EXT. SCHOOL – DAY
A bell rings. The students of Reagen Elementary can barely hear it over all the screams, shouts, whoops, and hollers. Buses growl and roar past the playground, headed back to the bus barn. Parents lay into their car horns. The cars are all vintage fifties and sixties, which tells us what decade we’re in–early sixties. It’s a madhouse of activity this early morning as mothers try to get their kids off to school and to get back home in time to watch Days of Our Lives.
Lost amongst all this activity, one little boy with sandy-blonde hair approaches the front of the school on foot. He doesn’t look too happy about coming to school today and is taking his sweet time in getting there. BILLY TWIGGS picks up a loose stick and drags it along a chain link fence separating himself from the playground. It makes a sound like a machine gun.
A fat kid, we’ll just call him BIG BULLY, comes up on the other side of the fence and manages to grab the stick from his hand, pulling it through the links in the fence. They continue walking along, with the bully now rattling the stick. He’s found a new toy.
Well, if it isn’t little Billy Twiggs, the twig boy.
Several of the bully’s nine-year-old cronies join him, laughing.
Hey runt. I didn’t think you were coming back today .
Billy tries to ignore them, walking down the fence and toward the gate. That fence is the only thing standing between him and an ass whippin.
As soon as you step inside this fence, you know what I’m gonna do.
The big bully takes the stick and doubles it over his knee with a sharp crack.
Snap you like a twig.
The other boys laugh with their dumb dog laughs.
Billy turns and looks up at him. The fat kid’s face through the fence is like a giant freckled moon.
Ooh, what are you going to do, sick your daddy on me. Oh, that’s right. Little Billy twigs doesn’t have a daddy. His daddy went away.
Billy reaches an opening in the fence. One step through, and he’s dog meat, an official member of the playground cleanup committee. But the only thing they’ll be cleaning up are his guts from all over the swing set.
Well come on, weenie roast. What’re you waiting for?
And that’s when JOE SADLOW shows up, sauntering up to the fence with his hands in his belt loops. All alone as usual he looks like he’s got all the time in the world.
Though not nearly as big as Big Bully, and without so much as a word in the fat kid’s direction, he immediately puts Big Bully on the defensive.
J-Joey. What’re you doing here?
What’s going on?
None of your business.
Joe digs down deep in his pockets, fondling something there. We don’t know what it is yet, but we will later. Big Bully notices this gesture.
Maybe it is.
You know this runt?
He does my homework for me.
He does now.
The bully looks from Joe to Billy, and then from Billy to Joe, calculating the odds:. One-and-a-half against four. But with Joe Sadlow on the other side….
All right. If he’s your friend.
To Billy’s amazement, the bully backs off and heads toward the playground, looking for other young victims whose lives he can utterly demolish. The tardy bell rings, and suddenly things get very quiet as most of the kids rush inside.
Billy starts inside the gate, but Joe turns and walks off in the other direction, away from the school.
That was the tardy bell.
Joe waves him to follow, inviting him to play hookey.
Come on. You can go in there or you can go with me.
It takes Billy a minute to think about this. He’s a good kid, usually does what his momma says, and by the look on his innocent face has probably never played hookey before in his life.
The decision doesn’t come easy for him, but he finally makes it, running off across the street to join Joe Sadlow in what will turn out to be the most memorable day of his life, maybe both their lives.
EXT. STREET – DAY
The two boys are walking along a wide sidewalk, sharing licks on a single ice cream cone, passing it back and forth between them. Not very sanitary, but necessary when you only got ten cents in milk money between you.
So now that I done something for you, you’re gonna do something for me, right?
Billy is toting his lunch sack and his book belt all with the same hand. The darn things are getting pretty heavy. He shrugs at the book strap digging into his neck.
I guess so. Like what.
Joe by contrast carries nothing. Up, down, up, down, off the curb and back on again steps Joe, swinging from parking meter to parking meter.
Stores along this busy urban street have their doors swung wide and are itching for business, so at least a few hours have passed since the start of school.
Lift me a pack of smokes.
Billy stops and looks at him.
You mean steal?
Joe flips the dial on one of the parking meters, then whacks it upside the head, trying to convince it to cough up some coins.
Of course I mean steal. Ain’t you ever done anything bad?
Billy thinks about this.
I dunno. Maybe.
Sweating under his heavy load, Billy stops and drops his books.
Rolling his head and his eyes at the same time, Joe doubles back, grabs the books by the belt that is holding them all together, swings them around over his head a few times like a hammer thrower, and lands them in a nearby trash can. He brushes his hands together. Mission accomplished.
Hey, those’re my books. And my dad’s belt.
Hands on shoulders, Joe pushes the younger boy along the street, before he can mount a rescue mission to save his lost books.
Your first lesson in life, kid. Books can’t teach you anything. Ah, don’t worry about it. They got a whole warehouse full of ’em downtown, anyway. My dad showed it to me.
Joe points scabby finger, which is badly in need of a manicure.
Look at that.
EXT. STORE – DAY
From out of an appliance store display window, a tic-tac-toe grid of TV sets blinks back at them. We are tight enough on the display case that the name of the store is not yet revealed. On a brash sales card next to the TVs, an RCA Electric Avista, twenty-three inch, 22,500 volt, black-and-white TV set is advertised at $575 new or $300 on trade! On Sale! Today Only!
Man, look at that. One day I’m gonna have a TV set in every room of my house.
Black-and-white commercials flicker back at them: controlling hips panty girdles for $14.95.
Why? They only got four channels.
REVERSE ANGLE – we are now inside the store and looking out. Rabbit ears on the old RCA Avista TV sets gives us bunny-vision, obscuring our view as Billy’s face lights up and he points to a screen.
I’d like to go see that parade.
What’s left of the chocolate ice cream cone Joe mashes against the glass.
Who wants to see a stupid old President anyway. Come on.
REVERSE ANGLE AGAIN – now that we’re outside the store, and wide, we can see the name of this establishment: DALLAS APPLIANCES. So now we know where we are–Dallas, Texas. We only need to know when:
Joe runs off, and Billy is quick to follow.
Lingering at the store window, the camera sees what the boys themselves were looking at: A news bulletin, a live report from KNBC Channel 5, has broken into the daily broadcast of Days of Our Lives. So much for those mothers getting home from school early.
TV ANNOUNCER v.o.
This is Mike Leiber, KNBC Channel 5. U.S. Air Force One has just landed at Love Field in Dallas.
There are miniature cheers from an on-screen crowd; high contrast, black and white images flare-out. Every reflection of light above five footcandles burns a hot star into the old camera’s on-screen pickup tube. This is live TV in the sixties.
TV ANNOUNCER v.o.
And here comes the President of the United States. Jackie comes down the stairs first, and the President about three steps behind her.
This is an actual TV report from President Kennedy’s arrival for that fateful day in Dallas, November 23, 1963. Quite a day to play hookey
TV ANNOUNCER v.o.
One thing about Mrs. Kennedy, there’s no trouble at all spotting her. In that bright pink dress, she stands out like a beacon of light in this crowd.
He is smiling, shaking hands, waving to the crowd. He does not look like a man who is about to die.
TV ANNOUNCER v.o.
The limousine now is beginning to move. The President and Mrs. Kennedy are riding in the back seat. They are not using the bubble, so it will be an open limousine parade, apparently, through downtown Dallas..
An extreme close-up on the TV screen, as the words echo in our ears. This is all the information a killer might need. And somewhere off in this world of 1963, Oswald is listening.
TV ANNOUNCER v.o.
It’s our understanding that the motorcade will be moving slowly enough so that everyone along the route will get a good look at the Chief Executive…