A twin engine plane flies through a dark, stormy night. Alarms go off in the cockpit as the plane dips and recovers, sending bundles of money from canvas bags. The plane dives, an engine is on fire- everything goes dark.
In a small town library, a bookish man studies and makes notes from a book as townspeople watch with interest from various places around the room. The man gets up, finds another book and returns to his chair. As the clock strikes five, the others leave.
The bookish man is alarmed when the shutters on the windows begin to be closed. He stands, afraid, and goes to the doors, but they're locked. "Wait!" he calls out. "Wait! There's been a mistake! Let me out!"
A flashlight shines in his face, and a man says, "I think you'd better come with me, Professor Thickett."
Thickett pushes past the man and runs out onto the street, only to find himself nabbed by two men beneath a sign that reads: "DeNada, America's Best Kept Secret"
Laura drives the Rabbit down a road as Steele looks at a map. "I've got it," he declares, putting the map down. "We're lost."
"Cute," she says with a frown, and sneezes.
"Gesundheit," he says.
"I think we should have turned left at that last intersection, ten miles back."
"You said turn right," she reminds him.
"Yes, well, merely a suggestion, Laura. Well, at least it's invigorating to be out in the countryside, eh? Trees, birds, flowers-"
"Dust, pollen-" she sneezes again- "Hay fever."
"Uh. Such antipathy for the great outdoors, Laura. And here I thought you were the All American girl."
"When I was twelve, I was drummed out of the Girl Scouts for demanding an electric blanket on an overnight."
"Oh, I'm shocked."
"Well, I'm not ashamed to admit it- I'm a city girl. The kind of country I prefer is the country CLUB. Tennis, golf, cocktails by the cabana-"
"Ah. That pioneer spirit, eh? Well, let's look at this as an excursion into the real Americana, eh? Like being part of a- a Frank Capra movie."
"Frank Capra. The Director? You know- It's a Wonderful Life? Mr. Deeds Goes To Town? Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Gary Cooper. Mainstreet America, the town square- bandstand smack in the middle-"
"I was really looking forward to the ballet this weekend," Laura muses.
"Yes, well, don't worry. It's only Friday. We'll locate Prof. Thickett and have you back in time for a cultural dip in Swan Lake."
"It may not be that simple. His sister said he'd never come back late from a research trip."
Steele picks up a photo of the bookish man from the library. "Yes. She also said he was the archetypal absent minded professor. Probably got caught up in his studies and forget it was time to come home. Oh, well, he can't have gone far in any case. He looks as helpless as a baby." Laura smiles. "What did she say he was working on?"
"Another book on small town America. It's his specialty. He's really quite a well known historian. Arthur Thickett. I read one of his books in college."
"Awful," she admits with another sneeze.
At a service station in DeNada, she sneezes again, and the attendant, a grim faced older man says, "God bless you."
"Now, what can I do for ya?" he asks.
"Fill it up, please," Laura tells him.
"Yes, Ma'am," he says, putting the nozzle into the tank.
Steele looks around. "So this is DeNada, eh?"
"America's best kept secret, we like to say," the man tells him.
"Charming," Steele comments. "Truly charming."
The man looks at the car. "Just passing through, huh, folks?"
"Well, no," Laura admits. "Actually, we're looking for a friend who's staying here."
The man returns the nozzle to the old fashioned pump and seems nervous. "We don't get many strangers in DeNada. Don't like em much."
"Perhaps you've seen him," Steele suggests, holding up the picture. "He's a historian."
The man barely looks at the picture. "Nope. Never seen him. That's five dollars, miss."
Laura and Steele exchange a confused glance as she pays the bill.
At Mary Jane's Boarding House, a dog barks menacingly, keeping Laura and Steele penned against the doors.
The clerk, a young woman, says, "Ah, hush, Blue!" She comes around and pulls the dog back. "Go on!" He walks away. "Like I was sayin', Mary Jane ain't around right now. But- I don't remember anybody like that stayin here."
"Oh?" Steele asks.
"Perhaps if we could take a look at the register," Laura suggests, moving toward the desk. "It's rather important-"
The clerk grabs the book. "I don't think that I can let you do that!"
"Well, we're on a bit a tight schedule," Steele says. "Surely a little peek wouldn't be any harm, eh?"
"Well, I think you better wait for Mary Jane to come b-"
The door opens and the Sheriff enters. "Any problem, Betty Lynn?" he asks.
"They wanna look at the register, Sheriff."
Steele turns to Laura in an aside. "Ward Bond."
"What?" she asks, lost.
"The kindly lawman. Staple of small town America. We're in good hands. Yes."
The Sheriff, a big wad of tobacco in his cheek, says, "Adam over at the filling station tells me you're looking for a friend of yours that might've stayed here. Is that right?"
"News travels fast," Laura comments.
"Well, Betty Lynn, why don't you just show these folks the register?" the Sheriff asks.
"But, Sheriff, I can't."
"Mary Jane pitches a fit, you just put the blame on me, darlin." He winks at Steele and Laura.
