Find Her

To get my writing back on track, I signed up for NYC Midnight’s Screenwriting challenge. Unlike fiction, if the camera can’t see it, you don’t write it. I find it a nice change of pace to participate. As always with NYC Midnight, they provide the genre, etc. This time my draw was ghost story/maternal/mortician.


Find Her

When Nina brings a memorial diamond into the Death Museum, Percy knows she needs to investigate the mysterious happenings that are tied to the jewel.

FADE IN:

EXT. DEATH MUSEUM – DAY

NINA DAVIS stands outside an old Victorian home with faded shutters and paint that is starting to peel. A large black sign with white lettering rests atop the door announcing Death Museum – Open Mon-Sat 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Nina opens her purse and pulls out a black velvet bag. She clutches it tightly before opening the door to the museum. A small bell jangles as the door opens and closes.

INT. DEATH MUSEUM – CONTINUOUS

PERSEPHONE “PERCY” ALLEN, owner and operator of the museum sits behind an antique desk reading Medieval Funeral Practices. She looks up as Nina enters.

PERCY

Good afternoon. Welcome to the one and only Death Museum, home to the commonplace, the bizarre, and the eclectic. We have artifacts related to death and funerals with an occasional nod to Spiritualism thrown in for good measure. Tickets are ten dollars and tours are self- guided. Ticket for one?

Nina looks around furtively. No one else is in the museum.

NINA

Are you Persephone Allen? I need your help.

PERCY

Certainly. We strive for excellent customer service here at the Death-

NINA

Listen, I’m not here about the museum. I need your professional expertise. A friend told me Persephone Allen is the closest thing to an expert on the supernatural and occult in the area. Is that you?

Percy straightens up at the compliment and looks pleased.

PERCY

An expert, huh? Yeah. I know things. Growing up in a funeral home fostered an unhealthy preoccupation with things that might go bump in the night. I go by Percy, by the way, not Persephone. The whole goddess of the underworld moniker tends to scare off prospective boyfriends. And you are?

Nina thrusts the velvet bag at Percy.

NINA

Nina Davis. Here. I picked this up at a flea market. Even though it isn’t exactly my taste, I felt oddly compelled to buy it. Ever since…well, strange things have been happening at my house.

Percy takes the bag from Nina. She opens it and a diamond solitaire necklace in a dramatic white gold setting drops into her hand. She picks up the diamond and holds it up to the light.

PERCY

(Excited)

Hold on. I need to grab something.

Percy opens a drawer and pulls out a jeweler’s loupe. She picks up the necklace and looks at it closely with the loupe.

PERCY (CONT’D)

Hmmm…just what I thought. (Percy removes the loupe and looks at Nina)

The diamond in this necklace is made from cremains.

Nina steps back from the desk, a look of revulsion on her face.

NINA

Are you kidding me? I’ve had a dead person’s ashes hanging from my neck? I think I’m going to be sick!

Nina makes a small gagging noise. Percy, looking amused, nudges the trash can next to her desk closer to Nina.

PERCY

It’s really not a dead person anymore. It’s a manufactured diamond. The difference between memorial diamonds and other manufactured gems is the carbon for this one comes from a loved one’s ashes.

NINA

But why? Why would someone turn their loved one into a necklace? Why not just bury them like a normal person?

Percy chuckles and walks out from behind the desk to stand next to Nina.

PERCY

Why? Personally, I think it’s sweet and smart. You have grandma made into a necklace, then you don’t feel obligated to place flowers at her grave every holiday. No worries about vandals on Halloween, or concerns about the cemetery being relocated for a new strip mall.

NINA

I guess. It seems weird to me, but now that you put it like that, I can see why it might appeal to someone. Can I ask you a question? Why a death museum? It seems an odd choice for a…for a…

PERCY

For a girl? Well, this used to be our funeral home business. We lived upstairs. I went to school to be a mortician and was all set to take over when one of those chain funeral homes opened up a few miles from here. Fancy coffins, fancy hearses, we couldn’t compete. Dad died a few years ago, and mom decided to pack up and move to Florida. Gave the business over to me, and I decided a death museum would be more profitable and fun.

NINA

Interesting lateral career move.

