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Fall of giants, p.15
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       Fall of Giants, p.15

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 15

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN - June to September1915

  As the ship entered New York harbor, it occurred to Lev Peshkov that America might not be as wonderful as his brother, Grigori, said. He steeled himself for a terrible disappointment. But that was unnecessary. America was all the things he had hoped for: rich, busy, exciting, and free.

  Three months later, on a hot afternoon in June, he was working at a hotel in Buffalo, in the stables, grooming a guest's horse. The place was owned by Josef Vyalov, who had put an onion dome on top of the old Central Tavern and renamed it the St. Petersburg Hotel, perhaps out of nostalgia for the city he had left when he was a child.

  Lev worked for Vyalov, as did many of Buffalo's Russian immigrants, but he had never met the man. If he ever did, he was not sure what he would say. The Vyalov family in Russia had cheated Lev by dumping him in Cardiff, and that rankled. On the other hand, the papers supplied by the St. Petersburg Vyalovs had got Lev through U. S. immigration without a hitch. And mentioning the name of Vyalov in a bar on Canal Street had got him a job immediately.

  He had been speaking English every day for a year now, ever since he landed in Cardiff, and he was becoming fluent. Americans said he had a British accent, and they were not familiar with some of the expressions he had learned in Aberowen, such as by here and by there, or is it? and isn't it? at the ends of sentences. But he could say just about anything he needed to, and girls were charmed when he called them my lovely.

  At a few minutes to six o'clock, shortly before he finished work for the day, his friend Nick came into the stable yard, a cigarette between his lips. "Fatima brand," he said. He drew in smoke with exaggerated satisfaction. "Turkish tobacco. Beautiful. "

  Nick's full name was Nicolai Davidovich Fomek, but here he was called Nick Forman. He occasionally played the role previously taken by Spirya and Rhys Price in Lev's card games, though mostly he was a thief.

  "How much?" said Lev.

  "In the stores, fifty cents for a tin of a hundred cigarettes. To you, ten cents. Sell them for a quarter. "

  Lev knew that Fatima was a popular brand. It would be easy to sell them at half price. He looked around the yard. The boss was nowhere to be seen. "All right. "

  "How many do you want? I've got a trunkful. "

  Lev had one dollar in his pocket. "Twenty tins," he said. "I'll give you a dollar now and a dollar later. "

  "I don't give credit. "

  Lev grinned and put his hand on Nick's shoulder. "Come on, buddy, you can trust me. Are we pals, or not?"

  "Twenty it is. I'll be right back. "

  Lev found an old feed sack in a corner. Nick returned with twenty long green tins, each with a picture of a veiled woman on the lid. Lev put the tins in the sack and gave Nick a dollar. "Always nice to give a helping hand to a fellow Russian," Nick said, and he sauntered away.

  Lev cleaned his curry comb and hoofpick. At five past six he said good-bye to the chief ostler and headed for the First Ward. He felt a little conspicuous, carrying a feed sack through the streets, and he wondered what he would say if a cop stopped him and demanded to see what was in the sack. But he was not very worried: he could talk his way out of most situations.

  He went to a large, popular bar called the Irish Rover. He pushed through the crowd, bought a tankard of beer, and downed half of it thirstily. Then he sat next to a group of workingmen speaking a mixture of Polish and English. After a few moments he said: "Anyone here smoke Fatimas?"

  A bald man in a leather apron said: "Yeah, I'll smoke a Fatima now and again. "

  "Want to buy a tin at half price? Twenty-five cents for a hundred smokes. "

  "What's wrong with them?"

  "They got lost. Someone found them. "

  "Sounds a little risky. "

  "I tell you what. Put your money on the table. I won't pick it up until you tell me to. "

  The men were interested now. The bald man fished in his pocket and came up with a quarter. Lev took a tin from his sack and handed it over. The man opened the tin. He took out a small rectangle of folded paper and opened it to disclose a photograph. "Hey, it's even got a baseball card!" he said. He put one of the cigarettes in his mouth and lit it. "All right," he said to Lev. "Pick up your quarter. "

  Another man was watching over Lev's shoulder. "How much?" he said. Lev told him, and he bought two tins.

  In the next half hour Lev sold all the cigarettes. He was pleased: he had turned two dollars into five in less than an hour. At work it took him a day and a half to earn three dollars. Maybe he would buy some more stolen tins from Nick tomorrow.

  He bought another beer, drank it, and went out, leaving the empty sack on the floor. Outside, he turned toward the Lovejoy district, a poor neighborhood of Buffalo where most of the Russians lived, along with many Italians and Poles. He could buy a steak on the way home and fry it with potatoes. Or he could pick up Marga and take her dancing. Or he could buy a new suit.

  He ought to save it toward Grigori's fare to America, he thought, guiltily knowing he would do no such thing. Three dollars was a drop in the bucket. What he needed was a really big score. Then he could send Grigori the money all in one go, before he was tempted to spend it.

  He was startled out of his reverie by a tap on his shoulder.

  His heart gave a guilty leap. He turned, half expecting to see a police uniform. But the person who had stopped him was no cop. He was a heavily built man in overalls, with a broken nose and an aggressive scowl. Lev tensed: such a man had only one function.

  The man said: "Who told you to sell smokes in the Irish Rover?"

  "I'm just trying to make a few bucks," Lev said with a smile. "I hope I didn't offend anyone. "

  "Was it Nicky Forman? I heard Nick knocked over a truckload of cigarettes. "

  Lev was not going to give that information to a stranger. "I never met anyone by that name," he said, still using a pleasant tone of voice.

  "Don't you know the Irish Rover belongs to Mister V?"

  Lev felt a surge of anger. Mister V had to be Josef Vyalov. He dropped the conciliatory tone. "So put up a sign. "

  "You don't sell stuff in Mister V's bars 'less he tells you. "

  Lev shrugged. "I didn't know that. "

  "Here's something to help you remember," the man said, and he swung his fist.

  Lev was expecting the blow, and he stepped back sharply. The thug's arm swept through empty space and he staggered, off balance. Lev stepped forward and kicked him in the shin. A fist was a poor weapon, generally, nowhere near as hard as a booted foot. Lev kicked as powerfully as he could, but it was not enough to break a bone. The man roared with anger, swung again, and missed again.

