As Paladin rides cross-country, he passes through Crescent City and
observes a gunfighter, Doggie Kramer, preparing for a shootout with
another man, Tom Gallagher. While the townspeople run to get out of the
way, Paladin ignores it and hitches his horse. When he notices that the
curb strap is broke, he goes into the general store to get a
replacement. The clerk is busy watching the coming shootout and ignores
On the street, Kramer and Gallagher draw and shoot. Kramer kills Gallagher and Gallagher wounds Kramer in his shooting arm. The townspeople run out once they realize what happened, and one of them informs Kramer that Gallagher had a brother, Terry. The informer kicks Kramer’s gun away and promises that Terry will finish Kramer off. Kramer dismisses the townspeople as cowards and tells them that none of them have the guts to finish him off. No one proves him wrong and Kramer calls over a doctor and they go into the grocery store to tend to his wound.
Before the doctor goes to work, Kramer buys a short-barreled shotgun from the clerk and has him tie it to his good arm. When Kramer wonders who Paladin is, the gunfighter presents his card but says that he wants nothing to do with anything that’s happening. Kramer and the doctor leave and Paladin pays the clerk for the strap. He asks about the town sheriff, Jim Toby, and the clerk says that Kramer must have told Toby to stay out of the fight. Surprised, Paladin admits that doesn’t sound like the Jim Toby he knows.
As Paladin goes out to his horse, Kramer calls down from his hotel window and tells the visitor that he has a job for him. Paladin isn’t interested and Kramer fires a warning shot over his head. When that doesn’t work, Kramer threatens to shoot the doctor. Paladin goes up and Kramer offers him $200 to ride the sixty miles to Santa Fe with him. When Paladin refuses, Kramer admits that he’s the only one brave enough to take him there. The doctor warns that Kramer will pass out from his wound if he rides and needs someone to help him, but Paladin still refuses. Kramer tries to appeal to Paladin’s protective instincts, saying that he’ll have to kill Terry when he comes gunning for him. Unimpressed, Paladin figures that Kramer will be unconscious by then and tells him to turn himself over to Toby if he wants protection.
Paladin goes to the saloon to get a drink and discovers that the townspeople are betting on when Gallagher will kill Kramer. As Paladin sits down for a drink, he notices Sheriff Toby come in to place a bet. Toby sees Paladin and comes over, rolling a cigarette. He insists that there’s nothing he can do about the pending shootout and defends his actions, saying that the town can’t afford anyone else. As Toby nervously fumbles the cigarette, he tells Paladin that he does just fine the other 364 days a year, but he won’t die defending Kramer.
Later, Paladin stops in to see Kramer and tells him that he should be ready to leave at 4:30 the next morning. However, he tells Kramer that he doesn’t want pay because he’s doing it for Toby, not for Kramer. Once Paladin leaves, Kramer hides a derringer in the bandages covering his hand and looks out at the townspeople across the street.
Paladin wakes up just before 4:30 as Kramer and the townspeople exchange shots back and forth. Toby knocks at Paladin’s door and the gunfighter lets him in. When Paladin wonders what he’s going to do about the mob, Toby offers Paladin his badge and suggests that he take them on. Paladin points out that he’s risking his life for Kramer already, but Toby insists that he won’t shoot at his friends to defend a killer. The gunfighter asks for Toby’s gun to avoid temptation and, taking it, tells Toby to join his friends. As he leaves, Toby warns Paladin to watch out for the informer, mentioning that the man kicked Kramer’s gun away earlier. Paladin realizes that Toby was watching the entire time and didn’t interfere, and the sheriff admits that he watched it from Paladin’s hotel room window.
Once Toby leaves, Paladin goes to get Kramer. He reluctantly lets him keep the shotgun to defend himself, but tells him not to shoot unless Paladin gives the okay. When they go out on the street, one man steps forward to challenge Paladin. He draws and Paladin shoots back, killing his opponent. Kramer shoots the informer, standing in Paladin’s blind spot, and claims that the man was going to shoot. Unsure of whether Kramer is telling the truth, Paladin asks Toby, who is standing with the rest of the mob. The sheriff hesitantly says that Kramer shot in self-defense, but Paladin clearly isn’t convinced. He orders Toby to get Kramer up on his horse and says that the sheriff can pick Kramer up in Santa Fe.
The two men ride out of town until they’re a safe distance away. Paladin takes Kramer’s shotgun and the killer tells Paladin that he’ll kill him once he no longer needs him. As they continue riding to Santa Fe, Terry rides past. When he sees Kramer’s injury, he realizes that he’s the man who killed his brother. Terry tries to draw on Kramer but Paladin outdraws him and takes the boy’s gun away. The would-be gunslinger promises that he’ll keep coming after Kramer until he avenges his brother, and that he doesn’t care what the cost is to him. Paladin tells Terry to mount up and leave, telling him that it’s for his own good, not Kramer’s.
As Terry goes to his horse, he asks for his gun. Paladin tosses it to him and Terry holsters it, and then draws and shoots off two distant tree branches in the span of a second. Kramer stares in fear and Paladin realizes that the killer knows that Terry can outdraw him. However, Kramer warns Terry that shooting a tree isn’t the same as shooting a man. Paladin tells Terry that he can find Kramer at the Santa Fe sheriff’s office, but asks if he wants to get a reputation as a killer. Kramer speaks up, smugly saying that the two of them are a lot alike: his first victim was the man who shot his father in a barroom brawl.
When Terry says that he won’t stop, Kramer shoots him with the derringer. As Terry goes down, Paladin draws and shoots Kramer. He confirms that Terry is only scratched, and Paladin points out that Kramer would have made Terry into a killer if Paladin hadn’t shot first. Terry offers to take Kramer’s body back to Crescent City, but Paladin says that it will cement his reputation as Kramer’s killer even if he didn’t fire the fatal shot. Terry realizes what a reputation as a killer would do to him, thanks Paladin, and rides on.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 4, 2018