Hook Hand Miller, Frontier Veteranarian
Deception on the Pass
The scene opens on the southern slopes of the Colarado Rockies. The sun rises slowly, casting uneven light and shadow on the flat landscape suddenly broken by the tall green and brown mountains. A small campfire burns in a protected pass where Miller has spent the night, sheltered from the cold which still holds the mountains in late spring.
She rises from her camp-bed, rivulets of water running off her buffalo-hide blanket and wide-brimmed hat. She's slept fully dressed, and shivers in the morning cold as she strips herself down to coarse long-underwear and scrubs herself with a rag soaked in dew. She takes special care to clean the rounded stump of her left arm before strapping on the padded harness that secures her hook.
As she makes final adjustments of her contraption, she finds herself suddenly confronted by a sweet-faced cow, who's crept silently into camp and gazes on her with puppyish adoration.
Nonplussed, Miller takes a long look at the beast, gazing down the trail where she must have come, and gives it some friendly pats and scratches. The cow loves this, and turns it's massive head and neck so Miller can get under her chin.
"You get away, girl?" She asks, "Let's see your brand."
Walking along side, Miller sees a dark x-like brand on the cow's flank. Patting her there, bits of singed hair come off on her hand like charcoal. She stares at her smudged fingers meditatively.
"Whoa, there" a voice comes from down
"Getcha, getcha." A crowd of a dozen or more cows comes streaming into the pass, herded by a lone cowboy on a piebald mare.
"Heyup," he shouts behind him, as he
spots Miller and reigns in his horse.
"Howdy," he says, coming along side her. Standing there in the midst of the cows, still clad in long underwear and not much else, Miller looks like a midget, with the cowboy on horseback towering over her like a centaur.
"Good day," Miller fixes him with a calm, intense look.
"Hey, hope we didn't overrun camp here." the cowboy says, apologetic.
"Naw, I set up a ways up the hill." Miller replies, indicating the smouldering campfire with her head. It's a few dozen feet above them, along with her camp-bed and her chestnut stallion Tobacco.
"You on your way north, M'am?" the cowboy asks, gazing out towards her horse.
"Yeah," Miller replies. "I'm a horse-doctor, and I hear there's plenty of work for veteranarians up at the railhead. You boys half beat your horses to death getting these doggies to market."
"Oh, not Apache Squaw, here. She's the best cutter on the range or anywhere. But if you're looking for work, we could sure use a hand."
While the cowboy talks, Miller appraises him and his gear. Apache Squaw is a fine, fiesty horse, and her rider can barely keep her in check as she twists her head left and right. But Miller is more interested in the rifle that hangs at easy reach in a holster on the saddle, and the X-like brand that pokes out from within the saddlebags.
"What's the job?" Miller asks, picking her teeth with her hook.
While Miller talks, the cowboy examines her. His eyes don't miss the pistol sitting atop the clothes on the camp-bed.
"We thought we could get one of our cows to market before she calfed- our fool boss is getting rid of the herd. But she's ready to go, and it would be a shame to loose her. We can't slow ourselves by taking the her and the calf, but if you'd like to buy the two off us, we'd give 'em to you cheap."
"Better you get to market first, before the competition arrives, huh?" Miller says, skeptically.
"Yeah, and better we get this drive over with, and find a new boss."
As he says this, more cows come streaming up the path, followed by a pair of sinister looking pokes. Unlike the first cowboy, these two are shabby looking, battered and shameless, riding old, frothy horses.
Miller pipes up immediately. "Whatever money I've got's socked away with Welles Fargo. It's hardly safe, travelling alone, and bein' a lady. But folks know me, and know I don't carry gold or whatnot."
The two silent cowboys exchange a skeptical look.
The first cowboy clears his throat. "Huh. Well, if you're known, we could write you a promissary note, in exchange for your services."
"Bill," one of the shabby ones says, "Here she comes."
As he says this, a hugely pregnant cow stumbles into the pass, wobbling on unsteady legs. Miller runs to her, forgetting her suspicions, as the cow kneels and then topples onto her side.
Miller immediately jabs her claw at the poke who just spoke.
"Get me my kit from the saddle bag."
Surprised to be commanded so sharply, he does what he's told.
Miller gives the cow a quick once over, thinking Clear Eyes, Dry Mouth. Fat. Good condition until recently.
Kneeling beside the cow, she takes her good hand, pulls up her sleeve with her teeth, and plunges it into the bloody depths of the cow's womb.
Meanwhile, the two unoccupied cowboys retreat to a distance to talk.
"Damn it, Bill, but what're you doin'? Why'nt you just plug her and get on with it?"
Bill looks at his companion contemptuously. "I don't gun down women unless I have to. Now what would you have done?"
The first cowboy looks incredulous. "Plug her, plug the damn heiffer, let 'em both rot up here. How many folks take the high pass? Nobody'd find her for months."
Bill just stares over to Miller, who's arm is in the cow up to her shoulder.
"If she can deliver the calf, then let her. We can sell them both off at the next post and get on with the drive."
"You nuts? They'll catch that fake brand in a second. You think she buys it? Only the dopes from up Chicago are gonna belive that lousy thing."
Millers voice carries across the valley in a shout. "It's half turned. I can turn her back, but I need two hands."
Bill turns from his companion, and wades through the throng of cows to where Miller struggles.
The second shabby cowboy joins this friend on the other side of the pass.
A symmetrical scene: Miller and Bill on one side of the valley, huddled over the laboring cow. On the other side of the valley, and a dense crowd of grazing, placid cows, the two other cowboys, dismounted now, keep their heads low and discuss the situation.