  There was no point hitting such a man in the face-he had probably lost all feeling there. Lev kicked him in the groin. Both his hands went to his crotch and he gasped for breath, bending forward. Lev kicked him in the stomach. The man opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish, unable to breathe. Lev stepped to one side and kicked the man's legs from under him. He went down on his back. Lev aimed carefully and kicked his knee, so that when he got up he would not be able to move fast.

  Panting with exertion, he said: "Tell Mister V he should be more polite. "

  He walked away, breathing hard. Behind him he heard someone say: "Hey, Ilya, what the fuck happened?"

  Two streets away his breathing eased and his heartbeat slowed. To hell with Josef Vyalov, he thought. The bastard cheated me and I won't be bullied.

  Vyalov would not know who had beaten up Ilya. No one in the Irish Rover knew Lev. Vyalov might get mad but there was nothing he could do about it.

  Lev started to feel elated. I put Ilya on the ground, he thought, and there's not a mark on me!

  He still had a pocket full of money. He stopped to buy two steaks and a bottle of gin.

  He lived on a street of dilapidated brick houses subdivided into small apartments. Outside the house next door Marga
was sitting on the stoop filing her nails. She was a pretty black-haired Russian girl of about nineteen with a sexy grin. She worked as a waitress but hoped for a career as a singer. He had bought her drinks a couple of times and kissed her once. She had kissed him back enthusiastically. "Hi, kid!" he shouted.

  "Who are you calling a kid?"

  "What are you doing tonight?"

  "I've got a date," she said.

  Lev did not necessarily believe her. She would never admit that she had nothing to do. "Throw him over," he said. "He has bad breath. "

  She grinned. "You don't even know who it is!"

  "Come and see me. " He hefted his paper bag. "I'm cooking steak. "

  "I'll think about it. "

  "Bring ice. " He went into his building.

  His apartment was a low-rent place, by American standards, but it seemed spacious and luxurious to Lev. It had a bed-sitting-room and a kitchen, with running water and electric light-and he had it all to himself! In St. Petersburg such an apartment would have housed ten or more people.

  He took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and washed his hands and face at the kitchen sink. He hoped Marga would come. She was his kind of girl, always ready to laugh or dance or have a party, never worrying too much about the future. He peeled and sliced some potatoes, then put a frying pan on the hot plate and dropped in a lump of lard. While the potatoes were frying, Marga came in with a tankard of chipped ice. She made drinks with gin and sugar.

  Lev sipped his drink, then kissed her lightly on the lips. "Tastes good!" he said.

  "You're fresh," she said, but it was not a serious protest. He began to wonder if he might get her into bed later.

  He started to fry the steaks. "I'm impressed," she said. "Not many guys can cook. "

  "My father died when I was six, and my mother when I was eleven," Lev said. "I was raised by my brother, Grigori. We learned to do everything for ourselves. Not that we ever had steak, in Russia. "

  She asked him about Grigori, and he told her his life story over dinner. Most girls were touched by the tale of two motherless boys struggling to get by, working in a huge locomotive factory and renting space in a bed. He guiltily omitted the part of the story where he abandoned his pregnant girlfriend.

  They had their second drink in the bed-sitting-room. By the time they started on the third it was getting dark outside and she was sitting on his lap. Between sips, Lev kissed her. When she opened her mouth to his tongue, he put his hand on her breast.

  At that moment the door burst open.

  Marga screamed.

  Three men walked in. Marga jumped off Lev's lap, still screaming. One of the men hit her backhanded across the mouth and said: "Shut the fuck up, bitch. " She ran for the door, both hands to her bleeding lips. They let her go.

  Lev sprang to his feet and lashed out at the man who had hit Marga. He got in one good punch, striking the man over the eye. Then the other two grabbed his arms. They were strong men, and he could not break free. While they held him the first man, who seemed to be their leader, punched him in the mouth, then in the stomach, several times. He spat blood and vomited his steak.

  When he was weakened and in agony they frog-marched him down the stairs and out of the building. A blue Hudson stood at the curb with its engine running. They threw him onto the floor in the back. Two of them sat with their feet on him and the other got in the front and drove.

  He was in too much pain to think about where they were going. He assumed these men worked for Vyalov, but how had they found him? And what were they going to do with him? He tried not to give in to fear.

  After a few minutes the car stopped and he was hauled out. They were outside a warehouse. The street was deserted and dark. He could smell the lake, so he knew they were near the waterfront. It was a good place to murder someone, he thought with grim fatalism. There would be no witnesses, and the body could go into Lake Erie, tied inside a sack, with a few bricks to make sure it sank to the bottom.

  They dragged him into the building. He tried to pull himself together. This was the worst scrape he had ever been in. He was not sure he could talk his way out of it. Why do I do these things? he asked himself.

  The warehouse was full of new tires piled fifteen or twenty high. They took him through the stacks to the back and stopped outside a door that was guarded by yet another heavyset man who held up an arm to stop them.

  No words were spoken.

  After a minute, Lev said: "Seems we have a few minutes to wait. Anybody got a pack of cards?"

  No one even smiled.

  Eventually the door opened and Nick Forman came out. His upper lip was swollen and one eye was closed. When he saw Lev he said: "I had to do it. They would have killed me. "

  So, Lev thought, they found me through Nick.

  A thin man in spectacles came to the door of the office. Surely this could not be Vyalov, Lev thought; he was too weedy. "Bring him in, Theo," he said.

  "Sure thing, Mr. Niall," said the leader of the thugs.

  The office reminded Lev of the peasant hut in which he had been born. It was too warm and the air was full of smoke. In a corner was a little table with icons of saints.

  Behind a steel desk sat a middle-aged man with unusually broad shoulders. He wore an expensive-looking lounge suit with a collar and tie, and there were two rings on the hand that held his cigarette. He said: "What is that fucking smell?"

  "I'm sorry, Mister V, it's puke," said Theo. "He acted up, and we had to calm him down a little, then he lunged up his lunch. "

  "Let him go. "

  They released Lev's arms, but stayed near.

  Mister V looked at him. "I got your message," he said. "Telling me I should be more polite. "

  Lev summoned his courage. He was not going to die sniveling. He said: "Are you Josef Vyalov?"

  "By Christ, you've got some nerve," the man said. "Asking me who I am. "

  "I been looking for you. "

  "You have been looking for me?"

