"You coming to bed?" asked Angel from the main hotel room. Her voice carried through the spacious Corner King Loft at the Proximity Hotel. The singer was sitting on the left side of the bed, flipping through channels on the television, wanting to know what else was on.
In the bathroom, staring at his face in the mirror, Eli Flair did not seem to hear his wife's question. He was studying every line on his face like he was trying to figure out when, exactly, he got so old.
"Hey," said Angel, much closer. She was standing at the door.
"Hey," replied Eli.
"You coming to bed?" she repeated, "It's almost three."
"Yeah," replied Eli, unconcerned, still looking at himself, "Go on, I'll be right behind you."
Angel didn't go on, she stepped in. Her tiny bare feet made no sound as she walked up behind her husband and hugged him from behind, peeking out from around his arm and looked at their ridiculous reflection: he was seventeen inches taller than her, after all.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I was slow tonight," said Eli, "I wasn't where I should be: where I have to be."
"You got the biggest cheer of the night by far," replied Angel, "and didn't you tell me that that's what matters the most for you guys? Making the fans happy?"
He turned around and put his back to the mirror and looked his wife in the eye. "That was good enough for tonight, Angel. For one match you can coast on nostalgia but if I want six more wins I'm gonna have to do better."
She hugged him again.
"You know how you get when you play a show that everyone in the crowd goes home happy," continued Eli, "everyone in the band and on the crew tells you point blank that you nailed it, but you pick out one tiny mistake that may or may not have happened, and it completely ruins your night?"
"My voice popped when I was holding the long note in One Chance--"
Angel playfully shoved him. "So I'm a perfectionist. And you're seeing one tiny mistake that may or may not have ever happened."
Eli shook his head. "No, there wasn't a mistake, so to speak, but I wasn't on my game. You remember my match with Deac at Cyberslam?"
"And Nova in the cage?"
"Hornet in the CSWA and Trip in the FWO?"
"What are you getting at?" asked Angel.
"Every match that has, in some capacity or another, been my quote unquote farewell match, I completely stole the show. Even with me and Deac headlining, nobody could've ever followed that."
He shrugged. "So yeah," he said, "if I don't completely steal the show every time I wrestle, even leaning on the not - an - excuse of 'It was my first match in three years,' then I have to do better."
Angel took Eli by the hand and wrapped his arm around her, and this time, he allowed her to lead him out of the bedroom. "So you'll do better. Like McGinnis says, nothing to do but to do."
Nothing to do... but to do.
(FADEIN on the sun rising. There's a slight breeze, which tells us we're outside. The lack of walls, windows, and familiar surroundings tells us that we're on the roof. Or maybe I just told you that.
Walking into frame from behind the camera and to the right, is 'Total Elimination' Eli Flair. He's wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt with a crescent moon design on the back, along with the words PEOPLE OF THE MOON superimposed over it, and faded black shorts.)
"Sunrise is the most powerful time of day. In an instant, all of the darkness vanishes and the first shreds of light peek over the horizon, and we can see clearly again."
"I see myself clearly, and I don't like what I see. The way I look at it, I have one week to turn myself from a passable wrestler who gets a pat on the back and a 'Hey, slugger, that was a good try' who nearly lost to a smaller, lighter, less experienced rookie..."
"...to the King of Extreme."
"My wife, Angel - and my hetero lifemate, Ivy - they both tell me I demand too much of myself. I call bullsh*t on that, I demand exactly what I know I can give."
"I demand everything. I demand absolute perfection. I demand that the memory of my match is the only one that the fans have when they leave the arena. Everything else, to me, is failure."
"So yes, in that sense, I failed against Vagabond."
"I'd like to say that we'll dance this dance again in the future, Vagabond, but that's not going to happen. This is a one and done tournament for me and our paths won't cross again. What I will tell you is that the only thing you're missing in any significant amount is experience."
"That'll come. Until then, be Defiant."
"Until then, my focus is on my second round opponent, Jacob McKail."
"And I don't even know where to begin."
"Information on you is hard to come by, Jacob... and that's saying something, when you've got an idiot savant computer hacker at your beck 'n call. But from what I've gathered... you used to be something in this industry, and then you got outta it, and now you're back for a bunch'a reasons, one of 'em being that you wanna know if you can still hack it."
