A WHISKER PAST MIDNIGHT, Part One
A WHISKER PAST MIDNIGHT
EXT. PORT TOWN IN POLAND, DOCKS -- MORNING
It's snowing, but a grey light filters through the clouds.
Huge tankers and cargo ships brush up near each other, their
crews calling greetings and curses. Most of them are slick
furred otters, puffing frozen clouds as they haul lines and
scurry about deck. Cranes shift huge boxes onto and off the
ships. One box bears a stencil: "AMMUNITION! DANGER!" in
Polish. The subtitle shows: "POLAND, DECEMBER 1938."
EXT. PORT TOWN IN POLAND--RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT
A large car, burdened with luggage, stops in front of a
townhouse and sags against the snow-crusted curb. Other
houses are slotted in close, like books on a shelf. A jovial
NEIGHBOR sticks his furry head out a high shuttered window
(this is a mouse neighborhood). He cups his paws and calls
to the two figures who emerge from the car.
Hey, there, Stephan! Watch they
don't steal your hubcaps!
STEPHAN, a dark-furred mouse in a scarf and heavy overcoat,
waves at the neighbor, who laughs and ducks back inside.
Stephan bends to whisper to LAURA, a mouse about seven years
old. Her nose is a dot of pink, her ears glowing through her
white fur. She moves naturally, but warily for her age. She
scrunches up her nose as her father whispers in her ear.
He means his own sons. A pack of
rascals, and I'll bet he's got
fifty more by now.
Laura giggles appreciatively, takes one graceful paw out of
her paw-warmer, and grabs his much larger, tight-gloved one.
She pulls him toward the big house as he pretends to resist.
Come on, let's meet Auntie Lydia!
Don't you want your things, Laura?
Later. I'm froze.
Oh, a little cold's good for the
He gives in and lets her pull him along. At the door, he
lifts her off the steps with one arm and lets her push the
doorbell. At this, there's a rustle of someone flying down
stairs inside the townhouse. The door pops open as Stephan
gently sets Laura down--it's short and portly Auntie LYDIA,
in an apron. With a yelp of delight she stoops (but not
much) and scoops up Laura, pulling her through the door.
Happy Hanukkah! Ooh, Stef, you've
brought my little American niece.
She's so thin! She needs some
cooking from the home country.
Stephan grips the door.
Enough of your cooking, sister, and
she'll be as big as the home
Load me up, I'm starved.
Lydia titters with delight, and has already got Laura in the
kitchen. Stephan shakes his head good-naturedly, steps
inside, and shuts the door.
Laura is sitting on a three-legged stool, a cookie in both
paws. She balances a glass of milk on her knees, quite well.
(through her cookie)
I like Poland.
Now, what's all this I hear about
these horrible jokes American
youngsters like to tell about us?
Laura cocks her head to the side, but then nods knowingly.
Oh! Mouseki jokes.
Stephan crosses his arms and growls at her.
Laura, that won't be necessary--
Oh, hush, Stef. Just one--
Stephan puts a paw to his brow and waves Laura on. She
gestures with her cookies like a baker doing sign language.
Okay. Did you hear the one about
(looks to Stephan)
--um, dumb mouse who went ice
fishing in summer?
Lydia, not getting it, shakes her head.
Well, he didn't catch any ice.
Stephan pretends to faint, and Lydia pops up to support him.
No, no, I'll be all right, it's
just Yankee humor turning my
Not too turned to taste my cookies,
Stephan rallies and snags one as she holds it out.
Oh, listen to me babble on. You
got mail already! Here, even!
She sweeps a thick letter off a counter and blows flour away.
Must be important. Looks like they
missed you in New York and sent it
on. I think, look under this
stamp, it says to open it now.
From outside the kitchen comes a loud, heavy knock. All
three mice turn to listen, and Lydia puts the letter back.
Oh, no, that can't be the investors
Laura jumps up and hangs on Stephan.
Your ship! Your ship! Please,
let's go see it!
Stephan shakes his head and bends to tap Laura on the nose as
she begins to pout a bit.
