“For fiction that reads like a bloody summer blockbuster and makes you move in your chair like a first-person shooter, look no father than Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff.” - NYT Bestselling Author SCOTT SIGLER
NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET
by Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff
EXT. FRENCH ALPS VILLAGE – MORNING
Frost, the thin layer forming on the road crunches beneath the wheels of Rodrigo as he pedals his bike, the huff of his breath trailing in the frigid morning air. Muscular legs pumping furiously, sinews burning like fire. He leans hard to the left as he veers onto another street in the village without losing a single beat. Each lungful of air feels like icy needles stabbing from the inside, but it doesn’t slow him one bit. His body is a well-conditioned machine, built up to endure any type of physicality needed to get the job done.
Behind, the Alps rise in all their majesty. Glorious peaks cloaked in snow reaching up into an immaculate azure sky. It truly is a sight to behold. In fact, a wonder. But to Rodrigo, his mind cares only about one single thing—killing the man he knows is right now coming down the mountain on his daily visit into town from a chalet inside a walled compound.
Quiet is the street. So much so he can hear the snow falling as he stops at the edge of a park to chain his bike to a fence by the side of the road. Carefully, Rodrigo opens the leather satchel strapped to the handlebars. Inside, sitting nestled against a five-pound hunk of solid-steel plate is a block of Semtex. With nimble fingers, Rodrigo rubs a hardened spot on the plastic explosive until it becomes malleable and then carefully presses a blasting cap into its surface. He then walks away and waits. As expected, he doesn’t have to wait long.
He hears the music first, not the engine. The yellow Land Rover is pristine–all of the serious hardware: roll guards, bulletproof glass, twelve-speaker, 400 watt stereo with subwoofer. The car pounds like an Ibiza nightclub as it barrels down the street.
Rodrigo bends his wrist slightly and checks his watch. Without even realizing, he mutters in his native Portuguese, “Good little boy. Right on time.”
Inside the Land Rover is a man with long hair. As is his custom, he drives like a banshee and wears shades to hide the emotionless dark eyes beneath. Seated next to him is the blonde from the night before, her face in his lap, bobbing up and down on his stiffening cock. He grabs a handful of her golden mane and pushes her head down further. Choosing a new song from the changer in the trunk, he cranks the stereo even louder. It’s a dance mix by the band Spray, blasting so loud that each beat shakes the entire car with near-seismic force. Picking this song is the last conscious decision the driver will ever make.
A block away, Rodrigo reaches into his jacket and removes a small wireless remote no larger than a pack of cigarettes. With his thumb, and no compunction for what he is about to do, he presses the one button on top. Inside the satchel left strapped to the bike, a laser motion detector becomes active. A razor-thin beam of red light streams across the street to a reflector he had placed against the side of a trashcan the day before. The beam is practically invisible, even against the powdery snow falling from the sky.
Behind the wheel of the Land Rover, the driver thinks of his next job, his impending orgasm and how he’s going to get rid of the girl. He suspects nothing, even as the front of his car cuts neatly through the laser’s beam triggering the charge placed inside the satchel. The Semtex explodes, launching the five-pound steel plate toward the car at subsonic speed, Ka-whammo, obliterating the Land Rover in the blink of an eye.
All that remains is a smoking shell of steel and two charred figures burning in the middle of the street, melting all the snow in a three-foot circumference around it. The driver’s head lolls backwards, his hair and skin melted to the bone. A slight sound lights from his mouth that is nothing more than the escaping steam from the boiling mess inside of his skull.
“One step closer,” Rodrigo whispers, grinning to himself as horrified onlookers stream from quiet apartments and stores to gawk at the fiery wreck. Most are wordless, though one old woman begins to wail uncontrollably, having only ever seen this kind of thing before during a war long since forgotten.
Rodrigo turns and slips away from the crowd, unnoticed.
He takes only a few steps before spotting the glint of light from an open window in the distance. A reflection of the sun off glass. Instantly in the cold, wintery air, his mouth turns dry as dust.
Just over a half mile away, inside an empty building, a German man with cropped platinum blond hair sights a Steyr Tactical .308 sniper rifle through a scope. He is Soeren Anton. Today, after nearly a month of tracking, he has found his man. Through the scope he watches Rodrigo’s panicked face. He can even make out the words falling breathlessly from Rodrigo’s trembling lips.
