Batman nightwalker, p.7
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.7

           Marie Lu
 
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  “Why are you in here?” he called out, hoping she would respond. But she stayed quiet. Whatever had possessed her to speak to him, however little, had clearly disappeared, there and gone so quickly that he thought perhaps he’d imagined it.

  He lingered for a bit, just in case, but when she stayed silent, he turned away and left her alone, the ghost of her voice still lingering in his thoughts, bringing with it more questions than answers.

  Graduation day.

  Hats went flying in the air, and cheers rang out from the crowd of students seated on the expansive green lawns of the academy grounds.

  Bruce stood with Alfred and Lucius, smiling along as they congratulated him, making the right gestures—handshakes, hugs, attempts to shake off the mound of leis and medals Alfred kept looping around his neck. He’d been looking forward to the end of high school, had been counting down the days with Dianne and Harvey.

  It was supposed to be the most momentous day of his life.

  But his mind was distracted as he glanced around the quad. Madeleine’s words still echoed in his memory.

  You’re different from the regular crowd.

  Even now, he could hear her voice speaking clearly in his thoughts, as if she stood before him, secured behind glass. She knew who he was, had clearly been paying attention to him for as long as he’d been paying attention to her. Why did she bother?

  “Bruce.”

  Bruce forced his thoughts to return to Lucius, who was talking to him. “Let’s plan to do this sooner rather than later, shall we?” The man patted him on his shoulder. “A proper demonstration of the drones we’re working on. The Wayne Foundation is hosting a huge charity gala to show them in action.” He tugged once at his sports jacket. “Some important folks on that RSVP list—the council, Metropolis officials, the Luthors….Everyone’s interested in what we’re building, Bruce.” Lucius nodded off in the distance at a man with several police officers around him. “Including the mayor.”

  Bruce tensed. If the mayor was nearby, then it probably meant Richard was, too.

  Dianne and Harvey came over, each of them completely laden with their own shares of leis and medals. Dianne caught sight of Bruce’s stare, then took off one of her medals and draped it around his neck. “You’re supposed to wear these, Bruce,” she said to him with a smile. “See? Harvey’s setting a good example.”

  “Hi, sir,” Harvey said to Alfred, shaking his hand and then Lucius’s in a formal gesture that sent his medals clinking. He seemed uncomfortable here, where everyone’s family had shown up except for his father. It made Bruce step protectively to his friend’s side. “You both must be proud of Bruce.”

  “As I am of you,” Alfred said, smiling, and offered Harvey a kind wink. “Well done, Mr. Dent.”

  Dianne touched Harvey’s arm and started pulling him away. Behind her stood a huge crowd of family members, all cheering uproariously about something. They waved her over. “Come on, Harvey, Bruce….My fam’s dying to see you guys.”

  Harvey opened his mouth to protest, but Dianne had already started dragging him off with her. Her family let out an enthusiastic round of greetings as Harvey reached them, then engulfed him in welcoming hugs. He blushed, but through his reddening face, his mood seemed to brighten.

  “Go catch up with them,” Lucius said, nudging Bruce forward. “I can keep Alfred company here.”

  Bruce thanked him, then started to head toward the others. He hadn’t gone far when Mayor Price stepped into his path, with Richard right behind him. “Bruce Wayne!” the man exclaimed, putting a hand on his shoulder and giving him a warm smile that stretched the freckles on his pale face. “Been years since I’ve seen you. Look how you’ve grown! Congratulations, son—not that any of us ever doubted how well you’d turn out. Isn’t that right, Richard?” He shot his own son’s medal an uninterested, sidelong look, and Richard seemed to tighten like a corkscrew.

  Bruce nodded stiffly. The mayor had always been kind to him. “Thank you, sir,” he replied, shaking the mayor’s hand. “Congratulations to you, too, and to Richard.”

  At that, the mayor didn’t even smile. “You’re a kind boy, but I’ll accept congratulations for this one when they’re actually due.” The look on the mayor’s face was so dismissive that Bruce could hardly believe it was being leveled at his own son. Richard stood there awkwardly, unspeaking, as his father talked around him. “It’s a shame we don’t see you around our house that often anymore, Bruce.”

