Switchback - Collin Wilcox - ebook
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In the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hastings investigates a glamorous murder. The killer is long gone from the crime scene when he realizes his mistake. It went perfectly, right until the end. He lured Lisa to the oceanfront park, entered her car on the passenger side, shot her twice, and escaped without being stained by her blood. He took the gun with him, as planned-but he forgot her purse, the crucial detail meant to make the crime look like a robbery. It was a simple mistake, but it could cost him everything. It does not take long for Lieutenant Frank Hastings to notice the purse - nor is he slow to notice the victim's beauty. Lisa Franklin was a self-described courtesan, a would-be poet who paid her rent by lavishing affection on San Francisco's rich and powerful. As Hastings combs through her client list, he is confronted with one vital question: Which captain of industry was foolish enough to leave the purse behind?

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

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About the Book

In the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hastings investigates a glamorous murder.

The killer is long gone from the crime scene when he realizes his mistake. It went perfectly, right until the end. He lured Lisa to the oceanfront park, entered her car on the passenger side, shot her twice, and escaped without being stained by her blood. He took the gun with him, as planned-but he forgot her purse, the crucial detail meant to make the crime look like a robbery. It was a simple mistake, but it could cost him everything.

It does not take long for Lieutenant Frank Hastings to notice the purse - nor is he slow to notice the victim’s beauty. Lisa Franklin was a self-described courtesan, a would-be poet who paid her rent by lavishing affection on San Francisco’s rich and powerful. As Hastings combs through her client list, he is confronted with one vital question: Which captain of industry was foolish enough to leave the purse behind?

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

Switchback

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

Collin Wilcox

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1993 by Collin Wilcox

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michel Vrana

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-591-0

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This Book Is Dedicated

to Chris’s Monica…

and to Monica’s Chris.

1

THIS, THEN, WAS THE lost talisman, this single cylinder of blued steel centered on her torso. Everything else, even creation, was excluded: the beginning and the ending, everything and nothing.

But she couldn’t confess it. Neither could she beg and therefore save herself. Even here, even now, she couldn’t capitulate. Instead she must mock him:

“You won’t do it, you bastard. You can’t do it. And then you’re mine. You’ll never—”

Flame was erupting; the car rocked with the explosion. The orange flash centered on the revolver’s maw was consuming everything. The beginning and the end, gone.

2

THE SPEED WAS CRITICAL, not too fast, not too slow. The speedometer, then, focused everything: numbers on the dashboard, not a dial with a needle. The digital age had caught up with him: 27, the speedometer registered, two miles over the limit.

The limit—and beyond. He’d crossed the line, entered that far country waiting in perpetual darkness. Lift the revolver, press the trigger, see the blood blossom, vivid red on light beige wool, one of her favorite sweaters. Leave forever all that he’d ever known: the parents who never smiled, the children who turned away, snickering.

28, the numbers showed. Ease off on the accelerator. In the country beyond, his country now, danger was everywhere, waiting. One cop-stop for a traffic infraction meant death.

30, now.

The car was going faster, not slower. Was it the first sign, the first warning? He’d meant to ease off on the accelerator, but instead he was traveling faster. Downhill, could that be it? Suddenly it was essential that he know. Because mind must control the car, it was his only hope. If he’d willed his foot to lighten its pressure on the accelerator, but instead the pressure had increased, how then could he manage the rest of it? How could he escape them?

The plan. In the plan, where was he? Had he lost his place? How many times, these last days, had he gone over the plan?

First, pick up the car, stolen especially for the night, an essential component, no questions asked. Two fifties, and the Buick was his. A stolen car. Then, second, a stolen pistol. He’d intuitively known how the revolver worked, apparently the American male’s birthright, something elemental, instinctive. And an effort of the will, an actor immersing himself in a new role, he’d decided to take the persona of the street hoodlum, scoring for the next fix: wait for her to park the car, wait for her to walk along the sidewalk, unsuspecting. Then, God, pull the trigger. Then run. Take the gun, take her purse, and—

—her purse.

