A family vacation quickly goes awry in this fast-paced and funny mystery novel from Willo Davis Roberts. Winner of the Edgar Award!
Twins Lewis and Allison are excited to join their new neighbors for an awesome vacation: they’ll be driving to Yellowstone in a motor home, seeing all the fantastic sights, getting to know the Rupe family…the trip should be a blast. It turns out to be anything but.
First they discover that the Rupes have no interest in nutrition, manners, or their children. Even worse, a couple of strange men seem to be following them. Could they have something to do with the one-hundred-dollar bills little Billy Rupe keeps finding in the motor home? Lewis is afraid the answer is yes—and his fear is not unfounded...
This novel was originally published as The Absolutely True Story…How I Visited Yellowstone Park With the Terrible Rupes.
My mom thought the Rupes were a nice, normal middle-class family. When they moved into Marysville they came to our church, and Mr. Rupe joined the summer bowling league. Dad said he was a welcome addition because he had an average of 182. Mom was pleased because Mrs. Rupe offered to sing in the choir, which Mom directed.
So when our new neighbors asked if I could go with them to Yellowstone National Park to keep their son Harry company, Mom said, “What a wonderful opportunity for Lewis! Of course we’ll let him go!”
If she’d known the Rupes a little better, she might not have been so enthusiastic. My twin sister, Alison, figured out pretty early on that Mrs. Rupe let her kids eat anything they wanted, any time they wanted, and that she smoked kind of carelessly, and that she’d let other people look after her kids if they were willing to do it. But before the trip, none of us saw much of Mr. Rupe, so we didn’t know what he was like. He was a bank president, so I guess he was good at that, but if I had known how he drove, I wouldn’t have even looked in his car, let alone gone off with him for nine whole days.
The Rupes only moved in next door a week after school was out, but I think already Mom was tired of having kids around the house. My best friend, Buddy, had gone to spend a month with his grandparents on a ranch in Texas, so I didn’t have anybody to do things with. I was bored, too.
The day the Rupes came my sister woke me up and said, “Lewis, come look!”
“At what?” I asked, reluctant to start another long day with nothing in particular to do.
“Someone’s moving in next door,” she said. She had her face pressed against the window looking down on them. “There’s a big yellow moving van, and they’ve got kids. There’s a rocking horse, and a bike.”
“Good for them,” I said, not moving.
Both Mom and Alison had been fascinated with the new house ever since they started building it six months ago. There used to be a vacant lot there where we’d play ball, so none of the kids wanted another house there instead. But every few days, after the workmen had gone home, Mom and Alison would go over and see what had been done. They liked the floor plan, and the sunken living room—though Dad said he wasn’t about to break his neck going down a pair of steps every time he wanted to go in and sit in his recliner and read the paper—and when it was nearly finished, they loved the colors in the carpeting and the wallpaper.
“It’s gorgeous,” Mom had said. “All that tile in the kitchen and the bathrooms—three of them! I wish it were going to be ours.”
“I don’t,” Dad said. “The mortgage on that baby has to be twice what ours is.”
“But it’s so spacious, and all that pale gold carpeting—”
“Not too practical with the peanut-butter-and-jelly crowd that drips around our house,” Dad pointed out. “And as far as space goes, there’ll be plenty of room in this place once the kids move out. That’s only a few years yet.”
I get the feeling that the minute Alison and I turn eighteen, we’re out on the street. Sometimes it makes me sort of nervous, though Mom talks about us going to college, so I guess they’re going to support us long enough to do that.
Anyway, I didn’t really care who was moving in next door, but Alison kept on looking out the window and giving me a blow-by-blow description of their furniture—all new except for a big leather recliner—and each family member as they appeared.
“Oh, Lewis, they’ve got little kids! The boy looks about four, and the little girl about three. Maybe they’ll need a baby-sitter.”
“Good,” I said. If she had baby-sitting money, she’d probably make me a loan if I needed it.
“Oh, there’s the mother. She’s tall and quite skinny, and she’s got the reddest hair I ever saw! So does the little boy. The little girl is more blond. Oh, hey, there’s a boy about our age. He’s redheaded, too.”
I sat up. “Does he look like a jock or a nerd?”
Alison considered. “It’s hard to tell. No glasses like yours, but he’s carrying a box marked BOOKS. I guess that was his bike. Oh, the man just took a box out of the truck labeled NINTENDO.”
I swung my feet over the edge of the bed. “I wonder if he’s got any games I don’t have.”
“Get dressed,” Alison suggested, “and we’ll go over and see.”
Their name, we found out immediately, was Rupe. They had just moved to Washington State from San Francisco. The older boy’s name was Harry, and he was twelve.
“I’m Lewis, and she’s Alison,” I told him. “We’re almost twelve, in August.”
He looked first at me, then at my sister.
“Is one of you adopted?”
“Who’s the oldest?”
“I am,” I said. “By twelve minutes.”
