Part One: The Masker Chapter Six
Upon awakening from his dream of murdering Eben ausley, Matthew lay on his bed in the dark and pondered how easy it would be to murder Eben ausley.
Think of it. To wait for him to emerge from a tavern-the Blind Eye, say-after a long night of gambling and drinking, and then fall in behind him and keep away from the lamps. Better still, to go on ahead and lie in wait at a place of one's choice. Here come the footsteps, heavy on the stones. Best to be sure it's him, though, before you strike. Sniff the air. Rotten clovesi That's our man.
Closer he comes, and closer yet. Let him come on, as we decide how to do the deed. We must have an implement, of course. a knife. Terribly messy. Turn on a bone and he escapes, screaming for his life. Blood all over the place. a hideous misfortune. Well then, a strangulation cord. Yes, and best of luck getting a rope around that fat neck; he'd shake you off like a flea before you got his eyes popped.
a club, then. Yes, a nice heavy bastard of a club with skull-cleaving knots all over it. The kind of club the blackguards sell to each other in the murder dens of Magpie alley, according to the Gazette. Here you may offer your coins to the shadow-faced villains and take your pick of brainers. ah, there's the one we want! The one with a hard ridge running the length of the bopper, the better to bust with. Right there, under the monkey's-claw blade and the little fist-sized bag of nails.
Matthew sat up, lit a match from his tinderbox on the bedside table, and touched the candle in its brown clay holder. as the welcomed light spread, so fled the ridiculous-and rather sickening, really-images of murder. In his dream, everything had been flailing blurred motion, but he'd known he was following ausley for the dark purpose and when he came up behind him he killed the man. He wasn't sure how, or with what, but he did remember seeing ausley's face staring up from the stones, the eyes glazed and the mocking little lip-twisted smile gone crooked as if he'd seen what the Devil had waiting for him down in the fire-hole.
Matthew sighed and rubbed his forehead. He might wish to with all his heart and soul, but he could no more kill ausley than be alone in a room with him.
You ought to find somethin' better than this to hold on to, John Five had said. Somethin' with a future to it.
"Damn it," Matthew heard himself mutter, without realizing he was going to say it.
John Five was nothing, if not to the point.
The point being, it was over. Matthew had long ago realized his hopes of seeing ausley brought to justice balanced on a slender thread. If only he'd been able to get one of the others-Galt, Covey, or Robertson-to bear witness. Just one, and then ausley's pot would've been cracked. But think now what had befallen Nathan Spencer, who'd seen better to hang himself than let everyone in New York know how he'd been brutalized. What sense was there in thati Nathan had been a quiet, timid boy; too quiet and too timid, it seemed, for even as Matthew had offered him a hand out of the morass Nathan had been contemplating suicide.
"Damn it," he repeated, in spite of all reason. He didn't want to think, as John Five had maintained, that his intrusions into Nathan Spencer's life had aided the death-wish along. No, no; it was better not to think along that line, or one might become too cozy with the idea of death-wishes.
You ought to find somethin' better than this to hold on to. Matthew sat on the edge of his bed. How long had he been asleepi an hour or twoi He didn't feel very sleepy anymore, even after murdering Eben ausley. Through his windows there was no hint of dawn. He could go down and check the clock in the pottery shop, but he had the feeling just from repetition of sleep and time that it was not yet midnight. He stood up, his nightshirt flagging about him, lit a second candle for the company of light, and looked out the window that faced the Broad Way. Everything quiet out there, and mostly dark but for the few squares of other candlelit windows. No, no; hear thati Fiddle music, very faint. Laughter carried on the night breeze, then gone. as Lord Cornbury had put it, the last gentleman had not yet staggered out.
at supper this evening the Stokelys, who'd attended the governor's address but had been back in the crowd closer to the street, had praised Matthew's suggestions for the constables. It was past time the town got up to snuff in that regard, Hiram had said; the thing about the station where they were to meet made sense, too. Why hadn't Lillehorne thought of thati
as for Lord Cornbury's appearance, Hiram and Patience were less positive. The man might be meaning to represent the Queen, Hiram said, but couldn't he have worn a man's clothes just as welli It was a peculiar day, Patience said, when the governor of New York town was dressed in more ribbons and puffs than Polly Blossom.
