Steele drives the Rabbit through a dark section of town. They stop at a corner, and Laura consults a book in her hands. "Right," she tells him.
He stops before a payphone and glances at his watch. "Twelve minutes to midnight."
She glances at her watch. "Twelve minutes to midnight," she confirms. The payphone begins to ring, and she gets out to answer it. "One if by land," she says, then frowns. "I see." She starts to say more, but stops and hangs up. Back in the car, she tells Steele, "Mid town park," as they drive through a park area.
"Mid town park?" Steele questions, stopping the Rabbit.
Laura gets out and finds a note pinned to a tree. She reads it and lifts her arms in frustration as she returns to the car. "416 Commerce Street," she tells him.
"I'm beginning to wonder if this is gonna be a case or a scavenger hunt," he muses.
"YOU promised Mr. X we'd meet with him," Laura reminds him.
"Yes, well, any man who calls himself 'Mr. X' deserves to be stood up," Steele declares with a tired smile as he starts the car again.
Laura studies a map and shakes her head.
At 416 Commerce Street, they get out of the car. A sliding warehouse door opens, and a man wearing a hat and dark trench coat appears. "All very mysterious," Laura comments dryly.
"My stock in trade, Miss Holt," the man insists.
"Mr. X, I presume?" Steele questions.
"Well, yes," the man says, frowning. "I was certain once I had made those credit card commercials, everyone would recognize me."
Laura smiles as she does exactly that. "Of course. Richard Laidlaw. Three inch mystery novels with three word titles," she recalls, shaking his hand.
"The Laidlaw logo," Laidlaw admits, smiling now. "Once around the slum, Mr. Steele," he suggests.
In the car, Laidlaw removes his hat and explains, "I'm president of the American Mystery Writer's Guild."
"I don't mean to spoil your ending, Mr. Laidlaw," Laura interrupts, "but, why all the mystery tonight?"
He looks behind them. "Someone has embezzled our Guild treasury. Nearly a million dollars."
"I see. Have you called the police?" Steele asks.
"No police," Laidlaw insists. "Laidlaw's law."
"Embarrassed?" Laura questions. Steele glances at her, and she shrugs. "Well, they're mystery writers and they can't solve a crime."
"Scratch embarrassed," Laidlaw corrects. "Try-discouraged."
They stop at a small diner, where Laura comments, "A million dollars is quite a treasury for a guild of mystery writers." The waitress fills Laidlaw and Laura's cups, ignores Steele's.
"Last year," Laidlaw informs them, "it was three hundred and twelve dollars and forty three cents. A few months ago, an old-timer, Gil Fox,- hadn't sold a book in years- suddenly got a seven figure offer for film rights to a series of sci-fi novels," he says with a frown of disapproval. "About a Martian who works for a small town police force."
"Umm," Steele grunts, lifting his cup, trying to get the waitress' attention. "Stuff of epics, isn't it?"
"The night Gil Fox signed his contract, he died," Laidlaw informs them.
"How?" Laura asks.
"Heart attack," Laidlaw says dramatically. "Fox willed his money to the Guild. To tear down our old Victorian, buy the lot next door, and build a proper headquarters for our organization. Now, the will was probated, the money paid into the treasury. A day later, it was taken out again. Six, separate checks. Each one signed by one of the members of the board of directors."
"Forgeries?" Steele asks, then shrugs, realizing he's asked a stupid question. "If you were all in on the embezzlement, you wouldn't be hiring us, would you?" he asks.
Laura picks up her cup of coffee. "Good point, Mr. Steele."
At the office the next day, Steele is having his coffee and reading the paper as Laura tells Mildred, "So, if we're going to catch the forger, we have to get samples of each one's handwriting."
"Um hmm," Steele agrees. "And we have to do it in a cunning and imaginative way. Ah, yes. This is our chance for immortality. We solve the case by a bold, brilliant ploy, and they all write books about us."
"There's only one problem, Mr. Steele," Laura reminds him. "We don't have a bold, brilliant ploy."
Steele looks at her over his paper, checks his watch. "You've got thirty minutes, Laura."
At the Guild offices, set in an old Victorian mansion, Laura and Mildred look on as Steele tells the writers, "The Remington Steele Agency, fully conscious of the unique honor you've bestowed upon us, will devote its fullest energies to your every need. Thank you very much. Oh, and finally- we at the Steele Agency are your avid fans. So, if you don't mind, during the social hour, my staff will pass among you with copies of your books. Thank you, very much."
Laidlaw is signing a book entitled, "The Dickenson Dossier," for Steele and Laura while a brutish young man wearing a black vest, no shirt and sunglasses, passes them. Laura's gaze follows the man as Laidlaw says, "Most people say I look much younger than this picture." He looks at them.
Steele, cup of tea in hand, says, "Yes, yes. Ages. Ages," he agrees, taking the book as Laura's attention is still on the other man, who removes the top off a beer with his teeth.
"What do you call that?" she asks.
"Do it yourself orthodontia?" Steele suggests disapprovingly.
"That's Butch Beemis," Laidlaw tells them. "The 'Chip Sledge' series?"
"Trash," Laura declares, disgusted. "Illiterate, chauvinist, trash. Degrading to women, degrading to the human race."
"Eighteen MILLION copies, worldwide," Laidlaw tells her, himself obviously a bit jealous.
"That's a lot of degradation," Steele comments.
"But some time ago, before the embezzlement, he was trying to float a loan on his bull ranch."
"Raises bulls, does he?" Steele asks.
"Wrestles them," Laidlaw explains. Both Steele and Laura look at him in shock.
