Oh, how could she have fallen so far? Where was her spirit, her mojo, her adoring admirers? How had it all come to this?
“Come on, doll, just one little smooch.”
Her sad reverie broken, the lady looks at her disgusting companion. Waving her delicate, cultured hand daintily in front of her face, she responds, “Goodness gracious me, it’s like a skunk died in your mouth. Perhaps we should sit down, you and I, and discuss the feasibility of desalinating your putrific suspiration.”
The drunken slob she’s addressing grabs her and pulls her closer, trying again for a kiss. “I paid for this dance, and I’m gonna get my money’s worth.”
A strong, bronzed hand clasps the slob’s shoulder.
“Mind if I cut in?
The newcomer easily lifts the slob and slings him away. He then takes the sad lady into his arms, but she avoids his eyes.
“Oh, Hercules, what are you doing here?”
The puzzled hero frowns at the lady. “Looking for you.”
“No, no, you shouldn’t have come? I didn’t want you or anyone from my former life to see me like this.”
“Twanky, it’s me, Hercules! What happened? I went to your studio, and it was closed.”
The lady bowed her head. “The truth is, I’ve fallen on hard times, and I don’t want your pity.” She pushes the handsome man away.
“Twanky, you deserve better than this,” Hercules answers, gesturing to the squalid surroundings of the Dinar Dance Hall. “And you’ve got too much self-respect to let people like that (he points to the drunken slob out cold on the floor) rent you for a cheap dance. Whatever happened to you, it doesn’t have to be permanent.”
As if on cue, the dance hall lights dim and the spotlight beams onto the downcast Widow Twanky as she morosely sings:
“I once was a star, the belle of the ball, the queen of the floor, men begging for more, but that was before my great fall…”
Dreamily she joins the other dancers against the bar. The sleazy clientele saunters past, each picking a partner, till only Twanky is left, and she continues with her ballad.
“…one dinar a dance, I don’t twirl for free. I’ve fallen so low, nowhere else to go. There was a time I danced just for me…”
Hercules offers the widow his hand. She takes it and he spins her around the room.
“…I once was a star; I knew how to shine. I lit up the world, one smile at a time…” Her handsome partner sets her down and backs away. “…but now look at me: one dinar a dance, I don’t twirl for free…”
As Twanky retreats into the swirl of private dancers, her song comes to an end.
“…my life’s a disgrace, I’m last in the race, so just let it be. Like it or not, this is me.” She faces her semi-godly partner: “I can’t help you, Hercules. I’m sorry.”
So, Hercules had to return alone to Trendopolis, the site of the prestigious annual Fashion Follies, the invitation-only apex show of the Grecian fashion world. It is here where Hercules once again had run into Althea, his self-effacing young friend and first-ever dance partner. This time, Althea was distressed because she’d not made the list of fashion designers invited to participate in the big show. As always, Hercules had to help his friend. He encouraged her to put on a personal show of her own designs, and they’d planned on getting the Widow Twanky to help, with her flair and sense of style and show-womanship.
He finds Althea and her young swain Titus walking down a Trendopolis street, and he breaks his bad news to them.
Althea gasps: “You mean she’s not coming?”
“She…had to work,” Hercules stammers.
“So what now?” Titus asks.
Hercules thinks. “You can’t have a fashion show without a stage, right?”
“You mean, a catwalk,” Althea corrects him.
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“But every hall and auditorium in town is booked,” Althea exclaims.
“And we’re flat broke,” adds Titus.
Hercules answers, “Good. The less we have, the more creative we’ll have to be.” He thinks for a moment. “There’s got to be a local playhouse around here, right?
“Yeah, just around the corner,” Titus answers.
“Go see if they’ve scrapped any sets lately, we can use the wood,” Hercules instructs the young man. Then, to Althea, he asks, “How are your designs coming?”
Althea look to Titus, who looks away. His silent disapproval hits a nerve with her. You see, he’s seen Althea’s new designs, which are bland and ordinary-not her usual flair and panache. He’d said as much, and she’d retorted that she’d changed her mind from her original designs, saying this new look was what “everyone wants to wear.” Titus had told her, “But it’s not you!” Althea had turned on him and asked, “How would you know?”