PERCY

Anyway,enough about me. You said strange things have been happening since you bought this necklace?

NINA

(nods)

Doors opening and closing on their own. Whispering. My mother keeps staring at the corner of her bed and carrying on a conversation with someone who isn’t there. She’s only sixty-five and until now, I thought she still had all her faculties even after her stroke. Now, I’m not so sure. It all started the night I brought the necklace home.

PERCY

Are you doing anything this evening? I’d like to bring some equipment with me and observe what’s going on in your home if that’s okay with you? I can come by right after the museum closes.

Nina hesitates.

PERCY (CONT’D)

No charge. I’m dying to see if you have an actual artifact haunting.

(grimaces)

Sorry. No pun intended.

NINA

Okay, but haunted or not, I definitely want to rid myself of this necklace now that I know it’s a dead person.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. NINA’S LIVING ROOM – EVENING

Percy, Nina, and Nina’s mother, GLADYS, sit in the living room. It is filled with chintz-covered chairs and an overstuffed sofa in a hideous pattern of red and green plaid. Victorian-style lamps do little to light the room. Several china statues of English Springer Spaniels dot the room on various small tables. It looks dark and oppressive.

The velvet bag containing the diamond necklace is in the center of a large coffee table that dominates the space between the chairs and sofa.

Percy looks around and spots a stuffed fox with a duck in its mouth. A mounted elk head stares down at the assembled women. Percy shudders. Nina notices and gives a small smile of understanding.

NINA

Thanks for coming. As you can see, my dad was quite the enthusiastic hunter. He would hunt anything as long as it moved.

GLADYS

Yes, Everett loved hunting things. Why I remember back when we were first married, he took me hunting for small prey. Like scared rabbits. It was quite the honeymoon.

Nina rolls her eyes at Percy.

NINA

Daddy was always a romantic. Are you okay to get yourself ready for bed or do you need my help?

Nina touches her mother’s arm.

GLADYS

(slaps Nina’s hand away) Don’t fuss.

Gladys stands up and wobbles a little. Nina leaps to her feet and pulls a walker from the corner. She makes sure her mother has a tight grip on it. Gladys slowly makes her way out of the living room and down the darkened hallway.

PERCY

Your mother doesn’t seem like she’s suffering from dementia, but I’m not a doctor. You say that she talks to someone at night?

NINA

Yes. At 8:42 every evening, everything starts going crazy here in the house.

Nina picks up the velvet bag and pulls the necklace out. She lays it in the center of the table.

PERCY

If it’s okay with you, I want to get my recorder and cameras out and ready to go before the witching hour of 8:42.

Percy pulls out a digital recorder and a video camera from a bag she has at her feet. Percy starts the digital recorder and sets it in the middle of the table by the necklace.

The door on the far side of the living room slowly creaks open. Percy’s eyes widen and she whips the camera up to start recording.

NINA

(checks her watch)

8:42 exactly. If nothing else, our ghost is punctual.

PERCY

Yeah. I hate a haunting that starts late.

Percy leans down to make sure the recorder is on.

PERCY (CONT’D)

Is anyone here with us tonight? (Waits a moment)

Anyone here who wishes to speak to us? Someone who is tied to this necklace?

The door slams shut so hard that one of the china spaniels falls to the ground and shatters.

NINA

(frightened) It’s here.

Percy gives her a wide smile and a thumb’s up. She aims her camera at the closed door and walks towards it.

PERCY

You’ve got my attention. Why are you here?

Air ruffles Percy’s hair. She reaches out to smooth it down, but jerks her hand back.

NINA

What’s wrong?

Nina’s breath comes out in smoky puffs because the temperature has dropped rapidly.

PERCY

(shivers)

Nothing. I just thought I felt someone touching me.

A murmur of voices comes from the hallway. It is clearly two voices. One of them is Gladys’s. The other voice is clearly masculine.

Mama!

NINA

Nina scurries up from her seat and dashes down the hallway towards her mother’s room. Percy is close behind her with the camera in her hand.

INT. HALLWAY OUTSIDE OF GLADYS’S BEDROOM – MOMENTS LATER

Nina grabs the doorknob to open the door. She screams and pulls her hand back. An angry red blister in the shape of the handle is branded on her palm. She bangs on the door.

