I awoke in the hospital. Twinges ran through every muscle, pain constantly buzzing at the edge of my awareness. I lay spread-eagled on the bed, and tested every joint. It didn’t feel good. Each one was like an overly tight spring, threatening to unwind violently at any moment. This would spell disaster for my poor overstressed body. It was like caffeine withdrawal on a scale most humans would never endure, combined with a hearty round of opiate withdrawal and some severe depression to add texture to the whole mess. I looked up, and saw Officer Blanski sitting in the bed next to me. He was in a hospital gown as well, and when he saw that I was awake, his arms wrapped around me. “Wait, wait-”
I sighed with relief. It felt like the good old days when medical care involved a healthy dose of codeine. A wave of euphoric warmth passed through my entire body, the pain and the aches withdrawing from me as though chased away by mere physical contact. A happy little groan rose up through my throat, and I relaxed back in the bed. Then my eyes snapped open in a panic. “Blanski! You’ve just been shot in the chest, you are in no position to be giving away any of your Yang Chi!”
He released me from the hold, and softly rested a hand on my shoulder. “It’s alright. The doctors told me that bullet grazed an artery, but I survived. They’re calling it a miracle. I needed a bit of invasive surgery, but it’s already healing up. Scary as hell, but… Whatever you did, it probably saved my life.” He rested his other hand on top of mine, and I felt very warm inside. I turned my hand palm up, and laced my fingers with his. The yang chi continued to trickle into me, my mood buoyed by his presence. He seemed surprisingly refreshed and active, even after his brush with death the night before. The pact seemed to have worked better than I could have hoped, if he was already up and on his feet.
It had been decades since I’d had a regular pact. After the last man I’d made a pact with had died, I’d been a bit… distraught. The connection was one as intimate as sex, and the fact that it had often involved sex in the past made it even stickier. I laughed under my breath at that, and Blanski frowned. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, smiling. The egos of young men were ever fragile, and the laughter of a woman was a terrible thing for them. I squeezed his hand. “I was just thinking that once you’ve finished healing, I would like to spend a little private time with you. I’d be interested to do so now, but… I would feel guilty if your stitches tore.”
His face reddened, and I felt a little surge of delight. There were few things more life-affirming, more satisfying, and better for you after getting shot than feeling desired, and making someone else feel desired. It was enough to almost make me forget about everything that had happened the day before. But then the memories flooded forward, of the darkness, and the pearly smile of Jack, and the frustration I was feeling. Officer Blanski moved a wheelchair up beside the bed. “Want some food?”
I briefly considered protesting that I was able to walk. Then I climbed in the chair and enjoyed being wheeled around, leaning back in the chair and taking some satisfaction in having a strong pair of hands guiding me through the busy hospital, and the fact that nobody got in my way without risking taking a steel frame to the shins. I could walk, but thank god I didn’t have to. “Do you know if there’s any suspicion among the hospital staff?”
“They were worried you might be hypothyroidic. Your heart beat was slow, your body temperature was around 90 degrees…”
I winced. “I am lucky that they didn’t try anything desperate.”
“Detectives Marco and Hector informed them of your ‘condition’. Nothing… revealing, but enough so that they didn’t try to jam a needle into your spine.” He kept walking, his expression becoming troubled. “So, you’re really a Jiang-shi? A Chinese vampire?”
“As accurate a description as any.” I sighed, and stiffened my internal resolve. “I am sorry I do not advertise it, but… well, I’m sure you can understand why. Even ignoring the danger of declaring myself a predator on humans…”
“Yeah, it’s not the sort of thing that I’d take seriously. Before I met with psychotic death-mongers, anyway. I still can’t believe the shot that bastard took.” Blanski moved a hand up to his chest as we stood in front of the elevator, his eyes lost in thought for a moment.
“I am sorry this had to be your introduction to the world of the supernatural,” I said, smiling apologetically. I checked the pockets of the gown. “Damn, my phone is missing.”
He reached into his own gown, and produced the slender flip-phone. “Here. I asked for our phones from the nurses. I considered leaving it in your gown, but, uh…”
“The idea of slipping your hand into a sleeping woman’s gown seemed a little bit too forward?” I looked up and fluttered my eyelashes as the elevator door opened. “I wouldn’t have minded.” He choked a bit while I settled back in the chair, composing a text message to Lady De. Asking to meet with her about the case. The response came almost instantly.
