…And the winner in the category – Best Press Investigative Journalist of the Year – goes to…’
An expectant hush stills the audience.
Jim Finnegan, TV news reporter, pauses for a second while opening the envelope. His fingers move with the dexterity of a magician as he extracts a gilt-edged card. Adjusting his reading glasses, he beams his practised television smile for the benefit of the camera.
He speaks again…
‘The winner is… Post reporter, Ms Emma Boylan.’
Prolonged applause greets the announcement. Heads in the auditorium strain to catch sight of the recipient. They watch her enjoy the kisses, hugs and congratulations of those beside her – her husband, her mother and father – before approaching the stage. Emma acknowledges the good wishes with a radiant smile. Striding confidently, she makes her way up the three steps to the stage and accepts her award – a hand-cut crystal ink jar and silver pen. Cameras move in for close-up shots as she stands at the podium to pronounce the customary words of thanks.
Under the glare of television lights, her tan-coloured trouser suit and golden-brown hair absorbs the unforgiving illumination, transforming the features of her face to an almost translucent delicacy. As a frequent guest on television programmes, Emma knows the devastating effect studio lights can inflict on anyone foolish enough to wear the wrong make-up or clothes in front of the cameras.
Peering into the darkened auditorium, she picks out the spot where her husband Vinny Bailey sits. Her words are pitched to him. Clutching the award, with far more reverence than it deserved, she voices her appreciation to the sponsors and the organisers of the award ceremony before allowing her more personal feelings to dictate what she is saying.
‘—and it is especially gratifying to receive this award in view of the difficulties and sad times my husband, my family and I have experienced in the past year.’ This reference, as most of the media personnel in the audience already know, refers to her recent miscarriage, an event precipitated by her pursuance of a particularly difficult case she had been investigating at the time. ‘Without the love and understanding of my husband and my family I could not have returned to the world of investigative journalism.’
Spontaneous applause greets this sentiment.
‘With them in mind; my wonderful editor at the Post, Bob Crosby, and of course my readers, I am proud to accept this beautiful trophy.’
Emma, touched by the warmth of the appreciation, fights back tears, determined not to do an Oscar number like Gwyneth Paltrow or Halle Berry, as she makes her stage exit.
One hour later, away from the television studio, Emma, along with Vinny and her parents, sat down to a meal. Her father, Arthur Boylan, anticipating the good news had reserved a table in Restaurant on the Green, one of Dublin’s most fashionable dining establishments. The trophy now took pride of place in the centre of the table, replacing a vase of flowers that had been there on their arrival. The restaurant’s maitre d’, aware of Emma’s success, had complimentary drinks brought to the table to toast the occasion. Diners, seated at nearby tables, joined in with the excitement and offered Emma their congratulations.
It was only when the waiters arrived to serve their dishes that any degree of intimacy descended. Hazel Boylan, Emma’s mother, a handsome woman who could pass as an older sister, chided Vinny for not bringing his father along. ‘Having Ciarán here would make the family complete,’ she enthused, ‘not to mention the bit of fun and devilment he would provide.’
‘You mean bedlam, I think’ Vinny offered, not unkindly.
‘Acceptable bedlam,’ Hazel corrected.
‘Actually, he had intended to be with us tonight but he’s not feeling the best at the moment.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the matter with him?’
‘He’s been under a bit of pressure to finish restoration work on two huge canvases for the National Gallery.’
‘At his age?’ Hazel exclaimed.
‘Yeah I know, but he refuses to slow down, forgets he’s almost seventy. Anyway, he managed to make the deadline by the skin of his teeth but it took its toll on him.’
The conversation at the table continued with each contribution unconsciously resurrecting anecdotes that extolled Ciarán’s colourful, if somewhat dubious, escapades. Quality food and fine wine, served in good measure, ensured that repartee flowed freely for the duration of the meal. It was not until their dessert plates had been removed that a change of mood occurred. Arthur’s mobile phone bleeped. ‘Damn it,’ he said. ‘I thought I’d switched it off.’ Like the others, he’d seen the sign requesting all patrons to switch off their phones. The maitre d’, who’d been so accommodating earlier, cast a look of disdain in their direction. Arthur shrugged his shoulders, his expression mirroring the look one might expect to find on the boy caught smoking behind the school shed. Awkwardly, he extracted the offending object from his inside jacket pocket and glanced at the small screen to examine the incoming call number. ‘Sorry about this,’ he said, ‘I’d better answer it.’
