As promised! A brand new short story featuring DCI Gavin Quisty, one of the characters from A Murder To Die For. I hope you enjoy it!
“The local police can’t believe that this is a simple suicide if they’ve bothered to call you in,” said William ‘Lucky Bill’ Luckinbill. A short, stocky pudding of a man, he was the coroner for Coxeter Borough, and he wasn’t a man who liked drama in his life. “But I’m hoping that you’ll prove them wrong.”
Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Quisty smiled. “I’m not here to rock any boats, Lucky”, he said. “But it is an odd one and no mistake. Perhaps HQ thought that a fresh pair of eyes might clear things up.”
Quisty hovered around the body, snapping photographs on his smartphone. He brought the phone closer to the victim’s face and took several close-ups of the mouth. The horribly smiling mouth.
“Well, you do have a lot more experience with this kind of weird stuff than most”, said Luckinbill. “Dear lord, that smile is unnerving. Something to do with rigor mortis, right?”
“Possibly”, said Quisty. “It’s unusual though. What was the time of death?”
"The doctor reckoned about five hours ago, which is about right for rigor to have set in,” said Luckinbill. “But usually, once life is extinct, the muscles relax and the face loses all expression. Maybe it’s a side effect of the overdose she took? Whatever the reason, that grin is bloody creepy.”
The deceased was a thin, almost skeletal, woman in her mid to late forties but her emaciated appearance and wispy white hair made her look a lot older. She lay on top of her bed, dressed in a pair of expensive black silk pyjamas. Her chin, neck and upper torso were sticky and damp with what smelled like orange juice. The bedroom was as tasteful as her nightwear, decorated in creams, blacks and purples with expensive wallpaper and opulent curtains. On the wall opposite the bed hung a cluster of framed photographs of the dead woman when she’d been plumper and prettier, laughing, greeting, and hugging a host of famous people: actors, politicians, rock stars and even a pope. On the ceiling above, dim now in the light of morning, were the constellations of the Northern hemisphere picked out in fluorescent paint. In the pitch dark of night, the owner of this bedroom might have felt like she was lying under a clear summer night sky.
“I’ll grant you that there is an element of creepiness to this case, especially considering who she is … was”, said Quisty.
“And, of course, there’s that”, said Luckinbill, pointing to the dressing table mirror upon which was written, in lurid cerise lipstick, the stark message: ‘Got you!’ “But that’s not the worst of it”, continued Luckinbill. “There’s the glass too.”
A single glass tumbler stood on the bedside table. Its surface was covered with fine grey powder where it had been dusted for fingerprints. It smelled strongly of orange juice and of something else besides.
“Ah yes the glass. Now that, I will admit, is … odd”, said Quisty. He peered at the tumbler closely and then began systematically going through the contents of the bedside drawers.
“Odd? It’s impossible”, said Luckinbill.
Quisty’s staff officer and occasional bedmate, DS Kim Woon, appeared at the door.
“I think the girlfriend is up to seeing you now Guv”, she said.
“She is? Splendid. Where?” said Quisty.
“She’s in the kitchen.”
“Excellent. Then a cup of tea is in order I think.”
As Quisty descended the stairs, he passed by framed posters and magazine covers that reminded him of just how famous the dead woman had once been. In fact, there had been a time not so long ago, he mused, when you couldn’t turn on a television without seeing Connie Deverick’s smiling face. As the UK’s foremost psychic and medium, she had enjoyed sell-out tours of theatres all over the country and had built up a large and affluent A-List clientele. It was rumoured that a few of the royals were on her books. She had been a hugely popular guest on chat shows and her own TV series The Other Worlds of Connie Deverick had been a fixture of Sunday nights for nearly a decade.
