Nancy, George, and Hannah are off to San Francisco. Apparently Hannah has an old friend named Emily who is an award winning photojournalist. As soon as they get there, she takes them to their hotel and then on a whirlwind tour of the city. Emily tells them about the new series she's working on, Children of Change. It's all about kids who grow up in the big city. As they make their way around town, a man comes out of nowhere, grabs her camera, and knocks her to the ground.
Though Nancy gives chase, she can't catch the thief. Emily's close friend, Lieutenant Chin, shows up. Though he doesn't believe Nancy is a detective, he is impressed at how much she can remember about the thief. After taking their statements, he warns Emily to be closer before leaving. The group then heads to Chinatown for dinner and to relax.
When they head back to Emily's house, she introduces them to her pet bird Tripod and talks a little more about her project. Nancy sees an image of a man named Harold Kesack and comments on the unique Buddha necklace he wore. Emily says it was made from ivory and was kind of his trademark before he died five years ago. I only mention this because it seems like it might be important later. She then gets a call from someone threatening her to stop working on her project or else.
Nancy uses this as an excuse to take a walk around the block with George. They see a shifty looking man following them who then seemingly disappears in the night. When the women go back to their hotel, they hear Emily screaming and run back inside to discover that someone tried to break in through her skylight. Needless to say, they decide to spend the night with her rather than going back to the hotel.
Two strange things happen the next day. Hannah almost gets hit by a speeding car, and someone nearly drops a shipping crate on top of Nancy and Emily. The only person Emily suspects is a rival photojournalist named Pete Stine. Nancy goes to visit him and learns that he's working on a big story about the “syndicate” operating in town. To cap things off, some breaks into Emily's apartment. Lieutenant Chin comes back and finds that the only thing missing are a few photos, including the one of Kesack. He tells them that their description of the car that almost hit Hannah is one that belongs to the syndicate and warns Emily to be more careful in the future.
In the hopes of finding more information, Nancy goes with Emily to her next gallery showing. Emily is less than happy to find out that Faith Arnold, her gallery rep, didn't hang all her work. Faith then meets Nancy and acts incredibly cold when she finds out she knows Emily. Hearing a scream, Nancy rushes outside and sees several men dragging Emily into a car and speeding away. Though she gives chase, the car has mud smeared over the license plate.
Lieutenant Chin shows up at the gallery, as does Pete Stine, who conveniently just happened to hear about what happened. Chin agrees to do a background check on Faith because she seems suspicious. Nancy and George go for another walk and see the crane operator from before chatting with some weird looking guys. Suddenly, she feels a gun against her back and turns to see another random guy watching her.
He says he's name is Louie and that he's a friend of Emily's. He even claims that he's been trying to track her down because he has some information for her and worries that she's in danger. Chin tracks Nancy down to tell her that Faith has a rap sheet for stealing artwork, filing false insurance claims, and selling the pieces on the black market. What, did her employer not do a background check? Nancy and George head over to the apartment to check things out and hear Tripod chatting away, which means someone is inside.
That someone is Pete Stine. He nonchalantly walks out of Emily's darkroom, reveals that he went through her things because they were working on the same story, and then leaves. Nancy and George do some digging and learn that Kesack was the big mob boss in town and was followed by his number two, Blane. They later see Blane wearing the same necklace as the one Kesack wore in his photograph.
George and Nancy go to see Faith. She confesses that Blane blackmailed her. He told her to get him all of Emily's pictures or he would go to the police and tells them about her background. They also see Blane with some random people and follow them to an old curio shop. After the guys leave, they break in and find that someone rifled through the office but didn't really take anything. After going back to the apartment, they realize that someone stole a bunch of her negatives, including all negatives relating to Kesack. By the time they go back to the gallery, Faith is out cold. Someone broke in and almost killed her. Lieutenant Chin comes by and doesn't do much except warn them to be careful.
Someone calls and tells Nancy to meet him for information later that night. When she gets to the meeting spot, she finds the crane operator waiting for her with some other guy. After threatening her, she fights back and then realizes that they lured her out there in the hopes of killing her. She throws herself into traffic, darts between cars, and manages to get away. When she hears them rush by, she follows them long enough to see them enter a warehouse.
After conferring with Hannah and George, the housekeeper agrees to call the police while the two younger girls check out the warehouse. They see Stine enter and follow him, but he knows his way around way too well. Not only do they lose Stine, but they get caught by Blane. He takes them to meet Kesack who is not at all shockingly not dead. Kesack tells them that he faked his death to get away from his old life but that Emily took a picture that showed him in the background.
Kesack wanted to work with the authorities but wasn't sure how to do it without the mob finding out. Just then, two well dressed men show up who are the new bosses of the mob. They make it clear that they'll kill everyone in the room before Kesack can get to the authorities, including Nancy and George. The guys blindfold and gag them, take them down to the pier, and toss them on a fishing boat until they kill them later. The guys are nice enough to untie them, which lets them see that Emily is there, alive and well as is Kesack.
Nancy comes up with an idea where they throw themselves over the boat and swim for help. Emily gets lost in the commotion, but Kesack saves her. Lieutenant Chin and the cops show up to save them, and Stine pops up long enough to take a bunch of pictures and gloat about how he scooped her for once. Everyone is so happy and relieved that they spend the night in her apartment again.
Chin stops by the next morning with some big news. Kesack agreed to turn state's evidence against the mob and the guys from the night before. All he asks in return is that Stine be banned from seeing him. He also requests that Emily be the only one who can photograph him and interview him. Emily then reveals that he actually respects her and always treated her like a fellow professional. Since the mystery is over, Nancy has just one more thing in mind: take a tour of Alcatraz.
*Nancy feels bad because Hannah seldom travels and never gets out of River Heights. Maybe she should talk to her dad about giving the poor lady a raise?
*Emily has her own bed, a daybed, and a pull out sofa. If she had so much room, why didn't she ask them to stay with her?
*Nancy gets annoyed that Pete Stine won't stop everything to sit down and talk with her. Yes, because all professional photojournalists would stop working on a story to sit down and have a chat with some random teenager.