Villainous, p.17

Villainous, page 17



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  “Daniel,” said Johnny, “I appreciate that you two came up here to warn us, but I think you’d better be getting home now. You and Mollie.”

  “But what about our friends?” asked Mollie. “They think Rohan is part of Drake’s gang.”

  “They’re safe here with me. I won’t let anyone come near Rohan.”

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

  “That depends on them.” He glanced back at the police cars. “I hope that everyone will use this time to cool off.”

  “And what about Drake?” asked Mollie.

  “What about him?”

  “He’s guilty!”

  “Do you have any evidence to back that up?” said Johnny.

  Mollie, reluctantly, shook her head.

  “We’ve been trying to connect him to the attacks,” said Daniel. “At least some of them. But so far we’ve come up empty-handed.”

  “When you—or the police, for that matter—can present some real evidence that Drake or any of his friends are involved in these crimes, then I’ll be happy to march them down to the sheriff’s office myself,” said Johnny. “But right now, all he is guilty of is saying stupid things on an Internet video. And fighting off school grounds—something that your friends had a part in too.”

  With this, Johnny gave Mollie a long look, and she seemed to shrink under his gaze.

  “I won’t have my students tried out there in the court of public opinion before any real charges are brought,” said Johnny. “It’s too easy to make us into scapegoats that way.”

  “Us?” said Daniel.

  “Them,” answered Johnny. “I’m talking about the students, of course.”

  Daniel wondered.

  “Considering all the news vans out there,” said Johnny, “it’s probably best if you don’t fly home.”

  Johnny walked them both over to the gate. The deputies had moved the reporters back to the edge of the road, where Daniel could see them preening themselves in their compact mirrors, getting ready to file their reports in time for the evening news.

  The mayor had apparently gone home.

  “Sheriff Simmons,” called Johnny, and the sheriff approached the gate.

  “I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” said the sheriff.

  “Do you have warrants yet? Have any of my students been charged with any crimes?”

  “No,” the sheriff admitted.

  “Then I know precisely what I’m doing,” said Johnny. “In the meantime, these two young people are not students of mine, and I’d appreciate it if you could see that they get home safely.”

  “That right?” asked Simmons, looking at Daniel and Mollie in turn.

  “We go to Noble Middle School,” said Daniel. “We were just visiting friends.”

  Sheriff Simmons stared into Daniel’s face. “I know you, don’t I?”

  He did. Daniel and his friends had once been the objects of a townwide missing persons search that had caused the sheriff’s department plenty of aggravation.

  “Uh, don’t think so,” lied Daniel.

  “Mm-hm,” mumbled the sheriff. “Lewis!”

  A deputy young enough to still have a chin covered in acne stepped forward. “Yes, Sheriff?”

  “Give these two a lift home, would you?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Go on, son,” said the sheriff. “Maybe we’ll get you back in time for supper. And, Lewis?”

  “Yes, sir?”

  “Keep an eye on your car this time.”

  The deputy’s pimply face turned pink. “Yes, sir.”

  Daniel looked back at the academy one last time, hoping to catch a glimpse of his friends’ faces at the windows, but the only person visible was Johnny, standing like a sentinel at the gate.

  “C’mon, kids,” said Deputy Lewis. “You don’t belong here. Time to go home.”

  On the drive back through town, Deputy Lewis had to slow his car down because of the crowd of sign wavers gathered outside city hall.

  “Can’t these yahoos get off the street?” complained the deputy to himself as he blasted the siren at them.

  Daniel craned his neck around in the backseat to get a better look. He remembered a time not too long ago when the streets had been crowded with tourists desperate to get a picture taken with a Super. Now they were filled with people waving signs that read WHOSE HOUSE IS NEXT? and SUPER-VILLAINS, GET OUT OF TOWN!

  Daniel searched for any opposing protesters, maybe a few signs in support of his friends, but he didn’t see even one.

