Volunteering at a local soup kitchen, Polo gets to know Scratchy, a self-described "sidewalk architect." With a Food for Vets sign in hand, Scratchy spends his days at his "office," a freeway off-ramp in downtown San Francisco, where certain drivers are exceptionally generous. Scratchy asks Polo to check the license-plate numbers of the charitably-minded individuals, and Polo comes up with a multimillionaire shipowner and a mysterious ex-CIA agent. But before he can give Scratchy the information, the man is dead, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run.
The police have little interest in the accidental death of a homeless man, so at the urging of the soup kitchen’s operator, Father Tomasello, Polo decides to investigate. What he finds takes him up against the Dragon Head of the Chinese Mafia, whose connections with the shipping magnate and the ex-CIA agent threaten not only Polo, but his friends and family too.
Going down smooth and easy, the ninth Nick Polo adventure (following Vintage Polo, 1993) begins when a street person named Scratchy asks the San Francisco PI to check out three license plate numbers. Soon Scratchy is killed in a suspicious hit-and-run accident, leaving behind a lot of cash and a near-perfect fake Rolex watch. The license plates lead Polo to a member of the city's board of supervisors, a powerful Chinatown gangster and an ex-CIA agent whom Polo knows from his days on the police force. It's pretty clear that Scratchy died because he stumbled across some kind of smuggling operation-and that Polo will tie together the three suspects into a tidy little bundle. Nonetheless Kennealy keeps a firm grip on his readers with a smart pace and a light, intelligent tone that's never cute. We're also treated to intriguing lore about investigative procedures in the electronic age, scenic and historic bits and a lively background romance.