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Books by David A. Schwinghammer
Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Last edited: Tuesday, June 14, 2011
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· All the Good Stories Are Taken
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
· Black and White and Red All over
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Little Crow
· Calliope's Revenge
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
           >> View all 71
The Bishop comes to see Father Czech, Father Dewey gives his first sermon, and he and Viktorija have a long talk.



Chapter 7

The Big Winner

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
-Robert Frost



A black Ford 4X4 with oversized tires and red reflector lights on the cab was parked outside Sacred Heart Convent, the motor running. A cloud of exhaust plumed out the back. Three men were squeezed inside, seemingly listening to Garth Brooks bleat about friends in low places. All three men wore curved gangsta-style baseball caps.
“Mrs. Mayer says she seen them take him in there,” Bob Henkrikson said, exhaling a stream of Pall Mall smoke.
“What are we gonna do with him when we get him?” Mel Leyk said. Mel was Andy Leyk’s first cousin.
“Did you fart?” Kenny Hendrikson said.
“That’s the catalectic converter,” Bob, the driver, said. “Smells like one of those stink bombs we used to make in chemistry class.”
“You took chemistry?” Mel said.
“My friends were all in there. I figure we’ll beat him up good, then lose him in the woods.”
“Why don’t we lynch the bastard like they used to?” Kenny said.
“I ain’t going along with any murder,” Mel said, blowing on his hands. “What’s the matter with that heater? It’s cold as hell in here.”
“I’d say you’re just getting cold feet,” Kenny said. He tipped back his can of Schlitz malt.
“What if we leave him out there in the woods and he can’t find his way out?” Mel said. “Ain’t that murder, too?”
“You seem to be forgetting what he done to Andy,” Bob said.
“Yeah, suppose you’re right. My aunt Helen sure seems convinced Roman done it. I’m surprised she’s not here with us. Wants his balls cut off.”
“That’s an idea,” Kenny said. “Somebody’s got to send these pervs a message. You never heard of this sort of thing fifty years ago. It’s those damn bleeding hearts that are responsible. I wonder how they’d feel if it was their sister got killed.”
Kenny popped the door on his side, jumped down onto the road, and misstepped, turning his ankle. “Damn it that hurts. Let’s get this over with before Jimminy gets done making his rounds on the east side.”
They tramped and limped up the sidewalk to the entrance, where Mel tried the door. “Shit, it’s locked.”
“Those old nuns think the devil is under every bush,” Kenny said, puffing from his recent exertion.
“Can’t blame ‘em, considering,” Bob said. “Why don’t I try a window?”
Kenny rang the doorbell. “Here goes,” he said. “Put on your masks.” Mel retrieved a blue, farmer-style bandanna from his back pocket, tied it over his nose. The other two affixed Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan Halloween masks.
Nothing happened. Kenny rang the doorbell again.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Mel said, stamping his feet. “There’s nobody in there. Somebody’s going to see us and call the cops.”
“Give ‘em time,” Kenny said. “They’re old; probably takes ‘em a while to find their slippers and such.”
The door opened and an old nun in a nightgown stuck her head out the door, then let out a yelp that would curl toenails. Kenny clamped his palm over her mouth. “We just want Roman Platz, Sister. Nobody will get hurt if you let us have him. I’m gonna let you go if you promise you’ll behave.”
The old nun nodded. Then she bit his hand. “Jesus Christ!” Kenny yelled, then shoved the old nun inside. The others clamored in after him and shut the door behind them.
“You do that again and I’m gonna forget I’m Catholic,” Kenny snarled. “Now tell us where he is.”
“They took him to 2 West in St. Cloud,” the nun said. “The psychiatric part of the hospital. The sheriff wanted to keep him someplace safe until they could convene the grand jury.”
“Oh, yeah?” Kenny said. “Why’d you fight so hard then? You guys check upstairs while I watch this rabid old bat.”
They searched all three floors of the convent, waking all of the retired nuns in the process, but could not find Roman Platz. Back in the vestibule the three reconnoitered, Mel peeking through the blinds at the street outside. He spotted the sheriff’s cruiser, the bubble top flashing blue in the darkness, and Jimminy Miller tearing up the sidewalk, his gun drawn.
“We’re fucked,” Mel said.
“Not if I call help it,” Kenny said. “Jimminy hasn’t got the balls to shoot us.”
He banged open the door and barreled down the sidewalk, like William “The Refrigerator” Perry, knocking Jimminy on his can. His gun going off in the process. The three fought their way into the cab of the pick-up, Bob stomping on the accelerator. The truck spun and rocked from side to side, leaving a five-foot stretch of rubber, and they were gone into the night.
Jimminy got to his knees, took his ticket book from his back pocket. He’d recognized the pick-up, but just in case, he calmly wrote down the license plate numbers.

