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characters, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet a New Character in Working the Beat

A new mystery for Isabel Long often means meeting a person who wants her to solve one. And for me, that means creating a new character. That happened in the second and fourth books, and now on Working the Beat, no. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

(In the first book, Chasing the Case, Isabel decided to pursue a cold case that was her first big story TDKV4932as a rookie reporter 28 years earlier. In the third, Checking the Traps, she gets to know one character from the second better.)

Let me tell you about Shirley Dawson, who hires Isabel for her for her fifth case. As I’ve explained before, writing for me is telepathic. Yes, that sounds nuts. But I sit at my laptop and the story just comes as I type. That includes my characters, such as Shirley, who just pop inside of my brain and became very real for me, and I hope for my readers.

Before I proceed with this topic, I will say Shirley is not based on anybody. Sometimes people who know me like to guess who a character really is. Nice try, but none of what I write is true.

The first thing is to show my readers what Shirley looks like. I do that right off the bat when she approaches Isabel and her mother, Maria, who are taking in the local action at the Titus Country Fair. Shirley taps Isabel on the shoulder. 

I turn around to face a woman, actually I’m looking down because she only comes up to my shoulders. I don’t believe she’s as old as my mother, but she’s up there, with white hair cut short and lines on her tanned skin that make me believe she works outside a lot and is a heavy smoker, which I verify when I get closer. Her clothes are a standard-issue baggy flannel shirt hanging over jeans that are faded at the knees from work.

What else can I tell you about Shirley? She hasn’t had an easy life. She had a no-good husband who beat her and their two kids. He died thankfully but not before making their lives miserable. One kid took off and the other sought a better life. So raising Lucas, who was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother, brought joy in her life.

I wanted to create a character who’s a bit on the scratchy side. She drives school bus. Inherited a lot of land. She’s hard of hearing likely from getting knocked around, which Isabel figures out right away. She’s also a hoarder which Isabel and her mother learn when they visit her.

Shirley says she’s heard how Isabel helped other people. Now she wants her to do the same.

And Isabel finds out later that she met Shirley at her former newspaper office when she came seeking answers about her grandson’s death. Isabel couldn’t help her as a journalist but maybe she can as a private investigator.

Once again, Isabel — and I — are suckers for a hard-luck story. Here, I will let Shirley tell you herself.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.” 

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake. 

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?” 

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

 This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely. 

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

 “No, not the one I worked for.”

 “But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

 “You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

 “Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

 Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

 “I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

 Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

 “He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

 She swipes away a tear.

 “Yeah, he was.”

 Want to read more? Working the Beat will officially be out Jan. 27, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order now and it will magically appear in your device on that day. Paperback readers, stay tuned.

Thanks for your support. Heres the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT  THE PHOTO ABOVE: Taken at the Cummington Fair, the inspiration for the fair in Working the Beat.

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Smashin’ and Crashin’ in Working the Beat

It was my friend, Victor who gave me the idea to have someone die at a demotion derby in one of my books. His suggestion was that a body would be found after the event ended and the crowd cleared. He mentioned this after I had actually attended a derby at a country fair a few years ago. Me a derby fan? Hardly. But I saw it as an opportunity, like I did as a reporter a long time ago, to soak in the local color.

The idea for a death at a derby stuck with me as I went onto writing other books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. And when it was time to start no. 5 Working the Beat, I took another approach. Unless the person died quietly of a heart attack or a drug overdose, it was unlikely that nobody TDKV4932would have noticed in that crowd of people. It had to happen another way and be tied to some sort of crime. So, that’s what I developed. Lucas Page’s body was found the next day and allegedly nobody saw how it ended up in a ravine.

His death is why his grandmother approaches Isabel Long at the Titus Country Fair. And good timing because the fair’s demolition derby is being held that night. Isabel was already planning to go with Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar where she works parttime and her love interest. He’s even closing his bar on a Saturday night because of it.