NINA

Mama! Let me in!

Percy comes up behind her. She puts the camera down.

PERCY

Let me try.

Percy knocks on the door then grabs the doorknob. It doesn’t turn. She slams her shoulder against the door. It crashes open as if it was never closed. Percy tumbles to the ground.

INT. GLADYS’S BEDROOM – CONTINUOUS

Gladys sits in her bed under the covers. She turns and gives Percy a ghastly smile.

GLADYS

Hello, dear. Are you one of Everett’s girls? He does like them young and pretty.

Gladys turns back to look at the end of the bed. Her eyes roll back in her head then turn a milky white.

GLADYS (CONT’D)

Everett, I told you not to bring them to the house.

(MORE)

GLADYS (CONT’D)

Home and play should always be separate. You promised. Think of Nina.

A horrifying man’s laugh echoes loudly across the room. The lights flicker. An unseen hand pushes Percy backwards. She tumbles out of the door into Nina. The door slams shut. Nina and Percy stand up, but despite repeated efforts, they are unable to reopen the door.

PERCY

I don’t know how to say this, but your mom seemed to be talking to the ghost of your father. He didn’t seem like a friendly ghost at all. Are you sure that everything started when you brought the necklace home?

NINA

Definitely. My father died six months ago. I moved back home to take care of my mom two months ago after her stroke. As far as I know, nothing weird happened until I bought the necklace. If it had, I honestly wouldn’t know. I haven’t been home in a long time. Things between my parents and me were…well, strained.

The door at the end of the hallway opens. A set of stairs is visible.

GHOST (O.S.)

(whispering) Follow me.

Percy picks up her discarded video camera and walks down the hallway to the open door. She turns back to look at Nina.

PERCY

What’s up here?

NINA

It’s the attic. I wasn’t allowed up there. It’s where my dad kept his guns. He whipped me with a belt the one time I disobeyed him. I haven’t been up in the attic since I was eight.

Percy slowly walks through the door and starts up the stairs. Nina reluctantly follows.

INT. ATTIC-CONTINUOUS

Nina reaches up and pulls a chain. A single bulb illuminates the space. The attic is dusty and filled with boxes, old furniture, and several gun safes. A mouse scurries out from a box overflowing with papers.

GHOST (O.S.)

Find her.

A breeze ripples the papers and scatters them across the attic. Several newspaper clippings now litter the floor.

PERCY

Find who? Who do you want us to find?

GHOST (O.S.)

Find her.

NINA

This is freaking me out. I’m getting Mom and taking her to a hotel room for the night. Take the necklace. I don’t need to know what’s going on. I just want it to stop.

Nina turns to leave, but a dark mass forms in the air and flies across the room. It enters Nina’s body through her mouth and nose. Nina, no longer in control of her body, turns stiffly and points to one of the newspaper clippings that has landed at Percy’s feet.

Percy leans down and picks it up. She reads the clipping.

PERCY

Oh, shit! You need to see this.

Nina’s eyes are wide and unblinking. She opens her mouth to speak, but instead emits a gut-wrenching scream. The black mass flies out of her body. For a moment, it becomes the shape of an older woman with a kind face. Tears run down her cheeks. She points to the corner.

Nina goes silent and collapses to the ground. She begins to sob.

Percy runs over to Nina and drops to the ground next to her.

PERCY (CONT’D)

Nina? What’s wrong? What’s going on?

Nina doesn’t speak. Instead, she crawls over to a large green military footlocker in the corner where the ghost had pointed. The name Davis is stenciled on the outside. She fumbles to open it, but it’s padlocked.

Nina drags herself up and grabs a golf club from a set laying nearby. She hammers at the lock with the club.

NINA

(sobbing)

You son of a bitch. You sorry worthless son of a bitch. I knew it. I knew you were evil.

Percy grabs the club from Nina. Percy lifts it and gives the lock a hard whack. The lock breaks. Percy slowly opens the lid.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. NINA’S HOUSE – LATER

Two police cars are parked outside on the street with their blue lights flashing. A coroner’s van is in the yard. An ambulance is parked in the driveway. Crime scene tape is strung across the yard preventing nosy, pajama-clad neighbors from moving in for a closer look.

