As it turned out I didn’t sleep until my alarm went off at eight, because the phone went off six inches from my head at three thirty in the morning.
It brought me out of what was already fairly light sleep. I don’t often sleep very well near the full moon; it makes my magic too restless. Between that and my hearing I didn’t have a chance of sleeping through the phone.
Being woken up by the phone at three o’clock isn’t my idea of a good time. I picked up the phone and let the person on the other end know that, although not quite that politely.
“Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have called except I thought you wanted to see the body. If it’s too much trouble I guess I can call back later, though,” Enrico said dryly.
That woke me up fast. “There’s been another murder?” I asked him.
“Murder?” Enrico said, not sounding casual at all now. “Is that what this is about?”
Oh shit. “I don’t think so great at three in the freaking morning. I meant to say another death.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you did. Look, the guy I talked to just called to tell me that they found another body like the others. He thinks he can get me in before anybody comes to look at it, but only if I get there real soon.”
“Great. Can you pick me up at my house?” Enrico knew where I lived.
“Be there in ten.” He hung up, and I called another number.
Kyra’s reaction to being woken up was about the same as mine, although it involved slightly more creative use of profanity. I waited for her to calm down a bit, then told her, “There’s been another death. Can you be at my house in ten minutes? I’ve got a friend taking me out to look at it.”
“I’ll be there,” Kyra said.
“Thanks. Don’t bother with your nice clothes.” I hung up on her without saying goodbye and started getting dressed myself, in the same clothes I’d worn yesterday.
I wouldn’t have called Kyra if I had any choice in the matter; I didn’t want to involve her further, and I doubted that she would be very useful. Her senses were more acute than mine, sure, but if I concentrated I could still pick out the scent of werewolf. Besides, I was pretty sure that physical senses weren’t going to be any more use than they had been for the last corpse. And I didn’t want to get her any more mixed up in this mess than she already was.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Christopher had talked around the subject, and he had been polite about it, but I knew how to listen. Ostensibly he had offered Kyra’s services to me. Alpha werewolves are a bit like the mafia, though. When they say they have an offer for you, it takes a foolish man to say no, however politely they might phrase it.
My hearing was plenty good enough to hear it when Enrico turned down my road thirteen minutes later. I couldn’t distinguish his car by sound, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out who it was; that area didn’t see a lot of traffic even in the daytime.
I was waiting for him out front of my house when he pulled up. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to get in his car—which was significantly nicer than Kyra’s—immediately, he turned it off and got out.
“What you waiting for?” Enrico’s voice was cheerful once again, at odds with his rather grim expression. Today he looked very much like a cop, although he wasn’t in uniform. I don’t know if he ever wears a uniform. Actually, I don’t know if he owns a uniform.
“A friend of mine. She should be here in a few minutes. Hope you don’t mind.”
He gave me a hard look, but said “No, that’s fine. I mean, I’m already illegally aiding you in trespassing on a crime scene. What’s one more?”
I frowned. “Are you risking your neck for me here?” Enrico was my friend; I didn’t want to endanger his job.
He shook his head. “Not really. I think the people covering this are so desperate they’d try just about anything. They won’t tell anybody.”
About that time Kyra rounded my trailer into view. She’d made pretty good time, but then werewolves can really move when they’re motivated. Four feet and supernatural physical abilities can do that for a person.
“Holy shit,” Enrico said, falling back a step and going for his gun. “That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.” Kyra was about average in size as a wolf, the same as human, but that’s still bigger than just about any natural canine. Her fur was about the same walnut-brown as her hair as a human, but her eyes were green rather than blue. She’d come as the wolf, like I’d asked her to. Obliquely, but not speaking directly about werewolfery over the phone was an ingrained habit for both of us.
“Easy,” I said hastily. “She’s a friend.”
He looked like he wasn’t sure he believed me. “That’s your dog?”
I snorted. “Not hardly. She’s willing to pretend, though.” I walked over to Enrico’s car and held open the door for her. Kyra jumped in casually. Unlike most real dogs, she didn’t seem smaller inside a vehicle; she sprawled across the entire back seat, and she was a little cramped at that.
