Angel of Mercy: Chapter 2

Copyright Notice (c) 2016 Tim Knox

Across the lobby a set of elevator doors opened and a pretty girl who didn’t look like she was spat from the Hollywood mold headed my way.  She was wearing faded jeans and a black t-shirt with the Blue Man Group on the front and a pair of black Converse tennis shoes with lavender trim.

She wasn’t like other girls you’d meet in Los Angeles on any given day.  Her makeup was modest, not slathered on with a trowel.  She wasn’t pierced anywhere that I could see other than her earlobes or wearing clothes that were three sizes too small.

There were no overinflated boobs struggling to break free from the top of her blouse and no Botox tracks on her face.  She was a natural beauty, with welcoming green eyes that were aimed in my direction.

I got to my feet and took her outstretched hand.  It felt nice; soft and warm.  I never know how hard to shake a woman’s hand.  I shook it like a limp noodle.  She pulled her hand back and smiled.

She said, “Mr. Cruze, I’m Sierra Simms, executive producer for Angel of Mercy.  I hope we haven’t kept you waiting long.”

“No, not long at all.  I just got here, in fact.”  I was stuttering.  Christ, I was smooth with the ladies.  I should have asked Manson for tips.  I said, “I’m supposed to have a meeting with Marc.”

“Right, he’s on a call and asked me to bring you up to his office.  Would you follow me please?”

I picked up my satchel and followed her to the elevator.   She pressed the button for the third floor.   She glanced sideways at me and said, “I assume you’ve been here before?”

“No, I’ve been to Marc’s office in Studio city, but this is my first time here,” I said.  “I almost missed the place, had to circle back around.  Maybe you can get them to put up a sign.”

The elevator slowed to the third floor.  She said, “Marc likes to keep things very low key on the outside.  Helps cut down on the number of people hanging around waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite reality star.”

“You mean Adrian Zoebel.”

“Adrian and a number of other stars who are here frequently,” she said.  “This complex is home to all of Marc’s shows, so we have a number of famous faces who come and go through those gates on a daily basis.”

The doors parted and there was a stunning redhead standing on the other side.  Sierra introduced her as Jan, Marc’s personal assistant.  “Jan will take you to Marc’s office,” Sierra said, keeping the elevator door open with her finger on the button.  “I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon.”

“I certainly hope so,” I said, though I didn’t know why we would.  The redhead turned in her high heels and led me through a glass door and down a long hallway to Cronenburg’s oversized corner office.

“Ah, Matthew, come on in.”  Cronenburg moved from behind a large glass desk and stuck out his hand like he was really glad to see me.  He was wearing wrinkled chinos and a black Polo with the collar upturned.  His feet were bare on the thick carpet.  There was a pair of well-worn loafers kicked off in front of the desk.  I did not see socks.  He didn’t look like the most powerful man in television, but looks can be deceiving.  He let go of my hand and motioned for me to sit in one of the overstuffed chairs in front of the desk.

It had been a couple of years since I’d seen him up close.  He was in his mid-forties now, a little grey showing at the temples, some faint webbing at the corners of the eyes, but still a good looking guy, even by Hollywood standards.

He had a welcoming demeanor that made you like him immediately, no matter how hard you tried not to.   And there was the rub.  I did like Marc Cronenburg, even though he had more than once threatened me with bodily harm and financial ruin.  He smiled as if he knew what I was thinking.

The desk was relatively neat except for a menagerie of origami animals, a couple dozen or so, made from hundred dollar bills.  Swans, giraffes, elephants, cranes, frogs, and a single rhinoceros; all perfectly folded and tucked to perfection.  Cronenburg caught me looking at them.  He picked up the rhino and smiled.

“Little hobby of mine,” he said.  “I like to keep my hands busy.”

“You’re very talented,” I said.

He feigned modesty.  “Ah, it’s just folded paper.”

“Folded paper money.”

“True.”  He gently put the rhino back in place and leaned back with his fingers laced behind his head.   He smiled at me like a long lost friend.  “So, Matthew Cruze, it’s been a while.  I’ve missed you.”

“Like a dog misses a flea, I’d expect,” I said.  “Last time we spoke you threatened to rip off my head and use it as a soccer ball.”

