ENCORE PERFORMANCE

By AEIU

GLENDALE: 6:01 A.M.

Zane Stewart flashed a large determined smile at the studio audience as she waited for the green light to begin taping a new episode of 'Let's Talk Law'. As she looked out into the room in front of her, she was excited to see it was a real audience in the seats; not just friends and family members that had been emotionally blackmailed into attendance by her interviewee but people who actually wanted to hear the exclusive story she had secured.

"All right, it's only ten people," she thought, "but it's more than we've ever had."

She allowed her eyes to drift to the silver-headed ex-judge who sat in the seat beside her, she swore she'd get a good story out of him if she had to knock him down, straddle him, and yank it from his clenched toothed smile.

"Good morning, LA," Stewart said brightly as she looked into the camera. "This is 'Let's Talk Law' and I'm your hostess, Zane Stewart. Today we are thrilled to welcome back Judge Milton C. Hardcastle. I am sure that all of you remember how, just a week ago, he had us at the edge of our seats as he explained his thoughts on why justice begins at home."

Stewart paused a moment to see if a bolt of lightning would come down from the heavens to strike her for telling that particular lie. When it didn't, she continued. "I'm sure all of you have read about the judge's recent exploits as he worked closely with the FBI and helped bring down the alleged heroin smuggling operation which was being run out of Boutros Trucking Industry. Today he will talk to us about that exciting case and how it fits into his philosophy that justice begins at home. How are you doing today, Judge?"

Judge Milton C Hardcastle sat ramrod straight in his chair with a wooden smile on his face as he stared straight into the camera as if it was a predatory beast. "I'm fine," he said clearly as he enunciated each word through his clenched teeth.

Oh, no, you don't," Stewart thought to herself. Luckily she had done her homework this time. She knew that if asked questions, Judge Hardcastle would give short terse answers but if you asked him to tell you a story then he became relaxed and engaging. And if you added a little something or someone extra to the conversation, anything was possible.

"Why don't you tell us how you got involved into investigating the Boutros Trucking Industries?" Stewart asked.

Hardcastle relaxed as his face broke into a real smile. "That is a perfect example," he lectured, "of how small acts of jurist prudence can have large benefits. How one man with grit and determination can affect his world and the world around him. How one man…"

"Cough, cough," came a familiar sounding voice from back stage.

Hardcastle paused and looked behind him but failed to see the source of the distracting sound. "It all started with a strange coincidence," he said as he turned back to face Stewart. "It so happened, I was stuck at a street light. I happened to turn my head and I recognized Eric Goodburn was driving the car next to me. Now I had sent old Goodburn up for life for killing a police officer so I knew there was no way he could be out running around. I called out him name. That's when he started to run. I, naturally, took after him. Now anyone will tell you that I'm not one of those overzealous guys who eat, drink, and sleep the law. I'm…"

"Cough-bull-cough," came the same voice, only louder and more familiar.

Hardcastle turned and glared toward the source of the noise. "Okay, wise guy," he demanded. "I know it's you. Come on out."

"Oh judge," Stewart said disappointedly, "I see you've discovered our little surprise."

From the darkened corner of the back stage, Mark McCormick walked out dressed elegantly in a business suit and wearing a large gotcha smile. "That's a lotta I-Is, sailor," he said as he effortlessly slid into the seat that was quickly set up on the stage.

"What are you doing here?" Hardcastle asked disgustedly. "I thought you were going to spend the morning working on the roses and lawn."

"What can I say, judge?" McCormick said happily. "'I'm a special guest star."

"What you are is a pain in the keister," Hardcastle said in a soft sotto voice which was inadvertently picked up by the nearby microphone, much to Stewart's distress.

"Yes, Judge Hardcastle," Stewart said as she ignored his comment and tried to take back control of the interview. "It's your protégé, Mr. Mark McCormick."

"Protégé," Hardcastle mouthed silently as he looked to the high heavens and rolled his eyes.

"Protégé," McCormick mouthed as he settled smugly into his seat and flashed Stewart a devilishly delicious dimpled smile. Many years ago, a wise man told him that if you were nervous about public speaking then you should try to imagine that your audience is only dressed in their underwear. As he looked over Zane Stewart, he appreciated the wisdom of the advice.

"You were saying, judge," Stewart said as her stomach fluttered pleasantly under the handsome eyes of her special guest star, "that you recognized Mr. Goodburn and gave chase. That must have been exciting."

"It was," agreed Hardcastle as he gestured over to his young friend, "Until my protégé, over here, lost him."

"Tonto think that if Kimosabe think back, he remember that he was driving that day," answered McCormick.

"Yeah, you're right," Hardcastle admitted grudgingly as he reflected back on the day in question. He turned his attention back to Stewart. "I had to stop the chase to avoid an accident. But it's like I always say, you got to drive safely. There's no reason to resort to reckless driving just to make an arrest."

McCormick forced his eyes away from Stewart as he stared incredulously at Hardcastle. "Since when?" he asked.

"Since always, McCormick. Driving laws are as important as any other law on the books."

McCormick looked ready to argue as Stewart stepped back into the conversation. "So you lost Mr. Goodburn. What did you do?"

