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Krishnakumar Saraveshvara Pundavelli Reddy was a clean man.

When he was a small boy back home in Sattenapalle – a sleepy town 30 km from Vijayawada in India – his mother used to scrub him to an inch of his life, every Sunday. She poured copious quantities of the malodorous herb “Shikakai” (which directly translated is “fruit for hair”) mixed with “Besan” (chick-pea flour) on his hair and body – and proceeded to decimate every microscopic particle of dirt and shaving of dead skin, with a vengeance that could warrant summoning social services for cruelty towards minors. If cleanliness was indeed next to Godliness – then Krishna’s mother was the Angel of Death. The poor little clean boy used to scream in agony as the astringent torture portion would go into his eyes and burn like the fires of hell, but the Angel of Death wouldn’t relent. “You are a dirty child. You must be cleansed”, she used to say with the deadpanned expression of an executioner. But once the torture was over, Krishna (despite his dark skin) used to glow like Alpha Centauri A in a dusky sky. He used to feel as if he was reborn. Light as a feather, shiny as a 1 Rupee coin rolling stuck in the lint filter after a wash cycle. And he loved it. In fact – obsessive cleanliness was all he knew.

This obsession with cleanliness continued to grow, as he became an adult. He never went camping or on long motorcycle rides when he was in college… and always carried a pouch of his mothers torture potion with him wherever he went. He used to bathe twice a day, at minimum. He avoided travel by trains altogether and only took evening flights, so that on arrival he could head straight to the hotel shower. Just like he did today, on arriving into Atlanta, in the United States of America. This was not his first trip to the US, and loved coming here because of the cleanliness all around, and the national obsession with hot showers.

He checked into the Homestead Suites, a quiet business hotel in Marietta near Atlanta, way past midnight, as his flight into Atlanta had been delayed. As soon as he was in his room, he started unpacking his toilet kit with tingling excitement. He loved the way the hotels in the US had these massage shower-heads, where he could play with the strength & speed of the water jets, along with the size of the droplets. He could spend (and did, when time permitted) hours in these showers, scrubbing and singing old Telugu devotional songs. He took of his clothes, folded them into neat piles, and gingerly stepped into the shower. He took a deep breath, and inspected the shower unit. Hmm… this one has a pulsating motion… Nice! He then reached down, turned the tap upwards and winced in anticipation of a strong jet of hot clean water to hit his filthy body.

Nothing happened. He opened his eyes slowly, surprised, and closed the tap all the way and opened it again. Nothing. He checked to see if the Shower knob was not pulled up completely… it was. He pulled hard anyway, it didn’t budge and there was no water. Krishnakumar Saraveshvara Pundavelli Reddy broke into a cold sweat. He frantically started pulling at and turning the tap levers and the knobs – but there is only so much one can do with the simple American shower system. Krishna panicked. This was the stuff his nightmares were made of. He stumbled out of the shower and ran naked to the phone. He dialled “9” – and waited for the lone night reception manager to pick up. The phone rang until what seemed eternity… but no one came on. “Aaaaayeeee!!!” Krishna cried in anguish as he slammed the phone down with a loud “thwack!”.

Every inch of his scummy, revolting and repulsive body was screaming, begging to be cleaned. He was covered with sweat, as he frantically put on his clothes. They were dirty, but at this point he didn’t care. The entire essence of his existence was in peril. He had to have a shower.

He slipped on his shoes, without bothering to wear socks or tie laces, and staggered out of his room on the second floor. He reached the elevator and feverishly pressed the call button. His face was twisted with agony and his hands were shaking uncontrollably. After what felt like an eternity, the elevator arrived on the second floor. After another eternity, Krishna barged into the reception area… only to the find nobody behind the counter. The smiling young fat man with puffy hair, who had checked him in was no longer there. “Excuse Me!” said Krishna in a not-so-soft voice. “Excuse Me! Can someone help me?”

Nothing.

Krishna was in a stupor now… he leaned over the counter and started banging on the call bell… “Excuse Me! Is anyone there?”

“Hey, I am coming man!” rang a voice from the room behind the reception. The door opened and a red-eyed and red-faced young fat man appeared. He groggily said, “Can I help you sir?”

“My shower isn’t working.”

The young fat man said nothing and just stared. He then turned up and looked at the clock… it was 1:30 AM. “Sorry?”

