It was a clean shot. Barnet Skolnik, the prosecutor of Marvin Mandel and Spiro Agnew and two county executives and some other politicians, stood in the middle of the courtroom like a fighter who had just taken a haymaker. He fought for time, moving in for the equivalent of a clinch by repeating his questions, asking time and time again if Mandel was saying what he seemed to be saying. Mandel smiled the smile of days gone by. Suddenly, he seemed to regain his health.

It was billed as something akin to a fight to the death - Mandel versus Skolnik. They are arch enemies, no doubt about it, and it was apparent from the beginning that something chemical was at work. At first, Mandel seemed to tense, but then he relaxed, crossing his legs and holding the microphone in his left hand as if it was his pipe. He fielded the questions coolly and it was not long before Jeanne Mandel announced her own verdict with a smile. "Isn't he terrific?" She said of her husband.

Now it was later in the trial and Mandell was back on the stand after the first intermission and now Skolnick was moving in. The prosecutor listed the gifts Mandel had received from his friends, saying things that dripped with sarcasm - things tha mocked the notion that there was a true exchange of gifts. He questioned, for instance, whether a golf cart Mandel had given a friend was really of the same value as the interest in an office building he had received in return. Then Skolnik came to Mandel's relationship with Irvin Kovens, a millionaire and the governor's close friend.

"Please tell me what exchange of gifts there has been between you and Mr. Kovens since you became governor other than the fact that you have given him a cigar holder, two silk shirts and a goatskin coat and he has given $155,000 in bonds and guaranteed your divorce settlement . . ."

It was then that Skolnik walked into it. It was not a gift Mandel said, but a loan. He and his friend Kovens had gone over to Duke Zeibert's Restaurant the day he reached agreement on his divorce and there business was done. On a piece of paper, the governor said, he wrote out what he owed Kovens and how the loan would be repaid.

Skolnik looked incredulous.

"At Duke 5/8 eibert's?" he asked.

"That's right."

"This is your legal obligation to pay Mr. Kovens . . . and it was handwritten at Duke Zeibert's?"

"That's correct, sir."

And then Mandel explained matters. He explained that this was a debt between friends and he explained he always paid his debts and while he was cold towards Skolnik and there was no doubt about how he felt towards the man, suddenly you knew you had heard that voice before. It was Marvin Mandel at his press conference and he was telling reporters how it was - how it was in Maryland and in the world and in life. He was explaining how one hand washed the other and people did favors for each other and that is the way things worked. He said these things and he always smiled and he was always very patient and he always toyed with you. He did that with Skolnik yesterday and nearly everyone said after it was over the Barney Skolnik had taken it on the chin - that he had lost.

Maybe there was something to this. This was Skolnik's big chance. He had watched Agnew escape the witness box and then Mandel on the first trial and now, after all these years, he finally had a major political figure on cross-examination. So the courtroom was packed and people sat in the aisles and everyone watched as the governor gave Skolnik a pasting. But there was something to what Skolnik did that stayed with you even after the trial was over for the day.

He had asked the governor what he made for a living and then he asked him how much the state paid for food and for transportation and for entertainment and for housing. He went after the image of a poor man and he showed that Mandel was poor only in his own eyes - that $25,000 a year went further for him than it would for you and me. And then later he asked about the suits and the trips and the business deals and the whole notion that the governor has to dress a certain way and travel in a certain style and conduct himself in something called a manner befitting a governor.

And so if this was a showdown between two men then it also was a showdown between two ways of living. There was Mandel on the one hand and there was Skolnik on the other. The prosecutor is something of an enigma. He has been with the government since 1968 and he has never, as lawyers go, made big money. He does what he things is important and he does it at some sacrifice. It goes without saying that he could make big money and it goes without saying that he could drive something nicer than a 1971 Maverick. But there is something more.

Like Mandel, Skolnik has been divorced and like Mandel it was not without some sacrifice. His former wife wrote about her marriage to Skolnik and it was not a nice article - not something I would like written about me. Skolnik said nothing. He went into debt with that divorce, but he did not as far as I know whimper an whine and cry tht he was poor. He lived in a modest town house and he stayed behind an old steel desk in that old courthouse where the U.S. Attorney's office used to be and he built his case.

So what you saw today was not so much two men going at each other, but two differed ways of looking at the world. One sort of asks what am I owed and the other sort of says what can I contribute and while that may be a little too pat and a little too simple there is still something to it. So it is understandable that Skolnik does not understand about the suits and the trips, nor does he understand an explanation that says this is the way the world turns.

In the endeveryone said that Barney Skolinik failed to lay a glove on Marvin Mandel. Maybe his next shot will be better but he did show that there is something called the Maryland system and if that was on trail today it would be found neither innocent nor guilty but something else instead - outdated.

Maybe you have to say the same about Marvin Mandel.