Chapter Twenty Five

Chan is leaning on the pool table, a few guys surround him, one mouth makes a comment about chinks, Chan picks the cue ball off the table.
Mouth, “You gonna throw that at me, China?”
Chan squeezes, the cue ball pops, dust falls from Chan's hand onto the ragged felt.
The men lose interest in pool and jackass comments, they slink off to find a beer.
Black listens to what he mostly already knows. He played hard, now it’s time to make peace.
“Right now, the Colombians don't know us. We will take care of your problem. I need you to do something though.”
“Always a catch.”
“You gonna make good money on the catch, my friend. I need you to tell your Colombian contact you have convinced your resource to help clean the bills. But it has to be done reasonably. They can't go from the current flow to ten times that overnight. It will just screw up the system and bring way too much attention. Tell them it can handle another million in two weeks, and that preparations are in place to increase it by a million a month. That way, you get breathing space, and you get the million cause you ain't gonna give it to anyone.”
“How do you propose to deal with the Colombians?”
“The less you know, the less you can testify about.”
“And if it goes south, I'm left facing down crazy people with machine guns.”
“You got that problem now, with them, and with me. You in a deep hole lookin’ up. I tell you again, I don't care about your business. My people think weed is just fine, my people have no objections to drugs in general. We have objections to people who slaughter innocents for no other reason than to display power and intimidate.”
“Yet you come here and try and intimidate me.”
“You ain't innocent.”
Voice takes a pull on his cigar, “How do I get in touch?”
“You don't. If I need you, I find you. I don't really care if you use the story I gave you. It 's a way to buy yourself time and pick up free money in the process. You want to pass on the opportunity, suit yourself.”
“And you don't want any of the million?”
“I ain't gonna repeat myself. I found out what I wanted to know, you between a hard rock and hell. I'm the rock, you can survive the rock, even prosper, ain't no getting' outta hell.”
Voice sighs, “Man, I'm riding along one day fat and sassy, then these pukes show up and make life miserable. Fuck 'em. I got shit to lose. You live up to your word, I owe you.”
“Now we got a meetin' of the minds. Ain't no C4, by the way, just putty. Scrape it off and wipe the tank with a rag.”
Voice actually smiles, “You got major stones, brother.”
“Word.”
Black continues, “Ride this out for a coupla' weeks, then go back to your life. If your guys try to pack up and visit Canada, might make my work harder with the Colombians.”
“It occurred to me. But if my actions screw you up, I got pissed off crazy people to deal with. If I rat you out, I still can't get their money clean. I tried to tell them my source can't handle it, I tried to be reasonable, to get them to be reasonable.”
“Can't reason with unreasonable people.”
“Word.”
Black sticks out his hand, Voice says, “Where I come from, a handshake is a contract.”
“Understood,” they shake, Black and Chan leave.
Back in the apartment, Black reiterates, then says, “Kinda liking the bike, how much it cost?”
Janah, “Keep it. We're running a tab for Adriana, it'll be part of the expense, just like the lessons. We need to keep them around anyway, in case there's a need for bikers to appear again.”
Black hugs all around, hugs Chloe, “You getting tall as Daphne, girl. Show me that smile again.”
Chloe blasts her white straight smile.
“A million watts. Going to break a lot of hearts.”
Chloe looks at Amaya, “Not so many.”
“Janah says you’re a Sensitive, like Zi. Zi is always a pain, telling me what I'm about to do. At least she doesn't tell anyone else. Sonia keeps bugging me to get Zi to teach her how to be a Sensitive. I said I don't need another woman reading my mind. She said she can already read my mind, it's for her clients.”
“If everyone knew what everyone else was thinking, I'm not sure the world would be a better place. I find I frequently wish I didn't know what people are thinking.”
“Makes sense. Buddhism tells us there is no bad or good except how we think about it. I'm not such a good Buddhist, I got opinions.”
Chloe, “Everybody's got opinions. Buddhists who set themselves on fire clearly have opinions, the ultimate opinion. The Dali Lama has opinions, or he wouldn't go on about Tibet so much.”
Black looks at me, “She's a model, obviously some folks opinions about models and brains are misguided.”
“Most people are misguided, good to see you aren't one of them.”
Chloe, “And right now, you are thinking it is good to be with your tribe.”
