Chapter 15 (round 7)

Chapter 15

 

One, you lock the target

 

Two, you bait the line

 

Three, you slowly spread the net

 

And four, you catch the man

 

 

 

Front 242 - Headhunter

 

 

 

”King’s Hope breeds visionaries. There was hard opposition when it got started – after all, how can you justify the execution of so many people every year? I’ll tell you. King’s Hope opened at exactly the right time. The Portugal incident highlighted many of the global issues in society. The drought was just a symptom of how we’d ignored problems way too long, like food and housing shortages or waterways becoming overgrown. The media competed, as always, in biasing the events to their own advantage. I watched tear-jerking scenes of starving children, documentaries that condemned krontol and plain comedies describing the event. Journalists swarmed around the victims who desperately begged for water and asked how it felt and where they’d go, without offering any assistance. Embarrassing. While the media vied to outdo each other, the government systems of the time were relegated into history. It was quite simply not possible to make fast decisions with areas as large as an entire country. People in the mountains don’t have the same needs as those living by the coast. That was where the visionaries came in, and Cid was one of the very first.

 

"King’s Hope swept the legs from under journalists who relied on manuscripts, and offered what the media could no longer supply. The casino stands for the human desire to struggle for a cause. There is an inherent rawness that highlights the human drive to experience what is real, and what lies beyond the fake reality that has been presented to us. I don’t know how Cid succeeded in pulling off his project, but whatever he did, it was a stroke of genius. What King’s Hope did, was to open the doors for the kind of radical changes we needed so as not to be annihilated, and there were sufficient numbers that took those opportunities during the transition. One-child politics was one example. The withdrawal of charity contributions was another, and the gene project a third. Altruism on a global scale was no longer an option. It’s the same outside the casino as in here. If you’re not prepared to fight for your life, you’ll be left behind. The world is only falling apart for those that can’t accept the change.

 

"I admire those that see possibilities and who dare to follow paths that nobody else has trodden. They are legendary. And I’ll be a legend too.

 

"Player after player say they’re going to win the tournament. Very few are serious, and there lies their problem. If they’re not prepared to do what it takes to climb upwards, they’re not ready for the reward. A few times, I’ve ended up at a table with opponents that know what they want, but they always fail anyhow.

 

"I’m going to win again, this year. That’s a fact.”

 

 

 

The speakers beeped and the Boss’s mechanical voice came through: “It’s 6.09 am and the seventh round is about to start. King’s Hope wishes all participants good luck. May the cards fall to your advantage, and the bluffing to your opponents’ disadvantage.”

 

The sound of chips clattering against each other resounded around the hall. Someone sniffled. Otherwise, there was a tense silence on the twenty-sixth floor. A few more long seconds passed until the displays of the clocks around the walls reached the complete minute, at which point the croupiers dealt out the cards.

 

Natascha had the small blind of 1,200, and Bert the big blind of 2,400. Peter was first to act. He peeked down at his cards: 5♠10♥.

 

“Not these ones.”

 

“Nor these, either,” Susanna agreed, discarding her hand.

 

“Hmm,” Katrish said, sitting up straight in her chair so her enormous bosom expanded as she placed her elbows on the table. “Bet,” she said, and carefully counted out 6,000 in chips and pushed them over the line.

 

Everything around the table came to a halt when came to Korhart’s turn. Peter held his breath. Bert became more and more tense, until he sat like a steel coil. Even Ellinor appeared to be shaking slightly.

 

“Raise,” Korhart said. “12,000.”

 

A gasp travelled around the table. That was a lot, even if most of them could afford it. Being the first action at the table, it was particularly hard to read. Did he want to steal the pot? Or just gain respect? Although he did that by his mere presence.

 

Peter also noticed that he didn’t have any gut feeling about this thin, terrifying man. There were no tells, no expressions at all in the stony, chiselled face. He only felt the gnawing feeling of demise in the pit of his stomach.