Mildred is standing between two men who are signing books. "Okay. Walk me through this again. You used to be an FBI agent, Mr. Grimm?" Grimm gives her the signed book. "Thank you." She turns to the other man. "And he put you in Leavenworth, Mr. Nussman?"
"Call me Alfie," Nussman says, tossing the pen down that Grimm used, then taking another one to sign his book. "Call him plagiarist."
Grimm pulls Mildred aside. "Frankly, Miss Crabs, your agency-"
"KREBS," Mildred corrects him.
"Thank goodness," he says. "Your agency is going about this all wrong, Miss Krebs." He glares at Alfie. "There's your culprit. That man has a history of theft."
Alfie pulls Mildred back to his side. "I stole money. He steals ideas- usually mine. But he writes them up so badly he probably needs to steal money, too."
"How are sales, Grimm?" Mildred asks.
"Don't worry about me, Miss Crabs- Krebs. But the only top ten list Nussman ever made was labeled 'Wanted'".
Mildred grabs Alfie's signed book as the two men glare hatefully at each other.
A red haired woman wearing a big picture hat is saying in a British accent, her tones highly dramatic, "Had I but known, Mr. Steele, on this fair autumn morn, destiny would bring us together."
"I was very distressed to hear, Miss Cooper-"
"Columbine," she says.
"I was very distressed to hear about your problems with the tax people," Steele says as she signs, never looking away from him. "How much do they claim you owe them?"
"You're going about this all wrong, Mr. Steele," Columbine insists.
"If you suspect me of nefarious deeds, I suggest you take a leaf from Rodney VanDyke."
"Rodney VanDyke?" Steele repeats.
"The dark, brooding, but beneath it all tender hero of my latest gothic, 'Lust's Lovely Latitude'," she explains with a smile of invitation. "You must pull me to your manly chest," she declares moving closer, "stare deeply into my lambent eyes, and then probe me. And probe me. And probe me relentlessly."
"Uh, I'm- very busy, Miss Cooper," Steele says, moving away. "Hours to go before one sleeps and all that?"
"Had I but known," Columbine sighs with regret as a blonde woman approaches and passes them. "If I were you, I'd question Pamela Johns. She may write those dry English mysteries, but they do say that for years she had a secret affair with Gil Fox." Columbine moves away, leaving Steele to make eye contact with Pamela.
Laura is holding a tray of cookies. Mildred has another book. "Butch Beemis?" Laura notes, glancing up to where Butch is lounging beside a table.
"'Kiss Me To a Pulp'," Mildred reads.
Butch leaves the room, glancing around for a moment as if making sure he's not being followed. Laura, referring to the book title, says, "Sounds right. Trade?"
"You bet," Mildred agrees, giving Laura the book and taking the cookie-laden tray. Laura follows Butch from the room.
Pamela tells Steele, "Myself and Gil Fox? Not that I can remember. And I DO try to remember ALL my lovers," she tells him with a proper British accent.
"Gives a bit more meaning to the experience, does it?"
They are circling a gallows as Steele comments, "I was frightfully sorry to read about you in the crime of the month club."
"What was that?" She asks.
"That they turned down your latest novel in favor of the memoirs of that- Hollywood mogul?"
Pamela laughs as if she's not concerned in the slightest. "If you're trying to find the embezzler, and I assume you are, you're going about it all wrong."
"I am?" Steele questions, joining her.
"You should be questioning the other beneficiary of Fox's will."
"I didn't know there WAS another beneficiary," he admits.
"Oooh, sloppy work, Steele. I'd never let one of MY detectives overlook something like that."
"Reality can be a dreadful let down," Steele says. "Who is the other beneficiary?"
"A neighbor of Fox's. Maxie Delano. He was meant to get one hundred thousand. The Guild the other nine. I suspect he felt short-changed." Pamela moves off.
Laura enters a room and sees a light blinking on the multi-line phone. She picks up the phone and listens in for a moment. Unknown to her, Butch comes into the room and watches her for a moment before speaking.
"If I let my private eye do what you're doing, my readers would barf."
Laura turns and hangs up. "I beg your pardon?"
"Eavesdropping on the extension?" Butch snorts. "Amateur night, baby."
"Might I remind you, Mr. Beemis, that YOU people are under scrutiny, not I? And I got the distinct impression from that phone call that you've lost a lot of money financing a television series based on your books. Well?"
Butch saunters over to her. "You wouldn't be such a bad lookin' broad if you did something with your hair," he tells her. "And your makeup. Why don't you stick to what broads are good for?" he suggests.
"You not only LOOK like a Neanderthal, you THINK like one."
"Right," he agrees, then grabs her and kisses her. Laura is stunned, dazed. "Well?" Butch asks.
Laura picks up the book. "May I have your autograph?" she asks.
As the three of them leave, Laura is looking at Butch's book. Mildred says, "Chief?"
"Yeah?" Steele says.
"I finally got an answer at the coroner's office. They never did an autopsy on Gil Fox."
Laura, smiling, says, "I wanna talk to that doctor who signed the death certificate." She hands Mildred the book. She wanders down the steps ahead of them.
"What is our appointment with the handwriting experts?" Steele asks Mildred.
"Oh, not til two thirty."
Laura walks ahead of them down to the Rabbit. She lays her purse in the front seat on the passenger's side, and leans over close to the side view mirror, removes her barrett, and begins playing with her hair.
Remington comes up beside her and says, "Laura, can you drop me off at Fox's old building? Uh, I want to talk to his neighbors..."
Laura ignores him and continues playing with her hair.
