Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapters 48, 49 & 50

Chapter 48

Now that I’ve finally finished telling you about the hand-harvest, I have lots of other things to catch up on, including an interesting day yesterday. But first, can’t believe last week I failed to praise the Red Raiders for their incredible victory over Oklahoma! What a game! We kept switching back and forth between the Ranger’s baseball game in Arlington to the field in Norman. Luckily, the Tech game had another rain delay... this one about 90 minutes, so we could catch the full and exciting end of it after the Rangers got smashed. And speaking of Rangers, what an incredible season... and post season... We were up, then down, then up, then down. I think manager Ron Washington said it best, “If you have a bad heart, then watch out.” They finally succumbed on Friday night. I think it is the first time I have ever shed a tear over a sports game. I don’t think the better team won... I felt so bad all Friday night. 
And then the Red Raiders played Iowa State this Saturday. Good grief! I think they must have left it all back in Oklahoma, because they were stunned by unranked Iowa State. Couldn’t do a thing right. Lots of the crowd left early, but we stuck it out to the end... so sad. I’m afraid that’s the last of our ranking this season. Oh, well. It’s only sports, right? 
        At least Notre Dame won and my boys were happy. (Colin, too.)

      Weekend before last, I made a quick trip to Dallas to see my granddaughters, delighting in how fast they are growing, the older one into a little lady, the younger one into a tomboy. As I left on Sunday, explaining to the tearful girls why they couldn’t come to the airport and go with me, I assured them I’d see them in a few short weeks for Thanksgiving. 
   At Dallas’s Love Field Airport, I turned in my rental car, making the short trek to the gate, boarding ticket in hand. I was surprised to see President Parker standing in line waiting for the same plane. We were flying Southwest Airlines and boarding is done by number on the boarding pass – then you chose any seat on the plane. I had a low number, so would be one of the first on. Parker was several numbers behind where I was to stand. As stealthily as I could, I moved behind a display, waiting until he entered the plane before boarding myself.
   I quickly occupied the empty seat next to him, and said sweetly, “Why, Dr. Parker, what a nice surprise. I’m Margaret Grant, your director of Marketing and Communications. Nice to meet you.” I stuck out my hand. 
Parker looked startled to be recognized and uncomfortable to be trapped next to the window by an employee. It would’ve been awkward for him to move to another seat, but I wasn’t certain he wouldn’t do just that. I’d already decided if he did, I’d just follow him.
   He shook my hand quickly but said nothing, and then turned his head to stare out the window.
  “How nice we will have an hour together,” I said seriously. 
  “Hmmph,” was his only reply.
      I waited until we were about ten minutes into the flight and the drink orders had been taken before I turned to my “boss’s boss.” During takeoff I’d pleaded with God to put the right words in my mouth and decided to be blunt with Parker, seeing as no other communications techniques had worked thus far. 
      “Dr. Parker, I understand from Bennett Boyle that you don’t like me?” I could see he was slightly startled but I pressed the issue nevertheless. “I don’t think you know me well enough ... yet ... to not like me. May I ask why you don’t?”
   His eyes widened a bit, but he continued to stare out the window with as much of his back turned toward me as possible. 
   “You know,” I said firmly, “even an axe murderer normally gets her day in court.”
   At that, the corner of his mouth turned up a little, but only a little — smiling was obviously not a normal activity for him, especially since his arrival at Texas Tech. Slowly he turned to me and just looked, sizing me up. 
   Quickly taking advantage of what I knew would be a short opportunity, I looked him directly in the eyes and said, “I’ve never heard of an organization where the communications director didn’t report directly to the president and have some type of access to him or her. What is it you so dislike about me, or my department, that I can’t even get an appointment with you?”
   He spoke slowly, meeting my stare with equal determination. “Dislike you? I don’t even know you.” 
   “Exactly my point. Allow me to remedy that. I’m a Tech graduate with a master’s in communications from Southern Methodist University. I worked with SMU for more than 15 years, the last ten as their director of Communications and Marketing. President Ramsey can attest to the quality of my work. I have extensive experience in media relations, marketing and communication plans and can organize a formal dinner for 600 at the drop of a hat. I write speeches, press releases and scripts for promotional videos. 
