Get Fluffy

Get Fluffy
Sparkle Abbey

March 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-121-0

The Pampered Pets Mysteries, Book 2
 
Our PriceUS$12.95
Code978-1-61194-121-0
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

"A mystery worth barking about.” – Linda O. Johnson, author of THE MORE THE TERRIER, Berkley Prime Crime

Disgraced Texas beauty queen, Melinda (Mel) Langston, owns Laguna Beach’s Bow Wow Boutique. Mona Michaels, Mel’s most despised client, owns a star dog, Fluffy, who's worth millions. When Mona is found whacked in the head with Fluffy’s Daytime Emmy, everyone wants Fluffy. And someone won't stop at murder to get the pooch.

Secrets. Blackmail. Mel tackles the case like a dog with a bone. But can she dig up the truth before the killer buries her?

I stumbled through the doorway into a mini-palace fit for a movie star. Fluffy’s palace. A white sheepskin rug in front of her personal fireplace, a king-sized sleigh bed and a dressing screen (why a dog needed a dressing screen was beyond me). Fresh, filtered water dripped into her Wedgewood doggie bowl.

The room looked like it had been ransacked.

Mona was sprawled on the floor as if posing for a men’s magazine. It was almost picture-perfect, except for the blood matting her five-hundred-dollar haircut and the gold statue stuck in her head.

I hesitantly moved closer. Fluffy nuzzled Mona’s cheek. When she didn’t move, Fluffy pawed her shoulder, still whining.

"I don’t think she’s getting up, girl,” I said softly.

Mona was deader than a stuffed poodle.

Sparkle Abbey is the writing team of Anita Carter and Mary Lee Woods. Visit the authors at http://sparkleabbey.com.

Reviews

"…the pair behind Sparkle Abbey continue to enchant with the wacky world of wealthy Laguna Beach… this book delivers humor and mystery with a sophisticated air. The animals play as important a part as the people, with canine foibles that are as funny as the human ones. The series is sassy and bright, with well detailed plots and oh-so-human characters. Enjoy this book while you’re on the beach or at the pool. Just be sure that you’re somewhere that people won’t look at you oddly when you start chuckling out loud!" -- Mary Beth, It’s a Humdinger!

"...delightful...Mel is a spitfire with a tongue to match.  Her call-it-as-I-see-it attitude had me snickering more times than I could count.  If you enjoy pet-themed cozy mysteries, you can't go wrong with Sparkle Abbey." -- Tracy Farnsworth, Round Table Reviews

"If murder can be a romp, this one is…a fun list of eccentric characters… if this were a movie I'd say there's always something to look at…will keep [you] turning the pages to find out what mayhem happens next." -- Carol Crigger, NetGalley

"…a fun and enjoyable read and I look forward to the next installment" -- Alison H, Cozy Crimes Blog

Excerpt

 

Chapter One

I am nothing like my cousin, Caro, the "pet shrink.”

She’s a redhead, I’m a brunette. She’s kept her Texas twang, I busted my butt to lose mine. (Except when I’m honked off, then my southern drawl can strike like a Gulf coast hurricane.) She’s calm and direct. I’m equally direct. As for calm, I have to admit, sometimes my emotions tend to overrule my better judgment.

So who would have thought I’d end up in the middle of a Laguna Beach murder investigation, just like Caro?

From my very first breath, Mama had groomed me to be Miss America, just like her and her sister, Katherine. Or a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, which in Texas was the more prestigious of the two. By my twenty-first birthday, I’d gathered ten first-place pageant crowns like Fourth of July parade candy. That’s when my beauty queen career had been dethroned in public scandal.

Everyone believed she "encouraged” a male judge to cast his vote for me. As for what I thought, well, no daughter wants to believe her mama is a hustler. To this day, Mama still won’t talk about The Incident above a whisper.

With the battle for the top crown over, I’d traded in my tiaras, sashes and hair spray for Swarovski crystal collars, cashmere dog sweaters and botanical flea dip. I left Texas and moved to Laguna Beach, California, a community known for its art, wealth and love of dogs. I opened Bow Wow Boutique and catered to the canine who had everything.

