Black Short Stories : illicit desires (part two of two)

Discussion in 'Short Stories - Authors - Writing' started by baller, Oct 12, 2011.

  1. baller

    baller Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Before he could answer, the door burst open and several officers entered the room. The one leading the way spoke as he entered. “You are under arrest for the rape of Lori Pettis.” Benjamin could only stare at him in disbelief. “You have the right to remain silent¼and you **** well better. ‘Cause, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford one, one will be appointed to you by the court.” By now, the officer was leaning over Benjamin, their faces only a few inches apart. “Boy, do you understand these rights?” He waited for Benjamin to answer but Benjamin’s mind was stuck on, “you are under arrest.” When he didn’t answer, the officer grabbed him by the front of his hospital gown. “I said, do you understand these rights?” His voice was barely audible but his tone spoke volumes of the hatred and disdain he had, either for Benjamin, in particular, or for people who did what he thought Benjamin had done, in general.

    Benjamin was terrified. His mind was racing. He hadn’t done anything, yet, they were saying he had raped someone. He knew they couldn’t be talking about the woman in the field, she started that. He only did what she wanted him to.

    “So, who is Lori Pettis¼and why would she claim I raped her?” The lady in the field had never told him her name so, having never heard it, he wondered about the name¼and the accusations.

    Lori was taken to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, in Jackson, to have a rape kit administered. During the ride, she tried to remember what she knew of a rape victim’s behavior. Now that she was on that path, she wanted to make it as believable as possible. But, as good as her performance was, she knew that, to trained examiners, her behavior still came across as contrived.

    Although the doctors found that she had been sexually active, they concluded that she had not been raped. There was none of the standard signs of forcible rape—there was no vaginal trauma, no bruising to indicate a struggle, and none of the psychological drama typically exhibited by victims in the aftermath of a rape. In their opinion, Lori had been a willing participant in her sexual activities.

    Technically, the incident happened in Itta Bena. But, because it was outside the city limits—in Leflore County—the trial was held in Greenwood, at the Leflore County Court House, as requested by the county prosecutor. It appeared that the county prosecutor didn’t have very much confidence in Itta Bena’s prosecutor’s—who was black—due diligence in prosecuting a black man for the rape of a white woman.




    On the first day of court, when Benjamin came face-to-face with his accuser, he was dumbfounded. How could this woman, who had come onto him, have accused him of this¼this¼evil thing.

    Without thinking, he stood up and pointed at her. At first, no words came out. When they did, all he could say was¼ “It’s her. It’s her.” To him, it meant that she was the woman from the field¼the one who had seduced him. What it told the jurors was that he was intimately familiar with the defendant. When she retreated, out of fear of being found out, they mistook that for fear of her life.

    The crowd was slowly working themselves into a frenzy. It was quickly becoming a mob-like atmosphere, as shouts of “Lynch him,” and “you’re dead meat, boy,” cut through the chaos of the court room. With Benjamin still pointing at the white woman, the roar only got louder. Fearing that things could get out of control, the judge ordered a recess¼and had the room cleared.

    During the recess, the Judge gave thought to having someone on trial taken from his courtroom, and killed. No matter what color they were, no one deserved to fall into the hands of a lynch mob. Calling on the governor, they made arrangements to counter that threat.

    When court reconvened, an hour later, there were armed national guardsmen stationed along the walls of the courtroom.

    “There will be no violent outburst in my courtroom,” the judge said. “Anyone doing so will be held in contempt of court, and thrown in jail. Do I make my self clear?”

    The prosecution’s case was direct, and to the point. There were a parade of policemen testifying to the validity of the plaintiff’s complaint; doctors testifying about the condition of the assailant, and the DNA match that linked him to the plaintiff, sexually; as well as the plaintiff’s account of what happened. However, when the doctor was asked, in his professional opinion, if the plaintiff had been raped, the doctor said no.

    “Although there are signs of sexual activity, it is my opinion that Ms Pettis was a willing participant in that act.”

