The players who had been sitting at the poker table jumped out of their seats as the explosion of gunfire filled the large room with a deafening noise. Sofia looked up in the direction of the blast to see one of the waitresses from Glitter in the doorway holding a long black rifle, the smoke still rising from the mouth of its barrel from which the bullet had been shot. A stunned silence enveloped the room. A hole in the opposite wall of the room was evidence that a live round had been in the rifle.
‘Lisl!’ shouted Dimitar from the table, jumping up and running over to her. He wrenched the gun from her grasp, and she sank, drunkenly, against the doorway.  ‘What are you doing with that?’ Ivan said, standing up with a little more difficulty and marching over to investigate.  He walked over to the girl, who Dimitar supported as he sat her down on an empty chair.  ‘I found it in the study,’ she said, her voice shaking. ‘I was bringing it to you, Dimitar.’  ‘To him? This is my house!’ bellowed Ivan. Silvana had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, to cling to her husband’s side. Sofia stood, leaving all the other poker players who had made the final table in their seats.  ‘What are you doing with a rifle in the house, father?’ she asked.  ‘I shoot with it. It’s not a toy. It wasn’t loaded!’ he said, snatching it at once. He opened it and released the magazine of bullets.  ‘There are two bullets missing from this magazine, not one.’ He said. Everyone in the room looked around at the other players. The bullet hole sat, charcoal in color, in the center of a beige and gilt wall.  Sofia tilted her head at her father.  ‘I swear to you Sofia. I do not keep a loaded gun in the house. Someone else put the bullets in that gun.’  ‘Silvana?’ Sofia asked.  ‘I dislike guns as much as you. I hate your father owning one, let alone shooting it with his friends.’  ‘Which friends?’ Sofia asked.  It was at that moment that Peter Serf emerged from the direction of the study, passing across the open doorway and moving towards the main entrance in an effort to leave. He didn’t break his stride as he walked out of the house.  Ivan made no effort to stop him. The silence between Sofia and her father spoke more than words could. Dimitar comforted Lisl, who looked like she wanted to go home. Everyone did, except the players still at the table.  ‘It has been a long night,’ said Ivan. ‘We will conclude the game. But for anyone else who has come tonight, the night is over. The cars are outside for you as usual.’  It was a weekly tradition. People filed into four waiting cars that Ivan hired, safe in the knowledge that they would be returned to their homes. Each car would drop players at their home and then return to carry out the next run. With a sweep of his hand, Ivan managed to clear the room except for those who had survived to the final eight, along with his wife Silvana and Saskia.  Saskia motioned to Sofia to ask her to come to her, but Sofia quickly shook her head. She opened her phone and texted Saskia. 
Can’t talk now. Need to find out what I can while we’re still playing. Stick around… I could use your eyes on the table Xx
Sofia watched as Saskia’s phone vibrate in her palm, then she read the message.
