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- Spencer was thrown when he ran into Jason and Natalie and met their infant son, Peter.
- Danielle reeled from the humiliation of not being able to go onstage at Open Mic Night.
- Billy
removed Sarah’s hidden camera before she could catch the blackmailer, but another clue tipped her off, and she pulled Molly away from the chili cookoff to help her.

The blue sky and sun hang above the Wandering Soul Winery, where residents of King’s Bay have gathered to bid farewell to summer at the winery’s annual festival. On one particular area of the lawn, the chili cookoff hosted by the Harbor Boulevard restaurant is in full swing. The five judges move among the tables, covered in checkered cloths, that hold all the entries for sampling and scoring. 

“That’s great,” Paula Fisher says to one of the contestants as she sets down the small cup and spoon and makes a note on her clipboard.

“Thanks, Grandma,” Caleb Taylor says with more than a hint of embarrassment. 

“Did you make that all by yourself?"

“No. I helped Mom."

Paula looks around for her daughter. “Where is she?"

“Sarah came to grab her and pulled her away,” Danielle Taylor explains from the next station. “I have no idea where they went or what was so urgent."

“Hmm,” Paula says. “I hope everything’s all right."


Sarah Fisher Gray leads her sister over the winery’s green grass.

“What’s happening?” Molly asks as she does her best to keep up in her wedges. “Did you figure out who it is?"

“Sort of."

“I thought Billy picked up the camera--"

“He did.” Sarah pulls the small surveillance camera, which is disguised as a pen, from her pocket. “I got it back from him."


“And Tori told me that when she was coming out of the ladies’ room, there was a janitor pushing a cart out of the men’s room. It’s him. It has to be."

Molly stops in her tracks. “What? Why?"
  Sarah Fisher Gray

“Because we saw when Billy was in there and took the camera,” Sarah explains. “There wasn’t enough time for a janitor to go in there, clean, and be done by the time Tori came out of the other bathroom and back to us."

Molly scrunches up her face as she tries to work out the logic. Sarah grabs her wrist and pulls her back into motion.

“Why would a janitor from the winery have that video of the shooting?” Molly asks.

“Because he isn’t a janitor! That cart was the cover for getting the money out without anyone seeing."

“Oh my god.” Molly nearly stops again but, seeing Sarah’s harried pace, keeps walking. “What do we do now?"

“You go to that men’s room and see if the bag is still there. I’m going to find this guy."

“And do what?"

“I have a plan,” Sarah says. “Now go. Check. Text me what you find."

Molly peels off toward the restrooms. Sarah surveys the area. She doesn’t see a janitorial cart anywhere. The guy, whomever he is, wouldn’t be able to push a cart like that over the grass without a lot of trouble — and without attracting a lot of attention. So he must have stuck to the walking paths. And if he needed to move the money into a car...

She cuts across the grass toward the back parking area, which is just an alcove off the street. There are a few vehicles parked at the curb. Sarah pulls out her phone and snaps photos of a few of the license plates; they might be useful later if she needs them. 

Her phone buzzes with an incoming text from Molly. She checks it:

Bag is here but empty. Money’s gone.

She is about to snap another photo when she sees it: the janitorial cart, sitting on the sidewalk beside an older-model, red Honda Civic with its trunk open.

She takes a quick photo of the car’s front plate from a distance and then hurries toward the cart. 


Spencer Ragan hangs with his cousin near the back of the crowd at the chili cookoff, watching as the judges — including his grandmother — work their way through the entries. He notices that Tori keeps glancing over her shoulders.

“Looking out for a sneak attack?” he asks.

She nods. “I keep expecting that psycho Fee C. to run up and dump more chili on me."

“At least we got some dope new clothes?” Spencer says, indicating her orange sundress and his gray “I Heart King’s Bay” t-shirt — both of which were purchased after Fee C. ruined their previous clothing with chili. 

“Oh yeah. I’ve never felt more fashionable,” Tori says.

Spencer laughs, but it is forgotten before it even finishes, because he sees someone moving away from the cookoff and toward the lawn.

“Hang on a second,” he tells Tori. “I’ll be right back."

He slips away and makes his way past a number of vendor booths, quickening his pace until he catches up with Natalie Bishop.

“Hey, wait a second,” he says.

Natalie stops and turns, regarding him first with alarm and then with annoyance.

“What is it?” 

“Talk to me for a minute."

She considers this and then moves underneath the cover of a nearby cluster of trees. Spencer follows.

“What do you want?” she asks.

“The kid-- Peter—" 

Her eyes flash, challenging him. “What about my son?"

