Batman nightwalker, p.17
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.17

           Marie Lu
 
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  Bruce found himself staring down at a note written in Madeleine’s hand and folded into the careful, intricate shape of a flower. His head swam at the sight.

  He had never seen her handwriting before, of course, but it seemed to fit her—sparse, minimal, and elegant, with the occasional surprising flourish. He thought of the security tapes he’d seen of her, of the way she seemed to send signals to the cams through her paper folding. Had she been talking to someone who worked inside Arkham, and then set Bruce up to be a part of all this? What if one of the workers had intentionally let her escape? He read the note over and over again, barely able to believe it.

  Dear Bruce,

  We’re not a very smart match, are we? I can’t think of a story where the billionaire and the murderer end up happily ever after. So let’s call us even: thank you for helping me get out of this place, and you’re welcome for the months of entertainment. I hope you’ll remember me.

  xo,

  MW

  It sounded like her. But Bruce couldn’t wrap his head around why she would do this—if she wanted to escape, why leave him a note? Why do this to him after she’d also helped him work against the Nightwalkers? He read the note yet again, memories of their conversations replaying in his mind, and then folded it back along its lines. As with all her folded art, the flower could unfurl into another shape—and this time it changed into the shape of a three-dimensional diamond. Bruce stared at the two-faced paper sculpture. All those seemingly serious conversations, all her talk about sympathizing with him over the loss of his parents, pretending to help him catch the Nightwalkers, warning him to get out of Gotham City. Of her lingering looks and her final apology. I’m sorry, she’d said before turning her back.

  Madeleine fit into only one category.

  “She’s a liar,” Bruce snapped, balling up the note. The flower crumpled. “This is all part of her plan. It’s too easy for her to do this. You can’t possibly think I purposely wanted to help her.” He looked in disbelief at the detective, then at the second policeman.

  “And what about her profile that you stole from my desk?” Draccon said, her voice clipped and cold. “Is that one of her lies, too?”

  Bruce hesitated. This was no time for him to start hiding things from the police. “I did take it,” he admitted. “Only because I was trying to understand her better.”

  “And our IT security department tells us someone from outside the precinct pinged our police directories under a guest log-in. We tracked the IP address to your home.”

  Bruce stayed silent.

  “Then you disabled the security cams,” Draccon went on. “If she set you up to do it for her, then you gladly became her accomplice.”

  All you’d need to do to disable the system is to use the right scrambler, set at the right frequency. Those had been her words—all you’d need to do. You, Bruce.

  She had told him exactly where her web was, and he had still walked into it.

  Draccon nodded at his lack of response. “Don’t make this harder for yourself, Bruce. I know this has been difficult for you, and that I sent you into her path to begin with.” She tapped her pen on the table. “But you understand why I’m skeptical. Why would Madeleine go out of her way to thank you for her escape? If you truly had nothing to do with it, then why didn’t she just escape and leave it at that?”

  Bruce shook his head. “I have no idea,” he answered. “But you have to believe me. She knew that by leaving this note, she would make sure that I end up in your interrogation rooms. Think. Why would she send me here?”

  “Sometimes killers don’t need a reason,” Draccon replied. “Sometimes they just want to have fun.”

  “This doesn’t make sense,” Bruce said, his voice turning urgent again. “Please, Detective. You and I have worked out enough about Madeleine to know that she doesn’t ever do something for no reason at all. I—”

  He paused, realizing how he must sound. Draccon raised an eyebrow at him. Even the way he talked about her now made it sound like he knew her well, too well, that he had cared for her in a way beyond mere objective curiosity. And he had, hadn’t he?

  To Bruce’s surprise, Draccon seemed tired instead of angry, and listened to Bruce with an expression of bone-deep weariness. “It’s my fault,” she said with a sigh. “I never should have involved you in this case. I should’ve left you to finish your community service sentence, and let that be it. When I thought we could rely on you to get information out of Madeleine for us, I didn’t think you’d end up being her ticket to freedom.”

