Batman nightwalker, p.8
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.8

           Marie Lu
 
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  The theater. Blood on the pavement. Someone was screaming, always screaming.

  “Bruce?”

  Through the fog, he felt Draccon’s hands on his shoulders, giving him a rough shake. His eyes snapped up to the detective, who stared down at him with a worried look. “Are you okay?” She shook her head. “Shouldn’t have brought you into this. We can head back—”

  Bruce scowled and shrugged off the detective’s grip. “I’m fine.” He took a deep breath, then willed himself to stare back down at the photographic evidence. Focus. “I recognize this man,” he said.

  Draccon sat down and leaned one arm across the back of her chair, still eyeing Bruce warily. “You’ve probably seen him before at a Wayne function. Sir Robert Bartholomew Grant, hedge fund manager turned city council member. He was well known in philanthropy circles and must’ve thrown a charity ball every month.” At that, her lip curled ever so slightly, as if the thought of such a wealthy man left a bad taste in her mouth. Draccon shook her head, and the expression disappeared, replaced with something resembling guilt at thinking ill of the dead. “He was found like this in his own home. Madeleine’s last victim.” She hesitated as they both stared at the photo. “Throat slashed, multiple knife wounds. His bank accounts were completely drained of their millions. In the weeks following his death, the Nightwalkers bombed a building that bore his name on Gotham City University’s campus, then the charities he sponsored.”

  Bruce nodded slowly. It took nearly all of his effort to keep the memory at bay. He had a vague recollection of the man, knew that his parents must have been acquaintances with him.

  He flipped the page and found himself staring at photos of the next victim.

  “Annabelle White,” Draccon went on. “Former president of Airo Technologies, also a heavy philanthropist who nevertheless shied away from public appearances. She was found in her home, in a similar state to Grant. Her accounts were also drained of cash, and her lab headquarters were bombed shortly thereafter.”

  “I heard about this murder,” Bruce murmured as he went quickly through the photos so that he didn’t have to focus on each one. “She lived nearby. I remember seeing the flashing lights of police cars on her hill all the way from my home.” He’d heard the panic from the officers, in fact, on his police scanner, had followed some of the chaos live.

  Draccon nodded. As Bruce flipped to the last page, she continued. “Edward Bellingham III, heir to the Bellingham oil fortune. Same type of murder, also committed in his own home. This was the one where we finally found a print that led us to Madeleine, although there were clearly multiple assailants involved in each crime—two different sets of tire tracks on the path leading to both the front and back entrances, locks on doors picked at opposite ends of the estate.”

  Bellingham. Bellingham Industries & Co., the name on the side of the building where Bruce had chased the Nightwalker’s getaway car. “He owned the place the Nightwalkers bombed, didn’t he?” Bruce asked.

  Draccon nodded. “Same story. Fortunes drained, still untraceable. His legacies and landmarks destroyed. The Nightwalkers are waging a war against the upper rungs, Bruce—they want to punish the elite who they think have corrupted the system, and they do it by stealing those individuals’ money and using it to fund the destruction of all those people ever cared about.”

  These victims could have been his parents. Who did they leave behind? Did each of these people have young sons, daughters, siblings, people who now had to figure out how to live life without a loved one? The thought lodged in Bruce’s throat, bringing with it a sense of rage. Was there ever a reason to kill? Did Madeleine sleep well at night, with the blood that stained her hands?

  Blood on the pavement. Blood on the ground.

  He closed the folder and felt an immediate sense of relief. He looked across the table at Draccon, who was using her coffee mug to warm her hands. “All wealthy philanthropists,” he said.

  “And all murdered in their homes,” Draccon added. “In each case, the home’s security system had not only been compromised, but had been completely reprogrammed to work against the owner, trapping them inside their own home instead of protecting them. Grant’s system should have dialed the police, for instance, but instead, it unlocked the door in his garage, letting the assailants inside. The security cameras throughout his home were rewired to aid the intruders in figuring out exactly where Grant was in the house. And so on.”

