DARING DECEPTION'S DAEMONS, Book Two in Hidden Danger Beyond Fantasy series

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Chapter 7

Night Visitor

“Hello.”

“Kaytie, this is Tom. Just wanted to check and see that you made it back safely. These winding roads can be treacherous on a night like this. I had to drive Alice to her folks’ place.”

“Oh, Tom, thank you for calling. And I so appreciate your concern for Alice.” I could imagine the love-struck girl’s delight at being in his car. “I’m in my room safe and sound, but I’m looking out the window, and the trees are bending wildly in the wind. This must be a night just like the one in your ghost story.”

“You’ll be safe in the abbey. Those stony walls have withstood many a storm over the last hundred years or so. The place is a veritable fortress. Say, I want to tell you that I really enjoyed seeing you this evening. I’d like to see you again. That is, if you can get away from your friend.”

I laughed. Dax had made it plain to both of us that Tom was not going to get my attention without a fight.

“Well, I suppose that could be arranged. I’m going up on Misty Mountain with Dax and Zeke tomorrow to photograph the cow’s carcass. After I get back, I’d like to drive out to the Potts farm again. Would you like to go along?”

“Sure would. I know Harry and Thelma. They’re good folks.”

“Tom, did Harry tell you about the crop circle he found on his place?”

“Crop circle? Never mentioned it to me.”

“I thought maybe you might know if anyone around here would have a reason to try and scare him off the farm. The librarian was telling me about a proposed highway that could cross his land.”

“There was some talk of a new road. But nobody knows if that’s going to happen since the economy hit the skids. I suppose it’s possible some clever schemer might hope to drive the Potts away. Crop circles can be duplicated with ropes and boards used to tamp down the stalks. How many times has it happened?”

“Just once that Harry told us about.”

He hesitated a moment. “When did it happen?”

“A couple of weeks ago, maybe.”

I heard the sound of a police scanner in the background. All voices sounded routine.

“Kaytie, a couple of weeks ago would have been right about Halloween. That suggests to me that maybe some kids were pulling a prank on Harry.”

I hadn’t associated the date until this moment. “Yes, it could be that. But Harry’s dog has been whining and acting scared, and Harry saw something. There was a UFO hanging over his field. I don’t think he wants anyone to know he saw it, because of the way people react to Lesley Daniels’ wild tales. So please don’t betray this confidence.”

“My lips are sealed. I wouldn’t expose that couple to the slightest bit of ridicule.”

“Thanks, Tom. I also want you to know that I appreciate what you said tonight about ghosts and spirits. You mirrored my conclusions on the subject exactly.”

“That’s only natural. I learned it from you.”

“From me?”

“Yes, from reading your articles in Beyond Fantasy. Course I checked it out with my Bible. You’re right on, pretty lady.”

I smiled as if he could see me through the phone.

“Well I’m glad to hear you didn’t just take my word for it. People should always check out what they hear to see if it’s verified in the Bible. That’s the only standard for truth in this world. Without it, nobody has a way of knowing what’s false.”

“I agree completely. There’s so much cult activity and fascination with paranormal junk, like the kind you report on for Beyond Fantasy. People are hungry for something more than human to believe in. Someone to lead them. They don’t have any standard for truth, so they fall for anything and everything.”

I thought about poor, misfit Werewolf boy.

Tom continued, “There’s a guy over in the next county, a former NASA scientist who had a meltdown and had to retire. He leads some kind of New-Age, UFO-cult meetings. We suspect he controls his followers with psychotropic drugs. We can’t prove it yet, but he could be dangerous if he gets enough of a following. The state police are keeping an eye on him.”

“I’m surprised that a scientist would get involved in that kind of thing. Usually the scientific-minded person doesn’t want anything to do with the paranormal, other than to debunk it.”

“We run into all kinds of people in our line of work, don’t we?”

“We do have that in common. Although you get them after they’ve committed crimes, and I usually see them before they’re caught.”

“Journalists can be very helpful to law enforcement. And to the general public too. Now about that UFO thing that Harry saw. What do you think it was? I know he doesn’t make up stories about things that aren’t there, the way Lesley does.”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Tom. The crop circle could have been a prank, but the thing in the sky? From the description he gave me, I think he truly saw something unexplainable in purely natural terms.”