"Congratulations, Jacob. You and me, we've got something in common."
He turned toward the camera and crossed his arms, his hair blowing in his face.
"But that's about it, far as I can tell. However you left the sport, the bitterness in your voice and regret in the way you carry yourself is f'kin' diabolical. I guess you had some rough patches, and you turned inward and blamed the world for the hand you were dealt."
"Yeah. I'm the one who understands you."
"I consider myself lucky, though. I had a surrogate family that was lookin' out for me and keepin' me goin' where I had to. And I was able to pull myself up and make something outta myself, despite the sh*tty hand life dealt me."
Eli smirked and leaned into the camera.
"Because if you don't work at it, you don't deserve a better deal."
And he backed up.
"Regardless, Jacob... whatever you're looking for, I hope you find it."
He walked out of frame.
"But it won't be in the Ultratitle... that's pretty much outta your hands."
I maintain my composure and ease myself into the locker room, thanking the gods I don't believe in that it's entirely vacant – a miracle far beyond Kristen Stewart's acting career or Justin Bieber's continued existence.
But I know where everyone is. Watching the match; watching one of the matches in the bracket, if not the tournament. Eli Flair vs Vagabond. And guess what? I get to face the winner in round 2. Lucky f*ckin' me.
I grab my bag from my locker and then slump into the corner of the room, allowing a much needed groan. I've been stifling the pain since five minutes into my match and I almost didn't make it. I lean forward, burying my head in my hands and run my fingers through my scraggly long hair, persevering even through knots and tangles. It's a simple comfort and takes my mind off the true pain that doing its best to ravage my body.
I'm getting too old for this ****, I tell myself. But it's a lie. Far lesser men have survived, even flourished, for much longer in the business than I have. Some even into their sixties and seventies. Were they tougher or better than me? F**k no. My age has nothing to do with this.
It's something much worse.
I reach inside my bag for a coolant pack and wrap it around my left knee. I don't bother to take my wrestling tights off to apply it, I just allow the cold to seep through the thin layer of latex and vent a thankful sigh as it gently ambushes the inflammation. It'll be fine within a half hour or so. I hope.
It's an old injury that's bothered me off and on for years. I don't even remember how in the hell I got it just seems like it's always been there. It simmered down to just a dull pain during my retirement and adaptation into every day life and it was manageable. I could get by quite comfortably. But the damn thing has flared right back up again – even more painful and aggressive than ever before. I ain't sure how long I have left before it gives out entirely, before I'm forced to call time on this ******* pipe dream.
And that right there is the very best example of my REAL problem. It's not physical at all - I just don't have what it takes mentally any more. My mental toughness is shot to hell and I don't have the first clue how to get it back.
Sure, I fought past the pain and managed to beat Grim Reaper without much of an issue, but that was the Grim-F**cking-Reaper. A jobber at best who shouldn't have made further than the ring crew, never mind being afforded the honour of actually competing in the Ultratitle Tournament. What the f*ck am I gonna do when I have to face the winner of Vagabond/Flair?
I lean back and feel the comfort of the cool locker room wall against the back of my head. The next round won't be any where near as easy, that much I know for damn sure. Do I have what it takes? Do I have the mental toughness to fight through all of my ailments and my physical limitations to win?
I don't have f*cking clue, I decide as I feel my eyes being naturally drawn to the untouched bottle of black label Jim Beam lying in the bottom of my bag. I scoop it up in my hands and hold it at arms length in front of me.
Maybe the real question ougta be: can I do any of this sober?
But I already know the answer to that.
I unscrew the cap and hurl it across the room, secure in the knowledge that my knee problem will be soon be nothing more than a hazy memory.
Above Walt's Bar. 8[SUP]th[/SUP] April 2012.
As I'm drawn back to consciousness, I sense movement and feel warmth crawl across my face, as black unravels and light creeps in. At first, my thoughts are incoherent as my eyes slowly flicker open; I wonder where I am and who the enticing scent of perfume belongs to. Then I remember and a twinge of guilt stabs at me. I reach for the bottle of bourbon I have stashed next to my bed and take a mouthful. The guilt passes and is replaced by burning.
“Mornin', Slugger,” Rachel says, pulling up her tight Jean shorts and fastening the buttons. She flashes those pearly white teeth at me, set in contrast against her rich, long black hair and heavily tanned skinned.
