by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 6

A few weeks later on a cool and blustery Saturday afternoon, Leo, Hugh and the boys took a vehicular barge across a crocodile-infested river and drove to a beach up the coast. At a spot where rainforest came right down to the water, there was a long parking lot with private camping places among the trees. Heavy rain and high winds had frightened most visitors away, so there were only two tents at the northern end.

They parked at the southernmost spot and wandered even further south along the beach to a rocky outcrop where they explored the pools, finding lots of crabs but little else. The sea inside the reef was seldom more than choppy in bad weather, but a cyclone a few hundred kilometres off the coast was sending great swells that broke over the reef, disturbing usually tranquil water, stirring up seaweed and broken coral; the legacy of trawlers.

They stripped for a quick dip; quick in case there were stingers or crocodiles, although in rough weather those two nasties usually avoided rocks and the shore, then retreated to a sheltered spot under the trees, out of the wind behind low dunes.

Hugh produced a groundsheet and drinks from his pack; Leo sandwiches and biscuits from his, and they munched contentedly. Afterwards, while the adults stretched out to replenish their tans in hazy sunlight, the two boys went for a walk back along the beach to where a stinger net enclosed a decent sized swimming area, at the far edge of which floated a small pontoon. The beach was deserted.

Walking had become more difficult for Fystie over the last few weeks; he reckoned his muscles felt as if they were getting longer, trying to push his feet off. Chest pains were another new problem. A sudden premonition of danger caused Leo to sit up and watch the two boys wander slowly along the beach. His heart ached — one boy slim, straight, perfectly formed; the other twisted, bent, hobbling on pointed toes, holding on to his friend to prevent himself from falling. Impotent sadness briefly overwhelmed him as he lay back out of the wind and cuddled up to Hugh.

The sky, blue-black at the horizon, was lit by occasional flashes of pinkish lightning. Above, torn clouds scudded inland. Bravely, the boys stood ankle deep at the edge of the swimming enclosure, laughing as the water swirled round their legs creating holes so their feet sank into the sand. Apart from the swishing of water and a soft banging as waves rocked the pontoon out at the edge of the net, it was strangely quiet.

'Someone's coming,' Fystie said nervously.

A boy in long baggy shorts who looked a couple of years older than them, taller and heavier, with a jelly belly and quivering tits to match, came stomping importantly over the dunes from the camping area.

'Get off our beach, faggots! Fucking naked perverts,' he snarled, circling the boys as if sizing them up, stopping only centimetres from Fystie. 'What the fuck's this thing? A fucking monkey? Get off the fucking beach! This is for humans not mutants.'

Thanks to self-defence classes Mort was no longer terrified of facing up to bullies, so he stepped between Fystie and the newcomer.

'He looks better than you!' Mort balled his fists ready to defend himself and, with pounding heart, curled his lip and snarled, 'You're a fat, ignorant pig, go bag your head so decent people don't have to look at it.'

Fystie moved back a little to give his defender room.

The boy lunged and Mort sidestepped, catching his attacker on the back of the head with the side of his hand. Fat boy stumbled, gained his feet, shoved Fystie to the ground, and then rounded on the little upstart. Mort ducked under a flailing fist, ran behind and leaped onto the bully's back. The fat boy dropped and lay back, crushing and winding his slender younger assailant, then spun onto his stomach, knelt on Mort's chest and wrapped his hands round his throat.

Mort kicked and struggled, but was no match for the other's strength. Just as he thought he was done for, Fystie threw a handful of sand and pebbles as hard as he could at the back the fat kid's head, doing no damage, but causing him to release his iron grip and turn to face this new threat to his authority. Mort leaped to his feet and dashed into the water, where he stood and shouted obscenities to divert attention from Fystie, calling his attacker a weak useless coward.

Fatboy turned and shambled towards the sea; face crunched in fury. 'I'm not frightened of a scrawny little cunt like you.'

Mort went a little deeper. 'Frightened of the water are you Fatboy? Can't swim I'll bet. Don't worry, all that blubber will make you float. What a wanker. Shit scared of the water. Go back to mummy, arsehole and get her to wipe your bum.'

The boy gazed back up the empty beach, then checked in all directions as if to make sure no one was watching. His family had been camping here for a week so he knew the water wasn't very deep; he'd easily be able to splash across and get the prick and give him a fright. Maybe drown the bugger. 'Right, you scrawny yellow faggot, you're for it.'

