by Tim Mead
Jake had finished his class preparations. He could have worked on the paper he was getting ready to present in Chicago later in the spring, but he didn't feel like it. So he rationalized that he wouldn't do good work if he was not only tired but also unenthusiastic for the project. Then he chuckled, thinking that thousands of students had probably used the same excuse.
Since it was nearly ten o'clock, he decided to go to Nelly's for a while. He'd have asked Digby to go with him, but he knew his friend had a gig in Toledo, even though it was a week night. It was a blustery March night, cold, windy, with something between sleet and snow stinging his face as he walked. But he didn't really pay much attention to the weather. He was preoccupied with something Digby had told him.
Adrian Lynch had mentioned to Digby that Grant had recently had dinner at Adrian's with Ben Moss, Toby Taba's partner. It could, of course, have had something to do with county business, since Moss worked for the county. But Moss was openly gay. Jake had known that before he'd even met Moss. He'd known that even before Moss and Toby had become partners.
The problem for Jake was why Jim would be willing to be seen in public with Ben Moss when he was so paranoid about being seen with him, Jake Handley. Try as he would, he couldn't come up with an explanation. He thought he'd call Jim and ask, but he was afraid his tone would be accusatory, and he didn't want that, didn't want to anger Jim. As hurt as he was by the current state of things between them, he loved Jim and didn't want to alienate him. Unless, of course, something was going on that he didn't know about.
Jake worried that Jim might not care about him as much as he cared for Jim. He could understand how important Jim's job was to him, but he was beginning to wonder whether that was just an excuse. Jim had demonstrated physical courage often enough in his career on the Colby Police force, but was he perhaps being cowardly where coming out was concerned? Jake didn't want to see Jim hurt, but he also found himself impatient with his erstwhile lover over his obvious fear of being outed.
Could it be that Jim wasn't, as he claimed, primarily worried about the reaction of his police colleagues, that he was somehow embarrassed to be known as gay by the community at large?
* * *
Nelly's was doing a good business. A fair number of men – and a few women -- had braved the nasty weather to come out for a drink and some companionship. He stopped at the bar to pick up a JD on the rocks and then turned, looking for somewhere to sit.
"Hey, professor, over here!"
It was Brody Cox. Sitting next to him was Dave Cromer. Both men were smiling, and Brody waved. A third person was sitting in their booth, but his back was to Jake. All he could tell was that it was a tall man with close-cut red hair.
"Hi guys, may I join you?"
Brody grinned. "Sure. That's why I called you over. Take a load off."
The man facing them slid over so Jake could sit next to him.
"Dr. Jake Handley, this is Ray Stonesifer," Dave said. "Ray and I graduated from Higgins High together, back in the day."
"Call me Jake, please, Ray."
The two shook hands, and Jake sat down. Dave's friend was a hunk, if you liked tall, well-built, blue-eyed, redheads. `And who wouldn't?' Jake asked himself.
"I haven't bumped into this guy in quite a while. And Brody says he hadn't seen old Red here since we were seniors and Cox was a sophomore. So we've been catching up."
"Well, please don't let me interrupt." Jake lifted his glass to the others and took a sip.
"I was just explaining that I don't come in here very often because of my job," Ray said.
"Yes, sir. I'm a cop."
"Okay, you're not on duty as a cop, and I'm not on duty as a prof. So please just relax and call me Jake."
The kid's grin was adorable, Jake decided. `And he probably wouldn't appreciate being thought of as a kid,' he realized.
"Jake it is. So, anyway, as you might guess from seeing me here with these guys, I'm gay. I'm more or less out at work, though I try not to flaunt it. I used to be stationed in Higgins, but some of the older guys gave me a hard time about it, I said some heated things, and my career almost went down the tubes right then. Fortunately, somebody higher up decided to transfer me to the main HQ here in Colby. They pretty much let me alone there, though I'm guessing they're just waiting for me to fuck up so they can fire my ass."
Jake was finding the redheaded cop's story fascinating, so he merely tried to look interested without saying anything.
"Yeah," Brody said. "I can relate to that. I had to walk the straight and narrow when I was in the Corps."
Stonesifer asked Brody about his Marine experiences, so the conversation was side-tracked for a while, though Jake was interested in the handsome blond's story.
