7.

Hardcastle was watching an old episode of DRAGNET when Mark came into the den. McCormick silently watched the denouncement with the Judge, then handed him a bowl of popcorn.

"Is it time for THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN yet?" Mark asked, slumping in the other seat in front of the television, searching for the TV Guide.

"In about 30 minutes. We get any mail?"

"Some magazines for me, some bills for you." Mark thumbed through the latest issue of Playboy, checking out the centerfold, then tossed it to the floor with his Sports Monthly magazine. "Hey, what did you do with the other cassette tape?"

"What tape?" Hardcastle asked, his attention on the television screen, or so it appeared.

"The one where I agreed to kill Thompson. Frank said they couldn't find it."

"Maybe Lorenzo didn't make one." Hardcastle munched on the popcorn. "There isn't enough salt on this."

"Too much salt is bad for you. Judge, don't change the subject. That tape could get me into a lot of trouble, even if I didn't follow through with it. If you don't have it, I need to know."

"Don't worry, it's in a safe place."

"Oh, yeah? Where's that?" Mark leaned forward, trying to see Hardcastle's face.

The Judge relented. "In the garbage, kiddo. I knew you wouldn't do it. I figured the tape would only confuse the issue."

McCormick chortled. "You destroyed evidence! I don't believe it, you actually destroyed evidence."

"Don't get too excited, kiddo. You're blowing this out of proportion."

"No way, this is better than when you broke into that safe in Atlantic City to ransom me. You actually destroyed evidence to save me." Mark's delighted grin was filled with warmth. "Thanks, Judge. I mean, this is really special."

"Calm down, McCormick, it wasn't that big a deal. You didn't actually do anything."

"Ohhh, I see. You mean, if I had shot Thompson, you would've suddenly 'discovered' the tape and turned it over to the cops, huh?" Mark pressed the issue, taking a peculiar delight in bugging the Judge on what he might have done if Mark had gone ahead with the assassination.

"Well, I knew you wouldn't pull the trigger."

"That's not what I asked, Judge. You'd've turned the tape over to Frank, right?"

"This is a stupid conversation, McCormick. My movie is coming on and I don't want to discuss it! That's the end of it, okay?" Hardcastle stormed, flicking the channel to cable on the remote.

With an affectionate smile, Mark grabbed the popcorn bowl, doused it with salt and sat back to watch John Wayne be converted to Quakerism.