At the Carlton, Hey Boy brings Paladin several telegrams from John
Eucher Pierce of Portland. In each one, spread out over two weeks,
Pierce says that he's getting deeper into debt over an ongoing poker
game. He asks Paladin for money, and Hey Boy explains that a storm
delayed the delivery of the telegram. Paladin tells the porter to send a
telegram to Pierce that he's on his way to get him the money and to
stay awake until then.
As he rides to Portland, Paladin spots a group of range bosses and rides over to get some water. The trail boss, Rook, is immediately hostile and refuses his request. Paladin explains that he's been too busy traveling to hunt and offers to buy a steak from the chuck wagon. Rook is more interested in Paladin's holster, and points out that his own is "naked" on his gun belt. The trail boss speed-draws his revolver, showing off, but Paladin refuses to rise to the bait. When Rook suggests that Paladin draw to show how fast he is, Paladin takes out a wad of bills and says that's how much he's paid to draw his gun. Rook is surprised that Paladin would dare to challenge him since he saw his draw, and Paladin points out that the trail boss hasn't seen his draw yet. The gunfighter then offers Rook some of the money for a steak, but Rook still refuses.
Two of the range bosses, Lace and Mabry, ride up to the camp dragging an older man named Monk behind them. The other range bosses slap Monk around and Rook tells him that he's warned him before about him and his partner Fred stealing their cattle. Paladin suggests that they take Monk to the local sheriff if he's a castle rustler, and it's Monk who tells him to mind his own business. He asks Rook to come to his camp and see how little he's gotten from collecting the hides of the cows that died along the trail. Rook slaps him and tells Lace to tie Monk up nearby until he decides what to do with him. Lace lets Monk get on his horse and then rides him off. Disgusted, Paladin decides he's well clear of the entire situation and rides off.
As Paladin continues along the trail, he sees Lace nearby, tying Monk to a tree. Paladin rides over as Lace tells Monk that he had to kill Fred when the other man drew a knife on Mabry. Lace fails to notice Paladin, who knocks him out with the butt of his revolver. However, when the gunfighter unties Monk, the man complains, pointing out that Rook will blame him for what happened to Lace. Monk admits that Rook roughs him up occasionally, but he does let him ride along and take the hides off of dying cows. Paladin offers to tie him back up, but Monk figures that now he has to run because Rook will figure that he attacked Lace. Much to Paladin's irritation, Monk insists on riding with him since they're going the same direction.
As they continue to Portland, the two men come to a corpse laying on the ground. Monk explains that the dead man, Fred, is his uncle and wants to bury him. Paladin agrees to help and Monk says a few words over the grave. Monk wants to continue on with Paladin but the gunfighter has had enough. Despite that, Monk convinces him that they should at least have a meal and then they can go their separate ways.
As Paladin and Monk make camp, Monk admires Paladin's revolver and figures that if he had one like it, he could take care of Rook once and for all. He offers to hire Paladin, but Paladin suggests that he find another herd to follow. Monk figures that it's hopeless, since Rook and his men would track him down. He offers Paladin all the money he has--$33--but Paladin refuses and says that once he gets Monk off the range, he's through with him and his problems.
The men ride on until nightfall, and Paladin says that he needs to get some sleep. Monk insists on stopping as well, and the two men settle in for the night. As soon as he thinks Paladin is asleep, Monk crawls over to the gunfighter to take his revolver. Paladin is waiting for him, gun ready, and Monk claims that he was going to get some firewood. Paladin rolls over and Monk clubs him unconscious with a branch, takes his revolver, and rides off.
The next morning, Paladin follows Monk's trail back to Rook's camp. All of the men are out except the cook. Monk bumps into the chuck wagon, waking the cook up, and Lace and Mabry hear the noise and ride up. They figure Monk is harmless despite the gun, but he shoots and manages to kill both of them. The cook runs off to get help while Paladin tackles Monk and takes his gun back. Monk claims that he was going to arrest the two range bosses for murdering his uncle but they were going to fire on him. Paladin suggests that Monk hide while he goes to get the sheriff in Portland, but Monk insists on going with him. The gunfighter reluctantly agrees to let Monk come with him, but insists that once Monk has a head start, they're done.
When Paladin and Monk reach a fork in the trail, Monk thanks Paladin for all his help. However, as soon as the gunfighter rides off, Rook and his men ride up. However, Rook has no idea what happened at the camp, and tells Monk that he fired Lace and Mabry because they let Monk get free. Monk, realizing they'll find the corpses when they get back to the camp, tells Rook the truth that he shot and killed them. Rook doesn't believe Monk could do it and Monk tells him to find Paladin and confirm his story. Rook leaves one of his men, Kew, to bring Monk along while they ride off on Paladin's trail.
Paladin stops at a river to water his horse, and Rook and his men catch up to him. They surround him before he can draw and Paladin hands his revolver over. Rook demands an explanation and Paladin confirms Monk's story, but even with the corroborating evidence Rook doesn't believe Monk. He figures Paladin killed his men and tells his range bosses to string the gunfighter up and leave him hanging in the sun.
Pushed too far, Monk jumps on Rook's back and knocks him into the river. Kew orders his fellow range bosses to stay back and let Rook handle it, and the trail boss soon knocks out the older man. However, when Rook tells his men to string both Monk and Paladin up, Paladin dares Rook to face him a gunfight. He accuses him of being a coward if he refuses, and Monk joins in. The gunfighter tells Rook to check his belt, and the trail boss finds Paladin's card. Paladin points out that if he backs away from the challenge, Rook will be considered a coward forever. Rook finally gives in and has his men give Paladin his revolver back. The two men face off and Paladin tries to shake Rook's confidence. He points out that since Rook didn't have his gun in his holster, it could misfire because of the water and the mud. Rook briefly considers backing out, but admits that it's gone too far. He draws and Paladin shoots him dead.
Kew rides off with the other range bosses, telling Paladin that they've got no use for Rook's corpse. Monk says that he'll keep riding with Paladin, but the gunfighter tosses him in the river and tells him to take a bath. As he watches Paladin ride off, Monk considers how to get to San Francisco and visit his new "friend".
Written by Gadfly on Sep 9, 2018