Meanwhile, under the table, Cecily kept knocking her snout against Matthew's knees, reminding him that whatever premonition she foresaw had not yet come to pass.
Matthew turned from the window and surveyed his room. It was not large nor particularly small, just a garret tucked behind a trapdoor at the top of a ladder above the shop. There was a narrow bed, a chair, a clothes chest, the bedside table, and another table on which rested his washbasin. In a hot summer one could cook up here and in a cold winter the thickness of a blanket spared him from frostbite, but one didn't complain about such things. Everything was clean and neat, well-swept and well-ordered. He could cross from wall to wall with six steps, yet this was a favorite part of his world because of the bookcase.
The bookcase. There it stood, beside the clothes chest. Three shelves, made of lustrous dark brown wood with diamond-shaped mother-of-pearl insets. Underneath the bottom shelf was burned a name and date: Rodrigo de Pallares, Octubre 1690. It had arrived in New York last May, on a privateer's vessel, and was offered at waterfront auction along with many other items taken from Spanish ships. Matthew had bid on it, as a birthday gift to himself, but was outbid by half again as much by the shipbuilder Cornelius Rambouts. Suffice it to say, it was an amazement when Magistrate Powers, who'd been present at the auction, announced to Matthew that Corny had decided to sell that "old worm-eaten piece he'd picked up at the dock" for Matthew's original bid just to be rid of a Spanish captain's tobacco-pipe smell.
The books that were jammed into these three shelves had also come off ships. Some were water-damaged, others missing front or back covers or large sections of pages, some yet almost perfect for their tribulations of sea travel, and all to Matthew were wonderful miracles of the human intellect. It helped that he was fluent in Latin and French, and his Spanish was coming along. He had his favorites, among them John Cotton's a Discourse about Civil Government, Thomas Vincent's God's Terrible Voice in the City of London, Cyrano de Bergerac's a Comic History of the Society of the Moon, and the short stories of The Heptameron compiled by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. In truth, though, all these volumes spoke to him. Some in voices soothing, some angry, some that had confused madness with religion, some that sought to build barriers and others that sought to break them; all the books spoke, in their own way. It was left to him to listen, or not.
He contemplated taking the chair and rereading something heavy, like Increase Mather's Kometographia, Or a Discourse Concerning Comets, to get these demons of murder out of his mind, yet it was not the dream that weighed on him so much. He found himself dwelling more on the memory of Nathan Spencer's funeral. It had been a bright and sunny June morning when Nathan had gone into the ground; a day when the birds sang, and that night the fiddles had played in the taverns and the laughter had gone on just as every night, but Matthew had sat in this room, in his chair, in the dark. He had wondered then, as he wondered now-as he wondered many nights, long before John Five had said it-if he'd killed Nathan. If his adamance and thirst for justice-no, call it what it was: his unflagging ambition to bring Eben ausley to the noose-had led Nathan to uncoil the rope. He'd thought Nathan would crack, under his unrelenting pressure. and surely Nathan would do the right thing, the courageous thing. Surely Nathan would bear witness before Magistrate Powers and Chief Prosecutor Bynes to those terrible things done to him, and later be willing to repeat those same atrocities before a court of the town of New York.
Who wouldn't do such, if they were truly in need of justicei
Matthew looked into the flame of the nearest candle.
Nathan had needed only one thing: to be left alone.
I did kill him, he thought.
I finished what ausley began.
He drew a long breath and let it out. The flame flickered, and strange shadows crawled upon the walls.
The funny thing, he thought. No...the tragic thing, was that the same all-consuming fire for justice in himself that had saved the life of Rachel Howarth in Fount Royal had...probably...most likely...almost certainlyi...caused Nathan Spencer to take his own life.
He felt constricted within these walls; his shoulders felt pinched. He had the most uncommon need for a strong drink to calm his mind. He needed to hear the fiddle play across the room, and to be welcomed in a place where everyone knew his name.
The Gallop would still be open. Even if Mr. Sudbury was just cleaning the tables down, there'd be time enough for one good blast of brown stout. He had to get dressed and hurry, though, if he wished to end this night in the presence of friends.