I loved Laguna. Loved running my own business. I even loved the quirky folks whose lives revolved around their pooches. But sometimes I longed for Texas—wide open spaces, cowboy boots and big-big hair. Who wouldn’t?

It was mid-October. The tourists had packed up and headed home. The locals ventured out of their gated communities to enjoy all the beachside town had to offer. Most importantly, there was available parking downtown. At least until next May.

The annual Fur Ball had finally arrived—a community event to raise money for the Laguna Beach Animal Rescue League. The balmy weather was perfect for an outdoor fundraiser.

As always at these shindigs, the humans coughed up large chunks of dough for a worthy cause. Breezy air kisses and alcohol flowed freely, while we all pretended to be best friends. Trust me, we were one society catfight away from a hell of an entertaining evening.

I looked down at Missy, my English Bulldog, who waited patiently at my feet. Her crystal-studded tiara sat lopsided on the top of her head, and a small puddle of drool had collected between her paws.

I straightened her crown and whispered, "We’re up, girl. Let’s show them what we’ve got.”

With our heads held high, Missy and I strutted our stuff down the red carpet. The pup-a-razzi cameras flashed, and the crowd cheered. One reporter asked who’d made my strapless leather gown (Michael Kors) and another wanted to know how Missy had won her tiara (she’d placed first in Laguna Beach’s Ugliest Bulldog contest last year).

Once we reached the end of the walkway, I leaned down to dab the drool from Missy’s chin. "You did great.” I kissed the top of her head. "Let’s go find our friends.”

Missy gave my hand a slobbery kiss, and then we made our way into the main event. Under an extravagant white tent and glittering lights, two hundred wealthy dog lovers and their four-legged friends paraded around in designer rags, both human and canine dripped with diamonds.

I quickly spotted Kimber Shores and her pug Noodles making their way in our direction. Kimber oozed understated glamour in her mauve jumpsuit. She’d definitely make Laguna’s Best-Dressed List.

"Mel, I’m so glad I found you,” she declared.

As we air kissed, the low-cut back of her outfit offered a glimpse of her many tattoos.

"Noodles looks amazing,” she continued in her melodious voice. "I’m so glad you talked me out of the velvet jacket.”

Kimber and her pug had stopped by the shop earlier. Noodles had been in desperate need of a wardrobe update. I’d managed to wrangle him out of his Hugh Hefner smoking jacket and into a modest white tux and tails. Noodles sat in front of Missy, his marble eyes watching the slobber slide down the corners of her mouth.

I smiled affectionately. "He really isn’t a velvet kinda guy. I love the top hat. Nice choice.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grey Donovan, my fiancé of two years, heading in our direction. Kimber must have noticed, too; she immediately looked uncomfortable.

To the outside world, Grey’s and my relationship was seen as a tad unorthodox. We were the on-again, off-again type. Presently, we were "on.”

"Ah, I see you’re not alone. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed.

"You’re welcome. Stop by Bow Wow when you get a chance. I have the perfect sweater-vest for Noodles.”

Kimber and her pug disappeared into the crowd just as Grey arrived.

"Caro and Diana organized a great event.” He handed me a glass of pinot noir. He looked amazing in his black tux. But then, he always looked good.

Missy sniffed his pant leg, double-checking he hadn’t stepped out on her. He bent down and gave her some love. She snorted happily, lapping up Grey’s affection. I knew exactly how she felt.

I took a sip of wine, appreciating the black-pepper finish. I snagged us each a tomato and goat cheese tart from a passing waiter (he was out of pigs-in-a-blanket, Missy’s favorite).

"I hate to break it to you, but it’s the Dallas upbringing. Every society girl knows how to throw a successful charity fundraiser by her eighteenth birthday.” I took a bite of the tart and sighed. Delicious. "But you’re right. It’s a fabulous evening.”

Grey, an undercover FBI agent, worked white-collar crime—mostly art theft. He could be gone for two days or two months without a whisper of his well-being. I never knew if he was sipping espresso in Paris or being held hostage in a deserted warehouse in East LA.

His decision to keep me completely in the dark of his activities—his way of protecting me—had finally pushed me to the breaking point. I’d realized if I had trouble dating Grey, our marriage could end up a disaster. So I’d called off the wedding (two months before the big day), causing a swirl of rumors and speculation.

