In Sacramento, Bret is dining with Modesty Blaise. She's approached him about cats, and says that two men held her up and took $500, and she was planning on buying $500 worth of cat. They need cats in the mining town of Paradise because it's overrun by rats and mice. Traps and poisons don't stop them, and the miners are offering $50 and more per cat. Modesty explains that there are 200 cabins in Paradise and Bret calculates that he could make half of $10,000. He offers Modesty his $1,000 bill as the working capital of the Consolidated Cat Company.
The next morning, Bret posts a sign offering $2 per male cat. Modesty tells him that Sheriff Scratch Madden is superstitious and doesn't want black cats, and is quick on the trigger.
Later Hanrahan Stables, Bret pays Hanhrahan for the cats. Hanrahan would rather not take 200 cats up in the mountains, and Bret says that he has a pretty girl to ride with him. Modesty arrives pulling a bag with catnip, and cats following. Children have brought their cats and Bret pays them $2 each. Once Bret and Modesty crate the meowling cats up, Modesty thanks Bret for setting up a new life her. She asks Bret for $20 to pay for her boarding room bill and Bret hands over $30 for the bill and a bottle of wine. Before she goes, Bret compliments Bret as her knight in shining armor.
That night, Modesty goes to a bar and pays the bartender $20 to dispose of Bret. The bartender offers to have Bret shanghaied and will get $40 in return, so he and Modesty both get $20. Modesty agrees but says that Bret will need a mild "sedative", and the bartender is glad to supply it.
Modesty returns to Bret and offers some wine. She spikes Bret's drink and he soon passes out. Modesty takes Bret's wallet and hands him over to the bartender, and later Bret wakes up among other drugged victims. He tries the door and finds it locked, and when he knocked Captain Puget and his seaman let him out. Puget says that they're in San Francisco Bay and tells Bret to sign. The seaman explains that they're on the Island Trader, and doesn't isn't impressed when Bret says that he's a businessman. Bret refuses to sign the articles of indemnification, and the seaman beats Bret with a cat of nine tails. Bret fights back and then runs out into a nearby alleyway. He lures the seaman over and knocks him out, takes his gun, and hands him over to a shanghai crew.
The next day, Bret rides to Paradise where Modesty is holding a cat auction with Mayor Uli Bemus. He then goes to the sheriff's office and tells Scratch that he's a victim of fraud and kidnapping. he points out Modesty as the guilty party and goes over with Scratch following. Uli offers a word of thanks to Modesty and the townspeople applaud. When Bret greets Modesty, she faints. Modesty feigns ignorance, and Modesty tells Scratch that Bret is taking her money. Bret offers to drop charges for half of the $10,000 she made at auction. Scratch says that he put up $500 for the money Modesty took to Sacramento, and Modesty is going to become his wife. Bret turns to Bemus as the authority, and Scratch tells Bemus to stay out of it. He then tells Bret to get out of town and Bret reluctantly leaves. As he goes, Bret tells Modesty that he'll be back.
Faro Jack Norcross rides into town and passes the cemetery as Bret arrives riding out of town. They know each other and Jack says that his business is booming. Bret tells Jack to watch out for Scratch, and Scratch rides up. Jack assures Bret that Scratch won't spot them and leads their horses into the cemetery. Scratch rides by, so scared of the cemetery he won't look in. Jack explains that Bemus sent him a wire and is paying him to dispose of Scratch because Scratch is taking protection money and killing anyone who tries to stop him. Scratch rides back and Jack has Bret wait in the cemetery with him. Scratch was playing in the poker game where Bill Hickok got killed, and has been superstitious ever since. Once Scratch rides past looking the other way, Jack suggests that they play poker until sundown, and they set up on a tombstone.
Come nightfall, Bemus and Modesty arrive. Bret covers Jack as he meets with them, and Modesty explains that she chose Jack as the killer. He explains that he met Bret, and Bemus explains that Modesty doesn't want to meet Scratch but doesn't have the heart to tell him. She says that Scratch has been ill-tempered recently and is a bad risk as a husband, and Bemus has Jack's money. Modesty wants to pay Jack $200 to kill Bret, claiming Bret threatened her. Once Bemus and Modesty leave, Bret steps out and hesitantly approaches Jack. Bret notes that taking $200 for money he won't deliver isn't ethical, and Jack asks why he wouldn't deliver. He takes the poker money and reminds Bret of a night in Dallas, and says that a man has to be practical. Jack reminds Bret that he took his last $2 in Dallas, and has to get all the work he can while he's alive. Bret tells Jack that he's as good as dead to Modesty since she didn't see him leave, and Jack says that if he sees Bret in Paradise then he'll have to shoot Bret. Bret promises that he might see Modesty but Modesty won't see him.
