Monday, November 2, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: 52 Times

As soon as the show let out Carl and Brad made for the nearest bar. It was an odd little joint, not so much in its shape or the generic pop music on the stereo, as that to get to their table Carl and Brad passed two men in pink tuxedos and a tall woman in a chain mail bikini.

“They were plants,” Carl said as they sat at the first empty table.

“I could believe that if he only picked one or two of their cards,” said Brad, looking for a waitress. One smiled at him from another table and stuck up two fingers signaling that she’d be there in a moment. “Even three. But the magician called fifty-two people up on stage from all around the building. Fifty-two people picked cards. They took the whole deck! If they were marked, he wouldn’t even have been able to tell who picked what marked card. And when he went around handing everybody their cards back, we saw that he got all of them right. We saw that there was one of every card.”

Carl shook his head. “One of most, maybe. Sometimes he was out of earshot and we could only really see the ones he gave to people near us.”

“So maybe two people had the Jack of Spades. It was still their card.”

“Unless they were plants pretending whatever cards he gave them were right.”

“Fifty-two plants in an audience of what? Two hundred?”

“Magicians use plants all the time.”

Brad smacked the table. “Not that many! He planted a quarter of his audience? How could he afford that?”

“So the place wasn’t close to full. Next time it’ll be fuller. It’s a publicity stunt.”

“But if the guy is broke from having nobody come to his shows, how’d he afford fifty-two actors?”

“Maybe they were all magicians.”

The waitress came over with two menus.

“What can I get for you guys?”

“Pilsner,” said Carl.

Brad asked, “Have you got Cherry Coke?”

The waitress pushed her pen into her pad. “We can mix some cherry extract into Pepsi for you.”

“How about you mix a lemon into some water for me?”

She left with a confused expression. Brad immediately turned on Carl again.

“So fifty-two magicians spent the night watching his act just so they could help a competitor?”

“They could be friends. Or there could be a union.”

“So everybody from Hogwarts clears out to help this one guy?’

“Firstly, Hogwarts isn’t real. Secondly, maybe. But nobody can guess the real fifty-two cards of fifty-two strangers. Do you even know what a permutation is?”

“No. Is that the mutation that makes you such a killjoy at magic shows?”

“Fifty-two times fifty-one times fifty times forty-nine and so-on down to one.” Carl ticked off the numbers on his placemat. “Multiply them all together and you the number of possible orders the cards could have been drawn. That’s not even a trillion. I don’t know how to say what magnitude that is.”

“And he shuffled them really well. He let two of the card-pickers shuffle them before they all went back to their seats. You’re crazy if you think he memorized the order.”

“Which is why I think the pickers were plants.”

“The shufflers weren’t plants.”

“They could have been!”

“No they couldn’t! Nor could he have bribed a quarter of his audience without anyone blowing his cover. His act will be in the papers tomorrow. Some of those people got interviewed. Somebody would slip.”

Carl put his hands out. “Unless they were all professionals.”

“Excuse me,” said a girl from behind Carl. They recognized her from the show. She’d picked one of the cards, and in fact held it in her hand right now. “It just seemed like you could use this more than me.”

She laid the card next to Carl’s hand. It was the ten of hearts. Then she patted his shoulder and followed her giant boyfriend to another table.

“What the Hell does that mean?” Carl asked, but she was gone, and Brad got up for the bathroom.

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