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The first thing Peter Stenning realises when he arrives at the Handworthy Foundation in the Mexican desert is that there's no job for him.  Amos Handworthy has gone off on one of his trips without informing his Staff on which project the young electronics expert whom he contracted in England will be working.  After several days of heel-kicking he is sent for, to find Amos waiting for him in an exact replica of a Wild Western Saloon.  The era when the Wild West was in its heyday plainly thrills him, and he explains to Peter that his father was a U. S. Marshal, one of the fastest draws west of Pecos.  The first real work Peter finds himself doing is mending an old coin-operated music making machine.

However, re-living the past is more than a hobby with Amos Handworthy; it is a mania, as Peter is soon to learn.

(Grateful at Peter's skill with printed circuits, Amos shows him his Automata room.  Beautiful and graceful dancers spring to life at the press of a button, and there is even a child who writes a letter home.  Although he realises that Amos is slightly unbalanced, Peter is impressed despite himself.  But Amos' biggest prize is a replica of a Western street, and a Marshal with hand on gun.  Amos tells Peter that the device is electrically operated to shoot and Amos can practice beating him to the draw.  He wants Peter to speed up the Marshal's reactions, and Peter can do this by linking up the Marshal with Amos' own nervous system, so that the tenser Amos feels, the faster the Marshal will shoot.

There is a woman in the case, Amos' housekeeper, Emma Bowles, who longs for Amos' death. Peter too, tied by the terms of his contract to remain nothing but a glorified toymaker, yearns top escape.  It is a simple matter of elctronics and real bullets, to see that the automatic Marshal remains "the fastest draw".)

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