I tossed the plastic grocery bag I’d brought next to her and shut the door. Enrico was just starting to move when I got into the passenger seat to wait for him. He didn’t ask any questions when he got in, just started driving with a thoughtful look on his face.
I’ve always wondered whether Enrico knows what I am—or something of it, anyway. I’m not a werewolf, but I have enough in common with them to give off certain cues. Nothing obvious, but enough small clues can add up. Enrico had had years to pick up on them, and watching people is pretty much his job. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t at least suspect something, really.
At this time of night the roads were just about empty. Once he got onto a main road he turned east, driving through the dark and empty streets quite a bit faster than was legal. Kyra and I both watched the darkened lots flashing by the windows. I was remembering other nights, many of them even darker and less pleasant than this. I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t think I want to.
Kyra’s mind was a nice place once, I think. Once.
We rode in silence until Enrico turned north onto the Interstate. There we started seeing other vehicles, mostly delivery trucks. A fine rain had started falling, and the headlights shone oddly through the water.
“So where’re we going?” I asked finally, tired of the melancholy memories.
“Up near the Air Force Academy,” Enrico said quietly. I wondered whether maybe he was also lost in old, ugly memories. As a cop he probably had plenty.
“That’s a long way from Manitou,” I pointed out.
He grimaced. “That’s part of what’s driving them crazy. I don’t know where the first one was, but the second and third deaths were less than ten blocks from this one. Then the fourth down in the southern part of the city, and the fifth one in the middle of town. The sixth you already heard about, out in Manitou, and this one makes seven.”
Seven deaths? I wouldn’t have guessed it was that bad. “What are they blaming it on?” It was very important that nobody even started muttering “werewolf” around the station. If that happened, well, things might get bad. Very bad. People would probably die. I might be one of them. Werewolves take their privacy seriously.
“Hell if I know,” Enrico said grimly. “At first I think they said bear, but a bear wouldn’t have that large of a range. The other day I heard somebody mention that it might be ritual murders, like a gang initiation or something.”
I relaxed a little. That was a much safer thing for the cops to chase after. For that matter, it might even be accurate. At this point, I really didn’t have enough evidence to say one way or the other what was going on.
In the back, Kyra was whining a little. I hadn’t thought to call and tell her about the other deaths yesterday, and I hadn’t had time this morning, so this all came as a shock to her. I glared at her anyway; it would absolutely not do for Enrico to realize that she understood every word we were saying. Dogs aren’t supposed to be that smart.
We got off the Interstate and turned east, heading out toward the plains. It wasn’t a part of town I was familiar with; when you don’t have a car you’re kind of limited in how far you can travel. Especially in a city like Colorado Springs; it sprawls across more land than a lot of cities that are much larger, and the public transit isn’t worth a whole lot.
Eventually Enrico turned off into one of the housing developments. I’m not sure how he found the right one; they always look the same to me, but he didn’t have any trouble finding the right building.
He hadn’t been kidding when he said he could get me in before anybody else. The house wasn’t even surrounded by police tape. There was one cop car parked outside, but no other sign that anything was wrong. The lot itself was practically empty as well, just a smattering of cars parked outside the houses of still-sleeping residents. There were no other people in sight at all.
“Where’s your friend?” I asked him. I would prefer not to involve any other cops in this.
Enrico smiled at me without much humor. “He said he’d make himself scarce for a while. No sense both of us getting in trouble.”
I was starting to have serious doubts about whether he’d been telling the truth when he claimed that this little adventure was safe for him.
I didn’t let that slow me down. I knew Enrico well enough that I was pretty sure he’d have felt hurt if I kept trying to protect him. If he hadn’t been willing to deal with the consequences, he wouldn’t have offered to help me. He wasn’t that sort of man.
Kyra whined softly as we approached the front door. She smelled the blood, even outside the building. I could, too, and my senses weren’t nearly as good as hers when she was in fur.
The door Enrico let us through wasn’t locked, although he did lock it behind us. To keep his friend from accidentally stumbling in on us, presumably.
This house was nicer than the last one, all the furnishings a little newer, and matching. There were a few tasteful paintings hanging on the walls, and the carpet was perfectly clean. There was something unsettling about it, though. It made me think of a zoo exhibit; it had all the trappings of a natural habitat, but there was something lacking, indefinable and unmistakable. It smelled like blood, of course, and under that disinfectant and air freshener. The end result was reminiscent of a hospital, never my favorite kind of place; maybe that was part of what unnerved me about the house.