  Turning his security against himself, and then turning his money against him, too. Bruce shivered, imagining his own mansion sealing him in like a tomb. “And Madeleine’s connected to the Nightwalkers?”

  “At the time of her arrest, she was found escaping the estate grounds with a canister of spray paint in her backpack that matched the paint used to draw the Nightwalkers’ symbol inside the house. It gives us reason to believe that she and at least one of her accomplices are Nightwalkers. She might even be a highly ranked member herself. We’ve been trying to get information out of her for months—with plea deals, then with threats—but she hasn’t so much as uttered a peep. That is, until you came waltzing along.”

  “I don’t waltz.”

  Draccon’s eyebrows lifted at his retort, and a hint of amusement flashed across her face. “Skipping, then,” she said dryly. “You seem like a skipper.”

  Bruce didn’t say it out loud, and he appreciated Draccon not saying it, either—but it couldn’t have been a coincidence that Bruce himself was also a wealthy heir and following in his parents’ philanthropic footsteps. A member of Gotham City’s elite. A perfect victim for her—their—taste.

  “We’ve managed to get a little bit about Madeleine from other Nightwalker inmates,” Draccon continued. “Not much, not enough, but it’s better than nothing. She’s a skilled manipulator. Apparently, she can read a person better than they can read themselves, can figure out the people who matter to you and then use your relationship with them to burrow into your mind.”

  Bruce thought of her penetrating stare, the way she had guessed his issues with Richard and then planted a seed in his thoughts. Don’t hold back. And he hadn’t even said a word to her about his issues. A chill ran through him. “I can believe that,” he replied, his voice hoarse.

  “Bruce,” Draccon said, eyeing him carefully. “Your mentor, Lucius Fox. We approached him about creating a better security system for your new bank accounts. This is why.”

  Bruce blinked. The security Lucius recently installed on his accounts. “That was a request from GCPD?”

  Draccon nodded again.

  So this was why Lucius had been keen to develop securities specifically for Bruce’s accounts. They were going to use it to further secure the city’s banks, sure—but they had developed it first to protect Bruce from the Nightwalkers.

  “Well.” Draccon gauged his reactions. “You are on this case now,” she finally said, “whether you like it or not.”

  Bruce nodded. Now that he knew more about Madeleine as a killer, the thought of seeing her in Arkham again brought up a different feeling in his chest. His heart turned cold, hard. I might have been too young to save my parents, but I can seek justice now. I can stop the deaths of others before the Nightwalkers strike again. I won’t let them add me to their tally.

  “I want to help,” he said. “You need my help.”

  Draccon grimaced. “If you weren’t eighteen and legally an adult, I wouldn’t even consider it. I’m hesitating even now, given who you are and who the Nightwalkers target. But she hasn’t said a word to anyone but you.” She studied Bruce. “So. Let’s see if you can get her talking.”

  That night, Bruce tossed restlessly in bed as one nightmare after another visited him. He was back on the midnight streets outside the theater, his hands shoved firmly in his pockets, shivering from the cold and the drizzle, his mother’s arm secure around his shoulders. He tried to shout at his father to turn back and take a different route, but his father couldn’t seem to hear him. Instead, they walked farthe
r and farther away from the streetlights, wandering through pitch-black alleys hazy with steam and fog. They walked faster and faster, until they were sprinting through the street. His legs felt as if they were dragging through mud, but he willed them on.

  And then the alleys weren’t alleys at all, but passages, the familiar halls of Wayne Manor, the corridors lit by moonlight. He was shouting for Alfred now, but Alfred was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t remember why he was running—only that he had to run, that he was in terrible danger. Every time he reached the door that should have led out to the street, he would swing it open only to stare back down at the corridor leading into the mansion again. Why couldn’t he leave?

  He stumbled over something on the floor, then caught himself. When he looked down, he saw that he had tripped over Richard’s bloody, mutilated corpse. He had a faint memory of hitting him, not stopping even when hands were trying to pull him away.

