Hunter Moran Hangs Out


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ALSO BY PATRICIA REILLY GIFF

Hunter Moran Saves

the Universe

HUNTER MORAN HANGS OUT

Patricia Reilly Giff

Holiday House / New York

Text copyright © 2013 by Patricia Reilly Giff

Art copyright © 2013 by Chris Sheban

All Rights Reserved

HOLIDAY HOUSE is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

www.holidayhouse.com

ISBN 978-0-8234-3000-0 (ebook)w

ISBN 978-0-8234-3001-7 (ebook)r

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Giff, Patricia Reilly.

Hunter Moran hangs out / by Patricia Reilly Giff. — First edition.

pages cm

Summary: When neighbor Sarah Yulefski tells Zack and Hunter that she

overheard someone talking about plans to kidnap someone in

their town, the twins use the last four days of summer vacation to investigate.

ISBN 978-0-8234-2859-5 (hardcover)

[1. Twins—Fiction. 2. Brothers and sisters—Fiction.

3. Family life—Fiction. 4. Kidnapping—Fiction.

5. Mystery and detective stories. 6. Humorous stories.] I. Title.

PZ7.G3626Hth 2013

[Fic]—dc23

2013003172

To James Matthew Giff,

(and nobody else)

with love

Chapter 1

. . . from Linny, who’s screaming like a hyena. “Get back here, you two.”

Just because she’s the oldest, she thinks she’s the alpha dog of the family.

“Arf, arf,” I bark, pulling open the back door.

Linny’s best friend, Becca, is standing right there. “How come Linny wants you?” she asks.

We don’t bother to answer. Becca’s the nosiest kid in the world, with a beak to match.

Mary bangs spoons on her high chair and gives us a toothless smile. “Bye-bye.”

I wave at her and speed outside. Zack speeds with me.

“You left those disgusting things all over the kitchen,” Linny goes on.

“Can’t even leave one worm around,” Zack mutters.

It’s not quite one worm. We actually have a farm with about forty of them in the bottom drawer of the cabinet.

Terrific creatures. Highly intelligent. We’re teaching them to climb the table legs. Give them a boost and they’re right up there, heading for the tabletop.

Unfortunately, two or three have wandered away. We’re on a mission to find replacements.

“Hunter!” Linny screams. “Zack!”

Any minute she’ll alert poor Mom. Without thinking, we take a shortcut across the front lawn, our feet sinking in a little.

We stop at the edge, realizing what we’ve done. It’s a moment of horror. Our footprints zigzag across Pop’s newly seeded lawn; it’s as if something has chewed up the whole thing. Somehow we’ll have to deal with it before Pop gets home from work.

In the living room window, our dog, Fred, with the skunk breath and nasty disposition, is doing somersaults on the back of the couch and yowling at the top of his lungs. They probably can hear him in Fiji.

Zack and I hit the sidewalk and keep going. It’s a crucial getaway. We trot past the school; our classroom is on the second floor. That’s Doomsday staring us right in the face. Four more days and we’re prisoners again! Summer is disappearing fast.

Upstairs, Sister Appolonia is pasting moldy leaves on the window. In a flash, it comes to me that we’re supposed to bring in last June’s report cards. Impossible.

We buried Zack’s with its horrific music mark in a pile of garbage. Last time I saw mine, it was clamped between Fred’s jaws. We told Mom the school is going green, saving paper, doing away with report cards. We’ll tell Sister that Mom framed the cards over the living room couch.

Sister Appolonia spots us and sticks out her head. “How about a little help up here?”

“Sheesh,” I mumble, but we maintain our speed. At the same time, I point up at a cloud. Let her think we’ve become deaf over the summer and we’ve taken up sky-watching.

We’re about to cross Murdock Avenue when a head pops out from behind the telephone pole.

What next?

“It’s Sarah Yulefski,” Zack whispers. “Head for the woods.”

He’s right. There she is, Sarah Yulefski with her braces festooned with Rice Chex, and her knotty hair down to her waist. Sarah Yulefski, who told the whole class I’m in love with her.

