In the office Chris listened in distress to the sounds of his friend being beaten. "Stop it! I'm sorry. I'll do what you want. Don't hurt him anymore," Chris pleaded.
"Okay, Mike. That's enough. I think he's got the message," Tony shouted into the phone to make sure his accomplice heard. He turned his attention back to Chris again. "Next time I'll use the bomb. I'll take you to Travis's office and detonate it there, so tread carefully. You can only push me so far. I'll get what I want in the end, believe me."
Chris sat down heavily, suddenly drained of energy. He was going to have to be very cautious in future, but he needed to get Vin free as soon as possible. His attention was drawn to a commotion in the outer office and he thought he could use the diversion to see Ezra. He hoped Tony wouldn't look at the files again so he stormed out of the office with the files in his arms and plonked them down in front of Ezra who was having a loud disagreement with JD.
"If you haven't got anything better to do, you can file these. Not next week, now." He put his finger on the top file for emphasis and stared intently at Ezra.
Ezra nodded imperceptibly and stood up to do what he had been told. He tried to look contrite as he could see Tony watching him from the doorway to Chris's office.
"Now get back to work the rest of you," Chris said angrily, before turning back to enter his own room.
Ezra walked to the filing cabinets and placed the file Chris had indicated to one side. He put the other files away and turned to see if Tony was still watching. He wasn't, so Ezra took the file back to his desk and opened it eagerly. He found the shorthand note and read it with growing alarm. He read it again slowly to make sure he understood its contents before picking up his phone. Buck's phone rang again and the ladies' man answered it.
Ezra said quietly, "Our esteemed leader and sharpshooter are indeed in need of our services, Bucklin. Vin is being held hostage at Chris's ranch and has already been injured. Chris has been told he must kill AD Travis at a function this afternoon or Vin will be killed. To concentrate his mind on the task, a bomb has been strapped to his ankle. If Chris tries to escape, he'll lose his leg. Tony and the man at the ranch are in constant contact so we must take care with our rescue mission. It's a rather volatile situation so I think it is time to alert our colleagues to their predicament."
"Well it's almost lunch time. If we all go together without Tony, we can tell them then."
Tony must have had a sixth sense because Chris came out of his office at that point and announced, "Tony would like to join you for lunch to learn more about your jobs. We'll meet up in about quarter of an hour. I've got to leave at 1pm for this function and Tony will be coming with me to meet AD Travis there."
"Dammit. He certainly doesn't want us knowing Chris needs help, does he?" Buck complained when Chris and Tony had gone back inside the office. "What do we do now?"
"We'll just have to tell the others now. You take JD to the rest room and tell him and I'll deal with Josiah and Nathan."
"Okay." Buck rang off and rose, indicating for JD to follow him. Ezra joined Josiah at his desk and filled him in quickly before doing the same with Nathan. He had just finished when Chris and Tony emerged for lunch.
"Where are JD and Buck?" Chris asked, looking around the outer office.
"Gone to the rest room. They shouldn't be too long. Tell me Mr Francis, how long are you over here for?" Ezra asked, trying to give Chris a respite from the man.
"Just for the week. I've been going round all the agencies over here to see what they do. This was a last-minute thing, I'm afraid. Chris didn't know I would be descending on him."
"Yeah, you got that right," Chris thought sourly.
JD and Buck returned and the men went to a nearby bar for lunch. The team acted as normally as possible but they were all anxious about the situation. They each discussed their roles in the team and Tony listened as if he really was who he claimed to be. He seemed very suspicious of Ezra though, for some reason, and kept asking him questions about Vin. Both Chris and Ezra knew the undercover agent hadn't acted out of character or done anything to make Tony wary. Unbeknownst to them, Tony had detected a subtle shift in Chris's mood after he had spoken to Ezra back at the office. The team leader seemed more relaxed after their conversations and Tony couldn't help wondering whether it had something to do with him.
Buck was watching Chris and could see him clenching his jaw at the constant questions being fired at Ezra and the ladies' man could tell his boss was trying to hold on to his temper. As soon as they had finished eating Chris ushered them back to the office wanting to keep Ezra and Tony apart.
Ezra caught Chris's arm before entering the elevator and said, "Chris?"
