Villainous, p.16

Villainous, page 16

 

Villainous
 


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  “Fine,” said Daniel. “We start looking for another suspect. You two keep your eye on the academy; we’ll keep digging down here. But I’m not forgetting about Herman. He’s playing some kind of game in all this, I’ll bet anything.”

  No one wanted to take him up on that bet. Everyone realized just how dangerous the old man was, whether he had his Shroud powers or not. But none of them knew Herman the way Daniel did. They hadn’t had him in their heads. Last year Herman had used his Shroud powers to hack into Daniel’s dreams and manipulate him into using the meteorite ring that stole his friends’ powers on contact. Under Herman’s influence, Daniel had nearly become the new Shroud himself.

  Even today, even though both the ring and Herman’s pendant had been destroyed by Daniel’s own hand, whenever he dreamed of Herman, he’d wake up in a cold sweat and wonder Was that really just a dream? He could never be sure again.

  As far as Daniel was concerned, Herman was guilty until proved innocent.

  Daniel had hoped to talk to Mollie alone for a few minutes, but she flew away with Eric to scout the area just in case anyone had been interested in their meeting. He watched her soar off into the clouds beside Eric and found himself feeling both worried for her and a little bit jealous. Worried because ever since Smiley’s final, she’d been quiet and hardly herself, and jealous because he knew whatever happened between them, he’d never be able to do what Eric was doing. He’d never fly with her. Not really.

  He’d gotten a taste of that power when he’d accidentally used Herman’s ring last year, and without meaning to, he’d borrowed Eric’s powers. For a brief few minutes he’d experienced the thrill, the absolute joy, of flight. Now that he knew how he’d gotten the power, the memory made him sick. But it broke his heart too.

  “I think I’m lucky that I’m not overly fond of heights,” said Rohan, nudging Daniel.

  Daniel tore his eyes away from the sky overhead and nodded. Rohan always seemed to know what he was thinking.

  “Yeah,” said Daniel. “I suppose so.”

  “Still,” said Rohan, “she’s not the type to go for the obvious hero. Strength, toughness, that sort of thing doesn’t interest her. Eric accepted that a long time ago.”

  “Huh?” said Daniel. “Are you talking about … What are you talking about?”

  “Mollie and Eric,” said Rohan. “Didn’t you know?”

  “Know what?” asked Daniel. His pulse was pounding in his temples. It sounded like someone was beating his head against a bass drum. Were Mollie and Eric a couple?

  “Relax,” said Rohan, putting a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “You look like you’re going to stroke out. I thought you knew, but Eric used to have a thing for Mollie. It didn’t work out because she wasn’t interested.”

  “Whoa,” said Daniel. “I gotta sit down.”

  “You all right?”

  “You just told me that one of my best friends is in love with the girl I … like. A lot.”

  “No,” said Rohan. “I did not say that. I said he used to have a thing for her. A thing is not love.”

  “What is it, then?”

  Rohan thought for a moment. “More than a crush, but definitely less than love.”

  “That’s still terrible.” Daniel put his head on his knees. If he threw up, he wanted to be closer to the ground.

  “And you are missing the operative word in my sentence, I think. Eric used to have a thing for her. It’s long over.”

  “Are you sure?” asked Daniel.

  Rohan nodded. “Eric’s not the type who lingers, if you hadn’t noticed. Once it became clear that Mollie had eyes for someone else, he moved on.”

  “And when did that happen?”

  “Oh, around about the time you moved to town,” said Rohan, holding out a helping hand.

  “C’mon,” he said, and pulled Daniel to his feet. “They’ll return soon and then Eric and I need to get back to the academy before anyone notices we’re gone. And you”—he patted Daniel on the back—“you need to talk Mollie into giving you a ride home.”

