Chapter 021

“Can I wait for you after work?” I murmured to Rita over the din of the club.

“What’s that for?” she beamed and smiled.

“We could go for a walk and talk,” I shrugged.

“And what about Vovchik? The poor guy is already going nuts!” Rita laughed.

We were standing at the big counter, just half an hour before closing time. I turned and saw Vovka’s sour face. It was understandable. While I was chatting with Rita, Vovka was sipping one “screwdriver” after another and pretending to be happy.

“I’m not!” Vovka barked. “I’m fine! Look what chicks are passing by!”

“But why are they passing by, eh, Vova?” Rita teased him.

“Let them pass, I don’t mind!” he brushed her off. “Let them work up an appetite first!”

“Uh-huh! Well, I see!” Rita laughed almost silently, looked at me with blooming, shining eyes, took the tray and disappeared into the crowded club.

When the club closed, Vovka and I were already outside waiting for her.

“Do you want to walk around a bit or go home?” I asked Vovka out of inner unease. I realized that he would have to hang about in the night because of my vibes.

“Let’s go for a walk!” he rubbed his face tiredly with both hands and ruffled his hair. “What the fuck am I supposed to do at home? Tomorrow is Saturday. I’ll sleep it off. Here she comes, beautiful!”

I turned around. She was almost the last to leave. She pushed the door from the inside, feigned carelessness, noticed us through the glass, stepped out, and pretended to decide which way to go. I smiled. Despite the twelve-hour workday, the girl looked fresh. A light ankle-length beige skirt, a tight white tank top, hair pulled back in a short ponytail, tanned sloping shoulders, bottomless pupils of dark green eyes, a light blush on her cheeks, plump lips, and no makeup. She looked good at that moment!

We walked along the avenue, then got in a taxi and went to Rita’s house. There, in the nearest park, we sat on a bench for an hour. Sleep was creeping into my head, but I chased it away with hot coffee from the 24-hour kiosk. Vovka was tired too – he was quiet and obviously wanted to sleep. The conversation was lagging. Rita smoked a few cigarettes and we walked her home.

“Soon it will be dawn,” I thought in the taxi with my half-asleep brain, looked to the east and closed my eyes. The car drove smoothly. In a moment it shook on the potholes near Vovka’s house. I struggled to open my eyes, got out of the car on autopilot and followed Vovka, staggered, ducked into the entrance hall, made it into the apartment and collapsed on the couch.

“Fuck, are you still fucking asleep!?” Vovka yelled from the kitchen when I woke up.

It was 1:00 in the afternoon. I didn’t want to get up, but my aching stomach chased away the remnants of sleep.

“Already chewing, aren’t you?” I muttered as I sat up on the couch.

“Yeaaah!” Vovka bellowed. “Get up! I’m going to the market, will you come with me?”

I did. Vovka bought a pair of jeans and I bought a pair of light linen pants with a pattern down the left thigh and the number “77” in the middle.


“Hey, do you recognize me?” I heard in my cell phone in the morning when I put it to my ear.

“Yes, I do,” I said despite the unfamiliar number on the screen. “Hi, Seryoga.”

“Aha, it’s me! I’m calling from home… What are you doing now, are you busy?”

“No, I’m not. What’s up?”

“I’m going to the car market to see what’s what, if you want you can come over and we can walk around and look together.”

“You want to buy a car?”

“Well, I just want to take a look, ask the price. So what, should I wait for you?”

An hour and a half later, at noon, I was already at the car market.

“Did you and Vovan hang out yesterday?” Sergey said after the handshake, smiling benignly with only his lips. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. Brown glasses with a golden rim fit his face remarkably well. They matched his brown skin perfectly, as if they had been made to measure, and gave his face a monolithic importance that was reinforced by the chain around his neck. With these external attributes, Sergey’s fullness played differently – he was no longer seen as a bloated guy, but as a serious, self-confident, slightly haughty solid body and not just a young man. Shorts, a tank top and flip-flops simplified the image, but it was easy to decide that he was just on vacation.

“No, not yesterday,” I hummed, feeling the rush of joy at seeing my partner. “The day before yesterday… Yeah, we partied until five in the morning…”

“Good for you!” Sergey splashed his hands. “I envy you, you remind me of my youth! Me and my friends used to spend days in pubs, discos and dachas, just like you and Vovka. And now it’s all about family and children.”

