair share of couples in his life, and he held no ill feelings to those who sought love outside of their own kind. Life was short, happiness was to be seized whenever possible.

“Sir, while I’m very appreciative of your offer and support, Nick and I aren’t getting married. We’re not even dating.” Judy corrected the mob boss, unable to stop her ears from drooping at the mention of them not even dating yet.

Though surprised, and a little disappointed, Mr. Big maintained his casual demeanor. “Hm, that is a shame. We are all small boats in the rough sea of life, Judy, and we all need a safe harbor. I had hoped you and Nicky would find that in each other.”

“I care for him a lot,” Judy nodded, unable to disagree.

“My child, you would not be here if you didn’t. I see the way your features light up at the mere mention of him, how your smile widens. You do not need to hide your love for him from me.” Since being tricked by Catstro, he had taken to watching mammals body language. Even the best con-mammals had tells. It had been easy for his trained eyes to pick up on Judy’s reactions to even the slightest mention of Nick.

“It’s that obvious, huh?” Judy laughed humourlessly, paws playing with her ears. She felt a small weight lift from her shoulders as she came clean, lightened by the fact someone else now knew how she felt, that she had someone she could talk to about it.

Mr. Big offered the rabbit a fond smile. “Judy, I am an old mammal and have seen love between many. The look on your face when someone mentions Nicky is the same look my Fru has when someone mentions her husband.”

Paws falling to her lap Judy sighed. “I can’t tell him how I feel, not yet anyway.”

“Your secret is safe with Koslov and I. You tell him when you are ready, my child, do not let anyone push you. That boy would be a fool to not return your affections.” A knock at the door broke Judy and Mr. Big from their conversation. “They’re here. You know that you can change your mind if you wish and stay up here while I tend to business. I will not think differently of you.” He gave her one last chance to sit it out.

“I appreciate that Sir, but I want to be there. I know you’re a mammal of your word, and he’ll be dealt with, but I need to see it with my own eyes, so that I can tell Nick I personally saw it.” Judy had no idea how the evening would go from here on out. The plan had been for Raymond and Kevin to ambush Catstro and his gang at the warehouse before tying them up and bringing them to Mr. Big’s home.

“Very well my dear. Koslov?” The arctic shrew addressed the polar bear. Koslov stood, collecting Mr. Big in his giant paws. Judy rose from her spot on the floor, staying behind the polar bear bodyguard as he crossed the room to another door. He opened it, ensuring he didn’t jostle his boss before he started to make his way down the spiral staircase. Judy followed, ears upright as she zoned in on the sounds from the room below.

They emerged in Mr. Big’s office, the other polar bear members of his mob standing around the chamber. Before the desk stood Raymond, giant paw resting on Catstro’s shoulder, a fabric bag over the caracals face. Just behind him and to the left stood Kevin and Amos, both of them holding ropes that had been wrapped around the paws of Catstro’s cronies. They too had fabric bags over their heads. Taking the office seat, Koslov transferred Mr. Big to his small chair. Koslov then offered Judy a paw, and the rabbit took it, accepting his help as she climbed up onto the desk to sit beside Mr. Big. Her hind paws swung over the edge, ready to knock out Catstro should he frustrate her.

With a wave of his hand, Mr. Big asked for the fabric bags to be removed. The polar bears uncovered their guests, ripping the tape from their mouths with a little more force than necessary. It took Catstro a moment to get his bearings but as his eyes focused on Mr. Big Judy tried to hide her smirk, enjoying the way Catstro’s heartbeat momentarily skyrocketed. “Surprise!”

“Mr. Big, Sir, wow you look very well! How longs it been? Five years? Ten?” Catstro pulled out all the charm he could muster. His body was tense at the sight of the arctic shrew sat on the desk. He’d gone underground after conning the fool out of his money, killed the mammals that came snooping. He thought he’d gotten away with it, but now…

“You!” His gaze found the rabbit cop sat beside the mob boss. He hadn’t expected her to be rubbing shoulders with the mob; she was too much of a golden girl.

“Me.” Judy crossed her arms over her chest, staring at the caracal. Her sharp hearing picked up again on the slight stress-related acceleration of the cat’s heartbeat.

Catstro’s mind worked through several situations quickly, trying to find the best angle. The shrew would be the most difficult one to break but the bunny? He smirked. “How cute. First Nicholas has you make his drops while he flees town and now he has you fighting his battles for him. He always was pathetic.” He aimed for the rabbit’s weakness. Some light digging had uncovered a plethora of information about the bunny cop, many predators were still angry with her for branding them all as savages with her little press conference speech and had been more than happy to speak up. What had been most interesting was her bond with fox indebted to him. He was her weakness.

