Villainous, page 1
Also by Matthew Cody
The Dead Gentleman
Will in Scarlet
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by Matthew Cody
Jacket art copyright © 2014 by Geoffrey Lorenzen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Visit us on the Web! randomhouse.com/kids
Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Villainous / by Matthew Cody. — First edition.
Sequel to: Super.
Summary: “Fourteen-year-old Daniel and his friends battle the Nobles of the new Noble Academy and attempt to defeat the Shroud once and for all.” —Provided by publisher
ISBN 978-0-385-75489-7 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-385-75490-3 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-385-75492-7 (pbk.) — ISBN 978-0-385-75491-0 (ebook)
[1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Superheroes—Fiction. 3. Supervillains—Fiction. 4. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For James and Shirley Cody
Other Books by This Author
Prologue: October 14, 1934
Chapter One: Summer School
Chapter Two: Fast as Lightning
Chapter Three: The Swimming Hole
Chapter Four: Those Kids
Chapter Five: The Junkyard
Chapter Six: The Nobles of Noble’s Green
Chapter Seven: The Unusual Suspects
Chapter Eight: The Scene of the Crime
Chapter Nine: A Super Crime Spree
Chapter Ten: The Other Plunkett
Chapter Eleven: Principal Johnny
Chapter Twelve: Undercover
Chapter Thirteen: The Noble School for the Criminally Gifted
Chapter Fourteen: Supers vs. Nobles: Round One
Chapter Fifteen: An Unexpected Hand
Chapter Sixteen: Heartbreak
Chapter Seventeen: The Fire
Chapter Eighteen: Headlines
Chapter Nineteen: The Kiss
Chapter Twenty: The Standoff
Chapter Twenty-One: Breaking News
Chapter Twenty-Two: Threads
Chapter Twenty-Three: Mercy General
Chapter Twenty-Four: Good Cop, Bad Cop
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Old Quarry
Chapter Twenty-Six: Knight Takes Pawn
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Supers vs. Nobles: Round Two
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Witch Fire
Special thanks to my editor, Michele Burke, who shepherded this book through its ups and downs with her usual panache. Thanks to Karen Greenberg, Stephen Brown, and Nancy Hinkel for their wonderful insights and extraordinary patience. Thank you to my tireless agent and friend, Kate Schafer Testerman.
And, of course, thanks to Alisha and Willem for just about everything.
October 14, 1934
He didn’t want to come out, but he knew he couldn’t stay in there all day. Eileen always said that when he locked himself in, he was only making it worse—giving the other children another reason to make fun of him. And it was hot and it stank, but then outhouses were supposed to stink.
Herman bit his lip as someone knocked at the door. He’d locked the latch but what if it was Bill Tyler? That boy told everyone about how he used to break into homes back in Philadelphia. He even claimed to have picked the lock on Brother Francis’s door once, though Herman suspected that story was just bragging.
“Herman?” called a girl’s voice from the other side of the door. “You okay in there?”
Herman breathed a sigh of relief—not a pleasant thing to do considering the generally poor quality of the air in there. It was only Eileen.
“I’m okay,” answered Herman.
“You gonna be much longer?” she asked. “I gotta go.”
“There’s more than one outhouse,” said Herman. Eileen knew that. She was just trying to get Herman to come out without saying she wanted him to come out.
Silence. Herman started to worry that she’d gone, that she’d gotten so frustrated with him this time that she’d finally given up. She wouldn’t have been the first.
“Eileen?” he whispered against the slats of the door.
“Herman, why don’t you just come out?”
She was still there. That was good, though he still wasn’t about to come out.
“So this is where you been hiding,” said Eileen. “You could at least find someplace that isn’t so darn smelly.”
He still didn’t say anything.
“Herman, that was supposed to be a joke.”
“I know what jokes are.”
“Then you know it’s polite to laugh when someone makes one, even if it’s not very funny.”
“Ha-ha,” said Herman.
“Thank you,” answered Eileen. “Now will you please open the door and tell me what happened?”
“It was that Jake Talbot,” said Herman. “He’s a bully.”
“I heard you two had trouble.”
“He chased me through the yard with a hickory switch. Everyone laughed.”
“Herman, some of the other children are saying that you started it. They’re saying that you put cayenne powder in his porridge.”
“Well, somebody did. I saw the blisters on his tongue.”
“It wasn’t me,” said Herman. “Swear it wasn’t.”
Eileen didn’t answer right away, and Herman wondered what was going on in her head. Did she believe him? Lying came easily; it was something he did well. Maybe the only thing. The trick, he’d discovered, was that to make other people believe you, you had to believe in the lie yourself. If you could fool yourself, you could fool anybody, and at that moment Herman willed himself to believe that he hadn’t snatched a bag of cayenne powder from Brother Leo’s herb cabinet and poured at least half of it into Jake Talbot’s morning porridge. And he willed himself to believe that he hadn’t done all this because he’d seen Jake Talbot and Eileen holding hands last night after supper.
