Kiss the dead, p.1
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       Kiss the Dead, p.1

         Part #21 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
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Kiss the Dead
Chapter One


  ON TV, INTERROGATION rooms are roomy and have big windows so that you can watch everything. In reality, the rooms are pretty small, and there are almost never big picture windows; that's why real police footage is grainy and black-and-white, rather than Technicolor gorgeous. The interrogation room was painted pale beige, or maybe it was taupe, I'd always been a little fuzzy on the difference between them. Either way it was a bland color described by real estate agents as a warm neutral; they lied. It was a cold, impersonal color. The small table was all shiny metal, and so was the chair. The idea was that the prisoners couldn't scratch their names, or messages, in the metal like they could have in wood, but whoever thought that had never seen what a vampire, or a wereanimal, could do to metal. There were plenty of scratches in the shiny tabletop, most done with just fingernails, superhuman strength, and the boredom of hours of sitting.

  The vampire sitting at the small table wasn't trying to carve his initials on anything. He was crying, so hard that his thin shoulders shook. He'd slicked his black hair back from his face in a widow's peak that I was betting was a haircut and no more natural than the ink-black color.

  He was mumbling in a tear-choked voice, "You hate me because I'm a vampire. "

  I spread my hands flat on the cool metal table. My jacket's jewel-tone blue sleeves looked too bright against the naked metal, or maybe it was the crimson nail polish. That had been for my date the night before; it looked out of place while I was U. S. Marshal Anita Blake. I counted to ten, to keep from yelling at our suspect again. That was what had started the crying; I'd scared him. Jesus, some people don't have enough balls to be undead.

  "I don't hate you, Mr. Wilcox," I said in a smooth, even friendly voice. I had to deal with clients every day at Animators Inc. ; I had a customer voice. "Some of my best friends are vampires and shapeshifters. "

  "You hunt and kill us," he said, but he raised his eyes enough to gaze at me between his fingers. His tears were tinged pink with someone else's blood. His putting his hands over his eyes had smeared the tears around so that his face was trailed and marked with the drying pink tears. It didn't match the perfectly arched black eyebrows, or the eyebrow ring that sat dull blue metal above his left eye. He'd probably done it to bring out the blue in his eyes, but at best they were a watery, pale blue that didn't work with the dyed black hair, and the dark blue of the eyebrow piercing just seemed to emphasize that his eyes were too pale, and matched the pink traces of blood way better than the artificial additions. I was betting he started life as a white-blond, or maybe pale, nondescript brown.

  "I'm a legal vampire executioner, Mr. Wilcox, but you have to break the law to bring me to your door. "

  Those pale eyes blinked at me. "You can look me in the eyes. "

  I smiled, and tried to shove it all the way up into my own dark brown eyes, but was pretty sure I failed. "Mr. Wilcox, Barney, you haven't been dead two years yet. Do you really think your weak-ass vampire mind tricks will work on me?"

  "He said people would be afraid of me," and this was almost a whisper.

  "Who said?" I asked. I leaned forward just a little, keeping my hands still, trying to be pleasant, and not spook him.

  He muttered, "Benjamin. "

  "Benjamin who?" I asked.

  He shook his head. "Just Benjamin. The old vampires only have one name. "

  I nodded. Old vampires had one name, like Madonna, or Beyonce, but what most people didn't know was that they fought duels to see who got to use the name. A powerful vampire could demand that another lesser vampire give up the use of a name he'd had for centuries, or fight for the right to keep it. I didn't say that part out loud, because most people, even us vampire experts, didn't know it. It was an old custom that was dying out as the modern vampires kept their last names, and duels were illegal now that vampires weren't. Dueling was looked on the same under the law regardless of whether the participants were alive or undead. I would have bet a lot of money that this Benjamin wasn't old enough to know the history behind vampires having only one name.

  "Where can I find Benjamin?"

  "I thought you were so powerful that no vampire could resist you. " There was a flare of sullen anger in his pale blue eyes. There was temper in there, under the tears.

  "I would need a connection with him, someone who was metaphysically joined with him in some way, so I could follow the psychic connection. Someone like you. " I let the hint of threat ride into that last part.

  He looked sullen and arrogant. "You can't do that; no one can. "

  "Are you sure?" I asked, and my voice dropped a little lower.

