A young Englishman, Nick, arrives in America for the first time, expecting to be met at the airport in New York by an American friend, Tommy Siacca. But Siacca doesn't show up.
Nick rides into the city, directed from Location to location, meeting up not with Siacca's jealous lover, Joe, a barman at the Sub City disco. Joe tells him Siacca has been murdered, no doubt because of his involvement in CIA activities, and that his body is still lying in the apartment where Nick has just deposited his bags.
Nick's story is that he came over to spend a vacation with Siacca, whom he met, briefly, in a gay bar in London. He claims to know nothing of Siacca's activities with the CIA, is shocked to hear of Siacca's murder, even more shocked to realize that, by leaving his bags in Siacca's apartment, he is the perfect fall guy for Siacca's murder. This is one hell of a first night in America and he starts running.
Neither able to return to London, nor to Siacca's apartment, he takes a bus out of New York and begins a journey that takes him to Detroit, Kansas City, Denver and Phoenix, meeting different men in each city.
Joe follows him, revealed not as Siacca's lover but as his inadvertent killer, the messy end to a botched surveillance of Siacca that had been going on for months.
Nick now becomes the object of Joe's surveillance, leading him into the lesser known corners of the different cities he stops in, into the lives of men who may be part of some nationwide covert operation connected with Siacca or more sexual "numbers". It is Joe's job to ascertain which.
Joe sticks close to Nick, listening into the most intimate and private conversations, privy to the trust between strangers in America's extant and complex gay world It makes Joe uncomfortable, jealous even, not just of the intimacies themselves but of the lives free of the violence he himself is bringing in with the surveillance, violence which is visited on every person Nick becomes involved with.
As Nick moves from city to city, from postindustrial landscape to desert, he unwittingly leads Joe back down the road he himself came from, to the city he grew up in as a boy, to Phoenix, a place alive with memories and abruptly broken past relationships. By this time, Joe has come to believe in Nick's innocence, has become attached to him emotionally, dependent upon h im to motivate his own moves.
Suddenly pulled out of the surveillance by his immediate superiors, Joe finds his place taken by an agent less disposed to sentiment and eager to sort out Nick's identity once and for all through violence. Joe is off the case, basically out of a job and on his way to being dispatched to oblivion himself.
For the first time since their brief meeting in New York, Joe enters Nick's life directly, literally picking him up off the side of the road, an old fashioned rescue, an entering into the picture he has been observing so long from a distance.
Now they are both on the run and Joe is quick to realize that all the time his is with Nick, he increases the danger to Nick. For a few hours, he enjoys the kind of life he never allowed himself to partake of, lives a little in the world, holds another man close, allows his feelings to rule his actions.
Hunted, and certain of being tracked down, Joe takes the only course he deems acceptable: he gives himself up, and by so doing liberates this Englishman about whom he began to care so much. It is an act of redemption and leaves Nick to make the best of it . . . a European in a strange land.
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