Drawing Dead – Chapter 4

“Let’s go over what happened one more time, just so we’re clear.” 

It was three in the morning and Sam was exhausted. He’d slept well into the evening before heading to the poker game, preparing for a night where sleep would need to be staved off as he battled to win millions. In Antonio’s dining room, surrounded by five poker players doing the same thing, he was full of energy. In the early hours of the morning, trapped in the central Barcelona police station, he couldn’t have been more exhausted. 

“I’ve told you everything. Twice.” grumbled Sam, his patience wearing thin.

“And we listened, but what you say happened is not exactly what the other players say happened. So, Mr. Houston. We need to know the full picture. It’s like a good drawing, take out even two or three strokes of the pencil and it looks very different. Imagine if Mona Lisa had been given a smile.”

The Spanish detective in charge of the case was a walking, talking embodiment of every cliché Sam had ever assumed about a chief investigator in a murder case; slicked-back hair, oily skin, and a sly grin reminiscent of a resting snake. He also had an annoying habit of slowing down the end of each question, making it sound like Sam was interrupting him on the interview recording. Listening carefully to each answer, Detective Garcia sought any hint of mistruth or anomaly in the story, waiting for a chance to pounce. 

Sam could have woven a tapestry with his point-by-point breakdown of exactly what happened and Detective Garcia would have pulled it all apart, tugging on the one loose thread, had there been one. 

Sam retold the entire story as Detective Garcia listened, his right hand on his chin. His deputy, Detective Lopez, made notes like a court stenographer. Maybe that’s where this would end up, Sam thought, a court case, with him, along with the other players, up on a murder charge, accused of killing Felix Jackson in cold blood. 

It was a nightmare and nothing he said seemed to dispel Garcia’s suspicions. As far as the detective was concerned, everyone in the room had a reason to kill Felix and steal the Picasso drawing – or rather, six million reasons. Garcia had explained to Sam that the value of the artwork was a strong motive for all of the poker players in the room. 

“It is worth at least double what anyone in the room believed, Mr. Houston,” Garcia had stated when Sam told him that Antonio only paid $3.2 million for it at auction. “Maybe someone knew exactly how much it was worth. It was independently valued at $6.1 million U.S. dollars. That’s what you would be able to sell it for on the open market. And Mr. Houston, you know the art world quite well, according to your background check.” 

Sam recognized the line of questioning Garcia was taking. As soon as Antonio called the police, Sam knew that among the five suspects, he would be identified as the one most likely to know the actual value of the artwork. Sam was still curious as to how Antonio managed to buy it at a cut price of $3.2 million.

“It was pure speculation,” said Sam. “We didn’t know it would be worth any more in the future. It was a nice drawing, sure, but I didn’t have any designs on it. I didn’t think anyone thought much of it other than Antonio. He was proud of it.” 

Garcia’s smile spread a little closer to his ear as Sam spoke. 

“I’m sure he was proud. Maybe he worked the whole thing with you. Took care of the only impartial witness and you all got your stories straight and you split $3 million six ways. Sorry, five ways.” 

“Look, I don’t want to cast any accusations against any of the other players. But while there are clearly five suspects, I can tell you that you’re wasting your time with me, I had nothing to do with it.”

“You are wrong, I think,” said the Spanish detective. He was a short man; Sam noticed when the detective stood up and mopped his brow. He couldn’t have been more than 40 with a hairline that was quickly retreating to the back of his head, but already the stocky man looked like a walking advert for Mcdonald’s. “There are not five suspects, but eight, Mr. Houston.”

“Eight? I don’t understand.”

“The two security guards on the gate, one of whom, Miguel Ramos, locked the door behind you as you went up to the penthouse and the other, Luis Hernandez, remained outside in the building next to the locked gate. There is also the waitress, Maria Rodriguez, who was in the other room at the time of the murder, but spoke to you all. She resides at the property.” 

A live-in maid, perhaps, thought Sam absently. He took in a breath, the air sinking down into his lungs, coming back out in a ragged, staccato fashion. Garcia had said at the time of the murder.’ Sam was still processing the meaning of those words. It was one thing to be in the room with a dead body – he’d said goodbye to both his parents as they lay in open caskets back in New York – but to be in the room when a human life was snuffed out was something else. There one minute and the next just a collection of memories that would fade, a useless body waiting to be cut up during an autopsy, then buried or burned. He felt sick to his stomach.

“It is late, Mr. Houston. Your story needs to be investigated. Let us not lose focus. You played the game and were winning money from Mr. Jackson, when Mister…” the detective checked his notes, “… Molina showed you his art.” 

“If that’s Antonio, then yes. I took one look then sat down to play. The next time I rose, it was missing.”

“You were the last person to see the artwork?” asked Garcia, one eyebrow arching in the futile direction of his hairline.

They went through it all again. Sam’s arrival, taking his seat in the game, playing, winning, the discovery of each of the two separate crimes. They trod the same footsteps as they already had twice since midnight, every interaction and every word that he could remember exchanging with each of the players. It was monotonous, repetitive, and draining. Sam considered them friends when he sat down at the poker table, but the process of a police interview had reduced them to acquaintances. It was natural. He knew one of them was a murderer.

Sam was taken to the police cells. He was told that he would be needed for further questioning soon, but Sam knew enough to assume that “soon” would be some time from now. If Garcia was as single-minded as he seemed, he would interview each of the suspects personally. After Antonio – or rather Mr. Molina – Sam thought they’d started with him. It would make sense. He was the last person to see the drawing… other than Antonio. 

Sam would be alone for a while, so he decided to get some sleep. The mattress was paper-thin and the single pillow was not much thicker than a folded sweatshirt, all standard for a Spanish police cell and quite a bit different than his hotel penthouse suite. Any sleep he could get would not be good, but something told him he would need the rest. 

As exhausted as he was; however, sleep just wouldn’t come. He lay in the bed, as still as he could, slowing his breathing down while staring up at the gray ceiling. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t switch off his mind. A man was dead and Sam had been inches away from where it happened. Inches from the sharp end of the steel blade that ended the life of his fellow American. Why was Felix killed? It was like taking out a person who owes you money – he was the whale in the game. Or was he? 

Sam tried to imagine what the next few hours would entail. Each suspect would be spoken to at length. Sam had been detained by Garcia and his guard dogs for around two hours, approximately the same length of time they’d been playing poker at Antonio’s. Yet as the time passed, their durations felt very different. The time at the poker table had passed like a dream, a series of flickering images in fast-forward. By comparison, the last two hours felt more like half a day: the questions, the inquisition, the subtle but insistent prods in the direction of guilt and culpability. Sam felt the pressure weighing on him. 

As his body relaxed a little, he was finally able to feel like sleep was approaching. Would they be watching him in his cell? Almost certainly. Would he be judged worse for sleeping or for staying awake? Which action made him look more guilty? In the end, he thought, what does it matter? He knew that he hadn’t committed any crime. He had been thoroughly searched for the drawing; they all had. It was still missing. And he hadn’t buried a knife in Felix Jackson’s neck. The questions continually spun around his head until sleep finally took him. 

If he hadn’t, who had?

Chapter 3                                  Chapter 5 – 3/31/23

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.