The Sheriff’s Greatest Challenge (Preview)

Pip Poole bent over the papers on the desk, running his eyes over the words looking only for spelling errors and grammar problems. He had to make sure everything was right and ready to be signed by the mayor in the morning. 

It was late, and Pip didn’t want to be working. He had made plans to go to the saloon and have a meal and a drink with one of his friends, but Mayor VanDyke had asked him to stay to make sure everything was finished. Tomorrow was a big day, the mayor had said, without explaining why it was a big day. 

Pip had long ago learned not to question what the mayor had to say. He was only sixteen and was privileged to work in the highest office in Red Creek, California. He was working on his sixth month and was proud of his accomplishments so far. 

There was something about the mayor’s office, though, that made him not want to aspire for that position. He was the kind of young man interested in books and learning, so much so that he had to wear glasses for reading. His pa said it was because he’d had his nose in a book since he could put words together and understand them. 

Pip thought about his parents, a warm feeling passing through him. He’d been born to an older couple as an unexpected gift. A miracle is what they’d called him. Ken and Betty Poole were in their forties when Betty fell pregnant with him, and with some obvious divine intervention, Betty had given birth to him successfully and without any trouble whatsoever—as if she was in her early twenties and in the prime of health. 

As a result, Pip was devoted to his church and God, having been told by his loving parents his entire life that he owed his very existence to the Lord above. 

Pip considered his devotion to the Lord to be his own personal relationship and never tried to force his beliefs on anyone else. He wasn’t a pastor or a preacher and had no intention of becoming one. He enjoyed the peace and comfort that came from his closeness to God, his knowledge that there was no doubt of His existence. And it was a good thing, too. He wouldn’t have been able to work in the mayor’s office if he had been someone who thumped his Bible everywhere he went. 

Mayor Charles VanDyke was a questionable but respectable character. Pip sometimes wondered if the man made his decisions based on the good of the people or the good of his bank account or personal relations. It wasn’t Pip’s job to keep an eye on such things, but he couldn’t help noticing when a handshake seemed a little sneakier in intent than some of its predecessors. 

Still, when the big man dressed in all black came barreling through the door, demanding to see the mayor, Pip was more than a little unnerved. It made him question who his boss really did his business with.

“Where is he?” the man bellowed, his face red as a beet. He held up a long, rolled map and shook it in Pip’s direction. “Is he in there?” He moved his shaking hand to the door of the mayor’s office. 

“I…he…yes, he’s in there, but I don’t know if he can take any visito—”

Pip’s words were cut off when the man shrieked the mayor’s name. “VanDyke! VanDyke! I’m comin’ in!” 

He stomped across the room and threw open the door to the mayor’s office with gusto. Pip was surprised it didn’t come off its hinges.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor,” Pip called out. “I couldn’t stop him.” 

“It’s all right, Pip. Marlon, why don’t you calm yourself, and we’ll have a talk?”

“Don’t you ‘Marlon’ me like we’re old friends, VanDyke,” the man snarled. “You and I ain’t friends. We got business between us, and it’s gonna be settled now. You gotta come up with a plan.”

Mayor VanDyke had come around his desk and headed for the door Marlon had left wide open.

“If you want to talk, Andre, you’re going to have to calm down. You know I won’t talk to you when you’re like this.”

The man Pip assumed must be Andre Marlon was the foreman of one of the crews the mayor oversaw for a town expansion idea he’d come up with. He wasn’t too surprised when Andre immediately stopped his hemming and hawing. He settled his big bulk in a chair, his face still looking anxious and red. 

The mayor gave Pip a blank look as he closed his door. 

Their voices were now muffled, but Pip was very curious to know what kind of plan the mayor needed to come up with. He wondered if it was something he could help with. He didn’t see anything wrong in filing some papers in the big drawer cabinet near the door. If he overheard a little of their conversation, it wouldn’t be his fault, would it?

He grabbed a handful of papers from the desk and headed for the big brown cabinet. He stood there, one drawer open, his ears listening keenly to the conversation on the other side of the door. 

“I found it, and now we just need to get it. Only way that’s gonna be possible is if nobody is here. They all gotta go, Mayor. Every last one of them.”

“We can’t empty the town.” 

