A group of masked robbers enter a bank and rob it. One of the customers is James West, who immediately attacks them. After a brief fight, the agent is shot and killed. Dr. Miguelito Loveless, seated in a director’s chair, calls an end to the rehearsal and berates them for failing to compensate for the one random element that he introduced. Loveless tells the lookalike West, Slade, to get up, and realizes that one of the robbers, Whaley, forgot to use blanks. The villain takes Whaley’s gun and gives it to another of his men, who shoots and kills Whaley. Loveless then says they’ll proceed with the next day’s field exercise as planned, and assures his henchwoman Belladonna that they may have lost the fake West, but they’ll soon have the real one.
The next day, Loveless’ bandits enter the town of Claiborne disguised as undertakers and riding a hearse. They take a coffin into the savings bank and then order everyone at gunpoint to lie facedown on the floor. The robbers stand the coffin up and open it, revealing Loveless inside. Loveless times their efforts as they blast open the vault, get the money, and put it inside the coffin. When the manager starts to look around, Loveless orders his men to fire a few shots to force the man to keep his head down. They then close up the coffin, take it out to the wagon, and depart.
Later aboard the Wanderer
, Jim and Artie report to their superior, Col. Crockett. There have been a series of robberies, each one different, each one timed to the split second. The robbers make sure that their leader isn’t seen. Crockett notes that bank robbery isn’t a Secret Service matter, but Jim points out that none of the stolen bills have turned up in circulation.
At their secret camp, Loveless burns the money and explains that the point is for his team to learn discipline and cooperation, not profit. He has Belladonna explain that the money is nothing compared to how much they will make when his plan comes to fruition and they make millions. Belladonna also explains that spending the money would draw attention, and that the serial numbers could be traced. One charred bill blows clear of the fire and one of the bandits secretly picks it up.
A few days later, the agents find two of the bills. One was found in at a boarding house in Grover’s Bend, the other in a saloon at Turquoise. The two towns are only seven miles away from each other, and the agents get permission from Crockett to check it out. Artie heads for Grover’s Bend while Jim rides to Turquoise. The agent goes to the sheriff’s office and the janitor directs him to the saloon. Once Jim leaves, the janitor signals with the window shade.
In Grover’s Bend, landlady Mrs. Bancroft is at the dinner table and announces that she’s accepting another boarder, a gentleman. Artie arrives, disguised as Mr. Lindsey, a Southern artist. He shamelessly flatters Mrs. Bancroft and the cook, Pearline Hastings. As he takes out his sketchbook, Artie “accidentally” drops the charred $100 bill. The other boarders stare and Mrs. Bancroft says that she recently cashed an identical bill. Pearline serves coffee and accidentally spills coffee in her lap. As the landlady storms off, the three male boarders welcome Artie to their circle.
Jim goes to the Nugget and discovers that the sheriff is out. He tries to pay bartender with the charred bill, but the bartender declines at first. Jim loudly announces that the bill is charred and the bartender tries to cash it after all. The deputy sheriff arrives and takes the bill, saying he has to take it as stolen property. When Jim notes that the bandits wear fancy masks, the deputy sheriff calls out to a table of poker players. They all turn around, and are wearing the same masks. Jim takes the bill back, knocks out the deputy sheriff, and takes out the bandits when they attack. Belladonna and Loveless applaud from the balcony, and Belladonna keeps a gun trained on Jim. Loveless introduces himself as the sheriff of Turquoise and asks for the $100 bill back. The deputy sheriff and the bartender both draw guns and Jim hands it over, and Loveless burns it to light his cigar.
The next day in Grover’s Bend, Artie approaches Mrs. Bancroft as she does her laundry and asks about the $100 bill. She nervously insists that she has no idea what he’s talking about, and Artie notices that she has a large bruise on her cheek. Mrs. Bancroft claims that it’s an accident, and Artie notices the spurred boots of a man standing behind the laundry sheets, listening. She nervously walks away and Artie punches the man and demands answers. Pearline comes out, wielding a gun, and tells Artie that the man stole it twice, from the bank and then from a bonfire. She then tells Artie that she’ll get the bill from him when he’s dead and shoots the agent.
Loveless shows Jim through his classrooms, pointing out the gunports where men are keeping a careful eye on the agents. The villain takes Jim outside and shows him a copy of the territorial prison. As Jim reaches for a door, one of the fake guards shoots near his hand. Loveless opens the door and takes Jim to another room containing a copy of the arms depot at Tyler. Jim sees a copy of the treasury and realizes that Loveless is using the training facilities to prepare his men, and is accumulating arms, weapons, and gold. Loveless then takes Jim into a classroom and tells his students that they will have the pleasure of killing Jim. However, only the top three students will have the pleasure. Loveless choose three students, including the bogus deputy, Kirby.
