At the hotel, Paladin is recreating chess games between Hannibal and Napoleon when Hey Girl brings him a telegram from Sheriff Wilson in Santa Fe. Wilson offers Paladin the chance to collect a $2,500 reward by identifying one of his prisoners as a wanted killer. Paladin takes the offer, makes his way to Santa Fe, and easily collects the $2,500.
Later, two men find a badly injured Paladin at a water hole. One of them wears fancy Mexican boots with spurs, the other one speaks with a heavy German accent. Paladin, barely conscious, notices that the man with the Mexican boots is wearing a jade ring. The German wants to get Paladin help, realizing that a mountain lion attacked him. However, his comrade says that it's the German's fault that they lost their horses to the Indians, and they need Paladin's horse. They search Paladin's saddlebags and find the reward money from Santa Fe, and they take off with the horse, the money, and Paladin's rifle and revolver. As they go, they mention that they're heading to Prairie Orchard.
Once Paladin wakes up, he manages to make his way to Prairie Orchard. Five days later, he arrives in town as the residents watch him but make no move to help. Paladin goes to the barber and uses money from his personal stash to buy a shave and a bath. When he describes what he can of the two men to the barber, Forbes, the barber immediately denies having heard of them. A suspicious Paladin wonders why he answered so quickly, and Forbes claims that he's new in town. When Paladin points out that Forbes' name is on the sign in old paint, the barber claims that he inherited the place from his brother. As Paladin goes into the baths, Forbes spots his calling card in his hat and takes it to show the townspeople.
Once he's groomed himself and seen the town doctor, Paladin goes to see the sheriff. He notices that the sheriff is wearing a jade ring, and explains that he was robbed and one of the men responsible wore such a ring. The sheriff says that he and many of the townspeople bought the jade rings as a charm against a cholera outbreak, and takes down Paladin's information. However, he claims that he doubts Paladin's word that he had $2,500, and suggests that Paladin got into a brawl over a gambling debt. The sheriff is clearly disgusted that Paladin is a bounty hunter. Paladin points out that if he was covering up a fight, he would describe the men in much more detail. The sheriff notes Paladin's claim but suggests that he just ride out of town.
Next, Paladin goes to the telegraph office and tries to wire for $200 from his bank in San Francisco. The telegraph clerk, Rack, is less than helpful. When Paladin notices that Rack is wearing Mexican boots, he grabs the man and hauls him out of his office. When he threatens Rack with his concealed derringer, the clerk says that he was in jail five days ago when Paladin was robbed, and that the entire town is gearing up for a Mexican celebration. He was in jail for being drunk and disorderly, and is wearing the boots for when the celebration begins. Paladin sends his telegram and the station agent, Boggs, arrives. Boggs has a heavy German accent and is wearing the same type of Mexican boots. Paladin asks him how many German families are in town, and is surprised to hear Boggs say that there are thirty German families in the small town. A disgusted Paladin goes to the local hotel to wait for his money.
At the hotel, Paladin tries to take advantage of the free lunch and asks for the beer on credit. The barman, Cull, refuses, but a saloon girl, Topaz, pays for Paladin's beer. She knows Paladin by name and explains that by now, everyone knows that Paladin is a bounty hunter and after the two men who robbed him. She suggests that Paladin drop the entire matter, and what matters is that he's alive and well. Topaz defends the two men she claims not to know, saying that they probably believed Paladin was dead and took his horse rather than let it die in the wilderness. Paladin doesn't believe it, pointing out they were happy to take his money and leave him, and says he plans to leave town with his belongings. Topaz asks if he'll settle for that, and Paladin admits that he isn't sure. He thanks her for the beer and leaves.
Back in his room, Paladin hears a noise in the hallway outside. Opening the door, he finds his gun belt on the floor. He goes down to the street and finds his horse, saddlebags, and rifle waiting for him. Many of the townspeople are there, including the sheriff, who claims he came when he heard the commotion. He asks Paladin if he's leaving, but Paladin says that his revolver and money are still missing. Topaz steps forward and gives Paladin his revolver, and Boggs hands him an envelope containing $200. Paladin points out that it's only the money that he wired for and asks for the second man. Cull steps forward and admits that he was with Boggs, and they robbed Paladin. He tells Paladin to draw, but Paladin uses his derringer instead of the revolver and wounds Cull in the arm. When the sheriff objects, Paladin shows him the unloaded revolver, and figures that Topaz and the townspeople planned for him to use that and let Cull kill him.
The sheriff finally admits that Cull used Paladin's stolen $2,500 to pay off all the debts he had racked up in the town. They protected Cull rather than give back the money. The rings and the Mexican celebration were all faked so that Paladin couldn't identify Cull. Boggs is in fact one of only two Germans in town. Topaz apologizes to Paladin, admitting that she didn't know the others had given her an unloaded weapon to give him. The sheepish townspeople all give Paladin his money, including Topaz. Paladin lets her keep the money for her kindness and rides off.