I had fun writing about a demolition derby in a chapter called “Smashin’ and Crashin’.” For that chapter, I used my experience being at one and a little online research — plenty of videos on YouTube I might add.

Plus I throw in the rivalry between two characters in the series: Annette Waters and Gary Beaumont. Annette aka the Tough Cookie is a mechanic who runs a garage and junkyard. She hired Isabel in Redneck’s Revenge to prove her father’s death wasn’t an accident, that he was too drunk to get out of his burning shack of a home. Gary, a bad boy drug dealer who was a suspect in the same book, hired her in the third, Checking the Traps. I love these characters too much to let them go, especially since there’s a history between the two.

The demolition derby in Working the Beat is an opportunity for an interesting showdown.

So I gave Annette’s car the name Wild Woman. Gary’s is Bad Ol’ Boys because initially his brother, Larry was going to drive.

In this clip, Isabel is sitting on a blanket on a hill with Jack’s buddies, many of them customers at the Rooster, and his cousin, Fred aka el Creepo. I let them explain to Isabel, who is not a local gal, how it works like why the cars drive backwards — so their radiators don’t get hit. As it turns out, Gary wins the first heat, and Annette is in the third. Here goes:

In the third heat, I keep my eyes on Annette’s Crown Vic. Yes, Wild Woman is in action. I pick up the binoculars to check out the Tough Cookie’s face, what I can barely see beneath her helmet. She has a fierce grin as the rear of her car wallops the front end of any vehicle close by. Flags are going up on her victim’s cars. This woman wants to win, and I bet meeting Gary Beaumont in the finale must be an inspiration. Just a reminder that Gary is the father of Annette’s son, Abe, although he and most of the world don’t know that. Ma and I do. It was one of those brief high school hookups. “Could you imagine what that’d be like?” she once told me. “Having a father who’s a drug dealer? No thanks. He’s better off without him.” So, Annette in Tough Cookie fashion decided to bring him up alone.

“Damn, that woman sure can drive.” Jack gives me a squeeze. “Maybe Annette should give you some lessons, Isabel.”

“Very funny, Jack.”

But Jack is right about Annette’s driving skills, and she finishes off the last car left. Bam, its engine is still running, but that car is going nowhere. The crowd goes berserk. The True Blue Regulars are on their feet and hollering around me.

I nudge Fred, who just sits there.

“Hey, you used to be married to her. Why aren’t you cheering with the guys?”

He grins and nudges me back.

“You would say somethin’ like that, Isabel. Maybe cause I used to be married to her.”

The crowd’s noise has died down. People are up and stretching as the wrecks get towed from the field and the crew checks for broken parts on the ground. Jack’s left to use one of the porta-johns or maybe go in the woods if the line is too long. So, it’s just me and el Creepo. So far, I haven’t come up with a better nickname for Fred.

“Fred, can I ask you a question?”

“As long as it’s not about Annette.”

I shake my head.

“No, it’s about Lucas Page, the kid who died here after the demolition derby. You remember him?”

“How could I forget.” He points to a certain section of the woods behind us. “They found his body over there.”

“Did you know him?”

“Sometimes I’d see him on a job or around. Couldn’t miss him with that red hair of his. Why do you ask?”

“His grandmother wants me to look into his death.”

“Shirley? What the hell for?”

“She thinks it wasn’t an accident.”

“Tell me, Isabel. Do all your cases involve somebody’s death?”

“So far, yes. Why? You got a mystery I can solve that doesn’t?”

“Nope.”

Jack is back just in time for the three remaining cars to enter the pit: Wild Woman, Bad Ol’ Boys, and Road Hog, the winner in the second heat. Each driver gets a cheer from the crowd, who I bet is anticipating a good showdown in the finale.

“Who are you rootin’ for, Isabel,” Jack says with a chuckle.

“Annette, definitely. You?”

“Same.”

