The episode opens with someone inking a panel from a comic strip. A car is traveling along a winding, mountainous road at night.
We see a real car careening out of control down a similar roadway.
The artist inks a panel showing a barricade in a corner of the road, seen from the car itself.
The driver of the real car sees a similar barricade and is heading straight for it.
Both drivers, the comic strip and the real one, jump to safety. The real one rolls down the hillside.
In the next panel, the car slams through the barricade.
The real car does the same thing. Flipping down the side of the canyon.
In the comic, the car explodes- and so does the real one.
At the Steele Agency, Laura and Mildred are loaded down with file folders and files are piled all around them, also.
"Oh, Miss Holt," Mildred says, laughing. "This place is starting to look like Beacons on a bad day. Okay, just let me put all these into the computer."
"Absolutely not, Mildred!" Laura declares. "I will not have this Agency's history condensed on a single floppy disk. You hit a wrong button and you bring a whole new meaning to 'Gone in 60 seconds.' We need more room. Some . . . some place that's not being used...Wasted space..."
Wearing a huge grin, she heads towards Remington's office door.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no, Miss Holt, no," Mildred protests. "The boss left strict orders not to be disturbed."
"I'll take full responsibility, Mildred," Laura assures her.
"No," Laura tells him. "We're running out of room for our old case files, and I thought-"
"Well, in that case," Steele says, sitting back and looking at the comics again, "carry on. Please do. Please do."
Laura stands there, frowning at him. She moves around to read over his shoulder. "The Blaster," she says with a sigh. "I might have known."
Steele grins at her. "Ah, yes. Wonderful, isn't it, eh?"
We see the "The Blaster" comic strip, written by Raymond Kelly, and in the first panel are two people who are obviously supposed to be Steele and Laura. Steele's character looks a bit like him, but the woman, while she has Laura's hair, has white circles for eyes.
"Very flattering for us to be immortalized in such a popularized art form, don't you agree?"
Laura laughs. "Dashing Dave? You?"
"Well, that granite jaw, the luxuriant black hair, those steely blue eyes. You can't deny- the resemblance IS uncanny. And look here. I believe they've captured you quite well, Laura. Hmm?" he says, showing her the woman standing behind "Dashing Dave".
"Dollface?" she asks, then hits his shoulder in disgust. "That ill defined blob?" She bends to look closer. "The ditz with the Orphan Annie eyes?"
"Yes, well, the hair has a certain similarity," Steele points out.
"So what are we up to these days?" Laura asks.
Steele looks at the strip, where Dave, looking at his watch, asks Dollface, "What could be keeping Dick Darkside?"
"Well," Steele tells Laura, "It seems Dashing Dave and Dollface are awaiting the arrival of Dick Darkside. Dick Darkside has just double-crossed The Blaster," he explains as Laura nods. We see the panels of the car going down the winding road and crashing to burst into flames. "So The Blaster has cut Dick's brake cable, see?"
"Um hmm," Laura nods.
The last panel has Dick Darkside, standing beside the flaming car, a hand to his head, saying, "Someone's trying to kill me."
Steele and Laura hear a man say those exact words, and lower the paper to find a man who looks exactly like Dick Darkside. "Dick Darkside?" Laura asks, stunned.
"Oh gosh no. No. I'm sorry. It's Artie- Arthur. Arthur Wayne," he says, shaking Steele's hand.
"Hello," Steele says, obviously still uncertain.
"I ink The Blaster," Artie tells them.
Steele looks at the comic again, then at the door, and asks, "Um, you said someone's trying to kill you."
"About two weeks ago, the character of Dick Darkside was put into the Blaster strip. Just for fun, I kind of filled in his features to look like me." Steele looks at the comic again, noting the truth of that statement. "Ever since then, whatever happens to Dick Darkside happens to me," Artie tells them, sitting down.
"Would you care to elaborate?" Laura asks.
"When Dick Darkside was chased by killer Dobermans and the next day a strange dog came at me like Cujo, I didn't even get the connection. When Dick Darkside was nearly run down by a hit man and the next day a car ran a red light and almost hit me, I just thought, 'Hey, Artie, you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.'"
"And yesterday?" Steele asks.
"My brake line was cut. From the second I started down Malibu Canyon, I didn't have any brakes. I jumped just before-"
Steele stops him. "So what you're saying is- whoever's reading these strips could be making these attempts on your life?"
"Doesn't narrow it down much, does it?" Artie says, sitting back.
"Is there anyone who's threatening you?" Laura asks.
He shakes his head.
"Well," Steele suggests, "Someone who might hold a grudge against you?"
Artie thinks, then shakes his head again.
Laura frowns slightly. "Anyone who dislikes you a teensy weensy bit?"
"Well, oh, gosh, I hate to get anyone into trouble-"
"Artie," Steele points out, "Someone's trying to kill you."
"Okay. There are a couple of people, and well,- I think they hate me."
A blonde man tells Steele, "Hate him? What's to hate? Artie's one of the nicest guys that I know." His office is filled with drawings and sketches.
