Chapter 21: Hoppy to help.

Whitey Bear sat on the uncomfortable crumbling wall overlooking the park, his own personal gloomy cloud of dejection hovering just overhead. All of the other bears were getting on with their tasks and he had no idea how to even begin his. He was just considering how he would explain his lack of success to his friends when a long eared shadow fell across him. He looked up to see the concerned pink face of a small bunny peering down at him.

“Are you alright?” asked the new arrival.

“I have been given a near impossible task to complete and I honestly don’t think that I am good enough to solve it.” replied Whitey mournfully. “If I fail then I am going to let everybody down.”

The bunny sat down next to him. “When I run my Red Faced Rabbits classes, I frequently show my students how to believe in themselves and overcome their challenges no matter how impossible they seem. Maybe if I help with your problem then you can help me with mine?” she suggested brightly.

“What problem have you got?” asked Whitey.

“I run guided tours in Swingmouth and am planning on branching out into Roarlish. But I really need to add some interesting locations to the itinerary.”

“I don’t suppose that you have a house on your list which is owned by a very rich pink bear?” asked Whitey hopefully.

“Do you mean Bramble Cottage? Well, it is a charming building, full of character and has a lovely garden. I think that the new owner, Sid Cerise had recently moved in. He has very bright pink fur.”

Whitey nodded. “Yes, Mr Cerise that’s the bear, I mean the house. I heard that it is one of the most beautiful houses in town, and the garden produces the biggest carrots”

“Really, I had not heard that.” replied the rabbit suddenly looking very interested.

“Would you be interested in having a look then?”

During the walk to the cottage Blushing Bunny told Whitey Bear about the CBT confidence workshops that she ran. By the time that they arrived Whitey had surprised himself by signing up for a twelve week course.

Blushing Bunny was disappointed when it became evident that the cottage was not particularly beautiful or impressive. There was however a large courtyard with a number of expensive cars and a gleaming steamroller parked by some open garages. On the other side of the courtyard somebody had meticulously arranged a large number of bananas into five piles so they spelt out the word SOCKS.

Sid Cerise strode into the courtyard whistling happily as he twirled a set of keys from his right paw. When he reached the steamroller he hopped aboard and familiarised himself with the controls. After a short time he turned the key and the engine roared into life. Laughing maniacally he engaged the gears and the machine lurched forward towards the five piles of bananas.

Whitey and Blushing Bunny watched incredulously for the five whole minutes it took for the steamroller to trundle across and squash flat the yellow letters.

“Well that’s something you don’t see every day.” said Whitey

“If he does that kind of thing on a regular basis then I will definitely add this location to my tour.” responded Blushing Bunny.

Sid jumped off the steamroller as a large limousine swung into the drive. A uniformed monkey got out and handed a package to him. Even from a distance Whitey could see that the package, once it was opened contained a significant amount of money. Sid Cerise counted through the notes and nodded at the driver. After a brief conversation the monkey retrieved a digital handset from the car and passed it to the Pink Bear. Sid began dialling before getting in the car and slamming the door behind him.

“There is no way we can overhear the conversation from here.” Exclaimed Whitey.

“What do you mean, ‘we’?” enquired Blushing Bunny with a bemused look on her face.

“Maybe if you go over to the limo and press one of your big floppy ears against the window we might find out what they are discussing.” suggested Whitey.

“Again, what do you mean by ‘we’? “ repeated Blushing Bunny.

Their conversation continued for several minutes before they both realised that the limo had driven off.

Whitey felt far better than he had earlier that day. Even though he did not know what Sid Cerise was plotting it was apparent that he had some sort of personal grudge going on, but more importantly they now knew where he lived.

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Chapter 20: A Long Stretch

The Ten Green Bananas was one of the many cafes that bordered the edge of the village green. It had been open for a couple of years and was very popular with the local bears, though to be honest, any establishment that sold food and drink was popular with the local bears. The interior had been recently refurbished in distressed wood, worn leather and faded green curtains, which the owner hoped would lend a relaxed atmosphere, but which just gave the impression that it was in need of decorating. Socks Bear sat at a table in the main bay window and stared at the large earthenware teapot in front of him. His worried face stared right back at him from the highly polished surface. His reflection had every reason to be worried, it had been a bewildering day. After the young bears had set off on their respective tasks Socks had picked up the phone to call Seed Crisis and things had gone south very quickly after that.

His call was answered by Sing Sing, who put him through to the same manager that he had met with when he had travelled to Swingmouth. The manager was polite but initially seemed disinterested in having a further discussion. Socks explained that he was now confident that he would have the money in a few days, but needed to acquire the land before the development work commenced.

‘Well Seed Crisis have big plans for the land and are hoping to make a great deal of money.’ said the manager.

