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Double For Death by Arthur J. Burks

 

Popular Detective, April, 1941

When His Cop Brother Shows Yellow, Jack Leysen Puts Himself on the Spot and Cleans the Family Name With a Blood-Bath!

JACK LEYSEN and his brother faced the chief of Homicide. The chief, whose name was Madsen, whistled softly. The brothers were used to that. People usually whistled when they saw them together.

“And which of you,” he asked, “is which?”

“I am Jack Leysen,” said Jack, “and this is my brother Creyton. We're easy to remember. Jack Leysen and Creyton Leysen, see?”

Jack Leysen grinned. The chief grinned back. The brothers looked like peas in a pod. Strangely enough, however, they were not twins, yet twins could not look more nearly alike. Jack Leysen was a year older than Creyton Leysen. Together, they had become plainclothes men, and been assigned to Homicide, which was why Madsen had never seen them before. New York's police force was a large one, and even twins could be lost in it.

“No,” said Madsen, “I don't see. But if you say so, it's okay with me. And I'm telling you something, you gents. You came to Homicide at a bad time. There's a wave of gang killings going on, and we can't seem to do anything about it except get our men killed off. Oh, we get a few gun punks here and there, but nobody who really matters much. You're going to run into trouble.

“However, it occurs to me that if you two are good enough to be assigned here, on your records, some sort of a flim-flam, if the opposition didn't know you were twins—”

“We're not twins,” said Jack Leysen. “I'm a year older. Both of us throwbacks to the same ancestor, I guess. But we could be twins, if you said so. However, if you don't mind, don't separate us to pull this flim- flam you're suggesting.

“We've sort of got into the habit of working together since we were brats in school. When we were eighteen and broke I used to go into one of those places where you can eat all you want for a quarter, eat all I could, then sneak Creyton in to eat all he wanted, and nobody the wiser.”

“I get it,” said Madsen. “Well, I won't try any flim-flam just yet, but stick around. There may be a call for your talents at any moment. Both expert pistol and rifle shots I see. Also both good with your dukes.”

“We practise our dukes on each other,” said Jack Leysen.

“Doesn't your brother ever have anything to say?” asked Madsen, smiling.

“I never let him get started,” said Jack Leysen quickly. “He never runs down if I do.”

IT WASN'T long after that, at three in the afternoon, that the first call came. There was a big fight over a gambling layout, in an old building on Second Avenue that everybody thought was empty— according to the police. A lot of gunfighting and knife-using was going on.

The police were to smash into the business and cart away the wounded. Madsen made it plain that the law wouldn't mind if the rival outfits sort of ate each other up. However, plenty of ritzy people patronized gambling lay-outs, so something had to be done. Police, after all, were servants of the public, and the public sometimes consisted of strange people.

Chief Madsen led a flock of police cars to the place on Second Avenue. The two Leysens, riding with him, looked at each other. Jack Leysen was excited. This was going to be something like it! Then, he saw the white face of his brother, and felt as though somebody had slugged him with a sledge-hammer.

Of course, he had always sort of fronted for Creyton, but that was because he was older, not because Creyton ever really needed it. But now there might be a showdown, somebody might even get killed. Creyton, Jack thought, was handsome, handsome as the very devil. The fact that it might have been his own face, looking back at him from a mirror, didn't change Jack's mind about that. But Creyton, he thought—he hated to think what he thought.

They reached the place, to find it all staked out by the Law, which was ready to move in. The battle going on inside seemed to be staged within a monster drum. There were plenty of bullets flying, and the general public were giving the place a wide berth. Madsen chuckled, had his joke.

“You two gents going in side by side will give 'em a turn, anyway. If one gets killed, the same guy that killed him sees the other one right away, he'll faint with—”

But they weren't listening. They hadn't ever faced anything like this before, and Jack Leysen suddenly wondered if there wasn't some way to keep Creyton out of it—that is, he did wonder, until Chief Henry Madsen spoke again, this time, grimly.

“This is getting to be too much,” he said. “We're going into the joint. All right, lads, have at it! You're public servants, remember, and taxpayers get indignant.”

Madsen had a strange sense of humor, considering the circumstances. But Jack Leysen, obeying orders, stepped out with his Police Positive in his hand, Creyton running along beside him. Coppers were charging the doors. Pistol shots were still coming out the windows, together with the shrill chattering of tommies, as the charge started.

