Cooperating with Others, Police, and the Mafia

This is my first attempt at writing fiction based around Game Theory.


Mcguinnes sat down at the bar and ordered a bourbon. The bartender slid it over to him. At 2pm, there was no one else there. The somber bartender swatted flies, then made half an effort to clean the mugs.
Behind him was the clacking of heels on the wood floor getting closer. His trench coat hung over the bar stool as he sat down. He flashed his police badge. Without a word, the bartender slid him a beer.
“Mcguinnes, what happened to you yesterday? The judge wanted to hear what you know abut Alfonso Russo. You know the mob boss? I’m reminding you because you played real dumb yesterday in court.”
“Officer, it’s nothing personal, but you know I can’t cooperate with you or anyone on the force” said Mcguinnes. “I want to bring down that greasy son of a gun as bad you. But you know what he does to people who squeal.”
“Yes Mcguinnes, we’ve been over this. But if everyone quote unquote squeals, he’d be in jail for the rest of his life.”
“Yeah, well, not everyone is doing it, and I’m certainly not going to be the first. Lord knows I’m no saint. If I was, I wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.”
“Ain’t none of us saints. We’re just cooperating against the demons. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”
Clack, clack, clack. Mcguinnes drank the rest of the detective’s beer and looked at the business card he left on the bartop. On the back was a personal phone number. “I bet Russo would be real happy to call this number.” Mcguinnes said to himself, smiling wryly.

Cooperation is hard. Game Theory is the beautiful blend of intention vs. effect. Even people who intend to topple Mafia Bosses have bad effects (such as appearing to be a Mafia Henchman, but doing nothing about it because the risk of punishment is so severe). Even people who have good effects, might have bad intentions (such as appearing to be a snitch, but actually working for the Mafia Boss).

  • The first lesson I want to draw from this scene is that the people who wanted to testify in court to bring down Alfonso Russo, didn’t because they were all waiting. This is how evil persists in this world. I can’t say I blame anyone for not staning up to evil. Clearly what’s needed is an effective way to communicate with cooperators, but not opponents.
  • Which brings me to my next lesson I want to spell out. It’s incredibly hard to distinguish between people on your team, and your opponents. The detective thought that he was cooperating with Mcguinnes, but it turned out that he was accidentially cooperating with the enemy.