At the Carleton, Paladin is in his suite preparing for a night out when Hey Boy comes in with a letter from Boris Tosheff in Alaska, with a move in his ongoing chess game with Paladin. Paladin reads the letter and tells Hey Boy that his game is over, and has him deliver a present to the woman he was meeting for the night.
Paladin takes a ship and then a dog sled to the valley where Boris lives in his camp. No one responds to Paladin's calls, and he finds broken cooking gear by the fire. The chessboard is on the ground, the pieces scattered, and three sets of footprints in the snow lead away from the camp. Paladin follows them to another camp and finds two men, Carl Grimes and Ralph Morton beating Boris. The gunfighter draws a gun on them and orders them to tell Boris loose. The two men say that they were just trying to protect themselves, and Boris explains that they came to their camp while he was away and stole his supplies. Carl says that they were just protecting their land, and Abby Morton emerges from the tent and trains a rifle on Paladin. She tells him to surrender, but Paladin says that Ralph will be dead before he is. Carl tells Abby to shoot, but she doesn't and Paladin and Boris walk away. As he goes, Paladin pus his card on a nearby tree to introduce himself.
Disgusted, Carl backhands Abby and tells her to do what she's told next time. Once Carl goes to get the card, Ralph apologizes for his partner. Carl checks the card and Ralph says that things are breaking right for them. Ralph figures that if they drive Boris out then they'll have the entire valley for themselves, but Abby doesn't believe it and wonders if Ralph is willing to give her up to get the valley. Carl calls Ralph over, shows him Paladin's card, and figures that they have a fight on their hands.
That night at Boris' camp, Paladin and Boris play chess after Paladin wraps Boris' ribs. Boris explains who the three settlers are, and that Abby is Carl's fiancée. He says that his family company has owned the land for many years, but under the new American laws the land is open to anyone who can claim it. Carl and Ralph drove Boris' men away, but Boris refuses to go until the claim is settled. The territorial land agent, Wade, will be there the next day to settle the matter. Someone shoots through the side of the tent and runs, and Paladin tells Boris that Carl and Ralph are trying to more than frighten him.
The next day, Boris shows Paladin the valley and says that it's the best fur country in the air. It's large enough for them all to share, but Carl won't share and is more interested in the furs than the land. Abby arrives and he two men meet with her. Abby apologizes for training a gun on Paladin the day before, and says that Carl would kill her if he knew she was talking to them. She says that Carl seemed different back in Skagway, and explains that she raised Ralph herself when their father died. All Abby wants to do is keep Ralph alive, and says that the fighting was Carl's idea. She offers them anything they want if they leave Ralph alone, and Paladin says that what happens is up to Carl and Ralph. Abby thanks Boris for his hospitality and warns Paladin that she'll kill him if anything happens to Ralph.
Wade arrives and meets with the two groups. He says that neither of them can prove that they were up first, and Carl insists that the land is all his. Wade warns that the nearest judge is a saloon owner in nearby Skagway, and Carl says that the valley belongs to whoever is strong enough to take and hold it. Paladin suggests that they have a race and the winner gets the valley. Wade agrees and lays out the terms of the race, and Boris and Ralph agree. Carl agrees as well after a moment, and Wade goes to lay out the course. Abby thank Paladin for his idea, glances shyly at Boris, and leaves with his brother and fiancée. Paladin tells Paladin that they'll use his sled but the lead dog he paid $2,500 for in Skagway.
Once he lays the course out the course, Wade tells them the rules. The two teams take off along the course and Paladin plants the first claim marker along the course. Paladin holds the lead, and Carl has Ralph stop and help him pull down some branches to make a dummy of Carl. With the reduced weight, Ralph can make up the lost time. Carl will wait along the course and if Paladin is in the lead when he comes back, Carl will take care of him. When Ralph objects, Carl tells him that it's the only chance Ralph will have to pay Abby back for what she's done.
Paladin and Boris come back along the course, and Paladin notices that the point dog has a bad paw. Ralph passes them and Paladin continues on after releasing the point dog. The two sleds reach Carl's location, and Ralph drops his hat. Boris figures that it's a trick and jump clear, figuring Paladin will do better on his own. Ralph yells a warning to Paladin and overturns his sled. Paladin does the same and manages to kill Carl when Carl shoots at him.
The two sleds return to the start point and Paladin tells Abby what happened. Wade points out that they came in together, and Boris says that his offer to share the valley still stands. He points out that as partners, Abby would have to go to San Francisco to sell the furs. Paladin, satisfied, asks Wade if he plays chess by mail.
Written by Gadfly on Jun 24, 2018