She looked disappointed at first, then looked up at Sofia and smiled in support of her. She stood with Silvana at the bar, chatting around twenty feet away from the action.  With only five players left and the room no longer filled with anyone on the self-imposed ‘rail’ of outer tables, the space felt empty and cavernous. Any words spoken at the table came out with the shadow of an echo at the end of them. It added meaning to everyone’s speech, but it also made the table focus on the remaining players. Everyone and everything felt closer, almost like they were in a locked room with the walls slowly closing in.  ‘So,’ said Ivan, clapping his meaty hands together, where were we before my wallpaper became perforated?’  Of the five players, Ivan was the big chip leader and that didn’t change immediately. He quickly took care of his last remaining business associate, one of his fellow board members from a Bulgarian hedge fund. He was aggressive, but he got picked off when his move for twenty big blinds with pocket tens ran out of luck against Ivan’s ace-jack. An ace on the flop was all that Ivan needed to end the player’s night. Only Sofia, Dimitar and Elena from Glitter stood in the host’s way. He had as many chips as his three young opponents combined. ‘If this was a tournament, there’d be a battle to climb the places.’ Said Dimitar. ‘But I want the win for Georgi.’  ‘We all want that.’ Sofia said. Elena started crying softly. Her eyes blinked back tears. Dimitar held out a hand for her to take, but she moved hers closer together away from his.   Sofia had presumed the two of them were close, but it appeared not. Was it a lovers’ tiff or something deeper? She realized then that she needed to go to Glitter ‘After I beat my father and pay my rent, will you be going back to the club, Dimitar? It’s the last place I saw Georgi, I want to be close to him.’  ‘I will go, yes, but I will beat you here first’, he said, the first hint of a smile on his face, but it was without the sparkle that someone truly happy might have shared.  ‘It was also where my brother worked,’ Sofia continued. ‘Maybe something was awry with his business interests. People kill for money, you know, father.’  She looked pointedly at Silvana, who had remained by her husband’s side. If it was an attempt to goad the hosts, it didn’t work.  ‘Now, Sofia, I’ll promise you this – a full investigation of Glitter, and all the other businesses that Georgi helped with. He financed a number of businesses with my blessing.’ ‘He had free reign to invest your money?’ ‘Not freedom like that, he ran things past me. At least I believed he did. He should never have ended his life dead by the river, however.  ‘I got the impression that a friend of yours, Mr. Serf, was not happy with Georgi for some reason earlier.’  ‘I don’t know what gave you that impression.’ Ivan said with a note of finality to his voice. He raised and saw all three of his opponents choose to call him only.  ‘There are sharks in the water. You forget I am the whale and some whales can kill too.’
The flop was a colorful one, with a heart, a diamond and a club. All three cards were aces.  ‘Who has the highest hand?’ asked Ivan. ‘Hmm. It would not be my daughter, she likes to mix it up. Dimitar? I think you have a good hand. But Elena, you were the last to call. Surely you only do so with a very good drawing hand. King-queen perhaps. You have hit a high board to bluff.’ ‘I’m not bluffing,’ Elena said, wiping away her tears. ‘I’m all-in.’ Dimitar was quick to fold, but Ivan was going nowhere, and made the call. Sofia spun her cards face down into the muck.  Elena turned over pocket queens. Sofia raised her eyebrows. Saskia, close enough to see the cards, let out a small gasp. Dimitar and Ivan said nothing, but Sofia’s father turned over ace-five, for quad aces. Silvana’s face didn’t flicker. Sofia knew that she’d already seen Ivan’s cards.  ‘That’s crazy.’ Said Dimitar. ‘It is set-up.’  Ivan Angelov looked like all the blood in his body had rushed into his face. He didn’t say a word, scooping in Elena’s chips instead, but the anger was coming off him in waves. Sofia raised the next hand, and Dimitar moved all-in. They were both short stacked; it seemed like a good idea to risk losing all her chips to stand a chance of playing her father heads-up with a decent stack.  Sofia turned over pocket eights.  ‘The snowmen.’ Said Saskia at Sofia’s back. Dimitar turned over the ace-king of diamonds. It was a classic coinflip – both players having an almost equal chance of winning the hand.  ‘Anyone fold an ace?’ Sofia asked hopefully. Ivan shook his head. Elena, still gathering up her bag and coat smiled at her and turned to go. She lingered on the fringes of the table, wanting to see which community cards fell.  The flop was more than kind to Sofia. Three low cards, as a four, five and seven fell. A gutshot straight draw and no sign of an ace or king. Only one diamond too. Another joined it on the turn, as the queen of diamonds dropped. Now Dimitar had a world of outs to fire at – three aces, three kings and any diamond.  The nine of diamonds fell on the river, giving Dimitar the flush and sending Sofia out of the tournament. She looked at her father, wondering if his rueful grin was in any way genuine.  Dimitar inched forward in his seat, a look of contempt on his face. He stared intently at Ivan.  Sofia thought that she had never seen someone more desperate to beat another at the poker table.

Chapter 4                                  Chapter 6

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.