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JOSHUA

The Age of Miracles


By Tony Duffy

Copyright © 2018 Tony Duffy


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without permission from the copyright holder.


The Author has made every effort to trace and acknowledge sources/resources/individuals. In the event that any images/information have been incorrectly attributed or credited, the Author will be pleased to rectify these omissions at the earliest opportunity.


A story of repentance, redemption and forgiveness.

The little town of Jagerspoort in the Western Free State is experiencing its worst drought in living memory. The dominee prays for help and soon a stranger arrives in town. He knows everybody in town’s name and all about them. He starts to move amongst the local folk and wonderful miracles begin to happen. He touches the lives of seven major members of the community. This ends with the biggest miracle of all. With the exception of one man, nobody knows who he is, where he comes from and where he went to.

The elements of the story are humour, Christian love, despair and renewal. The language used is reflective of a typical South African farming community with an English and Afrikaans mix.

The story centres on the local tearoom, the pub, the Church and a couple of the farms in the area. There are many oblique Bible references that will keep one guessing.

It all ends with the salvation of the entire town.



JOSHUA

התהילה לישו

CHAPTER 1

MONDAY

It was hot, not just hot, it was so hot the road was melting and the smell of hot asphalt was heavy on the air. Birds refused to fly; dogs sought shade wherever they could find it and the population of Jagerspoort stayed at home with heavy drapes drawn and waited for the sun to set. Jagerspoort, population one thousand permanent and a couple of hundred transient souls had been the agricultural and social hub of the area for at least three generations. Founded late in the 1820s by four families of English settlers who lost their way in their search for the Promised Land, they met up with three Dutch families who had left Cape Town searching for independence.


At first there had been great animosity between the two groups, but years of fighting off common enemies like the local indigenous people and the invading British Armies drew them together into one bicultural group. They even managed to weather the Boer war without taking sides. Over the years as the community developed, others joined them and they almost developed their own language. Predominantly English but with a strong flavouring of Afrikaans.


Fed by a rail spur for the deliveries of seed and heavy machinery and a gravel road from the N1, the main road from Johannesburg to Cape Town, it was pretty isolated. Over the years, the inhabitants had become used to adversity and hard times but now the land was baking and had been for three seasons. The farmers were in trouble, as their crops had failed and if it did not rain this year, they would lose everything. If the farms went belly-up so would the whole town. The town relied on the local farmers for its livelihood. It was so dry that the frogs had learned to swim by correspondence course.


A typical small farm town in the Free State, It was at least 100 kilometres from anywhere. When times were good, on a Saturday, all the farmers for kilometres around used to gather at the pub and beer garden attached to the only hotel in town. They’d wash away the week’s dust with a few beers and catch up on the latest gossip or, in season, watch the rugby matches on the big screen TV, while the wives and family went shopping at the local CO-OP. On Sundays, they would attend the Church, service, pack out the small Church and dutifully listen to sermons preached by the energetic Dominee David Delport. Afterwards they’d all descend on the hotel for lunch.

However, since the drought had started the farmers had stopped coming to town, unless it was absolutely necessary. There was no spare cash lying around for such frivolities. The hotel was starting to look a bit weather beaten and the Church’s congregation had slowed to a trickle. The town was dying! Dominee Dave as he was affectionately known had led the local Church for the last eight years and all the single ladies in town had been jockeying for his affections for the full eight years. When times had been good, he would have been considered a catch, but now it was just too darn hot. Besides, there were reports on the gossip line that he had started to partake in alcoholic beverage on occasion. On the other hand, who could blame him? The congregation had shrunk because the farmers weren’t coming to town anymore; they needed a miracle.



Next door to the hotel was the only tearoom for a hundred kilometres. It served tea, coffee and cold drinks as well as sandwiches, light meals and on a good day, even hamburgers. All made by the local ladies who took it in turn to supply the shop. The tearoom was owned and run by Tannie Koekie Barkhuizen, a matronly fifty-year-old widow who had been in Jagerspoort all her life. She was a pillar of what could loosely be called local society; she was also leader of the local branch of the vrouefederasie, which she ruled with an iron hand. She was assisted in the tearoom by her nineteen-year-old niece Dottie Dewdrop Henning; so called, due to being narrow at the shoulder and wide at the hip.

