To Marry A Gunfighter

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Annawest knew there was trouble coming. Waypatoo, her foster mother, had seen a black butterfly in the garden. Bear-Who-Is Born-in-the-Mountains had appeared to both of them in dreams. But where was the trouble coming from? Her father, a hard, stubborn man who had been clear-sighted, shrewd and fair, but his mind had begun to slip. And he was getting worse; she had to admit it, he was getting worse. Her hothead of a brother was angry about being cut out of the will for what he regarded as a prank and he was getting no better. Then a new rancher moved into their valley bringing the barbed wire her father hated, a crew of gunfighters, and a challenge to all their traditions. But that wasn’t the worst. The new rancher was not the grim old man she expected, but young, good looking, vigorous, and daring. She could never stop herself from falling in love with that kind of man and it had always ended in grief. Now she had to restrain her father and her brother, stop a bloody range war, and avoid the heartbreak that love had always brought her. She was a strong young woman, but was she strong enough?

Age Rating:

Chapter 1 - Devil’s Rope

“These violent delights have violent ends.”

-Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare,

The flowers, blue lupines, were pretty but they were covered with stinging hairs. Annawest was thinking of picking them anyway when the bear came out of nowhere. It reared up and brought its paws down hard. The ground shook and Annawest fell at the bear’s feet. It reared up again and raised its paws. Annawest saw them smashing down at her face and woke up with a shriek. She sat up in bed. She could smell something burning.

She threw on a robe and rushed to the kitchen. There was nothing on the stove except the coffeepot. After a puzzled moment she opened the coffeepot lid. Smoke rose. There were coffee grounds in the pot, but no water. She quickly moved the pot onto the cool side of the woodstove and turned to Waypatoo. Waypattoo’s broad back was rigid in her black blouse. She was wearing a concho belt with the protective bearpaw symbol and two turquoise necklaces. She had laid another belt and necklace on the kitchen counter. Butter, flour, and cold water for biscuits were also sitting on the counter but Waypatoo was chewing one-seed juniper needles and chanting.

“Waypatoo!” said Annawest, “What?”

“There are bad things coming. I just saw a black butterfly in the garden. And I dreams of Bear-Who-Is-Born-In-The-Mountains,” said Waypatoo. “He was digging for roots but found guns. I get out all my good luck jewelry and chew juniper for protections.”

“I saw that bear in my dreams, too,” said Annawest.

Waypatoo spun around on the stool. “He does not come to you much,” she said. “He brings warnings to you this time, I think.”

Annawest thought for a moment. “The only thing different,” she said, “is that new rancher and his barb-wire fence”.

“Devil’s ropes, your daddy calls it,” said Waypatoo. “I see your daddy cleaning all his guns. I think you will go over to that new ranch this morning. I hear the new rancher is a young man. He sees you, he does not think of shootings, I think.”

“Um...I don’t know,” said Annawest.

" Bear-Who-Is-Born-In-The-Mountains comes to tell you to look into your heart and mind, to think hard, and do somethings,” said Waypatoo.

“Does he?” said Annawest.

Waypatoo reached back, picked up the belt and necklaces and handed them to Annawest. “You put on these when you go and chew plenty of juniper for luck. And say ‘Yaadillah’ to chase the badness away.”

Annawest dumped out the burned coffee grounds and scrubbed the bottom of the pot. “All right, I’ll go.” She put belt, necklaces, and juniper on the kitchen table and began preparing breakfast.

After breakfast, which she barely tasted, Annawest went to her room and changed to riding clothes. She had ridden astride since she was a toddler and hated sidesaddles. This left her with a problem when she grew out of childhood: what to wear when riding. She had solved the problem with jodhpurs. A classmate had told her that jodhpurs were simply all the rage since Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. A cream-colored blouse, a brown cowboy hat, Waypattoo’s turquoise, and cowboy boots completed her outfit.

She went out to the barn and saddled Joann. She used the Navajo saddle blanket. It was big enough to show the blue design of spider grandmother, the wise protector of the human race. After some thought, she left her shotgun behind.

About a mile from the new ranch, she found the tracks of three horses. She followed them to a muddy stream and then got off and examined closely. One horse had brand new shoes; the edges were still sharp and the brand name was still clear. “That has to be Chuckie, Joann,” she said to her horse. “My little brother. Padlock and Old Pete, too, I’ll bet. I’d better get over there.”