I shudder, thinking about it.

“Stop right there, Hunter.” She sounds like Alpha Dog Linny.

We dive out onto Murdock Avenue, but a truck barrels toward us, horn blaring, gravel spitting. We jump back, barely escaping with our lives.

“One of these days you’re going to kill yourselves,” Yulefski says.

If it happened four days later, it wouldn’t be so bad. School would be closed on the first day for our funeral. We’d be heroes.

“Listen, guys,” Yulefski says. “I have news.”

Sure. She’s playing in another concert. She has a new brown outfit for school that matches her teeth.

“Sorry,” Zack says. “We can’t stop. We’re on our way to . . .”

“. . . help Sister Appolonia,” I put in.

Sarah Yulefski screws up her face. “You’re going the wrong way.”

I sigh. “All right, what news?”

She leans closer. “It’s really bad. Terrible, as a matter of fact.”

“I’m bracing myself,” I say, and Zack tries not to laugh.

She takes her time, running her tongue over her teeth, dislodging a Rice Chex, twirling around to see if anyone’s listening.

As if anyone in the whole world would be interested in what Sarah Yulefski has to say.

Wrong.

She leans forward. Whispers one word.

Zack’s eyes are as big as pizzas and I can hardly swallow.

Chapter 2

“A kidnapping,” Yulefski breathes. “It’s going to happen right here in Newfield. Actually, it’s someone . . .”

We lean forward, two inches away from Yulefski and her teeth.

“. . . in your family,” she finishes, looking ecstatic at her bad news.

Zack and I stagger back.

“Give me a buck twenty-six,” she says, “and I’ll tell you the rest.”

We dig into our pockets and come up with our life savings. Sarah Yulefski counts every penny, every dime, as if we were out to cheat her. “All right,” she says at last. “The victim will fit in a cage.” She frowns. “I think he said thick. A thick cage? Thick something, anyway.”

“What? Who?” I manage. My legs are going to give way any minute. Zack sinks down on the sidewalk.

Yulefski holds up her hand. “I’m getting to that. I was hanging around in Vinny’s Vegetables and Much More, listening to various conversations as I picked out bags of healthy snacks.”

“Get to it, Yulefski,” Zack says.

“Three things,” she says. “Item one. The kidnapper was muttering to someone. Or maybe to him- or herself. I couldn’t tell if it was a man, woman, boy, or girl.” She shrugs. “It could have been an alien for all I know.”

Zack cuts in. “Didn’t you get a look?”

“I was in the beef jerky aisle,” she says. “The napper was around the corner, probably looking at the cleavers on sale.”

Cleavers!

“Item two. The kidnapper whispered that the victim never kept quiet for a minute. I think that’s what he said; it was hard to hear. I had to poke my nose into all those packs of jerky.”

I remind myself never to eat beef jerky for the rest of my life.

Sarah Yulefski runs her fingers through her knotty hair. “So here’s the deal. I caught just a bunch of words: Moran. Cage. Need thick? Thick money?” She takes a breath. “Yes, he or she sounded like a foreign agent: lure the victim in. Try not to get caught.”

She works on her teeth. “You can see that. It would mean jail for the rest of his or her miserable life. You can’t keep someone in a cage, throw him a little food once in a while . . .”

Zack makes impatient circles with his hands. “Keep going.”

At the same time, I’m almost yelling. “Are you sure he said Moran?”

“One at a time here,” Yulefski says. “And yes, I heard Moran. M-o-r-a-n. As for item three . . .” She looks embarrassed. “What was item three, anyway?”

Impossible.

She sucks on her braces. “Don’t worry, it will come to me.”

Probably two years after the kidnapper strikes.

Sarah Yulefski tosses her hair over her shoulder, just like TV Witch Girl, two o’clock, Friday afternoon. She disappears up the street.

Zack and I stare at each other. Should we head for the police station? Should we tackle Pop with the news?

Who’d believe Sarah Yulefski?

