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Det. Lieut. Virgil Tibbs of the San Francisco homicide squad receives an anonymous phone call accusing his close friend, community activist Rev. Logan Sharpe, of murdering a prostitute. The detective questions the clergyman, who admits having visited the victim to bestow pastoral counsel. Other suspects include Rice Weedon, a landlord and narcotics dealer whom Tibbs shoots in self-defense; black janitor Mealie; and Woody Garfield, the victim's protector. Again confronted by Tibbs, Sharpe confesses his guilt, revealing that the prostitute had mocked his sexual prowess, and begging Tibbs to defer arrest until after a referendum on a community control issue Sharpe supports. When the officer refuses, the activist throws himself under a passing truck.