The Case of the Unlucky Numbers
It had been raining in San Francisco since late last year, and
clients had been as rare as sunny days. I stared out of the grimy
window of my office on the third floor of a run down Tenderloin
walk-up and wondered for the thousandth time if I was in the
wrong game. In the street below, my .sig leaned against a
streetlight, wearing a plastic raincoat and latex underwear. She
had been doing far more business than I had.
It's tough enough being a private eye with a reputation for
divorce work or missing persons, but being the best private eye
in the sleazy underworld of juggling just did not put bread on
the table. I was feeling about as useful as thomasl's shift key.
Since Christmas I had recovered two Renegade clubs and one stolen
routine. The owners were grateful enough, but they were street
scum whose checks bounced higher than oddballs.
A woman came into the room without knocking. What a babe! Legs
that went on till next Thursday, encased in jeans that hugged her
like a boa constrictor. Long blonde hair with the natural look
that must have taken hours at the hairdresser. A scoop necked T-
shirt revealing a cleavage that made you think of spelunking. A
face that could have rivaled Helen of Troy in the ship launching
business if it was not wearing such obvious signs of worry. Eyes
that you could go wading in. Lips... well, you get the idea. She
was quite a chick.
"Sit down, Toots," I said. "Tell me what's on your mind." I
gestured at a couch, which had seen better days, and much better
nights. She looked at it like a cobra who had just been introduced
to a mongoose, then sat bolt upright on the edge.
"My name is Sandra McNeil," she began. "I came to see you about my
fiancee'. Everything was fine until..." She paused. "What are you
"I was looking at your shirt, Toots. It's really unusual."
She frowned. "Lots of people wear shirts with writing on."
"Yes, but not usually in braille."
"It was a present from Georgie. My fiancee'. We met a couple of
years ago on the set of a beer commercial. He was hired to juggle
three cans of Bud Lite and I had to jiggle at that stupid dog. We
fell in love. Everything was going so well - I was getting two or
three commercials a year, and bit parts in soap operas, he was
playing company picnics and Pier 39. I moved up to San Francisco
to be with him and we got engaged. Then about six months ago he
started getting distant. His act started changing, getting more...
boring, somehow. He stopped getting bookings. I could pay the
rent, money wasn't a problem, but two weeks ago he moved out. It's
not another woman, I know he's sleeping in his practice space.
It's..." she shook her head, and fished a piece of paper out of
her handbag. "It's this. This is what he left behind."
The paper read: "000 012 111 222 0000 0013 0112 0202 0233 1111
1223 2222 3333 00000 00014 00113 00203 00244 01112 01202 01234
01414 02233 02242 02413 03034 03133 03142 03444 11111 11224 11314
12223 12313 13344 14244 22222 23334 23424 33333 44444".
I shrugged. I wasn't going to pretend that I didn't know what it
meant. When you've been around the putrid underbelly of juggling
as long as I have you get to know every scam and dirty trick that
ever took a sucker in. "He's involved in a numbers racket, Toots."
I said. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to find out who's behind these numbers, Mr. Conway.
And I want you to stop them."
That was asking me to play with the big boys. But I knew she would
be happy if I could just get her Georgie back for her, and I
thought I had a fighting chance of that. "My rate is a thousand a
day, Toots," I said. "Plus expenses."
She stood up and handed me a check for twenty thousand. "Here's a
retainer. Oh, and one more thing." She leaned over my desk. The
Grand Canyon hove into view. "Stop calling me 'Toots' you sexist
The first person I needed to talk to was a guy who went by the
name of Bill. He runs a juggling rag - a high class one, glossy
pages, strictly legit. But like any good journalist, he keeps his
ear to the ground for the dirt, even if he won't print it. I found
him at the track. He trotted past me, the Flap of his shoes on the
gravel perfectly synchronized with the crunch of the beanbags in
his hands. FlapCrunch, FlapCrunch, FlapCrunch. God, I hate that
"Hey, Bill," I shouted, "Did you know you've got dirt in your ear?"
Later in the locker room I showed him the paper that Sandra had
given me. "The numbers, Bill. I want to know about the numbers.
Where are they coming from?"
He shook his head. "I don't touch that stuff. I run a family magazine."
"But you know where they come from Bill."
He looked scared. "I hear there's a lot of them in England." He
scribbled a name on the paper. "Try him. He's some sort of a
doctor, but he's in on the racket. He knows a lot, and they say
he's willing to talk."
I thought he was lying, but I had to check it out.