Laura stops the Rabbit in front of an apartment building and Remington hops out. She's once again oblivious to him as she plays with her hair, using the rear view mirror this time. He can't figure out what's she's doing.
"I'll grab a cab back to the office," he tells her as he continues to stare at her strange actions. Finally, he asks, "Laura, Have you just discovered you have hair?"
She comes to her senses and is embarassed. Giving him a look that could kill, she silently drives off.
Steele climbs the stairs to one of the apartments then knocks on a door. An elderly woman, wearing a bathrobe, opens the door.
"Yeah?" she says in a no nonsense voice.
"I'm looking for Maxie Delano," Steele tells her.
"Not anymore, you're not."
"Maxine?" Steele questions with a charming smile.
"Good for you, handsome," Maxie says. She steps back to let him inside.
"My name's Steele. I'm a private investigator." Maxie looks him over. "I believe you and Gilbert Fox were neighbors."
"Yeah. He lived right over there, when he didn't live here."
"And you inherited a hundred thousand dollars from his estate."
"SUPPOSED to inherit it," Maxie corrects him.
"My money was lumped in with what he gave the mystery writers," she explains. "He made those birdbrains trustees of my legacy."
"May I ask why?"
"You can ask. I can't tell you," Maxie says. "Writers are odd ducks."
"You don't trust me, do you, Maxie?" Steele asks.
"Why should I?" she asks in return. "You shamuses keep knocking at my door like you're gonna make everything all right."
"Well, there was one here last week," she tells him. "Oh, he was gonna get to the bottom of things. Never heard from HIM again."
"What's the name of this-shamus?"
"I got his card around here somewhere," Maxie says, looking around. "Excuse me." She goes into the bedroom
Steele takes the opportunity to sniff around in the kitchen. There's not much in the refrigerator, and the cabinets are empty as well. He returns to the other room as Maxie returns reading a business card.
"Hmm?" Steele mutters, thoughtful.
"Shamus' name. Melvin Gamble," Maxie repeats, showing him the card.
Steele takes it, goes to the door. He stops, turns back to her. "You've got a hundred thousand dollars comin' to you, Maxie. You WILL be hearing from me."
"That's what they all say- handsome."
Steele grins and leaves.
At the hospital, Laura asks a doctor, "Why didn't you perform an autopsy on Gil Fox?"
"Gil Fox, the writer? He'd just signed a million dollar movie contract?"
"Oh, yeah. Hey, look, nobody asked for an autopsy," he insists. "There was no family as I recall, no survivors. And there was nothing suspicious about his death."
"A man with no history of heart trouble suddenly drops dead?" Laura asks.
"Look, it's a tense world. A coupla bombs, and we're all gone," the doctor reminds her.
Laura follows him outside to emergency. "Could Fox's heart attack have been induced intentionally?" she asks as a siren grows louder and louder.
"You can induce a lot of things if you know the right recipe."
"Don't those recipes leave traces? Why didn't you check?"
"Miss Holt, the man was 58 years old. And thirty pounds overweight. He had a heart attack. In MY judgment, that is hardly suspicious."
Laura's attention is on the ambulance that's approaching the hospital. She doesn't see someone release the brakes on a wheelchair and push it toward her. The chair catches Laura from behind and she sits down in it as it rolls down a ramp out of control- right toward the ambulance.
Laura stands up and rolls onto the hood of the vehicle. The wheelchair is crushed.
When the ambulance stops, a shaken Laura looks at the doctor. "In your judgment, what would you call THAT, doctor?"
Remington and Mildred are in the office watching 3 handwriting experts spread out around the room doing various experiments on the writers' autographs and comparing them to the forged checks. It's quite a showy operation.
"This will identify the forger? Hm? Without question?" Remington asks the experts as they stand before him, ready to give their results.
"The results are indisputable," says expert Chernikoff.
"I have never been wrong," explains expert Alma.
"It is, after all, a science," explains expert Beldown.
Laura limps into the office looking more than a little rumpled. Mildred stands there, shocked, and Steele says, "Good heavens, Laura. I thought you went to the hospital for information. Not for surgery."
"We must be getting close," she explains. "Somebody tried to kill me in a HIGHLY melodramatic fashion."
"Are you all right?" Mildred asks.
"Except for a few bruises in some- embarrassing places," she admits as Steele looks her up and down. Nodding, Laura says, "Our handwriting experts?"
Mildred smiles. "Dr. Mikhail Charnikoff, Professor of Graphology at Toledo Museum of Criminology," Mildred says about a man who's studying a cork board that's set up with the checks. "He's here on a lecture tour." Next, she indicates a woman. "Miss Alma Torres, Paleographer and author of 'Your Handwriting and Your Soul." Torres examines one of the books. A third expert is a short little non descript man wearing glasses. "And Mr. Victor Beldown, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Criminal Investigation at the University of Lansdowne."
"Impressive group," Laura comments.
"Laura, I'm afraid I've come up on some disturbing news," Steele tells her. "Someone else has been assigned to this case. An investigator named Melvin Gamble."
Laura frowns. "Why weren't we told?" she wonders.
"Hmm. Exactly the question I'm going to put to Laidlaw."
One of the experts clears their throat to get the trio's attention. "The matter is resolved," Charnikoff announces with a smile.
"Unquestionable," Torres agrees.
"There's no room for doubt," Beldown adds.
"Excellent," Steele says. "And who is our culprit? Our master forger?" he asks.
Charnikoff holds up Laidlaw's book. "Richard Laidlaw," he declares.
"Ridiculous," scoffs Torres, showing them Alfie's book. "It's Alf Nussman."
"Absurd!" Beldown insists. "It's Columbine Cooper."
