Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flush Fiction!

I am proud (but not flushed) to announce that Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Presents Flush Fiction: 87 Short Short Stories You Can Read in a Single Sitting is now available for pre-order on Amazon and at your local bookstores, such as Watchung Booksellers. My story "A Glutton for Punishment," which first appeared in Beat to a Pulp, was chosen for the anthology.

Let's just say that story will knock the shit out of you.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Story: In the Pines

This story is for Flash Fiction Friday Cycle 69: Mephisto Stories.

Jerry knelt by his bedroom door, hoping he wouldn’t be seen. They were pretty loud tonight, and he bit his hand to keep quiet.

Jerry sneaked out of bed every time Uncle Ozzy came over to kill a case with his father. He did it whenever he was in port, now that Jerry’s mother was gone. He had a voice big as Christmas, green and blue tattoos up and down his hairy arms, a bristly black beard and eyes black and shiny as a doll’s. He told the best stories. Like the one about the Marine he knocked out by tripping him to the floor, and smothering him with his belly.

“Looks like we got a third,” he said and pointed.

“Get your behind in bed, son,” his father snapped. He was as skinny as his brother was stout, his elbows white and scratchy as a rat tail file.

“It’s okay, Richie.” Ozzy flashed a smile of cracked tombstones. “You like my stories, don’t you?”

Jerry nodded.

“Bout time this boy had a beer, ain’t it?”

His father’s wrinkles cut deep in thought. “Maybe.”

Jerry crawled into an empty chair. His father pulled the tab off a can of Rheingold and set it in front of him. “See if you like it.”

Jerry sipped, fought not to make a face as the bitterness sizzled his tongue.

“See, he likes it.” Ozzy laughed, and his belly didn’t shake. It was firm and round as a big onion. “Well, what story you want to hear?”

Jerry shook his head. He wanted to hear about the naked lady who lead him to his ship, but the thought made his ears flush red.

“I know you got a favorite.”

“I like ’em all. I want to join the Navy, soon as I’m old enough.”

“Hell you will,” his father clucked.

Jerry would be stuck picking cranberries in the pine bogs his whole life, unless he caught a ship out of the Philly naval yard like his Uncle had.

“It’s a good life, rough sometimes. I ever tell you why I joined?”

“No sir.”

“Take another nip of that beer, you’re gonna need it. We used to go fishing all over the pines, me and your father. We had a bit of a friendly rivalry. Your old man, he could catch fish like nobody’s business. Bet he still can. We’d hike deep in the pines, find ponds the old timers talked about, and haul home largemouths and bullhead cats.”

Jerry’s father took him fishing all the time, and all Jerry caught were fat yellow perch. They tasted fine pan fried, but weren’t much of a fight. His father always caught at least one chain pickerel or red-eye bass. And one time, a lunker pike near as big as Jerry was tall.

“I’d heard of a pool so blue and bright you could see clear five hundred feet to the bottom, with fish thicker than my arm.” He pumped his thick, tattooed arm, making the mermaid’s tail wiggle.

“Just an old wives’ tale,” his father said.

“I found it,” Uncle Ozzy said. “But I’m sworn to secrecy. On my immortal soul.”

“You’re full of,” Jerry’s father caught himself. “Beans.”

“You gonna let me tell the story, Richie?” The can crumpled under his fingers. The middle ones inked with feathers. For flipping you the bird.

“I found it by talking to Old Man Gar. A real Piney. He told me about a bridge covered with vines, a mile east of Joe Mulliner’s grave. But he said, That’s Mr. Scratch’s fishing hole, boy. And he takes back what’s his, in time. I didn’t believe in none of that. I do now, but the sea makes you superstitious like an old woman.”

Jerry remembered the stories of Mulliner, the Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens. How his grave was lost, then found, now lost again. His bones stolen and returned. He imagined him as a skeleton with a Robin hood cap, wandering the woods.

“Pay attention, nephew. Only telling his story once,” he said. “The bridge near fell apart as I crossed it.”