"Buck and I have to go and meet an informant to do with the case we are involved in. He called earlier this morning so we'll hopefully have some positive news for you on our return," Ezra said, hoping Chris caught on to his message.
"Great. Let me know how you get on." Chris knew Ezra was going to try and help him and was very grateful.
"What case are you working on?" Tony asked suddenly, trying to make the question sound as if he was just casually interested.
Ezra, however, detected a slight sound of desperation in the man's tone. "Oh. We're expecting a shipment of guns to come into town fairly soon and hopefully my contact can give me the details," Ezra replied innocently. Tony narrowed his eyes and studied him intently. He couldn't tell whether he was being lied to or not, but he couldn't leave Chris on his own and he knew he wouldn't be allowed to accompany the men to their meeting anyway. Perhaps he would ring Mike and warn him to be extra vigilant, he definitely thought Ezra knew what was going on. Although how he would have found out was a mystery to Tony. He glowered at Ezra and turned to follow Chris back to the office.
Ezra took hold of Buck's elbow and led him to the parking lot. The ladies man' went with him somewhat reluctantly and turned to face his friend when he came to a halt.
"What was all that about?"
"I think it's time we had a word with Travis, don't you?" Ezra asked, raising one eyebrow in question.
"Yes, but what did you just tell Chris?" Buck asked, puzzled.
"I intimated that we might have a solution to his problem. I have an idea. Come along, my friend, let's get things moving." Ezra pulled out his mobile and got through to Travis's office.
"AD Travis. This is Ezra Standish. I need to see you immediately. It is a matter of life and death. Yours and Mr Tanner's to be precise. Can we meet in the parking lot now?" Ezra rang off and Travis emerged from the elevator several minutes later.
"What's all this about death, Mr Standish?" he asked, as he approached the two agents.
"Mr Tanner is being held hostage at Mr Larabee's ranch. Chris is being forced to attempt to kill you this afternoon or Vin will be killed. I have a plan and I wanted to run it by you."
Ezra relayed his thoughts and Travis gave his approval and went back to his office to make arrangements.
"It's a bit risky, isn't it?" Buck asked anxiously.
"Everything in life involves an element of risk. Even crossing the road. Anyway it isn't anything that I haven't done before. Don't fret. Now we need to arrange for two of our colleagues to go to the ranch. We daren't liberate Mr Tanner until Chris has been seen to have carried out his task. The sooner he does that, the better for Vin. Timing is everything, Mr Wilmington. Once Travis has made his arrangements we can set things in motion."
"Can't we just go and free Vin now? Chris wouldn't have to do anything then if Tony's got no hold over him."
"Calm down Bucklin, remember the bomb. We mustn't lose our perspicacity just because two friends are involved. Even if we could emancipate Vin it would not mean that Chris would be safe, even if we could get our ranchbound colleague free without causing further harm to him. Remember the two villains are in contact with one another constantly. We couldn't guarantee that the one at the ranch wouldn't get a chance to contact Tony before we took him out. It's too risky for Mr Larabee. We can't take a chance with his or Vin's life."
+ + + + + + +
Back at the ranch Mike watched as Vin finally woke up and tried to get into a sitting position. Mike sat smiling as the sharpshooter struggled against the handcuffs.
"I wouldn't try anything else. I wouldn't want to have to cut your pretty face any more than I have already."
Vin flinched and looked at his captor. He hadn't seen that he was in the room. Vin's face felt stiff and sore and he had a bad headache. The cuts had finally stopped bleeding and he looked down to discover his shirt was covered in blood. He really wasn't in the mood for another fight so he leaned his head back against the cupboard and closed his eyes again. When Mike saw he wasn't going to get an argument he sighed disappointedly and left Vin alone again. The man left the ranch house and did a check in the outbuildings to make sure there was no one about. He went back inside and watched TV again. He was beginning to get bored and that boredom was making him sloppy. He had forgotten to lock the front door behind him.
+ + + + + + +
In Chris's office, Tony was giving him the third degree and Chris didn't like the way the questions were going either.
"What is the case that Ezra is working on? I want the truth this time."
"He told you. We're trying to crack a smuggling operation. He's been working on it for months."
"I don't believe you. Show me the files to do with it," Tony demanded.
"Well you'll just have to take my word for it. Ezra has got the files with him, so I can't show them to you."
"That's very convenient."
