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1-The MOON & Stars!

2-Winter Kill

3-Deadly Counter-Attack!

4-Angel Of Mercy

5-Love Blooms!

6-Intimate Revelations

7-Season's Greetings

8-Revenge Backfires!

9-A Double Proposal

10-Stacey's Awakening

11-Merry Christmas!

12-Hawaiian Escape

13-Wedding Arrangements

14-Blessings Of Pele - The Fire Goddess!

15-Stacey's Double Rescue

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Moon Madness - 9, Copyrightę 2001-2006 By
Larry K. Hockman, "All RIGHTS RESERVED"

A Double Proposal

A familiar knock on the door signaled to Anna and Vince that the evening meal had finally arrived. Neither had eaten anything all day. They had discussed what the mystery meal might be. Both were surprised when Stacey appeared behind the cart of food.

Anna's curiosity got the better of her first. In a puzzled tone of voice, she said, "Stacey, I don't quite understand. The head nurse told me your shift was over a couple of hours ago." Slightly embarrassed, she answered, "It was, but my day off is tomorrow, and I was afraid ya'll might check out before I had a chance to say good-bye, so I put in for another shift after a two hour break. Besides, the food is really terrible up here after the day cook goes home, so I made you my specialty at home and brought it with me. Please don't be mad. I was only trying to make your stay comfortable like I promised Vince. I'm finally gittin' some of the respect I deserve around here since I've been helpin' the high-caliber folks. You know I haven't had to change a bedpan all day long! That's true prestige around here."

Anna grinned at Vince, sliding over to whisper, "Dr. Allman was right. She is the perfect candidate to take care of us, as well as the job I intend to offer." Vince added, "She cooks, too."

Stacey spoke again, unsure of her standing while they were whispering, "If you're mad, I'll make myself scarce." Anna quickly corrected her, "On the contrary, Stacey, we're quite pleased to see you. Vince and I have a proposition to make you, and then I have another offer I'd very much like to discuss with you when you have a few minutes break time.

Vince broke in, "Time out. I want to know what your "specialty" is."

Beaming once again, Stacey replied, "Country-style fried chicken, fresh mashed 'taters an'gravy, corn on the cob, biscuits from scratch, and my famous Dutch apple pie."

Anna looked back to Vince with raised eyebrows. He smiled and simply said, "I told you she cooks, too. Case closed."

Stacey told the couple she would be happy to listen to anything they had to say on her first break. She promised them she would return in precisely an hour and a half after glancing at her watch.

Anna watched Stacey disappear through the door after a thoughtful wish of, "Enjoy your supper." before stating, "Stacey is very work conscious. I like her attitude." Vince politely interjected, "I don't know what all you have in mind for her, Babe, but be careful you don't overwhelm her with your offer. She might not be as strong as you'd like her to be." Sensing his concern, Anna assured him, "Don't worry. Moon will let me know how she is handling it all at any given time. This will truly be the opportunity of a lifetime if she wants it. I've already learned that her emotions are very stable, much like ours. All she needs is a chance. I have full confidence in her abilities. Let's eat." Vince needed no more convincing. They were famished. Moon claimed his share, too.

Vince and Moon catnapped while Anna discussed some final details with the head nurse concerning Stacey's exclusive availability to fit their needs. Anna was informed that Stacey could be assigned to outpatient care and use the time to satisfy their two-week notice requirement without reflecting badly on her record should she decide to accept Anna's later job offer. Armed with the facts, Anna closed her eyes to wait on Stacey's return.

Stacey's punctual knock awakened the dozing trio. Vince rubbed his eyes momentarily, Anna pushed her hair to the side of her face and Moon performed his usual cat stretch. Stacey piled the dishes on a large platter and set them aside before asking, "What did you think? About supper, I mean." "Excellent", Vince stated. Anna agreed, Moon meowed his approval.

Anna told Stacey to pull up a chair and relax. When she was situated comfortably, Moon politely jumped off the bed and into her lap. Anna looked at Vince with a "Do you wish to handle this part?" expression. He merely stated, "Be my guest."

Anna got right to the point. "Stacey, how would you like to spend Christmas with Vince, Moon and me at Vince's cabin?" Stacey's face immediately lit up at the prospect, but she questioned, "Do you mean Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?" Anna replied, "Actually, both, and probably several days afterwards as well. Possibly New Year's Day, too!" Stacey looked puzzled when she answered, "I'd be honored, but why?"

