Episode #524

- Claire promised Brent that she is committed to the search for Mr. Clayton. Brent talked to Sarah, hoping for a new perspective on the case.
- Matt took Tori to spend Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with Jake and Mia.
- Danielle and Ryan agreed to go on a real date.


The city’s holiday decorations wind through downtown and into the park, creating a trail of sparkling lights that bring a brilliant glow to the dark night sky. Ryan Moriani and Danielle Taylor turn from the city sidewalks to the paved trail that winds all through the park, each wearing a winter coat and carrying a cup of hot chocolate.

“They really do an amazing job with all of this,” Danielle says as she observes the park’s decorations.

“Yeah. Think about the person who had to climb up there and put those up.” Ryan points to a series of wreath-shaped lighting fixtures hung on each of the light posts throughout the park.

Danielle stops to take in the beauty of the lights in the dark, empty park. “This was a good idea,” she finally says. “It’s… peaceful.”

“Good.” He cracks a smile. “I was going for normal, but peaceful is an upgrade.”


“Yeah.” Ryan pauses to take a sip of the hot chocolate; steam rises through the hole in the plastic lid. “Regular, happy, festive holidays. Decorations. Christmas carols. Not wondering whether your family will ever speak to you again…”

“…or if you can stay out of the Chardonnay and make it through dinner.” It is amazing to Danielle how, in the relatively few conversations they have had, Ryan always manages to say something that resonates with her own experience, even if their individual circumstances are miles apart.

They fall into step again, walking along the path and appreciating the night’s chill and the glow of the lights.

“Thank you again for dinner,” she says. “It was delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen actual figgy pudding, either. I thought it was mythical.”

“I can’t take credit for the chef’s seasonal menu, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for joining me.”

“Happy to.” And she means it. The evening has been wonderful: relaxed, calm, free of drama. Normal, even, as Ryan might say.

“This is a nice change,” she muses as they walk. “In the past few years, Christmastime has seemed so… oppressive.”

“Like you were missing out on something because you had too many other things to be concerned with?”

“Precisely. That’s awful, isn’t it? Dreading the holidays? This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year.”

“Not if the rest of your life is a wreck.” Abruptly, he stops walking and turns to her. “Let’s make a Christmas resolution.”

She feels herself smiling. “Is that traditional?”

“Tradition hasn’t exactly worked in our favor, has it? Let’s make a resolution that these holidays are going to be good. No matter what. We’re going to find ways to enjoy ourselves.”

She has never seen him so upbeat, so proactive about believing and pursuing good things. It suits him.

“That’s a resolution I can make,” Danielle says. “And actually, Elly is coming to visit right after Christmas, so these is going to be a great holiday season.”

He cocks his head, a curious expression suddenly overtaking his face.

“What?” she asks, confused.

“You seem awfully optimistic about this Elly situation,” Ryan says. “Does that mean you’ve made a decision about telling her the truth?”


“Thanks for meeting with us after-hours,” Brent Taylor says as he guides his visitor into his office.

“The timing works out very well,” says Grace Devlin, a statuesque woman in her early 40s and a classmate of Brent’s from the police academy. “I’m flying back to New York on the red-eye.”

The woman takes a seat beside Claire Fisher, and Brent settles on the other side of his desk. He considered asking Sarah to help with this, but he hesitated to drag her into the situation, given all that she is going through. And as good as Sarah is at what she does, Grace’s private investigating work is on a much larger scale, making her more suited to this case.

“Whoever your Mr. Clayton is, he is meticulous about cleaning up after himself,” Grace says. “The man practically does not exist outside of real estate transactions.”

“Because he isn’t a real person,” Claire says.

Grace nods. “And that makes it very difficult to connect him to anything else… unless he slips up.”

Brent exhales heavily. “So you weren’t able to dig up anything?”

“I said unless he slips up.” Grace reaches into her briefcase. “Which he did.”

Brent leans forward with anticipation, ready to leap over the desk if it will bring answers any more swiftly. Claire, too, is completely focused upon Grace and whatever she is about to produce.

“This,” Grace says, revealing a slip of paper, “is the carbon backing sheet of a money order request that Clayton filled out last week in Detroit.”

She hands Brent the paper. In and of itself, it is nothing exciting, and yet the potential of the information it contains--and of its mere existence--makes his nerves buzz.

“How the hell did you get this?” he asks.

Grace folds her hands over her briefcase. “I noticed a pattern of money orders being received as payment on one of his properties every month. They always originate in Detroit, usually on the 14th or 15th of the month. I presume he goes there at the same time each month to handle business. So I had my people sit on the three most locations where he most frequently places the orders--”

“You had him in your sights? One of your guys was in the same place as Clayton?”