Judy’s paws clenched, arms still folded, but she maintained her calm outward appearance. “That’s rich coming from the mammal who went underground the moment he heard he was being hunted.” She shot back, opening the floor for Mr. Big.

Mr. Big had remained silent, letting Judy speak to the caracal first. He used it as an opportunity to read the cat. He seemed to like finding mammal’s weaknesses and using them against them. It was a coward’s tactic.

“Ah yes, my investment. I was perhaps a little careless with my money. It’s an old habit. I spend my life trying not to be careless – ladies and kits can be careless, but not gentlemammals. However, I do believe you owe me an explanation. You’re a slippery one, Catstro.” Mr. Big was at ease, knowing he had the upper hand on his home turf.

“I invested your money like I promised. I can go and get it for you now if you’d like?” Catstro made to move, but Raymond tightened his paw on the caracal’s shoulder, enjoying the way the cat flinched.

“You want to leave so early? We’ve barely started. What sort of mammal would I be if I did not show you some hospitality?” Kevin and Amos forced Catstro’s cronies to their knees. Their paws were still bound with thick rope. They were shaking, Judy detecting the faint tremors in their bodies. They’d probably spent so much time lording themselves over other mammals, thinking they were untouchable with Catstro as their ringleader. How the tides had turned.

Catstro caught the reflection of his crew in the room’s window. He paid them little mind. They were expendable. “I wonder what your boss would say if he knew his golden girl was trying to make deals with other mammals and paying off con-mammals debts? I wonder how he’d react knowing you’re also rubbing shoulders with a crime boss?” he smirked, attention turning to Judy as the corners of his lips lifted just enough to show a flash of canines. “Oh, he would be disappointed! You’d probably lose your badge, be shamed by the press, forced to run back to your country hovel. Alas, you wouldn’t be able to take Nicholas with you. He’s still mine, after all.”

“Nicky is no longer your concern. His debt is gone.” Mr. Big brushed aside Catstro’s claim.

“You don’t get to decide that.” The caracal shot back. Nicholas was his and would be until his death, then he’d own his mother should she outlive him, and then the rabbit cop would be next.

“You seem to have forgotten your place in the world, Catstro. You are but a big fish in a small pond.” Mr. Big shook his head.

“Doesn’t change the fact that ol’ Nicholas owes me over $200,000. I may be a big fish in a small pond, but I’m very comfortable where I am.” Catstro shook his head, amused.

“And you owe me $1 million, putting you in my debt. So how about we make an arrangement. You let Nicky out of his debt, you and your gang do not bother him, Judy, or their families, and you walk away from here a free mammal, I do not take my revenge for you robbing me.”

Catstro laughed. “Like I said, I have your money, so I’m therefore not in your debt. If you’ll just let me go and…”

“Enough. I’m tired of your games. Do I look like I need that $1 million? No. I am more than comfortable. Besides, if you truly had my $1 million to paw, you would be a rich cat, living in a home like mine, making Nicky run your errands as payment. No. The fact you chase him for money, keep tabs on his whereabouts, you do not have my $1 million. You lie to me. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” Mr. Big shook his head, disappointed.

“I do not disrespect you, Sir. Let’s talk, negotiate a deal, gentlemammal to gentlemammal. Among reasonable mammals, problems of business can always be solved.” Catstro saw an opportunity. Though he hated the idea of making a deal with the shrew, his father had always taught him to know his enemies and understand how they work.

Mr. Big waved a paw, requesting Catstro to continue. He would indulge the caracal; let him dig his own grave. Catstro glanced around the room. “I was under the impression that you and I could talk alone.”

Mr. Big had to hide his smile. As if he would be alone in the room with the cat. Every member of their world knew that a mob boss was never alone, especially when faced with their enemy. “I trust these mammals with my life. If I were to ask them to leave it would be an insult.”

“I can respect that.” Catstro mentally cursed. “I have an idea, a way we can both work together – mutually beneficial.” He started his pitch. “I will pay you back your $1 million, clear my debt, and as a sign of good will I’ll stop adding interest to Nicholas’ debt, drop his payment amount each month. You get your money, the noose around Nicholas’ neck is loosened, and the rabbit stays off my back.”

“I asked you to stop adding interest or reduce his payments last month, and you said no deal. Change your mind now your tail is on the line?” Judy couldn’t stop herself from butting in, her arms still folded across her chest.

“I’d watch your tongue, rabbit. My tail isn’t the only one on the line here. I’m sure the ZPD would not be too pleased to find they have a crooked cop working for them.” Catstro shot back, hard amber eyes finding Judy.