Vince broke in, "Well, you see Stacey, it's like this. Dr. Allman will release us from the hospital tomorrow afternoon provided we have someone capable of seeing after us for a few days as obviously we are not in a position to carry on life as usual. As you came highly recommended, not to mention we are all fond of your bedside manner, Moon included, we thought you might possibly want the job, . . as spending the holidays in the hospital is not quite our style.

Anna applauded, "Very aptly put, Vince!" He mocked a bow and continued, "So, how 'bout it? You will make your normal pay through the hospital, plus maybe an extra bonus as well. You can use our vehicles to run errands during your stay and you can even go out in the evenings if you want. There really won't be that much to do so it shouldn't actually be like working. Think of it as a vacation in the country that you'll get paid for." Anna added, "Paid well, I might add. The head nurse informs me that outpatient care is paid on a 24 hour-a-day basis which means you will be making money even while you eat, sleep and be merry! Three week's salary for a week in the country is not a bad deal, even by my standards. We can't think of anyone we would rather have with us through the holidays. How about it?"

Stacey needed no more convincing. Within seconds she stated, "You both can count on me. When do we leave?" Anna told her they wanted to be gone shortly after lunch, preferably right after Dr. Allman checked them out and signed their release papers.

Stacey promised she would be packed and looking forward working with them. She gently nudged Moon from her lap, stood up, and professionally extended her hand, first to Anna, then to Vince. They all shook on the agreement before Stacey spoke. "My daddy always said that any deal between friends should only need a handshake to seal it. I shall always value your friendship, and I want to personally express my gratitude for your confidence in my abilities and for considering me first for the responsibility of your personal care. Daddy also said that if I was always honest, respectable, punctual and proved my integrity, that sooner or later, opportunity would knock and some high-class professional would be around to help me open that door."

Stacey paused momentarily as a tear trickled over her cheek and she looked at the ceiling as if directing her next words to heaven, "Thank you, Daddy. You were right. I don't think you have to worry about me anymore. Now, you can rest in peace."

Stacey wiped the tear from her face and quickly regained her composure while apologizing for becoming emotional.

Vince told her not to worry about it and offered her a tissue from the box on the table.

Anna queried her sympathetically, "You were very close to your daddy, weren't you?"

Stacey blew her nose before answering, "Yes'm, I was. Mamma always said I was a "Daddy's girl". He taught me about the nature of the world. He's chiefly responsible for my love of the outdoors and especially my compassion for animals. He always warned me to be careful about which people I trusted, but never to worry about any animal 'cause they would never turn on you as long as you treated them with love and respect. He said that animals respected the Golden Rule more than people did. Since his death, I've proven to myself that he was right about that as well, so the teasing I get about my "varmits" and my camera from the other girls doesn't bother me. Daddy said memories fade but pictures don't, so if something was important to myself or others, capture it on film. He gave me the camera I still use on the Christmas before he died. I took it real hard when he died. Mamma said I wouldn't accept his death, but she didn't understand. I was the last person to talk to him before he passed on. The last words from his lips were telling me that he would never rest until he knew I had grown up enough to be somebody that was respected and could take care of my own life. I promised him that I would never let go of him until I was sure of myself. Then, he simply quit breathing. I never told Mama about that last conversation. She didn't understand when I moved out on my own the day after his funeral. I feel that I need to explain my actions to her soon because I have fulfilled my promise to Daddy and I have finally let him go." Stacey said nothing more for several minutes, expressionless as if immersed in a personal reflection a million miles from the confines of the hospital room. Vince and Anna sat in reverent silence as privileged members of her confidence.

Moon finally broke the spell with a soft meow and a gentle nudge against her leg. Stacey immediately apologized again. Vince glanced at Anna before saying, "Stacey, we are your friends. You don't need to be sorry for speaking your mind. Anna got just what she asked for. Your father was a very wise man. He was more right than even you imagined. I might add that Anna was right about you as well."

Stacey seemed perplexed by Vince's statement. She asked, "Did I miss something?" Vince looked at Anna smiling and chuckled slightly before informing Stacey that Anna simply had another offer to make her and she probably ought to sit down again. She complied obediently. Moon jumped back up on her lap.

