The final chapter! AN at the end, since I'm sure you just want to skip ahead and read the rest of the fic! Hope you like!
The Junior Commissioner hadn't been too keen on the idea of her being involved. She'd been left out of most of the planning of this operation, forced to sit in wait at Fillmore's desk while he, Neil, and Vallejo talked everything over. The only chance she'd had of seeing the inside of the Junior Commissioner's office was when she was forced to explain just what exactly was going on and who was involved. Fillmore had managed to figure out most of it already, to his credit, but he was still a bit fuzzy on a few points.
After she explained the contents of the bottles and identified the key players in Stingray's operation, she had been ushered out of the office but told to stay at HQ. It was too dangerous for her to go wandering around: they knew that she knew. To her that was a problem. After all, she was now not only knowledgeable about what they were trying to do, she was also on the loose. She might have gone to the Safety Patrol and told them everything...
Ingrid rolled her eyes and gave a sarcastic sigh. Why no one else had thought of that was beyond her. Then again it had taken an outsider to solve this case in the first place. Not too bright, those Safety Patrollers.
It didn't take much effort, then, for her to decide on her course of action. She rose from Fillmore's desk and walked quietly out of the office. If she was careful enough, the only one to notice her leaving would have been the goldfish. Odds are no one saw her sneak out anyway, seeing as they were all so busy with paperwork for the impending operation.
Hopefully the fish wouldn't rat her out to Fillmore. He'd be livid, of course, that she'd implicated herself yet again in this case. But it had to be done. She'd already been absent from the storage room for an hour. If Klein already knew about her disappearance, then there was significant damage to repair. If he didn't know yet, he'd find out eventually... Better to counter problem before it arose. If they thought she was on their side, they'd have no reason to suspect Safety Patrol involvement.
With a deep breath, Ingrid schooled her features and took hold of the door knob. Entering the Student Council office, she moved towards Klein's desk with the most intimidating and confident stride she possessed. She leant over the desk, careful to look him straight in the eye. He had to know she meant business. So with a cold and poisonous voice she made that business quite clear: 'I want one'.
Said secretary looked quite taken aback by her appearance in his office, not to mention her behavior. After a moment he regained his composure, though, and with all his cocky self-assuredness lent back comfortably into his chair. 'Got out from under my guards noses, did you?' he asked with a smirk, then frowned. He twirled his pencil absently in his fingers, ignoring her for the moment. Ingrid didn't falter for a moment, thus when he cast her another smirking glance, he found himself on the receiving end of a rather hard stare. Freddie threw the pencil down on to the desk. 'It can be arranged,' he sighed. Then he flicked his eyes up to hers, the intensity in gaze matched perfectly, 'But it'll cost you.'
'Normally we charge $20. But with the lateness of your order...' he trailed off, giving her a significant look.
'I'll have $30 for you tomorrow,' she said dismissively, turning and exiting the office without a backward glance. She didn't allow herself a relieved exhale of the breath she'd been holding until she was down the hall and around the corner.
The second she walked into Vallejo's office without knocking, Fillmore seemed to know exactly what she'd done. He just looked at her, her determined expression, and his face set into that grim frown. Oh yes, he knew. He was probably one of the more clever officers on the force.
From then on their operation plans revolved around her.
'You do realise that we'll now have to re-work a serious part of this plan,' Vallejo growled, rubbing his temples in a way that pretty much seemed to be habit by now. He seemed to be accepting the way things had turned out, but was slow to acknowledge it was for the better. Seemed that the Junior Commissioner had a bit of a temper.
Neil, on the other hand, appeared to like the turn of events. 'If we follow through with this properly, we could end up with much more evidence on these guys than a couple of ids. Just because someone fingers them doesn't mean they'll get the sentence they deserve. If we can get this guy to incriminate himself on tape...'
From what Ingrid knew, he was an Intelligence officer who'd been working on the Stingray case for a while. He also didn't seem to have anything against using her as a means for his recorded confession. However friendly his smile was, this guy was the kind who believed the ends justified the means. If she had to go down for the capture of Stingray to occur – well, it was all for the greater good.