We walked leisurely along the rows of cars.

“What kind of car do you want and for how much?” I asked, so I would know which cars to look at.

“I don’t know yet!” Sergey exhaled. “I can buy one for three hundred thousand, or even five hundred, but you and Anatoly Vasilievich won’t tell me about the money. I don’t know whether I can count on them or not if we urgently need to put money into the company.”

“Don’t worry, Seryoga!” I brushed him off. “I already told you, we have money! I don’t think we’ll have to invest in the company at all, we’ll just use other people’s money… but if anything, my father and I have the money! So you can buy a car without any worries.”

Sergey stopped in front of the “Opel Omega”.

“Nice car!” I said, looking at the swift contours.

“Just for you. Black, leather interior. Take it!” Sergey suddenly said, the glasses staring at me, and I felt a stubborn and studying gaze behind them. “There’s money, just for you and Vovan to pick up women, they’re addicted to good cars now.”

The “Opel” cost half a million. I said I couldn’t buy it now, I’d buy it when I earned it, and I’d better put the money I had into sales when we needed it.

“Well, as you wish!” Sergey turned and walked on, I followed him.

“Buy it yourself! You liked the car after all!” I said.

“Nah, I don’t need such a car,” Sergey answered and added carelessly, “Or maybe I will.”

“Here, what do you think?” I nodded at the cherry “Toyota” for two hundred and eighty thousand.

“Seven years old?” said Sergey, grimacing.

“It’s like you said – up to three hundred thousand and eight years…” I said.

“Avensis?” Sergey grimaced more. “The color is lousy, no. Let’s go.”

After spending half an hour at the car market and finding out that the “Avensis” was the best option, we left. The other cars were either more expensive or older.

“Right, not much choice,” Sergey muttered. “One of my acquaintances told me that a doctor he knows is selling a ’98 ‘Mazda’ for three hundred thousand. He says it’s perfect, garage-kept, seventy thousand kilometers on it. I’ll probably check it out.”

“You should, if the car is worth it, then the price is okay,” I agreed.

“Maybe I’ll flaunt?” Sergey said, raising his glasses, which once again fit perfectly on his overdeveloped eyebrows. “Maybe I’ll buy that black ‘Opel’, huh?”

“Well…” I shrugged, not understanding the “flaunting” argument and finding it strange. “You can flaunt if you want.”

Noticing my confusion, Sergey added, “Or you disapprove?”

“How can I approve or disapprove!? That’s for you to decide. I can only give my opinion. I like the car. I just don’t understand the word ‘flaunt’…”

I shrugged again.

“No! That’s just me… just saying!” Sergey said quickly.


“Here! Look what I’ve got!” Sergey said with a sense of importance as soon as he and his wife arrived at the office on Monday, put a black briefcase on the table, took out a stand for a set of stationery, and placed it on the table. “To the common fund! Remember! I brought it to the common fund!”

“Did he snatch it from ‘Sasha’?” I thought.

“Look!” Sergey next took out a pair of pens, a pencil, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener. “See that? More to the common fund!”

Watching the scene, Vera squeezed into her seat and laughed. Sergey smiled, clearly letting me know that this action was a joke, but his eyes looked too persistently into mine, as if checking. I had a subtle sense of the seriousness of what was happening.

“Seryoga…” I began with a sniffle.

“Yes, I understand that you brought the printer,” he interrupted me, still theatrical and pretentious. “But I also brought the computer and the monitor. And now I brought something else! So, Roman, you also have to put something else into the common fund!”

“Seryoga,” I smiled, but inwardly decided to seriously back up the calculations. “First of all, my printer cost eight thousand when I bought it, and now it’s worth about five thousand, based on the residual value. The computer you brought is old and junk, and with a monitor it’s worth two thousand at most. But even if we consider these investments equal, there’s a cart in the warehouse that was bought for eight hundred and eighty, if I remember correctly. They really don’t cost less than five. The cost of the junk you brought is about twenty rubles. So you still have to bring something to the common fund…” I emphasized the words “common fund,” which bored my ears with their criminal origins, “about five thousand more. So you still have to carry and carry. Go for it! Second…”

“Come on, I was just kidding, heh-heh!” he sniffed his nose and clicked the lock on his briefcase. “I just found what was left of ‘Sasha’ at home and brought it.”

