A/N: This story takes place on the fourth day of Trixie's new job as Acting Chief of Police. Although there's no mention of Jim or any romantic overtones whatsoever, the standard disclaimer applies here. In the world of The Cold Lake Murders, Jim and Trixie are not together. Many thanks to all who have left reviews.
The Cold Lake Murders: Interlude – All in a Night's Work
Trixie stared at the papers she'd spread across her desk, the nagging feeling that she was missing something important laying heavily on her mind. The intercom buzzed and she welcomed the intrusion into her chaotic thoughts. Maybe she needed to step away from all this for the night and look at it again with fresh eyes in the morning. "Yes?" she asked as she pressed the speaker button.
"Chief," Lizzy said apologetically, "I know you're officially off duty right now, but we have a bit of a situation."
"Situation?" Trixie prompted, pushing back her seat and rising. It was almost 9:45. Technically, emergencies after hours were handled by whichever team was on rotation call, but Lindner and Caldwell were currently on patrol, keeping an eye out for any newly graduated high school seniors taking their celebratory partying too far. Wondering if she would need to call either Dan or Bear for backup, Trixie opened her desk drawer and reached for her service revolver.
"It's Mrs. McGurty," Lizzy responded, lowering her voice to the point that Trixie almost couldn't hear her.
Trixie released the speaker button so that no one would overhear her as she indulged in a brief bout of swearing. She exhaled deeply and reached out and jabbed the machine again. "I'll be right there."
She walked out of her office to cross the empty squad room, frowning as she saw the half-filled coffee cup sitting on Holt's desk, and passed through the swinging doors directly behind the station's reception area. "Mrs. McGurty," she said evenly as she faced the thin, bony older woman. "What can we do for you?" She just managed to catch herself from adding a "this time" to the end of her question.
June McGurty held up a twisted and broken branch of some shrub Trixie couldn't readily identify. "He ran them over! My prize Buxus microphylla!" she declared angrily. "How many times do I have to tell you people that man is a menace who should be locked up!"
"Mrs. McGurty, did you actually see Mr. Reybourne run over your plants?"
"I was at my Women's Auxiliary Club meeting tonight, and when I got home, I found this! Who else could have done it but that wretched, horrible excuse for a human being? If he's not letting his monster of a dog loose to frighten years off the life of my poor Mr. Tibbles, he's destroying my gardens!"
"You're welcome to fill out a complaint form and I'll have an officer visit you tomorrow for your statement, ma'am, but you must understand that unless we have concrete proof-"
"Don't you give me any of that nonsense, Beatrix Belden! I expect you to come out and investigate the scene of the crime tonight! Before any inclement weather washes away the evidence!"
Trixie bit back a groan. Hooray for Hollywood, she thought acerbically. Thanks to shows like CSI and the various spin-offs and clones, now everyone expected a full-blown production for even the most mundane of incidents. "Ma'am, it's highly unlikely-" she began, only to be cut off again.
"You will do your job, or I will take this up immediately with the mayor himself!"
For a moment, Trixie gave serious consideration to the woman's threat. She was no particular fan of Mayor Miller, and she knew when June McGurty said 'immediately,' she meant just that. She briefly entertained the idea of letting Mrs. McGurty make good on her word. But she then dismissed the thought and instead she offered up a patently fake smile. "Ma'am, our regular business hours are 7:00am to 9:00pm. Non-violent crimes and non-emergencies are typically handled by one of our officers during that time. I will, however, follow you home now and take some photographs of your shrubs. Then tomorrow I will see to it that someone is assigned your... case."
Mrs. McGurty glowered at her. "You call this non-violent?" She held up the mangled branch. "He destroyed them!"
"Go home, Mrs. McGurty," Trixie said firmly, ignoring the question. "I will be there shortly."
There was a long pause before the woman finally made a strangled noise Trixie assumed was meant to convey her dissatisfaction before she turned and stormed out of the station.
