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´╗┐Title: Breakdown
Author: Kastle, Herbert D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Breakdown" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                               BREAKDOWN

                         By HERBERT D. KASTLE

                         Illustrated by COWLES

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Galaxy Magazine June 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                HOW ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP THEM DOWN ON
                THE FARM--AFTER THEY'VE SEEN THE TRUTH?


He didn't know exactly when it had started, but it had been going on
for weeks. Edna begged him to see the doctor living in that new house
two miles past Dugan's farm, but he refused. He point-blank refused to
admit he was sick _that_ way--in the head!

Of course, a man could grow forgetful. He had to admit there were
moments when he had all sorts of mixed-up memories and thoughts in his
mind. And sometimes--like right now, lying in bed beside Edna, watching
the first hint of light touch the windows--he began sweating with fear.
A horrible, gut-wrenching fear, all the more horrible because it was
based on nothing.

The chicken-run came alive; the barn followed minutes later. There were
chores to do, the same chores he'd done all his forty-one years. Except
that now, with the new regulations about wheat and corn, he had only
a vegetable patch to farm. Sure, he got paid for letting the fields
remain empty. But it just didn't seem right, all that land going to
waste....

_Davie. Blond hair and a round, tanned face and strong arms growing
stronger each day from helping out after school._

He turned and shook Edna. "What happened to Davie?"

She cleared her throat, mumbled, "Huh? What happened to who?"

"I said, what...." But then it slipped away. Davie? No, that was part
of a dream he'd had last week. He and Edna had no children.

He felt the fear again, and got up fast to escape it. Edna opened her
eyes as soon as his weight left the bed. "Like hotcakes for breakfast?"

"Eggs," he said. "Bacon." And then, seeing her face change, he
remembered. "Course," he muttered. "Can't have bacon. Rationed."

She was fully awake now. "If you'd only go see Dr. Hamming, Harry. Just
for a checkup. Or let me call him so he could--"

"You stop that! You stop that right now, and for good! I don't want to
hear no more about doctors. I get laid up, I'll call one. And it won't
be that Hamming who I ain't never seen in my life! It'll be Timkins,
who took care'n us and brought our son into the world and...."

She began to cry, and he realized he'd said something crazy again. They
had no son, never had a son. And Timkins--he'd died and they'd gone to
his funeral. Or so Edna said.

He himself just couldn't remember it.

He went to the bed and sat down beside her. "Sorry. That was just a
dream I had. I'm still half asleep this morning. Couldn't fall off last
night, not till real late. Guess I'm a little nervous, what with all
the new regulations and not working regular. I never meant we had a
son." He waited then, hoping she'd say they _had_ had a son, and he'd
died or gone away. But of course she didn't.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went to the bathroom and washed. By the time he came to the kitchen,
Edna had hotcakes on a plate and coffee in a cup. He sat down and ate.
Part way through the meal, he paused. "Got an awful craving for meat,"
he said. "Goddam those rations! Man can't even butcher his own stock
for his own table!"

"We're having meat for lunch," she said placatingly. "Nice cut of
multi-pro."

"Multi-pro," he scoffed. "God knows what's in it. Like spam put through
a grinder a hundred times and then baked into slabs. Can't hardly taste
any meat there."

"Well, we got no choice. Country's on emergency rations. The current
crisis, you know."

The way she said it irritated him. Like it was Scripture; like no one
could question one word of it without being damned to Hell. He finished
quickly and without speaking went on out to the barn.

He milked and curried and fed and cleaned, and still was done inside
of two hours. Then he walked slowly, head down, across the hay-strewn
floor. He stopped, put out his hand as if to find a pole or beam that
was too familiar to require raising his eyes, and almost fell as he
leaned in that direction. Regaining his balance after a sideward
staggering shuffle, he looked around, startled. "Why, this ain't the
way I had my barn...."

He heard his own voice, and stopped. He fought the flash of senseless
panic. Of course this was the way he'd had his barn built, because it
_was_ his barn!

