Revenge of the Comanche Son (Preview)


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Chapter One

Three-year-old Caleb hid, so terrified he couldn’t move. From under the bed, all he could see were floorboards littered with the toys he had scattered when the noise started outside: the strange cries, and the noise he’d recognized as gunfire as he’d scuttled under the bed. To add to the confusion, Mama had turned off the kerosene lamp, so all was dark except the dancing fire he had seen through the window.

The door opened. He recognized Mama even though he only saw her snow-covered boots and the lower edge of her skirt.

“Caleb!” she called quietly, though he was too afraid to move. “Caleb, come to Mama.” She knelt down; her fingers raised the bed coverings. “There you are. Come here, darling. Quick. We have to go.”

He reached for her, wriggling his fingers, knowing Mama would save him. Her hands grasped him under his armpits and drew him out. She kept talking to him, reassuring as she gently but insistently pulled his coat and boots on him.

Sensing her panic, which she had never shown before, confused him even more. “Where Daddy?” Daddy would protect them.

“At work,” she said. “Here, put on Daddy’s hat—it’ll make you brave like he is—and we’ll go find him.”

The oversized hat fell over his eyes and he pushed it up so he could see. “Let’s go to Daddy.”

Outside, he held the hat on so the fierce wind wouldn’t blow it away. Sleet stung his face. Mama held him tight as she waded through calf-deep snow and stumbled when they reached the stable. He smelled the horse inside. When she started to put him down, he resisted. No, no!

“I have to let you go to get the horse ready. Be brave. You have your Daddy’s hat and—.”

He turned in awe as the flames dancing through the town in the distance behind the house drew his attention. He held Mama’s skirt in one hand, trying to understand.

“Caleb!” Mama’s scream, quickly choked off, made him look up. Her fall backward into the snow had yanked her skirt out of his fist. Lying on her back, unmoving, her eyes wide, she stared up into the swirling snow. A second mouth opened below her chin, grinning obscenely. Black fluid leaking out of it stained the snow under her head.

A shadow moved over him and he looked up to see a man standing there, a knife in his hand, blood dripping from its blade. Dark streaks crossed his face. He wore furs, as did the two men sitting on their horses behind him. They held one with a blanket over its back that must have belonged to the man with the streaked face. All three stared down at him.

He turned to flee mindlessly through snow that rose nearly to his waist. A strong arm encircled him and raised him from the snow. This new horror took his breath away. As he lost consciousness, he was aware of sitting in front of a fur-clad man astride a fast-moving horse.

~   ~   ~

Caleb led the others, who spread out through the oak and hickory woodland along the slope. They allowed him to lead in the hunt because, though many resented Caleb, they acknowledged him as the best hunter. Game had been scarce that year. They had spotted several does that day, but Caleb would not let them kill one. When breeding season arrived, the females could produce a larger deer population for the following year. Since his brother, Iron Arrow, had grudgingly agreed, the others complied.

When the young buck they had surreptitiously tracked halted to graze, Caleb stopped, nocked an arrow, and took careful aim. The crack! of a trod-upon twig made both him and the deer start. The buck leaped away.

Caleb turned toward the sound to see Spotted Crow looking sheepish and quickly turned away so the youth wouldn’t see his frustration. Only a sigh revealed Caleb’s displeasure. He maintained his usual stoic expression while the others glared at Spotted Crow.

“Look what you’ve done, foolish child,” Iron Arrow said to him. And to Caleb, “I told you he was too young to come with us, Blackwolf. Or should I use your white man’s name, because you’re as foolish as one for bringing him along? Even though you’re not really a white man.”

“The only way young men learn to hunt,” said Caleb, “is to copy their elders. Just as you did.”

But Iron Arrow wasn’t through hazing the boy. “Don’t look so smug, Spotted Crow, just because Blackwolf defends you. Now we have to return to the village without any game.”

The others glared at Spotted Crow and Caleb.

Caleb said, “We’re not about to let Father see we have failed. The day is fading, in any case. We’ll camp here tonight and tomorrow continue hunting until we have some game to bring home.” And to Spotted Crow, “But don’t think you are getting away with spoiling our hunt so easily. You will care for the horses tonight.”

