Yellow Mama Archives

Jack Bates
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Art by Steve Cartwright 2012



Jack Bates



In the locker room before the bout, I sat on the wooden bench pulling on my gloves and flexing my fingers. Those two little angel faces taped inside my locker smiled back at me. Amanda’s two front teeth gapped in the picture, Brittany’s soul searching eyes looked deep into mine.  ‘I’m doing it for them,’ I kept telling myself. ‘I’m doing it for them.’


I laced up my lucky yellow shoes. Each girl had written her name on one so they would always be with me. I kicked my left foot up against the locker door next to mine to tie one of the shoes.  It was easier then bending over and I wasn’t as likely to get dizzy.  I felt a hand fall on my shoulder. I knew it whose it was without even looking around at its owner.


“Mr. Margosian will be waiting for you after the fight,” the hand’s owner said.


I still didn’t look at him. “Tell Mr. Margosian I will be there, Marr-Kee.”


Marr-Kee used to fight but after he got slow, he became Mr. Margosian’s enforcer. Don’t get me wrong. The man could still bust bones like he was snapping a pole bean. He just lost his luster in the cage. He took his hand off my shoulder. I felt his hot, liquored breath on the side of my face.


“I’m just saying, what he’s asking, it ain’t no raw deal. Look at me. I played his game. He kept his promise. All you got to do is keep yours.”


I turned to face him. “Tell Mr. Margosian I’ll be there.”


Marr-Kee kept giving me a look like I didn’t get it. He stood up. “It ain’t that bad, Big. Just got to shake it off when it’s done.”


Shake it off. Like my old man used to say to me when he beat the shit out of me for talking back or blowing off my chores. “Grow up, ya pussy. Shake it off.” A guy can only shake it off so many times before he has to fight back, right?


The arena manager came into the locker room. “Todd Bigelow. Mason Handles. Let’s go boys. Into the tunnel.”


Across the locker room my opponent, Mason Handles, swung his arms out and around to give himself a bear hug. He bounced up and down with all the energy of the up and coming punk I once had been. Who knew being a mixed-martial arts icon had a shelf life of five years? Marr-Kee must have. I should have seen the end coming like a roundabout kick to the head. But I didn’t.


I kissed my finger tips twice, each time stroking the faces of my two darling girls. They lived with my mom a million miles from my world. Two little girls, two different mothers. One had been a ring girl with a dirty little secret. The other a fan for a night. Both of them took me to the cleaners but in exchange, I got my girls. I struggled for a while but I shook it off and pulled my shit together. I had gotten pretty good at that.


“Let’s go, boys,” the manager said.


I looked up from my locker.  Handles got up in my face when I turned around.


“You’re my bitch tonight, Big,” Handles said.


“Back off, Mason.”


“I hope your little girls aren’t watching tonight.” He licked his fingertips before sliding them over my girls’ picture. “I’d hate for those two little dumplings to see their daddy get the shit kicked out of him.” He winked. 


“We’re taped delayed, dumb ass,” I said. I grabbed his fingers. “Touch my girls’ picture again and I’ll break these.”


Mason brought up his fist lightning fast.  Marr-Kee stepped in between us. “Save it for the cage, son,” he said. Handles ran his eyes over Marr-Kee before he backed off. His trainer led him down the tunnel first.


I turned to Marr-Kee. I didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. He knew what bullshit it all was.


“Shake it off, Big,” Marr-Kee said. “See you after the fight.”


I went down the tunnel alone. My life had been like that lately. The spotlights were dimming on me, fewer and fewer backers. Until Margosian, a carpet cleaning millionaire, brought me out of semi-retirement because he wanted a stake in professional sports, I was close to bagging groceries. Margosian wasn’t rich enough to buy a minor league baseball team but he did have enough cash on hand to sponsor a three-time world champion of the Extreme Mixed-Arts Fighter Association.


“You need me, I need you,” Margosian had told me in his office. “This will be the greatest comeback since Ali.”


My career became nothing more than a second card bout with the latest Big-like challenger. I was a twenty-eight year old freak show. I missed the fame. I needed the cash. I did it for my girls.


 My name echoed from the far end of the tunnel. Out I went, fists held high over my head. The room exploded. Inside the cage, Handles halted his ballet to watch me approach. I saw his eyes move under that thick Neanderthal ridge across his forehead. He was watching the crowd.


