A crowd prepares to lynch Charles Lopez in the middle of the streets. One man, George Mason, says that they have to give Charles a chance to talk, but Sheriff Alvin Freemont points out that Charles isn't scaring. He says that they should take him back and the others agree... until suddenly the horse runs, leaving him to hang.
A report of the incident goes to Austin. The Rangers, not satisfied, send Hoby to the town to make a thorough investigation. Hoby rides into town and goes to Alvin's office. Alvin is expecting him and Hoby presents his letter of authority from Austin. The sheriff gives Hoby his badge and says that he's through, and points out that in his report he took full responsibility. Hoby explains that he's there to determine if the state has a case. Alvin explains that five of them tried to scare Charles into talking, and George came up with the idea. George was Carl Rainy's boss, and Carl was the man who was murdered two weeks ago. Carl managed the stable for George, and Charles was a stable boy there. Charles was out there close to where Carl's body was found, and he claimed he was looking for stray horses. Alvin explains that he had to do something because emotions were running high, and Hoby says that he needs to talk to the other four men and get their statements.
Hoby goes to the barber shop to talk to one of the men, Tad Collins. The town newspaper owner, Hub Grimm, and his typesetter Ted Spies see Hoby go in and come over. The customer at the shop is Russ Edwards, and Hoby figures that they know why he's here. Hub says that they were only going along with Alvin, and Hoby asks why he didn't print an account in his newspaper. He tells them all that if they have nothing to hide then they'll answer his questions. They explain that the whole idea was to scare Charles into talking, not kill him. Each of them took a section where they could keep things under control. Ted explains that Charles wasn't impressed by the lynching, and Russ held the horse's head. The horse's rope broke and it took off, leaving Charles to head. The horse was from George's livery stable, and Charles had a wife, Dolores. When they point out that Hoby is only interested in Charles' death, not Carl, and Hoby explains that he's taking the freshest trail. He points out that all of them put a noose around Charles' neck, and suggests that someone might have known what Charles was going to say and stopped him.
Hoby goes to see Dolores and explains why he's there. He says that he's not satisfied with what he's heard so far, and she lets him in. Dolores says that Charles worked at the stable for two years and did what he was told. She insists that George is their friend and promised the family money to take care of Dolores's coming baby while Charles was in jail. Charles told her what George says, and never said anything to Alvin about it. Hoby asks her if Charles told her anything about Carl's death, and Dolores figures that he's looking for proof that Charles murdered Carl. The Ranger says that he can't investigate one without the other but that doesn't mean he thinks that Charles is guilty.
Next, Hoby talks to Russ. He explains that he worked for George, who is the settlement's biggest benefactor. George paid all the expenses for Carl's funeral, and George's wife Stella was so broke up she didn't come to the funeral. Stella used to take apples down to the stable for Carl so that he could teach the horses tricks. George told him not to order any more apples, and Hoby asks Russ if he said it before or after Cal's murder. Russ suddenly stops talking and says that he'd better ask George, and advises him to take it easy because George answers loud. Once Hoby leaves, Russ runs out the back and goes to the stable to warn George. George and Stella are there, and Stella says that she isn't unhappy about what happened to Charles.
Hoby comes in and Russ quickly leaves. George says that it was his suggestion to stage the fake lynching, and Hoby points out that the prisoner was Alvin's responsibility. Stella says that Charles didn't deserve any consideration, and George tells Hoby that Carl was a friend of the family and they were all very close. Hoby tells them that even Alvin thinks that Charles was innocent, and points out that George gave money to Dolores. Stella is surprised to hear that, and George claims that he felt sorry for her because she was expecting. When Stella says that George told him that Charles was lying, Hoby asks Charles if that was his opinion. Charles says that it doesn't matter since Charles is dead, and Hoby points out that Carl's killer will go free. Once Stella leaves, George tells Hoby that he thought Charles was lying but he didn't think he was the killer. As Hoby lights a cigarette, the horse comes over to the match. Stella explains that Carl taught the horse to run toward fire instead of away from it.
Back at the sheriff's office, Hoby asks Alvin if George and Stella ever had any problems. Alvin insists that Stella was faithful but George was a jealous man, and that George was next to him during the lynching. Hoby asks if anyone was smoking before the horse bolted, and Alvin admits that George might have lit a cigar right before Charles was hung. The Ranger lies out the case that George gave Delores money and then lit a match at the hanging. Alvin confirms that the horse at the stable was the one they used during the lynching, and Hoby figures that Charles knew that George killed Carl out of jealousy. Charles saw George kill Carl and George gave him money, but then set up the fake hanging to tie up the loose ends. Alvin figures that they'd better get the horse.
Hoby and Alvin go to the stable and discover that the horse is gone. They go to George' home to find it.
At home, Stella wonders who killed Carl. George says that it doesn't matter, and tells Stella to forget the man. She goes to bed--alone--and the doorbell rings. It's Hoby and Alvin, and Hoby says that he's arresting George for Charles' murder. George denies any involvement and claims that the horse broke its leg in a stump hole so he killed it. Hoby asks to talk to Stella, and George claims that she's indisposed. The Ranger sees Stella's shadow at the top of the stairs, and then wonders what Stella would say if she knew that George killed Carl and staged the fake hanging to get rid of the only witness. Stella comes down and asks why George lied about shooting the horse, and says that he destroyed the horse. She explains that when they came home from the stable, George went directly to the barn and shot the horse. Hoby advises George to throw himself on the mercy of the court, and George says that he'll make sure no man ever goes after her. He grabs a rifle and Hoby is forced to kill him.
The next day, Hoby tells Alvin that the authorities would have to take any further legal action. He gives Alvin his badge back and rides out of town.
Written by Gadfly on Mar 19, 2017