Part 1 | Part 2-3 | Part 4 | Part 5 - Epilogue
Chris raised shocked eyes from the piece of paper in his hand to the face of the man standing on the other side of his desk.
Nathan stared steadily back at him.
"I dont understand," said Chris. "Arent you happy here?"
"Im very happy here," replied Nathan.
Chris tried to read something into Nathans tone of voice but the healer betrayed nothing.
"Ezra! Whats he done now?" demanded Chris.
"No Chris," replied Nathan shaking his head. "Its nothing like that. Ezra hasnt done anything. This is a career move, a step up. I can learn a lot from Ivan Pennell."
"Pennells a good man," agreed Chris as he looked down at the transfer request. He pushed his hand through his hair. In all the scenarios hed ever thought of, where he could lose a man, choosing to leave had never been one of them.
"Why didnt Pennell contact me for a reference?" Chris scowled at Nathan.
"Ahm, our reputation is well known. In the interview Pennell said that he wasnt going to waste your time or his with a reference."
Chris scowl deepened at Nathans reply. He looked at the transfer again. How appropriate that the reputation that had made his Team notorious also let this situation sneak up on him. Pennell, like himself, could handle the rogues, the misfits, and refit the round holes for the square pegs. Hell, Ivan was probably salivating at the chance to get one of Larabees own on his team.
Looking back at Nathan again he asked, "Is there anything I can do or say to change your mind Nathan?"
"No, Chris. I just have to look to my future, thats all," replied Nathan. "Ive done a lot of hard thinking to come to this decision. It wasnt an easy one to make." At least that part was honest.
Chris watched Nathan steadily for a long moment. He couldnt help but wonder if something else was going on here.
Nathan returned Chris gaze without hesitation, he knew that if he flinched, Chris would suspect something. "It isnt required but I was hoping youd sign my transfer."
Dropping his eyes to the transfer, Chris pursed his lips together as he set the paper down on his desk and leaned over and signed it. He then straightened up and handed it back to Nathan, smiled, well, sort of, and offered him his hand. "Congratulations, Nathan. Pennells getting a helluvan agent."
Nathan smiled and shook hands with Chris, "Thanks Chris, I appreciate it."
Chris couldnt be sure was that a flicker of regret in Nathans eyes?
"We might as well get the rest of this out of the way right now," said Chris. "Is everyone out there?"
"Yeah, at least they were when I came in here." replied Nathan. Just as he had expected, Chris rarely put off the dirty work.
"Lets get this over with then."
Chris followed Nathan out of his office into the bullpen.
Chris waited just outside his office doorway while Nathan made his way back to his own desk.
Buck had just let a wadded-up paper basketball shot go. It hit its intended target point blank, JDs forehead. The kid had been typing furiously away, oblivious of what was going on around him. The paper ball bounced harmlessly off JD and onto his keyboard. JD looked up. The annoyance written all over his face disappeared the second he noticed Chris standing in the doorway to his office.
Bucks laughter died as he noticed JDs expression change. He turned around to see what JD was looking at. There was something about Chris stance that had him thinking this wasnt going to be good.
Vin and Ezra were, once again, arguing over the dividing line between their two desks. Ezra arguing that Vins "unsightly, chaotic mismanagement of information" was, again, "encroaching upon", as Vin phrased it, "Ezras emotionally unhealthy world of perfect orderliness." Everyone knew better than to suggest that they simply rearrange their desks so that they were no longer sat butting up against one another.
Buck reached over and gave Vin a poke. Vin turned and Buck motioned with his head in Chris direction. Vin swung around in his chair to see the boss standing there and immediately sensed that something was wrong.
Ezra, who had been standing and reaching across his desk to shove Vins papers and files back over the "dividing line", sat down slowly. His talent for reading body language was telling him all was not well.
Josiah arrived back from the kitchenette with a fresh cup of coffee. He stopped in his tracks when he noticed everyone looking at Chris, everyone but Nathan. Nathan, oddly enough he thought, was starring down at his desk.
Chris cleared his throat. "I have an announcement to make. Nathan has been offered a job in Kansas City and he has decided to take it."
In the years to come Nathan would remember this as one of the longest moments in his life. No one moved. No one spoke. Five of his six brothers just sat staring at him in stunned disbelief.