Eventually, a drink or two later, Dave said, "But, Red, you were about to tell us about your boss, weren't you?"
"Yeah. When I was transferred to the main HQ, my boss was Captain Boros, supervisor of detectives. He's the one who got me transferred to his office, but I always thought he was breathing down my neck, expecting me to do something wrong. But then Chief Schultz retired, Boros became the new Chief, and I got a new boss."
Jake, who'd been about to take a sip of his JD, instead set down the glass and listened.
"Is he any better than what's his name, Boros?" Dave asked.
"Oh, yeah. He's great. He's quieter than Boros, and sometimes I wonder what he's thinking."
"What do you know about him?" Dave asked.
`Atta boy, Dave,' Jake thought. `Keep asking him questions.'
"He's local. Was in Army Intelligence after college. Then went to the academy and after that came to this department. Picked up a master's from CSU about five years later. I assume he did that evenings and weekends. Got transferred to plain clothes immediately after his probationary period and came up through the ranks. Perfect record. Model cop."
"Ray," Jake asked, pausing for another sip, "how come you know so much about your boss?"
"Yeah," Dave said. "And I assume you're talking about Grant, the guy that was injured last summer."
"Yeah, Captain Grant's my boss. And while he was in the hospital and then on convalescent leave, there were a lot of memos back and forth between then Captain Boros and Chief Schultz. Of course, Boros can't type, so I wound up typing them on the PC for him. They were talking about what to do about Grant. He won't ever be able to meet the physical requirements for an active-duty policeman, but with his ability and experience, they wanted to keep him on. They offered him early retirement with special dispensation from the Commission for a nice buy-out, but they knew he'd turn it down. So Schultz decided he was ready to retire, Boros became the Chief, and Lieutenant Grant became Captain Grant, my boss."
"And you seem to like him?"
"Oh, yeah! One day not long ago he called me in, sat me down, and told me what a good job I was doing. I feel a lot more comfortable now. I had been hoping to get out of that office and back to regular duty, but I like working for the Captain. And it doesn't hurt that he's gay."
Jake, who'd just taken a swallow of whiskey, choked. The three younger men all looked at him. Ray turned and whacked him on the back.
"You okay, professor?" Dave asked.
Jake waved a hand. When he was able, he said, "Yeah, guys, I'm sorry. Some of that stuff just went down the wrong way. So, Ray, go on. You were saying your boss is gay? Is he out at work?"
"It must be cool to have a gay boss," Brody said.
Ray looked embarrassed. "Look, guys, it's a ticklish situation. I'm pretty sure he's gay. I mean, the man's in his fifties. Oh, no offense, Jake."
Jake grinned. "None taken."
"So he's never been married, lives alone with his dog. According to a conversation I heard between Lieutenant Marlowe and Sergeant Bradovich, he's never been known to date. And he likes classical music. Doesn't that sound like a description of a gay man?"
"Well," Dave said, "it's best not to jump to conclusions."
Jake nodded. He'd been about to say the same thing. Though he was finding Stonesifer's story fascinating, he felt a bit guilty listening to it. But what was he going to do, tell them they were talking about the man he loved? That would be to out Jim. Or, he realized, to out him more than he already was.
"Ray," Brody asked, "how about you?"
"What about me?"
"I'm not sure I believe in gaydar. I know I've never thought I had it. But what kind of vibes do you get from your boss?"
Ray grinned. "He's very correct, very sort of SOP, but at the same time laid back. And he has kind eyes." He turned slightly so he could sweep his gaze at all three of them. "But I've also caught him looking at my package, and I'd swear he stares at my ass when I'm walking out of his office."
Brody and Dave laughed at that. Jake grinned, but he was uncomfortable.
"You have eyes in your ass?" Dave asked.
"Haven't you ever felt like somebody was staring at you?"
"Oh, yeah. Cox stares at my ass all the time."
When he could, Jake turned the conversation by getting Dave to talk about landscaping projects his company had lined up for the spring and summer.
Then Brody asked Ray if he'd be interested in playing baseball for a summer league team he and Dave played on.
"As long as I'm on my current job assignment, I'm working a straight eight hours, so I'd like that. If I get transferred back to regular duty, I'd be on rotation, so I couldn't guarantee to be there."
"Well," Dave said, "just keep wiggling your ass at Captain Grant and hope he stays happy with your work."