Vince gestured towards Stacey while addressing Anna in a joking manner, "Well, Dr. Fontain, I believe the floor is yours in all of your professional glory and capacity. You may now make your official proposal." Anna smiled and said, "Thank you, Mr. Casey."

Taken aback by the formal terminology of names, Stacey asked, "Is this important?" Anna told her that what she had to say could possibly be the most important discussion of her life. She politely asked Stacey to simply sit and listen very carefully until she was through talking. When she had finished, she would then answer any questions Stacey might want to ask. Stacey nodded in agreement.

Before Anna started, she looked at Vince and confided, "Damn, I'm usually standing up when I'm talking serious business!" She took a deep breath and turned back to Stacey. For a few seconds she was silent, evidently correlating her thoughts to present her proposal in the best manner. She began abruptly in an unmistakably business tone of voice, "First off, I want you to understand that this is a professional business offer. As president of the foundation where I work, I have absolute power to create any new jobs that I see necessary to benefit the foundation and its research goals. I have devoted much serious thought to the proposal I'm about to make and I can assure you that it has nothing to do with feeling sorry for you over the death of your father. Since the first moment I met you, I saw a bright young lady with the latent potential to handle the responsibilities of corporate executive status with only a minimum of polishing. I have been watching you closely ever since and my previous assumptions about your attitude and integrity have since proved themselves to be valid. I have checked into your background and was elated to find that you already have many of the prerequisites necessary to fill the job I am creating. I find other value in the fact that things in your life which you do simply for personal satisfaction in the sense of photography and caring for orphaned or injured animals, not to mention your expertise with people, are qualities which even the best of educational facilities cannot teach. They are hard to find in the corporate world and are very valuable skills when one is working around some of the rarest and most expensive animals in the world, and of course, some of the most brilliant scientists as well. All points considered, I fully believe you are a natural for this job and would love your work as much as I do. After all, one of the main measures of success in life is doing what one loves to do and making money doing it. I'm sure by now that you are wondering just what this job is."

Anna excused herself momentarily to get a drink of water then continued, "For quite some time, I have been needing a personal assistant to handle a part of my work load as I am recognized worldwide as the authority in my field. As you might guess, my expertise and services are in great demand. Since all scientific work is documented, I have in the past had to arrange for photographic coverage in every country. This has proven to be totally unsatisfactory and costly in every way imaginable. Since my chosen field is the feline family, I need someone who is good with cats. I know you are because I have proof positive purring contentedly in your lap. You will understand that statement later should you decide to accept this offer. The job will require you to fly all over the world with me and document my work on film. After you've had the proper training, there will be many assignments you will be able to take care of without the need for my presence. Should I be sick or otherwise unable to attend a function or assignment, you will be there in my absence. Your job requirements will pertain only to my needs in the care of the animals and the documentation. You will not be doing airline reservations or anything of that sort. I have a personal secretary for those tasks which will become your secretary as well."

Once again, Anna excused herself for a drink and continued, "Your official job title will be Presidential Understudy and Feline Photographer for the National Foundation of Animal Behavioral Science. As holder of that title, you will answer to nobody other than me, not even the Vice President! In short, almost 500 professional employees will be beneath you on the corporate scale and anything you request or need in behalf of our work will be provided without question or they will have to answer to me. Believe me when I say that nobody will give you any problems, even though you will be the new kid on the block. I'm sure you are now thinking that you do not have the necessary credentials for this job. Through a special arrangement with the University of Florida, you will attend special classes designed by me in the field of feline genetics, anatomy, behavior, and care. As I am an associate professor of the university, half of your feline training will be in the field with me as well as all of your animal photography training. What this means is that even while you are working and going to school, the foundation will be paying you to train. Inside of six months, you will have a valid Associates Degree of Applied Science in animal photography and another in feline behavioral science, within a year, they will be upgraded to Bachelor Degrees. It is possible to hold a Special Science Doctorate in two years. Naturally, you would have to move to Florida. The foundation provides free housing for all employees. In addition, your job will come with an unlimited expense account for anything job related from film to taking the owner of a tiger to dinner to discuss his animal. The foundation will also furnish you a company car of your choice. They are leased yearly, so you can get a new one every year if you like. Your personal parking space will be right beside mine in the covered executive lot at the main entrance near the heliport. Virtually, your entire life will cost you nothing. Even the clothes you wear to work are covered, so you can put most of the $45,000.00 training salary in the bank for a rainy day. That figure will double when you get your degrees. Did I mention that your office would be next to mine overlooking the beach? Oh, one more thing, anytime that you are representing the foundation, I will expect you to dress appropriately and carry yourself with a classy, professional act tempered with authority. In the company of other professionals, you must address me as Dr. Fontain. Anywhere else, I'm simply Anna. I think that about covers the whole ball of wax. Any questions, Miss Holden?"