I swear, I’d tried to return the six-carat sapphire engagement ring that had belonged to his great-grandmother, but Grey had refused to accept it. He believed we could work it out. I really wanted him to be right.

"To Caro and Diana. May the evening continue to be a howling success.” Grey lifted his glass, and I followed suit.

We mingled with the other guests and made our way to the table of auction items. I spotted my cousin next to the open bar, schmoozing with a celebrity dog trainer who currently judged a TV reality pet show. I didn’t have to hear her southern drawl to know she’d used it to her advantage.

She fooled a lot of people at first glance. She looked as soft as a hothouse wildflower, but inside she was all iron and grit.

At the moment, Caro and I weren’t exactly speaking. Since our childhood, Caro had always saved something or someone. A few years ago that had included her ex-husband who deserved to rot behind prison walls instead.

To this day, she continued to analyze how her marriage had fallen apart. I’d expressed my opinion (truth be told, it was unsolicited at the time, but that hadn’t stopped me), and Caro got her feelings hurt. We had words.

I know I’m the one who should apologize first but, knowing me, my smartass mouth would probably make matters worse. Sometimes I’m better with dogs than people.

Recently, I’d broken my vow of silence. Caro’s best friend, Diana Knight, a former movie star and one of Laguna’s resident celebrities, had been arrested for murder. In my experience, who better to deliver bad news than family?

Luckily for Diana, she was one of Caro’s success stories. Caro had helped clear Diana of a bogus murder wrap and in the process had almost gotten herself killed. Thankfully, the police—and her quick thinking—had saved her.

A slow smile tugged the corners of my mouth as I waited for my cousin to turn in my direction.

Competition runs deep in the Montgomery blood, our mothers’ side of the family tree. Over the years, Caro had managed to intermittently suppress her competitiveness. I, on the other hand, let mine run free. Electrified with the sudden possibility of getting the best of my cousin, I grabbed Grey’s arm. "Let’s go say hi to Caro.”

"No.” He didn’t even take his eye off the list of silent auction items.

"Come on. You just said she did a great job.”

"I’m not going to be a vehicle for you to flaunt that thing.” He flicked his auction list toward the gaudy, but sentimental, brooch pinned strategically to my gown.

The pin was a family heirloom, a twenty-two karat gold basket filled with fruit made of precious gems. Rubies, diamonds, emeralds and topaz. You’d never know by looking at the garish thing that it was insured for more money than all four years of my Stanford college tuition.

I adjusted the brooch. "It gives my little black dress something extra.”

Grey’s green eyes softened. His gaze traveled from the bottom of my floor length, strapless, leather gown and ended at the gaudy heirloom.

I felt the heat flood my checks and pretended his blatant appraisal didn’t make my knees weak.

"Little is one description. Leave your cousin alone,” he said on a sigh.

Poor Grey. He was my fiancé, but he was also Caro’s friend.

"Grandma Tillie left the pin to me. I only retrieved what was rightfully mine.” Grandma was very specific in her will. The brooch was to go to her "favorite granddaughter.” That was me. Then again, Caro was just as convinced it was her.

"You broke into Caro’s house and stole it,” he said.

"Only after she’d marched into Bow Wow Boutique, in the middle of the day, and stole it from my purse in front of God and my customers.”

He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. "So that makes breaking into her private safe okay?”

I grimaced. There was a tingle of regret about my actions that day. It had taken a few tries to figure out the combination, but I had.

Caro hadn’t used an easy-to-hack combination. No. She’d used something much more personal that only I could truly understand the significance of.

When I thought about that, I felt like a traitor who deserved to be shot at twenty paces. So, I tried not to think about it.

I was sure I’d pay for my transgression at some point.

"Mel, do you want the brooch, or to make Carolina squirm?” Grey asked.

"Is there a right or wrong answer?”

"Yes.”

I took another sip of wine, letting the warmth from the alcohol seep through me. I know it’s selfish, but I wanted both. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Caro finally turned and caught my eye. I held back the urge to jump up and down. Instead, I lifted my wine glass in salute, making sure she could see I had on the brooch.