    Benjamin’s inexperienced, court-appointed counsel, failed to inquire into this important discovery. Because of he didn’t question it, the jury was not allowed to entertain the notion that Ms Pettis may have instigated their joining.

    With nothing much to offer, defensively, the trial took only two days. After which, a panel of twelve white jurors took less than an hour to find Benjamin Long guilty of rape, in the first degree.

    The verdict was expected by everyone, including Mrs. Long—Benjamin’s mother—who ran from the courtroom as soon as the verdict was read. Benjamin thought she might be having a mental breakdown, but that wasn’t the case. She was determined to confront the woman who had done this to her boy. She would not let her get away so easily.

    Seconds seemed like hours, as she paced the hallway, staring at the courtroom door, waiting for Benjamin’s accuser to appear. She tried to control her anger but having sat through hour-upon-hour of lie-after-lie from an obvious hussy had so enraged her, she was nearly beyond control. She wanted some answers¼and she would have them, if she had to choke them out of her.

    “How dare she lie on my boy,” she spat.

    As soon as Lori Pettis stepped through the heavy, oak wood, double doors that exited the courtroom, she came face-to-face with an extremely agitated, and very angry, mother. One who was intent on taking out her frustration at an unjust system, on the person who had accused her son of doing something she knew he would never do.

    “Why?” Mrs. Long screamed, rushing towards the woman. “You know my boy ain’t never hurt you. Why would you say such a thing?”

    “The evidence speaks for itself, Ma’am.” Lori wanted to come across as angry, as she tried to sidestep the woman and get away from her. But, even in her opinion, she sounded more pathetic than angry at being raped.

    “The evidence!” Mrs. Long shouted. “The only evidence I’ve seen is that you’re a liar. The doctor didn’t see nothing to say you were raped. There was no trauma, no struggle, nothing to show you were hurt in any way. What evidence are you referring to, Ms Pettis? The only reason Benjamin was convicted is because he’s a black man who had sex with a piece of white trash¼and we both know that, don’t we?”




    Suddenly, police officers surrounded Lori, and escorted her out of the courthouse. Mrs. Long watched them go…wondering what was going to become of her son.

    “He’s a good boy.” She shouted after them. “And I raised him right.” She whispered, walking in the opposite direction. “But white folk ain’t right,” she mused, mostly to herself. She walked as if in a daze¼steadily talking to herself. “And their justice system ain’t right. And life just ain’t right, sometimes.”

    Mrs. Long walked out of the courthouse confused, and weary. Her son, whom she knew hadn’t done anything wrong, would be locked up for ten years¼and there was nothing she could do about it. “Where’s the justice in that, Lord?” She knew God moved in ways mysterious to mankind but she wished she knew His thinking about her son.

    That night, Mrs. Long bolted the windows of her home. She left the lights off, wrapped herself in a blanket, and sat in her rocking chair, waiting. She was expecting company. She had loaded the three shotguns her now deceased husband once used to fend off the white men who had tried to run him off his land. Like him, she was determined to take some of them with her.

    As she waited, she thought about her ancestors who had slaved for the white man, getting nothing, not even a “thank you,” in return. She thought about her parents, and their parents before them, who had sharecropped the same acreage of land she now sharecropped. And she wondered what was holding her to this pitiful town. On top of everything else, her son had been railroaded into a prison sentence he didn’t deserve. All because some white woman was too afraid to risk her self-claimed, superior-position by allowing anyone to find out that she had a craving for dark meat.

    She wanted to leave¼to run away and hide, to escape the many places and faces that tormented her, daily¼and never have to face another human being, ever again. But she couldn’t.

    “I have to be here when my Benjamin comes home,” she cried. “How else is he gon’ know where I’m at? Who gon’ tell him?”

    Sometimes during the night, between thoughts of a useless existence, and heated revenge, she fell into a fitful sleep. Dreams of worked-to-death parents, a murdered husband, and a son rotting away in a prison cell tormented her. She woke with a start…surprised the house still stood and, that she still lived.

    “Maybe white folk ain’t as bad as they used to be,” she thought, as she put the shotguns away.

