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Sandcastles - Chapter 1



She stood on a balcony with a glass of pinot noir in her hand as she watched the waves of the ocean crash onto the shore. It was creeping further up the sandy beach. This was her favorite time of day. The sun was sliding behind the horizon giving the clouds a pink and purple hue—the beauty always astounded her. Her eyes tracked to the beach and the sandcastle built that day. Soon the moat around it would fill with water and the castle would disappear as though it had never existed.


Arms encircled her waist and she smiled. “It is a beautiful night,” she purred. “Is she asleep?”


“Yes,” her lover whispered before kissing the nape of the women’s neck tenderly. “Come to bed.”


“I will. The sunset is almost over,” she replied wistfully as the bright yellow and orange ball sunk halfway into the horizon.


Her lover gently turned her around and kissed her lips. “I love you...I always have. Even when I pushed you away I loved you.”


“I always knew that,” she whispered before turning back to the sunset. The arms encircled her again and she felt a chin rest on her shoulder. “I’ve always loved you. Even when I thought I could never love I loved you.” She took a sip of her wine and watched the sandcastle disintegrate in a strong wave that rolled over it. Tomorrow, as always, they would build another grander one as testament to their love, until the tide rose once again.


“Come to bed,” her lover enthused. “I need to feel your skin next to mine.”


The glass of wine placed on a nearby table forgotten as she lost herself in her lover’s embrace.



Chapter One


Remington Wolf sat in the last row, aisle seat of the 727 heading for Houston, Texas. She leaned slightly against the seat and felt the bulk of the Smith & Wesson .38 Special resting in the small of her back. Instinctively she moved her arms to feel the modified nine-millimeter Glock under each arm. As she studied the people who were making their way down the narrow aisle, she smiled and shook her head slightly.


Parker Davis—how would she describe the woman who had saved her life and probably destroyed her career? There was a definite physical attraction—something that Remi clearly wanted to avoid. Although labeled as a rogue, there was no doubt that in her earlier years Parker was every bit a Department of Covert Operations agent. Her mind turned to the clandestine government organization that she knew in all likelihood would kill her on sight. That was why she was so heavily armed. She grinned at the image of Parker handing her the credentials of a Federal Air Marshal. How the woman had managed to do that along with adding the name, Claudia Sinclair, to the official Air Marshal list was a mystery, and one Remi was grateful Parker had.


Once she allowed Parker to remove the DOCO—Department of Covert Operations—tracking chip, she knew, but never voiced, that she would be marked for elimination. When she took her seat on the plane, she realized she needed to change her original plan of going directly to DOCO headquarters. Now, she needed to make her way back to Austin and her home there to see if she could salvage any hope of returning to the organization intact. Because of her position in DOCO, she knew they had people everywhere on the lookout for terrorists, as well as wayward agents. Known as watchers they memorized names and faces and worked at airports, bus and train stations, rental car agencies, and other forms of transportation but they were not limited to that—they were everywhere. If a watcher saw someone who matched one of the people they were looking for, he’d relay that information to a global computer. Remi doubted that any of the people involved as watchers knew what the results of a positive identification were; they were just glad for the money they received.


Parker, who was well versed in the art of disguise, gave Remi a latex face that even she didn’t recognize. Her nose and chin were elongated and her cheeks bulged giving credence to the fat suit she was wearing. Hair that was normally blond was now auburn with slight blond highlights. Brown contacts finished the look. She was certain no one would single her out as Remington Wolf, but a slight possibility existed that someone might recognize her by her walk. Parker had suggested that she walk with a limp if she was worried, and she did just that when she walked through the airport to board the plane.


Remi’s attention turned to a man who was standing in the aisle next to her seat trying to fit an obviously oversized bag in to the overhead compartment. The one-word description of the man would be ordinary. She studied him making mental notes as the thought crossed her mind of the possibility that he belonged to DOCO.


“I paid the money,” he grumbled, “and now the damn thing won’t fit.” He turned around and caught Remi’s gaze. “What the hell are you looking at?” he asked. When Remi simply raised an eyebrow, he bent down and got in her face. “I asked you a question, bitch,” he roared.


Although the man’s breath reeked of alcohol, Remi held her ground. “Get out of my face,” she quietly growled.


