Riverboats up and down the Mississippi are blown up, costing lives and goods. The Southern Belle docks at a landing to check for dispatches, and to drop off passengers. Yancy and Pahoo are in the landing office waiting for the chief pilot, Shute O'Brien, to file his dispatches and then they'll go aboard with him. John has asked Yancy to investigate what is clearly sabotage, using false information in the dispatch boxes.
After the Southern Belle leaves, the co-pilot The O'Hara tells Shute that the reports contradict his previous experience and there's no signature on the reports. He figures that pilot Charlie Webster of the Cairo Girl left them. Shute tells the pilot to follow the instructions because they're out to break the record. The storm clears and owner Patricia Tappworth comes in. She says that she had additional wood added to the boilers and insists that it's safe. Patricia has heard of Yancy and the Sultana, and says that she's going to set a new record with the Belle.
The O'Hara spots a pylon dead ahead and suggests that they slow down. Patricia tells Shute to keep the Belle at full speed and leaves. Yancy and Pahoo follow her and Yancy points out that there have been unexplained accidents recently. Patricia knows about them and insists that none of Dan Emerson's boats have been involved in the accident. She figures that Dan wants to own the river and doesn't care how he does it. One of his boats, the Cairo Girl, is ahead of them trying for a record. She plans to beat the Girl and take every major cotton contract from Dan.
When The O'Hara spots a bank up ahead, he tries to avoid it without success. The boilers explode and Shute orders everyone to abandon ship. Pahoo grabs a lifesaver while Patricia has Yancy help her remove her bulky clothing so that she can swim to safety. Everyone gets to shore and watches as the Belle goes down. Shute tells Patricia that she pushed the boilers too hard but The O'Hara says that it was the fake dispatch that sank the ship.
When the group returns to New Orleans, John holds an inquiry. Shute reports that the boilers were pushed too hard, but Patricia presents the specifications. The O'Hara sides with Patricia, saying that Charlie Webster left the false dispatches, and Yancy says that Charlie is on his way to St. Louis trying to break the same record. Fry brings Dan Emerson in and says that sulphuric acid was fed into the boilers. Patricia accuses Dan of hiring a saboteur, and Dan says that the Cairo Girl blew up and sank as well with 400 passengers. Only Charlie and a handful of others survived, and the Davenport Swan is bringing Charlie to New Orleans that night. John says that he'll wait to talk to Charlie before he continues. Once everyone else leaves, John tells Fry to meet Charlie at the levee and bring him directly to the office.
That night, Fry, Yancy, Pahoo, and Captain Tom go to the levee. Charlie comes ashore and Fry puts him under arrest. The pilot grabs Fry's gun, clubs the Secret Service agent unconscious, says that it wasn't his idea, and runs away. Someone shoots Charlie and he collapses, grabbing the watch chain from his killer's waistcoat. Yancy and Pahoo run over and find the chain , and discover that it holds the key to a dispatch box.
More boats sink and cotton prices go up. Yancy is at a cafe reading the paper when Dan joins him and tells him that he and Patricia are both after the cotton contract. Dan has secret word that Patricia was trying to slow down his boats with secret sabotage, so he tried to pay The O'Hara to do the same to her. He refused but Dan wonders if the co-pilot was bluffing him. Dan insists that he didn't pay anyone to sabotage Patricia's boilers, and Yancy figures that he's only confessing because he's scared. Infuriated, Dan leaves as Pahoo brings Fry to Yancy., Yancy suggests that Fry check the cotton market and find out who has been doing the heaviest buying recently. Fry agrees and goes off to check.
Yancy and Pahoo go to Bogart's Billiard Saloon, where the river pilots meet. Shute and The O'Hara are there and Yancy shows them the key. When Shute confirms that it's legitimate, Yancy tries to take it back but The O'Hara insists that only river pilots can have the key. When Yancy explains that Charlie pulled it from his killer, The O'Hara takes offense at his accusation that one river pilot killed another. He admits that Dan approached him but he refuses his offer, and tells Shute not to give Yancy the key back. Shute has no choice but to do so, and Yancy asks him to call a meeting of all the river pilots in New Orleans. The pilot who doesn't have a key is the killer. Furious, The O'Hara attacks Yancy, who knows him out after a brief fight and leaves with Pahoo.
Later, Yancy has a second key made. Tom comes over and tells him that Patricia is buying up the mortgage on the Sultana and is going to foreclose on Yancy. Yancy goes to Patricia's house and points out that he has 30 days to pay her $10,000 plus interest from his silver mine. Patricia says that she can't wait that long because the Sultana is one of the few boats that can beat Dan and let her win the cotton contracts. She suggests that they play a game of Showdown. If Yancy wins then he gets the Sultana back: if he loses, Patricia takes the Sultana long enough to break the record and then gives it to Yancy.
Yancy draws two pair after four cards, and Patricia has a possible flush. She deals herself the fifth spade and wins with the flush. Yancy tells Patricia to take good care of the Sultana and leaves.
Later, Yancy and Pahoo meet with John and Fry. Fry has discovered that someone started buying cotton futures a month ago, before the first sinking. Yancy asks Fry to deliver the key to Shute and leaves.
That night, Yancy and Pahoo finally arrive at the saloon. John, Patricia, and Dan are there, along with all the pilots. Shute's head is injured, and he explains that someone jumped him, hit him with a billiard cue, and took the key. Yancy turns the meeting over to John, who tells each of them to use their key to open the dispatch box. They have The O'Hara go first, and he confirms that he has the key. When Shute uses his key, it doesn't work.
Pahoo gives Yancy the key, and Yancy explains that the key Shute is using is the one that Fry gave him that afternoon. Shute stole the key from himself and faked the attack. Yancy explains that Shute is the biggest cotton trade on the market and his holdings are worth a fortune. Shute grabs Patricia as a shield and draws a gun. When The O'Hara comes after him, Shute shoots him. Pahoo shoots out the lights with his shotgun as Shute backs out of the saloon. Yancy jumps out the window and tackles Shute, and the two men fight. When Shute draws a knife, Patricia picks up his discarded gun and kills him with it. Yancy hugs her as she stares at Shute's body in shock.
Later at Patricia's home, Yancy and Patricia kiss. Yancy assures her that The O'Hara will recover, and Patricia gives Yancy his mortgage. He refuses to take it, saying that they played an honest game of poker, and Patricia admits that she stacked the deck. She figures that being his friend would be more important than breaking records, and asks Yancy to take him to dinner. Patricia suggests that they pay another game of Showdown. If she wins, Yancy takes her to dinner. If she loses, she never sees him again. They play with Yancy's deck, one card down, and Yancy reveals first. He wins and Patricia doesn't show her hole card, and he takes it and shows her that he dealt her a winning hand. Smiling, they kiss and go to dinner.
Written by Gadfly on Jun 5, 2017