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Original Fiction

You will never read this letter. Not because you don't like letters and under certain circumstances think them dangerous. Not because it's silly to write when you are here - so close, in the next room - and in the silence that lay on Kafa I hear the only sound - of your quiet breath. Our crumpled bed is waiting for me - but I am still here, on my knees at the table - and everything is ready: a candle, an enamel ink-pot of Murano glass, a sharpened pen and a sheet of paper in front of me.

I will not remind you how we met - we spoke about it enough. Then, on the ship from Genoa to Leghorn, I was so sick that almost didn't leave my cabin. In the port when we with my brother stepped on the deck - I'm afraid our servants were too diligent clearing the way for us. But they had to. There were these people on the pier and, as always, I was scared of the crowd, of the beast of it - it seemed indomitable for me... however, sometimes I believed I could dominate it with my music.

I shrank back involuntarily - and if not the veil that covered my face - the most ephemeral barrier between me and them - but still the barrier - I wouldn't probably find strength to go further. My brother held me whispering something soft and soothing - and although I knew these words by heart I didn't hear any one of them.

How could I notice a man in rich orient clothes - even if I ran into him on the ship ladder? Forgive me. I know you noticed me. You told me it was my eyes - scared desperate eyes - that captured you. They had to disturb you so much that the following night you, ever so cold to music, came to listen to me playing.

In Leghorn I made a success. It had to be my consolation after the cold welcome in Genoa. Genoa! They always valued commerce more than art there. But even the fiery applause of Leghorn people - could I say they gladdened me more than their Northern neighbours' neglect aggravated me? The answer was 'yes' for my brother... and I didn't ask myself. I knew only that every night it was more and more difficult for me to come up the scene... and I thought that the day would come soon when I simply wouldn't be able to do it. And I was ashamed to look forward to this day, knowing how hurt my brother would be - but I still looked forward to it.

Oh yes, I told you - there was only a moment when I looked at the audience in front of me - before I took my treble viole - and even then I saw only a haze of faces. But you told me that I looked at you. You came every evening. And then your appeared at our place.

I didn't recognize you, of course. I wouldn't - even if you hadn't changed your Bokharan robe into a velvet jacket. But my brother who always noticed so much recognized you. He was baffled and worried. Did he foresee how it would end? Or is it impossible to foresee anything in such things? And even less to prevent. As much as he tried.

History repeats itself. Only in your time you didn't try at all.

You called yourself John De Marco. This name - John, not Gianni - you repeated it twice as if it was important for you - and then I spent hours musing why it was so important. I didn't know then that I wouldn't ever find it out for sure - and that some day it wouldn't matter for me.

My brother tried to put the end to your visits. But could anyone become a barrier on your way? You always took what you wanted.

And, I have to admit, I wanted it the same much as you did.

Then the day came when my brother said we were leaving - and I had to tell him I was leaving - but not with him - with you. He hit me and threw me on the floor and tried to strangle me. And when I already didn't almost see anything you appeared behind his back. It was like a miracle, I didn't expect you that evening, you had to be busy with the arrangements for our departure. And my brother's hands breaking my throat suddenly slackened.

You didn't give me time to come round, didn't allow to take a thing from what belonged to me. "I'll give you everything," you said - only not to let me look back there - where on the marble floor my brother lay face down. But I still looked behind - and I saw the weapon in his back - the one I had never seen before - an iron disc with jagged edges. I saw how pink flames of the candles reflected in the pool of thick dark blood under him.

* * *

You did give me everything I could wish. I never asked you where your money was from - I knew only you had more money than a richest Venetian trader could have. Our nomadic life was expensive - and in every town we visited there was the best house waiting for you and the best carriage and schooled servants. But in no town we stayed for more than two months. And in no town we arrived twice.

Yes, I never asked you what you were doing. I didn't know the reasons of your frequent absences. Only once the word rose - the word which meaning I knew only vaguely but it made me tremble. The word was "Templar".

I tried to forget it at once. And, truly, I was too happy to remember. I was really happy. I didn't lie to you when you asked me if I felt sorry about the applause I didn't hear any more, about my fame that was vanishing. One listener was enough for me - the one I could take the viole for and pass the bow on the strings. I really wanted my hands - "golden hands" as they were called so recently - to create the sounds only for you.