  Bruce slammed his hand down on the table. “But I didn’t help her.”

  “What would you have us believe, then, Bruce?” Draccon said. She rested her hands on the table and crossed her arms. “I’ve seen the surveillance tapes. I’ve seen your body language toward her change as time went on. Bruce—Madeleine escaped. She’s on the loose now. She’s probably found a way to reunite with the Nightwalkers. Our police are out in force, trying to track her down…but she’s covered her tracks well.”

  Bruce put his arms on the table and leaned his head into his hands. What would he need to do to work his way out of this? “How long do I have to stay here?” he muttered. “Is there bail?”

  Draccon shook her head. “Sorry, Bruce,” she replied. “You’ll have to remain here overnight. We need as much information as we can get, and the precinct doesn’t want you wandering around the city. It’s as much for your protection as it is for our benefit.”

  “You mean you don’t trust me,” Bruce countered. “You think I’m a flight risk?”

  Draccon’s eyes didn’t waver. “You’re not in the best position to argue right now,” she replied.

  Bruce closed his eyes and let out a long breath. “Fine. My phone call, then, please.”

  —

  Moments later, Bruce was inside a clear glass booth and puzzling over the details of how to dial out on a rotary phone. When I get leave of here, I’m donating new phones to the precinct, he thought darkly. On the other side of the glass, he could see the lines of the police cubicles, and beyond that, a series of flat-screen TVs mounted against the wall. The news was showing a journalist standing in the middle of a street, in front of a black carpet. Bruce looked away when he finally managed to dial Alfred’s cell phone number. Thank god, he thought as the ringing began.

  Alfred picked up on the first ring.

  “Alfred Pennyworth speaking,” he said.

  “Alfred! Are you still at the hospital?”

  “Master Wayne?” Alfred replied. “I was beginning to think the police wouldn’t let you call. I’m doing fine—they’ll discharge me tonight. How are you holding up?”

  “I’ve had better days.”

  “Your friend Dianne has been calling nonstop about you,” Alfred went on. “She had hoped they would release you on bail. She’s already at the gala—many attendees are still going there in support of you and in honor of the mayor.”

  Dianne. The gala. The black carpet on the TV. Bruce suddenly remembered, and his eyes shot back up to focus on the TVs. Sure enough, the Ada drones from WayneTech were already out in full force, looming at the entrance leading into the Gotham City Concert Hall. The event’s tone had turned somber since the mayor’s death, and black draped the sides of the concert hall’s walls, the cloths threaded in silver with the gala’s original diamond-shaped logo. Guests arrived in black, too, treating the event as less of a celebration and more as a memorial to the mayor.

  Bruce’s eyes went back to the gala’s diamond-shaped logo—a logo that looked almost exactly like the diamond shape that Madeleine’s letter to him folded into. He froze. A fist of ice closed around his heart.

  All of Gotham City’s elite would be at the gala tonight. The Nightwalkers are going to strike there, in one fell swoop. All this time, they had been stockpiling weapons in anticipation for this, their biggest operation. And Madeleine had hinted it to him with the shape of her note.

  “Alfred,” he said urgen
tly. “Call Dianne. Tell her to catch a cab back home right away. Now. She shouldn’t be there tonight. Get her out of there. Tell her, tell her—”

  “Master Wayne, calm down.” There was a short pause on the other end, and then Alfred said, “I’ll call her immediately. What’s going on?”

  Bruce opened his mouth to answer, but he noticed then that others in the police precinct offices, beyond the glass window of his phone booth, had turned their attention to the TVs, too. No. On the screens, he could see the journalist suddenly turn around as the sound of screams came from somewhere inside the building. Police cars pulled up to the main entrance. Among them were Ada security drones and two SWAT trucks, and Bruce looked on in horror as officers poured out of the back of the vehicles, armed with rifles and bulletproof vests. It’s too late.

  The Nightwalkers were making their move.

