“What brings you to this part of the kingdom?” Bobbin asked Portino as the growing band of travelers continued their way south. Sahnik trotted ahead of the group, examining fascinating new smells.
“To seek my fortune, I guess,” Portino replied with a shrug. “My family’s pretty poor, so me and Sahnik set out from home a couple weeks ago. My ma wasn’t too happy with the idea, but at least she has two less mouths to feed now.”
“What are you hoping to find on your journey?” Haskin inquired. Portino shrugged again.
“I reckon I’d like to open up a restaurant someday. Maybe if I can get apprenticed somewhere and learn the trade, that would be good. But for now,” Portino grinned, “I wouldn’t mind finding myself an adventure or two.”
“That’s what we’re looking for!” Wendy said excitedly.
“Is that right? And where do you three hail from?”
“The Whyte Castle,” responded Wendy. “I’m Wendy, and this Haskin and Bobbin.”
“Haskin and Bobbin,” Portino repeated in some awe. “I love your ice cream!”
The two women smiled serenely.
“I invented the Frostbyte!” piped Wendy, not wanting to be left out.
“What’s a Frostbyte?” asked Portino.
“Let’s go find an adventure, shall we?” Haskin cut in hurriedly, before Wendy could respond.
It was dusk when the weary travelers found themselves standing alongside a split rail fence which bordered a large farm.
“Perhaps we can find a place to stay the night here,” suggested Haskin, looking at the small farm house in the near distance.
“And maybe some supper too,” added Portino. “I’m starved.”
Just then, a figure came bustling out of a nearby barn, a pail in each hand. He was a strange-looking figure; tall and rail-thin with long, lanky hair. His clothing was disheveled, dirty, and too small for his bony frame. When the man turned to look upon the travelers, Wendy also noted the large, protruding, front teeth and slightly crossed eyes. With a goofy grin, the man loped over to the fence. Wendy stifled a giggle and Bobbin shot her a warning look.
“Evenin,’! Can I he’p you?” drawled the buck-toothed man.
“Yes,” said Haskin. “My companions and I are seeking a place to spend the night and to perhaps find a meal. Would you be able to accommodate us? If not, perhaps you know of another place we can go.”
The man put down his pails, and with one hand, absent-mindedly rumpling his hair.
“Gee, I dunno…Reckon you’re gonna haveta talk ta Mr. McDougal. He owns this here farm. Maybe he can ac…acom…acco…domate ya.” He turned toward the farm house and yelled, “Mr. McDouuuuugal! There’s folks wantin’ ta see ya!” A few moments later, the farm house door opened and out stepped a large man with bright red, curly hair which clashed terribly with the bright yellow overalls and the red and white striped shirt that he was wearing.
“That you doin’ all that yellin,’ Johnny Jim?” said the man with a booming, lilting voice and a jovial grin.
“Yes sir, it’s me, Johnny Jim,” replied Johnny Jim. “There’s folks wantin’ ta…”
“Aye, lad, aye. I heerd ya the first time.” He strode over to the group. He was a pleasant-looking man despite his unfortunate taste in clothing. Although his belly tended to bulge, he still gave the impression of strength, no doubt developed by years of hard farm labor.
“The name’s Ronny McDougal,” said the farmer, leaning casually on the fence.
“And I’m Johnny Jim!” added Johnny Jim proudly.
“I think they already know that, boyo. Now,” McDougal said as he turned his attention back to the travelers. “What can I do for you lot?”
“Please sir,” Haskin spoke, “we’re looking for a place to spend the night, and perhaps find a meal as well.”
“Well lass, you’ve come to the right place. You won’t find any food better than McDougal’s, and that’s the truth. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for the lot of you to sleep in the farm house, but the barn is clean and the weather’s been pleasant of late. It’ll make for a comfortable night’s rest to be sure.”
“They can use my room if that helps. I don’t mind spending the night in the barn.” A young man, tall, muscular and red-headed like the farmer, had come from around the farm house. McDougal waved the man over with a grin.
“This soul of generosity is my son, Angus.”
“Friends call me Big Mick,” said the young man with a smile as he ambled toward the group.
“Hi Big Mick,” said Wendy.
“Well, hello to you, small fry,” Big Mick said with a laugh. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Wendy,” said Wendy. “And this,” continued the girl, gesturing to each person, “is Haskin, Bobbin, Portino and Sahnic.”
“And I’m Johnny Jim,” said Johnny Jim.
McDougal let out a sigh.
“You know, Johnny lad,” said McDougal, putting an arm around his farmhand and tapping one of the pails with the toe of his big red boot, “I think I hear the chickens a’callin’ ya. They’re wonderin’ where ya got ta.”
“What?” Johnny said confusedly.
McDougal leaned forward and whispered, “The hens aren’t goin’ to feed themselves, now are they?” The farmer looked pointedly at the pails.
“Oh right!” Johnny quickly snatched up the pails. “I got to feed the chickens!” With that, he hurried off.
