Show Time

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Aedan looked at the note passed to him along with the photo on the beach then looked back up to verify the address. He knew he was on the correct street. Now he stood in front of a movie theater. There was nothing on either side that looked like a better place to meet someone so he accepted this was the correct place but now what?

The bus ride back to Havana was without incident though he had stayed out in the sun a bit too long and his burned back refused to let him get comfortable during the entire trip. It was a 15 minute walk from the bus station to where he now found himself excluding a stop for a bite to eat along the way. Similarly, it was now fifteen minutes before 9pm when he was supposed to meet…somebody.

The theater looked as though it were pulled from the 1950s and stranded in that time. It was clean, well lit and according to the sign, showing only one movie which happened to start at 9pm. Operating under the assumption that whomever had asked to meet him here wasn’t planning on meeting on the street, Aedan joined the line to purchase a ticket.

Ten minutes later Aedan was handing his ticket to the smartly dressed young man controlling access to the single movie room. Once inside the room he was only slightly surprised to see the condition of the room. It was fresh and clean if a bit small compared to what he was used to but it also looked comfortable despite the smell of cigarette smoke. There was a decent crowd of people already inside but still plenty of seats available. He chose on that was in a more sparse area which happened to be near the back.

Aedan took his time sitting. He knew he was walking a fine line between being visible to the person he was meeting while attempting to not be too conspicuous to anybody else. He estimated that if their meeting wasn’t supposed to be quiet, it would have been in a different place but nor did he want to sit in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Once he was sitting and comfortable, there was little else to do but wait for the movie to begin. Wait to be contacted. He scanned the crowd around him but saw nobody that appeared to be paying any attention to him.

At 9pm the lights dimmed and the screen came to life. Aedan mused at the lack of commercials he was used to seeing for 15 minutes before a movie. He also mused that smoking was permitted here and hoped it didn’t get too heavy while he was there.

For the next 10 minutes Aedan focused on trying to keep up with the movie with his very limited grasp of Spanish while simultaneously maintaining an awareness of his surroundings. His attention switched back completely to his surroundings when there was movement and whispers in the aisle behind him. He turned slightly to see a young couple passing behind him and continuing to the center of the aisle.

As he contemplated his actions and how much longer he would wait, a masculine voice spoke quietly into his right ear “Don’t turn around, Mr. Charron. Don’t draw any attention to us.”

Aedan nodded slowly and whispered back “Of course, though maybe we could have met at a different..”

“No, this is fine. We’ll talk more later. Right now I just want to give you this. At 10pm tonight you will receive an email with more information about the contents.”

Aedan felt a tap on his upper right arm and without turning, reached to blindly accept what was being handed to him.  It was a small envelope. He took it and slipped it into his pocket. “I’d like to ask some questions after making the trip all the way down here.”

The man quickly responded. “Not here. Not until after you have read the email.”

The journey that brought Aedan to Cuba began with an email from a generic looking email address. After digesting the significance of that first email, he first wondered how anybody outside the legal system obtained his work address. That remained a mystery to him. That this person that he still hadn’t seen implied that he knew the address was now assuring to him that he wasn’t being lead on some wild goose hunt.

Still, there was some lingering doubt. “Can you at least tell me who I am speaking to?” 

“Good night Mr. Charron. Don’t forget to look for that email” 

The sound of the man standing and walking away before Aedan could get in another word was unmistakable. The temptation to turn and get a look at the man passed quickly. Obviously the man was concerned about being seen and with the envelope now in his pocket, whatever it might go to, Aedan too felt more pressure to be discreet.

For fifteen minutes he watched the screen but barely heard a word as his mind raced. He had hoped to have some answers after this meeting. He was promised something for the case he was trying and all he had now was a small envelope. It’s contents were as yet unknown to him.. What he did know that he had lost the plot of the movie but had thirty minutes to kill and this was as good a place as any to see it pass.

While watching the movie, like a kid Aedan slipped his hand into his pocket and squeezed the envelope between his fingers looking for a clue to it’s contents.  It was unmistakable. Inside the envelope was a key but to what He didn’t know.

