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The story below is a follow-up to A BARGAIN TO DIE FOR. If you haven't read A BARGAIN TO DIE FOR, A BOATLOAD OF TROUBLE, or

THE BOOK OF REVELATION UNLOCKED, you can see all the ways you can order the books or pick them up in person by scrolling below

the story or  by going to MY BOOKSpage.

I thought y’all might want a peek into what’s going on in Chalybeate Springs this Thanksgiving. Come with me, and we’ll start with a look into Carrie Parker’s kitchen.

“Gracious alive! You young’uns get out from here and let me get some cookin’ done,” Carrie fussed. Her three grandchildren – Ray Ray, and the twins Sissy and Nubbin – had been underfoot every five minutes, it seemed, as Carrie put together the fixings for their Thanksgiving dinner. Since Jewel had been their only surviving parent and was now considered “missing, presumed dead” by the police, the children had come to live with Carrie in her old farmhouse on the Little Warrior River.

“But, Granny,” Ray Ray whined, “we’re starvin’. Can’t we just have a taste or two?”

“I’ll give y’all a taste, all right,” Carrie responded, waving a large wooden mixing spoon. “A taste of this spoon across y’all’s backsides, if’n you don’t get a move on! The more y’all interrupt what I’m doin’, the longer it’s gonna take.” Her last sentence prompted a mass exodus, and the screen door banged shut behind them. Carrie bustled to the door and hollered, “And y’all best not get dirty! We ain’t got time for baths and changin’!”

With the thermometer at 72, it was a tad warm for the end of November, but then again, in Alabama, the weather was always unpredictable. Which is why it was no surprise for Carrie to see her Encore® azaleas mixing their array of colors with the remaining red, orange, and gold foliage of autumn. Carrie smiled at the beauty of God’s creation, then headed back to the stove to check the two humongous turkeys she suspected were about ready to come out of the oven.

Two more sizeable turkeys, securely covered in aluminum foil, sat in cardboard boxes on the kitchen table, and around them, an array of foil-covered dishes were fitted snugly into more boxes which Carrie had packed wadded newspaper around to keep anything from sliding.

Today was a very special Thanksgiving, and, in spite of an ache in her heart for her only child, Jewel, Carrie was planning the Thanksgiving wingding of wingdings, and she had a heap more cooking to do before she loaded the back of her pickup and she and the grandkids headed into Chalybeate Springs to Whiter Than Snow.

Whiter Than Snow, the free laundromat operated by volunteers from Chalybeate Springs Community Church, along with other local folks, had become a hub of activity for many of the newcomers to Chalybeate Springs, and particularly to those unfortunates who had rented rundown trailers from slum lord Horace Brumley at Chalybeate Mobile Home Park. Unlike many of the well-kept parks around the area, Horace’s park was a rundown slum.

Broken windows had cardboard duct-taped over them. A few had flimsy pieces of paneling or thin plywood covering the openings. Weeds grew high, and the whole place reeked with the depressing atmosphere of hopelessness. Brumley charged exorbitant rates to his tenants, knowing their finances and credit positioned them as easy prey. Most had been turned down elsewhere multiple times before resigning themselves to life in that place of squalor.

Because of the lack of laundry facilities, and the outrageous overages charged by Brumley to anyone who dared use the washer or dryer included in some of his rentals, Whiter Than Snow had drawn the mobile home park people like a magnet.

Those who came were required to attend an onsite Bible study, but optional classes included ESL (English as a Second Language), as well as tutoring and care for the attendees’ children. Somehow, this mishmash of newcomers and volunteers had melded into a family.

Now that all her grandkids were in school and her financial status had improved to the point she didn’t have to spend every waking moment making the clay “doodads” that had brought her such recognition as a folk artist, Carrie loved volunteering at Whiter Than Snow. “I’d always been on the receivin’ end of help,” Carrie had said. “The Lord has blessed me so I can bless others, and that’s just what I intend to do.”

And bless she had. Her little pickup truck could often be seen at Whiter Than Snow, and she’d come to know and love so many of the regulars, like me, my cousin Millie, Carlos and Rosa Moncado, Kiki Roberts, Quon and Mai Nguyen, Kenny Mankiller, Shonda Johnson, and Bree McIntyre. Ray Ray, Sissy, and Nubbin adored Carlos and Rosa, and Ray Ray, now eleven, was learning from Carlos, my husband Larry, and Millie’s husband Bill as they worked in the storage and repair area in the back of the building. Here, machines were repaired, salvageable parts were stockpiled, and donated washers and dryers were received.