She mounted up and urged Joann to a canter. She topped a low rise and pulled up. She could see over the dark green piñon trees. There were three riders looking into a broad shallow canyon from behind a pile of rocks. She could hear the ‘toc, toc, toc’ of a hammer from down in the canyon. She looked back to make sure the riders were not skylined, but the black firs on the mountains hid them well enough.

The rider’s horses shifted restlessly with high heads and twitching tails; the older riders soothed their mounts with soft words and gentle pats. The youngest rider, a gangly teenage boy, ignored his horse and started to pull his rifle out of its scabbard. The rider next to him, an old man with a white moustache and an old-fashioned high-crowned hat, held out an admonitory hand and the boy put his rifle back and began to soothe his horse.

Her mind began to race. ”I may have grown up without a mother, but I had Waypatoo and many fathers. And two of them are down there. Tryin’ to get themselves killed.”

Suddenly everything seemed spikey and sharp. The wind whirled the pointed yucca leaves, hissed in the prickly pear spines, and tossed the branches of the pinions. A gust threw a piñon branch into her face. Tar from the green cones smeared on her blouse. She looked at the indelible stain. ”It doesn’t take much to ruin things,” she thought.

She pulled a juniper twig wrapped in an embroidered lace handkerchief out of her breast pocket. She hesitated, then put it in her mouth and chewed. She spat the juniper out, dabbed at her mouth with the handkerchief, folded it neatly, and put it back. “Yaadillah,” she said, ” Yaadillah, Yaadillah.” Then she rode forward.

As she approached she saw he tallest rider, a strongly built man with a short black beard flecked with gray, replace brass binoculars in a worn leather case with an inscription on the lid, ‘Sgt. Roy Craddock, 4th Cavalry, US Army’. The top parts of the barrels of the binoculars were conical and only the eyepieces moved when he turned the knurled knob.

The cowboys backed away from rocks and began getting their guns ready. They jacked shells into the rifle chambers, turned the cylinders of their pistols so that live rounds were under the hammers, and checked their gunsights. The boy practiced a couple fast draws. She urged her horse forward.

She could hear them talking. The tall rider said, “They’re using that devil’s rope for fence all right. And the one in the middle is wearing custom-made pistols.”

Young Chuckie piped up, “Well anybody can buy a custom pistol. Maybe he’s just putting on the style. Putting on the agony. Showing off.”

“Don’t go with the rest of his clothes,” Craddock replied.

“So what does that mean?” said Chuckie.

“It means,” admonished the old man, “that we are real careful ’til we see how the land lies.”

“Pete, you ever see that horse before?” said Craddock. “You, Chuckie?” The two other riders shook their heads.

“I wouldn’t even know what to call it,” said Chuckie. The horse had a white coat peppered with reddish freckles.

“Flea-bitten gray,” said old Pete.

“Wait,” said Pete, “gimme those lookers a minute, Roy.” Pete rode back up to the boulders and used the binoculars to take a second look at the fencing crew. Then he came back and returned the binoculars. “That big cowpuncher has a scar from a bullet on his left hand. Little one is missin’ the top of his near ear. Seems to me, Ah heared about a couple a punchers, partners, that looked jist about exactly like those two hands down there. Got into a shoot-out with four or five hard cases up above Rock Springs. They were the only ones walked away. They said one of them had a funny looking shotgun that turned out to be a repeater. Looked about like the one on the buckboard.”

Joann nickered. The three riders jerked their heads around. Chuckie started to draw his pistol, stopped, and hit his forehead with his fist.

“Chariots of fire!” said Pete, “What are you doin’ here, Annawest?”

“I’m here to make sure this business is settled reasonably and without gunplay.”

“We aren’t going to shoot unless they try to shoot first. Last thing I ever want is gunplay,” said Craddock.

“I’ve heard differently about you,” said the girl.

“That was ten, fifteen years ago,” said Paddock defensively.

“This is just like you, Sis,” said Chuckie. “Always pushing in where you aren’t wanted.”

She ignored him. “I heard you talkin’,” she said. “It sounds like they might be a rough bunch.”

“Yup, and ye had better get on home right now,” said Craddock.