A year passed. I can't recall exactly the day when our feelings die away, when I understood that I was sleeping with a stranger. It just came.

I don't blame you. No, don't tell I started it all just to pour another portion of rebukes on you. I am guilty. Or, maybe, nobody is guilty that love leaves - and nothing comes to replace it. Maybe, we were just too different? Even by the age: you were twice older than I was, you were thirty-two while I was fifteen. Your disappearances - sometimes for days, if not for weeks, without any warning - how they started irritating and bothering me!

Locked alone in the palazzo I spent the nights in anguish - and when you came back there was no compassion from you, just cold advice: "Why don't you have a good time, Stefano? Why don't you go out, Stefano? Do I leave you too little money, Stefano?"

Yet it was Venice where it happened.

Yes, you always loved and hated this city. Then I didn't know why. I didn't know so many things about you that it was easier to say what I knew.

But I remember how your face distorted when we put in to the Marghera - and in front of you, in the rays of dawn you saw the white dome of San Marco Cathedral. At that moment for the first time - and for the last time, although I didn't know it then - your icy grey eyes melted - and two trickles of tears ran down your cheeks. I remember how you whispered in English - and I understood that you could speak many languages with equal ease - but there was only one native for you, the one you learnt to speak in. "Oh Mother why did you have to do it?" you said.

Perhaps if your eyes were not clouded with tears you would notice that your way became slippery.

But don't say I had to notice it! I didn't see almost anything except the Chinese carpets on the walls of our palazzo.

And that's how I got to know Lorenzo.

Once - I was alone - there was a knock on the door. I opened it - and there was a basket of flowers right on the threshold. My favorite ones - these white nasturtiums - you didn't ever give them to me. But at that moment my first thought was about you. That you will come home today - and these flowers will be so beautiful in the light of the candles. And after we make love on the sofa I'll toss them one by one on your flat white belly - while you'll lie languidly - just as you love it after having sex with me.

I was still in the doorway when I saw a gondola pulling in to the bank - and a tall man clad in black stepped out of it. It was his flowers, I thought at once. He sent them to me.

Funny thing, by then I already fell out of the habit to people so much that I got lost - I didn't find anything better than to pretend I didn't see him, so much I was absorbed with the flowers. Can you imagine it? He stood shifting from one foot to the other - as if the immobility in the boat tired him. Then his shadow fell on me and I heard his voice.

His voice that struck me so much from the first moment, from the first word - so quiet, so even - as if inside him there was a mechanism eliminating all his emotions.

"Forgive me for bothering you, signor," he said, "but it seems to me I know you. Isn't it true that you are signor Stefano, the great violinist? I am your fan and always will be."

At that moment a wave of joy flooded me. As much as I assured you that I was satisfied with my life without scene, as much as I denied the pleasure I derived from my glory - at that minute I again felt what it meant - to be recognized in the streets, to see admiration in the eyes looking at me.

"I was on your concerts," he went on, "in Padova, in Florence, in Perugia... It was... it was unforgettable!"

I had to seem rough and tactless to him - I continued to be silent, unable to raise my eyes from the flowers, hiding my hands in them.

"I see you so close for the first time - and without the veil," his voice kept sounding the same steadily even though his words had to hold passion. He bowed to me a bit - as if so that nobody else could hear his words - but I didn't lose any of them, anyway. "You are so beautiful. Vostre barrette sono piu bianche di questi fiori. Even these nasturtiums are not so white as your fingers."

I looked up at him. I didn't remember if I had seen his face before. It was an ordinary face - but I wouldn't forget it, so ideal was the symmetry of his features, alight only with his huge brown eyes full of choked fire. He was in his early forties and his head was shaven smoothly on the Genoa vogue.

"No, don't answer, don't answer anything, signor," he said suddenly seeing that I was looking for words and couldn't find them. "I would like to hear how you play - I would like to hear the sound of your treble viole just once again."

He called himself Lorenzo.

That night I wanted to tell you about it - but you were tipsy - and in one of your bad moods. So, I kept silent - but I kept holding this memory in my soul - and yes, yes, I cherished it - as you never cherished me.

You disappeared once more and I started getting bored. Then the note on silken paper came, in exquisite handwriting - Lorenzo was asking me if I could accept him - and play for him.