"Oh, the mayor owes me one," Trixie said quietly. "Big time." She sighed in resignation. "I guess every town has to have their version of the Hatfields and McCoys. We've got the Reybournes and McGurtys."
"Well," Lizzy said sympathetically, "look at it this way, Chief. Mrs. McGurty is the last McGurty left in Sleepyside. I don't see John ever leaving the city to move back here, even if he does eventually inherit his mom's house, so at some point this is all gonna end."
Trixie glanced at the night dispatcher. "There is that. Can you do me a favor? I need to shut down my office and make a restroom stop. Will you get one of the cameras from the storeroom and sign it out for me?"
"Of course, dear. And I'll make you a coffee to go, too. If you don't mind me saying, Chief, you're looking pretty worn out."
Trixie chuckled ruefully. "I'm feeling pretty worn out, too," she admitted. "It's been a long week." She rubbed a hand over her forehead and pushed her curls back from her face. She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten a decent night's sleep, but she was thinking it had to have been before Chief Molinson's funeral.
In her office, she shut down her computer and gathered up the papers from the Timmons and Jackson murders. She placed them all into a file folder and then slipped it into her messenger bag. As she cut across the squad room, she again noticed the coffee mug on Holt's desk. She would have to speak to him about it, though she didn't relish the thought. Holt usually put so much sweetener and cream in his coffees, the final product was something no one else on the force could even tolerate. But that much sugar was also a magnet for ants and other small critters. If Holt's laziness led to a roach infestation, Trixie thought she might go so far as to dock his pay. She carried the mug to the coffee bar sink and rinsed it out. Sometimes, despite her age, she felt quite a bit like she was playing the role of "Mom" to her fellow officers.
June McGurty lived in a narrow, two-story fading Victorian on the corner of 5th and Jameson-Banks Road, across the street from the First United Methodist Church of Sleepyside. A widow known to frequently complain of living on a fixed income, she was a retired elementary school teacher who had the tendency to treat everyone like misbehaving students, no matter how many years had passed since they'd escaped third grade. She prided herself on the beauty and organization of her front and back gardens, often the first-place winner of the annual Sleepyside Lawn and Garden Show. Clifford and Mary Reybourne, her immediate neighbors, were not particularly interested in maintaining a magazine cover-worthy front yard. Grandparents to four active young boys who visited for many hours every week, the Reybournes were content to keep their grass cut and hedges trimmed, but leave the lawn open and available for play. The bickering and confrontations that took place between June McGurty and Clifford Reybourne were legendary, the present day result of a long-standing family feud that traced its roots back to a property line dispute.
As Trixie pulled her Cherokee up to the curb, she watched Mrs. McGurty march down her brick walkway toward her, carrying an enormous black cat. Mr. Tibbles was as much a fixture of Sleepyside as Mrs. McGurty herself, spending most of his days lazing in a front window and watching passers-by, though as Trixie did some quick mental math, it occurred to her that the cat probably only had a few years left, at most.
After grabbing the department's digital camera from the passenger seat, Trixie popped open her door and swung down from behind the wheel. The worst heat of the day had mostly dissipated, and there was a pleasant, light breeze blowing down to the Hudson River valley from the Catskills to the north.
"Come and see what that awful man has done!" Mrs. McGurty demanded, waving to Trixie to follow her. A long grassy strip separated the driveways between the two homes. Trixie estimated it to be no more than about three feet wide. A row of flattened bushes stood at the edge of the drives, near the street curb.
Trixie fought the strong urge to roll her eyes. Apparently the "victims" of this crime were three small littleleaf boxwood plants. From what she could discern, they were a fairly new addition to Mrs. McGurty's landscaping. Certainly, they didn't appear large enough to have reached full maturity.
"You see!" Mrs. McGurty cried angrily. "You see what he's done? He always takes this corner too fast and this time, he clearly missed the turn and ran right over my poor Buxus microphylla."
Trixie bent down to study the shrubs. She snapped a few photos with the digital camera. It did seem possible that a car or other motor vehicle was responsible for the damage, but in the weak light provided by the street lamp, she couldn't determine that for certain.
