Batman nightwalker, p.9
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       Batman: Nightwalker, p.9

           Marie Lu
 
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  Bruce glanced down at his clothes. He hadn’t even noticed the difference. How long had she been watching him? “Good eye,” he said, looking back up at her.

  She beamed at him, seeming genuinely pleased. Then she said, “I hope the police heard that through the wire you’re wearing. They have a bad habit of talking to me like I’m a fool.”

  She knows about the wire. How?

  Bruce cursed inwardly. He should’ve known better, actually; in fact, Draccon should have. As he fought to keep his expression calm, Madeleine just kept her steady stare on him, waiting for his reaction. There was no point in denying it. You’re clumsier than I remember, she’d said to him just moments earlier. He’d thought she was referring to his dropped mop handle, but now he thought that perhaps she’d been talking about the wire all along.

  At least now Draccon had heard proof of her speaking to him.

  “How did you know?” he asked.

  “You’re here on the wrong day. You’re speaking slightly louder to me than before, because you’re trying to make sure the mike you’re wearing is picking up your voice. Your posture is off from our last talk—you’re leaning forward to the left and craning your neck just a little toward the mike. You’re left-handed, aren’t you? And your mike is in your left shirt pocket, isn’t it? I figured as much, from the way you’ve been cleaning.”

  His voice. His posture. His dominant hand. Bruce stood there for a moment, rendered speechless. She was right, of course, on every count.

  Madeleine’s brow furrowed in disappointment at his expression. “Well. If I was unsure before, I’m definitely sure now. Everything about your face screams that I’m right. You’re like a goddamn open book.”

  Bruce cast her a sidelong glare. “Maybe you’re too confident.”

  She stretched lazily, looked away, and took a step toward her bed. “You’re boring me,” she said with a sigh.

  Protect yourself. Draccon’s warning came back to him again, and this time it took on a new importance. He wondered what Draccon was thinking right now as she listened to the interrogation. I need to do something, and quick. If he didn’t, he might lose Madeleine’s trust entirely and put an end to his questioning.

  On a whim, Bruce reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the square wire. If Draccon could speak into his ear, she’d probably be yelling right now. Bruce held the square up to the window so that Madeleine could see, and then threw it far down the hall. He reached into his pants pocket, yanked out the recorder, and tossed that away, too.

  “There,” he said, holding both of his hands up. “You caught me.”

  Madeleine’s expression didn’t change—much. But her eyebrow lifted just enough to let Bruce know that she hadn’t expected him to blow his cover so readily. He’d surprised her. There’s no point in doing any of this if she doesn’t trust me.

  “I think we’re done for today,” she said, but a smile still lingered at the corners of her lips. Then she sat on her bed and lay down sideways.

  “Hey—” Bruce held up a hand. His irritation came spilling out with his words. “Wait a sec. You spoke to me first, long before I ever caught the attention of the police. I never initiated any of this. You always knew that if you spoke to me, the police would approach me and wire me up to come back and talk to you. And now you’re telling me that we’re done here. What was the point of all that?”

  “I wanted to see if you were worth talking to,” Madeleine called out.

  “And?”

  But she didn’t reply again.

  Bruce took a step closer to her window, so that he now stood barely a foot away. He’d withstood countless paparazzi cameras trained on him. He’d managed to persuade Draccon to involve him in an actual case. But somehow, here, he found himself having trouble thinking of what to say next to this girl, no longer sure of what she knew or how she knew it, whether she was figuring out new things about him even at this very moment, whether she was playing a game with him. Whether she was thinking of ways she could kill him, were she free. The photos of the three murders flashed through his mind.

  What category did she belong to? He didn’t even know where to begin.

  Maybe he really was done here. Draccon would have no use for him if Madeleine wouldn’t talk to him. Bruce stared at her for a moment longer, as if she might turn around to look at him again—but she just stayed where she was, her eyes now closed in some illusion of sleep, her hair spilling behind her like a dark ocean.

