Chapter Six

"Yes." Teddy rubbed his eyes and took a sip of tea. "What about his son?"

"Level-three surveillance, not much happening in Culpeper, Virginia. If Backman tries to contact anyone, it will be Neal Backman. But we'll know it in Italy before we know it in Culpeper."

"His son is the only person he trusts," Teddy said, stating what Julia had said many times.

"Very true."

After a long pause he said, "Anything else, Julia?"

"He's writing a letter to his mother in Oakland."

Teddy gave a quick smile. "How nice. Do we have it?"

"Yes, our agent took a picture of it yesterday, we just got it. Backman hides it in between the pages of a local tourism magazine in his hotel room."

"How long is it?"

"Two good paragraphs. Evidently a work in progress."

"Read it to me," Teddy said as he leaned his head back against his wheelchair and closed his eyes.

Julia shuffled papers and pushed up her reading glasses. "No date, handwritten, which is a chore because Backman's penmanship is lousy. 'Dear Mother: I'm not sure when or if you will ever receive this letter. I'm not sure if I will ever mail it, which could affect whether or not you get it. At any rate, I'm out of prison and doing better. In my last letter I said things were going well in the flat country of Oklahoma. I had no idea at that time that I would be pardoned by the President. It happened so quickly that I still find it hard to believe.' Second paragraph. Tm living on the other side of the world, I can't say where because this would upset some people. I would prefer to be in the United States, but that is not possible. I had no say in the matter. It's not a great life but it's certainly better than the one I had a week ago. I was dying in prison, in spite of what I said in my letters. Didn't want to worry you. Here, I'm free, and that's the most important thing in the world. I can walk down the street, eat in a cafe, come and go as I please, do pretty much whatever I want. Freedom, Mother, something I dreamed of for years and thought was impossible.' "

She laid it down and said, "That's as far as he's gotten."

Teddy opened his eyes and said, "You think he's stupid enough to mail a letter to his mother?"

"No. But he's been writing her once a week for a long time. It's a habit, and it's probably therapeutic. He has to talk to somebody."

"Are we still watching her mail?"

"Yes, what little she receives."

"Very well. Scare the hell out of him, then report back."

"Yes sir." Julia gathered her papers and left the office. Teddy picked up a summary and adjusted his reading glasses. Hoby went to a small kitchen nearby.

Backmans mother's phone had been tapped in the nursing home in Oakland, and so far it had revealed nothing. The day the pardon was announced two very old friends had called with lots of questions and some subdued congratulations, but Mrs. Backman had been so bewildered she was eventually sedated and napped for hours. None of her grandchildren-the three produced by Joel and his various wives-had called her in the past six months.

Lydia Backman had survived two strokes and was confined to a wheelchair. When her son was at his pinnacle she lived in relative luxury in a spacious condo with a full-time nurse. His conviction had forced her to give up the good life and live in a nursing home with a hundred others.

Surely Backman would not try to contact her.

After a few days of dreaming about the money, Critz began spending it, at least mentally. With all that cash, he wouldn't be forced to work for the sleazy defense contractor, nor would he be forced to hustle audiences on the lecture circuit. (He wasn't convinced the audiences were out there to begin with, in spite of what his lecture agent had promised him.) Critz was thinking about retirement! Somewhere far away from Washington and all the enemies he'd made there, somewhere on a beach with a sailboat nearby. Or maybe he'd move to Switzerland and stay close to his new fortune buried in his new bank, all wonderfully tax free and growing by the day.

He made a phone call and got the flat in London for a few more days. He encouraged Mrs. Critz to shop more aggressively. She, too, was tired of Washington and deserved an easier life.

Partly because of his greedy enthusiasm, and partly because of his natural ineptitude, and also because of his lack of sophistication in intelligence matters, Critz blundered badly from the start. For such an old hand at the Washington game, his mistakes were inexcusable.

First, he used the phone in his borrowed flat, thus making it easy for someone to nail down his exact location. He called Jeb Priddy, the CIA liaison who had been stationed in the White House during the last four years. Priddy was still at his post but expected to be called back to Langley soon. The new President was settling in, things were chaotic, and so on, according to Priddy, who seemed slightly irritated by the call. He and Critz had never been close, and Priddy knew immediately that the guy was fishing. Critz eventually said he was trying to find an old pal, a senior CIA analyst he'd once played a lot of golf with. Name was Daly, Addison Daly, and he'd left Washington for a stint in Asia. Did Priddy perhaps know where he was now?