He ran a hand through his spiky red hair. “You’re twins?”
“You don’t dress alike.”
“I’d look funny in skirts,” I said. And then, because Alison wasn’t wearing a skirt, I added, “In pink shorts, too. Mom never dressed us alike, even when we were babies. They wanted us to think of ourselves as individuals, not as part of a set of twins.”
“I always thought it would be fun to be a twin,” Harry said. He had a scab on his chin, in among the freckles, and he scratched at it. “I could think up lots of tricks to play on people if I was a twin.” He looked over at our house. “You got anything to eat over there? I’m starved, and we haven’t come to the food stuff yet.”
“Sure,” Alison said. “We haven’t had breakfast yet, either. Come on over.” Then she paused and looked hopefully at his house. “Are your little brother and sister hungry too?”
“Nah,” Harry said. “They’ve been eating peanuts since we left the motel where we stayed last night.”
So we went back to our house and introduced Harry to Mom, who was busy at the computer. She works at home for an insurance company. She said to eat whatever we wanted. That was pretty safe to say because she only buys stuff she says is nutritious.
So we dug into those huge muffins Mom gets at Costco. I had chocolate, Alison had poppy seed, and Harry had one chocolate and one blueberry bran. We drained a quart of orange juice, and then we went up to check out my Nintendo. I had one game he didn’t have, and he said he had a couple I didn’t have.
He noticed my bookcase. “You read all that stuff?” he asked.
“Yeah. If you want to trade books to read, we could each get some new ones,” I told him.
“I’m not much on reading,” Harry said, “except comics.”
I sighed. Buddy and I read all the same books. Our folks don’t want us to spend money on comics, but they’re generous with book money. And going to the library gives us a good excuse to get together and fool around when we want to get out of the house. But I wouldn’t see Buddy until the end of July. I’d have to make do with Harry.
He was okay. I showed him where the community pool was. We rode bikes and I showed him around. He had plenty of money—it didn’t sound as if he had to do any chores to get it, either—and we went to McDonald’s for burgers and shakes several times.
Once they got settled in, we had snacks at his house as well as at mine. My mom’s idea of snacks is fruit or peanut butter sandwiches. At his house there was a more satisfying variety. He opened up the cupboard and there were Cheese Curls and corn chips and potato chips in about four flavors. There was also a stash of candy bars, and once we opened a big can of tamales and heated them in the microwave.
Mom and Mrs. Rupe didn’t exactly get to be bosom buddies, because Mom said she’s too busy to sit around having coffee and visiting during the day. But she did send a plate of homemade cookies next door. And a couple of times Mrs. Rupe borrowed something they hadn’t unpacked of their own yet. They were friendly when they met, but they didn’t meet very often. Mr. Rupe put up a swing set and teeter-totter and slide, and when the little kids were out there, Alison went over and talked to them.
“Push me!” Ariadne requested, so Alison helped entertain them for a while. Mrs. Rupe came out with lemonade for everybody and thanked her.
“It’s a help to have them out from under my feet when there’s so much to do. Billy, don’t pull up those flowers, dear. They’ll wilt. Leave them in the ground and we can all enjoy them.”
“I want to look at them,” Billy said.
“Well, bend over, dear, and look at them while they’re still growing,” his mother said. “Alison, I need to run to the market. I’ll only be gone a few minutes. Would you mind watching Billy and Ariadne so I don’t have to take them with me?”
“Sure, I’ll be glad to,” Alison said, really pleased. I hoped that would mean the Rupes would consider her for baby-sitting jobs later on.
“Better your sister than me,” Harry said, draining his glass of lemonade. “Come on, let’s go over to your place and have a duel with Nintendo.”
That afternoon I had to mow the lawn, front and back. I remembered the old Tom Sawyer story, and I offered to let Harry mow part of it if he wanted to.
He looked at me as if I’d gone nuts. “Mow the lawn?” he echoed. “I never mow the lawn.”
I made my voice sympathetic. “Oh, won’t your folks let you operate the mower? Mine wouldn’t, either, last year, but I’m almost twelve now. It’s a neat mower; Dad bought it new this year. It’s kind of the first step toward driving a car, you know?”
“Really?” Harry asked. I could see I had the hook in him, so I cranked him in a little. “I have to do the front lawn, out where everybody can see it. My folks are particular. But if you want to try it in the back, where it’s kind of out of sight from everybody but the family, I’ll give you a turn.”
I had him, hook, line, and sinker. “You’ll show me how to run it?” Harry asked.
“Sure,” I agreed. “It’s not that hard once you get the idea.”
Alison came along while I was sitting on the back steps eating an apple. Harry had sweat dripping off his nose as he mowed the sunny part in the middle of the yard. She looked at him for a moment, then at me.
“You stinker,” she said. “Lewis, you are so lazy.”
“I’m doing him a favor,” I told her. “He never got a chance to mow before.”