Quick as a breath, Rodrigo turns and makes a run for it. After half a block, he starts to believe he has a chance to make it out of there alive.
He is wrong.
Soeren follows Rodrigo through the scope. He eases up on the Steyr’s trigger. He pulls back. It’s too easy. With a deep breath fresh in his lungs, Soeren closes his eyes and turns his head away. He keeps his target in his mind’s eye. Not yet, not yet…
Calmly, his finger nestles the trigger, finally pulling it, firing the kill shot.
The bullet races, covering the half-mile in a split-second, passing between unsuspecting onlookers before ripping through Rodrigo’s back and chest with a white puff of smoke. He falls to the ground, already dead, his blood staining the pure white snow a dark crimson.
EXT. MOROCCAN MARKETPLACE – DAY
A continent away, a beautiful red-haired woman takes her morning stroll. White Dolce & Gabbana linen suit, calfskin shoes by Prada, non-prescription glasses by Helmut Lang. Everything about her walk is sexy. Each step rocks her hips back and forth in a hypnotic rhythm. Her pink tongue moistens a perfect pair of red lips. She passes a grey-haired man who takes one look and wonders to himself what her pussy would feel like.
He has a better chance of stopping time.
Meet Jayden. She has been an assassin for nearly a decade. Those who know of her or her work say only cigarettes have killed more people.
What she doesn’t see is Kadar, the dark-skinned man in the scarlet kaftan following twenty yards behind her. Marking her every movement. Biding his time in the crowded marketplace.
Kadar’s mind, foolishly, is on the prize. In his head, he is already spending the money. He is already buying the yacht.
At a market stall, something catches Jayden’s eye. She senses being shadowed, but does her best not to let on. Instead, she picks up a worthless trinket. She holds it up to the stall’s rotund proprietor.
“C’est combien?” How much?
Without even looking up from his coffee, the proprietor brusquely shoots back, “Twenty.”
“Ten,” comes the response. Yet another game has commenced.
Kadar, sensing he will lose his chance by waiting another second, secretly withdraws a long dagger from his sleeve. Because of his experience in matters such as this, his movements and intentions are imperceptible to the untrained eye.
Jayden sees the dagger reflected in the worthless trinket. She sees the dark-skinned man closing the distance between them. Perhaps the trinket isn’t so worthless after all. She will come back for it when this is over. Without continuing to haggle with the proprietor, she turns and walks away. Her steps become faster. Even in heels, she moves like a cat, weaving through the gauntlet of people in the marketplace–people who have no idea that they are brushing elbows with two of the world’s deadliest killers. Jayden’s senses are so heightened in the heat of the moment that she doesn’t need to look to know her pursuer has gained on her.
The moment she gets to the end of the road, she turns left onto another street and pins her back against the aged and pitted brick wall of a small bank. This is where she will make her stand. Live or die. It’s the way the game is played and the only way it can be.
Kadar, the dark-skinned man, turns onto the same street, dagger ready to strike. He rounds the corner and finds…
His breath chuffs in surprise. Suddenly, he hears a footstep behind him. He turns…
…to find Jayden.
Before he can move, she blows a handful of powder from her fist into Kadar’s face. His airway closes on the inside like a vice, burning hotter than an open flame. His first instinct, though, is not to reach for his own throat, but to strike at his killer with his dagger, a blade that has tasted the flesh of more victims than one could count. But the knife drops from Kadar’s hands as his nervous system begins a final shutdown. His knees buckle. As he dies seconds later, Jayden leans him against the wall. To a passerby, he may appear to be drunk, or praying. To a coroner, he will appear to have died of a sudden massive heart attack.
Neither is Jayden’s problem. She is one step closer to the money, but no closer to figuring out how to collect it without ending up like the others.
EXT. MEDITERRANEAN SEA – SUNSET
The sun hangs low, seemingly willing to disappear into the water. On a clear day like this, it burns bright orange, looming large on the horizon. While the great ball of light slips further away, a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter glides above the water toward a hundred-and-sixty-foot luxury yacht named “Double Platinum”. Within moments, the helicopter lands on the massive cruiser’s fantail. Right on time.
