Small town reporter Joe Frady shows up at the Seattle Space Needle hoping to get past the security detail standing between his ambition to do a story on visiting Presidential candidate Senator Charles Carroll and his lack of the proper credentials which would make such access possible. The posh fundraising party takes an unexpected turn when the candidate is assassinated, a killing witnesses by TV reporter Lee Carter, among many others. In the chaos and confusion following the crime, a suspect dressed as a waiter but carrying a gun falls to his death. Meanwhile, another armed waiter manages to escape the scene unnoticed.
Several months later, a government commission assembled to investigate the shocking murder amid growing sense of paranoia amongst the public stoked by conspiracy theories applied to a string of recent high-profile assassinations. The findings of the commission is one asserting definitively that no evidence of a conspiracy was found and the assassination was the sole work of the dead waiter.
Three years after the assassination, Frady meets up with former lover, Lee Carter, who sounds to him somewhat desperate and not a little paranoid with her claims that the assassination was a conspiracy and her knowledge of this is putting her life at risk. Frady dismisses such talk as the inherent desire of people to fill in missing gaps when looking for an explanation of something with even the merest whisper of ambiguity.
Frady quickly begins to question this idea when Carter turns up dead shortly afterward.
To investigate further, her makes his way to the small town of Salmontail to make inquiries into the apparent drowning death of another witness to the Senator’s murder. In a scene reminiscent of another movie with a conspiracy to be uncovered—Chinatown—Frady is nearly drowned himself when the sheriff attempts to lure him into a trap in which the weapon is the floodgates to the local dam. Instead, the sheriff winds up dead and Frady realizes that the conspiracy is even more far-reaching and sinister than he could possibly imagine.
Frady continues his probe by interviewing the Senator’s former aide and is nearly killed when a bomb is detonated aboard the aide’s boat. The good news is that Frady is believed to have perished, thus making it possible for him to apply to the Parallax Corporation for a job under a false identity. As part of the training program, Frady watches a slideshow in which Frady identifies the real assassin from a photo the Senator’s aide showed him: the assassin is a Parallax employee.
His investigation allows him to tail the real assassin later and watch as he takes a case from the trunk of a car, drives to the airport, and checks the bag. When Frady boards the plane, he recognizes another Senator, but the assassin is nowhere to be found. That man watches from the roof of the airport as the plane takes off with Frady on board.
Frady uses a napkin to scribble a warning about there being a bomb on board the plane and furtively leaves it on the drink cart. The warning is taken seriously, the plane returns, passengers are evacuated and the bomb explodes.
Later, Frady plays a tape tat he secretly recorded with the Parallax Corp. executive who hired him for his editor who has been skeptical to this point. The editor then seals the tape inside an envelope alongside a collection of similar tapes. The assassin shows up in disguise to deliver food and coffee to the editor’s office. Shortly afterward, it is learned that the editor is dead and the tapes are missing.
Frady shows up for the dress rehearsal planned for the rally of Sen. George Hammond as part of his shadowing of Parallax officials. Hiding in the catwalk high above the auditorium, he recognizes the security guards as Parallax employees. In an instant, Frady understands that he has been set up to take the fall…just like the literal fall of the first waiter with the gun at the Space Needle. Hammond steers a golf cart across the floor below and then a shot rings out, hitting the Senator in the back and killing him. In Frady’s desperate effort to escape, he is spotted high above on the catwalk. The security guards move in, but Frady is able to avoid detection just long enough to allow him to make a desperate run for an open exit door. Before he gets there, however, a shadowy figure appears through the frame and fires off a shotgun, killing Frady.
Six months later, an investigative committee announces their findings: investigative reporter Joe Frady, stimulated by a misguided sense of patriotism corrupted by a paranoid fear that the Senator was actually plotting to kill him, was the lone gunman responsible for the assassination of Sen. George Hammond.