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Chloe Rossi wants to retire with her husband and move away from suburban sprawl to bucolic Morelville; the only trouble is, Morelville is experiencing its worst crime wave ever and Marco Rossi wants no part of a move there. What to do?Faye Crane would like nothing more than to have her good friend Chloe move closer to her and to Chloe’s own daughter. She’s got Chloe convinced it’s a smart move but Marco is a tougher nut to crack. A string of brutal, ritualistic style murders around Halloween with no witnesses and little evidence to work with has Fayes’ Sheriff daughter and her entire department stymied. Marco is second guessing even taking his retirement since Sheriff Mel can’t get a handle on the killings and bring peace and wellbeing back to the tiny village.Someone has to root out a killer. Can Faye and Chloe nose around and figure out what the police can’t to solve the crimes? If they do, will Marco still waver or will he consent to move? This is the first book in a new spin-off series from the Morelville Mysteries series by Anne Hagan. The book stands alone but, if you’re interested in getting all of the Crane and Rossi families back story, you should check out the fifth book in the first series, Viva Mama Rossi!If Faye and Chloe were 35 years younger, they could give Stephanie Plum and Lula, from the Janet Evanovich series that features them, a run for their money. They aren't quite to the Miss Marple stage from the Agatha Christie novels yet but they do have to work crime solving in, in between caring for their demanding spouses - something the spinster Jane Marple never had to worry about - and around the needs of their overactive bladders. Too much coffee during the day is never a good thing during late evening stakeouts.
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A Morelville Cozy – Book 1
To the Actors and Staff of Hagan’s House of Horrors
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2015
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 – Haunted
Chapter 2 – Passing
Chapter 3 – Inquiring Minds
Chapter 4 – Gossip
Chapter 7 – Aftermath
Chapter 8 – Barb’s House
Chapter 9 – Road Trip
Chapter 10 – Veterans
Chapter 11 – Dead Ends & New Beginnings
Chapter 12 – Cat Lady
Chapter 13 – Framed
Chapter 15 – Again!
Chapter 16 – For Sale
Chapter 17 – The Missus
Chapter 20 – Gunsmith
Chapter 21 – Chased
Chapter 22 – The Plot Thickens
Chapter 23 – Ulterior Motives
Chapter 25 – Off Track
Chapter 26 – A Chance Meeting
Chapter 27 – Police Business
Chapter 28 – No Trespassing
Chapter 29 – What’s Your Bid?
Chapter 30 – Denouement
About the Author
Check Anne Out on her blog, on Facebook or on Twitter:
Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Fall Festival – Morelville, Ohio
“Arrrrgh! Don’t touch me! Get away! Get away!” The teenage girl clung to her boyfriend and edged him out of the room as quickly as she could. He drug his feet, laughing all the while, enjoying the show.
Dana smirked from behind her secret security vantage point. Just another satisfied customer.
Her earpiece buzzed, “What’s your location Crane?”
Speaking softly into her mike, she replied, “Sector 2 viewpoint.”
“Roger. Visitor incoming.”
Dana half turned and faced the entry door into the closet sized room. Moments later her mother came through from the access hallway and closed the door softly behind her.
Chloe smiled at Dana and handed her a cup of apple cider. “How’s it going, so far?” she whispered.
Looking through the two-way mirror at the parlor set on the other side, she caught sight of one of the actors taking a quick swig of a Coke he’d been hiding behind a stand. There were no customers in the room. “Great. No security or safety problems to speak of. I don’t think there have been any technical glitches either. I’d forgotten how much fun this stuff is. Makes me wish I was out there in the mix, scaring some folks.”
“You’re just like your father, I swear!” Chloe’s voice rose but then she lowered it again. “Maybe next year we can get him up here for the festival and you two can reprise one of your old roles.”
It was Dana’s turn to smile, “I’d like that.”
“There’s been a line out the door for the past couple of hours for this. It seems to be slowing a little now though.”
“Mama, we both know how this goes; Halloween night is the big night for us. We’ll be totally swamped tomorrow night.” Dana set the cup down, stood and stretched. “How’s it going on the festival side?”