He rubbed his hard hands together and said aloud, "Get down to the
patch. Them tomatoes need fertilizer for tang." He walked outside and
took a deep breath. Air was different, wasn't it? Sweet and pure and
clean, like country air always was and always would be; but still,
different somehow. Maybe sharper. Or was sharp the word? Maybe....

He went quickly across the yard, past the pig-pen--he'd had twelve
pigs, hadn't he? Now he had four--behind the house to where the
half-acre truck farm lay greening in the sun. He got to work. Sometime
later, Edna called to him. "Delivery last night, Harry. I took some.
Pick up rest?"

"Yes," he shouted.

She disappeared.

He walked slowly back to the house. As he came into the front yard,
moving toward the road and the supply bin, something occurred to him.
_The car._ He hadn't seen the old Chevvy in ... how long? It'd be nice
to take a ride to town, see a movie, maybe have a few beers.

No. It was against the travel regulations. He couldn't go further than
Walt and Gloria Shanks' place. They couldn't go further than his. And
the gas rationing. Besides, he'd sold the car, hadn't he? Because it
was no use to him lying in the tractor shed.

       *       *       *       *       *

He whirled, staring out across the fields to his left. Why, the tractor
shed had stood just fifty feet from the house!

No, he'd torn it down. The tractor was in town, being overhauled and
all. He was leaving it there until he had use for it.

He went on toward the road, his head beginning to throb. Why should
a man his age, hardly sick at all since he was a kid, suddenly start
losing hold this way? Edna was worried. The Shanks had noticed it too.

He was at the supply bin--like an old-fashioned wood bin; a box with
a sloping flap lid. Deliveries of food and clothing and home medicines
and other things were left here. You wrote down what you needed, and
they left it--or whatever they allowed you--with a bill. You paid the
bill by leaving money in the bin, and the next week you found a receipt
and your new stuff and your new bill. And almost always you found some
money from the government, for not planting wheat or not planting corn.
It came out just about even.

He hauled out a sack of flour, half the amount of sugar Edna had
ordered, some dried fruit, a new Homekit Medicine Shelf. He carried it
into the house, and noticed a slip of paper pinned to the sugar bag. A
television program guide.

Edna hustled over excitedly. "Anything good on this week, Harry?"

He looked down the listings, and frowned. "All old movies. Still only
one channel. Still only from nine to eleven at night." He gave it to
her, turned away; then stopped and waited. He'd said the same thing
last week. And she had said the films were all new to her.

She said it now. "Why Harry, I've never seen this movie with Clark
Gable. Nor the comedy with Red Skeleton. Nor the other five neither."

"I'm gonna lie down," he said flatly. He turned and stepped forward,
and found himself facing the stove. Not the door to the hall; the
stove. "But the door...." he began. He cut himself short. He turned and
saw the door a few feet to the left, beside the table. He went there
and out and up the stairs (they too had moved; they too weren't right)
and into the bedroom and lay down. The bedroom was wrong. The bed was
wrong. The windows were wrong.

The world was wrong! Lord, the whole damned world was wrong!

       *       *       *       *       *

Edna didn't wake him, so they had a late lunch. Then he went back to
the barn and let the four cows and four sheep and two horses into the
pastures. Then he checked to see that Edna had fed the chickens right.
They had only a dozen or so now.

When had he sold the rest? And when had he sold his other livestock?

Or had they died somehow? A rough winter? Disease?

He stood in the yard, a tall, husky man with pale brown hair and a face
that had once been long, lean and strong and was now only long and
lean. He blinked gray eyes and tried hard to remember, then turned and
went to the house. Edna was soaking dishes in the sink, according to
regulations--one sinkful of dishwater a day. And one tub of bath water
twice a week.

She was looking at him. He realized his anger and confusion must be
showing. He managed a smile. "You remember how much we got for our
livestock, Edna?"

"Same as everyone else," she said. "Government agents paid flat rates."

