Batman nightwalker, p.11
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.11

           Marie Lu
 
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  Construction workers. GCPD investigators. Private detectives. Bruce ran the series of noncriminal possibilities through his mind. It could mean nothing at all, of course…but this was a former crime scene, and an unsolved one. What if the Nightwalkers had been up to more here than just destroying the Bellingham legacy? Bruce looked back up at the facade of the building. Something had made someone return here, without wanting anyone else to know.

  He swung his backpack around and unzipped it, took out his ski mask and gloves, and pulled them both on tightly until his face and hands were hidden from view. He held up the bolt cutters, carefully placing each bolt between the metal teeth. Clink. Clink. One by one, they popped off, dropping soundlessly into his waiting palm. He tossed the broken bolts into his backpack and zipped it up. The overlapping fence swung open a hair. Bruce pushed it open wider, until there was just enough space to slide through, and then he inched his way in, disappearing past the black tarp.

  Wooden boards were nailed all along the side of the building, but enough gaps existed for him to climb through. Inside, the space smelled musty, claustrophobic, the air reeking of dust and the tang of metal. Bruce waited for a moment, letting his eyes adjust. He felt comfortable here in the darkness. Immediately after his parents’ deaths, he had spent many nights tucked in the safe black space of his closet, or in an empty pantry in the mansion, or up in the attic, where a cold draft blew. So many of his classmates had been afraid of the dark, as if it could hurt them. But Bruce knew the darkness hid him as well as it hid anything or anyone else. The darkness was an advantage.

  His reflexes were on alert now, honed by all the hours spent at the training gym. As things gradually started to take shape in the dim light, he realized that he was standing in a single open room. Edison bulbs dangled from the ceiling’s exposed beams, half of them burst open and broken, leaving shards of glass strewn across the floor. Everything had been draped in sheets—tables, chairs, machines. The dust on the floorboards was marked with shoe prints, perhaps from the police who must have passed through here. Perhaps from others, too.

  “This place is a mess,” Bruce whispered into his phone.

  “What did Madeleine say to you?” Dianne answered.

  “The north wall,” Bruce murmured back, orienting himself. “The bricks that line it. She said to look there.”

  He turned to the north wall. It stretched unbroken from one end of the room to the other—and sure enough, lining the bottom third of the wall was a layer of old brick, dark against the white paint above it. Bruce headed toward the closest end of the room, stopped right in front of the wall, and bent down. He ran a hand along the bricks. They were all covered in a fine layer of dust, just like everything else here.

  So, Madeleine was right about this, had known the north wall would have bricks lining it. She must have been here before.

  “Anything? What exactly are you looking for?” came Dianne’s voice.

  “Something unusual,” Bruce replied. He suddenly felt foolish as he ran one hand along the bricks, slowly making his way down the room. He had no idea what would count as unusual, either—only that if he found it, he would know.

  He had made his way across almost the entire length of the room before his hands paused on one of the bricks. Something felt odd about the texture of this brick—slightly smoother than the rest, as if it were handled more than the others. Bruce frowned and leaned down to get a closer look.

  “Hang on,” he whispered. “I think I found something.”

  “What is it?” Dianne asked.

  “This brick feels weird.” He gingerly pushed on it. “It’s not sealed in like the rest. The edges don’t quite meet the mortar holding it to the others.”

  Bruce pressed harder. Nothing gave, at first. Then—all of a sudden, the brick pushed inward by an inch, and the wall shuddered. He jumped back, nearly dropping his phone. When he looked up, he saw that a part of the brick wall had slid sideways by half a foot, revealing a gap of darkness.

  Bruce stared numbly for a moment. Then he took a tentative step into the black and felt with his shoe for a foothold. Stairs. There were metal steps behind this wall, leading down a narrow shaft to somewhere beyond view.

  “Dianne,” he whispered, eyes wide. “There are stairs behind this wall.”

  Dianne uttered a curse over the phone.