  The faint words of the reporter now drifted over to him. “—confirmed that as many as one hundred guests, ranging from Gotham City’s attorney general to the deputy mayor, from WayneTech’s Lucius Fox to dozens of other innocent civilians, are being held hostage by the Nightwalkers. There may be a ransom note released very soon, although we have no information yet about what it might contain.”

  Lucius was trapped inside. So was Dianne. So were a hundred other people, all of whom might die tonight. Bruce felt his heart lodge in his throat. The phone was still in his hand, and he could hear Alfred calling for him through it, but he felt far away, his mind numbed. Dianne had gone there tonight in support of him, had always been there for him throughout this entire ordeal—and now he had once again put her life in danger.

  I have to get them out. I have to fix this.

  The drones at the entrance suddenly turned away from facing the street. Odd.

  They switched into offensive stances as police approached. Bruce blinked. What? The first SWAT police crouched down, pointing their rifles at the drones, but the drones stepped forward, blocking their entry into the building.

  The reporter turned around with a frown. “We are just now getting word that something seems to have gone wrong with WayneTech’s Ada drones—what you are seeing here at the entrance to the concert hall—that they are becoming aggressive toward GCPD forces.”

  Madeleine. Bruce knew instantly. She had found a way to hack the drones, turning them from security forces into the Nightwalkers’ own army. He shuddered as he thought back to her wry comments. Never trust tech. And apparently she was right—especially when she was the one behind the tech.

  Bruce narrowed his eyes. He was trembling now at the thought of Lucius with his hands tied, of Dianne staring down the gun of a Nightwalker. I’m done being your prey, he thought, staring at the screen. You’re going to be mine now.

  “Master Wayne!” Alfred was still calling for him over the phone. “Master Wayne? What is going on?”

  “We make a good team, right?” Bruce replied, keeping his voice low on the phone. “Because you have to help me, Alfred. I need to get to the gala right away.”

  Despite the fact that Bruce was being held without bail in a jail cell, it didn’t feel like many officers were left behind to guard him. The office itself was in a chaotic state—every officer who could be deployed had been sent to the concert hall, while those forced to stay behind were either rushing around answering the flood of calls coming in or gaping in horror at the news unfolding on the TV screens.

  Bruce could hear the commotion from his cell; as much as he tried, he could only see a glimpse of the side of one TV from where he was situated. It was late now, nearly midnight, and the gala would have been in full swing. Instead, what should have been a night of tribute and celebration had become the largest hostage standoff in the history of Gotham City.

  Bruce paced back and forth in his cell. He didn’t have much time to tell Alfred what he needed to over the phone—it had been too risky to say much with officers standing nearby. But Alfred, as always, had needed little explanation.

  Bruce had no idea what he would do if he confronted Madeleine—if she was indeed responsible for all of this, then talking to him certainly wasn’t going to stop her. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about the way she had tilted her head up at him, the look on her face when she’d said, Two kinds of people come out of personal tragedy….You’re the kind that comes out brighter. Behind her confusing maze of actions and expressions, was there a part of Madeleine, however small, that actually did mean what she said?

  Bruce narrowed his eyes. He needed to know why she did this to him. He needed to bring her to justice. And more than anything, he needed to stop her before the Nightwalkers hurt more people. The conviction burned in him like a dark flame.

  “Get another cruiser out there!” someone exclaimed as footsteps rushed through the precinct’s halls. “We don’t have time—the drones have started firing—”

  The drones have started firing. Bruce’s heart skipped a beat. The Nightwalkers had managed to hijack every Ada drone at the gala and turn them into killing machines. If they—if Madeleine—could manage to find a way to access and reprogram the drones inside WayneTech, or seize control of the other weapons in there, Gotham City’s police would be overwhelmed.

  “Come on, Alfred,” Bruce muttered under his breath.

  Detective Draccon rushed past the jail door. At the sight of her, Bruce yelled, “Detective! Detective Draccon!”

  She doubled back, her eyes flashing as she looked in at Bruce.