“You going down tonight, Big,” he yelled. His voice barely cut through the crowd. He slammed his hands against his chest. “I’m the new champ. Me. You got that, Big? I’m the new king of the cage.” He might as well have put it up in flashing neon. He was, indeed, going to be the new king of the cage because I was supposed to let him.


Handles was good. He won back some of his fans momentarily blinded by my arrival. People can say whatever they want about my personal life and how fucked up it was but the fact was I had been an EMFA god. I had triumphed in my challenges. I was Hercules, his family intact. I was legend.


For Handles the fight that night was a marquee moment. For me, it was a requiem. All I had to was make it look good, real.


I went into the cage. Handles and I stood nose to nose while the ref rattled off the rules. Staring into Handles’ dark, empty eyes, I knew I couldn’t go through with it. Handles represented everything that was wrong with the EMFA: Arrogance over ability; commercialism in place of professionalism.  And of course, there was the graft.


          I didn’t know who Margosian’s silent partners were, I had a good idea, but I had never met them. There were plenty of stories about guys who were on their way up and then just disappeared. Everyone knew the story of the card girl who dropped from one of their penthouses because she was high on coke, or at least that was what was said to the police. I only dealt with Margosian, a self-made millionaire with dreams of being something bigger, like Handles. Everyone’s dreams would come true as long as I let mine die.


I had to, right? It wasn’t about me anymore. It was all about my girls. They loved me, respected me.


So how could I face them if I lost to this full-of-himself punk who licked his fingers in front of me in the cage just before the bell rang? How could I ask them to deal with the shame of losing to the man-ape staring me down? “Just shake it off, girls.” Is that what I’d tell them?


The first-and-only-round started. Handles had quick hands but did little with them. I couldn’t even hold back enough to make it look like it was a challenge. If I went down to this guy it would be clear to the world that the fight was fixed. Handles was just no match for Todd ‘The Bod’ Bigelow.  I still had it and if I didn’t use it, everything about me was a farce.


I couldn’t let that happen. Just for good measure, I broke Handles’ nose and a few of his fingers.


The arena went wild. Everyone was on their feet. Marr-Kee applauded with the crowd from his seat in the front row.  It was easy to see he was both proud of what I’d just done and sad to know what that meant.


I waited in the alley after the fight. No one was around. I thought about calling my girls but I knew they’d be in bed. A car eventually came around the corner. A long, black town car so wide it barely fit down the narrow path. It stopped. Margosian got out on one side, Marr-Kee on the other side. A third guy, big as a ship and just as cut, got out of the front passenger side.


“The fuck you think you’re doing, Todd?” Margosian didn’t pull any punches.


“I couldn’t lose to that guy, Mr. Margosian. Everyone would know I threw it.”


“Who the fuck cares? Your career is shit, Todd.”


“Really? Seemed like the greatest come back since Ali to me.”


“You think you’re funny? You’re in deep shit, Todd. You put me in deep shit. I don’t like being in deep shit. Now I got to explain to some very pissed off men why they just lost a bundle of money.”


“Guys like them have more than enough money to lose every now and then,” I said.


“You don’t get it, Todd. Guys like them don’t like to lose. Especially when they were supposed to win.”


Margosian snapped his fingers. The third guy came around the car. I dropped my bag. My second fight of the night was about to start. The third guy reached in his jacket and pulled out a 9mm, a heavy thick extension on the barrel. It didn’t make that ‘pingfft’ movies and TV shows like to use as a sound effect for a silencer. It was more of a muffled crack.


It was the last thing Margosian ever heard. He fell to the ground.


“Mr. Margosian’s associates would like to extend their congratulations to you, Mr. Bigelow,” the bigger guy said. He put the gun back in his shoulder holster. “They have a new proposition for you.”


I looked over the car at Marr-kee while the bigger guy lifted Margosian and dropped his body into a Dumpster.


“Get in the car, Big,” Marr-kee said. “These guys think there’s a lot of life left in you. They want to help you get your title back.”


“As long as I’m winning. Then what?”


“It’s for the best, Big,” Marr-kee said. “Think of your girls.”


I picked up my bag. “I am.”


“Alright,” Marr-kee’s smile widened.