“Good, I think,” Chloe told her. “We’ve sold a lot of food; I can tell you that. The craft vendors all seem to be busy too and the bands’ been keeping them toe tapping.” Turning back toward the door then, she said, “I best be getting back to the kitchen. They need a lot of hands for cleanup.”
“And I best make a round of the circuit and make sure everything’s okay.”
“Kill, kill, kill!” The four Quadvillians stood in a circle, masks off, hands in, shouting their motto.
Craig Stroud walked into the ready area, already laughing. “Great show tonight people,” he announced to the assembled actors who were busy removing costumes and makeup. “Quads, you guys get better every year. You four really nailed your scenes tonight.” He looked about the room, “Harris, Crumley, great job in the clown scene. A couple people...ahem...came out of there with wet pants.”
“That’s what I like to hear!” Crumley shouted back. Several people clapped.
“Really,” Stroud continued, “A great job by everyone involved. We raised a few thousand for the community center tonight and people really had a good time. That said, we can expect a bigger crowd tomorrow night and, I suspect, more than a few return visitors who were scared enough to run through tonight who may take it a little slower tomorrow...” He grinned.
“We’re on starting at 8:00 tomorrow night. Be prepared to be on set until after midnight. This entry,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, “will be open at 6:30 for costuming and makeup.” Looking at Dana, he asked, “Is your mom still on board for makeup again tomorrow?”
She nodded, “Absolutely. She wouldn’t miss it.”
“Alright then, it’s a wrap everyone. Make sure your area is clear and then have a nice evening.”
Dana looked at Craig, “Do you want help closing up?”
“Thanks, but I can get what’s left once everyone clears out. Why don’t you go on home? We’ve got a long night ahead of us tomorrow.”
Dana nodded, “Okay then. I’ll be along about 6:00 with mom because she’s doing food again too. While she gets things going in the kitchen, I’ll get her makeup kit set up back here.”
Dana walked out of the area of the old school building turned community center that had been cordoned off for the haunted house and into the gymnasium. It was empty save for the stanchions and ropes for the waiting line and the inside food line for haunt goers. Dana crossed the floor and made her way to the cafeteria and kitchen.
She smiled at Beth and Cole when she spied them sitting in the cafeteria arguing over a pile of cookies on a plate between them. Taking one, she asked, “What have you two been up to?”
Her niece told her, “Cole spent all the money mom gave him about five minutes after we got up here so he’s been tagging around bugging me and my friends ever since!”
“No I haven’t!”
“You have too!”
“Stop, stop, stop, both of you.” Dana’s voice remained controlled in the face of their bickering, “Where’s your mom now?”
She had to go pick Lance up at the terminal. He worked late tonight,” Beth replied. “Aunt Mel’s still here though. She’s out directing traffic.”
Cole made a face, “She told us to wait in here, out of the way.”
“Good plan. Hang loose for a few more minutes. I’m going to check on your grandma and my mom in the kitchen.”
Faye Crane was up to her elbows in suds at one end of the triple sink. Dana touched her shoulder as she moved past her and snuck up behind her own mother working with another woman stacking metal chafing pans on wire racks.
Chloe turned, “Really? You really thought you could scare me?”
“It was worth a shot Mama. I don’t get many opportunities.”
Mother swatted at daughter, “You’ve had plenty! You and your brothers are the reason I’m going gray.”
Changing subjects, Dana asked her, “So when do you think you’ll be finished here?”
Faye called over from the sink, “Take her home now. She worked for Barb all day and she’s been here all evening; she’s whipped. We’re almost done anyway.” She was quiet for a beat and then she added, “And hey, if you don’t mind, could you drop the kids off at their house? They have school tomorrow and they’re just underfoot here.”
“No problem,” Dana told her mother-in-law. Over her shoulder to her own mother who was still standing by the pot rack, she said, “Gather up your stuff Mama and let’s get going.”
I finished up at the sink and drained the basins. I was giving them a good rinsing down when Old Man Purcell came into the kitchen pushing his squeaky wheeled mop bucket. I ignored him until he started hollering at the volunteers.
“Why are ya’ll still in here? You should’a been gone by now. You’re messing up my whole routine! Why can’t you get it right?”
