SPEEDLUST

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Chapter 35

After Watkins Glen the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Pete Miles had to put on extra staff and Jake hired a marketing strategist that Steele had been pushing for.

“This guy can get the big bucks!” Steele had spoken with great enthusiasm about expansion into other leagues and that took money and “with this guy…we don’t spend our own!”

Jake was loyal and preferred to carry his sponsors along with him wherever he went…a horse you rode in on mentality.

“Jake, what you have going today?” Steele had stuck his head into Jake’s office. Before Jake could respond Steele followed with, “I’ve got’em getting the jet ready. Let’s fly over to Austin and look at this new track.

“Oh I don’t know…I’ve got these…” Jake saw the disappointment gathering up in Steele’s leathery old face, “Well, ok…yeah, let’s go!”

“Good! There’s an informal meeting of Formula One movers and shakers there this afternoon.”

An Austin used car dealer and some circle track race promoter, that had raced an I.M.C.A. modified once had somehow gotten twenty five million a year given to them from the State of Texas annually for ten years to subsidize a Formula One race right here in the Lone Star State. Steele knew these guys and lately had been showing a lot of interest in Formula One racing.

They landed at the abandoned air force base southeast of Austin. This base had been small, but was of huge importance locally for it’s financial impact. The US Government, while closing bases all across America had been building monstrosities in foreign lands, complete with palatial mansions for despots that answered to the Pentagon. Now this place just sat empty and weed covered.

The track actually adjoined this property and one of Steele’s friends had picked them up at their plane in an old Land Rover and drove them over to the track.

The track was below them and they stopped on the hillside to look it over. This viewpoint allowed them to see everything. It was just under three and a half miles long with drastic elevation changes, especially in turn one, which had a steep uphill into a hairpin turn then a downhill exit.

The turn one area was just below them, Steele had brought his binoculars and was studying a group of people at the start/finish line.

“Huh, that’s odd,” Steele hands the binoculars to Jake. “What do you make of that?”

Looking through the glasses, Jake first sees ‘Snake’ Santorin, Steele’s former driver. ‘Snake’ was smiling and speaking jocularly, so Jake almost didn’t recognize him as ‘Snake’ seldom smiled. ‘Snake’ was speaking to team Rhoad/Steele’s sponsor’s Suzanne Clark, Sandy Jones, Amelia and Dallas Stoudenmire!

“Who’s that down there?” Steele asked his friend.

“Oh, just some of the investors,” she looks through the binoculars, “yeah, they also have a new Daytona prototype team.”

“That’s our team,” Steele corrects her sounding relieved.

“Oh, Really?” Just conversational, not argumentative, “well, that red headed woman is really fast.”

“Yes…so you’ve seen her race?” Steele’s voice is full of pride.

“No, not race actually…just her testing around this place yesterday.”

“They were testing here yesterday?” Jake wades into the conversation.

“Yeah, in their or I guess I mean your Daytona prototype racecar,” she looked from Jake to Steele and back.

“I’m sorry where’s my manners, Jake this is my good friend, Samantha Shepherd,” Steele look embarrassed.

Jake shook hands with her, “It’s very nice to meet you Samantha…I’m Jake Rhoad.”

Sam… “It’s nice meeting you Jake.”

“That wasn’t our car here yesterday and we aren’t affiliated with ‘Snake’ in any way. The Stoudenmires there,” Jake nodded, “and Suzanne and Sandy are our sponsors…”

“Sandy also is one of our drivers,” Steele adds.

“We have no idea what they’re doing with this other team, but it looks like they’re shopping around.”

“Well, I’m sorry you found out this way…do y’all want to go on down?”

“No, Sam I think we’ve seen enough, what a wonderful track you have here.”

“Yes, if you could give us a ride back to the plane, we would sure appreciate it.”

Winging back to East Texas, Steele never brought the subject up so Jake said nothing, but his thoughts were running wild.

The next few weeks flew by. Jake spent most of his time with the race team, always trying to improve to find an advantage.

Four cars were built now all equal, all capable of winning. Reese, Joe, and Jessica were present most of the time, but Sandy was in New York and didn’t have the time to test.

Steele had communicated with her several times since their trip to Austin, but had never brought up the incident. Mostly Steele was gone, off flying about doing some deals that he was very tight lipped about.

