Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gone: A Screen Play

Scene I


EXT.  Black Ford Taurus driving down two lane road in Florida.  It pulls into a gas station and convenience store and moves quickly to a parking place near the building.  In the car are a man, Jim Kemper and his wife Lynn.  In the back seat is his 13 year old son, Nixon.

Jim:  I just need a quick pit stop.  Anybody else going in?

Nixon:  I guess.

Lynn:  Sure, I need to stretch my legs.

Jim:  OK, lets just make it quick….and not buy a lot of junk.  I want to make it to the beach by noon.

All get out of the car.  Jim double checks the locks and starts to enter the store.  A man in ragged clothes comes up with a copied photo and hands it to Jim.

Jim:  No thanks.  I’m not interested.

Man:  It’s my son.  He’s missing.  Please tell me if you’ve seen him.

Jim quickly looks at the paper and hands it back to the man.

Jim:  Haven’t seen him.

Man:  Please take it with you.  Please it has my phone numbers…in case you see him.

Lynn (taking the paper):  We’ll look for him.

Jim puts his arm around his wife and son and escorts them into the store.   The man sees another car pulling in and heads in that direction.

Jim (to Lynn):  Throw that away.  We don’t need to subsidize bad parenting.  It’s a dangerous world and parents must take proper precautions.

Lynn takes a few steps towards a trash can.  There is a bulletin board above it with several papers of missing children.

Lynn:  I know.  I just feel sorry for him.  Look, there’s more.

Jim:  That’s a lot.  (Flipping through overlapping papers).  Some of these were within a day or two of each other.

Lynn:  This one’s four years old.  The little girl is so cute.  I hope they found her.

Jim:  There’s a pattern here, but I just can’t pick it out.  I’m sure the police have already analyzed any patterns.  I don’t even know why I’m looking at this stuff.  There’s nothing I can do about it.

Nixon (walking up with a half gallon carton of milk):  Here’s what I want.

Jim:  Nix, that’s a little much for a ride to the beach.  What you don’t drink will go bad.

Nixon turns the carton around to show a picture on the back.

Nixon:  See, he’s gone too.

Lynn:  Yes, dear.  Maybe somebody will find him and call his mother.  Go pick out something just a bit smaller please.

The three meet at the front checkout counter with a few more items that Jim had planned on.

Jim:  OK, OK, just put it up there and we’ll get it.

The woman at the counter is chewing gum and smoking a cigarette.

Woman:  That be all?

Jim (fanning the smoke away from his face):  Yes.  That’s all.

Woman:  You got gas with that?

Jim:  No, just this.

Woman:  $12.92.  You interested in those missin’ kids.

Jim:  No.  Just surprised how many there were.  Gives you sort of a strange feeling.

Woman:  The boss thinks it runs off customers.  He’s talkin’ about takin’ it down.  Wanted me to ask folks if it bothered them.

Jim:  You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Woman (marking on the pack of a small paper bag):  I’ll put that down as a bothered.

Jim:  How about just leaving us off the survey. (Picking up bag of purchases).  Have a nice day.

The family all exits the store.

Lynn (To Jim):  That place seemed weird.

Jim:  They probably can’t find too many people to work there that you would call normal.  This isn’t exactly the part of Florida they advertise on TV.

Lynn:  Well, thanks for taking Monday off so we could have a long weekend.

Jim:  I used to get this as a freebee.  But now only federal employees get MLK,  Presidents, and Memorial Day.  The 4th of July and Labor Day are the only bennies left to anyone with a real job.

Jim drives the Taurus out of the parking lot, looks in the rearview mirror and sees the man he first met outside holding up his copied picture of his son.  The Taurus drives away.

Scene II

Highway 520, 15 minutes from Cocoa Beach.  Jim, Lynn, and Nixon in the car.  Passing a sign reading Ron Jon’s 10 Miles.

Nixon:  Can we stop at Ron Jon’s?

Jim:  Maybe.  But we’re not spending a fortune on shirts and shorts just because someone tacked the store name on it.

A semi passes by the car going the other way.

Nixon:  Did you see that?  There was a kid in the cab.  Do you think he could be one who was missing?