  "The Vyalov family sold me a ticket from St. Petersburg to New York, then dumped me in Cardiff," Lev said.


  "I want my money back. "

  Vyalov stared at him for a long moment, then he laughed. "I can't help it," he said. "I like you. "

  Lev held his breath. Did this mean Vyalov was not going to kill him?

  "Do you have a job?" Vyalov said.

  "I work for you. "


  "At the Hotel St. Petersburg, in the stables. "

  Vyalov nodded. "I think we can offer you something better than that," he said.


  In June 1915 America came one step closer to war.

  Gus Dewar was appalled. He did not think the United States should join in the European war. The American people felt the same, and so did President Woodrow Wilson. But somehow the danger loomed closer.

  The crisis came about in May when a German submarine torpedoed the Lusitania, a British ship carrying 173 tons of rifles, ammunition, and shrapnel shells. It also carried two thousand passengers, including 128 U. S. citizens.

  Americans were as shocked as if there had been an assassination. The newspapers went into convulsions of indignation. "People are asking you to do the impossible!" Gus said indignantly to the president, standing in the Oval Office. "They want you to get tough with the Germans, but not to risk going to war. "

  Wilson nodded agreement. Looking up from his typewriter, he said: "There's no rule that says public opinion has to be consistent. "

  Gus found his boss's calm admirable, but a bit frustrating. "How the heck do you deal with that?"

  Wilson smiled, showing his bad teeth. "Gus, did someone tell you politics was easy?"

  In the end Wilson sent a stern note to the German government, demanding that they stop attacking shipping. He and his advisers, including Gus, hoped the Germans would agree to some compromise. But if t
hey decided to be defiant, Gus did not see how Wilson could avoid escalation. It was a dangerous game to play, and Gus found he was not able to remain as coolly detached about the risk as Wilson appeared to be.

  While the diplomatic telegrams crossed the Atlantic, Wilson went to his summer place in New Hampshire and Gus went to Buffalo, where he stayed at his parents' mansion on Delaware Avenue. His father had a house in Washington, but Gus lived in his own apartment there, and when he came home to Buffalo he relished the comforts of a house run by his mother: the silver bowl of cut roses on his nightstand; the hot rolls at breakfast; the crisp white linen tablecloth fresh at every meal; the way a suit would appear sponged and pressed in his wardrobe without his having noticed that it had been taken away.

  The house was furnished in a consciously plain manner, his mother's reaction against the ornate fashions of her parents' generation. Much of the furniture was Biedermeier, a utilitarian German style that was enjoying a revival. The dining room had one good painting on each of the four walls, and a single three-branched candlestick on the table. At lunch on the first day, his mother said: "I suppose you're planning to go to the slums and watch prizefights?"

  "There's nothing wrong with boxing," Gus said. It was his great enthusiasm. He had even tried it himself, as a foolhardy eighteen-year-old: his long arms had given him a couple of victories, but he lacked the killer instinct.

  "So canaille," she said disdainfully. This was a snobby expression she had picked up in Europe that meant low-class.

  "I'd like to take my mind off international politics, if I can. "

  "There's a lecture on Titian, with magic-lantern slides, at the Albright this afternoon," she said. The Albright Art Gallery, a white classical building set in Delaware Park, was one of Buffalo's most important cultural institutions.

  Gus had grown up surrounded by Renaissance paintings, and he particularly liked Titian's portraits, but he was not very interested in going to a lecture. However, it was just the kind of event to be patronized by the city's wealthy young men and women, so there was a good chance he would be able to renew old friendships.

  The Albright was a short drive up Delaware Avenue. He entered the pillared atrium and took a seat. As he had expected, there were several people he knew in the audience. He found himself sitting next to a strikingly pretty girl who seemed familiar.

  He smiled vaguely at her, and she said brightly: "You've forgotten who I am, haven't you, Mr. Dewar?"

  He felt foolish. "Ah. . . I've been out of town for a while. "

  "I'm Olga Vyalov. " She held out a white-gloved hand.

  "Of course," he said. Her father was a Russian immigrant whose first job had been throwing drunks out of a bar on Canal Street. Now he owned Canal Street. He was a city councilor and a pillar of the Russian Orthodox Church. Gus had met Olga several times, though he did not remember her looking quite so enchanting: perhaps she had suddenly grown up, or something. She was about twenty, he guessed, with pale skin and blue eyes, and she wore a pink jacket with a turned-up collar and a cloche hat with pink silk flowers.

  "I hear you're working for the president," she said. "What do you think of Mr. Wilson?"

  "I admire him enormously," Gus replied. "He's a practical politician who hasn't abandoned his ideals. "

  "How exciting to be at the center of power. "

  "It is exciting, but strangely enough it doesn't feel like the center of power. In a democracy the president is subject to the voters. "

  "But surely he doesn't just do what the public wants. "

  "Not exactly, no. President Wilson says a leader must treat public opinion the way a sailor deals with the wind, using it to blow the ship in one direction or another, but never trying to go directly against it. "

  She sighed. "I would have loved to study these things, but my father wouldn't let me go to college. "

  Gus grinned. "I suppose he thinks you would learn to smoke cigarettes and drink gin. "

  "And worse, I've no doubt," she said. It was a risque remark for an unmarried woman, and the surprise must have shown on his face, for she said: "I'm sorry, I've shocked you. "

  "Not at all. " In fact he was feeling captivated. To keep her talking he said: "What would you study if you could go to college?"

  "History, I think. "

  "I love history. Any particular period?"

  "I'd like to understand my own past. Why did my father have to leave Russia? Why is America so much better? There must be reasons for these things. "

  "Exactly!" Gus was thrilled that such a pretty girl should also share his intellectual curiosity. He saw a sudden vision of them as a married couple, in her dressing room after a party, talking about world affairs while they got ready for bed, himself in pajamas, sitting and watching while she unhurriedly took off her jewelry and slipped out of her clothes. . . Then he caught her eye, and got the feeling that she had guessed what he was thinking, and he felt embarrassed. He searched for something to say, but found himself tongue-tied.

  Then the lecturer arrived, and the audience fell silent.

  He enjoyed the talk more than he had expected. The speaker had made Autochrome color transparencies of some of Titian's canvases, and his magic lantern projected them onto a big white screen.

