The Debt

First Impressions:   A routine second season episode with Slim only bookended at the beginning and end. Screen caps at the bottom of the page.

The Story:   

It’s nighttime. There’s someone in a camp, and another man approaching with a gun. Gun guy takes a shot at the camp, but finds it’s actually empty. Now that he’s revealed himself, the guy from the camp gets the drop on him and says “What’s the matter, Markel, something go wrong?"

That’s the end of the teaser, such as it is. Okay, here I have to say that the sound on my copy of this episode sucks, so the guy’s name may not be Markel. It could be Irkel, or Waldo for all I know, but I’m calling him Markel.

The opening of this one is the one where Jess and Slim meet up at the beautiful   Vasquez Rocks   and then ride together toward the camera. Since this is Season Two, there’s no Hoagy, or Andy, or Miss Daisy or Mike for that matter, but I really like this opening.

Okay, after the opening, the two men from the teaser are riding in to Laramie late at night. The bounty hunter wants to leave Markel in the jail overnight for safekeeping.

They walk in and find Deputy Jess minding the store by sleeping with his feet up on the desk. The bounty hunter (Jason Evers) tells Jess he wants to leave “this felon” with him. Markel had tried to bushwhack him because he guesses Markel knew he was following him.

Jess gets all “what’s yer business, mister” on him. In other words, he smells bounty hunter and takes an instant dislike. He charges the guy $2.00 in advance and makes the bounty hunter do his own dirty work and lock the guy up while Jess seethes. Jess asks what the guy did and the bounty hunter says he killed a night watchman when he robbed a mail company in Dagget.

After Mr. Charm leaves, Markel asks Jess for some water. Up until now, Jess hasn’t really looked at the prisoner, but now he does. The prisoner looks at him too and recognizes him. “How’s that rope burn around your neck, boy?” Oh boy.

Jess grabs his own neck and asks, “How’d you know about that?” Apparently Jess was in a spot of trouble five years before and was about to be hanged. Markel is the one who cut him down. Jess says he spent two years looking all over Texas for him. Markel was hard to find because he was in Yuma prison. We find out that Jess never knew the man’s name and wonders why he even helped him, he had no way of knowing he was innocent back then. Markel says he’s just naturally on the side of anyone who has a rope around his neck.

Jess thanks Markel for saving his life, and Markel is not above asking for a favor in return. He says that if the bounty hunter gets him to Dagget, they’ll hang him. Jess pauses, thinking about letting a prisoner escape. Markel assures him that just as Jess was innocent five years ago, he’s innocent now. Jess has all night to think about what to do.

The next morning, dawn breaks over our Laramie, and Slim comes riding into town with an extra horse (looks like Jess’) and ties up at the sheriff’s office. Inside, he finds Jess on the floor trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Just as Slim gets an embarrassed Jess free, who should walk in but our charming bounty hunter. He has a few choice words and insults for Jess. He even demands his $2.00 back, and then he leaves.

Mort rides up and asks what’s going on. The bounty hunter says, “Next time, leave a man in charge of your jail.” Heh heh.

On the trail out of town, Slim catches up with Jess who is already heading out to Dagget. Jess tries at first to make Slim believe he’s leaving because he’s embarrassed he let a prisoner escape, but Slim doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t exactly call Jess a liar, but he does say he isn’t telling the truth. Finally Jess relents and lets Slim know that Markel once saved his life. He’s on his way to Dagett to find out if Markel is innocent so he can have all of this off his conscience.

Slim wants to know what Jess will do if he finds out Markel is guilty. Jess says he paid his debt when he turned Markel loose. If he’s guilty, he’ll bring him back for trial. Slim knows that with “that look on your face”, there’s no sense arguing and he’d probably play it the same way. They say goodbye, Slim gives the usual “just don’t forget where you started from” speech, and Jess rides off. When Jess says, “I’d never forget that, Slim,” I wonder if he’s talking about the ranch and Laramie, or if he’s talking about where he really came from back in Texas. Anyhoo, Jess rides off and Slim turns for home.