 

As Aedan left the theater, the key in his pocket seemed to gain weight. He scrutinized each face that he saw looking at him. He was looking for something familiar or for some hint that they were aware of what he now carried but to his relief he saw none.

He guessed that the walk back to his room would take more than twenty minutes which would have him knocking at the door just when he would be expecting the email about the key.  Not knowing what to expect when the door opened or from the email, Aedan stopped for a drink at a place along the beach.

Right on queue, the waitress brought his drink right when his phone beeped.  He pulled it from his pocket and checked the time. His phone read 10:01pm. He recognized the sending email address as the same that he had been communicating with and eagerly opened it.

The email left him with more questions than answers.  It contained a website address with instructions to click on the link. It went on to explain that clicking on the link would identify his phone and nothing more.  The website would not be accessible to him until he left the country and would now respond only to his phone and no other device.

With everything work related achieved that could be at this time, Aedan set the phone down in front of him and picked up his drink.  A quick inventory of the people around him returned happy faces. The live band was backed by the sound of crashing waves and the moon was just rising above the horizon to light the night sky. The rest of his time in Cuba would be the vacation he had been waiting for. The rest would wait for him.

Waiting

Waiting
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From the street below, Aedan heard the sounds of glass bottles crashing upon each other. It had grown from a barely discernible ringing and clanging up until now when it seemed to be directly below him. From the rhythmic repetition he guessed it was trash pickup day though he hadn’t heard the telltale stops and starts of a large truck as he might in Seattle. In fact he had heard no vehicle what must have been three stops prior to now.

Aedan had been laying there for at least thirty minutes now. Perhaps closer to an hour  He had always been a morning person and a few late drinks with the family that put him up wasn’t going to change that. Nor did the previous evening’s gathering seem to hold anybody else back.  From the comfort of his bed, Aedan listened to the banter around breakfast and subsequent opening and closing of the front door as a new day set in.  

Today would be Aedan’s first full day in Havana and the day was completely unscripted until 9pm. At 9pm he was expected to be at the address on the note that was handed to him. He was filled with anticipation because the real purpose of his stay in Havana was to gather more information about a case he was in charge of back in Seattle. However, the circumstances of this evening’s meeting were concerning. He didn’t know the person he was supposed to meet. He hadn’t been on the radar and the stranger made the first move by contacting him a month ago, promising to have important information while dropping just enough bread crumbs to get Aedan on the plane. The man insisted that he would meet only with Aedan.

Of course, Aedan couldn’t know for certain that the note given to him came from his contact. He didn’t know the man. He didn’t know why he insisted on meeting Aedan. He did know that the circumstances around the hat, though unlikely, seemed to go as planned and that he had worn it nearly every moment he had been outside. To get the answers he was seeking, he would be there though with an abundance of caution.

No longer hearing voices and the clanging of glass on glass, Aedan swung his feet to the floor, stood and stretched then headed for the shower.

With only a towel wrapped around him, Aedan stepped out of the bathroom with a toothbrush busy in his mouth.  More than once had he been told that he would wear the enamel off his teeth because he brushed for too long. Little did it deter him from following a set pattern of brushing that he had done since he was a kid. Then he couldn’t brush enough and with each cavity filled he was told he needed to brush more. Now it was just an old habit that he would walk around for an easy 5 minutes brushing. 

Seeing a note that had apparently been pushed under the door, he retrieved it. It was from Ms. Fernandez letting him know that she had to leave but there was fruit on the cabinet and food in the refrigerator for his picking.  The fruit might come in handy as he was contemplating taking a Guagas, or bus to a beach away from Havana. His evening plans were set but he had a full day to explore and walking the streets of Havana once again today wasn’t high on his list.

Thirty minutes later, Aedan was floating down the stairs, dressed for the beach. Passing through the kitchen he happily grabbed a couple pieces of fruit and put them in his bag for later, added a short note of gratitude to the back of Ms. Fernandez’s note and mentioned that he expected to be out late that evening then set it on the counter. He was headed to one of the beaches that she had recommended, some place off the beaten trail and away from the tourist rush.