“Good briefcase,” I said.

“Yes!” Sergey agreed and put it in the corner of the room. “I bought it in ‘Sasha’ a year ago. Man, how hard it is to get around town in a shared taxi, Roman, you’d be surprised!”

“Well, yes, it’s much closer for me,” I nodded sympathetically.

“After this dacha, I got up, I seemed to sleep well, but in the morning I was already exhausted! So…” Sergey sniffed his nose again and ran his hands over his face, as if he was still chasing away the morning slumber. “What have we got today, Romych?”

“One run for sure…” I started, and then Sergey’s cell phone buzzed and fidgeted on the table. Sergey picked it up, looked at the screen and said unhappily:

“Fuck, it’s this one calling… Yes? Hi. Are you there? I’ll be right out.”

Vera rounded her eyes and stared at her husband.

“Seryoga, did you start swearing?” I chuckled.

“Well, it came out,” he threw up his hands and met his wife’s gaze. “Vera, come on! It just came out! It happens, yes.”

“Who is there?” I said.

“The guy with the breath fresheners, he brought my half,” Sergey snorted, getting a little nervous. “Well, Romych, I’ll unload my goods at our warehouse?”

“Yeah, sure!” I shrugged. “We already talked about it.”

“Aha, then I’ll go to the warehouse,” Sergey said and walked out.

After about ten minutes I got bored, so I followed him, wanting to walk around and have a smoke. Halfway I met Sergey.

“Is that all?” I said.

“Yes, we unloaded with Senya at the corner, at the end of the warehouse,” Sergey brushed me off.

We walked back to the office.

“Why did you get mixed up with him?” I said. “It’s obvious he’s an asshole.”

“Really?” Sergey looked at me in surprise, and he even slowed down.

“Of course it is! What a jerk. I looked at him for five minutes when I met him, and that was enough for me.”

“Well, apparently you see things in people, but I don’t. That’s why everyone has always screwed me over. Whenever I start a business with someone, they’re sure to screw me over,” Sergey sighed heavily.

“Really!?” now I slowed down and was surprised. “What do you mean, how is that possible!? What, not a single good and decent person have you met?”

“Well, no!” he threw up his hands as if to say “believe it or not”. “I’ve been disappointed in people for a long time. Everyone betrays, cheats. If we hadn’t met, I wouldn’t have teamed up with anyone, I would have started working on my own.”

“It is even strange… You seem to be okay, and I don’t understand why everyone betrayed you. No, well, we had cases too, the same ‘Luxchem’ cheated us with ‘Homeland’, that ‘Fluffy’… but those are one-offs… What, everyone screwed you over!?”

“Everyone!” said Sergey emotionally. “Whoever I start working with, everyone does. Davidych, for example, at first we had a great relationship with him. And then, you know, he started to shift things around… get the goods out faster; I’ll give you the goods, I won’t give you the goods. Somehow I believed you… I’m just a very gullible person and it keeps coming back to me. I don’t know who to trust anymore. You’re the only decent one. I could not work with your father, but with you, you see, it was easy to find common ground, we got along right away.”

“No, my dad’s okay, he just has a hard personality, a pain in the neck. I had a hard time working with him myself. We have been fighting and arguing with him all the time lately.”


“Yes! Really! We had some serious fights! I was about to give up everything so I wouldn’t have to work with him. It was just luck, somehow we made it to the merger with you. I’m even, you know, to be honest, I’m glad he’s gone. Somehow it’s easier without him. Although I understand that it’s not really good…”

“He left himself all of a sudden!”

“Yes, he did…”

We walked a few meters in silence, crushing chunks of old asphalt with our flip-flops.

“Anatoly Vasilievich is very… very meticulous. He goes over and over every nook and cranny. You can’t change his mind. Either he doesn’t trust me, or he’s used to not trusting anyone. I always work on trust. That’s why everybody always screws me over.”

“Well, maybe what my father says is true. Do the paperwork right. Maybe you wouldn’t have gotten screwed before if you’d done everything right, not just the words.”

“Well, maybe.”

We went to the office.

“Don’t fret, Seryoga!” I said and gave him a reassuring pat on the back. “I won’t screw you over!”

