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Two hitmen, Al and Max, drive into Brentwood, New Jersey, in search of Pete "Swede" Lund, and stake out a diner he frequents, questioning, among others, customer Nick Adams about Swede's whereabouts. After the men leave, Nick races to Swede's boardinghouse room to warn him and is stunned when Swede seems resigned to his fate. Shortly after Nick's departure, Al and Max find Swede waiting in his room and shoot him to death. When it is discovered Swede had a small life insurance policy with Atlantic Casual, insurance investigator James Riordan begins investigating his murder. Jim first questions Nick, who worked with Swede at a filling station, and Nick recalls that Swede stopped coming to work the week before his murder after waiting on a wealthy, middle-aged stranger at the station. Jim then calls on Swede's beneficiary, Mary Ellen "Queenie" Doherty, a cleaning woman at an Atlantic City hotel. Queenie recalls Swede staying at the hotel some six years earlier, when she stopped him from throwing himself out of the window. Upon returning to his office, Jim learns that Swede was a former boxer, whose real name was Ole Anderson, and that after his fight career ended, he served three years in prison for robbery. Jim visits Swede's arresting officer, police lieutenant Sam Lubinsky, who tells him that he and Swede had grown up together in Philadelphia and that his wife Lilly dated Swede before her marriage. Lilly then recalls her final date with Swede at a party given by Jake "the Rake" in a lavish apartment owned by "Big Jim" Colfax, where they met Blinky Franklin and singer Kitty Collins, to whom Swede is immediately attracted. Then Sam adds that some time later, while working on a jewelry heist, a tip led him to Jake and Kitty, whom he suspected of wearing a piece of the stolen jewelry. When Sam tried to arrest her, Swede intervened and claimed responsibilty for stealing the jewlery, which landed him in prison. Sam asks Jim if he can help with the investigation and later that afternoon, at Swede's burial service, Sam points out Charleston, a small-time hood and acquaintance of Swede's, to Jim, who later questions him. Charleston reveals that he and Swede shared a prison cell together and that Swede referred to Kitty as "his girl," and asked Charleston to visit her upon his release: After Swede is released, Charleston is sent by Colfax to summon him to a meeting with Blinky, another thug, Dum Dum, and a mysterious woman. Colfax has planned a payroll heist at a hat company which promises a $250,000 payoff, but the older Charleston finds the risk too great and withdraws, and never sees Swede again. After leaving Charleston, Jim digs up information that Atlantic Casual insured the hat company and discovers details of the heist. Sam then contacts Jim to inform him that Blinky has been discovered shot and near death. Both men hurry to the hospital, where Blinky, semi-conscious, rambles about the robbery: After the heist, the group was forced to change their meeting place as the scheduled halfway house had burned down unexpectedly. Swede arrives last and after accusing Colfax of trying to cheat him, takes all the money and flees. Back at the hospital after Blinky dies, Jim feels sure the robbery is connected to Swede's murder and stakes out his old room at the boardinghouse. Soon after, Dum Dum rents Swede's old room and begins an elaborate search. Jim breaks in on him and demands to know more details of the robbery, specifically why the meeting place was changed. Dum Dum admits Kitty was the woman involved and that just after midnight the night before the robbery she had told each of them separately about the change, which Swede later claimed he was not told. Jim tells Dum Dum that Swede had run off with Kitty and that later in Atlantic City, Kitty had disappeared with the money. Dum Dum escapes from Jim and despite a police cordon, gets away. Later when Jim receives notification that the halfway house burned down after two a.m., not midnight, he is certain Colfax and Kitty are behind Swede's murder, but Sam insists Colfax has gone straight. Jim goes to the factory Colfax is now managing, but Colfax claims no knowledge of the robbery or Kitty's whereabouts. Later, however, Jim receives a telephone call from Kitty, suggesting they meet. Driving away from their agreed-upon rendezvous spot, Kitty and Jim are unknowingly trailed by Al and Max to a night club. There, Kitty tells Jim that the night before the robbery, she convinced Swede that the others were double-crossing him, so he would agree to take her away from Colfax. She insists that she left Swede in Atlantic City with the money and pleads with Jim not to involve her further as she is now married and has a good home. Jim demands that she give him proof of Colfax's participation and she agrees, but as they prepare to leave the club, she disappears into the ladies room. Meanwhile at the bar, Al and Max begin to move in on Jim, but are cut off and shot by Sam who is also at the bar. Jim realizes Kitty has escaped and, with Sam and a police backup, heads to Colfax's house. They arrive to a series of gunshots and find Dum Dum dead at the bottom of the stairs and Colfax fatally wounded on the landing with Kitty hovering over him. Jim tells Colfax he had discovered Kitty was his wife and could not testify against him. Colfax admits to having Swede killed, in fear that the other gang members would find him and realize that Colfax and Kitty had double-crossed them and kept all the money. Colfax dies as Kitty pleads for him to declare her innocent.