Jerry’s father slapped his belly. “I’ll tell you why.”

“Hush, you hear?” Ozzy’s eyes went flat, and his brother quieted. “And there it was, a fishing hole as blue as a swimming pool. I couldn’t see where the water came from, but there was current, a slow whirlpool to it. And it was a perfect circle.” He ran a callused fingertip around the rim of his beer can.

“I bushwhacked my way to the edge and looked down. I could see layers of fish circling down there. I tossed a pebble, and it dropped all the way down. I knew this had to be it. I hooked a big ropey nightcrawler and wiggled it around, pulling it away when the sunnies and the perch went for it. I figured a big’un might get interested, if I kept it up.”

“You never had that kind of patience,” Jerry’s father said.

Ozzy ignored him. “Sure enough, this big beauty floats over slow, from the far side. The sun hit it and its scales glowed golden. It’s got freckles down its sides.”

Jerry’s father looked into his beer can, and listened.

“I twitched my line, and her tail flicked. I’m scared to take a breath, afraid I’ll spook it.”

“Then I notice the woods have gone quiet. On the other side of the pond, I see a man in a tweed coat, wearing a funny hat with a feather in it,” he said. “And he’s smiling at me.”

Ozzy cracked open another beer. The bubbles sizzled in the steel can.

“I felt a chill down in my legs. I couldn’t move. He walks over, and I see his eyes are coal black, they got no whites to them.”

“Good day, my boy, he says. He had a real deep voice, like a preacher. Made you want to listen. He reaches out to shake my hand. He’s got soft, rich man’s hands. I’m too scared to shake.”

“He frowns and makes a little disappointed noise, then looks down. How’d you like to catch that fish, boy? I don’t say anything. His eyes are blue as the water. The words push up my throat, like puke. He runs a finger along the cane pole, and I say it. Yes, I want to catch that fish, and show up my brother.”

“He smiles and takes a silver coin from his pocket, and flips it into the water. It shines all the way down. But that beautiful fish, it sure gets her attention. She takes the worm and my pole bends in half. I’m fighting not to get pulled in. I’m thinking of the look on my brother’s face when I lug this home.”

“But out of the corner of my eye, I see the man cheering me, whooping and shaking his fist. He’s got hair on his arms, like fur. He stamps his feet, and his shoes are shiny black, and round, like horse’s hooves.”

“You’re gonna scare the boy,” his father whispered.

“I ain’t scared,” Jerry said, shrinking in to himself.

“The fish is getting tired. How it doesn’t break my line, I don’t know. But I do know, I just know, that if I land that monster, something bad’s gonna happen. So I push the rod into the man’s hands. Help me, mister, I tell him. I’m gonna lose it! And he’s so caught up that he takes it, and the pole knocks off his hat. He glares at me, his eyes gone black. He has two goat horns curving through his slicked back hair. He bites his lip, and smiles. At the end of line, it’s nothing but a yellow perch.”

Jerry’s father let out a sigh.

“Without a word, he points to his hat. I bend down and give it to him. His hands have claws now, and fat hairy knuckles. He snaps my cane pole in two, and drops it in the brush.

“He said, If you tell anyone of my fishing hole, boy, no matter where you plant your two feet, I will reach up and take what is mine.”

He gestured with the empty beer can, then peeled back the tab of the last one. Drained half, fizz bubbling away in his beard. “And he dove into the water and disappeared. I ran like mad over that bridge, and it burst into flames as I crossed it. No one’ll ever find the Devil’s Fishing Hole again. And that’s why I’m a sailor, so I’m never on land if he comes looking.”

Jerry’s father smirked. “You just got mad and broke that poke over your knee, Ozzy.” He reached over and ruffled Jerry’s hair. “About time you get to bed.”

“Goodnight, nephew. Don’t go wandering too far in the pines, now.”

Ozzy pulled on his dirty peacoat and cap, and wobbled out the door to find his way back to the yards.

* * *

Jerry’s father tucked him in, against his will. “I’m not a baby.”

“You’re my boy.”

