Paladin is lounging in the Carlton lobby when three Tahitian girls come in. They immediately run over to Paladin and chat at him in French. Their manager Sal Werner comes in and explains that he won the act off of an Australian: the Tahitian Mermaids. While looking at their ad, Paladin notices an article about an add offering a reward for the Water Bugs: the three Brent Brothers, who have poisoned ranchers' water near Phoenix. Lead rancher Ezekial Tyler has raised the reward for anyone who can bring in the Brents. Paladin excuses himself and tells Hey Girl to pack his bags.
Paladin rides to Arizona and stops at a well. He finds a dead man as Fred Kessler rides up and says that it's his ranch. Fred explains that the dead man is his wood chopper, Barney, and admits that his wife refused to pay off the Brents. He tells Paladin that most locals feel the same way, and usually only the youngest Brent, Bobby Joe, shows his face while his brothers Alvah and Theo lay back and start the poisoning if anyone touches Bobby Joe. Ezekial has captured Bobby Joe and is holding him prisoner at Apache Junction, and Fred is riding there. Paladin agrees to go with him, as soon as they bury the corpse.
in Apache Junction, Bobby Joe is handcuffed to a tree. The town doctor warns Ezekial that they can't take Bobby Joe to the county seat until the next day when the stagecoach arrives. Fred says that Bobby Joe just needs a public whipping and turn him loose, but Bobby Joe warns that if they touch him then they'll die. Ezekial insists that Bobby Joe stand trial, and Fred warns that Alvah and Theo will poison the remaining water if they put Bobby Joe on trial. Unimpressed, Ezekial says that they need to stand as free men, and it's time to stand up for their rights. When Bobby Joe taunts Fred, Fred prepares to whip him. Paladin turns him to turn Bobby Joe loose or turn him in, but not to whip him. He hands Fred his card and says that it could be his business.
Ezekial asks Paladin to watch Bobby Joe until morning in return for the $600 in the public fund. Paladin agrees to take the job, but warns that once he takes the job, he won't stop no matter who wants to call it off, and he won't deal with the other Brents. Ezekial says that they'd have no reason to call off something right, and Paladin warns that by the time the night is over, the difference between right and wrong won't be so clear. Fred appeals to the townspeople but they appeal side with Ezekial. Paladin warns that the Brents will be coming and everyone prepares for their arrival. The doctor offers his office to Paladin to stay and admits that they don't have a jail, and says that Paladin can put Bobby Joe in their stopover keep, even though it doesn't have a door.
Once Bobby Joe is secured, Alvah and Fred approach Paladin and Alvah says that they just want to talk. Alvah sets his gun down and warns that his other brother Theo is watching them with a rifle. He insists that they make their living by not poisoning water, and he was 12 when he was forced to fix a well because he sprung his leg and their father was executed. When the landlord tried to drive them out, they left an empty can of poison on the man's well and he paid them off. Paladin is unimpressed with Alvah's tale of woe, and Alvah warns that they can poison the wells or have Theo shoot. Fred reminds Alvah that he brought him there, and Alvah tells him to convince his neighbors that he's sincere.
After sunset, Bobby Joe talks about his trade of water doctorin'. He insists that he's his own man, and Paladin says that he isn't anymore. Bobby Joe asks Paladin to take off his chains, and Paladin lets him loose but warns that he sleeps lightly. Once Paladin dozes off, Bobby Joe tries to come at Paladin with a life. Paladin is waiting for him with his derringer drawn and Bobby Joe quickly backs down.
The next morning the doctor pulls up in his carriage. He tells Paladin that cows have been dying all over the range, and hopes that it will end when Paladin gives up Bobby Joe or gets him out. Ezekial pulls up with his poisoned son Mica and the doctor checks on him. Paladin rechains Bobby Joe and Ezekial tells Paladin to turn Bobby Joe loose. The gunfighter refuses and the townspeople draw their guns on him. Paladin asks Ezekial what happened to his courage and convictions, and refuses to hand Bobby Joe over. The doctor asks if they care that Mica is fighting for his life, and tells them to go home and watch over their own children. After a moment, the townspeople go to take Mica to the doctor's office.
The stagecoach finally arrives and Paladin takes Bobby Joe to it. Bobby Joe figures that his brothers are waiting and Apache Junction will blow away, and insists that he and his brothers have always stood together. Paladin takes him over and when Theo prepares to shoot Paladin, the gunfighter spots him and shoots him. Bobby Joe runs to the fallen man and grabs the man's revolver, and yells at Alvah to get Paladin. Nothing happens, and Paladin shoots Bobby Joe dead. Theo tells Paladin that Alvah was going to run out on Bobby Joe and he killed him. Dying, he asks Paladin not to tell Bobby because it'll break his heart. Paladin looks over at Bobby Joe's body and tells Theo that Bobby Joe will never know.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 15, 2017