Nathan knocked on the office door and entered. Chris looked toward him, relieved at the interruption. "What's up Nate?"
"Is your mobile on? Mary's been trying to get through to you about going out tonight. She said she'd leave a text message instead." Nathan had been asked by Ezra to get Chris to look at his mobile. The undercover agent didn't want to have to speak to Chris directly again knowing that Tony was getting suspicious.
"Thanks. I'll check it." Chris pulled out his phone and had a look. He flicked a quick glance at the medic who was making moves to leave the office. "Wait will you, Nate? I've got something to give you." Nathan did as he was told and waited quietly just in front of Chris's desk. Chris knew his phone had been on all the time, so he knew Mary hadn't phoned. He looked through his text messages and saw one from Ezra using his code name of 'gambler.' He read it quickly before deleting it. The message said, 'All is well. Proceed as ordered."
Chris's mood lightened. Perhaps things were looking up at last. He realised Nathan was still waiting and he picked up a file and handed it to him. He had only wanted Nathan's presence to stop Tony from wanting to see the text message.
"Thanks, Nate. Can you give this to JD? It's a new case to start work on." Nathan nodded and walked back outside.
Josiah looked up and asked, "Did he get the message?"
"Yeah. Look, he's gonna be leaving fairly soon," Nathan said as he glanced at his watch. "We'll have to get a move on if we're to get out to the ranch in time."
"Okay. I'll go now and meet you there. Buck and JD will be here soon anyway. We'd better not both disappear at once leaving the office empty. That would certainly make Tony jumpy."
Before Josiah had finished speaking, Buck and JD appeared. "Everything set?" Buck asked.
"Yeah. Now that you're here, we'll get on out to the ranch. Is Ezra alright?"
"Fine. I really think he gets a kick out of all this cloak and dagger stuff. I just hope it doesn't all blow up in his face." The men made sure they discussed things quietly in case Tony should make an unexpected appearance. After going over the plan again the men split up to do the tasks that Ezra had set them. Josiah and Nathan set off for the ranch to free Vin when the signal was given and Buck and JD would make their way to the function to help out there after Tony and Chris had gone.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Nathan arrived at Chris's ranch later than planned. They had diverted to Vin's apartment on the way to collect his set of keys to the ranch house in case they were needed. They left the car on the road before walking through the woods toward the ranch house. They were just in time to see Mike go back indoors after checking round outside. The two agents got into positions that gave them a good view of the whole area while still remaining hidden. They settled in to wait for the order from Buck to move in.
+ + + + + + +
Tony looked at his watch and stood up. "Okay, we'd better get moving. I need you set up before Travis arrives. Have you got everything you'll need?"
"I've got my gun. That's all that's required isn't it?" Chris muttered sourly.
Tony escorted Chris outside and he saw that only two of the other agents were in the outer office. Both men looked up and smiled. "Have a good time," Buck said, trying to sound normal. "Just think of us when you're tucking into all that food."
"Yeah right. See you later Buck, JD," Chris said, sincerely hoping he would see them within the next half hour. He still didn't know exactly what Ezra and the team had planned. All he knew was, he could to do as Tony told him and leave the rest for them to deal with. He took a quick look back over his shoulder and saw Buck watching him. The ladies' man smiled sadly and nodded in encouragement.
Tony urged Chris onwards and they made their way down to the parking lot. "Where were the other men?" he asked, looking at Chris with narrowed eyes.
"Out working, I assume. The world doesn't stop just 'cause you're around. They don't know what's going on anyway. How could they? You caught the only note I tried to send. You don't think I'd be stupid enough to get Vin another beating or myself blown up by trying to contact them again, do you?"
"You'd better be telling the truth. If I see any of them hanging around where we're going, I'll kill you."
Chris got in the car and waited for Tony while he phoned to check in with Mike. When the man finished and got in, he started the engine and drove to the function, parking a few streets away. Tony told him exactly where to wait for Travis to arrive and he guided Chris into an alley within sight of the building's entrance. They settled down to wait and after about quarter of an hour Chris saw Travis's car approaching. He pulled out his weapon and sighted it, really hoping he wasn't going to have to use it. He watched as Travis got out and walked toward the door of the building. Chris looked around and hesitated, still wondering whether everything was alright to continue when he felt the barrel of Tony's gun against his temple.