The others laughed and jeered at Spotted Crow, mollified by Caleb’s punishment of him.

~   ~   ~

That night, Caleb had the same dream that had haunted him for as long as he could remember. The setting often changed, but many things remained constant. He always saw the town burning in the distance and his mother clad in the dress and boots she had worn that night, reaching out to him, calling his name but without sound. When he tried to go to her, he could only move slowly, as through heavy snow, and no matter how far he went, she moved farther away until she disappeared.

He didn’t remember what she looked like, or his father either, but his father never appeared in his dreams. Once in a while, he saw the Indian who had grabbed him looking down on him and he did recall the man’s strangely pensive expression, which looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. Of course, he’d probably imagined the look on the man’s face. That had, after all, happened twenty years before. He was sure about the streaks on his face, though, because he had never seen such a thing before. Now he knew they had been war paint.

As the man had looked down on him that night, Caleb had grasped his tormentor’s wrist and wrenched it.

Aiea!” said Iron Arrow. “Blackwolf! What’s the matter with you?”

Caleb awoke suddenly to see that he had twisted Iron Arrow’s forearm.

Caleb said, “I told you never to sneak up on me.” as he released his brother.

“I wasn’t. I was trying to wake you to show you something,” Iron Arrow snarled, rubbing his arm. “You had better be careful who you grab, Blackwolf.”

Ignoring the threat, Caleb realized that the night surrounded them. The sky told him it was a little after midnight. “It’s too dark to hunt.”

“It is not about hunting. Come with me.”

Caleb followed his brother to the edge of the camp and looked over the thickets hiding that side of it. Their whispers roused some of the other young hunters, who surrounded them and looked where Iron Arrow pointed. A box-shaped wagon pulled by a team of mules crossed the prairie a hundred yards or so away. The lantern suspended above the two men on its seat swung back and forth, and a sign hanging from the wagon’s side bore white men’s writing.

“White men,” said Whitehorse.

“No,” Iron Arrow told Whitehorse. “One is a white man. The other is dark, like Blackwolf. Come. We’ll talk to them, see if they have anything we want.” After kicking the others awake, he mounted his horse.

“Remember our father’s warning against disturbing the peace with the white men,” Caleb reminded his brother.

Iron Arrow resented Caleb’s orders so much, he usually did the opposite of them. And though he hated the whites, he would not disobey the commands of their father, the war chief Red Sky. But Caleb could only demand so much of the hunting party. Even though the young warriors acknowledged Caleb as the greatest hunter among them, they favored Iron Arrow over him. He could not talk them out of meeting the white men, and he was curious himself, so he rode out to intercept them with Iron Arrow and the others.

When the driver saw the eight young Indians approach, he halted the team. He must have seen the rifle Iron Arrow held across his horse’s withers and the weapons of the others, including Caleb, who left his rifle in its scabbard.

The driver was a portly, middle-aged man dressed in a frayed suit with a string necktie. The other wore work clothes and a rumpled hat. The driver grinned at the Indians nervously. The moonlight shone on his sweaty face, which he dabbed at with a bandana. The other man looked apprehensive but resigned, as though he expected the worst from the Indians.

“Howdy, fellers,” said the driver. “Do any of y’all talk English?”

“I do,” said Iron Arrow, “And my brother here.” He indicated Caleb.

“Your brother?” said the other man in surprise. And to Caleb, “But you’re a Black man like me, though not as dark.”

“I am his half-brother,” said Caleb.

“I swan,” said the Black man. “Half Negro and half Injun, huh? What’re you doing with these fellers?”

“We are hunting,” said Caleb.

“Why you on our land?” asked Iron Arrow. “Stagecoach road over there.” He pointed to the west.

The white man continued to force a smile. “Just passing through. It’s a shortcut. We figgered y’all’ud be asleep.” He looked behind him nervously. Whitehorse and two others had climbed into the open back of the wagon to ransack its contents. “I’m a doctor, y’see. We sell elixirs to people along the frontier to keep ’em healthy and entertain ’em with music and jokes.”

Iron Arrow frowned at Caleb, who was better at English. “Lickser?”

Caleb shrugged and shook his head, also unsure what an elixir was.

The doctor said, “Don’t worry none. We’ll go straight to the stagecoach road and won’t bother nothin’ or nobody.”