*Meet me at 215 Centre Street New York in three hours.*
I nodded slowly, considering that, before looking up at Blanski. “I should be mostly recovered. I was suffering from a lack of what I need to survive. I’m quite well-fed, now. I should go, though I may have time for a little bite to eat.” I paused for a moment, considering. “Provided the hospital food is better than it used to be.”
“That’s probably a long shot.” Blanski smiled, and wheeled me out of the elevator, down the hall towards the cafeteria. Large glass windows stood open, letting in the sunlight. I pointed towards one of the far corners, where the lighting was purely artificial. He nodded, and wheeled me along. He left me to sit with the phone for a moment or two, and returned with chicken that was bland even for white people, and a bowl of hospital jello. I didn’t join him in eating, but I enjoyed being near to him. “The sunlight’s dangerous?” he asked, frowning.
“Somewhat. The results are different for different kinds of undead, though the sun is always dangerous. For vampires, it causes severe burns. For ghosts, it simply makes it impossible for them to manifest, though it can damage their form if it catches them by surprise. For my kind…” I rolled my fingers together, trying to search for the right words. “It abrades the limited Chi within us. For a masculine Jiang-shi, it would enrage them, turning them into a ravening, feral beast. For me, I would rapidly grow exhausted. My body would return to a corpse-like state. If stuck in the sun for too long, I would likely expire entirely.” I shook my head. “And now, I must confront my employer, who I suspect may be the Japanese goddess of the sun.”
“That sounds like an incredibly foolish idea,” he murmured, his brows furrowing.
“It is. But the situation is growing increasingly desperate. She is a figure of some power, and she was the one who first set me off after…” I smiled towards him. “As you put them, Jack and Jill the Ripper.”
“Reaper. And yeah, but if she’s a goddess of sunlight…” He shook his head, his expression concerned. “I should go with you. I don’t want you to face off against something like that alone.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I don’t know how helpful you would be. She’s… proud. Callous. A cast iron bitch, if I am honest. I do not know how much you could do to convince her, and if things were to turn violent… You were very gallant, but I fear-”
“I didn’t accomplish much but getting myself shot and keeping you from pursuing the perpetrator.” He sighed, and nodded.
“You did more than that. The rush of Yang chi your rescue provided was quite… stimulating.” I smiled. “But yes, I think that for the moment, you are better and safer on the sidelines than diving into danger with me. I live for a very long time. That gives me plenty of times for regrets.” I set my hand on top of his, and squeezed it.
“Just play it safe, alright? Come back alive-” he paused, and flushed.
“I know what you mean. And I will. We still have a great deal to learn about one another. I don’t even know your first name.”
He smiled. “It’s Tod, ma’am.” he looked nervous for a moment, and then leaned forward, planting a warm kiss on my cheek. I laughed, and returned the kiss, this time on his lips, resting my hand on his shoulder for a moment. When I stood up from my wheel chair, I felt as though I could take on the world.
A shame that I was taking on the sun.
My next stop was Dane’s apartment. The door hung slightly open. I swallowed, and drew my gun from my purse, checking it. The double action assembly was still damaged, forcing me to thumb the tremendous hammer back manually. Thankfully, I was well-used to the motion. I lifted the gun to a vertical position, and slowly pushed the door open.
Dane lay on the bed, sprawled out. A blanket was gently draped over her, and a glass of water sat on the table near her head. A liquor bottle sat in the trash. I shook my head softly, frowning. I did not drink, not least because I got little out of it, but also for any number of other reasons. I slowly crept over to the outlet in the wall, where her smart phone was placed. I’d watched her input the code half a dozen times with the little swipes of her thumb, and my memory was very good. I opened it, and pored through the contacts.
In Case Of Eldritch sat about halfway down the list of contacts. The last call was a few weeks ago. I nodded, and opened the tab, memorizing the number.
There was a soft click behind me. “What are you doing with my phone?”
I slowly stood, and turned. Dane was sitting up in her bed, the switchblade drawn. I frowned. “I’m about to go try to talk a goddess into helping us, and I need a bargaining chip. Why in the name of god are you using that knife?”
