The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Drawing from Life, Part 2

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Even with all the windows in the loft open, there was no breeze to be felt on this particularly sultry September day. Summer, the coldest time of the year in San Francisco, had passed, and the sun was beating down on the city, lifting a smothering miasma of moisture from the bay. Joshua was up to his elbows in ingredients for paint, all of which smelled foul. He took pride in mixing his own paints for all his work, even if this required obtaining things that are normally put in drums with biohazard stickers on them. He did wear a face mask, which did nothing except make his face hot.

Joshua was by nature even-tempered and unflappable, but he was getting quite odd-tempered and flapped by the way the very light blue transparent glaze, one of the most critical parts of his style, was turning into something that would be more suitable for sealing the bottom of a swimming pool. As he launched into a string of particularly virulent curses, the door buzzer and phone rang simultaneously. This set up an even more livid stream of invective, as he disengaged himself from the trough, limped over to the wall, and pushed the intercom button with his elbow, leaving the phone to the answering machine.


“Josh, it’s Ketan.”

“Fuck, Ketan, listen...”

“Buzz me in, OK?”

“I’m right in the middle of mixing paint.”

“That’s OK, I’ve thrown up once today already. Push the damn button.”

The answering machine clicked on. “Mr Tostig, I’m calling on behalf of Harlan Nachez. Could you return my call at...” With a maneuver that would not have been out of place in a comic book, Joshua managed to dump his gloves into the sink, push the door-release button with one hand, and snatch up the phone with the other, all in the space of two seconds. He reflected that in the last few months, he’d been called “Mr Tostig” more often than anytime since his many visits to principal’s office in grade school.

“Hi, it’s Joshua.”

Pause. “Oh, hello, Mr Tostig. I’m the assistant to Harlan Nachez, of Dynamic Solutions?” Female, cool, professional.

“Uh, yes, of course. What can I, uh, do for you?” As he spoke on the cordless phone, he wandered over to unlock the door for Ketan when he managed to come up the steps, which, depending his level of drug use today, might be a few days.

“Harlan would like to meet with you about a commission.”

“Oh. Well. Yes, of course...” he started. One of the four richest men in the world wants to give me money, he thought; the word “coy” is not in my vocabulary right now.

“He’ll be coming back from Malaysia tonight, and wondered if you could meet him down here in Menlo Park at 10am tomorrow?”

Joshua started to reply, and stopped. Fuck. Carless. Ketan wandered in at that moment, his wide, dark, friendly face poking through the door. Joshua waved him in, trying to come up with a public transportation route to Menlo Park.

“He’ll send a car, of course,” The Competent Voice continued. Damn, she’s good.

“That would be great, thanks.” He muttered out his address.

“Thank you. I’ll see you then.” Pleasantries, and a click.

Joshua sat down, heavily, on the beanbag chair behind him. “Hi, Ketan.”

Ketan was already sifting through Joshua’s fridge. The contents clearly did not meet his standards of hospitality. “Man, you’re a famous artist now. You could at least keep some beer around.”

“I don’t drink beer, Ketan. It tastes like piss.”

“How would you know what piss tastes like?” said Ketan’s voice from behind the refrigerator door.

Joshua sighed. “Don’t go there. Anyway, if I don’t drink it, why should I have any?”

Ketan emerged from his mining expedition with a 7-Up. “Because I do, loser.” He sat down on the couch, examining Joshua. Joshua examined him back, thinking that Ketan was one of the most brilliant people he knew. This was either a valuable moral lesson on the difficulty of judging people, or a hint that he needed to get more friends.

They studied each other in silence for a minute. “So, what do you know about Harlan Nachez?” Joshua asked, sinking deeper into the chair.

Ketan sank almost as deep into the couch, one of his many talents. “His software sucks.” He sucked on the soda.

“Great, I’ll mention that to him.”

Ketan raised an eyebrow, which Joshua took as a small victory. “You’re going to meet him?”

