Nighttime in Los Angeles. A street sweeper passes by the Flying Aces Air Freight building. A small black sports car sits across the street. An alarm begins to sound, and the car's engine roars to life.
A passing police car does a u-turn to check out the alarm, and the sports car's lights come on as it begins to move. The police follow it on rain slicked streets. The driver of the sports car plays a dangerous game of chicken with an oncoming police car, then evades three of them as he turns a corner, almost causing them to crash into each other.
The small car makes a u-turn onto a freeway, and finds itself bracketed by police cars. He backs up, almost hitting another police car, and does a James Bond turn to head the opposite way, only to be confronted by three police cars heading toward him. Another James Bond turn, and he ducks down a ramp. Below the freeway, he is trapped by six cars. The officers get out and pull their guns, watching the sports car.
One of them approaches the driver's side of the car, gun drawn. The window slides down and the driver, a smiling, gray haired man, asks, "Is there a problem, officer?"
The officer looks shocked.
"Ninety miles an hour?" Steele questions in disbelief as he sits behind his desk. "At three o'clock in the morning?"
Laura picks up the coffee pot from the tray on Steele's desk to fill a cup as an attractive, dark haired woman tells Steele, "He told the police he thought it was an ambulance behind him and he was just trying to get out of the way."
Steele laughs. "Commendable explanation. Not to mention original."
Laura hands the woman the cup of coffee. "Why were the police chasing him in the first place?"
"Oh, a burglar alarm went off in the neighborhood, and they saw Dad speeding away and thought that he was involved. It turned out to be a false alarm," she tells Steele.
"Then what was he doing?" Steele asks.
"Well, as I said, he's been acting- *very* strangely lately."
"Do you remember when this strange behaviour first began, Miss Cooper?" Laura asks, sitting on Steele's desk.
"Six months ago. It was the day his best friend, Chuck Certes died when his private plane crashed. It was really quite a blow to my dad. He hasn't been the same since."
Laura asks, "In what way?"
"He's disappeared for days at a time. He-He withdrew all his savings. He bought that sports car. He's practically bankrupted himself."
Laura picks up the coffeepot to pour herself a cup. "You think there might be a woman involved?"
"It's not as if there aren't any gold diggers out there," Steele notes, rising from his chair to come around to the front of the desk.
"No," Miss Cooper agrees. "And my Dad's an easy target. But- why else would he be doing this?"
Steele sits on the desk as well, picking up a cup. "Uh, there could be another explanation, Miss Cooper," he begins, trying to broach a delicate subject as he pours a cup of coffee. "At the risk of sounding insensitive, uh, well, uh, a man of his advanced years, he could well be-"
Miss Cooper lifts her hand to stop him. "Senile," she finishes. "I know. I know that. You don't know how difficult things would be for me. I-I would have to put him into a nursing home. I don't know what else I could do."
"How can we help you, Miss Cooper?" Laura wants to know.
"What I thought was, if you could just- follow him, find out why he's doing some of these things. Find out if he is being taken by somebody. If you could just-" she sighs. "If you could just-find out what's going on."
Laura looks at Steele, who places a spoon from his coffee into his mouth before taking a sip of it.
Laura, her hair up in a ponytail, wearing short-shorts and a tight top, is skating around a park. She's wearing knee and elbow pads. The beach-front park is filled with people, including a seedy looking Steele, who's lounging on a bench. He squints at the bright sunlight and rubs a hand over his unshaven chin.
Laura passes a table, where Cooper and another elderly man are sitting playing Checkers. She sits on the bench where Steele is to adjust her skates. "Fascinating assignment, Laura," he tells her, still squinting. "I don't know if I can stand much more excitement."
"I have to admit, it's been a little tedious, so far," she tells him.
"Um hum. A rip-roaring Gray Panthers get together, followed by a bingo parlour, his mid-day nap, and now the Checkers championship of Venice Beach. Face it, the man's a perfectly normal, seventy year old retiree."
Cooper rises from the Checkers table. "He's on the move," Laura says, getting up.
"Trust me, Laura, there's no hurry," Steele tells her. "Really." She moves off, and he stands, coughing, to follow her.
They get to the corner, and there's no sign of Cooper on the busy street. "You were saying?" Laura asks, upset about loosing their quarry.
Suddenly Cooper comes out of a dry cleaners, now wearing a tux. "What's he doing in a tux?" Laura wonders.
A white stretch limo pulls up beside him and Cooper gets into the vehicle. "What's he doing in a limo?" Steele asks.
"Getting away from us," Laura tells him, starting forward on her skates. Steele follows, and is almost hit by the same car that almost hits Laura. Standing in the middle of the street, they see the limo's license plate. "Brite 7," it reads. The car turns the corner. "Exciting enough for you?" she asks Steele, who's holding a hand to his chest.
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes," he says.
"You lost him?" Mildred says into the phone, clearing surprised. "A seventy year old man? What'd he do? Outrun you?" she asks with a laugh.
