In a time of war, with red meat restrictions placed on the populace, Dazy Perrit, known as the King of the Black Market, comes to visit Wolfe. He gives Wolfe fifty hundred-dollar bills and reveals that he is being blackmailed. While Wolfe goes to the plant room, Perrit tells Archie that he has a daughter that no one knows about, until his rival Thumbs Meeker discovered his secret. At that point, Perrit hired another woman, Violet Murphy, to pretend to be his daughter. Murphy begins blackmailing him, eventually asking for $50,000.
When Wolfe comes down, he has Archie call Beulah Page, Perrit's daughter and a medical student at Colombia University. He finds her with her fiance, Morton Schane, and invites them to dinner. She is able to discuss orchids with Wolfe over dinner, while her fiance, a law school student, is less capable, although he agrees that Wolfe's lawyer should have been able to draw up a tort in less than fifteen pages.
Murphy then comes to visit Wolfe. Wolfe tells her that Perrit's pride will not allow him to be blackmailed for long, and suggests she cut him in on the blackmail. She refuses, and pulls back her top to reveal some nasty bruises on her neck and shoulders that she claims are from Perrit. Archie drives her home. As he tries to convince her to drop the blackmail, a car goes by and she is killed by a machine gun. Her last words are, "It's a shame...". Archie reports in to Wolfe by phone, but is cut off by the police before he can finish the story.
Wolfe brings in Saul Panzer to check something in the lab. Archie is sure that Perrit is responsible for the hit, so when Perrit comes to discuss the matter with him he refuses to get in Perrit's car. As they discuss it, another car goes by and now Perrit is murdered by machine gun.
In the morning, Perrit's lawyer comes to visit Wolfe. He tells him that Perrit has made Wolfe the executor of his estate and the guardian of his daughter, which Wolfe is inclined to refuse until the $50,000 fee is brought up. He also warns Wolfe that Perrit's former associates are likely to attempt to kill him over the money.
Perrit's associate, Mr. Fabian, makes the next appointment, although they fear him attempting to murder Wolfe. Page and Schane return to the brownstone, and on her request, Wolfe reveals the name of her father to her.
Before Fabian appears, Cramer visits to tell them that Murphy would have been going back to prison in Salt Lake City for years. He tells Wolfe to enjoy his lunch, in effect an obituary.
Fabian, Schwartz, and Schane gather in the office, but before they can speak Thumbs Meeker barges in. He thinks Wolfe is responsible for the killing of the Perrits. Wolfe reveals the true identity of Perrit's daughter and that Schane had been complicit in the blackmail, which he had known since Schane had been unable to recognize a tort as a crime rather than a document. Saul also comes in with Schane's wine glass, which he had lifted fingerprints from to reveal Schane as a petty criminal from Salt Lake City, Violet Murphy's home town. Schane tries to bluster his way out, then pulls a gun, but Meeker, Fabian, Archie, and Saul all shoot him before he can fire.
Archie realizes that Murphy had actually been trying to say "It's Schane" before dying. Archie accepts a dinner invitation with Beulah Page while Wolfe and Fritz salivate over a fresh delivery of lamb they have received.