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- At Travis’s chili cookoff, Tori’s nemesis Fee C. started a fight that left both Tori and Spencer covered in chili.
- Jason and Natalie brought their newborn son, Peter, to the festival.
- Sarah r
evealed to Molly that she’d planted a hidden camera at the money drop spot in hopes of identifying the blackmailer, but as they watched the feed, they realized that someone had found the camera. 

Sarah Fisher Gray and her sister hold their breath for an impossibly long moment as they wait for a face to come into view on the screen of Sarah’s phone. The entire festival happening around them on the grounds of the Wandering Soul Winery might as well have been sucked into a black hole, for as focused as they are on that tiny screen and on the identity of the person who just found the secret camera Sarah placed in the men’s room where they also left the money for their blackmailer.

“Oh my god,” Molly says, her words rushing out in an exhale.

“Dammit, Billy,” Sarah mutters to the phone. “Leave that there.” She watches as her young son’s face goes in and out of the frame as he turns over the camera-disguised-as-a-pen. “Why is he even picking that up? That’s so gross. I hope Matt forces him to wash his hands."

“At least it’s not… whoever’s picking up that money."

“Yeah. Although now we aren’t going to see who that is, either."

They watch the screen as the blur of the bathroom stall flies past and then Billy stuffs it into his pocket, causing everything to go dark.

Sarah’s mind goes into overdrive. There has to be a way she can salvage this so that they are still able to one-up the blackmailer. There has to be.


The warm, end-of-summer air feels refreshing on Spencer Ragan’s bare skin as he strides along one of the festival’s walkways, looking for a vendor selling t-shirts. He didn’t exactly expect to be strutting shirtless through the festival where Travis is hosting the restaurant’s chili cookoff, but he also didn’t anticipate getting in the middle of a fight between his cousin Tori and her frenemy Fee C. And he would much rather be showing off his toned torso — which he spends plenty of time working on — than walking around in that chili-soaked and -stained shirt. Finally, he spots a booth selling King’s Bay-themed merchandise, shirts among it, and steels himself to find the least offensive-looking one.

“Something we should know about?” Jason Fisher asks from Spencer’s left. The young man turns to see his uncle pushing a baby stroller, with Natalie Bishop by his side. 

“Oh. Hey,” Spencer says. “I’m buying a new shirt. Mine was attacked with chili."

“The contest got that heated?"

“It hasn’t even started yet. One of Tori’s old friends picked a fight, and this is what I got for trying to break it up.” Spencer is very aware of the stroller — and of what must be inside it — as he speaks, but he has to force himself to look directly at it. “Is this…"
  Spencer Ragan

“This is Peter, yeah,” Jason says. He peels back the stroller’s shade just enough to reveal the sleeping infant, who is impossibly tiny and pink. He looks so peaceful, like he is sleeping harder than Spencer can remember ever having slept.

“We probably have about 30 more minutes of this peace and quiet,” Natalie says, “and then he’ll be up. We might not be able to stay for the contest."

“That’s a shame.” Spencer tries his hardest not to say it with a sneer. He guesses that he has nothing against her, but this whole thing is beyond weird. And Natalie, now that he allows himself to look at her closely, looks much different than the woman he met at the bar of 322 all that time ago; her face is tired, despite the makeup she has gone to the effort of putting on, and her clothing is much looser-fitting than her usual style.

He peers into the stroller again. As much as he doesn’t want to think about it, he can’t help but search for some sign that the child looks more like him than like Jason.

He can’t even begin to tell.

“I should get a shirt,” he says.

“Yeah, we need to make our rounds at the contest before Peter tells us it’s time to go home,” Jason says. “Sorry about the shirt."

Spencer shrugs it off and turns his attention toward the selection of t-shirts, doing his best not to think about that baby any more.


In the ladies’ room, Tori Gray changes into the orange sundress that her mother bought somewhere at the festival. She gives her pink tank top and cutoff jean shorts another examination and decides that it isn’t even worth trying to salvage them, so she stuffs them into the trash. At least she wore flip-flops today, so her shoes don’t look completely insane with the dress she’s been forced to put on. And actually, it isn’t even that terrible...

