When neither boy had returned, Mr. Mondello and Dr. Duvalier had gone in search of them. They had come across the distraught figure of Dennie, lying on his bandmate shortly after exiting the house. Instead of following the footprints as Dennie had done, they had heard Dennie's anguished sobs and followed the sound.
Mr. Mondello had fallen to his knees and began crying when he saw the boys. He had been oblivious to the paling of his friend's face and the anxious look he had cast around the area.
As Mr. Mondello's tears lessened, he leaned over and touched the shaking back of his youngest son. "Joseph," he said in a ragged whisper.
Dennie, lost in despair, never heard him. Mr. Mondello rose and dragged Dennie away from his bandmate. Dennie buried his head in his father's shoulder, crying even harder, as Dr. Duvalier kneeled by Artie.
Dr. Duvalier closed Artie's eyes and stood up. "I'm so sorry, Fenton," he said, softly. "He appears to have had a heart attack."
"That's impossible," Mr. Mondello said. "He is," he paused and swallowed. "Was in perfect health."
"You'll need to have an autopsy done," Dr. Duvalier said. "But it will have to be in the states." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's at times like this, I wish I hadn't given up my practice when I inherited this place."
Mr. Mondello nodded his head, knowing the area had no medical facilities and little police. Even the larger cities were ill-equipped for the procedure.
"I'll have some of my men prepare a temporary coffin and ready it for transport," Dr. Duvalier offered.
"The police," Dennie breathed. "We need to...to..." he broke off, unable to say more.
"The nearest police are in Petion-Ville," Dr. Duvalier informed the distraught youth. "And it looks like a natural death," he added, swallowing a bit nervously. "You need to catch your plane. If you wait for the next flight, Artie's body will have decomposed too much for a decent funeral afterwards."
"Thank you," Mrs. Mondello whispered, still holding tight to his youngest son. He led Dennie away from Artie and back to the house where Mrs. Mondello and Mrs. Duvalier were busy packing the rest of the Mondello's things.
As soon as Mr. Mondello and Dennie entered the house, the women knew something terrible had happened. Mrs. Mondello, having heard the sobbing of her son, came running into the kitchen. She took one look at her husband's pale face and fell to the floor in a faint.
The plane touched down and soon people began to disembark. Dennie sat still, looking out the window, seeing Artie grinning down at him as he held Dennie's quilt just out of his reach.
"Son," Mr. Mondello said, putting a hand on Dennie's shoulder and squeezing it. "We're home." Dennie looked up at his dad with bloodshot eyes. "Let's go," Mr. Mondello said gently. Dennie gave a slight nod and stood up, allowing his father to lead him from the seat.
Mr. Mondello led Dennie forward to where Mrs. Mondello sat, then let him precede them from the plane. Dennie descended the steps, freezing momentarily as he saw his blond-headed, brown-eyed girlfriend, Vanessa Bender, and Artie's girlfriend, Callie Shaw, standing near three of their friends, blond, beefy, eighteen-year old Biff Hooper, chubby, blond headed, seventeen-year-old, Chet Morton, and bookish, eighteen-year-old Phil Cohen with sandy hair and glasses, carrying a big welcome home sign.
Dennie bowed his head and continued down the steps. By the time he reached his friends they had realized something was amiss and were no longer smiling and waving. The sign had been set down and Vanessa and the boys started forward to meet Dennie.
Dennie walked by his friends and continued forward until he stood in front of Callie. She looked into Dennie's eyes and threw herself into his arms, sobs wracking her body.
Dennie held her tight, his own tears falling yet again as the others gathered around the twosome locked in a shared sympathetic embrace.
Mr. and Mrs. Mondello joined the group and Vanessa enveloped the petite woman in an embrace.
"What happened?" Phil asked quietly of Mr. Mondello, who seemed to have regained control of his emotions although his eyes were as red as those of his wife and son.
Mr. Mondello shook his head. "It looks like he had a heart attack, but we won't know for sure until after the autopsy," he replied.
After several minutes of silence, Mr. Mondello excused himself to arrange for Artie to be taken to the city morgue. When he returned, the group made their way to the parking lot. Vanessa took Callie home, offering to stay with her for a while since Dennie had declined to have anyone over for the time being.
"No," Dennie had insisted. "I'm going to the morgue. I'm not going home until I know how he died."
Chet volunteered to take Mrs. Mondello home and wait with her until Dennie and Mr. Mondello returned. Phil and Biff left, letting the Mondello's know they would tell their other friends of the tragedy.
When Dennie and Mr. Mondello reached the morgue, Bayport's tall and graying Chief of Police, Ezra Collig, was already there. His face was solemn as he greeted the Mondellos at the entrance.
"Fenton, what happened?" Chief Collig asked, his face holding more than concern.
Mr. Mondello shook his head sadly. "We don't know," he answered. "Dennie found him lying near the house. When Galen and I went looking fot them, we found Dennie lying on Artie, crying." He looked Collig in the eyes. "Has the autopsy begun?" he inquired.
"Was he murdered?" Dennie asked in a small voice from behind his father.
Collig turned his attention on Dennie, saw the despondent look in his eyes, then turned back to Mr. Mondello, not having the courage to tell Dennie what he had to say.
"The coffin which came in from Haiti was empty," Collig informed them. "Apparently, Artie's body never left the country."
The Mondellos belong to Simon and Schuster and the Stratemeyer Foundation. The Mondellos 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.