Uncertainty was uncomfortable.
There wasn’t a soul alive that could possibly be okay with being trapped in an uncomfortable situation. For someone like Samantha Valentine, however, it was a million times worse. After all, she had built a literal career out of learning the secrets of her citizens, getting close to the town council, and befriending Rayland Walsh.
She knew everything about everyone.
Then, Leonard Calgray came along and ruined everything.
She bought into his ideas of introducing a little adventure in town. It had seemed foolproof. A little feud between Rayland and Olivia Sun seemed like just the thing she needed to propel herself to the town’s second-in-command. Unfortunately, Leonard had turned out to be far more dangerous than she realized. His “fun” had quickly turned to aggression. Despite all of the change he promised, she knew he was too dangerous to follow.
So, she betrayed him.
She revealed his plot to the council and stopped him in his tracks.
In the end, her heroic deed also meant revealing her own selfish behavior. She knew Leonard’s darkest plans, which meant she had been one of his trusted friends. The conclusion spread like wildfire after things came to their end. In the aftermath of the ‘schism’ as it was called, her privileges and permissions began to diminish.
She was cut off from the town council meetings.
Rayland wouldn’t take her calls.
Her job remained. She was still meeting and helping new citizens get settled in, but she was no longer in the inner circle. Even ordinary citizens began to withhold their more private dealings as the rumor spread of her misdeeds.
She would fix that… in time.
First, however, she needed to fix one last problem… her connection to Leonard.
The truth of the matter was, there remained one secret that could do further harm to her already disastrous situation. During Olivia’s jailbreak, Samantha had also stolen a large sum of bank notes. The mastermind of that plot was not Leonard. She had orchestrated it, and she had kept a large portion of the stolen assets.
Only two people knew that truth.
Samantha Valentine and Leonard Calgray.
In recent days, it had become very apparent that the citizens were not going to let Leonard stay here after all the crimes he had committed. Samantha knew, when he was arrested, he would expose her crime and the last of her trust would be undone.
She had been contemplating how to frame him for the robbery, but she suspected it wouldn’t matter. If Leonard told the council first, she would forever be held in suspicion. If Flynn came along and searched her home, it wouldn’t be hard to find her hidden money.
Still… she wasn’t ready to give up. There had to be a way to free herself.
Meanwhile, in the dead of night, Leonard had summoned Samantha to his home. She felt particularly annoyed when he asked her over well after dark, but she decided to agree because he had started to behave more recklessly as of late.
The whole way to his home, uncertainty nagged at her mind.
When she arrived at Leonard’s home, she found it to be an absolute mess. There was leftover food on the floor, wrappers and discarded clothing, and Leonard was simply wandering about with a look of complete disinterest.
“What is it?” she asked, slowly starting to pick up some of his laundry. “You need me to take care of the place? Sure. I can be your maid.”
“No, it’s not that,” Leonard grumbled. “I’m out of money.”
She froze. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”
“I have expensive tastes.”
“You’re lying,” she said. “I am confident you haven’t spent it all.”
“I promise. Listen, Samantha, I need a loan.”
“No,” she said calmly. “In no way.”
“I guess that means you don’t want a clean slate?” Leonard asked.
Samantha raised a brow. “Explain.”
“I have a plan in motion. I made some deals. You don’t need to worry about me, as I’ll be just fine, but honestly I feel bad for dragging you down with me. So, I’ve decided to get you a little something as a going away present. I’m going to take the fall for that one last detail I know has to be hanging over your head like a sharpened blade. For that to work, however, you’re going to have to get your hand out of the cookie jar.”
Samantha hesitated. She had taken her share of the bank money and invested it in a few options around town. She could get it back, and extra, but that would set her back from where she even started in this town, with no one trusting her and an empty wallet.
“How can I trust you?” she asked. “You might take the money and sell me out anyway.”
“Boring,” Leonard countered. “In a few days, I’m gone. Either you get the money you took and bring it to me before I go, or I run the risk of overstaying my welcome, and I hear it’s lonely in the bank vault without some company, so I might feel compelled to bring you along.”
“Fine. Okay,” she said, nodding firmly. “Yes, alright. I’ll get the money. I have it tied up in some investments, so it will take a little time to get it back. I don’t want to draw attention, so you’ll need to give me at least that much time.”
Leonard nodded. “You have some time. I’ll keep you updated on my departure. Once the last bank note is in my hand, you’ll be done with me. I release you.”
“I’ll be forever grateful,” she grumbled.
“It was fun, there at the beginning, right?” he asked, his voice more innocent.
Samantha allowed herself a smile. “It was, Leonard. Fun… dangerous. It could have been different, if you hadn’t decided to be cruel.”
“Things got a little hectic, I admit,” he said, smiling back. “Still, we could have ruled this town. We could have been King and Queen over the people of the town.”
“Maybe so,” she admitted. “It wouldn’t have felt right, though, taking it by force.”
He shrugged. “We all made mistakes. Now it’s time to close up the loose ends. On the table is a letter. It’s a handwritten order, from me, about the plan to take the money from the bank. Once we’re concluded in our business, you take that straight to Rayland. Tell him whatever you want about me. Whatever reason you need to give to clear your name. You’ll be the one that gives them the last piece they need to arrest me. They’ll start to warm up to you again once they fully understand you aren’t on my side.”
