“I’m sure you are aware, Holden, that I am a businessman. I take great pride in what I do,” Smiley said, leading Holden to the door. “I have earned quite a reputation, and I have done so through careful maintenance. You must know how important it is to present oneself in a consistent manner to maintain one’s reputation. And the best way to do so is to ensure that it is an accurate reflection of who you truly are. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to one of my hobbies.”

Smiley opened up the door and ushered Holden through. It took a moment for him to really register what he was seeing. The room was entirely white, exceptionally so. In the tile floors, he noticed what looked like painted grates, as if to provide drainage. The walls were shiny with a thick white lacquer, and had seams at regular intervals, sometimes with small indentations in the wall an inch or so wide and only a few inches tall, but he could not guess at the purpose. There were no windows, only glaring overhead lamps with oversized conical shades to enhance and direct the light. The light itself was focused on what seemed to be the only piece of furniture in the room: a large steel table in the center. It was about chest height and had a series of rings running around the outer edge. Several of the rings had straps running through them. It also had a series of what looked like drawers in the side of it. And there was something on top of the table: vague, lumpy shapes hidden under a white sheet.

Holden’s jaw tightened, and his skin crawled. Something about the room seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t say why. And then it struck him: he had seen something similar at the local infirmary. Just what was Smiley playing at here?

“I find modern medicine to be such a fascinating subject, don’t you?” the older man said, quietly. “I admit it’s a bit of a passion of mine. For so long we just relied on the prayers of the priests reaching out to the gods to cure what ailed us, and now, in this enlightened age, we are beginning to make so many strides in really understanding how these vessels of flesh and bone work. Simply marvelous. Of course I don’t have any formal training myself, but I make do. Come, see my latest line of research.”

Smiley pulled back the sheet on the table to reveal what Holden had already begun to fear would be there: a human head and torso sat next to its detached arms, one of which was attached by sinews only. Of the legs there was no sign,. The face was distorted and mangled, half of the flesh torn away from around the cheek and eye on one side. And then he saw what would haunt him for weeks, if not years to come: the eye twitched as he looked at it. The man on the table was still alive.

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