“I don’t…” Sergey said thoughtfully, with a slight sadness in his eyes.

I wanted to cheer up my companion, such a great guy. For the umpteenth time, I told myself that I was lucky to have a good, decent man as a partner. Suddenly I wished that our business with him would work out, that we would finally be able to create something strong and worthwhile. I even felt a pang of frustration in my chest – why does life beat good people like Sergey? Why? Did he deserve it? But he didn’t. So why?

I patted Sergey warmly on the shoulder again and we entered the building.


During the second week of July we managed to do a lot of things. We transferred contracts with clients to the company and concluded new contracts with former clients of “Sasha”. The largest pharmacy chains in the city began to work with us. On Wednesday Sergey was absent. We stayed alone in the office with Vera – we did the routine work and prepared the selling prices of salts. I was more and more convinced of Vera’s efficiency. She didn’t need to be told anything twice. Everything was done clearly and on time. Whenever there was a question, Vera would get to the point immediately, which impressed me greatly.

From my conversation with Vera I learned that we had only one competitor for salts: salts from Moscow, which was much more expensive, and that “Sasha” made the usual 15-20 percent markup, from which there were also discounts. I suggested that we set our prices a little lower than the competitor’s and see how the customers reacted.

The short, neatly manicured fingers flitted over the buttons of the calculator.

“Roma, here…” Vera fluttered her hands in confusion. “It comes out different… Fifty percent markup, or sixty, or even a hundred and six… It depends…”

“Awesome!” I nodded, almost muttering the usual “fucking great!” I was embarrassed to swear in front of Sergey’s wife and tried to control myself.

“Are we going to do such a markup?” she asked in surprise.

“Yes!” I decided after thinking for a while. “We’ll squeeze as much as we can out of it.”

We made the markup different: the cheapest salts had more, the most expensive had less, and the cheapest had a ninety percent markup.

“That’s just fucking great!” I couldn’t help myself.

“Isn’t it too much?” Vera rounded her eyes.

“There are no cheaper salts than this anyway!” I threw up my hands.

“I still think it’s too much!” Vera shook her head.

“It’s not, Vera! It’s a cheap product! If you put a normal markup on it, the road will eat up all the profit! It’s silly to sell goods that are expensive and require little storage space and effort to transport and unload, and cheap goods that are heavy and take up a lot of space, by the same percentage.”

“Well, I don’t know…” Sergey’s wife continued to hesitate.

“Vera, don’t worry! We can always lower the price. Say, some kind of promotion or price reduction at the manufacturer. Fuck, we’ll find a reason! But I think these prices are okay. We’ll make a price list, send it to the pharmacies and see how they react. If they bite, it’s okay. If not, we’ll lower the prices. There’s no harm in trying!”

“You think?” she hesitated. “No, it’s a bit too much, Roma.”

“Fuck, Vera, it’s not!” I flushed with anger at her indecision. “We got a good price! You’ll see! Just do what I told you and we’ll see, okay!?”

“Okay,” her face suddenly fell, became serious, she stared at the monitor, furrowed her brow and eagerly tapped on the keyboard.

We sat in uncomfortable silence for five minutes.

“Listen, Vera,” I remembered. “Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m thinking of getting a table at the cafe in the center on Friday night. What do you say?”

“It’s your birthday?” Vera smiled. “And how old will you be?”

“Twenty-eight,” I grinned.

“A big boy!”

“Right,” I said with an ambivalent feeling. “Well, are you and Seryoga coming?”

“Yes, I think we are!”

When I got home from work, I fried some eggs. I had barely eaten them and was starting my tea when the cell phone that was on the kitchen table next to me rang.

“Yes, Seryoga, hi,” I said casually.

“Did you tell my wife to fuck off!!!???” he shouted hysterically and threateningly.

I was taken aback and fell into a stupor for a few seconds.

“When have I ever said that???” I was confused and unable to comprehend anything.

“You told her to fuck off at work today!! That’s what she told me!” the screaming continued.

“I didn’t tell her that,” I said confused, remembering the day before. “Oh! I just said ‘fuck’ in conversation, I guess! Well, just cursed, as usual. I just said ‘fuck’. Not to her, just like that. We were discussing something and I said, ‘Fuck, Vera…’ and then I went on. So I didn’t tell her to fuck off, I just swore.”

