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The blood red evening sun was just edging towards the horizon when the call came over the radio.


"Zoo Adam-12," Clawhauser said, "10-54, body located in Zootopia Harbor. It was pulled up by the dredging operation. Forensics unit is on the way to meet you."


"10-54 acknowledged," Judy replied, picking up their car's radio mike. "Any more details?"


"It appears to be a small mammal. No further details at this time."


"Zoo Adam-12, on our way." Judy hit the lights and turned onto the main road leading to Port Zootopia. They reached the industrial docks about ten minutes later, just as a large dredging vessel, built to dig into the harbor bottom and deepen it to allow larger vessels to visit the great city, slowly edged into its dock.


"Wonder what they found?" Nick said aloud, as he slipped on his mirrored aviators. Judy blinked as the sunset reflected off his glasses, blinding her for a second.


"Only one way to find out," Judy replied. As they approached the dredger, a worried looking beaver wearing a captain's cap on his head clambered down the gangplank towards them.


"Officers," he greeted, shaking paws with them briefly.. "I'm glad you came. I'm Captain Beaverton. We were just finishing up for the day when we spotted it in the sand we dredged up."


"What did you find?" Nick asked, as they followed him up the steel gangplank.


"The dredging unit pulled up a duffle bag. Nothing odd about that. We pull up garbage all the time. Usually we just let it sit until it can be filtered out when the sand is put in the landfill. But then we spotted the bones that were spilling out."


Beaverton led them to the rear of the dredger, where a large open cargo bay was filled to the top with wet sand. Sitting off to one side was a circle of crewfurs, surrounding a ripped open green duffle bag. A pile of bones and old, waterlogged fabric spilled out from it, including the victim's skull.


"Body in a bag," Nick said, kneeling down and lifting up his sunglasses. He squinted, looking closer. "Looks like the bag was waterproofed., which accounts for some of the victim's clothing surviving. It'll make it harder to identify how long ago it happened though." He turned his attention towards the remains. "Victim was a vulpine obviously, going by the shape of the skull."


"How do you think he died?" Judy asked. She rewarded for that with an Are you kidding me? look from Nick.


"Mob hit, I'm guessing." He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket, waving it at the skull. "I think the large hole in the back of the vic's head is diagnos… tic..." Nick's voice trailed off, and he went down on his knees, heedless of the wet and dirty sand soiling the pants of his uniform, staring hard at the bones in the sand.


"Nick, what's the matter?" Judy demanded. When he reached down towards the remains, she made to grab his paw. "Hey! Don't touch that! You can't disturb the scene before Forensics looks at it."


"I'm not… I mean, just a little." Nick poked with the pen at the tattered remnants of what looked like a necktie, pushing away a little bit of sand that covered a tarnished golden tie clip. "Three diamonds," he muttered, green eyes wide, ears flat against his head, his tail completely fluffed out in obvious shock.


"What's wrong, Nick?" Judy repeated, kneeling down beside him.


"The tie clip. Gold tie clip, one big diamond in the middle, two on either side of it," he said, pointing them out to her. "I recognize it."


She put a paw on his shoulder to steady him. "Who does it belong to?"


Nick looked over to Judy, swallowing hard.


"My dad."


*  * *


There were Procedures to be followed, and Judy followed them. Tape off the immediate area around the remains. Make sure no unauthorized civilians entered the area and risk contaminating the evidence. Deal with any press, which right now was limited to a ZNN news van and its cameramammal, a zebra busying themselves taking establishing shots of the dredger while waiting for a reporter to show up.


Occasionally she looked over at Nick, who ostensibly was guarding the gangplank to keep civilians out. Mostly he was just leaning against a rusty iron bollard taller than he was, the proverbial thousand mile stare on his face.


Another van drove carefully up, disgorging three sloths in blue nylon windbreakers, with ZPD FORENSICS in wide yellow letters on their backs. They made their way leisurely towards the boat, equipment bags slung over their arms. The lead sloth, looking rather Goth with a silver ring in her nose and wearing a studded collar, gave them a cheerful wave.


"Is this… the ship.. where the body… was found?" she asked.


