At Cafe Shashlik, a wild party of exiled White Russian emigres is going on, complete with dancers and balalaika players. A toast is made to the Grand Duke, Maximilian Karol Alexandrei Kadarian, for best carrying on the traditions of the group. The elderly Grand Duke merely sits, unresponsive. As the guests drink and smash their glasses, he keels over, face first, onto the table.
Amanda, a charming older woman, is using Burke as a "skein holder" as she winds yarn into a ball. She tells him she feels the woman should always be older than the man. She sighs and says only H. G. Wells could manage their relationship, with his time machine. When she comments that she would like to go dancing, Burke agrees. They wax nostalgic about the Castle Walk and Ballin' the Jack. The phone brings news of the Grand Duke's death; Burke was just on his way to that party. Amanda's granddaughter, Burke's actual date for the evening, finally comes downstairs just as he has to leave. Burke kisses Amanda's hand; the granddaughter is shocked. Burke gives her a peck on the cheek and exits, as Amanda smiles at him.
At Cafe Shashlik, Burke goes to the private room where the party was being held (in order that the rest of the cafe would not be aware of what was going on). Apparently, the Grand Duke simply died; there were no doctors around, so they called the police. Burke orders a routine autopsy and examines the Grand Duke's pill box, since the Grand Duke apparently took a pill shortly before his death. Burke refers to the Grand Duke as possibly being one of the all-time great phonies.m Les tries, and hates, caviar.
At the station, Burke and Sgt. Ames have a discussion of her hair style. The morning's headlines read "The Man Who Pretended To Be Royalty and Made It Pay Off". Les reports that the Grand Duke's death was murder; a lethal dose of belladonna had been introduced into the capsules in the pillbox, substituted for the digestive capsules the Grand Duke took. The belladonna could have come from the Grand Duke's own medicine cabinet; he was a known hypochondriac. Burke determines that the substitution had to have taken place between lunch and dinner, at the Grand Duke's place of business, the Connoisseur's House. He has obtained a list of the six appointments from the afternoon in question. Burke points out to Tim and Les that, since they believed the Grand Duke's death to be of natural causes, they forgot to check his private quarters, other pill bottles, and fingerprints on same. Burke heads back to Amanda and her grandmother.
At the Connoisseur's House, filled with Russian memorabilia and a huge coat of arms, Burke finds an elaborate necklace in a glass display case. A voice asks if he likes it and tells him that the gems are not real. Looking down, Burke sees a pair of long, shapely legs. Miss Smith is on the floor looking for a lost contact lens. She tells him that you can always tell fake emeralds; real emeralds burn and man-made ones don't. Miss Smith says she is sort of the manager; actually, she does the leg work at the Connoisseur's House. She tells Burke the Grand Duke had people convinced the necklace was real for years; that's how he maintained his reputation for being royalty. As she leads Burke upstairs to the private quarters, he steps on her missing contact. She takes out the other one, and tells him she digs cops. Miss Smith's grandfather was a Keystone Kop, her grandmother a Mack Sennett bathing beauty, and her mother was a "Baby Wampus" star. Her first name is (she says "choose one") Gloria Pola Clara. She tells Burke to call her "Smitty". She says she was born between RKO and C.B. Demille. Once inside the Grand Duke's rooms, Smitty finds her glasses and puts them on. Burke finds a receipt for a $1600 candle snuffer. Smitty tells him that selling "treasures" was the Grand Duke's trade' people begged to be overcharged by him. When he finds a sheet of paper in the typewriter, Smitty says that the Grand Duke was having his autobiography ghost written. Chapter 11 is entitled "How Phony is a Phony?" and begins "Let's go back to the beginning, the way it really was." The rest of the page is blank. Smitty shows Burke the cover of the manuscript "The Autobiography of a Phony by the Grand Duke Maximilian as told to Archie Lido." Burke finds two bottles of pills. When Burke breaks the news of the murder, Smitty tells him she imagines he'll think she's the killer, since her fingerprints will be all over the bottles. Before he leaves, Burke orders a plumber to check the U-joint under the Grand Duke's wash basin. He and Smitty make a date for later that evening.
