Villainous, page 5
Daniel couldn’t tell who was saying what, but from the faces he knew that this was the sentiment of more than just one person. An ominous murmur was spreading through the crowd, and the sheriff took off his hat and scratched at his bald head thoughtfully, staring at the destruction.
Without waiting to hear more, Daniel turned his bike around and pedaled away as fast as he could. He’d just now heard a phrase he never thought would be spoken in Noble’s Green. Those kids, someone had said. Not our kids, not like they were kids who’d been raised here, who belonged, and who were part of the town. They were those kids, the strange ones. The others.
Two little words, but they would keep Daniel awake with worry long, long into the night.
The next morning, Mollie was waiting for him outside the school, their previous day’s argument apparently forgotten. Whenever Daniel showed up, there were several boys—the basketball players, mostly—waiting with her, but she never seemed very interested in more than just small talk, and the minute Daniel arrived, she’d break away from them and join him instead. Daniel had to grudgingly accept that Mollie Lee was a pretty girl, and if the boys hanging around her locker were any sign, she was getting prettier every day. She’d taken her tomboy habits and morphed them into a distinctive style with her sarcastic T-shirts and torn jeans. The earrings had led to additional pieces of jewelry, and she’d recently expanded her ensemble with several chunky silver rings. She looked ready for high school, whereas the best anyone could say about Daniel was that he looked a little less like a bag of unwashed clothes with a bad cowlick than he once did. But only a little.
But Mollie didn’t seem to mind. Daniel had to wonder, if he was really honest with himself, whether he’d have done the same for her. If a gaggle of cheerleaders had wanted to walk Daniel to class, would he have said no, and waited for Mollie instead? He wondered sometimes whether he was half the friend she was.
When Daniel told Mollie about Mr. Lemon’s shop, her eyes grew wide with interest. She wanted all the details and made him repeat them several times. The attack on the ice cream parlor and the tree fort fire had occurred one right after the other, and it looked like someone in town was having their own little crime spree. Mollie immediately began compiling a list of suspects.
“There are really four villains in this town, right?” she said, drumming her fingers on the locker next to Daniel’s while he struggled to open his. He’d never gotten the hang of the combination lock.
“Four?” he asked absently.
“Sure. We’ve got Herman, of course, but he’s locked in the sanitarium. And his Shroud powers are all gone, but that doesn’t rule him out in my book.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think vandalizing an ice cream parlor is really his style,” said Daniel, jiggling the locker in hopes that it would miraculously shake open.
“Maybe not,” said Mollie. “Then there’s Clay and Bud. Busting up private property is exactly their style.”
“They’re the most obvious suspects. But if we are going to go with the theory that the girl at the bridge is involved, that makes it pretty unlikely it was Clay or Bud. Not exactly popular with the ladies, those two.”
“You’ve got a point there.”
“But you said there are four villains in Noble’s Green. Who’s the fourth?”
“Theo Plunkett, of course,” said Mollie.
Daniel stopped fighting with his locker and shook his head. Theo Plunkett was Herman’s sixteen-year-old grandnephew, and while being a snob and a confessed car thief, Theo was not, in Daniel’s opinion, a villain. He’d actually proved quite useful last year in their fight against the Shroud. Lots of kids would’ve run once they saw the things Theo saw, but he had toughed it out. Daniel thought of Theo as a friend.
“You’ve been listening to Eric,” said Daniel. “He’s always had a weird thing against Theo.”
“It’s not weird. Theo’s a Plunkett,” said Mollie. “Do you trust him?”
“I do,” said Daniel. “He’s a scoundrel, but he’s no fan of his uncle, and again, why would Theo wreck an ice cream shop?”
“He stole his dad’s Porsche and drove it off a bridge.”
“The bridge was an accident. It’s not the same thing.”
Mollie shrugged. “Fine. But for the record, when you use the word scoundrel, it makes you sound like you were born in the 1800s.”
“So who does that leave us with?” asked Daniel. “Setting our mysterious laughing girl aside, Clay and Bud are our best bets so far.”
“Yep,” said Mollie. “So now what?”
“Now the game’s afoot!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s something Sherlock Holmes would say when he started on a new mystery,” said Daniel.
Mollie blinked at him. “Seriously 1800s. You should try a big walrus mustache and suspenders.”
“So, what’s next? And enough with the dead-guy quotes.”
Daniel had been giving their next move some thought, and unfortunately they’d gotten about as far as they could with theorizing and speculation. It was time to get out in the field.
“What are you doing after school?” he asked, returning for a second go at his defiant locker.
“I thought we were going to study?”
“Later,” said Daniel. “I want to stop off someplace on our way home first.”
Mollie grinned at him and pushed him out of the way before giving the lock a twirl and stepping back as it popped open with a reluctant squeak.
“I’m your girl,” she said.
Clay and Bud made their hideout in a neglected junkyard on the outskirts of town. Inside a rusting, hollowed-out old van they hatched their schemes to make Daniel’s life as hellish as possible. It was also the one place they felt was secure enough to stash their petty stolen goods. That was the theory Daniel was going on, at least. He had a hunch that if Clay had done all that damage to the ice cream shop, he wouldn’t have been able to resist taking a few mementos.