“You want to talk instead of shootin’, right? Tell me Mr. Craddock,” she said, “wouldn’t they be more likely to talk if I was there?”

“Uh... By the lord Harry, Annawest...” began Craddock.

“No use tryin’ to bulldoze her once she gits set, Roy,” said old Pete. “You’re gonna have to back down.”

“I’d like to take a look for myself, Roy, if you don’t mind,” she said holding out her hand for the binoculars. He handed them to her without comment. She rode up behind the rocks and looked down.

She first looked at the buckboard tied in the shade of a cottonwood tree next to a big granite boulder. A gust of wind made the cottonwood leaves jerk and twist. The buckboard carried coils of barbed wire and a small water barrel. A shotgun was lashed to one side of the seat with a slipknot that could easily be jerked loose. She saw a 30-30 Winchester lying on the seat. She shifted her gaze to the men working next to the buckboard. Another Winchester rifle was propped up on a stump close behind them. A heavy-set man inexpertly nailing barbed wire to a fence post carried a pistol in his back pocket; the corner of the pocket was torn and the gun barrel protruded. A slight youth digging with a shovel wore an enormous Colt .45. It was so heavy that he had to lean sideways to balance himself.

The third cowboy was a wiry man of middle height with wavy blond hair. He wore a hat with a flat crown and a tear in the brim. The cuffs of his pants were frayed and muddy. He was carrying two .38 pocket pistols in snakeskin holsters, which rode low on his hips and fit the guns exactly. This man was evidently the boss, because, when the boy said something, he put down his coil of barbwire, walked over, inspected the hole, and, after a glancing back and forth, pointed to a spot on the ground and the boy began digging there.

“Lot of guns down there,” she said thoughtfully. “But that boss: Tres beau.” They waited for the translation. “That boss is very good lookin’,” she said.

She dismounted, dropped the reins, and dug a purse out of her saddlebag. She pulled out a brush, took off her hat and released floods of strawberry blonde hair. She brushed her hair so that much fell forward and curled around her breasts. She pulled a blue bandana from the purse, folded it into a narrow band, and tied it tightly around her neck with the ends fluttering under her left ear. No real cowboy would wear it that way. She returned the brush to the purse and pulled out a match and a small mirror. She lit the match and immediately blew it out. She looked at the cowboys. “Excuse me!” she said. “Do you mind!”

Chuckie looked puzzled; the others turned their horses so that they faced away from her. “A lady don’t like to be watched when she’s puttin’ on makeup,” said Craddock.

“Yup,” said Old Pete, “that way she can claim she never did it.”

“Chuckie,” she said returning the mirror to her saddlebag, “pick me two of those yellow flowers.”

She stuck one flower in her hatband and another in her horse’s bridle. The cowboys noticed that she had unbuttoned the top two buttons on her blouse.

“What are you doing, Sis?” said Chuckie. “You’re going to talk to him, not marry him.”

“Sure about that, are you?” said Old Pete.

“All right,” she said looking at Roy. “We ride down there openly. Me in front. We go through the sagebrush so they can easily see us comin’. OK?”

Craddock stuck his cigarette in the corner of his mouth. “OK,” he said, “we do it your way. We unfasten the thongs holding our pistols in, though. We ever dismount, we hold our pistols down with our elbows. Understand this, Annawest: If I say so, you lie down flat right now. And when we’re talkin’ you stand next to somethin’ you can lie down behind. You get that?”

“I get that.”

“That’s good. ’Cause if you didn’t we’d hog tie ye over a saddle and ride ye back to the ranch.” Padlock looked at Chuckie. “And you remember this: we keep our hands away from our guns until I say otherwise. You get that?”

“Yessir,” said Chuckie, “I listen for the word ‘Otherwise’.”

“And don’t act smart.” said the oldster.

“One last thing, though, Annawest,” said Craddoch. “If it comes to it, we can’t afford to back down. We do that once, everybody would figure we would always do it. They’d rustle our cows, put off payin’ us what they owe us, and shoot our riders. Even if we lived through that, and we probably wouldn’t, it would be the end of the Salt Works Outfit.”

“You get that?” said Chuckie.

“I never...Quiet Chuckie,” said Annawest. “I never said...” but Craddock had already started down into the canyon.

