Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson is a Black ex-con who returns to Harlem at the height of its renaissance before World War II. Just out of prison and with no marketable skills, he begins working for Stephanie St. Clair, the queen of Harlem’s numbers racket. Bumpy’s old friend Illinois Gordon is concerned about Bumpy’s job, and social worker Francine Hughes suggests he should be doing something more positive with his life. However, Bumpy stays with the numbers game because he claims it’s the only profitable business that Blacks control themselves. And profitable it is – enough to get the attention of mob boss “Lucky” Luciano, who wants a piece of the action. He assigns his right-hand man “Dutch” Schultz to make a deal with Stephanie, but Dutch is far better at murder and mayhem than negotiation.