Tom crosses a busy street and walks down a small flight of steps leading to an alley. He enters a basement apartment and grabs a beer before passing through the sparsely-furnished flat to a room where the wall is covered with prints: enlarged sections of his photograph Hidden Agenda. He holds the slip of paper with the license plate number beneath the plate of the humvee in the photo. Tom crumples the paper in his fist as he says "Gotcha!."
A bus passes the sign for Tipton, Georgia, Pop. 37. It stops and lets Tom out across from a long building of simple construction housing a store, gas station and diner. Startled by a sudden pounding, he turns to see a man in overalls, a wisp of straw in his mouth, nailing a notice on a board on the building's porch. Tom greets him and says he is looking for Ned's used car lot. The man just stares at him and Tom's voice falters a little as he says he just wondered if he was in the right place. The man pounds a few more times and leaves without speaking, a stack of posters in his hand. As Tom goes around the corner of the building, he hears the sound of a wrench dropping onto a concrete floor. A man dressed in oily coveralls steps out, saying Tom must have got off the 5:19. He gives him directions to Ned's but adds that there ain't nobody there now. It's after 5:00 and besides, Ned probably closed a little early on account of the show. He gestures toward a poster announcing The Incredible Derek, boy psychic. The photo of a boy wearing sunglasses is framed by lightning bolts on each side. The mechanic explains he's a little blind boy. He says it's a sight to see: the kid starts talking in voices and tells you "all sorts of never mind." Tom asks what time Ned's opens up in the morning and if there is a place he can get a room with a shower. The mechanic tells him he has a couple rooms in back; Tom can take his pick for a fiver.
Cars turn by a colorful banner for The Incredible Derek, boy psychic. As Tom crosses the highway and walks towards a white tent, he reflects that "Every once in a while I allow myself the deception that I'm just a guy traveling across the country taking in the local color." People line up to enter the tent, passing under a crest of the letter D flanked by wings, the sign bordered by light bulbs. A woman selling tickets tells Tom it's five dollars to go, 25 to talk. Tom takes his ticket and finds a seat in the rows of folding chairs. The lights are lowered and in hushed, theatrical tones accompanied by sound effects of thunder, a man narrates the story of how ten years ago, a pregnant woman driving herself to the hospital was struck dead by lightning. Doctors took the baby from her lifeless body. They called it a miracle he survived but said he would be blind. The silhouette of a boy can be seen as the man draws him from behind the blanket serving as a curtain. The man says the doctors were wrong: while the boy can't see like them, he possesses an inner sight. He sees the past, the present and the future. Tom fidgets in his chair, impatient and skeptical. With a final flourish, the man presents his son, Derek Bartholomew Williams. Bright light illuminates a boy in a dark suit and sunglasses, his hands grasping the ends of the armchair in which he is seated.
Derek nods to his father, who says he is ready for the first question. The first woman in line asks Derek in honeyed tones if he can help find her "dearly departed grandmama's" diamond ring. Derek's father is distracted by a young blonde woman who returns his smile. Derek tilts his face upwards and appears to concentrate. His hands and feet begin to shake and then he grunts in pain. His arm flies out and a glass water pitcher shatters on the floor. In a low-pitched voice he demands "Damn it, Alyson! What are the rules of the game here? Who put you up to this?" His father bends over him telling him to calm down, that the woman doesn't know anyone named Alyson. The boy says "The photographs" and Tom flashes back to the woman at his studio who said "They're so real, Thomas, so unforgiving." The boy continues "Thomas! Damn it, they're lying, all of them! They're in it together!" Tom sees himself by the police car yelling to the officer "They're lying!" The father tries to comfort Derek as he whimpers in fear, but finally apologizes to the crowd, saying "Sometimes the power of the inner sight is too much for a young boy." He says they'll come back the next night and make it up to them. The boy says "Tom ... Tom, is that you?" and in a slightly different voice: "Yeah, it's me, mom." He sees Tom's mother in her sick bed saying "My son is dead." The boy says "But I have no son." Tom sits there stunned as the man ushers his son back behind the curtain.
