A/N: This is another "missing scene" from my not-yet-written July Camp NaNoWriMo novel. Seriously. July can't get here fast enough. Writing stories like this is helping me get a solid picture of this universe in my head, but I want to start the actual book! Darnit. Anyway...! This story can work stand-alone, but you might want to read the other one first for a little more background info. (Though in terms of a timeline, this story takes place earlier than Interlude #1.) Again, in warning, this is not a Jim/Trixie story, although this one isn't romantically centered on anyone at all. Many thanks to those who left feedback for the first story! I really appreciate the encouragement. And for the record, I am unapologetically a Trixie & Regan shipper. I can offer no excuses or explanations for it; somehow I just love the idea of the two of them together.

Rated T for language.

The Cold Lake Murders: Interlude – Was This Part of the Job Description?

Trixie dropped her purse into the open desk drawer and knocked it shut with her knee. She took a moment to look around again. This was her new office, and yet it wasn't. Everywhere she looked, she only saw Chief Molinson. On the wall behind the door was an enormous map of the Sleepyside area, riddled with various color push-pins denoting different crimes. It was an idea the chief openly admitted he'd stolen from his favorite fictional character, saying it helped him see patterns in criminal activities and narrow down the possible suspects. A row of filing cabinets that had probably sat in the exact same spot since the Johnson Administration was to her right, a relic of another age, before the advent of personal computers and digital files. The desk was strictly government-issue, with a faux-wood, Formica top and a metal frame that supported two deep drawers. The chief's old leather desk chair – no, it was her chair now, at least for the time being – was well-worn along the arms and head-rest.

Suddenly, Trixie felt the chief's loss keenly. How many times had she sat squirming in one of the two plastic green chairs facing the desk as he'd lectured her over her "reckless meddling" when she was a young teen, out to save the world from every bad guy who passed her way? And how many more times had she sat there as an officer of the SHPD, calmly giving her reports or accepting orders? It was inconceivable that he was gone.

It was utterly unreal that she'd been promoted in his place.

The phone system buzzed. Officer Denton's voice sounded slightly tinny through the cheap speaker. "Chief, the mayor is on the phone for you. Line one."

Trixie held down the intercom button. "Thanks, Stew. I've got it," she said, before jabbing the blinking light that indicated a caller on hold. "This is Acting Chief Belden," she said firmly, determined to sound professional and capable.

"Well, hello there, Chief," the mayor drawled, in that I'm-Just-an-Everyday-Small-Town-Boy-Who-Happens-to -Be-Mayor voice he used to put people off their guard. Trixie wasn't fooled for a moment. Mayor Miller was the consummate politician.

She refused to ask him anything along the lines of What can I do for you today, sir? Instead, she opted for a noncommittal, "Good morning, Mayor."

"Good morning to you, too. I know your time is valuable, Chief, so this is just a courtesy call to apprise you of some of your upcoming duties as our new police chief."

Trixie cringed, but kept her tone neutral. "Yes?"

"There's a Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday night. Make plans to attend that one. Introduce yourself to any of our local businessmen who've never had the delightful opportunity to meet you in person. One of the best ways we can keep our good town running smoothly is with little things like this that allow for open communication and cooperation between our government and our leading business owners."

Oh, brother. Trixie held the receiver away from her head long enough to exhale heavily. This sounded an awful lot like something the permanent police chief would do, not a task for someone only sitting in as the temporary acting chief. "If at all possible, I'll attend. We are in the middle of some serious investigations, though, and they do take precedence."

"And that's why you have a fully competent force of twelve fine officers at your command," the mayor responded.

Trixie let that comment go unremarked. "I'll see what I can do," she said.

"Good. Now, you also need to mark your calendar for the Independence Day festivities. You'll be serving as a judge, of course."

"I beg your pardon?" Trixie asked, not meaning it in the slightest. "I'll be doing what?"

