UPN - Nowhere Man

Paradise on Your Doorstep

Thomas Veil used to take photographs for a living. Now to get by, he works on other people's pictures in a one-hour photo shop. He leafs through a stack of freshly-developed photos, pausing as a series of pictures of two women sitting in a restaurant catches his eye. He peers closely at one, then uses a magnifying glass to examine the woman on the right. He's stunned to see that it is in fact Alyson, his wife.

The bell over the door jingles softly and Tom turns away from the machine he's been adjusting. A dark-haired woman he recognizes as the other woman in the photograph smiles and asks for the roll of film she has had developed. Tom studies her face as he tells her the price, finally asking if she minds if he asks her a question. He says he noticed when he printed some of her shots that they were taken in some sort of Polynesian restaurant. She tells him it's called Watiki. He asks if it's located around here and she tells him it's over on Porter, near the train station. When he continues to stare at her, she asks if she can have her change. He apologizes and says he's just new and it sounds like kind of an interesting place to eat. She tells him it's all right, a lot of tourists and honeymooners, that sort of thing. He swiftly demands "Where were these photos taken?" Saying she really has to go, she reaches for the envelope, but Tom snatches it up from the counter. He searches for the photograph he examined earlier and asks if she knows the woman in the picture, if she had ever seen her before. She says again that she has to go, but he slaps his hand down on the counter, saying "Just answer me!" The manager steps over, asking if everything is all right. Tom tells him it's fine and stacks the photos neatly, sliding them into the envelope before handing it to the woman with a smile. After she leaves, the manager tells Tom "Customers. Get 'em in, you get the money, you get'em out. You don't have to share." Tom asks if it's all right if he takes off for lunch now. After asking if Tom is working on anything, the manager agrees, saying he'll see him in an hour.

Tom searches the busy street and sees the woman hail a taxi. He takes the next one and follows her to a small airfield. He confronts her in the women's rest room. He tells the frightened woman he's not going to hurt her; he just wants to ask her a couple questions about the woman in the photograph. She cries "I don't know her. I've never seen her before in my life." Tom asks why she ran from him. He follows her gaze to her purse sitting on a shelf in front of the mirror. She grabs for it and in their struggle for the handbag, a small silver handgun falls on the floor. Tom picks it up and waves it at her, saying "It's OK. Everybody's wearing them." He adds "Talk to me, lady." She asks what he wants her to say and he suggests she start with the truth and tell him what the handgun is for. She claims it's for protection and tells him this is none of his business. She makes a motion to leave, but he gestures with the gun and orders her to step back. He says the woman in the photograph is his wife and that makes it his business. He searches inside the handbag and pulls out a photograph of himself with a camera. On the back is his name and the name and address of the photo shop. He tells her he's beginning to have second thoughts about not hurting her. He demands to know who she is and who she works for. He also wants to know where she's going and who she reports to. "Who's behind all this? Who are you people? What the hell do you want from me?" She cries out in fear as he pushes her back against the wall.

He grips her arm and holds her tightly against him, the gun in her ribs, as they walk towards a small plane. She says he's not going to get away with this, but he tells her she's not the first person to tell him that. After she boards the aircraft, the pilot turns and looks from the cockpit to see the gun in Tom's hand as he leans against the doorframe. The pilot ties up the co-pilot and the dark-haired woman under Tom's watchful eye. Tom then sits next to him in the cockpit, studying a map. He notes that their destination is Virginia and sarcastically asks if it's anywhere near Langley. He orders the pilot to take off, saying he just can't wait to meet the reception party at the other end. Midflight, Tom tells him it's about time to contact Indianapolis center. The pilot asks if Tom's a flyer, and Tom answers he's had some hours, payload mostly. The pilot tries to distract Tom by continuing the conversation, but Tom reminds him to make the call. Afterwards the pilot looks over to see Tom absorbed in the map and reaches forward to flip the cabin pressure switch. As Tom chokes for air, the pilot puts an oxygen mask over his own face and saturates a piece of cloth with chloroform. He holds the cloth over Tom's face until he loses consciousness. The pilot then turns the cabin pressure back on.