A tall, slim, dark-haired flight attendant was immediately by the man’s side. “What seems to be the problem, sir?” she asked in a calm manner as she eyed Remi.


The man stood and turned on the attendant. “I paid for storage of this bag and it won’t fit in the fuckin’ overhead.”


“Sir, the size requirements for overhead baggage are clearly posted when you check in. I am surprised they let you through security with it.”


“I don’t give a rat’s ass about that,” he bellowed, moving so he was face-to-face with the attendant then grabbing her arm.


Remi stood and leapt into action, her fingers squeezing the back of the man’s neck steadily increasing the pressure until he dropped the woman’s arm. She looked at the attendant who seemed to be taking the situation in stride. “Call security,” Remi ordered as the man struggled to get away. Remi increased the force of the hold.


“Let me go, bitch,” he bellowed before falling to his knees after Remi kicked the back of them. “You’re killing me,” he cried.


Remi leaned in close and whispered, “If I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.” By the time she straightened, security guards were approaching and once they identified themselves, she relinquished her hold on the man’s neck. She retook her seat and watched as the man and his bag left the plane.


“So much for keeping a low profile,” she grumbled.



Once the plane had landed and everyone had disembarked, Remi made her way out of the plane and into the concourse. Her eyes scanned the area, noting different places where a DOCO operative could take her down. She doubted they would try anything in the airport since that would bring more attention than they would want. No, they’d wait until she was outside or driving in a car. One shot from a long rifle and she’d be dead—the assailant long gone. She knew that scenario well since she had executed it on many occasions. It was that knowledge that would keep her alive until she could make her way back to Philadelphia and DOCO headquarters.


She kept vigilant as she rented a nondescript vehicle. She knew DOCO had three watchers at that particular kiosk and the way the agent checked her driver’s license put her on alert. She had never used the name Claudia Sinclair and she knew DOCO had never used the name. Yet, there was an outside chance the agent would recognize her as Remington Wolf. She intently studied the man as he entered her information into his computer and saw no outward signs that he suspected her of being anything other than a woman renting a car. Once the man handed her driver’s license back, and she signed the contract, he directed her to the area outside where she could wait for the bus that would take her to the vehicle she rented.


Once inside the rental, Remi strapped her seat belt in place, adjusted the mirrors, and pulled out of the parking lot unconvinced that DOCO wasn’t on to her. What she wouldn’t give for one of the bulletproof vehicles she often used in her clandestine assignments. Since that was not an option, she drove at a moderate speed trying to always be in a group of vehicles rather than out in a lane alone. It would extend the four-hour drive to Austin by at least thirty minutes—she had no choice. Halfway to her destination, she pulled out one of her numerous throwaway cell phones and dialed the only number the instrument held. Her plans had changed and she needed to let Parker know.


“Hey, it’s me. The plans have changed and I am going home. I will call you when I know the lay of the land.”


“I’ll be there when you call,” Parker said.


The call didn’t last more than fifteen seconds.


A feeling of relief filled Remi as she neared her destination. She drove slowly past her home that she had last used for the DOCO sting of a drug lord, Carlos Castellan. From what she could tell from the street, there didn’t seem to be any activity in or around the house, but she wouldn’t be certain until she actually got past the security and onto the grounds. She noticed a home across the street was for sale and formulated a plan to use it if it was empty. It would take several days before she could breach the outer security of her home—years of practice taught her that rushing in without a plan was not only foolish but could result in her death. She would take her time, cover all the angles, and then make sure she had them covered again. If she was to succeed, no detail was too small.



As luck would have it, the home across the street was indeed vacant. The night before, she had parked her rental and walked five blocks to investigate the house in hope of using it for her base of operations. Remi found the place empty and had no problem bypassing the security system and picking the lock. She knew better than to use the key the realtor had hanging from the handle of the front door. Often such devices recorded when the key was used and by whom.


Once she ascertained the name of the owner of the house, she called the realty company and asked that they take the house off the market for a week while the inside of the house was painted. Remi laughed at the ease she had at convincing the agent she was indeed the owner. The agent assured her they would remove the lockbox from the door for the duration until she received a call saying the painting was finished.