“I already agreed that it’s a good idea to search their hideout,” Mollie was saying. “I’m just saying that we could’ve used a better plan. Any plan actually.”
Daniel stood staring at a long tear in the chain-link fence that circled the perimeter of the junkyard. This wasn’t just a section where the fence had come loose, where someone might squeeze through. This was a boy-sized hole, where the steel links had been ripped apart like paper. This was Clay’s work, and imagining the sheer strength it would take to tear the metal like that, Daniel began to wonder if Mollie was right. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was expecting, but meeting Clay face to face on his home turf would be a bad idea.
“Let’s just call this trip recon,” said Daniel. “And if it looks too dangerous, we’ll come back another time. But if he’s really not home, I wanna get a look inside his van.”
Mollie had already scouted the area from the air and reported back that the junkyard looked empty from way up high, but she hadn’t dared get close enough to be sure. If Clay and Bud were inside the hideout, then they wouldn’t be visible from the sky anyway. Plus, Clay was known to throw junk at passing fliers who got too close. Anything would do—tires, toilet seats, the occasional car.
So here they were, with Daniel tiptoeing into the lion’s den and Mollie right behind. And Mollie wasn’t the quietest person he knew. If only she’d try to sneak more and stomp less.
“Have you thought about what we’re going to do if they’re home?” she asked.
“Haul them in for questioning?” whispered Daniel. “You be the good cop, I’ll be the bad cop.”
Mollie rolled her eyes and snorted. There was only one person in all of Noble’s Green who scared Clay, and that was Eric. If Clay was here, interrogating him without Eric around would be suicide. And Daniel would be the only one without superpowers. In f
Sometimes it seemed like he took Mollie on these adventures just to give her something to do.
As they walked beneath the stacks of rubbish, it occurred to Daniel that of all the great landmarks he’d discovered back in those first few months in Noble’s Green, the junkyard was the one that had remained unchanged. Once mysterious and foreboding, Mount Noble was now home to a school. The Old Quarry had collapsed. Now even the tree fort was being rebuilt. But the towering skyscrapers of refuse here in the junkyard were as unchanged as the first time he’d laid eyes on them. Rusted-out cars, broken appliances, and more piles of unrecognizable junk leaned menacingly on every side, and when the wind picked up, Daniel imagined he could hear the creaking of metal as the stacks shifted and settled. One couldn’t walk through this place without wondering what it would take to make the whole thing come crashing down like a line of dominoes. Not much, Daniel suspected.
It was a maze of garbage, complete with its own real-life Minotaur waiting at the center.
As they got ever closer to Clay’s lair, even Mollie began to tread cautiously, taking care not to step on every soda can in sight. Daniel hoped that at last Mollie’s instinct for survival might have kicked in. It would be nice to live long enough to have supper.
Their extra stealth was warranted, because they hadn’t gone very far before they heard voices.
Daniel stopped and grabbed Mollie by the arm. Not daring to speak, he gave her a questioning look—could she have missed someone as she’d flown over? Mollie just shrugged. He hadn’t been there a few minutes ago.
Wordlessly, Daniel tried to signal as best he could that she should wait here while he scouted ahead. Mollie responded with a considerably ruder gesture of her own, and pushed him forward.
He had no choice but to let her follow, and the two of them crept slowly and silently through the garbage. Soon, they came upon a familiar bend in the twisting maze of trash, marked by the smashed-up remains of a truck that Clay and Bud used for target practice when they were bored. On the other side of it, if Daniel’s memory served, lay the van. They were close now, and the voices were clearer. Mollie crouched behind a pile of junk and put her finger to her lips, instructing Daniel to be quiet. As if he needed to be told.
“See. What’d I tell ya?” Clay was saying in his gravelly voice. Over the summer it had gotten even deeper, and what little boyishness it had once possessed was gone entirely. It was a man’s voice now.
“You dragged us all the way out to a junkyard for this?” said another boy, a new voice Daniel didn’t recognize. “Like I haven’t seen beer before.”
“Well, we can hide all sorts of stuff here,” said Clay, sounding defensive. “It’s private.”
“I’ll say. Who’d want to hang out here with all the rest of the garbage?” said another voice, a girl’s this time.
“Yeah, well …,” answered Clay.
Mollie turned back to Daniel. He could tell they were thinking the exact same thing.
“Hey,” said the boy. “Where’s the mutt? He go bounding off again?”
“He was here a minute ago,” answered the girl. “Here, boy! Mutt, come!”
Daniel tugged on Mollie’s sleeve and she glared at him, annoyed.
They have a dog! he mouthed. Let’s go!
She tugged her arm back out of his grip and mouthed something that looked like Not till I pee. Daniel was terrible at reading lips.
But as she inched her head slowly toward the edge of the junk pile, he understood what she had been trying to say. She didn’t need to pee; she wanted to see who Clay was talking to. Whoever it was, they were just on the other side of the junk pile, and there was little chance of Daniel and Mollie looking without being spotted themselves. She’d been right at the start—they needed a better plan.