"Never mind that, Mildred," Laura says from a payphone as Steele stands nearby. "I want you to call up StarBrite Limousines, and find out where license number Brite 7 was heading."
"Brite 7. Gotcha."
"And have Fred meet us at Mr. Steele's in an hour."
"You got it."
Laura hangs up as Steele scratches his chest through his torn shirt.
The white limo sits outside a club at night. The neon sign on the building reads "Bedard's". The agency limo pulls up behind it and a valet opens the door for Laura and Steele. She's wearing a white evening dress, and Steele is in his tux. "What's Johnny doing in a swanky place like this?" Laura wonders, looking at the limo.
"In all likelihood," Steele informs her, "gambling."
"Bedard's is one of the few private clubs in town which offers a back room casino for those in the know, eh?" he tells her, tapping his nose with a smile.
Laura looks at him. "Back room casino? Now how would you know-?" She stops. "Forget I even asked."
Inside the club, they get into the back room. Steele takes a drink from a passing waitress. "Over there," Laura tells him, nodding toward a table around which a crowd of people have gather, watching as Johnny Cooper and two other men play poker. They move a little closer, and then separate.
Steele smiles at an attractive blonde, who looks him over. Lifting his glass to his lips, Steele notes, "Johnny seems to be doing fairly well."
"Who?" the blonde asks.
"The gray haired gentleman," he says, pointing to Johnny.
"Oh. You mean Jack Craig."
"Jack Craig," Steele repeats, surprised. "Oh, yes," he says with a smile. "Of course. I must have him confused with someone else."
At the table, the dealer says, "Bets, gentlemen?"
Johnny leads off. "Well, what do you say- three thousand dollars?"
"Too rich for my blood," one of the players declares. Steele moves to stand behind Johnny.
"Got something cooking over there, Jack?" the remaining player asks with an Australian accent.
Johnny shrugs in response.
"I'll- see your three, and I'll bump it three more."
"That's three thousand to you, sir," the dealer tells Johnny.
"Called," Johnny says, putting in the chips.
"Two cards," Johnny tells her.
"Two for me," the other man says.
Laura is standing beside another distinguished man as they watch the game. "Does he come here often?" she asks.
"The distinguished gentleman on the right."
"Jack? Yeah. He and Geoffrey have been playing a high stakes poker game with each other for over a month now."
"He must be loaded."
"Worth millions, easily," the man tells Laura. "Dabbles in foreign investments, from what I gather."
Johnny says, "Geoffrey, what d'you say we add five thousand dollars to the pot?"
Geoffrey checks his cards as Laura moves to look at them as well. "Let's make it even more interesting, shall we?" he suggests. "Your five- and fifteen more."
Laura glances up to Steele, who's still behind Johnny. Johnny says, "Well, so you finally got a hand you can feel proud of."
Steele looks at Johnny's hand. He's holding four Kings and a seven. He smiles at Laura, as if to assure her that the hand is in the bag.
"Well, we only live once," Johnny says. "I call. Whaddaya got?"
Geoffrey puts down his cards. "Three deuces."
"Ouch," Johnny says, closing his eyes. He glances at his cards again. "Can't beat ya. You win, Geoffrey, congratulations." Steele's amazed that Johnny gave up the hand.
Laura notices Steele's stunned expression, and wonders what happened.
"Cash me in, would you?" Geoffrey tells the dealer as the crowd applauds the game.
Outside Johnny's apartment building, Steele and Laura are in the limo, watching as a light goes on in Johnny's apartment. Laura fiddles with her earring and Steele looks like he's still in shock. "I still can't understand what Johnny was doing at that casino in the first place."
"I still can't understand why he folded with four Kings," he mutters and runs a hand over his face.
"Well, either his gambling skills leave something to be desired, or else- he's playing a game all his own."
"It doesn't make any sense," Steele insists. "I mean, where'd he get all the money?"
"I think we can definitely rule out Social Security," Laura tells him.
"And why is he pretending to be this Jack Craig character? Why the charade?"
"Perhaps his daughter's right. Perhaps Johnny isn't playing with a full deck after all."
"Perhaps," Steele agrees as the upstairs light goes out. "He's obviously turned in for the evening," he tells her, putting his head back and closing his eyes. "I suggest we do the same thing and get a fresh start in the morning.
Laura puts her hand on his arm. "Look!"
"What?" he says, opening his eyes to see Johnny, now wearing a leather flight jacket and white scarf, go to his car and leave. "Insomnia?" Steele suggests.
"Don't lose him, Fred," Laura says.
Fred tries to make a u-turn in the narrow street, and is forced to back the car up to accomplish it.
At an airfield, Johnny is in an airplane, a P-40 fighter. The engine is running as he lowers his goggles and fastens the safety harness. He slides the canopy closed and taxis the plane out to the runway as the limo comes to a stop near some buildings.
Steele and Laura get out as the plane takes off.