Five minutes later he was going down the ladder wearing a fresh white shirt, tan-colored breeches, and the boots he'd polished before retiring to bed. The pottery shop was as neatly kept as Matthew's room, seeing as how it was also Matthew's responsibility. arranged on shelves were various bowls, cups, plates, candle-holders, and such, either waiting for a buyer or awaiting further ornamentation before firing. It was a firmly built place, with upright wooden posts supporting the garret floor. a large window that displayed select pieces of the potter's art faced the street to entice customers. Matthew paused to fire a match and light the pierced-tin lantern that hung on a hook next to the door, deciding that tonight-though he was determined to steer clear of the Blind Eye and any sighting of ausley-he could use more illumination to beware any attack from the headmaster's stomperboys.
as he walked down the Broad Way he saw moonlight glitter silver on the black harbor water. The Gallop was on Crown Street, about a six-minute's brisk pace, and thankfully a good distance north of the rougher taverns such as the Thorn Bush, the Blind Eye, and the Cock'a'tail. He had no need for danger or intrigue tonight, as his head was still not quite comfortable on his neck. One drink of stout, a little conversation-probably about Lord Cornbury, if he knew anything about the public taste for gossip-and then to bed until morning.
He turned left onto Crown Street, where at the corner stood the Owleses' tailor shop. The sound of fiddling came again, coupled with laughter. The music and hilarity was issuing from the lamp-lit doorway of the Red Barrel Inn, across the street. Two men staggered forth, singing some off-key ditty whose words Matthew could only make out were not of the Sunday language. Following behind them a thin woman with black hair and dark-painted eyes came to the door and heaved a bucketful of who-knew-what at their backs, then screeched a curse as her dowsed targets laughed as only those who are truly stoggered may. One of the men fell to his knees in the dirt and the other began to dance a merry jig around him as the woman hollered for a constable.
Matthew put his head down and kept going, knowing that one might see anything at any time on the streets of this town, which particularly after nightfall had aspirations to rival the coarser deeds of London.
But how could it not be soi Matthew knew that, after all, London was in the blood of these people. There was talk of New Yorkers, those who were born here, but the majority of citizens still had London grime on their bootsoles and London soot in their lungs. It was still the mother city, from whence came ships bearing more Londoners determined to give birth to New Yorkers. Matthew surmised that in time New York would forge its own complete identity, if it survived to become a city, but for now it was a British investment shaped by the will of Londoners for the pocketbooks of London. How could it not take that city as its model of growth, industry, and-unfortunately-vicei Which was exactly why Matthew was concerned about the lack of organization concerning the constables. He knew from his newspaper reading that the mother city was nearly overcome by the criminal element, with the "Old Charlies" unable to cope with the daily flood of murders, robberies, and other demonstrations of the darker heart.
as more business grew to profit in New York, the ships would be bringing over experienced wolves intent on chewing the bones of a whole new flock of sheep. He fervently hoped that High Constable Lillehorne-or whoever was in charge by then-would be ready when it happened.
The Gallop was just a block ahead, across Smith Street. a black cat with white feet shot out along the street and tore after what appeared to be a large rat, the effect causing Matthew's heart to give a leap up somewhere behind his uvula.
and then, from his right down Smith Street, came a thin gurgled cry.
and again, now louder and more urgent: "Help! Murder!"
Matthew stopped and lifted his lantern, his heart still lodged in his throat. a figure was running toward him; more stumbling and shambling than running, but making an effort at keeping a straight line. The sight of this figure coming at him almost made him concurrently pee in his breeches and hurl the lantern in self-defense.
"Murder! Murder!" the young man shouted, and then he seemed to see Matthew for the first time and he held up his arms for mercy as he all but fell forward, his face bleached and his reddish-brown hair wild. "Who's 'ati"
"Who are-" He recognized the face then, by the lantern's glow and the added light of the lamp nailed up to the Smith Street cornerpost. It was Phillip Covey, one of Matthew's friends from the orphanage. "It's Matthew Corbett, Phillip! What's happenedi"
"Matthew, Matthew! Heesh all cut up!" Covey grabbed hold of Matthew and almost tumbled them both to the dirt. The smell of liquor off Covey's breath nearly knocked Matthew down anyway. Covey's eyes were shot with red and dark-circled, and whatever he'd seen had caused his nose to blow because gleaming threads of snot were dangling down over his lips and chin. "Heesh had it, Matthew! God help 'im, heesh all cut!"