‘Yes, but you will have to spend a great deal of money and then you will have to wait for buyers.’ replied Socks.

‘You live in a nice house with a great coastal view, so you can appreciate that some people will pay a lot for that kind of lifestyle.’ explained the manager.

‘I can buy the the land from you and you could develop the land elsewhere.’ suggested Socks in what he hoped was a confident tone

‘Yes, but it is far from certain that you would win.’ replied the manager dismissively.

‘I bet that I will win.’ said Socks crossly, and that was the moment that the tone of the conversation

changed.

‘That’s the kind of attitude we like at Seed Crisis.’ said the manager is an ingratiating manner. ‘Why don’t you come in for a chat? I am sure that I can arrange a session with some of the executives. But you will need to convince them that you are serious, and demonstrate to them that you have a strategy for winning the competition.’

‘I have to cook today, I don’t have time to get a coach to Swingmouth.’ replied Socks.

‘Don’t worry I will make the arrangements. Can you be ready in thirty minutes?’ enquired the manager.

‘Yes, I think that I can manage that.’

Exactly thirty minutes later there was a confident knock at the front door. When Socks went outside he saw a bright orange monkey who was standing by the open rear door of the longest stretch limo that Socks had ever seen. The car was gold and despite the gloomy day appeared to sparkle, drawing the attention of several inquisitive bears.

‘Good day Mr Socks, My name is Blake and I have been instructed to take you to the head office in Swingmouth. If you would like to take a seat then I will get you there in no time.’

As Socks took his seat there was a soft muffled clunk of the car door closing behind him cutting off all noise from the street outside. The interior of the car was just as impressive as the exterior, with sumptuous leather upholstery, rich walnut surfaces inlaid with gold and tinted windows. Soothing notes of a string quartet were playing from hidden high quality speakers that made it seem that the musicians were in the car with him, and to be honest there would have been sufficient space for an entire orchestra.  Socks felt as though he was in a luxurious bubble and could appreciate how a successful bear could become accustomed to such surroundings, though he thought that the chandelier was maybe a touch on the ostentatious side. Blake removed his cap and got in the front and started the engine and the car pulled away from the curb with barely a whisper.

In the car Socks settled back in his seat and watched the countryside blur past, Blake’s orange face appeared on an LED screen in front of him.

‘I hope that you have a pleasant journey, do help yourself to refreshments.’

A panel on an adjacent table slid open and a silver platter of assorted sandwiches, pastries, and fruit, rose majestically in front of Socks.

‘Thank you, but I think that I am too nervous to eat.’

The limousine was passing through the streets of Swingmouth as Socks popped the last remaining grape into his mouth. There was a click as the now empty platter descended back into the table.

When Socks arrived at the Seed Crisis head office he was met by Sing Sing who greeted him with a radiant smile before ushering him across the foyer towards a double door. She gave a tentative tap before indicating that he should enter. inside was a large imposing room which was lit by flickering orange up-lighters, presumably designed to give the illusion of flames, but which instead gave the impression of a faulty electrical supply. The room was sparsely decorated save for a number of ornate vases and a large plasma screen which was attached to the facing wall. In the middle of the room were two high backed leather chairs placed so they were facing the door a purple coloured monkey sat in one chair while a golden monkey sat in the other. As soon as Socks entered the room the purple monkey leapt to his feet.

‘Welcome, my name is Purple Banertine, and this is my colleague Theo Popodopolalis.’ said the Purple monkey, indicating to his seated companion. ‘I understand that you have come here with a proposal.’

‘I intend to win the baking competition in Roarlish and use the prize money to buy back the Den and the land that it is built on.’

‘How do you think that you will do that? There are after all three rounds left, which are Bread, Tart and Cake.’ said Purple Banertine while consulting his notes.

‘My olive and sun dried tomato bread is a real winner and is very popular at parties.’

‘Really I thought that you were making banana bread.’ said Theo Popodopolalis.

‘Why would you think that?’ enquired Socks.

‘Um. It does not matter, well, what about the other rounds?’ spluttered Theo Popodopolalis.

‘My tarts are always very well received and cakes are my speciality.

‘So you are confident then.’ asked Purple Banertine

‘Absolutely.’ replied Socks in what he hoped was his most confident tone.

The two monkeys exchanged glances as the plasma screen behind them switched on revealing the familiar face of Dice Rises.

‘Mr Socks, I am impressed with your self belief and quite frankly am now keen to see how you get on in the competition. I will therefore agree to pass over ownership of the land to you. However we are taking a risk with you on this venture and could potentially lose money. I do not think that it is unfair to expect you to take a risk of your own by means of some collateral.’ Boomed the disembodied face.