Looking at it, Laura says, slightly dazed, "Well, that settles it."
"He is out of his mind."
Steele nods as the plane flies into the sunrise.
Miss Cooper is in Steele's office, saying, "First, you tell me about all the batty things that my father's done. Then you turn around and tell me that you think he may be perfectly normal! I mean, how am I supposed to know what's going on?" Steele puts a comforting arm around the woman's shoulders. "How am I supposed to know what he's up to?" she asks him.
"Uh, yes," he agrees. "Miss Cooper, it would make it easier for us to answer that if you would- uh, let us into his flat." She looks uncertain. "Hmm?"
At Johnny's, Laura is looking at Johnny's war medals. "He's lived here ten years, ever since Mom died. Dad devoted his entire life to the Air Force. Became a Brigadier General before finally retiring." Steele is examining the room, but returns to join the ladies.
"Is this really the Distinguished Flying Cross?" Laura asks.
"Uh hmm. Ike himself awarded that to my dad." Steele looks at it. "Well, his entire squadron got one."
"Your father was a real hero," Laura tells her.
Miss Cooper smiles. "Well, he'd never admit to it. You know, according to him, he was just- doing his job."
Laura picks up a photograph. "What-?"
"Oh. That's his old squadron there." As they talk, Steele moves into another room. "Believe it or not, the men who are still left meet once a month and fly those beat up old planes. A little too often, for my tastes. Oh, that's Chuck Certes, Dad's friend I was telling you about."
The picture is of a group of men lined up before a P-40. "The man who died in a plane crash," Laura recalls.
"Um hmm," Miss Cooper nods.
"This fella here looks a little like a young-"
"Duncan Harlow," Miss Cooper finishes.
"This really IS Duncan Harlow?" Laura asks.
"In fact, Duncan got the idea for his air freight service from flying with Chuck and Dad during the war. Flying Aces."
"Flying Aces Air Freight," Laura says.
"Miss Holt," Steele calls out. "A moment,-?"
"Excuse me," Laura says, handing Miss Cooper the picture. Miss Cooper carefully returns it to the mantle, her expression sad.
Laura joins Steele in the bathroom, where a darkroom has been set up. "What's all this?" she asks as he studies some photos left hanging to dry on a line.
"I suspect all this explains Johnny's impulsive jaunt into the wild blue yonder," he tells her. "Here, have a look at these." He hands her some pictures. "Photographs of the J. Murphy Museum. Every conceivable angle has been covered."
"A museum? Why?"
"He points to the photos on the line. "Now, have a look at these."
The photos are blobs of blue and red with a time stamp in the corner. "What are they?" Laura asks.
"Aerial photographs. Heat sensitive photographs, actually," he tells her, sitting down on a counter. "Taken at five minute intervals. Very sophisticated. Oh, my," he sighs. "What I could have accomplished with half of this equipment. Boggles the mind," he says with a grin. Laura gives him a concerned look. Steele's smile vanishes and he lifts his hand in an apologetic gesture.
"What would Johnny want with these?" she asks.
"It appears he was tracking the movements of the red blotches," Steele tells her.
"That's my guess."
"A museum. Timed photographs. Security guards?" Laura grimaces in confusion.
"Johnny's planning a heist," Steele tells her.
Johnny walks down a street, stopping at a store window to look in it. Reflected in the glass is Mildred, wearing a bright red dress, watching him from across the street. Johnny smiles, and then turns to cross the street.
Seeing his approach, Mildred grabs a newspaper from a nearby news stand and pretends to be reading it. Johnny stands before her. "You know, I hate to see anybody ruin a perfectly beautiful day like today by following an old man all over town."
Mildred lowers the paper, trying to act as if she doesn't know what he's talking about. She laughs. "I don't know what you're talking about." She looks around. "I just came here to see this movie, that's all."
"Well, how about that, so did I," Johnny declares. "Let's go. I'll pay."
"No. I couldn't go to the movie, I-Well, not with a perfect stranger."
"Well, let's get better acquainted. My name's Johnny Cooper."
"Mildred Krebs," she says with a worried look.
He takes her arm. "Mildred, pleased to meet you." He leads her to the movie box office and pulls out some money. "Two, please."
Inside, Mildred puts salt on a bucket of popcorn. "You know, Johnny, I'm not saying I was following you- but IF I was-and it's a big IF-What would have tipped you off?"
Johnny takes his change from the snack bar lady. "Oh. Thank you. Well, Mildred, I'm no expert, but, if you're asking, I think that maybe what you're wearing is a little too bright, you know?" Mildred looks down at her dress as they head for the theater. She nods. "I think you'd want to blend in a little more.
He opens the door for her. "It looks pretty on you, though."
Mildred laughs, embarrassed. As they walk down the dark aisle, a black and white movie is playing on the screen. "I haven't been to a matinee in years," Mildred tells Johnny. She stops at a row. "Oh. How's this? Huh, Johnny? Is this too close, Johnny?" She turns and sees that she's alone. "Johnny!" She runs from the theater, but Johnny's nowhere in sight.
