We left Laura dwelling on Major Eyebrows’ threats …
It looks like we’re now back at the Century Towers. Hope Laura at least got her sushi to go!
In the office, Bernice is filling Laura in on what she’s learned: “So far, Major Craddock checks out …”
Wait. I thought Bernice was the receptionist. Where’s Murphy?
Bernice hands Laura a stack of messages and continues: “But you’re gonna have to narrow the Palace of Heaven down for me. I mean, are we talking priceless Jade statue, Shanghai bordello, what?”
“I wish I could tell you,” Laura says. But Mr. Steele’s got his thinking cap on!
“Name seems to ring a gong,” Steele quips as he shuffles through the stack of messages that Laura has, rather surprisingly, handed him.
“And we’re billing this to an open-and-shut traffic accident, correct?” Bernice wants to know.
Laura says it’s developed a little from that.
Steele smugly corrects her. “E&F at last reading, I believe.”
“Or QWYA,” Bernice adds as she and Steele follow Laura toward her office.
“Too soon to tell,” Laura responds, grabbing a file folder.
Mr. Steele figures he’s getting the hang of this code:
“QWYA? Question Witnesses, Yank Answers!”
“Quit While You’re Alive,” Laura clarifies.
While Steele visibly processes this information, Bernice Laura to take a pass: “I mean it, Laura. I don’t like this one. Two accidental murders, Army intelligence-“
“And the Palace of Heaven,” Steele ponders.
“What about our responsibility to the client?” responsible Laura inquires.
“Refer him to the advice column in Soldier of Fortune magazine.”
Soldier of Fortune, The Journal for Professional Adventurers, was founded in 1975 by a couple of army veterans. Wikipedia describes it as a “monthly mercenary magazine devoted to world-wide reporting of wars.” Well, that sounds like fun. It’s been sued several times because of their acceptance of classified advertising for “guns for hire.” Here’s the cover of the issue that was on the stands when this episode aired. Ooh! Special issue? Is it the swimswuit issue?Do you think there was a centerfold?
Laura, who’s like a dog with a bone, objects that they can’t drop the case until they’ve made some sense of this!
“Or found the movie,” Steele suggests. Uh, oh. I can see him starting to get wound up here …
“What movie?” Laura, who apparently just met Mr. Steele, wants to know.
“That’s the question, isn’t it? Are we looking here at ‘Enter the Dragon’, with Bruce Lee on the trail of illicit narcotics?”
Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee, John Saxon. Warner Bros., 1975. A martial artist agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord using his invitation to a tournament there as cover. The film was released six days after Lee’s mysterious death.
Laura thinks Steele might be on to something. “Craddock did call Kenji a gun runner.”
This gives Steele ANOTHER idea!
“Robert Mitchum, Brian Keith?” Bernice contributes.
Well! That was unexpected!
Has Bernice been boning up on old movies? Has Mr. Steele been “tutoring” her after hours? WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?
Mr. Steele doesn’t seem surprised by Bernice’s sudden encyclopedic knowledge of obscure films. “Exactly!” he agrees. “Warner Brothers, 1975. ‘The Yakuza’. Japanese word for gangster. Ruthless code of honor.”
“Where do you GET these films?”
Bernice is even more convinced this isn’t a case for them. “Drop the case, Laura. The only way to apologize to these guys is to chop off your pinkie and hand it over in a handkerchief.”
The Yakuza are a real thing. So is the fingers bit. According to Wikipedia, “Upon a first offense, the transgressor must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give the severed portion to his boss. Sometimes an underboss may do this in penance … if he wants to spare a member of his own gang from further retaliation. Its origin stems from the traditional way of holding a Japanese sword. The bottom three fingers of each hand are used to grip the sword tightly, with the thumb and index fingers slightly loose. The removal of digits starting with the little finger moving up the hand to the index finger progressively weakens a person’s sword grip.” Okay, then.
Laura seems to be dwelling on Major Eyebrows’ ominous words. But she won’t be intimidated!
“Please. This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“The movie had the same problem. Watched it half a dozen times, still couldn’t make head nor tails of the plot.”
The Yakuza. 1974. Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith. Warner Bros., 1974. Directed by Sidney Pollack. Mr. Steele wasn’t the only one who had trouble following the plot, and famed critic Roger Ebert noted, “It’s for audiences that have grown accustomed over the last few years to buckets of blood, disembowelments and severed hands flying through the air.” A romantic comedy, then?
Mr. Steele still has something niggling at the back of his brain.
“Palace of Heaven,” he says, reaching for the phone. “I wonder-“
But Laura gets there first. “Who are you calling?” Steele asks.
“The morgue. We haven’t heard from Dickerson and I still have to know who picked up Kenji’s body.”
Wait a second, missy!
“This is my office,” Steele complains, looking downcast. (Or more likely, looking at the tantalizing expanse of leg that Laura’s slit skirt reveals.)
You just don’t know when to quit while you’re ahead, do you, Mr. Steele?
“No problem,” he capitulates at her look. “I’ll use the phone outside.”
He departs with a backward look and an impish grin. What is he up to?
In the lobby, Mr. Steele dials information. “Um, what city? I’m not sure, really. It’s just that the Palace of Heaven seems very familiar to me, and I was hoping you could tell me why. What did you say?”
By George, I believe the game is afoot!
In this scene we see Mr. Steele bringing his own area of expertise to bear – and Laura learning from him. We also get a deeper sense of Laura’s sense of commitment as well as how much Major Eyebrows’ threats genuinely scared her. I’m a little puzzled by Bernice’s role in this – it seems to me that her lines might originally have been intended for Murphy. What do you think?