Vinny watched with amusement as Emma and Hazel played at carrying on with their conversation while busily eavesdropping on the call. If curiosity killed the cat then his wife and mother-in-law were in immediate mortal danger. But even Vinny could tell from Arthur’s raised eyebrows that the exchange had an element of shock value to it. When Arthur finished the call, three pairs of eyes looked to him expectantly.
‘Trouble? Hazel asked.
For a moment Arthur said nothing. He looked a little stunned. ‘That was George Duggan, a client of mine,’ he said, dispatching the mobile back to his pocket. ‘He’s just told me about a bad accident: The parish priest from Lonsdale was killed in a car accident earlier this evening.’
‘Where did it happen?’ Emma asked.
‘The viaduct on the Dallard Road.’
‘The viaduct on Dallard Road?’ Emma repeated. ‘Isn’t that the old road that links Blanchardstown to Lonsdale?’
‘Yes, badly lit, hardly anyone uses it since they opened the new roads there. Can’t think what he was doing on it in the first place.’
‘And he’s dead. How terrible,’ Hazel said, making a quick sign of the cross against her breast. ‘How did it happen?’
Arthur shook his head. ‘Too soon to say. Seems his car skidded on ice, shot off the road, exploded into flames.’
‘What’s the priest’s name? Was he on his own?’ Hazel asked.
‘O’Gorman, I think. Yeah, Fr O’Gorman. He had a driver with him.’
‘Is he dead too?’ Hazel asked.
‘No, still alive but not expected to make it.’
‘God, that’s terrible,’ Emma said, ‘but why would George Duggan phone you to tell you this?’
‘There speaks the news hound,’ Arthur said, ‘always ready with the questions.’
‘Sorry Dad, I know what you’re going to say: your client, none of my business.’
‘Right, Emma. As it happens, George Duggan was ringing me about a different matter entirely. He had just heard the news about the crash and was a bit upset. His family were good friends with the priest and his wife trains greyhounds for him so they’re all a bit shocked.’
Emma wanted to push further but her father held both his palms up, a signal to her that he’d said all he was going to say on the subject. Emma nodded her compliance and received a thankful smile in return. When a waiter appeared at their table, Arthur insisted, in spite of dissenting noises from Emma and Hazel, on ordering one last round of drinks. ‘I’d like this evening to end on a high note,’ he said. ‘I want to congratulate Emma again on her achievement as a journalist. I know I speak for the rest of the family when I say how very proud of her we all are.’
Sergeant Ken McGettigan glanced disparagingly at the mounting pile of paper and files that lay scattered on his desktop. He inhaled smoke into the inner depths of his lungs, flicked ash from his cigarette, and attempted to sort out the conflicting theories doing the rounds of his brain. On the face of it, the death of Fr Jack O’Gorman could be attributed to a freak accident. Weather charts for that day showed heavy frost and icy patches but the sergeant doubted whether these conditions had any bearing on what happened. Something about the incident didn’t quite gel. Putting his finger on what that something might be had eluded him so far.
Earlier in the day, he had attended a press briefing to update the media on what was known about Fr O’Gorman’s final moments of life on this earth. Questions had come fast and furious, everyone wanting to know more about the circumstances surrounding the fatality. He assured them that the causes that led to the crash were being fully investigated. He’d extended his sympathies to the priest’s friends and relatives. This done, he returned to his desk and attempted to put some sort of construction on what happened. Phones rang continually, the media hungry for any titbit of information. He could give them little.
In the aftermath of the crash, the sergeant and his team had been kept busy examining the scene, seeking witnesses and overseeing the operation to recover the twisted scraps of metal from the dry riverbed beneath the viaduct. Because of industrial development in the area and the preponderance of heavy-moving equipment and lorries, it was impossible to deduce any telling facts from the multiple tyre tracks on the road’s surface. Railings torn from the side of the viaduct structure proved especially puzzling. It was difficult to envisage how such damage could be wrought by the impact of a car… unless that car had been travelling at very high speed. Blood samples showed Moran’s alcohol level above the legal limit. Given this fact, McGettigan’s normal inclination would be to blame driver error, but in this instance, he wasn’t so sure.
