This is the climate that tries the soul, when the faint of heart retire to shore and mountain and the August streets and corridors of the nation's capital wilt in steamy near-emptiness. But some summer soldiers labor on. Today's dispatch from the front:

Eight men gathered in a hot little room on the sun side of a building at 2120 L. St. NW yesterday, as they had off and on for 111 days. They were locked in soporific battle over merger of the nation's largest automobile muffler maker with the nation's third largest purveyor of shock absorbers.

Testimony droned on, the judge pressed his knuckle to the bridge of his nose and sighed. The court reported sipped from a diet cola as he dutifully recorded the arguments over price mechanisms and BOFS (basic oxygen furnaces).

And people say that nothing happnn in Washington in August Don't you believe it.

It may not have looked like much of a show, but it was costing taxpayers millions of dollars in federal salaries and transcripts. It was earning a team of Houston lawyers potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, which likely will be plowed into the price of mufflers and shock absorbers

What will all this accomplish for the American people?

"Nothing," said Houston lawyer John Jeffers, representing the Walker muffler and the Monroe shock absorber interests, both owned by Tenneco.

It could mean increased competition a basic value of our society, according to the U.S. government team led by K. Keith Thurmond a $47,500-a-year lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission.

They all wore coats and ties -- a rule of the house, they said. Only the court reporter had his coat off and sleeves rolled up in the warm, damp air.

They argued before two rows of empty spectators chairs. A fly spiraled over the diet cola and the sprawl of file folders, brief cases and papers.

Thurmond asked a witness a questionn about "BOF continuous casting," and the role of improved plant facilities in steel industry competition.

"I wonder if Mr. Thurmond could explain what that means," Jeffers said, from a weary slouch in a tilt-back chair.

Administrative Law Judge Thomas Howden rubbed his temple and asked, "Mr Thurmond how many more questions in this area do you have?"

From the street outside through the hermetically sealed windows echoed the metallic growl of an incipient muffler customer's auto exhaust. The driver passed unaware of the battle waged on his behalf up on the sixth floor.

The FTC has been fighting the Walker-Monroe merger since 1977, when it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court here. The shock absorbers and mufflers, however, merged anyway.

Now the FTC is fighting to make Walker give Monroe back to the marketplace. Their main complaint, as the lawyers explained it, is that the Walker muffler company would have gone into the shock absorber business on its own, and added a competitor to the marketplace, had they not been able to merge with Monroe. Thus the public was cheated out of one shock absorber company that might have been.

Absorbing the shock of all this for the second long hot summer however, are Jeffers, K Keith Thurmond and their associates whom proximity has worn into friendly adversaries. Between sessions, the Houston contingent took to teasing Thurmond about his name.

"My mother read it in a book," Thurmond explained. "K is my first name. No period.

Where will it all end?

"This week, we hope," Jeffers said.

"Nope, just got the word it's going into next week," said his associate, Alan Gober. Groans.

The judge, the lawyers and the fly departed into the hot, unknowing streets. The first day of August had come and gone.