Chapter 9 - Guarded

Corbin stood in line at the coffee shop.  There was only one person ahead of him - a man in a dark coat.  The man had raven black hair, and it glittered with silver here and there.  As the man turned in profile he looked to be in his early 50s.

 Karen greeted him in her usual manner.  "Hello, sir! How can I help you?"

 He spoke, his voice deep and almost melodic.  "Sì, mi piacerebbe sapere se hai qualche traditore?"  (Yes, I would like to know if you have any traitors?) His smile was easy and looked natural on his face.  His olive skin was near flawless, and his use of the language beautiful.

 Karen nodded, eager to please the customer.  "Absolutely!" A manic grin appeared on her face, and her finger pointed in accusation at Corbin as he stood behind the Italian.

 Corbin's eyes widened, and the man turned.  As he did his features shifted a bit until Stefano stood before him.  The man smiled, his teeth white, predatory.


 He raised a gun and the open barrel blotted out Corbin's whole world.

 Corbin woke with a start.

 "Hey.  You okay?"  Paul's calming voice whispered behind him and his arm squeezed itself against Corbin's chest.  It was still daylight, though the sun slanted at a lower angle through the bedroom window.

 Corbin blinked.  "Yeah. Just a dream."  He frowned as he remembered the details of his somnal vision.  Paul's proximity helped him shake off the feeling of dread, and Corbin stretched like a cat against the hairy man behind him.  "What time is it?"

 Paul rubbed his bearded chin against the back of his neck.  "Almost 4. I was about to wake you."

 Corbin felt Paul's cock against his backside.  It was somewhat awake, but not at full mast. He smiled to himself, happy to cause a reaction in the firefighter.  "Yeah? Well, good timing." He sighed. "I should probably get going."

 Paul's arm tightened a bit.  "I was hoping you'd stay over."  Corbin began to object. "And it's not so I can have my way with you."  He smiled. "Though I'd not say no if that's what you wanted." He nuzzled Corbin's skin.

 'You shouldn't.  You're already in trouble with this guy.  You need clarity. Distance.' Corbin tried to be strong.  "Ah, I shouldn't."

 Corbin closed his eyes as Paul kissed the back of his neck, his lips gentle and soft.  "Can you tell me why? Is something wrong with me wanting to spend time with you?"

 'Fuck.  This is nice.'  "No, nothing's wrong with that."  Corbin turned so he faced Paul. The fireman pulled their bodies close, and their groins pressed against one another.  Corbin licked his lips.

 "Then I'd like you to stay over."  He grinned. "And in spite of what's happening below my waist right now, I won't pressure you for sex.  But I do want to sleep with you." He put his face on Corbin's neck and breathed. Paul liked the faint scent of Corbin's skin.  It stoked his protective instinct and his desire, all at once. He resisted the urge to bite the smaller man. 'I JUST said I was going to be good!  Get a grip, Paul!'

 Corbin licked his lips and he felt his resolve crack.  "Okay. But, only sleeping." He felt like he was looking down from the top of the hill on a rollercoaster.  One more push, one more nudge, and he would be on an uncontrolled slalom of emotion. 'You weak bastard.' His own mind chided him.  He shoved it aside. 'Paul's been nothing but good to me. He's a good guy, and … I like him. What's wrong with that?'

 Corbin put his face against Paul's neck.  He was warm and comfortable. Their cocks were both hard and pressed into one another's groins.  Both men seemed content to let them be, and neither pulled their hips back.

 He would need a change of clothes, and some other items to get ready the next day.  Paul was off work, but Corbin still had his four-hour shift at the Coffee Company. Though for the moment he didn't want to get up.  He wanted to lay there. 'Fuck it. I'll go down to my cabin from here in the morning, get ready there, then go to work.'

 The day was far enough along that Paul's coffee had worn off, and Corbin caught the fireman dropping off as he lay against Corbin's neck.  He knew Paul was running on fumes from his long and difficult duty over the weekend. The tall man's breathing began to slow, then he jerked awake.

 "Relax."  Corbin reached up and rubbed the back of Paul's neck and head.  He stroked with a gentle hand and Paul made a small sleepy noise.  Then his breaths smoothed into the rhythm of sleep.