Jack Leysen glanced aside at Creyton, noted that his face was paler than usual, that he even staggered a little as he ran. Had Creyton got a bullet in him somewhere? It was quite possible, for plenty of them were flying. It was almost as though the warring factions inside had joined forces against the police.

A few harness bulls were down, kicking their lives away. It was swiftly becoming a major battle, wherein all the forces of law and order might be involved if there were not a quick decision. Creyton kept on going beside his brother, and Jack knew he hadn't been hit.

Then, if he hadn't been hit—Jack began to wonder about this pea-in-a-pod brother of his, to wonder about his brother's courage.

“Hell,” he thought, “it can't be that. Never! Not Creyton!”

And yet, when they got inside, he wasn't sure. The bullets were flying thick and fast. A brace of coppers with tommies were cleaning up a hallway at the top of a stairs when the two brothers breasted those same stairs, looking about for something to get going on.

The coppers were spraying walls, shooting lintels off doorways, doing everything in their power to make the gang inside keep their heads down. The rooms must have all been connected, for when the brothers ran past open doors, they could see empty rooms, or rooms in which there were dead men who didn't count. The tommy artists were driving the enemy into cover. And the same thing was going on all over the house, it seemed.

ONE of the coppers yelled: “Come out, Jepson, and come out with your hands up! Tip your hoods to come the same way!”

Jepson! Jack Leysen had heard that name often enough. The name of a big-shot gambler, racketeer, of anything that smelled of fast “easy” money in huge quantities. A bad, unsavory name. Also a name for plenty of guts. Leon Jepson wasn't just the sort of guy to call quits without fighting back.

Just as Jack Leysen thought that, the hoods of Jepson came boiling out, straight into the muzzles of those two tommies. They came out from two doors, on either side of the hall, and they came with their own tommies flaming. Some of them had both hands filled with gats, and their faces were fixed in set snarls of rage. They came into that lead like robot soldiers, knowing as they came that some of them were sure to go down.

“We're next, Creyton, after the coppers!” yelled Jack Leysen. He began to run forward, sending bullets between the two tommy men, who were against opposite sides of the hallway. Dimly, as from a far distance, Jack could hear the rolling of pistol fire all through the building. The mopping up was going forward, but a good price was being paid.

Creyton moaned a little as they raced forward, as though he were in pain, but Jack now had no time for him. He would come through, as every New York copper always did, in uniform or out. Jack was fumbling for more ammunition when the charging hoods got in their best licks on the tommy coppers. The two coppers went down, almost together, folding up like toy balloons with all the air rushing out. And the two brothers were all that remained between the hoods and the end of the hall and a chance to make a break for freedom. Behind the hoods, screened by their bodies, was the man—Leon Jepson.

Jack Leysen snapped a shot at him, and got one of the hoods between the eyes. Then the other hoods, as though seeing the brothers for the first time, threw down on them. A wild cry came from Creyton Leysen. He flung his arms about Jack, pulled him to the floor, just as Jack would have got a clear shot at Jepson. Jack Leysen, going down, cursed Creyton from the bottom of his heart.

The white face of his brother was close above his own. There was sweat on it and droplets of blood. He looked as though his face had been systematically stabbed with pins. Splinters from the wooden wall had done that, Jack supposed. Bullets even now were probing for them both.

There was a rush of feet toward them, and the guns were whanging right in their faces. The brothers were all tangled up together. Leon Jepson was yelling.

“Make for the street. Cover me, you fools! You know where the cars are. Don't stop for anything. Mow down anybody in your path!”

Jack Leysen's right hand came up, to snap another shot at Jepson as he went past among his hoods, like a condemned man marching to the execution chamber at double-quick, between his guards. Creyton grabbed his hand.

“Do you want them to know we're not dead?” he asked fiercely.

His heart was a cold stone in his breast as Jack Leysen heard that. It told him so many things he had never even suspected about his brother, told him things he would never have believed possible. And then, the hoods were past, and Creyton was clinging to Jack as though for dear life, and something like a sob was issuing from his throat. It sounded as though it were filled with terror, to Jack Leysen. He felt all squirmy and sick inside, as though his stomach were filled with moths that fluttered endlessly.