“Mornin',” I manage, taking another hit of bourbon. I can just about make out the TV's on in the background and try to focus on it. I fail.
“Want breakfast?” She asks, pulling her red checked top on over her head. She's a good woman. Too good for me and certainly too good for Walt.
“Nah,” I tell her, holding up the near empty bourbon bottle. “I'm good.”
She looks at me disapprovingly, but decides against an argument. This is just supposed to be no strings attached sex and I can see in her eyes it takes her a time to remember that. She's got feelings for me and this whole crappy situation is gonna get a whole hell of a lot worse if I don't do something about it.
So I do. I take another mouthful of bourbon and try to forget the whole damn thing.
“Good,” she replies, sitting on the edge of the better and reaching for her boots. “I gotta get back any ways. Walt'll be home soon.”
I search my eroded memories for any kind of reason why Walt should be away all night, but come up wanting. I guess I didn't much care about it last night. I'd feel bad if it wasn't for the fact that we one hell of a time last night. Well, I did any ways.
“Where the hell's he been all night?” I ask, curiosity compelling me. Although Walt is a **** up and I'm currently banging his wife, that doesn't mean I don't kinda like the guy. Well, like may be a bit extreme. Do I really like anyone? A lotta folk would tell you no and they'd mostly be right. Tolerate? Yeah, that sounds about right. I tolerate the guy. He's my boss and my landlord. The guy gave me a chance when my wrestling career went down the pan a couple of years back. I've been here ever since, working the doors in his bar.
She looks at me all serious like. Her white teeth no longer flashing and pain hiding behind her face. “The ******* Casino over on Rutgers and fifth.”
My eyebrow furrows. “Nalton's place? What the hell's he doing there?”
She pulls her last boot on then stands. “Trust me, Jake. You don't wanna know.” She makes for the door, but stops, scoops up the TV remote and cranks up the volume. “But you oughta consider this.”
I try to focus the best I can on the colours, the shapes and the sounds in the distance and doesn't take me long to realise it's ESEN I'm watching. I see old action footage of Michael Manson, Nova and Joey Melton and the word “Ultratitle” plastered right across the screen.
“******* it!” I curse. “Not you too?”
Two days previously, Walt had been trying to give me the hard sell about sponsoring me and setting me up for a run at the Ultratitle. It's just another one of his half-assed schemes he thinks is gonna make him some money. The idiot doesn't wanna hear me when I tell him I ain't got it in me any more. Seems like he's got his wife in on the act, though I much prefer her sales technique.
“You're wasting away here, Jake,” she tells me, throwing the TV remote at me angrily, “and it's breakin' my damn heart!”
She storms out of my apartment and slams the door behind her as she goes. I take another mouthful of bourbon and close my eyes to the sound of the half million dollar cash prize reverberating through the TV.
I could buy a whole lotta of Jim Beam with that kinda money, I reason as I slowly slip back into the grateful embrace of unconsciousness. A whole lotta Jim Beam indeed...
I'm standing just by the entrance curtain, waiting for name to be called. My head's pressed up against the wall and my eyes are shut. This is it. It's time. No f*ckin' around with ******* Jobbers.
I ignore the chill emanating from loading bay doors just up the way and try not to allow myself to be overcome by the magnitude of the situation. In three minutes time I'll be standing in the ring and I'll be face to face with one of the best this industry has ever seen.
And I'm going to win.
That's what I tell myself. Because I don't get to feel sorry for myself or my ******* broken body any more. This is it. My last chance to achieve my dreams in an industry that has done nothing less than abuse me for the last fifteen years.
I haven't achieved the same heights Eli Flair has in this business, but when it comes down to it past achievements mean ****. It's about being tougher than the guy opposite you. It's about being quicker than the guy opposite you. It's about being better.
I can do that. I can be tougher, meaner, faster, stronger and especially ******* better than anybody on my day. I could name name's, but why bother? This ain't about past achievements, past victories, past anything.
This is about the here and now. If I don't win, I have nothing. No home. No job. No wife. No kids. This is everything I have.
I have everything to lose and I'm not just going to let it slip through my fingers.
In the distance I hear it calling: “...hailing from The Bronx, New York, weighing in at two hundred pounds...JACOB MCKAIL!!!!!”
