The moon had risen again, a shadow less than its fullness of the night before, and it painted the desert in pale, silver light. Below, the valley was a lacework of glistening streams of water, most of which would be nothing but deposits of mud by morning, waiting to be baked into cracked and curling crusts. Under the moonlight and the chopper's powerful searchlights, the seas of dunes cast strange double shadows. For all the eeriness, the dune-deposits, soda-lake, and ribbon of washed-out road were sufficient as landmarks, and when the searchlight fixed on a largish hunk of twisted metal -- the downed helicopter -- it was a moment's work to spotlight the huddled figures in the sand across the wash. The chopper swung toward them, searching for a firm, level place to land. Buzzing low over the men in the dunes, a sudden Whack! hit the windshield and grazed the glass around it.
"Holy shit, that guy's shooting at us!" the pilot yelled. He took the chopper up like an express elevator and veered out of range.
"It's Davey," Maggie said. "He thinks we're the assassins!"
The pilot turned to Buehler.
"We can't land there, sir, even without the shooting. The nearest site I see is in those flats a mile east of us."
"Can you pick a man up in a stretcher from down there while you hover?" Buehler asked, his long face pinched.
"No problem there. But how does anyone get close enough to that maniac to disarm him?"
"Can you put down a ladder?" Dobey asked.
"Yes sir, but you're a sitting duck in the air. Better pull back a few hundred yards."
"The man firing is blind," said Dobey. "He was only shooting at the sound."
"Damned good shot for a blind man," the pilot muttered. "Mr. Buehler, you're in command. What do you want to do?"
"I can go down," Maggie interrupted. "I can get to him. He won't shoot me -- he's expecting me."
"Excuse me, Miss, but it's not as easy climbing down a rope ladder that's dangling in midair as it usually looks to people who haven't tried it," the pilot said.
"I crossed a flooded wash tonight without knowing how to swim," Maggie said. "I can climb down a blasted ladder."
"I'm coming, too," said Dobey.
"Pardon me, Harold," Beuller spoke up, "but this is my show, those are my witnesses and -- ahem -- you're not exactly in shape for gymnastics. Ms. Landis, I'll go down first, you follow with the Corpsmen."
The pilot nodded. "Okay, Corporal, get the ladder down. I'll leave you off over the southern dunes, where our friend won't be as likely to shoot you. Good luck."
The wind generated by the enormous overhead blades was more than gusty, it was strong enough to knock an unsuspecting cat a good three blocks. Peering down out of the open chopper door, the spotlighted sand seemed abysmally far away, the nylon-and-aluminum ladder impossibly fragile. Maggie froze. But one of the medics cinched a line around her waist and half-helped, half-shoved her around the tight little twisting routine to grab the first rungs and lower herself into the air. She hung there a moment, her eyes squeezed shut, an odd ache in the soles of her feet. Then a hand tapped hers, and she looked up into the Corpsman's face -- a face that could hardly be more than eighteen.
"Go ahead, Miss, I'm right behind you," the boy yelled, hefting his medical kit.
Davey and Ken were down there waiting for her. Careful, now, careful. She eased her foot onto the next rung. Releasing her death grip on the first rung, she lowered away. If she didn't look down, she wouldn't be afraid. They weren't really more than thirty feet in the air. Not much different from climbing up and down from the cliff dwelling every day for five months, right? One foot after the other. Then Buehler's hands caught her waist, and she dropped the last yard onto the ground. She didn't wait for the Corpsmen or Buehler. Yanking the line from her belt, she dashed across the sand towards the wash.
"Davey! Ken! I'm back. It's me, Maggie!"
She scaled the last dune, scrambled over its crest, expecting -- she didn't know what. But Starsky didn't shoot. He was lying, unmoving, in the sand beside Hutch.
"Davey, it's me. We made it."
No response. She fell beside them.
Starsky's bandaged face turned toward her slowly. His right arm was tangled under Hutch, his left hand flung across his partner, half-embracing Hutch, half-clutching the Baretta. Maggie peered at Hutch in the pale light. His fair hair stirred in the chill ground-breeze, but his face was vacant. He looked dead.
"Ken... oh no..."
Footsteps ran down the dune, and Buehler and the medics dropped next to her. In the harsh white glare of their lanterns, Hutch and Starsky were an intertwined smear of sand and gore. Maggie's stomach turned.
"Better move, Miss," one of the Corpsmen said, and leaned forward to separate the injured men. The Baretta snapped up into his face.
"Get outa here," Starsky growled, his words slurred. "Lemme alone."
"Davey, they're medics, they're here to help you."
"Can't," he said, pulling closer to Hutch. He shook his head weakly. "Can't."
"The other man is still breathing, but not by much," the medic opposite Hutch said quietly. "We'd better get this one disarmed quick."
