If the Sultan invites you on board, you need to accept.She is a luxurious ship sailing proudly between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In her lounges, unscrupulous art traders have frantic conversations. In her storerooms, highly prized artwork awaits its destiny: a very private, not-so-legal auction on the ocean.Let’s go behind the velvet curtain, to the personnel’s quarters, a world of equally sharp ambitions, raging dangers, and murder.An idealistic musician and his beautiful partner collaborate to save art from money. But when they clash against the warped life of a pastry chef and the driven personality of the Cruise Director, these four people are thrown into a battle where the power of past and present feelings is only equaled by the force of the sea.Cruising with Death is a vibrant vignette of the modern cruise as a symbol of globalization with its inevitable conflicts, surprising encounters and unexpected love.Set yourselves towards new horizons. All aboard! Anchors aweigh!EXCERPTJavier entered the restaurant close to the arenas with the resolution of a bull before the cape : strong and silly. He went right to the bar.“Hasn’t Lupe finished yet ?”“She is working, leave her alone”, said Juan without raising his head.He served a tourist, then another and yet another. Javier glared at Lupe’s boss as if he was pushing a sword into his flesh, searching for his heart (or something similar to it). Since he didn’t find anything, he raised his glass as a threat and marched right to a table on the terrace.ABOUT THE AUTHORKaty O’Connor was born in Africa. She grew up in France but has also lived in Spain and in the Middle East. Presently, she lives in California with her family. Her books express her interest for all kinds of journeys and the challenge of being “from everywhere and nowhere.”
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi lub dowolnej aplikacji obsługującej format:
Liczba stron: 257
Cruising with Death
legal deposery mai 2012
ISBN : 978-2-35962-244-4
ISSN : 2108-6273
©Couverture de Hubely
Cruising with Death
Éditions Ex Aequo
Dans la même collection
L’enfance des tueurs – François Braud – 2010
Du sang sur les docks – Bernard Coat L. — 2010
Crimes à temps perdu – Christine Antheaume — 2010
Résurrection – Cyrille Richard — 2010
Le mouroir aux alouettes – Virginie Lauby – 2011
Le jeu des assassins – David Max Benoliel – 2011
La verticale du fou – Fabio M. Mitchelli — 2011
Le carré des anges – Alexis Blas – 2011
Tueurs au sommet – Fabio M. Mitchelli — 2011
Le pire endroit du monde – Aymeric Laloux – 2011
Le théorème de Roarchack – Johann Etienne – 2011
Enquête sur un crapaud de lune – Monique Debruxelles et Denis Soubieux 2011
Le roman noir d’Anaïs – Bernard Coat L. – 2011
À la verticale des enfers – Fabio M. Mitchelli – 2011
Crime au long Cours – Katy O’Connor – 2011
Remous en eaux troubles –Muriel Mérat/Alain Dedieu—2011
Thérapie en sourdine – Jean-François Thiery — 2011
Le rituel des minotaures – Arnaud Papin – 2011
PK9 -Psycho tueur au Père-Lachaize – Alain Audin- 2012
…et la lune saignait – Jean-Claude Grivel – 2012
La sève du mal – Jean-Marc Dubois - 2012
L’affaire Cirrus – Jean-François Thiery – 2012
Blood on the docks – Bernard Coat -tr Allison Linde – 2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS
February 12, 2003
Saint-Petersburg, Russia, latitude 59 ° 56' north, longitude 30 ° 18' east.
5 : 00 pm
Elan’s heart was falling into pieces. Just like his mother’s heart before his father’s body stabbed to death, five years ago, when he was twelve years old. And just like the piece of bread which had thickened his soup this morning. His stomach had had nothing since and roared like a jack hammer; the keys hanging on his neck followed the rhythm of his long stride, clashing angrily on his wet chest; the whole thing sounded like a construction site and his eardrums were ready to give up… He liked it when he could not hear anymore, when his sweat tears blinded him and the city vanished. The route was in his flesh. He would reach the following bridge.
