A/N: I'm just plugging along writing around my novel instead of working on it, waiting for Camp NaNoWriMo to get here. I have to say I'm really impressed with all the writers out there who write concurrently-running multiple universes in their particular fandom. I don't know how they keep it all straight! So far, I've written a timeline, created original character bios, drawn up two maps, and listed out a pretty detailed outline, but I still feel like I'm in danger of forgetting something or mixing things up. Meanwhile, I'm using these "interludes" as an opportunity to fill in some back-stories in my head and hopefully improve my writing a bit before Camp NaNo begins. It's been a very long time since I wrote anything that wasn't a non-fiction essay for school. I'm also trying to be careful not to give anything critical away, for anyone who might want to read the actual Cold Lake Murders story without spoilers ahead of time.

The following can stand alone and takes place a few years earlier than the others I've posted. Reminder: This is NOT a Jim & Trixie story. (And despite poor Dan's understandable initial confusion, this isn't slash, either.) Thanks much to those who have posted feedback for my stories!

Rated T only to keep in line with the others in the series.

The Cold Lake Murders: Interlude – Breakup of a Different Kind

Trixie slipped out the kitchen door and crossed the back terrace, thankful she'd managed to evade her family. She didn't feel quite ready to explain her red-rimmed eyes or the tear tracks she knew were plainly visible on her cheeks. The autumn air had a distinct bite to it, a cool chill mixed with the scent of burning leaves. Above, the mid-afternoon sun was inching its way west, and before her she could see the growing shadows that stretched away from the edge of the preserve. She struck out for the lake, seeking solitude as she struggled to accept that her carefully planned future was now merely a fantasy that would never happen.

An Eastern gray squirrel scavenging about near the base of a towering tulip poplar froze as she approached before making a sudden and wild dash for the safety of the dense undergrowth a few feet away. Trixie sent the creature a mental apology for disturbing its hunting. She continued down the well-maintained trail until she came out from under the canopy of tree cover onto the sloping grounds that led to the edge of the lake.

Dan was sitting on the wooden picnic table top, his boots planted flat on the bench seat. For a moment, Trixie considered back-tracking and taking one of the paths over to the clubhouse, but then he turned to look at her and so instead, she crossed the short distance to join him.

He frowned a little as he regarded her, reaching out to take her hand and pull her up next to him. "What's wrong?" he asked gently.

Trixie turned, copying his sitting style, and let her gaze go out over the softly rippling waters of the lake before replying. "Honey and I just broke up," she said, sighing hard.

"Uh... Trix... is there something you and Honey never told me? Or any of us?" he asked, flabbergasted.

Suddenly, Trixie realized the obvious interpretation of her words. She lowered her head, laughing quietly. "Sorry. That came out wrong."

"But you two had a fight, I take it?"

"No. Not at all," she said, throwing her hands up in the air and then letting them drop back to her lap. "I mean, we were both bawling by the end of the conversation, but it was like, I started crying because she felt so bad and was crying, and then that made her cry harder for making me cry, and we finally just had to get off the phone because we weren't even making any sense any more."

Dan wondered if he should let her know she still wasn't exactly winning awards for coherency. He slung an arm around her shoulders, tucking her against his side. "Maybe start from the beginning?"

Trixie ran her fingers through her curls, pushing them out of her face. "Honey called me a little while ago to tell me she's switched her major to elementary education and she didn't want to wait all the way until she was home for Thanksgiving break to tell me. She says she doesn't want to be a detective. She wants to be a teacher."

Despite how upset he knew his friend was, Dan was hard-pressed at that moment not to smile. He didn't know for sure what bothered her more, that Honey was giving up the private detective plan, or that she wanted to become a school teacher. Trixie said the word in the same tone she might have used to describe something multi-legged and slimy found living under the boathouse.

"So, anyway," she continued, "I guess that's the end of the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency. And before you say it, yes, I know it could just be Belden Investigations or something, but it won't be the same."

"That's not what I was going to say," Dan told her, hugging her a little tighter. "Honestly, I was never positive that becoming a private eye was the best idea for you, anyway."

He felt her stiffen at his words. "Hear me out," he said. "Despite all your wacky adventures, the truth is there's not a lot of business for private detectives beyond chasing down cheating spouses and the occasional corporate espionage gig. Maybe sometimes finding long-lost relatives, but with the internet and Google, pretty much anyone can do that with a few hours of searching."

"So what?" Trixie asked in a small voice. "I should just give up my childish dreams altogether?"

"No. But Trix, if you want to be the kind of detective I'm pretty sure you want to be, I think you should consider that a career in law-enforcement is the way to go."

"I should be a policeman."

"Yeah. Trixie, you like solving crimes. That's the work of the police, not private citizens."

"Yeesh. You sound like Molinson."

Chuckling softly, Dan turned and placed a small kiss at her temple. "Sorry, Freckles, but he's always been right about that."