Her explanation was not nearly as succinct as mine. By the end of it, the glass of water was empty, and I was scrambling the two remaining eggs in her refrigerator with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce that seemed to date from the last century. I nodded as she finished, and frowned. “It strikes me that we have a very difficult situation on our hands when it comes to interrogating this Jackass.”
“Tell me about it.” Dane lounged on the couch, one leg lifted, Jack sitting on the chair across from her. “But I’m hoping that with you, me, and Ariel in the room, his tactics will be less effective. He messes with people’s heads, screws around with them. If they’ve got backup, people they trust to support them, he can’t just pour poison in our ears.” She frowned. “It’s not much, but it’s the best I can think of to soften the blow. I don’t know how to deal with someone like that. There’s no good way that we can legally prevent him from talking to people. I don’t know if we can let him live.”
“It sounds like you’re suggesting that we murder him and cover it up,” I said levelly. Dane flashed me a hard look, and I shrugged. “I cannot say that I entirely disagree with the attitude. It is an ugly thing to do, but we seem to be out of the pretty options.” I frowned. “Perhaps we could appeal to one of the gods. Have him locked up in some underworld with a gag in his mouth for the rest of eternity. There’s always something to be said for a fate worse than death, and from what you’ve told me, the man has more than earned it.”
“Yeah. Shame I don’t know any.”
I carried the frying pan over from the hotplate, and scraped the eggs onto the only plate in the room. “I wanted to give you some advance warning. I’ve told you some about my employer. I believed she was a Sokushinbutsu, a sort of self-made Japanese mummy. Very devout, usually. Very holy. Very…” I grimaced a bit. “Traditional. But Jack the Ripper, when I encountered him last night-”
This explanation was even longer. At the end of it, Dane slumped back in her chair. “Jesus. I knew the connection with you cut off. I’m glad you’re still ali-” She paused, and frowned. “You know, it’s very difficult to talk about these kinds of things with you. So, the Ripper said something about your employer.”
“He believes that she is Amaterasu. He claimed that he and Jill murdered Susano-o, her brother, and stole the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi from him. If he is right, she is a great deal more dangerous than I thought, and could be of some help to us. If I can give her Betty’s contact information, then I can provide her with a lure to capture Jack and Jill, and punish them. In whatever way she sees fit. She may even be able to help us stop them, and whatever plan is happening here.”
Dane slowly nodded. “I suppose that it’s worth a shot. If you call that number, tell him that Dane sent you. Remind him about…” She paused for a moment. “Tell him that I have a Phoebe on my hands, and that we’re knee-deep in Nergal. He’ll know what it means.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Well, that will make one of us, at least.”
“Do you want backup on this?”
I smiled. “Officer Blanski asked me the same thing. In honesty… I don’t think it would do much good. If this becomes a confrontation, there is little any of us could do to stop her, and she has a thing about Americans.” I sighed. “Unfortunately, I think she also has a thing about the Chinese, so she’s caught me coming and going.”
“As the john said to the police officer,” Dane said, and gave me a smile. I snickered. “It’d be an awful shame if you went off to your near-certain death without a smile on your face.” She held out a hand, and I took it, squeezing it gently. Another burst of Yang energy filled me, making me feel stronger than I had before. I smiled, and then my eyes went to Jack Knife.
“What?” asked the knife, frowning at me.
“It was very kind of you to set those things out for Dane. The water and the aspirin.”
She snorted, and looked away, although there was a faintly pleased expression on her face. I gave Dane a brief bow, and was on my way, driving down towards Chinatown, and 215 Centre Street.
I stood at the address, frowned, and checked my phone. Then I looked up again. I was certainly at the right place. The Museum of Chinese in America. Under other circumstances, it would’ve been terribly interesting, a chance to look into more of my heritage, and perhaps a chance for an enlightening and romantic date with the young man of my choice. Here, it felt more like a threat.
I paid the modest ticket fee, stepping past the ornate stone pillars and the information desk that marked the foyer. My eyes drifted across a delicate silk robe, and I stopped to admire it. I had always preferred the clothes of my childhood, the decadence and daring of the 20s. The taboos that had been broken I looked down at myself, the bland white T-shirt, the jacket, the feckless set of jeans, and wondered when I had stopped caring about the way I looked. Obviously I’d never been a slave to how others felt about my appearance, but I’d used to take such a pleasure in dressing to impress. In stunning rooms. It had felt good. Why had all the good things in my life seemed to drain away with my broken promise?