Titus had just about told Althea he knew because he loved her, but the obnoxious Oena, Althea’s rival from her Panatheneon dance competition days, had burst in on them, and Titus had left before he could witness Oena’s grand performance of soliciting Althea’s friendship. Unbeknown to either Titus or Althea, it was all an act as part of a plan by Oena and the evil Count Von Verminhaven, fashion critic extraordinaire and dictator of all fashion relations, to sabotage Althea and Hercules, who’d beaten Oena at the Panatheneon dance contest.
Choosing to ignore Titus, Althea turns to Hercules and, avoiding his question, states, “I’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m going to finish before the festival’s over.”
Right at that moment, the fashion police march up to the trio in the street. “Thank the gods, the…police,” Hercules says under his breath.
The head of the fashion police addresses the hero. “You’re under arrest for violation of section ten, subsection two-three-four-D, article one-A of the fashion code: wearing leather in summer.”
“Yeah, so why aren’t you out arresting cows?”
“This isn’t fair!” Titus exclaims.
Hercules addresses his two friends. “Looks like you two are going to have to carry on without me, for a little while, anyway.”
“You’re not actually going with them, are you?” Althea asks, bewildered.
“Some battles aren’t worth fighting. Besides, I could use a good laugh,” Hercules answers his friend, as he’s led off to Von Verminhaven’s office at Fashion Police Headquarters.
Von Verminhaven “chuckles” as the sees the demigod led into his presence. “I do apologize for this embarrassing predicament, Hercules. I rushed over as soon as I heard you’d been arrested.”
“I’m sure you did, “ the hero answers sarcastically.
“It seems our fashion police can be a touch overzealous at times. But, not to worry, I’ll make sure you’re released as soon a possible.” The Count leans back against his desk and winks at Hercules. “After all, being this city’s leading arbiter of taste does have its advantages.”
“Like deciding who’s in your little club, and who isn’t, because of what they wear,” Hercules challenges.
“As a matter of fact, yes. And why shouldn’t we? Every institution of honor has a dress code, does it not?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Greece isn’t an institution, it’s a free society. And you’re encouraging people to turn against each other for being different.”
“We’re encouraging harmony and equality by assuring that no one person stands out above the rest,” Von Verminhaven counters.
“Except for you,” Hercules responds, catching the Count at his game.
“I am but a public servant. So let me do you the service of reminding you that all designers for this season’s festival have been chosen.” The Count gets into Hercules’s face. “Any exhibits not sanctioned by me will not be tolerated lightly.”
Hercules smiles and leans into the Count’s face: “Thanks for the tip. Now, let me give you one-if you or your goons get in my way again, you’ll all be out of style faster than you can say ‘tube top.’”
Hercules turns, and Count Von Verminhaven watches him leave with an expression of cool calculation on his ratlike face.
In a field outside the town, Althea and Titus fret as they pace beside a large pile of wood.
“Oh, where is he?” Althea worries.
“He’ll be back,” answers her loyal friend.
“Of course he will,” say Oena as she approaches the pair, setting Titus’ hair on end. “He can take care of himself,” the conceited young woman continues. “In the meantime, why don’t you and I have ourselves a girls’ afternoon out?” she asks the unsuspecting Althea.
“But, Althea, there’s work to be done,” Titus pleads.
“How nice of you to volunteer,” Oena sneers to Titus. “After all, if we want our girl to be a successful designer, she has to look the part.” Pulling Althea off with her, Oena says, “Come on, we’ve got so much to do.” As the two women leave, Oena shoots Titus the evil eye, causing him to look away in despair.
Meanwhile, back at the Dinar Dance Hall, the Widow Twanky ponders the bottom of her shot glass while leaning against the bar. A burly patron approaches her.
“Okay, toots, I got a string of tickets in one hand, but nothing in this one. Ready to meet Mr. Palm?”
“I wouldn’t want to get between you,” the Widow responds. “Now please, leave me be.”
“I’m only asking nice once. If you’re a good girl, you’ll know your place,” the bully huffs and he pinches Twanky’s blue-clad behind.
This gets a rise out of the good lady, as she straightens and slowly turns to face her assailant. “I am a lady, sir, which makes it all the more difficult for me to do this…” she states as she lays into the bully with flying fist, separating the brute from his false teeth and sending him to la-la land.