But then it had all come crashing down. Stage magician and psychic debunker Declan Ivory had never made any secret of the fact that Deverick was in his sights, but when he went public with his findings in 2010 no one had expected such a searing exposé of her act. Following six years of research and secret filming, Ivory claimed that he had discovered the secret of her extraordinary success. Like most self-proclaimed psychics and mediums, he’d said, Deverick was a master of ‘cold reading’ – a set of techniques that she could use to extract information from another person while always appearing to know much more about the subject than she actually did. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Ivory alleged that Deverick and her partner, a dour Welsh woman called Kendra, had developed an exceptionally clever and intricate form of sign language based upon touching parts of the face and upper body. Kendra, who sat in on every public performance, had access to both the internet and ticketing details for the people who had booked to see the show and would signal appropriate answers to her partner on stage when required to do so. As evidence, Ivory produced video footage of Kendra in the audience that demonstrated clearly that every movement of her hands, every twitch, every extreme facial expression corresponded exactly to a particular letter or word. And, sure enough, when decoded, her signals always matched the sudden ‘revelation’ that Deverick would then produce on stage. To add insult to injury, Ivory made his decoding guide freely available and encouraged the public to check for themselves. It became a popular pastime; people began to take a perverse delight in re-watching Deverick’s TV shows while decoding Kendra’s subtle but now blatantly obvious signals. BBC2 even ran a season of shows especially for this purpose and printed a copy of Ivory’s codebreaking guide in the Radio Times.
Unsurprisingly, Connie Deverick’s career took a steep nosedive; a fact that delighted her detractors who made great sport of pointing out that ‘she hadn’t seen that coming’. But worse was to come. Six months after Ivory’s revelation, Deverick was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and liver, something that her more insensitive and boorish critics also pointed out that she hadn’t seen coming. Near bankruptcy had followed just a few years later; the result of cancelled tours, lack of work and expensive private health care bills. When her cancer had gone into remission in 2015 she’d made one last attempt to fight back and regain some of her former glory, but it was all too little too late. Her career was over.
Quisty arrived in the kitchen and was impressed. It was a beautiful room, large and spacious, and featured a dining area under conservatory glass and a black granite-topped island surrounded by high stools. The walls were covered in dark wood cupboards interspersed with high spec equipment – warming ovens, wine chillers and a massive six burner gas range among them. The kitchen smacked of expensive luxury, as did the rest of the house, which was beautifully appointed if surprisingly modest in size considering how much money the famous psychic must have made in her career. But she had also lost a great deal of money too and downsizing had been unavoidable. That said, she’d still managed to hold on to a substantial four bedroom house on a private road in the nicer part of Ordon where the neighbours were equally well off and just stuffy and old-fashioned enough to privately disapprove of same sex relationships. Kendra – real name Karen Pantry – hadn’t exactly helped matters by declaring herself to be a Wiccan, habitually dressing in black and holding noisy parties to celebrate the eight festivals that annually marked the turning of the ‘Wheel of the Year’.
“You must be Kendra”, said Quisty. “I’m Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Quisty and this is DS Kim Woon. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thanks”, said Kendra. She sat on a high stool, slumped over the island, a glass of rosé in one hand and tracing something arcane with her black painted fingernail in a small spillage on the counter top. Her voice was empty, emotionless.
“Would you mind if I make us all a tea?” said Quisty.
“Help yourself”, said Kendra. “I’m fine with the wine.”
“I’ll sort out the tea, Guv”, said Woon. “At least I will when I figure out where everything is. I’ve never seen so many cupboards.”
“The teabags are probably near the kettle somewhere”, said Kendra. “I don’t know for sure. Never touch the stuff.”
As Woon began the task of opening cupboards in search of tea, Quisty folded himself onto a stool.
“I’m afraid that, in cases like this, I am forced to ask you some questions”, he said. “Do you feel up to it?”
“Sure. You have a job to do. I get that”, said Kendra. “But I can’t tell you any more than I told the other guy earlier. I guess I’m prime suspect, eh?”
“It’s more about elimination than accusation”, said Quisty. “Your fingerprints are on the glass after all.”
“That’s because I took her up some orange juice”, said Kendra. “But I didn’t crush up all those tablets and put them in it. And I didn’t write that message on the mirror.”
“So you’re saying that Miss Deverick did it”, said Quisty.
“No. I’m saying that Ivory did it,” said Kendra.
“By that you mean Declan Ivory the magician?” said Quisty.
“Who died two years ago in a car crash.”
Kendra looked up from her wine. Her heavy black eye make-up was smeared and dark runnels ran down her cheeks.
“Yeah. He’s your murderer”, she growled. “His fingerprints are on the glass too aren’t they?”
“You’re not actually considering her claims are you?” asked Luckinbill.