 Corbin smiled.  He continued to stroke Paul's head.  He lay there and enjoyed the feel of Paul's warm breath on his skin.  'I've got you, Paul.' He couldn't help but remember how he would do this with Liam.  And how much he loved sending the smaller man off to sleep, wrapped safely in his arms.

 Corbin squeezed his eyes shut.  "I've got you."


 Corbin didn't sleep the whole afternoon away.  A couple of hours after Paul went to sleep Corbin got up.  Paul was still out, so he drove down to his place and picked up a change of clothes, and his bathroom kit.

 He drove back up the ridge, and in the early evening light, he looked at Paul's workshop.  It was going to be pretty amazing. It had its own solar array on top of the metal roof already, and the basic wiring finished.  It was a big space and would allow for all sorts of building projects once done. When it came to construction, Paul could do a little bit of everything it seemed.  The floor was in, siding up, and the only things left seemed to be some fixtures, the windows, and the door.

 He had gone in hoping to find something he could do for Paul and help the project along.  But it looked as if things were well in hand already. What remained was beyond his meager skill.  With a shrug, he left the building.

 He entered the house and went back into the bedroom.  Paul slept hard. He was half turned, his back flat, and his hips angled halfway to the side.  The position did not look comfortable, but apparently, it suited the fireman. His black hair was a little wild, and his neck was beginning to sprout stubble under where he trimmed his beard and marred the crisp line of the razor.  The visible skin of his chest and arms was covered in dark hair.

 He was handsome and even asleep he exuded masculinity.  His cock was obvious too. It lay along his leg, and the blanket framed it nicely.  Corbin swallowed and felt his own begin to wake. 'Ugh, stop it.' He turned and went into the living room.  He pulled up a chair in front of the big picture window. Corbin sat with his notepad he'd retrieved when he went to get his things.

 He looked over the notes for his chicken enclosure, but he found concentration hard.  'I wish Liam were here.' The time with Paul had stirred up the need he had for connection.  And in turn, it brought the loss of Liam back to his daily living. At the same time, he struggled hard to keep a distance from Paul, and he could feel that he was losing the battle.

 'Does it have to be Liam?  Or can it be Paul?' He stared at the paper.

 He kept returning to the risk.  As long as Stefano was out there, he and anyone he cared for would be at risk.  Paul didn't seem to worry. Though Corbin noticed the tall man now carried his .357 routinely on his property, and when he came to visit.  He was thankful Paul at least recognized there was a possibility of trouble.

 'He knows, yet he still tries.  He still wants to pursue this.' He set his jaw.  'And Paul is not Liam. The same thing doesn't have to happen.'  Corbin frowned. "Paul is not Liam." He whispered.

 He sat and stared out through the window over the valley.  His pad and pencil lay forgotten in his hands, and he quietly struggled for clarity.

 After a couple of hours of semi-productive planning, Corbin grew hungry.  He poked around in the freezer and he found the leftovers of the awesome beef stew Paul made last week.  He put it on to heat up, and he sliced a few pieces of sourdough.

 Once the stew was hot and bubbling on the stove he turned off the pot, buttered the bread and went to the bedroom.

 Paul slept deeply, and Corbin hated to wake him.  But he knew the firefighter needed to eat. He sat next to him on the bed, ran his hand over his face, and stroked his skin gently.

 "Hey sleepy."  He smiled at Paul.  He slowly came around under Corbin's soft touch.

 Paul blinked then his eyes focused on Corbin.  He smiled, his teeth white and straight. "Hi."  He reached up and put a warm hand behind Corbin's neck.  Then as Corbin watched, Paul swallowed, and his face took on a strange expression.  Almost one of fear.

 "What is it?"  Corbin frowned.  The expression was new, and he didn't like it.

 Paul forced a smile.  "I … I just keep thinking this is a dream."  He shook his head. "Or that it will be, and I'll wake up, and you won't be here."

 Corbin felt a stab of emotion, and he tried to fight it.  "Paul, I'm here." He licked his lips and blew out a breath.  "I don't plan to go anywhere." He said, and while alarm bells rang in his mind he knew it was the truth.

 The fireman smiled, this time a real one.  "Okay." He sniffed the air and eyed Corbin.  "Leftover stew?"

 "Yep.  Hope that's okay."

 Paul nodded and threw back the blankets.  "Yeah. Thanks for getting dinner together.  I need food. Let's eat."