Jake was in constant contact and the two obviously had something important in the works; the crew could sense something in the air.

Contractors showed up and began the work for a giant new building leading off to the rear of their present facility, Steele was adamant that it be constructed utilizing the same materials and techniques as their existing building.

Trucks began bringing in new machinery, more CNC milling machines and turning centers, plus an autoclave oven that was enormous.

“What the hell is that for, Jake?” Bob asked.

“Well, that’s an autoclave Bob, it bakes things under pressure,” Jake’s answer sounded very sincere.

“I know that, but why do we have one?” Bob sounded hurt that Jake would think he didn’t know what an autoclave was.

“To build stuff, Bob,” Jake responded, smiled a sly grin then walked off.

The cars were all finished, prepped, ready to race they were perfect. The crew had really gotten to the point that they functioned as one and really needed very little guidance.

Jake came upon Steele looking at their four cars all lined up, pride in his eye, looking over at Jake he commented, “Jake, I can’t believe our good fortune this year.”

Jake thought about his partner’s loss of an eye, all the controversy, the struggle, and now this betrayal. Steele was one of those spirits that inspire the rest of us mere mortals, an indomitable force and Jake felt privileged to be his partner.

“Well, you could also say its been quite a battle to get here.”

“A battle? Yes, I suppose, but that’s what has made us strong.” Emerson said it best when he said, “Success to the strongest, who are always, at last, the wisest and best.”

Steele smiled at Jake’s reply, “I like that…yes indeed…Emerson, eh? Does he run in GT?”

Jake laughed at that, as did Steele. Eddie drove up with the forklift carrying a pallet with a big block of aluminum.

“Now I’ve got one for you, Jake.”

“Oh Yeah? What is it?”

“From Homer…welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.”

Jake looked from Steele to this chunk of aluminum, and then eyes twinkling with excitement he looked up at Eddie, “What do you think of our new engine, Eddie?”

“An engine?” Eddie didn’t sound too enthused, “Looks like a block of aluminum to me.”

“No, it’s an engine. We just have to carve away the excess, but it’s there alright.”

“Well, there’s five more, uh, engines out there. Where do you want ‘em?”

“Just put them over by those...”

“What’s that?” Jake turned to look right into Sandy’s eyes, those treacherous, beautiful, green eyes.

“Hello Sandy didn’t expect to see you.”

“What’s that?” Sandy pointed at the aluminum.

“Why don’t you see that’s a ra…” Eddie blurts out.

“Just a chunk of metal, Sandy.” Jake abruptly interrupted Eddie. “Just put them over by those crates, Eddie.”

“What are they for?” Sandy was persistent.

“My you sure are interested in the strangest things, now aren’t you?” Steele sounded not just a little bit sarcastic.

“What are you dong here Sandy?” Jake changed the subject.

“Steele called and set up a meeting with Suzanne and me for this afternoon.”

Jake looked over at Steele.

“Oh, it’s just some sponsorship business, I just didn’t think you would be interested,” Steele looked up at his wall clock.

“Sandy you and Suzanne just go on in to the conference room and I’ll be right with you.”

Sandy actually looked put out, but turned and walked off in the direction of the offices.

“Jake, I know you have no taste for this stuff, but I had Joe look over our contracts with Sandy and Madison Avenue and Stoudenmire Investments, due to what we found out about in Austin. Joe suggested this meeting to clear the air and reaffirm our mutual commitments so to speak without actually tipping our hand.”

“How are we going to do that?”

“Simple, I’m just going to review our agreements and ask if they still plan on upholding their end of these agreements. They will either say yes and sign a reaffirmation agreement or say no and be subject to massive penalties, which are built into our agreements. This way they can’t claim a lack of performance quit claim.”

“No!” Jake’s voice was firm, “look Steele, we’re better than that.”

Steele looked hurt, surprised and hurt, “I just thought that this way…”

“Sure, I get you and yes that way would work, but it’s not me…not us,” Jake was adamant.

“Instead of contracts and papers, let’s just sit down and tell them that we know about Austin and see what they say.”

Steele looked a little sheepish, “Uh, well, yes that is a little more our style…look I was trying to do it right…but you’re right.”

“Ok, let’s do it,” Steele had recovered and was showing new resolve to handle this in a different way, but handling it.