"It's tradition, Chief," Mayor Miller responded, and she could hear the amusement in his tone. "The mayor, the fire captain, and the police chief have served as judges for the Fourth of July parade for decades now. We pick the winning float and first and second runners-up."

It took all of Trixie's self-control not to groan out loud. She hadn't ever, that she could remember, paid any attention to who judged the parade floats each year. She wished the chief had thought to mention it at some point in the three years she'd served under him. "Fine," she muttered shortly. "I'll be there."

"We also take turns as the master-of-ceremonies to open the fair," he continued. "You're up this year."

Trixie's eyes narrowed suspiciously. She couldn't remember or even imagine seeing Chief Molinson in that role. She was willing to bet this was simply a duty the mayor was pawning off on her. "Right. Chamber of Commerce. Judge for the parade. Master-of-ceremonies. Got it."

Mayor Miller laughed. "I see you picked up Chief Molinson's particular economy with words," he said.

Trixie looked at the clock on her desk and was glad to see she had a legitimate reason to end the conversation. "Mayor, I appreciate your call," she said briskly, "but I have a department-wide meeting scheduled to start in a few minutes."

"Ah, good. Good. I won't keep you then. Don't forget about the press conference this afternoon, Chief. That's another one of those little things we do to keep our town-"

"Running smoothly?" Trixie suggested dryly.

"Exactly! Glad to see we're on the same page, Chief Belden."

Figuring no one was there to see it anyway, Trixie indulged in a good eye roll. She said a quick good-bye and disconnected the call before the mayor could think of any other "little things" for her to do.

She sat at her desk for a full minute, breathing deeply and mentally preparing herself for the next trial of her day. Deciding she was as calm as she would ever be, she rose and crossed her office. She opened her door and surveyed the squad room. Eight of the fully competent, fine officers under her command were present, sitting at their desks or, in the case of Elijah and Bear, standing together by the small coffee bar. The remaining four were out on patrol. As she made her way through the room, she stopped to speak with Dan. "No matter what happens in the next ten minutes or so," she said softly, "I want you to keep quiet. All right? Let me handle it."

She could see he was torn between arguing with her and accepting that she was well within her rights to issue such a command. He pressed his lips tightly together and nodded. He wasn't happy about it, but he would do as she instructed.

She walked to the front of the room and paused long enough to study the incident board. Along with the arson case and the Greyson assault and vehicle theft, there were the usual notations of vandalism, domestic disturbances, and noise complaints. Someone had also scribbled, "Chief – threatening phone call received on home phone" at the bottom of the board. Something else she would have to eventually handle.

She turned around to address the officers. "The press conference today is at 2:00pm," she began. "Obviously, the questions will involve the self-storage fire and the events that took place at the Greyson farm. The information we provide will need to be enough to let the public know we are on top of things without giving too much away and tipping our hand. Holt, what's the latest progress on the arson investigation?"

"No usable prints on the gas cans or matchbook. No witnesses have come forward." Elijah shrugged one shoulder as he idly stirred cream into his coffee.

"And what do we know about the fire itself so far? Any information on that end?"

"Not much," the officer said, turning back to the coffee bar and reaching for a napkin.

Trixie gritted her teeth and silently counted to five. "Denton? You interviewed the Greysons. Is there anything to report? Any additional details that might help us identify their assailants?"

Stewart glanced up from whatever file he was reading on his computer, his expression saying he felt she was wasting his time. Behind her back, Trixie clenched her fist, digging her nails into her palm. She knew he was taking his cues from his partner. As long as Elijah displayed borderline insubordination, Stew would as well. She refused to acknowledge that his attitude stung. Before her promotion, Stew had always been one of her closest friends on the force.

"Don't really have anything new, Chief," he said flatly. "Mrs. Greyson says she thinks one of the men had a cold or something, because of the way he talked. But it was maybe just his voice."

