Tom does not keep his promise to Dickie’s parents. Herbert Greenleaf is the father of Tom’s acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf. Dickie’s parents are worried about him and invite Tom to dinner to discuss Dickie’s situation. Dickie is living in Europe in a small town in Italy, where he is painting and leading a relatively idle lifestyle. Mr. Greenleaf asks Tom for his help and offers to pay for Tom’s travel to Italy so that he can convince Dickie to return home to the US.
However, when Tom goes to Italy to speak with Dickie and ostensibly carry out his promise to the Greenleafs, he is awed by Dickie’s lifestyle. Tom is poor compared to the Greenleafs and is very envious of Dickie. Although he promises the Greenleafs that he will do everything he can to convince Dickie to come home, he instead decides to tell Dickie why he is in Italy. As a result, Tom and Dickie become friends.
They travel through Italy together, and Tom even moves into Dickie’s home. Tom is completely without morals. Eventually, he decides to murder Dickie and assume his identity. This is easier than it might seem. There is a physical resemblance between the two young men, and Dickie has lent Tom his clothes, which adds to the resemblance. Tom concocts an elaborate plot to keep in touch with the Greenleafs and Dickie’s friends to make them believe that Dickie is still alive while he, Tom, enjoys Dickie’s money and lifestyle.