At the Carlton, Hey Boy brings Paladin his drink as he goes through the papers. There's an article about prominent San Diego citrus fruit wholesaler Charles Avery being threatened with death by bandit Manuel Garcia. Manuel demands that they hand over their adopted son Joseph. Intrigued, Paladin sends his card to Charles.
Later, Paladin arrives at the Avery home and sees a bandit attack Joe and his mother Alice as they leave. As the bandit drives the wagon with Joe away, Paladin leaps aboard, knocks the bandit out, and stops the wagon. Alice and Joe embrace, and Paladin confirms that the men is dead.
Paladin meets with Charles, who dismisses Manuel as a dirty bandit. The gunman says that Manuel is a legend, and was a simple farmer until two drunken prospectors murdered his wife and sun. Charles refuses to explain why Manuel wants Joe, and Paladin tells him that if he's not prepared to tell him the entire story, he's leaving. The wholesaler says that Manuel is Joe's godfather, and a woman named Nita once worked for them. She had two children, Joe and a baby girl. Nita's husband died eight years ago, and she let the Averys adopt Joe before she went back to Mexico. Alice was crazy about Joe, and Charlie admits that he didn't like Mexicans before Joe. He admits that he was prejudiced but not anymore, and now Joe is his son and he's die for him.
Alice brings Joe in and says that Nita died a year after she left them. Joe thanks Paladin for his help, and Alice explains that they were going to go to church to pray for Nita on the anniversary of her death. The boy says that he doesn't know Manuel, and Alice insists that they just want to be left alone.
Paladin rides to a cantina in Baja and orders a drink. He asks the bartender about Manuel, and the bartender says that no one has found him. Paladin dismisses Manuel as a myth, and when he mentions Joe the bartender says that Manuel might find Paladin on the road to San Ysidro. He says that Paladin's last drink should be a good one, and Paladin rides along the road. Two bandits waylay him and take him to a waiting Manuel. Manuel figures that Paladin came to kill him, and they take him to a hole next to a nest of red ants. Paladin warns that if he dies, Manuel will never get Joseph. He claims that he arranged for Alice and Joe to take a cruise if he didn't return in two days. Paladin figures that Manuel has some element of decency since he's considered a legend, and Manuel says that Joe must be with his boy.
Manuel has his men haul Paladin out of the hole, and take him to a nearby farm. A girl, Luisa, runs to Manuel and greets him. Nita comes out and greets Manuel, and they hug. She admits that she gave up Joe because she thought it was better for him, but has realized that she shouldn't give up her flesh and blood. Nita sent a letter to Alice, and Alice wrote back asking Nita to forget about her son. Paladin says that Joe is happy, and tells her that he will make sure Joe knows the truth about Nita by bringing the boy there. Manuel warns that the Averys will never let Paladin bring Joe, and Paladin says that they will if Nita promises to let Joe go back if he wishes. Manuel agrees, and tells him to leave word at the cantina when he returns. When he refuses to give Paladin back his revolver, Paladin draws his revolver on him and Manuel realizes that Paladin could have killed him at any time. He gives back the revolver and Paladin rides off.
Once Paladin tells Charles and Alice what happened, Charles calls Joe in. Alice tells Joe that they love him very much, and then breaks into tears. Paladin takes over and says that Nita is alive. Charles says that they lied for Joe's all good, and Paladin explains that Nita thought Joe would be happier with the Averys but now she wants him back. Paladin insists on taking Joe to the farm so he can see both worlds. Charles objects but Joe insists and Charles says that he's going with him. Paladin warns that Manuel will shoot Charles on site and he'll have to leave it to him.
Charles agrees and Paladin takes Joe to the farm. Nita is waiting, and she greets her son, "Jose". She promises that he will be happy there, and Joe warns that he doesn't know if he can say. Joe says that he calls Alice "Mom", and Nita and Luisa show Joe the farm. Before Nita goes, Paladin tells her that he'll take Jose back if he wants to go. Nita insists that he won't.
They look around and Nita tells Jose that he'll be happy there. She offers to show him how to milk a cow, and tells Jose that he would learn at the mission. Jose says that he is learning to be an engineer and he didn't miss Nita, but the Averys cared for him when he was sick. He tells Nita that he has to go back for now, and returns to the waiting Paladin. Jose promises that he will come back often, and Nita asks to ride back with Paladin. She says that Manuel won't harm them as long as she's with them, and Paladin reluctantly agrees. Nita tells him to wait for her at the mission.
Once Nita joins them, the trio rides back to San Diego. Meanwhile, Manuel returns to the farm and Luisa tells him what happened. He and his men ride off after them, and Paladin gets them all to cover. Nita warns that Manuel won't let Joe go back to the Averys, and Paladin reminds her of her promise. He then approaches the bandits and takes cover as they fire at him. Paladin yells to Manuel that Joe and Nita have decided and it's over, but Manuel says that one of his people won't be raised by those who spit on him. Paladin kills Manuel's men, and is forced to kill Manuel when he charges forward. Nita and Joe run up, and Nita kneels by her husband's body.
Back at the Avery plantation, Joe tells his parents that he's fine and Paladin says that Manuel is dead. He brings in Nita and introduces her, and she says that Joe wants to live there. Alice invites her to live with them, and Nita says that she has her farm and daughter and doesn't want Joe to think of her as a servant. She tells the Averys that she will visit Joe there and would have him visit her in Baja. Alice agrees, and Nita bids Joe goodbye in Spanish. They hug and Joe calls Nita "mama".
Charles says that he wanted it finished, and Paladin tells him that there's no end to it. He says that between Nita and the Averys, they could destroy Joe or turn him into an exceptional being. With that, Paladin takes Nita back to her farm.
Written by Gadfly on Jul 15, 2018