Stacey gave Moon a final stroke before gently nudging him from her lap. A strange new sparkle was in her eye. She began in perfect English, "Actually, Dr. Fontain, I have four." Anna told her to ask them beginning with the most important. Stacey looked Anna straight in the eye, "Should I accept your more than generous offer, would taking my three-legged cat, Crip, to Florida present a problem? Without any hesitation, Anna answered, "Not in the least. I look forward to meeting new friends. Next question, please." A new look of confidence preceded the query, "May I think about the proposition overnight and give you my answer when I come back tomorrow?" Again, Anna replied quickly, "I would expect any professional to think on such an important decision overnight. Bring Crip along with your answer. I don't think Vince and Moon will mind. Next." The smile of a born executive was slowly coming to Stacey's lips as she asked the third question, "If I accept, when will we have to leave for Florida?" Anna told her she had already contacted the foundation. They would be expecting her precisely one week from New Year's Day. Stacey had a distinctly mischievous grin as she asked the final question, "Would it reflect badly on my professional record if I politely excused myself in the interest of being in the privacy of my own apartment when all of this sinks in and I faint?" Anna just laughed and told her she didn't have a professional record unless she wanted one. Stacey was beaming. On her way out, she stopped halfway to the door, pivoted smartly and stated, "I just want to thank you, Dr. Fontain for offering me the key to the door. Goodnight Mr. Casey and good-night Master Moon."

The door had barely closed when a loud, triumphant "Yes!" resounded throughout the entire ward, followed by the sound of running footsteps heading toward the elevator. Vince and Anna burst out laughing. Vince commented, "Seems as though you already have your answer." Anna replied, "Moon and I knew all along." Moon snuggled in between them and the exhaustive day ended with a simple kiss and Vince's hand resting assuringly on Anna's thigh.

The head nurse allowed them to sleep until nine before waking Vince and Anna for their morning check and breakfast. Moon was up and restless long before and had positioned himself in the window sill to bask lazily in the morning sun while staring wistfully at the horizon past the confines of the city.

While taking temperatures and blood pressures, the nurse informed them that scores of flower offerings and cards had poured in from well-wishers across the country, so many in fact, that a separate room had been designated simply to store them. Also, the Keslers had come to visit the previous evening, but Dr. Allman had left strict orders of no visitors, so they had requested that they give them a call to rearrange their previous Christmas plans.

Before the nurse left, she commented that Anna and Vince had made quite an impression on Stacey with both of their propositions. Stacey had come to her house last night to get her opinion and how it might affect her work record by giving short notice if she accepted. She went on to explain that she thought of Stacey as the daughter she never had. She had coached Stacey during her stay at the hospital and was very proud of her. Stacey had always come to her for advice on any subject after her father had passed away and she had moved out. Her voice broke slightly when she confessed, "I shall miss her antics very much. She always elevated everyone's mood with her unselfish spirit." Anna asked if she might inquire as to how she had advised Stacey. She replied in a rather sad tone, "I told her to follow her heart, but just to remember that a chance such as this would probably only come along once in a lifetime. Lastly, I told her I thought it was time for her to seek her real mother's advice." As a troubled look swept across her face, she excused herself and hurriedly left the room.

Anna searched her innermost thoughts silently to be sure that she harbored no ulterior motives of selfish, personal gain involving her offer to Stacey. Her calculating, business personality had honed her emotional status to sometimes deem it necessary to totally disregard the feelings of others in the interest of running the foundation's business. In the past, her actions had never failed to produce the desired result with little or no regret.