I tracked the doctor down in a seedy office a second rate college
in a town that had been created by the industrial revolution and
destroyed by the Thatcher government. I showed him the paper.
"What can you tell me about this?" I asked.
He looked startled. "They're just numbers," he said. "Actually, if
you add the integers starting with zero to each number in the
string modulo the number of numbers in the string..."
I could see he was ready to talk. But would he say what I wanted
to hear? "Where do they come from?" I interrupted him. "Are you
He shrugged. "You can't touch me you know. Academic freedom and all that."
"Academics!" I sneered. "I suppose it doesn't matter to you that
there are kids all over the world being sucked into your filthy
trap. Kids who could be eating apples and telling dick jokes are
so hooked by your sick numbers game that they never perform
anything interesting again! Your type makes me want to puke."
"Oh, I don't cover the whole world. I only run the UK and parts of
"Then who supplies the States?" I asked.
He mentioned a name that sounded vaguely familiar.
When I got back to my office it had stopped raining. My .sig was
outside dressed in thigh length boots, spandex tights and a
leather corset. "Come into my office for a moment, would you," I
said. "I need to talk to you." She stubbed out a cigarette on the
john she had been talking to, and followed me in.
A couple of days later I was ready to confront the Mister Big of
the numbers game. By now I knew what to expect. He was red headed,
tall but not imposing and disconcertingly soft spoken. The eyes
that peered from behind his glasses gave no hint of the evil
lurking within that twisted mind. He seemed almost amiable as he
asked me what I wanted.
"I want you to stop pushing your numbers in my neck of the woods!"
He fumbled in his prop bag, and I found myself looking at the
business end of a Dube' machete. "This is no use at all for
juggling," he said, "it's far too sharp. But is should do to end
this conversation. Get out of here!"
"Not if Hunnk-Ra wants to see Mistress Siggy again," I shot back.
"What?" he dropped the knife with a clatter.
"Oh, yes, I know all about your buddy, Hunnk-Ra and his taste for
foot worship and enemas. All this time, and he never knew it was
my .sig that he was paying to put diapers on him."
He picked up the machete and eyed me carefully. His voice seemed
to change, his eyes took on a new gleam, his hair stood on end.
"Hunnk-Ra want Mistress Siggy. Hunnk-Ra need Mistress Siggy.
Hunnk-Ra not fit to lick Mistress Siggy's boots, but Hunnk-Ra sure
"Hunnk-Ra better keep his numbers racket out of San Francisco if
Hunnk-Ra want to go on licking Andrew's .sig, got it?"
Hunnk-Ra got it, and I got out fast. I knew it would only take a
few months before Hunnk-Ra found someone else to satisfy his
tastes, but maybe I had bought enough time for Georgie. I had one
more call to make.
When I broke into his South of Market studio, Georgie was curled
up asleep on a pile of crumpled newspaper. He looked and smelled
like a skid row bum. In a few days he would probably start
drinking his torch fuel, and that would be the beginning of the
end. I kicked the sole of his shoe, and he started to wake up.
"Look at this, Georgie," I said. "I have something to show you." I
held up the sheet of paper that his fiancee' had given me. He
opened his eyes and was transfixed, staring at it like a lemming
admiring the ocean.
"Got a lighter?" I asked him.
He tossed one to me, then he instinctively added, "Got a watch?"
I kicked him in the stomach. "Naughty Georgie," I said. "That's
Ben's line." Sometimes you wonder if they're worth saving. While
he was puking on the floor I set fire to the corner of the paper,
and let it burn to ashes in front of him. He staggered to his
feet. "That's the last in the City," I said. "There won't be any
more for a while."
He shook his head. "Bastard! What am I going to do."
"Look outside, Georgie. Sandra's out there in the car, waiting for
you. She's going to drive you to the Haight Ashbury Free Jugglers'
Clinic. They can help. You're going to be OK Georgie." I started
down the stairs, and somewhere behind me I could hear Georgie
(Submittor's Note: The numbers referred to are siteswaps; terrible
inventions for writing down juggling patterns. They are difficult
to learn and basically useless, and most jugglers ignore them.
Those that use them annoy the rest of us by posting messages
full of mathematical formulas, which is NOT why we took up
juggling. The Hunnk-Ra and Mistress Siggie referred to are the
.sig lines of two of the more notorious posters. They tend to
take on personalities (and names) of their own.)
Date: 6 FEB 1995 18:31:29 GMT
From: Jimmy Brokaw
Subject: [rec.juggling] The Case of the Unlucky Numbers
From: email@example.com (Andrew John Conway)
Subject: The Case of the Unlucky Numbers
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