Addison Daly was tucked away at Langley and Priddy knew him well. "I know the name," Priddy said. "Maybe I can find him. Where can I reach you?"

Critz gave him the number at the flat. Priddy called Addison Daly and passed along his suspicions. Daly turned on his recorder and called London on a secure line. Critz answered the phone and went overboard with his delight at hearing from an old friend. He rambled on about how wonderful life was after the White House, after all those years playing the political game, how nice it was being a private citizen. He was anxious to renew old friendships and get serious about his golf game.

Daly played along well. He offered that he, too, was contemplating retirement-almost thirty years in the service-and that he caught himself looking forward to an easier life.

Hows Teddy these days? Critz wanted to know. And how's the new president? What's the mood in Washington with the new administration?

Nothing changes much, Daly mused, just another bunch of fools. By the way, how's former president Morgan?

Critz didn't know, hadn't talked to him, in fact might not talk to him for many weeks. As the conversation was winding down, Critz said with a clumsy laugh, "Don't guess anybody's seen Joel Backman?"

Daly managed to laugh too-it was all a big joke. "No," he said, "I think the boy's well hidden."

"He should be."

Critz promised to call as soon as he returned to D.C. They'd play eighteen holes at one of the good clubs, then have a drink, just like in the old days!

What old days? Daly asked himself after he hung up.

An hour later, the phone conversation was played for Teddy Maynard.

Since the first two calls had been somewhat encouraging, Critz pressed on. He'd always been one to work the phones like a maniac. He subscribed to the shotgun theory-fill the air with calls and something will happen. A rough plan was coming together. Another old pal had once been a senior staffer to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and though he was now a well-connected lobbyist, he had, allegedly, maintained close ties to the CIA.

They talked politics and golf and eventually, much to Critzs delight, the pal asked what, exactly, was President Morgan thinking when he pardoned Duke Mongo, the biggest tax evader in the history of America? Critz claimed to have been opposed to the pardon but managed to steer the conversation along to the other controversial reprieve. "What's the gossip on Backman?" he asked.

"You were there," answered his pal.

"Yes, but where did Maynard stash him? That's the big question."

"So it was a CIA job?" his friend asked.

"Of course," Critz said with the voice of authority. Who else could sneak him out of the country in the middle of the night?

"That's interesting," said his pal, who then became very quiet. Critz insisted on a lunch the following week, and that's where they left the conversation.

As Critz feverishly worked the phone, he marveled once again at his endless list of contacts. Power did have its rewards.

Joel, or Marco, said goodbye to Ermanno at five-thirty in the afternoon, completing a three-hour session that had gone virtually nonstop. Both were exhausted.

The chilly air helped clear his head as he walked the narrow streets of Treviso. For the second day, he dropped by a small corner bar and ordered a beer. He sat in the window and watched the locals hurry about, some rushing home from work, others shopping quickly for dinner. The bar was warm and smoky, and Marco once again drifted back to prison. He couldn't help himself-the change had been too drastic, the freedom too sudden. There was still the lingering fear that he would wake up and find himself locked in the cell with some unseen prankster laughing hysterically in the distance.

After the beer he had an espresso, and after that he stepped into the darkness and shoved both hands deep into his pockets. When he turned the corner and saw his hotel, he also saw Luigi pacing nervously along the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette. As Marco crossed the street, Luigi came after him. "We are leaving, immediately," he said.

"Why?" Marco asked, glancing around, looking for bad guys.

"I'll explain later. There's a travel bag on your bed. Pack your things as quickly as possible. I'll wait here."

"What if I don't want to leave?" Marco asked.

Luigi clutched his left wrist, thought for a quick second, then gave a very tight smile. "Then you might not last twenty-four hours," he said as ominously as possible. "Please trust me."

Marco raced up the stairs and down the hall, and was almost to his room before he realized that the sharp pain in his stomach was not from heavy breathing but from fear.

What had happened? What had Luigi seen or heard, or been told? Who, exactly, was Luigi in the first place and who was he taking orders from? As Marco yanked his clothes out of the tiny closet and flung them toward the bed he asked all these questions, and many more. When everything was packed, he sat for a moment and tried to collect his thoughts. He took deep breaths, exhaled slowly, told himself that whatever was happening was just part of the game.