"Mr. Stuben, Artie tells me that you and he had a rather large- um- disagreement a couple of weeks ago and that you haven't spoken since then."
"Look, it's my job to have disagreements with people like Artie. I supervise production on a half dozen strips here at Allied Press Syndicate. It's up to me to make sure that the stories and the drawings are all up to snuff." He sits behind his desk.
"So Artie's work hasn't been - up to snuff lately?"
"Artie's work- was perfect. But Raymond Kelly- he's the man who writes the Blaster- he asked me to lean on him. Keep him humble."
"Is that common between artist and inker?" Steele questions.
"No. But there's nothing common about Raymond Kelly," Stuben says. "You see, about three years ago, we were gonna drop the Blaster. Nobody was reading it. Well, suddenly Raymond hires Artie to ink-" he snaps his fingers- "Pow. Now the drawings are jumping off of the page. The whole style has changed. He SAVED that strip."
"Well, I would have thought that Ray would have been indebted to Artie, surely."
"Yeah. But he's not. Instead of being thankful, he's resentful. His ego won't allow it. In fact, I think he'd just as soon kill somebody as share the credit with them."
"Okay, thank you very much," Steele says, getting up and heading for the door. "Good day."
Stuben jumps up and calls. "Mr. Steele-" Steele paused in the doorway. "I don't know if anyone has ever told you this or not, but you look an awful lot like Dashing Dave."
Steele smiles. "Really? Umm. I must have a look at it sometime. Good day." He leaves.
Laura is telling someone, "No. I am NOT Dollface."
The blonde woman that she's talking too is surrounded by ink drawings. "I'm sorry. I just assumed. I know Artie modeled Dashing Dave after Mr. Steele. He's always admired-"
"Miss Dirks, could we get back to YOUR feelings about Artie?"
"Sure. I -I love him," Cindy Dirks says.
"You love him? Artie thinks you hate him."
"Oh, Miss Holt, I could never hate Artie. I don't think any woman could. He's so open and so caring, and so-"
"Independent," Laura finishes.
Miss Dirks nods. "I guess that's why it didn't work out. I was suffocating him. Women do that with Artie. There's something about him that just makes you want to mother him."
"I can see that. Tell me, Miss Dirks, do you know of any other women who would have granted Artie his freedom? Someone- less understanding than yourself?"
"Who is Mrs. Kelly?"
"Mrs. Raymond Kelly."
"The wife of the man who draws the Blaster?"
She nods. "It wasn't Artie's fault," she says quickly. "Believe me. She has this Mrs. Robinson complex or something. She seduced him."
"Could she hold a grudge against him?" Laura asks.
"I don't see how. She died. About three months ago."
"Did- Did Mr. Kelly ever learn of the affair?"
She shakes her head again. "Oh, no. And please, Miss Holt. You have to promise that you will never tell him. Why, if Raymond ever found out, why, he'd-"
In the limo, Laura finishes the statement to Steele. "Kill Artie."
"Hmm," Steele muses. "Perhaps we should ask Artie a few questions about the man behind the Blaster."
Laura picks up the phone and dials a number. "My thoughts exactly, Mr. Steele." She puts the phone to her ear. "Mildred, could you get me Arthur Wayne's address? . . . Thank you." She starts to hang up, then puts the phone back to her ear. "I'm sorry, what was that? . . ." She looks at Steele. "I'll tell him." She hangs up and tells Fred, "7753 Cedar Road, Fred." She tells Steele, "Seems, uh, Aspen as just received five inches of fresh powder over an eight foot packed base."
Steele grins for a second, then looks unimpressed. "Really? How interesting." He glances at Laura, then away.
Laura gives it a beat, then crosses her arms, much the way Steele has done, and says, "I didn't know you skied."
"Oh, an occasional schuss down the Alps with Jean Claude," he tells her.
Laura nods, looks around, then admits, "I was- uh- junior downhill champ when I was ten."
"I'd love to invite you, Laura," he tells her. "But I couldn't bear the disappointment."
"What makes you think you'd be disappointed?" she asks.
"Past history. I mean, every time we've planned a few uninterrupted moments together, a case interferes."
"You don't think that I'm capable of having fun, do you?"
"I didn't intimate that," Steele insists quietly. "It's just that your idea of a vacation is coming back late from lunch."
Laura sighs in frustration. "I could shut the Agency down like that," she insists, snapping her fingers.
Steele looks at her. "Yes, but you never would."
"I wouldn't?" she repeats.
"No." he takes his sunglasses out.
"When this case is done, I will close the office down for a week, send Mildred on a vacation, and we'll hit the slopes." Steele cleans his glasses as he listens to her. "You wanna have fun-I'll show you fun."
"I can hardly wait," Steele tells her, putting on his sunglasses. He grins at Laura, a cat who swallowed the canary type grin, as she looks away, smiling herself.
The Blaster strip again as Artie inks it. We see someone holding a canister of some kind standing outside a window. Inside we see a man's silhouette.
The limo arrives at Artie's apartment building. Steele and Laura get out and head up the steps. They press the door buzzer.