  Chapter Nineteen

  The Kiss

  That night, Daniel couldn’t sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes, he felt like he was on a boat out at sea, tossing back and forth until he was sick to his stomach. On the one hand, he feared for his friends. The mood of the town was going from bad to worse, and now it seemed that every little problem would soon be the doing of those dangerous Supers. When the temperature peaked at ninety-eight degrees, people would bet one of those Supers was controlling the weather. A faulty traffic light on Main Street would be flagged as a case of possible Super-related domestic terrorism.

  The other part of Daniel’s brain was selfish. It wasn’t worried about his friends or the town; it was worried about whether Mollie Lee from across the street would ever be his girlfriend. It was an anxious kind of feeling, bordering on happiness but not quite ready to commit. In his best moments, he felt buoyant, tingling from his fingers to his toes. He’d heard people say that being in love was like flying, and if this was it, then Daniel could tell them that they were right. He knew from experience.

  At his worst, he wanted to pull the covers over his head and stay in bed forever with the shades drawn.

  Mollie had suggested she and Michael do regular patrols of the town, in hopes that they might catch the vandals in the act. They were looking for a new suspect, but Daniel couldn’t shake the feeling that they had all the information they needed right here in front of them. Herman, Johnny, the Nobles, and these attacks—he just needed the right clue to pull them all together.

  That morning, as Daniel was out front looking for the paper (he did that a lot, since from his front yard he could also see Mollie Lee’s house across the street), he was nearly knocked to the ground as someone grabbed him from behind.

  It was Mollie and she was laughing. Or was she crying? It was difficult to tell.

  “Is everything all right?” Daniel asked.

  In answer, Mollie held up a slip of paper clutched in her fist.

  “The final grades!” she said. “Did you get yours?”

  Oh no, Daniel thought. He’d been dreading this moment, and frankly, if Mollie had failed, then he didn’t really care what his own grade was. What would be the point?

  “I haven’t looked at the mail yet,” he said awkwardly.

  “I passed!”

  “Huh?”

  “I PASSED!” Mollie shouted again. “I got eighty-one percent, thanks to you!”

  Then she was hugging him again and doing that laughing/crying stuff some more, and Daniel didn’t have time to even process what she’d said because the next thing he knew he was kissing her.

  He thought that it definitely ranked among the world’s very best. It had to. This was a kiss two years in the making.

  “Daniel and Mollie sitting in a tree!” said a little voice behind him. With a combination of reluctance and bright burning embarrassment, Daniel and Mollie pulled apart and looked down to see Georgie pointing up at them.

  “K-Y-S-S-I-N-G,” he sang.

  “It’s K-I-S-S— Oh, never mind,” said Daniel. “Look, Georgie, why don’t you run back inside, okay?”

  But his little brother had already forgotten about the kissing, and begun hopping up and down and pointing at the street.

  “Look, police cars!” Georgie cried with joy. “Police cars!”

  A line of vehicles marked NOBLE’S GREEN SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT was passing Elm, their red lights flashing. Was there some kind of parade going on? Then Daniel saw the news vans following the police cars. This wasn’t a parade—something was happening.

  Daniel looked at Mollie, but she was looking down at her phone, which was pinging frantically. Someone was sending her a flurry of text messages.

  “Slow down a minute,” she said to her phone as she scrolled through the beeping messages. That was something you never heard Mollie Lee say.

  “What’s up?” asked Daniel.

  “It’s Lo
uisa,” said Mollie. “She’s sending me a link to …”

  Mollie’s face fell. She’d been flushed a bright red (as Daniel suspected he was too) a second ago, but as Daniel watched, all the color drained from her cheeks.

  “Oh God,” she whispered; then she held out her phone so Daniel could see the small screen too. “It’s all over the Internet.”

  She tapped the screen and Daniel waited impatiently as the tiny black image spun and spun, loading.

  “What is it?” he asked, louder than he’d intended.

  “There,” she answered, and a video began playing. It was shaky, a few minutes of footage recorded on someone’s phone and from far away. But the picture was clear enough.

  Drake was standing in the middle of the junkyard, surrounded by a crowd of similarly dressed students. Rohan was standing next to him, calm but obviously frightened. The scene was odd enough to look at, but then the boy started talking. Daniel cringed because he knew what came next. After all, he’d been there and he’d heard Drake’s words.