“Have you captured Jack and Jill?”
She was there. My senses were good, but I’d never heard her coming. I wondered whether she was capable of the same trick of appearing and disappearing that Ariel used, or if perhaps she had just been hiding behind something. I turned towards Lady De, and found her expression was as cold and imperial as ever. She’d arrived wearing a white business suit, immaculate red lipstick painting her lips, dark hair cut to exacting standards. It made me feel shabby. It would’ve made me feel shabby even if I’d been in my best pearls, but the contrast weighed more heavily on me at the moment. I smiled. “No.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Then why are you wasting my time and good will by asking me to meet you?”
“Lady De. It wasn’t even really subtle, was it? Tell me, is there some part of being a goddess that makes you compulsive about those little hints? Do you feel an itching sensation if you don’t give people a chance to figure it out? Or is it an arrogance so bone-deep that it might actually hurt you if you didn’t treat everyone around you like they had no mind at all?”
She tilted her head. “Jack decided to tell you the truth, did he? You can’t even trust a man to lie.” She sighed. “Do you feel in over your head? Do you want to quit? To give up? To run back home and forsake any hope again of holding honor?”
“I’m not sure you can give me honor-”
“I AM honor!” she shouted, very suddenly. “I am the source of the Word and all that flows forth from it! My blood is the bloodline of kings! It is within my power to grant you the honor that would make your soul whole again, you upstart corpse, and if you question that, I will be happy to show you what else I can do!” Her eyes flashed dangerously, and I took a step back. She visibly calmed herself, taking a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. “Why have you contacted me?”
“This city is in danger. Mortals are in danger. Japanese, as well as countless others. The actions of the Horsemen are threatening many lives. You need to do something.” I swallowed my pride. “Please. I-”
“The lives of mortals are forever in danger. They murder each other in the millions. The last time that I cared, I was scarred.” She trailed a hand down one perfect cheek, staring into space for a moment. “Manhattan.” She spat the word, and turned her eyes to me. “Damn the city. Damn it all. Do you have a way for me to find the ones who killed my brother? That is what matters to me in all of this. Avenging the death of my kin. Retrieving the regalia of my land. After that, this entire city, this entire country can burn for all I care.”
I shook my head, staring at her. “You know, it’s a little bit funny. I love this country. I’ve spent my entire life loving it. And I remember the day that the Japanese invaded my old homeland, and the Americans did something about it. Late, but they did. And… somehow, everything got all switched around. Now China’s the enemy, and Japan the ally. Doesn’t it make you want to laugh?”
“That’s not funny,” said Amaterasu, her eyes hard. “That is immortality. You get used to it.”
I shrugged, and smiled. “It can be both.” I took out the phone, and dialed it. It rang four or five times, and then answered.
“Who is this?”
“Horace Creed?” I set it to speaker phone, the young man’s voice filling the room.
“Yes. Look, I’m sorry to be rude, but I’m in the middle of my shift, and-”
“Dane Larson has a Phoebe in her hands, and we’re knee deep in…” I frowned. “Nergal? Does that make sense to you?”
There was a couple of seconds of silence. “Shit. Shit! Motherfucking cock-sucker! God damn it!” There was a crunch, and several curses. “Fuck! What the fuck is happening there?”
“I-” I frowned. “There are serial killers. Supernatural ones. They have been killing people indiscriminately. Dane Larson has taken up a knife, Jack. A sapient knife, with an… unpleasant streak. There are killers here, and they are hunting Betty. Bastet, that is. They want to kill her. And…” I took a deep breath. Then I very deliberately met Amaterasu’s eye. “There is someone here, who intends to use Bastet as bait to try to capture them. My advice would be that neither of you come here. Prepare yourselves, by all means, but do not come here. If you are not here, Jack and Jill will be drawn away, and be harmless. We can take care of the rest here.” I watched as Amaterasu’s eyes blazed with rage. “Just warn Betty to stay away from them. They are very good at killing.”
“I… She’s not here.”
I frowned. “What?”
“She left. Just earlier today. Christ, I made her breakfast. This government guy came, said that she was needed, and she was just… Fuck. Fuck! I don’t know where she is.”