“My-shower-isn’t-working-my-shower-isn’t-working!”

Fat-face recovered from his semi-soporific state, and said, “I understand sir.” And then looked at the clock on the wall again, as if hoping that it was lying the first time. “Sir, it’s late.”

“I-I-I know it’s late. know it’s late… I n-need to have a bath!” Krishna’s voice was trembling now.

“Sir,I understand. But, there is no one available at this hour. It is late.” And looked at the clock again.

Krishna banged an open fist on the counter and Fat-face jumped back. “What do you mean no one’s there?! What kind of hotel is this?”

“Sir, I need you to calm down…” said fat-face in a voice that didn’t betray a great deal of calmness. Krishna may have been livid, but he was smart. He realized that this wasn’t India where he could bully the working-class – and he took a deep breath. “I am sorry, but you really need to help me. You don’t understand. I need to have a bath.”

Now typically, the staff manning reception desks and other customer facing roles in the service industry are trained to deal with conflicts and unreasonable customers. Take this situation for instance. Fat-face would have been instructed to first hear the customer completely and not present aggressive arguments. His next action would be to calm the customer down by appearing in control and promising to find a solution. Maybe offer him a drink while he waited for his problem to be solved. The idea was to never let the situation escalate – irrespective of whether the customer was right or not. But if all of this was true and Fat-face would have been indeed trained to deal with crazy customers like Krishna – then this story would have been moot. As it turns out Fat-face was “filling-in” for his cousin for a few hours, who was out scoring with some chick that night. Although Fat-face wasn’t trained to deal with such situations, he had the straightforwardness and simplicity of a country bumpkin. If he saw shit he cleaned it. If his mother asked him to jump into a freezing pond to fish out cousin Shana’s bra – he would risk hypothermia and rescue the delicate. Fat-face also had a name – Eric. But tonight he wore his cousin’s badge and assumed the name “Sam”. So when the real Sam had instructed him not to leave the reception area at any cost, he knew that he had to hunker down and face the onslaught.

“I am sorry sir, but the maintenance staff has left for the day. I am afraid no one can help you until tomorrow morning.”

Krishna meanwhile had become increasingly catatonic, and was pacing up and down and shaking like a rabid dog. “Nononono… this is not possible” he said, shaking his head wildly, “I have never gone to bed without a bath. And after a long flight from India?!! Deva! I am filthy. I need to have a bath! You have to help me!!” He peered closely at the badge that Eric was wearing and implored, almost begged…”Please! Mr.Sam… please help me!”

Now Eric blessed with sufficient naivete, had started to feel sorry for poor little brown man in front of him. He felt like helping him… but he didn’t know how. “I don’t know how to help you sir. I am not qualified.”

Krishna summoned every ounce of patience and courage he had. “Maybe the lever is stuck. You are a much bigger and stronger man than I Mr.Sam… maybe you can make it work…” Eric looked lost for words. Sam had not prepared him for something like this. He wished he could call his cousin and ask for some advice… but that wasn’t an option as Sam had told him not to call, no matter what. Then Krishna did it. He reached across the counter and grabbed Eric’s hand. “Please Mr.Sam… you have to help me.”

Eric knew he now had to help this poor little man in distress. “I will help you sir. Just wait here.” He went back to the room behind the reception and brought out the monkey-wrench that was kept along with some other tools in a cupboard. Krishna’s eyes lit up as he saw his saviour in a red waist-coat carrying a large heavy implement. He knew that this man had the power to deliver him from his troubles. He turned to follow him to the elevator, as Eric walked with the determined gait of a man on a mission. On reaching room 218 Krishna realized that he had left his key card inside. He gulped and said, “Mr.Sam, I think I have left my keycard inside.” Eric was confused. “You mean you can’t open the door?”

“But you can…can’t you?” Krishna enquired hopefully. “I am sure you have a master key.”

“I don’t think I do sir.” Eric had no idea what a master key was… Sam had not told him about it. How he wished Sam was here or he could convince the guest to wait for Sam to return… but he couldn’t let the guest know that he was not Sam… or else Sam could lose his job. Meanwhile Krishna was quickly returning to his livid state. “You are the reception manager! How can you not have a master key?!! I am going to report you to your Manager tomorrow morning! You are being no help at all!”

