It had to be the mines for the night. Even if Hutch hadn't found the electronic tracer on the underbody of the Rover, they wouldn't have had the energy to make the five or six mile walk back to Maggie's encampment. There wouldn't have been much point to going back there, anyway. Maggie had had no phone, CB, or other means of getting out of the desert other than her demolished motorcycle. And while the Rex did have food and water, the mine was on the way out to the interstate -- and the medical care that Starsky urgently needed.

Aside from the tracer, the Rover had been hopeless anyway. It could not be budged from the side of the dune in which it had buried itself, and adamantly reburied itself both times that Hutch had tried to dig it out. Nor had it had a radio of any sort. Then, while trying to dig out the rear wheels, Hutch had seen the tracer. And they had left. The tracer could mean only one thing: the masterminds of the assassins had planned to follow up on their flunkies. The farther the trio were from the Rover, the better their chances of escaping detection. They took the water canteens, the jackets, the half-dried bit of food, and one of the rifles with ammunition. The other rifle Hutch buried where only a kangaroo rat would ever find it.

Starsky's injury, together with his earlier illness, left him depleted. Maggie and Hutch traded off carrying the water, food, and rifle, or half-carrying Starsky. It took them two hours to travel the mile to the mines. By that time. the sun was setting behind the mountains on the other side of Devil's Playground.

"Here we go," Hutch said, laying a dripping rag across Starsky's eyes. The swelling was ugly, and blue-black bruises spread under the surrounding skin. "Tell me if this feels better."

"The water kinda stings a bit," Starsky said. "But the cold sure feels good."

"Think you'd like another drink? You want to eat? There are some rolls."

"No thanks. My stomach's still doing flipflops."

Hutch fished for Starsky's hand in the dim light still coming into the mine. Finding it, he gripped it encouragingly.

"I wish there were something more I could do for you, Starsk. A pain-killer, at least."

"You're doing fine. Only thing missing is Aunt Rosie's chicken soup."

They both laughed, but then Starsky grimaced and turned away from Hutch, dumping the damp rag onto the ground. Hutch leaned over him worriedly.

"Hey, if it helps to yell, yell. There's no one here but me."

Starsky panted between clenched teeth. "'S not you, 's Maggie," he said. "Don't want to scare her."

"She's outside on watch, Starsk. Anyway, you wouldn't scare her any more than she's scared already. She'll be all right. I think she'll pull herself together."

Another wave of pain swept Starsky's face and he ground his teeth together, gripping Hutch's scraped hand harshly. Hutch just held on to him.

"Oh shit," Starsky gasped, when the wave ebbed. "Feels like someone's sticking hot needles in my eyes."

"Here, hang on a minute." Hutch retrieved the rag, resoaked it in the pool next to them on the floor of the mine, and laid it back across Starsky's eyes. "Better?"

"A little. It comes and goes..."

The knuckles around Hutch's fingers tightened again, white with suffering, though there was little strength. For the first time, it occurred to Hutch that Starsky would have effectively no resistance to any kind of infection, and infection was inevitable. He fervently hoped that the water in the waterhole was reasonably clean. At least it would help reduce some of the swelling.

"Try to roll with the pain, buddy. Don't waste strength fighting it, there's no one here but me. Try to let go and get some rest. It's the best thing. "

"'I'll try," he said, deliberately letting the tension go out of his grip. "Stay here for a while, huh?"

"I'm not going anywhere."

Once Starsky managed to relax, exhaustion dragged him down to sleep. After a time, his breathing became regular, and Hutch loosened the limp hand from his own and set it down gently. The faint afterglow of late evening was the only light. and he went out through the brush-fenced opening to join Maggie.

"How is he?" she said as Hutch sat beside her.

"Sleeping. I'll take over here, why don't you go inside and catch a nap, too."

"In a few minutes. This is my favorite time of day in the desert; now, and just before dawn. That's when we should start travelling again, by the way, if that's what we're going to do."

"We'll have to. We've got to get Starsky to a doctor as soon as possible. I'm worried about an infection. He could lose his vision."

"And then he couldn't be a cop anymore. Maybe it would be a stroke of luck in the long run."

Not that again. Hutch was worn out. He didn't feel up to dealing with Maggie's pent-up hostilities, her left-over griefs or her self-imposed isolation. He had all he could handle with worrying about Starsky, and fighting assassins and his own exhaustion. But -- he owed friendship to Maggie, and there were debts he could never pay now to Wade. And Maggie was the only one here who knew the desert. Without her help, they would probably all die. They needed to pull together, they couldn't afford to have one of them fighting the bit.

"All right, Maggie, out with it," he said. "This beef about cops. Spill it."

"There's nothing to spill. You've heard it before. I'm just sick of your Joe SuperCop act, the both of you. Shoot-outs and car chases and busting heads and running down criminals who just get out of jail on bail the next day anyways and sticking your necks out every day for people who mostly don't give a damn if you get your throat slashed or your guts shot out -- it's all sick. Maybe you think it makes you a hell of a man, maybe you have some hero complex all worked out in your heads, maybe it's the only way you get your rocks off. If I didn't care about you so much, it wouldn't hurt to see you doing it, setting yourselves up to be killed. But you obviously love it. Starsky can get his eyes shot out, and you'll just keep on doing it. Wade can be killed in front of you, and you keep on with it. Some jerk can run your car off the road and leave you lying in a canyon for two days, and you pick yourself up as soon as you're patched up and go right back to it. You're sick. You're suicidal! There's nothing I can do about it, but I don't have to like it."

