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Fulton's Fury

A Predatory Excursion - To Ravage …. Fury
Hell’s Half Acre — Chapter Nine
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Bat, Lucas, Will, and Sarah rode in the carriage with Turley at the reins. Beckwith followed along on his horse so he could head back to Dallas right after the meeting. He arranged to have another lawyer do the preliminary work for the trial he was to be involved in. Sarah insisted that he accompany them to meet Renfro and that it happen quickly. It was late in the afternoon when they arrived in Fort Worth and were set up with hotel rooms. They were just a short distance south down Cowtown’s main street from the all too famous Hell’s Half Acre. Bat could hardly contain himself and let it be known that he had been a frequent visitor to this area in the past. One of his good friends, Luke Short, owned part of the White Elephant Saloon and it would be very insulting if he did not pay a visit to his favorite gambling establishment. Will and Lucas were interested to experience this excursion as well. After a good meal at the hotel, Beckwith asked to be excused. Sarah and Turley were fatigued and wanted to retire early. This left the other three men to carry on with their nighttime frivolity.

Bat led them past the bordellos and bars full of boisterous cowboys and loose women making enough racket to raise Lucifer himself. Soon, they could hear the sounds emanating from the White Elephant. Billiard balls clacked, bar glass clanked, and a rather low chatter could be heard from the gambling tables and restaurant area. The doorman immediately smiled as they walked in, a few men looked over in recognition of Bat. His derby and cane were legend here. As they approached the bar, Luke Short could be seen walking over to greet them. Bat introduced Lucas and Will as they grabbed a bottle of whiskey and Luke took them over to his private downstairs table. It was still early and the night’s big game had not yet begun.

“Well Bat, I wasn’t expecting you to appear this evening, but I read where you were in Dallas after the gun show in Santa Fe. You guys have made quite a splash of late. Great to see you!”

“Luke, I wasn’t going to get over this way until later on, but we have some business here in town and I could never keep myself away from this fine establishment! It’s good to see you old pal. I need to win some of that money back from that game we had a few years ago. That hurt bad. It’s been several visits ago and I’m still nowhere near even!”

“We have a good one going on later this evening. You’re in, if you want to that is!”

“I think I can find the time. Is the game in your fancy room upstairs?”

“As always, only the finest accommodations for my clientele. Do your friends want to be in on our madness?” Luke looked them over and gave them a smile. Lucas grinned back and shook his head no. Will nodded no as well.

“I think we will just watch if that is alright. Perhaps we can play some pool for a spell.” Lucas answered.” He leaned over and whispered to Will. “If you think you want to try this game on later, just say so.”

“I’ll take my time and see what happens to Bat first.” Will replied. He could not be heard over the rumble of the room.”

“I’ll arrange a table for you two once we have some time to chat.” Luke looked over and waved to a bartender. He asked him to make sure a table would be open in about half an hour. He then reached into his vest pocket and passed around a few of the house brand Billy Ward Cheroots that everyone loved to smoke. They were made right there in a cigar making operation in the back of the building. “So Bat, you sure do get around these days. I’ve been trying to keep this place going for a long time now. You remember all that clamor we had over the Long Branch?”

“I sure do, you think I could forget? Wasn’t that long ago!”

“We had Wyatt Earp, Charlie Basset, Doc Holliday, and a few other fast ones involved with that mess. Saved my hide for a while, but I finally had enough with that Dodge City bunch. Fort Worth has been a much better place for me, until recently that is.” Luke gave Bat a worried look.

“I sense you have some trouble brewing. Is there anything I can do?”

“Not really, not yet anyhow. That damn Longhair, won’t leave me alone. Jim Courtright likes to think he owns this town. He’s always coming around here wanting me to pay him off like the rest of the cowards around here do. The only safety they get is protection from him.”

“Gentlemen, you are looking at one of the fastest guns ever. Luke and I used to practice together, he was a scout like Dixon and even you Lucas. We all have this common thread you see. And yet guys like Courtright seem to think they are more able to provide protection than the law. Nothing but a racquet ran by many a thug along the western trail. I’m here for you Luke, just say the word.”

“All I can say is, make your presence known Bat, I can take care of myself.” Luke patted his hip pocket.

“I keep mine in plain view Luke, but I see that would not be good policy here.”

