Austria was already a memory. The flight to London had cost Dimitar nothing, thanks to the generosity of Sam Houston, his high-stakes acquaintance who welcomed him into his home in the English capital. The two had also arranged it so Sam would not meet him at the airport. They knew that Peter Serf was receiving information about what Dimitar was doing. They felt the best way to keep Elena safe was to keep as much about how Dimitar was doing away from the public eye. And after what had happened with the safe in Vienna, they knew this was the right decision. Peter Serf had a way of uncovering information that no one should have access to. His network of operatives stretched far and wide. 

Dimitar already felt like he was walking with a target on his back as he chased Serf around Europe. Bringing anyone else into this light was a burden he would never willingly share. 

 ‘Dimitar?’ said a leggy blonde standing at Arrivals. Tall, gangly, with a wide, grin, Dimitar recognized her immediately from Sam’s description – ‘I understand what he meant that she could be related to a spider’ he thought. 

“Twiggy?” he had asked nervously. Her grin widened as she gave him a warm hug after he snaked around the barriers, passing the throng of people returning from holidays and business people arriving home after a gruelling week away. It was true what they said, Dimitar thought. If you ever need to be cheered up, watching people arrive at airports, and seeing the smiles as they locked eyes with friends, family, and loved ones who would invariably show up to greet them most unexpectedly was almost foolproof. 

Almost.

He had felt guilty for not being happy. Instead, he was sad and angry at his grim pursuit of his girlfriend Elena, who was currently Peter Serf’s hostage. 

“You made it through customs pretty quickly, then?” Twiggy had said, her British accent amusing him. It felt good to smile, if a little strange. He had spent the plane ride constantly thinking about how to best maximise his money to reach the million-dollar ransom within a month he was given. He knew Elena was a prisoner and he had to save her.

‘Yes, I only had £8,500.’

‘Hey, don’t knock it. It’s not bad for a few days’ work.’ says Twiggy. ‘The legal limit is £10,000, so you’re quite safe. I’m parked in short stay, it’s only a few minutes walk.’ 

They got in the car and Twiggy drove as Dimitar let the traffic blur into his peripheral vision. He had never turned €1,000 into ten times that before. The rush of running it up was tempered by the fact that the money he had only represented the next stake. He was aware that he was about to start the real climb up the mountain to a million dollars and that from here on in, not only would nothing be easy, but it would become increasingly harder.

‘So have you played poker long, like Sam?’ 

‘Only at home, in Bulgaria. Not like Sam; he plays high stakes.’ 

‘The highest. I don’t know how he does it. Loses more in some sessions than I make in a year, but it’s all just part of his bankroll. I think it takes a certain type to do what he does you know?’

‘Yeah, I bet it does.’ 

Dimitar wondered if he was that type, the right type, as the car nimbly picked its way through London’s buttonhole streets. Through one-way systems, a blur of red lights, and bus lanes, he didn’t notice that he had fallen asleep until the car pulled to a stop outside a three-story apartment. Three grey stone steps led up to a brilliantly blue front door framed by bright white walls. 

‘End of the line, sleeping beauty,’ Twiggy said. She moved around to the passenger door and Dimitar slowly exited, grabbing his overnight bag. 

‘I’m so sorry, I fell asleep. How long was I out?’ 

‘An hour? It was OK, I listened to my podcast. Go on in, I need to park round the back. 

Dimitar looked up and saw the formidable silhouette of Sam Houston in the open doorway of his London townhouse. Tall and rangy, he exuded confidence, as if nothing bad had ever happened to him. Dimitar wondered how much of a bluff that was. 

“Welcome to your home from home, buddy,” Sam said, putting an arm around Dimitar as he ushered him, yawning, into his house. “Twiggy went to park and will join us soon. Right now we need to talk about the golf club. How was the journey?” 

Another yawn from Dimitar. With a big laugh, Sam slapped him on the back and the Bulgarian smiled. 

The real game had just begun. 



Chapter 2.3                                  Chapter 3.2

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.