"Why didn't you tell us?" Dennie screamed at Dr. Duvalier. "We could have gotten him some help."
"No, you couldn't," Dr. Duvalier told him, trying to be patient. "Doctors don't know how to reverse the effects of the poison yet and the voodoo priests aren't talking. If you had taken Artie, he would have remained a vegetable forever."
"Isn't that better than being a zombie?" Chet asked.
Dennie looked at Chet, then bowed his head thoughtfully. Would it be better to know everything that went on around you and not be able to participate or would it be better to not have any idea what was happening and therefore, not care too?
"I don't get why Artie was given the poison in the first place," Biff said.
"The clearing!" Dennie shouted, sitting up straight in his chair.
"What?" Phil demanded, wondering if Dennie's earlier encounter still clouded his brain.
"When Artie never came back, I followed his tracks. They stopped at a clearing which wasn't on the path, then returned to the path," Dennie explained. "Maybe he saw something or someone he shouldn't have."
"Maybe he saw the same two guys you saw earlier," Phil commented.
"Oh?" Mr. Mondello asked, looking at his son questioningly. Dennie related what he had told his friends earlier at the guest house.
"Obviously, in order to find Artie, we have to find the men Dennie saw," Mr. Mondello said when Dennie had finished.
"Or, we can find him by following the drums tonight," Dennie stated, a determined look in his eyes.
"Good idea," Mr. Mondello approved, picking up his fork. "We'll leave about nine tonight and take up positions near where Chet and Dennie were earlier. But," he stressed. "No one goes off on their own." he stared meaningfully at Dennie as he said this.
"Agreed," Dennie said at once, willing to do whatever was necessary to get his bandmate back.
Later, everyone paired up. Mr. Mondello would go with Phil; Dr. Duvalier with Chet; and Biff was to accompany Dennie. Dr. Duvalier brought out a topographical map of the area and Dennie pointed out the route he had taken the previous evening.
Mrs. Duvalier kissed her husband goodbye, then watched the group leave, worry etched into her wan face.
Each group took a different section to cover. Midnight came and went, still, no drums were heard. Dennie glanced at his watch. Two more minutes had elasped since last he had glanced at it. "They probably moved to another part of the plantation," Dennie whispered to Biff.
"So, what do we do?" Biff whispered back.
"We have to meet dad and the others at the guest house at two," Dennie said, again looking at his watch. "That means we have a little over an hour to snoop around."
"Lead on, my captain," Biff kidded.
The two moved off in the direction of the area where Dennie had seen the zombies digging. After about ten minutes, the boys heard a scream from their left. They honed in on the sound and took off as quickly and quietly as they could. Soon, another scream sounded. The boys changed direction and went in search of the screamer.
At least eight more screams where heard, each scream leading the two boys in a different direction. Finally, all was in silence. Dennie stopped moving and held up a hand for Biff to do likewise.
"What was that all about?" Biff asked when Dennie lowered his hand and turned to face him.
"A diversion," Dennie replied in disgust. "And we fell for it. We must have been too close and were spotted."
"Then let's just turn right around and go back," Biff asserted, his anger coming out as he tightened his fist causing his arms to muscle up.
"Back where?" Dennie asked, a frown on his face. "We changed directions so many times, I don't even know how to get back to the guest house."
"Where are they?" growled Mr. Mondello, looking at the clock on the mantle. "They are an hour late."
"We should go look for them," Chet declared.
"You would only get lost in the dark," Dr. Duvalier told him. "We must wait for morning," he decided. "Then I will get some men and we will search the plantation."
"But what if something has happened to them?" Phil argued.
"Galen is right," Mr. Mondello said, intervening. "If we go looking for them now, we might get lost and that would help no one."
"But what if they use that poison on Biff and Dennie that they used on Artie?" Chet refused to let the matter drop.
"Then it is already too late to be of assistance to them," Dr. Duvalier answered, missing the pained expression on Mr. Mondello's face.
"Get some rest," Mr. Mondello ordered the boys, preparing to return to the manor with Dr. Duvalier. "We'll start a search at first light."
Chet closed the door after the two men had left, wondering if he should lock it. He locked the door after deciding to sleep in the living room on the couch. If Dennie or Biff returned, he would be able to hear them.
"Want a sandwich before we turn in?" Phil asked, not wanting to go to bed because he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep.
Chet shook his head. "I'm not hungry," he replied, sitting down on the sofa and staring glumly at the coffee table in front of him. Phil kicked his shoes off and sat down beside Chet. As the night wore on, both boys fell asleep.
A heavy pounding sounded at the door. Phil jerked awake, his eyes taking in the light from the side window. "Wake up, Chet," Phil said, getting to his feet. "It's time to find Dennie and Biff," he added, reaching for the lock.
Phil unlocked the door and twisted the knob, turning as he did so to return to the sofa. He sat down and picked up one shoe, not looking up. "Where do we start?" he asked, slipping the shoe on.
Dennie exchanged an amused glance with Biff, but didn't answer.
"Where...." Chet's voice trailed off as he saw who had arrived. "Dennie! Biff!" he exclaimed in relieved surprise.
"What happened? Where were you two? Have you been to the manor yet?" Phil erupted, looking up from his task at Chet's shout.
Dennie shook his head. "Let's all go to the manor now," he suggested. "We'll tell you what happened and..." he added, his eyes twinkling, "where Artie is."
The Mondello Boys belong to Simon and Schuster and the Stratemeyer Foundation. The Mondello Boys Fan Fiction authors of the Mondello Detective Agency have just borrowed them for an adventure or two. The authors promise to put the boys back when they are done with them. The authors do claim copyright to the original characters in this story. Please do not borrow original characters without express permission of the authors.