  When it was over he wanted to talk some more to Olga, but he was prevented. Chuck Dixon, a man he knew from school, came up to them. Chuck had an easy charm that Gus envied. They were the same age, twenty-five, but Chuck made Gus feel like an awkward schoolboy. "Olga, you have to meet my cousin," he said jovially. "He's been staring at you across the room. " He smiled amiably at Gus. "Sorry to deprive you of such bewitching company, Dewar, but you can't have her all afternoon, you know. " He put a possessive arm around Olga's waist and led her away.

  Gus felt bereft. He had been getting on so well with her, he felt. For him those first conversations with a girl were usually the hardest, but with Olga small talk had seemed easy. And now Chuck Dixon, who had always been bottom of the class at school, had just walked away with her as easily as he would have taken a drink from a waiter's tray.

  While Gus was looking around for someone else he knew, he was approached by a girl with one eye.

  The first time he met Rosa Hellman-at a fund-raising dinner for the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, in which her brother played-he thought she was winking at him. In fact one eye was permanently closed. Her face was otherwise pretty, which made her disfigurement more striking. Furthermore, she always dressed stylishly, as if in defiance. Today she wore a straw boater set at a jaunty angle, and managed to look cute.

  Last time he saw her she had been the editor of a small-circulation radical newspaper called the Buffalo Anarchist, and Gus said: "Are anarchists interested in art?"

  "I work for the Evening Advertiser now," she said.

  Gus was surprised. "Does the editor know about your political views?"

  "My views aren't quite as extreme as they used to be, but he knows my history. "

  "I guess he figured that if you can make a success of an anarchist newspaper, you must be good. "

  "He says he gave me the job because I have more balls than any two of his male reporters. "

  Gus knew she liked to shock, but even so his mouth dropped open.

  Rosa laughed. "But he still sends me to cover art exhibitions and fashion shows. " She changed the subject. "What's it like working in the White House?"

  Gus was conscious that anything he said might appear in her paper. "Tremendously exciting," he said. "I think Wilson is a great president, maybe the greatest ever. "

  "How can you say that? He's dangerously close to getting us involved in a European war. "

  Rosa's attitude was common among ethnic Germans, who naturally saw the German side of the story, and among left-wingers, who wanted to see the tsar defeated. However, plenty of people who were neither German nor left-wing took the same view. Gus replied carefully: "When German submarines are killing
American citizens, the president can't-" He was about to say turn a blind eye. He hesitated, flushed, and said: "Can't ignore it. "

  She did not seem to notice his embarrassment. "But the British are blockading German ports-in violation of international law-and German women and children are starving as a result. Meanwhile, the war in France is at a stalemate: neither side has changed its position by more than a few yards for the last six months. The Germans have to sink British ships, otherwise they lose the war. "

  She had an impressive grasp of the complexities: that was why Gus always enjoyed talking to her. "I studied international law," he said. "Strictly speaking, the British aren't acting illegally. Naval blockades were banned by the Declaration of London of 1909, but that was never ratified. "

  She was not so easily sidetracked. "Never mind the legalities. The Germans warned Americans not to travel on British liners. They put an advertisement in the papers, for goodness' sake! What else can they do? Imagine that we were at war with Mexico, and the Lusitania had been a Mexican ship carrying armaments intended to kill American soldiers. Would we have let it pass?"

  It was a good question, and Gus had no reasonable answer. He said: "Well, Secretary of State Bryan agreed with you. " William Jennings Bryan had resigned over Wilson's note to the Germans. "He thought all we needed to do was warn Americans not to travel on the ships of combatant nations. "

  She was not willing to let him off the hook. "Bryan sees that Wilson has taken a grave risk," she said. "If the Germans don't back down now, we can hardly avoid war with them. "

  Gus was not going to admit to a journalist that he shared these misgivings. Wilson had demanded that the German government disavow the attacks on merchant shipping, make reparations, and prevent any recurrence-in other words, allow the British the freedom of the seas while accepting that Germany's own ships were trapped in dock by the blockade. It was hard to see any government agreeing to such demands. "But public opinion approves what the president has done. "

  "Public opinion can be wrong. "

  "But the president can't ignore it. Look, Wilson is walking a tightrope. He wants to keep us out of the war, but he doesn't want America to appear weak in international diplomacy. I think he's struck the right balance for the present. "

  "But in the future?"

  That was the worrying question. "No one can predict the future," Gus said. "Not even Woodrow Wilson. "

  She laughed. "A politician's answer. You'll go far in Washington. " Someone spoke to her, and she turned away.

  Gus moved off, feeling a bit as if he had been in a boxing match that had ended in a draw.

  Some of the audience were invited to take tea with the lecturer. Gus was among the privileged because his mother was a patron of the museum. He left Rosa and headed for a private room. When he entered, he was delighted to see Olga there. No doubt her father also gave money.

  He got a cup of tea and then approached her. "If you're ever in Washington, I'd love to show you around the White House," he said.

  "Oh! Could you introduce me to the president?"

  He wanted to say Yes, anything! But he hesitated to promise what he might not be able to deliver. "Probably," he said. "It would depend on how busy he happened to be. When he gets behind that typewriter and starts to write speeches or press releases, no one is allowed to disturb him. "

  "I was so sad when his wife passed away," Olga said. Ellen Wilson had died almost a year ago, shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe.

  Gus nodded. "He was devastated. "

  "But I hear he's romancing a wealthy widow already. "

  Gus was discomfited. It was an open secret in Washington that Wilson had fallen passionately, boyishly in love, only eight months after the death of his wife, with the voluptuous Mrs. Edith Galt. The president was fifty-eight, his paramour forty-one. Right now they were together in New Hampshire. Gus was among a very small group who also knew that Wilson had proposed marriage a month ago, but Mrs. Galt had not yet given him an answer. He said to Olga: "Who told you that?"

  "Is it true?"

  He was desperate to impress her with his inside knowledge, but he managed to resist the temptation. "I can't talk about that sort of thing," he said reluctantly.

  "Oh, how disappointing. I was hoping you'd give me the inside gossip. "

  "I'm sorry to be such a letdown. "

  "Don't be silly. " She touched his arm, giving him a thrill like an electric shock. "I'm having a tennis party tomorrow afternoon," she said. "Do you play?"

  Gus had long arms and legs, and was a fairly good player. "I do," he said. "I love the game. "

  "Will you come?"

  "I'd be delighted," he said.