Had he said it aloud? Was it his voice he heard, himself talking to himself?

He realized that the car had stopped. On Lake Street, in the middle, brakes locked, car bouncing, he’d come to a stop. He was bending low, searching. The revolver, yes, was on the floor in front, just as he’d planned.

Only the revolver, not the purse.

He’d followed her when she’d decided not to park on Page Street, decided instead to drive to the beach, which she often did. The parking lot had been deserted when she arrived. He’d let her park, let her get out of the Nissan, let her walk out on the beach. When she’d gotten to the surf line, he’d driven slowly, without lights, into the parking lot. As if their meeting had been arranged, he’d parked the stolen Buick close beside the Nissan, still the only two cars in the parking area. He’d—

Headlights flashed in the mirror; a horn blared. Close behind him, then beside him, then ahead: still angrily bleating. Reacting, he was reflexively stabbing at the accelerator. The Buick shot forward, struck the curb, bounced. Now his foot found the brake; the Buick was stopped, engine still running, gear selector still in Drive. He touched the lever, moved it to Neutral.

Take the purse, take the money, he’d rehearsed. It was, he knew, what a petty thief would do: take the purse, pocket the money. Then toss the purse.

And then, as a murderer would do, throw the gun through a sewer grate, gone forever.

And then, mind over matter, the actor, he would walk home, the solid citizen, returning. Because the trash container and the sewer were on the same corner, two blocks from home.

But now he was miles from home. And she was miles from Page Street. She was lying among the low bushes bordering the beach.

And in her car, abandoned at the beach, someone would discover her blood-spattered purse.

Blood…

He’d been so careful about the blood.

He’d gotten out of the Nissan on the passenger’s side and gone around. He’d opened her driver’s door and let her tumble out onto the gravel of the parking lot. And then he’d—

On the sidewalk, two figures were materializing out of the darkness, coming toward him. They would see him: one man in a Buick, just before midnight. They would see him, and they would remember.

But, desperate revelation, he was suddenly immobilized, somehow held prisoner, unable to move until the other images had registered, a succession of freeze-frames: Lisa, sprawled on the gravel as inert and shapeless as a bundle of old clothing…

Lisa’s ankles in his hands as, careful of the blood, he dragged her body faceup, arms spread wide, away from the car and into the nearby underbrush…

Lisa’s eyes, open so incredibly wide in the moonlight, as if, surely, she could see deep into his secret self and would surely remember.

3

JESSICA FARR CHECKED HER watch: time, seven twenty-five, exactly nineteen minutes and ten seconds on the lap counter. Fifty seconds, then, remained yet to jog, rounding out the mandatory twenty minutes, three times a week. An hour and a half, actually a few minutes more, would then remain in which to get in her car, drive home, shower, dress, feed Max his early morning snack, briefly skim the New York Times and the Sentinel before, at nine o’clock, booting up the computer and modem, ready to deal with her people in Los Angeles.

Forty seconds. Conscious of plenty in reserve, celebrating this bright and shimmering day, she picked up the pace for a strong finish. Beside her, tongue lolling, Max was barely keeping up. Once the dog had actually walked the last several yards, completely pooped. At age six, the standard poodle was—

Suddenly Max was veering off, making for the low-growing scrub that separated the jogging path from the beach and the parking lot just ahead. Seven seconds remained. Sprinting, kicking at full stride, she swept into the parking lot. God, she could feel the rush, those last triumphant yards, all out. At the car now she pulled up, began slowly jogging in place, coming down.

“Max—here, Max.”

She waited for the dog to show himself, then repeated the command. Nothing.

“Max! Come!”

And then she saw the tip of his tail, just visible above the scrub. He’d found something concealed in the tangled vegetation. A hundred dollars spent on obedience training, and still the damn dog obeyed commands only when it suited him. Angry, she strode the fifty feet to the edge of the graveled parking lot, then continued walking in the beach sand to the dog. Consequence: it would be necessary to empty sand from her jogging shoes, an aberration that would erode a time frame that, thanks to the poodle, was already skewed.

