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One morning, criminal Casey Martin and his partner, Lefty Stern, hijack a truck loaded with alcohol. Casey carelessly leaves a cigarette packet with his fingerprints at the scene, and later that night, is arrested by Johnny Cooper and Fred Amory, agents of the U.S. Treasury Dept. At headquarters, Casey is confronted by department chief James Burns, and told that as a "three-time loser," he faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Burns, knowing that Casey is not involved with organized crime, offers him a chance to free himself from his past by becoming an informant. Casey refuses to cooperate when Burns explains that their target is notorious racketeer Dutch Becker, even though Burns shows him morgue photos of young women who have been killed by Becker's gang. The officers urge Casey to visit his sister Lucille, who once worked for Becker, and then reconsider Burns's offer. With four hours to decide, Casey leaves and goes to Lucille's, where he finds his young niece Junie looking after her incapacitated mother. Casey is distressed to find Lucille ill and on the verge of a breakdown, and calls a doctor. While waiting for the doctor, Casey listens to Lucille rave about how she used to be the prettiest girl working for Becker but is now a discarded wreck. Casey prevents her from committing suicide, then, infuriated, returns to Burns's office and agrees to work undercover. Casey goes to his favorite nightclub and there tells Lefty that they are no longer partners. Casey also meets with his girl friend, Gladys Baker, who loves him and wants him to go straight. The next morning, Casey talks with Burns, who advises him to approach Becker through Gladys, who knows him. Casey agrees, and later, Gladys reluctantly introduces Casey to Becker at his supper club, Joe's Torch Club, where Casey is antagonized by Lou Terpe, his former cellmate, who is now Becker's right-hand man. Casey pretends not to be interested in Becker, who is intrigued by his cool demeanor, then leaves. Becker goes to his office and there orders his men to "muss up" a female employee suspected of robbing a client. Becker then interviews a new girl, young Mary Smith, and tells her that he demands absolute loyalty from his employees. Later, at Gladys' apartment, she assures Casey that all she wants is someone to like and respect her, and agrees to support him no matter what happens. Soon after, Carlos Armor and Big Joe Walters, two of Becker's men, relay Becker's offer of employment to Casey, who states that he will consider it. Casey then goes to a sanitarium to visit Lucille, and promises to help care for her. Later, at the Torch Club, Terpe again angers Casey, who slaps him. After Becker dismisses Terpe, he confers with Casey, who hits Carlos for insulting him. Despite Casey's apparent propensity for violence, Becker likes him, and arranges to meet him again the next night. After Casey leaves, however, Walters observes Treasury agent Jim Rogers, who has been following Casey, and eavesdrops as Rogers reports on Casey's movements. The gangsters capture Rogers and after beating him, throw him in front of a speeding truck. The next morning, Casey learns of Rogers' death but insists on continuing with his mission. In the evening, at his apartment, Casey tells Gladys that their problems will soon be over, but until then, he wants her to leave town. Unknown to the couple, Terpe is eavesdropping through the open transom as Gladys reveals that she used to work for Becker and that he is a dangerous man. Gladys states that she wants to go to the police with damaging evidence that she has about Becker, but Casey persuades her to wait. When Gladys leaves, Terpe follows her and kills her. Unaware of Gladys' fate, Casey goes to Becker's warehouse and assures him that he has a buyer ready if Becker can supply him with illegal liquor. Becker boasts that bootlegging is one of his smaller sidelines, but agrees to the deal. Late that night, Casey is awoken by a phone call about Gladys, who was mutilated before being killed. Later, after Casey has completed the arrangements with Becker, Cooper informs him that fingerprints have led them to identify Terpre as Gladys' killer, but warns him not to take revenge before they can arrest Becker. Infuriated, Casey disregards Cooper's instructions and is attacking Terpe when Cooper arrives and pulls him off the gangster. When Becker learns about Terpe's battered condition, he threatens Casey's life, but Casey bluffs his way out of the situation and persuades Becker to agree to deliver the liquor to his client. Early the next morning, Casey straps on a short-wave transmitter given to him by Burns and meets Becker and his men. They are followed by Cooper and other agents, who listen as Becker, who suspects that Casey is an informant, states that he will kill Casey if there are policemen at the warehouse, which has been cleared of any incriminating evidence. Realizing the danger he is in, Casey keeps talking and gets Becker to admit on tape that he ordered Gladys' murder. Becker also boasts about how he "owns" many people, whether through their addiction to gambling, alcohol or anything else that he provides. Becker then discovers the wire that Casey is wearing, but Casey is able to alert the agents to his position before being knocked unconscious. The agents engage in a shootout with Carlos and Dave, the driver, killing them both. Casey revives and attempts to strangle Becker, but the agents stop him and arrest Becker. Cooper congratulates Casey on his success, and the cynical Casey replies that all he wants to do is to help Lucille and Junie, and to live long enough to make something of his life.