Moonlight on the Golden Spire

It took less than an hour on the phone back at Petrovka for Rostnikov to find the first garage where there was a mechanic named Artiom. He had continued to call garages and had located two more Artioms.

“We’ll start with these three,” Rostnikov said, standing slowly.

His desk was in the corner of a large office that had been divided into four cubbyholes with low fiberboard walls over which one could both look at and hear one’s neighbors. Each little section had a desk, a phone, and two chairs. There was no uniformity to the furniture. It was whatever Pankov had been able to scrounge, beg, and steal from other offices in Petrovka. There was a cubbyhole office for Rostnikov and one each for Emil Karpo, Sasha Tkach, and Elena Timofeyeva. The only sign of Rostnikov’s superiority was that his cubicle was the one with the window. When he had been a chief inspector with the procurator general’s office several flights down, he had had his own office. It had also been small, however, and his window had looked out not at the outside world but at a line of desks of those of lesser rank. He had not liked that office. He definitely preferred his present cubbyhole. From the sixth floor of Petrovka he could look down into the rapidly decaying courtyard and guard gate, where two armed officers stood, one of them smoking, an act that would have meant his job a year before. Now no one except the corrupt, the desperate, the stupid, and the psychotic seemed to want the low-paying, dangerous, and despised job of being a police officer.

“Rostnikov?” Hamilton said.

“Yes?” Rostnikov had paused to look out the window.

“The Artioms,” Hamilton reminded him.

“Of course,” said Rostnikov. “Look at this.”

Hamilton moved to join Rostnikov at the window and look down at the guards and the courtyard.

“The changing weather and a lack of interest,” Rostnikov observed. “Only one bush still blooming and flowering. Do you know the name of that bush?”

“No,” said Hamilton, locating the bush.

Rostnikov took his notebook from his pocket and made a crude drawing of the shrub and its flowers, then scrawled a description of it. He put the notebook back in his pocket and asked, “Do we start with the three Artioms or with the wife?”

“We Americans would do both at the same time,” said Hamilton.

“We are a small department. To do that, I would have to remove one of my associates from the case he or she is working on,” said Rostnikov. “Or I would have to ask permission to assign an investigator from one of the other departments, and it’s likely that that investigator would be chosen for his or her dependability to report back to an officer within his or her own department. Should anything be uncovered that might lead to an arrest, that department would rush in, make the arrest, and get the credit.”

“Tricky,” said Hamilton.

“It has been like that for almost six hundred years,” said Rostnikov. “When the first little huts went up to form a village where the Kremlin now stands, the Russian people began to develop a society of distrust, corruption, and subservience. Then came the czars, then the Communists, and now the frightened confusion until a new authority is firmly in command. Russians are not built for capitalism. It has turned them into victims, cowards, and criminals.”

Rostnikov reluctantly left the window, walked out of his cubicle, and headed toward the door to the office.

“You care about the credit?” asked Hamilton, following.

“The survival of our department depends upon Colonel Snitkonoy’s outstanding record for taking on the most difficult cases and handling them to everyone’s reluctant satisfaction,” said Rostnikov. “You have two children?”

“Yes,” said Hamilton.

They passed a few people, a woman and two men, in the hall. One of the men nodded at Rostnikov. He nodded back. Rostnikov and Hamilton stopped in front of the elevator.

“You have photographs?” asked Rostnikov.

Hamilton reached into his back pocket, removed his wallet, opened it, and handed it to Rostnikov.

“Good,” said Rostnikov as he took in the picture of a boy around twelve with his arm around a younger girl, who had a tooth missing in the middle of her mouth. Both were smiling. “The girl looks like you. The boy?”

“Like his mother,” Hamilton said.

Rostnikov looked at the floor indicator over the elevator. It seemed to be stuck on the first floor.

“I think it is broken again,” Rostnikov said. “We will have to walk down. Beautiful children.”

Hamilton started to put his wallet back in his pocket. Rostnikov caught his hand.

“In the front pocket,” he said. “It is not so stylish, but more difficult for pickpockets.”

Hamilton smiled.

“I’m an FBI agent.”