Tom paused a moment as if gathering his thoughts. “I haven’t ever seen a UFO myself, but I have a good friend—a deputy in Lebanon, Missouri who has seen more than one. I don’t doubt Jim saw something. The light formation was reported by several witnesses in Illinois on the same night. People kept calling police stations as the thing traveled across the state. Officers tracked it moving south, and then people started reporting it in Missouri.”

“When did this happen?”

“A couple of years ago. Right before the Iraqi violence picked up.”

Could I be seeing a pattern here? It was in Ezra’s journal and in ancient times too. Many times, these unusual appearances seemed to coincide with wars or natural disasters. The veterans who had called me at the office with their reports of UFOs usually linked it with battles soon fought.

Warfare in the heavens? Portents? Harbingers?

“Frazier told me about a guy in Arkansas who had one of those missing-time episodes while he was out on a hunting trip. This Bledsoe fella was finally tested by a trained clinical psychologist. The doc put him into a regressive hypnotic state. Jim saw the video of the session. Bledsoe was terrified and kept trying to hide. Poor guy.”

“What did he see?”

“He described being inside a round room with a lighted control panel, and he kept repeating that the creatures weren’t human and looked like lizard men. Some were seven-foot tall and others were only four foot. They called him a “chosen” one. They were his guardians. They were harmless. Jim thought that was odd. He asked me why Bledsoe acted so terrified if the creatures were harmless.”

“That’s a good point.” I wanted to know more about Tom. He intrigued me.

“Tell me about you. Have you always lived here in the valley?”

“Not always. I was in the police academy in Illinois for a while. Met my ex-wife there. She quit the academy when we got married. She wanted to live in the city, but I landed a job here. Guess that was a mistake. Shayla never liked it here. Not enough excitement for her in this sleepy little town. She finally met another guy who furnished her with plenty of thrills to last a lifetime. At least it should, ’cause she’s sure not going to find much to get excited about in prison.”

“She went to prison?” I didn’t mention my previous conversation with Alice.

“The guy took her on a crime spree and ended up in a shoot-out with state troopers. Almost a Bonnie-and-Clyde thing. He got a life sentence. Shayla claimed she was an unwilling victim—kidnapped. But she got sentenced as a co-defendant. Her lawyers are working to get her out.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you, Tom.” Then I wanted to know, “Do you have any children?”

“No. Shayla didn’t want kids. I wish I’d known that before I married her. I wanted kids. She pretended she did, but all that changed after we tied the knot. She became somebody I never knew.”

I heard the pang of regret in his voice and wondered how he could have been so deceived. A man who wanted a family. A man of faith.

“Didn’t you pray for God’s guidance before you asked her to marry you?”

“You know Kaytie, that’s the curious thing. I did pray. I thought she was a sincere believer. She went to church with me and said all the right things. Guess I should have given it more time. Love is blind they say. And I was sure enough blindsided, like every man can be, by a pretty face. I read somewhere that error brings remorse, and remorse is the poison of existence.”

I heard the somber warning in his voice. “Dread that poisonous sting, Kaytie, if you’re ever tempted to make the same kind of mistake.”

“I think repentance is the cure for remorse.”

“Repentance is a cure. But it can’t undo the pain of a ruined marriage. Did I get a check in my spirit? Looking back now, I realize I did, and it only pains me the more. There was that still, small voice warning me.”

I remained silent, not knowing what to say.

“Messed up big-time, didn’t I? That’s how we get into trouble. We listen to the voice of the flesh instead of the Holy Spirit. I also had a couple of friends at church who kept telling me that something wasn’t quite right. Course I knew that too, but I thought she’d grow in her commitment. I’d be there to lead her into a deeper walk with God.”

He coughed, and continued. “Man, did I get the shock of my life. She stopped going to church with me about two months after the honeymoon. That’s when the real Shayla showed up, and she was . . .never mind. I really shouldn’t say anything about her. She came from a dysfunctional family, and when I learned more about her background I—well, I just felt sorry for her. Still do.”

I listened to his story, thinking about others who have been similarly deceived into wrong relationships. How easily that can happen to any man or woman. I knew this to be true, especially when it came to that searing kiss from Dax.

That made me all the more resolved to wait for confirmation before I made any serious decision about marriage.