Would he be running forever? Always packing in a hurry, fleeing one room in search of another? It still beat the hell out of prison, but it would take its toll.

And how could anyone possibly have found him this soon? He'd been in Treviso only four days.

When his composure was somewhat restored, he walked slowly down the hall, down the stairs, through the lobby where he nodded at the gawking clerk but said nothing, and out the front door. Luigi snatched his bag and tossed it into the trunk of a compact Fiat. They were on the outskirts of Treviso before a word was spoken.

"Okay, Luigi, what's up?" Marco asked.

"A change of scenery."

"Got that. Why?"

"Some very good reasons."

"Oh, well, that explains everything."

Luigi drove with his left hand, shifted gears frantically with his right, and kept the accelerator as close to the floor as possible while ignoring the brakes. Marco was already perplexed as to how a race of people could spend two and a half leisurely hours over lunch, then hop in a car for a ten-minute drive across town at breakneck speed.

They drove an hour, generally in a southward direction, avoiding the highways by clinging to the back roads. "Is someone behind us?" Marco asked more than once as they sped around tight curves on two wheels.

Luigi just shook his head. His eyes were narrow, his eyebrows pinched together, his jaw clenched tightly when the cigarette wasn't near. He somehow managed to drive like a maniac while smoking calmly and never glancing behind them. He was determined not to speak, and that reinforced Marco's determination to have a conversation.

"You're just trying to scare me, aren't you, Luigi? We re playing the spy game-you're the master, I'm the poor schmuck with the secrets. Scare the hell out of me and keep me dependent and loyal. I know what you're doing."

"Who killed Jacy Hubbard?" Luigi asked, barely moving his lips.

Backman suddenly wanted to go quiet. The mere mention of Hubbard made him freeze for a second. The name always brought the same flashback: a police photo of Jacy slumped against his brother's grave, the left side of his head blown away, blood everywhere-on the tombstone, on his white shirt. Everywhere.

"You have the file," Backman said. "It was a suicide."

"Oh yes. And if you believed that, then why did you decide to plead guilty and beg for protective custody in prison?"

"I was scared. Suicides can be contagious."

"Very true."

"So you're saying that the boys who did the Hubbard suicide are after me?"

Luigi confirmed it with a shrug.

"And somehow they found out I was hiding in Treviso?"

"It's best not to take chances."

He would not get the details, if, in fact, there were any. He tried not to, but he instinctively glanced over his shoulder and saw the dark road behind them. Luigi looked into his rearview mirror, and managed a satisfactory smile, as if to say: They're back there, somewhere.

Joel sank a few inches in his seat and closed his eyes. Two of his clients had died first. Safi Mirza had been knifed outside a Georgetown nightclub three months after he hired Backman and handed over the only copy of JAM. The knife wounds were severe enough, but a poison had been injected, probably with the thrust of the blade. No witnesses. No clues. A very unsolved murder, but one of many in D.C. A month later Fazal Sharif had disappeared in Karachi, and was presumed dead.

JAM was indeed worth a billion dollars, but no one would ever enjoy the money.

In 1998, Backman, Pratt amp; Boiling had hired Jacy Hubbard for $1 million a year. The marketing of JAM was his first big challenge. To prove his worth, Hubbard bullied and bribed his way into the Pentagon in a clumsy and ill-fated effort to confirm the existence of the Neptune satellite system. Some documents-doctored but still classified-were smuggled out by a Hubbard mole who was reporting everything to his superiors. The highly sensitive papers purported to show the existence of Gamma Net, a fictitious Star Wars-like surveillance system with unheard-of capabilities. Once Hubbard "confirmed" that the three young Pakistanis were indeed correct-their Neptune was a US. project-he proudly reported his findings to Joel Backman and they were in business.

Since Gamma Net was supposedly the creation of the US. military, JAM was worth even more. The truth was that neither the Pentagon nor the CIA knew about Neptune.

