Paladin is in his room at the Carlton cleaning his gun when a man, Mr.
Warren, barges in on him and begs him to take a job for him. Paladin points out
that it isn't Warren's first visit and that he's warned him before not to
harass or bribe Hey Boy. Warren repeats his request, to hire Paladin to protect
Aaron Bell from him and the other townspeople of Lime Creek. Aaron was released
from prison a week ago and has returned to Lime Creek, and Warren figures that
he intends to kill one or more of his fellow townspeople. Paladin points out
that eight years ago the townspeople hung Aaron's brother Paul for fighting
with the opposition in the Civil War. Warren concedes the point, but insists
that if Paladin doesn't stop Aaron then Warren may have to kill the man in
After finally accepting the job, Paladin rides to Lime Creek and finds it a virtual ghost town. The general store owner, Frazier, comes out with a shotgun but quickly realizes that Paladin isn't Aaron. Paladin knows all about Frazier and the other townspeople from what Warren told him, and goes inside. Frazier's teenage daughter Penny is in the store and Frazier has her get some coffee. Paladin asks Frazier what he did during the hanging eight years ago, and Frazier simply says that he was one of many that participated. The store owner glares at Paladin, offended that he's questioning him when they've hired him, and tells the gunfighter that the others are on the way.
Warren arrives and Frazier complains to him about how Paladin is accusing him of hanging Aaron's brother. They discuss the others and Warren says that Sayer is coming. The old man, Sayer, steps out of the shadows, laughing, and boasts that he could have easily shot Paladin from behind. The old man is proud to admit that he was the one who strung Paul up by his neck, and that Paul was a traitor out of uniform.
Former sheriff Howard and his wife Freida arrive and Frieda accuses Paladin of planning to kill Aaron. He assures her that he isn't and explains that he's there to keep Aaron from throwing away his life. The woman is furious, insisting that she and the others did nothing wrong and that Aaron deserved what he got. He was imprisoned for protecting his brother, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The townspeople explain that Aaron arrived at Lime Creek a week ago, and Sheriff Howard figures that he's at the ruins of his family farm that they burned down eight years ago. Paladin prepares to ride out to confront Aaron, and Freida tells him to warn Aaron off before they're forced to kill him.
When he arrives at the farm, Paladin notices an unmarked grave and dismounts to examine it. Aaron comes up behind him and tells him to toss his gun away. Once Paladin does so, he asks if Aaron plans to kill everyone or if he had one person in mind. Aaron says that he hasn't decided yet, but figures that they all deserve it. He tells Paladin that they botched the hanging and that Paul slowly strangled rather than died quickly of a broken neck. Paladin notes that Sayer is the one who took credit for putting the noose around Paul's neck, and Aaron tells him that Sayer is a liar who has been living on his boasts.
Aaron wonders why Paladin is there and why he cares, and Paladin offers him his card. He explains about Warren's desire to protect Aaron from himself, but admits that some of the townspeople aren't so concerned. Aaron describes how some of the townspeople begged God for forgiveness as they strung up his brother, but the man figures that God wasn't interested. He dares Paladin to go for his gun and tosses it on the ground, warning that it's kill or be killed. Paladin goes for his hidden derringer instead and gets the drop on Aaron, disarming him.
Paladin takes Aaron back to the Lime Creek general store and is ready to hand him over to Howard. Howard insists that he isn't really the man in charge because the town has all but faded away. Disgusted, Aaron says that he and his brother waited at their farm when they heard that the townspeople were burning the farms of other Confederate sympathizers. However, Howard never came to stop them. Frazier was Paul's friend, but never stepped forward, and Penny was just a 10-year-old girl when he went to prison.
Freida wonders why Paladin brought Aaron in alive and he informs the townspeople that they're going to find out who Aaron wants dead. Then he'll decide if they deserve to die, figuring the best way to protect the others is to let Aaron get his vengeance on the one responsible. The alternative is killing Aaron, which Paladin refuses to do.
Aaron looks over the townspeople and reminds Warren that when he didn't tip his hat to the banker, Warren ordered Aaron's father to whip his son. Thanks to his financial leverage, Aaron's father had no choice. Aaron asks Frazier if Warren was the one who got the lynch mob together, and Frazier is glad to let the banker take the blame. Warren denies the charge but Howard points out that he vocally supported it, and subtly forced the townspeople to do what he wanted because he held their mortgages.
Disgusted, Warren says that he won't let them hide behind him. Paladin asks Aaron if he wants to kill the banker, but Aaron figures that Warren has punished himself. They turn to Frazier and Penny calls Aaron by his first name. The townspeople realize that Penny knew Aaron was hiding at his family farm all along. Frazier steps forward, offering himself as long as Aaron doesn't hurt his daughter. Aaron dismisses Frazier as a coward, pointing out that he didn't take a stand with Paul, even though they were both Confederates. Frazier admits that he was too afraid to admit where his sympathies lay and turns away. As for Penny, Aaron explains that he met her at the ruined farm when she came to get wild roses. She told him what the town was like and what she learned of the truth from eight years ago, telling Aaron who was really responsible for his brother's death and planned the whole thing in cold blood.
Sayer goes for his shotgun but Paladin easily stops him. The old man crawls on the ground to Aaron and begs for his life, saying that he's been lying for the last eight years to live up to the image of his father. Aaron confirms that it wasn't Sayer and orders him out, and the old man staggers out into the night, shattered.
Aaron turns to Howard and his wife, and asks where the sheriff was that night. Howard insists that he was in another town serving a warrant, but doesn't remember who the man was that he went to get. Aaron figures that the sheriff was drinking in an out-of-town saloon and lying low, well aware of what was happening in Lime Creek. Freida comes to her husband's defense and Aaron realizes that she was the one who set it up so her husband would be out of town that night. The woman admits that she knew her husband would have stood up to the mob and been killed for it, so she secretly got him out of town. Sobbing, Freida admits that she was too old to remarry, and stands by her decision.
Howard holds his sobbing wife and tells Aaron to play god if he wants. Aaron takes the shotgun from Paladin, and then says that he's had enough and just wants to leave. He asks Penny to take care of the wild roses at his family farm and she says that she will. Warren tries to buy the farmland and Aaron almost hits him, but Penny restrains him. Aaron decides that the best revenge is to tend to his brother's grave and makes sure that everyone riding by sees it and remembers.
Once Aaron leaves, Warren tells Paladin that he has a peculiar way of doing things. Paladin simply nods and then rides out of Lime Creek for good.
Written by Gadfly on Sep 30, 2018