EXT. TEXAS/ MEXICO BORDER - NIGHT 1981. Near midnight. Border gate floodlights blast into Texas. Sirens scream. There’s been an accident. An army of police cars block the two-lane road. Between them and the gate is a scattering of late-seventies luxury cars -flipped, smoking, utterly wrecked. A ‘76 Winnebago lies on it’s side, having slid a few hundred feet -- tires shredded. Helicopters fill the air, their searchlights chasing each other... Near the R.V. a young couple stands at the roadside. The boy, RILEY WHEELER, 23, stands in a black and silver Nudie Suit. A dangerous combination of handsome and naive, he doesn’t know which way is up -Riley looks up, a spotlight hits him.
He squints --
Nearby stands a beautiful, Mexican-American girl in a tank top and tight jeans. Her hair whips in the choppers’ wake. CELIA RAMOS, 17, is ecstatic in the excitement. best Friday night she’s had in... ever.
This is the
Celia looks down the road adoringly, she suddenly pulls away from Riley -- he lunges after her -Celia jumps to her tip-toes, throwing her slender arm into the air, waving -CELIA You can do it, baby! Riley grabs her, pulls her back.
We whip around to see --
Two more figures standing thirty feet apart on the highway. The one with his back to us stands in a Nudie Suit matching Riley’s -- black with white lining, roses embroidered across his chest. Over his belt, a pearl-handled pistol glimmers. WYATT JACKSON, 22 looks back. In a suit and hornrims, he’s a cross between Buddy Holly and Little Jimmy Dickens -- short, but people remember him being taller. He smiles at Celia. He turns to face his enemy, PERCY DUPLASS, 32 -Duplass stands wide and tall in well-pressed khaki. Strong jaw and grey eyes, he’s more a force of nature than a person. A pistol on his thigh, a star on his chest -- “Texas Ranger.”
2. A duel at forty-paces in the middle of the hysteria. The barricade of policemen watch patiently, rifles trained -Riley looks nervously at the immensity of the situation -Wyatt grins -- Fingers dance over the butt of his gun. DuPlass stares steadily back. Muscles in his neck twitch -Celia is tense -- holding her breath with expectation. The choppers circle. Time seems to slow down. To stop. Wyatt breathes in -- grips the gun -- DuPlass’ eyes widen -BANG! CUT TO: TITLE CARD: THE RAMBLERS EXT. TAHOKA, TX STREETS - NIGHT - TEN DAYS BEFORE Faded American flags hang over tired storefronts. Somewhere a train blows past a dinging intersection gate. Living in this town is like being trapped in a fading photo. Everything seems sleepy... Until -A flatbed pickup turns, on two wheels, into the road. The truck charges at us, before veering left at the last moment -The truck screams to a curbside stop on main street. A small figure in a cowboy hat gets out of the truck and heads into -INT. RAY’S RECORDS - NIGHT - CONTINUOUS Rows of tables loaded with crates of records. Nearby is a rack of cassette tapes, the new trend. Near the back two girls, CLAIRE and DEBBIE, peruse the tapes. At the counter with his Auto Trader is Ray, 57 -- handlebar mustache, ponytail and bifocals -- still living in his almostglory of shaking Merle Haggard’s hand thirteen years ago. Without looking up -RAY Evenin’ Wyatt. The short cowboy is Wyatt. He grins slyly under the hat brim. WYATT Ray. You reckon I could borrow that drum kit?