 The two of them ate their leftovers.  This time Corbin pulled his chair right next to Paul's and the men had dinner while their bare legs touched.  Periodically one of them would lean over and kiss the other.

 A desperate part of Corbin's mind screamed in warning.  But as they cleaned up, and Paul led him back to bed the blonde man found it easier to ignore.  And as the men lay down, with Paul's naked body curled around him, that part of him quieted to nothing.

 And he slept, deep and content.


 The next day Corbin woke to an empty bed and the smell of coffee and breakfast.  He looked at his phone and saw that it was about 10 minutes before his alarm. As he swung his legs over the edge of the bed he also noticed, that even in the morning Paul's home was nice and warm.  'Straw bales are good insulation I guess.'

 He put on his boxers and padded out into the living room.  Paul sat at the table wearing a pair of briefs and a t-shirt.  He had Corbin's pad in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.  A freshly cleared plate was also in front of him on the table.

 He looked up when Corbin entered and smiled.  "Hey!" He motioned at the kitchen. "Coffee, food.  Go ahead and grab whatever you like." Then he went back to studying Corbin's drawings and notes.

 Corbin loaded his plate with scrambled eggs, sourdough toast with butter and homemade jam and bacon.  Everything was still warm. A cup of coffee completed his assembled prizes, and he sat beside Paul.

 The tall man looked at him.  His arm came up and went around Corbin's shoulders easily.  He looked at Corbin's face for a moment, then he leaned forward.  Corbin stretched up to meet him and the two men kissed. It was quick, but just like last night, it felt … natural.  It must have felt the same to Paul because he smiled.

 "Good morning."  His green eyes seemed alive with intensity.  Corbin didn't respond, he only stared into them for a moment, then Paul looked down at his drawings.  "Chicken coop and run? This the project you've been working on down at your place?"

 Corbin nodded and began to eat.  "Mmm hmm. I eat a lot of eggs." He motioned at the plate of scrambled eggs.  "You do too. So it seemed a good idea." He washed down the food with a swig of coffee.  "I'm making progress. Got the posts up."

 Paul nodded as he looked at the plans.  "Nice. And this isn't bad." He looked at Corbin and seemed to reassess him.  "Actually, it's pretty good." His eyes went back to the paper. "I like the way you handle the ground.  The chicken-wire weighed down by the pavers. It's a good idea."

 Corbin felt a flush of pride.  "Yeah? You think so?"

 Paul nodded.  "Yup." He stood up.  "I'm off the next couple of days.  Do you need my help with anything for your project?  I could spare some time after 10 AM when you're done with work."

 "Yeah.  That'd be great."  Corbin smiled up at him.  He tried not to notice that Paul's crotch was near eye level.  He looked back down at his plate and continued to eat. He could still see Paul's bulge in profile from the corner of his eye.  Paul seemed oblivious. Corbin tried to focus on his food.

 Paul moved to the sink and Corbin blew out a breath of relief.  The two of them finished up in the kitchen. Then it was shower time.  Paul insisted that Corbin go first since he was the one on the schedule, so Corbin showered and dressed.

 Paul met him in the hall, naked, and towel over his shoulder as he walked to the shower.  He grinned at Corbin.

 The blonde man sighed.  "Damn it, Paul." The fireman stood in Corbin's path.  He concentrated hard on looking at Paul's face. "You're bound and determined to tempt me."  It was working. Corbin imagined all sorts of things to do to and with the tall man.

 Paul put his arms around Corbin's waist, and he returned the favor to Paul.

 "I'm determined, to make you think about me today,"  Paul whispered, then he leaned down and kissed Corbin.  His hand came up and gripped the back of Corbin's head, and the smaller man moaned softly as the kiss drew on.

 Finally, Paul pulled back. His unrestrained penis swung back and forth between them, and Corbin's was uncomfortable, trapped under his jeans.  He blew out a breath. "Well, mission accomplished."

 "Good."  Paul smacked his rump.  "Go to work."

 Corbin smirked at him.  Paul disappeared into the shower while Corbin adjusted himself and gathered his things.  Paul planned to meet him down at his place around 11 today. As he drove down Paul's new road, he realized that he couldn't wait to see him.

