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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Battle the Dark: Chapter 18

"Let go of her, now."

His laughed echoed through the room.  "I've got my skinner in my hand, pointed at your baby son, are you sure you want to go there?  Ask your wife how fast I am with my blade, if you don't remember yourself."

At that moment, Todd took in the rest of the scene.  Blair's nightgown was practically shredded, and one side had dark red drips on it from her wound.  One of her breasts was all but fully exposed.  He swallowed.  What has he already done to her?  He continued to hold the gun as steady as he could as he sized up the situation.  It was not good.  Ray, miraculously, had fallen asleep in Blair's arms.  He could see her knuckles turning white from her grip on the baby.  Her face was in utter torment; there was a puddle of vomit on the floor.  If he touched her.  If he raped her....

The Slice and Dice continued, "Before the shot worked on me, the cuts would be done.  I can do three cuts in the time it would take you to shoot me.  Want to take that risk?"

Blair was shaking to the point of shock.  He could see her eyes glassing over, and she was not focusing her eyes on him or anything else.  He said, "Blair, it's all right.  Hang on.  I'm going to shoot his f#cking head off and it's going to be messy."  Sweat was pouring off his forehead and into his eyes, but he could not flinch.

"Manning, put that gun down before I take her ear."

Todd didn't falter, but he blinked a few times.  He was becoming unsteady.  "I'll kill you."

He moved the blade, "Or I can just kill her.  Now drop it."

Todd put the gun down.  "I know what you want."  Todd finally said.

"Do you now?" Michael Leona said.

"You want me, don't you?  You really want me.  You want to get me back in your chair and you want to do everything you want to me.  Right?  That's what you want."

A look in Leona's eyes made Todd think he had found the truth.  Leona said, "Is that what you think?  Push that gun over here with your foot."

"Yeah, that's what I think.  Carlo has no use for that baby, if he can get the real deal."  Todd said, obliging.  He was weakening, and could feel it.  He saw the darkness creeping in the sides of his eyes, and the oily black coming in front of his gaze.  No, not now.  No.  Fight this, Manning.  Your baby, and your Babe.

Blair was still is his grip, his right hand was in her hair, his left hand held the blade.  He said, "What do I have to do, Manning?  Give you a show?  Remind you what I did to you all those times?  You know how I got my name."  He turned the blade from the baby to Blair's face for a moment, and turned to see Todd's expression.  Blair, having heard Todd's voice, abruptly bit down on his hand as hard as she could.  He let out a loud scream, waking the baby, who began crying.  Todd yelled out, "Get the baby and run, Blair.  Run out of here, go!"

Blair ran as fast as she could, and at the lower level, she realized she could not leave Todd.  Fumbling in the darkness and shaken with fear, she found Ray's carrier and put him into it.  She opened the hall closet and put the baby inside it.  Then, she ran to the phone and picked up the receiver to call for help.  The phone was dead and she slammed it down with a loud crash.  As she did, she turned to see Todd, hands up on either side of his head, walking down the staircase with The Slice and Dice holding a knife on him, and a gun in the other hand.  Without warning, Michael Leona grabbed Blair again, and held the knife to her throat.  "Imagine me doing all of this and leaving you with phones.  Be real, Mrs. Manning.  Now, one more thing."

"Whatever you want."  Todd said.  "Just let her go and let's leave."

Blair, every nerve on edge, noticed that Todd seemed uncannily calm.  "Let go of me," she ordered.

Michael Leona laughed.  "Manning, there's a bag behind the couch.  Get it."

Todd, keeping his eyes on Blair, and his hands visible, got the bag and threw it at Leona's feet.

"Open it."

He obliged.

"Put those cuffs on."

He listened and did as he was asked, still staring at Blair.  The knife point was touching her skin.

"Bring that syringe."

Todd did as he was asked.  He put it out in his hand toward The Slice and Dice.

Michael Leona took it and put it into his pocket.  Blair was bleeding, both on her shoulder from the earlier wound, and now a small rivulet had started running from her neck where the point of the knife was.  Todd would not give in to the darkness.  He battled it with all his might.  Finally, he said, "Now, can you let her go?"

"I'll let her go when you are out of this apartment.  Do as I say or you will see her die.  But before she does, she will experience my 'greatest hits.'"

Todd reeled.  Memories flooded back, some he could not bear.  Dark was seeping in, and he pushed it back.  Blair and the baby.  Stay here and fight.

"No problem."

"Now, turn your back to us."

Fear took over for a moment since Todd was not sure what the man was going to do.  Blair was crying, audibly now, saying Todd's name repeatedly and 'no.'  He said, "All right," and turned.  The Slice and Dice, still holding the blade to Blair's neck, took the syringe out of his pocket.


Without warning, he stabbed the needle into Todd's shoulder blade, and he winced.  Leona said, "This won't take long.  Turn around."

Todd turned back to them, and Leona took his knife, moving it toward Blair's breast.  "You're lucky that shot is going to take affect, and I have other plans.  Otherwise, this could have been a great deal of fun.  Now, move.  Out of the penthouse."

At that moment, two things happened.  Leona let go of Blair and moved the knife to Todd.  Blair froze.  And Todd, passing by Blair, and even with his hands cuffed, grabbed her face and kissed her forehead, passionately, and whispered, "I love you.  I'll be back."

She broke down again, as he was lead out the door.  She screamed his name with all of her strength and fell to the floor as The Slice and Dice and Todd vanished into the hallway.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Battle the Dark: Chapter 17

Instinctively, she put the baby down on the changing table, and put herself between him and the knife.  She recognized it; it was the same one she had watched him cut into Todd with while they were being held hostage.  She felt bile rising in her throat, and swallowed it down.  "You will have to kill me to get to this baby."  She heard her voice, and instead of powerful, it sounded weak and whimpering.  

He said nothing, he just tapped the blade against his other hand.  

She was breathing too rapidly to seem calm.  Unable to hide her fear, she perched herself to fight to the death if she had to.  Instead, she was surprised when he just stood, watching her.  He seemed to be enjoying her nearing hyperventilation and the way she shook.  

He straightened up, no longer leaning on the door frame.  "What do you want?  Todd's on his way.  He won't let you hurt us,"  she said.

He still did not speak.   He just smiled, and the bigger his smile got, the more sick she felt.