“Oh!” I heard a heavy sniffling in the phone. “Well, as you say! Because Vera said you told her so!”

“No, Seryoga,” I said calmly and without understanding the essence of the conversation. “Well, why would I say something like that to Vera? Am I a fool or what? Come to think of it! What for?”

“Well, yes…” Sergey continued to sniff into the phone, at a loss. “Okay, bye.”

“Bye,” I said, having already lost my interlocutor, and shrugged. “Hm. Blimey…”

I spent the next half hour trying to make sense of the dialog, but nothing came of it. No matter which way I went, I was always at a logical dead end.

“Why would he think I told her that? It’s stupid to think that. Do I look like the kind of man who would tell someone else’s wife to fuck off? How could he think that? It wouldn’t even occur to me. That’s a strange accusation. By the way, yes. An accusation. And so aggressive. I don’t understand it. It’s as if his wife had been told that before. That’s ridiculous. Vera is good too. Made up some bullshit. Just out of the blue. And most importantly, she didn’t ask me, she told him in secret. Fucking ridiculous.”


The next morning, I arrived at work at nine o’clock sharp. Senya showed up next. Sergey entered the office at 9:30. We exchanged tense looks with him.

“Vera would not be here today. We had no one to leave the kids with, so she stayed home with them. Is that all right?” Sergey looked at me tenaciously.

“Sure,” I shrugged. “It’s not like you would leave the kids alone or drag them all the way out here.”

There was silence, uncomfortable seconds passed. Sergey uttered an insignificant phrase, and I replied dryly. There was a brief dialog between us. Then it was quiet again.

The remnants of yesterday’s telephone conversation floated around in me until Sergey made me laugh with some trivial story. At two in the afternoon, Petya returned from his first trip and rolled into the warehouse to load.

“Listen,” Sergey sniffed his nose. “Maybe I’ll go with Petya now, he’ll take me to the ‘Fort’, I’ll get the money, and then he can drive me home. We’ve done all the work for the day anyway. You can leave early too. What’s the point of sitting here?”

I agreed. Sergey started to pack, grabbed his briefcase.

“Listen, when I get the money, how are we going to keep the cash?” he looked at me and put the briefcase on the table. “Will you keep it? Me? Or both of us? How?”

The question puzzled me.

“Seryoga, I don’t know,” I said. “Well, let’s split the cash. Evenly. Since we’re equal partners, so be it.”

“And who will go and get the money, me or you?”

“What’s the difference? Whoever, me or you. We’ll just keep it equal, that’s all. We should have some kind of notebook and let Vera keep track of the cash coming in and going out.”

“Well, yeah, fine!” Sergey exhaled and held out his hand to me. “Okay, I’m off.”

I shook his hand. Sergey went out.

In about twenty minutes I closed the office and went to the bus stop. The rest was as usual: I met Vovka at the hotel, and as soon as it got dark, we ducked into “Clear Skies”.


The fight on the dance floor started around midnight. We stood in the grotto and heard the commotion in the club. Some of the visitors rushed away, others froze on the spot, and others, like me and Vovka, were drawn to the dance floor.

There was a guy with short blond hair, medium build, about one hundred and seventy centimeters tall, yelling something aggressively in the taller guy’s face and occasionally hitting him. He was assisted by his less aggressive partner. With his head buried in his shoulders and his hands in his face, the guy backed away. He was with friends and a girl. Who, recoiling, looked paralyzed at what was happening. The guy’s friends cowardly huddled together. But at one point, one of them stepped forward and waved his hand at the tow-haired man. This only made him angrier. With two punches, the tow-haired man drove the daredevil back to his friends, and they huddled even tighter. The tow-haired man’s partner rushed forward, and the two of them began to beat the unsupported guy.

I rarely interfered in such squabbles, knowing that the security would show up in a minute or two. But this time, my sense of justice urged me forward. I stepped from the ramp with the tables onto the dance floor and began to separate the fighters, trying to stand between the attackers and the guy. Vovka kept up. Stunned, the tow-haired one retreated to the empty center of the dance floor. I spread my arms and called for an end to the fight. The tow-haired one moved toward me.

“What the fuck!?” I didn’t hear the words, I read his lips.