Fillmore, she had to say, was the complete opposite. While begrudgingly admitting that there was no other way going about this now that Ingrid had gotten involved yet again, he didn't at all feel comfortable with it. In some ways she appreciated his concern; the visible and verbal ways she received it made it obvious she could take care of herself -- she didn't need his help to get through this.
'If you wire me, then, and record the money transaction, it should be easy enough to get him say something incriminating. The guy's too sure of himself,' Ingrid cut into their conversation.
Fillmore narrowed his eyes at her behind his glasses. 'And what if he doesn't do the transaction in public? What if he takes you into a private room and has you searched for a wire?'
'Then everything will be ruined, won't it?' she raised an eyebrow at him, challenging him to say something else.
'Darn it, Third! There's no guarantee that he doesn't suspect Safety Patrol involvement! You could be walking straight into a trap. Don't be blind to the risk that's a part of this, Ingrid.'
'We all know that there's risk involved,' Vallejo cut in, 'but there's no other way now. If Ingrid doesn't show tomorrow they'll get suspicious and all of this will be for nothing.'
Neil looked between each of the three, evaluating the silence for a moment before breaking it. 'Now, how do we reposition these men here to cover her?' he asked, motioning to the blueprint of the cafeteria.
Vallejo, having finally got the projector screen up and stabilized, turned to face a room full of Safety Patrollers. It wasn't often that the Briefing Room was this crowded, but then again it wasn't often that they organized an operation of this magnitude. He flipped on the projector and motioned to O'Farrell to turn off the lights.
'Okay people, quiet down. This is how it's gonna happen: the new vending machine will arrive at 09:00 hours tomorrow morning. It'll be wheeled in by the delivery man and hooked up. From what information we were able to obtain from Student Council, the vending machine will be filled with the bottles at 11:00 by a janitor. That leaves half an hour until lunch.'
He glanced over at Ingrid, who was standing on the left side of the room. She took the queue and continued what the Commissioner was saying. 'These bottles are obviously only meant for certain people. What we don't know is how Stingray is planning on controlling who buys the bottles. He doesn't want some random thirsty kid buying one of his bombs: the whole game would be up in no time. This either means that the buyers will find some way out of class to purchase their bottles before lunch, or someone will be "guarding" the machine during lunch, only allowing certain people to buy from it.'
Vallejo took over again. 'Now, we've set up a schematic for the placement of officers. As you can see here...'
Ingrid found her attention wandering. It was obviously important information, but she had a photographic memory anyway.
'You sure you can handle this?' Fillmore asked in a steely voice once the briefing was over.
Ingrid shot him a glare to match.
'This is serious business, Ingrid. You could get seriously hurt.'
'Nice to know you care, Cornelius.'
Behind his glasses, Ingrid had the distinct impression that Fillmore had just had the gall to roll his eyes at her.
'Enough love, you two,' Vallejo said with his rough voice, moving over towards them. 'Third, I've had Officer Tehama call your dad at the University. He's on his way to pick you up on the pretence of a sore stomach. This way you'll get home without any unwanted encounters. A ride in the morning back to school has also been arranged.'
She hadn't had to wait long for her dad to arrive. With the excuse of exhaustion she'd gone straight up to her room when she got home. This whole Safety Patrol business was starting to grate on her nerves. Perhaps she should have listened to Fillmore when he said to stay out of it.
Fillmore. If anything was grating on her nerves, it was him. He'd said it again today, that same line as the first day they'd met. That she needed to be 'saved'. Ingrid kicked off her heavy boots with a sigh and pulled a record from her bookshelf. Hm. She liked this one. Putting it on the record player, she then flopped onto her bed and buried her head into her pillow.
She didn't need to be saved. If Fillmore knew enough about her, he'd know that at least. He wasn't as smart as he thought was. And a part of her, strange as it was, seemed to regret that fact.
His alarm went off at 5:30am. He'd wanted to up and at HQ by seven. He'd also been awake to hear his alarm go off; watched the digital clock with heavy eyes as the numbers changed, counted down the hours, minutes, and seconds. In short, he'd gotten next to no sleep whatsoever.
Today was a big day, and it was stressing him out. That was granted. But that wasn't what his mind was so focused on all night. No, his mind seemed to want to torture him with far more complicated thoughts. Complicated thoughts with a simple label.
