Screenplay: Without a Trace… Part 3

EXT. DIVE SITE AT PALANCAR REEF – DAY

The divers each take a giant stride off the swim platform, holding their masks and snorkels as they splash into the crystal clear water.

UNDERWATER MONTAGE – THE CHAMBERS FAMILY UNDERWATER

  • Steve swims parallel within arm’s length of Leslie and Sarah.  He gives Sarah the “ok” sign.  Sarah responds with the same, kicking her flippers to maintain neutral buoyancy.
  • The group of divers drift through the labyrinth maze of coral arches and winding ravines with Victor in front and Damon brining up the rear. Schools of brown chromis and multi-colored parrot fish sweep through the pinnacle reef.

EXT. BACK AT THE SURFACE – LATER

The dive group surfaces with Sarah coughing and flailing her arms.  Her DANGLING regulator free-flows IN THE WATER, hissing and spitting.  Her snorkel is bent backwards off her face mask strap.

Steve swims to her and places her regulator in her mouth.  They kick on their backs to —

THE DIVERS’ PARADISE

The Captain helps them climb the narrow swim ladder.

                      STEVE

                (to Sarah)

          What happened?

                      SARAH

          Nothing.

                      STEVE

          Never remove your regulator when

you surface.  You never know when

a wave might splash your face.

                      SARAH

          I know I know…

Leslie boards the boat and hands her flippers to the Captain.  Her mask and snorkel dangle around her neck.

                      LESLIE

          What happened?

                      SARAH

          Nothing.

                      STEVE

She got some water in her mouth.

Victor hoists Steve’s scuba tank from its holder and replaces it with a fresh one.  Damon boards the boat with the remaining divers.  Sarah rubs her eyes.

                      VICTOR

                (to Steve)

          Your tank is half full.

Steve shrugs.

                      LESLIE

          My husband’s a Navy Rescue Diver.

Victor pats Sarah on the shoulder and hands her a bottle of Evian.

                      VICTOR

                (to Steve)

          Do you always rescue little girls?

Steve looks at Victor and smiles.

                      STEVE

          Only when they need it.

EXT. DIVERS’ PARADISE RETURNS TO RESORT – DAY

The Chambers family sits solemn-faced as the Captain guides the boat against the T-pier.  Damon and Victor tie off.

Sarah storms off the boat, lugging her dive gear as she marches down the shaded path toward the pool.

Leslie steps off the Divers’ Paradise.  Her shirt is damp.  Spanish music blares from tripod-mounted speakers outside the thatched roof cabaña where a family of four awaits their afternoon dive trip.

                      LESLIE

          We’re here all week.  Let’s

          make the best of it.  I’ll take

Sarah shopping, maybe tour the

island for a little while – spend

some girl time together.

Leslie kisses Steve’s cheek.

                      LESLIE

          We’ll meet you back at the room

          by 6:00 for dinner.  I’ll let you

          pick the restaurant tonight.

      (beat)

You behave yourself sailor.  And no

flirting with the locals.

Steve hoists his dive bag on his shoulder.

                      STEVE

          Have fun.
                (beat)

          And be careful.

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – DAY

Steve enters the room.  The space is dark with the curtains drawn.  He drops his room key on the dresser and finds a note from Leslie.

INTERCUT – STEVE READS LESLIE’s NOTE

Gone to San Miguel.  Be back by 6:00.  X0 X0 XO.

BACK TO SCENE

Steve kicks his sandals off and sprawls himself on the king-size bed.  He takes the television remote and flips to a sports channel.

EXT. SAN MIGUEL TOWN SQUARE – DAY

Leslie and Sarah carry shopping bags to their rental Jeep.  Sunburned and sweaty, they leave San Miguel and drive along the seaside promenade where cruise ships loom off shore as tall as high-rise buildings.

INT. LESLIE’s MOVING JEEP – DAY

Sarah traces her finger along the unfolded road map in her lap.  In her other hand, she holds a Frommer’s Travel Guide.

                      SARAH

          Turn right at the next road.

                      LESLIE

          What’s the name?