As things stood, everything depended on what the technical experts discovered on their examination of the wreckage. If someone or something had pushed the car off the road, McGettigan would have a full-blown murder investigation on his hands. If that happened he would be forced to hand over the files to the serious crime squad in the Phoenix Park. Having the ‘suits’ invade his patch was a situation he did not want to contemplate.
Keeping law and order in the small city suburb of Lonsdale had been his responsibility for almost a decade and he was satisfied that he had done a reasonable job. The threat of having his extra-curricular activities exposed to outside scrutiny was something he desperately wanted to avoid. He had worked hard to gain the few fringe benefits he now enjoyed and saw them as no more than a just reward for his services to the community. During his stint as Lonsdale’s guardian of the peace he had watched neighbouring suburbs like Mulhuddart and Blanchardstown develop out of all recognition. So far, Lonsdale had, to a large extent, escaped this fate. Even so, the crime rate had risen steadily in recent months – petty crime, mostly to do with drugs, joyriding, break-ins and minor misdemeanours. There had been some serious incidents too: drug-related stabbings and the death of some elderly residents, beaten up for their pension money. But until now, never an investigation into what could turn out to be a high-profile murder case.
Until hard evidence emerged that the crash was other than an accident, he would try to remain optimistic. If Moran regained consciousness, he could explain how he managed to plunge into thin air. If, on the other hand, Moran did not regain consciousness and no proof of foul play emerged then, given time, life as he knew it would return to normal.
Right now, Tom Moran could tell them nothing; prognoses for his chances of recovery were not encouraging. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the unpleasant task of giving the bad news to Moran’s wife had fallen to him. He’d arranged to have her rushed to the hospital, thinking it likely that her husband’s death was imminent. Thankfully, that hadn’t happened, but the strong possibility remained that he would never regain consciousness. One thing was certain: Moran would never walk on his own legs again. His escape from the jaws of death had been nothing short of miraculous. Not wearing a safety belt had played to his advantage. He had been thrown from the wreckage before the exploding flames had time to consume him.
McGettigan had been allowed to see the patient in the intensive care unit of St Michael’s Hospital. He knew the Moran family and had, on occasion, joined Tom for a jar in the Mill House bar. The Moran family lived less than a mile away from the police station, in one of Lonsdale’s better housing estates. Seeing Tom in the hospital, all broken up like that, had been a chastening experience for the sergeant. Brenda Moran and her daughter Olive had been present at the time, both shocked by what confronted them. He had done what little he could to console them, not an easy task under the circumstances. Olive held her mother’s hand, tears streaming down her face.
Even in that moment of great sorrow, McGettigan was conscious of Olive’s beauty. Shades of the actress Cameron Diaz — minus all the makeup but with an additional dash of innocence thrown into the mix. Olive had inherited her looks from both parents but seemed unaware of the effect she had on those around her. There wasn’t a red-blooded male in Lonsdale who didn’t cast hungry leers in her directions, none more so than McGettigan himself. Looking at her in that moment of grief, so vulnerable, so lovely, he had felt a twinge of guilt; his feelings for her running more to lustful longings than those of sympathy. Story of his life. Women never failed to provoke a strong testosterone response in him and he never missed an opportunity to gratify this over-developed masculine characteristic.
He knew he had a way with certain kinds of women – the ones that were profoundly lonely. The vulnerable ones. The ones that yearned for affection, for human kindness. The ones that burned with an unfulfilled desire for carnal intimacy. He could see it in their eyes, pick up the silent signals; it was an art form, a gift he’d honed to perfection. In his younger days he could turn them inside out with his dark blue eyes, have them flutter about him like moths round a candle’s flame. They all wanted the same thing: to be appreciated, told they were beautiful, promised undying affection. That presented him with no problem; he could take them on a flight of fancy, fulfil their dreams, ply them with silken endearments, fuel their most basic desires, and then, with their hearts aquiver, crash-land in their thighs.