As per normal, Dottie was wiping all the tables and setting tables for the customers who were not going to come. She could not see the sense in cleaning, dusting and vacuuming when they knew that there would be no customers until the rains came.

Nobody knew this Monday morning that in the next seven days things were going to happen in this town that were going to affect the fortunes of seven people for ever.



"Tannie, why am I bothering to do all this cleaning and setting tables? We know that other than the Dominee, nobody's coming,” asked Dottie.

"Sies, Dottie, jy's nie so groot gemaak nie. As n plek vuil is, moet dit skoon gemaak word. We will not let our standards slip; the people will come."

"Ja, saam met die reën," she muttered under her breath.


Across the road, Dottie could see the police station, further up the street on the left was the post office ably manned by the postmaster mnr. ‘Popeye’ Barnard, so called because of his uncanny resemblance to the cartoon character. Nobody had the courage to ask him if he liked spinach because he had a shotgun. The postmaster doubled as the stationmaster of the rail spur. He was assisted by his twenty one year old niece, Tanya. Tanya had been with her uncle for just over a year and to the locals she was a bit of a mystery. She was the epitome of the modern miss. Refined, beautiful and well spoken. However, people soon noticed that she never smiled. She carried with her an aura of someone who had experienced something dark and painful. The Dominee had tried valiantly to get her to open up, to no avail. The thing that he found most disturbing was her eyes. They were dead and she showed no emotion. Her only friends were Cora and Elizabeth de Wet and she spent most weekends with them on the farm when the girls were home from university.

Opposite the post office, was the CO-OP where you could buy anything from a pair of socks to a tractor. If one went further into town, one would in fact be going out of town but one would still pass the blacksmith and the service station. A short way out of town was the small school where Miss Gardener taught all grades. Next to the post office was Tannie Smit’s hair salon that nowadays only opened once a week, on a Saturday.

The town was split in two by the only intersection in town. If you turned right, you went up a slight rise and ended up in the affluent part of town, with big houses and green lawns, watered from their own boreholes. If you turned left, you ended up in the not so affluent area where they endured water restrictions and dust gardens.


CHAPTER 2


The police station was ably manned by Sergeant Colin ‘Rooikop’ Minaar, a short rotund man in his late forties with a ginger toothbrush moustache that matched the colour of his hair. He was assisted by the most eligible bachelor in town, Constable Brian ‘Blikkies’ Botha. Blikkies, was so named due to his habit of leaving empty coke cans rolling around under the seat of his vehicle.


Sergeant Minaar was sitting in the charge office with his feet up on the front desk, idly flipping through an old copy of Farmer’s Weekly. He had set up the one and only fan in the station, so that it blew air over his chest and head. Not that it gave much relief from the blinding heat. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the melting road that ran through the centre of town. The only bit of tarmac for a hundred kilometres.


Nothing stirred. Constable Botha had his head on his desk and was snoring quietly. "Hey, word wakker jong, jou lui ding! How can you sleep in this heat?" He threw the magazine at the poot-uit Constable Blikkies, who woke with a start, wiping the drool from the corner of his mouth.

"Wat!" he said reaching for the phone. "Hullo, hullo, wie praat?" Once his eyes got opposite the holes, he realised he was talking to dial tone and he sheepishly replaced the phone in its cradle and said, "Jammer, Sarge."

"Bly wakker man, I can't have you in a dwaal in case someone comes in. Go across to Koekie's place and buy us a couple of cokes." He tossed a twenty rand note on the table. "Nice big cold ones hey. And don't you dare leave the cans in the vehicle."

"Ag, Sarge can't I go to the hotel and buy for us?"

"Hoekom?" asked Minaar surprised, as Koekie's place was closer.

Blikkies went a bit red in the face and said, "Ag, it's, Dottie, Sarge, she always wants to go somewhere and 'kafoefel'."

Minaar's feet crashed to the floor, rocking the fan and he looked at Blikkies aghast.

"KAFOEFEL! KAFOEFEL!" He said the word like he was, tasting it for the first time. "Jy's bang vir ‘n bietjie kaffoefel? Hoe oud is jy, Blikkies?"

"Twenty two, Sarge."