Artie is upstairs at his work table, and gets up to answer the summons. He goes down to the kitchen. "Yes?" he says into the phone.
"Oh, Mr. Steele," Artie says. "I'll buzz you in."
"Thank you." There's a loud buzz, and Steele and Laura enter the building.
In the Blaster panel, the canister now reads "POISON".
Artie puts a kettle of water on the stove and turns the burner on.
Steele and Laura wait for the elevator and when it arrives, they get on.
In the next panel of the Blaster, Dick Darkside's window is shattered as the canister is thrown through it. "It's poison gas!" he declares.
The kettle is whistling as steam fills the room.
Laura and Steele get to Artie's floor and leave the elevator.
In The Blaster, Dick is choking from the gas.
Steam from the whistling kettle continues to fill the apartment.
Steele rings the doorbell, but there's no answer. "What's that smell?" Laura asks Steele, who's frowning.
Steele sniffs. "Smells like almonds," he notes, ringing the bell again.
"Artie?" Laura calls out through the door. She knocks.
"Artie?" Steele calls as well, laying on the doorbell.
"Open the door!" Laura calls. She takes out her lock pick kit, but Steele stops her.
"No time for that, Miss Holt. Excuse me," he says, moving her away as he steps back and rushes into the door. It gives, but doesn't open, and he winces. Another try, and the door opens. Steele enters the apartment, gasping for breath. "Artie!" He stands up and moves out of sight.
Laura watches as we see the last panel in the strip. Dick Darkside is laying on the floor, eyes close, the poison canister beside him. "Is he breathing?" Laura asks.
Later, after the apartment is aired out, Artie sits in a chair, recovering, Laura keeping watch, as Steele carried the tea kettle in. "It seems someone put capsules containing potassium cyanide in your kettle."
"Hence the almond scent," Laura says. "Once they dissolved in water, they turned ordinary steam into a deadly gas."
Artie's upset. He sits forward.
Laura picks up the strip. "You said this comic strip won't be running until tomorrow. Does anybody know about its contents before then?"
"Me. I guess Paul Stuben. He approves the stories and the rough sketches and Sid Rothman. He runs the newspaper syndicate."
"What about Raymond Kelly?" Steele asks.
"Well, sure. He drew-" Artie stops and stares at Steele and then Laura. "No. Absolutely not. Mr. Steele, Ray would never-"
"Did Raymond have access to that tea kettle?" Laura asks.
"Artie," Steele says warningly.
"He brought some sketches down from Santa Barbara yesterday," Artie admits. "But Sid was here, too. He came by to check o my work."
"Well, it's about time we took a trip to Santa Barbara to have a chat with the Blaster himself," Steele decides, fastening his collar and straightening his tie. "Don't you, Miss Holt?"
Artie stands up, distraught. "Mr. Steele, you don't understand. Ray has no reason to want me dead." Laura stands up as well. "He loves me. I'm like the son he never had."
Laura places a hand on Artie's shoulder to pull him down and they sit again. "Artie, we know about your liaison with Mrs. Kelly."
Artie looks from her to Steele, then sits back. "We also know that he could be jealous about your- talents," Steele points out.
"Miss Holt, Ray's wife chased me. I didn't know how to say no. And as for Ray being jealous," he tells Steele, "everything I am, I owe to him. Three years ago, when I left art school, he's the only person who would give me a break. He worked with me. Trained me. It's not Ray. I know."
Laura and Steele exchange a look.
A dark and brooding castle high on a mountain sits, ominously shrouded in thick fog, as the limo pulls through the arched entrance. Steele and Laura get out of the limo and survey the gothic building. Steele moves toward the entrance, but Laura's gaze is locked on the gargoyles perched on the roof edge above them. "Miss Holt?" he asks, noticing her distraction.
"Psycho," Laura murmurs.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Antony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Paramount, 1960. When I was four, my sister Frances took me to see it. I couldn't go near a shower for years after that. THIS - this reminds me of that Psycho house."
Steele indicates the stone façade before them and moves closer. "Laura, this looks nothing like the Psycho house."
She lowers her voice. "I didn't say it looked like it. I said it reminded me of it. There's a- there's a reminiscent foreboding," she tells him, shivering. "An aura of doom. An almost palpable feeling of evil."
Caught up, but still confused, Steele looks up at the gargoyle and the full moon above it. "Ah, well," he says with a slight laugh. "Rest easy, Miss Holt. We're here to see Raymond Kelly, not Norman Bates. Shall we?" he starts toward the doors again.
Laura hangs back, looking around nervously. Steele glances back at her. "Com'on," he says again. Laura finally joins him.
Inside, a middle aged, white haired man is practicing putting in a sunken room complete with a waterfall and pool. As Steele and Laura come down the stairs, he looks up. "Steele, eh? And what's your name, Toots?" he asks Laura.
Nervous, Laura continued down the stairs. "I'm-I'm Laura Holt," she tells him. "We're private investigators."
"Oh, yeah. Couple of dicks. I suppose you come for some help from the Blaster," he tells them, pointing toward a Blaster poster.