I followed Enrico through the building, down a short hallway decorated with more paintings, and around a corner. I glanced at the kitchen—more of the same, all stainless steel and surgically clean surfaces—before following him upstairs. Kyra crowded behind me, all but treading on my shoes, and I could feel her steadily growing discomfort pressing against my mind. Communicating with predators, and werewolves are essentially no different from other predators, is one of the few things my magic lets me do. Most of the time it’s more of an inconvenience than a gift.
The second floor matched the first, right down to the neutral grey paint. There was a short hallway with four doors leading off it. Three of the doors were solidly closed; the fourth was hanging open slightly, the light leaking out from behind it providing the only illumination in that hallway, and it was from behind that door that the smell of blood was coming.
I nerved myself and then stepped into the room. It had been a study, I think, and was the first room I’d seen in that house that felt lived in.
And, of course, died in.
This room, unlike the last site, showed signs of a struggle. The expensive office chair, which I presumed the victim had been sitting in, had been upended and was sitting upside-down in the corner, one of its wheels snapped off. A number of books had fallen from the shelves and now rested on the floor, their covers bent and soaked in blood. I looked at the titles, including those still on the bookshelves, because the part of me that associated death with mystery novels was sure I would see a vital clue in them. It would appear that the deceased had been reluctant to offer me assistance of that sort, unless paperback spy novels and romances counted as a clue.
How to describe the body? It was a lot like the last one, really. I found that I noticed mostly the details. The way the throat had been ripped out, completely, exposing the spine from chin to chest. Said spine was in two sections, having been severed just below the chin, leaving her head attached only by what little muscle was intact at the back of the neck. Once again the torso showed the heaviest damage, ripped open like a child might tear into a box; the heart was missing, like at the last scene, although the lungs were intact. The arms weren’t as severely damaged as the previous corpse’s, but her legs had been attacked more. The left thigh and groin had been ripped at, and the right leg had been literally torn off at the knee. The lower leg, which looked to have been gnawed on, was sitting next to the dead woman’s head.
Nothing useful there, nothing new. I didn’t think either Kyra or the forensics team was going to pick up anything more useful here than at the other sites. That left it up to me.
Some part of my mind is always focused on magic, the way it smells and flows across my skin. That was why, for example, I knew as soon as I met her that Kyra was a werewolf. Her power smelled like werewolf, the tingling bite of magic overlaid with predator’s musk and a touch of lavender. But it was like any other sense; if I didn’t pay attention to what it was telling me, I wouldn’t get much out of it. And, much like any other sense, if you learn to really focus on it, you can get a surprising amount of information.
The first thing I could smell was Kyra. Her magic smelled like werewolf, obviously, and under that a touch of blood and darkness. No, I don’t know how something can smell like darkness; probably it can’t. It didn’t matter, though; I wasn’t really smelling anything. That’s just how my mind interprets the sensation I was receiving. I dismissed that scent and moved on.
Enrico was the only human smell I could detect. Humans have always smelled, for whatever reason, like disinfectant to me, and he was no exception. The scent of his magic wasn’t very strong; he didn’t have the power of a werewolf or a mage. Under ordinary circumstances I couldn’t have smelled it at all, but now my senses were very focused on it. It wasn’t important right now, and I didn’t pay it much attention.
Moving on, I could just catch my own scent. It was, naturally, a hopeless jumble. A little bit of werewolf was the most obvious tone, followed by old blood and freshly cut grass. I could barely detect the subtler scents of snow and cold. Most of the time I’m too surrounded by my magical scent to actually smell it, the same as my physical scent. It was still familiar, and I dismissed it easily.
At first I thought those were the only scents in the room. Then I realized that there was another, strong and pervasive enough that I could have picked it out even without the effort I was making, and I just hadn’t caught it. I’d thought that the smell of blood was physical, but there was more to it than that.
As though reacting to my awareness, it grew stronger, richer, and I realized it wasn’t just blood I was smelling. Blood wouldn’t have bothered me, and this did. I could smell blood, but also rot, the stench of decay and corruption. It was a vile, choking miasma, as though the body in that room were weeks old rather than just hours.
