Carlos remained on his feet, but the three policemen moving in his direction took the wind out of his sails. Everyone was watching to see where they would end up. As it happened, they weren’t bound for Carlos, but veered right to Sam’s table. They walked past Sam arriving at the table where Mo and Sofia were sitting, and Detective Garcia reached towards the former with the handcuffs. 

“Mohammed Soliman, you are under arrest for the murder of Felix Jackson.” Detective Garcia said some other words, but Sam hardly heard any of them. He looked around the room, at Carlos who smiled and sat down to continue playing, at Sofia who looked surprised that Mo was being taken away, and at Maria, who wore an expression of repressed pleasure. Sam couldn’t help feeling like he was missing some obvious tell that was right in front of him.

As the police took Mo away, he looked back at Sam. He shook his head as if to tell Sam he didn’t do it. Was Garcia getting him out of there only to be released? Would they be speaking about a deal? Either way, Garcia left his chips on the felt and escorted Mo from the table at Casino Barcelona. 

Sam looked back at the target of Carlos’ rage. The accused cheater was Miguel, the security guard who had checked Sam’s details when he arrived at Antonio’s. Sam was surprised he was playing, but even more so that he might be cheating. What on Earth was Miguel doing here playing in a poker tournament? 

The tournament proceeded in Mo’s absence. Poker players were never going to willingly relinquish their cards for something as trivial as a murder investigation. 

“Will they cancel the tournament?” Maria whispered to Sam at their table. 

“No chance. There was a shooting in Texas a few months ago. Players dropped to the floor, but a couple of minutes later, they were playing the next hand. Some of them didn’t even let go of their hole cards.”

Sam was comfortable playing with Maria to his left, but she took no prisoners and was clearly a talented player. His mind drifted and he wondered why she bothered waitressing when she could easily have made the same money playing live poker or online cash games. 

As the tournament field shrank, Sofia was ramping up the pressure on her table. By the time the event was down to just three tables, the Bulgarian heiress had the chip lead. Sam looked over at her as she stroked her hair wistfully and played with the chips at the front of her chip mountain. 

By the next break, only two tables remained. The tournament organizers were doing a redraw when Sam left the others, who were chatting about Mo, and headed to the cash desk. 

“Are we in the money now?” he asked the man who had been handing out chips and paying out winners all evening. 

“In the tournament?” he asked politely. 

“Yes, the main tournament. I think we are, but I just wanted to make sure,” Sam said, leaning a little over the desk in what he hoped looked like a friendly manner. The man brought up the list to check the money places.

“Yes, sir, there are 16 players left. 18 people are paid; well done. Are you still in the tournament?”

“Yeah, I’m loving it,” said Sam. The man smiled and wished him good luck. 

“What table do I go back to?” Sam asked naively. 

The man frowned at the screen, but it was obviously still being updated. Sam hoped he’d timed it right and was pleased when the man’s reaction changed. Casino Barcelona operated a fairly sophisticated system whereby another tournament organizer could change the make-up of the prize pool, add entries, or redraw tables on a connected computer, and the list would appear on them all. Sam wanted to find out about one player, so needed to see both tables of eight players. 

“What is your name? It just came through,” said the man. 

“Sam Houston. They call me NASA.”

The man resisted openly laughing at Sam. 

“You’re on table fourteen, sir. Good luck. Hope I see you win.” 

“Me too, buddy,” said Sam, looking at the table layout on the screen. He was at the same table as Antonio and Carlos in the redraw. Maria and Sofia shared the same table. But the player Sam was really interested in was Miguel. He looked down the list and didn’t see his name – Miguel Ramos wasn’t there. There was only one player with an initial of an ‘M’ – that was M. Herrera. 

When you played in a live casino, you had to do so under your given name, and Casino Barcelona did everything properly. Sam wondered why Miguel Herrera had changed his public name to Ramos. He wouldn’t get an immediate chance to find out, as Miguel was sat at the same table as Sofia and Maria. Sam headed to table 14 and settled in the seat immediately to the left of Carlos. 

