The few hours of sleep felt more like a long blink than a proper nap to Dimitar. Barely three hours had passed when he was awoken by a knock on the door by Sam. 

“Thought you might like a cup of tea to celebrate last night,” the smiling Englishman said. Dimitar shared a false smile, and Sam put the tea down and went. The untouched tea had lost all its heat by the time the Bulgarian arrived at Sam’s kitchen table, the steam long gone, reflecting the chill in Dimitar’s heart.

‘I need to tell you something.’ Dimitar croaked, his throat still dry from a lack of sleep and the stress from the losses. He could feel his pulse in his temples, a constant reminder of the pressure he was under.

‘This doesn’t sound good.’ Sam’s face tightened with concern, his jovial demeanour replaced by a serious, focused expression.

‘It isn’t.’

Dimitar explained what happened after the tournament with Peter Serf. He explained how the big win at the golf club was decimated in the online session and how he was now down to just €30,000. Still, it was a decent amount of money but nowhere near the million-dollar ransom, that he had just 22 days left to raise. As he spoke, he couldn’t help but notice Sam’s eyes narrowing, his fingers drumming on the table in an unconscious display of anxiety. 

‘I should probably be mad at you – protecting your bankroll is everything in poker. But I can’t say I would have done any different in your shoes. Not with everything on the line.’ Sam’s voice softened, empathy lacing his words.

‘Thanks, Sam, ‘ Dimitar said, slightly lifting his spirits.

‘How did you play him?’ 

‘Online, on my phone. No, no, it was on my tablet.’ Dimitar corrected himself, feeling a wave of exhaustion wash over him.

‘Then we need Twiggy, and coffee.’ Sam declared with a decisive nod.

A few moments later, Twiggy, who was a little more familiar with technology and information retrieval than one would have expected, joined them at the table: ‘Friends in low places,’ according to her. Along with a trusted acquaintance working from somewhere Sam and Dimitar neither needed to nor cared to know about, Twiggy managed to bring up the Facetime call with Peter Serf. The three of them crouched forward on the sofa, gripping their coffee cups. They saw Serf concentrating on the game, but Twiggy kept spooling back to the section of the video when Elena was on the screen.

‘You should have been looking at me, not your girlfriend…’ repeated Serf on the screen. Twiggy rewound, and Serf repeated the line. 

Dimitar’s frustration grew with each replay, his fingers clenching and unclenching around his coffee cup. 

‘Are you trying to torture me? That ace on the river killed me.’ Dimitar groaned, rubbing his temples.

Suddenly, Twiggy’s face lit up, coming to life as it became clear to her what they’d been looking for. 

‘Do you see it?’ Twiggy asked Sam. The high roller amongst them narrowed his eyes, scrutinising the footage. He asked for it to be shown again. Then he noticed it, Sam’s eye registered what she was looking at and cocked a half-smile. 

‘Is anyone going to enlighten me?’ asked Dimitar, his patience wearing thin. 

It was Twiggy who turned first to tell him. ‘Watch it again, this time focus on Elena. But not her face or her body. Watch her actions.’ 

She set the footage up and let it play. Dimitar watched the hand play out. He heard Serf repeat the line, saw Elena toss the wrapper toward the camera, grimace, and then back away from the screen. 

‘Their destination is right there for you. Does your girlfriend like word puzzles by any chance?’ 

‘She does, how did you know that? Her father does the crossword every day. She used to joke with me that she could do it quicker. It was a challenge between them.’ Dimitar said, a faint smile crossing his lips as he remembered her playful competitiveness. 

‘I can believe it,’ said Twiggy. ‘She threw the Mars bar wrapper towards the screen at a very specific time. I think she’s waited for the perfect moment and the choice of chocolate bar was very specific.’

‘It must have been the only one available,’ claimed Dimitar. ‘She never goes for one of those.’ 

‘Which is exactly the point,’ Sam chimed in. ‘She ate the chocolate purely for energy. It’s the Mars on the wrapper she wanted you to see. She holds onto it and only throws it when the ace drops on the river.’

‘I still don’t get it,’ said Dimitar. ‘You’ll have to spell it out.’ 

‘It’s funny you say that. It’s remarkably simple. An ace is shown as a capital ‘A’ on the card. You said she was heading south, so we can presume that France will be their first port of call. But I think we can be even more specific. The Mars bar wrapper, tossed at the camera as soon as the ace landed? Break it down like a crossword clue: Mars – A.’

‘Marseille.’ says Dimitar, says Dimitar, realisation dawning on him as he exhaled deeply. 

Chapter 5.3                                  Chapter 6.2

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.