At the opening of The Debonair Key Club, a Playboy-like nightclub/restaurant, waitresses in tiger-striped off the shoulder minioutfits with tails serve a fashionable clientele. A large ornate cage descends from the ceiling to the stage to applause. A magician puts a gorgeous assistant in one side of the cage, pulls the drapes and closes the gate. He then pulls back the drapes on the other side of the cage. The body of a man, stabbed in the back, slumps out. Someone in the audience screams.
Burke is playing Monopoly with his dream girl. She picks a card and has to go directly to jail. She'd much prefer to go to a club and calls Burke a cheapskate. When the phone rings, she picks it up (telling Burke she wants to earn her keep). Burke tells her he has to go and she pouts.
WORK - THE CURSE OF THE WORKING CLASS - BURKE'S LAW
Burke wakes Henry up; Henry complains that he never had aggravation like this when he worked for the Green Hornet.
The victim is Alex Debbs, the wealthy owner of the club and publisher of Debonair magazine; he was stabbed to death with an ice pick in his back and died instantly. It is determined that he was killed in the liquor room and moved to the cage. It would have taken someone of considerable strength, as Debbs weighed over 215 pounds. Debbs was killed sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. The club remains open during the investigation. Orrin Lashwell, one of Debbs' partners, tells Burke that he has too much tied up in the place to let murder interfere with business. Burke tells Tim and Les to clear the place. Les informs Burke that all the female employees (hat check girls, waitresses, cigarette girls) are models and former models from Debonair, called Debs. They're all collected in the back room and Les wonders if Burke wants a look.
Back by the liquor room, Lashwell explains the Deboanir setup more fully to Burke. He is the vice president of the Debonair Key Clubs, as well as the publisher of Debonair Magazine. He insists Debbs would have wanted the club to remain open. Debbs built his club and magazine empire from nothing. One of the girls snorts derisively and then tries to cover it as a discrete cough. Burke goes to her and asks her name - Angela Pattison. She says she wasn't making a comment, just having a minor throat condition. Lashwell tells Burke that an empire is at stake and all the girls here loved Debbs. Burke questions one of the Debs, who parrots an obviously prepared speech that Debbs was great and wonderful and she wouldn't be where she was without him. Then she suddenly remarks that isn't the murder exciting; Lashwell winces. A second Deb keeps looking to Lashwell for cues as to how to answer Burke's questions. She says she arrived at the club at 10 o'clock, along with the other girls. Burke asks if anyone was in the club when she arrived and the girl hesitates. Lashwell pipes up and says Debbs had arrived early and was alone, checking the liquor stock. He says Debbs didn't like flunkies and that doing things for himself gave him pleasure. Angela snorts again and says that Debbs was very big on pleasure. Burke asks Angela to be his guide; she accompanies him, giving Lashwell a snide look as she leaves. Angela tells Burke that no one deserved to die as much as Debbs did; he was a monster, according to any dictionary. She calls him the only man to build an empire on nakedness, who convinced a whole generation that the empty, stupid life of a cavalier was best. Free love was too tame for Debbs. Angela calls it a phony philosophy and tells Burke corruption breeds corruption. She drinks heavily and offers one to Burke, who comments:
CYNICAL CONVERSATION MAKES FOR BITTER BREW. NEVER MIX THEM -BURKE'S LAW
She says she's not bitter and that he'll soon see the corruption. Burke asks how she learned so much about hate so young. Angela replies that she met Alex Debbs.
Angela provides Burke with a list of prime suspects. Deborah Kado, a wealthy patron, financed the first issues of Debonair Magazine; Sidney Wilde is the magazine's cartoonist and the creator of the "Wilde Woman" cartoon series; and Cordwainer Bird is the magazine's joke editor (Les tells Burke that Bird has called three times demanding to be seen, but Burke says to put him off). Tim tells Burke that he thinks he's seen Angela before. Burke asks if she was a centerfold; yes, she was Deb of the Month last October, on a beach towel with a big hat and big... Burke gets the idea. He asks for Debbs' local address. Tim was paying attention to the girls and didn't get the street number; Les calmly rattles it off. Burke says Tim is too excitable, Les too blase - what a team.
A Debbs' home (he had one in New York and Phoeniz as well), Burke discovers two cigarettes in an ashtray; one is an American brand, the other a Stefani Black and Gold, an expensive foreign brand, usually a woman's cigarette. They also come across a half-dozen bottles of Pinon Blanc Fontenac 1957 champagne. Tim says that only 100 bottles of this were produced in a tiny duchy in 1957 and all went to the private cellars of the royal family. The current Princess, Diana Morgan von Kortzoff, formerly Hollywood starlet Diana Morganstar, just happens to be in town currently for a one picture comeback. Burke tells Tim to tail Angela, tells Les to locate the Princess, and goes off to interview Deborah Kado.
