Paladin rides into the town of Tablerock, Arizona, and goes to the saloon, bumping against a man. He approaches a poker table and asks for the man who called him, Adams. Adams points out the man Paladin bumped into and another man, Elmo Haskins, tells Adams that he would have taken half of Paladin's fee to do the same job. Paladin notes that Adams said that Adams is a district prosecutor who was unable to obtain evidence that Virge Beech killed his brother. Adams explains that Virge pushes a man into shooting first and then kills in "self defense". Paladin warns how difficult it is to bring Virge to court, and Adams says that he wants Virge to know that he's going to die.
Unimpressed, Paladin tells Adams that he's not an executioner, and Adams nods to Haskins. Haskins goes over to Virge, and Adams says that maybe his second choice will work just as well. When Virge starts to leave, Haskins tells him to turn and fight. Virge ducks to the side, shoots, and kills Haskins. Adams accuses him of murder, and Virge says that everyone saw Haskins call him out. Furious, Adams says that everyone saw Virge draw first.
As the court gathers, Paladin asks if will be legally appointed. Judge Bryant pours himself a drink and says that it is. Paladin points out that the charges are fraudulent, and Bryant tells him that he felt the same way until the citizens of his home state impeached him for dispensing justice. Sheriff Matthew Tyler forces Virge to seat and the semi-drunken Bryant begins the trial. Paladin tells Bryant that he's staying, and Adams recites the charges. Virge says that Adams is a liar, and insists that Haskins had a gun on him. The jury foreman stands up and says that Virge has always claimed self-defense. Adams points out that Virge murdered his brother, and Virge says that no one will take his side.
Paladin speaks up and points out that defense has no counsel. Bryant fines him $25 for interrupting the proceedings, and Paladin reminds him that according to the law, Virge can choose anyone he wishes as defense lawyer or the court must appoint one. Bryant tells the sheriff to take Paladin into custody, but Paladin cites the case law that indicates that the lack of a defense attorney can get everyone liable for prosecution. Adams agrees, saying that he doesn't mind, and Paladin figures that he means that he doesn't mean as long as Virge hangs. Bryant ruminates on the law. Paladin responds in kind and Bryant tells him that he'll give the voters exactly what they want. Adams suggests that Paladin undertake the defense, and Bryant points out that Paladin may have been waiting for Adams to say that. Paladin immediately accepts.
Bryant agrees and Paladin immediately moves for a change of venue, then a delay, then a recess. The judge denies each of his requests and chuckles, and Adams calls Tyler as his first witness. Paladin insists that they have Tyler swear to tell the truth first, and Bryant reluctantly does so. Meanwhile, Virge wonders what's in it and Paladin says that he's in it for justice. Tyler claims that Virge and Haskins were lying all afternoon, and Virge angrily says that Tyler is lying. Bryant points out the rules about interrupting, and Paladin slams Virge down. Tyler continues and says that Virge drew first on Haskins. Paladin cross-examines and has Tyler repeat his oath of office. Adams objects that it's not pertinent to Tyler's testimony, but Paladin points out that he specifically mentioned Tyler was the sheriff. Bryant reluctantly concedes the point, and Paladin goes on about the labyrinth of procedures and laws. He asks if Tyler thinks it's a better idea to let a court settle each law. Tyler says that he'd trust his judgment but not the judge or prosecutor, and Adams finally objects. Bryant points out that Paladin has already made his point, and Adams asks the judge to tell the jury to disregard Tyler's words. The judge does so and irritably tells Adams to stop saying how to run his court.
After Adams calls the bartender to the stand, Paladin cross-examines and points out that he didn't try to stop Virge even though he was close enough to clearly see the shooting. He also points out the contradictions between Tyler's territory and the bartender's. When Paladin points out how flustered the bartender is while he's testifying, Adams objects to Paladin making speeches. Paladin says that he was saying that the jurisprudence system brings out the truth and asks if Adams disagrees with it. Adams turns to Bryant, who stammers through saying that it's not necessary for court officials to lecture them about the legal system. He says that they're only there to determine if Virge is innocent or guilty, and Paladin notes that any other reason would be hypocrisy.
Adams calls Thomas Beaker to the stand, but the foreman says that saw him sneak out. When Adams calls his next witness, Josh Cassidy, Josh's wife motions him to sit down. When he stands up, she walks out and Josh goes after her. Adams plaintively says that they only need one person to corroborate Tyler's testimony, but no one stands up. The prosecutor says that it doesn't matter, and Bryant tells him that a trial is a search for truth. If Adams wants to lynch Virge then Bryant tells him to string him up but not ask the court to make it legal. Adams rests his prosecution, and Paladin says that he's said enough.
The foreman tells Adams that a lynching is one thing but twisting the law is another. Paladin agrees, saying that he has a good point and the law should be something like church. Adams yells at Bryant to shut Paladin up, and Bryant holds him in contempt. Virge grabs a shotgun from his guard and prepares to kill Adams. Paladin disarms Virge and knocks him out, and Adams says that Virge was going to kill him and anyone in the way. He asks if they debate a snake or kill it.
Paladin tells Adams that he sees what the community was trying to do: eliminate a violent element without any delays or risks inherent in a court trial. The gunfighter says that he'll withdraw from the case and leave the town if Adams agrees to periodically distribute secret ballots letting everyone vote on the life or death of everyone else. Amused, Bryant agrees, wondering why no one has done it before and says that it's simple and may eliminate any evil. The jury and spectators protest, and Bryant says that the court will follow the law instead of personal animus. He points out that the prosecutor's case is full of holes and rules that no prima facie case has been shown, and directs Tyler to release Virge. However, he says that Virge is rejoined from using guns in town and appoint Paladin to enforce the order.
Once Bryant adjourns the court, Paladin starts to object. Virge straps on his gun and everyone runs for cover. Bryant and Adams move aside as Virge tells Paladin that Bryant put Paladin in his way. He draws but Paladin is faster and kills him. Bryant offers Paladin a drink and apologizes for putting Paladin in such a position, but admits that the court must be practical as well as legal. Paladin asks Bryant to fine Adams $1,000 on the contempt charge... to cover his fee for having to defend Virge. The judge chuckles and salutes Paladin.
Written by Gadfly on Aug 20, 2017