  Madeleine actually told the truth. Bruce shivered, wondering why she would help him—wondering if perhaps she was trapping him instead.

  “Don’t go down there.” Dianne echoed his thoughts. Bruce could hear fear in her voice now. “Whatever you find won’t be good.”

  He shook his head. “I’m going. Keep an eye out up there. Let me know if you see anything suspicious.”

  “You’d better find something suspicious down there,” she retorted, “with all the trouble you’re going to. You owe me big-time—you owe me so much you’ll be paying off loans for years.”

  Bruce chuckled, then turned back around and wedged himself through the narrow opening. Down into the gloom. It was slow going—the steps were narrow and high, and wound down in a spiral. He stopped and tested his foothold at each step before putting his weight on it. Gradually, he descended through the darkness, one stair after another, until his foot finally hit what felt like a concrete floor. He was in a narrow space, and the air here was tight, full of dust. He forced down a cough.

  “I’m at the bottom,” he whispered, hoarse. Nearby, he could make out the dim outline of an abandoned construction barrier.

  “Where the hell are you?”

  “I have no idea,” Bruce whispered back. He stood up and lifted one arm slightly above his head, trying not to bump anything. His hand hit the ceiling. It felt rough, like unfinished concrete. He held out his phone in front of him and turned on its flashlight.

  The phone illuminated the space several feet ahead of him. It was a tunnel that led into pitch black. To Bruce, the tunnel reminded him of the narrow passageways in the cave near his family’s estate, and the bats that sometimes poured out. He half expected them to come barreling toward him now.

  What are you so curious about? The thought raised goose bumps on his skin, but he tightened his jaw and stepped forward. He kept his footsteps completely silent. “I’m heading in,” he murmured.

  The tunnel went on longer than Bruce expected, and the ceiling grew lower and lower. Why would Madeleine send him down here? What did she know about this place? What if the tunnel collapsed?

  What if someone else is also down here? Bruce suddenly pictured an armed man waiting for him at the end of the tunnel, gun pointed straight at him.

  He kept going.

  Finally, the tunnel before him opened up into a larger space. He stumbled as the ground fell a half step.

  The ground was different here—polished, finished. His phone’s flashlight cast a small glowing circle on the wall. He shone the light farther until he saw a switch. There.

  He flipped it on.

  Fluorescent light blinded him. Bruce’s eyes squinted shut, and he shielded his face instinctively. When he opened his eyes again, he sucked in a gasp of air.

  “Shit,” he whispered.

  “What?” Dianne said, her voice pulled tight like a string. “What is it?”

  Bruce stood staring at a room stocked half full of ammunition. Guns, bullets, extra clips. There must have been at least a hundred weapons of all shapes and sizes here, laid out on tables and hanging on the walls. He gaped. This looked like a military arsenal.

  “Bruce,” Dianne murmured over the phone. Even though she couldn’t see what he was seeing, she could hear the tension in his silence. “Get out of there. I’m coming for you.”

  A faint sound drifted toward Bruce. He froze. It came from the other end of the room, where a second door led out. It was a voice, male and deep, frustrated. He sounded like he was talking to someone. Immediately, Bruce flipped the light switch and turned off his phone, shrouding the room in darkness again. He started to back up.
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  Too late.

  The second door opened—and a man’s silhouette stepped in, still talking loudly as he switched on the light. Bruce glimpsed a pale worn face, a beard. “Look, I don’t have time to babysit this storage anymore. Tell them to bring the truck tomorrow night so we can move the rest—”

  His words cut off as his gaze fell on Bruce. The two of them stared at each other for an instant, both stunned into silence.

  The man squinted at Bruce’s mask. “Hey—you’re not—did the boss—”

  Bruce started sprinting away, but the man bolted after him. Right as Bruce reached the narrower part of the tunnel, he felt rough hands grab him by his shoulders. His fighting instincts went on autopilot. Bruce twisted free of the man’s grip and brought his fist up to punch the man’s face in the same motion.

