The last eight players assembled at Casino Barcelona for the final table. The evening had been a bust at the felt for Antonio, but Sam’s words had kept him on the rail with a drink in hand. The host of last night’s private game watched the drama unfold while a curious smile played on his lips.
The action was fast from the start, dictated mainly by the blinds. After Mohammed had been led away by the police, the atmosphere had become even more intense. This had the consequence of slowing down the action temporarily, but all that did in a poker tournament was delay the inevitable; eventually, the blinds caught up with everybody except the winner.
Sam was now at the same table as the aggressive Carlos, the beguiling Sofia, the waitress, Maria, and the mysterious Miguel. Sam had his work cut out for him both to remain in contention for the top prize of €3,400 and to establish the truth behind the murder of Felix Jackson.
Sofia, the short stack at the final table, was to be the first player to leave.
She moved all-in preflop with a pair of tens and was called by Miguel holding pocket queens.
“The ladies have it,” Sofia said with a shrug. After the board ran out with a nine high, she wrinkled her nose in a way that showed Sam she was annoyed. The dealer washed the cards, sweeping his hands over them to get them ready for the next dealer, Sam got up to commiserate with Sofia.
“It’s OK, Sammy. I was short-stacked. But I’m telling you that he’s dumping chips to his girlfriend,” she said, a whisper low enough to be heard only by Sam after they retired to a quiet area on the rail. Sam would miss the next hand if he didn’t return to his seat quickly.
“Thanks for letting me know,” he said, squeezing her shoulder.
“Sammy, not here,” rebuked Sofia. “But back at the room. Maybe I can let myself in?”
Sofia’s smile was hard to resist, and it wasn’t like there was anything in his room he couldn’t replace – a travel kit and a washbag weren’t exactly worth millions. Sam figured what was the harm?
The game went on and pretty soon, the action was down to four. Out in fifth was Maria the waitress. No matter how much Miguel tried to help her, the combination of Carlos’ aggression and Sam’s reluctance to allow Miguel and Maria to be in a pre-flop heads-up situation meant she ran short. All-in with ace-king, she was dubiously called by Miguel holding ace-five. A five on the flop and again on the turn reduced the field to four. Maria went over to the rail and sat with Antonio, who looked happier than he’d looked even hosting his private game the night before.
“You were unlucky, I think. You were ahead of your boyfriend with ace-king.”
“I got unlucky, it’s true. Miguel is a better player than me. He always is.”
“He has worked for me for longer than you. I think he loves you so much he wanted you to win.”
“You don’t know Miguel. He always wants to win. It is an obsession with him. I once told him it didn’t matter if he lost a game he was playing online. He looked at me like I was mad.”
“I think this is why he applied for the job. He likes to play, to watch us play, to learn. Be a high roller, if only in the background, in his imagination.”
Maria looked at him as if he was describing her. Suddenly, she felt very exposed, like Antonio was looking into her soul.
* * *
At the police station, Mohammed Soliman wasn’t in a cell or a holding room. He was in an interview room at the back of the station. Inside, the camera wasn’t recording and there was no audiotape running. Detective Garcia was present, sitting opposite Mo who sat pensively on one side of the steel table, fingers steepled together in concentration. He was listening to Garcia as he spoke.
“It was a fine plan, Mr. Soliman, but without any evidence, I cannot be sure that it is him.”
“He’s violent, aggressive and he has a familial reason to have wanted Felix Jackson dead.”
“But everything you have is hearsay. It is your word. I cannot make a case for the prosecution on that basis. I wanted a confession but that wasn’t enough back at the casino.”
“You’ll get one, I promise. He will reveal himself in plain sight. Just get us back to the casino.”
“I took you at your word that your business dealing was a professional grievance not a personal one. But he cost you your job.”
“I will find another. I have a few million in bank accounts worldwide. And it would be against my religion to kill.”
“That does not mean you didn’t do it. You had the opportunity.”
“We all did!” shouted Mo, no longer calm about the situation. Unhappy with being accused, he stood in the small room, his arms outstretched, his tendons visible from the tension. Detective Garcia stood up slowly and led Mo toward the door.
“Then let us return to the casino. But we play things my way. We don’t leave things to chance, like in poker.”
Carlos’ face was reddening with every card. His flush had come in on the turn, but all-in, Miguel had called with two pair and there was still one card to come. Sam watched as impassively as he could while Carlos fought to double up. There was no love lost between him and Miguel.
Maria went forward to the rail, supporting Miguel. Carlos glared at her. Antonio reached into his pocket to make a call.
The dealer burned one and dealt the river. Miguel hit the boat and Carlos was eliminated.
“How!?” Carlos erupted. “You are unbelievable,” he shouted, almost jumping out of his seat.
Antonio dialed and was almost immediately connected.
“It’s nearly time. Have you got it?”
The answer from the other end of the line was a simple ‘yes’.
“You better get over here soon. I’ve a feeling we’re about to get our confession.”
Miguel stacked Carlos’ chips, adding them to his own pile which gave him a healthy chip lead for heads-up. And unfortunately, Sam was a little distracted. Not because he didn’t care about winning, or more importantly, the exit of Carlos in third place even with the tension that had been building between Carlos and Miguel. The distraction wasn’t even about the events from the previous night.
Sam had spent most of the last few orbits re-reading the news article about the business deal gone wrong and considering the impact it would have had on Mo. He’d taken in every word this time, something he clearly hadn’t done the first time he read it. It wasn’t so much about the words that had made it to print, but the person who had written them. There were a lot of questions that Michael Smith was going to have to answer.
Heads-up began with Miguel holding the chip lead, but Sam’s experience drew them level after a series of small pots. Both men had roughly the same number of chips when Miguel raised pre-flop with pocket queens. Sam didn’t hesitate in re-raising with ace-king of diamonds. Miguel called.
The flop came with the queen and jack of diamonds and the three of spades. Miguel continued to bet, and Sam thought about calling. He stared at the cards, trying to make it look like he was weighing up his options, but suddenly, the numbers started to mean something different to him. Three cards on the flop, two in his hand. In poker, they worked together to build a five-card hand. But there were also five suspects in the room. Sam suddenly realized, two of them had been working against the other three all along.
And he knew which two.
“I’m all-in,” said Sam.
“I call!” yelled Miguel, turning over his pair of queens showing top set.
Sam knew then that he was a 2:1 dog in the hand. Two times out of three, Miguel would win and even if Sam had more chips, it was by so insignificant an amount that this would be the decisive hand of the tournament.
“This man cannot win!” shouted Carlos, raging his way to the edge of the rail and leaning over the barrier, jabbing his finger in the direction of Miguel.
“What because I know you killed Felix Jackson?” Miguel spat.
The inconsequential eight of clubs landed on the turn. Only one card to come and Sam had slightly better than a 20% chance of overtaking Miguel.
The anger that had been bubbling inside Carlos was on the brink of boiling over and it wasn’t pretty. The dealer looked nervously at the two men contesting the hand.
Sam stood up, looking over at Antonio, glancing over at the cards, waiting to see if the tournament was over.
Then the dealer burned one and flipped the river card.
“I swear to God, I will kill the winner of this hand,” snarled Carlos, his eyes almost blood-red.
It was the ten of diamonds.
Sam had hit a Royal Flush.
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.