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The Devil’s Wasteland – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  March 16, 2019  /  18 Comments


Valley of Tears

Thomas Calabrese — Los Lingos, Las Lenguas, Las Linguish, Valle de Las Lagrimas or the Valley of Tears…the many names of this place reflect the numerous languages spoken here and its very namesake.  This canyon was divided into two locations; Las Lenguas (its initial Spanish name) and the Narrows of Tule Canyon.  Riding across the open plains, Cowhead Mesa stood out as a beacon of evil rising up from the barren landscape for outlaws and evildoers of the Old West to find refuge.

The Valley of Tears was a very well-known and established trade site in West Texas used heavily by Comanche, Kiowa and Comancheros in the 1800’s. The canyon provided water, game and was easily found due to its proximity to the Quitaque Peaks. Unspeakable acts and horrors occurred within the sandstone walls of the Valley of Tears. This is where Indians held female Anglo captives hostage while awaiting ransoms or trading them as slaves for whiskey and guns.

The Comancheros were white renegades who came from New Mexico and also traded in stolen cattle and horses. They were ruthless and their surviving victims often said they rode out of the bowels of hell to commit their heinous acts. They ripped children from their mothers’ arms and sold them to the highest bidder and hostages that could not be sold, traded or ransomed were tortured and murdered for the amusement of their depraved captors.

Zachary(‘Zack’) McCulloch was only 16 years of age when he fought with Sam Houston in the Mexican- American War from 1846-1848, caused when the United States annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845. Following the end of the war, the Texas Rangers were largely disbanded and Zachary was only one of 30 battle hardened veterans assigned to patrol an area that was over 250,000 square miles. With the election of Hardin Richard Runnels as governor in 1857, $70,000 was allocated to fund the Rangers under the command of John Salmon Ford with nineteen year-old McCulloch as second in charge. The now 100-strong Rangers participated in campaigns against the Comanche and other tribes as raids became commonplace against the settlers. Zack fought in the Battle of Little Robe Creek in 1858 and against Juan Cortina in the Battle of Rio Grande City the following year and dozens of other skirmishes that were less publicized, but every much as dangerous.

Zack decided to cut through the Red River Valley while bringing Cactus Frank Vermillion to Austin for an inquiry into a shooting. The two men stopped off at a livery stable in Clarksville Texas just before sunset.  They had four horses, two that the men rode and two pack horses.

“How much to take care of the horses?”  Zack asked.

“Two-bits a day for each one,” The blacksmith responded.

“We’ll be here overnight,” Zack responded and tossed the man two silver coins, “Here’s two dollars…give them the special treatment.”

“I can do that,” The blacksmith smiled, exposing three missing front teeth.

“Where can we get something to eat around here?” Zack asked.

“Cantino’s, it’s right across the street. I recommend the pork chili with cornbread or the huevos rancheros, both are mighty damn good.”

The two men dismounted and started walking, Cactus Frank commented, “I’m so hungry my belly thinks my throat’s been cut.”

As they got to the outside of the cantina, Zack undid the shackles on Cactus Frank’s wrists.

“Aren’t you afraid I’ll run away?” Cactus Frank asked.

“You said it was a fair fight; tell that to the judge when you get to Austin and more than likely he’ll let you go,” Zack then warned, “If you try to run, I’ll wound you. If you get away and make me track you down again then I’ll shoot you dead. I also don’t want people to know that you’re my prisoner, that way I can eat in peace.”

“Spoken like a true Ranger, but I reckon I can agree to do that.”

When they entered the adobe cantina, the two men found a table in the corner and sat down.  A few seconds later, a young Mexican girl, probably no older than 18 years of age walked over.  “Howdy, my name is Selena. I haven’t seen you in here before…strangers in town?”

“Just passing through,” Zack could take his eyes off Selena. She had rich caramel colored skin and large dark eyes that were easier to get lost in than the badlands of West Texas and finely formed facial feature.   Zack felt hot and wasn’t sure if the heat was coming from him or the girl standing next to him.  It left him breathless, confused and put him in a situation that he was very unfamiliar with.

“What can I get for you?” Selena asked

When Zack didn’t answer, Cactus Frank spoke up, “The blacksmith told us that you got good food.”