He remembered then, or thought he did. The headache was back. He went
upstairs and slept again, but this time he had dreams, many of them,
and all confused and all frightening. He was glad to get up. And he was
glad to hear Walt and Gloria talking to Edna downstairs.

He washed his face, combed his hair and went down. Walt and Gloria were
sitting on the sofa, Edna in the blue armchair. Walt was saying he'd
gotten the new TV picture tube he'd ordered. "Found it in the supply
bin this morning. Spent the whole day installing it according to the
book of directions."

Harry said hi and they all said hi and he sat down and they talked
about TV and gardens and livestock. Then Harry said, "How's Penny?"

"Fine," Gloria answered. "I'm starting her on the kindergarten book
next week."

"She's five already?" Harry asked.

"Almost six," Walt said. "Emergency Education Regulations state that
the child should be five years nine months old before embarking on
kindergarten book."

"And Frances?" Harry asked. "Your oldest? She must be starting
high...." He stopped, because they were all staring at him, and because
he couldn't remember Frances clearly. "Just a joke," he said, laughing
and rising. "Let's eat. I'm starved."

       *       *       *       *       *

They ate in the kitchen. They talked--or rather Edna, Gloria and Walt
did. Harry nodded and said uh-huh and used his mouth for chewing.

Walt and Gloria went home at ten-fifteen. They said goodbye at the
door and Harry walked away. He heard Gloria whispering something about
Doctor Hamming.

He was sitting in the living room when Edna came in. She was crying.
"Harry, please see the doctor."

He got up. "I'm going out. I might even sleep out!"

"But why, Harry, why?"

He couldn't stand to see her crying. He went to her, kissed her wet
cheek, spoke more softly. "It'll do me good, like when I was a kid."

"If you say so, Harry."

He left quickly. He went outside and across the yard to the road. He
looked up it and down it, to the north and to the south. It was a
bright night with moon and stars, but he saw nothing, no one. The road
was empty. It was always empty, except when Walt and Gloria walked over
from their place a mile or so south. But once it hadn't been empty.
Once there'd been cars, people....

He had to do something. Just sitting and looking at the sky wouldn't
help him. He had to go somewhere, see someone.

He went to the barn and looked for his saddle. There was no saddle. But
he'd had one hanging right behind the door. Or had he?

He threw a blanket over Plum, the big mare, and tied it with a piece of
wash line. He used another piece for a bridle, since he couldn't find
that either, and didn't bother making a bit. He mounted, and Plum moved
out of the barn and onto the road. He headed north, toward town.

Then he realized he couldn't go along the road this way. He'd be
reported. Breaking travel regulations was a serious offense. He didn't
know what they did to you, but it wasn't anything easy like a fine.

He cut into an unfenced, unplanted field.

His headache was back, worse now than it had ever been. His entire
head throbbed, and he leaned forward and put his cheek against Plum's
mane. The mare whinnied uneasily, but he kicked her sides and she moved
forward. He lay there, just wanting to go somewhere, just wanting to
leave his headache and confusion behind.

He didn't know how long it was, but Plum was moving cautiously now. He
raised his head. They were approaching a fence. He noticed a gate off
to the right, and pulled the rope so Plum went that way. They reached
the gate and he got down to open it, and saw the sign. "Phineas Grotton
Farm." He looked up at the sky, found the constellations, turned his
head, and nodded. He'd started north, and Plum had continued north.
He'd crossed land belonging both to himself and the Franklins. Now he
was leaving the Franklin farm. North of the Franklins were the Bessers.
Who was this Phineas Grotton? Had he bought out Lon Besser? But
anything like that would've gotten around.

Was he forgetting again?

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, no matter. Mr. Grotton would have to excuse his trespass. He
opened the gate, led Plum through it, closed the gate. He mounted and
rode forward, still north, toward the small Pangborn place and after
the Pangborns the biggest farm in the county--old Wallace Elverton's
place. The fields here, as everywhere in the county, lay fallow. Seemed
as if the government had so much grain stored up they'd be able to get
along without crops for years more.

He looked around. Somehow, the country bothered him. He wasn't sure
why, but ... everything was wrong.

