At the Carlton, Paladin calls in his chemist Younghusband to mix his precise gunpowder formula and provide bullets. Hey Boy comes in with a telegram confirming that the pottery piece Paladin is looking for is in Santa Fe, and Paladin tells him to pack his bags. He then tells Younghusband that he has to leave to pick up a piece of Santa Clara pottery, and the seller will only hold it until Friday.
Paladin travels to Santa Fe and gets the pottery. He stops at a town on his way back and comes to a man, Caleb Musgrove, lying next to a water trough. A nearby sign warns that the water is alkali and poison, Paladin dismounts and asks Caleb where he can find some good water. Caleb begs him for water, and Paladin goes to his horse to get his canteen. He turns to see Caleb gulping down the water. He collapses and Paladin runs to the nearby officer Walter Jonas. Caleb stands up, laughing, and takes down the sign.
Jonas tells Paladin that he's the third one who has fallen for the practical joke. He explains that one time he refused to go out on what he thought was one of Caleb's jokes, and a patient died as a result. Paladin goes to Ma Kafka's Oyster House Saloon where Caleb is telling the townspeople about the joke, and Caleb tells Paladin that he'll make it up to him. Paladin ignores him and orders a beer from Ma. He mentions the pottery, and Caleb brings it in and pretends to drop it. Paladin grabs it and Caleb offers to buy him a beer. He insists that the town would shrivel up and die without his practical jokes, and says that he gets his satisfaction from a job well done. Paladin asks if Caleb finds it a little risky, but Caleb figures that a sorehead will make trouble sooner or later. When Caleb invites Paladin to stay for dinner, Paladin wonders where his wife is and Caleb says that it makes no difference that he's married given Ma's cooking.
A man, Abner Bessington, comes in, glares at Caleb, and sits down. He orders a whiskey and Caleb winks at Paladin. Later, everyone sits down to dinner at Ma's table and Caleb asks Abner what his line is. Abner says that he's a gambler, and then tells Ma that Abner doesn't like his cooking. As Caleb's wife Nora comes in, Abner says that he doesn't eat much because he tends to put on weight. Caleb invites Abner to have some cold beer, but the glass is rigged with a chemical that bursts into flame when Abner pours the beer into it. Everyone laughs except Paladin and Ma, and Abner draws a gun and promises to use it if Caleb ever plays a trick on him again.
Abner walks out and Caleb boasts to his wife about his joke. Nora says that she waited dinner for him, and he says that he couldn't pass up an opportunity. She points out that Abner didn't laugh, and Ma tells Nora to take Caleb home and lock him up. Paladin warns Caleb that Abner meant what he said, but Caleb refuses to back down, insisting that Abner challenged him in front of his wife. Paladin dismisses him as a man without a sense of humor, and Caleb leaves with Nora.
Later, Paladin is turning in for the night when Nora arrives. He invites her in, and Nora shows him his card that Ma gave him. She asks Paladin to find Caleb and stop him before he plays another joke. Nora figures that he's planning some joke with half the loafers in town watching, and tells Paladin where Abner's room is. She figures that Paladin is Caleb's friend, but he makes it clear that he doesn't like practical jokers. The only thing worse is someone whose lack of humor leads them to kill. Nora looks out the window and sees Caleb and his cronies going back home. She figures the joke is already played, but Paladin tells her that there may still be time.
Paladin goes out in the hallway and sees an envelope under Abner's door. Ma comes out, sees it, and goes back in her room. Paladin takes the envelope and goes back to his room, and finds a love letter to Abner inside of it. It's supposedly from Nora, inviting Abner to visit her at the Musgrove house while Caleb is away. Nora confirms that it's Caleb's handwriting, and Paladin figures that she'd attack Abner while Caleb and his cronies are in the bushes watching. He tells Nora that he's going to deliver the envelope.
Soon, Abner shows up at the Musgrove house. Caleb and his cronies--and Paladin--are watching from across the street, and Caleb is shocked to see his wife greet Abner and invite him inside. When the cronies laugh, Caleb tells them to shut their mouths and asks for Paladin's gun. Paladin asks where his sense of humor is, but Caleb doesn't find it funny and repeats his request. The gunfighter hands his gun over, and Caleb calls Abner out. Abner comes out and tells Caleb that he knows Caleb set it all up. Nora begs Abner to stop, and Caleb says that he's no gunfighter but he has a right to act in defense of his own home. Abner tells him to do it, and Nora turns away. Caleb calls to her, but she ignores him. Paladin yells to her, asking if she thinks there's something disgraceful in a man defending his wife's honor and tells her to watch.
Paladin walks out and takes his gun from Caleb. He admits that he set it up and tells Abner to fight him if he's going to fight anyone. When Abner hesitates, Paladin asks if he thinks Nora is worth fighting for. Abner still doesn't draw, and Paladin asks him if he thinks a stupid practical joke is worth a man's life. The gambler says that he'll be in Denver the next day and walks away, and Caleb yells at the cronies to go away. They laugh at him and Caleb asks them what's so funny, and they walk away. Caleb and Nora go inside, and Caleb glances back at Paladin, winks, and chuckles before closing the door.
Written by Gadfly on Jun 18, 2017