 

“Nope,” Lennart said, squinting at his cards. “I think I’ll …” He reached demonstratively for his chips, seemed to regret it and pulled back his hand.

 

“Nope,” he said once more, in an exaggeratedly cheerful tone. “These aren’t good enough. I’m folding.”

 

He tossed his cards in and joined the growing group of on-watchers. Nobody seemed to want to be the first to go up against Korhart. Apart from Natascha.

 

“Call,” she said, without moving a muscle on her face.

 

Peter thought he could discern a slight, small change in her posture. If it was uncertainty, or excitement for a good hand, he couldn’t decide. It was definitely a tell, even if it was extremely subtle. Natascha pushed a large pile of chips over the line.

 

“I’m folding,” Bert said, staring at his big blind in dismay.

 

Only Katrish was left before the flop. She carefully turned up the corners of her cards beneath her hands. Her nostrils flared and narrowed again. “No, this won’t do,” she said, discarding her hand.

 

Ellinor collected the chips and then quickly turned over the flop, J♠7♣J♥.

 

It was a tricky flop. What did Korhart have? Maybe he had a jack, but would he then have bet so much pre-flop? And what did Natascha have? Did she have a jack? Peter remembered that Natascha had played professionally earlier.

 

“Bet 20,000,” Korhart said, grabbing hold of a stack of chips almost carelessly.

 

He placed it behind the line, split it with one hand and put them neatly together again. A relatively simple poker trick for the dextrous player, but he’d done it so nonchalantly, and with exactly the right number of chips. It wasn’t only mightily impressive, it was also scary.

 

Natascha directed her dark glasses towards the even darker ones that Korhart wore, and then sat in silence for two minutes, as if she were trying to find something in that stiff face.

 

“Call,” she said, as her time was running out.

 

Ellinor burned a card and revealed the turn, 3♦.

 

On the table, there was J♠7♣J♥3♦.

 

Had the three changed anything? That was difficult to believe, and Korhart didn’t wait to be asked before playing.

 

“Bet 35,000,” he said.

 

Peter saw through the corner of his eye how Natascha jerked. It was such a small movement that it was hardly noticeable, but it was there. She wanted to know, they all did, but the cost was ridiculous. She hesitated, for a long time.

 

“No thanks,” she said in the end, and threw in her cards. Korhart collected his winnings and restored the shape of his mountain, now a little higher.

 

Peter sank in his chair, devoid of energy. Not only had Korhart mangled Natascha, he’d done it so easily, charging on like a runaway train. What frightened him the most was that Natascha was the one who’d had enough chips to press him. It hadn’t worked. What would he himself do with his meagre 21,000?

 

The dealer button landed in front of Natascha and Peter had the big blind, which was actually a relief. He would be last to act, and he’d be able to see what the others decided to do. In particular, he’d be able to see what Korhart did.

 

Susanna turned up the corners of her cards, thought for a moment and then discarded them. Katrish did the same. Then, it was Korhart’s turn again. He covered his cards with his hands, bent his neck slightly to see them, reached for his chips and picked up a handful which he then dumped on the table, like a mechanical digger.

 

“Bet 7,200,” he said softly.

 

“Are you a robot?” Lennart asked, and nervous giggles spread around the table.

 

Korhort didn’t move.

 

“I damned well think you are. Why would you come back otherwise? You’re already world-famous. And rich beyond belief! Why face it all again?”

 

To Peter’s surprise, M. “The Reactor” Korhart reacted. He slowly turned his head and directed his jet-black sunglasses at Lennart.

 

“It’s not as fantastic as you’d believe,” he said, simply. “And besides …”

 

“Besides, what?” Peter wondered.

 

There was no reply. Although, that was an interesting reaction in itself. Somewhere behind that stone face, there was a human core. And a human could be beaten.

 

Lennart shook his head and folded. Natascha’s cards soon followed. Bert took his time to think. So much time that someone at the other end of the floor was knocked out, pushed up on stage and shot. The first shooting of the seventh round deafened Peter’s right ear.

