by Flaulus

Chapter 14

Jack sat in his office studying a map. Rick had phoned him about the RIB, but he had been expecting a small boat, anyway. Bovaline had nearly thirty miles of coastline, Mr. Brown and Mr. Black knew they would be recognised as soon as they stepped onto the ferry. It was rumoured Damon Absolom had his own financial pressures, so he was not going to leave his top men sitting around doing nothing, but what would they do?

Jack had a couple of advantages. Islanders never threw anything away, and encouraged visitors to forget things. Individual holidaymakers were often surprised by the island's hospitality when genuinely lost items were returned to them, but military forces, stationed on the island in times of war could never fully account for their equipment and in some cases it was just abandoned as surplus or obsolete. If needed, a WW11 twenty-five pounder could sink a yacht, but it was drastic and there would be a lot of questions.

There were three Martello towers on the island. The North Tower was open to the public but the other two were closed, ostensibly for safety reasons. In fact, they were two well-equipped radar stations offering training to private organisations. The northern cliffs offered natural defences so Jack was satisfied the outer curve of the crescent was well-protected.

His other advantage, was that every islander now knew about Damon Absolom and no-one wanted him there. As Rick and his friends had discovered, it was a warm night, so youngsters in particular found the idea of bonfires on the beach attractive especially when they were given night glasses to play with. It could go on for several nights before the novelty wore off.

That left the harbour and the beaches below the holiday camps and village, where noise would disturb anyone trying to sleep so it was where his men were concentrated, and Jack was satisfied that whatever happened, holidaymakers would learn nothing. He might have been less prepared but his man watching Damon Absolom's yacht, reported it had sailed with him, Mr. Black and Mr. Brown on board. Jack wished he knew more about the two men but facial recognition had turned up nothing, suggesting they were good enough never to have been caught. Somewhere, they had to switch identities so that they could lead ordinary lives when off-duty. It was probably a car-park where they had a second car waiting. Although they were getting closer, Jack had yet to pinpoint the location.

Back on the tower, Ben did not mind that Danny was content to doze cuddled into him. Rick was too restless to sleep and stood leaning against a barrier looking out to sea, but he did not mind that Will stood behind him, pushing into the offered arse as he wrapped his arms around Rick. Paul was spooned into Charles whose hand gently played with Paul's cock, and his own slipped inside Paul, rested then entered again. Seb and Tim had swallowed each other's cum then rolled apart to sleep while their bodies recharged ready for another session. In the Martello tower, Jack missed the comforting presence of his wife and tried to relax.

Damon Absolom was a skilled seaman and confidently steered his yacht towards Bovaline. Ever since Robin Blatcherfield had approached him with his schemes, he had dreamed of owning an island, a place difficult to raid, and a place where he could surround himself with beautiful young men who could not escape his more violent tastes. It was a fantasy that drove him on, long after his usually sharp business mind told him to drop Robin and his schemes. He could not get beyond Robin's description of a bunch of dim villagers wallowing in the past, and he wanted to believe it. Besides, he could not resist another romantic notion. He was a pirate, about to send his crew to capture the island.

Mr. Absolom's plan was simple. He sailed into the harbour, just another yachtsman anxious to rest after a long voyage so it was Jimmy who spotted them first and alerted Jack. Mr. Brown was less happy carrying the bomb down into the RIB, but all went well as they approached the pontoon. They did not see Jack's men converging on the beach end, and were too concerned with picking the ferry's locked door and hurrying below.

Jack grinned to himself and gave his orders, then waited. It took a little time to bend the fuel pipe until it broke. It would have been obvious sabotage if it had been cut but now it was possibly bad maintenance. Fuel leaked out as Mr. Black set the fuse on the bomb. The explosion would blow a hole in the hull and the inrushing water would wash away all traces. When the ferry was salvaged, only the damaged pipe would remain.

Hurrying back on deck, it was difficult to imagine their shock to find the ferry about ten metres from the pontoon. They could swim for the pontoon but armed men stood, waiting. They could try swimming for the yacht but it would be difficult to find.