Burke finds Archie Lido typing away at one of several typewriters on a long table; he stops and then begins typing on a totally different work at another typewriter. He is working on five pieces at the same time, including a horror western, a kiddie show for adults and a book about Custer. Archie takes pills as well for his gallstones. He tells Burke how cutthroat the writing business is. Archie says he was dining with his agent and telling him about his gallstones; three weeks later, the story showed up on "Ben Casey", written by their waiter. Archie was at the Grand Duke's apartments all the time and has only gotten part way through the book. Archie tells Burke that the Duke was a phony, but "hey, it's a living". The Duke would dictate and Archie would try to turn it into something readable. Archie tells Burke that now that the Grand Duke is dead, the autobiography is down the drain. When Burke tells him that the Grand Duke was murdered, Archie perks up and says that improves the books chances. He decides to finish it himself.
Les reports that the plumber found traces of the Grand Duke's digestive powder in the U-joint; so the subsitution had to have taken place in the aparment. All six people who had appointments with the Grand Duke that day have been located, except for one "Charlie Prince".
The first name on the list is Gustv Lupescu, the chef and part owner of Cafe Shashlik. He has a heavy "stage-Russian" accent and is "incensed"; do they suggest his food killed the Grand Duke? He is a four-star chef from Duncan Hines who has made the finest borscht since the Czar. Burke asks where his accent is from. Lupescu drops it and say "Kansas". His real name is Gus Leeps, formerly of "Leeps and Feather, Songs to Make You Happy", a vaudeville act. Feather is his wife, Honey. Gus says she's a pretty thing and men chase her all the time. He tells Burke he couldn't get anywhere with his real name, so he changed it. He says Honey can't even boil water, but in vaudeville he was the King of the Hot Plate. He learned how to cook from Hungarian acrobats, Armenian jugglers, Russian dancers, etc. They didn't need the Grand Duke's patronage, the restaurant was doing fine. In the old days, Gus, Honey and the Grand Duke lived in the same boarding house. Gus says "Grand Duke, Schmand Duke" and tells Burke he used to feed "His Royal Highness". He calls Charlie Prince a freeloader, but doesn't know where he could be found. He offers them some of his food, which Les enjoys but Burke declines.
NEVER LEAVE THE FORT UNATTENDED - BURKE'S LAW
Burke comments that Gus doesn't seem to have cared for the Grand Duke. Gus says that if they have any more questions, they'll have to speak to the boss. Burke says he thought Gus was the boss. Gus asks Burke if he knows any married man who's the boss. Les polishes off the borscht as they go to interview Honey, who is manning the cash register.
Burke asks Honey if she prefers to be called Mrs. Lupescu or Mrs. Leeps. She sweetly tells him she prefers Honey; a terrible flirt, she tells Burke not to feel shy calling her Honey. When Burke and Les introduce themselves, Honey says they don't discriminate at Cafe Shashlik, officers and enlisted men are equally welcome. She says the food is foreign but the atmosphere is home. Honey insists that the Grand Duke was really sweet, a darling, from the people. Honey says she appreciates gentility. She tells Burke Gus exaggerates. She doesn't know how the Grand Duke managed it; he always brought them caviar, pate, champagne, but never had money to buy bread. He was all elegance, always kissed her hand; Gus was furious and jealous. She tells Burke the Grand Duke's behavior always "made a lady feel so helpless", then (in midsentence) zeroes in on a passing waiting and reminds him what to charge for each item, to the penny, as steely as a drill sergeant. She tells Burke everyone called Charlie Prince a bum, but she thought he was sweet. She has no idea how to find him. Honey detects Gus eavesdropping at the kitchen door, pitches her voice louder, and says Gus is jealous like a madman. He went to confront the Grand Duke because he was jealous, she says. Gus flies out of the kitchen, accusing Honey of flirting with Burke just like she flirts with everyone else. Honey gets the upper hand in the fight, however. Burke tries to intervene in their shouting battle and they both turn on him and tell him to butt out. At the height of their screaming scene, they both hear a music cue playing in the main dining room. Honey strips off her apron, Gus removes his chef's coat and hat, they both grab straw hats and rush into the restaurant and begin a duet of "Baby Face", like the most lovey-dovey of couples.