"Yes, right in the taped off area," Judy answered. She pointed towards the mound of sand, the remains circled by yellow warning tape mounted on thin poles she and Nick had retrieved from the trunk of their cruiser, illuminated by the ship's floodlights. "Need me to lead you to it?"


"No… we're good… thanks." The sloth turned towards Nick. "We were told… you made… an initial… identification… of the… victim?"


"Possibly," Nick admitted, the first words he'd spoken since he'd taken up watch by the gangplank. "I identified a piece of jewelry similar to… That may have belonged to…" He went silent, head bowed and ears flopped down. After a moment, he took in a deep breath and continued, "That may have belonged to Nolan Ceaser Wilde, a Zootopian citizen who disappeared in early March 1990."


"Okay... thanks. We'll get.... right on… it."


The sloths headed up the gangway. Judy watched them for a moment to make sure they didn't need her help, and then laid a paw on Nick's elbow gently. "You call your mother yet, Nick?" she asked.


"Can't, at least not until the DA's office gives me the clear," he said flatly. "Technically she's a suspect. Technically I'm a suspect."


Judy frowned, doing the math in her head. "You were six, Nick."


He shrugged. "Still."


"Nick…" Judy tried to think of something else to say. Asking Are you okay? would be insultingly stupid. Do you think it's really him? far too fraught.


As reading her mind, Nick sighed and turned to face her. "I know you want to help me, believe me I know. But..." He shrugged helplessly.


"Yeah." Judy nodded in understanding. Her attention turned back towards the pier, where a sedan was pulling up. A familiar snow leopard in a smart pantsuit emerged, heading over to the camera truck. "Fabienne Growley is here," she noted. "She'll be asking questions for the Ten o'Clock News. Do you want me to handle it?"


"Please," Nick said, looking relieved. His paw reached out and touched her shoulder. Though his face remained impassive, he had a pleading look in his green eyes. "Judy, if that's really my dad I can't get involved with this. I broke the rules once after you were mauled by Volkov's goon and got a six month suspension. I do it again, Chief Bogo will rip the badge off my uniform himself."


"I know," Judy replied. She took both his paws in hers, squeezing them tight. "Whatever I can find out, I'll pass along."


"No."


Judy blinked in confusion. "No?"


"This situation isn't worth you risking your career either." His lips rose to his usual lopsided smile. "So be a good bunny and follow procedure, okay?"


"But it might be your father," she pointed out.


The smile dipped back down, disappearing. "That's why it's not worth it," Nick said. He let go of her paws and shooed her towards the approaching Growley. "Go do the Public Relations thing. We'll talk later."


Judy glared at him briefly before turning away. "We'd better," she warned.



* * *


"Tonight on the Ten O'Clock News: Friction between Tundra Town and Sahara Square over tax increases to cover upgrades to Zootopia's environmental control system, arguments in court over classifying the Night Howler poisoning victims' legal battles as a single class action lawsuit, and finally a quarter-century old missing mammal case is unexpectedly reopened as a body is finally found…"


Chief Bogo muted the sound on his phone, adjusting his glasses briefly as he looked down at the file that had been pulled from Cold Case drawer. Back in 1990 the ZPD's filing system hadn't been fully computerized yet, and in that era a missing predator report would have been low on the priority list of cases anyway. There wasn't much to see. Just a photo and basic biographical information of the victim, along with the Missing Mammal report filed by Nolan Wilde's wife, reporting that he'd been missing for two days. Finally there was a typed summary of the investigating officer's questioning of the neighbors, ending with the conclusion that Nolan C. Wilde had probably skipped town ahead of defaulting on some questionable loans by some equally questionable lenders.


He looked up again at a soft knock at his door. "Come in!" he called out. Officer Hopp's ears poked in, followed by the rest of her, violet eyes looking up at him tentatively.


"You wanted to see me, Chief?" she asked softly.


"Sit down, Hopps," Bogo ordered. When she'd climbed up and settled herself on chair sized for an elephant, he continued, "Where's Wilde?"


"Giving blood and fur samples to Forensics for DNA testing," Hopps reported. "Are you going to want to talk to him?"


"Eventually." Bogo tapped the manilla folder in front of him. "This is not a formal interview, Hopps. But I did want to speak to you briefly in private, off the record."


"Sir?" Hopps asked, nose twitching in curiosity.