“It’s just…” He considers yet again whether he even wants to say this, but he knows he has to. It’s been gnawing away at him ever since he met the infant earlier. “There’s no chance it could be mine, right?"

“There’s no chance he could be yours. No. I told you: I had a DNA test done. Peter is Jason’s. The end."

“Okay. As long as you’re sure."

“I’m sure. Why are you doing this now?"

“Because it’s-- he’s real now, and I saw him, and-- he’s a real baby."

“I’m aware.” Natalie sets her jaw. “You have nothing to worry about, Spencer. Got it? I want Peter to be Jason’s son as much as you do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to the restroom and back before my son goes on some crazy crying jag or needs to eat or something."

She takes off without waiting for a response. Spencer lingers under the tree, processing the encounter. It was impulsive of him, sure, but he had to do it. He reminds himself of what Natalie said:

“I want Peter to be Jason’s son as much as you do."

“That’s what worries me,” Spencer mutters. He takes a deep breath and starts back toward the cookoff.

Beneath another tree not far away, Helen Chase regards the scene with interest and confusion. She thought she would take a walk while the judging took place; it’s too frustrating to stand there and watch everyone else’s entries be judged, knowing that her own was ruined by that careless Fee C. and she can’t participate. When she saw Natalie coming, she took cover to avoid an unpleasant interaction. But now she wonders what in the world Natalie and Spencer could’ve been having such a tense conversation about. Helen wasn’t aware the two of them even knew each other beyond Natalie living with Spencer’s uncle. But there certainly seemed to be something more to whatever they were discussing just now...

“Perhaps I’ll have to find out,” Helen says to herself as she watches Spencer walk away, not having caught sight of her.


The trunk of the Civic closes, revealing a built Asian guy in his 20s. If she were to run into him under other circumstances, Sarah likely wouldn’t recognize him -- but now, knowing what she knows, the face registers instantly for her.

“Zennosuke Tanaka,” she says with authority as she approaches the car.

He freezes, which is confirmation enough for Sarah. 

“You work in the bank building near the hospital, don’t you?"

He stares at her with a mixture of disbelief and anger, but says nothing. Sarah walks closer, her stride slow.

“I didn’t know you were moonlighting as a janitor,” she says.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know you."

“That’s funny… because you’ve been texting me, haven’t you?” 

His face remains a stony mask. Sarah is grateful that she thought to pull information on everyone who works in that bank building who could have possibly had access to the security cameras on that day last fall when Paula shot Philip on the hospital balcony. A random I.T. worker wasn’t high on her suspect list, but she has been over the files enough to recognize the faces, especially in context like this.

“Lady, I don’t know who you think I am,” he says, crossing to the driver’s side of the car, “but I’ve gotta go."

“Not so fast.” She catches up to him as he opens the car door. Her heart is practically in her throat now. “Let’s talk terms."


“Here are mine,” Rosie Jimenez says as she hands her clipboard and scoring sheet to Travis Fisher.

He takes in the multitude of numbers, and it hits him that he has to do this times five.

“I hope people don’t get bored waiting around,” he says.

Rosie shrugs. “It’ll be fine. How’re your math skills?"

He looks up from the sheet. “Huh?"

“Just trying to tell what a mess this might be." She grins. "I'm going to get a water."

“I like that girl,” Paula comments from a few feet away once Rosie has gone. “Very sharp. No-nonsense."
  Rosie Jimenez

“She’s okay,” Travis says with a shrug.

“Just okay?"


“I’m only saying,” Paula says with a knowing smile.

With two more clipboards in hand, Matt Gray finds Travis.

“I can total these ones up,” Matt offers.

“Great. Thanks,” Travis says. “I’m worried people are gonna get bored waiting around."

Nearby, Christian Taylor tugs on his aunt’s arm. “Why don’t you sing while everyone waits? Isn’t your guitar in the car?"

Danielle stiffens. “Sing? I don’t think so."

“You should,” Matt says. “People would love it."

“I don’t know.” Danielle brushes a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. “Isn’t that weird? And I’m not sure I’d be very good…"

“You’re the best!” Christian says. “Didn’t you tell Dad you sang at Cassie’s?"

Danielle swallows hard. “Not exactly…"

“If you feel like it, it’d be great,” Travis says. “And there’s a mic up there."

Paula claps her hands together. “I think it’s a wonderful idea."

“Come on,” Christian says. “Please?"


“Terms? Bitch, you are crazy,” Tanaka says.