“We try to encourage good manners as you know. I haven’t had to use this baby in quite some time. But when I do, it’s been ruled self defense in court several times anyhow.”

“I guess Charlie Storms found that out at the Oriental didn’t he?” Bat tapped his cane on the floor several times.

“Such friends, right Bat?”

“I liked the guy for a while. But I don’t blame you for putting him down. What the hell were you two arguing about anyhow? I never did understand that.”

“He kept after me about cheating in the card game. We never cheat, do we Bat?”

“Cheating would take the fun out of the game, what would be the point? But he really went after you Luke, I tried to settle you both down. You sure there wasn’t a woman involved?”

“No sir. All we did was walk out the door and he grabbed me as he went for his gun. You just don’t do things like that in Tombstone. I had to blast him, he gave me no choice.

I’ll never get over the smell when he hit the ground, his shirt was on fire!”

“Too up close and personal for me. I like to keep my seat and let them come to me. Most of the time they walk off once they realize what the score is, right William?” Bat looked over to involve his friends in the conversation.

“Well uh, yes, we saw that before we met you Bat. It was in Yuma, Bat talked a loser down in the saloon as we just walked in and realized that he was at a table on the back wall.” Lucas smiled as Will replied.

“Let that be a lesson to you Young Fulton, always keep your back to the wall, it is never good policy to give your opponents a chance to walk up behind you. And if I can, I keep a friend in the game across the table to watch my back. But I don’t need to do that in here, Luke runs a real honorable game. You guys must at least watch some of the action tonight. I insist.”

“I think we can stay up for a while Bat, but do remember we need to be sharp minded for that lawyer in the morning.” Lucas gave Will a quick look then smiled back towards Bat.

“I shall turn in early this evening, I may not have much money left before the clock strikes twelve!”

“I don’t mind Bat, you do what you think is best, I’ll never ask a man to cut and run, especially if he is on a winning streak!” Lucas got a chuckle out of Short.

“That’s fine. As I started out to say Luke, we are here for business and I do have a question for you. What do you know about a Fort Worth lawyer, Quentin D. Renfro?”

“Renfro has been in here, just about anyone in town knows him. I wouldn’t trust the man with my business, but he is famous for some big land deals and has represented some very wealthy cattlemen over the years. What are you doing with him?”

“He is representing a cotton farm that William is going to be part owner in. Have you heard of a Robert J. Graham?”

“Can’t say that I have. Who is he?”

“He is supposed to be a big deal in Fort Worth, that’s who. He owns the land surrounding the farm that William is to own. You must know of Sarah Cockrell.”

“Oh yes, Sarah is well known just about everywhere. I’ve stayed at the St. Charles a time or two. What’s she got to do with this?” Luke was starting to become puzzled.

“It’s a long story, About ten years ago, William’s parent owned this farm and a man named Vernon Carlson murdered his parents because they refused to sell. The farm had most of the available water and Carlson had to have it. I’ll let William fill you in on the rest of the story later. Sarah wound up owning the Fulton land and then leased it over to Graham. We are meeting tomorrow to see if we can renegotiate that lease.”

“I see, well I don’t go far enough back around here to know of this, but I can tell you that Renfro is a slick man. He’s won a few games here over the years. A very well educated lawyer he is.”

“I see, good to know. I’ve been trying to learn some history about him for a week or so now. He may have some ties with Vernon Carson as well. I think I smell a rat.”

“Could be, I can put a word out to see what I can find.”

“Let’s just keep it to ourselves until I have had a chance to talk with him in the morning. I don’t want him to know that I suspect anything right off. But I will take you up on that later. One last name for you, John Beckwith.”

“John Beckwith, not sure, maybe if I saw him. So many come in here since we fixed the place up. Mostly cattlemen though, you know that.”

“Yes, Lucas and William are cattlemen also. Now they can say they have been to one of the most famous gambling rooms along the Chisholm Trail.”

“I spent a lot of time on the other end of that trail, I lived in the Indian Nations near what is now called Enid, Oklahoma.” Lucas commented.

“Many a Texas longhorn has passed by on the way to Kansas City. That is the bread and butter of this town. And how about those Buffalo Bat? You and Dixon made a living there for a long time.” Short replied.”

