Nick had the high ground right up to the point Bogo said the magic words. He never had any intention of complying with Bogo's request, but he was peckish for information; there was no way Bogo would be making this particular offer if his back wasn't against the wall, and Nick was curious about any situation that would make Bogo feel cornered. He was a rock. Not always a good thing, being a rock, but when it came to running a police department, rockishness appeared to be an asset.
"You know that half the people in this city know my face, right?" Nick said. "No offense, Chief, but that makes me just about the last person you should want for an undercover op. Now, I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job" — lie — "but Detective Cheval was telling me just the other day how much he'd like to work a sting" — lie — "and he is, if I may say so, absolutely the best choice for the job" — that was a lie of such epic proportions that even Bogo had to catch it, but he let it pass without comment. Nick didn't know what problem had crawled up Chief McHandbook's butt and died there, but it had to be something pretty darn important.
"Shut it, Wilde," the Chief said. "You've had contact with Jackie Setter, haven't you?"
"Am I supposed to shut it or answer the question?"
Nick smirked purely to hide the unease that rolled up in him after hearing Jackie's name. "Jackie? Canine persuasion, runs a casino down by the docks, about yea high?" He held a paw a couple of inches over his head. "Never heard of 'em."
"We want to place you in Setter's organization," Bogo said. He was getting better at ignoring Nick's bullshit. Not as good as Hopps, but Hopps was in a class of her own. "The Southtown mob is making inroads on organized crime within the city — I'm talking big stuff, not the petty deals your pal Big cuts. Racketeering, gun running, manufacture and distribution of illegal substances. Three of our last seven major busts were traced back to Setter or one of his cronies."
"Huh. Well, Jackie always did have eyes bigger than his stomach," said Nick. "But unless you're expecting me to volunteer for some fairly drastic plastic surgery, I'm not sure you're thinking this through. Even if I change my appearance enough to fool the average street-bound Zootopian, and we both know I wouldn't want to hide this handsome mug behind fur dye and prosthetics, Jackie's smarter than that. He keeps an eye on the ZPD, too. And maybe an ear. I used to hear all kinds of stories about moles in the government."
"Which is exactly why I need you, Wilde," Bogo said. Nick would be lying if he said he didn't like hearing that, but he had a bad feeling about where this was going.
"No," he said.
"It wouldn't be hard to pull off," Bogo said. "We play it like you're a dirty cop, kick you off the force, you skulk around Setter's casino dropping hints that you lifted all kinds of classified information on your way out the door — "
"Which only works because… what, I'm a fox with a less-than-stellar record?"
"I don't like it any more than you do, Wilde," said Bogo, and the sincerity in his face softened Nick a little. "I don't like it, but I'm willing to use it. Same as I've been willing to use your contacts and experience all along. It's your choice, of course; this kind of assignment always is, and I won't lie to you — it'll be long and hard, you'll be on your own, and your reputation will take a beating."
"Oh, because that's such a novelty." What would Judy do? (Nick needed to have a shirt made up with that — WWJD? If the single-resident city of Nicktopia had a motto, that was it.) "Listen, Chief, not that I don't appreciate you thinking of me, but I think it's better to regift this one to somebody a little more suited to the job. Say, Cheval. Or O'Roark. Maybe Pawton. I'm not even a detective. If you ever need a meter maid, though, let me know. I'm told I make the hat look absolutely adorable — "
"Wilde," the Chief said in such an oppressively heavy tone of voice that Nick knew his steadfast little boat was about the take the volley that would sink her. He could almost hear distant drummers beating out a devil's tattoo abovedecks while Bogo rallied his forces.
"Would you look at the time? I'm already late. That paperwork won't fill itself out, you know."
"Wilde. You're correct that Jackie Setter has an eye on the ZPD. We recently uncovered information that he's paying even more attention than normal, however. One of our officers in particular has caught his interest."
Oh no, Nick was thinking, don't say it —
"I'm talking about Officer Hopps," Bogo said.
There it was. Here cometh the cannonball, right through the broadside of Nick's flank. Clearly his instincts were starting to whither, or else he'd have been out of here when Bogo said "If's your choice." What had happened to his day? He'd gotten up early, gone for a run, picked up coffee for Judy on the way in. They'd spent the morning catching up on the aforementioned paperwork and the early afternoon as conscripted floaters on a missing persons case doing all the dirty street work that we beneath the actual detectives — knocking on doors, putting up flyers, and manning the tip hotline. It wasn't a bad day. Hopps was dragging him to some kind of museum that evening, since it was her turn to pick the tourist attraction of the week. She'd probably round out the night by making him watch another episode of that historical naval drama she liked, and he'd bitch and moan and make her popcorn anyway. Nick wanted that day back.