The blonde leans against a car in front of a trailer emblazoned The Incredible Derek, studying herself in her compact mirror as she touches up her hair. Bert Williams tells Derek to lay down and get some rest; he'll be back later. Derek asks why his father can't stay with him, but he says he has to give someone a ride home. Derek reminds him he said they were going to Aunt Mamie's and his father promises they'll go just as soon as this tour is over. He says "Pond's full of fish and it's a stupid man who don't go fishing." Tom watches the car leave and walks toward the trailer. He changes his mind and begins to walk away, when he hears Derek speak to him. "Can't stay here, you know." Derek opens the screen door and continues "They wanna hurt you." Tom asks him what he saw, what scared him so much. Derek answers death--it's all around Tom. Tom asks if he sees anything now and Derek says he sees an eagle. Tom asks "Where is this eagle, Derek? Where do I find it?" Derek tells him he should leave this place now. It's bad for him and bad for all of them.
The humvee is parked at the end of a row of vehicles in a grass lot. Tom walks around it and looks it over, trying the door handle. A salesman approaches, saying "Ain't she a beaut?" He pulls out a cigar and bites off the end. When he notices Tom staring at the cigar, he says he hopes he doesn't mind. With some people it's coffee, with him it's these. When Tom asks where he found the humvee, he assures him he has all the paperwork. It's the real deal, U.S. military. Tom tells him he would like to check it out for himself, maybe have the maintenance records, so he'll know where it's been and what it needs. The salesman tells him he got it from an army post up in Tanner. He picks up a lot of stuff there; instead of breaking them down and selling them for parts, they sell them to him. He says Tanner is about 30 miles up the highway, just past where Gator World used to be. Tom thanks him and say's he'll let him know. The salesman urges Tom not to let the grass grow under his feet; the humvee won't stay on the lot very long.
A pickup lets Tom out in front of a large white building with military vehicles parked outside. A sign says "U.S. Army Base. Tanner, GA." He walks past an antique cannon to enter the building, calling "Anybody here?." When no one answers, Tom studies the bulletin board, which includes a newspaper clipping and a roster list. A brusque voice snaps "You looking for something?" Tom tries to explain there was nobody there, but the soldier breaks in, demanding to know his business there. Tom says he's just trying to get some information on a humvee they sold to a dealer in Tipton. The soldier asks "What about it?" and Tom explains with exaggerated patience that he is thinking of buying it and thought he could get a little maintenance history before he laid out the cash. The man tells him to talk to Corners, who runs the motor pool.
A bald man dressed in a t-shirt and fatigue pants shoots pool. When Tom enters the canteen, the man pauses and curls his fingers around one of the balls. Tom tells several soldiers seated at a small table he's looking for someone named Corners and has to duck when the man suddenly hurls the ball into a mirror on the wall and runs. Tom chases him into the motor pool, catching him with a diving tackle and punching him in the jaw. Corners tries to return the blow and when he misses, Tom pins his arm against his body, catching sight of an eagle tattoo on his bicep. He recognizes it as the same tattoo from one of the enlargements of Hidden Agenda. His hesitation gives Corners the opportunity to throw his leg up and kick him in the head, leaving him dazed on the floor. Tom reaches the garage door in time to see Corners speed away in a jeep.
Tom crosses a barren field to reach the Williams' trailer. The only object anywhere near is a solitary light on a pole. He knocks and calls Derek's name, and when no one answers, goes inside. The trailer is a mess, the sink and counters piled with dirty dishes. He turns off the small portable TV near Derek's chair and asks if everything is all right. Derek says "My daddy says people's lives are full of questions. Sometimes these questions can eat a hole in them so big, they're willing to do almost anything to get answers. That's why they come to me." He says he senses Tom has one growing in him. Tom asks where his dad is and Derek says he'll be back soon. He had to take some lady home because her car broke down. Tom asks if he has had anything to eat and Derek says his dad will make him breakfast when he gets back. Tom tells him it's one o'clock and persuades him to come have a bite to eat by saying they can leave a note for his father.
