In Darkness I Hide: A Zootopia Story

Summary

A wolf with a shaded past confronts her own demons. As a threat close to home draws near, can she put aside her struggles to defend what she loves? A coming darkness looms over Zootopia. A wolf with a shaded past confronts her own demons as she tries to live out her life, both as a bank CEO by day and a merciless vigilante by night. Through burning her victims alive, she hunts for relief from the pain that has stalked her all these years. As the threat close to home draws near, Murana Wolford's life begins to crumble, and everything she holds dear is ripped away from her. Can she put aside her own struggles and work with those she loves to defend the city and her livelihood before all is lost?

Genre:
Drama / Thriller
Author:
darkflamewolf
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
23
Rating:
4.0 1 review
Age Rating:
18+

Monday: The Un-Standard Grind - The First Morning

Monday - The Un-Standard Grind – The First Morning


Savannah Central - The Red Lion Apartment Suites – Forest Penthouse Suite – Den 23A
Monday – 06:23 AM – Scattered Clouds / Mostly Sunny

Murana woke up panting, her entire body glistening with sweat, dribbling through her fur. She pressed a paw deep into the hairs of her forehead, massaging it gently as the final visages of the nightmare ebbed away into oblivion. She realized her breathing was rapid, and she fought to get it under control. The dream had been awful. She scarcely wanted to bring it to the forefront of her thoughts for fear of having it suck her back into nothing but terror and dread.

“You okay, babe?” A groggy voice emerged beside her, the covers sliding away to reveal her husband.

Like her, Anthony was a timber wolf of standard grey complexion, with a pelt that was as unique as it was ordinary. His buff upper body denoted years of physical training and combat practice that was required of him by his job. He stretched forward wide as his tongue did curls in his open maw, grunting with satisfaction when several audible pops were heard up and down his spine.

He turned to Murana and laid a comforting paw on her leg, “Was it a bad dream again, hun?”

She shook her head aggressively, “It’s fine. I’ll be fine.”

His expression melted a bit at her dismissal, but he knew better than to try and force something out of her when she wasn’t ready to divulge. At length, he shrugged, “Very well. Since I’m up, I might as well get dressed and start us a pot of coffee.”

“That would be nice.” She exhaled, feeling the last vestiges of panic recede.

Murana slipped out of the sheets, pacing over the fresh grass of the floor as she stood staring out the corner windows overlooking the verandah. The city of Zootopia spread forth like an expanse of twisted columns filled with beautiful majesty. Each individual spire designed uniquely like the mammal that inspired it. She could already see the steady flow of traffic from the early morning commuters making the trek to their daily routines.

The sound of the television interrupted her thoughts as she turned to the vivid screen resting on the carved, wooden dresser. Anthony always loved some sort of background noise as he went about his business in the den. It was the same major news report they had been airing for nearly a week now. Unusual nighttime electrical storms that tended to hover low over the city and travel from one end to the other. She wasn’t much interested in the weather, so she refocused back on the city she loved.

“Man, you look beautiful.” He marveled.

Her brown tail swished behind her agitatedly at the compliment, she still wasn’t much used to those even after a year of marriage. Pivoting on a heel, she watched her husband gaze longingly at her, beholding her form bereft of any clothing. Unlike most wolves to include her husband, Murana had a unique, swirling pattern of black strands interweaving with the more traditional pelt of grey and white giving her a somewhat foreign look. She was lean and slender, but physically toned with muscles that could spring to life in an instant should the need arise.

“Flattery isn’t going to get you anywhere this morning buster!” She laughed, shifting her eyes over to the wall clock. “You slept through your alarm and will be late for work if you don’t hurry along.”

He ignored her comment and strode up to her, coffee mugs in paw, to give her a passionate lick on the muzzle. He nestled himself up against her as a low growl rumbled in his chest, “Chief will understand if I’m a bit late this morning.”

In one swift motion, she firmly pushed him away while simultaneously snatching her favorite coral mug from his paw. After a sip, “Your excuses are only going to get you so far with him. One of the reasons I married you was because I knew you were responsible and dependable, don’t slack off now that you have a rich wife to come home to.”

Anthony trailed a claw down the length of her lower jawbone, teasing the end of her lips with it. “Remind me again how I ended up with such a wonderful gal like you?”

She smirked behind her mug, “Hard to say at this point. Memory is failing me.”

“Slick.” He murmured, unable to hide his goofy grin. “Fine, fine. I’ll go get dressed for work.”

“It’s about time, you lazy bum!” She feigned a kick in the rear as he scampered over jovially to the bamboo bead closet.

Murana shook her head before resuming her vigil over the city. Taking deeper sips of her coffee, she breathed in the fresh aroma of the beans he used. Was that Macadamia Nut White Chocolate? She grinned as she brought it back up to her lips. He really was gunning for something more rambunctious tonight if he was treating her to this type of coffee. She hazarded a glance behind to see him shoving his head up through a blue collared T-shirt.

“Nuh-uh!” She clicked her tongue, taking big steps towards him. “You will not be wearing your uniform like it’s casual Friday!”

