Sousa marches blare over a tinny loudspeaker as a sign reads "Welcome to Professor Kingston's Antinque Americana", a tacky roadside display of "curiosities". Professor Llewellyn Kingston, in dusty Old West garb, welcomes a small crowd to the Early Bird show, telling them that it will prove entertaining and educational. First he shows them a mock-up of The St. Valentine's Massacre, featuring motheaten mannequins with ratty wigs and garish bullet holes and gore. Next he tells of the "shot heard round the world", which was supposedly fired from this (rusty) cannon on Fort Sumpter in the winter of 1862. A small boy in the crowd pipes up and corrects him; it happened in the spring of 1861, April 12th to be exact. Professor Kingston mutters that the facts are vague. Next he displays a killer croc, complete with very fake hand in mouth, which had been captured in the bayous of the Amazon; the kid sniffs and says it's an alligator. Professor Kingston says, whatever, it ate three little boys like him. Next, he directs their attention to an accurate recreation of the electric chair that sent Fannie Mae Flamm to her doom for the hatchet murder of her husband and son. He turns, looks purposely at the kid, and tells him the son was just about his age. Professor Kingston throws a switch, smoke and sparks fly out of the chair, the body slumps over, and the crowd sees that it's real. The Professor, shocked, tells the crowd the show is over, and removes the blindfold covering the dead girl's face.
Burke is in the Rolls, getting very cozy with his current girlfriend, Juliet. He is about to drop her off at her door; they've been out all night. Burke finds he's sitting on one of Juliet's earrings; she nuzzles him and tells Henry once more around the block. Juliet asks Burke if he would adore her if she were poor and ugly; he says no. Juliet tells him that she'll stay rich and beautiful then. The call comes from the murder scene; Burke tells Juliet he has to see a dead brunette. She asks which is more important, a dead brunette or a live one. He kisses her goodby and she storms off into her mansion.
At Professor Kingston's establishment, Burke does a double take at a Boot Hill gravestone that reads: "He called Bat Masterson a liar". He finds that the dead girl apparently had been beaten to death. No ID was found on the body. It is clear that she had been an ardent sunbather, since the only untanned part of her body was a white band on one finger, where a ring had been. There were no other signs of robbery. Dead four to eight hours, she had been loosely strapped into the "electric chair", as if the killer had left in a hurry.
Professor Kingston is in his "body shop", putting together mannequins. He say he don't know her, never saw her before, don't know who did it, don't mix him up in this, he runs an honest "dodge" here. He doesn't employ anyone and has been there for thirty years. He tells Burke that he and his daughter, Sarah, who's only there part-time, run the entire operation. The rest of the time, Sarah is a bum, he says, a tennis bum and a freeloader. Plus, he tells Burke, she's been involved with a married man. He doesn't know who; he wasn't told, in case he didn't approve, and he doesn't. Professor Kingston tells Burke that married men should only go out with married women, they have more in common. Sarah left for Palo Alto two days ago. Burke examines a stagecoach as they talk, then finds Les and Tim admiring an old Duesenberg limousine. They've examined it but found no clues, just like the rest of the place. Les points out that the auto is the real thing from the old gangster days, bulletproof including the glass, and complete with a speaking tube from passenger seat to driver. Burke notices that the key in the ignition is on, but the car is clearly out of gas. Tim gets teased when he gets caught gaping at an old gas station calendar. However, in examining it more closely, they find that the model for one month's picture is the dead girl. The calendar is labeled "Courtesy of Al's Auto Mufflers" and was produced by the Beacon Printing Company.
There's no record of Sarah Kingston playing in the first round of the Palo Alto Tennis Tournament. Tim is sent to check the bus depot, to see if she traveled that way.
At Beacon Printing, the waiting room is filled with stuffed birds and dusty old newspapers. The elderly receptionist is busily brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush. Burke looks and comments that the top newspaper indicates that Lindbergh made it to Paris. The receptionist turns and informs Burke that her teeth used to be her best feature, so she always takes good care of them; she gives him a close-up look, like baring her fangs. She says she's tried every awful concoction for her gums and went to all the dentists; now she has to use a tranquilizer to steady her nerves because of the toothbrush's vibrations. Burke notices a photo on her desk from Kingston's Antique Americana. In it, a much younger version of the receptionist and a bespectacle, nose-picking little boy stick their heads through a set-up painting and grin for the camera. She tells Burke it was taken years ago, her son is all grown up now. Burke says sons do do that and move away. The receptionist tells him she thinks a child should never leave his mother; she can supervise all the important little things, like clean habits. When Burke shows her the calendar picture and tells her he's interested in the model, she gets very prissy and informs him they don't give out "that kind" of information. Burke asks what kind she means; she says name, address, phone number, measurements. Burke says he'd be satisfied with name and address and shows her his badge. The receptionist informs him he'd better see Mr. Smith, and goes back to brushing her teeth.