“Tell them I said thanks but no thanks. No one owns Todd Bigelow.” I walked off down the alley towards the street. Maybe I wouldn’t fight any more, but maybe I didn’t have to. I could train other guys. And if I had to, I could bag groceries. I would do whatever I had to for my girls and they would be just as proud of their old man because I would teach them integrity.


Marr-kee yelled after me. “What do I tell those guys? They’re going to be pissed.”


“Tell them to shake it off,” I yelled back.


The air outside the alley was cool and sweet. The eyes of the gods twinkled down upon a mortal. Olympus opened its doors to me but I chose not to enter.



For the last several years Jack Bates has been writing crime fiction. This year, his short story, “Broken Down on the Bonneville Flats,” was nominated for a Derringer.  Besides appearing in Beat to a Pulp, he’s had stories run at A Twist of Noir, Thug Lit, and the cozier, Pine Tree Mysteries. He’s also had stories included in anthologies: “Emerald City Confidential” appeared in Northern Frights Publishing's Shadows of the Emerald City; “Ambrosia” appeared in the ebook The Murderer Wore Cranberry; and “Swamp Beast: A Requiem” appeared in Discount Noir. Currently, he pens a PI series with  To date, he has had seven Harry Landers stories and two stand-alone mysteries with that publisher.  In 2007 he optioned a horror script he co-wrote with a colleague to Triboro Pictures in New York.


Cavendish Returns


by Jack Bates


The banging on the door overpowered the banging Chicago Mike was doing in the bed.

“What?” Chicago Mike yelled at the door. When it opened, Miss Louise, the owner of the Three Planks whorehouse, gave him a curt smile.

“Thought you might want to know, Michael, there’s an old drunk at the bar.”

Chicago Mike lifted himself off the whore beneath him. The woman pulled down on her hem, lit the remnants of a rolled cigarette, and scooted out from under him. “You interrupted me to tell me there’s a drunk at the bar? Why don’t you have Luther toss him into the street?”

“He’s not causing any problems.”

Chicago Mike fidgeted with his pants. “So what’s it to me?”

“He said Cavendish is riding into town.”

Chicago Mike stopped. He looked up then went back to buckling his trousers. “Laid over the back of a horse, maybe. Harry Cavendish is dead.”

“So folks are saying. A coward’s bullet in the back while he was out walking one night and no one there to see who did it.”

 ‘I was,’ Chicago Mike thought. He kept those thoughts to himself. Chicago Mike cleared his throat. “You talk like he was something special to you.”

“Not just to me, Michael Irish.”

“What do you think Gentleman Harry wanted with an old whore like yourself?” Chicago Mike laughed. He strapped on his holster and pushed his way past Miss Louise. She stopped him with a hand on his chest.

“Gentlemen have needs too, Michael Irish.”

“Why you telling me all this?”

“You’re no gentleman. Henry Cavendish was.”

Chicago Mike pushed her hand away. “I mean about what the old man is saying downstairs?”

“Heard you telling folks at the bar the last night you and Cavendish exchanged some words a while back. Maybe he’s coming to finish something.”

“A dead man’s got nothing to finish,” Chicago Mike said. “Maybe he’s coming back to see you, Lu. I’ve heard you have the power to make the dead rise.” Chicago Mike took her hand and pressed it against the front of his pants. Miss Louise pulled her hand free. Chicago Mike winked and smiled at her. He went down the stairs.

The Three Planks was its usually bawdy self.

Chicago Mike had no trouble spotting the rummy waiting for him at the end of the bar: Stovepipe hat slanting over a dirty forehead, a dusty black long coat, the fingertips missing from the ends of his white gloves. The old guy sat with hands around his shot glass. The bottle in front of him stood in the crux of his arm. The remaining contents pooled just below the label. Chicago Mike sidled up to him. The old guy drew his arms around the bottle.

Chicago Mike grabbed the bottle anyway.  The old guy looked at him through watery eyes. Chicago Mike took a swallow from the bottle and said, “Lu says you’re talking about Harry Cavendish riding into town.”

“He’ll be here by morning.” There was sweat and booze and something bitter on the old man’s breath.

“How do you know?”

“I rode out of Casper yesterday. Heard some of the men say they was coming through Medicine Bow on their way to Cheyenne.”