"If you don't do it now, it'll be too late for your friend. Kill him now."
Chris pulled the trigger twice in quick succession and he saw Travis stagger and fall. He knew that his aim was off though because he was shaking so much. His target, he saw, had been immediately surrounded by a group of concerned onlookers and had disappeared from sight in the melee. Chris wiped his face and put the gun down quickly as if it had suddenly become too hot to handle. He hoped he'd done the right thing, but he hadn't really had much choice in the matter.
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it? However, I've changed my mind about things because you've caused so much trouble. I think I'll kill Vin and you anyway. Vin first I think," Tony said as he pulled out his phone again, but he didn't get as far as dialling. He suddenly slumped to the ground and Chris looked up in surprise. There stood Buck and JD. They had seen Chris arrive and had entered the alley from the other end to wait until Tony was occupied before intervening.
"Jesus, Travis!" Chris exclaimed, remembering what he had just done. He swung round and ran to where Travis had fallen. He pushed his way through the crowd, knelt down on the sidewalk and turned the man over with fear in his heart. None of the crowd had bothered seeing if the man was alright. They must have assumed he was dead because he was lying so still.
"Ezra?" Chris said loudly, totally astonished when he saw who he had shot. "Where's Travis? Are you alright?"
Ezra sat up gingerly, clutching his arm tightly. Chris could see blood seeping between his fingers. He found a handkerchief and pulled Ezra's hand out of the way before placing it over the wounds. "Mr Larabee. Why do you think I was wearing a bullet proof vest? Whatever possessed you to shoot an unprotected part of my anatomy?"
"Man, Ez. That's gotta hurt," Buck said from where he was standing. "I told you it was risky." The ladies' man had brought a first aid kit with him, expecting trouble and he found a sling in it and helped Chris secure Ezra's arm across his chest after bandaging it.
Ezra stated, "It is when the person you are trying to help can't shoot straight. Anyway I could hardly have expected Mr Travis to do this stunt work now could I?"
"I appreciate everything you've done Ez. I know it was a difficult situation and you couldn't tell me everything you had planned in case Tony found out. Anyway going back to me shooting you, you moved at the vital moment and it's hard to aim properly when you've got a gun held to your head. Just be thankful I hit somewhere non vital. I really thought I was shooting at Travis though, your disguise was very good. How do you feel?"
"Like a human colander. One bullet would have been sufficient you know. There is something known as overkill. Have you had any news about Vin? Has Josiah freed him yet?" Ezra asked, his mind working overtime, wondering if his plan had been good enough.
"I called as soon as we'd taken Tony out. I'm waiting to hear from them," Buck said. He smiled encouragingly at Chris hoping that the other two agents were as successful with their assignment as they had been with theirs. "Anyway there's a small matter of a bomb to be disarmed before you're going anywhere, pard," Buck said to Chris.
"God, I'd forgotten all about it,"
"Come on. I called the army bomb disposal team. Let's allow them to deal with it." Buck got hold of Chris's arm and led him to the waiting soldiers.
+ + + + + + +
At the ranch, Josiah got Buck's message and he signalled to Nathan to move in. They made their way quickly to the house, keeping low and to as much cover as they could. They sat on the ground on either side of the front door and waited to see if they had been observed. Josiah reached up and tried the door handle quietly, more in hope than expectation. It opened to his amazement and he went in slowly with gun drawn. They made their way inside carefully and waited to hear where the two occupants of the house were. They heard a noise in the kitchen and made their way in that direction. Josiah took a quick look in the door and saw Vin handcuffed to the cabinet, he could see the blood on the sharpshooter's shirt. No one else was in the room so the two men entered. Josiah kept watch while Nathan went over to Vin to see how he was. He put a hand out and touched Vin's shoulder to see if he was awake. Vin's eyes opened slowly and Nathan could see that he was in quite a lot of pain.
He put a finger to his lips to keep Vin quiet and then whispered, "Call Mike and we'll see to him okay?"
Vin nodded and smiled faintly. "Hey. Can't you take off these handcuffs? I'm not gonna try and escape now," he called to his captor.
"Not likely. You stay where you are until I get the all clear," Mike said as he wandered into the room totally oblivious to the danger.