Buck was the first to recover enough to speak. "Youre joking?"
"No, Buck Im not," replied Nathan, looking Buck squarely in the eye. He knew he had to pass this test. They had to believe that this was what he really wanted and it was, in a way.
"What job?" he asked, confusion written all over his face.
"The second-in-command on Ivan Pennells team in KC," replied Nathan. "Its a promotion," he added lamely.
"Pennells one of the best," conceded Buck.
"I thought we were the best." There was a belligerent edge to the sharpshooters normally soft voice.
"A job? Youre leaving for a stupid job?" JD almost shouted in utter disbelief. "What about us?" I thought we were fam "
"JD!" Chris cut the kid off sharply.
JD sent an angry glance in Chris direction and then stood suddenly, sending his chair scooting backwards on its wheels. He strode quickly out of the office and broke into a run once outside the door. No one chased after him. He would need time to cool off before anyone could talk to him.
"When?" asked Josiah.
"Uhm what?" asked Nathan blankly as he turned to face Josiah. He had been taken aback by JDs outburst and subsequent sudden departure and had been staring at the door JD had just left by. JDs running steps down the corridor towards the stairwell still echoed in his ears.
"When do you start?" repeated Josiah.
"Ahh three weeks, Ive given Chris two weeks notice and then I have a week to tie up loose ends here and move back to KC."
"Why?" came the quiet drawl from the Texan.
"Like I said, its a promotion."
Bullshit! Whats the real reason?
"Hey Nate, congratulations," said Buck, he smiled as he got up out of chair and went over to the healer and held out his hand "S I C. An opportunity like that doesnt come along everyday."
"Thanks Buck," said Nathan shaking Bucks hand.
"Dont worry about the kid, Ill talk to him, hell come around."
"I guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do, Nathan." The look in Vins eyes didnt match his words of pseudo-encouragement.
"Yeah Vin I do," replied Nathan with more conviction than he felt just now.
"Mr. Jackson, does this have anything to do with our personal differences?" Ezra almost blurted the words out. It was a rare public display of self-doubt for Ezra but with Chris announcement he was suddenly seized with the fear that he was in some way responsible for Nathans decision to leave.
"No, Ezra, it is not because of you." Replied Nathan impatiently and with a little more annoyance than he had intended. "Contrary to what you may think Ezra, my world does not revolve around you," he said irritably. The feeling that hed just pissed on everyones day was getting to him. But then again, he just had, hadnt he?
Ezras eyes narrowed slightly at the rebuke as he instantly fell back into his usual mode of formal behaviour. "Then you have my sincerest congratulations sir, I doubt Special Agent Pennell realizes how truly fortunate he is in procuring your services."
A little shamefaced Nathan apologized, "Sorry Ezra, and thanks."
Josiah walked over to Nathan and slapped him on the back. "I hate to see you go brother but if its what you want, you have my blessing."
"Thanks Josiah," said Nathan couldnt help but feel a little relieved. Leave it to Josiah to make you feel better about something that feels like a mistake.
Chris watched the exchanges between Nathan and the rest of the men. Something in his gut was telling him things werent right here, but what?
"You know what we need to do boys?" said Buck, attempting to be cheerful. "We need to throw Nathan a send off party. Whattaya say, at the Saloon, a week from Friday? Ill talk to Inez about laying on something special."
"Guess so," mumbled Vin.
"It sounds like fun, Buck," said Josiah trying to be encouraging.
"That is the usual procedure in these circumstances," agreed Ezra soberly.
"Not like this one though. Thisll be one theyll talk about for years. Nathan, I promise, itll be legendary." The words were enthusiastic, the voice was almost convincing but the eyes held the truth. Buck wasnt any happier about this than anyone else was.
This is painful, thought Chris, time for a diversion. "All right people, you can plan the party later. Hows the prep work coming for the operation tomorrow?"
"Just about done Chris," replied Josiah, realizing what Chris was doing and recognizing the wisdom in it.
"Does JD have the communications van ready?"
"Its good to go Chris," replied Buck in JDs absence.
"Vin, hows that updated layout of the premises working out?"