Covey, a small-boned young man about three years younger than Matthew, was so drunk Matthew had to put an arm around him to hold him from falling. Still Covey trembled and flailed and began to sob, his knees buckling. "God Lord!" he cried. "God Lord, I near stepped on 'im!"
"Whoi Who is iti"
Covey looked at him blankly, tears streaking his cheeks and his mouth twisted. "I dunno," he managed, "but heesh all cut up over there."
"Over therei Over wherei"
"There." Covey pointed back along Smith Street, and then Matthew saw the wet blood on not only the hand with the pointing finger but Covey's other hand and red smears and grisly clumps of black mess all over Matthew's white shirt.
"My God!" Matthew cried out, and when he jerked back Covey's knees gave way and the younger man pitched down to the street where he blurbled and gagged and began to puke up his guts.
"What is iti What's the noisei"
Two lanterns were coming from the direction of the Trot Then Gallop, and in another few seconds Matthew made out four men following the light.
"Here!" Matthew shouted; a stupid, confused thing to say in a moment of chaos, he realized. They were coming this way anyhow. To make things more clear, Matthew shouted, "I'm here!" which was perhaps the most ridiculous thing because at that moment the double lantern light fell upon him and there was a gasp and stumble as four men saw his bloody shirt and collided with each other like pole-struck oxen.
"Matthewi You're all torn up!" Felix Sudbury aimed his light at Covey. "Did this bastard do iti"
"No sir, he-"
"Constable! Constable!" the second man behind Sudbury began to shout, in a voice that might batter in doors and break shutters.
Matthew turned away from this ear-shattering yawp and walked quickly past Phillip Covey, his lantern uplifted to reveal whoever lay grievously injured further along Smith Street. He saw no one lying within the reach of his light. along the street, candles were showing in windows and people were beginning to emerge from their houses. Dogs were barking up a riot. From somewhere on his left Matthew heard a donkey heehawing, probably in response to that leather-lunged gentleman behind him who now cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted "Connnnstable!" into the night loud enough to surely alarm the fire-winged citizens of Mars.
Matthew kept walking south. Felix Sudbury called behind him, "Matthew! Matthew!" but he didn't reply. Within the next few paces he made out someone in black kneeling on the ground under the red-striped awning that marked the doorway to the Smith Street apothecary, closed for the night. a solemn face turned toward him. "Bring the light here."
Matthew obeyed, but not without reticence. Then he saw the entire picture: two men were kneeling over a body stretched out on its back. a black pool of blood shimmered in the English dirt. The man who'd spoken-none other than Reverend William Wade-reached up as Matthew approached and took the lantern to give more light to his compatriot.
Old Dr. artemis Vanderbrocken also held a lamp, which Matthew had not seen because the reverend's figure blocked the light. The doctor's instrument bag was beside him, and Vanderbrocken was leaning over peering at the body's throat.
"Quite a cutting," Matthew heard the aged physician say. "a little more and we'd be burying a body and a head."
"Who is iti" Matthew asked, leaning over to look but not really wanting to get that close. The coppery smell of blood was heavy and sickening.
"Not certain," answered Reverend Wade. "Can you tell, artemisi"
"No, the face is too swollen. Here, let's try the coat."
Sudbury and the others joined the scene, as did several people from the southerly direction. another drunk pushed forward to see, his pock-marked face ruddy with ale and the liquor smell hanging 'round him like a dank mist. "It's me brother!" he suddenly shouted. "Dear Christ, it's me brother, Davy Munthunk!"
"It's Davy Munthunk!" hollered the yell-king, who was standing right behind Matthew and almost took his ears off. "Davy Munthunk's been murdered!"
"Davy Munthunk's been murdered!" somebody else shouted down the street.
a second ruddy face pushed through the crowd at knee-level. "Who the fuck murdered me, theni"
"Watch that mouth!" Wade said. "Stand back, all of you. Matthew, are you honesti"
"Hold these." He gave Matthew a dark blue velvet wallet, bound with a leather cord, that was heavy with coins. Then he handed over a gold pocketwatch. "It's got blood on it, be careful." He seemed to see Matthew's gore-smeared shirt for the first time. "What happened to youi"
"Here! William, look at these!" Vanderbrocken lifted the lantern and showed the reverend something Matthew was unable to see. "Ornamentation," the doctor remarked. "Someone has a wicked wit to go along with that blade."