In Dagett, which looks remarkably like Laramie, Jess rides in and immediately comes to the rescue of an older pudgy man struggling with a rearing horse on the end of a rope. Jess jumps in and calms the horse while an older lady (the man’s nag of a wife) watches.

The man thanks Jess and explains that the horse is an outlaw and he had to take him off the mail run because he was causing trouble. The man is Fred T. Cotter (Connor? Carter? Columbus? who the hell knows), the manager of the mail company. He offers Jess a cigar in payment for his trouble, which Jess refuses but he does say he could use a job. He’s just proved he’s good with horses, so Fred signs him right up. How fortuitous for Jess. He’s not in town two seconds before he has found where Markel worked, met the boss, saved the boss and got hired on.

While the guys are chatting, Hortense, Fred’s wife warns about just who he hires this time. Long-suffering Fred yells at her to let him take care of his business and she huffs as she turns and leaves. Hortense is a corker to be sure. Hortense may have a point though, as Fred explains that the last fella he hired stole ten thousand dollars out of the safe and killed the night watchman.

Anyway, Fred likes Jess and hires him on. Jess gets room and board and Fred commences to show Jess around.

The office has Mr. Pettis, the bookkeeper and Hortense. Pettis is skeptical about the new hire. By the way, these people argue a lot. Hortense and Fred, Fred and Pettis. Hortense is never going to let Fred forget that he hired Markel. Hortense is played by Grandma Walton. Fred is sort of like Santa Clause in a hat with a cigar and he seems awfully jolly for a fella that had ten thousand dollars stolen from him not ten days ago. As Fred is showing Jess his sleeping quarters, Jess takes note of this too and says “You sure take everything in stride, don’t you?” Fred is rather happy go lucky and says he’d a been dead a long time ago if he let everything other people did bother him.

Elsewhere, Hortense has gone to the sheriff and demanded that he go and question Jess. The sheriff says he can’t go questioning everyone who rides into town. Hortense, in her naggy wife way convinces him, pulling out the “my taxes pay your salary” card. Of course he jumps right to it.

Jess is working at getting the horses in the barn for the night, when Mr. Pettis pokes his head out the door and coughs disapprovingly. There’s a smoker going out back that’s making Pettis all watery and coughy. He also goes to close the front door to close it too, and spies a floozy strutting her stuff across the street. Ah, so Mr. Specks the nerd has a little thing for Clovis the floozy.

Across at the saloon, a patron goads Clovis about mooning over Markel, and teasing her that Markel sure ain’t thinking about her with that ten thousand he stole. Clovis slaps him with her bag and pushes on through.

Meanwhile, Hortense and the sheriff approach Jess, with Fred demanding to know what in the world they’re up to. Hortense says someone has to protect their interests around there, even if Fred won’t.

Jess tells the truth to the sheriff, giving him the right name and telling him the last place he worked was the Sherman Relay station. Fred explains that the sheriff thinks Markel is going to come back to get the money he may have hidden around there and he looks askance at every stranger. The sheriff is not happy about being made to do this by Hortense and he stalks off.

As Jess continues working, Fred goes over to the outdoor burner and stirs it up, causing Pettis to come out and yell at him. He tells him he knows he has allergies and he doesn’t have to burn this stuff right now while he’s in the office. My goodness! Everyone in this town yells at everyone else. Jess is the only quiet one in the bunch.

Pettis convinces Fred to stop burning whatever he’s doing and that he’ll take care of it later before he leaves. Pettis pushes Fred to go home and let him do things his own way. Boy, Fred the Boss don’t get no respect.

Jess notices this exchange and (I can see the geers turning) thinks that Pettis is trying to hide something in the burner.

That night after dark, Jess has cleaned up and changed clothes and is coming out of the diner. We know that because he has a toothpick in his mouth. He heads across to the mail office and notices the burner is still smoking. He investigates finds nothing, pitch dark as it is, but he notices a nearby light in a window.

