A dark van pulls into the parking lot, extinguishing its lights before it rolls to a stop. Its door slides open and men emerge dressed in black jumpsuits, carrying flashlights. The sound of the van door and the crunch of footsteps combined with the moving beams of light wake Tom, who lies on the bed fully dressed. He grabs his bag and drops out the window just before the door to his room crashes inward, followed by three of the intruders. Tom moves out of sight around the corner of the building just as one leans out the window, shining his flashlight after him. Tom moves to look back around the corner, to have a gloved hand grasp him by the shoulder and back him against the wall, the man shining his flashlight from just below Tom's chin. Tom asks "Who are you? What do you want from me?" The man answers "You're not the easiest man to find, Dr. Bellamy."
Tom sits in a chair, looking around him, as an elegantly-dressed man pours a drink into a goblet and offers it to him. The furnishings are luxurious, polished wood and a richly patterned rug. When he asks where he is, the Supervisor answers Clear Springs Sanitarium: "a house for healing, a home for the mentally distressed." It is also the headquarters for western operations. He hopes his men weren't too rough on Tom but is sure he can appreciate the need for caution until they were sure he was who they thought he was. Tom asks if they are sure, and the Supervisor replies that considering no one in western operations knows him by sight, it all tracks. He explains they had a call from central city's operations three days earlier telling them that one of their chief operatives had disappeared after an explosion in a photo studio. Once he had rented a car and used his credit cards, he says, "Well, you know the system." Tom asks what they're supposed to do with him now that they've found him. The answer is to debrief him, try to find out about the subject he erased and just generally roll out the red carpet. He tells Tom he is classified VIP and that they had been told to extend him every courtesy until the director returns. Tom asks for permission to take a cigar from a glass box on the desk. The Supervisor watches as Tom pierces the end with a pencil and lights it. Tom looks through a grilled door at kneeling figures dressed in monk's robes, who are joined in singing a melodious chant. The Supervisor calls them healers and says the sanitarium operates from their monastery. When Tom questions the church permitting that, he says there is no church; they are non-denominational. As the director closes the inner doors, one monk, a ruby ring on one of his clasped hands, lifts his head to look at Tom, the deep cowl hiding his face in blackness.
As he walks through the grounds with the Supervisor, Tom asks when the director will be returning. The Supervisor says he is out of the country, but possibly a week or 10 days. Tom asks what he knows about the subject Tom was erasing. The Supervisor turns to face him, calling it an odd question. They turn at the sound of a wheelbarrow of tools tipping over with a clatter. The Supervisor says Bellamy (Tom) knows quite well that each branch of operations functions autonomously. Need-to-know is the credo they live by. Tom says since he's their guest and not from this division, he's sure exceptions can be made. He says "The name of my subject is Thomas Veil. I wants to see his file, everything we've got". As the Supervisor hesitates, Tom asks if the red carpet just roll out so far. He shakes his head and walks on ahead.
A woman in a straitjacket sits on a bed beneath a barred window, rocking back and forth as she repeats "I want my life back." As they look in through the door, Tom asks the Supervisor who she is. He identifies her as Ellen Combs and says she had been with them for almost two weeks, but in her erasure, Dr. Hayne has found her to be "less than cooperative." The Supervisor calls her one of the poor misguideds who still believes there is a high, moral road. He pats Tom's shoulder as he says she'll learn. He bids Tom to come with him to see her case history.
Ellen waves at a van entering a carwash, hearing her child call "Bye, mom". The man driving the vehicle makes it an adventure for the boy and girl inside, playfully calling out "Prepare to dive." As the conveyor belt starts the van through the wash, Ellen walks into the adjoining building, pacing with a coffee cup as she waits for them. The jets start up on either side of the vehicle and the boy asks "What's that smell?" The father frantically tries to close the vents. A mop drops to the carwash floor as the workers take gas masks from beneath their coveralls. Putting them on, they open the van doors and lift out the unconscious children. Ellen turns at the sound of breaking glass, sympathizing with the man clearing the mess from a dropped tray. She watches the van emerge from the carwash, puzzled when she realizes it's empty. She approaches the man polishing the hood, asking "Mac, where are Peter and the kids?" He says he doesn't know who she is or what she's talking about, and when she persists, tells her if this is a joke, he's not laughing. She looks in the van again and then runs into the carwash, calling frantically for her husband and children. The soaked woman is framed in a square of color, the rectangle shrinking against a white background.