  Lev learned to drive in a day. The other main skill of a chauffeur, changing punctured tires, took him a couple of hours to master. By the end of a week he could also fill the tank, change the oil, and adjust the brakes. If the car would not go he knew how to check for a flat battery or a blocked fuel line.

  Horses were the transport of the past, Josef Vyalov told him. Stablehands were low-paid: there were plenty of them. Chauffeurs were scarce, and earned high wages.

  In addition, Vyalov liked to have a driver who was tough enough to double as a bodyguard.

  Vyalov's car was a brand-new Packard Twin Six, a seven-passenger limousine. Other chauffeurs were impressed. The model had been launched only a few weeks ago, and its twelve-cylinder engine was the envy even of drivers of the Cadillac V8.

  Lev was not so taken with Vyalov's ultramodern mansion. To him it looked like the world's largest cowshed. It was long and low, with broad overhanging eaves. The head gardener told him it was a "prairie house" in the latest fashion.

  "If I had a house this big, I'd want it to look like a palace," Lev said.

  He thought of writing to Grigori and telling him all about Buffalo and the job and the car; but he hesitated. He would want to say that he had put aside some money for Grigori's ticket, but in fact he had nothing saved. When he had a little stash he would write, he vowed. Meanwhile Grigori could not write because he did not know Lev's address.

  There were three people in the Vyalov family: Josef himself; his wife, Lena, who rarely spoke; and Olga, a pretty daughter of about Lev's age with a bold look in her eye. Josef was attentive and courteous with his wife, even though he spent most evenings out with his cronies. To his daughter he was affectionate but strict. He often drove home at midday to have lunch with Lena and Olga. After lunch he and Lena would take a nap.

  While Lev was waiting to drive Josef back downtown, he sometimes talked to Olga.

  She liked to smoke cigarettes, something that was forbidden by her father, who was fiercely determined that she should be a respectable young lady and marry into the Buffalo social elite. There were a few places on the property where Josef never went, and the garage was one of them, so Olga came there to smoke. She would sit in the backseat of the Packard, her silk dress on the new leather, and Lev would lean on the door, with his foot up on the runningboard, and chat to her.

  He was aware that he looked handsome in the chauffeur's uniform, and he wore the cap tilted jauntily back. He soon discovered that the way to please Olga was to compliment her on being high-class. She loved to be told that she walked like a princess, talked like a president's wife, and dressed like a Parisian socialite. She was a snob, and so was her father. Most of the time Josef was a bully and a thug, but Lev noticed how he became well-mannered, almost deferential, when talking to high-status men such as bank presidents and congressmen.

  Lev had a quick intuition, and soon had Olga figured out. She was an overprotected rich girl who had no outlet for her natural romantic and sexual impulses. Unlike the girls Lev had known in the slums of St. Petersburg, Olga could not slip out to meet a boy at twilight and let him feel her up in the darkness of a shop doorway. She was twenty years old and a virgin. It was even possible she had never been kissed.
  Lev watched the tennis party from a distance, drinking in the sight of Olga's strong, slim body, and the way her breasts moved under the light cotton of her dress as she flew across the court. She was playing against a very tall man in white flannel trousers. Lev felt a jolt of recognition. Staring at the man, he eventually recalled where he had seen him before. It was at the Putilov works. Lev had tricked him out of a dollar and Grigori had asked him if Josef Vyalov really was a big man in Buffalo. What was his name? It was the same as a brand of whisky. Dewar, that was it. Gus Dewar.

  A group of half a dozen young people were watching the game, the girls in bright summer dresses, the men wearing straw boaters. Mrs. Vyalov looked out from under her parasol with a pleased smile. A uniformed maid was serving lemonade.

  Gus Dewar defeated Olga and they left the court. Their places were immediately taken by another couple. Olga daringly accepted a cigarette from her opponent. Lev watched him light it for her. Lev ached to be one of them, playing tennis in beautiful clothes and drinking lemonade.

  A wild stroke sent the ball his way. He picked it up and, instead of throwing it back, carried it to the court and handed it to one of the players. He looked at Olga. She was deep in conversation with Dewar, charming him in a flirtatious way, just as she did with Lev in the garage. He felt a stab of jealousy and wanted to punch the tall guy in the mouth. He caught Olga's eye and gave her his most charming smile, but she looked away without acknowledging him. The other young people totally ignored him.

  It was perfectly normal, he told himself: a girl could be friendly with the chauffeur while smoking in the garage, then treat him like a piece of furniture when she was with her friends. All the same, his pride was wounded.

  He turned away-and saw her father walking down the gravel path toward the tennis court. Vyalov was dressed for business in a lounge suit with a waistcoat. He had come to greet his daughter's guests before retuning downtown, Lev guessed.

  Any second now he would see Olga smoking, and then there would be hell to pay.

  Lev was inspired. In two strides he crossed to where Olga was sitting. With a swift motion he snatched the lighted cigarette from between her fingers.

  "Hey!" she protested.

  Gus Dewar frowned and said: "What the devil are you up to?"

  Lev turned away, putting the cigarette between his lips. A moment later Vyalov spotted him. "What are you doing here?" he said crossly. "Get my car out. "

  "Yes, sir," said Lev.

  "And put out that damned cigarette when you're talking to me. "

  Lev pinched out the coal and put the butt in his pocket. "Sorry, Mr. Vyalov, sir, I forgot myself. "

  "Don't let it happen again. "

  "Yes, sir. "

  "Now clear off. "

  Lev hurried away, then looked back over his shoulder. The young men had jumped to their feet, and Vyalov was jovially shaking hands all round. Olga, looking guilty, was introducing her friends. She had almost been caught. She met Lev's eye and shot him a grateful look.

  Lev winked at her and walked on.


  Ursula Dewar's drawing room contained a few ornaments, all precious in different ways: a marble head by Elie Nadelman, a first edition of the Geneva Bible, a single rose in a cut-glass vase, and a framed photograph of her grandfather, who had opened one of the first department stores in America. When Gus came into the room at six o'clock she was sitting in a silk evening dress, reading a new novel called The Good Soldier.

  "How's the book?" he asked her.

  "It is extraordinarily good, although I hear, paradoxically, that the author is a frightful cad. "

  He mixed an old-fashioned for her, the way she liked it, with bitters but no sugar. He felt nervous. At my age I shouldn't be afraid of my mother, he thought. But she could be scathing. He handed her the drink.