“We say things in the heat of the moment we don’t really mean,” he said thoughtfully.  “I don’t really play soccer.”  He shot me the smile again and shrugged with his hands.  “I’m cool if you are.”

“I’ll let you know how cool I am after this conversation,” I said, not smiling back.  “Why am I here?”

“I thought you and I should map out a few things if you’re going to be working with Adrian,” he said.  There was a notepad computer on the desk.  He slid it in front of him and tapped on the screen.  “What’s your schedule like for the next couple of months?  Are you relatively flexible?  There may be travel involved.”

I held up a hand to slow him down.  “What are you talking about?”

His forehead wrinkled.  No Botox yet.  Good for him.

He said, “Adrian’s autobiography.  I want you to co-author it.”

I shook my head to make sure I was hearing right.  “Excuse me?”

“Adrian’s autobiography…”  He looked confused.  “I want you to co-author it.”

“Sorry, Marc,” I said, shaking my head.  “I don’t do ghostwriting.”

“I don’t want you to ghostwrite it, dummy,” he said, the smile coming back.  “I want you to co-author it, as in your name on the cover below Adrian’s and a picture of the two of you on the back like old pals.  I talked to your literary agent in New York about it this morning.  Didn’t he tell you?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” I said.  “I got the message you left for me at the Times office an hour ago, but nothing from my agent.  Hang on.”

I pulled out my phone and found the ringer silenced.  I thumbed through the menu and found several voice mails and a text message from my agent.  The voicemails I’d listen to later.  The text message read: Cronenburg wants you to pen Zoebel autobiography.   Believe the balls on this guy?  Can you work with the devil if the price is right?

I wiggled the phone at him and said, “okay, my agent says you want me to work on Adrian’s autobiography.  Given our history I can’t imagine that’s true.”

“Oh, it’s true.”  He leaned forward on his elbows and gave me a serious look.   “Here’s the deal.  Angel of Mercy is a ratings juggernaut.  It’s been the number one show for three years running and Adrian Zoebel is one of the most recognizable celebrities on the planet.”

“I’m aware of his appeal,” I said.  I didn’t understand it, but I was aware of it.

“We have a dozen publishers battling for the rights to an Adrian Zoebel autobiography.  I’m talking a deal worth twenty million dollars, minimum.  All we have to do is choose a writer, deliver a decent manuscript, and we all get rich.”

“You and Adrian are already rich,” I said.

“Then you get rich and we get richer,” he said with a snort.  “That’s even better.”

He paused and arched his eyebrows.  He could tell I wasn’t ready to jump onboard just yet.  He said, “Look, let me bottom-line it for you.  I can seal the deal with the publisher with a phone call.  I can have a million-dollar advance in escrow by Monday and can cut you an advance check for a hundred grand on Tuesday.”

“I’m really not that motivated by money, Marc.”  That wasn’t quite true and we both knew it.  Still, it sounded good and noble.

He swatted a hand at me.  “Don’t give me that bullshit.  Everybody’s motivated by money.  And if the money’s not lure enough for you, think about this: you will have unfettered, behind-the-scenes access to Angel of Mercy.  That means access to Adrian, the production crew, producers, directors, guests; anyone you want.  Think about that, Cruze.  You wrote a bestselling book about Adrian.  You built your journalistic reputation crucifying him in the Times, but you’ve never even met the man in person; never even been face-to-face.  Here’s your chance.”

I took a moment to process it all.  It felt like a weird dream, sitting there across from the infamous Marc Cronenburg, talking about co-authoring a book with the world’s biggest television star; a man I still thought was a murderer, or at the very least a man who escaped the justice I felt he deserved.  How the hell could I even be considering working with them?  And yet here I was, struggling to find a reason to say no.

“Opportunities like this don’t come along every day, Cruze,” he said.  “You’d be an absolute fool to say no.”  He reached a hand across the desk and let it dangle there.  “What do you say?”

I didn’t shake his hand.  Instead, I asked the only question I could think of.  “There are a thousand other writers who would give their left arm to do this project.  Why me?”

His smile returned as he drew the hand back.  He said, “Who better?”

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