Former actress Althea Vail hires Wolfe to ensure the safe return of her husband Jimmy, kidnapped by a "Mr. Knapp" who has demanded a $500,000 ransom. After a visit from Althea's secretary Dinah Utley, Wolfe and Archie quickly conclude that she wrote the note; however, after Jimmy's return two days later, Dinah's body is found on the same road as Althea delivered the ransom money. For the second time, Archie concludes that someone close to Althea was involved in the kidnapping, only for that person to be killed, this time Jimmy Vail, crushed by a falling statue in his library. Complicating matters, the ransom money has gone missing, and Wolfe accepts a fee from Althea's son Noel Tedder to find it. The treasure hunt and murder investigation intertwine as promises are made and broken, and after the search for the money is resolved, a kidnapper and murderer must be brought to justice.
Tropes in this work: (Tropes relating to the series as a whole, or to the characters in general can be found on Nero Wolfe and its subpages.)
- Double-Meaning Title: Wolfe's final deduction is the motive for the kidnapping: Althea, Jimmy, and Dinah working together to have the $500,000 deducted as a casualty, allowing them to keep the money without paying taxes on it.
- Hidden Depths: Noel Tedder is a bit of an Upper-Class Twit and Opportunistic Bastard in his hunt for the missing ransom money, but he does give Archie, Saul, Fred and Orrie generous bonuses once they find it and his idea of hiring Wolfe in the first place is interesting.
- Leave Behind a Pistol: Averted. After Wolfe confronts Althea over the false kidnapping and her two murders, Archie speculates she may commit suicide rather than face trial, but she does not.
- My Beloved Smother: Noel is suffering under Althea's pressure, prompting Archie to reveal his bitter history with his own hated, controlling mother who eventually drove him to run away to New York to get away from her. Later, when Archie is reporting the conversation, Wolfe notes that the cruel, stifling monster Archie describes seems remarkably different from the warm, friendly woman who dined at the brownstone several months previously while visiting the city and whom Archie clearly dotes on.
- Opportunistic Bastard: Both Noel and Margot Tedder, in regards to finding the ransom money.