‘What do you mean?’ Asked Socks in a decidedly less confident tone.

‘Have a read through this contract and sign at the bottom of the page.’ replied Purple Banertine while sliding a thick stack of legal documents towards Socks.

Socks was shaken from his recollection by the arrival of Mocha Chocca Monkey at the table. Socks noticed that the cafe had started filling up while he had been lost in thought. There were now a number of bears ordering their lunchtime snacks.

‘Would you like your pot refreshed?’ asked Mocha Chocca pleasantly.

‘No thank you.’ said Socks I still have plenty.’ He looked at his half drunk cup.

‘Then perhaps a delicious cake to keep your tea company?’

‘No thank you.’

‘Well please let me know if you need anything.’

‘If things don’t go well this afternoon then I am going to need somewhere to live.’ said Socks glumly. He looked again at the  contract which he had signed stating that if he did not win the competition, ownership of his house would be transferred to Seed Crisis.

Chapter 19: Banana Splits

Reddy Eddy stood in his conservatory, watching countless rain drops stream down the glass. The weather was improving, but the rain on the roof sounded like a thousand tiny drums, which was not helping the nagging headache that was slowly gaining strength. He took a sip of cream sherry from a small cut crystal glass, feeling the warmth flow down his throat. Normally he would allow himself to relax and fully enjoy the sensation but this morning his thoughts were as overcast as the weather outside.

He glanced at his breakfast table where a plate of half eaten Eggs Benedict sat cooling next to a discarded copy of the Bear Facts. He had been reading through the financial section and had been shocked to see that the stock value of a investment that he had recently made had crashed, leaving a significant portion of his portfolio drastically diminished. He picked up the paper again and double checked the figures. No miraculous intervention had occurred while he had been staring out of the window and his financial situation was still bleak. He drained the remainder of his sherry glass, and walked over to a collection of decanters standing upon a silver tray. He had no appetite for food, but maybe a few drinks would calm his nerves. He looked at the shelves behind the decanters where there was a selection of much larger glasses.

He had just commenced pouring a rather fine apricot brandy into a half pint glass when he remembered that he had to take part in today’s round of the Bake Off. If he could win the competition, and there was no reason to think that he could not, then the prize money would certainly prove useful in getting out of his current predicament. To ensure a win, he needed to keep a clear head and plan a scrumptious bread to take him through to the next round. And it would certainly need to be better than a stupid banana bread made by stupid Socks Bear and his stupid helper, he thought contemptuously while remembering the argument from the previous afternoon.

Reddy Eddy picked up his phone and made a call to the general store. He was in no mood to queue up and wait for ingredients and if some of his competitors had left it too late, then that was their problem and it would certainly help him. He made the necessary arrangements and put down the receiver feeling much more optimistic than he had earlier. His next call was to Seed Crisis Financial Investments in order see if anything could be done to minimise his losses on the stock exchange. The helpful monkey on the phone commiserated with him and advised him that the best course of action would be to increase his investment in order to recoup his losses. Reddy Eddy thanked him for his advice and said that he would call back later.

Feeling focused, Reddy Eddy strode out of the conservatory and proceeded to his dressing room. The rain had eased somewhat, so he chose a lightweight scarf from his summer collection. He hung up his brand new silk gown on a peg by the wardrobe. He paused to run his paw down the soft material. The dressing gown had been a recent acquisition and to be honest an expensive one. The gown was a deep royal blue and was emblazoned with golden dragons with sparkling ruby eyes. The recent and unexpected windfall that he had received could have been better spent on some necessities, but Reddy Eddy thought that it was important to indulge in life’s luxuries. Pulling the door closed behind him, he left his home and set off in the direction of the village green not noticing the small red cub who put down his comic and started following him.

  

Bluey arrived at the general store just after the doors opened for business. A number of the Bake Off contestants had joined the regular shoppers and were chatting amiably. At the front of the store a large van was being loaded with boxes by two of the store bears. As Bluey got closer to the van he realised that the boxes contained bananas.

“Oddest thing ever.” said one bear. “A call came in this morning asking to buy all the bananas in the store, when I asked him how many he actually needed he said that he wanted every single one.”

“Well somebody must really like bananas.” replied the second bear. “So I wouldn’t complain.” 

Bluey suppressed a smile as he walked past the two bears who were struggling under the weight of a particularly large crate. ‘Somebody is going to a lot of trouble to scupper our banana bread.’ he thought to himself. ‘Too bad for them that it will be a waste of money.’ He looked around as he entered the shop and saw that Random, Oaty, Biscuit and Harlequin already had shopping baskets laden with goods. He gave each a cheery wave as he pottered about the shop, carefully selecting the best ingredients that he could lay his paws on. It took him quite a while to get everything he needed and by the time he reached the till, Random had already left the shop. Bluey paid for his goods and walked to the door, where the remaining contestants were deep in conversation.