"We have to leave him," Matthew heard the reverend say. "You're sure he's deadi"
"Sorry to say, he's already travelled far beyond this world."
"But who is iti" Matthew asked. He was being pushed and shoved as others formed a crowd around the body. In just a brief span, if Matthew knew the mob mentality as he thought he did, the muffin man would pull his wagon up to the spectacle, the higglers would start hollering for attention, the harlots would flirt for late-night customers, and the pickpockets would start sharking for loot.
Reverend Wade and the doctor stood up. It was then that Matthew caught a glimpse of what might have been a light blue nightshirt under Dr. Vanderbrocken's gray cloak.
"Here." Wade returned the lantern to Matthew's hand. "You look and tell."
The reverend stepped aside. Matthew moved forward and shone the light down upon the dead.
The face was a red and swollen shockmask. Blood had streamed copiously from mouth and nostrils, but the hideous cutting was across the throat. Yellow cords and glistening dark matter were laid bare in that cavity, which looked like a grotesque and gaping smile under the sag of the chin. What had once been a white linen cravat was now black with matted gore. Big green flies were at work on the wound, as well as crawling about the lips and nostrils, oblivious to the shouts and furors of the human kind. as much as Matthew was distressed by the ugly violence, he also found himself focused on details: the rigid right hand resting on the belly, the fingers and thumb splayed as if signifying surprise and, in a way, acceptance; the touseled, thick iron-gray hair; the obviously expensive and well-tailored pin-striped black suit and waistcoat and the glossy black shoes with silver buckles; the black tricorn lying just a few feet away, which as Matthew looked at it was crushed under the clumsy boots of the onlookers who pushed forward in an excitement nearing frenzy.
The dead man's face was unrecognizable for its swelling and death-convulsions, which seemed to have unseated the jaw and thrust it forward to expose the glint of the lower teeth. The eyes were thin slits in the mottled flesh, and as Matthew leaned closer still-as close as he dared, with all that blood and the whirling flies-he made out what appeared to be distinct cuts just above the eyebrows and below the sockets.
"God, what a mess!" Felix Sudbury said, standing alongside Matthew. "Can you tell who it isi Was, I meani"
"Make way! Make way for a constable!" came a hoarse shout, before Matthew could respond. Someone was trying to fight through the crowd, which didn't give a damn to part shoulders.
"Murder! Oh Lord, murder!" a woman was screaming. "My boy Davy's been murdered!" Then, before the constable could get through the madhouse, the two-hundred-forty pounds of Mother Munthunk shoved into view, pushing people aside like ten-pins. The woman, wife of a sea captain and keeper of the Blue Bee Tavern off Hanover Square, was a fearsome sight in her kindliest disposition, but tonight behind her wild mane of gray-streaked hair, her hatchet-nosed face, and eyes black as London's secrets she was frightening enough to make even the drunk Munthunk brothers bleat.
"Ma! Ma! Davy's alive, Ma!" Darwin shouted, though with all this racket it would've been hard to hear a cannon go off over your right shoulder.
"I'm alive, Ma!" hollered Davy, still on his knees.
"By God, I'll skin ye raw!" The hulking female reached down and with one huge scabby hand plucked Davy to his feet. "I'll whip ye 'til your mouth farts and your ass cries 'Mercy'!" She got her fingers locked in his hair and he howled with pain as she pulled him from one storm into another.
"Make way for a constable, damn it!" Then the constable pushed through, and Matthew recognized him as the little barrel-chested bully Dippen Nack, who carried a lantern in one hand and brandished a black billyclub in the other. He took one look at the corpse, his beady eyes in the rum-ruddy face grew twice their size, and he squirted away in a blur like any rabbit would run.
Matthew saw that with no control over this crowd the scene of the crime was being stomped to ruins. Now some people-perhaps those who'd been roused from their last round at the taverns-were daring to come in and look closer at the face, and in so doing they were stepping on the body as those behind them pushed forward to get a gander. Suddenly beside Matthew appeared Effrem Owles, wearing a coat over a long white nightshirt and his eyes huge behind his glasses. "You'd best move back!" he warned. "Come on!"