“Three days tops,” Remi said. She drove to a storage unit for which Parker had provided the key. In it, Parker told Remi, she would find all types of equipment that would be useful in her quest to take her house back. The size of the storage area didn’t surprise her for she was aware of Parker’s proclivity for having all the bases covered. When she pulled open the door, she was amazed at what she found. A car that looked like it had armor sat in the middle surrounded by benches covered with tarps hiding what she suspected were different types of weapons and equipment. One by one, Remi pulled back the tarpaulins and selected the items she’d need.


“Thank you, Parker, this makes my job easier,” she whispered as she rolled down the door and locked the unit. For a moment, she considered taking the armored vehicle, but decided she would wait until she knew what she had to deal with. For the time being, she felt she was still under DOCO’s radar and driving around in what was a clearly armored vehicle would only cause suspicion—the watchers were everywhere.


The driveway to the surveillance house she was using didn’t have a gate, and for that Remi was grateful. It meant she could drive into the garage and unload the equipment. Remi had designated a place in the corner of the garage for her command center. Since visiting the storage unit, she no longer worried that a prospective buyer or real estate agent would discover what she was doing. In the unit, she’d found the standard-issue DOCO cloaking device that would suitably hide what was in the corner, just in case someone entered the garage. It wasn’t long before she had all the necessary equipment for surveillance in place.



One day later, Remi was reviewing the video feed from the cameras focused on the main driveway, a secret one used for escape, and on the area open to the lake. Activity at any of the places was nonexistent. The thermal scan produced no clear evidence that anyone was in the house but as far as Remi was concerned that was not solid intelligence. She had firsthand knowledge that that type of scan could be jammed to disguise the occupants—she had installed such a device in her house and had no reason to believe DOCO agents weren’t in her house. Her plan for gaining access to the property was solid, but she reviewed it for the hundredth time calculating every possible scenario and what she would do if the unthinkable happened. 


Since Remi was the one who designed the security system for the house and was the only one with access to all the security codes, she had an advantage over her opponents. There were entrances into the house that only she knew existed. As with any mission, she knew a lot rode on the intelligence she compiled before she made such an attempt. That night she would breach the security system of the property’s perimeter and make more observations before she attempted to enter the house.



It was one in the morning on a dark, overcast night as Remi donned her black cargo pants, black T-shirt, black boots, black gloves, and secured her weapons before she blackened her face. Once that was complete to her satisfaction, she pulled a black watch cap over her blond head, affixed night vision goggles over her eyes, and left the garage.


In a semicrouch position and keeping to the shadows, Remi made her way down the driveway. Once she saw that the street was clear, she scurried across and moved to the neighboring fence along the eastern side of her property. She cautiously made her way along the fence to the water’s edge. In her plans for the security of her house, she had placed a module that would allow her access to her property from only this point. Once she pulled off her right glove, she ran her fingers along a palm tree that marked the edge of her property. When she felt the cleverly disguised button, she pushed it and a remote control device fell into her hand. Once she pressed the button, the device would flash for fifteen seconds disengaging the perimeter security; it would look like an anomaly on the monitoring devices inside the house. She quickly stepped onto her property and watched as the blinking stopped—the perimeter security reengaged.


Remi reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out a device that looked much like a high-tech entertainment center control. She knew that once she moved the lights around the property would come on alerting the house’s inhabitants, if there were any, that there was a security breach. A sequence of numbers that only she knew would block the lights from coming on. Once she had punched in the last number on the pad, she stepped cautiously toward a position where she could watch the front door but still get away. The lights remained off.


It was because of Remi’s attention to detail that all the windows of the house had blackout blinds. The logic that said she didn’t want to announce the house had occupants now proved to be a hindrance to going forward. “Damn!” She backtracked until she was at the palm tree where she moved over what she knew would sound an alarm then reengage the lights. The area lit up and she waited in the shadows but not for long. When the front door opened, a lone man stepped partway out of the door. Remi held binoculars to her eyes and focused on the man. “Elliott Pembroke, I should have known,” she whispered. The man looked disheveled, which was the exact opposite of what she remembered of his attire. What was curious was the lack of anyone else joining him. As he stood in the lit doorway, he was a perfect target and Remi considered whether to shoot him then or wait and see. She grinned. “I think shooting you would be too good an end for you, Elliott.”