The Widow addresses her co-dancers. “Hercules was right, I’m worth more than this. I deserve respect, I deserve consideration, I deserve to be spit-polished by the Olympic weightlifting team. But since I can’t have that, I’ll have to settle for my dignity. I quit! Ladies, the floor is yours.” And the grand Widow Twanky leaves to applause and yells of encouragement.
Meanwhile, back in the field outside Trendopolis:
Titus is gathering more wood, when he looks up to see the “new” Althea approaching.
“Althea? What happened to you?”
The girl has been turned into a parody by Oena’s contracted hairdressers and makeup artists. She rather resembles a cross between a rag doll and a clown.
“Boy, you sure know how to make a girl feel special,” she huffs at her friend.
“I didn’t mean…”
“What’s up with you, anyway? First you don’t like my new designs, now this! I thought you were my friend.”
“You’re just jealous. I’m fitting in for the first time, and you can’t stand it.”
Titus swells up. “Well, with all your new friends, you don’t need me,” he retorts and stalks off in a huff, passing Hercules on the way.
Hercules walks up to Althea. “Where’s he going?”
“I don’t care. I’m going home to finish my designs.” With this, Althea, too, stamps off in a huff, leaving a bewildered Hercules in her wake. He just shrugs. “Great!”
From above him, Hercules hears a musical “Yoo-hoo!” and looks up to see the vision that is the Widow Twanky standing on the city wall. She opens her parasol and floats down from the wall into the hero’s arms.
“Uh, hi,” the startled demigod says to the lovely lady.
“Well, hello, darling, aren’t you a sight for sore thighs.” She squeezes his ample tricep. “Speaking of which, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt anything this hard. Kiss me?”
Hercules drops her like a load of hot potatoes. “Sorry, I…slipped.”
The Widow rises and dusts herself off. “No matter, our love is eternal, it’ll wait. Now, then, if we’re going to put on a fashion show, we’ve got so much to do.” She surveys the scene around her.
“Twanky, tell me why you closed your studio,” Hercules asks.
The Widow’s bottom lip quivers as she answers, “Let us just say that one bad review can ruin a girl’s career. But what’s done is done, yes? We must keep our eyes on the prize. No, go, round up the troops. I need time to work my magic.”
Back in town, the pouting Althea approaches her burning home. Crying, “My designs!” she runs inside to frantically search for her valuable drawings. There’s an explosion, and smoke and flames billow from the cottage.
Hercules makes it to Althea just in time, and carries her, coughing and singed, outside to safety. She looks at her flaming cottage.
“My designs! How am I going to put on a show without my designs?”
“We’ll make new ones. I’ll help you,” Hercules answers her.
“Just like that, huh?” Althea rises and turns on her rescuer. “Look, I appreciate everything you’ve tried to do for me, Hercules, but we can’t all reach for the sky. Some of us just want to fit in.”
Hercules gazes at his friend. “Look, I know everybody needs to feel like they’re a part of something, but do you really want to change who you are to do that?”
“What choices do I have? It’s easy for you, you’re Hercules. Things aren’t as simple for the rest of us.” Althea turns away. “Oena understands that.”
“The only thing Oena understands is how to get ahead at other people’s expense,” Hercules calls after the departing Althea.
“She’s my friend!”
“Althea, who do you think did this?” Hercules gestures to the ruined cottage.
Althea stops, stricken and confused.. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And off she storms.
Hercules walks away to Titus’ house, where he finds the young man going over a pile of Althea’s sketches.
Hercules sits at the table and picks up some of the drawings. “These are Althea’s, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, the old Althea, when she first came here. The one I used to call my friend.”
“I’m sorry,” commiserates the demigod.
“Yeah, me too.”
Hercules turns the sketches around, looking at them from different angles. “They’re, uh, definitely different.”
“I prefer the word ‘unique,’” Titus answers as he rolls the sketches back up and puts them away. “Not a very popular term around here, but then again, I’m not a very popular guy.”
Hercules stares at the young man. “You know, you’ve been a great friend to Althea.:
“And this is how she repays me.”
