Clint Larabee felt out of place as he watched the hustle and bustle of the FBI agents around him. The cop needed to be doing something, anything, instead of standing around waiting. He felt the excitement and relief of the release of some of the hostages along with the bitter disappointment that Chris had not been among them.
The FBI were debriefing those released now, learning what they could about their captors and their weaponry. The entire faculty had been released except the headmaster and the cafeteria cook. He was grateful to learn that all of the boys were safe and remained unharmed. So far, Luis had shown interest only in Stephen Travis.
From the faculty they learned of the brief scare in the morning when one of the boys had been missing from the first count. From the description, Clint was sure that had been one of Chris friends. What the cop, and the federal agents, could not understand was why the boy would have gone back inside the building. They could not comprehend a teenager giving up his best chance of escape. Clint sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair. It would be just like Chris to attract friends that were just like him.
Raising his eyes up into the night sky, Clint sent a plea to his wife and daughter to keep an eye on Chris and his friends. After a moment he dropped his head back down to gaze at his feet before turning and leaving to find a place to rest for the night.
+ + + + + + +
Daylight streamed in through the window, its brightness pulling Chris from the sleep he finally succumbed to only a short time before. Rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands, he forced himself upright. The others were still asleep, though he could see Vin beginning to stir. The sophomore blinked open blue eyes as he sat up in the chair he had sprawled out in. Though they tried to be quiet, in the small room their movements woke up the others. Nathan and Josiah woke at the same time, both nearly knocking the other off the bed as they attempted to stretch. Bucks surprise at waking up to the sight of J.D.s feet had him rolling back and off the bed. Unfortunately, he landed almost on top of Ezra. The southerner shot up, green eyes wide with panic, his breaths coming far too fast as he stumbled backward into the door.
"Whoa there," Buck soothed, "I didnt mean nothing by it. Just had J.D.s stinky feet in my face."
Ezra blinked rapidly as he struggled to understand where he was and what was going on. As realization seeped into his sleep-fogged mind, he attempted to regain control of his breathing. Smiling weakly at Buck, he responded, "Well I didnt need your face to be the first thing to greet me in the morning."
J.D., who had been startled awake as well, laughed. "Yeah, Buck, your face could scare a guy to death. I mean, youre supposed to wake up from your nightmares, not to them."
Buck turned away from Ezra, who relaxed visibly now that he did not have the older boy so close. "Well I sure would have liked to have an opportunity to have any nightmares. But I couldnt sleep with somebody kicking me all night long."
Any retort J.D. was going to give was cut off as Chris spoke, "Alright, since were all awake we can start thinking about what our next plan is."
"Our next plan?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah, Chris," Buck said, "we already tried one and it didnt work. Besides, the people they released can tell the cops everything that we were going to tell them."
Chris nodded. "True, but thats the problem. Theyre gonna tell the cops about the explosives around the building, gonna tell them about all the guards and weapons. All thats gonna make the cops afraid to do anything about the situation. What we have to do is tell them that we have a way out of here for everyone."
Silence filled the room as six boys tried to understand what they were being told. Chris sighed as he looked for support from any of them. It all made itself so clear to him during the night. He just had to get the others to understand as well.
"We do?" Buck finally voiced for all of them.
"Yes, we do. Our basement. Theres nothing above it to blow up. And its big enough for all of us to fit inside."
Buck eyed his friend, "And how are we supposed to get everyone into the basement without all the guards seeing?"
"The only ones we have to worry about are the ones in the cafeteria. And we can take care of them. Ive got it all figured out."
"Thats all well and good, Chris," Nathan said. "But even if we agree to your plan, we dont have any way of getting that information to the cops."
"Ive got a plan for that, too," Chris answered with a smirk. "Well hand deliver it to them. Then get back before its time to get counted."
Again silence filled the room as they considered Chris words. "So who would hand deliver it?" Vin asked.
"Im not risking anybody else," Chris said with a quick glance at Ezra who was studiously ignoring all of them. "Ill do it."
"No," Josiah stated. "Like I said before, they watch you. Theyd notice if you were missing, even for a little while."
"Yeah," Vin hurriedly added. "Besides if its a quick run in and out then I should be the one to do it."
Josiah shook his head, "They watch you, too."