Jim:  You know that’s all I’ve heard since we left that gas station.

Nixon:  Well, it could have been.

Jim:  Yes, it could have been, but it probably wasn’t.  Lot’s of families travel in trucks anymore.  They make sleepers big enough for beds, refrigerators.

Nixon:  But what if…

Jim:  Nix, we just can’t do anything.  OK.

Nixon:  OK

Lynn:  Look out here.  We’re about to go over the Intercoastal Waterway.


Scene III


Cocoa Beach.  Jim and Lynn in bathing suits stretched out on towels.  Nixon in waste deep water.  Lynn rolls over and gives Jim a long kiss.

Jim:  We’re going to have to hire a sitter and go to the room if you keep that up…not that I’m complaining.

Lynn:  I don’t think Nixon would go for a sitter…

Jim:  No.  Besides he’s been saying I know what you two are doing when we close the door at home.

Lynn:  He’s growing up too…

Jim sits up abruptly.

Jim:  Where is he?

Lynn:  He was right there (pointing to the water right in front of them).

Jim (standing and looking):  Where is he!

Nixon surfaces and flips his wet hair back out of his face.

Lynn:  There he is.  Right where he’s supposed to be.

Jim (sitting back down on his towel):  Man, am I jumpy.

Lynn:  That stop at the station?

Jim:  No.  We’re protective enough we won’t have to deal with that.  Those people just weren’t good parents.

Lynn:  The man at the station seemed to be sincere in his efforts to find his son.

Jim:  Maybe he should have invested a little more effort in his duties as a parent and his son wouldn’t be missing.  We need to head back to the motel soon if we’re going to get up early and get to the other side of Orlando by the time the parks open.  We’ll get enough standing in line once we’re inside.  I’d like to at least miss the line to get in.

Scene IV

Motel room near I-95.  Nixon is still wrapped up in covers sleeping in one bed.  Jim comes around the corner from the sink area and puts his shaving kit in the suitcase.
It is still dark outside.  One lamp is on in the room, which is still partially dark.  Lynn is on the phone.

Jim (picking up suitcase):  I’m taking this to the car.  Who are you talking to.

Lynn:  Mom.  I ‘m just telling here where we are going.

Jim:  You’re going to wake her.

Lynn (waving him off):  That’s OK   (to phone):  Did I wake you?

Jim (grabbing one of Nixon’s legs and shaking it):  Time to get up and load up.  Get moving.

Jim picks up a small duffle bag and carries it and the suitcase to the car.  He turns left and walks down a dimly lit inside passageway.  He puts the luggage in and gets in to start the car.  He squirts washer fluid on the windshield and uses the wipers to get some of the bugs off.  He tunes the radio to a talk show, turns off the car, and picks up some of the trash in the car.  He gets out, fumbles with the keys and trash but manages to get the car locked and starts back to the room.

Jim enters the motel room and Lynn is still on the phone.  Jim rotates his hand signally she needs to hurry up.  Jim reaches over to the covers in Nixon’s bed to shake them again.  He grabs nothing but covers.

Jim:  Nixon?

Jim takes a quick walk to the bathroom and finds it empty.  He comes back to the bed and pulls the covers all the way back.

Jim:  Nixon!

He looks on the side of the bed with the wall—nothing.

Jim (to Lynn):  Where’s Nixon.

Lynn (covering mouthpiece of telephone):  He went with you silly.

Jim:  NO,  He didn’t!

Lynn (back to phone):  I’ll call you back.

Jim:  I was at the car for almost 10 minutes he wasn’t there.  He was right here (pointing to bed) when I took the luggage out.

Lynn:  I heard you say let’s go, so I thought he was going with you.

Jim:  He was asleep!

Lynn:  Are you sure he was even there when you went out?

Jim:  Yes, I grabbed his leg.  You were in the room.  You didn’t hear him get up or open the door or anything.

Lynn:  I was on the phone.  Do you want me to go look for him!

Jim:  No.  I’m going.  You stay here with the door open in case he’s looking for us and can’t remember the room number.

Lynn:  Where will you be if I need to find you.

