At the Carlton, Paladin meets with two members of the Cattleman's Association, McCormack and Hughes. They explain that years ago they hired Jess Larker, and now they want Paladin to dispose of him. Hughes explains that two years ago the Association put a $500 reward on a rustler, Cabell, and Jess is the only one who knows him. Now Jess has found Cabell and wants to collect the money. They want Paladin to keep Jess from killing Cabell, and Hughes insists that there won't be a next time because they want an end to Jess' way.
Paladin rides out on Jess' trail and finally comes to him at his campsite. Jess invites Paladin in and Paladin presents his card. He says that the Association hired him to help with Cabell, and won't take no for an answer. Jess wonders if he could take Paladin and goes for his gun, and Paladin outdraws him.Unapologetic, Jess puts away his gun and suggests that they hole up at the Madison House. He figures that killing Paladin won't earn him any money and they have a drink.
The next day, Paladin and Jess arrive at the Madison House. Emily Madison asks if they're together, and Paladin says that they are but insists on paying for separate adjoining rooms, meals included. Jess has gone up ahead and Paladin knocks on the door to his room. When he gets no answer, he looks in and sees no one there. Paladin goes to the next room and tosses his gear in... apparently unaware that Jess is up in the attic. The old bounty hunter climbs down and finds Paladin waiting for him. Paladin figures that Jess didn't leave because Cabell is somewhere in the house, and Jess figured that Paladin would go outside to look for him. Jess suggests that they get something to eat, and warns that the next time it'll be for real.
The guests have all gathered for dinner, and Paladin tries to make small talk. Mrs. Madison says that they have a house rule of no small talk, and Paladin compliments her on the cooking. She says that everyone but Mr. Parsons has been with her for quite a while. Paladin starts to chat with the other eaters, but Jess speaks up and objects to the talking and Mrs. Madison agrees. The gunfighter introduces Jess as a bounty hunter and says he just sees one of them as a bounty. Jess tells them that he's just a simple man, and he and Paladin do the same thing. He walks out and Mrs. Madison wonders what's going on. Paladin explains that Jess was hired to bring in an ex-rustler, and says that one of the guests is Cabell.He says that Cabell can come back with him and stand trial or gamble on Jess, but his life will be on the table. Paladin suggests that he doesn't gamble and goes up to his room., leaving the guests to talk among themselves.
Later, Paladin is waiting in his room and hears a tapping noise from Jess' room. He goes in and finds the old man drinking and playing solitaire. Paladin wonders where Jess' next job is coming from, and Jess says that the Lord will provide. He wonders if Paladin is scared of him, and admits that he's scared of him. Paladin wonders how much of a chance Jess is going to give Cabell, and points out that if the old man goes far then he'll hang, but if he doesn't then Cabell could shoot him dead. Disgusted, Jess wonders how many man Paladin has talked to death. He puts his hidden shotgun up on the table, well aware that Paladin knows that it's there, and Paladin advises him to get some sleep before going back to his room.
The next morning, Mrs. Madison calls everyone down to breakfast. Paladin comes down and discovers that one couple, the Allysons, aren't there. Mrs. Madison says that the husband rode out and the wife Sarah is in her room. Jess bangs the desk bell and says that he's checking out, and Paladin demands to know where he got the money. The bounty hunter says that the next time they meet, he's going to buy Paladin a drink because he has a joke... on him. Once Jess leaves, Paladin goes up to the Allyson's room and knocks on the door. Sarah is packing and says that her husband is gone for the day. She says that she gave all of her money to Jess, and Paladin tells her that he's not there to kill her husband. Sarah insists that he was tried and acquitted years again under his old name, and Paladin says that she just gave Jess $500 and a free hand.
A gunshot rings out and Paladin runs down to the dressing room. The dying Jess is on the floor, shot in the back, and Paladin tells Mrs. Madison to get a doctor. Jess says that he came in too fastHe tells Paladin the joke: Paladin is better than he ever was, but eventually he'll get cold and one day he'll end up the same way. Dying, Jess tells him to guess. Parsons tries to shoot Paladin but he turns and kills the man. Sarah comes in and Paladin gives her the money from Jess' pocket. He suggests that she pay for Jess' funeral and walks out. One of the guests says that bounty hunters expect to die. Paladin hears him but goes on his way.
Written by Gadfly on Apr 9, 2017