Sarah slams the car door shut. She knows that she could have just ruined the entire thing, that by confronting him, she could have gotten herself, Molly, and Paula into certain hot water. But she had no other choice. She has no other choice.

“What’s in your trunk?” she asks. “I’m going to guess one hundred thousand dollars in cash."

“That’s none of your business.” Again he opens the door.

“See, I think it might be. Because my ex-husband -- the police commander -- is about 200 yards away. I’m sure he would be curious as to why an I.T. worker from the hospital is posing as a janitor and moving around 100 grand."

He leans in toward her, and the slightest sparkle of pleasure shines through on his face. “Are you stupid? Is that I? I thought you were a smart chick, I really did. You were following directions so well. Why ruin it now?"

She chooses her next words carefully, though she has reviewed them many times in the days leading up to this. “Am I ruining it?"

“What do you think? I gave you three instructions: leave the money. No cops. And no hanging around. Apparently you don’t listen so well."

“I think we can work something out,” she says. “That tape -- that recording of Philip Ragan being shot dead -- it could ruin a lot of lives."

“I know.” He sneers at her. “Hence the hundred grand.”

“That’s blackmail!"

He shrugs. Then something in the distance catches his eye. “Aw, cute. You brought back-up."

Sarah turns to see Molly waiting on the lawn, watching them nervously. 

“And that seals it,” Tanaka says. “I told you that if you tried anything, that tape would be released. Consider it done."

He opens the car door, but again Sarah shuts it for him. “Not so fast."

Tanaka lets out a guttural laugh. “Are you serious, bitch?"

“Very.” Sarah holds up the pen, which has been in her hand the entire time. “You just admitted on video to blackmailing me -- and, indirectly, to obstructing justice."

She watches his jaw slip downward and his eyes bulge. Then he grabs for the pen. 

Sarah pulls back and maintains her grip on it. “Take it if you want, though. It backs up to the cloud every 60 seconds. What’s that called? Checkmate."

“You’re not getting away with this,” he says. She searches his face for the kind of rage that could be physically dangerous to her, but she doesn’t see it. As she thought: he’s an amateur blackmailer with delusions of grandeur.

“That’s right.” She tucks the pen back into her pocket. “I’m getting away with that and the hundred thousand dollars you just loaded into your car. Sound fair? Actually, you know what? I don’t care. Load it back into that cart for me."

He grits his teeth, but Sarah already knows that she has won.


Danielle steps up onto the judges’ dais, where the microphone awaits. Travis currently stands behind it.

“While we tally up the results,” he tells the crowd, “a very talented singer and songwriter is going to play you a few songs. Please welcome Danielle Taylor!"

People clap politely, and Danielle offers a shy wave as she slings her guitar across her body and assumes her spot behind the mic. She thanks Travis, who retreats to the judges’ table.

“Hi, everyone,” she says, feeling her hands resort to the same nervous chattering that they did on the night she tried to play Open Mic Night at Cassie’s and failed. 

A few people murmur greetings back at her.

“I hope you don’t mind me playing some songs while we wait to find out the finalists.” She has no idea what she is saying, really, but she has to say something, and she isn’t sure that she can actually play the guitar or sing now. 

Again she looks out at the small crowd assembled. There are so many faces she recognizes: her nephews, her brother, Jimmy, Tim, and more. They look so bright, so optimistic, and they are focused on her. And so many of them are holding glasses of wine. If she could just have one-- a sip, even--

And suddenly, she knows that this is a defining moment in her life. She has to do this.

Come on, Danielle, her mind tells her. Shut up and sing, or your life will be over.

So she does it. Her fingers strum the first opening chords on the guitar, and then she opens her mouth, and by some miracle, sound comes out:

“Like a small boat… on the ocean…"


“I can’t believe you did that,” Molly says as she and Sarah walk back from the parking lot.

Sarah lets out a sigh, but then a grin creeps across her face. “I guess I did, huh? I still kind of can’t believe it."

“You don’t think he’s going to try anything else, do you?"

The question pricks Sarah’s nerves, but she doesn’t want to let on any more to Molly than she needs to. “How can he? He has the video of Mom shooting Philip. I have the video of him admitting to withholding the tape from police and blackmailing me for it. There’s nothing he can do."

“I just worry he might try to retaliate…"

“I don’t think he will,” Sarah says, trying to believe that. “Anything he does will implicate him."

An uneasy silence hovers over them as they cover the rest of the distance to the site of the cookoff, where Danielle is currently onstage singing:

“I might only have one match… but I can make an explosion! This is my fight song, take back my life song…"

Molly stands back and proudly watches her former sister-in-law strum her guitar and sing, joy radiating from her as she commands the crowd.