“Why are you doing this?” Samantha asked. “This… kindness? I ruined you.”
“Ah, you know I was making it up as I went. Sure, dictator might have been a good gig, but I might like this next opportunity even more.”
“What exactly do you have lined up?” she asked.
“Nothing involving you or this place,” he answered. “So, no worries there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a microwave and some leftovers from Oliver’s that I would like to enjoy.”
In Town Hall, Rayland Walsh was writing the latest in a long series of responses to various citizens that had reached out to him. After the standoff, Johnathan Davis had suggested that the Mayor attempt more direct communication with the citizens to improve relationships. So, for the better part of the last year, he had done just that.
Initially, most of the letters demanded that he step down, as Olivia had done, but he continued to hold his ground and explain his position. Over time, many of the citizens had come to terms with the idea that Rayland was staying in power. To his benefit, things had run without a hitch since the “schism,” so at least some of the citizens had concluded that it was Olivia, and not Rayland, that had been the problem.
Increasingly, as of late, he would receive letters that asked him questions he really liked answering. The latest one asked about the progress on William Everett’s train project and when they might expect to see the opening of the station that would take them between Willow Creek and town. Rayland had spent the better part of the last hour writing up his vision for the future and also cleverly avoiding any exact dates. After all, Everett’s interest in the train was limited in comparison to his other projects, so it would still take some time before anything was finished.
Meanwhile, on his desk, a radio was powered on and set to an open channel as it always was during his office hours. He could hear Mission Control every now and again, sending check-in signals to the various teams that were scattered across the Frontier, as well as other members of the council reporting this or that as they went. He had to admit that Elsie Lamarr had escalated the Explorers to a new level of efficiency since taking the helm of leadership away from Olivia.
He was just about to pen his signature on his train response when he heard the familiar ding of the elevator outside his office. He thought it might be someone interesting that had come to speak to him about the greater topics of health and happiness in town, but instead he audibly groaned when he saw Samantha Valentine.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Samantha started. “I know it’s been uneasy between the two of us lately. I only ask that you try to remember I did not betray you. Leonard got the best of both of us.”
She was right, of course. The same wild and bold thoughts that had lured her to Leonard had worked on him too. For a brief time, the idea of his own militia to control had been amazing. It made him feel powerful, as though he was the town’s protector. Unfortunately, that dream had not lasted long at all.
“All I’m saying,” she continued, “is that I want to rebuild your trust.”
Rayland offered her a small smile. “I’m a man of pride,” he admitted. “I made a lot of mistakes too. We both need allies more than enemies, especially considering the reputation that Leonard left us. How, though, do you and I possibly take that first step toward trust?”
“I have a piece of evidence against Leonard. I don’t know why I held onto it… perhaps it was guilt. What I have is tangible evidence of wrongdoing. This isn’t he said or she said… it’s a direct order from him for a crime to be committed. It’ll be enough to convince Flynn and the other citizens that Leonard is the bad guy in this story.”
“I’m listening,” Rayland said, shifting forward in his seat.
“Just read this,” she replied, handing him a letter. “It’s the order he gave me. I was just his pawn too.”
A few hours later and Samantha was walking proudly down main street. She had done everything as Leonard laid out. Her share of the bank money was delivered to his apartment, and upon that delivery, she went straight to Rayland to deliver the letter that he had produced to prove his own guilt in her wrongdoing.
If Leonard stuck to his word, she would be back in Rayland’s good graces by tomorrow evening. The weight of her crimes could finally be left in the past where they belonged. Yes, she understood that she wasn’t absolving herself of her own internal guilt, but she was hopeful in this moment. This opportunity would allow her to rebuild and repay her debt to the citizens.
Not far ahead of where she was walking, she spotted Bryan Steeles standing outside of the bank. He was looking up a ladder as though he was trying to spot something on the wall.
“Is everything okay?” she asked him.
Bryan looked at her like a disappointed father might look at his child. If anyone could actually make Samantha feel accountable for her role in the “schism,” it was Bryan. He showed no signs of anger, but instead expressed disappointment.
“I think we’re okay here,” he said in a slow monotone voice. “Thanks for asking.”
“I’m not the bad guy,” Samantha said calmly.
“No,” Bryan said, nodding in agreement. “You just helped him.”
“People make mistakes.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“Is there any chance you can find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Bryan remained still for a long moment and then let out a heartfelt sigh. “Yes. I forgive you. As upset as I might feel right now, I know you made the right call in the end, and I am thankful for that.”
“I’m so glad to hear it,” Samantha said, honestly.
“Right now, however, the hurt is more powerful than the forgiveness, so…”
Samantha nodded. “Of course. I’ll just be on my way. When the time is right—”
“I’ll call you,” he interrupted, nodding at her, and waving her along.
She stepped past him and continued on her way, feeling more confident that everything was going to be okay. Leonard had done many things, but he had always been honest with her. If he planned to take the fall for the bank robbery, she believed him.
She would be free of his legacy and able to rebuild her own.
The air smelled cleaner today than it had for some time. As she contemplated that, she smiled. She hadn’t smiled in ages, and it felt very good to do so now.