  Right as he was about to leave, Madeleine shifted, tucking her hands behind her head on her pillow. “You’re not like the others,” she said.

  He froze. Turned back around. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean,” she continued, “they interrogate me because it’s their job. Why do you do it? It’s not like you need the paycheck.”

  Bruce thought of his late nights, listening to police scanners and obsessing over WayneTech’s security work. “I don’t like standing by, feeling helpless,” he replied. “I want to understand why.”

  “Mmm,” Madeleine murmured, as if deep in thought. She turned so that he could partially see her face resting against her pillow, her eyes still closed. “You have a heavy heart, for someone with everything.”

  Bruce could only look on. How did she know that? Had she heard it in his tone, his words? “What do you mean by that?” he asked her, but she was no longer paying attention to him. Her chest rose and fell evenly, as if she had decided to go to sleep.

  A few minutes passed before he finally tore his eyes away from her and started heading back down the hall. In his mind, he could still see her slender form curled on her bed. Her last words had been said without amusement or sarcasm. They were serious.

  They were the words of someone who, somehow, understood him.

  “You’re a fool.”

  “I wanted her to trust me.”

  Draccon grimaced over her office desk as she dumped a sad-looking sandwich in front of Bruce. Several papers flew up from a stack at the edge of the desk. “So you tossed the entire setup? You couldn’t have even tried lying? We don’t have any of what she said next to you on record.”

  “She already knew the truth,” Bruce replied. “I could see it in her eyes. You wanted me to earn her trust, didn’t you?”

  “Don’t assume what I wanted you to do,” Draccon snapped at him.

  “Don’t get mad at me for telling the truth.”

  Draccon threw up her hands and then rubbed her face. “This is what I get for trusting a kid to find something useful for us.”

  Bruce leaned forward and gave the detective a steady look. “Give me another chance to talk to her. She wouldn’t have ended with that comment if she had no interest in speaking to me again. She was curious. I could hear it in her voice.”

  “Don’t trust a word she says.”

  “You’ve never even talked with her before.”

  “I’ve made a lot of prisoners talk in my time,” Draccon said. “Madeleine is feeding you strategic sentences, turning questions back around on you, wanting to know why you’re interested in her, luring you along with that last bit about you. She could have been trying to bait you into talking about your parents.”

  “Don’t.”

  Even Draccon hesitated for an instant, knowing that she had crossed a line. She sighed, a flash of guilt on her face. “I’m sorry, Bruce,” she said, softer this time. “What I mean to say is—don’t take her conversations at face value. If you keep letting her lead the conversation the way she wants it to go, then you’ll be playing into her hands, and not the other way around.”

  Bruce opened his mouth to argue, but then thought better of it. Draccon was right. And if he wasn’t careful, she would kick him off the case altogether, probably take him off duty in the basement, and that meant returning to the normal terms of his probation, the endless days of work. He pictured Madeleine’s slender hands braiding her hair, the tilt of her head as she turned to him and smiled that unsettling smile. There was an oc
ean of mystery in her eyes, an unspoken grief behind her final, intimate words. He felt a need to uncover more, to hear her tell him the secrets she refused to hand to the police.

  “I’ll be careful,” Bruce decided to say instead. “I promise. And I’ll follow your lead on what to say to her.”

  —

  The basement of Arkham felt narrower and more suffocating each time Bruce visited it.

  When he next stood before her window, Madeleine was sitting up, staring off into space with her arms wrapped around her knees. He left his supplies in the corner of the corridor and walked up to her cell’s door, his hands in his pockets. As he reached the glass window, he pulled his hands out and held them both up for her to see.

  “I thought maybe they’d stopped sending you,” Madeleine said before he could speak. She turned her head slowly to meet his gaze. There were those deep, dark eyes again—and when he met them, she gave him a searching look, as if she were pickpocketing his thoughts. “No wires on you today,” she said.

  “How can you be sure?”