The Pentagon then leaked its own fiction-a fabricated breach of security by a mole working for ex-senator Jacy Hubbard and his powerful new boss, the broker himself. The scandal erupted. The FBI raided the offices of Backman, Pratt amp; Boiling in the middle of the night, found the Pentagon documents that everyone presumed to be authentic, and within forty-eight hours a highly motivated team of federal prosecutors had issued indictments against every partner in the firm.

The killings soon followed, with no clues as to who was behind them. The Pentagon brilliantly neutralized Hubbard and Backman without tipping its hand as to whether it actually owned and created the satellite system. Gamma Net or Neptune, or whatever, was effectively shielded under the impenetrable web of "military secrets."

Backman the lawyer wanted a trial, especially if the Pentagon documents were questionable, but Backman the defendant wanted to avoid a fate similar to Hubbard's.

If Luigi's mad dash out of Treviso was designed to frighten him, then the plan suddenly began working. For the first time since his pardon, Joel missed the safety of his little cell in maximum security.

The city of Padua was ahead, its lights and traffic growing by the mile. "What's the population of Padua?" Marco asked, his first words in half an hour.

"Two hundred thousand. Why do Americans always want to know the population of every village and city?"

"Didn't realize it was a problem."

"Are you hungry?"

The dull throbbing in his stomach was from fear, not hunger, but he said "Sure" anyway. They ate a pizza at a neighborhood bar just beyond the outer ring of Padua, and were quickly back in the car and headed south.

They slept that night in a tiny country inn-eight closet-sized rooms-that had been in the same family since Roman times. There was no sign advertising the place; it was one of Luigi's stopovers. The nearest road was narrow, neglected, and virtually free of any vehicle built after 1970. Bologna was not far away.

Luigi was next door, through a thick stone wall that went back for centuries. When Joel Backman/Marco Lazzeri crawled under the blankets and finally got warm, he couldn't see a flicker of light anywhere. Total blackness. And total quiet. It was so quiet he couldn't close his eyes for a long time.

After the fifth report that Critz had called with questions about Joel Backman, Teddy Maynard threw a rare tantrum. The fool was in London, working the phones furiously, for some reason trying to find someone, anyone, who might lead him to information about Backman.

"Someone's offered Critz money," Teddy barked at Wigline, an assistant deputy director.

"But there's no way Critz can find out where Backman is," Wigline said.

"He shouldn't be trying. He'll only complicate matters. He must be neutralized."

Wigline glanced at Hoby, who had suddenly stopped his note - taking. "What are you saying, Teddy?"

"Neutralize him."

"He's a US. citizen."

"I know that! He's also compromising an operation. There is precedent. We've done it before." He didn't bother to tell them what the precedent was, but they assumed that since Teddy often created his own precedents, then it would do no good to argue the matter.

Hoby nodded as if to say: Yes, we've done it before.

Wigline clenched his jaw and said, "I assume you want it done now."

"As soon as possible," Teddy said. "Show me a plan in two hours."

They watched Critz as he left his borrowed apartment and began his long, late-afternoon walk, one that usually ended with a few pints. After half an hour at a languid pace he neared Leicester Square and entered the Dog and Duck, the same pub as the day before.

He was on his second pint at the far end of the main bar, first floor, before the stool next to him cleared and an agent named Green - law wedged in and yelled for a beer.

"Mind if I smoke?" Greenlaw asked Critz, who shrugged and said, "This ain't America." 'A Yank, huh?" Greenlaw said.


"Live here?"

"No, just visiting." Critz was concentrating on the bottles on the wall beyond the bar, avoiding eye contact, wanting no part of the conversation. He had quickly come to adore the solitude of a crowded pub. He loved to sit and drink and listen to the rapid banter of the Brits and know that not a soul had a clue as to who he was. He was, though, still wondering about the little guy named Ben. If they were watching him, they were doing a great job of staying in the shadows.

Greenlaw gulped his beer in an effort to catch up with Critz. It was crucial to order the next two at the same time. He puffed a cigarette, then added his smoke to the cloud above them. "I've been here for a year,1' he said.

Critz nodded without looking. Get lost.

"I don't mind driving on the wrong side, or the lousy weather, but what really bugs me here are the sports. You ever watch a cricket match? Lasts for four days."

Critz managed to grunt and offer a lame "Such a stupid sport."

"It's either soccer or cricket, and these people go nuts over both. I just survived the winter here without the NFL. It was pure misery."