3. INT. TAHOKA PAWN SHOP - NIGHT Riley stands at a glass case of jewelry. He thumbs through his wallet. Pulls several bills. The SHOPKEEP snatches them. He counts it over his spectacles. He looks to Riley, sticks his hand back out -- Riley falters -SHOPKEEP Fourteen karats. You done missed three payments. RILEY I gotta buy gas. SHOPKEEP If she wanna give it up. I’ll buy it back at seventy-five percent whenever you -RILEY No thanks. We’re keepin’ it. The shopkeep glares. Riley forks over the money. He and the Shopkeep stare at each other for a moment longer... RILEY (CONT’D) Just lemme see it. The Shopkeep sighs. He disappears into a back room, only to reappear with an electric guitar case. It sits it on the counter. Riley looks at him expectantly. The Shopkeep pops the latches and slowly opens the case -Inside is a worn and beautiful Fender Telecaster. Black and white, chrome hardware. The finish is pitted on the frets after years of play. The guitar shimmers in Riley’s eyes. He reaches for it slowly -- SLAM! -- the Shopkeep shuts the case abruptly. Riley looks up out of his trance -SHOPKEEP That’n’s outta your price range Wheeler. You bring me a couple more dollars, I might let ya touch her. Riley glares at him.
He turns on his bootheel and walks out.
EXT. RAY’S RECORDS - NIGHT - LATER Ray ties several drum cases down to Wyatt’s flatbed. jumps down, lights a cigarette.
4. WYATT Winnin’ it this year. I feel it. Ray nods, unimpressed. Debbie and Claire walk out of the store. Wyatt lunges into the cab of the truck, pulls out a piece of paper. He forces it on the girls -WYATT (CONT’D) Y’all doin’ anything tonight? The girls read the paper, a flyer -- “THIS FRIDAY! At the Roadhouse: Battle of the bands featuring THE RAMBLERS!! $3 at the door, 1/2 price drinks.” -- Finally... CLAIRE This your band? Wyatt nods. DEBBIE My brother listened to y’all last summer in Lubbock. -WYATT We’re better now -Ray throws down his butt.
DEBBIE Sounded more like The Moaners. CLAIRE (to Debbie) You’re awful. Wyatt snatches the tape from Debbie’s hand -WYATT What the hell’re you listenin’ to? (looks, in disbelief) KC and the Sunshine Band? What the fuck is this? Debbie snatches the tape back -WYATT (CONT’D) That ain’t got no heart, no soul. Merle Haggard actually spent time in San Quentin -- country music comes from somethin’ -- Truth! Debbie slides the tape into her purse.
She turns away.
5. DEBBIE Who’s Merle Haggard? Wyatt struggles for words as the girls walk away, laughing. WYATT Who’s Merle Haggard? I don’t -What’s wrong with people? Ray opens the door to the store, shrugs. RAY Who knows. I tell ya -- it all started when they stopped playin’ Hank Williams on the radio. All down hill after that. WYATT Thanks for the kit. Ray nods.
Wyatt jumps in the truck and drives away.
EXT. MCDONALD TRAILER - NIGHT - LATER A small Airstream trailer sits in the desert. Pink flamingos and lawn chairs litter the “yard.” In the backyard an oil well creaks and moans casting a shadow over the estate. In front of the trailer, a pristine ‘76 Winnebago shines -CLAYTON (O.S.) It just seems like a crime. For it to sit there, when I could use it! INT. MCDONALD TRAILER - NIGHT - CONTINUOUS The place is a cramped disaster. A TV struggles, it’s rabbit ears are tied to a maze of aluminum foil covering the trailer’s ceiling. CLAYTON MCDONALD, 23, barges in -A crew cut, thick neck and tight shirt give Clayton the constant appearance of a man about to rupture. His quiet, slow nature creates a walking, tonal contradiction. CLAYTON You know how bad-ass we’d be if we rolled up in that Winnebago? Clayton buttons his shirt. He Looks down on GEORGE MCDONNALD, 50s, a refrigerator of a man with curly hair and a thick mustache. Everything about him is sweaty, sloppy or stained.
6. George glares up at his son from a broken-down Lay-z-Boy. CLAYTON (CONT’D) I’d fill up the tank ‘fore I brought her home. George groans standing. He lumbers to the door. Several sets of keys dangle from a small rack. He snatches a set -GEORGE Tell ya what. Snatch these, you can drive her wherever you want. Clayton’s sighs. George holds out his hand. The keys dangle. EXT. MCDONALD TRAILER - NIGHT - CONTINUOUS Wyatt’s flatbed truck screams to a stop.