 

“Call,” he said, eventually.

 

Then it was Peter’s turn. He’d been dealt A♠K♦.

 

Those were good cards, more than sufficient to join in. But how should he play them? If he went all-in now, he might be able to steal the large bets already lying on the table. With the pot already at about 21,000, it wasn’t the best time for a drawn-out battle. He wanted to close his eyes, prepare for the end, but he didn’t allow himself. Korhart was in, and he was hyper-aggressive and would probably play on any old cards. And Bert seemed to be at least as dangerous. If he called and rubbish came up on the flop, then he wasn’t pot-committed, at least not yet. But he did have an ace-king …

 

“Come on, lad,” Lennart exclaimed. “Grab them by the balls, now.”

 

“All-in,” Peter said.

 

“I’ll fold,” Korhart said at once. That surprised Peter, since he’d thought that Korhart would call just because he could afford to. A sort of ‘one opponent less is always a good thing’ logic. Bert was studying Korhart more intensively than Peter.

 

“No,” he said after a few moments’ thinking time and discarded his hand.

 

Peter could hardly believe his ears. He’d won a significant pot and his self-confidence returned. At the same time, he promised himself not to let it get to his head. He could step on a lethal mine at any time, and if he did, Korhart would eat him alive.

 

“Great!” Lennart exclaimed, patting him on the back. “That’s more like it. Don’t the children of married cousins have six fingers? I told you the recreation during the break would be good for you, didn’t I?”

 

Peter couldn’t recall that he’d said that exactly, but he nodded happily anyhow. Now he had at least a stack, so he could play a few hands without feeling totally desperate.

 

A few hands later, Peter discarded J♣3♥. He took the opportunity to study the others. Korhart immediately pushed in a huge stack over the line.

 

Lennart whistled. “Do you have to be so extreme every hand? Watch out that you don’t shit yourself.”

 

There was a streak of repressed frustration in Lennart’s voice. Peter hadn’t heard it before, but now it was very clear. Something was bothering Lennart so much that he was starting to tilt. Korhart didn’t even react to his comment, but Bert and Natascha laughed. It was difficult to get a grasp on him, which made him even more dangerous. He probably just wanted to see how the others reacted when he fired the big cannons. In the end, Korhart tossed his cards and left Bert and Katrish to fight over the pot.

 

The flop was Q♠7♣3♥.

 

“All-in”, Bert said.

 

Katrish fidgeted in her seat again. The sweat was glistening on her forehead.

 

“I’ll fold,” she said curtly. When she pushed in her cards, Bert showed his – 6♠7♦.

 

Merde!” Katrish erupted. “You only have the middle pair! Why did you join in when you don’t have anything?”

 

Bert shrugged.

 

Her eyes were burning as Bert picked up his chips, but there was also a streak of regret in there. Peter knew how she felt, and the thoughts were easy to read in her plagued face. She should have folded much sooner and not bet so hard. Korhart had known and pulled out in the nick of time.

 

After a number of hands, chips had moved around and changed owners, but no larger battles had taken place. It was different at other tables. The guns fired regularly and nine people had been forced up onto the stage.

 

The dealer button was in front of Korhart, and Ellinor had just dealt their cards. Bert was first to act pre-flop. He folded.

 

Peter looked at his cards – 6♠6♥.

 

A good hand. And you have to take risks sometimes. The question was, should he call or raise. Just then, he was sitting in advance of Korhart, which was scary.

 

“Call,” he said nonchalantly.

 

“Fold,” Susanna and Katrish said, almost at the same time.

 

“Bet 7,200,” Korhart said icily. That wasn’t good, but neither was it disastrous. As long as Korhart wasn’t setting a trap for him. He felt chills running along his spine.

 

“Call,” Lennart said.

 

“No.” Bert discarded his hand.

 

“Call,” Peter added.

 

Three players. Ellinor quickly dealt the flop, 10♠6♣3♣.