“Working with Quisty I’ve learned never to dismiss anything”, said Woon. She had brought the coroner a cup of tea. Luckinbill had stayed in the victim’s bedroom while the forensics officer finished up.
“But you’ve met her. She’s not what I’d call a stable person,” said Luckinbill. “She thinks that she’s a witch. And she genuinely believes that she caused Ivory’s death by putting a curse on him.”
“I remember the story”, said Woon. “She put a curse on him and two days later he was dead under the wheels of a 40 ton artic. Coincidence to be sure but she completely believed that she was responsible. She still does.”
“As I said, she’s unstable”, said Luckinbill. “And now she’s claiming that the dead man has murdered her girlfriend in revenge.”
“But even if that were true, which it obviously isn’t, why would he do it?” said Luckinbill. “Ivory spent decades trying to prove that mediums and psychics were frauds, that the afterlife is a fantasy. By murdering someone from beyond the grave wouldn’t he be proving that Connie Deverick was right all along?”
“He would be shooting himself in the foot I guess”, said Woon. “If ghosts can shoot themselves in the foot, that is.”
“I saw her on stage once at the Majestic in Hoddenford”, said Luckinbill. “Not really my thing but my mother wanted to go along. She was surprisingly convincing. I mean, I know it was all nonsense but she made it look very real. I enjoyed the show. And Mum was impressed.”
“So were millions of others”, said Woon. “And you do realise that once word gets out that she’s shuffled off this mortal coil, every psychic is going to claim that she has contacted them to affirm that the afterlife is real don’t you? Ivory will be spinning in his grave.”
“That’s not all he’s been doing if the evidence on that glass is to be believed.”
“Yes indeed”, said Woon, tapping her phone against her teeth.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Quisty was leafing through a scrapbook of reviews and press clippings, theatre advertising bills and press photos. Connie Deverick had been something of a completist, apparently, because she had included just as many bad reviews as good. Towards the back of the book he found a flurry of press clippings about the psychic’s infamous final TV appearance.
In 2015, in one last desperate bid to salvage something of her career, Deverick had challenged Declan Ivory to appear with her on a high profile chat show where, she claimed, she would prove her psychic ability to him, and to the world, once and for all. As an extra inducement, she had insisted that Ivory search her for hidden earpieces or other devices that might be used to trick or deceive. Kendra, meanwhile, would not be allowed anywhere in the studio where she might be able to signal to her partner. Ivory agreed and the show went ahead. To the delight of the show’s host, Connie Deverick’s abilities appeared to have returned in spades and she scored hit after hit with strangers from the audience. Even Ivory had been impressed, maintaining that it was some form of trick, naturally, but candidly admitting that he couldn’t figure out how it was done. Striking while the iron was hot, Connie Deverick had then asked Ivory to perhaps keep an open mind in future and to swear, on the lives of his children, that when his time came he might do something for her. ‘When you see for yourself that there really is an afterlife, I want you to promise me that you will find some way to make this known to the living’, she’d asked him. ‘Then, if the greatest debunker of all time is seen to be sending messages from the afterlife, there can be no more doubt.’ Ivory had readily agreed, sure in his heart of hearts that there was no life after death, and the two adversaries had parted on seemingly good terms. Just 48 hours later, Ivory was dead.
In the weeks that followed, Connie Deverick was once more enjoying the limelight, albeit most often as ‘the girlfriend of self-proclaimed witch who claims that she killed Declan Ivory with a curse’. Once again, she, and now Kendra, were appearing on chat shows and magazine programmes. Meanwhile, people all over the world waited eagerly for a sign, any sign to show that Declan Ivory had ascended to a higher plane. Many psychics claimed that he had contacted them but Ivory had anticipated this and had made provisions to dismiss or validate such claims. The day after the TV debate, he had decided upon a certain obscure phrase, written it down and placed it in the safekeeping of his solicitor. He’d then told the world what he’d done and that, if he were to genuinely make contact from the other side, he would speak the phrase as proof. No one had yet quoted the correct phrase, leading sceptics to affirm what they already knew - that death was simply the end of life. However, the true believers paid this no heed. To them it was obvious that Ivory had either reneged on his deal with Deverick and was being deliberately uncommunicative, or the alleged secret phrase story was all a lie.
