The sky was darkening over the University for Villainy. Titus Nightinmire gazed out the window of the library, fixated on the bruised sky. It would be perfect weather for a night out. Perhaps for arson, or the poaching of some crippled endangered animal.
Unfortunately, Titus was booked. Literally, parked between two bookshelves. He stared at the empty chair across from him, hands joined only at the fingertips (a position he perfected in Poise and Poison).
A group of Economic Fraud majors bustled past Titus Nightinmire’s desk, quizzing each other for their upcoming Embezzlement exam. The leader of the group halted when she spotted Titus.
“So Nighinmire’s a bookworm now!” she said. “What are you doing in the library on a night like this?”
“Tutoring a freshman,” Titus said, barely looked up from his fingertips.
“‘Tutoring a freshman’,” teased another. “Are you going to be baking cookies next?”
“Relax, Crawfield. I’m charging him,” said Titus. “You know how it is. I need money to fund my research.”
“Tutoring isn’t going to make much of a dent if you’re looking for serious funding,” said Crawfield.
“It is if the student I’m tutoring is the son of Nicodemus Oswald,” said Titus.
The group stepped back and gasped. Everyone at the university and miles around knew the infamous Nicodemus Oswald--Valedictorian of Villainy from his days as a student at the University. Nicodemus Oswald was the greatest worst person in history, and he wasn’t even dead yet.
“You’ll have more than enough by the end of the school year,” said the first girl again.
“You could always ask us, you know,” said Crawfield. “We’re getting pretty good with cryptocurrency. We would help you out.” The others bobbed their head.
“Thanks for the offer,” said Titus, “but I know you wouldn’t.”
The Economic Fraud majors continued further into the library, laughing because he was right. Titus watched the group saunter down the aisle until a passerby crossed their path. He was small with a tousle of ginger-brown bedhead, wrapped up in a cuddly pink and purple sweater. He kept twisting his neck round and round as if shocked by the size of the library-- or as if he was looking for someone.
“Over here, freshman!” Titus waved his arm up at the pink sweater.
It jumped, turned, and scuttled in Titus’ direction. “Wow, this place is really huge. I’m Wilbur. So sorry I’m late!”
Titus winced. Apologies weren’t given on campus. “You really need this, don’t you?”
“Yup. And so do you. But don’t worry about it, Titus; I’m going to be the best student you’ve had, promise.” Wilbur held out his pinky finger towards him.
Titus pushed Wilbur’s wrist down. “First rule: don’t make promises unless you plan on breaking them.”
“And second: stop apologizing. It just screams: ‘I’m weak, kick me out of this school.’”
“I definitely don’t want that,” said Wilbur, a little less cheerily. “My dad would be pretty upset.”
Titus rubbed the spot between his eyebrows. The identity of Wilbur’s father seemed far away and hard for it to register. The giant painting in the Common Area of Oswald Senior burning a puppy hospital bore little resemblance to the pink-sweatered kid sitting in front of Titus.
“You’re right, he would,” said Titus. “So let’s hurry up and get to work. Show me your assignment for Evil 101.”
Wilbur turned around and reached into his embroidered shoulder bag and then held a crumpled paper across the desk. Titus took it by the corners and put it on the table, smoothing out the creases. It had been years since Titus had seen such an easy assignment; when he was a freshman he had placed out of Evil 101.
“What major are you?” asked Wilbur. “Assassination? Conquest? Necromancy?”
“Dentistry,” said Titus.
“Right! Because of your father!” Wilbur hopped up and down in his seat. “Titus Nightinmire the First was the greatest dentist in history, my dad says. He didn’t have a single patient that he didn’t overcharge. He put braces on kids that didn’t even need them.” Wilbur grinned at his tutor with admiration and respect. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Sometimes it does,” Titus said wryly.
“Let’s get to work.” Titus began to read aloud. “‘Planning for my Community Disservice Project: Sweaters.’” He glanced up. “Sweaters? Did you put itching powder inside them?”