He sneaks over to invesitgate and is caught looking in an empty office by the sheriff. The sheriff can’t see him too well, but he starts shooting. Jess runs and goes over a fence and gets away.

Elsewhere in town, Jess goes into a crowded saloon and orders a drink. He notices Mr. Pettis come in and watches as he stares at Clovis. Pettis orders two drinks and asks Clovis to sit with him. He pulls her to a corner and gives her a gold bracelet as a gift. Clovis is a bit drunk and sits down with him.

Meanwhile Jess asks the bartender about her. He says that Pettis has been in every night this week and mostly stares at Clovis. After a minute, Clovis gets up from the table, yelling at Pettis and calling him a freak. He says, “you didn’t think Markel was a freak and he didn’t have anything to offer you.” She tells him to stop talking to her about Markel and tells him to get out.

The bartender goes over and yells at Clovis for yelling at the paying customers. Clovis goes out the door and Jess follows her.

Jess watches as she goes up some stairs, presumably to her room. He follows and asks to talk to her.

She tells Jess, in the most God-awful and offensive Southern accent I’ve ever heard that Pettis wants to marry her. She shows Jess the bracelet which she considers cheap and not gold at all. She says he bought it from some drummer over at the hotel. Jess isn’t so sure. It’s obvious she and Markel were involved. Jess asks to borrow the bracelet which she gladly lets him do.

Jess takes the bracelet to the drummer that sold it and is convinced that the bracelet is gold. The drummer offers to take it back if he doesn’t believe it. Jess does believe it and muses that it’s a pretty expensive do-dad for someone like Pettis. The drummer says that what he told the man too, but Pettis paid him $100 in brand new twenty dollar bills for it.

Jess then goes to the clerk at the telegraph office and casually strikes up a conversation. He finds out that the ten thousand dollars was not in gold as he thought, but was in brand new paper money. As he’s leaving, he meets up with the sheriff. The sheriff notices Jess’ shirt is torn and comments on it, but Jess dismisses it and goes on. Obviously the sheriff suspects it was Jess that he shot at earlier, but says nothing. The sheriff goes on to the telegraph office and tells the operator he wants to send a telegraph.

At the hotel/rooming house Jess knocks on Pettis’ door, but there’s no answer and it’s locked. Like any good investigator, he sorta lets himself in. He searches Pettis’ room and in the middle of it, Pettis walks in on him. Jess bluffs him by saying he though he’d never get there as if he was expecting Pettis. When Pettis asks how he got in, Jess tells him the door was unlocked.

Anyway, thinking on his feet, Jess tell Pettis he was looking for him because he locked himself out of the tack room (where he sleeps) and wondered if he had a key because he couldn’t find Fred. When Pettis tells him he doesn’t, Jess leaves. Pettis now worried and blocks his door with a chair. He then goes to a safe built into the wall behind a picture and pulls out a wrapped package tied up with string. It looks suspiciously about the size of a big stack of money. He sighs with relief that it’s still there, and locks it back up again.

The next morning, the sheriff goes to see if he has an answer to his wire from the night before yet, but it’s not there. Fred and Jess come out of the café after breakfast. Pettis comes down the street and approaches them.

Pettis asks to speak to Fred alone. Actually, he demands it. Pettis goes off and Fred says he’ll be along. Jess asks Fred how well he knows Pettis. Pettis was recommended by a firm in Chicago and he does good work but he’s fussy and acts like an old woman.

Just then Hortense comes up in a buckboard. She’s mad as a hornet because Fred left the house this morning and he was supposed to go with her to Springfield to pick up some furniture she bought. Fred finagles his way out of this unpleasant chore and finagles Jess’ way into it. Resigned to spending the day with Hortense, Jess climbs aboard. Hortense orders him to mind the horses and no galloping. “Yes ma’am.”

As they’re leaving town, we can hear Hortense shouting, “Slow down young man! Slow down!” Pettis comes out of the office and tells Fred he’s waiting.

