"I can't tell you that, Inspector," Mr. Cobber said when asked him about the theft. Mr. Cobber was a tall and beard man, the only owner and founder of the Bakery Dough n' Pastry, a twenty-five years old cake shop and leader in the Tri-States area. The place was posh but cozy and full of pictures of the delicacies they make and the celebrities that have visited it.
At least, that was the usual appearance of the place and owner, but it was not what the Inspector, Mr. Johnson, saw when he arrived. The bakery seemed to have suffered a blast of flour, sugar, eggs, spices, and other ingredients spread all over the floor and ceiling. The always happy owner look devasted and almost a foot smaller. They were friends since he moved into the city, and the inspector had never seen the man or the place less than sparked and joyful.
"Mr. Cobber, it is clear that someone had broken into your bakery and made this mess. My job is to catch the culprit. But to do so, I need leads. The best source of leads is you, so what can you tell about the crime?" calmly asked Johnson, guiding his friend to a place more private. The place was busy with cops asking neighbors about last night and keeping the crowd of snoops that grow by the minute. An employee, a man, also was waiting to be questioned near the counter. The calmer place was inside the kitchen by the ovens.
"Alright, alright, you are my friend. I trust you, but I don't know if you can help me. This crime is quite personal for me," said Cobber, still uncomfortable with the talk.
"Let me try, please. First, let's review what you already told me, right? Just relax," said the inspector trying to calm down his friend. " Yesterday was a day like any other. You arrived at 4 am, staying alone here until 6 when the first employer arrived and help you open the store. Like you said. and I quote: 'in the first hours, the neighborhood was like a cemetery, no sound or living soul.' You only left at 1 pm when you had a lunch break for half an hour..."
"I close and lock the door before I left as I always do. I don't like anyone in my kitchen when I am not nearby. I am really controlling myself to not start clean this mess while I talk with you," said Gobbler gazing around. The inspector follows his eyes, trying to found anything unusual. However, the butter and milk spread on the floor and furniture don't allow to notice anything but the chaos. "Yesterday, that lamp didn't blink," said Gobber pointing the red bulb at the wall. "It blinks when someone rings the doorbell or when my presence is need at the counter. None of this happened yesterday. I am deaf to the world outside my kitchen when I am doing my art and passion." He needed to tell this part, getting calmer after said that.
"Right, I notice the fireproof door full of lock pads. Later you need to tell me why a bakery needs a door that's more like a safe box." The inspector's words made the owner tap nervously the floor. "It was a professional job. They use heavy machinery to cut the door, but I will return to this later. The afternoon was like the usual, the same clients, the same orders. You close the bakery with the help of the night employee at 8. pm. So far, so good. Tell me when you discovered the crime."
Gobber sigh, deep breath in before talking. "I arrived at my usual time, and the first odd thing I noticed was the scratches and small dents in the gate. I got worried, but at first, I think someone had fought here, or a car had hit and run. It was when I entered and turned on the lights that I discovered the crime. I run to the kitchen to find everything trash up. I controlled myself and called 911 while I tried to do a quick inventory of my loss."
"Good. Did you move anything?" asked the inspector, receiving a negative of the owner. "Did they steal you something?"
"Yes, my most important belongings. Just it." answer the owner. The inspector signed, incentivizing him to continue, which put the owner more nervous. An awkward silence extended for minutes, with the owner babbling picking the words. "The whole foundation of my business, the secret ingredient of my cookies," said him, lowering his voice with each word. In the end, the inspector needed to come closer to hear the last part.
"No money, no tools, just the ingredient. Right, I think I understand why you are so uneasy, but I need you to answer this if you still want us to look for it. What is the ingredient?" asked the investigator, trying his best to make his friend trust in him.
"Johnson, you are one of my friends and oldest clients. You have bought and eaten many of my cookies. You have tasted them, the product that made my bakery fame for all these years. I can't tell you the secret ingredient as it would ruin our friendship and my business," said the bearded man straightly. Outside, the cops had finish intertwined the employee, and they are searching for clues between the havoc scene.
"Ok, let's try another way. The secret ingredient was in a vessel, I think," said Johnson, receiving an affirmative nod of his friend. "Have the vessel being stolen too? Please say more than yes or no, friend," asked the inspector with a side smile.
"Yes, the vessel vanished with the ingredient inside. Well, how can I explain to you-" the bearded man starts to gesticulate, emphatically, with each word. "Right, first there is a keg, a beer keg with a cap, a steel one without brand. There is a trick to open it. Inside, cover by bubble wrap to protect from any danger, there is a box with three padlocks. Inside it, there is a huge cryptex..."
"Wait a minute. Do you put the ingredient inside a cryptex? Wasn't it enough to stash it inside a box inside a keg? You went full Da Vinci on it. Sorry, I am just surprised." Johnson never thought his friend was so paranoic.
"Well, in fact, it is inside a paper box that will dissolve and spoil the ingredient if anyone uses force to open the cryptex. By the way, I chained the box to the keg. Literally, inside the keg, there is a metal chain linked to the box. I had two other similar kegs as a decoy, and they have stolen all three," the owner said proudly before getting sad again.
"Right, now we have something more concrete. Three kegs without brand being transporting. I think that if they could open that massive door, the padlock won't be hard to cut off. How are the boxes?" asked the inspector, making a sign to an officer and delivering a note to look for people walking with kegs on the security cameras nearby.
"Heavy ones. They are made of steel with the bakery brand on top, the size we use to deliver cakes. There is a thick layer of lead between layers of steel, just to it doesn't mix with anything but steel. It isn't a violation of any food or health security. All three have it, something inside the cryptex. In the decoys, there is paint like that used in bags of money that paint of blue everything it touches," casually said the owner.