A smile pasted on her lips, Laura asks, "Why did we get three experts?" through her teeth.
"So there'd be no doubt," Mildred responds, smiling too.
Steele also keeps a smile on his face. "Pay them off, Mildred, with our heartfelt thanks."
Steele takes the Auburn to the Guild office, and enters. "Hello? . . . Out to lunch? . . . Anyone?" It seems to be deserted, until he hears Laidlaw in another room.
"Take that! And that! Degenerate hooligan! Intellectual mendicant! Deranged dilettante! Take that! And that, you fascist swine!" Steele takes the stairs down into the basement, where Laidlaw is tossing darts. "How does it feel to be on the receiving end, you illiterate THUG?" he asks, tossing another dart at a newspaper article on the wall that's titled "Laidlaw's Lowest".
Steele clears his throat to get Laidlaw's attention.
Laidlaw turns and sees him. "Oh, Steele! Have you ever seen such- viciousness?"
"They were only a few darts, Mr. Laidlaw."
"OH, not me. THAT," he says, pointing at the article turned dart-board, "alleged critic. Syndicated in two hundred papers. Every other critic in the country LOVED my new book. HE gave it four yawns. FOUR yawns!"
"Mr. Laidlaw, why didn't you tell me that there's another detective on this case?"
"OH. Aha. Well, we were afraid your ego might be bruised. Second choice, and all that."
"Did Gamble quit?"
"After a fashion."
"Well, perhaps he and I should compare notes," Steele suggests.
"Well, that might be- difficult," Laidlaw says, nervous.
"Well, not exactly," Laidlaw hedges.
"Hard to get hold of," Steele suggests. "Bit of a loner?" he continues when Laidlaw doesn't answer.
"These days," Laidlaw says. "He's dead," he admits at last.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Steele wants to know.
"And alarm you unnecessarily?" Laidlaw asks.
Butch, feet up, beer in hand, is sitting in Laura's loft when she comes from the bathroom, her hair wet, wearing an unflattering robe. She stops in her tracks as she realizes he's there.
"You know, for private tin, you got lousy hardware on the door."
There's an empty bottle on the table before him. "Finding everything you need?" Laura asks.
He looks at the beer. "Well, it's not my brand, but it will do. So will you, if you get my drift."
Laura sits on the arm of the sofa. "Don't you ever think of ANYthing but sex?"
"Not if I can help it," Butch says with a smile.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't throw you out of here," Laura says, coming over to him. "You're arrogant," she knocks his feet from the coffee table, "crude, retrogressive. You're everything I hold in contempt about men," she declares as he stands. "I'd never let my SISTER marry you!" She sighs and throws herself into his arms for a long kiss.
The door buzzer goes off, and Laura moves slightly away, seemingly in that same daze the earlier kiss caused. "I'll get it," Butch tells her.
Laura drops onto the sofa, covering her mouth with her hand in shock at her actions.
Steele is at the door, and is surprised to see Butch there. "Mr. Beemis," he says, as Butch leans on the door with a smile.
"Call me Butch."
"Do I have to?" Steele asks, entering the loft to look at Laura, who's rising from the sofa, the empty beer bottle in her hand. Butch closes the door. "Ah," he says to Laura, "Freshened up, I see."
"Waste one?" Butch says, offering a beer.
"Beer? No thanks. Mind if I speak with my associate?"
"Hey. Be my guest," Butch says, wandering toward the kitchen.
"Apparently I am," Steele comments, moving closer to a nervous Laura. She pulls her robe tighter at her neck, glancing toward Butch. Steele pulls her across the room. "No explanation required, Miss Holt," he assures her.
"None offered, Mr. Steele," Laura replies, smiling at Butch.
"Well, I hate tear you away from 'Jaws 4', but I think we should take a look at the late Melvin Gamble's office."
He's got Laura's attention as he looks toward the kitchen. "The LATE Melvin Gamble?"
"Hmm," Steele confirms. "Murdered."
"Was he onto something?"
"Well, if he was, he kept it to himself. Laidlaw said he hadn't filed a single report."
"Gamble wasn't smart enough to find an elephant in an outhouse," Butch tells them, scratching his back against the corner of the refrigerator as he swills more beer. He taps his forehead. "Air between the ears."
"Yes," Steele says, "Well, I'm sure we can stumble along on our own instincts, you know?" Butch spreads his arms. "I know. Be your guest."
Laura smiles at Butch. "Sorry, Butch. Work calls," she says, tapping Steele's lapel.
In the Auburn, Laura's hair is now loose and blowing in the breeze. Steele is thoughtful. "You're awfully silent, Mr. Steele," she comments.
"Hmm. Well, we're bound to run out of conversation from time to time," he tells her. "I mean, we're together so much. I've never thought of myself as work, Laura."
"Not you," she insists. "THIS. Going to Gamble's office when the day is almost over."
"Yes, but no need to put it so bluntly."
"Plain speaking. I've learned that," Laura tells him.
He glances at her. "From Butch?" She nods, smiling. "Quick study. Really, Laura. I mean, if anybody ever told me that you were gonna be attracted to a man like Butch Beemis-"
She laughs. "I'm rather surprised myself."
"Yes, but you're so cultivated. So refined. So-So rational."
"He's so crude. So demanding." She bites her hair. "So visceral."
He looks at her. "Is that the attraction?"
"I don't know," she admits. "I really don't know."
Steele keeps looking at her.
At Gamble's office, a shotgun is tied to a chair, pointing at the door, the rope holding it is tied also to the door. As they approach the door, Steele suggests, "As it occurred to you that Butch's interest in you may have to do with his possible complicity in this case?"
