‘How am I supposed to play you heads-up when I only have cash money here and you’re god knows where?’ Dimitar asked. 

‘That’s already taken care of. When you and I have completed our session, I’ll send someone to you. They’ll either collect my winnings or hand you yours.’ 

‘Thought of everything haven’t you?’ Dimitar snarled. ‘Why did you have to take Elena? Just send her home, it’s me you want. Then maybe we can settle this like men.’

In the background of Serf’s screen, Elena barely moved. Dimitar searched her eyes for any signal she could give, but there was nothing. Serf’s eyes continued to dance in the light. 

‘Since the dawn of time, fighting has never been fair, Dimitar. The biggest caveman got the largest sabre-toothed tiger for his meal. The king with the largest army and the greater weapons would win almost every war. What you propose would be similarly imbalanced.’ 

‘And what you are doing isn’t? You expect me to win a million dollars and play you for Elena’s life?’

‘Of course not,’ Serf laughed. ‘I expect you to fail then to beg me for her life with whatever you can win. I will then show you what it is like to lose someone you love with all your heart. You showed me this feeling when you killed my wife.’

‘You killed her, Serf. Not me.’

‘You did it. If you hadn’t seduced here, slept with her, none of this would ever have happened. You killed her and now you need to learn to take responsibility for your actions.’ 

‘Come and see me. I’ll show you actions.’

‘Now, now. The game is the best way to decide. Poker reduces us all to our base elements. And I want to see your bones. I’ve already logged in; it’s a private game on a reputable site. Just follow this link and I’ll meet you at the virtual felt. That’s all the action you will get.’ 

Serf disconnected momentarily, leaving Dimitar bathed in the darkness of his room. He switched on the bedside light as a cold rain fell lightly outside. London’s sky was dark, but thousands of rooms were aglow across thousands of houses of the sprawling city. New York might be the city that never sleeps, but London was the city that tried to go to bed while suffering from a bout of insomnia.

Dimitar got out of bed and sat at a desk in the corner of the room. A small bookcase to his right was filled with books on poker strategy. Sam’s bookcase was full, possibly containing every book ever written about poker. A scattering of biographies stood out amidst the wall of game theory. Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, names from poker’s infamous past, leapt out at Dimitar. He had seen these giants of the game and had watched them on the TV screen back in Bulgaria as a boy. Now he’s trying to emulate their lives, albeit over a smaller time frame. He had already turned €1,100 into £63,400. He now needed to turn that into a million. He wondered how often his poker heroes had to do it while a loved one’s life was at risk.

The online poker site loaded up in seconds, and there was ‘SerfSup’, sitting opposite Dimitar when he clicked on the only empty seat at the private heads-up table. The name ‘BulgaBoy’ had been preselected by Serf. 

Serf was seated with $40,000 USD in chips at his virtual seat, and Dimitar saw he had the same amount. A quick Google currency check let Dimitar know that he was risking over half of the money he had won. £63,400 is a lot of money. It could go far. But if he wins, then he’ll have over $100,000. And that might make reaching the million dollar goal in the remaining three weeks and a day possible, if not plausible. 

A new video call rang through, and Dimitar answered. Serf looked comfortable as a thin smile played across his lips. Dimitar didn’t smile back. He took his tablet out and plugged it into an outlet behind the desk. He switched the poker site to the tablet, allowing his cell phone to continue displaying Serf’s face through the video call. He set both devices to directly face him so he could watch the table and his opponent at the same time.

 ‘Are you ready to play?’ Serf asked, more than a hint of menace in his expression. Dimitar noticed Elena at his shoulder, her hand on Serf’s back. She nodded as imperceptibly as she could. She was doing anything she could to prevent herself from looking at the corpse by her feet. 

‘When do we take a break?’

‘At 55 minutes past the hour, every hour, until one of use loses $40,000.’ Serf responded coldly. 

‘And the other wins it.’ Says Dimitar. 

‘Exactly. Let’s play.’

Chapter 4.3                                  Chapter 5.2

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.