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Chapter 13 - The Price of the Soul

It quickly became apparent that this final battle was going to be even more intense and unpredictable than the sixth race had been.

First, car 4, which had been the favorite to win, had to withdraw partway through due to mechanical trouble.

The second and third most popular cars, 3 and 6 respectively, also had their own share of problems, and while they were able to continue the race, their performance was far from their full capabilities.

Thanks to these technical difficulties, there were essentially only nine of the original twelve cars still in the race. Of those nine, car 1 had the highest odds of winning, but car 5 stubbornly refused to allow it to overtake, and car 1 was unable to get into the lead.

The cars at the front of the race were 7, 2, and 12. While they generally held that order, they were constantly jockeying for position. Furthermore, car 12 was driven by none other than Carlos, the Legendary Loser. That in itself generated a lot of excitement as it had been quite some time since he had been anywhere near this close to winning a major race.

As the heated race neared the end, the final corner that would determine everything approached. Just as they began the bend, a gap opened up between cars 7 and 2. Whether it was nerves or a lapse in concentration, the drivers of those two cars left a space wide enough for Carlos to sneak through, and he seized his chance. With a deft hand at the wheel, car 12 shot through and took the lead.

The race ended. Car 12 was victorious, while car 7 held onto second place and car 2 came in third.

Leonard watched all of this unfold with a sour look.

'Did you lose?' asked Halle.

Her hopes, however, were quickly dashed.

He shook his head and laughed. 'No, no. I just wasn't expecting ol' Legend to snag first place like that. I did believe he had the goods to get into the top three, though.'

His smile widened. 'You see, I bet on a trifecta box with cars 2, 7, and 12. The payout's 120 times what I staked.'

Jack and Halle were stunned speechless.

To make matters worse, Leonard had bet 400,000 mira, meaning that he received 48,000,000 from his ticket.

He watched their faces with undisguised smugness. 'Heh. Looks like you two realize now that you never stood a chance in Gehenna of beating me.'

Nike giggled at his shoulder. 'Sure seems that way.'

The pair oozed confidence, sure that they had won.

Halle's face fell...then she stuck her tongue out at them. 'Nah. We just wanted you to think that.'

Jack grinned at the puzzled look on Leonard's face. 'What the lady said. We were just pretending t'be surprised.'

'Then... You didn't...'

Leonard couldn't seem to work out what they were trying to imply, but Nike quickly understood. Her painted lips compressed into a flat line.

'I put my money on a trifecta,' Jack clarified. '12, 7 and 2. Get it now? That's 1,100 times what I bet!'

This time, it was Leonard and Nike who were stunned into silence.

Tickets that paid out over a hundred times the bet made were rare enough even at this racetrack, but tickets that paid out over a thousand times the bet were almost unheard of.

As a result of his bet, Jack won 55,000,000 mira, a total pot that was significantly higher than Leonard's 48,100,000 winnings.

'Wh-What...? How did you...?!'

It was Jack's turn to laugh at the furious expression on Leonard's face.

'You do realize that asking me that is basically admitting wrongdoing on your part, right?' he said. 'But ...if you really wanna know, I'll tell you. It's simple. I bribed Carlos.'

'You did WHAT?!'

'I got a friend of mine to get a ticket just like this one. The money for it was 100,000 mira he'd gathered on the spot in my name. Multiply that by 1,100 and you get 110,000,000. I told Carlos he could have the lot.'

'What?! But I've been sending him... Why would he throw all that away for a one-off sum like that, however big?!'

Jack made a 'tsk-ing' sound. 'You might be able to buy people's hearts with money for a while, Leonard, but there's no amount of mira that will let you buy their souls. The fact that Carlos accepted my offer is pretty solid proof of that. I'm guessin' he wanted out a long, long time ago.'

'Tch... What do you know?!' Leonard gestured angrily, but then grudgingly added, 'I'm pretty impressed, though. Admittedly, he wasn't alone, but it takes some skill to manipulate the outcome of races from right at the back. Ol' Legend hasn't lost his touch, that's for sure.'

It was at this point that Halle spoke up. 'But if you'd arranged the outcome from the start, why did you go for a box instead of just a trifecta? And why not go all in and bet your last 100,000 mira, too?'

Leonard looked away. 'Well...just to be on the safe side...'

Jack's suspicions had proved right. Leonard knew as well as anyone that it was impossible to completely remove all unpredictable elements from a bet. As such, his way was to excise as many as humanly possible, and then take the surest and safest path to victory. He hadn't changed at all.

'Huh... Makes sense,' Halle said. 'Too bad it cost you the victory, though. If you'd gone all in, you would've won, too.'

Leonard's head snapped back around. 'Wh-What?!' He quickly did the sums in his head and realized the truth. If he'd bet his entire 500,000 mira, he would have won 60,000,000 mira, comfortably beating Jack's 55,000,000.

'It's... It's a mistake!' Leonard blurted out. 'A mix-up! The subordinate I asked to buy the ticket must have bet the wrong amount! I didn't lose! I couldn't possibly lose...!'

'Save it, Leonard.' Nike interjected coolly. 'You messed with the most popular car in the race, didn't you? You did an excellent job of hiding the evidence... but no amount of hiding is going to be enough when someone already knows what you're going to do and can watch out for you.'

She pointed a perfect, lacquered nail at him. 'You've been getting away with things for a long time...but not anymore.'

They all stared at her.

'Wh-What are you talking about?' Leonard sputtered. 'What are you suggesting?!'

'It's probably faster to just show you...' she said. 'Come on in.'

At Nike's signal, a number of men in black suits entered the VIP room. They weren't Leonard's men, though. Instead, they surrounded him and his underlings.

'This is the end of the line for you, Leonard. We've already taken the rest of your men into custody!'

Leonard wasn't the only one baffled by what was happening.

'Nike? What are you...?' began a puzzled Jack.

With a laugh, Nike took a pair of glasses from her pocket, placed them on her nose, and addressed him directly. 'I should probably introduce myself, shouldn't I? Being an actress isn't my primary occupation... I'm actually a member of the Rocksmith Agency, an intelligence group which answers directly to the president.'

Jack and Halle could only gape at her in shock.