A/N: This will be my last interlude for The Cold Lake Murders. Starting Monday, I'll be working on the novel itself for Camp NaNoWriMo. Thanks again to everyone who has posted reviews. I appreciate very much you taking the time to do so. I'm pretty sure I'm ready for the "main event." *crosses fingers*

Standard warnings: 1) I totally ignore canon sometimes. It can be hard to take a series that started in the 1940s and modernize it without making some big changes. I want this to be at least somewhat believable! 2) This is NOT a Jim & Trixie story. It is also not an anti-Jim story, though. In my world, these two broke up without either party being a villain of any kind. I may someday go back and write out the actual break-up, but honestly, it's really not important to the CLM plot, and so is on a back burner for now. Meanwhile, this story takes place shortly before the girls graduate high school, about a month after Trixie's Very Bad Day.

The Cold Lake Murders: Interlude – Hot Tempered Redhead

The mid-afternoon sun was hot overhead as Trixie stepped out of the shade of the trees and onto the carefully cultivated lawn that stretched away from the Manor House. She blinked in the bright light as she detoured slightly from her usual path, crossing over to the wide gravel drive that circled around the main house to the garage. "Hey!" she called cheerfully. "What's up?"

Standing near the side verandah, Honey and Di quietly watched as she approached.

"We've both already finished our homework for the weekend, so we thought we'd go for a ride with you," Di told her as Trixie drew nearer. "Help exercise the horses."

"Great! So... what are we hanging around here for then?" She grinned at her friends as she gestured toward the stable. "We can't ride 'em until we saddle 'em."

"Maybe you want to wait for a little bit before you go in there," Honey murmured, casting a wary look over her shoulder.

Trixie followed her friend's gaze. "Why? Technically, I should be at work in about... two minutes," she said, glancing at her watch.

"Yeah, but, it's Regan," Di explained slowly. "He's kinda in a mood."

Trixie's brows shot up. "Mood?" she echoed.

"He was out back in the paddock, arguing with someone on the phone a few minutes ago, and then he stormed into the stable looking like he wanted to kick something. Or someone. We thought it would be better to give him some time to, you know, cool off. Before we go in," Honey said somewhat sheepishly.

Trixie rolled her eyes. "Oh, geeze, you guys. Come on." She turned and briskly cut back across the drive. Honey and Di followed at a slower pace, exchanging doubtful glances.

Regan appeared at the stable entrance just as Trixie was about to pass through. She stopped in front of him and regarded him expectantly. When he said nothing, she raised her hand and snapped her fingers several times. "Base to Captain Grumpy Pants! Come in, Captain Grumpy Pants! Is everything all right, sir? We're getting reports of trouble of the angry phone call variety!"

Honey froze, grabbing Diana's arm with a strong grip. "What is she doing?" she hissed in shock. "Does she want him to quit?"

Trixie heard her and assumed Regan had as well. She shook her head and laughed merrily, unconcerned.

Regan's impassive expression relaxed somewhat with a brief half-smile. "It would serve you right if I did quit, Miss Fidget," he told her. "Your new boss might not be willing to put up with your special brand of looney, you know."

"Please. You won't quit." She looked over at her friends. "Honey, if you'll take Lady, I'll take Susie, and Di can ride Strawberry. That all right with you, Captain?"

Regan nodded his permission. Trixie flashed him an impish grin as she stepped around him and into the stable interior, but Honey and Diana passed him quickly, without quite meeting his gaze.

They saddled the horses under Regan's watchful eye. After a short discussion, they decided to follow the trails that crisscrossed the preserve north of Glen Road. The May weather was warm enough to cause the girls to lightly perspire and remind them that summer was right around the corner. They kept the pace slow and easy to avoid overheating their mounts, and simply enjoyed being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Overhead a few puffy clouds drifted across the sky, and a faint breeze rustled through the treetops.

Riding single file made conversation difficult, but when they came to a wide space where two trails intersected, Honey pulled up so she could talk with her friends. "Why don't we go visit Mr. Maypenny?" she suggested. "He's got to be feeling lonely now that Dan's gone. I know he lived by himself for years, but it was obvious how much he loved having Dan there."

Trixie blew out a breath and nodded. "He is missing Dan," she agreed. "I dropped in on him on Friday. Of course he didn't actually say anything about it specifically. You know how he is. But he wasn't quite as cheery as usual, and I think it was because Dan had just called to tell him that he won't be able to get any leave until the holidays, if even then."

"Oh! The poor man," Honey cried sympathetically. "Let's make a promise now to visit him as often as we can."