Mildred gets into a taxi, still holding the popcorn and drink in a box.
Johnny comes from around the corner of the building as the cab leaves, and grabs the next cab. Inside, he tells the driver, "That's my daughter in that cab. I've been looking for her for thirty years. Let's not lose her now, okay?"
The driver nods and starts the car.
Laura and Steele are examining pictures from Johnny's apartment. "It appears," Steele notices, "that he's concentrating on only one of the wings."
"I still can't believe Johnny's planning to rob the J. Murphy Museum."
"A picture's worth a thousand words, Laura. And these are all synonyms for a burglary."
"But what could possibly be his motive?" Laura wonders.
Steele stands up from his chair. "Going In Style. George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg, Warner Brothers, 1979." He peeks out of the window. "Three senior citizens, bored with their golden years, plot to rob a bank, purely for the excitement of it all."
Laura looks at him as he leans on the back of his chair. "Were they successful?"
"Uh, yes, and no. They rob the bank, however, two of the three eventually died from the excitement of it all."
"Johnny had better hope that life doesn't imitate art," Laura comments.
"Yes, well, perhaps we should pay a visit to the museum," he suggests, reaching around her to gather the photos. Laura looks doubtful. "See what Johnny is after, eh?"
"I'm always in the mood for a little- art appreciation," Laura says, smiling now.
He smiles back. "Are you?"
As they enter the reception area, Mildred returns, looking upset. "Where's Johnny, Mildred?" Steele asks, fixing his tie.
Mildred shrugs, hesitates. "I lost him, Boss," she admits.
"What did he do," Laura asks. "Out run you?"
Mildred points her finger at Laura, acknowledging the jibe. Touché. He faked me out. I didn't think an old geezer like that would put the moves on me like he did."
"Yeah, well, don't lose any sleep over it, Mildred," Steele tells her as he and Laura head for the doors. "You're not the only one of us to underestimate him. We'll be back." He blows her a kiss as he leaves.
As they leave, Johnny comes from around the corner and reads the name on the office door.
He goes to a payphone and makes a call. "Plans have changed. We're on tonight," he tells whoever's on the other end of the line, then hangs up.
At the museum, Steele and Laura are confronted with a sign that reads, "The J. Murphy Museum Presents Duncan Harlow's Private Collection." There's a recent photo of Duncan Harlow, a gray haired, hard featured man.
"This case is getting more bizarre by the minute," Steele tells Laura in a quiet voice.
"I don't get it," Laura says. "Johnny and Duncan Harlow are old war buddies."
"Well, it would appear their camaraderie may be a tad tainted."
"Do you really think he plans to steal his friend's paintings?" Laura asks.
Steele's about to answer when he sees Johnny upstairs. "Why don't we ask Johnny himself?" he suggests.
They follow him back out of the museum and watch as his car pulls away. They jump into the Auburn and follow him.
Later, it's dark, and they're still following him. "This is getting ridiculous!" Steele declares.
"It's certainly curious," Laura admits. "Though, with Johnny, that seems to be par for the course."
"We must be nearly two hundred miles from Los Angeles. Where's he going? Fresno?"
Laura rubs her neck. "Well, one things for certain. As long as we're on his tail, he can't be breaking into the museum."
Back at the museum, a grappling hook is tossed onto the tile roof. Three men climb to the top of the building. One of them uses a glass cutter to lift a section of skylight from the roof.
A security guard makes his rounds as another watches monitors in a control room. He's also watching a basketball game on a small TV on his desk.
One of the black clad, masked thieves opens an electrical box.
Another is in a power area of some kind, pulls a wire through a vent to clip it to some other wires.
The man at the electrical box uses a meter and clips something into the power supply.
Steele and Laura are still following Johnny.
One of the thieves is lowered to a security camera. He fastens a holder with a photo of the room onto the camera slowly, so that it looks like the picture has rolled once.
The security guard doesn't notice.
The thief lowers some goggles that reveal red laser beams criss-crossing the room. A guard checks the door, then leaves.
The thieves cut paintings from their frames, rolling them up.
Steele and Laura watch as Johnny stops at a gas station and has the tank filled by the attendant. "Something's definitely off here," Steele tells Laura as the engine of Johnny's car starts again. The car turns back toward LA.
"He's heading back to LA?" Laura questions.
"Not without an explanation, he's not," Steele declares, setting the Auburn into motion to follow the black car. He overtakes the small car, stopping in front of it and blocking the road. Steele gets out of the Auburn first, Laura follows, as he goes to the black sports car. "All right, mate, enough of the wild goose chase."
The window slides down, but instead of Johnny's smiling face, another old man is at the wheel. "Nice night for a drive, isn't it?" he asks, smiling.
Laura looks surprised, Steele is angry.
The thieves get into a van. The driver removes his mask. It's Johnny. He starts the van and drives away.