  "You're a U. S. Marshal, you're not allowed to do magic on me. "

  "It's not magic, Barney. It goes under psychic skills, and law enforcement officers are allowed to use psychic abilities in the performance of their duties if they think that is the only way to prevent further loss of life. "

  He frowned, rubbing one pale hand across his face. He sniffed loudly, and I pushed the box of Kleenex toward him. He took one, used it, and then gave me angry eyes. It was probably his hard look, but as hard looks go, it wasn't. "I have rights. The new laws won't let you hurt me without a warrant of execution. "

  "And a minute ago, you were worried I'd kill you. Barney, you need to make up your mind. " I raised a hand and spread it flat in the air as if I were holding something he should have been able to see. "Am I a danger to you, or" - and I held up my other hand - "not able to hurt you at all?"

  His anger sputtered down to sullenness. "Not sure. "

  "The girl that Benjamin and the others took is only fifteen. She can't legally agree to become a vampire. "

  "We didn't take her," Barney said, indignant, slamming his hand on the table.

  "Legally, she's a minor, so it's kidnapping, regardless of whether she went willingly or not. It's kidnapping and attempted murder right now; if we find her too late, it's murder, and I'll get that court order of execution for you and Benjamin, and every other vampire that may have touched her. "

  A nervous tic started under his eye, and he swallowed so hard that it was loud in the quiet room. "I don't know where they took her. "

  "Time for lies is past, Barney; when Sergeant Zerbrowski comes back through that door with an order of execution, I'll be able to legally blow your head and heart into bloody ribbons. "

  "If I'm dead, I can't tell you where the girl is," he said, and looked pleased with himself.

  "Then you do know where she is, don't you?"

  He looked scared then, wadding the Kleenex up in his hands until his fingers mottled with the pressure. He had just enough blood in him for the skin to mottle. He'd drunk deep of someone.

  The door opened. Barney Wilcox, the vampire, made a small yip of fear. Zerbrowski's curly salt-and-pepper hair fell around his half-open collar, his tie at half-mast with a spot of something he'd eaten smeared down it. His brown slacks and white shirt looked like he'd slept in them. He might have, but then again, his wife, Katie, could dress him neat as a pin and he still fell apart before he reached the squad room. He pushed his new tortoiseshell glasses more firmly up on his face and held a piece of paper out to me. The paper looked very official. I reached for it, and the vampire yelled, "I'll tell you! I'll tell you everything, please, please don't kill me!"

  Zerbrowski drew his hand back. "Is he cooperating, Marshal Blake?" There was the slightest of twinkles in Zerbrowski's brown eyes. If he grinned at me, I'd kick him in the shins. He stayed serious; there was a missing girl.

  I turned back to Barney. "Cooperate, Barney, because once I touch that piece of paper I am out of legal options that don't include lethal force. "

  Barney told us where the secret lair was, and Ze
rbrowski got up and went for the door. "I'll start the ball," he said.

  Barney stood up and tried to move toward Zerbrowski, but the leg shackles wouldn't let him get far. It was standard operating procedure to chain vampires. I'd removed the cuffs to try to gain his trust, and because I didn't see him as a danger. "Where's he going?"

  "To give the location to the other police, and you better pray that we get there before she's been turned. "

  Barney turned that pink-stained face to me, looking puzzled. "You aren't going?"

  "We're forty-five minutes away from the location, Barney; a lot of bad things can happen in that amount of time. There'll be other cops closer. "

  "But you're supposed to go. In the movies it'd be you. "

  "Yeah, well, this isn't the movies, and I'm not the only Marshal in the city. "

  "It's supposed to be you. " He almost whispered it. He was staring into space, as if he couldn't think clearly, or like he was listening to some voice I couldn't hear.

  "Oh, shit," I said. I was around the table before I had time to really think what I'd do when I got there. I grabbed a handful of Barney's black T-shirt and put our faces inches apart. "Is this a trap, Barney? Is this a trap for me?"

  His eyes were wide, showing too much white. He blinked way too fast; the unblinking vampire stare took decades to perfect, and he hadn't had that much time. The pale watery blue bled over his entire eye, so it was like looking at water with sun shining through it - his eyes with vampire power in them. He hissed in my face, snapping fangs at me. I should have backed off, but I didn't. I was so used to dealing with vampires who wouldn't hurt me that I forgot what it meant that he was a vampire, and I wasn't.