“How’d you get so good at fishing, Daddy? Did you meet the Goat man in the woods, too?”

He smiled, and looked across the room at the portrait of the smiling woman on Jerry’s dresser. “No, son. I’m just patient, that’s all.”

© 2012 Thomas Pluck I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pike, by Benjamin Whitmer

Reading this excellent debut novel filled my veins with ice and slapped me with tunnel vision like I was in the cage throwing fists with a scarred beast who wanted my liver fried with onions for supper. Unflinching human brutality and how the survivors of that war defend their own. Set in the small towns of Ohio, Whitmer brings the ramshackle landscape littered with human wreckage to life with a raw knuckled poetry that left me awed at times, and gut punched in others. That's not to say this is some overwritten dirge; it is cut to the bone, and deceptive in teasing endearment for its damaged heroes and villains.
Pike messed up his life coming up, and when presented with his newly orphaned granddaughter Wendy, looks to find how her mother died. He has an adoptive son named Rory with his own demons, a bareknuckle fighter looking to break into boxing, and their lives collide with a Heart of Darkness cop named Derrick who keeps the lid on Cincinnati's underground by ruling it with a knuckleduster fist.
I had to read it in small doses. It set my temples afire with visions of dead-end lives and self-inflicted damnation. But it was worth every page. I am no fan of nihilism or "squalor porn," and Whitmer does not wallow in such. I read this alongside another powerful debut novel also set in Ohio- The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollock- and these fellows, like Frank Bill in Indiana, are mining deep veins in the Midwest, plucking brilliant anthracite from these small towns.

An amazing novel that I give my highest recommendation.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hardboiled Magazine

Do you like Hardboiled fiction? Then you should subscribe to Hardboiled Magazine. It's been in print since 1985, created by my friend Wayne Dundee - a hell of a writer himself - and is now run by Gary Lovisi. Paper only, you go to the link below, click Catalog, then select Hardboiled Magazine. It's $35 for a yearly subscription, old school print and hard as a set of carbide tipped knuckle dusters. You won't regret it. Frank Bill, Andrew Vachss, Bill Pronzini, Harlan Ellison and Bill Crider have all graced its pages and it is worth the extra steps needed to subscribe in this one-click world. 

Gary takes credit cards now, but I sent a check. It felt like the old days. In a good way...

© 2012 Thomas Pluck I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Winesburg, Ohio in hell by way of Jim Thompson. One of the most chilling and darkly entertaining novels I've read in years. He deftly weaves their tales together without stretching the threads. It can be difficult reading, with the suffering that some characters endure, but it never dips into salaciousness or what I like to call "squalor porn." He cares about the characters, even the wastes of humanity, and gives even the lowest an honest amount of life. While it feels nihilistic in parts, from the dregs of slovenly vice, one rises from the blood and the filth. And I hope there's another book that begins with him.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Happy Mardi Gras! 

If there is a catfish to be had in Jersey (outside of the pond) we'll be frying some up with cheddar biscuits and shrimp jambalaya this evening, tipping an Abita and wishing we were in Louisiana!

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Friday, February 17, 2012

16 Tons

16 Tons, covered by Tennessee Ernie Ford. original by Merle Travis.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This song's always resonated with me- Ford's stentorian voice, perhaps the deepest out there besides Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft, lends weight to this tale of coal mine slavery. And with 29 dead in 2010's Big Branch mine blast, we've still got a long way to go.

My post at Crimefactory about profanity in crime fiction is getting some legs. First it's at Crimebeat at BooksLive, a South African crime fiction site, and then Criminal Complex picked it up.

Also, Facebook has new rules about promotion- old rules they've begun enforcing with the usual ex-laxity. You're not supposed to promote using your Timeline page, that's purely for Facebook to mine data about you for their advertisers. When you promote, you become an advertiser, and I imagine at some point they'll start charging us for this. My new Thomas Pluck, Writer page takes the place of the "Pluck You, Too!" fan page. Please "Like" it if you'd like updates about my publications on Facebook:

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Behavior is the Truth

This is from Andrew Vachss's "Children's book for Adults," Another Chance to Get It Right. The title alone says a lot. We all have another chance, every day, to do the right thing. There is no absolution for past wrongs. The closest that comes to it are the good deeds we do today.