 

That was a good flop for him. Really good. Peter was, in an instant, certain that he’d win that hand and he’d go all the way. The only problem was how he should make the most of it.

 

“What shitty cards," Lennart exclaimed. "Now I can only hope for a flush! Bet 11,000.”

 

Despite the flush draw, Peter’s gut feeling told him to go ahead.

 

Peter stared theatrically at their chips and weighed up how he should play his hand. “Call,” he finally said. About half his stack was now in the pot.

 

Korhard tossed his cards in without uttering a word.

 

It was that aspect of Korhart’s play style that scared Peter the most: he appeared to have a spooky, supernatural ability to know which cards and what intentions the others had. A few hands ago, he’d sniffed out one of Katrish’s weaknesses and had wiped the floor with her, despite that she’d had at least one ace in her hand that she showed when she folded. Now he appeared to know that there was no point dumping any chips in this hole. That was scary.

 

“I hate to admit it, kid, but I don’t believe you have anything. Can’t you just fold so I don’t have to steal your chips?” Lennart smirked at him.

 

“Not this hand,” he said simply, and hoped in a way that Lennart would fold as soon as he could after the turn.

 

The turn was 9♠.

 

That didn’t strengthen his own hand, but it probably didn’t help Lennart either.

 

Lennart clicked his chips, tried to roll one over his knuckles and dropped it on the table behind his pile. “Damn it!” he said. “I still don’t think you have anything, kid. How often do you bluff? Check.”

 

He really needed to win this pot, but it stung that it was at the cost of Lennart. But that’s how it was. Take all the chips you can get. Don’t think of the consequences.

 

“I can’t let this go,” he said sadly. “All-in.”

 

“What have you got, then?” Lennart wondered. “A pair of nines? I think you’ve got a pair of nines. Or tens.” He cocked his head and measured up his stack by eye.

 

“No, take it!” Lennart said. “I’m folding.”

 

A faint ray of hope shone through. He was on his way up again. He had to keep focused and somehow keep himself alert. He felt the stress and adrenaline pumping in his veins. He even looked over his shoulder a couple of times to make sure that nobody was there, ready to grab him. Regaining an ounce of hope was dangerous, since it could easily be snatched away. The guns rumbled in the background. In just the last few minutes, five players had been eliminated.

 

The dealer button moved on to Lennart, and he had new cards in front of him. Natascha had the small blind and Bert was on the big blind. Peter was under the gun. He’d been dealt Q♠8♣. No. The others would need to fight out that round between them.

 

“Bet 7,000,” Susanna said.

 

“That was a mistake,” Katrish said cheerfully. “Because this deal is actually mine. All-in!” She pushed her chips in purposefully over the line.

 

“Call,” Korhart said calmly, and with his hand, he split off a slice from his pile which he then shoved over the line.

 

Katrish grunted. Her eyes were aflame.

 

“Nope,” Lennart said, discarding his hand.

 

Natascha, Bert and Peter folded as well. Susanna hesitated, looked at her cards, at the chips she’d already put in and finally at her remaining stack. Then she folded.

 

There was a buzz at the table. Katrish was at risk of being knocked out.

 

Ellinor gave them each a nod and they placed their cards up on the table.

 

Katrish had J♣J♦.

 

Korhart had Q♠A♥.

 

The flop was 6♦3♣10♦.

 

She’s in the lead. She actually is. Please let the odds lean in her favour!

 

Ellinor revealed the turn, A♣.

 

“Sheer luck,” someone muttered. Katrish’s face was like a granite mask.

 

It had gone downhill for her quickly, very quickly.

 

The river was 9♦.

 

Katrish exhaled slowly. “It’s over. Jesus, it’s really over.”

 

“That’s too bad,” Susanna said, shaking her head. “We need more people like you, Katrish. They’re coming now …”

 

“I know what they’re going to do, and I think it’ll pass quickly. I’ve never felt this bad. I’m completely exhausted, not to mention my headache. If it hadn’t happened now, then it would probably have been in a half hour or so. It’ll be a relief, believe me!”