The next morning, Laura bangs on Johnny's door. They're both frustrated. The door opens, and Johnny, clad in pajamas, stands there, smiling at them. "Is there a problem?" he asks.
Laura looks at Steele, who releases an angry breath as he glares at Johnny.
Johnny, now wearing a white bathrobe, pours tea as he laughs. "Well, that's quite a tale. Either of you care for a little lemon in your tea?"
"Never mind about the tea, Johnny," Laura says. "We know you robbed the museum."
"Well, assuming, for the sake of argument, that you're right, how would you go about proving it?" he asks, sitting down at the kitchen table.
"Well, first," Steele begins, "we tell the police about your LONG standing relationship with Duncan Harlow, your obviously estranged friend-"
"Estranged?" Johnny repeats in surprise. "Why, Duncan and I have been best buddies for more than four decades," he declares.
Laura sits down. "Then we show them your- shall we say- unusual array of museum photographs."
"Architectural photography. Always been a hobby of mine, you know," Johnny tells them.
"Partial to the heat-sensitive variety, are we?" Steele asks.
"I like the colors."
"Nevertheless, we could compile quite a curious list of coincidences for the authorities to examine," Steele points out.
"But we felt the quickest way to get to the heart of the matter would be to pay a visit to Duncan Harlow himself," Laura tells him. Johnny pauses while drinking his tea to look at her.
"Yes. We thought the three of us might get together, saunter over to Duncan's and see what he thinks of our little story," Steele suggests with a smile.
"Mr. Harlow undoubtedly is not in the highest of spirits at the moment. But- a visit from one of his best buddies just might cheer him up," Laura says. "Interested, Johnny?"
Johnny laughs. "No. No, I'm sorry, I can't do that." He puts down his cup. "You kids are pretty good."
"We're listening," Laura says.
"All right. Let me tell you a story."
At the museum, as police comb the gallery, Harlow is talking to Geoffrey, the man that Johnny played cards with at Bedard's. "This was a well-planned, well executed operation, Geoffrey."
"Yes, but what I don't understand, Mr. Harlow, why it was only your collection they struck."
"Well, someone's out to get me. No question about it. And that someone also knew that I was desperate for cash. And that those paintings represented my final source of capital."
"Couldn't you take out a loan or two?" Geoffrey suggests. "Keep the vultures away until we can recover the paintings."
"Don't be naïve, Geoffrey. I need millions. Not thousands. Besides, those thefts have effectively placed me on the brink of financial ruin."
"So? What do we do now?"
"We re-open the operation," Harlow tells him.
Geoffrey is uncertain. "But, Mr. Harlow-"
"We re-open it!"
"And where do we find buyers in time to do us any good?"
"Well, what about that old guy you've been playing cards with?"
"Jack Craig. Right. Hey, I could probably arrange a meeting with him tonight."
"Do it. Right away. It will buy me some time to find out who has his gun sights aimed in my direction. And then I'm gonna have to blow him out of the sky- before he does the same to me."
At the airfield, Johnny leads Steele and Laura along the flight line, where P-40s are lined up. "You've never seen a better fighter pilot than Duncan Harlow. Saved my hide many a time during the war."
"After lookin' at your assortment of medals, Johnny," Steele tells him, "I'd hasten to add that you saved your share of hides as well."
"Well, no more than Uncle Sam was paying me to do," Johnny says. "Chuck Certes felt the same way about it. No, Duncan was the only glory seeker in the squadron. And there's no denying he was the best pilot out of all of us."
"From what I can understand," Laura says, "He built up Flying Aces Air Freight largely off of publicity from his war exploits."
"You mean the squadron's exploits," Johnny corrects her. "You see, once Duncan found out how profitable it was to be a hero, he just took the ball and ran with it. And that's fine, up to a point. But you see, Duncan's insatiable need for money completely corrupted his sense of morality."
"What makes you say that?" Laura asks.
"Because he killed Chuck Certes," Johnny tells her.
Laura and Steele stop walking at this news. Steele removes his sunglasses and looks curiously at Laura.
Johnny enters a small building, and they follow him. He picks up a photo. "Not too many of the squadron boys left, anymore. And those of us who can try to have a little ceremony for those who move on. Tomorrow, we pay tribute to Lowell." He points to one of the men. "Poor Lowell. He was seventy-six. Battled a long illness." He puts the photo back.
"You were saying Chuck worked for Harlow's company?" Laura asks.
"Yes. Since the war ended. Sit down." They sit at a table in the little bar. "About six months ago, I ran into Chuck. And he said that he had learned something awful. It seems that Duncan had stolen medical supplies from the Air Force and sold them on the Black Market. Apparently he's corrupted a young supply sergeant into setting it all up."
"But why would a man as wealthy as Harlow want to get mixed up in something like that?" Laura questions.
"To save his business. Competition was fierce. He'd over extended himself, gotten careless, he needed the cash."