  He moved, too fast for me to blink, his arms around my waist, lifting me off my feet. I was fast enough to have time to do one thing, before he slammed me down on the table. Once I would have pulled out my cross, but it was in the locker with my gun, because a new law had declared it unfair intimidation against preternatural suspects. I had a split second to choose between my only two options: Do I slap my hand on the table to take some of the impact, or put my arm against his throat to keep his fangs away from mine? I chose my arm in his throat, and I was down. The table shuddered with the force of the blow, but his arm was between my back and the table and it took some of the impact. I wasn't stunned, good.

  The vampire snarled in my face, fangs snapping; only my forearm shoved against his throat kept him from tearing mine out. I was more than human-strong, but I was a small woman, and even super-strong, I wasn't as strong as the man pinning me to the table. He grabbed my wrist where it pushed against his throat and tried to pull it out of the way. I didn't fight him for it; the best he was going to do was turn more of my arm into his throat. He didn't know how to fight, didn't understand leverage, he'd never grappled for his life - I had.

  I heard the door slam open but didn't glance at it. I had to stare into those burning blue eyes, those fangs; I couldn't afford to look away, even for a second, but I knew the door meant help was in the room. Arms grabbed him from behind, and he snarled, rising up off me, taking his arm from behind my back so he could stand up and face them. I was left lying on my back on the table, to watch the vampire hitting the men, careless blows with no training behind them, and my knights in uniform went flying. I took the moment they'd given me to roll off the other side of the table and to the floor beyond. I landed on the balls of my feet and fingertips; the heels of my Mary Jane - style stilettos didn't even touch floor as I crouched.

  I could see legs: the vampire still shackled, the other legs uniforms and slacks; police. Two of the policemen went flying. One uniform didn't get back up, lying in a painful heap against the wall, but two other sets of legs, one uniform and one slacks, were still struggling with the vampire. The shoes with the slacks were shiny and black like they'd been spit-polished, and I was almost sure it was Captain Dolph Storr.

  The vampire popped the chain on his shackles, and suddenly the fight was on. Shit! In the bad old days I could have gotten my gun from the locker where it was stored and shot his ass, but I didn't have a warrant of execution for this vampire. Zerbrowski and I had lied to him. Without the warrant, we couldn't just shoot him. Fuck.

  I stood up in time to see Dolph's six-foot, eight-inch frame wrapped around the much smaller body of the vampire. Dolph had his arms around the vampire's shoulders, with his own hands behind the vampire's head. It was a classic full nelson, and Dolph was big enough that against most humans he'd have won, but he was struggling to keep the hold on the vampire, as the uniform struggled to pin one of the vampire's arms. Then the uniform's face went slack, and he tried to hit Dolph in the face. Dolph saw it coming, and ducked using the vampire's trapped head as a shield.

  I yelled, "Don't look the vampire in the eyes, damn it!" I went back over the table, sliding to the fight, because it was the quickest way I could think to get to Dolph. One of the other uniforms was struggling with the officer who had been mind-fucked by the vampire. The vampire reared back and bucked against Dolph's hold, and his hands came loose. There was movement by the door, but the vampire was twisting in Dolph's grip, and I was out of time to see what the backup was going to do.

  I kicked the vampire in the ribs, the way I'd been taught, visualizing the kick going into the ribs, through the body, and a few inches out the other side. That was the goal I'd been taught in judo, and even now that I was taking mixed martial arts the old training kicked in, and I aimed through the ribs and the wall beyond. I forgot two things: one, that I was more than human-strong now, and two, that I was wearing three-inch stilettos.

  The kick drove the vampire stumbling away from Dolph, a hand going to his ribs, as he leapt for me still on the table on my side. I kicked him again, this time aiming for the sternum, aiming to take the breath out of him, as if he'd been human and needed to breathe all the time. In a fight, you fall back on training, no matter what you're fighting.