Trixie sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, resting her head on Dan's shoulder. "You're just sayin' that because you always wanted to be a cop yourself before you up and joined the army."

"Still plan on being one," he told her. "I've already talked to the chief about it. When my four years are up next summer, I'll be applying to the SHPD."

"Seriously?" she demanded, sitting up. "You're coming back home? I mean permanently? Not just on leave?"

"Yep."

"When were you going to get around to telling me that?" she practically shrieked before throwing both arms around him in an exuberant hug.

Laughing, Dan returned the embrace. "I wasn't keeping some big secret. I only talked to the chief two days ago."

Trixie sat back again, and Dan was glad to see the genuinely happy smile on her face. He flashed a grin in return. "Give it some thought, eh? I think you'd make a great police officer. Maybe someday we'll even be colleagues."

Her expression became contemplative, and she nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I will think about it. Of course, I still have to somehow survive another two years at Harrison State."

"Uh, huh. Uncle Liam did happen to mention that you made the president's list for the spring term."

"That was a fluke," Trixie said emphatically. Her brow furrowed. "How the heck did he know about that anyway? I didn't tell him. I didn't tell anybody."

"Probably it was something like your mom telling Miss Trask who told Celia who told Tom who told Uncle Liam," Dan guessed. "You know how well the grape vine works all up and down Glen Road."

Trixie snorted softly. "You're probably right. Though why anyone would think that was news worth repeating is beyond me!" She bumped her shoulder against his. "So... since we're having such a good girl-talk... how'd it go with Di?"

Dan blew out a long breath. "I was afraid you were going to ask me that."

Trixie fixed him with a stern glare. "Daniel Patrick Mangan! I swear, if you didn't follow through on your promise, I will find a way to spike your plate with an overload of hot sauce at the barbeque tonight! I've been hanging out here at the farm all day to give you a chance to speak with her in private!"

"Whoa! I did! I went over to your apartment this morning and asked her out."

"And...?" she prompted.

"She didn't get it."

"Didn't get it?" Trixie echoed, totally confused. "How does someone not get a date invite?"

"I went over there and she was home just like you said. I asked her about going to the movies Monday night since I leave on Tuesday and she said that was a great idea. Then she started texting-"

"Oh, no!" Trixie covered her mouth for a moment with both hands, trying not to laugh. "I'm one of the people she texted. Let's all get together for a movie before Dan has to fly back out to Texas. I thought that was something different, and that you had asked her out for tomorrow!" She lightly punched his arm. "What did you say, Cowboy? You must not've worded it right."

Dan groaned. "I don't even remember exactly, but I'm sure it was only semi-comprehensible. You know how I am when I'm around her. I always start stuttering and sound like a raving idiot. And then I get all self-conscious and think what would someone like Diana Lynch want with someone like me?"

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Trixie exclaimed. "Don't get me wrong. I adore Di. I think she's one of the coolest people I know, but you have got to get over thinking you aren't good enough for her! If anything, it might be the other way around. So you were in a gang once! Big deal. You've completely turned your life around. You are an amazing person, Dan. You've been in love with her since the moment you saw her. Just tell her how you feel already! Geeze Louise!"

Dan stared at her for a moment before pulling her into another quick hug. "Trixie, I really don't know what I'd do without you in my life," he said with some feeling.

"Humph. You need to talk to her again. Tell her you want to take her out on a date, just the two of you. Be specific. Make sure there's no way she can misinterpret what you're saying."

"Easier said then done." Dan grimaced and leaned back slightly, looking up at the deep blue sky and few scattered clouds above them. "For the longest time, I thought she was going to get together with your brother, and then when he started dating sorority girls from his school... I was already stationed at Bliss. Felt kinda like I'd missed my chance."

Trixie rolled her eyes at his words, and Dan reached over and popped the rubber band she wore around her wrist.

"Ouch!" She flicked his ear in return. "I'm supposed to be the one who does that."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't seem to be working. If you really want to break that habit, maybe you need to try something else."

She barely caught herself from repeating the gesture. "I am trying," she insisted. "I know it's really rude. Sometimes I can't seem to help myself." Shaking her head, she pushed herself off the table with a little bounce. "Okay. So we did the girl-talk thing and threw in some sappy stuff for good measure. C'mon. There's still a few hours before I've gotta help Moms and Dad with the barbeque. Whaddya say we take a coupla horses out for a ride? It's a perfect afternoon for it."

Dan climbed down from the table and grabbed her hand, linking their fingers. "Deal, Freckles. I know Uncle Liam will appreciate the help."

"Yeah," Trixie agreed as they started up the path to the Manor House, "and maybe while we're out riding, we can plan out word for word what you are going to say to Di the next time you see her, yeah?"

This time, it was Dan who rolled his eyes, but he smiled as well.