“Max! Dammit!”

But, with his head and shoulders buried in the vegetation, the dog was oblivious. Behind him now, she grasped his collar and yanked.

Revealing, in the brambles, a human hand and wrist and part of a forearm.

Muttering an obscenity, she released the dog. She stepped back, considered for a moment, then decided to sit in the sand, obliquely facing the exposed hand. Unpredictably, instead of returning to sniff the body, Max was sitting beside her, as if to reassure her that, somehow, it would be all right.

4

HASTINGS SMILED, NODDED TO the uniformed patrolman stationed at the entrance to the Hall’s underground parking garage. As the barrier came up the patrolman casually half saluted, returning Hastings’s smile. Hastings parked his Honda in his reserved stall, locked the car, began walking to the elevator. Ten minutes into the nine o’clock morning shift, this level of the garage was almost full.

As he walked between the rows of cars, he realized that, God, he was looking for a particular white Toyota: Janet Collier’s car. He might have been a schoolboy again: a lovesick adolescent hoping to catch a glimpse of that one special girl.

Five weeks ago, a small, sad man named Anton Rivak had invited Hastings into his apartment—and bolted the door behind them. Rivak had been a marginal suspect in the meticulously planned murders of five men. They’d talked for perhaps fifteen minutes before Hastings asked Rivak to account for his whereabouts during the preceding two hours, during the time the last of the murders had been committed. They’d been talking about Rivak’s beetle collection; with great pride, Rivak had shown Hastings one of the framed, cotton-covered display boards on which the beetles were impaled. When Hastings asked Rivak where he’d been earlier in the evening, the little man hadn’t answered. Instead, he’d taken a long-barreled .22 caliber Colt Woodsman from its hiding place behind the display board. For another fifteen minutes, with the pistol trained on Hastings, speaking very softly, Rivak had confessed to the murders. In the hallway outside Rivak’s door, two detectives were on backup: Janet Collier, on loan from Bunco, and Jim Pomeroy, Safes and Lofts. At the first hint of trouble, the detectives would come crashing through the door, guns drawn.

But the first sign of trouble had been a shot: a single shot from the Woodsman that penetrated Rivak’s right temple. The little man had sighed once, slumped back in his chair, and silently died. In death, his eyes had remained fixed on his beetles.

First Hastings had shouted that he was all right. Then he’d kicked the gun away from Rivak’s still-twitching hand. Then he’d gone to the door, unbolted it, let Janet Collier and Jim Pomeroy inside the apartment.

The phone had been in the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Hastings had made the calls to the coroner and the police lab. As he spoke into the phone, Janet had come to stand in the bedroom doorway. Turning toward her, Hastings could see it in her face: in the line of duty, this was her first dead body, with all the blood, and the empty eyes staring at nothing, and, worst of all, the odor of urine and excrement.

There were no chairs in the tiny bedroom, only a double bed. Talking to Communications, Hastings patted the bed beside him; she should sit down before she fell down. Nodding, tremulously smiling, she accepted the offer. Finished with Communications, Hastings had remained seated, letting his gaze wander over the walls of Rivak’s bedroom. Three of the four walls were covered with framed displays of beetles, each board the same size and design as the one that had concealed the Woodsman. For a few awkward, stilted moments they’d talked about the beetles. Then, inevitably, they’d talked about Rivak, the meek little waiter who’d murdered five men because they’d had him fired from his job at Rabelais, the exclusive men’s club. Born in Hungary, his body misshapen at birth, Rivak had always been a victim. Except for his job and his beetle collection, he’d had nothing, meant nothing.

Janet had never seen a body, Hastings had never witnessed a suicide: both of them had been shaken and were trying to conceal it.

And then, still sitting beside him on the bed, she’d touched his hand. And she’d—

“Frank,” a voice called out. “Hold the elevator, okay?”