Here now ! He waved to tourists passing below by boat as they encouraged him, hands raised. He ran again. To another bridge. This meant a lot to him. Or maybe not. Not quite. The one euro or one dollar bills people would leave him after the last bridge would be of some meaning as well... But only if this group here was in a good mood, rich enough, generous enough. If everybody had change. If Elan was lucky today. The last bridge. People arriving below greeted him as a sports star. They had stopped watching the monuments that lined the Neva. Those old buildings bored them. At this moment, they preferred the man. Elan was pleased. He sat on the wall, far enough away from the landing but not so far that he couldn’t be seen from the stairs that American and Western European visitors would soon climb. He stared ahead at the river sliding into the sea. One day, he would follow the Neva to the Baltic Sea, and after, the ocean.
Twenty-two euros and fifty dollars. Not bad. Now, he could go to mass. Then, he would still have enough time to buy dinner. Something good, tonight, something imported. He would keep his share for his music classes and for replacing his front tooth so he could smile openly to the people who gave him money and also to those who would hire him, someday, as a pianist. Whatever was left, he would give it to his mother.
The building, of Soviet design, had an earthy pride, blackened, with a sickle and hammer on the façade as a huge old fashioned brooch. However, new tenants liked to show how trendy they were by owning expensive and powerful dogs. One of these muscular hounds had off-loaded an impressive package in the entry; the stuff was smoldering pungently. Elan jumped over the turd; he climbed to the second floor and pushed the door on his left. It creaked vengefully.
The Pastor raised his head and gave him a look of deep compassion. The boy found a seat on a bench at the back of the room, his two hands on his thighs, nose on his knees, and in high spirit. He had rediscovered the religion of his ancestors until they became fed up with Russians, before they converted to Islam. His mother and his sisters could not even imagine that he was there, him, the Cherkess. If they knew, they would suffer (again !) but there was no chance that his family would find out. And if ever his secret escaped like a cockroach... it didn’t matter. Elan brought the meat to the table.
A man was watching him. Elan knew it. As a runner, he learned to look straight ahead while grasping images of objects and people from the corner of his eye. The foreigner attracted him too, like a magnet. He wore a blue grey suit. Steel hair, perfectly trimmed nails. His elegance was not dull. He bore the confidence of someone in his late fifties who had managed to retain some benevolence on his face. Elan would have liked to be him; but not right now. The boy stood up and walked resolutely to the piano. The Pastor smiled at him and announced what he would play while Nina and Varia took place to sing. Elan concentrated. After the bridges, it was his second performance.
Everyone was talking at the same time, in excited and happy murmurs. Elan closed the piano. He hesitated between cutting through the crowd to rush to a supermarket or exchange some kind and encouraging words with fellow evangelists. Little Olga jumped to him and grabbed his leg. She raised her face full of freckles and moved her nose in a perfect imitation of her mother when she wanted to talk very seriously.
“A foreign gentleman told me to give you that.”
Elan looked at the card on which someone had scrawled : "You play very well the piano." A telephone number and the name of a five star hotel in the city were written above. This was not a business card. Only the name and address of the owner were printed : Christopher Donomarenko, 1202 San Pablo Avenue, Palm Desert, California… USA… It sounded nice.
The boy climbed down the stairs of sloughing cement. The hound’s fragrant package had dried. The door had remained open and icy cold came in. Tomorrow, it would snow. No more boats, no more tourists—for a long winter. Palm Desert. Elan saw high branches. They followed a thin stream. Behind the stream, there were rocks, with yellow flowers in the middle. If they were not yellow, he would be disappointed.
Ronda, Spain, latitude 36 ° 44' north, longitude 5 ° 10' west.
5 : 30 pm
"The Palacio de la Virgen Mora may generate eighty thousand euros per year alone with the rooms and the breakfast. So if you plan to open a first class restaurant... wow ! "
The little lady with the grey suit and the gray hair bun moved quickly from one room to another, so fast that her black Mary-Jane shoes seemed to raise her from the ground magically. They reflected like mirrors. "Even the sole", thought Sauveur Selva while climbing painfully the tower’s narrow staircase behind the home’s owner. He threw a glance behind him to Suzette, his wife, who shook her head in approval, then to his daughter, Joline. She kept her eyes on all the alabaster and the wood from the ceiling, her nose pulsing with excitation and her brain working fast, adding bright and colorful numbers. They arrived in a round room, blue like the sea and shiny like dreams. Sauveur had to resist the urge to plunge into the silk mattress lying on oriental rugs. He imagined himself rolling down with a girl… She would wear sky blue Arabian baboochs, she’d be as light as foam, as light as her laughter, she’d whisk him away on a magic carpet… And maybe perform some special spell on him…
“I still sleep here sometimes” Doña Clara said. “That’s why I left the furnishings. At the same time it gives you an overview of what the Palacio really is when properly decorated.”
