At the Hotel Carlton, Paladin has picked up a Chinese proclamation from the streets and asks Hey Boy to help translate it., Hey Boy warns Paladin not to get mixed up in Tong business but Paladin insists. He can tell that it's a reward for someone's head, but can't make out who. Detective-Sergeant Clarence Magruder comes in and explains that it's a bounty for Detective Joe Tsin. The Tong want Joe dead for working against them and the police want Joe kept alive because of his knowledge of the Tongs. Magruder admits that the police can't protect Joe because the young detective considers it a matter of honor to refuse any help. They want to hire Paladin instead in the hopes that Joe won't catch on. Magruder admits that he doesn't know where in Chinatown that Paladin can find Joe but suggests that he start with Joe's father, Hoo Yee. Paladin agrees and donates his fee to the police widow fund.
After Magruder leaves, Hey Boy explains that Joe is the cousin of his father's cousin, and repeats his warning about getting mixed up in Tong business. Despite that, Paladin asks his friend to take him to Hoo Yee. Hey Boy reluctantly agrees and takes him to the office of the Chinese Young Man's Christian Association. Hoo Yee runs the organization and lets Paladin in. As Hey Boy returns to the hotel, Joe watches them from down the street.
Paladin meets with Hoo Yee and Joe's fiancee, Li Hwa. Hoo Yee explains that the police have asked for his people's help in defeating the Tongs but at the same time turn a blind eye to the whites that commit crimes against the community. Joe has angered the primary Tong's leader, Loo Sam, who has hired hatchetmen to kill the detective before the week is over. Hoo Yee's son considers it a matter of honor to face the Tong on his own and the old man admits that Joe would lose face, even with him and Li Hwa, if he were to run away or turn to others for help. Hoo Yee asks Paladin to help his son but to avoid dishonoring him. Further, Paladin must avoid gunfights because a white man shooting at the Chinese could set off a bloody race war in the streets.
As Paladin leaves, Joe confronts him while the neighbors gather to watch. The detective demands answers and Paladin refuses to answer. Joe refuses to let the white men walk all over him and handcuffs Paladin to take him to the police station. Two hatchetmen attack them and Paladin and Joe have no choice but to fight together because of the handcuffs. They manage to drive the hatchetmen off and the neighbors applaud.
Hoo Yee and Li Hwa come out and thank Paladin for his help, and Joe realizes that someone hired Paladin to act as a bodyguard. Angry, Joe says that he would rather have died with honor then depend on someone else's help. Paladin questions the wisdom of a pointless death but Joe says that the whites will never understand Chinese honor and removes the handcuffs.
As the detective walks away, Li warns Paladin that Jo has lost face and has to reprove himself to the community and to himself. She takes Paladin down the street to where Joe has posted a challenge to Loo Sam. The two men are to meet at midnight, but LI warns Paladin that Loo Sam can choose a second to fight for him. He has Sing Chuck, his most experienced killer, on his payroll. Paladin admits that he messed things up by provoking Joe into handcuffing them together, and owes it to the detective to help him out. Li warns him not to make the situation worse by interfering again, but Paladin says that he'll just make things even. He asks where he can find Loo Sam and Li says the Tong bass has a favorite gambling hall. However, strangers are never allowed there and Li refuses to take him. Frustrated and a bit disgusted, Paladin admits that he may never understand Chinese honor and goes to find his own assistance.
After getting Hey Boy from the hotel, Paladin convinces the servant to take him to the gambling house. Hey Boy does so despite the threat of retaliation from the Tong and then quickly leaves. Paladin knocks at the door and the guard reluctantly lets him in after frisking him. The Chinese gamblers are all shocked to see a white man and Loo Sam assumes that Paladin works for the chief inspector. He wonders if his "friend" on the police force wants a bigger bribe, but Paladin assures him that he isn't with the police.
As Paladin takes a seat at a card table, Loo Sam gets Sing Chuck from the next room. As everyone backs away, SIng Chuck advances on Paladin, who fights the big man off. The two men struggle back and forth and Paladin soon gets the upper hand. Sing Chuck goes for his gun and Paladin fires his derringer, killing the man. He then threatens Loo Sam, telling the man that now he has no choice but to meet Joe personally and show how brave he really is.
At midnight, the locals gather at the designated spot to watch the fight. Paladin and LI are with Joe, who warns the gunfighter not to interfere. Loo Sam doesn't show and a satisfied Joe explains to Paladin that from now on no one in Chinatown will respect or fear Loo Sam. However, the detective suspects that Paladin had something to do with Sing Chuck's failure to appear. Rather than answer, Paladin tells Joe that in America people work together for the honor of their community and their country, not separately for personal honor. Joe forgives Paladin's earlier transgression and shakes his hand, and then leaves with Li, his honor satisfied.