Grover Leander Smith, the publisher, is sitting staring at models photos on the wall when Burke enters. He gives Burke an effusive greeting, thinking him a potential customer, and acquaints him with some of the better models. Burke accidentally bumps into one of the stuffed birds; Smith flusters and tells him to please be careful, those are all Mrs. Smith's pets. When they died, she had them stuffed. He offers to show him more variety in model photos, but asks that he please not touch the birds. Burke introduces himself, but Smith is so scattered that he manages to think the name is Burke-Burke. He tells "Mr. Burke-Burke" that in the three years since the company began printing the calendars, they've quadrupled their output. Burke says he thought they had been making the calendars since 1920; Smith says that up until three years ago, they only printed them. When Mrs. Smith passed away, Smith took over the entire operation; his studio used to be a layout room. We see silhouettes of models posing in the next room. Burke makes a comment about all of this happening after Mrs. Smith died and Smith gives him a look. Burke shows Smith the photo and tells him that he's interested in that particular model. Smith gets the wrong idea, like the receptionist, and tells him that after the calendar is sold, all the negatives are destroyed. Burke says he wants to know who the girl is; Smith gives him another fishy look and escorts him to the door. He tells Burke that Mrs. Ormsby, his receptionist, has all that information, but has been instructed not to give it out. Burke shows his badge and insists. Smith is shocked, locks the door and asks if the girl is in trouble. When Burke tells him she's dead, he says "gracious" and looks in his files. Her name is Eleanora Davis and Smith gives Burke her address from three years ago on Euclid St., plus her age is 23 and her bust 37 - but of course Burke doesn't need that. Smith says Eleanora was one of their very first models, but was more interested in taking pictures that in being in them. She worked for free and they taught her all the photography they could. Smith prissily tells Burke that he never asks if a model is Miss or Mrs.; that could be sticky in their line of work. Smith's bespectacled assistant, Harold, enters and says the models are ready. Smith tells him to answer some questions. Smith tells Burke that Harold may be able to help him, but he doubts it.
According to Smith, Harold has gotten the models' poses all wrong. Smith goes about readjusting everything. Harold confides to Burke that he'll redo everything, then Harold will have to refocus all the lights. Harold keeps rubbing his nose as he talks to Burke. He's worked at Beacon since they started making the calendars; he says sure he remembers Eleanora. He tells Burke he likes his work OK, but what good is it. Harold thinks women shouldn't go around undressed like that, it isn't nice. If women were meant to look like that, clothes would never have been invented. Harold thinks clothes are a good thing; you can touch them and feel them and they're nice. Harold says he wanted to be a fashion photographer; lots of clothes are good. Harold, whispering, asks Burke if he can confess a "thing" to him - it's that women without clothes have skin all over them, and rounded places. Harold repeats that clothes are nicer; Burke asks him how his wife feels about all this. Harold says what wife, he lives with his mother. Harold rubs again and says his nose has been itching all morning. Smith, meanwhile, is trying to adjust a stuffed seagull hanging over a beach scene; he gets disgusted and tells Burke that he and Harold will have to do the whole thing over. Harold asks if Eleanora is in trouble and tells Burke that she's not a "nice girl"; he knows because his mother told him so. Mrs. Ormsby enters and tells Burke he has a call waiting. Burke asks Mrs. Ormsby for another copy of the calendar and takes the call. Les informs him that Eleanora has been tracked to where she worked a year ago as a nightclub photographer at the 711 Club. The M. E. has reported that the bruises on her face were superficial and Eleanora actually died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
At the Euclid St. address, Tim and Les knock on Eleanora's apartment door. The wheelchair-bound Irish landlady has seen them enter through the open door of her apartment and calls out to them. She knocks back a snort from a flask as they enter and asks what they're up to. She says she runs a first class joint and introduces herself as Mrs. Leah Mulligan, with an emphasis on the Mrs. She tells them she's a widow; Mr. Mulligan died in WWI. Tim tells her they need information; she says how much. Tim replies, just a little. No, she says, "how much?" and holds out her hand; Mrs. Mulligan is sharp as a tack. Tim drags out his wallet and she grabs the cash. Tim asks her what Rudy Davis does; she tells him "nothing", Rudy is a sponger and a moocher. He plays tennis all day; he was married to Eleanora, but Mrs. Mulligan doesn't know if they're still married, since Eleanora left that address long ago. She continues to sip from her hip flask as they talk. They show her the calendar and she says, yes, that's Ellie, she was a wild one. Eleanora left Rudy because he was broke and she wanted beads and bangles, according to Mrs. Mulligan. She doesn't know where Eleanora went when she left, but she did play around, working for Nikki at the Club 711 for a while as a photographer. Mrs. Mulligan says Rudy did most of his freeloading at the Westlake Tennis Club, but she knows he's not there now; he took off two days ago for a tennis match up north. Tim smiles and gives Mrs. Mulligan a "bonus". She offers them a snort, they decline, and she takes a healthy swig as they leave.
