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Stevie is fifteen years old and well on the way to becoming a hardened criminal; Dave is a cop, natural enemy of Stevie; Susie is Dave’s two-year-old daughter who is kidnapped during a cyclone. The last thing a teenage boy needs is a baby. But it falls to Stevie to save the baby – without knowing who she is and for totally unselfish motives – and thus to save Dave and his family from total disintegration.(Quarter finalist, TSL Free Screenplay Contest)
A secure happy life. All the pieces fitting neatly together. How easy to forget the underlying savagery which can sweep away everything we live for. All it takes is a vast, indifferent force. Like a cyclone. And it’s all gone.
Constable Dave Marston has it made – wife Carol, two-year-old baby Susie, house and career. Utterly secure. Until Cyclone Tina blows them all away – leaving his wife in a coma, baby missing and house blown down. There isn’t enough left of Dave to have a career. All destroyed in a single day.
Stevie Johnson thinks he has it made too. He is fifteen years old going on forty and well known to the police. Safe from going to prison because of his age and his grandfather’s guardianship, he looks forward to a career in crime. Is it the cyclone that rips Stevie’s world apart? Or his violent cousin Terry? Either way, Grandad is dead. And Stevie is headed for juvenile detention.
One day’s brutality leaves Dave and Stevie out in the cold.
Dave splits his time between his vigil by Carol’s hospital bed and his frantic trips to the State Emergency Service HQ where the search for Susie is being co-ordinated.
Stevie flees with Terry, reluctantly heading for anonymity with the nomadic fruit-pickers a few hundred miles south. The wild card is Terry’s wife, Laura, a retarded forty-year-old woman currently in the back seat of Terry’s car, playing with her collection of dolls. They have been driving for about six hours when Stevie glances into the back seat and notices that one of the dolls is moving. A little frightened girl stares straight back at him. Laura is over the moon to have found a real baby; Terry couldn’t care less – so long as Laura is happy. And Stevie tries to pretend it’s none of his business. He doesn’t know where this kid came from, never seen her before, not his problem.
Dave’s baby is left to the tender ministrations of loony Laura. Susie, or as Laura now calls her, Geraldine, doesn’t make a sound.
Meanwhile, Susie’s doll has been found in the river. The search continues but now they’re searching for a body. And even that’s a long shot. There are sharks in the estuary.
Stevie’s life improves – the “tribe” of pickers warm to him, especially Mozz, a tomboy girl around his own age. Big stupid Rowan, rival for Mozz’s affections, is a problem, but Stevie’s street-smarts win out. His life has never been so good – now he’s top dog, and he’s won the girl.
Stevie shares a caravan with Terry, but usually sleeps outside. That way he doesn’t have to see Laura’s mistreatment of Susie. Laura’s temper and mood swings are a constant threat to the child. She resents the child’s continued silence and her refusal to eat the Big Macs Laura thinks are appropriate food. A mealtime rage escalates. Laura screams at the child: Speak! Stevie tries to defend – perhaps the child can’t speak. This only makes it worse. Dumb babies are no fun. Laura slaps the baby, the child screams in pain. Steve can ignore her no longer. He picks up the child and comforts her. Susie responds to the cuddle, she fastens like a limpet to Stevie. That night, the little girl sleeps in Stevie’s sleeping bag. Comforted and secure. His soothing words lull her to sleep. “You don’t have to speak. You just listen.”
But when morning comes, Stevie must return to the fields, leaving Susie with Laura, now in a better mood, all kisses and hugs for “her baby”. The child’s big vulnerable eyes follow Stevie as he leaves.
Dave sits on and on at Carol’s bedside. Her condition is unchanged. The doctors advise that she needs something to entice her back from wherever she is hiding. Dave suspects that Carol fears to return to consciousness - and hear of Susie’s death. If only the baby were here to call Mummy back. Soon, before she slips away for ever.
But the baby is chained to the wheel of Laura’s caravan, in the hot sun, filthy, sitting in her own excrement. Laura has finally blown her top – the baby’s no fun anyway. Let her sit out there till she learns a lesson.
This is where Stevie finds her when he returns from a hard day’s work. He releases the child. The baby clings desperately to him while Laura raves. Seeing the child secure with someone else, Laura wants the baby back. Terry returns and looms over Stevie, ordering him to return the child. As far as Terry is concerned, that’s Laura’s baby. Stevie should mind his own business. When Stevie hesitates, Terry grabs the baby and batters the boy to the ground. And returns Susie to Laura.
Stevie knows this is going to wreck his new life, but he can’t abandon the child now – he waits till Terry and Laura drink themselves to sleep and, with Mozz’s help, sneaks the silent, terrified child out of the caravan. No time to waste, Terry will be on his tail as soon as the “theft” is discovered. With Susie in his arms and a hastily assembled pack on his back, he farewells a tearful Mozz and sets off. Susie and Stevie spend that night in a tumbledown shed beside the road. Something in him is deeply moved by her dependence – never before has anyone so completely trusted him. But what does a 15-year-old street kid know about caring for a baby? He knows enough to hold her and comfort her.
