Lucas, in his white apron and pastel nametag, saw that the ever-popular eclairs were running low. He left Beverly to tend to the customers as he went to gather more. Smiling, he reached into one of the racks in the kitchen and pulled out the fresh pastries to fill the empty tray.
“We’re going to need more eclairs,” Lucas mused, “they’re almost all gone back here, too.”
“Well, what else is new?” Jonah laughed. “I’ll get someone on it once we’re done with these pies,” he said as he gestured loosely to the delectables around him. Lucas had helped unload the giant crates of peaches and blueberries that morning, and seeing their baked form made his mouth water. More than that, he longed to make one, perhaps with a cracker crust, carefully baked and topped with a little sugar. No, drizzled honey.
Jonah saw Lucas’ eager stare and questioned, “How long have you worked here now?”
“Oh, uh, about six months.” Lucas had briefly forgotten that he worked front of the house, not in the wonders of the kitchen, and began loading the eclairs again.
“So, you’ve worked here for six months. Huh?” Jonah mused thoughtfully.
“...and how do you like it so far?”
“Oh, very much. I love being around the bakery. I love making pastries. I think it is my calling, Jonah.”
“You love it, huh? That’s great, that’s marvelous,” Jonah shook his head approvingly, “though you are still making the minimum wage. Am I right?” He winked at Lucаs, but the wink looked foreign on his face, as a smile of any kind didn’t accompany it, “minimum wage,” he repeated thoughtfully.
Lucas looked puzzled, he couldn’t understand where was Jonah leading to and just remained silent.
Jonah now smiled wide, “of course, if you work hard and if you are a fast learner you will master eclairs and many other pastries, and you will get a good raise.” He shook his head approvingly, “and your life would be, although not spectacular, not what one would call ‘the line in the fast lane’, but still rewarding in a spiritual sense. After all, money isn’t everything, is that right Lucas?“ he winked again.
“Yes, sir,“ Lucas felt awkward and his smile came out sheepish.
“…but, my friend,“ Jonah changed the tone of his voice to somewhat gentle and even sugary, and patted Lucas on the shoulder “there is another way to live a life… much more financially, oh…how one should put it, … satisfying. Do you know what I mean?”
“Not quite,” Lucas looked bewildered “would you mind explaining what you mean.”
“Of course, of course.” A feeble smile spread over Jonah's face. “All will be explained in its time.”
“Well, when you’re done refilling those come back. There’s something I want to show you.
I’ll be in my office. You know where my office is correct?” When Lucas nodded in agreement, Jonah smiled again “Splendid!”
Indeed, after Lucas finished refilling the trays, he went to Jonah’s office feeling confused. On one hand, he was glad to such attention of his boss while on the other hand, he was uneasy about Jonah’s intentions – ‘why in the hell he was talking about minimum wage? Who wouldn’t want to make more money?’
“Ah, here you are, Lucas,” Jonah said getting up from the table all piled up with papers. “Follow me. I want to show you the entire process of making éclairs.”
Then, coming to the production section, Jonah started to explain Lucas the entire process.
“As you can see… here we make the dough. It’s not hard. Here on the wall is the list reminding you of proper proportions: flower, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, eggs. We put it in the over at 425 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 375 and bake for an additional 25 minutes until they are golden brown. As you see, we use a starred piping tip. The dough comes out from the cone with furrows. It helps it not to spread during baking. Everyone can do it. Literally everyone, who isn’t lazy or airheaded,” now Jonah spoke loudly and somewhat sharply so that all the workers could hear him.
“Come on here now. That’s where we make the cream. Also no need for any talent. It’s a typical production line. Here we mix milk, butter, sugar, vanilla extract… This machine does the custard filling, then we dip eclair into this silky ganache and voila! No tricks, no problems. No talent required, just skills. But…” he put his finger up demanding attention, ”let me show you something that does require a greater skill; just having an average skill doesn’t quite cut it.” Lucas craned his neck behind Jonah at what seemed to be regularly looking eclairs.
“As you can see, I am filling out an eclair with cream manually, through this side cut, just like this” with a quick and precise movement, Jonah filled the éclair through the side opening from the narrow ended cone. “Try it yourself, now” and placed another hollow éclair in front of Lucas.
Lucas took the cone and, although not as fast and clean, but still diligently and carefully filled the hollow éclair with cream.
“Excellent! I see you are getting the hang of it, Lucas. Yet, this operation also requires just skill.” He looked at Lucas as if preparing to open him a great mystery. “However, the next one does require talent. Watch.”
This time, before filling out the next éclair, he opened a side door of a cabinet that he opened with a key and pulled out a small plastic bag with filled with the white powder. For a moment, he held it between his pinky and thumb, then placed it inside an éclair and filled it with cream and dipped it into chocolate ganache.
When Lucas repeated the process Jonah exclaimed with enthusiasm “Now we’re cooking! Now I can see that you have a real talent! More so, if you ill master this operation, then your wage will increase in how many times do you think?” and not waiting for Lucas answer added, “Two times for starters. And if things go well and our special patrons are happy,” this time Jonah winked at Lucas with the wide smile, “then your wage will increase even more and once in a while you will get a great bonus. Are you catching my drift?”
Lucas smiled widely.
“I think so, Jonah! Thank you sooo much. I promise you that I’ll be very very careful and will work very hard at mastering these eclairs. Only, I am kind of curious, what is inside these little bags? How in the world patrons will eat them?”
“Ah”, Jonah said, “that’s where the second great talent comes into play and I sincerely hope you have it. Do you have it, Lucas? Do you?”
“What talent do you have in mind, Mr. Kleist?”
“A talent of modesty, Lucas. A talent of keeping your nose out of someone else’s business. Are you familiar with the mantra “The less you know the safer you are? Are you catching my drift?”
“Mmmm… I think so, sir. It’s a virtue not to be nosy.”
“Exactly! Great, Lucas. I am glad you are a well-educated young man and know that keeping your mouth shut about what you know is also a very very admirable quality. Well, why do I say quality? A talent, a real talent… So, tell me, do you possess this talent, Lucas?”
Lucas nodded, silently wrinkling his forehead.
“Oh, forgot to tell you a funny story,” Jonah slapped himself on the forehead, “you’ll be laughing, really. What happened is we had another guy here. His name was Stanley. And you know what Stanley did? You won’t believe it, ha, ha, ha,” Jonah laughed but only with his mouth as his eyes were stern and cold. “He went to the police and complained that we were doing something illegal here, can you imagine?”
Lucas recoiled. Not paying attention at that, Jonah continued smiling.
“Although, when police came - nothing was found, imagine this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Poor Stanley, the company sued him for a false accusation. And where is Stanley now? ” Jonah lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t know…But he definitely doesn’t’ work here anymore. Not even for a minimum wage. He could have had a life in the fast lane, you know. But he didn’t appreciate the opportunity. Isn’t that funny, Lucas? Isn’t that funny?”
The smell of cinnamon and fresh fruit wafted lovingly through the kitchen, drifting between the bakers and through the hallway leading to the storefront. The scent tempted the awaiting patrons, each lining up before the display case of assorted pastries, pies, and cream-filled confections.
Away from the confessions, Lucas was passing a flat box with pictures of scrumptious eclairs on the cover – a standard packaging – to a patron, who silently took the box and walked out of the bakery. Lucas turned around and went back inside the production quarters just as emotionally.