The dealer counted out the chips as Miguel kicked his chair away in disgust, looking angry as Carlos had been. Sam was sure he had the most chips, even if it was just by a few thousand, but he sat motionless, waiting patiently to be declared the winner of the €3,400 top prize. 

Miguel strode over to Carlos, his eyes burning as if they were filled with fire. He pushed the bigger man back onto his heels, but Carlos wasn’t going anywhere, standing like a guardian of the rail, in front of Antonio and Maria. 

“You won’t get past me.”

“Again,” Miguel whispered, unable to resist the dig. Only Carlos could both hear and see him. 

“What do you mean?” said Carlos, but in his heart, he knew. 

“Just back off,” said Miguel. “You have no chance with Maria. She is in love with me.” 

“Then I am sad for her,” Carlos said, watching Miguel walk past him, linking arms with Maria on his way to the cash desk. Antonio turned and watched them leave, then flicked on his phone and sent a text. He put his phone away, satisfied that he had taken care of business. 

Sam walked over to Carlos.  

“You’re going to let him get away with talking to you like that?” 

“You think I cannot show restraint?” said Carlos as he walked with Sam to the cash desk. They both had to collect their winnings. By the time they got there, Miguel was gone. Carlos spoke as he accepted his third-place winnings. 

“I showed restraint when Felix Jackson ruined my brother’s youth. But he is a man now and so am I. A man learns when to turn away from the fight. I think you know this. I read about you, your parents, and how you started a new life.”

“I couldn’t find much information about you. I feel that of all of us, perhaps you’re the one I know the least.”

“I hope that can change in the future. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’ll be playing Antonio’s game again very soon.” 

Carlos smiled at Sam, and it held a warmth and companionship that Sam had presumed Carlos was not capable of. At the poker table, Carlos was like a bull. But in reality, he had dodged every potential fight with his compatriot Miguel. He was less a bull and more an experienced matador. He bade Sam farewell and wished him well until they met again. Carlos meant every word. 

It was as Mo re-entered the casino that Sam put the final piece of the jigsaw together. He’d just processed his result with the cash desk, collecting €3,400. He watched as Mo and Detective Garcia returned to the casino and noticed that Antonio was nowhere to be seen, but he had an idea of where Antonio might be. 

Sam walked over to the dealers who were closing the tournament, putting away the cards, chips, and generally preparing to either move to cash games or end their shifts. He approached the tournament director, who was directing the dealers in their work. 

“Could I leave a tip for the dealers with you?” Sam asked. The tournament director told him that he would be happy to divide the tip between the dealers who worked the tournament. 

“Please be sure to include the cash dealers, too,” Sam said. The tournament director offered the hint of a smile, perhaps imagining that this wouldn’t leave too much of a tip for any individual dealer. Sam handed over the €3,400 in its entirety with a smile of his own, leaving as the tournament director gathered the dealers who were shocked at what the TD said.

Garcia and Mo were waiting for Sam when he arrived at the exit. 

“That was a nice thing you just did.” 

“It was the right thing. They work hard.” 

“So do you, Mr. Houston. You had a nice chat with Carlos there.” 

“A familial connection. But he is not our killer.” 

“But he revealed himself, did he?” 

“I believe he has, but nothing concrete. I will let you have him, I just want a few more minutes.” 

“Then you can have them, Mr. Houston.”

“He’s called NASA,” said Mo, with a smile. 

“That was what did it, for me,” Sam said. “A second name for the same person. You were all told when I entered the room that was my nickname. But it wasn’t until I read the article about your business deal, Mo. I read up a little more about each company, too. There was nothing wrong with the deal at all. It should have gone through.” 

Mo nodded. The failure of the business deal had cost him his job, but he did not seem upset about that. Sam continued. 

“There was something more that happened on that business trip. If it wasn’t the deal, but it was something and I figured it out. It wasn’t the report itself, or even the headline. It was the writer. Michael Smith. He wasn’t a regular reporter for the outlet he wrote for, so where did he come from? I started looking into him and found out what was Spanish for Michael Smith. When someone tries to hide their identity, it is for a reason, usually a very big reason.” 

“A familial connection,” said Garcia, handing Sam a card with his number on it. 

“Call me when you have what we need. I’ll be anticipating no problems, Mr. Houston.”

Sam left the casino. It was obvious where Antonio was heading, but there was no rush to catch up with him. Sam headed instead for his favorite place in Barcelona. 

The Sagrada Família. 

He saw them sitting just outside the small white-walled building. It had a brown roof that wrapped around the southwest corner of the gigantic sculpture. Sofia was sitting with her legs tucked into her body, wearing her oversized jacket, hands dug into her pockets against an odd chill that had descended on the Catalan city.

She was facing the two of them, Miguel and Maria. Maria was clasping both her hands over the top of Miguels’. 

“We are in love. We want to leave this city, find our own path into the world,” she was saying as Sam strode up and sat down next to Sofia. 

“I think there’s a good reason that can’t happen,” he said. 

Miguel was quieter than he had been in the casino. He had not expected anyone to follow him out of the venue except Carlos. 

“Why do you say that?” he said angrily in Sam’s direction. But it was Sofia who spoke. 

“What did you plan on doing with the profits?”

“From my game? I will win much more than a few thousand Euros at poker,” said Miguel. Even under the gun, he was still raising the bet. 

“I was not talking to you, Miguel,” said Sofia. “Maria, you could make millions, but it is not right to achieve it this way. I know that you are not only a student of art, but an artist yourself. You might as well admit it.” 

