The case made private eye Benjamin Wade laugh. Now, it might kill him.
May 1940, the last days of the Great Depression, and laid-back gumshoe Ben Wade isn't exactly rolling in the dough. He doesn't even have a secretary. He's so bad off, he can't refuse any case.
Elmer Smith is a local farmer. A few days after the police chased a hoodlum through Smith's farm, he receives a court notice: his chickens are infectious and scheduled for slaughter. Desperate to save his livelihood, Smith hires a lawyer to slow the process, but time is running out.
With his coffers nearly empty, Wade suppresses his pride and takes the case. Curiously, the police have no record of the incident. The nervous health inspector is suddenly evasive. And the inspector's beautiful secretary thinks she's being followed and seeks Wade's help.
To unravel the mystery, Wade obsesses on the central question: What really happened the night police chased someone through Smith's chicken coop? Wade isn't the only one asking the question, but he might be the only one who dies for it.