  My foot caught him square in the chest, my stiletto sank into his sternum, and the force of the kick drove my heel upward toward his heart. I had a moment to feel the heel sink home, a second to wonder if three inches of stiletto would hit his heart, and then he reacted to the stab, and I realized there was a strap on my shoe, and my heel was stuck in his chest, because he moved away, and my foot went with him, and the rest of me slid off the table. I was short enough that I had to put my hands on the floor to keep from just dangling from his chest. There was nothing I could do to protect myself, or to keep my skirt from inching down. I had a moment of modesty fail as the thigh-highs and thong were exposed to the room. Shit! But if my modesty took the worst of it, I could live with that.

  A bright white light began to fill the room. The vampire hissed and backed up. I had to hand-walk as he dragged me across the room. My heel began to slide out of his chest, my body weight finally too much for it. My foot slid all the way out as someone walked into the room with a holy object blazing white, strangely cool, as if the cold light of stars could be held in your hand. I'd never seen a holy object glow this bright when I didn't have my own glowing along with it. It was even more impressive as I lay on the floor, tugging my skirt down, and watched Zerbrowski walk past me, hand held high, most of his body lost in the bright glow of his cross. I had afterimages of the cross in my eyes when I blinked, as if I needed a welder's helmet. It never seemed this bright when my own cross was shining alone, but we were allowed holy objects in the interrogation room only if the vampire was under arrest for assault or murder. Then we could say we needed the protection of something that couldn't be taken away from us like a weapon could.

  Dolph offered me a hand, and I took it. There'd been a time when I wouldn't have, but I understood that from Dolph it was a sign of respect and camaraderie, not sexism. He'd have offered Zerbrowski a hand, too.

  We watched Zerbrowski drive the vampire into the far corner with the light of his faith, because a holy object doesn't shine unless the holder believes
, or the object has been blessed by someone holy enough to make it stick. There were a few priests that I wouldn't let bless my holy water, because I'd had it not glow for me at critical moments. The Church actually surveyed the vampire executioners around the country asking what priests had failed that test of faith. I'd felt like I was tattling.

  The vampire curled into the corner, trying to make himself as tiny as possible, his face hidden between his arms. He was yelling, "Please, stop it! It hurts! It hurts!"

  Zerbrowski's voice came out of the shining light. "I'll put it away after you're cuffed. "

  A uniform had brought in some of the new cuff-and-shackle sets that were designed specifically for the preternatural suspects. They were expensive, so even RPIT didn't have a lot of them. Barney was a new vampire; we didn't think he was dangerous enough to need them. We'd been wrong. I looked at the one uniform still lying against the wall. Someone was checking his pulse, and he moved, groaning, as if something hurt a lot; he was alive, but not because of anything I'd done. I'd been stupid and arrogant and others were hurt because of it. I hated it when it was my fault. Hated it, fucking hated it.

  The uniform had wide eyes but he went toward the vampire. Dolph and I both reached out at the same time to take the cuff set with its single solid bar connecting the hands and ankle shackles. We looked at each other.

  "I was the one who took off his cuffs to play friendly cop. "

  He studied my face. His dark hair, cut short and neat, was actually just long enough on top that it was mussed from the fight. He smoothed the hair in place, while he gave me serious eyes.

  "Besides, the captain shouldn't be wrestling suspects even if he's the biggest guy here," I said with a smile.

  He nodded, and let me go first. Once he would have protected me and gone first, but he knew that I was harder to hurt than anyone in the room except the vampire. I could take a beating and keep on ticking, and he also understood without having to say anything else that I was blaming myself for it all getting out of hand. Protocol was that you left vampires completely shackled. I'd taken his cuffs off so he would talk to me. I'd been convinced I could handle a baby vampire like Barney with his hands free. We were lucky no one was dead.

  Dolph understood all of that; he'd have felt the same way, so he let me move forward with the heavy metal contraption. He waved the uniform back and he stayed at my back, just in case. When you have someone who is six foot eight and keeps himself in good shape, I'll take him as backup. There'd been a time when Dolph hadn't trusted me because of my dating the monsters, but he'd worked out his issues, and I'd gotten a real federal badge. I was a real cop according to the paperwork, and Dolph had wanted a reason to forgive me for consorting with the monsters. The new badge had been reason enough, that and the fact that he had behaved badly enough toward me and others that he almost let his hatred of the preternaturally challenged cost him his badge, and his self-respect. Some long talks with the local vampires, especially one ex-cop named Dave, of the bar Dead Dave's, had helped him make peace with himself.