 'Jeez, you JUST left his place.'  As he drove down the road Corbin looked back up the ridge and caught a glimpse of Paul's house.  It was now visible because the lights were on through the big plate glass window in front.

 He shook his head at himself, then he drove on into town.

 Corbin arrived a little before 6 AM and went through the back door to the coffee shop.  Karen was already there. "Hi, Corbin!' She smiled. Corbin had never seen her in a bad mood, and that was nice.

 "Hey, Karen."  He couldn't help but smile back.  "Let's get this day started boss."

 Soon they opened the front door, and the early morning patrons streamed in.  After an hour or so, an animated Bruce entered. By this point, the line had died back a bit and he bypassed it to make a beeline for Karen.

 He had the biggest grin on his face.  "I have GOT to talk to you!" He seemed to finally notice Corbin.  "Oh, hey Corbin."

 Corbin made to respond but apparently, he was too slow.  Bruce grabbed Karen and the two of them disappeared into the back.  Corbin shook his head and continued working through the few people who were still in line.

 He just finished with the last drink order and had handed it over when the door opened again.  A stunning, handsome young man entered. He had dark eyes, dark hair, and a light olive complexion.  He looked to be in his late teens or early 20s. Corbin noticed him in an instant. And a tiny twinge of fear crawled up his spine.

 The young man looked around, and his dark eyes searched tables.  He frowned a bit in disappointment, then he entered. He looked at Corbin, and he made his way to the counter.

 "Hello.  How can I help you?"  Corbin said, his tone was both careful and cordial.

 "Ah."  The young man seemed to struggle.  "I find Bruce?" His English was heavily accented, and he licked his lips in nervousness.

 His heart began to beat a little faster, but he tried to push down on the fear.  'It could be a coincidence. Relax.' Corbin held up a finger. "Solo un momento."  The young man's eyes widened in what appeared to be happy surprise.

 "Grazie!"  He grinned.

 Corbin walked to the back.

 The office door was open and Bruce talked to Karen excitedly from inside.  "He came in with a whole group, and … wow, he, he was so bold! While I was serving them all he asked if I would join him at a table after my shift, right in front of them.  One of them translated for him … and …"

 Corbin cleared his throat.  Bruce froze and looked up at him.  Karen looked as if she was hanging on every word.

 "Hey, sorry to interrupt.  But a young fella is out here looking for you Bruce."

 Bruce's face split into a grin.  "That's Jenoah! Okay! Thanks, Corbin!"  He turned to Karen. "I have to go!"

 She hugged him.  "Okay! Talk to me tonight, all right?"

 "I will!"  Bruce almost ran past Corbin, and he trailed after the excited man.  He was in time to see Bruce stop, smile and hug the young man, Jenoah.  For his part, Jenoah looked as excited and happy to see Bruce.

 "I am early?"  Jenoah managed to get out.

 "No, you're fine."  Bruce couldn't seem to stop grinning at him.  He turned. "Bye Karen! See you later Corbin!"

 Karen waved, and the two left the coffee shop.  Corbin stared after them for a moment, then turned.  "What's going on?"

 Karen smiled.  "I think Bruce may be a little smitten with one of the new fellas in town."

 The hair on the back of Corbin's neck rose, and his skin prickled with goosebumps.  "'New fellas?' What new fellas?"

 "Oh.  This Italian family.  They came in and bought up the old building on 101 Main Street.  They're gonna turn it into a restaurant." She snapped her fingers.  "Oh! You already met one of them. Remember? When you came in and translated for the guy at the counter?"

 "Yeah."  His belly felt as if there was a cold iron weight in it.  "Yeah, I remember." Corbin saw the listing for that building.  It was listed for well over a million dollars, and it was a big space.  Robin, the realtor who sold his house was listed as the contact on the listing.  She must be loving life right now.

 "They're going to convert the whole downstairs into a restaurant, and they're living upstairs above."  She smiled, the expression bordered on a smirk. "Annnnd ... mister Bruce has already seen at least one of the rooms upstairs."

 "Huh."  Corbin's brain whirled.  "Good for him."

 Their line of patrons precluded more gossip, and the two of them were busy until the end of Corbin's shift at 10.  But he never shook the stressed feeling in his gut. As he walked out of the shop, he frowned to himself in worry.

