At the Carlton, Paladin is in the lobby playing chess against himself, recreating the strategies of Hannibal and Napoleon. Hey Girl brings him a telegram with a job in Santa Fe, and Paladin goes to prepare for his trip.
Later on the trail, Paladin ends up in a fight with a puma. He wakes up briefly and sees two men taking his gun. They figure he'll die whether they take him into nearby Prairie Orchard or not, and the man with the Mexican spurs complains that his companion let the Indians take their horses. The two men go through Paladin's saddlebags and take his money, and the second man--with a German accent--worries that they're leaving a man to die, and the man with the spurs invites him to beat in Paladin's head and put him out of his misery. After arguing, they both ride off.
Later, Paladin staggers into Prairie Orchard and goes to the barber shop. He pays the barber with the one bill the men missed, and asks the man if he knows either of the robbers. The barber quickly says that he doesn't, but explains that he's new around there. Paladin points out that the paint on the sign with the barber's name, Forbes, is peeling off, and Forbes claims that his cousin owned the place. Unconvinced, Paladin goes to the baths and Forbes finds Paladin's card in his hat.
Later, Paladin goes to the sheriff's office, looking at the boots of the people he passes. Meanwhile, Forbes tells the townspeople about Paladin. In the office, Paladin tells the sheriff that he wants to report a theft. He explains that a puma jumped him and two men stole his money and guns and left him to die. Paladin points out that one of the men was wearing a ring just like the sheriff is wearing, and the sheriff says that there's more of a hundred of the rings around, and asks for the robber's names. Paladin is unable to give him any useful descriptions, but offers to have the sheriff call the man in Santa Fe who paid him. The sheriff dismisses Paladin as a bounty hunter, but Paladin says that he has a legal claim. When the man says that he'll see what he does, Paladin tells him that he'll investigate on his own and find the man who'd leave him to die. The sheriff advises him to ride out of town, and Paladin points out that he doesn't have a horse.
Paladin has the telegram operator Rack send a message, and asks the operator to step out when he hears his spurs jangling. He calls Rack out and draws his derringer, and asks where he was five days ago. Rack says that he was in jail five days ago for drunkenness, and Paladin explains that he's looking for a man who wears the same spurs and boots that the operator is. The operator says that they have a Mexican Fiesta Week and he's got an early start, and Paladin gives him the message to send wiring for money. The express station operator Kress comes down the street, and he's wearing the same boots and spurs for the fiesta. Kress is also wearing the ring, and says that there are thirty German families in the town.
Later, Paladin goes to the saloon to get a sandwich and beer. The bartender Cull refuses to give him credit, and a saloon girl named Topaz comes over to pay Paladin's tab. Topaz knows Paladin and his story from the rumors running around town. She says that people are speculating that he's going to kill the two men, and Paladin admits that he doesn't know. Topaz suggests that the men might be friends of hers, and says that if they had stayed then they might have died, too. She defends the men's actions, and tells Paladin to leave it alone since he survived. Paladin points out that he survived no thanks to the two men, and he wants to ride out of town with his own horse, guns, and money. Topaz asks if he'll settle for that, and Paladin says that he doesn't know.
Paladin goes to his hotel room and checks his gun. He hears someone outside, and by the time he opens the door, there's no one there but they've left his holster but no gun. Everyone is waiting outside and his horse is there, and Paladin confirms that his rifle is there but no money. The sheriff asks if Paladin is leaving, and Paladin points out that his handgun and money is still missing. The law officer offers to settle Paladin's debts, and claims that he saw the crowd and came to investigate. Paladin tells everyone that he's not leaving yet.
Topaz steps forward and gives Paladin his gun, saying someone left it at the saloon. A townsman Boggs hands Paladin an envelope with $200, and says that he didn't want to leave Paladin. The sheriff says that Boggs works for the telegram company and he's bringing Paladin the money Paladin wired for. Boggs insists that he doesn't have the $1800, and Paladin asks who his partner was.
Cull steps forward and says that he was. He tells Paladin that they should get on with it, and the sheriff warns that Paladin will kill him. Cull says that he doesn't have Paladin's money, and everyone backs away. When the man goes for his gun, Paladin wings him with his derringer. He then shows the sheriff his gun and the man confirms that it was unloaded. Paladin figures that Paladin set him up so that Cull would kill him. He asks why the town was willing to protect Cull, and the sheriff says that Cull owed everyone. When Cull claimed that he won the money, they all got him to pay off their debts. Paladin asks if he's going to get his money, and the sheriff and the others hand it over. They admit that there was no Mexican festival and no Germans. Paladin tells Topaz to pay his hotel bill, and she says that she didn't know the gun was empty. He just smiles, mounts up, and rides out.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 5, 2017