Turning, Hastings saw Jerry Kennealy, just locking the door of his vintage ’66 Mustang, lovingly restored.

Conscious that he felt something like relief, Hastings waved in return. Yes, he’d hold the elevator.

5

AT THE INSPECTORS BUREAU reception desk, Hastings scanned his phone messages and slipped them into a thick file folder filled with interrogation reports, FBI workups, and documents from the crime lab and the coroner’s office.

“Anything else?”

Seated behind the desk, Millie Ralston said, “Lieutenant Friedman is having a root canal, I think. Anyhow, he’s at the oral surgeon. And Inspector Canelli was looking for you.”

Hastings thanked her, went down the glass-walled hallway of the Bureau to his office. Seated at his desk, Canelli waved for attention. Hastings nodded, pointed down the hallway to his office. He unlocked the door, left it open for Canelli, dropped the file folder on his desk.

In the doorway, Canelli said, “Lieutenant Friedman’s having a root canal. He says he’s planning to come in later this afternoon, unless he’s hurting too bad. He’s got to see the DA at three o’clock. Then he’ll come by here. He said to tell you.” Canelli was a big, swarthy, earnest man. Because he didn’t look like a cop or think like a cop or act like a cop, Canelli was Homicide’s premier stakeout specialist. In a pontificating mood, Friedman had once labeled Canelli an innocent abroad, the only Homicide detective in recent memory who periodically got his feelings hurt. Like Friedman, Canelli weighed about two hundred forty, not all of it muscle.

“Okay—” Hastings nodded. “Anything else?”

“Yessir. That’s what I really wanted to tell you. There’s a dead one out at Baker Beach, in the Presidio. I got it about ten minutes to nine, but I thought I’d wait for you.”

Hastings glanced out into the inspectors’ squadroom. Of the thirteen men who worked Homicide, only three were at their desks. Three, plus Canelli.

“Is the scene covered?”

“No problem. There’s about four units there. Rafferty, from the Park Station, is in charge. They’ve got the tapes up, and everything, and there aren’t many rubberneckers around, especially at this time of day—a few dog walkers and some joggers, that’s about it. So everything’s cool. Some jogger, she found the body—or her dog, I guess. Rafferty’s holding them at the scene. The jogger’s pretty pissed about it. She’s very upscale, Rafferty says. Drives a BMW, and everything. She’s got a poodle, too. In fact, according to Rafferty, the poodle sniffed out the body.”

“Why don’t you go out, get things started? I’ll call the lab and the ME. I’ve got maybe five other calls I’ve got to make. Then I’ll be out.”

6

HASTINGS PULLED THE UNMARKED car to the curb, opened the glove compartment. Except for a plastic-coated registration certificate, the compartment was empty. Someone had taken the city map, probably the same slob who’d left the floor littered with takeout food wrappers.

Baker Beach…

Drive to the foot of Thirty-fifth Avenue, he’d thought, enter the Presidio, turn left, and the beach was right there.

Thirty-fifth Avenue?

Or Twenty-fifth?

Yes, dammit, Twenty-fifth. If it wasn’t Thirty-fifth, it must be Twenty-fifth. He signaled for the turn, found himself on Clement Street, driving east toward the green hills of the Presidio, a verdant contrast to the surrounding urban sprawl. Built in the nineteenth century, the Presidio originally had served to guard the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Now the Presidio was the garden-spot headquarters of the Sixth Army, plush duty for officers and enlisted men with retirement on their minds. One of San Francisco’s pleasant little surprises, Baker Beach offered a picture-postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge, curving over the narrows and into the Marin County headlands to the north. Because Baker Beach was open to the public, it was policed by both the Sixth Army and the San Francisco police.