As soon as they crossed the ridge, the saddle horse tied to the buckboard raised her head and looked at them. The blond boss caught the movement and looked also. He turned sideways and said something to his crew. He dropped his off hand down by his holster and evidently unfastened the thong across his pistol, because the slight youth with the shovel loosened his pistol in its holster, something that evidently drew a rebuke from the two older men because he quickly moved his hand away and started shoveling again, though he didn’t move much dirt. The heavy man put down his hammer and walked very casually over to the buckboard and got a drink from the cup chained to the barrel. He leaned back against the wagon so that the shotgun was right at his elbow. Craddock noticed that he had untied the lashing on the shotgun, though he had not seen him do it.

The blond boss raised his right hand and waved to the riders in a friendly fashion. Then he walked over to his horse and dug a bottle of whiskey out of a saddlebag and waved it at them. Craddock figured he had undone the thong on his left holster at some point. The youth stopped digging and leaned on his shovel without putting much weight on it.

Craddock said to Chuckie, “Pete and I got to drink, but ye just smile and say no.”

“OK,” said Chuckie.

The riders pulled up when they reached the fencing crew.

“Good afternoon,” said their boss. “I’m real glad to meet you on this fine day. This here is Tim Sholtz and the stalwart young man is Eddy Koffpot. My name’s McMurtry. I bought a little land up in here. Going to run cattle.”

Annawest thought a ‘little’ land meant a lot. If he had bought a small amount of land he would of said ‘some land’. It was good, too, that he intended to run cattle. That made an understanding more likely.

“This here,” said Craddock, “is Pete Grey and the kid is Chuckie Quarll. I’m Roy Craddock. We work for Old Man Quarll at the Salt Works Ranch. The lady is Annawest Quarll.”

McMurtry swept off his hat and made an old-fashioned vaquero’s bow to Annawest. “Pleased to meet you all,” he said replacing his hat. “We’re going to be neighbors. And like the good book says, neighbors should allus be friendly, get along, and help one another. Nothing in all the world more important. Nothing. And what do you say we step over in the shade and drink to that?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Craddock and all dismounted.

McMurtry turned to his crew, “That includes you boys too. Knock off for a little and have a drink.”

They all walked over to the wagon. Craddock set his right heel against the boulder, and leaned back a little. He used his left hand for his cigarette, however, and let his right hand hang near his pistol. The others followed suit; the fencing crew set their backs against the wagon, the Salt Works men, against the boulder. Annawest started to lean back but decided it wasn’t ladylike and stood up straight.

The bottle went around and finally came to Chuckie Quarll. He was thinking that the other kid had had a drink and didn’t look any older than he was. He held up a hand. “Bit early in the day for me, thanks.” He thought of something else he had heard. “Last night is too clear in my memory, what I remember of it. Last Saturday night, I mean.” He rubbed the side of his forehead with two fingers.

Koffpot grinned, “I’ve woke up a few Sundays myself ready to take the pledge. Almost.” Neither boy had ever done any heavy drinking.

Craddock drank and started to hand the bottle back. Annawest intercepted it and took a small nip herself before returning it.

“That’s really good whisky, thanks,” she said. “So you bought land, instead of free grazin’?”

“Yup,” said McMurtry, “and there’s a sad story connected with that. I went to a big cattleman’s conference in Denver. I’m afraid your free grazing is about done.”

Annawest frowned. “I’ve had good friends of mine killed for talkin’ like that.”

McMurtry nodded sympathetically, “Nothing more dangerous than having the right idea at the wrong time. But it’s the right time now. All the big cattlemen were at that conference. I saw Chisum, Shanghai Pierce, Goodnight, Orwell Haley, even Ol’ Man Clanton. And there were forest service people, eastern money, college professors, and politicians. I never saw so many politicians.”

“Politicians!” snorted old Pete.

“Yup, well,” said McMurtry, nodding his head, “I know how they are.”

“Ah’d about rather have six Redskins than one dang politicians,” said Old Pete.

“Trouble with them,” said McMurtry, “you shoot an Indian you’re done with him, but if you shoot a politician you get another one before the body is cold. Any way, believe it or not, the politicians were doing more listening than talking.”

Pete lowered his head, “Ah’d have to see that before Ah believed it”.