Laura takes the register and opens it. "Thank you, Sheriff. There seems to be a page missing here."
"Really?" Betty Lynn says, frowning. "Let me see that." She takes the book. "Oh, that. Well, I- spilled some ink. So I just tore out the page." She hugs the book to her.
The Sheriff notices the photo in Steele's hand. "Is that the fellow right there?"
"Oh. Yes," Steele says, handing him the photo.
"Well, I remember him. He came through here asking directions awhile back. Come on outside. We'll get some air. I'll fill ya in on that."
Laura and Steele follow. Laura sneezes as they exit the rooming house. "Oh, Gesundheit," the Sheriff says.
"Thank you. So he didn't stay in DeNada, huh?"
"No, Ma'am, he sure didn't. He said he'd changed his mind. He said there wasn't as much to research around here as he thought there was. Ain't it the truth? DeNada is always just getting passed over for one reason or another."
"Did he say where he was going?" Steele questions.
"I believe he did. Yes, I think he said he was going to Bishop. Bishop."
"He didn't call his sister to tell her," Laura says to Steele.
"Well, the phone system around here has been totally unreliable," the Sheriff tells them. "You know, the heavy rains we had here last week- played- well, they played havoc with our phone lines, Miss-? You know, I plum forgot your names."
"Bixby," Laura rushes in ahead of Steele. "Carolyn Bixby. And this is- Felix Hillenbrand. We're colleagues of Prof. Thickett at UCLA."
"Nebbins is my name. Jed Nebbins. I'm right glad to meet you. I wish I could be more help to you, Miss Bixby. But that's the whole story. He just came and went. Now, I do believe, you head on up t'Bishop, you'll find him up there. I really do. Anyhow, lots of luck to you."
"Thank you very much," Steele says.
"Any time," he says, moving off.
Steele looks at Laura. "FELIX?"
She's thoughtful. "I had an uncle named Felix," she tells him.
"Why didn't you tell him who we really are?"
"If we're going to poke around, Prof. Hillenbrand, we'll do a lot better as college professors than as big city detectives-"
"I really think that you're over reacting, Laura. I mean, look around us." He smiles at the people on the sidewalks as they move along the street. The people are watching them closely. "These are honest, decent people. The backbone of the country." A little boy runs out to shake his hand. "Hello, sonny, what's your name?" he asks, as the boy's mother rushes out to grab the child. "Hello, mum-" Laura looks vindicated as the woman drags the boy back to a store. "Just give it time. Give it time." He smiles at a passing car that's seen better days. "Ah, morning! Morning! Lovely. Lovely paint job." The people in the car don't respond, merely stare. A little dog comes across before them, and Steele bends to pet it. "Hello, poochie, boy. Good- boy." The dog continues on his way as if Steele wasn't there.
The Sheriff enters his office to find himself confronted by nervous townspeople. "Okay, Sheriff, what are you gonna do about this?" a heavyset man demands to know.
"Now just take it easy, Winslow," Jed says. "Just take it easy."
"They're not stayin', are they?" a nervous Adam asks.
A woman says, "For Pete's sake, let the man speak."
"Thank you, Mayor," Jed tells her, sitting down. "Now, there's no need to get excited. They're just college types. Friends of Thickett's," he says, pointing to the back of the jail. "They'll soon be on their way to Bishop."
"Yeah, well," Winslow says, "They better be."
Outside, Laura and Steele are looking at a diner called the "Cockpit Diner." The cockpit of an airplane juts from the front of the building. Laura reads the sign beneath the name. "Last Hot Food for Forty Miles." She smiles. "Quite a recommendation. What's the guide book say?" she asks Steele.
He looks up. "Avoid the beef."
"Well, we're looking for information," Laura tells him. "Not a four star meal."
A young, harried looking woman rushes up to them. "You can't stay here. Please. You're already in danger." Laura sneezes. "Gesundheit," the girl says, then hurries on into the diner.
Inside, Laura and Steele sit at a table, trying to get the girl, who is a waitress, to come over. But she just ignores them. "She won't even look at us," Steele says.
"'You're already in danger', she said," Laura muses.
"Why don't we have a word with her?" Steele suggests, rising, but Laura grabs his arm.
"Steady. IF Thickett is in trouble, we don't want to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves OR to that girl." He sits back down
"I still think you're being an alarmist," he says. "Many small town inhabitants have an exaggerated fear of outsiders. One must- win them over- gradually."
"Thank you, Professor- AH CHOO!"
He frowns. "Gesundheit. Observe." He gets up and approaches two men at the counter. "Afternoon, gentlemen. Marvelous day, isn't it?" They turn at the same time to look at him. They look enough alike to be brothers. As they watch him, they eat their sandwiches. "Ah, yes. Yes. Remarkable atmosphere in here. So- so- authentic. Say, a friend of mine passed through here recently-" he holds up the photo. "Perhaps you've seen him-" The brothers turn away. "No. Okay. Just in case you do remember, I'm going to be in town for awhile. Felix is the name. Good day." He walks back to an embarrassed Laura.