Later, Jack rides into Paradise and asks the undertaker, Floyd Gimbel, where Scratch. Scratch is playing cards in the town saloon, and Jack sits down to play him in poker. He points out one player has only a pair of deuces, and takes the man's seat when he quickly leaves. Meanwhile, Bret sneaks into the sheriff's office, cracks open his safe, and takes Modesty's $10,000. Modesty comes in and draws a gun on him. Bret says that he knows she hired Jack but they're old friends. He says that Jack will still shoot him, and Modesty suggests they go find him.
In the saloon, Scratch accuses Jack of cheating. Jack blatantly cheats, and Scratch challenges him to a gunfight and then shoots him before he can finish standing. Bret and Modesty arrive and see the whole thing, and Scratch asks who hired Jack. Modesty shoves Bret forward and says that he hired Jack, and Scratch tells Bret to draw. Bret notes that he'd be the thirteenth man Scratch would shoot and it's bad luck, and notes that Jack dealt Scratch a "dead man's hand". While Scratch is distracted, Bret slips out the door.
Bret goes back to the cemetery and hides among the tombstones. Floyd is there and introduces himself, and explains that Jack set up the dead man's hand when he was cheating to put Scratch off his hand. The undertaker explains that he has to pay Scratch $25 in protection money because he brings Scratch so much business. Bemus and Modesty go in and kiss, and Floyd says that everyone in town except Scratch knows that they're together. Bret is glad to help Floyd deal with Scratch, and tells him to bring Scratch and say what Modesty and Bemus are up to.
Once Floyd goes, Modesty tells Bemus that she doesn't know what to do. He asks her to marry him, and Modesty warns that Scratch will kill him out. Bemus claims that he isn't scared, just as Scratch and Floyd ride up and Scratch calls to Modesty. He still refuses to go into the cemetery, and Modesty goes to him so he won't shoot. Bret goes over and they watch as Scratch kisses Modesty. Modesty claims that Bemus lured her there under false pretenses, and Scratch says that he'll be waiting for when Bemus comes out of the cemetery.
Once Scratch rides off with Modesty, Bret tells Bemus that he has to face up to Scratch rather than face the dishonor. Floyd comes over and says that Scratch gets 30% protection from Bemus. Bret explains that he has a plan and they've got nothing to lose because Scratch will shoot them anyway. The gambler goes back into Paradise, and Bemus claims that he tried to run Paradise as a proper town and ended up in a cemetery with an undertaker.
Bret lures the cats out of their homes with catnip and leads them to the cemetery. He then tells Bemus and Floyd to shine his boots... with plenty of catnip and smoked fish mixed in. While they polish his boots, Bret paints the cats black with the remaining polish.
The next morning, Bemus finally goes into his office and finds Scratch sitting at his desk. Bemus tells Scratch that he's fired, but Scratch informs Bemus that he was fired an hour ago. The mayor calls Scratch out to settle things, and Scratch agrees. The townspeople take cover, and Bret steps out. He assures Scratch that he isn't armed and is just trying to cross the street with his friends. Thirteen "black" cats walk with Bret, nipping at his boots. Scratch draws his gun and shoots at them, and Bemus shoots Scratch dead while he's distracted. The townspeople praise Bemus as their hero.
Bret goes into the sheriff's office and finds Floyd there. Floyd says that Modesty already left with the money, on the fastest horse in town.
A few nights later, Bret is on a riverboat winning at poker. He spots Modesty as she climbs over the railing to kill herself and approaches her. She admits that the money was stolen, and says that she's desperate. Modesty was heading to San Francisco to get a shipment of brides and bring them to Paradise, and was going to use the cat money to transport a hundred of them at $500 each. Bret tells Modesty to jump, and an offended Modesty does so and screams. Bret reluctantly dives in to save her, just as Modesty planned, and when they swim to shore they count out the cat money. Modesty turns on the charm and Bret assures her he was thinking of the money... mostly. As they hug, a black cat walks up and they look nervously at each other.
Written by Gadfly on Dec 29, 2019