“Keep reading,” said Wilbur.
Titus did. “‘For my project, I will handcraft fifty sweaters and distribute them at the end of the school year.’” He squinted and turned the paper on its back, but that was all. “Are you kidding? Is that really it?”
“What?” Wilbur crossed his arms. “You think I can’t knit sweaters?” He flapped his sleeves at Titus. “I made this myself!”
“Knitting sweaters and giving them away for free isn’t community disservice,” Titus growled.
“It is at the end of the school year,” Wilbur argued. “Can you imagine wearing a sweater in June? That’s torture.”
Titus heaved a sigh rich with impatience. “But they’re not even being forced to wear it.”
“I’d never force someone to wear a sweater in June! That’s evil!”
“That’s kind of the point,” Titus said through gritted teeth. “Tell me, Wilbur Oswald. What’s the evilest thing you’ve done in the past 24 hours?”
“Ahh.” Wilbur wrinkled his nose. He rubbed the bottom of his chin with the edge of a pink sleeve. “That’s a hard one.”
“It shouldn’t be.”
“Oh, I know!” Wilbur brightened so much Titus thought glitter and sunshine were going to pour out of his ears. “I was late for our tutoring session today. That’s evil.”
“That was inconvenient, not evil,” Titus snapped. “Forget this. You’re hopeless.” He crumpled up Wilbur’s paper and tossed it over his shoulder.
“I guess I should just quit, then,” said Wilbur.
“Believe me, I would agree,” Titus groaned, “if I didn’t need this tutoring job.”
“You said so yourself,” said Wilbur bitterly, packing his items neatly into his embroidered shoulder bag. “I’m hopeless.”
“Hey.” Titus grabbed his shoulder bag strap. “Let me just… here. I’ll do your homework for you.”
“Yeah. I’ll do your homework.”
Wilbur bit his lip. “That doesn’t seem right.”
“That’s been the point all along,” Titus groaned. “Let me do your homework for you, and you can pay me for ‘tutoring’.”
“Doing my homework for me isn’t even tutoring,” Wilbur said. “It’s more like half tutoring if anything.
“Fine. If I’m half-tutoring, you can pay me half as much.”
“But that’s below minimum wage--”
“That doesn’t matter!” Titus slammed his hands flat on the table, enough rage to make his Poise and Poison professor proud. “You’re dull, even for a freshman. If you had any less desperate of a tutor, you wouldn’t survive.” He kicked the chair in and stormed towards the exit of the library.
“Okay, deal!” Wilbur called out cheerily. “Same time tomorrow?”
Titus waved the back of his hand and grunted.
“See you then!” Wilbur watched Titus fume out of the library before carefully picking up his belongings and neatly stocking them away. He pushed in his chair and followed the same path Titus took to the exit, although much slower and less enraged.
When Wilbur bent down to pick up the crumpled homework, his phone chimed unceasingly for his attention. He picked it up, casually leaning against the NO PHONES IN THE LIBRARY sign taped to the side of a bookshelf. “Hey, Dad. What’s up?”
“How’d it go?” growled the voice on the other end of the phone. “Did you get the kid to do the work for you?”
“How long did it take?”
Wilbur pulled back his fuzzy pink sleeve and glanced at his wristwatch. “Nine minutes, thirty-two seconds.”
There was a disappointed tongue-clicking from the other end of the phone. Wilbur rolled his eyes.
“Relax,” said Wilbur. “I got the tutoring rates halved as a bonus.”
The clicking stopped. “Look at that. You’re a scammer, just like your mother,” chuckled the voice. “Maybe you should go into Dentistry too. They could use more of that.”
“You know I don’t have the stomach for gore.” Wilbur hung up, pocketed the phone, and walked out of the library. There was a recycling bin by the exit, but Wilbur threw out his homework in the garbage. It was perfect weather for a night out.