         “I also know how important internal communication is to a university, and your office seems to be doing very little of that. My staff sent over a long list of ways for you to introduce yourself to the university staff and the community, but I don’t see you following any of the suggestions, and I think that’s a major mistake on your part. As the first African-American president of the university, you have more than an uphill battle with some of this community’s less-than-forward thinkers, and our marketing campaign was designed to help you with that. Why can’t I get an appointment with you to discuss these things?” I took a breath and waited.
   His eyes had widened at my spiel and then narrowed questioningly. “Can’t get an appointment with me? I wasn’t aware you’d ever tried. Why don’t you let me know what’s going on?” he said testily.
   “I’ve been trying since you first arrived. Bennett, um, Mr. Boyle keeps telling me you don’t want to see me. And ...”
“I’ve been going through Boyle because he’s your direct senior report. He tells me you’re not particularly interested in new ideas, and that he’ll take care of anything I need. He also said you resent working for someone younger than you.” Wow, I thought. Boyle is playing dirty. Okay, here goes political suicide. But my frustration with Boyle was at a breaking point. I’d been careful to not complain to anyone except a few close friends about his micromanaging and his complete ignorance of communications. I had tried to remain as professional as possible. But now, I couldn’t hold back any longer. This might be my only chance to right the wrongs, so to speak. I swallowed hard and said, “I don’t have a problem working for someone younger than me.  I do, however, have a problem working for someone who tries to do my job for me and can’t.”
    “Hmmph,” he said again. “I’ve never seen a list of suggestions from your office. In fact, I’d never see anything from Communications if I didn’t look at the website occasionally. I assume your department does the website at Boyle’s direction?”
“We do the website, sir, but not at Mr. Boyle’s direction. Bennett Boyle knows nothing about the website, probably never looks at it. In fact knows absolutely nothing about communications. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to keep my talented staff the way he constantly interferes with us.”
   I took a breath, but continued before he could interrupt. “It appears he works overtime to block all our access to you, throwing impediments up for every move we try to make in communicating ... to reporters, to faculty, to staff. I can’t imagine how it can be easy for you without a professional communicator on the administrative team. And he shouldn’t be doing my job, Dr. Parker, and neither should you. I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. Why are you doing it?” 
   “Doing what?”
“Writing your own press releases ... at least three that I know of when you first arrived. They made no sense and didn’t enhance your presidency one iota. I don’t understand why you would bypass the professional communicators to put out news that wasn’t really news.” “I have no idea what you are talking about, Mrs. Grant. I don’t write press releases. In the past, at my other universities I always relied on a quality communications team to do that.”
“That’s what I thought, sir,” I said, remembering Sharon’s theory that Bennett Boyle was trying to set me up. My call to Parker’s last university confirmed he was a team player who didn’t micromanage. I looked him squarely in the eyes to deliver the final question. “But then I still don’t understand why you haven’t contacted my office for assistance?”
He looked at me for a long moment. “It seems, Mrs. Grant, that I have been repeatedly pointed in the wrong direction. Mr. Boyle assured me he was sending my directives to you, but I never received any followup. Perhaps you never received them?”  
     “No, sir. Never.”
“Well then,” President Parker said. “I can’t seem to get anyone on my administrative team to understand how I want to disseminate my plans, my concepts of how to move the university forward.” 
   “Then tell me so I can help. I’m happy to work up some marketing plans. That’s what I was hired for.” 
   “Hmmph,” he grunted again skeptically. Seems he had been sorely disappointed in the lack of communication skills of his entire administrative staff, including his chief of staff. He’d mentioned the website at the Regents meeting because as the only bright spot he could find, he thought it might motivate Boyle to do better in other communication endeavors. He’d seriously wondered if he needed to replace several higher ups in order to reach his goals.  
   “Of course, Dr. Parker. That’s what I do. What we do. And we’re pretty damn good at it — when given a chance to do it.” 
   This time there was  no reply.  
   “How about we start now?” I said. “I’ve got no place to go for another 40 minutes. What about you? Any pressing appointments?”
   At that, he did smile, or rather his lip curled upward a little more than normal. I took that as an assent, saying, “OK, here’s what I need to know about your vision ...”
