All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.
Precious Cargo is copyright © The Silver Coyote
2003 & 2004
To Love and To Cherish
The local rock station was deep into a flashback, playing some cuts from
Audioslave and Linken Park. The fingers of her left paw drummed lightly on the
windowsill in rhythm with the music coming from the stereo speakers.
The slipstream whistled through the cabin of the older Chevy Tahoe as it
cruised east into the foothills of Orange County. It was a warm and breezy
early evening, and the occupants were enjoying the reasonably fresh air
circulating through the open windows into the cabin with them. While there was
a thin veil of smoke in the air, it was just enough to prick their sense of
smell without making their eyes or noses uncomfortable. All terrain tires
whined on the asphalt roadway, the sound mixing soothingly with the rumble of
the large block gasoline engine under the hood. The passenger needed the sound,
he was slowly winding himself up in anticipation of what he knew was coming.
Debbie's blonde hair fluttered slightly in the slipstream. Her left arm rested
on the windowsill, her right paw gently gripped the wheel as she guided them
towards her home. A grin creased her muzzle as her face turned towards her
passenger. He knew that her eyes were laughing at him behind those Lolita
sunglasses she wore. The humor of the situation was not lost on him, he smiled
back at her in spite of himself.
She traded paws, her left taking the wheel as her right found his thigh,
patting him there reassuringly. Turning back to the highway she giggled
slightly at the expense of her boyfriend. They had been together since mid
morning at Bolsa Chica, swimming, catching some sun, and being the young lovers
they were. The beach had been crowded, the unseasonably warm and windy weather
had brought out the surfers and beach bums in great numbers, and they had been
eager to be counted among them. Her right paw sought and took his left in a
The husky looked at the fox silently. They had only known each other for a few
months, but what a few months! She had turned his world upside down, an upset
he was only too happy to subject himself to. She was by far the most wonderful
thing that had ever happened to him. Sure, he'd had girlfriends before, but not
like this one. This fox was caged dynamite, a force unequaled in his
experience, and she moved him and spoke to him in ways he'd never known
Russell Cantrell's brown eyes blinked behind his sunglasses. Sometimes she did
stuff, like that casual grin with just a bit of fang showing just now, that
really lit him up. He admired her profile, the way her hair fluttered in the
wind, the way her charcoal ears stood up straight in joy, the way she seemed to
radiate... something. He couldn't name it, wouldn't have known how to describe
the love he felt for her, but knew it was there. Solid, strong, something that
had been totally lacking in his life up until now.
Russ lived with his mother in Anaheim Hills. His parents were divorced. He had
met Debbie one February evening at a party after a volleyball game between Los
Pinos and Canyon High. He had been taken with her as soon as he had laid eyes
on her. He had barely had the opportunity to introduce himself to her and get a
telephone number before her ride home had arrived. He had called the next day,
and they had chatted for a bit before he worked up the courage to ask her out.
She had readily accepted an invitation to dinner and a movie.
Something had sparked between them. Within weeks they were going steady. She
was the most beautiful yet stable, level-headed young lady he had ever met. By
summer he was enchanted with her, preferring to spend all his days with her
instead of with his motor-head buddies. During the break from school they
started taking drives together in his truck, first to the local beaches, then
to the mountains, then beyond to the deserts. As their trips increased in
distance, so their love increased in strength and depth. By the time Russ'
senior year had begun that fall they were lovers in every sense of the word.
It hadn't been his idea. They had been in the mountains that day, having spent
a considerable portion of the morning four-wheeling into a remote
communications site in the eastern San Bernardino Mountains. They had arrived
during the noon hour and taken a picnic on the nine thousand foot peak. It had
been a calm, sunny day, they had become relaxed to the point of feeling lazy by
the sunshine bearing down upon them from the crystal clear blue skies. As they
reclined amidst the leftovers of the picnic, watching a lone red-tail hawk soar
in the updrafts overhead, his lady love had grown amorous.
At first he had been reluctant without really knowing why. Not afraid, really,
but perhaps concerned that they might somehow spoil the precious, innocent love
they had shared to this point. Debbie had, in fairly short order, proven to him
just how much of a wildcat could hide beneath the pretty fox exterior she wore.
Within a very short period of time his concerns had been allayed, and they
spent a most enjoyable afternoon there on the peak, the sun warming their
bodies as they discovered everything there was to know about each other.