I had no promptings from the Lord one way or the other regarding Dax at this time. But why should I? I already knew that I could never go against God’s word and marry a man who didn’t know the Lord, and that was that. No need to ask permission to go against a clear injunction forbidding believers from unequal yokes with unbelievers.

Sure, Dax claimed he wanted to go to church, but what did that mean? So had Tom’s ex-wife. However, when it came to living by faith, she hadn’t followed through.

Sensing Tom’s deep regret, I longed to offer consolation.

“Tom, you’re human. You’re fallible. You thought she would respond to love. God’s love and yours. Maybe it’s not too late.” I felt convinced he was a man who took his marriage vows seriously.

“Kaytie, I gave it a lot of prayer before I finally signed the divorce papers from her lawyer. I wanted to forgive her, and I have. Is it too late for love to work a miracle in her? I don’t know. But here’s the thing. Have you ever tried to get a spot of dirt out of a rain slicker? No matter how you scrub and soap, the water just can’t get into the fabric because of the waterproofing. Shayla was like that. There wasn’t anything I could say or do to get past her love-proof fabric. I wanted her to feel loved, but none of it got in.”

“I see. She has to feel loved from the inside. I think it takes God’s love to reach her there, where human love can’t. He can help her take off her love-proof fabric.”

He was silent, perhaps pondering my words.

The police scanner activity began to crackle with voices in the background.

“Uh oh. There’s been a traffic accident out on a county road. I’ll have to go out there now.”

I hung up with a promise to see Tom the next day. That made me smile.

Rain drummed against my narrow window with a ferocity that made me jumpy. I pulled the covers up to my chin, and decided to read a chapter in the gospel of John before turning out the light—the best way I know for soothing over-stimulated nerves.

From time to time the window pane rattled so roughly I thought it would shatter. The moaning and whistling did not lessen. Lightning continued to flicker, casting weird shadows on the walls. Shapes danced and moved in sync with the ancient oak tree whipping wildly outside my room. With every gust, I feared a thick branch might be ripped off by the gale and come smashing through the glass.

One shadow resembled a human figure. When it moved just right, I could imagine it held a bayonet. A Union soldier’s bayonet? My imagination picked up on the story of the star-crossed lovers.

I don’t know what alerted me. There was no discernible sound above the noise of the storm. But my eyes fell on the doorknob and I watched, riveted as it began turning. My heart pounded. I didn’t move.

Who was there? Why no knock?

The lock held. The knob turned twice more. Then it stopped.

After a long moment of waiting breathlessly to see what might happen next, I climbed out of bed and tiptoed to the door, unlocking it and throwing it open.

“Who’s there?”

The hallway was as empty as a skeleton’s eye sockets.

Before I closed the door, a chilling current shot through my veins. On the floor was a pool of water.

Rain water where no water should have been.

“Lizzy?” I called out.

It must be her. But why hadn’t she knocked? What had she been doing out in the rain? And how had she disappeared so quickly?

I crawled back into my narrow bed, tempted to cover my head like a frightened child afraid of closet monsters. It was a long time before I slept. My imagination flickered with frightening scenes of phantoms and lizard men.

The emotion of fear is powerful, but I have authority over my emotions. I had to remind myself I would not be ruled by fear. I chose to chase it away with faith instead and picked up my Bible again. Eventually, words from the Book of Psalms wrapped me in a calm, drowsy peace. I slept until the morning sun peeked through the narrow window.

* * *

At breakfast, Dax dodged my eyes and kept up a pleasant chatter while I kept my lips sealed. I was not happy with him and he knew it. I hadn’t yet spoken a word when my cell phone rang. It was Zeke.

“Hey there Miss Kaytie, we can’t go up on Misty Mountain today. The creeks are out of their banks and the road will be impassable.” I handed my phone over to Dax and let Zeke repeat the message.

Dax looked disappointed. He really wanted to get those photographs before the cow’s carcass deteriorated further.

Finally agreeing to wait, he hit the off button and turned to me with a radiant grin. “Okay, my sweet, we have the day to ourselves. What would you like to do?”

“Go to the library.”

“The library?”

“Alone.” I emphasized the word.

His expression changed from enthusiasm to disappointment.