                      SARAH

          I can’t read the small print.

Leslie steers down a one-way street that leads away from the water and deeper into a desolate part of town.

                      LESLIE

          This doesn’t look right.

                      SARAH

          I’m telling you what the map says.

                      LESLIE

          Well the map is wrong.

They continue driving until they reach a fork in the road.  Sarah turns the map upside down.

                      SARAH

          I don’t know where we are.

Leslie stops the Jeep and takes the map.

                      LESLIE
          We’re too far east.  We should

          have turned left instead of right.

Leslie rubs her forearm across her sunburned brow.  Her hair is damp and flat.  She takes a swig from a bottle of water.

                      LESLIE

          Maybe I should navigate?

                      SARAH

          I can do it.

Leslie drives beyond a section of Mayan ruins and slows when the dirt road ends.  An iguana shuffles across the road toward the dense jungle brush.

                      LESLIE

          Shit…

Sarah smacks a mosquito on her neck.

                      SARAH

          We’re going in circles.

Leslie guns the engine.  The tires spin.  Dirt CLANGS inside the wheel wells.

                      LESLIE

          Not if I can help it.

EXT. DIVERS’ PARADISE DIVE BOAT – DAY

Slowing off plane, the bow settles as the boat trolls above the dive location.  Anvil head cloud formations linger overhead.

MARVIN JOHNSTON, a 56-year-old investment banker sits beside his blonde wife PAMELA JOHNSTON.  She wears shades and a one piece swimsuit.  The Captain cuts the throttles back and nods to the crew from the fly bridge as Victor tends to the family’s dive gear.  Damon coils a length of nylon rope attached to a galvanized fluke anchor.

Marvin’s 22-year-old son, ROBERT JOHNSTON, stares at Victor’s tattoos of an eagle clutching a golden trident.  Robert’s 17-year-old sister NATALIE JOHNSTON looks across the water at the distant shoreline.  Natalie is petit and pretty; freckle-faced and innocent.

                      MARVIN

                (to Robert)

          Help your sister with her gear.

Natalie shields the sun’s reflection with her hand.

                      NATALIE

          Are there sharks in here?

                      ROBERT

          They won’t bother you.

Robert watches Victor check the air pressure on a scuba tank as the boat sways gently in the one foot swells.

                      ROBERT

                (to Victor)

          Were you in the service?

Victor ignores the question and retreats toward the front of the boat where a life ring hangs beside a spear gun mounted on rubber brackets.

                      PAMELA

                (to Damon)

          You need a hat.

Pamela reaches in her dive bag and retrieves a crumpled baseball cap with a Reece Bank logo imprinted on the brim. She hands the cap to Damon.  Her mirrored glasses capture his reflection.

Damon flops the adjustable hat above his bald spot.  Strands of hair poke out from the sides and back. 

                      DAMON

          Thanks.

Pamela rubs Hawaiian Tropic on her arms.

Damon turns to catch Natalie bent over as she tries to reach the mask and snorkel beneath her seat.  Damon retrieves it for her and helps her don her gear.

                      MARVIN

                (to Natalie)

          Check your air supply.

Robert takes his sister’s air hose and inspects the needle on the pressure gauge. 

                      ROBERT

          She’s got a full tank.

Damon pulls a dive knife from a sheath secured around his calve.

                      DAMON

          Who’s first?

Marvin looks at his son Robert and nods.

                      MARVIN

          You up for this?

The captain climbs down from the fly bridge and grabs the spear gun loaded with a pointed, barbed shaft.

                      CAPTAIN

          We want the girl.

Marvin faces the captain who points the spear gun at Robert.

                      MARVIN

          What?

Damon points the knife at Natalie.

                      DAMON

          Your daughter.

                      MARVIN

          What is this?  Who are you?

Pamela puts her arms around her daughter.

                      NATALIE

          Mom?

Robert steps in front of his mother and sister.

                      ROBERT

          Dad?

                      CAPTAIN

          Just do what they tell you.

                      MARVIN

          I have money.  Lots of. I’ll

          pay you whatever you want.