He smiled in recollection as the sun even now shone through his window, warming
the side of his face and upper torso. Once attaining the freeway that evening
they had driven at blistering speeds to have her home by a reasonable hour.
Their goodnight kiss on her porch that evening had been quick but passionate,
full of promise.
He had become well known around the Latrans home. He felt he enjoyed a good
relationship with Debbie's parents and older brother. They often included him
in their family activities, inviting him to go places with them or share a
meal. His life before Debbie had been fairly limited to school, taking care of
his mom and their small condo, and repairing his truck every time he broke it
in some local canyon.
His smile slowly faded. In fact, they were going to share a meal with Debbie's
parents now. He shuddered ever so slightly, turning his head to face her as he
released her paw.
"Tell me again," he asked almost casually, "why on earth you had to tell them
Joe and his eldest son sat across from each other at a table on the patio, he
sipping from his glass of Chardonnay as Mike worked slowly on an orange soda. A
bowl of tortilla chips and another of salsa sat on the table between them. The
grill to Joe's right sizzled slightly as the steaks slowly cooked on a very low
fire. A plate of fresh hamburger patties sat on the grill's sideboard, ready
for Joe's ministrations.
For a while they sat there together, not saying much of anything to each other.
Joe could tell that Mike was preoccupied with Jaclyn and simply waited him out.
As he sat and watched his son he could see the emotions playing across Mike's
face. Judging from what Joe saw there was a lot going on in his son's head.
After several minutes Mike sighed and sipped at his soda. Smiling slightly as
he leaned forward, he placed the can on the patio table in front of him and
leaned back in his chair, wiggling slightly for good tail position in the metal
mesh of the backrest. His gaze met and held his father's.
"So the long and short of it is this," he started. "Jazz comes over to my
place. We make small talk." Actually that wasn't quite true, they had been
discussing Mike's song tentatively titled "Soldier For God", but Mike wasn't
ready to spring that on his father yet, and it wasn't really important just now
"After a bit she decides to tell me that I've been hired on as a full time
employee at AFCC." At this Mike paused briefly, his smile growing a bit, but
then it faded as he continued. "I was excited, to say the least. I played and
sang a couple of tunes for us, that kind of stuff. Then..." his voice trailed
off. He wasn't sure how to explain the progression of events from his song to
the discussion about Natalie.
"Well, you know the rest," he said with a glance at the floor. "We got into a
conversation about Natalie and what happened to me in Utah. I explained that
part of it to you on the phone."
Joe nodded, remembering. Jaclyn had become quite upset upon learning that Mike
had apparently been sharing his trip across the southwest with a pretty young
lady fur. He spoke as he leaned forward to grab a chip with his right paw.
"Yes, I remember. You said she got angry at you and left. What happened after
our conversation?" Joe dipped up a bit of salsa on his chip and sat back,
placing it in his mouth.
Mike relived the memory of Jaclyn's departure in his mind. A sour look crossed
his face briefly.
"Well, I went looking for her. You said..." Mike paused again. "I love her dad.
I had to go find her and set things right, and tell her."
Joe nodded, chewing his chip, looking thoughtful. After swallowing he said "You
Mike nodded slowly. "I sure did." Mike leaned back in his chair, lifting it's
front legs an inch or two up off the concrete patio . He stared up into the sky
at the last of the twilight as he spoke. "Actually, she found me. I had gone to
AFCC to look for her. I didn't find her." He leaned forward just enough to
return his chair legs to the floor as his gaze returned to meet that of his
"I was walking across the road to the parking lot when she was suddenly there,
next to my Jeep. We had a conversation across the hood." Mike glanced at the
floor again briefly before looking up. "I told her, dad. I made myself very
clear, there was no opportunity for misunderstanding."
Joe picked up his wine glass with his left paw and took a small sip, thinking
about what he'd just heard. As he sipped he heard the patio door open behind
"Hi mom," Mike greeted Annie cheerfully.
Annie was surprised. "Hi sweetie. How long have you been here?"
