|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on October 19, 2016 at 10:35 PM|
I think over this 80 to 90% success rate in picking psychic jars, a rate that has been attributed to former Soviet psychic scientist Dmitri Dnieprovsky, who has recently been murdered while bearing the false name of Elvis Ten Moose. “Out of how many jars?”
“Just two. We started with three, five, ten. But then we concentrated on two. You figure out the math anyway. 8 out of 10 with two alternatives – less than 5% chance of getting by just guessing.” Evgenovich hears a sound and looks warily toward the customer area, waiting to be scolded by his boss.
I do it in my head more slowly and verify his math to myself. But this leaves me wondering how a baker who can carry out the binomial theorem in his head could not suspect that Dmitri could have noticed something physically distinctive about the jars.
“And you did all the controls? Exactly the same kind of jar? Random levels of water? Did you try having someone naïve to the experiment mix fake sensitive water? Did you ever give him trials with no sensitive water?”
He waves a floury hand. “We are scientists. We did all those things for the first few days. When it is clear they do not affect Dnieprovsky we drop them – more efficient.”
This sounds like an airtight, foolproof experiment with unimpeachable controls that would have taken me at least an hour to cheat in. Someone less experienced than myself might have taken two hours.
“So Dmitri was truly psychic, then? He was an Institute star?”
He laughs – his teeth are terrible. “No, he is not the focus of our researches. We had a truly promising subject – a girl from Siberia. The main interest of most of the top scientists at the Institute is this girl. But, research with her progresses slowly. Moscow, always calling for results, more results, you see? Dnieprovsky helps us with these results, but he is not focus. After initial tests, what is need to look so hard at him? He is not the focus, I am saying.”
The light is dawning in my head. I thank the Soviet, who does not offer me a complimentary baked good. Later I am in Shrine’s office, reporting to him that the Soviet angle is a loser. “Dnieprovsky did little tricks for them to pad their statistics. To hear Evgenovich, all they wanted was the beauracrats off their back so they could spend their time on a case that was more interesting. She was probably good looking.”
“You think that could be a cover story? Doing some sort of top secret mind control that the old KGB boys don’t want getting public?”
“I don’t think Evgenovich is that good an actor. He was speaking to me working stiff to working stiff – they just wanted peace from the bean counters. I suppose we could try to corroborate his story, but I doubt you want to send me to the former Soviet Union to check out the Psychic Institute.”
“No, as a matter of fact we’re already sending detectives to 42 different cities.”
Shrine says this sheepishly, as if I am his budget manager or something, and come to think of it I actually do disapprove. “What the hell for?”
“We are back onto the money in his office in all the envelopes. There were over 2000 overnight envelopes with 150 bucks in them, always 150. Each of the envelopes had a name and address in them. We contacted one of the people who sent one of the envelopes. He described some sort of a little scam where Ten Moose would realign their psychic axis or something like that. This was supposed to give the client magic powers to pick football games. This guy we called lost but was too embarrassed to squawk for a C and a half.”
“A nice little scam, but I can’t believe that out of 2000 vics, not one would whistle him for fraud.”
“Nicer even than that, Padovano. The literature that Ten Moose sent our guy claimed that less than 1% of the population has psychic powers. The installment was for testing to determine if you qualified. If you didn’t hit every game the first week, he wouldn’t even take your money. Only if you got sixteen out of sixteen games were you allowed to send in the other $850 and get your psychic lines realigned for the long haul.”
“One percent, you say?” That figure sounded like another figure that I’d have to think about. I stare at a very ugly calendar on his wall. “But why is this a theory about his death? Someone would kill him for a hundred fifty?”
“No, but maybe for a thou, and maybe it wasn’t even the money at all. We found a smaller pile, 42 envelopes, from people who did hit them all the first week and paid the extra $850. Forty-two people hit sixteen out of sixteen. Our statistician at the station tells me the chances are about a hundred thousand to one against anyone hitting sixteen out of sixteen. Ten Moose must have had some fix going. We’re talking to the 42 to see who they bet with or whatnot. Maybe somebody big took a hit and paid him back for the fix.”
So now we set off without anything much that I would call a plan to visit one of the senders of an envelope whose number also showed up on Ten Moose’s phone records. If Shrine is right and Ten Moose was manipulating the games in some fashion, I don’t see what we would learn from someone on the victim end, but this isn’t my favorite theory anyway. I do remember a case with Shrine where someone did manipulate games, but that was a matter of just a handful, not a whole week of professional football. I am more interested in the possibility that Ten Moose manipulated the victims – he may have led them to believe they were choosing freely but actually led them to pick particular games for which he had special knowledge.
Our informant is a beefy chap with a crew cut and a thousand dollar overcoat who meets us in the icy lobby of his office building, looking back at the door as if he was attached to it with a string. The first thing he reveals is that he learned of Ten Moose’s offer through an ad in a sports magazine. For the first time, I begin to experience grief at the death of my colleague. His kind of arrogance is not easily replaced.
“I knew of him through some of his stunts, so I thought it was worth a try. I tried it for the first week after the byes, and sent in my money. He was supposed to align my psychic axes and send me an e-mail that would tell me when I could go ahead and pick my teams. I was told to try not to form any impressions of the games that week until I got the go-ahead. So that’s what I did, and when I got his e-mail I picked my teams and ended up hitting every one, even the Monday night one where the Bills beat the Jets.”
“How about the Texans?” I ask, remembering the week. “They were favored by something like 17 and ended up within a field goal.”
Our informant shakes his head. “It was straight up. I had them losing.”
“And he charged you a thousand dollars for this?” asks Shrine.
