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When Adele Beldon, a self-centered, greedy chorus girl, threatens to leave her husband George unless he lavishes the $100,000 he has stolen on her, George agrees to her terms. After embarking upon a spending spree, George accidentally drops his wallet, which is picked up by a pickpocket named Fingers. Sergeant Velie of the New York police department notices Fingers holding the wallet and arrests him for stealing it. When George tells Adele that he has lost several of the stolen bills, she insists that they move to the West Coast to avoid detection and promptly spends $500 of the stolen cash for two tickets to San Francisco, issued under the name "Hadley." At New York police headquarters, meanwhile, author and criminologist Ellery Queen informs his father, Inspector Queen, that he is traveling to San Francisco with his secretary, Nikki Porter, to conduct research for a new novel. As Ellery relates his plans, Sergeant Velie enters and shows the inspector the stolen bills that he has recovered from the wallet. Later, upon hearing of Ellery's travel plans, socialite Irene Hadley asks his help in locating her husband Norman. Although Norman was reported drowned years earlier, Irene has learned that he was recently spotted in San Francisco. Ellery and Nikki accept the case, and upon arriving in San Francisco, Nikki registers as Mrs. Hadley, hoping to smoke out Norman. After Mrs. Hadley's name appears in the society column, Norman goes to visit his wife at her hotel suite and is instead greeted by Ellery and Nikki. When Ellery questions his motives for vanishing, Norman explains that he had been sentenced to prison on a trumped-up charge and disappeared to save his wife a scandal. After Norman departs, Inspector Queen, looking for Mrs. Hadley, visits the suite and is surprised to find Ellery and Nikki there. After Nikki confesses that she is posing as Mrs. Hadely to find Norman, the inspector tells Ellery that Norman is wanted for embezzling $100,000 from a bank in New York and that he and Sgt. Velie have traced him to San Francisco through the stolen bills he used to purchase two plane tickets. As the inspector completes his story, Norman phones Ellery, asking for his help. At his apartment, Norman shows Ellery Beldon's body, which has been bludgeoned to death by a hammer. When Norman admits that Beldon, a former employee of his, embezzled money from the bank at which they both worked and then threatened to expose Norman's prison record unless he covered up the theft, Ellery realizes that Norman will be charged with Beldon's murder and decides to help him. After notifying the police of the murder, Ellery hides Norman in Nikki's room and then returns to the scene of the crime with his father and Captain Daley of the San Francisco police department. When the landlady identifies Norman through his photograph, the inspector realizes that he couldn't be the man he trailed from New York. The inspector then discovers Nikki's hotel room number in Norman's apartment and insists that she move to his hotel, where she will be watched by Sgt. Velie. The next morning, Captain Daley summons the inspector to his office and introduces him to Adele, who has come to identify the body of her husband. Adele lies that Norman gave her husband $500 so that he could move to San Francisco to work for him. After leaving police headquarters, Adele is accosted by a man who informs her that his boss, Ray Stafford, wants to see her immediately about the stolen cash. At his nightclub office, Ray offers to fence the rest of the cash for Adele and demands that she give him the key to her apartment. Meanwhile, Nikki has managed to slip away from Sgt. Velie and has rejoined Ellery, who then rents an apartment for Nikki and Norman so that they can seek refuge from the police. Later, at his father's urging, Ellery agrees to take the inspector to see Norman, but by the time they arrive at the apartment, Nikki and Norman are gone. Ellery finds Nikki at Ray's club, watching Adele perform. Excited, Nikki informs Ellery that she has hidden herself in Norman's room, along with a stash of hammers that she has collected while searching for the store that sold the murder weapon. Unknown to Nikki, Captain Daley has traced Norman to the hotel, and having discovered him with a cache of hammers, has arrested him for murder. When Ellery sends Nikki to fetch Norman, she hurries back to the hotel. In the hallway, she is accosted by Segeant Velie, who pulls her into a closet and warns her that Captain Daley has arrested Norman and taken him to the scene of the murder. At the club, meanwhile, Adele flirts with Ellery and then takes him to an illegal gambling casino on the second floor. Claiming that he wants to cash a personal check, Ellery gains entrance to Ray's office. There, he pulls a gun and demands that Ray open his safe. After Ellery discovers a stack of stolen bills stashed in the safe, Adele knocks at the door, and seeing the gun, sounds an alarm. Meanwhile, Nikki and Sergeant Velie have returned to the club and hurry upstairs to help Ellery. In the chaos, Ellery grabs Adele, forces her down the fire escape to the scene of the murder. There, Ellery tricks Adele into confessing that she and Beldon framed Norman and that she then killed Beldon for his money. After the inspector and Daley overhear Adele's confession, Nikki and Sergeant Velie arrive breathlessly at the apartment.