Fortunately, They Suck at Quick Service

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Start your story with someone having a run of bad luck.... view prompt

30 comments

Crime Contemporary Fiction

Detective Jordan (GQ) Williams gazed at the body on the floor. Two shots to the chest. Quick, clean, efficient.

He turned to his partner and asked, “Wanna help me out here?”

Detective Harry Barnes did not want to help him out. He was sitting in a chair with a drooping frame and seemingly in pain. His strong and rugged physique looked frail, bent over with bowed head.

“You hung over?”

“It’s the eggs,” Barnes groaned out.

A strident voice rose from the first floor and hit the eardrums of the two detectives on the second floor. Barnes muttered a few well-chosen obscenities.

“She’s loud,” Williams said.

“That voice of hers just seems to gain strength as it travels. I’m pretty sure she’s the devil,” Barnes said, rising slowly and trying not to throw up. Again.

Detective Lizzie McIlroy entered the room much like a person who was in command of…well…everything. She was, in a sense. She gave the two detectives a stern look; Barnes felt like she was too close to him, though she was on the other side of the room.

“Talk to me,” she said.

“Murder,” Williams piped up. She gave him a sour look.

“Ya think?”

“Could be a really clever suicide,” Barnes said. He tried to smile but it hurt too much. He was favored with two derisive looks.

“Ok, GQ. What do we know?”

Williams knelt by the body and studied it.

“Shot twice, about fifteen feet away. Both shots hit the heart, and they appear to be less than an inch from each other. Someone knows how to shoot. Spotted some strands of hair on the chair next to him, so I bagged them. Also bagged a lighter from the kitchen table. You might want to take a look at the lighter,” GQ said the last part quietly.

Detective McIlroy took note of this and inspected the lighter. She looked up sharply after a short perusal, first at Barnes and then at Williams. The two scratch marks at the bottom of the disposable lighter disturbed her more than she let on. Barnes marked his lighters this way.

“Fine. Get the hair analyzed and get the lighter dusted. What else?”

“The damn music was blaring to high heaven, so I paused it,” Barned looked up wearily.

“You hung over?”

“Eggs.”

“Not alcohol?” McIlroy turned to GQ. “Is it alcohol?”

“He’s telling the truth. The idiot tried to break the bar record for the number of hard-boiled eggs that could be eaten in thirty minutes. I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

“He thinks he’s Cool Hand Luke because he has a passing resemblance to Steve McQueen.”

“Who?” GQ asked.

“A Hollywood icon. Played Butch Cassidy in another famous movie,” McIlroy said.

“Who’s that?”

GQ was on the receiving end of two pitying looks. Neither McIlroy nor Barnes felt the need to answer GQ. The kid was twenty-seven and steeped in the likes of Bad Bunny and DC superheroes; any explanation they offered to him about the majesty of McQueen’s role in movies would be lost on him. Besides, they had work to do.

The three detectives went through the small, dirty apartment looking for anything that could identify the man’s killer. Barnes poked through the Spotify playlist that had tortured his ears when they arrived; it was something he could do sitting down. McIlroy investigated the bedroom, and GQ searched the cupboards and refrigerator.

The forensics team was busy as well, and the coroner did what he did. The body was soon swept away to a cold table, and several evidence bags were toted to the station house. The process of finding a murderer had begun.

****************************

“Where is he?” McIlroy asked severely.

Williams jerked a thumb towards the break room. Barnes was getting another cup of coffee and investigating the snack machine. He made a selection and watched the honey bun get stuck halfway down. He shook the machine. No luck. He punched the glass and cracked it, and the desired pastry came tumbling down. Grunting, he pulled it out of the machine, unwrapped it, and started chewing on it. McIlroy marveled at how he stayed so slim despite eating the worst possible forms of food all the time.

“Glad you could join us, Barnes. You broke the glass on the snack machine, by the way,” McIlroy said.

“I just gave it a love tap,” he muttered, his mouth full of industrial pastry and processed sugar.

“I can’t imagine why you’ve been divorced three times.”

Barnes smiled at McIlroy.

“Ok. Let’s get this party started. First, congratulations to GQ for getting here later than Barnes. Not a good way to impress me.”

“Had to drop off some stuff at the dry cleaners. You don’t want me looking like him, do you?” Williams nodded in Barnes’ direction.

“Good point.” McIlroy eyed Barnes with more than her usual amount of disgust. The man’s clothes would never be mistaken for GQ’s attire.

“The hair analysis will be here by noon tomorrow…”

“Tomorrow! How the hell did you pull that off?” Barnes sputtered.