Zack reads my mind. “Only us, Hunter. Only us.”

Chapter 3

We head for home without our life savings. Yulefski has no mercy. Not only is our family in terrible peril, but last week she charged us a buck seventy-four for our worm start-up.

But never mind that. We definitely have a kidnapping on our hands. Which one of us? I run through the whole family in my mind, oldest to youngest. Airhead William, Alpha Dog Linny, Zack and me, Mary, who almost lives in a high chair, and . . .

I stop dead in the middle of the street. “The victim never keeps quiet.” Steadman shuts his mouth only to chew on the most unhealthy snack he can find.

Zack claps his hand to his head. “Small enough to fit in a cage. A thick cage?”

Steadman is only five years old. What a hole that would leave in our family. Instead of six kids, there would only be five, not counting the one that will be born any minute.

It’s impossible to think about it.

We start to run and get as far as the front door. Linny, skinny hands on her hips, stands there with Becca, who’s a mass of lumps and bumps. “Practicing gymnastics at Gussie’s Gym,” Becca says. “You should see the new guy, Alex. He’s bent over like a corkscrew from working out.”

I raise one shoulder. Who has time to think about Becca and her run for the Olympics, which will never happen anyway?

“You two are so lucky,” Linny cuts in.

Lucky? I don’t think so. “Where’s Steadman?”

Linny waves her hand toward the house. “In the yard.”

All fenced in. Safe for the moment.

“Here’s your luck,” Linny goes on. “Pop’s not coming home for dinner.”

Zack makes a Jell-O face, squishing his cheeks in and out. He thinks Linny has lost her mind.

I know she has.

But Linny points one finger at Pop’s new lawn. “You’d better pray he doesn’t get home before dark.”

The lawn!

“I don’t want to be in your shoes when he sees this,” she says. “Shoes. Get it?” She snickers at her own joke.

“Hysterical,” I say.

She opens the door, and Fred dashes out. He gallops toward us with a couple of frothy growls.

“Watch your ankles,” Zack warns.

Becca jumps back and darts behind a tree. “That dog is a disaster,” she mutters.

Steadman is coming out of the backyard. Clumps of dirt cover his hands, his knees, his shirt. I don’t want to think about what he’s been up to.

“Yabaloo!” Steadman shouts.

Instantly Fred’s mouth snaps shut; his tail wags. He’s in love with Steadman. They disappear into the house with Linny and Becca right behind them.

We’re left to see the mess we’ve made of Pop’s lawn. “It’s fixable,” I say.

“How?”

“Sister Appolonia says there’s a solution for everything.”

But we don’t have time to think about Sister Appolonia. We have to concentrate on salvaging Pop’s lawn before he gets home, and then saving Steadman from a cage, thick or otherwise.

Zack snaps his fingers. “I’ve got it. Follow me.”

We cross the street and walk along the weedy driveway of the empty house, until we hit the edge of Werewolf Woods. Huge trees. A muddy pond. Last year, Bradley, the neighborhood bully, with only three teeth, lisped that the pond was a bottomless pit and about forty kids had drowned in there. “Thaw a floater mythelf,” he bragged.

Zack and I keep our distance from the pond and a possible appearance by Bradley from behind one of the trees, while I wonder if the kidnapper might deposit his victims in that murky water.

“Here it is.” Zack points to a huge rock.

“What?”

“The gravestone.”

I sink down on a pile of vines as he pats the stone.

“Don’t you see? We’ll roll this across the street and sink it right into the footprints. We’ll tell Pop—”

I hold up my hand. I can see it. We’ll tell Pop a coyote dropped dead in the middle of the lawn.

Excellent.

We get behind the rock. We shove it along, circling the trees, and rumble our way across the street, our arms and legs almost caving in.

“What else could we do?” Zack says. “Steadman crying. Fred howling from grief. The coyote too big to drag . . .”

“Actually,” I put in, “the gravestone is quite . . .”

“. . . unusual,” Zack says. “It adds pizzazz to the property.”