The baby started to cry, clearly upset by his mother's reactions and her back to him.  She ignored it, intent on protecting him at any cost.  She fixed her eyes on the knife, and he fixed his on her exquisite form.  "What do you want?"  she repeated. 

Still not having said a word, he looked at her, tapping his blade.  "Simple.  You."

She heaved and leaned over, losing the contents of her stomach.  If he had not found it so exciting and humorous at the same time, it would have been the perfect opportunity to get the baby from her.  But he had time, and he was having too much fun.  She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and said, "Whatever.  Just make sure it doesn't involve my son."

"No promises," he said, beginning to walk toward her.  

Don't panic.  Stay calm.  Todd will be here.  Todd will be here.

When he stood directly in front of her, she knew it was then or never.  He was not a large man, in fact, she passed him in height by a half inch or so.  "Let me put the baby somewhere safe, then you can do what you want to me."

He ignored her.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

She could not control her breathing, and could hear it, an almost pant.  He reached toward her and in one swipe, he cut her nightie strap on one side completely through, only barely grazing her skin.  A clean slice appeared, and it reddened quickly.  She attempted to cover herself back up by lifting the dress over her, but he pulled her hand away and it fell, revealing her.  Without notice, he was on her, using the knife to cut away the rest of her clothing which she continued to grab at and attempt to pull back over herself.  She fought, pushing him away as hard as she could, and being met with his force.  Suddenly against the wall, she scratched at his face and eyes, which made him laugh more and he put his mouth against her neck.  She gagged and hawked back, and went he went to her mouth, she spit in his face.  He wiped her saliva away from his eyes, and she was able to break loose for a moment.  Grabbing Ray in her arms, she turned to run, only strands of her nighty left hanging on her, but she didn't care.  Just get away.

***

Todd parked the SUV in the parking garage and he and the boys carried all of their belongings into the lobby.  "Evening, Mr. Manning," said the night doorman.

"Evening."

"Hi, Mister!"  Sam said.

The three of them boarded the elevator.  Sam, in a playful mood, pushed every other floor button.

Jack got quite upset.  "Sam, geesh, now we have to stop at every one!"

Todd said, "Nah, I have a trick for this," and after years of having lived there, he knew how to make the elevator override all the floors but the top.  He did it, and they were whisked away to the top floor.

Stepping out, Todd immediately saw, as did Jack and Sam, Devon, lying with blood all around him on both sides, outside the penthouse door.  "Oh God," he said, and he started to him.  Sam's eyes widened.

Todd yelled, "Jack, keep Sam back."  Jack covered Sam's eyes.  "Get down to the lobby Jack, fast, and call John McBain.  Hurry, Jack."  He wanted them safe and away from whatever he was going to find inside. 

***

All at once, she felt his hand in her hair, and he dragged her back.  She clutched the baby desperately, and he turned her to him, still holding her by the hair.  He raised his knife and pointed it toward Little Ray.  She immediately cried, "No, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll do whatever you want.  Please?"

"Oh, I like that.  I like that a lot.  Give me the baby."

"No."

"You know me, Mrs. Manning.  You know what I am capable of."

She took a risk, "Show me."  She leaned against him, feeling his excitement.  It made her skin crawl, but she thought it was what he wanted, and was willing, no matter what, to give him what he wanted to save the baby.  Don't touch him, I'll claw out your eyes.

Torn between which pleasure to take next, he stopped and thought.  Still holding her by her hair, he played with her by moving his eyes from her to the baby and back.  She tried to muster the courage to put her hands on him, and couldn't bear it.  He said, "I decided.  The baby.  Give him to me, now.  Time's running short, I'll have to be going."


"No, not yet" she said, and she brought her quivering hand to the side of his face to caress it.  He grotesquely licked it, sending her reeling toward blackness.

Just then, a noise behind them brought her back from the abyss.  "You get your hands off her, motherf#cker," Todd said, with his .38 special pointed directly at the back of The Slice and Dice's head.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Battle the Dark: Chapter 16

Devon sat outside the door in a straight chair.  Unlike other security officers, Todd allowed sitting if he were to be there for more than two hours, or if it was late in the evening.  This particular night, he had the straight chair, and sat in it, in lounge pants and a t-shirt, with a 9mm in his waistband in the back.  Leafing through a magazine, he waited for Todd's return.  Knowing that La Boulaie was only a short drive away, he knew it would not be long, and that he would be back to bed soon.

Michael Leona was on the staircase, headed toward the service door entrance to the penthouse hall, where the doors to penthouses 1, 2 and 3 were facing each other.  He opened the door a crack, as to not accidentally run into anyone.  Because of the hour, he knew time was of the essence.  He'd noticed, when on the rooftop, a spot check about six blocks in the distance.  He thought that would hold Todd up at least a while, from wherever he was coming.  Peeking out of the crack, he saw Devon, in the chair, reading the magazine, intently, and shut the door again.  He wanted to gather his thoughts, and most of all, he wanted to have his blade ready.

Blair had picked up Little Ray, who had started his crying early this night, for his 2:00 a.m. feeding.  He was wet, and she carried him, joyfully cooing to him and singing, to the nursery to change him.  Putting him down on the changing table, she noticed him reaching for his feet again, and she took them and hid them, then revealed them and he would smile.  This caused her to smile back and laugh.  All the while, she was singing.  "Wake me up I must be dreaming, I can't believe that you are real..."

Devon concentrated on the magazine and found an interesting article on music theory, and began reading more intently.  Leona, behind the door, not ten feet from the guard, was planning in his head the way he would take Devon out.  He extracted the longer knife from his boot, and flicked it open quietly.  Then, prying the door open a crack again, he realized that fast and to the point would be the only way.  He would startle him, and then wait to see his reaction and who he called out to, then do what he had to and either flee or enter, taking care of his needs with Blair and then whisking the baby off.  He licked his lips and got ready to spring.

Within a fleeting moment of time, Leona threw the door open, and wielded the blade, which glinted in the light, and flashed his smile, which threw Devon totally off.  Devon called out, "Mrs. Manning!" as loud as possible, as The Slice and Dice attempted to slide the knife between his two favorite ribs (which usually lead to a bleed out and death) but because of Devon's unexpected strength, the blade hit lower than expected, and the young man went down in a heap.  Unable to speak, his pallor was gray and sweat slicked over his entire face and neck.  He rolled onto his side, and moving into a fetal position, he tried to fight the black and get up to help her, but instead, his mind was claimed by the inky darkness.