The projection screen turns white as the Supervisor turns off a videocassette player, a bank of silent tv screens around him. He says "All things considered, I thought she would have been an easy nut to crack." Tom gets up and steps a few paces away. He tells the Supervisor he's fine--it's just hot in here. He asks what exactly they want from Ellen. The Supervisor says, "What do we want from anyone? Cooperation. Surrender." He tells Tom he put Ellen's file in his room; he's sure he'll find it quite interesting. He says "I can't tell how enthusiastic we all are that you're here" and offers Tom his hand.
Tom reenters the room, saying "You wanted to see me." The Supervisor has been on the phone with the director. He says he told him how anxious Bellamy (Tom) is to get his hands on the Thomas Veil file. The director is still somewhat concerned that Bellamy left central city's region without contacting him. There might be a question of loyalty. Any doubts he may have would be mollified once Tom breaks the woman. It is laid out to Tom as quid pro quo: once he breaks her, the director will send the Veil file.
As he looks through Ellen's file in his room, Tom reflects that to really appreciate how something feels, you have to go through it yourself. He is so close to the answer, to understanding just what brought him here and why, but at what price? He draws back the curtains to find bars across the windows. He runs to the door and finds it won't open. He pounds and yells for someone to open the damn door. The door pulls open and a monk stands there, the ruby ring on his uplifted hand. The faceless cleric tells him it's rainy season and the humidity sometimes makes the doors stick. With "God be with you, brother" he departs.
A crackling fire can be seen through the bars as Ellen sits wearing the straitjacket, saying "I've already told them everything I'm going to, doctor. My name is Ellen Combs. I was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. I"m married. I'm 34 years old. I have one husband, two children and all my own teeth, and I am not out of my mind." Tom walks around her cage, switching on lights standing at intervals around it. He asks her why she thinks she's here and she answers that she doesn't know, bitterly reminding him that he's the doctor. He introduces himself as Dr. Bellamy and says he'll be sitting in for Dr. Hayne for a while. She vows it will be a long while and he asks if she's always this defiant. She cries "I want my life back. I want to see my family. Oh, that's right. I keep forgetting you don't think I have a family." He asks if he said that and she says they all said that. Tom says he's not part of the all and unlocks the cage. He steps inside and unties the straps fastening her arms. She sits sobbing for a moment and then tentatively walks outside the cage. She wants to know if she's now supposed to reward this act of kindness by telling him everything he wants to hear. He suggests she start by telling him everything she thinks has happened to her. Angry and heartbroken, she tells him someone has taken her life. When Tom says her husband and her children, she cries that they are her life. She begs him to tell her one thing: is she ever going to get out of there? He says he doesn't know and she demands to know just what he does know. "You certainly knew how to get me into this place! You knew how to completely erase a person's life!" She kneels and clasps his leg, offering to do or say anything he wants if she can just see her family. She starts her recital of "My name is Ellen Combs..." Tom fights to keep his composure, perspiration beading his upper lip, then lifts her chin with his hand, saying "Ellen, I believe you." She collapses against him, weeping. The Supervisor looks very thoughtful as he lays down his earphones and with the press of a few keys darkens the tv screen in front of him.
The Supervisor swings his chair around to face Tom, demanding "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" Tom takes the offensive, telling him they apparently have very different definitions of VIP. He suggests that the next time the director calls, they both speak to him. The Supervisor says he's sorry and explains that they had just spent nine days trying to make headway with her. Tom says abruptly, "You failed." When the Supervisor says they were getting close, Tom says he didn't know they were playing horseshoes. Tom argues that cooperation needs to be elicited, not extorted or coerced. He also tells him that the price of admission for observing his session is silence. A half-smile plays over the Supervisor's face as he watches Tom leave the room.
Tom and Ellen park in front of a school. He notices a black car that arrived after them and waits across the street. Ellen is reluctant to get out, asking why he brought her here, what he is trying to prove. The bell rings and children pour down the steps of the school. Ellen spies a little girl and runs toward her with a cry of "Oh, my dear God." She kneels before a boy and girl, holding their arms as they struggle to get away, crying "But I'm your mommy!" They run over to a young woman who has just arrived. She wraps her arms protectively around them, glaring back at Ellen huddled on the ground sobbing, and hurries them into her van, driving away. Tom kneels to put his arms around Ellen, helping her up. She sobs "Why did you do this to me? I want to die."
