Persistence Can Be Fatal
By Regina Clarke
"I have it now, the words captured, the scenes so clear in my head. Doc Whelan doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm fine, right as
rain, with a script to prove it. I see the protagonist, or is it the villain? Only I know for sure. Keep them guessing, right? But the fade in is
cool. Listen to this. Margaret? Are you awake?"
His wife pretended to be asleep, snoring lightly, keeping her breath even. Rafe could drive her mad with his plots and possibilities, none of
them likely to bear fruit, except in his own, driven mind. If her old friend Dr. James Whelan had any sense, he'd feed Rafe some special
pills for his occasional angina and end her misery. But she could hardly ask. She couldn't even hint at the idea. Margaret let out a small
sigh and turned over, away from the light. If she got up and left the room, he'd just follow her.
"Well, I guess maybe you can hear me even if you don't know it," Rafe said, undeterred. "It begins in a subway. Late at night. Listen:
INT. SUBWAY — NIGHT
A MAN in a long coat races up several levels of darkened subway
steps, past wide brightly-lighted corridors leading to tunnels. No one
else is around.
At the last landing he stops and looks down. The SOUND OF A
PIANO, a melody distinct but far away. In the empty space it has
a hollow reverberation.
He is in shadow, very still, listening.
A loud, piercing SIREN breaks in. He turns and leaps up the last
flight of stairs and out through a gate into the street.
"Exciting, right? Some producer's going to love it, I tell you. It gets even better. What I felt — saw is a better word, in my
head — is how the guy is afraid, but not afraid, all at the same time. He doesn't want to be caught, but he's not sorry about what
he's done. Only no one will know that right away. What he's done, I mean. That's tension. Suspense. You gotta use words that create
suspense. No one knows what's going on. Except maybe the detective that shows up, only he's got troubles of his own. I know, if you
were awake you'd say 'don't we all, Rafe darling?' but in my plot it's a key ingredient. He's not unhappy, this detective, but he's alone.
It gnaws at him. Yeah, that's a good word, it gnaws at him. So I introduce him next, before the crime's been discovered. He's on his way
to work on the subway. Same one the killer used, only he doesn't find that out till later, either. All he knows is he wants some coffee and
a bagel. Here's that part:
EXT. STREET — DAY
An OLD WOMAN is selling bagels on a corner near a newsstand
during rush hour.
JENNER grabs one and digs in into the pocket of his trench coat
As she holds out her hand, a PASSERBY in a dark blue parka brushes
against him and he drops the bagel. Jenner swears. The old one hands
him a new one. He pays her for two.
"It's the guy in the parka he needs to look out for, only he doesn't know that yet, either, but he starts to wonder:
Jenner is riding on the train, balancing a styrofoam coffee cup and his
bagel as he undoes a gold clip and pulls some papers out of his black
He gets engrossed in what he's reading.
The train begins a slow screeching slide. As it curves around to enter
a station stop the LIGHTS FLICKER.
In the window above Jenner the faces of those standing in the car
appear on and off, too fast to discern clearly.
Jenner looks up and out the glass in time to see the station name. He
starts to gather his things together.
As he gets up, the same passerby in a dark blue parka falls against him
clumsily, pushing him back down. The coffee spills everywhere. Jenner
scrambles to save the briefcase and bagel.
Great. Just great.
He looks up at the person in half-hearted anger, but no one is there.
He gets to the door just as the train stops. He peers over his shoulder
all around the car. Being a tall man, 6'4", he can see over most of the
people there. The dark blue parka is gone.
"You're thinking no detective carries a leather briefcase, right? True, true. But Jenner's wife gave it to him. She's left him but he hangs on
to it. I like that about him. Makes him human, not hard-boiled, but he's not soft, either, no way. About the ex-wife, I'll explain that later
when he gets involved with someone. But that's later. So, he gets to the station:
Jenner is walking toward the police station. He throws the half-eaten
bagel and empty coffee cup into a trash can. The briefcase is tucked
under his arm.