Mike looked at Joe. "A while. I came in through the garage, I saw dad out here
and just pulled up a chair." He smiled innocently. "Sorry I didn't come in to
Annie placed a small plate of sliced cheddar on the table between them. "This
is not for either of you to snack on," she giggled. "It's for the burgers." She
took a couple of steps towards Mike's chair and leaned over to kiss him on the
top of his head between his ears. As she straightened she looked down at her
eldest son. "I'm glad you’re here."
"Thanks, mom." Mike smiled up to her. It was the first time since his arrival
that Joe had seen him smile with conviction, truly happy.
There was a slight bump and whimper behind Joe, which coincided almost exactly
with Mike's gaze drifting towards the patio door. Mike's eyes enlarged
considerably in surprise.
"Mojave!" He was up out of his chair, moving around his mother to kneel in
front of the kali that had somehow managed, cast and all, to walk out onto the
patio from her spot in the family room. Her tail wagged slowly as Mike petted
her head and face affectionately.
Joe shot an oh brother! look towards Annie and took a breath.
After a few seconds Mike stood slowly. Turning to his mother he stared at her
momentarily, and then said in a low, hollow sounding voice "Mojave ought to be
inside laying down." It was not a question, more of an order.
Annie eyebrows arched slightly as she looked at the expression on her son's
face, then looked to a similar expression on her husband's. Alarms went off in
her head, those kind that say males bonding, get out!
"C'mon, Mojave," she said sweetly to their injured kali. "You need to be inside
where it's soft and safe." She moved towards the patio door, drifting her
fingertips across Joe's right shoulder as she passed him, but the kali made no
move to go with her. Instead Mojave edged a bit closer to Joe.
Mike looked down at the kali, noting her indifference to Annie's request. He
was formulating a comment when his father reached out to the kali.
Joe patted Mojave briefly, looking into her dark eyes. After a few seconds of
physical contact he sat back and said in a low voice "Go with Annie."
The kali turned with difficulty and walked stiffly through the patio door,
crossing the family room to a large kali bed near the hearth. Circling it once,
she slowly collapsed heavily on it.
Annie looked at Joe with a small smile of thanks. Their eyes locked
momentarily, and several messages passed quickly between them. After a few
moments Annie turned and followed Mojave into the house, shutting the patio
door behind her.
Mike returned to his chair, Joe's head turning as his gaze followed Mike's
movement across the patio. After seating himself and arranging his tail for a
comfortable fit in the chair Mike looked cautiously at his father.
"That was you."
"What was me?" Joe asked innocently.
Mike suddenly became irritated. "Don't play dumb with me, dad. I've seen the
video from Channel Seven. I wasn't sure until just now when I saw Mojave. That
was her in the helicopter, wasn't it? And that was you on the mountain."
Mike stopped talking as his eyes widened even more. "You killed those
It was Joe's turn to look at the floor for a few moments. As much as he was
trying to put that memory out of his mind, it kept getting dredged up again.
Damn the IPF! he thought. Now his son was pissed off at him.
"Does mom know?"
Joe looked up. Mike was in a defensive posture in his chair, arms folded across
his chest, back straight, eyes boring into him. But what really tore at Joe's
heart was the look of anger in Mike's eyes. He hadn't seen Mike look like this,
Joe could only nod, looking at his son.
As suddenly as the anger had come to Mike, it was gone. He had been upset that
nobody had called him for support or assistance. Mike looked at his father,
noting the remorseful look that had crossed his face when he had looked up, and
guessing it's cause. "Dad, why didn't you call me? I might have been able to
help or comfort you or mom when you got home."
Joe said nothing, staring at his son.
Joe drew a breath and slowly let it out. At the conclusion of that he said in a
flat, emotionless voice barely above a whisper "We killed two furs." To Mike's
interrogative expression he added "It was them or me. One of them got the drop
on me. I'd be dead now if it wasn't for Mojave."
"What?" Mike asked incredulously.
Joe nodded. "The one who had a pistol in my left ear met the wrong end of our
pooch. She took him down, I killed the other one, but not before he got Mojave
and me both."
"You?" Mike couldn't believe that he was hearing that both his father and their
kali had been shot. It would explain Mojave's cast and the airlift, but his dad
Joe nodded again. "A flesh wound..." he winced slightly as he rotated his left
arm out away from his torso, perpendicular to his rib cage, "...here." He
pointed to his left shoulder with his right paw.
Mike stared at him, at a loss for words. He sat back in his chair, arms and
paws on the arm rests while he digested what he'd just heard. After a moment
his father continued in a stronger voice.
