And now, Fillmore. Today's story: "Drawn To Ingrid".

O-O-O

Act One: "Sketchy Details"

O-O-O

The halls of X Middle School were bustling with students on their way to morning classes. Walking amongst the crowd were the finest officers in the Safety Patrol, Cornelius Fillmore and Ingrid Third. This early in the day, the two of them weren't on official business… they, like their fellow students, were getting ready for the first class of the day.

"Commissioner Vallejo's been riding me pretty hard about the defaced football equipment case," said Fillmore, walking side-by-side with Ingrid down the hallway. "It's hard to imagine someone deflating all the footballs. The team hasn't been able to practice for two weeks."

"They'll manage," Ingrid replied. "The only reason Vallejo's so worked up about it is because he was planning to try out."

"Well, I was hoping the team would be able to win the city championships this year." The two students stopped in front of Ingrid's locker, and Fillmore continued to talk as Ingrid turned the lock to her combination. "That new quarterback we've got once threw for 500 yards in a Peewee game."

"Again, not my field of interest," Ingrid stated, opening her locker. "But I guess it'll be nice to see you happy about-"

As the locker opened, a slip of paper fell onto the floor. Ingrid raised an eyebrow, then bent over to pick it up. Fillmore curiously watched his black-haired friend's expression, wondering in his own mind what the paper could possibly be.

"Something about a case?" thought Fillmore first, before something else entered his mind. "…or something more personal?"

Fillmore remembered the case of the Valentine's Day Bandit, someone who slipped love letters into his fellow students' lockers under the pretense of stealing things from them but using the love letters as a cover to make his victims not realize that they were stolen from. He'd managed to gather up eight dollars in change and two Gameboy games before Fillmore and Ingrid were able to bust him. Fillmore knew it wasn't the Bandit, but that could only mean that the scrap of paper was… a real love letter.

As it turns out, the paper wasn't that either.

"It's… beautiful," said Ingrid quietly, putting a hand up to her lips. "Kinda creepy, but beautiful."

"Let me see," Fillmore requested, peering over Ingrid's shoulder. She was holding in her hands an extremely well-drawn sketch of herself standing in a hallway, in more detail than any sketch she'd ever seen. It had one minor flaw in each of the eyes, but other than that, the drawing was perfect. "That's pretty good."

"It is," added Ingrid. "But why would someone do a drawing of me? Is it someone's weird way of asking me out?"

Ingrid folded up the drawing and placed it in her pocket, then gathered her books and closed the locker.

"I could probably find out who drew it, if you want me to," Fillmore offered. Ingrid thought for a moment, then shook her head.

"I'm sure whoever drew it will reveal himself eventually. Nobody does a drawing this good without wanting to be acknowledged for their work. I suppose I'll just wait for the next one… see you after class, Fillmore."

Ingrid walked away, leaving her friend standing alone in front of her locker. Even though Ingrid didn't make much of the strange sketch that had shown up in her locker, Fillmore just couldn't stop thinking about it as he walked to class. He had to know who'd done that drawing… and even though Ingrid didn't want him to, he was going to use all of his investigative faculties to find out.

"Nobody does a drawing that good without being obsessed with his subject. Anyone that obsessed with Ingrid has to be dangerous, and until I know just how dangerous, I won't stop looking."

O-O-O

Ingrid didn't spend much of her day thinking about the sketch, though she did take it out and look at it from time to time, trying to gather just who might've drawn such a thing for her. Fillmore spent his free time during the day at the Safety Patrol headquarters, where he looked through his files trying to gather any information he could on the identity of the mysterious artist. The school's art club didn't turn up any results, and before long, Fillmore realized that he wasn't going to be able to track down the mysterious artist without having the picture itself as a reference. He was still in the office when Ingrid showed up first thing after school.

"Hey Ingrid, could I ask you for something?"

"Sure, Fillmore," she said, walking over to his desk. "Is it about the mysterious football deflater?"

"No, I'd like to see that sketch of you from your locker."

"Oh…." Ingrid smiled. "You like it, huh?"

"It's a nice sketch, but that's not why I-"

"Oh," Ingrid repeated, much more subdued. She let out a sigh. "Fillmore, I told you, I'm not worried about finding out who drew it. I mean, it is weird that someone would draw me and slip the drawing into my locker, but it's not a crime to do that."

"We almost made it a crime after the Valentine's Day incident."

"They voted it down 3 to 2, Fillmore. Anyway, it's not important right now. Let's get this football equipment case done so Vallejo can do his dumb tryout and stop yelling at us to-"

"FILLMORE! THIRD!" As if on cue, Jr. Commissioner Vallejo walked over to the two chatting investigators. "You found the football vandal yet?"

"We're working as hard as we can, Commissioner Vallejo," Fillmore replied with a sigh. "We know how important that try-out is for you."

"You're darn right it's important! This is the year I'm gonna be an all-star linebacker… ah, I can see it now…" Vallejo closed his eyes and drifted off into one of his football fantasies. "The glow of the lights, the cheering crowd, me knockin' some heads out on the turf… ah, it's gonna be great! …as long as you two get off your butts and solve that case!"

Vallejo walked away, leaving Fillmore and Ingrid to discuss their next course of action. Fillmore still wanted to investigate the mysterious sketch, but he knew the football vandal was a far more pressing matter.