The two hour bus ride along the northern coast out of Havana reminded him of how surreal this entire trip had been. Nearing the bus ride he had heard not a single word of English since an older couple stepped off the bus in Matanzas 30 minutes ago. He might have  been more anxious had Ms. not been so helpful with suggestions and detailed directions. When the bus driver called out “Veradaro” Aedan knew this was the end of the line for this route and gathered his bag and hat. 

As the bus pulled into the terminal Aedan glanced at the map Ms. Fernandez had marked up for him and plotted his path to the rental shop less than three blocks away.  Thirty minutes later, he was on the bike and headed toward the Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos. There were shuttles and taxis that would have taken him there faster but they would go right past the spot recommended to him and even then he would need to walk another 25 minutes. The bicycle was a perfect answer and would leave his options open.

The ride to the beach took a bit longer than expected. Not because Ms. had given him bad directions but because Aedan was engrossed in the sights all the way to the beach. He stopped several times to more fully appreciate what he was seeing.  He had all afternoon and no reason to rush as long as he was back to catch the 6pm bus back to Havana. It was barely after noon when he found the head of the trail to the beach and dismounted the bike.  

From the trail, Aedan could hear the waves breaking on the shore and nothing else beside the occasional traffic on the highway nearly one half mile away..  As he pushed the bike down the trail toward the roar of breaking waves, they grew louder and drowned out all other sounds. It was exactly what he had asked for.

Once he had reached the beach, Aedan used the cable provided with the bike and locked it to a palm tree. With the sun so bright, he removed his shirt and tossed it into the bag he brought with him which also contained water, towels, fruit and a book he had been toting around for months but had not yet started. He looked both directions up the near empty beach then opted to go east, away from the city with the hope that he would be less likely to find large crowds.

For thirty minutes Aedan walked the beach, inspecting interesting shells in the sand, trying to not disturb wading birds following the water line in and out, looking for anything interesting to photograph on his phone…simply enjoying the solitude and wonder around him.  Once he decided he had gone far enough, it didn’t take long to find a spot that appealed to him. The sand was white and the water had taken on more of a blue tint as he neared the river that fed into the ocean.

Aedan opened his bag and pulled the folded towel from the top of it. It was a huge beach towel that he laid down on the sand and then sat on the edge to wipe the sand from his feet before moving up. This would be the perfect spot to contemplate the upcoming evening or read or just close his eyes and again consider all that had happened to him since leaving on this trip though the latter he tried to avoid because it left him in an odd state of mind which he had no time for with the planned meeting with whom he hoped to be a valuable informant.

Over the next hour, Aedan actually managed to read the first chapter of the book he had brought, had called his assistant Cathy to let her know of his planned meeting that evening and went into the water several times to cool off. He had turned back to his book and had become lost in the plot when he detected motion in his periphery.

The number of people on the beach was sparse enough that nearly every person that crossed his field of view got his attention momentarily. Now approaching from the east came a woman wearing a black sun hat and matching sorang. The long blonde hair beneath the hat was the first thing that struck him. She seemed oblivious to the hair in her face as she walked slowly with her head down and stopping frequently to dig shells out of the sand.  She seemed to be in her own world and gave no indication that she even saw Aedan as she walked past him. Her hair and demeanor were similar to the woman from the diner but he couldn’t see her face and he reasoned that the chance of running into the same person at this remote location was slim and yet he had to know.

“It’s a lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” Aedan spoke up before she got out of range to hear him.

She looked up from the sand and back over her shoulder at him.  Aedan could now see that in fact it was the same woman. She looked at him puzzled at first but slowly an expression of recognition spread across her face.

“Hey there. Didn’t I see you in Havana?“ she responded with a smile.

In the thirty minutes that followed, Aedan and Noel had a relaxed and friendly conversation. He learned that Noel had come from California to Cuba to explore the possibility of a business partnership with the friend of a family member. She had also come to Matanzas to find a quiet place that was still easily accessible to tourists and was looking at a place later that evening after dinner with her friend. He learned enough to know that he’d like to talk to her again but she was guarded with her phone number and where she was staying. She did however take his number and indicated that she would contact him when she got back to Havana in a couple of days. Perhaps they could meet again then.

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana

On The Beach

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana
Walking the beaches of Havana
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“May I take your dishes, senor?” 

Aedan looked up from the tourist guide he was reading to the friendly smile of the waitress.