"Well, theyd be sure to notice if you, Buck, or Nate were missing. The three of yall stick out in a crowd," Vin pointed out.
Ezra, hearing how they had narrowed down the choices turned to face them. "Well dont look at me. Its not my fault that those three are hulking behemoths. And Ive already done my part. Theyll probably be watching me now."
Chris sighed as he realized that it was true. Nathan, Buck, and Josiah would be quickly missed if any of the guards were paying the slightest attention. And he, Vin and Ezra definitely had the guards attention. His mind was already considering other possibilities when J.D. spoke, "I can do it."
Buck was already shaking his head adamantly. "Hell no, kid! Its way too dangerous."
"But they wont notice Im gone. And even you have to admit that Im fast on the field. So I can make it out and back before the hour is up. All I need is someone to tell me the best way to get out and back in. Im sure Chris has already figured out how to deal with the guards." His voice was firm and sure, letting the others hear that there was no hesitancy in him at all. He trusted Chris, had come to respect the senior like no one else. If Chris said it could be done, then J.D. believed that it could be done, no questions asked.
Conflict waged within Chris at this new possibility. J.D. would be perfect because like he said, no one would notice if he went missing for almost an hour. But he was just a kid and should not be put at such risk. True, he was just a year younger than Vin and Ezra, but J.D. still had that naiveté about him that made him seem so much younger.
Buck could see Chris considering. "Dont even think about it, Chris. You cant send him!"
"You cant tell me what I can or cant do, Buck!" J.D. declared angrily. And while he did not dare raise his voice, the tone alone carried just how deep his anger was. "I can and will do it!"
Buck glared over at Chris for even putting the idea in the freshmans head. Chris shrugged, "Alright, J.D., lets all talk about how and when this will all work and then well decide."
That mollified J.D. but not Buck. Still the boys all gathered on the beds as they listened to Chris explain his plan. The entire time Buck kept an eye on J.D., trying to gauge the readiness of the younger boy. When Chris finally finished his explanation, Buck eyed him again, "You stay up all night working on that?"
"Just about," Chris admitted. "We can do this. If it comes down to it, well have to do it."
Everyone looked again to J.D., trying to see if the kid was still game now that Chris spelled out the plan. It was a risky plan that required split second timing. The set of J.D.s jaw alone told them that the freshman was determined and eager. But Chris asked anyway, "You sure you want to try this, J.D.?"
The younger boy nodded, brown eyes solemn. "Yes, Chris, Im sure. And I can do it!"
"Alright," Chris smiled at J.D. an actual, reassuring smile that brought warmth into his green eyes. "Well watch them this morning and if it still looks good, well do it after lunch."
With that decided they settled back down to wait for the guards to gather them for the trip down to the cafeteria. Ezra grabbed up the Uno cards again and sat off by himself, shutting them out as he shuffled the deck. Vin watched him, wanting to talk to him about what happened the night before and why he went off by himself. But the Texan decided that it might be best to wait a little until Ezra wanted to talk. So instead, Vin moved over to where Chris sat gazing out the window, lost in thought.
There was no help for it, Special Agent Dempsey thought as he surveyed the room full of anxious parents. Even so, he was torn between what to tell them and what not to tell them. They definitely deserved the truth, but what possible good would it do to tell them that as of right now their children were plain and simply at the mercy of a desperate terrorist? No, those would not be the words that would issue from his mouth. Instead, he would try to placate them, tell them that every possible thing was being done to see a quick and safe conclusion to this entire situation. And that was the truth for they were doing everything they possibly could do, just short of actually releasing Enrique Cali.
Dempsey found his eyes drawn to the glinting eyes of Orrin Travis. The man was holding up remarkably well for a parent who knew that his own child was at the forefront of the entire ordeal, the one who was likely the most at risk. And of all the parents present, with the possible exception of Clint Larabee, Travis was the one with access to all the details of the case and situation. Sitting next to Travis was his wife, who was also maintaining a remarkably calm façade. But her eyes were red-rimmed and she kept a firm clasp on Orrins hand as they sat waiting.