 

AND then, there was a sudden, deathly silence in the building. The law had probably triumphed. The brothers got to their feet. Creyton did not look at Jack. Jack could not bring himself to look at Creyton. But Jack thought that Creyton must surely know what was in his mind, his heart, must even know the meaning of those moths that fluttered inside him.

It was something he couldn't bring himself to talk about. Jepson, the gambler, racketeer, brute, brought out something in Creyton that Jack would never have wanted to find there had he so much as guessed it.

The two brothers went back out on the street. Chief Madsen was beside his car, directing his men in bringing out the wounded, telling stretcher bearers where to find the dead. He glanced at the Leysens. His face was gray. There was blood dripping from the fingers of his right hand. He held his right arm with his left hand, convulsively gripping it.

“Jepson got away,” he said dully. “This has all been wasted. Ten men are dead. We've got it all to do over again. He's got a hundred hideouts in the city. I can't understand how he got past. Every pair of coppers was supposed to be covered by another pair, and another—”

Still Jack did not look at his brother Creyton. He could not, dare not, else he would have smashed his brother in the face with all the power of his right fist. Creyton Leysen had shown yellow, had even guarded his own body against bullets by shielding it with Jack's.

However, Jack didn't mind that. It was simply the idea of the whole thing, and what the members of the force would say if they knew the true story.

Back at Headquarters, Jack Leysen excused himself, still without looking at Creyton, save to mumble that he would see him later at the quarters they shared in a mid-town lodging house. Then he went out, with the intention of getting stewed to the eyebrows. But he couldn't bring himself to drink.

A searing fact burned into his heart and soul. His brother, whom he idolized, was as yellow as all hell! A sniveling, whining coward. He had been afraid from the beginning. He would have run out if he hadn't been more afraid of showing his fear than he had been afraid of what he must face in that place on Second Avenue.

Jack Leysen harked back to when they had been kids together, had been left to shift for themselves. Creyton had been twelve, he had been thirteen. Their parents had died of typhoid, within two months of each other. But they had managed, not only to get along by selling newspapers—people sort of liked to patronize lads they took to be twins—but later on to pay their way through high school and college. Their parents had been ambitious for them both to have a college education.

Jack Leysen, harking back, remembered quite too many things. How, when Creyton had got into a fight of some sort, or was being bullied by a bigger boy, Jack had sailed in and taken the fight off his hands. If, then, Creyton were a coward, Jack was to blame. But should he take the responsibility? When a man was yellow, he was simply yellow, that was all, and nobody was to blame except himself—if anybody could be blamed. Men weren't always born with courage.

And yet, the man who didn't know fear could claim no glory for the fact. If a man were afraid, yet overrode his fear, there was a man to tie to. A man should have the courage to override, and Creyton hadn't done that. He had turned his back on danger, and that the same back hadn't been filled with lead was simply part of the luck which had always been part and parcel of Creyton's life. He'd always had luck. Most of it was spelled J-a-c-k. Jack had always looked after him. Jack had always been right there, ready.

 

JACK groaned and put his face down in his hands. He wished—he wished—he didn't know what he wished, except that he had never seen the white face of Creyton, or the droplets of blood, or made this grim, fearful discovery of his. If only Creyton hadn't come with him to Homicide! But then, he wouldn't have been able to cover up for him as he now must do, or Creyton would be forever disgraced.

What was he to do? Why didn't Creyton say something to him? Why hadn't he followed, had it out with him, explained, even admitted that he was afraid, ask him to help whip the demon of terror? Creyton hadn't done that. Realizing that Jack knew his secret now, he still had said nothing. Afraid, then, of the judgment even of his own brother.

“I'll go back and beat the daylights out of him,” he told himself.

Instead, he went back to Chief Madsen.

“It's probably my fault that Jepson got away, Chief,” he said grimly. “I'd like to get a crack at him myself. Let me have a week to see if I can find out where he's holed up. He'll be running floating games, even while he's on the dodge, won't he?”

“Yes, until he's got to his mouthpiece, and squared himself with someone high in the department. Nobody knows just who it is, but there's someone, and he's always managed before.”

Chief Madsen stared at Jack Leysen, looked him over closely. Then, he grinned.

“I've got it figured out,” he said, “how to tell you apart, I mean. You're Creyton Leysen.”