His head weighed an agonized ton. He put it down again. Plum went
sedately forward. After a while she stopped. Harry looked up. Another
fence. And what a fence! About ten feet of heavy steel mesh, topped by
three feet of barbed-wire--five separate strands. What in the world had
Sam Pangborn been thinking of to put up a monster like this?

He looked around. The gate should be further west. He rode that way.
He found no gate. He turned back, heading east. No gate. Nothing but
fence. And wasn't the fence gradually curving inward? He looked back.
Yes, there _was_ a slight inward curve.

He dismounted and tied Plum to the fence, then stepped back and figured
the best way to get to the other side.

The best way, the only way, was to claw, clutch and clamber, as they
used to say back when he was a kid.

It took some doing. He tore his shirt on the barbed wire, but he got
over and began walking, straight ahead, due north. The earth changed
beneath his feet. He stooped and touched it. Sand. Hard-packed sand.
He'd never seen the like of it in this county.

He walked on. A sound came to him; a rising-falling whisper. He
listened to it, and looked up every so often at the sky, to make sure
he was heading in the right direction.

And the sand ended. His shoes plunked over flooring.

Flooring!

He knelt to make sure, and his hand felt wooden planks. He rose, and
glanced up to see if he was still outdoors. Then he laughed. It was a
sick laugh, so he stopped it.

He took another step. His shoes sounded against the wood. He walked.
More wood. Wood that went on, as the sand had. And the roaring sound
growing louder. And the air changing, smelling like air never had
before in Cultwait County.

       *       *       *       *       *

His entire body trembled. His mind trembled too. He walked, and came to
a waist-high metal railing, and made a tiny sound deep in his throat.
He looked out over water, endless water rolling in endless waves under
the night sky. Crashing water, topped with reflected silver from the
moon. Pounding water, filling the air with spray.

He put out his hands and grasped the railing. It was wet. He raised
damp fingers to his mouth. Salt.

He stepped back, back, and turned and ran. He ran wildly, blindly,
until he could run no more. Then he fell, feeling the sand beneath him,
and shut his eyes and mind to everything.

Much later, he got up and went to the fence and climbed it. He came
down on the other side and looked around and saw Plum. He walked to
her, mounted her, sat still. The thoughts, or dreams, or whatever they
were which had been torturing him these past few weeks began torturing
him again.

It was getting light. His head was splitting.

Davie. His son Davie. Fourteen years old. Going to high school in
town....

_Town!_ He should've gone there in the first place! He would ride east,
to the road, then head south, back toward home. That would bring him
right down Main Street. Regulations or not, he'd talk to people, find
out what was happening.

He kicked Plum's sides. The mare began to move. He kept kicking until
she broke into a brisk canter. He held on with hands and legs.

Why hadn't he seen the Pangborns and Elvertons lately--a long time
lately?

_The ocean. He'd seen the ocean. Not a reservoir or lake made by
flooding and by damming, but salt water and enormous. An ocean, where
there could be no ocean. The Pangborns and Elvertons had been where
that ocean was now. And after the Elvertons had come the Dobsons.
And after them the new plastics plant. And after that the city of
Crossville. And after that...._

He was passing his own farm. He hadn't come through town, and yet here
he was at his own farm. Could he have forgotten where town was? Could
it be north of his home, not south? Could a man get so confused as to
forget things he'd known all his life?

He reached the Shanks' place, and passed it at a trot. Then he was
beyond their boundaries and breaking regulations again. He stayed on
the road. He went by a small house and saw colored folks in the yard.
There'd been no colored folks here. There'd been Eli Bergen and his
family and his mother, in a bigger, newer house. The colored folks
heard Plum's hooves and looked up and stared. Then a man raised his
voice. "Mistah, you breakin' regulations! Mistah, the police gonnah get
you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He rode on. He came to another house, neat and white, with three
children playing on a grassy lawn. They saw him and ran inside. A
moment later, adult voices yelled after him:

"You theah! Stop!"