“The standard blues is so itchy and tight on me. I don’t like it!” He whined as she ripped the shirt right up off his body.

She firmly batted his abs hiding behind the stomach fur, “Only because you need to just cave in and buy a larger set. You’re getting too swollen as it is with your exercise regime.”

He wrapped an arm around her waist, bringing her in close, “You like that then, babe? I can totally make these abs work for you tonight!”

Bopping him on the nose, “Yep, seriously forgetting how I ended up with you.”

He barked a laugh as he slipped a quick lick before rummaging around in the chest of drawers. “You know you love me for my sense of humor!” She merely shook her head at this.

Pulling out a wrinkled pair of blue slacks complete with an already fastened belt, he padded over to the closet to pull down his collared, buttoned shirt, complete with name tag, lapels and badge. Wolford was an officer of the prestigious Precinct 1 of the Zootopia Police Department, still currently serving the call since his graduation from the Academy nearly five years ago.

Murana always did like a male in uniform. Tapping a finger to her chin, she admired Anthony as he fastened up his shirt and pulled on his leggings. She nearly closed her eyes in disbelief, “Seriously? I am going to have to iron out those pants tonight when you get home. They look ridiculous compared to your top!”

“Says the one who didn’t approve of my first outfit.” He smiled, revealing his teeth before plopping down on the bed.

“No wonder your boss hasn’t promoted you yet in four years. You feel going casual is the modus operand at the ZPD. You know what you wear is part of the impression you give of your overall interest in getting ahead, right?” She tried to explain.

“I’m happy with where I’m at! I love my job, my den, and the love of my life! What more could I want?” He extended his arms out, gesturing to all that they had.

“Granted, it was a stroke of luck I found you at that coffee shop.” She ruminated.

“Don’t I know it!” With a wink he bounced up from the bed and gave her a quick kiss goodbye, gripping a good fistful of fur on her tail. “Baby, I want you to be just the way you are right now tonight when I come home.”

“Hmm.” She hummed into her drink as she brought it back up to her mouth, “That still remains to be seen.” She flicked her head off in the direction of the door. “Now go on and get to work, I got to go meet someone this morning.”

His countenance faded into a scowl. “It isn’t him again, is it?”

She thumped the back of her paw on his shoulder, “Be nice. He’s been with me for years. There’s nothing for you to be jealous about and you know it.”

“Yes, dear.” He turned shaking his head and shut the door quietly behind him, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Shivering slightly from the lack of clothes, Murana turned the thermostat on the wall up a few degrees before resuming her stance opposite the verandah. Flicking her tail at an itch, she lamented the thought of getting dressed soon. She found the most delightful place in Sahara Square called the Mystic Springs Oasis. After all the time she had spent in Zootopia, she chided herself for not finding it sooner.

When she had first heard about the place from a fellow colleague of Wolford’s, she couldn’t exactly believe her ears that such a place existed. Her first visit was anything but comfortable however, given that it was a naturalist club. Once the initial shock had worn off and she realized that nobody really cared what you looked like with clothes off, she began intermingling with the patrons there and discovered a lot of good nuggets of info that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

After some reminiscing, she knew she’d have to get ready eventually, but unlike Anthony, being the CEO of a bank sort of gave you a bit more leeway with your schedule. Figuring she’d at least finish the wonderful cup of coffee her husband had made before picking a suit to wear that day, she downed the rest of it in one gulp. Walking into the kitchenette in the front room, she set the mug into the sink before heading into her closet.

Selecting a delightful pinstripe suit with vertical teal bands on both the slacks and blouse, she fitted herself into her white undershirt before swearing as her tail knocked a picture over and off her nightstand. Picking it back up, she paused a moment to regard the subject of it. It was two wolf pups in a small red wagon. Both had been shaved clean of all their fur, but the older female pup was hugging her little brother as tight as she could while he idly played with something she had quite forgotten inside the wagon.

With a wistful look, she delicately set the frame back onto the stand, taking great care to arrange it just right so that it would be the last thing she saw before sleep. Finishing up getting dressed, she took one last look around to make sure everything was in order. She smirked as she saw the still messy bed. That’ll be something for him to take care of when he gets home tonight. With a quick twist of the lock, she swept out the door into the hallway, giving a short bang on the wall for her little neighbor.


Savannah Central - Snarlbucks – On the Corner of Screech Ave. and Pride St.
Monday – 07:15 AM – Few Clouds / Mostly Sunny

Murana weaved and threaded through the herds of sheep and cattle as she made her way down the bustling street, incessantly tapping on her phone as she texted her secretary of the things that needed accomplishing that day. The din was roaring as various street cars honked at the slow pedestrian mammals that were continuing their laborious crossing at the stoplight long after it had turned green. Like a seasoned pro, she didn’t even need to look up to see where she was heading, having memorized these streets a thousand times during her years living here.

Coming up on a rather busy corner of Savannah Central, she glanced up to see the imposing structure of the ZPD; the glass dome atop its sodded rooftop gleaming in the morning sun. Dismissing the sight, she turned right into a corner coffee shop that happened to be one of her favorite locations. The line was already out the door this early in the day, but she bypassed the crowd without breaking stride and entered into the cool interior.