“Silas is a long time regular; let me guess what he recommended; the chili with cornbread and the huevos rancheros.”

“Yup,” Cactus Frank replied.

“Which one do you want?” Selena asked.

“I’ll have one of each and if they’re that dang good, you better make it double portions.”

“What about you?” Selena looked at Zack.

When he didn’t answer, Cactus Frank nudged Zack, “She’s talking to you.” When Zack still not answer, Cactus Frank added, “He’s having the same as me.” After Selena walked off, “Muy bonita senorita.”

“Huh?” Zack mumbled.

“You can be the toughest hombre in Texas and when you come across the right woman, she can knock you to knees like you were as unsteady as a new-born calf.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Zack growled.

“Say what you want, Ranger, I’m seen that look before. You’ve been hit by the thunderbolt.”

When Selena brought their food, Cactus Frank couldn’t wait to dig in while Zack was more focused on the Mexican girl. After his fifth bite, Cactus Frank commented, “That blacksmith was right…this food is darn good. If you’re not going to eat yours, I’ll take it.”

Before Zack could answer, five hard looking men came walking in. Three of them were wearing red sashes around their waists, a clear indication that they were members of the infamous red sash gang.  The other two men had the sides of their head shaved with colored markings inked into their skulls; a common practice among the Comancheros. Both groups liked to intimidate and instill fear with their outward appearances and as soon as they entered Cantino’s everybody quickly left except for Zack and Cactus Frank who continued eating their meals.

There was one difference, Zack had pulled his 1873 Colt 45 Caliber Single Action Army Revolver and had it resting on his thigh with his index finger loosely curled around the trigger.

“Why do I have a feeling that this is not going to end well,” Cactus Frank commented when he saw the five men staring at them.

“If they don’t start any trouble, I won’t have to finish it,” Zack assured his companion.

When one of the red sash cowboys grabbed Selena and forcibly kissed her, Cactus Frank saw the Texas Ranger grit his teeth and watch his eyes turn cold and deadly. He turned to Zack, “Whoa doggie.” He was little too late as Zack had already stood up and was walking toward the five men. His right hand was holding the pistol behind his back and when he reached the outlaws, he warned them in no certain terms, “Leave the girl alone. You got two choices; behave yourselves or leave.”

The five men were cold blooded killers that were used to people stepping aside or quivering in fear when they rode into town. Nobody stood up to them especially when they were outnumbered five to one. Who was this hombre, they collectively thought, but didn’t answer. Zack snarled angrily when he saw the finger marks on Selena’s upper right arm, “Skin those firewagons, Cabrons!” ( Cabron: an outlaw of low breeding and even lower principles). In Spanish, the word mean ‘goat’.

When one of the cowboys made a subtle move for his pistol, Zack put a bullet in his forehead, then shot the other three men through the heart in a blink of a eye. Just as he got ready to shoot the fifth man, Cactus Frank stabbed the outlaw in the neck with an eating utensil and commented, “Not that you needed any help, I just felt kind of awkward sitting there doing nothing.”

Zack walked over and gently touched the bruise on the Mexican girl’s arm, “Are you alright?”

What Zack didn’t realize was that there was another outlaws outside with the horses. When he heard the gunshots he looked through the windows and saw his comrades lying dead on the floor, then mounted up and quickly rode out of town to report what happened.

At sunrise the next morning Zack and his prisoner loaded their horses into a boxcar at the Clarksville railhead and placed their bedrolls on the wooden floor for the train ride back to Austin. Cactus Frank commented, “You’ve definitely been hit by the thunderbolt. I’m just wondering how long it will be before you’re back this way again.”

Zack lied down and pulled his hat over his eyes, “Don’t make me shoot you for talking too much.”

When they reached Ranger Headquarters, Zack told Cactus Frank to wait for him on a bench in the lobby then entered Commander John Salmon Ford’s office.

A few minutes later, the Ranger Commander walked out of his office and approached Cactus Frank, “You’re free to go.”

Cactus Frank was confused, “Just like that?”

“You saved a Ranger’s life and that bought your freedom.”

Clem, the telegraph operator walked up and gave Commander Ford a telegram. He read it then walked over to Zack, “You came through Clarksville didn’t you?”