"Bravo!," she sneers.
"Just laying the groundwork, Laura. Just laying the groundwork."
The Mayor and Winslow enter through a side door and approach the table. "Mind if we join you?" she asks.
"Yes, yes," Steele says, rising slightly as she sits down. "Delighted. Felix Hillenbrand- and my associate-"
"Carolyn Bixby," Laura supplies as Steele goes blank.
"Amaryllis McKenzie. Mayor of DeNada."
"Winslow Avery," the man says, staring at Steele.
"How do you do?" Steele says.
"Winslow is the editor of the Weekly Eagle, our newspaper," the mayor says.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before, Mr. Hillenbrand?" Winslow asks Steele.
"Professor Hillenbrand," Steele corrects as Laura smiles. "UCLA History department."
"I'm sure I've seen your picture on the Regional newswire," Winslow insists.
"Prof. Hillenbrand is constantly making very important speeches," Laura tells him. "Aren't you, Professor?"
"Oh, yes. Constantly, constantly. Rubber chicken circuit."
The mayor nods. "I'm sure. I understand you've been asking some questions around town."
"We're looking for a friend of ours," Laura tells them. "We thought he was in DeNada."
"Yeah, well, I'm afraid you're mistaken, Miss Bixby," Winslow tells her. "And- let me give you a little bit of friendly advice: Don't ask any questions. People up here may get the wrong idea. Think you're prying into their personal affairs."
The mayor attempts some damage control. "What Winslow is saying is that we DeNada-ites treasure our privacy."
"America's Best Kept Secret, eh?" Steele asks.
"Exactly, Professor. We like our way of life and we don't' want it disturbed."
"We don't mean to be a nuisance, Mayor," Laura insists, "But perhaps you saw the man we're looking for." She holds up the picture, but both practically ignore it.
"Sheriff Nebbins told you he went to Bishop."
"That's right," they mayor agrees. "He left. It would probably be best for all concerned if you did the same."
"Is that a threat, Mayor?" Laura asks.
"Why, heavens, no." The waitress runs out the back door, obviously upset. "Whatever gave you such an idea?"
Laura sneezes again. "Excuse me- I - uh- I've run out of tissue." She leaves the table, exiting through the same door as the girl, leaving Steele alone at the table with the Mayor and Winslow.
"I'm SURE I've seen you somewhere before," Winslow insists.
Outside, Laura finds the girl in the alley, crying. "What's wrong?" Laura asks.
"You shouldn't be here."
"Just shouldn't, that's all."
"What's the matter? Are you afraid someone will see us talking? What are you hiding? What do you know about Arthur Thickett?"
"You're just gonna make it worse for him."
"How? Where is he? What's happened to him?"
"Such a nice little man. He wouldn't hurt anybody. He wouldn't even care about that money! He just shouldn't have done it!"
"Done what? What money?"
"Just go away!"
"I can't do that. A man is missing and you know what's happened to him." A man passes by.
"Not here," the girl says.
"The Old Mill Bridge. When I get off at three." Laura nods, and they turn to find the Mayor standing there.
"Everything all right, Rachel?" she asks pointedly.
Rachel is terrified, so Laura responds. "Fine, fine. Just borrowing some tissue," she says, taking some of Rachel's. Rachel returns to the diner as the Mayor glares at Laura.
Laura and Steele leave the diner, and Steele groans, holding his stomach. "Something the matter?" Laura asks.
"Yes. I tried the beef."
"Uh, huh. What do you think of your All American town now?"
"I must admit, this case is beginning to sound like a Bad Day at Black Rock."
"Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, M-G-M, 1954. Tracy gets trapped in a small town hiding a horrible secret."
"So what's the secret?" Laura asks, looking around her nervously.
"The town killed an innocent man."
"I think we should call Mildred, and see what she knows about Thickett."
Mildred is reading a romance novel when the phone rings. "Remington Steele Investigations."
"Hello, Mildred. Mr. Steele and I-"
"Oh, Miss Holt. I've been waiting for your call. Is the Boss there? I've got something for him."
"Mr. Steele may be the boss, but I'm in charge, Mildred. Do we have to go through this every- AH CHOO!" Steele wipes at his shirt, frowning.
"Gesundheit," Mildred says.
"I'm sorry, Miss Holt, it's just force of habit."
"What's the message?" Laura asks.
"Oh. Arthur Thickett sent his sister a letter from DeNada four days ago. It just arrived this morning and she brought it right over. You cannot GUESS what's inside. Oh, it's unbelievable!"
"What is it, Mildred?" Laura asks after a moment of silence.
"Don't you want to guess?"
"Okay, okay. You cannot BELIEVE this. He said- " the line goes dead, then a dial tone.
Laura frowns at the phone. "Hello?"
"We're sorry," the operator says, "All phone lines to Los Angeles are temporarily out of order. Please try later."
Mildred says, "No, no, no! Wait! Operator!"
Laura hangs up. "Great! Phones are out."
The operator turns and looks at Sheriff Nebbins.
