Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox
Wednesday afternoon, I stood at the reception desk fiddling with my phone until I saw Sierra step off the elevator and head my way. It was an awkward moment. I didn’t know if I should stick out my hand or throw open my arms or just stand there clutching my phone like a little kid holding a security blanket. Sierra took the initiative. She gave me a friendly hug and a quick little peck on each cheek. Very continental, but not very committal, but that was okay. Just the contact was nice.
“I’m so glad to see you,” she said with a smile that made me smile back. “It’s going to be a busy day. Do you want to just follow me around? Or do you want to interview someone or what?”
“Following you around works for me,” I said, probably sounding a little creepier than intended. I tried to quickly shift gears. My leather satchel was slung over my shoulder. It was full of pads, pens, and microcassettes. I nodded at it. “Is it okay to record things and take notes?”
“Take all the notes you want,” she said with a shrug. She took me by the arm and led me toward the elevator. She leaned in to me as we walked. “But you can’t record anything or take photos without asking me first. And if you want to quote someone you have to ask them to go on the record first.”
“Cronenburg’s rules?” I asked.
“Allen Grumman’s rules,” she said, stepping into the elevator. She punched a button and stared at my reflection in the mirrored doors. “Deal?”
I smiled and gave her a nod. “Deal.”
For the next couple of hours I hung in the background as Sierra led production meetings, talked on the phone, answered emails, and worked with Lou and DeSean to map out the sequence of shots they’d use to film the end of Gary Wayne Biggerstaff’s life.
They talked about his death sequence with the ease of a family planning a summer vacation. They mapped it all out on a whiteboard, drew squares and circles and connected them with arrows and dashed lines. It was all a little too matter-of-fact for me, mapping out a man’s death in red and green dry erase marker.
Sierra explained the sequence to me. Gary Wayne will be in the bed with an IV attached to his arm and heart monitor leads stuck to his chest. He will be wearing a pair of silk pajamas his wife, Hildy, purchased especially for the occasion. Hildy will sit in a chair to his right, close to the bed, with the kids lined up smallest to tallest at the end of the bed. They brought a preacher, Lou said. He can stand behind Hildy until time for prayer, said Sierra.
“The wife’s a big girl,” Lou said. He had his elbows on the table, chin resting on fists, staring at the whiteboard with eyes half-closed. He tilted his head at DeSean. “Tell the prop guy to make sure she gets a chair with no arms.”
“Big ass wife, chair with no arms, got it,” said DeSean, making a note on a handheld computer.
Once everything was set, Adrian would step into the shot to do the intro, and say a few words of comfort to the family. When Gary Wayne gave the verbal order to proceed, Adrian would inject the lethal cocktail into his IV bag and step back to give the family time alone.
The plunger that would release the drugs into the IV line would be in Gary Wayne’s left hand. If he was unable to press the plunger, Hildy could do it for him. Grumman had made sure all the legal documents were in place to allow her to do so without repercussion.
It was what Adrian would do after he injected the IV that interested me the most. Would he step back and smile, as Sierra had said? And if so, how could I witness it for myself? The question stayed with me as I watched Sierra draw little green X’s around a red rectangle that represented Gary Wayne’s death bed. The little green X’s represented his family.
The Biggerstaffs brought a Baptist preacher with them from Alabama, travel and per diem provided by the show, of course. The preacher would stand behind Hildy until he was directed via an earpiece monitor to step in to say a prayer and within two minutes – if all went according to plan – Gary Wayne’s heart and lungs would cease to function and he would pass peacefully on to the next life.
At that time, Zoebel would re-enter the shot and console the family with heartfelt words of wisdom someone else had scripted. Once an adequate amount of gut-wrenching emotion was filmed, the little red lights on the cameras would go off and the filming would end. The family would be moved to a separate room while a deputy coroner took Gary Wayne’s vitals and pronounced the time of death to make it all official.
“Okay, that’s it,” Sierra said, setting the marker in the tray and dusting off her hands. She looked at her watch, then turned and gave me the smile that was becoming routine. “We’ve got a little time. Would you like to see the studio now?”