The opera takes place in a basement cafe near the intersection of 135th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem, New York City. The gambler, Joe, and his girlfriend, Vi, are happily in love. Trouble ensues when the arrogant singer, Tom, sets his eyes on Vi. Even though Vi rejects Tom's passes, he convinces her that a telegram Joe just received is from another woman. Vi accuses Joe of infidelity and demands to see the telegram. When he refuses to give it to her, Vi shoots and kills him. However, when she reads the telegram, it turns out it was simply a letter to Joe informing him that his mother had passed away.