Critz was a loyal Redskins season-ticket holder and few things in life excited him as much as his beloved team. Greenlaw was a casual fan but had spent the day memorizing statistics in a CIA safe house north of London. If football didn't work, then politics would be next.

If that didn't work, there was a fine-looking lady waiting outside, though Critz did not have a reputation as a philanderer.

Critz was suddenly homesick. Sitting in a pub, far from home, far from the frenzy of the Super Bowl-two days away and virtually ignored by the British press-he could hear the crowd and feel the excitement. If the Redskins had survived the playoffs, he would not be drinking pints in London. He would be at the Super Bowl, fifty-yard - line seats, furnished by one of the many corporations he could lean on.

He looked at Greenlaw and said, "Patriots or Packers?"

"My team didn't make it, but I always pull for the NFC."

"Me too. Who's your team?"

And that was perhaps the most fatal question Robert Critz would ever ask. When Greenlaw answered, "Redskins," Critz actually smiled and wanted to talk. They spent a few minutes establishing pedigree-how long each had been a Redskins fan, the great games they'd seen, the great players, the Super Bowl championships. Greenlaw ordered another round and both seemed ready to replay old games for hours. Critz had talked to so few Yanks in London, and this guy was certainly an easy one to get on with.

Greenlaw excused himself and went to find the restroom. It was upstairs, the size of a broom closet, a one-holer like so many Johns in London. He latched the door for a few seconds of privacy and quickly whipped out a cell phone to report his progress. The plan was in place. The team was just down the street, waiting. Three men and the fine - looking lady.

Halfway through his fourth pint, and with a polite disagreement under way over Sonny Jurgensen's touchdown-to-interception ratio, Critz finally needed to pee. He asked directions and disappeared. Greenlaw deftly dropped into Critz's glass one small white tablet of Rohypnol-a strong, tasteless, odorless sedative. When Mr. Redskins returned he was refreshed and ready to drink. They talked about John Riggins and Joe Gibbs and thoroughly enjoyed themselves as poor Critz's chin began to drop.

"Wow," he said, his tongue already thick. "I'd better be going. Old lady is waiting."

"Yeah, me too," Greenlaw said, raising his glass. "Drink up."

They drained their pints and stood to leave; Critz in front, Greenlaw waiting to catch him. They made it through the crowd packed around the front door and onto the sidewalk where a cold wind revived Critz, but only for a second. He forgot about his new pal, and in less than twenty steps was wobbling on rubbery legs and grasping for a lamp pole. Greenlaw grabbed him as he was falling, and for the benefit of a young couple passing by said loudly, "Dammit, Fred, you're drunk again."

Fred was far beyond drunk. A car appeared from nowhere and slowed by the sidewalk. A back door swung open, and Greenlaw shoveled a half-dead Critz into the rear seat. The first stop was a warehouse eight blocks away. There Critz, thoroughly unconscious now, was transferred to a small unmarked panel truck with a double rear door. While Critz lay on the floor of the van, an agent used a hypodermic needle and injected him with a massive dose of very pure heroin. The presence of heroin always squelched the autopsy results, at the family's insistence of course.

With Critz barely breathing, the van left the warehouse and drove to Whitcomb Street, not far from his apartment. The killing required three vehicles-the van, followed by a large and heavy Mercedes, and a trail car driven by a real Brit who would hang around and chat with the police. The trail car's primary purpose was to keep the traffic as far behind the Mercedes as possible.

On the third pass, with all three drivers talking to each other, and with two agents, including the fine-looking lady, hiding on the sidewalk and also listening, the rear doors of the van were shoved open, Critz fell onto the street, the Mercedes aimed for his head and got it with a sickening thump, then everyone disappeared but the Brit in the trail car. He slammed on his brakes, jumped out and ran to the poor drunk who'd just stumbled into the street and been run over, and looked around quickly for other witnesses.

. There were none, but a taxi was approaching in the other lane. He flagged it down, and soon other traffic stopped. Before long, a crowd was gathering and the police arrived. The Brit in the trail car may have been the first on the scene, but he saw very little. He saw the man stumble between those two parked cars over there, into the street, and get hit by a large black car. Or maybe it was dark green. Not sure of the make or model. Never thought about looking at the license plates. No clue as to the description of the hit-and-run driver. He was too shocked by the sight of the drunk suddenly appearing at the edge of the street.