  She shrugged. “The detective was angrier than usual with me. She wouldn’t sound so frustrated if she knew she could still get information through you, which means she didn’t try wiring you up again.” Madeleine rested her chin against her knees in a gesture that made her seem eerily innocent. “She wanted to take you off the case, didn’t she?”

  Bruce grimaced. It seemed like Madeleine could predict every single thought in his head. “Yes,” he acknowledged.

  “Why are you back here?”

  Don’t trust a word she says, Draccon had warned him repeatedly. But the final words Madeleine had said to him continued to echo in his mind. “I was thinking about what you said, the last time we talked,” he began. “How you said it.”

  Madeleine gave him a mock innocent look. “What do you mean?”

  “You told me that I had a heavy heart.” His voice lowered. “I could hear the change in your voice, like there was something…something about me that you related to.”

  She leaned her head against one hand. “No,” she said. “I just know what happened to your parents. Everyone knows about that, don’t they? I was giving you my condolences, in my own way. Does that count, from someone like me?”

  She was smiling at him again, in a lazy, knowing way, like she’d found something interesting and wanted to play with it—but this time she was talking about his parents. Draccon had warned him not to let her lead the conversation. And just as the detective had predicted, here Madeleine was, toying with the details of his past.

  “I don’t need your condolences,” he said. “I’m just trying to understand you.”

  “How sweet of you,” she murmured, her dark eyes hooded beneath thick lashes. “Bring flowers next time. Don’t you know anything about seduction?”

  “You’re screwing around with me.”

  Madeleine flashed a glimpse of white teeth as her smile broadened. “Oh, I wish.”

  To his annoyance, Bruce felt his cheeks warm. What was he doing, trying to get more out of her? Madeleine Wallace was an inmate at Arkham Asylum—she was, in every sense, not normal, and now here she was, playing some twisted, flirtatious game with him. She had murdered three people in cold blood, slit their throats with the precision of a psychopathic surgeon. Bruce suddenly felt like a fool for coming down here and expecting a logical answer from her. Nothing she’d said before and nothing she said now would be useful. He needed a new tactic.

  Bruce shook his head and turned away. “You know what? Forget it,” he called over his shoulder. “Obviously we’re not getting anywhere.”

  “Wait.”

  He paused. When he glanced back, he saw Madeleine had turned to face him now, her legs hanging down across the side of the bed, her arms perched against the bed frame. Her long, straight hair framed her face, and she was staring at him with a serious expression.

  “I lost my mother, too,” she said.

  Bruce found himself turning back toward her. “You’re lying,” he replied, wanting to see her defend herself.

  “I lost my mother, too,” she repeated, “and so I know what it feels like, to have your heart weighed down like that. That’s why I said it.”

  “What happened?” Bruce asked.

  “Well, aren’t you nosy?”

  He didn’t flinch. “You already know what happened to my parents.”

  “So?”

  “So it seems like a fair question. The police said your mother had committed crimes.”

  The amusement in her eyes vanished in an instant, replaced by anger. “You don’t know anything about my mother,” she said quietly. “Or me.” Then she sighed and looked away, lost in thought. “My mother was a robotics professor at Gotham City University. She was the best in her department, one of the best in her field. She used to spend long weekends with me, showing me how to take apart clocks and put them back together again. Even during her busiest days, she would sit with me at night and show me how a piece of software worked, how a line of code could make an artificial arm move.” Madeleine gave him a nod. “You should understand that, right, Bruce Wayne? I mean, you’re in charge of WayneTech now, aren’t you?”

  Her words sent a shiver down Bruce’s spine, even as Madeleine’s mention of robotics lit up his eyes. Wasn’t he the exact same way?

  Madeleine had noticed the shift in his demeanor. “A kindred spirit,” she murmured, scooting to the edge of the bed. “What did you take apart when you were a kid? Clocks? Robots?”

  “Phones,” he answered, the memories flashing back to him now, how he’d sit at his desk and stare at the pile of circuit boards and batteries that were once inside whole gadgets. “Laptops.”

  “Me too,” said Madeleine. “I used to build my own.”