 

Katrish stood up and the guards came up behind her like ravenous wraiths. Before she left the table, she opened her mouth and took such a deep breath that Peter thought she would burst.

 

“BUY YOUR CLOTHES FROM PONS-ADGT!” she shouted, so loud that all the players in the hall turned around.

 

Peter couldn’t help smiling. That year, Pons-ADGT would certainly turn a profit. Even the thin girls would be wearing tunics that would remind them of the woman that courageously roared out at the very end.

 

And then she was gone. The gun shot resounded at the same time that Ellinor dealt the last card for their next hand. Peter sat up straight and grimaced. He tried to ignore his tender muscles. On a whim, he turned to Korhart.

 

“How did you know she didn’t have anything better? Because you knew, didn’t you?”

 

“Everyone has tells,” Korhart replied calmly.

 

“Sure,” Lennart said bitterly. “Although you’ve not lost a single hand. Are you cheating?”

 

Korhart turned his nightmarishly dark sunglasses towards Lennart. Peter could imagine an amused look behind those dark glasses, which was crazy since it wasn’t possible to make out anything behind them. And cheating … That was a subject of its own at King’s Hope. No cheater survived the poker tournament. There were even serious betting agencies that challenged players to attempt cheating without getting caught. If they got away with it for a few hands, they got prizes. For example, one or several years’ maintenance for their families or friends up to ten people. A side-effect was of course that it was suicide for the player who succeeded, King’s Hope had zero tolerance. If you were caught cheating, your chips were forfeit, and you’d be shown up onto the stage. So far, those that had cheated had been found out after just a few hands. It was almost as if the robotic guards had a sixth, and even a seventh or eighth sense for it. Very few took the risk of entering the bet, and a cheater was only found out about once every third year.

 

A few uneventful hands passed. The dealer button wandered onwards to Natascha. Bert had the small blind and Peter sat with the big blind.

 

Susanna glanced quickly at her cards and then stared straight ahead. She sat so until Ellinor gave her a time warning.

 

“I’ll fold.”

 

“That took its time,” Bert commented. “I bet that two decent cards went on to greener pastures. Ace-nine? King-ten?”

 

Lennart grinned. “Yeah. You’re conservative, that’s clear. I like that. Do you fancy going down to the third floor during the break? I promise I’ll be careful.”

 

Susanna blushed, gave a small smile and almost unnoticeably shook her head. A gun shot rang out at nearly the same time as the speakers sounded.

 

“The time is now 7 am and the blinds are up to level fourteen, 1,500-3,000 with an ante of 500. Your croupiers will now start changing in chips worth 100. Good luck!”

 

Korhart wasted no time, he nonchalantly pushed in a large pile of chips over the line. “Bet 12,000.”

 

“You don’t waste any bloody time,” Lennart exclaimed. “Just because you have a load of chips, you do know that doesn’t mean you’re going to win?”

 

“A deep stack helps,” Korhart stated mechanically.

 

"He can speak!” Peter exclaimed, unable to help himself.

 

When the jet-black sunglasses turned towards Peter, it felt like a laser beam burning into his chest. He coughed.

 

“I only mean that I can’t understand why you’re here again. I watched the entire tournament six years ago, when you won. You were tipped to win from the fourth round, you’d knocked out so many by yourself. Why are you back?”

 

Korhart’s stare was like the beam of a lighthouse that had locked its light on him and was slowly burning him to cinders. Peter quickly avoided his gaze, without getting any answer.

 

“Oh, he’s bullshitting,” Lennart said curtly. “He doesn’t have anything. Call.”

 

An uneasy feeling ran through Peter. He felt suddenly very concerned for Lennart. Lennart was right, though. He couldn’t have winning hands every time.

 

“I’m folding,” Natascha said.

 

Bert looked back and forth at the bets and his cards. “Me too,” he said, tossing his cards over the line.