“Funny how we take for granted the people we care about the most.” The memory of loves lost forever flashes across his mind. “You may think the old Althea’s gone, but she’s just lost. It happens to everybody. And sometimes, all we need to find our way again, is a friend.” And here, Hercules smiles as he sees in his mind’s eye the image of curly blond hair and the most engaging grin.
“Althea’s got plenty of new friends,” Titus responds.
“But she doesn’t have a real one,” Hercules challenges him.
Titus pauses, but goes on in anger, “Why should I care what happens to her?”
Hercules rises to leave. “You have every right to be angry, Titus. But if you really didn’t care about her, why did you save her sketches?
Hercules leaves, with Titus deep in thought.
Meanwhile, at Oena’s fashion factory, she and Von Verminhaven share champagne.
“To my little pastry face...,” he toasts her.
“No, no! To you, my lugubrious love biscuit….”
“Let us usher in a new era of narcissism, brand name inflation, and eating disorders.”
Before the pair can clink glasses, Althea rushes in.
“Oena, I’m so glad I found you!”
Oena grits her teeth, and answers, “Your poor thing. What happened?”
“My designs! They’re gone!”
Oena rises and hugs Althea, offering her a lovely handkerchief. “There, there. With your talent, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”
“I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Oena. I knew I could come to you.”
Althena then notices the hanky Oena had given her to dry her tears. “I used this same fabric in one of my pieces.”
Oena takes Althea’s hand. “Well, that proves it, we’re soulmates. Althea, all that matters is that you weren’t hurt in the fire.”
Althea’s eyes widen and she gulps. “I didn’t tell you about the fire…It was you! You stole my designs!”
The Count clears his throat. “Time to come clean, buttercup. It appears our ruse has been unmasked.”
Oena rises from where she’d been comforting Althea. “Thank the gods! If I have to pretend to be your friend for another moment, I think I’ll puke!”
Althea chokes back tears. “You won’t get away with this!”
Von Verminhaven sneers. “Oh, but my dear girl, we already have. These can’t be your designs, because your designs burned in the fire.” Turning to his companion in conspiracy, he hands Oena her champagne flute. “Now, then, where were we? Ah, yes, to a most ‘incendiary’ season.”
As they enjoy each other’s company, Althea runs away.
Deflated, broken, and sobbing, Althea marches out of town, but Titus comes running up beside her.
“If you came here to yell at me, don’t bother.”
“Where are you going?” Titus asks his friend.
“Back to Rhumba. I ruined everything. Hercules tried to warn me, but I wouldn’t listen. Instead, I insulted him, I insulted you….”
Titus grabs her and turns her toward himself. “Althea, stop! You can’t just throw your dream away because some spoiled prima dona tried to bring you down. You’ve got more talent in your little finger than all the Oena’s of the world put together….And, by the way, I love you.”
Althena’s eyes widen, and she just stands there, her mouth open.
“Now’d be a really good time to say something,” a nervous Titus stammered.
“You…you love me?”
“A whole big bunch.” The no-longer shy youth looks down at his beloved.
Althea wipes away happy tears, and smiles. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say you’ll get even with Oena.”
“How? She stole my designs”
Titus smiles. “Well, then, it’s a good thing I’ve still got your old ones.”
Enthusiasm rises in Althea, until she remembers…. “You think Hercules will ever forgive me?”
Titus’ smile breaks into a grin. “Who do you think gave me the courage to come talk to you?” The two young lovers grab each other in a tight embrace, then walk hand-in-hand toward the site for the new stage.
As they approach what was before simply a pile of wood, they find a perfectly built runway, with an arch over it, just awaiting a curtain and a few finishing touches.
“By the gods!” exclaims Titus.
A flabbergasted Althea looks around. “This is all for ME?”
“But of course! Who else would it be for?”
Althea wheels around to face a vision. “Twanky!” They hug.
“My daring Althea, how rapturous to see you again!”
“How did you build this so fast?!”
“Oh, it was nothing, really.”
“You can say that again.” An exhausted, shirtless Hercules emerges from behind the runway, carrying a large log. He sets it down.
“Now, now, Hercules, don’t be a sour sally. Somebody had to supervise.” The Widow pulls a water bottle from her reticule and hands it to the demigod. “Care for a drink?”
Hercules looks at the bottle. “Thanks, but I’m not really thirsty.”