    She walked outside and surveyed the land. There was a lot of work to do and no one to help. Her brothers were gone. Her husband was dead. Now, her only child was in prison. But she didn’t worry about that. She knew she was going to make it. After all, she was “made of stern stuff,” as her mother often said. And, as long as God allowed her to live, and gave her the strength to do so, nothing was going to get in the way of her being there when her Benjamin came home.




    All night long, Lori had tossed and turned. Each time she thought sleep was going to take her, she saw Mrs. Long’s face racing toward her. She wondered how she’d feel if she had a son, and someone falsely accused him of rape. What would she do if he was sentenced to a ten-year prison term?

    “Would I be able to accept that¼knowing he was innocent?”

    By sunrise, she knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself for allowing an innocent man to go to prison, for her moment of weakness. As much as she wanted to tell the truth, she was equally sure she would not survive the shame the truth would bring. It had gone too far for that.

    That night, she wrote a letter to the district attorney, outlining the facts of the case, as they really happened. At the end of it, she briefly spoke of Benjamin’s innocence, and his initial reluctance even to touch her. She was sure that, had she not acted so wantonly, he would not have gone through with it.

    “Had I not made him pay for my guilt, none of us would be in this situation. His only intentions were to assist a lady whom he thought was in distress. For his gentlemanly kindness, he lost not only the ten years of his life he will spend in prison but his life, as he knew it before that eventful day, along a dirt road, in the middle of a soybean field. He didn’t deserve that, and you didn’t deserve to be in the unkindly position of having sent an innocent man to prison.”

    The hour was late and her mind, heavy. But, she couldn’t sleep. So, she wrote a second letter to Benjamin, espousing her sorrow for having created the ordeal he was going through. Knowing how improbable it was, she asked that he find it within himself to forgive her¼for forcing this on him, unnecessarily. Even as she wrote it, she knew that, had he actually raped her, she could never have forgiven him.

    Six months later, Lori was on the verge of a mental collapse. All her friends had abandoned her¼fearing that something wasn’t right about her version of what happened. Because of her strange behavior at work—dark mood-swings brought on by overwhelming guilt—her co-workers shied away from her, as well. Having no one else, she turned to her parents for solace. When she told them what actually happened, her father, who didn’t hate anyone because of their race, but believed that each race should only procreate with its own, disowned her. In his opinion, she had defiled her body by being with a black man, and no child of his would ever do such a thing. Therefore, she must not be his child. That was the last conversation they ever shared.

    Her mother, who was said to be more liberal-minded than her father, also stopped speaking to her. In her mother’s mind, no daughter of hers would ever send an innocent man to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, no matter his race. Her mother told Lori that she wouldn’t speak to her again until she had corrected her wrong, and gotten that man—Benjamin Long—out of prison. Knowing there was no way of accomplishing that without exposing her lies—something she wasn’t prepared to do—she accepted that as their last conversation, as well.

    With her parents turning their backs on her, her world fell apart. Her concentration was short, as was her attention span. She couldn’t focus. Benjamin’s face was constantly in her mind. Nightmares flooded her nights, preventing her from resting. On the rare occasion when she did sleep, it was short lived¼never sleeping more than an hour, or two, at a time.




    She looked worn and haggard…feeling twice as old as her twenty-four years. As much as she was struggling at work, she was surprised they hadn’t fired her. But her boss, who attributed her deteriorating productivity to the rape, for which he felt responsible was, therefore, unwilling to hold her accountable for her lack of focus. After all, it was he who had put her in the situation by sending her to Itta Bena. How could he fire her for something he allowed to happen?

    Nearly ten years later, on the day of Benjamin Long’s release—Lori Pettis had followed his imprisonment closely—she drove to the exact location where their nightmare began. In an overnight case, she took with her the letters she had written, some specially concocted, cyanide-laced, pills and two bottles of wine. She took out the letters, and the pills, before tuning to a jazz radio station. She poured herself a glass of wine and rolled down the windows. She wanted to feel nature on her face, once more. She poured the bottle of pills into her hand and started taking them, one at a time, using the wine as a chaser. When she was done with the pills, she pulled the letters out of their respective envelopes and started reading. She wanted to remember, with clarity, each detail of this nightmare she had brought on for so many people. When her eyes became too heavy to continue, she put the letters back into their envelopes and fell asleep.