                      DAMON

          Right now we want the girl.

Damon tosses the anchor line at Marvin’s feet.

                      DAMON

          Tie this around your ankle.

Marvin looks at his wife and daughter.

                      MARVIN

          I’ll do no such thing.

Marvin removes his Rolex watch and offers it to Victor who hands it over to the Captain.

Damon grabs Pamela’s arm and pulls her toward himself with the knife at her throat.  Victor takes hold of Natalie.

                      NATALIE

          Mom!

                      DAMON

          Last chance.

Marvin secures the nylon line around his ankle.

                      MARVIN

          Don’t hurt my family.

                      PAMELA

          Marvin no…

Damon tosses another line at Robert’s feet with a collection of weight belts tied at the bitter end.

                      DAMON

          You too.

Robert lunges at the Captain’s knees with a wrestling move and dodges the spear that sails over his shoulder.  Robert pummels the Captain with a flurry of punches until Victor calmly stabs Robert in the lower back with a pointed dive knife and secures the rope to Robert’s ankle.

Pamela screams through the hand on her mouth.

Victor tosses the weight belt overboard.  The rope pile uncoils, pulling Robert beyond the transom and into the water where he sinks like a rock, leaving a blood smear across the deck.

                      MARVIN

          For the love of God!

Victor releases Natalie and pushes the anchor overboard, causing the coil of rope to quickly unravel and jerk Marvin’s leg out from under him, dragging him IN THE WATER.

Marvin clings to a partially inflated dive vest.  Below him, Robert sinks toward the sea floor.

Marvin wrestles with the rope around his ankle.  He glances up to see the sun reflect off the silver spear gun a second before a barbed shaft PUNCHES THROUGH HIS OUTSTRETCHED HAND and hits the front of his neck.

BACK ON THE DIVERS’ PARADISE

A catatonic Pamela Johnston envelops her daughter as Victor secures a dock line to another anchor.

                      PAMELA

                (in tears)

          What do you want?

                      DAMON

          Your money.  All of it.

EXT. COZUMEL JUNGLE – NIGHT

Lost in the darkened labyrinth of unmarked trails and Mayan ruins, Leslie drives the Jeep beneath a full moon where the intermittent roar of jet aircraft overwhelm the cacophony of crickets and buzzing insects.

INT. THE MOVING JEEP – NIGHT

Sarah grabs the padded roll bar for support as Leslie drives over rocky terrain.  The road dead-ends at a virtual wall of jungle scrub entwined with overgrown vines and branches.

                      SARAH
          We’re still going in circles.

Leslie dims the headlights and turns to Sarah.

                      LESLIE

          Listen…

Sarah kicks an empty water bottle on the floorboard. Leslie kills the engine.  In the stillness, the sound of breaking waves becomes apparent.

                      LESLIE

          We’re near the water…

INT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve paces in front of the balcony with the phone against his ear.  His eyes are red and puffy.  He slams the phone down and heads to —

SARAH’s ADJOINING SUITE

He pounds the door.

                      STEVE

          Sarah, if you’re in there

open up.

INT. DINING HALL – NIGHT

Steve shuffles between crowded tables, scanning the dinner crowd for any sign of Leslie or Sarah.  A clock on the wall reads 10:15.

                      WAITER

          Sir, may I help you?

Steve takes Leslie’s photo from his wallet and holds it up.

                      STEVE

          Have you seen this woman?

The waiter studies the picture.

                      WAITER

          No.

Steve stares across the buffet line, the waiter stations, the open kitchen space, and the terrace where smokers enjoy an after-dinner drink.  He returns to —

THE FRONT DESK

He approaches the vacant counter space and taps the bell.  Randy, emerges from the back room.

                      RANDY

          Mr. Chambers…

                      STEVE

          Anything?

                      RANDY

          Should I page them again?

                      STEVE

          Please.  And phone my room the

second you hear from them.

EXT. COZUMEL JUNGLE – NIGHT

Leslie and Sarah traipse through the jungle until they emerge at the base of a lighthouse and find Victor and Damon about to drive away in a rusted cargo van.