A dark sedan turned onto the block from Glen Road. Trixie rose and watched it approach. The driver flipped on a blinker and turned into the Reybournes' driveway, inching up slowly to park in front of the detached garage. Trixie could now identify the car itself, a late model Honda Accord, and the driver, Mr. Reybourne. Despite Mrs. McGurty's claims, his driving was nothing if not extremely cautious. Of course, Trixie was willing to concede that may have been due to the two people standing so close to his property. Had they not been there, perhaps Mr. Reybourne wouldn't have been so careful.
There were two passengers in the car, Mrs. Reybourne and Rex, the Reybourne's Bernese Mountain Dog. Like Mr. Tibbles, Rex was well-known in Sleepyside. Before retiring, Clifford Reybourne had served the town for many years as part of the Sleepyside fire department. Now he often spent time with his dog several days a week at Founders Park, where Rex was a favorite of the children who came to play. Rex was energetic, friendly, and about as untrained as the Belden's Reddy had ever been.
The Reybournes climbed from their car as Mrs. McGurty stalked across the drive. "You!" she yelled. "You've gone too far this time! I've brought the police!"
Mr. Reybourne's expression was full of confusion. "Now, June," he said reasonably, "we just arrived home as you can see. I'm not sure what it is you're talking about."
Pointing dramatically toward her destroyed shrubbery, June McGurty glared at her neighbor. "What do you have to say about that?"
Before the former fireman had a chance to formulate a response, his wife opened the car's back door to let Rex out. Though she reached for his collar, the dog quickly bounded past her, racing toward the street.
"Rex! Heel!" Clifford Reybourne called to no avail.
Mrs. McGurty screamed as Mr. Tibbles let out a frightening shriek. Sensing a game, Rex doubled back, racing toward the woman and her hissing cat. Unfortunately, Trixie stood directly in the animal's path. One painful moment later, she found herself sprawled on the ground and staring up at the night sky. Several disjointed thoughts ran through her head. Would the camera, which had shattered on impact with the cement drive, be repairable? How could a cat as old as Mr. Tibbles have managed to jump from his owner's arms and scramble up the Black Birch tree in the Reybourne's front yard so quickly? Was she really getting paid enough for this? Could she hand in her resignation and sit for the private investigator licensing exam any time soon?
"Don't mind me," she mumbled to the twinkling stars above. "I'll just drive myself over to Sleepyside General and make sure I don't have a concussion."
She pushed herself to a sitting position. While Mrs. McGurty and Mr. Reybourne engaged in a heated shouting match, Mrs. Reybourne hovered over Trixie, apologizing frantically. She held out a hand to assist Trixie in standing. Trixie waved her off, though, figuring it was more likely she would only pull the frail older woman down with her than get to her feet with Mary Reybourne's help.
She stood and brushed the dirt and grass from her backside. Her patience had run out. "Enough!' she thundered. "If you don't calm down and quiet down right now, I'll issue disturbing the peace citations to the both of you!"
A welcomed silence came over the small group, broken only by Mr. Tibble's pathetic mewing from his perch in the tree. Rex trotted over to Trixie and licked her hand. Sighing, she patted the dog's head, then wrapped her fingers around his collar to keep him from bolting again. "All right. Let's just talk about this like adults, shall we? Now, Mrs. McGurty, you said you discovered the damage to your shrubs when you returned from your women's club meeting. I take it that means that they were fine when you left your house this evening?"
"Yes. Of course I would've noticed if they'd looked like this."
"Good. What time did you leave for the meeting?"
"At five minutes to seven. Our meetings are held in the fellowship hall in the church." She pointed to the building across the street.
"Mr. and Mrs. Reybourne, when did you leave your house today?"
"At a little after 5:00," Clifford Reybourne said. "We went to Maryanne's for dinner and a visit with the boys."
"And did you return home at all between that time and now?"
"No, ma'am," Clifford answered emphatically. "We were with our daughter and her family the entire time."
