Paladin is riding through the mountains when he hears gunshots. A man, Fred Braus, yells for help and Paladin rides to his assistance. Fred is trying to help his partner out from under a boulder near a shaft, and Paladin levers the boulder up so Fred can pull the other man free. They take the man, Nick Talbot, to the nearby cabin. When Nick wakes up, he and Fred immediately start arguing. Nick surprised when Paladin tells him that Fred was trying to save his life. The man figures that it was suspicious that the rock fell when he was digging in the shaft. he and Fred attack each other and Paladin easily knocks the two men back. Nick offers Paladin $100 to stick around and make sure that nothing happens to him. Paladin isn't interested until Nick raises his offer to $300. Fred tells Nick to shut up about what they've found, and draws a gun on Paladin and demands to know what his business is. Paladin tells them that he was riding on business, and shows them his card.
Fred tells Nick to cover Paladin and leaves, and Nick says that Fred is checking on their pay dirt. If something happens to one of them, the other one becomes sole owner. A gunshot rings out, and Paladin opens the door. The shooter fires at them, and Paladin says that the first shot came from a rifle and a second one was from a pistol. Paladin tells Nick to follow and runs out to hide behind a water trough. Nick joins him, and Fred yells that they tried to kill him. Irritated, Paladin calls out that someone else shot at him and steps out. Fred holds his fire and demands to know where Nick is, and Nick comes out as well. Satisfied that they don't have a rifle, Fred lowers his shots and comes over.
The three men go back into the shack, and then Paladin scouts the area. he comes back and shows them a rifle cartridge. Nick says that he and Fred have been partners for 12 years and it's their first paying claim. He says that Fred was salting away dust, and Fred calls him a liar. Fred takes up the story and says that things got worse from there. They went into nearby Copper city and fought, and shot a bartender in the leg. The circuit judge said that one of them died, the other would be hunt. Paladin points out that they made themselves a perfect target for murder. If one gets killed, the other will be hung and the mine will be available for anyone.
Fred remembers that he talked to Jack Martin, his son Joe, and his daughter-in-law Amy. They came down the trail that morning and said they were taking over a nearby mine, and looked around a lot. Fred figures that Nick told them too much and they know about the count order. He points out that they had a rifle in their wagon and figures that they're shot. Paladin takes Fred's shotgun and agrees to work for them for $500, and says that he'll check out the Martin camp while Fred and Nick stay there.
Paladin rides to the Martin camp and finds the wagon. As he looks it over, Amy sees him through the shack's window. She comes out, aims a revolver at Paladin, and calls out Joe and Jack. Paladin explains why they're there, and Joe says that if he had shot then he wouldn't have missed. Joe tells Paladin to have Fred come himself, but Jack tells him to quiet down and his son storms off. Jack then says that they don't want any trouble. Amy goes back inside, and Paladin says that he's trying to prevent trouble. He threatens to turn it over to the authorities if Jack doesn't answer his questions. Jack says that Joe has some money to pay back in Copper City, and has Amy bring him Joe's rifle. Amy says that she threw it down an old mine shaft because guns have brought her and Joe nothing but trouble. She says that she doesn't remember where she threw it and goes inside. Jack tells Paladin that dry-gulching a man isn't Joe's style, but Paladin isn't convinced.
As Paladin rides back to the first shack, he hears gunshots and goes to investigate. he finds a rifle cartridge outside of the mine entrance, and someone knocks him out. Joe wakes him up an hour later and says that he heard a shot and came to investigate, and found Paladin unconscious. Paladin easily disarms him, and Joe says that he came looking for the rifle. He explains that Amy thought he was trying to kill the miners to get their money, and figures that one of them stole the rifle when the Martins were looking at their sluice. Paladin accepts his story and says that he'll try to keep Joe out of trouble, and tells him to go back to his shack.
Once Joe leaves, Paladin enters the mine and finds the hidden rifle. He takes it outside and confirms that it's been fired. Paladin then rides to the shack and says that he almost trapped the killer in the mine so the killer knocked him out. Nick says that he was out of the cabin and the bushwhacker shot at Fred, and Fred figured Nick shot at him. He thinks that Joe is the killer, and Nick figures it isn't right that Amy is tied up with Joe. Paladin says that he'll take his chances outside, and the miners agree. Fred takes first watch and Nick takes second, and Paladin tells Fred to find a spot up in the rocks for a good vantage point.
That night, Nick wakes up when hears a branch break. Paladin is asleep, and Fred doesn't respond to Nick's calls. Fred fires at Nick and his rifle explodes. Paladin and Nick go over, and Paladin says that Fred had to look like he was saving Nick's life when Paladin came up. Then Joe arrived and Fred figured to set him up. Paladin packed the barrel with mud earlier when he found the rifle, and tells Nick that Fred was his own executioner.
The next day, Paladin tells Nick that he'll leave a deposition with the sheriff in Copper City. He suggests that Nick hire the Martins and advises him to ride to their camp and try and ask them. Nick agrees and Paladin asks for his $500. The miner gratefully pays it and Paladin rides off.
Written by Gadfly on Apr 15, 2018