#

At three o’clock that morning, the tornado siren went off and Dewey, Father Czech, and Viktorija huddled in the rectory basement where they waited for the all clear along with the Boser family (mom and dad and a teenage boy and girl) from across the street who had no basement. Father Czech and the Boser family played penny-ante poker, while Dewey became engrossed in a history of the parish--there were something like fifty copies in a cobwebbed bookcase he’d noticed in the corner near the hot-water heater. Some interesting stuff in there. A group of men had tried to dynamite the rectory during the Depression--a disagreement over financing St. Teresa’s, the new girls’ school.
The Bosers went home after an hour of waiting, but Father Czech had dozed off and Viktorija and Dewey were in a stupor by the time the all clear arrived an hour after that.
The next morning Dewey was up in his room, reading his breviary when he heard the KSTG disc jockey complaining about Chief Hole in the Day, whose job it was to protect St. Gervaisites from twisters, as he was buried on a cliff just west of the city. “The old Chief must have been asleep at the switch,” the jock said. “The twister briefly touched down, not too far from the Chief’s gravesite, destroying a dozen homes, some of whom don’t have insurance.”
Dewey and Father Czech spend the rest of Saturday arranging temporary homes for the citizens affected. Dewey had two wedding and confirmation practice for the seventh and eighth graders in the afternoon. He was exhausted by the time he finally hit the hay.
It wasn’t until Sunday morning--he’d been in the shower with the portable radio volume turned up high for more news about the tornado--that he heard the news about the arrest of the Hendriksons and Mel Leyk on the radio. There goes the bowling team, he thought. There goes the barbershop. Something was seriously wrong with the grapevine if the Hendriksons hadn’t known Roman Platz was in St. Cloud Hospital. Apparently they hadn’t known about the discovery of the girl’s skates, which made it apparent that the killer was most likely a local person, who’d known a good place, or not so good considering, to dump the skates. Surely after this they’d let Roman go. No way would Roman have that kind of mental acumen.
“Breakfast!” Viktorija announced, her voice easily reaching him from two floors below.
Dewey toweled off, felt his jowls. Did he need a shave today? Felt sandpapery to him, but Father Czech swore there was nothing there but peach fuzz.
“Oatmeal!” he screeched when he took a chair at the kitchen table.
“It is the low-fat, low-cholesterol kind,” she said. “Father Czech he is on a diet.”
“I’ll just have toast,” he said. “Kind of nervous about my sermon. The bishop is coming, you know. You’d think the Buddha would have the decency to wait until after my first Sunday sermon.”
“Maybe he will take that into consideration,” she said, lowering the flame on the repulsive concoction. “Did Father tell you he wishes me to help with the counting of the collection after mass?”
Dewey took a bite of toast, sipped at his orange juice. “No, he didn’t. You just watch you don’t get sticky fingers now.”
“You will be there, will you not? Father Czech said you will also be helping.”
“Really? Hadn’t heard that either. Where is the old boy, by the way?”
“On the phone with the Bishop. They have been talking for the past half hour.”
“Financial potholes. I’m beginning to smell a rat.”
“We do not have a rodent problem that I am aware of.”
He laughed. “Sorry, Vick. I keep forgetting you don’t know the lingo. Smell a rat in this instance means that like a magician the Bishop had something up his sleeve when he assigned me to St. Gervais. I’m thinking he had it in mind all along for me to straighten out the financial entanglements.”