“We sure did. I was just talking about those days with Beckwith. He seemed to know quite a bit about Dixon.”

“He’s been at the Turkey Ranch and still works out of Adobe Walls last I heard. Damn good shot.” Short looked up at the clock and over to the bartender. A nod told him that a pool table was ready. “What do you boys say about a game of pool? We can talk more in there. The card game won’t be for another hour or so. I’m waiting for the usual gang to show up about then.”

Everyone got up and made their way into the billiard room. Luke could shoot a fair game and Lucas had some experience in North Fork. Will had never played pool and the game fascinated him. Bat was entertained by all games and had his share of times with a cue, but never considered himself an expert. They started out playing straight pool so everyone could shoot at the same time. It was much quieter in the billiard room and they could chat with more ease. Will and Lucas changed to drinking beer as the bartender kept everyone’s glass full. Will gave more of his story to Luke and Lucas related well with him about earlier days scouting for the army.

“You know what I think Bat? I think you’ve run into a couple of real sharp characters here. You take up with Earp, Dixon, and Lord only knows who else along the way, but never in my day have I seen you with two such straight shooters. And you know what else….. you guys better be careful dealing with Renfro. Don’t let him get one over on ya.” Luke tapped his cue on the side pocket and tried a three rail bank shot that just missed.

“I think you know more about Renfro, that’s what I think!” Bat insinuated.

“Well, I have to tell you that the owner of this building has had a few run ins with him. He is a lawyer, John Templeton is his name. He was the Texas State Attorney General up until last year. He and Renfro did not get along, something to do with property rights concerning some big cattle ranchers. Too many tried to get into the business some years back and most of the longhorns were considered wild. Once they began to round them up fights started over who owned what land and the rights to herd the poor animals north. A lot of gun play was the result. I think Renfro probably used some underhanded methods to win titles for some of the ranchers that dominated the land grabs. Many settlers lost out and either died or moved on. Templeton tried to fight him and at one time thought he was going to run him out of town. But the ranchers protested and their tax paying was key to the state’s income. Templeton didn’t win and I know he isn’t pleased. Every once in a while, I think Renfro comes in here just to be the dog that he is, you know, he takes a pee on his adversary’s territory.”

“I see, that is most interesting. If he was one to get involved in such deals over cattle, perhaps he was also involved with deals over cotton farming. I wonder just how close he and Carlson were ten years ago?”

“Could be, maybe you can find something out at the courthouse. It’s possible that others around here would know about such things.”

“It may pay to go to the library as well, we find out quite a bit looking over old newspapers. Funny thing how fast they forget what all is public record these days. It was too easy to be a bully back then. I aim to get to the bottom of my suspicions before I leave town. William’s family has had too much pain and loss over this and I don’t like the way Sarah’s lease has been arranged. Renfro hasn’t run into the likes of me. It’s time to rattle a few cages. I wouldn’t mind meeting Templeton one day soon. But I must concentrate on our meeting tomorrow morning first.”

“I’ll see what I can do to arrange that meeting Bat. We see him once in a while. He’s back to his private practice. He used to be in Austin most of the time, but he loves Fort Worth, been here a long time. I think you two will get along great.” Luke and Bat gave each other a hug and Will dawned a great big smile. This was a good sign of how Bat had the right kind of influence and friends. Pieces of a puzzle were sure coming together.

“Luke, you never cease to amaze this old buffalo hunter. Isn’t that card game going to be in the offing soon? Why don’t we let Lucas and Will play a few rounds, they can come join us upstairs after that.”

“I think I better go up there and make sure everything is ready, it might be a big game tonight. I could use your help Bat, do you cowboys mind?” Luke looked across the table and through the cheroot smoke. He tapped his cue and tried one last bank shot, three rails and a wobble into the corner pocket it went.”

“I think Will and I could use some practice, these are real fine tables, we’ll come up in a little while. You guys go ahead and have some fun. Will grabbed the rack and set up a new game, Lucas got a glance from Bat and returned it with a smile as they departed for the poker room.

“You know Will, we got us one heck of a friend for a lawyer!”

“I’m simply stunned at the way things come to that man. It’s as if he has been everywhere. There has to be more than one, nobody can do so much in one lifetime!”

