Most people who know me know I have a serious big girl’s crush on Professor Brian Cox. For those not familiar, Brian Cox is a physicist from the UK, professor of particle physics no less, at the University of Manchester.
He wasn’t always a worthy professor. The multi-talented Prof. Cox started out his career as keyboard player in D:Ream.When he’s not enlightening young and eager minds he does a lot of television work.
He fronts scientific documentaries on television, perhaps the most well-known being The Wonders of the Universe. He also did a hilarious piece once with Jonathan Ross where they played around with liquid nitrogen… but I digress.
The lovely Brian Cox is eye candy for the thinking woman. He makes the most convoluted scientific concepts seem worth grappling with, and it was on one memorable occasion when I was drooling over the TV that he attempted to explain chaos theory. As far as I can recall, the gist of the thing was that everything in the universe is part of a pattern, might be a huge pattern, but the universe strives for order and will try to create it. He went on to trickle some sand out of his hands and it fell in a pile – like it does – which Prof. Cox said proves why time goes forward not backwards.
I confess, the finer points of the argument eluded me than and still do. But I always thought it was a nifty thing to say, and it’s certainly true that time only goes in one direction. I had that core truth in mind when I was writing The Dark Side and I just had to weave it in somewhere. Here’s the excerpt, from Darker, the second book in The Dark Side trilogy. Eva is explaining how she manages to put the theory to good use.
“Do you come here often?”
“My, my, what a traditional pick-up line, Miss Byrne. But I’d have thought we were past all that now.”
I dig him in the ribs. “No, idiot. I mean do you come to this casino often?” I can see now that we’re close that the casino is one of the Alea chain. I have an account with this lot so I probably do need to come clean before we get there. There’s a good chance I might be recognized—they rotate the staff around different sites and my face is quite well known in these circles.
“No, not often. I’ve been a couple of times—they offer special introductory packages for locals to try to drum up regular trade. I’ve popped in, I like an occasional flutter, but I can manage to lose my money perfectly well through my business in this bloody recession. I don’t need to gamble it away as well. Don’t worry, though, I don’t mind blowing a couple of hundred quid on a good night out.”
“Well, that’s just it. You won’t be blowing it, probably. Well, I won’t. I’ll win.”
He gives my shoulders a quick hug. “Maybe once or twice. But eventually everyone loses. That’s how these places stay in business.”
I stop, turn to face him. “Not everyone. I don’t lose. Well, hardly ever.”
His head is cocked to one side as he considers this. By now he’s learnt not to underestimate me apparently. “Eva? Is there something you’ve not told me?”
“Nothing bad, honestly.” I pull my light jacket around me. He might disapprove of professional gamblers for all I know. Although I don’t usually think of myself as a professional, exactly, it’s just that this is an easy way to make ready cash and I’m not above using my talents when I need to.
“It’s, well, it’s not unusual, quite common really… For people like me… For…”
“Eva, just spit it out.”
I take a deep breath and do just that. “I’m a mathematician. That means I can do a lot more with numbers than just adding up. I can see number patterns, remember sequences, calculate probabilities. So I don’t need to gamble, I can work out the probabilities of what card’s coming up, where the little ball will land, and only bet when the chances are I’ll win. And I do win. Most of the time. I like roulette best. American roulette…” I stop babbling, and fix my gaze on my feet, waiting for his reaction. After all my previous revelations this seems like a small thing to me, but you never can tell.
I wait a few seconds, staring at my red shoes and his shiny black ones, until his finger under my chin pushes my face up again. His dark chocolate eyes hold mine and I cringe, my mouth twisting into an embarrassed grimace.
“So what is it, some sort of system you have? Is it legal?”
“Legal? God, yes! I’m not a cheat. I just… I just follow the sequence of events and predict what’s coming next. Anyone can do it, given enough time. I just do it fast.”
“No matter how fast you are, how can you predict where the ball’s going to land? How can anyone? It’s a random event. Poker, yes, you can play that and use your skill to win. Up to a point. But a game of chance? Roulette? How can you be sure of winning at that?”
“It’s not random.”
He shoots me a look of disbelief and I start to get irritated. How many times do I have to tell him before he believes me? How much proof does he need before he’ll accept that I can do what I say I can do? Christ, why lie? It’s easy enough to demonstrate after all.
“I’m not going into the detail here, but just believe me when I tell you that particle physics has proven that the universe is not a random system. There is always order, always a sequence to be found. If the sample is large enough, the sequence repeats. Eventually. Otherwise the world would be a chaotic place, which it isn’t. Usually. Haven’t you ever wondered why it is that time moves forwards, not backwards?”
One glance at his face, his expression of utter incredulity, is sufficient to convince me that this is not a question that has troubled Nathan Darke over the years. I shrug. “Oh well, it must be just me then. Believe me, though, when I tell you that very little of what happens is ever random. And that’s all I do. I watch, wait until I see the sequence of colors, numbers, whatever, until I see the pattern emerging. And then I can forecast what’s coming. If I get it wrong occasionally I adjust my perception of the sequence slightly, just to make it more perfect, and go again. I rarely lose. In fact, I can’t remember when I last lost.”
Those incredulous eyebrows slowly lower as he considers my explanation. And, amazingly, accepts it. Hands on hips, he lowers his head, shakes it slowly before spearing me with his gaze again. “Bloody hell. So you’re going to make us our fortune in there, are you?”
I stiffen, straighten. I need to take charge of this, if he’ll let me. “No. They’ll throw us out if they think we’re cheating, if it’s too obvious. And anyway, they know me at Alea’s and I have a sort of agreement with them. I always limit my winnings to around a couple of thousand pounds.”
“Yes. I started going to casinos as soon as I turned eighteen, although I’d known since school that I could win at so-called games of chance by working out the number sequences—lots of us could. But I got carried away at first. I was too greedy, and got thrown out of the first couple of houses I tried it in. Then another time a pair of security guards marched me off to the manager’s office where I was searched for magnetic devices and such like. God, that was awful. I was so scared, I thought they were going to beat me up and throw me out in a back alley. But once she’d convinced herself I wasn’t cheating, the manager was actually very nice. She told me I could carry on gambling in her casino as long as I kept it moderate, as long as I didn’t take too much of their cash. Having a winner at the table encourages everyone else to have a go so the house sort of recoups its losses. In a way, I’m good for business.”
“But even keeping it moderate, as you put it, you could make a fortune by going around different places, taking just a thousand or two each time.”
“Yeah, but I only do it for fun, not for a living. It’s how I lay my hands on a bit of spare cash for luxuries, things like foreign travel. I get a lot of time off in the summer and I like to travel, and this is how I pay for it. Or if I want to buy something special—like my violin, for example—I nip into a casino and win the money.”
“Like the rest of us get cash from a cash machine?”
“Well, I never thought of it quite like that, but yes. Maybe. It really is quite legal. And doesn’t harm anyone. You don’t mind, do you? I should have told you all this before we came out. I’ll understand if you don’t want to go in with me now. We can just go back to your apartment and… Well, you know…”
“Yes I do know. And tempting as the prospect of fucking you is, like I said earlier, you’ll keep. Now, I just want to see you in action, in there.” He jerks his head to indicate the brightly lit casino entrance behind us, the revolving front door swishing around slowly. “But only on condition you let me buy the chips. It’s my treat, after all, I invited you out.”
I smile, delighted to have company on one of my gaming excursions. We glide through the doors, nodding to the smartly tuxedoed doorman as we make a beeline for the cashier’s desk to get some chips.
Three hours later, around one thirty in the morning we are strolling back around the more or less deserted dock, three thousand pounds richer.