Black, “Too easy. I think that every time I'm here.”
Chloe, “Me too.”

Chapter Twenty Six

Now that the stage is set, the improv can begin. I'd like to think that we can learn our lines, then add emotion and the play will unfold as written, like one of Amaya’s pieces. Life doesn’t work like a play, improv is a daily experience. Plans are what you pretend will happen until life trots out its surprises.
We’re waiting for Society Surveillance to collect information on Eduardo's movements. Clearly, he's the man, and so he's the man we ultimately need to see. Janah will want to also deal with his Minister of Finance, Alexis Moreno, so we can move his money to a new home, ours.
As if there aren't enough balls in the air, Chloe's magazine shoot and her orthodontic photos hit their respective publications. Her phone is lit up with messages from her agency.
Taylor comes over, Chloe is with me, the others are out.
Taylor, “Appears Chloe is the next big thing. The agency has called me four times, What do you want to do?”
“What do they want?”
“They’re in this to make money, that's the point. Chloe is free to take all the work they offer, or pick and choose. Right now, she's in the driver's seat, demand is higher than supply.”
“Chloe?”
“Sheesh, I don't know. Depends on the job, the time it takes, I guess.”
Taylor, “Here's what you want to think over. If you take all the work, you’re the IT girl for some time frame. How long is unpredictable, but it won’t be forever, maybe a year or two. You will make a ton of money, then as the recognition factor kicks in, there's a saturation point. You'll be been there, done that. That's modeling. The good news is, you have the money, the pressure drops, you move on in life.”
Chloe, “And the alternative?”
“You are selective and understand that the offers your reject will go to someone else. Some companies and designers will create ads around you that might otherwise not happen, but mostly they take another choice. Designers don't really want the model to be the center of attention, she’s to attract attention, then the focus is on the clothes, makeup accessories. Nobody really knows if the model sells the clothes, or the other way around. Some company may want to make you their exclusive star. That, too, will fade, but it will be lucrative while it happens.”
“What should I do, Daphne?”
“Do you want longevity or immediate fame and fortune?”
Chloe thinks for a bit, “Well, my family is rich. Of course, if you throw me out, I'm not rich.”
Janah, “it's not an issue. We already have accounts for you. One day you may throw us out.”
 “Oh, so I don't need to do this for the money. Do I make a big splash, or have a career?”
Taylor, “And remember, the big splash may never happen. Right now there are a dozen offers. If you take them all, and the results are just good but not great, then you're back to catch as catch can. I've seen one month wonders, and other girls go on to television or movies. There’s so much luck involved.”
Chloe is thoughtful again. I pour everyone more coffee, refill Chloe's Coke Zero.
Chloe, “We should review the offers and take a couple. That may actually help the agency. They won't make as much immediately, but they get to test the water. If the ads continue to attract attention, they find out what they need to know. Tell them I want to learn more, and doing stuff in a rush doesn't work for me.”
Taylor, “Do you want me or Daphne to handle it?”
“Taylor, I'll be glad to sit in, but you know what to say and a lot more about who we're dealing with. They like and trust you.”
Taylor is plainly happy to be given the lead, she’d handled her own career well, worked it, didn't leap into projects. She isn't a genius businesswoman, she'd made mistakes. But overall, her persistence, pleasant personality and punctuality made her a far more frequent choice than attitude girls who seemed to think they would look at thirty like they looked at fifteen with a dietary regimen of cigarettes, cocktails and cocaine
Taylor, “I'll make an appointment to see what's on the table, when are you free?”
“Tomorrow is Friday, Chloe can be available then, Monday through Wednesday is booked, then next Thursday is open again.”
Taylor taps her phone, “Marsha, it's Taylor, fine and you are well? Great, can I speak to Adeline? We don't know, I want to come in with Chloe and see what's up.”
Adeline, “Taylor! I'm drowning in opportunity for Chloe. One fashion blog said she has the eyes of a goddess.”
“Get out! Which one? Really? No, I know it, that woman has a hell of a following. I know you're busy, is tomorrow too soon. If so, it has to wait until Thursday.”
“I'm not too busy for this, ten?”
 “See you, love you honey, bye.”
She taps off, “Ten tomorrow, can I get on a laptop?”