A slow yet deep panic was forming inside Eric now. He wasn’t really doing a great job of helping his cousin Sam. And Sam was Shana’s brother… lovely beautiful Shana… That was it. He would call Shana for help. She was so smart. Much too smart for a bumpkin like Eric. She would surely know what to do.

“Don’t worry sir, I will just ask my…. um… manager about the key…” said Eric, as he fished out his mobile phone to call Shana. Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” was playing as Shana’s caller tone… and the chorus had gone around twice but Shana was not picking up. “I know it’s late… but pick up Shana…”

“Hello?” said a groggy voice. Eric turned his back to the swaying Krishna (who had rolled up his eyes and was feverishly chanting the Hanuman Chalisa to give him strength) and whispered “Shana?”

“Eric?” There was a rustling of bed clothes as Shana sat up with a start. “Eric is that you?”

“Yes… you have gotta help me.”

“Eric, it is almost two in the morning. What is wrong? Are you in trouble?”

“I am at Sam’s hotel… and I need some help with a guest.”

“Sam’s ho…. what are you doing at Sam’s hotel? And where is Sam?!!”

“I don’t have time to explain Shana, just tell me where can I find the “Master Key”?”

“The what?!!”

“You know the master key… something that can open all doors.”

Shana’s head was spinning now. She liked Eric for his simplicity and innocence… but sometimes it could get on her nerves. And now he was making no sense at all! “Why do you need the master key? And what are you doing in Sam’s hotel? And why isn’t Sam…”

“Shana!” Eric half-whispered, half-cried, cutting her off. “I don’t have time. Just tell me where can I find the master key in this hotel.”

“Ok ok…. let me think…” Shana had worked for 6 months as a reception manager a couple of years ago, before she left for college. “The key should  be in a safe in the Manager’s room. You will need to open the safe and…”

Click.

Eric cut the phone and ran towards the elevator saying, “Sir, just wait here. I will be back.” Not much registered in Krishna’s consciousness at that point. He just nodded faintly, supported himself against the door and collapsed on the floor.

“This is not good.” thought Eric, as he entered the elevator to go down to the reception area. He knew that he had to do something. If something happened to this guest then he would be in big trouble. Worse, Sam would be in even greater trouble. He carried his large heavy bulk with surprising speed around the counter and into the manager’s room. He frantically looked around the room for a safe. Sure enough, in the far left corner of the room, next to the PC monitor was a gray steel box with an electronic key pad on it. Eric’s heart sank as he realized that he would need some kind of code to open this. “Aaargh!” he cried and put his hands on this head, pacing up and down the room in anguish. It was then that he saw a framed certificate on the wall. “Employee of the Month. Sam Wesselhead.” Eric suddenly knew what to do. He stepped up to the safe, lifted the heavy monkey-wrench high up in the air and brought it down with a loud war cry.

Eric’s mother had raised him on a strict diet of beef, red beans and lots of vegetables. So apart from inheriting the family mass, Eric had grown into a man larger and stronger than most. A strength he himself was not aware of. As the steel of the monkey-wrench struck the handle of the safe with a loud crunch, the handle came off like a toothpick snapping on being assaulted by an angry gorilla. As the handle fell to the floor, the sheer impact of the blow dislodged the electronic keypad, shorting the wires connected to the bolt, disengaging it from its locked position. Eric’s sweaty red face broke into a triumphant smile as the door of the ex-safe swung open. He looked inside and sure enough, stuck between two bundles of what looked like money, was a blue key card attached to a steel chain. Thank you Shana. I love you… he muttered in his head, as he grabbed the card and ran back towards the elevator, utterly oblivious of a red alarm light that had started to blink rapidly at the offices of a security firm, half a mile away.

