A theater marquee announces the premiere performance of Milo James' production of "Hamlet", starring Roland Trivers and Sandra Prentiss. The lights go out. Inside the empty theater, a man turns on the stage lights from the backstage panel; Elizabethan music plays. Mounting the stairs of the set, dressed in black turtleneck and slacks, he begins "To be or not to be". When he reaches the section "To sleep, perchance to dream", he is on an upper balcony. We see the front half of a spear protrude from the drapes behind him. At "For in that sleep of death", the spear is thrown, piercing his back. With a cry, he falls from the platform and crashes onto the stage below, dead.
Burke and his date, Eileen, are standing by a shop window, in formal attire. She is admiring a mannequin with baby, while Burke holds a real baby. He tells Eileen that Henry could have picked them up at the theater; she says she wanted to walk. Eileen wonders if the display in the window is telling them something. Burke says he doesn't hear a thing. A woman bus passenger rushes up, complaining that the buses keep raising their fares and then don't have change and she had to rush over to the drug store for change while the bus waited and she couldn't take Ernestine and wasn't it nice of Burke to hold Ernestinge for her. She wants to give Burke a reward, but he declines. She says he must have a good job; Burke says Eileen's loaded with money. Burke assures Eileen that there's nothing in the shop window to interest her; just then Henry drives up and gives Burke his car phone. Burke hears that Roland Trivers has been murdered tells Tim that they were just at the theater. Eileen wants to know who was killed; her editor would love for her to get an exclusive.
NEVER TALK TO THE PRESS, NO MATTER HOW PRETTY, UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT - BURKE'S LAW
Eileen persists, so Burke tells her to get into the car. When she does, he signals for Henry to drive off; Eileen calls out Burke's name and screams in frustration. A passing couple rushes over and Burke tells them it's a shame that Eileen drinks and can't stop. He walks to the theater.
On stage, the stage manager Dugan says he'll tell it again and then he's not gonna tell it again. Burke gets introduced and tells Dugan to tell it again. A little after midnight, Dugan knocked on all the dressing room doors, thought everyone had gone home, turned off the lights, locked the stage door, and headed home. Tim says he didn't get there; Dugan says maybe Tim would like to tell it. He remembered he'd left the burner on where he cooks coffee and came back. He found Triver's body, pretty dead. Les tells Burke that the spear pushed Trivers off the balcony; the fall caused multiple skull fractures. Dugan says calling the police was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life. Dugan reports that the stage lights were on when he returned, so Trivers must have turned them on to rehearse. He tells Burke that anyone hearing Trivers play Hamlet had a good reason to kill him. Dugan says he'll leave now; Burke says not so fast. He wonders what if Trivers were alive when Dugan came, Dugan could have killed him. Dugan says that's not funny, and Burke send shim home.
Tim has discovered an envelope lying on Trivers' makeup table, addressed to Trivers and dated that day. Inside is a picture of a pretty brunette (no idea who it is) and a note that merely says "Love Remembered". Burke asks for a complete bio of Trivers; he tells Tim he played a "swingin'" Polonius in college that was the talk of the best sorority on campus. He tells Tim to put on more lights just as Eileen walks onstage. Burke demands to know why she's there. She says she guessed where he'd be and wants to know who died. Burke asks if she promises to leave if he tells her and Eileen says yes. Burke tells her and she asks how Trivers died. Burke says she promised to leave; Eileen tells him they both know her word's no good. She cozies up to Burke and says she needs more information for her editor. Burke escorts her out of the theater. As they walk off, along with Tim, we see the shadow of a man lurking in the alleyway.
At the station, Eileen sits in a chair, sound asleep with her eyes open. She wakes as soon arrives with coffee, then drops off again, as if in a trance.