Bogo steepled his fingers, leaning over the desk to look at her. "How did Wilde react when he made the initial identification of the remains?"


The little bunny shrugged. "He was in shock. Once he identified the tie clip his tail floofed and his ears went back, like he'd… well, seen a ghost. He kept pretty quiet after that. Given the probability that he was related to the victim, Nick let me handle cordoning off the scene and coordinating with Forensics."


Bogo nodded. "Did he speak to you at all about the upcoming investigation?"


"Yes, sir," Hopps said with a nod. "He understands that he can't be part of it, especially given his… er… actions during the Volkov case. He was very clear on that." Her nose twitched again briefly. Then she let out a soft sigh and added, "I actually offered to pass along any information that was discovered to him instead, to keep him informed."


Bogo snorted briefly, "Hmm. What was his reaction?"


"He refused, sir," Hopps answered immediately. "Nick said it wasn't worth risking my career over it."


"You're damned right it isn't," Bogo agreed with a growl. He tapped his desk briefly with his hoof. "Under the circumstances, given Wilde is your partner and the personal nature of the discovery, I'll let your offer to breach procedures pass. This time."


"Thank you, sir," Hopps said, looking relieved. "Is that why you called me in here?"


"Not entirely." Bogo leaned back in his chair, listening to the polished oak wood creak. "How informed are you on Zootopia's history during the early 90's, Officer Hopps?"


"Er, I was born in '92, Chief," she hedged. "I'll admit it wasn't the focus of my studies at the Academy."


"Hmph. I suggest you read up. The short version is, if you thought Predator/Prey relations were bad when you joined the ZPD, you never saw it during the 80's and 90's. I doubt that the missing mammals related to the Night Howler case would have even have been investigated. Not seriously at least." Bogo frowned briefly and continued. "It was especially bad around late 89 to early Spring 1990. At the time, the Zootopia mob scene was under the control of a Russian polar bear named Koslov. He'd had all of Zootopia's organized crime under his thumb, until Mr. Big arrived. That winter to early spring saw the worst mob war in the city's history. Dozens of citizens, predator and prey, just disappeared. There were even rumors that," Bogo paused and grimaced, "rumors that some had even been eaten."


"Eaten?" Hopps repeated, looking ill.


"Only rumors, nothing was ever proven." Bogo rubbed his snout briefly. "My point is that the victim appears to be the victim of a mob hit. Shot to the back of the head, dumped in the middle of the harbor, and if it does turn out to be Wilde's father, the profile is that of someone who got on the wrong side of Koslov and Mr. Big's war and paid the price for it."


"So, what does this have to do with me?" Hopps asked, ears flattening to her head, not quite managing to sound innocent.


Bogo's glare was enough to make the young bunny officer shrink even smaller into her oversized chair. "I am aware of your 'special relationship' with Mr. Big's family. You're his granddaughter's godmother. He trusts you."


"Sir, I have never, ever done anything to support any illegal…" Hopps began to protest.


Bogo held up a hoof to quiet her. "I'm not saying that you have," he interrupted. "But you have access to Mr. Big's ear that other mammals in my department don't. You have a better chance than anyone to find out the truth of the matter."


"Yes, Chief." She shrugged again. "I can ask him. I don't know if he'll answer though." Hopps worried her lip between her incisors briefly. "It's just… What if it turns out that the victim was murdered by his order?"


"Then it becomes my problem, not yours," he informed her. He drew in a deep breath. "I don't like Mr. Big. I don't like finding bodies 'iced' in the harbor, even if they usually are scum of the earth. But I remember what this city was like when that bastard Koslov was in charge, and believe me when I say Mr. Big is definitely the lesser of two evils. That said, if it turns out he is responsible for the murder of a family member of one of my brother officers, I will bring him down for it. Feel free to inform him of that."


Hopps stood up on her chair and gave him a formal salute. "Understood, sir."


* * *


Judy found Nick sitting in a waiting room outside the forensics lab, sipping a cup of coffee, his uniform tie undone and collar unbuttoned, looking exhausted. "It's almost eleven, Nick. You should go home," she scolded.


"Same goes for you," he pointed out. "You're not on this case."


"Neither are you," Judy countered.


He shrugged, took a sip of his coffee, and said, "My mom is on her way over. To try and..." Nick didn't finish the sentence.


