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Threatened with the loss of his job, dim-witted chess reporter Larry Elliot, who consistently bungles his assignments by missing a big story for something trivial, is sent to cover a grape harvest festival at the Grape City winery. Larry, who is a chess expert, mistakenly gets off the bus at Grape Center with his girl friend, Sally Warren, an antiques dealer. When the man who was seated next to Larry is found on the bus, murdered, with a chess piece in his hand, Larry is blamed. While waiting for the sheriff to arrive, the bus passengers are held at the Grape Center winery, tavern and inn. Sally soon engages Larry's help in procuring a jewelled chess set called the Marco Polo Men, which was once owned by Kubla Khan in the 12th century. Currently the set is split between the feuding eccentric twins Charles and Preston Waldeck, who run the winery, and who have not spoken to each other in ten years. Also at the inn is Preston's grandson, Oliver Waldeck, a precocious boy genius, and his mentor, Professor Wisner. Oliver frightens Larry with scary antics, including a pronouncement that the corpse's head was chopped off, and the placement in Larry's room of a cabbage adorned by a toupee. After Sally gets the white chess pieces from Preston, she sends Larry to get the black set from Charles, and both he and Charles are knocked out by an assailant, who steals the set. The sheriff finally arrives, in search of escaped killer Deacon Markham, who sold the chess set to the Waldecks after stealing it, and now wants it back for escape money. Markham and his henchman Mink, the bellboy, hold up Larry in his room and demand the chess set, then hide as Sally enters and tells Larry that she hid the white set in his room. Next enters guest Flo Rosson, who confesses to Larry that she is an insurance detective trailing the man on the bus, who was part of the gang that stole the chess set. All are ousted from Larry's room when Oliver throws a smoke bomb into it, and both chess sets are taken in the mêlée. Larry quickly locates the black set, but is knocked out and tied up in the wine cellar. The next day, Sally finds one set and is attacked by the professor. Elliot frees himself, locates the dead man's corpse, and after a chase in the cellar, traps, in a wine vat, Markham, Mink and the professor, who turns out to be the killer. Later, Larry gives Oliver a long-overdue spanking for his pranks, and Flo promises Sally a one thousand dollar reward from the insurance company for retrieving the chess set. When Larry's editor calls the tavern, Larry tells him how he captured the criminals, and asks if he should go to Grape City or come in and get fired.