It does have an amusing opening, with a real first--I've never seen Paladin drunk before. Well, he may not be drunk in the way we've seen other drunken men on this show, but he and his lady of the moment are clearly feeling no pain. He nevertheless manages to get in a reference to Shakespeare (he could probably quote Shakespeare while falling into a paralytic stupor) and Hey Boy, who is probably picking up an extensive literary education through his favorite hotel guest, gamely follows through. Hey Boy had stayed up late to make certain that Paladin received a letter. The letter--a standard "help me!" sort of missive, but from the last person Paladin would expect--stuns the alcohol fumes out of Paladin, and he hastens away. (The lady is feeling mellow enough that she forgets to take offense.)
Paladin arrives at Burly, Idaho, and goes in search of a woman named Lily, who has been on intimate terms with Simon Quill, the man who called for help. Leaving his horse with a rather obnoxious old man, Paladin arrives at Lily's shack. Simon is in there, being tended for an indeterminate wound. (We never learn what that was all about.) When Paladin walks in, Simon greets him effusively, but it is obvious that Paladin is not there out of friendship. He has a long-standing grudge against Simon Quill, a confidence man who lies to every man and woman he comes across. Three years ago, Simon had obtained a map to a gold mine. Simon claims that he won the map in a poker game, and later had to kill the loser, Rick Cabell, in self defense. As Paladin heard it, Simon had simply killed Cabell to steal the map from him. Simon had then sold the map to Paladin, for a thousand dollars. The mine turned out to be full of fool's gold, but Quill didn't know that, and Paladin doesn't blame him on that account. However, Quill then allowed the weary Paladin to sleep in his hotel room, and then quietly skipped town (wearing a woman's dress), allowing Paladin to be found in his place by Rick Cabell's vengeful brothers. Paladin narrowly missed getting killed, and was forced to kill one brother and wound another. Even three years later, Paladin is feeling somewhat peeved.
This whole background story sounds very peculiar. For one thing, confidence men are usually notorious for being non-violent. They like things soft and easy, which is why they're so charming. For another, I really can't see Paladin getting suckered into buying a treasure map. Quill must really have a silver tongue. Of course, this could explain Paladin's behavior--perhaps he's embarrassed at having been so gullible.
Quill, naturally, thinks that they should let bygones be bygones. He cheerfully offers Paladin a drink, and begins explaining why he needs help. Three years ago, a young woman in the town of Elkton had been murdered, and the marshall has fixed on Quill as the guilty party. The murder took place at the same time as the incident with Paladin, so Paladin can prove that Quill could not be the killer. Paladin may be acting out of character, but Richard Boone played the scene wonderfully--watch him with the bottle of whiskey. He keeps twisting the bottle as though he was wanting to throttle someone. Paladin may be able to prove Quill's innocence--in fact, he has a paper that will do so--but he has no intention of assisting Quill in any way. No one can seem to get Quill charged for his real crimes, so why not let him be punished for something else? Paladin burns the paper, to Quill's horror. This was really unbelieveable to me. Paladin has such a strong sense of justice. If Quill could not have killed the girl in Elkton, that means that some else DID, and by destroying evidence, the Elkton marshall will not go looking for the real killer.
Paladin returns to collect his horse, only to find that the old coot, Trager, has confiscated the animal, plus Paladin's gear, and given them to his son, since Paladin didn't return in good time. (For Heaven's sake, the man was only gone a few minutes at the most!) Paladin, with his unpleasant memories of Quill just refreshed, is in no mood to be hassled, and deals with both of Trager's sons briskly. He then decides to wash the bad taste out of his mouth at the saloon. Apparently he planned to wait and make sure Quill didn't escape before the deputy sent from Elkton arrived. However, for some reason never explained, the surviving Cabell brother not only has learned about Quill's problem with Elkton, he intercepted the deputy and came to deal with Quill personally. Finding Paladin, the man who killed his second brother, is a bonus for Roy Cabell, but he has no intention of taking Paladin on in a fair fight. He'll be back after he collects some assistance.
Lily finds Paladin in the saloon and begs for his help. Paladin tries to point out how foolish she is, wasting her affection on a self-centered man. Lily, with dignity, concedes that Quill may be pretty worthless, but she can't help loving him, and will do what she can for him, even offering herself to Paladin by way of payment. Paladin refuses this, but, presumably for Lily's sake rather than Quill's, finally agrees to do what he can, and tells her to go back and pack up Quill's things.
Meanwhile, Cabell has found his assistance--Trager's sons, who not only are pleased at the chance to get back at Paladin, but will be paid five whole dollars apiece to help kill him and Quill. Trager himself is agreeable to the arrangement, although anxious that his younger boy, especially, be careful.
Paladin returns to Lily's shack. Lily is in the process of packing--why, I have no idea, because Quill is already gone. Paladin seems to think at first that Lily had come to him simply to distract him from Quill's getaway. Lily, a victim of Quill's charm like so many before her, convinces Paladin that she didn't know. Quill, using what was probably his standard M.O, had helped himself to one of Lily's dresses to make his escape. The youngest Trager had the misfortune to follow Quill into the stable, and Quill, without hesitation, turned and gunned him down. The young Trager had been completely alone when he entered the stable, but moments later his brother and Cabell were at the entrance for Cabell to shoot Quill down. Hearing the gunfire, Lily and Paladin rush for the stables. The elder Trager will come in due course.
Cabell is now prepared to take on Paladin, but Emmet Trager is stunned at the sight of his brother's body, and unwilling to risk himself. Lily throws herself on her lover's body. It's probable that Cabell did not think that he could outshoot Paladin, but it also seemed likely that he felt that there had been enough death and grief for one day. A lot of lessons have been learned all around...at a very high price.
Not a bad storyline, but I wish they had tweaked it some so that Paladin came off looking better. Seeing him make mistakes would not be a problem--that would show that he's human, like anyone else--but his implacable vengefulness just seemed wrong.