For years, Elliott Pembroke had dogged Remi chiding her at every turn as he tried to make a case that he was more suited for Remi’s job. Now, he was in her house and that just wouldn’t do. I should have killed him years ago, she thought as she made her way back up the line of the fence to the road. She stopped when she was parallel to the man standing in the doorway and once again considered killing him where he stood. No, she would wait. Elliott would suffer by her hand, of that she was sure. 



The next night at one in the morning, Remi repeated her movements from the night before. This time, after the lights were disabled, she purposely allowed the sensor around the perimeter to go off as she sprinted to the southern side of the house before allowing the lights to come on. With patience borne out of years of practice, she waited until she heard the front door open before she located the secret door and tapped in the number to open it. As the narrow access silently opened, Remi looked to see if lights were on in her office—they were not. She slipped inside the room and pressed the button to close the secret door.


Remi inhaled the smell of leather and polished wood and allowed a small smile to appear. She pulled the remote out and logged on to the internal camera system and disabled them so they would only show a static image of each room.


Remi moved to the left of the door and waited to hear the closing of the front door so she could note where Elliott went after coming inside the house. A good fifteen minutes passed before the door closed with a resounding bang. She closed her eyes and focused only on the sound of the footsteps, pulling out her Smith & Wesson to greet Elliott if he came into her office. Glad that she insisted on a tile staircase, she let the breath she was holding go as she heard the familiar sound of someone going up the staircase. It wasn’t long before she heard the creaking of a chair above her head. The bastard is using my bedroom.


Satisfied she was safe in her office, she reached over and locked the door before scanning the room with a beam of light from her flashlight. She noted that everything seemed to be in place before the light rested on her desk—her computer was gone. Remi moved silently toward the bookcase against the southern wall where the false door was. Instead of opening the door, she moved to her right and slid several books to the side, entered a code into her remote that revealed a wall safe. With practiced precision, she deftly pressed the number pad before pressing her thumb against the finger pad. Once the door opened, she wasn’t surprised to find everything she had put in there was gone.


“I wonder what DOCO thought by engaging these idiots,” she whispered as she closed the safe’s door and rearranged the books.


The beam of light focused once again on the desk as she made her way across the plush carpet and slid noiselessly into the desk chair. It was Remi’s policy that the desk drawers receive a routine lubricant treatment so they would slide easily open. She opened each drawer noting what was still there and what was not. It didn’t matter for she hadn’t left anything important for anyone to find. Even the computer held only cursory documents about various missions. The actual missions were handwritten and stored in a safe that was impossible to open even if someone found it—the condition of the room told her no one had.


Once she reached under the desk and pressed a button only she knew about, an area on the wall across from her slid open revealing a high-tech safe. Remi smiled as she made her way to the wall where she punched in the code, did a fingerprint scan, iris scan, and pressed two more numbers. The front of the safe seemingly disappeared revealing the contents within. All the files were there along with a backup hard drive of the missing computer. Satisfied that all necessary components of her office were still intact, Remi went to the door and unlocked it.


With gun drawn, she checked the downstairs area of the house; years of practice let Remi open each door without a sound. There was no evidence anyone had used the rooms for some time. Even the kitchen look unused and that she found baffling. Over several days of monitoring, there was no evidence that any one left or came on to the property. In silence, she made her way across the tile floor, opened the refrigerator door, and pulled back from the stench coming from within. Surely he eats. Remi puzzled over the food situation for a few second before deeming it unimportant.


When she opened the door to the garage, she saw Parker’s red Mustang was the only vehicle there. Her mind flashed to the man she observed the night before. He looked rumpled and slovenly but it was in the early morning hours and he could have gotten out of bed to check the alarm. What’s he doing here? She considered various scenarios for a few moments then closed the door and made her way to the staircase.


At the top of the stairs, she stopped and opened the door to where Parker briefly stayed before the last mission. Her mind flashed to the images she’d seen on a surveillance monitor of Parker standing nude in the room and squelched the thoughts immediately. She shook her head as she wondered if she was losing it for she couldn’t recall a mission when her mind wasn’t solidly on the operation. Going deeper into the room, she checked the closet and drawers and found everything was in place. 


With her mind refocused, Remi made her way down the hallway, opening each door and thoroughly inspecting each room. When she came to the door that was her bedroom, she stopped and listened. She heard the unmistakable sound of snoring. Remi then had to consider if the sound was genuine or if Elliott had somehow detected she was in the house and it was a ruse. After considering all the possibilities, she put her hand on the knob and turned it.