Trixie nodded. "Thank you. Mrs. McGurty, it would appear that whoever is responsible for this, it is not your neighbors. It's late. Please. Everyone just go inside and enjoy what's left of your night. Tomorrow, I'll send an officer out to take a formal report. To be perfectly honest though, unless someone comes forward with a confession or witness statement, it's unlikely we'll find the culprit."
"What about Mr. Tibbles?" Mrs. McGurty demanded in an outraged tone.
Trixie regarded the woman blankly. "I'm sorry?" she asked.
"He's not going to be able to get down on his own! You'll have to climb up and rescue him." Mrs. McGurty walked to the base of the broad birch tree. "It's all right, my poor darling," she crooned. "They'll take that Devil-beast inside and we'll get you down from there."
Trixie closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, mentally counting to ten. Finally, she looked over at Clifford Reybourne. "You're the fireman. Isn't this your department?"
"Sorry, Chief. I'm retired. And this old body's not what it used to be. My climbing days are long passed. I can fetch you a ladder, though."
"Oh, would you?"
He flashed her a quick, knowing grin, acknowledging her sarcasm even as he turned to walk to his garage. Mrs. Reybourne snapped a leash onto Rex's collar, and led the dog toward the front door of her home, offering Trixie another series of apologies as she and Rex vanished inside.
While Mr. Reybourne held the ladder steady against the tree trunk, Trixie climbed up to the top and held out her hands. "Okay, Mr. Tibbles. Your ride is here."
The cat growled low in his throat. Trixie reflected wryly that she should have known it wasn't going to be that easy. Five minutes and several deep scratches on both hands and arms later, Trixie was back on the ground and handing Mr. Tibbles over to his mistress.
Without a word of thanks, the former teacher stomped across her yard and let herself and her cat back into her house, slamming the door behind her for good measure.
"Maybe you'd better come inside and let me clean those up," Mr. Reybourne said with some concern as he studied Trixie's bloody wounds. "And I'm thinking you could use a good hot cup of tea, as well."
For a moment, Trixie was tempted to refuse. What she wanted more than anything was to go home and take a nice long bath. She knew she had dirt and grime in her hair, along with a large lump on the back of her head that would no doubt be painful to sleep on. But the cuts were stinging like crazy and the sooner she washed them, the better. Besides, the coffee Lizzy had made for her would be cold and unappetizing by this point. The offer of tea was highly appealing. She glanced at the scattered remains of the camera strewn across the Reybourne's drive.
Following her gaze, Mr. Reybourne cleared his throat. "I'll get that, Chief. You go on in. And I'll come by the station on Monday and write you a check for a replacement camera. Sorry Rex ran you down like that. He's a handful, but he's not usually so careless with people."
Trixie snorted softly. "He reminds me of Reddy. Man, I miss that dog sometimes." She looked up at the older man. "I believe you when you say you weren't here and didn't take out the boxwood bushes, but do you know of anyone else who might have done so? Deliberately?"
"You got a Sleepyside phone book anywhere? Open it up and take your pick."
Trixie looked over at Mrs. McGurty's house. "You know," she said, "it's been almost twenty years since I sat in that woman's classroom, but I still sometimes have nightmares where I've shown up to school and forgotten my math homework and she makes me stand in the corner."
Chuckling, Clifford Reybourne bent down to begin gathering the broken camera pieces. "I'm betting you aren't the only one, Chief. And congratulations on the promotion, by the way."
"Eh. It's temporary. The council still hasn't decided who to make the permanent new chief."
"It'll be you," Mr. Reybourne said with a shrewd look in her direction. "I think most of us long-time residents have been expecting you to step into this job for years. Now, you go on inside and ask Mary to put the kettle on for you. I'll be there in a moment to help you get cleaned up."
Trixie decided she was too tired to contradict his assumption about her position as chief. She nodded and left him to finish picking up the camera pieces. Soap, water, band-aids, and tea. They were all she wanted to think about for at least the next quarter of an hour.