They all chuckled at that.
Then Ray began to ask Jake questions, apparently feeling that Jake had been left out of the conversation. Jake liked the young man, but he was cautious about what he said, since Ray obviously had a tendency to gossip. He wondered how he might be able to suggest to Jim that he be careful what he said and did around his subordinate. Jim was apparently much more out at work than he realized.
* * *
`"Two ships that pass in the night?" Not, not that. How about "What might have been"?'
Jake was experiencing troubling recollections. For the first time since he had met Jim Grant, he'd been tempted by someone else.
The unwitting (or perhaps not?) tempter was a visiting fireman, so to speak, a prominent British medievalist who was on campus to give a series of lectures sponsored by Jake's department. The chair wanted someone to spend each evening with Professor (Dr.) Paul Michaels, and because his field was British history, Jake was expected to take his turn.
Jake's first reaction had been resentment at having to babysit the Brit. But he'd been impressed with Michaels' first lecture. When he'd had a chance to speak briefly with him at the reception afterward, he found the guy charming. Gay, too. That is, Jake didn't think most people would have guessed, but his own gaydar began pinging that afternoon.
Thus it was that Jake looked forward to his evening with the visiting prof. He hoped he could steer the conversation away from the Middle Ages, about which he didn't know a great deal. He hadn't thought or read much about the medieval period since he was preparing for his doctoral comprehensives. Michaels was a good speaker, however, informed, intense about his subject, but with a typically dry sense of humor which showed through occasionally.
After the last lecture of the series, Jake waited until everyone else who wanted to chat with the speaker had done so and left.
"Hello. I'm Jake Handley. We met earlier this week at the reception."
Michaels had a boyish smile. "Oh, yes. I remember. And I know your work. At least I've read two of your books. I especially admire the one on Lloyd George."
Jake was embarrassed, because he hadn't bothered to read anything by Michaels. Having heard him speak he planned to remedy that oversight as soon as possible.
"I understand you gave a paper recently on the Jarrow March," Michaels continued. "It hasn't been published yet, though, has it?"
"No, it should be out in the fall."
"I'll look forward to it."
"Professor, I'd like to take you to supper this evening, if that's okay with you."
Michaels grinned. "You mean you have the duty?"
"A pleasant duty, I'm sure. A meal on the university with a . . . colleague sounds good."
"Have you decided where we'll go?"
"No. Any requests?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I've been taken to several of Colby's better restaurants this week. What I'd really like is a cheeseburger and chips, sorry, fries, and perhaps a lager."
Jake smiled. "As I'm sure you know, there's a burger joint on every corner in this country. But the very best burgers in Colby are at, well, at Nelly's."
"Yes, we have our share of McDonald's as well. But is there a problem with Nelly's?"
"It's a gay bar."
He twinkled as he said, "Then by all means, let's pretend we're sociologists and observe the natives at Nelly's."
It was decided that Jake would stop by the University Guest House for Paul at 7:00. As it was only about half a mile, they planned to walk. When they arrived, they were able to get a booth just as four customers were leaving.
They removed their outer coats and put them on the banquettes. Paul was wearing a black pullover with a white tee underneath and black jeans. `With a little eye liner,' Jake thought, `he'd look lake a fiftyish goth. But a hot one!'
Jake gave him an appreciative smile. "Sexy, professor."
"Thanks. I rather like black," Paul said, smiling back.
They didn't talk much about history, somewhat to Jake's surprise. Paul had all sorts of questions. Although he'd been to the U.S. before, he seemed eager to learn more, especially about university teaching, about northwestern Ohio, and, most of all, about what it was like to be gay in America.
"Are you out back in Yorkshire?" Jake asked, hoping he wasn't wrong about Michaels.
"Only to a few close friends."
"I thought you guys were supposed to be more open-minded than Americans."
"Most people are. But in my position I must be circumspect, you know."
"I can understand that." Jake's thoughts went to Grant.
As they finished their burgers, Jake asked, "Have you ever had good old American apple pie?"
"For our pudding? We have something similar, but I'd like to try it. We eat it with Wensleydale cheese in Yorkshire."
"Most people here prefer it with ice cream, but my Dad always wanted a piece of cheddar with his."
So they finished up their meal, still finding lots to talk about. At some point Jake realized that the two had been mildly flirting with each other.