"Yes, you could say that," Steele agrees. "We'd like to ask you a few questions about Arthur Wayne."
Kelly lifts his golf club threateningly. "Listen here, get out!" he tells them, angry.
"What?" Laura asks.
"Get out right now." He shakes the club at them. "If you're here on business for that no good, self righteous weasel, you're not welcome here!"
"Mr. Kelly, I don't think you understand," Laura insists. "Artie is in great physical danger."
"No, *you* don't understand, doll. I don't know what Artie's up to this time, but he's getting nothing more from Raymond Kelly!"
Steele pushes the club aside. "Mr. Kelly, we have evidence that strongly suggests you're trying to kill Artie."
Kelly shakes his head. "You know, you're worse than those attorneys and other three-piece-suits Artie sends up here. Well, you can tell that parasite what I tell them: the well is dry!" He turns away.
"Artie reveres you!" Laura insists.
Kelly looks at her. "And why not? I'm Fort Knox! But money isn't good enough for him! No. He wants CREDIT for saving the Blaster! Well, lady, he's NOT going to get it! There's only one Blaster. And that's-" he strikes a pose like the Blaster in the poster behind him. "ME."
"Mr. Kelly, if anything happens to Artie," Laura warns, "we're gonna nail you to the wall!" Steele turns her toward the stairs.
Furious, Kelly swings the club in the air.
In the limo, Steele tells Laura, "Well, it appears we have our man," sounding pleased.
Laura shakes her head uncertainly. "I think we should talk to Sid Rothman," Laura says. "Since Artie's convinced Ray loves him, I'd like to see if Sid knows what's REALLY going on between them."
"Dragging your feet a bit, aren't we?" Steele questions. Laura looks at him. "Not afraid we might have to wrap this case up and you'll actually have to follow through on your vacation plans, are we?"
Laura laughs and takes something out of her purse. She hands the tickets to Steele, who examines them. "Open return. Impressive," he says, handing them back. "But I'm afraid the jury's still out. I won't be convinced until I see you making snow angels in Aspen."
"Why is it that the prospect of a relaxing vacation has turned from an invitation to a dare?" she asks.
He smiles. "Because I know how you relish a challenge, Miss Holt," he tells her softly.
Laura grins and hits him with the tickets.
The next morning, Sid Rothman tells Steele and Laura, "Ray hates Artie! The kid is just too busy worshipping him to notice."
"So why doesn't Ray just fire him?" Laura asks.
"Well, if he'll admit it or not, Ray knows that he simply doesn't have the style that Artie does. It's a rare talent."
"It seems as though Artie should have his own strip," Steele comments, cup of coffee in hand.
"Well, he tried. A couple of months back, he brought me an idea that was great. Just great. Course, I had to turn it down."
"Why?" Laura asks.
"This isn't television, Miss Holt. We don't change our shows like dirty underwear. I told him we'd talk when one of our strips fell out. Which is not likely to be soon."
"Does Ray know about Artie's strip?" Steele asks.
Sid nods. "The day after we talked, I saw Artie with his hand in a cast. He said it was Ray's opinion of his grand notions."
Steele and Laura look at each other.
Artie is inking another strip, this time, Dick and the Blaster are doing battle at a jungle waterfall. "Why didn't you tell us that Ray broke your hand?" Laura asks him.
"He didn't-" Artie takes the pen out of his mouth. "He didn't break it. He just- cracked it. Anyway, it was my fault. I got in the way of his putter."
"Artie, face the facts!" Steele insists. "The man wants to kill you!"
"Who knows what's he's dreaming up for you in that strip," Laura says.
Artie holds it up for them to look at. "The messenger just brought this. The Blaster has Dick Darkside out in the middle of a jungle. Not too many of them around here," he points out with a smile.
"The Arboretum could be a jungle," Steele points out. "I mean, the park down the street, the garden out the back- as far as Ray's concerned, that whole bloody thing could be a jungle!"
Artie smiles. "What are you telling me, Mr. Steele? That it's a jungle out there?"
Frustrated, Steele puts the strip onto the desk and turns away, so Laura says, "All Mr. Steele is saying is that perhaps it would be a good idea if someone stayed with you until the guilty party- whoever it is- is apprehended."
"No. I've got a lot of work to do, and I won't be able to concentrate if I know someone's hovering around babysitting me."
"Artie," Steele begins, but stops.
"Really. Go home. I will call you if I need you."
Steele is forced to give up.
Laura is sitting outside, wearing a jacket and holding a pair of binoculars. From a two way radio, we hear Steele's voice. "Dashing Dave to Dollface, Come in, Dollface. Over."
Laura picks up the radio. "Doll-" she stops, sighs. "Laura here. There's really no need for code names," she tells him. "How are things where you sit?" she asks.
Steele is watching an attractive young woman through her window. She's wearing a skimpy outfit and looking into her refrigerator. "To paraphrase a great American leader," we see that he's on a rooftop, sitting in a lawn chair, heater close by, a pot of hot coffee sitting on a warmer, "Surveillance is hell." He lowers the glasses. "Oooh." Reaching toward the heater, he asked, "Any sign of Ray down your end?"
