"What?" Dennie erupted. Anger filled his being. Anger at Artie's dying. Anger at the loss of Artie's body. Anger at being alive. Anger at himself for not having gone on a morning stroll with his brother. "What do you mean it was empty?"
"Was the coffin tampered with?" Mr. Mondello asked, as confused with the situation as Dennie.
"No," Collig stated. "And the crate the coffin was encased in showed no sings of tampering. Whoever took Artie's body, did so before the coffin was readied for flight to the states."
"Why would anyone steal Artie?" Dennie asked, completely befuddled.
"It wasn't like they have the facilities for transplants there," Mr. Mondello said thoughtfully. "He wouldn't have been taken to have his organs harvested."
Dennie winced at the thought. "We have to go back," he asserted. "Now."
"Easy, Son," Mr. Mondello said, putting an arm around Dennie's shoulders. "We will go back, but the next flight into Haiti is a week away."
"Who made arrangements for the transfer of the body?" Collig asked.
"It's Artie!" Dennie snapped. "Not the body."
Collig turned on Dennie but the words he had been about to say died on his lips. "You're right," he said instead. "I'm sorry."
"Some of Galen's men prepared Artie for the return trip," Mr. Mondello informed Collig. "I'll call him and have him check into it now. Dennie and I can further investigate the matter on our return to Haiti."
Collig gave a nod and put a hand on Mr. Mondello's shoulder. "I was very fond of Artie," he said. "And I want you to know if there is anything you need, any of you," he added, looking into Dennie's eyes, "don't hesitate to call me."
"Thank you Ezra," Mr. Mondello acknowledged. Dennie and Mr. Mondello rode home in silence, each wondering why anyone would want Artie's body.
Earlier that day, a man of short stature, barely five feet tall with tight, curly, black-hair, brown eyes and dark skin had seen a brown-headed American youth intrude upon a private discussion, one he, himself, had been eavesdropping on. When the boy had left, so too, had he.
He had taken an unmarked path to end up a few feet in front of the boy and knelt in the high weeds. As the boy neared, he reached into a small black pouch and withdrew a little powder. Careful not to inhale the powder, he waited until the boy rounded a tree then leapt up and blew the powder into the boy's face.
Almost immediately, the boy froze as he felt his body begin to shut down. The boy fell to the ground, unmoving.
The man quickly removed all traces of the powder from the boy's face with a little cloth, then made sure his own footprints vanished with the help of a fallen branch. To insure no one would suspect foul play, the man backtracked and, finding the three men gone, eliminated signs of their presence as well.
He had barely finished when he heard someone shout out. Not too long after that, a blond-headed youth came into view. The man hid in a tree and waited silently until he heard the sobbing of the second youth and knew the brown-headed boy had been found. The man then descended the tree and left the area, careful to erase his footprints as he departed.
When the order came down that Duvalier wanted the deceased youth readied for journey, there was refusal among his employees. None dared to cross the Bokur who had only moments before warned of a youth whose soul had been taken by Simbi Andezo, one of the Loa.
The Bokur had insisted that the boy's flesh must remain in Hiati so that when his soul had finished doing Simbi Andezo's bidding, it would be able to return. The people knew from experience that the boy's soulless corpse would do the Bokur's bidding until Simbi Andezo had finished with the soul.
It was finally decided, without the Duvalier's knowledge, that an empty coffin would be given to the visiting Americans with which to return to the states. The actual corpse was taken to the home of the Bokur and placed on the altar to be attended to later.
That night, as dusk settled in, the people gathered outside of the Bokur's home. Simbi Andezo must be called to rouse the flesh as it waited for the soul. The ritual generally took three nights and all must participate. The chickens and goats were readied for sacrifice as the body was carried outside. The Bokur followed the body, chanting prayers to the Loa.
Before Simbi Andezo could be summoned, Legba must first be approached. Tonight belonged to Legba. His permission must be given before the Bokur could seek Ghede on the following eve. The third night would be spent seeking out Simbi Andezo to request use of the flesh while awaiting for the soul.
The first part of the ritual required flesh be returned from where it had originated. Since all life came from the earth, the body must be returned. A shallow grave was dug and Artie's body was placed in the hole. His eyes had been reopened and one could imagine the horror if the boy was conscious of what was being done to him.
The ritual began. As the Bokur chanted and the people danced, a houngan, a high priest, sacrificed the first of the animals, letting the blood drip down onto the belly of the boy in the grave.
The drums, which the Mondellos had heard every night since their arrival, played throughout the evening at close quarters. As the sun began to rise, the chanting, dancing and drumming ceased. The Bokur leapt into the grave with Artie and sat on his chest, swaying and mumbling incoherently.
It was whispered among the natives that the Bokur had been mounted be Legba. Soon the motions of the Bokur ceased and he leaned over and closed Artie's eyes. The Bokur climbed out of the grave and the body of Artie Mondello was covered with dirt.
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.