  His opponent blocked his blow, barely, and threw his own jab at Bruce. Bruce ducked down. He swung a leg out, catching the man hard enough in his calves to send him toppling. Bruce turned to run again, but the man’s fingers hooked onto his pant leg, dragging him down, too. Both hands grabbed at the mask on his face.

  It left the man defenseless for a moment. Bruce swung up with every ounce of desperation inside him. His fist connected with the man’s chin, landing exactly where it needed to—his opponent’s head rocketed back. His body flopped, suddenly limp, and he collapsed on the floor.

  Shaking from head to toe, Bruce stared down at the unconscious man lying at his feet. His limbs burned. Were there more people down here with this guy? Stockpiling weapons. Madeleine had led him straight to it. She had helped Bruce, when the police had failed for months to get her to talk.

  Draccon’s going to kill me for this.

  But what were they stockpiling weapons for? There was so much ammunition down here that it seemed excessive for anything less than a full-on raid. And what if this wasn’t the only hideout? An ominous premonition weighed on him. What were the Nightwalkers planning that would require so many weapons?

  I should tell the police that I was here.

  But what would he tell them? That he acted on a hunch based on the words of a murderer? That he was trespassing? He might get into even more trouble this time around—and he was in no mood for that. Let the police piece it together from here. They’ll find the cut fence and the opened wall.

  Bruce switched his phone back on, his hands still trembling. A call from Dianne rang immediately, and when he picked up, she was shouting something in a thin, high voice, a sound of near panic. “Bruce? Bruce! Where the hell are you? I called the police. Get out of there!”

  “I’m okay. I’m heading up,” Bruce said to Dianne as he hurried back the way he’d come, the mystery of the hideout still hanging over him.

  The next day, Bruce sat quietly in Draccon’s office, staring out at the wet streets of Gotham City while the detective sat across from him, reading the front-page news. Madeleine’s manila folder was open on the table, the documents stacked in a neat pile. Finally, Draccon threw the newspaper down and leaned forward on the desk onto her elbows.

  “What happened?” Bruce asked.

  Draccon pushed the paper toward him so that he could read the top headline.

  POLICE UNCOVER NIGHTWALKER HIDEOUT

  “There was an unfinished underground path,” she muttered.

  “Like the ones that connect the buildings downtown?” Bruce asked, careful about how he was wording each sentence. As far as anyone was concerned, he knew nothing about the incident.

  Draccon nodded. “You know the tunnel running underneath Wayne Tower, right?”

  “Yeah,” Bruce replied. Wayne Tower had one of those underground pathways, as did the Seco Financial Building and every other skyscraper. On hot summer days, when commuting on the surface of the city felt like walking in an oven, or on days when freezing snowstorms rolled in, people could take the subterranean routes and never have to set foot outside.

  “Well,” Draccon continued, “it was part of a subterranean route that had been defunded by the city. The Nightwalkers apparently turned the section underneath the Bellingham building into a storage facility for weapons.”

  The previous night replayed itself over and over in Bruce’s mind. He and Dianne had headed back to the concert in silence, had managed to convince Harvey that they’d been questioned by police. Something crazy going on down the street, Bruce had said to Harvey, and Dianne had agreed. Cops are investigating that corner again and have been questioning people all the way up these blocks.

  Barely minutes later, they’d heard sirens reach the corner of the Bellingham building. It seemed to verify their story, and Harvey had let it drop.

  Dianne hadn’t said a word about what happened, and neither had he. The potential for a longer probation sentence for Bruce—but also the possibility of putting Harvey in harm’s way—kept them both mute. And although he kept expecting the police to call him, or Draccon to question him—no one seemed to know they’d been there.

  “How did the police find the hideout?” Bruce asked.

  Draccon rubbed her neck in weariness and nodded. “Officers got an anonymous call,” she said with a sigh. “Who knew someone had opened up that unfinished tunnel? There was an unconscious man down in the bunker room, a supposed supply runner for the Nightwalkers. He was low in the ranks and had been assigned to move their weapons to a new location.”