"Whatever you've done to the ferry, go and undo it." Jack called out as a searchlight came on, blinding Mr. Black and Mister Brown, but it swung round, illuminating the yacht. Mr. Absolom's business brain finally took over and it was time to leave. Dazzled by the searchlight he struggled to release the mooring buoy and start the engine, so he did not see the approaching fishing boat until it was too late. At first, he thought he was going to be rammed but the fishing boat grazed his stern trailing a fishing net. The boat shuddered and the engine raced. Mr. Absolom knew what had happened. The net had fouled the propeller, the shear pin had snapped to protect the engine, leaving him drifting. He hurried forward again, this time to drop the anchor. The rudder was also probably fouled so the sails would not help. Mr. Absolom's career as a pirate had ended on its first voyage in abject failure, but it was a relief when the light died.

It was the only setback in Jack's planning, but the ageing World War II searchlight had done its part before it failed. His phone rang immediately after.

"Is everything OK?" Rick asked, "Danny says that's Mr. Absolom's yacht, and he thinks it's Mr. Black on the ferry. We're watching from the tower."

"I think we're going to lose the ferry." Jack replied, "It's probably another bomb like the one on Robin Blatcherfield's boat. The problem is, what about the guys on it?"

"What about them?" Rick asked.

"My instinct is to tell them to go and defuse it, but if it goes up, and they're killed the police and the papers will be crawling all over the place. We're justified in paying it out to protect the pontoon, but we should try to rescue them. It's your call, Captain."

"I think Sebastian would ask what's best for the visitors. Can you drift a rowing boat out to them, then pull them ashore? How worried are they?"

"Not very." Jack replied, "We're assuming it's a bomb but maybe it's not timed to go off until morning when the first passengers are arriving."

"What about bomb disposal. What do we have?"

"Nothing. We've got a bit of dynamite for blowing up tree stumps but that's as far as explosives go."

"If they start getting worried get them off. In the meantime, can you get it round so that it's over the mud and clear of the pontoon?" Rick asked.

"Yes! Jimmy's looking for another boat, so we can run some sort of service tomorrow."

"What do we do about Mr. Absolom?" Rick asked.

"Nothing until he asks for help, and make sure it's recorded."

"OK! Can you explain please?"

"It's a gang thing. He'll lose so much face."

"It's a pity the whole thing hasn't been filmed."

"It's funny you should say that. It could become a police thing, we can claim self-defence on most of it, but we needed evidence."

"OK! I'm lowering the drawbridge, but I'll stay out of the way."

Rick hung up and turned to his friends.

"I'm hungry and it'll be hours before Cook arrives. Can anyone else cook?"

"Dad owns a pub." Paul exclaimed.

"I worked in a fast food place." Danny said and added proudly, "I got a Health & Safety certificate.

"Come on then. What about breakfasts for anyone who has been up all night?"

As the sun rose, Jack suspected he would be remembered as the last Sergeant of the Watch to counter an invasion. It was not a bloody battle, but it was a memorable event. Mr. Black had got the idea and had disabled the bomb before throwing it over the side not realising he was too late. When the tide dropped, It was seen resting on the mud. There was no choice but to call in a bomb disposal squad who ensured it was safe before handing it to the police.

The police were bemused to find Mr. Black and Mr. Brown locked in a castle dungeon but once arrested, evidence on a number of crimes gradually built up, mainly by witnesses no longer terrified of them.

Mr. Absolom knew Mr. Black would not talk but Mr. Brown knew almost as much and guessed he would already be seeking a deal. He was trapped on his boat and in turn, on an island. All his life, he had been obsessed by watching people die. It was awkward, but he stood in front of a mirror with his gun pressed against his chest over his heart. He had done it as a fantasy before but this time, he pulled the trigger.

That evening Rick phoned Sebastian.

"It's weird but everyone is congratulating me," he said, "But I didn't do anything."

"The Wardens would have been happier if they had gone in, guns blazing but it's not your way. Holidaymakers have got weird and garbled tales about what happened, but they were not involved and not put in any real danger. It'll add spice to their holiday stories, and they'll be back. What I'm trying to say is, you guided events to a good conclusion. That Your Lordship, is what you are there to do, and you'll be the most popular Lord of the Manor ever: until something else goes wrong. Now what about the police and the press?"

"According to Jack, the more the police dig into what we did, the less credit they can claim. The more we refer the press to their spokesman, the more they can claim to be acting on information received. I'm worried it may have stirred things up again. I wish you were back."

