Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox
Red lights on top of the floor cameras came on. I could see small red dots of the other cameras peppering the space above and around the set. Adrian stood still for a moment with the clipboard clutched in front of him, head down, looking at the floor. Then his eyes came up and he looked directly at the camera. The look was one of total sincerity, without a trace of showmanship.
Sierra laid out the timeline of the full one-hour show for me earlier in the day. The first three quarters of the show would consist of back story and the footage from the Biggerstaff’s home life and comments from friends and family. There would be photos and home movies of Gary Wayne in better days; footage of the kids, crying about missing their daddy; Hildy talking about the mountain of medical bills and how tough it was just getting by since Gary Wayne got sick and lost his job.
They’d edit in footage of Zoebel with the family, holding Hildy’s hand, an arm around the kids, reassuring them that everything would be okay in spite of the fact that he would soon end the life of their dear old dad. Gary Wayne’s oncologist would be interviewed to paint the picture of the hopelessness of Gary Wayne’s situation. There would be a segment of Adrian speaking privately with Gary Wayne; a final consultation between doctor and patient.
Tear-jerking, heart-wrenching stuff to be sure, but pure ratings gold. Tens of millions of viewers would tune in to watch the show; ten times more would watch the reruns. In DeSean’s words, this episode would be a real tugger. Money in the bank.
Then the death sequence would begin by Adrian looking solemnly into the camera and saying, “Good evening, I’m Dr. Adrian Zoebel. Tonight we are honored to have Gary Wayne Biggerstaff and his family on… Angel of Mercy.”
Watching Zoebel say those words as he stared stern-faced into the floor camera sent a chill up my spine.
“Tonight you’ve seen the story of Gary Wayne Biggerstaff. You’ve seen how cancer has taken its horrible toll on this once healthy, vibrant man. You’ve seen the effects of Gary Wayne’s illness on his wife, Hildy, and their six kids; Mary Kate, Ashley, DJ, Danny, Joey, and little Jessie. You’ve listened as Gary Wayne’s own doctor outlined the hopelessness of his situation and his endorsement of the procedure you’ll witness here tonight. Though the outcome will be the passing of a dear loved one, know that Gary Wayne will be relieved of pain and even more, pass with the satisfaction of knowing that his own brave sacrifice will change his family dynamic for many years to come.”
He was good. I had to give him that. He turned from the camera and went to Gary Wayne’s bedside. The nurse took a step back to make room for him. While all eyes were focused on Zoebel I moved from behind the boxes and crept along the wall to my right, confident that I was cloaked in darkness even though I was only thirty feet away. I stopped when I had a clear view of Zoebel standing across from Hildy with Gary Wayne lying between them.
Zoebel bent over Gary Wayne and set a hand on his shoulder. “Gary Wayne, I know you’re in a great deal of pain, but I promise, soon your suffering will be over. Is there anything you’d like to say to Hildy and the kids?”
“I love y’all.” His last words were a hoarse whisper. You could hear the pain in his voice. He held out a trembling hand and Hildy clutched it to her cheek. “I’ll see y’all again someday. God bless.”
Hildy held his hand to her lips and started to blubber. The Biggerstaff girls were crying and clutching each other. The younger boys just seemed confused. Their backs were to me, but I could see them fidgeting, looking from their sisters to their mother to their dad. The youngest climbed into Hildy’s lap and buried his face in her breast.
“Hildy, are you ready?” Zoebel asked. His hand was still on Gary Wayne’s shoulder, patting him gently.
“Yes, sir,” Hildy said. She turned her face upward. “Lord, please take care of him. He’s in your hands now.”
“Our Lord Jesus Christ has his arms open and waiting,” Pastor Dave said on cue, patting her shoulders. “He will welcome our dear brother with love and grace.”
Zoebel turned toward the nurse and she held out the tray. He unfolded the towel and removed the syringe. With his back to the family, he injected the drugs into a smaller IV bag that was attached to the larger bag that held the saline solution. He took his time, the poison going in slowly. He set the syringe back on the tray and covered it with the towel. The nurse took a step back and stood quietly in the corner out of the way.
DeSean told me how the IV worked. There was an electronic valve with dual ports attached to the bottom of both IV bags. From this valve ran the single IV line that was attached to Gary Wayne’s arm, feeding the saline solution into his vein. There was also a wire that ran from the valve down the length of the IV line. At the end of the wire was something that looked like a lipstick tube with a red button on the end; the plunger, he called it. When pressed, the plunger would trigger the valve to open both ports and allow the poison from the smaller bag to mix with the saline from the large bag. Together they would enter Gary Wayne’s bloodstream in seconds.
