Tom Carmichael goes to the curio shop of Peter Talley, who advertises "I have what you need." He stands outside the shop and takes notes as an expensively-dressed man goes in, gets a package containing a pair of gloves, and walks away. Tom then goes into the shop and immediately tells Peter to tell him what he needs. When Peter wonders what he means, Tom explains that he's a freelance writer and he's been watching the shop, and thinks that there's a story.
Peter invites Tom to look around and then turns to a customer, who apologizes for coming in early. The owner assures him that he has what he needs and goes to get it. Meanwhile, Tom tells the customer that he could use one of the same because it's so popular, but the man has no idea what he's talking about. Peter returns with a package and gives it to the customer, who gives him a check for $5,000 and walks out. Outside, the man takes a gun out of the package and pockets it. Tom rattles off a list of seemingly random objects that he has seen people buy and asks if the price is always $5,000. Peter tells him that the price varies and Tom threatens to go to the police and report the gun. Unimpressed, the owner calls his bluff and asks his wife Martha to get him some tea.
Taking a different tact, Tom says that he's a struggling writer in need and asks what Peter has for him. Once Peter confirms that Tom is coming to him as a customer, the owner goes in the back and sits down at a strange machine. Tom secretly peers in through the curtain and watches as Peter removes a piece of paper from the machine and then gets a small package from the next room. The writer hastily moves back as Peter comes out and tells Tom that it's what he needs, and advises him to carry it on his person. Tom accuses him of being a phony medium and asks what he owes, and Peter tells him to pay whatever he considers is fair, once he's satisfied. However, the owner tells him to promise not to come to the shop again or mention it to anyone, as payment for the package. Peter assures him that the service he's providing will be worth the price and again tells Tom to keep it on his person.
Tom opens the package and discovers that Peter has given him a pair of shears. He goes to a bar and meets with his girlfriend, who figures it's all a joke. Tom insists that he'll get something from Peter and tries to work out what angle the owner is playing. He figures he can badger his editor, Frank, into giving him an advance on the story. Tom pays for the coffee out of his girlfriend's purse and they start to walk out. The waiter points out that he left the shears behind, and Tom tells him to keep them, but then reconsiders.
At the magazine, Frank is checking the presses when Tom and his girlfriend come in. Frank isn't interested, pointing out that Tom's last story cost him a retraction and a libel suit, and demands proof before he gives the writer an advance. As they talk, Tom leans over the press and his scarf gets caught up in the mechanism. As he chokes, he yells at his girlfriend to get the shears out of his pocket. She does so and cuts through the scarf just in time. Frank points out that Tom owes his life to the shears and goes to get a bottle to celebrate. Tom looks at the shears and realizes that Peter was right: they were exactly what he needed. He yells at Frank to forget the story because it's all his now.
Peter and Martha are having tea at the shop when Tom returns. The owner knows what Tom wants and glances at the machine, and then goes out to get confirmation from Tom in person. Tom gives him all the money he has and Peter turns it down, and then asks if the shears came in handy. The writer says that they did and asks how he knew, and Peter admits that he knew ahead of time. As Peter turns to go, Tom asks why he keeps helping other clients. When he offers the owner money, Peter says that helps those worthy of help and wonders what Tom needs that he requires a glimpse of the future. Tom says that he's a flop and his girlfriend won't marry a flop, and Peter explains that he can't map out his future. He can use his machine to scan someone who comes into the shop and find out what is likely to happen in the short term.
Peter refuses to tell Tom more of his future, and explains that he used to be an electronics scientist who dabbled in astrology. He created the machine by accident and now he's wondering if he can cope with the burden of his foreknowledge. All of the money he makes, he gives to charity. Tom doesn't care and grabs him, and says that he wants money. When Peter asks what happens if he refuses to help him, Tom threatens to ruin him with publicity. Peter goes in the back and prepares to wreck his machine, but then hesitates and finally puts it down. He tells Tom that the machine has done good, and that the man with the gun will develop a vaccine against polio in two years. Without the gun, he'd have been killed by a thief at his home.
Tom says that he doesn't want Peter to stop helping others, only help him as well. Martha reluctantly agrees and Peter asks Tom where he can reach him. Tom says that he'll be at the bar with his girlfriend for the rest of the night and Peter promises that he'll send a messenger boy with a package containing what Tom needs. The writer apologizes for using "persuasion" and Peter says that he anticipated it, and Tom walks out laughing. Once he's gone, Peter scans the writer's future to be certain he's doing the right thing... and discovers that in two weeks, Tom will kill him and take the machine for himself. He tears up the report and gets a package out of the back.
Tom meets his girlfriend at the bar and buys several drinks, and assures her that he feels great. He figures that whoever controls the machine can own the world, and the girlfriend warns that Peter is the one who owns it. She finally realizes that Tom plans to steal the machine and Tom says that he'll figure it out eventually. The girlfriend warns him that he should cut back on the drinking because it's slippery outside because of the snow, but Tom figures they have a lot to celebrate. The messenger boy drops off the package and Tom eagerly opens it. It contains a pair of new patent shoes, and Tom figures that it must be what he needs. The writer puts them on and goes out on the street... and is unable to get out of the way on the icy pavement as a car hits him.
At the store, Peter tells Martha to keep the radio off so he doesn't have to listen to the consequences of his actions on the news. He finally tells her that he killed Tom, just as the radio comes on with an announcement about Tom's death. Peter laments the fact that he traded a life for a life and realizes that seeing the future is a power no man should have, and then destroys the machine.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 18, 2015