Burke is resting at home. Suddenly, he hears Henry and Juliet fighting in the foyer. He gets up as Henry enters and says Juliet broke in. Juliet enters in beach togs and insists that she's there to solve the murder. She tells Burke not to forget that she's a taxpayer and he's a civil servant. Burke tells her to go away and Juliet says OK, then she won't tell him how she got Eleanora's address. Burke says you mean Rudy's address and Juliet says, no, Eleanora's current address. She proceeds to give a meandering story of meeting an old friend, a former model, at a health club, who got Eleanora her job at the 711. Burke changes clothes as Juliet prattles on. He makes a date with her for tomorrow, but sneaks out on her as she talks; Juliet has a fit when she realizes that he's left her again.
As Burke heads out the door, Tim and Les arrive. Two days ago, an express bus to San Francisco made an unscheduled stop and let off a girl with two tennis rackets, accompanied by a young man with three rackets, one Rudy Davis, forty miles up the coast. The two caught the next bus back.
Burke, Tim and Les head for Eleanora's apartment and discuss the case. Sarah and Rudy are their best suspects. Putting the body in an obvious place is the oldest trick there is, plus it's not that easy to get rid of a corpse. Burke suddenly thinks of the Duesenberg. The killer or killers probably knocked Eleanora around then filled her full of exhaust. Tim points out that the car was not in a garage and the windows were open; but Burke tells them the speaking tube attached to the exhaust pipe would work just fine as a gas mask.
In Eleanora's much fancier new apartment, Burke finds a darkroom completely furnished with expensive developing equipment and professional-caliber cameras, as well as a lot of alcohol. In the bookcase, Tim comes across a photo negative with a man's name, city, dollar amount, and the notation "paid". They check out the negative; the photo was of a definitely steamy, compromising scene. Eleanora has been up to some blackmail, it seems. Burke discovers more negatives; they seem to be alphabetically filed in the pages of the encyclopedia, with the blackmailee's name filed near the closest similarly named entry. All the address appear to be business address.
At the station, Sgt. Ames reports there still is no trace of the ring which was missing from Eleanora's finger. She informs Burke that there are three men in the outer office who will only talk to him. They told her
NEVER TALK TO THE ASSISTANT MANAGER WHEN YOU CAN TALK TO THE MANAGER
Sgt. Ames says, you know what that is - BURKE'S LAW
She leads in three little boys: Scout Hendricks, Scout Cunningham and Scout Hendricks' little brother. Scout Hendricks informs Burke that his brother is too little to be a scout, but his mother said that they had to bring him along. Scout Hendricks says that he, Scout Cunningham and Scout Evans were practicing for their swimming merit badge. Burke asks who Scout Evans is; they say they left him with the body in the lake behind Professor Kingston's. It's not exactly a body, like you and me, they say, but a dummy. Burke figures out that this is the dummy that should have been in the "electric chair". Scout Cunningham says they wouldn't waste Burke's time reporting a dummy, but this dummy was wearing a ring; they hand over a diamond wedding band. The inscription on the inside of the ring reads: "To my own dear Matilda, from your loving..."; the name is worn off. Burke tells Sgt. Ames to send the three boys off in a squad car, to pick up Scout Evans on the way, and then drive them home - and don't spare the sirens. The scouts and the kid brother, thrilled, salute Burke.
Les reports finding Rudy Davis working at the Cove St. Municipal Tennis Court shop; Sarah is with him. Tim has had the pictures developed; the records indicate that Eleanora raked in $63,750. Burke recognizes the blonde in one of the pictures, but can't remember from where. On the way to see Rudy and Sarah, Tim wonders why they would have hidden the body in such an obvious location as Professor Kingston's lake. Burke says that it's a crime cliche that works:
MAKE IT SO OBVIOUS THAT NOBODY NOTICES IT
IT'S NOT THAT EASY TO GET RID OF A CORPSE - BURKE'S LAW
In the pro shop, Rudy is restringing a racket. He asks if Burke is any relation to Burke and Hare. Rudy says Eleanora was a barracuda; he can't believe she's dead - alleluia! Rudy asks Burke is she choked on her nasty pills; he insists he's not the guilty party. Sarah, who has been watching all this from across the shop, comes over. She's afraid Burke is from a collection agency. Rudy and Sarah hang all over each other, being especially lovey-gooey, to the point of disgusting. Burke, Tim and Les are on the verge of throwing up as they watch the shenanigans. Sarah ignores their reactions and says Rudy begged Eleanora to let him go, but she wanted $3,000 for a divorce. Burke tells them their motive keeps getting better. Rudy says to Sarah, excuse me, sweetheart, but you just put my foot in your mouth. Sarah replies, equally sweetly, excuse me darling, but none of this would be happening if you hadn't married that witch. Their sweetums talk rapidly becomes yelling invective. They remind Burke that they didn't sneak home off hours, but came back in broad daylight to get jobs to pay Eleanora off. Sarah begins working today as a clerk in a bookstore; they didn't tell Professor Kingston because they thought it was pointless. When Burke asks Sarah what her mother's name was, she replies Sarah, just like her. Rudy's mother's name was Gertrude. Burke suggests they go see Professor Kingston. Sarah agrees, but Rudy says no; they begin their sweet-talk/bickering once more. Burke says they couldn't be the killers. Just then, he turns and sees the blonde from Eleanora's blackmail photos on a calendar.