"Good Chris, real good," replied Vin, "Buck and I have the logistical problems ironed out."
"Ezra, Josiah, any concerns with your covers?"
"None other than this abhorrent tattoo," confirmed Ezra, "I will dearly appreciate finally getting it removed. Chris had to smile to himself, the fake tattoo had been Ezras own idea to enhance his cover.
"Good, then we meet here at 08:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to run through the bust one last time."
"Ill make sure JD is here and ready to rock and roll Chris."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Nathan rode the elevator down to the parking garage alone. All of the others had left for the day. He had worked late. Hed had said it was because he wanted to start getting loose ends cleaned up before he left. The fact was he didnt want anyone to invite him for a beer before going home, he wasnt sure he could keep up the façade any longer.
He walked over to his truck and got in. He leaned on the steering wheel, resting his head on crossed forearms. God he was tired. Nine days of this to go, eleven, if you count the weekend. Eighteen until he left the city. Nine days in the office working close quarters with them pretending he was happy about the promotion, happy about leaving. He hadnt counted on a farewell party - damn Buck anyway.
He sat up straight, put the keys in the ignition, started the truck and sighed again, he still hadnt figured out how he was going to tell Rain.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"Chris, cant you stop him," exclaimed JD as he paced back and forth in front of Chris desk the next morning. "Cant you order him to stay or block his transfer or something until he comes to his senses?" The kid had that imploring, puppy dog expression, that guys called "the look," on his face.
"Cut that out right now!" ordered Chris.
"Wha-at?" asked JD, as he held his hands out palms up, as if he were innocent of what Chris was talking about.
It had Chris wondering if maybe hed imagined the "the look".
"JD, I cant, I dont have that right. Hes over 21 and free to make his own decisions."
JD shot Chris a hurt expression.
"I didnt mean anything by that," apologized Chris. "Look, JD, even if I could find a reason to hold him here, it wouldnt be right or fair. It would be what I want, what you want. This is about what Nathan wants, right?"
"Yeah, I guess," JD replied morosely.
"Were his friends, right? And as such, we should support his decision, wish him all the best and be here for him."
"Be here for him?"
"Yeah, be here for him, JD. I dont think this is any easier for him than it is for us."
"I guess youre right about that. I just dont understand why."
Neither do I JD, thought Chris as he listened to his junior agent.
"I dont want him to leave."
"I know. None of us do but "
"But hes our friend." JD repeated Chris words in a monotone voice, "and we should respect his decision."
JD shot an unhappy look back at Chris.
"Okay?" Chris asked him.
"The meetings in ten minutes, Ive got things to do yet," said Chris, hinting to JD that he wanted him to leave his office. Chris then turned his attention to the work on his desk pointedly ignoring his youngest agent.
After a moment JD levered himself out of the chair and slouched out of the boss office.
Once the door clicked shut behind JD Chris looked up. He sat back in his chair and rested his elbow on the arm of his chair as he thoughtfully stroked his chin. He was going to have to have a talk with Buck. He wasnt entirely sure if the kid was playing with him or not. Why was it again hed stopped drinking?
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
JD was not happy. Chris had said pretty much the same thing Buck had the evening before. But it had been worth a try. He walked down the short hallway to the kitchenette to grab a coffee before the meeting and found Nathan already there.
"Nathan?" he asked a little tentatively.
" Morning JD," greeted Nathan cheerfully as he poured himself a cup.
"Nathan, I ahhh, want to apologize for the way I acted yesterday. It was selfish and kinda childish."
"Its okay JD," replied Nathan with a smile. "I understand."
"Its just that I really like the way things are right now."
So do I kid, thought Nathan to himself.
"But I understand you gotta make the best decisions for you and I just want to wish you good luck."
"After all you and Rain will be in the same city again and thatll be great!" he said with a smile.
Nathan replied with a warm smile, he could tell the kid really was trying to be happy for him. "It will be nice to be in the same town again."
"Maybe you two can even think about getting married now?"
Coffees in hand, they turned around to find Ezra standing in the doorway of the kitchenette. Nathan wondered just how much hed heard. Ezra had his working face on, expression unreadable.
"I gather we are running on time this morning?" he asked, his tone bored.
"As far as I know Ez," replied JD.