  “Hello, Bruce.”

  He whirled around at the voice. It was one he had only heard once, and yet he recognized it immediately. Madeleine looked up at him from under her canopy of lashes, her lips full, face stunning. “How easy you make it,” she said, glancing down at Richard’s body with a smile.

  Then she raised her arm and plunged a knife into Bruce’s stomach.

  Bruce bolted upright in bed with a startled gasp. Outside, a strong wind whipped branches against his window. He sat there for a moment, trembling, sucking in deep lungfuls of air, until his heartbeat finally slowed down. He forced himself to collect his thoughts.

  He couldn’t go in to see Madeleine if she was already getting to him before any interrogation even started. Bruce tried to blink away the images of the three murders Draccon had shown him. But if he truly wanted to aid in the investigation, if he truly wanted to learn about justice, then he needed to be able to face the darkness.

  —

  “This goes inside your shirt. This goes in your pocket.”

  Bruce leaned forward on his chair in Draccon’s office. The detective held up a tiny, flat square that looked like a slice of aluminum. She handed it to Bruce, and he carefully slipped it inside the front pocket of his uniform. When he pressed it against the fabric, it stuck on firmly.

  Draccon handed him a rectangular card, which Bruce tucked into a pocket of his work pants. “The square in your shirt pocket is a wireless microphone,” she said. “It’ll pick up your conversations, crystal clear. The other piece will record everything.”

  Bruce nodded. “Anything else I should know about Madeleine?”

  “Even without uttering a word, she’ll find a way to make you doubt yourself. She’s impossible to intimidate, and I’ve never seen her lose her composure. Be careful what you say to her. We’ll be watching you at all times, of course, and will make sure you’re never in danger. Still…protect yourself.”

  It was such a strange warning. Madeleine was contained behind solid steel. She had absolutely nothing to use as a weapon. “I will,” he replied, although the detective’s words lingered with him, making him dwell on how the entire police department had so far been unable to crack this girl.

  “And remember,” Draccon said as they both rose from their chairs, “no one except for you, me, and Dr. James knows about this. It’s your decision whether or not to inform your guardian, but as far as anyone else is concerned, you’re still just doing your community service.”

  “Know about what?” Bruce replied, and a ghost of a smile appeared on Draccon’s face.

  “You’re hilarious, Wayne,” the detective replied.

  The wind from the night before had changed into a dark morning of low black clouds. By the time Draccon and Bruce arrived at the asylum, fat drops of rain had started to fall, and a rumble echoed constantly across the sky.

  Nothing changed about their morning routine. Bruce quietly signed in, gathered his cleaning supplies, and headed down to the basement level, while Draccon disappeared to speak with James. But as they left, Bruce knew that they were setting up equipment in the warden’s office, listening in on the conversation they hoped he would have.

  The intensive-treatment level felt particularly sinister today, the pressure of the air seeming to push in on Bruce from all sides. As he neared Madeleine’s cell, he chanced a peek in through her glass window. She was, as expected, alone again, this time standing in the middle of her cell and studying something on the ceiling that he couldn’t see.

  He let his gaze stay on her for a moment longer, hoping she would notice him. When she still didn’t stir, he pretended to drop his mop with a loud clatter, then picked it up again. He straightened, glancing in her window to see if she was paying any attention.

  She wasn’t.

  Maybe the first time had been the last time. Bruce felt a strange disappointment at that.

  “You’re clumsier than I remember.”

  The voice was sudden and startling, an echo of his nightmare—but when Bruce whirled and looked through the glass, Madeleine still had her face turned up to the ceiling, as if ignoring him. She continued to speak, though. “You’re not scheduled for this level today. Why are you here?”

  She kept track of his days? A train of thoughts rushed through Bruce. He could say, of course, that the asylum had changed his schedule—but it seemed like something she would see straight through, something that would alert her right away to the fact that he was here to secretly interrogate her. So he decided on a different tactic. “I’m not supposed to be,” he replied, keeping his voice low. He edged closer to her window. “My supervisor is out for the day.”

