At the Carlton, Hey Boy shows Paladin an emerald carved chess piece that was given to his grandfather by the Emperor. He explains that the rest of the set was stolen two days ago before his uncle gave him the piece as a present, and Paladin would like to acquire the other pieces. Hey Boy explains that three men out of prison robbed his uncle, and Paladin goes to talk to the uncle, Sing Wo. Sing Wo explains how the robbers stole from him, and gives Paladin a description of the men. He heard that the men said that they were going to hide and then go to Canada, and remembers that they mentioned Big Pine, Montana. Paladin says that he'll see Hey Boy in a couple of days and runs out.
Paladin rides to Big Pine and discovers that the town consists of a boarding house, Warren's. Three men are sitting on the porch, and a boy Jed asks Paladin if he's going to be there long, and says that he hasn't seen three strangers. Ma Warren calls everyone to dinner and Paladin joins them. Mr. Maddox runs down from his room and goes to the table, and Paladin enjoys the smell of dinner. He compliments Ma Warren's table, and she insists that no one comes to her table armed. Paladin steps out and asks Jed to warn him if he sees three strangers.
Chuck Anderson comes into the stable and demands to know why Paladin is there. He walks out, and Jed tells Paladin that Chuck likes everyone to think that he's the boss. Paladin leaves his gun with his horse and goes in for dinner, and finds Chuck hugging Ma's daughter Nancy. Nancy introduces herself to Paladin and Paladin to the other four borders: Gilson, Dayton, Frye, and Maddox. She irritably tells Chuck to find a place and pull up a chair, and he shoves Frye over.
Paladin enjoys the French bread, and Maddox says that people come from miles away to enjoy Ma's cooking. Chuck questions Paladin about his business and how long he plans on staying, and says that he doesn't need a brand because everyone believe him. Ma and Nancy serve the main course, and Chuck glares at Paladin. Ma is impressed that Paladin recognizes her ingredients and goes to get coffee. Chuck insists that at least one of the women has his "brand" on her, and says that they shoot "claim jumpers". Paladin is unimpressed.
After the meal, Paladin goes out on the porch for a smoke. He assures Ma that the meal was superb, and asks if Maddox and Dayton are regulars. Ma says that Dayton is new, but with the railroad as a surveyor. Nancy comes out and Ma tells her that Chuck said he'd be back to go on a horseback ride with her. Once Ma goes inside, Nancy asks Paladin what he does. He shows her his card and Nancy asks if she can hire him. She explains that Chuck scares off any man off that shows any interest in her, but won't do anything serious. Nancy worries that she'll be an old maid, and wants Paladin to make chuck dangerous. Paladin says that it isn't in his line, and notices that she's wearing one of the chess pieces as a necklace. She explains that Chuck said he bought it from someone and gave it to her.
Chuck walks up and Nancy throws herself at Paladin. She then tells Chuck that Paladin is taking her on a ride, and paladin bridles at his attitude. He then escorts Nancy away, and Chuck tells him to get out of Big Pine or he'll shoot him. As they walk away, Chuck fires a warning shot and wishes Paladin a good's night sleep.
The next morning, Paladin pays Jed to continue keeping a lookout for the three strangers. Ma says that Paladin and Dayton are the only ones left. Chuck tells Paladin to leave or draw, and Paladin ignores him. When Chuck draws, Nancy tells him to put the gun down or he'll never set foot in the house. Chuck reluctantly leaves, saying that he'll see Paladin outside.
Nancy is in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Ma comes in and complains about both men, and Nancy is happy to hear that Chuck was willing to shoot Paladin over her. Her mother warns her that she'll be unhappy if something happens to either man. Nancy takes Paladin's guns and hides them in the breadbox kitchen, then goes to serve coffee. Chuck asks Nancy if Paladin means anything to her, and says that he cares about her.
Two men, Joe and Rip, come in with guns and Ma tells them to leave their guns on the rack. They draw their guns, and Paladin figures that they're waiting for someone. Joe tells Nancy to stay with them while he orders Ma to get them some breakfast. Nancy tells a surprised Ma that she made bread and it's I the breadbox.
Ma comes back with the "bread" and hands it to Chuck and Paladin first. Once they have their guns, Chuck tells Joe and Rip to surrender. Dayton comes down and says that Chuck is covered, and Paladin shoots Dayton. He and Chuck take out Joe and Rip, and Nancy hugs Chuck and says that she just had to wake him up. Paladin asks Chuck where he got the chess piece, and Chuck says that he got it from Dayton.
After checking Dayton's room, Paladin takes the chess pieces to Sing Wo and plays chess against Hey Boy and loses.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 4, 2018