Iron Arrow told the Black man, “I will have that rifle beside you and the pistols you two carry.”

When the guard hesitated, Iron Arrow raised his Winchester so the butt rested before him and its barrel pointed up so it could be brought into play in seconds. The Black man quickly gathered the weapons and passed them across the driver to one of Iron Arrow’s men, who had ridden up to accept them.

“Holsters and belts, too,” said Caleb. The man quickly complied.

Whitehorse returned from the rear of the wagon with two handfuls of small bottles. “What are these?” he asked Iron Arrow. When he didn’t get an answer, he looked at the men in the wagon. “Should we kill them?”

“No!” said Caleb emphatically.

Whitehorse continued to look at Iron Arrow for direction until, after a surreptitious glance at Caleb, Iron Arrow said, “No, and bring the others from the wagon.” Then, looking back at the driver, “Go, but if I see you on our land again, your scalps will hang from my lance, and while you die, your bodies will feed the coyotes and buzzards.”

They needed no further encouragement to urge the team on. They had probably heard how Comanches staked their prisoners out on their backs facing the sun with their eyelids removed.

Whitehorse signaled for his companions to return from inside the wagon.

Caleb sat his horse with the others until the wagon disappeared before returning to the camp, riding beside Iron Arrow. When Iron Arrow stopped and looked behind them, Caleb did too, only to see Whitehorse and the others who had been with him in the wagon drinking the liquid from the bottles they had taken.

“You fools,” Iron Arrow admonished them. “You know better than to eat or drink any foul thing the white man possesses.” He rode back to Whitehorse and smacked the nearly empty pint bottle from his hand. “Look what their whiskey that you drink like water does to you.”

Whitehorse frowned at him. “There was some left in that bottle. It tasted putrid but made me feel so good, all the way to my fingertips.”

“I don’t care if it was all the way to your ass,” fumed Iron Arrow. “They feed you that offal so you’ll fight like little girls when they attack you.” He wheeled and continued back toward their camp.

As they neared it, Caleb looked back when he heard groans behind them. Whitehorse had dismounted and knelt with his fellow wagon raiders to vomit.

“Ignore them,” said Iron Arrow. “If the white man’s poison kills them, they won’t live to father more fools like them.”

~   ~   ~

The first gleam of sunlight touched the eastern sky as the itinerant medicine wagon reached the stagecoach road.

“Safe from them savages at last,” said the doctor. “If they didn’t fuck up the inside of the wagon too bad, I can catch a few winks before we get to Wheat Ridge. Then we’ll give them folks a show and a helluva deal on patent medicines tonight, huh, Nate?”

“Yessir, Dr. Wilson. I think I got the back of the wagon straightened up enough for you to get your rest. They didn’t steal or destroy much stuff, just took a few bottles of laudanum.”

The doctor cackled and slapped his thigh. “Them dumb Injuns’ll guzzle that shit like it was sarsaparilla, not knowing it’s a tincture of opium mixed with alcohol. Then they’ll puke and shit themselves blind. Wish I was there to see ’em.”

“That prob’ly wouldn’t be too healthy for us, sir.”

“Most likely not. Why don’t you pull up by that sycamore tree in the field yonder and feed and rub down the mules? Then let’s get some shut-eye.”

“Sounds good, sir.” Nate would place his blanket beneath the wagon before he did his chores so he wouldn’t disturb his boss after he finished.

Chapter Two

Late the next morning, after killing a deer, the hunting party returned to the Comanche village, Caleb and Iron Arrow riding at the head of the group.

Iron Arrow said, “You must be surprised I didn’t let Whitehorse kill those men in the wagon, especially the pale one.”

“You would have if you thought Father wouldn’t find out,” said Caleb.

“If there had been more of the whites, I would have killed them anyhow, to enjoy toying with them, hearing them scream while killing them slowly. It didn’t seem worth bringing on war to slay just two. Had there been eight or ten, though…”

“Even two would have brought the bluecoats. Eight or ten would have brought more.”

Iron Arrow waved that problem away with his hand. “Pah. The sooner we start killing the bluecoats and all the others, the sooner we get our land back and let the buffalo return. We’re braver and better warriors than the white men.”