Pip frowned. What was his boss talking about? How does anyone, and why would anyone empty Red Creek of its citizens? Was there something dangerous underground? That’s not the way it sounded by the tone of the conversation. 

“Got to, if you want to get down there. They gotta be gone.”

There was a moment of silence. Pip could picture the mayor contemplating his options. He had no idea what the whole thing was about, but it certainly seemed deadly serious to the mayor. What could possibly be their reason for wanting to clear out the town?

“All right,” the mayor said, to Pip’s astonishment. “Give me some time. I’ll get some men to come and take care of the people. Drive them out. Then I’ll claim the land and do with it what I want.”

Pip didn’t like the ugly laugh that came from Andre Marlon. “Yeah, and we know exactly what you’re gonna do with it.”

The mayor joined Andre in his laughter, making Pip cringe.


Chapter One

The conversation ended shortly after, and Pip scurried away from the door, sliding into his desk chair moments before the door swung open, and Andre stepped out. He turned back to the mayor, who was directly behind him. 

“You want me to come back tomorrow so you can give me your plans in full? I’m gonna need to know what to tell the men.”

The mayor nodded. When his eyes slid to Pip, Pip looked down at the papers on his desk, suddenly noticing what a mess they were. He concentrated on putting them back to rights, hoping the mayor wouldn’t see and question why his desk was in such a state when it hadn’t been like that before. He’d been careless when he grabbed the papers to “file” and left his desk in disarray. 

Mayor VanDyke didn’t seem to notice, though. At least, Pip didn’t think so. He didn’t say anything to that direction. In fact, he didn’t say anything to Pip until after Andre had left the office.

“He’s an excitable man, Pip, my boy,” the mayor said, stopping in front of Pip’s desk, his large body blocking a great deal of space. “Don’t let him get your feathers ruffled.”

Pip didn’t know what the mayor was talking about. At this point, it was the mayor himself who was giving him the willies. “He doesn’t bother me,” Pip replied, pulling himself to his full height. He wasn’t a big boy. At sixteen, he was considered “wiry”, and his glasses and overall bookish demeanor didn’t help him in the intimidation factor. Pip knew he would never be a man who struck fear into other people. He didn’t mind that. He didn’t feel that was what his purpose was on earth. He didn’t know what that purpose was yet, but it certainly wasn’t to be a guard or a soldier or a fighting man. His battles would be fought with words and brains.

He’d finally put his papers to rights, and his hands had stopped shaking. He was still feeling awfully nervous and wanted to ask about what he’d heard. But the mayor had closed the door for a reason. It was so Pip wouldn’t hear what was being said. The fact that he’d listened in would be revealed if he asked any questions, and that would get him in a lot of trouble. 

He needed his job. So he kept his mouth shut. But it wasn’t easy. 

“I’ve got an appointment at the savings and loan.” Mayor VanDyke went to his door and closed it, turning back to Pip. “You stay here and mind the office. Don’t let anyone in there. You hear?”

“Yes, Mayor VanDyke,” Pip replied, nodding soberly. 

“I’ll be back in half an hour.”

“Yes, sir.” Pip was as respectful as possible. But the fact the mayor was going out brought on a flood of nervous thoughts. Maybe if he looked in the office, he would find something to explain why the mayor wanted to rid the town of its people. Just the thought made Pip feel sick to his stomach. How was he going to drive them out? Would there be death and carnage? Whatever the mayor wanted was apparently under the town. 

Pip didn’t even know what to make of that.

He’d decided before the mayor even left the building that he was going to the sheriff with whatever he found. He couldn’t tell his parents. They wouldn’t let him do anything about it. They would tell him to keep his nose out of it and not get himself in trouble. And they’d only tell him that because they were always worried about him. They knew he wasn’t a physically strong young man. 

The moment the mayor stepped out of the building, Pip was headed toward his office. He waited by the door, pretending to think, his eyes on the big brown filing cabinet, making sure the mayor didn’t turn around and come right back in. When he saw the back of the man crossing the street to the other side where the savings and loan building was, Pip opened the door just enough to slide through. 

He went quickly to the desk and circled around it, running his eyes over the folders, papers, and books the man had stacked on it. 