As he rushed out of the elevator on the second floor, he saw Krishna lying on the floor in a shapeless heap. “Sir? Are you ok” he said as he reached Krishna’s trembling body. “Bath… I ne..need… a b-b..” muttered Krishna and his head fell again. With adrenaline and sense of divine purpose running though his body, Eric reached down and picked up Krishna effortlessly, as one would lift a little child. He used his free hand to open the door with the master key card, stepped into the room and then into the bathroom and laid Krishna gently on the bathroom floor. He then stepped into the tub, and tried moving the shower lever. It moved… but not a drop of water. Maybe it needs to be moved all the way to the left, thought Eric. He stuck the lever between the two claws of the monkey wrench, tightened the screw and then pulled to the left with all his might. The lever started moving even further to the left… more, more… muttered Eric as his face turned crimson with effort… there was a loud screech, followed by a cry of triumphant agony as a jet of hot water hit Eric in the face…

Scene 2

Meanwhile, at ACE Security Inc. half a mile away Robert Gomez groaned with displeasure when he saw the red light below the sign “Homestead Suites Marietta” start to blink. After all he was in the middle of a George Lopez show rerun – and this was not the first time that the idiotas over at Homestead had forgotten to hit the “disengage alarm” button before opening one of their protected doors. But the contract dictated that every call had to be investigated within 5 minutes. “Jueputa!“, he cursed, as his trained reflexes made him leap into motion. He was in the car in a flash, and was soon making his way two blocks north to the Homestead.

As he reached the hotel, he could see no obvious signs of disturbance and he cursed again, sure that this was a false alarm. He parked in front of the sliding doors and went over to the reception desk.

“Sam?” he said as he peered over the counter. Nothing.

Robert was a trained ex-marine and had rendered active service in Somalia and Bosnia before a ricocheted bullet in the hip ended his army career. He walked with a slight limp, but his instincts and reflexes were still sharp…and the nagging feeling that something was wrong, was growing by the minute.

“Is anybody here?” he said as he noticed that the manager’s room was open. He took out his .38 from his holster and slowly made his way to the open door with the safety catch still on. “Guys?” he said as he peered in and his eyes swiftly scanned the room before resting at the safe with the door open.

“Shit! This was for real”, he thought as he disengaged the safety catch on his gun. He turned swiftly and made his way into the lobby. It was then that he heard a cry of anguish from somewhere above in the hotel.

Scene 3

Shana Wesselhead had always been one of the more popular girls in college. She was quite winsome with auburn hair, light blue eyes and high cheekbones – just like her twin bother Sam. She had grown up in Marietta with her mother’s divorced cousin Annabelle and her overgrown and slow son Eric, as neighbors. She liked Eric, and she knew that Eric had harbored a huge crush on her since high school. Sam often teased her about it, making her go red in the face and dismiss the whole notion vehemently. But she could never dismiss Eric. She had no dearth of attention from college quarterbacks and rich boys driving convertibles, and had had a string of “high profile” boyfriends all the way through high school and into college. But no one made her feel as special as Eric did. Sure he was hardly one who could be described as a stud… but there was this innocence in the way he spoke with her and behaved around her… like a little boy around his most treasured action figure…like the way he had jumped into the freezing pond behind their house to rescue one of her bras…

This thought brought a smile to her face as she slowly drove into the Homestead’s driveway. There was something in Eric’s voice which had worried her and she had decided to check things out for herself. The inn was just a few blocks away and she was was up anyway…

“And where the hell is ..” The thought froze midway as she saw a private security car parked in front of the sliding doors. A cold chill ran through her as she cautiously stepped out of the car and headed for the hotel door…

Scene 4

Eric was completely drenched by the freshly alive shower. But he didn’t care – he was just happy that the poor little brown man could have his shower.

“Sir?” he said to the man lying on the bathroom floor, as he stepped carefully out of bathtub. “The shower is working! You can have a bath now.”

Krishna stirred as a few drops of hot pristine water bounced off Eric and fell on him. He open his eyes and raised his head up, and his happiness knew no bounds as his eyes slowly focused on the stream of water from the shower. His limbs suddenly found life as he tried to get up, but the blood hadn’t fully returned to his limbs and he collapsed again. Not being able to bear Krishna’s helplessness, Eric bent down and helped him up. Like shapeless alien rising with slow deliberate movements, from a pool of plasma, Krishna supported himself on Eric’s strong arm and rose up. He put one leg into the tub and and immediately slipped on the slick floor of the tub.

“Easy does it…” said Eric gently while grabbing Krishna’s arm and steadying him. “I won’t let you fall.” Krishna turned a weary head towards his big angel, and moved his lips. No words came out, but Eric knew that he was being thanked.

“You are welcome… now hold the shower railing carefully and have your shower.”

