At Como Creek, Nevada, the station master hears the coach approaching and goes inside to tell Miss Amanda Morrison that it’s on its way. Three cavalry officers get off and go inside, and see Amanda. They invite her to have a drink and they take offense when she refuses, and Jim gets up from where he’s sitting and plays the piano to get their attention. The soldiers make the mistake of going after Jim and he easily disposes of them, and then escorts Amanda out to the coach.
Amanda thanks him and introduces herself as the niece of the Caleb Morrison, the Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. She comments that she was there when Jim fought robbers at the mint five years ago, saying it was exciting, but he reminds her that they were vicious killers. Amanda describes the man who led them, Emmet Stark, and how Jim and Artie had to kill him. Jim points out that Stark was wounded, not killed, and is serving a life sentence. Jim admits that he doesn’t remember her but Amanda points out that it was five years ago. The station master discovers the three soldiers, unconscious, and Jim tells him that they’ll catch a later stage.
Jim and Amanda get into the stage, but she says that she forgot her purse and insists on getting it herself. However, as Jim lights a cigar, he notices Amanda’s purse on the seat. Shutters flip shut over the windows and gas pours from the bag, rendering Jim unconscious. The stage drives off as Amanda and the cavalry officer watch and she assures her accomplice that Jim isn’t a threat anymore.
When Jim wakes up in the stagecoach, he discovers that someone has changed his clothing to traditional cowboy garb. He looks around and discovers that he’s in the town of Paradox, Nevada, which is seemingly abandoned but in pristine condition. Jim goes into the sheriff’s office but finds no one there, even though the stove is burning and there’s coffee on. The agent hears something moving in the cells and goes to investigate, but finds nothing. The stagecoach departs and by the time Jim gets outside, there’s no sign of the vehicle.
As Jim looks around, he hears someone ring up the cash register from the general store. There’s no one inside but there are fresh bills in the register. A piano starts playing from the hotel and people laugh, and Jim goes follows the noises. However, everything goes silent as he enters and there’s no sign of anyone there, either. There’s a freshly-lit cigar on the piano and the stool is spinning as if someone had just got up. Jim looks around sees a painting of a man on the wall, labeled Emmet Stark. A bottle of whiskey on the bar also has a drawing of Stark on it.
In Virginia City, Artie is having lunch with an attractive woman, Velia. She’s intrigued by his aura of mystery and they share glasses of champagne. Velia asks what he does and he claims that he deals in porcelain door handles. When she proves skeptical, Artie takes offense and talks about his sales manager... just as Colonel Richmond comes over. He explains that he just arrived in Virginia City and Artie sends her over to the player piano to get a tune. Once Velia leaves, Richmond tells Artie that Stark shot his way out of prison, and reminds him that he vowed vengeance on the two of them at his trial. Artie says that he got a wire from Jim saying that he was heading for Paradox, and Richmond tells him that there is no such town. When Velia comes back over, Artie says that he and Richmond have some business to attend to and leaves her to finish their escargot. As they leave, a man at an adjoining table hastily gets up and follows them.
Jim goes back out onto the street and hears a horse neighing. He follows the sound and finds the horse, fully saddled. As Jim leads it out of the corral, a sniper opens fire from a second-story window above the hotel, hitting the ground near Jim. The agent returns fire and apparently hits the sniper, and runs inside and up the stairs. He breaks into the room and finds a mannequin lying on the floor, wearing a mask.
At the Wanderer, Artie checks and confirms that there is no town called Paradox in the U.S. As he and Richmond try to work out what’s happened, Amanda comes in, using the last name of Veil, and says that she arranged to meet Jim for lunch yesterday on the stage. She claims that Jim said he was going to Paradox but stopped at Como Creek. She then fakes anger and storms off, and Artie watches her get into a carriage pulled by two black horses and leaves. He then tells Richmond that Amanda had the carriage waiting, even though she was expecting to meet with Jim. Henderson goes to have a man follow Amanda while Artie leaves for Como Creek.
Jim goes back out into the street and another masked man shoots him from a balcony, hitting the agent in the leg. Jim returns fire, killing the man and knocking him off the balcony. However, when he hits the ground, Jim discovers that “he” is another masked mannequin. He uses the dummy’s tie to bind his leg and then hears piano music from the hotel again. Limping, Jim goes back inside and the music stops and the place is empty. More masked men, all wearing the same style suit, suddenly come out and attack him and Jim knocks them out, but then passes out from blood loss due to his wound.
That night, Jim wakes up and discovers that the bodies of the men who attacked him have been replaced with mannequins. A woman walks into the saloon and Jim grabs her and demands to know who she is. She explains that her name is Betsy Cole and she’s alone, and that she left home that morning, got lost, and ended up in Paradox. Betsy claims that she was running away after her daddy thrashed her for dating a boy.
