Angel of Mercy: Chapter 18

Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox

Reuben wasn’t much of a roadblock.  The media parade caught up to me less than a minute after I pulled out of the impound lot onto Wilcox and hauled ass up Sunset Boulevard.  I guess the helicopters above told their pals on the ground which way to go to find me.

I felt like crap and just wanted to go home, but I decided to have a little fun with my entourage on the way.  I led them through a McDonald’s drive thru, where I bought an Egg McMuffin and a Coke and ate it as I led them in several loops around a mall parking lot.

After thirty minutes half of my parade had given up and broken off, but half of them were still behind me.   The copters were still hovering in the distance.  It occurred to me that a good chunk of America had watched me circling a mall parking lot for the last half hour as the hot FOX News chicks and legal pundits speculated on what the hell I was doing.  First O.J., and now this idiot…

I could hear Nancy Grace now.  “Has Matthew Cruze lost his mind or is he just being a smartass?  Either way, we’ll nail his sorry ass to the cross right after these messages…”

I finished off the Egg McMuffin and drained the Coke.  Now I had to pee; which was not something I really wanted anyone to film.  So I had to make a decision: do I lead these buzzards to my house or to my office?  They’d find my house sooner or later, but I’d rather it not be sooner.   So I gunned it out of the mall parking lot and over the next thirty minutes managed to lose most of the news vans and a number of paparazzi before I got to the parking garage attached to the Times building.  The copters were still with me, but they’d give up when my car disappeared from view. There’s not much entertainment value in watching the top of a parking garage.

I had a couple of blocks on them.  I whipped into the parking garage and rolled down my window.  “Que pasa, Roberto,” I said, holding out my hand to the attendant.  He slapped it and grinned at me.

“Damn, Cruze, what’d you do, esay?”  He had a small TV in his booth.  He jutted a thumb at it and shook his head.  “Been watchin’ you drive around the mall like fucking O.J. on a shopping spree.”

“I think I pissed off the wrong people,” I said.  “Do me a favor.”

“Name it, bandito.”

“In about ten seconds there’s gonna be a bunch of assholes pulling up here looking for me.”

“Want me to give you a head start?” he asked with a smile.  “No problem.”  He hit the button to lift the gate and told me to haul ass, amigo.

I gunned it up the ramp and he lowered the gate behind me.  By the time I was out of my car on the second tier and running for the stairwell that connected the garage to the office building I could hear yelling and motorcycles revving on the street below.

*  *  *

John Winger was my editor at the Times.  He was waiting outside the fifth floor restroom door when I emerged.  He took one look at me and shook his head.  He motioned for me to follow.  I’d known Winger since college.  I’d never seen him so pissed, not even when I’d drink all his beer or smoke all his pot.  I followed him to his office and dropped on the sofa.  I gave him a loud yawn, just to let him know that my night in the lockup was catching up with me.

“What the hell, Matthew?” Winger yelled as he slammed the office door.  He jerked his tie loose and threw his hands in the air.  “Are you out of your mind?  Do you have any idea the amount of shit you have gotten yourself into?  Do you have any idea how much of that shit is landing on me and the Times?  Everybody thinks I sent you in there for Christ sake.”

I put my hands behind my head and sighed.  “Come on, John, you know they’re blowing this way out of proportion.  This is Marc Cronenburg’s PR machine at work.  He’s probably sitting in his office right now with Zoebel and Grumman having a good laugh at my expense.  It’ll be old news by tomorrow.”

“Cronenburg is the least of your worries.”  He moved behind the desk and pushed the clutter back to make room for his elbows.  “You honestly have no idea what’s going on, do you?  Have you not seen the news?”

“I’ve been a little busy being the news,” I said.  I pushed myself up and braced my elbows on my knees.  I looked him in the eye for the first time.  He looked genuinely worried.

I said, “Okay, tell me what’s going on?”

He picked up a remote control and aimed it at the flat screen hanging on the wall.  “You’re quite the attraction,” he said, turning to CNN.  “They have you on the loop at CNN, and FOX.   NBC, ABC, CBS, Huffington, Yahoo, all the cable outlets have been calling me for a comment.  TMZ, the Enquirer, Extra, have been camped out downstairs all day, and that goddamn Nancy Grace keeps calling my private line like I’m the one responsible for you.”

I sat back and looked at the TV.  There was my not-so flattering mugshot from the night before, big as life on the screen behind the pretty blonde anchor woman.