Krishna was slowly regaining his composure and strength, as the warm water pounded his body. He held the railing and stood  up straight… and then it happened. In all the feverish action, Eric had accidentally knocked over a bottle of shampoo into the tub, resulting in a slippery mixture of frothy soap and water. So when Krishna’s weakened feet came in contact with the slick of the soap, they had no choice but to demonstrate the laws of physics. He slipped and fell headfirst towards the shower, as he tried to grab the shower-curtain in desperation. Like a toddler banging on a xylophone, the curtain rings came off with a series of pings under Krishna’s weight. Krishna let out a loud scream of anguish as Eric reached out and tried to grab him. But he was too late and Krishna’s head hit the metal of the tap and shower mixer with sickening crunch.

In a normal human body, the heart pumps blood with a pressure of atleast 120 pounds per square inch. That is a lot of pressure, and when the blood finds an opening, at this pressure the exit is nothing less than a meter high squirt. It was Eric’s turn to scream as a jet of blood hit his eyes, and he immediately raised the wrench to protect his face…as Krishna’s limp body slid motionless into the tub…

Scene 5

Robert Gomez was operating under a heightened state. All those years of guerrilla warfare experience on some of the most violent streets on earth came flooding back in an instant as he quietly, yet assuredly, made  his way to the first floor of the hotel. With his gun trained squarely in front of him, he swung into the empty corridor.

It looked peaceful here. He slowly went forward towards the ice machine at the end of the hall, while testing each room door on either side, to see if something was open. He was halfway down, when he heard a scream. His trained senses immediately identified it as a scream of pain, and determined the source to be a level up. Then suddenly there was another scream, this time a different voice.

Like a bolt of lightening he swung around, turned into the stairway, and limp forgotten, bounded up 3 steps at a time. He stopped at the exit door on the second floor, paused, took a breath and gently pushed the door open and peered through the opening in the direction he thought the scream came from. He saw the third door on the left open and light streaming through. He quickly stepped out, and was at the door in a second.

“Should I call out and warn the attacker inside? Or should I just barge in and surprise whoever or whatever was in there?” Robert’s warring life had been based on such decisions…and he had learned to trust his instincts. He decided to barge in with full force…

He peered in the door and saw that the bathroom door, which was two paces in front and on the right, was open and he could see red liquid flowing out and moving shadows. Robert took a deep breath and launched himself forward.

Two measured steps front, tick tock. One step to the right, tick.

It took him less than a second to survey the scene in front of him.

Big male, bloodied with a raised weapon, 12’o Clock. Foreign-looking male, with injury on head, prostate in water receptacle. Bad stuff has happened here. Need to take immediate action.

Scene 6

Shana heard the first distant scream as she was surveying the damage in the Manager’s room, and froze. Then when she heard the second one, and recognized the voice, she turned and ran.

She knew the Homestead Suites like the back of her hand, and soon she was racing up the stairway. She of course lacked the positioning skills of a trained warrior, and opened the door into the corridor of the first level. Breathing wildly and shaking with a weird cocktail of fear, anxiousness and excitement, she called out Eric’s name as she started running down the corridor trying to see if she could find him.

She reached the end, and nothing. She leaned against the Ice Machine, doubling up to take a breath and started running again. She was just about to turn into the stairway, when she heard a noise literally took her breath away…

Scene 7

“Put down your weapon.”

Eric was not used to stressful situations and was given to panicking when things started turning bad. Here he was, drenched in blood and water and staring down at a man, probably dead with a cracked head. Things were as bad as they could ever be in Eric’s unexciting life. So when he heard the command and turned around to see a uniformed man with a scary mustache point what looked like a firearm, at him, he turned catatonic.

He completely forgot about the “weapon” in his hand, and started waving his arms wildly, pointing at the man in the tub and started emitting nonsensical words, trying to explain the whole situation.

Robert, on the other hand, was as calm as a monk.

“Put down your weapon now, sir!” he barked with little more aggression… as if to show the seriousness of the command.

But Eric wasn’t stopping, he kept coming towards Robert, waving the wrench and talking something about helping a man have a bath in the middle of the night…

With the trigger half-pressed, he stepped back out of the bathroom instinctively as Eric’s big bulk moved forward, while repeating his command yet again, “Drop your weap…. SHIT!” and he found himself falling backwards.