Pip’s eyes fell on the rolled-up map Andre had brought with him and apparently left for the mayor. He grabbed it and spread it out so he could see what area it was. As he’d suspected, it was a map of the town. But he could only tell because it was written very plainly with boxes to represent buildings, where each town building was. The barbershop. The saloon. The church. The sheriff’s station and jailhouse. 

The map was a simple drawing of the land with a border, and squiggly, wavy lines made a spider’s web inside the border. On top of the lines in several places were large red Xs. 

X marks the spot, Pip thought. What was down there? Was it gold? Diamonds? Oil? What could it be that the mayor was willing to drive everyone out of town for? It had to be one of those. 

Pip wanted badly to take the map with him as proof to show the sheriff but just the fact that he’d discovered the mayor was corrupt in the first place was setting him on edge. He didn’t dare steal the document that would prove that fact and put himself in mortal danger. It’s not like anyone else would have come into the office and taken it.

Pip rolled it back up and set it where it had been, hurrying from the office. He closed the door behind him, his heart thumping hard in his chest. He had to get to the sheriff and soon. He didn’t care about his personal safety at that moment. He could worry about that later. Right now, he felt obligated to let someone of authority know what was being planned. Maybe he could prevent it. At the very least, he and his deputies could be prepared for the men Mayor VanDyke was bringing in.

Pip was disheartened by the revelation that someone he highly respected was corrupt. How could anyone who campaigned to represent the people and promised to do so to the best of his ability become so corrupt? Was his greed really that strong?

With a saddened but anxious heart, Pip left the building, keeping his eyes on the savings and loan, hoping beyond hope the mayor wouldn’t come out and see him. His thoughts were racing through his mind, threatening him with a headache. 

He would push through that, though. He had something important to tell the sheriff, and nothing would stop him from it.


Chapter Two

Earlier that evening, Sheriff Adrian Wolf sat in the saloon, surprised to find himself in a situation where he was in pursuit of a known con man…he was staring straight at him, as a matter of fact. 

Dylan Cranwell was well known to sheriffs up and down the coast of California. It was a surprise to see Cranwell in Red Creek. It wasn’t a big town or a city by any means. There weren’t any high-dollar targets in his community. Sure, there were wealthy men and widows, but Cranwell was a card player, and he ran a scam that was only visible to people who were looking for it. 

Adrian was one of those people. He’d grown up with a father who knew everything about poker and spades. He’d taught Adrian everything he knew. If the senior Wolf had been a con man, Adrian would have grown up rich and privileged. But his father wasn’t interested in anything like that. Card playing came naturally to Adrian’s father. 

Adrian watched the hands of the men at the table. He saw the moment Cranwell slid the cards in such a way that one card was switched for another at the bottom of the stack he was holding. Adrian’s eyes flicked up to Cranwell’s unwitting opponents. They continued playing, grumbling about Cranwell’s winning streak. 

When the round neared the end, Adrian stood up, pushing his chair with the back of his knees. He strolled over to the table and settled his hand on the man’s shoulder, squeezing with a firmness that only a sheriff can give. The look Cranwell gave him when he turned his head, and they met eyes was completely expected. 

“How about you pull that sleeve up, Mister, and let the cards you’ve got up there fall out?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cranwell replied without hesitation, standing up so quickly that Adrian was forced to take a step back. In his haste to get out of the way and not fall backward, he pulled on Cranwell’s shoulder, making him topple to the side. 

Adrian watched as the cards he was holding in his hand slid out, along with the cards up his sleeve. The man sitting in the seat next to where Cranwell fell roared with rage, kicking his own chair back and readying himself to pounce on the cheating con man. Adrian saw what was about to happen and leapt to prevent a murder. Cranwell would be brought to justice the right way. 

He vaulted in between the two men, taking a blow to his left shoulder from a man who immediately looked stunned and pulled himself away from the sheriff. Cranwell looked grateful but only for a second. He tried to scramble out from under Adrian, but Adrian kept him in place with a firm hand on his collar. 

“Where you think you’re goin’?” he asked in a gruff voice. 

“I ain’t done nothin’ wrong,” Cranwell whimpered in his best innocent voice. He didn’t look like a man who would take the kind of chances he did. He had short, wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes. His face was rather round and a bit plump, as was his body. He looked younger than he actually was, which was probably why he easily got away with his crimes for years. 