"Let's get down to the field and ask the coach if he's seen anyone trying to get to the new footballs," said Fillmore. "Remember what he told us last time, if one more set gets deflated, the school won't buy anymore and they'll have to cancel the whole season."

"He's got those footballs guarded like Fort Knox, it'd be stupid for anyone to go for them now. …but we've seen plenty of stupid things on the Safety Patrol."

"Right, Ingrid. We don't have much time to waste."

O-O-O

Down on the field, Ingrid and Fillmore were talking with the football coach as the three of them watched a large safe. Inside the safe was a leather sack with a padlock on it, the footballs all kept inside.

"I hate to keep the footballs locked up like that!" said the coach, shaking his head with regret. "Footballs are meant to be passed, kicked, run for 100-yard touchdowns, not kept locked up in a safe like the criminals you two take in. It's such a tragedy."

"I understand, coach," Fillmore replied. "So you haven't seen anything today?"

"Nah, but as soon as I take the balls out of that safe, the thief's bound to show up. It never fails."

Ingrid put her finger on her chin for a moment, deep in thought. Fillmore was thinking the same thing, and the two of them started to speak at the same time.

"Have you tried-" they began, before Ingrid deferred and allowed her partner to finish. "Tried holding practice as normal?"

"What good'll that do? If we do that, the vandal will get all the footballs and then football season will be cancelled!"

"We won't let the vandal touch any of your footballs," said Ingrid. "It'll be a sting operation, and a perfect chance to catch the vandal."

"Are you sure? We've tried this before," the coach replied. "We put all the footballs in a bag and set it out for you two to watch. You waited for an hour and when you opened the bag, all the balls had been deflated! You never even saw him!"

"This time we'll catch the vandal," replied Fillmore. "It'll be out in the open, he'll have no escapes and he can't sneak in. We'll catch him. I promise."

A half-hour later, the football team was out on the field, tossing the footballs back and forth, practicing their blocking, and running their drills. Ingrid and Fillmore watched from under the bleachers as the coach nervously conducted practice.

"You see anything?" asked Fillmore, peering through the side of the bleachers to see if anyone out of uniform was trying to come onto the field. Ingrid shook her head. "Me neither, but we know he'll show up once he knows that practice is going on. What I want to know is how he can slip in and deflate all the footballs without anyone seeing him."

"Well, let's think about last time," Ingrid recalled. "We were watching that bag the whole time. Nobody came in, and nobody touched the bag."

"And yet when we opened it, all the balls were deflated. The rubber stoppers keeping the air in were totally gone. That makes it even more mysterious… it's easy to just take a big needle and pop a football, but to pull out all the rubber stoppers without being detected? Just pulling out one is hard, pulling them all out that fast is impossible."

"Could be the work of someone with superhuman powers," Ingrid joked, smiling slightly. Fillmore just shook his head and looked back out onto the field. "You still thinking about that sketch?"

"I wasn't thinking about it until you brought it up," Fillmore replied. "And as soon as we catch this guy, I'll figure out who-"

Fillmore's thoughts were interrupted by a loud scream from the field. One of the football players was holding a deflated ball in his hand, its stopped totally missing. Several other players were now in similar predicaments. The two investigators immediately ran out from under the bleachers and began looking around for any sign of the culprit.

"I knew this was a bad idea!" shouted the coach, throwing his hat down in dismay. "I'm watching my season disappear into thin air, just like the air in those footballs!"

Every single football had been deflated, all except for one… the one in the hands of two cheerleaders throwing it back and forth between themselves. Fillmore and Ingrid quickly ran to the cheerleaders and grabbed the ball.

"It's not safe here," said Ingrid. "There's a dangerous vandal on the loose."

"And why do you two have the only non-deflated ball?" asked Fillmore, raising a suspicious eyebrow.

"Like, I don't know!" one of the cheerleaders cried out defensively. "We just took one from the stack to toss around during practice, and-"

"And you wanted to have the only football so you could hold the season hostage, is that it?" Fillmore said, getting up in one of the cheerleaders' faces. "The whole season hinges on this one ball, and as long as you have it, the team can't play! Admit it, you're the ones who deflated all the other balls, and now that this is the only one left, you-"

"Fillmore, wait!" Ingrid said, placing a hand on her partner's shoulder. "I noticed something. The only balls that deflated were in the hands of the football players, and all of them are wearing football gloves."

Fillmore calmed down for a moment and turned to Ingrid.

"You're right, but what does that have to do with-"

"Inside the sack where the balls were kept last time, we found some weird stains on the leather. I just took one of the gloves from the football players, and the stain on the glove is like the stain on the leather of the sack. I think we should test whatever these stains are and see if it might have anything to do with the deflated ball."

Fillmore nodded, still holding the remaining football tightly in his hands. He gave it to Ingrid, then turned to the cheerleaders.

"I'm sorry, I don't usually fly off the handle like that," Fillmore said quietly. "There's no excuse for conduct like that from a Safety Patrol officer. I'm sorry."

"Oh, it's okay!" said the blonde cheerleader, still smiling. "We know how important it is that you catch that vandal!"

"Yeah!" the other cheerleader chimed in. "If you don't get him, we won't have anything to cheer for until basketball season!"

"Well, are you coming back to the office, Fillmore?" Ingrid was already halfway across the field, and waiting for her partner to catch up. "We're taking that glove back to Tehama for testing."

"Sure thing."