I push one over to her, she types in a URL, the blog pops up, Fashion Notes, she reads, “Oh my, listen to this, ‘there's a new discovery in our world, a girl with the eyes of a goddess and her name is Chloe. A one page shot with the well known Taylor Godden sizzled in four of the best known fashion mags, featuring several designers. The door buster was an ad in, of all things, an orthodontic trade magazine for braces, in which the absolutely adorable Chloe is seen with sparkly braces and without. I wanted braces after I saw it.
Chloe is a fashion treasure, tall, slim, delectably photogenic and the piece de resistance, big bright violet eyes. You read right, violet. And I am assured neither Photoshopped nor does she wear contacts. Yes, any model can these days have any color eyes she wants, but they can't have them on a face the camera worships. I can't wait to see her next work, I've already framed her first two pieces and I have to blink every time I look at them. I hope to meet her soon, just to verify such a splendid creature exists. Chloe is one of the fab models of Phrenetic Fashion, the boutique agency here in Manhattan we all know as PF. Welcome to our world, Chloe.’”
We sit quietly stunned, Chloe says, “Gee, it didn't seem like such a big deal, I just did what Taylor told me to do.”
We laugh, “Then keep taking Taylor's advice until you hit your own stride.”
Taylor, “Deanna Markov is followed by the fashion universe. She likes to mention models she finds unique. I like her because, if she's not fond of a girl, she doesn't say anything negative, she mentions their names without comment. She told me once that other people might find them fascinating and it wasn't for her to throw obstacles in their way. Deanna is a genuinely nice person in what is sometimes a cutthroat, snarky business.”
Since eyes can be so easily colored, what makes Chloe unique? It's one of those whole versus part things. Amaya, for instance, has perfect everything, soft blue-gray eyes, blond, eyes big enough, spaced precisely where they should be for her cheeks. Her nose is not too big, too small, too button. Her lips are full without being pouty or puffy. Her head is the right size for her body, long but not giraffe neck, her ears lay flat against her head, skin is satin flawless. She doesn't have a single mole or freckle and a blemish would never be so bold as to make an appearance. Each part is splendid and the entire presentation is astounding.
Chloe is different. Her eyes, while stunningly beautiful, are set a bit too wide. Her face is narrow, her ears poke out, not like a rabbit, but a bit. Her neck is long, her upper lip is narrow, her lower fuller. She has a spray of freckles across her nose, not dense, scattered, slightly darker than her natural skin tone. Her nose is pointed, not huge, bigger than her face requires, and it's narrow. She has mini-boobs, that’s being generous, lean as a snake.
In sum, if you analyze the parts separately, she's average. But when the package is seen complete, the parts come together to make an unforgettable presentation. Even more so enhanced by Amaya's makeup magic. It's not unusual, lots of models look plain until the paint goes on the canvas. In Chloe's case, with or without makeup, she is irresistible. What puts the point on the pinnacle is her attitude, she is persistently cheerful, her joy contagious.

Chapter Twenty Seven

We’re in Adeline's office at Phrenetic Fashion, which is aptly named, fashion shoots and catwalks are nothing if not frenetic. The office, however, is relatively subdued, people on phones with clients, calls to models, calls to drum up business. Adeline is at her desk, phone in hand, she sees us and brings the call to a close.
“Hello people. I am so excited by Chloe's opportunities,” she looks at Chloe, “you are going to be quite a young success,” smiles.
Chloe, “Thank you.”
“I've made a list of offers and a description of the products, the type of work, Chloe alone, part of a team, we have some personal appearance offers. Where do you want to begin?”
She pushes a stack of copies across the desk, Taylor ignores them.
Taylor, “Before we look at specifics, I'd like to know your thoughts on approach. How is Chloe to be presented? If we may, can we discuss that before we sort through proposals?”
“Of course. Some of our new people like to see who they are being sought by, it's kind of fun for them.”
“And it will be fun for us. First things first. How do you see this?”
Adeline, “It's been a while since I've been in a similar position. Usually we fight to get our girls in the door. We are a working agency. Less a talent agency that creates the image then sells the model as this or that. Our people are happy to get work. That said, this is different and you are correct to use a different approach. Chloe, sometimes we talk about our people like they are products, most unfortunate, but they often have to sit while people say she's too this or not enough that, or not right for this shoot. It's not meant to be mean, it's mostly efficiency. Shoots are expensive and there's a budget. You understand?”
