Tom can't get a straight answer when he asks how the man knows his name. The man tells him "The things I have in this head of mine, they keep your nightmares busy for years to come." He invites Tom to thank him, but when a suspicious Tom just stares at him, he shrugs and says he's no Emily Post either. As he turns away Tom sullenly says "Thank you." When Tom asks again how he knows his name, the man says that you get used to not hearing your own name, except inside your head. Tom finds it difficult to deal with this irreverent, sometimes crude individual who parries his questions and calls him Rob Roy or Tommy Boy. When Tom tries to get him to leave before the police come, he tells him to shut up and let him take a crack at the shooting arcade. A stunned Tom has been nearly killed and can't leave without answers from this man who obviously knows something about him, so is forced to wait through this bizarre shooting game with squawking birds, screaming skeletons popping up from barrels, and a barroom piano. The man selects a cloth skunk, saying it's the first time he's ever won anything. Tom tells him that they should get out of there before all hell breaks loose, but he says "Correction. All hell broke loose when you stepped out of the toilet in that restaurant and couldn't find your old lady."
Tom and the man run outside the fence as we hear the police sirens. When Tom asks again who he is, he introduces himself as Gus Shepard, saying here he had been lecturing Tom about manners. To Tom's question of what he wants, he says a bathroom would go big right now. He offers Tom the keys to his caddy, saying it's only fair that Tom drives since he saved his ass. Tom says sarcastically "Thanks for your help, Gus" and walks away. Gus drives up alongside and when he can't get an answer to his flippant "Need a lift, sailor" tells Tom to lighten up, that he has more serious problems then Gus. "You're out here trying to get your life back and you're getting nowhere pretty damn fast." Tom says he doesn't know what his game is, whether he's on Tom's side or theirs, but he's not going to chase after him like a dog, asking questions and not getting any answers. A sardonic Gus tells him that he's hurt but Tom wins. Tom stands waiting for Gus to explain, but Gus pulls a gun and tells him he's driving.
When Tom turns off the car radio, a dozing Gus snaps upright from where he has been reclining in the back seat. Tom asks him what he wants from him, why he saved his life and then put a gun in his face. Gus tells him that while his actions may appear contradictory, he has Tom's best interests at heart. He tells Tom not to be cynical, that he needs to have heart. He needs to have something to believe in-- "Isn't that what keeps you going?"
They go to the building Gus has lived in for the last two years. Gus carries out a box which he says holds 25 years of his life. He tells a derelict on the steps that he's tripping out: "It's the last hurrah. I'm going on the road." He gives the bum the box but keeps the toy skunk. Gus pulls the gun again to try to force Tom to go with him, but Tom says he'll have to kill him. Gus tosses the gun aside, saying "That's not a job for the likes of me. Besides they will certainly get to you long before I do." He tells Tom that since he refuses his offer of company, he won't get any answers. He makes sport of Tom's dilemma, wanting to walk away and yet having to come along. Tom says he's been doing fine on his own and begins to walk away, but turns back at the mention of Alyson's name. Gus is saying that sure, Tom knows all he needs to know about Alyson, his mother's stroke and his friend, Larry Levy. Tom asks again "Who are you?" to get the response: "I'm you, Rob Roy. I'm you 25 years down the line."
In the car, he tells Tom that they have a network, a whole organization. All Gus has after 25 years is a stinking hotel room and his life in a cardboard box. He says that even if you win, you lose. At the end of the road for him is a bottle of tequila and a .38 caliber police special to the head. While they stop to fill the gas tank, Gus tells Tom he can get it all back. All he has to do is tell them what they want to know. Tom can't believe they would just let him get up and walk away, but Gus insists they would. But he warns that "Once you give them what they want, you're theirs, game, set, match. You go home an empty man, but you do go home." Over breakfast he tells Tom again that he can't win. They are too good and have numbers on their side. He says he just thought he would pass on a little wisdom to someone who looks a lot like he did when this thing started.
Back in the car, he hands Tom a sheaf of papers and tells him that his mother was checked into the emergency room at St. John's Hospital in Council Bluffs on May 14. Tom says that was before he even met Dr. Bellamy. He thinks it means her stroke had nothing to do with what is happening to him. He had assumed it had because it seemed so important to Bellamy to find out about his family. Gus says it's a guessing game, that it may or may not mean that. He also says that they're not perfect. They do make mistakes, but so does Tom.
They stand outside a chain link fence with a sign saying Agricultural Substation #43-Eldridge while Gus unlocks the padlock holding the gate closed. Inside a plain one-story structure, Gus is bitterly amused by Tom's comment that it looks like a civil service office. He instructs Tom to pick up the phone and dial 768. After a few rings, a door slides open, revealing the bright light of an elevator. Gus tells Tom that they're about 25 stories down as they walk down a service corridor filled with steam pipes. A palm scanner recognizes Gus as Dr. Richards and permits them to enter a room filled with computer terminals. Dr. Richards is Gus' Dr. Bellamy, both second-tier operatives according to Gus.
Gus says he learned a lot from this place in his day, but that was six years ago. Tom was a more recent acquisition, but it was easy to track him down because Gus has tapped into their computers. Tom is amazed by the computers and the records that might be available to them, but Gus reins him back. He tells Tom it took him twelve years to find this place, another four to rig the scanner to identify him as Dr. Richards. The day he got there, they were gone with everything closed up. Tom can't understand why they would leave the room intact when they know Gus could bring people here to prove what he knows. Gus laughs at the idea of trying to get anyone to believe his story. At any rate, they could pass the center off as military or national security. He tells Tom "Every time you think you've got something, it's gone." Tom says that he took photographs because he thought they were a record of the fact and that his camera was a recorder of truth. Gus says that they have places like this so they can manufacture the truth.