'He charged into the water, just missing Mort who waded out towards the pontoon. The unusual swells had scoured quite deep holes in the normally gently sloping sandy bottom, so when his feet lost touch with sand Mort swam the last ten metres, hauled himself onto the deck and scrambled to his feet, heart pounding, wondering what to do next. If only Leo or Hugh would come to look for them!

'Say your prayers you scared little queer,' Fatboy jeered.

Mort bravely gave him the fingers again.

Relentlessly, the tormenter waded towards his victim. When the water reached his chest he flung himself forward and began to dog paddle. Fortunately, the multitude of pockets in his fashionable knee-length cotton baggies filled with water making forward progress difficult, giving Mort time to think. The problem was Fystie. He could easily manage to swim ashore, but with Fystie being so slow the fat kid would overtake them.

Fortune intervened. A couple of metres from the floating haven, his attacker stopped to rest and discovered he couldn't touch bottom.

'Fuck! It's deep!' he spluttered, desperately trying to keep his head above water.

'You're going to drown, Fatboy,' Mort yelled with as much menace and hope as he could muster.

The other boy's eyes rounded in terror, but instead of turning and dog paddling a metre or so back, he panicked, flailed his arms wildly and sank. Touching bottom, he thrust himself up, spluttering. He opened his mouth to shout but a wave filled it with salty water instead and he sank again. For a second time he surfaced, coughing and swallowing, arms flailing weakly. Mort caught a glimpse of eyes wide in surprise before he sank for a third time. Not waiting to see if he surfaced again, Mort dived in and swam as fast as he could back to Fystie who fell against him and burst into tears.

'I thought he was going to drown you. I was so worried. Where is he? Quick, let's go before he comes after us.'

'He drowned, I think.' Mort was shaking uncontrollably. 'Let's go back to Leo.'

They'd walked about thirty metres when a coarse voice shouted, 'Hey, you kids!'

They turned and saw a giant of a man striding rapidly along the beach towards them.

'Have you seen my son?' he yelled from twenty metres away.

'Say nothing!' Mort whispered.

They waited until he was right up to them, then pulled faces to indicate they hadn't understood.

'Have you seen a boy a bit older than you?'

They shook their heads and shrugged. 'No. We're the only ones on the beach,' Mort said innocently.

'What about you? Have you seen him?' the fellow grunted at Fystie, who responded with a few well-chosen words of which the man understood nothing.

'You're talking fucking gibberish, boy!' He turned back to Mort. 'And you're bloody disgusting running around naked like that.' Nodding towards Fystie, 'What's wrong with that... that crippled moron? He looks as if he's in pain.'

'He is. He was born like that.'

A shadow of concern flickered across the man's face and for a fraction of a second he looked almost human. 'Poor bugger. Someone ought to put him out of his misery.' He turned abruptly and ran back the way he'd come, calling, 'Clive! Clive!'

The two boys stumbled the last hundred metres, then over the low rise to collapse beside Leo and Hugh.

'You look done in. What happened?'

They told him.

'You're sure he drowned?'

'He never came up again. If he hadn't, he'd have come when his father yelled. I should have jumped in and saved him.'

'No, you shouldn't! Never, ever do anything like that! He'd have used you as a lifebelt and you'd have drowned instead.'

'Yes!' Fystie said. 'He was horrible! He really wanted to hurt Mort. I was sure he was going to strangle him, that's why I threw stuff at his head.'

'You saved my life, Fystie.'

'Clive was obviously a nasty bit of work,' Hugh said. 'The world's better off without him.' His laugh was sour and his voice harsh as he sang, 'What I like about Clive, Is he's no longer alive, There's a great deal to be said, For his being dead.'

'That's very clever, Hugh. Original?'

'No, Leo, I read it in a book somewhere. It's Mort who was clever, drawing the bastard away. He was killed by his own stupidity. If I had the power I'd drown every bully on the planet; no exceptions. But I reckon we'd better get going. We don't want to be here when a search party starts asking questions and the body floats to the surface. We're possibly not the only people behind the sand hills. There's no telling who might have seen our two heroes and wonder. Fystie is not difficult to describe.'