“Father Czech is very poor, is this not so?”
“Well, he’s got that fancy car, but I have a feeling it’s not paid for.”
“Your friend Gordon is rich, is he not?”
“No, I told you. He spends his money as fast as he makes it. Why?”
“Gordon and I we went to dinner and he has asked me to attend a play at this place they call the Guthrie in Minneapolis.” Dewey’s stomach did the kind of flip-flop it did when he rode the roller coaster at Valley Fair. “I did not know whether this would be appropriate for me to travel all that way unchaperoned. Dr. Booker may not like this.”
“You have another suitor?”
“When I first arrived in St. Gervais, I applied for a job with your Dr. Booker, the veterinarian. He has also asked me to dinner. He has said he would save a job for me when an opening came available.”
“I shouldn’t badmouth Gordy. Helped me out with the Trutwins, did I tell you?”
“He has an important case in your Twin Cities. Have you heard of a Mr. Donald Blom?”
“Oh, my God!”
“Why do you say this?”
“He’s the number one suspect in the Katie Poirier murder. She was working in a convenience store. He kidnapped her, killed her, and burned her body in a fire pit. It’s pretty much open and shut. A witness got most of his license plate number, and he’s got a record of sex abuse that would make Jack the Ripper look like a choir boy.”
“Why would Gordon wish to defend such a man?”
“Publicity I suppose. I understand Blom hasn’t got any money.”
After breakfast Dewey wandered into Father Czech’s sitting room, where the pastor was just finishing with the Bishop. “I’ll be expecting you then, Bert,” he said, then hung up. Father Czech put his pinky in his ear, waggled it around, and came out with a thick smudge of earwax, wiped it on a Kleenex. “Did you know this stuff has antibacterial elements? Everything is good for something, I guess.”
“Yeah, I think I heard that.”
“You look troubled. Can I help you?”
“I’m as nervous as a bride on the first night of her honeymoon,” Dewey said. “I was wondering if you could give me a few pointers on my sermon.”
Father Czech raked his fingers through what remained of his springy hair. “It’s been so long, I’d almost forgotten. I’m afraid my first sermon was total pabulum. I took my text from the epistle that day. It was so tedious I can’t even remember what it was about.”
Mutt trotted up to Dewey holding a rubber ball in his teeth. “Not now, old sport,” he said, ruffling the dog’s ears. “Do you think I should mention the Leyk killing?”
“God no! They’ll think you’re hinting that one of them did it. And everybody knows that Garrison Keillor was writing about St. Gervais when he limned Lake Woebegone. You know, all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
“Too late now, I’m afraid, but I’ve got it down to fifteen minutes from twenty.”
Mutt loped over to the pastor, dropped the ball at his feet, staring up at him in anticipation. “Not as long as Clinton’s State of the Union, but still a bit lengthy. They want to get in and out of there in forty-five minutes, and if you go over, they start pointing at their watches.”
“What does the Bishop have on his mind, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Mutt gave up and went to lie on his rug by the fireplace. “Same old same old. He doesn’t understand how collections can be down when the economy is on the up. Wants to know what happened to our cut from Governor Ventura’s rebate. That’s why I want you to count the collection with Viktorija; we’ll be going over the books. Lucky thing I’ve got another set.” He grinned up at Dewey and winked.