  Mollie talked Deputy Lewis into dropping them off at the entrance to Elm. That way they wouldn’t have to explain why they’d been delivered home in a police car.

  Daniel and Mollie exchanged an awkward goodbye. What do you say to each other when the day of your first kiss also happened to be the day the police came to take away one of your best friends?

  Daniel’s parents were in the living room with the television on—an unusual thing for a Saturday afternoon. A breaking-news headline was flashing across the bottom of the screen, and Daniel saw a little house on a tree-lined street that he recognized right away. Daniel and his friends had sat on that front porch just days ago.

  “We’re outside the house of Mr. and Mrs. Parmar,” said a very concerned reporter, “whose son, sources tell us, has been identified as one of the teens on the Internet manifesto. Fourteen-year-old Rowen—”

  “It’s Rohan,” said Daniel. “Not Rowen.”

  “As a student of the Academy for Gifted Youngsters, Rowen undoubtedly possesses potentially dangerous powers, though the exact nature of those powers is still unknown.”

  “Turn it off,” said Daniel. “Please.”

  Daniel’s father reached for the remote, but Georgie was faster. He flipped the channel to a show about a red puppet dinosaur dancing with a stalk of broccoli.

  Tears stung the corners of his eyes as Daniel pressed his hands to his temples. What was going on?

  “Just breathe, honey,” his mom was saying. “Just breathe.” Daniel’s father left the room.

  “Aren’t you going to ask me?” said Daniel, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “Aren’t you going to ask me if what they’re saying is true?”

  His mom gently cupped his face in her hands and turned him toward her. “No,” she said softly. “We don’t have to.”

  His dad came back into the room, holding his car keys. “I’m ready to go. You’ll call me if you hear anything new?”

  Daniel’s mother nodded. “And you’ll be careful?”

  “Of course.”

  Daniel looked at his dad. “Where are you going?”

  “To city hall,” he said. “We heard there was a protest happening down there, so a group of the parents are going down to stage our own protest—against what the mayor is up to.” Daniel’s dad ruffled

  Daniel’s already messy mop of hair and said goodbye. As he was leaving, the phone rang.

  “Are you okay if I answer that, Daniel?” she asked.

  “Yeah,” said Daniel. “Can I go to my room?”

  “You’ll promise me you’ll stay in for the rest of the day?” she said. “I’m serious, Daniel. Things are getting ugly out there.”

  “I promise,” he sighed.

  After giving Daniel a quick peck on the forehead, she got up off the sofa and answered the phone. “Yes, yes,” she was saying. “We just saw them on TV. Have you talked to them to see if they’re all right?”

  Georgie had gotten bored with the dinosaur and broccoli show and began flipping channels until he came to a spunky blond teenager smiling at the camera as a variety of makeup products floated around her head. It was the reality TV show Skye’s the Limit.

  Daniel had never bothered watching it before, and now just seeing Skye’s face made him sick to his stomach. She might be playing the ditzy blonde for the cameras, but Daniel remembered her at the junkyard, her cruel smile as she’d used her powers to bind Michael and Mollie up like cattle. He couldn
t stand to be in the same room with her, even if it was only a screen of pixels.

  He got up and started for the stairs just as she began arguing with someone about whether French was really a language or a kind of salad dressing. As Daniel turned his back on the TV, she exploded into giggles, laughing at her own fake ignorance.

  Daniel stopped and slowly looked over his shoulder back toward the TV.

  Georgie was reaching for the remote, clearly as bored with Skye as he had been with the dancing vegetable.

  “Don’t!” Daniel said. “Leave it on a second.”

  Georgie blinked up at his older brother, confused.

  “Just for a minute, Georgie,” Daniel said. He wanted to be sure.

  She laughed again. A high-pitched giggle, vapid and mean.

  There it was, the laugh he’d heard just seconds before being pushed off the Tangle Creek Bridge.