Poor Fred. His wife and his employee order him around like he’s the worker bee. Pettis gets him inside, closes the door and pulls the cigar out of Fred’s mouth and stomps on it. Pettis somehow has the upper hand here, but we don’t know how yet.

He tells Fred that last night he spent the last hundred dollars he had in the world on a gold bracelet for Clovis, but she rejected him. But she won’t reject him again when he offers her five thousand dollars.

Fred asks where he’s going to get five thousand dollars to give to that no good…and Pettis demands that he does not talk that way about the woman he’s going to marry. Pettis smugly tells him he will buy her new clothes and shoes with rhinestones and then they’ll move to San Francisco. Fred just laughs at him.

Then Pettis plays his trump card. He says that Markel didn’t kill the night watchman and steal the money, Fred did and accused Markel. And now he’s blackmailing him. Pettis found Fred’s shoes he wore the night of the robbery in the burner. They were at the very bottom and had not burned up. He said they were new shoes, the ones Hortense gave him for Christmas, and they had blood stains on them. Pettis has him and Fred knows it.

Meanwhile, out on the road, Hortense tries to get Jess to talk to her. She gives Jess her philosophy of life. Jess allows how she sure has her husband toeing the mark. She says there are things about her husband that Jess doesn’t know.

Back at the office, Pettis wants to know why Fred did it. Fred didn’t know a better way of freeing himself from a nagging old woman and a life he hated. Pettis agrees and now they’re both going to live well. He won’t tell Fred where he has the shoes, but he wants half of the money that Fred has. Apparently the package in the safe isn’t money, it’s shoes.

The money’s not in town, and Fred says he’ll go get it. They agree to meet at Pettis’ room at 8:00 pm. He’ll get the shoes, when Pettis gets half the money. Fred agrees that there are no hard feelings. Half is better than nothing, and he admires a man with enterprise. Pettis smugly takes the rest of the day off.

That night, Fred greets Hortense and Jess as they arrive with a wagonload of furniture. Jess is deferential and polite to Hortense and she is very sweet to him. Hmmm, something’s happened that we don’t know about.

Just as Jess is leaving and Fred is about to get in the wagon to go home, they all hear a woman scream.

Next we see, Pettis’ body is being removed from his room with half the town as witnesses. The sheriff sends everyone out but keeps Jess and Fred. Fred says the poor devil never had anything worth stealing and he doesn’t know why anyone would kill him. Looks like Jess is off the hook, barely, because he was out of town with Hortense all day. The safe in the wall is open and empty. The sheriff assumes that the safe contained the money and assumes that Pettis and Markel were in cahoots. Fred is astounded and argues against it. While Fred and the sheriff are arguing, Jess finds a cigar on the floor and pockets it.

Out on the street, Fred still goes on about Pettis. He say that in the seven years he’s known Pettis that tonight was the first time he’d ever been in his room. Ah HA! Jess knows better, and watches as Fred starts to light up a cigar. The cigar is broken in the middle and Fred throws it in the street.

After Fred moseys on home, Jess picks up the broken cigar and compares it to the one he put in his pocket.

Jess isn’t happy about it, but he goes to confront Fred as he’s closing up the office. Jess wants to talk more about the robbery. Fred says he thinks the sheriff’s theory is right. Jess asks what would he do if he thought a posse was after him and would he hide the money. There’s no posse, but Markel doesn’t know that. He might try to hide the money and wonders if it’ll ever be seen again.

This piques Fred’s interest wondering what Jess is getting at. Jess tells him a cock and bull story about something that happened once in Dodge City. Robbers buried some money, but they didn’t know that coyotes were curious about any disturbed dirt and they dug it up and scattered it all over. After dropping that little bomb, Jess goes off to bed.

But actually, he hangs around and watches Fred. He follows him as Fred hops a horse and hightails it out of town.

Fred leads Jess right to where he buried the money outside of town and confronts him as Fred is digging in the dirt. Fred swallowed Jess story hook, line and sinker. Jess is going to turn him in, but Fred has a better idea. He wants to share.