It was that thought which had bothered Judy the past month as they planned for this evening. Did this make her a crooked cop? She knew things worked differently in this world, that most mammals exacted their own revenge rather than going through legal means. While it went against everything she had been brought up to believe, she knew that Catstro was a threat not only to Nick but many other mammals, and he needed to be taken care of. Her association with Mr. Big did put her in an awkward position, but Judy had already proved that she was loyal to the ZPD. She’d spent her whole life training for her job. She’d staked her much loved and hard-earned badge on the night howler case.

Catstro was on a roll. “Did ol’ Nicholas tell you about his time working at Hotel Verglas, by the way? He was banging cocktail waitresses two at a time.” Catstro baited Judy, hoping the fuzzy bunny would react. Knowing about her bond with the fox, how he had trusted her with his monthly payments, had led him to suspect that the pair were involved. It disgusted him. Interspecies relationships disgusted him. They were abhorrent, against nature.

Judy only just found the strength to keep her poker face. Nick hadn’t mentioned anything about a hotel, or cocktail waitresses. His business was his business though, even if the thought of Nick with others made her heart clench and her gut twist. She didn’t have any right to be jealous, especially not with matters of the past.

Mr. Big sighed, tired of Catstro’s games. “You and I both know I sent Nicky to work at the hotel as a bellboy, to gather information about the owner. We also both know that boy would not sully his paws by partaking in such libidinous behavior. Stop trying to get a rise of Judy. It’s insulting to her. It’s insulting to me. You come into my home and insinuate that a member of my family would partake in carnal pleasures in exchange for information, degrade themselves in such a manner?” Mr. Big shook his head, disappointed and disrespected. Though his dealings were not all above board, he did have some rules in place for those in his employ, lines that were not to be crossed. Sex in exchange for information was one of them.

Judy had to hide her relief. Though she had no idea what Nick had been up to while in Mr. Big’s employ she was aware he had been arrested a few times in the past, his original application form enough proof as he’d hastily corrected one of his answers. On a slow day, she’d called up his file, tried her hardest not to laugh at the disgruntled expression he wore in his mug shot before she’d read up on why he’d been arrested. There was nothing since he’d started working for Mr. Big, now that Judy could put dates to his time in the shrew’s employ, but before that he’d had a string of minor offenses – breaking and entering, petty theft, antisocial behavior. There was nothing to cause any real alarm.

“I do not accept your deal. Nicky is a moot point. He has left our world behind. Besides, I am tired of your disrespect, tired of your games. You may claim to have my $1 million to pay me back, but we both know you do not, and even if you did, that is not the payment I now want. You have lied to my face. Disrespected me. Disrespected my family. You have lived like a fool, and now you will come to a fool’s end. Ice ’em.”

“No no no!” Catstro’s calm façade slipped as Raymond lifted him from the floor with one paw, the other paw pulling the rug away and lifting the cover off the ice pit. “Mr. Big, Sir, please, this was just a misunderstanding! Please!” The caracal begged as Raymond held him over the water. Paws flailing and panic etched on his face, Catstro tried to break free. Mr. Big remained silent, stony gaze set on the caracal as he gave a flick of his paw.

In a fluid motion, Raymond dropped Catstro into the icy water; the cat’s scream pierced the air before the polar bear slid the wooden cover back over the hole, muffling the sound. Judy held her breath, ears drooping and eyes widening as she listened to the thumping under the wooden panel, the gargled screams and hisses, the sound of claws scraping against the wood. The sounds of a mammal dying. She finally remembered to breathe, and it only took a few minutes before the room fell silent.

Catstro’s gang shook, wide eyes focused on the wooden floor panel. Their ringleader was gone, and no one would protect them now. With another flick of Mr. Big’s paw, Raymond removed the wooden cover. There, face down in the icy water, Catstro bobbed.

Judy couldn’t stop herself from looking. She’d never seen a dead body before, none of her cases that intense yet. Morbid curiosity and the drive to know he was actually dead fuelled her. Catstro’s fur was soaked, and she could see claws missing from his paws, from where he’d tried to scrabble his way out. The blood from the wounds mixed with the ice water, tinting it red. The tufts of fur on the ends of his ears swished in the light current. He was silent, and Judy’s acute hearing confirmed he was dead. Guilt at his death being on her paws was only slightly soothed by the relief that Nick was now free of his debt, that Catstro would never harm him or Marian.

“Revenge is a dish best served cold, my child. His death is on my paws, not yours.” Mr. Big seemed to read her mind. Judy tore her eyes from the dead caracal to look at the mob boss, swallowing. “He betrayed me, and he got what he deserved. Now…” Mr. Big turned his focus to Catstro’s gang.