The music rumbled on through the strobe lights. The tow-haired one twitched and punched me sharply in the nose with his forehead. I flinched, my nose tingling. Vovka moved to the guy’s side, and he glared at Vovka. That was enough, I threw myself at the tow-haired guy, grabbed him by the neck and pulled him down. The guy’s strong muscles struggled, but he bent under my weight and opened his back, which Vovka immediately piled on top of. The tangle of three shifted to the far wall and rested against the rise of the mini-scene. The tow-haired one collapsed onto it, and I let go of his neck, pinning his head with one hand and starting to punch him in the ribs and stomach with the other. Vovka hit him too. Again, my upbringing played against me – I deliberately hit him at half strength, just wishing the tow-haired guy would calm down. And he did. I loosened my grip, and the guy jerked, broke free, and sprinted out into the grotto. I looked around. Vovka and I were standing in one corner, and the crowd had spread out in the others. The tow-haired man’s partner had disappeared. The music continued, the lights pulsed. The injured guy and girl mingled with the crowd. I exhaled and relaxed. The incident seemed to be over.

“Strange, no security for so long,” I thought to myself, it seemed like at least ten minutes had passed. Vovka and I headed for the exit. I was a few steps away from the archway that led to the grotto when a lanky figure ducked down and blocked the passage. I could only make out a silhouette against the light. The tow-haired one reached out from behind the lanky man and pointed his finger at me, past Vovka, and screamed hysterically: “There he is!!! There he is!!!”

The silhouette moved forward. “Fuck, two meters tall, no less,” I said in my head. I took a step back and leaned my back against a wooden pillar. To the right of it was the fenced-off part of the ramp with tables, to the left was the path to the half-empty dance floor. Stepping back without losing sight of the silhouette, I found myself on the dance floor. With outstretched arms, the lanky one followed me. The crowd on the floor pushed back against the walls. In the flickering light, I could see the lanky man. He looked wiry. The music kept rumbling. The back of my brain was still thinking that this was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding, and that if I told the lanky one what really happened, he would understand and leave me alone. I looked to my right – there was Vovka, about three meters away, waiting.

“That’s it! Enough!” I yelled, holding my arms out in front of me.

Something hit me hard on the left temple. I staggered back, realizing I’d missed a punch. My head buzzed, but I steadied myself and kept my wits about me. Vovka leapt at the lanky man from the side and grabbed his left arm. I immediately grabbed his right arm and pulled him toward me, and the lanky one took a few steps and collapsed sideways on the floor against the wall. I put my hand over his head and grabbed his arm with my other hand. Vovka sat on his legs. The lanky one couldn’t even move.

“Lie the fuck down!!!” I yelled, resisting the urge to keep fighting. “Down!!”

I kicked the lanky one in the head, he slammed it to the floor and collapsed. The dance floor went quiet. I looked around and poked Vovka in the side. He understood everything. We got off the lanky one, he moved sluggishly and remained lying there.

The security guards showed up just as we were leaving the dance floor. They didn’t stop us. After passing the grotto, we headed for the exit. A police patrol came down to the club. We routinely missed the two policemen and walked out into the street. A police cruiser was parked in front of the club and the tow-haired guy was sitting in it, indignant. Mingling with the crowd, we passed the car and ended up behind it.

“Your temple is cracked and bleeding,” Vovka said.

“How bad is it?”

“Well, pretty bad,” said Vovka. “It’s a little swollen and there’s a cut.”

“Listen, would you go to the bartender and ask him for some ice, huh?”

“Well,” Vovka hesitated a little and added, “Okay,” and staggered into the club.

When I was alone, I stepped away and into the shadows. My head was buzzing, my body was shaking, my brain was nauseous and dizzy. “Is it a concussion or something?” I thought, angry at myself, at the innate pacifism that blocked my aggression, at the sense of justice that prevented me from hitting people when they were helpless or unable to fight back. “Next time, hit first… yeah, that’s what life is about… You either hit first or you get hit in the face… you have to give up alcohol… and cigarettes too… you have to quit… it’s all shit… Roma, you’re starting to look like a piece of shit”. Suddenly a wave of self-pity came over me, caused by a feeling of utter worthlessness in my life. I felt like crying. But immediately my self-pity was crushed by anger and hatred. Self-hatred for my weakness.

“Fucker,” I said out loud.

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