“Yeltsin’s pocket has been picked in a crowd of people cheering as if he were a god,” said Rostnikov, heading for the stairway,

The trip six floors down the stairway was slow and painful for Porfiry Petrovich. Hamilton had placed his wallet in his right front pocket. It made an awkward bulge. He would have to remember to remove it and put it in his rear pocket before he went back to the FBI’s temporary offices in the U.S. Embassy building.

People shuffled past them in both directions when they hit the wide, bare lobby. A helmeted and armed duo of guards near the door glanced at them, and a uniformed woman at a small desk where people were checked in and out looked up at the well-dressed black man.

“They don’t know what to make of me,” Hamilton said as they moved into the courtyard of Petrovka. The wind was brisk and chilly.

“They probably think you are a rich African or American businessman setting up bribes for protection,” said Rostnikov, who moved very slowly now.

“You want to rest?” asked Hamilton.

“The day moves on and we have Artioms to meet,” said Rostnikov in English. “That is a reasonable approximation of your Robert Frost?”

“Very close. We have Artioms to meet,” Hamilton replied.

“And late-flowering bushes that shall reveal their names,” added Rostnikov, moving through the wrought-iron gates where a car, a Buick, sat waiting.

Rostnikov nodded at the car. Hamilton returned the nod. Hamilton opened the front door and held it open while Rostnikov slid in. Hamilton got in the backseat.

There had been seven Chazov brothers in all: the oldest, Yakov, was probably around thirty and had left the one-room apartment three years earlier. It was not really an apartment but the end of a second-floor hallway in a converted office building. A flimsy wall and door had been put up by the Communist party-appointed carpenters, who didn’t know what they were doing.

Elvira Chazova, who was forty-one going on seventy, had worked with her sons to steal bricks and wood and a new door to reinforce the front entrance. Two decades ago, after being almost beaten to death by Elvira and her then ten-year-old son, her first husband had crawled out of the apartment and never returned. Elvira had heard that Yakov, recently returned from prison after serving a long sentence for robbery with force, was now living in the streets with friends. At present Elvira had three sons living with her, plus a baby and another on the way. Government investigators, frowning on the number of children, had threatened her, but had in the end given her a meager subsidy, which was supplemented by whatever her children could bring in. Sometimes the boys posed as ragged Gypsies and begged in subway stations. Their favorite hangout was Pushkin Square in the little park in front of McDonald’s. On three occasions the boys had followed drunks from the Pushkin Square underpass, beaten them, and taken their money. Twice they had stolen bottles of liquor from the Night Flight disco near the square.

Elvira herself had sat cross-legged with a tin cup beside her in the subways and in doorways where foreigners would see her. She held her latest baby on her lap and rocked him, looking as pathetic as she could and thanking each donor aloud while cursing each one who gave her nothing.

The youngest three boys, who had never seen their older half brother, Yakov, were the children of a brutish ex-soldier named Leon. The boys feared nothing but their mother’s displeasure and the threat that their father might return. But Leon, who had never given Elvira his true last name, had packed his few belongings one day and headed west.

So now Elvira Chazova-her hair white and stringy, most of her teeth long gone, her face wrinkled and beaten by days in the sun and diseases of the dampness-had to make do with a meaningless government subsidy and what could be scrounged and stolen. The boys begged, but they were a sorry lot, thin, sharp-featured like their father, and with their father’s perpetual surly challenge on their faces. They were much more successful at stealing, roaming the streets at night, finding stray drunks, late-night hotel prostitutes, and restaurant workers heading home after long days. They chose their victims carefully. A man might appear to be prosperous, but if he looked to be more than the three boys could handle, they passed him by. They had actually gone by tram as far as the town of Oryol to find drunks for the taking. For when they brought their earnings home, they were praised by their mother.

There was only one window in the apartment, at the end of what used to be the corridor. A curtain had been put up to create a bit of privacy for Elvira. The boys slept on cots in a small space beyond the curtain. On the other side of them was another curtain, which established another space before the door to the apartment, which held two stolen sofas and four chairs plus a television that sometimes worked, a table, and a small refrigerator. There was no sink. There was no toilet. One of the old offices at the far end of the corridor served as a kind of communal room for those who lived on the floor and the one above. It had a sink and a filthy toilet.

Occasionally a lost child or adult would wander into the communal room and curl up to sleep. If the Chazovs found such a person, he or she was lucky to escape with little more than a split head and a broken limb.