She saw the crowd of mammals huddled towards the back at the cashier counter, where several ibexes frantically rushed to make the multitude of cappuccinos and lattes that were being ordered. She glanced over the rest of the dining area and spotted a few booths along the windowed front, each housing several hanging bulb lanterns above each table.

She spied a rather inconspicuous skunk sitting up in one of them, his legs dangling over the edge, idly swinging back and forth. He was wearing a rather obnoxiously yellow shirt with faded cargo pants. He sported a blue billed cap with the letters ZNN emblazoned on the front, something he had worn proudly the day he was hired by the company and received it as a welcoming gift. Around his neck, he wore a small pine tree air freshener tab, held up by a makeshift lanyard since he had lost the original chain that came with it.

Murana clicked her phone off and placed it in her suit coat pocket as she grinned at the diminutive skunk, his head bobbing to some tunes only he could hear through his over-sized headphones. He already had a small latte cradled between his paws with another, much larger one opposite him in the empty half of the booth. She smiled at this kind gesture, that even after all this time he still was thinking of her during the morning routine.

Sidling up beside the unsuspecting skunk, she flicked off the headset, deftly catching it in mid-air before it clattered to the table. “How’s my little stinker doing today?” She jested.

He gave her a look of indignation at having his music interrupted, but graciously accepted the headphones back. He tucked them away in his Andy Lagopus themed backpack, a New Year’s gift from the head of ZNN to all his employees, before ensuring that he zipped the dislodged zipper up tight. “Doing just fine, Mom.” He quipped back, readjusting the big-rimmed glasses on his face.

Murana slipped into the booth sitting across from him, lifting the coffee cup up to her nose and taking in a deep whiff. “Macadamia nut chocolate. I’m starting to think my husband has been stealing your ideas.” She savored a sip, closing her eyes as she let the flavors meld in her mouth.

The skunk raised an eyebrow at her as he crossed his arms, “Well, of course! I’ve lived with you far longer than he ever has. I think I know what you like.”

Her shoulders slumped slightly, was he still angry about that? “Steven, you know you couldn’t live with me forever. It was time for you to move out on your own. I think finding an attractive, stinky girlfriend will be good for you.”

“Urgh!” He slammed his back up against the booth siding. “Stop treating me like a kid!”

“Then stop being so upset that we moved you out. It was time.” Her eyes wandered over to a rather pretty skunk with a luxurious tail waiting in line to order. “Besides, I think that one over there would be a fine catch.”

“That’s not the point of why I brought you here.” Steven replied, straightening his arms out, claws nearly scratching the table in exasperation. “I needed to talk to you.”

“I’m glad actually.” She admitted. “I hadn’t heard from you in almost a week, I had thought something was wrong. I was looking forward to our next meeting.”

He looked away, feeling a bit guilty, “Well, that’s kind of the reason why I brought you-”

Her focus drifted down to his chest, where the air freshener hung, its colors bleached from years of wear. “You still carry that grungy old thing around?” She indicated it with a claw.

He gripped it lovingly, bringing it to his nose to smell the pine scent that he still believed it held. “Yeah! This was the first gift you gave me after I…um…”

She cocked an eyebrow, “Stunk up my apartment for the first time.”

“I’m still sorry about that.” He apologized sheepishly.

She leaned across the table to playfully pull the bill of his cap down over his eyes. “It’s fine. I’d like to say that after all those times I’ve gotten used to your smell. You’re still my little stinker!”

Steven managed a small chuckle from that. “I like it.” He spoke, fiddling with the tree. “It keeps me calm when I’m at work and Chris is picking on me.”

It was Murana’s turn to fold her arms, “Is he still bothering you? Want me to take care of him?”

After a nervous laugh, “No, that’s not necessary. If it gets really bad, I think I can have my boss talk to him.”

“Well, you know how to contact me if it comes to that.” She uncrossed and took up her drink again.

His eyes bulged suddenly “Oh, that’s right! That reminds me.” He dug into his backpack, sifting through its contents with purpose. He set aside a camcorder beside him on the seat, which drew an inquisitive look from Murana. At length he drew out a small, unassuming pink box. He pushed it shyly across the table toward her. “I bought this for you the other day.”

Murana stared at it, quite unsure what to make of it. She glanced around the café, “Here? Of all places Steven? You know this puts me in a bit of an awkward position. I am a happily married woman!”

He slapped a paw to his forehead, nearly knocking his cap off. “No! Will you please just open it? It’s not anything like that!”

She smirked at him, revealing several teeth. “I’m just teasing you. Although I have absolutely no idea what you could possibly have-”

Her words caught in her throat as she beheld the two, gleaming earrings propped up in the small casing. They were fashioned exactly in the shape of the pine tree dangling around Steven’s neck. She picked one out before the other, holding each in her paws, admiring them in the light of the lamps. Their vibrant green shimmered in the rays, causing a few patrons to notice and look in their direction. She brought them close to her nostrils, drinking in the scents of the forest.

“You even got them scented?” She remarked incredulously.

