UPN - Nowhere Man

Through a Lens Darkly

Thomas Veil enters a busy train station. As he passes through its cavernous lobby, he reflects that there are six billion people on the planet today. Some say that makes individual lives more inconsequential, more desperate than ever before, not because of the numbers themselves but because of the anonymity. As he opens a door with a glazed window emblazoned "Keep out. Railroad Personnel Only," he recalls that they say it's what makes us cling to those few precious memories that make us who we are. He forces open a vending machine with "Out of Order" taped to its door and feels inside for a strip of negatives. As he holds it in his hand, he reflects that this is why a single photograph can have such importance and power, why the act of just holding it can validate an entire existence. That's why he needed to know it was still there.

Tom sits on a bench in the station, watching a bank of small lockers. He explains that Locker B63 is supposed to be some kind of blind drop for those people who oppose him, used only in cases of the utmost emergency. He knows that it's another long shot, but his life has been reduced to a series of long shots. A young man in a long, dark overcoat opens B63 and slips a gray envelope inside his coat. Tom follows him from the building, unaware of a man who appears outside the station door and follows him through the parking lot. A third man gets out of a car Tom walks past. He hurries to catch up with Tom and grabs him roughly, thrusting a pistol against his chest and ordering him to get in the car backing towards them. The two men force Tom into the car. Tom asks if they want to tell him what this is all about. The man who had followed Tom from the building sits in the front passenger seat. He says that there's nothing to tell really--they're just a couple of delivery boys. Tom asks if they'll tell him where they're going. The man responds "Just a little trip, friend. A little trip down Memory Lane." Tom suddenly thrusts his elbow into the face of his abductor in the back seat. The first man lunges over the seat and grabs Tom by the shirt, ordering him to settle down. The man beside Tom pops the cap off a syringe and turns towards him. The car stops in front of a large white country house. The man who had sat in front opens Tom's door and helps him from the car, steadying him on his feet. He tells him that it's up to him now--they can't force him inside. It has to be his choice. Tom laughs bitterly and asks, "My choice?" The man says that the alternative is not a pretty choice. He tells Tom to go on and make himself at home. Tom walks slowly up the steps and enters a room empty except for a grandfather clock, whose mellow chime punctuates the steady rhythm of the swinging pendulum. The outside door swings shut and locks itself. Bars crash down over the windows, the bolts of the window latches sliding into their sockets.

Tom walks through the house, calling to see if anyone's there. He contends that they must have a reason for locking him in here. He hears the sound of children's laughter and follows it, walking past an oval mirror on a stand to look into an empty room. When he looks back, he sees a little girl in a white sweater and knee socks framed in the mirror, sitting on a white canopy bed in her bedroom. The girl says, "I didn't think you were ever going to find me." Tom turns and whispers, "Laura?" She complains, "Tom, you're not playing the game the way it's supposed to be played." A sandy-haired boy enters the room and complains that she's not playing fair; she said you couldn't hide in your room. She maintains that she's not hiding--she's sitting in plain sight. He walks around the bed and sits with his back to her. Laura suggests they play a game he wants to play. She coaxes him by offering to play any game he wants and by his rules. After getting her promise, he opens the window. She tells him to wait a minute and asks if he's going to tell her the name of the game. He says that it's called adventure: she climbs out the window with him and they go to his secret fort. She can't tell anybody where it is and she has to do exactly what he says. When she hesitates, he scornfully accuses her of being too chicken to play. Laura explains that she just wants to know the rules of the game. Tom says that there are no rules--that's the best part of the game. He reaches back through the curtains for her and she takes his hand.