"Uh, uh," she responds. "And I'm freezing," she complains.
Steele picks up a cup of coffee. "Well, perhaps this might- thaw you out a bit," he suggests. Um, picture a ski-lodge. In the center, a fireplace." He pauses to take a drink.
Laura smiles. "A stone fireplace. With a large, roaring fire."
"And people all around, their faces glowing in the light."
"I see only two people," Laura tells him. "A man. And a woman." She closes her eyes to continue. "Shoes off, feet by the hearth." She opens her eyes again.
"They're sitting very close together. Mugs of- um, hot buttered rum in hand-"
Laura checks with the glasses again. "Toasting one another on a splendid run down the slopes," she adds.
"He leans into her-"
"And she to him-"
"And gives her a big, big, warm-"
"Ah-Choo!" Laura sneezes.
Steele looks at the radio. "Handkerchief."
The next morning, Laura is sleeping in the Rabbit when she hears tires squealing. A small blue car comes out of the garage across the street, and she uses the glasses to see that Artie is driving. She picks up the radio. "Mr. Steele, get down here! Artie just left!"
Steele gets up and takes off, leaving his equipment behind. Laura stops the Rabbit to pick him up. "Where did he go?" Steele asks.
"I don't know. I lost him. I was watching for someone to try and get INTO the building. Not out."
"Laura, how do you know the man just didn't go looking for a carton of milk?"
"Do we not believe that Ray is trying to kill Artie?"
"And that what appears in the strip subsequently happens to him?"
"So we look for the nearest jungle?"
"There's gotta be a clue in the drawings," Laura insists. "What exactly was in that jungle?" she asks.
He thinks. "Bushes, rocks, vines. A waterfall, a-" he stops and looks at Laura. Laura looks at him as they both recall the waterfall at Ray Kelly's house.
Laura puts the car in gear.
At Kelly's castle, we hear sounds of men struggling fiercely. The place is a mess. We see the panels as the Blaster and Darkside struggle. Darkside falls over as we hear something hit the water. In the last panel of the strip, the Blaster says, "Good-bye, Dick Darkside."
In the water below the falls, we see blood tinting the water red as it runs from the waterfall.
Laura is attempting to comfort a tearful Artie, saying, "It's okay; it's over."
"He was like a father to me. How could he want to hurt me?"
"What made you come here?" she asks.
Artie tells Laura, "Ray called. He wanted my opinion on some new storylines. He never wanted my opinion before. I was so excited," he stops, crying. Laura places a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
Steele approaches with the strips in hand. "You're going to have to give a statement," he tells Artie. It's really more of a formality than anything else."
"I'm sorry I didn't let you handle this your way," Artie tells them. "I'm sorry." He starts up the stairs, looking like a broken man.
Laura watches him go as Steele examines the drawings. "Oh, the poor guy," she sighs.
"Yes," Steele comments dryly as he looks at some panels in his hand. "So it appears."
Laura looks at him, surprised as his comment.
At the office, Laura is trying on ski clothes, and there are skis and other things scattered about the reception area. Mildred, at the computer, turns to say, "I still can't believe we're closing down for a week. Miss Holt, you're sure the Boss doesn't want me to just- hang around and cover the phones?" she asks. Her desk is piled with file folders.
Laura smiles. "No, Mildred. We all need a vacation. Is Mr. Steele ready?" she asks, putting on some boots once she'd decided on a jacket.
"Beats me. He hasn't come out of his office all morning," Mildred tells her.
Laura puts on a cap, then heads for Steele's office. Entering, she stops, finding him in his shirt sleeves, studying the Blaster drawings. "Mr. Steele?" she says, smiling at him, ready to leave.
"Hmm?" he asks, distracted.
"Aspen waits," she reminds him.
"Umm," he responds, not looking at her.
"Our vacation?" she reminds him, coming to the desk. "Schushing? Hot buttered rum? A pres ski?" She perches on the edge of the desk.
"In a minute Laura. Something's not right here." He holds the panel out for her. "Look at this."
She studies it. "Dashing Dave loose his dimples?" she asks.
"No. Look at this." He points to the drawing. "Notice the blue pencil?"
"Non photo blue," Steele tells her. "That's a color they use so it won't be reproduced when it's copied."
Laura nods, having no idea what he's talking about. "Oh. How did you learn that?" she asks.
"Well, I had a dash of commercial art training at-" he stops, realizing what he's saying. He looks at her. Laura grins. "Never mind that. The point is, Artie claims this is the way he received the artwork, messengered from Ray. Look at this." He shows her another strip, with far less well drawn artwork. "Okay? Notice the black lead, and the type of paper? THIS is from Ray's studio. He doesn't use blue pencils, nor does he have blue pencils, nor this type of paper."
"What are you driving at?" Laura asks.
"I'm not sure," Steele says, returning to his examination of the strip.
"You're stalling," she accuses.
"No, I'm merely following your lead," he insists.
"I'm not stalling, I'm ready to go," she tells him, getting off the desk. "Let's have fun."