"Twee en twintig ‘n groot polisieman, Bloemfontein se beste, die terror from the outback en jy is bang vir n bietjie kaffoefel. Ek is verbaas. Nou, vat jouself, my geld en gaan haal die Cokes."

Blikkies shambled off on his mission.



Minaar propped his feet back up on the desk and reset the fan. 'Well,’ he thought, ‘at least we are in the shade.’ He spared a thought for ‘Blackie Swart, the local blacksmith cum general repairman. He had his fire going and worked under a corrugated iron 'afdak'. Minaar shuddered to think what the temperature was in Blackie’s workshop. At least Blackie was busy; the farmers were bringing in their farm implements for repair rather than buy new ones, which had always been the case before. If Minaar listened carefully, he could hear the pounding of the hammer on the anvil. He made a mental note never to make Blackie angry. The man’s biceps were bigger than Minaar’s thighs and anyone who could pound away in this heat had to be tough. He wondered what the Dominee was doing, most probably preparing for the meeting on Sunday. He had sent out a message to all the parishioners for a prayer meeting for rain and out of desperation, most had agreed to come.


Back at the tearoom, Dottie was just finishing her pointless dusting duties, when she looked up to see Blikkies crossing the road, heading in the direction of the tearoom. Her heart skipped a beat, 'Oh, he looked so handsome in his uniform,' she thought. She quickly finished the last table and patted her hair and tried to look alluring. Blikkies warily opened the door and stepped in. His heart sank as he spied Dottie leaning on the counter looking at him the way a cat looks at a mouse.

"Dag sê, Tannie Dottie. Ka...Ka...Kan ek twee Cokes hê asseblief," he stuttered. He did not make eye contact with Dottie, for fear of having to talk to her.

"Of course, Brian, help yourself," said Tannie Koekie from behind the counter. “How’s the heat in the station? Must be bad hey?"

"Ja en Sarge het die enigste waaier in die plek gekommandeer. But never mind, one day I will be the Sarge and we will have air-conditioning," he said with a broad smile. He paid for the Cokes, opened the upright fridge and took out two. "I had better get these to the Sarge before they get warm, I don't want a klap. Totsiens julle." Blikkies beat a hasty retreat. "Tell me, Dottie, why is Brian so bang of you? Ek hoop jy krap nie waar jy moenie krap nie," said Tannie Koekie wagging her finger.

Dottie giggled and with an impish look on her face said, "Oo nee, Tannie, ek het die jeuk, maar Brian wil dit nie krap nie."

Koekie recoiled from Dottie and exclaimed, "Don't you dare talk like that in this place! Ons werk hier met kos. I did not bring you up like that; you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I just don't know you anymore." Koekie turned and stalked off to the kitchen.

"Jammer, Tannie," said Dottie, admonished but she still kept her eyes on Blikkies as he crossed the road.


CHAPTER 3


Allan 'Popeye' Barnard sat at his desk in the small post office going through the mail. The air conditioner was cranked up to full and it barely succeeded in cooling the room. Despite the heat, he was dressed in the regulation attire of dark trousers and a snow white shirt with a dark grey tie. On his forearms he wore plastic slip-on covers that his wife, Olive, had made for him out of an old plastic shower curtain. This protected his shirt sleeves from the eternal dust that permeated the place, no matter what they did. He glanced up and saw that his niece Tanya had stopped polishing the counter top and was just staring blankly out of the window. Sadness came over him. 'She's such a sweet girl but my goodness she carries a heavy burden,' he thought to himself.

Tanya had been abused by her father and her elder brother from the age of sixteen. It had come to a head two years ago ending in a tragic death and a much traumatised Tanya. She left the city and came to stay with her only living relative, her uncle in Jagerspoort. Allan Barnard and his wife Olive welcomed her with open arms. Tanya never spoke of the trauma she went through but she carried the scars both emotional and physical wherever she went. Allan hoped that with time and a loving environment she would mend.