At her mansion, Deborah calls out for Burke to come in; the room is very dimly lit. Deborah says she's saving on the light bill - "they'll nickel and dime you to death". Dressed in exotic gypsy-type outfit, is busily putting savings stamps in a book. She only needs 62 more books to get the new linoleum she wants for the kitchen. She hands Burke a book and some stamps and tells him to lend a hand. She tells Burke it's "Miss" Kado; she was too busy to ever get married. Between 9 and 10 p.m. she was home, pasting her stamps. Deborah is not at all upset by news of Debbs' death. She says it was inevitable, it's just a pity it didn't happen sooner. She would have killed him, but she's a lousy shot. Burke says Debbs was stabbed. Deborah replies, well I'm a lousy stab. Debbs flattered her and buttered her up until she put money in his magazine. When it began to make a profit, he changed. Deborah says she's realistic, she knows she's a penny-pinching weirdo and seems like a dog compared to all the Debs. But, she says, Debbs made her believe otherwise; then one day he just slapped down a check for the money she'd loaned him and left her. She says there's nothing wrong with building dream castles in the air unless you try to move into them. She didn't kill him and tells Burke she wouldn't be caught dead in a place like the Key Club. Deborah suggests that Burke find Debbs' ex-wife; this is news, as Burke didn't know there was an ex-wife. She tells him is was long ago and Debbs liked to keep it a secret in order to maintain his cavalier image. She doesn't remember the woman's name. Burke stops pasting stamps; Deborah tells Burke that she's not going anywhere - her dream castles are "all rented".
At the station, Cordwainer Bird jives off the elevator, singing "I want Burke, don't ask me". He dances down the hall twirling a decorative cane. He taps into the office and breaks into a wild patter story about having called Burke seven times. He is constantly trying to get a rise out of Burke, jumping all over his desk. When Burke asks him where he was when Debbs was killed, he starts telling an old joke. Burke tells him he wants it straight and Bird replies that he hasn't been straight since the summer of '34. Burke threatens to book him and Bird tries another joke. Burke calls an officer in to book him and Bird leaps onto a chair. He says he's nonviolent and came of his own free will to tell Burke who the killer is - it's him. He has made a list of all the reasons that prove why he killed Debbs and gives it to Burke. Debbs always called him skinny and, even worse, never laughed at his jokes. When Debonair Magazine had its first lawsuit from a censorship committe, Debbs conned Bird into putting his name on the case as the responsible party, thus effectively ruining his career. He tells Burke that Debbs made him a laughingstock, then jumps up on Burke's desk and begins a hammy reenactment of his life story, singing and dancing. Burke tries to have him thrown out and, finally, Bird leaps into the arms of the astonished cop. Burke hands him his cane, the cop takes him to the door and dumps him in the hallway. Bird dances back down the hallway, onto the elevator, and out of Burke's life.
It's late at night. Angela goes to the zoo, tailed by Tim. At the tiger cage, she picks up a metal bar and begins viciously taunting the tiger. Tim rushes over to stop her; just then, someone hits him over the head and Angela runs off.
At the offices of Debonair Magazine, Lashwell shows Burke the layout; he keeps preparing the next issue because it is near deadline. He insists that he didn't kill Debbs; Burke didn't say he did, but asks where he was between 9 and 10 p.m. Lashwell says he'd rather not say. He tells Burke that everyone thinks they all lead the Debonair lifestyle, but a week of that would kill a person. So, he "plays" at it. He says he was with a woman, but won't say who. Finally he admits he was with Angela.