The man always grated on my last nerve but now he was just being downright rude and I was incensed. I stomped over to him and got in his face, “There’s no call for you to be so rude Purcell! These people all volunteers,” I swung my arm around to indicate the other three women and one man still remaining in the kitchen, “and they’ve been working to raise money for this community and this center tonight; money that helps to pay your salary to clean this place!”
Purcell didn’t back down. He harrumphed and shook his head vigorously, “Shoulda’ known it was you that was trying to run this little fiasco. You never could get your act together. Anyone else would have had their crew out of here when the last customer left and I’da been able to mop the kitchen, then the cafeteria, then the gym and work my way out like but nooooo, you have to mess me all up!”
“You’re a royal pain Old Man! You know that, right? Go mop the gym...we’ll all be out of here within the next ten minutes or so.”
Purcell grumbled and mumbled and I, admittedly losing my temper with his antics, shot back a few choice words but he eventually went on his way.
Once he was out of sight I said, “Everyone, I apologize for that. I lost my cool.”
“It’s okay, Faye,” Judy Wright said. He was way out of line. Just forget about it.”
“Thanks for that.” Taking a deep breath, I continued, “We had a great night tonight. The final concessions total isn’t in yet because I haven’t had time to count it all up but we had nice weather and a good sized crowd from all over that ate quite a bit. I think...no, I know, we did well.” The little knot of volunteers was now all smiles.
“I’m working tomorrow night but Stephanie’s in charge. If you’re scheduled to work with her, she wants everyone here by 7:00. If you have food to drop off, the main door through the gym will be open at 6:00.”
“Thank you everyone for your donations of food and other items and for your help tonight. We’re done here. You can all go. I’ll take care of the final checks myself.”
Old Man Purcell was still pushing a dust mop on the gym floor when I purposely turned out the lights in the cafeteria that stood between it and the kitchen. He sneered at me, fully understanding what I’d done.
“Bout time Faye!”
“I’m leaving. Goodbye!” And good riddance...
As I made my way to the door, he wobbled across the floor from the other direction and came up behind me. I was no sooner clear of the door than he yanked it closed. I heard the latch click into place locking himself in and me out.
Friday, October 31st, 2014
6:00 PM, Fall Festival, Morelville, Ohio
Chloe Rossi led the charge into the community center as Stephanie Rogers unlocked the main door and swung it open for the waiting group. Chloe marched ahead with a crockpot full of steaming shredded chicken for sandwiches and Faye’s grandchildren in tow both carrying cases of hamburger sized buns.
Dana, who’d arrived with them, lingered outside, her Boston terrier ‘Boo’ on a leash.
“What a cute little dog,” Stephanie said as she stooped down to ruffle Boo’s ears.
Boo responded by bathing the young woman’s face with her tongue.
“Boo! Down!” Dana yanked her back gently. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. I love dogs and she’s just a cutie!” Standing up and meeting Dana’s eyes, she asked, “Aren’t you coming in?”
“Um, no. Not with her. Beth insisted on bringing her since her name is ‘Boo’ but she doesn’t need to be in there and near the food.”
“Oh, but you work in the haunted house, right? She won’t hurt anything in there and,” she wiggled a finger at Boo, “maybe I can get away and bring her a treat later” At the word treat, the pup wagged her tail and circled Stephanie, wrapping her in most of the length of her retractable leash.
“Heel Boo, heel!” Dana tried to tug her back the way she’d gone as Stephanie, laughing, stepped through the circle of the cord. “We’ve started training but, as you can see, she’s not doing so hot.”
“She’s fine. Just take her on in. What damage could she possibly do?”
By the time Dana stepped through the door into the gymnasium, her mother and both of her sister-in-law Kris’s kids had disappeared into the cafeteria and beyond. Keeping Boo on a shorter lead with one hand and pulling her mother’s rolling scare kit along with the other, she made her way into the haunt.
She stopped up short in the actors costuming area and, after flipping on the lights, took a quick look around.
“Ah ha,” she said, spying a desk against one wall that was serving as a makeup dressing table, “that should hold you!” Leaving the kit for a minute, she walked Boo over to the heavy desk and looped one end of the leash around a leg. “Just try pulling that around little missy.”
Beth ducked her head into the room, “Aunt Dana?”