“Johnny may not be the brightest star in the sky,” said McDougal, shaking his head and laughing, “but he does his job well.”
“He gets about twice as much work done as the both of us put together,” said Big Mick. “He’s stinkin’ fast.”
“Aye,” added McDougal, “but stinkin’ good.”
Supper that evening consisted of burgers and fries. Although Wendy preferred the grilled meat that King Burger insisted on, McDougal’s burgers did have a unique quality to it that the girl couldn’t quite put her finger on. What Wendy enjoyed the most, however, were the fries.
“They’re homemade,” Big Mick stated proudly as he watched Wendy shoveling several fries into her mouth. “We use our own potatoes. In fact, that’s our main crop. People come from all over the kingdom to buy from us.”
“So, how are you likin’ them fries, Wendy darlin’?” inquired McDougal with a twinkle in his eye. He had noticed how much the girl had eaten.
“Mrrrmmphh,” replied Wendy, her mouth crammed full.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” chided Haskin.
Wendy nodded, chewing quickly, then swallowing.
“Well?” asked McDougal, grinning. Wendy smiled and reached for more fries.
“I love it!”
It was agreed that Wendy, Haskin, and Bobbin would stay the night in the farm house, while Big Mick, Portino and Sahnik would spend the night in the barn. As McDougal had said, the weather proved to be quite pleasant. The hay was clean and comfortable and soon the barn’s occupants were fast asleep. No one heard the approach of the masked stranger as he quietly made his way to the house.
He crept to the back door and gently turned the knob. The door, unlocked, swung open, just as the stranger knew it would. He had been watching the farm for a number of weeks now and had carefully noted the comings and goings of its residents. Although he had been a bit surprised by the arrival of the visitors, he had decided that they would pose no threat to his plans.
He would do it tonight.
It didn’t have to be this way, the stranger mused ruefully. It was just that people couldn’t seem to take him seriously. He had the talent and ambition to be one of the finest chefs in Dryvthru. However, it was his unfortunate speech impediment that people only seemed to notice. In his struggle to gain capital to start up his first restaurant, he was laughed away by one investor after another. Now in desperation and bitterness, he turned to crime, stealing anything of value to sell on the black market. If everything went according to plan tonight, the stranger determined, McDougal’s farm would provide his biggest windfall yet. He might even make enough money to finally start his own restaurant.
For years, there had been a persistent rumor among restaurateurs that Ronny McDougal possessed a secret ingredient that he added to his food, causing those who consumed them to form an unquenchable craving. This rumor was reinforced by the repeat business enjoyed by the farmer. Proof of such an ingredient had yet to surface, but the whispers continued. If it turned out that there was indeed a secret ingredient, there was no telling how much people would be willing to pay for it. So thought the masked stranger as he silently crossed the threshold and entered the kitchen. He began to carefully examine all the jars and bottles that lined the cabinets, all of them neatly labeled. Salt. Pepper. Cinnamon. Oregano. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Growing frustrated, the stranger started to think that this might have been a wasted trip when his eyes lighted upon a bottle that was pushed toward the back of one of the cabinets. The stranger’s heart began to beat faster. This bottle didn’t have a label on it like all the others. And it looked as though the person who had used it last wanted it to be as inconspicuous as possible. This was it, the stranger thought excitedly as he took a step forward to claim his prize.
The stranger’s feet slipped out from under him and he crashed to the floor. His hand landed in something wet and sticky. In fact, it seemed that he had fallen in a large puddle of the unknown substance. He raised his dripping hand and cautiously sniffed it. Was that chocolate he smelled? Suddenly a lantern flared to life, momentarily blinding the stranger. He scrambled to his feet and as his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a scowling little red-headed girl in a night dress, spattered from head to toe with the chocolatey liquid.
“Look what you did!” growled Wendy as McDougal, Haskin and Bobbin stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen.
“Wendy, what has happened?” Haskin asked in confused apprehension.
“Who is this man?” Bobbin blurted out almost simultaneously.
“Faith ‘n Begorrah! What’s happened to me kitchen?” McDougal bellowed, taking in the mess around him. “There’s melted chocolate ice cream everywhere!”
Just then Big Mick burst through the open back door with Portino and Sahnik close behind.
“We heard a commotion,” said Big Mick, picking hay out of his tousled hair.
“I just wanted to make a Frostbyte,” Wendy fumed, “and this guy came in and splashed chocolate all over me.”
All eyes turned to the masked man.
“Just what the devil do you think you’re playing at breaking into my house?” McDougal glowered menacingly.
The stranger knew that there was no escape for him. However, he now had an audience, and a chance to justify his villainy. He would eloquently and boldly confess his plan and condemn those who had driven him to it. He would confront McDougal and his unethical use of his secret ingredient. But when he opened his mouth, it wasn’t the grand speech he envisioned that came out. To his mortification, his speech impediment reared its ugly head.
“Burgle burgle,” blurted the Hambandit miserably.