The horn honks.
BACK INSIDE Clayton and George both look to the door. George grins -- in a flash Clayton reaches for the keys -- George’s hand turns to a fist, he pushes the boy back violently -Clayton stumbles over beer cans, falls into the TV -- rips the foil from the ceiling. The image goes to static -GEORGE Watch the foil, Goddammit! Clayton gets up, checks his pants. No rips. He brushes himself, grabs his jacket, guitar and amp. He glares at George, who is on his knees trying to fix the TV. Clayton walks out. EXT. KAREN’S HOUSE - NIGHT - LATER A single-wide trailer sits in a parched yard. Mesquite fence posts lean over, defeated by decades of constant wind. At the far end of the yard, a window opens. A boot sticks out, then another. Riley jumps to the ground. AT THE WINDOW -Riley stands, buttoning his shirt. A girl leans out, barely covered by an unbuttoned flannel shirt -KAREN WALKER, 21, strawberry-blonde and Riley’s first kiss. Almost as good at breaking horses as she is at breaking hearts.
7. RILEY See ya later? She nods silently. RILEY (CONT’D) Gonna sing one for you. KAREN I thought they were all for me? He kneels to her level.
Leans in --
KAREN (CONT’D) Is this it? Tonight? RILEY Till somethin’ better comes along. I ain’t seen nothin’ coming yet. Karen looks him in the eye. His grin fades. He looks to a diamond ring dangling around her neck. He reaches out -RILEY (CONT’D) If we had our own place, I could leave through the door -Karen looks back into the house, worried.
Back to Riley.
KAREN How we gonna afford a place with you playin’ free shows? -Wyatt’s flatbed pulls into the drive. nods. Karen pulls away inside. RILEY A change is comin’.
I know it.
KAREN Get outta here, boy. Riley looks up at her, his eyes pleading. Karen reaches to close the window. Her eyes give away nothing. KAREN (CONT’D) I wouldn’t be gettin’ a husband, I’d be getting a Rambler. Riley leans in, Karen shuts the window. Riley stares -WYATT (O.S.) (from truck) Let’s go, loverboy!
8. Riley stands, runs his hand through his perfect hair. Grins. He walks to the truck. Makes his hand into a pistol, fires. EXT. TEXAS DIVE BAR - NIGHT - LATER Several subcompacts are squeezed onto a crumbling lot. A line of SPECTATORS wait at the door, paying the cover -Across the lot, near a dumpster is Wyatt’s truck. IN THE TRUCK The Ramblers adjust their Nudie suits. They look like something from sixties Nashville -- Matching black with white lining, bright rhinestones and roses on the chest. Clayton adjusts the mirror. CLAYTON Got a comb? Wyatt doesn’t look up from his lint rolling -Glove box.
Clayton opens the glove box and pauses -- a chrome sixshooter stares back at him. He looks to Wyatt -CLAYTON The hell is this? Wyatt sighs.
Clayton pulls out the gun.
CLAYTON (showing Riley) That’s a shiny handful of nothing. RILEY Wyatt, what is that? Wyatt grabs the gun. WYATT Got thousands of dollars of shit here. I wanted some security, okay? Clayton giggles. Opens his door. Wyatt cradles his gun --
He and Riley climb out.