She really was girl too smart for her own good. He tried to think back to when she'd first gotten involved in all of this, but somehow couldn't seem to pin the exact moment, Man, he could swear she was involved the second she walked in the doors of X! And she shouldn't be involved, not at all. She was too comfortable with her mind, the way she could bend the facts and somehow come out with a picture of reality. Was it possible that confidence could be a bad thing?
It was in her case it was. If she had any doubts about all of this, she hid them well. She walked around with her steady eyes and cold, impenetrable gaze; she thought she was invincible.
Well, if she thought she could take on Stingray by herself, he knew better. And he should, he'd been around long enough to know. Sooner or later her attitude was going to get her into serious trouble. He had a feeling it would be sooner.
Fillmore rolled out of bed, exhausted from lack of sleep but feeding off the small amounts of adrenalin that were starting to course through him in apprehension of what was going to happen today. They were going to try to take down Stingray. As he dressed, he went over the plans again in his mind, trying to detect any glitches or errors; things that might go wrong. While his imagination came up with plenty of scenarios that ended... unpleasantly, his logical side told him over and over their plan was practically foolproof.
That alone was enough to make him nervous. Nothing was foolproof to talented fool.
The bike ride to school took too long, and at the same time it was over before he realised it had started. Fillmore tried to calm the butterflies flapping about in his stomach. There were quite a few other officers who showed early this morning. Vallejo was in his office with Principal Folsom. Dropping his bag by his desk, Fillmore mechanically started to feed his fish. He knew the morning would be spent in preparation. There should already have been officers on surveillance in the cafeteria. He'd be joining them soon.
The door to HQ opened, and in came O'Farrell and Tehama. In tow they had a girl, her face covered by a hood. Fillmore's stomach clenched. He knew who that was. Ingrid lowered her hood once the door was closed, and Fillmore watched as Danny led her over to a desk on the left side of the room to get wired up.
'We'll be able to hear you at all times while the mic is activated. You need to stand within a 3 meter radius of someone else for the mic to able to pick up their words,' Danny explained as he hooked her up. Ingrid nodded to indicate she understood. 'For this plan to work properly, you have to get him to incriminate himself in your conversation.'
'You know all of our positions,' Tehama continued for Danny. 'It's important that you don't look in our direction at any time during the operation. If you do, it could give us away, not to mention leave you in a dangerous spot.'
The wiring was finished. Fillmore hung back for a moment longer while Danny did a mic check to make sure everything was working. After that, they dragged Ingrid over to fill in some papers, and left her alone. He took his opportunity then.
'Fillmore!' Anza called from the other side of the room. 'We need you to come help revise the surveillance layout – there are a few problems with angles that we didn't factor in yesterday.'
Fillmore turned to look at Anza, then glanced back over his shoulder at Ingrid. He'd talk to her later, when anther opportunity presented itself. Right now there were more important things to take care of, like his job and a crime lord. With all of the checks performed on walkie talkies, extra briefings, and improvisation in positionings, his job and a crime lord managed to successfully occupy the rest of the morning.
The rush of demand on his time had come as a relief in a way – he hadn't had a chance to stop and think about the nervous feeling in his gut. But now the time to wait was at hand, and it was hitting him with full force. Groups of officers had already started to leave for the cafeteria in small numbers, so as not to look suspicious. All of them were in disguise, of course. It was almost time for lunch – seemed Stingray had opted to perform his crime right under the very noses of the students. A surveillance team had reported back a while ago to say that just after the janitor had finished stocking the vending machine, a student had dismantled the light inside it and hung an 'Out of Order' sign across it. For all intents and purposes, the only people purchasing bottles would be the ones who knew exactly what was in them.
Fillmore glanced to the back of the room where Ingrid was standing with Tehama, going over some last minute detail no doubt. He watched as the officer left Ingrid for a moment to change into a disguise. Tehama was the one who'd be escorting Ingrid to the cafeteria. This would be his last opportunity to talk to Third before he had to go and join the other officers on surveillance. Fillmore took a deep breath and walked up behind her.
'I'm going to be fine, Cornelius.'