When he had taken care of the bill and they pulled on their coats, Jake said, "Paul, I'm sure you must be tired, and I don't want to presume. But I've enjoyed being with you so much I hate to let you go. Would you like to come back to my place for a drink? I have Laphroaig. Or, I think there's some Courvoisier if you'd prefer."
"Either would be most welcome, Jake. I'm not eager to return to the suite your University has so generously provided. I don't sleep well as it is, so you give me an appealing reason not to go back there just yet."
Jake couldn't remember when he'd enjoyed an evening so much. Certainly not since the last time he'd been with Grant. Paul was charming and sexy. The two had established a connection of some sort, though Jake wasn't exactly what kind. He suspected that an offer to have his guest spend the night wouldn't have been rejected. But, though things between him and Grant were iffy, he didn't want to jeopardize what they might potentially have by sleeping with the appealing Englishman.
"You know, Jake, I'm afraid you'll have to call a taxi. I have no idea how to get from here to where I'm staying."
"Nonsense. It's only a few blocks. I'll walk with you. If, that is, you don't mind."
"After all we've had to drink, I'd find it bracing."
Such was the bond they'd established, the two walked to the University Guest House hand in hand. When they said goodnight, they kissed gently at the door. But their affectionate farewell was jolted when they heard a voice saying, "Look at the faggots." Two male undergraduates were walking along the sidewalk, looking back at them.
"Never mind them," Paul said. "It's been a wonderful evening, Jake. Thank you."
"Will you email me?"
As he walked back to his place, Jake tried to sort out his feelings. He'd found Michaels strongly appealing. And if things between Jake and Grant had been otherwise . . . But they weren't otherwise. He loved Grant. They'd find a way to make things work. He was sure of it. He just didn't know how.
* * *
A few days later Jake was walking across a part of campus he didn't often visit, on his way to a faculty committee meeting in the botany building. As he started up the steps to the main entrance, he saw Brody Cox coming out.
"Hey, Dr. Jake. Nice to see you."
The two stepped aside, out of the flow of student traffic so they could talk.
"Yeah, Brody, good to see you. I enjoyed getting to sit with you guys the other evening. Thanks for inviting me."
"Want to go for some coffee?"
"Thanks, but I'm due at a meeting in about five minutes."
"Oh, well another time then. But I have to tell you something."
"After we all left Nelly's, Ray Stonesifer went on and on about what a hot guy you are."
"No shi--, uh no kidding? Me?"
Brody grinned and pointed his index finger at Jake, thumb up. "You da man, professor."
Jake laughed. "Poor Ray must be hard up if he's attracted to an old guy like me. Look, say hi to Dave for me. Gotta run."
* * *
"Jakey, don't you believe in seasonin' anything? What'd you put in this for sauce, cum?"
Jake chuckled. "That's why there's a bottle of your favorite Louisiana hot sauce next to your plate."
"Oh, yeah. Didn't see that."
Jake had invited Digby over for a casserole dinner, and a perennial point of contention arose as it always did when Jake cooked for his friend. Digby liked his food spicy. Jake managed not only to eat but to enjoy Digby's cooking, but his own efforts were seldom appreciated, always being too bland. This casserole had Italian sausages in it, and he'd thought it was pretty tangy.
"You shouldn't give me a hard time, you know. There's a cute young redhead that thinks I'm hot stuff."
Digby rolled his eyes. "You are hot stuff. I keep tellin' you that. But who's this young redhead? How you know what he thinks? You steppin' out on your captain?"
Jake took a bit of his salad and chewed it thoughtfully.
"What's the matter, man? Don't tell me you really are seein' somebody else."
"No, I'm not being unfaithful to Jim with anybody but you."
"Come on, we're not doin' anything these days." He took a sip of the sweet iced tea he consumed with most of his meals. "Well, not much anyway. But you can't hold out on me. What's goin' on?"
So Jake told him the story of his couple of hours at Nelly's and the subsequent bumping into Brody.
Digby's laugh rumbled around the room. "You in a mess, sweets."
"I think so, too, but describe the mess as you see it."
Digby was already helping himself to more of the casserole. Then he sprinkled a liberal amount of the hot sauce on it.
"First of all, you and your man ain' together because he is afraid his fellow cops will come down on him because they'll know he's gay. An' it turns out some folk in the department already know."