Tom begins to stir as the sounds of chirping birds, a melodiously-chiming bell and amiable voices break through his sleep. Lying fully clothed on a bed, he fingers an unfamiliar ID bracelet on his wrist, which he sees stretched in front of him when he opens his eyes. He walks uncomprehendingly through the comfortably-furnished bedroom, passing through the living room to open the outside door. A boy on the sidewalk plays with a remote-control car. A man mowing his lawn with a rotary push mower call cheerily "Good morning, Tom! Sleep well?" A woman kneeling to work in her flower bed waves and says "Hi, Tom." The boy playing with the car calls "Hey, Mr. Veil!" Dee, the dark-haired woman, leans over the porch railing of the house next door, saying "Hello, Tom. Welcome home."

Dee walks through the living room of Tom's house, saying it looks like they've got him pretty well set up. She admires the sofa, patting the plump pillow, and says maybe they can work out a trade. She explains that once you've been here for a while, you can brings things about more to your own tastes. When she sees the look on his face, she says she knows it takes a little getting used to, but he'll get there. He asks her "What is this place?" She tells him it's his home, actually his home away from home: a place where he can be safe and have friends. He grabs her by the shoulders, demanding to know who they are and who they work for. She enunciates the words clearly as she tells him that he is hurting her. He asks where he is and she says she thinks he should talk to Paul.

A white-painted bandstand stands in the center of a lovely, flower-adorned square. A banner hangs over the heads of the audience as they sit listening to a speaker at a podium in the bandstand. His voice is heard over the microphone as he finishes his talk: "Paul found me and took me under his wing. That's how I happened to come to New Phoenix." Dee and Tom approach as the people applaud and the next speaker begins by saying "My name's Roy and I've been disenfranchised now for eight years." A man with a neatly-trimmed beard greets Tom and welcomes him to New Phoenix, offering him his hand. He laughs when Tom keeps his hands in his pockets and says he's sure he's probably bursting with thousands of questions. Tom says "Yeah. Like who the hell are you people and what the hell am I doing here?" Taking no offense, Paul says he means just like that, then tells Dee he thinks he and Tom need a little one-on-one.

He encourages Tom to come with him for a "nickel tour." He says he can imagine what he's feeling, saying "When we first find ourselves disenfranchised--" Tom scoffs at the word disenfranchised and Paul says it's the best they've been able to come up with. He says when it first happens to them, they find themselves full of doubt, fear, confusion, and above all, distrust. He knows that's what Tom is going through. He tells him all of them have felt that way; everyone in New Phoenix has shared the same experience. He says they're a family. Tom asks sardonically "Really?" Paul gestures towards a building where bunting is being draped over a second-floor balcony and tells Tom it's their municipal building. He says they're having their two-year festival tomorrow and he hopes Tom will participate. Tom harshly demands "Where did you find me?" Paul tells him that over the past ten years or so, they're managed to cull each other from the ranks of the invisible, to do some serious bonding and stick together. By joining their forces and combining resources, they've managed to make considerable headway into their opponents' organization. Tom asks if they know who "they" are. Paul laughs and tells him he didn't say they were there yet but they've made a lot of progress. They have enough access now to certain critical information that enables them from time to time to identify their latest victims. Now they just need to get to the source of things. He bids Tom to come with him to see something else.

Tom notices a stone building through the trees. He asks what it is and Paul describes it as some of their maintenance facilities. He says New Phoenix is a really large operation; they're self-sufficient, but it requires a lot of dedication. Tom says ironically that everyone seems really dedicated. Paul agrees they are and says he thinks Tom will be, too, given enough time. As they approach the gate, Tom asks if the photograph of Alyson was a set-up and Paul explains it was a little computer wizardry. He apologizes, saying he knows how Tom must have felt, but he promises Tom will thank them for it in time. Tom asks "If I don't?" Paul tells him if he still wants to leave, no one will hold him here. He grabs Tom's arm too late to stop him from crossing a yellow line painted on the pavement near the gate. Alarms begin buzzing. Tom pulls back his sleeve, to see a red light flashing on the ID bracelet, hearing its own high-pitched beeping. Tom says sarcastically "Oh, but no one's a prisoner here." He laughs and steps away. Paul says they can only offer protection for their citizens if they stay inside the city limits. He calls it just a reminder. Tom calls it kind of an enforced reminder. Paul says no one seems to object; he wears one himself. Tom sneers "Oh, so we're all in this together." Paul says "Exactly." He asks Tom to give it a few days. If he still wants out, he promises they will make the arrangements. He thinks Tom would be making a mistake. He tells him he could have a life here, a real life without the running, the fear and the doubt. He may even find some people that he cares about and who care about him.

