Then, as the crowd passed by during the film’s intermission, Al Pratt noticed the agile Ralph Andrews vanish down an alley as the people exited and entered. He turned to see the pair from the car approach just as he was beside Julie Gumm. Before he could speak to her, he felt a familiar poke in his lower back. He noticed one of the thugs was behind Julie as well, and she looked frightened.
“You two big shots keep all quiet-like and come with us,” said one goon. “If you make a peep, then we’ll dim your stars all too easy!”
Al realized that the two gunmen had mistaken him for Julie’s co-star. In their haste and the confusion of the crowd, they had not noticed one short redhead in blue coat trade places with another. He also knew that, if he tried to take them down here, someone in the crowd or Julie herself could get hurt. Thus he bided his time and kept his face down as they moved him toward their car. “Don’t be scared! It’ll be OK!” he whispered to the wide-eyed Julie.
They were pushed into the car, and the first thug raced off into the sunshine with the kidnapped pair in the back. Al turned to Julie and tried to offer her comfort. “Miss Gumm — Julie — this is nothing to worry about,” he whispered. “Just follow my lead, and we’ll be fine.”
The car raced through the busy streets and finally reached a huge house on a hill. The house was the only one on the green rolling hill, and large gates protected the privacy of the owner. It was a perfect spot to hide someone or something. Al was more than confident that he could capture the kidnappers without any trouble, but he was doubly concerned about picking exactly the right time to do so. I can’t jeopardize Julie’s safety, he mused.
They were locked in a small room that was well furnished but secure. Al turned to Julie and said, “My name is Al. I know this may sound crazy, but I can take care of this situation. I have certain experience in this area.”
Julie took his hand and said, “I don’t! I’m scared. They were after Ralph and me! Thank goodness he left before they could get him. I mean, it’s not that I wanted them to get you.”
“Don’t worry,” Al laughed. “I understand. He did run off just in time. I was even thinking at the time that if I could spend time with a girl like you, I would sure stick close!”
Julie smiled. “Thank you! He’s a dear friend, but I’m just a pal to him.”
Al noticed the pain beneath the timbre of her voice and said, “I know a few girls who can’t see me as anything more than a little guy who isn’t worth their time. For what it’s worth, I think you’re great. I’m a fan. In fact, I am still trying to balance my concern about our being abducted with the thrill of actually being with Julie Gumm! You might say I’m over the rainbow for you!”
Julie lowered her eyes. She was actually moved by his words. She was a celebrated Hollywood star, yet she obviously had no confidence in herself, nor did she feel worthy of anyone’s affection. Al suddenly knew that she felt her voice was all she had to offer the world. Al was moved by the young woman’s obvious and heartbreaking vulnerability, and as she drew closer, he slowly put his arms around her and kissed her gently. She responded timidly but sincerely. Is she thinking of me as a Ralph stand-in? he wondered. She knows I’m just a rough look-alike, but at this point I’m not going question it!
Much later, Al Pratt and Julie Gumm stood up and turned to face the thugs as their locked door swung open. “You punk! You’re not Andrews!” said the man. “The boss-lady says she spotted him at the Copa. I guess yer just a dumb mug who stepped into trouble!”
Al smiled and said, “That’s what I do. Stepping into trouble is my favorite pastime!” He moved swiftly and thrust his shoulder against the door before it could open widely, and his muscular frame caused the heavy door to slam into the gunman’s arm. The gun dropped to the floor, and Al clipped the gunman with a right hook. The thug did not move, and Al hurtled his fallen form to tackle the second man. In seconds he had defeated the other kidnapper.
“Julie, come out. I’ve sent these lugs to dreamland!” said Al. As she rushed forward and into his arms, he bound the thugs and explained, “This isn’t the home of a common thug. I’d say their mysterious boss-lady owns this mansion. She either blew her monthly allowance on the knickknacks around the joint, or she didn’t grab you for money.”
Julie took his arm. “Oh, Al, do you think she wants to just kill us? That means poor Ralph is still in danger. That awful man said she saw him at the Copa!”
Al nodded. “Let me get the cops, and I’ll try to locate Ralph and the woman in question!”
“Let me come, too,” said Julie. “I’d be just sick if something happened to him!”
Al sighed and said, “Sure.”
Al Pratt led Julie Gumm into the swank club called the Copa just as the sun was setting. He wondered just how long Ralph stayed at the popular nightspot. As he passed through on Julie’s arm, he noticed the famous faces in the crowd and tried not to feel out of place in his old suit. Julie’s my ticket in this place, he thought. Without her on my arm, I’d be tossed out like yesterday’s news! She’s a real star, and I’m an ordinary Joe. This is nice, but it’s not my world. Guess I’m chasing rainbows!
Seeing a beautiful blonde with a peekaboo hairstyle in a red gown, he muttered, “Is that Libby Lawrence the columnist or Veronica Lake?”
Julie’s hold on his arm tightened, and she pointed toward a table. “There’s Ralph now!” she said. “Oh, thank goodness we’re in time!”
Al shook his head. “We’re just barely in time. Ralph looks a bit worse for wear. Those empty glasses spell trouble, as does that ugly hat.” He followed Julie toward the table, where a talkative Ralph Andrews was gazing into the eyes of a sultry blonde.
“Jules! Wha’za matter?” slurred Ralph.
She’s drugged him! he mused.
“Ralph, you have to come with us!” said Julie. “We’re in danger! Someone wants us dead!”
Al suddenly pulled Julie back and said, “Yeah! And that someone is right here! She was there when they grabbed us, although that big hat and dark glasses helped conceal her famous face.” He gripped the arm of the blonde as she cursed and turned to face them.
“Lola Warner! You mean it was her mansion those goons took us to?” asked Julie as she recognized the young starlet.
“So, they failed to get rid of you!” she hissed. “When I saw Ralph here, I knew they’d lost him, but I hoped they could still get rid of you!”
Al tightened his grip on the angry actress. “You wanted to kill Julie and Ralph because you were jealous of her success, and because he would not commit to you!” vowed Al with a keen guess.
“Hold on, pal!” said Ralph. “That’s my date you’re grabbing!”
Al shoved him back down and said, “A check of the deed should show that mansion belongs to Lola, here. She thought she could get rid of you both. I’d say she’s sick, herself. Those pills she put in his drink may be a pastime of hers, too!”
Lola cursed as Al led her toward the entering cops. “Julie, I have to go. Take care of yourself and Ralph!” he said as he kissed her abruptly and slipped away, knowing it wouldn’t have done for Al Pratt’s name to figure too closely in a crime case.
Julie smiled and nodded sadly as he vanished. In spite of all that had occurred, the lovesick girl still turned to tend to Ralph Andrews as he sputtered in confusion while Lola was led away by the cops.
Back in Calvin City, Al strolled along and ignored the jibes of Truck Tarbel as he passed by with Mary James. For now, the memory of his time with Julie was enough to keep him happily oblivious to the fickle whims of the campus flirt.
“Say, who’s that twerp think he is — Ralph Andrews?” sneered Truck as Al whistled and confidently crossed the campus.
Mary blinked in interest and said, “You know, he does look a bit like him! I never noticed that before!”