  “Of course we won!” the boy shouted. “We’re Nobles.”

  And now he turned toward the hidden videographer, to the crowd of academy students. Flames and smoke escaped from Drake’s nostrils as his face contorted with a kind of mad glee.

  “We’re the future!” he cried. “Not those peasants down there in town, or the teachers telling us how to behave—no one can make us do anything we don’t want to do, and soon enough, we’ll be in charge. And this is what happens to anyone who gets in our way!”

  The video ended there.

  Georgie was clapping and making siren sounds. “Policemen, Daniel!” he sang.

  Daniel took Mollie’s hand as they watched the police cars speeding up the mountain road. He knew exactly where they were headed.

  Chapter Twenty

  The Standoff

  The police cars were making good time up the Old Quarry Road, but Mollie managed to overtake them, even with Daniel’s added weight to carry. It was a strangely unreal feeling, to go from kissing Mollie in one instant to praying she didn’t accidentally drop him to his death in the next. It didn’t help that Mollie was flying with a recklessness that Daniel had seldom seen. He understood why— she wanted to get to the academy before the sheriff’s men did. She wanted to stand next to her friends.

  They landed rather roughly on the lawn just past the gatehouse, and Daniel skidded along the grass until his jeans had holes in the knees. A few academy students saw them fly in, and one ran out to greet them.

  “Whoa, are you okay?” asked an orange-haired boy. Martin something or other, Daniel thought his name was. “Some landing!”

  He was staring at Mollie like she … well … like she’d just fallen from the sky.

  “Get Johnny.… I mean, go get the principal,” said Daniel. “It’s an emergency.”

  The boy nodded and started to walk back toward the campus, but still watching them over his shoulder.

  “Can’t you go any faster?” Mollie shouted. “He said it was an emergency!”

  The boy nodded, then leapt into the air and flew off toward the main administrative building. That’s right, Martin was a flier. Good.

  Meanwhile, Daniel and Mollie sat on the grass and tried to catch their breaths. It was amazing how exhausting simply being carried could be when you were fearing for your life.

  It wasn’t more than a couple of minutes later when Johnny arrived.

  “Daniel, what are you doing here?” he asked.

  Johnny was standing before them, his arms crossed over his broad chest. Martin stood a few feet behind him, looking excited and concerned all at once.

  “We came to warn you,” said Daniel. “The police are on their way here. We saw them driving up the mountain. They’re coming to the school.”

  Johnny cocked his head. “The police? What do they want here?”

  “Someone made a video that day of the fight at the junkyard,” said Mollie, looking at the ground instead of Johnny. She’d been there; she’d been one of those responsible for the fight that day after all.

  “They got Drake on video saying all that garbage about the Nobles being better than everyone,” said Daniel. “Calling the rest of us peasants. Someone posted it online, and it’s gone viral.”

  “The way it cuts off, it looks just like some kind of terrorist manifesto,” added Mollie. “It’s scary.”

  Johnny closed his eyes, but Daniel couldn’t tell if the man was thinking or listening for something undetectable to their ears. If he was thinking, there wasn’t much time left. Those cars would be here any second.

  “Martin,” said Johnny, his eyes flicking open. “Fly back to the main building and tell Ms. Starr to bring Rohan Parmar and Drake Masterson into my office and remain there with them. Everyone else stays indoors until I say otherwise, yourself included. You got that, son?”

  “Yes, sir,” said Martin, and he flew off back the way he came.

  “Thanks for warning us,” said Johnny. “I was afraid something like this would happen.”

  “What are you going to do?” asked Daniel.

  “Let’s go find out what Sheriff Simmons wants.”

  They walked together down to the gate and saw that a few deputies were talking to the security guard there. The deputies had pistols holstered at their hips; the guard had a clipboard. Two men were standing behind a semicircle made up of microphones and news cameras. The first Daniel recognized instantly as Sheriff Simmons, and the second, the rather round and baffled-looking mayor of Noble’s Green, was talking to the reporters.