Five minutes later they were driving quietly away.

Over coffee and chocolate cake in Hugh's flat they reviewed the afternoon. Mort became almost hysterical, insisting he was the cause of Clive's death. He was bad luck. Three people had died because of him.

'Your grandfather stayed living for several years longer than he wanted, solely because he loved you, so stop that nonsense,' Leo stated firmly. 'The kid who ran into the truck had been taught to look both ways before crossing the road, how was it your fault that he didn't?'

Mort shook his head, refusing to think.

'Did you start shouting abuse at Clive? No. Did you shove Fystie into the sand? No. Did you attack Clive and throttle him? No. Were you deliberately being nasty to him or were you protecting Fystie when you ran into the water and made him so angry he followed you? Did you force him to wear those death trap shorts? No. Who did? His parents. So if anyone is to blame for the kid's death, it's his parents who taught him nothing of value and created a monster the world is well rid of.'

He stopped and Mort looked up with tearful eyes. 'Is that true?'

'Of course it is,' Fystie said, nodding his head in emphasis. 'Dad never tells lies.'

'You're a hero, Mort, so shut up and enjoy it, okay?' Hugh grinned to soften the words.

Mort sniffed and smiled tentatively, and everyone relaxed.

In the middle of crumbling chocolate cake over himself, Fystie asked suddenly. 'What happened when he died. What happens when anyone dies? I mean... he was struggling and frightened I suppose and then his lungs filled with water and he stopped breathing and his heart stopped and... do you think it hurt?'

'I watched an interview with a fellow who almost drowned and was revived,' Leo said quietly. He said the pain only started when he began coughing up the water from his lungs.'

'But what happens if you're not revived?'

'Witchdoctors, priests, imams, ministers and rabbis tell their followers that when the body stops working, their essence or soul or what have you, zips away to somewhere vague where it meets the grand Ju-ju who started all this by making the universes and all that's in them, including you and me and every bacterium and worm and virus. This Ju-ju's pretty smart, like you Fystie, and keeps tabs on everything, deciding who's going to get ebola and who just a cold; who will not starve to death and who will... that sort of thing. In between he does the big stuff like organising supernovas, creating black holes and sending photons through two holes at once.'

'Very clever, Hugh,' Leo laughed. 'But it's not really funny, is it. All that crap.'

'After that boy was squashed by the truck I asked Grandpa what happened when you die,' Mort interrupted. 'He said sort of what Hugh said... religious people believe that when they die an invisible bit of them goes to live somewhere forever while the rest rots in the grave, unless it's cremated. I said it sounded insane and he agreed. Then he told me to ask people how they know something and where they got that belief if what they say sounds unbelievable, and usually you find it's just some other human who wants to make them do something.'

'That's for sure,' Leo agreed. 'And if you don't worship their god you'll go to hell and burn forever. It's sick. Millions of people living in fear in case they annoy a god and have to spend eternity up to their necks in shit, or whatever their mad ministers tell them. It's why they're so scared of dying and won't let people suicide when they've had enough, like Mort's grandfather. But he was too smart for them, imported a drug from overseas where they're not so crazy, and died peacefully.'

'Yeah, I get that,' Fystie said patiently, 'I've read that no one's ever found a bit that goes to heaven or anywhere else, and I know dead bodies just rot away — I've seen dead birds and rats. But what happens to all your thoughts and things? What does it feel like?'

'Grandpa said it doesn't feel like anything because you've nothing to feel with, nothing to think with, because our thoughts are tiny electric impulses zipping around in the brain, and when the body dies the electricity supply stops so there are no more thoughts, no more feelings... nothing. Like switching the light off. He said he wasn't afraid to die, that it was the normalest thing in the world. He was feeling so sick he looked forward to it.'

Fystie thought for several seconds. 'So... if I was dead I wouldn't feel any more pain. My chest wouldn't hurt and my legs wouldn't feel as if they're on fire.' His voice was a mere whisper, but the passion was loud and clear.

'Yeah! That's right. He said that life for most people isn't that wonderful, and when they get old, tired and sometimes sick, death is a blessed release. They're happy to go and only the people who loved them are sad.'

'I think I'll be happy to die,' Fystie said softly.