“It looks like you”, Suzette said.
Sauveur did not pay attention to the words which were mumbled after his wife’s simple statement. He approached the paneled window, pulled it open and looked down at Ronda. The small Andalusia city was waking up. The siesta time was over. Tourists and natives were mixing like coils. They were still eating churros con chocolate or had already moved on to tapas before starting to choose a restaurant. Some would finish the night in the arms of their conquest of the day, or their lovers’; the smartest would rest their head against the best friend they had already married or planned to end up with. Others, like Joline, would be alone. That was not exactly true. There was her dog Pralin (called the Devil); he was a Pomeranian, cute as a Duke of the same land until the latter lost the battle against a German Knight. The doggy received his nickname after he adopted the habit of lying on the feet of his mistress while she was asleep. Sauveur hoped that his daughter would meet the same emotional devotion on the part of a male of her own species because once the Palacio deal closed, when the house— if we bought it—would bring money as opposed to just being cute, Joline would need to find a man—And make babies.
A finger slightly scratched Sauveur’s back. He had forgotten this kind gesture… He turned. Joline vigorously threw her dimpled chin towards the old bridge. The big arches, royal still, dived in the rocky womb of a ravine dried by time and life.
“We shall find the path down to see that bridge from below,” Joline said firmly. Her black eyes were two bullets. They were saying to her father : "I’ll buy it", requiring—more than they were asking—his support.
Sauveur walked to the lady in grey who looked like a small mouse. His voice seemed to rise slowly from the bottom of a well.
“Why are you selling your palace ? If I have understood correctly, it has been your companion, your child. Why not keep it a little longer ?”
He threw a crafty look at the lady’s wrinkled hands, so proud of their diamond rings. They started shaking. The old woman lowered misty eyes on her hands that had always done what they wanted but not for long anymore.
“You're right, she said, I am ready to die. My house will live. I spent thirty years to restore it. I uncovered its soul.”
She looked intently at Joline as if her grey eyes had the power to designate that young woman as the new queen and she added, “I think you are able to bring the Palacio back to his former glory so I could go in peace.”
It was the right moment for Suzette. She detached from her neck a red velvet ribbon with a gilded copper medal and handed the set to the lady in gray.
“Saint Rita”, she said, “You like it, so consider it a gift.
The woman hesitated a moment and then pressed her distorted fingers on the holy face. Earlier she had noticed the unusual jewel and asked Suzette about it. She closed her eyes for a long second. When she opened them, she said : "I accept your price."
Javier entered the restaurant close to the arenas with the resolution of a bull before the cape : strong and silly. He went right to the bar.
“Hasn’t Lupe finished yet ?”
“She is working, leave her alone”, said Juan without raising his head.
He served a tourist, then another and yet another. Javier glared at Lupe’s boss as if he was pushing a sword into his flesh, searching for his heart (or something similar to it). Since he didn’t find anything, he raised his glass as a threat and marched right to a table on the terrace. Across the dance floor, he saw his image in the wall mirror and smiled widely : the pair of gold rings blazing at his lobes was a gift from a wife and a husband who had each bought one. It has an amazing effect on his amber skin beaten by his long black curls. He could seduce anyone and had need of no one.
She ran to him. Her breasts were tight under her cotton blouse, whiter than the walls of the Palacio dela Virgen Mora (how was this possible ?). Her jeans were a little wide on her rather opulent rump. It was a legacy of the Indian, the Iberian and the Arab… and a fascinating object of mixed styles and cultures, according to Javier. She got embroiled in her golden sandals (they were not made for walking, only to be admired), tripped, caught her flying mantilla just in time and managed to drop on a metal chair still warm from the afternoon sun, facing Javier. According to her, the young Peruvian immigrant had failed her entrance again. She wasn’t in a relationship with this boy… not exactly. But a woman is a woman ! According to Javier, on the contrary, Guadalupe Lopez had been perfect.
“My aunt has sold her palace”, he announced.
“Doña Clara ? The Palacio ?”
