Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude | By: Michael B. Shimer | | Category: Full Story - Adventure Bookmark and Share

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude


Chapter 1
Ft. Campbell, Kentucky

Jim Peterson was finally free. The cold Kentucky wind blew sideways
across the open parking lot, stinging at his cheeks. Jim threw the
last of his worldly possessions, which at twenty-nine still fit in
an OD green duffel bag and an aviator’s flight bag, into the back of
his 1987 Suzuki Samurai. Jim sat behind the wheel, letting the four
cylinder engine warm-up and rubbing his hands together in front of
the dashboard heater vent. Two Blackhawk helicopters rose above the
Air Assault School landing zone, not more than three hundred meters
from where Jim was parked. Four rappel lines dropped from the
closest Blackhawk, and presently four Air Assault troopers descended
ninety feet to the ground below. Brrrrr, now that’s cold, Jim thought,
as he watched the helicopter land to pick up more of the trainees.

Jim put the jeep in gear and pulled out of the parking lot.
The Army had occupied most of his adult life. But after ten years of
service, Jim was being discharged for reaching his retention control
point. He had been busted from Sergeant to Specialist and was now
beyond the maximum allowed time for his rank. The incident in
question, which effectively ended his military career, involved a
gorgeous red head he met one night at a local dance club. The BIQ
(or, Bimbo in Question) also happened to be the new battalion
commander’s seventeen year old daughter. She was drunk and passed
out in the barracks, and no amount of explaining could effectively
clear up the issue. The next morning she was found in Jim’s room,
wearing little more than a Penthouse centerfold.

“Somebody claimed that there’s a woman to blame, but I know, it’s
my own damn fault.” Jim sang along with Jimmy Buffett as he passed
the main gate, turning left onto Highway 41A toward the interstate.
Home was South. Jim had alternately froze and fried his ass off in
some of the world’s most desolate spots. Going home to Florida in
January was like a gift from Heaven.

Jim pulled onto I-24 and felt a sense of freedom that only long
trips on long roads can give you. He loved everything about it. From
the hum of the asphalt under radial tires, to the stops at interstate
exit gas stations. Jim had passed through Nashville by the time he
was on his second Jimmy Buffett CD. He was singing along with
“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” when inspiration struck.
Jim pulled off at a rest area and unfolded his map of the Southeast.
He started to plot his trip. The Army had deposited just over nine
thousand dollars in separation pay into his checking account. To Jim,
that seemed like enough to finance a detour. The family in Florida
could wait a couple days for him to get his shit together. Jim’s
ex-roommate, a black guy named Claude Holte, was from New Orleans.
Jim had never been there, but the stories of Bourbon Street and
Mardi Gras filled his mind like he’d lived there all his life. If
only half the stories were true, New Orleans sounded like the place
to be.

Jim pulled back onto the interstate and tuned in the radio. Rush
hour traffic was murder in Nashville, just like most large cities
around the world. The weather report said a cold front was fast
approaching the Mississippi from the west. Jim thought he would race
it south. Jim was thinking about the life he’d left in Florida just
out of high school. He never thought he would miss it so much. The
days at the beach, watching the girls tan and the breakers roll in.
Life had been simple and damn fun.

He’d seen an awful lot since then. Mogadishu was the worst. The
value of human life was fairly cheap in places like that. He
delivered a baby in the back seat of a cab in Port Au Prince, Haiti,
which he later found out was born condemned because the mother had
AIDS. But he loved the people he had met, and truly felt sorry for
them. He gave an effort to learn Creole, the gumbo mixture of French
and African dialects that was the Haitian's language.
“Ou zamni mwen toutan-toutan,” the Haitian boy who had given him the
Creole-English book had told him.
“Friends forever,” Jim translated, remembering the boy and wondering
where he might be today.