“My dad.”

“Ah. The councilman, soon to be our mayor,” Barnes said, spraying a few crumbs over his bargain-basement jacket.

“And the lighter had no prints on it. Odd.” McIlroy looked at Barnes and GQ. Neither had anything to offer concerning a lighter devoid of fingerprints.

“So. Anything to add? Any insights? Observations? Something not feel right about this?”

GQ raised his hand.

“This isn’t school, GQ. Spit it out.”

“That dry cleaning place across the street. Is it any good? I hear it’s the best and they give cops a big discount. That’s where I was, by the way.”

“They do great work, but they’re slow as hell. I just shake my clothes out…” Barnes began.

“Hey! The case! Insights? Observations? Hunches? Ideas? Theories?” McIlroy’s voice became strident again.

“It wasn’t a robbery. It was personal,” Barnes said. He had finished his honey bun and was slurping his coffee.

“Why do you think that?” McIlroy frowned at the sound of Barnes slurping his coffee. He was doing it on purpose, just to piss her off. It was working.

“There was coke all over the place, and he had a lot of cash in a drawer that wasn’t locked.”

“You saw all that? You barely moved,” McIlroy said.

“Well, the coke was in little bags where I was sitting. I opened the drawer where I was sitting and there was all that cash.”

“Did you take any?”

“Any what?”

“Cash. Coke.”

“My official answer to that is ‘no.’” Barnes winked at McIlroy.

“What was that?” McIlroy asked sharply.

“What?”

“You winked at me.”

“I didn’t,” Barnes said, winking again.

“You did it again! Stop it!”

“I think you want me to wink at you, Listerine. Now that I’m available again…”

“Quit calling me Listerine.”

“It fits. You’re so…antiseptic.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Yeah. It does. Everyone out there knows,” Barnes waved an arm towards the squad room.

“At least I’m not a slob like you. And you’re losing your hair. You’ll be bald in three years.”

“Probably, but I have a winning personality, so I’ll get wife number four. And anyway, you asked about observations. I had observations. About the case and about you.”

“You’re an asshole, you know.”

“Guilty, but I’m a lovable asshole. Just ask my three ex-wives. Sadly, the lovable part wasn’t enough to keep ‘em.”

“Just…shut up, ok? Or go stuff another honey bun in your mouth.” Which is exactly what Barnes planned to do as soon as he could dig out some quarters from his pockets. He knew excellent advice when he heard it.

“And you,” McIlroy pointed at GQ, “go and interview some of the vic’s neighbors. Someone must have heard the gunshots.”

“On it,” GQ said. He hustled out of the room and went about his task, whistling on the way out. Barnes sat and started eating honey bun #2, sipping coffee and thinking his own thoughts.

“What the hell was that?”

Barnes smiled wryly. “The kid’s taking a shot at me because I’m alone again. Cheeky little bastard. It’s a Hank Williams song. ‘I’m so Lonesome I could Cry.’ Pretty funny, actually.”

“Hmm. Didn’t take him for a Hank Williams fan. That’s odd.”

“Why do you even care? He’s just a stupid kid.”

McIlroy sighed in irritation. Talking to Barnes was like talking to a resentful teenager. He had little to offer unless it directly pertained to him.

“Your hair is shiny. What gives?” McIlroy asked.

“Yeah. I’m single again, so I’m on the hunt for the next Mrs. Barnes. It’s this new stuff for men, to gradually get rid of the gray. Maybe you should try it,” Barnes grinned.

McIlroy couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. She gazed at him, a slight frown creasing her face and arching her eyebrows.

“When did you start using it?”

Barnes found the question puzzling, but he answered anyway.

“Two days ago. The same day I made an extra mark on my lighter. Why are you asking me things you already know?”

McIlroy didn’t answer. She had other things on her mind.

“Why do you do that? Make scratches on your lighter when you get divorced? Are you proud of it?

“It’s symbolic. They’re scratched off my list. Out of my life. Moving on. No regrets. Don’t look back. The future is mine to make. It’s all very positive and hopeful, you see. I don’t let…”

“Shut up.” McIlroy said. Something was bothering her again, and Barnes’ utterances were getting on her nerves. Barnes, for his part, did stop talking. His search for the six quarters needed for a soda became his immediate goal. He could trade barbs with McIlroy any time.

“I see you qualified to keep your gun another year. Barely passed. Again”

“But I passed. That’s all that matters,” Barnes said smugly.

