It’s hard to really pinpoint a moment where a situation gets away from you. You could have everything perfectly under control, have the world at your fingertips, have not a care in the world. And then in one moment, one random event, or one random person, comes along and everything goes to hell.
I don’t know where to begin. So I’m just going to start with this: We decided to hunt for Keaton. And we found him.
Mind you, it took time. Finding one man in this state is like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles; it’s not like Massachusetts down here. We’ve scoured every public place a person might hole up in, every bar, every club, everywhere.
We finally got word that he was stationed in some office building in D.C. Not the FBI building, otherwise, I wouldn't even attempt it; even we're not crazy enough to go right into the FBI building. We went in the middle of the day, but for some reason, when we arrived, there was no one in the building.
Looking back, I suppose it was set up for us that way. Either by Keaton, or…well, you’ll see.
Wren was the one who decided to split up. I didn’t think it’d be too good an idea, but it was the middle of the day and there were people outside walking around. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.
“Just chill, I’ll be in touch,” he told me as he pushed the button for the elevator.
“Get back to me in one piece,” was all I said. He just winked as the doors slid closed.
Having gone through Conaghan's warehouse twice and the red building once, all by myself, the loneliness shouldn't have bothered me as much. The hard fact was, though, that after a couple of months down in Maryland I had gotten used to having people consistently in my daily life again. That was my biggest mistake. I was alone again. And my nerves were acting up.
I searched two floors before I finally found him. It was pure happenstance; I had checked an office that really was nothing but a room filled with tables stacked together and looked down at the window. So many people were passing by, but none of them even acknowledged the building. It was like it didn't exist-
“Detective Strahm. So nice to see you again.”
I hadn't even heard him come in. I turned and there he was, sitting on one of the tables, arms folded, looking amused.
“Leslie,” I greeted. “Been a while.”
“Almost a year,” he said. I remembered why I hated that accent. God, Virginia has an annoying accent. “Before your disappearance, the last time we met, I believe, was the night you were suspended.”
“Yeah. If I recall, I gave you a pretty nice shiner on your eye.”
“You and your temperment. That's exactly what's landed you in this predicament in the first place.”
“That right? And here I thought it was the body in my garage that landed me in this trouble.”
He scoffed and slid off the table, keeping one hand palm-down on the surface. Spoiler alert: this was a bad idea.
“I commend you for finally showing up. Not many fugitives choose to deliver themselves to their captors so easily.”
“So does that mean you'll let Celeste and Violet go if I give myself in?”
“In honesty?” He sneered. “Probably not. They know too much themselves.”
“Well, I can understand that you might think that.” And as I spoke, my hand reached for my gun. “But see, the problem is-”
"Problem is, it's not just them you need to worry about."
Wren picked that moment to step out from the shadows behind him. Never thought I'd be happy to have him show up so much as I did then. Keaton, judging by the look on his face as Wren walked past, did not look so happy. Pale, stupified, urgent. Those were all that I saw on his face.
"You," he hissed.
Wren grinned. "Me."
It happened so fast I couldn't react. Next thing I knew there was a thunk and a scream and Keaton was brought to his knees as Wren slammed a knife onto and through his hand, pinning it to the table. He looked up at us, his fast contorted in pain and anger.
"This is your solution, Strahm?" he growled at me. "You're that desperate you'd bring him in-"
"Woah, woah." Wren slapped him and grabbed his face. "I didn't say you could talk. Did I say you could talk? No, I didn't. No talking."
Keaton fell silent.
"Thank you." Wren then started walking around him, the way an interrogator might do to a suspect. "That's one thing I never did like about you feds; bunch of chatty Cathys, always yip yip yip yip yip." Here he made his hand into a puppet and made a speaking gesture. "You'd think they'd teach you at the academy to keep your mouths shut."
That shut Keaton up. Wren then stopped to examine the impaled hand.
"Mmm, tsk tsk...you might want to get that looked at, brother," he said, then laughed.