“I see I’m not in your good graces today. Very well then, I must apologize for stealing a kiss from you last night. But you can’t blame me too harshly. After all, I’ve been restraining myself for a long time now, and there you were in my arms at last. Entirely irresistible.”

I stared out the window at the ground littered with the evidence of last night’s storm. Fallen branches, twigs and leaves cluttered the churchyard. It seemed a perfect picture of my emotional state at the moment. Dax’s kiss had stormed through my defenses and left them scattered all over the ground of my resolve.

“Come on Kaytie, I have apologized. You can’t stay mad at me forever.”

When I refused to answer, he leaned back in his chair and began a soliloquy of sorts, waxing into the poetic, flowery language he uses at times to impress me with his considerable skill as a wordsmith.

“I see. To my great disappointment, you can stay mad at me, but you aren’t heartless. I also see a spark in your eyes. The veil is there now. Your eyes won’t allow me past it, Miss Flame. But you surely know your delicious mouth was made for smiles, for laughter, and, yes, for kisses.”

I grew uncomfortable under his gaze. His probing eyes and the timbre of his voice held a note of teasing, but also an undertone of seriousness at the same time.

“Lips like yours should never be closed in stubborn, petulance. There, I see it! A glimmer of hope behind the veil. You will forgive me. Maybe not today, but—”

“Dax, your eloquence is impressive, but let’s not discuss this further,” I interrupted, growing uncomfortable. The truth was, I had a human desire for more of his kisses, and dared not invite them. I could not remain in the room with him for fear he would read my longings.

“No, it’s not stubbornness I see after all,” he took his chin in his hand and commanded my eyes with his. “Stubbornness is the most annoying weapon a woman can use on a penitent man. What I see now is not stubbornness. It’s something else. Something admirable. There’s a hint of conviction in the tilt of your head, the firmness of your jaw.”

“Really Dax, it’s time to change the subject.”

He continued as if he hadn’t heard my request. “I see a resolve that says you will never release your soul in exchange for momentary pleasure. You have a rare quality, Kaytie Flame. An inward treasure of strong conviction. You would give up all human delights, every extraneous pleasure, rather than betray that conviction. Passion burns, but your convictions will hold it in check.”

It crossed my astonished mind that he truly admired my resolute character.

He made a gesture of salutation. “The boundaries of your conscience are respected, Ma’am. And I won’t overstep them again. I don’t want to be the cause of slightest remorse in you.”

I hardly dared speak. His promise surprised me as much as his respectful apology. There was more depth to the man than I had suspected. And he had far more perception of my convictions than I had previously imagined.

He concluded with a characteristic grin, “I will not kiss those lovely lips again without your permission, and I’ll do whatever it takes to earn your respect and trust.”

With those unexpected words, Dax successfully defused every last bit of anger in me. He must have sensed it, because I could see the tenseness drain from his posture.

I rose up from the table. “Thank you, sincerely. I’m going to walk down to the library now. I’ll see you later.”

He stood up too. “At least let me drive you there. A cold front blew in with last night’s storm, and the weather has a bite to it. You’ll freeze.”

“I like walking in the cold.” Actually, I hate the cold, and I doubted my jacket would be warm enough.

“Even so, I’m pulling the Explorer around, and I’ll meet you at the front door in case you change your mind.”

After stepping outside, I changed my mind and was glad to accept his offer. Dax drove me to the front door of the library, gave me a jaunty salute, and pulled away.

I couldn’t wait to call Tom, but he was out of the office. A pickup had overturned where the water washed over a county road, and he was still working the crash scene. I was afoot and on my own.

Trixie greeted me cheerily. “Miss O’Hare! I’ve been wondering how you’re managing at the abbey, staying in the haunted room and all. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the lady in white by now.”

“Yes indeed, Trixie. Sheriff Ogilby told me.”

The librarian raised a curious brow and gave me a sly smile. “Sheriff Ogilby, huh? I figured when I first saw you that he ought to meet up with a pretty lady like you. The single women around Adelphia Valley—well, there just aren’t any in his class if you know what I mean. Although they’d sure like to be. Sallie Taylor’s baked dozens of pies and hauled them over to his office. She’s dying to get his attention, but he just isn’t interested. I told Sallie she needs to give up, but she won’t listen. She’s hoping he asks her to the Harvest Festival dance at Pete’s barn tonight.”