"Ezra, Mr. Dunne, my name is Ezra. I dearly wish we could fight crime at a more civilized hour," griped the undercover agent. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn as he filled the kettle for his tea.
"The early bird catches the worm, Ezra," teased Nathan.
"The birds are welcome to their slimy dietary preferences Mr. Jackson," replied Ezra as he dropped a teabag into his personal teapot. "I was under the impression we were in the business of apprehending gun smugglers. It has been my experience that those particular slimy creatures usually make their appearances after dark."
"Morning all," greeted Buck with a big smile as he poked his head around the corner or the doorway.
"Buck," greeted Nathan
"You three just about ready? Chris is already a little edgy about this one. I wouldnt advise being late this morning. Consider yourself warned," and with that Bucks head disappeared from the doorway.
The kettle began to whistle as the water boiled.
"Coming," said JD as he headed out with his coffee.
"Right behind you," said Nathan.
"I will be along post-haste, gentlemen," assured Ezra.
Ezra could hear JDs voice as he rambled on. "Look Nathan, if there is anything, absolutely anything at all that I can help with, remember, Im only an e-mail away "
Ezra was left alone for the moment. He was lost in thought as he poured the boiling water into his teapot. Stirring the water gently he watched absently as the tea clouded the water. Mr. Dunne has made an interesting observation indeed.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
This case was a little different than the others.
Peter Harvey, the present owner of the "Coast to Coast" Trucking Company, had come to them.
Harvey had committed armed robbery more than twenty years before while still a teenager. His father, Max, was a self-made man who was used to taking care of matters himself. Max Harvey had made Peters indiscretion "go away" with money but he had also taken his son in hand and made sure it didnt happen again. Peter had gone to work for his father; long hard days spent building the trucking company into the successful business it was today. Eventually Peter had re-earned his fathers trust and respect and had gone on to College to major in business. He returned to take "Coast to Coast" over when Max went into semi-retirement.
Peters teenage partner hadnt been so lucky. Tony Moffat had served time for what theyd done. His chosen "career" had continued until he eventually landed in prison. Prison was where Tony had received his education and established his "business" connections.
Now Tony was out of prison now and he was blackmailing Peter with what they had done. But it wasnt money that Tony wanted though. It was respectability. Coast-to-Coast was well known and very reputable, as a result the Coast-to-Coast trucks were not usually as thoroughly scrutinized by the authorities as other companies were. Tony felt this was just what he needed to transport arms to his most recent customer and establish himself as a player in the arms smuggling trade.
Peter Harvey, after some serious soul searching, decided he wasnt going to allow this to happen. He had a responsibility to his company, and to its employees, neither would suffer for his teenage mistake. Peter would take whatever punishment the law decided. Max vehemently disagreed but respected his son for his decision to go the authorities. Thats how the Harveys ended up in Team 7s offices.
Ezra, as usual, was the inside man. Hed been working as a shift foreman in the shipping department for more than a month. Since then Tony had put one of his own men in place in the shipping office, "to keep an eye" on things. Josiah had subsequently gone in to cover Ezras back; Josiah posed as a labourer on the loading dock. Hed put in regular shifts in Coast-to-coasts distribution centre for ten days now.
Peter Harvey had been "advised" the previous morning that the first shipment of weapons would be ready to go that afternoon.
This operation was the bust.
JD, as usual, would man the Communications centre in the van. Vin would take his position in a storage room above the shipping office within the warehouse before Tonys man came on at noon. It was windowless but had four ventilation ducts that provided a reasonable view of the warehouse storage areas and the loading dock.
Chris and Buck would take the frontal assault with the additional support of three men from Team 8.
Josiah had discovered the location of a back door indicated on the warehouse plans. It was almost completely hidden behind tall stacks of crates. It was not considered a viable escape route but you never knew. Nathan would cover the back door and since Josiah was on the inside for this one Nathan would be without back-up.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Nathan stood waiting, his rifle held upright close to his body. He figured he had another thirty minutes to make it through the truck yard to the back of the building and take his post without being seen. Then, unexpectedly, the staccato pop of gunfire, at the sound of gun shots, Nathan launched him self around the corner of the rig hed been hiding behind and across the yard toward the back door at a dead run.