"Owning an air freight company would undoubtedly make it easier for him to distribute the supplies," Steele notes.
"Chuck was going to expose the whole ball of wax," Johnny tells them. "Then the next day, he crashed his P-40. The safety board said it was an accident, but I knew better. It was Duncan."
"Why didn't you notify the authorities?" Laura asks.
"I had no proof. Besides, Duncan closed down the operation to boot."
"So, you stole Harlow's paintings for revenge," Steele asks.
"Now, you see, when the Black Market money disappeared, he had to rely on his own resources. Well, that well was running dry. So I decided to- hurry it along a bit."
"By stealing his art collection," Steele says.
"Not only that. Chuck told me about Duncan's secret stash. It seems as though he had saved all of the profits from the Black Market and put them in a secret safe in his office."
Laura smiles. "That would certainly account for your race through the streets near Duncan's building."
"Yes. I was the decoy to lure the police away when the alarm went off."
"Leaving your accomplices inside with all the time they liked to crack that safe."
"Hey, you catch on fast," Johnny tells Steele.
"And Harlow wouldn't be able to report the missing money," Laura points out with a smile, "because he'd have to say where he got it in the first place." She looks at Johnny. "Well, that would explain why you've been able to afford everything."
"Where does the casino fit in?" Steele asks.
"Well, Duncan's right hand man Geoffrey Whittlesey was a regular, so I struck up a friendship with him, passed myself off as a shady millionaire named Jack Craig, and that I was very interested in acquiring an abundance of medical supplies."
"But- you folded with four Kings in your hand," Laura says. "That was a thirty-thousand dollar pot you passed on."
"You noticed that. Well, I had to let the poor devil win some of the time. Besides, it was good for my image to lose thousands of dollars without blinking an eye."
"So your plan was to force Harlow back into starting up his medical supply run," Steele realizes.
"With Jack Craig as the buyer," Laura says.
"And catch Duncan's hand in the cookie jar," Johnny confirms. "Just like Chuck was planning to do."
Steele laughs. "Oh, my hat's off to you, Johnny. A brilliant plan. Risky, but- brilliant."
"I don't know how brilliant. But it's the only chance anyone has to bring Duncan to justice. And to account for Chuck's death." He looks at them. "Well? There's the whole nine yards. You gonna turn me in? Or let me go through with it?" Laura looks at Steele. "I could use some help, you know."
Steele and Laura smile at him.
At Bedard's, Steele, in a tux, sits at the bar, watching as Johnny shakes hands with Geoffrey. Geoffrey leaves, and Johnny moves to stand beside Steele. "He seemed rather chipper," Steele notes about Geoffrey.
"He should be. He thinks he just made a two million dollar sale."
"Oh, good. The hook is baited. When do we make the exchange?"
"Tomorrow morning. Ten o'clock."
"Splendid. Gives us time to review," Steele says.
Johnny finishes his drink. "I have something important to attend to." He leaves.
At the airfield, the remaining Flying Aces are gathered in the bar. "And so we say farewell to another member of our squadron," Johnny toasts, "who, like the ones that went before him, remains alive in our hearts and memories. Here's to you, Lowell. We'll miss you." They lift their glasses and touch them together before drinking. They put down their glasses on the table, surrounding a still full glass in the middle.
Three of the men move off, leaving Duncan and Johnny. "Well said, Johnny," Duncan says. "I'm sure Lowell would have been very pleased."
"Good of you to come, Duncan. I must say, it was a bit of a surprise."
"We all went through hell and back together. We owe each other this much."
"I guess you were out of town when Chuck Certes died."
"There were extenuating circumstances at the time," Duncan says.
Johnny nods as Duncan leaves the bar.
Duncan goes to his Mercedes limo and gets inside as Johnny and the others leave the bar. Geoffrey is waiting in the limo, and asks, "You know him, Mr. Harlow?"
"Who?" Duncan asks, seeing Johnny get into Laura's Rabbit. "Oh, Johnny Cooper over there."
"Mr. Harlow, that's Jack Craig."
Duncan isn't happy.
The next day, Laura and Steele are with Johnny in a warehouse. Steele has a tape recorder, and Laura is fiddling with a video camera. Johnny has a briefcase. "Duncan would split in two if he knew his own money was being used to expose his whole operation."
"Adds a nice little irony to it, doesn't it?" Laura asks.
"Yeah. I only wish there was some way to prove he was a murderer," Johnny says sadly, thinking of Chuck.
The sound of a car arriving alerts them.
"Better be moving on here."
"We'll be right up above you," Laura says, pointing to a raised platform.
"And don't worry about me," Johnny tells them. "I'm not exactly an amateur." Steele and Laura head for their hiding place. "Just make sure you stay out of sight."
Steele and Laura climb a ladder up to the raised area, hiding behind some boxes to capture everything on tape.
Geoffrey comes in. "Jack. How are you?" They shake hands.
"No complaints, Geoffrey," he says. "Are we in business?"