Amaterasu’s eyes narrowed further.
“Look- Whoever you are- Don’t let those bastards kill my cat. Okay? I’ll be down there in a couple of days. I’ll call Li Xue Zi, I’ll see what I can get together. Okay?”
“Do not come here,” I said, my voice harsh. “These two are extremely dangerous, Mister Creed. They are looking for a way to lure Bastet into a confrontation, which means that it would be to their great advantage to get their hands on you. Are you anything more than human?”
The line was silent.
“Then stay away. It will be okay.” I snapped the phone shut.
“You know,” mused Amaterasu, “It’s not the failed attempt at warning him that bothers me. It’s not even your failure overall. It was how deliberate you were about it.”
There was a brief blur of movement. An incredible pressure tightened around my neck, and I felt as though my spine was about to be ripped out. Then the pressure ceased, and I was flying through the air like a dart. I struck something, and then another thing, and possibly several more things after that. It was very hard to tell, as by that point, my brains were rattling in confusion through my skull. I came to a rest on the floor of a room three buildings down from the museum, and slowly pulled myself to my feet, vision blurring and having a great deal of trouble focusing.
When it did, I saw the Lady De. Standing in the gap created by my passage, drywall and concrete falling in small chunks. She was awesome. She inspired awe. She was also awful.
Her skin was white as china, smooth, almost entirely unmarred. Hair as dark as coal hung in perfect symmetry around her head. The elegant ceremonial kimono hung around her shoulders, draping her, silk that shone like snow. The ‘almost’ was an ugly red mark along her left chin, a broad swath of burned and angry red skin which disappeared behind her kimono. She took three steps forward, and the radiance of her visage began to burn me.
I had felt the touch of supernatural sunlight, once before. It had been painful, shocking, but not lethal. I had thought it was enough to prepare me for this. I had been wrong. Imagine the worst sunburn you have ever experienced. Imagine the sensation of your own skin, strangely cold and prickling, cells dying from an overdose of radiation. Amplify that by a hundred times. And then imagine someone has just slapped you, with the merciless fury of a frat boy with a paddle and a hangover, right across the burn.
The pain was so intense I could barely concentrate. It was instinct more than thought which guided my hand into the purse, and brought out the big Smith and Wesson. Ten thousand hours of cowboy movies and an equal amount of time on ranges guided my fingers as I brought my palm down on the hammer.
It had been expensive to have the action manufactured in such a way that either way would work. It had been time-consuming to master fanning. I was rich in time and money. Even so, in the hands of a human, a one-handed grip on a massive revolver while slamming the other palm on the back would shake it so badly as to render it nearly comically inaccurate. But then, most humans were not a Jiang-shi charged with Yang chi. Five rounds fired in under a second, each aimed at that perfect face.
The sum total of Amaterasu’s reaction was to frown as though she’d been stung by a mosquito. “Really? A revolver? Something out of a cowboy movie? You had better have something better than that.”
I was up in a second. There were stairs, nearby, leading up higher in the building. The sun was outside, bright and savage. Not much escape there. The car was nearly a hundred feet away, and I couldn’t be sure I would escape her even then. I needed to hide, to wait for the sun to set or for Amaterasu to grow bored. I scrambled up the stairs, leaving my gun behind, running. I choose a door in the hallway, opened it, slammed it without entering, and ran up another flight. This time, I opened and closed the door gently, slipping it shut, and slid down in the room. An empty apartment, it hadn’t been used in some time. No furniture sat within, merely a set of windows on the far side, allowing the sun to light half the room. I collapsed against a wall, as far from the door and the sunlight as I could make it, and shook, my hands over my mouth.
Footsteps slowly creaked outside. I stayed very still.
There was a crunch as the door fell, and the window to the outside shattered, both struck by the same block of stone. Concrete crunched on the street outside, and the door hit the ground as wind gusted through the sudden opening. Amaterasu stood in the frame, and turned her eyes to me.