As the rotors whine down, a muscular Russian man dressed in a black cotton turtleneck and Brioni suit, keeps his head low as he approaches the bird. Meet Mr. Vosler. He opens the side door of the helicopter to greet the arrivals.
“Hello, ladies.” Vosler lends a hand, first to one thin and pretty blonde and then another. If it weren’t for the fact that one has long hair and the other short, they could be identical.
Possibly models, Vosler thinks to himself. Possibly underage.
Both are tipsy and giggling and one of the blondes hands him a mostly empty bottle of Cristal.
“Show them to our finest guest quarters,” comes a voice.
Stepping out of the bird behind the two girls is the one and only J.C. Richelieu. His white linen suit is crisp and his collar hangs open. It’s a look he’s nearly famous for, having appeared in similar garb in several magazines, including Business Week, the cover of Spin and a special pre-Grammy issue of Rolling Stone. Richelieu steps onto the deck of his forty-million-dollar yacht. In the last five of his fifty-two years on this Earth, he has never once stopped to watch a single sunset. Today is no exception.
“I have the conference call waiting,” Vosler tells him out of earshot of the two models.
INT. RICHELIEU’S OFFICE – MOMENTS LATER
Below deck, Richelieu slips into a very large black leather Manos wingback chair as Vosler brings him a whiskey rocks, small splash. The surroundings of this humongous below-deck lair are entirely made of glass, steel and chrome. It is very much befitting the C.E.O. of Grantium Entertainment.
With a tap of his computer keyboard, a bank of several video monitors lowers from the ceiling. Each one tagged with the location its feed originates from. The faces staring back at him from around the globe wait for Richelieu to begin. He will run this high-tech teleconference, working it like a Vegas pit boss.
“Week number three of our contest, and the players are starting to light up the board. What a week it was, my friends.”
On another screen by his left hand: numbered pictures of Land Rover Man (Number Five), Rodrigo (Number Ten), Kadar (Number Eight) sit alongside a photo of another man (Number Three). Each photo marked with the word “Deceased” in red letters over their faces. The numbers, randomly assigned, are not a reflection of their ranking.
Picking these killers was easy for Richelieu. He is a man who likes hits and knows how to use them to his advantage. Music hits. Coke hits. Even the kind of hits used to compel some and make others vanish. All have served him well in building his empire. Selecting ten top assassins is a task as natural to him as naming the ten biggest-selling albums of all time or the ten top vintages of Bordeaux.
Richelieu continues. “Three less players in our little game. Four down. Six to go.”
With a stroke of his keyboard, another screen shows pictures of six other killers, presumably still alive, including Soeren (Number Seven) and Jayden (Number Nine). “Now… who cares to make it interesting?”
Richelieu sips his drink. It’s not fear of him that stops the others from speaking up. Rather it’s the gambler’s instinct of waiting until your opponent makes a move that brings the silence.
“Come on people, this isn’t Miami Beach bingo. Ante up!” Richelieu barks, setting his whiskey rocks down with a hard clink on the glass top of his massive desk.
Finally, the man on the monitor marked Copenhagen speaks up first.
“A hundred that Number Nine is the next to die.”
Richelieu taps a couple of keys on his computer. A photo of Jayden comes up on a screen. “Boo-Ya! One hundred on Number Nine to get picked off. Who wants it?”
From a monitor marked Paris: “Another hundred that Number Seven does it.”
“Double it and you’re on,” chimes a man from Cape Town.
Richelieu grins as he turns to Copenhagen. “That’s four-hundred grand to you, my friend.”
“Done,” responds Copenhagen, without a quiver of doubt.
“Now, who else wants a piece of the five-hundred burning a hole in my pocket?” Richelieu asks his captive audience.
From the monitor marked New York, a millionaire with a marked accent addresses the group. “Pardon me if I sound like I just stepped off the short bus, but this is my first time betting in your little contest and I’m still not sure if I quite understand how this here game of yours works.”
Richelieu reaches into a desktop humidor and pulls out a Cohiba. “I’m sorry your late father didn’t explain it better before his passing. The rules are simple. World’s ten best pitted against one another. The last one standing wins the kewpie doll.”
The man from New York blinks once, then twice, as if thinking. “A hundred million dollars is one hell of a kewpie doll.”
“Which makes it all the more interesting when we bet on the action each week.”