The Slice and Dice entered the penthouse easily, by using the skinner as a lock pick, and stepped into their home.  A thrill went through him; he was standing in the place that they kept sacred and felt safe.  Above him, he was certain, Blair was probably nursing the baby or sleeping.  A perverse smile came over him, as he walked as stealthily as a panther, to the staircase and began to ascend.  He was already planning what to do with her and how she might react to him, and reviewed it in his mind, as he crept along the spiraling stairs.  He was anxious to see the fear in her eyes, and held the skinner in his hand.

Blair was still singing, enough that she blocked out any semblance of sound, or the call that Devon had made to her from outside the apartment.  She was engrossed in the baby dance she was doing with her new, tiny son; a beautiful package, she thought, of the love she and Todd had for each other.  She thought back to the night she believed was the moment she conceived him.  Todd had just seen the penthouse for the first time, her gift to him, that she had attempted to redecorate as closely to the original as possible.  They had made love there for the first time since he returned from being missing for the eight years.  As she fastened the baby's diaper at last, she remembered Todd's face, when he first touched her again, and how overcome with emotion he was.  The feeling of being with him again was familiar in the greatest way and new at the same time.  She came down from her memory and picked the baby up, putting his next clean onesie over him.  Still singing, she turned and froze.  Opening her mouth to scream, she found she couldn't, for no sound would come.  There in the doorway of the nursery was The Slice and Dice, silvery blade in hand, with his spiritless smile pasted across his deathlike face.

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Battle the Dark: Chapter 15

After several rounds of lovemaking, in and out of the tub, they had collapsed onto the bed, and were lost in each others' faces as they talked, looking into each others' eyes.  They reminisced about old times, and remembered small things that they guessed the other had forgotten.  Neither one had forgotten even one bit.

Blair was starting to doze on his chest, and he was playing with her hair, as they enjoyed the quiet.  Ray was due for a feeding in an hour or so, and it was very dark and quiet.  Todd said, "Blair, you awake?"

"Barely, but what's up?"

"I miss the boys."

She looked at her husband.  She could not have loved him more than that moment.  "That is so beautiful."

"I just do.  I miss them.  I'll miss making them breakfast like I do on Saturdays."

She sat up and put on her robe.  He was lying there, naked, with the sheet strewn over him sloppily.  Her breath caught in her chest for a moment and then she said, "Well, go on then."

He said, "Go on what?"

"You know what you want to do."

"Think they're up," he threw the covers off, and grabbed some jeans.  Pulling them on, he worked the shirt over his head.

"You kidding?  With a $100 movie ticket, they're probably half way through it already.  You know Jack is up, call him if you want.  Sam will cooperate.  You won't sleep that great without them anyway."

He smiled at her, "I have more surprises this weekend, but they'll just have to enjoy them, too.  I'll be right back.  Blair, it's like 1:00 in the morning?"

"They won't mind, Todd.  They can watch movies and play here.  Sam will think it's an adventure."

"I'll get Devon before I go.  He'll be outside the door."  He kissed her, "Love you."  She watched him go, waiting for Little Ray to wake for his feeding.  While basking in the quiet, she remembered his hands on her and the way he felt inside her.  He had done all this for her.  She didn't know how she could have lived without him all the time he was gone.  And, she was grateful he was there, whole, now.

In his naturally stoic way, he slinked downstairs with ease, and made it through the penthouse door to his neighbor's to get Devon.  In his quiet exit, Michael Leona did not even hear Todd Manning leaving.

***

Jessica, just getting home from an evening out with friends, lazily walked into the library of Llanfair, expecting to find it empty and quiet, and lounge there for a bit before taking off to bed.  To her surprise, Viki was there, reading a book by the fireplace, which was not lit.  The evening was too balmy for that.  In fact, Jess had removed her jacket earlier and had it flung over her shoulder.

"Hi, Mom."

"Jessica, you're home.  How was your evening?"

"It was okay," she said, plopping in the chair.

"I can see that's quite an overstatement."

"I guess. Why are you up?"

"Couldn't sleep.  Seems Clint has taken to snoring tonight.  It kept me up, so I decided to capitalize on it and get some reading done."

"Oh."

"Jessie, what's wrong?"  Viki could read her daughter pretty well after thirty-some-odd years. 

"I don't know, Mom."

"It's that boy.  The one who came to visit."

"Stop.  Really.  I don't care what Devon does at all."

"I see."  Viki said, closing the book.  "Can I say something?"

"Okay, what?"

"Why are you so mad at this young man?"

"He lied to me.  You know the story, Mom.  You know what happened."

"Yes, but that was some time ago, and that was before he saved your life."

Jessica's face softened.  She pretended nonchalance.  "So?"

"He saved your life, he risked his own.  Seems to me he loves you.  Are you sure this is not just you being afraid to lose another person you love?"

Jessica didn't answer.  She just sat and looked at her mother.  "How do you do that?"

"Do what?"  Viki asked.

"Know things.  See into my head?"

"I just do.  Now, don't be too late, you have to be up early with the the children in the morning for that park event you promised them."

Viki headed to bed, and Jessica looked after her.  "Good night."

Jessica went out to the patio and looked up into the starry sky.  She lifted her face to the stars and breathed in the warm but fresh air.  "Good night," she said again.

***

Sister Rebecca Katherine awoke with a start.  She had an eerie quease in her stomach, and reached aside the bed for water.  There was none; she had forgotten to fill the pitcher before bed.  She ambled, in her nightgown, to the sink in the adjoining bathroom.  Her quarters were nice enough, and she enjoyed living at St. Anne's.  She especially loved helping the needy patients and supporting their wellness.  It was the job for her.

As she sat down to return to bed, she could not shake the horrible feeling.  It started in the pit of her belly and traveled through her arms and back.  She prayed, hoping it would help, yet the feeling did not ease.  Afraid that it meant a medical condition of some kind, she picked up the phone, even though it was late, and called her brother.

"Timothy, were ya sleeping?"

"You know I am up late, Creena.  I was just writing a bit."