Moon sensed Anna's unsure pattern of thought and moved in close to her neck, purring loudly as if to express the importance of love and change the subject her mind was analyzing. She stroked him several times, during which the situation became infinitely clear in her mind. She was in effect, evolving, her decisions now being tempered with the evasive factor of love involved. Obviously comfortable with the final assessment of her motives, her pretty smile returned. She confided in Moon, "You are a wise species. We humans can learn much from you." She rolled over to kiss Vince on the ear and told him she loved him. He had waited on her to begin breakfast, only sipping his coffee while she was lost in thought.

The trio ate breakfast and discussed the necessary changes in their plans which Anna's untimely accident had initiated and decided to try to make all new arrangements before they left the hospital since this was Christmas Eve.

Anna called the Keslers and invited them to Vince's cabin for the evening festivities. They had been smoking a turkey since early morning and promised to bring it and all the trimmings so Vince and Anna would not have to worry about any food preparation. Danny was looking forward to seeing Moon.

Anna told Vince of the new arrangements. He commented that they should call the department store and order Stacey something nice for Christmas since she would be in a strange place away from her own family. They quickly agreed on a new camera. Anna called the store and arranged to have a pro-style 35 millimeter outfit, complete with a telephoto lens and several other assorted accessories, plus several types and speeds of film gift-wrapped and delivered to the hospital. Before she finished, Vince had added a gold executive pen and pencil set to come from "Santa" on Christmas morning.

Vince arranged to have them flown from the hospital to the cabin along with the necessary equipment to set up Anna's pulley arrangement out there. A mobile bed and a wheelchair for temporary mobility would also be provided. Anna had the nurse call Stacey to tell her they would send transportation after dinner. They were both pleased to learn that she was having lunch at her mother's and would be leaving from there!

Vince and Anna opted for a light snack of a sandwich and soup. They were anxious to be checked out so they could get the earliest possible start to the cabin for the Christmas evening to come. Vince had just gotten off the phone from sending Stacey a taxi when Dr. Allman and Liz walked in. Spirited Christmas greetings were exchanged before the doctor proceeded with his examinations. Vince and Anna successively signed the release papers as he checked them each in turn.

Moon paced back and forth impatiently across the window sill staring down at the grounds below. Vince casually remarked that Moon must be ready to go as well. Anna politely corrected his assumption by adding, "He is, but right now he is anxious to meet Crip, who has just arrived with Stacey." The phone rang a few seconds later. It was Stacey at the front desk informing them that she would be right up as soon as she checked with the administrative office. All but Vince were amazed at the accuracy of Anna's previous statement. He just smiled, but Moon jumped down to shift his position over to the door.

After a few minutes, a conglomeration of footsteps and voices could be heard coming down the hall. The melee stopped abruptly at their door. When it opened, the head nurse backed halfway in, guarding the entrance. Stacey's cat slipped in between her legs to meet Moon. Anna grinned at Vince saying, "This is going to be good." Almost immediately, Stacey's voice rose above the others informing them, "I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, but the doctor left strict orders that Dr. Fontain and Mr. Casey were to receive no visitors. Should they wish to issue a statement before their departure, I will pass it on in the front lobby!" The nurse stepped aside to allow her inside and quickly shut the door. Vince, Anna, Dr. Allman, and Liz applauded as she turned around. She blushed deeply and stated, "Seems as though the press got wind of our departure."

Anna was obviously pleased when she confided, "You handled that situation very well, Miss Holden. Am I to assume from this premature undertaking of my personal welfare that you are accepting my offer of the position at the foundation?"

Stacey cleared her throat en route to Anna's bedside before starting. "Dr. Fontain, after lengthy consultations with my mother and Mrs. Foster (politely gesturing toward the head nurse) as well as exploring my own personal expectations and goals of life, I think I would be quite foolish not to formally accept your more than generous offer of employment with such a prestigious institution. In doing so, I sincerely hope that I perform to your standards of excellence and make you and the foundation proud of my dedication and future service."

