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A man stands, his soft belly hanging over a Calvin Klein belt just enough to indicate his well-fed and bred status, tapping his front tooth with the too long nail of his index finger. He tilts his head side to side trying to catch every imagined angle of the painting before him. He radiates self-satisfaction and Julius hates him on sight. Julius’ eye narrow as he takes a closer look at the soul in front of him. There isn’t much there, the usual avarice of urban residents, a touch of cheating, a blush of sadism, but not enough for Julius to work with.  He considers adding the man’s arterial blood to Pollack’s sprays.

“Behave,” says Saris, her breath carrying the scent of cloves and lemons.
“Checking up on me?” asks Julius ignoring the tingle in his groin.
“Just reminding you of what you stand to lose.”

Julius is on his last warning. Any further infractions will result in a severe demotion.  Truth be told, it isn’t this threat that keeps the soft bellied man alive but rather the pleasure that Julius gets from watching the sheep, one after another come, pause, ponder and then finally accept greatness. His lips curve as he remembers the young Jackson huddled, fetal position on the damp concrete floor of his then shared studio blind with alcohol, soiled with vomit and heroin tinged sweat. Pollack fancied himself an atheist but like so many he ended up praying for fame, validation, vindication of a life already hard. Jackson, or Jackie as his brother Charles used to call him, didn’t even look surprised when Julius arrived deal in hand. He merely blinked the sweat and tears from his eyes and said, “Well, it figures it would be you lot that answered.”

Julius liked him for that, for the metal in his spine.

“What? You get my soul and I get everything I want,” Jackie slurred.

“There is never an everything or a nothing. Added to pigment will be life and soul. Giving everything you are to your art, until you are no more,” explained Julius.

Jackie was smart enough to be suspect of the small print, but he knew too that he didn’t have much choice. So as time marched, the more he painted the more of his life and soul went on the canvas. Literally. Because Julius had liked Jackie so much he always goes out of his way when surfaceside to come and view Jackie’s last painting Red, Black & Silver, no matter where it hangs because even though Jackie knew by then what the fine print meant, he showed metal again by not running or bargaining. He just poured his last drink down his throat and the last of his soul onto the stretched material trapping his consciousness to forever be viewed but not seen. Except of course by Julius who smiles now as Jackie flips him the bird.