She hesitated for a second, aware we were gossip prey. Like the southern lady she was, she returned the salute with an amused smile. We both knew she was plotting revenge. Game on, cousin. I’d have to find a better hiding place than my cookie jar.

Grey shook his head in defeat and directed my attention to the banquet tables of donated items for the silent auction. There was one item that had me seriously contemplating going home for my credit card. An African safari. I sighed, knowing I was about to spend too much money, and I wasn’t even buzzed.

"You’re doing the right thing,” Grey said.

"I’ve always wanted to go on an African safari.”

"I was talking about Caro.”

"I do have some self-control.” I set my glass on the table and adjusted his bow tie. Not because it needed it. But because it was our first public appearance since the almost-wedding.

"I just wanted her to see I had it,” I explained.

"I don’t always understand you two. Or why your friends encourage your harebrained competition.”

I retrieved my glass with a shrug. "Because it’s harmless fun.”

I scribbled an obscene dollar amount alongside my bidding number on the safari listing, knowing I’d bumped the mayor out of the playing field.

Grey whistled softly. "Playing to win?”

"Why else would I play?”

"If I could have your attention,” Amelia Hudges, the ARL director, spoke into the microphone.

Everyone turned expectantly in Amelia’s direction. I almost choked on my wine. Amelia looked like an over-the-top Bette Midler with her frizzed-out orange hair and heavily beaded gown. Good God. Had someone died and covered the mirrors in her house?

"We’ve made some quick calculations after a few passes around the room.” She paced the stage in excitement. "Due to your generosity, the silent auction has already grossed an estimated two hundred fifty thousand dollars.” Amelia’s high-pitched twitter competed with resounding applause and excited barking.

"Now it’s time to get serious.” She raised a freckled hand for silence. "We’re more than halfway to our goal of three hundred fifty thousand dollars. Listen to your heart, not your accountant. Open your wallets, and let’s start the live auction! Find your seats, everyone.”

Grey, Missy and I ping-ponged through the noisy crowd and were the last of our group to arrive. We were about to sit when Tova Randall, a highly successful lingerie model who had just moved to town, called out my name.

Everyone at our table watched as Tova bounced closer. It wasn’t her perfect pale complexion or her luxurious auburn hair that drew our attention. It was her blush-pink, silk-taffeta gown hugging her famous curves. Those same curves had paid for her thirteen million dollar home in the hills, down the street from Grey’s place.

"Melinda Langston, you owe me fifteen hundred dollars,” she announced in a not-so-conversational tone.

"I beg your pardon?”

She was drunk. It was the only plausible explanation. I looked at our tablemates and shook my head apologetically.

Unlike Tova, her Yorkiepoo loved me. And I loved Kiki in return. Her pink, mini-taffeta dress rustled as her tiny five-pound body wiggled in excitement. I reached down to pet the adorable dog. Kiki immediately rewarded me with enthusiastic kisses.

Missy sniffed Tova’s pocket puppy in the universal dog greeting. Unimpressed, Missy crawled under the table, looking for a spot to nap.

Tova gripped the diamond encrusted leash tighter, pulling Kiki closer to her. "You gave my baby fleas,” she huffed.

Hells bells. What was she talking about?


 

 

Chapter Two

A loud murmur rippled over our table. All eyes were on us, waiting for my reaction to Tova’s outrageous claim.

I set my half-empty glass of pinot noir next to my plate. "I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Tova lifted her chin higher. "Kiki and I got kicked out of Mommy and Doggie Yoga because she had fleas.”

Seriously, how was that my fault? Besides, it wasn’t the end of the world. It happens to the best of dogs (although Missy’s never been afflicted with them). I’m sure even Rin Tin Tin had a case of fleas. Once.

"That must have been embarrassing for you,” I said to the crazy lady.

Tova sucked in her cheeks, producing a well-practiced pout. "She obviously got them from Bow Wow.”

What the? I leaned forward, invading her personal bubble. She stepped back and had the presence of mind to look worried. "I don’t think so. Have you considered she caught them from a dog at yoga?” I kept my tone sweet and non-confrontational.

A glance at Grey told me I wasn’t as successful as I’d thought.

He cleared his throat. "Ladies, can’t this wait?”