As Fillmore walked off the field with Ingrid, he couldn't keep his mind off the sketch. He knew it was having an effect on his work, his stress over finding the mysterious artist causing him to accuse the cheerleaders of being behind some nefarious vandalism conspiracy.

"I can't let this sketch thing compromise my duty to the Safety Patrol. I'm going to quit thinking about it… Ingrid's right, we'll find out eventually who that guy is… it's probably just someone who's got a crush on her. No biggie… no biggie at all."

But even as Fillmore told himself to stop thinking about the sketch, all that did was cause him to think about it even more… not just because he thought whoever drew it might be dangerous, but even the idea of someone having a crush on Ingrid bothered him for some reason. He just wish all his investigative skills could help him figure out why.

O-O-O

"FILLMORE! What's this I hear about there only being one football left?" shouted Vallejo as soon as his two best investigators entered the Safety Patrol office. "You two are one slip-up away from ruining my dreams… I mean, ruining this school's dreams of being city champions!"

"That one football is right here," said Fillmore, holding it up. "And we're not letting it out of our sight. In fact, you can have it."

He tossed it to Vallejo, who cradled it protectively in his arms.

"We can't think of anyone more deserving of guarding that ball until we crack this case," Ingrid said with a smile.

"Well… then, you two better bring an end to this thing, and fast!" Vallejo shouted, before rocking the football back and forth in his arms like a baby. "There there, daddy's gonna keep you safe…"

The junior commissioner walked away, singing a lullaby to the football as Ingrid and Fillmore approached Tehama.

"Can you run some tests on this glove to compare the stains on it to the stains found on the inside of the leather bag from the second deflation?" asked Fillmore, handing the glove to the Safety Patrol forensics expert.

"Sure thing," said Tehama. As she walked away, the two investigators were approached by another of their fellow workers, Joseph Anza. He was holding a piece of paper in his hand, and gave it to Ingrid.

"Somebody slipped this under the door," Anza said. "We opened it up as soon as we saw the paper, but whoever it was is long gone."

The paper was folded neatly in two. Ingrid unfolded it, and her eyes went wide. It was another sketch, even more beautiful and detailed than the first, with the same flaw in the eyes. When Fillmore saw the picture, he shook his head in dismay.

"We gotta find this guy," said Fillmore, a very serious tone in his voice.

O-O-O

Act Two: "Ingrid Is Not Amused"

O-O-O

Fillmore and Ingrid both looked at the picture, studying its every detail.

"Whoever did this walked right up to the door of the Safety Patrol office. He's got nerves of steel," said Fillmore.

"Maybe he's just got a crush on me and is too shy to say anything."

"Either way, I'd like to figure out who's doing this. Until Tehama finishes up testing those stains, we're not gonna be able to do anymore work on the football vandal. Now's as good a time as any to find the mysterious artist."

Ingrid couldn't take her eyes off the picture, which depicted her standing out on the croquet field in a striking pose, looking determined and apparently in the middle of solving one of her cases.

"It's really good…" she thought, almost brought to a blush. "I mean, I should be creeped out by this, but I'm flattered… no one's ever drawn a picture of me before, let alone this good. I don't see why Fillmore is so determined to find him, I'm sure it can't be to thank him. Then again…"

Ingrid took a quick look at Fillmore, who was already taking the sketch over to his desk to compare it to his other files. She looked back down again.

"Unless he's jealous." She looked back up at Fillmore. "There's no way. He knows our friendship is a lot stronger than my gratitude to someone who drew two sketches of me, even if they're really nice sketches. And if he's this concerned for my safety, then…"

Ingrid didn't want to think about it. It was embarrassing. Fillmore was her friend, her partner, they were both smart and they liked a lot of the same things, but there was nothing else beyond that. Anything more would get in the way of what they had with the Safety Patrol. And yet, she'd never seen her partner more obsessed with anything before. He didn't have that kind of personality.

"Fillmore, I'm gonna ask Vallejo if I can go home until Tehama finds out what those stains are."

Fillmore raised his eyebrow, not wanting Ingrid to leave because he knew that if she did, she'd probably want to take the sketch with her. Ingrid could tell what he was thinking and gave him a smile.

"You can keep that if you want to. I've got the other one. Just don't rip it apart trying to figure out who drew it."

Fillmore returned to his files, comparing the sketch against numerous examples of art from criminals he'd taken in. None of the examples matched the style of the sketch, and upon looking at the last example, he threw down the entire file. He started to turn toward Ingrid, but she was already behind him, and she placed a hand on his shoulder as he turned.

"I'd tell you to stop trying to find the person who drew those pictures, but I know you wouldn't listen to me. Just don't get too worked up over it…"

"I know whoever drew the sketches probably isn't dangerous, but it's just part of my nature to be inquisitive about these things, you know? It's not every day a friend of mine has a stalker."

"He's not a stalker… probably," Ingrid replied. "Call me when Tehama figures out what those stains are. See you."

"Seeya," said Fillmore, watching as Ingrid left the office. He gathered up the discarded sheets of paper and placed them back in the file, returning his attention to the sketch in front of him. He knew there had to be some clue from the sketch itself that would identify its creator, some distinction in the style, some physical trait that he could pick up on. Its only really distinguishing feature were the eyes, the pupils somewhat misshapen, as if someone was trying to figure out exactly what to make them look like without a frame of reference and had been indecisive. "Whoever drew this is nervous about his work… but that could be a lot of artists. I have to dig deeper, look outside the files… or maybe I'm not looking at the right kinds of files."

