Paladin is passing through the lobby of the Carlton when one man
starts choking another one, Joe Roland. Joe's partner, Oren Gilliam,
runs over and punches his friend's attacker, knocking him down. Joe
complains that Oren shouldn't have done that, and Paladin comes over and
tells Joe to go up to his suite while he takes care of things. Joe
thanks Paladin for his help and goes upstairs with Oren, while Paladin
tells the gathering crowd that the first man must have fainted.
Once the crowd has moved off, Paladin goes up to have dinner with Joe and Oren, a boxer. Joe explains that the man wanted payment from them because Oren injured the man's steer to win a bet that he could knock it out with a single blow. Paladin tells Joe to think nothing of it, reminding Joe that he owes him from Philadelphia, and asks why he is in San Francisco. Joe explains that he spent all of their money to travel to the town of Limestone, a major center for pugilism. Oren was going to fight the British champion, Bryan Sykes, for the heavyweight championship. However, Sheriff Clint Forbes wanted a third of the gate and the fight promoter, Jake Webber, wouldn't negotiate. Joe refused as well and they called off the fight and headed for San Francisco. Webber owns a saloon in Limestone, and Paladin offers to send a wire to Webber offering a deal.
Webber expresses interest and Paladin rides to Limestone. The promoter explains that Forbes controls Limestone and that he doesn't want to go up against him. Paladin says that he'll drop the matter but buys a drink first. Webber tries to give him counterfeit money as change and Paladin calls him on it. When Webber argues the point, Paladin throws his drink in the saloon owner's face and draws his derringer on the man. Webber backs down and agrees to pay Paladin $500 out of 50% of the purse that he'll get for the fight. The fight is winner-takes-all and the winner gets the other 50%. Paladin convinces Webber to pay $1,000 and tells the promoter that Joe and Oren came with him to Limestone and are ready to fight.
As Paladin leaves the bar, Forbes confronts him on the street and tells him to get out of Limestone. The gunfighter points out that one man isn't the law, and Forbes dares him to settle it with a gunfight. Paladin refuses to rise to the provocation, and Forbes admits that he had a sniper in a nearby window ready to gun down Paladin if he put up a fight.
Later, Joe and the British fighter's promoter, Will Harvey, set up a camp outside of Limestone in the next county. Joe hires a local fighter, Tom, to spar with Oren, and worries that they stand to lose big because the fight is winner-take-all. Forbes and his deputies ride up and order them out, even though the camp is out of his jurisdiction. The sheriff concedes the point but insists that he'll take his cut of the purse. To prove his power, he tells his deputies to tear up the camp. Paladin draws on them, has Joe take their guns, and orders them out.
Paladin goes over to check on Sykes and Harvey, who are training. As Paladin arrives, Sykes is complaining about his bunions and Harvey tells him to keep on his toes. They figure that Paladin is a spy for Joe and order him out, but Paladin says that he's providing security and that he's not under their orders. Sykes tries to drop one of his training weights on the Paladin's foot, but the gunfighter easily avoids it.
Forbes meets with Webber and suggests that they should fix the fight so that they both come out ahead. Webber's men will be working as seconds for both fighters so Forbes figures that they can arrange for one fighter or another to go down after betting on the other. When Webber worries about Paladin, Forbes says that he'll take care of Paladin.
That night, Paladin and Joe are discussing the history of pugilism over the campfire when Webber rides up. The promoter tells them that the tickets are sold and the fight is set. He also says that he's settled with Forbes but refuses to explain what he's done. Webber does tell Paladin that Forbes and his men will be at the fight and tells him not to interfere, promising there won't be any trouble. Joe wonders if the purse is safe and Webber pats his vest pocket, saying that the money is in his safe and he has the three keys that will unlock it. As he leaves, Paladin bumps into him and apologizes. Once Webber rides off, Paladin shows Joe that he took the promoter's keys and suggests that they protect their investment.
Paladin rides into Limestone and breaks into Webber's saloon. He opens the safe and replaces the $4,000 purse with newspapers cut to shape, then hides the $4,000 in a nearby vase.
The next day, everyone gathers at Webber's saloon for the match and Paladin worries that things are going too easily. Joe agrees, warning that Forbes isn't so easily scared. Meanwhile, Forbes arrives and has his men take up position in the crowd, armed with shotguns. As Webber starts the fight, Forbes steps forward and announces that he's placing Oren under arrest on a Federal warrant. Oren admits that he decked a U.S. marshal two years ago in Topeka but no one was hurt. Forbes says that he's confiscating the purse and asks Webber for the money. The saloon owner says that he lost the keys and Forbes tells his men to take the safe to his office and drill it open.
The crowd threatens to riot and a desperate Webber asks Paladin to do something. Paladin agrees to take on Sykes and Webber announces the new match. Joe tells Paladin what to watch out for while Webber plays up the fight by telling the crowd that Paladin is the bareknuckle champion of the Barbary Coast. They're fighting under English rules, which means that a round ends when a man goes down. The fight ends when a man goes down and can't get up.
Paladin fights as best he can but only knocks Sykes down once, while he goes down eight times. Despite that, he keeps getting up and Webber tells his second in Paladin's corner to slip Paladin some chloroform rather than risk him winning.
At the sheriff's office, Forbes and his men get the safe open and discover that the purse money is gone. Furious, the sheriff tells his men to go with him back to the saloon.
When Webber's second tries to slip Paladin some chloroform, Joe catches him at it and orders him off. Paladin returns to the ring and remembers Sykes complaining about his bunions at the training camp. He stomps on Sykes' weak foot repeatedly and keeps pounding away until he drops the British pugilist for good. Forbes and his men storm in and place everyone under arrest, and Paladin throws a bucket of water on the lamps, plunging the room into darkness. The crowd riots and Paladin and Joe crawl out in the darkness.
Later, Joe and Paladin get back to San Francisco. According to the newspaper, the authorities have finally arrested Forbes for his abuse of power, and Webber and Forbes are charging each other with fraud and bribery. Joe figures that one of them has the purse money, but Paladin takes out the $4,000 and offers half of it to Joe, keeping the rest as his fee. Joe wishes that he had Paladin as a fighter, but Paladin glances at a passing woman and declares that he's a lover, not a fighter.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 4, 2018