Children know the truth
Love is not an emotion
Behavior is the truth.

You can say I love you a thousand times, but if you call your kid "a piece of garbage" (as a childhood friend's mother was fond of calling her son) it means nothing. To quote INXS, Words are weapons, sharper than knives. This article in Parade magazine says all that needs to be said: You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart.
We make our own monsters in abusive homes and prisons; we also make our own bullies in the checkout line and the dinner table, by teaching that belittlement and humiliation are valid corrective behavior. My friend Daniel B. O'Shea wrote long and heartfelt about the idiot father who shot up his 15 year old daughter's laptop because she complained about chores on Facebook. If you raise a brat, look in the mirror. Do you throw a fit when the waitress is slow to refill your drink? Where did they learn this petulance from? Do you correct spoiled children by acting like spoiled children?

©1993 Andrew Vachss & Frank Caruso. Used with permission.

Do something about it. Support PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Business of Being a Writer

First of all, go subscribe to Kristine K. Rusch's blog, The Business Rusch.

Two books that she recommended, which every writer should read, are:

All about copyright, as it pertains to writing. What can be copyrighted, what you are licensing, what rights mean, it's all here. Also has an extensive section on writing and taxes. An essential reference for the beginner.
All about contracts. What the sections mean, what you should never give away, and how to protect yourself. I used this reference to draft a contract for a recent anthology, so publishers can make use of it as well. Truly essential, something I will read alongside every contract I sign in the future.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Christa Faust: Double D Double Cross

How can you not love a title like that? Especially if you dig classic pulp.

We immediately know the character. She's butch, but she's a fatale. She is a dyke, and she is a (private) dick. And there will be plot twists with twists who sport hefty hardware. I'm a sucker for alliteration, and it takes a cunning linguist to come up with a title like that. Ms. Faust takes the spirit of that cheeky title along for the full monty, dishing up a great read with lusty shenanigans, sharp humor, and a classic noir sensibility.

Butch is an ex-cop turned shamus, who hangs her shingle in Echo Park. An old flame drops by and she is nearly caught in flagrant delicto (well, she's licking something, but it's not her toe) when a client knocks on her door. It's Mickey, a line cook at a top restaurant, who hires Butch to find her missing girlfriend. From there, the story bounces along through back alley Los Angeles, Armenian gang wars, high priced escort services, and sleazy politicians- everything you'd expect from a classic P.I. story that doesn't just tease the tropes of the genre but delivers a rogue's gallery of endearing characters with lives of their own. It's a thrilling and campy caper that I truly enjoyed. The story plays your heartstrings, funny bone and gets your thumbs flicking pages faster than Butch's tongue on a Pinkberry... smoothie. Did I mention that it's also hotter than hell? Butch beds more broads than Bond on a Viagra bender.

I enjoyed Christa Faust's excellent novel (CHOKE HOLD), so I jumped on this e-book original like Butch Fatale on a busty femme. If you like your capers campy and your noir down and dirty, this read is for you.

Also available for Nook.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Monday, February 13, 2012

Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell'Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: Blameless in Abaddon

Blameless in Abaddon
Blameless in Abaddon by James K. Morrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this sequel to Morrow's excellent and imaginative novel, Towing Jehovah. This one recreates the Job story with a justice of the peace in a small town named Martin Candle in the unenviable position on the dung heap. The Corpus Dei from the previous book was bought by Baptists and towed to Florida as the centerpiece of a theme park to compete with Disney World, and Martin puts it on trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague. It's as amusing and joyfully blasphemous as the first, and does not shy from real philosophical discussion about the nature of a benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God in a world scarred by evil, misfortune and terror. Morrow has a talent for existential absurdity and sardonic humor; half the novel is narrated by the Devil himself, whose snarky asides on human history are worth the price of admission. Morrow's second greatest talent is crafting endearing and realistic characters, which were enough to get me through a somewhat tedious trial - my eyes glaze over during most legal drama - and a difficult ending that brings us to an inevitable, but ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

Rather like life itself: It's unfair. Do your part to make it less so.

