Mary Berry, doyenne of The Tent, crunched down on a gin-and-tonic crisp, brushed crumbs off her Monet-patterned blazer, and sighed. “Of course I know that,” she said, as the recipe card burst into flames. The last thing to burn was the warning that, if any of her operatives were caught or captured (a distinction she did not think was actually a difference) the Secretary would disavow all knowledge of the Impeccable Missions group.
Mary bitterly missed Sue and Mel, who were on secondment to the United States Department of State (better known as “Soggy Bottom”). Nevertheless, she knew that the Leavenage organization she had created was the best of the best. What had seemed to millions to be a mere baking show had secretly been the means of recruiting those who could stand the heat, and casting aside those who ought to get out of the kitchen. Unlike a tart shell that had not been blind-baked, Mary Berry never shrank from reality. Sometimes, in order to catch a malefactor, it was necessary to step away from the contestants, and a little bit outside the law.
Nadiya’s face came up on the Skype screen. “Got one for me, Boss?” she asked.
“I think so,” Mary said. “I would love if it you…”
An hour later, Nadiya had assembled the team and was explaining the mission to Rav, Andrew, and Candice.
Andrew and Candice were shocked at the target’s perfidy. “One of the worst we’ve ever tackled,” Andrew said. “But that’s what makes it matter,” Candice said, applying three coats of mars violet lippie by touch alone.
Rav remained imperturbable as ever. Andrew cracked his knuckles, and in just a few keystrokes of his laptop tapped into the site for the target’s security system.
“We’ll have a job of work getting around them,” Nadiya said. “There’s twelve of them and all, and only four of us!”
“They’re always identical,” Andrew said. “All of his Angels are tall and fat-free. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ll be sweet and fluffy if you cross them.”
“What about my Cardamom Collins persona?” Candice asked. “An international woman of mystery can go anywhere, and deploy her seductive wiles.”
“I wouldn’t disagree,” Andrew said. “But will it work in this case? All my sources say he’s happily married. All those photographs with his wife and kids…gives to children’s charities…”
“But think of what Mary told us. Deep down, I think he’s a King Cake with a very nasty surprise indeed inside,” Candice said.
Rav nodded. “You’ll get him out of the way, Candice. Then it’ll all be up to me.” He was certain that Candice’s plan would be startling. Bold. Creative. If only she completed it on time.
Two days later, “Cardamom Collins” flipped open her alligator card case, showing her press credentials. “I’d like to see you…alone,” she murmured seductively. Two Angels tried to block her path, but tycoon and philanthropist Goldensyrup Spongefinger dismissed them with a curt nod. (He planned to announce Curt Nog, a non-alcoholic festive beverage, when he was presented with his award.) “C’mon up to my suite, honey. You’re hotter than…160, fan.”
In the private elevator, Candice renewed her coat of lip balm, and covered it with the very special lip gloss that Nadiya had brewed, red as Andrew’s cheeks during an interview explaining a dodgy Technical. When the door of the suite closed behind her, she opened the cover of her iPad (with her phone recording everything that happened). “Thank you for giving me this interview, Mr. Spongefinger. I’ve heard we can expect some exciting new product introductions at FingerFoods. What can you tell me?”
“Oh, forget that nonsense,” Spongefinger muttered, lunging at Candice.
Candice felt it was only fair to give him another chance. “My presence here is strictly professional, Mr. Spongefinger.”
But he crushed her in his arms and forced his mouth down upon hers. Whatever gratification he expected from the embrace, it wasn’t a powerful sedative that sent him crashing down to the carpet.
Two women entered the Ladies’ Cloakroom at the same time. The taller woman finished scrubbing off her lipstick. She gave a thumbs-up to the smaller woman, who gave her a congratulatory hug. Candice tore up her Cardamom Collins press pass and binned the shreds. She turned her leopard-printed coat inside-out, revealing a drab mackintosh. Candice twisted her long locks into a plum bun—that is, a prim bun—and pulled on a gray crocheted hat with an orange flower. As if her naked lips weren’t disguise enough.