“And which one of youse controls this hundred million dollars?”
Richelieu snips the end off his cigar. He doesn’t even look up. “An offshore shell corporation, the board of which is comprised of the seven men, including myself, that you are talking to at this moment. The money is held in escrow by a law firm in Singapore to be paid upon our instructions.”
“And nobody in this group interferes?”
“Well, that wouldn’t be sporting now, would it?” Richelieu grins. With a sterling silver butane torch, he lights the Cohiba while turning it gently in his other hand.
The gentleman from Moscow speaks up. “Speaking of sporting, when are we gonna hear from Four? Not even one kill or even proof that he is still alive.”
With a tap of his finger, the monitor with Jayden’s photo changes to show a picture of a handsome man with piercing eyes. He is tagged as Number Four.
Copenhagen questions. “Yes, who is this mystery man? I’m starting to think he doesn’t even exist.”
“What do we know about him?” asks Paris.
“His real name is Johnny Dane.” Richelieu takes a puff on his cigar and savors it. “Orphaned at age six, Dane was raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona by an uncle. Early acceptance to Annapolis and then ran into some disciplinary issues, but nonetheless graduated at the top of his class. Recruited into the Seals where he did one tour of duty. Someone there must have noticed something, because after that, he was drafted by his government into their new covert wet ops program.”
Richelieu touches the monitor again. Appearing onscreen are several digitized newspaper clippings. A Colombian general lies dead from a gunshot wound to the head. A large Czech mobster face up in a Prague steam bath, a white towel around his robust middle and an open gash across his throat. Dead eyes staring upward, never having registered the silent murderer who took his life.
“Four years later, Johnny Dane went freelance, racking up seventeen documented kills. All top-echelon targets,” Richelieu continued. In his other hand he rolls the Cohiba, feeling the fine leaf against his fingers. A Cuban cigar is a masterpiece unto itself. This he appreciates—the aroma, the taste—knowing someone in another country slaved to make these things for his pleasure.
On the monitors, the other millionaires nod. An approving murmur drifts among the party as Richelieu continues. “Word has it he can sneak in and out of a hot zone like a ghost. That’s why he gets no less than a million dollars for each job. As it stands, gentlemen, I still have Dane as my odds-on favorite to win this contest.”
The man from New York pipes in, his skepticism as apparent as his Brooklyn manners. “Nice story, Richelieu. But is it true?”
Richelieu looks directly into New York’s eyes. “Oh, I assure you, it’s all true. Before his vanishing act, Johnny Dane was the single best assassin alive.”
From London, this is met with some doubt. “Yes, but for all we know, this Johnny Dane could bloody well already be dead.”
Taking a sip of his drink, Richelieu puts down his Cohiba. With his fingertip he reaches over and touches the picture of Johnny Dane on the screen. “Perhaps…” he says, hiding his eyes from the camera trained on him. “Or maybe our boy’s just playing hard to get.”
EXT. GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND – BEACH – DAY
A picture-perfect blue sky, golden sands. If God had a beach house, it would be right here at the foot of an ocean as clear as blown glass. From the surf emerges a man in a pair of dark blue board shorts. Mid-30s, handsome, the tan on his taut frame masking a few small scars on his body. Meet Johnny Dane, his dark hair tousled and several inches longer than his last known photo. On his face, a week’s worth of beard salted slightly with grey whiskers. In his right hand, he carries a snorkel and mask. In his left, a small metal cage holding several perfect red lobsters. Before he’s even fully out of the water, three native boys run up to him. Their voices ring like music.
“Johnny! Johnny!” Their beaming faces eagerly eyeball the cage in Dane’s hand.
“Two hours and that’s all you catch?” The first boy chimes playfully.
Dane grins. “Well… if you don’t want them…”
He pulls the cage away from the boy’s outstretched hands. The bluff works like a ten-dollar rabbit’s foot and the once-big grins on their young mugs momentarily falter. A wry smile crosses Dane’s face like a tide as he hands the cage to the tallest of the three youngsters. “Just leave me two,” Dane says.
The boys turn to the surf. Stepping towards them from the water is an olive-skinned beauty. Meet Ava. Her red bikini leaves little to the imagination. A body to die for with curves only a Formula 1 driver could survive. The tall boy turns back to Dane and raises an eyebrow.