Adrian felt a strong sense of pride that he’d found and captured this wanted criminal. 

His ego was bruised when Cranwell slithered out from his grip and was soon on his feet. Adrian wasn’t about to let that happen. He shot to his own feet and took off after the cheat.

“I ain’t done nothin’!” Cranwell ran to the doors of the saloon, slamming through them and taking off down the street. People scattered out of the way. He sent ladies and children shrieking and running to the walkways to keep away from him.

Adrian was close on his heels, reaching out, missing the man by only a few inches, time and again. He was astounded that a man of Cranwell’s hefty body shape was able to move so quickly. 

“Get. Back. Here.” Adrian stretched his arm out till he could feel the fabric of Cranwell’s vest collar. He flipped his fingers, trying to grab it. “You scoundrel. Get back here.”

“I didn’t do nothin’,” Cranwell kept repeating as he scurried along. “I didn’t do nothin’.”

“You’ve been cheating people out of their money for a long time now, buddy. Your games have come to an end.”

Adrian lurched forward and caught the fabric in his hand, immediately yanking back to bring the shorter man off his feet. He slammed him down hard on his backside, yelping in pain. Adrian almost felt sorry for him. He hadn’t meant to cause the man any harm. 

“Listen, if you hadn’t run and had just come peacefully, you wouldn’t be hurting right now. Come on. Come on.” He tugged on the vest as the man scrambled on the ground like a wild animal caught in a trap. “Get on your feet. What’s wrong with you, man? Get up.”

“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’,” Cranwell cried out in a weakened voice. “You won’t…let me go….” He slapped at Adrian’s hand that held him tight by the collar, but Adrian wasn’t letting go.

“You shouldn’t have come to Red Creek. You can go to those big places and take advantage of the rich people there, but we only got what we got here in Red Creek. Don’t need you causin’ trouble for these fine, peaceful folks.”

“It’s just a couple bills, Sheriff,” Cranwell pleaded, finally getting to his feet and standing still. He had a sheepish look on his red, round face. “Wasn’t doin’ nobody no harm.”

“You cause harm when you steal from people, Cranwell. And I ain’t havin’ that in my town.”

“You can give a fella a break, can’t ya? It’s been a while, and I ain’t killin’ nobody. I ain’t a murderer.”

Sheriff Wolf shook his head, his eyes directly on his prisoner. “You don’t know the harm you do. I’m afraid you’re goin’ in the jail, and you’re gonna pay for your theft. That’s the law of the land, son.”

“Shoot, I ain’t holdin’ nobody up with a gun. I don’t even own a gun.”

Adrian scrunched his face at the outlaw. “Didn’t nobody say a thing about a gun. You’re not stealin’ anyone’s money again. You got that? You’re gonna be in jail for a while, and it won’t be long before you’re out roamin’ the streets. I catch wind of you even picking up cards in a saloon and tryin’ to bet again, you’ll go in, and we’ll throw away the key.”

Cranwell scowled as Adrian let him go enough so he could straighten his vest and tuck his shirt back in. He stayed on alert, though. Cranwell wasn’t thin and spritely, but he was faster than Adrian had expected and quick to take flight. 

This time, Cranwell decided to walk alongside Adrian to the jailhouse.

“You shouldn’t put me in there without at least letting me get a few beers in my belly, Sheriff,” Cranwell spoke in a soft tone, smooth, the way he roped others into playing cards against him. Adrian had heard it before. 

He did feel a little sorry for Cranwell, though. He did seem the harmless sort. In all the time Adrian had been watching him—which was a full month of games on and off—he had never seen Cranwell act in an aggressive manner. In fact, he’d seen the man abort a cheat he was about to perform because an opponent was getting desperate or had a sob story of some kind. 

Cranwell certainly didn’t need the money. Adrian’s research mentioned a wealthy background. He had been raised in a privileged way, even so far as having a pair of doting parents who thought their child could do no wrong.

When Adrian had started his mission the day after he discovered Cranwell was in town, he hadn’t known a thing about the man, not even what he looked like. He read up as much as he could before he found a sketch of Cranwell and then saw him in the Red Creek Saloon. What he’d read gave him the impression that Cranwell was a manipulative, sneaky, heartless con man. 