Beneath the pine trees overlooking a picturesque lake, Dee sits on a bench as Tom paces back and forth in front of her. He tells her he's not staying here and she says no one wants to force him. He points out that she didn't give him much choice about getting here. She says she didn't do anything to hurt him in any way; she just wanted to give him a chance. He asks for what, to be happy, and she smiles and says yes, to be happy, to have friends, people that care about him. He tells her to look at this place, at the rules and the people. He asks if it isn't just another way of giving up. She asks how he can say that. She says "We're not them, Tom. Whoever they are, we're not the enemy. The people here are my friends." He tells her it's the same game: Cooperate, give up. The only thing that's changed are the uniforms. She tells him he doesn't know what he's saying and says no one here wants to hurt him. He laughs mirthlessly and tells her Paul asked him for his negatives, the very thing that got him into trouble in the first place, the very same thing that "they" want. She tells him they all contribute. That's how they hope to find out who they're fighting. Everyone in New Phoenix turns over whatever information that led to them being disenfranchised and then by using that information and tracing backwards, they hope that one day they'll be able to find out just who's pursuing them. She asks if that's so hard to understand. Tom asks if they really think they're free here and she smiles and says "Free enough."

New Phoenix sleeps, patrolled by searchlights mounted on electric carts. Tom is awakened by a shaft of light as his bedroom door opens. Dee stands in the doorway and tells him it's all right, it's only her. She smiles. Another sunny morning dawns in New Phoenix. Cheerful citizens busy themselves in the square, some setting up chairs, others tending the flowers. Dee laughs as she and Tom exit the door of Tom's house. Paul pleasantly wishes them a good morning, a greeting warily returned by Tom. They watch as Dee leaves and Paul comments that she's a really nice girl. He says it looks like Tom's starting to get into things around here. Tom turns without speaking and goes back into the house. Paul follows him, saying he didn't mean to embarrass him, that he'll find they're pretty liberated about that kind of thing around here. Tom says sarcastically "How nice for you." Paul says his donation could prove to be very valuable to them. Tom asks if he means his negatives. Paul says they've made a lot of progress here, so any one little piece of the puzzle could be the one that completes the picture for them. Tom asks why he would even presume that he has them with him. Paul says he didn't presume that. From everything he read in Tom's profile, he believes Tom would keep them away from any prying eyes. Tom asks what Paul did before New Phoenix. Paul says he was out on the streets for six years. Before that, he was a high school teacher. Tom says that is a surprise and asks what his donation was to New Phoenix. Paul says that there was a military base near the town where he taught school. He explains that the kids have parents, the parents talk in front of the kids and some of those kids talk to their teachers. He apparently became privy to certain facts that he shouldn't have. He says it's the price you pay for being a good listener. Tom says from high school teacher to respected community leader is not a bad change of hats. He asks if Paul is really that anxious to give it all up. Paul says Tom just can't let go of it. Tom laughs out loud when Paul defines "it" as his almost inborn hostility to anyone in authority. Paul says that his position in New Phoenix is an elected one-- he didn't seek it out. Tom tells him cuttingly that it suits him so well. He adds that they both know that elections don't always go as planned. Paul says he feels for Tom. "You've managed to build a prison around yourself. You've put up all the walls brick by brick." He says the sad part is that even the people who have his best interests at heart can't get in. Tom responds "Let me show you the door." After he leaves, Tom stands in his doorway, looking out at the busy square. He sees trays with covered plates of food loaded into a food service cart. He twists the bracelet on his wrist, looking very thoughtful.

Tom approaches Paul as he finishes speaking with two men near the podium in the square. Paul says it's getting very exciting, only a few more hours. Tom tells him he's thought about what Paul said before and maybe he has been shutting people out. Paul says he's glad to see Tom's been giving it some thought. Tom says he hasn't made up his mind yet, but as long as he's here he could help out. He says he's handy with a lawnmower-- he did most of the mowing around his place. Paul says he'll introduce him to Jeremy, the groundskeeper. He's sure he can use an extra pair of hands.