“No, not exactly.” The businessman grins sheepishly, and explains what we already knew about the qualifying. “The first week was just to see if I had the potential. He explained that it was all tricky, and not everyone was psychic enough. I had to make a down payment of $150 for him to do the alignment the first week, and if I hit all the games, he would accept the rest of my payment and make it permanent.”
I ask him if he put down any money elsewhere.
“Not the week I hit 16. But I put down five hundred the next week on a pool. Of course there you have to worry about the spreads so I wasn’t sure it would work. You can guess that it didn’t matter – there were a couple of teams I picked to win that lost outright – the points weren’t the problem.”
“And did you send the rest of the thousand to Ten Moose?”
“Yeah, of course, so I was out a total of $1500 on that, not counting what I paid for the overnight mail. You’re not going to make me give up my bookie, are you?”
“Not if you lost,” Shrine replies.
I scratch my chin. “For the week you hit all the games, he gave you some hints about what games to pick?”
“Not at all. He just told me to tune into my natural psychic powers.” He steals another glance at the door.
Shrine starts to ask him where he was the night before.
“Here, until nine o’clock. We were on a conference call with Honolulu. It may even be recorded, if you want.”
Shrine hasn’t really told me the time of death but he seems reasonably happy with ten o’clock. “Do you know anyone else who was involved in this program?”
“Anyone else who subscribes to the same magazine?”
The businessman grins. “I do happen to know a couple of guys but when I saw this offer I wasn’t interested in spreading it around, do you understand? I thought I had something for myself.”
We let him get back to whatever spreadsheet is calling him and return to Shrine’s car, of which he is very vain. I am made to scrape some mud off my shoes before I can enter.
“What do you think?” Shrine asks me when we are under way. “A hundred thousand to one that someone could hit 16 out of 16. How could Ten Moose have fixed the games?”
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think a hundred thousand to one is stupid in at least two ways. For one thing, it is a hundred thousand to one against any one particular person hitting sixteen out of sixteen, not against anyone in the whole world doing it. The chances are a hundred thousand to one against any particular brat being the one hundred thousandth baby born in the world this year but somewhere in the world there is the hundred thousandth baby.”
Shrine nods. One of the nearly tolerable things about him is that he picks things up quickly so I don’t have to do a lot of explaining.
“Secondly, I think he gets that figure from assuming it’s a fifty-fifty chance that either team will win. But it’s only fifty-fifty if you’re doing the betting line. This guy said Ten Moose was doing straight up.”
Shrine pats his pockets for a mint or something. “You’re right.”
“So, straight up, the chances that the favorite will win a football game are a hell of a lot better than 50 per cent. It’s probably as high as 80%. The last week of the season, 13 of 16 games went to the team the bookies liked – they just didn’t all cover the spread. Week before it was 12 out of 16, just under 80%. You have a calculator in here?” He says no, so we pull over at the nearest gas station convenience shop to pick one up. He grabs some pastry that was packaged in the last century.
“OK, Shrine, we have to figure out what are the odds of guessing 16 of 16 games when the chances of guessing any one game are, say, 75%. All we need to do is multiply three quarters by itself sixteen times. And what I get is…1 %”
“There isn’t any fix, Shrine. All Ten Moose did was send them out to enough people that he would make money off the 1%. The forty envelopes are basically one percent of the larger envelopes. Makes it sound like there should be more of the small ones and less of the big ones, but we don’t know exactly what week he ran the scam. The Law of Averages only works on average, anyway.”
Shrine snorts. “Well, thanks for the math lesson. We’re basically where I came without all the calculus. Someone of the 42 realized he’d been scammed and paid him back.”
“OK, and we’re back to what I said – no one kills him for a thousand dollars.”
“You think the law of averages angle is out?”
“Not so fast, I just think more is going on than the thousand. What if one of our 42 decided to use his psychic abilities prematurely? The guy we spoke to seemed pretty conservative, but some guys, you hit 16 out of 16 games, you might start to lay some serious bets. Maybe he even does the same thing the second week. When the magic doesn’t work anymore, he blames Ten Moose for leading him into this fix.”
Shrine scratches his nose. “The odds against anybody doing it twice would be astronomical.”
“Oh, you’re as bad as your bogus statistician. The odds aren’t astronomical, just 1% of 1%. The 1% of the original pool was 42, remember? 1% of 42 is slightly less than half. There’s a better chance that no one will do it but the chances that one person will get sixteen two weeks in a row is decent. Three weeks? Forget it. So the third week he loses his shirt, is in deep to the bookies, goes Chapter 11, etc. And starts to blame Ten Moose. Do profiles of the 42 and see who is in bankruptcy court.”
“Those kinds of consequences take time. Somebody doesn’t lose a bundle and then go into Chapter 11 the next day.”
“It’s been long enough that the person who lost the money knows he’s in deep trouble – it won’t take long for it to show up in public. Check them all in six months and see who is engaged in that kind of financial activity. I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“You have quite a breezy attitude toward murder, a.k.a. Padovano. The idea of letting a trail go cold for six months while we wait for the financial dust to settle or our perp to end up in the Schuylkill in a duffel bag is not attractive to me. We should also face the unappetizing proposition that he might kill someone else.”
I groan with annoyance. Apparently, just having more ideas than any ten of his team is not enough to leave me in peace. “I suppose I have to do everything. Fine. Send notes to all the 42. Tell them if the want to be reimbursed, they will need to come to the station on Day X and fill out some paperwork. I will introduce myself as a psychic working with the police since the murdered man was a psychic. I’ll claim Ten Moose is telling me who killed him and look to see who panics.”
Categories: The Long Arm of the Law of Averages