Joshua nodded. “I assume he wants me to paint something. Maybe a grand triumphant mural for the lobby of his building, starting with Gilgamesh, through Alexander the Great and Julius Cesar, and ending with him. But simple and tasteful. ‘And big hooters on the nymphs,’ in the immortal words of Gary Trudeau.”

“Probably not,” Ketan said, thoughtfully. “He’d just have some facilities bozo do that. I’m sure he wants something more intimate, like a group portrait of his girlfriends.”

“Whatever. I’m sure we can reach an understanding in the high five figures.”

Ketan nodded. “Sounds great. Would you?”

Joshua laughed once, sharply. “Fuck yeah. Why not?”

Ketan shrugged. “That’s selling out, man,” he said, his voice containing no value judgment whatsoever.

“Your point?”

“You might lose cred.”

“I have no cred, Ketan. I’m Maxfield Parrish with graffiti and pubic hair. The Art Scene can fuck themselves.”

“Speaking of which, getting any lately?”

Joshua sighed. “You’re such a charmer.”

“No, listen, what about it? What happened to that redhead with the boobs?”

“Kylie,” Joshua replied, flinching. “Ships in the night. And that was, what, five months ago, Ketan; you need to stop taking stuff that fucks with your time sense. But you will not fucking believe who she’s with now.”

“I’ll fucking believe it. Who?”


Ketan raised an eyebrow again. “Really? Fassil’s trying to get back together with his wife.” For some sort of incredibly well-paid computer person, Ketan stayed very well apprised of the San Francisco scene.

“Apparently he’s not trying that hard. I saw Kylie blow him at a show.”

“Woo, performance art.”

“Not in public, stupid.”

“If it wasn’t in public, how did you know about it?”

“And then she went home with some exec from The Gap,” Joshua continued, ignoring the question.

“So, she’s a slut. A slut at one of Fassil’s shows. I’m shocked.”

Joshua sighed, deciding that the rest of the story could wait. “Why do I bother trying to explain things to do you?” And why does his calling Kylie a slut bug the shit out of me?

Ketan shrugged, waving the soda can. “My penetrating insight. Listen, are you doing anything Friday night?”

“I need to mix more paint.”

“Oh, great. Give it a rest until the hazmat squad has cleaned the place up. Come over.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll come over,” Joshua said, resigned, thinking of the swamp that awaited him from the failed pigment adventures of today. “Did you come all the way out here to invite me over in four days?”

“And why not? 8pm. Meera’s dying to see you again. Listen, thanks for the beer.” Ketan stood up, and strode purposefully towards the door.

“It’s a 7-Up,” Joshua pointed out.

Ketan turned, pointing his finger at Joshua; he smiled, and disappeared down the stairs, leaving the door open. Joshua called, “Say hi to Meera for me” down the stairs, receiving an incoherent but friendly-seeming reply back up.

Joshua started to close the door, but decided that the ventilation was slightly better that way. He returned to the trough, and scanned the collection of glass jars containing the stuff he made pigments from. Urea, charcoal, bug bits... Yuck. Well, I’d use eye of newt and toe of frog if it would get me a good vivid green, he thought. For a moment, Kylie’s vivid green eyes floated in front of him. I’m going to fucking kill Ketan for bringing her up, he thought sourly; I was doing a great job of forgetting about her. He turned the water on to run the old batch down the drain, and start again.

As he sipped at the cup of coffee Nachez’ assistant had brought him, Joshua was reminded again that being an artist was incompatible with being a morning person. The towncar had arrived at precisely the arranged time, and swiftly delivered him to Dynamic Solutions’ campus. It had been blazing hot in Menlo Park, even at a quarter to ten in the morning, and he had been relieved by the blast of cool air that came out of the glass doors. The lobby was cavernous; in the huge, glass-sheathed building, crossing the bare white sandstone floor towards the central reception desk, he had felt as if he were on a slide under a gigantic microscope.