Jim stopped for the night at a campground off of I-40 just north of
Memphis. The place was deserted, except for the occasional RV, so he
had some privacy and enjoyed the solitude and freedom. The manager,
a retired veteran who told Jim he’d fought with the 101st Airborne
in Vietnam, let Jim have a spot for free. Nobody else in their right
mind was thinking about tent camping with a bad Winter storm coming
on. Jim even turned down an offer from the old man to stay inside
the reception trailer, free from the cold. Jim pulled out his
Mobiflex tent and a sleeping bag and set up camp. Thirty minutes
later he had a small fire going and was preparing a Cup-a-Noodles
for dinner. He picked up his copy of Timothee Le Golif’s Memoirs of
a Buccaneer and drifted off to sleep with thoughts of raiding the
Spanish Main on his own captured brig.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, Jim rose and instantly felt very cold and very
hungry. He packed up camp and got back on the road. Four inches of
snow had fell over night and the interstate was down to one lane.
Jim saw a Waffle House just off the interstate and pulled in for breakfast.

The waitress, named Mary Ann from the plastic uniform name tape
pinned to her Waffle House blouse, was cut from the same mold of
all truck stop/breakfast diner waitresses in the South: middle-aged,
gray haired, country; a Marlboro burning in a nearby ash tray with
a one inch trail of ash still attached. The few patrons scattered
about were intent on reading news papers or eating quietly amongst
themselves. There was a delivery man for Coca Cola at the far end
of the counter, a couple who looked like they’d seen the sun rise
from a night at a local rave party, and a girl sitting in the
last booth before the bathroom doors. She caught Jim’s attention
immediately. She looked to be about twenty to twenty-one, shoulder
length brown hair that fell over her Levi’s blue jeans jacket,
piercing blue eyes, and no one sitting with her. She was quite
pretty but appeared troubled. She didn’t look up and Jim could tell
that she’d been crying.

The waitress brought Jim his coffee and creamer. Jim kept his eye on
the girl, trying not to stare. The silence of the place was
deafening. Jim decided to play something on the juke box. Not much
of a selection, he thought, as he flipped through the pages of CD’s
two at a time. Garth Brooks, Brooks and Dunn, Charlie Daniels, Hank
Williams Jr. Still too close to Nashville for Jim. He settled on
oldies, picking Tequila Sunrise and Peaceful, Easy Feeling by the
Eagles, and Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jim turned to go
back to his stool when a large man with a scruffy beard and a worn
leather jacket and stained faded jeans exited the bathroom. He
grabbed the girl by the wrist and pulled her out of the booth. She
didn’t appear to struggle but the look on her face said a thousand
words. The big biker guy pushed Jim to the side with his shoulder
as he passed by, knocking him back against the juke box. Jim
hesitated, then followed them out into the parking lot.

They were heading toward a beat up late seventies Chevy van. That’s
when Jim noticed the gun.

It was stuffed in the small of the big man’s back, between the
waistband and a T-shirt and covered by the leather jacket. Stupidity
wasn’t one of Jim’s stronger traits, but he felt that he needed to
do something. Anything. Jim tapped the biker guy on the shoulder. He
turned around with a start, releasing the girl’s wrist.
“What the fuck you want, asshole?”
The glazed over look in the biker guy’s eyes Jim had seen before.
Speed, Cocaine, Heroin: take your pick.
"I’m sorry,” Jim said. “I’m a little bit lost and I was wondering if
you could give me some directions?” Jim felt the rage radiating from
the big man. The muscles in his neck were trap line tight, and his
right hand was already in a fist.
“Fuck off and go t'hell, how’s that for directions, cock breath!”
Jim naturally fell into a defensive stance. Left leg back, hands up
for protection, body bladed toward your enemy. Just like the
instructors had taught him years before. He noticed the girl’s
pleading eyes as she mouthed the word ‘help.’
"That’s not very nice, in front of the lady you know,” Jim said.
His heart felt like it would explode any minute as the adrenaline
pulsed through his veins. The big man transmitted every move he was
making, pulling his arm back as he prepared to deliver the killing
blow.
"Fuck you, mother fucker!”
The biker guy swung wide toward Jim’s head. The momentum nearly spun
the big man around in a 360. Jim ducked and grabbed the biker guy’s
arm at the wrist and just above the elbow. He pushed down, hyper
extending his opponent’s elbow, planted his right foot and brought
his left down on the side of the big man’s right knee with as much
force as Jim could muster. The man screamed and fell down on his
side, grabbing for his broken knee cap.
“Holy Shit!” Jim said, remembering the scene in Roadhouse where he
learned that trick from Patrick Swayze. It was the first time he’d
tried it, however.
Jim quickly reached behind his wounded adversary, pulled the gun
from his waistband, then grabbed the girl and ran to his jeep with
the man cursing him all the way.
“Goddamn sumbitch! I’ll kill you mother fucker! Lemme get my hands
on you...”
Jim left the parking lot as fast as he could, ignoring the
crowd of patrons outside and the big man, still cursing and trying
to get to his feet. Jim pulled onto the on-ramp about seventy miles
per hour. Neither said a word for about twenty miles.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

