Reset: Chapter Eight: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (1)


Foster’s Daily Democrat and the NHU Courier used the same photo on their front pages, Joe and Nick flanking Zack Henderson as he rested his arms over their shoulders, angled oddly on account of Nick’s height. One of the partygoers, an overzealous junior named Marissa Bowen, happened to be the editor-in-chief of the Courier. She always carried a camera with her and had taken the picture and their statements. She had also called the Democrat so the story could get wider release. Marissa’s goal, based on the Courier’s headline “Frat Row Nearly Claims Another,” was to strike a blow against NHU’s Greek scene. She was surely disappointed when the Democrat’s feature, “Freshmen Save A Life,” echoed none of her scathing commentary. In both stories, Joe and Nick provided bromides about coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, and doing the right thing, although Nick couldn’t resist throwing in this particular bon mot: “It’s almost as if we were meant to be here.”

Joe could have strangled him.

* * *

Joe saw the headlines the next morning when Nick threw the papers onto Joe’s chest, waking him from his deep sleep on the bottom bunk.

“Look at that!” Nick yelled. “Front page news! Not the lead story, but good enough for rock n’ roll. Damn, we look good, even you!”

Joe sat up and blinked, looking at the newspapers. “What time is it?”

“Time for church,” said Nick. “I’m going with Amy.” He stripped down and wrapped himself in a towel, skinny as he ever was. “Make sure you call your parents.”

The headlines sank in after his third read. Joe tossed the papers on the floor. He had so much he wanted to say to Nick, things he should have said last night, but instead could only muster: “What happened to your hair?”

“What do you mean, ‘my hair’? That’s all you can talk about? My hair?”

Gone were Nick’s flowing black locks, in their place a short and very stylish hairdo. Almost too stylish, as in a decade or so ahead of its time.

Joe flopped back down, turning towards the wall. “Never mind.”

“Amy likes it short, alright? When she asked what the deal was with my hair, I told her I was getting it cut tomorrow.” He strode over to Joe’s bed and gave him a shake. “Things are working out,” he said excitedly. “We saved a life, right? Some good has come out of this already!”

Joe grunted.

“That’s all you can say? All that talk about wanting to do something bigger with your life and that’s all you got? I don’t get you sometimes.”

“You sure you’re not still on coke?” Joe said.

“What do you mean, ‘coke’? What’re you talking about?”

Joe shot upright, his shoulder smacking Nick in the nose.

Nick reared back, hand to his face. “Hey! Watch the schnoz alright?!” It wasn’t bleeding, though Nick, who did have a rather large nose, kept checking his fingers for blood.

“How’d you know it would work?” Joe asked.

“Why are you so mad?”

“Just answer me: How did you know The Machine would work?”

“We’re not in a courtroom, Matlock. It’s too early for this. Just calm the hell down, alright?”

“Answer me!”

With a sniff and one last swipe, Nick left his nose alone. “Sanjay said they’d tested it in short bursts, like five or ten seconds, alright? I already told you this!”

“Oh. So they went back to when The Machine still existed. Smart.”

“Of course they’re smart. They invented this. What’s your point?”

“Nothing,” said Joe. He flopped back down on the bed.

“I don’t get you sometimes. Maybe you need to come to church, get a little Jesus in your soul. Maybe that’s your problem.”

Nick waited for a reaction. Getting none, he left for the shower. When Nick returned to change into his suit they both stayed silent like feuding lovers. They might as well be married, Joe thought. He spent more time with Nick than he ever had with his wife. Ex-wife. It still stung to think of Sandra like that.

Nick left Joe still in bed, determined to stay there all day, but his plans were thwarted by the ringing of the phone.

He answered the call and proceeded to have a surreal conversation with his mother. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Eight: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (1)”

Reset: Chapter Seven: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (4)


Zeta Zeta Nu was a madhouse, though tamer than Joe’s assumptions about frat parties had led him to believe, tinged as they were by movies and TV. He had never been invited to any in college, of course. He wasn’t a partier the way Nick was, but even Nick didn’t start his carousing until law school.

A Snoop Dogg song Joe hadn’t heard in years blared from unseen speakers, making him feel ancient as he bounced like a pinball among the bodies of beautiful young people. Jonesy and Carlos were lost to him; Nick’s shaggy head, towering over most partiers, served as his beacon, leading Joe to a staircase near the back of the house.

