LOST AND FOUND
Sheriff Hayes was driving home at the end of his shift. It was about six in the morning. He had been working almost non-stop since the last search team ceased action in finding Deputy Clay Wood. He worked most nights now because he wasn’t prepared to take another late-night call again. It had been almost six weeks since he disappeared. Sheriff Hayes had introduced new standard operating procedures to increase the safety standards for the department. One missing officer was one too many and damn if he wasn’t going to keep the rest of them safe. He should have been thinking about his retirement, but he wasn’t going anywhere until he found out what happened to Clay.
Just before he pulled into his drive way, the radio came to life. “Sheriff Hayes, Sheriff Hayes. Come in, over.”
“Yes, Maribel, this is me. Good Morning. Over.” Sheriff Hayes thought this was a little odd as they knew he has left the station and the morning deputies were on the street already.
“Please call in to the station. It’s important. Over.” Maribel sounded a little cautious when she spoke which made him think this was bad news. He pulled into his driveway and went inside. He poured himself a drink, put it down, poured another, and sat down. He called into the station and prepared himself for the worst.
“Hello, Sheriff,” Maribel went on. “The found him. They found Clay.”
Sheriff Hayes’ head sunk; his heart was in his throat. At least this was over. He was waiting for those words that make everything final. “He’s at the Houston Methodist Hospital in critical condition. The FBI is with him. He was airlifted there a few hours ago. The FBI wants to talk to you, boss. Can you call them back?”
“Maribel, tell them I will be there in about an hour. I am leaving now and don’t spread this around the station until I find what’s going on. Are you sure of the Hospital?” Hayes was suddenly filled with an emotion that had abandoned him long ago, hope. After he grabbed some gas and coffee, he took on the 75-mile drive to Houston with lights blazing the whole way. He was able to make there in almost 45 minutes and was met almost immediately by Special Agent Greaves and Owens. Both looked to be the model FBI agent with black suits, white shirts, and black ties. They appeared to be too clean to be in field work, but his gut told him that something was very wrong to have these FBI agents here.
They were both courteous and professional, offering water and coffee. They ushered Sheriff Hayes into an elevator that brought them to the ICU floor where they promptly moved into an office behind the front desk on the floor. He could see that there was a local police presence with a few FBI agents moving in between rooms with laptops, folders, and other equipment as though they were setting up for a long stay. The office was more of a breakroom with a kitchenette table in the middle and five white wooden chairs around it. There was a large refrigerator with several signs explaining what was allowed and not allowed inside; a couple of the items made him hope they were inside jokes with the hospital staff. Agent Greaves motioned for him to sit at the table while Agent Owens closed the door behind them. The agents sat across from him and pulled out a thick folder that had recently been put together. Before Sheriff Hayes made himself comfortable, he said, “Can I see him now? I just can’t believe he’s here. I just need to see him.”
“Soon. The doctors are still with him. He was… in need of serious medical attention when we found him… and the others,” Agent Owens said in a calm manner. “We are going to brief you on the situation thus far. Here is an affidavit that we need you to sign for non-disclosure and then we can proceed.” He allowed the Sheriff to review and then sign before proceeding. “I understand that Deputy Clay Woods works in your office in Sargent, TX, correct?” Hayes answered with a nod. “You also were his foster parent for a few years. Correct?” Hayed nodded again. “Would you say you knew him fairly well, beyond a normal subordinate, then?”
“Are you going somewhere with this, Agent Owens?” Sheriff Hayes wanted to stop with the questions so he could go see Clay. “I’m sorry, I’ve been up all night and the drive. Could we just get to the point to hurry this up?”
“We’ll try. We don’t believe Deputy Wood has done anything wrong; in fact, quite the opposite. He lead us to save eleven other men and women this morning because of his escape. Deputy Wood was not that forthcoming as he was adamant that he would only speak with you. He’s gone through a traumatic experience, both physically and emotionally. The doctors are sure that he’ll get well as it pertains to his health. But his mind… he’s in a state of fear that’s so severe, we had to medicate him to stop shaking. We understand that he was in Iraq and Afghanistan for eight years. Did he mention anything to you about anyone that would want to come after him for any activity he may have witnessed during his time there?”
“No,” Sheriff Hayes replied as the worry began to creep back again as to what he would find in Clay. “He was a sniper, so he couldn’t really go into most of his missions. He would tell us what he could. Mostly about things that the officers could relate to but in a way that would make us laugh. That was Clay. He never wanted to bring down the guys. He always wanted to make them laugh. I’m sure he has his demons, he was in war. All of us that served in war time have a demon or two.”
“Demon is an interesting choice of words here, Sheriff.” Agent Greaves took over at this point. “Sheriffs responded to an ‘Officer Down’ call in Texas City in a warehouse near the waste disposal plants. They found Deputy Wood at the gate office naked and covered in blood. He was able to identify himself and tell the responding unit where to go. They called for back up and entered the premises. They found eleven other men and women chained to racks, naked. They found the remains of countless other people broken down into storage units. One was a vat of blood that Deputy Wood had crawled out of, given the trail he left. I’m not going into the rest of the sick, but it was enough to call in the FBI. Our field officers have since called in for more help in identifying remains. We may be here for weeks with the level of this find, which leads us to why we wanted to speak to you. We understand that Deputy Wood has training that far exceeds most people. But given the shape we found him in, and how emaciated he is, we doubt he could have escaped on his own.”
“Emaciated?” Sheriff asked in a silent tone.
“Yes, sir. Your files have him listed at 225 pounds., correct? He currently weighs 142 pounds. At his height, you know he’s just a stick. To lose nearly 100 pounds in six weeks has had a shock on his organs. We are waiting to see what they did to him short of giving him some kind of disease to speed up the weight loss.” Agent Greaves was getting a little emotional at this point of the conversation.