I trudge downstairs from my apartment like a zombie on the hunt for fresh meat, operating by instinct alone and clattering into anything and everything in my way. I’m tired, I’m hungover and the only thing that makes any kinda sense to me right about now is coffee.
As I reach the bar, I hear somebody clinking glass on glass and muttering under their breaths. I only make out every third word or so and most of that is expletives. I push the door ajar and enter the bar area with caution. I find Walt slumped on a bar stool in front of the bar, with a half-emptied bottle of Bushmill’s Original Whiskey and a full glass laid out in front of him.
Something’s obviously wrong.
He glares up from his glass and nods a brief acknowledgement and I return the favour, before turning my back on him and grabbing for the coffee. I guess I oughta give a sh*t about whatever the hell this is, but I don’t. I ain’t in no mood to deal with anyone else sh*t at the moment and besides, I’m still feelin’ kinda guilty for bangin’ his wife behind his back. She only left my place about an hour back.
“I’ve gone and ****ed up this time, kid,” Walt mutters, taking a sip of his whiskey.
******* it! “That so?” I ask, absently. I don’t turn to face him. Instead I pour myself some stale coffee from the night before and pour in enough cream and sugar to make it taste vaguely palatable. Perhaps he’ll take the hint, but I doubt it.
“Yeah,” he replies, taking a mouthful of whiskey and almost draining the glass. “Bad.”
I take a mouthful of the caffeine-laced black tar that passes for coffee and turn to face him, unable to make eye contact. I can’t leave him like this. Walt’s a crazy son of a b*tch and a f*ckin’ idiot all rolled into one – a lethal combination. Mix that with booze and there’s no telling what he’d do.
“How bad?” I ask him, wincing as my taste buds encounter a second mouthful of the stale and lukewarm beverage.
He glares at me. His eyes scream fear, his face shame. “Real bad.”
Whatever the hell he’s done, it’s a whole lot worse than anything he’s done before, I realise. Worse than I’ve ever seen him do most likely. I keep quiet, allowing Walt to spill his guts in his own time. It’s inevitable. Something this bad can eat you up inside and getting it off your chest is sometimes the only to get yourself a measure of comfort.
He doesn’t keep me waiting long. “I owe Nalton, Jake.” His eyes glaze over and he breaks eye contact, focusing on his whiskey. I don’t blame him. “I owe Nalton big an’ it ain’t a debt I can pay.”
I shake my head. “You dumb ****...”
Nalton is a local hood who owns a low-key casino in a back alley someplace normal folk don’t know about. God knows how Walt found out about it – I only knew because Nalton’s boys approached me to work his doors a couple of months back. I took one look around the place and turned down the job on the spot – I wanted no part of it. Guess Nalton is expanding his clientele.
Walt allows a hollow chuckle and knocks back the rest of his whiskey. “Thanks for your concern.”
“You oughta have known better,” I tell him. I drain the last my coffee and wince at the nasty and bitter taste. I pour myself another.
“I needed the money, Jake,” he tells me. “What else could I do?”
“What the hell did you need money for, Walt,” I grumble. “You’re turnin’ a profit with this place ain’t ya?”
“Just,” he replies, pouring himself another generous measure of Bushmill’s. “But I needed more. I wanted to take Rachel somewhere nice. She’s been kinda distant lately and I don’t wanna lose her. So I went to Nalton’s to raise a little money to make it happen.”
The guilt hit me like a punch to the gut and almost makes me drop my coffee mug. It’s all my fault. I’m f*ckin’ his wife, she gets distant and Walt does somethin’ f*ckin’ idiotic that’s liable to get him killed.
“It get’s worse,” Walt announces, tears forming in his eyes. “If I can’t pay they’re gonna take the bar and they’re gonna--” He bites his lower lip and looks away, while trying to compose himself. “They’re gonna hurt her, Jake. They’re gonna hurt Rachel.”
Anger rises from within me, but I manage to ride it out. This ain’t the time to be doing something stupid.
Walt looks at me, wide eyed and broken. “Please, Jake! You gotta help me!”
“How?” I ask.
“The Ultratitle Tournament,” Walt immediately answers. He’s been thinking about this for some time, that much is clear. “My debt is only a fraction of what the prize money, Jake. You win that tournament and all this goes away.”