Someone shoved a red plastic cup into Joe’s hands. He brought it reflexively to his lips, the scent of cheap beer filling his nostrils. Technically, he was underage, but given the absurd impossibility of the situation he drank it down.

“Thanks!” he told no one in particular as a belch escaped him. He should have been more careful, he knew, as stories of date-rape drugs in drinks flashed through his mind. But the responsible adult part of his brain was on the fritz, and he really didn’t think the kind of person who would spike a drink would be looking to drug a guy like him. And even if they were, well, maybe the drugs would help him forget everything.

He tossed the empty cup aside as he caught up to Nick, who was delicately maneuvering his long legs to avoid stepping on a boy and a girl passionately making out on the steps. “Leave room for the Holy Ghost!” he said, pulling the boy’s head back and cackling as he walked upstairs.

“Excuse my friend,” said Joe, almost stepping on the confused girl’s fingers. “He was conceived at a frat party. Makes him kind of sensitive.”

“Are you drunk?” drawled the boy.

“No. Just annoyed.”

Snoop Dogg gave way to OutKast as Joe reached the second-floor landing. He knew he was still old at heart because he found himself admiring the house’s architectural beauty instead of the female beauty around him, wondering what it would look like cleared out and cleaned up. And then he thought, since when are the mid-thirties considered old? Deep in these thoughts, Joe walked face-first into a tall blonde’s bosom.

He felt a wetness on his head that spilled down his forehead and into his eyes, and for a heart-stopping moment feared he was bleeding. The smell and taste of beer as it dripped into his mouth provided some relief. But it wasn’t the beer shampoo that worried him.

He sputtered apologies as he backed up, getting a good look at the victim of his unintentional collision. She must have been a basketball or volleyball player, towering over him by about a foot. And she did not look happy.

“Thanks a lot, jerk!” she snarled, shoving Joe aside with a sweep of her arm. He bumped into a knot of people, sincerely hoping they didn’t notice.

They noticed. “Yo, what’s going on?” said one very tall, very fit specimen of young man in yellow wind pants, a ZZN tank top, sunglasses, and a dopey visor on his head. His face was flushed, but he seemed steady on his feet.

“This guy spilled my drink,” said the Amazon.

Joe’s heart sped, not looking forward to a pummeling his first day as a college man reborn. But the guy just looked at Joe and shrugged. “Get her another one, dude!”

“Right,” said Joe, assuring the girl he’d be right back with another drink. He dove back into the crowd, swimming through it towards where Nick stood by a table where two boys wearing backwards Red Sox caps played beer pong.


Someone grabbed his arm. “You alright?”

Joe turned and saw Carlos. “Yeah. Just trying to find the roof deck.”

Carlos jerked a thumb behind him. “The stairs are that way.”

“Thanks. Let me get Nick.” Carlos nodded.

Joe was about to call to Nick but the words dissipated when he saw whom Nick was talking to. Amy Pappas.

Joe had never met her, of course. But he recognized her from the news, where she had become a reporter and then an anchor for a television station in Boston.

She looked the part, even back then. Or now, Joe corrected himself. She was tall and slender with curves in all the right places, with a long neck and big brown eyes. Her hair was dyed some unflattering shade of blonde that had been fashionable when they were in college, her eyebrows betraying the true color of her hair. Joe never really understood Nick’s fascination with her: the Greek part or the tall part.

Whichever part, Nick had abandoned their heroes’ quest to correct what he viewed as a grave past injustice.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered.

“Who?” said Carlos.

“Look at this guy,” said Joe, trying to sound more animated. “All this talk about the roof deck and he starts talking to the first pretty girl he sees.”

“He’s got to get that number, right?” said Carlos.

“I see a lot of pretty girls here,” said Jonesy, who had found them amongst the mass of partiers.

Carlos shrugged. “Good for him. He’s got balls. Me, I could use some fresh air.”

Big balls,” said Jonesy. He looked at Nick like a teenage girl staring at the heartthrob du jour. Which, at this time, had been the Backstreet Boys. Or N*Sync. Was Joe really doomed to relive the boy band craze?

