At the Carlton, Paladin is playing chess against a frustrated opponent, Yegeny, when Hey Girl gives him a newspaper. It talks about Bob Olson and James Horton, who escaped from Sheriff Ernie Backwater and a jury after they were found guilty of the death of Tom Petty. Bob and James leaped out of the courtroom window, and Bob testified that they hadn't set out to kill Tom but it had been a "fandango". Paladin checkmates Yevgeny and leaves for the town.
Later, Paladin approaches Bob at the water. Bon is catching fish and says that he plans to sell them to attend the local fair. Paladin tells Bob that there's a bounty on him, and he just plans to take him in. Bob says that he'd rather be shot than hung, and admits that he's just 16. After a moment, Paladin asks if he wants to eat first. Bob agrees and then charges Paladin, who tosses him into the river and punches him. He asks if he wants to put chains on Bob, and Bob jokingly says that he'd better do that.
As Paladin takes Bob in, he comes across Ernie and his deputy, who have captured James. James says that Lloyd Petty, Tom's brother, plans to kill them. Paladin and Ernie greet each other, and Ernie tells Bobby that they've taken care of his dog. The deputy, Sanchez, tells Ernie that he wants to quit. Ernie reminds him that he took the town's money and it's time to earn his money. However, Sanchez wonders who is going to pay him when Lloyd kills Ernie, hands over his badge, and rides off. Ernie tells Paladin that the boys will hang the next day, and explains that they almost cost him his job. Paladin says that he feels sick about the whole thing, but Ernie says that he has to pull the trap. He angrily invites Paladin to ride out, and then apologizes. Ernie explains that Lloyd is going to kill him and kill the boys themselves, and Paladin remembers that eight years ago, Lloyd was a big gunfighter. Now Lloyd is a rancher.
James asks if he can have some ice cream when they get to town, and Ernie agrees. Paladin asks James why he killed Tom, and James says that he didn't know. He claims that it just started as a fandango, but then he got tired of Tom's airs and he meant to kill him. Bob cheerfully admits that he killed Tom, and Ernie offers Paladin the deputy job. Paladin accepts, and James tries to run. Paladin easily brings him down and Ernie tells him to shoot next time. He asks if Paladin can take Lloyd, and Paladin says that he doesn't know or wants to try.
Paladin and Ernie take the boys to town, and make camp partway there. Ernie assures Paladin that Lloyd will come himself and just want to talk at first. The sheriff says that the boys won't have their sentence commuted, and hopes that Paladin will help make sure that Lloyd doesn't lynch them.
Paladin agrees to help, just as Lloyd steps out. Paladin draws his gun, but Lloyd is unarmed. He points out that he could have killed Ernie, and demands the boys. Ernie refuses and Paladin wonders why he wants the boys. Lloyd says that there's nothing stronger than blood, and he didn't like Tom but he was his brother. He promises to put a bullet in both their heads, and advises Ernie to take a walk. Lloyd tells Paladin that he doesn't matter but he wishes that he didn't have to kill Ernie. Once Lloyd walks away, Ernie says that Lloyd will bring three or four men and understands what Lloyd is going through.
Later, Paladin and Ernie ride into town and the townspeople take cover. Once the boys are locked up, Ernie gets James as much ice cream as he can eat. Paladin enters the cell and says that he'll get him more if he wants. James, the simple one, admits that his father said he was a devil's spawn. Bob says that he doesn't want anything, and says that he didn't hear Ernie testing the trapdoors on the gallows. Ernie says that they'll work and walks out of the cell.
Paladin asks Ernie where the townspeople were, and he says that they're all inside staying out of the line of fire. Ernie reads the prosecutor's opening address describing how Bob and James beat Tom into a coma. He died two days later, and that it began as a fandango and the defendants initially only meant to frighten Tom. The prosecutor reviewed all the facts and told all the jury that there was no excuse for murder. Ernie says that he read the address to think things out. Paladin starts to leave, but then locks the door and asks Ernie where he wants to make his fight. Ernie figures that they should make their stand inside the sheriff's station.
As the two men wait, Paladin hears a fuse burning and realizes that it's dynamite. They take cover as Lloyd and his men blast their way in through the front door and through the cell door. When the first three men charge in, Paladin and Ernie shoot them down. Lloyd steps out and Paladin realizes that Ernie is stunned. He goes out to meet Lloyd and the two men draw... and Lloyd goes down. Bob pulls free of his manacles and starts to run, but Paladin draws his gun on him. After a moment, Paladin lowers his gun and Bob runs out, abandoning James. Ernie tells Paladin that he made a mistake, warning that Bob will kill another man eventually. Paladin admits that he might be right, and Ernie says that he's still going to carry out James' death sentence. The sheriff says that Lloyd was slower than the man he knew, and Paladin says that a tenth of a second was all the difference it made.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 1, 2017