Leslie waves her arms.  She and Sarah run toward the men. Waves crash against the rocky shoreline where a stretch of sandy beach extends in the distance.

                      LESLIE

          Wait!  Help!

Leslie drops her hands to her knees.  Nearly out of breath, she shields her eyes from the blistering sun.

                      LESLIE

          Thank God we found you…

EXT. CHAMBERS’ HOTEL SUITE – NIGHT

Steve approaches his room from the elevator and finds an elderly maid closing the door to his suite.  He grabs her by the arm.

                      STEVE

          Disculpe…  Please…

The maid steps away from her laundry cart and shakes her head.

                      MAID

          Que hace usted?

                      STEVE

          Habla usted Ingles?

                      MAID

                (avoiding eye contact)

          Muy poco.

Steve shows her the wallet photo.

                      STEVE

          Have – you – seen – her?

                      MAID

          Que?

Steve stares at the ceiling and mumbles to himself.

                      STEVE

           Los has visto?

He takes the hotel key from his pocket and points to the number on his room door.

                      STEVE

           Mi cuarto.

The maid pushes past him and shakes her head.

                      MAID

           No lo puedo ayudar.

                      STEVE

           Please…  Por favor…

The maid hustles for the open elevator.  The doors close quickly behind her.

EXT. SAN MIGUEL TOWN SQUARE – NIGHT

Steve leaves a Nissan taxi and shuffles through the menagerie of cruise ship tourists.  He taps several women on the shoulder.  Convinced he sees Sarah, he starts down a crowded —

ALLEY

Steve follows a young girl in a baseball cap with headphones on.  He taps her shoulder.

                      STEVE

          Sarah?

Startled, the girl spins around to reveal her severely scarred face, bearing no resemblance to Sarah.

INT. SAN MIGUEL POLICE HEADQUARTERS – NIGHT

Steve enters the municipal building with dusty ceiling fans spinning slowly overhead.  A clock on the back wall reads 2:00 a.m.

Steve approaches LIEUTENANT MIEREZ behind a metal desk with a stack of rumpled manila folders.  The Lieutenant wears a linen suit with a two-day beard and slicked-back hair that forms a widow’s peak above his forehead.

                      STEVE

          I’m looking for Lieutenant Mierez.

The Lieutenant lights a cigarette with a match.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          You’ve found him.

Steve pushes the wallet photo across the desk.

                      STEVE

          My name’s Steve Chambers.  We

spoke on the phone about my

missing wife and daughter.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Yes…

Steve taps the picture.

                      STEVE

Your men were suppose to meet me

an hour ago.

The Lieutenant examines the photograph.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Yes, of course.  My apologies.

Lieutenant Mierez blows smoke out his nose and reaches for a clipboard in his desk.

                     LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          If you’ll fill this out–

                      STEVE

          And then what?

The Lieutenant’s phone rings.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

                (to Steve)

          Excuse me one moment.

Lieutenant Mierez holds the phone to his ear.  He swivels his chair to face the window behind him.  The voice on the other end grows louder, impatient.

The Lieutenant hangs up and leaves his chair.  He takes the car keys off his desk.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          I must go.

                      STEVE

          Now?

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          My men will contact you as

          soon as you submit the paperwork.

                      STEVE

          Where are you going?

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

                (exasperated)

          Senor Chambers, we have procedures

to follow, just like in your country.

Your wife and daughter are in

Mexico on vacation, yes?  Perhaps

shopping or riding the ferry to the

mainland for the night.  I’m certain

they will return sooner than later.

                      STEVE

          Maybe you’re not hearing me.

I need your help – now.

Lieutenant Mierez takes a handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose.

                      STEVE

          My wife and daughter are not bar

          hopping or dancing the night away

          with a cruise ship party.  I haven’t

          seen or heard from them in twelve hours.

Lieutenant Mierez takes a long drag from his unfiltered cigarette and blows smoke in Steve’s face.

                      LIEUTENANT MIEREZ

          Then I suggest you contact your

embassy in Mexico City.  Perhaps

they can tell you what it is you

want to hear.