#

The altar boys that Sunday just happened to be Jimmy Judek and that malingerer Paul, who’d found Andy Leyk’s skates while fishing off the old railroad bridge. This gave Dewey an idea.
The Bishop was in the third row, grinning up at Dewey like a third grader watching The Lion King. Behind him sat Sheriff Weaver, giving Dewey the fish eye. He was dressed in a blue pin-striped suit. Too small by a couple of sizes.
“Considering the weeks events,” Dewey said, crouching a bit to speak into the microphone, “I would like to offer a moment of prayer for Andrea Leyk and her family,” he said, bowing his head. It was so quiet in the church he’d swear he could hear the parishioners hearts thumping. He counted to ten, then went on. “Father Czech and I were talking this morning about my first sermon, and he cautioned me not to talk about the Leyk murder, but being a young guy, wet behind the ears and all . . .” He waited for a moment, waiting for a laugh. Nothing. The congregation was probably afraid to laugh in church. “I decided to ignore his advice.” The bishop looked like one of the statues above the altar behind Dewey, stiff and blanched. For once the smile had abandoned him. “I’d just like to ask all of you out there to search your memories and if you remember anything, if you know anything, please get in touch with the authorities. I realize some of you are reluctant . . .”
He stopped, turned, and signaled for Jimmy and Paul, who were squirming in the plush velvet chairs behind him, most likely trading Pokemon cards, to come forward. “These two boys weren’t at all reticent,” he said, gesturing toward Jimmy and Paul who’d stopped at the foot of the pulpit. “I don’t know whether you know it or not, but Jimmy and Paul have provided the authorities with a valuable piece of evidence. They were fishing Thursday morning when they got a bite . . . Jimmy thought it was a whale it fought so hard.” This time they laughed, probably at Jimmy’s surprised expression. “But it turned out to be Andy Leyk’s inline skates tied up in the garments she was wearing on that unfortunate day. Jimmy had been badgering his parents for skates for two years, he told me.” More laughing. “But Paul insisted they turn them in to the police.” He paused to let the chuckling die down. “More of us need to have Paul’s sense of civic duty. Someone threw those skates off the railroad bridge, ladies and gentlemen. And there are houses and an apartment building lined up along the river’s edge. I have a feeling one of you saw the murderer throw those skates into the river.”
Dewey tried to look at them all, and he was sure they thought he was, too, as he was using that old speech trick he’d learned: establish eye contact with six of them and they’ll all think you’re addressing them individually.