“Your partner just got the second-highest score this precinct has ever had, right behind me. I don’t like the kid, but he’s got skills. He doesn’t like you, either. Complained to me about being stuck with a terrible partner. Doesn’t think he can advance much with you tied to him.”

“What did you tell the millennial prick?”

“To grow a pair.”

“Yeah, well, he dresses good and he keeps my car clean. Uses a little hand vacuum. The old heap never smelled so good.”

“Does he now? That’s interesting.”

“Yeah, about as interesting as watching the grass grow. We done here? There’s a Dr. Pepper calling my name,” Barnes said as he walked to the break room. He didn’t wait for a response from McIlroy.

****************************

The hair analysis arrived the next day, as promised. McIlroy read through the report and sighed. She was about to arrest a cop for murder.

****************************

McIlroy looked around. Everyone who was supposed to be here was here: the chief, the captain, her father, the mayor, and Barnes. Barnes the miscreant. Barnes the fuck-up. The man who didn’t deserve any respect for what he was.

“Thank you all for being on time,” McIlroy gave Barnes a significant look. Barnes scratched the side of his face with his middle finger.

“Ok. This is what happened.”

****************************

The news wasn’t good. It was the worst news possible for GQ. He sat in his cell and stared unbelievingly at his attorney.

“It’s the blood on your uniform, I’m afraid. That’s evidence that just can’t be explained away. I can try a plea bargain…”

“But I didn’t do it! I was home…”

His attorney raised her hands in frustration.

“That’s just it. You have no alibi. You have blood spatters from the victim on your uniform. Unless you have an accomplice that you can turn over, I don’t see what can be done.”

“But I didn’t do it!” GQ wailed.

“Of course. Of course,” the attorney said flatly.

He did it. Too bad. Seems like a nice enough guy and he puts on a good act. I’ll do my duty, but he’s gonna get the juice. Lunch with Becky today. I hope she doesn’t order the salmon again. I don’t like kissing her with that fish on her breath…

****************************

“Barnes!”

Barnes snapped out of his reverie and turned his attention to McIlroy.

“Present,” he said.

“Yes. Great. Could you shut the door, or do you prefer I yell over the noise out there?”

Barnes, moving with all the speed of a sedated turtle, got out of his chair and shut the door. He slunk back to his seat and looked up at McIlroy. He had never noticed how tall she was until today.

“The first thing that bothered me was the lighter that Detective Williams found. It had scratch marks on the bottom that were characteristic of the scratch marks that Barnes puts on his lighters. But there were only two scratch marks, not three. Barnes had just finalized his third divorce, and he immediately put an extra scratch on the bottom of his lighter.

“And then the hair found at the scene. It was Barnes’ hair, but it didn’t have the substance in it that Barnes had been using recently. It was his hair, but it wasn’t his recent hair, if you know what I mean.”

Everyone nodded. McIlroy’s father beamed at his little girl. Barnes wondered what kind of man could raise a kid who turned out to be like McIlroy. The mayor wondered how he was going to keep the sordid details out of the newspaper.

“He was being set up, but by whom? And then a couple of things stood out as odd. Williams is an expert marksman, and he could have made those shots. Williams also whistled a Hank Williams song one day, but he isn’t the type to listen to Hank Williams, being so young. The music that was playing at the crime scene was a Spotify playlist, and it had a couple of Hank Williams songs on it that had been played several hours earlier. I checked that out myself. It seemed telling that GQ would be whistling this. None of it meant anything by itself, but taken all together, it added up. Williams was framing Barnes.

“But there was no proof. Williams had, however, just dropped off his dirty uniforms at the dry cleaner establishment across the street. Fortunately, they suck at quick service, so I went and had his uniforms analyzed. Bingo. Small blood spatters on the cuffs of his uniform. The blood matched the vic’s blood. We had our man.”

Everyone nodded and stood, giving McIlroy the standing ovation she deserved. After a few handshakes and other formalities, the group filed out. McIlroy gathered her papers and left the conference room. She would be receiving a commendation for solving this case; she saved a cop from being framed by another cop. The department would be very grateful. McIlroy was a hero. She would retire as a hero.

****************************

Later that night, in a seedy motel outside of town…

McIlroy rolled off the man she had just decided to screw and lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply before passing it to him. He puffed on the cigarette gently before passing it back to McIlroy, turning to his right to retrieve two glasses. He filled them with whiskey and passed one glass to McIlroy.

A clink of glasses and two quick swallows, followed by more whiskey. It was going to be that kind of night.

“It was easier than I thought it would be,” McIlroy said.

“But he’ll probably get the death penalty. Don’t that bother you?”