Jim accepts her story for the moment and takes her outside, and warns her that there are people watching them that don’t want to be seen. He tells her that someone is playing games and tells Betsy to get out of town while he sees how the game plays out. Betsy tells him that there’s a telegraph office and heard something clicking, but Jim figures that it’s another game. He goes to check it out anyway and confirms that it’s working. Jim sends a message and someone finally responds. The message says Jim will die the next day, hating himself for what he’ll do. It’s signed Emmet Stark.
The next morning, Betsy comes to check on Jim, whose leg is doing better. He wants to go to the general store to get some food but Betsy tells him to rest while she goes for it. She steps out and screams, and Jim goes to investigate. A masked man in a suit guns Betsy down, while another man opens fire on Jim from the doorway of the sheriff’s office. Jim runs in but there’s no sign of anyone. When he goes back outside, Betsy and her attacker have both disappeared.
As Jim checks out the spot where he saw Betsy killed, a stagecoach arrives in town. The three passengers, traveling salesman Hector Goff, Dr. Prior, and Fleur Fogarty. None of them seem to find anything unusual, and Jim draws his gun on them and demands answers. The driver says that they almost lost a wheel in the desert and he pulled in to tighten it up, and he’s never heard of Paradox before. They have no idea who Emmet Stark is and Prior offers to look at Jim’s leg.
Artie rides toward Como Creek.
Prior wraps up Jim’s leg while he explains what happened. The doctor gives him an injection to take the edge off the pain and says that he’ll come with them. As they go to the stagecoach, Jim starts to pass out and the passengers assume that he’s changed his mind and leave.
Artie arrives at the Como Corner station and asks the station master if he saw Jim on yesterday’s stage. Fleur, Prior, and Goff are there and Prior tells Artie that they saw Jim on the road. He claims that Jim offered their assistance when their stagecoach broke down while Goff offers Artie a cup of coffee. The passengers then say that Jim rode on to Virginia City to meet a friend, and appeared to be in good health. Artie drinks the coffee, relieved, and they suggest that Artie ride with them to Virginia City. However, Prior knocks over Fleur’s purse and gas shoots out of it. Artie quickly throws it out the door and draws his gun on the passengers, but he passes out from the drug in the coffee.
Jim wakes up and finds himself alone in Paradox again. He staggers back to the hotel but passes out from the drug. Meanwhile, a stagecoach enters town. A man wearing the same clothing as Jim and with a fake bandage on his leg checks on the agent
Artie wakes up in the stagecoach, made up to look like Emmet Stark. The Jim lookalike fires a shot over his head and then runs into the hotel past the awakening Jim. A still dazed Jim limps outside and Artie, not recognizing him at that distance, shoots at him. The two men take cover and exchange shots, unaware of who the other is. Artie runs out of bullets and discovers that he doesn’t have any spares, while Jim has plenty on his belt. He reloads and shoots Artie in the leg when he tries to run. Artie manages to get into the jail and Jim picks up his discarded pistol... and sees the initials AG on it.
Artie grabs one of the sheriff’s rifles and hobbles outside. He sees Jim across the street, aims, and shoots him in the head. Jim collapses, while Artie sees himself in a mirror and begins to piece together what is happening. He kneels to check the man he shot and realizes that it’s Jim. However, Jim is okay and whispers to Artie to be ready for Stark to make his appearance. As Jim continues to feign being dead, Artie sobs loudly. Four men in suits, wearing Emmet Stark masks, step forward and remove the masks. The fourth man is Stark himself, who apologizes for Artie killing Jim. He had planned that Jim would kill him, but is still happy with the results.
Jim rolls over at that point, gun aimed, and Artie aims his rifle. Undeterred, Stark points out that they have a stalemate, and another of his underlings smashes out a window behind the agents and aims a double-barreled shotgun at them. The agents have no choice but to drop their guns and the person with the shotgun comes out: Betsy. Stark introduces his daughter and assures Jim and Artie that Amanda, the soldiers, and the three passengers are all waiting for them at Como Corner
Stark and Betsy leave and the three men take the agents to an alleyway behind the stable. Artie drops a bale of hay on them and the agents take on their attackers. Meanwhile, Stark and Betsy arrive at the stagecoach and get in. Stark tells the driver to leave, but the shutters slam down and Jim and Artie drive the wagon off with their prisoners.
Later, Jim and Artie are aboard the Wanderer recuperating and listening to the music box with the recordings that Stark used at the hotel. With Stark and his gang in prison, the two agents are bored. Jim has a present for Artie: a package that Velia sent him. Artie opens it and realizes that it’s the escargot that Artie left her with at the restaurant.
Written by Gadfly on Dec 9, 2015