"I mean your attention to detail, your compulsion to tie up loose ends."
"There ARE no loose ends. The case is closed and we've got plane reservations."
Steele stands up. "Laura, your slapdash approach to this case is absolutely unfathomable."
"Oh, I see," Laura says, going to stand before Steele. "The picture is becoming very clear now. Portrait of a devious man. Could it be that the only reason you invite me on these little jaunts is because you know that I'll say no, and now that I'm ready to go, you're getting cold feet," she says, playing with his shirt and smiling.
Steele glares at her. He turns and picks up the comic strips and tosses his jacket over his shoulder. "After you, Miss Holt," he says, and follows her from the office.
They're in the Rabbit, top down, skis in the back, and Steele tells Laura, "Take a left. Just up here."
"Six nights and seven days at the fabulous Aspen Chalet," she tells him. "Nestled in a small hamlet at the foot of rolling hills, the lodge offers the expected accoutrement- fireplace, hot tub, Jacuzzi-" she smiles serenely.
"You SAID it."
He looks at her. "No. TURN right."
"Oh." She turns. "I already got the lift tickets," she tells him.
"Have you? Okay, just pull over here," he tells her. "Will you?" She pulls the Rabbit to the curb before a messenger service office. He picks up the panels. "Okay. Won't be a moment," he says with a smile and goes into the "Speedy Express" office.
Inside, the clerk looks at some records. "No. Doesn't look like we delivered this to any Arthur Wayne."
"But this is your receipt?" Steele asks. Laura gets out of the Rabbit.
"Yeah," the clerk tells him.
"Well, when was the last delivery made from Raymond Kelly to Arthur Wayne?" Steele asks as Laura comes into the shop.
"Never," the clerk tells him.
"Care to explain what we're doing here?" Laura asks Steele.
"Merely retiring a few nagging questions- before our trip," he assures her.
The clerk looks at something. "Now, our records DO show deliveries FROM Arthur Wayne TO Raymond Kelly. About three a week."
"Thank you very much, good day." Laura looks thoughtful, and Steele smiles, taking his things and turning her toward the door. "Well, must got to the airport, mustn't dawdle," he tells her.
At the top of the Malibu Canyon road, Steele is sitting behind the steering wheel of the Rabbit. They're parked on the side of the road, looking down. "We're nowhere near the airport," Laura complains.
"Hmm. Just down the hill, I believe," he mutters.
Laura sighs. "I never knew you'd go to such great lengths to avoid going away with me."
"Merely checking Artie's story," Steele tells her. "If he lied about receiving the waterfall strip from Ray, he may well have lied about his roller coaster ride down the canyon."
"He nearly died," Laura points out.
Steele looks at her. "How to Murder Your Wife. Jack Lemmon, Virni Lisi, United Artists, 1965. Lemmon plays a cartoonist who has a habit of acting things out before he puts them in his strip."
Laura looks bored and upset. "But Artie only drew what Ray gave him."
Steele looks at her, then gets out of the car and comes around to the passenger side. "Miss Holt. If you're so sure about Artie setting up his own accident, then I dare you to make it from here to the point where his car went off the road- without using your brakes."
Laura looks down at the winding road, thinks, and then moves over into the drivers seat. Steele gets into the car. "Buckle up," she tells him, reaching for her seatbelt.
She starts the car and takes off. The car squeals around the corners, hitting trash barrels and throwing the skis into the front seat. "Oh, brake with discretion, please, Laura!" Steele pleads.
"If this test if gonna prove anything, I've got to do it just like Artie," she points out, screeching around another corner.
Steele sees that the speedometer is registering over sixty. Another corner. "Must you be so faithful, Laura?" he asks.
They barely avoid a head on collision, and swerve from the road. "Uh, Laura!" Steele warns.
"I don't think we're gonna make it!" she yells.
Another few turns, another missed head on, and she finally brakes the car at the edge of the cliff. "Excellent call Miss Holt," Steele says, loosening his tie. "Excellent."
Laura pulls her hair out of her face and looks over the cliff. "How did Artie do it?" she wonders. "At night, yet?"
They get out and follow skid marks to the broken barricade.
"I doubt a brakeless car could have made these," Steele comments.
"And at the speed Artie must've been going without brakes, there's no WAY he would have survived a jump from his car."
"Speedy Express has no record of delivering any artwork from ray to Artie, yet Artie was always sending material to Ray. Could it be that Artie was artist, author AND inker?"
"And with Ray dead," Laura finishes, "Artie would have control of the Blaster and get everything he felt he had coming." She looks at her watch. "Perhaps we'd better catch a later flight, huh," she says.
At a chapel, Artie greets Steele and Laura. "Thank you both so much for coming," he says, shaking their hands. Steele watches him closely as Artie hands Laura an envelope. "Here. An- extra thank you gift." Laura opens the envelope to pull out a color drawing of Dashing Dave and Dollface- only this time, Dollface has real eyes and looks VERY much like Laura. "Miss Holt, I hope you're pleased with the changes I made to Dollface. Especially the eyes." The organ music ends. "Excuse me. I have to say a few words. Please. Have a seat."
