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Retrieve calls - some custom fields not being returned

I'm trying to run a retrieve and finding that some of the fields are not returned. Completely stumped.

Background: I'm using and Perl. Using Data Dumper on the call and response gives:
$VAR1 = {
'fields' => 'Id,AccountId,OwnerId,email_notification__c,Languages__c,Level__c',
'ids' => [
'type' => 'Contact'

$VAR1 = bless( {
'Id' => '00330000001lzUPAAY',
'AccountId' => '001300000018DA1AAM',
'OwnerId' => '00530000000cIpFAAU',
'Languages__c' => 'English',
'Level__c' => 'Primary'
}, 'Contact' );

Notice that email_notification__c is not returned. Neither is it returning a fault along the lines of "Invalid field". It just calmly returns some but not all.

Any ideas?
does email_notification__c have a value for that Id ?
Ah-ha! It didn't. I put in a test value and it did return after all.