It's 1916, and time's running out for Scott Joplin. Before he dies, he wants to provide for his wife and to secure his place in musical history. He's written a musical drama. His young piano student, Martin Niederhoffer, who works as a book-keeper at Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder Music Publishers, convinces him to try to get Irving Berlin to publish and produce the work. The next day, Niederhoffer walks into his office and finds Joplin crouched over the blood-soaked body of a young man. He hustles his teacher away; unfortunately, the two are seen leaving the building. Nell Stark, daughter of Joplin's first publisher, John Stark, hides Joplin and Niederhoffer from the police and calls her father in from St. Louis to help sort out the mess. After Berlin flatly denies ever having received Joplin's play, young Niederhoffer breaks cover and engages the services of hit man Footsie Vinny, who gives Berlin a five-day deadline to come up with the manuscript. And just when things couldn't get worse, Niederhoffer's girlfriend, Birdie, is kidnapped. Nell and John Stark must get around Joplin's fragile mental and emotional state, Berlin's dogged resistance, Niederhoffer's impulsiveness, the police, and their own loving but edgy relationship in order to locate Joplin's work, find Birdie, and exonerate the composer and the bookkeeper.