Fillmore glanced to another cabinet, one that held student records of the non-criminal variety.

"A while back, there was a secret poll taken about which students had crushes on others… maybe I can figure out which students picked Ingrid in that poll…"

He took a step toward the cabinet, then remembered what Principal Folsom had told him about the results of the poll. They were extremely confidential, and not even Safety Patrol members could see them without a warrant. Even trustworthy students such as Fillmore and Ingrid weren't allowed to touch the folder where the poll results were kept, and they'd never requested to do so.

"If I looked in there, it'd be a violation of Safety Patrol ethics… I could request a warrant, I'm sure I could come up with some reason for Folsom to let me in there."

He'd have to lie. Fillmore bowed his head, he valued his integrity quite a bit, and he didn't want to compromise it unless it was for the good of the school. He had no reason to believe Ingrid was in danger… if he looked in that file, he'd always feel dirty.

But right now, it was the only lead he had.

"It's just one peek at one person's results," Fillmore said to himself, putting his hand on the cabinet where the file was being kept. "Just one person's results to help one person out. If Ingrid's really in danger, it's totally worth it."

Fillmore opened the cabinet and took out the file, a manila folder with "CONFIDENTIAL- DO NOT OPEN" written on it in big red lettering. He looked back and forth to make sure no one was watching, then looked down at the folder, his hands starting to shake slightly.

"This isn't right…" he thought, tightly gripping the file. "Not even for Ingrid…"

O-O-O

Ingrid took the long way home from school, giving little mind to the sketches she'd found earlier, only hoping that Fillmore would be back to his normal, non-obsessive self by the time she got back to school that evening or the next morning.

"Who am I kidding?" thought Ingrid as she turned onto the street where she lived. "He's like this all the time, except that usually, we're both obsessing about the same thing."

She knew Fillmore was just applying the same zeal and determination with which the two of them approached their cases to the hunt for the mysterious artist of those two sketches… and it wasn't as if Ingrid wasn't curious about who was drawing them.

"I wonder if he's cute, the boy doing those sketches of me. Not like I care or anything, but it'd be even more flattering if it was a really handsome boy. Then again, what if it's a girl? I know more good girl artists than boy artists… but why would a girl draw pictures of me? She couldn't possibly think I was cool."

Ingrid shook the thoughts about the sketches out of her mind and walked up the driveway to her house. As she opened the front door, she was greeted by her mother's voice calling her from the kitchen.

"Ingrid, honey, there's a friend from school here to see you! I told him you wouldn't be home until later, I'm glad you didn't keep him waiting long!"

"...friend? The only friends I have from school are from the Safety Patrol, and they're all still back at school," thought Ingrid, walking into the living room. "Who is it, mom?"

"Hello, Ingrid Third."

Ingrid heard a voice from the couch and immediately turned. Sitting there was someone she hadn't seen since one of her very first cases… but someone who'd still left a very strong impression on her.

Sitting there on the couch in Ingrid's living room was Randall Julian.

"Randall?"

"Did you like the sketches I drew? I tried to get your eyes just perfect but it's been so long since we've last seen each other, and I didn't want to get a single detail wrong. I guess it's noticeable, though."

"Randall Julian is the one who drew me?" thought Ingrid, taking a step back. "Okay, I am creeped out."

Randall had a piece of paper out in front of him, and was starting to draw on it with a pencil. He looked up at Ingrid, then back down at the paper and began drawing again. Ingrid walked over and snatched the pencil away, causing a long line to appear in the middle of the sketch, and causing Randall to let out a slight startled scream.

"You ruined it! I almost had it just perfect!"

"Randall, you can't just draw me like that," said Ingrid, looking down into Randall's eyes. "I mean, they're good drawings… they're VERY good… but it's sort of weirding me out. And it takes a lot to weird me out."

"But… Ingrid, you're the most beautiful thing I've ever drawn before," Randall said quietly, standing up. "Before, all that macaroni art, all that graffiti… it was so ordinary compared to you. After Fillmore reformed me, I started drawing again… but I was in a slump, I had the skills but I didn't have any inspiration. Then I remembered you, and all that inspiration came back! I started sketching, drawing, coloring, painting…"

"How many pictures did you draw of me?" asked Ingrid tentatively.

"Two hundred and fifty-seven."

"…you're kidding." Ingrid's eyes widened. "You… drew me that many times?"

"Most of the pictures were horrible, I burned them. But now, now this is the perfect chance! Ingrid, all I want you to do is just pose for me, for one picture. It'll be the perfect drawing of the perfect girl! It will be a masterpiece that will make my name famous again… and it'll make you famous as the subject of the best drawing in X Middle School history!"

"Um, I don't think so."

"Ingrid, please… you're my muse."

"I am not your muse, Randall," said Ingrid, lightly taking Randall's arm and pulling him toward the door. "You have to leave."

"One picture, just one…! It'll only take an hour, maybe two, and then you'll never have to pose for me again!"

"I never have to pose for you now, Randall. Now get out."

She placed him on the front porch.

"You're making a big mistake, Third! A big mistake! You could be famous… you could be-"

Ingrid slammed the door shut in Randall's face, then turned away and heaved a big sigh.

