Lt. Columbo is called to investigate the death of Max Dyson, a
well-known magician and mentalist, beheaded by his own invention -- a trick guillotine.
Columbo takes notice of the fact that the guillotine collar was removed and
standing neatly some distance away from the guillotine. Bert, a neighbor who loved and
admired Max, tells Columbo that Max made a living building magic effects equipment and
exposing charlatan magicians.
Columbo visits the Anneman Institute for Psychic Research, directed by Paula Hull.
The Institute is government funded with an interest in challenging the Soviet
Union's studies in telepathically intercepting the thoughts and actions of the enemy.
On the day of his death, Max had monitored such a test on the Institute's prodigal,
Eliot Blake, and Blake had passed the test brilliantly. Now Columbo knows, he has to
do his homework, watching magicians and trying to find the angle of the guillotine trick.
Meanwhile, Mr. Harrow, working with the government, offers Eliot Blake immediate
employment outside the country, requiring a new identity. With a court order, Columbo is
able to prevent Blake and Harrow from boarding the plane and return them to the Institute.
Columbo and Tommy, a fledgling magician, re-enact the test by taking Dyson and
Blake's roles and successfully prove that it was not mental telepathy but a well-planned
trick. Later that day, Eliot Blake meets Columbo in Dyson's magic shop, and Columbo
tells him about the State report on Dyson and Blake who were comrades in an Ugandan
prison. Dyson had bought his way out, leaving Blake behind.
To prove his point to Blake, Columbo puts on the guillotine collar and places his neck
under the menacing blade as he continues his demonstration. Apparently, Blake could
never forgive his mentor, Dyson, and after their successful Insti-tute test, Eliot Blake
Dyson working on the guillotine and decided to make Dyson's death look like an accident.
Eliot sees his way out of his dilemma and releases the blade on Columbo. To
his surprise, Columbo is unscathed because he had reversed the collar labels from
"danger" to "safe." Eliot is shattered as Columbo places him