Deverick’s second taste of fame had been short-lived. Just thirteen months after Ivory’s death, her cancer had returned more aggressively than ever and her health had quickly deteriorated. As the second anniversary of her triumphant return to celebrity approached, she had apparently chosen to curtail her life with a glass of orange juice heavily laced with a cocktail of sleeping tablets, painkillers and antidepressants, rather than wait for the terrible disease to run its painful and inevitable course. With her death, one of the most entertaining professional rivalries of recent years had finally come to a tragic end. Or, so it had seemed until the discovery of Declan Ivory’s fingerprints on the glass that had taken Deverick’s life.
“It’s my fault that she’s dead you know”, said Kendra suddenly, breaking Quisty’s reverie. “I don’t mean that I poisoned her. I mean because I cursed Ivory and killed him. Among Wiccans, there is a belief that you reap what you sow, that the actions you take – good or bad – will come back to you threefold. It’s my fault that her cancer returned and it’s my fault that she’s dead.”
“You can’t blame yourself for her death”, said Quisty. “There was always a strong possibility that her illness would return. That’s the nature of the disease, sadly.”
“There is a cosmic balance and I tipped it”, said Kendra, miserably. “The universe is ancient and it doesn’t forget. Misfortune will follow me wherever I go from now on. I’ve already broken a wine glass and a side plate this morning. And I haven’t broken anything in years.”
“That’s not so surprising”, said Quisty. He watched as Kendra took another sip of wine. Her hands were trembling. “You’ve had a terrible shock. You’re bound to be a little shaky and uncoordinated.”
“You don’t understand. Connie’s spirit will be so upset with me”, said Kendra. “She hated it when things got broken.”
“No. Just a stickler for having full sets of everything”, said Kendra.
Quisty looked again at the scrapbook, so beautifully organised in chronological order, each section colour coded for theatre work, TV work, books, miscellaneous. A sudden thought struck him.
“Do you mind if I have a look in your kitchen cupboards?” he said.
“Knock yourself out”, said Kendra. “I guess you think I’m some kind of a nut with all this talk of curses.”
“I’ve learned never to dismiss anything unless proven to be false beyond all argument”, said Quisty, opening one cupboard and then another. “And while, I admit, I’m not someone who puts much stock in superstition, I do know that people who fervently believe in things like curses can suffer genuine effects such as anxiety, feelings of helplessness and even heart palpitations and reduced blood pressure. The effects can be real even if the cause is up for debate. If you genuinely believe that your actions in cursing Ivory are the cause of your partner’s death then you could be creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.”
“What else am I supposed to believe?” said Kendra. She drained her glass. “You saw the message written on that mirror. He said, ‘Got you!’. I killed him and he killed the person I love to make me suffer. He’ll be coming for me next.”
“If you ask me, the goth girlfriend did it”, said Luckinbill. “She had the means; she openly admits that she brought the glass of orange juice up here to the bedroom. And I reckon that she forced Miss Deverick to drink it. There’s all that spilled juice around her mouth and neck isn’t there? That smacks to me of a struggle. She had a good motive too. After all, she’ll probably inherit the house and whatever money is still in the bank.”
In the bedroom, the forensics officer had finished up and the undertakers had arrived to collect the deceased. Luckinbill and Woon stood out on the landing and watched the proceedings distractedly.
“But why risk committing murder?” asked Woon. “Deverick can’t have had long to go. Her cancer was very advanced. There’s almost nothing left of her. All Kendra had to do was wait a few weeks, a couple of months at worst, and she’d have inherited anyway.”
“Greed makes people Impatient. Or maybe she had pressing debts?”
“That still doesn’t explain how a dead man’s fingerprints came to be on the glass though does it?” said Woon.
“No”, admitted Luckinbill. “I can’t begin to explain that.”
“I’m going to pop back down to the kitchen and see how the boss is getting on”, said Woon.
“No problem. We’re pretty much done up here now”, said Luckinbill.
Woon found Quisty sitting in the sunlit dining area and watching a video on his smartphone.
“Have you ever seen this, Kim?” he asked. “It’s Connie Deverick’s last television appearance, the showdown she had with Declan Ivory on that BBC chat show.”
“Yes I’ve seen it”, said Woon. “She put on a good performance.”
“I wonder how she did it?”
