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  • The scent of jasmine and magnolias fought for attention in the evening wisps of breeze that fell down the brick walls into the courtyard. A guttering candle, ever about to blow out, cast the only light here.

    His face was hidden in shifting shadows. He sat perfectly still in his linen suit, the creases still crisp, the fabric laying neatly against his body as the Hong Kong tailor had intended.

    He showed no visible reaction as she appeared through the doorway. A reflection on his glistening eye was perhaps the only sign that he had seen her.

    She stood quietly in the bricked opening, and let her eyes adjust from the brightness beyond the courtyard. Like dim after-images, she took in the rampant, wild growth within the courtyard. Azaleas and Devil's Shoestring were everywhere, climbing the walls along with hydrangea.

    Again, a light breeze through the doorway struggled through, a wan attempt to cool the air here. Her dress fluttered at the bottom, but she kept her hands at her sides at the possible expense of some modesty.

    "You came," he rumbled, his lips invisible in the shifting shadows and dreary dark.

    His arm moved, gesturing elegantly toward the seat next to him.

    She stood for a moment, considering the invitation, and with a toss of her hair, more affectation than necessity, she replied "No thanks. I'll stand."

    His low laugh made no echo and died with its utterance. "Suit yourself, Miranda."

    "Are we to be enemies then, Frank?" she asked, knowing his answer.

    "No, Miranda. You have asked for your freedom. Not an unreasonable request."

    "I... I will not utter platitudes with you, Frank. I know what you are capable of."

    He chuckled low but the light reached his eyes and his mirth had not.

    "What am I capable of, dear? What do you think you know about me?"

    "You take what you want. You are like a willful child, destroying what you cannot have."

    His face turned away from her for a moment, and the set of his shoulders told her something about how he had taken that statement. When he turned back, the flicker of the candle shown on his white teeth, through a smile that was tight.

    "Yes, I suppose you are correct. I am used to getting my way. But in my position, that is necessity, not willfulness."

    Miranda laughed now, her white throat shown in the low light, framed on either side by her hair.

    "Everything you want becomes a necessity, Frank. You have no self-control."

    In the stillness after her statement, she felt the menace from him. He had not moved, but his body radiated it. She shuddered and hoped that he had not seen.

    "Why have you come Miranda? You could have declined," he said, his voice almost, but not quite steady.

    "I know what happens to people who refuse you, Frank. And...," she paused, her eyes sweeping across the pots of magnolias.

    "Yes? And?"

    She swallowed down the dry lump that had formed in her throat as she struggled for the words.

    "I've been to the doctor."

    He sat up straight. Calm pretense gone. An uncharacteristic wisp of hair fell across his forehead, dislodged by the traitorous breeze.

    "Yes?"

    "I am not."

    "Not?" he asked, his long fingered hand straying to the ill-mannered lock.

    "No. Not."

    He settled back in his seat, but not at ease.

    She licked her lips, what little moisture there robbing her tongue, and said thickly, "I'm sorry, Frank."

    "You're sorry," he said, his eyes somewhere else.

    "Yes. I know you wanted a son. But there will be no son. I'm sorry."

    He stood then, his arms hanging down. He looked nothing less than beaten just then, a boy who had watched the ice cream truck turn the corner, a dollar bill still in his hand.

    She waited for him to speak and when he did not, she swallowed.

    "I can return your money. Clearly I did not perform and ..."

    His movement was sudden. He crossed the space between rapidly and frighteningly.

    "Did you... did you believe this was about the money, Miranda?" he said, his voice from up close somehow less resonant in the smaller distance.

    She thought about his voice and his hands. The feel of his Egyptian cotton sheets on her body as he sweated over her, her arms around his back. His hands, smooth to look at, always felt rough on her skin, leaving blotches and red marks where he touched her.

    She shuddered again and this time there was no way to hide it.

    He looked at her, the flickering candle at his back, his face a dark pool.

    She started to speak, her voice feeling tight.

    He reached out, a single finger and placed it across her lips. Despite his intended gentleness, his finger felt like a blow.

    "No, Miranda. This was never about money. The... arrangement... was pretext. From the moment you started at my club, I wanted you. You. You were my prize, my precious possession. The heir... my son... was simply a means."

    The light from the candle seemed to pass through him illuminating her. He saw her jaws working, small bumps clenching.

    "Well then," he said, stepping back from her, "I suppose you will leave the City?"

    She looked back at him, unable to hide the fear in her eyes, and nodded slightly.

    "Well then, I suppose this is goodbye."

    He turned from her, gazing at the red brick of the courtyard.

    From the corner of his eye, he could see her reaching into her handbag.

    With a practiced motion, he pulled the gun from his waistband, turned and shot her.

    The impact of the bullet threw her back against the wall, her eyes surprised, her mouth open as if to shout down the bullet. She took a deep breath and instead, heard only a deep sucking noise from the hole in her chest. As if realizing that no incantation or magic would intervene, she slid slowly down the wall.

    Frank watched her settle down on the bricks of the courtyard, her dress rapidly turning red. She held his eyes until he realized that she was dead.

    He switched the gun into his other hand, and wiped the sweat from his palm on his trousers, and then cursed himself for forgetting about the linen.

    A few steps and he stood over her, her face still slightly upturned, but all life gone from it. Her hand was still in her purse, as if guarding its contents. Unnecessarily, he kicked the purse, and it fell to the ground, its contents scattering.

    In the dim light, he could see that she still clutched an envelope. He bent over and took it from her still hand, the treacherous lock falling across his forehead again.

    The envelope was from a medical office. An OB/Gyn in the City. Putting the gun back into his belt, he opened the envelope and took the single sheet from it.

    Standard patient info. Clearly Miranda's information. Test results.

    The paper fell from his hand, fluttering down to Miranda's lap, and he stood over her, defeated again.

    No son, she had said. No son.

    A daughter instead.
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