Now, at forty-seven, the sexual conquests were harder to come by, but he still managed to get enough action to satisfy what he called his ‘thirst for lust’. The providers of this pleasure were no longer as young or as pretty as they once were. Lately, his women were a little more desperate, less discerning, but it didn’t bother him unduly. He believed in the old adage – one didn’t have to look at the mantelpiece while poking the fire. His own looks, he realised, had all but deserted him. Of late, the mirror in his bathroom forced him to accept some rather unpleasant facts. He carried too much weight; his face had become doughy, his jaw line sagged; his mouth had slackened and his hair, once his pride and joy, was hanging on for dear life. Only his eyes retained their ability to reach out and entrap lonely hearts.
Unfortunately for him, Olive Moran did not fall into the lonely hearts category. For one thing, she was twenty years his junior; for another, she had never shown the slightest interest in him. Still, he would remain ever vigilant, alert to any changes in her outlook on life. Maybe, just maybe, some day he’d get lucky. There could be a positive aspect to the death of Fr O’Gorman after all. It just might present him with an opportunity to get to know Olive Moran a little better.
Behind the wheel of her new 2-litre Hyundai Coupé, Emma Boylan made her exit from the congested traffic lanes of Dublin’s quays and headed for the town of Navan. Tourist promotions for the town used the tag line – Only an hour from Dublin. Emma was hoping to better that. Leaving the Phoenix Park via the Ashtown Gate, she allowed the car to reach 60mph. It was her first day to try out the car outside the city and she was looking forward to putting the silver machine through its paces. Trading in her old Volvo 360 GLT after many years of faithful service, she’d been seduced by the Hyundai’s lines and curves, its leather upholstery and chrome dash. Sitting in the car in the showroom, she’d felt comfortable, at ease with its interior. Vinny, who had insisted on inspecting the car with her – believing himself to be something of an expert on the subject – expressed qualms. Was it not a bit too powerful for a woman driver, he offered.
That clinched it. She bought the car.
And now, on its first proper road test, it had come through with flying colours. According to the clock on the dash, the journey had taken fifty-four minutes exactly. Not bad.
It was rare enough for Emma Boylan to visit the Victorian building that housed her father’s law practice. Her father did not encourage the habit, nor was it something she particularly enjoyed herself. But today she had decided to call on him unannounced. Even though he was busy talking on the telephone, he waved to her good-naturedly as she was shown into his office.
She sat in an armchair with springs that threatened to ambush her bottom and waited for him to finish the call. Little had changed in her father’s place of work over the years: flock wallpaper from skirting board to stuccoed ceiling, wine-coloured carpet on the floor, framed hunting scenes on the walls. Décor she considered oppressive. Muted noise from the traffic in the street filtered through windows that were top-heavy with elaborate pelmets. An array of photographs stood on top of a drinks cabinet. Studies of her father – the family man, posing with her and her mother at various events throughout their lives; her father – the business man, happily smiling in the company of well-known movers and shakers from the world of finance and politics. Emma suspected that the display was more for the benefit of visitors than for the man sitting behind the desk. It never ceased to amuse her to note how accurately her father’s office reflected his personality. She could not envisage working in such an environment, not that she would ever share such thoughts with her father.
Arthur Boylan finished his phone call, leaned forward in his swivel chair and smiled broadly. ‘Emma, dear girl, what brings you down from the big smoke?’
‘Had a little time on my hands… thought I’d drop by.’
‘Emma,’ he said, arching his head back, peering at her down the length of his finely sculptured aquiline nose, ‘you’re talking to your father now, remember? I know you never do anything without a reason. So, why are you here? What do you want?’
‘Ah, Dad, you’re being rotten.’
Her father got up from his chair, walked to a window facing Trimgate Street and stood there for a moment, his back to her. ‘Huh, another coach-load of tourists taking pictures of our church,’ he said, gesturing with his index finger at St Mary’s Church across the street. ‘They’ve discovered that Pierce Brosnan was an altar boy there when he was growing up here in the town. Strange to think of a Navan man playing James Bond, don’t you think?’ Emma remained silent. He turned to face her, adjusted the handkerchief sprouting over the breast pocket of his navy pinstripe suit. ‘Come on, Emma,’ he said, doing a passable impression of a barrister admonishing a witness, ‘answer me one question: what are you looking for?’
‘Oh, all right then, if you’re going to be a pain, Dad, I was hoping you could give me a little background information on—’
‘—George Duggan,’ he cut in.
‘Course I knew. Knew as soon as you showed up. Saw your reaction in the restaurant the other night… when I told you George Duggan was a client… knew you’d follow up on it.’