The woman behind reception, middle-aged and friendly like a good small-town librarian, watched him approach. “Good morning. May I help you?”

“Uh, I have an appointment with Mr Nachez for 10am.”

“Of course,” she said, her demeanor not changing in the slightest, even though he was sure she thought him quite mad. Just toddle on up and ask for the CEO. “Your name?”

“Joshua Tostig.”

She clicked a few keys on her black keyboard, examined her black LCD monitor. “Ah, yes. Please just fill this out, and do you have some ID?” She slid a card across the desk to him.

And just like that, a security card issued to him, he was up on the 17th floor of the huge glass cylinder, waiting in the antechamber to be summoned into the Presence. He had expected to find some bombshell behind the assistant’s desk, but the assistant looked like an executive herself: steel-gray hair pulled back, glasses, conservative but flattering blue pants suit. The art on the walls was original and expensive enough, but the standard Inoffensive Corporate Abstract Art style, late period. What, thought Joshua, could he possibly want me to do?

The door (expensive hardwoods, light tones) opened, and a man in a dark gray suit emerged. He walked directly up to Joshua, smiling broadly. He was tall, black hair combed back, pale, nondescriptly handsome, his dark eyes sparkling as if he were about to deliver a particularly good joke to a friend. He extended a hand as Joshua rose, his heart racing. “Joshua? Harlan. Come in, I’m sorry I kept you waiting.” It was still two minutes to ten. Joshua just followed behind him, into his office. Cavernous, light wood, nice furniture, many books, even a small fountain. A view out over the bay.

They sat down, at some chairs around a table in front of Nachez’ desk. Coffee was brought in. Small-talk exchanged. Joshua had been perfectly prepared, in fact looking forward to, being abused and patronized by this man who had eaten so many companies for lunch, and disliking him intensely in return. Nachez’ casual and friendly manner utterly threw him, and he found himself at a loss for things to say. The conversation lagged.

“So, Joshua. I know you’re busy, so let’s get to what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Um, sure, ah, Harlan. A commission?”

Nachez rocked back, took a sip of his coffee, and nodded. “I’m friends with Paul Fassil, and I was over at his place, and saw something you did for him. ‘Odalisque to Fashion,’ it’s called?”

Joshua blinked. “Uh, yeah, he owns that one. It’s one of mine. I didn’t actually do it for him...”

Nachez shrugged. “I suppose not. It’s strange that he would have a picture of his girlfriend hanging on his wall and not realize that she’s the model, but since he doesn’t know, I’m enjoying having a little secret on him. It was certainly obvious to me. The girl owned up to it when I quizzed her about it.” With a broad smile, Nachez invited Joshua into the secret as well, and Joshua decided that, right then, it was a good idea to go with it.

“Anyway, you paint wonderfully. I’d like you to do a portrait of my friend Hannah.” Nachez, suddenly serious, pinned Joshua with his eyes.

Joshua found himself nodding without even realizing it. “Of course. I’d be honored.”

Nachez waved his hand, and sat back. “The honor’s mine. Hannah is very excited at the idea, too. So, can you start Friday?”

I have another show in three weeks, and that stupid architectural due for Schwab, and I’m even on the jury for that show at Newspace Gallery, I can’t start something now, Joshua thought. “Uh, that would be great. Could she come to my studio?” Joshua said, before his thoughts were even complete.

Nachez nodded, as if that had been clear from the start. “Of course. She’ll be there at noon on Friday.” He rose, and clearly the interview was over. “Tell Vivian up front how much you think it will be, and she’ll make all the arrangements.” He reached out his hand, the other hand on Joshua’s shoulder, guiding him towards the door. “It was good to meet you. Thank you, again,” he said, utterly sincere. The door opened, then closed, Joshua outside, Nachez in.

The assistant, who must be Vivian, looked up expectantly. “So, shall we go over terms?” she asked, as Joshua stared at the door.

“So, I suppose you think I’m sleeping with him,” the naked girl said to Joshua as he fussed over pencil selection.