   We spent the remainder of the flight in deep conversation, with me asking questions and taking copious notes. When the flight attendant announced the imminent landing, we were both surprised at how quickly the time had gone by. 
   Dr. Parker looked at his watch, then at me. “Come to my office at 7 tomorrow morning, Mrs. Grant, and we’ll continue our discussion. I’ve another meeting at eight.”
   “Thank you, sir. I’ll work up some preliminary marketing ideas tonight. And thank you for giving me my day in court.” 
      “Hmmph,” he said. “Be sure you leave your axe at home.”
Sharon was waiting for me at the baggage claim area and nodded to President Parker as he walked by. Moments later I appeared and Sharon noticed a smug look on my face as well as a swing in my step.
     “And just what makes you so happy on this dreary day?” she asked, giving me a welcome home hug.
   “I believe the war may soon be over,” I said brightly as we headed out into the cold rain.

Chapter 49
      Since Halloween, yesterday, fell on a weekday, I bought about ten pounds of candy for the event last week. I also rented two videos, inviting Colin to watch them with me that evening. He’d seen the sweets when he came in, already in a bowl by the front door.
    As I cued up the DVDs, Colin commented, “That’s a lot of candy, Maggie. You planning on inviting the whole city over?” 
  “It’s my first Halloween in the house. I have no idea if any of the neighborhood kids trick-or-treat, so I just want to be prepared. If there’s any left, I can donate it to the church daycare. Are you coming over on Halloween to carve a pumpkin with me?”
“Carve a pumpkin? I haven’t carved a pumpkin since the ’70s. They still do that?” he asked.
   “Of course they still do that ... I still do that ... at least I used to do that for the boys and then for the grandkids. But yes, I’m still doing that. Will you come help? I’ll give you some of the candy,” I said playfully. 
   Colin went to the overflowing bowl and dug through it. “Let’s see what kind you bought. Might not be worth it,” he teased. “Okay, here’s Snickers. I’ll do it for five of these. Got five?”
   “Yes, I’ve got more than five,” I said laughing. 
   “Good. It’s a date. I’ll take one now on account,” he said, putting it in his shirt pocket as he moved to the living room to watch the videos.
   “On account of what?” I asked.
“On account of I can.” 
   Although that remark cost him a well-deserved punch in the arm, we settled in to watch “Cowboy G-Men,” Vol. I and Vol. II. I’d seen the old black and white television series episodes advertised and couldn’t resist renting them. I was still a little gun shy about talking with Colin on the subject of the FBI, so this was sort of a test to see if he had forgiven me. 
He loved the videos and gave no indication he even remembered jumping down my throat about it after the hand-harvest. Plot lines and dialogue were so bad we both laughed the entire night, but I admit I fell in love with Stoney Crockett and Pat Gallagher, “partners dedicated to serving justice in the old west.” Funny how the big rocks the bad guys used for ambushes looked identical in all episodes, whether they were supposed to be in Texas, Arizona or the Northwest Territory.
   Colin declared it a great series, as the G-Men always “got their man.” Unfortunately, he said, it doesn’t always happen like that in real life.

Chapter 50

   Yesterday morning, Elaine was decked out in her pink wig again, but this time it was coordinated with a heavily fringed roaring ’20s flapper costume. She looked great. Steven had on a red clown nose and huge polka dot bow tie with his usual designer clothes, and Susan was in all black with a witches’ hat and broom. Charlie said he didn’t like Halloween because it messed up any photos he had to take, so no costumes for him.
   In his usual Hawaiian shirt, Ricky announced he’d dressed as Don Ho, his grandmother’s favorite singer.  Neither Susan nor Elaine had a clue as to who Don Ho was, so Ricky found a photo on the internet. Agreeing there was a slight resemblance, they still thought his “costume” a cop-out. He thought it was genius, as had the new young accountant lady from the second floor he was dating. Elaine had set them up and all seemed happy about it.
   I had worn my darkest suit and had an orange scarf draped around my neck. It was the most I would do but I still felt festive. Mid-morning I was headed for another scheduled meeting with President Parker to talk about part of his mission – what he wanted to accomplish by the end of the school year. I hoped Bennett Boyle wouldn’t be there. He almost always found something to object to whenever I presented an idea – still! 
