“I had nothing to do with the garbled messages. It was just coincidence that I was able to observe the error-handling for corrupt data transmissions. I did nothing to obstruct the communication line.”
Mr. Levinski gave me an understanding smile and nodded his head slightly before turning back toward the lake and staring out over the water. It was my turn to ask him a question.
“I do not understand why each and every EFT in the transmission was scrambled. One or two might be explained by a hardware fault, but such a regular rate of errors is baffling to me. What might be the reason for that?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders without looking away from the water. His hands were clasped behind his back again. “A bad connection perhaps,” he offered. “It happens on occasion. It could have been any number of things. Maybe there was a lightening storm somewhere between St. Louis and Chicago. Who knows.”
None of these explanations sat well with me. Modern modems and modern phone lines have very low error rates. Modems have built-in error correction. On top of that, the banks were using TCP/IP as the communications protocol. TCP/IP includes error correction codes too. The TCP/IP headers apparently got through intact, so why not the payloads? Moreover, any bit-errors that did occur should be confined to a single EFT. Strange.
Thick clouds had rolled in and obscured the sun, which was lower on the horizon now. There were hints of rain. Lake Michigan had turned from blue to grey, and the water was now choppy.
When Mr. Levinski spoke again, it was with the same calculated phrasing and meticulous enunciation. “Were you targeting Bendix or First Chicago, Mr. Raymond? That is to say, were these EFT’s of interest to you because they originated from the St. Louis bank, or because they were bound for my bank?”
I explained that I chose the banks I did based upon convenience, and not for any other reason. It so happens that it was First Chicago that I was watching, not Bendix. Partly to change the subject, and partly to counter the edge of accusation in his question, I decided to press the hardware failure issue.
“It seems strange to me, Mr. Levinski, that a hardware error or electrical storm would cause each and every EFT to be rejected. Bit errors should be somewhat confined, as each EFT is independent of the others — to say nothing of the error correction codes that are employed at various layers in the network protocol stack.”
His response surprised me. Moments earlier he had shrugged off the errors as a minor nuisance. Now he became quite defensive.
“Have you worked in EFT operations, Mr. Raymond? No, you have not. As a member of the EFT operations staff at a large US banking institution I can assure you that errors of this sort are not unusual. We get them at First Chicago. Other banks get them too. Our error rate is not out of line with the rates at other banks.”
It was at that moment that I concluded that, for whatever reason, First Chicago had chosen to reject all of those EFT’s. Rudy’s initial response to this matter had been to downplay the entire issue. Now, when pressed on the matter, this articulate and intelligent man was reduced to claiming superior knowledge without being able to provide a plausible explanation for the phenomenon. I found this disturbing; there was something that he was not telling me. Apparently that was not the subject that he wanted to discuss with Lisa. The mystery of the rejected EFT’s would plague me still longer. What reason would a bank have to reject all EFT traffic? And why disguise the reason? This last question was easy to answer: because the real reason was less than honorable. Next question: what could that real reason be? Is there a financial advantage to be had in stalling on funds transfers?
My thoughts were interrupted by Mr. Levinski’s next question. “Did you keep a record of all of the EFT’s you observed that day Mr. Raymond?” he asked. “Do you still have them on tape or on disk?”
I tried my best to suppress the sudden wave of panic that swept over me. Would my disks be confiscated if I admitted having the files? Was there anything on them that could embroil me still deeper? I did not know for sure, but I certainly did not want to find out.