Tom tosses his work gloves and pruning shears into the back of a truck and washed his hands from the canister of water sitting there. Concealing himself inside the truck, he takes a metal shears from the toolbox and snaps the chain of his ID bracelet. He takes the remote control car and its controller from a porch. He attaches the bracelet to the top of the car. The car travels in a circle and then shoots toward the gate. As it passes underneath, the car jumps as the bracelet explodes from intersecting laser beams. The car bursts into flame.

The festivities are underway at the town square, a small brass band playing merrily. Paul stands by the stairs of the municipal building talking to a few men, one telling him that they've checked by the main gate, but there's still no sign of him. Paul says maybe he just wandered too close to the gate and set off the sensors. He tells them not to do anything if they see him, just get back to him. He tells them to keep this low-key; he doesn't want to attract any attention. Tom watches a woman take a tray from the food service truck and carry it over to a table where she and Dee arrange the doughnuts. He climbs inside and writes a note: "I need to talk to you. Meet me at the lake. Tom." He hastily places it on the saran wrap covering a tray of rolls and leaps out of the truck as the woman returns for the rolls. Dee barely glances at the piece of paper before she sets it partially under the tray she's working on. Tom watches from behind a tree and winces as it falls to the ground, quietly urging her to pick it up. Paul stops by and wishes them a good morning, saying it's a beautiful day for a festival. He asks Dee if she's seen Tom. She says not since this morning, but she heard that he was working with the grounds crew. She says she really thinks Tom is going to stay. Paul says without pleasure that Tom does seem to be getting into it. Tom holds his breath as Paul picks up the paper and tosses it on the tray before walking away. Dee starts to move it aside again, then takes a look at it. She looks around, searching for Tom, then clasps the paper to her.

The band plays Stars and Stripes Forever in the distance as Dee reaches the bench by the lake, calling playfully for Tom. Her radiant smile dims when she sees the serious expression on Tom's face as he grasps her hands. He asks her what she knows about the bracelets. She says it's just for security; they all wear them. He tells her it's not just for security. He drops the charred bracelet in her palm, explaining that he tried to get it through the main gate and that's all that's left. She tells him that's against the rules; they're not supposed to take them off. Tom asks her to acknowledge that everything Paul has told them about being free to leave New Phoenix is a lie. They're not free to come and go here. He tells her she needs to appreciate what New Phoenix has become. He asks if she can honestly say she knew nothing about this. She drops the bracelet in his shirt pocket, saying it's for security, that's all. She says they can't have people just coming and going. Tom asks "Without what? Paul's permission? A passport?" He asks if she can't see what's happening here. They've became the people they opposed. She says it's not the same-- it's for their own protection. Tom says quietly "I know, but everybody has a name for it, Dee, everybody has a reason. But is that enough to make it all right, is that all it takes to make it OK to act like the people you fear, just a good reason." She asks what he wants and tells him if he wants to leave, just tell Paul. He asks her what's in the maintenance shed. She doesn't understand what he's talking about. He says there's a truck that make regular runs from food services to the maintenance shed. She suggests perhaps they're bringing food in, but he insists that they're delivering food to the shed. She says she has work to do and tries to move past him. He grabs her by the shoulders, saying she needs to listen to him, but she pulls away, shouting that she doesn't want to listen. She says she has spent ten years afraid of what's around every corner, not knowing what she was going to run into when she opened a door and walked into a room. She says she's not going back there. Tom asks "No matter what you've become?" She says "You just can't believe in anything, can you?"

The festivities proceed in the square: sack races, clowns and mimes, the band playing sprightly as it steps through the crowd. Tom watches from behind a tree as the empty trays are loaded back into the food service cart next to the maintenance shed. He makes his way down a long flight of the stairs from the top of the hill to the bottom level of the shed. The wind moans eerily inside the building as he tries the padlock and then turns to be sure he hasn't been observed. He gasps as a hand reaches out from a long, narrow slot to grasp his shoulder. A voice speaks from the darkness: "Better watch your step, pal, or you'll end up in Paul's summer camp like the rest of us." Distant sobs mix with the wailing wind. The man tells Tom that if you don't go along with Paul's idea of heaven, he sees to it that you spend your life in hell.