At least Parker is talking to me now. I think we’ve made progress in that area, even though I still reported to Boyle, but I was sending copies of my weekly summaries directly to the president as well as to my uncooperative boss.
   Once again, I was working with Boyle in the way I knew worked, keeping my temper in check, especially after the now infamous “Pink Incident.” Walking downstairs, I chuckled as I remembered so many colleagues supporting me that day --or actually defying Boyle. Served the man right, I thought as I pushed open the door to the lengthy outside arcade. 
   I like using the long way to get to the first-floor offices — like going outside for a brief breath of fresh air and seeing the students scurrying to classes. It makes me feel more a part of the university. Today was warm for late October, and the sun was shining. Early morning showers had forced me to drive to work, but they’d moved northeast and the skies were clear and crisp.
   As I walked across under the south-side open-air arcade, I glanced at the Double T bench, occupied by three students this particular day. One young girl, dressed in a black and white spotted cow costume, was reading, feet up on the bench, obviously comfortable, book resting comically on her plastic udders. Another girl was sitting with her eyes closed, face to the sun, soaking up the warmth. I honestly couldn’t tell if her goth-like outfit was normal attire for her or a costume. The third student lounged with his head bent over a book, Dracula teeth protruding from his mouth, purple and black cape draped behind him. I love college campuses, I thought happily.
   I walked along, reaching the open archway that led to Memorial Circle. As one, the three students turned their heads toward me and the seemingly choreographed movement caught my eye. It was as if I’d called out to them, which I hadn’t. Strange, I thought. I glanced to my left to see if they were looking at someone past me, and then heard what they obviously had heard. A siren.
    It had been there, in my head, but sirens were common out on University Avenue. This one was getting louder. I stopped to listen and then walked toward the north side of the archway as the sound intensified and turned into campus. The phone rang on my belt. Elaine said, “Fire. Civil Engineering building. Steven’s on his way down with Susan and I’m calling Charlie.”
   “Call the president’s office and tell them where I’m going,” I said quickly, turning to hurry toward the north/south esplanade as the fire engine made its way there. 
   Reaching the north side of the circle, I heard a second siren and saw an ambulance turning from University Avenue. Someone’s hurt, I thought, and quickened my pace. 
   People were streaming out of every exit of the long, narrow two-story building and I could hear the fire alarm sounding. Recognizing the fire chief from the library fire, I approached and asked what he knew. 
   “Report is it’s in a closet here on the first floor, but we’re checking it out now.”
“And the ambulance?” I asked. 
   “Don’t know yet. Could be merely precautionary. Give me a few more minutes.”
   Knowing Sharon’s office was on the first floor, I thought I’d call her in a minute to find out what she knew. I didn’t see her, so assumed she’d evacuated out the east entrance. I was on the west side. 
   Steven and Susan arrived, sans Halloween props, and I gave instructions on what I wanted them to do. Campus police were there, too, and began setting up a perimeter. Charlie appeared and was snapping photos. I pulled off my orange scarf and stuffed it in my pocket. Wouldn’t look good on camera if television reporters showed up.
   Steven suggested a place for media, if the fire was big enough to warrant reporters, and set out to make it happen. Susan headed around the building to ask some questions of those who had evacuated to the east side. Elaine called to say she’d spoken to the president’s office and he was on his way to the scene. But Elaine couldn’t find Boyle ... she’d thought she’d better let him know too, since we did report to him, but he wasn’t in his office. She’d left him a message.
   Good idea, I told her. The fire chief came back out and headed for me.
   “A fire in a cleaning closet. It’s out, for the most part. But one of the professors saw smoke and opened the door — caused a backdraft that burned her arm pretty good.”
Her arm?” I said in alarm. There are only two female engineering professors. “Do you know her name?”
“Phelps, I think.” 
I moved immediately toward the building. “She’s coming out now,” the chief yelled after me.
Paramedics emerged carrying a gurney with Sharon lying on it, upper right arm wrapped in bandages, IV attached. I moved quickly to her side, noticing her hair was singed and the side of her neck and ear were a deep red. “Phelps! Are you all right?”