Trixie tugged lightly on Susie's reigns, directing the little mare toward the path that would lead to the old gamekeeper's cottage. "Sure. But I think we should also encourage Bobby, Larry, and Terry to go see him regularly. After this summer, we're going to be around a lot less, too."

"Good point," Di said. "I'll mention it to my brothers tonight."

They found Mr. Maypenny sitting at the old wooden table outside his cabin, using a sharp knife to whittle a duck figurine from a tiny block of wood. He rose from the bench seat as the girls rode into his clearing, a wide smile on his weathered face.

"To what do I owe the honor of a visit from the Three Beauties of Glen Road on this lovely Sunday afternoon?" he declared grandly. Honey and Di both giggled at his theatrics as he bowed before them.

Trixie pretended to consider his words before she responded. "Well, kind sir," she replied in equal tones, "I hear you sometimes offer visitors a glass of your wonderful lemonade. Could you be persuaded to share with us?"

"Sure could," Mr. Maypenny said, chuckling. "You girls can hitch up your horses while I fetch us a pitcher."

They stayed and talked with the elderly man for about a quarter of an hour, catching him up on news about their brothers and friends. Just as they were making their good-byes, he stopped Trixie with a gnarled hand on her shoulder. "There were some kids out partying off Albany Post Road last night. I already spoke to Matthew about it, but you be careful, girl."

"Me?" Trixie said, surprised. "I wasn't with them!"

He smiled, revealing his slightly crooked front teeth. "I'm not accusing you of anything, Trixie," he assured her. "I know you'd never go with boys and girls like that. I'm just concerned because they're getting more and more brazen. This wasn't late at night. It was hardly evening and they were there drinking and carrying on. They were on Wheeler property that was clearly marked, so they knew darn well they were trespassing. I was able to run 'em off without calling the police, but I'm sure they'll be back. If you ever stumble across them when you're out riding, you just use that cell phone of yours and let Regan and Mr. Wheeler know, all right? Don't go confronting them by yourself."

"That's what Daddy was talking to Miss Trask about!" Honey exclaimed. "I overheard him this morning saying something about hiring another gamekeeper, but I thought it was because Dan's gone."

"It's a bit of both, Honey," Mr. Maypenny said. "I could use the help, sure, but we also need to be watching for these kids. We don't need any trouble of that kind."

"I wonder why Daddy didn't tell us," Honey mused. "He didn't say a word to me about it."

Mr. Maypenny sent her a keen glance. "Probably he's hoping not to worry or scare you. Or maybe he hasn't had the chance yet. You girls just be careful, you hear? Stick together when you can."

They took a shorter route back to the stable, as the sun began its slow descent toward the western horizon. Both Regan and Jupiter were missing, and the girls surmised the groom had taken Mr. Wheeler's prized horse out for an evening ride.

"Who do you think it was having a party on our property yesterday?" Honey wondered aloud as the girls worked together to clean the tack and tend their horses.

Diana grimaced and flipped back her dark hair. "I'm betting Jerry Vanderhoef and his crowd. He's dating Katie Kelly now. Her locker's next to mine and the other day, she was talking to Jane Morgan about an 'epic' party. I guess this is what she meant."

Trixie snorted. "So... epic, lame... same difference?"

"Uh, huh. Not to go all cheesy Lifetime-movie-with-a-lesson, but I do think things have gotten out of hand, at least for some of the kids at school. Not all of them, but... well, if there was a serious drunk driving accident, it wouldn't surprise me in the least." Di paused to look over at her two friends. "And not to go all over-protective big brother on you, either, but I do agree with Mr. Maypenny on this one. If they show up again, I would avoid any direct confrontation. You don't want to mess with them, or they'll make your last days at Sleepyside High completely miserable."

Trixie shrugged one shoulder. "We wouldn't bother," she said, glancing at Honey for confirmation. "There's no real mystery to teenagers hanging out and drinking cheap beer."

"Yeah," Honey said with a wry chuckle, "I think that one was 'solved' a very long time ago."

They were finished with their tasks and preparing to leave when Regan returned from his ride. Honey offered him her sweetest smile in greeting, but Trixie could still see the slight trepidation in her hazel eyes. She bit back a sigh, wondering if she should even try to explain to her friend that Regan's bark was definitely worse than his bite. In fact, Trixie wasn't even sure Regan had a bite at all. No, she thought, as she half-listened to Honey saying something about graduation and their planned post-ceremony party, that wasn't entirely accurate. She had never forgotten the ice-cold calmness Regan displayed when he and Jim had come to her rescue as she was being threatened by a famous jewel thief. She'd had no doubt, at that moment, that he would have used his shotgun if he'd needed to, without hesitation. As she reflected on it, she realized Regan had considerable bite, but it was something that was reserved for the people who deserved it. Certainly, it was nothing Honey of all people ever needed to worry about.