  "Thank you," she said. "Are you enjoying your summer break?"

  "Very much. "

  "I was afraid that by now you'd be itching to get back to the excitement of Washington and the White House. "

  Gus had expected that, too; but the holiday had brought unexpected pleasures. "I'll return as soon as the president does, but meanwhile I'm having a great time. "

  "Is Woodrow going to declare war on Germany, do you think?"

  "I hope not. The Germans are willing to back down, but they want Americans to stop selling arms to the Allies. "

  "And will we stop?" Ursula was of German ancestry, as were some half the population of Buffalo, but when she said "we" she meant America.

  "Absolutely not. Our factories are making too much money from British orders. "

  "Is it a deadlock, then?"

  "Not yet. We're still dancing around one another. Meanwhile, as if to remind us of the pressures on neutral countries, Italy has joined the Allies. "

  "Will that make any difference?"

  "Not enough. " Gus took a deep breath. "I played tennis at the Vyalovs' place this afternoon," he said. His voice did not sound as casual as he had hoped.

  "Did you win, dear?"

  "Yes. They have a prairie house. It's very striking. "

  "So nouveau riche. "

  "I suppose we were nouveau riche once, weren't we? Perhaps when your grandfather opened his store?"

  "I find it tiresome when you talk like a socialist, Angus, even though I know you don't mean it. " She sipped her drink. "Mm, this is perfect. "

  He took a deep breath. "Mother, would you do something for me?"

  "Of course, dear, if I can. "

  "You won't like it. "

  "What is it?"

  "I want you to invite Mrs. Vyalov to tea. "

  His mother put her drink down slowly and carefully. "I see," she said.

  "Aren't you going to ask why?"

  "I know why," she said. "There is only one possible reason. I have met the ravishingly pretty daughter. "

  "You're not to be cross. Vyalov is a leading man in this city, and very wealthy. And Olga is an angel. "

  "Or, if not an angel, at least a Christian. "

  "The Vyalovs are Russian Orthodox," Gus said. Might as well get all the bad news on the table, he thought. "They go to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul on Ideal Street. " The Dewars were Episcopalians.

  "But not Jewish, thank God. " Mother had once feared that Gus might marry Rachel Abramov, whom he had liked enormously but never loved. "And I suppose we can be grateful that Olga is not a fortune hunter. "

  "Indeed not. I should think Vyalov must be richer than Father. "

  "I'm sure I have no idea. " Women such as Ursula were not supposed to know about money. Gus suspected they knew the net worth of their own and each others' husbands to the nearest dime, but they had to pretend ignorance.

  She was not as cross as he had feared. "So you'll do it?" he said with trepidation.

  "Of course. I'll send Mrs. Vyalov a note. "

  Gus felt elated, but a new fear struck him. "Mind you, you're not to invite your snobbish friends to make Mrs. Vyalov feel inferior. "

  "I have no snobbish friends. "

  That remark was too ludicrous even to be acknowledged. "Ask Mrs. Fischer, she's amiable. And Aunt Gertrude. "

  "Very well. "

  "Thank you, Mother. " Gus felt great relief, as if he had survived an ordeal. "I know Olga is not the bride you may have dreamed of for me, but I feel sure you're going to become very fond of her in no time at all. "

  "My dear son, you're almost twenty-six years old. Five years ago I might have tried to talk you out of marriage to the daughter of a shady businessman. But lately I have been wondering if I'm ever to have grandchildren. If at this point you announced that you wanted to marry a divorced Polish waitress I fear my first concern might be whether she were young enough to bear children. "

  "Don't jump the gun-Olga hasn't agreed to marry me. I haven't even asked her. "

  "How could she resist you?" She stood u
p and kissed him. "Now make me another drink. "


  "You saved my life!" Olga said to Lev. "Father would have killed me. "

  Lev grinned. "I saw him coming. I had to act fast. "

  "I'm so grateful," Olga said, and she kissed his lips.

  He was startled. She pulled away before he could take advantage, but he felt himself to be on a completely different footing with her immediately. He looked nervously around the garage, but they were alone.

  She took out a pack of cigarettes and put one in her mouth. He lit it, copying what Gus Dewar had done yesterday. It was an intimate gesture, obliging the woman to dip her head and allowing the man to stare at her lips. It felt romantic.

  She leaned back in the seat of the Packard and blew out smoke. Lev got into the car and sat beside her. She made no objection. He lit a cigarette for himself. They sat for a while in the half dark, their smoke mingling with the smells of oil and leather and a flowery perfume Olga was wearing.

  To break the silence, Lev said: "I hope you enjoyed your tennis party. "

  She sighed. "All the boys in this town are frightened of my father," she said. "They think he'll shoot them if they kiss me. "

  "Will he shoot them?"

  She laughed. "Probably. "

  "I'm not afraid of him. " This was near to the truth. Lev was not really unafraid, he just ignored his fears, always hoping he could talk his way out of trouble.

  But she looked skeptical. "Really?"

  "That's why he hired me. " This, too, was only one step removed from reality. "Ask him. "

  "I might do that. "

  "Gus Dewar really likes you. "

  "My father would love it if I married him. "


  "He's rich, his family are old Buffalo aristocracy, and his father is a senator. "

  "Do you always do what your pa wants?"

  She drew thoughtfully on her cigarette. "Yes," she said, and blew out smoke.

  Lev said: "I love to watch your lips when you smoke. "

  She made no reply, but gave him a speculative look.

  That was invitation enough for Lev, and he kissed her.

  She gave a little moan at the back of her throat, and pushed feebly at his chest with her hand, but neither protest was serious. He tossed his cigarette out of the car and put his hand on her breast. She grasped his wrist, as if to shove his hand away, then instead pressed it harder against her soft flesh.

  Lev touched her closed lips with his tongue. She pulled away and gave him a startled look. He realized she did not know about kissing this way. She really was inexperienced. "It's okay," he said. "Trust me. "

  She threw away her cigarette, pulled him nearer, closed her eyes, and kissed him with her mouth open.