Later, my little mouse princess.
He tickles her under her chin for a moment, and she
Now, let's see who it is.
The door opens to reveal three rats in long overcoats,
identical hats, and heavy boots. Two of them shift and
shuffle, swinging their tails, but these OTHER RATS are
overshadowed by a taller, more genial fellow named HERMANN
RUST, his whiskers twisted into a handlebar mustache. He
carries a large folder stuffed with papers. The three rats
look silently in, and Stephan looks silently back. He breaks
You are the investors?
Of course. Hermann Rust, at your
Hermann thrusts the papers at one of his colleagues. He
extends one of his now-free paws to shake Stephan's.
Did you get my letter?
Ah, that was you? I haven't opened
Hermann grits his teeth. Stephan looks at him oddly, but
Hermann puts the smile back on.
A pity. It could have saved us
some time. These are my...
Stephan's fur bristles, and he narrows his eyes.
Times like these, with the Germans
on our doorstep--you can't be too
(puts a paw out)
The papers, please.
Hermann snaps his pawpads--the Other Rat nods and hands
Stephan the folder. He flips through it, relaxes and nods.
Laura steps up behind him, hugging his legs.
I want to go with you, papa!
(to the rats)
We've just come into town. Can we
at least unpack first?
OTHER RAT 1
We're busy animals.
OTHER RAT 2
She can come along if you like.
This shouldn't take too long.
Hermann clears his throat, gives Stephan a brief but pleading
look and mouths the word "no." That settles it. Once more,
Stephan bends to talk to Laura.
My ship isn't finished, Laura.
When the carpet is down and the
stained glass is up; when the
silver is polished and the flags
are flying, when my ship is alive,
little one, I'll take you sailing
from here to the stars.
She grabs him tighter.
Hermann winces and starts to say something, but bites his
tongue. Stephan snags his overcoat from the hall closet as
Lydia holds Laura by the shoulders.
See you soon!
He waves to them as he gets into the back of the long dark
car Hermann and the Other Rats came in. Hermann takes the
wheel and they dart away through the snowy streets.
INT. RATS' CAR
Between the two Other Rats, Stephan looks a little small and
crowded. He shifts in his seat and watches the city streets
through the window.
Say, this isn't the way to the
OTHER RAT 2
The Other Rats pull nightsticks from their overcoats and
mercilessly pound Stephan. At the wheel, Hermann curses, and
whips the car into a deserted alley.
INT./EXT. RATS' CAR
Hermann flings open the driver's side door and looks around
nervously as he jumps out--the beating continues in the back.
Too soon, dammit!
He rips open the right rear door and pulls one of the
astonished Other Rats out. He flings the Rat against the
wall of the alley and he snaps like twigs. Stephan slumps
against the seat, bloody and dazed, as the remaining Other
Rat recoils against the door, fumbling at the handle.
OTHER RAT 1
What are you doing, Hermann!?
I'm not sure, but it feels good.
He starts to crawl into the car, but the Other Rat has the
door open and has snagged Stephan.
OTHER RAT 1
You've betrayed your Führer! I'll
see you shot for this!
Better move fast, then.
Hermann rockets through the car. The Other Rat just barely
has time to drag Stephan out onto the street before Hermann
bashes him across the snout with a powerful paw.
The Rat collapses against a collection of garbage cans, but
his paws come up with a revolver. Hermann freezes as the Rat
zeroes in on him.
OTHER RAT 1
If Hitler can't have your ship
builder, no one can.
He swivels the gun around and sights in on Stephan, who is
trying to crawl back into the front of the car.
The Other Rat fires. Stephan cries out and falls back onto
the street. Hermann leaps at the Other Rat, who manages to
bring the gun around and fire. Hermann is hit in the
shoulder, but lands a cracking left to the rat's jaw. The
rat slumps, breathes two frozen puffs into the chill air,
then breathes no more. Hermann falls to his knees, blood
running through his paw as he clasps it to his shoulder.
INT./EXT. RATS' CAR.