9. CLAYTON I’m gonna smoke -- you stay here and guard the shit, Big Iron. Wyatt looks down at his gun.
Opens his door --
EXT. TEXAS DIVE BAR - NIGHT - LATER Riley and Wyatt sit on the truck bed. Music plays from the club. Clayton smokes nearby. Wyatt drinks a beer. WYATT You can’t just up and quit. You’re the singer. If you quit who’d sing? RILEY Karen’s tired of it, ya know. All this comin’ to nothin’. She’s ready to settle down -WYATT She don’t wanna settle down. Girls don’t wanna be like their mommas, trust me. Riley looks to Wyatt with a raised eyebrow. WYATT (CONT’D) She wants Something different. Damn right she’s tired of this. I’m fuckin’ tired of it, ain’t you? Riley nods as Wyatt continues... WYATT (CONT’D) That girl wants you to settle, ‘cause that’s all she knows. If she could see where the music’ll take us -RILEY She’d be on board? -WYATT Bingo. You gotta show her. You gotta show her we’re gonna be legends. Chicks love legends. Riley nods grinning.
He jumps from the bed, excited.
RILEY She don’t realize how good we are.
10. WYATT Fuckin’ right. Legends. our future.
The door to the bar swings open, a YOUNG WAITRESS steps out -Ramblers?
YOUNG WAITRESS Y’all’re up.
Wyatt jumps down, smashes his beer bottle on the pavement. INT. TEXAS DIVE BAR - NIGHT - LATER The Ramblers crowd on a tiny corner stage. Swing Trio -- a damn good one, too.
They are a Texas
Riley croons smoothly at the mic. Wyatt keeps a steady waltz beat. Clayton thumbs the baseline... AT THE BAR Karen sits near the back. She watches, bored. JILL, flirts with two GUYS.
Riley plays a cheap guitar. Nothing compared to the pawned Telecaster. He sings right to Karen, winks. She sips her gin. The Ramblers give it their all... The CROWD doesn’t seem to care. A sea of Eighties rockers, New Wave Junkies and preppy collegiates -- this is not a swing group. They hiss and boo. Riley pours it into his solo as Wyatt punishes his snare drum. They wrap up to disinterested applause. Riley wipes his brow and leans into the mic -Thank you.
RILEY We are the Ramblers.
The crowd’s booing carries over into... EXT. TEXAS DIVE BAR - NIGHT - LATER Wyatt sits on the truck’s bed. Clayton loads equipment, grunts and heaves. Wyatt pays little mind... WYATT I can’t believe we lost. (screams) Don’t these people know good music when they hear it? The CROWD shuffles by snickering, whispering.
11. WYATT (CONT’D) Where the hell is he? Clayton doesn’t answer, just keeps lifting... EXT. TEXAS DIVE BAR - FRONT SIDEWALK - CONTINUOUS Riley and Karen stand among the patrons. They’re close. He hangs his head, morose. Karen’s patience is wearing thin -RILEY Really thought we had it this year. Karen continually looks over her shoulder to Jill waiting -RILEY (CONT’D) We were good weren’t we? I mean... I thought that was our best. KAREN You were fine. It’s just -- your music. I keep tellin’ you -- Hey, Jill’s waiting. RILEY I know. But that is what we do. That’s who we are. Riley brushes at her collar -RILEY (CONT’D) Where’s the ring? KAREN What? I didn’t want to lose it, left it at home -RILEY You wouldn’t lose it if it was on your finger -Karen looks over her shoulder.
Jill gestures -- LET’S GO!
KAREN We gotta go study. Riley leans in to kiss -- Jill hits the horn. RILEY See ya later? Karen pulls away.
Dropping Riley’s hands.
12. KAREN I don’t -- this test is gonna be rough, can we make it tomorrow? This stings a little but Riley nods. Love you. Bye.
AT THE TRUCK The equipment is loaded. Clayton smokes, staring at his feet. Wyatt lies in the gravel. Riley walks up -Ready?
Riley opens the truck door, climbs in. Wyatt and Clayton follow. The truck roars and lumbers out of the parking lot. INT. ROADSIDE DINER - LATER THAT NIGHT The Ramblers sit at the bar. An AGING WAITRESS watches, impressed at Clayton’s handling of a hamburger steak. Riley sits behind three empty beer bottles. He mindlessly peels the labels. Wyatt stands at the jukebox. Two TEENAGE GIRLS sit at a booth across the room. The rouge is thick, skirts are short, eyes on Riley. Wyatt calls out -WYATT (to Waitress) Any George Jones? The Waitress shrugs.