And with a blast of that airhorn, the cars start moving. It’s clear Annette and Gary plan to take out Road Hog right away as they circle the car. They want to go head to head, or in this case, rear end to rear end of their vehicles. As I expected, Road Hog is a goner about ten minutes into the heat. Now, the driver is stuck in the middle of the pit, watching as Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys circle him. His car is off limits now that he’s hoisted the surrender flag, but he has the best view of anyone about what’s happening down there. Round and round the two cars go. Both are driving backwards really fast, something I could never do, Jack reminds me. Annette tries to take out a rear tire on Gary’s vehicle, but he speeds away in time.

“That was a close one,” the announcer says. “Bad Ol’ Boys better watch out for Wild Woman it they know what’s good for ’em.”

Everyone around us is laughing like crazy fools.

It was a close call, and now the two of them play cat and mouse, nicking each other’s cars although not enough to do either of them in. But then, both cars spin around and speed toward each other. Many in the crowd rise to their feet as if that would get them closer to the action.

And, then, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys hit each other head on, and from the impact, it’s clear that’s the end of the road for both vehicles. The crowd goes nuts. I get to my feet and join them.

“What do you think?” I ask Jack.

“Not a bad way to finish,” he says. “I wonder if they planned it that way.”

“Don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”

“I bet you will, Isabel.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene from the demolition derby I attended at the Cummington Fair a few years back.

INFO ABOUT WORKING THE BEAT: My book, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, will be released on Jan. 27. Kindle readers can pre-order now. I will let you know when the paperback version will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

Here is the link on Amazon: mybook.to/workingthebeat

And as a bonus see the video I created below.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

What’s Behind the Title?

Working the Beat is number five in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Like the other books in this series, that title popped into my head. It’s a bit of a tribute to Isabel’s former career as a journalist, first as a reporter and then as an editor. And I would be remiss in not stating my long career has been in that field.

As I can attest,  a reporter has a beat, whether it’s a topic such as higher education or crime, or one that’s geographic. A good reporter will work that beat to find and report stories — staying with them until the end.

When I was a reporter, I covered a rural area in Western Massachusetts for a daily newspaper. One might think there wouldn’t be any news in a town of say a thousand people, but as I found out, there was plenty to write about‚ even crime. I developed a list of reliable sources. I kept my ears and eyes open for possible tips, finding them sometimes in unexpected places. I was friendly when I needed to be. And a good listener. Yes, I put being nosy to a good cause.

Yes, these are transferable skills. And those are what Isabel Long uses as a private investigator.

In Working the Beat, Isabel is at a country fair with her mother when she is approached by a woman who says her grandson’s body was found there four years ago. Shirley Dawes raised Lucas after he was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother. She did better by him than she did her own children, when she was married to a no-good abuser.

As Isabel learns, the  young man’s body was found in a ravine after he apparently fell during a demotion derby. Nobody saw what happened. But Shirley doesn’t believe it was an accident.

Once again, Isabel is a sucker for a sad story.

She begins this case doing a thorough interview with Shirley. She speaks to people who knew Lucas. Then there is that file of clippings she snagged the day she lost her job at the newspaper.

Isabel works the beat meeting reliable sources from her other cases like the Old Farts in the back room of the general store, cousins Annette and Marsha, even the Beaumont brothers. Her timing is spot on — the demolition derby is the night she meets Shirley. I call that reporter’s good luck or in the case of Isabel, a P.I’s good luck.

As Isabel pursues this case, she encounters new persons of interest — an unsavory group who quickly become suspects. She also uncovers a secret about Lucas and a possible connection to another mystery.

I admit I am not brave enough to be a private investigator. So, I do it vicariously through Isabel Long.

By the way Working the Beat has an official release of Jan. 27 although the Kindle version is available for pre-order. (Soon on paperback.) Thanks for your support. Here is the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The covers for the books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, designed by Laurence Patterson, co-publisher of darkstroke books.

