Paladin is riding through the desert when he comes to a saddle lying next to an open grave. A man is hanging from a tree nearby, and Paladin goes over and cuts him down. The man, Stryker, thanks Paladin for his help and asks if he's after Ahab Tyson. Paladin says that he has a warrant for Ahab, and Stryker explains that Ahab killed his brother. Ahab ambushed him and strung him up, but made the mistake of leaving him alive. Stryker gets his buffalo rifle and says that he's going to get Ahab and will bring some help along with him. He hopes that he won't have to kill Paladin over Ahab if the gunfighter gets in the way of his vengeance, and Paladin rides off.
Later, Paladin rides up to a young man herding sheep. He explains that he followed Ahab's trail to that place, and the boy invites Paladin to have a cool drink with him. The boy explains that when he was turn, the Boston doctors said that he had a year to live. His parents sent the boy east, possibly to die, but he lived and he's a friend to all that pass by. Ahab made him a slingshot and told him to practice to kill enemies of the Lord. The boy demonstrates his aim, and Paladin admits that he's surprised that Ahab would hide behind the arm of a boy.
Ahab walks out and says that he hoped there would be no blood spilled on the boy's land. Paladin draws his gun, and then dives out of the way as the boy throws at him. the boy dives for his rifle but Paladin tells him to put it down and then turns his gun on Ahab as he aims his rifle. Paladin sends the boy to get Ahab's horse, and soon Paladin is taking the old man back for justice.
Come nightfall, and Paladin and Ahab come to an abandoned cabin. They go inside for shelter, and Ahab says that he killed Stryker's brother because he tried to hold him up. The brother was just a boy, but Ahab says that there was no time for explanations.
Stryker and his two men ride up and see the smoke from the cabin. He tells his man not to shoot until he tells him, and they move off.
Ahab talks about Sky Blue, apple country where the apples are hard but tasty. They hear the horses neighing outside and Paladin says that it's Stryker. Stryker calls to Paladin, saying that he wants to talk first, and Paladin goes outside. When the older man tells Paladin to hand Ahab over, Paladin refuses and Stryker admits that he owed him that much and leaves with his men.
Paladin goes back inside, and Stryker's men open fire. Ahab and paladin take cover in the back, but Ahab is wounded. Paladin returns fire and takes down one man, and Stryker and the other man ride off. Ahab says that he's wounded in the leg, and there might be a doctor a half day's ride away at a mining camp.
Later, Doc Kelly is in his home when Paladin and Ahab arrive. Kelly says that he's a veterinarian but the only medical man in 150 miles. Despite that, he goes to work on Ahab. As Kelly works, he tells Paladin that Stryker rules the valley. The doctor motions Paladin aside and says that he'll do what he can but he doesn't think it will make much difference. Kelly warns that the infection is in the blood and Ahab has 36 hours. He tells Paladin that Stryker won't stop, and that the delirious Ahab has been talking about Sky Blue: a ghost town in the mountains.
Ahab tells Paladin that he has to get him back to Sky Blue because he has a wife there. The old man shows Paladin an amulet of a young woman, and admits that he hasn't seen her for four seasons. Kelly tells them that Sky Blue has been a ghost town for at least ten years, but Ahab insists that it's a lie and Paladin has to get him back there. The doctor notes that there are worse things than dying happy, and Paladin agrees to take Ahab there. He figures that Stryker won't take kindly to Kelly helping Ahab, but Kelly doesn't care and agrees to go with them.
The next day, the three men ride to Sky Blue and find it long abandoned. Ahab wonders where everyone is, and yells at his friends to come out. He runs to his former house, yelling for his wife Annie. Paladin tells him that they're all gone, and Ahab sees a noose hanging from a tree. He goes over and says that it was for him, and he explains that he killed three of them to make sure that he killed the right one: the one who killed Annie.
As Ahab limps away, three of Stryker's men open fire on him and Paladin. Paladin and the others take cover, and Paladin circles around behind them and orders them to drop their rifles. Two of them drop their guns and ride off, but the third one says that the man who died at the cabin was a friend. He turns and Paladin kills him.
Paladin and Kelly go into the saloon where Ahab took cover, and find him dead. Stryker is kneeling beside him, and says that Ahab died on his own and cheated him. He wonders why animals like Stryker are ever born, and says that Kelly is his enemy now for aiding Ahab. Stryker comes at Kelly and Paladin shoots him. As he dies, Stryker tells Kelly that he'll see him in perdition. As Paladin and Kelly leave, they look around what's left of Sky Blue.
Written by Gadfly on Jul 24, 2017