At night and during the day the black-and-white television set droned on, losing both the top and bottom of its picture to blackness. Elvira was expecting her latest baby soon. Its father was a half-mad fool named Kirsov, who claimed to be in a Georgian mafia but who was in fact kept around by one of the mafia’s minor members to run risks such as delivering messages to rival gangs. About three months ago Kirsov had tempted his luck one too many times and had been shot and dumped in the Moscow River with his eyes plucked out, a warning to the Georgians, who ignored it.

This murder of Kirsov had been further proof to Elvira that one could only survive by violence and that one had to be cautious when choosing one’s victims and friends. “Family,” she had frequently told Alexei, Boris, and Mark. “That is all you can count on.”

Were the boys a bit brighter, they might have noticed that their family had hardly been a model of reliability: Their older half brothers as well as their father had fled as soon as they could; their own father had gone west; and their mother’s latest friend had had his eyes plucked out, leaving her with another baby.

Elvira hoped the child in her belly would be a girl. Girls were much more likely to be given money by people, particularly foreigners. Besides, Elvira had always wanted a girl. Not that she hadn’t loved her boys. She had, each one of them. The baby was always lavished with love, coddled, allowed to sleep next to his mother till he was six or even seven. But then Elvira would begin to lose interest in the child, except as potential income. When asked, she’d fiercely proclaim her love, but in truth she often felt more comfortable when they were in the streets.

Elvira heard a knock at the door and knew it was an official knock, not the kind made by a timid neighbor. She rose from her chair in front of the television, where she had been watching an old movie about a pretty blond woman with a beautiful apartment and lots of men friends. The woman had a white living room right down to the telephone.

The one-year-old, Ludmilla, was angry because the knocking had startled her and made her drop the empty tin can in her hand. The baby inside Elvira was kicking. Elvira held Ludmilla back with one hand and made her way to the door, shouting, “Who is it?”

“Police,” said Sasha Tkach.

“I’ve done nothing,” she said.

“We want to talk,” said Sasha pleasantly.

“About what?” she asked.

“We will tell you when we come in,” said Sasha.

It was not the first time the police had come. And it had always been the same thing. She had told the same lies, and eventually, when they saw there was no money in this and probably not even a reasonable arrest, the police had left, talking about the filth of Elvira Chazova’s home.

“All right. All right,” she said, opening the many bolts on the door and leaving the heavy chain in place as she peeked at the nice-looking young man and the slouching hulk behind him.

The young man held up an identification card, but Elvira didn’t bother to try to read it. Her eyes were not good for reading and her reading skills were minimal anyway. Besides, a police identification card could be forged. She knew two people who could do it for her for the price of a half-dozen eggs.

She unchained the door and stepped back to let the two men in. “I’m pregnant,” she said, moving to her chair and not offering a seat to the policemen.

“Congratulations,” said Zelach.

Neither policeman sat. It was not a place they wished to stay long.

“You have three sons,” said Sasha, “one of whom is named Mark?”

“My youngest boy. My baby boy. He is only five.”

She was lying by two years, but it made no difference. She could see by the young policeman’s face that he had already decided to doubt whatever she might say.

“Your three sons,” Sasha went on, “where were they last night?”

The one-year-old had decided to hold on to her mother’s dress and produce a red-faced scream, which Elvira ignored.

“Here,” she said.

The television droned on. The child screamed. The blond woman on the screen laughed. Zelach glanced at the television and then back at the screaming child.

“What time did they come home?” shouted Sasha Tkach, his hands at his sides and looking very official.

“Just before the first news on television,” Elvira said, holding her large stomach. “I don’t like them out at night anymore. Too dangerous since the new life. Too dangerous for little boys.”

“May we talk to the boys?” Sasha asked.

“Now?” she said.

“Now,” said Sasha.

The woman looked at the other policeman. He bore a faint resemblance to her second husband but without the angry look.

“They are out,” she said. “In school.”

“They are not in school,” shouted Sasha, searching for something in his pocket. “We have checked with the school. They have not been going to school.”

“Lots of children don’t go to school anymore,” she said defensively, “except when they hear that free food is being given.”

She glanced at the television screen, where an older man in a tuxedo was lighting a cigar and looking at the blonde, who smiled coyly.

“True,” agreed Sasha, finding a small sweet he had stashed deep inside his pocket for his daughter, Pulcharia. “But it is your children we are interested in.”