“Hi Bluey are you looking forward to the next round?” asked Oaty. 

“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge.” said Bluey.

“We were just discussing that big order of bananas.” said Biscuit, indicating to the van outside, which was just driving off.

“Yes, very greedy.” said Oaty.

“I bet that’s put a spanner in the works for you and Socks.” said Harlequin, smiling at Bluey.

“Not at all.” said Bluey smiling back at Harlequin. “We are making something more savoury.”

“But, but you said that you were making a banana bread.” stuttered Harlequin.

“Oh did I?” replied Bluey innocently. “Well we must have changed our minds. 

“But you are not allowed to.” said Harlequin crossly. “It is against the rules to change the dish once you have told the judges what you are going to make.”

“Well maybe we told the judges exactly what we were making,” 

“But why would you tell everybody that you were going to make banana bread?” asked Biscuit. 

“Well I think that we hoped that somebody would slip up.” said Bluey watching the receding van. “I expect that was a very expensive purchase.” 

When Bluey left the store he felt that he had ruffled a few feathers, but was not sure how Socks would take the news that his friend Harlequin could be the bear that was plotting against them.

 

 

Chapter 18: Breaking Bread

Socks Bear ran coughing through the smoke filled corridor towards the half open door. His eyes were stinging and his mouth felt as it was full of hot ashes. He stumbled and crashed into a wall, sending a shower of burning embers into the air. His legs seemed to be as heavy as lead and it felt as though he was running through treacle. He blinked and tried to clear his streaming eyes, the end of the corridor now appeared to be further away. He slowly got to his feet and took a tentative step forward, the floorboards creaked alarmingly, but he pressed onwards until the door was just five paces away. Without warning the floor gave way beneath him leaving one leg trapped at the knee, bright orange flames licked greedily up his leg singeing his fur. Socks let out a roar that was part anger and part fear, and with a strength of ten knitted bears managed to pull himself free. He rushed the few remaining steps to the doorway, but as he got there a bright pink paw grabbed the door from the other side slamming it shut. Instantly everything went black.

Socks woke up with a start, the smell of smoke filled his nostrils, but he realised that this was from the bonfire on the previous day. The sky outside was overcast and a subdued light flowed through the window. He looked around his room, everything was where it was supposed to be, but he still felt uneasy. His night had not been a restful one and he would probably need to get a nap in during the day. He got out of bed and donned his dressing gown then made his way to the kitchen thinking that a nice breakfast would settle his nerves. A short time later he was sitting at his dining table with a plate of steaming scrambled eggs with slices of smoked salmon and warm buttered scones. He looked out of the window and shivered as rain lightly fell against the glass. On the horizon ominous battleships of dark grey thunder clouds bunched together moving slowly towards the coast. After helping himself to a second generous plateful he felt much better and able to face the challenges of the day despite the inclement weather.

The rain was falling heavily when the doorbell rang and Socks got up to answer it, knowing who would be waiting for him. Sure enough the three young cubs were there, wearing wellington boots, raincoats and sharing a bedraggled umbrella between them. Socks quickly ushered them indoors and they trudged in leaving puddles of water in their wake. Socks poured out a jug of hot chocolate into mugs, which they grasped in their eager paws. After consuming the contents they were ready for their meeting.

‘Okay’ said Whitey in a serious voice ‘the first item on our agenda is buying back the Den’

‘Well the good news is that I think that Seed Crisis would be prepared to sell it, but they won’t talk to me until we have got the money.’ said Socks.

‘Do you think that they would lend us the money until you win the competition?’ asked Bluey.

‘While I appreciate your confidence in me,’ said Socks ‘Seed Crisis are not so generous, from what I have learnt about them they are only interested in hard cash.’

‘Would they not accept a deposit?’ asked Whitey.

‘I don’t think that we would be able to raise enough money, but I will be giving them a call and see if there is room for negotiation.’ replied Socks.

‘You will have the prize money when you win’ said Reddy ‘and that’s only three days away.’

‘If I win’ said Socks ‘but that is not until the competition finishes and the builders are due to start work shortly. We need to get our paws on some money before then.’

‘Well, before we win the competition we need to get through the bread round.’ said Bluey.

‘This round is going to be tougher, two contestants are going to be knocked out.’ added Whitey.

‘If we are correct about the dirty tricks, then bananas will be in short supply.’ said Reddy cheerfully. ‘We have been talking about banana bread quite loudly.’

