Batman nightwalker, p.15
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.15

           Marie Lu
 
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  His words seemed to surprise her again. She studied his face, thoughtful now, and for a moment, the glint in her eyes actually seemed to belong to a teenager.

  “Bruce Wayne,” she said softly. Her eyes were strangely warm now, the hazel shining brightly through. “Two kinds of people come out of personal tragedy, you know? And you’re the kind that comes out brighter.”

  “Which kind are you, then?” he asked.

  Madeleine stared at him, not answering, and a chill passed through Bruce. Was he being a complete fool?

  Then she stepped as close to the glass as she could, so that her breath fogged its surface. “Listen carefully,” she said, her voice so quiet he could barely hear her. He leaned toward the glass, too. “The Nightwalkers had originally planned to break into the mayor’s bank accounts weeks from now. They got a tip, some help from the inside.”

  “The inside? Who?” Bruce said, his voice hushed and urgent.

  Shaking her head, Madeleine continued. “That’s not important. If they’ve already attacked, then that means their whole schedule has been accelerated—which means the rest of their list has also sped up.”

  Their list? Bruce held his breath; all this time, Madeleine had known what would come next, had held this information hostage from all of them. “You intentionally kept this upcoming attack a secret from the police? We could have saved him, had we known.”

  “The mayor’s life was never supposed to be on the table.”

  “So you are a member of the Nightwalkers?”

  “I know enough to warn you.”

  A vise clenched around his stomach. “Warn me about what?”

  “About you. Be careful, Bruce. You’re on the list.”

  “What list?” he whispered, afraid to hear it.

  “The list of the Nightwalkers’ targets. Each one had been paying off the mayor to look the other way while they lined their pockets with government funds. You know what that means, don’t you? Millions that should have gone to helping the poor, paying for the sick, educating the youth, protecting the streets—all waved away with the mayor’s magic wand. The mayor’s time had simply run out.”

  Corrupt officials. Philanthropists in dark dealings. The mayor himself, taking bribes and participating in fraud. “And me?” Bruce snapped. “Why am I on that list? I’ve done none of those things. My parents were good people—they enacted real change with their wealth. All I’ve done is try to continue their legacy.”

  “WayneTech is going to make millions on that contract to improve Gotham City’s police forces. Isn’t it?” Madeleine’s expression was grave now. “The Nightwalkers fight against obscene wealth that controls the hands of government, the shackles that imprison those too weak to defend themselves. They don’t believe anyone should have the right to that much money and power. Death to tyranny.” She said it like it was a slogan, and Bruce felt a chill sweep through him again as he recognized it from the note left by the Nightwalkers at the mayor’s murder scene. “They fight against people like you, regardless of whether or not you’ve been lumped in with the wrong crowd. They hadn’t targeted you before because you had yet to turn eighteen and come into possession of your funds. But now you’re on the radar. You have the wealth they want.” She paused. “You’re next, Bruce.”

  Her words sounded more like a threat than a warning. “And what do you suggest I do?” he said.

  “Leave Gotham City,” Madeleine replied immediately. “Go take a trip somewhere; fly to Tahiti and spend the rest of the summer there. You’re done with your time here at Arkham soon anyway, right? That’ll be the end of our conversations. Stay out of the Nightwalkers’ way.”

  Bruce shook his head in confusion. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “You seem like you want to stop them; you’re trying to protect me. But now you don’t want to get in the Nightwalkers’ way. Do you support them or not? What are you doing, Madeleine? Who are you protecting?”

  Madeleine just looked at him as if she wished there were some other way. He could feel something invisible pulling him toward her just as she leaned toward him. Then she turned away. “I’m sorry,” she said with a glance over her shoulder.

  And that was it.

  “Wait,” he called after her, but she didn’t turn back around. He was in danger? He was on the hit list? “You have to tell me more. You know what they’re—”

  “Bruce.”

  He whirled to see Detective Draccon storming down the end of the hall, her long coat flapping behind her and Dr. James close at her side.