The silence finally got to Jim.
“Name’s Jim,” he said, glancing at the girl and looking out the
mirror to see if the biker guy’s van was following them.
“Nena,” she replied, not looking up when she said it.
She’s so beautiful, Jim thought, wondering when the last time was
he’d got any. He quickly pushed the thought out of his mind.
“So, who was that guy anyway?”
She still didn’t look up. Nena flicked her hair to one side out of
her face.
“Just another mistake in my life.”
Nena looked up at Jim and appeared to notice him for the first time.
“Thank you for helping me back there.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Jim realized that they’d gone quite a way out of town. The afternoon
traffic was picking up, mostly heading South with the rest of the
snowbirds. Jim watched license plates pass by from places he'd never
been. The Garden State, The Hoosier State, The Great Lakes State.
“Where do you want me to take you?” he asked, contemplating how far
this might take him off of his trip.
Nena started to cry, covering her face in her hands.
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” she stammered, starting to shake from
the sobs.
Jim didn’t no what to do or say. A crying woman always left him that
way.

“We’ll just drive then, OK?” Jim said, trying to sound as soft as he
could. Nena nodded through the sobs.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Jim pulled off at a Texaco on I-55 somewhere near Jackson,
Mississippi. The afternoon was winding down and it would be dark
within the hour. Jim pumped gas while Nena went to get the bathroom
key. What am I getting myself into? Jim thought. She’s so quiet,
mysterious. Could she possibly have no where to go? She’s running
away from something. Or someone. But man, is she beautiful.

Nena returned from the bathroom. She had washed her face and combed
her hair out, which looked soft as silk on her shoulders.
“Are you hungry?” Jim asked, returning from paying for the gas.
“Starving.”
Jim started up the jeep and crossed the street to a Days Inn and
Diner. The waitress took their orders and brought two glasses of
water to the table. Nena appeared more relaxed to Jim, but she still
seemed withdrawn and exhausted.
“So what’s your story, Sir Lancelot?”
Jim was surprised to hear her voice.
“Not much to it,” Jim said, weighing his answer. “I just got out of
the Army, and I’m kinda going where the road takes me. I'm
originally from Florida.”
Jim finished and realized that he’d been playing with his water.
Was he nervous? He told himself to relax.
“Are you married?” Nena asked, looking up at Jim for the first time.
“No."Jim paused, sipping at his water. "I was, but I’ve been divorced
for about two years now.”
That was certainly a sore subject for Jim. His ex- wife had left him
for a Lieutenant while he was deployed to Haiti. That was one of the
reasons why he hated officers so much, and another reason why he
felt inclined to give his Colonel such vivid details about his
little girl’s night on the town. Vivid, hell. Graphic.
Nena and Jim continued to look each other in the eyes, holding the
moment until Nena looked down at the table.
“You have such beautiful eyes,” Jim said, instantly wondering why
he’d said it.
There was a silence between them as the waitress brought out their
salads.
“What’s up with you?” Jim asked, feeling the flush fade from his
cheeks.
Nena paused, turning a piece of lettuce over with her fork.
“I’m from Arkansas. Little town near Little Rock."
The words 'little' came out with about as much enthusiasm as a five
year old child jumping into a dentist's chair. She's said that
before, Jim thought.
Nena took off her jacket and stretched. her body was perfectly
shaped, Jim thought. Then he realized that he was staring at her
tits. He looked away and mentally cursed himself for failing to
control hormones that should have mellowed since high school.
“I’ve been down in Memphis for about a year now. I had a boyfriend,
that’s why I went to Memphis, to be with him. We broke up and I moved
in with a friend. I met that asshole back there at work, and I guess
it all went down hill from there.”
Nena appeared upset again. Jim decided to change the subject.
“What do you do, at work I mean?” Jim asked, as he stabbed more
lettuce and croutons.
“I was a dancer at a club called Euphoria.”
Jim knew what ‘dancer’ meant. There were about a dozen strip joints
on State Road 41A outside the gates to Ft. Campbell. he’d frequented
several with his buddies in the years that he was there.
“Oh,” was all he could say, and realized that it wasn’t enough.
“I was an MP,” Jim said, then added, “that’s Military Police."
It seemed to strike Nena as funny. She smiled and said, “A stripper
and a cop, we sure make a good couple.”
“Yeah, well, ex-cop. I’m out of that business now.”
“So am I,” Nena replied, and took a renewed interest in her salad.