Today, Carrie was making Thanksgiving dinner for the whole Whiter Than Snow family. Even though Millie and I, and several others, had offered to help with everything, the only thing Carrie would allow anyone else to do was furnish paper goods, tea, and coffee. “The rest,” she’d said, “is on me.”

At only 45 years old, Carrie had been through more struggles than most folks experience in a very long lifetime, but she’d come through it all a stronger person with an unwavering faith in her Savior. Her light brown hair now had a stylish cut and highlights, thanks to the skills of Lisa Noles, a soon-to-be graduate of Bevill State Community College’s School of Cosmetology. Nail artist Kiki had already graduated and gone to work at Cheveux, a classy salon owned by her cousin Walter’s wife, Diamond Purifoy.

Working in clay most days, a manicure was something Carrie only indulged in for rare occasions, but on this special day, Carrie had gone on all out. Kiki had done her nails in bright red and added decals of turkeys and Pilgrims’ hats. Which was precisely why Carrie had been wearing gloves for most of the last two days. “I near ‘bout slept in them gloves,” Carrie later remarked when we were helping her unload her truckload of delectables.

Larry and Bill had cleared the tables in the children’s room, adult classroom, and laundry area, and Millie, I, and a host of others had covered them with turkey-themed tablecloths and set out plenty of plates, cups, and utensils. Carrie had designated three long tables across the back wall of the adult classroom as “where to put the vittles,” and a parade of folks hauled in dishes from Carrie’s truck as she directed traffic to get all the food sorted into categories.

“Put them rolls down there with the corn muffins,” Carrie instructed. “And don’t nothin’ but desserts go on the end of that last table.”

Ice in the glasses, food on the tables, the Whiter Than Snow group stood around chattering excitedly. “Carrie,” Larry said, “why don’t you do us the honor of asking the blessing.”

“I’d be right proud to,” Carrie said quietly.

A hush fell over the room, and Carrie began in a soft voice choked with emotion. “Lord Jesus,” she said, “never in a million years would I’da thought I’d be blessed enough to offer up this meal to all my newfound friends. It’s kindly like the loaves and fishes, ain’t it? I didn’t have much of nothin’, but what I did have, I trusted to you. And look what you done with it! How I thank you!”

“And how I thank you for this bunch of folks who love you like I do. How I thank you for trustin’ me with my three grand-young’uns. Bless this food. Bless these folks. And thank you, Jesus, for all you’ve done for us. Lord, we’re so, so grateful. Amen.”

More than a few tears were shed during that prayer, and I even saw Bill slip off into the hallway just before I heard some pretty loud nose-blowing. I don’t think it was his allergies.

Once everyone had loaded their plates and found seats, I stood and rang a small silver bell I’d brought for the occasion. “I was planning to clink my fork on my glass to get y’all’s attention, but then I realized that wouldn’t work with Styrofoam and plastic.” That brought a round of laughter from around the room.

“But while we’re eating, I’d like to ask each table to pick a person to start off, and let each person say what they’re thankful for. I’ve already got my co-conspirators asking the folks in the other two rooms to do the same thing. And y’all just keep enjoying your meal while we do this. Millie, why don’t you start us off?”

“Well,” Millie said, “I’m thankful for all of y’all, especially my husband Bill.” Bill responded by leaning in and planting a kiss on her cheek. “And I’m thankful that Judy and I, and Art, Detective Metz, and Kiki’s cousin Walter all survived our ordeal this summer. And I’m so thankful for so much more than I can say right now, because I want to dig into this plate of Carrie’s delicious home cooking.”

Once the ball got rolling, it was tough to find a stopping point. Everyone had so much to be grateful for. As Kiki talked about her blessings, I thought about her cramped little rental trailer in Brumley’s park, her three- and five-year-old boys at the children’s table, and her almost four-month-old little daughter, Janetha, sleeping peacefully in Millie’s lap. Kiki had one more blessing she didn’t know about.

