"This place reeks." Derek said, covering his mouth.
"And I doubt that it's been fumigated." Chloe said, stepping on a scrambling insect, careful not to stomp too hard. The floorboards under their feet creaked and shifted under their weight.
"Look at all this furniture." Derek said, looking at the room. What light Derek's camera provided revealed that the room had at least two armchairs and a table.
"Guess they didn't want to move it all out." Chloe said. She stepped aside to avoid hitting the dark mass of a chair, and promptly hit the side of a desk. Pulling back in pain, she gave the small desk and kick and saw the cloud of dust rise.
"Hey wait." Derek said. He came to her side and kneeled down.
"What?" She asked, kneeling down with him.
"Maybe there's something in the drawers." He dusted the cobwebs off and pulled on the knob. It wouldn't budge.
"See if you can pry it open." Derek said, giving her his pack. He aimed the light down as she looked for something to force open the drawer.
Chloe took out a large pocket knife and flipped it open. She inserted the blade into the crack and the dust shook off the wood as it rattled.
"Nothing." She said, taking the knife out. The silver knife was covered in a black stain. She frowned and wiped it on a piece of newspaper. "I don't think there's any locks." She said. "So it must be just stuck."
"Lets see if we can push it from the back." Derek said, standing back up. He set the camera down on top of the old desk and he and Chloe pulled the desk away from the wall. The back, sure enough, was missing the wood covering piece and Chloe and Derek both kneeled down again, hoping to open the drawer. Chloe pushed the back with both hands, but it wouldn't move. She sighed and took out a small flashlight. Shining it into the cracks, she glared at what she saw.
"What, Chloe?" Derek asked, anxious.
"There's something in the drawer, but it's covered in that black stuff that was on the knife." She said, shaking her head. "It's like glue."
"Well, I don't think old man Huddleston is going to miss the desk, so why don't we just kick it open?" Derek asked, shaking the desk. More dust fell to the old floor and the writing table rocked under Derek's hands.
"We could." She said, shrugging.
Derek stepped back and kicked at the drawer. His muddy shoe left a mark on the edge.
"Hey." Chloe said. She squinted and touched the small silver knob. It was elaborately decorated with a ring of flowers on the edge, and a sun in the middle. The years of wear had left it muddy. She pushed against the desk with one hand as another pulled the knob.
The knob fell out into her hand and she shined the flashlight into the small hole.
"What do you see?" Derek asked.
"A few papers." She said. "I can't see a lot, there's not enough light." She stopped looking and stepped back. She kicked the desk and it groaned loudly.
"I can see why it can be therapeutic." Derek said, joining her in the kicking. The desk refused to give. Chloe groaned in frustration.
"This isn't therapy." She said. "This is just kicking a desk." She gave a final kick before giving up.
Something clattered to the floor. Partially hidden under the layers of filth that had accumulated, and illuminated by a sliver of light, it had fallen from some fracture in the desk.
Chloe bent down and retrieved the object. She held it up and Derek shone the light on it.
"It's a key." He said.
"Yeah, but what does it unlock?" Chloe asked.
There were cautious footsteps coming down the stairs. A moving light was maneuvering it's way down.
"D?" Jason shouted.
"Jason!" Derek shouted. Jason and Lan stepped into the basement, into the dank air.
"Did you guys find anything?" Chloe asked.
"Tons." Lan said, gesturing to her backpack. "What about you guys?"
"Well, there's stuff in the drawer, I think it's holding it shut." Chloe said.
"Was it black and sticky?" Lan asked. Derek and Chloe nodded.
"We found the same stuff upstairs." Jason said. He looked at the desk and frowned. "Is that a Strathmore?"
"Huh?" Derek said.
"That's a Strathmore desk. My great-grandpa made them when he worked for the Strathmore Furniture Company in New York." Jason bent down and Chloe gave him her small light. He shone it under the desk. "My grandpa would tell me stories of how they made the desks and he said that they were called puzzle desks because the drawers could only be opened with a lock mechanism…" He fingered something under the desk and the desk clicked. "…and it was under the desk."
"It must've been a very good puzzle." Derek said, grinning. "Cause we've been kicking it and everything."
"Good we came then." Jason said, smiling. He looked at the drawer.
"Oh." Chloe said, looking down at the little knob. She gave it to Jason. "Oops."
Jason shrugged and pushed the knob into place. He opened the drawer slowly. "Open sesame."
"Jason, you are a miracle worker." Derek said. "Let's see what's in this baby."