Chicago Mike grabbed the old guy’s bottle and took a swig from it. “You say they?”

“That’s right.”

“How many?”

“Four. Five if you count Cavendish.”

“I don’t see how you can count a dead man.”

“Just telling you what I heard is all.”

“Cavendish is dead.”

“So you say.”

“Not too many men get heart shot in the back live to tell about it.”

“How’d you know he was heart shot?”

Chicago Mike took another swallow. “It’s what I heard.” The liquor was hitting him hard.

“You know what I heard?”  the old drunk asked.  “Before Harry Cavendish came here to the territories, he was knighted by Queen Victoria for his bravery at the battle of Isandhwana along the southern tip of Africa. Over 800 British soldiers were killed. Ambushed by the Zulus. But not old Harry Cavendish. He survived to fight them warriors again at Rorke’s Drift and this time defeat them.”

“He must have been a better soldier than he was marshal,” Chicago Mike said. He started to lift the bottle off the bar when the old guy grabbed it back.

“Might have been something more. One of the other survivors of the ambush swore he saw a spear pierce Cavendish’s heart. Swore it went right through the man’s chest, pushed his still beating heart out on its end. Cavendish, he said, slid down the shaft staring up at his still beating heart.”

“Horse shit, old man. Then how did he fight the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift?”

“You got to listen to my story, boy,” the old man said. “The man who saw Cavendish get run through with the spear said he heard Cavendish making a deal with his dying breath.”

“A deal? With who?”

“Who do you think? A man in the throes of death would say just about anything to live, don’t ya think? There he is dying in a desert a million miles from the Royal Crown and all he wants to do is live. He’s desperate.  Maybe he was making a deal with one of them demons those heathens worshipped.” The old guy leaned closer.  “Harry Cavendish. The man the devil saved.” He winked one eye and pulled down on the flesh below the other with a dirty finger signifying a secret that was passed.

Chicago Mike chewed on what was said for a moment or two. He didn’t much care for talk like that. This time when he grabbed the bottle, the old guy let him have it. When Chicago Mike finally spoke, his voice had lost some of its edge. “Horse shit, old man. Everyone dies. No one can’t not die.”

“Tell that to Harry Cavendish when he rides into town.”

Chicago Mike had enough of the dark talk. “Tell him yourself when you see him in Hell,” he said. He drew his gun and clicked back the hammer pointing the barrel at the old guy’s temple.

Miss Louise put a hand on Mike’s gun wrist. “No you don’t, Michael,” she said. “Duke here isn’t worth a hangman’s rope.”

“That’s right,” the drunk said. “My liver will finish me off soon enough.” He knocked back the last of his drink.

Chicago Mike looked at Miss Louise. He laughed and put the hammer back. Miss Louise handed him a small silver box that rattled when she shook it. “You forgot this upstairs. Take your medicine and go.”

He took the silver box and put it in his pocket.

“What do you keep in the box?” the old rummy asked.

“None of your business, old man,” Chicago Mike said.

“It’s a pair of pennies for the ferryman,” Miss Louise said. “He thinks as long as he keeps them with him, Death can’t catch him.”

The old man clapped his hands and laughed. “Oh, that’s rich. That’s really rich. Here you are going on about how a man can’t deal with the devil and you carry a couple of pieces of copper to keep Death away.”

 Chicago Mike had another pull from the bottle and staggered out the bat wing doors.

Out in the street of Medicine Bow, Chicago Mike continued to drink from the bottle. The moon wasn’t around that night leaving the sky to the stars. What shadows they made around him. He fished the silver box from his shirt pocket and shook it. The pennies slid back and forth.

Something didn’t sound quite right so he opened the lid. In his drunken state, he pulled too hard and the box lid flew in the air. The two coins inside tumbled out to the dust at his feet. Chicago Mike dropped to his knees and felt around in the dark. Two black spots in the dirt road drew his attention. With not quite enough light to see by, to see if they were his pennies, he nonetheless put them in the box and clamped the lid back into place.

Chicago Mike made his way back to Mrs. Glass’s boarding house. He’d been there for a couple of days having come in off the trail out of Casper. Not that he was driving any cattle, just helping himself to a steer or two he sold off. The law called it rustling but Chicago Mike called it opportunity.