Tova picked up Kiki and pressed her wiggly body against her not-so-natural cleavage. "I was assured it didn’t happen there.”

I was assured it didn’t happen there, I mimicked silently. "Well, I just assured you it didn’t happen at Bow Wow.”

By now we had an audience. Not just our small table of people. Oh no, half the room leaned in our direction, waiting for me to knock Tova on her beautiful butt.

I walked a fine line. Fleas aren’t deadly, but no one would knowingly expose their pet or themselves. I clenched and unclenched my fists. What to do, what to do...

"Melinda, what’s going on?” Mona Michaels and her Afghan Hound, Fluffy, paraded to our table.

Great. Trouble on six legs.

Mona ruled the rich and famous of Laguna Beach with the wave of her aristocratic hand and her elite American Express Black Card. She had her plastic surgeon on speed dial, injectable Botox in her purse and her private chef on a short leash.

Her simple black Valentino gown was most likely the envy of every woman at the ball. She was what the gated community housewives dreamed of being when they grew up.

Unfortunately for me, Mona and my mother were childhood friends. Mona thought that meant she could dictate, and I’d blindly follow. Not likely. I wasn’t a Mona fan.

From behind, Fluffy looked exactly like her human. A mistake I’d made more than once. Awkward.

Tonight, Fluffy seemed more haughty than normal. Her jeweled collar with a diamond-crusted, heart-shaped pendant sparkled like a mirror ball, and I’m guessing was equally as heavy. She looked like she couldn’t be bothered mingling with us average humans.

Too bad Mona didn’t feel the same indifference. She narrowed her assessing blue eyes at me and waited for an explanation.

Why she thought she’d get one was beyond me.

"Go back to your posse, Mona. Everything here’s just hunky-dory.”

Mona motioned to the crowd; her shocking white hair flowed softly around her razor-sharp cheekbones. "It is plain to everyone you do not have this situation under control, otherwise Amelia wouldn’t be cowering in the corner of the stage waiting for you to finish.”

As always, Mona’s condescending clipped voice raised my hackles.

"You may want to consider keeping your voice down,” Grey warned under his breath.

Too late. All eyes had followed Mona. Once she’d insinuated herself into my business, I had my reputation to protect. I turned my attention back to Tova.

"You still haven’t explained why I owe you money?”

"Well, I had to get Kiki groomed,” Tova stammered. Mona’s presence loomed over us, and Tova was beginning to crack. Amateur. If she wanted to make it here, she’d have to develop a thicker skin.

"And?” I could feel the weight of the room shift towards us waiting to hear the answer. Who knew dogs could be so quiet?

"My lawyer says you have to reimburse me for it.”

"Oh, hell no.”

Murmurs rolled through the room like Main Beach waves crashing against the rocks.

Tova stood her ground. "She got them while on your property. You have to pay,” she insisted.

I hiked up my gown, which pooled around my three-inch heels. I wished I was wearing my motorcycle boots. "You’re the only one with fleas.” I took a breath and tried to control my rising voice and cover the Texas accent that was threatening to make an appearance. "If this was a Bow Wow issue, someone else would have said something.”

"They’re afraid of you,” Tova whined.

"You’re ridiculous,” Mona pronounced with the wave of her hand.

"You’re out of control,” I said at the same time.

I don’t know if Mona was talking to me or Tova. I was talking about both of them.

Tova shook her head. "You don’t know what kind of nightmare I’ve been through. Kiki’s wardrobe had to be dry-cleaned, my carpet steamed, her travel bag replaced, and she had to be groomed a second time after her botanical dip.”

I’d had enough. "I do not have fleas!” I turned to the room, hands on hips and asked, "Did I give any of you fleas?”

There was a lot of throat clearing and minimal eye contact. No one said a word. It would have been comical if I hadn’t been so honked off.

I narrowed my eyes on Tova. "Looks like it’s just you.”

"Enough.” Mona pointed at Tova. "Take your dog and sit.”

"This isn’t over.” Tova looked between Mona and me like a confused puppy; her shoulders sagged, and her bottom lip quivered slightly. "You’ll regret pushing me around.”

"Does this mean you and Kiki won’t be by tomorrow to pick up the barrettes you special-ordered?”