"And then you'll be in bed until noon.  I know you!"

"Yes, well,  was doing a bit of research and writing for your Mr. Manning.  I owe him an article."

"Ah, yes, Todd."  That moment, she was reminded of the sick feeling in her gut, and the reason she called.  "I'm feeling....rather strange, brother."

"What's the problem, ay?"

"I feel sickish, like something is wrong.  I cannot shake the feeling.  I don't know what it is, but it's strange.  It rather woke me.  Water and praying have not helped."

"Eat something, woman."

"Not hungry, really.  I'm worried.  I called because I wondered if there were something wrong with you.  But I guess you're perfectly all right, and cantankerous as ever."

"Yes, I'm fine.  But your 'sense' has me worried.  You're a pretty perceptive lady, my lass."

"Sometimes.  I just can't quite place it but something is not right."

"Who is on your mind, Sister?  You can tell me."

"I believe it's...I don't want to think it."

"Ya think it's your 'son,' that Todd Manning, my boss, eh?"

"I think it's The Mannings, yes.  The only other people aside from you that I have this strong of a love for.  Jessica also, but I get the feeling it's not about her.  I just can't shake it.  I don't know if I will be able to sleep."

"Well, Creena, how do you feel about calling there?"

"At this hour?  Never.  It's late, and the babe is probably asleep.  I might disturb them, let me just forget about it and try and rest."

"All right.  Are you sure you're all right?"
 
"Yes, I'm fine, never mind me.  I'll read a bit and try and relax and sleep more," she said.

He sensed her growing concern.  "This isn't like what happened before Johnny was shot, is it?"

She paused.  "It's similar to that, but I'm not going to think about that now.  I'd rather just ignore it and chalk it up to a case of indigestion.  You know,  Fridays are pizza night here at St. Anne's."

"Of course."  He thought a moment, "Why does this lad mean so much to you, Creena?"

She smiled a bit through tears, "He's such a deeply wounded soul, Timothy, it's very hard to explain it in simple words.  Some terrible things have happened to him, and not just from Carlo Hesser."

Timothy paused, "From what I hear about Hesser and his crew, the things he experienced there would have been enough." 

"God bless him," she said, "I'll be over to see them tomorrow, first thing, if you'll come and give me a ride?"  

"Sure, lass," he said, and they hung up.

***

Under the same stars, Michael Leona woke up.  He scrambled to his feet and checked the designated areas.  The street was quiet.  The bug had produced no sound in the lower level of the penthouse.  He was relieved that he had not slept through an opportunity, but realized also that there would be plenty more coming his way if he needed them.  He was in no rush.  He wanted to relish every moment.

It was then that he proceeded to look to the right and left of the building and he saw it.  The SUV was gone.  In his way of calculating, he figured that 90-10, it was Todd who had gone out at this late hour, not Blair.  His chance had arrived.  Breathing in the fresh cool air on the rooftop, he was exhilarated by the prospect of what he came to do, and what he might add to it for his own enjoyment.  He descended the stairs to the service area, and headed for Penthouse 2.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Battle the Dark: Chapter 14

Devon was at the penthouse when Blair arrived.  "Hey, Mrs. Manning."

"How many times have I said to call me Blair?"

"Often," he laughed, "but it just can't stick.  The boss doesn't like it."

She put the baby carrier down.  "Mr. Manning will be home soon.  We're having a special weekend together."

"I heard.  I'll be on duty tonight, at least, possibly longer.  Depends on what the boss tells me."

"You're a good worker, and if Todd trusts you, it makes you reliable."

"Thanks.  I wish everyone saw me that way."

She knew what he meant.  "Can I tell you something?"  she asked.  

"Sure."

"Give her time.  I've been there.  Todd's not always been how you've seen him.  We've had serious trust issues.  Over time, it faded.  If you're meant to be together, it will all be okay in the end."

"Not sure.  She won't even talk to me."

"There were a lot of times I wouldn't talk to Todd, or him to me."

"You two?  It's hard to believe."

"I know, but it's true."

"Can't imagine it.  I've never seen two people look at each other the way you two do."

"Love isn't everything.  And it is everything, if that makes sense."

"Somehow it does, I guess."  He stood up.  "I have to be outside the door when you're alone."

"I know the drill."

"He'll be disappointed if I'm not there."

"I know.  Devon, don't give up on Jess."

"How could I?" he asked.

Within a few minutes, while she was puttering around the room, straightening up, and Ray dozed in his carrier, Todd came through the door.  She knew this meant that Devon was back in P3, making his own dinner and relaxing for the night.   He was never allowed, however, to be out of P3 while on duty, unless she was alone, and he was outside the door.  Otherwise, he was required to be alert and on call, and have a gun in the waistband of whatever he was wearing, even lounge pants or workout clothes.  This was Todd's way of protecting them.

She skipped to him and hugged his neck.  "You're home!  Okay, let's get this weekend started."

He smiled, as the boys came down the stairs.  "We're packed," Jack said.  "Dad, can I use your credit card to watch a movie later?"

"Use your own, I'll put money on it for you guys for the weekend.  How does $100 sound?"

Jack said, "Cool."

Sam said, "Yay!  $100 makes a lot of movies."  He looked at Jack.  "Maybe we can spend some of it on candy!"

Blair said, "Now not that much of that, Jack."

"No problem."  He looked to Sam and winked.  Todd and Blair shot each other a look, proud of how the two boys were with each other.  

Todd said, "Okay, you two, Williams is waiting downstairs for you."

The family said their goodbyes.  Sam said, "Why can't Ray come with us?"

Blair said, "No honey, he can't.  I'll see you both later!  Be good for Grandma Addie."  They left, Jack taking the lead and Sam following behind.  And they were gone.

After the door closed behind them, Todd and Blair listened to the quiet.  "Wow," he said.  "This feels...strange."

"It does."  She paused.  "Now what do we do?"

He looked at her, and smiled.

***

Earlier, Michael Leona packed what he needed.  The holding area was already set up with a crib and a few baby items.  He had all of the things that he needed, but no frills.  "Babies don't know better," he thought.  He put his skinner into his pocket, and had made certain to have a length of rope, cuffs and if necessary, a syringe filled with animal tranquilizer if Blair got too tough for him, as well as a longer knife in his boot.  His plan was to wait, on the rooftop, and observe the comings and goings of The Mannings through the fireplace flue.  Taking a special camera on a very long wire extension, he would likely be able to hear, if not see, the events in the lower level.  When he felt the time was right, he would make his move.   All it had taken was a janitorial jumper and a container of tools, and he was golden.  

