Bret is riding through the Wyoming hills and comes to Black Fire Ranch. The man at the gate asks who he is, and Bret says that he's Homer Eakins. The guard lets him past, and Bret rides to the ranch house. Bret knocks at the door and the guard lets him in and says that the others are waiting for him.
The butler, Luther, greets Bret at the door. Bret goes into the parlor and introduces himself under his assumed name. His "cousins" Abbie Welkins and Lonnie Doyle introduce themselves, and Lonnie introduces Bret to the others: Elizabeth Seabright and her husband Elmo; Millard Sawyer; Hope Martin her brother Jeff, Seeby Dixon, and Pliney Potter. Bret takes a seat and General Jake Eakins comes in. He's not impressed with any of them and asks who Bret is, and Bret says that he's Homer. The General says that he doesn't believe him, and Bret claims that the older man hasn't seen him since he was 10.
Mrs. Knowles brings the General his whiskey, and the General tells them that they're all guests whether they like it or not. He explains that there's a lava bed and the Indians call it "Black Fire", thus its name. The General says that he has to decide who will get all of his money, and says that he's going to take two weeks to assign heirs. He informs them that any that aren't interested can leave, and nobody goes. Bret claims that he's been looking after a sick friend and asks if he can bring him, and the General agrees. The gambler says that his "friend" is Bret Maverick, and the General tells them that breakfast is the next morning at 7:30.
Back in town, the real Homer is in town painting. Bret arrives and Homer asks how it went. He says that he wants his uncle to die happy knowing that his money is in good hands. Bret tells him that all of the relatives have to spend two weeks at Black Fire. He wants out of the deal, and Homer reminds Bret that he owes him a favor. Bret points out that Homer will need food and shelter and got permission to bring "Bret" along. Homer figures that he'd fight with the General and be cut off, but Bret refuses to play along if Homer doesn't and Homer gives in.
At the ranch, Jeff guard reminds the General that they have to live with the farmers who are moving in. The General tells him to run them off and cut their fences. Bret and Homer arrive and Jeff leaves. The older man says that Homer is what he thought "Homer" would grow up to be. The General is disgusted that "Homer" is a painter, and Homer says that he's a professional poker player and he's never done an honest day's work. Homer admires a stuffed head of a moose and insults the General over it.
That night at dinner, Millard talks about his job as a banker. Elizabeth complains that the General drinks too much but the General isn't impressed. She's a suffragette and against drinking, and the General ask Piney what he thinks of women voting. Piney fakes a coughing fit, and Bret says that women will vote if they put their minds to it. When the General talks about farmers, Jeff says that the country is filling out. Lonnie is glad to boot the farmers out if he was running the place. The General is impressed, and Jeff excuses himself. Hope angrily tells the General that they're all disgusting, hovering around the General hoping to get his money. She tells them that Black Fire belongs to Jeff because he's the one who has been running the place while the General starts trouble. She storms out in a fury.
Later, Bret plays the General in cards and then goes out to get some fresh airs. Homer says that he never plays for fun and tells the General that he can't afford to play for money. Bret smokes and hears Elizabeth and Lonnie arguing. Luther tells Bret that he's only been around for three months, and in three months he'll be somewhere else.
That night, a man slips out of his room and enters another room.
The next morning, the General comes down for breakfast and notices that Lonnie is missing. He doesn't want to hold breakfast for him, and tells Luther to get Lonnie. Luther says that Lonnie isn't in his room and the bed wasn't slept in. The butler informs them that Lonnie took his clothes with him, and the General congratulates Hope on getting rid of one person.
Later, Bret plays horseshoes against the General. Much to Homer's disgust, Bret impresses the General. Homer wonders why Lonnie left, and the General dismisses it as Hope's nagging.
That night at dinner, everyone notices that Pliney is gone. Jeff goes up to Pliney's room to check on him, and Bret goes with him. Pliney is gone along with his clothes, and Bret searches the drawers as the others arrive. He finds Pliney's wallet and figures that someone else did his packing for him.
Everyone gathers in the parlor, and Home points out that Pliney wouldn't have left without his money. The General concedes the point and figures that someone is killing off the competition. He tells them that anyone who wants to go can go without prejudice, and he'd rather they did. Elizabeth and Millard agree to stay, but Elmo insists on going, and the General says that he has guts and brains. Abbie says that she's used to being poor, but everyone else stays. The General advises them all to bolt their doors and leaves.