  “What the hell are you doing down here?” Dr. James blurted out at the sight of him. Her eyes darted up to the security cams, which were once again blinking red.

  “You’re off the case,” Draccon added. “Done.”

  Bruce glanced back into Madeleine’s cell. She wasn’t facing him, but her stillness told him that she was listening to what was happening. As the detective and warden reached him, Madeleine turned her head enough for him to glimpse the profile of her face. She was smiling slightly.

  “You don’t understand,” he said to them, pointing at Madeleine. “She knows more about the mayor’s murder. She said that I—”

  “You’re coming with me.” Draccon cut him off. Her hand clamped down on Bruce’s arm. “And if I so much as see you look in the direction of that girl again, I’ll send you back to court myself.”

  Rain dotted the windshield of Draccon’s car as she drove Bruce off Arkham’s premises. As they headed into the winding path framed by skeleton trees, the detective’s dark eyes flashed with fury in the dim light.

  “What about my car?” Bruce glanced over his shoulder toward the asylum.

  “GCPD will have it back to you in a couple of hours,” Draccon snapped, handing him a folded piece of paper. “After the mayor’s death and your actions this morning, it wasn’t difficult to get a warrant to search your car. Besides, I want to see you actually arrive home with my own two eyes. Who knows what else you’re getting up to by yourself.”

  “You suspect me of something?”

  “Am I being unreasonable, after your display today?” She glanced at him. “I specifically told you not to go back down there. Why’d you do it?”

  “I had to ask Madeleine one last question,” Bruce insisted. “Detective, Madeleine can point us to who killed the mayor. She knows. I think the Nightwalkers are up to something big, and I—”

  “Know what I think? I think you’re sad to leave her. Tell me, Bruce, was it a coincidence that the security cams down there reset at the same time you decided to talk to Madeleine without my consent?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “You can cut the act with me. You think I’ve never seen a boy in love?” She sniffed once as she made a sharper turn than she needed to, sending her bag and papers sliding across the car’s back seat. “I’ve fallen in and out of love more times than I can count, and let me tell you—you’ve made a little room for her in that heart of yours. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but this one’s probably not going to work out.”

  Bruce tried to imagine the detective in love, letting down the authoritative shell she operated behind. “That’s ridiculous.”

  “Is it?” she said. “Why do you keep talking to her, then?”

  Draccon had been watching the security tapes closely. Bruce looked over at her to see that her expression had turned clinical, that she was fishing for more. He took a deep breath. “I don’t think Madeleine killed those three people.”

  Draccon shot Bruce a hard glance. “And what makes you think that?”

  “I was reading about the details of her crimes, and of her mother’s crimes. She seems like she’s protecting someone out there who’s still at large. You know those napkins she’s always folding? I don’t think she’s just doing them for fun—I think she folds them to send messages with her gestures via the security cams. And the mayor was murdered this morning. Someone else is still out there, committing the crimes that w
e thought Madeleine was responsible for. It just doesn’t add up.”

  Draccon leaned forward against the steering wheel. “Wow—you’ve got it worse than I thought.”

  “I’m saying this objectively,” Bruce snapped. “I’m not stupid.”

  “No. You’re just naive.” Draccon’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel. “When we arrested her, it was at the scene of the final murder. I was one of the officers shining the spotlight on her. She was covered in blood, Bruce, with cuts in her gloves and knives strapped to her legs. Her fingerprints were all over the house. When the police questioned her afterward, asking if she’d done it, she nodded for each of the murders.”

  “She’s far too smart to leave fingerprints all over the house,” Bruce replied. “You haven’t stood there and had a conversation with her. You haven’t heard her. If you did, you’d understand what I mean.”

  “I haven’t talked to her because she chooses to talk to you. Why do you think that is? You’re questioning my work, Bruce, the work of the entire police department,” Draccon said. “She killed those people. Now she’s giving us—you—some information that’s slightly useful to us, because she’s finally realized that it might help her avoid the death penalty. It doesn’t do her any good to keep holding information back.”