“You mean you haven’t figured that out yet?” teased Woon. “ You’re losing your touch.”
“I think we can be pretty sure that it wasn’t due to any psychic powers”, said Quisty. “Give me a little more time and I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
“With all due respect, we have more pressing matters to worry about”, said Woon.
“You mean her death?” said Quisty. “Oh, I know how that happened.”
“The answer is in the cupboards”, said Quisty.
“What do you mean ‘The answer is in the cupboards’?”
"Tell me. Have you ever played that memory game when you put lots of items on a tea tray and ask someone to memorise what’s there?” asked Quisty. “Then you remove one object while they’re not looking and they have to guess what the object was?”
“Sure. Lots of times when I was a kid”, said Woon.
“I was always exceptionally good at it”, said Quisty.
“Why am I not surprised?
“From quite an early age I realised that I have a near eiditic memory”, said Quisty. “It’s proven to be very useful at crime scenes. And today it has been invaluable.”
“Did something change at the crime scene then?” asked Woon. “If it did, I missed it.”
“No it didn’t”, said Quisty. “But I see things and I remember where I’ve seen them and then …”
“You find connections between them.”
“Exactly”, said Quisty. “It’s always about the connections. I’ve seen today, for example, a glass bearing the fingerprints of a man dead for two years. I’ve seen a grinning corpse. I’ve seen a message written in lipstick on a mirror. And I’ve seen that Miss Deverick had something amounting to mild obsessive compulsive behaviour. Her girlfriend told me that if any of the china got broken, she would have a hissy fit and the item would have to be replaced as soon as possible to keep the set complete.”
“That’s not particularly OCD”, said Woon. “My Mum would probably do the same.”
“Yes indeed”, said Quisty. “But I’d wager that your mother also has a few random items in her kitchen. Perhaps a ‘World’s Greatest Mum’ mug you bought for her birthday? Or a classic ‘Brown Betty’ teapot that doesn’t match any other piece of crockery. A comedy eggcup. A single rogue spoon. Almost everyone does. But not Miss Deverick. All of the saucepans match. Her cooking utensils all have the same handles. And her place settings are similarly uniform: twelve dinner plates, twelve bowls, twelve wine glasses, twelve sets of cutlery. Twelve of everything and all matching. No deviant items at all to be found.”
“Okay, so maybe she was a bit obsessive”, said Woon. “But what has that got to do with all of the other stuff you mentioned?”
“Think, Kim, think!” said Quisty. “How many glass tumblers should there be in this kitchen?”
“From what you’ve said, I assume twelve.”
“Exactly!” said Quisty.
“And you’re absolutely sure that it’s a case of suicide?” said Luckinbill.
“One hundred per cent positive”, said Quisty.
“Thank goodness for that”, said Luckinbill. “The last thing we need around here is a murder. This is sleepy leafyville. We don’t have murders in Ordon. We have angina and gout and death by natural causes. And no ghosts either I take it?”
“Not even a wisp of ectoplasm”, said Quisty. “This was all about revenge.”
“She committed suicide to get revenge? On who?”
“Declan Ivory of course”, said Quisty. “The man who destroyed her career. This was Connie Deverick’s final gift to her many admirers and psychic colleagues - proof that the afterlife exists and that Declan Ivory was wrong, all in one deliciously malicious act of suicide.”
“But what about the fingerprints on the glass?” said Luckinbill. “And the message on the mirror?”
“Oh, they really are Declan Ivory’s prints”, said Quisty. “Perhaps you’d tell Mr Luckinbill how they got there, Kendra?”
“It’s a glass from the TV studio where Connie made her last appearance”, said Kendra, quietly. “After everyone left the set, I swiped Ivory’s glass. I knew that it would carry his fingerprints and some of his DNA. And I knew that I could use it to place a curse on him for what he’d done to the woman I love. The glass was my poppet, my talisman. I used it to cast a spell and I killed him …”
“No, what killed him was a tired Croatian long-haul lorry driver called Roko who fell asleep at the wheel”, said Woon.
“So what did you do with the glass after you’d used it?” asked Quisty.
“I sealed it up in a jiffy bag and hid it in one of the lesser used kitchen cupboards; somewhere dark, like you’re supposed to”, said Kendra. “Of course, when Ivory actually died I had to tell Connie what I had done. She wasn’t happy.”