"Sure. Did you bring the money?"
"Did you bring the goods?"
"Yeah. They're in the truck. But I'd- like to see the cash, first."
Laura keeps them in her sights as they go to the briefcase and open it. Geoffrey counts it. "Well, it's all there, Jack," he says, looking toward another door.
Several men enter the room. "Hey," Johnny says. "What gives?"
"Hands up, pops," the armed men tell Johnny. "You're under arrest."
"Arrest? For what?"
"Conspiracy to purchase black market goods. Federal offense." He turns Johnny around to handcuff him.
"Sorry," Geoffrey says. "Johnny."
Laura starts to make her presence known, but Steele stops her. "Steady, Laura. Steady. It won't do Johnny much good if we get arrested as well. Easy."
At the police station, Duncan is allowed in to see his "old friend". "Who would have thought forty years ago when we were covering each other's butts over China, that we'd be after each other's now," Duncan says.
"Who would have thought there'd be such a damn good reason why," Johnny tells him.
Duncan smiles. "Poor old Johnny. Still on his white horse, trying to make the world good."
"I remember when you felt the same way," Johnny returns.
Duncan's smile fades. "Long time ago, Johnny. Everything was black and white, then. But the world has changed, Johnny. Leaving you and your ideals behind. Right and wrong aren't so easily defined today."
"Murder is wrong in any world."
"I'm just trying to run a business, Johnny. The world is really just one, big marketplace now. As to Chuck, you don't know that I killed him."
"Oh, yes I do. And you know I do. That's one thing that puzzles me. Why you're letting me stay alive. If you knew I was setting you up, why am I still standing here?"
"Funny you should ask, Johnny."
Laura and Steele are led in to see Johnny, and meet Duncan on his way out. They enter the cell. "Johnny, are you all right?" Laura asks, concerned.
"What's he doing here?" Steele asks.
"Look, I don't know how he turned the tables, but he'll never make it stick. Don't worry."
"She's right, Johnny, this battle's far from over, mate."
Johnny glares at them. "What is it with you two? Are you blind? Face facts. Duncan has won. It may not be right, but there you have it! Okay?!" He sits down on the bed, a man defeated.
"Okay," Laura says, uncomfortable and concerned.
"It was a crazy idea to begin with," Johnny tells them. "I was in over my head and I- Maybe my daughter was right. Maybe I am getting senile."
"Look, Johnny," Steele begins, sitting down beside him. "Let's just-"
"It's over, don't you understand? It's over. Just leave me alone!" he yells.
Steele lifts a hand. "All right. All right."
At the office, after a change of clothes, Steele sits on the sofa, his feet up, as Laura paces the room. "We're certainly not going to stand around while he rots in jail on some trumped up charges."
"I doubt very seriously that Johnny's gonna do much rotting," Steele tells her, hands behind his head.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Somehow I get the feeling that Johnny just folded with four Kings again."
"The man is in jail!" Laura reminds him. "And it's going to take a hell of a lot more than an Ace up his sleeve for him to get out."
"Look, Laura," Steele says, sitting up. "We're not talking about some senile old fool here. We're talking about somebody who masterminded a sophisticated sting to near perfection. I guarantee, he's not gonna go through all that to lose at the very last moment."
Laura takes a deep breath. "Are you saying he acted that way to drive us away?"
"I'm saying that Johnny wants Duncan Harlow in the worst possible way, and he'll do anything he has to do to nail him to the proverbial wall."
Laura looks thoughtful. "And Harlow will do anything he has to do to keep Johnny from succeeding."
Miss Cooper enters the office. "I hire you two to help out my father, and what happens? He gets thrown in jail!" Steele comes to his feet.
Mildred is right behind her, trying to apologize. "I'm sorry, she just-"
"It's alright, Mildred," Laura says as Steele straightens his tie. "Let me explain, Miss Cooper," Laura says.
"I couldn't even imagine my poor father being in jail."
"Yes, yes," Steele commiserates.
"So I rushed down to see how he was and what was going on- and what do I find?" Steele nods, only to stop in shock at her next words. "I find he's been released!"
"Released?" Steele and Laura repeat.
"And the charges dropped," Miss Cooper adds. "I demand to know what is going on here. Where is my father?!"
Laura looks at Steele with concern. "But that's impossible, isn't it?" she asks him.
"Unless the man who had him arrested arranged for his release as well," Steele tells her.
"You mean Harlow?"
"It would explain his presence at the jail."
"Excuse me, Mr. Steele," Miss Cooper says. Steele ignores her.
"But why would he want Johnny out? What could he possibly want from him?"
"Miss Holt?" Miss Cooper tries again, with the same results.
"How about a room full of paintings?" Steele suggests.
"Of course," Laura agrees.
"Find the paintings and you'll find Johnny."
"Come on," Laura says as they pass by Mildred and Miss Cooper.
Miss Cooper turns to Mildred, who says, "Don't look at me. I just work here."