  I walked around the edge of the cool, white glow of Zerbrowski's cross. The vampire had stopped yelling and was just whimpering in the corner. I'd never asked any of my vampire friends what it felt like to face a cross like this; did it really hurt, or was it just a force they couldn't stand against?

  "Barney?" I made his name a question. "Barney, I'm going to put the cuffs on you so that Sergeant Zerbrowski can put the cross away. Say something, Barney. I need to know you understand me. " I was kneeling beside him, but not close enough to touch him. It was still way too close if he went apeshit again, but someone was going to have to get that close and I'd picked me for the job. I couldn't have stood there and watched while he hurt someone else, knowing that I'd given him the space to do it. Arrogance had made me uncuff him; guilt made me kneel there and try to get him to hear me.

  There was movement behind us. I kept my attention on the vampire in the corner; I knew better than to look away from one danger to another. I trusted the other policemen to have my back. My world had narrowed down to the suspect in the corner. But Dolph spoke low to someone, and then he leaned over me and said, "We found the location, but we've lost contact with the first officers on sight. "

  "Shit," I whispered. It could be that the officers were having to stay off their radios to search for vampires, or they could be hurt, or dead, or hostages. We were out of time to mess with this vampire; others had our people. I needed him to hear me. I needed him to do what I wanted him to do. "Barney," I said, "hear me. " And there was a thread of power in my voice now, a faint vibration of my necromancy. I was a vampire executioner as a job, but I'd started life raising zombies. My psychic gift was with the dead, or the undead. I hadn't meant to, but my desire to control him had found a part of my own natural gifts that might do just that. Was it illegal to use psychic gifts on a suspect? Not after what he'd just done, and not with a fifteen-year-old girl maybe dying at this minute, and at least two officers gone into radio silence. We were out of time, and we needed any help he could give us. The law did allow for psychic force to be used if it would save lives, or if the suspect had proven uncooperative with more normal means. The same new laws that had made it so I couldn't just shoot Barney also allowed me to do things that would have been iffy before they were in place. The law giveth, and the law taketh away.

  Barney whimpered, and then his voice came small and almost childlike: "Don't. "

  "Don't what, Barney?" But my whisper held that echo of power. In the middle of the fight there hadn't been time to think of it, because it took concentration to work with the dead. I could have put the power back in its box, but I wanted him to let me cuff him. I wanted him to talk to me. I wanted it enough that I was willing to go all "witchy" in front of the other cops.

  "You aren't my master," he said, "and your master isn't my master. We're free vampires and we won't let you control us. "

  He was one of the new vampires, ones that didn't want to follow a Master of the City. They wanted to be free like humans were, free to make decisions and be just people, but no matter how many vampires I might love, and protect, what Barney had done in the few minutes he'd been free proved why freedom from the control of the masters was a bad idea. Sometimes you had a bad master and the system went bad, very bad, but you couldn't let people with this level of strength and power out there without a power structure. They needed someone to hold their leashes, because you give most people this kind of power and you find out that they aren't nice people at all; they'd been nice because they were weak. It takes a truly good person to gain power, strength, and mystical abilities and not misuse them. Most people weren't that good, or sometimes they're just too stupid to not hurt someone by accident. Think about waking up one night strong as a superhero. There is a learning curve, and people can get hurt while you learn. How do you balance one section of the population's right to be safe against the freedom of another? We were still struggling for that answer, but today, this moment, I knew my answer. I would take Barney Wilcox's free will in trade for the safety of a fifteen-year-old girl and the officers that his vampire friends were holding hostage. If I could take it, that is. He wasn't blood-oathed to Jean-Claude; if he had been, then I could have made him behave through my links to Jean-Claude. He was a free vampire with no master to answer to, or no master he knew about. We'd found that most of the "free" vamps followed their group leader. Vampires are just like most other people; they want to follow, they just don't want to admit it.

  I called my necromancy and aimed it at this one very young vampire. He pressed himself into the corner, as if he could push himself through the wall. "You can't do necromancy on me with the cross there. "

  "I raise zombies every night with my cross on, Barney," I said, voice still low and with slightly deeper power. There had been a time when I'd believed my power was evil, but God didn't seem to feel that way, so until He changed His mind, I just had faith that my power came from the
right side.