    The next day, the police received a report of a woman asleep in a car, along Tallahatchie River road, west of Itta Bena, before reaching the bridge. They found her just as she had imagined they would: sitting upright, a breeze flowing through her hair. The first officer on the scene actually thought she was asleep, so peaceful was her appearance.

    When the district attorney read the letters, his first instinct was to destroy them, and forget he’d ever seen them. “It’s over,” he thought. “The man—Benjamin—has served his time. And the victim is dead.” He smiled at the thought, now realizing that Benjamin Long, not Lori Pettis, was the true victim. Still, what good would it serve to dredge it all up, again¼and with this added twist to boot? But he had sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Mississippi, good or bad. His moral convictions wouldn’t allow him to do otherwise. At least, that’s what he told himself, later. As he thought about it, he wondered if he was more moved by the notion that one of the investigating police officers, or some passerby, might have read the letters before they came into his possession.




    Benjamin walked out of Parchman penitentiary, one of Mississippi’s institutions for violent offenders, after serving a full ten-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Whenever he had come up for parole, he had refused. He felt that accepting parole would mean that he accepted that their conviction of him was justified. That…he could never do. All his life, he had tried to live a quiet, law-abiding lifestyle. One that his mother and kids—if ever he had some—would be proud of. Now, his life, as well as his reputation, had been tarnished, and he didn’t know why. When he was first convicted, he kept thinking that he was in the middle of a bad dream that he was going to wake up from. When that day never came, he mentally prepared himself for the long haul.

    He didn’t waste time wondering how it happened, it happened. He didn’t dream of revenge, or going out and raping someone, as a means of balancing the sheet with the time he’d served. He didn’t want to end up back in prison, ever again.

    A lifetime of hard work had toughened him, physically. His faith in God carried him through each lonely day that led to the months and years of inhumane treatment that prisoners had to endure, regularly. Because of his Herculean size, very few inmates confronted him¼although his quiet demeanor sometimes invited the attention of the newbies. But they were quickly made to understand that getting beat senseless wasn’t the reputation they wanted to gain.

    Each day of his incarceration, he relived the events that had gotten him there. Now that he was out, all he wanted to do was to ask her why—why had she seduced him, only to claim that he had raped her. Why did he have to lose ten years of his life for doing what she had invited him to do? His lawyer said that it was a bad idea, and tried to convince him to leave it alone. But he couldn’t. He needed to hear it from her.

    His first stop was at his grandmother’s gravesite—she had died while he was incarcerated. After spending time with her, apologizing for bringing shame on the family name, he wanted to see his mother. As he walked down main street, on his way to his mother’s place, a patrol car swerved in front of him. His initial thought was, “Not again!” He tried to remain calm but his prison training told him that cops and black people just didn’t mix.

    “The district attorney would like to see you,” the officer said, as he held the front, passenger door open for Benjamin to get in. Even though he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, his first inclination was to run. What kind of society is it, when its citizens are fearful of those sworn to protect them?

    Benjamin sat in a chair across from the district attorney, who was shuffling through some papers.

    “Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Long,” he asked.

    “No, I don’t.” Prison had taught him to only answer the question put to him¼and to never volunteer unsolicited information to anyone.




    The district attorney could sense that Benjamin was anxious over the situation. Not wanting to create an adversarial environment, he decided to be straightforward. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, Mr. Long, but Lori Pettis was found dead this morning.”