Hermann stifles a groan as he hefts Stephan onto the seat,
face-up. A dark red stain creeps over the front of Stephan's
overcoat. He looks Hermann in the eyes.
Why... are you helping me?
Hermann shakes a labored head. Stephan coughs.
I fight Nazis. Sometimes I lose.
Stephan nods, but twists in pain.
Am I dying?
Hermann mulls it over but gives it to him straight.
Yes, my friend.
With strength born of terror, Stephan pulls Hermann close.
My daughter! Please--
--Laura will be safe. They were
after you this time.
Will you--make sure? Will you-
watch out for my--for Laura?
I'll do all I can. I promise.
Stephan smiles at this.
Wish--I'd known you better--
He chokes and trembles, gripping Hermann's arm and squeezing
his eyes tight. He gasps, lets go, and is still. Hermann
holds Stephan's paw tight with both of his own.
That was the idea.
EXT. PORT TOWN IN POLAND, DOCKS
A huge ship is readied. Welders rivet away, carpenters work
on the super-structure, cranes swing and hawsers lift. Huge
timbers crash into place, and shipyard workers rub them down
with buckets of oil and soap. The bulk of the ship creaks
down toward the water on these huge slabs of wood, dragging
massive chains. It hits the water, and steam rises around
its hull as it settles in.
There should be a cheering crowd, but there isn't. There's
only a large contingent of Nazi rats in their black and
silver dress uniforms, flanked by ceremonial drums.
They give the ship a "Sieg Heil!" and again "Seig Heil!" as
poor and cheerless substitute for a christening.
EXT. PASSENGER SHIP TERMINAL
SUBTITLE: SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND -- TEN YEARS LATER
A pink nose sticks out from underneath a floppy, wide-brimmed
hat. Wind makes the hat flap mercilessly about its wearer's
eyes. She sets down her large, battered brown suitcase, and
rips off the hat. She shakes her head to free up her hair.
It's Laura, around eighteen now. Ten years have refined her
surety and grace. A passing WOLF in a pinstripe suit
whistles--Laura turns to look, but he spins and fades into
the crowd, paws jammed into pockets.
Oh, pick on your own species.
She retrieves a roll of ship's blueprints jutting from one of
her bags, unrolls it, and holds it up against the profile of
the ship ahead. It's a perfect match.
Gotcha this time, you thieving...
She smirks, sets the hat back on tight, and stalks toward her
prize, rolling her blueprints.
Gonna make 'em pay, daddy.
EXT. PASSENGER SHIP TERMINAL -- STAIRWAY ENTRANCE
Laura starts toward a staircase leading into a long building
beside the ship--a sign by it reads "2A". It's roped off,
and littered with newspapers--one has a huge NEW YEAR'S EVE
headline. Laura frowns and checks her ticket.
That can't be right...
She sighs, stuffs the ticket into her pocket, and heads
closer to the water, where a few crew-members are trying to
get a large car across a gangway and into a hatch in the side
of the ship.
EXT. PASSENGER SHIP TERMINAL -- AUTOMOBILE ENTRY
A big car's engine purrs as the driver--a low-ranking CREW
RAT in duty clothes--inches it along the gangway and closer
to the ship.
There's a long drop below to the docks, and the Crew-Rat
gulps nervously. From below, an OFFICER RAT puffs menacingly
away at a cigarette. He snarls orders up at the driver and
the SECOND CREW-RAT, who stands in front of the car and
fearfully motions the driver forward.
HOLD THAT CAR!
Both Crew-Rats jump nearly out of their skins. The driver
stomps on the brakes, making them squeal.
What are you doing, you idiots?
You'll drop it off the side!
EXT. PASSENGER SHIP TERMINAL -- BELOW AUTO ENTRY
Laura watches the Officer Rat pace, fret, and groan at every
move his underlings make above.
You'll peel potatoes tonight, I
Excuse me, sir, but--
The Officer Rat flicks a glance in her direction and ashes at
her shoes. She takes a step back to avoid both.