In the Rabbit, Laura sneezes again. "You really ought to do something about that, you know?" Steele comments.
"How about torching all the ragweed in the state?" Laura suggests.
"Did Rachel tell you where the Old Mill Bridge is?"
"No, but it should be near a stream, don't you think?"
"All right, all right. No need to get testy."
She sneezes again, and he winces.
"In the Sheriff's office, Winslow shows everyone a picture. "Remington Steele. I KNEW I'd seen him before. He's a big time detective from LA."
Everyone starts talking at once.
Jed raises his hands. "Hold on here! Let's not get carried away. They haven't found anything. We've got less than twenty four hours to go."
"It's still too much time!" Winslow insists. "The could call someone!"
The brothers from the diner agree.
The Mayor speaks. "Now calm down, everybody! What do you suggest do, Jed?"
"I'm not sure," Jed admits.
"Huh!" Winslow grunts in disgust. "That's just great, Sheriff! That's just great! We're supposed to sacrifice seven years of planning because YOU'RE not sure?!"
Jed stands. "I know one thing, Avery. I've about had it with YOU."
One of the brothers from the diner says, "I know something that will-" he cocks his shot gun. "Guaranteed." He grins.
Mildred is on the telephone. "Don't use that tone of voice with me, young lady. I've been trying to reach DeNada for over an hour on your cockamamie system."
"I'm sorry, Ma'am. You'll have to try again later. Have a good day."
"Wait, wait. Operator- Don't-" She hangs up and looks at the map on her desk with DeNada circled on it.
Laura and Steele are still looking for the bridge. "It has to be around here somewhere," Laura frets.
Steele glances in the mirror. "Has that truck been following us long?"
Laura looks. "No."
The truck speeds up. "I think we're about to have company."
It gets closer, and the brothers grin. "It's them all right," one of them says, clutching his shotgun.
"A trifle faster, Laura," Steele says. The truck is still gaining on them. "Faster, Laura!"
"It's on the FLOOR!" she tells him.
The truck rams them, follows them down the road. "Hang on," Laura tells Steele, then executes a quick U-turn. The truck starts trying to make a dogleg turn around.
"Where did you learn that?" Steele asks Laura.
"I told you. I'm a city girl. It's basic survival skill in Los Angeles."
They see the truck coming again. The passenger points the shotgun at them as they come even, and yells, "We don't want no detectives up here!"
Steele grabs Laura. "Get down!" he yells as the man fires.
Somehow Laura gets ahead of the truck and turns onto a smaller dirt road. The truck follows, and as they come upon what has to be the Old Mill Bridge, runs the Rabbit into the pond. The truck crosses the bridge and disappears down the road.
Laura and Steele get out of the car. "You all right?" Steele asks.
"Well, at least we know where the Old Mill Bridge is, eh?" he asks as they wade to shore.
"Well, we're here on time- no Rachel."
Steele glances toward the edge of the pond where there are some high weeds. "Laura-" he points to a hand in the weeds.
They investigate. "It's Rachel," Laura says. There's a nasty looking abrasion on the woman's left temple.
Steele feels for a pulse, then shakes his head. "No."
Back in De Nada in the sheriff's office, Laura says, "An accident?"
Steele picks up, saying,
"Are you saying Rachel slipped?
Hit her head on the rock and then crawled into the bushes to die?"
"Until I hear a better explanation, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. The law deals in facts, Mister. NOT theories."
"We TOLD you," Laura insists, "we were supposed to meet Rachel at three. She was going to tell us something about Arthur Thickett."
"And I told you, miss, I don't know anything about that or why that would give anybody a motive for murder. Rachel's death was an accident."
"And what about the two gentlemen with the shotgun who ran us off the road?" Steele asks. "An accident?"
"I don't see the connection," Jed tells him.
Steele's getting angry. "I'm beginning to worry about your eyesight, Sheriff."
Laura grabs Steele's arm. "Wait a minute, Professor Hillenbrand. Let's not bother the Sheriff right now. I'm sure he has plenty to do."
"What?" Steele looks at her, confused, and she nods toward the door. "Yes, well- good afternoon, Sheriff."
"Yeah. See ya around."
Outside, Laura tells Steele, "They're all in on it. We've GOT to get out of here."
"Slow down, will you?"
"Remember the man with the shotgun?"
"Remember what he said?"
"Something about not wanting detectives around-" he stops. "How did he know we were detectives?" She sneezes. "Gesundheit."
"All I can figure out is that phone call we made to Mildred. If someone had listened in, they'd know who we were."
"Yes, I know, but who could-" he lowers his voice as they pass townspeople on the sidewalk, all of them watchful. "The Sheriff?"
"Exactly. And he's not the only one. Think about it. Everyone we've met has tried to scare us out of DeNada. This whole town is covering up something and they're willing to kill to keep it a secret."
"Bad day at DeNada. Doesn't seem to make it, somehow, does it?"
"Thickett must have discovered their secret, or at least come very close. Rachel said something about money. Wonder how that figures in?"