Fillmore felt a weary smile tug at his lips before it hardened into his usual frown. But before he could get out a word-
'Hey! You guys almost ready to go?' Danny seemed to pop out of nowhere, chirpy as usual.
'Aren't you supposed to be at the cafeteria already, Danny?' Fillmore asked.
'Naw, I'm going with the next group. That's what group you're in, right Fillmore?' he then turned his attention to Ingrid. 'Don't worry about a thing, Miss Third. Fillmore here's got your back. And anyway, this plan is foolproof!'
'Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.'
Fillmore blinked, then looked at Ingrid. For the first time he saw her smile in a way that wasn't in the least bit sarcastic or instigating. 'Jinx,' she said, the usual mischief returning to her eyes, though it was more playful than scathing.
'Can you honestly tell me that you're not nervous about this at all?' he asked, risking complete bluntness. He'd attempted to spend the morning convincing her that this wasn't a game – it'd be comforting to know she already knew that.
'Only a person who's completely dense wouldn't be nervous. But Fillmore's got my back... and I trust him.'
Fillmore finally let that weary smile grace his lips before Danny dragged him away. It was time to get back to work.
The cafeteria was just beginning to fill with students. Danny and Fillmore sat themselves down at the table closest to the vending machine in question. They'd have a clear view of everyone who purchased a Molotov Cocktail, making 'id'ing them an easy task. They, along with two other groups who also had watch on the vending machine, would be radioing the description of anyone who bought a bomb to officers waiting outside various entrances to the cafeteria. The second they left, they'd be nabbed, successfully stopping any of the bombs from going MIA. It was just as important to ensure the safety of the school as it was to close up Stingray's operation.
It didn't take long for Freddie to show, He came in through the main entrance and leant against the wall next to the vending machine that was supposedly out of order. Not particularly inconspicuos. Ingrid followed soon after, and Fillmore held his breath. She was standing close enough to him – she should be getting all of his words on tape. What was important was that she got him to say something that identified himself as a criminal. She said it wouldn't take much effort, but he might have been treading warily after her escape yesterday. There was still no reason for him to not suspect that she'd gone to the Safety Patrol.
Tehama had come in with Ingrid and taken up a spot in line for the next vending machine along the row. Perhaps she was close enough that she could hear what was being said. Fillmore watched as Ingrid pulled out the envelope of money. Everything must be going fine, or else she wouldn't be handing the money over so soon. Perhaps the guy was just as over-confident as she said he was.
It was almost over, the guy had just extended his hand and said something that looked like – from what Fillmore could tell with his lip-reading skills – 'Pleasure doing business with you'. Ingrid, after a calculating look on her part, reciprocated the moveme-
Fillmore started and glanced over at Danny, who was looking at his fallen camera with stricken panic. Fillmore's gaze shot right back to Klein's – their eyes met. Klein narrowed his eyes, and Fillmore knew he was making note of the walkie talkie that was held in plain view in his hand. The game was up.
In a split second, Klein had Ingrid around the neck and was dragging her out of the cafeteria through the kitchen. Fillmore was up and after them in the same short amount of time. 'All officers! Klein is attempting to escape through kitchens with Third as a hostage! One officer in pursuit. Any in vicinity should attempt to cut him off!'
In an attempt to slow him down, Freddie picked up a tray of macaroni that the lunch lady was serving and threw it across the floor towards Fillmore. He tried to dodge it, but ended up slipping and falling down. He could hear Ingrid growling things out to her captor, though what the exact words were he had no clue; probably vividly gruesome enough to put him off food for a week or so.
Fillmore jumped up again and took off after them. Klein had somehow managed to get out of sight in the short amount of time it had taken for Fillmore to get on his feet again. He was a fast runner though, and he'd have the distance closed in no time. He couldn't afford not to; Ingrid was counting on him.
At full speed, Fillmore bareled right out the kitchen door, into the hallway, and into... another officer?
A hand was offered to help him up, but Fillmore ignored it and pushed himself up with lightening speed. 'Where'd they go?' he demanded of the other three officers standing before him.
'We headed over here as soon as we heard you over our walkie talkies,' one of them offered. 'We haven't seen anyone go by, they didn't come out of the kitchen, at least not this way.'