"Right. Does anyone else have any new information to share?" she asked, her eyes tracking from one man to the next. No one spoke, though Trixie could see that Dan was struggling hard to obey her order to remain silent.

"So," she said after a long moment, "what you're all telling me is I'm going to be at a press conference in about five hours where I'll be saying to the media, 'We haven't come up with a single damn bit of information or one small clue in the past twenty-four hours. Check with us later.'?"

Some of the officers shifted uncomfortably in their seats, not meeting her sharp gaze as she surveyed the room, waiting for a response.

"Does anyone want to fill me in on exactly what you've been doing since yesterday afternoon? Has anyone checked to see if we've had any hits on the APB for the Greysons' truck? Interviewed Allison Beatty again? Searched for any similar cases around the state? Found out about any insurance policies on Randy's Self-Storage? Anything at all?"

It was Bear who finally answered. "Guess we got a little busy with other stuff," he said laconically. "You know, like patrolling for speeders on the Expressway."

It was as close to openly defying her as she knew he would get, and Trixie recognized this was her only opportunity to stop the behavior. If she couldn't rein things in now, it would probably never happen. Bear especially resented her promotion. He'd been with the force for two more years than she herself had, giving him seniority. She knew he believed the promotion should have either gone to him, any of the other officers who had been on the job longer, or the most obvious and logical choice, Dan, the department's only ranking sergeant.

And she agreed with him. Part of her wanted to shout, "Don't you think I know how wrong this is? I am completely out of my depth here!" It didn't matter. For reasons known only to Chief Molinson and the town council, Trixie was now acting chief, and the sooner the department accepted her lead, the better. They simply didn't have time for a lot of petty office politics.

"Enough!" she snapped. "I am fully aware of how you all feel about having me as your chief. You're going to have to grow up and get over it. We have two very serious, major investigations to conduct and your juvenile shenanigans have no place here. I am giving each one of you a choice right now. One, you can surrender your badges and guns and hand in your resignations if you feel you just can't bring yourself to work with me as acting chief. Or two, you can put on your big boy boots and deal with it. Get out there and do your jobs to the best of your abilities so we can close these cases. I will give you a few hours to think things over, but I expect to hear from each one of you today regarding your decisions. And meanwhile for those of you who have them, at least have the courtesy to complete the assignments you were given at yesterday's meeting, even if you plan to walk out on us later today. Dan, I'll leave you to assign officers to the other open incidents and reports."

She paused to look around the room again. "Let me be very clear here," she said, her tone carefully moderated. "When I say I expect to hear from you, that means you will come to me, in person, and we will discuss whether or not you feel you are able to continue serving as an officer of the SHPD. If you decide to find yourself a little busy with other stuff, do not plan to return to work tomorrow, because I will have already placed a termination letter in your file."

With that, Trixie stalked across the room, head held high, returning to her office. She would give herself some time to calm down before tackling the next item on her to-do list. Her cell phone chirped a text alert before she even had a chance to sit down.


She smiled slightly before replying. Not too much?

They deserved it.

You are staying on, yeah?

You have to ask?

We may be the only ones left by tomorrow.

They'll stay.

Trixie huffed out a breath. She hoped Dan was right.

She spent the next quarter of an hour reading over what little information they had collected so far from the fire, including an emailed report from Captain Grieg. There was a soft knock at her door and she sat back in her chair, calling, "Come in."

Officer Denton hesitantly pushed open the door and stepped inside her office. His eyes tracked around the room nervously, looking at everything except Trixie herself.

"Stew," she said evenly. "Sit down."

He did as told, sending her a sheepish look as he rubbed his palms down his thighs and then clenched both knees. "I... uh... I just wanted to say I love my job."

"That's good to know."

"So, I want to stay."

"Even if Elijah quits?" she asked pointedly.

He nodded once.

"Good. I'm glad."

"And... I'm sorry for kinda being an ass the last coupla days."