Tom enters Ellen's room to find a nurse making the bed. She tells him Dr. Hayne signed Ellen out to take her for treatment. She says she's Phase 4, requiring ECT, electro-convulsive therapy. Tom runs down the corridor. A nurse tells Dr. Hayne that Ellen is ready and he turns dials on the apparatus, building up the electric current. Ellen lies strapped to a table, electrodes taped to her forehead, a rubber mouthpiece between her teeth. With Dr. Hayne's finger poised above the button, Tom bursts in, yelling "No, don't!" Hayne tells Tom that Ellen is Phase 4 and has been all prepped and sedated. Tom tells him to unprep her and begins to unfasten the straps. Hayne argues that he personally supervises this case, but Tom says he has had two weeks with no results. The case has been turned over to him. Hayne tries to stop him from releasing her, saying "If we don't induce the amnesia--" Tom slams him back against a cabinet, saying Ellen is his case now. No one asked Hayne if he liked it or if he was opposed. Hayne laughs artificially, saying Tom had overstepped his bounds. He asks "How much longer do you think you really can delay this?" Tom grasps an IV pole and says about as long as it will take them to clean this place up. He begins to smash the machinery and equipment, causing the doctor and nurse to flee. Ellen whimpers as Tom removes the mouthpiece and begins to peel away the electrodes.
The Supervisor speaks on the telephone. "Yes, sir ... Yes, that's exactly what happened. He completely disrupted our Phase IV procedure and threatened Dr. Hayne ... From all appearances, he's making every attempt to reassure the woman ... Yes ... Yes .... I'll take care of it .... No, there won't be any problems." Tom tosses in his sleep, hearing Alyson's voice in the restaurant as she says "I think you're going to get lucky tonight" and later outside the car, as she cries "I've never seen him before in my life! He's insane!"
Tom sits at a table on the institution grounds. Ellen approaches, asking to speak to him. The Supervisor and his assistant observe on one of their tv monitors as Ellen thanks him. He explains he has his own opinions about how things should be conducted around here. She tells Tom he scares her, because until she met him, she was convinced she wasn't crazy. "No matter how hard they came at me, no matter how hard they tried, I just kept telling myself that what I knew to be real was real." She was convinced it was herself against them, until he showed up. Because he is nothing like them, she has to stop and think that maybe there is no them, that maybe there is no enemy. If so, the possibility exists that she had created all of this paranoia. If that is true, she really has lost her mind. If she is sick and imagined all this, she needs his help because he's the only one she trusts here.
The Supervisor faces Tom across the desk in his office. He tells Tom he owes him a very sincere apology for doubting him and suspecting his loyalty. He says the little rescue he staged in the ECT room was perfect. He laughs as he recalls how near hysteria Dr. Hayne was. Tom joins uneasily in the laughter, then asks what the Supervisor is talking about. The Supervisor says he has just been to see Mrs. Combs and found her to be confused, disoriented, helpless, completely unsure of herself. She trusts Bellamy (Tom) completely and is perfectly prepared to accept the reality they've presented her. He tells Tom that for a moment he thought he had betrayed the organization, but instead in one brilliant move, he broke her. He offers a toast "To the master." Tom asks about the status of the Thomas Veil file. The Supervisor tells him the director was thrilled to hear about the progress Tom was making with Mrs. Combs and promised to send the file right out. It should be here first thing in the morning.
Tom walks through the grounds, surreptitiously taking pictures with a small black-and-white camera. He conceals the camera when the Supervisor joins him and tells him Mrs. Combs is being prepped for final erasure. Tom protests that it is too soon, that she needs a couple more days at least. The Supervisor tells him that's just not possible, as unfortunately they are dealing with a time factor. Since Tom has become the source of her trust, "the fulcrum of her confusion", The Supervisor thinks it would be useful if he could be there for the treatment.
Ellen is already strapped to a gurney when Tom and the Supervisor arrive. Dr. Hayne tells them she was sedated in her room and is ready for the chemo induction. He rushes over to apologize to Tom for what happened last night, saying if he had only been clued in. He opens the valve on the IV, starting the solution flowing into Ellen's arm. A glowing light is lowered above her face. The Supervisor encourages Tom to step closer so she can see him. Dr. Hayne begins by asking if she recognizes him and she identifies him as Dr. Bellamy and answers yes, she trusts him. She correctly answers she's at Clear Springs Sanitarium. When asked who she is, she hesitates as she looks into the pulsing light and answers she's not sure. Dr. Hayne asks if she realizes she suffers from delusions, from fantasies, and she answers slowly, "Yes, I think so." He asks if she has a husband and she focuses on the moving light before answering "No husband" followed by "No children." The Supervisor and Dr. Hayne nod in satisfaction. Hayne says, "You feel an overwhelming desire to cooperate. I know how uncomfortable it makes you to resist." She responds dreamily "Easier to cooperate." Dr. Hayne continues, "Cooperation makes you feel good. Resistance creates anxiety." The Supervisor lays his hand on Tom's shoulder as Ellen murmurs "Feels better to cooperate." Hayne tells her she wants so much to tell them what she saw that day and who she told about it. Ellen says she didn't tell very many people. "The first person I told--" Tom breaks in "No, Ellen, no!" Hayne begins to protest, to be hit in the face with a hard thrust of Tom's elbow. The Supervisor asks what the hell he's doing as Tom yanks the needle from Ellen's arm. The Supervisor pulls out a gun and orders Tom to stand back. Tom pushes the gun hand straight upward, plunging the needle into his exposed chest. Tom wraps his arms around him from behind and they grapple for the gun until the Supervisor loses consciousness. Tom lifts Ellen from the gurney and helps her to an institution station wagon, relieved to find the keys in the ignition. He drives off at full speed, crashing through the closed gates. Both fully clothed, he holds Ellen beneath a shower, trying to sober her up from the drugs in her system.