‘When what we actually need is black olives and sun-dried tomatoes. We have to get the best quality ingredients that we can, and we should make the purchases before anybody realises what we are up to.’ said Bluey while consulting his cookery book. ‘I have found a rather good recipe by Paul Bollybear on the Big Bear Corporation (BBC) website that looks delicious. If we serve it with Parma ham and rocket then it should be a winner.’

‘The next item on the agenda is trying to work out who the “inside bear” is in the competition. It is safe to assume that it won’t be anybody who has already been knocked out.’ exclaimed Whitey.

‘OK that leaves Biscuit, Hairy Beary Purple, Harlequin, Oaty, Random, Reddy Eddy, and Strawberry Cupcake’ said Socks ‘but I can’t believe that one of them is resorting to dirty tricks. However, Harlequin Bear was very cagey about letting me know about the competition.’

‘Reddy Eddy was very aggressive about you at the competition yesterday.’ said Bluey, remembering the heated exchange, ‘He seemed very keen to talk badly about you.’

Well one of them is definitely in cahoots with that pink bear.’ said Bluey ‘They were conspiring in the General Store.’

‘Reddy Eddy likes the finer things in life’ said Whitey ‘He enjoys classical music, nouveau cuisine and expensive wines. Maybe he has taken a bribe.’

‘OK let’s distribute the tasks’ said Socks ‘Bluey can go and get the ingredients, Whitey can try and find out a bit more about the pink bear, Reddy, why don’t you try following Reddy Eddy and see if he gets up to anything suspicious? I will contact Seed Crisis and see if they can be flexible about the money.’

‘Shall we meet up at 14:00?’ asked Whitey.

‘Yes’ replied Socks glancing at his watch ‘that gives us three hours, we can have a quick snack before the bread round commences. Let’s try the Ten Green Bananas coffee shop.’

Chapter 17: Getting on like a House on Fire

Socks followed Woofstock back to his house as fast as his furry little legs could carry him. As he reached the pathway to his home he could see an ominous plume of smoke rising into the sky. He tried to remember if he had left the oven on earlier that morning, but was sure that he had switched everything off.

To say that Socks was worried was an understatement. He loved his house with its comfortable rooms and commanding views of the coast. He loved entertaining guests for lavish meals or just a drink and a chat. But most of all he loved getting away from the hustle and bustle of the world and relaxing in his leather chair with a good book and a hot chocolate and maybe a nice slice of cake. To think that he could lose all of this was simply intolerable. This thought spurred him to his pace and he overtook Woofstock by the time that they reached his garden gate.

To his relief, the house appeared dark and still when he peered through the window. He tentatively placed a paw on the the pane, which felt reassuringly cool. His nose wrinkled as he sniffed the air while he looked at the smoke that was billowing into the sky.

‘Come on Woofstock, let’s take a look round the back.’ he said as he carefully walked around the side of his house.

‘Right behind you.’ said The multi coloured bear.

As as Socks walked around the corner to his garden his eyes were immediately drawn to the stack of newspapers that had been set ablaze in the middle of his patio. Judging form the density of the smoke that was surging from the fire, the papers must have originally been quite damp. Thankfully the fire was far enough away from the house to prevent the fire from spreading. Socks quickly ran to his shed where he retrieved his garden hose.

‘Point this at the fire.’ he said to Woofstock while passing the hose to him. ‘I will be right back.’

Socks ran back to the shed and connected the other end to the garden tap, which he turned as fast as he could

‘It does not seem to be working.’ called Woofstock while peering into the end of the hose.

There was a shriek as the full force of the water hit Woofstock in the face. Socks ran over to help get the hose under control and within a few minutes they had doused the burning newspapers and extinguished the fire.

Socks heard the faint sound of approaching sirens. Who would have done this, and more importantly, why? Thought Socks.

Bluey bear paced nervously up and down outside the tent. The sounds of aggressive consumption had diminished and the the judgment would probably be announced very shortly. Hopefully they liked the lemon meringue pie, some people had in the past said that it was too sharp. But really, what did those people know? The important thing was that the judges liked it, and hopefully the fact that they would have thought that they would not get to taste it might swing things in Sock’s favour.

‘Obviously Socks does not think that it is worth his time to stick around for an important event like the judgment.’ said a voice behind Bluey.

Bluey froze in his tracks

‘Arrogant, if you ask me.’ replied another voice.

Bluey turned around to see which of the competitors had been speaking, but all of the bears were trying to appear interested in looking intently at any space that was not occupied by a small angry blue bear.

‘I don’t know who said that, but it was very rude. Mr Socks had to deal with an emergency. He would have been here if he could. You are all jealous because his lemon meringue pie is so nice. That does make him arrogant, that just makes him a better cook than all of you.’

There was a explosion of angry retorts and growls from the other bears, but Bluey held his ground, bristling his fur and raising himself to his full height.