Trixie stayed behind to help Regan after her friends left. She was still officially on the clock and so she worked steadily for the remaining thirty minutes of her "shift."

"How's school going?" Regan asked her as she returned the push broom to the storage closet.

She walked into his office and perched herself on the corner of his desk. "If you're wondering if I'm going to make it out alive in a couple of weeks, the answer is 'yes.' Now, unless there's some kind of miracle during my final exams, the best I can hope for is a low C in trig, which is kinda disappointing, but at least I'm not really in any danger of failing anything or needing summer school in order to graduate." She narrowed her eyes and studied him. "So... angry phone call?" she prompted, abruptly changing the subject.

He frowned slightly.

"What?" she demanded with a skeptical expression. "I'm nosy, yeah? This comes as a surprise to you?"

Regan sat back in his seat and crossed his arms. "It's not some great secret, Miss Fidget. My last feed order was wrong. Again. For the third time. I decided to let them know how I felt about it."

"And do you feel better now that you let them have it, Captain Grumpy Pants?"

"Yes. Thank you very much."

"Well, just so you know, you've been scaring the kiddies again. Of course, that's mostly their own fault, but still."

"Is this one of those things where I'm probably better off not knowing what you're talking about?" he asked, one brow raised.

She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug. "Honey still has it in her head that all it's gonna take is one small thing and boom! You'll go off like a powder keg and turn in your notice and take off to parts unknown. And Di thinks the same thing. I know it's never gonna happen." She crooked her thumb toward his open door. "First of all, you aren't ever gonna leave your babies. You almost blew it with that whole Saratoga mess, but that was enough to let you know this is absolutely where you want to be. I have no idea why Honey and Di haven't figured that out for themselves. They still totally freak anytime they think you're mad. So, they hear you arguing on the phone and get all worried... Seriously. Totally. Freak."

Regan was silent for a moment. "So you're saying I need to make sure I conduct my angry phone calls somewhere more private, where there's no danger of being overheard?" he asked finally.

"Exactly!" Trixie's teasing grin was back.

"And second of all?"


"If you had a 'first of all,' doesn't that mean there should be a second one?"

"Oh. Yeah. Anybody who's gonna let some crazy girl get away with calling him 'Captain Grumpy Pants' obviously has enough patience to put up with just about anything."

"I let you get away with it because you're crazy," he told her with mock seriousness.

"Ha, ha. You let me get away with it because that Tough Guy with a Mean Temper thing you have going on is all a big act. And, hey! You can stop with the rolling your eyes at me, mister!"

He waved his hand in her direction. "But I learned from the master."

Trixie laughed at his words. "Point to you," she conceded. "I definitely deserved that. You know, I actually made it my New Year's resolution this year to curb that very bad habit and I'm sad to say here we are five months later and I've made zero progress on that particular goal." She rolled her eyes in a deliberately exaggerated manner. "I wonder why that is."

"There are worse habits you could have," he pointed out, not bothering to hide his own smile. "For instance, when you accidentally get your hand caught as you lock a stall door, you could swear like there's no tomorrow, in English and French using phrases that would make sailors and rappers blush, because you think there's no one but a bunch of horses around to hear you."

Trixie clapped her palm over her mouth, but was unable to keep herself from laughing even harder. "It was only that one time!" she exclaimed in her defense, as she drew in a deep breath and tried to regain some of her composure. "Honest! And holy crab cakes did that ever hurt. I thought for sure I'd broken my pinkie at the very least."

"Only one time, huh? If you say so."

She hopped down off his desk. "I do say so. And I gotta go. I leave you with this parting bit of wisdom." She adopted an earnest expression. "Remember, once it's on the internet, it exists for eternity and you can never, ever, ever get it back. See ya tomorrow, Boss-man!" She breezed out of the office with a quick finger wave thrown back at him, and then moments later was out and strolling across the Wheelers' lawn, heading for home.

Regan pushed himself up from his chair. He crossed to the open stable door and stood there, watching her as she disappeared into the cover of the trees along the preserve trail that would take her down to Crabapple Farm. "See you tomorrow, crazy Miss Fidget," he murmured. He returned to his office and reclaimed his seat, staring sightlessly at the calendar above his desk, lost in pensive thought.