Dempseys eyes swept over the room, taking in the appearance of other parents, checking his files to place the parents with the children. His eye was automatically drawn first to the attractive dark-haired woman who sat near Clint Larabee. She was dressed casual in form fitting jeans and a low cut blouse that she had thrown a jacket over and yet her attire could not hide the glamour that just seemed to emanate from her. She was here alone, but carried herself with an air of self-possession that marked her as someone who did not find being alone as disconcerting, even in this situation. Dempsey had her listed as Beatrice Wilmington, the mother of Buck Wilmington, but he knew she would be far more recognized under the pen name of Montana Fontaine.
Next he looked over to an older couple who sat close to the back of the room. They were very quiet and attentive ever since they arrived from Texas via a flight provided by the FBI. Their careworn faces were tired and filled with worry for their foster child, Vin Tanner who they obviously cared very deeply for. The Van Owens were a sweet couple, their love for each other providing them the support they needed in this trying time. Dempsey found himself curiously wondering if the couple was ever apart.
From one couple that was obviously in it for the long haul, Dempsey transferred his gaze to another couple. But this one he did not see lasting past a year or two if it even made it that long. The fed checked the background information that he had on Robert Carlisle III and his new bride, Maude. He was not surprised to find that between the two of them they had a total of five marriages. He could only wonder what made them think this new one would work out for either of them and if love was even a remote factor. Maude was a beautiful woman, but there was nothing casual about her attire even in her semi-harried state. Her pale face was still and impassive, but her agitation was betrayed in small nervous gestures, like the tapping of her long, manicured nails on the table. Carlisle would take her hand to still it, but the touch was not long maintained.
Not all of the families were here yet, and Dempsey expected more and more of them to arrive as the day progressed. He called this meeting rather hurriedly and so while it was odd, the families that actually lived in the area were the ones not present. They would be here soon enough, demanding answers just like those present had. Sighing, the federal agent rose to his feet and prepared to address the crowd.
After lunch the boys decided that it was time to go through with their plan. Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan had written and sketched out everything that they knew about their guards and their weaponry, just in case there was something they knew that the released faculty had not. Chris wrote down the details of his plan for getting everyone into the basement if it became a necessity. He also asked that they get sent a signal if it looked like the plan would need to be set in motion and gave a time for when it would be completed so that the cops could coordinate any assault with it.
After the counter passed them, Buck pulled J.D. aside, needing a moment to talk to him. J.D. drew himself to his full height as Buck searched for words. He prepared himself for any last minute reasoning to convince him to let someone else go.
"J.D.," Buck nodded as he rested his upper body against the wall.
"I'm going, Buck!" J.D. declared in hushed yet firm tones. Buck studied his young friend's determined face and stance and gave him a soft smile filled with admiration. J.D. became puzzled by the unexpected demeanor of his tall friend and gave a slight shrug.
"I ain't gonna stop you, J.D.," Buck sighed and wondered yet again how easily the boy had become close to him. To all of them. He was long past being just worried and he resolutely tried to push any thought of anything happening to J.D. from his mind. It was unimaginable.
"Just promise me you'll keep your head down and be careful," Buck implored.
"I know what to do," J.D. replied earnestly.
"You sure do," Buck answered quietly and searched briefly for a way to lighten the tense moment.
"Try and lose that hat while you're gone," he teased.
"Not a chance!" the boy grinned.
Once the counting was completed the boys were released out into the quad. Each of them took up their stations, as each one had a distinct role in the diversions to get J.D. off the campus and then back. Chris walked J.D. over to the science hall. It was the one building that J.D. could slip in through under the cover of the front steps and race across the hallway to the exit facing off campus. Fortunately Luis men wired the buildings high enough that he could do this without disturbing the explosives. Chris met J.D.s eyes and nodded at the kid.
"Just do everything exactly as we said and youll do fine."
J.D. smiled back at Chris. "I will. You can count on me."
"I know, kid," Chris responded as he pulled off J.D.s cap and ruffled his hair roughly. He then put the cap back onto J.D.s head so that it sat backward.
Glancing down at the watch that he had synchronized with the others, he motioned for the freshmen to get into position. Looking across the quad he could see Vin and Ezra checking their own watches as they kicked a soccer ball back and forth. J.D. wrapped his elbow in a thick cloth and prepared to break the glass on Chris mark. Chris watched as Vin kicked the soccer ball in a high arc that was intentionally aimed for one of the upper windows of the dormitory. Just before the ball impacted with the glass, Chris nodded at J.D. who broke the glass of his own window. Then he reached in and unlocked the door and was racing down the hallway, burdened only with the notebook of information and the knowledge that they others were all relying on him.