Joshua looked up at Hannah, who was sprawled on the couch, leaning on one elbow, her head in her hand. Her long blonde hair tumbled down over her chest and small breasts, catching on her perky, pink nipples. She was young, probably not much more than 22, and her skin radiated vitality, from her painfully pretty face and big blue eyes down to her long legs. Joshua scanned her for a moment while choosing a reply.

“I really hadn’t thought about it.”

Hannah made an impatient little noise. “Like, sure. Of course you think so. Well, I’m not.”

Joshua nodded. “OK, you’re not,” he finally said.

She did not seem completely satisfied with the answer. “I’m sure he thinks that I’m going to, but I’m still not going to. I mean, he’s like old enough to be my father. He’s more than twice my age.”

Try as he might, he couldn’t find a way to say that he was a painter, not a relationship counselor, so he kept fussing with the pencils. “He must like you if he wanted to have your portrait done,” he attempted.

She shrugged, her hair swaying beautifully. She must practice that, Joshua reflected. “I like him, but not that way. He’s, like, kind of like a big brother or a father, y’know?”

Yeah, I know, and I know that someone who feels unerotic fatherly affection for a 22 year old blonde bimbo does not pay $17,500 to have her nude portrait done, even if that’s less than his weekly dry cleaning bill, Joshua thought, but did not say. My job is delivering a painting, not the chick, so let’s get on with it.

“OK, you’re going to be in this position for an hour or so, so make yourself as comfortable as you can,” he said. He flipped open his sketchbook, and started doing the rough.

Joshua sat in the back of a 14 Mission, wondering what motivated him to take this particular bus line. It had been nearly 6:30 by the time he had finally managed to get rid of chatty Hannah. And then, Nachez himself had called, to make sure that it was going OK, and asking to come by on Monday morning to see the work in progress. Great, that kind of commission, Joshua thought sourly. He was still wearing the clothes he had been painting in.

God, I reek, he noticed, and it’s not even keeping me from getting crowded on the bus. There was a reason that the drivers called it Mission Impossible, and every strange person in San Francisco, a city known for strange people, seemed to be crowded onto this one bus. Traffic was stopped dead, typical for a Friday evening. He tried sketching some of the interesting characters to pass the time, at least those that he thought would not try to explain the voices in their heads to them if they noticed. No room. He sighed, notebook back in backpack.

As he watched, the doors to the bus hissed open. An SF cop got in (much to the dismay of many of the riders, who quickly hid illegal things). The cop exchanged sharp words with the driver, and stalked off. The PA came on a moment later. “Uh, the police told me that Mission Street is closed ahead, and may be for a few more hours. You might want to get off the bus and take the Metro subway or BART or something.” The doors popped open, and the driver flew off the bus, trying to stay ahead of the mob.

Joshua sighed, collected his backpack, and joined the crowd pouring off. Ketan won’t care if I’m late, he thought, whatever “late” means to one of his events. He walked down Mission, under the Central Freeway overhead; several fire engines, an entire ladder company, raced up Duboce towards some event. Busy night. He crossed the street.

He didn’t get far; there was another row of flashing lights, of all varieties, blocking Market: cop cars, fire trucks, ambulances. He stopped and stared, finally asking the traffic cop what was going on.

“It’s the old National Guard Armory. It collapsed.”

Joshua blinked. “Collapsed? Just like that?”

The cop nodded, waving off another angry yuppie in a BMW. “Yeah, completely. Just a pile of bricks now. Can you believe they built a brick building in San Francisco?”

Joshua just nodded numbly, and turned to walk up Duboce. Yeah, he thought, there was brick, but that was just the façade. The structure was built from reinforced concrete over a steel frame. It could have survived an 8.0 earthquake. I wonder if someone bombed it or something, he thought, as he approached Valencia Street. Good thing the building was unused and deserted; it was so solid even squatters couldn’t break in.