Two EMTs roll a gurney out the front door with the sheet pulled up over the body. They load it into the ambulance.

Nina sees the gurney and lets out a small sob. Percy huddles by Nina.

DETECTIVE JON STABLE stands next to the women, a notepad in his hand.

The three of them watch as a second gurney is trundled out of the house with a black body bag on top.

DETECTIVE

Miss Davis, you had no idea there was a dead body in your attic all these years?

Nina shudders and Percy gives her a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

NINA

No. I left home the day I graduated from high school. To be honest, I didn’t have the best relationship with my parents.

(MORE)

NINA (CONT’D)

When I lived at home, I wasn’t allowed in the attic because my father stored his guns there.

He jots a few words.

DETECTIVE

And what made you want to open the trunk on a Saturday night after all these years? Any reason you went snooping around?

Nina opens her mouth then shuts it.

PERCY

Actually, it was my idea. I run the Death Museum here in town. You’ve heard of it, right?

The detective curls his lip in distaste. He nods.

PERCY (CONT’D)

Nina thought her dad might have collected a few artifacts when he was stationed overseas with the military. She invited me to come over and go through stuff.

The detective raises a brow in skepticism. He snaps his notepad shut.

DETECTIVE

I guess that’s all I need to know for now. I’ll need you both down at the station tomorrow morning at eight sharp to make a formal statement. Miss Davis, my condolences. The shock of a corpse in the house must have been too much for her heart.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. DEATH MUSEUM – SEVERAL DAYS LATER

Nina walks in and drops the black velvet bag onto Percy’s desk.

NINA

You keep it. I never want to see it again.

Percy opens up the bag and pulls the necklace out. She lays it on top of her desk.

NINA (CONT’D)

I saw everything. It was like a movie inside of my mind. My father. The girl. The horrible things he did to her. The worst thing is my mother knew. She knew and let it happen.

Nina covers her face with her hands.

PERCY

You need to see something.

Percy opens the desk drawer and pulls out a yellow scrap of newspaper and hands it to Nina.

NINA

(reads)

Twenty-five-year-old Amber Whitaker went missing Saturday night after finishing her shift as a bartender at Faster Pussycat at eight o’clock. Reported missing by her roommate when she failed to return to their apartment after three days, Miss Whitaker was last seen wearing blue jean shorts, a cropped red top, and white cowboy boots.

Her father said, “Amber wears a piece of her mama around her neck. It’s her good luck charm. I’m hoping her mama’s spirit will help bring my little girl home.”

Nina looks at the photograph that accompanies the article.

NINA (CONT’D)

Oh my god! It’s the necklace! How in the world did it end up at a flea market?

Percy picks up the necklace and lets it spin in the sunlight shining through the front window.

PERCY

There are more things in heaven and earth, Nina.

FADE OUT.

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Tit for Tad

I made it to Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. This time my assignment was political satire, a fundraiser, and a cartoonist. Here’s my entry!

“Sir, I think it’s a mistake to attend this fundraiser. You won’t find people friendly to your campaign.”

 “That’s exactly why it’s the place I need to be, Walker. Those women don’t know my ideas are what’s good for them. Instead, they’re listening to that dried-up husk, Millie Highpoint, who wouldn’t know what to do with a man if he showed up on her doorstep naked and willing.” Thaddeus Trench tightened the knot in his tie and gave himself an appraising look in the mirror. “Going to Save the Moo Moos will show these women I support their breasts and understand their problems.”

Walker let out a snort of laughter which he quickly turned into a cough. “Mr. Trench, it’s Save the Ta–”

Trench held up his hand. “I don’t need to be schooled by a kid like you. I come from a long line of political men. My daddy and my granddaddy both served in the state senate. Come November, those women will line up and beg to vote for me. You focus on my speech for next Saturday’s debate, and I’ll worry about tonight. Any idea where my wife is?”

“She said she’d meet you at the gallery. She had some…um…errands to run.” Walker knew the errand was boning her new yoga instructor, Hans, but what the senator didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Stella Trench paid him a nice healthy bonus every month to help hide her indiscretions.