I slam my coffee mug down on the bar and make Walt jump. “I told you, Walt – I don’t have it in me anymore! I can’t win this thing!”
Walt shakes his head. “You won’t have to. Get close to it and you’re surely in for some kind of payout,” he explains. “Come on, Jake! I’ve seen some of these guys! I’ve watch them on a weekly basis! They ain’t tougher than you!”
“G*oddamn it, Walt,” I mutter, reaching for a glass and then pouring myself a generous amount of Bushmills.
He grins; I’m all out of excuses and he damn well knows it.
You see low levels of light creep in from the windows and under doors. The camera adjusts slightly and the picture sharpens. You’re looking at a loading bay. You presume it’s the arena loading bay. There’s a figure cast against the darkness. He’s taking a drag of the cigarette and ignoring the camera. Leaning against the bricked wall, he looks upwards to exhale his smoke.
The man has long, scruffy black hair with streaks of silver piercing the mane in various places. His facial hair shows all of the same characteristics.
You’re looking at Jacob McKail.
McKail: You ever need somethin’ so bad it hurts, Flair?
He takes another drag of his cigarette and glares at the camera.
McKail: I’m not talkin’ want here - I’m talkin’ need.
No? Me neither. Until now.
It’s a strange feelin’. I don’t know how to act about it, I don’t know what to say about it and I certain’t ain’t the first clue about what to do about it. I can only wrestle or fight or brawl
I need to beat you, Flair. I need to beat everybody in this g*ddamn tournament.
I’d like to be the noble warrior, looking to test his skills against the best in the toughest tournament in the world. I’d like be the arrogant son of a b*tch who thinks who takes all this sh*t in his stride and expects to beat the best because he can back his arrogance the f*ck up.
But the truth of it is, I come to you as a man past his prime. I come to you as a man broken by both life and this g*ddamn industry. I come to you as a veteran of this business who’s seen all the highs and the lows there are to see as a professional wrestler.
I reckon we have a little something in common, don’t ya think?
McKail takes another drag of his cigarette and exhales the smoke off camera.
McKail: We’re both past our prime, Flair. We’re in a young man’s game and it’s more dangerous than ever. I wonder - can you cope at this level anymore?
Okay, you may have had a more prolific career in the ring than me. You may have refined your skills a little better than me. But were you ever really just plain tougher than me? I’ve watched old tapes, I’ve done my homework and I ain’t so sure.
As older men and veterans of this sport, we lose our speed, strength, hell, even skill over time. We miss a step here, don’t be in the right place there – it all adds up. I’m a victim of this as much as you are, so don’t feel I don’t understand – I do.
But do we ever lose our toughness? Do we ever lose our ability to shout “F*ck you!” and get right back up when we get knocked down? Do we ever really lose our ability to defy the odds and just plain withstand all the punishment there is to give and laugh right back in the face of pain?
I haven’t – have you?
McKail grins to himself and looks away in the distance as the camera fades to black.
'Head - to - head' style pictures of Eli Flair and Jacob McKail in the midground.
Eli Flair himself, clad in a sleeveless T-shirt with the letters 'W.W.A.D' printed on it, his hair somewhat hanging in his face, and a microphone in his hand, in the foreground.
Can you see it? Good.)
"I think your confidence toward this match is a little misplaced, Jacob."
"Maybe confidence is the wrong word, you don't actually look like or behave like a man who has had confidence in himself or his abilities for a very long time, if anything. But beyond that, your attempts to get inside my head and fill me with self - doubt were admirable, if completely inapplicable."
"Your attitude toward me, Jacob, seems predicated on one central idea: the fact that I came out of retirement for the Ultratitle."
"But therein lies the fallacy. For the most part, the athletes in our chosen profession hang on far too long, embarrassing themselves and their legacies with the last of their gifts. Working wherever they can get booked, they'll keep going until the only card that's left to play is their name, and they spend the rest of their life wishing that they could've done one simple thing: retire on top of their game, with their skills fully theirs to use at will."
He ran his hands through his hair, momentarily pulling it out of his face, but half of it went right back in.
"We both went through some sh*tty times, Jacob... you know my story and I know yours. Life can be a cruel ***** sometimes, you and I both know that. But the thing I learned a long time ago, Jacob... the only person who can change your situation is yourself. I know you're a depressed, pathetic sad sack, and I've been there... but I was twenty three and didn't know any better."