While the man at the podium laughingly gives the prize for the three-legged event, Paul leans his hand against a tree as the men who have been searching for Tom report, saying there's still no sign of him. They have the perimeter sealed, three teams working with dogs just on the out-of-bounds side, and four teams working the festival. Paul says he just doesn't want it seen. He tells them to get it done without commotion.

The master of ceremonies says he has a long list of acknowledgments for some of the folks that helped make this festival possible. He unfurls a list several feet long. Tom moves stealthily down the hill, approaching behind the man who sits guarding the maintenance shed. The man rises, startled, when Tom says "Hey! You're missing all the fun up here." Tom punches him soundly and then kneels to search the unconscious man's pockets. The master of ceremonies offers to cut to the chase instead of reading the entire list. He asks for a round of applause for the man who helped make this possible, calling Paul a friend, mentor and a father to some of the younger citizens. Warm applause and a cry of "We love you" greets him as he steps to the podium. Tom unlocks the maintenance shed, then presses a button that rolls aside a heavy metal inner door.

Paul says he can't tell them how proud he is of all of them, because without their cooperation and support, there would be no New Phoenix. He says that as warm and friendly and as comfortable as New Phoenix is, they still have a long road. He falls silent as he sees Tom approach past the roses, followed by men and women dressed in filthy, shapeless garments. Murmurs come from the audience as some of the prisoners are recognized. Paul continues speaking, saying that their goal is to resume their normal lives. He says cooperation is the key to their freedom, freedom their doorway home. Tom asks what kind of freedom he's talking about-- the kind where people who threaten his sense of community get thrown in prison. He addresses the crowd, saying he guesses Paul never told them about his private little Alcatraz. He had told them some of these people died or had been taken ill. Scattered spectators begin to file out as Tom identifies a couple of them: Stan, who made little glass ornaments for the holidays, and Helen, who ran the local newspaper until suddenly she took ill. Paul tells the citizens they have to understand that these people were a threat to their security. He cries that he did it for them, for the people of New Phoenix. There's now a mass exodus from the square. As men grasp Paul by the arms, he yells that New Phoenix is working, they just need to stick together. Dee hurries to catch up with Tom, but can only say his name and break down into sobs as he walks away.

Tom and Dee sit at his kitchen table, Dee pouring tea as he asks how their meeting went. He asks if they worked out some plan for an orderly evacuation. She tells him they all voted, except for him of course, and they're not leaving. Tom is incredulous. She says when it got down to it, everyone realized they'd rather be here in New Phoenix than back out on the streets. He reminds her of what happened. She says they admit they made mistakes, but this time around they're just going to have to do it differently. He argues that even if they start out with the best intentions, as they did, given time there will be new rules, somebody else's rules. He fights a wave of dizziness as he says that people will come in with their own ideas and break those rules. He asks what they will do then for the good of the community. She says she doesn't know, but she knows they won't throw people in prison. Resisting another attack of lightheadness, he tells her they'll end up with a security risk and that will threaten the group; they'll have to find somebody to deal with that and they'll end up with a new Paul. She says they have a new leader. Tom says that whoever he is, no matter how good his ideas, ideas don't rule the world-- people do. She smiles radiantly and says they elected her. She says she's made her first executive decision. He asks "What's that?" and her face swims in front of him as she answers "Getting rid of you." Dee watches with concern as Tom tries to stand up but falls to the floor. She says she hopes she didn't put too much in; she put in four drops, instead of the two they told her. Tom asks "Why?" She strokes his hair as he fights the effects of the drug and says "You're just not a team player, Tom. You don't seem comfortable participating. No matter how well we run New Phoenix, you'll always be in there shaking up the pot, unhappy with whatever decisions are made." She says she can't let him spoil a good thing. She croons "Poor baby, always so alone."

The sound of a police siren rouses Tom. He sits up in bed and detaches a note taped to his bag, reading "I'm sorry. Love, Dee." He leans out the window, watching the city traffic on the dark street below. A cart passes, merrily playing Turkey in the Straw over its loudspeaker. The wind ruffles his hair as he stands alone, watching the street.

Synopsis © 1995 Marge Brashier (brashier@tcccom.net)
Do not post this synopsis on other web sites, mail lists, etc., without permission.
Used by permission.
December 31, 1995