“Speaking of blessings,” I said, standing and moving toward the doorway, “there’s one more blessing we all need to be thankful for, but I think there are few people in here who are going to be especially excited about this one.”

With that, I rang my silver bell again and a handsome, dark-skinned man in Army camo stepped into the room. A shriek erupted from Kiki’s lips, and she shot from her chair, almost overturning the table.

“Marlon!” Kiki cried, rushing toward her husband as he hurried to wrap his arms around her. Another round of tears sprang forth, and we all cheered and applauded as the couple’ two boys joined the pandemonium.

“Daddy!” five-year-old Marcus shouted, launching himself into the air as his father reached to catch him. Little Marvin stood uncertainly and stared at the big man. “Daddy?” he said, uncertainly.

“Yes, I am, little man,” Marlon responded, and scooped up Marvin into a massive hug with Marcus and Kiki.

Smiling through her tears, Kiki stammered, “Who …? How …? When did you get here?”

“Baby, you’ve got some amazing friends,” Marlon told her. “I sent a message to Pastor Kevin, and asked if the church could help me surprise you on Thanksgiving. He got in touch with some of his church members, and two of them met me at the airport and brought me straight here.”

“You must be exhausted!” Kiki said. “I mean, all the way from Somalia?”

“You better believe it,” replied Marlon. “I’ve served my last day in this man’s army. I’m home for good. This last year has been the most miserable of my lifetime. Now will somebody kindly let me see my baby girl!”

Millie hurried over and placed Janetha in Marlon’s arms just as he eased the two boys down to the floor. This brought another round of cheers from all around the room, and then Carrie appeared at Marlon’s side, holding a mounded plate of her “vittles,” which Marlon was more than happy to dive into. Millie, Bill, Larry, and I found new places to sit, and the Roberts family sat down to a joyful Thanksgiving meal together.

How we all found room for desserts, I don’t know, but I managed a tiny sampling of sweet potato pie, chocolate walnut pie, and a strawberry pecan cake that reminded me so much of the one Larry’s mother used to make. The tough part now was getting up from the table.

“I need y’all to start makin’ plates,” Carrie said. “I ain’t carryin’ all this stuff back home with me, so y’all fix plates for y’selves, and help me put some together to carry to the homebound.”

It didn’t take long to get an assembly line going, and, in no time, we had mounds of plates wrapped in foil and stacked in boxes. “I wrote down all the addresses for the homebound folks, and I’ve divided it up by the part of town they live in, so if’n about four of y’all will make deliveries, the rest of us can get this food divided up.”

“Carrie, there’s still a lot of food,” said Kenny Mankiller. “Why don’t we make some more plates and carry them to the fire department and police department?”

“That’s a fine idea,” Carrie replied, oddly blushing under the stare of the good-looking Cherokee bachelor.

“Why don’t me and you take the police and firemen’s plates?” Kenny suggested.

“Well, I, uh, would,” stammered Carrie, “but I got so much to clean up here.”

“No, you don’t,” I told her. “Go on with Kenny. We’ve got this covered.”

Carrie’s glow would have lit the building. “Well, if you’re sure,” she said.

And that was the start of a beautiful friendship. The grandkids are crazy about Kenny, and he’s been taking them fishing and helping them hunt for arrowheads. He even told them that some of the arrowheads they found could very well have come from his own people.

Kiki and Marlon are house-hunting. Kiki saved every penny she could, and Marlon was stunned to learn how much money she’d managed to tuck away during his absence. As soon as Shonda Johnson heard him say he was out of the service for good, she handed Marlon one of her cards and introduced herself as the Human Resources manager for a local manufacturer. Looks like Marlon won’t be job-hunting for long.

Well, that’s only the highlights of what’s happening in Chalybeate Springs this season. Hope you enjoyed finding out a little more about the folks in and around there. I can’t wait to tell you what’s happening in Chalybeate Springs at Christmas.



The story below is a follow-up to A BARGAIN TO DIE FOR. If you haven't read A BARGAIN TO DIE FOR, A BOATLOAD OF TROUBLE, or

THE BOOK OF REVELATION UNLOCKED, you can see all the ways you can order the books or pick them up in person by scrolling below

the story or  by going to MY BOOKSpage.