"Richard, you don't need me. Hayley is completely out of her depth and Robin's affairs are a mess. The police investigation is still going on, and they're not ready to release the body. It's proving cheaper to pay the rent arrears rather than move everyone into a hotel room. Ryan fixed that, by the way. He's speaking to the local shops about settling their bills and made himself very popular. In return, the letting company got a lot of stick for trying to evict us."

"Good for Ryan, but you're wrong. It's all too big for me to handle. You're the earl."

"No Richard. You are. You have Will to support you and you have good friends. Tell me again, what happened to that gang?"

"The leader, Johnny Destry, is working on a fishing boat. Danny is working in the kitchen and the others couldn't cope and went back to the city."

"I would have simply packed them all onto the ferry, but you insist the island welcomes everyone. It's a good principle for a holiday resort. Do you remember Malcolm? He's still your number one fan, so you should tell him all about it. Give him an exclusive and it'll offset any adverse stories."

A film crew did arrive on the island and spent time filming. Since it was open and obvious, they worked uninterrupted until they faced Rick as he and Will were walking down to the village.

"Lord Westmark, what do you say to the allegation that child prostitution is rife on the island?"

"Luckily, I know who you are and who you're working for, so no, you don't have to introduce yourself." Rick replied.

"And you are evading the question."

"No, I was just taught it was good manners to introduce ourselves. In these clothes I'm Rick and this is my boyfriend Will." Rick said quietly.

"You're underage and you're admitting to underage sex. Is that why you encourage child prostitution?"

"You've asked two questions, managed to suggest I know all about a sex ring and say I'm involved."

"We do have evidence and it's obvious on the pontoon, with boy's lining up for the ferry passengers."

"OK! Let's go down there and you can show me."

Aware that he was being filmed and the interviewer was close enough to listen in, Rick asked Tim, "Is there much trade, today?"

"Nah!" Tim replied, "It's too near the end of the season. There's some on the next ferry though. Jimmy's warned me and Mr. Gilcrest is getting eager."

"He always is." Rick laughed, "You'll soon make him happy."

The interviewer could not believe his luck. The boys had obviously forgotten he was there. He was used to people panicking when their secrets were exposed, not teenagers anxious to wind an adult up, but the ferry was docking with Jimmy and Charles ready to help. Passengers got off and walked past the group, some smiling a greeting, but the boys were still waiting until Charles called them over.

"It's all small stuff except for Kent's tractor part. You'll need the trolley."

Tim nodded, "I've got a car. Is it OK to bring it onto the pontoon?"

"Wait for the stragglers."

The interviewer could see things were not going as he hoped, but he was not clear about what was happening. He watched as Tim confidently drove an island car onto the pontoon and various parcels were loaded onto the flatbed, before Tim turned to the interviewer.

"Your cameraman will have to sit on the back but you can sit beside me, if you like."

"Perhaps you could explain what you're doing." the interviewer said.

"Allow me." Rick said, "Islanders use mail order a lot, but delivery isn't easy. Most islanders give the mainland office as a delivery address and it comes across on the next ferry. Mr. Gillcrest even has library books delivered and collected. Island kids earn money by delivering it. They get tips and goods get delivered quicker."

"And you claim that is why boys hang around on the pontoon?" the interviewer asked.

"It used to happen a lot at train stations at mainland holiday resorts. It still happens here because people can't just drive to where they're staying. Are you going with Tim?"

The interviewer shrugged and got in beside Tim.

"Trouble?" Charles asked.

"Maybe." Rick replied, "Tim will take the scenic route for the village deliveries and chat to everyone. By the time they're on the train and heading for Kent's place, they should be completely fed up."

A couple of days later, Malcolm rang.

"There was something on the main news about child labour laws. They got a response from Tim saying they didn't have to do it but it was good to feel useful. The clip was of Tim lifting boxes onto the car. Everyone was standing around watching and Tim looking at the big box. The interviewer was going on about labour laws, public liability and so on."

"The film showed Tim helping out neighbours." Rick said, "Back home, I took in parcels for a neighbour then delivered them when they got home. Luckily it wasn't a holidaymaker with a dozen kids, luggage to match struggling to get to the holiday camp. That probably would be harder to explain."

"OK! I'll do a podcast and see if I can get some comments from holidaymakers. How's the pride event doing?"

"The island is going to treat it as a fancy dress do. Tell Terry he'll have his work cut out if he wants to out do them."