  “And what have you all done to try getting more information out of her?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean, do you and Dr. James also authorize Arkham to treat her roughly?”

  “What are you talking about?” Draccon’s irritation turned into bewilderment.

  “Her bruises. You must have seen them before, too. A while ago, when I spoke to her, she had deep scratch marks below her wrist, and her arm was black and blue.”

  Draccon stayed silent. “That’s absurd,” she finally said. “No one has ever touched her.”

  “It happened on the same day she said she got her IV medication. Did she get those bruises while she was in the medical wing?”

  “Bruce, she doesn’t need IV medication. And even if she did, we’d administer it in her cell. She’s not meant to go anywhere outside her confines.”

  Bruce hesitated at that. He turned to look at the detective. “She told me she got into a fight with the nurse when they tried to inject her with medicine.” But even as he said it, the words came out weak.

  Draccon shook her head. “She was lying,” she replied.

  “Then…” Bruce frowned, trying to understand. Did she bruise herself as a ruse?

  “Maybe you should check the security tapes,” he said. “Send someone in there to check on her. If she really has bruises, then you probably need to make sure some employee isn’t going in there to hurt her. She’s still a valuable asset to you, isn’t she?”

  Draccon hesitated, making an annoyed sound in her throat. “I’ll call the warden,” she replied. Then she glanced at Bruce. “I told you early on to be careful around this girl. She’s not normal, Bruce. She’s not someone you can open up to and expect her to do the same back. She’s not someone you can have a conversation with and then come away thinking you understand her better.” The detective looked sidelong at him. “Now. What else has she told you that you’ve decided not to pass along to me?”

  Bruce hesitated. Leave Gotham City, she’d told him. But maybe she’d been lying about that, too.

  Draccon slowed to a stop at a light, then turned to Bruce. “Listen carefully, kid,” she said. “If there’s something she told you that I should know, you need to tell me now. Got it?”

  She needs to know. Bruce looked back at the detective. “She said I was on a hit list,” he replied. “She told me to get out of Gotham City, for my own safety.”

  At that, the detective whirled on him. “A hit list?”

  “She told me to get out of Gotham City, for my own safety.”

  Draccon considered him for a moment. Then she let out a curse and picked up her phone. “Send a security detail to Wayne Manor.”

  —

  By the time they reached the front gates to Bruce’s estate, the rain had stopped altogether.

  The path leading up to the main gates was still empty—the security detail had yet to arrive. Immediately, Bruce felt like something was wrong. Off.

  Detective Draccon slowed to a stop in front of the gates’ intercom and was about to speak into the glass surface when Bruce reached a hand out to stop her. “Wait,” he said. His eyes focused on the gates.

  “Are your gates typically unlocked?” Draccon said, now seeing what had caught Bruce’s attention.

  “No,” Bruce replied. In fact, never. Alfred did not have a habit of leaving gates unlocked, even if he was expecting Bruce to come home. But there was no denying that the gates were open right now—the two sides pulled so slightly apart that at first glance it seemed like they were still closed. There was just enough room between them for a single person to slip through.

  Bruce felt a wave of uneasiness. The gates were supposed to sound an alarm if left ajar like this. But now they sat silent, disabled.

  “Wait here,” Draccon said, her hand already on the hilt of her gun.

  “But I—”

  “Stay in the car, Bruce. That’s an order.” Draccon stepped out of the vehicle, drew her gun, and crept forward, her coat draped loosely across her shoulders. She slid through the subtle opening between the gates. Madeleine had warned him only an hour earlier. Had someone…? His attention turned to the mansion itself. None of the lights were on, leaving every window plunged in gloom.

  A sickening feeling hit Bruce in the chest. Alfred.