“Three days ago, why?”

Commander Ford handed Zack the telegram and he read it; Comancheros raid town, hostages taken.

Zack immediately walked into the room where Clem was sitting at the telegraph key, “Send a telegram to the Marshal in Clarksville and ask for the names of the hostages.”

“Sure thing, if you’re heading out to your ranch I’ll send a rider out when I get something,” Clem said.

“I ain’t going anywhere until I get an answer,” Zack replied.

When Cactus Frank saw Zack ,he walked over to him, “I wanted to thank you for putting a good word in for me.”

“Yeah, yeah… glad to do it, good luck,”

“Something wrong?” Cactus Frank sensed something was bothering the young Ranger.

“The Comancheros attacked Clarksville after we left,” Zack’s voice was heavy with worry.

“You reckon it had something to do with those varmints that we killed?” Cactus Frank asked.

“Reckon so,”

Clem the telegraph operator walked up, “Here’s the information you wanted.”

Zack read the telegraph then handed it to Cactus Frank who looked at it then handed it back, “They took the Mexican girl.”

“Yup,” Zack was enraged, but kept his temper under control.

“You’re going back, aren’t you?” Cactus Frank asked.

“What do you think?”  Zack responded.

“Then I’m going with you.”

“That would be a mistake, I aim to kill a lot of men and those pistoleros are going to be trying to kill me in return. Why would you want to get in the middle of that?”

“Not many men I respect and you happen to one of them. That’s the only answer I got for you,” Cactus Frank shrugged.

“I need to stop at my ranch first,” Zack said.

While riding along the trail, Cactus Frank noticed fence posts with the letter R notched into them. After seeing a couple dozen of them, his curiosity got the best of him. “What do all these fence posts with the R on them mean?”

“It means Ranger property. It is a warning to rustlers and scumguzzlers that this is Ranger property and that I’ll kill anybody who steals from me or harms my people.”

As they came over a hill, Cactus Frank saw a group of buildings in the distance. Zack let out a loud yell, “AEEEOHH!!” and two large wolf hybrid dogs came sprinting toward them. Cactus Frank got nervous and reached for his pistol, “Easy pardner, those are my dogs,” Zack said

As they got closer to the buildings, a group of kids of different nationalities came running up. The two men dismounted in front of the barn and an Indian took their reins. “Good to have you back.”

“I won’t be staying long,” Zack introduced the two men, “Cactus Frank Vermillion, this is Johnny Sunday.”

“Good to meet you,” Johnny Sunday replied.

“We’ll need to take a bath, got a lot trail dust to wash off. Could you bring some hot water up to the main house?” Zack requested.

“Right away.”

After the two men cleaned up, shaved and put on clean clothes, they went to a large building that was located on a small hill where four houses were equally distanced from each other. Once inside Cactus Frank was surprised by what that he saw. Two white women, one Mexican and one Indian and several of the older girls were cooking side by on three cast iron stoves. Twelve children were sitting at a long table in the corner and four men were conversing at the main table.

Zack introduced Cactus Frank to the other men and he could see that he was confused, “These are my partners and the rest of these people are their families. We always eat dinner together so that we can discuss the business of the ranch in a casual setting.   I own forty per cent of this 10,000 acre ranch and the four families each have 15 per cent ownership. Every major decision is determined by a vote…one man one vote.  We all have an equal say on how we do business.  Any other questions you want to ask me?

“You have…” Cactus Frank pondered his next question as he looked around the room.

“Whites, Indians, Mexicans working and living together. Does that seem strange to you?”

“Sort of,” Cactus Frank scratched his chin, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what you got here.”

“I deal with the dregs of society so I’ve got enough reasons to hate people when I’m doing Ranger business. I don’t need to add stupid things like a person’s color or nationality to that list when I’m home.

I like things simple; black and white, right and wrong and quality of work and a man’s character is all that matters to me. This situation works for us because we have a mutual respect for one another. I don’t give a hoot if anybody in Texas or anywhere else doesn’t like it. Unless they’re willing to die to change things, then its best they leave us be. These are people who want a good life and are willing to work hard for it.  I’ll take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday, so if this ruffles your feathers then the same trail that led you here also goes in the opposite direction,” Zack laid out his position nice and clear.