Tim reports that he is having no luck at all locating Charlie Prince, but tells Burke that the only fingerprints on the pill bottles belong to Smitty. Les, meanwhile, has severe heartburn from all the rich food he's eaten at Cafe Shashlik. That evening, at the amusement park, Burke and Smitty have hot dogs and soda as if they were dining on steak and fine wine. She's wearing the fake emerald necklace (she just felt like it) and different colored contact lenses. They have a great evening, ending with a row on the lake. When Burke tells her that hers are the only prints on the bottles, she asks if he's going to arrest her. At her door, they kiss, and Burke keeps the necklace.
The next day at the station, Burke finds that the necklace is indeed a fake. Checking with Archie, Burke finds that both the necklace and Charlie Prince appear often in the autobiography. Archie knows no more than the fact that Charlie Prince drifted in and out of the Grand Duke's life. When Les finds they are going to interview Ronald Touchstone and heiress Monica Crenshaw that day, he bets Tim that Burke will take Monica.
Tim and Les find Touchstone with a mama doll in a rare doll shop. Les knows him as a small-time safecracker known as "Touchy" (he says he picked the name out of a phone book). "Touchy" assures them that safecracking is part of his distant past. He and Tim start discussing rare doll lore and trivia. He tells them that he was one of the Grand Duke's sources for rare objets d'art in the doll world. He became a doll expert after his psychiatrist told him his criminal life was the result of a childhood trauma of parental omission. In udder woids, his mom din't give him no dolls. Tim and Les remind him they know the Grand Duke held the mortgage on the doll shop and had put up money for stock; in addition, it seems "Touchy" tried to pull some fast deals on the Grand Duke. "Touchy" takes a tranquilizer and says he never had anxiety problems in the past. Les reminds him he's a two-time loser and "Touchy" tells him "hands off the lapels". They discover his tranquilizers are belladonna.
Burke tells Tim to check the flophouses for Charlie Prince, then heads for Monica Crenshaw's mansion. The butler escorts Burke into a posh game room where Monica is shooting craps. Burke joins her and soon discovers that the dice are loaded. Monica informs him she also cheats at solitaire. She takes a couple of pills and knocks them back with some booze. Burke suggests the Grand Duke's autobiography could rock her a little, but Monica replies that she's been rocked before. She was once married to "Maxie", as she refers to the Grand Duke, but it spoiled their friendship. He needed a sponsor and she bought him air time for his business. She tells Burke the Grand Duke's title may have been phony, but he was the real thing. Monica asks if the book is going to be published, now that the Grand Duke is dead. He had told her it still needed a last chapter. She goes back to her crap game as Burke leaves. Reading in the car, Burke discovers an entire section of the book concerning Anatol Gregori has been crossed out.
.Film director Anatol Gregori hasn't worked in eight years; he refuses to cut his salary demands. He calls himself the most expensive unemployed director in Hollyword. With yet another fake Russian accent and dressed in the old DeMille/von Stroheim style of jodhpurs and boots, Gregori says his only obligation is to his art. He insists he's a man of great influence; Tim and Les say the records show he owed the Grand Duke a great deal of money. Gregori calls the Grand Duke a fraud, a phony, someone who could only happen in Hollywood. Gregori rented all the furniture for estate from the Grand Duke. He tells them that important people come to his home, he's trying to raise money for his new film and has to make an impression in the best of surroundings. Gregori dismissively states that the Grand Duke was pressuring him for minuscule sums. He tells Tim and Les he uses people like the Grand Duke as extras in his films. Les notes that three extras in Gregori's last film were killed on the set. Gregori responds that they had the privilege of working for him and if they died in a mob scene it was because of their own stupidity. He gets irate and says how dare they accuse him of any crime. Les says Gregori tried to get the Grand Duke to invest in his film and was turned down. Gregori says that's not true. He was just demanding to know why he should pay to rent his own furniture. The Grand Duke had bought all the furniture in the house when it was up for auction when Gregori went bankrupt. Then he rented it back to Gregori for a ridiculous sum. Gregori tries to get Tim and Les to invest in his film; when they turn him down, he calls them swine, throws a tantrum, then has to take pills to calm himself down.