"Melinda,” Mona said, "If you know what’s good for you, you’ll sit and stop causing a scene.”

"Don’t. As much as you like to worm your way into my life, and everyone else’s for that matter, you’re not my mother.”

Mona turned toward me. A glint of fire danced in her eyes. A chill of warning rolled down my back.

"True,” she said. "Fluffy earned her crown. I didn’t need to act like a dog in heat for the judges to see her true talent.”

That was it. The woman insulted me and my Mama.

Bitter emotion churned until it turned into a roar of fury. I yanked my wine glass from the table and tossed the deep ruby contents on Mona’s dress. Immediately, I knew I’d crossed the line. The fat was in the fire now.

Grey groaned in disappointment. Missy jumped out from under the table and barked, her crown rolling under my chair.

Everyone else was deathly silent.

Mona stood frozen, her hands in the air.

Then suddenly she hissed. "You fool.”

Fluffy tossed her pale tresses from her eyes and snarled.

The room erupted into chaos. People jumped up from their seats. They talked over each other, shocked, yet lapping up the juicy gossip of my behavior.

The dogs barked, Missy included. Canines turned on each other and their humans. Leashes wrapped around chairs, tables, and human legs, dragging everything behind them in their excitement.

"Don’t touch me,” Mona ordered to a handful of dimwits who thought they’d get into her good graces by mopping the wine from her dress.

I dropped to my knees to retrieve Missy’s crown.

"If you’d like to use the ladies room, I’d be happy to keep an eye on Fluffy,” Grey offered, his calm voice sounding out-of-place amidst the pandemonium.

I got to my feet, Missy’s leash in one hand her crown in the other.

Mona yanked the white cloth napkin Grey held out for her. She patted her dress as if taking a public wine bath was an everyday occurrence. "If you don’t leave now, I’ll call the police and have you arrested.” She quickly found her normal condescending voice.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. "Are you kidding me? You deserved it. Everyone knows it.” I gestured toward the group of gawkers.

"Melinda, you’ve done enough.” Grey’s tone was tense and didn’t hold room for disagreement.

I whipped around. "You’re taking her side?” I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart.

"No, I’m trying to keep you from going to jail,” he muttered.

I snagged my gold clutch from the table and shoved Missy’s crown on my head. Tears burned my eyes. "I’m sorry I’ve embarrassed you.”

I meant it. I was sorry. Of course, that didn’t change the fact that I’d just acted like an idiot. My snap judgment was in full throttle. Once in gear, it was difficult to apply the brakes.

He grabbed my arm and stopped my dramatic exit. "This isn’t about me.” He jerked his head toward the back of the room.

Caro looked like I’d just kicked her dog, Dogbert. Her face had turned the same color as the vintage red satin gown she wore. Her tightened lips formed a straight line and her snappy green eyes had narrowed into angry slits. Sam Gallanos, her date, stood silently at her side, his dark eyes studying me.

I’d forgotten all about Caro. I’d blindly embraced my anger and had completely lost sight of the fundraising goal for the Fur Ball.

Intense self-reproach latched onto my heart and squeezed. I wish I could say it was an unfamiliar feeling. But I couldn’t.

I guided Missy through the mayhem with only one purpose in mind—to confront the only thing standing between me and a hasty exit so I could berate my lack of judgment in private.

"I didn’t plan on making a scene,” I said to my cousin. It was as close to an apology as I could manage at the moment.

Caro eyed the crown. Then the brooch.

Anyone else would have looked away and ignored me, casting me to social purgatory. Instead, her eyes locked onto mine, and she said, "You never do, sugar.”

I couldn’t argue. I’d left her one hell of a mess to clean up.

"You’ll need to call Nigel,” Caro’s soft southern accent hung on the family lawyer’s name.

I covered the brooch protectively with my hand.

"Are you fixin’ to sue me, cousin?” I asked, unable to keep the Texas out of my voice.

She shook her head and looked at me like I’d hopped on the crazy train, which apparently I had.

"Geeze Louise, Mel. You just humiliated Mona in public. You know she won’t let you get away with it.”


 


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ISBN: 978-1-61194-050-3

In posh Laguna Beach, murder has gone to the dogs.

The Pampered Pets Mysteries, Book 1

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