Zoebel picked up the plunger carefully and put it in Gary Wayne’s left hand. He positioned it so Gary Wayne’s thumb could easily apply the slight pressure required to release the valve.
“Gary Wayne has asked that you assist him only if necessary,” Zoebel said to Hildy.
“No, don’t help me,” Gary Wayne said. “I can do it. I have to do it.”
I took the small digital video camera from my bag and turned my back to the set so the light from the screen wouldn’t give me away. My heart was pounding as I hit the record button and turned back toward the set. I zoomed in on Zoebel’s face as much as the distance would allow.
“When you’re ready,” Zoebel told Gary Wayne. “God is with you.”
“I know,” Gary Wayne said. He lifted his head just enough to see his family. “I love y’all more than anything. Take care of your mama and each other.” His thumb came to rest on the plunger. Everyone held their breath, including me. Gary Wayne pressed the button and let his head fall back on the pillow. He smiled one last time as his family started to sob.
“Pastor Dave, would you say a few words?” Zoebel asked. As Pastor Dave stepped forward to the bedside, Zoebel stepped back. Sierra told me it would only take a minute or two for the drugs to end Gary Wayne’s life. If Zoebel was going to do his odd ritual this was when it would be done. I followed him with the camera. It was grainy from this distance, not a great shot even when zoomed in. If I was going to capture the expression on Zoebel’s face I had to get closer.
The floor cameras were mounted on large tripod dollies that allowed them to be moved around the floor easily. They were the only cover available to me, so I crept across the floor as quickly and quietly as possible and crouched behind one of the cameras. I prayed that the darkness was still good cover and no one would notice me. I framed Zoebel from the chest up. By now Pastor Dave was well into his prayer. Every head was bowed, every eye closed, except for Zoebel’s.
He had backed away from the family and stood alone by the wall. His hands were clenched together, fingers laced. He held them at his chin. His eyes were closed for a moment, then they opened slightly and his hands came up to his lips. I watched him watch the others. He stared at the kids, then Hildy, then let his eyes come to rest on Gary Wayne. Pastor Dave’s eyes were closed; his arms outstretched toward the sky. Gary Wayne’s breathing was growing less labored. His eyes were closed, his mouth hanging open. Hildy was sobbing loudly and rocking the little one on her lap back and forth. The girls were huddled into a ball at the foot of the bed, clutching each other, crying uncontrollably. The other two little boys didn’t know what to do. They moved closer in around their mother and started grabbing at her.
And then it happened just as Sierra said it would. Zoebel took a deep breath and his eyes widened till his pupils were floating in a sea of white. He lifted his chin and looked down his nose at Gary Wayne just as the life left the man’s body. Then his eyes narrowed and his lips curled into a smile. The smile was quick and not quite as diabolical as I’d expected it to be, but it was damned odd to say the least.
“Mommy, who is that man over there? Is he coming for daddy?”
It was the oldest Biggerstaff boy. He had turned away from the group and moved to the edge of the set where he could see me crouched in the darkness behind the floor camera. He pointed at me and started screaming at the top of his lungs. “Mommy, it’s the devil! You stay away from my daddy, you monster!”
My eyes went immediately to Zoebel, who was already moving toward the kid. He was squinting at me, shielding his eyes from the bright lights above so he could see into the darkness.
“Who’s out there?” Zoebel asked loudly. His voice was strong, without fear. He used a hand to guide the screaming kid back toward his mother. “Answer me. Who’s there?”
“Adrian what’s going on down there?” Sierra’s voice boomed from the overhead speakers. “Adrian? What’s going on?”
“We need security now,” Zoebel barked, though not in a nervous way. He planted his feet and held his position at the edge of the set, not cowering. “There’s someone on the set.”
And with that all hell broke loose. Zoebel stood ten feet from me, in a half-crouch with his arms stretched out to the sides and fists balled. He was a protective wall between this mad man in the shadows and the Biggerstaff clan. The nurse rushed to Gary Wayne and hovered over him protectively, which was a futile gesture because he was dead. Pastor Dave waddled around and moved the kids and Hildy behind him and stood with the thick Bible in his hand ready to do battle against the demon who had dared to interrupt his moment of prayer.
I didn’t realize that I still had the camera in my hand, filming the chaos I had created. I heard Zoebel ask, “Is that a camera?” I quickly dropped the camera in my bag and looped the strap over my head and arm. I thought about running for the door, but I was frozen in my tracks by Zoebel’s next words.
Suddenly the entire studio was flooded with light from above. I was momentarily blinded. I had to shield my eyes with a hand. Zoebel blinked a couple of times and took a step closer. He said, “Cruze? Is that you? What the hell are you doing?”