"You're stereotyping us." Malcolm chuckled, "We don't all like dressing up."

"I know. Will and I will be able to walk around holding hands. That'll be enough for us, but the island knows about the pink pound, and their imagination stops with a Caribbean carnival. It's a tradition, defying the winter storms or something like that, to have something in the Autumn, and if it brings in money, it'll be bigger and brighter. I keep hearing about a Winter Ball. It's very formal, mayors from the nearest towns and even the Lord Lieutenant of the county is invited. The more they stay away, the more badly the publicity will have hit us."

"I get you. What does the Lord Lieutenant do?"

"Nothing, I don't think. It's like I'm inviting the Queen, but he'll do it instead. I'll put you and Terry on the guest list."

"Thanks, but it's not for us."

"Actually, it is." Rick said, "It's partly to thank those who have supported the island, and it's partly to tell the others, 'Fuck you, we're still here'."

"Put like that, I'll ask Terry." Malcolm laughed.

The publicity was a nagging worry but no-one seemed concerned about official investigations. Two reporters, one undercover, had failed to uncover anything. Child welfare services had their own unwitting mole, Justin, and he was settling down, becoming friendlier and more outgoing, the opposite to what everyone, except his mother, Mrs Burnaby expected.

Rick expected Alan's father, a mainlander and with rigid views to speak out, but he was already checking out scholarships and bursaries to send Alan to university. He had no illusions about what went on, as warehouse manager he spent too much time on the pontoon sorting transport problems, but Tim was bright, would probably go to university as well and at least, Alan had a girlfriend. He was more worried about upsetting his wife by spoiling Alan's chances to look too closely at islanders activities.

On the whole, everything was as before except there was a decided drop in New Year bookings and there were too many worried comments on websites promoting family holidays.

"I don't believe all the stories," One comment said, "But I've got to think about my children's safety."

"That's the general sentiment." Mrs Wilson said, "It's going to hit bookings for next year."

"Is there anything we can do." Rick asked.

"I don't know." Mrs Wilson replied, "Earl Sebastian says we can ride it out for a year or two until it's all forgotten."

"Is that what you think?"

"Once online, it's there for ever. Nowadays, we're too dependent on the tourist industry, so I'm worried."

"Is there anything we can do?"

"I don't know. Earl Sebastian refused to even consider a TV interview. If we could coach you properly, dress you in a smart suit, maybe it'll help."

Rick thought for a moment, "Doing it your way, would be wrong. For a start, every holidaymaker who came this summer will know it's not me, and there will be comments saying so. Jeans and T-shirt, and I'd like Will with me. That's how they know me. I've spent all summer learning how to handle problems and calming things down. I might be a bit nervous on camera, but it may even help."

They settled on a programme 'Nationwide Matters' compèred by a Richard Allison.

"We were planning on easing you in to the questioning." he said, "You're young, so we'd be in trouble if we were seen to be hammering you, but we have to introduce Will. Are you sure you want him introduced as your boyfriend?"

"Yes." Rick replied, "He's the one you need to be careful of. He'll be listening and if I struggle, he'll cut in with the answer."

"And you want to be called Rick, not My Lord?" Richard asked.

"Since you're Richard too, then it's definitely Rick. It's what I dressed for."

"I'd like to start with that quote." Richard said, "It'll give you a chance to settle down before we introduce Will, which will be a little controversial."

The show began with a brief rundown of events before Richard said, "I'd now like to introduce two young men with a story that makes a fairytale seem ordinary. I'd like to introduce formally, Richard Blatcherfield, Earl of Westmark and Lord of the Manor of Bovaline, together with Mr. William Farley.

They came down the steps side by side, smiling as Richard shook their hands, then they sat down.

"Before the show, you said you prefer to be called Rick and it's what you dressed for. Could you explain what you meant?"

"I spent the summer at a holiday resort. I could have stayed away shut in the castle but it was good to get out and meet people. If I was playing volleyball with a group of kids my age, being called My Lord would have sounded stupid, so I save it for formal events."

"I see, I can understand you wanting to mix with other teenagers but there's gossip about how friendly you want to be."

Rick pointedly took Will's hand before replying, "I'm gay and Will is my boyfriend, if that's what you mean. Yes, we mix with other boys and most of them have girlfriends and it's always on the 9pm beaches."