He walks up the steps of the station. At the entrance TWO UNIFORMS
are smoking cigarettes.
Not here, boys, remember? Use the back
door. Got to look nice for our customers.
We don't call them customers, sir.
Margaret lay still, wondering if she could adequately explain to any detective who showed up on her doorstep why she had shot her
husband, but since she had no gun it didn't matter. Was there another way? Yes, she thought there was. Everything had a solution.
"So what happens next?" Rafe went on. "It's all about timing. Only I hold off a bit more, build expectations. I have to show how Jenner
handles regular stuff, first, so the audience knows he'll be able to find the killer, that he's got the savvy for that, and can handle himself
when the stakes are high, right? Gotta do that. So I add some action:
INT. POLICE STATION LOBBY — DAY
PETRA moves toward Jenner as he enters the lobby, waving a piece
of paper at him. Jenner sets his briefcase down on the counter in front
of the desk sergeant, who isn't pleased.
Meeting? 8 a.m.? Ring a bell, detective?
I got delayed. So what's the deal for
us, then? The captain made a decision?
We hit them tonight.
All of them?
Every last scurrilous piece
of refuse we can find.
Scurrilous? Nice one.
Petra leads him back into the main room.
INT. MAIN ROOM FOR DETECTIVES — DAY
You read my report?
On the way in. Most of it. It's
good. I just think you need to —
An EXPLOSION rocks the station. The main room they
are in rattles and shakes but stays intact.
Both race toward the lobby.
Margaret stirred under the covers. Rafe glanced over and then leaned over her so he could see her face. She looked asleep. Maybe he
should stop, save the rest for another night when she was really listening to him. But there was no time. He had one chance to impress
Kara Justice, head of one of the top agencies in Hollywood. She wanted the script in the morning and she would read it without mercy. It
was Rafe's chance to prove his worth as a screenwriter, that he was more than just some wimp who wrote commercials. He needed to read
the script out loud. The words mattered. If he couldn't feel like they resonated, out they had to go. It didn't help to talk into his digital
recording device. That was like talking to himself. At least Margaret was a live human being. He could pretend she was awake. That'd do.
"Now here's where it gets interesting," he said, dropping a page in his eagerness and catching it before it hit the floor. "A good script, it
needs a hook, sure, so I have that in the opening scene, but you gotta connect the dots right away. That's what I do. Listen. This grabs
the hook and runs with it, know what I mean?
INT. POLICE STATION LOBBY — DAY
The lobby has been damaged. Two policemen are on the
floor, one lying still and the other moaning and holding his
Jenner starts toward the men and stops. Lying near one of
them is a large strip of leather, a thin gold clip across the
top of it, half melted. It's a piece of his briefcase.
Petra is watching him.
Others are caring for the policeman who is hurt. The other
one is dead.
John, what is it?
He points to the remnants of his briefcase.
The bomb was in your
Well, you don't think I —
Not if I'm breathing. But Captain
Haverson'll have some questions.
That's just it. I don't know any —
He stops, remembering.
Rafe slaps the page with his hand. "Now he's getting it. He just doesn't know why. Was there a timer that set it off? Was he supposed to
be the victim and something went wrong? Was it a warning? He doesn't know. Suspense, tension, mystery — it's all there!"
Rafe went quiet a moment. Then he smiled. "I'm on my way with this one, Margaret. I feel it. So, what happens next, you want to know?
That's the deal. Make sure the audience wants to know more. Remember Dan Raven from high school? Crashed and burned when his
script got rejected. But he gave me one piece of advice, and it was on the money. He said make each word count so no one can change
it, not the director, not the actor, not the script doctor, not the production manager or the matte artist or whoever else is wandering around.
Make the words matter. That's what I'm doing here, know what I mean?