McIlroy turned to her lover.

“Does it bother you that you helped?”

“Not really. Should it?”

“No.”

The couple were silent for a few minutes, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap whiskey. McIlroy stroked his thinning hair.

“The blood spatters on his uniform was the right way to go. Anything else wouldn’t have been as conclusive. How did you do that?”

McIlroy rolled over on her elbow and grinned at her accomplice.

“I wore one of his uniforms when I did it. He never noticed that one was missing. Got his laundry from the dry cleaners across the street and put the evidence in with the other clothes. Added some convincing DNA to the insides of the uniform and voila!”

“Damn. You’re good.”

“Yeah, well. GQ was good. He was going to surpass me one day, and I just can’t have that. My dad’s going to be mayor soon, and I want to be the chief one day. He was in the way.

“Thanks for the help, by the way. With the hair and the lighter.”

“Sure. Least I could do.”

“Ok. Gotta go. Can’t be seen leaving here.”

“You mean, leaving here with me?”

“Yes.”

“Cool.”

“Do it again soon?”

“Sure.”

The door slammed behind McIlroy. She stood for a moment, breathing in the cool night air and enjoying the breeze. She then walked to her vehicle, contemplating her future. The man she left in the motel room wasn’t part of her future. He was useful, but now he was a liability.

She wondered idly how she could poison a honey bun.

January 13, 2023 10:40

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30 comments

Tommy Goround
09:59 Feb 05, 2023

Checking watch. 4 weeks. All is well?

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Delbert Griffith
12:08 Feb 06, 2023

Yes. Wife is home from hospital and rehabilitating. It's a long road, but we're getting there. Thanks for checking in, Tommy.

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Delbert Griffith
12:08 Feb 06, 2023

Yes. Wife is home from hospital and rehabilitating. It's a long road, but we're getting there. Thanks for checking in, Tommy.

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Helen A Smith
17:33 Jan 19, 2023

Fantastic dialogue and a great twist at the end.

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Delbert Griffith
23:51 Jan 19, 2023

Thanks so much, Helen. I appreciate it.

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Sophia Gavasheli
20:47 Jan 18, 2023

Oh damn! Did not see that twist coming; I thought it was Barnes the whole time. Sometimes I wonder if you're secretly a cop Delbert, because your murder mysteries are so thought-out and authentic, especially the relationships between the detectives. I love Barnes as a character, especially when his honey bun gets stuck in the vending machine. So relatable! 🤣 Hopefully, he stops eating honey buns though...

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Delbert Griffith
11:29 Jan 19, 2023

He'll stop - pretty soon, if McIlroy gets her way. Glad you liked the tale, Sophia. Thank you.

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Michał Przywara
21:32 Jan 17, 2023

Yeah, it kept me guessing :) Even at the end, I only had a suspicion it was Barnes with her, but it could well have been someone else. I didn't see the twist. Initially, I naturally assumed it was Barnes, because of the lighter. GQ didn't seem the type, but him having done it was certainly a possibility, as was him trying to frame Barnes. The idea of a third party also occurred to me, but not McIlroy :) And for such a petty reason too. GQ might have been good, but he had years of catching up to do and wasn't connected via family. Seems l...

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Delbert Griffith
22:19 Jan 17, 2023

Thanks so much for the nice review, Michal. I always appreciate and value what you have to say. I'm glad I kept you guessing; that alone is a remarkable feat. You always know my endings; sometimes I think you know them before I do! LOL Yes, the reason was petty, but McIlroy was obsessed with advancement to please daddy. She wasn't willing to risk her star being dimmed by anyone. Like most murderers, her rationalization for her crime makes sense to her. "The rich get richer" theme is depressing, I agree. Again, thank you, Michal. I love yo...

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Edward Latham
16:55 Jan 17, 2023

The master of cop crime dramas strikes again! As always you lure me in with clues and red herrings and then the surprise twist delivers. How's the novel about Dolores going Delbert?

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Delbert Griffith
22:14 Jan 17, 2023

LOL Thanks so much for the kind words, Edward. I always appreciate your comments, truly. The Dolores saga is going slow because life keeps on interrupting me. But it will get done, that I assure you, Edward. Thank you again. I appreciate you.

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Laurel Hanson
18:20 Jan 16, 2023

This is super. Tight and compact, it delivers a solid crime caper with some twists and with great dialogue that works to create clear and distinct characters.

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Delbert Griffith
18:51 Jan 16, 2023

Thanks so much, Laurel. I appreciate the kind words and the nice review. A solid crime caper is always welcome in my home! LOL Thanks again, Laurel. Truly.

