Travis McGee (Rod Taylor) and his close friend Meyer (Theodore Bikel) are fishing underneath a bridge in their coastal Florida home. To their shock a young woman is thrown off the bridge; she is bound and her ankles weighted with a dumbbell. Travis dives in and saves her, learning her name is Vangie. He is surprised when she insists that he not contact the police and Travis finds himself falling in love with the mysterious woman.
She gradually opens up to Travis, admitting that she was nearly killed due to her involvement in a prostitution ring and a murder scheme. Vangie was part of a team that worked in male/female pairs on cruise ships: pretty young women lured rich lonely men and then drugged their drinks to rob them when they were passed out. The male partner, a sadistic bodybuilder named Terry (William Smith), throws the men overboard to drown. Vangie became a target when she objected the murders, having been led to believe the men would only be robbed.
Despite Travis and Meyer's efforts to protect Vangie, Terry tracks her down and murders her. Travis and Meyer then set out to dismantle the gang. They locate a woman named Merrimay, who bears a striking resemblance to Vangie. On a cruise ship, Travis poses as a wealthy man traveling alone, serving as bait for Terry and his new partner Del. Del approaches Travis and invites him to her room—but knowing their scheme he refuses to take the drinks she serves and warns that her life is in danger. Angry that Travis has located him, Terry, who was lying in wait in an adjoining room, savagely attacks Travis who is overwhelmed after wounding Terry.
Terry flees the cruise ship where Meyer and Merrimay are waiting at the pier. Merrimay, her hair dyed to closer resemble Vangie, calls out to Terry. Already bloodied by his fight with Travis, Terry goes berserk at the idea that Vangie survived and storms down the gangplank towards her, punching anyone in his way. Security guards try stopping Terry, but they only slow him until Travis appears and takes down the muscle-bound killer with a blow from a wooden 2x4.
The movie ends with Travis and Merrimay talking on his houseboat The Busted Flush. She asks if he still is in love with Vangie and hints that she might want a relationship with him, but McGee replies by saying he will need time to consider if he is ready for a new love in his life.
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