As he often did when things got bad, Herman found himself a lie that was better than the truth.
“Okay, then, Herman,” said Eileen. “If you swear you didn’t do it, I believe you. And I’ll tell Jake Talbot that it wasn’t you and to leave you alone. If he doesn’t, he’ll answer to me.”
Herman grinned as he undid the latch on the outhouse door. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the glare of daylight. Standing there with the sun silhouetted around her like a halo, Eileen looked as bright as the sun herself.
He stared at her until he had spots in his eyes.
“You know you got to stand up for yourself,” said Eileen. “If
“I’ll be your hero someday,” said Herman. “Someday I’ll save you.”
Eileen smiled and they walked together back to the orphanage. A few of the monks had gathered near the front to look over the wares of a passing trapper. His was a familiar face around St. Alban’s, a dirty fellow with an unkempt beard and patched-up clothes. From what Herman could tell, the trapper spent more time trying to convince the monks to buy knickknacks than actually doing any trapping. He always had a pouch of trinkets that he’d scrounged from who-knew-where, and occasionally the monks would find something in the pouch for the younger orphans to play with. Today he was trying to interest them in a ragged doll with hair the color of straw. One of her button eyes dangled precariously by a thread.
As Eileen led Herman past, the trapper smiled, tipped his coonskin hat at Eileen, and winked at Herman.
Johnny. That was his name. Johnny.
The inside of St. Alban’s was arranged around a central cloister, the courtyard where most of the orphans carried out chores during the day. The children slept in the bunkhouse, divided into a room for the boys and a room for the girls. They took their meals together with the monks in the frater. There were nine of them right now. Nine unwanted children from all parts.
St. Alban’s hadn’t begun as an orphanage. The little monastery had been built in the wilds of the mountainside to escape the distracting trappings of civilization, even such meager trappings as could be found in the nearby town. But over the years, as more and more wayward children began appearing in the area—the sons and daughters of migrant workers too poor to feed them, or street children from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia who’d hopped a freight train but hadn’t gotten very far—those lost children would eventually find their way to St. Alban’s doorstep.
Right now five of the nine were gathered in the cloister looking at Jake Talbot’s ruined mouth. Brother Leo was dabbing a wet cloth on Jake’s blistered tongue and making concerned clucking noises.
Eileen guided Herman close enough that he could get a good look. Older than Herman by just a year, she already stood a good half a foot taller than the small boy. For several minutes, Eileen didn’t move and she didn’t let Herman walk away. She stood there with her hands on Herman’s shoulders as the two of them watched Brother Leo tend to Jake. Herman didn’t know why they were watching this, as he’d successfully willed it that he hadn’t had anything to do with it, but if Eileen wanted him to watch for some strange reason, then he was happy to do so as long as she kept her hands on his shoulders. She was gentle and Herman liked that.
People weren’t gentle with Herman much. His mother might have been once, though Herman couldn’t remember her very well. And the monks said that he had a brother somewhere although he couldn’t remember him either. But Herman knew this: that real families were gentle with one another. They held each other, traded kisses and hugs. That made Eileen his family, the only family he knew.
She was his family, not Jake Talbot’s.
Eventually, Eileen let her hands slide away, and with a pat on his head, she wandered off to collect the day’s laundry for the evening wash. Herman drifted back toward the frater and the kitchen, ignoring the queasy knot of guilt that had tied itself up in his stomach. Maybe he could find something to take his mind off it. If Brother Leo was tending to Jake, maybe he wasn’t keeping an eye on his herb cabinet.…
At dinner Eileen didn’t sit with Herman, though he was pleased to see she didn’t sit with Jake either. After Brother Francis said grace, the children dug into their meals, all except Jake. He was miserably sucking on a rag that he kept re-wetting with cool water from the pitcher.
After dinner the orphans marched single file across the cloister to the bunkhouse. The night was crisp and the stars shone brightly overhead. Herman saw Brother Francis and Brother Leo standing outside and pointing to a different spot of sky in the east. Herman squinted at it, and at first thought his eyes were fooling him because it looked like the sun was already rising. Only instead of being lit with a warm red glow, the horizon was a ghostly, shimmering green. He’d never seen anything like it. Herman wanted to stop and watch, but he was herded along with the other children indoors to their beds.
Herman’s bunk was on the far side of the boys’ room, and he wasn’t halfway there when a shadow stepped into his path. No, it wasn’t a shadow; it was just Bill Tyler.
“We know what you done to Jake,” said Bill. A few of the other boys were standing behind him. They all wore evil looks. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t knock your block off. Bad enough you’re always skulking around, stealing other people’s things. Herman the sneak. Herman the fink!”