“They have lots of help in the kitchen. Your mom said she’ll be in here in a few for when the actors start coming in. I’m going to sit out in the gym and wait for Craig to see if he’ll let me help him check the sets tonight.”
“Okay. If he says yes, you do exactly what he tells you and don’t touch anything he doesn’t tell you to touch, got it?”
The teenager replied, “Got it,” and nodded then went back the way she’d come in.
Dana rolled her mother’s makeup kit over to a table, took a seat in one of the padded folding chairs that were pulled up to it and began opening the drawers of the case. She worked quickly and silently to lay out the tools and makeup her mother would need to help the haunt actors get into character.
Ten minutes later, she was almost finished, when Chloe walked into the room.
“Aww, sweetie, thanks so much for doing that. It’s a big help. The crew will start trickling in any minute.”
“That reminds me; I need to make sure their door is unlocked.” Dana wandered over to the emergency exit that was temporarily being used by actors that arrived in partial or full costume so they wouldn’t be seen by haunt goers. After looking at the door, she realized it was already unbolted.
“Now that’s odd; it isn’t locked. I know Craig locked it last night after some of the folks used it to leave. Right after that, I left him back here and went out through the gym. This isn’t cool. Maybe I better take a walk around and see if anything is missing.”
“Speaking of missing dear, where’s Boo?”
“She’s right over there,” Dana replied, pointing toward the desk.
“No she isn’t. Her leash and collar are there but she isn’t.”
“I see that now,” Dana confirmed as she swung in a circle.
“Boo! Boo! Boo come!” she called.
She listened and waited but the little dog didn’t come into the wardrobe room.
Chloe walked to the gym side door and called out, “Boo!” paused and waited, then called “Boo!” once more.
Dana, frustration clear on her face, went toward the actors’ entrance into the haunt and called out for the little dog yet again. The dog didn’t come to her. “I’ll bet she’s gone and found Beth who’s running around here somewhere. She wanted to help with sets. Her and that dog are inseparable these days. You’d think she was hers, not mine.”
“Well, let me help you find her and I’ll just run her back to your house real quick. She doesn’t need to be here underfoot anyway.”
Dana grabbed a flashlight. “I’ll start looking through the haunted house. Why don’t you see if you can round up the kids and have them help find her?”
“The kids are right here,” Cole spoke up as he and his sister strolled in. “We heard you calling for Boo.”
“She wasn’t with you?” Chloe asked Beth.
The girl shook her head no.
“Alright everyone, you two go with my mama that way,” Dana said, pointing left into the access hallway that circled the haunt, “and I’ll go this way.” She turned on a flashlight and moved to the right, hitting the small nightlight switches that would give dim light to the pathway for the actors as she went.
Right away, by the light of her cell phone, Chloe managed to find the actor’s entry to one of the rooms ajar. “Oh, she’s so little,” she told the kids, “she could have easily slipped through here and now she could be in any of the sets.”
“We’ll never find her in there now,” Cole whined.
“Nonsense,” Chloe said firmly. “One of you turn on a light app on your phone and let’s go. I know you both have those fancy phones!”
“Not me,” Cole replied.
“Yes you do,” Beth ratted him out.
“No, I mean I’m not going in there.”
“You’re a scaredy cat! You’re almost 16 years old and you’re afraid! I’m telling all your friends,” Beth jeered at him.
“I’m not scared. I just think she’s probably in this hallway is all.” With that, he continued down the darkened access hall flipping on the little lights as he went as he’d seen Dana do.
Beth turned on her flashlight app and handed her phone to Chloe. “Here, you lead.”
They moved into the interior of the haunted house and started calling for Boo. Beth stayed close behind her aunt’s mother.
The first two rooms yielded nothing but darkness and props. Going into the third room, Chloe thought she saw a flash of something moving. She shone her light around toward the floor but she didn’t see anything else.
“This room is creepy,” Beth said.
“This one? You didn’t think that last one with all the clown stuff was but this one with a basic vampire layout is creepy? Baby, this one’s all about the actor that plays the vampire. There’s hardly anything else here; Look.” Chloe shone the light briefly on the bier where the vampire’s victim lay. A mannequin was in place on top.
