Paladin is riding back from a job in Ft. Worth when two men, Emanual
and Jackson, take him prisoner. They escort him to a camp where a
rancher, Louis Strome, is waiting. When they take Paladin to Strome, he
says, "She's dead" to the gunslinger. He tells Strome that he has no
idea what he's talking about, and Strome asks who he is and what his
business is. Paladin gives him his card and Strome tells him that he'll
be staying there for a while.
Strome's men take Paladin past a noose hanging from a tree to another man, also wearing a black shirt. He's playing a guitar and introduces himself as Andy Fisher. He explains that Strome is one of the richest ranchers in Texas and Paladin recognizes the man by reputation. Andy tells Paladin that Strome's men captured him as well and brought him there.
A short time later, Strome's men bring in another traveler, Clyde Broderick, who is wearing a black jacket. Clyde explains that he's a gun salesman but doesn't use them himself. Strome says "She's dead" to Clyde the same as he did to Paladin. Clyde doesn't know what he means and Paladin explains that Strome is trying to trick someone into making confession. The gunslinger speculates that Strome is looking for a man who he hasn't seen, but knows wears a black shirt or jacket and rides a black horse like the three of them. Strome must be looking for someone who killed a woman. Strome explains that the man who killed his wife wore black and rode a black horse. His three prisoners insist that none of them killed his wife but the rancher says that one of them is lying.
Paladin suggests that Strome tell them what happened so that the two innocent men can figure out who the guilty one is. Strome tells them that his wife, Maria Vasquez, was born into a rich Mexican family and married him two years ago. All three prisoners have heard of the Vasquez family and Clyde sold two expensive rifles to them. Strome suspected that Maria was seeing another man and came home early one night. He came in and caught a glimpse of the man before Maria put out the light. When Strome tried to shoot the man, Maria moved in front of the bullet and died. Strome blames the mystery man for Maria's death and plans to see him hang. He talked to the people of the nearby town that the killer had to pass through and they told him of three men that matched the description.
Clyde admits that he stayed in the town hotel and was there all night, but Strome confirms that he doesn't have an alibi for the entire time, and it was only a two hour ride to his estate. Paladin and Andy tell Strome that they slept on their saddles the previous night and that they also don't have an alibi. The two men try to leave but Strome's men stops them, and the rancher tells them that he will leave Emanual and Jackson to watch the camp and keep them there throughout the night. With that, he and his men retreat into the nearby rocks.
As the sun sets, Strome's men string up two more nooses. Paladin shows his fellow prisoners his hidden derringer and suggests that they jump the two men. When the fire goes low, Emanual comes out to feed it more wood. Paladin takes him prisoner and orders him to call Jackson down. As they take the men's rifles, Strome fires from the shadows, calling that he decided to watch with his men. The three prisoners reluctantly surrender and Strome comes out and tells them to get to work figuring out which of them is guilty.
Paladin grabs Emanual and uses him as a shield, and Strome holds off firing. Satisfied, Paladin shoves Emanual away and points out that Strome is clearly fast enough to avoid making a snapshot. He also notes that Maria couldn't have moved faster than a bullet. Paladin also figures that if the man had feelings for Maria, he would have ridden back. The gunslinger asks Strome how much time passed before Maria died, and Strome admits that she died a half hour after the mystery man left. As Andy and Clyde realize that Strome killed Maria in cold blood, Strome still insists that one of them killed Maria and gives them until sunset to figure out which of them is guilty.
The next morning, Paladin suggests that one of them confess and that they draw stores to see who will do so. Once one of them confesses, Paladin figures that Strome will let the other two go and they can ride back and rescue the other. They draw lots and Clyde loses, and Paladin gives his word that as long as he lives, Clyde will live.
Strome and his men come down and Clyde starts to confess. However, he has a change of heart and refuses to confess to a crime he didn't commit. Paladin sarcastically says that he should stick to the truth and asks Strome what Maria did to him and what she said she was doing before he killed her. Strome tell them that Maria claimed that the other man was just there to talk to her, but he figures there was only one reason why she would have secretly met with a man other than her husband.
Angry, Andy starts playing a song about a lonely woman and a jealous man. Strome flies into a rage and Andy disgustedly says that Maria could have wanted a younger man that understood her. Paladin joins in, suggesting that she might have wanted a man like him who could tell her stories of the world that she couldn't see because Strome kept her locked up in his home. Clyde suggests that Maria would have wanted a lonely man, a man who could draw strength from a woman who loved him. Strome screams at them to finish it and storms off. Andy thanks Paladin and Clyde backing him up when he lost his head.
Paladin serves himself breakfast and watches nonchalantly as Strome comes back and tells them to hurry. The gunslinger tells him that he agrees that the man who killed Maria should hang, and points out that they all knew who killed her. Strome stares sullenly at him and Paladin finally admits that he was the man. As Strome's men take down the other two nooses, Paladin tells Andy and Clyde that he's not the man and asks them not to wait too long to rescue him.
As Strome's men put Paladin on a horse and string the noose around his neck, Clyde and Andy start to go. However, Strome orders them to stay and watch the hanging. Realizing that they will have to save Paladin immediately, Andy asks if they want a song to send him off. He picks up his guitar and clubs Emanual. Clyde grabs Emanual's rifle and shoots one of the remaining four men. Strome and the three survivors duck into the rocks and return fire. Paladin, Clyde, and Andy take cover nearby and Paladin tells Clyde to cover him. As Paladin sneaks up on their opponents, Strome sneaks up on Clyde but Andy gets the drop on him.
Paladin captures the three men and takes them back to the camp, where they're greeted by a grisly site. Andy has strung Strome up for killing Maria. As Strome's men cut their employer's corpse down, Clyde and Paladin shake hands. Paladin suggests that the salesman continue the way he was going, and Clyde agrees, deciding to keep the rifle with him. Once he rides off, Andy tells Paladin that he loved Maria but she only liked him. However, he knew that Strome only wanted her as a trophy, not a wife. Andy apologizes to Paladin for stringing things out, but assures him that he was only looking for an opportunity to kill Strome for murdering Maria. As Andy leaves, Paladin tells Jackson and the other two men that they can do what they want, but if they tell the law then they'll have to face judgment for what they did. With that, Paladin rides off to San Francisco.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 26, 2017