Joe grabbed Jonesy by the shoulders and pointed him towards the towering blonde who stood waving her empty hands while talking to a friend. “Tell you what, Scott: go get that girl a drink and strike up a conversation.”

“You think? What drink?”

“Beer,” said Joe.

“What kind?”

“Cheap.” He gave Jonesy a push. “Tell her you saw some asshole spill hers and thought she might like a new one.”

“Okay. Hey, how’d you know my name?!”

“You told me,” said Joe.

“I did?”

“Just go get that number. Go!”

Jonesy sailed into the crowd, his small body bouncing around but staying upright. Joe smiled as he saw him grab a cup from somewhere, walk over to the angry girl and offer her the drink. The girl’s glower turned to a smile as she accepted it. Jonesy started talking and pointed back at Joe. The girl laughed and ruffled Jonesy’s hair like he was a small child. Which he was, come to think of it.

“Wow,” said Carlos. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”

Joe looked at Nick, deep in conversation with Amy. “You’d be surprised.”

* * *

The roof deck was rather nice after the clutter and commotion of the house, commanding a view of downtown Hollister and the forests beyond. The town felt secluded despite its proximity to larger cities like Dover and Portsmouth and the sea; if you stood on Main Street and looked in any direction, all you saw were brick buildings, old houses, and trees.

A few stars were visible, the music softer, and Joe could almost call the atmosphere relaxing if it weren’t for a boisterous crew of football players and ZZN brothers standing in one corner. Joe knew they were football players because he saw him. Zack Henderson, beer bottle in hand, smiling and nodding at what a friend had said.

Zack was a big, solid black guy, about six-foot-two and covered in muscle. He was slated to play running back for the NHU Lions. He had a shaved head and an easy smile, standing with his free hand against the railing. Two crates of Keystone Light were on the ground by his feet.

A cheer arose from the group. They clinked bottles and drank. One of the guys busied himself getting another beer. Joe’s heart lurched as he saw Zack sway, steadying himself against the railing.

“Nice up here, huh?” said Carlos. Joe didn’t respond. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Fine,” said Joe. He kept his eyes on Zack, planning his next move.

“You’re sweating, man. You sick or something? Let’s go. It was stupid to come here anyway.”

“No,” said Joe, grasping Carlos by the shirt. “No, I need . . .”

“Take it easy! Need what?”

Joe let his hand drop, feeling strangely numb. He blinked away the sweat that dripped into his eyes. What time was it? What time did it happen?

Zack staggered again to more cheers and someone yelling, “Drink up, boys!” Joe walked towards the group.

“You know those guys?” said Carlos after him.

Joe’s focus sharpened; he became hyperaware of every sensation. Each footfall echoed like the steps of a giant. Each breath sounded like a dragon’s growl. Yet he seemed no closer to the drinking, smiling Zack Henderson, tilting his bottle back as he edged closer to the railing, closer . . .

He heard Nick’s booming voice. “Hey, there you are! Guys! I’d like you to meet someone!”

“Nick,” said Joe, quickening his pace across the roof deck. “Nick, get over here!”

He was running. Dimly, he realized Nick ran with him. Zack leaned back to drain his bottle. One of his laughing, smiling friends stepped back, elbowing Zack in the stomach. Spitting beer, Zack bumped into the crates at his feet, losing his balance and tipping over into empty air.

Joe leapt and somehow, miraculously, caught Zack by his arm. But Zack was bigger and heavier, and Joe felt himself pulled towards the edge, his thighs bumping into the railing, ready to be tipped into the void. So this is how it ends, he thought, death by good deed.

And then his forward momentum halted because Nick had has arms around Joe’s waist and his feet braced against the railing. Joe’s shoulder was nearly pulled out of his socket, but he held onto Zack’s arm and pulled with one hand on the railing for balance.

Black and white hands.jpg

Somehow they pulled Zack high enough for him to grab the railing and hoist himself back onto the deck. Awareness of the near-catastrophe dawned on his inebriated friends, a collective gasp rising into the night like a burst of flame. Carlos and the others ran over to see what had happened. One of those people was Amy Pappas.

