An airport would have been the perfect place to disappear. The maze of terminals, the flow of people. At any one time, there was an average of 120,000 people in the air above the Earth. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If he’d been Peter Serf, that’s what Dimitar would have done. He would have got into the air with a false passport and bounced from place to place.  

In the hours after Peter Serf stole Elena Petrova from her hospital bed by pretending to be her father, making a million-dollar ransom demand, Dimitar acted on instinct. It was a primal defence mechanism that he applied not only to himself but to Elena, because he was going to bring her home. 

Dimitar in a busy airport

He was going to stop Peter Serf before anyone else’s life was ruined. 

For hours, Dimitar thought of Elena and how she felt before he turned his attention to stopping Serf. The former girlfriend of his slain best friend Georgi, Elena had barely escaped with her life. She was grieving, and in pain, that was certain. She would be praying he could rescue her, but there would be anger reserved for Dimitar, too. He’d caused Elena’s distress by sleeping with Serf’s wife. Serf had killed his own wife, and taken the ultimate revenge on Dimitar, by stealing the one person in the world he loved. 

It hadn’t been Peter Serf who had murdered Georgi, but he was still a killer.  

Dimitar had a month to raise one million dollars. The words of Serf’s threat were seared into his conscious mind over the hours since Elena’s disappearance. ‘You lost the game, so I took the prize with me. If you want to play again, you’ll need to find the buy-in. A million dollars in one month… or Elena dies.’ 

The police hadn’t found a trace of Serf. They had thrown a steel ring around the city, but Serf had escaped it. He had money, proper money and Dimitar knew that money bought freedom. It also meant that the ransom he’d demanded must come only from Dimitar’s funds and it wasn’t about getting rich. 

It was about control. 

Dimitar had thought about asking Ivan Angelov for the funds. But before he could, he received a second message from Serf, sent via the poker game app he had previously contacted each of the ‘players’ on back in Bulgaria. 


                                   Do not contact the police.

                                   Do not contact Ivan. 
                                   YOU must find the money. Only you.
                                   Don’t lose your head… or Elena will lose hers. 


At first, Dimitar was a man lost. Where in the world Serf could have sent the message from? Then there was a notification on his phone app that tracked Elena’s phone. She appeared in Austria, for a brief period of less than an hour. Certainly not enough time to be tracked down. But was she still there? 

‘It’s a clue, Sofia.’ Dimitar told his friend over coffee in the city centre she was named after. 

Dimitar and Sofia talking in a cafe

‘It’s a trap.’ 

‘What if it is? I have to find Elena. The police will try to track him down, but if they get close, then he’ll kill her. We know he will.’ 

The steam from Dimitar’s coffee rose into his stoic face. All around them people got on with busy lives, meeting for business, or for pleasure, or any reason in between. No matter the reason, no one paid attention to the two worried friends meeting to save a life. Sofia’s hands grasped her coffee mug, the knuckles on each hand standing out with the tension. 

‘How much money do you actually have?’ Sofia asked. 

‘Just under a thousand. If I take my wage from the club, just over.’ 

‘It’s not enough, even hitting an outrageous streak of luck. In one month? Surely you can take some money from us; I could ask my father.’ 

‘Serf will know. I’m sure of it. I feel like he’s watching me, even though we know he’s a thousand kilometres away.’ 

‘If he’s in Austria. That could have been to throw you off. I know what you mean, though. He’s evil. I still can’t believe he killed his wife.’ 

‘I can. His eyes were grey up on that mountain. She hurt him when…’ 

Dimitar couldn’t say it. Couldn’t announce his own mistake again, how he slept with her to get Georgi away from Elena. It had cost his best friend his life, and Sofia her brother. She said nothing, but her lips tightened. She drank instead. Her eyes filled with tears, but the steam from the coffee gave cover. She blinked them back, hoping he hadn’t noticed. 

‘That’s why I have to do it myself,’ Dimitar said. ‘I owe it to you as much as Elena. I caused this. I need to solve it.’ 

‘Fine. But I can help you with flights, hotels. And poker.’ 

‘What help do I need with poker?’ 

‘You’re not going to be able to stick to playing home games over a few drinks at the club anymore. To even have a chance at running it up to a million dollars, you’re going to need to speak to a proper high roller.’


‘No, Dimi. Not me.’ 

Dead by the River                                  Chapter 1.2

About the Author: Paul Seaton has written about poker for over 10 years, interviewing some of the best players ever to play the game such as Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Over the years, Paul has reported live from tournaments such as the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and the European Poker Tour. He has also written for other poker brands where he was Head of Media, as well as BLUFF magazine, where he was Editor.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.