Jim:  You don’t find me.  I’ll come back here.  Just keep looking out the door for him.

Lynn:  I’ll call the front desk…

Jim:  No.  Stay here at the front door.  I’ll go to the desk after I check the car again.  Stay here!

Lynn:  Don’t yell at me.

Jim (a little calmer):  Just stay here.

Jim goes out the door and back to the left.  He runs quickly to the car and goes around it twice.  He backs up into the parking lot.  He now starts a very quick paced walk around the perimeter of the motel, checking each hallway and under stairs.  The sound of semi trucks running muffles Jim’s calls of Nixon!  Nix!  Nixon!  He makes it around to another hallway and looks down it to see Lynn’s head sticking out looking the other way.

Jim (shouting down the hall):  Anything?

Lynn (now more panicked):  No.  Did you try the front desk?  I’ll call the front desk.

Jim:  Please just stay at the door where he can see you if he comes by.

Jim exits the door he way yelling through and continues along the building’s perimeter finally getting to the front desk.  There are two people in line and one receptionist.  He pauses only momentarily and then goes up to the woman working the counter.

Jim:  (To the people in line):  Excuse me.  (To the woman at the desk):  Did you see a 13 year old boy about this tall (holds his hand up to his chest):  Brown hair, brown eyes, probably looking lost?

Woman:  No.  These are the only folks that have been in here since I came on at 6 this morning.

Jim:  Please call me if you see him (turns to head out the door, then turns back):  I’m sorry.  I’m in room 147.  Please let me know if you see him.

Woman:  OK.

Jim heads out the front of the motel and sees two semi’s pulling out onto the road.  In a dark portion of the parking lot he sees a child walking back from the direction of McDonalds.  Jim breaks into a sprint.  He gets a few paces in front of the boy and starts to slow down.

Boy:  Dad!  Dad!

A man steps out of a car and steps in front of Jim.

Jim (almost running into the man getting out of the car):  Nix…..(disappointed, now with the hand of the man in his chest):  Sorry, I can’t find my son and I thought.

Man (with a push against Jim’s chest):  Yeah right!  All you did was scare my son.

Jim:  Sorry.  You haven’t seen a boy about 13 with brown hair.

Man:  No.

Jim (to the young boy):  Have you!

Man:  You’ve scared him enough.  Learn to take care of your kids buddy.

Boy (Handing a Styrofoam cup to his father):  I’m OK, Dad.  No mister.  I didn’t see any kids.

Jim:  Thanks…sorry…I’ve got to go find him.

Jim heads back towards the motel looking between cars and then back at the road as a black truck leaves the hotel.  He runs towards the truck, but can’t see the tag.

Jim (outloud to himself):  Black Chevy truck with tool box.  Black Chevy with tool box.  Remember, Chevy with tool box.  What were the markings on those semi’s that left early.

Jim continues around the perimeter of the hotel almost to where he started.  He sees a sign that says pool, stops and follows the directions to the pool.  The pool is in an interior courtyard.  A man is at the pool cleaning it.  Jim opens the perimeter fence and enters.

Man at pool:  Pool’s closed ‘til 9 mister.

Jim:  My son’s missing.  Have you seen him?

Man at pool:  Nobody’s been through here this morning.  Looks like there was no shortage of after hours folks though (holding up beer bottles that he pulled out from under some pool furniture).

Jim:  I’m in 147 if you see him.  Brown hair, this tall, probably scared by now.

Man:  What’s his name?

Jim:  Nixon.

Man:  Nixon, room 147.  Got it.  I’ll take him to the front desk and call your room if I see him.

Jim:  Thanks.  I’ve been everywhere on the ground floor.  Are there corridors on the second story.

Man:  Nope.  Everything up there opens to the outside.  All the inside passageways are on the bottom floor.

Jim runs back to the outside of the motel and starts walking the perimeter through the middle of the parking lot.  A car’s headlights illuminate him.  Jim waves his arms back and forth trying to signal the car to stop.  The car slows and the driver rolls the window down just a little.

Jim (through crack in window):  My son’s missing.  Have you seen him?