Laura stands beside the door as he starts working the lock. "Has it occurred to YOU that he just might be interested in ME?"
Laura looks at the door, something bothering her. The rope is tied to the trigger of the shotgun. Steele finishes with the lock and is starting to open the door when Laura pushes him aside and they end up on the floor as the shotgun goes off, blowing a hole in the door.
"New hardware in a building that's up for sale?" she asks, drawing his attention to the fact that the lock on the door was new.
"Good thinking, Laura. I must have been preoccupied. I can't imagine with what." They get up and go into the office.
The shotgun is still smoking. "Laura," Steele asks, "Do you get the feeling that someone's one chapter ahead of us?"
Laura and Remington are arguing inside Melvin Gamble's office, standing face-to-face.
"Have you *thoroughly* lost your objectivity?!" Laura screams.
"Who *else* but Butch knew we were coming here?" Remington counters, also yelling.
"He *found* out a fast twenty minutes ago! AnyONE of the writers could have figured out we'd have ended up here! Now *come on*? If we're gonna *toss* the joint..." she says, slapping his chest and pushing him aside as he grunts, "let's *toss* it!"
Remington, shocked by her behavior, ask, "*What* has that man done to your vocabulary?" Then walking over behind the desk, he sits down and begins flipping through the girlie magazines that are stacked neatly on Melvin's desk.
Laura muses, "You know, that particular booby-trap's familiar. I'm sure I've read it somewhere." The office has obviously already been searched.
"Yes, I'd feel a lot more comfortable working on this case if our suspects wrote children's books."
"You and Mildred and I have our fair share of a crash course of reading tonight," Laura tells him, going over to the shelves to start searching for clues.
"Oh. Can you FIND the time?" Steele wonders facetiously.
"I'll do my best," she assures him. She notices what he's looking at. "Mr. Steele, do you think you might forego fantasy land long enough to pursue our case?"
"I am pursuing it, Laura," he assures her. "These are the only orderly things in the room. Ergo, our killer didn't go through them." He flips through some pages, then stops. "And look what he missed."
"I'm sure he's seen it all before," Laura comments.
"Not that," Steele tells her, showing her a white piece of paper hidden in the magazine. He tosses the magazine aside. "It's a letter from Gil Fox to his agent, describing his next novel. A veteran writer teaches a newcomer how to right. Once the job is done, the protégé kills the mentor."
Laura looks thoughtful. "You think Fox may have been writing about his own future?"
"And somebody stole his plot?" Steele suggests. "Well, possibly."
"Melvin Gamble was hired by the board of mystery writers to investigate the embezzlement of Gil Fox's bequest. He finds this letter. Soon after, he unexpectedly dies."
"Perhaps Gamble discovered who killed Fox," Steele says.
"And instead of reporting it, he tries to blackmail the embezzler-slash-murderer."
"Gamble definitely wasn't a credit to his profession," Steele comments.
"He paid for it with his life," Laura agrees.
Mildred is at her desk, yawning, as Laura enters, carrying an arm load of books.
"Midnight oil?" Laura asks, indicating the secretary's own stack of books and her obvious lack of sleep.
"Stayed up reading the collective works of Alf Nussman," Mildred tells her. "Ugh. What prison does to the human mind. Oh, but I did find a wheelchair attack."
"In the very last one. 'Hell on a Two Wheeler'." She sees Laura's frown. "What's wrong?"
"I found the idea of a booby trapped office in one of Jackson Grimm's books. 'Save the World Bureau'."
"What about Melvin Gamble? How did he go?"
"Poison," Laura tells her. "Pamela Johns devoted a whole book on the subject. 'The Case of the Poisonous Parson'."
"Doesn't exactly narrow down the suspects," Mildred notes as Steele enters with his own stack of books to put them on the desk. "Oh, you too, boss?"
"Um hmm. I spent a long, steamy night with the complete oeuvre of Butch Beemis."
"Find anything?" Laura asks.
"I certainly did. The man makes the Marquis de Sade look like Captain Kangaroo." Laura takes one of the books.
The phone rings. "Remington Steele Investigations," Mildred answers.
Laura opens the book. "Find anything to confirm your suspicions of Butch?" she asks Steele.
He puts his hands in his pockets. "Well, actually, Laura, if you read between the lines, look at the work analytically, and contemplate the nuances- No," he admits.
Laura looks at him. "Well, then, I suggest we try to find out who Fox's protégé was."
"Ah, yes, his protégé."
Mildred talks into the phone. "All right, okay. I'll take care of it." She hangs up and tells Steele, "That was Gourmet Galley, Boss. They weren't able to deliver that basket of goodies to Maxine Delano yesterday."
"Why not?" Steele asks, looking concerned.
"They tried three times. No one answered the door."
"Call the paramedics and tell them to get over there right away, Mildred," Steele orders, taking off. Mildred picks up the phone and dials.
Steele parks the Auburn next to Maxie's apartment building and runs up the stairs. The door is open, and a paramedic is leaning over Maxie, who's laying on the floor against the sofa.
"What happened?" Steele asks.
"She passed out," The medic tells him as he takes her blood pressure. "She's not in the best of health to begin with, and she's undernourished."
"What's all the fuss, Steele?" Maxie asks. "I didn't feel like answerin' the door."
"I know the feeling. You'll be fine, Maxie. You'll be just fine," he assures her, taking her hand. "Is this why Gil Fox put your money in trust with the writers? Because he knew you might not feel like answering the door?"
"My daughter and her husband want to put me in an old folks home. Can you see me in one of those places?"
"No. Not really."