Opening his mouth to correct the chief, Jack Leysen closed it like a trap. If the chief were still unable to tell the difference, then so would all the others be. And why shouldn't he double for Creyton, and cover the guy with glory—and then beat his face off if he didn't live up to it?

It wouldn't he the first time he had administered a good licking to his brother, who had, on occasion, returned the compliment, just to show that he could. The brothers often fought to a finish, in high delight, for no other reason than that they enjoyed fighting each other. Yes, that's what he would do.

“Go ahead, Creyton Leysen,” said Madsen. “Taking your brother with you?”

“Not this time. And if you don't mind, I'd like to do this on my own. You know how it is with brothers? They get in each other's way sometimes. Too much concerned with their welfare, each other's, I mean. He'd cramp my style. I can do better by myself, what I have to do. Besides, peas-in-a-pod would be too conspicuous. Jepson might remember having seen us together.”

Madsen shrugged. “Keep me posted,” he said. “And when you've run Jepson to earth, if, as and when you do, don't try to take him by yourself. He's tough, and can burn already for plenty, so he won't mind burning down a few more police officers.”

Jack Leysen, without contacting his brother, left Headquarters on his own. He began to make discreet inquiries. He started in Chinatown. Then in the Bowery. He was, he said, in town on the loose, with a little dough, and looking for some action for it. If anybody knew where he could find a good fast game—dice, craps, roulette— he'd like a bit of play. Limit no real object, because he was hot and would soon take the limit off. Jack dressed the part, and people listened—but shook their heads.

In all probability, he thought, a description of him had gone to Jepson within fifteen minutes after he had started asking around. He didn't care. He hoped so. It would be one way to find out things. Jepson wouldn't be much afraid of just one man, unless that man found him, and reported to the cops. Leysen knew, right then, that if he tried to get back to Madsen, after all the questions he had asked, he would probably stop a lot of slugs. So, he felt as though he must play the game through to the bitter end.

He tried his best to push Creyton out of his mind. He was pretty bitter about it. If Creyton were to show up now, he would smash in his face. Not that he didn't love him, as brothers were supposed to love and, even, sometimes did, but it was only that he was so bitterly disappointed in Creyton.

Finding no information of value, but having talked plenty in Chinatown and the Bowery, Jack Leysen, went up around Times Square, and along Sixth Avenue, and west of Broadway, where he had heard that all sorts of information could be found. He didn't look like a Broadway character, and might never get anywhere, but Jepson wouldn't ignore him all the time.

Meanwhile, some hours earlier, Creyton Leysen had gone to Chief Madsen. “Where's my brother?” he asked, simply.

“Oh,” said Chief Madsen, grinning, watching the face of the brother, “you mean Creyton?”

Creyton's eyes bugged, but he bit down hard on what he would have said. If Jack had allowed Madsen to think he was Creyton, then he had a very definite reason. Trying to figure out what it was, brought that dead whiteness back to the face of Creyton.

“Yes,” he said grimly, “Creyton. Where is he?”

“Went gunning for Jepson, but I don't know where. Were I in his place I'd maybe start in the Bowery, then work uptown to Times Square. He's been gone long enough to have got to Times Square by now, if he hasn't burned his fingers first. I meant to put tails on him, but he got away too fast.”

Creyton, it appeared to Chief Madsen, could get away just as fast—rather “Jack” could get away just as fast as Creyton, for he turned and practically dashed out of the place.

Madsen sighed and returned to the reports over which he had been working. This business of twin brothers who were not twins could get him down if he allowed it to. He dismissed them from his mind.

But Jack Leysen, all unknowing, had a tail, within fifteen minutes after he had started asking questions in Times Square— a skillful tail, too who could keep out of sight when he turned and looked back. He turned hopefully, and looked back, because he wanted tails, Jepson's tails.

 

A SCRAWNY man with a lump on his back sidled up to Jack Leysen. “I hear you're looking for something,

fellow,” he said, out of the side of his mouth.

“Nothing penny-ante,” said Jack Leysen, while his heart hammered with excitement. “Beat it!”

“Aw, don't be like that!” said the little fellow. “How'm I to get my beans an' buns if you guys don't cooperate?”

“What guys?”

“You guys who follow the floating games? I know something about them, see? I get a percentage of the take when I bring in suckers.”