After Danielle plays two more songs, she steps down from the stage to adoring applause. Travis announces the finalists, and those contestants rearrange themselves at the frontmost table. The five judges begin to make their way down the row, sampling the last contenders for their final scores.

“Banks?” Diane asks as she reads the information card in front of one of the entrants. “Any relation to Tempest?"

“She’s my baby girl,” Yvette responds with a smile.

“No kidding. I’m Samantha’s mother."

“Oooh. You’re that radio lady, ain’t you?"

“I am, yeah."

“Well, looks like I’m gonna be around for a while. Tempest and I are, y’know, getting to know each other again. Now here, you wanna try this chili? You’re gonna love it."

Diane accepts the sample of pineapple chili, as she makes a mental note to ask Samantha about this situation -- and why no one informed her of it until now. 

Down the row, Paula finishes trying one sample and then slips away from the table for a moment when she spots her daughters.

“Where were the two of you?” she asks. “I was getting worried."

“We had to take care of something,” Sarah says.

“You really should’ve stayed around to show your support,” Paula says.

“Mom, it’s okay,” Molly interjects. “There was a little emergency with… with one of the witnesses for the trial. Sarah helped me deal with it. Everything’s okay now."

“Oh. Well, then.” Paula smiles. “I’m glad you were able to do that, Sarah. Thank you."

Meanwhile, Brent rushes to meet Danielle, who is just returning with her guitar case to the station where her pot of chili sits.

“Guess I should’ve known tofu wasn’t going to make it to the finals, huh?” she says.

He chuckles. “I guess so. But you were great up there. You should be really proud. I am."

“It felt good.” She draws a deep breath and then slowly lets it out. “I feel good."

Brent draws her into a hug. 
  Danielle Taylor


A short while later, Travis is back at the microphone. All five judges are back at the table, and Matt stands beside him.

“I want to thank all of you for coming today,” Travis says to those assembled. “It’s really exciting for all of us at the restaurant to have this kind of turnout -- and no matter who wins, we’re excited to have your dish on the menu in October! Now here goes…"

He holds up a plain white envelope, opens it, and pulls out a folded piece of paper. The crowd watches as he unfolds it.

“The winner of this year’s chili cookoff,” he says, pausing for suspense, “is number 47 -- Habanero Hellfire, by Kathleen Bundy!"

“Woo-hoo!” comes a shout from the crowd, and then Kathleen kicks off her shoes and runs up to the dais to claim her trophy. She steps up and accepts a hug from Travis before he hands her the prize.

“Isn’t that your mother?” Hansen, the other cook from Harbor Boulevard, asks from his spot at the judging table. “This thing was rigged."

“It wasn’t rigged,” Rosie says. “We all voted."

“You’re welcome to recount all the votes,” Travis adds. “In the meantime, get ready to cook up a whole bunch of this stuff in October."

Hansen groans.

“I think it was a wonderful contest,” Paula says, “and Kathleen’s chili was delicious.” She touches a hand to her stomach. “Though I’m not sure I could handle another bite of chili right now!"

“Join the club,” Diane says with a laugh. 

Travis looks out at the remains of the cookoff -- the emptied pots, the red-and-white tablecloths, the smiling people -- a little bit in awe. Then he feels someone hovering behind him.

“Remember this,” Rosie says. She has moved out of her chair and around the table to stand with him. “You did this."

“You guys were a huge help. Matt, too. And all the people who entered. Thanks for taking time out of your weekend to judge."

“It was fun. But seriously, Travis -- you pulled this whole thing together. I bet your grandfather would be really proud."

“I hope he would be. Yeah.” He looks over at her, her smile so easy, her beauty so effortless. “I could use some wine now that this thing is over. You want to go grab a glass?"

She checks the time on her phone. “I actually have a shift coming up later today, sorry. So I can’t."

“Oh. It’s cool. No worries. Thanks again for judging."

“I can’t drink,” she says. “But I could get a coffee, if you want. I could use something to wake me up after all that eating."

“I can do coffee. Yeah, coffee sounds great."

“Good. Think we can slip away for a few?"

“I’m in charge of this thing, right? I say we’re allowed."


Travis hops down from the dais, and Rosie follows suit. In her chair at the judges’ table, Paula watches them, a sparkle in her eyes. 


Did Sarah realize neutralize the blackmail threat?
Did Diane buy Yvette’s story?
Has Danielle turned a corner?
Talk about it all in the Footprints Forum!



Friday, September 16, 2016

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