"That was maybe the weirdest thing ever," said Ingrid, putting her hand to her chest. "Maybe Fillmore was right to be worried… then again, Randall's not a criminal anymore, just a major league annoyance. I need to call him and tell him he can stop looking for the mysterious artist…"

As Ingrid was walking toward the stairs, her mother walked past her, a set of car keys in her hand.

"Ingrid, I'm going out to pick up some things for supper tonight, is there anything you want in the way of dessert?"

"…do we still have marshmallow Peeps in the cabinet?"

"Oh yes, a whole box of them. I hope you like pink bunnies!"

"Yes. …as long as they're in Peep form." Ingrid blushed at her uncharacteristic taste in dessert products. "And if the school knew about it, there goes the neighborhood."

Ingrid went up the stairs and headed for her room.

O-O-O

Fillmore thumbed through the confidential file until he reached the sheet he wanted. He made an effort to avert his eyes form the information sheets of all other students until he laid eyes on Ingrid's.

"Ingrid Third," thought Fillmore, picking out the file and putting all the others back in the folder. "Nine students have a crush on her…? Let's see… eight of them I know for sure aren't artists, and the other one is Chris MacAllen, who's art file I just looked at. He draws animals, not people… and he could never draw Ingrid as well as the person who drew those sketches did. I got nothing from this file!"

Fillmore started to ball it up and discard it when he noticed one name in the second column on the page… the list of people Ingrid had a crush on. There was only one person, and when Fillmore read the name, he let out a tiny gasp.

"It's me… Ingrid has a crush on… me?"

"Fillmore!" shouted a voice from behind the startled young man. He recognized it as Tehama's, and quickly figured out that he'd been caught. He frantically tried to think of an explanation.

"Tehama, I-"

"I figured out what those stains are from. I should've figured it out a lot sooner, it's a dissolving agent that specifically attacks the rubber stoppers on sports balls!"

"That's… great work, Tehama," said Fillmore, quickly hiding Ingrid's crush file behind his back. "You know who made it?"

"It's a custom agent, the kind someone probably whipped up in the school's chem lab. Only one kid has twenty-four hour access to the chem lab, and that's-"

Fillmore could hear his cell phone ring.

"One second, Tehama," said Fillmore, taking out his phone. He could see that Ingrid was calling, and quickly flipped it open. "Hey Ingrid, just in time, we figured out who it was that deflated the footballs!"

"It was Wade Zalinski, the chemistry nerd…" Tehama said quietly, obviously getting that she was being ignored.

"And I figured out who did those drawings," replied Ingrid over the phone.

O-O-O

"Well actually," said Ingrid, lying on her bed and kicking her socked feet lightly in the air, "the person sort of confessed to me."

"Who is it?" came Fillmore's reply.

"Randall Julian. Before you get all worked up, he didn't try to HURT me or anything, but he was really creepy. He called me his muse and all that stuff."

Back at the office, Fillmore put his head in his hand, letting out a sigh. He thought he'd reformed Julian… as it turned out, he'd simply redirected the young man's energies somewhere else… right toward his partner.

"Okay, I'm going to have some of the Safety Patrol guys keep an eye on him round the clock, starting tomorrow morning. Don't worry, Ingrid, he won't lay a hand on-"

"I told you, I'm not worried. I told him not to come near me again, and…" Ingrid sniffed the air. "Something stinks in here. Something… really stinks."

A foul smell, rapidly intensifying and emanating from underneath Ingrid's bed, quickly drew the black-haired girl's attention away from the conversation at hand. She peered underneath the bed and got an overpowering whiff of some foul smell which she recognized immediately as originating from stink powder, the same which Parnassus had used to try and frame her on her very first day at school, and which she herself had gotten into trouble for back in Nepal. She staggered back from the bed, coughing and gasping for air. Through the cloud of stink, she could see someone approaching with a gas mask on his face. She remembered his clothes and his frame perfectly.

"Randall…!" Ingrid cried through a hand she'd cupped over her mouth and nose. "What…?"

She let out a series of loud coughs, collapsing to her knees, her eyes watering profusely.

"That's it, breathe it all in…" said Randall softly, a smile on his face under his gas mask. "You know in your experience, Third… always have a backup plan."

"He was planning this the whole time… he probably snuck the stink powder under my bed while my mom thought he was using the bathroom…" The stink was overwhelming, Ingrid couldn't keep conscious much longer. "You… you creepy little…"

Ingrid let out one final gasp, then collapsed face-down to the floor.

O-O-O

"Ingrid? Ingrid, are you there?" Fillmore shouted into the phone. "Ingrid?!"

The connection cut off. Fillmore shouted Ingrid's name one last time into his phone. When he got no answer, he slammed it into the desk and pounded down next to it with his fist.

"Hey Fillmore, what's going on? Don't you want me to tell you who the football vandal is?" asked Tehama, not having the slightest idea about what was going on.

"That's not important!" shouted Fillmore, spinning around and looking into Tehama's eyes. "Julian's taken Ingrid!"

O-O-O

Act Three: "A Study In Captivity"

O-O-O

Ingrid awoke to a dull pain in her head and a sensation of wooziness and slight nausea. She could still smell the aroma of stink powder lining her nose, and it caused her to shrivel up her face and let out a cough. She looked around… she could see brightly colored walls, numerous round tables, and shelves filled with art supplies.