‘Now see here you little cub.’ growled Reddy Eddy angrily. I’m not taking any more of your lip.’

Before Bluey could react, Reddy Eddy had crossed the room at an alarming speed and stopped just in front of him. At 69cm tall Ready Eddy was 20cm taller than Bluey and towered over him.

‘It’s time that somebody taught you some manners.’ he growled.

Bluey gulped nervously, but then was aware that Whitey and Reddy had positioned themselves either side of him.

‘Leave him alone you big bully!’ said Reddy.

‘Or what?’ shouted Ready Eddy.

‘Or we will be forced to report you to the judges for unbecoming conduct.’ said Whitey.

‘Leave it Eddie, he’s not worth it.’ said the Bear with Sue Shef scrawled onto his t shirt.

Ready Eddie turned to his assistant and then looked back at the three bears, he seemed to be uncertain what to do next. Before he could decide, a shadow fell across him as Mega Choccy walked through the tent entrance. At 96cm, Mega Choccy was easily the biggest bear in the group, and the arrival of this large bear caused the aggressive atmosphere to dissipate quite rapidly.

‘Contestants, we have reached a decision. If you would like to join me at the judging table we will be making an announcement.’ rumbled Megga Choccy.

The group of bears made their way to the judging table, which was covered in scattered crumbs. Mary Beary and Jules had already taken their seats and Mega Choccy walked around the table to join them.

‘Well it has been a very good round and we have certainly enjoyed some delicious pies. ‘ said Mary Beary.

‘It really has been a difficult decision, the quality of the pies was quite superb. ‘ said Jules Bear.

‘Two of the stand out dishes were the Steak and kidney pie and the lemon meringue pie, but the star of the show, if you pardon the pun, was the Stargazy pie. ‘ said Mary.

‘Unfortunately there is also some bad news to relay. ‘ said Jules in a somber tone. ‘Honey bear, you will not be joining us for the the next round. while your pastry was divine, The panel felt that the saltiness of the ham dominated the dish to such an extent that we could not appreciate the delicate flavour of the the chicken.’

‘Now speaking of the next round.’ said Megga Choccy getting to his feet ‘we will be focusing on bread. And in order to increase the pressure, two of you will be knocked out of the competition. Bread does not get any tougher than this.’

‘Well I certainly hope that the bread will not be tough.’ said Mary Beary. ‘What we are expecting are delicious and imaginative breads. Savoury or sweet, it’s up to you, but the most important thing is that it has to be delicious.’

‘We look forward to seeing you tomorrow.’ concluded Jules.

The competitors all commiserated with Honey Bear before heading their separate ways.

‘Should we go an buy the bananas now? asked Whitey in a loud voice.

‘No, we will get them in the morning.’ replied Bluey ‘Come on, let’s go and see how Mr Socks’ house is.

Chapter 16: Boomerang Meringue

‘Disqualified, What do you mean?’ asked Socks incredulously.

‘It has been reported that you have been smuggling illegal ingredients into the tent,’ replied Mega Choc in a gruff tone.

‘What, lemons?’

‘Oh, so you admit it then?’

‘What’s illegal about a lemon?’

That’s not the point. As I have said there has been a complaint about your conduct.’

‘By whom?’ asked Socks.

‘I am not at liberty to divulge the identity of the contestant.’

‘Contestant?’

‘Please forget that I said that.’ replied Mega Choc.

‘Well if that’s how you feel, then maybe I should just leave.’ said Socks crossly.

‘If that’s how you feel, then maybe that is for the best.’

‘And maybe I shall take my lemon meringue pie with me.’ said Socks, reaching for his dish.

‘Now let’s not be too hasty,’ said another voice from the judging panel.

‘No obviously this is a delicious but highly illegal desert.’ replied Socks turning for the door.

‘Frosty! Do something.’ said Mary Beary urgently.

Frosty started tapping the screen of his tablet and commenced swiping through multiple pages.

‘Hurry.’ said Mary while watching the rapidly receding pie.

‘Well I cannot see anything in the rules about late submission of ingredients.’ said Frosty.

‘Good!’ said Mary.

‘And as it has been pointed out, lemons are not in themselves illegal.’ continued Frosty.

‘So does that mean that he can stay?’

‘Yes.’

Excuse me Mr Socks Bear.’ called out Mary Beary in a pleasant tone.

‘By this time Socks had reached the tent entrance, he paused.

Umm, we have had a discussion and have decided that you can stay,’ said Mary Beary.

‘Have you?’ said Socks without turning.

‘Yes, and so can your pie.’ said Jules Bear.

Socks turned smiling and walked back to the table. As he walked he could see the relief in the eyes of the judges.