What he’d discovered in watching Cranwell closely was a plump, baby-faced, smiling, charming card-playing city boy. He would do his duty and put Cranwell in jail for a while. But he had the sneaking suspicion Cranwell would always do what he was doing, and there was no way to stop him. 

“I’ll bring you a bottle after we get there,” Adrian said in a good-natured way. “Why don’t you tell me why you do what you do, Cranwell? Why do you cheat and steal? You don’t need to. I read about you. I know you have money and prestige in your family line. This is going to humiliate them, you know.”

Cranwell turned his big, blue eyes to Adrian. “Ma and Pa don’t listen to what anyone says about me. They don’t believe anything that’s bad. You could tell them anything you want. They will always only see good in me.”

“That’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it?”

Cranwell shook his head. “Not for me. I won’t stay in jail, Sheriff, you know that. And if you’ve read about me, you know I’m not out here hurtin’ anyone.”

Adrian hesitated before replying. They were almost to the jailhouse. The people on the street had gone back to their own business after their sheriff apprehended the man he was chasing. 

“It’ll do you good to be in a cell for a time. Maybe you’ll realize that’s not the place for you and stop what you’re doin’. You still didn’t tell me why. You got money. You got power. Why do you cheat at cards and steal from people?”

The man shrugged. To his credit, he did look a bit regretful to Adrian. “I guess…cuz I can.”


Chapter Three

An hour later, Adrian sat back in his chair and folded his hands over his lap. He could hear Cranwell in the cell in the back where he’d put him. He was singing. It was hard to believe that inmate was singing ,but there it was. He wasn’t half bad, either. 

He’d finished with the paperwork associated with catching Cranwell and was now sitting back, thinking how much of an anti-climax this really was. He’d caught a criminal who’d skirted the law for several years, staying on the move, more and more information about him coming to light…by all rights, he should have been captured a long time ago. 

Now that he was actually in a cell, he was singing. If Adrian went back there, he wouldn’t be surprised if the man was standing in front of the one small-barred window in the cell, communicating with the birds. 

Cranwell was too nice of a man to be such a swindler. It was too low down for his character. It seemed like such a clash, as if there were two personalities in the man, one who was deceitful while the other was genuine and good.

It was a conundrum. 

Adrian sat forward, resting both arms on the desk in front of him. He was about to just go back there and sit with Cranwell to talk the rest of the slow day away when the door to the jailhouse burst open, and a young man Adrian recognized came running in, a panicked look on his face.

The first thing Adrian felt was a fatherly anxiety. He knew this to be Pip Poole, the sixteen-year-old miracle, the son of a couple who were well on in their years when they had him. He was a quiet boy, wore glasses, and his dark hair was almost always a mess on his head. Adrian felt a particular twitch in his chest when he saw Pip around town. His own son, his dear Nicholas, would have been around sixteen now if influenza hadn’t taken him when he was just seven years old. 

Nicholas had been in the schoolhouse with Pip. Adrian didn’t know if they’d been friends. 

Pip spun in his direction, his eyes sharp as knives. 

“Sheriff.” He spoke in a tone Adrian hadn’t heard from the young man before, not that he’d heard Pip speak often. He didn’t really know him or his parents. As sheriff, he “knew” everyone but only knew some on a general basis because they didn’t break the laws. 

“Come in here, Pip. Tell me what you have on your mind.” He waved the boy over.

Pip scurried into the room, glancing toward the back when Cranwell bellowed out a particularly loud melody. 

Adrian hopped to his feet and went around Pip as he came in, reaching out to the door. Before closing it, he called through, “That’s enough, Cranwell. I got business to take care of. Enjoyed the entertainment, but it’s time for a nap now.”

“All right, Sheriff!” To Adrian’s amusement, Cranwell responded with a smile behind the voice. He fell quiet, but Adrian closed the door anyway.

Pip looked curious, but Adrian didn’t explain as he went around the young man and sat in his chair again. Pip was also seated on the other side of the desk. 

“All right, young man. What’s going on?”

“I’m Pip. Pip Poole.”

Adrian nodded. He was very curious about what the studious boy had to say. He’d never seen Pip look so worried and upset. “I know who you are, son. Tell me what’s wrong. You look like you’re about to explode.”