“Remember about how things are meant to be? I still have that feeling. What went around ten years ago can come back around ten fold for you now. I think we have these guys scared and you’re going to be in for one hell of a ride before this is over. You just might be set for life once Bat is finished with these so called lawyers. In fact, I wouldn’t insult him by calling him a lawyer, he’s far beyond any of them.”

“You got that right, I’d rather have him as a friend!”

“Kind of makes life worth livin’, don’t it!” Lucas couldn’t help using his favorite saying.

Lucas and Will continued on with the straight pool for another hour. They discussed many things as the ivory balls rolled in and out of the pockets. It was a very relaxing time considering the matter at hand. Bat came down and told them they should come up and get some seats as the room may become crowded if they waited much longer. They spent the rest of the evening at Bat’s side watching a high stakes poker game. Bat did rather well winning over one thousand dollars. When it got close to midnight Bat lost a few hands and decided to call it an early evening. It was not a mournful departure for the players left at the table. Bat’s presence was often a painful experience. Will wanted very much to join in but thought better of it. He would wait for another chance and a longer night to join this crowd. They had a great experience for a first time at the White Elephant and the information they received from good old Luke Short was priceless.

Bat knew to be very careful with Renfro. His senses were sharp after the success at the previous evening’s poker game. He discussed his ideas with Will and Lucas as they walked back to the hotel from the White Elephant. He wanted to let Will do most of the talking at the start. He was not to agree to a sale at any cost. And no being written into a will either. It was too easy to get right back into the same mess as Sarah did that way. If they were not going to agree to new terms for a lease and ownership in Will’s name, then they were to request a meeting with R.J. Graham present at a future date.

Beckwith led the group into the front room of Quentin’s law office, not far from the hotel. It was nine o’clock in the morning, John wanted an early start so he could get back to Dallas.

“Good morning Quentin, it’s been a long time. I hope we haven’t got you up too early.” John shook hands as he was the first one into the room. “Let me introduce my clients, Sarah Cockrell and William Fulton. And these are our friends, Lucas McCain and Bat Masterson.”

“Quentin made the rounds shaking hands with each one. When he reached out to Lucas he gave an extra effort to his squeeze. The massive hands returned a firm grip, one that an older man could not compete with. Both men smiled as Quentin pulled back trying not to show any pain. “Now that we all know each other, let us go back into my office and have some coffee. I have plenty of chairs so everyone find a seat and we can get started just as soon as I can get these cups filled.”

“You have some very nice things here Mister Renfro, your taste in furniture is to be commended.” Sarah opened the conversation.

“I imagine you are an authority on fine furnishings Mrs. Cockrell. The St. Charles has always been a first class establishment. I have had the pleasure of staying there a number of times over the years.”

“Why thank you, I value your opinion and choice of style. You must have had most of this shipped in from the Northeast, New York City perhaps?”

“You have a good eye. That is exactly where it comes from. This desk was custom made there over twenty years ago. Many a deal was haggled over this baby. It has served me well. It is a pleasure to add you to my list of guests of honor.” Quentin continued to make small talk with Bat and then Lucas as he readied the coffee. As he sat down he looked William in the eyes. “So tell me young man, what kind of plans do you have for your future?”

Will didn’t know quite what to say but he did well coming back with a generalized answer. “I want very much to be part of the McCain Bard Ranch in North Fork, New Mexico for one thing. Lucas has been a great friend and influence for me. I owe him my life. After that, I want to make things right for the memory of my parents and the well being of all of my friends.”

“That is a noble desire, I think you are on a fine path to realize those ambitions. Let us see what might be done to further your success. Why don’t we start out by letting John give us an overview of our situation and what you might like to see happen. John…..”

“Thank you Quentin. Let me begin by saying what a fantastic, and may I add unexpected, development it has been for William Fulton to have come back to us after such a long time. He has overcome much adversity to be here today. It is obvious for us to be understanding of the tragic nature of what brings us to this gathering. The farmland that once belonged to his late parents is something that William naturally would desire to own at some point into the future. We also know that Sarah Cockrell has very graciously offered to help make that become a reality. In the meantime, Mrs. Cockrell and the R.J. Graham Agricultural Company entered into a lease agreement that contains certain contingencies concerning ownership changes. This makes the next five years critical to the chances of William to ever own the land. We would like to request some special circumstance changes to the lease in order to transfer ownership before the contract comes to an end. In return, we propose to honor all other requirements of the contract and may be willing to negotiate an extension to the lease if that is in agreement with R.J. Graham. Mister Fulton has no desire to upset the nature of the business conducted on the land.”