  “You have to let me out,” Bruce shouted. “I can help you find a way into the concert hall. I can—”

  “Stay put, Bruce,” she shouted back. “You’ll be safe here.” Bruce watched her take off down the hall after the officers, her men behind her.

  As the chaos on TV continued, the scene in the back of the precinct quieted even further. Half the lights were off now, and the only people not on duty were a few guards, their attention all turned to the TVs and phones. Bruce gripped the bars hard, then closed his eyes, bowed his head, and slid slowly down into a crouch by the door of his cell. How had all of this gone so wrong? And now here he was, stuck, unable to do anything to help.

  “Oh, thank you,” Harvey Dent said to someone. “Yeah, I’m here to see my dad.”

  Bruce’s eyes snapped open as his friend Harvey stepped into the holding area with an officer hurrying beside him. Harvey didn’t meet Bruce’s gaze right away, but when the officer pointed at a cell farther down the hall, Harvey gave the man an earnest smile. “Yes, I can go from here. Thank you, sir.”

  “All right, kid. You’ve got ten minutes.” The policeman rushed off, distracted by the chaos in the office.

  “Harvey?” Bruce said in a low voice as his friend’s eyes locked on him.

  “Bruce,” Harvey hissed, then headed over toward his cell. “There you are.”

  “What are you doing here?” Bruce said as his friend approached him and gripped the bars. “You’re here to see your dad…?”

  Harvey gave him a shaky smile. “I finally reported him, Bruce,” he said. “The police arrested him.”

  At that, Bruce blinked, unable to stop a quick smile spreading across his own face. After all this time, his friend had stood up to his father. “You—you reported your dad? They’re keeping him in this holding area?”

  Harvey nodded. “Yeah. But I’m not here to see him. It was just a really good excuse to get the police to let me come back here.” He held up a small key between them. Bruce glanced down at it, his smile fading into shock.

  It was the key to Bruce’s holding cell.

  “Turns out,” Harvey whispered, “that I have some slick hands, and that Alfred is one convincing talker.”

  Alfred. Bruce stared at him. “He put you up to this? You’re helping me get out?”

  “Hey, be flattered that I’m willing to break the law for you and Dianne.” Harvey shoved the key into the lock. “My dad belongs in here, not you. Now, let’s go.”

  —

  On any other night, the holding area
of the GCPD precinct would have been a near-impossible place from which to break out. Detective Draccon would have interrogated Bruce again before the night was done; there would have been two rotations of police in the back, not one; and everyone’s attention wouldn’t have been consumed by the screens mounted on the wall, displaying the nightmare of events going down.

  But tonight, as the Nightwalkers held the city hostage, Bruce was able to creep down one of the precinct’s halls at a fast clip, head down and shoulders tense, keeping his eyes on Harvey, who hurried forward in front of him. They were making a run for the building’s single back door, which led out to the rain-washed parking lot behind the precinct.

  Suddenly, Harvey darted to one side and wedged himself into a nook where the bathrooms were. Bruce did the same. An instant later, a young officer hurried past them, her hand on the gun at her hip. They held their breath as she rushed by. As she went, they heard her shout, “Is anybody left in here? We called for more backup!”

  “The National Guard’s on their way!” a voice answered her farther down the hall. Bruce heard a pair of footsteps run away from them, then fade. He let his breath out.

  “Come on,” Harvey snapped. They bolted back out into the hall. As they went, Bruce heard another shout go up from the holding cell area.

  “I thought Draccon was keeping Wayne here!”

  “She is—”

  “How the hell did he get the key?”

  “Get Draccon on the phone—we have a missing—”

  Bruce gritted his teeth as both he and Harvey broke into a run. I guess that officially makes me a fugitive. They burst out the door and into the night, and the jail was behind them.

  They took two steps before a black car screeched to a halt in front of them. This was not the usual, stately ride Alfred used to take Bruce around, but a car that Bruce recognized from WayneTech, sleek and understated and black, its surface blending in with the night.

 
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