Steven swung his legs excitedly, apparently pleased with himself. “I figured they’d look good on you and would protect you from bad smells.”

She lifted his hat off before ruffling the small tuft of white fur on his head. “I would never think you smell that bad!”

He quickly straightened up his mane before slapping the bill cap back on defiantly. “You know I hate it when you do that!”

She drew back in mock hurt, “And here I thought you loved it when I did that!”

He rolled his eyes at her, “Well, I was thinking of you on our special day today and I thought something like that would look good on you.” He raised his scented freshener up. “I even had to part with this for a few days while they took a mold of it.”

She had paused in mid-piercing of an ear as she stared at him, “What special day?”

A look of anguish briefly flitted over his face. “You don’t remember?” After a few moments of silence, he sighed. “You saved me today, eight years ago.”

She finished putting in the second earring, sharing his sudden, miserable mood. “Oh…I’m so sorry Steven. I had completely forgotten. I was just-”

He turned to the side, looking out the window at the meandering crowds shambling past the shop. “It’s fine. You’re busy. I understand that. You’re an important person and have things to do constantly every day.”

She shook her head. “That’s no excuse. I should have remembered this anniversary. I know how special it was to you…to us.”

She cursed softly as the buzzing of the phone in her pocket interrupted their conversation. Steven’s damning look as she excused herself to pick up the call only proved to further his point. She ignored his mouthing of ‘see?’ as she turned her head to accept the call.

“This is Mrs. Wolford.” She listened a few seconds before pinching the bridge of her nose in disgust. “Are you serious Trudy?” She growled. “That bumbling idiot is going to be the death of this bank! We need to get him off the damn payroll fast and fix this mess. See to it he is fired before I get there. Thank you Trudy.” She nodded a few more times before clicking off. She turned to meet the accusing eyes of Steven. “Look, I’ve got to go.”

“Of course you do.” He uttered flatly.

Exhaling loudly, “Look, I love these gifts.” She tapped the earrings now in her ears. “And I’ll treasure them dearly. In fact I’ll wear them all day today!” That brought a glimmer of a smile from the skunk, but it did little to heighten his spirits. “Tell you what…I’ll make it up to you. What do you say you and me go out to get a bite to eat tomorrow at the Oat and Cloister at the pier?”

He whistled apathetically, “That’s a fancy place. I’m not sure what Wolford would think about you taking me there.”

She gave him a look of regret, “I’m sorry I haven’t been returning your calls lately. I’ve just been very busy, but I do plan to spend more time and get to learn how well you’re doing at ZNN. It seems they recently gave you a promotion, that’s exciting right?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, “about three months ago.”

“Oh…” She grimaced.

“Well, there’s still something I want to-” He began, waving a paw to allay her shame on the matter. He was apprehensive about what he was going to say next, unsure of how she’d react.

“Can it wait?” Murana asked, placing her cell phone back in her coat pocket and fixing herself to get up and leave.

Afraid she’d walk out before he had a chance to get out what he needed to say to her, he blurted, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” His rate of speech sped up to match his anxiety.

A few hairs bristled on the back of her neck. “What do you mean?”

Gripping the coffee nervously and taking a drink, “I actually called you here to talk about our arrangement. I thought I was helping you assist in capturing serial killers, ones that were going around Zootopia and killing folks. You know…serving justice and all that. You’d always come back smelling different, but at the time I…I kinda really liked the smell, so I didn’t question it.” He finished, rubbing the back of his neck fretfully.

“Look if you don’t want to tell me anything further, you can-” Murana attempted to reach out to him, to put a consoling paw on his arm. He drew back suddenly, drawing a hurt expression from her.

“I realize now it was the smell of death.” He quivered involuntarily. “This needs to stop. I don’t think I can go through with this anymore.” He began to hyperventilate, taking in short, panicked breaths. His eyes went back to her face, “Last Tuesday I saw the killer with my own eyes.”

She held his gaze a good, long moment before she relaxed back into her seat. “You know what Steven? Don’t even worry about this anymore.” She could see he wasn’t calming down that much. “Steven, listen, take your medicine. You’re starting to not breathe.”

Swiftly unzipping an outer pocket where Andy’s smiling mouth was, he fetched out a small inhaler. He popped it in his mouth, taking a deep inhale of the puff; holding his breath for several seconds before letting it back out in a rush. He did another application before setting it back down on the table, his breathing slowly stabilizing.

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled, taking the blame for his condition.

Murana shook her head, expression softening. “Never apologize for who you are Steven. I love you just the way you are and will continue to love you just the same. If you’re that upset about this arrangement then you don’t have to participate anymore.”

“You sure?” He asked hesitantly.

“Of course!” She smiled, finally being able to pat him on the paw. “I’m sorry though Steven.” She rose up from the booth. “I do have to get going to save my bank from another disaster. I apologize you had to see…that last week.” She added hesitantly as an afterthought.

The skunk debated pulling out a crumpled piece of paper from his backpack, timidly tossing it on the table. “This is the last time I’m helping you Murana.” He held her gaze, his own on the verge of tears. “But if I’m truly your little stinker like you say I am, you’ll not take this one. Please…just walk away. For me.” His lower lip was near to quivering.