His servant waited for my answer and I said 'yes' even before I had time to understand what I was saying. But then I recalled: "When will you stop sitting at home alone, as a degraded coquette, Stefano? I don't make you be bored without me, Stefano..."

But I was ashamed - even more because I didn't have to explain you anything.

Then Lorenzo came and everything became so easy. I played for him and he applauded me... and it seemed he loved to listen to me - so much as you never loved to.

Since then Lorenzo often visited me. And how luckily! Every time it was in your absence - even though I didn't tell him that much about you to make it clear I didn't want to tell you about our friendship.

Well, was it friendship? Weird - from the first day I knew it was not. Nothing was said but I knew it. And from the two of us I was the one who allowed the other to love him. Lorenzo made presents to me, called me endearing names, told me about my beauty, about shattering helplessness of my eyes. He wrote to me.

I never wrote him and never went to him.

Yes, I was guilty because I liked to listen to him. I was guilty because even though I was not in love with him I yielded to the languor, to the gleams of the passion I inspired him. To be more exact, I thought I inspired... And once when the wind tossed my notes on the floor and we both kneeled to gather them - he touched my lips with his lips - simply because they were so close it was silly not to make them even closer... He didn't force me. I fell anyway.

History repeats itself, doesn't it?

In a moment I got up, of course, dismayed and hurt - I thought it was an adultery, I didn't want... And Lorenzo - no, he didn't press me, he didn't blink - he said he understood my confusion, he was so indulging...

Why shouldn't he?

"I know," he said. "John and you..."

He left and I waited for you coming - racked by repentance. Remember that evening? I met you at the doors. Yes, I admit, maybe, it was not the cleverest words to say to you - but you know I was never eloquent.

I said:

"Where have you been, John, I worried."

And now - do you remember what you answered me? I remember every word - I will remember it forever.

"Where have you been, John, where have you been, John, I worried," you said. "Jesus, Stefano, just listen to yourself! Who are you, a jealous wife? No, you are worse than a jealous wife! She can at least take a lover to revenge herself. And you can nothing. You are like mist, leaking through my fingers, you don't have personality, don't have strength... I feel how you envelop me, taking my breath away... I am tired of you, Stefano, tired, I am bored."

You passed me by - on the way to your room. And I stood as if you spat on me.

It would be better if you hit me. But no, you never hurt me. Except one - that - time, of course.

Next day I waited for Lorenzo's letter as never before. But there was no letter. And the day after - too. And after two days. I suddenly thought he left Venice and I... I was alone now... I was so scared.

You could say I had to pray God for Lorenzo to leave and for me to stay alone.

Only no prayers would make Lorenzo leave then.

And, besides, God was on his side.

I wrote Lorenzo myself. I wrote that I had the notes of a new melody - and would he like it, would he like to listen to me playing it. But then I tore this letter. I wrote simply one word: "Come."

And now everything started.

He came. He saw how distressed I was - could he do anything else? Even if he preferred to. He took me in his arms and let me lay my head on his chest - and his cold hands slid on my body, so smooth and firm. I melted for him.

When everything was over - and we were tied by what we had together - he was sitting on the sofa and his forehead was crossed by one deep vertical wrinkle. I thought he was thinking what he would say now (he said: "We have to run away together") - but I was wrong. He knew he would say these words for days. He had them ready from the very first moment of our meeting. And then he was thinking - maybe, how difficult it would be for him to redeem this sin. Or will it be forgiven?

"We have to run away together," he said.

"John won't let us," I answered. I thought about you even then. "He killed my brother."

"And what do you think he will do when he finds out about us?" Lorenzo said.

But I still was not ready.

We went on meeting. The truth was, however, now I was seeking the encounters with him the same as he did with me. I was still not in love... But I needed another, the one who wouldn't call me 'mist' leaking through his fingers, who wouldn't say that I was hindering his breath. I thought this one was Lorenzo.

Yes, I felt something was wrong. His level voice saying passionate words never changed - but I could dispense it. But how could I dispense - when never in the moments of love, never - despite what I was doing - he was aroused? For even though he caressed me and brought me pleasure there was no time when he had his pleasure, too - and when I slid on my knees to do it for him he was driving me away so softly and calmly.

Did he think this way he was lessening his sin?