"Gil didn't want the little darlin's to get their hands on the money."
"Maxie, I need your help with something."
"As long as it don't require a heavy lifting," she says.
Steele smiles. "Did Gil Fox have a protégé? I mean, someone he helped get started?"
"Yeah, that he did. Broad never let go."
"Who was she?"
"Some English dame," Maxie recalls. "After Gil made that big movie sale, suddenly she's back. I heard 'em every day across the courtyard, hollerin' about money. She did most of the hollerin'. Fortunately, Gil was deaf in one ear."
Laura goes to an apartment house, and knocks on a door. Through a small square in the door, she sees Nussman's eye. "Miss Holt. What a nice surprise," he says. "Come in." He closes the peephole.
Frowning, Laura opens the door, and is shocked to find herself in what appears to be a prison cell, replete with bars on the walls and graffiti. "I love what you've- done with the place," she tells him. Hearing a noise, she turns to see a barred door slide into place in front of the outer door.
"Probably seems a little weird, doesn't it?"
"No," Laura insists quickly. "No."
"You see, I learned to write in the slammer. When I got out, I bought this place with the take from my novel. Big mistake. Couldn't write word one. Almost had to knock off a bank just to- get back into the right atmosphere."
"So instead you brought prison here."
"Yeah. It cost me a bundle, but it was worth it. I look at those bars, and I do almost five thousand words a day."
"Tell me, who taught you how to write?"
"Gladys A. Shutke," he tells her.
"Gladys A. Shutke?"
"Creative writing teacher up at the joint. Wonderful woman, Gladys. Big talent. She'd be publishing today, if she had more- raunch in her work. Now, my work, lots of raunch."
"So I hear. Mr. Nussman, while I was investigating the death of Gil Fox yesterday, I was almost killed by a flying wheelchair. Ring any bells?"
Alf stands to face her. "Can't say that it does."
"Same thing happened in one of your books," Laura reminds him.
"Lots of things happen in my books."
"Apparently not enough. You've had four different publishers since you were paroled. That's either a sign that a writer is on his way up-or on his way down."
Alf pushes the button to slide the barred door away. "Visiting hours are over, Miss Holt," he informs her coldly, going to open the door for her. I got another two thousand words to do."
"If there are anymore attempts on my life, Mr. Nussman, I hope for your sake they're completely original."
Alf shoves her out of the door, then closes it.
Downstairs, Laura watches as an old police car, driven by Alf Nussman, leaves the garage. She follows in the Rabbit.
Steele is with Pamela Johns. "This area is filled with poisonous plants," she's telling him as they stand in her workshop surrounded by poisonous plants. "The ???, the costa plant, the common tree nettle."
"You're quite an expert with poisons, Miss Johns."
"I base my novels on research. My murders- and my love scenes," she tells him, straightening his handkerchief.
"Gil Fox's neighbor tells me that you visited him frequently prior to his death."
"Still at it, Steele?"
"Why did you deny that you'd been lovers, eh?"
"You know the English. If one can talk publicly about what one does, why bother doing it all?"
"I'm told you and Fox argued about money. Were you angry that he willed his fortune to the writers?"
"That came as a complete shock to the entire board."
"Then why the bone of contention between you and Fox?" Steele asks. "Look, I may be going about this all the wrong way, but I'm going to get to it in the end, okay?"
"I was trying to collect a debt," Pamela explains. "I supported Gil Fox through his long, lean years. I paid for his rent, I paid for his car, I paid for his whiskey. He'd made a movie sale. I wanted the money back. If you're trying to find the woman in the case, Mr. Steele, I suggest you look under a big, romantic, picture hat."
Jackson Grimm is sitting in a bookstore window, working at writing on a typewriter as people watch the writer at work. Nussman pulls up and jumps out of his car to rush into the store and confront Grimm angrily.
Laura watches for a moment as we hear the mean faintly before Nussman hits Grim over the head with a book, and then Grimm returns the move. The two men end up ahold of each other's shirts, yelling as Laura enters the store. "Plagiarist!" Nussman accuses.
"Felon!" Grimm responds.
"You've always stolen my best ideas for your books," Nussman accuses. "Now you're trying to steal to kill the Holt dame!"
"If I wanted to kill someone, I wouldn't have to stoop to borrowing from you- I have ideas of my own!" Grimm insists.
"Like booby trapping an office, Mr. Grimm!?" Laura asks, breaking them up. "Mr. Steele and I were almost blown to Kingdom Come yesterday, like the detectives in your 'Save the World Bureau'."
Out of breath, Nussman says, "She's got ya, Grimm. You're gonna like the slammer. I may even give you letters for the right people."
"I want my lawyer," Grimm says. "Somebody's plagiarizing ME!"
"If you're so successful, Mr. Grimm," Laura asks, "WHY are you writing in a bookstore window?"
"If you must know, it inspires me."
"Or is it a desperate attempt to drum up interest in a flagging career?" Laura wonders, moving to the typewriter to remove the paper from it. She smiles. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country," she reads, and reveals that the entire page is nothing but that line, over and over again to form a "V" on the page. "Writer's block?" she suggests.
The Auburn is parked before what appears to be an English cottage. He enters the house and turns away when he finds Columbine reclining on a satin bed, wrapped only in a white feather boa. There's a white quill pen in her hand, and papers strewn over the bed. Steele is embarrassed.
"Mr. Steele. Had I but known-"
"If you have a moment, Miss Cooper-"
"Oh, I hope my- working clothes don't offend you."
"Gets you in the proper mood, does it?" he asks.
"Atmosphere is everything. If I wrote war novels, I'd wear a uniform. This is the uniform of- love."