She stood beside him, looking down on his small frame. Nothing was exchanged for several moments. “You want to meet up here tomorrow morning, like usual?” She offered. After a moment, he nodded his head briefly. “That’s better. I’ll see you then. Good luck today at work.”

Murana patted him on the shoulder, deftly picking up the crumpled piece of paper he had laid on the table before walking out the café door. Seeing that she had taken it anyway despite his plea, he began to cry. It wasn’t until he felt a presence next to him that he looked up to see the same female skunk she had pointed out earlier in line. She gave him a concerned look, tilting her head as she bounced her tail in curiosity.

“Um…are you Steven Stinkman?” After confirmation, she batted her eyelashes at him. “This wolf told me that you might need some cheering up and asked me to come sit next to you.”

He slammed a paw on the table as he jerked around to yell out the store, “Mom!”


Savannah Central - Lemming Bros. Bank Corporate HQ – 44th Floor, Executive Offices
Monday – 08:52 AM – Few Clouds / Mostly Sunny

Murana swiftly made her way down the street, ignoring the din of honking and various growls and moans of the morning commute. Her mind was focused solely on the issue at hand, which was to get to her job quick and fix the unfolding catastrophe that was most likely getting worse by the second. She rounded the sidewalk corner and nearly stumbled upon a small, brown fennec fox wearing a rather obnoxious pair of shades. He was standing near a trash dumpster with a variety of wrapped burritos piled high on a rolling food cart situated beside him.

“Hey, watch it lady!” He raised both arms in defiance as he bellowed out in a deep voice.

She roared back, jabbing a claw at him, “You watch it! I know your game and what you’re selling. It’s a crappy scam with subpar ingredients. I can smell the inferior quality of meats you have on display and it’s shameful to think you were even given a license for commerce and food handling.”

“Now wait just a second there-” He began, taking off his glasses to get a better look at her, a bit taken aback by how much she knew about his enterprise.

“You look here, fox!” She rebuffed. “I’ve seen you around my bank soliciting for money from my employees without a permit from the owner of the property, which is against local laws in the business district of Zootopia. You have no business being in this section selling your ill-gotten food. If I see you again, I will call the cops and have you arrested.” With a final nod, she rose back up and smoothed down her suit. “Now when I come back out for lunch, I best see you gone.”

“Tch, fine lady. Whatever.” He waved arrogantly before packing up the burritos into the trolley and unhitching the wheels.

Satisfied that she got her point across, she glanced down at her phone as it buzzed. Another urgent text was screaming through her screen. Sighing heavily, she walked up to her building and looked up. She spied the small object hurtling down towards her position. Raising her paw up, she caught the small lemming, its velocity causing her to stumble back a few steps and take a knee. The backside of her paw barely scraped the sidewalk below. Several mammals gasped in shock at seeing the impromptu rescue.

“You should have let me die!” The lemming wailed, trying his best to wriggle out of her grip, doing little more than ruffle his business tux even further.

She rolled her eyes at him, “You drained over $300,000 out of ZNN’s accounts and you still felt you deserved to keep your job? How does one ever go about making a mistake like that, Carl?”

“It was an honest accident!” He chittered, his buck teeth shaking wildly with each word. “I promise I’ll never do it again! I’ll learn…I mean I’ve learned from my mistakes!”

“You almost didn’t.” She gazed up the high rise. That had to have been at least a thirty story drop. She should have probably just let him hit the ground. Her wrist hurt something fierce. She looked back down and glared at him. “You are right about one thing. You’ll never be doing it again! If Trudy hadn’t told you yet, you’re fired.”

A look of hope flitted across his face as he looked up into her eyes, praying he’d find mercy there. Within moments he knew his career was over. He went slack in her paws. “Just kill me now.”

“That’d be a favor.” Murana roughly put him down on his feet. She stared down at him as she rose up. “Go find another job and pray that it has nothing to do with accounting.”

Flouting his meager attempts at groveling, she brushed him off and strode into Lemming Brothers Bank. Many rodents and other small mammals scurried out of the way of her paw pads walking across the front foyer of the bank. She smiled at the ferret receptionist manning the front desk before waiting in the mob of miniature animals staring up at the elevator lights as it counted down the floors. It would have looked quite comical for an outsider to see a timber wolf towering over the multitude of the critters surrounding her.

The doors opened before a flurry of movement. As if by unspoken code, the plethora of mammals shuttled in and out of the elevator without so much as a bump or push. They streamed up the escalators to their prescribed balconies overlooking the primary space where Murana herself stood, alone in a sea of lemmings, marmots and more. Unencumbered by the fleeting stares cast her way, she continued to send various texts with rising alarm to Trudy.