“Yes….si!”  He corrected himself, leaned back and held the flyer against his chest as he endeavored to stay out of her way. She asked about refilling his glass of tea but he declined. He had finished his meal some time ago and then leisurely sipped his glass while looking for places to visit. The little ice she had scraped up to put in his glass had melted some time ago and he was now ready to start exploring again.

He gazed curiously at the woman in the booth adjacent to him.  She too had wrapped herself up reading while she ate and never looked at him again. A glance from here would have been enough for him to try to engage in small talk with her but it never came. Even as he gathered his tourist fliers and stood, she remained engrossed in what she was reading.

He observed the man sitting near the door looking his way a couple times. Each time Aedan caught him looking, the man looked away and turned back to the paper he held before him.

While paying his bill at a vintage cash register at the end of the bar, Aedan asked the waitress about things to see that might not be so popular for tourists. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and seeing more of the authentic side of Havana, the less crowded beaches. She happily pointed out a few places and marked their location on the map that he was carrying. 

Closing the door behind him, Aedan quickly realized that though it wasn’t especially cool inside the diner, it was much more pleasant than the heat and humidity that pounced upon him now. He wasted no time in donning the straw hat he had purchased earlier that day, looked to his map then, with his goal in mind set out to find it. 

He planned to be in Havana for a week so there was no need to see everything today. What he really wanted today was to feel the sand between his toes, hear the crashing of waves on the beach and to feel the ocean breeze. The waitress had told him that the beach near where he was staying was indeed a popular place for tourists but it would also leave him but a few steps away from his room and the long day was catching up with him. 

Aedan stopped at a couple stores along his path. There were a few things that interested him but not enough to buy anything…nothing beyond a new shirt which seemed much more fitting for the weather.  The shirt also better matched the hat which he was quickly becoming fond of.

Thirty minutes later Aedan felt the caress of the warm carribean water on his feet. The breaking of waves drowned out the traffic noise on the street above the beach.  It mostly drowned out the yelling and laughing of children and teenagers. Aedan was again alone with his thoughts and it felt good.

He walked along the edge of the water for thirty minutes before turning around. The sun was well into its decline by now and the hottest part of the day was past making the return trip even more enjoyable.

Between watching the small birds staying ahead of him while simultaneously zig-zagging  and forth to stay at the edge of breaking waves and watching hermit crabs run for cover as he approached, Aedan found himself thinking about the events of the last couple days again.  He had now become quite comfortable in his younger body but he knew there would be explanations needed when he returned home.The notion that this was all a dream had faded away. It was much easier to not think about the return home for now and so he didn’t.  To take his mind off of that as he walked, he gave some time thinking about Louise and if he should follow up to learn more about her story and what he should do if he was right about his suspicions. Surely they were just coincidences but then he was certain about nothing anymore.

“Senor, senor!”  Aedan hadn’t even heard the voice until he felt someone tugging on his hand. Bringing himself back to the present, he looked down to see a young boy walking beside him.  The boy was holding in his other hand a photograph. Around his neck was an old polaroid instamatic camera. 

The boy held the photo up for Aedan to see. It was of him walking the beach, alone. From his cursory glance, Aedan saw nothing special about the photograph and he attempted to wave the boy off. In previous trips, Aedan had experienced the onslaught of merchants attempting to sell their wares to tourists. He had a distinct memory of being surrounded by half a dozen boys of similar age trying to sell him something.  When he refused to buy it, the boys moved in and began reaching for his pockets and tugging at his clothes. Bewildered and outnumbered, he tried to defend himself by pushing them away but there were too many. Fortunately for him, Aedan spotted a policeman on a corner and moved directly toward him. The officer did nothing but watch but as Aedan got closer the boys did break up and leave.

Aedan looked around and saw no other kids paying attention. He saw no police. Giving in to the unavoidable with the hope that the boy would go his own way, Aedan took the picture from him and reaching into his pocket, retrieved a couple pesos that he handed to the boy who seemed more than please. With a huge smile and intense brown eyes the boy thanked Aedan and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Aedan continued walking as he looked at the picture, trying to determine from where it was taken. While studying the photo, he felt something attached to the back. He flipped it over to find a white post-it note stuck to it.  In english, the note simply said “Tomorrow at 9pm “ and went on to provide an address. Nothing else.

