Brun Campbell, a 15-year-old piano-playing fool, hears Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" played one 1898 afternoon in Oklahoma City. It's destiny calling. Asking for ragtime lessons, he's told, "No, Ragtime is colored music." So Brun runs away from the family farm to Sedalia, Missouri, to persuade Joplin to take him on as a pupil. What Brun doesn't expect is to trip over the body of a young woman. He thoughtlessly picks up a couple of items before he rushes away from the murder scene. When Edward Fitzgerald, a man who befriended Brun his first night in town, is arrested for the woman's murder, Brun is certain he's innocent. But if the boy shows anyone the things he pocketed at the scene-things he now knows belonged to Scott Joplin-he'll point the finger at the composer...and himself. Brun decides to get Fitzgerald, Joplin, and himself off the hook by finding the real killer, but for that he eventually needs some help from Dr. Overstreet, the alcoholic town mayor; and John Stark, a man pushing sixty, who's been employing Brun at his music store. Sedalia is rife with suspects, some of them opportunists bent on stealing Joplin's music. And then there are the girls and women-mysteries to Brun-like a teenager seized with religious fever, a couple of mischievous prostitutes, and an attractive, ambitious young woman with a hint of scarlet in her past, who further complicate his pursuit of the killer.