After multiple stops, the elevator landed on her floor near the top of the building. Several small doors along the sides of catwalk lining the interior of the cabin slid open to reveal various tubing and other tiny passages that would funnel the smaller mammals to other parts of the building. Murana tramped off and almost ran right over Trudy who had been lingering at the dual doors for her appearance.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?!” Murana roared, stumbling past the frightened lemming and trying her best not to trample over any others loitering around nearby. After recovering, she faced Trudy and stared down at her petite form. The small mammal was dressed to the nines in a beige suit with skirt, a pearl necklace, and dozens of diamond rings. It would have looked hilarious had it not been so serious a situation. “So, you mean to tell me Carl sold off all of ZNN’s assets?” Murana waggled her phone with the texts clearly visible detailing how much worse the situation really was than when it had started.

She bumbled a response back, “Yes! It was all I could do to stop him, but by then it was too late. The funds had already been transferred and the lock-in for the transaction won’t expire until the close of business today!”

“Does Lagopus know about it yet?” Murana queried.

“I don’t know, but it won’t be long.” Trudy dutifully informed.

Murana snapped her fingers, indicating her secretary to follow her. As they went past multitudes of walkways and balconies bolted into the walls of the cubicle farm, she instinctually shielded several lemmings from an exploding printer, a result from weeks of misuse, and caught several others mindlessly walking off said balconies as they absorbed themselves in their phone apps. At length, they arrived at her office, having saved countless lemmings from unfortunate circumstantial deaths.

Shutting the door behind them, she surveyed the office. It was rather quaint for her position as CEO of Lemming Brothers Bank. It was no bigger than a standard bedroom with a lone redwood desk in the center placed atop a faux zebra-patterned carpet. A widescreen TV was mounted on the wall opposite a decorative evergreen plant. An elevator door for Trudy was installed directly into the base-boarding just beneath the TV. Wheeling the chair around behind the desk, Murana flopped down into it, nearly ripping her laptop open as she signed into it.

“Have we tracked any of our clients who aren’t tapping into their accounts recently? Do we have sufficient capita in their funds to loan ZNN enough to stave off any overdraws?” She was rapidly crunching the numbers of where and how to move the money so that everyone had roughly enough for any reasonable major purchasing that business day.

A moment of silence was all it took to attract Murana’s attention. She glanced up to see a flustered Trudy, now standing atop her desk, flexing her paws together over and over again. “That’s the problem,” she began reluctantly, “I might have freaked out a bit too much and told one of my friends about the disaster in my panic and it…might…have gotten back to some of our clients?”

A lethal glint invaded Murana’s eyes as she stared at her inept secretary, “What did you do?”

The lemming raised both her paws up in supplication, “Please forgive me! The moment they heard of the grievous error, they decided to pull out their funds to prevent loans from being drawn from their accounts.”

She blinked once at Trudy. “All of them?”

“All of them.” She nodded.

Murana had to keep calm, trying not to hyperventilate in front of her idiotic secretary. Just what connections did this daft lemming have that could have prompted this shit-storm of disaster? Whether she did this purposefully or not didn’t matter at this point for her. What mattered was trying to save her bank from bankruptcy and secure the faith of her remaining clients that were left on the books. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves.

Serenely opening up another tab on her browser, she asked soothingly, “Trudy, can you give me a description of what you do here?”

The lemming blinked at her boss, “I don’t understand.”

She clicked her nails on the wood, “Your job. Its description. Now.”

Reciting from seemingly rote memory, Trudy prattled off, “Executive Assistant: provides administrative support and clerical assistance to executive and director-level management within a company. Roles include helping build the bank schedule, management of division employees, management of executive itinerary to include scheduling meetings, travel and other demands on the executive’s time.”

With a click of the mouse, Murana licked her lips. “Wonderful Trudy! Thank you so much for that.”

“I’m sorry?” She uttered, very confused on what had just transpired.

“Your job. I just put an opening on Cat’s List for it. You’re fired.” She said matter-of-factly.

Little tears began to well up around the edges of her eyes, “You’re…firing me? But you can’t! I’ve done so much for you…for this bank!”

Leaning back in her chair and propping her crossed hind paws up on the desk, Murana glared at the lemming, “Oh, I feel you’ve done plenty. Because of this debacle, my company is on the verge of collapse and now I have to save it from failure. You’ve made one too many mistakes Trudy. It’s time you moved on to other pastures.”

“Please have mercy! I have a husband! Kids! How can I go supporting them?” She wailed.

Murana gave a snort as she waved a paw to dismiss the lemming, “Please, you have only one litter and your divorced husband is paying alimony up the ass for them. Do not try to tell me that you’ll be hurting for support.”

Trudy collapsed to her knees and groveled before her, crumpling the papers beneath her legs as she drug herself closer to the wolf. “Don’t fire me! Please! I’ve been so faithful to you all these years!” The tears were flowing freely at this point, her speech becoming incoherent.

Arms crossed, the wolf watched as the tiny lemming sniveled and transitioned from a respected professional to a blubbering mess. At length, Murana rolled her eyes and spread her arms, “Try to have some dignity please. I know it’ll be rough on you, but I’m positive that you’ll make it through this hard time just fine. You need a hug or a moment to compose yourself before you walk out of my office?” She regretted offering the moment the words left her muzzle.

