Sofia’s first memory was of riding a small pink tricycle up a garden path outside their modest two-bedroom family home. She was guided along the cobbled stones, not by the hand of her mother or father, but of Georgi, her older brother. She loved his energy, his heart, his sense of fun – it kept her childhood innocent during the period of time when her mother died and her father changed beyond all recognition. Georgi was the one to hold her when she cried. He guided and pushed her along on the little trike, standing to watch as the wheels spun and she advanced up the path, his image slowly fading in the distance to Sofia as she turned proudly to show that she could do it.

Whenever Sofia was with him, Georgi made her feel like he lived for making her laugh. He was five years older than Sofia and he was her hero from the moment she looked up at him and stared into his big brown eyes.

She looked at him now, eyes shut, his body lying still on a medical table in the small, tastefully lit room. He was still, just like when he slept. 

But Georgi was dead. 

Sofia confirmed Georgi’s identity, then was walked out into another room, guided now by the arm of a police officer. She was given a drink of water and told to take all the time she needed. It was the same phrase she heard when she crumpled to the floor at the bottom of her apartment stairs, crying tears she thought she would never have to cry. Georgi had been a constant presence in her life. From her first waking moments yo the shared secrets and memories. All of her best times. In a young life decimated by the loss of her mother to cancer, further punctuated by the pain of her father remarrying a woman who was a quarter of a century younger than him – closer in age to her than her father – her brother was her rock. Now he was gone.

All the police could tell her was that they found Georgi Angelov’s lifeless body on the banks of the Iskar River, the only river that started and ended within Bulgaria’s borders, flowing South to North into the Danube like a vein into the main artery. 

Thoughts swam in her ears, her mind unable to process what she was being told. Georgi was dead. It consumed her every pore, flooding her system with grief. It was overwhelming. Finally, the thoughts formed a single word. 


‘His body was found by the water’s edge, Miss Angelov’, the more senior officer informed her while she sat, numb, at the table inside the small room.

‘How did he die?’ she asked through a veil of tears. 

‘There will need to be an autopsy before we can determine a method of death, Ms. Angelov.’

‘When did he die?’ 

‘We estimate that he died between 11pm and 3am last night. We’ll know more after the autopsy. Did your brother struggle to swim? Could he have fallen in and panicked?’

‘Georgi was a stronger swimmer than me, and I used to swim for the county trials. He didn’t drown. That’s not possible.’ 

The tears came again in thick heaving, uncontrollable sobs. The female officer, who wore a well-practiced mask of sympathy, offered Sofia a tissue. She shook her head. She didn’t want to lose the tears she cried for him. Georgi was everything to her. If he died on the riverbank, he had to have been killed, she was sure of it, but by whom? 

‘Did Georgi have any enemies?’ 

Sofia heard the question but didn’t immediately answer it. She adored her brother, but could she honestly say that everyone did? Their stepmother was an enemy of them both. Sofia and Georgi had long suspected that their father’s second wife had designs on changing his will so that she was the sole beneficiary. Maybe their father Ivan stoically refused to cut out his eldest son, his family’s lineage, and Silvana had dealt with Georgi once and for all. 

Georgi got along well with everyone at Glitter, the club he ran. Maybe a little too well. Could he have cheated on his latest girlfriend? Sofia didn’t even recall who he was seeing, such was the revolving door of Georgi’s love life. Then there was the club itself. There had been rumors of drugs being supplied at Glitter. Georgi had hardly denied the fact when Sofia pressed him at the monthly poker game that was hosted at the family home. 

Their father always showed up for that – was that because he was the main supplier? Ivan Angelov would stop at nothing to remain the dominant man at the heart of the Bulgarian capital’s underbelly. But no. It was his home, that was all. Wasn’t it?

What about Glitter’s staff? If the club went under, they’d be out of a job and it was unlikely to look good on their CVs if there was any controversy around drugs. Sofia felt herself compiling a checklist in her head. 

She told the police that no-one had a bad word to say about Georgi. 

‘Drowning would seem unlikely, then.’ Said the male officer, making a note and sliding it across the desk to his colleague. Did they believe her?

If they found no other cause of death, they would fall back on the probability of him drowning. Failure to find any evidence to the contrary would lead to a verdict of accidental death and Sofia would be fine with that. She would grieve, but through the pain, she would be able to lead her own investigation. If the police dropped the case, it would give her the time and space to get the job done. She would never let go until she knew what happened. 

Sofia wanted everyone else to step back and leave it to her. She would find out who did this to Georgi. 

Then she would have her revenge. 


When she left the police station for the second time in a week after what she was convinced was a murder, but the opposite of how it had been in Barcelona. The Catalan capital had been lit up with color and sunshine, the vibrant shades of the cultural city leaping out at her as she left a police station cleared of any doubt or suspicion. By comparison, Sofia left the station in Bulgaria’s capital to grey overcast skies and a busy road slick with rain and packed with dark cars. The darkest was by far the highly polished limousine that waited for her on the corner of the street. She recognized the vehicle and climbed into the back of the car. The driver nodded to her.

‘Is everything OK, Miss Sofia?’