“You continue to impress me, Ranger, I’d like to stay a while.” Cactus Frank smiled.

The children ate first and then went to bed and Zack discussed what had happened during his absence with his partners. Later on they mutually agreed to hire several more ranch hands and build water storage tanks on three additional sites on the ranch. When he was done, Zack turned to Cactus Frank, “I’m leaving at sunrise so you got the rest of the night to change your mind. Let’s catch some shut eye.”

At sunrise both men were already up and dressed. Zack opened a door to one of the rooms and it was filled with weapons, “Since you’re not already gone, I reckon you’re coming along. Pick whatever you want.”

Cactus Frank replied, “I’m used to my pistols but I do like this,” and picked up a Shiloh Sharps Long Range rifle with a 34 inch barrel that fired 45.110 metallic cartridges with a 540 grain paper-patch bullet.

“Good choice, we might need that.”

Emma brought out several leather pouches as the men loaded their two pack horses, “Ten pounds of dried beef and other food for the ride.”

“Thanks Emma,” Zack said.

Johnny Sunday brought a bow and a quiver full of arrows, “I just made these, be careful with the tips, they’re dipped in rattlesnake venom. Stay safe, Ranger.”

Everybody waved goodbye as the two men, four horses and two dogs left the ranch. The kids ran alongside the horses for a few hundred yards before returning to their families.

Cactus Frank was envious, “You’ve got a good life, Ranger, I wish I had one like it.”

“Nobody is stopping you,” Zack advised, “I got plenty of land if we make it back alive.”

The two men waited at a watering stop along the tracks until the train slowed to a stop. Zack called up to the engineer, “Hey Sam, I need a ride.”

“Where you headed?” Sam asked.


“Not going there, but I can make a couple detours and get you within twenty miles, good enough?  Sam asked.

“Appreciate it,” Zack replied.

“Anything for a Ranger.”

The men found an empty boxcar and got aboard. Zack sat down and his two dogs snuggled up against him. When they got to Clarksville, they met up with Marshal Will Kane who led them to the area where the posse stopped following the trail, “Devil’s Wasteland beyond this point.”

“I know,” Zack scanned the vast open space.

“I know what they say, ‘One uprising, one Ranger, but even two Rangers going in there is not just plum crazy, its suicide,” Marshal Kane warned.

“I’m not a Ranger, I’m just along for the ride,” Cactus Frank interjected.

“A posse of twenty well-heeled ( heavily armed) men went into the Devil’s Wasteland and not even their horses were ever seen again,” Marshal Kane turned to Cactus Frank, “Just along for the ride, is that what you said? I can think of heap better places to go for a ride than the Valley of Tears.”

After Marshal Kane rode off, Zack said, “We’ll camp here tonight then ride in at first light.”

The two men ate dried beef and beans for dinner and when it got dark Cactus Frank asked, “Do we need to stand guard?”

“Nope, not even a prairie dog is going to be able to get within a hundred yards of us without Sage and Shadow knowing it,” Zack petted his two dogs, “They’ve saved my bacon more than once.”

While lying on their bedrolls, Zack softly told his companion of a previous experience, “A band of marauders killed a homesteader and his son and took the mother and two daughters. I tracked them to the Valley of Tears and had almost gotten them out when I got wounded in the shoulder. I made it back to my horse and even though I was half unconscious and in a lot of pain I kept hearing their cries, but could do nothing to help them.  When it is very quiet and I’m all alone and the wind blows over the open range I hear their screams.  Ain’t likely to ever forget it.”

They two men crossed the Rio de Las Lenguas stream and saw Llano Estacado through the break of the cap rock, “We’re getting close,” Zack stated with certainty, “I’ve asked you and now I’m telling,  you don’t have do this, but I have to.”

“You’re wasting your breath, Ranger,” Cactus Frank answered without hesitation.

The two dogs were about one hundred yards ahead and had crouched down and were not moving. This was their signal that somebody was ahead. Both men rode off the trail and hid in a ravine. Zack grabbed the bow and quiver of arrows, “You got a watch?”

Cactus Frank pulled out his pocket watch and showed it to the Ranger.