“Yes. He’s a real person, Brent. You’re going to get him.”

The news is too much for Brent. He wants to berate her for not having grabbed Clayton, or called him, or--something. Anything to move this along. They had him their sights and all they got was a carbon copy of a money order request?

“He’s getting sloppy,” Grace says. “Maybe he knew someone was watching him, but he left this behind. My guy grabbed it off the counter before anyone knew the difference.”

She leans forward and takes the carbon slip from him. “Look at this. The handwriting is rushed and messy. He forms the same letters different ways in different places. Like this here--”

“What an unusual U,” Claire comments.

“Because he’s intentionally trying to disguise his handwriting by drawing it backwards. It’s completely unnatural,” Grace says. “And then he writes it differently over here. He’s getting careless.”

Claire opens her mouth tentatively. “Brent, why don’t we just put people on those locations again next month? It means we have to wait a few weeks, but…”

He already intended to do so, but now a million other worries are rushing through his head. If Clayton suspected he was being followed, maybe he will change up the routine. Maybe the holidays will throw the schedule off. Maybe this is all a setup, and they are being baited and deliberately thrown off the trail.

“That money order isn’t going to lead us anywhere,” Brent says. “At best, what do we get? We already know all of his properties. He’s never at them. All he does is make the payments and collect when they sell. And none of this has anything to do with Nick Moriani.”

“It’s all part of a bigger puzzle,” Claire says.

For as optimistic as he felt moments ago, Brent now feels desperate, like he is grasping at wisps of smoke that will curl into the air and fade any second now. “We need to go deeper. We need to get into his bank records. If we file for a warrant--”

Grace shakes her head insistently. “Brent. That is never going to work, and you know it.”

“I’m going to try anyway,” he says, picking up the phone.


The dark Pennsylvania night looms outside. As Matt Gray deposits his and his daughter’s suitcases near the front door, he anticipates the frigid weather that will greet them as soon as they exit the house.

“That’s everything?” his brother asks.

“Yep. Still don’t know how I got all of Tori’s new stuff into her suitcase.” Matt watches his daughter in the other room, conspiring with Mia over something or other. “She’s had a great time out here. Thanks for having us.”

“Glad to do it,” Jake says.

A baby’s cry cuts through the air, blurred ever-so-slightly by the static coming over the baby monitor.

“I’ll go check on him,” Mia says.

Tori springs to her feet. “Can I come, too?”

Matt motions for her to follow Mia. “Go ahead. We have a couple minutes before we have to go.”

Mia and Tori hurry to go check on Jake and Mia’s infant son, Marcus. Once they have gone, Jake refocuses on Matt, this time with a serious expression.

“It really has been great having you here,” Jake says, trailing off as though there is more to the statement that he has left unsaid.

Matt cannot ignore the strange look that his brother is giving him.

“What?” he has to ask.

“Just wondering if you’ve thought at all about moving back here. It sounds like everything in Washington is so up in the air…”

“Yeah. It is.” Though he hasn’t yet voiced them and has no intention of doing so, Matt has entertained thoughts of leaving King’s Bay--especially after such a nice visit with his brother and sister-in-law. He moved across the country to get away, and it worked, but now that he and Jake have reconciled, Matt realizes that most of his life in King’s Bay centers around Sarah and the Fishers--something that he knows will need to change.

“There’s no way I could do it,” he says, making the case that he has made in his own head several times. “I’d never try to take Tori away from Sarah, and there’s even less chance of me moving across the country from her.”

Jake nods in acceptance of this reasoning, but more words remain poised on his lips. “I just worry about you,” he finally says. “Everything with Sarah… and not having the job with her dad anymore…”

“I have a few leads on restaurant jobs. I’ll have something soon.”

“Good. Just know that if you ever decide you want to get away from there--”

“I know. And I appreciate it.”

Tori and Mia return, the latter with baby Marcus in her arms. He is calm but very much awake.

“Oh, no. He’s up?” Jake asks. “There goes sleep tonight.”

“I’ll have him back down by the time you get back from the airport,” Mia says.

Matt checks his watch. “We all ready to go?”

“Do we have to?” Tori says.

“Yeah. And we are gonna sleep on the flight,” Matt says. Tori groans.

“Girl, you better rest up so you can be all fresh-faced for that boy you were telling me about,” Mia teases.

“Oh my God! Shut up, Aunt Mia!” Tori squeals.