#

Two men wearing black fedoras and similarly colored overcoats turned left at the Mississippi River Bridge and arm-in-arm negotiated the steep pitch to the bottom of the hill, where they stopped to watch the torrents of water pour over the dam.
“This place is so beautiful,” the Bishop said. “If I lived here, I’d come here often.”
“It’s the local make-out spot I’m afraid. Another thorn in the side for Jim Miller.”
“Take my arm, Emil” the Bishop said. “Let’s walk. We’re too old to worry about what people will think who see two men walking arm-in-arm.”
Just down the road from the dam, Murphy Park stretched for a couple of blocks toward the Culp Mansion, and beyond that was a newer version of the railroad bridge, which could have doubled for a Roman aqueduct. As they walked they passed several fisherman casting their lines out into the foamy, rock-strewn water.
“What sort of fish do they catch?” the Bishop asked.
“I don’t know, carp, suckers. Up above the damn, I’ve seen them hook blue gills.”
“Mighty tasty little creatures. I’ll have to get my cook to scare some up for me.” For a few minutes they walked in silence, crossing a small bridge, over a runoff gurgling into a catch basin. “You remember the rector at the seminary, Emil? Said he liked candidates who gave him a little grief. Said they were the ones who would lead the modern church.”
“I don’t think he meant playing pot limit poker at three in the morning, Bert.”
“You would remember that.”
“I tapped out early, remember. You were the big winner.”
They wound their way through a cordon of maple and oak trees, their fallen scarlet and golden leaves spreading a kind of crinkly carpet. “Yeah, and I’m still the big winner. Unlike some other people we could mention.”
“Haughtiness does not become you, Bert.”
“Yeah, I know all about that humility buggery. Mea Culpa.” He bent over to tie his shoe, tied it with a flourish, the same way he signed his name. He glanced up at Emil, the ever present smile playing on his lips. “What made you want to go into the priesthood, Emil, if it wasn’t advancement I mean? I’m sure you told me once, but it’s been almost thirty-five years we’ve known each other.”
Father Czech flinched. Was this the moment the ax would fall? “My father and mother were very religious. I mean really religious. Immigrants, you know. My father made us kids say the rosary every night before we got our dinner. And God help us if we showed any disrespect. I went to parochial school from grade one to grade twelve, despite the fact that we had to pay book rent and we didn’t have the money. When the bank loaned dad the funds for his farm, he promised he’d send two of his boys to the church. We’d always been renters before.”
“So then you didn’t have a real vocation?”
“I fought hard to avoid it, Bert, but my older brother got the farm. My only alternative was the military.”
“Kind of like the Spanish nobility, huh? You know, the hidalgos and the missionaries who came to America with Columbus and Coronado were the second and third sons of the land owners. The oldest got everything.”
They were nearing the gated Culp mansion, around which ran a duck pond. “You want to keep the land together. How about you?”
“Same old same old. Struck by lightning, knocked off my horse, saw God. Look at the white duck. Is he an albino?”
“You really are a city slicker, aren’t you Bert? He’s from one of the local farms. He just prefers to flock with the wild fellows.”
They came to a bench overlooking the pond. “Learn something new every day,” the Bishop said. “Let’s sit for a moment. My feet hurt.” The Bishop took out a cigar, struck a match, which the wind blew out. Father Czech lit it with his gold lighter, which the Bishop grasped hold of. “Is that read gold?” he said.
“Present from one of my parishioners.”
The Bishop inhaled, exhaled slowly toward the cloudless sky. “Sure is a pretty day. This is my favorite time of year. Not too cold, no humidity. Makes me feel prayerful. You still read your breviary, Emil?”
“Not much. Once a week or so.”
“That’s not good. You know what they say about priests who stop reading their breviary.”
“I’m sixty-two years old, Bert. I know the thing by heart.”
“You ever think of getting out when so many priests were leaving?”
“Nah, you know I was only an assistant for three years and then I got my own parish, so things were pretty good, until all the paranoia started.”
“They think we’re all gay pederasts. But that’s not the same thing, is it?” He paused, took another drag on his cigar. “There’s a rumor going around the diocese that you . . .”
“My God. You don’t mean the one about Mrs. Hanover?”
“Actually it was more like that once a year you went deer hunting up north with your buddies and got a little overly friendly with the natives, so to speak.”
“What can I say? A man’s a man, despite the sissified clothes they make us wear.”
The Bishop touched Father Czech’s hairy wrist affectionately. “What I was saying about the rector and feisty seminarians. This kid Fischer was numero uno hot dog in his graduating class. He was up for North American College in Rome. Only the top guns go there; the boy is bishop material. I’m sure if you let him have his head he’ll straighten out this financial mess faster than you can say J.P. Morgan.”
“Why don’t you come right out and say it, Bert?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Emil.”
“You think I’ve been skimming money off the top.”
The Bishop sputtered, waved a scornful hand at Emil. “Ach, that’s nonsense. I’m just thinking you ought to get away for a little while. A man deserves a chance to smell the roses as Walter Hagen used to say.”
“The golfer?”
“Yeah, you play?”
“Never could find any left-handed clubs.”
“A sinistral, eh?”
A green John Deere lawn tractor and trailer puttered by, collecting the downed limbs and leaves from the big blow. The driver waved and the two priests tipped their hats. “I have been wanting to see Medjugorje,” Father Czech said.
“That’s right. I remember your asking. I hear they’re getting twenty million tourists a year these days. I went to see one of them, a guy named Ivan Dragicevic, give a little talk. Says he sees the Blessed Virgin like I see you. Black hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, a white veil and a crown of stars. I thought that was rather ethnocentric, since she was a Semite. They don’t have blue eyes, do they? But he doesn’t take any money, beyond small stipends. Lives off a bed and breakfast he owns in Yugoslavia. Believe me he could be making a stack of Benjamins ceiling high.”
“So then you’ll pay for my trip?“
“Did I say that? Couldn’t you lead a tour? Usually they pay your way if you can find some other pilgrims who are willing to shell out full fare. Contact one of the Marian groups.”
“Yah think the kid is ready to take over? He was asking me this morning if I’d help him with his sermon, his first sermon.”
The bishop slapped his knee. “You should’ve heard him. He reminded me of me when I was his age. I was surprised the killer didn’t come running up to the altar, fall on his face and beg forgiveness. And funny . . . I thought I was listening to George Gobel.”
“Notice any resemblance?”
“Not to George, but he does favor that kid who used to be on the Jack Benny show. What was his name?”
“Dennis Day.”