Antonio appeared a different man compared to the ashen-faced person when he noticed his beloved drawing was missing. Suddenly, with Mo having been arrested, the weight of the world that seemed to land on him when the painting had gone missing was no longer a burden. But his drawing is still missing, thought Sam. 

With only two tables left, the remaining hopefuls were closer together. Play became more intimate, as it does before a final table. Everyone wants to make the final table, whether it’s the WSOP Main Event or a €100-entry nightly casino tournament like this.. No one wanted to miss out at Casino Barcelona. 

They played on, battling toward the final eight players. Sam knew he was in a difficult position between Antonio and Carlos, but it was Miguel he was watching. Or rather, M. Herrera in seat 9. Antonio was in seat 1 to the left of the dealer, before Sam and Carlos. 

Early in the action, Antonio raised it up from under the gun, the first position to act. Sam re-raised from the next seat with king-ten of hearts, and Carlos came along for the ride. Everyone else folded around to Miguel who called from the big blind. The flop came with a queen, a jack, and a deuce, two of which were hearts. Antonio checked and Sam followed suit. He knew that Carlos would not be able to resist putting pressure on the one with whom he had a grievance – Miguel, who had just recently accused Carlos of murder.

Miguel, however, folded. He didn’t even think about calling. Sam saw this not as a weakness but as a protective move; he didn’t want to get in a big pot with Carlos heads-up. This, Sam surmised, was more about what might be said between them. Miguel had closed up. 

“You don’t want to play, now?” snapped Carlos to Miguel. 

“Not with you, killer.”

“I didn’t kill that man, but I could kill you. Just raise me.” 

Miguel tossed his cards away with a smile. 

“You hated that American. He ruined your brother’s life, you said.”

“When did I say that to you?”

“Not to me. But you said it.”

That was Miguel’s last word on the matter, and while Carlos looked like he was attempting to bore holes into Miguel’s head purely by using his eyes, Antonio moved all in. Sam made a quick call with the draw to both a straight and a flush. Carlos got out of the way, and on the river, Sam made his flush. He shook Antonio’s hand warmly and the two embraced. As they hugged, Sam quickly whispered, “Antonio, don’t go. Something is going on in this room and I need you to be my eyes away from the table. It might help you find your Picasso.”

Antonio smiled at Sam and nodded as they broke the hug. Antonio shook Carlos’ hand and warned him off getting too angry or upset. 

Antonio went to stand on the rail and ordered a drink. Miguel was moved to balance the tables and was transferred to Maria’s left at the other table. Sam tried to engage Carlos in conversation, but he resisted. Around 20 minutes had passed when Sam received a text from Sofia at the other table.

Sam had suspected Miguel was crooked. He was moonlighting as a security guard while clearly in a relationship with Maria. Why else would he have run past her into the room if not to protect her? But this was something else. There must be a reason he was keeping her in the game. Sam just couldn’t work out what it was.

“Carlos, talk to me,” said Sam, placing his hand on the other man’s bicep. “I know you hate Miguel. He has accused you of murdering Felix, but I don’t believe him.”

“Why not? I had every reason to kill him. Miguel is right, I hated that man. I cannot even speak his name. My brother didn’t just give up on poker. He nearly gave up on life. I would be lying if I said that I was sad he is dead. I am happy he is gone. The man was poison, you understand?” 

Sam was starting to understand more and more, but Mo was still the man who had been arrested. 

“Mo’s currently in the police station. You think he’ll be released?” 

“Of course he will,” said Carlos, raising yet again. He was starting to run over everyone at the table except Sam. “He is not to blame for the murder. They have been after the wrong man. I spoke to Mohammed. I read about his disagreement with Felix Jackson. It was business. You do not kill for this reason. But I did not kill him.”

Sam took Carlos at his word, but he wasn’t so sure.

A few minutes later, after a succession of eliminations, Carlos and Sam made the final table of eight. Carlos had the chip lead, but Sam wasn’t far behind. Miguel, Maria, and Sofia all survived from the other table, though the Bulgarian heiress was now short-stacked. 

Antonio watched it all with the oddest smile on his face, like there was a lot more on the line than a couple of thousand Euros.

Chapter 7                                  Chapter 9

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.