  After that it happened very fast. There was a desperate urgency about her desire. Lev had been with several women, and he believed it was wise to let them set the pace. A hesitant woman could not be hurried, and an impatient one should not be held back. When he found his way through Olga's underwear and stroked the soft mound of her sex, she became so aroused that she sobbed with passion. If it were true that she had reached the age of twenty without being kissed by any of the timid boys of Buffalo, she must have a lot of stored-up frustration, he guessed. She lifted her hips eagerly for him to pull down her drawers. When he kissed her between her legs she cried out with shock and excitement. She had to be a virgin, but he was too heated for such a thought to give him pause.

  She lay back with one foot on the seat and the other on the floor, her skirt around her waist, her thighs spread ready for him. Her mouth was open and she was breathing hard. She watched him with wide eyes as he unbuttoned. He entered her cautiously, knowing how easy it was to hurt a girl there, but she grasped his hips and pulled him inside her impatiently, as if she feared she might be cheated at the last minute of what she wanted. He felt the membrane of her virginity resist him briefly, then break easily, with only a little gasp from her, as of a tinge of pain that went as quickly as it had come. She moved against him in a rhythm of her own, and again he let her take the lead, sensing that she was answering a call that would not be denied.

  This was more thrilling, for him, than the act of love had ever been before. Some girls were knowing; some were innocent, but keen to please; some were careful to satisfy the man before seeking their own fulfilment. But Lev had never come across such raw need as Olga's, and it inflamed him beyond measure.

  He held himself back. Olga cried out loud, and he put a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. She bucked like a pony, then buried her face in his shoulder. With a stifled scream she reached her climax, and a moment later he did the same.

  He rolled off her and sat on the floor. She lay still, panting. Neither of them spoke for a minute. Eventually she sat upright. "Oh, God," she said. "I didn't know it would be like that. "

  "Usually it's not," he replied.

  There was a long, reflective pause, then she said in a quieter voice: "What have I done?"

  He made no answer.

  She picked up her drawers from the floor of the car and pulled them on. She sat still a moment longer, catching her breath, then she got out of the car.

  Lev stared at her, waiting for her to say something, but she did not. She walked to the rear door of the garage, opened it, and went out.

  But she came back the next day.


  Edith Galt accepted President Wilson's proposal of marriage on June 29. In July the president returned to the White House temporarily. "I have to go back to Washington for a few days," Gus said to Olga as they strolled through the Buffalo Zoo.

  "How many days?"

  "As long as the president needs me. "

  "How thrilling!"

  Gus nodded. "It's the best job in the world. But it does mean that I'm not my own master. If the crisis with Germany escalates, it could be a long time before I come back to Buffalo. "

  "We'll miss you. "

  "And I'll miss you. We've been such pals since I came back. " They had gone boating on the lake in Delaware Park and bathing at Crystal Beach; they had taken steamers up the river to Niagara and across the lake to the Canadian side; and they had played tennis every other day-always with a group of young friends, and chaperoned by at least one watchful mother. Today Mrs. Vyalov was with them, walking a few paces behind and talking to Chuck Dixon. Gus went on: "I wonder if you have any idea how much I'll miss you. "

  Olga smiled, but made no reply.

  Gus said: "This has been the happiest summer of my life. "

  "And mine!" she said, twirling her red-and-white polka-dot parasol.

  That delighted Gus, although he was not sure it was his company that had made her happy. He still could not make her out. She always seemed pleased to see him, and was glad to talk to him hour after hour. But he had seen no emotion, no sign that her feelings for him might be passionate rather than merely friendly. Of course, no respectable girl ought to show such signs, at least until she was engaged; but all the same Gus felt at sea. Perhaps that was part of her appeal.

  He recalled vividly that Caroline Wigmore had communicated her needs to him with unmistakable clarity. He found himself thinking a lot about Caroline, who was the only other woman he had ever loved. If she could say what she wanted, why not Olga? But Caroline had been a married woman, whereas Olga was a virgin who had had a sheltered upbringing.

  Gus stopped in front of the bear pit, and they looked through the steel bars at a small brown bear sitting on its haunches staring back at them. "I wonder if all our days could be this happy," Gus said.

  "Why not?" she said.

  Was that encouragement? He looked at her. She did not return his gaze, but watched the bear. He studied her blue eyes, the soft curve of her pink cheek, the delicate skin of her neck. "I wish I were Titian," he said. "I'd paint you. "

  Her mother and Chuck went by and strolled on, leaving Gus
and Olga behind. They were as alone as they would ever be.

  She turned her gaze on him at last, and he thought he saw something like fondness in her eyes. That gave him courage. He thought: If a president who has been a widower less than a year can do it, surely I can?

  He said: "I love you, Olga. "

  She said nothing, but continued to look at him.

  He swallowed. Once again he could not make her out. He said: "Is there any chance. . . May I hope that one day you might love me too?" He stared at her, holding his breath. At this moment she held his life in her hands.

  There was a long pause. Was she thinking? Weighing him in the balance? Or just hesitating before a life-changing decision?

  At last she smiled and said: "Oh, yes. "

  He could hardly believe it. "Really?"

  She laughed happily. "Really. "

  He took her hand. "Do you love me?"

  She nodded.

  "You have to say it. "

  "Yes, Gus, I love you. "

  He kissed her hand. "I'll speak to your father before I go to Washington. "

  She smiled. "I think I know what he will say. "

  "After that we can tell everyone. "

  "Yes. "

  "Thank you," he said fervently. "You have made me very happy. "


  Gus called at Josef Vyalov's office in the morning and formally asked permission to propose to his daughter. Vyalov pronounced himself delighted. Although that was the answer Gus expected, he found himself weak with relief afterward.

  Gus was on his way to the station to catch a train to Washington, so they agreed to celebrate as soon as he could get back. Meanwhile, Gus was happy to leave it to Olga's mother and his to plan the wedding.

  Entering Central Station on Exchange Street with a spring in his step, he ran into Rosa Hellman coming out, wearing a red hat, carrying a small overnight bag. "Hello," he said. "May I help you with your luggage?"

  "No, thanks, it's light," she said. "I was only away one night. I went for an interview with one of the wire services. "

  He raised his eyebrows. "For a job as a reporter?"

  "Yes-and I got it. "

  "Congratulations! Forgive me if I sound surprised-I didn't think they employed women writers. "

  "It's unusual, but not unknown. The New York Times hired its first female reporter in 1869. Her name was Maria Morgan. "

  "What will you be doing?"