They awaken at the Hawthorne Bed and Breakfast, Ellen's head resting on his shoulder. He tells her they are at Hawthorne House; she had told him about it last night. She pulls her robe tight around her and asks what else she told him last night, but he assures her she was on her best behavior. She wants to know why he brought her there. He tells her it's a long story, but he did it to get her away from them. He tells her his name isn't Walter Bellamy; he's not a doctor. He doesn't have anything to do with those people. She is dubious as he tells her his name is Tom Veil. He says whoever these people are, they are trying to do the same thing to her as they did to him. She tells him he took this one step too far. He's good, but he can't really expect her to buy all of this. Tom says they are going to be looking for them. How long does she think it's going to be before they catch up with them? He understands how it feels to have your life all ripped away, but at some point-- Ellen finishes the sentence, asking if she's supposed to trust him and tell him everything she wouldn't tell them. Tom says he is open to suggestions for what it would take to convince her. He tells her Dr. Bellamy was the man responsible for his erasure. Before he was killed at his studio, Tom took his driver's license and credit cards. That's how they found him and think he's Bellamy. Tom went along with it hoping he could get some answers and they were going to bring him his file. She asks who Tom Veil is and he answers a photographer, a photojournalist. They stole one of his photos and Tom believes they think he knows something. She asks if he's such a risk to them, so valuable, why they didn't just kill him. Tom says maybe they think he knows too much, or more importantly, they're not sure who he might have told. He doesn't even know what he's supposed to know. He just knows it's taken everything he's got to get away from them. Ellen says if there was only something real, some tangible way that she could know this isn't just another one of the games they play. She asks if Tom has other copies of the photograph he said they stole. He says he only has the negatives. She asks if she can see them and Tom shakes his head, saying it's not a good idea. She is derisive, saying it's perfectly all right for her to put all her trust in him and tell him anything. He tells her to give him 15 minutes and he'll get the negatives.
He drives to a bowling alley, Kellogg spelled out on top, a 1950s-vintage car displayed in front. He takes a bulky yellow envelope from a locker. When he reaches the glass doors, he sees a police car, the officer examining the station wagon's license plate. Tom leaves through a side door and takes a taxi back to the bed-and-breakfast.
Ellen sees the envelope and comments that it's a hell of a way to protect precious cargo. He says he's just making it not look like precious cargo. She says "Good answer" and he tells her by this time he would have had his hands on his file. He didn't have to do this. She apologizes, saying it's just hard to know who to trust any more. As he begins to open the envelope, she asks why he is doing this for her. "If the director had really sent your file--" Tom's head jerks up and he asks her who she said. She stammers about his giving up his chance to get his hands on the file, but he reminds her she said if the director had sent his file. How did she know about the director? She says she's sure that's what he said, but Tom insists he never mentioned him.
The young man watching them on a tv monitor speaks into his headset, "It's going down." Two black cars skid sideways to a halt in front of the inn. As Tom backs away from Ellen, she asks who's being paranoid now. He says, "It's OK, I'm getting used to it." She calls after him, "I thought we were supposed to trust each other!" As he reaches the bottom of the stairs, the outside door opens. The men chase him back up the stairs, where he dives through a window, landing in the swimming pool. He swims to the other end and climbs over a railing, jumping into the cab of a pickup truck belonging to a lawn crew. The black cars race to cut him off where two roads angle together. Tom brakes to avoid a collision and the pursuing cars slide sideways, flattening a picket fence.
Ellen sits again in her cage in front of the blazing fire. She hugs herself, rocking, crying in anguish: "But you told me if I broke him, I could have my life back." The supervisor's voice is heard: "You failed." The lights snap off, leaving the weeping woman in darkness. As Tom drives away, he throws Bellamy's wallet out the window, the credit cards cascading from the billfold.
Synopsis © 1995 Marge Brashier
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Used by permission.
December 13, 1995