"I would've thought that at thirty eight, you would."
"But I have some bad news for you, Jacob... you're not the noble warrior. You're nowhere near."
"A noble warrior has pride in his skills, he knows what he does well and knows his limitations, but he feels in the deepest pits of his gut, that he can do anything."
"I've felt that for eighteen years now."
"Can you say the same?"
"Without putting too fine a point on it, Jacob... I know why you need to win this match. I also know all about the extracurricular activities that you're involved in."
"Blame the fact that you don't cover your tracks well enough to hide your skeletons from the best hacker in the world."
"I'm actually a little insulted that you assume so much about me, Jacob. Not only am I not past my prime, not only could I still be performing at the highest levels attainable in this industry... but no, I don't need to win this match. I win, I move on to the third round of the Ultratitle."
"I lose, I go home and pick up where I left off."
"We don't lose our toughness, Jacob. We don't lose our ability to take the hits. It's a good thing, too - because when you take away my abnormally large and muscular frame and above average propensity to absorb and ignore pain, I'm a high school dropout from the minimum wage working world, with about as much practical schooling as it takes to ask you if you want that particular order 'Super - Sized.'"
"Fortunately, I saved my pennies and had the choice to step back before my skills got to where yours are: a past - his - prime broken man."
"By your own definition."
"And I don't feel the least bit sympathetic for your situation, Jacob. I learned a long time ago, you can only control your own situation, and if you're doing this against your will for the sake of the money, you're doing this for the wrong reasons."
"But you know all about that, don't you, Jacob?"
"I've been studying your tactics, Jacob... and I've noticed something really interesting about you."
"You mourn your career: you treat it as a burden."
"I get it though, McKail... no family, no friends, no future, no hope. I've been there, and I know it can feel like the world is conspiring against you to take away every bit of light in it. I spent a good two years on the road for more than three hundred shots at a time, solely because I had nothing else in my life."
"Like I said, I was twenty three. It was seventeen years ago. What's your excuse?"
"Tragedy happens, McKail. Life sucks, and then ya die. Unless you man up and make a conscious decision that you're going to pull yourself out of whatever sh*t you're stuck in, all you're doing is wasting space."
"I'd also like to know something that's been on my mind all week... if professional wrestling is such a f'king burden on your life, why do you do it? Why don't you do like Shirley Manson said, years ago, that if you're really, really not having a good time, go and scrub toilets for a living?"
"You're welcome, Doc."
"The real meat of it, Jacob? You're approaching this match like we're both long - past dinosaurs, with the weight of past expectations on our shoulders and the reality of life conspiring to keep us both down."
"My real life, so to speak, has nothing to do with who I am in the ring, Jacob. And it's probably unfortunate for you, because not only have the past ten years been the greatest, professionally, than I've ever had, but they've also been the most personally satisfying."
"Think about it, Jacob. My daughter is born, my wife sells six million albums, my hetero lifemate and I open a bar. Can you do better?"
"So no, Jacob... I don't know anymore what it's like to need to win the way you do. The last time I did, I made a conscious decision to improve my standing in life and to do more than exist."
"Do more than exist."
"It's good advice, Jacob. I'd follow it if I was you."
"Good, said Ivy McGinnis, as soon as the camera stopped filming. She sat on a desktop off to the side while Eli Flair switched off the microphone and put it back where it belonged.
"I'm glad," replied Eli, "cause I wasn't doin' that again."
"You're such a baby sometimes," said Ivy, standing up, "Heaven forfend you actually have to do a second take."
Eli laughed, and put his arm around her neck and shoulders as they walked toward the door. "Do you give Trip this much sh*t, too?"
"Nope," replied Ivy, "Sean's too much of a perfectionist to let anything go out that isn't perfect. Actually, I usually have to be there to let him know when he has a keeper, cause he's worse than Nine when it comes to fine - tuning his stuff."
The elevator was waiting for them, and Ivy pressed the 'LOBBY' button.
"So why weren't you there this week?"
"Cause he didn't need my help," replied Ivy, "cause the clown is a f**ktard that not only no-showed his appointment and wasted Rudy's and my time, but he didn't even have the courtesy to send us a rudely - worded letter of resignation."
"First rule," said Eli, "Never piss off Ivy without filing the necessary paperwork."
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