There he was, on the roof of the penthouse building.  Watching the street below, he spied Jack and Sam leaving with the limo driver.  He had a perfect view, to the left, of the penthouse building parking lot, and could see where the limo was parked, as well as Todd's SUV.  He also had seen, just as he arrived, Todd come home.  So, his timing had been a little off.  He knew, from experience, he could not take on Todd and Blair both.  Both would fight for the child, and for each other.  He'd have to wait.

The lobby security was no problem.  Not at bad looking man when he was not smiling, Leona knew he could charm anyone into looking the other way, even if for a moment, or slip into the crowd and go unnoticed easily.  If he smiled, somehow the whole face took on a different look.  He always had a too-big mouth, and very large teeth, so his appearance would change and take on a cadaverous appearance with a grin.  And, the deadness in his eyes played into this, though he never recognized that fact.

As for the amateur guards that Manning had hired, they were no match for him.  Neither of them.  The big one was too slow moving; Leona would have his knife strategically between his ribs before the guy got his hands on him.  The other, the smaller one, was a kid, seeming kind of green.  Before he would know what hit him, Leona would have.  He had no qualms about this journey; he was prepared.  Now to wait for the perfect, unsuspected time to pounce.  He hoped, in his heart of hearts, that it was Blair who ended up alone with the baby.  First, he didn't really feel like grappling with Manning; Blair was much easier.  Aside from that, he had wanted to defile her and cut her, since he had held them hostage together in Carlo's compound.  Whatever it was, he was aroused by the thought.  He felt rewarded by Carlo for the job he was to do.

The sky was darkening.  It was nice outside, and he loved the idea of sleeping under the stars for a few nights.  He had put down a small blanket, and found himself perfectly comfortable on his back staring upward to the stars.  He noticed that if he looked hard enough, he could see some that formed a long blade if you really imagined it.  He closed his eyes and sat back for the rest of the ride. 

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Battle the Dark: Chapter 13

Carlo, sitting outside at a small table, in his elderly man disguise, put down the mouse, and just stopped himself short of throwing the laptop onto the street.  The cafe was not busy that day, and he had been fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time combing the Internet.  His two favorite sites to peruse were The Sun and The Banner.  Both had new interfaces, but he noticed how much more sleek and professional The Sun looked on the screen.  "Mr. Manning," he said to himself, sneering, "or was it my son's handiwork?"

He had found out all he needed to know.  Steven Cregan was dead, shot and killed in the Rebecca Broderick rescue by John McBain.  He was seething.  His plan had been foiled by that emotionless, Count-Dracula type.  Nothing could have angered him more, except what he read in his private email account as the notification appeared.
  
Seems our old friend Todd Manning has been in Ireland. He was seen at the airport in the private terminal.  He found and transported Timothy Broderick to the states, where he was granted political asylum.  Next?  ~Leona


Manning.  Carlo knew he had always been an impressive opponent.  But this, thwarting the entire crux of his latest work, in protecting his organization and rise to power...it was too damaging and unforgivable.  For a moment, he stopped, relishing the memory of Manning's cries, pleads and fades into oblivion while under his control for the eight years he had him.  The perfect plaything for some of the world's most evil and vulgar men.  And, he thought, he still has not remembered all of them or their doings.  As the sun came down, Carlo pondered, however, and had often over time, how one man could stand all of the nasty, degrading and painful things his sycophants had perpetrated on Todd Manning.  He had done very little of it himself.  He did enjoy donning the disguise of The Grim Reaper, and holding the lighter to him.  He sipped his espresso.  He hadn't even ever burned him; that had been up to the others.  And, Carlo thought, (and it even made him shudder at times) the deeper, more horrific things - the things that only one man knew of hours alone with that 'androgynous mistake' Todd Manning - would have broken anyone with a history such as his.  But, no.  It hadn't, not completely.  


He clicked 'reply' to the email he had just read.


Proceed with the next plan, only when things have died down and seem routine.  Be clear that our friend is formidable, and should be handled in a manner which might debilitate him, if needed.  Use caution; attempt this phase at the most opportune time.  Secure the area, and the necessary items for care of the subject.  Proceed when the least number of individuals are present, and the family is completely unprepared.


He smiled and hit send.  It had been a good day.


***


Several weeks later, Todd and Blair had settled in to a comfortable stage with Little Ray and the rest of The Manning clan.  Starr, who visited often, brought Hope into their midst, to both meet and play with her uncles; Little Ray was growing, and began to show a striking resemblance to his brother, as well as having found his feet and munching on them with regularity.  Blair, looking beautiful but drained, continued to be his constant.  There were times he could not fathom how he had ever lived without her, but she would say he was not living during those eight years, just lying in wait.


Sister Rebecca Katherine was back to St. Anne's, doing the Lord's work.  A day did not go by that she did not call Todd, and treating him like her own, she had become quite attached to him.  Timothy, had been staked by Todd and had purchased a small apartment in the city, about one block from the penthouse building, where he wrote his freelance material for none other than The Sun, without pay, in return.  Working on assisting the FBI in attaining leads on the whereabouts of The Men of 21, Timothy also had protection provided by Todd, who had hired a body guard, similar in stature to Shaun.  Wherever Broderick went, his guard was not far behind.


Devon had become more of a regular at The Sun and at the penthouse.  He and Shaun shared the responsibilities, but Shaun also oversaw the protection of Broderick.  Todd was certain that if Carlo was able to locate Timothy, two things would happen.  First, Broderick would be a dead man, a target that could not be missed, and this time, he was certain, Carlo would choose the right man for the job.  Second, he and his family would be in dire jeopardy.  With the calm few weeks behind them, and John McBain's reports of no action on the Carlo front abroad, even Todd had begun to relax into the life of picket fences, not that he believed in them.  Somehow, Blair made it all real and possible for him.