Trixie paused, a look of glee suddenly lighting her eyes. “Say, honey, you ought to come. It’s always a fun event. Everybody in Adelphia Valley will be there.”

“Thanks, Trixie. Maybe I will. Now how did you know I was staying in the haunted room? And why didn’t you tell me it’s haunted?”

“Lizzy didn’t want me to say. She likes for people to stay in that particular room to prove there isn’t any ghost. So, whenever there’s guests at the abbey, one of ’em usually ends up in that room—especially a woman. Men don’t like to admit they’ve seen the ghost lady. You know how men are, all macho and fearless. The women will own up to it every time. I’ve tried to tell Lizzy she ought to charge more for guests to stay in the haunted room. Make it an added attraction, but she won’t hear of it.”

She flashed a conspiratorial grin. “I promised Lizzy I wouldn’t tell you. Besides that, I didn’t want to scare you off. Now, have you seen the ghost girl yet?” Her amused eyes were expectant.

“Not exactly, but I would like to read up on it, if you have any histories on the abbey, local legends and ghost lore.”

“Got ’em right here on the counter. I figured you’d be back.” She slapped a stack of books, then handed them over, pleased as a purring house cat.

Grateful for her anticipation, I took the books to a table and began reading the history of Adelphia Valley’s historic abbey. Tom had already told me how it was transformed into a hospital during the Civil War. Soldiers had died there, and their spirits were rumored to roam the halls.

How curiously ironic. Here I was again, staying in a building with a historical link to the Civil-War era. My name and my job kept throwing me into these situations. After the War, the nuns eventually ran the abbey as a school for girls until 1972, when it was sold. The new owners made it into the bed-and-breakfast inn that it is today.

“But curious events take place there,” the article claimed. “Photographers have frequently reported mysterious orbs, weird mists and vortexes showing up in their photos. At night, doors open and close without the help of a living person.”

My doorknob turned and no person was visible in the hallway.

Water on the floor where no water should have been.

I found the story of the young novice’s death, written just as Tom had told it, however it was merely a legend without historical people’s names or dates to verify it.

I also read how workers in the abbey’s kitchen reported frequent poltergeist activity. Stove burners turning on without human hands. Dishes moving from cabinets. Chairs rattling and rocking with no person nearby.

Staff members usually explained this by saying the departed nuns did not like visitors to the school. I found this amusing—the idea of ghostly nuns playing mischievous and childish, annoying pranks. It always amazes me how the living are so willing to believe that people change their basic personalities after they die. If they weren’t mischievous and wicked pranksters in life, what would make them become so after death?

Superstition and fear go hand in hand.

There was even a legendary headstone carved into the shape of a chair which had been moved from the cemetery after numerous persons sat on it and later died early deaths. The story spread that the seat was cursed. What became of the stone chair, I don’t know.

From the article, it appeared the abbey was thoroughly qualified as a haunted place. Dax would be delighted.

My cell phone rang. I expected it to be Dax, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Tom’s voice instead.

“I’m all yours for the afternoon if you’d like me to drive you out to Harry’s place.”

I could hear the smile in his voice.

I smiled back.

Fifteen minutes later, the tall, lanky sheriff walked into the library and gave Trixie a hug.

“I see you’ve met Miss O’Hare, Sheriff Tom.” Trixie’s eyes sparkled with matchmaker glee. “I was just telling her about the Harvest Festival and pie supper at Pete’s barn tonight. Tom, don’t you think she ought to come?” She winked at me.

“I do indeed. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking she ought to come with me.”

The pair stood there beaming at me. I had no choice but to say yes.

Tom held the door of his squad car open, and I climbed in thinking, what am I going to do with Dax tonight?

Almost in answer to that thought, Tom flashed a conspiratorial grin. “Maybe we ought to get your friend a date so he won’t be lonely.”

I laughed at the thought. Dax fixed up with a blind date. He’d be furious. Or maybe he wouldn’t. A good idea?

“Know anyone?” I was curious what Tom might say.

“Well, there’s Sallie Taylor. She’s probably not his type, but she bakes a fantastic pie. She even plays the fiddle sometimes. I doubt that’s high on Mr. Larue’s list of requirements, but he might find the festival can be colorful local flavor for his story, and Sallie is colorful in her dance costumes.”