Twenty-sixth was next, then Twenty-fifth. He signaled, made the turn. Yes, the waters of the bay were just down the hill, sparkling blue beneath a cloudless sky. Just out to sea, a container ship was maneuvering to pass beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the bottom of the hill he turned into the Presidio, then turned down to the beach and the shoreline. In a graveled parking lot he saw the familiar array of official vehicles: the coroner’s van, the forensics van, two black-and-white sector cars, two MP cars, and Canelli’s unmarked cruiser. Yellow crime scene tape outlined a white Japanese sports coupe and bracketed the low shrubbery on the east border of the parking lot. On the beach, a few random figures strolled along the shoreline, a few dogs frisked at the water’s edge. Facing the taped-off section of low brush, Canelli stood with a lab technician. As Canelli pointed, the technician was nodding. Yes, he understood Canelli’s instructions. Out of long habit, Hastings took his plastic ID plaque from his jacket pocket, clipped it to his lapel. Sensing a superior officer’s presence at the scene, Canelli turned as Hastings approached. The two homicide detectives stepped carefully over the yellow tape, solemnly walked side by side to the white sports coupe, a Nissan 240 SX. According to protocol, the technicians drew back out of earshot, busying themselves at their work.

“The first thing I should tell you, I guess,” Canelli said, “is that the lady who found the body—she’s the one in that dark gray BMW, with her dog—she’s pissed. She discovered the body about seven forty-five, when she was jogging. She’s got a car phone, naturally, and she called it in about eight o’clock, give or take, I haven’t checked that out yet with Communications. But, anyhow, she’s some kind of a real high-powered business consultant, the way I get it. And she’s got to get to her computer, she says, start making deals. The sector guys didn’t want to cut her loose until I got here, and I didn’t want to cut her loose till you got here. So, like I said, she’s steamed. She’s been on her car phone the whole time.”

Hastings glanced at the BMW, parked a hundred feet away. Sitting on the far side of the car, the woman was indistinct. The poodle, sitting behind the steering wheel, stared steadily at Hastings. The woman was talking into her car phone. After a moment, Hastings turned his attention to the Nissan.

“Don’t worry about her. Tell me how it goes, here.”

“Right.” Canelli stepped closer, pointed to the car’s interior. The seat on the driver’s side was blood soaked, the window and door on the driver’s side were blood spattered. Blood ran in three rivulets down the inside of the windshield above the steering wheel.

“The way I get it,” Canelli said, “this beach is the only part of the Presidio that’s in our jurisdiction. The duty commander went off duty at eight o’clock, so I don’t have anything solid. But Callahan—” He pointed to a patrolman, arms folded, leaning against the side of his unit. “Callahan says we make it maybe twice an hour. The MPs, I guess they do better than that, but they aren’t saying much, at least not to me.” Canelli shot an aggrieved look at the two MP units. In each unit, two white-helmeted MPs sat stiffly, both men staring straight ahead. “The way I get it, they don’t talk until there’s an officer with them. Anyhow, they aren’t talking to me.”

“Don’t worry about them. Go ahead.”

“The way I figure it,” Canelli said, “she parked here sometime between eleven o’clock and midnight. Like I say, we should be able to pin it down once we get the sector reports for last night. But, anyhow, it’s a pretty good guess that she was sitting behind the wheel when she was shot. Maybe the assailant was sitting beside her, or maybe he was outside, shooting through the open door, or maybe the window. The lab’ll tell us if there’re powder burns, I guess. But then the assailant probably walked around the car and opened the driver’s door and pulled her out. There’s blood beneath the door outside on the driver’s side. So then—” He pointed to the taped-off section of low-growing scrub that began about twenty feet from where they stood. “Then he dragged her in there, and that’s where Jessica Farr found her. That’s the jogger with the poodle. Jessica Farr. And the victim’s name was Lisa Franklin, by the way.”

“How do you know that?”

Canelli pointed to the car. “Her purse is on the floor, which is hard to figure. I mean, jeez, the car was apparently here all night, all bloody, with the doors unlocked and a purse with money in it on the floor in front, just sitting there, and nothing was touched. And what’s more, our guys didn’t even bother to check it out, shine a flashlight inside, nothing.” Canelli shook his head dolefully. “It makes you wonder.”