He decided that she, in her tired beauty, needed a break from being an active working mom, and planned a special weekend for them, just the two of them, in which he was going to bring in her favorite everythings and lavish attention on her.  He called Addie and arranged for the boys to stay with her and Starr.  This would be perfect; something Blair really deserved and would love.  And possibly, they could make love without the interruption of a feeding, or a homework question, a broken toy, or a teenager looking for an Itunes card or a way to the movies.  All three never happened at once; they persisted in being at separate times, spread out through the evening, each day.  


As he did daily, he contacted Shaun to be sure security was in place.  Devon would be on for that first night; Shaun had a date, and for Todd, this was a perfect arrangement.  Devon had become like family and Todd had begun to trust him as he did Shaun.  He was certain that eventually, Jessica would come around, and had told Devon to hang in there.  He made a note to himself to have a talk with his niece soon.  She was holding on to her anger at Devon way too long, and knowing how wasted time could come back to haunt someone, he wanted to talk with her about this young man.


His plans were falling into place.  Starting the weekend with Chinese take-out, one of their traditional dinners, he made certain to request all of her favorites, including the dumplings, and piped in their favorite music to fill the bedroom.  He set up candles around the tub, their favorite playground since the latter stages of her pregnancy, and added some aroma oil to that room as well.  The last touch was a fireworks display to be set off from the roof on Saturday night.  All this he did via his tablet at The Sun.  She'd never expect it.  It was not a special day, anniversary or holiday.  It was just time.


Devon came into the office, while Blair was with Ray in the nursery.  "Ready boss?  What else do you need?"


"Nothing.  Seems I've got everything set.  Make sure you're available by phone, and hang out next door.  Got it?"


"As always.  Same as every day."  Devon made his way to the door to head for the penthouse building and P3.  


Todd was finishing up a few last invoices, when Blair came in with Little Ray in tow.  "Todd, look at him."


"I know what he looks like, Blair, I see him every day, and you keep telling me to look, nothing's new."  He turned to his son, "Hey man, what's up?"


"Just look at him though.  Doesn't he look just like Jack?"


"He does."  Todd said, regretfully remembering Jack's first months on earth when he was not with his mother.  That was his fault.  Would the guilt ever go away?


"He's so beautiful, aren't you!?"  She asked in that mommy voice.  "Yes, you are!"  The baby immediately smiled.  "Look Todd, he's smiling."


Todd looked at his son's angelic face.  "I see, Babe.  It's the same smile you showed me an hour ago."


"Oh, you," she said, Lucy-like.  "When do we go home?"


"Any time now.  Give me a few more minutes."


"All right."  She parked herself on the mustard-colored couch, and put the carrier next to her.  She petted the baby's head as he dozed.  He slept with his hand curled under his chin.  "Todd, look..."


"...at his hand, it's curled under his chin."  He said, "I know, Babe.  Let me finish this."


"Okay."


Looking at her for a moment, he thought of an idea.  "How about you head on home, with Williams and The Little Man.  I'll be along in like 30 minutes?"


"I guess."


"I've arranged for the boys to be with Addie for the weekend.  It's just you and me, Blair," he acted nonchalant.  "Happy?"


She appeared puzzled, or disappointed.  "I love the idea, to spend uninterrupted time with you, you know that.  I just...I don't know if..."  She stopped her hand and rested it on his crown.


He realized her dilemma.  She could not part with the baby; too much had happened, and she could not let him go.  Not yet, anyway.  Todd looked at him, in his carrier, asleep.  He was still so tiny.  She had lost too many babies to deal with his absence.  "You can't be away from my rival for attention, eh?"


She blushed, then softened, wistful.  "No, I can't Todd.  Not yet.  Please understand."


He got up and went to her, and sat beside her, taking her in his arms and she cuddled close to him.  "If that's what you want, I'll just send Jack and Sam to Addie's then.  Ray's sleeping longer now, so it won't be as bad as when all three are there.  As long as you promise to pay attention to me," he feigned jealousy.


"I promise."


"All right," he said, "go on now.  I'll have Williams bring the car around, then come back for me.  By the time he gets you home at this time of day, it'll be time to turn around and come back.  Devon's already there; I'll call him to come and be there until I get home."


"Okay, I'll see you later, Mr. Manning."


"Same, Mrs. Manning."  As she exited the office, he quickly made two calls.  He made certain Devon would be there to meet her in the lobby, and he made sure everything else was in place in the penthouse.  He wanted to give her a night to remember and hold on to when life got back to the hectic allure of parenting.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Battle the Dark: Chapter 12

Blair was lying crossways over the bed, and her eyes were puffy.  She clutched a tissue in her hand, and sniffled.  He was at the door, looking beautiful, so much so that she wanted to run to him and wrap herself around him and hold him close.  Instead, she turned her back toward him.  The soft, shallow breathing of Ray was the only sound, until Todd spoke.  "Sister Rebecca is going to stay with us, to remain hidden.  Is that okay?"

She didn't turn to him.  She just said, "Fine, Todd."

He knelt on the bed and crept behind her, putting his arms around her and kissing her ear.  "Blair, don't be upset with me," he lay down, scooting closer to her.  Soon, he was spooning her and cooing in her ear.  

She pulled away.  "I can't do this again, Todd.  I can't."

"Do what?" he asked.

"Live without you.  I just can't," she broke down completely, and he could feel her body shaking with her sobs.  Her crying was quiet, but profuse.  He held her tighter and shushed her.

"You won't live without me.  I am not going anywhere."

"If you knew what I went through, Todd, when you died in Ireland, it's...I just can't bear it.  We're just getting our lives back.  We're finally together, really.  This can't happen.  Not again."

"Easy, babe.  I'm right here, nothing's going to separate us.  Nothing."

"I thought I'd die, Todd. I thought I'd die and if it weren't for Starr, I would have."

"You go with me, that's all.  We both take the jet.  You and I don't separate anymore.  We are in this together."

She turned to him, "You mean it?  I go with you?"

"Of course, where can I go without my one true babe?  I'm not leaving you."

She turned and faced him completely, and they fell into a deep kiss.  "I love you, Todd."

He said, "I love you, too.   It's always been this way for me.  No one else can hold my heart like you."  They continued kissing each other and embracing.  Finally, Todd stopped, and said, "Sister's down stairs."

"I suppose we should go and visit with her.  She can stay, I have no problem with that."

"Let's go tell her."

