“Touch it,” Mark said.
The body on the floor looked smaller to Logan than the frightening Mr. Hornbuckle had when he was alive. Logan remembered when he first met the old man. It was at the supermarket a few years back. Logan’s mother let him pick out something sweet while she was buying groceries. “Go find something good and hurry back,” she had said. Logan enthusiastically ran off, quickly making his way to the cookie isle. As he turned the corner to the isle, he ran straight into the side of Mr. Hornbuckle’s leg. The faded blue eyes glared down at him and the wrinkled head turned slowly toward Logan catching up with the gaze already aimed at him. Logan knew immediately it was Mr. Hornbuckle. He had heard stories of an old man who hated everyone and everything. Hatred was all he could see in those eyes staring down at him. “Watch yourself,” Mr. Hornbuckle warned. “Touch me again, and it might be the last thing you do.” Mr. Hornbuckle turned away, grabbed a box of chocolate chip cookies and set them carefully into his basket.
Now, Mr. Hornbuckle was staring at Logan once again. This time Logan didn’t see hatred. He saw panic, perhaps his own reflected in the lifeless gray eyes.
“He’s dead,” Mark said. “What are you afraid of?”
Logan’s eyes let go of Mr. Hornbuckle’s and found Mark smiling almost maniacally over this helpless man’s corpse. Logan knew that Mark would be calling him a coward next, as if cowardice was the only reason not to disrespect someone in such a way as to make a game out of their death. This angered Logan who snapped back, “You touch him.”
The others turned eagerly to Mark for his response. There was a long silence. Then, Mark said, “I knew you were too scared.” But he didn’t touch the dead man.
AJ stepped in, “Should we go tell someone now?”
Logan began to answer, but Mark interrupted. “We’re not done,” said Mark. “What about the Asian kids?”
“You really think that was for real?” Drew asked, immediately regretting it.
“Of course it’s real,” Mark said. “Don’t be such an idiot. We’ve all seen the crates.”
Logan knew that was true. He’d witnessed the crates arrive at Mr. Hornbuckle’s front door on more than one occasion. That didn’t necessarily mean he was purchasing Asian children on the black market, but Logan was curious.
Mark continued, “Look, if you’re afraid, fine. Run back home like David. But who knows how long he’s been dead. If those kids are in here, they could be starving.”
“If he even kept them alive to begin with,” Drew added, trying to cover up his earlier ignorance.
“Let’s just see if we can find them,” Mark said. “Then, we can leave and get help if they need it.”
AJ and Drew looked over at Logan, as if needing his approval. Logan shrugged, “Let’s find them.”
They left the body and walked cautiously through the Hornbuckle house. Down the hallway were two rooms. The first contained a twin-size bed with a dark metal frame. There was also a dresser, which Drew looked through for “clues”. It contained mostly old photos, some in tattered albums. There were also several random articles of clothing, most likely stored away never to be used. This room didn’t seem lived in, but the second room certainly did. It was much larger and the carpet had patches of discoloration from wear and stains. The bed was unmade, with blankets twisting around each other and hanging off the sides unevenly. Pictures of the same woman filled the top of the dresser. She was attractive with a smile that shone of kindness. Logan looked over the many pictures and could see her age over several decades.
“To Whom It May Concern,” Mark began reading a handwritten letter he had taken off the desk in the corner of the room. “I am writing to inquire about purchasing child with baseball bat.”
“What?” Drew interrupted. He turned around from the dresser with a plaid button-down shirt in his hands.
“I knew it!” Mark said excitedly. He continued reading, “Please let me know if you are entertaining offers. I am an eager collector and very much interested…” Mark stopped. “That’s it.”
With the new evidence, the boy’s were invigorated in their hunt. Across the hall from the bedrooms they found a door. It was locked. Mark was certain that behind it they would find the children bought off the black market. Now their hunt turned toward finding a key to open this door. They searched the two bedrooms again. They searched the kitchen and the dining room. AJ searched a bathroom while the others went through the living room.
With no luck finding the key, they met again at the locked door, down the hallway from Mr. Hornbuckle’s lifeless remains.