“That is a very concise description Mister Beckwith, thank you. First of all, let me thank you for coming here today. I hope you realize that the short notice involved makes it difficult to make any final decisions at this juncture. I want to be able to come to an understanding and to know what directions to take before today’s meeting is over.

While I do represent Robert J. Graham in this contract and other operations of his company, it will require his direct permission to make any changes to the lease agreement. You must realize that the water rights furnished by this parcel of land are critical to the success of the cotton crops on the surrounding land owned by Mister Graham. It is this unfortunate situation that brought controversy and tragedy in the past. In order for the Graham investment to remain secure, we must be able to trust that control of the land for the duration of the contract be guaranteed. If we are to entertain the request for change of ownership, we will have to know that Mister Fulton can one, be trusted, and two, be willing to agree to similar contingencies should he decide to sell the property or pass away. Does all of that make sense?”

“I think that is a fair summation. I believe my clients understand that there are many concerns to be kept in mind when making our request.” John looked over to Sarah and Will. “Do either of you have anything else to add so far?”

Sarah replied, “I think all of that was very straight forward John. I just want to say that we have had a very long and successful agreement so far. I entered into this lease in order to make this land profitable for everyone concerned and I hope this can remain the case. If it is better for me to retain ownership until the contract has ran its course, I can understand. I wasn’t fully aware of the contingencies at the time I offered the land back to William. If we are able to make a change in the area of my ability to will the property, maybe that can be a more agreeable solution.”

“That is not a bad idea Sarah, however, it would still be necessary to confirm William’s ability to honor the contract. We shall keep that in mind. I want to also offer another solution. We may be willing to buy the land outright at a very agreeable price. This would make things easier for all concerned. I realize Mister Fulton’s desire for a return to his homeland which can be a healing thing. Perhaps we could give him permission to visit the land without owning. There are a number of ways to handle these things. I have been involved in such dealings before, mostly in the cattle business.”

“I have but one end desire Mister Renfro, to one day be the owner of my Parent’s farm. I am patient and willing to wait for the contract to expire. I am even willing to extend the contract. But I don’t want to give up a chance to be the owner. I won’t take a sales offer off the table just yet, but let it be known that it is a last resort.” William got a nod from Bat after this statement.

“I see, not willing to sell are you, let us keep that in mind though, it may be a better offer than you realize. At this stage, we are going to need some input from Mister Graham. He is in New York City on business at this moment. I can send him a telegram and ask what his instructions would be. Can I get back to you about this in say one week?” Renfro poured another cup of coffee and offered to the others.

Bat made a gesture with his hand to refuse when the coffee pot came his way and then took the floor. “May I say something? I would like to ask what the possibility is for us to meet with R.J. himself? Is he due to come home any time soon?”

“That is a fair question Mister Masterson. R.J. Graham is a very busy man and conducts a great deal of his business back east. While he does make his home in Fort Worth at times, he is not planning to come back soon. I can assure you that he will be agreeable to our communications being a final word.” Renfro set the coffee pot down.

“I don’t imagine that we have much choice in that circumstance. Sarah has informed us that she met R.J. briefly at the start of this agreement and has not seen him since. I was just wondering if he might want to be more involved considering the critical nature of this situation. Would it also be asking too much if we would like to conduct an inspection of the property and see the books to confirm the performance of the operation?”

“Not at all. I would highly recommend it in fact. That can be arranged rather quickly. We have people in charge of those aspects that must be informed beforehand. I can have an employee show you around the property later this week. I will send a telegram in a few days if that is acceptable.”

“That sounds good to me if that is alright with everyone else.” Bat looked Beckwith in the eyes with little reaction.

“John, do you have anything further to add?” Sarah asked.

“Only that my current trial will not allow me to attend an inspection this week. But I think Mister Masterson is capable of overseeing things from here. He seems to know what Mister Fulton needs. Is that agreeable with you Sarah?”

“I trust Bat if everyone else does. Do you mind being our guide as we move on?’ Sarah looked over at Bat with a grin.