Chris strolled back from under the stairwell to see Josiah nod at him from his perch at the top of the stairs. The guards above had not noticed a thing. Chris nodded back. So far so good. But now the concern began to gnaw at the pit of his stomach. He was no longer in control, but ultimately whatever happened to J.D. and the rest of them was his responsibility.
Checking his watch he glanced over to where the guards were confiscating the ball from Vin and Ezra. Neither boy put up much of a fight, but did protest a little so that no one would get suspicious. The next step fell to Buck and Nathan. Intense, green eyes swung to where Buck held the remote plane that J.D. built. A glance at his watch had Nathan nodding at Buck. His roommate grinned at him as he placed the plane on the ground and fired her up. It was a small plane but the engine noise was loud, especially echoing in the quad. It immediately drew everyones attention. Buck maneuvered it so that it began to circle around the quad, gaining altitude as it flew. Finally it circled around the rooftops, attracting the attention of the guards up there. Chris hoped it held their attention long enough for J.D. to make it to the tree line and cover.
They were all a little shocked and concerned when Luis came out into the quad to see what all the noise was about. He immediately began shouting for Buck to land it and turn it off. Buck let it circle one more time, desperate to give J.D. enough time to make it to safety. By the time he landed it, Cali was at his side grabbing the remote from his hands and then sweeping the plane off the ground. With a threatening stare tossed to Buck, he disappeared back into the building.
Except for Vin rejoining Chris, the boys did not regroup so as not to call attention to themselves. Ezra found a spot in the shade of a tree where he could sit and try to put together the conflicting thoughts that had been filling his head since his attempt to get into Chris and Josiahs room last night. Buck found himself moving toward a group of freshmen that shared classes with J.D., while Nathan moved off to prepare for the next diversion that would get J.D. back into the quad. Josiah sat at the top of the steps, enjoying the solitude to mediate for few moments on what they were doing and hoping that it was indeed the right thing to do.
When half an hour passed, Nathan slipped into the cafeteria and headed straight to the kitchen. He smiled a greeting at Miss Jameson then added, "Ive volunteered to take lunch up to the guards."
"You would, Nathan," she stated kindly.
Smiling warmly, Nathan picked up the tray and headed back out. He wove through the students playing in the quad and into the science building. Climbing up the several flights of stairs, he finally arrived at the roof access hatch. Knocking on it he called, "Lunch!"
The guard who opened the hatch greeted him with the muzzle of an automatic rifle. Nathan brandished the tray up and at him. With a smile, the guard swung the rifle away and reached down for the tray. Once he pulled the tray up on the roof, he slammed the hatch shut again. Nathan smiled as he turned back and went down one flight of stairs. Pulling out a pack of matches, Nathan looked up at the smoke detector and fire alarm lodged in the stairway wall. Now he just needed to wait for the proper time to set his time-delayed fire off. He would be long gone by the time the alarm went off, but if they timed it just right the sound would drawn the guards away from the roof edge and give J.D. the time to make it back inside the building. Then it would be no problem to get him back into the quad and into the cafeteria for counting.
J.D. moved quickly and silently as he almost ran down the hallway, looking around constantly. Finding the end classroom, he entered and moved deftly through the table and chairs until he reached the windows. Scanning the landscape outside and finding no one or any movement, he unlocked one of the windows and pushed it up enough to allow him to squeeze out. Dropping to the ground, he remained crouched against the wall as he looked for any evidence that he had been seen. He could hear his heart pounding and could not prevent the sudden nauseous sensation in his stomach. "I can do this!" he quietly assured himself and drew a deep breath.
He heard his model airplane start up and waited briefly until he could hear the distinctive drone as the airplane gained height. Moving away from the building, he glanced up and saw one guard, turned and facing towards the quad. The diversion worked. J.D. wasted no more time and ran as fast as he could over the exposed grass for the tree line, skidding to a halt. He peered out from behind his wooded protection to note with satisfaction that the guard was still facing away. Turning, he followed Chris instructions to find the opening to the drain.