But Bogo had the winning hand, and they both knew it. Nick almost respected that ruthless streak; it was obvious that Bogo knew his weak spots and was willing to exploit them when duty demanded, and Nick had — somehow, without any conscious effort and in fact against a great deal of conscious skepticism — acquired enough faith in the Chief to trust that Bogo wouldn't exploit him unless the need was great. Which was great right up to the point that Bogo asked him to throw himself off a cliff.
"Yeah, alright," Nick said. "I'm in. Tell me what to do."
He only made four or five more protests after that — partly because it was expected, and partly because he had a couple of very good points that Bogo needed to hear. (All of Nick's points were good, although the rest of the world frequently failed to appreciate that fact. He was the longest-suffering of foxes, and pretty handy with a taser to boot.) He also felt obligated to point out how terrible the entire plan was another ten or twenty times, just in case Bogo had somehow missed that THE ENTIRE PLAN WAS TERRIBLE.
"Not to belabor the point," Nick said, "but — what was that face? Were you just impressed I used a word like 'belabor?' I'm full of all kinds of surprises, Chief, you should know that — but this is a terrible plan. Why not just arrest Jackie now?"
Bogo reached up to adjust his glasses and said something in a low, basso mutter.
"Sorry, didn't catch that."
"I said," said Bogo, "that we don't have the evidence to put Setter away. Not yet. There's the rest of his organization to think of, too. Last thing we need is to remove Setter but leave the remaining power structure intact."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that's what you'd say. I can think of three guys right off the top of my head who'd cut off their noses just for a shot at Setter's operation, and I've been out of the loop for years."
"Exactly how many?"
"Ah, shoot — " Nick did a swift burst of mental arithmetic that accounted for the age he'd started hustling, the age he'd met Finnick, the age he decided to stick to borderline-legal schemes because even when you were good, you couldn't avoid a felony conviction forever, and the age he'd hit his absolute zero for stupidity. He'd skated past the ZPD qualification requirements only because he'd never actually been charged with anything after he'd turned eighteen, and he'd earned his badge even though Judy knew and Bogo at least suspected there were some, ah, ethically gray spots in his past — anyway, he'd never been involved with anything really dirty, like murder or trafficking or scooping ice cream with an ungloved nose, and in Old Nick's book that meant he was a saint. New Nick was less sure on the point, but only because Carrots was putting all kinds of funny ideas into New Nick's head.
"Nine, maybe? Ten?" said Nick. "I couldn't have been older than twenty-four." Which was when Finnick had yanked Nick out of that snake pit by the scruff of his neck. They'd started grifting together again shortly after that.
"Any reason to believe he wouldn't be willing to welcome you back into the fold?"
"Now that," said Nick, "is an interesting question." He'd climbed up on the arm of the chair so he'd have a better view of Bogo's desk; Setter's file was there, or at least the portions of it that weren't digital, confidential, or both, and so were the pictures — Polarbearoids of Judy in leggings and an oversized sweatshirt taken from a distance. Parts of the shots were obscured by leaves, and Nick would've pegged them for standard paparazzi voyeurism if he didn't recognize when and where they'd been taken. She'd been off that day, but she left her cell phone in her locker and had been too tired to go back for it the night before; he recognized the baggy sweatshirt, since it was his, and the rear entrance of ZPD's headquarters, where even accredited press members knew better than to linger. He'd tried to lure a couple of new interns from the Zootopia Times back there once just to see who he could piss off, but apparently their seniors had warned them well in advance.
"I'm guessing you mean 'reasons other than me being a cop,' since that's a colossal obstacle," he said. Bogo rubbed the bridge of his nose. That put Nick up by another point, leaving the score at 342 to 61 in Nick's favor. (Hopps was always concerned that Bogo was going to retaliate when Nick's annual performance evaluation came due, but Nick couldn't find it in himself to care. "Either he will, or he won't," he told Fluff, and then she'd usually let out some kind of frustrated screech and go back to organizing the notecards she used to keep track of her notable accomplishments for the year.) "Because, let me iterate this just one more time, me being a cop is going to be kind of a huge barrier."
"We'll figure out a way around it," Bogo said. "What else? Any grudges? Did you part amicably?"
"Well, he didn't shoot me, which is about as amicable as Jackie gets," Nick reflected. "I'm not saying he hasn't threatened me with a gun — "
"I'm shocked," said Bogo.
"Now, Chief, that wasn't very nice. I hate to criticize — "
"Don't," Bogo warned. "Don't say it, Wilde."
"— But I'm getting real tired of your bull, Chief."