 He got into his truck.  'No more running.' He narrowed his eyes and started the pick-up.  Corbin drove by the building on 101 Main street and pulled into the lot.

 He saw various cars parked out front and a few belonged to a local construction outfit.  In one large picture window, he could see a half-dozen men and one woman gathered around a table.  Bruce's young friend, Jenoah was among them. They all leaned forward and listened to that same raven-haired man he first met in the coffee shop that day.

 Corbin stared at the group, and he felt his blood run cold.  He remembered his dream, and he fought the urge to flee. 'No more running.'

 He got out of the truck and dodged construction workers as they entered and exited in a flurry of activity.  He noticed that the space was gutted, and it looked as if they worked to create a large, open dining environment, with a smaller, private room off to the left.

 He turned left and ducked into the room with the group.

 "Cerchiamo di essere in programma, e ora aspettiamo …(We look to be on schedule, and now we wait for ... )" The smooth baritone of the raven-haired man's voice paused when he noticed Corbin, "Ah. Un visitatore! Ciao amico. (Ah.  A visitor! Hello friend.)" He wore a very genuine looking smile and seemed to recognize Corbin from their encounter in the coffee shop. His entourage turned to look at Corbin.

 Corbin's past deference to family elders immediately took over.  He bowed his head in respect. "Ciao. Grazie per il benvenuto. Mi scuso per aver interrotto la tua ... famiglia.  (Hello. Thank you for the welcome. I apologize for interrupting your ... family.)"

 The raven-haired man's smile broadened at Corbin's response.  "Rispettoso e fluente nella lingua! (Respectful, AND fluent in the tongue!)"  He stood - a sign of respect! and the rest of the table did as well. "Mi chiamo Luca e conduco la nostra impresa qui. Chi potresti essere? (My name is Luca, and I lead our enterprise here.  Who might you be?)

 The rest of the group simply gazed at him.  No expression or emotion. 'This is an outfit?  It looks and acts like one. But I don't know them.  Maybe I'm wrong.' "Mi chiamo Corbin. Vorrei solo darti il benvenuto a Hailey. (My name is Corbin. I wish only to welcome you to Hailey.)"

 Luca nodded, and his smile remained.  "Grazie!" He looked around the table.  "Corbin è il benvenuto qui, ogni volta che vorrebbe visitare. Ha mostrato gentilezza nei miei confronti, e noi restituiremo lo stesso (Corbin is welcome, whenever he would like to visit. He showed kindness to me, and we will return the same)."  His voice, directed at the family hardened into an order at the end.

 At this point, the family all smiled at Corbin, almost on cue.

 'Fuck.  This IS an outfit.'  Corbin swallowed and nodded.  "Grazie. Devo andare, ma sono sicuro che ti vedrò di nuovo. Buona giornata a tutti voi. (Thank you.  I must go, but I am sure I will see you again. Good day to you all)."

 Though he said goodbye Corbin waited.  After a moment Luca inclined his head slightly, his silent permission for Corbin to leave.  He turned and quickly walked outside. He got into his truck and sat behind the wheel. "What are you doing here?"  He stared into the building through the glass. They were back to their meeting as if nothing had happened.

 His mind furiously examined what he knew.  'They weren't Reina or allies of Reina. He wouldn't have welcomed me, and given me access to his building.'  He knew the word from a capo or captain was the law to an outfit. And Corbin now had a blanket pass. His hands shook, and he took deep breaths.  'Okay, get out of here Corbin. Get home.'

 He started the truck and pulled out of the parking lot.  Corbin drove home and turned the happenings of his meeting with Luca over in his mind.  There was a lot of two-way respect. 'Why? WHY? Does he know who I am? Does he know what I did?  Is this some kind of game?' He frowned and shook his head. 'Luca will lose face if he goes back on his word given in front of the outfit.  If it is a game of some sort it's one I've never seen.'

 He got out of the truck and walked in a daze into the cabin.  Once the door shut behind him, he felt better. The thick walls and solid door made him feel slightly safer.  He checked his harness, and the .38 still rested securely in the leather. He put his hand over the weapon. 'If they want you dead, then there's no stopping it.'  He swallowed.

 Perhaps it was counterintuitive, but that calmed him.  Inevitability means a situation isn't something you can change by worrying about it.  And, he knew this sort of stress well. This was his arena. He knew what to expect, and he knew nobody in that room wanted him dead.