  Chapter Twenty-Two


  Daniel sat at his desk, eyes closed. He needed quiet to think, because that feeling had gotten so strong, that feeling that the clues were all there in front of him, waiting to be unraveled. He just needed to pull the right thread.

  Janey Levine, aka Skye, had been at the swimming hole that day when he fell—that was for certain. And he didn’t fall; he’d been pushed. He’d wondered how anyone could have gotten to him up there without flying, but you didn’t need to fly when you could move things with your mind. When you could shove somebody off a bridge with a thought. Then she’d disappeared, almost as if she’d been teleported away.

  And Daniel had seen Hunter teleport Eric thousands of miles in the blink of an eye. How many people could he take with him? Two? Three? Could he teleport enough people to set fire to a tree fort, or vandalize an ice cream shop? Enough to destroy a school?

  Up until now, Daniel had been fairly convinced that Drake and his gang were responsible for the attacks on the ice cream parlor and the school, but he’d assumed those attacks had been random. Just Drake and his stupid friends causing trouble. But now he was sure Nobles had been at the tree fort and the bridge. Those attacks couldn’t have been random. They had both occurred at the Supers’ most secret places.

  That day at the junkyard, Drake had acted like he’d never seen Daniel and Mollie before, but that had to have been a lie. They’d been watching the Supers for some time.

  Just what were they up to?

  Daniel stood and looked at the corkboard over his desk. He’d posted articles about every major attack, and now he took two note cards and added the names of two more. He wrote “Tree fort fire” and “Tangle Creek Bridge” and pinned them up on the board. Next, he took down the names of Clay and Bud from the list of suspects. Bud was certainly not involved, and Daniel had seen how dismissive the Nobles were of Clay. He doubted they’d even let him tag along on one of their crime sprees. For now he’d leave Clay off the board as well.

  He grouped the Nobles all together, pinning them to the board. Beneath Skye’s picture he wrote “POWERFUL telekinesis.” Under Hunter’s picture he crossed out the question mark where his power should be and wrote “Teleporter.” Then, using a spool of sewing thread he’d found in the kitchen junk drawer, he strung lines from the Nobles to the tree fort fire, the Tangle Creek Bridge, the ice cream shop, and the high school. The only event that he couldn’t possibly tie them to was the fire at the Plunketts’ mansion. There had been too many witnesses who saw them in detention at the time of the fire.

  Daniel stepped back to take in the entire board, the web of connecting threads. With Clay and Bud gone, there was only one name still on that board not tied to any attack, and only one attack not tied to any name. It didn’t make sense on the surface, but unless there was another unseen suspect lurking out there somewhere, there had to be a connection. Daniel closed his eyes again, trying to follow the threads in his mind—looking for anything that he might have missed.

  The experience was not unlike that of flying. He felt weightless, and his heart pounded and his fingertips tingled. Quickly he grabbed a notebook from his desk and began writing. One image, one memory, per page:

  Dad hoisting a lightning rod up to the sky.

  Drake standing in the junkyard, saying “Nobles of Noble’s Green … it wasn’t my idea.”

  The “inside source” quoted in all the news stories, stoking people’s fears.

  The Supers trapped inside the academy by a town stirred to anger.

  A field of stars.

  And last, there was the memory of Theo stopping Ms. Starr before she could finish a sentence. He’d used his father as an excuse, but was that the real reason? What exactly had Mandy Starr been about to say? That moment had struck Daniel as wrong then, and he hadn’t been able to let it go since.

  He needed more space, but since he didn’t have another corkboard, he tore down his SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES movie poster and began pinning pieces of paper to the very wall itself. His mom would be furious, but he’d deal with that later. Right now, he needed to see them all at once.

  Together, all the random memories he’d written down started to seem a little less random. He began rearranging them into groups—images that belonged with one another, explained one another in a way that would only make sense to him.

  What was it Johnny had said to him up at the academy, when Daniel had reminded him that he, Daniel, wasn’t a Super?

  I think we both know that’s not true, he’d said. You’ve proved it, time and again.

