A/N: As I was preparing to write this, a thought occurred to me. The last few interludes have been less "missing scenes from The Cold Lake Murders" and more "missing scenes from some kind of prequel to The Cold Lake Murders that I will probably never write, though I'm not ruling that idea out entirely." For reasons of brevity (What? Laziness? Me?), I'm not going to edit the summaries of those stories to put in the longer, more accurate description. Suffice it to say, all of these stories are really snippets from the AU I dreamed up, whenever they happen to take place. They are serving to cement in my head the characters and settings for CLM. I am trying to be as prepared as possible for Camp NaNoWriMo.

Thank you very much to everyone who has been posting reviews. They are much appreciated.

Standard reminder: This is NOT a Jim & Trixie story. Also, yes, I do tend to ignore canon whenever it suits me.

The Cold Lake Murders: Interlude – The Interviews

Trixie stopped in the restroom to freshen up before she tackled the afternoon's duties. She wiped at the sweat on her brow, combed the tangles from her hair, and touched up her light make-up. She wished she had a change of clothes on hand, but it was too late to return home for anything. Her current white blouse and blue slacks, as rumpled as they were, would have to do. She exhaled heavily as she washed her hands. The sweltering June heat was taking its toll on more than merely the physical appearances of the SHPD officers. Coupled with recent unhappy events, the hot weather was contributing to frayed nerves and short tempers. Everyone seemed to be especially on edge, snapping at one another and squabbling like school children in a playground fight. She was not at all looking forward to the hotter July and August months.

It was not the most ideal circumstances in which to begin her tenure as acting chief. And now she was faced with the unenviable task of interviewing and hiring a new officer. With the death of Chief Molinson and her subsequent promotion, the department was one man down, and that, too, was creating difficulties, as the others were forced to pick up the slack in the rotation schedules. She knew the mayor had been hoping to leave the spot vacant as a cost-saving measure, but she'd flatly explained the need to find a replacement and refused to back down until he'd agreed. After two days of reading files and resumes, calling references, and running background checks, she'd narrowed the candidates to four possible contenders. Hopefully, by the end of the afternoon, that list would be further culled to one.

She walked out into the squad room and nodded to Dan. "Hold my calls unless we have an emergency," she said. "And track down Holt and find out where he is with the insurance adjuster for the fire."

She picked up two bottles of water and carried them with her to her office. She would spend the next ten minutes reviewing the first applicant's file as she waited for him to arrive for his appointment. Louis Sawiki was applying to transfer to the SHPD from Braystall. His record was decent, if not spectacular, and his chief spoke highly of him. According to Sawiki's paperwork, his mother had been recently admitted to the Golden Life Center in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She surmised it was this that had led to his desire to work in the Sleepyside area.

Sawiki arrived five minutes early. Trixie considered this a plus in his favor, as was his calm, assured demeanor. He took a seat across from her and politely declined her offer of water.

"Officer Sawiki," she began, studying him thoughtfully, "before we get any further in this interview, I want to be certain you are clear on something. If you transfer to our department, it would be, for all practical purposes, a demotion. Your chief tells me you are on track to becoming an investigative detective for the BPD within months, and this move could set that goal back quite a bit."

He frowned slightly. "I understood with your promotion, you now have an opening for another detective, ma'am," he said.

"Not exactly. I'm only serving as acting chief. In all likelihood, what will happen is our town council will promote either Sergeant Mangan or Detective Ninham to serve as the permanent chief and I'll return to my former position. If Detective Ninham gets the job, Officer Holt would become our newest detective. He applied months ago, and quite honestly, the only reason he was never promoted was financial constraints." She offered a humorless smile. "Chief Molinson went to bat with the council for him, but he wasn't able to convince them to approve the necessary increase in budget. That said, aside from a small raise and the questionable bragging rights that come with being a detective, the only real benefit to the job is being allowed to wear civilian clothing while at work. Despite our current situation, we don't normally have enough serious crimes to warrant detectives who only investigate high-level cases. Even our detectives still take routine traffic calls and random small-time burglaries and domestic disturbances."