The two children run down a mossy hillside past the trunks of giant pines. Tom leads her to a red barn with a cupola atop its steep roof. They climb a board ladder and Tom pushes up a trap door to enter the cupola with its latticed windows. Laura follows him up and sets her doll in a small chair. Tom tells her that she's the only person who's been in here and says she has to promise that she'll never tell anybody where this place is. She promises she won't, but Tom complains that she promises too easily; he doesn't know if he can trust her to leave. Laura suggests they take an oath. Tom asks, "A blood oath?" Laura replies uncertainly, "If that's what you think we should do." Her eyes widen as he pulls out a penknife. She grimaces as he pierces his finger and then one of her own. The two children press their fingertips together. Tom says, "Now we're bonded for life." He swings open one of the latticed windows and asks if she's ever seen the view from out here. He climbs out onto the roof, making his way on his hands and knees. Laura calls for him to come back. He exclaims that she should see the view; he can see the whole world. Laura responds, "A view's not worth getting killed for, Tom." He replies, "Yeah, it is." He gets to his feet and gingerly walks along the ridge of the roof, holding out his arms for balance as his shoe slips. Laura begs him to be careful, but Tom proudly says, "Look, no hands." He loses his balance and tumbles down the steep slope of the roof.

The adult Tom slams back against the corner of the room. He stands up and looks around him, but only a bare room is reflected in the mirror. He walks downstairs, then hears a steady, thumping noise behind him. A yellow-haired doll in a blue dress tumbles down the steps. Tom picks up the doll, the blackened head falling loose in his hands. The outside door creaks open, letting in a shaft of light. He leaves the doll and head on separate stairs and walks out onto the back porch. He jumps at the sound and sight of a line of seven soldiers readying their weapons to fire. There's a shout of "Bring in the stretcher!" One of the soldiers shouts "Ready! ... Fire!" Tom falls to the porch floor, wood splintering above his head as the squad opens fire. He scrambles inside the house and slams the door shut.

A rainy darkness has fallen outside. A door creaks slowly open and Tom steps through onto the landing. A blue light shines beneath another door and he can hear a train whistle behind it. Tom enters the room and looks through the window of a train station to see himself as a teenager sitting on a bench. The teenage Tom unfolds a letter and reads: "Dear Tom. I can't believe it's been almost a year since we've seen each other. I know a lot's changed for both of us, college and all, but I still think about you as much as ever. I've enclosed a copy of my train schedule. Please call me if there's a problem or even if there's not. Love always, Laura." He folds it and puts it in his shirt pocket. The watching Tom presses his hand to his chest where the pocket would be. A dark-haired young woman disembarks from the train at the platform and looks about uncertainly. She smiles radiantly when she sees Tom standing there waiting. The two teenagers hurry towards each other and embrace. Laura exclaims that she didn't think he was going to be here because he didn't call after her letter. He says that he thought she said to call only if there was a problem. Laura tells him how good it is to see him and they hug tightly.

The teenage Tom unlocks the door to an apartment and says that it's not much, but his roommates won't be back until Sunday. Laura tells him that she thinks it's wonderful. She takes a wrapped package from her suitcase, explaining that she didn't know if she would get to see him at Christmas or not. He tells her she shouldn't have; he doesn't have a present for her. She says that he's her present and encourages him to open it. Beneath the paper is a brown camera case. As Tom opens it to see the camera inside, Laura explains that it's used, but the guy at the camera store said it's in terrific shape. She asks if he likes it. Tom replies that he loves it; a Leica is the best camera in the world. She tells him that it's so he can follow his dreams, so he can stay on top of the world. Tom steps away and unhappily tells her that he can't take it. Laura responds that it's a present; she wants him to have it no matter what. Tom tells her she doesn't understand. She guesses that he has another girl and assures him that she's not going to hold him to some blood oath they took when they were 10 years old. Tom protests that he wants her to hold him to it. He says that even when she's not here and he starts thinking about her, he feels like his heart's going to explode. He feels like his heart's going to explode right now just standing here next to her. She tells him she feels the same way. They kiss and Laura reaches behind her neck to unfasten her top. Tom finishes unzipping the sweater and lifts it over her head. They retire to the bed and make love.