INT. SEA-NOTE YACHT – NIGHT

Engulfed in darkness, Leslie awakens on her back.  The boat’s diesel engines drone inside the engine room.  She’s groggy and disoriented when she rolls off the bed and lands on the floor with a THUD.  Rain smacks the porthole in the bulkhead above her.

                      LESLIE

          Sarah…

Leslie hugs the wall and fumbles for the stateroom door where she stumbles into a narrow, dimly lit hallway and proceeds to the PORT SIDE CABIN.

                      LESLIE

          Sarah?

Leslie grabs the latch, but it’s locked.  She slams her shoulder against the panel.  Wood CRACKS AND SPLINTERS.

Inside the cabin

Leslie sees an oval bed with blood spatter on the walls and carpet.  A shadow moves behind her.  She covers her mouth and retreats from the macabre setting.  She SCREAMS when Damon appears, stretching a length of rope between his hands.

EXT. DC-10 AERO MEXICO FLIGHT – DAY

Rear landing gear brush the runway as the DC-10 lands at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City.

EXT. AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION SERVICE AREA – DAY

Clutching a small carry-on bag, Steve hails a taxi.

INSIDE THE TAXI

A plastic crucifix hangs from the rear view mirror where the driver’s dark eyes reflect back at Steve.

                      STEVE

          Paseo de la Reforma.

                      DRIVER

          You want the embassy?

Steve hands the driver forty dollars.

                      STEVE

          Step on it.

Steve unzips the carry-on bag and withdraws a map of Cozumel.  Using a yellow highlighter, he traces the route from the Presidente Suites to the center of town in San Miguel.  Through the window, the bustling metropolis of Mexico City disappears in a blur of smog and traffic.

INT. AMERICAN EMBASSY, WELFARE AND WHEREABOUTS OFFICE – DAY

Steve paces inside the office of DEPUTY CONSUL JOSE BONITEZ.  A framed picture of George W. Bush hangs prominently on the wall behind a mahogany desk.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Sorry to keep you waiting.

Jose Bonitez, a man in his sixties with a cheap suit and a bad come-over, motions for Steve to take a seat.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Please sit down.

                      STEVE

                (still standing)

          I was hoping to speak with the

          Consul General.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          The Consul General is out of the

          country on business but my secretary

has apprised me of your situation.

                      STEVE

          So you’ll help me?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Generally, my office cannot act

until the person or persons involved

have been missing for 48 hours – but

given the circumstances, I’ve started a preliminary investigation.

                      STEVE

          Preliminary?

Deputy Bonitez walks to the window overlooking the city.  He pulls a fresh cigar from his suit jacket and clips the tip with a silver cutter.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Have you spoken with the authorities

in San Miguel?

                      STEVE

          I spoke with a Lieutenant Mierez

this morning.  He suggested I contact

the embassy.

Deputy Bonitez props the cigar in his mouth.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Violent crime runs rampant in

Mexico City – and elsewhere. 

This office handles a hundred

complaints a month for robbery,

assault, rape…  Even murder.  My

people are understaffed and overwhelmed.

                      STEVE

But you’ll do everything you

can to find my wife and daughter?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Have you received a ransom note?

                      STEVE

          No.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Any threatening phone calls?

                      STEVE

          What are you getting at?

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Any evidence that your family

is in immediate danger?

                      STEVE

          Aside from the fact that I haven’t

          seen or heard from them in 24 hours?

                (beat)

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

          Would you say it’s possible

your family has gone missing on

their own accord?

Steve takes Leslie and Sarah’s passport from his pocket.  He opens Leslie’s first, then Sarah’s, revealing the pictures inside the front cover.

                          STEVE

          We’re talking about my wife and

          daughter, not some shit-faced

teenagers lost on a Spring break

binge.

                      DEPUTY BONITEZ

Senor Chambers, I assure you my

people will do everything they can.

Steve glances at the passport photos, then throws Deputy Bonitez a stare that could penetrate steel.

                      STEVE

God help you if they don’t.

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