"Looks like I'm in some kind of preschool…" thought Ingrid, feeling the hard back of a chair behind her. She tried to move her arms, but they were tied tightly down with rope behind her back to the two small bars connecting the backrest of the chair to its seat. Her legs were tied together beneath her, rope wrapped over her socks to bind her ankles, with more rope connecting them to the front legs of the chair to keep them suspended in place. "Let me go, Randall…"

She couldn't see him in the darkness of the room, but she knew he was there, and as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could finally get a glimpse of him standing ten feet in front of her. He held a palette in his hand and was standing next to a large canvas, having already begun his painting.

"I mean it, let me go!"

"I'm sorry it had to come to this, Ingrid, but when I finish my masterpiece, you'll see why I had to go to such lengths. Now please, hold still so I can get a good-"

"Kidnapping a Safety Patrol officer is one of the worst crimes you can commit! They'll lock you under the detention room, until the end of high school!" Ingrid strained at her bonds, but they weren't going to come lose, and Randall had already removed anything from Ingrid's person that she might use to free herself. "I'm not asking you for me, I'm asking you for you. Don't undo all the work Fillmore did to reform you. It doesn't have to be like this, Randall…"

"I'm trying to work here," said Randall, glaring at Ingrid. "Now be quiet so I can concentrate."

Ingrid continued to struggle as Randal worked on the painting, remembering everything she'd learned in her year on the safety patrol about escaping from these types of situations.

"He's good at this… one of the best, I think…" Ingrid flexed her wrists, trying to get any kind of leverage on her bonds, but they weren't moving. "It's like they're part of the chair, I can't move them an inch!"

"I think this picture is starting to come along nicely," said Randall, stepping aside for a moment to show Ingrid his work. He'd finished the background of his picture and had begun to add Ingrid to it, starting with her basic frame, including the chair she was bound to and the ropes that held her. "This is nice so far, yes?"

"Your big masterpiece is a picture of me tied to a chair? Randall, if you show that to the world, they'll know you kidnapped me! Didn't you learn anything from-"

"Fillmore told me that I shouldn't throw my future away for some lousy graffiti… but this, this is the greatest artistic masterpiece of all time! I no longer care what they do to me… and besides, I'm sure that once you see the finished product, you'll understand why I had to kidnap you and you won't tell them to throw the book at me."

"The only thing I understand is that you're completely insane!" shouted Ingrid, finally losing her cool. "Now untie me, or I swear I'll make sure you never do another drawing again!"

"I said be quiet," said Randall, walking over to a desk nearby and picking up a roll of duct tape. "I'd prefer to depict your lips in this picture, but I don't mind having to paint your mouth with tape on it."

Ingrid didn't care that she was about to be gagged, she was determined to escape, and before that, determined to let Randall know what she thought of his plan.

"I don't care how good this picture looks, I'll always think you're a little creep for doing this to me… and when Fillmore and the other Safety Patrol officers come to save me, you'll-"

Randall cut Ingrid off by pressing a piece of tape over her lips, though she continued to yell at him for several seconds, her quieted, muffled cries not deterring him from his work.

"Ah yes, Fillmore… so smart, but so untalented at art… I'm not sure what you see in him, really."

Ingrid's eyes narrowed. She didn't see 'anything' in Fillmore… but she knew one thing for sure.

"I'd rather have a stick figure drawing from Fillmore than a masterpiece painting from you."

O-O-O

Fillmore and the other Safety Patrol officers rummaged through Ingrid's room, looking for any clues that might lead them to where Randall had taken her.

"I don't know if we should be in here, Fillmore," said Anza, scratching his head and scraping some stink powder residue off the floor. "This is kind of out of our jurisdiction."

"Ingrid's a loyal Safety Patrol officer! Our jurisdiction is anywhere where her abductor might've been, and we know he was here," said Fillmore. "Ingrid, I swear I'll find you, even if it takes the rest of the night."

Fillmore was still thinking about what he'd found in Ingrid's crush file. That poll was taken five months ago… she'd had a crush on him for that long? Or did she even still have it? He knew it wasn't important right now, what was important was saving Ingrid from Randall… but he couldn't get that file out of his mind.

"I should've been able to tell… I've always been so good at reading people, but I couldn't even read what my own best friend was thinking. Now Randall's with her doing who knows what, and I never even got the chance to tell her I…" Fillmore shook his head, leaning up against Ingrid's dresser and looking down at the floor. "Randall, where…"

"To be completely honest, Fillmore, I don't know where to begin," Tehama said with an exhausted sigh.

"Begin…" muttered Fillmore, looking up.

"I was thinking, how do we know it was Randall that took Ingrid?" Tehama said quizzically. "She disappeared right as we were getting close to the football vandal, somebody who knows how to work with chemicals like that stink powder stuff. I bet Wade Zalinski took Ingrid and is holding her in the chemical lab!"

"Begin… where it all began…" Fillmore was lost in thought as he tried to remember everything he learned about Randall when he first busted him. "The first time Randall started doing art was at Savant Preschool for the Gifted! He's gotta be keeping Ingrid there!"

Fillmore rushed out of the room, leaving Tehama, Anza, and O'Farrell back in Ingrid's room.

"…so, you guys wanna go bust Zalinski?" Tehama said in an exasperated sigh.

Anza and O'Farrell looked at one another, muttered a few quick words, and nodded.

O-O-O

Randall had nearly completed his painting, and was now looking deep into Ingrid's eyes, trying to get a perfect reference for them.