We’re totally out of breath by the time we get it in place. It looms up like a hundred-pound toad ready to spring. We’re satisfied. The footprints are covered. There’s only the trail the gravestone made as it wended its way over the lawn.

Unavoidable.

We head back into the house. Right now, we’re on a kidnapper watch!

Chapter 4

It’s dark by the time Zack and I head upstairs. Only one room has a view of the town and maybe the kidnapper skulking around.

William’s room.

We unlock the three bolts and sneak in. We sneak quietly. If William finds us, it’s goodbye. William throws a mean punch.

William is weird, anyway. He’s painted horrible murals of Zack and me, both of us half-devoured by saber-toothed dinosaurs. He’s painted the window, too: an orange planet, wet and sticky, heads for extinction in a black hole.

You can see out the window if you line one eye up tight against the exact center of the hole. There’s a bare spot the size of a nickel.

Zack leans in, then draws back. “Dark as a cave out there.” He looks like a Halloween pumpkin from the paint.

“We have to do something fast,” I say a little desperately, “before Steadman is gone forever.”

“And before Doomsday, when we’re prisoners in room 213 with Sister Appolonia.” Zack squints up at the ceiling. “We could sneak across to Werewolf Woods. There’s a perfect view at night.”

A voice cuts in. It’s Steadman, standing in the doorway, wearing pajamas with huge holes in both knees. “You forgot. Poisonous snakes are curling themselves around the branches.”

Zack and I glance at each other. We told him that last week when he followed us in there, talking nonstop around a Snickers bar.

“Listen,” I tell him now. “It’s deadly in there until the winter. You know, when it snows. The snakes hibernate like bears.”

Steadman looks suspicious. “What about the perfect view?”

“I can’t stand it,” Zack says. “Didn’t Mom put you to bed an hour ago?”

Steadman doesn’t answer.

But wait a minute. Is that William dumping up the stairs? We dive out of there, the three of us, and head for Steadman’s room, which is a minefield. Fred still isn’t housebroken.

“Bedtime, guys,” Mom calls from the stairs. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” we call down.

I try a fake yawn. “Hey, Steadman, maybe I’ll just lie on your bed.” I stretch out on his quilt, away from Fred, who’s walking around the edge on two back legs like a circus dog. His breath is extra foul tonight.

“I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open,” Zack tells Steadman. “Why don’t you climb in with Hunter and get a good night’s sleep? After all, kindergarten begins in a few days.”

Huge mistake.

Steadman opens his mouth so wide you can almost see his big toe, and Fred tries to take a chunk out of mine.

“I don’t want to go to kindergarten!” Steadman screams.

Zack looks at me. “Remember the kindergarten prizes?” he says over Steadman’s yelling and Fred’s growling.

“Hmm,” I say, as if I’m trying to think. “An iPod? Someone got a motorcycle, I think.”

Zack flips up the edge of the damp rug and lies on the bare floor. “Candy, barrels of it,” he adds. “You could dive right in . . . .”

“Orange slices,” I whisper. “Hershey bars.”

“I might try it,” Steadman says. “For a couple of days.” Fred stops growling.

All is quiet.

Zack and I lie there for about seventeen hours, and finally Steadman doses his eyes. We count to one thousand to be sure he’s asleep. Then we sneak out of his room and tiptoe along the hall, passing Mary’s room. She’s singing to herself in her crib. Mary makes a lot of noise, too. But she’s safe from kidnappers. Mom watches her like a hawk.

We hop over the open paint cans in front of William’s room, also a minefield, and we go downstairs, hardly breathing.

At the living room door, Zack and I give each other a silent high five. Pop is in his big chair, snoring like a rhino. He hasn’t seen the coyote gravestone, or we would have heard about it.

What a surprise he’ll have in the morning, I think uneasily.

Zack gives me a nudge. Inching its way across Pop’s shoe is one of the wandering worms.

Zack dives across the room and grabs the worm just before it disappears into Pop’s sock. Pop never moves. That’s one great thing about him. When he sleeps, he really sleeps.