Cavendish had been tailing him. Chicago Mike got the jump on the celebrated lawman and gunned him down. A single shot to the heart. Through the back.

Mrs. Glass didn’t care for Chicago Mike but she didn’t say no to his pieces of silver. He missed her meals for the company of the whores at the Three Planks and she didn’t like that much either but the silver soothed her old blood. She was waiting for him when he came in. Her nose wrinkled.

“You smell of wantonness,” she said.

Chicago Mike drew his gun for the second time that night. “I’ll smell however I want, you old crow.” It was how she looked to him just then. A withered, molted crow.

Mrs. Glass stared him down.  Her head ticked to the side. “There’s a man waiting for you up in your room,” she said. Chicago Mike looked up at the ceiling.

“You let him in?”

“My house. Do as I please.”

The boards above him creaked. Chicago Mike fired twice at the ceiling. Something heavy fell.

“You’re paying for that damage!” Mrs. Glass said. It sounded more like a series of squawks.

Chicago Mike ran up the stairs even though each time he touched a step it turned to sand. Mr. Perkins, the other boarder, was pulling on his glasses as he stuck his face out his bedroom door. When he saw Chicago Mike’s gun, he ducked back into his room.

Chicago Mike kicked open the door to his room. He fired his gun twice into the shadows. One bullet shattered the window glass. The other blew apart the chamber pot. The tang of black powder filled the air.

Chicago Mike barely heard his landlady squawking. He moved cautiously into his room. Even in the starlight dark he could tell he was alone. Nothing lay on the floor. Might have been when he had fired into the ceiling he’d startled Perkins and the man had tripped and fallen in his own room. The guy was kind of skittish.

Chicago Mike went to the hall railing. Mrs. Glass stared up at him. “No one in my room,” he said.

“Fella must have left.”

“Did you let him out?”

“I’m the owner here, not the doorman.” Again, squawking.

“He say who he was?”

“Didn’t give his name. Said you’d know him when you saw him. Had one of those proper sounding voices.”

“You mean British?”

“Such a fine gentleman,” she said. “Shared a cup of tea with me, which is more than my two borders ever bother to do. World could use more men like him and fewer like you.”

Chicago Mike went to his room. He had other concerns weighing on him. Maybe Cavendish wasn’t dead.

Impossible. He’d checked. He was there. Cavendish was dead.

Wasn’t he?

Having busted the lock when he kicked open the door, he braced it with the chest of drawers. The curtains billowed in front of the window he shot out; nothing he could do about that except sleep with one eye open. Hell, make that two.

Chicago Mike sat down on the floor, his back to the wall where the chest of drawers had been. He laid his gun on his lap, set the bottle of liquor between his legs, and pulled out his silver box of pennies. For a moment he thought about opening it for another look at his talismans. Afraid he’d lose them in the room, he kept the lid closed.

His mind ran at full horsepower. Harry Cavendish was dead. He had no doubts about that. Chicago Mike had put a single bullet in the man’s back with his Winchester repeater. Right in the middle of his spine. If Cavendish’s heart was still there, and not beating at the end of a Zulu spear, the man died instantly when the bullet shattered bone and tore through it.

What was he thinking? If his heart was still there? Of course it was and his single shot had stopped it cold. Stopped it dead.

There was no way Cavendish was riding into town the next day, let alone visiting his room that night.

But who had Mrs. Glass let in his room that night?

He went to the window and looked down. Medicine Bow’s street was empty. The only sounds in the night came from the Three Planks. Chicago Mike took a final swig from his bottle and sacked out on his bed.

He woke several hours later to the peal of church bells. He sat up quickly, his gun in his hand. His foot kicked the empty whiskey bottle as he made his way to the window.

There were still stars in the murky sky. Twilight. The time the devil liked to dance. Or make deals.

Off to the east the sun was only starting to come up. Riding in front of the path of orange light was a pack of five men. Four rode on horseback. The last drove a funeral carriage. They were shadows in the early morning, silhouetted against the glare. It wasn’t until the pack was directly below his window that Chicago Mike saw how ornate the black funeral buggy was.

The clanging of the bells stopped. The world fell unnaturally quiet.

Chicago Mike looked around for his gun. It was nowhere to be found. He swore in his head he had just been holding it. He went downstairs. The front door swung open. Outside the air was cold. Breath billowed from the horses. Breath jetted from behind the black scarves covering the faces of the men.