Suddenly, without warning, the ground gave way beneath him. For a brief moment he was weightless as he fell through the dark. There was no time for his mind to register fear as to what he might land on below.
He hit water.
COLD, immense cold enveloped him. His lungs fought to hold on to the air within them. His bodys reaction to the shock of the cold water threatened to force what little air was in his lungs, out. The water was freezing. He kicked hard once, twice, before breaking the surface. He gasped for air.
It was completely dark. He trod water with hands that were already beginning to numb and feet that were fast becoming weighted down with water. He looked upward to see a small opening of light far above his head. He suddenly realized his headset was gone. Even if the water hadnt gotten to it, it was lost and there was no way to find in the dark to call for help. Help! The others were in the middle of a bust, he should be there helping them, not floating around here in the dark!
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The bust went sour fast. An employee had noticed some broken and loose boards on a packing crate labeled electronic equipment. Upon stripping of the broken board to replace them, rather than CD-players, the man discovered high-powered rifles. Tony Moffats inside man, Flynn, panicked. He decided to take control of the situation and pulled out a gun. He fired two shots and started shouting orders. Ezra and Josiah were wired so Chris and the others were fully aware of what was going on while Vin supplied a play-by-play monologue. Ezra, as the loading dock foreman, was front and centre to what was happening. He caught Josiahs eye and they silently agreed to let things play themselves out, otherwise they would end up with nothing on this bust. Josiah whispered to Chris and others to "hold position". It would likely have worked out except that another employee decided to be a hero and jumped the man with the gun.
Other employees joined in the fray and the next thing Team Seven knew, the gunman was disarmed and their undercover operation was over.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
It occurred to Nathan that with bust going down, it wasnt likely hed been missed yet. He felt around with aching hands, and found a vertical surface, it was uneven, hard and slippery. He felt along the wall reaching high for a hand-hold and low for a foot hold, anything, so he would no long have to support himself. He was tiring fast as he fought to stay afloat. The cold water was quickly sapping his strength. He shook his head to clear whatever it was that kept running into his eyes. He was fairly sure it was blood and used cupped handful of water to rinse the stuff away. There was something wrong with his thought processes because it was then that he finally realized that he was all on his own and that if he was going to get out of this he would have to depend only on himself.
The kevlar vest was getting heavier by the second but he couldnt take it off. Even if he could get his fingers to work, the warmth it provided was more valuable. Why was the water so cold?
He got the impression he was going in a circle. There didnt seem to be anything he could grab on to. His hands no long ached because he could no longer feel them.
Some how hed managed to hang on to his rifle in the fall. He had slung it over his shoulder so he could search the wall for something to hold on to. Chris would probably have his head but he relinquished his weapon to the dark water. The relief, from the loss of the extra weight, was only momentary.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
They were short of time but Ezra was not about to give this operation up so easily. He came forward with his badge held high. Peter Harvey joined him and between the two of them, they explained the situation to the rest of the shift. Instructing them to go back to their work as if nothing had happened and no matter what happened they were to stay out of it, the suspects had to take delivery of the weapons if the perpetrators were to be charged.
Waiting outside in the communications van, Chris dropped his head and shook it in amazed resignation, after he listened to what had transpired. He could hear Vins quiet Texas drawl in his ear bud, confirming that the shift crew was returning to their duties as requested and the warehouse was returning to its usual hive of activity. "Was it only his team that had these problems?" he wondered. He lifted his head to see Buck grinning at him and give him a thumbs-up. Buck knew Chris had had a bad feeling about this bust. It wasnt natural to have the crimes come to them before they happened. Chris only scowled in reply. They werent out of the woods yet.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
He was so tired. The cold and the weight of his wet clothes, boots and kevlar jacket were taking their toll on him. He wasnt sure how long hed been in the water but he was aware of the relentless chatter of his teeth and the fact he couldnt feel his extremities. He was beginning to feel lethargic.
Nathan could hear the instructors voice from the EMT seminar. "Hypothermia: a decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired." He was becoming progressively more fatigued. His water-laden clothing and kevlar jacket might be holding some badly needed heat to his body but the boots felt as if they were made of cement. Even if he could reach his boots he wasnt sure he could make his frozen fingers loosen the waterlogged laces. Extreme cold, fatigue - he was in serious trouble and he knew it.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
They werent considered magnificent for nothing.