He moves away as Laura and Steele go to a pew.
In front of the chapel. There is a Blaster poster. Artie comes up and says, "Thank you one and all for being here today." Cindy, Sid, and Stuben are all in attendance, listening to him. "Ray was a wonderful man, and all our lives will be diminished by his passing." He bows his head as his voice breaks. "I'm sure all of us have our own, fond memories of Raymond Kelly, as for me, well, I owe the man everything I am today," he says, breaking down again. Steele isn't buying the act, and Laura is amazed.
Sid rushes up to comfort the young man, then takes him down to sit beside Stuben before going to the podium himself. "Before I say a few words about Ray Kelly, I hope you'll indulge me for just a minute, and let me tell you about this fine young man, Artie Wayne." Artie looks up at him, still tearful, and shakes his head.. Cindy, sitting behind Artie, looks at him, her expression sad. "He has decided to let the Blaster rest. And leave us with- well, fond memories."
"So much for motive," Laura murmurs to Steele.
"Fortunately for my own personal concerns, Artie will soon be starting a NEW strip,- of his own creation."
Steele smiles smugly as he tells Laura, "Motive, Miss Holt?"
"Proof, Mr. Steele," she admonishes. "Proof."
At the office, Steele leans on Laura's desk as she looks through some papers. "Find anything?" he asks.
"A disturbing pattern. Artie started courting Cindy Dirks three months ago. The same time Ray's wife died." She digs for another paper. "Artie took his new strip idea to Sid- three months ago. And get this- the characters Dashing Dave and Dollface were added to the pages of the Blaster-
"Three months ago," Steele finishes. Laura snaps her fingers. "That little bugger! He planned this murder three months ago. He knew then that we'd be the perfect patsies to corroborate his story."
"Something happened three months ago between Ray and Artie that drove Artie to murder," Laura tells him, standing up. "There might be a clue in Ray's house," she decides, opening the door and knocking over a ski.
Steele catches the ski. "But-" he looks at the ski. "What about the ski trip?" he asks her as she walks away.
"Is that all you can think of?" Laura responds.
Steele looks resigned.
At Kelly's they break into the safe and find some papers. "What's that?" Laura asks, nervously keeping watch.
"A contract," he tells her, bringing it over.
"Between Artie and Ray," Laura realizes.
"Um hum. It appears our troubled inker was more of an indentured servant than a hired hand."
"Artie was bound by this contract for seven years," Laura realizes. "He was exclusive to Ray."
"Anything that Arthur Wayne's created during that ten years automatically became the property of Raymond Kelly."
"Like a new comic strip."
"Hmm. It appears we have a motive. But no proof." He smiles. "Gaslight."
"This flashlight's fine, thanks," she says, still scanning the contract.
Steele shines his light in her face. "Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, M-G-M, 1944."
Laura smiles, shining her light at him. "I like your choice of films, Mr. Steele."
"Fiendishly appropriate, isn't it?" he asks.
Laura nods in anticipation as Steele goes back to the safe.
The next day, Artie enters his apartment, humming happily. He starts the tea kettle, and then goes to the living room. He sits down, puts on his glasses, and opens the paper he brought in with him.
Behind Artie, through the windows, we see something being hauled up by a hoist.
Artie looks at the comics- reading the Blaster. A huge safe is being hoisted beside a building. Artie turns and see a grand piano being hoisted outside his window.
In the Blaster, the cable breaks, and the heavy safe crashes to the pavement, crushing Dick Darkside beneath it.
Artie looks at the piano again, going to the window. He looks at the paper once more, then leave the apartment.
Cautiously, he manages to get beneath the piano that's dangling directly over the stairs and takes off.
On the roof, Steele pauses in his pulling the hoist, to watch Artie running away. Laura joins him.
Sid and Cindy are in Sid's office, looking at something when Artie rushes in. "Artie, my boy. How are you?" Sid asks.
"I- saw today's paper," Artie says.
"Well, I was surprised to see the Blaster. Did Ray have some extra strips I didn't know about?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah," Sid says, as if suddenly realizing what's going on. "It's the darnedest stroke of good fortune."
"Oh? How's that?" Artie asks.
"Sit down, sit down." Cindy looks on, upset. "Well, you see, this bright, -this bright young talent comes into my office and says he simply can't stand to see the Blaster die." Artie's not happy. "He loved the strip. He grew up with it. I say, well that's very nice, but unfortunately, we don't have anybody with the same vision who wants to continue on with it."
"I'm sure Ray would have wanted," Artie begins.
"Listen to me. Listen to me. So he opens his portfolio, and I swear to you, he had at least two years worth of Blaster strips and ideas in there. Some of them ready to be inked. So I said, 'Son, welcome aboard!'".
Cindy asks, "But I thought you wanted to let the Blaster rest? You know, for Ray's memory?"
"Don't you see?" Sid insists. "Ray WAS the Blaster! What better way of keeping him alive than to keep the strip alive?"
"Yes, yes," Artie agrees. "But-"
"Now listen to me. I want you to rush right on home, I told this new guy to send you some strips to get inked."