  Daniel’s detective work had saved his friends in the past, and each time there had been a moment like this, a breakthrough when the clues snapped together in his mind. He couldn’t stop it if he tried. It was a rush when it happened, and it felt like … well … like a superpower. Was that what Johnny was hinting at? Was he trying to tell Daniel that, like his grandmother and his brother, Georgie, he too was a Super and that he had been all along? That he was some kind of super-detective?

  Daniel had dreamed about it. He’d wanted to be a Super so badly for so long, and for a brief time last year he’d been tricked into believing it was true. But now, as Daniel stood there staring at the board of suspects, at all those faces, he decided at last that he didn’t care anymore. It didn’t matter. Was a star basketball player a Super because he could jump higher than ninety-nine percent of the population? Because he could move so quickly that he appeared to defy gravity? Or the Olympian who could swim faster than anyone ever had before? Was she a Super? What about Albert Einstein, or Leonardo da Vinci or Rosa Parks or any of the other remarkable people who, through intellect or talent or just sheer bravery, had done something exceptional?

  Daniel couldn’t tell whether his knack for investigation, his ability to catch connections others missed, came from a meteor that fell to earth nearly a century ago, or from reading too many detective stories, but he knew how to use it.

  Standing back, he admired his handiwork. It wasn’t complete, his wall of clues, but enough of them now made sense that he was sure of one thing at least.

  He walked over to the corkboard and threaded a line from the mansion fire to the last remaining name—Herman Plunkett.

  “Gotcha,” said Daniel.

  Drake had let slip that the Nobles hadn’t been his idea, but if not, whose was it? Herman’s? He’d played dumb when Daniel had mentioned the Nobles by name, but then again Herman lied as easily as he breathed air. If he had put the Nobles up to the attacks, he’d have had the perfect tool to stir up antipathy against the Supers. Set a group of superpowered juvenile delinquents loose on the town and see what happens. And when Daniel started getting too close to the truth, Herman would’ve needed to do something drastic to throw him off the scent. A grand spectacle where Herman was the star—an attack on his own mansion.

  When Herman showed up that day after the first attack on the school, he’d had two hulking bodyguards with him, but on the day of the mansion fire, Daniel had only seen one. Where was the second, the man with the dreadlocks?

  Daniel thought he knew. After all, it didn’t take superpowers to set fire to a house.

  The “inside source” everyone was quoting had to be Herman too. By cleverly manipulating the fears of ordinary people everywhere, Herman had turned much of the public against the Supers. But why? What did Herman gain from it, other than making his enemies’ lives miserable?

  The one immediate effect of all this hysteria was that nearly every Super in town was now locked down in the academy with Johnny. Was that what Herman was after—to get all his enemies and potential enemies in the same place? If so, what was special about the academy? Why there?

  Daniel had an idea, but he needed to know for sure. He needed to speak to Theo again.

  He considered for a moment using the window. He could climb down the drainpipe; he’d done it before. He could sneak his bike out of the garage and be at Mercy General Hospital in an hour. That was where Theo was now, still recovering from the fire.

  He could do that, even though he’d just made a promise to his mother that he wouldn’t. He’d snuck out of the house many times before, always with the justification that what he was doing was important. People’s lives had been at stake. But he’d never done it at a time like this, when he could see the worry and fear etched into his mother’s face, on a day when so many parents in this town were afraid for their children.

  Daniel chose the staircase instead.

  The TV was, thankfully, switched off, and Georgie was playing with his trucks in the middle of the living room floor while Daniel’s mother sat on a chair nearby, staring at the phone in her hand. She looked tired and anxious, and a million miles away.

  “Mom,” said Daniel. “I have to ask you a question, but I want you to promise you won’t get mad.”

  Parents hated it when kids said that, Daniel knew. It was an assurance that, absolutely, what was about to come next was something worth getting mad about, but it forced them to act like they weren’t angry. A dirty trick, but this was serious business.

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