Josiah and Nathan were waiting on either side of the door and struck as he entered the room. Both of them aimed for his head with gun butts and he dropped without a sound, landing hard on the floor. Josiah pulled the man's arms tightly behind his back and secured him. He then phoned Buck to ask for someone to come and collect the prisoner. Meanwhile Nathan moved toward Vin with the keys to the handcuffs, which he had retrieved from Mike's pocket. He undid them and rubbed Vin's arms gently to get the circulation going. The sharpshooter's arms had been pulled over his head for several hours now and he had totally lost feeling in them. As the feeling slowly returned so did pins and needles and pain. Vin couldn't help but groan as his arms came back to life. Nathan helped him to stand up after a while and steadied him while he regained his balance. He was very stiff and Nathan waited until he was ready before taking Vin through to Chris's den and making him sit down on the couch there.
"God, Vin, are you alright? What did he do this with?" Nathan asked, as he indicated the deep cut on Vin's cheek. The cut was red and angry looking although it was no longer bleeding. Nathan washed the wound carefully, but however gentle he was he could feel Vin recoil in pain each time he was touched.
"Razor blade. My own fault. I cut him first, but he got hold of it after hitting me." Nathan heard the exhaustion in Vin's voice. He studied the other injury to Vin's face, prodding the area gently to find out how bad the damage was. Vin flinched and tried to move his head away from Nathan's grasp.
"Sorry Vin. I think you've broken your cheek bone. Better get you to hospital to check it out and you'll need stitches in the cut anyway. Do you hurt anywhere else?"
"All over," Vin said, as he shifted to try and relieve the pain. Nathan looked at the rest of his friend's body and found bruises all over him. Nathan caught his eye and grimaced in sympathy. Josiah came into the room and squatted down next to Vin.
"Chris's okay. The bomb's been disarmed but Ezra took a couple of bullets in the arm," he informed the two agents.
"Ezra shot? What bomb?" Vin asked, confused.
"Ezra dressed up as Travis and Chris shot him. Chris didn't know all of Ezra's plan because Tony was always with him. Anyway Ezra, being the cunning man he is, came up with the idea and managed to let Chris know he was going to help in some way, although he obviously couldn't give exact details of what he intended. To keep Chris in line and stop him escaping, Tony attached a bomb to his ankle."
"Is Ezra alright?" Nathan asked, as he worked on Vin's injuries.
"Moaning about Chris's shooting skills, but he'll be fine. He's on the way to the hospital, so it looks as though we'll be meeting them there."
Nathan finished his treatment. "Are you alright to go now?" he asked Vin, receiving a nod in reply. Josiah, can you get the car and bring it to the front? I don't want him walking too a far."
"Yeah sure. I won't be long." He patted Vin's leg and the sharpshooter winced at the contact. "Jesus, sorry Vin. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"It's okay. There ain't anywhere you can touch without it hurting," Vin said quietly. He smiled up at Josiah before the big man left the room. It wasn't long before he returned and helped Nathan to move the sharpshooter out to the car. Vin moved slowly and fidgeted once he was in the vehicle to try and find a position that didn't hurt. He saw Nathan watching him and he grinned before trying to stay still. Josiah was going to wait behind to see to the collection of the prisoner and get a lift back to town in the squad car. Nathan drove with care to the hospital and parked outside the entrance so Vin didn't have far to walk. Once Vin was safely inside, he moved the vehicle and then hurried back to meet up his friend. He sat with Vin while he had stitches put in the cut on his cheek and the sharpshooter had an x-ray taken of his face.
After a thorough examination, the doctor said, "There's no need for you to stay in overnight, but I want you to stay with someone until you're more mobile."
"He can stay with me. I'll keep an eye on him," Nathan said. The doctor gave him a prescription for some pain killers which Nathan went and got before the two men went to find the rest of their team. They headed for the waiting room and found them there.
Vin hobbled over and sat down next to Chris. "Hey cowboy. Are you alright?" the sharpshooter asked, wincing as he eased himself into the chair next to his friend.
"Yeah. I see you didn't get off so lightly." The blond man looked Vin over carefully to try and gauge how he was. Vin very rarely told the truth when asked how he felt, so Chris usually relied on a visual assessment.
"Dare say I'll survive. Just hope I don't get a scar on my face. Wouldn't want to ruin my good looks," he drawled and smiled. "How's Ezra?"