It smelled evil, the way that Kyra could smell of darkness and I could smell of cold, but a thousand times stronger.
I had smelled something a bit like that before. Only once, and it had been years since that day, but I don’t think I could ever forget the smell of demon.
Magical scents, unlike physical ones, seldom linger long. That was why I hadn’t bothered really looking at the last scene. It also meant that whatever left that residue had been recent. Even a strong signature doesn’t last longer than a day or so, and most fade within a couple of hours.
That was strange, because the one thing I didn’t smell was werewolf. Everything about this—the timing, the injuries, every single detail—still screamed that it was a werewolf responsible. But I couldn’t catch even a trace of one, and I could tell that Kyra wasn’t having any better luck with physical scents.
I walked over to the body, Kyra padding along at my side, and stared down at it. This close I could make out individual wounds—the scratches and rips of claws, interspersed with deeper punctures left by fangs. The claws had seen more use than the teeth, at least until the victim was dead. The wounds were far more extensive than should have been necessary to be lethal.
“We should get out of here,” Enrico said, glancing out the window.
“Happy to,” I said honestly. Now that I was aware of it, the stink of evil pressed so hard against my senses that I was starting to feel physically ill. “Come on, Kyra,” I said, stepping out the door into the hallway.
Enrico waited for Kyra before following me out, turning out the light and closing the door behind us. That left the hall in near total darkness, but that didn’t bother me. My vision, unlike my other senses, isn’t significantly better than human, but I handle darkness better.
Outside, Enrico’s friend apparently still had plenty of time, because he was standing on the sidewalk chatting with a young woman who was probably on her way to work. He pretended not to notice us, and we returned the favor.
I expected Enrico to drive back to my house, but instead he pulled into the lot of a chain restaurant a few blocks away, which wouldn’t open for about eight hours.
“Winter,” he said, turning to look at me, “I went out on a limb for you tonight. Now, you’re a good friend, and I don’t think I’m likely to get in trouble for this. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you tell me what’s going on here.”
Well. This was just great. I didn’t have a convenient story that would explain why I was interested without the werewolf aspect. Even if I did, I really didn’t want to lie to him. At the same time, telling him that werewolves were real was a dangerous move. If he didn’t believe me, I would probably go to an asylum. If he did, the pack might kill us both.
“Look,” I said slowly, “there are things I can’t talk to you about. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“That’s the thanks I get for this? I took you at your word when you said you needed to see this. I just broke the law to get you in that room, because you said you could help. And now you’re stonewalling me?” Enrico’s voice held real anger now.
I looked away, feeling truly awful. Then I shook my head, once. “Screw it,” I said, getting out of the car. “Come on. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I let Kyra out of the car. She gave me a warning look on the way by, which I pretended not to see while I grabbed the bag I’d brought and closed the door. “Come on,” I told Enrico again, leading the way around the corner of the restaurant.
Around back was the inevitable Dumpster and delivery door. At the moment the place was deserted, and pitch black in the plentiful shadows. In short, it was as close as I could conveniently get to perfect privacy.
“Kyra,” I said quietly, so as not to attract attention, “would you show him?” She glowered at me, and I added “Please. I’ll take responsibility.” I could tell she wasn’t happy, but she stalked into the deepest shadows next to the Dumpster anyway. Kyra respected me.
Enrico was looking at me like I was crazy. “Are you talking to dogs now, Winter?”
“No. And you might not want to call her a dog. Some people find it offensive.”
“You’re telling me that’s not a dog.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
He pursed his lips. “That’s a new one. I mean, I’ve heard some pretty lame attempts at explanation, but this one takes the…”
He trailed off there, because Kyra had started changing, and that’s a real conversation stopper.
I’ve been around changing werewolves so often, and for so many years, that sometimes I forget just how remarkable it is. It’s not a quick process; most werewolves take around ten minutes. Some of the more experienced ones can do it faster, but even they don’t like to.
What that means is that Enrico and I could watch every detail of the change. We could see Kyra’s bones shifting around under her skin. Some of the bones and joints had to break to accommodate the movements, which they did, audibly.
