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Chapter 8 - Black and White

The 'designated place' alluded to on the card was one of the largest and most well-known racetracks in all of Calvard. Part of its fame was due to the fact that it permitted gambling on its races, and this attracted a large number of visitors. Furthermore, today was one of the track's biggest races of the year, a day where many highly skilled teams of racers gathered to compete. It was a popular event, and the number of spectators was even greater than usual. The payouts for those who gambled on the races were bigger as a result, too.

Stepping out onto the track Jack sighed. 'Sure brings back memories...'

As he surveyed the familiar grounds, he found himself reminiscing about the times King had brought him and Leonard there to hone their gambling instincts all those years ago.

Leonard was the one who had predicted winners correctly the most often. He had spent a lot of time analyzing the outcomes of past races and bet large sums on the cars most likely to win. As a result of relying on safe bets like these, though, his payouts tended to be comparatively low. King often used to laugh at him for it, always remarking, 'Where's the fun in that?'

King, meanwhile, used his brilliant instincts and powers of observation to guide him and successfully predicted the outcome of one race after another. Of the three of them, it was he who consistently earned the most mira.

For Jack's part, his interest lay in winning big on a single bet. He lost money far more often than the other two but occasionally displayed even greater gambling intuition than King himself and sometimes won over a hundred times the mira he bet.

While he stood there mulling over those decade old wins and losses, several men in black suits approached him. Presumably, they were Leonard's subordinates.

'Please allow us to escort you,' one said politely.

Jack followed.

Eventually, he found himself in a VIP room. Encased in thick glass, it gave the occupants inside a very up close and personal view of the racetrack outside. In it sat Leonard, Nike...and a loosely bound Halle.

'Halle!'

Without thinking, he made to dash towards her but was quickly stopped by the men who brought him there. Each held a gun.

'Now, now. No need to be so hasty,' Leonard laughed.

I'm glad you could make it, Jack. I've got some real fun in store for you today.'

'Leonard, you son of a bitch!'

Jack's furious expression was a stark contrast to Leonard's playful tone.

'Heh. Finally saying what you truly think about me, Jack? I'm glad.' Leonard looked genuinely satisfied.

Jack shot a glance over in Nike's direction. 'I can't believe you're seriously helpin' him with this.'

'I'm afraid so,' she replied simply, before drawing closer to Leonard.

'As I'm sure you've already worked out, our aim is the joker that King left Halle over there,' Leonard continued, turning the jewel from Halle's necklace over and over again between his fingers.

Jack had indeed surmised as much.

When Jack won the battle against King seven years prior, King had given him a 'code' of sorts that he wanted him to pass on to Halle. That code was intended to unlock the 'joker' that King had once secretly kept on him. At the time, Jack hadn't understood the meaning of what he was being asked to do, but he did now.

'King was well known in the underworld. He had all kinds of connections, but those ties weren't just limited to the less savory of players. Many of the people he was connected to moved both inside and outside of the underworld.

'Tell me, Jack...' Leonard said, 'if the underworld is black, and the world outside it is white...which do you think the world of politics is?'

Jack snorted. 'Hell if I know.'

'As black as can be,' Leonard said matter-of-factly.

He made an off-hand gesture. 'King was a smart man. A calculating man. This jewel, here? This is a memory quartz and one full of information on the people he knew. People in the criminal underworld, public faces who have connections in it themselves... The power this information holds is nothing short of incredible, and I intend to use it to keep moving up the ranks as a politician.

'And for that, Jack,' he continued, 'I need the code that you, and only you, know.'

Jack was silent for a moment. 'I'm surprised you know all of that... I take it this is your doing, Nike?'

'But of course,' she confirmed. 'I want him to spread his wings and fly, too, after all.'

' 'Spread his wings and fly'...?' Jack repeated with a disbelieving sigh. 'That's what you call this? Preyin' on people, King's daughter no less, for a bit of political advantage? He left that data behind to protect Halle from harm... What's the point in being promoted if you have to take advantage of a father's love for his daughter to do it?!'

Jack's words resonated strongly with Halle, but they fell on deaf ears when it came to Leonard and Nike.

'I can't say I don't have a soft spot for that idealism of yours...' Nike said finally, 'but if you're afraid of using others for your own goals, you're never going to get anywhere in life. You'll forever remain a powerless child.'

Leonard laughed. 'Forget it. No amount of logic will get through to him. Still, I'd feel guilty taking everything from you without completely beating you into submission first. Got to give you a chance to fight back, after all. So here's what I propose, Jack. We'll have a little gambling competition. If you win, you can have Halle back. If I win, you'll give me that code. Simple, right?'

Jack considered it. Leonard was smart, but he was also very cautious. It was clear from his aura of confidence that he was pretty certain that he would win.

Jack, however, had no intention of backing down.

Thus began their great wager over the outcome of the day's races with Halle's fate on the line.

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