Later in his room, Bret confirms that the door is solid. Mrs. Knowles comes by and Bret confirms with her that all of the doors have bolts on the inside. She says that she thinks she will be an heir and leaves. Bret goes to check Pliney's room, and Millard asks him if he found what he's looking for.
In the dead of night, Bret checks the doors figuring the killer wouldn't bolt his doors. As he checks Millard's door, Millard attacks him. The two men fight until the General intervenes and tells Jeff to get the sheriff. Bret says that he's been trying people's door and explains that anyone not in their room was the killer. The General says that Millard figured the same thing. Homer comes up and the General tells Bret that he never thought he'd turn out bad. Millard tells Homer to stay out of a family matter, and the General has Jeff lock Bret up in the store room. Homer says that Bret isn't "Homer" and explains that he's the real Homer. The General is shocked to realize that Homer is Homer, and immediately defends Bret. He tells everyone to go to bed except Bret and Homer. The General says that he was starting to like Homer until he learned he was a relative, and admits that he has guts taking the blame for Bret. Homer is impressed with himself and leaves. Once they're alone, the General goes to his study with Bret so they can talk.
Millard is in his room undressing and the killer steps out from behind the drapes. Shocked, Millard sees him and the killer throws a knife into his stomach.
In the study, the General drinks and asks Bret to stay there. He figures that Bret is the only one he can trust because he isn't a relative. The General says that Mrs. Knowles knows she'll get $20,000 if she stays, and Luther is an idiot. Bret doesn't want to see the relatives die, and the General doesn't plan to leave his money to a killer. He wants Bret to find the killer and stop him before he kills again, and figures that the killer is a man. Bret points out that Elizabeth is more than capable and wishes the General luck. The General offers him $2,000 to find the killer and Bret accepts. They go the bunkhouse to find some men to act as guards, and the General figures that Jeff is the killer. He admits that he never did right by Jeff and Hope, and that Jeff has made the ranch his family. The General figures that Jeff has been festering inside at the thought of losing Black Fire. Bret bets him the $2,000 that it's not Jeff and the General happily agrees.
Mrs. Knowles tells Luther that she's going to leave if someone else dies, and Luther points out that she won't get any money. The maid goes into the dining room and finds Millard seated in a chair, dead. The relatives gather and meet with the sheriff, who doesn't know who the killer is. The General blames himself and orders them all to go because he knows who he's going to give his money to. The sheriff says that they can't leave because they're all suspects. Jeff comes back and says that they found the other two bodies up at the lava bed.
Bret and the General talk, and Bret figures that Millard wouldn't have let anyone in. He figures the killer was in the room when Millard came in, and reminds the General that they weren't al in the hall when they saw Millard go into his room.
In the study, Homer plays solitaire while Seeby complains that he should have gone. Hope says that it's not good for them to gather and complain, and Homer sarcastically talks about how he's been reunited with his kin. He tells Hope that everything bothers him, and Elizabeth suggests that he has a good reason not to be worried. Homer goes out to "bribe the guards", and Bret notices Luther walking around. He searches for clues and goes to Millard's room first. Bret finally locates a photo of a man looking like Luther, standing behind a woman wearing a broach. He pockets the photo and leaves.
That night at dinner, Bret says that they should enjoy their dinner rather than wondering which of them is the killer. He tells them that he knows who the killer is, and explains that there's more than enough money to go around. Bret figures someone wants to make sure Black Fire goes to the "right" person. He tells them that none of them are the killer, and notices that Hope is wearing a broach. Bret says that her father is the killer, and the General notes that George Martin hasn't been seen for 22 years.
Bret tells them to forget it, but the General tells him to keep talking. The gambler says that all he has is a theory and says the name "Martin". Luther, who is gathering the dishes, drops them in surprise. Luther draws his gun and shoots at Bret, who ducks. The killer runs out the window and the guards kill him.
Later, Bret shows the General the photo and figures that the woman wearing the broach is Hope and Jeff's mother: Luther's wife. The General figures that he's to blame because he didn't leave Black Fire to Jeff, and all he ever planned to do was leave the rest of them money. He gives them all half of his money except for Jeff, who will get Black Fire. The General will use the other half of the money to go out and get drunk.
The General pays off Bret and then asks if Homer is going to go. Homer is planning to go to Paris to pursue his painting, and the General suggests that they both go there and do it up in style. When the General says that he can't behave himself, Homer agrees. Bret is heading to Denver for a poker game, and the sheriff arrives. He wonders what happened, and Bret says that the butler did it.
Written by Gadfly on Aug 25, 2019