"Yes, and this is the uniform of a private investigator," he tells her, still not looking at her.
"Oh. A business call." She pulls the boa and sheet around her. "How disappointing."
Steele comes into the room. "Tell me, Miss Cooper. Who taught you to write?"
She laughs. "I taught myself."
"Your first book was a world-wide best seller, wasn't it?" he questions.
"I immersed myself in the greats. Barbara Cartland, Rosemary Rogers, Helen Gurley Brown. I learned the potent power of printed passion- and then I pounced."
"I understand the late Gil Fox had more than a casual interest in you."
"Why not?" she asks. "I am but a blossom only now coming into full flower."
Steele looks at one of her books. "Yes, I know. What about Gil Fox?"
"Disgusting old man. Always watching me with those rheumy eyes. Stalking me with those- spindly legs. Heaven knows what he imagined in that gin soaked mind. Oh, that's quite good. Let me write that down." She picks up her quill and dips it into the inkwell, then writes.
"I trust you and Gil Fox weren't-" he reads from the book he's holding, "snared in rapturous tentacles of molten desire?"
"Mr. Steele." She sits up. "What do you think I am?" she asks, dropping the boa. "Easy?"
Steele closes the book, pulling his finger out of the pages, shaking his head.
Steele and Laura get off of the elevator. "They ALL needed money," she tells him. "Nussman's had four publishers,-"
"Pamela Johns badgered Fox to repay her," Steele adds.
"Jackson has writer's block."
"Laidlaw's book's on the critical list, Miss Cooper has tax problems, among other problems."
"And Butch?" Laura asks.
"Well, you told me yourself, Laura, he lost a whole bundle on that television series based on his books. Notice I didn't call them novels."
They enter the office to find Laidlaw there with Mildred. "Ah, Mr. Laidlaw," Steele says. "We were just narrowing down the suspects. I think that we can say that we're a mere tad away from closing this case."
"Oh, it IS closed, Mr. Steele," Laidlaw informs them. Steele's and Laura's smiles fade. Laidlaw opens a case that contains the missing money. "The money has been returned."
Later, after Laidlaw departs, Laura is pacing in the reception area. "It doesn't make any sense. The embezzler tires to kill us, then he returns the money?"
"Well, perhaps it's simply our- charisma," Steele suggests. "The Steele Agency enters the case, and the cunning felon quakes and turns, eh?"
Laura doesn't buy that one. "Oh, please."
Mildred answers the phone. "Remington Steele Investigations . . . Just a minute." She looks up. "Its for you, Miss Holt."
"Thanks." She smiles at Steele. "Hello? . . . Yes, Doctor . . . I appreciate your follow thru." She hangs up. "Well, if we ever had any doubts, they've been removed. Gil Fox's heart attack WAS induced."
"WHY?" Mildred asks.
"There must be something about Fox we've been overlooking," Laura tells them.
"Fox willed his personal papers to the mystery writers," Steele tells her. "Care to do a little midnight reading, hmm?"
Later, in the mystery guild office, Laura reads from a file. "Fox's will specifies that this building be torn down, that the new headquarters be built on this lot and the one next door. 'In memory of my dear, departed friend, B. Craven.'"
Steele has more papers. "Miss Holt, come here. The option on that lot next door expired on noon today."
"And the money was returned a few hours later," Laura muses. "Maybe somebody doesn't want the new building built."
"Or the old building torn down," Steele suggests.
"Arsenic and Old Lace. Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Warner Brothers, 1944. A couple of loveable old biddies poison homeless gentlemen and then bury them in the basement."
"Are you suggesting there's a dead body somewhere in this building?" she asks.
"Well, it appears that the only reason the money was embezzled was to stop this building from being torn down."
"But we don't have any unaccounted corpses," Laura insists. "Whose body?"
"Laura, I can only lead you so far," Steele tells her. She hits him with the folder.
Laura gives Butch, who's wearing a shirt under his vest, a beer, smiling. "I'm going to have to get a new set of locks."
"Forced entry is my specialty."
Laura smiles. "Well, now that you're here, what do you know about someone named B. Craven?"
"What's to know? He was a nobody, he disappeared, then he was somebody."
"Disappeared? Not dead?"
Butch comes around and takes Laura in his arms from behind. "Listen, why don't you slip into something a little more comfortable? Like your skin?" he suggests.
"What do you mean, nobody, somebody?"
Butch sighs. "Craven was an old time pulp writer. Sold a few thousand copies a year. One day he disappeared without a trace and suddenly he was a cult figure. Best career move he ever made," he tells her, kissing her face.
"Disappeared?" Laura questions. "Without a trace?" she continues, unaffected by Butch's attention now. She turns away, thinking. "Hmm," she murmurs and goes to the phone to dial a number.
"What are you doing?" Butch asks.
Laura smiles. "Mr. Steele, I have a funny feeling that we've been looking for the protégé of the wrong writer. I may hate myself for days, but Arsenic and Old Lace is beginning to look better and better . . ." Butch hangs up the line. Laura turns to him. "What are you doing?"
"I didn't come over here to watch you make phone calls," he tells her.
"My broads don't work on anything but me," Butch declares.
"You don't understand. I'm BUTCH."
"You don't understand. I'm Laura." She takes the beer from his hand and walks away.
At the Guild office, Nussman says, "Come on, Steele."
"You can't be serious," Grimm frowns.
"Gathering the suspects?" Butch says, shaking his head.
"Trite," Pamela agrees. "Frightfully old hat."
Wearing gloves, holding a quill pen, Columbine sighs. "It does lack a certain- jene se qua."