Man in car:  Sorry.  I just drove halfway around the parking lot and didn’t see anybody.

Jim (panicked, tries to look into the back seat through the crack):  Nix!  Nixon!

Man:  He’s not in here either buddy so get you nose out of my car.

The window goes up and the car speeds off for about 20 yards then slows to a normal speed. 

Jim (talking outloud to himself):  Tan buick. Man, woman, maybe kids in the back.  Tan buick, Black pickup with tool rack…tool box.

Jim continues down the parking lot trying to see everything he can on the first and second floors.  He arrives back at his car.  Looks inside once more, and then runs back to the room.  Lynn is looking out the door and sees him as he turns the corner.

Lynn:  Did you find him.

Jim (running towards her):  No.

Lynn wraps her arms around Jim:  Where is he! Where could he be!

Jim:  We’ll find him.

The room phone rings.  Jim rushes in the room to get it.

Jim (in phone):  Hello! Did you find my son.

Woman’s voice through the phone:  No we haven’t seen him, but I just checked out some guests that said they were stopped by a man looking for his son.

Jim:  That was me.

Woman:  Sir you can’t go around stopping our guests.  You’re scaring them.

Jim:  I’m sorry, but you would be scared too…

Woman:  Sir, You can’t scare off our guests because you can’t keep up with your children.

Jim:  I think this is something of an emergency.  What if he’s in one of the rooms!  What if one of your guests has him! 

Woman:  Sir, you’ll have to stop intimidating our guests or I’ll have to call the police.

Jim:  Good.  Call them.  Call them NOW!  My son is missing.

Woman:  You’ll have to report that yourself, sir.  Silence followed by dial tone.

Jim (to Lynn):  Lynn, call 911.  I’m going to make another trip around this place.

Lynn:  Should we call already.  What if…

Jim:  Please don’t try to discuss this.  Just call.  Just call.

Jim heads out the door and Lynn moves to the phone.  Jim is starting around the motel again.  Zoom out to show an angled overhead view of the motel.  Zoom out more to show the motel in the context of the early morning city and interstate traffic moving near it.

Scene V

Motel room 1015 a.m.  Lynn is seated on the bed.  One police officer is using the phone in the room and the other is talking to Jim.

Officer Malloy:  We put out a notice to the city and county folks.  I think we can get it on the wire nation wide before the normal waiting period considerering…

Jim:  Waiting period?

Malloy:  Yeah.  A lot of these resolve themselves within the first 24 hours.

Jim:  What does resolve mean?

Malloy:  Normally, it means the kids come home on their own.

Jim:  But we’re nowhere near our home.

Malloy:  That’s why I say we should be able to get at least a statewide alert out today.

Jim:  You also said normally…

Malloy:  Try to stay optimistic without getting too anxious.

Jim:  Right.

Officer Johnston (putting the phone back in the cradle):  The state patrol said they would check the ramps on I-95 and the bigger truck stops.  If he’s hitchhiking, there’s a chance we’ll spot him there.  Do you have that photo.

Jim (handing over photo):  It’s a school picture, but it’s a year old.  He died his hair blonde that year.  I don’t have this year’s with me.

Johnston (taking photo from Jim):  We’ll scan it and get it out as soon as we can. 

Jim:  And what do I do in the mean time?

Johnston:  Let us know where you will be so we can contact you.

Jim:  I already told the desk that we would stay for another day.

Johnston:  They weren’t too happy about you rousting their guests, but if you’ve worked that out with the motel, that’s your business.

Jim (shaking his head back and forth):  I wasn’t rousting.  I was excited, but…

Johnston:  I understand.  Just try to stay calm.

Jim:  Stay calm.  Just sit here and stay calm.  I need to be part of the solution.  What can I do?

Johnston:  I found that prayer is good at times like these.

Jim:  I don’t need prayer.  I need people looking for my son!

The two officers walk to the door.

Malloy:  We’ll be in touch.  Just let us know if you change motels.

Lynn:  We will.  Thanks.

Jim shuts the door behind them.

Lynn:  Do you think it’s worth a try.

Jim:  What’s worth a try?

Lynn:  Praying.