On an upper floor, Burke looks at centerfolds framed along the hallway. He then goes to the offices of head cartoonist Sidney Wilde. Wilde, wearing thick glasses, acts a bit like a little boy, chewing on his thumb and saying "heck". Burke is surprised that Wilde is still working, since it is now 4 a.m. Wilde says he's been there all night, because of the deadline. He continues sketching a buxom blonde but sort of follows Burke's questioning; he tells Burke he has excellent powers of concentration. When Burke asks him what he thinks of Debbs, Wilde crumples up the sketch he was working on and lights it with a nearby candle, throwing the burning paper into a brazier. He says he doesn't like Debbs much, then explains about burning the paper. It's a habit of his that no one sees his work until it's perfect. Had could have been a fine serious artist until Debbs convinced him to do cartoons. He made a name for himself with "Wild Woman" but he had real talent and sold his soul so often he says the devil wouldn't buy it now. Cartooning brought him no pleasure. Wilde laughs when Burke tells him of Debbs' murder, thinking he's joking. Then he rips up another sketch and burns it. Wilde tells Burke he didn't kill Debbs, he's not that kind of person. But he does have another reason for hating Debbs. Burke may have noticed that Wilde always uses the same model for his work. He fell in love with her, but Debbs met her, convinced her to pose for photos and kept her. She left Wilde; he tells Burke he knows he has weak eyes and is'nt good locking, so he didn't really blame her. But Debbs ruined her; Wilde draws a cartoon of her with a sword sticking through her body. He says it's not easy and burns the drawing; the model was Angela. He tells Burke that he can't always be a clown. Wilde draws a cartoon of Burke, then burns it.
In Debbs' office, the room is filled with Greek statues, except for one Egyptian one of Nefertiti on a pedestal. Burke moves the bust and discovers a safe built into the pedestal. Burke hears someone approaching, douses the lights, pulls his gun and waits. A blonde, dressed all in black with a guitar slung over her shoulder and a flashlight in her hand, enters and goes directly to the hidden safe, starting to dial a combination. Burke turns on the lights; she tells him she's Maxine Borman, head of Shoppers Service for Debonair, off-duty. She insists on knowing who he is or she says she'll call the police. She claims she was coming to retrieve some papers she had forgotten, but when Burke asks her to open the safe, she refuses. He threatens her with arrest, but Maxine says she can't open the safe without Debbs' permission. Burke tells her of Debbs' murder and she refuses to believe him. Her alibi is that she performs folk songs at a club at 8 and 10; at 9, when Debbs was killed, she says she was with a friend, whose name she refuses to disclose. Finally she tells Burke it was Angela. Burke insists that she open the safe, while he holds her guitar; she says OK, what's the difference. Inside the safe is a box; Maxine swears she doesn't have the key to its lock. She continues to be very unhelpful, talking in riddles. Burke takes the safe box and leaves.
Les calls to tell Burke that Tim has reported the attack. Burke picks him up at the zoo and takes him to the hospital, over Tim's objections. He puts an APB out on Angela. Either Maxine or Lashwell (or maybe both) is lying about being with Angela between 9 and 10 and he wants to know from her which one is telling the truth. Tim calls from the hospital to tell him that Angela has also been knocked unconscious and is in the same hospital. Burke tells him to find out the true story.
When it is finally pried opened, the box from the safe contains slides of Princess Diana in the nude -in living color. Meanwhile, Angela has vehemently denied she was with Laswell when Debbs was killed and has stated that she was with Maxine.
Burke tracks the Princess through the duchy's legation. At her hotel suite, Burke is admitted and she tells him his actions sound very close to blackmail, since he told the legate he had pictures of the Princess. She smokes Stefanis as Burke questions her about Debbs. The Princess reminds Burke that by protocol they are currently on "foreign soil"; she is therefore protected by diplomatic immunity and doesn't have to say a word. She does say that she was with Debbs earlier and knows that he's dead. Burke wonders how she knows that, since she was asleep when he arrived, had not been watching TV, and the news isn't in the papers yet. The Princess says she knows, that's all, and is not involved in the murder. Burke calmly mentions again that he is possession of the pictures and doesn't know how long he can keep them out of circulation. First, she gets huffy and tells him he has no right, then becomes sweet. Finally, she does tell Burke she posed for the photos when she was first trying to break into the movies. That was when she first met Debbs, who convinced her to pose, since she needed the "exposaure". She was discovered, made five or six films, and then married the Prince. Debbs had held the pictures over her since then; she calls it a form of blackmail. Burke says Debbs was wealthy, what would the Princess have that he want... oh, sorry. Never mind. She says that Debbs "requested" she come to his home earlier tonight. She says she didn't kill him. He left her alone at his house at 8:30 and went to the club to check the liquor. She was to go later, so it would appear to be an unplanned royal visit. But she definitely was in Debbs' home when he died at the club. Burke asks her how she knew Debbs was dead; she tells him she got to the club after the body was discovered and before Burke arrived, and left quickly so as not to become involved. Burke tells her she's involved up to her crown. The Princess says Burke isn't stupid; isn't there "anything" she can do to convince him to keep her out of this? She'd be very grateful if he returned the slides to her. Burke says it wouldn't work - the princess and the pauper. She calls him a lousy cop, claims he was baiting her all along to get her to talk. As he departs, she screams and throws practically everything in the room at the closing door.
HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A PRINCESS SCORNED...BURKE'S LAW
The next day, Lashwell has disappeared; no one has seen him either at his home or at the Debonair offices. Burke puts out an APB. Angela is out of the hospital and back at the club, but still has no idea who hit her. Les has investigated Maxine and tells Burke that she's all business by day and a black leotard and folk songs by night - a real double life. Burke reminds him that Angela alibis her. Sgt. Ames calls to say that Maxine is in the outer office waiting to see him. Burke tells Sgt. Ames to take her for coffee and he'll be with her shortly. Tim reports no further information regarding Debbs' ex-wife. Just then, Wilde calls Burke and, while sketching at his drafting table, tells him that he knows who the killer is. IN fact, the killer is sitting across from him as he speaks. Wilde hangs up suddenly and Burke rushes over to the magazine offices. When Burke gets to Wilde's office, he finds Wilde stabbed to death with a photographer's stripping knife, just like the one Burke had seen earlier in Lashwell's office.
Deborah calls to say that Lashwell is at her home. The two of them tell Burke they couldn't talk before today. He had been at the house when Wilde's murder took place, they both insist. Lashwell also couldn't have killed Debbs because he was on Deborah's phone steadily from 7:30 to 10 that night. The whole thing was a stock play. Debbs had been trying to ease Lashwell out and Deborah had agreed to finance Lashwell's countermove. The whole stock deal would have blown up if anyone had found out about it before today. Deborah tells Burke he's welcome to check her phone records. Lashwell says stripping knives like the one that killed Wilde can be found anywhere in any of the magazine's offices. Deborah wonders if Burke has had any luck finding the ex-wife. Lashwell wonders what Burke wants to talk to Maxine for. She is Debbs' ex. Debbs had kept the marriage a secret so it wouldn't ruin his image. When he finally made it big, he divorced Maxine, but she made sure he had to give her a piece of the action. That's why she's still around; part of the divorce settlement, however, was the rule that she could never reveal the fact that they were married to anyone.
Burke knows that Maxine couldn't have killed Wilde because she was at the police station when he was killed. Also, she was with Angela when Debbs was killed. Then Burke remembers something and returns to the magazine offices. Wilde had unconsciously been sketching while he faced the killed; as was his habit, he had burned the sketch and put it in the brazier. Burke has George McLeod recreate the drawing from the burned paper. George says it will take a long time; Burke wants it immediately. George agrees to do it in two hours in exchange for two bottles of the Princess' special champagne. When the picture is recreated, it is clearly a drawing, not just a cartoon, of Wilde's one and only model, Angela. But Angela couldn't have moved Debbs' body by herself.
At the club, Burke finds Angela on the balcony testing a new cordless microphone. He tells her he's arresting her for murder. She says he can't prove she killed Debbs, she was with Maxine. Burke says what they can give her the gas chamber for killing Wilde, from the drawing. Angela says she really didn't want to hurt the poor slob; she forgot about his habit. Wilde was jealous of her relationship with Debbs, witnessed Debbs' murder, then followed Angela to the zoo and struck Tim to protect her. That's why she didn't want to say later who hit her. Burke asks if she killed Debbs because she wanted him to marry her. Angela explodes, calling Debbs a rotten devil. She hated what he turned her into. She's got the body that appears in the magazine, but inside it's nothing but worms; he ruined her. Recovering, Angela says Burke still can't prove she killed Debbs and Wilde always sketched her, so the drawing means nothing. Besides, she says she could never have lugged Debbs' heavy body up to the cage. Burke says, no, but two women could have - Angela and Maxine. Then, Burke tells her Maxine has already signed a confession to helping her, but stating that Angela did the killing. Angela screams no, Maxine was the one who had the reason, Maxine killed Debbs. Just then, Maxine runs out after having bitten Tim, who was holding her in the next room after she had been arrested. Maxine screams that Angela is a liar and Angela killed Wilde, because she was at the police station, so it couldn't have been her. Angela says she came early to the club to try to stop Debbs before he ruined the Princess like he ruined her - she had found out about the slides. She says she would have killed him, but he was already dead, by Maxine's hand. Burke says then you both loaded him into the cage. Maxine screams yes, and attacks Angela. The two women have a vicious fight. Burke and Tim finally manage to separate them, then lock each of them in a separate compartment of the magician's cage. They raise the cage to the ceiling awaiting the police's arrival. Tim asks Burke why he didn't just put them in the Rolls and take them downtown. Burke replies he has an engagement and he's already late. As he leaves, he tells Burke to feed them if they get hungry.