Four grown men, friends since childhood-a man of though, a man of leisure, an outlaw, and a cop-reunite in San Francisco for a weekend-long game of cards in the Palace Hotel's Enrico Caruso Suite. Every year they do this. It gives them a chance to catch up, to renew their friendships, to relive their glory days. To smoke, drink, laugh, and lose themselves and their cares for a couple of days. It also allows them to reaffirm, by unspoken consent, that the deadly secret they share has remained safe for another year.
Thirty years earlier, there were five friends. Just out of high school, preparing for college, optimistic and energetic, they took a boat trip up a river. Then an outburst of drunken teenage savagery at a place called Shanghai Bend left four boys scrambling to cover their tracks. And a fifth, Bobby McCorkle, disappeared...
For thirty years Bobby drifted aimlessly: through the firefights of Vietnam, across the United States and back a hundred times, and into every numbed recess of his conscience that heroin and alcohol could take him. He survived by his wits, but he lived by his trade: he became a gambler.
In 1995 construction crews dig up a skeleton at Shanghai Bend. Now McCorkle must rejoin his old pals at the card table and confront their secret together. What does each man bring? How much does each know? And how far will each go to protect the secret? The game begins, the stakes go up. Will they be exposed? Will their lives be ruined? Bluff. Double bluff. Call. Before the weekend is over, these five men will find themselves playing for their lives.