‘Excellent, that’s decided then.’ said Mary Beary. ‘Now if you can all wait outside my colleagues and I have some serious judging to do.’

By the time that Socks reached the exit the three judges had been unable to restrain themselves any longer and Socks could hear what sounded like a scuffle interspersed with some frantic chomping.

Socks exited the tent and walked over to where the three young cubs were waiting for him.

‘Great work with the lemons.’ he said. ‘I was starting to worry that I would have to make a pastry and meringue pie.’

‘Did you find out who called for your disqualification?’ asked Reddy.

‘No but somebody definitely wants me out of the competition, but I have no idea who or why,’

‘Well it’s definitely that pink bear’ said Bluey.’ he only bought all the lemons because he knew that we needed them.’

‘Yes, but it was a fellow competitor who raised the objection about the lemons, so we know that there are at least two bears involved.’ said Socks.

‘It’s going to be a while before the judges make a decision.’ said Whitey. ‘Why don’t we start writing up a list of our suspects?

‘We also need to decide what we are going to make for tomorrow’s round we don’t want to get caught out because of ingredients again’ said Bluey.

‘Providing we get through to the next round.’ said Socks.

‘We will get through, your lemon meringue pie is a winner and the judges thought that they were going to miss out on it, so they are bound to give it a High mark.’ replied Bluey.

‘What is the next round?’ asked Socks?

Its bread Mr Socks, do you have any ideas?

Hmmm, I think that a nice olive and sun dried tomato bread might be a good idea.’ Said Socks quietly, before continuing in a much louder voice ‘Well, I have always been partial to a nice slice of banana bread.

‘My favourite.’ Said Reddy.

‘Right then.’ Said Socks. ‘There are currently nine other contestants, one of whom is in cahoots with our pink friend. One contestant is going to get knocked out this round, assuming that the judges are not also involved then the ‘bad guy’ could be knocked out this round.’

‘Do you think that judges are involved?’ Asked Whitey

‘Well they could be, but if they were then it is likely that the disqualification would have been upheld.’ Replied Socks.

‘Frosty raised the complaint initially, but it was Mega Choc who really argued for you to go.’ said Bluey.

‘Well Mary Beary was definitely on your side.’ said Reddy.

‘She was on the pie’s side. They all were, when they thought that they were going to lose it.’ Said Socks with a smile, ‘OK! I suggest that we each take two of the other contestants and try and find out as much we can about them.’

Their conversation was interrupted by the sudden arrival of a bright multicoloured bear who Socks recognised as Woofstock bear.

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ gasped the panting bear. ‘But you better come quickly Socks, I was just walking past your house and I think that it is on fire!.’

Chapter 15: Easy Peazey Lemon Squeezey

  • 6oz self raising flour
  • 3oz cubed butter
  • Juice of 3 large lemons
  • Cold water
  • 2 tablespoons of custard powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Socks stood at his table and looked around. He glanced hopefully at the entrance to the tent but there was still no sign of the cubs. The other contestants were all hard at work on their various concoctions and Socks realised that he had no choice but to start work on his own creation. He sieved the flour into a large mixing bowl and then rubbed cubes of butter into the flour using his paws. As he worked on the mixture a sense of calm came over him and he started to focus on the simple action of making pastry. Once the dough had reached a stage where it resembled breadcrumbs he added small amounts of water until it become a soft ball.

When Socks was satisfied that the ball had the correct consistency, he wrapped it in cling film and placed it on a spare shelf in one of the fridges. It would need to rest for about twenty minutes before he could start turning it into a pie. Socks really would have liked to be able to start work on the lemon filling, but the critical ingredient was still missing. Another look at the entrance confirmed that the lemons would not be arriving anytime soon.

Socks turned his attention to his fellow cooks who were all busy at work. Socks noted with surprise that each of his competitors had brought an assistant with them. This was probably because they felt miffed that Socks had Bluey working with him in the first round. However judging from the general air of confusion the assistants had not necessarily been selected for their culinary expertise. Socks suppressed a grin as the bear who was assisting Oaty slipped on some rhubarb that he had spilled earlier and ended up with his paw in a jug of custard. A fairly burly bear who was supposed to be helping Reddy Eddy was standing with his arms folded, looking very self-conscious in a t-shirt with the words “Sue Shef” scrawled on the back.

As he looked at his fellow contestants Socks found it hard to believe that one of them was working as part of a conspiracy to ensure that he lost the competition. He considered himself to be a bear who saw the best in everybody. However, unless Bluey was mistaken, there was certainly a bad apple in the barrel. He retrieved a notebook from his jacket and jotted down the names of the eight other bears.