Sgt. Ames tracks Charlie Prince down through Missing Persons and let's Burke know he's at a local flophouse. The manager shows them into a communal "situp" room (there are no beds, just chairs and each man sleeps sitting up and leaning against the man sitting across from him), but has no idea which one is Prince. Fine mannered but very shabby, Prince identifies himself and cadges a cigarette. When Tim and Les both offer their packs, he grabs a handful from each. He says he's been expecting a visit since he heard of the death of the Grand Duke, who, he tells them, was his first cousin, once removed. Charlie says the truth must come out; Maximilian, the Grand Duke, really was royalty. Charlie is actually Prince Karl Ivanovich Pavlovich Karolin. He and the Grand Duke came to the U. S. at an early age. He shows them photos of the two of them as boys before the Revolution, as well as photos of the family jewels, and tells them all the others were sold over the years, but the emerald necklace still exists in the possession of the Grand Duke. The Grand Duke, says Charlie, did his best act pretending to be what he really was. When he's asked why the Grand Duke pretended, Charlie replies that Grand Dukes are a dime a dozen and are now mostly waiters. The only way to survive was to be a phony. Tim asks why not sell the necklace if cash was needed. Charlie replies that a man of royal lineage does not do such things. He says the real necklace is in a safe behind a painting near the desk. Charlie lives the way he does by choice. He says he was never part of the "barbiturate set" and finds the men at the flophouse much more interesting. The men they see around the room, he says, are financiers and world travelers. He invites them to drop in again, saying that he usually stays there when he's "in town". He does ask that they not call him "Your Highness" while in the building.
Burke coerces "Touchy" to come out of retirement to opens the Grand Duke's safe. He's very upset and feels that it's illegal. He protests that he's out of practice, he's retired, but he does it - "total memory recall". There is nothing inside the safe but a duplicate of the picture shown to Tim by Charlie Prince. Burke orders "Touchy" taken downtown; "Touchy" protests that he stole nothing.
At the station, there's still no word about the necklace. INS has found records of when the Grand Duke's family entered the country. Tim and Les think Smitty has the emeralds. Burke says that couldn't be - her grandfather was a Kop. Suddenly, it dawns on Burke that the killer may have left the necklace somewhere in the room until things cooled down.
Back at the Grand Duke's private quarters, Smitty invites him to her home for dinner, as well as inviting him to be her date for a costume ball. He declines the dinner date and she leaves, giving him the keys to the suite. Burke looks again at the sheet of paper in the typewriter and realizes its significance. Searching the suite, Burke finally finds the necklace cleverly hidden in among the chandelier crystals. Just then, he hears a sound, sits on the chaise, pockets the necklace and calls out "Come in, Archie". Lido enters and Burke says he was waiting for him.
Archie says he's going to finish the book and starts to leave. Burke asks if maybe Archie forgot something. He asks if Archie had a key to the suite and Archie says yes, because he came and worked there all the time. Burke tells him he has an idea for the last chapter of the book - Archie is the killer. The sheet beginning Chapter 11 stopped abruptly at an interesting point ("Let's go back to the beginning, the way it really was"). It's clear to Burke that it was at that time that the Grand Duke revealed to Archie that he was a real Grand Duke and probably showed him the real necklace. Burke pulls the necklace out of his pocket and asks if that isn't why Archie came. Archie looks up at the chandelier, then covers up by saying the Grand Duke was a phony just like the necklace. Burke says then it doesn't matter; real emeralds burn. He throws the necklace into the fireplace. Lido rushes over and frantically fishes the necklace out of the fireplace with the poker. The emeralds are intact; Burke had thrown the fake. Burke pulls the real necklace out of his other pocket. Archie says he's going to write a new ending - for Burke's obituary. He attacks Burke with the poker; Burke knocks him over the chaise and out cold. Tim and Les rush in just then; Tim has a new theory - Archie is the killer. Burke points at Archie's prone form - too late, guys.
Later, at the suite, Burke enters in a Keystone Kop costume, fumbling his nightstick. Charlie Prince, once again Prince Karl, fashionably dressed and the heir to the Grand Duke's estate, asks if Burke has been demoted. He also complains that now he is a royal once more, his lovely way of life is over; Burke offers his condolences. Burke asks Charlie if Smitty is ready. Charlie asks the time and says oh, dear; he takes a pill, for tension. He offers Burke a pill; Burke accepts. Smitty enters, dressed as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty; Burke dons a Chaplinesque moustache and the two of them go off to the costume ball (their exit filmed at jerky "silent movie" speed).