Jess thinks Pettis was in on it from the beginning when they hired a shady fellow like Markel. Fred admits that Pettis didn’t know about it until later and tried to blackmail him. That tells Jess what he needs to know about who killed Pettis.

Just then, who should arrive but the bounty hunter. He draws down on both Fred and Jess. He never did believe the escape story back in Laramie and followed Jess. Now he wants the money.

The bounty hunter tells them both to drop their guns. Fred starts to but Jess tell him not too. He says that the bounty hunter can’t shoot them both at the same time. He might get one of them, but the other will get him.

As Mr. Bounty Hunter is trying to decide who to shoot first, Jess yells at Fred to move and Jess hits the ground rolling. Bounty hunter shoots and hits Jess in the side. Fred fires, but bounty hunter gets him in the shoulder. Meanwhile, Jess gets a couple of good ones into the bounty hunter and he’s a goner.

Now the walking wounded Jess drags Fred back to meet his fate.

Back at home, Jess rides up to the ranch where Slim meets him out front. He’s just in time for supper. Slim asks how it went and Jess says Markel is free as a bird. Slim says that’s good and slaps Jess on the side. Jess winces and grabs his side. When Slim asks what’s the matter, Jess says he’s just tired from stopping bullets.

“Did you get hit in the ribs?”

“Well where do you think I got hit, in the head?!”

Okay, so Jess has been hanging around with Hortense too much. Slim calmly tells him he doesn’t know, sometimes it’s hard to tell. Jess breaks into a grin and they go into the house.

The end.    

Annie's Favorite Moments:   This episode puts Jess character in a nutshell and that’s the main reason why I like it. Actually, it's almost the only reason. Jess’ past is a big shadow hanging over him and he’s vulnerable to it as this episode shows. Also, he’s loyal to a fault and pays his debts no matter what. But the notion that if Markel was guilty he’d bring him in, is completely within character too. He has an iron sense of justice as well.

My favorite scene is when Jess is pushed unwillingly into helping Hortense move furniture and it appears to have turned out as a pleasant day for him after all.

I also like the scene where Slim and Jess say goodbye at the beginning and Slim lets him know that the door will be open for him to come back. Very nicely done by both actors.

Now, what I didn't like. I didn't like Clovis. The actress, the character, the dress, you name it. The actress was perfectly horrible, with or without the atrocious Southern accent. As a Southern woman, I am horrified to think that people in Hollywood actually think we talk that way. The actress even got a sort of special billing: "and Monica Lewis as Clovis". Oh puhleeze. Dreadful.

The direction was good by Joe Kane. He would have several things happen in one scene, where one person would be doing something and we'd move smoothly to something else going on in the same scene. It also made this one a hard one to write up. Very heavy on dialogue, light on action.

Notes of Interest:    Like I said, Grandma Walton (Ellen Corby) played Hortense. Harry Carey,Jr played Markel, Roy Barcroft played Fred and Vaughn Taylor played Pettis. Of all things, Jason Evers, playing the bounty hunter, got top billing on the guest cast. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the credits, it wasn't based on size of role, importance, alphabet, nothin'. Barcroft was also in The Renegade Brand and Badge of the Outsider.


The Owie Factor:   Jess tries to stop a speeding bullet with his ribs.

Annie's rating: A predictable, straightforward detective story with Jess going undercover. Not bad, but not great either. He was an early Rockford complete with entering a locked hotel room, pulling a bluff when he gets caught, and thinking he had it all sewed up, but then found out there was a twist. All it lacked was the beat-up scene and the car-chase scene, although there was a bit of a horse chase near the end. I liked Hortense and Fred until I found out Fred was a skunk. I think Hortense knew it all along.

"Don't forget where you started from."

One of several set-too's between Hortense and Fred.

Pettis and Fred at the burner

Jess and Hortense return from moving furniture

"I admire a man with enterprise"


Two for the Gallows



Killer's Odds