“Taylor coached me. I'm not offended, I am who I am and I wouldn't want to be the wrong girl for a client anymore than I want to work for the wrong client just to get work.”
Adeline blinks, scrunches her lips, “That's good, very good. We will work well together. I should have known, being mentored by Taylor. Here's a suggestion. Rather than rule anyone out, let's rule them in. That is, see what they want and decide if it fits. Out of that a pattern will emerge on its own. If we decide Chloe is this or that beforehand, we put her in a box. Do I make sense?”
Taylor, “You always make sense Adeline, that's why I work with you.”
“And I am grateful. Chloe is young, but can be made to be younger, or older. Her height gives her a lot of flexibility. Her face is pliable, naturally cute, but she can go serious or playful with a change in setting, hairstyle and outfits. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I suggest we select two, perhaps three, from the things that have come in. No more. Let Chloe gain experience at a sensible pace, not throw her into the mill. Long term she’ll get more and better work. Don't tell my board, they want more right now, it's all about next quarter's bottom line.”
Taylor, “You relieve me, Adeline. We have already come to the same conclusion, Chloe doesn't want to disappoint, but the approach you propose is precisely the one we wanted to hear.”
“Just remember honey, I didn't think of squat, I'm going to have to play disappointed to the board. My position is Chloe and her guardians insist. We can have her selectively, or she can retire after two shoots. I'll remind them Chloe doesn't live with five models in a two bedroom five story walk up and skimps on food to buy cigarettes. We aren’t covering her expenses, any cut we get is pure profit. That also means she’s only vaguely under contract, she doesn’t owe us any money, we can’t hold her up, which they prefer. They'll shrug, mumble and live with it.”
Taylor, “Perfect, it's on us. Now shall we explore the offers?”
We move to a circular table, coffee and tea arrive, Chloe asks for a Diet Coke, not too much ice.
Chloe, “Thought I’d start my diva bit right away, Amaya taught me that part.”
Adeline laughs, “She's the right one for it. God knows I tried to get her to join us, she’s adamant that she has a very full plate and can't consider it.”
Chloe, “Actually, that's another reason you can use with your board. My plate is not empty, and for the foreseeable future, I can't work Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday unless it’s special.”
Adeline, “We'll just include that in the portfolio. Young models have school and other interests, it's not that unusual. If they want you, they'll work around you. Just be on time and give them your best effort.”
Chloe nods.
We take a proposal at a time. Half ruled out because they involved other kids and Chloe is just a body among others, and the shoots were too 'child' for her. They include some well known names, but we aren't going to take all the possibilities anyway.
Others are ads for dental products, kind of expected since her orthodontics photos. Some are for makeup, one of which is interesting. The company, a name you would recognize, has an idea to take the same girl and different makeup applications, giving her different looks in a series of shots. The point is to demonstrate how they have all the products a girl could need, an one stop shop. We set that in the possibility pile.
The two others we like are for a teen clothing line and the other for high fashion. Both of them want one girl, the teen line in different outfits in a series of pages, the fashion line one page, outfit to be decided. All three have scheduling flexibility but did want to get the work finished in the next two weeks to make magazine deadlines for fall fashion issues.
Adeline, “This is perfect. I would have argued against the dental, she's done that bit. And I prefer her to be the feature, or with one other model at most. The high fashion session will likely include a male. They tend to have him from the side, even off in the distance. You are okay with that?”
Chloe, “Long as I don't have to date him.”
“Male models run the gamut. A fair number don't date girls. The guy will be twenty five or so. If he's not gay, he knows you’re off limits. Most of them know Taylor, it won't be a problem.”
“I would like Taylor and Daphne to come, it that okay?”
“Sure, Taylor knows what to do, they know you’re new and they'll get better work if you have support. As long as people stay out of the way and don't turn into stage moms.”
“What's a stage mom?”
Taylor, “Kids bring mom along, or mostly mom insists. Then she wants to tell the photographer what looks best, how to light their precious darling, what kind of makeup she uses, the dress is too short. I've seen sessions go quite badly. If it persists, the girl simply gets no more calls.”
“Daphne's not like that. She always asks me what I want, it's irritating, I have to constantly make decisions. My whole family is like that except Amaya. She knows what's best for everybody.”
