Lucius Priest invites us to listen to a story about some stuff that went down he was an eleven-year-old boy living in Jefferson, Mississippi, back in 1905. The action kicks off when his grandfather, a prominent banker known as Boss Priest, purchases a car that fascinates the members of the town, especially Boon Hogganbeck, the family's retainer. We learn right away that the thirty-year-old Boon is large in size, but has the playfulness of a child.
One day, Lucius's other grandfather in St. Louis passes away, and his parents and grandparents have to go off for a week to attend the funeral. Boss Priest leaves the car in Boon's care, and Boon convinces Lucius to drive with him to Memphis, Tennessee in it. Lucius, who has never told a single lie in his life, finds himself swayed by Non-virtue and agrees to help steal his grandfather's car.
The adventure kicks off, and the two are barely ten miles from town when they discover a stowaway in the back of the car. The sneaky traveler, Ned, is related to Lucius's grandfather, but because he is half-black, he has no legal claim to any of the guy's property. Though clearly angered by Ned's presence, Boon reluctantly agrees to allow Ned to travel to Memphis with them.
We soon discover that the purpose of Boon's trip is to visit his girlfriend Miss Corrie, a prostitute who lives in a brothel in Memphis. This is clearly Lucius's first time in a place like this, and he begins to feel his innocence slowly slip away as he learns more about the inner workings of the adult world. His self-discovery is great and all, and we know he's about to get some really deep insight, but Lucius is quickly interrupted by Ned hollering outside for Boon. Everyone runs out to find that Ned has traded Grandfather's brand new car for a racehorse. And not just any horse: a stolen one.
Boon, who considered the car to be his soulmate, is fuming. But Ned quickly reveals his plan: they are going to race the horse to win back the car. Huh? Then why did you trade the car in the first place? Okay, Ned, let's see how this all pans out.
Ned, Boon, Lucius, Miss Corrie, and a railroad worker manage to smuggle the racehorse, called Lightning, onto a train headed for the racetracks in Parsham. Ned is apparently really good at training horses, so he works with Lightning and trains Lucius as jockey, just in time for race day.
But tragedy strikes. Lightning loses his first race, and before he can race again, Lightning, Ned, and Boon all wind up in prison. (Apparently, you can imprison horses in 1905.) Next day, Ned shows up to the tracks with the horse.
Here's what happened, according to Ned: a bad cop named Butch tried to seduce Miss Corrie, and when she refused, he threw everyone in jail. She finally succumbed to his wishes, and then everyone was released. Boon beats Miss Corrie for getting with the cop, even though she did it in an effort to save him, and then he goes and beats the cop. Unsurprisingly, he winds up in jail a second time.
Meanwhile, back at the racetrack, Lucius rides Lightning as jockey, and the horse wins. And guess who is there on the sidelines to watch? Grandfather Priest. Uh oh.
Ned steps in to explain: a relative of his named Bobo was in huge financial trouble, owing the owner of horse—who is actually named Coppermine—a lot of money. So in an effort to help pay off his cousin's debt, Ned traded the car for the stolen horse so that he could make money. Okay, we guess that makes sense.
So what happens now? Well, all the horse needs to do is win the final race, and then Ned will have the money to make everything right. So everyone, including Grandfather, bets on the horse.
Great plan. Except Ned fixes the race so that the horse will lose, because he's bet against it. So Ned—sneaky, sneaky Ned—comes out with everyone's money. He did it all in order to get back at Grandfather Priest for not treating him like family.
After lots of talks about life and growing up, Lucius accompanies Boon, Miss Corrie, and Grandfather Priest in the car as the four head back up to Jefferson. Miss Corrie and Boon are married and have a baby, and they name him Lucius Priest Hogganbeck.