 An hour later, Senator Trench eased his SUV into the parking lot next to the gallery. It had taken him three tries to park, but he prided himself on his ability to maneuver big things into little spaces. He licked his palm and used it to smooth his hair into place. At sixty-one, he still had a full head of hair that he kept black with a bit of help from a bottle of dye he hid under his bathroom sink. Opening his door, he felt it slam against the silver Prius in the next space.

“Damn ridiculous,” he muttered. “Got spots for the handicapped, compact cars, pregnant mothers, but they can’t make a spot for a God-fearing man with a real vehicle.”

He strode to the door of the Middleton Art Gallery. At the entrance, he spotted Stella standing close to a deeply tanned man with a shaved head and small goatee. Trench reached out and grabbed his wife’s ass. She gave a squeal and whirled to face him, her face pink. “Dang it, Tad! You about gave me a heart attack!”

“Just keeping my little lady on her toes.” He held his hand out to the bald man. “Senator Thaddeus Trench. Good to meet you.”

“Tad, this is Hans Oliver, my yoga instructor. Remember I told you how much he’s helped improve my downward dog position.” Stella giggled. “I feel like a new woman after a session with him.”

Trench eyed him. A pink handkerchief was neatly tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket. It told him everything he needed to know about Hans Oliver. He smiled. “Glad to hear your helping my wife. You must really give her a workout. She comes home exhausted after her evening yoga class. Keep up the good work. I like to support your kind.”

Hans lifted an eyebrow. “My kind?”

“Yeah. You know…” Senator Trench lifted his hand then let it droop. “It’s okay. Your secret’s safe with me. I can’t say that I agree because the good book says it’s a sin, but I’m not one to throw shoes in glass houses.”

“Good to know you’re so open-minded, Senator.” Hans smirked. “I’ll be sure to let my kind know about you. Stella, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Stella watched Hans walk away, her eyes gleaming. “He really is a fine yoga instructor. I’m not getting any younger, Tad. Thirty is right around the corner, and I like to keep my body a temple.”

Trench ogled his young wife’s plunging neckline. “You’re the finest temple I’ve ever seen, darling. I got lucky the day you walked into my church. A beautiful and virtuous wife is a blessing to her husband.”

“Oh, Tad, I’m the lucky one.” Stella looked up at Trench from under her lash extensions. Trench didn’t know she had stumbled into his church by accident that Wednesday evening five years ago after drinking one to many mojitos with the girls after work. 

“I’m glad you wore the dress that shows off your tits,” Trench said. “It will demonstrate to these women that you support their breasts, too.”

Stella rolled her eyes. Lately, she’d been replacing Trench’s little blue pills with vitamins similar in shape and size. After a few failed attempts on his part, her husband had retreated to his side of the bed and stayed. She couldn’t divorce him. She had her eye on the governor’s mansion one day. She couldn’t wait to host a cocktail party there and invite all the women who had turned up their noses at her. Once she was the wife of a governor, they would all have to kiss her ass. It was a finely molded ass, too, after all her sessions with Hans.

The two of them walked into the gallery. Stella snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Trench declined. He never drank in public. His constituents had certain expectations of a preacher and senator. If he wanted the governor’s mansion, he needed to maintain his façade and keep his liquor consumption private.

“Senator Trench and Stella! I’m surprised you accepted the invitation tonight.” A young woman with one side of her head shaved and the other side bedazzled with hues of pink and purple greeted them. “I’m KD, the featured artist for this evening’s charity auction.”

“Nice to meet you. What’s your media of choice, Katie?” Stella asked, looking around the gallery at the various sculptures and paintings.

“Now, sugarplum, we’re not talking about reporters tonight. I’m sure Miss–I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your last name,” Trench said as he placed his hand on the artist’s shoulder.

“I don’t use a last name, and it’s KD, not Katie.” She enunciated the letters. “I feel the use of last names by women supports the patriarchy. I’ve sloughed off the burden of years of female servitude and only go by KD. I’m a cartoonist, Stella. It’s okay if I call you Stella, not Mrs. Trench, right? I mean, you of all people should realize that we women have been on our backs to the patriarchy for much too long.”

Stella narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never been on my back for the patriarchy.”

