They were in. In the most mysterious bakery, and probably company, of the world. The five winners were being led by a man of whom they only knew the occupation. Abruptly, the Baker stopped, followed by the two boys, two girls, and one older man behind him.
“It is time to dispel some mysteries,” said the Baker. “Starting with me. No, I am not an alien. I hail from a small village in our fair country, and I am very proud of my heritage. There, that should answer all your questions, right?”
“Not even close,” replied Grandpa Sam. “We don’t even know your name!”
“Oh. Right. I haven’t spoken to people in so long I forgot that humans use names given by their parents when addressing each other. My name is Danny Dootley. I have baked bread for as long as I can remember. I started this business with my brother William, but he defected quite some time ago. He changed his surname—mother never forgave him for that—and now he’s stolen my tour idea and is using it for his own promotion. But you didn’t come here to hear my family drama. You came here to learn about the Bakery.”
“That’s right! And then I’m going to tell my father everything I learned so that he can publish it in the paper,” said Mickey Peeta.
“Oh dear, we can’t have that,” said Danny Dootley. “You’re Mickey, right? Son of the Wheatville Wire owner? I’ll keep that in mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Mickey.
Danny Dootley ignored him. “Okay children…and Billy’s grandfather. We have two options for our tour this morning. We can go on the sing-along, musical-inspired route, or we can take the somber, no-singing-allowed path.”
“Musicals are for wusses!” screamed Mickey.
“You certainly aren’t wasting any time getting on my nerves,” responded Danny Dootley coolly. “I do enjoy a good Sondheim personally, but very well then, we will go on the tour void of singing.”
He opened a green door with a sign that read “No Singing Allowed” and led his tour group through. They entered a dimly lit hallway covered with some sort of plastic wallpaper. Billy stopped and leaned in for closer inspection: the walls were covered with plastic bread bags. A sample of a bag from every bread company imaginable was on the wall.
“Mr. Dootley? Why are you advertising for your competition in your own bakery?” asked Billy.
“I’m afraid you have it wrong, Billy. Those aren’t advertisements; they’re trophies. I’ve surpassed the sales of every company you see on the wall. Sort of like a wall of animal heads that I’ve mercilessly poached without using the dead animal for any resourceful purpose, but for bakers.”
“Oh. I think I underst—”
“Mr. Dootley, Mr. Dootley! Can I be at the front of the line? I should be leading everyone. At least that’s what I always tell my friends.” Natasha Pumpanik was fully recovered from the chloroform and back to being her obnoxious self.
“Uh, no. I think you would damage my delicate middle-ear ossicles, and we can’t have that. Actually, let’s have Mickey lead the line.”
“Cool. Thanks, Mr. Dootley! You’re the boss!” said Mickey.
“Of course I’m the boss. Who else would be the boss?”
Grandpa Sam leaned in toward Billy and whispered in his ear. “Billy, is ‘boss’ some strange, hip lingo that the young folk are using these days?”
“No, I think Mickey is just making stupid things up. Like usual.”
“That makes a lot more sense.”
The group, now with Mickey in front, reached the end of the bread packaging lined hallway and approached another door. There was a sign on it that said “The Oven.”
“OK, my lovely tour group,” began Danny Dootley, “We are about to enter The Oven. This is the main room in the Bakery where all my delicious bread is baked. Before we can enter, I have to explain some rules to you.”
“My father says I’m too good for anyone’s rules,” interjected Mickey.
“Very well then, Mickey. I’ll let you go in right now while I explain the rules to everyone else. You’ll get the first peek.”
Without even giving the Baker a quick “Thanks,” Mickey pulled open the door and ran inside The Oven. In an instant, he was vaporized by the heat. He wasn’t saved by any workers nearby so that he could learn a lesson and teach one to others. No, he just died. Reality is a harsh place.
“You killed him!” shouted Carla Rhy.
“Excuse me, little girl, but I don’t think someone who has denied the existence of bread until this morning should be able to speak about morals and what’s right or wrong,” replied Danny Dootley curtly.
“The man has a point,” said Grandpa Sam.
“But Grandpa, what if he decides to trick and kill the rest of us?” asked Billy.
“The Baker? The benevolent giver of carbs? He would never do such a thing.”
“Thank you for your support, Sam,” said Danny Dootley. “Now, let’s get on with those rules, shall we? Number one: don’t enter The Oven without the proper garments. I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one any more, since you all saw first hand rule number one being broken. Here, please put on one of these heat resistant suits.”
He passed out reflective silver clothing that resembled hazmat suits. They looked pretty goofy, but if they let you get into the Bakery, appearance is secondary. Their life saving properties are tertiary.
“Rule number two: don’t touch anything without asking first. I have handcuffs stored in every room in case I have to restrain you. The third rule: only enter rooms with the tour group. Do not stray from the group. You must be with me at all times. And the final rule is: have fun! Is everyone suited up?” He lifted up a helmet and placed it on his own head. “Then let’s go!”
The line shuffled into the room. As each person entered, he or she let out a gasp. The Oven was a cavernous room the size of a football field, but that was not the amazing part. What garnered the gasps were the piles of loaves of bread covering every inch of floor space. Baguettes, rye, wheat, pumpernickel, bagels, white, potato, sourdough, croissants, challah, it was all there. They were in various states of being baked, but they all looked delicious.
“Mr. Dootley, this is ingenious,” said Grandpa Sam.
“Thank you, good sir. When I was designing this bakery, I pondered for several days about how to make baking more efficient. Then I realized I could put all the loaves of bread into one oven. So that’s what I did.”
“Can I have one of the loaves?” asked Carla.
“I’m sorry, but even though you’re probably experiencing bread withdrawal, since you had a massive amount of it for the first time a few hours ago, I can’t let you have any. One, because I don’t want your filthy hands on my bread. Two, because if you take your filthy hand out of your heat-resistant glove to pick up a piece of bread, you won’t be able to wash the grime off that hand. Because you won’t have one.”
“My mother says I can have whatever I want,” said Natasha.
“And I’m not your mother. Lucky me! Billy, are you going to ask for some of this bread?”
“No, I wasn’t planning on it. I wouldn’t want to get sick from uncooked bread anyway.”
“Good thinking, young lad. Then let’s move on. I have so much more to show you, and I definitely do not want to spend the entire day with you, so we had better get going.”Danny Dootley led the three remaining children and Grandpa Sam out of the Oven and into a cool down room. The suits were effective, but it was still hot in there. The tour group was then taken into a room that made them gasp even louder than before.