In the Church rectory, Dominee Delport was staring at a blank piece of paper in his ancient typewriter. What could he say to the people that would give them hope? He looked at the sadly depleted bottle of Vodka on the desk and felt the sick lead weight of failure in his chest. He stared at it for a while and thought, 'How low have I sunk?' These people looked to him for guidance and hope but he was just burned out. He had written to a potato farmer in Natal who was also a preacher. He had had much success praying for rain all over the country. Unfortunately, the preacher was booked up and would be so for some time. Tears filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks; he had never felt so alone in his life. Had he lost his faith? Had they all done something wrong to be punished like this? He had prayed long and hard for direction and nothing had happened. He was a strong believer that God would test a person only as far as he could handle. Well, in his opinion, he and his flock had reached rock bottom and they were fast reaching the stage of giving up.


"We need a miracle. We need someone to show us what to do," he said standing up. He staggered through to the Church and stood below the pulpit looking up at the big wooden cross on the back wall. He remembered the good years and how he was on fire for the Lord. His sermons flowed like quicksilver and the congregation loved every word he spoke. 'Where did it all go wrong?' He stared at the cross, fell to his knees, raised his hands in supplication and said aloud, "Lord, why have you forsaken us? Why have you turned away from us? Show us, Lord, what we have to do to right this wrong. We have nothing left to give, Father. We are finished and now I find myself with an absolute loss of understanding. I am empty." With that, he collapsed to the floor and went into a deep sleep. He slept for the rest of the day, right through the night and awoke at 09:00 the next morning.


TUESDAY


CHAPTER 4


The Dominee opened his eyes and waited for the sickening lurch of the hangover to hit him. It never came. He explored his other senses and found that he felt remarkably well. He stood slowly and felt fine. He walked around in a circle like a person trying out new legs; they were strong. Then he noticed a smell in the Church, it was a beautiful sweet smell as if a thousand flowers had just opened. It was the smell of rebirth and for the first time in a long while, he smiled. Then he remembered his dream and went weak at the knees. He made it to a pew and he sat down with a thump. ‘What had he done?’ He started shaking. He had challenged God. The dream rushed back to him with remarkable clarity and slowly he began to understand. This was no ordinary dream, this had been a message. He knew where he had gone wrong; he knew where the whole district had gone wrong. He went and knelt on the steps under the cross and prayed like he had never prayed before. He purged himself of all depression and negativity and repented.


Eventually he stood and with new resolve walked back into the rectory. He spent the next three hours cleaning his apartment. He threw out empty bottles and poured the remains of the vodka down the drain. He swept, vacuumed and polished until the place was spotless. He had to get the place spotless, before he came. He showered, changed and felt so excited, he thought he would burst. He sat in front of the old typewriter and his fingers started to blur over the keys.

CHAPTER 5

JOHAN JOUBERT


At the tearoom, Teardrop was once again working at the tables when, Johan Joubert, the manager of the Co-op, walked into the tearoom. A short, tubby, balding man of fifty with a thin moustache that was always on the move and a ruddy complexion from the sun. He was dressed in khaki from top to bottom and had a pair of veldtskoen boots on his feet. His shirt was sweat-stained and he was puffing a bit from the effort of walking the two hundred metres from his shop to the tearoom in the heat.

"Haai, Johan," called Koekie from the kitchen.

"Hullo, Oom," said Teardrop.

"Hullo, julle," he answered. He walked straight to the upright fridge and took out an ice-cold drink. He stood there for a moment with the can pressed to his head, enjoying the cold air that was emanating from the fridge.

"Ag no man, Johan, you are wasting the cold," admonished Koekie.

"Oo, so sorry, Koekie, but it was so lekker." He closed the fridge door and sat at one of Dottie’s nice clean tables, much to her disgust.

“Look at me,” he said holding the cold drink to his forehead. “I just walk a few metres and I am soaked and smell like an old camel. At least my office is air conditioned, not that it works that well.”

“I can see you’re a bietjie gedaan and I can smell you from here,” said Koekie with a smile.

"Has anyone seen the Dominee?" he asked. They both shook their heads.

"Why do you ask, Johan?" Koekie raised an eyebrow in query.

"Well, no one has seen him for days and there is talk that he is hitting the bottle. They say he has become a real alky," said Johan, taking a swig of his cold drink.

Koekie exploded out from behind the counter top with a rolled up wet dishcloth in her hands. She clouted Johan alongside his ear and said, "Sies, Johan, don’t you dare talk about the Dominee like that. He is our Dominee good or bad and we must support him. He is under terrible strain at the moment, so why don’t you go back to your air-conditioned office and pretend to do some work." She hit him again.