Maria looked from Sofia to Sam and saw that they were both staring her down. Calling her bluff. 

“OK, I admit it, is that what you want? I did a bad thing. I took advantage of a situation. But I hated heem!” 

“You’re talking about Antonio, Maria, I know that. But he’s not a cruel man. He’s a braggart and has no humility, but did he deserve to have his artwork stolen?”

“I replaced it – he will miss nothing. It is in the table.”

“That much we’d figured out,” said Sam. 

Sofia took over. 

“I found the artwork that same night. A bunch of high stakes players and you figured four of them would not see the artwork hidden into the leaves of that table? I dare say you found the man who designed the table for Antonio.”

A guilty look flashed across Maria’s reddening features. 

“But he was more clever than you thought. When I retrieved the artwork, I thought it was the original. I rolled it up and hid it here, in my hairpin.”

The cylindrical hair motif was removed from Sofia’s hair and she showed the young artist where she had hidden it. 

“There was only one problem – I told him it was a fake!”

“How did you know? I did a good job, no?” 

“Your copy was perfect,” Sofia said, removing the artwork from her hairpin. “But it was the paper. The type, thickness, color, it was all perfect. Any art shop could have helped you get that right. But the original had one key difference. You have it with you, I take it?”

Maria went to deny it, but her poker face was not nearly as good as the two people reading it. She bowed her head, then removed it from her pocket, laying out the artwork side by side with the fake which Sofia had produced. Miguel had gone very quiet on the other side of Maria. Sam wondered if he was considering running. 

The two drawings looked identical. But while the original was drawn onto a piece of paper and folded at the time of its creation by the artist, Maria had forgotten to fold her own, having faithfully recreated the drawing onto a perfectly flat piece of paper. 

She saw exactly where she had gone wrong. It was at that moment that Sam spoke. 

“You might get years in jail for this. But it’s not as bad as the murder of Felix Jackson, is it Miguel Ramos… or should I say Miguel Hererra?” 

It was at that moment that Miguel lunged at Sam. Sofia protected the artwork from the two men as Sam was sent sprawling onto the concrete. Miguel produced a blade and held it over the American’s face.

“I killed him, yes! I ran past Maria and I stabbed him. I am glad! You know why, do you?”

“I certainly do… Michael Smith. It was a bit egotistical of you to leave your mark on that business report by translating your Spanish name into its English version. I live in London now and the differences between my native American English and British English are many. Felix Jackson was your father.”

“When I told him, he wanted nothing to do with me. He told me that as far as he was concerned, my mother was a Spanish whore. He told me to get lost and go back to Spain. So I did – to plot my revenge. Now maybe I must–”

But Sam was far too quick for the ponderous Miguel, knocking the knife out of his hand and pinning him to the floor. Maria picked up the knife, turning it over in her hands. Dreams of fleeing the city with the man she loved and millions of euros had just evaporated into the air. Sam threw Miguel towards Maria, and he landed on her, spent, his anger blunted by the effect his words of confession had on her.

“I cannot believe you killed a man,” She said, her hand shaking as Sofia held out the drawing to her. 

“But this is…” Maria said, looking down at the artwork. 

Sofia smiled. The drawing had four light folds in it.

“It should take you far. How far might be down to how well you can negotiate. But you will travel alone. Right, Sam?”

Sam nodded. He’d sent the text when he arrived on the corner and Detective Garcia had moved in with heavy back-up. Miguel stood up, but he could see that he was surrounded. With nowhere to go and no way of running, he cast a pathetic figure, his feet stoic. Miguel’s body seemed to shrink in stature as if the hard ground had turned into quicksand. 

 Maria got up and walked in the direction of the nearest policeman to give a statement, unable to watch as Miguel was placed in handcuffs. 

After speaking with both Detective Garcia and Mo, Sam and Sofia were allowed to walk away, heading in the direction of the hotel. As they arrived, Sofia slowed down. 

“You know I can’t stay tonight, Sammy,” she said. 

“You won’t?” 

“I need to return to Bulgaria, but then I must play in Prague. Not only for myself, but for a friend.”

“A good friend?” Sam asked. He’d known this was always likely, but it still stung. Half of his heart was already on the plane back to London. But the other half wanted Sofia to stay. 

“Never as good as you, Sammy.” Sofia said, producing a small item from her left oversized pocket. It was a travel iron and it was still quite hot. Sam cast his mind back to the corner of the Sagrada Família. 

The fight between him and Miguel had been the perfect distraction. Sofia had ironed four creases into the drawing to convince Maria that it was the original. 

Sofia produced the real Picasso drawing from her other pocket and neatly rolled it into her hairpin. 

“I must take this to Antonio. That’s why I bust early. I need to go to your hotel room for this. I’m sorry, Sammy. But next time we meet…” 

Sam smiled at the ingenuity of it. After all that, she’d still wanted to keep the game going. Antonio would welcome them all again… although maybe after hiring new staff.

Sam watched Sofia go, but only for a few seconds. He had a hotel room to pack, a flight to book, and a plane to catch. 

As he eventually took off from Barcelona, leaving behind the drama and the denouement, he thought a lot about family. His own, Miguel’s fractured parentage, and Carlos’ love for his brother. The Sagrada Família had many architectural points, and they all pointed to the sky. 

As the plane rose into the clouds, one thought outweighed them all in Sam’s mind. 

Just how much could you get for a fake Picasso drawing that looked


to the real thing?

Chapter 9                                  Dead by the River – Chapter 1

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.