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

Working the Beat Ready to Pre-Order

Yes, indeed, starting today Kindle readers can pre-order Working the Beat, number five in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Then magically my book will appear on their device Jan. 27, perfect timing for those in the Northern Hemisphere who are stuck inside for the worst of winter. Fans in the Southern Hemisphere can add it to their summer reading list.

Why would I want you to do a pre-order? According to Amazon, pre-orders contribute toward a book’s sale rank even before its release, which gets the word out to more readers.

To make it easy here is the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat.

Now, paperback fans are wondering: what about us? I will let you all know when they will be available, which will be long before Jan. 27.

Currently, I am still in the editing process with Miriam Drori, who has been the editor for my series. But as long as we have the cover, created by Laurence Patterson, and the synopsis for the back of the book, edited by Stephanie Patterson, we are good to begin pre-orders. The Pattersons are the brains behind darkstroke books, my publisher.

So what is Isabel Long up to in Working the Beat? She happens to be at the Titus Country Fair when she is approached by an old woman who says her grandson’s body was found four years earlier after the demolition derby. The cops say he slipped and fell down a ravine when everybody was fixed on cars smashin’ and crashin’ in the pit. Shirley Dawes doesn’t believe it.

Once again Isabel is a sucker for a sad story. Shirley Dawes brought up Lucas Page after his drug-addicted mother abandoned him. She tried to make up for the awful childhood her own kids had because of her late husband, a no-good abuser. And by what people say Lucas was a good guy.

So as Isabel pursues this case she relies on reliable sources she met during her other cases — those characters I couldn’t bear to let go like the Old Farts, Tough Cookie, the Floozie, the Beamont brothers and Dancing’ Dave. Oh Cyrus Nilsson aka the Big Shot Poet returns. Isabel meets new people, a rather unsavory group country-style who soon become suspects, and uncovers a couple of secrets. And turns out Lucas might be tied to another mystery — a string of break-ins in the hilltowns that happened months before he died.

Yes, Isabel and her 93-year-old mother, Maria, her “Watson,” are in the thick of it.

Here’s an excerpt. Isabel and her mother are at the Titus County Fair. Abe, the son of Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie, won the pumpkin-growing contest with one weighing over 500 pounds. Shirley Dawes has already approached Isabel and now is waiting to talk with her at one of the picnic tables.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.”

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake.

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?”

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely.

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

“No, not the one I worked for.”

“But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

“You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

“Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

“I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, naturally, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

“He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

She swipes away a tear.

“Yeah, he was.”

I glance at my mother. She’s interested, of course. The questions are forming in my brain, but this isn’t the time to ask them. Already a parade of people I know have passed by with a wave, a hello, and a curious expression on their faces as they wonder why in the heck my mother and I are talking with this woman. They’re just being nosy New Englanders as usual.

“Shirley, we’re interested, but this isn’t the best place to talk. We need some privacy. How about my mother and I come to your home to talk this over?”

“What’d you say? My house?”

“Yes, your house. Well, you could come to ours if you prefer. We live in Conwell. But it would help us if we could see where you and your grandson lived. I should also tell you that if I’m interested in taking your case, I have to clear it with my boss. Do you know Lin Pierce?” I pause as she nods. “He gets a small cut of whatever I make. So, he has a say.” I register the concern in Shirley’s narrowed eyes. “Don’t worry. He hasn’t turned me down yet.”

“I understand,” she says. “Can’t do it tomorrow. I’m helpin’ out in the kitchen here. Monday mornin’ work for you?”

Ma and I exchange glances.

“How about ten?” I say.

“Ten, it is. Do you mind if I make a copy of your grandson’s photo with my phone?”

“Go right ahead if it helps.”

I place the photo on the table and remove my cell phone from my bag to take a shot before I hand the photo back to Shirley.

“Here you go.”