"Some people," Hardcastle said as he looked pointedly at McCormick, "thought I was wrong, even hinted that I might be getting too old. But, luckily, I got tenacity."

"Muleheadness," McCormick muttered under his breath.

"Tenacity," Hardcastle repeated as he threw a shark-like smile to his co-guest. "The same tenacity of our forefathers that made our country great. A lot of young folks don't know about that. They're too quick to give up and when you do that you hurt the foundation of this country. You…"

"Hardcase," Mark interrupted in a put-upon voice, "I suggested you made a mistake, not sold Paul Revere out to the British."

"Anyway," said Stewart, "is that when you started looking for records about Mr. Goodburn?"

"We tried," said McCormick, "but, unfortunately, we ran into some interference by the FBI."

"I wouldn't call it interference," said Hardcastle as his smile stiffened again. And I wouldn't say it was from the FBI."

"Wouldn't call it interference," McCormick practically shouted with a tint of outrage in his voice as he began to rise from his seat. "They pulled a convicted cop-killer off the bus, hired him to work for them, then to cover their tracks they destroyed every record they could get their hands on so no one would know he existed. They even broke into your office and stole your private files. If I did half the things…"

"Ix-nay on hat-nay," Hardcastle said as he tugged on McCormick's sleeve. "Remember our nice talk with the agents. Be nice."

McCormick slightly deflated as he sank back into his seat with a pout on his face. "I am being nice," he said. "You ought to hear what I'm thinking."

"What my junior associate is trying to say is that certain members of an unnamed federal bureau of investigation had recognized Mr. Goodburn's skills with surveillance equipment and recruited him to do some sensitive work for them. Shortly after recruiting him, they purged information about him from the system so the bad guys couldn't identify him. Now I might not agree with what they did, letting a cold-blooded murderer get away with killing a police officer. In fact, I might think it stinks. But our government has given them the right to do that and we got to give our full support to the all the parts of the system, even the ones we don't agree with."

"It still stinks," McCormick said under this breath.

"My goodness," Stewart said sympathetically. "So you weren't able to find any proof that you had sentenced Mr. Goodburn."

"That's right," Hardcastle said. "We couldn't even find any records that he existed. We checked court records, police files, voting records, utility bills, everything. It was as if he had never existed and never been in my court room."

"And they were able to wipe out all the newspaper accounts?" Stewart asked.

"Newspaper accounts?" Hardcastle repeated.

"I would imagine that a story about a man prosecuted for killing a police officer would have been extensively covered in the newspapers and television. How did this agency destroy all of those records?" asked Stewart.

"Newspapers!" Hardcastle said as he swatted McCormick's shoulder. "Why didn't you think of that?"

"Me!" McCormick said as his voice squeaked in a defensive tone. "You're supposed to be the brains. Why didn't you think of it?"

"Well as it turned out," said Stewart, "you didn't need to refer to old newspaper accounts as you got your big break. Tell us about that."

"My tenacity and research led to us finding Goodburn," said Hardcastle, "but unfortunately…"

"Dumb luck," interrupted McCormick.

"What was that, McCormick?" asked Hardcastle.

"It was dumb luck and you know it. He didn't even know you were still looking for him. He was running from Boutros' men and just happened to pick my car to hide a tape containing the evidence that Boutros was smuggling heroin."

"Part of hard work, McCormick," instructed Hardcastle, "is being in the right place is at the right time. If we hadn't have found Goodburn's sister, your car wouldn't have been there and he wouldn't have been able to put the tape in it. So we can chalk it up to my tenacity."

McCormick ignored Hardcastle's logic as he turned toward Stewart. "But it wasn't enough that he hid the evidence in my car, he ended up getting shot by Boutros' men. The judge and I came by right after they shot him. I didn't even know who the guy was until Hardcastle identified him."

"And it was shortly after that when you formed a partnership with the FBI?" asked Stewart.

"As I said earlier," explained Hardcastle, "it was unidentified federal bureau of investigation officers who contacted us and asked if we would be able to assist them in their inquiries."

McCormick snorted. "If you want to define contact as sneaking onto the estate and manhandling my car."

Hardcastle swiveled his chair and gave McCormick a beatific smile as he kicked his shin below the view of the camera. "Now, McCormick. I believe that we've already discussed that. The agency was working within the confines of the law so there's nothing to complain about."

McCormick massaged his offended limb as Hardcastle continued in a whispered voice, "And they offered to fix the bullet holes in that red hot rod of yours and not seize it as evidence for Goodburn's murder investigation."

McCormick's mouth clamped shut and his face took on the impression of someone who had been forced to swallow a particularly bitter pill. Innerwardly he admitted that he had reluctantly agreed to the agent's deal; don't identify them as the FBI, talk positively about the experience and he got to keep the newly repaired car out of FBI's impound lot. But it irked him, it really irked him.

"What I meant to say," McCormick said with a clenched smile which made his teeth hurt, "is we met up with the men from the unidentified bureau of investigation. I'll always remember our first meeting as we had a very interesting conversation about the collection of evidence. I could tell they were impressed with a few of the points that I made."