Meera opened the door to the Victorian house to Joshua’s knock; the smell of incense, strong but still very pleasant, came billowing out. “Josh!” she squealed, yanking him into the house and hugging him. Ketan’s wife was in a bright red sari and choli with gold threadwork, and her jewelry jingled and jangled; the red bindi on her forehead matched the sari. “It’s been so long!”

Joshua blushed as he hugged her back, enjoying her slim body in his arms. Meera was all earthy groundedness to Ketan’s chaotic willfulness. Meera stood back, and cocked her head, one hand on her hips. “You’ve been working too hard, friend. Come in, come in.”

“Where’s Ketan?” Joshua asked Meera’s back. She just waved her hand, bracelets clattering, meaning, Like I can keep track of him? He followed her into the living room, full of cushions, low tables, brass lamps, pictures on the walls, fabric hangings, candles. There was no one else home. Meera sat down, and began pouring two cups of tea.

Joshua joined her. “Uh, am I the first?”

Meera nodded. “And only.” She passed a teacup to him.

“I thought it was a party.”

Meera took a sip, and leaned back. “I’m not entertaining enough?” He laughed. “I’m just worried about you.”

Joshua sipped at the tea, and collapsed back into the cushions. “Worried about me? Why?”

Meera took another sip, and sat up straight again. “Dreams about you. Bad ones.” She looked at, and through Joshua.

Joshua blinked. Oh, right, Meera claims to have some kind of Strange Psychic Gifts, he remembered. He had deliberately forgotten that, because he found the whole idea absurd, and it was easy for him to forget things about friends that didn’t fit with his positive image of them.

“Meera, really, I’m fine. I’ve never been better. I’m getting tons of work done, and that huge useless pile of paintings in my studio is finally getting smaller from sales.”

Meera cocked her head, listening.

“In fact, Harlan Nachez himself is paying me to paint his girlfriend. Well, some little blonde he’d like to be his girlfriend. I’d go the dinner and wine and a nice fur coat route, but whatever...” he trailed off, uncomfortable under Meera’s gaze. They regarded each other in silence for a moment.

Finally, Joshua spoke. “OK, so what do I do about whatever you’re worried about?” Regardless of the more woo-woo aspects of Meera’s belief system, she was also one of the wisest people he knew, and if she was worried, he shouldn’t be stupid about it.

Meera continued to look at him, studying him. “I don’t know. But would you do a ritual with me to find out?”

Joshua blinked. “Uh, well, um...” He stopped; her manner made being superficial or skeptical impossible. “All right. Sure. What do I do?”

“Wait here,” she said, rising gracefully. She put more incense in one of the burners, and left the room.

Joshua looked around, confused. Great, I’m going to have to hop backwards in a circle or something stupid. Why do I let myself get talked into these things? he sighed to himself. This is not going to be the answer to my problem. And what is my problem, anyway? he thought. Why is Meera looking at me like I’m in denial about some skin condition? I’m not getting laid enough, but that’s not a reason for an exorcism or something.

His reverie was broken off by the soft sound of her coming back into the room. He turned; she was naked except for her jewelry. Her slim brown body was glistening with some kind of mint oil, filling his senses. “Uh, Meera...” They had slept together before; Ketan was as amused and unconcerned by this as he was by everything in life. But there was something different now. Something that made him just a bit scared.

“Undress,” she said, lightly. “I’ll get ready.” She sat back down facing him, legs crossed, and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. Joshua rose, and quickly undressed, watching her. He sat back down, crossing his legs as well. She opened her eyes.

Without a word, she reached across, and began sliding her oiled fingers over his cock; she looked into his eyes, and he matched her breathing, very deep, in and out, in and out. Her rhythms were magnetic, they pulled everything into alignment with her. He was already getting hard just from watching her, and her touch made him even harder, bringing him to readiness. He reached across to stroke her as well, but she shook her head slightly, and he put his hands back down.