By the time the body of Bob Critz was loaded into an ambulance for the trip to the morgue, Greenlaw, the fine-looking lady, and two other members of the team were on a train leaving London and headed for Paris. They would scatter for a few weeks, then return to England, their home base.

Marco wanted breakfast primarily because he could smell it - ham and sausages on the grill somewhere deep in the main house - but Luigi was anxious to move on. "There are other guests and everyone eats at the same table," he explained as they hurriedly threw their bags in his car. "Remember, you're leaving a trail, and the signora forgets nothing."

They sped down the country lane in search of wider roads.

"'Where are we going?" Marco asked.

"We'll see."

"Stop playing games with me!" he growled and Luigi actually flinched. "I'm a perfectly free man who could get out of this car anytime I want!" 'Yes, but-"

"Stop threatening me! Ever}' time I ask a question you give me these vague threats about how I won't last twenty-four hours on my own. I want to know what's going on. Where are we headed? How long will we be there? How long will you be around? Give me some answers, Luigi, or I'll disappear."

Luigi turned onto a four-lane and a sign said that Bologna was thirty kilometers ahead. He waited for the tension to ease a bit, then said, "We're going to Bologna for a few days. Ermanno will meet us there. You will continue your lessons. You'll be placed in a safe house for several months. Then I'll disappear and you'll be on your own."

"Thank you. Why was that so difficult?"

"The plan changes."

"I knew Ermanno wasn't a student."

"He is a student. He's also part of the plan."

"Do you realize how ridiculous the plan is? Think about it, Luigi. Someone is spending all this time and money trying to teach me an other language and another culture. Why not just put me back on the cargo plane and stash me in some place like New Zealand?"

"That's a great idea, Marco, but I'm not making those decisions."

"Marco my ass. Every time I look in the mirror and say Marco I want to laugh."

"This is not funny. Do you know Robert Critz?"

Marco paused for a moment. "I met him a few times over the years. Never had much use for him. Just another political hack, like me, I guess."

"Close friend of President Morgan, chief of staff, campaign director."


"He was killed last night in London. That makes five people who've died because of you-Jacy Hubbard, the three Pakistanis, now Critz. The killing hasn't stopped, Marco, nor will it. Please be patient with me. I'm only trying to protect you."

Marco slammed his head into the headrest and closed his eyes. He could not begin to put the pieces together.

They made a quick exit and stopped for gas. Luigi returned to the car with two small cups of strong coffee. "Coffee to go," Marco said pleasantly. "I figured such evils would be banned in Italy."

"Fast food is creeping in. It's very sad."

"Just blame the Americans. Everybody else does."

Before long they were inching through the rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Bologna. Luigi was saying, "Our best cars are made around here, you know. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, all the great sports cars."

"Can I have one?"

"It's not in the budget, sorry.'

"What, exactly, is in the budget?"

"A very quiet, simple life."

"That his what I thought."

"Much better than your last one."

Marco sipped his coffee and watched the traffic. "Didn't you study here?"

"Yes. The university is a thousand years old. One of the finest in the world. I'll show it to you later."

They exited the main thoroughfare and wound through a gritty suburb. The streets became shorter and narrower and Luigi seemed to know the place well. They followed the signs pointing them toward the center of the city, and the university. Luigi suddenly swerved, jumped a curb, and wedged the Fiat into a slot barely wide enough for a motorcycle. "Lets eat something," he said, and, once they managed to squeeze themselves out of the car, they were on the sidewalk, walking quickly through the cool air.

Marco's next hiding place was a dingy hotel a few blocks from the outer edge of the old city. "Budget cuts already," he mumbled as he followed Luigi through the cramped lobby to the stairs.

"It's just for a few days," Luigi said.

"Then what?" Marco was struggling with his bags up the narrow stairway. Luigi was carrying nothing. Thankfully the room was on the second floor, a rather small space with a tiny bed and curtains that hadn't been opened in days.

"I like Treviso better," Marco said, staring at the walls.

Luigi yanked open the curtains. The sunlight helped only slightly. "Not bad," he said, without conviction.

"My prison cell was nicer."

"You complain a lot."

"With good reason."

"Unpack. I'll meet you downstairs in ten minutes. Ermanno is waiting."

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