Dinner came and Jim and Nena ate like starving refugees. Jim left
for the restroom and returned to find Nena asleep in the booth,
leaning against the wall. Jim paid the bill and went to the
registration desk to get a room. He carried Nena to the bed and
quietly pulled the covers up over her. Then he went to his jeep and
returned with the sleeping bag. He went to sleep on the floor with a
peace of mind he thought he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Jim woke up to the sound of a shower. It was light outside, probably
about 9 AM. He sat up and saw that Nena had already made the bed and
put on a pot of coffee in the two cup hotel coffee maker. Good girl,
Jim thought, as he rumbled through the complimentary sugar and
creamer packets, taking the wrapper off of the plastic Days Inn cup.
The start of a good day is coffee, Jim thought.

The water turned off in the bathroom and Jim turned on the TV. The
Today Show was on and the black guy who replaced Willard Scott was
giving the national forecast. Most of the nation east of the
Mississippi was experiencing the worst Winter storm in years. El
Nino, the man blamed it on. Sub- zero temperatures and blizzard
conditions in the Northeast. Three inches of snow had fallen
overnight in Atlanta of all places. But it was 82 degrees and sunny
down in Key West. God I love Florida, Jim thought.

The bathroom door opened and Nena came out wrapped in a towel and
drying her hair. The sight of bare, sexy legs from the thighs down
made Jim’s heart skip a beat.
“Good morning,” he said, raising his coffee cup. “Thanks for the
coffee.”
“I remembered you were having a cup at that Waffle House.”
Nena sat down on the side of the bed, next to Jim.
She was looking at me too, Jim thought. He was trying to avoid
noticing the slit in the towel that revealed more of Nena’s upper
thigh.
Jim decided to talk weather to keep his mind off of sex.
“Check that out,” Jim said, pointing at the TV. “Ten below zero in
Milwaukee, and 82 degrees and sunny down in Key West. If God had
wanted us to live in below zero temperatures, he’d have covered our
bare asses with fur.”
Nena was looking at the coverage of a boat race in Key West. The
speed boats were practically flying on the water while spectators
watched from the beach.
“I’ve never been to the beach.”
She was engrossed in the scenes of dozens of helicopters flying over
the lead boats. The water looked so blue, she thought.
“Really? I grew up on Cocoa Beach. Use to spend every afternoon
after school surfing the pier.”
Jim was always amazed when he met someone who had never been to a
beach. Living in a beach town was so much a part of his person he
couldn’t imagine never having seen a beach. Then he looked at Nena
and felt his heart tumble like the drop of a roller coaster. Jim was
riding in the first car, hanging over the top, waiting for the brakes
to release and the ride to begin.
“Do you want to?” he asked her, lost in her blue eyes.
She leaned over and they kissed, long and passionate. Jim was
floating on air and somehow realized that, besides carrying Nena to
bed, this was the first time they’d touched. It felt pretty great.
Nena pulled away and looked Jim in the eyes.
“Yes, if you want me to?” Jim was still orbiting the Earth.
He regained his senses and said, “More than anything.”
They kissed again and fell back on the bed.


Chapter 2
Key West, Florida


His family and the few friends he allowed into his world called
Kenneth Peterson Kenny. He was a big man at 6’ 4” and 230 pounds.
The Irish side of his Mother’s family showed through in his features.
Red, close cropped hair and a freckled complexion, and eyes that
burned with the fire of anger when he got pissed. This was one of
those times.