Wrapping his arms around his son Leo picked off bits of cake from his chest, and popped them into the waiting mouth. 'I love you, Fystie,' he said simply. 'You're the best thing in my life.' Wisely, he didn't say the words that felt as if they were burning a hole in his throat. I don't want you to die, Fystie. I love you too much.

Mort's twelfth birthday arrived and departed unmarked.

The months slid by, leaving very few pleasant memories.

Hugh moved back to Canada when he realised Leo was never going to commit to him while Fystie was alive.

Amy's lover decided he wasn't prepared to share her with a dopey looking crippled boy.

Leo lost interest in everything except Fystie and was less than polite in his rejection of the sexual advances of one of his admirers, who then complained of sexual harassment and had him fired from Jezebel's Gymnasium.

Mort blanked out problems at home by spending more time and energy with Fystie and other pupils at school, and grew closer to Todd and Lanky, with whom he and Fystie occasionally stayed.

There was no diminution in Mort's love for Fystie, whose condition stabilised for long enough to give hope of permanent remission; a hope that was dashed one morning when he woke tied in a knot, muscles tugging in every direction, compounded by shoulder and chest pains.

Leo, who was now making more money with less effort that he had at the Gymnasium, couldn't take time off for fear of losing his clients, so Amy took leave from work to fly to Brisbane with Fystie to see a specialist.

That afternoon a fat and giggly girl, who Mort was assisting with her painting, suddenly turned and vomited, splashing Mort from head to toe. She thought it a great joke and laughed delightedly. Mrs. Kind took him to the sickbay where there was a large tub for washing soiled clothes, and told him to strip off his shirt and shorts, which he did without thinking. She put his clothes in the tub, and warm water in a bowl, then wet a face flannel and proceeded to carefully wipe his body, starting at his head.

Mort stepped back, confused. 'I can clean myself, Mrs. Kind,' he said nervously. I've been washing myself since I was two.' He stretched out a hand for the cloth, but she held it out of his reach with an odd laugh.

'It'll be my reward, Mort, for teaching you.'

'Reward?' he said in disbelief. 'Washing vomit off someone isn't a reward, I know because I do it for Fystie.' He held out his hand again, beginning to feel annoyed.

She ignored him, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. 'What beautiful skin, you have, Mort,' she said softly as she raised his arms and wiped along and under them. 'And such firm muscles!' She wiped his chest and belly, pressing with her free hand against his buttocks. 'You are also a sexy young man, I see,' she smiled, wiping his scrotum, then cupping his balls in her hand while stroking his erection with the freshly moistened cloth.

Mort was rigid with apprehension. He wasn't embarrassed, he was always getting erections, but only with Fystie and Leo, who took no notice. What on earth was the woman doing? She wasn't hurting him, but he didn't like her touching him like that either. He wanted to say something to stop her but his head felt jammed, no thoughts came, only an urge to smash his fists into her head when she slid her hand up and down his erection. Mort watched in shock as his glans was alternately covered and uncovered by his foreskin, then he ejaculated.'

Mrs. Kind let go and jumped back with a look of disgust on her face, 'What a mess. Men are such filthy pigs. Clean it up while I get you something to wear.'

While she was away Mort's brain began to function and shock turned to anger. He'd been wanking for ages, sometimes with Fystie who kept fantasising about Miss Glee's tits, but usually alone, fantasising about Lanky. He'd always felt good afterwards, but Mrs. Kind made him feel dirty instead of clean and pure. The teacher returned with shorts and a T-shirt from the spare clothes cupboard. He avoided her eyes until he was dressed, then faced her, eyes cold.

'I didn't like what you did and I don't want you to do it again!'

'That's good coming from you.'

'What do you mean?'

'Mrs. Pettie told us about you and your grandfather. Don't tell me you're a queer and prefer an old man touching you. And don't even think of telling anyone about this if you want to stay near your precious Fystie. If you imagine anyone is going to believe you; a nasty little boy who pisses in his teacher's chair while she's sitting in it, and had the cheek to tell Miss Glee and me we weren't treating our pupils properly, then think again! Now get out!'

