According To The Books
Jean-Loup Lamarc was no moron: he knew very well who were his bosses. He was the manager of a small hotel in the lakes; as he used to joke to himself, the manager of the only hotel owned by the mafia that was not used for money laundering. Everything was clear as a summer day in his business; no tricks, no cheating, no nothing. He slept well and loved the flavor of a good cigar in the evening.
But one night someone knocked at his door. Lamarc was still wiping the sleep from his eyes while he let his visitor in; Elijah Blumenthal, the accountant, a bug-eyed, lizard-thin guy from Boston, was pale as if he just had seen a ghost.
"We're screwed, Frenchie. Yes, man, we're screwed.", said in a trembling voice.
Lamarc didn't like to be called 'Frenchie', but that time he let it go. "Sit down. What's the matter?"
"The numbers, Frenchie. The numbers. They are false. And they will know."
"What are you saying? The numbers are fine. Nobody takes a buck. Everything is clean as my mother's kitchen."
"No, no, no, Frenchie, they will know. They have people, you know, they will check the accounts and they will know."
"Stop that 'Frenchie' thing, Eli. And I swear that the fucking numbers are right. There is no dollar out. Everything is fine. What the fuck is wrong with you?" Lamarc draw a fist and the accountant acknowledged the threat by opening his hands.
"The numbers are tweaked, Jean. They do not obey Benford's law."
"WHAT? What do you mean? Who the fuck is Benford?" He shoved Blumenthal onto his chair; the accountant shouted, covered his head with his hands and said: "I... I don't know who he is. A mathematician, I guess. He wrote... a method. A method to check if a set of numbers are fabricated."
"WHAT?" Lamarc felt as if his head would explode. "Are you fucking kidding me?" he took a lamp from a nearby table with both hands and crashed it into the floor.
"Ah!", shouted Blumenthal, "Please! Please! Don't hurt me!"
"I'm gonna kill you fucking weasel if you don't stop all this bullshit."
"No! No! Frenchie, listen to me. Please. The numbers look fake. I checked them. They look fabricated. Believe me. Have you...?"
"No! No! I see. I see. They are for real, no trick. I believe it. I do. But they won't. They will apply the formulas and they will suspect we are cheating on them. And they will come after us. They will come, Frenchie. They just WON'T believe these numbers!"
Lamarc, who was no moron, calmed down and thought.
"So you say", he spoke to the accountant while scratching his head, "that these numbers, being real, look fake, am I right? AM I RIGHT?"
"Yes! Yes! You are right. The number 1 must appear as the leading significant digit about 30% of the time and..."
"STOP! I don't want to hear it, motherfucker. We will just... we will just make them look right."
"Are you deaf, dumb or both? We'll make them look right."
So they took a deep breath and sat down to rewrite the numbers so that they obey Benford's law. It was a very long night. Elijah Blumenthal looked like he was the survivor of a flood when he walked down the street in the morning lights.
"Putain..." said Lamarc, closing the safe box. "So we have this bag full of money, real money, clean money, that we must take from their real owners because some fucker wrote a formula... This is fucking crazy."
Days passed and everything went back to normal. One evening, while Jean-Loup Lamarc was delightfully tasting a glass of whiskey and remembering the stupid thing about the briefcase full of bills in his safe, somebody knocked at his door. It was an old man, iron-grey hair, in an old-fashioned suit.
"Who the fuck are you?" said Jean-Loup.
"Hi. My name is Benford. I'm here to take my money."