"Yep, that's about it."
"So your first problem is whether he's been lyin' to you all this time. Maybe he just usin' that as an excuse."
Jake put down his fork and took a deep breath. He hadn't thought of that. He knew Jim Grant. Jim wouldn't lie to him. Surely not. Would he?
"In the secon' place, suppose he don't know those others have him figured out – and how hard could it be – then what are you gonna do? You gonna tell him? And if you do, how will he react?"
Jake took a long drink of the Italian red he'd served with the casserole. Or served himself, anyway.
Another rumble from Digby.
"And now your boyfrien's flunky got the hots for you. Man, Jakey, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when you and Grant have this conversation."
"You're a heartless bitch, you know that?"
Digby's grin was brilliant. "Yeah, but you love me."
Jake was glad he hadn't told Digby about his recent evening with Paul Michaels. Nothing happened. Nothing would have happened, probably. Unless Grant hadn't been in the picture.
* * *
On Friday evening after he'd cleaned up the kitchen, he made his weekly call. It was sad, he thought, that he knew Jim would be home. He almost always was. It was even worse that they weren't together. He thought how nice it would be if they were snuggled together before the fire, perhaps listening to something on the stereo, with Archie snoozing at the hearth. And they could be. He knew Jim would be happy if he invited himself over. But he just couldn't do that. There was a principle involved. Yet he couldn't let go completely. He kept hoping that Jim would change his mind, would decide he wanted Jake enough to risk whatever consequences there were.
"So, Jake, anything new with you?" Grant had asked.
"It's not new, but I miss you."
"I miss you, too."
Not knowing quite where he was headed, he said, "Oh, by the way, I met your Officer Stonesifer."
"At Nelly's. I'd gone over for a beer one night after I'd graded essays until I was cross-eyed. Ran into Brody Cox and Dave Cromer. Do you know them?"
"I'm not sure I've met either of the boys, but I know their parents, and Brody's brother, Robert. Oh, and I saw them play baseball once last summer."
"Yeah, Bobbi's a baseball fan. So I took her and Ricki to see the Colby Clippers play their team, the Hammers."
"I didn't know you were a baseball fan."
Grant sighed. "I guess there's still a lot we don't know about each other, Jake. But what about Stonesifer?"
"Oh, nothing. He and Dave were in the same class at Higgins High, and they'd bumped into each other and were sitting together, catching up, when I wandered in. They asked me to sit with them. And when he told me he was a cop, I asked him what he did, and he said he worked in your office. Nice young guy." Then he decided to test the waters. "Cute, too. Must be nice to have that kind of eye candy around the office."
"You should talk. You live surrounded by hot young studs at the university."
"I can enjoy the scenery, Jim, but there's still only one guy I long to be with."
"Christ, Jake. You make me feel like shit."
"Didn't mean to. I guess we both have problems."
"You do know that Ray is one of us, don't you?"
`That's all? Just "yes"?' Jim could be maddeningly close-mouthed at times.
"I suppose we shouldn't be having this conversation on the phone."
"You're not the only gay man on the Colby force. Boros knows Stonesifer's gay, but he still has a job there."
"Yes, and the Chief is just looking for ways to hound him off the force. I'm trying to shield him from that."
"It's not as open and shut as you seem to think."
"I guess it isn't. Well, I just wanted to call and let you know that I think about you all the time and miss you a lot."
"I love you, Jake. Believe that, please."
Jake sighed. "Okay, Jim. I love you too. Goodnight."
After he hung up, Jake had no idea what to do next. He'd not told Jim some others in his department suspected him of being gay. And now he couldn't because to do so would be to give away young Ray as his source. But, dammit, if Jim could only see that, if he was discreet about it, being seen occasionally with a known gay man wasn't like beating the drum and waving the rainbow flag. If his subordinates were upset about his being gay, surely they would have made trouble already. And Chief Boros was in a position where, like it or not, he had to enforce the County's strict non-discrimination guidelines. He could be in a mess of legal trouble if he didn't.
* * *
On Monday afternoon when he returned to his office after his class, he found a student waiting for him. Sean Pittston leaned against the wall across from Jake's door, his backpack on the floor at his feet.
"Hi, Sean, you want to see me?"