Laura leaves the bedroom after smilingly promising Tom that she'll be right back. As Tom turns his head to the side, the animation fades from his face. A well-groomed man sits in a chair with his legs crossed, a smoldering cigar in his hand. He says calmly, "It's getting painful, isn't it? Remembering all this?" The adult Tom struggles for breath, his head turned to look at him. The man continues, "Especially when you know the worst is yet to come." Tom, lying rigidly on the bed, asks the man what he's done to him. The man remarks that it must be a strange sensation to be fully conscious and yet not able to move his arms and legs. He says that some people experience that when they sleep, that they're going to die from some kind of self-inflicted asphyxia; it must be absolutely horrifying. He tells Tom that the effect only lasts for about twenty minutes, just enough time for them to have a little chat. The milky white globes of the chandelier above the bed clink against the metal frame. The man tells Tom it's only glass: reflections of things he's already seen. Tom softly protests "No" as he hears a siren. The chandelier's glow suddenly flares into a sheet of white light.

An armored personnel carrier stops and soldiers with rifles scramble out. Tom walks past, slinging his camera strap around his neck. The burning remains of vehicles tilt haphazardly in the rubble of a bombed street. A shout is heard: "Bring in the stretcher." Sobbing victims are helped out of the remains of the building. Tom photographs a man kneeling beside a weeping woman in the midst of the debris. A soldier in camouflage fatigues and flak vest gives the order: "Ready!" and a line of soldiers open fire. Tom lies on the bed, his eyes squeezed shut as the shots echo in his head. In a soft, compassionate voice, the man urges Tom to let him help him, to let him take the pain away. Tom asks who he is. The man replies that he's a friend, if he wants him to be. Tom responds that he doesn't have any friends. The man says that he can change that; he can change everything and still leave Tom with enough of his precious integrity intact so that he'll feel complete. Tom points out that he can't change what's already happened; he can't bring back the dead. The man says that he can help him forget what happened with Laura, what's happened with everything in his life since then, his relentless pursuit of the truth no matter what the cost. Tom roughly tells the man that he doesn't know anything about the cost. The man says that he knows it's been painful. He urges Tom to let him free him from that pain, from everything that's happened. Tom flexes the fingers of one hand. The man tells him that he'll be able to go and live a normal life. Tom asks what his definition of normal is. The man says that's very good; he can see why they like him so much. Tom tells him to spare him the crap--he works for them. The man agrees that he does work for them, but claims that once upon a time, he was in a situation very similar to his; so the sooner Tom realizes they have something in common, the sooner all of this can end. Tom asks what is this elusive thing that he and the man both want. The man says that it's what all men want: an escape from the dark side of the consciousness. He says that Sophocles probably said it best when he simply called it "memory without pain." He tells Tom that if he lets him give him that, then they'll both have it. Tom braces his hand against the bed, launching himself with great effort at the man. He ends up on top of a toppled, empty chair. A red light flashes onto his outstretched hand. He looks up to find its source, four glowing red circles in the ceiling. He shouts "No!" and hurls the chair into the window, shattering the glass.

Tom walks up a stairway and starts to enter a passage which opens off the landing. He pauses with his hand over the top of the doorframe when he hears the soft whirring sound of a sensor rotating to follow his movement. He steps back, looking for the source of the noise, and the sensor tilts down on its frame to angle towards him. Tom climbs the flight of stairs and feels along the molding beside the sensor for the electrical wire. He follows the wire around the stairwell, standing on the railing to reach across and pull it loose along the other side. The wire leads into a bathroom. Tom tears the strip of molding from the edge of the tiled floor to follow the wire to the base of the vanity. Inside the vanity is a wooden square. When he turns it over, a flash of light radiates from its mirrored surface.