"I notice you have your own security and safety measure," ironically said the inspector, scratching his bald head. "Now I understand why they have caught everything, not only the box. Do you have any idea what they can do with the ingredient?" Some cops came to the kitchen to check the place. The owner refused to move and make way for them.
"They can make the most delicious cookies, and of course, ruin my business. Besides this, I am not sure, but you could improve all kinds of baking. Maybe there is some application to a combustion engine and the metallurgic industry. It is a powerful ingredient," Gobber said, combing with his finger his auburn beard.
"Metallurgic industry? Are you kidding me?" asked the inspector, stoping taking notes. The severe gaze of his friend was his best answer. "What is this ingredient to be useful even to make steel? How did you put your hands in something so powerful?" He was more than intrigued by the mystery.
"I already told you that it is a secret. Although it would help you find it, it also would be a risk because you would have to fill the papers and search with some people, and it would be my ruin." Mr. Gobber was irreducible to keep his secret. "It is a legend in my father's family, a lineage of locomotive conductors, a secret that a far-east master told to my gran-grandfather, and that I decipher after I graduated from the college. I discover how to harvest and purify and apply it to my cookies."
"If I remember, you graduated in gastronomy nor chemistry or riddles, Gobbler. Anyway, keep your secrets with you as you wish. Do you have some lead of anyone that benefits from this theft and maybe orchestrated it?" asked the inspector, starting to lose his patience. The officers sign him that they have ended the search for clues.
"Thank god, I can organize this mess," exclaimed the owner, ordering the pots and pans. "First, a man can have hobbies and skills beyond the professional carrier. All bakeries, pastries, coffee shops, and even some restaurants are possible masterminds behind this crime. My cookies can put anyplace on the map. I hope they ask for money for a ransom. I have some savings that I can use."
"Come one, Gobber. Your cookies are divine, I admit, but I don't think they deserve a rescue. Besides, you can find more of this ingredient, and you don't need to clean your account for it." the inspector needed to open space for his friend that took a broom and started to sweep the floor.
"Johnson, you are naive. Do you think that those photos of all these famous people are here for courtesy of them? No, my friend, it is more than that. It is their gratitude for their success I help achieve. My cookies take what you have for talent and make it wonderful. Did you notice how your carrier improved when you moved here? The first time you entered here, you were a rookie, and since then, each end of the workday, you come here for some cookies and coffee. Now you are an inspector with two medals and in the line for the captain seat. It wasn't a coincidence, work of the fortune, or the grace of a mighty god. It was my cookies," said the owner, sounding like a prophet. Outside, a thunder sounded, although, in the kitchen, only the sound of the broom was heard.
"It's good you trust your product and create a myth around it, but it is bullshit what you just said. Your cookies don't have magic, only sugar, chocolate chips, and flour. I need the truth to help you," complain the inspector.
"You forget the ingredient secret. It is what makes everything special. I am not talking about magic, as it isn't magic, but science, top of the art science. I understand your confusion, as cut-edging science can be mistaken for magic. You don't need to believe in me, as time will show you. Everyone on that wall, and all the usual clients, including you, will have hard days ahead." Gobber becomes almost sinister with those words and the cloud of flour in the air. "If I am not ruined, and I hope I am not, it will take me months, almost half a year to refine just what I used in this month's orders. I will have to cancel all my orders, and change the prices. The price may skyrocket."
"If you say so, I believe you. You know better about this business than me. Last question, who knows about your secret ingredient and your stash? I think that is just a few people based on your peculiar behavior and this massive door locks." The inspector stands by the door as his friend was cleaning the floor as an industrial machine.
"No one knew about it. Clearly, if they have brains, they could deduce that it was inside the kitchen. I don't suspect about the employee. They are not allowed to enter more than two steps inside. I do all the work by myself and never had any apprentice. All the recipes are in my mind, and on a secret book at my home." The owner was calmer now, and the floor was almost spotless. "My better guess is that someone put something in one of my supplies. Something to film my work and discover my secrets only this could justify the mess they have made."
"You are right. We will investigate the suppliers. I will need a list of them. Considering they brought a machine to cut the door, a bug in here isn't total absurd, just a minor one. Bugs don't have a large reach. So they might have a base nearby. I will send a patrol to investigate the neighborhood. Right, just one more question, and I leave you alone. How much time do you think they will need to decipher the cryptex? Maybe you have said out loud the password." The inspector sends an officer to dismiss the crowd that even in the rain stayed for the sake of their curiosity.
"I am not used to speaking while I work. I like to hear only the sound the dough makes. Even if they have heard, I doubt they have understood, as the password is a made-up word. I have many made-up words I say just to mess around in case someone is listening." The floor was clean, and now the walls were the target of the owner. "The word has seven letters, and each space has thirty-six options, so you can make the math. Each one has its own password. As they can't try one by one, I think it will take almost a month if they have some genius cryptographer or burglar."
"Gobber, you have given me some leads but not much to work. I will try my best to find the culprits. Please send me a list of suppliers and usual clients. Maybe someone has something to help. Later I come here to help you without the badge," said the inspector to his friend that was too busy with a stain to look him in the eye or say goodbye.
Johnson left the place, running to his car. The rain was becoming a downpour. Inside, before turning the car on, he took his phone to send a message "The man didn't tell the secret nor the password. I will try again later. Maybe a kidnapping is necessary. Wait for further instructions. He is too clever for my taste."