This was the Wren I had been afraid would surface. And once he surfaced, unless someone calmed him down, only two people or less would be walking out of here.
He held up his hand to silence me. He was the one calling the shots now; all I could do was watch and intervene if possible, which I'm not saying it was.
"Now," he said, still pacing, "here's my problem. My problem is with a bunch of sissy pissy government boys that come down on hard working citizens, making them fear for their lives, detaining them, arresting them, torturing them, and then killing them...all over some guy in a cheap suit that pulls the pedo card. Really shows where the priorities lie in this government."
"We're protecting people," Keaton snarled, trying to ignore the numbing pain in his impaled hand. "From maniacs like you-"
"Oh, believe that, if it helps you sleep at night, but don't try to pass it off as truth. You're not a hero, Leslie, you're not a good guy. You're just like me; an off-the-boat psycho who gets off on hurting people-"
"Now, what I don't get, is why you're trying to pass it off here. McLachlan's not here, and neither is her friend. No one here but me and Zeke. So why are you trying to sound like the good guy when we all know otherwise?"
"You are the killers. Both of you."
"Well, that's not very nice, is it? I mean, yeah, I've had some fun in my time, but I wouldn't hold that against me. And Zeke, calling Zeke a killer is like calling George Bush the best president of the last decade. It's just not accurate. Admit it, you're only after him because he found out what you and Fisky and all your other golden boys are up to-"
"He killed an upstanding citizen in cold blood-"
"He killed a momma's boy who was so emotionally empty inside that he thought he could worship an alien and think it was Christ Risen. Al Conaghan raped and murdered a few teens and tore apart someone we both knew and liked. Only reason the guy wasn't in jail in the first place was because your precious judicial system kept letting him off the hook. Now who's fucking fault was that? You know if you had just kept him behind bars, we probably could have avoided a lot of trouble."
Keaton said nothing.
"Yeah, that's what I thought. You could care less about ole' Al Conaghan, what's his death to you? Just another loose end tied up.”
“It’s enough when I say it’s enough. Whaddya think, Zee, should we send him back to Fisk in a box? A tiny box?”
I was about to argue when my phone decided to go off. Leaving them for just a minute, I walked off a brief distance to answer. It had to be Celeste or Violet or one of them, though why they were calling now, I didn’t know. Of course, I also didn’t know Cynthia had just tried to kill everyone.
“Celeste? You’re breaking up.”
I tapped my phone, but all I heard was static. I hung up to call her back when I had a bit of a flashback; when my walkie spazzed out that night in the warehouse.
No…no, no, not now. Definitely not now.
I went back to the other two. “We gotta leave.”
“In a minute.” Wren didn’t take his eyes off Keaton. “Now, let’s talk.”
“Not now. I wanna ask some questions about-”
“What? What? What is it?” He turned to me, face impatient, but that impatience seemed to leave when he saw how panicked I must have looked.
All I had to say was, “He’s here.” And he knew who I meant immediately.
“Oh, well, lovely!” He turned back to our agent friend, not panicking like me, almost delighted. “You ever seen the Slender Man in person before? Neither have I. Whaddya say we invite him over?”
Though he didn't say anything, or even move a muscle, I could tell he knew what that meant. Slender Man showing up was bad news all around. Not something he'd want to deal with. He silently shook his head.
“No?” Wren then took off Keaton’s shoe and sock from one foot. “Then why don’t you answer a couple questions of mine, huh?”
I pulled out my gun and turned my back to keep my attention on our surroundings. In my head I measured how much time approximately we had. Not much, but we might still make it out, so long as Wren hurried up.
“I don’t know-”
I heard him howl as Wren broke his first toe. I tried not to look.
“I don't know,” growled Keaton under his breath. “He finds us, we never go to him.”
“Where was the last place you saw him?”
“Somewhere in Michigan.”
“Why was he there?”
“How the fuck would I know, I had my own job-”
SNAP! Second toe was cracked. Another howl.