“If I’m not back in 30 minutes then I didn’t make it,” Zack softly whistled and his two dogs followed him. Ten minutes later, he came across two men sitting on a rock looking down the trail. Zack shot both men in the back with poisoned arrows.

When he got back to where Cactus Frank was waiting, Zack calmly commented, “We’re clear.”

Images were painted on the steep canyon walls as the two men rode into the Valley of Tears. “Welcome to Warpaint Canyon,” Zack said.  Coming out on the other side, Zack and Cactus Frank entered a large sandstone bowl where several dozen men, some white, some Indian and some of a mixed heritage were walking around. A few were drunk on liquor and others were intoxicated by lust.

Cages with women and children were set up for viewing and every so often a screaming captive would be dragged up on a wooden platform where voracious predators bid money, guns or whiskey for them.

“Find a place where you can give me cover fire; this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better,” Zack turned to his dogs, “Stay with him.”

“Where are you going?” Cactus Frank asked.

“To see a man about some unfinished business.”

Quanah Parker was the Comanchero leader, son of Cynthia Ann Parker who was captured in 1836 at the age of nine by the Comanches and warrior chief Peta Nocona, (Lone Wanderer.) He was a bear of man, standing almost six foot eight inches and weighing 280 pounds. He was scarred and tattooed and was probably as physically ugly as a man could be, but it was his soul that was truly hideous.  Being of joint heritage Quanah Parker had a mutual hatred for Indian and white man alike and he would kill either without hesitation or regret. The Comanchero leader wanted to be a legend and he was equally delusional and obsessed in this infamous quest.

Zack walked over to the main structure in the Valley Of Tears where two Comancheros and one Kiowa Indian were sitting by the front door. Without hesitation and before they could react, Zack pulled out his 12 inch hunting knife and killed all three and left them sitting exactly where they were. Once inside the wooden shack, Zack came face to face with the infamous Parker and flashed his Ranger badge in his left hand while holding his pistol in his right.

“Only one Ranger would be brave enough or crazy enough to come in here alone. Welcome to the Valley of Tears, Zack McCullough.  From the stories I’ve heard about you, I thought you’d be much bigger,” It was obvious that Quanah Parker was not overly impressed by the Texas Ranger.

“From what I’ve seen of your bloody deeds around Texas, I thought you’d have the body of a vulture and the head of a rattlesnake. I guess we’re both surprised at we see,” Zack spit at the feet of the bearish man to show his contempt.

“You think that by shooting me that it’s going to quench that raging fire of hate burning inside your gut. Don’t you want to make me suffer for all the people I’ve killed and laws I’ve broken. I can see it in your eyes that it is eating your insides,” Quanah Parker smiled through broken yellow teeth.


Zack was a seasoned warrior and knew that the Comanchero leader was taunting him into a fight, but it didn’t matter because this exactly what he wanted as well. In fact Zack had planned on doing this from the moment that he was forced to leave the Devil’s Wasteland years earlier. He holstered his pistol and pulled out his knife.

“Mano e Mano,” Quanah Parker relished the moment, “This is what my vision showed me what it would be like. I am glad that you didn’t die last time you were here or since then, that pleasure is mine alone. It is my destiny that the scalp of Ranger McCulloch hangs from my belt.”

“Let’s not keep your destiny waiting,” Zack replied coldly, “Blade up.”

Quanah pulled out a knife from his scabbard that was even longer than the one Zack was holding.  Both men circled each other, looking for an opening to make their attack. Finally the Comanchero Leader made his move, but Zack was quicker and sidestepped the knife thrust and slashed Quanah across the chest.

Blood poured out of the open wound and Quanah reached down and caught some of the red liquid in the palm of his hand and rubbed it across his face like warpaint and kept coming. Quanah lunged again and this time, Zack slashed his right forearm to the bone. In frustration Quanah charged forward and the Ranger went down on one knee and thrust his knife upward with both hands and the blade went under the sternum of the infamous killer all the way to the handle. Zack stood up with the Comanchero leader impaled upon knife. Their faces were inches apart and Quanah Parker grimaced with his last dying breaths, “What do you want me to tell the devil when I see him?”

Zack twisted the knife, “Tell him to stay the hell out of Texas!”