The change started at her extremities and spiraled in, with her face remaining lupine until the end. As her body began to appear more human in form, it started to change in less dramatic ways. Muscles shrank and shifted, moving from a quadrupedal orientation to that of a biped. Her fur started to recede, and darkened a little. I could hear her bones slipping back into the right configurations with little clicks and wet noises, which might have nauseated me if I hadn’t seen it all before. Eventually she looked human once again, although she was still lying on the pavement with her eyes closed.
It was, as you may imagine, a painful process; ripping your body apart usually is. I’d experienced it a few times, and it really hurts. At the same time, though, it’s amazing. I’d seen werewolves change at least a hundred times, and every time was unique, a little bit different from every other. Like snowflakes, but nastier.
Enrico just stood there, staring at Kyra the whole time. His face had gone pale, and his hand was once again on his concealed weapon—out of instinct, I think, rather than any thought of violence. He smelled like fear and shock, rather than anger. I reached over and gently removed it, anyway. Then I grabbed the bag.
Most werewolves, including Kyra, get in the habit of leaving clothing anywhere they spend much time. They can, technically, change wearing clothing, but it won’t change with them. The end result is that they rip the fabric, a process which is not comfortable, and which is obviously hard on clothes. It also leaves them rather severely hampered, with whatever bits of clothing are remaining hanging off and tripping them. Most werewolves just strip first, and then get dressed again when they go to human.
Kyra’s clothes weren’t much nicer than mine. The bag she’d left with me had underwear, a faded and stained T-shirt, and a pair of jeans with holes in both knees, plus a pair of sandals that hadn’t been worth much new, and were totally inappropriate to the weather. I left them next to her and walked around the corner, taking Enrico with me. Kyra had about as much modesty as the average werewolf—which is to say none—but it’s still just not polite to watch a woman dressing.
Kyra, I knew, would take her time. After the change, werewolves tend to be somewhat disoriented; it takes time to get used to a different body, and a werewolf is much different in human shape than in fur. Besides that, it took a little time to recover from the change physically. The stories about werewolves’ supernatural healing abilities are based in fact, but there was a lot of minor damage to fix, and it would be a few minutes before she could move without any pain.
Eventually Kyra stepped around the corner. Her hair was plastered to her head by the rain, but her eyes were bright and fierce as she glared at me. “Have you gone insane?” she asked me bluntly. Even through the rain I could smell anger and fear from her.
“No more than usual,” I told her. “Kyra, this is Enrico Rossi. He’s a friend of mine who works in the police. Enrico, meet Kyra Walker. She’s a friend of mine who happens to be a werewolf.”
Kyra smirked and stuck her hand out. After a shocked pause, Enrico shook it.
“Nice to meet you and all that,” Kyra said, “but seriously, Winter. Do you realize how stupid this is?”
“I think I have an idea, yes. Speaking of which…” I stepped forward and caught Enrico’s eye. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I couldn’t talk to you about this. You need to promise me this doesn’t go any further, not even to your sister.”
He was starting to look more in control of himself, although I could still smell him sweating and his heart and breathing rates were elevated. In their heightened state my senses were more distracting than normal. “It seems to me,” he said slowly, “that werewolves are something the police should know about.”
“Oh no,” Kyra said quickly. “That’s a really bad idea.”
“You think it was a werewolf that did this, though, don’t you? That’s why you called me.” He gave me a cold look. “If werewolves are killing people, we need to know about it.”
“If it was a werewolf, which it may not be, it won’t be your problem.” I hesitated, trying to decide how much I could safely tell him. “There are other werewolves,” I said eventually. “Other than Kyra I can’t tell you who they are in this city. But they exist, and they don’t approve of slaughter like this. If this was done by a werewolf, they’ll deal with it.”
Enrico snorted. “You mean that they’ll kill him.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But think about it. You really want to try and imprison a werewolf? Make him stand trial?” I shook my head. “It wouldn’t work, Enrico. Besides, they’ll only kill him if they think he did it intentionally.”
“You don’t kill seven people by accident, Winter.”
“New werewolves do.” Kyra’s voice was a little strained, and I remembered that the pack had allowed her to commit murder when she was newly changed rather than helping her control herself. I think she killed three or four people.