Shirley leaves us after she gives me directions to her house in West Titus. She lives on one of those dead-end dirt roads, hers is the last house, that’s also likely one of the last to be plowed in the winter and impassable at times in the spring because of the mud. But she’s probably one of those people who doesn’t mind because she wants to live out of the way of everybody. I don’t have to worry about road conditions this time of year. The road’s been graded recently she told me.

I wait until Shirley is out of earshot as she moves inside the crowd that’s wandering the fairgrounds. She stops first at the pumpkin display, where Annette and Abe are still hanging out.

“What’s your opinion, Ma?”

“I like her. She’s a little rough around the edges like a lot of the people we meet here,” she says. “But it’s about time we found a new case. It was getting a little boring.”

I smile. My 93-year-old mother is game for a new mystery to solve.

I hope this inspires you to read Working the Beat, number five in the Isabel Long Mystery Series.

 

 

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

No. 5 Is Finished — Sort Of

Today, I reached the end of Working the Beat, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, which weighs in at 74,940 words. Well, I’m sort of at the end. I have printed all 279 pages and will go through them with my trusty red flare before I listen to them on my computer.

And then I will happily submit Working the Beat to my publisher, darkstroke books.

Yesterday, a son asked if this was only a first draft. My answer: I don’t work that way. I will stop at certain points in a novel’s process, basically when I feel I am ready, print out what I’ve written so far and go at it. I feel by time I’ve reached “the end” that it’s in solid shape. Of course, my editor will find things I need to fix as well.

I will admit it hasn’t been easy finding the time to write — and promote — given the increased demands of my job as editor-in-chief of three newspapers. But when I could, I found a great deal of satisfaction being with the characters and setting I created as I let Isabel Long try to solve yet another mystery.

So, what is this one about? A man’s body is found after a demotion derby at a country fair. The official story is that he was drunk and fell down a rocky ravine. His scrappy grandmother doesn’t believe it, so she hires Isabel to get to the truth. Once again Isabel encounters family secrets, unsolved crimes and the unusual suspects.

Just to get you started, here’s the opening scene to the book’s first chapter “Dead at the Rooster.” For those new to the series, Isabel and Jack, who owns the Rooster Bar and Grill, are an item, as they say. She tends bar part-time for Jack as well as being a P.I. solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts.

It’s a dead night at the Rooster, deader than I’ve ever seen it. There’s no band even though it’s a Friday night, but Jack was smart not to book one. A few drinkers have bellied up to the bar, but nobody lingers long. Neither did those who come for dinner. Jack’s customers have somewhere else more important to go: the Titus Country Fair in the next town over. It was the same yesterday for truck pull night. That’s when drivers, mostly guys, try to get their stripped-down and souped-up car or pickup to pull as much weight as possible over a line, and everybody in the crowd watches to see if they make or break it. Tonight, horses are pulling, a draw for the traditionalists. And tomorrow, Saturday, is demolition derby night. Jack’s not even going to bother opening his bar. Besides, he wants to go like his pals. And he wants me with him. That’s what I get for hooking up with a local boy. 

Right now, Jack and I are sitting at the bar, playing poker and listening to tunes on the jukebox to pass the time until much later when people will likely show up when the fair shuts down. No booze is allowed at the Titus Country Fair, for good reasons, so people will be mighty thirsty unless they managed to sneak in something.  

“Ready for our hot date tomorrow night, Isabel?” Jack asks. 

“Are you saying watching cars smash into each other until only one of them is left is your idea of a hot date?” 

He grins as he throws down his cards. Crap, he’s beat me again. 

“Uh-huh. What’s your idea?” He chuckles. “By the way, you’re one lousy poker player. If we was playin’ strip poker, you would’ve been naked a few hands ago.”

“Me naked at your bar?” 

Jack grins.

“Not a bad idea.”

“Sure, boss.”

Okay, that’s enough. It’s back to work for me. In the meantime, if you want to check out my other books on Amazon, here’s the link: Joan Livingston Books

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