Mort got out and ran to Mrs. Dominint's office. She listened politely, then told him he'd go to hell if he told such dreadful lies about a wonderful teacher like Mrs. Kind. 'If you are unhappy here you are free to go, Mortaumal, that will spare your delicate nostrils further assault from my perfume,'

Mort backed out of the office in horror. Todd had been right. They'd not forgiven him for criticising them. He shook his head in disbelief. Todd was away with a group of students, but Mort wouldn't have gone to him anyway because they wanted to keep their friendship secret — wisely it seemed. It was now impossible for him to remain at the school. If only Fystie was there to talk to! As he had no idea where Leo might be he walked eleven kilometres into town to Mr. Trimm's office. Heat-stressed and exhausted he was taken immediately to the lawyer's comfortable rooms, sat on a comfortable chair and given cool drinks and biscuits before Marshall would let him tell his tale.

Without exaggeration, Mort told him what had happened.

Marshall gazed speculatively at his young friend. 'Leo tells me you're friends with a male teacher; what's his name?'

'Todd Brawn.'

'Do you trust him?'

'Of course.'

Marshall picked up his telephone and asked his secretary to put him through to Todd Brawn at the school; it wasn't official and he didn't want to speak to the principal, so she was to pretend to be his girlfriend or something and ask for him. He winked at Mort as he waited.

'Mr. Brawn? Marshall Trimm here, I'm a lawyer friend of Mortaumal who tells me he trusts you absolutely. He's not in trouble but I'd be pleased if you could go somewhere private and call me back on your mobile.' He gave the number and hung up. A minute later his phone rang.

'Thanks for ringing back. Is there a security camera in your school sick bay? Good. Are you able to retrieve the disc from it as soon as possible without alerting anyone? That's perfect. It's important that no one knows. Give me a call when you've done it and we can arrange to meet. I'll explain everything then. Thanks.'

His eyes were twinkling when he replaced the receiver. 'If we're lucky we'll have proof of Mrs. Kind's unkindness.'

Mort looked uncomfortable.

'Not happy?'

'It'll be embarrassing to see myself being…'

'Fiddled with?'


'Why? You're a handsome lad — I think you'll be proud. I'll leave Leo a message to pick you up here. Meanwhile you can either go for a walk or sit in the waiting room and read the magazines or think about what you'd like to do about this woman.'

Leo and Todd arrived within minutes of each other and they gathered in Marshall's room. Todd had taken the disc from the security camera and replaced it with a new one, but he hadn't watched it so had no idea if the women had also thought of it and replaced it. A player was produced and Todd fast-forwarded to Mort's entrance. They watched in silence and Mort discovered he wasn't embarrassed at all. His grin nearly split his face. Marshall stopped the replay and looked at Mort.

'What do you think?'

'She was trying to embarrass me.'

Leo frowned. 'It's very odd. She looks as if she's acting. I don't think she's sexually interested in him at all. It's as Mort said. She's trying to make him feel rotten. What do you reckon, Todd?'

'I agree. She's an odd fish. Her husband left her years ago. Rumour has it she's a lesbian. She's certainly vindictive about many things. But obviously it wasn't planned. She couldn't have known the girl was going to vomit over Mort. I'd say she's a vindictive cow whose been waiting for a chance to take Mort down a peg or two — one of her favourite expressions. The usual way for women to hurt males is to sneer at their sexual equipment and prowess. That's why she masturbated him, in the hope of making him feel disgusted with himself. It's instructive that Angelica Dominint immediately supported her colleague. I think they've been wanting to get rid of Mort for a while.'

'Why? He's such an asset.'

'That's the problem. Angelica's husband is a morose brute who, according to rumour, bashes her on a regular basis. She often wears scarves and long sleeves and trousers, which I assume are to conceal bruises. Both women are childless. Before Mort arrived they were like everyone's mother, maiden aunt and fairy godmother combined. The kids hung on their every word and made them feel loved and important. But over the last year the affections of most of the kids have been transferred to Mort. You've no idea what an angel of mercy he is. Always ready to listen, to enter into their fantasy games, praise and encourage. He seems to be a bottomless pit of good sense, good humour and exactly the sort of relationship these kids need — friendship that comes with absolutely no strings attached, unlike the two women who demand a return on their emotional investment — their pupils have to love and unquestioningly obey. The kids sense that and unconsciously resent it.'

'So, what do we do about it?' Todd was angry, feeling he'd failed Mort.

'How do you feel now, having watched the video, Mort?' Marshall asked.