At Johnny's, Steele and Laura have searched the apartment to no avail. "Where would Johnny hide the paintings?" Laura says, rising from checking inside the fireplace. "If you were Johnny, where would you hide the paintings?"
"That all depends on what I'd want to do with them after I stole them," he tells her, still looking around.
"Well, we know he didn't want to sell them. All he wanted was to get them away from Harlow."
"Which implies he'd merely want to store the lot of them."
Laura goes through some pictures of the museum that are on the counter. "Wait a minute. Remember when you stole the 'Five Nudes of Cairo'?"
"Which time?" he asks, smiling.
"Four years ago? With me? When you were being blackmailed?"
"Oh, yes. The good old days," he says, closing a cabinet.
"We were in the museum. They caught me, but you got away, and you hid the painting-"
He smiles again. "Inside the museum."
"Never hide a needle in a haystack, always with other needles, right?"
"The last place anyone thinks of looking."
"And the best place for us to start," Laura says with a smile.
They drive to the museum in the Auburn. "If we can retrace how they broke in," Steele tells her as they arrive, "we should be able to find the paintings."
Laura consults the photos. "From the looks of these, Johnny would have had to circumvent the alarm system at the monitoring station to start with."
Steele looks at the photos. "Then it should be-" he turns to survey the building, "Should be over there, somewhere."
"Yeah," she agrees, and they get out of the car.
Johnny, wearing his flight jacket, is prying loose a vent cover. Once he does, he removes the rolled paintings from inside. From behind him, Duncan says, "I'm impressed, Johnny. I'd forgotten how innovative you always were."
"Believe me, Duncan," Johnny promises, holding the paintings. "You haven't seen anything yet."
"Just give me back my paintings, and we'll go our separate ways." Johnny rips one of the canvases in two. "That's worth over a million dollars!" Duncan tells him.
Johnny holds another, ready to tear it as well. "Just stop right where you are," he tells Duncan.
"You don't know what you're doing! You're crazy!"
"Maybe I am," Johnny admits. "But I know EXACTLY what I'm doing."
Duncan pulls a gun. "Are you sure, Johnny?"
Steele and Laura enter the video surveillance room, with its wall of monitors. In the background, we hear Johnny and Duncan talking. Steele goes to a cabinet. "Okay," he says. "Let's start over here."
Laura pauses, hearing Duncan's voice. "Wait."
"Why did you do it, Johnny? Don't be stupid, Johnny!"
She and Steele turn to the monitors. "Look!"
"Don't make me do this," Duncan tells Johnny, clearing holding him a gunpoint. Laura turns up the audio volume.
"Not much different from the way you killed Chuck, hey, Duncan? Well, you're gonna pay for it." He tears the painting. "You're gonna pay for murder!"
"What's he doing?" Laura asks. "He's going to get himself killed!"
"That's exactly what he's planning on doing," Steele tells her.
"Johnny set this whole thing up. He's so determined to prove that Harlow's a murderer, he's willing to die for it." He looks at the video recorder that is capturing everything between Harlow and Johnny on tape. "On video tape."
"Over my dead body!" Laura declares, rushing out of the office.
Johnny his holding another painting. "I call your bluff, Duncan!" he says, tearing it as well.
"Johnny no!" Laura yells, drawing Duncan's attention. He fires at her and Steele. They duck.
"It's no use, Harlow!" Steele tells him, coming up to point to a video camera on the wall. "It's all on video tape!"
Duncan looks at the camera, and then starts running. Johnny follows him, as do Laura and Steele.
On the roof, Duncan turns, looking over his shoulder, and misses a pipe that trips him into the open skylight that's covered with plastic. Johnny grabs Duncan's hand. "Hold on, Duncan!" he says. "I've got you!"
"Sorry, Johnny," Duncan says. "I fold." He releases his grip on Johnny's hand and falls to his death on the floor below.
Laura and Steele join Johnny to look down at Duncan's body.
Johnny lifts his glass in a toast. "We're not here to stand in judgment over the Duncan Harlow who died. We leave that to a Higher Authority. We're here to salute the Duncan Harlow who lived- and dared, forty years ago in the skies over a darkened world." Johnny's daughter, Laura, and Steele stand, watching and listening. "Our trusted friend and greatest warrior. Here's to him." He clinks glasses with the other three, then drinks.
Miss Cooper embraces her father. "Sweetheart."
"That was very nice, Johnny," Laura tells him.
"Um hmm," Steele agrees. "I'm just glad it's you toasting him and not the other way 'round."
"Thanks to you two," he tells them, shaking Steele's hand. "I'll never forget you. If you don't mind, I think I'll take a little stroll by myself," he says. Steele watches him walk away.
Laura tells Miss Cooper, "Your father's a very courageous man."
"Yes. He certainly is," she agrees with a smile.
Laura and Steele leave the bar to watch Johnny slowly walk the flight line as "Taps" plays mournfully in the background.