The one thing that troubled me most about my meeting with Rudy Levinski was that I had been unable to learn his secret. Why was he anxious to by-pass the police and approach Lisa directly? Why was he anxious to help her?
The answer seemed to lie with the garbled EFT’s. His explanation of this strange event was not satisfying. I was convinced that those error messages lay at the heart of the problem. What did Mr. Levinski know and how could I draw it out of him?
I was certain that the transmissions were not corrupted by an electrical storm. Nor was the cause a faulty hardware component — after all, the error messages got through properly, as did my replays moments afterwards.
Somebody tampered with those transmissions. This tampering occurred downstream of my wire-tap. Could there have been a second tap? Maybe. Or, another possibility was that the tampering occured closer to the end point, at the First Chicago computers. Indeed, maybe there was no tampering at all. Maybe the bank only claimed that the messages were scrambled. This would be consistent with Rudy’s obvious effort to downplay the importance of the entire episode. Could it be that First Chicago was behind the forgeries and the rejections were somehow related to a cover-up? This seemed unlikely; by issuing systematic rejections, First Chicago was drawing greater attention to the forgeries. Such conspicuous action with no plausible justification would be inconsistent with a cover-up effort. So why would the bank deliberately stall transfers?
Slowing the flow of money between two banks would benefit the bank with the net decrease in assets. Thus, if somebody at First Chicago had examined the EFT’s and determined that First Chicago stood to pay out a large amount of money, then there would be good financial reasons for slowing those payments. Perhaps the bank was low on reserves. By stalling for twenty-four hours, the bank can build up greater reserves without turning to the lendor of last resort, the Federal Reserve. The Fed charges interest for overnight loans. Admittedly, the rates charged by the Fed are generally below market-value, but for a large loan the amount can be significant. This might be the explanation I had been looking for! I raced over to my Alpha machine and quickly typed in my password to release the screen-lock. Using perl, I quickly wrote a script to sum the EFT’s and print the net flow of dollars from Bendix to First Chicago. Sure enough, it was a negative number, meaning that more money was being paid by First Chicago to Bendix than the other way around. The net amount was $7 million. I had no idea if this was an unusually large amount, but I suspected it was. Certainly if my theory was right, then it would be. This would be the motivation I was looking for to explain why First Chicago would falsely claim that the transmissions were garbled and reject all EFT’s until the next day.
Uh oh. If my theory was right then this also meant that the rejections were entirely unrelated to the forgeries. This meant my wire-tap had picked up two attacks on the United States banking infrastructure!
I pushed my chair away from the table. The card-table, already stressed from the weight of the Alpha, yielded to the presure of my arms and threatened to collapse. I scarcely noticed. The apartment was silent and gloomy.
Plick, plick, plick,…
The wall clock in the kitchen registered on my consciousness and took on an ominous quality with its incessant ticking. A shiver ran down my spine as I stood up and walked over to the window to draw the blind. The sky outside was overcast and the air was foggy. I kept the room light off. The paranoa that swept over me told me that it was better to let it appear that I was not home. I sat in an easy chair in the living room, across from the computer desk, and stared absently at the distant monitor screen glowing on the opposite side of the room.
The delay scam at First Chicago was clearly an inside job. The beneficiary of this crime was an institution. No longer was I chasing a two-bit crook or a prankster. If my prey was an institution, with the masterminds behind the crimes sitting on a corporate board, then there was no telling what extremes they might go to in order to escape capture. I stood up and checked the deadbolt on the door. Next I peeked through the blind and down to the street below. A week ago I had been disgusted by my fear; now I felt fully justified. I was certain that I had surmised the meaning of the rejections correctly. I was equally certain that Rudy Levinski was fully aware of the delaying tactic taken by his bank. Perhaps he had even been the one to carry it out.
Who might have been watching or even listening to my conversation with Rudy? I racked my brain trying to remember if I had said anything that might get me in trouble. Was the FBI aware of this second crime? My meeting with Rudy took on a whole new meaning in this new context. Did the FBI have Rudy under surveillance? Had I now met with two of the prime suspects? How long could I go on associating with suspects before I (rightfully) became suspect #1?