Before I could respond the door flew open and two security guards and the three EMT’s burst in. I was grabbed by multiple hands and slammed to the floor like a ragdoll. My arms were jerked behind me and I felt something binding my wrists. Someone was on top of me with a knee in my back and someone else had a handful of my hair and was pushing my face into the cold, hard floor.
Then I heard Sierra’s angelic voice let go a string of expletives followed by my name. She was in the room now, standing over me. Hildy Biggerstaff screamed, “He’s dead! Oh lord God Jesus Christ, he’s dead!” She and the kids all started sobbing all over again at the top of their lungs. Pastor Dave was carrying on like he was performing an exorcism, invoking the names of Jesus, Joseph and Mary as he pounded a fist on his Bible and shook it at me. The one person not yelling was Adrian Zoebel. As I was jerked to my feet I saw him watching me. He hadn’t moved an inch.
That’s when I did something really dumb. I gave Zoebel a defiant nod and when I did, the back of my head slammed hard into the nose of the guard behind me. I heard him cuss and I was slammed to the floor again and a very hard knee was planted between my shoulder blades, pinning me down.
“Goddamn son of a bitch,” I heard the guard yell. “Bastard broke my nose.”
“Go see the EMT,” Sierra said, waving him away. “And make sure you get pictures of your nose before they attend to it for the police.” She gestured to the other security guard. “And you, get him off the floor. I don’t want him hurt.”
I was jerked back to my feet and struggled to maintain my balance. My arms were pulled tight behind my back and my shirt was twisted sideways, half the buttons were gone. My satchel was twisted around my neck and dangled in front of me like a huge leather necklace. I hoped the video camera hadn’t been damaged in the scuffle.
The side of my face felt like it had a serious case of road rash. My knees and back were on fire. I grunted painfully, hoping there might be a little sympathy to play on with her. There wasn’t.
“Should we take him out now?” the security guard now holding my arm asked.
Sierra had her phone to her ear, listening. She held up a finger and turned away from us. She covered her other ear to block out the noise. Pastor Dave and the nurse had managed to calm down Hildy and the kids. DeSean was there now, herding the family out of the room. Hildy grabbed Adrian’s arm and he turned to go with them. He glanced back at me just before they went through the door. It was a look of pure disgust.
Sierra put her phone away and turned back to me. She shook her head and said, “The police have been called. They should be here by the time you get him outside.” She gestured to DeSean, who was standing there with his mouth open, dumbstruck. “Get the medical examiner in here and do the pronouncement of death and take the body away.”
“Police? Is that really necessary?” I asked. “This is just a simple misunderstanding.”
“It’s no misunderstanding,” she said. She narrowed her eyes at me. “You knew exactly what you were doing. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I was, but telling her that would do me no good now. I thought about saying something clever like, “Someday we’ll tell our grandkids about this and laugh and laugh and laugh…”
That thought was jarred out of my head by her hand going across my face. By the time my eyes came back into focus she was on the phone again. She hung up and nodded at the security guards. “Okay, they’re ready,” she said. “Take him out the front gate.”
“Wait, who’s ready?” I asked.
“Shut up, asshole,” the guard said, tightening his grip on my arm.
Take him out the front gate, she had said. Why the hell was that? Wouldn’t the cops want to come in and take a look around? When the guard shoved me out the front door I realized the reason for the order. I was the main attraction at this evening’s Cronenburg Crazy Circus. I counted five police cruisers with seven or eight rather pissed off looking officers standing by. The cruisers were parked on the street beyond the gates and guard shack, twenty yards across the parking lot. As the guard escorted me toward the gate I saw what else was waiting for me. A row of news vans; five or six of them parked along the street. There was a throng of reporters, camera crews, paparazzi, and a dozen other people whom I assumed were tourists. How the hell did all these people get here so quickly? Two words: Marc Cronenburg. I suddenly felt like I had been set up.
Two cops met us at the guard shack. The guard behind me said, “I was told to give the press a minute to get some shots of him before you take him away.”
I looked back over my shoulder at him. “What did you just say?”
“He said shut the fuck up, asshole,” one of the cops said, putting his face so close to mine I could smell his dinner on his breath. Something Mexican, washed down by beer. He dug his fingers into my arm and dismissed the security guard. “We’ve got it from here. Tell your boss LAPD loves that ‘dumb crooks’ show he does.”
“This is bullshit,” I said. “Put me in the damn car.”
He swung me around hard, turning me toward the cameras and said, “Sure thing, asshole, right after you smile pretty for the cameras.”