 'Yet.'  He was also well aware that could change.  For a second he considered calling Harris. But only for a second.  'This family has done nothing to warrant a rat. If I call the FBI down on them, and there's no evidence, they will remain free and I will become a dead man.  And Paul along with me.'

 He sighed.  He didn't have an option.  This outfit was in Hailey for unknown reasons, and there was nothing he could do about it.  Except … take Luca up on his offer to visit. He mulled the option. It felt a bit like a mouse running under the belly of a cat to avoid capture.

 The sound of an engine interrupted his thoughts, and he moved the curtain to look out his window.

 Paul's blue diesel drove along his road, and he sighed in relief.  He let the curtain fall back in place, closed his eyes and forced his breathing to calm.  'Nothing. Say nothing about the Family. It's not Paul's problem or concern.'

 The truck stopped, and soon boots were on his porch.  A knock at the door. He opened his eyes, took a breath and opened it.  "Hey, Paul." He smiled.

 Paul returned it.  "Hey." The tall man stepped inside, and he put his arms around Corbin.  The smaller man did the same to Paul, put his head against Paul's chest, and he closed his eyes.  Corbin exhaled. Paul's embrace was welcome. It made him feel secure. Paul's hands slid up to his back and he rubbed his chin against the side of Corbin's head.  "Are you okay?" Corbin could hear the concern in his voice.

 "Yeah.  It's just good to see you."  This time the lie came easy. He felt no guilt because it was to protect Paul.  He would do whatever he needed to do for that. He squeezed Paul then pushed back a little.  The fireman looked down at him, and his eyes searched Corbin's face.

 He finally smiled.  "It's good to see you too."  He leaned down, and the men kissed.  Corbin's skin tingled, and a hungry sound rumbled in Paul's throat.

 Corbin pulled back and grinned at him.  "What was that?"

 Paul licked his lips.  "You bring out the animal in me."  He waggled his eyebrows. "It's flattering.  Don't worry."

 Corbin laughed, and partially forgot his earlier stress.  Paul was good for his mental state, that much was certain.  "Well, come on. We've got work to do."

 The two of them made their way outside.  Soon they were framing up both the coop and the supports for the wire on the chicken run.  And as he and his fireman worked Corbin could pretend he lived a normal life.

 For a while.


 It was just after 8 PM, Eastern Standard Time, and Harris' phone chirped.  He was still dressed, as he had spent a long day at his office. He pulled the machine from the pocket of his slacks.  His eyes widened a bit at the message. 'Stefano Moretti - Potential sighting, Philadelphia'.

 "Philadelphia."  His eyes shifted as he thought.  Then they widened. He punched a speed dial on his phone.  The line picked up. "I need to get a list of all the safe houses used for Corbin Reina, and dates of use."  He listened until he received confirmation and he hung up.

 Harris held the phone, stared at it with his dark eyes and waited.  He didn't have to wait long. It vibrated, and he opened his secured email.  "There …" he breathed, and he felt chill bumps rise on his arms. The first safehouse after New York was in Philadelphia.  Harris knew he remembered Philly as one of the cities. But there had been many. And the order was lost to time.

 'He's tracking Corbin.'  He dialed again. The phone picked up.  "Move Reina focused agent presence from New York to Philadelphia, now.  NOW." His mind raced, and he had an epiphany.

 "Wait."  He looked at the next safehouse location after Philadelphia.  "Move half the agents to Philly and the other half to Boston. The goal remains the same.  Confirm order." He listened while agents were contacted directly. One by one confirmation of the orders for individual agents trickled in.

 "You know your orders.  If you have questions or run into obstacles, contact me directly."  Harris spoke to all the Reina agents currently stationed in New York over the connection.

 Harris hung up and took a deep breath.  The thin man sat in an overstuffed chair in his living room and looked at the photo that sat on an end table.  He reached and picked up the memento.

 His face wore a solemn expression, and he ran his fingers over the picture.  It was taken six years ago. He, his wife, Rebecca, his son Billy, and his little girl, Diana smiled for the camera.  It was a beautiful sunny day in the park, and they had a stranger take their photo.

 He swallowed the lump in his throat.  Harris lost all sense of time, as he stared down into a past filled with happier days.

Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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