KD laughed. “If you say so. Let me show you one of the pieces I’ve donated for the auction, Senator. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it.”

KD led them over to a large canvas. A scarecrow with jet black hair and vacant eyes sat on a crate milking a cartoon cow with large udders. The words tax dollars were printed on the udders. “Rather telling isn’t it, Senator?”

“You’re darn tootin’ it is. This is a piece of work. You’ve captured the plight of the American farmer. I’m going to bid on it,” Trench said. He gave KD a predatory white smile. “You’ve got some talent. Have you ever thought about painting portraits? I’ll need one done when I’m elected governor of this great state. It would be a feather in your cap if you could capture my likeness.”

KD snorted. “I’m sorry, Senator. I don’t work with oil.”

“Darling, you’re missing a prime opportunity to be famous. Cartoons are for the Sunday funnies, but you can’t make a living with them.” Trench squeezed her shoulder. KD slipped from his pawing hand, her lips tight.

“Actually, I make out just fine with my art. I’m the editorial cartoonist for the Middleton Times, and my work’s been featured in several national newspapers.”

Stella tugged on Trench’s jacket and pointed. “Tad, look at the face on the scarecrow.”

Trench smiled. “I know. It’s great, isn’t it? KD has some real talent, even if it is only a comic. That scarecrow almost looks like a real person.”

“Tad, look closer,” Stella insisted. She pulled him in front of the piece. “You don’t see the resemblance?”

Trench squinted his eyes. “No, honeybuns, I can’t say it looks like anyone I know. Is it someone from your yoga class?”

Stella sighed. She wondered if she could make it to Hans’ apartment for a little stress relief tonight. She glanced at KD. A thin woman with graying brown hair pulled into a tight chignon had joined them. Millie Highpoint, her husband’s most vocal opponent in the state senate, gave her a tight nod. “Mrs. Trench, you look lovely. Thaddeus, I didn’t expect you this evening. An auction to raise funds for breast cancer research doesn’t seem like your normal venue.”

“I love breasts, Millie. Some of my favorite people have breasts. I’m happy to come out and support Save the Moo Moos. More men should support breast research.” Trench beamed at the women. “You all have great tits. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep them healthy.”

KD flushed cherry red. Her fists tightened at her side. “Listen here, you pompous–”

Millie laid a restraining hand on KD. “Sweetheart, I think we should give the Senator a chance to speak this evening. We need all the help we can get to raise money. I think the bids might reach an all-time high with Senator Trench’s inspirational words.”

“I don’t know, Mom. Do you really think it would help?”

“Mom? Millie, is this your daughter? I was just telling KD here that she has some real talent. She should consider doing portraits. Capturing the likeness of people could really boost her career. I’m bidding on this piece here. Such a powerful statement. I plan on hanging it behind my desk at the governor’s mansion.”

Millie’s eyes widened. She looked at the senator, then at the large cartoon scarecrow on the wall, and then back at Trench. “You might be right, Thaddeus. Capturing a face takes talent. Now, will you open up the fundraiser with a speech?”

“I’m happy to help, Millie. It shows real bipartisan support to our constituents. Give me a moment to compose myself.” Trench buttoned his suit jacket and popped a mint into his mouth.

“See you at the podium, Thaddeus.” Millie winked at KD.

“If you’ll excuse me, Senator. I see someone I need to speak to,” KD said and hurried away.  

“Tad, do not tell these people you love tits,” Stella hissed. “It’s guaranteed career suicide.”

Trench patted Stella’s arm. “I’ve got this. You just stand next to me and smile pretty for the cameras.”

“I need to go to the little girl’s room,” Stella said. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

“Don’t take too long. This will be a prime opportunity to appear in the newspaper.”

Stella started walking towards the ladies’ room, but when she was out of Trench’s sight, she dashed towards the exit. She wondered how much she could hock her engagement ring for and if there was any cash at the house.

Senator Trench stood in front of the podium. He cleared his throat. Cameras flashed, and he gave the reporters and crowd his politician’s smile. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to speak here tonight in support of this important fundraiser. As I look at this amazing piece of art from KD, I realize that women and cows have a great deal in common.”

At the collective gasp from the crowd, Trench’s smile grew wider. He knew in an instant that he had won them over.

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