INT. GRAND CAYMAN – SMALL HOUSE – MAGIC HOUR
A breeze blows. Thin curtains billow in the bedroom of Johnny Dane. He arches his back. Eyes closed. His body ripped and tanned, falls in concert with Ava below him. As he enters her, we see her face. It’s breathtaking with features that would make Da Vinci cry. Their mouths find each other in an embrace of complete intimacy. No wonder nobody’s heard from this guy.
INT. GRAND CAYMAN – DANE’S HOUSE – LATER
Dane and Ava lay naked under the sheets. She rests her head upon his chest as he kisses the top of her hair. Delicately, she runs her fingers along the inside of his outstretched arm.
“It’s only two hours until my birthday and you still haven’t told me what we’re going to do,” she purrs into his ear.
Dane squeezes his eyes shut. Holy shit. He forgot.
“It’s a… it’s a surprise,” he quickly mumbles.
“It’s also our anniversary.”
Dane isn’t used to being caught unsuspecting in the crosshairs like this. “It is?” he asks. His voice sounding less like a question than he’d like.
“Six months since you swept a simple cocktail waitress off her feet.”
“Maybe it’s true what they say?”
“What who say?”
He grins. “You know… time flies when you’re overcome with lust.”
Playfully, she hits him with a pillow.
“So what do you want for your birthday?” he asks.
“No fair. I can’t tell you.”
“Give me a hint.”
“How about….” she begins, “…your last name?”
If Dane has even one moment of hesitation, it doesn’t show. He rolls out of bed and drops to one knee, right there on the floor. Naked as the day he was born.
As he opens his mouth, she puts a finger to his lips. The tip of one red fingernail traces along his mouth. Her eyes drop. “Not here, silly.”
Before he can protest, she gets out of bed with the sheet wrapped around her and slips into the bathroom adjoining the bedroom, turning back momentarily.
“First a shower. Then, you can propose over dinner.”
She disappears behind a closing door and the shower begins to run. Dane flops down on the bed, his smile showing a happiness he’s never known before. This girl definitely has his number.
“Ava, will you marry me?” he asks softly, nearly a whisper. The life of an assassin seems a million miles away.
But that’s all before he hears a slight noise—someone entering quietly through the small house’s front door. Dane’s smile vanishes.
Quickly, he slides into a pair of jeans at the foot of the bed. He looks at the closed bathroom door, the shower still running, and then at the open window a few feet away.
INT. DANE’S LIVING ROOM – MOMENTS LATER
A dark-suited man creeps quietly towards the bedroom, his hands empty. As he crosses through a shaft of light coming through a window, it’s apparent the intruder is a Rastafarian with his dreads pulled back.
Meet the man known in the game as Number Six.
His last kill, the first in the game, was the contestant known as Number Three.
FLASH CUT TO:
INT. BELIZE – WAREHOUSE – NIGHT (FLASHBACK)
The man in the black rubber butcher’s apron is covered in blood. Meet Hugo, the guy you send when you want your killing to make a very strong impression. Even with the heavy black rubber gloves on, Hugo manages to light another cigarette from the embers of his current one and dumps the old butt into an already loaded ashtray. He picks up the chainsaw from the floor and goes back to his worktable. There lay the limbless torso of a local police commissioner’s wife, the still-shocked expression on her face from the moment she bled out while having her legs severed in front of her eyes.
Hugo fires up the saw, this time he wants the head. Her blood, still fresh, sprays brightly across the floor as the power tool does its job, tearing through sinew and bone in less than three seconds. Lifting her up by her mane of bleached blond hair, Hugo examines it closely. Her features are still quite attractive for a middle-aged woman.
Too much plastic surgery, he thinks to himself. The massive amounts of Botox she’s obviously had should keep the head looking fresh until it reaches its destination. Carefully, he places it, face up, in the plastic-lined box, tapes it shut and places it on the table with the other packages going to her husband.
Hugo wipes his sweating brow with the back of his sleeve. The air in the warehouse is still and humid. He walks across the floor to the barn door fifty feet away. With a bit of effort, he pushes it open, then closes his eyes and takes in the fresh breeze blowing from outside.