Suzanne Clark was talking to some guy in a suit at the end of the hallway. They looked up, then quit talking and went in.

Jake entered the crowded conference room to find, along with Sandy and Suzanne, two men he didn’t know and the Stoudenmires. No one said a thing or even smiled at him.

Sandy adverted her eyes. Jake paused for just an instance, then went in and sat at the opposite end of the conference table.

Steele took a seat nearer to the group, leaving Jake alone at the one end.

One of the two men Jake had never met stood up.

“Ok…what we’ve called this meeting for was…”

Jake interrupted, “Who are you?”

“Oh…well, I’m Able Rubenstein and I represent Madison Av…”

“You’re an attorney?” Jake’s tone was seasoned with anger.

“Why…yes,” Mr. Rubenstein sounded intimidated.

“I asked to have a meeting,” Steele chimed in, “and I don’t recall inviting any attorneys.”

“That was my doing, Steele,” Suzanne’s voice was flat…her nasty business demeanor was in full swing.

“Yes, Stee…uh, Mr. Steele it seems as though we have…” The milk toast attorney was giving it another shot.

“Just what’s going on here?” Steele interrupted, now sounding angry.

“Well, if I may, I believe I can clear matters up.” The other stranger piped up and had a take charge attitude, “My name is”, he smiled at Jake, who had just started to ask who he was, “Hallie Gill and I’m an attorney representing Mr. and Mrs. Stoudenmire. The reason we are here today is to speak with you about your representation of my clients to the world with your auto racing team. It has come to my client’s attention and they wish for me to speak to you on their behalf concerning this matter, that you are currently under investigation by law enforcement agencies for a possible involvement in the homicide of Chad Johanson.”

Jake and Steele just sat there stunned.

“This investigation could lead to embarrassment for my clients and is in violation of the moral turpitude clause of my client’s contract with your auto racing team.”

“Why, no one’s even asked me any questions?” Steele had recovered his speech faculty.

“So you see that my client is in the position of being associated with a team that many may consider only being able to win by murdering its competition.”

Jake set forward suddenly slamming both hands hard on the conference table, “Listen hear!” Jake looked about burning into each of his group’s eyes, imposing his personality, his presence onto the scene.

“What should of happened here was for you to come and discuss your concerns…without these…” Jake never finished what was obviously going to be a statement of distaste for the presence of the attorneys.

“Steele was a victim of Johanson and yes that was reason enough, but Steele is not a murderer and if the investigators considered Steele a suspect, then why have they not even questioned him?”

“Actually, I believe that you, not Steele is the leading person of interest in their investigation.”

Jake couldn’t believe his ears, “How on earth could I be at the top of their list? Where did you get this information?”

Sandy looked to be in physical pain.

Suzanne’s voice was cold, “Two homicide investigators came to our offices, and they showed us a surveillance disc of you Jake.”

Jake had regained his composure, all the years of working under extreme pressure made this moment easy, “Well, Suzanne that, my dear, is impossible for one very simple fact, I didn’t murder Johanson.”

“It looked like you with a hood on.” Suzanne looked over to the rest of her support group for reassurance, “besides they know you were in New York that night.”

Steele now turned his eye on Jake.

“Yes, I was in New York that night. Me and about fourteen million other people.”

“Yes, but how many had a reason to kill Johanson?” The timid attorney had recovered.

“Oh, knowing him probably about ten thousand. Ok, so you have motive and opportunity, that still doesn’t mean I did it.”

“Why were you in New York that night?” Suzanne hadn’t thawed any.

“I don’t have to explain to you or to anyone.”

“Jake can’t you tell us, we’re your friends,” Amelia had a pleading tone.

“Friends? No, Amelia friends stick by you and they don’t bring accusations and attorneys.”

“So what is it that you want?” Steele’s voice had iron in it…he had heard enough.

“Well, with these developments, you can clearly see the predicament this places on my clients, so…”

“Let’s see, somebody gets so fed up with Johanson’s shit that they ace him and Jake was in New York then and might look like the killer, with a hood on, so you feel this might impact your client’s reputation. A client that already has breached the contract’s intellectual property clause and non-compete agreement by participating in a test session with a rival team without Rhoad/Steele’s consent or knowledge. Does that about sum up what you had in mind of saying.”