"OK, OK, Koekie, you don’t have to get so upset man. Ek sê maar net."

"Go," she admonished and he left, rubbing his head, trying very hard not to trip over his tail that was firmly between his legs.

Dottie just stood and stared, she had never seen Tant Koekie lose her cool like that. Koekie looked up, saw the expression on Dottie’s face and said, "Don’t look at me like that. I will not have anyone talking bad about the, Dominee, in my place. He was very good to me when my husband died; he got me through a terrible time. He was also very good to Blackie when his daughter went missing, so people should remember that."

Dottie just nodded and jumped to her work. Koekie went back to the kitchen and felt good about what she had done.

However, she too was a bit worried; the Dominee had not been in for breakfast and he never missed breakfast. Oh, she hoped it wasn’t true that he was drinking. He was such a nice man.


At closing time, it had started to cool down and, Dottie went home. Koekie put together a basket, containing a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, some freshly baked rolls and a cold drink. She locked up and went off to look for the Dominee. She eventually found him in the vestry, still pounding away at his typewriter. He must have been at it for a long time because there was a thick pile of typed sheets of paper on the table next to him. He was concentrating so much that he didn’t hear her walk in and when she spoke he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Oh, Dominee, we have been so worried about you, you didn’t even come for breakfast," she said.

“Sit, Koekie,” he said indicating the only vacant chair in the office.

"I have been so busy preparing for the meeting on Sunday that I haven’t noticed the time. My motivation is there but I am having problems formulating my words."

"I brought you some supper; you have to keep your strength up." Koekie unpacked the meal. The Dominee suddenly realised that he had not eaten in two days and was now starving.

"I had a dream, Koekie," he said around a mouthful of spaghetti. "It was so vivid that I could touch it. I dreamed about the drought, why it is happening and how we can make it right again. The congregation is going to get a shock on Sunday. They won’t like what I have to say but if they want to save everything that they have worked for, they are going to have to make some choices."

"That’s if they come," said Koekie.

"Oh they will, they have no choice. I have been promised and once I am finished with this sermon it will be up to all of us to make it work."

"What do you mean, they have no choice?" asked Koekie. The Dominee stopped stuffing food into his mouth, looked at her, became serious and he told her what he had dreamt. Koekie sat for a while, taking in what she had just heard, while the Dominee went back to his food. She started to feel a bubbling in her chest and a feeling of joy came over her as she realised what the Dominee had said was true. They were responsible for their own suffering. She stood up and almost ran back into the Church and did something she had never done in her life. She went to the steps that led to the pulpit, fell on her knees and wept.

All was quiet in town except for the sound of the hammer on metal coming from the blacksmith shop. Sergeant Minaar shook his head in wonderment.

‘How could Blackie keep going in this heat, surely it was time to call it quits for the day?’ Soon the night constable would come and he and Blikkies could go home. He went to the door of the station house and looked down the street. He saw a figure hurrying towards him. Hurrying, in this heat, someone was either in trouble or had finally cracked and gone mad. As the figure drew closer, it turned out to be Koekie and she was just short of running. She was muttering under her breath and totally wrapped up in what she was saying. Minaar felt a quick stab of compassion, as he was now sure she had lost her mind. She ignored him and walked straight to the tearoom and up the stairs on the side of the building to her flat upstairs. It was only after she had closed her door that Minaar realised that the mutterings he had heard were prayers. ‘Ooo bliksem,’ he thought, ‘this did not look good.’ He hoped she hadn’t done anything stupid to the Dominee.

Just then, Constable Frikkie Walsh, the night shift, arrived and Minaar pushed all negative thought to the back of his mind and handed over to his replacement. He and Blikkies then said good night and left. Blikkies to the pub and Minaar to his wife and son in a little house on the wrong side of town. He was looking forward to a cold shower, a cold beer and a couple of lamb chops thrown on the braai. He enjoyed a good chop, grilled on a charcoal fire in the back garden.