“How much money did she have?”

“About sixty dollars. No credit cards, though, so I’ll check on that. And there’s a can of Mace.”

“So she wasn’t expecting foul play.”

“Or else didn’t have time to react.”

Hastings nodded agreement, circled the car to examine the bloodstains beneath the driver’s door, then pointed to the shrubbery that was bracketed by the tapes. “Is she still in there?”

“Yessir. I figured I’d wait for you, to move her.”

Hastings pointed to the taped-off section of the graveled parking lot that led into the underbrush. The trail was clear: a continuous shallow depression where the victim had been dragged. “Has all this been processed?”

Plainly registering pride in his job performance, Canelli’s soft-eyed face broke into a shy smile as he said, “Three sets of pictures, everything labeled. Plus dirt samples. Blood, too.”

“So it’s okay to walk between the tapes.”

“Yessir. And the body, everything’s done there, too. She’s all set to go.”

“You go ahead.”

Canelli began advancing. Neither man stepped between the parallel furrows. As they came close to the underbrush, Hastings saw dried blood on branches and leaves. Gingerly Canelli grasped a branch, pulling it back to reveal most of the body. Still holding the branch back, Canelli moved aside, making room for Hastings.

The murderer had left her lying faceup, with her arms extended over her head, feet together. She was probably in her middle twenties, dark haired, slim, full breasted, dressed with a free-spirited flair. From her throat to her waist, her vividly styled clothing was blood soaked. Her eyes were open wide, staring up at the bright blue October sky. Her features were regular; if her facial muscles hadn’t been contorted by death’s final agony, she might have been beautiful. Because she’d been lying for so long in the open air, and because a stiff breeze was blowing in from the ocean, there was no odor.

Stepping back, over the tape, Hastings signaled for Canelli to let the branch spring back into place.

“What’s the ME say?”

“Pretty much what you’d think,” Canelli said. “Dead for eight to twelve hours, probably. They’ll know better when they move the body, get her clothes off, take her temperature. He says it looks like two gunshots, one through the thorax, one maybe through the heart. He’ll know more when he gets her downtown.” Canelli paused, then added softly: “He says she had a real nice body, as much as he could see.”

“It doesn’t look like sex.”

“And if it wasn’t robbery, then someone just wanted to kill her, it seems like.”

“Do you have an address for her?”

“Yessir, I do.” Canelli began exploring the pockets of a badly fitting corduroy sports jacket, finally found his notebook. He flipped through the pages, frowning. Finally, a pleasant surprise, he nodded. “Yeah, here it is. Eighteen thirty-two Page Street. It’s in the Haight, I looked it up.”

“Is the car registered to her?”

“Yessir. Same address. Nice car. Twenty, twenty-five thousand, out the door.”

“You finish up here. I’ll start at her place and see how it goes. I’ll meet you at the Hall, let’s say about four o’clock.”

“What about Jessica Farr?”

“You deal with her.”

“What about the MPs? There’s supposed to be a couple of officers on the way. They’ll want to talk to someone with a little rank.”

“That’s easy. Tell them to get in touch with Lieutenant Friedman, at the Hall.”

Doubtfully, Canelli frowned. “Lieutenant Friedman’s having a root canal this morning.”

“All the better. See you about four.”

“Hmmm.”

7

MANY OF THE BUILDINGS in the eighteen-hundred block of Page Street had narrowly escaped the earthquake and fire of 1906. They’d originally been tall, narrow, dignified post-Victorian houses, all of them at least two stories, some of them built as single-family dwellings, some two-family flats. Located in the heart of the Haight Ashbury district, Page Street had aged gracefully until the sixties when the flower children had come, the vanguard of the drug culture, and the area had declined. A decade later, after sodium streetlights had been installed on Haight Street and the shop fronts had been barred and the city had allocated more money for garbage collection and the aging hippies had either burned out or moved on or else begun wearing three-piece suits, the Haight Ashbury began its slow climb back.

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