Thanksgiving was the start of a beautiful friendship between Carrie Parker and Kenny Mankiller, and the “likin”,” as Carrie put it, was definitely mutual. Carrie’s five-year-old twin grands, Sissy and Nubbin, had taken to Kenny like fish to water. It’d taken their older brother Ray Ray a little longer to warm up to the idea of his granny having a fella.

Any qualms Ray Ray may have had, though, were completely alleviated after a couple of weeks of watching his granny’s eyes light up whenever Kenny’s pickup pulled into the yard. And it certainly scored Kenny some big points when he took Ray Ray down to the river and showed him his secret honey hole for catching catfish. At Carrie’s insistence, Kenny and Ray Ray had bundled up like they were headed into the Yukon before lumbering down to where Kenny had tied his small flat bottom boat to a partially collapsed pier by a boat launch a few hundred yards from Carrie’s property.

“I figgered you’d have a canoe, seein’s how you’re an Injun and all,” Ray Ray told Kenny.

“Actually,” said Kenny, “I’m a Native American, because my people were here a long time before any of your folks showed up. And to be exact, I’m a Cherokee.”

“Oh, okay,” said Ray Ray, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. Sorry.”

“No apology needed,” responded Kenny. “Now let’s get you into this life jacket and go catch us some catfish.”

Ray Ray was having the time of his life just being out on the water that cold December evening, but when he hauled in a six-pound blue cat, he was over the moon with excitement. When they’d put several more into the boat, Kenny declared it was time to call it a night.

“Awww, can’t we stay a little longer?” pleaded Ray Ray.

“These fish won’t clean themselves,” said Kenny. “And if we get them cleaned tonight, I bet we can talk your granny into cookin’ ‘em for us tomorrow.”

“Yeah!” enthused Ray Ray. “And Granny makes the best hushpuppies and slaw you ever put in your mouth!”

Carrie was truly impressed when her menfolk trooped back to the house with their catch in tow. “Land’s sake, y’all sure caught a mess of ‘em!” exclaimed Carrie.

“And we was hopin’ you’d fix ‘em for supper tomorrow, Granny,” said Ray Ray.

“I don’t see why not,” Carrie responded. “Y’all get ‘em cleaned, and then you need to get a shower and get ready for bed,” she told her grandson.

“But, Granny, school’s out!”

“School or no school, it’s nigh on ‘leven o’clock. Sissy and Nubbin was havin’ a hissy to stay up ‘til y’all got back, but I told ‘em they’d just have to wait ‘til tomorrow to see what y’all got.”

A short time later, Ray proudly presented Carrie with a bowl of catfish fillets. “You shoulda seen Mr. Kenny skinnin’ those catfish, Granny. He said he’ll teach me how when I’m ready. And I’m ready!”

“Ready for bed is what you’d better be,” Carrie laughed, placing the bowl of catfish in the sink and giving Ray Ray a nudge toward the bathroom.

“G’night, Mr. Kenny,” said Ray Ray, still wearing an enormous proud grin. “And thanks for takin’ me fishin’.”

“I had a good time, Ray Ray,” returned Kenny. “And I hope we can do this plenty more times.”

“Me, too,” declared Ray Ray, as he disappeared down the hallway.

“Well,” said Carrie, “you two sure seemed to hit it off.”

“We did,” said Kenny. “But tell me this: what does his grandmother think of me?”

Carrie blushed a deep pink and lowered her head before replying. “She likes you pretty good.”

“I like her pretty good, too,” said Kenny, taking hold of one of Carrie’s hands and squeezing it. “And since I’m providing the main course for tomorrow’s supper, does this mean I can come back and eat it?”

“Ray Ray would like that,” Carrie said, then added, “and I would, too.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow evening,” Kenny said, lifting his keys from the kitchen counter and opening the back door. “Tomorrow’s my last day at the Dartwell Farm until after Christmas.”

“Nice to have a whole week off,” said Carrie.

“Yeah, it is,” agreed Kenny. “And with the weekends added in, I’ll have nine days. That’ll give me a chance to go back home for a couple of days. I haven’t been back since Oscar’s funeral summer before last.”

Kenny and his brother Oscar had both come from Oklahoma to Alabama and found work on Dartwell’s 4,000-acre spread. Sadly, though, Oscar had died in a tragic farming accident. Kenny had made sure Oscar was buried in Oklahoma.