The thought of Mr. GQ-Dax Larue with a square dancer in a ruffled skirt and petticoats made me grin.

“You tell him he’s got a date, Sheriff Tom. That is, if Sallie Taylor agrees. It’s between the three of you. I’m staying out of this.”

I enjoyed the drive to the Potts farm. The storm had stripped the final autumn leaves from the trees, but there were lots of evergreens standing along the country lane. When we crossed the bridge, I was surprised to see the swollen creek had risen to the level of the steel girders.

“Wow, that’s what I call a rain storm! Zeke was right. We’d never make it up Misty Mountain today.”

“You’ll make it tomorrow. The water runs off almost as fast as it rises.”

We pulled into the drive, and Harry greeted us with a friendly wave from his pickup. He rolled down the window and stopped beside us.

“Sheriff Tom. Miss O’Hare. You’re just the two I want to see. Climb in here with me. I’ve got something to show you.”

Harry drove us over a rough dirt lane through the pasture for what seemed like miles. Finally coming to a fence row, he stopped and opened a gate. On the other side, the road all but disappeared. Trees grew thick and branches scraped the doors of the truck.

“Where are we going? We’re not on your land now are we Harry?”

“Nope. I crossed this fence when I drove out here after the storm to look for a nervous cow. She jumps the fence every time there’s a thunder storm. Followed her tracks in the wet ground.”

Oh no. Not another mutilation.

I looked at Tom and could see he was thinking the same thing.

“It’s just over this rise.”

The wheels of the truck strained and slid in the mud.

“Reckon we’d better walk the rest of the way, or we’ll get stuck and have to walk back.”

We climbed out and headed into a stand of tall cedars. They formed a natural circle around a slight mound. An eerie feeling came over me as we entered the ring. A circle. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the prophecy warning me about three circles.

In the middle of the clearing was a pentagram painted on the grassy mound in black charcoal or maybe creosote oil. At its center was a charred and blackened heap of wood.

Harry stirred the ashes with a stick. “Even after the downpour, the embers were still glowing under those big logs when I found it this morning. Must not have rained quite so heavy on this side of the woods.”

We stood there looking at the scene.

Tom’s brow furrowed. “Yep, it’s a witches’ coven or some kind of devil worshippers. I’ve seen a layout like this before, but that’s been a while ago. Did you find your cow?”

“Sure did. She managed to get back to the herd safe and sound.”

“You’re lucky to find her alive,” Tom began checking the area for tire tracks or footprints, but the storm had wiped out whatever might have been there.

When we turned to go I saw an object lying half covered by the leaves and felt a sudden start. The object was a compact. My compact!

“Would you look at this?” I was stunned by the significance of my find. “Someone’s been in my room at the abbey and grabbed my compact. There’s no other way it could have shown up here.”

Tom’s eyes flashed a look of concern. “You sure it’s yours?”

“There’s no mistaking it. See here, my initials are glued inside with the same tiny labels I use to stick on cosmetic articles whenever I’m flying. That’s something I’ve done since the airlines started going through carry-on bags.”

He pulled out a handkerchief and wrapped the compact carefully before tucking it inside a pocket.

“Don’t handle it anymore. I’ll see if I can lift some prints at the lab.”

We climbed back into Harry’s vehicle and headed to his place.

They both voiced concern over the significance of the pentagram.

Tom patted the compact inside his pocket. “We’re way back in the hills here, maybe even over the county line. I’d like to think nobody in Adelphia Valley is taking part in this kind of thing. But at least one of them is, or Kaytie’s compact wouldn’t be here.”

He turned toward me. “Who has access to your room, Kaytie? Besides a maid, or housekeeper?”

“I don’t know. Someone was at my door during the storm last night. When I checked the hall, it was empty. I’ve invited Lizzy into my room a couple of times when she brought me pages from Ezra’s journal. I’m sure there’s a housekeeper to change the linens.”

After a moment of silence, I couldn’t help complaining. “I’ve been stalked in the cemetery, abducted by a sociopathic UFO-freak, slept in a room haunted by a dripping ghost, and now I’m the target of witchcraft! Where does it all end?”

“I mean to find out.” Tom’s voice sounded steely with determination.

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