"Yes, well, I think we're better off pondering that one from the relative security of our own office, don't you?"
"Soon as we pick up the car, we're on the road to LA," Laura declares.
But at the pond, as Adam pulls the Rabbit out with a wrecker, Laura exclaims, "MONDAY?"
"Uh, mebbe Tuesday," he tells her.
"May have to order parts. Not sure. First I have to figure out what's wrong with it."
"They can't do it faster?" Steele questions.
"This is DeNada, young fella, not Los Angeles. We do things our own way here."
"We noticed," Laura says with a frown. "I don't suppose there's a place I could rent a car in town-" Adam shakes his head. "I know-"
"This is DeNada," they say at the same time.
"Now what?" Steele asks Laura, then turns as he hears a car and police siren. On the other side of the pond, a police motorcycle gives chase to a white Auburn. "That wasn't-"
"It was," Laura confirms.
Mildred sits in the Sheriff's office. "Seventy five, huh?" Jed asks the deputy.
Mildred stands. "Oh, but there's a perfectly good reason-"
"Keep your seat, young lady," Jed tells her. "That's all right, son. I can handle it from here." The deputy leaves. "Now, Miss Krebs, can you tell me why a perfectly self respecting woman like yourself is travelling 75 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone?"
"I'm glad you asked, Sheriff. Most government employees wouldn't be so polite. I know. I used to work-"
"Please, Miss Krebs, just answer the question."
"Certainly. I work for the Remington Steele Detective Agency." Jed doesn't blink an eye. "In Los Angeles? Well, it so happens that Mr. Steele and his associate, Miss Holt, are working on a case right here in DeNada."
"Is that so?"
"Oh, yes. I can't give you the details, but-" she pulls the letter out of her purse. "I received a letter this morning that contains very important information for my boss."
"I see, I see."
"Well, I tried calling from Los Angeles- but all your phone lines are out of order. You really should do something about that. Anyway, that's why I was speeding. My boss needs to see this right away."
"Well, Miss Krebs, in the eyes of the law, that's no excuse for the serious nature of your offense. You recklessly endangered the citizens of DeNada, who I am sworn to protect. The fine is five hundred dollars."
Mildred jumps to her feet. "Five hundred dollars?"
"And if you can't pay it, I'm afraid I'm going to have to lock you up for the weekend."
Mildred glares at him.
In Adam's truck, Laura glances at the speedometer. "Can't this heap go any faster?" she asks.
Mildred counts some money. "One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, four twenty, four forty-" she taps the file cabinet she's got the money on, then pulls something from her purse. "And a traveler's cheque for fifty dollars. That makes it four hundred and ninety."
"I'm sorry," Jed tells her. "You're ten dollars short."
"Well, don't I get a discount for cash?" Mildred asks, but he just looks at her. "Aha," she says, taking off her shoe and pulls out a bill. "Wait just a minute here. Little emergency money. There you go, a sawbuck. Five hundred even!" She picks up her purse. "Thank you very much," she says, heading toward the door.
"Now, wait just a minute," Jed says. Mildred stops. "You've also violated local law number 15 - 3 - 8."
Mildred glares at him. "I did?"
"Disturbing the peace with a motorized vehicle."
"I know," Mildred sighs. "Don't tell me."
"Five hundred dollars," they say simultaneously.
Mildred is furious as he shows her into the cells. "You haven't heard the last of me," she tells him.
"Well, I'm sure I haven't, ma'am," Jed tells her with a grin as he unlocks the cell door. She goes in, he locks it behind her. "Just make yourself comfortable in there, Miss Krebs." He leaves.
Mildred turns around and her eyes widen as she sees that there's another person in the cell with her. Unshaven and forlorn, sitting on one of the cots, is- "Arthur Thickett?"
He looks at her. "Hello."
Jed is loading his gun when Steele and Laura come into the office. "We need to talk, Sheriff. Now," Steele says.
"Well, I've been expecting you, there, Professor."
"Or should I say Mr. Steele?"
"All right, the gloves are off, Sheriff," Laura says. "Where's Mildred Krebs?"
"On what charges?" Steele wants to know.
"Take your pick."
"Mildred Krebs is coming with us," Laura tells him.
"Well, I'm afraid that's not possible, Miss Holt. Miss Krebs can't make bail."
"I see, I see," Steele says, pulling out his checkbook. "How much?"
"Well, that's right noble of you, mister, but I'm afraid it's getting a little late in the day for that. The Magistrate's office is closed. It won't be open again until Monday mornin at 9 o'clock."
"We'll see about that when we speak to the Magistrate," Laura tells him.
"You ARE speaking to him. The office is CLOSED."
Steele looks at him. "Can we visit her?"
"Yes, you can. You surely can. Visiting hours being -again- at 9 o'clock Monday mornin."
Laura's angry as well. "I hope you're enjoying this, Sheriff. It'll give you plenty to chuckle about when we see you in court." They turn toward the door. Steele has it open when Jed speaks again.