Matt picks up a bag and hands it to Tori. “That’s it. We’re going to the car. Then you’re sleeping until you’re 28, at least.”

Tori groans again and, amidst laughter, they open the front door and the goodbyes begin.


The only reaction Danielle can even fathom is to laugh. Tell Elly the truth? That is so far outside the realm of possibility, she cannot see how they might ever get there.

“No,” she tells Ryan. “Not at all. It will just be good to have time with her, that’s all.”

“Oh.” He observes her, carefully and quietly, for a long moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--upset you. Or dredge up anything unpleasant.”

“Please. It doesn’t need dredging. It’s always there.”

They walk some more, passing by the surprisingly empty playground. The unoccupied swings sway lightly under the gentle push of the nighttime breeze.

“I made a promise to Melanie and Tom,” she says, “and we all made that decision for Elly’s own good, not for mine. I knew when I agreed to be her godmother that this would be difficult.”

“But it’s obviously been more difficult than you anticipated.”

She cannot argue with that. She drinks her hot chocolate, which burns the tip of her tongue, as it has been doing the whole time. “I just wish there were some way to get it all out, you know? I feel like I’m bottling all this stuff up inside, and as good as it is to spend time with her--”

“You can talk to me,” Ryan says. “I hope you know that.”

“Thank you. But it’s still… it feels so inactive.”

“I know what you could do.”


“Write. Hey, it worked for me. Kind of. And I owe a lot of that to you.”

The idea has, of course, occurred to her, but she does not even know where to begin.

“I haven’t written anything in a long time,” she says. “I tried, a few times, after I got out of rehab, but… I couldn’t do it.”

“Couldn’t or didn’t?”

“Couldn’t,” she insists.

He opens and closes his mouth a few times, beginning and then aborting some statements before he finally settles on one: “Maybe that’s because you have this thing you need to write about before you can tackle anything else.”

As much as she would like to protest, what he says makes a lot of sense.

“I haven’t picked up a guitar in so long,” she says.

“So start with the words. Get your thoughts out, then figure out a melody or chords or whatever you musical types do.” He laughs at his own lack of knowledge. “You told me to start by dumping my thoughts on paper, and let me tell you, it worked.”

“I really hate that you’re onto something,” Danielle says.

Ryan simply grins back at her.

The idea sits on her, and she knows that it will be with her for some time, perhaps impossible to ignore. Still, she wants to enjoy tonight, not dwell on the unpleasantness in her life.

“How do you feel about swings?” she asks. “Does that qualify as normal?”

Ryan’s grin holds as he follows her to the playground.


Brent picks up the phone in his office, determined to make something--anything--happen. But before he can dial, Grace takes the phone from him and hangs it up.

“You do not want to do that,” she cautions. “Getting into his bank records is going to tip off Clayton. You’ll scare him into locking everything up. That is the last thing you want.”

He knows that she is right, and yet, sitting here and doing nothing, staring at a sad, thin piece of carbon paper, makes his head want to explode.

“And getting into his bank records,” Grace continues, “would require making a federal case out of this. It’s--”

“It should be a fucking federal case!” Brent explodes, shooting out of his chair. He feels the prosthetic leg wobble under him at the sudden movement and grasps the edge of his desk. “After what these people have done to us--”

Claire stands, too, and reaches out for him. “Brent. Calm down.”

“No! I am sick of staying calm. This is bullshit.” He knows that he sounds petulant and ridiculous, and as certain as he is that he will be embarrassed later, he can no longer keep all of this inside.

Grace sits back, maintaining her usual reserved demeanor. Claire moves around the desk to join Brent and tries to coax him back into his chair.

“We’re going to figure this out,” she says. “One step at a time.”

He is struggling against her when the phone rings.

“Maybe someone heard you,” Grace says, allowing a hint of amusement to show through.

Brent grabs the receiver. “Brent Taylor speaking.”

As he listens to the voice on the other end, a current zaps his body, sending his frenzied nerves into a numb sort of calm. He hears the words, and he sees Claire and Grace watching him attentively, but none of this seems quite real.

By the time he hangs up, he is sure that he must be imagining this. It throws everything--this evening’s meeting, the work of the past several months--into even greater disarray.

“What is it?” Claire asks.

“Clayton,” Brent says, still attempting to process the news. “He’s dead.”


Will this be the key to solving the mystery of Mr. Clayton for good?
Will Ryan be able to help Danielle through her troubles?
How should Matt begin to move on with his life?
Come over to the Footprints Forum to discuss it all!

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