Tom lies half-reclined against a chair. Laura's voice is heard, "Did you find it, Tom?" He tells her "Uh, no" and leans over to search beneath the couch. She asks if he found her contact and he says, "Sorry, I was just--" She completes the sentence: "Zoning out." She tells him that if he lost his contact, the entire world would come to a stop. Tom laughs and points out that he doesn't wear contacts. She tells him that's not the point; it probably fell through one of the mile-wide cracks in their beautiful, painted hardwood floors. Tom good-humoredly says he thought she liked hardwood floors. She complains that she likes hardwood floors when the boards aren't warped and the seams don't have gaping holes between them. Tom tells her that if she doesn't like the apartment, they can find another one. She says that it's not the apartment, it's the whole city; she had no idea Belfast would be like this. Tom asks what she thought it was going to be like. She replies wistfully, "London". Tom comments that London can be pretty dreary this time of year, too. She points out that half of London isn't bombed out; she just doesn't want to be around while he photographs the other half of Belfast being bombed out. Tom says it's been like this since the second World War--the way it looks has more to do with the Germans than the IRA. She replies that she's not talking about the architecture of the damned city; she's talking about their lives or the lives she thought they would have. She tells him that she's unhappy about his work. The assignments he gets are more and more dangerous and the picture he takes are so powerful she can't even look at them anymore. Deeply wounded, Tom tells her it's his job; finding truth in horror is what he's all about. That's what his photographs are all about. He turns away in annoyance as Laura passionately declares that he's still that little boy trying to stay on top of the world, hoping to find some greater truth that simply doesn't exist. She tells him to look at what their lives have been these last few years: all the award-winning photographs and still, nothing changes. There's always another war to cover, always another tragedy. Tom quietly tells her that she used to have a lot more faith in him than this. She says that he's right; she guesses that she just wants to have some faith in them for a change. At Tom's hurt look, she hurriedly tells him that she's going to take a walk. She's not going to stray into any dangerous neighborhoods; she just wants a chance to clear her head. She puts on her glasses and studies herself in the mirror, complaining that they make her look like an old schoolmarm. Tom wraps his arms around her and says she looks beautiful wearing anything. He kisses the side of her head and she briefly strokes his arm before freeing herself and leaving the apartment. Tom is left in front of the mirror, which flashes into light.

The scene at the bombing sight begins as before with Tom passing the personnel carrier with the arriving soldiers and the sobbing victims leaving the building. As Tom photographs the man kneeling beside the weeping woman in the debris, a policeman tries to block his view with his hand and angrily shouts at him that he can't stay here. The woman is helped away from the scene. A curved piece of glass against a charred vehicle reflects Tom's tormentor seated in a chair. He tries to get Tom to admit that she was getting ready to leave him. Standing in the bare room, Tom denies it. The man insists, "Yes, she was." Tom tells him that he's seen enough--he doesn't want to see anymore. The man explains that it's not about seeing; it's about understanding, about recognizing the destructive pattern of one's own behavior. Tom runs his hand over his face as he blinks away tears. The man comments that it must be excruciatingly painful remembering all those last little moments. Tom asks how he knows all this. The man replies that that's the trick: "How confusing the beams from memory's lamp. What's the secret of the trick? How did I get old so quick?" Tom says he's seen enough and tells him to make it stop. He angrily repeats, "I said, I've seen enough. Make it stop!" The man says calmly, "Give me the negatives." With another flash of light, Tom lies huddled on the bathroom floor. He lashes out with his foot to smash the mirror.