Within minutes, he found it. He reached into his pocket and removed the wire cutters Chris somehow procured. As he cut the small wires that held the gate over the drain, he wondered how Chris knew about this drain and where it went. Snipping the last wire, J.D. entered the drain and moved quickly again, ignoring the dimness and the smell. Running, sometimes falling on the slippery surface, he steadfastly kept moving forward until the dimness became brighter and he eventually faced another gate. Remembering Chris words he pushed on the bottom bars until the gate pivoted out enough for him to push his body underneath and out. Releasing the gate, he felt his hat catch on some exposed wire and heard the tear as it was ripped from his head. He whipped around but could not save his prized Ravens hat before it fell into the muddy water at his feet.
"Damn!" he hissed as he bent down and quickly picked up the hat. Flicking off the excess water he shoved it in his pocket before he turned and faced the trees and thickets that surrounded the drain exit. He tried to determine which direction to go next before deciding to head towards the right and hopefully the road outside the school.
He never saw the hidden gnarled tree root as he fell forward, landing heavily on his knees and hands. Before he could scramble to his feet, he felt himself being hauled upwards. Instinctively fighting whatever held him, he struggled until he heard one of his captors speak. "Easy there, kid!" Sucking in a breath, J.D. turned and saw two armed men, only these guys were unquestionably American military.
"Are you from the school?" the taller one asked.
J.D. nodded, still breathing deeply.
"You'd better come with us."
+ + + + + + +
Vin watched Chris' uncharacteristic fidgeting and worried glances. He doubted any of armed guards noticed the barely discernable difference, but the Texan did. He looked around the quad. Compared to the anxious behavior and hushed words of some of the other students, Chris looked like he was relaxing. Vin pushed away from the wall and headed towards the senior. They were supposed to keep separate to avoid any observation that J.D. was missing but the younger boy casually walked over anyway. Chris needed him. He sensed it. Sitting down next to Chris he rested his arms on his knees and glanced sideways at Chris with a weak smile. The senior looked towards him and a glimmer of gratitude tempered the worry that was reflected in the green eyes. They both returned to their own thoughts and waited.
+ + + + + + +
Otis Dempsey was explaining the very latest news to Clint Larabee. Dempsey learned quickly it was infinitely easier to keep the officer fully appraised than to try and keep him uninvolved.
Dempsey broke off his update when he saw two military personnel accompanying a young boy. Raising a hand to stop Larabee's question, he moved towards the boy. Larabee followed.
"We found him in the trees, Sir. Says he's from the school," one of the men reported.
Clint Larabee recognized the dark haired boy almost immediately from the day he had escorted the Standish boy to the school. He had been standing in the group with Chris and Buck. "Is Chris alright?" he demanded.
J.D. flinched as the intimidating features of Clint Larabee, as the latter focused completely on him. Nodding quickly he answered, "Yes, sir." Clint went to ask another question but Dempsey stopped him. Obviously the boy was a friend of Larabee's son so there was no doubt the boy came from the school.
"We all want answers, Officer Larabee," he stated firmly then turning to J.D., he asked "What's your name, son?"
"J.D. Dunne," the boy replied lifting his chin slightly.
"This way, J.D.," Dempsey gestured and led the boy a short distance to the command tent set up by the military. Dempsey's subordinates prepared to stop Larabee but Dempsey waved them away and was flashed an indebted look in return.
Inside, Dempsey quickly grabbed two chairs and made J.D. sit down. Dempsey sat opposite him and smiled warmly.
"Now, J.D., can you tell us how you escaped?" the FBI agent asked.
"Through the drain," J.D. replied as he fumbled with his jacket and removed some papers. "Here's a plan of the school and where the armed guards are placed and if you look you'll see we've marked where they've wired the building," he continued, handing the papers to the Dempsey. The FBI agent took the offered papers and looked at them quickly. The detail made him return his glance to the boy, clearly surprised.
"The last one is Chris' plan to get the boys out so you can move in," J.D. added.
Otis Dempsey's look turned incredulous and he glanced up at Larabee. The veteran police officer still look worried but the pride and admiration that glowed suddenly confirmed what he already guessed.
"This would be Chris Larabee?"
"Yes, sir. He planned everything."