    “What!” Benjamin was unsure of how he was supposed to react. He wasn’t unhappy that she was dead, only disappointed that he didn’t have an opportunity to talk to her. Then he thought about the gravity of his situation. “Wait a minute¼you don’t think¼

    “No, Mr. Long,” the district attorney interrupted, sensing where Benjamin’s apprehension was taking him. “That’s not what this is all about. Ms Pettis committed suicide last night. However, before she died, she left this for you.” He gave Benjamin the letter she had written to him. “There was one addressed to me, as well. In it, she explained exactly what happened in your case. Specifically, she said that you were innocent of all charges, and that all this happened because she felt guilt over what had transpired between the two of you.” He paused briefly before continuing. “It is my belief that that guilt is what drove her to commit suicide¼but she wanted to set the record straight.”

    “Set the record straight!” Benjamin stood up. His anger at being denied yet another opportunity to confront his accuser was flooding his mind. “I’ve lost ten years of my life and now she wants to set the record straight.”

    “Evidently, Mr. Long, she didn’t want to face you. It appears that she planned her suicide to coincide with your release.” He studied Benjamin’s appearance for any signs of hostility before continuing. “Sir, I understand how you feel¼

    “You have no idea how I feel.” Benjamin shot back, seething with anger. For a moment of pleasure, that he didn’t even ask for, he had lost ten years of his life. Now, this imbecile was telling him that he knew how that felt. How dare he. “I’ve lost everything, my honor, my reputation, my word. Everything that defines me as a good person is gone. No one will ever look at me the way they did before this happened, never again. Unless you’ve been there, don’t tell me you know how I feel.” Benjamin stormed out of the office.

    After a tearful reunion at his mother’s home, he told her everything the district attorney had told him…letting her read the letter Lori Pettis had written. He couldn’t understand how anyone could hate a group of people so much that they would rather die than admit that they had been intimate with a member of that group.

    As outraged as she was, Mrs. Long realized that her son was going through a great deal of anguish, and just wanted some answers. For his sake, she tried to contain her rage.




    “Benjamin.” She spoke softly. “You know how white folks are. A black man’s freedom, or his life, don’t mean nothing to them¼especially if it may cause a ruffle in their lily-white lives. They will do, or say, almost anything to protect themselves.” She was struggling to maintain her composure. “In a moment of weakness, she let slip her desire to be with a black man. That was an absolute no-no in her world. You weren’t chosen, Benjamin, you just happened to have been available. Afterward, regret drove her to sacrifice your freedom rather than her so-called integrity. I know that sounds ridiculous but, for her, it was the only way out. However, from the contents of her suicide note, I think time, or God, showed her that it really wasn’t a way out. It seems that the day she claimed rape, she sacrificed not only your life, but hers as well. The good book says, ‘do not become a stumbling block for others.’ By causing you to stumble, she stumbled herself.

    We’re nothing but sacrificial lambs for the lot of them, Benjamin. Think about Emmit Till. History tells us that he was killed for whistling at a white woman. But that’s just their justification for it. They don’t tell you that she was prancing around, flirting with him, and he just whistled his approval. No. Because that’s the white man’s history¼not the true history. The white man will always sacrifice others for the benefit of his glory.

    Later in life, she may have regretted her decision to send you to prison. But, initially, she didn’t regret it enough to speak up on your behalf, now did she? She started this whole thing, unnecessarily. Then, she compounded her indiscretion by lying about it¼choosing to sacrifice you over telling a truth that no one needed know in the first place. How could she believe that ‘so little, so late’ could possibly make up for what she put you through? But she’s not the only one to blame. The justice system was wrong, as well. Not only did the doctor tell them that there was no indication of rape, the police officers never did a thorough investigation. Once she said you had raped her, the investigation was over, as far as they were concerned.”

    They discussed it throughout the night. By morning, they had formulated a plan. This was the age of easy money¼wherever you could get it. Now that opportunity was finally knocking on her door, Mrs. Long fully intended to take advantage of its generosity. She felt justified. They had taken ten years of her son’s life away from her.

    “I may not be able to get even with that Pettis woman but I can **** sure get even with Leflore County, and the state of Mississippi.”