She washes her hands once more and then uses a paper towel to pull on the door handle. Using her foot to keep the door open, she stretches to toss the paper towel into the trash and then swings back around to exit the restroom — and is nearly bowled over by something large coming right at her. 

“Whoa!” she blurts out before even processing what it is. Another millisecond reveals that it’s a janitorial cart coming out of the men’s room.

“Sorry about that.” The voice comes from the other side of the cart, as it backs up to allow her enough room to pass.

“Watch where you’re going, will you?” she snaps.

“I said sorry. It’s a tight space."

“Yeah, well--" It is only now that she gets a look at the other side of the cart and sees that it is being pushed by an Asian man, probably her age or a little older, who is surprisingly handsome. Too handsome to be pushing a janitorial cart in and out of public restrooms, she thinks.

She sighs. “Whatever. It’s fine."

But he is eyeballing her now, and flattering though it is, it’s a little weird to have the janitor sizing her up this way.

“What?” she says. “Need me to send you a selfie or something? It’ll last longer."

“You, uh…” He uses his index finger to point over the cart. “You’ve got something in your car."

Tori reaches up and combs the fingers of her left hand through her dark hair. Sure enough, they touch something wet and now lukewarm. 

“Sick!” she says as she rakes it out.

The janitor winces. “What was that?"
  Tori Gray

“Don’t even get me started. I thought I got it all. This is all Fee C.’s--” She sees him recoil in horror and scrambles to clarify: “I mean, it’s all this girl Fee’s fault. She dumped chili all over me."

A belly laugh comes tumbling out of the janitor. “No way."

“Yeah. She’s this psycho girl I used to be friends with."

“Chili?” he says through his laughter. “That’s got to be the nastiest catfight ever."

“You’re telling me.” 

As his laugh settles, an uncertain silence comes over them. Tori realizes that she has no idea why she is telling this guy about her fight with Fee or anything else, really.

“Thanks for pointing that out,” she says. “In my hair, I mean. I should get back--"

“Yeah. Cool."

She isn’t sure, but she thinks she sees the slightest hint of disappointment on his face.

“And don’t worry, I didn’t leave too huge a mess for you in there,” she finds herself adding. 


“In the ladies’ room."

“Oh. Yeah. Of course."

Tori starts to head off. “Have a good day."

“You, too. Maybe try Jell-o next time? Or mud? Way sexier than chili."

She can’t help but look over her shoulder at him and chuckle as she makes her way back toward the cookoff area.


“Could I have everyone’s attention? We’re getting ready to begin,” Travis Fisher says as he steps up to the microphone that stands at the front of the judges’ dais. “Does everyone have a number?"

Murmurs of confirmation rise up from the crowd of assembled contestants.

“Great,” Travis says. “Thanks for being here today. Harbor Boulevard is excited to have everyone here — this is a way bigger turnout than we were expecting!"

From her spot at the judges’ table, Paula Fisher watches proudly as Travis explains that the winning batch of chili will be recreated — with full credit to its creator — on the restaurant’s menu for the month of October. And she lets out a sigh of relief as he runs through the revised rules, stating that three of the five judges will sample and score each entry, and the top ten will then be re-tasted by the entire panel before the winner is declared. 

“Is this something your husband did every year?” Rosie Jimenez asks, leaning over to Paula.

Paula shakes her head. “No. It was all Travis’s idea. He’s such a natural, isn’t he?"

Rosie just nods as she watches him take command of the contest.

Meanwhile, out among the entrants, Jimmy Trask sets down a metal pot on the end of one of the red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

“Mind if I set up here?” he quietly asks the woman stationed next to him. “They’re a little tight on space."

The woman brightens at the sight of him. “Not at all! What kinda chili did you make?"

Jimmy shrugs. “I’m not much of a cook. Just good old meat and beans and some brown sugar — read about that on the internet."

“It’s a good secret ingredient."

“How about you?” he asks as the woman adjusts her magenta top.