For a split second, the feeling of utter defeat crept over Fillmore. He'd lost them. Ingrid was gone. She had trusted him, had too much confidence in herself, and now she was gone.
But the feeling passed as quickly as it had come, and the steely hard persona of Officer Cornelius Fillmore replaced it. This was no time to let emotions get in the way of an investigation. He needed to be calm, he needed to think. Klein had gone into the kitchen and not come out. Clearly the obvious could be drawn from that, then, right?
Fillmore turned around and headed straight back into the kitchen, eyes narrowed and ears sharp. If they were still in here, he was going to find him. But it was quiet, and Ingrid hadn't exactly kept her mouth shut about being a hostage. Where were they?
A sudden idea came to him, and he wanted to hit himself over the head for not thinking of it sooner. Pulling out his walkie talkie, he adjusted the tuner to the frequency he wanted, hoping he was remembering the right numbers...
'... least... had... soft landing.' a voice crackled over the air waves. That was her! He turned the dial back, carefully adjusting it so he could make out everything she was saying over the wire.
'The oven mitt chute really was a bit desperate, though. How were you to know we wouldn't come flying out of that thing and land on the basement floor?'
Fillmore couldn't help but smirk. She wasn't just complaining to the guy, she was counting on the fact that he was listening. Third really was way too clever for Freddie to ever hope to handle. She was out of his league.
He glanced over towards the oven mitt chute. It led to the basement of the school, right into the laundry room. The other three officers, who'd followed him into the kitchen, looked at him expectantly. 'You three head down to the laundry room, make sure they don't get out of the basement. Radio for someone to watch this windows, we don't want them getting out that way either.' They nodded at set off to fulfill their tasks; Fillmore turned around to face the oven mitt chute.
'Umph,' he said as he landed in the pile of dirty oven mitts. Freddie looked over in surprise from the other side of the laundry room where he was proceeding to drag Ingrid out into the hallway. He made to run, but the shouts of other Safety Patrollers from the bottom of the stairs scared him yet again; he slammed the door shut, locking himself, Ingrid and Fillmore inside.
'It's just you and me now, baby,' Fillmore smiled predatorily.
'Don't come one step closer!' he yelled, obviously very much stressed out. He still had his arm around Ingrid's neck. She was still obstinately struggling against his grip, but it didn't seem to be doing much good.
'There's no where to go, Klein. You might as well give up now.'
'No!' he cried, a wild look in his eyes. 'I've spent 6 whole months setting up this operation for Stingray! 6 months! And it's not gonna end like this, not because of her!' he motioned wildly to Ingrid, who was eying him carefully. She was just waiting for her chance, waiting for his grip to go lax for just a single second.
And it did. With all the energy she could muster, Ingrid jammed her elbow into Freddie's stomach. His eyes flew open at the contact before he let go of her and doubled over in pain. Fillmore grabbed the cart full of oven mitts and rolled it at him. Ingrid stepped out of the way in time for it to collide into Klein and send him toppling inside.
Ingrid straightened up and smiled at Fillmore. 'Nice work, Cornelius. A little slow getting down here on your part, though.'
'I was just waiting for my reassurance about the soft landing. Wasn't gonna come charging after you if I was gonna end up with a bump on my head,' he smiled back. Unlocking the door, the three other Safety Patrol Officers rushed in, quickly taking Mr. Klein into custody and dragging him out the door.
Neil strode out of the questioning room where Simon Langley was being detained. As he explained to Third and Fillmore after they'd returned to HQ, he had been coerced into helping Stingray.
'Yeah, seems a few of his froggie friends were kidnapped about 4 months back. Ever since then, Stingray has been holding them hostage for the Molotov Cocktails.'
Ingrid was sitting by Danny's desk being de-wired, Fillmore hovering over her shoulder. She found his protectiveness kind of odd, but not wholly unwelcome. It was nice to have someone there for her that she felt she could count on. Neil stood close by, giving her an appraising look. She raised an eyebrow at him.
'You know, Third, you handled yourself really well throughout this entire investigation. You're clever, you can think like a criminal, you don't crack under pressure – you sure you just want to go back to an ordinary school life now that this is all over?'