Slowly, Buehler reached for the Baretta, but the leather of his jacket creaked as he moved, and Starsky turned the gun in his direction.
"Go 'way!" he grated, finger tightening on the trigger.
Buehler backed away.
"Sergeant Starsky, the medics are here to help you and your partner. Put the gun down and let them do their work," he said, hoping a voice of authority would reach the man. "Sergeant, put the gun down. Now!"
"No. No!" Starsky said. "You killed him! You... killed him..." He sobbed once and buried his face in Hutch's hair. "Jus' go away an' leave us alone."
The way he said "alone" raised goosebumps on Maggie's arm. She felt Buehler's gaze turn to her, met his pleading eyes. She nodded.
"Davey -- " She moved back to his side, watching his face, not the wavering gun. "It's me, Davey, it's Mag. Maggie Landis. Davey, listen to me. Ken is alive. Do you understand? He's still alive. But you have to let go of him now, so the medics can help him. All right? You can let go now. Let go."
"Can't," he moaned, voice muffled. "Can't let go. Can't y'see? Never let go. Promised. All I could do..."
Closing her eyes, heart in mouth, Maggie leaned over him, settling her forehead on his shoulder. He flinched, but didn't shoot. Slowly, gently, she wrapped her arms around him, feeling sudden, awesome fatigue.
"It's over, Davey, all over now," she soothed, tears slipping down her nose. "It's all right, you can let go. Let go and hold onto me, now. Please. I need you too, Davey. Hold me, please..." she cajoled. Reaching across his body, she pulled his arm toward her, and suddenly all the fight went out of him and he let go of the gun. His arm groped for her, and she wound it around her back, pulling him against her, sitting up, clinging to him, rocking him. He was a limp burden in her arms, and he began to cry softly.
A medic sat with them and took Starsky's pulse. Working around Maggie, he tried to get the other vital signs.
"I'm going to get a tranquilizer into him, Miss," the corpsman warned. "He may get violent when he feels the needle. "You'd better let go of him."
"I'll hold him," she said. "He won't hurt me." But her attention turned to Hutch. The other medic was bent close over the blond head. Maggie gulped as she realized he was working a long intravenous needle into Ken's neck while Buehler held the lantern.
Starsky's medic glanced over. "Jugular stick?" he commented.
"Need help? This one'll be under in a minute. I can lend you a hand."
"No, I've got it, corporal," he said, tapping the needle in place.
He handed Buehler a plastic bag of clear liquid, unslung the long tube under it, and attached it to the IV needle. "Ready, sir. How about you?"
Starsky's medic nodded. "Call it in while I get an IV going here, too."
The other medic hit the radio switch. "TP-23, ready for stretcher transport."
"Roger, ground crew. Got that wild man calmed down yet?"
"Affirmative on that, lieutenant. Drop the baskets and we'll send them right up. Oh, and notify San Bernardino General that we've got two shock-and-exposure cases, one critical with a gunshot wound."
"Miss?" Starsky's medic was tapping Maggie's arm. "Lay him down now, I want to get an IV into him."
"Wha's goin' on?" Starsky murmured. Maggie laid him in the sand, and his head lolled. "Huh? You tell me wha's goin' on."
The corpsman cleaned Starsky's arm, looking for a vein.
"Do you think they'll be all right?" Maggie asked, stroking Starsky's head.
"Can't say. If they've hung on since eleven o'clock this morning, like you said, they should be able to hang on a little while longer, though." He looked up at her briefly, his young face hopeful -- probably for her sake. "It's only an hour to the hospital. We'll do everything we can to get them there alive."
The chopper swung over them, its searchlight picking them out of the gloom. Above, the stretcher-baskets were coming down on a line. Maggie felt suddenly completely worn out. She sat back on her heels, swaying, and was surprised to find the FBI chief's free arm move around her to support her.
"We'll be out of here soon," Buehler yelled over the chopper's noise.
Maggie peered at the narrow, emotionless face, saw unexpected mildness in the grey eyes. Another hardened cop? No. A human being behind a professional facade. She looked away, making no reply. But she didn't move away from his support.
The corpsmen strapped Hutch into the carrier. The blankets mercifully hid the blood. The only evidence that the still form wasn't merely asleep was a single droplet from the intravenous needle that slowly trickled down his neck. His blue-lipped face was peaceful.
"Live," she whispered, a prayer.
The chopper's winch began to haul the basket up, and the medics turned to getting Starsky ready for transport. He, too, was quiet now. Everything was under control. The professionals were in charge. It was out of Maggie's hands.
She gazed up languidly at the full moon, too too bright for such a scene as this. Buehler's arm around her tightened.
"Oh God, I'm tired," she said, though he couldn't have heard her over the engines. But he got the message. All at once, her whole weight was in his arms, as she finally let go -- slumping in an exhausted heap.