Spying movement again in the flash of the light, she quickly aimed the phone toward the floor and caught Boo lapping at the fake blood the vampire actor periodically spilled on his even more fake victim.
“Boo, no! Bad!” she called to the dog. It stopped lapping and watched her approach. “That stuff can’t be good for you little girl. Come here.”
Chloe bent at the waist and reached for the dog but it skittered just out of range. “Come on Boo, come,” she called to it. The dog just sat there a couple of feet past the bier.
“My,” Chloe said to Beth, “He really poured it on with the blood last night. It’s all over the floor. I see the janitor’s mop bucket in here...I wonder why he didn’t clean it... AHHHHHHHHHH!”
Her scream rang out, piercing the quiet of the darkness. The little dog took off through the haunt and Beth, not even knowing what Chloe had seen, bolted too, back the way they’d come.
“Dana! Dana! Dana!” her mother screamed.
“Dana charged through the access door from the outer hallway and shone her light at her mother. Chloe pointed a shaky finger toward the bier.
On it lay Old Man Purcell, a stake through his heart.
Halloween night, Friday, October 31st, 2014
Sheriff Melissa ‘Mel’ Crane looked at the body on the bier. Addressing her lead detective, Shane Harding, she told him, “It’s the community center janitor, Old Man Purcell.”
“Old man?” Shane raised his eyebrows.
“His real name is...was...Lawrence, after ‘Lawrence of Arabia, the famous soldier and diplomat who died earlier in the year that Purcell was born. He was no Lawrence of Arabia though; I’ll tell you that. He was only in his mid to late seventies but everyone around here called him ‘Old Man Purcell’ for as long as I can remember.”
“Who would have wanted Purcell dead?”
“Off the top of my head, I can think of several people in town who probably won’t be sorry that he’s gone, God rest his soul.” She shook her head and then, glancing behind her at the sound of footsteps, made way for the forensic team as they came into the room.
“We haven’t touched anything in here but,” she told them, “I’m here to tell you this place was open to the public as a haunted house last night so you’ve got your work cut out for you. I’d concentrate right around him, on that stake, and also dust down his mop and bucket. He’d have likely brought those in here. Anything else could be from anybody in a five county area, maybe farther. The coroner is enroute so hold off on pulling the stake for evidence until he gets a look at everything.”
Mel tipped her head to Shane and pointed to the doorway out to the hall and gymnasium. He stepped through it and she followed. She stopped when they reached the hardwood and rubbed her face with her hands.
“This is crazy, isn’t it Sheriff,” Harding stated more than asked, as he observed her actions. “We didn’t have a murder in the county for a few years and now, all of a sudden...they’re just dropping like...like flies.”
“Yeah, its been crazy alright. And, what’s worse, this looks like some sort of ritualistic vampire killing sort of thing; it’s just nuts.”
Mel took a quick look around and then focused on Shane again, “Look, I’ve got Treadway out there keeping the crowds that thought they were coming to a festival and a haunted house at bay while the vendors that were setting up for the evening close up. I need to pull him off that detail, put someone else out there, and get him in here to help us interview.
“I’ll start rounding up the staff that was here last night, that’s already on site tonight, and put them in the cafeteria, boss.”
“Chloe Rossi and Dana are the only ones here right now Shane who know for sure who’s in there,” Mel pointed back toward the haunt. “They’re in the actor’s area. Continue to keep them in there, separated from everyone else.”
“I never even met the man before, Mel. Seeing him there, even though it was so dark, I just knew it was a real person because I helped the actor that’s the vampire with a little costume issue yesterday. He does his own make-up, you know.”
“Chloe, I’m not making a connection here; how did helping him tell you the victim in there was real?”
“Oh, I asked him about his set while I was fixing his tear and he told me he had a very lifelike, female mannequin prop he used. He said it was too hard to get a live person to lay on that thing for hours at a time, and all.”
“Female huh? Hang on a second.” Mel keyed her mic, “Harding?”
“Yes Sheriff,” He responded.
“Check the crime scene for a female mannequin the vampire actor would have used on that set and call me right back.”
A few minutes passed before Harding responded back, “Negative on the mannequin Sheriff.”