“Why?” she asked.

“We have questions,” said Sasha, handing the sweet to the red-faced, screaming child, who immediately became silent.

“Questions?” asked Elvira.

“About something that happened last night,” said Sasha.

“They were here last night. All night. I told you. We are a poor family. They are out begging. That’s what this new government, this new democracy, has done to us. We have to send our children out begging like Gypsies.”

“Your children begged even before the new government,” Sasha said, though he did not know this as a fact any more than he knew that the boys had not been in school.

“And so did I,” Elvira said, touching her hand to her breast. “I have always had a big family and worthless husbands. I’ve had a big burden. I have the luck of a Siberian.”

“And you are to be much admired and appreciated,” Sasha said without expression. He looked at the little girl, who sucked at the candy and regarded him with hostile curiosity. “I would like to talk to your sons.”

“They are not here,” Elvira repeated.

Sasha nodded. Zelach moved past the woman and pushed back the first curtain to reveal a space with three unmade cots and clothes in piles. Zelach moved through this space and pushed back the second curtain to reveal a small bed and an old dresser near the window.

“I told you they weren’t here,” Elvira said, almost weeping now.

Zelach looked back. Sasha nodded and Zelach began to go through the dresser.

“This is wrong,” the woman said. “I’m a mother. I’m pregnant. This could upset me, make me lose my baby, get my little one frightened again. It will be your fault.”

Sasha glanced at the television again. A maid and a butler were talking. Zelach pushed each drawer back carefully, checked the bed, and then moved into the boys’ space, going through their clothing and the contents of several cardboard cartons under each cot.

Elvira sat in silent indignation, rubbing her stomach and glaring at the young policeman. It didn’t seem to bother him. Zelach returned and shook his head. Nothing.

“Satisfied?” she said.

“No,” said Sasha. “We will return.”

“When?” she asked.

The young man didn’t answer. He headed for the door with the other policeman behind him.

“If you were a parent,” Elvira said, following them, “you wouldn’t do this to a loving mother.”

The policemen left. The door locked behind them.

Elvira pushed her daughter away and ran back through the apartment, opened the window, and touched the wooden sill to be sure it hadn’t been moved. There was a space, a narrow space, beneath the sill. Everything that was not cash or could be immediately converted to cash but was thin enough to fit was in a bag in the narrow space. Other things the boys brought home-wallets particularly-were thrown out immediately blocks away. Whatever cash the boys brought in was kept in a pouch she wore on a belt under her clothes. She slept in the belt, certain that the boys did not know it existed. She was wrong.

These two policemen were not the first who had come to harass her, but the young one was the first who looked as if he really cared about her answers. He said he would be back, she was sure he would be back. She had a sudden chill. The changing weather, the fear for herself and her children? She went back into the front of the apartment to watch the rich people in a movie from long ago. The baby began to cry. She had finished her candy.

“What did you get?” Sasha asked when they were back on the street in front of the crumbling building.

“A photograph of a soccer player, Belitnikov,” said Zelach. “A flashlight. An empty yogurt carton. I was careful.”

They had partial fingerprints from the belt of the dead man, Oleg Makmunov. The fingerprints were small. They might match others taken from the Chazov apartment. If they were inconclusive, Sasha and Zelach would take turns watching the apartment till the boys returned. Then they would bring them in for fingerprinting. Even if the fingerprints did not match, they would tell the boys that they did. Normally it was not difficult to get children to turn against one another.

Sasha felt lucky. This was only the second Mark they had tracked down and he was certain this was the right one. But he also felt depressed. The Chazov boys were only eleven, nine, and seven. The young child he had just seen was just a few years younger than his daughter, Pulcharia. He had a sudden vision of his daughter lying with her head crushed by a rock. He pushed the image away, but it mocked him by coming back even clearer.

“What’s wrong, Sasha?” Zelach asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

“You work here alone?” asked Rostnikov as he looked around the dark garage, which was about the size of a tennis court.

Three cars were parked in the rear. It was difficult to make out exactly what they were because there were only two lights in the garage, both dim, and two windows, both dirty. But Rostnikov and Hamilton could make out piles of automobile parts. In the middle of the floor was a black BMW hoisted on wooden blocks with four fully extended bumper jacks firmly locked on the undercarriage.