Adeline laughs, “Is that irritating?”
“Not really, she's always right.”
Adeline laughs again, “I'd love to see a family interaction, must be quite a sight.”
“Well, if you like beautiful girls who never fight with each other. My family lacks interpersonal drama.”
“Then it is a unique family indeed.”
“Miss Adeline, you don't know the half of it.”
Adeline smiles, I can see she's wondering what the girl means, then figures out she's not going to find out. Chloe's been well coached. I marvel at how this girl, fifteen, came to us from the hell of her former life, knowing almost nothing of the world. Then in less than six years, is poised, articulate, smart. This on top of all that. Her resilience and determination are sheer inspiration. I should write a book...oh, I am. Sometimes, I get caught up, forget how the words find their way to the processor.
We shake hands, Taylor chats with people, introduces Chloe around. This is her moment, I'm wallpaper, tasteful wallpaper, still only background.

Chapter Twenty Eight

Monday comes, since our dealing with the Colombians got delayed, we'd returned the Escalade. Angelo shows up to collect Chloe at eight thirty sharp. I ride with them to the Murakamis. After greeting Hanshi, they are off to kendo, I sit with Ari and have tea. Ari apologizes for having such poorly made cups, they are exquisite.
We sip in silence for a while, normal custom, it isn't a tea ceremony, we sit at the dining room table.
“Chloe is performing to your satisfaction? Should Amaya spend time on anything?”
I know I’ll get no direct answer, that's how it is.
“Your young treasure knows tea ceremony. She is doing repetition. When she has made one thousand cups, she will make the next one blindfolded. When she has made ten thousand cups, she will be Master. Not necessary to be master to be geisha or all geisha would be old lady.”
I laugh, “And what can we do?”
“She makes tea, you drink it.”
I let it go, trying to get Ari to say what she wasn't going to say is a fool's errand.
Instead, I change course and bring her current with Chloe's newly launched modeling career.
Ari brightens, “My maiko will be famous model?”
“Well, she's just starting. I brought copies of the two things she's done if you would like to see them.”
Ari gets Asian mom fussy, “Precious student is already in magazines and you don't tell me right away? You should be waving them in my face when you arrive.”
“Chloe might have been embarrassed. A maiko must demonstrate humility.”
Ari looks at me out of the corner of her eye, “You are as sly as mamasan. Nishiko says you are practically Japanese, a great honor for gaijin.”
“And humbly received by my unworthy self.”
Ari huffs, “Always full of baloney, almost Japanese. Show me pictures and quit being sneaky.”
I hand them to her.
She studies them a long time, as if they are fine works of calligraphy. She quickly wipes a tear, I pretend to be studying my teacup, “Such a beauty. Not common beauty, a beauty in her being. She is Zen. In Zen art, or even sweeping the walk, the master leaves one small imperfection, to remind us that there is perfection, but not in us. You will leave these, so I can show my husband.”
“Of course,” it isn't a request anyway.
Ari relents, just a bit, “Maiko might benefit from more singing. Calligraphy she can begin, but go slow. She will be fine, but no point in overwhelming famous young model. Her life will be long, plenty of time, you understand?”
I bow, “You have been most clear. We will follow your wise guidance.”
Ari frowns, “Not bad for full of baloney gaijin,” she waves her hand at me, “Go now, much to do.”
I bow deeply, back out of the room as is proper, Angelo takes me home.
Nikko is giving me deadpan eyes when I walk in. She, of course, knows what transpired, she loves it.
“Good for full of baloney gaijin to learn humility.”
“I can practice being humble with you anytime you wish.”

Nikko gets her play sneer, “I will extract my price, after we have removed the cocaine vermin. Until then, I need you functional. But it might please me for you to be my pillow girl tonight.”
I bow, “I am all anticipation.”
She kisses me. I like Nishiko to kiss me, doesn't everyone want to kiss adorable Japanese girls? I actually get to do it, every damn day. I kiss her back, just to let her know how much I like it.
Amaya, “I like you to kiss Nikko, I get in your head and it is like me kissing Nikko. She plays hard, but she sure kisses soft.”
“Mysterious oriental dichotomy.”

The plan goes pretty much as planned, Nikko and I do our thing, Janah and Zi do a similar thing on the other half of the extra king bed. Then I steal off to Amaya's bedroom and wrap her up.