"But what about Artie's strip?" Cindy asks as Sid practically pushes Artie out of the door.
"There's only so much room in the paper," Sid reminds her. "You know that." He looks at Artie. "Bird's Eye View is just gonna have to wait."
Artie walks away, looking as if he might explode. Cindy follows him. "Artie," she says.
He goes to a wall and leans his fists on it, trying to control his temper. "How could he do this to me?" he asks, sounding like a pouty little boy. "He promised I could do my own strip."
"Calm down," Cindy says. "Everything will be all right."
"No it won't," Artie insists. "It's ruined. Everything's ruined."
"It will be if you don't get hold of yourself," she tells him. "Artie, you're not helping anything by getting so excited. It isn't good." He pulls away from her angrily to stalk off. "Artie!" she says again.
Artie gets home to find an envelope waiting for him from Speedy Express. He goes inside and opens it. The panels tells the story of Laura and Steele's moment of discovery in the Canyon, showing the skid marks leading to the broken rail, and Dashing Dave telling Dollface "I think the planned the whole thing."
He looks for another. This one shows Dick Darkside beside the jungle waterfall, telling Dave and Dollface, "I had to do it! He was going to blast me!"
Dashing Dave responds. "You MURDERED him . . . And I can prove it!"
Frightened, Artie slides the panels to the floor, then looks at the envelope. The return address is: 1313 Blaster Way, Santa Barbara. He picks up the phone and dials a number.
Late that night, Artie pulls his car up outside Ray's castle and starts inside.
Waiting for him are Steele and Laura. Steele tells Laura, "He's here," and they hide to watch for him.
Artie, a gun in his coat, is nearing the front door when someone pushes one of the gargoyles on the roof over the edge. Artie looks up and doesn't even have a chance to scream.
Laura and Steele hear a thud, and look at each other. "Doesn't sound like part of the plan," Laura says, and they take off, finding Artie dead, the ruined gargoyle at his side. "Seems your comic strip was frighteningly prophetic," she tells Steele, who kneels beside Artie. Laura looks up at the empty place on the roof, then kneels as well. "Would either of us buy an accident?" she asks.
They go back inside the house and start up the stairs. "Remember in Psycho, when the private detective-" Laura begins.
"Played by Martin Balsam," Steele interjects.
"Went to the Psycho house to interview Norman Bates's mother?"
"He began to climb the stairs-"
"One step at a time? And suddenly- a woman with a butcher knife comes bursting out a room, and-"
"Laura, this isn't Psycho," Steele reminds her as someone dressed in black bursts out of a room, holding a butcher knife and heads straight for Steele and Laura. Laura screams, and all three end up tumbling down the stairs.
At the bottom, Steele grabs their attacker and Laura wrests the knife away. Steele pulls off the attacker's mask.
"CINDY?" the both say at the same time.
"Without your help we never could have pulled it off," Laura is saying into the telephone in her office as Steele comes in, wearing a sweater. He puts on a ski jacket as Laura laughs. "Oh. I'll tell him . . . Bye." She hangs up.
"Sid Rothman?" Steele asks.
"Yeah." Steele sits down. "He told me to tell you that you show great promise as a cartoonist, and there's an opening for you on the comic page."
Steele nods. "Really? You know, it's difficult to believe that Cindy masterminded that entire thing?"
"Not when you realize how desperately she wanted to share credit with Artie on that new Bird's Eye View strip."
"Umm hmm. And she would have, too, if our gaslight plan hadn't worked in pushing Artie over the edge. You know, she was frightened that he'd botch up his attempt to kill us and then confess everything."
Laura lifts her left foot onto the corner of the desk, revealing that it's wrapped in a bandage. "Well, case closed."
"How's the ankle?" Steele asks, standing up.
"Down to a dull throb."
"Terrible, senseless accident, tumbling down the stairs like that and spraining your ankle."
"Small price to pay for bringing a murderer to justice," Laura points out with a smile.
Steele smiles and starts around the desk. "Ah, yes, well-" He checks his watch.
He's stunned as Mildred comes in, carrying skis and dressed in a parka and cap. "All set to go, Boss?" she asks. "Oh, I can't wait to try out these new skis."
Steele's smile has vanished as he glares at Laura, who's laughing evilly.
"Take care of that ankle," Mildred tells Laura. To Steele, she says, "I'll wait for you in the car."
Once they're alone, Laura tells Steele, "She told me how much she'd been wanting to learn to ski, and- since all the reservations are made for two-"
"Don't worry about me. I've got all this filing to. I won't even know you're gone. Have a good time."
Steele grimaces, heading for the door. "Yes, well, another missed opportunity, Miss Holt. Looks like we're never gonna get together, doesn't it?" He closes the door as he leaves.
Laura picks up the drawing of Dashing Dave and Dollface that Artie gave her. "Don't bet on it, Mr. Steele," she comments with a wink.
Above the comic strip figures there are two caption balloons. Dashing asks, "What now, Dollface?"
And Dollface responds, "Kiss me, Dashing."