"Call the sheriff! He's headin' foah Piney Woods!"

There was no place called Piney Woods in this county.

Was this how a man's mind went?

He came to another house, and another. He passed ten all told, and
people shouted at him for breaking regulations, and the last three or
four sounded like Easterners. And their houses looked like pictures of
New England he'd seen in magazines.

He rode on. He never did come to town. He came to a ten-foot fence with
a three-foot barbed-wire extension. He got off Plum and ripped his
clothing climbing. He walked over hard-packed sand, and then wood,
and came to a low metal railing. He looked out at the ocean, gleaming
in bright sunlight, surging and seething endlessly. He felt the earth
sway beneath him. He staggered, and dropped to his hands and knees, and
shook his head like a fighter hit too many times. Then he got up and
went back to the fence and heard a sound. It was a familiar sound, yet
strange too. He shaded his eyes against the climbing sun. Then he saw
it--a car. _A car!_

       *       *       *       *       *

It was one of those tiny foreign jobs that run on practically no gas at
all. It stopped beside him and two men got out. Young men with lined,
tired faces; they wore policemen's uniforms. "You broke regulations,
Mr. Burr. You'll have to come with us."

He nodded. He wanted to. He wanted to be taken care of. He turned
toward Plum.

The other officer was walking around the horse. "Rode her hard," he
said, and he sounded real worried. "Shouldn't have done that, Mr. Burr.
We have so very few now...."

The officer holding Harry's arm said, "Pete."

The officer examining Plum said, "It won't make any difference in a
while."

Harry looked at both of them, and felt sharp, personal fear.

"Take the horse back to his farm," the officer holding Harry said. He
opened the door of the little car and pushed Harry inside. He went
around to the driver's side and got behind the wheel and drove away.
Harry looked back. Pete was leading Plum after them; not riding him,
walking him. "He sure must like horses," he said.

"Yes."

"Am I going to jail?"

"No."

"Where then?"

"The doctor's place."

They stopped in front of the new house two miles past Dugan's farm.
Except he'd never seen it before. Or had he? Everyone seemed to know
about it--or was everyone only Edna and the Shanks?

He got out of the car. The officer took his arm and led him up the
path. Harry noticed that the new house was big.

When they came inside, he knew it wasn't like any house he'd ever seen
or heard of. There was this long central passageway, and dozens of
doors branched off it on both sides, and stairways went down from it in
at least three places that he could see, and at the far end--a good two
hundred yards away--a big ramp led upward. And it was all gray plaster
walls and dull black floors and cold white lighting, like a hospital,
or a modern factory, or maybe a government building. Except that he
didn't see or hear people.

He did hear _something_; a low, rumbling noise. The further they came
along the hall, the louder the rumbling grew. It seemed to be deep down
somewhere.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went through one of the doors on the right, into a windowless
room. A thin little man with bald head and frameless glasses was there,
putting on a white coat. His veiny hands shook. He looked a hundred
years old. "Where's Petey?" he asked.

"Pete's all right, Dad. Just leading a horse back to Burr's farm."

The old man sighed. "I didn't know what form it would take. I expected
one or two cases, but I couldn't predict whether it would be gradual or
sudden, whether or not it would lead to violence."

"No violence, Dad."

"Fine, Stan." He looked at Harry. "I'm going to give you a little
treatment, Mr. Burr. It'll settle your nerves and make everything...."

"What happened to Davie?" Harry asked, things pushing at his brain
again.

Stan helped him up. "Just step this way, Mr. Burr."

He didn't resist. He went through the second door into the room with
the big chair. He sat down and let them strap his arms and legs and let
them lower the metal thing over his head. He felt needles pierce his
scalp and the back of his neck. He let them do what they wanted; he
would let them kill him if they wanted. All he asked was one answer so
as to know whether or not he was insane.

"What happened to my son Davie?"

The old man walked across the room and examined what looked like the
insides of a dozen big radios. He turned, his hand on a switch.

"Please," Harry whispered. "Just tell me about my son."