   Walking alongside the gurney to the ambulance, I tried to remain calm as Sharon looked at me in obvious pain, tears in her tightly closed eyes. She opened them when she heard her name. I could see the pain and fear in them.
   “Stupid me opened the door. I knew I shouldn’t but did it anyway. I’ve called Doug. He’s meeting me at University Medical Center. They said it’s not too terribly bad ... sure hurts like hell, though.”
  “I’m coming with you,” I said as they prepared to put her into the ambulance.
  “No, you stay and do your job. Doug will be there. Come when you’re finished. Bring me balloons! You know I love balloons! I’ll see you later... Yeowch! Careful there, guys. I break!”
   “I love you!” I said as they closed the ambulances doors.
Steven came up at that moment, saying the media was here but so was Boyle, and he was trying to talk to them. I stomped my foot in frustration, and said out loud, “Over my dead body.” Following Steven, I headed toward the two reporters.
   “Thank you, Mr. Boyle,” I said firmly as I stepped in front of him. “We’ve got it now.” Turning to the reporters, I said, “Here’s what we know so far ...” and I filled them in on the facts.
   Bennett Boyle had taken a few steps back and was once again incensed at me. I could tell he was thinking, “Who does she think she is?”  He moved forward to intervene but stopped as he heard his name. Turning, he saw it was President Parker off to his left, motioning him to join him. 
   “Let’s let them handle it, shall we, Mr. Boyle? I don’t think they need us here right now. I’ll walk with you back to the Administration Building.” At that, he took Boyle’s arm, turning him away from the scene and heading away from the chaos. 
   Just as I was wrapping up the full afternoon of calls from reporters and curious staffers, I was summoned to the president’s office. Please, I thought, don’t ask me to stay late to make up the meeting we missed. I needed to go see Sharon, who was dismissed from the hospital about 20 minutes ago. And I needed to stop and get balloons on the way!
I hurried to the president’s suite and was ushered in immediately. He asked me to have a seat. As I did, he said, “Chief Callahan tells me it was a relatively small fire with damage confined to the closet area. Boyle is getting estimates of damage and I’m sure insurance will cover most of it.”
“Yes, sir. I’ve talked with Chief Callahan myself. We’ve sent out a news release and e-mailed staff and students. Also, there’s a story on the website.”
“Yes, I saw them all. You and your staff did a good job today. You kept it contained, just released the facts, no speculation, and I think you covered all the bases. Well done,” President Parker said.
   I hadn’t had a compliment from administration in so long, I was momentarily speechless. Recovering, I said, “Um, thank you, sir. That means a lot. I’ll pass it along to the staff.”
   “I also know Chief Callahan thinks the fire was deliberately set.”
“No, not again!” I said, concerned. “Do they think it’s the same person who started the library fire? Did they get any surveillance tape?”
   “They don’t know much at this point. And I’m told surveillance cameras are one of the many things in next year’s budget. We won’t release that piece of news ...”
“Until the police department is ready,” I said absently, not immediately aware I had interrupted the president. I apologized, but then was deep in thought about it all. 
Parker smiled, deciding to tell her his latest decision. 
  “Mrs. Grant?” I looked at him. 
“I’m thinking it makes no sense for the Communications office to report to the chief of staff. I’ll make the arrangements, so as of now, your office will report directly to me and you’ll be part of the administrative team. Does my decision meet with your approval?” Parker said smugly.
  I didn’t think it possible to be stunned into silence twice within one minute, but it had  happened. Sitting and staring at him, I came back into focus when he cleared his throat.    
      Quickly I said, “Absolutely, sir. It’s ... it’s perfect. Thank you, Dr. Parker. Thank you so much.” A grin spread across my face I couldn’t contain. 
  “Okay, then. Go see Dr. Phelps and give her my best. Wait and tell your staff tomorrow, because I haven’t broken the good news to Bennett Boyle yet. We’ll talk again in the morning.”
I rose, still grinning. “You won’t be sorry, Dr. Parker. I promise you that.”
“See that I’m not. Now go! It’s late and I’d like to go home.”

   Finally arriving at the Nest, I opened the Volvo’s back door to reach in for the balloons. I had bought two each of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple – twice a rainbow, the clerk called it – and it had been no small feat to get all twelve of them stuffed into my car for the short ride from Market Street grocery store. 