Tom returns to the sensor and frantically follows the wire in the other direction, down the stairway. It disappears through the edge of a small door beneath the stairs. Tom hurries down a passage to open another door, where he can see that the wire drops from beneath the stairs into the basement. The basement room is dark and empty except for an oval mirror on a wooden stand. Tom holds out his hand and turns away to shield himself from the sudden glare of amber light from the mirror's surface. The man steps out of the shadows and stands on the other side of the mirror, asking Tom what he's so afraid of. Tom angrily asks why he's doing this to him. The man replies that he's doing it because it's his job--there's no greater truth. Tom argues that there's always a greater truth. The man says, "Not this time." He claims that in some ways he's not much different than him; he's just a pawn whose job is to break down other pawns. Tom asks why him, why go to all this work. The man says that he's a test case--that's why they're pulling out all the tricks. They want to see how much an operative can take. Tom states that he's not one of their operatives. The man responds, "Aren't you?" After a pause, Tom says no. The man sneers that he seems awfully sure about himself. Tom puts out his hand to ward off another flash of light. The two men pace around the mirror which turns and angles to follow Tom. Tom says that he doesn't work for them, he does; why doesn't he tell him about Hidden Agenda? The man replies that it's not his department. They both stop and Tom asks what his department is. The man responds, "Memories, dreams, reflections." He says that he was very good at this sort of thing before he ever went to work for them, the leading authority in his field. Tom asks why this particular memory, how could he possibly know. The man says that's his special gift, knowing. Tom throws both hands up and turns his back as the mirror flashes again. As they pace again around the rotating mirror, the man explains that he uses refracted light to trigger off an advanced hypnotic state. With these tools, he's able to root out the most painful, the most deeply-guarded secrets. That's why at one time they wanted him almost as badly as they want Tom. He stops and asks Tom why he doesn't give them what they want; it's not so bad. Tom responds, "It's not who I am." The man says, "Oh, you want to remain who you are." He tells him to look in the mirror--that's who he is. His hand held up to block the light, Tom walks towards the mirror and firmly says, "No." The man tells him that he can't stop what's already happening from happening again. He says that if he wants to be who he is so badly, if he wants to see how it's already cost him the one great love of his life, go ahead and look. Tom shouts, "No! I am not going to lose her again!" The mirror rotates and catches him with a flash of light.

Tom and Laura stand on the sidewalk in front of a hotel. She tells him that she'll leave his papers and all the phone numbers in the lockbox. She asks if he's listening to her, because he appears to be preoccupied with his camera case. Tom asks if she's sure she has to leave tomorrow. She replies that she's sure and asks him not to make this more difficult than it already is. He says he's not making it difficult; he'd just like to be here when she leaves. She suggests they just stick to the plan they already have; she'll call him as soon as she gets back to the apartment in Chicago. Tom tells her that he doesn't want her to leave and Laura points out that they're leaving at approximately the same time. He reminds her that he'll be back in two days, but she responds that then he'll leave again and again, and all the while, she's supposed to wait in some hotel or leased apartment praying that nothing happens to him, praying for his safe return, so she can go through the same agonizing process again. Tom tells her it doesn't have to be that way; they can make some real changes. She asks when; when he gets back from taking photos of some IRA bomb factory? She says they've been through this; she doesn't want to fight now. Tom's taxi arrives. He asks her to come with him to the airport and see his flight off. She says she can't; she has her own ticket to pick up. She tells him to go so he doesn't miss his flight; they'll talk when she gets back to Chicago. Tom tells her he loves her. She says she loves him too; he knows that. They kiss and with a sigh Tom picks up his bag and gets in the cab. He presses his hand against the window. Laura smiles and waves goodby.

A light flashes from the rearview mirror of the taxi. Tom stands weeping in the basement room, touching the mirror with his fingertips. The man challenges Tom to try to stop it from happening again. Tom is wracked by sobs as the mirror flashes again. He sits in the back seat of the stopped taxi, watching drivers ahead in the stalled traffic get out of their cars. The driver speculates that it's probably a roadblock; they must have got a tip about another bomb. He tells him not to worry--they'll make his flight with time to spare. Tom suddenly tells him to take him back into the city. He doesn't care about his flight; he just wants him to take him back to his apartment. The surprised driver tells him he's the boss and starts to swing the car around. A loud, rumbling explosion shakes the cab and everything around it. Tom looks ahead at the shattered remains of burning vehicles in the rubble and instructs the driver to keep going. He tells him he's a photographer, but the driver exclaims that he doesn't care if he's the Virgin herself, he's not going down that street. Tom runs from the taxi, not heeding the driver's shouted question about the bag he left behind. Slinging his camera strap around his neck, he passes an armored personnel carrier unloading soldiers. A policeman tries to block his view with his hand as he photographs a man kneeling to help a weeping woman in the debris and shouts at him to get out of there. The woman is helped from the scene and Tom continues to photograph the destruction. He focuses on a sign lying flat on the ground beside a burning muffler. When he reads the words "European Airways" he looks up with dread at the blackened shell of a building. At his feet are eyeglasses much like Laura's, a chard of broken lens dangling from the frame. Two firemen carry a blanket-draped stretcher from the building. The camera falls from Tom's hands as he sees Laura's pale, still face. The Leica shatters on the pavement as Tom falls to his knees, screaming "No!". In the basement room, Tom sobs brokenly on his knees, his head against the floor near the base of the mirror.