And what did I think? I thought he was too old - incredibly, isn't it? That he knew he couldn't get aroused and he didn't want to embarrass himself and me by trying! But he loved me, oh surely, he loved me.

Yes, I was blind. But how blind you were?! Remember the day when you found me with a half-emptied bottle of red wine? It was the day when I almost agreed to betray you - and I needed to be drunk to drown my shame. Or I wanted to feel half-witted - so that even a word, even a glance from you was enough - and I would confess you in everything.

But you just looked derisively at me - and locked your door and I spent the night in the hall and in the morning the servants saw me there - and I was cold!..

Lorenzo assured me nothing threatened you.

"I arranged it with the Doge's soldiers," he said. "He will be restrained for three days - and we'll have the opportunity to get far away from there."

However, he added, don't you know how John De Marco is dangerous? Surely, he has a clandestine exit for such cases? Yes, I answered, behind the mirror in the bedroom.

"Then you'll just have to lock one door and unlock another," Lorenzo said.

I ask myself again and again - how could you, with your intuition, with your attention to details, how could you suspect nothing? Everything was giving me away - my stare, trembling of my hands, my voice. If only you paid the least attention to me!

You didn't hear any noise when I walked downstairs to remove the bolt from the door. Although you always complained that there was too much noise from me.

Remember how stiff was that night? We left the windows open - but the sheets were still wet and clinging to our bodies. You slept - you breathed the same tranquilly as today - but I was listening. Then I heard the heavy steps below - and the sound of the door opening.

You woke up immediately. You got it at once. I saw how you grasped your clothes and your sabre you never left. Then you yanked my hand.

"What are you waiting for, Stefano? To be fried right in your bed?"

I forgot that I had to know nothing, I muttered:

"You don't have to run, the soldiers won't harm you..."

You looked at me - and even in that minute your eyes were full of irony.

"Soldiers?" you repeated. And as if answering you there was a voice downstairs:

"Aside! Inquisition comes."

You shifted the board to the door and dragged me to the mirror. I watched how you were pressing the curved wood in vain. There was no passage. I wedged it myself today. When you saw that your efforts were futile you rushed to the window. I stopped. You picked me up and put on the windowsill.

"Jump!" you cried. "It's not high!"

I was saying something, I tried to argue with you, tried to get down from the window. The steps of our night guests resounded on the stairs. And at that moment - I don't know how it happened - our hands bumped - and I fell down. Down, to the terrace - and the last thing I heard before the ground hit me was your voice full of fear and anguish:


You said you jumped after me - when the soldiers in leather breastplates and the monks in dark cassocks were crowding the room. You tried to raise me - but there were others running to you - and you understood you couldn't do anything... and a man with the shaven head shouted from above:

"To Hell with the kid, catch the man! I need him alive!"

You escaped into the turbid water of the canal.


* * *

The next thing I remembered was the pendulum swinging in front of me. I followed it with my eyes - right-left, right-left - despite myself.

"He is alright," the voice said. It was the monk who held the pendulum. "We can start the interrogation."

I was in the room where on the walls painted demons were dancing and making faces. There were three men at the table: one in aristocratic clothes and two other in the cassocks, with tonsures open on their heads.

And I still couldn't understand what was wrong there. Why it was wrong.

But they asked me and I had to answer. My name. My age. My place of birth. My occupation. I didn't know what to say.

"Musician," I said.

"Tell us how you and the heretic - the Templar - John De Marco performed black magic rituals and worshipped Satan."

I tried to say something, to deny it.

"Don't resist, accused. We have enough means to help any unrepented blasphemer to find the way to Heaven."

"I don't know what to tell," I said.

And they helped me. The water - so simply - I wouldn't ever think it was possible to get so much with a plain barrel of water. But when it is around you, in your nose, mouth, when you want to inhale it but it is worse than liquid iron...

A voice saying:

"Hold him! For God's sake, hold him tight, he is jerking!"

They had to repeat it only twice to make me plead hastily:

"I'll tell, I'll tell everything! Just tell me what to tell..."

"No, it won't do," one of the monks said. "It may be considered we elicited your confession under the torture, right?"

As they said, they had many means. When they put the screws between my toes I was so scared that I just sobbed. But when they turned them and I saw how my nails rose and blood leaked from under them - and I felt the smaller bones breaking - oh, I found some presence of mind - at least, to say:

"Yes, we were serving the black mass but I don't remember it, I was drunk..."