“I’ve taken better pictures,” I said.  My shirt collar was torn and my hair was a mess and I looked a little drunk.  The entire right side of my face was red.

Winger thumbed up the volume.  “Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Matthew Cruze was released from custody this morning on a $100,000 bond after being arrested last night for criminal trespass on the set of the top rated reality show Angel of Mercy.”

“Who posted my bond?”

“I did.  I watched this all go down last night so I called a guy who could get you bonded out without my name being involved.”

“I appreciate that,” I said.  “I’ll pay you back.”

He waved a hand at me.  “If the publisher finds out I’ll be fired.  And if Carole finds out she’ll divorce me, so keep your mouth shut.”

The anchor chick kept reading.  “A spokesperson for the show said Cruze snuck onto the closed set without authorization and made threats of bodily harm to Dr. Adrian Zoebel, the show’s star, and the family that was appearing on this episode of the show.”

“That’s bullshit,” I said.  “I never threatened anyone.”

“The spokesperson said security guards discovered Cruze hiding on the closed set during the filming of the show’s segment known as the ‘passing over’ sequence.”

“They call it the death sequence,” I yelled at the screen.

The anchor went off script and looked seriously into the camera.  “If you’ve seen the show you know this is the segment where the terminally-ill guest is administered the drugs that ultimately ends their pain and suffering by Dr. Zoebel.”

“She’s making it sound like a Hallmark moment,” I said.  “Why doesn’t she say, ‘That’s the part where the handsome doctor kills the guest with lethal drugs?”  I looked at Winger for support, but he waved my attention back toward the TV.

“Security was in the process of escorting Cruze out when he turned violent, assaulted one of the guards, then made threatening advances toward the guest’s family.  According to reports it was Zoebel who bravely stepped between Cruze and the family, and physically restrained Cruze until the authorities arrived.  Zoebel and the family were not injured, but one security guard was treated for a broken nose.”

“More bullshit!”  I was off the couch; screaming at the TV, my hands waving in the air like a mad man.  “I never touched anybody and Zoebel didn’t touch me.”

“Did you break a security guard’s nose?”

“Well, yes, but that was an accident.”

“The video you see is Cruze being led out by a studio security guard and handed over to LAPD,” the pretty anchor chick said.  “From the looks of him, there was definitely a struggle of some kind.”

“I’m considering a lawsuit for painful arrest,” I said, rubbing my wrist.  “That bastard nearly broke my arm.  I may never be able to type again.”

“You’re real funny,” Winger said.  He turned the TV off and tossed the remote on the desk.  “That’s on every channel, on every website, and on the front page of every newspaper in the country, including our own.  You’ve really done it this time.”

“Come on, John.  This is just Cronenburg making noise.  I didn’t do any of those things they’re accusing me of.  It’ll blow over when the truth comes out.”

“It’s not going to blow over that easily,” he said.  “I’ve been on the phone all morning with legal.  Since our pockets are deeper than yours, the Times will get the brunt of the heat for your actions.”

“I wasn’t working for the Times,” I said.  “I’ll tell them that.  I was there at Cronenburg’s invitation.”

“So you say.  He says otherwise, and I promise you, people will believe him before they believe you.  According to Cronenburg you were banned from the property after verbally assaulting him and Zoebel at some restaurant Friday night in front of a couple hundred witnesses; several of whom taped your little rant with their phones and posted them online.”

I started to stammer.  “There were extenuating circumstances.”

“Cronenburg says he invited you to dinner to talk about you writing Zoebel’s autobiography, then for no apparent reason you went nuts and started throwing stuff.  Is that true?”

“I threw a twenty dollar bill on the table to pay for my drink,” I said helplessly.  I could see where this was going.  To argue would be futile.

“He says you then conned your way into the building yesterday by convincing the receptionist you were there to meet with the show’s executive producer, Sierra somebody.”

“Sierra Simms.”

“Right, Sierra Simms.  He says you made your way to the studio, snuck in after EMTs came to drop off equipment, then waited in the dark for Zoebel.”  He frowned at me.  His look of worry deepened.  “This is where it gets serious, Matthew.  He’s telling the press he thinks you were waiting there to do harm to Zoebel; to get revenge for some long-held demented grudge.  He compared you to Lee Harvey Oswald, waiting on JFK to drive by.”

“What?  That’s ridiculous.”

“Maybe so, but he tells a very good story,” Winger said with a sigh.  “I don’t think the DA is taking it too seriously at this point, it was pretty easy to get you bonded out, but the press is eating it up.”