The man was engagingly frank, it appeared. Jack Leysen walked on. The little man drifted with him.

“If you go to Room twelve-thirty-four, Hotel Alfiers, tell 'em that Rossi sent you. Only, if you're a dick, tell me right now, so's I can scram to Jersey City or somewhere.”

Jack Leysen shrugged, kept right on going. Rossi would have to look out for himself. He wasn't telling anybody his connection with the law. Men like Rossi walked with death always, anyway. It shouldn't matter much to Rossi. Besides, Rossi probably even knew, and was sending him into a trap.

So, within half an hour, he knocked on the door of 1234.

“Rossi told me I'd find action here,” he whispered.

They let him in. There was a dice game going on, but he didn't see any faces he had ever seen before. He played a bit, because he had to or be suspect. He concentrated on the dice, to the exclusion of all else, while he actually listened with all his ears.

But nobody was saying anything that would help. He carried no weapon. He'd considered that point a lot, and decided against it. There would be weapons around he could, maybe, get his hands on, if he got a break. Certainly there were plenty here, and he'd wager nobody had permits for them, either.

A buzzer sounded, and the players moved with magic speed.

“Here,” said Jack Leysen, “you're gathering in my dough!”

“Keep on my tail,” said the man running the game, “and you'll get it back. That buzzer means cops. Scatter. Try Room seventeen-A, Hotel Nighton, next. Scatter now. And if you're caught, blow the whistle and get your throats cut!”

Jack Leysen, leaving the place by the service elevator, realized that he had won five hundred dollars. He wondered if it might not be bait, so that he would follow, and decided not to question his luck. A bit later, he was in the Nighton, Room 17-A, and the same crowd was coming in, one at a time, that he had just left.

The man who ran the game tossed him a roll of bills. There was a fifty wrapped around it. Jack guessed that there might be another five hundred in that pile. He'd started playing with two hundred dollars. Not too bad!

The door was shut, after much reconnoitering in the halls, and locked. Another table, which might have been a pool table, by the look of it, was uncovered and the game went on. Jack Leysen felt a bit uneasy, for there was something different here. He could feel eyes, he thought, playing over his back, his face.

But when a newcomer entered, from an adjoining room, he didn't feel the eyes any longer. The newcomer didn't even look at him, at first. He was Leon Jepson, and he took charge of the game.

When the dice came to Jack Leysen he tossed down two hundred dollars. Leon Jepson looked at him for the first time.

“We don't play penny-ante here, fella,” he said. “You ought to know that. Put up a grand, or go home—and keep your mouth shut.”

Jack Leysen stared at this wanted man, so impeccably dressed, so fat and well-fed looking, this man who had caused the death of so many other men, and Jepson stared back.

“Haven't I seen you somewhere before, and not at any game, either?” he asked. There was a stillness after he had spoken, a sighing of indrawn breaths, a tensing. “How did you get here?”

“Followed the leader,” Leysen said boldly. “Rossi sent me to the Alfiers. When the game floated I floated with it. That's all. And here's a thousand bucks.”

“Got any more?” asked Jepson, nastily.

“Fade first, and we'll see,” said Jack Leysen. “A grand is all I need in this dinky game. Who's fading?”

 

JEPSON, never taking his eyes off Jack Leysen, motioned back the others who brought fists crammed with money out of their pockets.

“I'll fade you, sucker,” said Jepson. “Let's see what you can do to me.”

Leysen, moving about the table, and back and forth as he handled the dice, knew where the nearest gat was. He'd felt it against the hip of one of the players.

That man was almost against him now.

Jack Leysen grinned engagingly, though his heart hammered in his chest and his temples throbbed with the rush of blood. If he lost that grand, he would have to leave, or play his string out right here. Maybe Jepson knew. Maybe he simply didn't know Leysen. Maybe he did remember him, and another just like him crouched in a hallway on Second Avenue, while hoods blasted their way out through a welter of uniformed corpses.

Jack Leysen threw the dice. He didn't even look at them. The men gasped. Jepson looked, and his face did not change.

“I'll fade you for the two grand, fella,” said Jepson. “You can't be lucky all evening.”

“Why can't I draw down?” challenged Jack Leysen.

“You can,” said Jepson, “if you got more back of you. Roll, or let us see the color of your dough.”