  “I’ve been a bit too busy lately to come by, what with my summer work and my…time at Arkham….”

  “Ah, that.” The mayor waved a hand in the air. “Showed initiative, what you did in stopping that Nightwalker. You’ve got all the makings of a leader. I remember when you were still small. Smartest kid I’d ever seen. Still are.” He slapped Richard once, hard, on the back. Richard lurched, his eyes downcast. “Could teach this one a thing or two.”

  Bruce’s attention went back to Richard, who was actively avoiding the conversation now. A few memories clicked into place of when Bruce would do his homework at Richard’s home. The man would always praise Bruce, always within earshot of Richard. At the time, and even now, it’d seemed like nothing big enough to dwell on—Alfred was hard on Bruce sometimes, too, and often in front of his friends. But something about the mayor’s words, about Richard’s distant stance, made Bruce dwell on those memories. Maybe their rift was bigger than he’d thought.

  “Heard you’re working with Lucius Fox this summer.”

  “I am, sir.”

  “Well!” The mayor’s smile broadened. “It’s to be expected from a tech whiz like yourself. You come by my office anytime, and I’ll walk you through the city’s work with your foundation. You’re going to do big things for this city, son. I know it.”

  Son. Beside the mayor, Richard looked more miserable than ever, and Bruce felt discomfort knot in his own stomach. For the first time, he wondered if the way the mayor ignored Richard to heap esteem on Bruce was part of the reason behind their frayed friendship. “Thank you, sir,” he responded, unsure what else to say.

  The mayor nodded at him, then paused to wave once at someone across the park. Without saying a word to Richard, he left his son’s side and walked away.

  “Dad’s always had pretty low standards for you,” Richard said as he put his hands in his pockets. “You could steal his wallet and he’d praise you for it.”

  Bruce thought of Richard’s desperate attempts to get ahead, his comfort with cheating all the time. “Is this why we don’t hang out anymore? Because of your dad?”

  Richard shrugged, although his eyes revealed this had hit him harder than he’d let on. “Last night I showed him where my name was in the award lineup. Do you know what he said without even looking at me? He asked where you ranked.”

  Bruce winced. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”

  “Yeah, you never did.” Richard’s scowl deepened. “But then again, you don’t have to listen to stuff like that day in and day out, do you? You’ve got Alfred.”

  “You make it sound like Alfred never gets on my case.”

  “He’s just your butler, not your—”

  At that, Bruce’s momentary sympathy wavered. “Alfred’s my guardian. You know that. And if you were about to make a comment about my parents, I’m telling you to stop right here.”

  The warning in Bruce’s voice only seemed to irritate Richard further. “What? I’m not saying it’s your fault.”

  Bruce shook his head. “What’s really bothering you?”

  Richard paused for a moment. Then he looked off to where his father now stood with a cluster of other parents. “I found out Dad locked me out of his trust fund.”

  Suddenly, it clicked. Bruce’s trust funds had opened recently—his parents had handed over the keys to their empire to their son without a second thought, even as Bruce felt the weight of the responsibility more than the benefits. If Richard had recently learned, on the other hand, that his father had decided
to lock his son out of his will, then Bruce’s recent fortune must have seemed like a personal insult.

  “I’m sorry about your dad. Look, I don’t know what you want me to say.”

  Richard’s expression shifted to something cruel. “I don’t want your sympathy. At least you don’t have to be a backup son. Your dad isn’t even around anymore—”

  A cut of anger rushed through Bruce. “Careful.”

  “I’m just saying. You can do whatever the hell you want, and nobody’s going to stop you.”

  “Are you saying my life’s easier because my parents are gone?” The anger was crowding in, blurring the edges of Bruce’s vision. “And you don’t think I wish, every day, that they were still here?”