The doctor blinked behind his glasses, and then his hand left the
switch. "Dead," he said, his voice a rustling of dried leaves. "Like so
many millions of others. Dead, when the bombs fell. Dead, as everyone
knew they would be and no one did anything to prevent. Dead. Perhaps
the whole world is dead--except for us."

Harry stared at him.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I can't take the time to explain it all. I have too much to do. Just
three of us--myself and my two sons. My wife lost her mind. I should
have helped her as I'm helping you."

"I don't understand," Harry said. "I remember people, and things, and
where are they now? Dead? People can die, but farms, cities...."

"I haven't the time," the doctor repeated, voice rising. "I have to run
a world. Three of us, to run a world! I built it as best I could, but
how large could I make it? The money. The years and years of work. The
people calling me insane when they found out ... but a few giving me
more money, and the work going on. And those few caught like everyone
else, unprepared when the holocaust started, unprepared and unable to
reach my world. So they died. As I knew they would. As they should have
known they would."

Harry felt the rumbling beneath him. Engines?

"You survived," the doctor said. "Your wife. A few hundred others in
the rural areas. One other family in your area. I survived because
I lived for survival, like a mole deep in the earth, expecting the
catastrophe every minute. I survived because I gave up living to
survive." He laughed, high and thin.

His son said, "Please, Dad...."

"No! I want to talk to someone _sane_! You and Petey and I--we're all
insane, you know. Three years now, playing God, waiting for some land,
any land, to become habitable. And knowing everything, and surrounded
by people who are sane only because I made sure they would know
nothing." He stepped forward, glaring at Harry. "Now do you understand?
I went across the country, picking up a few of the few left alive. Most
were farmers, and even where some weren't I picked the farmers anyway.
Because farmers are what we'll need, and all the rest can evolve later.
I put you and the others, eighty-six all told, from every section of
the country, on my world, the only uncontaminated land left. I gave
you back your old lives. I couldn't give you big crops because we
don't need big crops. We would only exhaust our limited soil with big
crops. But I gave you vegetable gardens and livestock and, best of all,
_sanity_! I wiped the insane moments from your minds. I gave you peace
and consigned myself, my sons, my own wife...."

He choked and stopped.

Stan ran across the room to the switch. Harry watched him, and his
brain struggled with an impossible concept. He heard the engines and
remembered the ocean on two sides; on four sides had he bothered to
check south and east; on _all_ sides if that fence continued to curve
inward. Ocean, and there was no ocean in Iowa.

And this wasn't Iowa.

_The explosions had ripped the world, and he'd tried to get to town to
save Davie, and there'd been no town and there'd been no people and
there'd been only death and poison in the air and even those few people
left had begun to die, and then the truck with the huge trailer had
come, the gleaming trailer with the little man and his trembling wife
and his two sons...._

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly, he understood. And understanding brought not peace but the
greatest terror he'd ever known. He screamed, "We're on...." but the
switch was thrown and there was no more speech. For an hour. Then he
got out of the chair and said, "Sure glad I took my wife's advice and
came to see you, Doctor Hamming. I feel better already, and after only
one.... What do you call these treatments?"

"Diathermy," the little doctor muttered.

Harry gave him a five-dollar bill. The doctor gave him two singles in
change. "That's certainly reasonable enough," Harry said.

The doctor nodded. "There's a police officer in the hall. He'll drive
you home so there won't be any trouble with the travel regulations."

Harry said, "Thanks. Think we'll ever see the end of travel regulations
and rationing and all the rest of the emergency?"

"You will, Mr. Burr."

Harry walked to the door.

"We're on an ark," the doctor said.

Harry turned around, smiling. "What?"

"A test, Mr. Burr. You passed it. Goodbye."

Harry went home. He told Edna he felt just great! She said she'd been
worried when an officer found Plum wandering on the road; she thought
maybe Harry had gone off somewhere and broken travel regulations.

"Me?" he exclaimed, amazed. "Break travel regulations? I'd as soon kill
a pig!"





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public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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