+ + + + + + +
Buck heaved a big sigh and ran his hands along his knees. This felt like the longest hour of his life. Even the digital numbers on his watch seemed to take longer to flick over. Then he tried assuring himself that this was a good thing. More time for J.D. to come back safely. The boy just had to make it back. He looked across the quad once again towards Chris. His oldest friend was saying something to Vin, who had not longed joined him, but somehow instinctively the senior knew and he looked up and locked eyes with Buck. A familiar look passed between them. Each knew how the other felt. They both felt great loss before and just the thought that they could experience such grief again was numbing. Buck straightened his back and looked again at Chris with more confidence than he felt. J.D. would be back and they were all getting out of here. Buck had no more doubts about Chris' plan. He was ready to act.
+ + + + + + +
J.D. was getting impatient as he began to shift uncomfortably in his chair. He wanted to leave now to return in time. Everything depended on him getting back. He had handed over the diagrams. He had explained Chris's plan. Had answered their questions. He had to go now! He watched Agent Dempsey talking quickly with his second in command. This conversation had been going on for only a minute or so but J.D. could not wait for them to finish. Beginning to rise, he immediately felt a restraining hand on his shoulder. He looked up in trepidation into the older Larabee's face but only saw concern and understanding. The officer shook his head slightly and gave the younger boy a consoling shoulder squeeze. J.D. stared into the green eyes that were so similar to Chris' and an inner conflict consumed him until the images of Buck, Chris and the others relying on him proved overwhelming.
"I have to go now!" he exclaimed loudly, shrugging off Larabee's hand and standing defiantly.
Otis Dempsey broke off his discussion with his fellow agent and looked towards him. He turned briefly to his subordinate, nodding for him to brief the others. He then took the two steps that put him in front of J.D.
"Son, we've already been through this. I cannot risk letting you go back. I'm responsible for you now," Dempsey said quietly.
"You haven't seen this guy. I have. He means it. He'll kill someone if I don't get back!" J.D. retorted, anger flushing his cheeks. He looked from Dempsey to Larabee and saw the latter wince in anguish.
"Let me talk to him. I'll watch him," Larabee offered when he saw the FBI agent was not going to be dissuaded.
"Alright," Dempsey nodded after a brief consideration. Larabee turned to go.
Larabee turned back and faced Dempsey. "Your son's plan is very risky," Dempsey murmured.
Larabee focused his full attention of Dempsey. "So you're not going ahead with it?" he asked, ignoring the growing knot in his stomach.
"I don't know for sure. My people are looking at it now," Dempsey replied honestly. Larabee accepted the information with a deep breath and went to move back to J.D.
"Officer Larabee?" Dempsey said softly." That's some boy you got!" he told him with unconcealed respect.
"I know. I just hope I get the chance to tell him that," Larabee replied with a hint of sadness.
Dempsey nodded compassionately before moving towards his colleagues huddled around the diagrams and plans that had been secreted out.
"Come with me, J.D.," Larabee commanded and led him to his parked cruiser.
"Please let me go back!" the boy begged once they reached the police cruiser.
Larabee looked at the pleading and determined face of the young boy as he brushed away the hair that fell into his hazel eyes. Larabee's heart leapt when they reminded him of his daughter. She would have been this boy's age if she had lived and the memory only served to heighten his fear for the safe return of his only son.
J.D. saw the wavering emotions flicker through the older man and pounced on it immediately. "Look they've already singled Chris out. They watch him the most. I have to go back! Please!"
The indecision raged in the older man and then J.D. could see Clint Larabee was coming around. The older man glanced at his watch.
"There's not much time left."
"I can make it!"
Larabee looked around. Everyone was busy. They had no-one's attention.
"This way," he said to boy and led him towards the trees.
Together they avoided Dempsey's posted guards and J.D. easily found the drain gate again.
"Tell Chris I trust him," Larabee said quickly.
J.D. nodded and turned to go but Larabee grabbed his arm.
"And tell him he's all that matters to me!" he added quickly not believing he had spoken the thought so easily. J.D. sensed the importance of the last words and he replied quickly before entering the drain.
"I will," he promised and then he was gone.
Clint Larabee's intention of returning to his cruiser without being noticed failed. Witnessing the scowl on Dempsey's face, he waited until the FBI agent intercepted him.
"You let him go back, didn't you?"
Larabee nodded and Dempsey's face turned into exasperation before shaking his head in resignation. No wonder the son was a maverick.
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