Now it was their turn to look stunned. The attorney loosened his tie and looked towards Dallas.

“Steele we certainly didn’t reveal any technical secrets at that, uh, test.”

“Oh, I guess you want us to trust you on that one…like you’ve trusted Jake and me?”

“None of this even considers the driver etiquette portion of Rhoad/Steele driver’s contract, which specifically addresses this particular event, that is, a driver that participates in another team’s testing or competes in their automobiles. All of this brings up the ethics of your clients and I suppose we will be giving a lot of this consideration in the near future. As far as your suggestion that Jake somehow muddied Madison Avenue’s or Stoudenmire Investment’s reputation…I suppose the only way to measure that would be financial records, which from what I’ve been able to gather, both companies have had remarkable returns from their involvement with our auto racing team. Isn’t that correct?”

“Well, yes that’s true.” Dallas spoke and then Steele turned his head towards Sandy and Suzanne.

“Suzanne? Sandy?”

“Yes Steele, but,” Suzanne drifted off and looked towards Jake. “I am sorry Jake, it’s just…”

“Ok, so now how about writing those sponsorship checks and let us get on with our business.” Steele cut Suzanne off and got right down to business.

“But what about the investigation?” Sandy asked.

“Until you all came down, I didn’t know anything about it, but there’s an old saying around here, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’, besides I’ve nothing to worry about…I didn’t kill him, someone else did. I was only in New York to see you; Sandy, but you had other plans. I was just arriving when you and Jeffery walked out and got into your limo,” Jake’s voice softened, “You were wearing an emerald green evening gown with a black shoulder wrap. I had my driver take me right back to the plane and I flew back to Texas…to my friends.”

The room was silent, all eyes were on Jake, and his pain was obvious, as was the shame on their faces, except for the attorneys who wore their usual contempt for their fellow man, with smirks as they mentally added their bills.

Jake rose and walked from the room clasping his partner’s shoulder with one quick grasp as he passed.

Suzanne was writing out a check, which she handed to Steele, “I am so ashamed.” She walked out.

Sandy was still staring where Jake had been, tears in her eyes.

“I’ll have to think this over and…”

“That’s your problem Dallas, you think too damn much…in your business that’s what the successful do, they analyze, examine, calculate…in this business we have to act, decisions are instantaneous, so you are either in or out…forget all that about breach of contract. I just threw that out there to distract your attorney, however it is true, but I…we won’t hold you to that, but make up your mind…then for heavens sake, stick to it!”

“Well, if you put it that way,” he reached in his coat pocket, pulled out an envelope and handed it to Steele, “I’ve always liked you and certainly I’m with you.”

“Thanks… oh, and Dallas…stay away from the competition.”

“Well, ok, for the season anyway…we’ll see about next year.”

Steele’s glance, up at Dallas, expressed his feelings better than words.

The Stoudenmires left, leaving only Steele and Sandy in the conference room.

“That Jake! He’s so damn hard to understand.”

“Really? I don’t find that to be the case at all,” Steele answered looking a bit disgusted. He stood up and began shuffling his papers together. “No, I find Jake to be like a breath of cool, clean air. Startling to some, doubtful to many, but not hard to understand…I love the guy…he’s probably the only true friend I’ve ever had. Turning on him that way…well, I guess that just makes you…average.” Steele turned and just left the room.

Sandy sat there alone in the big room. What just happened? The mind cleared to see the recent events in a different viewpoint and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Too many cheats and thieves, too many conniving deals, these had changed her…she had become what she hated…just about what everyone she knew had become. What had Steele called her? Average. Yes, typical was what she had become, never once through all the accusations, the pictures, had it ever occurred to her to come to Jake’s defense. Instead she had just done what comes naturally to the average person, look out for number one.

She felt ashamed and she felt something else from deep down inside her, manifesting itself in a cold sweat, she felt…alone.

“Fire it up!” These were the words he loved to speak. This was his world. A world where finding flaws, he could fix them. His destiny was in his hands, maybe once, but no longer. No, now he needed people as much as he hated to admit it. Reese, Steele, Joe, Bob, Jessica, Eddie…and yes, even Sandy, they were all a part of him now; he would never feel complete without them. Damn, this life was complicated. He had worked so hard.

