Read an Excerpt
The Mystery of the Lost Centurions
You would never believe our newest mystery started out with a cake baking exercise, but it did and so I'll tell you exactly how.
The United Way campaign had begun. All sorts of plans were suggested to make money. Different projects were tried to raise 12 million dollars to support the social and welfare programs of our region and our high school was involved. The students were having a bake sale auction as their contribution.
Amy promised to make chocolate chip cookies. Brenda decided to use 'Smarties' instead of chips in her cookies. Lisa specializes in chewy granola bars. Bobby said he could make cupcakes with sprinkles. Everyone seemed to have good ideas.
I'm not a cook. It just isn't me. Jennifer suggested we work together. She's one of my best friends and thought maybe the two of us could come up with something. Unfortunately everyone had to put their names on their donations. If someone got food poisoning, the guilty party could be traced. Worse than that, we could be labelled as failures, crummy cooks. My first year in high school I wanted to make a good impression. I thought that an elaborate genoise cake with a mocha frosting would be a wonderful entry. I'm good at tasting because I get lots of practice. My father likes to bake. He's good at it. I came up with the idea that maybe I could convince him to bake something special for me.
"Dad, could you make a prize winning cake for me," I asked sweetly.
Whenever I talk like this my father looks at me suspiciously.
"Why do you want a cake?"
"It's for a good cause. It's for the school baking auction for the United Way campaign."
"And you want meto bake a cake! Aren't the students supposed to be doing the baking?" he replied.
"Well, technically yes, but I thought since it's such a good cause and we are trying to raise money that your cake would fetch a higher price."
"Aren't you and Jennifer working together?"
"Well, yes, but you see she doesn't do much baking and I do less. Couldn't you just do it for us!"
My father stood up and went over to the shelf that held his cookbook library. "I'll tell you what I can do. If you and Jennifer want to create something special, I'll help, but you have to do all the work. I can supervise."
"Well, I guess that's O.K.," I said. "Could I invite her over tomorrow afternoon, so we can have our masterpiece ready for Monday morning?"
It took us all afternoon to make. We chose to make a maple cake layered with strawberries. We measured out the flour, the sugar, used the correct amounts of milk, water, salt, eggs, baking powder, and butter creamed in the mixer.
The batter tasted wonderful. We watched it bake in the oven. We learned how to use a serrated knife to cut the two nine round genoise buttermilk cakes into layers. This cake has six layers. Each layer is smothered in whipped cream over a generous amount of sliced fresh strawberries. We had to do the whipping and the slicing, and the frosting took time to make on the stove. The maple syrup boiled up and was incorporated into meringue for icing. The layers were put together on a large, firm plate placed on a Lazy Susan, and Jennifer used a large spatula to cover the sides and top of the cake with our maple meringue icing. Our cake looked absolutely heavenly.
"It looks great!" I said.
"I wish we could have a piece," Jennifer moaned.
Later, with extreme care, we lifted the plate with the cake intact and placed it in the fridge. A large cover that fit the plate exactly protected our creation. We could carry the whole thing in a carton.
"Oh, thanks Dad, it's a winner."
"Don't look at me, you girls did it. But you're not finished yet!"
"What have we forgotten?" Jennifer asked. "We did everything according to the recipe and your instructions."
"You need to sell it. A small descriptive phrase on a card would be a nice finishing touch," my father said.
The old English script on our card reads:
We took our cake to the Home Economics lab kitchen with instructions to keep it in the fridge until the auction.
The auction was a madhouse. Senior students and teachers came to the lab during the first lunch hour. The lunch hour for grades 9 and 10 was later. When we arrived our cake had disappeared, so I didn't see who bought it.
Jennifer and I talked to our friends, but no one knew where it had gone. Had someone stolen our cake? The seniors denied even seeing it on the display tables with the hundreds of cookies, muffins, date squares, cakes and granola bars. No one saw a teacher with it.
"Well, Meghan, did you sell your cake?" my father asked after school.
"Dad, it's gone. It just disappeared. No one claims to have bought it." I could see his disappointment. I felt robbed, abused. Where was our cake? The second day of the sale was a letdown, nothing looked good; nothing compared to our cake.
Jennifer phoned me right after school. She had discovered a clue.
"Mr. Synder, the janitor says he saw the Vice-principal's secretary take a cake into the staff room."
"But was it our cake? There were other cakes at the sale," I said.
Next day, in homeroom class, Mr. Slater came over to us. He seemed unusually happy.
"Meghan, Jennifer, your cake was delicious. I've never tasted better. Our teachers' association wondered if you could bake one for our study group next week?"
"You're what happened to our cake!" Jennifer blurted out.
Mr. Slater beamed. "Oh no, your cake was bought by the whole staff. The United campaign received at least $60.00, thanks to your culinary skills."