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"You're blind! All those sociology books have cut up your spirit. You talk like a mummy, a programmed mummy," Gabriel Diaz said. He took a long sip of beer. Then, almost regrettably, he put the glass down. He wished his glass were bottomless so he could relish his precious prime Belgian beer forever. At almost ten dollars a bottle, Belgian beer was his most expensive vice.
"That's not true. You're only mad at me because I was fifteen minutes late," Liz said.
"Not at all. I was enjoying my beer and meditating." A fast-paced Middle Eastern melody was playing. He drummed his fingers in time with the music.
"So your idea of a perfect society would be something along the lines of Death Wish. Charles Bronson. Taking the law into your hands."
"I only want justice."
"You're an idealist." Liz sadly shook her head. "Justice doesn't exist. But you're obsessed with it."
"For Heaven's sake, don't you feel a sense of ease, a perfect sense of meaning, every time a serial killer is fried at the chair?"
"Yes, I do, but--"
But Gabriel went on, excited, shifting in his seat and leaning forward over the table. "Let me ask you something. Let's say a serial killer is--based on some trivial technicality--set free. Everybody knows he's guilty. Everybody knows he'll kill again. Would you--if you could, if you knew you wouldn't be caught--eliminate him?"
"That's beside the point, Gabriel. That would be murder. The act of premeditated killing, whatever the reason, would turn me into a being as low as him," Liz said, lifting her glass of red wine to her lips. She was totally calm, as if she were a patient and good-willed teacher talking to araging child--an attitude of hers that sometimes drove him to the wall.
"Then archangels are murderers."
"Don't get religion into this. You don't believe in any archangels." Liz eyed him scornfully. "Human beings have made certain laws, and these laws are to be obeyed. If there weren't laws, the world would be a total chaos."
"Laws, laws, laws. You and your laws. Laws were made to favor the criminals, and you know it!" he burst out, making an impatient gesture with his hands. "Think of the good of the innocent people. Think about all the future murders you would be preventing. The hell with the laws! Justice. The good of the many. The end justifying the means."
"Oh, no, not the higher good again!"
"That's right. The higher good."
"That higher good of yours is dangerous. It's totally anarchistic. Goodness is subjective. Do you think a serial killer doesn't have his own concept of goodness? What makes you think his is wrong and ours is right? We are forever impaired by our feelings." She almost flinched, expecting another outburst from him.
But he just shrugged.
"There is an ultimate good," he simply said, perfectly convinced. He downed the rest of his beer and peered, maudlin, at the empty bottom of his glass.
The tavern was quite packed by now. With so many colleges and universities around, it was a popular place among students, especially as now on Friday nights. Gabriel loved the smell here. All around them cigarette smoke swirled to the ceiling, but in spite of this, different kinds of delicious smells permeated the air. Old wines, the sweet tang of anise, the strong aroma of Turkish coffee. Yet, there was something gloomy about the place. The dim illumination, maybe. The flickering candles on the tables, casting eerie shadows on the walls, making the faces appear pale and distorted, malevolent even. Old paintings of historic Ottoman battles hung from the walls, little figures killing each other with long and pointed spikes against dark and red-tinted desolate landscapes. He could clearly discern the little Christian bodies impaled by the stakes.
"I don't know if I should have another beer," Gabriel said. "I've already had two."
"These beers will be your downfall."
Gabriel made a face, a typical gesture of him that made her smile warmly at him. And which made him feel a pang of guilt. Poor Liz. He suspected it would be a lot better for her if they simply didn't see each other again. Or at least if they didn't see each other so often. They had been together for three years but broken up only four months ago. Love? From her part, it had been obvious. From his part, he had never been quite sure, and he figured if you're not sure, it can't be love. But they had stayed friends, which was more than fine with him. He had grown quite attached to her. In fact, he was still experiencing a bit of 'after-divorce' blues, though this feeling was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of freedom. They had never been married, of course, but they had become so close it felt to him as if they had. From her eyes, the way they lit up every time she saw him, he could tell she still had romantic feelings for him. The main problem had always been her jealous, suspicious nature, though now that they were apart she did a good job at concealing it. "You want another sophisticated Belgian beer?" she mocked gently. "Order one. My treat."