Socks padded over to the fridge and took his pastry out. He sprinkled a generous amount of flour onto the worktop and then used a rolling pin to flatten and roll out the pastry to the correct size for his pie dish. He used butter to grease the dish before he carefully put the pastry onto the base. He pricked the pastry several times before placing a piece of baking paper on top and used a crust of bread to keep it in place.

Harlequin noticed what he was doing and called over ‘What are you using bread for? Rice is much better for getting to the edge.’

‘My method has its advantages.’ said Socks in an enigmatic manner as he carried the pie to the oven to blind bake for 20 minutes.

When Socks returned to his station he turned his attention to the audience everybody appeared to be enjoying themselves and the atmosphere was of good-natured attention. He scanned the rows, hoping to see a familiar, friendly figure until his gaze fell upon the face of the bright pink bear that he had seen from the previous round. The bear held his gaze for what seemed like a long time before producing a large lemon from his pocket with a theatrical flourish. He winked at Socks while deftly slicing the lemon into segments with a small pocketknife and then with a triumphant smile took a large bite from one of the pieces. The effect was spoilt somewhat by the coughing, eye watering and spluttering that immediately followed. Socks chuckled to himself as he returned his attention to his work station.

As Socks was cleaning his utensils he saw a flash of yellow at ground level. There were a couple more before Socks felt an impact on his foot. As he looked down he saw a fresh bright lemon underneath his table, within seconds this was joined by two more. Socks looked to the tent entrance and saw the young Cubs were waving enthusiastically. Bluey took an apron from the hook before hurrying over to join Socks at the table.

‘Sorry we took so long Mr Socks, you look like you have been having a hard round.’

Socks looked at one of the mirrors that had been set up to provide the audience with a better view. He was covered from head to toe in flour and had butter on his nose.

‘So the plan worked then?’ He asked Bluey before picking up the lemons from the floor.

‘Oh yes, MRP saved the day!’ said Bluey. ‘Now how can I help?’

‘Can you make a start on the lemon filling please?’ said Socks looking at the audience for the pink bear, who appeared to have vanished.

Bluey took the juice from the three large lemons and poured it into jug. He then added enough water to make up a pint of liquid. He added two spoonful’s of custard powder to a saucepan before slowly pouring in the juice. He transferred the saucepan to the heat and slowly brought it to the boil whilst stirring constantly.

While Bluey was dealing with the saucepan, Socks got a large mixing bowl. He checked that it was thoroughly clean and dry before separating three eggs and adding the whites to the bowl. He took a whisk and began furiously whisking.

Meanwhile Bluey had removed his saucepan from the heat. He added the egg yolks to the mixture, which had now thickened. Most bears would add some sugar at this stage but not Socks, he preferred a very tart, tart. While Bluey was busy with the saucepan Socks retrieved the pie dish from the oven. He removed the slice of bread, which was now nicely toasted and smothered a generous amount of butter before pouring on a large quantity of honey. He placed the toasted bread on a plate.  He then carefully poured in the lemon mixture into the pie dish.

Socks called across to Harlequin and when he had got his attention he bit into the heavenly buttery, sweet slice of toast.

‘That’s the advantage I was referring to” he said between mouthfuls.

Socks now had a bowl full of meringue with soft white peaks. He looked at Bluey who nodded at him. Socks picked up the bowl and held it upside down over Bluey’s head. The audience clapped and cheered as thankfully the mixture remained in the bowl. Socks looked at the crowd again and saw that the pink bear had retaken his seat and was the only member of the audience who was not applauding.

After folding almost all of the sugar into the firmly beaten egg whites Socks then spooned the meringue on top of the lemon mixture. When he had covered it completely and then sprinkled the remaining sugar over the top he returned the pie to the oven to bake for a further 45 minutes, on a low heat.

While they were waiting for the pie to cook, Socks asked Bluey to describe the earlier events at the store. The overheard conversation and the behaviour of the pink bear offered no clue to the identity of the agent that was working against them. After a prolonged conversation Socks suggested that they all meet up later that evening in order to work on a surveillance strategy.

Socks looked through the oven window. The meringue peaks had turned a lovely brown colour and he judged that it was now time to get the pie out. He opened the door and was hit by the delicious smell of lemon and pastry. In a moment of madness he considered grabbing the pie and running off home with it so that he could scoff the lot. Sanity returned and Socks donned his best oven gloves and removed the pie from the oven. He proudly carried his creation to the judges’ table where a number of the competing pies had already been placed. Socks looked up at the judges and saw that they were already licking their chops in anticipation.

As Socks walked back to Bluey he saw that he was deep in conversation with Frosty. Bluey was visibly upset so Socks hurried over.

‘What’s going on here?’ He asked once he reached the pair.

‘It’s bad news I’m afraid.’ said Frosty. It appears that there has been a complaint and a call for your disqualification from the competition.