Paladin is in the Carlton lobby reading a newspaper article about
Three Winds in Wyoming Territory. The new sheriff, Owen Deaver, has
arrested six ranch hands for discharging guns in the air to celebrate
the election. According to the article, Owen is using the laws of
Philadelphia in Three Winds, and is the son of Barry Deaver, the former
sheriff who died a month ago of consumption. Paladin summons Hey Boy and
has him cancel his date with an opera singer.
Later, Paladin rides into Three Winds and buys a drink at the local saloon. The bartender, Calvin, advises him to check in his gun at the sheriff's office. Two local businessmen are discussing Owen's new emphasis on law and order, while Paladin notices two men standing at the bar. The younger of the two, The French Kid, has his revolver and Paladin asks if he's going to turn it in. French refuses and his companion, Mason Enfield, agrees with him. Calvin begs them to follow the law because Owen will hold him responsible if they don't.
The two businessmen overhear French talking and consider whether he should challenge Owen. One of them, Harry Nolan, explains to Paladin that he's losing business because Owen has passed an ordinance forbidding the sale of guns. The other man, a rancher, complains that his ranch hands now have to ride 80 miles to find somewhere to let off steam, and they'll quit to find a more hospitable town. Paladin wonders why they elected Owen if they knew what he had in mind, and the men admit that they did it out of respect for Owen's father.
The rancher goes over to buy Mason and French a drink, but Calvin cites the new ordinance that he can't sell them more than four drinks. Owen overhears them talking and comes in, sees their guns, and orders them to hand them over. Paladin gives Owen his revolver, but Mason refuses and the sheriff pistol-whips him with Paladin's gun and then aims it at French. French puts his gun on the counter and Owen tells Mason that he only gets one warning. The sheriff then turns to Harry and tells him that his shop is open and unlocked during business hours... another violation of a new town ordinance.
Mason attacks Owen from behind and French draws a knife, but Paladin shoots him in the arm with his holdout derringer. The older man attacks Paladin, who knocks him out. French runs out and Paladin gives Owen his derringer. However, he points out that Owen has disarmed the decent citizens and left them with no way to defend themselves. Unimpressed, Owen threatens to throw Paladin in jail and Paladin goes along with him, saying that he considers it an invitation to help... even though Owen doesn't realize he needs help. The gunfighter warns that by using Philadelphia law in a Wild West town, he's sent an invitation to every hotshot to come and challenge him.
At the sheriff's office, Paladin calls to Owen's mother in the adjacent apartment. She recognizes Paladin's voice and comes running into greet him, and tells Owen that Paladin came to Three Winds when Owen was out East getting an education. Paladin helped Barry Deaver capture a gang of outlaws, and Owen looks at Paladin with new respect. When Ma discovers that Owen is arresting Paladin, she lays into her son despite his protestations that he's enforcing the law. Disgusted, Ma tells Owen that they sent him East to study the law, but all he did was bring back five books containing Philadelphia's municipal code. She throws the five books on the floor and Paladin calms her down, saying that he'll take care of it.
Ma goes back to her apartment and Paladin goes into the single cell with Mason and closes the door. Owen locks it up and Paladin tells him to check his posters to find out who Mason and French are. The sheriff checks and discovers that they're members of the Enfield Gang, wanted dead or alive. Paladin warns Owen that French will come back with the other three men to rescue their leader and get revenge, and warns that Owen will need his help. Owen insists that the townspeople will rally to his side and goes out to recruit them.
Later, Ma comes in and releases Paladin, and gives him some potato stew. She explains that Barry taught Owen how to fight with a gun, a knife, and his fists, but he didn't teach him any good sense. Paladin tells Ma that they'll have to keep Owen alive until he gains some wisdom. Owen comes in, disgusted, and Paladin figures that he didn't have any luck recruiting deputies. The sheriff orders him back into the cell and tries to ignore Ma, who insists that Barry had the good sense to listen to advice when people gave it. Owen figures that Barry was respected because he didn't enforce the law, and Ma slaps him, saying that her husband never need books to tell him what was right or wrong.
After Ma storms off, Paladin figures that Owen is jealous of his father's reputation. Owen doesn't understand why Paladin and the citizens don't realize what he's trying to do. Paladin admits that Owen is right in principle, but that Philadelphia is a civilized town and Three Winds is anything but. The gunfighter points out that there's a Philadelphia law against spitting on the sidewalk, but Three Winds doesn't have a sidewalk.
As night falls, Owen looks nervously out the window and Paladin offers his services. Owen refuses to deputize a prisoner, and Paladin dismisses him as a fool and points out that none of the townspeople will support him because he's enforcing laws that don't apply. Owen realizes that Paladin is trying to provoke him and refuses to let him out, but drives French's knife into the wanted poster in a fit of anger. Mason, who has been listening to the conversation, tells him that French will soon be back to get it.
The next day, Ma prepares to go out to get eggs and tells Owen to let Paladin help him. Owen refuses and Ma goes out... and finds French and the gang waiting. She goes inside and warns Owen, and Paladin tells the sheriff to let him help. Owen refuses to back down and Paladin tells Ma that since he can't help Owen, she'll have to do it. Ma grabs a gun and Owen realizes that she won't back down, either. Paladin tells Owen to choose, knowing that Ma will relent if her son accepts Paladin instead. Owen realizes that he has no choice and lets Paladin out of his cell. Before he goes, Paladin punches Mason in the mouth and then tells Owen that he'll draw their fire at the front door, while Owen opens fire from the kitchen.
Paladin opens the door and the outlaws open fire on him. As he ducks back inside, Owen takes out one man but is wounded in the leg before he can take out the second man. Paladin wounds the third man, who manages to shoot Paladin in the arm as he comes running out and then crawls to the saloon. French comes at Owen with a knife but Paladin manages to shoot him. He then goes to the saloon door and uses a shotgun to tap the doors. The last man opens fire, giving away his position, and Paladin kills him.
Later, Paladin brings Harry to the sheriff's office as Ma binds Owen's wound. Harry is glad to see that Owen almost got killed, eager to be rid of the new laws. Paladin points out to Owen that he backed down and it didn't hurt, and points out that tyrants are the ones who enforce unpopular laws on the majority. Owen reconsiders and asks Harry to sell off the five books. Harry eagerly agrees, but Paladin suggests that they store the books away until the day that Three Winds is civilized enough to need them.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 11, 2018