CHAPTER 6

PETER WEPNER



About thirty-five kilometres to the north of town on a beautiful, verdant farm called 'Sterkte' Peter Wepner, sat on the stoop of his rambling farmhouse. He had his feet up on the railing and was watching the sun starting to set, losing its power as it went, giving the land a chance to cool for the evening. He looked out at his crops being watered by spray irrigation. Everywhere he looked, he could see the sprayed water arcing into the sky and falling like rain on his crop of maize. He was fortunate because he had a spring on his land that ran all year round and filled a large dam for irrigation. At one time the spring used to pop out of the ground about a kilometre from his boundary and flow to the south and feed all the farms in the district but after a slight earth tremor the underground source was diverted and it popped up on his farm in its present position. He was going to have another good crop this year.


While the rest of the area was in the clutches of the worst drought in living memory, his farm was lush. Peter had inherited the farm from his father five years previously and grown it dramatically over the years, by buying up neighbouring farms when they fell on hard times. He had proved to be a ruthless negotiator and only paid twenty cents in the rand for the ailing farms. Peter was a rough, tough, leathery, sixty year old, who still rode around his farm on horseback. He was as strong as an ox and as mean as a rinkhals. He played hard and worked hard and he drove his men hard. His farm, while predominately a maize farm also dabbled in sheep and even a few head of hardy cattle. He reached down and lifted the lid of a cool box that was filled with ice and beers. He tossed a beer to the man sitting next to him, similarly ensconced and took one for himself. They cracked their beers and drank deeply, then burped loud and long. This caused them both to laugh and Wepner to say, "This is the life eh, Charley.”

"O ja, Meneer, I could get used to this." Charley Brenner, was Wepner’s farm manager and had worked for him for three years. He was totally, loyal to his boss. He was also possibly the nearest thing in the world that Wepner could call a friend. "Are we going to the meeting on Sunday, boss? It’s the last season for a lot of them; you may be able to pick up a few bargains." Wepner took another swig and said, "Yeah, I suppose we should. The rumour has it that the Dominee has some sure fire scheme to save all the farms, so it could be good for a laugh."

"Oh good, I hope that De Wet brings his daughters, they are both rather gorgeous and they must get a bit lonely out there on the farm, especially as nobody comes to town anymore."

"Yeah, well just be careful and don’t upset the old man. I don’t want any problems when I make an offer on his farm. So keep it in your pants," said Wepner in a tone that Brenner understood only too well.

"Of course, Boss, I would never mess that up for you. There is also that new girl, Tanya, at the post office and at a push there is always Teardrop at the tearoom, she’s mad about me."

"Hell, Charley, you really are an ugly person aren’t you? She is a nice girl and you are quite prepared to break her heart," said Wepner with a smile.

“I learned from the best, Boss," he said downing the last of his beer. “I’m off; I’ve got a whole lot of work to do."

He left the stoop, got into his pick-up and drove back out to the lands. Wepner watched him go with the nearest thing to the feeling of affection he could muster. He stood and went to the stables; it was time for his outride.



CHAPTER 7


BLACKIE SWART


Blackie Swart stopped his noisy banging for the day, switched off his gas-fired furnace and hung up his leather apron. He was a man of medium height, slightly balding with brown eyes. His body was very muscular, with not an ounce of fat on him. His arms had huge biceps and forearms that looked like he had rope for sinews. It had been said that he could crush a watermelon with his bare hands.


He went into the back of his shop and had a short lukewarm shower in the small cubicle he had built himself. He stood in the stream of water and washed away the sweat, grit and the grime of the day. He stayed in the water as long as he dared with the water restrictions and then stepped out to dry himself. He dressed in a very tight t-shirt and jeans and a pair of worn Caterpillar work boots. He grabbed his keys, locked the office door and got into his battered old Toyota pickup. He drove the few hundred metres to the hotel, parked and went into the pub.

There was a group of locals, sitting down one end of the counter. They were sucking on flat beers and talking in desultory tones, when Blackie walked into the pub. All conversation stopped as Blackie went straight to the counter and was served a huge ice cold draft beer without asking for it. The barman watched in awe as Blackie put the beer to his lips and started swallowing. He did not stop until the tankard was empty. This was followed by a resounding burp that seemed to go on forever. The group of men called out as one man, "Haai! Blackie." He waved and ordered them a round of beers and went over to join them.

"Dag sê, mense, how’s it going?" he asked pulling up a chair.

"Not as good as you," said Johan Joubert. "The drought has been good to you, Blackie."


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