Jake unlocked the door, flipped on the light, and said, "Come on in. Have a seat."
Sean waited until Jake was behind his desk and then closed the door of the office.
"Sean, you know the university rule. Student-faculty conferences are done with the door open."
The young man, about 5'9" with black hair and blue eyes, said, "I really think we need to keep the door closed, Dr. Handley."
"Sorry, Sean, but I have to insist."
"I don't think so. Maybe we should sit down."
Puzzled by the boys' attitude, Jake went to the door, opened it, and returned to his chair behind the desk.
"Now, what can I do for you?"
Sean took a deep breath. "Okay, have it your way. I've come to talk about my midterm grade."
"It was a C as I recall."
"Yes, it was. And that's just not acceptable."
Jake was surprised by the boy's tone. "Acceptable or not, that's my assessment of the work you've done so far. But you still have your term paper and the final to bring your grade up if you're willing to apply yourself."
Sean leaned back and looked at Jake coolly. "Like I said, the C isn't acceptable and you're going to change it."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because if you don't I'm going to the Dean of Students and tell him you said you'd raise the grade if I sucked you off."
Here it was. The day every teacher, every professor dreaded. He needed to stay calm.
"But I didn't. And it would be your word against mine."
"Yeah, but in cases like that, the authorities tend to believe the student. I wonder how many priests who didn't do any more than get a hard on over their acolytes actually got shafted when some kid accused them, just because he could get away with it."
Jake had often wondered the same thing.
"Why would you lie about a thing like that?"
"Because my dad expects me to make the Dean's List."
"That's not likely to happen. Even if you get A's from here on out, you're not going to get an A in the course."
"I think I am, professor. If you don't raise the mid term to at least a B+ and guarantee me an A- for the course, your career is down the crapper. I mean face it, not only do they take the student's word most of the time, but you're openly gay. You don't have any, what do they call it? Deniability, that's it. Everybody knows you queers are all cocksuckers."
"That may or may not be true, but we're certainly not all pedophiles. You're pretty arrogant to think I'd be interested in you sexually, you know."
The young man grinned. "You may be a pervert, but giving me a hummer wouldn't make you a pedophile. I'm twenty. I just said because you're queer, most people would believe you suck cock. So, doc, what's it gonna be? A memo to the Registrar or a ruined career?"
Jake's eyes were slits as he said, "You, young man, are despicable. Or to use a word you might understand, slime. But I need some time to think about this."
"I know just what despicable means, you stupid old fag. And you'd better watch your language or I'll go to the Dean right now."
Loathing himself as he did so, Jake raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Things are escalating here, Sean. Calm down, please. As I said, I do need to think about the implications of all this. Say a couple of days?"
The boy stared out the window for a moment or two and then grinned. "Sure, why not? It won't matter whether you change the grade today or next week, so far as that's concerned."
"Sean, if you're under pressure from your father, maybe we can get you some help."
"You don't know my father. But you can give me the help I need. Just change the fucking grade. I'll let you think about it for a while. I'll be back the end of the week. And if you aren't willing to do like I've told you, I'll be ready to go from here to the Dean's office. In fact, I think I'll make an appointment with the Dean for 3:00 Friday. I can always cancel if you decide to change my grade."
He stood, picked up his backpack and went to the door, where he turned and said, "It would be a shame to have a career like yours ruined, wouldn't it? Who'd hire a professor who pressures his students for sex? And what else can a historian do for a living, huh? See ya, doc."
Jake sat a minute waiting for his heart rate to slow down. Then, with shaking hands, he picked up his phone and dialed a number he'd memorized but rarely used.
"Captain Grant's office, Officer Stonesifer speaking. How may I help you?"
"Ray, this is Jake Handley. I need to talk to Captain Grant."
"Oh, hi. Does Captain Grant know you?"
"Jesus! Sorry, professor, but I wish you'd told me that the other night at Nelly's."
"I'm truly sorry about that. I should have let you know that your captain and I are friends. I promise I won't do or say anything to get you into trouble. But right now I really need to talk with him. Is he available?"
"I think so. Hang on a sec. But, professor, my job's on the line here. I gotta count on you to protect my ass."
"Relax, Ray. But please let me talk to your boss."
"You sound like you've got a real problem."
"Yes, I do. So please . . ."
To Be Continued
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