'Really, really annoyed! I don't want to do it with someone like her! I wanted to do it with…'


'I already do, but he's always talking about Miss Glee's tits, which makes me laugh and then I get soft. So I was waiting for someone sexy that I liked.'

'Like Lanky?' Todd asked with a sly grin.

'How did you guess?' Mort asked in surprise.

'I've got eyes.'

'You're not mad at me?'

'Hardly, I'm proud that my boyfriend's an object of a handsome young man's lust. The point is, Mort, will you feel better if you ruin her life by making her actions public?'

Mort thought for a long minute, then looked up. 'How will that make me feel better about it? Then I'll just feel guilty that I've been as bad as her.'

'That's very noble, but she shouldn't just get away with it.'

'I agree, Leo.' Todd turned to the lawyer. 'Marshall, what do you think about showing the video to her, telling her we're keeping a copy, and that if she ever does a similar thing, we'll make a formal complaint?'

'A life sentence, Todd? Rather harsh don't you think.'

'What do you suggest?'

'What does the handsome and sexy recipient of her unwanted attentions think should happen?'

Mort couldn't prevent a smile of pride that he was being treated as an equal, not an emotionally damaged victim. He sure didn't feel like one, so it was a relief that the men admired him for the way he'd reacted, and didn't talk as if it was the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. Because he knew it wasn't. Physically he was undamaged, and as he'd never been taught that sex or nudity was unnatural or something to hide, or be ashamed of and not discussed, there was no emotional damage, only the already dimming disappointment that he'd wasted an orgasm on an ugly old crone. It was funny really. He shrugged. 'Show her the video. Tell her we've all seen it, and give it to her as a souvenir of me.'

'Kneel, gentlemen to nobility and a sense of humour,' Marshall said without cracking a smile. 'How about I tell her to apologise to you if she wants the video?'

'That'd be so embarrassing!'

'Mmm...but fun,' Todd laughed. 'Can I come and watch?'

'Do you want those three to know you know? Won't it make your life there a bit difficult?'

'You're right, Marshall. I'll stay out of it.'

'What about Mort's schooling? He's not going back there.'

'I agree. But he's been long enough away from the other school for people to forget; I reckon it'll be safe to return till the end of the year, and then he'll be going to high school.'

Everyone agreed, Todd went home, and Leo was preparing to go when Marshall put a hand on his shoulder.

'It's scarcely worth your while to go home, Leo, why don't you come and have a meal with me? Or is that a breach of client protocol?'

'Probably, but I'd love to. The trouble is Amy's away with Fystie and I have to take Mort home and make him a meal.'

'Bring him along too. We'll go to that new Thai restaurant by the river.' He turned to Mort. 'I had several delicious Thai meals with your grandparents, your grandmother was an excellent cook before....'

'What about afterwards…?' Leo asked Marshall, nodding slightly towards Mort.

'Mort can read a book, listen to music, watch TV or watch your show. You've seen Leo perform, haven't you Mort?

'Yeah! At the Gymnasium, he was excellent.'

'It's a somewhat different show,' Leo said apprehensively. 'Different emphasis. Not for minors.'

'He's just been fiddled with by a semi-senior citizen,' Marshall laughed. 'He wanks. He knows all about sex. Do you want to keep him ignorant about the depths of turpitude that even respectable people sink to?'

'What's turpitude?'

'Depravity. Wickedness…' Marshall Trimm's eyes grew large and his laugh was maniacal.

Mort giggled.

'People who don't dare to be honest with their children, who pretend to be what they're not, who think that even when children ask questions about sex they shouldn't be told the truth about human nature, sex and everything else, are making life much more difficult for the kids, not easier. Mort needs to know that decent people often do things that hurt no one, even though others might think them perverse. How on earth are children to learn that our present fucked up moral code is a lie based on Victorian religious Puritanism and that this lie is the cause of failed marriages, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence and…'

'And global warming, judging from the amount of hot air you're producing.'

'You may laugh.'

'Thanks. But it's enough that Mort should know. I don't want him to die of laughter, or horror.'

'You're right, Leo. Learning must only happen when the pupil is ready and not before. I've always been too much in a rush. Be off with you both now, and meet me at the Thai Locust restaurant in half an hour, I've a few things to sign, and tomorrow's instructions to give my secretary.'

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