Hey Boy has changed considerably from the time when Paladin was merely his favorite (and high-tipping) hotel guest, who frequently disappeared on mysterious junkets, only to return with plenty of cash. Hey Boy finally learned the truth when he himself needed Paladin's aid. After that, he was even more interested in Paladin's doings, reading his telegrams and watching to see how Paladin would react to potential jobs. Here, he goes one step further, cutting out an advertisement to present to Paladin. Unfortunately, he chose to do so before Paladin had had a chance at the paper himself. Paladin was more amused than irritated, and more interested in the notice on the back of the clipping Hey Boy had chosen.
Paying a visit to the "lady in distress", Paladin found that she was a professional perfumer, and, of course, demonstrated his knowledge of the art. (Is there ANYTHING this man doesn't have a working knowledge of?) The lady is worried about her nephew, Pierre Deverell, who is in some sort of trouble. The boy's father is apparently fed up with his son's wild behavior, and refuses to investigate. The aunt doesn't have too much in the way of cash, but she does have some bottles of old cognac....
Paladin arrives in a tense, watchful town. Coming up to the office of the sheriff--which has its door locked--Paladin nearly has a shotgun rammed up his nose. The sheriff is being very cautious. Paladin explains his errand, and the story comes out. A stagecoach had been held up, with only one survivor, Fitzgerald. Pierre (known as Pete) had pulled the man aside, but acted as though he didn't really want to rob him. Fitzgerald took advantage of his hesitation to knock the boy out and run. The sheriff found the boy, unconcious, with the other people on the coach dead. Since then, there have been attempts on Fitzgerald's life, and someone tried to poison Pete in his cell.
Paladin's mission is hampered by the fact that Pete confessed to the crime. A wild, self-centered brat, rebelling against his father, he thought that confessing would get his name in all the papers and thereby embarrass his family--but of course, they won't let him actually hang! Paladin breaks it to him that the crime, while heinous, is a local affair and no one outside the town really knows much about it, let alone that a Deverell (gasp!) is accused of the crime. (Actually, one statement by Pete made it sound as though he had confessed because that was the only way he could get permission to send word to his family, but the sheriff doesn't seem like that sort of man.) Pete explains that he had joined up with the three real criminals only a day or two before the robbery (probably thinking that this was exactly the sort of company his family would object to.) He describes them as bearded and smelling "funny". Paladin theorizes that they are buffalo hunters.
Paladin questions the sheriff and Fitzgerald, and the answers make the sheriff realize that his case against Pete Deverell isn't as tight as he thought. Pete had been knocked unconcious before the others were killed, and he was found in the same place. Paladin does make what would be a bad error in a courtroom, asking the sheriff a leading question. He asks if the bullet holes in the bodies were large ones, of the sort made by a buffalo gun. The proper way would have been to ask about the size of the bullet wounds, and then deduce that they could not have been made with Pete's handgun. Without more proof, however, Pete's confession will stand, and he will hang.
Having registered at the hotel (writing on two lines to ensure himself a double bed) Paladin parks himself ouside to watch the world go by. The three killers have disguised themselves by the simple expedient of shaving their beards. They're not too worried about Pete--he's to hang tomorrow--but they still want to get Fitzgerald, the last witness. And now here's this stranger in black. Better get him, too. Dink, who acts like the leader, walks up to Paladin and, without finesse, tries to find out what Paladin is doing. Paladin quickly guesses who he must be, and fends off his questions. He has his derringer out and ready when Dink whips around with his own gun. One down, but Paladin isn't pleased--he needs a live man to talk to. He settles back in his chair, hoping to draw out the other two. The next morning, a weary Paladin (probably stiff from sitting in that chair all night) returns to the sheriff's office. The unique points that I mentioned pop up one after another. Paladin first acknowledges the possibility that his mission will fail, quietly asking the sheriff if he can arrange the hanging so that the light-weight Pete will die instantly, rather than slowly strangling in the noose. (They don't use a gallows in this town.) Meeting with Pete, who has lost all his arrogance and is realizing that he might actually die, Paladin tells him that he himself has been frightened, waiting all night for a bullet to come out of nowhere. He also, for the first time, acknowledges the possibility--or probability--that his chosen lifestyle will get him killed eventually.
Having failed to locate the two remaining killers, Paladin opts to make use of his hotel room. There's an amusing moment when the clerk doesn't recognize him, and Paladin is in no mood to be charitable. Another moment comes when Paladin opens his door to request some breakfast, causing the startled clerk to jump and drop the tray he was carrying back. Paladin's mood has improved, and he starts to help clear up the mess--and then notices the funny smell. The clerk tells him that the whole room where he had collected the tray smells that way. All weariness gone, Paladin bursts into the room and quickly overcomes Luss, wrapping him thoroughly in a rope and threatening to hang him if he doesn't talk. The third man, Waller, jumps in at this point, knocking Luss off balance in the process, but of course Paladin gets him, although Waller takes a lot of getting before he finally tumbles down the stairs. Paladin belatedly runs back to the room, leaping up and severing the rope before Luss strangles. Now, of course, Luss can be tried and hung all proper and legal. Hopefully Pete will return to his family a sadder and wiser man.