“But they are as numerous as leaves on the trees. They come in ever greater numbers. We will never prevail over—”

“Those are the words of a woman or a coward,” insisted Iron Arrow. “Our father will soon step down as war chief and favors me to follow him. When he led our warriors in the Midwinter Revenge,’ what the whites call the ‘Christmas Massacre,’ he should have finished them off. When I become war chief, I’ll show you how we pluck the leaves from the trees and stomp on them.”

“If Red Sky had done that,” said Caleb, “I would not be here now.”

“That’s right. Instead of bringing you to Topsannah, he would have bashed your little brains out.” Iron Arrow laughed.

Knowing his brother’s rising temper could make him difficult to manage, Caleb didn’t mention that Red Sky had also given Iron Arrow to Topsannah. As one so different from the other boys, Caleb had a lot of experience defending himself from the bullying by Iron Arrow and the others, even the older ones. It helped that he was bigger and stronger than most of them. But he was tired of fighting them, and now they, as well as Iron Arrow, left him alone.

They rode in silence from the oak and hickory forest up the slope and through the aspens and scrub oaks to the open prairie of Spring Meadows, where the tribe’s horses grazed and the tipis appeared in the distance.

Iron Arrow spoke again, to the others as well as Caleb, with the fierce, fey smile that meant his anger remained. “I don’t hate everything about white people.” He raised his Winchester and slapped the holster of the revolver taken from the wagon’s driver strapped around his waist. “I love the weapons they give us.”

Then he kicked his horse’s sides and sped away from the group to be the first to reach the village.

Caleb and the others approached the ring of tipis at a regular pace and joined the crowd that had formed around Iron Arrow as he dismounted. The young maiden Lightfoot stood closest to him, speaking urgently. Caleb stopped his horse beside Iron Arrow’s and asked her, “What is it, Lightfoot?”

Always somewhat intimidated by Iron Arrow, she turned to Caleb and said, “It’s your mother, Topsannah. She has the coughing sickness that makes even strong people weak. Standing Bear can do nothing to ease her pain.”

“But she was fine when we left,” said Caleb as he dismounted. He ran to his mother’s tipi and entered it, followed by Iron Arrow.

The interior was dark and smelled of sickness. His mother lay wrapped in a buffalo robe without moving, with even her face covered. Always a petite woman, she had nevertheless been sturdy in his childhood but now lay shriveled and as small as a child.

The shaman, Standing Bear, squatting near Topsannah, stood. “You boys must leave. Topsannah has the coughing sickness. She is asleep now.”

“But she’s our mother,” said Caleb.

“No one may see her,” said Standing Bear. “Anyone near her can become infected.”

It occurred to Caleb that if Comanche medicine could not help his mother, perhaps that of the white man would. “Tell me what it does to her.”

“You think you can cure her if I can’t?” Like so many of the tribe, the shaman didn’t care for Caleb because of his dark skin and his kinky hair.

“Of course not. But tell me so I can understand.” And tell the white doctor, he thought but did not voice to the others.

Caleb’s height and quiet determination intimidated the shrunken old shaman a little. He said, “She coughs up yellow or sometimes bloody phlegm, has a fever, or at times the opposite—bone-shaking chills. Sharp pains hurt her chest when she coughs.”

Caleb nodded and turned away. He picked up the old hat he had worn when Red Sky found him and stepped outside. Perhaps when he visited the whites, it would make them friendlier toward him.

Iron Arrow, following him, said, “Don’t do something foolish.”

“What are you doing?” came Red Sky’s voice behind Caleb.

He turned to face the glaring war chief, the only warrior as tall as Caleb. They had been enemies from the beginning of their relationship.

Caleb said, “I must do something to help my mother.”

“Standing Bear said nothing can be done to help her,” said Iron Arrow.

“None of his medicine could, but maybe there’s another way.”

“As your father,” said Red Sky, “I forbid you from trying one of your foolish notions.”

“You’re my father only because you plucked me up from the snow in Wheat Ridge twenty years ago. Topsannah is my mother because she raised me instead of letting you set me out on the prairie for the coyotes like you wanted to. So I owe her, not you.”

Red Sky could not forbid Caleb to do what he planned as his father now that Caleb was a man, but he could as chief, so Caleb had to flee before Red Sky knew what he planned.