The Homestead had been around for more than 2 decades now. It wasn’t a Homestead to begin with… it was a Comfort Inn. Started by Ramesh Patel, a local Indian serial-hotelier, Comfort Inn wasn’t the last name in luxury. Ramesh was many things, but not a spendthrift, and the evidence was clear everywhere one looked. From the quality of the plumbing, to the notoriously temperamental heating and of course the carpeting. When the Hilton group decided to take advantage of the growing no. of businesses in Marietta and convert the property into their Homestead brand a couple of years ago, they realized that they would have to invest a great deal to bring the property up to standard. And as with any well thought-of business venture, they had to prioritize.

Plumbing – OK. Heating – OK. Mattresses – OK. Carpeting in Suites – ok. Carpeting in regular rooms – next phase. 3 years…maybe.

So though the carpeting in Room 218 wasn’t exactly threadbare, it was coming apart at the edges, like any cheaply rendered carpeting would after 2 decades of wear and tear. One particularly nasty piece of “disengagement” was where the carpet met the plastic cladding beneath the bathroom door. The edge of the carpet their had come off from the floor, and would stick out like the mouth of a small cave.

Robert Gomez for all his training and experience couldn’t have predicted loose carpet lining. As he stepped back, the heel of his shoe got caught in the raised carpet lining, and completely rendered him off-balance. As he fell back, he raised his arms instinctively to grab hold of the frame of the door. But his hip injury had had an unfortunate side effect of hampering his “turning radius” at the waist. As a result he could not reach out sufficiently to grab the door frame and hit his elbow on the edge of the frame. As luck would have it, he hit the so-called funny bone, causing pain and tingling sensations to shoot down his forearm. This in turn jerked his the finger on the trigger, which in turn fired the snap-action lever, which cracked the cap of a steel bullet, igniting the gunpowder which exploded in the confined chamber, generating a pressure of around 45 MPa (Mega Pascal), propelling the bullet head out of the barrel at a speed of approximately 1500 m/sec. (When they say that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet…they really exagerate! )

Eric winced with pain as something bit his ear, hard. His hand went up to his ear, and he felt a warm liquid gushing out of what had been his ear lobe. He cried out with anger, as he decided to relieve the fallen guard of his firearm, before he did more damage. He lunged at Robert, who was a bit dazed with the fall, and grabbed at his gun which was still pointed in Eric’s direction. Robert sensed trouble and hung on to his gun, trying to stop the big bloodied man from wrestling the gun away from him.

“Eric!”

Even in his catatonic state and when his survival was at stake, Eric’s frenzied brain registered Shana’s mellifluous voice as friendly fire. He looked up towards the room doorway, where he saw the most beautiful sight of his entire life. There, silhoutted against the streaming light from the hallway was the figure of a beautiful blonde angel, with her skin shimmering with radiance which reflected of her long golden hair…

Sensing Eric’s distracted grip, Robert quickly seized the initiative, and wrestled the gun out of Eric’s hands. As he pulled the gun away from Eric, the muzzle pointed at the figure in the doorway. Eric, suddenly coming back to his senses, saw the gun pointed at Shana…

“Nooo!” he roared as he attacked the hand with renewed vigor. This is was getting too much for Robert. All he wanted to do was put an end to this nonsense and go back to watch the George Lopez show. He was too old for this shit.

“I am too old for this shit!!!” cried out Robert, as he jackknifed his legs with Eric between them. Eric fell down as the angel in the doorway came towards him. “Bang!”

The angel cried out and fell.

Nobody’s sure of what happened next. It is said that Eric, after witnessing Shana’s downfall, went into an uncontrollable rage (fuelled by repressed emotions of course) and punched Robert Gomez’s head until he was dead – before turning the gun on himself. Whatever the case was, when Krishna regained consciousness and got up from the tub with a bloodied aching head – he saw three corpses. He didn’t say a word or cry in terror. He just turned around, stepped back inside the shower, turned the knob to full pressure and stood there with the water hitting his face.

That is where the police found him. A crazed brown man having a shower with his clothes on and bleeding profusely from the head. And three dead bodies. When they managed to pry the man out of the tub, and asked him what the hell had happened, he just looked at them with clear eyes and said, “I am a dirty child. I have to be cleansed.”

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