With a quick motion, she opened her legs, wrapped them around him, and pulled herself into his lap; his cock slid neatly into her pussy, already wet and ready. Her elbows pushed at his sides, her arms up his back, her hands in his hair. They gasped together at the sudden penetration, and he looked at her face; she put her head back, her eyes closed. Her hips began to grind down onto him, her cunt clenching and unclenching around him.

They coupled slowly, her pussy milking his cock into her. His hands pressed into her back, sweaty with the oil and the residue of the paint that he hadn’t had a chance to wash off. For just an idle moment, he realized that Kylie was the last woman he had been with before now; he forced the image of her green eyes down one more time, and focused on Meera, on her musky scent, on her hands on him, on his hands on her, on the feeling of her small, firm breasts pressed up against him, on the erotic, deep hoarseness of her breathing.

He could feel the orgasm building inside of him. Apparently, she could too; she opened her eyes, met his gaze, and nodded. “Let it build,” she said, softly, “don’t hold back. Just let it build, let it come... let it come...” Her pussy started clenching faster, her hips grinding more insistently. “Don’t hold back,” she whispered, leaning forward, her breath in his hair. “Don’t hold back, let yourself come inside of me, let your come flow into me, share your essence with me...”

With a sudden burst, he could feel himself spray out into her, again and again; it felt like a whole river of come ran out into her waiting cunt. Her pussy clenched and grabbed, hard, as she gave a soft cry and came herself, pulling his body close to her, as he grabbed her and held her tight.

As the shuddering slowly stopped, he felt his naked cock deep inside her, and gasped, “Oh, fuck, Meera, I didn’t use anything...” She responded with her body, her gentle pressure against him telling him clearly that he should stop worrying about it.

As they calmed down, he murmured, “So, any conclusions, doctor?”

“I,” she panted, “I’m not sure. Something is happening to you, though. It’s like you’re poisoning yourself.”

He sighed. “It’s just the paint. It gets into everything. But I’m not eating it for lunch.”

She slowly disengaged, standing up directly from him. He watched her pussy come up to eye-level, and then her lovely ass, as she turned. She slid a folded white cloth between her legs. “I know, Joshua, but something bad is happening to you or around you. It’s not a physical poison, it’s a spiritual one.”

He closed his eyes. “I think you’re worrying too much about me.” He could hear her add more incense. He took more breaths, enjoying the mixture of her scent, the oil, the incense, the perfume of their fucking. “I’m just working too hard; I’m not used to actually being successful.” He took another deep breath, opened his eyes.

And screamed.

Meera was squatting down, her back towards him. There were two handprints, lurid blood-red, on her back. Not just blood; it looked like she had been flayed, the skin removed and the muscle and bone and organs exposed like an obscene anatomy diagram. Gore from the wounds was starting to trickle down to her ass. He lurched backwards, threw himself against the pillows, grabbing one to him as Meera turned. “What is it? What’s the matter?” she said, rushing to him, taking his hands.

“Your... your back... I, I did something...” he said, trying to keep breathing, his vision starting to tunnel with terror.

She reached behind herself, ran a hand down her back. She pulled it away, clean. “I’m fine. You didn’t even grab that hard.” She turned around; her sculptured back glistened undamaged in the candlelight. She turned to him, gently taking his head in her hands. “I think you should spend the night here tonight. Ketan’s at a conference. And let’s do some purification work together now, OK?”

Joshua just nodded, as he sank into her arms.

He ended up spending the whole weekend, only staggering out Monday morning to get home in time to meet Nachez.

Kylie looked at the phone, looked back at the screen of her computer, looked away again. She slid her feet out of the high heels that Paul insisted that she wear, and then back in again. She adjusted the hem of her too-short skirt, the neckline of her too-low blouse, and the straps of her too-pushup bra. She looked back to the screen, and continued typing. Fassil was already an hour late back from lunch, and a Saturday lunch at that; he could stay out as long as he wanted, the longer the better, but knowing that he could burst in at any moment made it impossible to concentrate.