"Your mom knows about everything except how my shoulder was injured. She knows
it's been hurt, but not how."
Mike blinked. "Why are you keeping that from her?"
"I'm not. I just haven't had the chance to tell her about it yet. I slept most
of the day. Your mother took care of Mojave while your sister and Russ went to
the beach. I was worse than useless most of the day."
Mike sighed, his facial expression relaxing slightly. He was about to ask his
father if he would pray with him about this disturbing sequence of events, but
as he was drawing breath to do this he noticed his father's ears twitch and
rotate towards the driveway. Pausing, he became aware of a familiar rumble.
"Sounds like your sister and Russ are home. That's Russ' truck..."
Joe rose from his chair and moved towards the grill. He adjusted the burner up
a little bit before opening the cover. He placed half a dozen hamburger patties
on the cooking surface and began turning the steaks, potatoes, and corn already
Mike rose and moved to stand next to his father at the grill. Putting an arm
about his father's shoulders, he waited for Joe to look at him before speaking.
When he did, Mike's words were simple and direct.
"I love you, dad."
Russ held the front door of the Latrans home open for his girlfriend, who
breezed past him with a smile and quick pat on his behind. Shaking his head
slowly and grinning as he followed her into the house, Russ almost collided
with Annie, who was approaching the entryway from the kitchen as Debbie angled
off towards the living room and family room.
"Oh..." Annie said in mild surprise, recognizing the husky immediately. "Hi
Russ." Barely breaking her stride, Annie stepped forward to hug him lightly.
Russ was barely able to get out "Hello, Annie..." before his nose and muzzle
was engulfed briefly by her blond hair. As she backed up a step from him he
asked politely "How was your vacation?"
Annie smiled, tail wagging slowly, holding his gaze. "Well," she said and
paused briefly, "it was very educational."
The skin beneath Russ' facial fur began to turn red, brightly enough that Annie
could see it happening. She giggled briefly at his expense while taking him by
the paw and turning to stroll slowly in the direction Debbie had taken towards
the family room. She spoke as they walked.
"We had a wonderful time, Russell. We saw some old friends in New Mexico and
Colorado, visited with Chris in Durango for a few days, and spent an
unscheduled night in Utah with Mike."
Thankful for the change of subject, Russ said "I heard about that. Debbie told
me about what happened to Mike, and how you all went up there to rescue him."
Annie glanced at Russ out of the corner of her eye. "The education was mostly
between Joe and I, Russell. I was just teasing you." She saw him relax
slightly. "We had a lot of time to talk about some things that had been on his
mind, work related things, and we were able to strengthen our relationship as a
result of those long conversations."
Annie stopped in the living room, momentarily alone with the husky. Turning to
him, her expression grew serious. She took his other paw in hers, facing him.
Unsure how to start, she glanced at the floor for a moment as she marshaled her
In his turn Russ felt uncomfortable, he thought he knew what was coming. He
stared at the blond hair on the top of Annie's head, at charcoal color edging
her silvery auburn ears. In his heart he was convinced that he and Debbie were
about to become a non-item, he just knew that her parents were about to lower
the boom on him.
"Joe's been through a lot recently," Annie started, talking to the floor at her
feet. She paused long enough to look up at him, blue eyes locking on his brown.
"He was hurt last night. I don't know exactly what happened, but it had to do
with the fires in the mountains. He may seem to be on edge tonight, may be a
little more quiet than usual." Annie took a breath and swallowed. "Russ, Debbie
told me about the two of you, about your love, your plans for the future, and
what happened at Onyx Peak."
Russ squared his shoulders in preparation for the worst, holding her gaze.
"It's not the path we'd have chosen for her as parents. But..." she smiled for
him, "Joe and I are OK with it. He knows all about it, and while he may want to
talk to you about a couple of things, I think you'll find we're supportive of
the two of you." Annie saw him visibly relax and take a deep breath. "Be
patient with Joe, all right? He's had a lot to deal with lately. Understand
that we love our daughter, and want the best that's possible for her. As long
as you share that vision there won't be a problem."
They stared at each other for a moment before Russ spoke in a low, quiet voice.