“What’s this about then?” Chicago Mike asked.

The man driving the funeral wagon swept a hand towards the glass window. Inside the bed was an open casket. Chicago Mike looked down at the corpse.

It was his corpse. There were no pennies in his eyes.

Chicago Mike stumbled on the porch planks. He reached for the post nearest him. His hand brushed his hip and he saw he wore his gun belt all along. When he looked up again, the funeral wagon and the four riders were gone. A lone figure stood in the deserted street.

“If you’re going to kill a man, at least have the heart look him in the eye.” The British accent was undeniable.

Chicago Mike stepped down into the street. Harry Cavendish pulled back his long coat. The early morning sun glinted off the pearly handles of his revolvers.

“It’s true,” Chicago Mike said. “You can’t die.”

“No. But you can.”


Chicago Mike died of a single shot to his heart. When they came to take him out of Mrs. Glass’s boarding house, the mortician Mr. Duke, Mr. Perkins, Mrs. Glass, and the Medicine Bow sheriff and town doctor all speculated on what was clearly a self-inflicted wound.

“In his heart,” the doctor said. He held an imaginary gun in front of him, bending his wrist to point the invisible barrel at his chest.

Mrs. Glass slapped his hand. “So it was his heart,” she said. “What of it?”

“It’s where the soul resides,” Mr. Duke said.

“I would expect more out of a man who deals with death on a daily basis,” Mrs. Glass said.

“Is this silver box yours, Mrs. Glass?” Mr. Perkins stooped over and picked it up off the floor.

Mrs. Glass grabbed the box. Nothing rattled inside it. “Damned thief must have gotten into my belongings. Just never can tell about these drifters.”

The sheriff lifted the empty bottle next to Chicago Mike’s body. He sniffed and winced. “Tincture,” he said. Mrs. Glass gave him a cockeyed stare. “Of opium.”

“Well I hope you don’t think I provided it.”

The men in the room all agreed Chicago Mike couldn’t have gotten it from Mrs. Glass.

“I’ll walk it around the saloons,” the sheriff said.

“For what purpose?” Mrs. Glass asked. She took the bottle. “The only thing that killed this man was his guilt.” She set the bottle and the silver box on the shoved aside chest-of-drawers.

“Guilt?” the sheriff asked. “What about the bullet in his heart?”

“Yeah,” the doctor said. “Look how long the barrel of his gun is. How could he point it straight into his own chest?”

“Maybe he pushed the trigger with his thumb?” Mr. Perkins said. He now held an imaginary gun in front of his own chest.

Outside the church bells rang. Those gathered around Chicago Mike went to the window and looked down. The sheriff and the mortician removed their hats.

“It’ll be a fine funeral,” Mr. Duke said.

Four men on horseback rode in front of an ornate funeral carriage, the name Duke and Sons Funeral Home in gilded lettering above the glass. Driving the carriage was the elder Duke with watery eyes. This man wore a stovepipe hat, a long black coat, and a pair of white gloves with the fingertips removed. Sir Harry Cavendish, a knight in one country and a US Marshal in another, was being carted to the Union Pacific train station in Cheyenne. He was on his way home. A coward had taken this great man’s life.

And then that coward took his own, or so the people in the room were led to believe by a strong-willed Mrs. Glass. Everyone agreed to this although no one ever provided the proof. It was easier that way, wasn’t it? Because if it wasn’t death by his own hand, then that meant it was death by someone else’s hand and that only left the skittish Mr. Perkins and the obstinate Mrs. Glass.

Miss Louise and her women, dressed in black capes, walked behind the wagon dropping rose petals in the wake of the carriage carrying Sir Henry Cavendish. Mixed in with the petals was a pair of pennies dropped to the dirt by Miss Louise. Once the pennies fell, Miss Louise glanced up at the people in the boarding house window.  Mrs. Glass looked down, lifted a finger to her eye, and pulled down on the flesh beneath it; a secret passed from one to the next. The two women of Medicine Bow shared the briefest of smiles for the first and only time.


Jack Bates always dreamed of having his books on the 50% Off table at a bookstore. Each new story puts him a little bit closer to that moment. He writes from the loft of a patched together house north of Detroit.


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