“Poor old Huck,” she said, remembering the story from Tom Sawyer too. We both laughed. She liked to read the same books I did. Maybe they didn’t put Mark Twain stories in comic books.
It didn’t hurt Harry to take a turn. His face was kind of pink when he got through, and he was thirsty. “Let’s have a can of pop,” he suggested when we’d put the mower away.
“We’ll have to get it at your house. Mom doesn’t buy much pop,” I said.
“If my mom didn’t buy pop, there’d be a mutiny,” Harry grunted. “Come on, I’ll get a bag of chips to go with it, and we’ll sit in the shade.”
By the time the Rupes had been there a week, we were in and out of each other’s houses all the time. Us kids, I mean. Harry even brought out a Calvin and Hobbes book, which we read together, and then I read aloud from a new paperback mystery called Nightmare.
“Hey, I’ll come back tomorrow and you can read some more of it,” he said when it was time to go home.
I smiled. Maybe I’d make a reader of Harry yet.
When they asked me to go with them to Yellowstone Park, my jaw dropped open. “You kidding?” I asked.
“No. Mom says I’m a pain if I don’t have anybody to do things with. Billy and Ariadne are too little to be any fun. We’re going to be gone nine days.”
I thought it was a great idea. I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn or take out the garbage or be reminded every day to clean up my room. And I wouldn’t miss Buddy so much.
“You want to go?” Harry pressed.
“Yeah, sure, if my folks will let me. They’re kind of particular about what I do.” And with whom, I might have added. They wouldn’t let me go bungee jumping with Uncle Neal, nor ride with him when he was racing his boat on Lake Washington. And when some of my friends went on a backpack hike up near the ice caves, they said I could only go if there was an adult along to chaperone. We couldn’t get a father to go because it was in the middle of the week, so I had to stay home. Everybody else had a great time.
“It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Lewis,” Dad said when I complained. “It’s just that you aren’t quite old enough to do everything on your own, yet. We want you to be safe.”
So I wasn’t at all sure they’d let me go on a trip with the Rupes, even if both parents were along. I was ecstatic when they agreed to let me go to Yellowstone.
Alison was wistful. “It sounds like a wonderful trip,” she said.
“I’ll bring you a souvenir,” I promised. “And send you some postcards, like with a picture of Old Faithful.”
That afternoon, two days before we were going to leave, Harry and I were at the Rupes’ kitchen table having big bowls of ice cream with chocolate syrup when his mom came home from the store. She started unloading stuff on the counters—more chips, dip mix, canned pop, cookies, and all kinds of lunch meat.
“Good news,” she said to Harry. “Your father decided to make this a really great vacation, so we’re renting a motor home. How about that?”
“Wow! My sister will really be jealous!” I said. “She’s hoping maybe you’ll need a baby-sitter once in a while,” I added, feeling guilty. “But I suppose Harry can do that for you.”
Harry shot me a look across the table that should have shriveled me up like a prune. “Not me! Not with Billy and Ariadne!”
Mrs. Rupe paused with a jar of olives in her hand. “Your sister really likes children, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah. Especially babies, but any little kids. She reads to them, plays games with them, things like that.”
“She’s twelve, did you say?”
“Almost. Same as me.”
“Hmm.” Mrs. Rupe seemed to find that interesting. She gave me a big smile. “How’d you boys like some chopped walnuts on your ice cream?”
Boy, she sure bought lots of good stuff to eat, I thought. I wished my mom wasn’t quite so health conscious. The Rupes even had white bread and Twinkies.
“I think I’ll run over and speak to Mrs. Dodge for a moment. Your mother is home, isn’t she, Lewis?”
“Sure. She’s working on the computer,” I told her. I knew Mom wouldn’t like being interrupted, nor Mrs. Rupe smoking in our house, but just once couldn’t be too bad.
So when I got home, Alison met me at the door, all excited. “Lewis, guess what! I’m going to Yellowstone, too!”
“No kidding,” I said. “That’s great. How come?”
“Mrs. Rupe talked to Mom and said it sure would be wonderful if I went along to help with the little kids. And Mom said she didn’t see why not, so now I have to pack!”
“Are you getting paid to baby-sit?” I asked.
“She didn’t say anything about paying me. But I’ll get to see Yellowstone and do everything the rest of you are doing. I wonder if my yellow shorts are clean?”
She dashed off to start filling up her suitcase.
I was glad she was going too. We’re pretty good friends, and she’s usually good for a loan. I couldn’t wait to get started.
“We leave when Dad gets off work on Friday,” Harry told me that evening. “This is going to be fun!”
Willo Davis Roberts wrote many mystery and suspense novels for children during her long and illustrious career, including The Girl with the Silver Eyes, The View from the Cherry Tree, Twisted Summer, Megan’s Island, Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job, Hostage, Scared Stiff, The Kidnappers, and Caught! Three of her children’s books won Edgar Awards, while others received great reviews and other accolades, including the Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Georgia Children’s Book Award.