  “Stop being so precious, Bruce.” Richard’s scowl turned into a sneer, his own voice developing a harsh edge. “You know you like not having to work for your parents’ approval. Everyone loves poor Bruce Wayne, because his mom and dad are six feet und—”

  Bruce didn’t know what happened next. One second, he was standing in front of Richard, posture tense, hands clenching and unclenching, trying to reason with his former friend; the next, they were both on the ground, and one of his knees was pressed against Richard’s chest. Blood gushed from the boy’s nose—Bruce must have hit him hard, because when he looked down at his fist, blood was smeared on his knuckles. Vaguely, he heard a couple of startled screams go up around them, but they sounded like an underwater hum. The space, the other onlookers—they blurred away, and for an instant, he was staring at the girl in the cell—at Madeleine—while she stared back at him with her dark eyes.

  Don’t hold back, she had said to him.

  Then it was over, as quickly as it had begun. Richard was holding his nose as blood oozed out of it. Hands were pulling Bruce up, dragging him away as his boots kicked up dirt. It took him another second to realize that the people holding him back were Dianne and Harvey, their faces stunned and wary.

  Harvey’s hand was clenched hard around Bruce’s arm, and his jaw was set. With a jolt of guilt, Bruce realized that Harvey must be familiar with scenes like this. But when he looked at his friend, Harvey shook his head once. “I know,” he just said. “Deep breaths. I know.”

  “Hey, it’s okay,” Dianne was murmuring in his ear as she held his other arm.

  Bruce stopped struggling and stared back at where Richard was still holding his injured nose and looking at Bruce with eyes full of loathing. Bruce’s heart hammered wildly in his chest, Richard’s final sentences whirling in his head. The world felt like a muffled vacuum, and he was on the other side of the glass, looking in at a friendship that had now completely fallen apart.

  On the ground, Richard slowly pushed himself to his feet. His sleeve was ruined with blood from his nose, but to Bruce’s surprise, there was a slight smile on the boy’s lips, some darkly satisfied expression. “You’re going to regret that,” Richard said. Before Bruce could respond, Richard turned his back and walked away.

  Both Draccon and Dr. James noticed Bruce’s unusual silence at Arkham the next day, saw the healing bruise on his knuckles. To his relief, though, they’d chosen not to bring it up.

  News of the fight had spread swiftly through the grapevine. And instead of the incident fading away like it would for a normal person, Bruce had no doubt some tabloid somewhere was printing a blurry photo submitted by a student standing nearby where it had happened, pairing it with a headline that made Bruce look bad. He was steering clear of glancing at any papers today.

  As Bruce walked toward the detective and warden in the cafeteria, he overheard a few words of what Draccon was saying to James. “…that there’s something wrong with that girl…no, still not even so much as a peep…she knows, I know she knows, she’s worked directly with the Nightwalkers’ boss before, probably even as a close hand…they’re targeting all of Bellingham Industries’ holdings, banks, factories…they’ll go for the rest soon…I tell you, I’ve cracked a lot of people in my time, but she…”

  They’re talking about Madeleine. Maybe Draccon had been down there just this morning to interrogate her again, clearly with no success.

  Draccon’s gaze flickered to him as he approached the table; James turned in her chair to glance up at him, her hazel eyes flashing, and their conversation cut off.

  “Detective,” Bruce said, sitting down to join them. “Dr. James.”

  “Afternoon, Bruce,” Draccon said, returning to nurse her coffee.

  Bruce’s encounter with Madeleine lingered in his mind. He knew it was only a matter of time before they saw the footage of it from the security cams and asked him about it. He cleared his throat. “I—” he started, trying to figure out the best way to tell them about what had happened. “I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying, Detective. It’s about that girl again, isn’t it?”

  Draccon frowned as if Bruce were accusing her of doing a poor job. But then she sighed and lifted her coffee to her lips again. “The girl still won’t talk,” she grumbled. “Today makes exactly four months she’s been in detention, and she hasn’t said a single word to anybody.”

  “Yes, she has,” Bruce said.

  Draccon raised her eyebrow at him over her cup while James picked at her teeth. “You mean in your dreams, Wayne?” the warden said. “I think she’s out of your league, little boy.”

  Bruce shot a withering look at James but went on as Draccon sipped her coffee. “She knew who I was. She told me her name was Madeleine.”