Nodding her head numbly, Trudy shambled over into the rather huge embrace of the larger mammal. Awkwardly putting her oversized arms around the tiny critter, she held the sobbing lemming in her arms.

Murana had to admit that the little thing had grown on her these past few years since taking over the company from the previous owner who had died due to mysterious causes. Trudy had taken Murana under her wing and helped instruct her on the ways of banking. Murana was such an excellent student that within a scant year, she was making decisions and embodying the full mantle of leadership of the bank. No one questioned her skills and talents as CEO.

She was patting Trudy’s head a bit when she opened her mouth to console her, “I understand that you-”

The words had barely passed her tongue when the lemming undid her hair pin and stabbed it deep into the wolf’s chest. The assault was quickly followed by a piercing sting as two sharp teeth dug deep into her suit and pricked her skin. Roaring with fury, Murana rose up from the chair, knocking it backwards to the floor before gripping the lemming by the scruff and tossing her against the far wall like a ragdoll. Within moments, she was upon the murderous secretary with her hind paw pressing firmly into the fat folds of Trudy’s windpipe.

Ignoring her flimsy gasps for air, she dug her paw deeper into the lemming’s throat, her fanged maw drawing a terrified look from Trudy. “You little witch! Did you think I was going to cut you off with no assistance to help you find a new job? I had owed you that much! Now it seems you’ll have to suffer the next few miserable years of your pathetic life behind bars!”

“What? No…gragh!” Trudy choked on her spit, Murana’s leg pressing down harder to shut her up.

Murana had the cell phone up to her ear, pausing briefly to pull the hairpin out of her chest before tossing it aside into the trash can with expert ease. After a few moments, a rather effeminate voice picked up the line.

“Yes, is this the ZPD?” She glared down at Trudy. “I have apprehended an individual who has made an attempt on my life. Yes, I am Mrs. Murana Wolford, CEO of Lemming Brothers Bank.” A few incomprehensible ramblings later, she nodded at no one in particular. “Yes, I am aware that my husband will be unable to assist. Can you send someone now to come pick up the mammal? Thank you so much, Clawhauser. Remind Wolford to buy you a donut next time he sees you.”

With a satisfied smirk, she clicked the phone off and dropped it in her suit pocket before resuming vigil over Trudy. It wasn’t long before they could hear sirens blaring down the tall buildings, homing in on their position. Murana waited patiently over the lemming before a knock came to the door. After calling out to come in, she was surprised to see a rather small duo of officers. A vibrant, energetic bunny hopped into the room quickly, eyes darting about in what looked like an attempt to memorize the crime scene, while coming in behind her strolling casually was a red fox that seemed rather blasé about the whole affair.

“Good morning officers.” Murana began, quickly shaking off her astonishment at the bunny and fox duo. Of course Chief Bogo would send the B Squad. She inclined her head to indicate the lemming trapped beneath her hind paw, “This is Trudy, the one who stabbed me in the chest with her hair pin,” she tapped her lapel, which had a sizeable hole, before pointing to the trash can, “and the weapon is in there, that you can take as evidence.”

“Sounds like you got the whole scene set up for us then.” The fox grinned.

“Stop it, Nick!” The rabbit smacked his arm with the backside of her paw. “Thank you Mrs. Wolford. My name is Officer Judy Hopps and this is my partner, Officer Nick Wilde. We’ll take over from here!” She unfurled a plastic baggie and began gingerly picking the pin out of the trash.

Nick’s eyes grew wide as he stared at the name placard on her desk, “You’re Wolford’s wife?” A low whistle. “Dang, I thought he was just joking when he said he had a sexy CEO as a wife!”

Judy chuckled, “And I thought you knew everyone in Zootopia, Nick!”

He stuffed his paws into his pant pockets coolly. “Well, I don’t know everyone in Zootopia personally, but I may know of them.” He stole a glance at the wolf, “Besides, I may have seen her once or twice outside this very building during one of my former business ventures.”

Seeing the half lidded expression of Murana, Judy caught the cue and quickly intervened, “And if you’d please excuse me!” She patted the wolf’s leg to get up off of the lemming before attaching tiny handcuffs to the whimpering critter. “Thank you, Mrs. Wolford.”

Nick’s gaze was roving about the room, taking it all in. He gestured back to the horde of curious lemmings who had stopped all work for the day to see what was going on. “So what life insurance policy do you have for these guys? Probably something expensive.”

“We get a group deal.” She stated flatly. “The company I go through understands the nature of these mammals. Thankfully they breed like rabbits.”

Judy’s ear flicked unconsciously at the statement, but she chose to ignore the comment. Even Nick’s eyes darted to Judy to see how she’d react. In the end, she got up and lifted Trudy under her arm before turning to Murana. “Thanks for apprehending the suspect. We’ll make sure she gets to jail safely.”

“She isn’t a suspect, she literally stabbed me.” She corrected the bunny.

Judy paused for but a moment, “Well, Officer Wilde here will get your story before we leave. It was very nice to…ah…finally meet you Mrs. Wolford.” She swiveled on a paw before shooting a ‘did-you-not-know-this-was-Wolford’s-wife’ glare at Nick and stalked out of the office.