Kenny was occupying a stool at the far end of his favorite bar,
Captain Tony's, in his favorite town, Key West. It was hot outside
for January, even for the Keys. The ceiling fans beat at about 200
RPMs, stirring up the tropical air and providing some relief. Being
close to two oceans helped; the air seldom sat still. He was killing
a Corona, watching the tourists pass by outside with their cameras
and unfolded city maps. How in the hell someone could get lost on an
Island that was only one mile wide by three and a half miles long
constantly amazed Kenny.

Four of them came by on two mopeds, passing a bottle between them.
Kenny laughed as the moped on the left forgot to stop for the light
and came inches from broad siding a police car. The passenger spilled
the beer he had just received down the driver’s back, whose face was
plastered against the officer’s passenger door window. Never a dull
moment around here, Kenny thought.

Tourists didn’t impress Kenny. He’d preyed on a few snowbird girls
when he’d had a job as first mate on a fishing charter, untangling
reels and baiting hooks for sunburned babes in bikinis. They liked a
man as confident as Kenny, and confidence was one of his better
traits. Patience, on the other hand, wasn’t. He was waiting for a
sleaze ball who went by "Snake.” He was a two bit con Kenny had met
doing time in the 33rd Street Complex, Orange County’s overcrowded
county jail. Snake was in for being stupid in a no-stupid zone:
namely, trying to pick up an undercover cop posing as a prostitute
on Orange Blossom Trail. Kenny got busted that same night. A ‘Trojan
Horse’ RV filled with tac-cops when he tried to buy a dime bag from
a long haired narc. His arrest made an appearance on COPS. As it
turned out, the long haired narc knew Kenny’s older brother, Jim.
They’d played football together in high school for the Astronaut
‘War Eagles.’ Small world.

Snake was bringing some merchandise he wanted Kenny to handle for
him. Since his time up in Orlando, Kenny had gone mostly legitimate.
He currently worked as a diver for a treasure salvaging company,
vacuuming up Spanish coins and artifacts from four hundred year old
wrecks. The money was good but the work was sporadic. It could take
many years just to recover one site. Snake had come into possession
of a rather unique artifact and wanted to avoid any undue attention
as to where he’d gotten it. Kenny knew an investor from up state who
might be interested. Kenny, for his part, would get 25 percent.
“This is bullshit,” Kenny muttered, as he got up to leave.
Snake could pawn off his own shit, or shove it up his ass for all
he cared at the moment.

Kenny paid the bartender and walked out into the street. He was
leaving town in the morning and going back to , where his mother
lived, to meet up with his big brother. Jim was on his way back from
the Army, and Kenny hadn’t seen his big bro in over four years. A
lot had changed since they were kids growing up in a trailer park on
the Indian River. Some of his fondest memories were playing near the
canals that ran along their trailer park, spying on the occasional
alligator sunning on the banks. Kenny and Jim would walk down to the
City Marina and spend all day watching the shrimp boats come in and
the manatees feed on the water grass.

The years had slipped on by. Jim joined the Army after high school
and Kenny picked up surfing and partying. Still, the two were close,
and Jim, who always was the problem- free child, was coming to his
black sheep brother needing help finding a job. Kenny knew a
salvaging company that needed some deck hands and a certified diver,
and he thought Jim might fit in just fine.

Out on the street, Kenny stopped to let his eyes adjust to the sunny
afternoon. The town was crowded with boat racing fans in for the
weekend races. Helicopters flew over head, returning to the airport
to refuel. Kenny walked the short distance home to the Marlin Marina
and his small houseboat anchored at slip 21. The pavement was burning
hot in the late afternoon sun, and the heat radiated through his
rubber sandals. The sky was blue and clear. Diesel fuel, rotting sea
weed, the metallic slap of sail lines against alluminum masts, the
stretching of mooring ropes tied to the worn docks. The smells and
sounds of home filled Kenny's mind. He passed by rows of white
washed picket fences and eighteenth century wood frame houses. Old
town Key West was the Key West Kenny loved best. The bed and
breakfasts, next to a tattoo parlor or a body piercing shop, about
said it all regarding Key West. Saint and sinner, gay and straight,
homeless and rich, tourist and local, all shared the same small
space at the end of the road.

