It begins with what apparently was an attempt to provide Paladin with an ongoing romantic relationship. A young woman of Irish extraction (listed as Pegeen in the credits, although in the episode she's only referred to as "Miss Shannon") meets Paladin by the hotel desk and offers him her "services". Paladin completely misinterprets her meaning, assuming that she's making another sort of offer. (In the morning, and right in front of the hotel clerk. Yup.) The clerk hastens to inform him that Miss Shannon is the new hotel stenographer (which sounds like an attempt to prove that the Carlton provides better service than other posh hotels). This proves only a momentary setback for Paladin, who promptly heads up the stairs after her.
In his own suite, Miss Shannon types up a letter for him. It's not clear whether Paladin found this job for himself in the newspaper, or if his client wrote to him directly. He is wanted to clean up a lawless town, but Paladin, as usual, states that he does not intend to do so by provoking a gunfight. This startles Miss Shannon (as I am sure was Paladin's intention) but she finishes the letter without comment. Her following comment sounds odd, making it sound as though Paladin has been refusing to make use of her services for some time. So how much time has passed since he went sprinting up the stairs after her? When Paladin says that he was giving the friendship time to grow, Miss Shannon--who has observed his other "friendships" (another indication that some time has gone by)--makes it clear that their relationship will be strictly professional. Paladin, of course, makes it equally clear that he's up to the implied challenge, and indeed, by the episode "International Affair" the relationship will warm up considerably.
Heading for the lawless town of Santa Maria, Paladin comes across a young Navajo Indian boy's campsite, and is invited to stop. Learning that Paladin's destination is the same as his, Charlie Red Dog promptly pulls out his gun and demands that Paladin disarm. Taken aback, Paladin does so. Charlie proudly (and ineptly) shows off his skill with a gun, and Paladin has the courtesy not to laugh in the young man's face. Charlie ruefully conceeds that he needs some practice. Paladin kindly points out that his gun is rather tight in the holster, and a drop of fat rubbed into the leather will help to ease his draw. Charlie announces that he is a United States Marshall. Paladin takes another look at the star on the boy's chest, and learns that Charlie is the proud possessor of a correspondence school diploma teaching the art and science of marshalling. Paladin tactfully doesn't say much. Knowing of the lawlessness of Santa Maria, Charlie intends to set up shop there, (which he could presumably do if he really was a federally appointed marshall) and his first step will be to confiscate all the guns, like they did in Abilene. Paladin fears that this naive boy will be chewed up and spit out by the lawless element. On the other hand....
Despite travelling in the same direction, Paladin arrives first (with only his derringer for company). He meets with several local businessmen, one of whom had requested his aid. While Santa Maria has a jail and a law enforcement office, no one has the job. Presumably someone had either been killed off or driven out. Apparently the lawlessness of the town is now interfering with business, which is why they want Paladin's help. In particular, a man named Joe Denver has pretty much taken over things. Paladin points out that what they need is not a temporary gunfighter to deal with Denver (who is temporarily absent) but an authority figure to enforce the law on a daily basis. He suggests that they appoint Charlie Red Dog as town marshall. (As I understand it, a "town" marshall only has authority in his appointed town, as opposed to a sheriff, who has county-wide jurisdiction, or a Federal marshall, who would have national authority.) The men do not like the idea of some Indian kid being their marshall--but no one else wants the job, and Paladin promises to back the boy up. Charlie comes into town and makes his presence felt. Paladin, as a first step, goes out to acquire another gun, and the saloon is a logical place to look for one. Heading there, he (and we) see what Charlie will have to deal with. Another Indian comes walking along, and bumps into a man who bursts out of the saloon. It's an accident, but the man promptly hits him and knocks him into the dirt. Sidewalks are for white folks to use. Paladin's plans require a confrontation with someone, and he is probably pleased to have this bigot to jerk around. Knocking the man back into the saloon, he continues the confrontation and "borrows" the man's gun. It only takes Paladin moments to set himself up as one rough, mean hombre. The other men in the saloon, knowing that Charlie will respond to the sounds of the altercation, are delighted that Paladin will put the Indian boy in his place. Charlie appears, scans the situation, and cooly demands that Paladin give up this gun as well. (He sounds like a schoolteacher confiscating a water pistol from an unruly brat.) The men are dumbfounded when Paladin meekly surrenders the gun, and they learn that he had previously given up his own gun, not wanting to take chances drawing against Charlie Red Dog. Seems like this boy is quite the man, if he can make the tough stranger in black nervous. Charlie borrows a tub from the barman, and calmly collects all the guns.
This happy state of affairs will not last long. Conferring with the businessmen, Paladin and the others note the arrival at the jail of one of the town's more rabidly bigoted men, intent on confronting Charlie. Paladin dives across the street, only to see the man exit the jail faster than he went in. Charlie steps outside and the fight resumes. Charlie gives better than he gets, and confiscates the man's gun. It is dawning on Paladin that there is indeed more to this scrawny Indian kid than meets the eye. However, there is more to prove. A group of six men plan to storm Charlie's office that night, deal with him, and get their guns back. Paladin realizes that Charlie will have to stand and cope with the situation--but there's no harm in making the odds a bit more even. The encounter takes place, and Charlie defends himself well, but even Paladin would be hard-pressed at 6-to-1 odds. Paladin creeps up and shoots out the lantern, plunging the office into darkness. As promised, he evens the odds, taking out three of the men and leaving the other three to Charlie. Charlie comes out of the office, a little battered, but maintaining his dignity, and announces that he will make some arrests if someone can provide him with a new lantern. The onlookers scramble to do his bidding.
The next day, Charlie Red Dog, standing tall, is formally sworn in as the town marshall. On cue, a man rushes up and informs Paladin (not Charlie) that Joe Denver has arrived. Paladin prepares to confront the man, assuring Charlie that there is no shame in his doing so. He will, however, need his gun back. Paladin follows Charlie to the door--and Charlie slugs him. Having just sworn to uphold his office, Charlie intends to do just that. He steps out to confront Denver. The other men hasten to haul Paladin to his feet. Paladin is badly shaken--Charlie hit him pretty hard. He's also as close to frantic as we've ever seen him. His derringer does not have the range required for a gunfight. One man rushes off to grab a gun from the storekeeper's stock--only to find that Charlie has already locked them up. Seeing no other choice, Paladin heads for the door--and hears the exchange of gunfire. He slumps in grief.
This show often has unpleasant, albeit realistic, endings, and it wouldn't have surprised me in the least if Charlie had gallantly died upholding his office. However, Paladin, the townspeople (and the audience) are stunned to find that Charlie isn't even wounded. That tip about the drop of fat in the holster was a good one. Although the situation had surely shaken him up, he notes Paladin clutching his derringer and promptly confiscates it. He confesses that he knows (and perhaps knew all along) that his correspondence school had been a fraud, but it gave him a goal to strive for, something nearly as important as gaining respect. He is quietly grateful to Paladin, who had given his respect without forcing Charlie to earn it first. (Unlike a lot of people, Paladin waits for people to earn his DISrespect.)
Paladin collects his fee from the businessmen, and his guns back from Marshall Charlie Red Dog. It is suggested that Paladin should share his fee with the boy, but both he and Charlie know that Charlie has gotten something far more valuable from the town.
This is a marvelous, stand-up-and-cheer episode.