  At that, Madeleine arched her neck and rolled her head back. Her eyes were closed, her lashes curving gently against her cheeks. She had pulled her black curtain of hair over one shoulder and woven it into a thick, shining fishtail of a braid, and the end of it was gradually coming undone without a tie. She turned to look at him. “Well, aren’t you feeling rebellious? Did you come to thank me for my advice?”

  Her advice? As if that had triggered him to attack Richard? How could she even tell that something had happened? When he looked through her window again, she was now looking back at him. Her eyes chilled him as they did the very first time.

  He had to be careful with his expressions around her. She read far more in them than he could ever expect a person to.

  Bruce checked to see that no one else was watching before stepping a bit closer to Madeleine’s cell. “I came here because you spoke to me last time,” he replied. “And you almost always have a crowd of police in there, trying to persuade you to talk.”

  Her eyes returned to searching the ceiling. “And you’re curious?”

  “Yes.”

  She tilted her head in a slow, methodical manner that lifted the hairs on the back of his neck. “What are you so curious about?”

  How could someone who had brutally killed three victims make such calm, collected gestures? Did she never dwell on the deaths? Or toss restlessly from nightmares? “I heard about the murders you committed,” he said.

  “Did you, now?” She blinked once at him. “And how does that make you feel about me?”

  “I’m not sure yet. I’ve never spoken to a killer before.”

  “Oh yes, we Arkham inmates are the scary ones,” Madeleine murmured, distracted, turning her attention to the ceiling again. “How many lives have you billionaires ruined?”

  Bruce felt a cut of anger, even as her sarcastic words sent ripples through him. False comparison. She was messing with his mind. “Why did you kill those people?”

  She shrugged again, falling silent, and her nonchalance annoyed him further. “What are you staring at?” he asked, nodding at the ceiling for emphasis.

  Madeleine pursed her lips, considering. “The security cams wired into the ceiling,” she said aloud, as if purposely meaning for someone to hear.

  “Why are you looking at them?”

  “To break them, of course.”

  Bruce eyed her warily. She was playing a trick, although he c
ouldn’t quite see her hand. “Maybe not the best idea to say that out loud.”

  “Why not? It wouldn’t be hard. This is old technology, you see?” She pointed to the wires running along the ceilings, secured within metal piping, ending in the small, round cameras embedded outside each cell door. “All you’d need to do to disable the system is to use the right scrambler, set at the right frequency. Any device within its signal range could knock them out.” She tapped a slender finger once against her temple. “Never trust tech. Anything made to your advantage can also be used against you.”

  Bruce listened in confusion and fascination. She was telling this directly to whoever sat on the other end of that security camera, monitoring her—it was almost as if she was toying with that operator like a cat toyed with its mouse, daring them to be on the defensive, maybe even distracting them from what she actually wanted to do. Or maybe she was just having fun. Bruce’s eyes darted to the bed in her cell, the only piece of furniture she had. If she jumped on it at the right angle, she could probably reach the security cam—but she hadn’t done it yet.

  “Are you trying to get them to take away your bed?” he said incredulously.

  There was something unreadable about her face as her expressions shifted from one to another, like the shapes of clouds before a thunderstorm. “Are these really the questions you came here to ask me today?” she asked.

  Bruce’s gaze went to her slender white fingers as she began to weave the loose ends of her braid tight again. “Why are you talking to me?” he asked. “You haven’t said a word to anyone in months.”

  “Ah.” Madeleine’s smile widened. “That’s more like it.” She tossed her braid casually over her shoulder, the weave loosening once more into a sea of waves, and yawned. “They gave you a new uniform today, didn’t they? Your first one was too big on you, and a slightly different shade of blue. Did your supervisors have a change of heart? It took them weeks to finally hand you a better-fitting one.”

 
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