  "I'll be the assistant to their Washington correspondent. The truth is, the president's love life has made them think they need a woman there. Men are liable to miss romantic stories. "

  Gus wondered if she had mentioned that she was friendly with one of Wilson's closest aides. He guessed she had: reporters were never coy. No doubt it had helped her get the job. "I'm on my way back," he said. "I guess we'll see each other there. "

  "I hope so. "

  "I have some good news, too," he said happily. "I proposed to Olga Vyalov-and she accepted me. We're getting married. "

  She gave him a long look, then she said: "You fool. "

  He could not have been more shocked if she had slapped him. He stared at her openmouthed.

  "You goddamn fool," she said, and she walked away.


  Two more Americans died on August 19 when the Germans torpedoed another large British liner, the Arabic.

  Gus was sorry for the victims but even more aghast at America's being pulled inexorably into the European conflict. He felt that the president was on the brink. Gus wanted to get married in a world of peace and happiness; he dreaded a future blighted by the mayhem and cruelty and destruction of war.

  On Wilson's instructions, Gus told a few reporters, off the record, that the president was on the point of breaking off diplomatic relations with Germany. Meanwhile the new secretary of state, Robert Lansing, tried to make some kind of deal with the German ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff.

  It could go horribly wrong, Gus thought. The Germans could call Wilson's bluff and defy him. Then what would he do? If he did nothing he would look stupid. He told Gus that breaking off diplomatic relations would not necessarily lead to war. Gus was left with the frightening feeling that the crisis was out of control.

  But the kaiser did not want war with America and, to Gus's immense relief, Wilson's gamble paid off. At the end of August the Germans promised not to attack passenger ships without warning. It was not a fully satisfactory reassurance, but it ended the standoff.

  The American newspapers, missing all the nuances, were ecstatic. On September 2 Gus triumphantly read aloud to Wilson a paragraph from a laudatory article in that day's New York Evening Post. "Without mobilizing a regiment or assembling a fleet, by sheer, dogged, unwavering persistence in advocating the right, he has compelled the surrender of the proudest, the most arrogant, the best armed of nations. "

  "They haven't surrendered yet," said the president.


  One evening in late September they took Lev to the warehouse, stripped him naked, and tied his hands behind his back. Then Vyalov came out of his office. "You dog," he said. "You mad dog. "

  "What have I done?" Lev pleaded.

  "You know what you've done, you filthy cur," said Vyalov.

  Lev was terrified. He could not talk his way out of this if Vyalov would not listen.

  Vyalov took off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves. "Bring it to me," he said.

  Norman Niall, his weedy accountant, went into the office and returned with a knout.

  Lev stared at it. It was the standard Russian pattern, traditionally used to punish criminals. It had a long wooden handle and three hardened leather thongs each terminating in a lead ball. Lev had never been flogged, but he had seen it done. In the countryside it was a common punishment for petty theft or adultery. In St. Petersburg the knout was often used on political offenders. Twenty lashes could cripple a man; a hundred would kill him.

  Vyalov, still wearing his waistcoat with the gold watch chain, hefted the knout. Niall giggled. Ilya and Theo looked on with interest.

  Lev cowered away, turning his back, pressing himself up against a stack of tires. The whip came down with a cruel swish, biting into his neck and shoulders, and he screamed in pain.

  Vyalov brought the whip down again. This time it hurt more.

  Lev could not believe what a fool he had been. He had fucked the virgin daughter of a powerful and violent man. What had he been thinking of? Why could he never resist temptation?

  Vyalov lashed again. This time Lev flung himself away from the knout, trying to dodge the blow. Only the very ends of the thongs connected, but they still dug agonizingly into his flesh, and he cried out in pain again. He tried to get away, but Vyalov's men pushed him back, laughing.

  Vyalov raised the whip again, started to bring it down, stopped in midswipe as Lev dodged, then struck. Lev's legs were slashed, and he saw blood pouring from the cuts. When Vyalov lashed again, Lev desperately flung himself away, then stumbled and fell to the concrete floor. As he lay on his back, losing strength rapidly, Vyalov whipped his front, striking his belly and thighs. Lev rolled over, too agonized and terror-struck to get to his feet, but the knout kept coming down. He summoned the energy to crawl a short way on his knees, like a baby, but he slipped in his own blood, and the whip came down again. He stopped screaming: he had no breath. Vyalov was going to flog him to death, he decided. He longed for oblivion to come.

  But Vyalov denied him that relief. He dropped the knout, panting with exertion. "I ought to kill you," he said when he had caught his breath. "But I can't. "

  Lev was baffled. He lay in a pool of blood, staring at his torturer.

  "She's pregnant," Vyalov said.

  In a haze of fear and pain, Lev tried to think. They had used condoms. You could buy them in any big American city. He had always put one on-except for that first time, of course, when he had not been expe
cting anything. . . and the time she had been showing him around the empty house and they had done it on the big bed in the guest room. . . and once in the garden after dark. . .

  There had been several times, he realized.

  "She was going to marry Senator Dewar's boy," Vyalov said, and Lev could hear bitterness as well as rage in his harsh voice. "My grandson might have been a president. "

  It was hard for Lev to think straight, but he realized that the wedding would have to be called off. Gus Dewar would not marry a girl who was pregnant with someone else's baby, no matter how much he loved her. Unless. . .

  Lev managed to croak a few words. "She doesn't have to have the baby. . . there are doctors right here in town. . . "

  Vyalov snatched up the knout, and Lev cowered away. Vyalov screamed: "Never even think about that! It's against the will of God!"

  Lev was amazed. Every Sunday he drove the Vyalov family to church, but he had assumed religion was a sham for Josef. The man lived by dishonesty and violence. Yet he could not bear to hear mention of abortion! Lev wanted to ask whether his church did not prohibit bribery and beating people up.

  Vyalov said: "Can you imagine the humiliation you're causing me? Every newspaper in town reported the engagement. " His face reddened and his voice rose to a roar. "What am I going to say to Senator Dewar? I've booked the church! I've hired caterers! The invitations are at the printers! I can just see Mrs. Dewar, that proud old cunt, laughing at me behind her wrinkled hand. And all because of a fucking chauffeur!"

  He raised the knout again, then threw it away with a violent gesture. "I can't kill you. " He turned to Theo. "Take this piece of shit to the doctor," he said. "Get him patched up. He's going to marry my daughter. "

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