He gave the guards a quick nod and started walking on toward Smiley’s, keeping a careful pace. It was best not to seem like you were in too much of a hurry here. And you didn’t want to be caught loitering. He was really beginning to rethink this decision, but he was already here and on his way. Smiley was the only bookie he knew of that would have the kind of cash he needed to make this bet. And he had a reputation to maintain. Smiley was known across the Black, he always paid his debts, and he always collected. Reputation was everything.

He found the place easily enough, he remembered the way. He’d only dealt with Smiley a couple of times in the past, it was generally best to avoid doing so unless it was absolutely necessary, but dealing with Smiley was something that tended to stick with you. It was the same way that you would remember barely escaping a house fire, or a sudden stampede. Any imminent life threatening event, barely survived. Of course, those were the good dealings with Smiley. Anyone that had a bad dealing with Smiley wouldn’t really remember it at all, at least not in this life.

To anyone that knew about Smiley through reputation only, actually finding him would have been a confusing and vaguely disappointing event. He kept a modest office on the second floor of one of the more run down buildings on the Hill, certainly more run of the mill than someone would expect for one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the city. It had originally been intended as apartments, and the two floors above were still used for exactly that. The first two floors had long ago been consumed by consumerism, and had been converted into businesses. The second floor hosted an appraiser, a lawyer, and Smiley, who was listed simply as a financial consultant. The first floor was a clothing shop and a small but moderately popular small plate restaurant. The smell of grilled meats permeated the air and clashed with the acrid smell of the fresh dyes on the fabrics. Holden made his way past both to the flight up the stairs in the back.

The second floor was dark, with faintly flickering electric lights playing ominous counterpoint to the intense brightness the shops downstairs used to highlight their wares. The decor didn’t help either, the openness of the floor below strongly contrasted with the dark wood paneling and the thick deep red carpeting that ran down the hallway between the establishments up here. He wondered if it wouldn’t seem quite so maudlin if it had not been for the contrast. He also wondered how much of the sense of foreboding he felt came from the hallway itself, and how much from what he knew waited at the end of it.

He shook off his discomposure with a shrug, he was here for good reason, and with a sure thing. There was no danger here, not for him. He made his way down the hall toward Smiley’s office and was stopped by a wall of a man, nearly the size of the door. The wall grunted and dipped inside briefly before opening the door and ushering him inside. So far, so good.


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