Les brings in producer/director Milo James, wearing a topcoat thrown over silk pajamas. James is pompous, "dramatic", theatrically Shakespearean in his language, and huffing that he's not accustomed to being dragged unceremoniously from his bed. He demands his barrister and says he refuses to conspire with the secret police. Eileen wakes up and tells James to inform Burke where he was. Burke and Tim pick Eileen up, chair and all, and dump her in the hallway, closing the door when they return. James says he went home right after the performance to contemplate the various ways he could kill Trivers. Tims asks when he first decided to kill Trivers and James replies that it was as soon as Trivers first appeared in Act I. Les asks if James is confessing to murder. James says unfortunately no, he merely made plans; the fates work in wondrous ways. When asked if Trivers had many enemies, James says only those who knew him. Burke shows him the picture of the young girl; James says she's somewhat familiar, but then every woman he knows looks familiar. James decrees that he's leaving now, as he has to audition a new Hamlet at 10 a.m. Burke says he's not done with James yet; James says, ah, but he is done with Burke, irrevocably and irrefutably. However, although he hesitates to give aid and comfort to the enemy, but in order to prevent another invasion of his privacy, he suggests they speak to Sandra Prentiss, who he describes as "a modest young actress with much to be modest about". Trivers had been coaching her. James tells Burke she should prove to be a fount of information.
When Les goes to find Sandra, she's disappeared. She had been seen leaving early in the morning with two suitcases. At Trivers' apartment building, the manager is worried about letting Burke into the actor's apartment. He says they could just say they're detectives and have stolen their ID's. Where he comes from it happens all the time. As he walks away, the lettering on the back of his jacket shows he's from Moscow. Inside Trivers' apartment, they find the place has been trashed. Hearing a sound, they find Eileen inside the closet with a golf bag. She complains that they left her in the "mug room", where she was mugged and fingerprinted. When the cop found out she hadn't been booked, he let her go. As she left the station, she met Milo James, who had invited her to breakfast. She has found out that Sandra has the hots for Stephen Collins, Trivers' understudy; Collins is auditioning for the lead today. Burke asks how she got into the apartment and why. She was looking for clues; she says she thought about breaking in, but then found the French doors already forced open. Burke threatens to arrest her for obstructing justice, illegal entry, and creating a general nuisance. Eileen says, in that case, she won't give him what she found on the balcony. It's a gold chain and locket. Burke says he bets she wiped all the fingerprints off. Inside the locket is a photo of the same mysterious brunette.
At the audition, James is telling a black-leather-clad Collins what a great opportunity he is being given. Collins has four motorcycle-hood-hangers-on accompanying him, and he talks in "beat" jargon and continually emits a low-level annoying whistling through his teeth when not talking. He tells James "I dig you, daddy". James draws himself up and says he's not Collins' father and if he were, he would have drowned him at birth. Collins keeps whistling. When Collins begins his audition of "To be or not to be", he turns it into a "beat" paraphrase adaptation, while his buddies snap their fingers in the background. James winces, cringes, and finally explodes, stopping the audition. He says the sound he hears is the Bard turning over in his grave. James tells Collins to get out before he raises his cane and splits Collins' head like a ripe melon. Collins doesn't get it that James didn't like his audition, but he doesn't care. He says he'll split. Burke and Tim stop him and ask if he went to Trivers' apartment. Collins calls them the fuzz and says he doesn't play with "that Trivers cat". Burke reminds him that that cat was with his "kitten", Sandra. Collins finally admits he was at the apartment at 1 a.m. to get Sandra and put Trivers down, but no one answered the door. He hasn't heard from Sandra since she cancelled their date at 5 p.m. in order to rehearse with Trivers. Collins doesn't believe them when they tell him Sandra has disappeared. He claims not to recognize the girl in the photo and goes to leave. Burke grabs his arm, Collins' whistle stops. He tells Burke to let him go, he's gonna go find Sandy. Burke watches all five of the leather-clad crowd roar off on their motorcycles.
In a dressing room at the theater, a small mutt growls at a box of chocolates. Pauline Moss enters, dressed as Gertrude, and consoles her "baby". She eats a chocolate and feeds one to the dog. Burke and Tim enters and the dog growls, attacking Burke's pants leg. Pauline calls Trivers "poor dear" and says what a shock his death was. Burke says tragedy happens without warning. Pauline says she didn't say it was a tragedy, she said it was a shock. She asks Tim to help her into her overrobe. Pauline tells Burke she's surprised someone didn't kill Trivers long ago; she says she should have done it in New Haven. She's amazed they haven't heard about New Haven, it's theatrical history. She was playing Lady Macbeth (she was brilliant) opposite Trivers. In the letter scene, ActI Scene V - Pauline begins reenacting the whole scene for them. Just when she got to "Hail, King that shalt be", Trivers had wheeled the witches cauldron onstage and proceeded to take a bow. She was stunned but indomitable, so she continued with the scene. Pauline continues to reenact; as she does so, her dog attacks Burke's leg again. Pauline chastises the dog for interrupting "mother's" performance. Then, she says, Trivers had reached into the cauldron and pulled out a boiled chicken. She's still incensed. Burke shows Pauline the girl's photo and she says, why, yes that's - then stops. She says for a momentit looked like someone she went to drama school with. Every so often she says she sees a photo that reminds her of her classmate. Tim asks if "Love Remembered" means anything to Pauline, but just then Dugan knocks at her door and calls "places". Pauline apologizes for her dog getting candy all over Burke's shoes and goes to rehearse her bed chamber scene with James. He gives her a few instructions and begins the scene. Upon drinking from a prop goblet, Pauline gasps. James gives her her line; Pauline falls over, dead.