Immediately, Aedan stopped and looked back for the boy. He was gone. He scanned in all directions around him but found nobody that grabbed his attention. Nobody was staring back at him.

The sun had just set when Aedan knocked on the door of the house that he was staying at. He heard several voices inside including that of the woman that had led him to his room earlier that day. She opened the door with a friendly smile. “Mr. Charron, please come in. There is still some food left if you’re hungry..”

Aedan politely turned down the offer but did accept the invitation to join them for a drink before heading to his room.  

Though the conversation was entirely in spanish and Aedan struggled to follow along, he was able to keep up enough to join the others in laughter. On the occasion that he was totally lost somebody would do their best to explain it to him. There is much to be said for the closeness and comradery displayed in cultures that are lacking in monetary wealth.  Of course, there are similar situations in the US but there is something unique about experiencing that in cultures other than our own.

An hour turned into two. When Aedan finally said goodnight and headed to his room, he was extremely relaxed. He hadn’t had a rum and coke for years…tonight he had two cubatas and he was feeling it.

The Diner

Aedan finally finds a place to eat.
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Aedan stepped out of the store and into the bright sunshine. Of course he had been there less than a day so the newness of it all still embraced him. There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the hat he had just purchased though. It was the typical ‘Cuban fedora’ that he had seen on so many while walking the streets.  The brim was rolled down in the front to better block the sun. He wondered to himself if it would block rain as well.

Around the hat ran a band of leatherette – at least he hoped it was leatherette since he would not normally purchase anything using real leather.  He had little choice in this matter though. The instructions were passed to him without a chance to question anything. Presently, he was more concerned about wearing the hat because it was certainly meant to identify him. It was the only way to meet the contact that he had come to Havana to meet.

He flipped that hat over and examined the inside band. One side of the band was the same material but it was sewn to a plastic backing. This pleased him that is was probably leatherette.  He looked closely for any sign of tampering…for anything that looked out of place but he found nothing. After several moments of analyzing the hat he was satisfied that there was no electronic device attached to it.

As he slid his head into the hat he was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit perfectly without adjusting the strap. He wondered if this was a lucky guess or if the person he was meeting actually knew his hat size and if so, what else was known?

The relief from the sun provided by the hat was nearly instantaneous. It didn’t take long to figure out why they are so popular here though he guessed that he had paid a premium as a tourist. Though he noticed plenty of people staring at him, often children and younger people, he reasoned that to his being a foreigner which was not something he could hide.  It wasn’t just his blondish hair or inability to speak coherent Spanish but even his clothes seemed out of place. He mused to himself that the hat might have been overkill if anybody were looking for him.

For two hours he walked the streets of Havana. He wandered through stores of all types but was turned away when trying to purchase a souvenier to take home. The merchant would not accept his American currency but did draw him a map to a bank to exchange his dollars for pesos. After a second merchant also refused to accept his cash, he pondered that the old man with the hat must have been expecting him…of course he was!

Along the path to the bank, Aedan remembered he hadn’t really eaten yet today and began paying more attention to the restaurants. He didn’t have much hope of seeing ‘Vegana’ pasted to any windows but still he could hope.  He spotted one advertising fish and BBQ attached to a fresh produce market and noted the location in case he needed to return. If they had could prepare nothing he would eat, he would just eat it raw. It’s something he had been considering anyway. Perhaps this would be the push he needed.

The bank was a grand building that took an entire city block. Upon entering the front door, the high ceilings and inornate classical decorations were beautiful to gaze upon. Some seemed to be in pristine condition while others showed signs of actively being restored or badly needing restoration. Like so much he had seen today,  the Cuban people are doing wonders with what little they have to work with. Throughout his day, he found them to be extremely hospitable and friendly. He nearly forgot he was wearing a target on his head.

The teller in the bank was no different. She began speaking english as soon as it was obvious that Aedan was struggling to speak spanish. She was also quite talkative so Aedan took advantage of this and asked about places to see….places to eat. She rattled off a few near by restaurants that she highly recommended.  Some he had seen during his walk today. Others he hadn’t but the names of most of them didn’t appeal to him. Finally, he asked about vegan or vegetarian places.