“I’m worried about something going on with the mayor…something he’s…he’s doing….” 

Adrian could see how hard it was for Pip to be saying the things he was saying. He wondered if there was a way he could calm him down some, get him to speak calmly and rationally without upsetting him more. 

“Just relax, son,” he said. “Relax and take it slow. You’re safe here.”

Pip’s eyes flipped to the window beside them both. There was nothing but woods on the other side. It was easy to get lost in that forest, and there were some fairly hungry, vicious animals that liked to show up in Red Creek every now and then. It was a place no one went alone. Criminals who were brought in and were at risk of flight were always warned about it. 

“No one is out there, Pip,” Adrian said, his wariness growing. “What’s the mayor doing? Start at the beginning. When did you hear something, and what did you hear?”

“It was just a bit ago,” Pip responded, his eyes still darting around the room as if someone was hiding in the shadows, ready to pounce on him. “There’s this man. He came into the mayor’s office and told the mayor he found something they’d been looking for, I reckon. I don’t know about it, hadn’t heard about it before. But there’s somethin’ under the town that’s real valuable, and the mayor wants to attack people here in town to get them to leave so he can buy up all the properties and own everything and be rich.”

“The mayor is already rich,” Adrian mumbled, his eyes on the young man across the table. “Are you sure you heard these things? What is he planning to do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know any details. I’ve…I’ve always been l…loyal to Mayor VanDyke and thought he was…a good man….”

The boy was about to break down. Adrian was watching someone who had just been betrayed by someone he highly respected. The shock must have hit Pip’s system hard when he had to speak aloud what he’d witnessed.

“You just calm yourself down,” Adrian spoke in a soothing tone. “You’re safe here. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Pip nodded. “I know you won’t, Sheriff. But when I leave here, what if Mayor VanDyke sees me? What if he knows what I’ve done?”

Adrian glanced at the clock on the desk in the corner. “It’s almost shut down time, isn’t it? Don’t go back there today. He won’t know, surely. And stay around the back. It’s nearly six. I’m surprised you’re still working.”

“I have to work late sometimes,” Pip replied. “There’s a lot to be done sometimes. I take care of everything. Cleaning up at night and locking up, and everything has to be filed and put away. It’s just part of my job. Sometimes I have to stay late to get it all done.”

Adrian nodded. “I understand. I’ve had jobs like that.”

Pip’s eyes widened. “You’ve been a clerk?”

Adrian gave the boy another nod. “Yeah, when I was young, like you. Just a lad. I liked it. But I wanted something more adventurous than what I was getting behind a desk. So I became sheriff. Do you have any career goals in mind? Working your way up to being the mayor, too?”

Adrian was a little surprised by the look that crossed Pip’s face. It appeared as though the boy might cry.

“I wanted to, yes,” Pip replied. “When I first started working for the mayor six months ago. But now…I don’t know. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t like that the people in Red Creek can be controlled the way he controls them. Or us. He does, you know. Every decision that’s made goes through him first.”

Adrian didn’t like the sound of that. “My decisions aren’t based on what he thinks or wants,” he said firmly. “I can assure you of that.”

“The Sheriff’s Greatest Challenge” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Sheriff Adrian Wolf hears a shocking accusation from a young man named Pip, he must investigate the mysterious and potentially dangerous intentions of the town’s mayor. With no proof of the mayor’s nefarious plans, Sheriff Wolf must trust Pip and his own instincts to uncover the truth and protect the townsfolk…

A devious ploy is unfolding at a rapid pace…

Pip Poole is intelligent, kind, and has a strong sense of justice. When he overhears that the mayor is planning to make money at the expense of the town, he knows he must take action. With evidence scarce and the townspeople in danger, Pip and Adrian must embark on a mission to uncover the truth and stop him from destroying the town and claiming the gold beneath it.

But what can be done when there’s no proof?

Together, they must work to expose the mayor’s schemes and stop him before it’s too late. If they fail, the town of Red Creek will be destroyed and all its treasure will be taken by the corrupt mayor. Can Sheriff Wolf and Pip save the town and its people before they run out of time?

“The Sheriff’s Greatest Challenge” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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