"Oh, hey, I sure hope you folks aren't plannin on taking Miss Krebs' car back to Los Angeles. That's evidence. And just as a precaution-" he holds something up- "I had the distributor cap removed. I'd sure hate to see a fancy set of wheels like that get stolen, wouldn't you? It's quiet around here, you understand. But you never can tell."
"Sweet," Steele comments dryly. "Very sweet." He pulls the door open and they leave.
Later, in the cell, Arthur is telling a wide eyed Mildred, "And I was reinforcing my thesis with supporting documentation from their library- which is quite good, actually, all things considered-when the lights went out. Well, you know the rest."
"Why, that's- that's just unbelievable!"
"Well, it does beg credulity to be sure. Which is why I expended so much time cross checking details-but the townspeople said they didn't know anything about it. Not the graves or anything."
"In a pig's eye, Professor. Why else have the thrown you in this slammer, the lousy screws."
"Precisely argued, Miss Krebs."
"Mildred," she tells him, eyes shining.
"Call me Artie. My sister does."
"Well, Artie, no one's gonna keep us in stir when we've got a story like that to tell." She grabs a metal cup and runs it across the bars. "Let us out, you dirty screws!"
"What are you doing?" Artie asks.
"I saw this once in a James Cagney movie. Let us out!" she calls, making more noise as Artie joins her.
From the window, Laura says, "SHHHH!!" Mildred and Artie turn and find Laura hanging upside down outside the bars. "You'll wake the entire town!"
"Arthur Thickett?" Laura asks.
"Hello," Laura says, smiling.
"What are you doing?" Mildred asks.
"We've come to save you!" Laura declares. "I've always wanted to say that!" She lets Steele help her back up to the roof. "Arthur Thickett's in there with her."
"Indeed? Well, shall we get on with it? I must confess, this is the first time I've ever broken INTO a jail." They left the vent cover.
"There's a first time for everything," Laura reminds him, as he drops a rope down the shaft.
Steele goes down first. "That's Mr. Steele," Mildred tells Artie.
"Hello," Artie says.
"Nice to meet you," Steele replies. Laura drops into his arms. "Lovely form," he compliments her, then she sneezes onto his shoulder and he winces.
"Sorry," she apologizes.
"Gesundheit," he says.
"Oh, Boss, I knew you'd bust us out. Wait till you hear what Artie has to lay on you."
"Artie?" Laura questions.
"Go on," Mildred urges, "tell em."
"Yes, well, it seems that-"
Steele lifts a hand. "Uh, don't you think we should get the keys to the jail cell first?"
"He's got a point, yes," Artie agrees.
Steele goes to the door and looks for his pick, then opens the door and goes out.
Laura moves to the second cell, where a sheet covers something on the cot there. "What is this?" she asks, pulling the sheet off to reveal that the cot is filled with bundles of money.
"It's the money," Artie says.
"I sure is," Mildred agrees.
Laura picks up a bundle. "What money?"
"The armored car money," Mildred tells her.
"From the Cleveland First City Bank," Artie adds.
"What?" Laura asks, putting the money into her pocket as Steele returns in a hurry and closes the door.
"Upstairs! Quick!" he tells her, pointing to the vent.
"What about us?" Mildred asks.
Steele helps Laura onto the rope. "Sorry, have to take a rain check." He notices the money in the ajoining cell. "What's that?" he asks.
"The Cleveland First City Bank," Mildred says.
"The armored car money," Artie ads.
Steele follows Laura up the rope as
Mildred and Artie look on sadly.
"Goodbye," Artie says.
They use a rope to escape from the roof, but hear voices approaching. As they come from the alley, they see a large mob armed with torches approaching them. The crowd spots them, and Steele tells Laura, "Nice night for a barbecue, eh?"
"I'm not wild about the menu!" she replies as they take off at a run. "We've gotta split up!" she says.
"Left!" Steele calls.
"Oh, splendid!" Steele says as he turns toward the left and Laura goes to the right. He trips and falls to the ground, and the crowd turns toward him.
Seeing that he's in trouble, Laura whistles loudly, getting their attention. "Some of you go after the girl!" Winslow orders. Laura's action has given Steele the moment he needs to regain his footing and take off.
"Bless you, Laura!" he calls.
Laura manages to evade her group, hiding in a crate, and thinking they've lost her, they turn back to join the others. But Laura can't fight a sneeze, which gives away her position. "There she is!" one of the brothers calls out, and the chase is on again.
Laura ultimately finds herself pinned between the two groups, with nowhere to go- until Steele appears on a white horse. He rides into the mob, sweeps Laura up onto the horse in front of him. Startled by the added weight and crowd, the animal rears dangerously.
"This never happened to John Wayne!" Steele frets, but he gets control of the horse and they ride off, escaping the crowd.
Once out of town, they dismount, and Steele ties the horse to a tree. "Well, like they say in the movies, I think we lost em."
Laura wraps her arms around her waist. "It's cold."
"Yes," Steele agrees. "And me without a bedroll. I suggest we huddle." He sees Laura's suspicious look. "For warmth, Laura. Strictly for warmth." She nods, and the sit down, their backs to a tree. Steele wraps his arms around Laura, his face close to hers. "You're not going to sneeze are you?" he asks as the worry hits.