Zack’s friends crowded around where they knelt, thanking Joe and Nick profusely, patting them on their backs and shoulders and heads like they had completed some daring play. Zack Henderson breathed heavily, sweat pouring down his face and his eyes cartoonishly wide. He was shaking and looked about to cry.

“You’re alright, you’re alright,” Joe kept saying, patting the bigger man on the chest. “It’s alright, we got you.”

“Saved my life,” said Zack, nearly hyperventilating. “Saved my life. Saved my life.”

“Nice catch,” said Nick, patting Joe on the shoulder. “Football joke, get it?” He turned and smiled at Amy, giving her a thumbs up. She beamed back at him, and Joe understood why Nick had really wanted to come here. Saving Zack Henderson’s life was just a bonus, a means to the end of winning the girl of his dreams. Joe thought deeply and seriously about throwing Nick over the edge instead.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

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Reset: Chapter Three: Now (3)

The lights blazed into life one after the other like dominos across the ceiling of the cavernous chamber, illuminating a massive, gleaming bulk. Joe blinked as details coalesced in the antiseptic glow.

Nick smiled with childlike glee. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Nick’s excitement was not contagious. Even in the light, Joe did not know what he was looking at. The thing before him seemed to grow from the floor, curves and flourishes coexisting with harsh right angles. It had a fluid, organic aspect that made Joe think of a metal flower sprouting from a computer. What looked like closed petals arose from its center, reaching halfway to the high ceiling.

“What is it?” said Joe.

“What do you mean, ‘what is it’? This is what we’ve been working on! Or the contract for, at least.”

“I know. But what is it?” Continue reading Reset: Chapter Three: Now (3)”

Reset: Chapter Two: Now (2)


The cigarette almost fell from Joe’s open mouth. “You’re insane.”

The night was muggy. A summer rain had come and gone, leaving the air sticky and thick. Away from the office’s air-conditioned splendor, Joe’s back and armpits quickly slicked with sweat.

Nick exhaled a cloud of smoke in Joe’s face. “What do you mean, ‘insane’? Haven’t you been listening?”

“Yes, I’ve been listening. I don’t have much choice because you never stop talking. And that’s why I think you’re insane.”

“Then why don’t you listen?” Nick leaned forward and pressed his fingers against his temple.

“You’re ears are down there.”

“Who cares about my ears?! Never mind my ears! First my nose, and now you’re talking about my ears! What’s with you?!”

“I’m more worried about your brain, to be honest” said Joe. He dropped his cigarette and ground it under his heel. “I think, if you really want a second chance or whatever, you should quit working here, go work at the pizza place and forget this other stuff.”

“Go back to Lowell?” Nick waved a hand. “Forget it. I’m not talking about second chances. I’m talking about a do-over.”

“Which sounds like a second chance to me. But forget it, Nick. There’s no such thing.” Joe looked at his watch and groaned. “Let’s just get back to work. I, for one, don’t feel like losing my job. I’ve got bills to pay, after all.”

“Yeah, yours and Sandra’s.”

“That’s a low-blow,” said Joe.

“Maybe. But it’s true and you know it.” Nick took one last puff of his cigarette and put it out on the side of the building. “Come to the basement with me. Come on!”

“We’re not supposed to be down there, Nick! It’s maximum security. Top secret! And I sure as hell don’t have clearance.”

“Where are the guards?” asked Nick, hands in the air. “Where’s the security? Where are the guys with the guns?”

“It’s locked with a keycard!”

Nick pulled something from his pants pocket and waved it under Joe’s nose. “You mean this keycard?”

Annoyed, Joe waved Nick’s hand away. “What the hell?! When’d you become a thief?”

“Not a thief, Joe. I’m the ‘tech lawyer,’ remember? I work with those dudes a lot. Sanjay gave me a tour of The Machine so I’d understand it more when I review the contract. Plus, I’m actually interested in this kind of stuff.” Nick shrugged. “I guess he forgot to take his keycard back.”

“Right,” said Joe. He had to smile. Whoever had said that age mellows a man had never met Nick. “Forgot.”

“And I think you should see The Machine too so you know what the hell it is you’re reading about.”

“I know what I’m reading about.”

“Okay, smart guy,” said Nick. “What does The Machine do? That’s right–you don’t have a clue.”

