‘What are you doing here?’ Sofia asked Peter Serf over the din of the music. The nightclub was at its most raucous, the midnight hour aglow with neon lights that seemed to be amplified by the reflections from the mirrored walls. Loud dance music thumped from the speakers that were dotted around the dance floor. 

‘I came here to find you,’ said Serf. He handed Sofia a drink and they sat down next to Saskia. 

‘I already bought you a drink.’ Said Saskia. 

‘Give it to Dimitar; I’m sure he’ll need one.’ 

‘What do you mean?’ 

‘I need to speak with this man, Saskia.’ Said Sofia, just loud enough for Saskia alone to hear. ‘Just let me. He may have information about what happened to Georgi.’ 

Saskia called Dimitar, and he came over from the other side of the bar, Elena trailing in his footsteps as if trying to lay her feet over them like shadowed heartbeats. He offered her the chair and she took it. Dimitar stood at the table. 

‘I bought you a drink.’ Said Saskia.

‘Thanks, but you didn’t need to.’ 

‘Maybe she did,’ said Sofia. ‘Everything should go through the books.’ 

‘What is wrong with the books?’ asked Dimitar, his face a picture of creases. Elena patted his hand. 

‘I’m sure nothing is wrong. Sofia cannot be right about everything. Accountant, poker player, what is she?’ 

‘More than a dancer,’ said Sofia in direct response. ‘But my brother always liked you. Did he love you? Or maybe you loved him and it was a crime of passion.’

‘I would never harm Georgi!’ said Elena, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. ‘How dare you say such a thing. Why don’t you leave? You were always getting on a plane. Maybe he felt lonely.’

‘But not with you?’ said Sofia, biting her lip so hard it almost bled. If she lost her temper, she would miss out on information. Her poker-playing instincts kicked in. Sometimes staying quiet was the best way of getting as much out of your opponent as possible. Elena felt like her opponent. 

‘Do you mind if we go somewhere quieter?’ Serf asked. Sofia mostly read his lips as another deafening dance hit burst into life.  

‘Where do you suggest?’ she shouted back. 

‘My place?’ he said. There was something in his eye, a hint of secrecy about his question. Sofia was attracted to him. She’d always found an older man who held it all together so much more attractive than a man her own age who seemed to be flying by the seat of his pants. There was something intrinsically calm about Peter Serf. She wondered why that was. 

Two minutes later, she was in a taxi bound for his house. She’d told Saskia to stay and enjoy being with Dimitar and Elena. Saskia didn’t look too pleased, but Sofia would make it up to her; she made a mental note to get her hair cut the next day to do as much. She would eat better knowing that she hadn’t let down someone else who was struggling. 

Hairdressers made little to no profit, it was just enough for Saskia to survive, but Elena was content to dance her way into Georgi’s affections. Was her brother really so easily led? Sofia wondered what made him so taken with Elena apart from her obvious physical attributes. She thought Georgi went deeper than that, that he would be more inclined to go steady with a girl like Saskia, someone who knew that hard work didn’t always equal instant financial rewards.

The taxi ground to a halt outside Peters Serf’s fashionable city center townhouse. Three stories high and three windows wide, the property was one of several in the center of Sofia that belonged to the city’s elite. A spectacular view of the glittering buildings lit the roads and paths with what seemed an ethereal glow as Sofia accepted Peter’s hand at the door of the cab. She climbed out of the cab, brushing her fingers against his shoulder as she stood, a frisson of electricity darting across her palm.

Peter Serf unlocked his townhouse and ushered Sofia inside. The hallway was dark, but as soon as the door was shut behind him, Peter flicked on the lights and the house was illuminated in a bright glare. He took Sofia’s coat and led her into the drawing room. This was more tastefully lit, soft lamps dotting the room and the smell of musk heavier than it felt in the taxi. 

On a writers’ bureau in the far corner, there sat a number of piles of poker chips. ‘This is a beautiful room.’ Sofia said, walking inside. The large room felt more like it belonged to a library than a residential abode. Books lined every wall except the doorway through which Sofia had entered. 

Sofia watched Peter Serf close the door, then approach her. There was something safe about Serf, despite his loping gait more similar to that of a predator rather than a hunted man. If he was in any way guilty of anything, he hid it enormously well. 

‘Why did you bring me here?’ Sofia asked. ‘I know why I came – I want to know why you were at my father’s house. But you wanted me here.’

‘Isn’t that obvious?’ asked Serf, stepping into the shadow cast by Sofia under the chandelier a foot from the top of her hair. She could smell his scent, the musky heat coming off him. At that moment, it would have been easy to relent from her mission, to cave to easy love and deferred consequences. But her instincts were that Serf was playing her. 

‘You don’t want me.’ She said. 

‘Sure I do. You’re here, aren’t you?’ 

‘You think you do, but you don’t.’ 

‘Because you’re younger than me?’

‘Not at all. I’m attracted to older men.’ She said, her breath nearer his mouth. She watched his lips twitch. ‘I’m attracted to you.’

‘Then it’s mutual.’ 

‘Something is holding you back. I feel like you know something about my brother.’ 

‘That’s all you came for.’

‘It’s all I’m living for.’ She said, stepping back a little. Suddenly, the closeness of his body felt different. The look on his face had changed. The shadows that flicked his cheekbones had seemed to darken. From somewhere, Sofia heard a light squeak, like a badly oiled window being opened and closed. 