"It's too cold to sneeze," she tells him.
"Good. Good. The crisp night air, the open range. The solitary couple with nothing but-"
"Murder," Laura finishes. "Two innocent people- a jail cell full of cash-" she pulls out the bundle of money.
Steele sits back. "How resourceful of you, Laura."
She examines the strap on the bundle of ten thousand dollars. "Cleveland First City Bank. 1977. This money is seven years old. One hundred dollar bills- and there were stacks of twenties and fifties as well. There must be over a million dollars back there."
"Yes. Several millions more likely. What did Mildred and Thickett say? Something about an armored car robbery?"
Laura looks shocked. "It's unbelievable."
"Seven years ago. The Cleveland Armored Car Robbery. Six million. Two men in ski masks- they were never caught. A fortune- from a seven year old robbery- is locked up- untouched- in a jail cell in DeNada, California. It's unbelievable. What's it doing here?"
Steele pulls her close again, giving it another try. "That's the six million dollar question, eh?"
"At the moment, I don't even have a two bit answer. What a day."
"Yes. And night."
She smiles at him. "I didn't thank you for saving me."
"No need. Just- returning the favor."
"We did alright, didn't we?"
"Um hmm, um hmm, first rate," he agrees, moving forward intending to kiss her, but she pulls away again, leaving him frustrated.
"I wonder what the money is doing here?"
Steele leans back against the tree. "Well, yes. That's the question that's been consuming me."
"All right, let's go over it from the beginning." Steele pulls the collar of his jacket up, gets comfortable. "Arthur Thickett comes to DeNada to research his new book."
Steele closes his eyes. "Yes, yes. Go on."
"Obviously, he stumbles on a deep, dark desperate secret, a secret so terrible that an entire town is willing to kill to protect it--"
When morning comes, Steele is sleeping, and Laura is still thinking out loud. "Why would they kill Rachel, and only HOLD Arthur Thickett? Doesn't make sense! AH-CHOO!"
"Gesundheit," Steele says, waking. "Must've dozed off for a minute," he tells her, and stands up.
"Must have," she agrees, standing as well.
He stretches. "Oh, my back-" he pauses, looks again. "Laura-" he nods towards two graves across the way, the headstones fashioned from propeller blades. "Propeller blades?" Steele questions as they approach, "What in blazes are they doing here?"
Laura reads the sign on a board strung between the blades. "'Unknown. Died Feb 28, 1977. They have paid for their sins, and we are grateful.' We've been sleeping near graves," she tells Steele.
"What a strange inscription."
"February 28. That's today. Seven years ago today." They move away, along a deep gouge in the earth.
"Yes, yes, yes, YES!" Steele declares. "Laura, it's all beginning to make sense. I can see it now. At least, I think it does."
Laura kneels. "Wait a minute." She pulls something from the grass. "Is this the wheel- off an airplane?"
Steele takes it, tucks it under his arm. "You've just robbed an armored car of six million dollars. The police have put up roadblocks. There's no place to run."
Laura looks up. "But- perhaps- someplace to fly."
"But something goes wrong."
"Something that brings them down in DeNada. And so they paid for their sins."
They walk along the trench made by the airplane upon crashing. "Yes. But the money was fine," Steele points out.
"They must have known what the dead men and the money were. The robbery was a headline story for days."
"Mmm. Well, it's hard to part with a fortune in cash- particularly if no one knows you've got it. Let's suppose they put the money in the jail- just for- safekeeping."
"And eventually, they realized that no one outside of DeNada ever knew about the accident."
"So they waited seven years for the statute of limitations to expire. That money was easily traceable- but seven years after the crime, there could be no prosecution."
"And those seven years are up today. Now, somehow, Arthur Thickett stumbled onto all of this, so they put him on ice until the statute ran out. We've got to get back to town!"
Steele looks around. "I wonder what they did with the rest of the plane?"
They stand in the alleyway across from the "Cockpit Diner", as the townspeople enter. Steele shakes his head as they notice the front of the plane. "We've been looking at it all the time," Laura realizes.
"Um hmm. It appears the whole town's there. Come on. Let's go."
"Let's get Mildred and the Professor," Laura agrees as they cross to the jail.
In the diner, everyone is watching the clock, and the table filled with the money. The Mayor turns and tells them, "Despite last night's excitement, which I can't say I approved of, we made it! For seven years, we've hung together, resisting temptation. And in ten minutes, we'll have our rightful reward." The citizens applaud as she turns to the Sheriff. "Jed?"
"Now, whoa. Whoa! I'm gonna be handing out your shares alphabetically. So there'll be no need for pushing and shoving."
Laura, Steele, Mildred and Artie commandeer the Sheriff's jeep and start out of town. They don't get very far when something hits the windshield, and Steele is forced to stop the vehicle. They all turn and smile nervously.
"Three minutes," the mayor says.
"Lookee what we found!" one of the brothers declares as they lead the four escapees into the room.