“You didn’t give me a chance to answer,” said Joe, but his heart wasn’t in the protest.

“And I’m sure it would have been a brilliant answer, really dazzling, A-plus stuff. But we don’t have all night. Come on, let’s go. I’m telling you, you’ll thank me. I promise.”

“I doubt it,” said Joe. But he went. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Two: Now (2)”

Reset: Chapter One: Now (1)

Hi everyone. For the next few weeks, I’m going to do something different: On my “off” days, I am going to post chapters of a shorter novel I’ve written called Reset. I’m thinking that Sunday is the best day for this. Below is the first chapter. Enjoy!

As the door slammed shut in his face Joe wished, not for the first time, that he could have a do-over.

“What’d I do now?” he said, rather pathetically, to the door.

From the other side he heard his ex-wife’s heavy sigh. “God, just go away!”

His first instinct, as always, was to meekly turn around and heading back to his car. But this morning would be different; Joe could feel it. Gathering his courage, he squared his shoulders before the door like he was facing an angry judge about to pass sentence. “Tell me why you’re upset.”

The door opened just enough for Sandra to stick out her snarling face. The morning sun shone on her hair, making it glow like burnished copper. She was beautiful, even with that scowl twisting her mouth. Then something caught her attention and the scowl melted, replaced by a sorrowful smile.

Jason, their four-year-old son, had wandered over to investigate the commotion. Joe had just dropped him off after their weekend together and was in the process of solidifying next week’s plans when some unknown trigger had set Sandra off.

Sandra ruffled the boy’s hair, dirty blond just like Joe’s. A nice color. He hoped that most of his other, less-desirable traits had passed Jason over. “Go back inside, honey,” said Sandra, “Mommy will be right with you.”

“I wanna see Daddy,” said Jason, trying to muscle past Sandra’s leg. His little hand pushed on the door.

“Later, honey,” said Sandra. “Daddy has to go to work.”

“Is the TV on?” said Joe, trying to look into the house. “I thought we talked about not letting him watch too much TV.”

“It’s always the same thing. It’s always been the same thing.”

“Don’t do this now!” Joe snapped. He held out his hand for Jason. The boy gave it a half-hearted whack. “Daddy has to get to work, my man. I’ll see you later. Listen to Mommy and be good, alright?”

“Bye Daddy! See you later alligator!” said Jason. He turned and ran towards the living room and the television’s glowing embrace.

“Don’t call him that,” said Sandra.

“Call him what?”

“‘My man.’ That’s not his name.”

“It’s a term of endearment, Sandra.”

“He’s started calling everybody ‘man.’ I don’t want him to do that. Why is this so hard to understand?”

“Alright. Okay. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t care about your apology. You’re always ‘sorry,’ but nothing happens.”

“Alright I’ll bite: what’s this really about?”


Joe spread his hands. “I’m trying to make the best of this, Sandra. And it’s tough when I don’t even know what I did to get you upset.”

The look she gave him broke his heart in places he thought had already scabbed over. “It was my birthday, Joe.”

Her birthday. Joe’s clenched his jaw like he was bracing for a punch. They were supposed to meet up yesterday for a quick celebration. He was going to make a cake with Jason and have Jason write in the card to show how good he’s gotten with his letters. But then he got the email from his boss Charlie on Saturday. Leftover Red Sox tickets from a client that had rescheduled their meeting. Charlie was giving them away on a first-come-first-served basis. And Joe, miracle of miracles, had been the first, so the tickets were his. He and Jason had gone to the game, and then out for ice cream, and then to the Aquarium, and had made such a grand day out of it that he had forgotten all about Sandra’s birthday.

Instead, he said: “That’s why you’re mad? We’re not even married, anymore, Sandra.”

“Goodbye, Joe,” she said, again slamming the door dangerously close to his nose.

But the doorknob did bury itself in his gut, that rapidly expanding paunch which depressed Joe to no end. He had been so skinny as a young man without even trying. Now it seemed like every calorie became a lifelong friend.

He grunted, stepped back, and almost tripped off the stoop. That would be just his luck, falling and cracking his skull on the driveway of the house he used to share with his wife and son, blood staining the asphalt like some sacrifice to the gods of American family law. But he managed to catch his balance, waving his arms in the air like the world’s goofiest bird, to live to fail another day.

