College students and frat buddies Justin Rowe and Cooper Redman both come from rich, prestigious families and are under strong parental pressure to excel at everything they do. As a result, they steal an exam paper from Professor D. E. Rusk's office. Rusk discovers their theft and threatens to have them expelled from the college. Rowe and Redman realize that this would mean the ends of their careers since their parents would disown them so they decide to murder Rusk before he can expose them.
Rowe tells Rusk that he has had a conversation with his father (who has been a generous donor to the college) and that Rowe's father would like to meet Rusk that evening at a restaurant in order to discuss the situation. As luck would have it, that evening Columbo is giving a guest lecture on criminology to the college, and Rowe, Redman and Rusk are all in the audience. Rusk leaves the lecture halfway through for his meeting with Rowe's father, and as he is getting in his car in the basement parking lot, he is shot and killed by an unknown assailant.
After the lecture, Columbo and several students from the audience discover the body. Columbo naturally suspects Rowe and Redman of being involved, but has to work out how they could have arranged to shoot Rusk when they were both sitting right in front of him in the audience at the time of the murder.
TV presenter Wade Anders has used underhanded tactics to steal the plum job of anchorman on Crime Alert (a programme that reconstructs unsolved crimes and invites the public to help solve them) from rival Budd Clarke. Clarke, who has been relegated to be the presenter of the 11:00 news, has obtained a copy of a pornographic video made by Anders some years ago. He threatens to announce Anders's seedy past on the 11:00 news unless Anders resigns as host of Crime Alert.
Anders uses Clarke's chain smoking habit to devise a plan to murder him. Anders doctors a pack of cigarettes with a potent poison and, when he goes to Clarke's house to discuss the situation, replaces Clarke's cigarettes with the poisoned package. Clarke soon smokes one of the poisoned cigarettes and dies within minutes. Anders then removes all evidence of the pornographic video and sets the scene to make it look like Clarke died of a heart attack.
Columbo soon uncovers inconsistencies at the crime scene, but needs to discover the crucial clue that places Anders at the scene of the murder.
High-powered criminal lawyer Hugh Creighton has been living with fading rock star Marcy Edwards for several years, but discovers that Marcy is having an affair with the drummer from her band of some years back, Neddy Malcolm. Creighton attempts to break up with Marcy, but Marcy is aware of the dubious methods that Creighton uses to win his legal cases, and threatens to expose him unless he takes her back.
When Creighton discovers that Malcolm has a criminal record involving assaults on women, he devises a plan to murder Marcy and frame Malcolm. Knowing that Malcolm pays regular visits to Marcy when Creighton is at work, he doctors a bottle of champagne with chloral hydrate. He then slips Marcy a drug which inhibits her desire to drink. Later that day, when Malcolm comes over to visit Marcy, he opens the doctored champagne and falls unconscious when he drinks some. Marcy refuses the drink and remains awake. At this point, Creighton enters and strangles Marcy while Malcolm is unconscious. Later, Malcolm wakes up beside Marcy's corpse, and as the investigation proceeds, Creighton makes sure that Columbo is aware of Malcolm's unsavoury past.
Columbo suspects Creighton, but can he prove him guilty when Creighton has never lost a legal battle in his career?
Young photographer Freddy Brower is in the middle of divorce proceedings with his wife Nancy. One night, when Freddy is at Nancy's house trying to sort things out, he watches the lottery draw on TV while Nancy is out of the room and discovers that he has won $30 million. The problem is that, by law, any lottery win has to be split with one's spouse.
To get some advice on how to solve this problem, Freddy visits the one person he trusts: his uncle Leon Lamarr, who runs a jewellery shop. What Freddy doesn't know is that Lamarr has just discovered that his investments have crashed and he is broke. Lamarr suggests that Freddy let him collect the lottery winnings, after which he would give the money to Freddy.
Freddy's trust in Lamarr turns out to be misplaced, of course, since Lamarr decides to murder Freddy so he can keep the money. When Lamarr holds a Hallowe'en costume party, he slips away and drives to Freddy's studio apartment, where he murders him by hitting him on the head with a bottle. He then undresses him and puts him in the bathtub to make it look like Freddy was taking a bath and slipped, hitting his head.
When Columbo investigates, he discovers that Freddy was planning on making some very expensive purchases so his suspicions are aroused when he discovers the link between Freddy and Lamarr.
Columbo is attending the wedding reception for his nephew Andy Parma, also a detective on the LAPD, and his bride Melissa Hayes, a fashion model and daughter of wealthy Seattle businessman Sheldon Hayes. After the reception Parma and his new wife return to their bridal suite in the hotel, but while Parma is taking a shower, Melissa is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Being on the scene, Columbo takes charge of the investigation. When Melissa's wealthy father fails to receive any ransom demands, Columbo begins to realize that the kidnapper is probably a psycho who is stalking Melissa and isn't interested in money.