They cowered under his gaze. “I don’t like violence, boys. I’m a business mammal. Blood is a big expense. Your leader, though, he tested me. I do not have the time or patience to be tested. Let this serve as a warning. Nicky’s debt has been wiped; you will not try to extort any more money from him. You will not bother him, or Judy, or their families. You will not bother me or seek revenge. If I hear even a whisper that any of you are sniffing around Judy, Nicky or their families well, let me tell you something, my friends, I’m going to make so much trouble for you, you won’t know what hit you. Do you understand?”

The two raccoons, the lynx, wolverine, maned wolf, and jackal all nodded, eyes wide and heartbeats racing. Judy had to stop herself from smiling in victory. “I didn’t quite catch that, ” Mr. Big lifted a paw to his ear.

“Y-yes Sir, we understand.” The predators spoke in chorus.

“Good, excellent.” Mr. Big turned his focus to Amos and Kevin. “Take them to the middle of the tundra and leave them there. They’ll either survive the walk home or they won’t.” Amos and Kevin nodded; hauling the six mammals up to their hind paws before they were dragged trembling from the room.

Raymond slid the wooden cover back over the ice pit. “He will float for a while, but the water will drag him down eventually. He will join the others at the bottom.” Mr. Big and Judy watched as Raymond put the rug back, returning the room to its usual state before he left, taking the stairs they had come down earlier.

“They will not bother you or Nicky ever again, my child.” Mr. Big turned his attention back to Judy, concerned by her silence. He had not expected her to be chatty, one could never prepare for witnessing death, but he had thought she would at least ask some questions.

“Thank you, Sir.” Judy offered him a smile. Her thanks were heartfelt, she truly was grateful for him taking care of the problem.

“We are even for this matter, though I still owe you for saving Fru’s life.” Judy went to shake her head, but Mr. Big cut her off. “My child, in this world favors are more valuable than any amount of money. I know you are not in the business of collecting favors but, if I may pass on some advice, I suggest you obtain them. The world is a complicated and fickle place; you never know when you may need to call upon someone. Now, with this evening’s business taken care of, we can move on to more pleasurable matters. Fru and little Judy are out having dinner with friends, unfortunately, but you are welcome to join me for a drink and wait for them?” Mr. Big offered. He didn’t know if the young rabbit needed some company for a while as she processed the evening’s events.

Judy shook her head; acutely aware that time was marching on. “That’s very kind of you, but I’m afraid I need to head home. Nick calls me on drop days, and he’ll get suspicious if he see’s I’m here.”

Mr. Big didn’t bother to hide his smile at the way Judy’s face lit up as she mentioned Nick, the doe’s love for the fox endearing. “Very well my dear. Mr. Manchas will take you home. Please pass on my good wishes to Nicky.”

“I will Sir, thank you.” Judy leaned in, offering Mr. Big their standard cheek kisses. Raymond returned, Judy’s bag in his paws. “Thank you, Raymond.” The polar bear offered her a sincere nod, gesturing with a paw for Judy to follow him to Mr. Manchas.

Before Judy could reach the door, Mr. Big spoke up again. Judy turned to look at the mob boss as he was talking. “One final thing, Judy. I know it is none of my concern, but I suggest you tell that boy about this evening sooner rather than later. I have known him eleven years, and I know he is worried about you while he is away at the academy, concerned that Catstro and his gang may hurt you. Ease his concerns, let him know he is a free mammal.”

“I’ll tell him soon, don’t worry Sir,” Judy said farewell, following Raymond of the house. Mr. Manchas greeted her outside, holding the limo door open for her. The ride home was silent, and Judy fiddled with her phone, the screen lighting up with the photo of her and Nick. She couldn’t control her smile. As the car slowed to a stop outside her home, Mr. Manchas helped her out, limo idling as he waited for her to disappear inside her home and lock the door behind her. Satisfied she was safe, he pulled the car from the curb, heading back to Tundratown.

Judy dropped her bag by the door, placing her keys on the small table. She’d only taken a few steps into the living room when her phone rang. Nick’s smiling face flashed up on the screen, and she quickly accepted the Muzzletime call, desperate to see him.

“Hey Slick!” Judy grinned, moving further into the living room to sit on the couch.

“Hey Carrots, how was the drop?” Nick sat in the canteen at the academy again, his entire focus on Judy. He wanted to get the chat about the drop out of the way first, and then move on to more pleasant topics. Thankfully the days training had consisted of endurance running and firearms training. Though Nick had still worried about Judy, the activities had helped him relax. Nick’s years on the streets had given him decent stamina, and the fresh air had helped clear his mind. Shooting a gun had also been therapeutic, and with his sharp vision, he’d outperformed the other cadets.

Judy couldn’t stop her smile. “There were no problems at all, Catstro was just a bit colder than usual.”


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