   I’d also brought a whole roasted chicken and several side dishes for dinner, already cooked and warm, knowing Doug would be too worried about Sharon to want to leave her side, even to cook. 
   As I grabbed the ribbons and tugged at the balloons, I pulled them out of the car one or two at a time, scraping and rubbing them against the car window, losing only one green one in the process. It floated up about 20 feet before hitting an overhanging tree branch and popping, making me jump as my phone rang at the exact same moment. Juggling balloons and grocery bags, I managed to answer the cell phone, holding it against my ear with my shoulder.
“Margaret Grant,” I answered as I walked toward the Nest’s front porch.
  “I’m standing at your front door with a frog, a pirate and Tinkerbell. Are you here?” 
  “Colin! Oh, no, I completely forgot!... I’m so sorry! Um, the door’s not locked, go ahead and give them some candy, if you don’t mind.  I am so sorry!” 
How could I have forgotten?! 
When I briefed him on where I was and why, he said he’d come right over, but I said no, I was planning on delivering the balloons and food and then leaving so Sharon could rest. I’d be home within 30 minutes. Would he mind waiting?
He’d wait, he said. “Give Sharon a kiss for me.”

   Sharon was delighted with the balloons but too groggy from pain pills to talk much. Doug was grateful for the food and asked me to stay. I declined, and after kissing Sharon on the forehead for Colin, left shortly after I arrived. Details about the fire and celebration of victory over Boyle could wait until tomorrow.
   Walking in my front door, I smelled something delicious coming from the kitchen and was pleased to find Colin making dinner. Miss Priss was pacing in the kitchen, tail switching as if scolding Murphy for his intrusion. Seeing me, her adopted mistress, she daintily strutted to her corner and promptly went to sleep, obviously trusting me to take care of the situation.
“Mushroom omelets, m’lady,” he said, bowing, complete in bright red apron, spatula in hand. “Hope you like lots of cheese?”
   “Love it,” I smiled, leaning up to give him a generous kiss. 
  “Hmmm,” he said, smiling himself. “If a simple egg dish gets me that kind of response, wonder what a thick juicy grilled steak might get me?” He gave me a mock leer. The doorbell rang. 
  “Silly man,” I said as I went to answer. Returning to the kitchen a few minutes later, I said, “More trick-or-treaters. Those were adorable. A fairy princess and a cowboy. Then a tiny Yoda came up. So cute! Asked for Snickers only! But what happened to all the candy? The bowl’s half empty.”
   “I’ve answered the door at least two dozen times already. Tell me, did this Yoda have on purple sneakers? And his dad out by the street had red hair?”
   “Yes on both counts as a matter of fact. How’d you know?”
“Been here twice already. Second time said he only took Snickers. I gave ’em extra just for his excellent taste in candy.”

  Colin left just after ten last night and Ithought about him and the evening. We’d enjoyed our meal, although we were interrupted several more times by cute-costumed kids of all shapes and sizes. Yoda hadn’t pressed his luck, but there were several trick-or-treaters who looked a little too old to be pilfering candy. Colin had given them a hard stare and a smaller portion. Finally, with a few remaining pieces of candy still in the bowl, the neighborhood was quiet.
Wine in hand, we’d settled on the couch as I shared what I knew of the fire, which at this point wasn’t much. Then I told him of the president’s decision and how it would make life much easier for my entire staff. Colin toasted to my success, and I basked in the glow of their accomplishment, knowing it had been a total team effort. 
   I wonder if Colin feels as comfortable around me again as I do around him. Surely he must if he would forage in my kitchen and fix a meal. This was nice. And nicer still that it felt so natural. But what now? As he was leaving, he held me tightly after a nice, warm, but not lingering kiss. I think if I’d asked, though, he’d have been more than happy to stay the night. 
   But that would never do. I’m definitely not ready to do something so against what I think is right for me, even if he does make my insides do somersaults. I’d just have to worry about that another day. The last few have been much too busy. 
And, I now remember, the evening was so busy Colin had conveniently forgotten to remind me about pumpkin carving. Maybe I ought to demand return of the five Snickers.

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