"Maybe, the meeting with brother Sebastian will return you your memory," the monk said.

"I don't know any brother Sebastian," I wanted to say. And at that moment the door opened - and I saw the tall monk with the shaven head on the threshold. His cassock and hood were as black as night.

"Nobody says you know me," Lorenzo said. "You don't know me. But I know you all too well, slut."

I had to feel pain at that moment. But the only thing I saw was the eyes of Lorenzo - his burning beautiful brown eyes - they were empty. I had to understand it a long time ago. What? That he didn't love me. Oh well - did anybody love me? You were burdened with me. My brother loved only my fame that was casting its light on him. Even those who adored me - did I exist for them at least for a moment after my treble viole stopped sounding?

I had to feel pain at that moment. But physical pain cures from soul pain best of all!

I was silent - and Lorenzo... suddenly I saw it squicked him.

"Aren't you surprised, little bitch? Well, you certainly learnt a lot from De Marco."

It went on.

"Do you confess that on the black mess John De Marco was reading litany the other way round?"

They were crushing my toes again. I confessed.

"Do you confess that you spat on the image of our Virgin Mary and stomped on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?"


"Do you confess that in Leghorn, Rome and Genoa you kidnapped babies and sacrificed them?"

"No, we didn't!"

I wailed when they were turning the screws and when they stopped. I couldn't breath with this pain. And I knew Lorenzo was near and looking at me. I saw his eyes - and his even voice was asking me questions, too. I had to know the answers to them - I had to even if I didn't know.

It was going on for four days - and at last I was proved guilty. I gave evidence against John De Marco, too.

Only they didn't have John De Marco himself to convict him.

"I am sure he left Venice days ago," it was Giacomo Del Troi, the Doge's council.

"Let me argue with you, Eccellenza," brother Sebastian said. "You didn't watch these two for such a long time as I did. You don't have to underestimate the extent De Marco's attachment to our witness."

What attachment?! I would laugh if I could.

"I have a plan, Eccellenza," brother Sebastian said. "Please let me realize it."

Next morning they put me to the boat - I kneeled because I couldn't stand - and they drove me along the streets reading my faults and promising me forgiveness - if only my accomplice John De Marco gives himself into the hands of the authorities.

Did you see me then? I didn't have to look - but I looked and looked at the faces - in hope? - that I'd see you - even though I bit my tongue till it bled - not to expose you if I saw you.

But dusk came and I was back in the room with the dancing demons of the walls.

"Your plan failed," Giacomo Del Troi said - and - was I mistaken? - there was the slightest shade of venom in his voice.

"You think so," Lorenzo said. "Go home, Eccellenza, and wait for the signal. He will come."

Del Troi left. Lorenzo returned to me and gave some orders to the servants. They brought two heavy chains in the room, with the links as thick as a thumb. Lorenzo attached them to the rings in the wall and opened the locks.

"I hope you don't have hard feelings against me, Stefano," he said - and for a moment his sarcastic voice sounded for me as a parody to yours. "There is nothing personal in it, poor faggot. I just don't want to risk. Well, where are your hands?"

The heavy rings locked on my wrists. The key clicked.

"Now we have just to wait," Lorenzo said and sat down with his face to the fire. "Is it alright for you if I don't speak with you, Stefano? I never cared for you much," he added.

I saw his back and his profile that was so straight and cold even despite orange gleaming of the flames on it.

And then I understood. He wanted... he wanted you to come here to free me. Oh he must have been a madman to count on it! I didn't believe it even for a moment.

I didn't believe even when there was this noise above - and the steps and clanking of the weapons. Lorenzo - Sebastian - raised his head listening intently - but didn't leave his place. The steps were again. Shouts. The sounds of bodies falling on the floor. Silence.

Silence. And then you came in. There was such a joy in Lorenzo's eyes - such a joy... there was never such a joy in anybody's eyes when they looked at me.

You glanced at me only once. Then you went to Lorenzo and reached your hand - and the tip of your sabre stuck at his throat, right above the collar of his black cassock. Your sabre was in blood to the very handle - and blood was leaking on Lorenzo's cassock from it, smearing it... But it would never be the same smeared as your clothes. Your clothes was steaming with blood - they smelled with blood - as if you went through the slaughter.