Jake returned to the job at hand. A job that wasn’t subject to a crooked judge or a popularity contest. The only criteria that existed here could be measured with a stopwatch…speed.

That snarling, snapping, rasping sound reverberating off the walls of the speedway was an all-curing elixir for Jake. At times in his life it was all he had. The speed of his automobile, his iron nerve, his tenacity were all that had allowed him to claw and fight his way from poverty and obscurity. These were the memories conjured up by that sound and what Jake returned to when that feeling of loneliness struck him.

Joe was out on the track now. Heating Destiny’s tires, preparing for a quick run. Clouds were crossing quickly, blocking the sun’s rays, then exposing them, creating constantly changing light. The wind was up, blowing in off the Gulf, pendants flapping.

Eddie was setting tire pressures. Irving was watching Joe, his sunglasses hiding his eyes, his face expressionless. Reese was practicing tai chi, moving slowly, gracefully, his hands and arms making circular motions. Joe had taught this to Reese. Steele was speaking to a friend of his, that he had invited out to the test, a small, slim man, wearing a Tam-O’-Shanter, that spoke with a heavy Scottish accent.

Joe came by, a gleaming rocket all alone on this big track, a beauty on a fast track, speeding onward towards its unknown destiny.

“Carry me with you,” Jake thought out loud.

“What’s that, Jake?” Steele had approached with his friend.

“Oh, nothing,” Jake smiled his wry grin.

“Jake, I would like you to meet John Stewart…Jake Rhoad,” Jake shook hands…Stewart had a firm natural handshake.

All eyes returned to the track as Joe catapulted into the banking of turn one, defying gravity around the high banking, looking smooth and fast.

“Makes me want to go with him too, Jake,” John said with a wistful tone to his voice.

“Yes, but you know at those speeds you’re just one momentary lapse of concentration or one loose bolt from eternity.”

“Yes, I know that’s true,” John turned and looked into Jake’s eyes, “but why is it Jake that those of us who have experienced that and survived…long to do it again the rest of our lives?” His eyes were bright, shining with memories of that intoxicating speed. Jake decided he liked Mr. Stewart.

“If I knew that, I would probably be at home snuggled up to a beautiful woman or a good book.”

They all laughed at that, Steele adding, “Yeah, that would keep you interested, about one day, then you would be out back, building you some contraption that would no doubt go very fast!”

Jake wondered whom John Stewart was and what was he doing at their test. A lean sinewy, strong looking man of about fifty years of age, Jake guessed. He had the look of a man that had spent most of his time outdoors. A tan, leathery face had sharp angular features with deep set piercing blue eyes.

As Joe passed, John followed the car with his head, his face remaining expressionless, but his eyes conveyed a keen interest and displayed a sharp, intelligent mind lying just behind them.

“I was looking over your motor cars at your shop, last night.” Stewart was looking directly at Jake, “they are truly a work of art.”

“Thank you, our crew, all are craftsmen that take great pride in their work.”

“The design itself is ingenious.”

“Steele, bring this guy along anytime. He’s better than getting a back-rub.”

Their laughter was interrupted with Joe’s entry into the pit road.

The crew went about their respective duties measuring tire temperatures, putting a cooling fan on the radiator air inlet and inspecting various areas.

Joe climbed out of the cockpit and went over to consult with Reese and Jessica.

Jake could smell the hot tires, the brakes, the headers, and those smells were just as much a part of this life of auto racing as was the sights and sounds. They brought back memories of racetracks long since gone and desperate battles ending in brutal failure, glorious victory or something in between.

It was a leaner meaner Jake in those days. The hauler was an old pick up truck, the racecar didn’t have as many frills, but the competition was just as fierce. Those fumes were burning Jake’s eyes, but determination was burning in those eyes also. No way was he quitting, not now, not ever. This investigation, the betrayal, the crashes, the sabotage all had tried to break him, to put him that had dared, back in his place.

Jake just called on that inner strength, that calming force in his soul and success always followed.

Sandy sat alone in her penthouse, everything was in its place, and no one was there to disturb her life, no one here but herself…all alone. Living the life of the rich successful fashion designer/professional sports car racer looked so exciting to many, but it wasn’t what she wanted. Everything she had was the result of sacrifice and self-denial.