“No,” said Artiom Solovyov, wiping his hands. “I have an assistant.”

The man looked a bit like an ape with a handsome battered face and dark hair in need of a cut. He wore a pair of dark slacks and a long-sleeved white shirt with vertical blue stripes.

“Where is he?” asked Rostnikov.

“Where is he? Boris is home. He is ill,” said Artiom with a sigh, looking around. “And all this work.”

“So you have to do it yourself?” asked Hamilton.

Artiom had tried not to look at the tall black man next to the policeman. The black man had dark, disbelieving eyes.

“What choice have I?” asked Artiom with a shrug.

“Then why aren’t you in work clothes? Why aren’t you covered in grime?” asked Rostnikov.

Artiom Solovyov now looked from man to man in front of him. They had said they had some routine questions about a crime and that he might know the victim. Artiom had emerged from his tiny office with its thin waffle-metal walls. He had smiled and said he had never been involved with something exciting like this before and had pledged his cooperation. But the questions were getting too uncomfortable.

“I just arrived, right before you,” Artiom said. “I was doing some paperwork and-”

“The full name and address of your mechanic,” said Rostnikov.

“Ah … I don’t think I have his address. He just moved. His name is Boris, Boris Ivanov.”

“Shouldn’t be hard to find,” said Hamilton. “How many Boris Ivanovs are there in Moscow?”

“Probably close to two thousand,” said Rostnikov. And then to Artiom, “Alexei Porvinovich.”

Artiom blinked and didn’t answer.

“You know a man named Alexei Porvinovich.”

Fight the panic. How did they find him so quickly? How did they find him at all? They couldn’t have too much on him since they weren’t simply grabbing him right away and hauling him off to the local police station for a “conversation.” Artiom had been the victim of such “conversations” in the past. More than once he had been pulled in to the local station, each time by the same cop, who suggested that Artiom’s garage was a refuge for stolen cars. Each time, Artiom had denied it. Each time, he had been hauled in, placed in a small room, and beaten by the policeman. The last time this happened, Artiom lost part of his hearing in his left ear. He never got it back. The irony was that Artiom did not deal in stolen automobiles. He had insisted, sworn, and endured beatings, but finally he had agreed to pay the policeman a manageable amount each month. The irony had mounted when a local mafia of Chechens also visited him. Artiom had agreed instantly to pay them. If he had not, he was sure, he would have had more than a minor hearing loss. Were he not paying the policeman and the Chechen mafia, he would now have more money. And without the payments and Anna Porvinovich’s demands for him at the oddest of times, he would probably not have considered kidnapping Alexei Porvinovich. And now he had to cope with these two new policemen who knew something.

“Porvinovich,” Artiom repeated, looking up at the rusting ceiling and touching his chin as if deep in thought. “Porvinovich. I think I have a customer with that name. I can check my books.”

“You don’t remember for certain?” the black man asked.

“I have a thriving business. Lots of customers. Some come only once. Some come twice. Some keep coming back.”

“This is the Alexei Porvinovich whose home you called less than an hour ago,” said Rostnikov.

“I made a long list of calls,” Artiom said with a shrug, hoping he was not sweating. He sweated easily. It was something Anna said she liked about him. “You know, with my mechanic out, everything will be running late and-”

“You remember the call?” the black man asked. “You spoke to Mrs. Porvinovich. You’ve met her. You could hardly forget her.”

“Porvinovich,” Artiom pondered. “Ah, yes, that one. A beauty. Not my type.”

“What is your type?” asked Rostnikov.

“Big. Blond. Loud. Not too smart,” he said with a grin.

“Just the opposite of Mrs. Porvinovich,” said the black man.

“I suppose,” said Artiom.

“So?” said Rostnikov. “You called her.”

“Yes, ah, yes. Now I remember,” he said, hitting his forehead with the palm of his right hand. “They were scheduled to bring in their car, a black Buick. I said I couldn’t take care of it. She seemed quite upset that she couldn’t make a new appointment.”

“Mrs. Porvinovich does not strike me as the kind of woman who, if she were upset, would allow herself to display it to a mechanic,” said the black man.

“I’m perceptive,” Artiom almost pleaded. “It’s a gift and a curse from my mother. She was perceptive too. Could see right through to people’s souls.” With this, he laid a palm across his chest in a suggestion of where one’s soul might be found.