"Here I see you at last, John De Marco," Lorenzo said - and for the first time his voice faltered. You didn't say a word and he went on. "I waited for you for so long. And you see - I got to know you so well that I knew you would come here. I prepared the meeting for you."

He made a step back and yanked the rope on the wall. Somewhere far away the bell echoed... he waited for his soldiers that lay in wait to come. But nobody came. You looked at him gloomily.

"No them," you said.

"No them?" he repeated - but the grief fell on his face only for a second - to be replaced with something much more ferocious. You reached your hand to get the key. He stepped aside once more.

"You think I lost," he said, "John De Marco? Do you really think so? Did I chase you upon your traces as a dog is chasing a fox - for so many years - to lose? I didn't lose. You lose. You killed my people - but I warned Giacomo Del Troi - in ten minutes his soldiers will be here."

You looked at him almost with compassion.

"Why do you think it will matter for you what will be in ten minutes?" you said and sank the tip of your sabre a little bit deeper into his throat.

He stepped away again.

"And why do you think I care of my life, John De Marco?" he imitated you again - and the similarity of your voices made me shudder. "There is not much left for me, anyway. And if my life was worth of anything - then it was worth of this moment. When you are in front of me - and I see you - and your secrets belong to me."

And when you smiled he asked suddenly:

"Isn't it true, John De Marco, that you never killed a priest - because your mother, lady Johanna Canningham - that was the wife of the Venetian Doge - bore you from a Dominican monk - and when the Doge found out about it he tied her with his own hands and drowned her in the canal - and you looked at it from the window of your room? You were five years old."

Your face became like an ice mask - and he continued:

"And isn't it true, John De Marco, that the Templars of the shattered order picked you up and brought you up? And that they passed to you - to you alone - the secret of their innumerable wealth - and that they taught you to win, never to lose?"

I saw how he was slowly moving, getting closer to the fire. But did you see it?

"Only I'll win you twice today, John De Marco," he said. "I'll make you break your rules twice. You'll kill the priest," he said. "And you won't take what you have come for."

He loosened his fingers - and the key fell in the fire. I saw how it melted in the flame.

"You'll have to leave him here, John De Marco," Lorenzo said. "You won't be able to saw these chains even if you had two days. But you don't have two..."

He didn't finish. The blade of your sabre drove into his throat with the sound of tearing paper. He gurgled - as if he went on speaking - and then he fell face down, dead.

As my brother fell.

You turned to me.

"Forgive me, John," I said. "But please... leave..."

We both heard the steps of the soldiers on the stairs. As on that night in your house!

And suddenly your sabre flashed twice as a steel flame - and I was free. You caught me in your arms and ran.

* * *

The night on Kafa melts and gets pale and the sky acquires the color of light-blue brocade. The traders offer their goods to the first buyers: "Melons, beautiful melons! Two for the price of one!" No more silence. In the next room you toss and turn - but don't wake up, it's too early! I know how tired you are - you are always so tired when you return home after your absences.

Two years passed. And Kafa is the seventh town where we live - every time farther to the East, maybe, in ten years we'll be in China. But look for how long we stay in every town! I know, I know it is the only thing you can do, you are so obsessed with the thought to give me some rest. At any expense.

But, really, our moves don't bother me. As my treble viole doesn't bother me - my viole that travels with us. Remember you wanted to destroy it at first; you thought it would hurt me too much to look at it. No, why? I even like... to look at it.

No, I don't reproach you. I never reproached you - even though you thought it for a reproof - when again and again you explained me that you couldn't do anything else, you didn't have time... You are not to blame - it's me who is to blame - I was guilty in front of you - when I was disloyal, when I betrayed you. How could you forget it? How could you forgive me? I don't blame you - but let me think what I think. When you did it - you did it to punish me, too. You could try to cut the chains.

I will never write this letter. Not because you don't like letters and under certain circumstances think them dangerous. Not because it is silly to write when you are here, in the next room, breathing tranquilly, lying on the silk sheets. The candle melted to a pool of scented wax but the paper is still clean - and the pen is beside it, untouched.

I would write to you. But you cut off my hands then, in the room with dancing demons on the walls!

The End

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