Wyatt turns, a sad ballad begins.
The girls’ giggling gets louder -- Riley looks at them -they smile. Wyatt sits down, sips from a beer -He sighs loudly, Riley focuses on his labels. WYATT (CONT’D) That... Punk? Ain’t even music. Clayton rattles his mug for a refill -- the girls clink their glasses, Riley looks -- they wave at him. Riley grins. WYATT (CONT’D) I mean, if that’s what it takes to be a musician -- I don’t want it. (MORE)
13. WYATT (CONT’D) (pause) I’ll fuckin’ go work on a well ‘fore I play that shit -RILEY I think I’m quitting -WYATT Why? For Karen? dammit!
You’re a Rambler,
Riley goes back to his bottle, Wyatt grabs his shoulder. WYATT (CONT’D) Don’t fuckin’ forget that, man. We’re in this. We’re a band and that means... somethin’... Wyatt thinks hard -WYATT (CONT’D) That means brotherhood, motherfucker. Riley shrugs.
Wyatt nods proudly, sips his beer.
Riley watches as one of the girls re-crosses her legs, she sips from her beer. He looks away -- Wyatt watches him -WYATT (CONT’D) I played five songs on that box. Riley looks at him, confused.
Wyatt shrugs --
WYATT (CONT’D) Not like you’re sleeping with ‘em. RILEY Just dancin’. Wyatt nods. Riley jumps from the stool. Wyatt and Clayton both watch Riley coolly lean over the booth -- the girls giggle. Clayton grins at Wyatt. Riley walks one of the girls out into the middle of the floor. Pulls her close. They begin to sway and turn. The jukebox plays. DING!
14. The door opens. Wyatt and Clayton don’t look up, as two large, young cowboys, DENNIS and JIMMY sit next to them -DENNIS Gimme a Schlitz, Carol. The Waitress grabs two beers. Clayton pay little attention.
The Cowboys drink. Finally...
DENNIS (CONT’D) Damn fine get-up, ya got there! Wyatt looks. Dennis grins down at him. Wyatt doesn’t answer. DENNIS (CONT’D) Yer suit. Damn fine. Who ya supposed to be? Liberace? Wyatt doesn’t answer.
Dennis and Jimmy snicker.
DENNIS (CONT’D) Ain’t much for talkin’? Them diamonds ain’t real, are they? Clayton chews at the Cowboy, who nods back. friend on the shoulder --
Jimmy taps his
JIMMY Hey, Dennis -Dennis looks up to see Riley dancing with the girl. He slides from his stool.
The Cowboy’s circle the dancing couple, like vultures. The Second Girl stands from the booth, Jimmy pushes her back -DENNIS Tell ya what, Jimmy. I think he’s dancing with yer girl. GIRL #1 We’re just dancin’. Dennis grins at his friend. DENNIS Looks like he’s interested in a little more’n dancin’. Clayton drops his fork, giving the scene his full attention -Jimmy reaches for Riley -- Riley shrugs him off violently --
15. RILEY (slurring a little) FUCK OFF! GIRL #2 Leave ‘em alone. DENNIS (pointing at Girl #2) Shut yer mouth. Jimmy reaches again -Riley spins with a punch -- the Cowboy ducks, Riley’s boots skid -- he falls drunkenly to the floor. The Cowboys laugh. Dennis pulls Girl #1 away -- the Cowboys close in on Riley -Riley starts to stand -BAM! -- Jimmy plants a firm kick into Riley’s ribs. coughs. Dennis readies himself for a kick --
CRASH! -- Clayton tackles Dennis, smashing him into the jukebox, glass shatters, the needle scratches, music dies. WAITRESS Cut it out! Jimmy moves to Clayton -- suddenly Wyatt is on him, piggyback style. Wyatt wraps his arm around Jimmy’s neck -- The Cowboy swings back his head -CRACK! -- he smashes Wyatt’s nose, blood spews, Wyatt falls. The girls help Riley to his feet.