“What am I feeling?” asked the black man.

“I never got your name,” said Artiom, extending his hand.

“Craig Hamilton,” said the black man, taking Artiom’s quite moist hand. “What am I feeling?” he repeated.

“I’m sorry. My intuition is hindered by a lack of familiarity with Africans.”

“Then what am I thinking?” asked Rostnikov.

“That I know something or am guilty of something,” said Artiom. “But I tell you, I promise you, I pledge to you: You are wrong. If you’ll just tell me what you want, I-”

“You kidnapped Alexei Porvinovich,” said Rostnikov. “You and your assistant, Boris. If you have killed Porvinovich, you shall be tried and executed, as you well know. If he is alive, life will be hard, but you will at least exist. Look at this bush.”

Rostnikov pulled a notebook from his pocket and opened it to the page with the flowering bush he had sketched earlier.

Artiom looked at the picture. It was not at all badly rendered. “Yes?” asked he.

“Do you know what kind of bush it is?”

“No,” said Artiom. “I know nothing of plants. I know cars.”

“If you have killed Porvinovich,” said Rostnikov, taking another look at the picture of the bush and returning it to his pocket, “then you will never see a flowering bush again.”

“I did not kidnap Alexei Porvinovich,” Artiom cried with sincerity. “I’m an honest businessman. Ask Sergeant Boronov. I run an honest business.”

“And you go to bed with Anna Porvinovich,” said Rostnikov.

“And with her brother,” added Hamilton.

Artiom’s sincerity turned to anger.

“What are you saying? That I’m a homosexual? I am not.”

“Then,” said Rostnikov, “you have had sex only with Mrs. Porvinovich?”

“I haven’t had sex with anybody,” Artiom protested, both hands moving up and down.

“You are celibate?” said Hamilton.

“I didn’t say … What do you want?”

“Porvinovich, now, uninjured,” said Rostnikov.

“I didn’t kidnap him,” Artiom cried. He clasped his hands together and said, “As God is my judge, I have kidnapped no one.”

“How long have you believed in God?” asked Rostnikov.

Artiom shrugged again. “All my life,” he said. “What’s God got to-”

“We are leaving,” said Rostnikov. “You will deliver Alexei Porvinovich before this day ends.”

“I. …” Artiom began, but saw that nothing he could say would convince these two. “It has come to my attention from a source I cannot reveal that this Alexei Porvinovich has been engaged in illegal activities.”

“I thought you couldn’t remember him?” asked Hamilton, who was following Rostnikov toward the door of the garage.

“I didn’t want to get involved in anything,” Artiom said, now sweating profusely and not trying to hide it. “But if someone were to find this Porvinovich and turn him loose and they had information about important criminal activities by this Porvinovich …?”

“It would be interesting,” said Rostnikov, limping toward the door. “We might be appreciative of such information.”

“How appreciative?” asked Artiom.

“That would depend on the information,” said Rostnikov. “And the evidence. Call Petrovka, ask for me. Let us say in four hours.”

Rostnikov pulled out his pad of paper, wrote down his own name and phone number, and handed it to Artiom, who took it and followed the two men through the door into the chilly gray day.

“I don’t know anything,” he said.

“Four hours,” Rostnikov repeated, continuing to walk away, his back to Artiom Solovyov. “That should be plenty of time.”

Artiom gave up, went back into the garage, and slammed the door. Rostnikov continued to walk toward the dark car parked at the end of the street.

“We were lucky,” said Hamilton softly.

“He is an amateur in love with a professional,” said Rostnikov. “An affair made in hell.”

“She would have had Porvinovich killed,” said Hamilton.

“I’m certain.”

“So am I,” said Hamilton. “You think he’ll let Porvinovich go and give you something dirty on him?”

“Yes,” said Rostnikov, opening the front passenger door of the car. “He has heard tales of Russian prisons.” He sat and closed the door while Hamilton went around the car and got into the driver’s seat.

“Should we call someone to follow him?” asked Hamilton, starting the engine.

“It will take too long,” said Rostnikov.

“We could follow him ourselves,” Hamilton suggested.

“I have a bad leg and you have a black face,” said Rostnikov. “He would have to be an even bigger fool than he is not to spot us. I think he will give us our kidnap victim if he is still alive.”


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