“Maybe the key’s in his pocket,” AJ suggested. The others knew it made sense that a man might carry a key on a keychain and keep that keychain in his pocket. None of them replied, though. They were all thinking what this conclusion would lead to, and each was determined not to be the one who would have to reach into a dead man’s pockets. When it was clear nobody was going to step up, AJ said, “We could go to the cops. I mean, we have that letter. They could get in that door.”
To Logan, it felt like giving up. He thought about how far they had come and how they found proof that the elderly hermit had been collecting children. Though he didn’t think this adventure was a good idea in the beginning, he wasn’t ready for it to be over. Logan now wanted an answer to a question he never wanted to ask.
“I’ll do it.” The others were astonished. They stood with silent anticipation as Logan stepped closer and closer to Mr. Hornbuckle. He arrived at the body and knelt beside it. He thought about his mom’s warning: Stay out of Mr. Hornbuckle’s yard. She never said anything about his pockets. His hand reached inside. The fabric was coarse. It scratched against Logan’s hand as he felt around inside trying to find the key.
He found nothing. Logan pulled out his hand. He got up to his feet and looked back at AJ, Drew and Mark. They were depending on him. Logan turned back and stepped over the body. He knelt and reached into the other pocket. Again, the coarse fabric rubbed against his skin. Slowly his fingers touched across metal. It was cold with sharp, jagged edges. He grasped the object and retreated from the pocket. Standing, he opened his fist to reveal four keys tied together on a small metal ring.
A short, silver key was the one that fit into the lock on the door. Logan opened it slowly, revealing a dark stairway descending into obscurity.
Drew called down, “Hello?” There was no response.
Logan felt around the wall and found a light switch. He flicked it on, illuminating the way. The others didn’t follow as he stepped downward into the stuffy basement. At the base of the steps he glanced around. Bronze sculptures of all sizes and shapes filled the room. He was struck by the incredible display of craftsmanship. A Yorkshire terrier stared up hopefully at Logan. Its eyes were loving and loyal, and the still body language had a look of excitement, as if it would soon jump onto Logan’s lap if not for being a statue.
“Did you find them?” Mark shouted down to Logan. “Are they alive?”
Logan was still mesmerized by the statues. He was looking intently at one of a young ballerina. The waves in her skirt easily and perfectly implied a twirling motion. Then, he heard Mark’s voice and answered, “Come down here. I found something.”
The boys went into the basement and discovered that Mr. Hornbuckle was not collecting children, but rather bronze statues. Mark was visibly disappointed.
“Man playing violin,” Drew read, “by Linda Hornbuckle.” The statue stood six feet. The copper-colored man wore regal clothing from the Revolutionary Era and played his violin solemnly. The thick base had a placard attached to it with the information Drew had read aloud.
Logan quietly examined each statue as the other boys talked and argued over trivialities in the background. The work was stoically moving. Now, with Mr. Hornbuckle’s death, he wondered where it might end up. As he pondered this, the others’ conversation encroached on his thoughts.
“…it’s not, though. You don’t even know how she died.” Mark was being his argumentative self.
Logan had no interest in the conversation. He realized that there was no more reason to stay. They had solved the mystery of Mr. Hornbuckle’s mysterious crates. Now, they were no longer explorers, but trespassers in a dead man’s home. The Mr. Hornbuckle he had known, the one the neighborhood had known, may have been a horrible person, but Logan thought what else he might have been to have married such a talented artist. That afforded him some respect in Logan’s mind. “It’s time to go,” he said and started toward the stairway.
Drew and AJ turned. They went after him up the stairs, leaving Mark alone in the basement. Mark waited there for a second, trying to think of something to say, before finally following the others.
The keys jingled in Logan’s pockets with each step. He thought about whether or not to put them back where he had found them, but ultimately decided against it. He planned to quietly leave the Hornbuckle House and tell his mom what they found. She would be angry, he realized, but he couldn’t keep it from her. They would need to tell an adult, so that the police will see to the body, so that Mr. Hornbuckle will have his funeral and so that his belongings, including the bronze sculptures, would be handled appropriately.
Then, at the top of the basement stairs, Logan noticed the BB gun leaning against the wall behind the open basement door.