"9pm beaches? I've not heard of them." Richard said.

"It's my name for them, and I was thinking of TV. You know, family stuff before 9pm and adult stuff later. There are a couple of beaches and if you ask for sex on the beach, you have to be clear you're asking for the cocktail. I've never been to them but I do hear a lot."

"You're saying you confine yourself to 9pm beaches. Do all youngsters keep to them?"

"Do you think we're all angels?" Rick replied.

"I take your point, but Bovaline has a reputation for being wild, permissive if you like."

"Someone said to me teenagers are programmed to find a mate and a lot of communities around the world allow time to, er, I've heard it called 'rites of passage'. Adults know it's happening and keep an eye on things, but Bovaline is small enough for someone to remind parents what they got up to."

"I see, but its reputation is more than that."

"OK! You're talking about boys selling themselves. I've already said Bovaline is not an island of angelic children but if anyone hurt a child, I'd have to use all my effort to get him off the island alive. To be honest, I wouldn't try too hard."

"There seems to be some mixed signals there. Are you saying prostitution exists on the island?"

"Are you saying it doesn't exist everywhere? I'm saying if a kid was kidnapped or assaulted, the whole island would be out looking. All we've got to do is stop the ferry and no-one gets off Bovaline until they're found."

"You'd use your feudal powers to keep people on the island against their will."

"You're dying to ask me about cars being banned." Rick chuckled, "I've been told, I'm the Lord of the Manor and I run everything providing I do as I'm told. I'm sure the ferry would develop engine trouble, and I'd have to convince the skipper it's in the island's best interest to get it fixed, but in this scenario, I'd have a job to be convincing."

"But you do ban cars." Richard said.

"If you can drive it across three miles of North Sea, find roads that can cope you'll be very welcome. Maybe I shouldn't do this but if any firm makes amphibious cars and wants to do a promotion, please contact us. For the rest, the island has its own car-park on the mainland, we have a railway, and we have electric island cars. The village doesn't have a single yellow line, no road signs because islanders living at the ends of the island will drive their own railcar to do some shopping."

"Will, we've ignored you but you're another newcomer, do you agree with Rick's take on the island."

"He's my boyfriend, so I have to." Will laughed, "I'm interested in history, there's stuff going back centuries, and there was one case. A girl married an older man at sixteen, and he beat her terribly. When islanders had enough they drove him off the island, but it was onto the mud. Once he sunk deep enough, so he couldn't move, they left him. He watched the tide come in and begged to be rescued, but he was left there for two tides then his body was dumped outside the harbour. This was at a time when husbands had all the rights and girls married at fourteen, but no-one cares about Rick and me because we're happy, even if it's supposed to be illegal. You can't really understand the island unless you visit and I love the place."

"And do you agree there's no prostitution on the island."

If you asked me if the island had a moon rocket programme, I'd say no, at least, I don't think it does." Will said, "You can never be sure what's gong on, but I agree with Rick. Islanders are not angels, so it's possible, but I've never seen it."

"Are you sure?" Richard said, "I can accept it's low-key but somehow I think you boys are too smart not to have seen anything. What about on the pontoon where the ferry docks."

"Oh, that old story." Rick interjected, "I've picked up trade there."

"Pardon, are you saying you've hustled?"

"No, I was down on the pontoon on business. A family came off the ferry and were struggling, so they asked me to help. I fetched a car and drove them to the holiday camp. They didn't know who I was and pressed me to take some money. I either explained who I was and it wasn't my holiday job, or accepted it. I shared it between the other working boys. It's a bit of a joke calling them working boys picking up trade, but it's kind of stuck."

As they took a break for a band, Richard said, "Well done, boys. You're almost convincing me. You've been well briefed."

"I haven't been briefed." Rick snapped, "Why do you think I've been coached?"

"Maybe because you're too good. Kids like you, can't keep a story like that up for long."

The break ended and as Richard had hoped, Rick was rattled, as Richard asked, "You say the island is peaceful and law-abiding yet you had a turf battle with another crime syndicate."

"Ask the holidaymakers if they saw a turf war." Will interjected, "That's rubbish."

"So you deny gangs moved onto the island and are still there."