Reek, reek. 

‘We don’t have to do a thing except enjoy each other’s company.’ Serf said, his small teeth peeking from beneath his lips at Sofia. She felt the backs of her legs hit the sofa and realized she’d been walking backward, away from him.

Reek, reek.

The door seemed a long way away. Could she get to it without him stopping her? She was nimble and considerably younger than him. Quicker off the mark, surely. But he was tall, strong, and lithe. There wasn’t a chance. 

Reek, reek.

The sound was getting louder, now. Closer. Sofia swallowed, her throat dry, the scratch of air coming through. Breathing intentionally in ragged, short gasps, that she tried to take quietly in order to fool him that she wasn’t scared. 

Then the door opened. 

The squeaking was coming from the small left-hand wheel of a wheelchair, and it continued to squeak as Peter Serf’s wife entered the room. 

‘Peter, it’s gloomy in here. We’re not living in a Noel Coward biography. Put the bloody light on.’ 

Serf nipped to the wall, flicking the light switch. The room was bathed in bright light that didn’t suit the bookcases or the still-lit lamps. Peter Serf seemed to shrink visibly as if lowering himself from standing on tiptoes.  

‘What’s going on?’ Said Sofia, mad at having felt as uncomfortable as she did a few seconds earlier. There was still gooseflesh on her forearms and her throat was dry. 

‘The same thing that usually happens when Peter meets someone he likes. He brings them home.’

‘Are you both…?’

‘This is a one-way street,’ said Mrs. Serf, holding up her hands. The Wheelchair was now static and looked out of time, sat as it was in the middle of a carpet whose dark green color and thick depth made the room itself feel like an antique. ‘My husband has the right to attract anyone he likes… once.’

‘My wife slept with your brother, Georgi.’ Said Peter, no longer standing on ceremony. He sat down into one of the armchairs, crumpled and defeated. ‘It was before her accident. The crash.’

‘I lost all feeling below the base of my spine in an automobile accident.’ said Mrs Serf. ‘Perhaps that was a neat punishment for what I did. Swerved to avoid a motorcycle and bit the central reservation. I awoke in the hospital, only to find my lower half still asleep.’

The air inside the room felt stuffy to Sofia. She was breathing easier, the fear had melted away. But she still wanted to get out as soon as she could. 

‘I used to visit the nightclub where your brother works,’ Mrs Serf continued. ‘Only a couple of times, and we never met to speak. Then one night I went there late and he spirited me away. It was only supposed to be a drink. We went to a rival bar, looked at how they set up, compared notes. It was wrong and I regret it to this day, but we slept together. It only happened the once. And now it will never happen again.’ 

Peter and Sofia exchanged a look. The mahogany bookshelves seemed to close in a little. 

‘My brother Georgi is dead, Mrs Serf.’ Said Sofia. Mrs. Serf looked around at her husband, who quietly nodded. 

‘Was he…?’

‘Murdered?’ Sofia answered, not caring if it was the question. ‘Yes. He was. And Mrs Serf, I intend to find out who did it.’

‘Did you know about this, Peter?’ 

When her husband spoke, it was barely above a whisper. 

‘I wanted you to feel how I did, betrayed, abandoned, like the world had fallen from beneath my feet. The night you told me about your affair…’

‘It wasn’t an affair!’ Mrs. Serf snapped. ‘It was one night. A night I regret.’ 

‘One night, then. I was determined to make you feel how I did. But then you were injured and I couldn’t switch off how I felt about you. How I feel. I love you…’

‘And this is how you show me? By bringing home a different girl each week, to make me feel smaller than I already do?’ Mrs. Serf span in her chair and squeaked towards the door. ‘I suggest you help this young lady find out who killed her brother. I never saw him after that night and I’m not exactly upwardly mobile, so if you think it was me, you couldn’t be more wrong. But someone evidently did.’

Peter had risen off the sofa and was playing with the poker chips from the desk in his hand. 

‘Leave my poker chips alone.’ Said his wife. Sofia meant to leave, but she saw that Peter wanted to say something. 

‘Look, it may be nothing, but I do have a little information about your brother. Well, maybe.’

‘So what is it?’ 

‘I saw his friend Dimitar and that Elena girl, walking. I spent some weeks waiting for Georgi to leave the nightclub. He didn’t often. Only to your father’s poker game and speaking to him there…’

‘Confronting him, you mean?’ Mrs. Serf said, spinning her wheelchair around to face the door. Peter continued unabated. 

‘They left, looking like co-conspirators – speaking in low voices, hurrying away. I followed them, and they went to the mountains on the border of the Iskar River. They walked, they talked. Nothing else happened and they didn’t see me. But it was where Georgi might have been before he died. I read that they found his body near the mountain where I saw Dimitar and Elena. 

Sofia thanked Peter and his wife and then left. Her head was spinning with this new information. Did Elena know that Georgi was sleeping with Mrs. Serf? Maybe Georgi’s death was a crime of passion. Could Peter Serf really be believed? Maybe he was responsible for the murder after finding out his wife was sleeping with the younger man. Who fired that gun at the Angelov mansion? Sofia had more questions than answers. She needed to talk to a friend, which meant one thing. 

She was going to get her hair cut.

Chapter 6                                  Chapter 8

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.