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Chapter 13 - The Sense

'You put poisoned this girl and then threatened King, didn't you?!'

Every word from Won's mouth was akin to being punched in the gut, blow after blow after blow. Her body could only stiffen.

Before Won's accusations, Enrique desperately scrambled to put a defense together. He tried valiantly to hide how flustered he was, to conceal how sweaty his palms were, but never was there a poorer actor on a stage. Indeed, the way he begged and pleaded his case before such a massive jury was almost humorous.

Everyone was quick to believe what Jack was saying. Of course, there was no proof that such a tragedy had occurred at all--it could easily have been a cleverly arranged string of lies. Yet Enrique's rambles professing his innocence didn't make any 'sense' to them, whereas Jack's story of few words made far too much.

In the underworld, betrayal was a constant companion. That was precisely why, however, plain logic trumped proof time and time again. So long as the masses felt your story made the most logical sense, proof, be it present or lacking, didn't mean a damn thing.

Enrique knew this rule as well as any other man or woman present. As it slowly dawned of him that his punishment was only a matter of when, not if, he ceased his protestations.

Halle merely continued to stand as still as could be. She was being held upright by a throng of emotions, and her mind worked overtime to catch up to each new feeling the revelations of that night had brought.

'My father never lost,' she whispered.

The truth was a comforting balm to her heart, but at the same time, it filled her with a deep sense of loss.

Her father had chosen death himself.

The very thought of it was far too big and far too sad.

The flames of revenge that had fueled her actions suddenly and utterly went out, and as her once burning drive died, all that remained was thin smoke and cold white ash where her anger had been.

'That means...that for me, Papa...'

The feelings that began to well up turned to words, and as they parted from her, everything that had been bubbling up inside surged without.

Falling to the floor, Halle curled up in a ball and began to cry like a child.

As he glanced at Halle from the corner of his eye, Won put a hand on Jack's shoulder and patted him in a congratulatory way.

'Tonight went better than I could have possibly imagined. I'll do anything you ask if it's in my power,' he whispered to Jack.

'Then give me Halle,' Jack requested without a moment's hesitation.

Won was hard-pressed to answer.

No matter how pitiable he found Halle, she was still a pawn of Enrique's. Even if there were to be punishments meted out for the events of seven years ago, her freedom was very much in question.

'Give Jack what he wants. Will it really be such a problem?'

The voice from behind both of them froze every single person in the hall. All eyes turned to a single point.

The one who drew their gaze was the bearded consultant to the underworld: Chief Minister Shamrock.

'Giving him the girl isn't a problem...is it, Enrique?'

Enrique nodded weakly.

At last, the ship was filled with cries of celebration.

第13回 筋

「貴様はこの娘に毒を盛り、キングを脅していたんだな!」

ウォンの口から飛び出した一言にハルは打たれたように身を硬くした。 観客の間からも、驚きの声がもれる。

ウォンの追求にエンリケは必死の弁解を続けた。 どうにか動揺を抑えようとしたが、彼にはそれを隠し切るだけの度量もなかった。 同業者たちの疑いの眼を前に言い訳を続ける彼の姿はどこか滑稽に見えた。

誰もがジャックの言葉を信じ始めていた。 もちろん、7年前にエンリケがハルに毒を盛ったという証拠はどこにもない。 だが、彼の主張には「筋」がない。 対してジャックの言い分は「筋」が通っていた。

裏の世界には、常に裏切りが付きまとう。 皮肉ではあるが、だからこそこの世界では「筋」――物事の倫理的な論理性が重視される。

この「ルール」に従えば、証拠など意味はない。 エンリケが何らかの制裁を受けることは確実だった。 ようやくそれを悟ったエンリケは観念したのかぱったりと弁明を止めてしまった。

ハルはずっと立ち尽くしていた。 色んな想いが溢れ出てきて、動けなかった。

「父は負けてはいなかった。」 真実は彼女の心をなぐさめてくれたが、同時に深い喪失感をも抱かせるものだった。 父は自分のために死を選んだ。 それはあまりに大きく、あまりにも悲しい父の姿だった。

彼女を突き動かしてきた復讐の炎はいまや完全にその勢いを失った。 それはくすぶり、細い煙をあげ、……そして白い灰へと変わってしまった。

「……そんな、そんなことって……パパは私のために…………………!」 沸き上がる想いが言葉となってこぼれ、彼女の中で何かが弾けた。

床へ崩れ落ちたハルは、その場に屈みこみ大声で泣きじゃくった。

そんなハルを横目に、ウォンはジャックにねぎらいの言葉をかけ、肩を叩いた。

「今夜は最高の夜になった。出来る限りの望みを叶えてやろう。」 彼はジャックにささやいた。

「ならばハルをもらおう。」ジャックは迷いなく答えた。

ウォンは答えに窮した。 ハルがいかに哀れであろうとも、彼女はエンリケの持ち駒だ。

7年前のことで制裁があったとしても彼女を自由にするのは難しく思えたのだ。

「ジャックの望み通りにしろ。一体何の問題があるんじゃ。」 背後から投げかけられた声に広間にいた全員が凍りついた。 すべての視線が一点に集中する。

視線が結ぶ先にはあの髭の老人、シャムロック大老がいた。

「娘はくれてやればよかろう。  …………のう、エンリケ。」

エンリケは力なくうなずいた。 ようやく船内に、勝利を祝う大歓声が巻き起こった。