Artie wakes up and is surprised to discover that he’s alive. Mrs. Bancroft and the boarders are tending to him and explain that his sketchbook blocked the fatal bullet. The landlady confirms that Pearline has left, claiming she was sick. Later, Artie asks around Grover’s Bend to find anyone who recognizes the spurs of the man he confronted. A blacksmith, Fargo, identifies them as Senora Stompers and directs Artie to the Three-Legged Fox Ranch, where the cowboys there favored them. Fargo has a one leftover pair and Artie buys them from him. Artie stares at the blacksmith and then asks for the loan of his mustache.
Loveless takes Jim out to the courtyard and informs him that his three students will be armed. One of them opens fire and shoots Jim, but Jim is faking and knocks him out when he gets too close. The gun only has one bullet and Jim runs for it, and the second student comes after him with a knife. Jim disposes of him as well and grabs the knife, but Kirby shoots the blade off. The agent ducks into an alley only for Loveless to bar it with a portcullis. As Kirby approaches, Loveless has one of his men lower a gun on a string to Jim. Jim grabs it but reverses it and pulls the trigger as Kirby comes around the corner. Just as he suspected, the gun is rigged to backfire and kills Kirby when Jim shoots it backward.
The other students take Jim back to Loveless, who admiringly explains to Belladonna how Jim worked out the trap in a matter of seconds. Jim explains that he knew that Loveless wouldn’t give him a gun when he needed it without it being booby trapped, and that Loveless only put one bullet in it. Loveless aims it at him and dares him to give the order to fire if he’s so sure. After a second, Jim tells him to shoot and Loveless does so, revealing that Jim was right.
Weary of Jim’s interference, Lovely prepares to shoot him dead. However, Loveless’ men bring in Artie, disguised as Fargo. He demands payment for the extra set of spurs. He can’t provide the buyer’s name and Loveless pays him to get rid of him. As Artie leaves, he opens his canteen, leaving a trail of liquid. Artie then ignites it, setting off a line of flames that holds Loveless and his student back long enough for Jim and Artie to get over the wall and ride away. They go back to Turquoise and try to send a telegram, but the telegrapher tells them that the wires all went down at the same time. Jim realizes that with the wires down, Loveless has no way to coordinate his army of criminals. They figure that Loveless has gone to the territorial communication center in Juncture City to coordinate things personally and the agents ride off to investigate.
The agents arrive at the communication center and see a man outside wearing the Senora Stampers, meaning he works with Loveless. They quickly knock out the man and haul him out of sight, and then fight their way in past the men on guard. The agents get to the control room and discover that the operator has been knocked out. Loveless and Belladonna are waiting for them, and an armed Belladonna forces them to toss their guns out the window. They do so and Loveless tells them that they’re right on schedule. Jim explains to his partner that Loveless plans to take over the territory, and Artie points out that he won’t be able to hold it for long. Loveless explains that he has made an alliance with a great power that will back him and stop Grant from starting hostilities. The villain removes his cloak and reveals his new uniform, and explains that he will be Miguelito the First.
Loveless informs the agents that he is awaiting for messages from his teams. The three teams report in and Artie speaks up, saying that all they can do is upset the chessboard. He throws himself into the electrical systems, receiving a shock, while Jim grabs the gun from Belladonna. Jim points out that Loveless’ teams won’t act if they don’t receive his orders, and Loveless admits that his teams will wander off. He concedes that he has lost a skirmish, then takes out a hidden gun from Belladonna’s dress and uses her as a hostage rather than risk a shootout with Jim. Belladonna is shocked but Jim isn’t surprised. Loveless then goes to the auxiliary telegram and prepares to send the signal. However, Jim says that Loveless won’t shoot because he has no idea which gun he took from Belladonna: one that fires backward or one that fires forward. Belladonna has no interest in confirming which gun that her employer is holding on her, and Jim points out that Loveless may not fear death, but he does fear the end of his ability to strike out at society. Loveless uses Belladonna as a shield so he can run out the door, locking it behind him. By the time that Jim gets through, Loveless has ducked down a laundry chute. Jim runs outside, avoiding a baby carriage... pushed by Pearline and with Loveless inside.
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