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The clock by Judy's bedside said it was past 3 AM by the time Nick unlocked the door to the apartment they shared. Her ears twitched up at the noise but she remained still, waiting as she listened to Nick locking his service pistol in their gun safe, then entered their bedroom to strip out of his uniform and crawl into bed with her. His long, warm body wrapped around her, as he lay down nose to tail, his familiar scent tickling her nose. Judy's arms automatically wrapped around his brush as she buried her face in his fur, sighing in pleasure.

"You awake, Judy?" Nick asked softly.

"Yes. Is now a good time to talk?" she asked.

"No," he replied. Nick's body shifted, curling up behind her, his left arm draping itself over her chest as he rested his chin between her ears. "But there's never going to be a good time, so it may as well be now." His paw moved down to stroke her belly fur, and she reached over to grip it again. "What do you want to know?"

"You and your mom spoke together about Nolan for about five minutes as I listened. Both of you managed to go through that whole conversation without using the words 'husband' or 'father'. That and you were both obviously upset, but not… not grieving. You both just sounded tired. Why?"

She felt Nick shrug in the dark. "He died over thirty years ago. Ancient history. I finished grieving when I was six."

"That's Nick the Hustler talking," Judy said firmly. "You aren't that fox anymore. Please don't lie to me, Nick. I'm not going to judge, but I need to know the truth, especially if I end up working on the investigation."

There was a long silence. Then Nick let out a deep sigh, snuggling in a little tighter against her back. "You're right." He reached up, rubbing his eyes briefly as he gathered his thoughts. "Mom and Nolan… my dad… met in community college when they were both twenty. Mom was getting her accounting degree, and Dad was taking a course in sewing."

"Sewing?" Judy asked in surprise.

"He wanted to be a tailor," Nick explained. "Make suits for tods, rams, Alpha wolves, y'know." His voice deepened for a moment. 'You want to be a success, you have to look like a success' he used to say. Mom said he was good at it. He even made her wedding dress for her."

"Where did he work?"

"He didn't want to work for anybody. Didn't want to be just another low paid pieceworker making shirts on a sewing machine at home. He wanted his own shop, where he could be the boss."

"When he was twenty?" Judy asked, unable to suppress the dubiousness in her tone.

"Yeah," Nick said. "Needless to say, getting a loan to open his own shop wasn't exactly easy. What with being a cocky twenty year old kid, no business experience, and a sneaky fox to boot. It's not like he was in a sheep or bunny neighborhood with an established co-op with easy credit to go to. He must have gotten a hundred bank doors slammed in his face."

Judy nodded in understanding. The bunny co-op that had loaned her parents the money to start their farm, and support them during the occasional lean years, had been an integral part of Bunnyburrow's community for as long as anyone could remember. A fox in Zootopia, especially thirty years ago, wouldn't have been so lucky. "So, no business?"

"Oh, nothing so petty as reality was going to stop him," Nick continued. "Besides, by that point he'd married Mom, and soon she was pregnant. He had to get his business started."

She felt her nose wiggle. "I don't like the way this is going, Nick."

"If that nose twitch means you smell dirty money, you're not wrong. Dad got the loan from the only person who would give him the time of day, Koslov."

"So that's when things went wrong?" she asked.

"No, actually. According to Mom that's when things started going right. He got his business. Nice little shop on the edge of Tundra Town. Wilde's Tailoring, All Species and Sizes. And a steady supply of clientele who liked nice suits from somebody who didn't ask why they always paid cash." NIck smiled. "And he was good. Oh, he was. When it came to suits, Dad was an artist. Mouse, polar bear, antelope or giraffe, he could put a suit together for them that would make any mammal look like they owned this town."

Judy nodded. "And then?"

"Then… one fine day… Mr. Big came to town. Little arctic shrew with a funny Italian accent," Nick said. "He wanted a slice of Koslov's territory. Koslov laughed in his face and said he'd stomp Mr. Big flat."

"That's when the war started?"

Nick nodded. "Nobody was laughing anymore when a half dozen of Koslov's goons were found floating in the middle Zootopia Harbor, encased in blocks of ice. Mr. Big may be a little shrew, but he's ruthless when he wants something, and Koslov had made too many enemies. He'd gotten sloppy, leaned too hard on the wrong people. The chief of the ZPD, before Bogo came to town, suddenly forgot that he was on Koslov's payroll, and turned a blind eye when the bear's businesses started to burn to the ground.

"Koslov's resources were being squeezed, and he needed lots of money to bring more muscle into town. So he ramped up his drug operations. But with his usual distribution centers being burned to the ground, he needed a new place to pass around his coke, meth, and catnip."

"He started using your dad's shop?" Judy asked, outraged.

"Yep. Come in to get your suit adjusted, come out with your jacket pocket full of dime bags."

She shook her head. "I guess if he was paying off his loan to Koslov, your dad didn't have any choice."

"You'd think that," Nick said mildly. Judy shifted around to look the fox in his face, seeing the half-lidded eyes and snarky smile of Nick the Hustler looking back at him. The face Nick had worn to hide his pain to the world.

"He did have a choice?" she asked carefully.

"Maybe he did, maybe he didn't," Nick said. "But the point is that Dad didn't care. He liked making suits for Koslov's Mob. Remember, he was a fox in Zootopia. He was never going to get respect from legitimate citizens, so he got it from the crooks. And he got a nice little bonus from Koslov to ease his conscience."

"Did your mom know all of this?"

Nick nodded. "Some at first. Dad didn't exactly explain where the loan had come from, but she wasn't stupid. She could figure who most of his clientele was working for. But she was a fox in Zootopia too, so she figured this was their best option, lousy as it was." He rubbed his lips briefly.  "That changed when she found out about the drugs. Mom could swallow Dad making suits for the Mob. Letting Koslov use the shop as his candy store was going too far. She and Dad had the biggest fight I'd ever seen them have that night. Then she kicked him out on his tail and told him not to come back home until he convinced Koslov to move his drug distribution somewhere else."

Judy frowned. "What happened then?"

Nick closed his eyes, as if in pain. "He left. He just… left. The last thing he said to her was that if she was going to be so snotty about who he did business with, he'd just move to Califurnia and start over without either of us. That he had built something here in Zootopia and she was just spitting on everything he'd done." He sighed. "That was last either of us ever saw of him."

"What happened to his shop?"

"Burned to the ground the next evening, with three of Koslov's boys inside. Two weeks later Koslov was dead and Mr. Big was in control of the city. We never heard from Dad again. Now we know why." Nich let out a long sigh.

"Nick, do you think Mr. Big had your father killed?" Judy asked, feeling her heart sink.

"Well, that's the real question of the day, isn't it Carrots?" Nick said. "God knows I don't dare ask him."

"Why not?" she demanded.

"What the hell would I do if he said yes?"


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2018 02:46 pm (UTC)
Woooo. Quite the emotional hit. Poor Nick. I love how you're building such an interesting background for him.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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