Derek eats a hamburger with great appetite. Tom smiles and reaches across with a napkin to wipe catsup from the boy's face. Derek smacks his hand down onto the table, gripping it with a hand that begins to shake. He speaks the words Eddie spoke at Calaway "Everything they give you, they can take away. Absolute zero, gentle Jack, the bottom line." He knocks his glass over, spilling water on the table. Tom is conscious of people watching them and tries to reassure Derek. Derek asks Tom why they want to hurt him. Tom says he doesn't know, that he doesn't even know who they are. Derek tells him they're always in the dark. He looks for them but he can't see them. Tom says he knows and suggests maybe they should go back. Derek thinks it might help if Tom lets him see the negatives. He senses Tom's hesitation and tells him it's OK, he can give them to him; he's blind. Tom looks around to be sure no one is watching and furtively draws his belt out, taking the negatives from inside the leather. He checks the room again and conceals the negatives in his hand as he passes them over to Derek. He tells him it's the third one, but Derek quickly says he knows. Derek runs the film through his fingers and as he reaches the third one from the end doubles over in pain. Tom rushes around to put his arm around his shoulders. The boy cries "Death. Soldiers. Airplanes." Tom says when they were in the jungle, there were no planes. Derek tells him he hears them, like drums far away somewhere. Tom asks what about an eagle. Derek says in the low-pitched voice "You gotta keep a step ahead of the game, pal. Always in front of them." Tom asks breathlessly if that's him. Derek says "What you need is contingencies. I got contingencies." Sounding like a young boy again, Derek says fearfully that he sees him and knows where he lives. There are no other people where he is, only a lot of trees. He suddenly cries "Watch out!" To Tom's question, he says it was because of an alligator.
Tom approaches a gate on a chain link fence and unsuccessfully tries to force the chain holding it shut. Atop one of the signs on the gate is the outline of an alligator. He slips through a hole he finds in the fencing. He slinks around to the back of a brightly lit house and crashes in a door, startling Harry Corners, who was resting on a bed just inside. Harry grabs the rifle beside him and the two men grapple for the weapon, Tom managing to pin him against the wall with the barrel across his neck. Tom says he just wants to talk to him. Harry tells him he thought he would have been dead by now. Tom steps back and points the gun at Harry. Harry says he doesn't appear to be dead, so he guesses somebody screwed up. Tom lets him take a drink from a nearby bottle and says "So you know who I am." Harry responds "Probably nobody, if I know how they play the game." Tom asks who they are and Harry truculently tells him to turn on the radio and listen to the news or read a newspaper; they're a little hard to miss. Tom asks who is--the military, some kind of government agency. Harry laughs grimly, saying Tom is really out of his league. He doesn't have a clue, but he does have guts. Tom asks him what he is hiding and why he lives so far off base. He pulls back a corner of the paneling and sees a layer of aluminum foil. He asks Harry what he's expecting, lots of leftovers? Harry says that's where he's ahead of all of them. If you can keep them out of your place, they can't get into your space. He asks Tom if he ever wondered how they always knew what he was thinking, where he was going. He says "You have to keep one step ahead of them, pal, always in front of them." Tom's head snaps up as Harry says "What you need is contingencies. I got contingencies."
Tom kicks the leg of the bed Harry sits on, saying he's in his photograph and demanding to know what happened in the jungle. Harry says he doesn't know what he's talking about. His eyes move from side to side as he tries to concentrate on a distant noise. He creeps to the kitchen and crouches down to look out the window above the sink. Tom tells him nothing is out there, but the darkness is shattered by the headlights of several vehicles snapping on in succession. Tom and Harry run to the back room, searching for cover from the storm of automatic weapon fire. Harry struggles to move a filing cabinet and when he fails, suddenly runs toward a window, yelling "He's here, he's here!" Tom yells for him to get down, but it's too late to stop Harry from being cut down. Tom dives through a window and escapes into the woods.
Derek sits in his armchair in front of the rows of empty chairs. A line of military vehicles pass the store in Tipton. A pickup fitted with a flatbed carrying bales of hay lets Tom off by the building. As he walks past the garage, Earl, the mechanic, comes out carrying Tom's bag and says it's time for him to leave. When Tom asks if there is a problem, he says no problem, the room is reserved. His eyes meet Tom's and the two study each other for a moment before Tom says it's OK. With a honk of the car horn, Bert Williams pulls over and demands to know where his boy is. Tom says he hasn't seen him since yesterday afternoon. They go to the tent, where the folding chairs are being loaded into a pickup truck. One of the workers tells Tom and Bert that Derek had been fit to be tied about something. He kept talking about soldiers and airplanes and about a guy named Tom, saying Tom had to stay away from the cannon. He said there was death there. Tom asks if someone could have given Derek a ride someplace. He tells Bert he knows the place Derek was talking about.
A soldier polishes the cannon as the Major and Tom step out of the building. The major tells him if he was there, nobody saw him. As Tom and Bert get in the car, the officer tells them he's sorry he couldn't be of more help and hopes they find the boy. Once back on the country road, Tom tells Bert to pull over; Derek is here. The major may be telling the truth, but he thinks they ought to have an unescorted look around.