“I thought she hated him?” said Luckinbill.
“She did”, said Kendra. “But she hadn’t wanted him dead. Of course, I couldn’t cancel the curse or lift it because the damage had been done. So I just tried to forget it.”
“But Miss Deverick didn’t forget did she?” said Quisty. “She was in constant pain and so, she thought, why not kill two birds with one stone – herself and Ivory’s credibility?”
“Ah I see,” said Woon. “So she used the glass that Kendra purloined for her curse to administer the drugs to herself.”
“She knew that we’d fingerprint the glass as a matter of course”, said Quisty. “Which would reveal the most extraordinary evidence of Ivory taking action from beyond the grave.”
“But wait … I took her the orange juice”, said Kendra. “And I used one of the tumblers from the kitchen.”
“Yes you did”, said Quisty. “And I found that same tumbler in Miss Deverick’s bedside drawers among … other things. My guess is that she transferred the juice from the glass you brought up to the glass with Ivory’s prints on it, spilling a fair amount on herself while doing so.”
“I don’t understand any of this”, said Kendra.
“I knew that the suicide glass had a story to tell when I saw that it was a significantly different design from the one hidden in the drawer and the eleven others I found in the kitchen cupboards”, explained Quisty. “And why would a person so intent on keeping rigidly to twelve place settings hang on to a thirteenth glass? It had to have some kind of special significance. And then I watched the video of the TV show and saw Ivory drinking from an identical glass to the one on the bedside table. The clincher was taking another look at the glass on the bedside table and seeing that it was stamped ‘Property of the BBC’ on the base.”
“So if Ivory didn’t kill her, who wrote the message on the mirror?” asked Kendra. “Because it certainly wasn’t me.”
“It was written by Miss Deverick”, said Woon. “We read it as Ivory saying ‘Got you!’ to her when, in fact, it was Miss Deverick saying ‘Got you!’ to him.”
“Oh my god”, said Kendra.
“Amazing”, said Luckinbill. “No wonder Miss Deverick died smiling. She must have really believed that she’d got the last laugh on him.”
“You know I hate loose ends, don’t you?” said Woon as she drove Quisty back towards Uttercombe and home.
“I do”, said Quisty. “You are almost as much of a completist as Miss Deverick at times. Mildly obsessive even.”
“No, just tidy and organised”, said Woon. “And it’s bugging me that, after all that we uncovered today, the one thing we didn’t find out was how Connie Deverick managed to fool Ivory and everyone else during that last TV appearance. I’ve watched the video over and over again. Am I missing something? After all, she didn’t have any real psychic powers, did she?”
“No. No psychic powers. Just Bluetooth”, said Quisty.
“Explain”, said Woon.
“It wasn’t just a glass that I found in those bedside drawers”, said Quisty. “Without going into prurient detail, I can say that our lady medium was in possession of a number of … toys.”
“Oh! You mean …”
“Yes I do. And I couldn’t help noticing that one of them had a wireless Bluetooth remote control which, presumably, can be operated by the user or by someone they trust”, said Quisty.
“Technology is a wonderful thing”, said Woon.
“Well, quite. And it got me thinking”, said Quisty. “I’m pretty sure that Ivory’s permitted search of Miss Kendrick for technological aids did not involve an intimate element. And I know that, while Kendra wasn’t allowed to be in line of sight with her partner during the TV interview, she was allowed backstage to watch. Certainly within the range for Bluetooth devices anyway.”
“Oh my word”, said Woon. “So you think that Deverick went on stage with one half of the device in … on her person … and Kendra sent her messages using the remote?”
“I do”, said Quisty. “If you watch the video carefully there is, more often than not, a little quiver of ... something across Miss Deverick’s face before she answers each question. By the end of the show she was positively glowing.”
“I’d put that down to her success and the studio lights”, said Woon. “So you reckon they used Morse code maybe? Buzzz Buzz Buuuuzzzz Buzz.”
“Or a code of their own devising”, said Quisty. “They were good at that sort of thing after all. I don’t suppose that Kendra will ever admit to it though.”
“Intimate messaging”, said Woon. “Now there’s a new area of technology to explore for the future.”
“It’s certainly going to make getting a text a lot more fun”, said Quisty.
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