"That's how it is in the BPD, too, ma'am," Sawiki explained.

"So you would be all right with starting over at the bottom of the totem pole? If you come to work here, it could be years before you'd be able to reach 'detective' status."

Sawiki considered her words. "It's not what I was hoping to hear," he confessed finally. "I thought moving to a larger force would open up more opportunities for me, not limit them."

Trixie closed his file on her desk. "Officer Sawiki, am I correct in assuming that your application was based on a desire to work closer to where your mother now lives?"

"Yes, ma'am. I would like to be able to visit her as often as possible and be close-by if she ever needs me."

"Very commendable. But the drive from Braystall isn't too onerous, is it? Thirty-five, forty minutes? Wouldn't you prefer to keep your job with the BPD and accept your upcoming promotion, then make the commute here as often as you wish, rather than take a step down by joining the SHPD?"

Sawiki was silent for a long moment. Trixie sat back in her seat and allowed him the time to weigh his choices. After several minutes had passed, he scrubbed his hand across his chin and chuckled quietly. "You aren't exactly one for a hard-sell on the job, are you, ma'am?" he asked wryly.

"There's no reason not to consider what's best for you as well as our department," she replied matter-of-factly. "I wouldn't have you take this job and then come to resent your position."

"In that case, Chief Belden, I must withdraw my application. I apologize for wasting your time like this."

"You didn't waste my time, Officer Sawiki," she assured him. "But I can do something for you."

"Ma'am?"

Trixie tapped a few keys on her keyboard to access the information she needed. She picked up a notepad and scribbled a name and phone number on it. Tearing off the sheet, she held it out to him. "Molly Patterson. She's a nurse on staff at Golden Life. I recently did her a rather large favor. Give her a call and tell her I sent you. Ask her to keep a special eye on your mother and keep you updated on her condition. She'll do it."

Sawiki accepted the paper and folded it carefully, placing it in his wallet. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "I really appreciate this."

He stood and held his hand out for a shake. Trixie rose as well, clasping his hand firmly. Sawiki started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. "Chief?"

"Yes?"

"I hope your town council decides you should be promoted permanently," he said.

A ghost of a smile crossed her features. "You don't think I'm a little young for the job?"

"Trixie Belden, Sleepyside's famous, former teen detective? I think you probably could've handled this job when you were still in high school."

With that parting remark, Sawiki strode from her office, leaving Trixie to drop back into her seat, dumbfounded and wondering if she'd made a mistake in convincing the man he didn't want to work at the SHPD. She wasn't sure even Dan had that much confidence in her abilities.

Anita Negron was the next person on her list of candidates. Like Sawiki, she arrived slightly before the appointed time. Negron had no experience as a law enforcement officer, but she was a recent college graduate with a degree in criminology. Trixie appreciated the woman's academic credentials, but was somewhat concerned about her lack of practical experience. Still, it wasn't as if Sleepyside was large enough to have its own police academy. Here, officers learned OTJ. They could train Negron and get her certified for her weapon, providing she proved herself the best choice for the job.

And, a niggling voice in the back of Trixie's mind said, it would be nice to have another female officer on the force. Trixie clamped down on that thought. Diversity was all well and good, but the safety of the people in her town came first, and that meant she would hire the best person for the position, regardless of gender.

Five minutes into the interview, Trixie knew she would not be extending a job offer to the woman. She could understand and excuse a bit of naïveté, but Anita Negron's mile-a-minute chatter about how much good she could do if she could just reach the less fortunate and help them before they made terrible mistakes that could ruin their lives finally prompted Trixie to gently suggest that perhaps what the younger woman needed to consider was a career in social work. She showed Negron out and went back to her office. Her next appointment was not for another twenty minutes. If she'd had a couch in the room, she would've locked the door and taken a nap. As it was, she put her head down on her desk, feeling a lot like she was back in her 11th grade world history class, struggling to keep awake while America's Most Boring Teacher droned on at the front of the room.