Cactus Frank was growing nervous as he stroked the Shiloh Sharps rifle resting across his lap. The two dogs were equally apprehensive as they waited for their master. Finally Zack walked out of the shack and fired a shot into the air that got everyone’s attention and held the severed head of Quanah Parker up for all to see, “This place is closed for business.”

When one man started to reach for his weapon, Cactus Frank shot him and the force of the heavy bullet literally lifted the outlaw off his feet. Two other men reached for their weapons and Zack killed both of them, “Ride hard, ride fast or stay here and die like Quanah Parker.”

Cactus Frank gave the crowd an extra incentive by firing a shot that shattered a water container in the midst of the crowd. The cowardly predators knew that the man standing before them was not bluffing or making an idle threat so they mounted up and rode out.  The two dogs rushed to Zack’s side and the next course of business for Zack and Cactus Frank was to free the hostages.

When Zack saw Selena, he literally ripped the door off her cage with his bare hands and she rushed into his protective arms. The death of Quanah Parker officially ended the brutal reign of terror by the Comancheros and closed a disgraceful chapter in Wild West history. The sobs of hopelessness that used to echo across the Devil’s Wasteland for decades had spontaneously turned to sighs of relief. Where only shadows of evil used to dwell, the healing rays of sunlight now shined brightly in its place.

Ranger Zachary McCulloch and his friend Cactus Frank Vermillion will always be fondly remembered as the two courageous Texans who stopped the crying in the Valley Of Tears.

The End



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  • Published: 7 months ago on March 16, 2019
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  • Last Modified: March 14, 2019 @ 9:41 pm
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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  1. Robert says:

    Most enjoyed I look forward to your weekly stories. Great way to start the week

  2. Joe says:

    Love Texas Ranger stories.
    My nephew, is a Ranger. He has some very interesting stories.
    One day he got a call from his Captain congratulating him for the quick ending to a murder case in his area. ( Rangers typically are assigned a three county area, but can be sent anywhere in the state). He had no idea what the Captain was talking about, but acted like he did, telling the Captain “I was just doing my job”.
    John immediately called the sheriff in the county where the murder occurred to find out the story. It seems a man was a suspect in a murder, but would not admit anything about being involved. The sheriff finally had enough and told the man “we will just have to turn this over to the Texas Rangers”. The suspect said he didn’t want anything to do with the Rangers and confessed to the murder.The sheriff mentioned in his news release that the Ranger, , had assisted in the investigation and the Captain had heard about it. Nobody wants to mess with the Rangers.

  3. Bart says:

    Good one, Tom

  4. Cary says:

    This was a really good western story…heroes, villains and a lot of action. Once again…I really love the combination of fact and fiction

  5. John Michels says:

    Tom I enjoyed your story about West Texas. Funny thing I worked in the oil fields of Runnels County when I was in my late teens. You mentioned the Governor Runnels in the story.

  6. Tony says:

    What a wonder way to start off the Sunday morning with a cup of hot coffee and the Vista Press Sunday story by Mr. Thomas Calabrese.
    What a great Western novel to start my day and my week. If film director John Huston, were alive and read this story he would would cast John Wayne in the lead role and we be watching this story in a movie theater near us. Great story and action packed adventure.

  7. Ronald Pickett says:

    Good story Tom.

  8. Clyde says:

    I like Old West stories and I really loved this one. So much to take in and it moved really quickly.

  9. Guy says:

    Another good one…enjoyed reading it.

  10. Kyle says:

    Chuck Norris would be proud..a great Texas Ranger tale

  11. Marsha says:

    Good story

  12. Pat says:

    Great story Tom. Let me know how much real history makes the background

  13. Steve says:

    Tom writes great movie stories…fast paced and very visual.

  14. Josh says:

    Keep the stories coming, it is part of my weekly routine to read them.

  15. wolf says:

    Another good one. I enjoyed the hero. A man of few words, but his words were his bond.

  16. Jocelyn says:

    A real shoot em up western.

  17. Larry says:

    I spent some time in Texas and actually visited this area, really brought the history out in an exciting fashion

  18. Terry Lutz says:

    Thanks for another great story Tom. Makes me want to study more Texas history!

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