  Bruce kept his expression curious and ignorant. “Did he say why they were doing this?”

  “I don’t think he was ranked high enough within the Nightwalkers to know,” she replied. “He revealed the location he was going to move the stuff to, but when the police checked it out, everything was already gone. Another Nightwalker had already moved the weapons out, cleared the place clean. He didn’t say anything else. In fact, the poor bastard was so terrified yesterday that he tried hanging himself with his shirt.” Draccon hesitated. “Kept saying something about a masked robber or someone who attacked him, kept saying it must’ve been an undercover cop. Couldn’t give any more details than that. The Nightwalkers might have made some enemies in the local gang scene by encroaching on their space.”

  “Maybe I can get something out of Madeleine,” Bruce said.

  Draccon laced her fingers together and gave him an uncertain frown. “I’m not sure about this, Bruce.”

  “She might know the reason behind all the stockpiling.”

  Draccon sighed again and took a swig of her coffee. “I don’t like keeping this up. You’re not supposed to be this deeply involved, and the fact that she keeps talking to you unsettles me. Also, I don’t want to get on your guardian’s bad side.”

  Alfred. Bruce hadn’t mentioned any of this to him yet, nor explained why his nightmares had been getting steadily worse, haunted by shadows or dark halls or a girl with long black hair. “But I’m still sitting here in your office,” Bruce replied, pushing his other thoughts away. “You’re still briefing me on what’s happening with the Nightwalkers. Right? That must mean you still want me to help in any way I can—that you think I can get something out of Madeleine.”

  Draccon looked at Bruce with serious eyes. “Remember who her past victims were. Philanthropists with a lot of money. She targeted them for their money, stole vast amounts before killing them in their own homes. You saw their deaths.” She hesitated. “You already know that you match the description for her victim of choice.”

  “I’ll be okay,” Bruce replied. “She’s locked away at Arkham. But we’re close now. We can find a way to unearth the Nightwalkers, all the way up to their boss.”

  Draccon stared into her coffee for a long moment.

  “Don’t put a wire on me,” Bruce added. “She’ll be able to tell. Just let me keep talking to her.”

  Finally, Draccon leaned back in her chair. “You get another conversation with her,” she replied, holding up a finger. “One. We’ll see how it goes from there.”

  —

  A thunderstorm swept through Gotham City, and by the following
morning the sky outside the asylum’s windows still looked black as night.

  When Bruce went downstairs for his shift and stopped by Madeleine’s cell, he didn’t see her sitting upright in bed. For an instant, he thought that perhaps she had been taken out of her cell—before he noticed her curled up in a tight ball on her bed. All he could see were her white prison jumpsuit and the spill of her black hair around her body.

  “You were right,” he said after a long pause.

  She didn’t move. She seemed to be staring off into space, her eyes concentrating on a spot somewhere on the floor. Her meal tray was on the other side of the room, and her napkin—usually folded into an intricate origami shape—was crumpled near the edge of her bed. An unsettling feeling weighed on Bruce. Something is wrong.

  “Madeleine?” Bruce said. “Can you hear me?”

  Another pause. For a moment, Bruce thought that the guards had changed the windows on her cell door to be soundproof, or that she was lost deep in thought. Or maybe she was ignoring him in the way she sometimes did. It made him feel silly for being here, and he was about to turn around and step away from the door when her answer finally came.

  “What do you want, Bruce Wayne?” she asked. Her voice was quieter today, not as full of its usual bravado, and irritated. The feeling of unease in Bruce’s stomach grew.

  “I don’t know if you heard the news,” he replied, although a part of him knew that she must, somehow, have heard. She seemed to know everything, after all. “But the police uncovered one of the Nightwalkers’ underground weapons rooms at the Bellingham buil—”

  “Congratulations,” she replied before he could finish. She shifted a little, loosening out of her tight ball so that he could see her face more clearly. She looked at him without lifting her head. “You can follow directions after all.”

 
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