Laidlaw agrees as well. "I've written this scene."
Steele and Laura exchange a look, then Laura begins. "Bear with us. At first, Mr. Steele suspected that Gil Fox was murdered by his protégé," she tells them. "But after painstaking detective work on his part, he realized that Fox was killed because he was about to write exposing the murder of his friend, B. Craven. The murderer being CRAVEN'S protégé."
Steele picks it up. "Little did the killer know that by committing the second crime- Fox's murder, he or she was triggering his or her own undoing."
"By activating Fox's will, which mandated the tearing down of this building," Laura tells them.
"And the inevitable discovery of Craven's buried remains," Steele points out.
"Bodies buried in buildings?" Pamela asks.
"That went out with secret passages and baying hounds," Laidlaw tells them.
"So where's the body?" Alf asks.
Laura looks at Steele, who paused, then looks up. "Perhaps the attic." They hear noises from upstairs.
Alf yawns, and the others laugh. "No one's cracking," Laura tells him.
"Forge ahead," he tells her.
"At the time of Craven's disappearance seven years ago, anyone of you could have been Craven's protégé," Laura says.
Alf lifts his hands. "I was in maximum security in Leavenworth."
"Put a pin in Nussman," Steele says.
"I was with the Bureau," Grimm says. "We never killed people."
Laura leans close to him. "You had nights off, didn't you?"
"I was in the Marines," Butch tells them.
"Stationed a scant fifty miles from here," Steele notes.
Laura looks at Columbine. "And you, Miss Cooper. You were Craven's typist."
"I cannot help but admit it," she declares. "I typed my fingers to the bone for him. That's why I use a pen."
"And you, Mr. Laidlaw," Steele says, "collaborated on a book with Craven. A book to which your favorite critic gave six yawns."
"He'd give this one a twelve," Nussman tells Steele.
"And you, Miss Johns," Laura points out, "you were the star pupil of Craven's writing class at UCLA."
"So where's the body?" Pamela asks.
"Somewhere in the walls?" Steele suggests. A pounding noise is heard from the walls. The others, except for Columbine, find it amusing still..
"Maybe we should forget about the body and try something else," Laura suggests to Steele in a quiet voice.
"Yes, well, it's too late to change course now, isn't it?"
"What we have here," he declares, "is a killer. A killer who will stop at nothing to conceal his or her original crime. A killer who has already snuffed out two additional lives, Gil Fox, and Melvin Gamble, in order to keep buried the secret of B. Craven's disappearance."
"SO WHERE'S THE BODY?" they ALL ask.
The sound of a jackhammer in the basement makes Butch comment, "The cellar? Hack city."
Columbine puts a hand to her forehead as Pamela says, "Really, Mr. Steele, you ARE going at it all wrong."
Laura and Steele notice Columbine breaking her pen. "Nervous, Miss Cooper?" Laura asks.
"Tell me again, Miss Cooper, why Gil Fox was so obsessed with you," Steele asks.
"Why did he watch you, stalk you, so relentlessly?" Laura wonders. "Was it because you discovered you were the late B Craven's- his friend's- protégé?"
"Heavens no," Columbine insists. "I told Mr. Steele. Fox coveted my - person." The jackhammer starts again, and Columbine becomes even more upset.
"Does that powerful jackhammer bother you, Miss Cooper?"
"Shall we tell the husky man with the powerful jackhammer to stop digging?"
"Have you no shame?" Columbine asks, standing. "Have you no scruples? Deep, dark secrets were meant to be deep and dark!" She runs from the room.
"Good lord," Laura sighs. "There IS a body!"
"When will you learn to trust me, Laura?" Steele asks. They follow Columbine out, and the others follow them.
Columbine enters the basement room, looking for the jackhammer, circling the heavy, solid desk. "Where are you?" she calls as the others join her. "Where the hell are you?"
"I think we can call that a confession," Laura says.
"Yes," Steele agrees. "A little over the top, but never mind."
The desk opens to reveal Mildred, laying in a coffin. Columbine screams. "Thank goodness," she sighs. "It's stifling in here." She pulls out a tape recorder. "And this tape's running out."
Columbine looks stricken to realize she's been tricked. "Had I but KNOWN," she says.
Steele holds a box of candies for Maxie. "Dig in, Maxie. Please. Be my guest." She's surrounded by food baskets. "Craven was giving Miss Cooper writing lessons in exchange for her typing. She liked what she was typing so much, that she decided to steal it and publish it as her first novel. The only way she could have managed that was to - kill him."
"Writers," Maxie sighs. There's a knock at the door.
"Are you expecting anyone?" Steele asks.
She smiles. "Maybe it's the paramedics again."
"Maybe. Let me get it." He opens the door to Laura. "Laura."
"Room for one more?" she asks and goes to Maxie. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, a hundred g's is terrific medicine," Maxie tells her with a bright smile.
"Excuse me just a moment, Maxie, please," Steele says, pulling Laura aside. "I thought you were out with our Butch?"
"That's over," Laura tells him, smiling at Maxie.
"Over? Just like that?"
"Just like that. Momentary aberration," she assures him.
"Oh, I see. Well, I'm glad to see you've returned to the world of the sane. Not a moment too soon, I can say."
"Is this going to be a lecture?" Laura asks.
"No," Steele begins, but Maxie interrupts.
"Hey, you guys, stop sparring. Go into a clinch."
Steele grins. "You don't understand, Maxie. I like a moving target." He grabs Laura and gives her a kiss on the cheek as she laughs. He keeps his arm around her as he comes up. "See?" Laura pretends to deliver a left uppercut to his chin.