Jack Leysen, his heart in his mouth rolled again. Another sigh went up.

“Fade for the four,” said Jepson.

“Keep that up,” said Leysen, “and what chance have I got?”

“Who gave you a right to a chance, barging in here like this? Roll, I tell you. Roll!”

Jack Leysen rolled again, knew by the difference in the sigh, and the look on Jepson's face, that he had crapped out.

Somebody said snake-eyes, and for just that split second, all eyes were on the dice. And exactly then, Leysen stepped back— and the gat he had felt in the pocket of the nearest man was in his hand.

“Throw up your hands, Jepson,” he said, not minding how melodramatic it sounded, since it was exactly what he meant. “The rest of you face the wall, and reach as high as you can.”

“You're a copper,” snarled Jepson. “I knew it all the time, and now I know where I saw you—in the hallway!”

“Shut up,” said Jack Leysen.

 

AND then, all at once—there must have been a signal from somewhere that Jack Leysen had not heard—guns were going off and bullets were flying wild. The men who had been playing were spreading out to care for Jepson.

Jack got two of the men, one of them between the eyes, one in the guts, and Jepson swore, because one of them, falling, had diverted his aim at Jack Leysen.

Jack found himself down on the floor, with no clear idea of how he had got there, down, and rolling back and forth, trying to dodge bullets that were ripping into the floor and bouncing. If a ricochet hit him, you'd be able to drive a truck through the place where it came out. Only, he wouldn't know about it—he hoped.

He kept firing. Someone went down right in front of him, dropping a gat which slithered along the floor. It came so slowly, it seemed to be taunting him. Jepson was yelling:

“Stand aside. Give me a shot at the blundering fool!”

Jack Leysen kept right on shooting, until something hit him in both shoulders at once, and his own gun slid from his hand, and he couldn't reach for the other one. All he could do was try to keep rolling, out of the way, when he might as easily roll into a stream of bullets as out of it.

His eyes were growing dim, when he heard window glass smash out, and saw somebody coming in. He heard hammering at the door, but he knew that it would take a battering ram to down that door. He rolled to the threshold of the door out of which Jepson had come, with some idea of preventing his escape.

And he was lying there, with no clear idea left of where to go next, or what was due to happen, when somebody got astride of him. The sides of the feet were against his sides, and the guy above started blasting away with two gats, holding the left one low, so that the recoil of the right wouldn't throw off its aim.

Dazedly, dimly, Jack Leysen peered up along those two columns of legs.

The guy standing over him was Creyton, and he was doing as cool a job of shooting into hoods who were shooting back, as Jack Leysen had even seen. Jack yelled at him to sprawl out, not to make such a good target of himself, but his voice didn't carry. He grabbed at Creyton's legs to bring him down, but he couldn't do much grabbing, either, on account of the slugs in him. But the mere act of grabbing reminded him of something—of how another man had grabbed, and how mistaken a man could be about motives. If Creyton, back on Second Avenue—

Creyton dropped to his knees, right on Jack's chest, which hurt like hell. But Creyton kept on shooting, though Jack could see that his left arm was hanging free, and flopping all about. And then, Creyton was all over Jack, getting blood on him, and keeping him from stopping any bullets, until the bulls finally came through the door, and Jepson went down as though someone had kicked his legs from under him. Then, Jack Leysen, feeling pretty chipper in the circumstances, passed completely out. He passed out with the knowledge that Creyton had tailed him, sided him, fought to the last for him, without squawking.

He decided, at the last, that he would never bring the subject up. Some subjects were embarrassing, even between brothers—subjects like this, particularly.

Two weeks later the Leysens faced Chief Madsen across his scarred desk.

“I never did know who really ran Jepson to earth, and nailed him to the mast,” he said. “Which of you was it, Jack or Creyton?”

“It doesn't matter,” Jack said. “Not really. I'm Creyton if need be. Creyton is me if things break that way. But, Chief, if you've got any more Jepsons, just call us both in to tan their hides, won't you? Then you can be sure who's out on the case— and still likely to be there when the smoke lifts. For Creyton wouldn't let me run out, would you, Creyton?”

“Not,” said Creyton, “if I could run faster!”

And anybody could take that as he pleased. Jack took it the way he really wanted to take it, and felt nice and warm inside as a result.

 
 
 

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