“Charmed, I’m sure.” Murana said monotonously.

Casually flipping out a pen and notepad, Nick wrote a small blurb at the top of the page, “Well it’s not every day I get to meet colleagues’ families and loved ones, so today has already been a real treat!” With a smug grin, he regarded the CEO, unfazed by her disdain for him, “So let’s start from the top, shall we? Who is Trudy and how did this begin?” Murana sighed audibly at this.

After what seemed like an interminable interrogation, Officer Wilde had all that he felt was needed to make a proper report and flipped the pad closed. With a suave goodbye, he left Murana alone in her office and shut the door rather roughly. She picked up and reset her chair before slamming into it angrily as she opened up several new emails that had come in. One aggravating one was from Andy Lagopus, owner of ZNN. It had a rather frantic nature to the writing and prompted immediate response.

She thumped her head on her laptop, “Why did you choose today of all days to make a purchase, Andy?!”

Slapping the computer closed, she picked up her keys and swept out of the office, locking it swiftly behind her. As if on cue, all the lemmings surged out of their lethargy and began to look busy. With a low growl at their incompetence and inherent nature to find every likely excuse to not work, she flicked her tail at a few of them as she walked past, causing several to yip in shock.

Murana had no sooner gotten out on the ground floor of the bank lobby and was striding through the foyer when several screams and shouts directed her attention. Several gatling guns descended from the ceiling out of hidden panels and began taking aim at multiple customers throughout the room. She snarled before dropping to all fours and racing over to the front information booth, vaulting over it in a single bound before skidding to a halt on the freshly polished tile. The ferret receptionist squeaked at the sudden appearance of her CEO.

“What the hell were you thinking, Trudy?!” Murana snapped, ripping open the lower compartment door at the base of the booth podium. Reaching into the small opening, she clicked a button which set the guns to standby. Within moments, they stopped revving up to fire and sagged visibly, their barrels pointing straight down.

Brushing down her suit, she stood up and assessed the scene. Multiple mammals and employees were slowly coming out of hiding behind couches, chairs, potted plants and pillars. She looked up at the two massive weapons and shook her head, “I must have been drugged or high when I signed those contractor papers. What was Trudy thinking, installing those things?”

She spent the next several minutes reassuring folks that things were under control and the overnight security measures were not going to go live anytime soon. She scowled up at the two guns. This would be another PR disaster for her bank. Yet another way Trudy was destroying her livelihood even after being fired. In time, the normal din and commotion resumed and mammals soon began to ignore the dangling weapons hanging from the ceiling.

Satisfied that all was at least stable for now, she turned to the revolving door entrance to see a lone otter standing there staring at her. He was fairly unassuming with a tailor fitted brown suit and a collared green shirt underneath complete with orange tie. What was most noticeable about the mammal was his rather round glasses that looked proportionally huge compared to his head. In the middle of the bridge was some tape to keep the crumbling lenses on his face.

“Can I help you?” She cocked her head as she padded up to him, looking down upon his small form.

Adjusting his glasses, he smiled at her, “Yes ma’am. I believe you sent out a call for an executive secretary position?”

She was rather taken aback by the sudden appearance of an applicant. “That was fast. I just put that out an hour ago.”

He chuckled, “Yes, quite. I just happened to be in the market looking for a new job when that got posted.” He spread his arms wide, “So here I am applying for the job, and a real stroke of luck that I found the CEO herself to apply to.”

“You knew who I was?” She was already impressed.

He bowed briefly, “Of course, Mrs. Wolford. I always do research on companies I apply to. It makes me more knowledgeable about their business and what they do. It also helps in interviews that you actually know what your future job entails before trying to apply for it.”

“Clever otter.” She grinned. Snapping her claws and pointing up to the gatling guns in the ceiling, “Tell you what, if you can get those things fixed so that they don’t unintentionally activate during business hours, you’ve got the job.”

He gave her a curious look, “I’m not sure I see how this relates to my job as executive secretary.”

“You just said it.” She beamed. “You would be executive secretary, and as such would do all the various jobs and duties the executive requires of you. Right now, I require this to be fixed by you. Consider it your interview.”

“Brilliant.” He replied, less than thrilled. “So how would I go about doing this?”

“Oh right!” She nearly slapped herself. She flipped a card out of her pocket and handed it to the otter, “This is a contractor we use to get structural work done within the bank of which this would most definitely apply. You can call them and,” she gave him another card, “this is a special bank account we use for funds to apply to projects like these. Call the contractor and get them to fix this today.”

He flipped the two cards over a few times, “I shall do my best, Boss.” Already shifting into the role, he had slipped out the title.

“Not yet I’m not.” She smiled. “See you later today…um…”

He held out a paw, “Ronald Latrinae. But you can call me Ron.”

She shook his paw amicably. “Good to meet you, Ron. My name is Murana Wolford, CEO of Lemming Brothers Bank. Good luck!”

With that, she waved and slipped out of the foyer into the busy street beyond. Ron kept the smile up for her until she was out of sight. Turning to the two guns looming above him, his countenance visibly dropped as he contemplated what he should do next.

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