Sister Rebecca Katherine was waiting in the living room.  Todd and Blair saw that she was praying, and they entered the room carefully, allowing her to finish what she was doing.  In a few moments, she looked up and said, "Thank ya for waiting.  I was just telling the Lord that I wanted you both to be safe and not be mad at each other.  Are ya?"

Blair said, "I wasn't mad at him, Sister.  I just couldn't bear to lose him."  Blair looked at Todd, who was standing, leaning against the railing at the bottom of the staircase, with his arms folded over his chest.  He did this in a way that made his defined biceps more pronounced.  Blair could not help but admire his appearance.  Even though he saw himself as someone less than worthy at times, she found him to be godlike in her eyes.  "He's...everything to me."

"Yes, well I can see that.  And you, Mister,  did you work things out?"

"Of course.  I can't bear to lose her either."

Sister Rebecca said, "Now what if she just plain out didn't want you to go to Ireland?  And what if she insisted?  What would ya do?"

"Hire someone to do it for me."

"So ya wouldn't have done it, if she asked ya?"

"No.  Not anymore."

Sister Rebecca Katherine looked at Blair, "It seems to me, lass, that he's really come home."

At this, Blair rushed to his arms and hugged him, becoming emotional at the nun's words.  Standing in the penthouse, in the same places they stood when he did return from Ireland and appeared to her the first time, and all they endured after proved too much for her.  He seemed to be similarly affected; he closed his arms around her back and closed his eyes, nuzzling her hair.  Then, a few minutes after, Blair pulled away from him and looked at the sister.  "He has.  We've decided to go together."

"That sounds like a good compromise, my dears.  Now, what else can I do?"

"You'll be staying here, Sister," Blair added.  "It's the only safe place for you right now.  It will help you stay out of sight and keep up the idea that you're kidnapped."

"That's very nice of ya, but I don't want to be a bother."

"You won't be,"  Todd added, there is plenty of room here.  We'll let the boys bunk together for a bit and you can have Sam's room."

"Ah, yes, that little adorable boy that came through here earlier and said he loved you both.   You're fortunate parents.  But I must say, he doesn't look at thing like either of ya!"

Blair laughed, "He's not our natural son.  He...oh my, how do I explain this one?"

"Just tell it like it is."  The nun suggested.

Blair said, "Well, while Todd was gone, an impostor took his place.  He came back to convince me and my daughter and son that he was Todd Manning.  I fell for it..."

"And I can see by your face that you need to stop hating yourself for that, it's too much wasted time, dear."

Blair marveled at her perceptiveness.  "I'm trying.  It's very hard, knowing what he went through."

"And you're to blame because you didn't know?  That seems a bit unfair, yes?"  She said.  Todd stood back and watched the conversation unfold.  Sister was turning out to be Blair's Ray Martino.

"I suppose.  Well, this man I was married to and believed to be Todd was kidnapped.  Then, he was forced to have sex with the female captor."

Sister's eyes widened.  "Forced?  That seems extremely difficult to do, eh Todd?"

Todd was smirking a bit.  "It wasn't me Sister, I can't tell ya."

She turned back to Blair, "So the little tyke is the result.  He's a precious one."

"Blair's raised him most of his life,"  Todd said.  "She's done a beautiful job with him."  His pride was showing.

"And you've come to love the little boy, I can see that."  The nun said to him.

"Yes, I have.  It's not hard, really.  He's quite an amazing kid."

"Accepted him as your own.  Which makes you a step closer to Heaven, Mr. Manning.  You both are doing the Lord's work."

They sent each other a glance, and then both smiled.  "All right, enough of this, for today.  Just remember that nothing can get in the way of your deep and abiding love for each other.  It's written all over your faces and souls.  Now, show me my room, I'd like to nap.  When I wake up, though, we have one more thing to talk about."


***

Days passed.  In a tiny apartment in Rialto, Timothy Broderick was readying to peruse his copy of The RA21 (Rialto against The Men of 21), underground newspaper, "Changes."  He had been a member of The RA21 for years, reaching back to his time as a young adult living in the streets of Dublin.  A vigilante group that outnumbered The Men of 21 by hundreds,  Timothy had always been proud of his membership, and worked tirelessly for years to disband The Men of 21 terrorists.  Unlike other terrorist groups, The Men of 21 had no particular political, religious or social aim.  Their goal was to procure money, and a great deal of it, for their own selfish use.  Their flagrant abuse of their power made his skin crawl.  Still, even though they were great in number, The RA21 had only succeeded in compacting the group's enrollment, and making them less active for the last fifteen years.  His goal was that they were abolished, not just slowing.  And most of his reasoning came from the deaths of his parents and other sibling, Johnny, when they were in their twenties, just starting out with the movement. 

When the paper arrived, he had gathered his typical reading gear; a highball glass of whiskey, his reading glasses, and a small bowl of peanuts.  It was a simple yet pleasing ritual.  He would update himself on the events of the group and then develop plans or ideas for what steps to take next.  Of course, he was waiting on news from his sister in the states, so that he could find a place to be safe, since sources had told him that The Men of 21 were onto him as one of the leaders of his group.  With the recent return of Hesser to the fold, Timothy's newest plan was to lie low, while constructing a new scheme, with the help of the American government, to bring them down once and for all.  Carlo Hesser and his minions were all he needed to get U.S. support.  And, just as he predicted, there would come a day where Hesser would return to active status.  Timothy remembered the day he had heard about Hesser's return to Ireland.  A surge of relief had gone through him; now American forces could not help but support his cause.  As soon as Rebecca Katherine sent him the proper funds, he'd be on his way.

In opening the paper, he settled into his favorite chair in the warmly lit tiny abode he called home.  Modestly furnished, he had always needed nothing more than the simple things, but his bar was well stocked.  He turned the page, and saw it.  

   To the one who knows, your adored clergywoman is ours.  Come
   in person to determine how she will survive.  Now.

In his horror, he spilled his whiskey onto his shirt.  Wiping at it with a stray handkerchief, he reread the text, several times, to be certain he was not seeing things.  And it was there, alone, isolated, in simple print, no adornment, among the other ads on the page.