 

Peter peeked at his cards, 10♣8♦. Against Korhart and 12,000 pre-flop? No, thanks. He discarded his hand.

 

“Two players,” Ellinor said expressionlessly, collected the chips, burned the top card and laid out the flop – 2♠4♠Q♥.

 

Korhart reached for chips, halted as if he was actually considering, and then counted out 10,000 more. It was surprising that he didn’t bet more, it wasn’t even half the pot. Lennart’s face lit up at the bet, and at that moment, Peter could see Korhart’s superpower. He bet hard because he could, but he was also clever at adjusting the size depending on his opponents’ will to call. It was like how shops were designed, where the shelves were organised around buying behaviours that the customers weren’t even aware of. Lennart’s pile of chips looked tiny, and Peter estimated that he'd maybe have 30,000 left if he called. That wasn’t good.

 

“Take it easy, Lennart,” he said.

 

“Yeah, yeah. I know what I’m doing. But Mr. Blackeyes here doesn’t, and he needs to be pressed. He can’t have the best hand. Not. Every. Fucking. Time. Call!”

 

Ellinor dealt the turn, 4♦.

 

“Bet 32,000,” Korhart said icily.

 

Lennart stared at him hard, but then forced his gaze back to his own chips and started counting.

 

“29, 30, 31 …, 31,000. That’s all I have. You won’t win this, just saying. Sooner or later, there’s always someone who overthrows the tyrant. Your days are numbered.”

 

Peter was terrified by how detached Lennart had become. Korhart had really gotten at him. Just as Jimmie had gotten at him when he was young. Then, he’d been kicking a ball against a brick wall outside the school gym when the gang had come. Jimmie, who was their leader, had asked if he could join in and Peter couldn’t refuse. The gang had seemed reasonable, and they kicked ball for a while, until Jimmie had challenged him. He bet that Peter couldn’t break free from a simple hold. Jimmie explained some more and showed him. He clenched his hands together to form a cradle and placed them behind Peter’s neck.

 

“Push back as hard as you can, and I’ll try to hold you. If you break free, I’ll give you a Euro.” To ensure that he was speaking the truth, he pulled out a coin from his back pocket. “If you don’t get out in, say, five minutes then you’ll give me 50 cents. Agreed?”

 

Peter nodded. It ought to be easy. If he used the leverage from his entire body, he should be able to get loose. They started, Peter tried to pull the arms apart and Jimmie resisted. Peter hadn’t noticed that Jimmie had turned them from where they’d started out. As he pushed back as hard as he could, Jimmie suddenly let go and Peter hit the back of his head hard on the brick wall. His vision dimmed and he saw stars exploding before his retina. All he could hear with his temporary blindness and inner fireworks was the gang’s hoarse and mocking laughter. After that, just the sound of their feet as they ran away. It was the first time he’d been furious at another person, and since that day he’d hated Jimmie as long as they were in school.

 

“Call,” Lennart said, his voice shaking and collapsing.

 

“You may show your cards,” Ellinor said mechanically.

 

“You can bet your sweet ass,” Lennart roared. “Eat shit and beat this if you can!”

 

Lennart threw up his cards – Q♣J♦.

 

Korhart placed his hand calmly up on the table, Q♠K♠.

 

Peter watched how Lennart deflated like a punctured balloon. Lennart was dominated. Ellinor burned the last card and slowly turned over the river. Lennart needed a jack that wasn’t a spade to survive. Two outs. Peter calculated quickly, almost subconsciously, that Lennart had less than 5% chance. The odds for a split pot were maybe 14%. It didn’t look good. Damn it, it wasn’t good at all!

 

The river was 7♥.

 

On the table, lay 2♠4♠Q♥4♦7♥.

 

“No,” Peter said. “No!”

 

Lennart said nothing. His good mood was erased. There was nothing left except a look of shocked denial.

