Paladin is entertaining a young woman in the Carlton lobby when a local
bookseller, Cortwright, arrives and asks to see him. The man presents Paladin
with a signed copy of poems by Keats, and explains that a gunfighter, Winston
Ainslee, gave it to him to present to Paladin. Ainslee is a famous gunfighter
in Carson City and has killed over a dozen men... but looks nothing like a
gunfighter. Inside the book is a note to Paladin from Ainslee, explaining that
it's a gift to show his sincerity. In return, he has an unusual request for
Paladin. Interested despite himself, Paladin tells Hey Boy to get him a ticket
for the next stage to Carson City, while Paladin's lady friend, bored, walks
away and Cortwright goes after her.
When Paladin arrives in Carson City, the passenger on board staggers out, clearly drunk. The man, Matt Baker, starts yelling for his brother, Andy. When Paladin explains that he's there to see Ainslee, the driver takes them both inside. The station master gives Matt his brother's things and explains that Ainslee killed Andy in a gunfight.
Ainslee, a dignified-looking older man, enters the station and hears the station master demanding payment for the storage charges. The unlikely gunfighter offers to pay the charges and tells Matt that they'll discuss the situation when he sobers up. Matt punches him, furious, but Ainslee refuses to draw. Paladin shoves Matt back and tells him not to pick on an old man, and gut-punches the man when he refuses to back down.
The sheriff comes in and Ainslee suggests that he get Matt out of town. The lawman refuses, even after Ainslee offers to buy a ticket, and tells Ainslee to get out of town if the situation doesn't suit him. He then turns to Matt and warns him that Ainslee has killed nearly a dozen men. Matt refuses to back down and the sheriff happily tells the others that they'll have a show after all. As Paladin leaves with Ainslee, Matt vows to kill the gunslinger. He goes to the nearby saloon and tries to get a drink. The customers could care less until they realize that Matt has challenged Ainslee to a gunfight.
Ainslee takes Paladin to his home and shows off his collection of books, and explains that the sheriff is waiting until the day he's too old to survive a gunfight. Anna, Ainslee's daughter, comes in and looks dismissively at Paladin, and then says that he'll do. Paladin wonders why no one will come to Ainslee's assistance and she sarcastically congratulates Paladin on making a business out of gunfighting.
Anna compares Paladin to a butcher and worries if Paladin will stop when he does what Ainslee wants him there to do. Paladin tells them to get down to business and Ainslee explains that he doesn't want to die, but he doesn't want to kill Matt. He will pay Paladin to shoot him in his gun hand, crippling him and making it impossible for anyone to legitimately challenge him. Paladin suggests that Ainslee leave town, but the gunfighter explains that he's too well-known and has asthma, and that anyone who wanted to could eventually find him. He won't kill anyone to save his life.
Ainslee explains that Paladin will claim he was hired to kill Ainslee, they'll shoot it out, and Paladin will wound Ainslee's hand. Paladin worries that he could kill Ainslee if he misses by just the least amount, and Anna wonders why Paladin doesn't just shoot her father immediately. Irritated at her constant barbs, Paladin gives her his gun and invites her to shoot her father if she thinks that it's so easy. She refuses and runs out, and Paladin points out that he has to be sure he can outshoot Ainslee in a life-and-death situation. Ainslee agrees and says that he has a way to test themselves against a lethal target.
At the saloon, a local man goads Matt into going after Ainslee to entertain the townspeople. He suggests that Matt could ambush Ainslee, but Matt insists that he'll do it his own way and kill his brother's murderer no matter what it takes.
Ainslee takes Paladin out to a rock-filled field and explains that there are rattlesnakes all around them. They sleep during the day, resting beneath rocks. They start kicking over rocks and Paladin finally locates one. He draws and kills it, and Ainslee tells him that he can do it. Paladin wonders how it came to this and Ainslee explains that when he first arrived in town, the townspeople endlessly picked on him because he was an educated man. His specialty is learning so he learned how to shoot. Paladin confirms their cover story but wishes that they could simply leave for San Francisco.
Later, Paladin goes back to Carson City and runs into the sheriff. The lawman informs him that Ainslee has filed a complaint against Paladin, but that Paladin won't have any trouble with the law as long as it's a fair gunfight. Paladin asks why the sheriff isn't helping Ainslee, and the lawman says that Ainslee didn't care for the law when he was killing men, and some of his victims had family. Now that Ainslee has slowed down and needs help, no one will lift a finger to help him. Disgusted, Paladin tells the sheriff and the other bystanders that Ainslee is worth twelve of them. He might kill Ainslee but he won't be proud of it.
A local man runs back into the saloon and tells everyone that the gunfight is on. As they start taking bets, everyone ignores Matt, who insists that he'll get his shot for Andy's sake. He has no intention of letting Paladin finish Ainslee off.
The next day, Paladin walks out on the street and discovers that the townspeople are setting up makeshift protection to safely watch the gunfight. They wish Paladin luck and he calls out to Ainslee. Meanwhile, Matt takes up a position on a second-story stairway and aims his rifle. The townspeople yell for Ainslee to come out and the old man finally emerges. As they prepare to stage their fake gunfight, Matt opens fire, forcing both men to take cover and return fire. Ainslee ducks behind a water trough while the townspeople run off in terror.
Matt shoots the water trough and yells to Ainslee that once the water runs out, the wood won't stop the bullets. Ainslee runs out of bullets and Paladin gets an idea. He calls to Ainslee to toss him his gun and then reloads it, but he tosses it back just short of the trough. Ainslee realizes what Paladin intends and reaches out with his right hand. Matt shoots him in the hand, crippling him, and Paladin runs out and shoots Matt dead.
Anna runs to her father, who is happy that his career is finally over. Paladin offers to fight Ainslee left-handed, but the townspeople rally around Ainslee. The sheriff tells Paladin to get out of town, explaining that they may not like a man but they won't stand by and let him get murdered. Paladin tells Ainslee that his employer will be satisfied now that the older gunfighter is crippled and leaves Carson City.
Written by Gadfly on Aug 5, 2018