  Draccon had made her way to the front steps of the house now and was slowly heading up the stairs, her back turned to one side and her gun pointed down. She was muttering something into the radio clipped near her collar. Bruce looked in the rear window. Still no security detail yet. He looked back toward the house, where Draccon was shouting for someone to open the door. A wave of dread washed over Bruce as Draccon called out again, but Alfred still didn’t show up to let her in. A moment later, Bruce heard the door creak open as Draccon nudged it ajar. It was unlocked.

  The details of the murders came back to him in a flash. Trapped within their own homes. The Nightwalkers were here, and they wanted him to go inside.

  Draccon’s tan coat had already disappeared behind the front pillars, and she had made her way into the house.

  Bruce looked around in the car for anything he could use as a weapon but came away with nothing. If Madeleine was right about this—if they were here for him—they’d come to find him out here soon enough.

  Bruce narrowed his eyes. Let them come to me, then. It would distract them from hurting Alfred—if they hadn’t already done so. He opened the car door, stepped out, and closed it behind him with a quiet snap. Then he hurried through the gap in the gates.

  The house sat eerily silent as he approached. Bruce crept forward, imitating the detective’s stance, keeping his back against the pillars and his gaze constantly moving. He inched inside the door to the parlor. The house greeted him with shadows. As he closed the door behind him, it made a soft click. He paused, his hand still on the knob, and then gave it a tug. A harder tug. The door refused to budge.

  He was locked in with the killers.

  Bruce could hear the roar of blood in his ears. Draccon was nowhere to be seen.

  Dark streaks against one wall made him freeze in his tracks. Blood? Paint? He peered closer, unsure of what he was seeing—then leaned away hastily when he realized what it was. A symbol had been spray-painted on the wall, a crude shape of a coin consumed by flames.

  The Nightwalkers were here, waiting for him.

  Bruce’s nightmares came back to him, full force—walking down the dim corridors of his own home, running across Madeleine in the halls, being hunted.

  No. He forced himself to close his eyes and steady his thinking. He had the advantage here—this was his house, and he knew it like the back of his hand, could walk the grounds blin
dfolded if he had to.

  The darkness was his ally, not his enemy.

  Bruce moved forward with soft steps, aiming for the kitchen. He needed a weapon.

  From somewhere in the house came the sound of footsteps. They were not Alfred’s familiar tread. The hairs rose on the back of Bruce’s neck. He kept going. The white drapes over the dining and living room furniture looked ghostly in the darkness; the door to his study was thrown wide open. His eyes locked, as always, on the unused grandfather clock in there. And as he stared—he saw a silhouette pass before it.

  His heart froze.

  Standing still would mean death. He swiftly crossed the hallway into the kitchen, illuminated dimly by light from the window over the sink. Next to that window, he saw the row of knives displayed over the large wooden cutting board, magnetically locked onto a metal bar.

  Footsteps out in the main foyer. If it was Draccon out there, she could easily shoot Bruce by mistake if he wasn’t careful. He needed to hide. Bruce grabbed one of the knives from the metal bar, clutched it tight in his fist, and then felt his way through the shadows toward a large, empty cabinet that had once contained a wine fridge.

  Suddenly, he heard a shout coming from the direction of the garage. “Halt!” It was Draccon. “Police! Put your hands up or I will shoot!” A rush of adrenaline flooded into Bruce’s veins, and the world around him seemed to sharpen. It reminded him of being trapped as a child in the caves underneath the manor, the water and blackness and creatures that seemed to close in from all sides. He shut his eyes for an instant.

  Fear clears the mind. Panic clouds it.

  Bruce opened his eyes and forced himself to concentrate.

  A door slammed, followed by the beep of an alarm. His mind raced as he plotted out the mansion’s floor plan. Someone had locked the garage door with the house’s automated security. It couldn’t have been Draccon. The Nightwalkers had locked the detective away in the garage, isolating her.

  He couldn’t hide here for long, not if Draccon was trapped, not if Alfred was hurt. The intruders had come for him, and they would stay until they found him.

 
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