“It would be my pleasure. I think Mister Renfro and I can get along just fine if Mister Beckwith is too busy. I promise to keep him informed of any issues.” Bat once again shot a glance over at John.

“I have no objections, he seems a very capable advocate.”

“Very well then, Mister Renfro, please make the necessary arrangements for the inspection. Perhaps this Thursday would be good.” Sarah suggested.

“I think that would be fine. In the meantime, I can show you our books, it so happens that I am directly involved in the performance of that duty. Your payments come directly out of this office as a matter of fact.” Quentin got up and retrieved the necessary paperwork from his files. They were simple records, supply costs, crop reports, employment, taxes, and income. He showed them the overall deed to the business with a signature from Robert J. Graham. Bat made particular notice of the handwriting. Quentin was not comfortable with the way he took his time to examine this document. Bat was well aware of this and made sure he took even longer than he needed. Beckwith did his best to pay little attention, looking over the income sheets at the time. Sarah observed everyone with great interest, she was beginning to wonder about the integrity of this business due to the behavior of Bat and Quentin, subtle as it was. Lucas and Will took their time to look it all over. Lucas had shown Will some of his ranch documents in the past as did Sam Bard. But this was the first time Will had ever seen such a comprehensive package of documents. He would have to trust Lucas and Bat’s opinions.

Renfro answered the few questions brought forth and engaged Will in conversation about his parents and the farm. Will gave him the basic story including Hank’s gang and his meeting Lucas and Mark. When it came to the part about the Santa Fe Prison Bat gave him a look and Will kept the details out of it. Just that Lucas hired him out of the prison and that he had worked for him since. Quentin took notice of this but it was to be expected. There was nothing to the story that he could not find out on his own. It was then that he turned the conversation to Bat.

“I find your career most interesting Mister Masterson. You have quite a reputation as a gunfighter, but I hear very little of the men that have fallen prey. Why is that?”

“That, my friend, is because I have killed very few men. Most of the ones I killed were before I became involved with the law. Many were Indians, especially at Adobe Walls. Only a few have I wounded in the gambling halls. I try to fight my way out with this cane before I resort to lethal force.”

“Then you are not one to carry a grudge?”

“Not at all. And if I am, I find it much more rewarding to see an offender pay for his crimes than to put the poor fool out of his misery. It is my opinion that we have let this country grow up with far too many criminals on the loose. They all too often have the guns and the innocent suffer from being honest and humane souls. It is my job to strike fear in the outlaw’s heart in effort to dissuade their behavior than to simply round them up after they have perpetrated the crime. It does the victim little good to exact revenge when a loved one is lost or a fortune taken. If I can make more men decide to not be a criminal out of fear of my reputation then I have done my job and protected many.”

“To what do you attribute your reputation then?”

“Target practice my good man, lots of it! Not to mention the many stories written by dime store novelists.”

“And that is what has led you to put on your shows of recent fame?”

“Yes, you could say that I encouraged my good friend Lucas and also the Winchester Firearms Company to take part. I have been at this for a very long time.”

“I have read of you often Bat, you have my respect and admiration. What does one have to do in order to buy one of the commemorative rifles?”

“We can make that arrangement for you. We will be getting a shipment into Dallas very soon. Would you like to have the engraved fancy version or a working model?”

“I am a collector more than a marksman. Please put me down for an engraved rifle and an autographed certificate of authenticity.”

“Just like a lawyer to want a signature!” Bat chuckled. “That alright with you Lucas?”

“You bet. I plan to autograph many of them.”

“And I want your autograph too Bat. Is that allowed?”

“I will be happy to, that will give it a unique quality as I won’t be doing that very often.”

“I would appreciate that. I enjoy documentation. My gun collection will have a new most valuable piece soon then. I have several Colts much like the one on your belt, but not with that short of a barrel. Is that a standard length?”

“I like this shorter barrel for a quicker draw. I started out cutting down the longer standard version, but I had this one made special.

“Very good, not much for long range, but I don’t imagine that is its intended use.”

“Exactly, I find few guns wind up being used for good intentions!”

The meeting ended in good cheer as they parted. Bat, Lucas, and Will had plans for one last night on the town. Beckwith left immediately for Dallas.

Fulton’s Foray — Fort Worth’s Worth

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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