#

Viktorija used a letter opener to slit the offering envelopes. Dewey employed the old-fashioned rip and tear method. Stacks of checks, ones, fives, tens, and a smaller stack of twenties, plus piles of change: nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and the new golden Sacajaweas were arranged in front of him.
Dewey shuffled the thick pile of checks, mostly light blue with a darker blue border. They were from First National on Bank Square, the only bank on Bank Square these days since the one across the street, The German-American National bank, was now a lawyer’s office. The word “German” had been chipped away, but you could still make it out. Dewey was pretty sure that happened around the first world war when things German were almost as popular as things Japanese during the second.
“Almost done,” Dewey said. “How about you?”
“Just a few more,” she said. “Will you play the organ at the high mass today?”
“That’s right; I almost forgot.” He checked his Seiko. “I wonder if Father Czech will make it back in time. He didn’t say anything about me taking the mass.”
“I’m sure he will,” she said, slicing open the last envelope. “I do love your organ playing so much. I must confess to you that I was ease-dropping the other day while you were practicing the instrument. What was that rousing song you were performing?”
“Rousing song?”
“Yes, the one that did not sound so religious.”
“Stars and Stripes Forever?”
“Not so easy to play on the organ.”
“That’s for sure. No tubas. No trombones.”
“I wonder if you would be willing to teach me about the Catholicism. I am sitting in the church sometimes when Father Czech has me run an errand and I smell the candles and I see the lovely stained glass windows and there is the incense and the flowers and the lovely vestments that the priest wears and it’s all so soothing that I just want to curl up and sleep in the pew. Besides I am an American now. I will find a way to stay in America.”
“You don’t need to join the church to become an American, Viktorija. Lots of Americans belong to other faiths. We even have quite a few Moslems.”
“Yes, but I would not feel American if I did not do this.”
“I’ll teach you then if you’re sure it’s what you want.”
“I want it very much.”
“Done then. How much you got there?”
“Four hundred and fifteen dollars and eighty-three cents.”
“Wow. I’ve got another seven hundred and twenty here. That’s about three hundred more than last week, according to Father Czech’s figures.”
“Do you think I am what you call pretty, Father Dewey?”
“Why, did Gordy say you were pretty?”
“Yes, the other night when we had dinner at the Lakeside Inn. But I do not care what Mr. Gordon thinks. He is an attractive man, but he is also a very vain man. I am looking for someone with a little more . . . Is there such a word as gravity?”
“So you had dinner together?”
“Yes, he said he would assist me with the Immigration.”
“He didn’t try to get fresh with you, did he?”
“Get fresh?”
“Did he try to kiss you?”
She stared down at her immaculately polished nails. “Oh. Yes. But, I tell him that I could not as I have a cold, which is true .”
Dewey felt his pulse rate subside somewhat. “Well, what about your other suitor, Dr. Booker?”
“Dr. Booker is--how you say?--a political expedient. And he has hair growing out of his ears. He is also divorced.”
Dewey laughed. “Ah, Viktorija, didn’t you tell me that your people reject girls who’ve been raped? Don’t you think it’s a little inconsistent to spurn a man who’s been married before?”
She hung her head and a pain cut through his heart like the burn he experienced when he ate Mexican food. “You are disappointed in me, Father Dewey?”
“I could never be disappointed in you, Viktorija. Under different circumstances I would . . . But I’m a priest, and I’ve taken a vow of celibacy.”
“This is like a promise you make and that if you do not keep you will go to hell?”
“Something like that.”
“Then how is it that so many other priests have married? This is what Andrea told me during one of our late night talks.”
“I guess they don’t really believe they’ll go to hell. Most of them dedicated quite a few years of their lives to the church, and I suppose they feel it would be terribly unfair if God were to extract that sort of heinous punishment.”
“You did not answer my question, Father Dewey.”
“Do I think you’re pretty? The word doesn’t do you justice, Viktorija. Brittany Spears is pretty; you, on the other hand, are, as we Americans say, a knockout.
“Like in the boxing ring?”
“Like when a man is confronted with a woman so beautiful he sees stars, can’t get his breath, and the lights go out.”
She reached across the table, upsetting his laboriously arranged stacks of money, and touched his hand. The blood rushed to his brain and to the rowdier nether regions.
“You are blushing, Father Dewey.”

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