Jim:  Pray to whom?  We don’t go to church but twice a year, and even then I’m uncomfortable with it.

Lynn:  We could try.

Jim:  The last thing I need in a crisis is weakness.  I’ll find him.  I’ll find a way to find him and I don’t need a God I’ve never seen and don’t support with my money to find my son.  Where’s my notebook computer.

Lynn:  You kept it locked in the trunk last night.  What are you going to do?

Jim:  I’ve got digital pictures of us on it.  I’ll email them to every truck stop, gas station, moving company, restaurant company, and TV station I can find on the web. (Jim now walks out the motel room door):  I’ll find him.

Scene VI

Several hours later in the hotel room.  Maps are spread out across the beds and Lynn is sitting at the desk with the notebook computer plugged into the phone line.

Jim:  Just keep looking for sites like these and paste this message and attach these photos and send them.  I got us two cell phones and gave the numbers to the police.  Keep yours on and charging.  The computer is tying up the line coming in.  I knew we should have booked something with DSL or wireless.

Lynn:  What if Nix calls the motel from somewhere.

Jim:  I’ll leave the cell numbers with them too.  I’ve got to get going.

Lynn:  Do you think you’ll find anything there?

Jim:  I don’t know.  I just know there was a pattern to what I saw on those sheets.  I have to try.  (Jim kisses his wife on the forehead and leaves):  Stay after it.  We’ll find him.

Scene VII


Black Ford Taurus driving down two lane road in Florida.  It pulls into a gas station and convenience store and moves quickly to a parking place near the building.  This is the same station visited earlier, but this time Jim is alone in the car.  He enters the store and goes straight to the bulletin board.  He finds that it has been cleaned off and moves quickly to the checkout counter where a man is waiting on another man buying cigarettes.

Jim:  Where’s the missing children sheets?

Man behind the counter:  I’ll be with you in just a minute.  (to his customer):  Sixteen dollars even on the gas and two packs of cigarettes, that’ll be…

Jim (interrupting):  Please just tell me where they are.

Man behind counter:  Just a minute, please.

The man finishes ringing up the customer and turns to Jim.

Man:  I took them down last night.  I thought they were running off customers.

Jim:  Do you still have them?

Man (pointing out the window):  Dumpster folks don’t come for another two hours…sometimes later.  You’re welcome to look, but don’t make a mess.

Jim rushes out the door and heads to the dumpster.


Scene VIII

Hotel Room, 2:55 a.m.  Jim is arranging papers on the bed.  Lynn is nodding off at the computer.

Jim:  I think I’ve got it figured out.

Lynn:  What….sorry.  I’m just.

Jim:  I know.  I’m exhausted too.  Just look at this for a minute.

Lynn rubs her eyes and moves towards the bed yawning.

Lynn:  What do you have, dear?

Jim:  I knew it was something, but I kept getting hung up on geography.  It’s not geography, its holidays.  Look, of the 18 papers I could find, 15 of the kids disappeared on holidays.

Lynn:  Is that unusual.

Jim:  On federal holidays.  It must be a federal employee who’s taking them.

Lynn:  Don’t say taking.  Please don’t say taking.

Jim:  OK.  But I have to follow this up.

The two embace as the camera FADES OUT.

Scene IX


Three weeks later.  FBI Headquarters, near Washington DC.  Jim is being signed in by Agent Bart Paxton. 

Paxton:  Come with me please Mr. Kemper.

Jim:  Just Jim, please.

Paxton: OK, Jim.  It’s just one floor up so we’ll take the stairs if you don’t mind.

Jim:  Fine.

Paxton (opening door to stairway):  You  are one persistent individual.

The two go through the door.

Enter a large room with maps, status boards, and some cubicles along the left side.  Paxton leads Jim into one of the cubicle offices.

Paxton:  Special Agent Melrose, this is Jim Kemper.

Melrose (extending hand):  Pete.

Jim (shaking hand):  Jim.

Melrose (holding up letters):  You’ve been busy the last couple of weeks--two congressmen and a judge. 

Jim:  I’d have rather been here two weeks ago and not had to fight to get an appointment.