Chloe returns Wednesday afternoon, about time, I need a fix, her bright eyes, dash of freckles. She does her third shoot Thursday, the fashion one. We while away the evening, get her a good night’s sleep, then it’s time to work.
She's in a long Versace body hugging evening gown in black satin, draped to the floor and trailing behind her. The male model stands off to one side, so handsome he’s pretty, but only as tall as Chloe, so she wears no shoes. Doesn't matter, can't see her feet. Shots with no jewelry, some with diamonds, a few with a black velveteen choker with a diamond centerpiece. Some shots have hair up, some in her natural fall to her shoulders, crescents her face, another with a part on the side.
The photographer is Claude, “What a face! We had to give her some hips, though, and more breast.”
Turns out there is actually stick on plastic they attach to her hips to give her more adult curves. Fill her out up top just a bit, and voila, photo magic. She is made up, pale ivory eye shadow, a hint of eyeliner, thankfully no big slut lines. Why women slather eyeliner on with a paintbrush escapes me.
The whole thing takes three hours, they brought three dresses, the black most suitable. She’s up against a blue screen and she will be superimposed on one of several sets, a foyer of marble, with statues, inside a bedroom as if they are preparing to leave for the evening, and a ballroom entrance way. The principals will decide after Claude gives them the finished digitals.
I ask him, “Do you think they will use it?”
Claude's nose goes up, “They will die before they don't, my work is perfection itself,” he laughs at himself and returns his nose to Earth, “and my camera dreams for a girl such as Chloe. All I have to do is point the thing and press the button.”
I smile, “I've seen your work, Claude, you are an artist of the first tier. She is lucky to have your expertise.”
He cocks his head, nods his thanks. Chloe is ready, she shakes everyone's hand, hugs Claude, “I love working with you, I hope to do so again soon.”
Taylor's been coaching, Claude holds his hand to his heart, “Such a face God sends me, with the eyes of a goddess,” he's read Markov's blog.
Chloe curtsies, bows her head.
As we are leaving, my sensitive ears pick up Claude's whisper, “What a marvel, all models should learn such graciousness. I am going to demand she grace my camera many more times. Her career is assured.”
I don't say anything, Janah is tuned in, “How nice of him. She did splendidly.”
In the car, Taylor is gushing, Chloe says, “Taylor, I have you to mentor me, how could I have done otherwise? Thank you so much, I never could have learned so much so quickly without you.”
“How sweet!”
We drop her at the condo, then home. Time for a less enjoyable project.
Chan is with us, Janah is leaving Black out of it. Chan, Zi and I are Shaolin priests, Nikko is a kendo and taekwondo master. Janah can make people explode with her mind. In a pinch, Amaya can run over people. We have it covered.
The Society has given us an idea of Eduardo's habits. Unless it’s an unusual week, he's a homebody. He's a bit north of sixty, no clubbing, he has bimbos delivered. Paco is like super glue, the finance guy, Alexis, shows up daily with his laptop. Other unsavories are in and out on no regular schedule. Big tit broads are apparently only for weekend frolic, there's a Latin housekeeper, another cook, a driver who doubles as a heavy. Three cars in the three car garage, the Lincoln, a Mercedes and a BMW, all top shelf, all white. Maybe he's color blind.
Janah, “We're going to snatch the finance guy, he's got the laptop. Unless he's dumb, the actual records are on an encrypted drive. The drive of the laptop may be encrypted, or he may use a thumb. You can store encrypted files in the Cloud, but it's new technology and I doubt he trusts it enough. Once we have him, he's a hostage we use to get a face to face with Eduardo.”
“Why not try for it when the file is open? I bet he's wireless. If I sit outside his house, maybe I can hack his system while he's working on it. Saves me from having to break his code. If I catch him before he opens the files, I get his passwords as well. Then we snatch and use him. The Society can clean out his accounts while we sit and chat with Eduardo.”
Janah, “No reason not to give it a go. When do you want to stakeout?”
“Need to see his neighborhood. His address in the files?”
Janah flips around the site, “Yep,” she looks up the address, some luck, it seems to be an apartment complex not too far from Eduardo, Fillmore St. 22D. Between Surveillance and Google, it's impossible to hide these days.

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