His fear seemed to be controlling his motions as he threw the paper aside and got up to retrieve his coat and his pistol, and packing it into his waistband, grabbed the keys to the apartment so he could lock it upon his departure.  He knew where to find them; that had been in the information he spent years digging up.  He couldn't let them take his sister; she would be the last of his family that was not killed by their madness.  He dropped them and bent to pick them up as he opened his door.  When returning to standing, he saw a man and a woman, the former leaning against the door frame, with a relaxed, cocky look.  American.

"Hey, Tim, what's up?"  The man said.  He was well dressed and had a scar on his cheek.
"Do I know you?"

"You do now.  Your sister sent me.  She's fine.  Don't ask questions, just come with us.  No time to waste getting you out of here before suspicion is aroused."

"My sister sent you?"

"Yep.  Sister Rebecca Katherine.  She said to tell you, 'Johnny's in a better place.'"

His eyes blurred, then regaining his strength, he said, "How do I know you're telling me the truth?"

"That would be obvious," a familiar Irish female said from behind Blair.  "Now get your bottom in gear, lad, we don't have all day."  

He peered out the door and saw who he recognized as his sister, disguised as a hot dog vendor from the street.  Todd said, "Let's go."

The four of them exited the building, but not before Todd forced Timothy into his disguise, as Catholic priest.  Sister, Todd, Blair and Father Timothy found their way safely to the rental car that was waiting for them.  No one spoke, out of fear and caution, not even Sister Rebecca, as Todd drove and got them safely to the airport, where the boarded the private plane.  Once on the plane, and having made it through customs with McBain's paperwork in hand, The Mannings and the Broderick Siblings could relax a bit.  The first thing that happened was Timothy looking angrily to Rebecca.  "Are you out of your mind, Creena?  If anything happened to you, what would be left?"

The nun threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, "Quiet now, Broham, you're safe, aren't ya?"

Todd and Blair just sat, his arm around her shoulders, and she with her head tucked into the area between his broad shoulder and head.  Blair whispered, "You never cease to amaze me, Mr. Manning."

He looked back, softly kissing her lips.  Their eyes lingered on each others'.   

"And who are these two?"  he pointed to the couple.

"Those are my friends.  You and Todd here have a lot in common.  He was held by The Men of 21 for eight years."

Timothy's eyes widened.  "You're protecting my gal, eh?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that."  Todd answered.

"Todd.  A good strong Irish name."

"My real name is Thomas, but people call me Todd.  Todd Manning."  He put his hand out.  

Timothy took it.  "Pleased to meet ya, and your wife," he put his hand out to Blair, who took it and said, "Blair Manning."

"Nice to meet ya."  he turned back to Rebecca Katherine.  "You, I'm not happy with.  You took an awful chance coming here.  They sent me a message.  I was on my way to turn myself in to them.  Couldn't let them have the last of my family."

"I was safe.  I trust them, The Mannings.  They're good people."

The chatter from the two of them, in lilting brogues, put Todd and Blair into a quiet lull.  She began dozing against his shoulder, and was aching for her baby.  This was the first time she had been apart from him since he was born, and having left him with Addie, they had scrambled off in a hurry to rescue The Sister's brother, not really thinking the whole thing through.  At a slight bout of turbulence, she woke up and started crying.  "I miss Ray."

He put his arms around her and brought her closer, "It's okay, we're not far from home.  You'll see him very soon.  Why don't you nap some more?"

She closed her eyes, sniffing and holding in the last of the tears.  "I'll try."

***

Back in Llanview, John was making the final arrangements for Steven Cregan's entrance into the WPP.  In doing so, he had brought him up from the private holding area that he had him in for the last 48 hours.  "Steven, sit down, please."  John said.  "I have almost everything ready for your departure.  New identity and new home, new place."

"I guess I could start over.  That might not be so bad.  What about my mother?"

"You'll have to leave her behind.  But it's better than her being killed by Hesser and his men.  Believe me, you don't want to know what they are capable of."  McBain's face had a look that Walnut, even though he'd only known him a short while, identified as disgust. 

"All right.  I'll have to make due, as long as I know for certain she's all right.  Can I see her before I go?"

"I can arrange to bring her to the morgue.  When she's there, we will pretend she's viewing your body.  You can say goodbye to her there.  In case she's being watched, for any reason, it will be the perfect cover."

He agreed, nodding.  

McBain said, "Any questions for me?"

"Not about myself.  I can do this.  I've made a mess of the life here, may as well start over."

"Then what are your questions about?"

"Manning."

John's face must have shown the I-knew-it look.  "All right.  I'll try and  answer what I can."

"When I gas lighted him...was I dressed as Carlo?"

"Yeah, the fedora, the suit, those were Carlo's favorite items in the past."

"And that shook him up because he was kidnapped."

"Sort of, yeah."

"What about that monk's robe?  What was that about?"

John wanted to tread carefully, and for his own sake, wished to not relive any of the torment he witnessed at the compound in his last go 'round with Hesser.  "One of his torturers."

Walnut swallowed.  "And he didn't press charges."

"He knew you weren't the cause.  He knew you were someone's pawn.   I think he believed you when you said you had no idea what you were posing as."

"The lighter?"

"This isn't anything you couldn't read about yourself in the stories he's posted at The Sun.  He was burned with one just like it as a child, by his adoptive father, and then, Hesser used it on him during the captivity."

Walnut did not speak.  He just got up from his seat and walked away from John, pacing the room.  After a few minutes he said, "Is that the worst of it?"

John said nothing, just shook his head 'no.'

"Then my mother is safer with me away from here, and everyone thinking I am dead."

"That's right.  There's no other way, really, unless you want to face off with Hesser.  Someday, when we catch him again, you can come back and see her."

"When you catch him again."

"Yes, and I will."  John seemed resolved.  "Can you tell me anything more about him, something else to help us?"

"I know he's in Ireland.  I could tell by the background noises and the voice of someone in the background.  I never let on that I knew he was there. "

John said, "We tracked him there, yes."

Walnut looked up at McBain before their journey to the morgue.  "I can tell you one thing, he's got an obsession with destroying Todd.  It was eerie sometimes, just listening to him.  And on the flip side of that, it's been good knowing a man like you while I had the chance."

"Same here.  You're not a bad guy, Steven.  You're just looking for what we all are: a way to deal with what shit life gives you.  Your ways weren't always the best, but in the end, you're helping put these men away.  That makes up for it, I'd think, even for Todd Manning."

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