Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier, a guitar-playing drifter, flees New Orleans in order to avoid arrest. He finds work in a small-town five-and-dime owned by an embittered older woman known as Lady Torrance, whose vicious husband Jabe lies on his deathbed in their apartment above the store. Both alcoholicnymphomaniac Carol Cutrere and simple housewife Vee Talbott set their sights on the newcomer, but Val succumbs to the charms of Lady, who plans to set him up with a refreshment bar. Sheriff Talbott, a friend of Jabe, threatens to kill Val if he remains in town, but he chooses to stay when he discovers Lady is pregnant. His decision sparks Jabe's jealousy and leads to tragic consequences.