Burke sits with the dog as Pauline's body is removed. Tim tells him the prop man poured the wine, then went to get the other props ready. Anyone could have dropped poison in the goblet. The M. E. reports that it probably was potassium cyanide. James calls Tim over and demands to know how much longer the police will be "under foot". When Tim asks, James says he is perfectly aware that he is seated in the chair Pauline died in and hopes someone will serve him a similar goblet - "to rest, to sleep". The show is going on with no Hamlet, no Gertrude. Tim is surprised that the show is going on; James informs him that the show must go on and he must protect the backers. Tim thought that James was the mystery backer; James is appalled, asking how Tim could possibly think he would invest his own money in this disaster. James detests Shakespeare and loathes "Hamlet", and has no idea who the backer is. The money, wonderfully, just appeared in his bank account, courtesy of a local lawyer, David Williams. James believes that the backer is a ward of Williams. Withe the mystery patron, money was no object, James's fee was big enough to bring Shakespeare back to life. Williams arranged certain casting at the patron's request: Trivers as Hamlet, Pauline as Gertrude and Wilbur Starlington as Polonius. James doesn't think much of any of them; Tim mentions that two of the three are now dead. James says that, generally he's opposed to murder; however, when you consider what the killer is doing for the theater, he's inclined to say Bravo!
At Starlington's home, Burke admires a suit of armor. Starlington enters dressed in period Shakespearean costume and made up to supposedly look like the famed bust of Shakespeare. He tells Burke that the night Trivers died, he came right home after the performance to work. Starlington is in the process of rewriting all of Shakespeare's plays; he tells Burke that it's clear someone has to. Shakespeare was a hack, his dialogue is stale, plots hackneyed. Starlington quotes Shakespeare and says his "lyricism" is like a piano rolling down stairs. He intends to liven up all the dialogue, even throwing in some slang; he's managed to reduce a three page soliloquy to 5-10 words. Unfortunately he has no alibi's; last night all the servants were asleep and this afternoon he went for a drive. Starlington panics when told of Pauline's death. He claims not to know the girl in the photo, but Burke doesn't believe him. Starlington finally admits to knowing the girl, who's name is Erin Dorn; she was to have played Ophelia opposite Trivers in a production of "Hamlet" some years before. Starlington says she was brilliant, but quite during rehearsals and left town. Starlington tells Burke the girl is now dead; someone wanted her buried locally and sent the body to David Williams. Starlington says it's strange that Burke is asking about Erin; just today, he received a flyer in the mail from Ferndale Cemetery, with "Love Remembered" written on the back. Starlington is from New York City; Erin was the only person he knew on the West Coast who died and was buried out here. Burke asks him to interpret "Man, proud man, / Plays such fantastic tricks upon high heaven / As make the angels weep". Starlington says that roughly it means man thinks he can get away with murder, but can't. Burke says, exactly.
Tim discovers that there is no lawyer by the name of David Williams. Burke tells him to meet him at Ferndale Cemetery. They search and find a marker on which are carved only the words "Pray, love, remember". The person has been buried anonymously; the gravesite was purchased by "David Williams". Burke is sure the grave belongs to Erin Dorn, as the line quoted is Ophelia's. Someone must have felt that Trivers, Pauline Moss, and Starlington were responsible for Erin Dorn's death.