She nodded, hating the way her father’s driver spoke to her, like she was the contestant in a beauty pageant, only there to bring glamour to the city Ivan Angelov had named her after. They drove away from the police station at speed, traveling towards the family mansion that Ivan Angelov had personally constructed over the past half-century. They rolled through the northwest of the city to the outskirts, towards the Iskar river where Georgi’s body had been found.

When they arrived, the driver opened the door for Sofia and let her out on the steps of the giant house. With a dozen bedrooms, five bathrooms and three floors, the Angelov home was the subject of deep scrutiny in the country. Far from being revered by the city, Angelov was regarded as more of a tyrant, someone to whom people were as tradeable as money, and as such he was not well liked.

Sofia knew a private, open side to him – the ‘Dad’ she’d known in the early years. But those years were a long time ago, and it felt like a different age. Since then, her father’s wealth had skyrocketed, but the man she had loved as a child had been replaced by a ruthless businessman, who had now been re-married to Silvana for longer than had been to his first wife, Sofia’s mother Agnes. 

 Ivan Angelov had opened the large double doors at front of the mansion by the time Sofia reached them. Ivan was a large man, well over six foot and not slim of girth. His hair was slicked back with so much lacquer that it looked immovable. His large body was in stark contrast to his hands, which were small and clasped at the front of his body as if he had never quite worked out what to do with them. 

He invited Sofia in and before she got to him, held the door open and led her inside. She walked right in, safe in the knowledge that the driver would shut the door. The hallway itself was long and ornate. Two staircases framed the opulent hall curling up to the first floor. A balcony effect created between the staircases allowed one to stand on the walkway to the first floor underneath family portraits and look over anyone who was arriving.

Silvana Angelov was in exactly that position as she stood with her hands holding the gilt rail in front of her, looking down on her husband and his daughter as they entered the great house, and gazed up at her. 

‘Sofia!’ she cried, and ran down the left-hand stairs, embracing her stepdaughter. Sofia returned a stiff hug, limbs by her sides. Ivan Angelov noticed but had long given up asking Sofia to be less icy or Silvana less obviously obsequious. It was a dance they were well practiced in, and could not be trained to try different steps

They all went to the drawing room on the lower floor. It was the room where poker was played once a month, every month. A home game with many unique features and quirks that would not be allowed inside the walls of a traditional casino. In Ivan Angelov’s house, the only law was his and he liked it that way. The monthly game would have been the next night…but Georgi’s death cast a shadow over the room as they walked through. 

Silvana fetched a whisky without needing to be asked. She brought Sofia champagne, which she knew she hated. It was too dry and gave her a splitting headache. But Sofia took the crystal glass by the thin stem and drank it down. The headache would be a welcome distraction in the morning, the oblivion she could reach if she consumed plenty, enough to make it worthwhile.

‘My darling Sofia,’ Ivan said, his large frame sinking into a chair.

‘Dad.’ She replied. ‘Georgi was murdered. I can feel it in my bones. Tell me you know something of why this happened.’

‘I know nothing. What could I know? He goes to work, he is happy, he comes in the next day. He is…’ 

Ivan Angelov was unable to continue. They were both in shock, processing it in different ways. Sofia had bypassed shock and moved straight to anger, where she had rooted her feet in lava. The fury was coming off her in waves. Ivan, however, was paralyzed by not being able to compute that his son and heir had left the world before him. 

When they stopped crying together, they spoke of Georgi’s childhood, as if reducing him to his most innocent age would bring him back to life. Silvana brought the drinks. She had seen worse as a child in Russia, but it remained unsaid. In a way it helped; it did its best to lessen the impact of one death, even in its silent presence. Silvana’s whole family had been murdered, leaving her alone to survive. She fled Russia with only her wits, at the physical age of eleven and the emotional trauma of an adult.

On an evening shortly after his first wife, Agnes, died from cancer, Ivan Angelov found himself in a dusty strip joint well into his twelfth drink when he saw the desperate Silvana dancing. He bought the venue overnight, turned it into a wine bar and made Silvana the manager. He married her a year later. Ivan was the man who had saved her from a lifetime of trauma by making new memories. At least that was how she told it. 

‘Father, we must not plan a funeral until we know how he died.’ 

‘He died in the river, Sofia’, said Ivan with an edge. 

‘He drowned, poor child.’ Said Silvana, trying to comfort Sofia by putting her arm on her shoulder. 

‘I’m not your child. And Georgi didn’t drown, I know it.’ 

‘You cannot know that.’

Sofia touched her chest with her own hand. 

‘I know. Papa, you need to help me find out who did this. I swear to you, something happened to Georgi.’ 

‘Then you’ll have anything you need.’

‘Ivan.’ said Silvana, but he waved her off with a meaty hand. 

‘Silvana. I know you mean well, but this is family. This is my blood. If you cannot understand that, you are not the woman I found.’ 

Found. Like a lost doll or a stray dog. Silvana said nothing, but Sofia felt like her eyes grew a dark frame under each of her eyelids. 

‘We must cancel the poker game tomorrow night,’ she said. But Sofia shook her head. 

‘The game goes on.’ said Ivan. ‘I want everyone here tomorrow night.’

Sofia nodded. 

‘Poker shows a player’s soul. I will find out who is guilty when we play. All of us.’

Chapter 1                                  Chapter 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.