‘’Thank you, Ma’am, for your patronage. We can always rely on you to support a local small business such as ours,” said Ben, ushering the customer out of the front door, carrying a birthday cake for a children’s party.
Ben returned to the back office and was accosted by Nyasha one of his more senior and portly employees.
“Boss, I remembered something while you were talking to the last customer,” said Nyasha.
“Yes. What’s the problem?”
“Well, two or three people came in asking for our speciality chocolate chip cookies.”
“Boss I can’t find the secret ingredient XXX.”
“The chocolate chip cookie secret ingredient XXX? You want to give me a heart attack! So what have you been doing about customers wanting cookie orders, while I was away?”
“Sorry Boss, I told them that we had run out. I haven’t made any for a few days. I know the ingredient is important in the recipe after adding the milk and dark chocolate chunks to get the right texture on the outside.”
“So are you telling me we have been losing customers in my absence? I don't believe this! Go back and look in the safe. The tin must be there, under lock and key.”
Nyasha took his time searching after opening the safe’s combination lock. He ambled back and handed a biscuit tin over to Ben.
“What’s this in here? This is not even the tin with my mother’s secret recipe. Where did you get this tin from?
“This tin has always been kept in the safe, Boss.”
Ben, exasperated, turned to his assistant, “So where is the other biscuit tin with the secret ingredient XXX? Are you sure no one has been in the back office while I was away?”
Nyasha looking sheepish said “Boss, I didn’t want to say this earlier on while you were still stock taking. But one night when you were away I was so tired I locked up after ten pm; what with balancing the books and double-checking orders for the next day. When I came in the morning, it must have been Friday. Yes, that’s right. I discovered that the safe was closed, not locked.”
” So you are saying it was not locked overnight? You obviously didn’t double-check as I have told you before!”
“Sorry Boss. Anyway, I checked in case something was missing from the safe and saw only this brown biscuit tin. I got diverted by something and thought nothing more about it. The safe and none of the main bakery doors had been forced open. So I just assumed I must have been careless that one time and forgot to lock the safe.”
“Nyasha, enough of your long-winded explanations. The issue is that the safe does not contain the secret ingredient XXX. When were you going to tell me all this?” Ben slumped into the nearest chair.
“Sorry Boss, I was trying to muster the courage.”
“If you call me Boss one more time! Bring the biscuit tin here! You may have overlooked something in your panic search. Let’s go through this again. The secret ingredient was in an old envelope which was in the brown biscuit tin. Are you sure you put it back after the last time you used it? The fact that the safe was open, and there was no sign of a break-in means there must be some other explanation.”
“That’s the puzzle, Boss. Which is why I didn’t report the matter to the police. I can swear on my mother’s life that I returned the ingredient back in the envelope after I used it for the Book Club’s order of cookies over a month ago. That must have been in November, Boss.”
“It can’t have disappeared into thin air! Look again. Turn the whole place upside down if you have to. That secret ingredient XXX does not have a substitute. Although I should know how to make it, the one you lost still has to be found. That ingredient has been in my family for generations and is one of the reasons this bakery is so popular. No-one else produces such cookies. I hope it hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands. You hear all the time of disgruntled employees taking things and when desperate selling them to the competition. Are you in some kind of financial trouble you are not telling me about?”
“Boss, how long have you known me? I am one of your longest-serving employees here. Ten years I have worked for you, and before that, I was in the employ of your parents; in fact, since I was an apprentice. So why would I take the secret ingredient XXX now? I have been loyal to you and your family for so many years.”
“I am sorry to lash out at you Nyasha. But what else could have happened, since there is no evidence of a break-in? I am clutching at straws here. I apologise for accusing you with no evidence. Yes, you have been very loyal, and I have been unfair to you. I apologise.”
Soon after, Ben’s wife walked into the back room of the bakery. Taking in the worried faces, she said, “Why the long faces? I could hear raised voices from the street. I turn my back on the business for one day to visit my mother in the nursing home and what happens? I come back to bedlam. What’s all this commotion about?”
“We can’t find the secret ingredient XXX for the chocolate chip cookies! There is no evidence of a break-in although the safe was not locked on Thursday night. I am beside myself with worry. What if it gets into the wrong hands?” Ben was now hyperventilating.
“Ben, take a deep breath! Is that what all the fuss is about? Nyasha, sorry I forgot to tell you. I took it home on Thursday to make the cookies I took to my mum. I just forgot to return it. I will bring it tomorrow. And yes, I am the culprit who carelessly forgot to lock the safe. I have had so much on my mind with Mum being sick.”
Nyasha and Ben breathed sighs of relief and went back to work.