"They're just getting one bullet out. The other one went straight through. He'll probably stay in tonight just so they can keep an eye on him. Did Nathan tell you all about Ezra's plan?"
"Only that he pretended to be Travis and you shot him. Bet he was pleased about that."
"He did really well. When I arrived at the office with Tony he came and asked where you were. The boys were worried because you weren't answering your phone so I had to put them off looking for you. I told Ezra your mother was ill. It was a bit risky saying something that was such a lie but he didn't turn a hair and just took it from there really. He wrote me a note in shorthand to say he knew we were in trouble and that he would help. My trying to contact him again got you that beating, I'm afraid. I had to let Tony discover one note to deflect him from another which I'd hidden in a file. I couldn't think of any other way of communicating with him. Anyway Ezra got the real note and put his plan into action. I didn't know what he was going to do. He sent me a text message to say to do as Tony said as he'd got everything sorted, so I did."
"He's a devious so and so, ain't he? Good job he's on our side."
"Yeah it certainly is."
A doctor entered the room and Chris rose to meet him. "He's out of surgery now but we'll keep him in overnight just to keep an eye on him. I can let a couple of you see him if you like."
"Vin and I'll go," Chris said. He helped Vin to his feet and the two men made their way to Ezra's room. They sat down next to the undercover agent and waited for him to wake up. He stirred after a couple of hours and Chris stood and moved to the bed.
"Ezra? Are you okay? I brought you a visitor."
"Hey Ez. Seems I owe you my thanks," Vin said smiling.
Ezra yawned then did a double take as he saw Vin's face. "Good God, Mr Tanner. What did that fiend do to you? Are you quite alright?"
"I'll be okay. Better than if you hadn't intervened, I can tell you that for nothin'. I 'ppreciate all you did. Much obliged."
"Well I only wish I could have freed you sooner and saved you some discomfort. I didn't dare though or I could have put Chris's life in danger. It was quite a juggling act you know. I'm glad you're usually the one in charge Mr Larabee. I think I'd be a quivering wreck if it was down to me all the time. It certainly was a veritable conundrum."
"You did well Ez. We're both very grateful. We'll leave you to get some rest. I'll take Vin home and then come back to keep you company later."
"That would be splendid. Take care Mr Tanner."
"See ya Ez."
Chris and Vin made their way slowly back to the waiting room and told the others about Ezra.
Nathan said, "I said Vin could stay with me for a while. Is that alright?"
"Yeah that's great. I told Ezra I'd go and sit with him, so if you can take Vin, I'll go back now. I'll take Ezra home with me tomorrow when he's released. Shall we all meet up at the ranch after work tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Why not?" Buck said. "We've certainly got something to celebrate." All the men left except Chris who made his way back to Ezra's room. The other men met Josiah at the entrance and the big man decided to see Ezra before he left. He carried on up and made his way along to Ezra's room after getting directions from a nurse. He knocked on the door and wandered in.
"He okay?" he asked, nodding toward the sleeping man in the bed.
"Yes, I think so. Did you meet the others? They've only just left."
"Yeah. We're meeting up after work tomorrow at your ranch. Is that right?"
"Yes. We thought we deserved a celebration."
"I'll see you then. Glad everything turned out alright today. He did well, didn't he?" Josiah said, indicating Ezra with a nod of his head.
"He sure did." Chris smiled warmly as he looked at his injured agent.
+ + + + + + +
The team met up the next night at Chris's ranch. Nathan wandered onto the kitchen and hurried toward Vin. He snatched a glass of beer out of the sharpshooter's hand.
"Vin. No alcohol with your pain meds. Do you wanna make yourself ill? Get a soft drink," the medic ordered.
"Can't celebrate with orange juice. You're such a spoil sport Nate," Vin grumbled.
"Who'd have to come and pick up the pieces if you were ill? Me, that's who. Give me one day off, will ya?"
"Alright. You win. Put like that I can't refuse can I?" Vin laughed.
Chris clapped his hands to get the men's attention. "Okay everyone. I need to propose a toast. Thank you Ezra for all your hard work and the devious plan you came up with to get us out of a tricky situation. To Ezra!" Chris said as he raised his glass.
"Ezra!" all the men said, raising their glasses as well toward the undercover agent. Ezra turned a deep shade of pink but managed to beam from ear to ear none the less.
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