"Before the summer holidays, Rick did not even know he was the rightful earl, and he's had to deal with all sorts of problems. His cousin, Robin Blatcherfield, thought he was going to inherit and borrowed a lot of money from crooks. When Rick was confirmed as earl, Robin couldn't pay the money back, he was blown up on his boat, and the crooks still wanted their money back. It's all family business and holidaymakers knew nothing about it, a sleazy magazine tried bribing island boys to say they were hustlers, a gang of druggies arrived and the ferry was sabotaged."

Will paused and everyone waited, fascinated by his story, so he continued, "The reporter lost his job and probably won't get another one. The gang was broken up, three needed their fixes and headed back to the city while two are on rehab programmes. One works on a fishing boat while the other works in the castle kitchens and spends the evenings reading in the library. For once, we did call the police for the saboteurs and it's just as well. They've been connected to a number of murders."

"But you allowed two criminals to hide from the police." Richard said.

"They're visitors, responding to what we can offer." Rick said, "That's how the island welcomes everyone, only in this case it's not clean beaches and good food. Even the saboteurs had a holiday experience though. Not many people are held in a castle dungeon nowadays. They could see the rack but knew we wouldn't use it. At least, they hoped we wouldn't."

Richard was happy with the interview. He could not be seen harassing two schoolboys, but he liked his interviews to be a bit edgy. He was too cynical to trust anyone, but they had put on a good show. They might have got their message about welcoming tourists across, but they had still left hints of something else.

Sebastian was impressed. He would have ignored it all, hoping it would have blown over. He would be bringing Robin's family back to the island in the next few days, and he was dreading it.

Rick's mother also watched it, even more determined to get Rick from Will while Bob Farley, Will's father just sat in amazement. He wanted to phone his brother, Roger, but Roger's phone was switched off while the police were sniffing around.

Mrs Wilson was smiling when she greeted Rick the next morning.

"One of the most frequent comments is that the working boys make the holiday." she said, "Another was how surprised they were to find out who you were. Apparently parents of teenagers appreciated it more because you engaged with them and helped them make friends. My favourite was one mother whose son had become a working boy. She'd gone from being relieved he was earning money, to panicking about what he was doing then back to relief he had made friends."

"If it's who I think it is, he certainly made friends and gained a couple of uncles." Rick chuckled, "I'm surprised carrying a few bags makes us so popular though."

"Having an uncle or two is the big earner, but not every boy wants one. Others are happy getting tips for collecting a prescription from the village and delivering it to a frantic parent with a sick child. Older residents rely on them for shopping as well but it's barter again, and it's a business setup."

Rick nodded and his phone rang. It was Malcolm.

"I'm recording this if it's OK but I've been getting a lot of comments about your 9pm thing." he said, "Folk can be very sensitive to backdoor discrimination so how do you apply it?"

"I don't know." Rick replied, "It's difficult to explain. Two drunks getting into a fight would scare kids. If they staggered down the road, arm in arm, parents might disapprove but kids might think it's funny. Think of a guy on his knee proposing marriage. If it was a straight couple, then everyone would think it's sweet and romantic. If it was a gay couple, again parents might disapprove. If either couple ripped their clothes off and started doing it in front of families, everyone would object. Remember, gay couples have kids and can get just as worried."

"What's your reaction to people who disapprove of a gay couple with their children?"

"I'm just sorry they feel that way. If a black, strict Muslim, family sat next to a white, gay family I would see trouble. Remember, island kids can earn credit in the barter system, so I bet one would start a game all the kids could join in."

"Some would say your attitudes just come back to making money."

"They'd be right, or at least we think barter." Rick chuckled, "We want to live well, they want a happy holiday, and it's a bit more than money can offer."

"But you and Will never hold hands or kiss in public." Malcolm said, "Surely that's OK for 9pm."

"We used to live in a place where it could have got us beaten up." Rick replied, "Now we seem to be in a place where everything we do ends up on YouTube and gets talked about. It's a bit of a downer at times."

"OK! Thanks. I've stopped recording. How's everything going?"

"Will and I are fine, or did you mean the island? How about you?"

"Terry's panicking. He can't find a tuxedo that looks straight enough for the ball, and he can't choose a design that's exciting enough for the parade. He's in heaven."

"I hope you two can waltz. Will and I have started to learn, and we're trying the tango."

"Terry's parents were into ballroom dancing, so he's good."

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