Twanky pouts till Hercules says, “But I could use a little cooling off.” He takes the bottle and pours it over his lean, lithe torso, much to the pleasure of the good Widow.
She shivers with delight. “I think I’ll be needing a cold shower myself.” She grabs Titus. “Come, young man. You can towel me off.” She pulls the bewildered boy off along with her as she leaves.
Althea awkwardly approaches Hercules. He asks her, “Are you all right?”
“Thanks to you,” she answers. “I’m sorry about what I said. I guess I was trying so hard to fit in, I didn’t realize I already belong somewhere.”
Hercules smiles. “Welcome back, Althea.” The two friends embrace. Hercules asks her, “Are you sure you still want to go through with this?”
“I came here to show this city what I could do, not to let everyone tell me what I can’t. And I don’t care if they all hate my designs-at least they’ll be mine.”
Hercules grins. “Then let’s get to work!”
Later that day, as Hercules hammers in the final nail, Althea and Titus sit sidestage sewing outfits together, and Twanky prances up and down the runway.
“Ah, this takes me back to my modeling days, when my twelfth husband, Prince Longfellow-known in the more exotic ports as Three-Legged Willy-demanded that I give up the runway and bear him an heir.”
“What’d you do” asks Althea.
“When he wouldn’t take no for an answer, I borrowed some cutlery from the local butcher and ruined the Prince’s nickname forever.” Hercules and Titus wince. The Widow continues, “Though it ended badly between us, I always carry a part of him with me.”
Hercules interrupts the reverie. “Oh-kay, good to know. Althea, how are your outfits coming?”
“Almost done. We’ll be ready by tonight.”
Then, from nowhere, a Molotov cocktail sails toward the runway, hitting the arch, which breaks apart and falls toward the group at the stage. Hercules catches the arch as it falls, and yells at his friends, “Go!”
Althea, Titus, and Twanky jump to safety, followed by a diving Hercules, and they stand aside and watch all their hard work go up in flames.
“Anybody hurt?” a worried Hercules asks.
“My assets are fine, but my pride could use a little stroking,” answers the flustered Widow.
“That was close,” gasps Titus.
A distraught Althea cries, “I can’t believe it! Today’s the last day of the festival! What are we going to do?”
Hercules dusts himself off. “Well, you know what they say...”
“Never trust a dentist with hairy knuckles?” answers Twanky.
Hercules sighs. “…the party’s where you make it.” He looks off toward Rhumba.
That night, there is a very special show at the re-made Dinar Dance Hall. A huge crowd has gathered. The elegant Twanky stands at a podium on a makeshift stage beside a runway constructed from the dance hall’s tables.
The Widow reads from her notes, “Ladies and gents, they say beauty’s only skin deep. Unfortunately, ugly goes right to the bone.” The crowd laughs. “But seriously, although true beauty’s on the inside, it never hurts to have a little help on the outside. And so, without further ado, it is my pride and privilege to give you--The Althea Collection!”
And the show begins, as private dancers-cum-fashion models parade down the runway in outrageously wild costumes made of peacock feathers, straw, and bricks. The crowd gasps, then begins to warm to the strangeness of the outfits.
Backstage, chaos reigns as Althea and crew help the models with their costumes and back onto the runway. Titus peeks through the curtain to gauge the audience reaction, and turns with a grin and a “thumbs up.”
The crowd is applauding the peacock feather creation, when the back doors of the hall open to reveal Oena, Von Verminhaven, and the Fashion Police. Twanky gasps in mid-narration and runs behind the curtain, racing to the exit.
Althea sees her flight. “Twanky, what’s the matter?”
“I can’t go back out there!” the widow gasps.
Titus peers through the curtain again. “Verminhaven’s here with the Fashion Police!”
Hercules then realizes the cause of Twanky’s panic. He addresses her, “It was him! Von Verminhaven’s the one who ruined you, isn’t he?”
Twanky is distraught. “He tried to force his affections upon me, and when I spurned his advances, the sullied my reputation all over town.”
Hercules grits his teeth. “Then it’s time for you to take back what he stole from you.”
Suddenly, they hear the crowd outside chanting, “More! More! More!”
Althea gestures toward the curtain. “Listen to them, Twanky. Please, don’t leave. I can’t do this without you.”