"When I told them that if they didn't have a warrant to get their dirty hands off of my car," McCormick thought to himself.

Afterwards," Hardcastle chimed in, "the agents returned back to their office, probably to report the progress so far. It was then that my tenacity paid off when a thorough search turned up the cassette tape that Goodburn had hidden in the car."

Hardcastle knew he didn't have to look at McCormick to know what he was thinking. "Yeah, if turning on the tape player because you want to listen to music is a thorough search."

"Knowing the importance of what we had found," continued Hardcastle, "we were headed to turn the tape in when we waylaid by Boutros' men."

McCormick squirmed in his seat, grateful that the judge hadn't added they had been captured after he had insisted on a quick stop for lunch. Hardcastle had told him before that one day his appetite was going to get him into trouble but he had never expected it to nearly get him and the judge killed. But, really, who expects to get kidnapped out of the drive through of the burger joint.

"My goodness," exclaimed Stewart. "It's lucky that you were under surveillance at the time."

"Yeah, lucky," Hardcastle agreed with a strained smile. "Real lucky."

"Yeah," McCormick concurred sarcastically. "They were really watching out for us."

"Watching us get kidnapped at gun point, watching us get carted away to Boutros' office; they'd probably planned to watch us as we got shot and dropped in a deep hole somewhere," McCormick thought bitterly.

"Things started moving faster than anyone anticipated," Hardcastle said. "We were taken back to Boutros' office where we heard Boutros make a full confession to his involvement in drug smuggling. Afterward he ordered his men to take us out to the desert and get rid of us."

"How did you escape," Stewart asked breathlessly.

"That was solely because of the quick action of McCormick, over here," Hardcastle said as he turned to fix his young friend with a prideful smile. "As Boutros' men were taking us out, he made his move and was able to get them out of the way until we could escape."

McCormick preened under the rare compliment as he returned the smile. "Don't let the judge fool you," he said. "He threw in his own share of good punches. Would have made the Duke proud," he added as the judge and he shared their private joke.

"And that's when you got into that thrilling car chase," Stewart asked.

"Yes," said Hardcastle. "We didn't know it at the time but Boutros had called out over his radio that we had stolen some money from his office. We had a whole passel of truckers after us."

"But we weren't worried," said McCormick, "because we knew that the good old agents from the unidentified bureau of investigation were watching. Just sitting there and watching us."

"Well, they weren't the only ones that were watching," said Stewart as a screen dropped down behind her. "It turns out that our local newscam was in the air reporting on traffic conditions and was able to record the entire chase."

The room slowly darkened as the film lit across the screen. It was easy to identify McCormick's bright red car as it sped down the highway. The audience oohed and ahhed as they watched the precision moves of the Coyote as it dodged large trucks whose drivers were determined to return the two men back to Boutros' clutches. A collective gasp came from the crowd when, in a particularly tricky move, McCormick successfully eased his vehicle under a large semi and continued to drive under the massive tons of moving steel. It was obvious that one wrong move would result in their instant death.

Cheers and claps exploded in the audience as they saw the red car emerge out from under the truck. They watched as it shot across the highway and forced Boutros' vehicle into a flip and crash. The film came to an end as the agents of the unidentified bureau of investigations arrived on the scene and arrested Boutros and his assistants.

Stewart turned back to her guests. The smile on her face faltered as she saw their distressed state. The young curly-haired man was pale as his mouth hung open in shock. It appeared that he had forgotten how to breathe. The silver-haired judge's hands were white knuckled as the grasped the arms of his chair and one of his eyes twitched nervously.

"You're a maniac!" Hardcastle accused as he turned toward McCormick. "What were you thinking? You could have got us killed!"

"I was thinking that Goodburn was going to put us six feet under so I got us out of there," snapped McCormick.

"What good would it do to escape Boutros if you're going to get us killed on the highway? That truck nearly crushed us!"

"We had plenty of room!"

"Plenty of room! If you hadn't been hunched over, you'd have gotten your hair cut!"

"I didn't hear you complaining when we were escaping!"

"I didn't know you had a death wish!"

"I had it under control!"

"That's when I know we're in trouble, when you say you've got it under control!"

"I know I'm in trouble as some as you come walking in with a file or some idea that you've seen someone who you think kind of looks like someone you saw twenty years ago!"

"You don't need me to get into trouble, you do fine all on your own!"

"Hah, you get in more trouble on your best day than I do on my worst!"

"Who nearly got his hot road seized as a crime scene?"

"Well, who got listed as dead?"

"That wasn't my fault. That was Rosie's."

"You're the one that asked for a demonstration about how to make a person disappear."

"I did not. You're the one who…"

Stewart smirked to herself as she let the two men argue. She knew with the right amount of editing this could be the golden interview which would pull her out of the doldrums of early morning television; maybe even get her into the noonday news or, dare she dream, the evening news. Once this tape hit the airwaves, she'd be able to write her own ticket.

GLENDALE: 7:01 A.M.

SUBJECT: Let's Talk Law- -Guest Stars Judge Milton C. Hardcastle and Mark McCormick

Tape Purged

End of Report

THE END