“Your folks will be glad to see you,” Carrie said, fighting back the disappointment she felt in her heart.

“And I’ll be glad to see them,” said Kenny. “But I sure will miss a certain little green-eyed lady while I’m out there.”

Carrie again ducked her head and blushed, but she couldn’t hide the smile those words had elicited.


Friday evening, Kenny arrived wearing a red and green plaid Western style shirt, Levi’s, and ostrich skin boots. Carrie was, as she later admitted, “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rockin’ chairs.”

Carrie, for her part, had cleaned up nicely herself. She wore a long-sleeved red t-shirt with “Merry Christmas” embroidered in gold thread across the front, khaki slacks, and red canvas sneakers. Sissy and Nubbin were wearing red sweatshirts and Sissy sported a reindeer antler headband. Ray Ray had almost made it into the kitchen wearing his green sweatshirt when he spotted Kenny and dashed back into his bedroom. When he appeared in the kitchen, he, too, was wearing a Western shirt – solid red, in Ray Ray’s case – along with jeans and cowboy boots.

When everyone was seated at the table, Carrie turned to her eldest grandson and said, “Ray Ray, ask the blessin’.”

“Mr. Kenny’s company,” Ray Ray said. “Let’s let him say it.”

Carrie gave her grandson a stern look for putting Kenny on the spot, but Kenny immediately responded, with, “I’ll be glad to.”

And with that, Kenny bowed his head and, in a move that both thrilled and startled Carrie, took her hand as he began to pray. “Lord, thank you for your goodness. Thank you for this food that has been placed on the table. And thank you for the hands that prepared it.” Kenny punctuated his “Amen” with a squeeze of Carrie’s hand that set her heart hammering.

As soon as supper was finished, Kenny insisted on helping clean up, so the children’s only task was to bring their plates to the sink and, in Carrie’s words, “Skedaddle out from under foot.”

As Carrie washed and Kenny rinsed and dried, the two worked away in comfortable silence. Finally, Kenny spoke. “You remind me of my grandmother,” he said, smiling and looking at Carrie.

“How’s that?” Carrie asked, unsure what to expect as his answer.

“She always said white women talk too much,” he grinned. “I enjoy just being with you. I’m glad you don’t feel like you have to fill the quiet.”

“I don’t see no reason to say somethin’ less’n I got somethin’ to say,” said Carrie, passing another saucer to Kenny.

“I’m starting to suspect there’s some Cherokee hidden beneath that pale skin,” Kenny said, gently brushing her cheek with one of his fingers.

Carrie made no reply. The touch of his finger sent a tingling sensation through her entire being. Mercy, she thought. I’m too old for such as this. Or am I?

With the dishes washed, dried, and put away, Carrie and Kenny made their way into the living room, where Ray Ray was sprawled across a big overstuffed chair and the twins had tucked themselves into sleeping bags on the floor. The three were watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and a fire was crackling in the fireplace.

Kenny took a seat on the sofa and patted the cushion beside him. Carrie sat and Kenny reached for her hand. When a commercial came on, Ray Ray hopped up to make some popcorn. “Hey, y’all want some …” His voice trailed off as he saw his granny’s hand in Kenny’s. “Uh,” he stammered, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Kenny looked at Carrie and they both smiled shyly. It appeared their handholding had met with Ray Ray’s approval.

Later, when all three children had been ordered off to bed, Carrie and Kenny remained as they were. The only interruption was when Kenny got up to put more wood in the fireplace.

“I could get used to this,” Kenny finally said.

“I kinda like it myself,” Carrie quietly responded.

When Kenny stood to leave, Carrie put on a brave face and walked him to the door. “The young’uns will miss you,” she said. “And I will, too.”

“I’ll miss y’all, too,” Kenny said, “but I’ll be back before New Year’s and we can celebrate that together. If you’d like,” he added.

“We’d like that,” Carrie told him.

Placing his hands on her shoulders, Kenny pulled Carrie into a hug that pressed Carrie’s cheek against his chest. It was the safest feeling she’d had in a long, long time.