Melrose:  We got you faxes and overnight packages with the info you sent us.

Jim:  Have you found anything that would lead you to my son…to any of these children?

Melrose:  Nothing we didn’t have before..

Jim:  But there’s a pattern here.  I know it’s a federal employee.  Maybe from Orlando or Cape Kennedy or..

Melrose:  There’s a pattern all right.  In fact there are lots of them.  Unfortunately, what you have are the results of other agents’ efforts to follow the same pattern.  The reason those notices were all disappearances that occurred on federal holidays is because six months ago we execute a massive operation in the Central Florida area based upon a suspicion that we might have a federal employee abducting children.  We came up empty.  Some of the places we posted these just left them up on their boards.  The few that you found that did not fit the pattern were put up by individuals, not our agents.

Jim:  I thought they all were from individuals.

Paxton:  In a lot of places they are.  You just found one that had mostly our postings.

Jim:  But you’re still following up?

Melrose:  As much as possible.  As of last week, we had over 212 viable patterns to these disappearances.  Interstate, geographical clusters, time of day, grading periods, recently divorced parents, child abuse, and of course those tied directly to drugs and crimes.  We’re working as hard as we can to find everyone of these missing children, but I’m afraid what you have given us puts us no closer to finding your son or anyone else.

Jim collapses into a chair.

Paxton:  I know you’re disheartened, but we tried to tell you this over the phone.

Jim:  I guess I just wouldn’t let myself believe it.

Melrose:  You’re going on a month.  A lot of these things resolve themselves by the 30 day mark.  Maybe Nixon will just call home.  You are home now aren’t you?

Jim:  Yes.  We stayed at the motel a week and then went back to Richmond. 

Melrose:  Let me try to make your trip worthwhile.  Keep in touch with us, but don’t go chasing every lead you think you have.  My guess is that you’re fairly well off in that you have a decent job and some equity in a home.  Don’t liquidate everything and go on your own quest.  The overhead in this type of operation is unbelievable.  (Handing Jim a business card):  Here’s my card.  It has an e-mail address and fax number that you can use any time of the day or night.  Somebody will read it and see what they can do with it.

Jim:  Thank you.  One more request please.

Melrose:  Depends on what it is.  We are very strict about who sees personal information. 

Jim:  The other patterns.  Can I see them?

Melrose:  We can do that.  Bart, show Mr. Kemper the boards.

Paxton and Jim step out into the larger room.  The walls are covered with maps with different colored lights, calendars with colored dots on specific days, charts showing numbers by day, month, year, and decade.  The information is overwhelming.

Jim:  Which ones are for missing children?

Paxton:  They all are.

Jim is awestruck with the magnitude and stands silently and motionless and just stares.  Zoom out and show the entire room that dwarfs Paxton and Jim.  Dozens of desks cover the center of the room, and the boards cover every inch of wall.  Phones ring continuously.


Scene X


A Blue Dodge Stratus pulls into a gas station on a two lane road in Central Florida.  A man and his wife and two children get out.  The man uses the automatic door lock on the key chain then physically checks with a pull on his door handle.

The family approaches the entrance to the store and a man in worn clothing with several days’ growth of beard approaches them and hands them a sheet of paper.

Man in worn clothing:  Please take one.  My son is missing.

Man from car:  No thanks.  Not interested.

Man in worn clothing (again offering the paper):  Please, just in case you see or hear anything.  My phone number is below the picture.  Please take it.

The woman from the car:  How long’s he been gone?

Man in worn clothes:  Just over two years now.

The woman from the car:  What’s his name?

Man in worn clothes (turning paper towards the couple):  Nixon.  But I just called him Nix.

ZOOM OUT to show Florida and the United States from space.


Those of us comfortable in our well-ordered lives can seldom comprehend the anxiety of losing a loved one without a trace.  Souls calloused by years of indifference to the plight of those left behind enter a world of agony where wealth and comfort are of no value.  Those with no faith in a divine being have only themselves to turn to, and having never known forgiveness can never forgive themselves.  They are forever doomed to search for the one they loved between the elusive extremes of reunion or death.

First copyrighted 2000

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