“The Palacio ! For a lot less money than it’s worth, I think, but for my aunt, it was priceless, so who cares, right ? Indeed, I feel better without it. I could have set it on fire myself.”
Guadalupe laughed softly, a piece of pink tongue between her teeth.
“Didn’t you tell me you loved to live there when you were a little boy ?”
“Climbing towers, running in empty rooms, seeking secret passages ! I could invent myself limitless adventures. It was more exciting than theme park rides, not that we had them often in Ronda… What do you want to drink ?”
“I’ll have what you are having, a Manzana.”
“Choose something yourself.”
“I did. Today, I accompany you.”
Javier shrugged and signaled the waiter. The man was busy selling as many orders of tapas as he could to a group of tourists. Around that table, the boys were in love with the sound of their voice and the girls with their own laughter, loud like buffaloes’ farts.
“I just want you to show some personality”.
“This is exactly what I'm doing”, Lupe countered.
Javier nodded. His gaze was going from his companion to a bird with an injured wing who was still trying to fly away from the sidewalk made of small and shiny tiles.
“I have more good news”, he said while his eyes were on Lupe. “I have been promoted”.
She smiled, mouth open. Every time she did that, she became an angel; like on the picture Javier used as a book-mark when he was a child; when Doña Clara still read him stories. Before she worried only about old stones and abandoned him, her godson, to nuns, neighbors, tourists.
“After my vacation, I’ll be on the sea again. A big new boat : two thousand eight hundred passengers—as Cruise Director Assistant.”
Lupe raised her glass.
“Cheers !” she said as they both chugged their drink at the same time.
She swallowed the wrong way and began to laugh and cough. Tears flowed on her cheeks. She took a napkin and wiped them off, still giggling.
“If you want, I will put in a word for you,” Javier said. “I have the ear of an executive of my company—and sometimes the whole body !” he added with a wink.
Lupe stopped laughing and crying.
“Don’t tell me you did it again !”
“What ? Having fun pleasuring others ? I believe I have never stopped.”
“They pay you !”
“I get benefits.”
“Not necessarily. A reward is always appreciated though. You're so naive, Lupe… My God ! You know what ? You remind me of my aunt, locked in a fairy tale at the time of the Caliphs—in a Palace in ruins.”
Lupe had Vertigo. What did this post-Franco provincial bourgeois knew of her, Guadalupe, and all the battles she had fought ? Why she had left Lima. How she became third rank maid in Barcelona and waitress in Ronda. Her companion took her chin in his hand. He smiled to her, first with his light brown eyes where sometimes, an unexpected greenness was sparkling, like today. Then he smiled with his mouth and all his sparkling white teeth...whiter than before, Lupe thought, asking herself who they had put the bite on to pay the cosmetician dentist. She stood up. Javier took her arm.
“You didn’t answer me. Are you going to apply so I can recommend you or do you want to stay here ?”
Lupe swallowed hard, repressing the revulsion that she suddenly felt at the smell of the calamares ala romana on the table and at Javier’s : wood, metal and alcohol. That was bad. She’d believed she had a friend in this country, in this city so proud of its history but that was only an old whore ready to sell herself to any ruffian.
“Why do you want to help me ?”
“I have no mother, no wife, no daughter; just an old aunt who speaks nothing but Moorish art. So what do you say ?”
Lupe pulled her wrist of Javier’s grasp.
“Why not ? I’d love to be offshore.”
Javier picked up the bird, wound up his arm and threw the animal towards the old almond tree that had branches above the roof of the restaurant. The bird flapped his wings, almost exploded its head against the door’s iron hardware, and then rose to the top of the tree and higher. Javier thought that there were those moments in life when you could even take the weak from the sidewalk and make them rise to the sky; if only we wanted it bad enough. A young tourist from the table alongside smiled at him. One of her companions slipped his left hand under her blouse and stroked her breast. With the other hand, he seized a filet of anchovy by the tail and dropped it into his mouth, looking up. The girl smiled widely, gazing at Javier. He blew her a kiss and walked out.
“I’ll always like this town,” Javier thought while he was walking along the old arenas. Here, one was close to the bullfighting. One could understand something of the great sacrifice, witness the terrible and innocent bestiality being overturned by clever fragility and artistry. Here, the natural fought against the know-how and lost. Even modern men loved it.