He sighed tiredly. "Okay, Starsky and I are suicidal. What about Wade, Maggie? Was he Joe SuperCop? Was it the only way he could get his rocks off, too? You know better than that. Why in hell was Wade a cop, then, Maggie? Why?"

It had become too dark to see anything but shapes, but Maggie's body drew in on itself.

"I don't know," she said bitterly. "I don't know. He liked people. He didn't like to hurt or shove people. But he did it. He wasn't suicidal. But he was murdered. He loved life. He loved living! How could anyone so alive stop living just like that?"

She was crying. Was that good? Hutch didn't know. But it was like some fatal brick pulled out of a dam, because she wept harder and harder, as though a long-held pressure were behind it, demanding release. And like some laughter is infectious, so was the terrible grief. Hutch's eyes filled, and flowed over.

He hadn't wept for Wade Landis when Wade had died, or after; he wasn't quite sure why. Maybe because he hadn't let himself feel it at the time, he'd had to keep his head straight to finish up the case, and then the funeral was over, and the trial was over, and Maggie was gone, and the time for mourning seemed past and beyond reach. But he wept for the friend now, the bright-eyed, easy-smiling man who was always dependable, be it a street fight or a squad room bet, who took life as it came and never seemed embittered by it, who cared about people and wasn't afraid to show it. He'd bled all over Starsky as Starsky held onto him, begging Wade to hang onto his life, and when that life had slipped away anyway, Starsky had sat in the gutter there and cried. Starsky could cry. Hutch had held back.

No more. He sagged against Maggie, putting his arms around her, both holding her and needing to be held. Then her arms slipped around him, too, and they clung together, letting the grief shake them.

"Why, Ken?" she whimpered against his shoulder. "Why do you do it? Why you?"

He swallowed painfully against the knot in his throat, and shook his head. "Someone's got to care. Someone's got to keep the jackals at bay. The job needs doing. Why us? Oh God, I honestly don't know. Because we care, I guess. We can't stand by and watch people be turned into victims, statistics. There's enough suffering in the world, Maggie, without letting the jackals run wild."

That seemed to mean something to her. She raised her head and looked up at him, and in the faint starlight, her wet lashes glistened.

"You're needed," she said, in a voice of revelation. You have a purpose. It must feel good to be needed, and feel like what you do can make a difference. I used to feel that way, when Wade was alive. But he's dead and the world's turned inside out. Now, I dig through dead bones and broken debris of forgotten lives, and wonder what point there is to life." She lowered her face, dabbing at her tears. "Ken, I'm sorry I laid this whole trip on you. It isn't your fault. It never was."

No, of course it wasn't, Hutch realized. It was Wade's fault, for dying, for leaving Maggie alone with her insecurities, for being unable to communicate his feelings of worth and dedication of his profession to her through her walls of fantasy and selfishness. And he and Starsky had been Wade's proxies through which Maggie could finally act out her guilty bitterness. Hutch drew her close to him again, saying nothing, but trying to generate a feeling of acceptance.

Her shudders had run down, and after a while, she cleared her throat.

"Remember how Wade was always jabbering on about Leonardo Da Vinci?" she said, staring out across the valley. Venus was setting, and the moon was rising, bathing the distant-most dunes in faint silver.

Hutch nodded. "Da Vinci was his hero."

"Leonardo filled the margins of his last notebooks with one recurrent sentence. He wrote: 'Tell me if anything was ever done.' Wade was just like Leonardo in some ways. Right now, if there's an afterlife, he's probably asking that." She looked at Hutch again, her dim face drawn. "Tell me, Ken, when all is said and done, when the tallies are complete and the blood is balanced against the other blood, tell me -- was anything 'ever done'?"

He closed his eyes, feeling suddenly small and too alone in this unfamiliar, desolate place. He was only one person. He and Starsky only two. He and Starsky and Maggie only three against the wildness. Not only the natural kind, but the unnatural kind, the kind sired by greed and nurtured by power. Tell me, indeed, if anything was ever done...

Maggie's figure rocked back and forth, like a desert mystic in communion with some metaphysical apparition. Then, slowly, almost languidly, she climbed to her feet and, moving behind Hutch, drew his head back to rest against her abdomen. It was a curious gesture, unexpected, and it filled him with a sense ·of comfort. He captured the hand that stroked his hair and pressed the palm to his cheek.

He said, "Nothing would ever be done if people didn't try. Got to keep trying, Maggie."

She was silent. Then she sighed and her arms glided around his shoulders, locking him against her. The moon, a near-full disk, crept over the hills, the only witness to the two creatures who clung together there, keeping a vigil against the jackals, the wildness, and the black sickness of the soul.

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