"Oh, my, my," Steele says. "Looks like you're getting ready to have quite a party here."
"We're sorry for any inconveniences we may have caused you," the Mayor says, "But I'm sure we can reach an amicable settlement-"
"Fat chance, honey," Mildred sneers.
Artie leans closer. "Don't upset her, Mildred."
"There's nothing more you can do, Mr. Steele," Winslow informs them smugly. "The statute's almost up."
"Think again," Laura says. "There's no statute of limitations on murder."
One of the brothers says, "We didn't murder no one."
"Not yet, anyway," his brother says, glaring at them.
"Now hold on," Jed says. "We all agreed when this thing started that nobody would get hurt. And nobody has been."
"Explain that to Rachel, please," Steele tells him.
One of the brothers shoves the shotgun into Steele's chest. "Watch your mouth. That's my cousin you're talkin about."
"Rachel was murdered," Laura tells everyone.
A distraught woman stands. "My daughter died from a fall. The Sheriff said so."
"Unlikely, madam," Steele tells her. "Most people who fall forward on their heads don't end up on their back, the way we found Rachel."
"Someone hit her," Laura insists.
Winslow is sweating profusely by now. "They're just trying to confuse us. Make us give up the money. The two big time detectives can't admit they've been out smarted by a bunch of HICKS!" Jed is watching him as Winslow moves to his side. "In fifty seconds, we're gonna be millionaires! Now don't let em talk you out of it!"
Artie tells Mildred, "They're gonna get away with it."
"Relax, Artie. Play your ace, Boss."
Steele looks troubled. "Right. Play our ace, Laura."
She hesitates, lost for a second as the ball is tossed into her court. "Well, the fact that Rachel was found face down means that she knew her killer- trusted him-" she looks at the Mayor. "Or her."
"What?" the Mayor asks.
"You were the only one who overheard Rachel telling me to meet her at the bridge."
"But I told Jed and Winslow about it."
Winslow is frantic. "Don't listen to em!"
"Oh, come now, Avery old chap," Steele says, "Why so nervous, eh?" He tosses a bundle of money at Winslow. "Catch." And one at Jed. "Catch." Winslow catches his in his left hand- Jed in his right. "Thank you, gentlemen. The injury was on her right temple- which means whoever killed her was left handed."
Winslow looks down at the money in his left hand as Rachel's mom asks, "You- killed my daughter?"
Winslow grabs Jed's gun, forcing Jed to join the others, and takes the shotgun. "She was gonna tell them. I couldn't talk her out of it! What did you want me to do? Spoil everything? Seven YEARS! I was doin it all for you! You should be thanking me! We're gonna be rich!" No one moves. "Didn't you hear what I said? We're gonna be rich!"
Laura calls out, "That money is covered in blood! If any of you touches it, you're as guilty as he is!"
Jed takes a step toward Winslow. "No! Get back! I'm not kidding! Now, I mean it!" Laura kicks the gun from Winslow's hand, and Steele sends him to the floor with his fist.
Jed grabs the shaken man. "On your feet bud. I'll take it from here," he tells Steele.
The Mayor looks at them. "We owe you an apology."
Laura taps the money. "You owe a lot more than that." She leads Steele away. "[??]detective work, that left hand, right hand bit."
"Ah, yes. In the Heat of the Night. Sidney Portier, Rod Steiger, United Artists, 1967." He puts a bundle of money under his arm.
"Just one thing," Laura points out.
"Rachel was hit on the LEFT side of her head."
"Technicalities, Laura. You're always getting bogged down in technicalities."
She takes the money from him and tosses it back onto the table as Steele sighs. "Okay, okay." He opens the door and they leave.
The townspeople gather around the money.
Steele is reading the newspaper when Laura enters his office. "Remarkable story about the small town that happened to find the money from the famous Cleveland Armored Car robbery."
"Really? Did they keep it?"
"No. They turned it in for a huge reward. What virtue."
"Well, you know how upright those small towns can be," she says with a smile.
Steele points toward the door as Mildred enters, wearing a fur coat. "Oh, my," he says.
"Mildred, where did you get that coat?" Laura asks.
"Oh, this old thing? It's gorgeous, isn't it?"
"As you would say, Mildred," Steele agrees, "Knock out city."
"It's a gift from Sheriff Nebbins," she tells them.
"He GAVE it to you?" Laura asks.
"Well, it's amazing what the words 'false arrest' can do for a girl's wardrobe," she says.
Artie comes in. "Ready?" he asks.
Mildred smiles and takes his arm. "Oh, yes. My lunch date," she tells them. "See ya later."
"Have a nice time," Steele calls after them.
"Bye-bye," Laura says, laughing. "Never would have guess those two would get along so well," she says.
Steele comes around the desk, pulling something from his pocket. "Speaking of the unexpected, it just so happens that I have two tickets to the ballet tonight." He stops before her, tickets in hand. "What does a city girl have to say to that, hmm?"
He pulls out a handkerchief and hands it to her. "Gesundheit."