The street was long and silent like a snake. Behind a wall covered with honeysuckle and wisteria, The Palacio de laVirgen Mora concealed its charms. Javier stopped at the ornate wooden door with large squares of beaten copper. He couldn't believe he was free never to come here again and yet that was precisely why he had come. He took a deep breath, absorbing the scent of the neighboring jasmine (stronger than his cologne with a bouquet of tannin and resin). Behind these walls, he had been a prince. As a lonely child, he had played all the characters in his court. Sometimes, when friends would come over, they’d challenge his distribution of the roles, so he preferred to play hide and seek instead. That way, he was sure to win without being too obvious.
Finally, he was well off. Life would always be good and fun. He’d continue to see many places, or rather many people because, from his second world tour, he had come to the conclusion that wherever you go, there are trees and houses ! Men were fuzzy, hiding in the shadows. To surprise you better. It was what he liked. Of course, one day, he’d cool of and live a quiet life, with a girl who’d cook spicy dishes, and look at him with sweet eyes.
Danville, South Africa, latitude 25 ° 44' south, longitude 28 ° 8' east
1 :00 pm
Violet rubs her eyes. They are big and people see only them on her face. They have a strange color. Cold like winter. Her hand shakes, hesitates, and then starts to draw letters in green ink on white paper. As they dry, they take on the red brown tone of Sunset Road and the charms of by-gone time. They make you think of charts and buried treasures.
Her hand wants to sign but Violet stops it, just in time : her words are not hers. She sells them. She survives. That’s what people do in Nativity Camp. Except for Willem, the boss. Soon, he’ll be a rich man : the inhabitants of the camp are forced to buy the food he serves them. And all-included tours bring more and more foreign visitors eager to see how impoverished white people in South Africa still get by.
The tourist girl opens her big and round eyes and mouth.
“You have already finished my poem ?”
“Read and tell me if it suits you.”
The Belgian girl had swallowed her meal in less than half an hour. She hardly spoke to other tourists. She wanted to have at least ten minutes of free time to wander in the camp. She walked quickly, with the air of someone who knows where she is going so as not to disturb others. She took two or three surreptitious pictures, embarrassment painted on her face. Violet knows everything because she also observes. Now, her client properly folds the sheet of paper into three parts and puts it in an inner pocket of her backpack. She takes out twenty-five euros. The banknotes are new. They still smell fresh. She put them on the wobbly picnic table. It has been trough harsh times since the old days when it was covered with victuals for an almost happy family of three people : the little blonde girl with the stormy eyes that never cried and the aging mummy and disabled dad who felt always guilty of not caring enough for the child and not earning enough money.
Violet quickly removes the two ten euro and the five euro bills from the table. The Belgian visitor is not ready to leave yet.
“Does it not bother you that your poems travel all around the world and nobody knows you wrote them ?”
The poetess gazes at her client.
“My name is Violet,” she adds. “Violet Mullen, in case you want to mention it. That is… if you do not intend to pretend you wrote the piece you just bought me.”
The client’s white complexion turns crimson.
“You describe my feelings… and how they are related to the person I want to share them with. How do you do it ?”
A shrug, a veiled smile. For a second, even Violet’s eyes shone "or so, it’s my imagination,” the young Belgian thinks. She looks down and bites her lower lip. She’d have thought poets were more friendly. Her bag is heavy. She throws it on her back and her ample move sweeps a pink gourd off the table. Violet picks it up. The other girl turns and says, “I'm sorry.”
The sun becomes a killer. Strong and purposeful. And wild. Air-conditioned vans gobble the tourists and spit a cloud of thick dust. For a while, it obscures Nativity Camp from the view of those who are not in it. The place ceases to exist. Violet puts her hand deep in her pocket and closes her fingers on the earnings of the day as she used to do with the egg of her grandmother’s hen. She was four years old. She would search for this treasure every holiday morning, in the yard of a small white house with flowers red like blood climbing on the wall.
Sunset Road flees far into the city and, much further, to the ocean.
Seven years later
The Moldau (Smetana)
September 13 2010, morning
I don’t like them, they hate me. Don’t ask them why, they don’t know the answer. It’s too fuzzy. It comes from too far. As for me, I react. I haven’t done any better yet. Have you ?