Go to Information, back that way.
He waves her off and looks skyward, shaking his head at the
demands of this unfair world. Laura retrieves her ticket.
I know where my cabin is, it's just
Quit babbling and show me your
He grabs it, still not looking at her. His eyes drop to the
ticket--he does a double-take, flipping the cigarette away.
He makes a great show of tugging his uniform into shape.
OFFICER RAT (CONT'D)
Well! First Class, Miss Weiss!
How'd you get down here?
Two tired paws and a late train--
--whatever. Come on, I'll see you
He picks up Laura's suitcase and takes a few swift steps
toward a stairway. Laura scratches her head but starts off
after him. He pauses and looks up at his unfortunate
OFFICER RAT (CONT'D)
Scratch that car and you can spend
New Year's in the brig!
EXT. FIRST CLASS EMBARKATION AREA
FRANKIE, a mouse about Laura's age, but of stockier build,
ears a little big for his head, and with fur of a darker hue,
emerges with his GRANDFATHER from a staircase. Grandfather
is spry and wiry, though he leans a little on his round
knobbed walking cane. As Frankie hefts his drawstring
rucksack and starts up the last, steeper stair, Grandfather
pulls him up, almost without effort.
I'm glad you know your way around.
This place is nuts.
Well, you know how I navigate. I
just shut my eyes and point. That's
how I ended up with your grand
mother, now that I think about it.
Grandfather spots Laura, escorted by the Officer Rat up
ahead. He taps Frankie with his cane and points her out.
Frankie does a classic double-take, and his jaw drops.
You ought to introduce yourself.
I'd bet my whiskers she's Jewish,
and she looks lonely.
Laura glances in his direction and smiles faintly, then looks
away as the Officer Rat guides her to the correct line.
If she's lonely, it's a crime.
The Officer Rat tips his hat to Laura, sets her suitcase
down, and whirls around, headed for the exit staircase.
His fake smile falls as he turns his back to Laura, and as he
passes Frankie and Grandfather, he snarls under his breath.
Frankie grabs him by a sleeve, stopping him. Grandfather
slaps the knob of his cane menacingly against one palm.
What did you just call her?
I should whack you a good one!
The Officer Rat stammers and stutters, obviously caught.
I--I didn't mean--
--she's a beautiful young mouse,
and you're so far out of line they
ought to bust you down to a pot
Grandfather shoulders Frankie aside, getting a better grip on
Manners be damned, I'm going to
knock his head clear off.
Frankie lets go, to hold Grandfather back. The Officer Rat
ducks Grandfather's swipe, and hightails it toward the exit.
Grandfather glowers at Frankie.
I could have taken him, you know.
We have to stand up for our own.
Frankie matches his glare.
The war's over. Haven't you done
enough hard time already?
Grandfather sighs and nods, disappointed.
He'll get his, sooner or later.
Sooner, I hope.
The Officer Rat slinks down the exit stairway, fur on end and
running scared. Frankie moves on toward the gangway, looking
back instead of watching where he's going.
I just hope the rest of the crew
He bumps right into Laura, who gasps and whirls around,
dropping her suitcase squarely on Frankie's footpaw. He
yelps in pain and sits down hard as the latch springs open-
clothes, books, and sundry items spill all over. Laura falls
to her knees, putting her paws over Frankie's as they both
massage his bruised appendage.
I'm so sorry! Are you all right?
(playing down the pain)
Yeah, yeah. Let me help you pack
this stuff up--
Grandfather bends to help. Laura quickly folds clothes and
arranges them in the suitcase with almost military
efficiency. Frankie hands books and clothes to Laura. He
comes up with something very small and lacy--Laura blushes
and snatches it away. Frankie gulps discreetly. Grandfather
picks up a small brown book with a sound of delight. He
leafs through it, mouthing words.
Please give me that, it's my--
--prayer book. Handy thing to have
on an ocean voyage.