She nodded. "Alright. Do you want me to be here… or leave you alone…?"

"Yes," he answered ambiguously.


Stay here, Judy interpreted. She sat beside him, saying nothing. When she offered her paw to him however, he took it in a tight grip.


"You haven't asked," Nick said after a few moments.


"About your father?" she ventured. At his nod, Judy went on, "We've known each other for almost two years, Nick. In all that time you never said anything about him, and neither has your mom. I figured it wasn't my business."


One corner of Nick's lip twitched up briefly, the half smile disappearing again just as quickly. "Since when have you ever minded your own business, Carrots?"


"I learned," Judy protested. That provoked a chuckle out of the fox, which suddenly warped into a deep heaving sob, stopping abruptly as Nick closed his eyes tight, his grip on Judy's paw growing almost painful. For a moment she thought to demand that he let loose his tears, let out the pain, but she knew he wouldn't. Not in this public place. Maybe later, when they were alone, and could face their naked selves in the dark.


The lobby door opened, admitting a tired looking vixen in her mid-fifties, dressed in a long black skirt, a green turtleneck sweater, with a large silver pendant hanging from a long chain around her neck. Mrs. Wilde turned and spotted Judy and Nick, rushing over to hug Nick hard as he stood up to meet her. "Hello, Nick," she said, keeping hold of his shoulders as she looked him up and down. "How are you, sweetheart?"


"I'm okay," he lied. "How are you doing?"


"I don't know," she admitted. She closed her eyes briefly, shaking her head. "Do you think it's really him?"


"I saw that tie clip that had been a gift from…" Nick's eyes flicked over to Judy briefly, and he edited whatever he had been about to say to, "...his business associates. If there's another fox out there with the same clip, I don't know who it could be."


Mrs. Wilde nodded, her tail drooping to the floor, eyes closing briefly as her forehead creased in pain. "Lamb of God forgive me, I wish we hadn't found him. Why couldn't he have just stayed gone, instead of showing up in our lives again?"


"Still might not be him," Nick pointed out. Mrs. Wilde gave him a Look worthy of her son's more cynical moments, and he shrugged. "I'm a cop, Mom. I have to keep all the possibilities open."


"It was so long ago, I'm not sure we can find his dental records," Mrs. Wilde said. "Are they going to do a DNA test?"

"Yeah." Nick held up his arm to show the band-aid covering a small patch of fur that had been shaved off to take a blood sample. "It's going to be about a month before we hear anything about whether they found a match or not. It's not instantaneous like you see on CSI-Z, especially for something from the Cold Case files."


"He always did drag his feet about the important things," Mrs. Wilde noted. Nick nodded, helping his mother sit down while he got her a cup of coffee.


Judy, watching this quietly, tried to make sense of Nick and Mrs. Wilde's interactions. There was pain between them over the discovery to be sure, but somehow it didn't seem to be the right kind of pain. Not a scar of grief, cut open to bleed again, but a weary frustration at having deal with the situation. More telling was the way Mrs. Wilde had talked about Nolan Wilde. Always "him" or "he", never "my husband" or "your father." Not family.


A sloth came out of from the doorway leading to the morgue. "Officer Wilde… Mrs. Wilde?" he said slowly. "Please come… this way… so you can… try… to identify… the remains."


"Want me to wait for you, Nick?" Judy asked.


He shook his head. "No telling how long this will take. Go get some sleep and let us nocturnals take care of business, Judy."


She nodded briefly, then stepped forward, pressing her palm to his cheek and whispering fiercely, "We need to talk."


Old Nick, the one she'd known as a civilian, only reluctantly pulled from his defensive cynicism during the desperate hours of the Night Howler case, would have evaded that demand. Officer Wilde looked down at her and simply said, "Yeah, but not here. When I get home, okay?"


"Okay," Judy agreed, stepping back. "Take care, Nick, Mrs. Wilde."


"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Wilde said, then she followed Nick and the sloth into the morgue, to deal with a past neither of the foxes looked prepared to face.


Who was Nolan Wilde? Judy could only wonder.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
litalex
Jul. 13th, 2018 03:23 pm (UTC)
poor Nick. but the premise sounds very intriguing
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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