On his route to Rome, James Bond spots Paul Cordava, and informs British intelligence of the gangster's presence. Shortly after Cordava is found dead, Bond is having dinner with Sukie Tempesta until he is interrupted with a phone call from Bill Tanner. Tanner informs Bond that "Rome is coming to" him by means of Steve Quinn, who is a Service resident stationed in Rome.
Known as one of the invisible men, Quinn informs Bond that there is a bounty for him worth 10 million Swiss francs in a manhunt known as the Head Hunt, with several bidding criminal organizations such as the Mafia, the Unione Corse, the Red Brigade, FALN, and Department Eight (formerly known as SMERSH). In addition, he is informed that the competition is the brainchild of the current leader of SPECTRE, Tamil Rahani, who is also suffering from cancer in the spinal cord and expected to live for four months. Quinn further informs that each organization has place one man in the field to accomplish the task, and all four contestants died violently within the past twenty-four hours (which explains the deaths of Cordova, a German killed in the motorway explosion, and the two passengers on the Osten ferry who went overboard earlier in the novel).
While Bond and Sukie are picking up Nannie Norrich near the Madonna die Pieta, Bond notices Quinn and two individuals. As they drive down, a silver Renault 25 with Bond spotting Quinn and his men as its passengers begin shooting at Bond. The two cars collide with each other until an inferno erupts the Renault. After an encounter with Heinrich Osten who subsequently holds Bond hostage when he learns about the Head Hunt upon investigating his case, two mysterious phone calls from a frightened Herr Doktor Kirchtum demand for Bond and the women to travel to Hotel Goldener Kirsch, and then to Paris. In Salsburg, Bond, by his own means, drives to the Klinik Mozart where he finds the doctor strapped to a chair held against his will by Steve Quinn and his two men (who survived the car explosion). Bond reveals himself onto Quinn much to Kirchtum's surprise, where Quinn informs his former colleague that he is a defector to SMERSH and that he has always been a Mozart man (which confirms that he killed Heinrich Osten and his accomplices).
Bond kills Quinn's men and pins Quinn onto the floor, and discovers from him that Bond's head was to delivered as a package from Paris to Tamil Rahani whose SPECTRE headquarters were located in Key West, Florida. After freeing Kirchtum from the chair, the doctor inserts a hypodermic needle into Quinn's arm rendering him unconscious for four to five hous. Bond then returns to the hotel, and calls M who approves for him to take a flight at Zürich Airport destined for Miami where Bond plans to confront SPECTRE.
Accompanied with Sukie and Nannie, Bond poses as "James Boldman", and before he is about to board the flight to Miami, Bond is confronted by Quinn and Kirchtum who take him on a different flight. When the flight lands in Miami, Quinn and Kirchtum (who was in league with Quinn all along) escort Bond to a sleek dark automobile that drives them to a forty-foot powered fishing boat with its route headed for the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly, Quinn, Kirchtum, and the boat captain are killed by Sukie and Norrich. Their bodies along with the boat are incinerated via emergency fuel and explosive bullets.