Paladin is in the lobby of the Carlton and gets a wire about someone
who needs his services. He rides out and stops for the night in the town
of Bonanza. The town is all but abandoned, but the light at the saloon
is on. Paladin goes inside and finds four elderly men standing at the
bar, all looking at a portrait of a beautiful woman hanging over the
bar. Paladin steps forward and orders a drink, and the four men stare
intently at him. The bartender, Jack Foster, asks if he's passing
through, and admits that almost no one stays in Bonanza since the silver
mine closed. When Paladin admires the portrait, one of the old men,
Elmer Jansen, introduces himself and his friends: Rafe Adams, Ezekiel
Becket, and Double G. Phillips.
The men congratulate Paladin on his taste and explain that the woman in the portrait is named Annie. Jack figures that they're empty-headed fools mooning over a painting, but Double says that Annie is the only reason that they stay in Bonanza. Elmer admits that Bonanza is a ghost town now with no entertainment, and Paladin points out that they still have Annie. He buys drinks for the house so they can toast the painting and the elderly housekeeper, Miss Felton, immediately comes running out when she hears that there are free drinks.
Once they're done, Jack has Miss Felton take Paladin up to choose whatever room he wants. As they go upstairs, Miss Felton complains that the men spend all their time staring at a painting. A man, Armand Boucher, comes out of his room and stares suspiciously at Paladin. Miss Felton leads Paladin to a room and explains that Boucher is leaving the next day. She turns down the bed and opens the window, and then wishes Paladin a good night.
The next morning, Paladin is abruptly woken when the four men storm into his room and start searching the place. Rafe draws his gun on Paladin, who easily relieves him of it and orders them out. They refuse, saying that Paladin is going with them no matter what. Intrigued, Paladin meets them downstairs and discovers that the painting is gone. They figure that Paladin stole the painting since he's the only stranger in town that arrived the previous day. Paladin suggests that they report it to the sheriff but they admit that there's no law in Bonanza. Jack explains that he owns the painting and that he discovered it was missing that morning when he opened up at 6 a.m. The doors were locked from the inside, suggesting the thief was still inside. Paladin sends the four old men out to check the town to see if anyone has stolen a wagon or shipped out any large packages.
Once they're alone, Jack tells Paladin that the whole thing is ridiculous. Paladin figures that Jack stole his own painting and tells him to hand it over. The bartender says that he'd have no reason to fake stealing his own painting, but Paladin isn't convinced. Once Jack leaves to get some supplies, Paladin checks the back room and finds the painting frame, broke into pieces. Jack comes in with a gun and orders him to leave town. Paladin realizes that Jack plans to frame him for the theft and make sure that he's not around to answer any accusations. He disarms Jack and knocks him through a railing, easily subduing him.
Paladin demands answers and Jack pours himself a drink and admits that he didn't think his four customers would make such a fuss over the painting. When he realized how attached that they were to it, Jack couldn't tell them that he sold the painting to Boucher. Boucher arrives and tells Jack that he's leaving on the stage, and then realizes that Jack is Paladin's prisoner. He runs upstairs and Jack tells Paladin that he sold the painting to Boucher for $500 because he needs the money. As much as he needs the money, Jack clearly feels guilty for betraying his friends. With a little prodding from Paladin, Jack agrees to give Boucher the money back and keep the painting.
When Paladin and Jack visit Boucher, he accuses Jack of stealing the painting from him. Paladin confirms that there's no way in or out through the second-story window and Boucher confirms that he locked the door. The gunfighter wonders why Boucher came to Bonanza and the man explains that he's been searching the west for the paintings of Henry Sewtel. Paladin recognizes the artist by name and and points out that $500 is cheap for one of Sewtel's paintings. Boucher admits that he may have bought the painting for a bit less so he could make a personal profit. Jack confirms that he, Boucher, and Miss Felton are the only three people who have keys to the room, and Boucher figures that the housekeeper took the painting. They go to her room and Boucher accuses her, but Miss Felton says that someone stole her keys. Boucher and Jack go to search the town, and Paladin glances at Miss Felton suspiciously before going after them.
Later, everyone gathers in the saloon and Jack tells the four men what he did. He apologizes and gives Boucher the money, but they still don't have the painting. Paladin tells the four old men to watch Jack and Boucher and then goes to Miss Felton's room. He knocks and calls out that they found the painting, and she runs out immediately, asking why. She has the supposedly stolen keys in her hands, and realizes that Paladin has tricked her.
Paladin escorts Miss Felton down to the saloon with the woman on his arm. She sits down and Paladin tosses the keys on the table. When Boucher accuses Miss Felton of stealing the painting, she insists that she took it but she didn't steal it. When they wonder what she means, Paladin tells Miss Felton to explain and she tells everyone that she is the Annie in the portrait.
The men don't believe it, saying that Miss Felton is a preposterous old woman. Paladin gently explains that Miss Felton wasn't old or preposterous when Sewtel came to Bonanza and was looking for a model for his work. Miss Felton boasts that Sewtel painted her over and over again. Boucher eagerly wonders what happened to the other paintings, and Miss Felton tells him that the artist burned them all. Sewtel gave her the last one as a token of his love, because he wasn't the marrying kind. The artist couldn't pay the hotel bill he owed to Jack's father so the sheriff threw him jail. Miss Felton gave Jack's father the painting to cover Sewtel's debts, and the artist warned her that people would come looking for his paintings.
Paladin points out that the painting belongs to Miss Felton. When Boucher objects, pointing out that she gave it up to cover the hotel bill, Jack cheerfully rips up the bill. Miss Felton tells them that the painting is hidden in a closet and the four old men rush upstairs to get it. Jack gives the $500 back to Boucher, who tries to buy the painting from Miss Felton for the same amount. When she refuses, he offers her $5,000. Paladin, disgusted tells him to pay what the painting is really worth: $50,000. Boucher tells Miss Felton that she can have fame and immortality when he hangs her portrait in a gallery, but she tells him that her lover already gave her immortality. Paladin chuckles and Boucher walks off, disgusted. Jack pours himself a drink and wonders if he should have kept the painting and sold it to Boucher for $50,000. Paladin tells him that it's his decision, but that if he refuses then he's doing it for himself, not the others.
The four men return with the painting and put it back above the bar. Jack proudly helps them and offers drinks on the house. Miss Felton comes running and they toast the portrait. When Miss Felton hesitates, Paladin gently strokes her face and points out that they're toasting her, and she thanks him for his help.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 6, 2018