He graciously hands it back to her. He mouths "told you so"
to Frankie, who waves him off. Laura puts the book gently on
top of the pile of clothes in the suitcase. She puts the top
down and sits on the whole affair. Frankie leans heavily on
it and they fumble the latches closed. They wipe their brows.
Well, looks like everything's ship
Frankie grins at Laura.
My foot's gonna be ship-sized in a
second, if that counts.
Again with the foot. What can I do
to make it up to you?
Frankie begins to speak--but thinks it over. His eyes and
Laura's lock--they both know that this is an intimate moment.
Have dinner with me, and don't
bring the luggage.
Laura laughs as she and Grandfather help lift Frankie up.
I'd love to.
Well, let's see you off before
something less fortunate happens to
you. Come on, Hopalong.
Frankie scratches his head.
See me off? But--
I never said I was going with you.
I'll take that as far as I can,
Frankie shakes his head in disbelief. Grandfather easily
hefts the foot-crushing suitcase. Laura raises her eyebrows.
Thanks, both of you.
I'm Frankie. American, are you?
I knew there was some reason I was
She's touched, but sizes him up.
Hmm. Fairly witty, sort of cute.
You know, if you were Jewish,
that'd be three for three.
One-quarter Jewish. That count?
What the heck, I'm feeling
She playfully flicks his ear with a paw. She and Grandfather
head up toward the gangway as Frankie hobbles a few steps
behind, whiskers twitching happily.
EXT. GANGWAY ENTRANCE
The three mice approach the gangway. Hermann--who tried to
save her father all those years ago--is checking tickets and
luggage, waving passengers on with a friendly air. He
catches sight of Laura for a second and shakes his head.
Seeing things, Hermann. Couldn't be
her. Stuck in London for a week.
The nearby bellhops squint and scowl--Hermann puts the smile
back on. A little way back in the line, Grandfather sets
down Laura's suitcase.
My, that's some suitcase. I need a
little fresh air.
He steps up to the railing--closer to Hermann, too--and
sneakily pulls a ticket out of his pocket. It reads
"Northern Superior Lines". He rips it quickly into confetti
and tosses it over the side. Hermann notices, but
Grandfather puts a pawpad to his lips. Hermann just shrugs.
It's your money.
Pocket change, I assure you.
Grandfather pulls out a small wad of cash and stuffs it into
Hermann's pocket. He nods over his shoulder at Frankie and
Laura, who are chatting happily away.
Make sure those two bump into each
other as often as possible.
You'd have to pry them apart with a
crowbar, I think.
All the same, help them along.
(turns and calls)
This is where I get off, Frankie.
Frankie and Laura step up near Hermann. Grandfather shakes
Frankie's paw, tips his hat to Laura, then turns away. He
heads for the exit stairway, thumping along with his cane.
Thanks, Granddad! I'll call you!
Grandfather raises his cane in reply, then disappears down
the stairs. It's his way.
Hermann watches all of this with amusement, as Frankie and
Laura reach him. Frankie has the suitcase in tow--he sets it
down gently, as if it might bite.
So, are you... together?
Laura cuts a mischievous glance at Frankie.
I'm working on it.
Hermann turns to Laura, concerned, as he takes her ticket and
looks it over.
No family with you either, miss?
Laura's smile falls and her whiskers droop.
They're dead. Excuse me.
Hermann winces. Ears folded back and eyes downcast, Laura
snatches the ticket out of Hermann's paw and snags the
suitcase. She heads up the gangway--
Mein Gott--it is Laura--
Frankie doesn't hear, and takes a step after her.
She turns, tears beginning to streak her fur, torn between
being fair to Frankie and getting the hell out of there.
Later. Please, later.
Frankie nods. She flees into the ship. Hermann comes up
behind Frankie and puts a paw on his shoulder.
For her, I think, the war isn't
over. I hope you can bring her some
happiness, my young friend.
Frankie scratches his chin.
Say a guy wanted to send something
to a girl--
Hermann smiles widely and thumps Frankie on the back.
That's the spirit. Service on this
ship is very quick--if you know
which tail to yank.
(narrows his eyes)