"Just a few more seconds…"

"I'm NOT letting you finish this thing," thought Ingrid. She shut her eyes tightly, not letting Randall take a peek. "Let's see you get my eyes perfectly now!"

"Hey, hey…! Don't you… grr… open up!" Randall shouted, walking over and trying to pry Ingrid's eyelids open.

"Grmmm…mmm…mmmphhh!" Ingrid squealed, trying to turn her head away. "You freak, get your hands off my face! Hands… off!"

After rustling with some duct tape, Randall managed to pry Ingrid's eyes open by putting two strips of tape on her eyelids to hold them open, also covering up her eyebrows.

"Good thing I already painted the eyebrows, huh?" Randall commented, smirking as he studied Ingrid's forced-open eyes.

"This is gonna hurt coming off…" thought Ingrid, feeling the tape pulling slightly at her eyebrow hairs. "Grrrrmmmmm!"

Ingrid shifted and struggled as Randall returned to her painting, and it became clear that she wasn't going to stop him from finishing. She could only hope that he'd let her go afterwards.

"Ah… it's finally done, my masterpiece!" Randall declared, stepping back from the painting and allowing Ingrid to take a look. She didn't want to look at it at first, but curiosity got the best of her, and she glanced at the painting. "See? Isn't it beautiful?"

The painting was the best work Randall had ever done, a gorgeous and detailed depiction of Ingrid tied and gagged to a chair. It both shocked and impressed the captive Safety Patrol officer, and for a few brief moments she admired herself, noting in her mind how beautiful the painting made her look.

"He really… captured my best side," thought Ingrid, stunned for a brief moment into ceasing her struggles.

"I knew you'd like it, my muse," said Randall, placing a hand on Ingrid's cheek. This snapped her out of her art-induced daze, and she began to struggle fiercely again, growling and insulting Randall through her gag. "You might hate me, but you can't hate my work!"

"MMMM! MMMMM NMMMM MMMMPH! GRRRMMMMPHHHM MMMM MMM! YES! I CAN HATE IT! YOU KIDNAPPED ME!" Ingrid shouted and screamed, repeatedly shouting 'let me go!' at Randall so loudly that the tape did little to muffle it. "LMMMMT MMMMMPHEEE GGGGMMMMMMMM!"

"I was planning to let you go after I finished, but this picture came out so nicely… I just… I just have to paint more!" Randall took the painting off the easel and set it lovingly aside, placing a blank canvas down to replace it. "I think I could keep this up all night…"

Ingrid's eyes were already forced wide by the tape, but now they went even wider. She was in for a night of horror and humiliation, and she had no chance to escape. She bowed her head, expecting Randal to scold her and raise it back up.

"Ah, I like that look… the look of hopelessness and desperation, it's such an inspiring pose and I think if I depicted it in a picture it would make a real statement. Just stay like that, and-"

There was a loud bang at the door. Randall gasped and turned, and Ingrid lifted her head. At the same time, they both saw Fillmore's face through the window of the door.

"Fillmore!" shouted Randall.

"Fmmmlmmmph!"

"Ingrid! Don't worry, I'm coming…!" Fillmore threw his body hard into the door, causing it to buckle slightly, but the lock held fast. For a few moments, Randall grew frantic, but then he got an idea. He smiled and sneered, then walked over to one of the shelves.

"When he comes in, I'm going to give him a faceful of this," said Randall, holding several small tubes up for Ingrid to see. She read the labels with dread.

"Treadwell brand Permanent Paint…?"

"It will never, ever come off. Well, I heard once that a mother managed to get it off of her kid by putting him in the bathtub and scraping him with steel wool for three days straight, but either way, it's not going to be pretty."

Randall crouched in waiting behind a stack of multi-colored plastic boxes, holding several tubes of permanent paint in hand. All Ingrid could do was watch in horror and try to warn Fillmore when he came in.

"He's going to get a permanent coating of paint and it'll be all my fault… I should've listened to his hunch that whoever was doing this was dangerous… I was too flattered over the drawings… I can't let this happen!"

Fillmore slammed into the door again, forcing it open and allowing him into the room. He ran toward Ingrid, who was slowly shaking her head.

"NMMMM! MMMM, Fmmmmlmmmm, MMMM! NO! No, Fillmore, NO!"

Fillmore stopped, putting his emotions aside and analyzing the situation. This was a textbook hostage trap gambit.

"Ingrid… is it a trap?"

Ingrid slowly nodded her head. Fillmore pondered what to do… thought about everything that had happened that day… what he'd seen in Ingrid's crush file, and what he himself had struggled to tell her. He hadn't been able to protect her… and now they were both in terrible danger.

"It's a trap… but I can't leave Ingrid here. I'm going to get her out of here no matter what."

Putting his trepidations aside, Fillmore began walking slowly toward Ingrid. He stayed aware, looking for any signs of a trap, any sign that Randall was about to come at him. Behind the boxes, Randall crouched with a smile on his face.

"You're not going to ruin my masterpiece, Fillmore… I'll just make art out of you instead!"

Ingrid saw Randall leap out out of the corner of her eye. She glanced over to Fillmore, who could see it as well, but had no way to dodge what Randall was about to do. Everything began to move in slow motion… Ingrid shifted in her chair, clenched her fists, and remembered her days in preschool.