Hercules faces Twanky. “If you run now, Verminhaven wins, and you’ll never forgive yourself.”
Twanky sighs, then takes a deep breath and again takes the stage. The crowd applaudes.
Von Verminhaven, however, will have none of it. He yells, “What a farce! What cheapness! What complete and utter slop!”
The crowd hushes. Then Twanky takes control of the situation.
“Well, that’s enough about you. What do you think of the show?”
The crowd laughs and the Count bristles, but Twanky continues, on a roll.
“On second thought, I don’t care what you think of the show. Now why don’t you find yourself a sharp sword to sit on so you can kill the bug that seems to have crawled up your bum?”
The crowd erupts with wild applause, and Twanky carries on. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the summer collection….”
Von Verminhaven turns to his Fashion Police. “Get them!”
Behind the curtain, Titus reports on what’s happening outside. “They’re coming! They’re going to ruin everything!”
Althea pleads to Hercules, “What are we going to do?”
The demigod glances to the nearby rack of clothing. “Improvise,” he answers.
From the podium, Twanky introduces, “Learn to tame the beast inside when you dare to wear Althea’s sultry animal prints….”
And the curtain flies open, revealing Hercules in skin-tight suede pants, combat boots, a suede vest, and no shirt. The crowd goes wild as Hercules prances the runway toward the oncoming police.
Twanky has a small case of the vapors. “On second thought, why not let the beast run wild?”
And so the melee begins. Policemen storm the stage, and Hercules sends them flying in all directions. During it all, Twanky continues her narration.
“I know I speak for all you ladies when I say that never in my life have I wanted to be an undergarment more than I do right now.”
Cops continue to fly. Twanky continues to ad lib. “Note how Althea’s designs resist maximum wear and tear, so no matter how much tussling you do behind the bushes, your mother will never know.”
At last, there are no Fashion Police left. The audience stands and cheers. Hercules winks at Twanky, who blows him a kiss. Then, Hercules turns to address the crowd.
“I hope you enjoyed the show. And now, I like you to meet the young lady who made it all possible…Althea!”
A shy but proud Althea comes out from behind the curtain, meeting Hercules centerstage for a hug.
Then the curtain rises, revealing all the models and Titus. Althea signals for the models to take a bow, and then motions Titus towards her. When he’s by her side, she dips him and plants a huge kiss on his lips.
At the back of the hall, Oena glares at Von Verminhaven. “You liar,” she spits. “You promised you’d stop Hercules!”
The Count pulls himself up to his full height and stalks toward the runway, shouting, “These designs are in violation of the fashion code! You’re all under arrest!”
Hercules counters, “Your fashion code is a joke, but I’m not laughing anymore.” He grabs the haughty Count and tosses him aside, then the demigod faces the crowd.
“Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but Von Verminhaven’s turned his into the law. Althea had the courage to remind you that it’s okay to be different. Well, you all have your own style. Don’t let him take that away from you.”
The crowd erupts in cheers.
On the road leaving Trendopolis, a foursome walks.
Althea speaks first. “You won’t believe how many orders we got!”
Titus agrees. “Looks like we’re going to be working clear through winter.”
Hercules smiles. “I’m not surprised.
He extends a hand to Titus. “Take care,” he tells the younger man. Titus shakes the demigodly hand and smiles.
Then Hercules turns to Althea. She tells him, “That’s two I owe you.”
Hercules answers, “You don’t owe me anything.”
The two friends hug. Althea tells the hero, “Anyone ever tell you you’re the best person in the whole world?”
Hercules snickers. “Just my mother, but I think she was biased.”
Twanky interrupts as the two friends part. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but now that my reputation has once again been sanitized, I think I’ll return to the stage and start my own improvisational Kabuki dance troupe.” She turns to Hercules. “Shall we walk off into the sunset together?”
“It would be my honor,” he replies as he takes the Widow’s arm and they turn and walk down the road, Althea and Titus waving goodbye.
As the retreating figures grow smaller, they hear the demigod ask, “You’ll send me an invite to your, uh, Kabuki thing, won’t you?”
“Oh, dear man, you’ll get your own backstage pass, if you know what I mean.”
Hercules gulps. “Did you know you have a dirty mind?”
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