Almost done, he thinks. After tonight comes a long-deserved vacation. But it will be very much a working vacation at that. In his jacket is a plane ticket for Auckland, where he will begin his hunt for Derek Poole, his first planned kill in the contest in which he’s been invited as a participant. He contemplates all the money and how it would mean never having to kill for hire again. In his mind he replays the fantasy, a nice ranch in Mexico where he could troll at night for border crossers–poor, desolate wretches nobody would miss. He would abduct them, take them back to his “special room” and do with them as he wished to his heart’s content.
Halfway back to his worktable, Hugo senses something. He turns and sees the silhouette of the man standing in the doorway. His bushy dreadlocks casting a wide shadow at the top of his head.
Hugo’s heart jolts, sending a burst of adrenaline through his system. Dashing for his worktable, he tries to pick up his pistol but the thick rubber gloves don’t let him get a grip and the gun falls clumsily to the floor. Quickly, he reaches down to pick up the chainsaw and when he looks back toward the door, the dreadlocked man is nowhere to be found.
“Fuck,” Hugo whispers. He keeps low, peering around the left side of the table.
He then peers around the right side of the table.
Only to be greeted by the torso of the commissioner’s wife falling on top of him. Hugo presses the saw’s trigger, the chain cutting into the meat of her shoulder but the dreadlocked man is too strong and uses the weight of the torso to knock Hugo backwards onto the floor.
With a thud, Hugo hits hard enough to knock the wind out of his lungs and the chainsaw from his hand. Stars fill his head but he looks up just in time to see the Jamaican killer standing over him, a boot on the back of the commissioner’s wife to hold them both down.
The Jamaican grins at Hugo with a mouth full of platinum teeth. With a flick of his wrist, a small pistol drops from his sleeve into his hand. Still smiling, he pushes his dreadlocks from in front of his eyes, points the gun at Hugo’s face and pulls the trigger.
FLASH CUT TO:
INT. DANE’S LIVING ROOM – BACK TO SCENE
The Rasta killer moves like a wraith, slowly approaching the bedroom door. His body flows like water. He doesn’t even breathe.
His hand wraps around the knob, enveloping it, turning it slow enough to keep his movement silent. One second passes, then another. He turns until he can turn no further. He takes a slight inhale. In a moment, he’s going to burst into the room. In a moment, he’s going to pull the trigger on Johnny Dane…
Number Six pushes into the bedroom and finds it…
Hearing the shower, Six’s eyes flick toward the bathroom door. He takes a step. Suddenly the bedroom door swings shut behind him.
Number Six knows he’s caught. He doesn’t move. Puts his arms up.
Dane looks at Six’s hands, both empty. No weapon. “Who are you?”
“Hey mon, I’m just here to talk.”
“You ever hear of using the phone?”
Six turns, slowly, and sees that Dane is unarmed. He smiles, showing off several platinum teeth.
Shwick! Just as the small silencer-equipped pistol shoots up his sleeve and into his palm.
“Nothing personal,” he says to Dane. It’s true. Business is business.
Before he can finish, Dane jump kicks Six in the chest. For his trouble, Six gets two broken ribs and a trip to the night table. Airborne, he comes down hard. Bam!
Six is back on his feet, gun still in hand. Dane is on him like a flash, kicking up a shirt lying on the floor, twisting it into a lasso that he wraps around Six’s arm.
Except now… SHWICK! Another gun materializes in Six’s free hand, a bead drawn on Dane.
“Johnny, you gonna be the sweetest slap of my whole career.”
Just then, the bathroom door swings open.
Ava steps out, dripping wet, wearing only a silk bathrobe. “Wha—?”
Startled, Six turns the gun toward her. He pulls the trigger. Blam!
But Dane knocks Six’s arm up. The bullet missing Ava’s head by an inch. Her scream fills the room.
In the blink of an eye, Dane grabs Six’s hand and turns the piece on its owner—KaBlam—and shoots the Rastafarian killer through the neck. The warm spray of Six’s blood jets across the wall behind them. Dane drops the gunman to the floor and notices his assailant is still breathing, barely.
“You’re dead and you don’t even know it, Dane.” Six’s words come out as a hiss. He expires, blood pouring from his open mouth onto the front of his dark suit.
Dane turns. Ava’s seen too much. She runs from the bedroom as fast as her feet can carry her.
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