Towing Jehovah comes highly recommended, and if you enjoy that, you must read this one. He closes the cycle with a third book, and I'll be reading that one soon. It took me 10 years to get to reading the second one, so don't wait up for me.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 9, 2012

earworm of the month

They have been inside of my head for weeks. But hey, it sure beats Sister Christian. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reimbursable Flogger

My friend E.E. Zulkoski nominated me for the Versatile Blogger award. Because she finds glee in torment.

I hate these things. You want some good blogs? I got a list over on the right side. Scroll down. There you go. However, because Erin and I are collaboragatin' on a bizarre and gruesome novella about a baby-obsessed man named Tim and his "rescue" of a pregnant woman kidnapped and held hostage by religious psychotics, I'm taking the bait.

The novella's working title is The Creeping Uterus. I'm hoping to have it on Kindle, well, whenever we're done with it. It's gory and gross and creepy, like really awful drive-in fare. I won't compare it to Joe Lansdale, but his drive-in fiction is one of the inspirations for my side of the story.

I conferred with Crime Fiction's Doctor Love, Glenn Gray, about whether you could strangle someone with an umbilical cord. I also asked him if a strongman could tear off a person's head. You want answers, you'll have to read upcoming stories. (Hint: "Maaaaybe....")

Back to the award.
Conditions to the award are as follows:

  1. In a post on your blog, nom­i­nate 15 fel­low blog­gers for The Ver­sa­tile Blog­ger Award. (15? What is this, the Oscars? 5. You get 5.)
  2. In the same post, Add the Versatile Blog­ger Award. (Done)
  3. In the same post, thank the blog­ger who nom­i­nated you in the post with a link back to their blog. (done, as sarcastically and passive-aggressively as possible)
  4. In the same post, share 7 completely ran­dom pieces of infor­ma­tion about yourself. (see below)
  5. In the same post, include this set of rules. (QED)
  6. Inform each nom­i­nated blog­ger of their nomination. (I sent subpoenas. That's more fun)

Seven useless facts about me:

  1. I did in fact jump off a roof, just because my friends did. It was a ticket booth at our local baseball field, and I landed wrong and snapped my tibia. Lesson learned. 
  2. I once caught a falling refrigerator with my chin. 
  3. All of my toes are big toes. (Okay, not really, but how freaky would that be? I can't wait to inflict this malady on a character). Real answer: I drove a heavily modified 5.0 Mustang convertible, through five hard Minnesota winters. Patience, a light foot, and a good set of snow tires go a long way.
  4. My grandfather's family in Ireland took in a destitute neighboring family during the Depression, and left the ancestral home to them. I visited, and corresponded with them. Generosity is in my blood.
  5. I own all of Walt Kelly's Pogo books and often say words like "rowrbazzle!" and sing "Deck us all with Boston Charlie" at Christmas when agitated.
  6. I once accidentally stabbed myself in a public restroom. 
  7. I can't play a musical instrument or speak another language, unless the butt trumpet and pig Latin count.

And here are five bloggers I dub with this ignominious award, because I enjoy reading their stuff.

I bet Matt Taibbi won't reply. Prima donna.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Phil's Last Stand

For the Flash Fiction Friday prompt "Groundhog Day."

Phil's Last Stand

Phil was scared.

Not of his own shadow, but of the three men from ConAgra who'd dropped a duffel bag of green outside his den the week before.
"Six years of long winters, Phil," he'd said. The man with no neck, and no ankles.  "We've had enough. It's no good for the growing season." He deposited the bag, then jerked a thumb at the men behind him. One had a shovel. The other wiggled a hose that trailed back to their Cadillac's tailpipe.
"Our boss, he's nicer than me. I said to gas your whole family. And I'd love to do it, Phil. When I was a kid, I had a pony. Used to ride him around the back yard, in my little Lord Fauntleroy suit. Broke his foreleg in a gopher hole. The old man made me pull the trigger. Said it would build character."
Phil wanted to mention that gophers were a different species entirely, but the words wouldn't come out of his mouth.