Les calls, saying Stephen Collins wants to make a deal with Burke, but only if Burke sees him alone at The Blue Passion bar. At the bar, a beat dive, a girl plays guitar; another girl asks Burke to buy her a drink and a third tries to pick him up. Collins comes up to Burke; he's found Sandra, just by "putting out the word". He continues his annoying whistle. He wants Burke to keep her out of everything; Burke says that depends on how far she's in. In the back room, Collins kisses Sandra. Sandra says she ran because Trivers was coaching her and the night he was killed she was in his apartment. She was afraid she'd be a suspect; she says she wasn't thinking clearly. Sandra says Erin was a friend, a brilliant actress; Sandra had been her understudy. She tells Burke that Trivers was in love with Erin, he was the whole world to her. Burke shows Sandra the locket. She laughs and says it's her locket; she must have dropped it. She had heard a knock at Trivers' door, thought it was Collins, and hid on the balcony until he left. Then she ran out the back way. Burke doesn't believe her; he says she had no reason to run. Sandra tells him people do a lot of things without a reason. She goes with Collins for no reason. She assures Burke that Collins is hostile to others because that's the way people act to him; he's kind and gentle to her. Burke tells her she has to come to the station. Sandra asks if she's under arrest.
IF YOU WERE UNDER ARREST, I WOULDN'T SAY 'PLEASE'.
Collins objects and his four henchmen back him up. Just then, Les arrives with reinforcements and the battle is won.
At the theater, Starlington refuses to go onstage until Burke catches the murderer; he had no use for Trivers, but it follows that he will be the next victim. Burke says that if someone is out to kill Starlington, Starlington should know who it is. Starlington asks Burke if he thinks he would conceal anything; Burke says yes. Starlington agrees to tell the full story. Pauline and Triver appeared in a production of "Hamlet" in New York. Pauline brought Erin to Trivers; Pauline had kept her acting career going for years because she had the knack of finding girls for men like Trivers. Trivers had fallen in love with Erin and demanded that she play Ophelia. He then came to Starlington and asked to use his house; in exchange, Starlington would get to play Polonius. Erin had found out she was pregnant and needed a place to stay until the baby was born; Starlington needed a job. Erin was deeply in love with Trivers, but he grew more and more disinterested in her as the preganancy progressed. Then, one day, Erin read in the paper a notice of Trivers' engagement to a society girl. She wrote a note to someone on the West Coast, then drowned herself, just like Ophelia. Starlington pulls off his stage beard and tells Burke that he's an abject coward. Burke tells him not to wrinkle the beard, and he goes to the mirror and tries it on.
As Burke makes up that evening, Henry recites Hamlet, instead of cuing him. Burke wants to rehearse Polonius' death scene; Henry wonders if it's such a good part. He asks Burke that, if Burke doesn't duck fast enough, can he keep the Rolls? Burke puts on breastplates, front and back, high and low, under his robes. He hopes he won't be asked to sit down.
Dugan calls places for the next scene. Burke assures Henry that the company will think he is Starlington. The play progresses and in the scene in Gertrude's chamber, Burke hides behind the arras. Hamlet, on cue, stabs his sword through the arras. Burke, as Polonius, cries out "Oh, I am..." Just then, a second sword comes from behind, just missing Burke...."....slain?" Burke chases a figure, who we soon realize is Dugan, up into the fly loft. Dugan throws props and equipment at Burke, and swings at him with a length of lumber. At the height of their fight, Dugan falls from the catwalk, plummeting to the stage. As Dugan lays dying, he tells Burke and Tim that Trivers and the other killed Erin. He gives Burke a letter she sent him before her suicide. It begins "Dear father: This is from your Erin. You were right. New York wasn't the place for me. I should have taken your advice and stayed just plain Maggie Dugan of Los Angeles. That can't be changed now. In a few minutes, I will leave you, but, before I do, I wanted to gell you I love you." Dugan wanted Trivers to remember for the rest of his life, which is why the headstone was inscribed the way it was. Dugan dies.
In a restaurant, the staff coos over baby Ernestine. Burke and Eileen are at the next banquette; Eileen comments that she should have been so popular when she was trying to get her story. But, she tells Burke, she got it. Ernestine begins to fret. Burke picks her up and decides she needs a change. Andre, the maitre d', whisks a tablecloth off a completely set table in one smooth move. Burke tears the tablecloth into a makeshift diaper as Eileen looks on, and, voila, the job is done just as Ernestine's mother comes back. She says the restaurant is near the bus line and she always stops there to freshen up and then she can tell her friends that she's been to the Chateau Luge. She looks at Eileen and asks Burke if his lady friend always takes him to places like this for lunch. Burke says uh-huh and the woman says boy, Eileen must really be loaded.