At the Carlton, Hey Boy shows Paladin about an itinerant farm hand who went berserk and killed nine people with an axe. Rather than let the house boy annoy him about it, Paladin gives in and goes off to hunt down the man.
Several days later, Paladin arrives at a boarding house in the middle of a storm. The door is locked but he sees the owner Jeri Marcus through the window. Jeri lets him in and Marshal Jim Buell trains a gun on him. Jim tells paladin to put his gun on the table, and Paladin demands to know who he is. Jim explains that he's the marshal from Pine Bluff, and he's holding a prisoner--Davy Sutton--who is manacled and seated at the table. Jeri confirms Jim's identity, and Davy tells Paladin not to put his gun down. When Jim orders Davy to shut up, Paladin demands to hear what Davy has to say. The marshal gives in and Davy explains that Jim is taking him in for trial but is afraid that Jim will kill him first. Jim points out that Davy fired at him, and says that there's no excuse for killing a man. Davy insists that he was found innocent by a guilty due to self-defense. Jim isn't impressed, pointing out that Davy kept hitting him until he beat the man to death.
Paladin asks where Jim plans to take Davy, and Jim says that it's none of his business. Davy notices Paladin's revolver and figures that he's a gunfighter, and Paladin shows them his card. The prisoner offers to pay Paladin's price, and says that Jim is old and Paladin can take him. He begs Paladin to kill the marshal, and Paladin puts his revolver on the table. Jeri goes to the kitchen to get coffee, and Paladin goes there and asks for a room and care for his horse. She says that she doesn't have a stable, and Jim comes out and tells Paladin that Jeri should get married.
Jeri refuses to give up what she's worked for just to hand it over to Jim. Jim says that he doesn't want to be her stable boy and won't give up being a marshal. Jeri gets Paladin some food, and goes to take care of his horse. Jim figures that he has a rifle in his saddle boot and refuses to let Paladin go. Paladin says that he's already put himself in a bad position on little more than Jim's say-so, and offers to hand him the rifle at the door. Davy tells Paladin to backshoot Jim, but Paladin puts on his coat and goes out. Jeri tells Jim that he's nervous, and Jim tells her to get the food. Davy continues to ride Jim, telling him to shoot him now if it's going to happen.
Once Paladin comes back, he eats his food and Jim and Davy do likewise. Jeri tells Paladin that Jim shouldn't die just because he has a passion for the law, then takes out a shotgun and aims it at Paladin. She explains that Jim would kill Paladin if he thought Paladin was there to kill him, and she doesn't want him to die. Jeri promises that she'll kill Paladin if he threatens Jim, and Paladin demands an explanation. She asks if he could take Jim's gun away from him without hurting him. Paladin tells her that isn't possible, and tells her to either use the shotgun or put it away.
Paladin goes out to the main room to eat, and Davy "accidentally" drops his plate on the floor when Jim tells him that it's time to ride out. Ignoring it, Jim removes his handcuffs and tells him to put on his poncho. When the marshal says that they're riding to Coalville, Paladin warns him that the bridge is washed out by the storm and the river is too high to swim the horses. Davy figures that Jim is trapped, saying that if Jim goes back then he'll get shot and Roy Bissell is coming. He laughs and Jim tells him that he'll see Davy behind bars or dead.
Frustrated, Paladin demands an explanation figuring that he could get caught in the crossfire. When Jim doesn't say anything, Paladin takes his guns and says that he'll defend himself. Jim asks if he's with Roy, and Paladin explains what Jeri said. The marshal explains that Davy is Jeri's nephew. Jeri grabs the shotgun, and Jim tells her that first thing he did when he came there was remove the shells.
As Jeri stares at the shotgun in shock, Jim promises Dave that no one is going to take Davy away from him alive. He figures that they either live together or die together. Davy fights Jim since he has nothing to lose, and Paladin and Jeri watch. Jeri tells Paladin to stop the fight, and he wonders which one she wants him to shoot.
Jim When Davy gets the upper hand, Paladin goes over and stops him. Jim tells Paladin that Roy and fifteen men are riding after them to take Davy. The marshal has never lost a prisoner and doesn't intend to do so now. As Jeri pours Jim a drink, Jim tells Paladin that Roy is just using Davy as an excuse to come after him.
Davy yells for a drink, and Paladin hands him the bottle. Davy figures that he's going to die, and Jim says that two years ago he had to bring Roy's oldest son in to hang. He tells Jeri that it all catches up to him, and Jeri asks Paladin to help Jim get to Coalville. Paladin gives Jim his help, and Davy insists that Jim is going to kill him.
Roy and his men ride up, and Jim, Paladin, and Jeri lock the doors. Paladin tells Jeri to leave the door locked if she loves him, and they put out the lights. Roy calls to Jim, demanding that he send Davy out. Jim warns that he'll shoot Davy if Roy and his men start shooting. Roy asks the marshal when it's all going to end, and has one of his men fire a warning shot through the shutters. Paladin returns fire, and one of Roy's men shoots the door open. Paladin tackles Jim when he steps out to return fire.
Roy and his men come in, and Roy says that he's the law. Jim tells Roy that he can't drag down twenty-three years of good law, and Roy tells him that he did when he's killed innocent men for imagined crimes. All Davy did was get drunk and shoot at Jim's jail. Jim insists that Davy is going to kill again, and wonders what he'll say to the family of the next man he kills. Roy says that it will be another man's problem and demands the keys to Davy's leg irons. When Jim says that they won't understand, Paladin tells him that he--and they--understand that Jim snapped after twenty-three years. All that time Jim told himself that the law had to be done no matter what the anguish and pain, and that twisted Jim. He takes Jim's marshal badge, hand it to Roy, and walks away. As Jim stands in shock, Jim hugs him and after a moment he hugs her back.
Written by Gadfly on May 21, 2017