Kenny Gotch is a small-time doper and street hustler dying of AIDS in a Los Angeles hospice. Why would anyone bother to slit his throat when the disease would have finished him in a week or so? Vice cop Isaac Canaan hears that it may have been to prevent a possible deathbed confession relating to the torture slaying of Canaan's niece, Sarah, 10 years earlier. Canaan follows what leads he can with the help of his private-eye friend Whistler. Aiding in the case are a petty hustler named Mike Rialto and a one-armed short-order cook named Bosco Silverlake. Each of the quartet is flawed: Whistler is a recovering alcoholic struggling to recoup 10 years lost to the bottle; Canaan has been overwhelmed with guilt since Sarah's death; Bosco lost a love and his arm in a death struggle with pimps; and Rialto is a service vet with a glass eye and a lifetime of roads not taken.