“Tsk tsk, no need to get snippy with me.” Wren sounded mixed between amused and bored. I didn't know which worried me most. Still don't. “Alright, so, can't tell us about Top Dog. Fine. So tell me, why are you after runners?”
Keaton was panting by this point, but not giving in. Gotta hand the feds credit where its due, they're trained by the best. Then again, Wren wasn't an ordinary member of society either.
“That's classified informa-”
SNAP! He didn't yell this time, he did his best to keep it in, but when I finally turned his face was obviously one of pain.
“Better hurry this up, Leslie, 'cause I'm running out of toes.” Again, Wren showed no care to what he was doing. “Why does Fisk care whether or not people see Slender Man?”
“He doesn't...” Keaton glared at me. “But you already know why, don't you, Strahm?”
I would have replied. I would have. But then I got that feeling. That age-old paranoid feeling that I remembered all too well from the warehouse. Time was up.
“But I'm not done-”
I didn't even let him whine. I didn't want to hear it. I just grabbed him by the scruff and hauled him out, leaving Keaton sitting against a table, hand pinned there by a knife, with three of his toes broken and a large bruise on his face. If the situation weren't so dire I'd have laughed at the sight.
“Hey!” he screamed. “Aren't you forgetting someone?!”
“You got yourself into that mess, get yourself out,” I said. I imagine I sounded pretty exasperated. I didn't care. Slender Man wasn't going to finish him. I just knew it.
We didn't see him that day. Or at least, I didn't. I don't know what Wren saw, if he saw anything. I didn't care. Any less chances I have to run into him, the better.
Hours later, we had Wren's car pulled into an alleyway while I loaded a few supplies in the back while he argued with me.
“Why am I leaving?” he asked me.
“Because you jammed a knife through a federal agent's hand and broke three of his toes, Wren.”
“Yeah? So? Let's be honest, this is not the worst thing I've ever done.”
“Do you not realize Fisk is going to bring everything he has after you?” I threw his duffel bag at him. “They're scared of you. Good reason, too.”
“Good! Let them be! It's about time we started scaring them back!”
“No. You're gonna get out of town, you're gonna lay low. You're gonna keep moving. And you're not going to cause any more grief to them.”
“What about you?” There was a tone in his voice, as if he was starting to suspect he was going to be making the trip alone.
He was right. “I'm gonna stick around. Just a little while longer.”
“What, I'm going to leave you down here to take them on by yourself?”
“Fisk doesn't scare me. Besides, we've got bigger fish to fry.” I finally stopped and turned to him. “Listen. Find Mary. Quick. Whatever she knows, we need. I'm counting on you for this.”
He sighed and shrugged. He didn't like it, but he didn't have to.
“You got it, Zee. Just be careful.”
He got in the car, started the engine, stopped, then opened the door and poked his head out.
“Be careful about Keaton, Zee,” he warned me. “The guy's a psycho. I've already told you that, but today showed me he really is on my level. Guy never once showed fear. Psychos never do.”
“He showed pain.”
“'Course he showed pain. His hand got turned into a pin cushion and his little piggies got porked. Psychos aren't supermen, Zeke, it hurts like hell when someone cuts their skin just like it would a regular person. But just 'cause he feels the pain doesn't mean he's afraid of it. And that's the part you've got to remember.”
And he didn't waste any more words. He just got in that car and he took off. He's safe now, last I heard he was in New Jersey, looking for Mary. Getting closer, he said, though it could still be a while.
Meanwhile, while we were out, Cynthia Delmont decided to pay her parents a visit and almost turned Celeste and Violet into two of the latest corpses. Hence the phone call I received. The Delmonts are gone now, so there are just five of us still in the place. Makes my job a little easier.
I'm trying not to let my mind linger on it for too long. That's one thing I learned during last fall on my adventures. I'm just trying to get through the days.
Celeste just got a package in the mail. Should be posting about it soon.