Miller and Bill work side by side, each with a hand on inside the poor heifer, Miller directing their movements with a professional intensity. As they draw the calf head first from it's mother, the cows behind them drift apart, revealing the two cowboys slowly approaching. The lead one, who had fetched Miller's medical kit, has his gun drawn.
Miller's back is apparently turned, but she gauges the situation by the look of dismay on Bill's face, and reaches into her medical kit, withdrawing a silver fitted syringe and preparing some sort of injection. Just as the first silent cowboy comes within reach, Miller throws it like dart, hitting the rump of an adjacent cow.
The cow gives a start of pain and jolts foreward a few feet. We see how Miller disappears from the cowboy's perspective, as the huge animal lumbers between them.
Scooting quickly under the beast, she pulls him to the ground with her hook. His gun fires straight into the air as he topples over, falling into a forest of brown and white legs.
But now, both Bill and the other other cowboy are in action. Bill, his hands gory from the birth, grabs Miller by the ankle, drags her out from under, and cocks his fist.
Miller's ready for this, too, and knocks Bill's hat off with a blow from her hook that staggers him. Scooting to her feet, she stands just in time to see the second, talkative cowboy level his gun and fire. His first shot misses, though, and Miller lowers her head, keeping the herd between her and the shooter. The cows, alarmed by the two gunshots, begin to move farther down the path, sweeping the shooter with them, keeping him from aiming again.
Miller, meanwhile, thinks of the gun on her camp-bed, and the rifle still holstered with Apache Sqaw. Scooting around the rear of the herd, she glances down and sees the silent cowboy creeping between the cows on his hands and knees. He launches himself out from between the last two cows in an attempt to grab her.
Miller meets him hand to hand. They grapple, the silent cowboy grabbing her wrist and hook. Meanwhile, we again see the perspective of the talkative one, struggling against the cow-tide, his shot blocked by his companion.
The cowboy is stronger than Miller, and grabs her around the waist pinning her good arm (still red with cow's blood). His other hand holds the dangerous looking hook at bay. This is a mistake; Miller simply shrugs out of the harness that keeps her hook in place, and the thug is left holding the hook and nothing else. With her free stump, she jabs the cowboy hard in the stomach and follows up with a wild elbow that breaks his grip. Beating her old wound is exceptionally painful, though, and Miller breaks into a low run, clutching at her left stump and grimacing.
The sucker-punched cowboy recovers quickly, and follows her around the herd. Meanwhile, the cowboy in the middle of the herd pulls off three shots, but is by now so far away, they go wide of their mark.
It's a straight foot race scramble up the hillside to the camp-bed where Miller's gun lies. Miller, seemingly in panic, dashes past the weapon. The silent cowboy grabs the pistol and levels it, just as Miller is leaping onto the back of Apache Sqaw, tethered a few yards away.
Miller, up on the horse, is caught, straight in the firing line of the silent cowboy. She goes for Bill's rifle, just as the cowboy pulls the trigger.
The hammer falls on an empty chamber. Meanwhile, Miller's got the Winchester out and cocked, resting the barrel on the sleeve of her bad arm.
"Throw that thing down right now." She commands, and just like last time, the silent cowboy obeys.
"Get over here" Miller points to the harness with the rifle.
The cowboy, his hands at waist level, to show he's unarmed, walks over to her and unties the reigns.
Meantime, the talkative one, having gotten free of the cattle, walks straight towards the two, his pistol drawn.
Miller takes aim.
"Drop it!" She shouts, "If you ain't hit me yet with that thing, you won't now. But I can shoot you straight in the heart from here." We can see Miller's point of view- looking straight through the clothes with her doctor's eye, into the ribcage and at his beating heart.
The silent cowboy pipes up, "Kill'er!"
Miller keeps her eyes on the armed one. "I can drop you just as fast. Who's it gonna be?"
The talkative one speaks. "How'd you get wise?"
"What kind of fool drives cattle over this high pass? You're rustlers, took all this beef in the middle of the night. That's why you didn't notice she was with calf."
We see the scene from far back. The cow has given birth, and licks the newborn contentedly. Beside them, Bill lies in a mingled pool of cow and human blood, clutching his side.
"Why don't you give it up, and I'll tend to your friend?"
The talkative one replies "What, Bill? He can go to hell for all I care, getting us up in this mess. Hey, Tate, get over here."
Miller, still not taking her eyes off the one with the gun, says to Tate, "Move and I shoot."
Tate thinks for a second, says, "Aw, hell." and makes a break for it.
Miller takes aim.
The talkative one fires. His pistolshot goes wide of it's target again, sending up a little puff of dust far behind Miller, just like she predicted. Miller doesn't fire, but tracks Tate all the way back to his friend.
"GET. I'm keeping your horses." is all Miller says as they run away together.
New scene. Miller sits on Apache Sqaw, looking down at Bill, nearly prone, holding his staunched wound weakly.
"I should leave you here. Rustlers get hung anyways, and you stole these cows from the Salem ranch. Papa Salem's a real sour cuss, and do worse to you than this."
"He's a bastard." is all that Bill can choke out.
Miller dismounts. "I took an oath, is all. So I got to patch you up."
We then see a series of close up images, paired with Miller's thoughts. Shock. Bill's shirt opened, exposing a dark smear of blood. Sepsis? A bottle of alcohol, a rag to clean the wound. Cautery. The cleaned wound exposed- a shallow cut to Bill's stomach, travelling across the left side of his belly. The branding iron in the fire, backwards. The narrow handle of the iron, scortching the wound. Suture. Miller's hand, a needle and thread, sewing the wound shut.
As the sun sets, we see Miller, on Tobacco, heading back down the pass. She's got Bill, trussed up, astride Apache Sqaw.