Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox
I tried to see the code that Sierra punched into the keypad next to the studio door, but she was too fast for me. She punched in four numbers and something in the wall clicked and a green light blinked on the keypad. She pulled the heavy door open.
“After you,” she said.
The studio was not nearly as large as I had imagined it would be. I had envisioned a cavernous soundstage like the ones I’d seen in the movies; a space large enough to film a dozen TV shows and store a fleet of 747’s during the off season. This studio was probably half the size of a basketball court; a rectangular space located on the first floor of the same building as the cafeteria where DeSean and I had lunch.
“I thought it would be bigger,” I said, standing in the doorway letting my eyes adjust. The room was dark, the only light coming from above a section of the studio hidden from my view by a fake wall. The side of the wall I could see was framed in and held upright by braces at each corner. I could see the back of the sheetrock that enclosed the other side. It took me a second to figure out it was the set where the death sequence was filmed.
“It’s big enough,” she said reverently. “We want it cozy for the family. That’s the set where the death sequence is filmed. Come on, let me show you.”
The wall facing the door was one side of a three-sided set designed to look like a large bedroom, probably twenty feet across and twenty feet deep. The end of the set where we stood was open. There were two large floor cameras ten feet back from the edge of the set, large cables and wires running from the cameras into the floor.
The set looked like something out of an interior design magazine. There was a tall single bed with a simple wooden headboard. The bed was freshly-made with beige linens and a thick green comforter with tiny yellow stripes on it.
There was a chair with no arms next to the bed. The walls were papered with a muted striped pattern and decorated with paintings of landscapes, framed with dark woods. The floor was covered with thick carpeting with fresh vacuum lines in it.
There was a small hook on the wall above the bed that would hold the IV bag that would feed death into Gary Wayne Biggerstaff’s veins. The only evidence that I was on a set rather than someone’s bedroom was the lack of a ceiling. The three walls went up ten or twelve feet. When I looked up all I could see was metal lighting trusses nearly lost in the darkness and the spot lights along the tops of the walls that focused all the light directly down onto the set.
“Cozy, in a Bates Motel sort of way,” I said with a grin.
“We want the family to be comfortable,” she said, walking around the bed, letting her fingertips drag along the comforter. “They can bring personal items from home to set around, if they like. We can hang their pictures on the walls. Use their linens on the bed.”
I walked to the side of the bed and wrapped a finger around the IV hook and gave it a tug. “This is where the IV hangs?”
She nodded. “Yes, the IV bag will be brought in after the guest is situated in bed. There’s a nurse who comes in to start the IV fluids into the guest’s arm.”
“Are there sedatives in the IV? Something to keep the guest calm during the procedure?”
“No, it’s just a saline solution to carry the drugs into the vein,” she said. “By law the guest has to be as lucid as possible to give the order to proceed and press the plunger. That prohibits the use of sedatives of any kind.”
I sat in the armless chair with my elbows resting on my knees. I stared at the bed, imagining what Hildy Biggerstaff would be seeing in just a few hours. I said, “Unless power of attorney has been granted to someone else by the guest after strict mental evaluations.”
“Correct, as is the case with Gary Wayne. He gave Hildy POA a week ago. He’s very weak, can barely speak; can’t even sign his name to the consent form. He wants to press the plunger himself, but may not be able to.”
“So it will be up to her to do it.”
“If he can’t do it, she will have to.”
“That’s a heavy responsibility to put on someone else’s shoulders,” I said. She nodded, but didn’t comment. I stood and walked around the bed. I looked toward the floor cameras and the space beyond. I was looking into almost total darkness. “So when the procedure begins you said there would be a medical team standing by, just in case.”
“Yes, aside from Adrian and the nurse who sets up the IV, there’ll be a team of EMTs in the waiting area down the hall. They can be here in seconds.”
“I thought there’d be more medical equipment,” I said, looking around, making mental notes of the place. “Monitors, crash carts…” I mustered a smile that was meant to be sarcastic. “You know, like you see on non-reality TV.”
“We keep all of the equipment out of sight,” she said, ignoring my sarcasm. “We want this to look as much like a normal bedroom as possible. The EMT’s will bring their stuff in and store it on the other side of this wall in case they need it in a hurry. Gary Wayne will be hooked to a heart monitor, but the wires go into the wall behind the bed and the actual monitor is in the waiting area. The guy from the coroner’s office monitors that.”
“When do the EMTs bring their stuff in?”
“They usually get here an hour or so before we bring in the family,” she said, looking at her watch. “Then they’ll go to the waiting area. We always have sandwiches and drinks for them. Seem those guys are always starving.”
“Where’s the waiting area?” I asked.
“Just down the hall. Come on, I’ll show it to you.”
As I followed her out I asked, “So you’ll be in the control room. Where is that?”
She closed the studio door, shook the handle a couple of times to make sure it locked, then pointed to another door at the end of the hall. “The control room is one floor above us, just up those stairs. When we start you can either hang with me in the control room or in the waiting area with the EMTs, up to you.”
“Is there a television in the waiting area?”
“There’s a closed-circuit television monitor. You’ll be able to see the main camera feed on that.”
“The main camera feed?”
She stopped at the open door of the waiting area, which looked nothing like a waiting area at a hospital. The room was big enough to hold a round table and six chairs, a leather sofa and two matching chairs, and a long coffee table for anyone who wanted to put their feet up, I supposed. There was a commercial-grade refrigerator in the corner, and a fancy coffee machine on the counter, and plenty of room for the sandwiches that would be brought in later. The television monitor was mounted high on the wall in the back corner so you could see it from anywhere in the room. There was a cart holding the heart monitor against one wall and a stool next to it.
Sierra pointed at the television monitor. “We don’t want people milling around the set during filming, so we use remote-controlled cameras stationed at various places in the studio.”
“Where are all the cameras located?” I asked, trying to sound like I was just making conversation and not hatching a plan in my head.
She gestured with a finger as she listed off the camera locations. “Besides the two large floor cameras, which are operated remotely from the control booth, there are six smaller cams in the ceiling and in the walls, out of site. The main camera is mounted above the bed and provides a straight-down view of the guest in the bed from the waist up. That’s the best view for the medical folks here who are monitoring the procedure. There’s also an ultrasensitive boom mic above the bed that will pick up anything Gary Wayne says, even a whisper.”
Or a last breath, I thought. “Does that view ever end up in the final cut?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s just for internal monitoring purposes. Unless there’s a reason to keep the recording from that camera we delete it immediately. We don’t want it ending up on the web somewhere. The audience would probably find that view a little disturbing. It’s pretty disconcerting to watch, even for me.”
“That’s good to hear,” I said quietly. I don’t know if she heard me or not. If she did she didn’t respond. As I stared at the blank heart monitor screen my stomach started to grind. I had no intention of sitting here casually sipping coffee and munching sandwiches with the guys, watching Gary Wayne Biggerstaff die in the room down the hall. I turned toward her and forced a smile.
“So, what’s next on your schedule?”
She pulled her phone from a back pocket and tapped the screen. “I have to meet with the family in twenty minutes.” She paused to look up at me. “Do you want to meet them?”
“I don’t think I’m quite ready for that,” I said, making a cowardly face. I tugged a pen and notepad from my satchel and waved it at her. “Is it okay if I just sit here for a while and work on my notes?”
She seemed happy to be relieved of babysitting duty. “Sure, just text me when you’re ready and I’ll send someone for you. The rest of the day is going to be pretty hectic, so don’t be upset if I forget you.”
“Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “I’ll be just fine on my own.”