“Oh! “ she rolled her eyes “you and my daughter…”   She smirked then paused to think. “You won’t find much here.  There are a few downtown but you’ll need a taxi to get there. We don’t have all the opportunities you have where you come from.  We’re happy to eat whatever we can. My daughter doesn’t go out much for that reason but she has mentioned a place a few blocks away.  They’re not vegan but they have stuff you would eat on the menu and a great salad bar”.

Aedan got the directions from here and thanked her for being so helpful and friendly before departing. On his way out of the bank it occured to him that the architecture was very similar to that in the older section of the Court House in Seattle. He guessed they might have been built around the same time…a time when Cuba was flush in foreign investment. That single decisions can lead countries – people – to such different outcomes was never more obvious to him. He mused that he was finding the people he met on the street friendlier than a walk through Seattle for the most part. Perhaps it’s easier to be friendly to strangers when one has less to be taken from them.  Of course, this isn’t unique to Cuba, he had witnessed this many times in he traveled much more in what seems like a lifetime ago, now.

With the directions he was given, Aedan found the restaurant exactly where the bank teller said he would. When he opened the door he stepped back into time. It was a diner from the 1950s. Old Chevy and Ford bumpers hung on the back wall. There were a couple he couldn’t identify.

Even before the door had closed completely, a smiling young lady met and welcomed him. There were no other customers. An older man wearing an apron sat on one of the stools at the counter, eating. He merely glanced at Aedan then continued eating. It was the middle of the afternoon and likely between any rushes if they happened.

The young woman took Aedan to a booth along the sidewall and offered him a menu as he slid onto the bench seat. He removed his hat and set it on the seat beside him then managed to ask for a glass of iced tea with lemon and ice all in Spanish. She replied negatively so quickly that he wasn’t able to decipher. The puzzled look on his face was obvious but before he could say any more she explained in english that they had run out of ice at lunch but assured him that the tea is kept in the refrigerator. They established that he needed a few moments to look through the menu and she left him to his own.

As Aedan read through the menu, occasionally translating words on his phone, another man walked in. He was a large and rather serious looking man but seemed to know the hostess as they had a few lines of friendly chatter. She pointed to a booth near Aedan but he nodded to the one nearest the door and sat down with his back to the door.

Aedan watched the interaction from the corner of his eye while trying to translate spanish to english.  He was carrying a briefcase and newspaper. The briefcase went on the seat beside him. He asked only for coffee then opened the newspaper he had brought with him.  A few more friendly words were exchanged when she poured his coffee then she returned to Aedan.

There was nothing marked ‘vegan’ on the menu but most of the dishes could be easily made so. She seemed unphased by his questions. With minimal effort he placed his order. It had been so tempting to just go for the salad but not knowing where he would eat next, he went for broke..and got a salad too  He had put on a lot of miles and the day was young. As he waited for his order, he pulled out his map to identify his location and plan the rest of his day. Before he could finish, his salad sat before him.

He was quite engrossed in the map sill before him while he ate when the door opened again. He didn’t even bother to look up until he heard a woman’s voice struggling with her spanish as he had. He looked up to see the woman dressed casually with her platinum blonde hair pulled up on her head. She and the waitress quickly broke into english as she asked for a set next to the window. The waitress advised her that it might be a bit warmer there with the sun still pouring in but she was undeterred.

Aedan tried to not stare as he listened. She was quite attractive and he could detect no accent in her voice.  Certainly she was American too. She wasn’t the only blonde he had seen all day but of the small handful he had seen, she was the first he heard speaking english.

Returning to his map plotting, Aedan continued listening to the two speak. He really had no choice made all the more difficult because it wasn’t in spanish as most of his day had been. She was indeed from the US but what got Aedan’s attention was that she was asking about meatless dinners. With her order placed, the waitress turned to Aedan and let him know in english that she was coming with his dinner next. At that, the blonde customer turned her head just enough to look at him, half smiled and then turned back straight and pulled her phone from her purse.

The man near the door was also paying attention. His eyes met Aedan’s for an instant before he looked back down to the newspaper he was reading.

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