Jimmy moves to Clayton.
The two men begin to circle, fists up -- they trade blows -Wyatt scrambles to his feet. The girls pet Riley.
Dennis gathers himself.
He tries to fight, they hold him --
POP! -- Clayton lands a solid hook -- Jimmy falters -Wyatt steadies himself, crosses the room -Dennis reaches the booth -GIRL #1 Leave him alone! Dennis pushes her back, grabs Riley by the collar -- Riley throws a punch in the Dennis’ stomach, it doesn’t phase him.
16. POW! -- Clayton lands another punch -- Jimmy hits his knees -Riley squirms, can’t get free of Dennis’ grip -GIRL #2 Let him go, Dennis! Dennis lands a solid punch in Riley’s stomach. crumples, sobs lightly --
DENNIS Think you can just come in here and steal our girls, pretty boy? Clayton takes a step toward Dennis and Riley -CLICK! WYATT Drop him, motherfucker! Jimmy falls face-first to the floor. Wyatt, pistol drawn, hand steady --
Everyone looks to
Dennis looks to Jimmy, out cold. He drops Riley. huddle. Clayton wipes blood from his jaw -WAITRESS Enough of this trouble, boys. call the cops! DENNIS No trouble, Carol. foolin’!
The girls watch Dennis. Clayton watches Wyatt. to his feet. Dennis glares --
DENNIS (CONT’D) Where’d ya get the gun? Wyatt smiles, his hands shake -WYATT I keep it at your momma’s place. The Cowboy nods.
Another step closer.
He reaches out.
DENNIS You even know how to use it, boy? Gimme it.
17. WYATT Shot a few rats in my basement. You can’t be much different. The Cowboy’s jaw sets.
He takes another step --
DENNIS Yer mouth ain’t gonna pull the trigger. Gimme the gun, little fella -Wyatt grins -- Dennis lunges, grabs Wyatt by the back of the neck -- pulls him in close, the gun between them -- they struggle -- Clayton steps, stops -DENNIS (CONT’D) (gritted teeth, whisper) Stop this. Give it to me, boy. Clayton looks to Riley, who is dazed. The boys struggle for the gun. Dennis grins down at Wyatt, who grunts, teeth clenched -BANG! Everyone waits. The Cowboy’s grip loosens. His smile fades. He pulls away. Wyatt’s breath is unsteady, like the gun in his hand. Everyone stares as a red stain grows on the Dennis’ stomach. He begins to whimper, to cry. Glares at Wyatt. One of the girls screams. Wyatt jolts. Clayton watches as Dennis sits in the floor and leans against the jukebox. He cries full-force. Wyatt lowers the gun. Everyone watches as the sobs turn to gasps, short quick breaths -spasms -silence. Clayton watches Wyatt, holding the gun.
The girls whimper.
Riley walks to the unconscious Jimmy, his jaw set -BAM! - Riley’s boot lands firmly in the cowboy’s ribs. Wyatt stows the gun. Clayton looks to Riley, Riley stares back nervously. They look to Wyatt. The gun shakes --
The bar is silent, save the crying of the girls in the booth. RING! The phone’s bell rings as the Waitress slams it down. WAITRESS Cops are on their way.
Wyatt walks to the bar, grabs his hat throws down some cash. He nods to Clayton and Riley. Clayton heads for the door. Riley walks to the counter -RILEY Could I use that phone? The Waitress glares at him, confused. Riley?
RILEY I wanna call Karen. Later!
Riley looks to the jukebox. To the girls. To the waitress. He pulls out his wallet, throws down some cash -RILEY Sorry ‘bout the mess. The Ramblers walk out.