Earl speaks on the telephone: "I'm telling you, Doug, this is sheriff's business. There's something goin' on around here. You might just wanna put down that ham sandwich and get your butt out here." He looks over at a man in a suit who sits nearby smoking a cigar.
Tom creeps along the side of a cinderblock building and climbs a chainlink fence. He finds Derek sitting against the wall on a long porch. Derek urgently says they have to leave this place right now. Bert joins them and says they have to get out of there; "there's a parade coming through the front gate and they're not carrying tubas". Tom says they can circle around through the woods. The military vehicles pull up to the base, a black sedan leading the way. Soldiers exit the building and line up in formation. Tom, Bert and Derek crouch down for cover in the underbrush. The man seen in Earl's office gets out of the sedan and instructs the commanding officer, "At ease, Major." The major fixes his collar button and says they weren't expecting him. The man says that's why he's here, but adds that everything seems to be in order. The major tells him the operation is running very well. As a military ambulance backs up, the man gets back in his car. Sensing what is about to happen, Tom covers Derek's body with his own. The ambulance doors open and uniformed men with rifles pile out, leaving one man with a mounted weapon pointed at the assembled soldiers.
As army trucks pull out behind them, the man in the suit asks a sergeant whether there is any word on Veil yet. The soldier tells him they have a dozen men on it. The man orders him to find him; they only have one hour and then they're out of here. He says the local yahoos have already called in the law. He dismisses the sergeant, telling him to make sure someone cleans up the mess.
Tom helps Derek up and Bert carries the boy to the car. As soldiers with rifles emerge from the woods further up the dirt road, Derek says "They're behind us." The soldiers fire at the fleeing car. Tom suddenly tells Bert to pull over because he sees army trucks parked on the main road, the men hurriedly setting up a roadblock. He tells him to turn around; they'll have to find some other way out of town. He then tells him to pull over and let him out, saying there's no reason for Bert and Derek to be involved. Derek refuses, but Bert says Tom is right, that it's his fight, not theirs. Derek argues Tom is his friend and he can help him. Tom tells him there's no place to go, that these are very bad people and it's a very small town. Derek's hands grip the top of his legs. In the low voice he says "Gotta keep a step head of the game, pal, always in front of them. What you need is contingencies, I got contingencies." In his own voice, he says "We have to go there." Tom explains to Bert "Harry Corners'."
They enter Harry Corner's house, but Tom tells Derek he doesn't understand. Won't they look for them here? Derek says "Contingencies." As Tom inspects the filing cabinet, he sees cracks in the surrounding floor. He has Bert help him move the cabinet and lifts up a trapdoor. Derek senses the trucks arriving at the gate. An officer yells they have only half an hour, and they cut the chain and run up to the building. Dust filters through the cracks as the soldiers search the house above the two men and the boy. Finally one announces "It's clear! Let's move out." The fugitives wait until Bert says it's been over an hour--it's got to be clear by now. Tom cautiously lifts the edge of the trapdoor, then opens it all the way when he finds the house deserted. .
An eery silence hangs over Tipton. Bert tells Tom "It don't feel right." Tom first enters the store, calling for Earl. A black-and-white TV plays, the beeping phone is off the hook. Tom and Bert go into the diner, finding it deserted, the jukebox still playing. Bert says it looks like whatever happened here, it happened fast. Partially eaten plates of food sit on the tables, cigarettes still smolder in the ashtrays. Tom notices a long cigar perched on the edge of a glass ashtray. The two men return to the car where Derek waits. He says "Nobody's here, right?" Bert asks if he has any idea what happened here. Derek answers "Airplanes." The men look up to see two small planes overhead, painted in a military camouflage pattern. Tom says "Death, soldiers and airplanes."
Sirens announce the approach of police cars. Bert hands Tom his bag, saying they can take care of this, and tells him to go. His guess is that Tom has been through trouble enough and he hasn't seen the end of it. Tom tells Derek goodby and thanks him. Bert puts his hand near Derek's shoulder and the boy reaches up to take the unseen hand. Five police cars screech to a halt, surrounding Bert's car. Tom crosses the countryside on foot, following the railroad tracks.
Synopsis © 1995 Marge Brashier
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December 18, 1995