Just as Matthew was about to retreat he saw the boot of a staggering lout step right down upon the corpse's head, and then the lout himself stumbled and fell across the body. "Get up from there!" Matthew shouted, anger flaming his cheeks. "Get back, everyone! It's not a damned circus!"
a bell began to be rung steadily and deliberately, its high metallic sound piercing the uproar. Matthew saw someone pushing through the human shoals. The ringing of the bell caused people to come to their senses and make way. Then High Constable Lillehorne appeared, holding a small brass bell in one hand and a lantern in the other. He kept up the bell-ringing until the noise quietened to a dull murmur. "Step back!" he commanded. "Everyone step back now or you'll spend the night behind bars!"
"We just wanted to see who it was got murdered, that's all!" protested a woman in the crowd, and others shouted agreement.
"If you want to see so much, I'll volunteer you to carry the body to the cold room! anyone wish to make that tripi"
That shut everyone's trap up good and proper. The cold room, in the basement of City Hall, was ashton McCaggers' territory and not a place citizens wished to go unless they required his services, at which point they would be beyond caring.
"Go on about your business!" Lillehorne said. "You're making fools of yourselves!" He looked down at the corpse and then directly at Matthew. His eyes widened as he saw the bloody shirt. "What have you done, Corbetti"
"Nothing! Phillip Covey found the body. He ran into me and...got this all over me."
"Did he also loot the corpse, or is that your own doingi"
Matthew realized he was still holding both the watch and the wallet together in one hand. "No, sir. Reverend Wade took this from the coat."
"Reverend Wadei Where is the reverend, theni"
"He's-" Matthew searched the faces around him for Wade and Dr. Vanderbrocken, but neither of them were anywhere in sight. "He was just here. Both he and-"
"Stop your yammering. Who is thisi" Lillehorne aimed the light down. To his credit, his expression remained composed and emotionless.
"I don't know, sir, but-" Matthew opened the watch's case with his thumb. There was no scrollwork monogram inside, as he'd hoped. The time had stopped at seventeen minutes after ten, which might be an indication of when the spring had wound out or when the trauma of a falling body had broken the mechanism. Still, the watch was an indicator of lavish wealth. Matthew turned to Effrem. "Is your father herei"
"He's right over there. Father!" Effrem called, and the elder Owles-who also wore round spectacles and had the silver hair that Effrem was soon to possess-came through the crowd.
"are you giving the orders here, Corbetti" Lillehorne asked. "I might have a spot for you in the gaol tonight, too."
Matthew chose to ignore him. "Siri" he said to Benjamin Owles. "Would you examine the suit and tell us who made iti"
"The suiti" Owles distastefully regarded the bloody corpse for a moment, but then he hoisted his courage and nodded. "all right. If I can."
a suit would bear the maker's mark in its weave and structure, Matthew surmised. In New York there were two other professional tailors and a number of amateurs who did clothes work, but unless this suit had made the voyage from England, Owles ought to be able to identify the workmanship.
Owles had just bent down and examined the coat's lining when he said, "I recognize this. It's a new lightweight suit, made at the first of the summer. I know, because I made it. In fact, I made two of the same material."
"Made them for whomi"
"Pennford and Robert Deverick. This has a pocket for a watch." He stood up. "It's Mr. Deverick's suit."
"It's Penn Deverick!" someone called into the dark.
and on along the street went the news, more swift than any article of brutal murder in the Gazette might be passed: "Penn Deverick's dead!"
"It's Pennford Deverick been murdered!"
"Old Deverick's a-layin' there, God rest him!"
"God rest him, but the Devil's got him!" some heartless scoundrel said, but not many might disagree.
Matthew kept quiet and decided to let the high constable find for himself what Matthew had already seen: the cuttings around Deverick's eyes.
They were the same wounds Marmaduke Grigsby had remarked upon in his article on the murder of Dr. Julius Godwin in the Bedbug.
Dr. Godwin unfortunately also suffered cuttings around the eyes that Master ashton McCaggers has mentioned in his professional opinion appeared to form the shape of a mask.
Matthew watched while Lillehorne bent over the body, taking care not to get his boots in the blood. Lillehorne waved away the flies with his bell-hand. It would just be a few seconds before...and yes, there it was.
Matthew saw the high constable's head give a slight jerk, as if he'd been struck by a fist somewhere in the area of the upper chest.
He knew, as Matthew clearly did, that the Masker had claimed a second kill.
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