Paladin is playing poker in the back room of the Carlton and passes
around a box of cigars. One of them, Bernard, pockets several and
half-jokingly says that they'll compensate for his losses. They continue
playing and Paladin beats Bernard's straight with a full house. The
other players call it a night but Bernard wants to play one more game of
showdown poker for $1,000. He offers a box of fifty rifles and a
thousand rounds of ammo that the Carlton is holding for him as his
stake, and Paladin accepts it. They then play and Paladin wins with a
When Paladin goes down to examine the rifles, he discovers that they're antiques dating back to 1812. He checks with management but discovers that Bernard has already checked out with no forwarding address. As he considers what to do with the rifles, Paladin reads a newspaper article about a ranch war in Sierra Valley between the Circle O and the Angle Bar. Pedro Valdez, owner of the Circle O, is blocking access to the summer grazing lands. Jared Martin, owner of the Angle Bar, plans to start a war if Pedro doesn't give him access. Seeing the chance for a profit, Paladin sends his card to both ranchers.
Once he gets responses, Paladin takes a wagon to the Sierra Valley carrying the box of rifle. He stops at the Angle Bar and Jared is ready to take the guns. However, Paladin refuses to sell them until he knows what Jared plans to do with them. Jared explains that he doesn't need the rifles: he intends to make sure that Pedro doesn't get them. He then signals his men to capture Paladin, explaining that he was willing to do business until Paladin started asking questions. The rancher knows from his man at the post office that Paladin also contacted Pedro. Paladin yanks himself free, knocks down the ranch hands, and leaps onto the wagon. He rides off, shooting behind him, and manages to wing two of Jared's men when they pursue him. Jared calls off the chase and tells his foreman, Russ, to hire as many gunmen as they can for $5.00 each. They'll take the cattle portal that night, round up the cattle in the next week, and take them through.
Paladin arrives at the Circle O and is greeted by Pedro and his brother Carlos. Pedro wonders why Paladin is there and Carlos, his arm in a sling, explains that he secretly accepted Paladin's offer against his brother's wishes. Pedro explains that he doesn't want trouble by setting off a war, but Paladin warns him that Jared has no such qualms. The gunfighter tells Pedro that he can pay for the rifles at whatever price that is fair, and Pedro agrees to the terms. The Valdez brothers insist that the portal and the land around it belong to them, and that a lawyer in town named Haskins has the papers to prove it. However, Haskins has warned them that the papers won't stand up in court. The Circle O ranch hands prepare to unload the rifles. Paladin, realizing they'll notice how old they are, tells them to keep them in the box for the time being, claiming that they're very dangerous.
The gunfighter rides into town and meets with Haskins, who explains that the original owner, John Longworthy, left the Valdez brothers the land in a letter. The rancher never anticipated dying and simply wanted to reward the brothers for their long years of service. Haskins was out of town when Longworthy died and the brothers didn't file a new deed because they thought the letter was sufficient. Jared then bought the Longworthy property, believing he had a proper claim. After Paladin reads the letter, Haskins draws a gun on him and orders him to return it. The lawyer admits that he has no idea who Paladin is working for and doesn't want to take the chance. Haskins explains that the only way the letter is legal evidence is if Jared endorses it as legitimate. When Carlos tried to do that, Jared had his men break his rival's arm. Haskins warns that Jared will be moving his cattle in a week and they have that long to make sure the Valdez brothers' claim is legitimized.
As Paladin leaves, he bumps into a cowboy walking by. The man takes offense but Paladin quickly draws on him. Impressed, the cowboy suggests that Paladin sign on with Jared and his men, and explains that they're going to ride out to take the portal and scare off the Valdez brothers. Paladin goes back to tell Haskins that Jared is moving ahead of schedule and asks for the letter. The lawyer still isn't convinced that Paladin is working with the brothers, but Paladin points out that if he wanted to destroy the letter, it would be destroyed. Haskins hands it over but then draws his gun when Paladin's back is turned and tells him to give it back. Paladin assures him that he can't possibly win and advises him to put the gun down, and Haskins does so. The gunfighter promises him that he'll bring the letter back the next day.
When Paladin returns to the Circle O, he sees the open box of rifles. The Valdez brothers know that they're unusable and accuse Paladin of tricking them. They tie him up even though he points out that he let them set the price and didn't ask for payment until afterward. Carlos is ready to have the ranch hands execute Paladin, but Pedro agrees to let him speak. Paladin explains that since the Valdez brothers can't possibly win against superior numbers, they'll use the rifles as a bluff. The men will set up in the rocks around the portal and extend the rifle barrels, and Jared will assume they're a threat. Carlos concedes that it's a good plan and unties Paladin. While they hand out the rifles, Paladin asks to get him as much coal oil as he can find.
That night, Jared and his hired guns prepare to ride out. Meanwhile, Paladin has the ranch hands set up around the portal while Pedro pours the coal oil as directed. When Jared and his men ride up, Paladin lights the coal oil behind them, cutting off their escape and panicking their horses. He then tells the hired guns to throw down their weapons, directing their attention to the rifle barrels. Jared doesn't want to back down but Paladin points out that his men won't risk their lives for $5. The rancher realizes which way the wind is blowing and concedes defeat, but says that he'll be back.
Realizing that he'll never have a better time, Paladin orders Jared to dismount and sign the letter validating the sale. Jared takes the letter but tries to throw it into the fire. Paladin stops him and takes the letter back, and orders Jared to sign it. Once the rancher does so, Pedro and the others take the guns and Paladin asks for one of his rifles. He shows it to Jared and the rancher realizes that he's been fooled, and then asks Pedro and Carlos what they'll pay for the rifles.
Later, Paladin is back at the Carlton and spots Bernard passing through the lobby. When the man tries to run, Paladin stops him... and thanks him for the guns. The gunfighter assures Bernard that he made a handsome profit from them and invites the man to play poker with him again sometime.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 26, 2017