Iron Arrow followed him. “If you’re going to do something to make our father angry, let me help you. You’re not the only one he abandoned.”

“I know.” One of the few things Caleb and Iron Arrow shared was their hatred of Red Sky and their love of Topsannah.

Caleb mounted his horse. “I’m not doing it to make him mad but to save our mother.”

He rode quickly across the meadow. Since he wouldn’t be welcome in the white man’s town of Wheat Ridge to look for a doctor, he would have to go elsewhere. That meant the doctor’s wagon he and the hunters had confronted. It would take him a couple of hours to reach the place where they had seen it. Then he could follow the wagon’s trail from there until he found it.

He waited until he was out of sight of the tipis to put the hat on. His people would not like to see him wearing a white man’s garment. Inside the hat’s brim was the writing that the white men used. Topsannah had taught him what some of the symbols meant. They seemed needlessly complex to Caleb compared to the pictographs used by his people, however, because he had told her the hat belonged to his father, she’d said the writing might depict his father’s name. He would love to know it but had never known a white person well enough to ask them to tell him its meaning.

~   ~   ~

Amelia Horne collected plants, especially the rare ones of the high plains. She did not take them home to wither and die in a flowerpot or between a book’s pages but brought them alive within her sketch pad. On that fine spring day, she packed her notebook, sketch pad, botanists’ handbook, and colored pencils in one saddlebag and a lunch in the other, and saddled her mare Penelope for a day’s outing.

Soon, she and Penny left Wheat Ridge behind. They passed between the farms and fields that surrounded the town and gave it its name. Finding a patch of grassland between the fields, she turned off the road. After she had gone so far that the road looked like a faint line in the grass, she dismounted and moved by foot, leaning over to examine the ground while loosely holding Penny’s reins. But she made sure she hadn’t strayed far from town. Though peace with the Comanches had lasted for almost two decades, some of the younger braves caused mischief when they found the opportunity.

Her prey that day was the illusive, beautiful false guara, or Oenothera guacifolia. Having never seen one when she had her sketchbook along, that day, she hoped to capture one in all its fragile beauty. She kept Penelope a safe distance behind her to prevent her hooves from destroying that or any other precious find.

She longed to know the scientific basis for wildlife. She tried not to think of the snide smiles of those, including the swains seeking her hand in marriage, smirking that girls were not qualified to be botanists or any other kind of scientist. Nor her father’s annoying arguments: “You’re too beautiful to be a scientist or to deny marriage to some lucky young man. Be satisfied to draw your pictures and find some wealthy fellow who will gladly be at your beck and call. There’s that young lawyer, Gavin Drury, who…”

But she forgave him for his uncharitable thoughts. Her father was a kindly man who had suffered so from his injuries and trauma from the Christmas Massacre and gave such tender care to his patients.

Though Amelia saw common guaras aplenty, the false guara failed to appear. But some distance ahead, she saw a groundnut (Apios americana), a scarce and attractive little plant in its own right. She had a couple of drawings of groundnuts, but this one was of an unusual shape and a brighter color, so she sat down beside it, spread out her skirt pants, and began to draw.

Eventually, she noticed the sun had passed its zenith. How the time had flown! It was past lunchtime.

When she stood to get her sandwich out of the saddlebag, she noticed a gray shape’s slight wriggle in the tall grass. It resembled a dog preparing to launch itself toward its prey. And beyond it in the grass, was that another gray dog?

When the nearest one stood, she saw that it was a wolf, rare in this part of Colorado Territory. Her heart pounded. The other one also rose. And then others. Some had blood on their muzzles. And they stood between her and Wheat Ridge.

Too late, she regretted not bringing the revolver her father had given her to bring on her forays.

Fighting panic, she forgot about her sandwich, thrust her sketch pad and pencils into the saddlebag, and concentrated on mounting Penelope. Unlike Amelia, the mare did not fight her panic. She pranced around in circles, wild-eyed, while Amelia put a foot in one stirrup, spoke gently to her, and danced about trying to throw her other leg over the saddle.