On the Sultan, the workforce is well fed. I choose my meal : a large slice of roast beef, a full cup of rice pudding, crème brûlée and some dulce de leche ice cream. I love caramel. It reminds me of my early childhood, my parents… sweet humble people who never fought.
I am looking for a table but at this time, it’s a ridiculous challenge : the passenger’s breakfast is over and the lunch service hasn’t started yet. Consequently, almost all the restaurant staff is here, eating, and a few others too.
Jose-Maria de Ara tries to catch my attention from a table in the back. He is seated besides Joline, the Chief Baker. Before them, the seats are still unoccupied. I stride along, raising my tray to my eye level. People move away. I sit.
“You closed the shop late,” Jose-Maria says. “Did you make a big sale ?”
“An emerald set.”
Joline shivers from head to toe. It’s what she does every time someone around her talks about money or food. Jose-Maria is calculating how much I’ll probably make with my commission. Upon deciding on a number, he whistles and pours me a glass of his nonalcoholic beer to celebrate. I drink. I smile, looking at my plates. Not so much about the food or even my bonus. I think of Joline. I know she is watching me. She is suffering. She desperately resists entering into a conversation with us. Still, her desire to express herself overwhelms her. That is saying a lot for someone who runs her kitchen with a tight grip. The aide cooks know better than holding her gaze even though she’s a very short woman… I believe she’s wondering if she made the right choice in going to a difficult and expensive school just to be here, with Jose-Maria—Chief Steward—and I, a non-graduate who gets one percent of the on board shop profits. I’m sure she asks herself why she supervises every day the preparation of exquisite pastries without ever taking her share of the cake. Now, she rebels. How do I know ? She masticates aggressively and wolfs a new mouthful before the previous one is gone.
I launch an attack on my desserts.
“Did you audition for the staff talent show ?” Jose-Maria asks.
“Definitely not. I’m not in a circus.”
Joline raises her head like a surprised bird. She can’t understand me. That makes me interesting, I guess. Jose-Maria gives me a protective look and leans over the table as if to intimate to me that we have a bomb on board and he can detonate it at his will.
“That’s too bad for the passengers,” he says. “I know you can do anything. And please people immensely ! Once you have set your mind to it.”
Jose-Maria thinks he is my friend because he is sexually attracted to my type : I’m an overly tall blonde with lilac blue eyes. He is stocky, plump and chubby like a cloud. His big Spaniard eyes from his father’s side meet too closely with the high cheeks his true Filipina mother gave him. My knight tosses his paper napkin on his plate with the remainder of his meal. He leans on the red leatherette back of his seat, two fingers on his stomach and he goes on, “I like Donomarenko even though he’s rather young for an artistic director.”
I keep on eating. Jose-Maria keeps on talking.
“Well… if my father had invested in the cruise line instead of gambling away the entire money my mother and sister were making with their little restaurant on the beach, I wouldn’t be a steward !”
That is too much for Joline. She swallows a ball of roasted potatoes too quickly, eyes rolling with panic, but she manages to jump into the conversation.
“You guys forget about eroticism. It rates as high as family ties in social networking. What do you know about our piano-bar Star ? Maybe he worked his way up to artistic director by seduction ?”
I give Joline a look of false wonderment that she’d wanted to join us in our little exchange. But actually I’m glad she did, and my look is also one of true pleasure. That surprises me.
“So, according to you,” I say, “seduction is not a talent ?”
Joline’s black eyes point on me like lasers and draw question marks.
“Whenever I sell a piece of jewelry, clothing or even Cologne, I have seduced the customer. If the item is more sophisticated—and generally more expensive—I do better : I help somebody to seduce. All of a sudden, he or she becomes… well spoken.”
Joline stares at me impudently, with a smirk. She doesn’t take long to reach a conclusion all painted on her face : I am an African and a silly blonde.
Jose-Maria comes back in the game and offers me a good card :
“I understand why Javier likes you so much !”
Javier is our Cruise Director. It means he is the second ranked host on board, after the Captain. That allows him to be the Chief Activity Leader as well and, believe me, he loves it ! He needs to be the man who makes you laugh and brings you in a world of endless fun. He advises you. He has all the answers. He is the Shaman or the Prince of our floating palace. Your choice. He makes you dream—it may even be a wet dream. And don’t worry, on the Sultan,
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