Two trucks had pulled in for the all night run to Tijuana. Gum-smacking, obscenities-prone shift foreman, Ed Sawyer, was making a big fuss over the paper work. So much so that Tony Moffat who hadnt even planned to get out of the truck had gotten fed up with the delay and had decided to deal with the foul mouthed, signature fixated, foreman himself. They were falling behind schedule.
Tony eyed Ed Sawyer critically, the cigarette behind his ear, the tattoo of a naked woman on his forearm, the hands would have confirmed it but they were covered with well worn work gloves. Hed lay money that Ed had served time. He could use this.
"Whats the hold up," demanded Tony.
"Your fuckin paper works incomplete and the weight of your cargo is way outta whack, too fuckin heavy for CD players. Says here your going to Tijuana, crossing the fuckin border your gonna have to have every fuckin "t" crossed, and every fuckin "i" dotted.
"Ed, Ed I can see youre a good man maybe we can work a deal here?" Ezra suddenly had the feeling he was dealing with a cheap car salesman.
Ezra snapped his gum before replying, "No fuckin way asshole, you aint got CD players in these crates."
"Ya done time havent you Ed?" The fear Tony now saw in Eds eyes confirmed it, Ed Sawyer hadnt told his employer about his record. His whole demeanor changed.
"Hey man dont screw this up for me, I got a wife and kid now." Ezra put the right amount of tremour in his voice.
Tony smiled evilly. "Maybe we can work something out."
"Whatta want?" Ezra drew back warily from Tony.
"I just want to get going here, I have deadlines to meet, customers to satisfy. Business ya know?"
"I could be open to a business opportunity." Tony could see that Ed, despite his offer, was still nervous, he liked that, a little fear went along way to keeping people in line. "Whats in these crates anyway?"
Ed eyes got wide, "no shit!"
Tony watched Ed swallow convulsively.
"Who the hell are your customers?
"Lets just say South American parties."
Ed eyes narrowed, "What do I get for putting everything I got on the line here?"
"My silence and 5 gs as a show of good faith toward our future partnership." He was going to get rid of Flynn anyway. Ed here would work out much better.
"We gotta at least make it look legit, someone has to sign beside my signature on this weigh bill."
"Of course," Tony took the proffered pen.
Once the shipment was signed for Ed suddenly lost his fear and his good old buddy attitude and with an eat-shit smile and a smooth southern drawl advised Tony Moffat "You sir, are under arrest!" Realizing, too late, that he had been set-up Tony reached for the pistol tucked into the back of his pants. He froze instantly when three hot draughts of air zipped past his ear and the rear tire of the rig behind him began to hiss with escaping high pressure air.
Suddenly men yelling "ATF" were swarming around the trucks yanking drivers from the cabs of the rigs and giving orders to "spreadem".
Realizing all was lost and hoping to bring the innocent man, who had doubled-crossed him, down with him, Tony Moffat started yelling about how Peter Harvey had been in on from the beginning. How it had been Harveys idea and then finally heaping his own brand of curses on Harvey, Ed Sawyer and ATF law enforcers in general. Josiah handed Moffat off to Douglas Stone, the bull of a man from Team 8, who dragged Moffat away out of earshot toward a waiting vehicle threatening to gag him if he didnt shut up.
Only then did Chris hear the urgent voice hissing in his ear bud.
"Chriss! Chrisss! God Damn it Chris! Listen to me will ya?"
"Dont take that tone with me Agent Dunne!"
Ignoring Chris annoyed indignant reply, "Is Nathan with you?"
Holding his ear piece closer to ear to block out the moans of shifting slats as ATF Agents began prying open the crates of weapons. Chris looked around, "No, no hes not."
"Chris I cant raise him and he hasnt checked in. Ive lost his personal signal as well."
"When?" Chris tone was urgent as he started walking.
"Since right before the bust went down."
Checking his watch Chris realized that was forty minutes ago. Nathan had been incommunicado for forty minutes!
"I dont know, his signal just disappeared, like he dropped into nowhere!"
Chris was running now, "Team seven report!"
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