The light in the room was so bright that Remi had to shade her eyes as she surveyed the room. Elliott Pembroke was on the bed with his back to her. With her revolver in hand, she made her way to the bed then put the barrel of the gun to the man’s head and pressed down hard.


“Wakey wakey, Elliott, your worst nightmare is happening.”


Remi watched as the man slowly opened his eyes and continued to lie still on the bed.


“Wolf, I told them you’d be back.”


“Did they believe you?”


Elliott sneered. “No, but I knew better—I knew you’d slither back here eventually. All it took was my patience and here you are.”


“Indeed I am.” Remi twisted the barrel of the gun and pressed harder. “Your first mistake was coming into my home uninvited. The second, making yourself at home in my bedroom. I’m going to have to burn that mattress to get your stench off.”


“You think I’m afraid of you, Wolf? Well, I’m not. You’re nothing but a bottom-sucking cretin who’s only been successful by climbing on the backs of people like me.” He laughed. “Everyone at DOCO knows how incompetent you are and how it was me who made you look good.”


“Funny thing about that, Elliott, is that I’m the one holding the gun.”


“And you think that scares me? You’re an idiot, Wolf. Why do you think DOCO hasn’t looked for you?” He turned onto his back. “They’re glad to be rid of you.”


“Then why are you here?”


Elliott snorted. “I want the bounty.”


There it was out in the open?DOCO wanted her dead. It wasn’t a surprise but she knew Elliott wasn’t privy to all that was happening with DOCO. She seriously doubted they would have let him camp out in her house indefinitely. She pressed the gun harder and took a quick inventory of the room—trashed. Did he hole himself up only in my room while he waited for my return? Possibly. She surmised that he took the room the farthest from the door so if someone came in the house, they would assume no one was there. Not a plan she’d use but it did have its merits.


“Well, Elliott,” she said in her softest growl, “the only bounty you will get is in hell.”


“You’re going to kill me.” It wasn’t a question.


“Yes,” Remi said as she hit the man’s head with her gun.


There was no way she’d shoot the man in her house for that would leave evidence and that was unacceptable. She rolled him off the bed, bound his feet and hands with zip ties that she pulled out of her pocket, making certain his shirt cuffs and pants were between the tie and his skin. For added security, she stuffed one of his socks in his mouth. With ease, she dragged him by his shirt collar down the hallway, the stairs, and, after she disabled the outdoor lights, out the front door.


A fine mist fell, and off in the distance Remi could hear thunder. Once she had Elliott at the dock, she pulled the sock from his mouth before shoving his face in the water. It didn’t take long for the man to die. With practiced movements, she removed the zip ties noting that she had left them loose enough that an autopsy wouldn’t find any evidence of her binding his feet and hands. She carefully rinsed out his mouth to rid it of any traces of the sock. Once she was certain the body was free of evidence that would indicate foul play?it would be easy to surmise the head wound was a product of a fall—she let him float in the water as she got a kayak from the boatlift. She loosely tied the rope from the kayak to Elliott’s belt and paddled away from her dock, guiding the craft downstream and into the middle of the lake before she stopped.


As she released the body and watched it float away, she heard thunder and counted, “one-one hundred, two one hundred—” until she saw a flash of lightning. “Two miles,” she said as navigated the kayak back to her dock. With effortless, silent strokes, Remi’s kayak sliced through the water as she neared her home. It was almost four o’clock and with the approaching storm she knew she had to work fast to expunge any evidence of her excursion into the lake. 



Just as she reached the front door, thunder boomed overhead and lightning lit the sky before fat drops of rain fell to the ground. Remi smiled for the first time in days. The rain meant that the likelihood of people out fishing in the early morning hours was slim. She needed the time for Elliott’s body to float farther down the lake and hopefully sink before anyone could find him.


As she entered the house, exhaustion tried to overtake her but she resisted. There was too much to do and sleep was not one of them. She needed to calculate the best and worst scenarios for the discovery of the body and the length of time before the police started canvassing the owners of the homes on the lake. In her hand, she held all the ropes she removed from all the kayaks. She would burn them along with all traces of Elliott in the house.


