Angel of Mercy: Chapter 1

Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox

According to Forbes Magazine, Cronenburg Entertainment, Inc. is the largest, independent, television production studio in the world, covering nearly a hundred and fifty acres in the old studio district on the outskirts of Burbank, California.   It’s also one of the most profitable studios in the world, with a combined-revenue of over two billion dollars a year.  That’s why I was a little surprised to find that the outside of the place had all the charm of an Arkansas prison.

A tall chain link fence surrounded the entire complex, with barbed wire rolled along the top and little red signs every ten feet that warned of the dangers of electrical shock.   There was a double gate with a guard shack on the Warner Boulevard side, but no signage that identified the place as the Mecca of trash TV, which is why I missed the entrance the first time and had to circle back around.

I pulled up to the guard shack and lowered the window.  Two serious-looking men in tan uniforms with compact pistols clipped to their belts stepped out and gave me the eye.  Each carried a small touchpad computer.  One went to the rear of my car to tap in my tag number while the other leaned down to peer inside the window.

The sun was in my eyes as I looked up at him.  I shielded my face with a hand and said, “You guys ever think about maybe putting up a sign?”

I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I could tell he wasn’t amused by the tone of his voice.  “Something I can help you with, sir?”

“Matthew Cruze, Los Angeles Times,” I said, holding up my worn press credentials.  I wasn’t actually there representing the Times.  It was just a habit, holding up the little plastic card that made me sound much more important than I actually was.  Not that it mattered to this guy.  I was just an interruption to his day, just a name on a list.

I said, “I have an appointment with Mr. Cronenburg.”

He tapped the screen and slid a thick finger down a list until he found my name.  He nodded toward a parking lot to the right of the entrance.  “Pull into a visitor’s spot and come back here.  I’ll get you a badge and escort you in.”

I parked as instructed, retrieved my leather satchel from the backseat, and headed back to the shack.  The guard gave me a plastic visitor’s badge that I clipped to my shirt pocket and had me scratch my name on the handheld with a stylus.  I slung the satchel over my shoulder and followed him toward the entrance to the main building; a five-story stucco with mirrored-glass windows and doors.  When we reached the lobby he opened the door and nodded toward a reception desk.

“Talk to her.”

“Thanks,” I said.  He grunted what I took as a “you’re welcome” and headed back across the lot.

As I approached, the receptionist gave me a polite smile.  Again, I automatically held up the press card and said, “Matthew Cruze to see Mr. Cronenburg.”

She ignored my credentials.  Instead, she glanced at the visitor’s badge pinned to my shirt and told me to wait a moment.  She held a slender finger to the wireless headset covering her left ear, and with her right hand, pressed several numbers on a touch screen sitting angled to her right on the desk.

“Jan, there’s a Mr. Cruze in the lobby to see Mr. Cronenburg.  Sure, I’ll let him know.”  She nodded toward the waiting area.  “Mr. Cronenburg is on a call, but someone will be right with you.  You can wait there.”

There were a dozen people parked in the lobby.  Most were talking, but not to each other.  Cellphones in ears and iPads on laps held their focus.  I set my satchel on the floor between my feet and gave the place a look around.

As nondescript as the exterior was, there was no doubt what went on inside.  The lobby walls were covered with framed posters of Cronenburg’s shows.

He was a pioneer in what was called “violent-reality”.  Angel of Mercy, Real Boys In The Hood, Ultimate Cage Match, American Hitman, American Militia, Gang Wars, Running Man 2013, Swimming With Sharks, Last Man Standing, Teenage Gang Bangers, Death Race 2013, Drug Cartel Housewives, Terrorist Hunters, The Executioners, Bring ‘em Back Dead or Alive, Shotgun Repo, and my personal favorite, Animals That Eat Their Owners.

My eyes lingered on the larger-than-life image of Dr. Adrian Zoebel, host of Angel of Mercy and the biggest star in the Cronenburg universe.  Zoebel was shown from the waist up, big smile, eyes twinkling, blue scrubs with a stethoscope draped around his neck, shaved, muscular arms folded over his chest.

The Angel of Mercy logo was at the top of the poster; the slogan “He’s changing lives!” at the bottom.  He’s changing lives, seriouslyChanging lives by putting an end to them was the version of the slogan I had used in my book about Zoebel.  I also borrowed the title Angel of Mercy for my book.

I was still a little surprised that Cronenburg let me get away with that one without a call from his lawyers.  There had to be some advantage to him for doing so.  Cronenburg was not one to let such things just pass, especially not from the likes of me.

It was easy to see why female viewers – who I was sure made up the majority of Zoebel’s audience — would be attracted to the good doctor.  I don’t even think he had to be Photoshopped for the poster, he was that good looking.  Square jaw, tanned skin, bright blue eyes, perfect teeth — there was no shortage of women who would throw themselves at the good doctor given the chance, regardless of his dubious past.

Even Charles Manson and the Menendez Brothers receive marriage proposals on a regular basis.   When I interview Manson in 2009, it was one of the things he was most proud of.  “Bitches love bad boys.  And it don’t get no badder than me.”

Charlie was right.  Women love bad boys.  Maybe that was why I was still single.  Then again, maybe not…