‘I’m that transparent?’
‘To me, yes. But then, like I say, I’m your father. You might manage to fool the rest of the world… that’s why you’re such a good journalist.’
‘Huh, fat lot of good trying to pull the wool over your eyes.’
‘You got that right.’
‘Hmmmm. Actually, I’ve caught wind of some gossip doing the rounds, tittle-tattle about Fr O’Gorman’s death and a supposed relationship he might’ve had with George Duggan’s wife. There’s been speculation that the crash might not have been accidental. Could be a load of rubbish, I know, but if there’s any truth in it I want to be on the inside track. So, what can you tell me about George Duggan?’
‘Dad,’ Emma moaned with feigned exasperation.
‘Can’t betray confidences. Unethical.’ This accompanied by a fatherly smile. ‘I can, however, tell you what’s in the public domain… on record.’
Emma responded with her best daughterly smile. ‘I just need a bit of background colour,’ she said, ‘if that’s not asking too much, Daddy dearest.’
‘Hmmm, let me see,’ Arthur Boylan said, returning to his customary chair. ‘I’ve handled two cases for George Duggan recently. Both received publicity.’
‘Can’t say I recall reading about them,’ Emma confessed.
‘You wouldn’t. Barely made the front pages… there were bigger stories hogging the headlines at the time. The first case involved the possession of Clenbuterol.’
‘Clenbuterol? The stuff we call Angel Dust?’
‘Exactly. It’s a banned hormonal growth promoter. It’s fed to cattle to artificially increase their bulk. Helps fetch better prices for the animals.’
‘George Duggan was giving Angel Dust to his cattle?’
‘That was the accusation levelled against him, yes. Someone with a grudge claimed he was doctoring his herd. It was enough to instigate a raid on the farm by the Department of Agriculture. The search revealed a quantity of animal remedies that did not have appropriate veterinary receipts and a number of illegal hormone guns.’
‘Guns? What the hell are hormone guns?’
‘They’re used for inserting hormones into animals. Bit like the old Western six-guns only bigger. Instead of bullets, tubes of hormone substances are inserted into the chamber. When the trigger is pulled, a tube shoots into the animal, usually at the base of the ear. The injected substance slowly seeps into the beast’s system.’
Emma shuddered. ‘You’ve just turned me off eating meat for life.’
‘A bit extreme, Emma.’ Arthur said. ‘Most of what’s pumped into cattle is quite harmless, openly used in many countries throughout the world.’
‘Great, now you’ve ruined my eating habits worldwide.’
Arthur suppressed a smile and continued. ‘However, in this country all use of hormones constitutes an infringement of the law. Because of finding these items on the Duggan farm, the authorities decided to get him on the big one – Angel Dust. They believed he had to be using it on account of finding the other stuff. Turns out they were wrong.’
‘He wasn’t guilty?’
‘Right. I managed to get an out-of-court settlement for Duggan. The original charge of possessing Clenbuterol was dropped. He conceded the lesser charge of having unauthorised antibiotics on his farm and agreed to a fine of eight grand.’
‘You said you handled a second case for George Duggan.’
‘Ah, yes. This was more recent. Still ongoing, as a matter of fact. It concerns a planning application. George Duggan bought twenty acres of land in Lonsdale. Zoned as prime agricultural land, it abutted the local graveyard. Duggan applied for planning permission to build forty dwellings on the site. He went to great lengths to get the development up and running, levelling the site, getting permission to put in sewerage pipes that would connect to the city’s main system. His application for a grant to build a new road adjacent to the land met with no serious opposition.
‘Everything appeared to be going smoothly until about six months ago when, out of the blue, an objection was formally lodged against the scheme. The objector described the proposed development as detrimental to the area’s visual and environmental amenities. Because of its proximity to Lonsdale’s graveyard and because the walls of an ancient church ruin, supposedly dating back to the time of St Brigid, formed part of the development’s boundary, the objection was upheld… planning permission refused.’
‘Did he appeal?’
‘Course he did. Trouble was, each time he re-applied, new objections were added to the original ones.’
‘Who was lodging the objections?’