Nick Franco is a suave Italian womanizer who is carrying on simultaneous affairs with wealthy socialite Lauren Stanton and another mysterious woman named Lisa Martin. Stanton and Martin are shown to be very close on some emotional level, and they both share a hatred of Franco and his unscrupulous, violent ways with women.
Together, they plot Franco's murder. They are waiting in Franco's apartment when he returns home late one night, and Stanton shoots him with a silenced gun. Wrapping his body in an electric blanket, they leave the scene and return separately two hours later. Stanton pretends she has lost her key to Franco's apartment and awakens the building supervisor to let her in. As the two are walking towards Franco's apartment, Martin fires a gun inside the apartment, then flees through the French windows. Stanton and the supervisor rush into the apartment to discover Franco's body, still warm, lying on the floor.
When Columbo begins his investigation, Stanton pretends to be falling in love with him in an attempt to distract him from the case. Columbo in turn pretends to respond to Stanton's advances, but of course is ruthlessly pursuing the killer.
Irascible talk-show host Fielding Chase's adopted daughter Victoria wants to break away from her father's protective clutches. At 25, she is locked into a job as Chase's assistant, but she has written a novel which a literary agent, Lou Cates, thinks is brilliant and wants to publish.
Gerry Winters, a researcher for Chase's show, is close friends with Victoria and tries to convince her to dump her father and come with him to New York. Chase becomes furious when he finds out that Winters is trying to steal his daughter, and plans to murder him.
Chase tells Winters to phone him at a given time the next day to arrange a meeting. At that time, Chase goes to Winters's house and when Winters phones Chase, the call is picked up by Chase's answering machine. Chase then picks up the extension phone in Winters's house and pretends he is talking to him from his own home. He then shoots Winters, so the shots are recorded on Chase's answering machine, making it look like Chase was talking to Winters from his own house when the murder occurred.
Chase plants a few clues in Winters's house in an attempt to frame Winters's gay lover Ted Molloy who had recently had an argument with Winters, but Columbo isn't fooled.
When two men kill each other in a run-down tenement, Columbo is ready to close the case until a fragment of a photograph is found clutched in one of the dead men's hands. The plot thickens when an insurance investigator, Irving Krutch, turns up at police headquarters claiming that the piece of the photograph is part of a treasure map leading to $4 million that was stolen from a bank several years earlier. Krutch produces a list of names of people which he claims have other pieces of the photograph, and tries to enlist Columbo's aid in tracking them down. When the people on the list start to turn up dead, Columbo has a full-blown murder case on his hands.
Wealthy horse breeder and trainer Graham McVeigh is exasperated by his younger brother Teddy's compulsive gambling, and is tired of bailing him out of debt and scrapes with the mob, so he decides to rid himself of the problem. He convinces Teddy to bet heavily on one of his (Graham's) horses, then drugs the horse so that it loses the race, costing Teddy thousands and sinking his chances of winning enough money to pay off mob bookie Bruno Romano. Graham tells Teddy that he has arranged a meeting with Romano in a secluded spot, where they can work out their differences. However it is a trick to lure Teddy out into the woods, where Graham shoots him once in the back of the head to make it look like a mob execution. Later, he phones Romano to tell him that he wants to pay off Teddy's debts, and lures Romano over to his ranch, where he shoots him too, claiming self-defence when Romano pulled a gun on him.
However, Graham did not reckon on Romano's boss, Vincenzo Fortelli, taking exception to Romano's death (and the loss of Teddy's gambling debts), and soon finds himself threatened by both Columbo and Fortelli. Columbo forges an unlikely partnership with Fortelli (hence the episode's title) in an attempt to trap McVeigh into confessing the murders.
Hollywood gossip reporter Verity Chandler has a deal with mortician Eric Prince, who handles many of the funerals of the rich and famous. Prince gives her the inside scoop on funeral arrangements and in return she keeps the door closed on the closet containing Prince's many skeletons. However, Chandler and Prince were also having an affair, and after Prince dumps her, Chandler is out for revenge. She threatens to announce on her forthcoming TV show that Prince stole a $1 million necklace from the corpse of silent film star Dorothea Page when Prince was handling Page's funeral.
When Chandler confronts Prince with this news in the preparation room of Prince's funeral parlour, Prince murders her by clubbing her on the head. Later that day, Prince manages to dispose of Chandler's body in the funeral parlour's crematorium, thus eliminating, or so he hopes, all the evidence that could incriminate him.
Columbo is called in when Chandler's secretary, Roger Gambles, reports her as missing, and is soon led to Prince as a prime suspect. But how can Columbo prove Prince's guilt when there is no body?