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Chapter 9 - Nostalgia

While Halle sat and contemplated her past, Jack was hunched at the bar counter in the main hall. It was a spot with a full view of the setting for the match to come. He stared at the stage, never once even touching the drink he'd ordered.

The same seats, the same colors...

The more he looked at it, the more it felt as if the events of seven years ago had happened only yesterday.

A voice started Jack from his reverie.

'How about a drink on me?'

Without turning, he wordlessly shook his head. Jack didn't need to look through seven-year-old memories to recognize that voice. It was Won--the very man who had punished King with death.

'I eagerly await seeing the level of skill that once dethroned a king, Jack.' With that, Won disappeared.

'Heh. A jack dethroning a king, huh...?'

Jack could only smile bitterly.

The clock steadily ticked away.

It was 11:50.

The match would begin in ten minutes.

The guests had begun to gather in the hall. Every one of them seemed to have been waiting eagerly for this night. Many had money riding on the outcome. Compared to Enrique or Won's contest, though, they barely had anything to lose.

Halle followed Enrique out into the hall. Taking her seat immediately, she sat quietly, eyes straight ahead.

If she was bothered by the crowd or the enormity of the event, she gave no sign.

After watching Halle take her place, Jack slowly rose from his spot at the bar. Unlike Halle, Jack had a bit of a name, and as he stepped forward, the crowd called out. It brought back more memories of his match with King--how nervous and restless he was by the shouts and cheers. How he wanted nothing more than to run away.

Jack and Halle were both seated now.

The card table in the center of the hall lay between them. The two faced each other, but their gazes never met.

In total silence, time passed.

Shortly after the two took their seats, a black-garbed man sat in a chair across from them. Just like seven years ago, he was the dealer provided by Chief Minister Shamrock.

The dealer pressed a switch below the card table. Slowly, the table area sank into the floor, allowing the guests in the hall a bird's eye view of the duel.

From behind their respective backed players, Won's group and Enrique's group cast intense gazes at the gamblers' hands.

Farther back, behind it all and watching over everything, was Chief Minister Shamrock.

'Now, then, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we have a revenge match!' Enrique yelled, unable to contain his enthusiasm.

It had been far too long since the gambling world was given such a high-stakes game. The crowd answered Enrique's introduction with a roar of approval.

第9回 懐旧

ハルがエンリケの部屋に控えている一方、ジャックは広間のバーカウンターに腰掛けていた。 ここからは勝負の舞台が一望できる。

彼は、頼んだ酒に口もつけず、ただ戦いの舞台をしげしげと眺めていた。 変わらない面子に変わらない景色。見つめれば見つめるほど、7年前のことがまるで昨日のことのように思い出されてくる。

「良かったら、奢らせてもらうが?」誰かがジャックの背に話しかけた。 ジャックは振り返りもせずに、無言で首を横に振る。 7年前を思い返すまでもなく、声の主が誰なのかは明らかだった。ウォンだ。





広間には観客たちが続々と集まり始めた。 みな今夜の勝負を心待ちにしているのだ。 2人にミラを賭ける者も大勢いる。 エンリケとウォンの勝負に比べれば、勝負とは呼べないような額ではあるが。

ハルはエンリケを伴って広間に入って来た。 彼女はまっすぐ自分の席に向かい正面を見据えたまま静かに腰を下ろす。 ギャラリーに対する物怖じはまるでない。

ハルが席につくのを見届けてから、ジャックはゆっくりと席を立った。 ハルとは違って有名人のジャックは観客達から盛んに声をかけられる。 こんな歓声に包まれて浮き足立った7年前の自分を思い出す。

ジャックとハル、両者が席についた。広間の中央に据えられたカード台。 2人は向かい合ってはいるが、その視線は決して交わることがない。


2人が席についてからやや間を置いて黒服の男がカード台の横にやって来た。 7年前と同じ、カードを配るだけの男。 シャムロック大老が用意したディーラーだ。

黒服はカード台の下にあるスイッチを入れる。 と、テーブルの周囲が一段低く沈み込み、決戦の舞台は観客達に覗き込まれる形となる。

ジャックの背中越しにウォンたちが、そしてその反対からはエンリケたちが2人の手元に熱い視線を投げかける。 さらにその背後からこの場を眺めているのが……言わずもがな、シャムロック大老である。

「さあ、今宵の勝負は弔い合戦だ!」 7年ぶりの大勝負を前に、興奮を抑えきれなくなったエンリケが叫んだ。