'Nothing about this school is ordinary,' she replied dryly, looking away. 'You have a laundry mat in the basement, completely with oven mitt chute.'
Neil decided to ignore the statement and get straight to the point. 'My point is that you're an above average person, Third. I don't know about the rest of the Law Enforcement Officers at X, but certainly wouldn't want a bored Ingrid Third running around on my beat. With a mind like yours, who knows what you'd get up to,' he said the last part under his breath. 'Why not put your skills to good use, give yourself a bit of a challenge?'
She looked back at him, mildly interested at best.
'Intel is looking for my replacement,' he finished.
She looked away again, her mask giving nothing away. 'I'll think about it.'
He handed her a small piece of paper. 'Here's my card, if you're interested give me a call.'
She accepted it without a glance.
'He's right, you know,' Fillmore said from behind her. 'You did a good job today.'
Ingrid smiled slyly. 'Worried about me for nothing, then, Cornelius?'
'Jabbing bad guys in the gut with your elbow doesn't negate the fact that you still managed to get yourself into a hostage situation in the first place.'
'Fillmore, Third,' Vallejo interrupted their playful sparring with his gruff voice. 'Nice work you two. We've got enough on ----- to put him away for the rest of Middle School. We also managed to take 9 other students who were caught on tape buying the bombs into custody. All in all, today we've managed to take down 10 individuals connected to Stingray, and it's mostly thanks to you two. Folsom's pretty happy with the news, she's gonna wanna talk to you guys later.'
'What about Stingray?' Fillmore asked, serious tones creeping back into his voice. 'We didn't catch him; didn't even come close.'
'Just don't mention that to Folsom when she decides she wants to award you both. Stingray... He's still out there somewhere. But soon enough, he'll slip up. We'll catch him eventually.'
With that Vallejo wandered off to take care of some paperwork with his name on it, leaving Fillmore and Third to themselves once again.
'Thank you, Cornelius, for sticking it out with me. I know I'm not exactly the easiest person to get along with.'
Fillmore eyed Ingrid carefully before he replied. 'You know, until recently I had my doubts about you. Thought you were misguided--'
'That I needed to be saved,' Ingrid interrupted him. He paused for a second. 'Those were your exact words, if I'm not mistaken.'
Fillmore nodded. 'Thing is, I was wrong. You're not misguided or anything like that, you're just horribly independent,' he concluded with a smirk. 'If you ever get lonely, though, I'm here,' he said, holding out his hand.
Ingrid took it with an honest grin. 'Thanks.' He might not know it, but what he just said meant a lot to her. Maybe he was smarter than he let on.
'See ya round, Ingrid.'
Ingrid watched Fillmore's retreating back, her grin growing into a full blown smile. She fingered the card in her hand, its phone number already burned into her photographic memory.
She'd be making a call tonight.
AN: And such is the thrillingly long conclusion to The Scales Tipped. I'm sure, though, some people might be upset with the lack of Fillmore/Ingrid stuff going on. I dunno if you all wanted them to get all romantic, but to me, and the way I've set up their characters, it seemed a bit unrealistic.
Their relationship is a bit different from the TV series though. I mean, how often does the real Ingrid call Fillmore 'Cornelius' instead? That was something I wanted to make seem normal in this fic. I think it worked out okay.
BUT, if you're seriously mad at me for not making them fall hopelessly head over heals in love with each other, I have a compromise! I'm wiling to write a follow-up story, kind of like a sequel, that advances their relationships a little bit more. But only if people want to read it, otherwise I probably won't bother. Then again I might just do it on my own initiative. shrug Put it this way: if left to myself, it might or might not happen. If even one person says they want to read it, then I'll write it without hesitation.
Let me know when you review! And speaking of reviews, thank you so much to all of the readers who reviewed this fic, and even those who just read it. You've all given me the support I needed to finish this, along with a couple of laughs. I'd especially like to thank The Barmy Baroness, who finally kicked me off (or, when you think about it) onto my bum to get back to work on The Scales Tipped.
And sorry that there was no AN to the reviewers last chap. I forgot to add it in, and then I was much too lazy to replace the chapter. ;
Love! I'll see you all 'round, and I hope you liked what you read!