“Grab a couple of officers and turn this place upside down. We need to find that.”
“Mel, all the actors left before I did. Most of them kept to the code. If they were in street clothes, they went out the door and through the gym to the main lot. If they were still in any part of a costume, they used the interior door from the service area so no one would see them.”
“If you want to be believable in this business, you can’t be walking around among the public in partial costume.”
“Okay. So, what happened after the actors left?”
“Craig locked the interior door over there. I saw him do it. I asked him if he wanted help closing down. He told me he had it, to go on home. He said tonight would be a long one.”
“He wasn’t kidding there!”
Dana shuddered and then corrected her, “He meant because it’s Halloween Mel. They were expecting 1,500 or so people to wander through here tonight let alone what came for the festival that were too chicken to do the haunted house.”
Mel stretched her neck from side to side, “I knew what you meant, sorry. Can you remember anything else?”
“No. Until I came in today and found that door unlocked, everything was normal, run of the mill stuff. I collected up my mom last night and your sister’s kids. I dropped the kids off and mom and I went to our house. You know the rest.”
“Had you met the victim, Lawrence Purcell?”
“No. Today was the first...and last time I’ve ever seen him.”
“Sheriff? When she turned to face him, Harding continued, this is Rich Johnson.”
Mel interrupted, “I know Rich, Shane.”
“He’s the vampire actor.”
“Oh, well, I didn’t know that.”
Rich chuckled then cleared his throat, “Sorry, didn’t mean to laugh in the face of an actual death. That was crass. It’s just that I keep doing this kind of stuff under my hat. It adds to the mystique.”
“Ah. Yes, I can see that...sort of like the code...”
“The what Mel?”
“Never mind that. Shane, I presume you and Rich have something to tell me?”
“Unfortunately, no. We’ve turned this place upside down like you asked and Rich here helped. We can’t find the mannequin he usually uses anywhere.”
“Nowhere?” She looked at Rich.
“No, sorry. I’ve used her for the last couple of years. Amy and I actually made her. She’s nowhere to be found.”
“Well that’s not good news.”
“Mr. Johnson, I appreciate your help,” Shane thanked him. “If you’ll excuse us?”
“Oh, sure, sure. No problem. I’ll let you know if Victoria mysteriously shows up...that’s uh...that’s what my wife and I named her, Victoria.”
Johnson sketched a wave and backed out of the room.
“Man,” Shane railed, “some of these folks I’ve talked to tonight are just plain weird, especially the ones involved in the haunted house end of this wingding.”
“I think you have to be on the weird side to do this, Shane,” Mel rolled her eyes. “Anyway, did you have something else to tell me?”
“Well, yeah, there’s no easy way to say this but I, uh, um...I talked to a couple of people who helped in the kitchen last night that showed up again tonight. They both told me that your mother was in charge last night and that she got into it with Purcell late, after the festival closed and they were cleaning up.”
Mel didn’t blink.
Shane continued, “I’m sorry to have to break that to you but, well, do you want me to interview her or...I don’t know, how do you want to handle that?”
“Look, I’m not at all surprised my mother got into it with him. Their feud goes way back. It’s a long story but not a violent one. I guess what I really need to know right now is what the witnesses said they were arguing about Shane.”
“Their stories differ a little but the gist is that Purcell was mad that they were still in the kitchen cleaning after closing; he said they were messing up his cleaning routine. They both said she got in his face. What differs is what they say she said to him.”
“Shane, did she threaten to kill him?”
“No; neither one of them said she said anything like that. One did say there was quite a bit of swearing involved...on both sides.”
“Again, I’m not surprised. Here’s what I want you to do: If you haven’t already, I want you to get formal statements from both of them and interview my mother for her statement. I’ll stay out of that completely. No bias Shane. Just get their statements. If there comes a time when my mom looks like a suspect, I’ll cross that bridge then.”
“Craig Stroud is out there. He won’t talk to anyone but you Sheriff. He was apparently the last one out of the haunted house side last night.”
“Yes, Dana confirmed that when she left, he was here but everyone else was already gone.”
“Well, apparently, Stroud and your mom were the last ones to see Purcell alive.”
“How long have you been doing this Craig?”
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