In two impossibly long strides, she had me by the collar, yanking me into the air. One hand held a long, delicate needle. She met my eyes, and smiled. “In the ancient times of my island, criminals were marked with a tattoo. It showed that they were untrustworthy, that they had done something for which they should be shunned and punished. Over time, the practice died, but it was a reflection of what I am. What I know.” She twirled the tattoo needle between two fingers, her other hand pressing me against the wall just a little harder. “There is still one option open to you. Ariel. The traitor. She has power beyond anything you could possess, or I, for that matter. If you were to persuade her to act against Jack and Jill, then she could kill them. You only have to push her, to goad her into taking direct action. Trick her into believing it is the only way. Make her kill those two, and I will forgive you. I will restore your honor. If you do not…”
My eyes went to the tattoo needle. “I’m not scared of a fucking tattoo.”
“Ah, this is my special trick.” She smiled, and her jaw was clenched so hard it became a rictus. Her hair fluttered in the wind from the wall. “If Jack and Jill leave this city, this mark will erupt. A sun will boil in your flesh, burning you. Killing you, excruciatingly. I have been so lenient with you, Jiang-shi. I have been lax, refusing to show discipline. Swear to push the wind, or…”
“F-fuck yourself,” I hissed, more out of terror than any rational weighing of the consequences.
She shrugged, and smiled. “Well, no one can accuse you of being unamerican.” She lifted the dyed needle up, pressing it against my skin. I braced myself for the prick of pain.
It didn’t come.
A slender, pale hand was wrapped around Amaterasu’s. “What are you doing to my friend, Sun Goddess?” asked Ariel.
Amaterasu dropped me, spun, and swung a punch at Ariel. Her fist blurred like a comet. Ariel sidestepped it easily, and struck Amaterasu in the stomach with one knee. Amaterasu folded around the leg, collapsing, held up only by Ariel’s extended leg.
“Traitor,” hissed Amaterasu, on the ground. “You always betray.”
“I have no country. I could hardly betray one,” said Ariel.
“You think I don’t know? I was there. When the divine wind twice blew back the fleets of Kublai Khan. I saw the blessing of the wind. You favored us. You protected us. And then…” Amaterasu chuckled. “Do you think I didn’t notice? When this nation was under siege, when its very seat of government, newborn, weak, was menaced by foreign powers. Did you think I didn’t see the way you acted? At just the right moment, a tornado devastates the forces that occupy the capital, and a storm puts out the fires. Could you have been more obvious with your favoritism, wind? And you KNOW WHAT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF THAT!”
The scream echoed through the building, and faded slowly, reluctantly. There was a tableau of silence for a moment, Ariel’s face impassive. Then her fist clenched.
“Yes. I interfered. So did you. And your *fucking* precious people suffered for it. *YOU* suffered for it, because you played with lives, Amaterasu! You thought it was still the good old days, when it was all gods and monsters, and humans were only props! I interfered because I wanted to save people, and you interfered for your glory! I still remember when you and your fucking kind locked away my sister, and there are times when I almost want the Horsemen to win, when I almost want every aspect of your fucking existence erased from the face of this miserable earth because of what you did to her! You are outside of your home, little goddess, you are treading on the toes of your betters, and you are in no position to complain about my actions!”
“You don’t have the right to pick and choose,” hissed Amaterasu.
“Why not? I am powerful.” She leaned closer to Amaterasu. “That is what those around you feel every day. It didn’t stop you from choosing to bless them going forward. If I had not acted, all those years ago, every damage from my inaction would be just as much on my head. It seems that I am guilty no matter what happens. So I think I would rather act as I will. And if that seems unfair to you, if it feels as though you are being bullied by a force greater than yourself, imagine how a man I cared about felt when he died in the jungles of Saipan for your honor.” Ariel stood up straight, and turned her head towards me. “Are you alright?”
I nodded, trying not to make any sudden movements for fear of drawing her ire. Her eyes were still stormy, and her fist was still clenched. “You…”
“Gods are not humans. They do not have the freedom from my interference that humans do, outside of the Cities.” She looked down at Amaterasu. “Stay in Shangri-La, Amaterasu. It’s not safe out here for you anymore.”
She turned, and walked out. I followed her a few steps, and stopped, looking back at Amaterasu. The pale goddess looked up, that angry red mark stretched across her cheek. She smiled at me, and it was a mad expression.
“Remember what I said.”
I turned, and followed Ariel out and to the car, slipping my gun into my bag before the police arrived. I looked at her. “We need to meet Dane.”
I didn’t tell her about the deal I’d been offered.
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