I knew how she felt, exactly, but this wasn’t helping to convince Enrico so I broke in. “Look, man. Have you ever felt so angry that you just wanted to smash somebody’s face in? Or ram a car that just cut you off? Anything like that?”
“Yes,” he said patiently. “But I didn’t.”
“Exactly,” I said, nodding. “Now imagine what you would have done if you’d never felt anger before. If your first experience of what it felt like to be angry had been that intense, that unexpected, and you’d had the means to make it go away right there.”
He opened his mouth, then paused. “I don’t know what I’d have done,” he said finally, his voice thoughtful. “I mean, I like to think I’d have done just what I did, but…I don’t know. Are you saying that’s what it’s like to be a werewolf?”
“More or less,” Kyra told him quietly. “But it’s not really anger. We get territorial urges. The instinct to chase things that run, like dogs do. The impulse to react with violence to confrontation, or challenge.” She paused. “Hunger.”
Enrico shivered. “Christ.”
Kyra’s mention of hunger reminded me that she hadn’t eaten this morning. She’d changed twice in less than an hour, too, and shifting takes a lot of energy. It’s not only a physical exercise, it’s a magical one, and neither effort is light.
“Look,” I said, “I hate to interrupt and all, but I’m starving, I’m cold, and it’s raining. Do either of you object to carrying on this conversation on the way to more habitable climes?”
Enrico, who had been staring at Kyra—unwisely, but she understood that it wasn’t a challenge—started a little then shook his head. “No, of course not. Come on, I’ll buy you both breakfast.”
We piled back into his car. Kyra in the backseat took up significantly less space as a human than she had as a wolf—no surprise, since she was probably close to a hundred pounds lighter. I don’t know where the extra mass comes from. Apparently it doesn’t actually violate conservation of mass, but the explanation involved a whole bunch of advanced magical theory and complicated math, and I don’t like math very much.
“So are all werewolves maniacs?” Enrico asked. His voice was back to its normal, cheerful self, which meant nothing at all.
I shook my head. “No, no more than all people are. They usually learn to keep it all under control within a few months, just like you don’t ram the guy that cuts you off in traffic. Werewolves have a short temper, but other than that they aren’t much more dangerous than your average human.” I didn’t tell Enrico what happened to the wolves that didn’t learn self-control. He did not need to know that the pack executed the weaker-willed werewolves. It was necessary for their safety, but somehow I didn’t think he’d see it that way.
“Huh,” he said. Then, “So if this was a werewolf, he’s only been one for a couple months.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But it shouldn’t surprise you that sometimes werewolves go crazy. I mean, people do too, right?”
He took his attention off the road long enough to glance at me. “Crazy how?”
I shrugged again. “They decide they like killing more than they like living, and then…” I dragged a finger across my neck.
That killed the conversation for a while.
3 Responses to Almost Winter 1.3
I understand Winter had to bring Enrico in in order to make him their inside man in the police, but Winter should have then made a point of why it couldn’t be a werewolf rather than let Enrico keep thinking it was. Perhaps Winter wanted to convince Enrico that the local pack would take care of it.
You’re right that this would have been the better long-term decision. But a lot of the point of this scene was to establish early on that Winter doesn’t always make smart decisions where his friends are concerned. For him to be able to lie well to Enrico, especially when he’s being challenged on it, would be inconsistent with his character.
This is an author’s commentary written after the completion of the series. Spoilers are in a rot13 cipher; if you aren’t familiar with that there are a number of very easy deciphering websites to use. These spoilers may cover the full series, not just this book, and they may make reference to major plot points and character development. You have been warned.
I’m fairly happy with this chapter, looking back on it. The description is fairly evocative, and the interaction with Enrico and Kyra works pretty well.
This is the first time we see that Winter is a terrible liar, and he often does things that aren’t that great of ideas. He doesn’t have the best impulse control when his friends are involved. This is something that will show up quite a few times through the story.
The bit where Winter just happens to have run into a demon in the past is an extremely contrived coincidence, and I do regret doing that; it’s a bit more contrived than I like to be. I don’t even have a good explanation for why he happened to have an encounter with one of these very rare things. I like to be able to explain the implausible coincidences in my stories, and that I don’t have an explanation for this one bugs me a bit.
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