An incredibly overdue update of my short story. Apologies for the delay (I’ve been busy!)
But meanwhile, with Jason hurtling down the corridors, the atmosphere in the conference was surprisingly calm.
“Seven across, ‘Strange box on Naps Road – don’t open it!'” Stephen – 67 – read out from the newspaper.
“Pandora’s,” Miles Boren told him wearily, “Next?”
“You’re very good at these,” Stephen said, almost scoldingly.
“They say the sign that you have truly learnt a language is when you can solve its cryptic crosswords,” Filsan piped up in fluent, exquisitely pronounced English.
“Your English is very good, Filsan, I must say. Especially for someone who only started learning at 13, was it?” Miles said.
Miles was probably about to reply when there came an almighty thud from the door. There was the unmistakable sound of a man’s belt being released from two metal door handles, and then the doors swung open to reveal Jason, who was now brandishing the belt and looking rather disheveled. He grinned at the sight of everyone.
“Jason!” exclaimed several people, “Thank God!”
He made a bee-line for Filsan and threw his arms around her. “Filsan! Say something in English! Anything!”
“Er… I really need a wee,” she replied.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard!” Jason kissed her on the cheek and ran towards Tia.
“Tia! You’re all grown-up!”
He approached Stephen: “So are you!”
“I beg your pardon?!” Stephen replied.
“Can we resume filming now?” the director asked, “Have they fixed the gas leak?”
“Yes, the gas leak. The reason we had to suddenly abandon the kitchen!”
“Gas leak…” Jason repeated. Clearly, while he’d been away, a fictional gas leak had been created as a rationale for why everyone was locked in a conference room. Where the rumour had started, Jason didn’t know, but it certainly made his job a lot easier. “Yes, it’s all fixed and we’re 100% safe to return to the kitchens. Come on then!”
They all filed out and quickly resumed their places in the kitchen and backstage area. After a quick, hushed discussion with Miles and Weston, the director called “Action!” and filming resumed.
“Your time is up in three…two…one!” Miles declared.
“Stop cooking!” Weston exclaimed, “Step away from your plates. First we want to call up Sylvia to the judging table.”
Sylvia squealed happily and skipped to the front counter with her beautifully presented duck, brie and cinnamon pie. Once Miles and Weston had finished sampling the dish and saying “Ooh, aah, mmm!” they called up Stephen, then Angela then the other contestants, each time making suitably delighted noises for the camera whilst simultaneously seeming quite overwhelmed. They disliked Stephen’s spice combination and brought Sylvia to tears by calling her pastry “slightly dry”. Someone else had undercooked their meat and Angela’s salmon was “salty”.
Jason was the last to be called up and his excitement and fear built with every second.
He carried his blue casserole dish to the table with shaking hands and grinned as he placed the Beef Wellington in front of the judges. He was worried that after five dishes already, Miles and Weston wouldn’t be hungry for his offering, but they were both salivating. The camera zoomed in on the Beef Wellington and then flicked between the judges’ delighted faces.
“I have to say, before we tuck in, this is the most exquisite looking pastry I have ever seen,” Weston said, jabbing it with his fork, “Just look at that golden colour, and it’s so crisp and light.” Miles murmured in agreement. He didn’t care about the presentation – he just wanted to scoop a forkful of meat into his slobbering mouth.
“Shall we have a taste then?” He asked pointedly, glaring at Weston. Weston smiled and cut into the pastry. Gravy and beef and mushroom spilled out in a cloud of steam and gorgeous scent. They each took a dainty bite, resisting the urge to scoop it up.
“Mmmmmmmmm!” they said.
“This is exquisite, Jason. Well done,” Weston told him.
Miles added, “I just think it’s incredible that you managed to make this and cook it so perfectly even with the commotion of the gas leak–”
“Cut!!!” The director’s scream ricocheted across the room.
“We decided not to mention the, uh, incident,” the director said. “Let’s try that again… Action!”
“Isn’t it incredible that you managed to cook this so perfectly even with the time limits and the stress of the competition – I am blown away by this dish, honestly,” Miles repeated.
“My only tiny criticism would be that you could have used some more thyme,” Weston said.
“Believe me, I used plenty of time,” Jason replied through gritted teeth.
“OK, cut, we’ve got enough now. Thanks everyone,” the director said. The camera crew began to shuffle. “Contestants go and take a break and make-up will fix you up. Let’s go film the decision sequence. Remember, only two people are going through to the next round.”
And that was that! Jason had done all he could now he just had to wait. As he walked back towards the makeup room, where he had started his adventure, his pulse was quickening and his hands shaking.
Check back SOON (I promise…) for the next instalment. I think it will be the final part. Who do you think will qualify?