I stared at those letters for a long time. I stared at them until my uncle got off the phone, but I couldn't work it out. I was sure that once I knew the cipher it would be easy, but, obviously, I didn't know the cipher. I didn't want to show my uncle, either. Who knows why, I just didn't. Like the photo, it was something I had a feeling he wouldn't want me to know about. So for a moment I stood there deliberating. Would it be better to tell my uncle and risk his anger, or have a pointless code that was supposedly very important… and important in relation to me. Well, when put that way, the choice was obvious. I would have to tell my uncle. The question was how to present it. I couldn't just say, "Hey, Jim, I answered your cell phone and this guy said he really needed to speak to you about something secret, but I told him I'd smash the phone if he didn't tell me, so he read me a coded message which you're suppose to decode and then give back to me."

Yeah… that just doesn't sound too good. So I walked down the stairs slowly, giving me time to work it out. As I entered the living room, I carefully painted an expression of interest and confusion over my face. My uncle sat on the couch with a glass of water in his hand. His eyes were closed and he was drumming his fingers against the cushions.

"Hey," I said, breaking into his reverie. "You know what just happened?"

He opened his eyes slowly and looked at me, then spoke in his deep voice, "No. How would I possibly know?"

I ignored this question and continued to explain. "Someone called you on your cell phone," I said.

"Who?" he asked. He didn't really seem that interested; he was still thinking about the contract and I could tell he didn't want to worry about anything else at the moment.

"I don't know," I said. "I answered, and they gave me a bunch of letters. They didn't answer any questions I asked, just said, 'write it down' and gave me the letters again."

My uncle stiffened ever so slightly, gripped his water glass just a tiny bit harder. "Did you?" he asked, keeping the same casual, indifferent tone. But I knew I had his attention now.

"Of course," I smiled.

"Well, what does it say?"

"Nothing. They're just random letters. He said you'd understand."

He beckoned me over and reached out for the sticky note. I handed it to him and sat down beside him on the couch before he could tell me to go do some chore that would remove me from the room. I watched as he scanned the note, frowning.

"Can you get me a pen and some paper?"

I handed him the pen I'd used to jot down the letters and the pad of sticky notes. He took them silently and began to write. I watched the wrinkles multiply on his face as his frown deepened and his eyes narrowed. I tried to read what he'd written, but he was doing a great job of covering it.

"So what does it say?" I asked.

He took off his glasses and handed me the note. "Smart kid like you, you can figure it out, right?"

Without giving me time to answer, he pushed himself up from the couch and left. He took the sticky note with whatever he'd written with him, but he left his water glass. It sat sadly on the coffee table, half empty and foggy from the heat of his fingers. My uncle hated stuff left around the house, so I knew the message was important whatever it was, important enough to upset my uncle, at least. The guy on the phone hadn't been lying. Well, about that at least. It seemed he had been lying, or just misinformed, about some other things. For instance, my uncle clearly had no intention of telling me the message contained in the code, which, I believed, had been the entire point of the guy's phone call.

But I was un-phased by this. My uncle had told me to figure out the code on my own, and that was exactly what I intended to do… kind of. I had intentionally handed him the whole sticky note pad in the hopes that he would not peel the top one off until he left. In his distracted state, he had unknowingly done exactly this. Now I took the sticky note pad and picked up a pencil from the coffee table. Then, gently, I rubbed the pencil over the paper. Faint lines popped into existence before my eyes, the yellow of the sticky note peeping out from behind the dull gray of the charcoal. I continued to rub until I was confident all the letters had been revealed. In my uncle's untidy scrawl, they were hard to decipher, but I carefully copied each one out onto a new sticky note.

Then, pocketing the pencil and pad, I slowly ascended the stairs to my room. I didn't want my uncle to think I was happy, so slow was the way to go. After shutting the door, I sunk onto my bed and read over what I'd written: .

Aha! Smiling, I separated out the words: "hide to tell knows ben know they told tortured." As I knew it would be, the code was very simple. Every two letters had simply been flip-flopped, and now the words those letters formed just needed to be arranged in the opposite order — piece of cake. Very pleased with myself, I wrote them out again as they were meant to be. The message was immediately clear: "Tortured. Told. They know Ben knows. Tell to hide."

So Horace had been tortured, and he had told them (whoever they were) that I knew something. Now he wanted me to hide, assumedly from "them". That was easy enough to understand. But I still had a million questions. Firstly and most importantly, who were they? Secondly, what in the world did they think I knew? Thirdly, what would they be willing to do to get me to tell them? Fourthly, how soon would they be coming? Fifthly, how did Horace know about me? Sixthly…

The list went on and on. Most of the questions were new, sparked in my brain after reading the decoded message. A few were hanging around from my telephone conversation with the unidentified man. But there was one question that came from even before that… a question I'd had since I'd first stumbled across the photo in the sock drawer. And despite its relative unimportance, it was the question that bothered me the most:

Who was Horace?