At Beacon, Mrs. Ormsby is putting on her coat to go home. Burke tells her not to leave and goes into Smith's office. Burke asks Smith again if he took over the photography after Matilda passed away. Smith says yes, but he doesn't remember telling Burke his wife's name. Burke shows him the ring. Smith gets extremely flustered, tells Burke not to talk so loud, keeps shushing him as they talk, and looks nervously toward the outer office. Smith admits he gave Eleanora the ring. She wanted it, he loved her, Matilda had died, Eleanora was unhappy and penniless, and had told him she was getting a divorce. She threw her own wedding ring out the window, so he gave her Matilda's. Smith bought all the camera equipment for her. When Burke accuses him of going into the blackmail business with Eleanora, Smith says he doesn't understand. Burke says Eleanora supplied the men, Smith supplied the models; Smith insists it wasn't blackmail, but a business arrangement. He says he never got a cent, just ask Mrs. Ormsby, who keeps all the books. Burke sends Tim out to bring in Mrs. Ormsby. Smith, meanwhile, tells him that Eleanora came back to the studio just the other day; he hadn't seen her in over a year, so he invited her in for a sherry. Les reports that neither Tim nor Mrs. Ormsby are in the outer office. Just then, Tim drags Mrs. Ormsby back in; he found her two blocks away on a bench; Mrs. Ormsby says she didn't want to miss her bus. Smith quivers and asks if he has to talk in front of Mrs. Ormsby; she gets up and huffily says she'll be happy to leave. Burke firmly says no and tells them both to sit down and behave. Smith tells him that, after several drinks, he asked for Matilda's ring back. Eleanora told him that the ring had a sentimental value worth $1,000 to her, so he'd have to pay for it. Mrs. Ormsby looks disgusted at the story. Smith admits he lost control and slapped Eleanora, slapped her several times, in fact. Mrs. Ormsby mutters that there's no fool like an old fool; Smith wants to know if he has to sit there and be insulted by his hired help. Mrs. Ormsby becomes indignant; Burke shuts them up. Smith says after he slapped Eleanora, he went home. Tim and Les accuse him of driving her out to Professor Kingston's and asphyxiating her. Smith turns on Mrs. Ormsby and says, you old witch, you told me I beat her to death and said you'd take care of everything. Burke says yes, and she did. Mrs. Ormsby agrees. Smith realizes he didn't kill Eleanora; Mrs. Ormsby calls him an old nincompoop. She says she waited patiently for 22 years (Smith starts to interrupt and she tells him to shut up); she waited for Matilda to die, took care of Smith, brought him home-made soup and everything. Then he hands over Matilda's ring to a tart, with Matilda not cold in her grave. And what, she asks, did he give her? He gave Mrs. Ormsby the birds. Burke points out that Mrs. Ormsby couldn't have carried Eleanora's body all by herself; she insists she did. Burke notices again the desk photo of Mrs. Ormsby and her bespectacled son. He has a thought and calls to Harold in the other room, saying his mother wants him. Harold rushes in; Mrs. Ormsby calls him "baby". Harold tells Burke he's with his mother every night. Burke asks about Eleanora; Harold says he doesn't understand, his mother told him they'd never find it. Smith says they found the ring. Mrs. Ormsby says she thought Harold told her he threw the dummy and the ring in the lake. When it dawns on her that Harold put the ring on the dummy's finger before throwing it away, she calls Harold a fool, just like hi father, picks up a stuffed owl and hits him with it. Smith objects strenuously; Mrs. Ormsby beats Smith with the owl until feathers and stuffing are flying everywhere. Then she turns back and begins beating Harold again. Burke tells Tim and Les to take all three downtown and stuff 'em...uh, book 'em....birds of a feather.
Burke is locked in Juliet's embrace; Henry looks in to say goodnight. Juliet tells Henry to take off and they go back to their embrace. The image of their kiss freezes and becomes a framed photo, with Beethoven's ...- (V for Victory) as a coda/caption.