A few minutes before she was due to interview one Perry Butler, current Head of Security for Ross-Griffin Manufacturers, a mid-sized Harrisonville company that produced sealing products, Trixie decided a cup of coffee was in order. She'd been inside the air-conditioned comfort of the station long enough to cool down, and now she was in need of a caffeine jolt.

She'd only just returned to her office, mug in hand, when Butler strolled through her open door. His brows rose as he looked at her. "Well, hel-lo there, little darlin'," he said with an open leer. "Aren't you a sweet young thing! Is that for me? I could definitely use a cuppa. And is the chief about? I'm here for an interview."

Trixie stared at him in disbelief, wondering what long-ago decade he'd fallen out of, then turned and crossed the room, taking up a stance next to the door. "Thank you for coming, Mr. Butler, but the position has been filled. Have a good day." She smiled, though without any warmth, and congratulated herself on not giving in to the urge to toss her steaming beverage into the man's face.

She reclaimed her seat at her desk as soon as Butler was out of her office and picked up his file, dropping it unceremoniously into the trash can at her feet. She sighed as she looked at the one remaining folder. Maybe she would have to call Sawiki back and try a hard-sell after all, despite what she'd told him earlier?

Her final appointment was precisely on time. He sat across from her and they regarded each other for a long moment before Trixie glanced down and flipped open his file. "Well," she said, "to start, I'm curious about what brings you back here to Sleepyside after all this time. I understand you were doing quite well for yourself in Pearson."

"I'm looking to settle down permanently," he replied. "I'd like to buy a house here. Put down real roots. Pearson never really felt like home. Also, when I left five years ago, I thought I would be happy down in Pearson, but there is such a thing as too small when it comes to small towns. Last year, we went an entire month with nothing more than picking up a couple of teens for drag racing, ticketing a jaywalker, and fining a tourist who threw his trash out his car window."

Trixie's expression was amused, but skeptical. "Are you saying you miss the excitement of Sleepyside?" she asked, a small smile pushing up the corners of her lips.

"Yeah. Although when you say it like that, you make it sound a little crazy."

"And are you comfortable with the idea of working under my command? This may only be a temporary situation, but for now, you'd be expected to follow my orders."

"I can do that, Chief."

"Some of the officers you used to work with are still here. Would you say you left on good terms with them? Should I expect any old, unresolved issues to crop up?"

"I haven't really talked to anyone in a long time, but yes, I'd say I left on good terms. For my part, anyway." He cleared his throat and shifted somewhat uncomfortably in his seat. "Unless you count, you know, the fact that you and I were never, er... friendly at all."

Trixie waved one hand dismissively. "I wasn't working on the force then. As long as you are able to accept that I'm in charge now, we can simply let all of that go." She held up a yellow piece of paper. "This note?" she said. "Is frankly the main reason I even entertained the possibility of bringing you back into the SHPD. Would you like to know what it says?"

He nodded, and Trixie could see the curiosity in his hazel eyes.

"It's written by Chief Molinson, and after some work at interpreting his atrocious handwriting, I finally got, 'Re-hire any time. Much improved officer. Great potential.'" She leveled a steely look on him. "So, Officer Tony 'The Tiger' Caldwell, as I seem to be out of other options, I am willing to give you a chance here. If you seriously want to be a part of the SHPD again, I suggest you take advantage of this offer and don't blow it."

He visibly winced. "Thank you, Chief, but is there any chance we could, uh, skip the 'Tiger' thing?" he asked. "It took me a long time to live down arresting you and falsely accusing you of criminal activity. I was apparently the only person in all of Sleepyside at the time who didn't know just how ridiculous that accusation really was."

Trixie felt another smile coming on. "Oh, I don't know. We already have a 'Bear' on the force. A 'Tiger' would fit right in," she said.

"All you'd need is a 'Lion'?" he suggested, relaxing back in his seat and grinning.

Laughing, Trixie nodded. "Exactly. Although, that would be 'All we need is a Lion.' Welcome back to the SHPD, Officer Caldwell. When can you start?"