Daniel reached for her arm once more, and again she tried to pull away but this time he refused to let go. They could circle around and get a look from the other side, where there was better cover. He needed her to listen to him.
She glared back at him and if she could have told him off, she would have, Daniel knew. But then something changed in her face as she looked, not at Daniel, but past him. She grew wide-eyed with surprise, or even fear.
When Daniel turned around, he was face to face with a boy a few years older than he, with dandruffy hair down to his shoulders, and pale, watery eyes. He was crouched in an almost feral position, perched on all fours atop the hood of the busted-up truck, and he looked ready to pounce. Though dressed in some kind of prep school outfit complete with blazer and tie, he was barefoot, his toenails long and yellow and sharp.
The strange boy leaned forward until he was inches away from Daniel. His voice, when he spoke, was surprisingly quiet.
“Bark, bark,” said the boy softly, and then he smiled, showing them stained, pointed teeth.
The Nobles of Noble’s Green
The strange long-haired boy herded Daniel and Mollie out of hiding until they were standing in front of a new boy, who appeared to be smoking—a cloud of white haze seemed to perpetually linger about the boy’s black-haired head—but he wasn’t holding a cigarette that Daniel could see. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him.
“Guess we need some introductions, huh?” said the new boy. “I’m Drake, and you’ve already met Mutt. Must’ve smelled you two coming. Nose like a bloodhound, you know.”
“Growl,” said a voice behind him, and Daniel peeked over his own shoulder to see Mutt crouched on the ground. Again, the boy named Mutt hadn’t actually growled, he’d just said the word growl. Weird.
“Easy, boy,” said Drake. “Heel. Guess he’s more wolf than bloodhound these days.” Like the others, this Drake kid was dressed in the same fancy prep school uniform. His hands were in his pockets and a smile was on his face, but nothing about him felt friendly. Daniel sensed the tension in the air, brittle and ready to snap.
“I’m Hunter,” said another boy with dark skin and hair shaved so close he was almost bald.
“And that’s Skye.”
Unlike the three boys, the girl looked familiar. She was in her late teens, blond and pretty with too-white teeth, but she looked at Daniel and Mollie like they were two dirty strays who, at any moment, might jump up and muddy her clothes.
“Wait a minute,” said Mollie. “You’re that one with the show. That reality show …”
“Skye’s the Limit,” said Skye, breaking into a camera-ready smile.
“But your mom subs at our school, doesn’t she?” said Mollie. “You’re Janey Levine!”
“Skye’s my stage name,” said the girl, dropping the smile just as quickly. “To keep the paparazzi away.”
“But you’re on a reality TV show!” said Mollie. “You’ve got cameras with you everywhere.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Drake. “There are no cameras here, so let’s not get her going. If she starts talking about that stupid show, she’ll never shut up.”
Skye gave Drake a hurt look, but said nothing.
“Last,” said Drake, “and probably least, is—”
“Clay,” said Daniel, cutting him off. “We know each other.”
Drake arched an eyebrow in surprise. “Friends of yours, Clay?” he asked.
“Daniel Corrigan and Mollie Lee,” answered Clay, who was leaning against his van, glaring at the two of them with undisguised hate. Unlike the others, he looked miserable in his sport coat and tie, and he couldn’t stop tugging at his shirt collar. “And, no, we’re not friends. Not even close.”
“Well,” said Drake, “then that’s the reason I haven’t seen you two around the academy.”
So these were academy kids. That explained the uniforms in July, but not what they were doing here. Clay had been so shocked at seeing Daniel and Mollie that he’d actually dropped th
“All right, Daniel and Mollie, now that we’ve all met,” said Drake, “what are you two doing sneaking up on us in a junkyard?” As he asked the question, Daniel could have sworn he saw a little puff of smoke escape through the boy’s nostrils, but again, he’d yet to light a cigarette.
“We were looking for Clay,” answered Daniel. There wasn’t a lie in the world that could explain why the two of them were skulking around in here, so Daniel didn’t bother trying.
“Why?” snarled Clay. “You spying on me?”
“Don’t be stupid, Clay,” said Drake. “Of course they were spying on you. We just caught them doing it. What I wanna know is why.”
Drake held out his hands, waiting for an answer. “So?” he said.
Mollie and Daniel exchanged looks. The situation hadn’t turned overtly dangerous, yet. No one had threatened them, but then again Mutt and Hunter were uncomfortably close, standing on either side of them and conveniently blocking any escape. It was a tense situation that required finesse.
“You go first,” said Mollie. “Why are you here?”
Finesse. Mollie’s strong suit.
Drake studied Mollie for a moment, weighing how to respond. “Hot and hot-tempered,” he said with a laugh. “I like it.”
Mollie turned white, though whether this was from anger or embarrassment Daniel wasn’t sure. Probably a mix of both.
“All right, I’ll play along,” said Drake. “My friends and I belong to a sort of club, and Clay here wants to join that club, so he was trying to impress us with beer he stole out of his daddy’s fridge. See, it’s against the law for kids our age to drink.”
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