For whatever reason, he almost wished he had hurt himself. It would cut through some of the numbness. The thought made him laugh. What was he, some Goth teen, wanting to hurt himself just to feel something?

He walked back to his car, muttering and shaking his head; anyone walking by would think he was either drunk or crazy. Maybe he was crazy and didn’t know it. Why else would he have said something so stupid, so counter-productive, to the ex he was trying to win back? The devil?

Joe shrugged. Maybe.

His car was a used Honda Civic. He had to downgrade from the Benz in order to pay child support, as well as maintain his own apartment in the city. Sandra still made more than he did, but the gods decreed that he, as the father, must pay, so pay he did. Sandra also had physical custody of Jason, so the nice house in Sudbury was hers and he was relegated to bachelor living in Boston, just with none of its concomitant benefits.

Hey baby, want to come to some pudgy mid-thirty divorced guy’s swinging pad? I’ve got half a pizza in the fridge and a six-pack of Sam Adams . . .

Joe could feel his blood pressure rising, so he tried to redirect his thoughts towards something benign. But couldn’t let go of his own foibles. It was a holdover from his Catholic upbringing, he supposed. Lingering guilt.

But it was something to feel badly about. He always let his mouth run free while his brain played catch-up. He really had just been angry with himself about the whole birthday thing; why take it out on Sandra? Couldn’t he have just said “I’m sorry”?

Sandra wouldn’t have bought his apology anyway, Joe knew. And she would have told him so. “I don’t care about words. I care about actions,” she’d say, and he’d feel like a dope, an idiot, an incapable weakling. So out of pride he had lashed out, like he always did. And that was one of the reasons they were divorced.

Things can change, though. Eventually. Maybe someday he’d find the strength to change himself, and then he could change Sandra’s mind.

He started his car. Children’s music blared out of the speakers, something peppy and hopeful; his ear caught the words “happy” and “family,” and he almost started to cry. He turned the stereo off with a jab of his finger and took what he didn’t realize would be his last look at the house as he backed onto the road.

Joe sighed. “Count your blessings,” his mom used to say. So he did. He still had a job, at least.

* * *

“I hate this job, I swear to God.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter One: Now (1)”

Call for Beta Readers

So I finally finished the second draft of my novel. This took me forever because life gets in the way. 

This isn’t my first novel, but it’s the first one I’m going to try to put out there. I’m proud of it, yes, but it’s not about me. 

It’s about you. 

So with that in mind, I am soliciting feedback and asking for beta readers. 

If anyone is interested in reading through my manuscript for the purposes of critiquing and offering their impressions, please let me know! The best ways to do this are:

  1. Shoot me a message from my Contact page. 
  2. Email me at
  3. Message me on Twitter or Gab.
  4. Smoke signals or semaphore. 
  5. Comment on this post. 

I can’t pay anyone, but I’m also not imposing deadlines or asking for a line-by-line typo search. 

And I’m always, always, willing to return the favor. 

If you are interested, please tell me:

  1. Your timeframe (I have no hard deadline, but I’d prefer by the end of July at the latest).
  2. Your preferred format (Word, PDF, stone tablet, and so on).
  3. Your SSN and credit card info (just put this in here to see if you’re paying attention).

So what’s this book about, anyway?

It’s about 870 pages (rimshot, please!). 

Okay, let’s try that again. 

It’s called The Rust Man, and here’s my pitch *adopts movie trailer guy voice*:

There is a shadow over the Habsburg Empire. Newly powerful after victory over the invading Ottomans, a corruption has taken root, targeting the Empire’s most valuable treasure: it’s children. 

When the daughter of an English noble goes missing somewhere in Vienna, the locals know who to call for help: There is a strange ex-Janissary with a skill for finding the lost, a savage warrior with noble grace, renowned for battling the unnatural. 

He is their secret weapon: The Rust Man. 

But what he uncovers goes beyond runaway children and straight to the heart of the corruption, an age-old struggle that brings him face-to-face with the one foe who has bested him before. 

I call The Rust Man a historical fantasy/horror with a side of Castlevania. Check out Chapter 1 here and let me know if you’re interested. 

And thanks in advance. 

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