"Now, the next part is procedural so I'll just sum it up. Jenner gives a report to his captain, who isn't happy since repairing the lobby will be
expensive and besides, now he has to set up a city-wide hunt for a cop-killer. Jenner goes home to clean up and wait for a call from the
M.E. who's doing an autopsy on the dead cop. He gets the call and leaves his building and doesn't see the person in a hooded blue parka
standing just beyond the streetlight. See, Jenner isn't paying attention because he hates morgues. Like most detectives do, in books and
on TV, right? He's thinking about that and regretting he has to go and deal with the M.E., who's got a weird personality, like they all do. I
mean, they work with dead people all the time. The next scene shows that and also sets up some anxiety for my detective. He's got his
vulnerable side. More audience sympathy, right? So here it is:
INT. POLICE MORGUE — NIGHT
Jenner is sitting on a bench, leaning forward, hands on
his knees. He looks sallow under the fluorescent light.
His muscles are tense. He looks up when Parker, the M.E.,
approaches in a bloody apron, accompanied by a HAZMAT
Well yourself. Always a
pleasure to see you, Jenner.
Jenner attempts a smile. He wants information, but he's clearly
familiar with Parker's routine.
Sam said you had found something.
I'd say so. You were right on
the mark. If I may ask, how did
Jenner suddenly feels agitated. The hazmat officer notices this.
What difference does it make?
Good heavens, my dear boy,
none, of course. Naturally, I
am curious. Well, we all are
(turning to the other man)
Whatever you have — spit it out!
"See how the M.E. manipulates Jenner?" Rafe tapped his head. "And keeps at it:
Parker fiddles with the strings dangling from his apron,
a small smile on his face. Then he looks away from Jenner
as he answers.
"See how I mirror Parker's behavior when he handles the strings — same way he handles Jenner? Really good, right? Okay, now he
tells Jenner what he's found out:
No prints, of course. Quite impossible,
there. But yes, there was a crude attempt
at a bomb. So many reasons could be
attributed to that. Not really my concern.
Ah, yes, the details. I found traces of
sulfur, potassium chlorate and red
phosphorous, calcium carbonate on
the body, all excellent ingredients for
Such a clever man, our Jenner.
An older formula, actually. More
dangerous when ignited.
It was the coffee. The entry of
moisture into the mix, getting
everything wet, that was the
Exactly. You know, if you had kept
the briefcase with you, I wouldn't be
talking to you now — amazing there
was any delay at all — you had
seconds to spare. Am I right?
Parker turns again toward the hazmat officer, who nods in
agreement, still watching Jenner.
(half to himself)
Your desk sergeant dead in my laboratory,
another in a critical care unit, and a damaged
entrance lobby — I'd say that is
certainly a question worth answering.
Rafe sent another glance at Margaret, who hadn't moved since the last time he looked at her. A shudder of anxiety ran through him.
He wanted to shake her shoulder to check on her but if she was asleep and he woke her up she'd be furious with him. Margaret valued
sleep the way some women valued diamonds. She told him it kept her young. He couldn't see it for himself, but that wasn't something he
was about to mention any time soon. Feeling foolish, he leaned over her again. He saw her eyelids fluttering. She was dreaming. He sighed
with relief and went back to his script. It was perfect, he thought. He didn't have to revise a word, so far. He'd chosen the right ones every
"So what has to happen next is to show how brave Jenner is, a kind of maverick guy, too. Those things appeal to everyone, right? The
loner who can save the day. Only this time something brings him up short. He toughs it out but still has to deal with the fallout. His partner
Petra and he have another setup to run, a long-term stakeout that's about to bring them a real catch. It should go like clockwork —
only it doesn't. Conflict. Right? More tension. At the stakeout the audience sees Jenner make a mistake and it costs him. Listen:
INT. CAR — NIGHT
Jenner and Petra watching a motel across the street. A neon sign
reads "Heberson's Sandy Nook."
Sandy Nook. Cool name for a place
with no sand. It's number twenty-eight.
Far as we know, there are eight in there.
Sorry. Okay. Everyone is in position?
Why else would we be here?
You're starting to annoy me.
How was Parker?
Same old sadistic self.
A small beam of light flashes from trees near the sign.
Our boys are ready. Let's go.
EXT. PARKING LOT OF MOTEL — NIGHT
Everything is quiet.