Once Candice left, Nadiya removed her blue paisley hijab. With a smile, she reached into her tote bag. She unfolded a green hijab the exact shade of the marzipan draped over a Prinzessetorte, and stowed the red hijab inside the blue paisley one. Nadiya returned to the SuperHyperHotel Platinum banquet room. Presentation of the Bikkies Awards, the highest honors in confectionary, was already in progress.
Rav waited calmly for his part in the mission. He sat at a table close to the stage, contemplatively munching on one of the cookie lions contributed to the event by Empire Records. His eyes lit up when he saw Nadiya’s green hijab. “All systems go,” he murmured to himself.
At the same happy sight, Andrew pressed the button concealed in the center of the carnation in his lapel. The live feed began. “Come in, Queen of Puddings, Kouign-Amann has gone green. Mission is a go. Repeat, mission is a go. Battenberg, out.”
“Good job, Battenberg!” Mary said. “Star Bakers all ‘round!”
The master of ceremonies announced that this year’s coveted Financiere award went to Goldensyrup Spongefinger. As the applause swelled, Rav walked up the steps and took his place at the center of the stage. In the audience, Nadiya caught her breath. It was amazing that a stocky guy in a black turban could impersonate a tall, skinny bloke with silvered blond hair, but being a master of disguise had to count for something.
“You think you know me,” Rav addressed the crowd of influential bakers. “But I’m not the man you think I am! Instead of selling wholesome treats for children, I have deliberately addicted them to excessive salt and inferior-quality sweeteners! I have allowed unsanitary conditions to exist in my factories to cut costs, while imposing unjustifiable price increases! And I have used trans fats made from unsustainably sourced rain forest palm trees!” Most of the audience shrugged, but there were a few boos, that grew into a chorus as people decided that if everyone else was booing, they should too. “I can no longer live with myself!” Rav shouted, drawing a pistol from his pocket and immediately shooting himself in the head. He crumpled backwards and now the audience sat, open-mouthed, frozen with horror. The huge screen on the stage that had showed the podium now showed only brocade curtains and blankness.
“Step aside! I’m a doctor!” Nadiya shouted, lifting the doctor’s bag as corroboration. Andrew rushed to the stage, waving a warrant card and yelling “DCI Kelmscott!” Nadiya knelt, being careful to avoid the sticky mass of beet juice and corn syrup (they had to source that, they certainly didn’t stock it in The Tent) covering Rav’s face and pooled behind his head. Nadiya shook her head. Her concerned face filled the screen. “Life is extinct,” she said. The audience burst into sighs, sobs, and calls to their brokers to dump FingerFoods stock.
Andrew directed several audience members to form a sling out of a couple of banquet tablecloths, and they hustled Rav out to the waiting ambulance. Candice stepped on the gas and drove away.
When the real police arrived, they couldn’t get much useful information from those attendees who hadn’t rushed out the door, and the video footage wasn’t helpful either, so they decided to head up to the dead man’s hotel suite.
Spongefinger, conscious but with a hell of a headache, bellowed “Go get that bitch! Full Yorkshire!”
“What does that mean?” one of the police constables asked.
“It’s all batter-y!” explained one of the Angels. They were not hired because they were the sharpest citrus zester in the drawer. Another Angel earnestly explained to Spongefinger that he couldn’t order them around any more, he was dead.
“Of course I’m not dead!”
“I saw it on YouTube,” the Angel said conclusively.
Spongefinger hunted down his cellphone and started calling members of the FingerFoods board of directors, who all told him that under the circumstances they’d all be better off if he was dead but in the meantime he was fired and new management would be put into place that wouldn’t tolerate any improper practices.
At the tent, Andrew finished piping cream over the crystal bowl filled with sponge cake (soaked in fruit juice in deference to religious sensibilities), jam, and custard. He scattered flaked almonds and candied violets over the top as Rav passed around mugs of tea. “Just a trifle,” Andrew said.
“But perfectly executed,” Mary said. “Just what I like.”