Tomorrow was the big day. He could feel the crowds stomping around the otherwise forgotten burg of Punxsutawney. The town depended on him, he knew that. He'd had the job since he was a pup, inherited it from his old man. Also named Phil. Who'd gotten it from his father, and so on, all the way back as far as he could remember. They had the gift, maybe it was merely a thin winter coat, as some grumblers said. But Phil knew he had it, that chill in his flanks that didn't simply mean frost on the grass outside the den. It meant six more weeks of winter. His first two years, it hadn't been there. He'd watched his old man waddle out, raise his gray-whiskered snout, and settle down to nibble the grass. People cheered, and sure enough, the crocus blossoms peeked from the snow, and winter was soon nothing but a forgotten harbinger of hibernation.

The name was an honor. Every other guy was named Chuck, or Woody, and liked it. Same as they liked sweet alfalfa, and shagbark hickory nuts. Even the odd Charles, who put on airs, had never tasted treats from a top hat-wearing mayor's hand. And they sure had never tugged a gym bag full of heirloom alfalfa sprouts down into their den, and watched their mate and pups stuff themselves silly on it. No, only a Phil could get in that kind of trouble.

There was no returning it. The kids were cuddled up in the duffel, now chewed clean through. His mate watched him from atop the pile, her liquid dark eye blinking every few seconds, as he nibbled on dry shells to wear his teeth down.
"What's on your mind, Phil?"
"You know. The job."
She laughed, her brown belly jiggling. "It's been what, eight years now? It always goes off without a hitch. Why worry this time?"
"It's a big responsibility." He couldn't tell her. She was liable to panic, dig another burrow. Maybe eat the children. "It's a heavy burden, sometimes."
"Why don't you meet me in the escape tunnel, and I'll see if I can ease it."
"Mating season's not for another month," he muttered into his paw.
"Maybe that salad's bringing my heat early," she whispered, and wiggled her little wedge nose.

He knew from experience they would come long before sun-up. The crowds arrived early, stamping their frostbitten toes, looking to get a good spot. The Mayor tapped his loafer in the grass, tossing a couple of roasted peanuts, in the shell, down the hole. One rolled in front of Phil's nose. He'd wake to that rich shell, usually. This time, he'd been up all night. Thinking of his old man shaking his distinguished furry head, and begging his flanks to not feel so cold, so cold.

"Ready for the show, kid?" The mayor said.
The escape tunnel beckoned. Rank with the scent of their mating, its exit was clear across the field. He had a running chance. Maybe the man with no neck wouldn't see him, wouldn't squash him like a fat furry grape under the front tire of his Coupe DeVille.
He could just be another Chuck, a Charles, even, and make a new life, in a new hole.
They'd back the Caddy up to the den the same evening, feed the hose down, and let it do its work. The kids could escape, Phil thought. No. They'd fill in the exits, once they knew how he'd make his escape. His mate would die choking, curled up in the shreds of the gym bag with the gasping pups.

Phil placed his paw outside his den. Acid in his belly, where tasty peanuts should have been. The crowded sighed, held a breath. All he had to do was nibble on the grass, ignore his instincts telling him to waddle back to the warmth of his hole.

But he couldn't.
No, he wouldn't drop pellets on his good family name. He'd take his lumps, when the men returned that night. Send his mate and the pups running.
Phil turned his back on the crowd, and with one dramatic look over his plump shoulder, waddled back toward his den.
"That's it, folks! He's seen his shadow," the Mayor announced. "Six more weeks of winter!"
The crowd issued a collective groan for the cameras.
Phil knew he'd done the right thing. He felt courage swell in his heart.
Then he felt the bullet burst his body apart, to the crowd's shrieks and panic.


© 2012 Thomas Pluck

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