Arthur Boylan thought about this question before deciding what he should tell her. ‘The graveyard and part of the land bordering Duggan’s site is the property of the Catholic Church. But the person who put the kibosh on George Duggan’s plans was none other than the parish priest of St John the Baptist Church, the late Fr Jack O’Gorman.’
‘Phew!’ Emma hissed, unable to conceal the interest with which she greeted the revelation. ‘And all of what you say is documented?’
A smile returned to Arthur Boylan’s face. ‘I wouldn’t have told you otherwise, my dear,’ he beamed. ‘You want more, you’re going to have to do some digging; exercise those investigative skills of yours.’
‘Gee, thanks Dad, you’re all heart.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
Caroline Blackman stood in front of the drinks cabinet, deciding which tipple to have. She did not consider herself any great shakes as a drinker but activity in the parochial house since Fr Jack’s death had been hectic. A little sustenance was required. She helped herself to a shot of vodka, added a dash of tonic.
Fr Patterson, the young curate, had tried to help during the stressful period but only succeeded in getting in her way instead. He had spent several hours in the parochial house each day since the accident, attempting to look after the church’s day-to-day chores, making hard work of co-ordinating funeral arrangements with Bishop Gannon. Younger than herself by a year or so, he was lanky and awkward and had a propensity for bumping into objects. On odd occasions she caught him eyeing up the curvature of her figure whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Earlier this morning she had queried Fr Patterson on the question of who would be appointed to replace Fr O’Gorman. As usual, the curate’s answers, like the repertoire of expressions on his face, strayed all over the place. Thinking himself to be unobserved, his eyes scanned her bodily contours with a mixture of boyish glee and queasy lustfulness. She ignored his wanton glances, endeavouring instead to elicit information from him. To that end she had met with considerable success.
He had been appointed acting parish priest, he informed her, a position he would hold until someone took the post permanently.
‘I’ve decided to move back in here,’ he announced, showing little enthusiasm, ‘back to my old bedroom. It goes without saying that you will stay on in your present capacity.’
‘Well, actually, Father, I’ve been doing some thinking about whether or not I should remain on.’
‘What? Of course you’ll stay.’
‘I don’t know, Father, it’s something I need to think about.’
‘What’s there to think about, Caroline?’ he asked, surprised that she would even consider such a move. ‘I always thought you were happy here… the place just wouldn’t be the same without you.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, there’s bound to be big changes, a new broom and all that… I think maybe I should be part of that change.’
Alone now, with a drink in her hand, Caroline considered just how she could put that change into effect. Bringing the glass to her mouth, she caught sight of her own reflection in the cabinet’s mirrors. ‘Cheers to you, girl,’ she said, offering herself a toast. The image smiled back. Momentarily, she studied the face. Not bad, not bad at all. Nature had been kind to her. Not exactly a beauty, but a long way from being plain. Facing the prospect of her thirtieth birthday within the year she had no real complaints on that score. With a pleasing cordate face, good eyes, and a rich crop of auburn hair, she knew she was quite presentable.
Time to make a move. Time to kick her life on to another level. She would give serious consideration to the notion of returning to England, from where she had come five years earlier. She had come to one of those crossroads, so pivotal in mapping one’s life. Five years earlier, the last occasion she had faced a life-changing set of circumstances, she had come to Ireland. There had been little choice at the time. Her mother was dying. What followed had been harrowing.
Watching cancer claim her mother’s life provided the catalyst for the most profound change ever to overtake her. In response to instructions delivered in faltering words by the dying woman, Caroline had opened a cardboard box that lay beneath the bed. The box contained dozens of notebooks, copybooks and ledgers, all of them filled from cover to cover with her mother’s neat handwriting. Upon reading a few pages, she realised that what her mother had given her amounted to an elaborate journal, a detailed diary. With extraordinary clarity, the entries traced the day-to-day events of her life, going right back to childhood. In the days and weeks that followed her mother’s burial, Caroline discovered revelations about her family’s history that shocked her profoundly.
Feeling slightly invigorated by the effect of consumed vodka, she accepted that she had not as yet fully come to terms with the contents of those entries. Reading about the circumstances of her own birth had been a hugely upsetting experience. It had been responsible for bringing her to Lonsdale; it had forced her to come face-to-face with the people who had shaped her mother’s life; the same people who in turn had dictated the course of her own life. Being the custodian of such knowledge had thrown her life into chaos.
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