“I got a little spicy,” she says. “You ever heard of Anaheim peppers?"

Jimmy shakes his head.

“Hoo-ee! Are you in for a treat!” She picks up one of the small sample cups she has prepared. “How do you feel about heat?"

“I’m game."

“Good. ‘Cause this one’s packed full of those Anaheim peppers and some habaneros."

He takes the cup and uses the plastic spoon to take a taste. The heat spreads: first over his tongue, then around his mouth, and then through his whole head.

“My ears are ringing,” he says. “Damn!"

“Too much?"

“Nah. Though it does make me want a cold brew to wash it down."

“Same! Too bad this thing’s at a winery — what chili really needs to complement it is a good, cold beer."

She sees him gulping cool air and hands him her nearby glass of white wine. “But for now, try this. It’ll help."

Jimmy gratefully gulps a bit of the wine. 

“That chili’s awesome,” he finally says. “And wild."

“What can I say? I’m a wild lady, and I like wild things!"

Jimmy hands the wine back to her. “And does this wild lady have a name?"

She extends her hand. “Kathleen. And you?"


At the back of the crowd, Sarah stands with her husband and son, watching as the judges begin to move through the contestants’ tables. She glances backward over the winery’s lush green lawn.

“Did you guys see Tori while you were down there?” she asks.

“She must’ve been in the other bathroom already when we walked out,” Matt says. “Want me to go check on her?"

Sarah considers it for a moment. She knows that she can’t personally get anywhere near those bathrooms, not until the blackmailer informs her that the money has been picked up, or she risks blowing the entire thing. 

“I’m sure she’s fine,” she says. “I just worry that she’s still weak."

“I know,” Matt agrees.

Sarah feels the phone in her hand vibrate. She checks the screen and sees another text from the number that the blackmailer appears to be using today. And when she checks it, the message is simple:

Got it. 

Dueling sensations rise up within her. On one hand, the fact that the drop went off without a hitch means that they could be in the clear. At least nothing disastrous happened. On the other, though, this really isn’t any assurance at all. There is nothing to stop the blackmailer from coming around asking for another payment. If Billy had just left that pen there for a few more minutes...
  Sarah Fisher Gray

She is torn from her thoughts — at least, as much as she possibly can be — when Tori appears on the walking path, headed toward them. She looks happy and safe as ever, thank goodness.

“The dress is cute,” Sarah says when she gets closer.

“It’s actually not bad,” the young woman admits. “Not totally terrible work, Mom."

“I’m going to take that as a major compliment."

“You just throw out the other clothes?” Matt asks.

“Yeah, they were ruined,” Tori says. “I’m not carrying around clothes soaked in chili the rest of the day. But OMG — I was coming out of the ladies’ room, and there was this weirdly hot janitor coming out of the men’s room, and he pointed out that I still had chili in my hair. It was super-embarrassing."

Sarah is about to laugh at the anecdote when something catches in her brain.

“The janitor was leaving the men’s room?” she asks.

Tori regards her with confusion. “Yeah… I think that’s his job…"

“Yeah. You guys stay here. I need to go check something."

“Sarah, what are you doing?” Matt asks.

She doesn’t even bother answering, because any excuse is going to sound inane and waste time. Instead, she cuts her way through the tables of the cookoff and grabs Molly by the arm.

“You have to come with me,” Sarah whispers into her ear.

“What? Why? They just started judging--"

Caleb can hold down the fort here. We have to go find someone."

The twins and Danielle look at Sarah with confusion.

“Sorry, I need to steal my sister for a few minutes,” Sarah says, and she doesn’t wait for Molly’s consent before dragging her off.

“What is going on?” Molly asks as Sarah leads her over the paved path. “Did something go wrong?"

“Not yet. There’s still a way for us to salvage this.” She sets her sights on the free-standing restrooms in the distance. “I think I know who the blackmailer is."


What is Sarah leading Molly into?
Will Spencer act on his nagging doubts?
Are Jimmy and Kathleen going to hit it off?
Discuss it all in the Footprints Forum now!

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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

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