Tom kneels on the floor, weeping and spent. The man says softly, "It didn't have to happen, did it?" Tom sobs, "No." The man asks if he could change that one moment, he would, wouldn't he?" Tom cries brokenly, "Yes!" The man tells him to change the future then; take responsibility for his actions. Tom sobs that he never should have left her. The man crouches to Tom's level and agrees that he shouldn't have, but he just had to have his picture; he had to have his great pursuit of the truth. He tells Tom that he's suffered enough now; he's learned his lesson. He urges him not to drag it out any longer. If Tom doesn't cooperate, he has to put him through this whole thing all over again; the rest of his life becomes an endless loop of this one event. By the fourth or fifth time through, the only way out become insanity. Tom sobs that he doesn't want to see any more. The man tells him to give him the negatives then. He calls it another worthless picture that in the end doesn't change anything, doesn't have one iota of the importance Laura had for him. Tom says that he doesn't have them here. The man asks if they're nearby. When Tom answers yes, the man nods briefly and thanks him. He lays his hand briefly on Tom's head.

With his hand lightly on Tom's shoulder, the man guides Tom to his car. He opens the door for him. As Tom starts to get in, he stiffens when he sees a camera on the seat. The man tells him to go ahead and pick it up; it won't bite him. As they drive down the road, Tom leans back in his seat holding the camera. The man remarks that it's amazing how one little hunk of metal can come between him and his entire life. Tom asks why he wants him to have this. The man says that he wants him to understand it for what it is; it doesn't have any magical powers. It's not any recorder of any great truths and Tom of all people should know that. Tom says dully that he was just a shutterbug. The man agrees he was; that's exactly what he wants him to understand. Tom grasps the camera with both hands and bashes it against the dashboard, breaking the lens from the camera. He holds the camera before him and looks in the aperture on the front. The man tells him not to do that, then more frantically "No!"

With a flash of light, he sees himself in their Belfast apartment, watching Laura come back in the door. He asks if she's OK and offers to fix her a cup of tea or something. She tells him she's fine, she just wants him to know something. No matter what she said before, no matter what happens, she wants him to know that his pursuit of the truth, his sometimes relentless pursuit of the truth, even though she hates it sometimes, she thinks it's the noblest quality he has. It's the reason she loves him so much. Tom drops the camera with a thud. The man anxiously asks what happened, where was he? Between flashes of light: Tom sees a kaleidoscope of images: the two children pressing their fingers together in the cupola, Laura running to the window to watch Tom on the barn roof; Tom and Laura embracing at the train station, Laura smiling as she leaves the bedroom after their first night together; Tom embracing Laura in front of the mirror before she goes for a walk, their kiss goodby on the Belfast sidewalk, Laura smiling lovingly at him in their apartment. The man realizes Tom saw something and urgently asks what it was. Tom sees a noose dangling from a tree. The light flashes and he sees a thicker noose put around a hooded head, then himself standing beneath the gallows in the clearing outside Washington DC. Tom answers shortly, "I saw the truth." The man shouts "No!" and pulls a tranquilizer gun from his pocket. In their fight for the weapon, the car veers off the road and breaks through a barrier to plunge into a water-filled ditch.

The man lies slumped over the steering wheel, his eyes open, blood trickling from his temple. Tom wades through the waist-deep water and climbs the embankment. He begins to walk along the highway, his gait unsteady as he starts up a slope. He stops and gazes at the sky as he hears Laura's voice, "I want you to know that your pursuit of the truth...I think it's the noblest quality you have. It's the reason I love you so much." He continues along the highway, his gait still slightly weaving, but pride in his face and determination in his step.

Synopsis © 1996 Marge Brashier (brashier@tcccom.net)
Do not post this synopsis on other web sites, mail lists, etc., without permission.
Used by permission.
April 15, 1996