“Shit.”  It was the most intelligent thing I could think of to say.

Winger said, “And of course Allen Grumman has been all over the news this morning.  Zoebel is suing us.  Cronenburg is suing us.  The family of the guy they put to sleep on the show is suing us.  The security guard with the broken nose is suing us.  And of course you’re named as a co-defendant, as if you have a pot to piss in.”

“That’s all bullshit,” I said again.  “What do they have to sue over?”

“Jesus, Matthew, they have everything to sue over.”  He was yelling at me now.  He got up and came around the desk, and sat in the chair next to me.  “Listen to me.  This is serious.  Allen Grumman is not only threatening all kinds of civil lawsuits, he’s going to push the DA to come at you with both barrels on the felony stalking and assault.  We’re talking possible jail time, Matthew.  You could get ten years.”

I stared at him for a moment.  The look on his face was scaring the hell out of me.  Surely it wouldn’t come to that.  Then I remembered who I was dealing with.  “John, I didn’t do anything wrong.  I was there because Cronenburg invited me there.  Sierra Simms came to my house to deliver a personal invitation.  She’ll attest to that, I’m sure.”

“She works for Cronenburg,” he said.  “I wouldn’t count on her backing up anything you have to say.”  He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his tie.  He eyes were red, with dark circles under them.  He looked even more exhausted than I did.

“You okay?” I asked.

He put on his glasses and frowned at me through the thick lenses.  “Just tell me the truth.  What really happened in there?”

“You’re going to think I’m nuts.”

“I already think you’re nuts,” he said.  He fell back in the chair and held out his hands.  “At least try to justify your insanity to me.”

“Okay, I’m going tell you something,” I said.   “Don’t say anything until you hear everything I have to say.”  I leaned in and gestured for him to do the same.  When our faces were a foot apart I quietly said, “I think Adrian Zoebel is a serial killer.”

Winger gawked at me for a second.  His mouth fell open.  He sat back and put his hands over his eyes.  “I’m sorry; did you just say Adrian Zoebel is a serial killer?”

“I said I think he’s a serial killer,” I said.  I was serious, so I’m not sure why I was having a hard time keeping a straight face.  Perhaps it was because I knew how preposterous I sounded.  “Well, maybe not a serial killer in the traditional sense, not like Bundy or Zodiac, but I think he enjoys ending the lives of those people on his show.  And I think he enjoyed doing the same to those people in the hospital, too.”

“Oh my God… You really have gone off the deep end.”

“You said you would hear me out.”

“I didn’t know you had lost your mind!”

I held out my hands to try and calm him down.  “John, just listen for a minute.  I think Zoebel may have started out just wanting to help people end their pain and suffering, but I think it’s gone far beyond that now.  I think he has some kind of God complex or something and he actually gets a thrill out of making people die.”

“God complex?”

“You know, doctors who think they have the power over life and death, like God.”

“I know what a God complex is,” he said.  “I saw the movie with Alec Baldwin.”

“Then you know it’s not that uncommon with doctors who deal with terminally ill patients.”

He pushed himself out of the chair and moved back behind the desk, like he felt that he had to put some distance between himself and this crazy man sitting on his couch.  He said, “Matthew, I think you really do have a problem.  You have some kind of weird obsession for Zoebel and it is driving you over the edge, making you say and do crazy things.”

“I have proof,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes at me.  “What kind of proof could you possibly have to back up that theory?”

“I recorded Zoebel’s face during the death sequence,” I said.  “You’ll see what I’m talking about and know I’m not crazy.”  I was reaching for my satchel when I remembered that my video camera was gone.  I dropped the satchel and gave him a helpless look.  “I have proof.  I have video.”

“So where is it?”

I rolled my eyes at the ceiling.  “The police kept my video camera.”

“Look, Matthew, I hate to do this, but…”

“You don’t have to say it, John,” I said, getting to my feet and slinging the satchel over my shoulder.  It felt very heavy.  “It’s the end of the line for me.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“It was a good run.”

“It was,” he said sadly.  He took out his car keys and held them out to me.  “The media’s still camped outside.  Take my car and leave me yours.  Maybe they won’t notice you leaving in a blue minivan.”  There was a Lakers cap on the desk.  He picked it up and set it on my head.

“Thanks,” I said.  I adjusted the cap and stuck out my hand.  “You know this isn’t over.”

He slapped me on the back and opened the door.  “I know.  That’s what worries me.”