 

“He can get a few chips from me. It’s OK, I have enough to get by,” Peter said to the guards when they came. But they didn’t take any notice and wouldn’t anyhow. Lennart stared straight ahead as if he couldn’t understand what had happened. He had become Mads.

 

“Damn it!” Peter cried. “Damn, fucking damn!”

 

The guards lifted Lennart and dragged him out of Peter’s view. He lowered his head to the table. He didn’t want to hear the gun shot. But he did. Of course, he did.

 

The worst thing was that he’d started to really like Lennart. He’d been a friend in an inhospitable place. Lennart had prevented Peter from sliding down into that dark quagmire of self-pity and doubt. He’d been close, and Lennart had pulled him back. He shut his eyes and tried to think about better places. Now, more than ever, he wanted to get away. The game chugged along, and when he opened his eyes again there were new cards in front of him. He dragged his hands over his face and picked them up, his hands heavy. He had to carry on. It was the only way.

 

He discarded a few hands while he tried to gather his thoughts. Meanwhile, Susanna was knocked out by Bert. She had 10♣9♣, and when the flop was 5♣K♣3♦ she bet on a flush, which was reasonable. The last club never arrived. The river and turn were instead 7♥5♠, and Bert, who had 10♠K♦, won with his pair. Even Natascha had lost a large pot to Korhart. The guns were going off at an alarming rate.

 

That became very evident in the next hand. A new player from another table wandered up and sat down in Lennart’s empty chair. Behind him, a guard stood holding a silver tray filled with chips. Peter recalled the regulation.

 

 

 

10. If one player remains alone at any table before the round is complete, the player will be moved to another table. In that case, King’s Hope’s staff will assist with their chips to minimize the loss of playing time.

 

 

 

That was kind of King’s Hope. The player, who’d just started to sort his chips, had a beer-belly and thick glasses balancing on a chubby nose. He had flaxen blond, spiked hair, which made him seem like an absurd, butter-coloured hedgehog. When he passed his wristband over the sensor, the display showed that his name was Greg Mavelick, number 5,384.

 

“How’s it gone for you?” Bert asked, nodding at Greg’s stack. “Looks like … 47,200. Is that right?”

 

“Yes, that’s right,” the newcomer replied in a curiously slurring dialect.

 

“Was it a poor table you were on?” Bert wondered, flipping a chip through his knuckles.

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“Because you came here and only have that much. You must have knocked out the entire table by yourself, didn’t you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Oh well, good for you that you came here. There’s action here, not such a bad thing.”

 

Greg wiped his greasy cheek and smiled. There was an expectant glimmer in his eyes. He was tilted in the opposite direction, intoxicated by success. A large stack was particularly important at table fifteen, since Korhart was there behind his barrier of chips, steering with a firm grip. It was unusual that a table was emptied during a round. There were of course exceptions, but apart from the last round, the average was about twelve emptied tables per year from which the single victor had to move to another table. It was clear that the noose was tightening.

 

The dealer button was in front of Bert in the next hand. Peter had the small blind, and Korhart the big blind. Greg was first to act pre-flop.

 

“Call,” Greg said, matching the big blind.

 

Natascha and Bert folded.

 

Peter covered his cards with his hands and took a quick glance – A♠4♠. An awkward hand, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t completely worthless.

 

“Call,” he said and matched the big blind.

 

“Call,” Korhart said calmly. His mechanical voice was making Peter’s skin crawl.

 

Ellinor turned up the flop: Q♠3♦9♠.

 

He had a potential flush draw with the nuts and was first to act after the flop. He thought for a moment and decided to take it a little easy.

 

“Check,” he said, and lightly tapped the table with his fingertips.

 

“Bet 4,500.” Korhart lifted a pile in over the line.

 

“Hang on, hang on,” Greg exclaimed as he leant forwards and read Korhart’s display. “Are you that M. ‘The Reactor’ Korhart?”

 

Peter noticed how that sounded. That question must have been asked so many times. He could understand why Korhart didn’t say that much, since even though he was famous, all those questions must be tiring.