    When her son was taken away, she was forced to work the fields. Not having a husband, she had to do everything a man would do¼the things her son had done for her. Now, she was tired of living like a second class citizen, working her fingers to the bone. She deserved a piece of the pie, and this was her chance to get it.

    The next day, they hired a lawyer. They filed a civil suit against Leflore county, and the state of Mississippi, alleging that they allowed Benjamin’s incarceration by failing to adequately investigate the charges against him. They further alleged that the prosecutor prosecuted the case without the necessary evidence to justify its moving forward. Also, the judge, hearing reports from medical experts testifying that no criminal activity was indicated, allowed the indictment to go forward.

    They initiated a massive media campaign to ensure public awareness of the circumstances surrounding the case¼in an effort to win the case in the court of public opinion. More importantly, they wanted the public to know of Benjamin’s innocence—which was Mrs. Long’s ultimate goal. As much as she wanted the money, she wanted her son to have his life back more.



    After a quick review, their civil suit was thrown out. The presiding judge found that, although he could sympathize with Benjamin’s plight, neither the county nor the state could be held accountable for Ms Pettis’ false accusations. In his findings, he felt that she—Lori Pettis—was solely responsible for the events leading up to Benjamin’s arrest. And a jury of his peers found him guilty of the charges based on the evidence, as they heard it. Yes, the charges were bogus but only he and Ms Pettis knew that. Even though people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, it behooves a defendant not to allow his guilt, or innocence, to be decided by a group of people who know nothing of him¼especially one that might prove prejudicial to his wellbeing. He failed to do that. At the very least, his lawyer failed to properly argue the evidence in his defense.

    The Lori Pettis story was so profound because it said to the black man: You may have the legal right to cross that line but, if you do, this is where you could end up. It also proved something that black people have known all along: a black man could be convicted of a crime, with absolutely no proof of wrong doing, based solely on the allegations of a white person.

    It was tragic, yes, but there are a lot of “Benjamin Long” type stories out there. This type of injustice permeated the old south. Anytime a black person was accused by a white person, and tried by a jury of twelve white people, the outcome was almost inevitable. In fact, it was almost criminal to complain about the proceedings. Even in today’s enlightened society, the south offer up sacrificial lambs on a regular basis.

    Injustice, especially in the court system, continues to plague the African. Since his arrival on the eastern shores, the courts have viewed him as something less than equal to the criminals who brought him here. Until we overcome this mentality, the African can never hope to find justice in a system of justice that views him as three-quarters of a man.

    When you’re being beating and abused, broken and misused, and your only recourse is through your abuser, what do you do? Especially when, by doing so, you endanger those you love
     
  2. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

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    deep ! left me speechless on this chapter,,,,,,wow!!!!
     
  3. TotalView

    TotalView Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Nicely done, Baller. The story held my interest throughout. The rich details rang true. Enjoyed the read. You're a wonderful story teller. (smile)
     
  4. baller

    baller Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    this was originally a part of a novel, entitled, A BETTER TOMORROW. but i removed it...and moved it to a collection of short stories that i'm working on. I'M GLAD YOUS liked it. THANKS FOR RESPONDING.
     
  5. TotalView

    TotalView Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    So, does this mean there's more to come?
     
  6. baller

    baller Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    i'm always working on something. whether it gets to this site is another matter entirely.:) WE SHALL SEE.
     
  7. baller

    baller Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    a bump
     
  8. alyce

    alyce Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    "author! author!" thoroughly enjoyed....

    more, please!:jumping:
     
  9. baller

    baller Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    funny how guilt can so eat away at you that it can drive a person mad...or to death...trying to escape it.

    being from the south as well--mississippi--i lived through that 60's jim crow mentality you spoke of. writing this was trying, at times, thinking of so many places i wanted to take this...until i got to where it went. even then, i felt that she got off too easy. when certain base instincts are brought out in a story, how do you control your objectivity enough to not allow your own experiences to cloud you judgement when writing?

    i struggle with that.

    i'm glad you enjoyed it. THANK YOU.
     
  10. sarcasm4eva

    sarcasm4eva Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    really good story,on point!!! I hope theres more to come..
     
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