Cologne was damp and grey and Elena’s mood matched the city. She tried her very best not to let it show but when you can see nothing but bleakness, it is difficult, to say the least. Breakfast had been wholesome and fulfilling and had left her feeling a bit stronger. It had only been three days, but the wounds of Bulgaria and the horror of the drugged-up state Serf had her travel in as they went through Germany were behind her. She played her part and smiled for Peter, making strong eye contact, holding her mouth open when she smiled, showing her perfect teeth.

It was Peter now. Not Serf, not Sir, just Peter. She had learned a few things during her captivity. She knew to call him by his first name because he liked it. She knew she needed to do plenty of things, most she did not want to do, that he liked. Each hour she performed, it became easier as she could feel him relax. The more relaxed he became the easier it was for her to start planning a way out. 

They went back to the room after breakfast, but it was being cleaned. Peter looked at the maid, asking how long she would be in a manner that implied she needed to have it completed quickly. The maid – South American, thought Elena – was quick and polite, and never looked at Peter’s face.

Maybe she sees what I see, Elena thought. Maybe she can see behind the mask too. Maybe she’ll report him. But then she stopped herself. Report what? See what? There was nothing to see. Peter was the human embodiment of that phrase; nothing to see here. Even if the maid did see something, what would there be to report beyond a bad feeling? No, she knew she could not rely on anyone else. 

While they waited for the room to be ready after their breakfast, they walked the grounds of the hotel. The greenery and stiff hedges were neatly trimmed, the lawns freshly cut bringing the comforting aroma of dewy cut grass to the senses. Above eye level, the yew trees around the gardens reached towards the sky, leaves curled in the mid-morning sun so that they could absorb all of its life-giving rays. The day was bright, clear, and dry – it was perfect. As they strolled through the flora, Elena was sure that anyone who looked at them would assume they were either a happy father-daughter pairing on a family trip or a couple of lovebirds who were defying the generally accepted age boundaries of a modern relationship. 

“Have you lived here?” Elena asked, as breezily as she could. The lilt in her voice and beaming smile hid her true thoughts. 

‘Cologne? No. Germany, a little, mainly business trips. It’s good for a city break.’ 

‘It doesn’t feel so much like a city. Not like home, but not like being too far away.’ 

‘We won’t be here long. We must leave again soon, you know that. You will not get used to it.’

“It’s a shame,” she said, linking her fingers with his, feeling the warmth of his palm pressing against her own as they paced the walkways between the trees and bushes. “I can think of worse places to live, even to stay. It is very clean.” 

Peter unlocked his fingers from Elena’s and pointedly looked up at the trees, the sky, and the picturesque city background, “You’re not wrong. It’s clear, it’s sunny and it’s bright.

‘The English philosopher Ruskin said, “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” I like that.’ Peter said. She smiled and nodded pretending to appreciate his intelligence while being awed by his wisdom. Peter shared a smile in response. 

A member of staff approached them from the main building. A man, friendly, although he kept his head bowed, his gait stooped as he shuffled along towards the two of them. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Everything about him set Elena on edge.

‘Nice morning, Mr. Serf.’ he said, with a movement not unlike a bow that stops just before it starts.  

‘Can’t beat a bit of sunshine,’ Peter replied. 

There was a moment as they passed where the man glanced up at Elena as she was a little taller. He looked away quickly, then back up at Peter. It was at that moment Elena realised Peter knew this man. She was struck by a wave of panic rising up from her stomach like bile, instinct told her to run.  

Elena moved around the man to put him between her and Peter and sprinted away. She didn’t look back, pounding her legs into the ground harder with every footstep away from them. Blind panic was carrying her as fast and as far as she could. She had to get from the two of them. 

She had to escape. 

Chapter 3.1                                  Chapter 3.3

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.