“Were they torturing him?” Sheriff Hayes asked in an accusatory tone.
“Yes, but that’s not the point.” Agent Owens stepped in at this point. “We think they were being skinned. And that was only part of what we found. We are still looking through the crime scene… It will be some time until we have all of the evidence gathered. Of the eleven others that were saved, only two of them are able to speak. The others are in a catatonic state like Deputy Wood. From first look, it was a factory of death. Our main concern for now is to find out who helped Deputy Wood escape. Whoever helped, they knew about this place and didn’t stay long enough to help. For all we know, it may have been on accident with the way Deputy Wood got out. He barely has enough strength to stand, much less overpower another individual. Again, we are still working the crime scene, but as of now, we have no clues on who may have done this and how many. We are waiting to get the transcripts from the other two survivors before we proceed. I can’t express to you how disturbing the crime scene is. This is big.”
Sheriff Hayes started thinking deeply and sudden thought came to him, “If this was so big and whoever did this just left, poof. Into nowhere. Is it possible that this is not the only one?” The two agents looked at each other and they both became pale. It was obvious that this had not crossed their minds. Agent Owens excused himself and left the room. “I just want to help in any way I can,” Hayes continued. “You have the full resources of my office if you feel you can use it. I have additional Deputies that I can call in from retirement to come help if you think that will help. I can even call in a couple of people from our crime lab to come in to speed up the dirty work if you. I just need to make one call and I can have them here in couple of hours. No questions asked.”
Agent Greaves nodded with a tight grin. “Thank you for the offer Sheriff, but we have the total efforts of the FBI invested into this now. I will take you up on the offer if the opportunity presents itself. Deputy Clay is undergoing several tests now to see what has been done to him. Other than some lacerations and bruising, there was no other sign of trauma. They are giving him a CT Scan and an MRI as well as all of the other blood work. When he is out, I will come and get you. For now, you need to get some rest. We can get you a place to lay down for a bit if you like. Until the doctors are done, all we can do is wait. Our focus will be what he knows and who helped him escape. Let’s see what the doctor says and then we will go from there.” Agent Greaves stood up and pushed the conversation out of the room and walked Sheriff Hayes into the waiting room area. They had only been in the back room for a brief time, but it was more than enough time for the FBI to turn the area into a base of operations.
Sheriff Hayes could tell from the expressions on the faces of the doctors and the nursed nearby that they were not pleased with this takeover. There was a hospital administrator that was all but yelling to Agent Owens about how the FBI could not be allowed to get in the way of the ICU ward and its normal operations. The entire scene was orderly chaos and his Deputy, his son in all but name, was at the center of all of it. Hayes could not see himself getting comfortable in this atmosphere, so he went to the lobby on the first floor of the hospital to make some calls and check up on the Deputies. All he could do now was wait.
Several hours had passed as Sheriff Hayes was awakened by the shaking of Agent Greaves. He had fallen asleep in the waiting room chair and as he leapt to his feet, his aged joints reminded him of the awkward way he had drifted off to sleep. “Clay. Is he okay? Is he done with the doctors?”
“Yes.” Agent Greaves put his hands on Sheriff Hayes shoulders to steady him as the Sheriff looked to be a bit off balance from getting up so fast. “Deputy Wood is in stable condition and resting. I came down a little while ago to get you, but you really did need some sleep. Besides, Deputy Wood is still sleeping so I would wait until he was somewhat aware of his surroundings before I got you.”
Sheriff Hayes started rubbing his eyes and covered up a yawn with his hand, then stretched. “What time is it? Can I go see him?”
“It’s a little after 3:00 in the morning. We can go up now. He is not completely out of the woods yet, but the doctors say he will make a full recovery.” The two started walking toward the elevators to go up to the ICU ward. “He will obviously need some physical therapy to get him mobile again. But that will come when he starts putting that weight back on. His body will remember. He’s a little out of it right now because of some of the medication the doctors have him now. I doubt we’ll learn anything tonight but I think it’ll be good for him to see a familiar face after all of this.”
Sheriff Hayes was shocked at how orderly the ICU wait room looked after the madness that was there earlier. There were a few armed guards at the entrance to the ICU Ward itself. Agent Greaves flashed his ID badge to the guards who then signaled to someone inside the doors to open them for entry. The two walked down what seemed like one corridor after another until they made it to a central area with a large squared off admin area in the center. There was a skeleton crew of hospital personnel behind the desks doing paperwork and monitoring the electronic equipment that was breaking up an otherwise quiet atmosphere. “I am going to make sure you get an ID badge so you can come and go as needed, but it will be limited to just you. Here we are. Whatever you see, please be happy and smile. You may be shocked, just don’t show it. You ready?”
Sheriff Hayes nodded as Agent Greaves opened the door to a large hospital room. The two walked into the room and way in the back was a bed situated to look out the large window. It was night, but the Houston Skyline was still visible and lit up. Deputy Wood turned to see who just entered the room and welled up with tears and smiled as he saw Sheriff Hayes. They locked eyes and Sheriff Hayes leaned in and gave Clay as big a hug as he could. Clay was just a shell of the man that he had known just a short time ago. His eyes were sunk and dark and his skin just hung from his bony arms. Sheriff Hayes couldn’t help but start to cry at the image of his friend, his family. He held a smile for Clay. Not once did he stop while Clay was awake. Clay could barely speak given the drugs and his obvious torment. Somewhere in the middle of some garbled words, Clay’s eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep. It would another week before he was fully awake and ready to speak. The whole time Sheriff Hayes stayed by his bed and did not leave, always smiling.