Less than 300 miles away, a hotel room in the centre of Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic where Mozart once resided, was the dwelling of Bernt and Lisl Froelicher. Father and daughter, they were staying in the city having travelled from Germany to learn all about the culture of a place they had never visited before while Lisl recuperated from an operation. 

Except that was a lie. 

Bernt Froelicher was Peter Serf, and he knew Prague as well as he knew any other city in the world. Lisl was Elena, the former dancer from Glitter nightclub in Bulgaria. She had been drugged, taken from her hospital bed and transported against her will to a new European city. She had no idea whether she was conscious when she arrived at the hotel room she now shared with Serf. 

Her every thought was focused on either escaping from him or killing him. 

You must eat, Elena.’ 

‘I don’t have to do anything you say. Dimitar will find me.’ 

‘I hope he does, my dear. But he only has 29 days, and he needs to put together quite the ransom package. I don’t personally think he’s up to it, but if he is successful, he’ll want to find more than a bag of bones. Eat.’

Elena closed her mouth tighter. She would have folded her arms, flicked Serf two fingers (or one), but they were bound behind her back. She was sat up on the smaller of the two beds. She glared at him instead. 

‘I’m offering to feed you a delicious meal. The steak is beautifully cooked. The dauphinoise potatoes are exquisite, and the vegetables will keep your immune system healthy. You’ve a stab wound to recover from thanks to your former ‘friend.’ I know you may find this had to believe, but I’m not your enemy.’ 

To the left of her captor was his empty dinner plate. She absently fantasised about grabbing the knife from it and cutting her bonds. Or would she go for his throat? While Elena looked listless, there was a russet colour to Serf’s cheeks and a general vivacity to his appearance, as if the exertion of the past week had galvanised something within him rather than exhausted it. 

‘I could scream.’ Elena threatened.

‘I could open that wound and shoot you with some more tranquilisers. You slept so well the last time; it might calm you down. The hotel manager here is very reasonable. Very reasonable indeed.’ 

Serf’s smile indicated that he knew there was no way she would get what she wanted. Maybe he knew him. Maybe he knew someone in every major city in Europe. She didn’t know. 

Elena didn’t have the strength to play it as a bluff. If she was wrong, she’d be incoherent for 24 hours. She’d learned that a lot could happen in that time. 

‘What does your wife think of what you’re doing?’ Elena asked. But she immediately wished that she hadn’t. Serf didn’t answer, but the look on his face told her the answer to her question. The words weren’t a threat to Serf, because his wife was no longer alive. Had she died of her own accord, or had…? Elena suddenly didn’t want to know. The centre of Serf’s eyes seemed like they were the entrance to an infinitely black pit, the place all darkness came from. Elena could hardly look away, but eventually tore her gaze from his. 

When she looked back, a smiling Serf proffered the fork, upon which sat a piece of medium rare steak and a small pile of potatoes layered with butter, cream and cheese, she parted her lips and took it into her mouth. She told herself that she would need the energy. She hoped that was the truth.

Across Europe, far to the East, Dimitar played poker while Elena and Peter Serf slept, the former thanks so some crumbled sleeping pills in her dauphinoise, the latter naturally. Dimitar didn’t need sleep. He needed money. He played like he would have done in a home game with Georgi at the club. No leaks. Tight, aggressive, chasing nothing, playing the hands where he was ahead like every chip counted. 

He left the cardroom after a marathon ten-hour session at four in the morning, and he’d been in his seat for the majority of the time. The good games had broken and the only people still left in seats were other professional-level players or those who were a shower and shave fresher than the Bulgarian. 

He got up from the table, tipped the dealer a single chip and nodded half in apology for being so stringent with his funds. He took his winnings to the cash desk and folded the €800 in his pocket, laying his wallet at the front of his tight jeans. He had a spare €5 note and as he passed the table games that lay between the cardroom and the exit, he paused at the edge of the roulette wheel.

a roulette table in a casino

‘Good evening, sir,’ said a young, attractive hostess. 

Dimitar nodded a polite greeting. Guess she’d been told to say evening despite everyone knowing by this time that it was morning. Outside, people would be awakening to deliver goods, open restaurants or schools soon. 

Just here for one bet.’

‘Of course, sir,’ the hostess said with a practised tone of understanding. 

Dimitar placed the single note on the number six on the felt board in front of him. 

‘Lucky number?’ the hostess asked. She smiled, her pink lips curling into a coquettish smirk.

‘No. I want to get the devil on my side.’ Said Dimitar. Her smile faded back into her resting expression.

The silver ball spun around the wheel, then the hostess neatly flicked the wheel in the opposite direction. The ball bounced once, twice, then landed solidly into the black ‘10’ bed where it remained as the wheel span languidly to a standstill. 

Dimitar watched without expression. He nodded again and turned away. 

When he was a safe distance away from her, the hostess opened up her cell phone and sent a text off to Peter Serf. 

He might be up €500/€600. He’ll be back tomorrow. 

 Dimitar, oblivious to being monitored, walked out of the exit and back to his hotel room. What did he care if the roulette wheel wasn’t his friend, his bankroll was up to €1,700. 

The devil could wait. 


Chapter 1.2                                  Chapter 2.1

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.