The days passed busily, as Carrie and the children rehearsed for the church Christmas program each evening and delivered gifts to shut-ins during the day. The Whiter Than Snow gang decided December 26 would work best for their Christmas luncheon, so Carrie had been cooking and baking in preparation for that, along with her own family’s Christmas Eve and Day celebrations.

On Christmas Eve, Sissy and Nubbin barely swallowed their food before dashing to the tree and calling, “Please, Granny, can’t we go ahead and open a present?” Ray Ray chimed in behind them.

“I don’t see why not,” Carrie told them. “Tell you what, y’all can open your presents from Mr. Kenny. But that’s all. And remember, Santy Claus will be bringin’ more tonight.”

“Awww, Granny, there ain’t no …” Ray Ray began. But a warning glare from Carrie silenced him before he said more.

“Sissy,” Carrie said, “you open yours first, and let’s see what Mr. Kenny give you.”

Sissy tore into the package, ribbon and paper flying. “Look, Granny!” Sissy shouted. “It’s shoes like Mr. Kenny wears sometimes!”

“Them’s called ‘moccasins’,” Ray Ray told his little sister. “I sure hope I got some, too. Nubbin, open your package and let’s see if you did.”

All three children had received moccasins from Kenny, so Carrie decided she’d open her package, too. Sure enough, Carrie had received a beautiful pair of beaded buckskin moccasins. She slipped them onto her feet and wiggled her toes.

“Purty, ain’t they?” Carrie said. “Let’s all line up on the couch and I’ll take a picture of our feet and send it to Mr. Kenny.”


Christmas morning, Santa had shown up as Carrie had said he would. All three children received new bicycles, and Carrie had to bar the back door to keep them from immediately rushing outside to try them out.

“Clothes and coats on first,” Carrie ordered. “And before you ask, no, you can’t wear your moccasins out in that slush.”

With only a smattering of grumbling, the trio dashed to their rooms, changed in record time, and under Carrie’s supervision, got their bikes out the door without taking half the screen door with them. Carrie watched the children hop on their bikes and start riding through the yard and adjoining field.

“Y’all stay outa the road!” she hollered. “And don’t go nowhere near the river! Ray Ray, you stay with your brother and sister!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Ray Ray hollered back, a smile as wide as Texas covering his face.


Carrie picked up the old iron poker and stirred the fire in the fireplace before adding a log and taking a seat on the sofa. She picked up her Bible and made sure she’d marked the passage she planned to read to the children when they came back in. She’d just replaced her Bible on the side table when her phone rang and indicated a video call. It was Kenny.

“Merry Christmas,” he said as soon as she’d answered.

“Merry Christmas to you,” Carrie responded.

“I saw all the moccasins fit,” Kenny said. “The pic you sent was great. And you look great, if I may say so.”

Carrie was wearing her “Merry Christmas” tee again, and had brushed her sandy brown hair back behind her ears, but wore no makeup. “I prob’ly look a mess,” Carrie replied, color rising in her cheeks.

“You look beautiful,” Kenny told her.

“Thank you,” Carrie answered bashfully. “And you look real good, too.” Kenny was wearing a black t-shirt with some sort of tribal symbol on it.

“And thank you,” Kenny responded. “So we’re alone, huh?” Kenny asked in a mysterious whisper.

“We are,” said Carrie, already feeling the blush that seemed to creep up on her much too often whenever Kenny was around.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about you,” Kenny began.

“You have?” Carrie asked.

“I sure have,” Kenny told her. “Which is why, even though this is not exactly how I’d pictured it, I’d really like to kiss you, if you’ll allow me.”

“I’d like that very much,” Carrie said quietly.

“Then here goes,” Kenny said, and pressed his lips to the phone screen. Carrie did likewise, and the electrical charge undoubtedly leapt from Oklahoma to Alabama and back again.

“And when I get back,” Kenny said almost breathlessly, “I’d like to try that again without a phone screen between us.”

“I reckon I’d like that a whole lot,” said Carrie, looking straight into the eyes of her handsome beau.


Long after Kenny’s call had ended, Carrie sat with the phone pressed to her cheek, recalling their kiss and the wonderful feeling of that hug Kenny had given her before he left for Oklahoma. Just thinking about another hug made Carrie’s toes tingle. She couldn’t imagine how she’d react to his kiss. But she was sure looking forward to finding out.


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