Jason winced as the speakers played a fanfare. Did it have to be so loud? He didn’t belong here. Every moment made that more clear.

It wasn’t that it was a bad place. It was relatively clean, despite the crowds, and the people working there were friendly, but it simply wasn’t him. It was loud, and hot, and smelled overwhelmingly of horse.

Well, of course, he thought to himself. It would be strange if it didn’t smell like horses, wouldn’t it?

They were meeting with a new client, Mr. Adamovich, who was old enough and rich enough that he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. People would just claim he was “eccentric,” and carry on. In this case, his eccentricity was insisting that they meet him at the race track and that they bring one of the code monkeys with them.

So Jason, who had never even met the Vice President of Marketing or the CEO before, had shared a limousine with them to the horse races. He felt rather under dressed, wearing tan slacks and a white dress shirt and tie compared to their nicely pressed suits.

“You must be from Stone Wall Solutions,” someone said. It was a girl, maybe college age. She sat on the fence, swinging he feet back and forth above the sign asking people not to lean, climb or sit on the fence. She wore khaki shorts, and a white t-shirt that bared her midriff. A pale green gem sparkled from her navel piercing. She had another piercing in her lip, another in her nose, and half a dozen on each ear.

She also had green hair. Not a bright shade, but a deep, forest color that almost looked natural on her.

Jason glanced at his bosses, who were bent over a map, discussing with each other. “Yes,” he told the girl. “How did you know?”

She laughed. “You kind of stand out.” There was a faint British accent to her voice.

“Sorry,” he said, feeling his face heat up.

“Don’t be. Not your fault, is it? Nothing wrong with not being in the right place as long as you accept it. Those two,” she gestured at his companions with her chin, “fit in even less than you do, but they’ll never acknowledge it. They need to be in control as much as they can. Makes ‘em boring, in my opinion. I mean, who wears a suit to the race track?” She held out a hand, “Call me Elm.”

“Jason,” he said, shaking her hand. He was suddenly aware of how clammy his hands were. “Jason Tremain.”

Elm threw back her head and laughed again. “Houses of stone, and you work at Stone Wall?”

“Yes,” Jason said, a little irritated now. It wasn’t that funny. “You’re with Domovoi Security, then?”

“Yeah.” She hopped down off the fence and yelled at the VP and CEO. “Oi! Yes, you two. Gramps is this way!”

Jason’s bosses were understandably taken aback. Jason wondered if they had ever been addressed like that in their entire life. They conversed for a moment.

“You must be Miss Elm,” the CEO said, trying to hide his shock.

“Just ‘Elm’ will do,” she said, and walked away. She rolled her hips as she walked, and Jason had a hard time not staring.

She led them to an patio where numerous tables sat under umbrellas.

“Come! Sit, sit!” Adamovich was a large gray-haired man with a heavy Russian accent. Despite his age, he was still well muscled. He reminded Jason a little of the man he had met at the hunting cabin last winter, Abe.

Jason felt a little gratified that Adamovich was wearing slacks and a short-sleeved, button-down shirt, much like he was, although Adamovich wore a gold pendant instead of a tie. He didn’t feel so under-dressed, now. Although with Elm there, what would qualify as under-dressed?

Introductions were made and drinks were ordered. The CEO quickly tried to turn the conversation to business matters, but Adamovich waved him off.

“No, no,” he said. “No official talk today. This is not the place for such things. Save that for the conference rooms. This is a place to enjoy yourself and get to know each other. Besides you’ll bore my goddaughter away.” He gestured towards Elm, who had turned her chair around and sat on it backwards.

Jason felt that the revelation that he was Elm’s godfather was somehow ironic, but he wasn’t sure why.

“If you want tips on betting,” Adamovich went on, “just ask Elm. She knows how to pick a winner.”

“Then how come you never listen?” she asked.

He laughed, a big booming laugh. “Because you know how to pick a winner. It is not gambling if there is no chance for loosing.”

The sun peaked through a hole in the umbrella just long enough to shine off of Adamovich’s pendant. “Excuse me, sir,” Jason said.

“Call me Danya, I insist.”

“Yes, si- er, Danya. I was just wondering about that necklace you’re wearing.” Both the CEO and the VP glared at him. They had never actually told him not to talk with Adamovich, but they had still made it quite clear that the less he said, the better.

Adamovich undid the chain, and held it out above the table, it spun slowly, showing off two finely detailed trees, one with full, leafy branches, the other covered in snow. It was a different tree than the one on Jason’s, though.

“A thing of beauty, is it not?” he said.

Jason nodded. “Where did you get it?”

Adamovich laughed again. “I do not remember. It was a long time ago, and there was a lot going on now, some of which I am only now starting to understand. Why? Were you hoping to buy one yourself?”

Jason shook his head. “No, sir. I… well, I actually have something similar, and I’m not entirely sure where I got it.”

Elm perked up at that, staring at Jason with renewed interest.

“I would say that’s quite a coincidence,” Adamovich said, “but I’ve found there are no coincidences, not in matters like these.”

“That settles things, doesn’t it?” Elm said.

Adamovich nodded. “I think it does. We can have our people discuss the details later, but I think I will enjoy working with Stone Wall Solutions.”

The Vice President and the CEO exchanges shocked glances, and quickly offered their thanks.

“As for you, young man,” he said, addressing Jason again. “Do not worry yourself with trying to understand these things. Just be polite, and try to avoid picking one side or the other. As long as you are helpful, you can go quite far with these kinds of friends.”

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