Herman did try to think of a good reason why Bill shouldn’t hit him, but he couldn’t lie his way out of this one. And when Herman couldn’t lie his way out of trouble, he had one other tactic that had served him well—he ran.
He was out the door before Bill had taken two steps. Out of the boys’ room and through his secret exit—a loose floorboard at the end of the hall. Then past the backyard and all the way to his hiding place.
The outhouse was empty, as it always was (the seat in this one was particularly splintery and best avoided). Herman closed the door and flipped the lock. Then he hugged his knees to his chest and waited. Bill would have to go to sleep eventually; then Herman would sneak into his own bed so that he’d be there when the brothers woke them for morning chores.
Herman waited for hours, until his own eyelids began drooping with sleep. When he finally opened the outhouse door, he was shocked to see that the sky overhead had changed. The stars had been swallowed up by a heavy blanket of storm clouds, but instead of lightning flashes, the clouds were lit with that sallow greenish light. It looked like the end of the world.
Herman was wondering if the other children were seeing this same sky, or if they were tucked into their beds asleep and unaware, when the air was rent with a tremendous boom. Before he’d come to St. Alban’s, Herman had spent time in a mining town where he watched the miners use dynamite to blast their way into nickel veins, but this sound was ten times as loud as that had been. It set his ears ringing, and the clouds parted as a streak of green fire came hurtling from the heavens. It burned shadows into Herman’s vision as it got bigger and bigger, a falling star set to collide with the earth. Truly the end of the world.
It must’ve hit the cloister directly because the impact blew up such a cloud of dirt and fire that Herman was thrown into the back of the outhouse and the door slammed shut behind him. Once the cloud settled, Herman inched the door open and saw that the flames—green flames like the lightning overhead—had already begun to consume the frater. The kitchen was ablaze; the monks’ quarters had been leveled in the destruction. The only building still standing was the orphans’ bunkhouse, but the fires were already drifting that way.
Why weren’t they running? Why weren’t the children fleeing for their lives? But they couldn’t, not without facing the rising inferno outside their front door. They were trapped in there and they would die. Eileen would die.
But not if Herman saved her. No one knew about the loose floorboard, Herman’s secret exit. He could open it and lead them all out that way, through the back of the bunkhouse and into the safety of the woods.
Herman just needed the courage to step out of his hiding place and face the fire. He could do it. For Eileen.
He’d managed his first step when he saw a shape emerging from the trees. It was the trapper Johnny, and he was sprinting toward the burning orphanage. The front gate was aflame, so Johnny used the butt of his rifle to smash open a window high in the bunkhouse wall. Immediately, greenish black smoke came pouring out—the bunkhouse must have been filled with it. But Johnny didn’t hesitate. He hauled himself up and through the shattered window, swallowed up by the smoke.
Herman’s eyes stung with tears, but it wasn’t from the heat or smoke. He was upwind of the blaze and spared the worst of it. His tears were for Eileen.
Then there was another crash as the bunkhouse’s roof gave way and collapsed in on itself in a shower of glowing cinders.
“Eileen,” Herman whimpered.
A moment passed, and the wreckage moved. The fallen timbers stirred and, unbelievably, rose. Johnny was lifting the collapsed roof over his head. His clothes were aflame but he didn’t seem to notice. It was impossible. Ten men wouldn’t have been able to lift that roof. Not a man alive could have withstood that heat.
Then she appeared. She wasn’t alone—the other orphans rose with her, freed by Johnny and lifting themselves out of the burning wreckage, but Herman only saw her. Eileen floating up into the sky.
At first Herman thought she’d died and he was seeing her angel make its way to heaven, but she wasn’t dead. She was glowing, and not with the green light of the fire but with a light all her own. She shone as brightly and as golden as the sun. She was flying.
“Mr. Plunkett? Mr. Plunkett, are you okay, sir?”
“Hmm?” said Herman, noticing the nurse’s fat face for the first time. How long had she been standing there? “I was just thinking about something that happened to me a long time ago. Long, long time ago.”
The young nurse was new here, but she’d already learned how to infuriate Herman with her chipper smile. She seemed determined to make up for her inexperience by becoming best friends with every patient at the Mountain View Home. But Herman knew there was no making up for inexperience. Experience counted for everything. At nearly a hundred years old, it had to.
“You’ve got just a little bit of Jell-O there on your chin, Mr. Plunkett,” she said, and dabbed at his face with one of those dreadful wet wipes she always carried, the ones that smelled like a dentist’s office. He knew he had Jell-O all down the front of his dressing gown as well and in his lap, but she either didn’t notice or chose not to comment on that. He hadn’t seen much use in cleaning it up before.
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