 

How did you win? Can you tell us about when you knocked out him and her at the same time? What did you do with all the prize money? Which hand was best? And so on. Korhart nodded.

 

“That’s me.”

 

“Well, I’ll de damned! Why are you here again?”

 

Korhart didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his dark, burning glasses to face the table.

 

“It doesn’t matter. You can’t win two times in a row. It’s best you get ready to hand your chips over to me. Raise to 9,000,” Greg said cheerily, and measured out an untidy pile that he had to correct until the amount was right.

 

Peter sat and considered the situation. Was 9,000 too much for his cards? Not really. And there was the possibility of a flush. Lennart’s words suddenly stung in his mind. Nobody remembers a coward. That was true, but you had to choose your battles. Although …

 

“Call,” he said.

 

Korhart calmly pushed his cards in over the line.

 

“What are you doing?” Greg wondered, offended. “You lost a nice little win there. Come to daddy.” He curled his fingers in a beckoning gesture at both Korhart and the chips.

 

Ellinor took no notice of him and revealed the turn – 7♠.

 

In the background, a gun shot resounded followed by a thud. Peter stared at the table. This was his chance to make a comeback, or disappear forever. He’d made the nut suit. A wave of relief went through him. How should he milk this one in the best way?

 

One: Lock the target.

 

“Check,” he said, hoping that the others would decide the pace.

 

“I still can’t believe it,” Greg said. “He’s really here. At this table! I thought you were taller.” He stared, amazed, at the man with the bowl-haircut before he appeared to realise that he should be doing something. “OK. Check.”

 

Two: Bait the line.

 

Peter was stuck in a death-trap and Greg could sense it. He’d strike if Peter gave him the opportunity. And that’s exactly what he was planning on.

 

Ellinor turned up the river: A♥.

 

On the table, lay Q♠3♦9♠7♠A♥ and Peter had the nuts. He allowed himself a short moment of complete calm.

 

“Check,” he said after a long wait.

 

Three: Slowly spread the net.

 

He waited, and tried to look like an easy target.

 

“Bet 15,000,” Greg said, grinning meaningfully at Korhart. With that, he put Peter pretty much all-in.

 

Four: Catch the man.

 

“All-in,” Peter said. He’d already put an insane amount into the pot, but he was certain of winning.

 

“Yeah, yeah. Call,” Greg simply said, and counted out the few chips that were missing. Then he turned his cards over, grinning. Q♦A♦.

 

All eyes turned towards Peter, and he slowly lay down his cards, as if they were made of brittle glass. The nut suit clearly stabbed at Greg’s eyes like a glowing lance. His face hung and his eyes became dull.

 

“Nooo … Quite unbelievable!”

 

Peter wasn’t listening. He just picked up his chips and enjoyed the fact that he’d more than doubled his stack, and that at long last, his pile was starting to gain some volume. He now had over 60,000, which was fantastic considering what he’d had just a short while ago.

 

Never get cocky. Things can change fast.

 

While he was sorting his chips, he glanced at Korhart by mistake and saw what looked like a tiny smile playing on the corner of his mouth. That scared him more than he’d ever dare to admit, since he suddenly understood exactly what it meant. Korhart had yet another superpower. That was to make people so exulted to the point where they started to make mistakes. It was Peter that had taken Greg’s chips, but it was nonetheless Korhart’s presence and actions that had manipulated Greg into being careless. All he’d needed to do was place a small bet, then the snowball had begun rolling down the mountainside.

 

Three hands later, Korhart sucked out the remaining chips from Greg. Greg came and went from table fifteen almost unnoticed. He left behind him a pile of chips that had been spread around, and a slight pressure on the ears as the shot went off.

 

And then the speakers came to life again.

 

“It’s now 7.47 am, and the seventh round is now over. King’s Hope congratulates all players that have made it this far in the tournament. Round eight will begin at 8.47 am. Good luck!”

 

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