She somehow succeeded in swinging into the saddle just as the wolves sprang from their grassy hideouts and bounded toward her. Penelope needed no encouragement to flee, and Amelia had no choice but to ride away from Wheat Ridge. The distance between her and the wolves gradually widened, but Amelia knew the mare could not continue at that speed for as long as needed. And her life depended on how long Penny could keep ahead of them.

Turning Penelope in a great arc to the left would eventually lead to the town. As that drew her ever nearer to Wheat Ridge, though oh-so-gradually, the wolves continued to fall farther behind. We’re going to make it, girl! she reassured Penelope, patting the side of her neck.

They crested a hill formed by one of the great folds in the prairie. Below lay the stagecoach road, and beyond it, under a tree in a field, sat a wagon with a square, boxed-in bed like a van that appeared abandoned. Even the horses that had pulled it were missing. If she reached it, she could climb to its top and let Penelope run free.

As Penelope started down the slope, she stumbled and fell to her knees, throwing Amelia out of the saddle. Amelia leaped to her feet, shaken but not hurt, to find the frightened horse racing away, already nearly to the road.

She couldn’t see the wolves for the hill but could hear them running through the grass. Knowing she would only be safe on top of the wagon, she raced down the rest of the slope and across the road. She couldn’t take the time to look in the wolves’ direction, but the sound of their slavering and panting told her they had appeared over the hill’s crest. The van hadn’t been deserted after all. A man lay near it and another farther away in the field, both so severely mutilated she avoided looking closely at them. They didn’t seem to be armed.

As she closed on the wagon, she heard the wolves’ paws scrabbling across the gravel of the road behind her. A sign like one on a carnival or circus wagon hung down from the van’s side.

She leaped and clutched the sign’s top just as jaws closed on her left boot. Feeling her fingers slipping from their precarious hold, she kicked at the wolf’s head with her right boot as hard as she could. And again, and again, until she felt the creature fall away. Then, using her hands and scrabbling feet to climb farther up the sign, she moved high enough to throw an elbow and forearm over the top of the wagon.

She hung there for a moment, taking in great gulps of air while the wolves barked and leaped below. Feeling powerful jaws snap at her boot again gave her the impetus to pull with her hand and forearm until she lay, panting and spent, on the van’s roof.

After she felt brave enough, she peered over the side of the wagon at the dangerous growling and leaping creatures below. She counted six. Seeming resolute in waiting for her descent, they roamed back and forth or hunkered down to watch her. The two younger ones, who seemed not much older than pups, sparred playfully. The largest one—the alpha male, she wondered?—lay apart from the others.

She still couldn’t bring herself to look at the ravaged men. She wondered if the wolves had murdered them. If so, they apparently hadn’t eaten their fill since they now seemed intent on devouring her. She thought she had heard wolves only hunted for food, not for “sport” as humans did.

She again thought of the revolver her father had given her. She never had taken it because he had told her it would serve as protection from Indian renegades. A poor marksman, she figured she would only anger a young Indian miscreant by firing the weapon at him and missing. Besides, there was no longer any danger from Indians after twenty years—her dad had overreacted from the trauma he’d sustained in the Christmas Massacre.

She looked up and down the road. Travelers would appear sooner or later. Of course, she would also settle for a nice plump deer or antelope happening along just then to distract the wolves.

“Revenge of the Comanche Son” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Raised by the Comanches yet haunted by his mixed heritage, Caleb Blackwolf finds his search for identity disrupted when his adoptive mother and tribe’s matriarch falls gravely ill. Desperate, he ventures into the town of Wheat Ridge, seeking a cure, but finds himself embroiled in a deadly conflict that threatens to erase his past and future.

Can Caleb navigate the dangerous path that lies ahead?

Amelia Horne, a woman ahead of her time, yearns for knowledge and freedom in a society that seeks to bind her. Her encounter with Caleb, a man torn between two worlds, ignites a spark of curiosity and an unlikely alliance. As Caleb battles to save his mother and his tribe from destruction, Amelia confronts her own demons, challenging the very foundations of Wheat Ridge.

Will Amelia’s courage be enough to forge a new destiny?

Amidst the chaos, a forbidden love blossoms, offering a glimmer of hope. But with enemies on all sides and a legacy of betrayal shadowing their every step, Caleb and Amelia face a crucial decision that will define their future…

“Revenge of the Comanche Son” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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