  “I repeat that we are only here to question two persons of interest who were featured in the widely circulated video,” he was saying.

  “Can you confirm that the video is a terrorist recruitment tool?” asked one of the reporters.

  The mayor addressed the question without looking directly at the questioner. He never took his eyes away from the camera. “We have no comment as to the nature of the video.”

  “What are the suspects’ names?”

  Sheriff Simmons leaned in and whispered something into the mayor’s ear. “Huh? Oh yes, of course.”

  “The persons of interest,” said the mayor, “are both still minors, and therefore we are not ready to give their names at this time.”

  “But you can confirm that they are the ones shown in the video?” said one reporter.

  “And they are both Supers?” said another.

  “No comment,” answered the mayor. “Except that I assure the citizens of this town that there will be a full and thorough investigation into the claims made on that video and any connection to the recent rash of violence. No stone will remain unturned! And that includes this academy.”

  This was ridiculous. If the mayor hadn’t wanted anyone to see these persons of interest, then why lead a caravan of police cars to the gate of the academy?

  It was theater. All of this was theater, and apparently Johnny had had enough.

  “Excuse me,” said Johnny, stepping past the guard and walking directly into the mayor’s impromptu press conference.

  “Eh,” said the mayor, startled by Johnny’s sudden appearance. He quickly recovered, however, and gave Johnny a cold, accusing stare. “Ah. Principal Noble. If you will just show Sheriff Simmons and his men inside—”

  “No,” said Johnny.

  The mayor had already turned back to face the cameras, a self-satisfied smile on his face, when he seemed to comprehend what Johnny had just said. But even so, he looked at Sheriff Simmons, as if needing confirmation.

  “Did he just say no?” the mayor whispered.

  The sheriff nodded.

  “Now listen,” the mayor said. “No one here wants to create a scene—”

  “Yes, you do,” said Johnny. “A scene is exactly what you’re after. That’s why you brought all these police cars just to question two boys. That’s why every news van in town is here.”

  The mayor’s face reddened as he poked a fat finger in Jo
hnny’s direction. “Out of respect for your long relationship with our dear town, I will pretend you didn’t say that. But you must remember that I am the mayor and you are still just a principal!”

  Johnny turned his back on the mayor and planted himself in front of the gate. As he did, the cameramen crouched low on their knees scurried after him like a pack of dogs.

  “Do you have warrants? Because if not, this school is private property,” said Johnny. “And I don’t care how many stupid videos these kids make or what they say. This looks like a witch hunt to me, and I’ve seen a few in my time.”

  The mayor’s face was red with fury, but when he spoke next, it was a whisper, just soft enough to be out of the reporters’ earshot. “What if I have you arrested for obstructing justice?”

  “Do you really want to try that?” Johnny whispered back.

  Johnny folded his arms across his chest and looked out over the assembled reporters, the police, Sheriff Simmons, and the mayor. One by one, every person who met his gaze took a halting step back.

  “This gate stays shut until I deem it safe to reopen,” said Johnny, this time speaking directly into the camera. “The school’s closed to visitors until further notice.”

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Breaking News

  The immediate effect of Johnny’s announcement that he was closing the school to outsiders was silence. The birds and the insects of the surrounding forest had gone quiet. Even the wind seemed to be waiting to see what would happen next. Then the reporters erupted all at once, shouting questions at Johnny and yelling over one another to be heard. But Johnny wasn’t interested in talking anymore. He turned around and started back up the sidewalk toward campus.

  Mollie turned to Daniel and smiled. “Go, Johnny!”

  Daniel nodded, but inside he wasn’t so sure he agreed. What was Johnny going to do next—lock down the school? He couldn’t keep the police out forever. Eventually, they would come back with a search warrant or something, and then he’d either have to let them in or declare himself above the law. Imagine the town’s reaction then!

 
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