“I was amazed myself,” said McMurtry. “Any way the cattlemen weren’t saying anything everybody here doesn’t know about. We’ve all seen overgrazed range. Nothing but Texas croton, tumbleweed, and gullies. No use for anything. Can’t even fish for trout. Water’s too muddy.”

Pete stood up straight and stuck his thumbs in his belt, “An how are them there politicians especially those double-danged federal politicians goin’ to help. They’re all bought with eastern money and you know that eastern money.”

“Yup,” said Craddock. “Those eastern tycoons, they buy some cattle and want their profits whether it ruins the range or not. And if the caporal doesn’t follow their dirty orders, they fire him.”

“Yup,” said McMurtry, nodding again, “if they’d jis leave it up to men that actually ran the cattle, there wouldn’t be a problem. Any way I saw some of your caporals and cattlemen going to dinner and I says, ‘Excuse me gentlemen, but I’m jis a young man wanting to start up in the cattle business and it sounds like the rules have changed. I’d be happy to buy you dinner if you’d give me your opinions on that.’ Well, they wouldn’t let me buy anything but a round of drinks, but I made sure they got the best whisky.”

“And?” said Annawest.

“Well, they were trying to ask the politicians to pass laws cutting back on free grazing. They all thought that, any more, the only way to raise cattle is to buy ranch land and take care of it. Irrigate and raise hay for the winter. Then you got to spread your hay out so all the cow pies ain’t all in one place. I mean aren’t in one place. Mom was a schoolmarm and she was allus saying, ’There ain’t no such word as ain’t. But I keep forgetting.”

“Why do you want the cow pies spread out?”

“It’s fertilizer. Too little fertilizer is bad and so is too much. I don’t mean to give you the all overs, but you got to be a little bit of a plow chaser.”

“No harm in farmin’ hay,” said Old Pete, “but looky here, how you goin’ to make enough money to make that worth while?”

“What you do, you get a Hereford bull and breed him to your longhorn cows. The cross will gain two-three hundred pounds more than a longhorn. And you get better beef. It’s a lot more work, though. You jis’ can’t shoot a cow that can’t deliver her calf. Too valuable. You got to get in there with a pigging string, rawhide lariat’s too rough, and help it get born. And if your calf dies and rots inside, you got to pull it out with a hay hook. Talk about a nasty job. And you always got to keep track of your cows. If a cow can’t give birth right, she’ll pass that on to her heifers so you got to sell them. This Scotchman there was amazed we didn’t know all our cows by sight. And give them names. It’s going to be a lot less fun.” He pursed his lips for a second, then looked straight at Craddock, “One thing you got to remember. You got to control your breeding. Breed a cross-bred cow to a longhorn bull, you get a longhorn and you’re back where you started.”

McMurtry paused, stood up straight with his legs slightly spread, and looked Craddock straight between the eyes, turned his eyes to look at Annawest, and then back to Craddock. “So,” he said, “you can see why you got to put up fences. You can’t have stray cattle eating up your hay and you can’t have stray bulls breeding your cows.” He paused. “Get this straight,” he said, “I spent half my life raising money for this ranch, went into debt, and I’ll do whatever I got to protect it. And I can shoot straight when the bullets are flying. Good as any man who ever drew breath. If it comes to my ranch here, I’m not going to back down.”

The horse’s heads, which had begun to droop, came up again, their tails started switching, their mouths tightened, and wrinkles appeared above their eyes. The kids, who had been decorously silent, hooked both thumbs into their belts and eyed each other. Tim Sholtz stood up straight and put his hand on the buckboard near the shotgun. Old Pete remained leaning up against the boulder, but, with a motion of his hip, moved his gun to where he could easily draw it. McMurtry stayed relaxed, but his hands were at his sides and close to his guns.

Craddock dropped his cigarette, moved his boot off the boulder, and ground the cigarette out with its heel. He put both feet on the ground, stood up straight, and looked back at McMurtry. “Ye know,” he said with ominous quietness, “people get down on cattlemen when they run out the homesteaders, but what your plow chasers will do is fence off the water so the cows can’t get to it. That ain’t never right and it ain’t anything we’re goin’ to be able to stand for. Comes to water, there ain’t no back down to us Salt Works boys, either.” A gust of wind hurled leaves and sand and cracked a branch in the cottonwood. None of the cowboys paid any attention.

