At the Carlton, a French woman takes offense at Paladin quoting her an epigram and leaves. Hey Girl shows Paladin an article about the Soledad, Oregon territory. The McPhater twins murdered two sheriff deputies and wounded four bystanders, then fled into the nearby wastelands. The citizens have posted a $2,000 reward for the killers. Paladin sends his card to Soledad.
Once the townspeople hire Paladin, he travels to Oregon and soon tracks down the McPhaters. Bud is sitting by the fire casually reading the Bible, while his twin is nearby apparently sleeping. Paladin tells Bud to drop his gun belt. Once Bud does, he explains that his brother is already dead. The killer explains that his brother died a natural death, and Paladin agrees to take the body to the railroad town on the way there and then continue to Soledad.
Once they drop off the body, Paladin and Bud come to a river crossing and discover that it's closed off. They cross the river on horseback, but a guard orders them to stop midway. The guard says that they got Paladin's telegram but he can't cross the river because there has been a suspected diphtheria outbreak. Until the doctor confirms the diagnosis, Soledad is under quarantine. The guard promises that they'll send supplies, and Paladin and Bud return to the opposite shore to make camp. Bud tries to jump Paladin, who tosses him into the river and then drags him back ashore. The killer vows that Paladin will never deliver him to Soledad.
Later, Tom Strickland and his daughter Jody come along in their wagon and see that the bridge is out. They pull up to Paladin's campsite and Tom comes over. Paladin explains about the diphtheria and invites the family to make themselves comfortable. Once the Stricklands come over, Jody talks to Paladin about how she figured her destiny was elsewhere. She convinced Tom to take her to San Francisco to seek her fortune. Paladin wonders how she plans to get along in San Francisco, and Jody doesn't... but figures that she'll get by.
Bud continues reading his Bible, and Tom accuses him of sacrilege. The killer says that a terrible fate awaits Tom, and insists that his fate will be played out at the river. Tom starts to take the Bible away, and Paladin tells him to back off. Bud boasts that he has the Bible memorized and Tom is in it, while a flirtatious Jody asks Paladin to tell her more about San Francisco.
Executioner Phineas Gaunt rides up and Paladin says that they may have been exposed to diphtheria. Phineas dismounts and Paladin tells him that Bud's brother died of a fever. The executioner describes how people died of diphtheria in Wichita, but Paladin tells him to stop spreading fear. Bud punches Paladin, who shrugs off the blow and knocks Bud down. They're manacles together, and Paladin throws the key into the river and then dunks Bud, telling him to get it. When he comes up, Bud figures that he and Paladin will stay chained together forever.
As they wait for the doctor to arrive, Phineas gets a cup of water from the river. Bud tells him that God has tainted the water, and laughs when Phineas tosses the water back into the river. Paladin drags Bud over as Phineas goes to his horse, and says that the water is pure. Phineas says that he knows and takes a hangman's rope out of his pack. He admits that he's not much good at anything else and it's a living, and there's someone to hang in Soledad.
That night, Tom goes to Paladin and says that it wouldn't be hard to get past the guards. Paladin points out that one or all of them may have been exposed, and he isn't willing to endanger the people of Soledad. Bud notices that Soledad looks badly, and Phineas coughs and wipes his brow. Jody asks Paladin if Phineas is really sick, and Paladin admits that he doesn't know.
The next morning, Tom asks Paladin why they should let Bud endanger for them. Paladin refuses to cut Bud loose and says that he's not sale for any price. Bud is listening and suggests that Tom has the fever. Paladin dismisses his claim as fearmongering. The killer asks Jody to bring him some water, and she hesitantly does so. He then grabs and kisses her, and Tom pulls his daughter away while Paladin tells Gaunt to free Bud so they can shoot it out. Bud figures that he's given Jody diphtheria just as he intended.
Phineas gets out his tools and starts hammering through the manacle chain. Tom takes over and breaks the chain, while the guard brings over a basket of food and leaves it on the bridge. Once Tom breaks the chain, Paladin tells Phineas to give Bud his gun. Bud backs away and goes for his gun, and Paladin shoots him in the wrist.
That night, Paladin finds Phineas considering his own noose. He tells him that he's not alone and goes back to sleep.
The next morning, the guard yells over that they received word by telegram that it's not diphtheria. Phineas notices that fear can drive some people to kill themselves, and others hang on to life. Paladin tells him that with the dawn comes reason, and they all cross over.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 19, 2017