A group of academics have spent years shut up in a house working on the definitive encyclopedia. When one of them discovers that his entry on slang is hopelessly outdated, he ventures into the wide world to learn about the evolving language. Here he meets Sugarpuss O’Shea, a nightclub singer, who’s on top of all the slang and, it just so happens, needs a place to stay.
In the border town of San Pablo, preparing for an annual ‘Mexican Fiesta,’ the tough, mysterious and laconic Gagin arrives. His mission is to find the equally mysterious Frank Hugo, evidently for revenge, or is it for blackmail? FBI agent Retz is also after the elusive Hugo. Everyone in town is enigmatic, especially Pila, a mystical young woman who follows Gagin around after premonitions of his death. The story includes a classic femme fatale and an antique carousel with a pink horse.