Kenny’s sixth sense kicked in as he approached the pier where his
boat was moored.
“What the fuck!” Kenny said, as he saw the shattered sliding glass
door from the port side of the boat.
Some of his plants were knocked onto the deck, and his
table and lounge chair were similarly broken and scattered about.
Kenny could barely control his rage as he jumped onto the deck and
ran through the shattered glass into his living room / dining room /
kitchen. On the floor, bent over the unconscious form of Snake, a
large man in a cheap gray sports coat was giving Snake’s body a once
over. The man started to stand but Kenny caught him half way up.
Kenny grabbed him by the back of his pants and collar and ran him
into the fridge. The man fell over and Kenny landed a shot to the
kidney which put the man back on the floor. He saw the knife in the
man’s left hand and kicked him in the back to keep him down. The
final blow was a large frying pan, still on the stove from the
breakfast bacon and eggs Kenny cooked that morning, which put the
man in the cheap suit down for good. Kenny moved over to Snake’s
body. There was blood starting to pool on the carpet below, and a
large puncture to Snake’s mid section right below his ribs. As
Kenny reached down to check Snake for a pulse, Snake grabbed his
wrist and pulled Kenny down almost on top of him.
“Oh, shit,” Snake groaned.
Kenny could see frothy blood bubbling up at the corners of Snake’s
mouth.
“Man, you look like shit.”
Snake sounded like a deflating balloon every time he exhaled.
“Get the medallion,” Snake gasped, his voice little more than a
whisper. “It’s down the front of my pants."
Kenny felt stupid reaching down the front of Snake’s pants,
wondering what the cops would think if they walked in right now. He
pulled out a purple Crown Royal bag.
“Open it up,” Snake moaned.
Kenny did what he was told, and removed a gold medallion from the bag.
It was almost the size of Kenny’s palm. There was writing on it in
French.
“Don’t let them mother fuckers get there hands on it, man. Keep it
for me.”
Snake tried to get up, his eyes growing wide.
“Lay down,” Kenny said, trying to keep Snake from getting up. “I need
to call you an ambulance.”
Kenny started to get up, but Snake wouldn’t let him go. Even for a
dying man, Snake still had some strength left in him.
“No way man. Ambulances mean cops. I ain’t gonna need either.”
Snake coughed, and bright red blood fell from his mouth. His eyes
rolled back in his head and his body went limp.
“Christ,” Kenny said, as he freed his arm from Snake’s grip.
He stood up and stared at the body. The man in the cheap suit started
to groan, and Kenny walked over and kicked him as hard as he could
in the head.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

By the time Kenny left the police station it was after midnight. The
cops had grilled him good, trying every trick in the book to change
his story. He told them what he knew, or at least most of it,
forgetting about the mysterious medallion. Even if they tore his
place apart, which he was sure they would, they wouldn’t find that
little detail.

The man that Kenny had laid out was one Gregg Forrest, with a long
list of prior felony convictions, who most recently had done time at
the Okeechobee Correctional Facility for Cocaine smuggling. The cops
immediately put two and two together and came up with drugs. They
didn’t have anything to charge Kenny with, however, so he was free
to go.

Kenny returned to his boat and found it in the expected state of
disaster. Kenny surveyed the damage. The cabinets were cleaned out,
his drawers were turned over, cushions and pillows on the floor,
carpet rolled up. Not bad. Not nearly as bad as the aftermath of
some of the parties he’d thrown there, anyway. Snake’s blood stain
had dried and would be hell getting out of the carpet. Kenny found
the bobber he’d hidden under the pier and pulled up the fishing line
attached to a dive marker and bag. He sat down on the couch and
examined the medallion. It wasn’t like any of the artifacts that
Kenny had seen before. It was in damn good shape, at least three
hundred years old, Kenny thought.

On the front was the faint engraving of a strange looking being,
which looked like something from the Aztecs to Kenny. On the back of
the medallion was the engraving of an island, complete with latitude
and longitude lines. The medallion had been cleaned and restored with
care, and the detail was still good. There was also a symbol for,
what appeared to Kenny, a sunken ship off the coast of the island.

Kenny put the medallion back in the Crown Royal bag he took from
Snake. He started to pack.


To read the interactive version of this story, go to
http://www.geocities.com/mshimer/Changes.htm
Mike Shimer
Click Here for more stories by Michael B. Shimer

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