Annawest quickly stepped between the two sides and held up one hand to each. “Now you both just hold it right there. I know there is no back down to anybody here but we aren’t tryin’ to prove that. We are here to talk about water. Nobody has said anythin’ about fencin’ off water.” She turned to McMurtry. “We do need to water in Saddleback Creek.”

Craddock gave Annawest an irritated glance. McMurtry gave a half-nod without taking his eyes off the Salt Works men. “I can handle trouble,” he said, “but I’ve had enough in my life. I’d walk ten miles across an alkali desert in a blizzard to keep away from more. I’d be willing to put in five miles of extra fencing anywhere you want so you can get to water. That good enough?”

“I’d say it was,” she said, “Long as you stick to it.” She looked at Craddock.

“Yup,” said Craddock ” But. We don’t want you usin’ that devil’s rope fence. We don’t want our cows tore up.”

Annawest turned back to McMurtry, “Do you have to use that stuff?”

McMurtry spread his hands with his palms up, “Why, barb wire’s the only way we can afford to fence on a big ranch. A rail fence would take forever to put up. You know how bad cowboys are at splitting rails or using an axe for anything. One drive I was on, we had to build kind of a log bridge over a river with a quicksand bottom. There were plenty of trees, but boy you should of seen those punchers try to turn them into logs. If the cook hadn’t of been good with an axe, we’d be there yet. And your cows will rub up against a rail fence and knock it down. You know that. They’ll shy away from barb wire, though. Otherwise you couldn’t raise them in cactus country.”

Annawest dropped her hands to her hips. She looked down and kicked at a pebble. She ran her teeth across her lower lip. “Um..,” she said, “might as well be honest. The problem is Daddy. He’s...kind of set in his ways.” She looked at the horizon for a moment then back at McMurtry. “OK, let’s go talk to him, you and me. We’ll, start with that cattleman’s confab and Herefords. Then we’ll work into fence.”

She looked at Craddock, who shrugged and nodded.

“And, chariots of fire, don’t never mention no sheep,” put in Old Pete.

The horses lost the wrinkles above their eyes, their heads dropped back down, and their tails now twitched only to flies. One horse pulled against his reins to get at a bunch of clover. The men had taken their thumbs out of their belts and leaned back again.

She kicked the ground again. “Maybe it would be best if me and Mr. McMurtry, here, went in first. You three could check the east windmill before you come in.” She looked at Craddock who thought a moment and nodded. Pete put his fist to his mouth to hide a grin.

Annawest caught it. After a flicker of annoyance, she gave a small shrug and moved a little closer to McMurtry.

McMurtry turned to his men, “You guys leave the fencing where it is, take the wire back to the barn, and start work on that reservoir we were talking about. I might be late coming back so don’t forget to knock off for supper.” He turned back to the Salt Works riders. “We’re going to dam that little north fork of Saddleback Creek. Any objection to that?”


The fencing crew gathered their tools. The Salt Works hands mounted up. McMurtry’s horse stamped and shifted around and drew a glance from Craddock. He did a double take and quickly looked away. McMurtry’s second rifle was a Whitworth. Craddock knew Whitworths. “Custom-made pistols, a long-range rifle, a Winchester rifle, and two gun hands. By the great horn spoon, he’s ready for trouble.”



Ain’tagonna – Refers to an unlikely event, i.e., viz., to wit, ‘will not’.

Buscadero – Gunfighter

Cain’t – Refers to unlikely or impossible outcome, i.e., ‘never happen’. A non-native must hold his or her nose to attain the correct pronunciation.

Cutting a Rusty - Courting

Give the Mitten - To terminate a romantic relationship

Hoodathunkit - Who would ever have considered such a thing possible? (Chiefly West Texas).

Mizewell – Said of an alternative that is just as good as any alternate alternative, e.g., “Mizewell get a drink while we’re in town.”

Mudsill– Degenerate, depraved, and vicious person, i.e., “Not our sort.”

Shiheart – Navajo term of endearment

Stainchable - Durable and able to withstand strain. Again, a non-native must hold his or her nose to attain the correct pronunciation.

Too much mustard – Said of egregiously boastful statements

Whyncha – Used to indicate an advantageous course of action, e.g., “Whyncha use a shovel instead of a fork; then you could eat faster.”

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