"These chairs…"

Seven times she'd seen one of her classmates turn those preschool chairs over. One of her four-year-old, 45 lb. classmates.

And they weren't even trying.

"These chairs are pathetic."

Ingrid shifted all her body weight to her left, instantly bringing her chair down right at Randall's leg. She hit him just as he began to squirt the paint out at Fillmore… and instead of hitting him, the paint shot up into the air at a ballistic trajectory toward the nearest table… where the picture Randall had just painted of Ingrid was still laying.

"Nnnnnggggffff!" Ingrid hit the floor hard on her left side, but continued to watch the paint as it started its descent. Randall watched it too, and his mouth widened in horror.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

Five globs of paint landed on the painting of Ingrid, permanently staining it with several large, ugly, multi-colored blotches. Randall Julian's masterpiece was ruined. The boy fell sobbing to his knees, while Fillmore immediately went to Ingrid, righting her chair and pulling the tape from her lips.

"Ingrid, are you okay?"

"My shoulder hurts, but for some reason I feel a lot better," said Ingrid, looking directly over at the sobbing Randall. "I can't really imagine why, though."

Fillmore finished untying his partner, who rubbed her wrists for a moment before reaching up and pulling the two pieces of tape from her eyebrows.

"Ow! I knew that was gonna hurt."

Fillmore then turned back to Randall, walking over to him and placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Randall Julian, you're under arrest for kidnapping a Safety Patrol officer."

"You're… arresting me? I'm not the one that should be under arrest, no, it's YOU!" Randall stood up and turned around, pointing at Fillmore. "You, Cornelius Fillmore, for defacing the greatest masterpiece in the history of the art world! Future generations will look upon this day and rue it, for this is the day that could have been a cultural benchmark, but will now live only in infamy, all because you had to go and-"

Randall's protests were silenced when Ingrid pressed a piece of duct tape over his mouth.

"Now I think they'll remember this day for when someone finally shut you up," Ingrid remarked as Fillmore slapped handcuffs on the still-gagged Randall. "Thanks, Fillmore… I really should've listened to you back there."

"Well, I was pretty obsessive," Fillmore replied somewhat guiltily. "Definitely not myself… you were right to steer me on the right track."

"It just so happened to turn out that going after Randall was the right track," said Ingrid, smiling as she and Fillmore escorted Randall from the room.

"Not until he kidnapped you, technically," Fillmore replied. "I just hope we can catch the football vandal, we've lost valuable time."

O-O-O

"FILLMORE!" shouted Vallejo as soon as Ingrid and Fillmore returned from booking Randall Julian. "You've got a lot of explaining to do! You opened confidential files and now I've got Principal Folsom threatening to turn this office into a school bakery!"

"…you opened confidential files?" Ingrid asked, raising her eyebrow at Fillmore.

"He opened the secret crush list that was supposed to be completely secret!" Vallejo said.

"It was a dumb thing to do," replied Fillmore, "and I'm willing to accept full-"

"You're lucky Tehama and the others managed to bring in the football vandal, or I'd have your sash for this!"

"You caught the vandal?" asked Ingrid. "That's great, why did he-"

"With the football team out of the way, they'd have to cover the quiz bowl team in the sports page until basketball season. Zalinski's the team captain, so-"

"Should've figured that out, I just didn't have him pegged as the type to want attention that much," said Fillmore.

"I told you we should've followed up on the Zalinski lead more," Ingrid replied. The two began walking back to Fillmore's desk. "You wanted to focus on the coach's son."

"Hey, I thought his dad didn't spend much time with him during football season, how was I supposed to know he works as the team towel manager during games?"

"…and I should've known that a chemical compound was the only way anyone could discreetly remove those rubber stoppers. So we both dropped the ball."

"Hope we're not getting rusty," said Fillmore.

"You found me, didn't you?" Ingrid replied.

"And you saved me from getting a faceful of the rainbow."

"By the way…" Ingrid was beginning to blush. "Whose crush file… did you see?"

Fillmore paused a moment. The look on his face immediately told Ingrid everything she wanted to know.

"…not the way I wanted you to find out," she said softly.

"Well, I was going to assume you just put my name down just to have at least one person. I mean, I shouldn't have been looking in that file to begin with."

"Hey, lock up when you're done, you two," Vallejo called to the two officers, the last two left in the office. "Gotta go practice for tomorrow's tryouts… I'm gonna be the biggest football star X Middle School has ever seen!"

Vallejo closed the door, leaving Ingrid and Fillmore alone in the dim office as the sun was beginning to set behind them. Ingrid was still blushing.

"Ingrid, it's okay. It doesn't mean anything, it was just a silly poll."

"You're right, Fillmore. We're friends, that's all."

"Right."

The two of them walked toward the office door, stopping next to it and looking away from one another.

"I put your name down too," Fillmore said. "…just to have someone on there."

Ingrid looked up into her friend's face. She started to reach up, but put her hand back down. She didn't look away, though.

"I'm glad… to have you as a friend," Ingrid said, the blush gone from her face. "Thank you for saving me."

She started to turn away, then in a split-second motion, turned and pressed her lips against Fillmore's. He barely had time to react before the kiss was over and Ingrid had left the room. He stood watching her leave for several moments before exiting the room himself, walking a few steps behind Ingrid. He started to turn down a different hallway when she looked back toward him with a smile on her face.

"By the way… next time, I get to save you."

THE END