Gus was a designer in electronics. They are after him because he found an inexpensive alternative to petroleum. He presses the insert button on the keyboard he's seated at and red lights flash along the tops of the partitions separating the rows of terminals. A woman's voice announces that a self- destruct mechanism has been armed with two minutes before destruction. An unruffled Gus first sits there and contemplates the existence and type of mechanism, then casually strolls toward the elevator. An exasperated Tom has to yell at him repeatedly to hurry as Gus seems to have all the time in the world. As they drive away, the building explodes into a well of orange flames.
The next day, Gus stops the car to talk to a hooker. Tom is uncomfortable, saying "You can't be thinking of ... " Gus asks him if he still feels married, but tells him not to worry, that it goes away after a while. He mocks Tom's dejected reaction, telling him that this is his life now. Does Tom really think he's going to have a meaningful relationship in his condition? "The first person who offers you tenderness, you're probably going to run like hell thinking she's up to something." Over Tom's protests, Gus arranges "something special" with Tina and her friend Mary. While waiting for the two women in a restaurant, he tells Tom he is tying up the loose ends and saying his goodbyes. Tina has provided him a few hours of comfort and solace, breaking up his regular routine of anxiety and misery. When Tom says that she was paid for it, Gus says so what, that was the only way he could get it. What makes Tom think he'll have it any better? Tina gave him the only love and affection he got. Once the women arrive, Gus asks Tina to dance. Gus admits he's a tired old cliche, falling in love with a hooker. He says she would think he'd be past that and she agrees way past. There is pain and longing on Gus' face as he breathes in her fragrance and holds her tight.
Tom and Gus sit on a park bench with Gus feeding the pigeons. Gus alludes to how his life is going to end and Tom tells him there has to be another way, but Gus reminds Tom he's only been out there a few months. Gus starts to play catch with a young boy. He coaxes him to come closer and asks him if he wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up and encourages him to work hard and go for it. Tom realizes that the boy is Gus' grandson and the reason he keeps returning to Milwaukee. With cries of "Jeremy!" the boys' parents hurry over, the father saying that they had told Gus to stay away from them. The mother threatens to call the police again. Gus beseeches her to listen, that there is something he needs to tell her. He calls her Susan and she asks how he knows her name. He answers only that a lot of people have been asking him that lately. As they hurry away, Jeremy waves back at Gus. Tom thinks he should have told her, but Gus says she doesn't have a clue who he is, that she was only two when "it" happened. Gus is at the end of his travels and sees no reason to drag any perfect strangers into it.
Tom and Gus are in a room at the Log Motel sharing a bottle of tequila. His voice slightly slurred, Tom recounts how Alyson just stared at him without a hint of recognition in her eyes. That has probably hurt Tom more than anything else that has happened to him. Gus says that the bear of it is that in five years it won't even matter any more. Tom won't forget it; it will probably haunt him every time he closes his eyes, but after a while it won't matter any more. Gus hands Tom a photograph showing Tom with his camera, surrounded by jungle foliage. Gus takes a picture from the wall and uses its paper backing to sketch the outlines of the scene from Hidden Agenda. Tom realizes someone else must have been there that day. Gus points out that Tom's picture had no faces, all the subjects were looking the other way. This photograph of Tom is the only one with a face. Gus doesn't know anything else, just that Tom is only a part of it, and this photograph is why Tom is at the top of their hit parade.
He spins the cylinder of his pistol, calling the sound sweet music. Tom asks him why he's giving up hope now. How can Gus be sure that the next time he stumbles unto something it won't be the thing that unravels it all? Gus laughs at the word hope. He tells Tom that he'll start hoping that they'll make another move at him, that the next game will be a good one. He'll look forward to their making the next move because it keeps him sharp thinking that he can slip through it one more time. He asks Tom if he has heard of the Freedom of Information act? Six months ago, Gus saw his blueprints published in a magazine. He says "They were all I had. They're what you end up living for and now even they don't give a spit." He pulls a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and tosses it to Tom. Gus says it's Dr. Michael Richards. He says he should send him a valentine to remind him he exists. Gus has been demoted to the bottom of the list, pushed out by the likes of Tom. He says he should mail himself in to make them pay attention to him. He has nothing left. Tom calls Richards from a telephone booth, telling him where Gus is and that he knows much more than they think he does.
Tom wakes to find Gus cleaned up and freshly shaven, prepared to meet "the man." Tom tries to dissuade him, but Gus tells him not to ruin his last scene. He asks Tom to promise to quit, to give up the game. That way he can feel that his last good deed did some good. That's a promise Tom can't make. Gus raises the gun to shoot himself and Tom dives to take it away from him. They hear the sound of a car screeching to a halt. Outside are the familiar dark cars with a contingent of men in suits. One of them calls out "Gus Shepard, we know you're in there." He says that the hotel has been vacated and if Gus doesn't come out, they'll come in after him. Tom and Gus slip out the back and head towards a nearby cornfield. As the men in suits run off in pursuit, the man who did the talking drops out of the chase and pierces the end of his cigar with a pencil before putting it in his mouth with a self-satisfied smile.
In the cornfield, Tom stumbles and appears to be in pain. Gus tries to get him up but Tom says he can't, and that it's Gus they're after, not him. Gus suddenly realizes that is true, saying "Well, hell if they aren't." Once Gus runs off, Tom rises and moves off in the other direction. Gus runs between the rows of corn, a grim smile on his face. Tom pauses to open his bag, finding the skunk Gus had won. As Tom reaches the edge of the field headed for the forest beyond, a single gunshot booms out.
Synopsis © 1995 Marge Brashier
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Used by permission.
December 14, 1995