Freelancer writer Tom Carmichael is standing outside the curio shop of Peter Talley, which has a sign out front: "I have what you need." A well-dressed man goes into the shop and Peter gives him a package. The man walks out and opens the package, and Tom writes down in his notepad that the package contains a pair of gloves. He then goes into the shop and tells the owner to give him what he needs. Peter appears puzzled and Tom explains that he thinks that there's a story involving the shop/
Peter invites Tom to look around for anything he wants and then helps a new customer, another well-dressed man who apologizes for arriving early. The owner assures the customer that he has what he needs and goes into the shop's backroom. Meanwhile, Tom expresses an interest in the customer's item, saying that it must be something new and popular, but the customer doesn't know what he means. Peter returns and gives the customer a package, and the man pays him with a check for $5,000. Once he leaves, he takes a gun out of the package, studies it with interest, and then puts it in his pocket. As he walks away, Tom observes the entire thing and then tells Peter that he's seen people buy all manner of unusual and seemingly valueless objects over the last few days. Peter puts him off and refuses to discuss the price the customers pay. When Tom threatens to go to the police, Peter calmly tells him to do so if he wishes and then asks his wife Martha for some tea.
Realizing that Peter has called his bluff, Tom explains who he is and that he needs a boost to his career. He asks Peter if he has what he needs, and Peter confirms that Tom is asking for him help purely as a customer. The owner then goes in the back room and consults a strange electronic machine. As he studies it, Tom watches him through the dividing curtain. The owner finally removes a piece of paper from the machine, studies it, and gets a small package from the storage room. Tom ducks back as Peter comes out and gives him the package, saying that it's what he needs. He advises Tom to carry it on his person at all times. Tom figures that Peter is a fake and asks how much he owes, and Peter says that his price is that Tom never come to the shop again or tell anyone what happened there. Tom says that he will... if the item is worth it. The owner assures him that it is and again tells him to keep the contents with him at all time.
Outside, Tom opens the package and discovers that it contains a pair of shears. He goes to a bar to meet his girlfriend and they both figure that it's some kind of joke. Tom figures that he can convince his editor, Frank, to give him an advance based on what he has so far, and then takes some money out of his girlfriend's purse to pay for the coffee. As Tom starts to go, the waiter points out that he left the shears on the table. After a moment, Tom heeds Peter's advice and puts the shears in his pocket before walking out.
Tom and his girl go to the magazine press and Tom tries to convince Frank to give him an advance. The editor isn't interested, reminding Tom that his last story resulted in a retraction and a libel suit. As they talk, Tom leans over a printing machine and his scarf gets caught up in the gears. He starts to choke and yells at his girlfriend to get the shears out of his pocket. She does so and cuts him free, and Frank points out that Tom would have been dead without the shears. Tom realizes that the shears were exactly what he needed, and tells Frank that he's not selling him the story because it's all his.
Peter and Martha are having tea when Tom comes back. Realizing what the writer wants now, Peter goes out to greet him. Tom gives him what he says is all the money he has, but Peter tells him that it isn't necessary and asks if the shears were what he needed. The writer says that they were and demands answers, and Peter admits that he knew in advance. The owner tries to put him off but Tom wonders why he helps other people. Peter explains that he helps those who need help the most and asks why Tom is so desperate to see the writer. The writer explains that he's a failure as a writer and his girlfriend won't marry a failure. Peter warns him that he can't map out Tom's future, but he has a machine that lets him scan a customer and see what their immediate future will be.
Tom demands more information but Peter refuses. He explains that he used to be a scientist who worked with electronics and dabbled in astrology. Peter invented the machine by accident and now he's having trouble dealing with the burden of his future knowledge. He tells Tom that he gives all of his money to charity and Tom grabs him by collar, insisting that he needs money. He threatens to ruin the owner with publicity if he doesn't cooperate, and Peter goes to the back and prepares to destroy the machine. Martha yells at him to think it over and Tom follows him back. After a moment, Peter considers and puts the machine down. He tells Tom that his machine has helped many people. The man he gave the gun to would have died during a robbery attempt in his home. With the gun, he will live for another two years and develop a vaccine against polio.
The writer points out that he doesn't want to stop Peter from helping others, but just wants the owner to help him as well. Peter finally gives in and asks where he'll be, and Tom confirms that he'll be back at the bar with his girl. The owner says that he'll have a messenger send his package over and Tom leaves. Once he's gone, Peter scans Tom's future... and discovers that the writer will shoot him dead in two weeks and steal the machine. He tears up the report before Martha can see it and gets a package for Tom.
At the bar, Tom starts drinking heavily as a snowstorm comes up outside. He boasts that once he has the machine, he can own the world, and his girl realizes that he plans to steal it. The messenger boy arrives with the package and Tom opens it... and discovers that it contains a pair of new shoes. He doesn't know their significance but figures that they're what he needs. Tom puts them on and leaves with his girlfriend... and slips on the icy sidewalk, falling directly into the path of a car.
At the store, Martha wants to turn on some music but Peter tells her to leave the radio off. He finally admits that he gave Tom an item that would kill him, while the radio comes on with a news broadcast about Tom's death. A grief-stricken Peter realizes that he's traded someone else's life for his own, and that the burden of knowing the future is too much. Turning to the machine, Peter picks it up and destroys it.