The marshals set out on foot from Fair Play on the 24 mile journey to Grunting Hollow. Despite making relatively good time over the poorly-maintained road, the marshals find they need to set up camp for the night, and take shelter from the wind in a canyon pass. Apache Bob Griffin takes watch duty, as sleep is not a requirement for him. The sun drifts down over the horizon and darkness falls.
Before long, Griffin notices the faint glint of a rifle from a bridge that spans the canyon. Despite waking the rest of the marshals as quietly as he can, the rifleman notices their movement and begins to exchange pot shots with the main group of marshals as Eliza sneaks away from camp to the bluff’s ascent. Some of the rifleman’s shots glance off McTeef’s armour, which is thankfully too robust for them to do much harm. Despite the marshals’ best efforts at peacefully apprehending the bandits, the bandits unfortunately underestimate their chosen prey and bring upon themselves a bloody massacre. The lucky ones are merely dismembered or killed with single shots. The less-lucky ones tumble from great height or are burned alive once Nelli’s laser lights the bridge on fire. One bandit upsets a pile of barrels which come tumbling down the bluff, smashing at the bottom and barely missing Eliza. Panicking after having revealed his location via the barrels, the bandit loses his footing on his way down the bluff and face-plants right in front of Nelli. Ultimately, four bandits are apprehended: one with an arm wound, one with a wounded arm and leg, one with wounded arm and chest as well as minor burns, and one final bandit who surrenders before suffering any physical damage.
When the fighting is over and the final interrogation has been completed, the marshals determine that there are no remaining unaccounted-for bandits, and that the bandits have only simple tent camps on top of the bluffs as they are based out of Grunting Hollow. The marshals scrape their memories for any recollection of the banditry laws in Grunting Hollow, but come up blank. McTeef tries his hand at a slick rhetorical question, shouting at the survivors, “do you know what the punishment for banditry is in Grunting Hollow?!” To his surprise, he is informed that there is no consequence for banditry under Grunting Hollow’s laws, as long as you are careful not to cross the owner of the hotel. The marshals confer and, given that this pass is technically not under the jurisdiction of anyone, reach the consensus that banditry should be illegal and these bandits will be brought to Grunting Hollow for incarceration and punishment.
As the sun rises, the marshals continue their journey to Grunting Hollow. What they find is a small, nearly-abandoned settlement which is oddly dominated by a large hotel. The handful of other businesses all face inward toward the town’s centre, as if in supplication to the hotel. Some of the buildings appear to have had their front doors and signage moved fairly recently in aid of this configuration. A curious interview of the local shop owners proceeds.
The blacksmith is an elderly man, clearly in a permanent nervous state, and appears confused as to why the hell anyone would come to Grunting Hollow if they had never heard of Joker. With pressure from the marshals, the blacksmith is reveals that Jerome Hunt is the owner of the hotel, the closest thing Grunting Hollow has to a mayor or a sheriff, and Joker is Hunt’s mouthpiece in nearly all dealings with the outside world.
The proprietor of the General Store, Edward Bowman, is a funny little man in a dusty coat that has seen better days. He seems eager to sell anything to anyone, and succeeds in selling an unidentifiable contraption made of worn wood and cracking leather to Apache Bob. The marshals determine that almost no one frequents Grunting Hollow, and business is far from booming. When asked why he doesn’t just move away, Bowman explains that he can’t move because it wouldn’t be allowed by Mr. Hunt; he implies that such an action would result in him being violently hunted down. McTeef enquires into the purchase of some rations, which Bowman excitedly pulls from a forgotten crate under a dusty piece of hide. The ration packages are sealed, but look old and have the expiry date mysteriously removed from the package. McTeef ultimately declines to purchase the dubious rations, but does leave a couple coins on the counter as he leaves.
Taking a break from their perusal of the shops, the marshals decide to approach the hotel. As they draw close, a thug named Allan speaks to them from the balcony above the front door. Allan says they are not expected. The marshals insist that they must speak to the proprietor. Allan calls Steve, his cohort, and Steve says he has not been instructed to expect the Marshals’ presence either. Steve does, however, notice Sal Early and some of his remaining “business partners,”: the bandits that the Marshals captured on the way to Grunting Hollow. The marshals say these bandits are under arrest for attacking the party on the way here. Furthermore, Marshul McTeef boldly declares that Jerome Hunt is also under arrest for his involvement in the recent crimes committed in Fair Play. Steve laughs off the accusations, replying that
- the marshals have no proof that any of the accused committed any crimes
- no one here cares what happens in Fair Play or on the road
- the only people with jurisdiction to arrest anyone here would be Jerome Hunt or Joker
Despite Steve’s dismissal of the affair, he is persuaded to ask Joker to speak to the marshals.
After a short time, Joker emerges from the upstairs door and out onto the balcony, wearing an immaculate striped suit and a conceited expression. Joker welcomes the marshals to the town, and invites them to enjoy the hospitality of the local businesses. Joker dances around the idea that Sal Early and his cohorts may have had any involvement in any kind of attack. When pressed by the marshals, Joker asks Sal if his men attacked the party, and Sal responds that to the contrary, the marshals attacked his men without provocation and killed at least two of them. Joker, feigning surprise and astonishment, asks the marshals to address Early’s accusations. The marshals confirm that they did indeed kill two of Early’s men, but not without provocation. Joker exchanges thinly-veiled insults with McTeef, and McTeef barely holds his temper.
As the verbal exchange deteriorates, the marshals demand to see Hunt and have him arrest the bandits. Joker insists that Mr. Hunt is far too important and busy to deal with them, but eventually agrees to bring their message to Mr. Hunt. The marshals will receive Mr. Hunt’s response tomorrow. In the meantime, Joker suggests, the marshals are welcome to set up camp in the fine landscape just outside Grunting Hollow. The marshals mull the likelihood of Hunt actually giving them an audience, and consider returning to Fair Play and forgetting the whole affair. Eventually they decide to stick around for one day and see what happens; they inform Joker that they agree to his terms, for now. Following the departure of Joker and Steve from the balcony, McTeef pointedly glares at Allan and pats his gun. Allan responds by glaring back at McTeef and patting his crotch. Taking this as a clear challenge, McTeef opens his trousers to expose his manhood. Allan, disgusted, retires to the interior of the hotel, leaving McTeef feeling triumphant.
Their conversation with Hunt’s men now concluded until tomorrow, the marshals decide to interview the remaining shopkeepers before setting up camp. They meet with a well-dressed barber who introduces himself as Lloyd Chapman, and talk very little about even less. They also speak to the tailor, who complains of being under pressure from Hunt’s thugs to wash some garments, but unable to do so as his cleaning fluid was never delivered. McTeef confronts Sal Early, who implies that the barrels of cleaning fluid may well be at the bottom of some rocky bluff, smashed. Following the requisite scowls and shaking of fists, the marshals set up camp outside of town.