  Draccon choked on her coffee. Brown liquid splashed out of her cup as she slammed it down on the table and sputtered. Bruce waited for her to recover. When she finally did, gasping and wheezing, she dabbed her mouth with her napkin and then shot him a venomous glare. “You’ve been digging around in files,” she snapped, her voice still hoarse. “Where have you been sneaking around?”

  “I haven’t,” Bruce replied.

  “Don’t lie to me.”

  “You don’t think I could make up a better lie than that? I would’ve told you she said something way more interesting than just a name.”

  “How’d you know her name is Madeleine? From one of the inmates?” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Because I certainly didn’t tell you.”

  “She told me. She said it to me last week, when I was cleaning down there.”

  James was looking at him with suspicious eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

  “Check the security tapes,” Bruce replied.

  “You giving me attitude?”

  “Calm down, both of you,” Draccon said, holding out her palms at him. “Bruce, walk me through your entire conversation. She didn’t just blurt out her name for no reason.”

  “I see you and other officers in her cell often,” he replied. “Interrogating her. But last week she was alone, and she noticed me glancing at her cell. She said, ‘You’re Bruce Wayne.’ ” He paused for a second, sure that Draccon would interrupt him, but the detective stayed silent, willing him on. “So I said yes. She told me that I was definitely not the usual crowd around here and then told me her name.”

  A strange light had entered Draccon’s eyes, like she had realized something that Bruce didn’t quite understand.

  “Maybe she likes you because you’re her age,” James mused.

  “Maybe she likes you because she knows you’re a brand-new billionaire,” Draccon added. She considered Bruce for a moment longer before rising from her seat. Whatever schedule she’d originally had for the day seemed forgotten now as she focused her attention on him. “Fine,” she said. “You want to know more about this girl?”

  “Anything I’m allowed to know.”

  Draccon gestured toward the cafeteria door. “Come with me to the precinct.”

  —

  Steady rain was pouring outside by the time they arrived, painting everything in a gray haze. Through the fogged windows of Draccon’s office at the police department’s downtown precinct, Bruce could barely make out the lights of
Gotham City’s independent theater shining through the wetness. He looked away only when Draccon stepped back into the office, bearing two steaming mugs of coffee and a thick manila folder tucked under one arm.

  She placed a mug in front of Bruce, then dropped the folder onto the table between them with a thud. “Her name’s Madeleine Wallace,” Draccon began. “She’s eighteen.”

  Eighteen. She could have been at his graduation, laden in medals and leis. “That’s it?” Bruce replied.

  Draccon nodded for him to take a look inside the folder. “Just got her file back from our clerks. It contains her whole background. Youngest inmate in the history of Arkham, not that it makes her any less dangerous. She’s got crime in her family—her mother, to be specific. Madeleine’s accused of committing three murders, all in the same way, and was on our wanted list for months before we finally arrested her back in February at the Grant estate.” She fixed Bruce with a grave stare. “There are some graphic photos in there. Don’t look if you think you can’t stomach it.”

  Bruce opened the folder. Staring back at him was the mug shot of Madeleine Wallace, alabaster white and unsmiling, her dark hair straight as a sheet on both sides of her face. If it weren’t for her prison jumpsuit and the number she was holding up, she would look like an average high school student. He scanned the rest of her profile, but there was precious little there, aside from the fact that she had a particular talent with technology. How someone like this could have committed three murders gruesome enough to put her away in Arkham Asylum made Bruce shiver, made him wonder what kinds of thoughts went through her head. He turned the page.

  He flinched. It was a full-page crime scene photo from one of the murders.

  Draccon nodded grimly at Bruce. “Think it’s fun to interfere with police business? Welcome to my world.”

  There were pages and pages of photos. All Bruce could let himself linger on were a few obvious facts—an older man, a pool of blood, a ghastly look on his frozen face, the last expression he made before he died. Bruce felt his stomach twist as the photos went on, unable to tear his eyes away and yet afraid to see more. The edges of his vision blurred, and his breathing turned shallow.

 
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