She opened the address book on the computer, scrolled down to TOS, looked up Joshua’s number. She picked up the phone, started to dial, put it down again. Why should I call him? she thought. What could he possibly do for me? Paul has no idea why I’m sleeping with him, as if we ever actually sleep, what if Joshua doesn’t either? Fuck, she thought, Joshua has to know, he has to be the reason that I’m a blowup doll with my own bank account. And if he is the reason, he can fix it. She picked up the phone, put it down again. She saw a shadow against the frosted glass of the door, and sat up straight.

Fassil flew through the door to the gallery office, his face darker than she’d ever seen it before. For a horrible moment, she ran through everything that she might have done to offend him, came up with nothing.


He shook his head, as if to clear it. He closed the door behind him. “Yes, Kylie?” he asked, not unkindly, but not looking at her, either. He sat down in the chair next to her desk, filling it up.

“Uh, is something wrong?”

He nodded, slowly. “Yes. Very.”

She knew what was expected of her. She stood up, came around in front of him, and knelt down. As she reached for his belt, he put a hand on hers to stop her. “Thanks, but not right now.”

She blinked. “Uh, OK. Is there anything...?”

He shook his head, leaning back. “No, uh, thanks.” He stood up. She did, too. A moment of fear ran through her. She’d never seen him like this, not that she’d known him very long. “Paul, what is it?”

He turned, and looked at her. Not at her chest or legs, but straight into her eyes. “Big trouble. Thakka Data Systems and those lithographs by Prud’homme.”

She thought back. That was their, his, big score last quarter. “The ones you bought from Heinmann Galleries in Paris, right?”


“And you sold them to Thakka.”

“And made a huge profit. Heinmann let them go for almost nothing. They’re off hanging on the walls of New Delhi or Bombay or wherever the hell Thakka’s headquarters is.”

“So,” she said, not wanting to know the answer, “what was the problem?”

“Heinmann let them go for a song because he didn’t own them. They were there for a show, not for sale.”

She put a hand out to the desk to steady herself. “But we just need to pull the confirmation from Heinmann that they had title or representation, and then it’s Heinmann’s problem?”

Fassil sat down again. “Problem one: Heinmann has disappeared, leaving an empty gallery and about ninety artists without work or payment.”

She nodded, slowly, her heart pounding.

He continued, his voice even lower. “Problem two: I never got the confirmation from Heinmann. I let the prints go without it. I trusted him when he said that they’d send it later, and Thakka wanted the prints right away, and was willing to pay a premium for them fast.”

“So, Prud’homme wants his money or his lithographs. He can’t go after Heinmann, because there’s nothing there. So he’s going to go after me. I was at lunch with their lawyers and ours. He’s got me. He could probably make criminal charges stick if he pushed hard enough, saying that I was in collusion with Heinmann. Prud’homme wants enough to retire on, fuck whatever the ‘graphs where actually worth, and he probably could get it from a court.”

He sighed. “I’ll have to unload most of my collection to buy him off. I was an idiot for trusting Heinmann.” He sighed. Kylie relaxed, a bit. He has a hundred pieces he doesn’t even look at; he won’t notice most of them are gone. At least he won’t be angry for long, she thought, slowly calming down. I hate it even more when he gets angry.

He walked to the door of his office, and turned. “Let’s get started; they’re only going to give me so much time. Call Harlan Nachez’ admin, and let him know that I can get him some great deals. He really liked ‘Odalisque’; make sure that one goes into the package. Thanks, you’re great,” he added, closing the door behind him.

Kylie collapsed onto the floor, sitting; she realized how obscene it looked, short skirt ridden up and no panties, but she didn’t care. She felt one garter snap off of a stocking. If I cry, she thought insanely, my mascara will run and I’ll just have to fix it, but she started to cry silently anyway. She reached up, grabbed the phone, and pulled it down. She started to dial Joshua’s number, memorized from the hundred times she’d pulled it up. Her long hair tangled into her eyes, making it hard to see, but she managed it.

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