  "No," he said, "no, please don't. "

  "Let me cuff you, Barney, and then maybe I won't have to. "

  He held his hands out, but the remains of the first cuffs were still on his wrists. I had to lay the heavier cuff set on the floor and have someone hand me a key, because my keys with the cuff key on them were in my purse, which was in my locker with my weapons and cross.

  The light from Zerbrowski's cross began to fade. One of the younger officers asked, "Why is the glow fading?" First, he shouldn't have asked that in front of the vampire, and second, he shouldn't have asked until the emergency was over.

  Another cop called out, "I'm surprised that Zerbrowski could make it glow at all. "

  "Yeah, Sarge, didn't know you were that goody-two-shoes. "

  The vampire in the corner began to be visible again as the light faded, almost as if the glow had made him partially invisible, and he became more solid as the holy fire receded. I had the old cuffs off and was able to see Barney's wrists clearly enough to think that they were both thicker than mine, though still narrow for a man of his height. I had a moment of struggling with the locking mechanism on the new cuffs. It was only the third time I'd put them on anyone outside the practice that we'd all been ordered to attend when they became semistandard issue. I was up on my knees, concentrating so hard on the metal that Barney leaned close enough so his mouth almost touched my hair, before Dolph put a foot on his shoulder and kept him pressed against the wall. He also had a handgun pointed at him. It would be hell to pay if he died in custody, but Dolph was the boss, and if the boss said it was time for guns, you didn't argue. I couldn't even argue, not really.

  I answered the young cop's question, now that I had Dolph there ready and willing. "Most holy items only glow like that when the vampire is using vampire powers; once the vamp quiets down the glow diminishes, or goes out. "

  I got the shackles off over Barney's boots; they were the big ones designed to go over men's boots. The cuffs were big enough to fit around my neck and have room to spare. The vampire was tall enough that he had to draw his knees up so the single solid metal bar between cuffs and shackles could reach, since Dolph was keeping his upper body very solid against the wall.

  "So, it's not that the Sarge lost his faith?" the young guy asked, and the moment he asked I realized we had a more serious problem. I stood up so I could keep half my attention on the newly chained vampire and still see the cop who'd asked. He was a uniform, with brown hair cut too short for his triangular face. His eyes were a little wide still. I didn't get into it in front of the suspect, but I made a mental note later, noting the name tag on the officer: Taggart. If you didn't have faith in God, or whatever, then holy items didn't work no matter how bug-nuts the vampires got. It was the person's faith that made it work, unless it was blessed by a priest or someone equally holy. Blessed items glowed and protected without need of faith, but just regular crosses, not so much. Even blessed items needed to be reblessed from time to time. I would have to see if Taggart was having a crisis of faith, because if he was, he had to be moved to a different squad. This was the monster squad, and an officer without faith was crippled against vampires.

  I started to help Dolph get the vamp on his feet, but Dolph wrapped one big hand around the other man's upper arm and just pulled him up. I was strong enough, but not tall enough or heavy enough to have the leverage to do it with someone so tall. The vampire was about six foot three, but Dolph still towered over him. The vampire marks I shared with Jean-Claude made me stronger, faster, harder to hurt, but nothing would make me taller.

  Dolph put him back in the chair he'd knocked over. He kept one big hand on the vampire's shoulder, and the gun was very big, and very black, as he held it beside his thigh. The implication was clear: Cooperate, or else. We couldn't actually shoot him now, but no law prevents the police from making threats to get suspects to talk, and the vampire had opened the door for naked guns in the interrogation room. It took two men to help the worst of the wounded officers out the door, but everyone was able to walk out; it was a good night. Now all we had to do was get the girl out before she was murdered as a vampire, and find the officers that had gone radio silent unhurt. Oh, and get them all away from a rogue vampire kiss. Yeah, that's the group name for a bunch of vampires: a kiss of vampires. A gobble of ghouls, a shamble of zombies, and a kiss of vampires; most people don't know that, and the rest don't care. A pretty name for a group of super-strong, super-fast, mind-controlling, blood-drinking legal citizens, who might live forever if we didn't have to shoot them. That last part made them just like any other bad guys; the earlier parts made them unique, and too fucking dangerous.

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