  “You built your own computers, too?”

  “Yes. For myself, and for others.”

  Bruce nodded at her hands. “Is that how you got the calluses on your fingers?”

  “You noticed my calluses.” She pursed her rosy lips. “Ah. Bruce Wayne is not as boring as he seems.”

  It was Bruce’s turn to smile now. “You think you’re the only one with a sharp eye?”

  Madeleine laughed, a beautiful, bell-like sound. “It is my business to know what other people don’t know,” she answered, giving him a wink.

  “Sherlock Holmes,” Bruce replied, pinpointing her quote’s origin and enjoying the impressed look on her face.

  “Very good.” She rubbed her fingertips together. “My calluses are from playing the violin, though. I suppose I have more in common with Holmes than I thought.”

  Violin. He was starting to wonder if there was anything this girl couldn’t do.

  Careful, Bruce. He could feel himself drawn to this girl, could feel himself aching to talk more to her, to find out everything about her.

  But he wasn’t talking to just anyone—no, this was Madeleine, a murderer imprisoned at Arkham Asylum, a criminal who was challenging him at some unspoken game. Her past victims had seen their buildings and labs blown up by the criminals she was involved with. She probably wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to him and WayneTech. Bruce repeated this to himself several times until he felt firmly cemented on the ground again. She’s got crime in her family, Detective Draccon had told him.

  Enough small talk. “And did you learn all this from your mother?” he asked, trying to steer the conversation back to her past.

  Madeleine looked away. Bruce felt a strange note of disappointment at ending their private little moment. “Why does it matter to you?” she said, folding her legs underneath her and leaning back against the wall. “She’s dead now. Died in jail.”

  Died in jail. “What did she do to end up in jail?”

  Madeleine’s eyes shuttered behind long lashes, seemed to darken. Whatever the reason, she didn’t want to discuss it. “Always curious, aren’t you?” she said. “That’s why you’re back here, talking to me and getting nothing out of it other than satisfying your
own interest. That’s why you crashed your car in that chase and ended up mopping floors here in Arkham. You think you’re going to solve the mysteries of the Nightwalkers, don’t you?”

  “And what about you?” Bruce replied. “What do you want? Who are you protecting? Why won’t you tell Detective Draccon anything about the Nightwalkers’ plans? The Bellingham Industries building?”

  “Ah, that. Can’t let it go, can you, Bruce?”

  “Let it go? The guy I stopped is dead, so…I’m finding it hard to let go, yeah.” It was a shot in the dark, but he couldn’t help seeing if a blow would land. He cast her a sidelong glance. “I’m not like the Nightwalkers. Willing to toss people aside when they no longer serve their purpose. I’d like to know what was so important about that building.”

  She studied his face a moment longer. “Let’s say, Bruce Wayne, that you are a person living in a black-and-white world. You know that, somewhere, color must exist. So you read every book about color that you can find. You research it day and night until you can recite the wavelengths of blue and red and yellow light, that a blade of grass must logically be green, that when you look at the sky, it is logically blue. You can tell me everything there is to know about color, even though you’ve never seen it yourself.” She leaned on her knees. “And then, one day, you see color. Would you know it? Would you even recognize it? Can you ever truly comprehend anything about something, or someone…unless you experience it for yourself?”

  Bruce narrowed his eyes. She spoke as if she had already grown old. “You’re telling me Frank Jackson’s thought experiment now?” he said.

  “And you know of Jackson’s philosophical work, too? Well. You are an interesting one, Bruce Wayne.”

  “What are you trying to say?”

  Madeleine pushed herself off the bed and walked toward him. Her expression had settled into a calm sea that hid monsters far within its depths, and Bruce took an instinctive step back as she drew near. She stopped right in front of the window separating the two of them, then leaned forward until he could clearly see the details of her—a small, slight dot of a birthmark on her slender neck, the thickness of her lashes and each glossy strand of her hair, the puff of her lips as they folded up into a smile. God. She was frighteningly pretty.

 
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