She studied him for a moment. Although still only in his late twenties, Stewart Denton was the unfortunate victim of a rapidly receding hairline that made him seem considerably older than his actual years. Tall and rail thin, with eyes a disconcerting shade of light blue, and an awkward, slouching gait that was more shuffling than walking, Stew was the kind of person Helen Belden always said never managed to grow into his or her own skin. But despite his unprepossessing physical appearance, Trixie knew he was a good cop. Meticulous and observant, Stew always quietly got the job done. "Apology accepted," she told him. "And I think we can write the last few days off as very stressful for all of us and move on, yeah?"

"Thanks, Trix- uh, ma'am. Chief." He winced at his stumbling words.

"'Chief' will do, Stew. Now, please focus your attention on the Greyson case today. I'd like to see if we can get any info on the truck. Also, find out who's been camping at the Cold Lake Campground for the last week or so. Maybe someone somewhere saw something that can help us."

He inhaled deeply and nodded again. "Yes, Chief. I'll get right on it."

Stew left her office with an alacrity that brought a genuine smile to her face. That was one down. Not counting Dan, that left her with ten more potentially difficult interviews for the day.

Trixie left the station an hour and a half later, after instructing Amy Winters, the day-shift dispatcher, to call her if needed. She decided to go home for lunch. It would give her a short respite from the challenges of the day before she faced the firing squad known as the local press. As she let herself in through the kitchen door, she was struck by a pang of what could only be described as loneliness. Before assuming the role of acting chief, lunch had frequently been a meal she'd taken in the company of other officers of the SHPD, especially Dan. Now she would have to maintain a sense of professional distance. It gave her an entirely new perspective on Chief Molinson, and she wondered how many times he, too, had gone home to an empty house and wished for something different.

She dined on left-over chicken salad and an apple before going up to her bedroom and stretching out on the bed, without bothering to pull down the covers. Very soon, she would need to shower and dress in her full dress uniform again, the second time in a matter of days, but she could allow herself a brief nap for now.

It was less than ten minutes to 2:00 when she arrived back at the SHPD station. She pulled her Cherokee into the spot reserved for her at the back of the building and simply sat for a moment, staring sightlessly at the tan brick wall in front of her. She'd used her home computer to print out an email Dan sent her with an outline of information that had been gathered in the few hours she'd been away. At least she would have something to offer the eager press.

A knock on her window startled her enough that she jumped in her seat. She turned to find Dan looking down at her expectantly. She opened the door as he stepped back out of the way.

"You all set?" he asked, regarding her closely as she slid out from behind the wheel.

"As much as I can be," she replied wryly.

"Well, c'mon. We're all ready."


"Yep." He flashed her a crooked grin, but gave no further explanation to his comment.

They walked together through the station and out the front door. A lectern and microphone were set up on a low platform in the courtyard in front of the wide windows that ran the length of the building. It had been many months since the last press conference, done by Chief Molinson the day before Halloween the previous fall, as a general reminder to the public on safety for trick-or-treaters. This would be her first, and Trixie silently prayed she didn't make a huge mess of it. She also hoped it went quickly. The hot sun was strong and unforgiving; she could already feel a trickle of sweat forming along her back. It was shaping up to be a brutal summer.

A small crowd of reporters was gathered, along with two cameramen jockeying for the best position, but this was not what had Trixie's attention. Instead, it was the seven police officers standing tall in a single row in front of the platform. Without a word, Dan went to join them. Not quite sure what to think, Trixie approached the short stage, hoping, for the sake of the watchful eyes of the press, that she did not look as confused and uncertain as she felt.

Bear turned to her as she put her hand on the rail of the portable metal stairs that would allow her to step up onto the platform. He cleared his throat and pointed down. "Polished my big boy boots, Chief. We all did."

Trixie blinked, then slowly smiled. The message was clear. Not only were they staying on with the department, but no matter what their differences inside the station, out here in front of the world, Bear and the others had her back.