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Danielle Hatton
21:32 Jan 14, 2023

I loved this! I really thought Barnes was going to be the one in the cell. Very good twister at the end. It kept me in suspense.i really had no idea what was going to happen.,😊

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Delbert Griffith
23:00 Jan 14, 2023

Thanks so much, Danielle. I appreciate the kind words and the thoughtful analysis. I'm pleased that you liked the twist at the end. It was fun to write. Cheers!

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Jeannette Miller
16:54 Jan 14, 2023

Well done! The story flows well and doesn't feel rushed. I like how you think you know the characters, but by the end, you realize you don't. A solid crime caper and reveal.

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Delbert Griffith
17:36 Jan 14, 2023

Thank you very much, Jeannette. I love a crime caper as well as the next person, but they are difficult to write! LOL Still, it was fun to create and the twists are always worth the effort. I'm pleased you liked it, Jeanette. Truly.

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Jeannette Miller
19:04 Jan 14, 2023

Hey, forgot to mention a little thing. It was Paul Newman, not Steve McQueen in both of those films...

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Delbert Griffith
20:27 Jan 14, 2023

You're right! Damn! LOL

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Wendy Kaminski
18:54 Jan 13, 2023

I love a good crime drama, and this was extremely well-done! Very engaging from start to finish, and the clues! Often, detective stories don't do clues well, but I really thought this one worked perfectly! Favorite line: "blood spatters" because you know I love that you didn't use "splatters"! Seeming typo: Barned looked up wearily. Thanks for posting one of my favorite story types, loved it!

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Delbert Griffith
19:02 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks so much, Wendy, and thanks for catching the typo. Yes, spatters. I fucking hate it when I see 'splatters' instead of 'spatters.' LOL I'm so pleased that you approve of the story; it's easy to screw up the logic, yes? If it passed your critical eye, then I know it's worthy. Thank you very, very much. I always appreciate your reviews and comments. Cheers!

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Wendy Kaminski
19:07 Jan 13, 2023

My pleasure! :) Will be looking forward to more of these detective stories now, though, you know... :)

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Delbert Griffith
19:28 Jan 13, 2023

Yes, ma'am! LOL

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Lily Finch
17:09 Jan 13, 2023

A very sinister tale and intriguing, with lots of suspense hinting at a sequel. Great work here Del. Your diction and pacing were bang on. Quite the tale! Trying to climb the ladder to Chief, McIlroy will stop at nothing to get there. Watch out Barnes. To be continued please Del. LF6.

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Delbert Griffith
17:40 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks, Lily! I'm pleased that you liked the twisted tale. And yes, Barnes is next: death by honey bun. LOL As always, I truly appreciate your insights and reviews. Cheers, LF6!

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Delbert Griffith
17:40 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks, Lily! I'm pleased that you liked the twisted tale. And yes, Barnes is next: death by honey bun. LOL As always, I truly appreciate your insights and reviews. Cheers, LF6!

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Mike Panasitti
15:26 Feb 07, 2023

Delbert, your skill in developing hard-boiled murder mystery plots is admirable. I particularly enjoyed the witty, deprecating banter between the cops. I've mistook Paul Newman for Steve McQueen (and vice versa) before as well, so, it's not an end of the world error. The only critique of fictional accuracy I have is the use of quarters to buy items from a vending machine. It seems most vending machines these days make change for bills or accept payment cards. But, then again, the story could have been set in the 80s when sales apparatus...

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Delbert Griffith
22:12 Feb 07, 2023

Thanks so much, Mike. I always appreciate your comments and reviews; you're such a good writer that your likes are worth a lot to me. Believe it or not, the school I just retired from has a machine that still takes quarters. Crazy, right? I imagined that police headquarters would have dinosaur machines as well. Again, thanks so much, Mike. Truly.

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Amanda Lieser
21:51 Jan 14, 2023

Hi Delbert! This was an interesting one and I loved the take on the prompt. I thought you did a fantastic job of creating dynamic characters. And I love a good story à la cop show. This one surprised me. But I felt like you did a great job of giving all of your characters plenty of autonomy which was really interesting And made the ending believable. I had one question: is Mcllroy a lady? Because I noticed this line: McIlroy stroked his thinning hair. Otherwise, nice job!

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Delbert Griffith
23:02 Jan 14, 2023

Yes, McIlroy is a woman. I see how that line reads. Dammit! I'm pleased that you enjoyed this, Amanda. I always look forward to your reviews. Cheers!

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