Anna glanced expressionless over at Vince and back to Stacey before acknowledging, "Miss Holden, that was one hell of a professional acceptance speech!" Anna dropped the formalities, grinned broadly and extended her hand. "Welcome aboard the executive ship, Stacey. Stacey had tears in her bright blue eyes as she and Anna sealed the deal with a handshake and an affectionate hug. Everyone there congratulated her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Stacey thanked each in turn for their confidence in her and the specific roles each had played in her life. Mrs. Foster was very emotional and told her that she could not believe Stacey had gone from a cute, bubblegum-chewing kid to a beautiful, classy, executive young lady overnight. She hugged her several times, telling her that she would be sorely missed at the hospital by everyone. Stacey promised her that she would stop in and visit anytime she was in town. In the meantime, Moon and Crip had initiated their own introductions and were both rubbing on Stacey's stockinged calves.

Mrs. Foster had indeed been right concerning Stacey's new executive look. Gone were the braids in her blond hair and the school-girl make-up look. Smartly clad in a basic black, medium-length skirt and a chiffon pink crepe blouse accented with black, buckled heels to match her belt, she looked as though she might have just come from Wall Street. She had softened the tones of her make-up to effectively accent her high cheekbones and showcase her golden waves of hair. The small diamond stud earrings her father had given her when she turned sixteen added a subtle touch of class to her overall appearance. Only a slight hint of lip gloss was necessary to bring out the fullness in her lips. A black blazer added the corporate contrast to the entire outfit. Anna complimented her new look with interest. Vince told her it was a good thing she would have some corporate power because she would probably need it to keep the male employees at bay.

In the interest of time, the group jointly agreed to avoid the media. The chopper was soon loaded and cleared for the short flight. The competing press agents were successfully bypassed by their quiet exit through the emergency room entrance.

Anna and Stacey arranged to have the vast majority of the flowers distributed throughout the hospital to those patients without families. They retained the original cards in order to send their thanks. Finally, all was loaded.

The helicopter lifted majestically above the frozen city, adjusted its direction toward Vince's cabin, and tilted slightly forward as the rotors bit the icy air to gain speed. All but the flight crew were mesmerized by the white wonderland beneath them. Within minutes, the square edges of the city gave way to the irregular softness of the snowbound rural landscape. They passed over a great flat void, Lake Palestine, recognizable only by small patches of dark water in the middle of its widest expanses. Never before had so much of its surface area frozen. The frozen river, resuming its southerly trek beyond the confines of the great dam, resembled a deserted highway meandering aimlessly through bottomland the final few miles before Vince's cabin appeared to the right and the chopper abruptly veered in its direction. Several deer bolted from the corn feeder as the crescendo of the rotors changed pitch to ease them down from the blustery sky. The snow's crust was broken only by the deer's path to and from the feeder, aside from one unmistakably human intrusion which emerged from the woods on the blind side towards the right-of-way for the power lines. The path traced a teardrop around the cabin, constricting inward at the location of each window.

Though he said nothing, Vince's instincts initiated an uncomfortable chain of thoughts in the perspective of who, when, and why.

The pilot allowed the doors to open after the rotors slowed to a lazy idle. Moon bailed out fearlessly with the grace of a paratrooper, eager to check the perimeter after his lengthy absence. He paused momentarily to test the frigid air before bounding in the direction of the fresh deer scent at the feeder. Crip landed in the trampled snow where Moon had broken the crust. Since the territory was foreign to her, she waited patiently for Stacey to get Vince's keys and exit the chopper.

Zipping up her hooded, suede parka, Stacey proceeded to the cabin to unlock it and prop the door to allow the flight crew paramedics to unload Vince, Anna, and the remaining equipment. Stacey busied herself with starting a fire while Crip explored the interior of his temporary home.

Soon, the drone of the chopper faded into the cold distance and the reverent silence of the snowbound forest yielded only to the occasional bark of a squirrel or the raucous call of a crow or jay competing for the same food source. The inner peace of Christmas Eve had returned to the solitary cabin nestled in the fringes of the river watershed.


Author's Note: Feel free to copy/paste the text contained herein to build your personal copy of "MOON Madness". As this is COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL by ME, the ORIGINAL AUTHOR, please DO NOT copy for UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION in any form or fashion. "ALL RIGHTS RETAINED & RESERVED" by Larry K. Hockman! Please don't hesitate to E-Mail me for permission to use my works in the classroom, etc. ThanX for Visitin'! I hope you enjoyed the story and pass it on to your friends. LKH

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