"Thank you, Annie. I love your daughter more than I've ever loved anything or
anyone in my life." He paused, momentarily at a loss for words. Taking a breath
he continued. "As long as she'll have me in her life, I will do everything in
my power to protect her, encourage her, and support her." Another pause as his
eyes continued to hold hers. "I will not disappoint you or Joe. You can bank on
Suddenly they smiled together. Letting go of one paw, Annie led him the rest of
the way into the family room. As they entered they could both see and hear
Debbie making a fuss over Mojave, the kali was still laying on her bed near the
hearth. Debbie was on all fours, nose to nose with the kali, speaking softly to
her as she pet Mojave's head and neck. Tails were wagging slowly, and
occasionally the kali would growl affectionately at the fox speaking to her.
Russ noticed the cast on Mojave's leg and, releasing Annie's paw, turned to
look at Annie with a question in his brown eyes.
"She was hurt last night in the mountains with Joe," Annie answered his unasked
question. "Her leg was broken. She'll be fine, she just needs to stay quiet and
mend for a few weeks."
Debbie rose from her position on the floor next to her pooch and moved to stand
beside Russ. "What can we do to help, mom?"
Annie leaned forward to kiss her daughter on the cheek. "You can start by
saying hello to your father and brother." She motioned with a paw towards the
patio door. "They're out there with the grill."
"Mike's here?" Debbie asked excitedly. Her tail wagged with pleasure, her eyes
Annie nodded, sharing Debbie's happiness. Her children were very close to each
other, and that gave her much to enjoy and be thankful for.
Paw in paw Debbie and Russ turned, but not before Annie caught the wink from
her daughter. Smiling, she headed back to her kitchen to finish her work there.
As the husky and the fox approached the patio door they could see father and
son on the patio, arms about each other's shoulders, each having a paw on the
other's far shoulder. Joe's right paw held a pair of grill tongs, Mike's left
paw held a can of soda. Their backs were to the door, their heads bowed. A fine
smoke rose from the grill. They could hear Mike speaking quietly, but couldn't
make out what he was saying.
Debbie stopped, tugging lightly at Russ' paw.
"Sshhh..." she whispered in his ear. "Wait a minute. They're praying."
They stood there together, paw in paw, for almost three minutes. The whole time
they watched, Mike's voice continued it's low, muffled cadence, Joe
occasionally nodding his head. Debbie had seen this type of activity in her
house often, it was not an unusual occurrence. Russ, however, had never seen
anyone praying so openly before, and was quite taken by the scene of father and
son sharing an intimate moment like that. His paw involuntarily tightened
around Debbie's, and she looked up to his face. She smiled, enjoying what she
They had gathered at the dining room table to seat themselves. Joe's
contributions to the meal sat on a platter in the center of the table, sizzling
quietly as the furs gathered. Debbie and Russ took one side of the table while
Annie and Joe took the other, leaving Mike at the head of the table. Far from
being uncomfortable with this, the twenty four year old gray fox smiled
casually and happily as he gestured to the others to seat themselves.
Russ and Debbie had made their presence known as Mike and Joe had separated on
the patio. Mike had noticed them approaching the patio door from within as he
seated himself at the patio table again, and had announced their presence to
Joe. Turning from his work at the grill, Joe had shared a warm shake of paws
with Russ while Debbie and Mike hugged, and then swapped with his son to hug
his daughter while Mike and Russ shook paws. Casual conversation ensued as Joe
finished his work at the grill, mostly centering on the day Russ and Debbie had
shared, and touching also on Mike's promotion at All Furs Christian Church to a
member of the permanent full time staff.
"Mike!" Debbie had exclaimed in joy. "Congratulations, brother!" She had jumped
up from her chair at the patio table to hug him yet again.
"Thanks," Mike said as they had separated. His joy was evident, yet muted.
Debbie noticed it, as did Joe. Debbie wondered why that might be, Joe knew why.
He figured his daughter would find out from Mike himself, sooner or later, and
had said nothing.
And now here they were, the five of them, seated at the dinner table, each with
a head full of their own concerns. Conversation ground to a halt as each turned
their thoughts inward momentarily. Mike, of course, was troubled about his
possibly destroyed relationship with Jaclyn. Joe was continuing to fight his
own internal battles vis a vi the Interstate Police Force and his own morals.