Her feet wearily made their way into the kitchen where she pulled open the freezer and took out a bag of Columbian coffee beans. Once the beans were ground, she poured them into the coffeemaker and set it to brew. Remembrances of the stench of the refrigerator had her bypassing it instead looking through the cupboards for something to eat. She found a box of Power Bars and tucked them under her arm as she poured herself a cup of coffee. As she sipped the hot, dark brew, she closed her eyes and for a moment allowed herself to relax.


The coffee helped rejuvenate Remi so she could make her way back across the street to the house she was using for surveillance. She quickly put all the equipment in the rental car and eradicated any evidence that she had been there. In the cover of rain and darkness, she drove the rental across the street, opened the gate, and let the vehicle roll down the driveway to her garage.


Remi stood in the hall with a cup of coffee mentally planning how she’d clean the house. As she did, she pulled out a cell phone and dialed the only number stored on it. After two rings, she knew the person on the other end had connected. “It’s done,” Remi said before she disconnected.




Her attention turned immediately to the incinerator room?someone was inside. The room was standard DOCO issue with the most sophisticated incinerator that was both smokeless and odorless. In Remi’s line of work, it was important to have the means to completely destroy anything that might be construed as evidence that DOCO existed.


With purposeful steps, she made her way up two stairs, turned right, and took a few more steps before she stood in front of a door. With her gun at her side, she pressed a series of numbers on the keypad then pressed her thumb to it and saw a green light flash. Her right hand rested on the door handle and her gun, pointing up, was resting next to her head in her left hand. She slammed the door open, effectively disabling anyone who was behind it, then held her gun in both hands as she scanned the room.


When she saw the smallest movement behind a large trashcan she growled, “Show yourself.” After a minute she again said, “Show yourself,” then added, “if I come over there you will get a bullet in your head, asshole.”


With hands raised, a muscular blond man stood. “You’re alive,” he loudly whispered.


“What are you doing in my home, Demetrius?”


“I’m with Elliott. Ask him, he’ll tell you.”


The Wolf’s eyes narrowed. “I’d have to ask him in hell and I’m not going there yet.”


“He…he’s dead?”


A feral smile curved the Wolf’s lips. “And so will you be if you don’t answer my question. What are you doing in my home?”


Demetrius swallowed hard and opened his mouth only to shut it immediately. When he saw the Wolf edge closer to him with her gun aimed at his head, he said, “Elliott brought me here to help in his search for you.”


“Why was he searching for me?”


“The bounty—he wanted the bounty so he could be done with DOCO.”


The Wolf was standing in front of Demetrius with the barrel of her gun pressed against the bridge of his nose. “How much?” she growled from deep inside her throat.


“He told me five hundred thousand with an additional half million if you are caught alive.” Demetrius felt the increased pressure of the gun between his eyes. “I can help you,” he whimpered. “Elliott locked me in here and would only let me out to help him with hacking into databases.”


“Databases? Which ones?”


“All of them were government ones. He kept track of social security numbers, passports, and credit cards—everything in hopes of finding you.” Demetrius shook his head and the gun went with it. “I kept telling him you were too smart to be that careless but he is obsessed with you.”


The Wolf considered the man’s words and lessened the pressure of her gun against his head. She knew of Demetrius and his expertise with computers. He was good but not as good as Parker, who was responsible for hiding her trail. Her eyes fixed on the man. “I don’t know if I can trust you, Demetrius, and that puts me in a dilemma about what to do with you.”


“I’ll do anything you ask, Wolf. Anything.”


The gun lowered and the Wolf nodded. “We need to rid this house of any evidence that Elliott was ever here.”


“What about the cleaners? Can’t they do that?”


The Wolf let out a laugh. “Do you really think I’m that stupid, Demetrius?” she asked before raising the gun again. 


“No, no I wasn’t thinking. I know you’re not stupid,” his wavering voice said. “Please, I’ll do the cleaning—that is how I started out with DOCO. I know exactly what to do.”


Demetrius would die, the Wolf was certain of that, but she’d let him live so he could help with eradicating Elliott’s presence in her home. “One wrong move and it will be the last thing you do.”


Still shaking, Demetrius nodded. “You won’t regret it.”


“I already do,” the Wolf whispered as she pointed her gun toward the door.


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