Early in the morning, he discards a soaking nappy, replacing it with a clumsily tied towel. And the two hit the road again. Cautiously, ducking into cover with every passing car, dreading the arrival of Terry.
The two women who run the service station café warm to this lad and his “sister.” As they sit with hot drinks, Stevie explains to Susie how he is going to go now, and leave her with the women. “They’ll look after you better than I can.” Tears well in Susie’s eyes but she doesn’t speak. Her trusting eyes follow him to the door. Stevie almost manages to subdue the rush of guilt and abandon her. A glance outside makes the decision for him – there’s Terry, refuelling. Stevie grabs Susie and heads out the back way, with a quick request to the women: “Please, don’t tell him we were here.”
Outside he and Susie clamber into the back of a truck, pulling the canvas covers down around them. Stevie watches through a crack as Terry scouts around then enters the café. The truck lurches into motion and moves off up the highway, overtaken a short time later by Terry. Stevie now knows he can’t abandon the child, not while there’s a chance she will be reclaimed by Terry. He must persevere and return her to her parents, whoever they are. Susie listens mutely, still uttering not a word, as he pours out his heart to her: all his problems, especially his dread of going back to Port Wilson where the police will be looking for him. Somehow, Stevie is beginning to depend on the child just as she depends on him. Her response is the same big hug she used to give her father.
Her father is facing the hardest decision of his life. Carol is totally unresponsive. The doctors advise that the kindest thing would be to let her just slip away.
Common sense shows Stevie how to feed and clothe Susie, even if he has to use his street- skills and steal the food and clothing. But less and less does he have to steal; the kindness of strangers makes theft less and less necessary. People who once would have dismissed Stevie as scum now see him with Susie and view him in a different light. For the first time he sees respect and empathy; even in the briefest of encounters, he feels a sense of community, of shared humanity. People trust him and to his own surprise, he returns the trust.
After a variety of hitched rides and train journeys, with the constant fear of Terry pushing them on, Stevie and Susie arrive back in Port Wilson. Stevie makes one last attempt to break through Susie’s silence. He again begs her: “Speak. What’s your name? So I can find your Mum and Dad.” But she will not, or cannot speak. Stevie has no choice. Despite his fears, he must go to the police.
Outside the police station, he tries to persuade Susie to go in alone. So he can dump her and make a run for it. But she clings like a limpet. He pleads with her to no avail, then braces himself and carries the child inside. His reception is even worse than expected. His grandfather is dead, he has no legal guardian, he must be committed to a juvenile home. And this little shit has kidnapped Constable Marston’s kid! Stevie is locked up – now it’s his turn to be mute. Who would believe him anyway? He resigns himself - after all he has been in a cell before.
Dave is overjoyed at the return of his baby. He rushes the child to her mother’s bedside. Still mute, Susie stares at her mother. Dave tells Carol her baby is safe; he begs her to wake. But there is no response. He turns to Susie, begs her to speak to her mother. Dave’s frustration mounts as Susie refuses to speak. He becomes angry. Susie stares at him, terrified as he sounds more and more like Laura. She struggles away from her father, runs from the ward.
Carol lies very still.
Stevie looks up as his cell door swings open. Susie and the cop stand side by side in the doorway. To his surprise, Susie runs away from her father and throws herself into his arms, clinging in her usual limpet style as Stevie comforts her. Utterly bewildered, Dave stares at the little girl he seems to have lost to this … scumbag. And begs: “Help me.”
Carol seems paler and thinner than ever as Stevie brings Susie into the ward. Dave stands by meekly, depending unwillingly on this petty crim. Expecting little. Stevie carries Susie to the bed, lifts her and looks straight into her eyes. “I know you can speak. You must speak to your Mummy.”
Susie looks at Stevie, looks from her father to her mother, and back to Stevie. He pleads, “Susie, this time you have to speak.” He holds her very tight for a moment, then turns to Carol. From the safety of the boy’s arms, Susie speaks, “Mummy! Wake up!” In her most authoritative voice. Carol doesn’t move. But Susie is taking none of this nonsense. She announces, “My name is Susan Alexandra Marston. Mummy, Wake up!”
Dave stares, not at Carol’s face, but at her fingers, clasping, reaching.
Stevie stands meekly in the Magistrates Court. Resigned. The magistrate sympathises with Stevie’s situation but despite his reformed behaviour of late, in the absence of a legal guardian, Stevie must be committed to the care of the state. Stevie knows what that means – some kind of boys’ home.
Dave, flanked by Carol and Susie, rises to his feet. Bemused but determined. Carol and Susie both encourage him on as he offers to take legal responsibility for Stevie. Susie grins and waves at the astounded Stevie. The magistrate is very surprised: “Constable, do you know what you’re letting yourself in for?” Dave shrugs: he thinks he does. But Susie is absolutely certain - she runs across the court gives Stevie her biggest limpet-hug.