Annie fretted over Joe, knowing all too well now what was going on in his own
head, and also worrying just a bit about her children, especially Debbie. Russ,
of course, was sweating out the visit, knowing all too well that Debbie's folks
were up to speed on all the facets of his relationship with their daughter. He
was still waiting for the axe to fall. The only one at the table who seemed to
be inwardly calm and collected was Debbie, yet she fretted about Gina Vison and
her potential new career. She sat there, between Mike and Russ, smiling as she
scanned back and forth between the faces of the collected furs.
Mike looked meaningfully at his mother, who nodded slightly. Placing his paws
face up on the table, he said "Let us pray." Debbie and Joe, sitting to his
left and right, reached forward and took his paws, their other paws seeking
those of Russ and Annie, respectively. Within a moment all furs, including
Russ, had joined paws and bowed their heads.
Mike took a deep breath and remained silent for a few moments, ruminating on
life. Squeezing his father's paw gently, he began to pray.
"Father God, we thank you for this day and the opportunity to gather as a
family and share in Your bounty. Each of us is blessed in Your sight, for this
we thank and glorify You." Mike paused, taking another deep breath.
"Lord, we who are gathered here tonight each bring our own struggles to You.
Search our hearts, Lord, and see what we have brought to the table. We seek
Your help, Your guidance, Your wisdom, and Your patience with the troubled
souls who have gathered here." Another pause. "Lord, bad things happen in life.
Mistakes are made, decisions are forced upon us which we feel unequipped to
make. The heat of the moment sometimes robs us of clear vision. These are the
times, Father God, when we need You most. The times when there is no time, no
room, no second chance. Souls ache for affirmation in Your sight while others
try to destroy them. Love dances on the edge of our existence, to be snatched
away in confusion and pain."
Mike drew a ragged breath. "Lord, touch the hearts here at this table tonight.
Where there is injury I pray for Your healing. Where there is uncertainty give
us Your direction. Where there is fear, show us Your strength. Banish the
anger, the hate, and the lust for vengeance that motivate our actions, Lord,
that drive us from Your sight. Do not let the Evil One exert his influence over
these members of Your flock. Comfort us in our times of uncertainty and
instability. We are Your children, Father, children of the Light, and we
beseech You to teach us and love us and comfort us as You see fit."
Another breath, more steady this time. "Father God, we accept the tasks You
place before us. We know You will never task us with anything for which You
have not prepared us. We know that You will never forsake us. We know that You
are always amongst us, we feel Your presence and are warmed by Your love for
us. Thank You for all You have done for us, thank You for Your Son and His
death for us. In His name, Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen."
A soft chorus of "Amen" greeted this as Mike looked up slowly from the
tabletop. His eyes went first to his mother, who smiled warmly for him and
mouthed a silent "thank you". Looking to her left Mike's eyes locked on those
of his father for a moment.
Joe stared back at his son. Things were happening in his head, a whirlwind of
thoughts roared between his ears. He nodded slowly, a smile on his face, saying
What's wrong with his eyes? Mike wondered briefly as his gaze
momentarily met that of his father . Joe's eyes had lost most of their color.
Mike glanced next at the confident, happy expression on his sister's face, then
his glance moved past her to her boyfriend.
Russ' eyes were a touch glassy, and he appeared to have stopped breathing. Mike
looked more carefully at the husky. Russ' tail was still, his ears up as though
straining to hear something distant. His eyes had focused on something far
beyond the walls of the Latrans home. The only movement of his entire body was
his nose, which twitched occasionally as if sampling the air for scent. Mike
stared at him, wondering if he should call his name.
Suddenly Russ blinked, and then shook himself slightly. Glancing around the
table he became aware that his girlfriend's family was silently watching him.
Blushing slightly, he struggled momentarily, his mind full of questions while
his mouth felt dry. Picking up a glass of water in front of him, he tried to
sip as casually as possible. Returning the glass to the table he said "This
food smells delicious."
Annie smiled. She knew that look, she'd seen both Joe and Mike look that way at
various times. She reached forward to pat Russ' paw on the table. "Dig in," she
Suddenly serving plates were in motion, the noise of a meal underway vied with
a burst of light table conversation for everyone's attention. Smiles were
everywhere, and the troubles of the world fled the Latrans home, at least for
the time being.
To Chapter Thirty Six: Winds Of Change.
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