Sandy thought back to that moment so many years ago, the point in her life that she stopped trusting. She had never recovered, she knew now that she never would.

The telephone rang, “Hello,” Sandy answered.

“Sandy, I was just checking in, I didn’t get a chance to talk to you since that meeting in Texas,” Suzanne lately didn’t know what to expect from Sandy’s increasingly pensive behavior.

“I’m ending our relationship with Rhoad/Steele after this season,” Sandy’s tone was cold.

“Well…we have a contract…besides that we gave Jake and Steele a commitment…just telling them yes, then saying no doesn’t seem right,” Suzanne was trying to reason with her partner…a task that had become difficult.

“I don’t plan on telling them until after the last race, they would just give me a crap car,” Sandy loved throwing vulgar language at Suzanne just for the effect.

“Listen, those two would never give anyone an inferior product. What’s happening to you?” Suzanne went from an angry voice to a pleading one.

“I just don’t want to be involved with a killer…you saw that video, that was Jake…getting revenge,” her husky voice had a wicked tone.

Suzanne looked out her window, leaves were raining from the trees, it was fall already, and everything changed constantly.

“How changed from him whom we knew!” Her Grandfather always in a good sense had often repeated this quotation from Vergil to Suzanne. Now it came to mind about her partner, a partner making decisions for both of them as though she was the final word.

“Sandy, we can discuss this, however at this point, I say, no. Our relationship with Rhoad/Steele has been an extraordinary investment for Madison Avenue and I don’t see any reason to change.”

Silence was all that came from Sandy’s end for almost a minute then a very angry, hurt sounding Sandy said, “Do you mean to tell me you would let him…that man get away with doing that to me?”

A confused Suzanne answered, “What did he do? Which he?”

“What did he do? He was doing her right in my house…my bed!” Sandy was now shouting into the phone…sobbing.

“That sorry son of a bitch!” Now Suzanne was extremely angry. “I am so sorry, Sandy. I didn’t even know that you and…which one?”

Sandy’s voice was quiet and normal when after a moment she answered, “Which one what?”

“Oh…why I mean which one did this to you?” Suzanne’s mind was racing now, “How did he get in? Did you give him a key?”

“Whatever are you speaking of?” Sandy sounded truly confused.

“The bastard that was screwing some other woman in your house!” Suzanne exclaimed.

“Oh him, that was long ago and I really don’t like to talk about it…look I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you next week,” the phone clicked off in Suzanne’s ear.

Suzanne stared out the window for a moment, and then turned to her computer and typed in, “How to seek mental help for a friend.” She watched and waited for a moment, and then deleted that and typed in her attorney’s address in her email out box and sent him a note. “Please call me at my home when you have about fifteen minutes to spare.”

Sandy sat looking at the phone, “That nosy bitch…imagine her asking those personal questions. She’s just jealous because Jake hasn’t asked her out…she thinks she’s so hot.” These vile thoughts about her best friend crossed her confused mind.

Jake, he was always so polite, everything she wanted in a man, handsome, intelligent, witty, and rich. She wouldn’t have to worry about him trying to just get her money. Sandy continued staring at the telephone as her mind raced. Loyal…that’s what Jake’s best quality was. He was as loyal as a dog.

So why weren’t they together? The creases in Sandy’s face appeared at the corners of her mouth as she contorted her features.

What was wrong with her? She asked herself.

What had she just done?

Sandy began to cry, a sobbing, and physically painful cry. She slid from the sofa off onto the floor and lay there crying till she fell asleep.

Sandy drives down her street and parks at her house. She opens the door and can hear noises from another part of the house. Sandy walks toward the noise, afraid of what she will find.

Then there is Jake; Jake is wearing an apron, standing at the stove…cooking. Jake looks up smiling… “Hello darling.”

Jake sets down the stirring spoon, and wipes his hands on a dishtowel. Jake then walks over taking Sandy into his arms, he kisses her, passionately, “I probably taste like spaghetti sauce!” Jake looks into her eyes.

Sandy has never felt so loved, so safe as she did there in Jake Rhoad’s embrace.

Sandy awakens to a dark room. The digital clock tells her its one in the morning, she’s lying on the floor by her sofa.

“Jake,” Sandy softly calls out…but no one answers.
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