Page 11 of The Moneychangers

"And you believe all this, and our Keycharge fraud losses, are linked?" "Let's say it's possible." "What's Security doing?"

"As much as we can. Every lost or missing Keycharge card that turns fraudulent is being checked out and, where possible, tracked down. Recovered cards and fraud prosecutions have increased every month this year; you've had the figures in reports. But something like this needs a full-scale investigation and I don't have either staff or budget to handle it."

Alex Vandervoort smiled ruefully. "I thought we'd get around to budget."

He surmised what was coming next. He knew of the problems under which Nolan Wainwright labored.

Wainwright, as a vice-president of First Mercantile American, was in charge of all security matters in the Headquarters Tower and at branches. lithe credit-card security division was only one of his responsibilities. In recent years the status of Security within the bank had been advanced, its operating funds increased, though the amount of money allotted was still inadequate. Everyone in management knew it. Yet because Security was a nonrevenue produ cing function, its. position on the priority list for additional funds was low.

"You've g ot proposals and figures, I presume. You always have, Nolan."

Wainwright produced a manila folder which he had brought with him. '1t's all there. The most urgent need is two more full-time investigators for the credit-card division. I'm also asking for funds for an undercover agent whose assignment would be to locate the source of these counterfeit cards, also to find out where the leakage is occurring inside the bank."

Vandervoort looked surprised. "You think you can get someone!"

This time Wainwright smiled. "Well, you don't begin by advertising in 'help wanted' columns. But I'm willing to try."

"I'll look carefully at what you've suggested and do my best. That's all I can promise. May I keep these cards?" The security chief nodded. "Anything else on your mind?"

"Only this: I don't think anyone around here, including you, Alex, is taking this whole credit card fraud problem seriously. Okay, so we congratulate ourselves that we've held losses down to three quarters of one percent of total business, but business has grown enormously while the percentage has stayed steady, even increased. As I understand it, Keycharge billings next year are expected to be three billion dollars." "That's what we're hoping for."

"Then at the same percentage fraud losses could be more than twenty-two million."

Vandervoort said drily, "We prefer to speak of it in percentages. That way it doesn't sound as much, and the directors don't get alarmed." "That's pretty cynical." "Yes, I suppose it is."

And yet, Alex reasoned, it was an attitude which banks all banks took. They played down, deliberately, credit - card crime, accepting such losses as a cost of doing business. If any other bank department showed a seven and-a-half million dollar loss in a single year, all hell would erupt before the board. But where credit cards were concerned' "three quarters of one percent" for criminality was accepted or conveniently ignored. The alternative an all-out fight against crime would be more costly by far. It could be said, of course, that the bankers' attitude was indefensible because in the end it was customers credit-card holders who paid for fraud through increased charges. But, from a financial point of view, the attitude made business sense.

"There are times," Alex said, "when the credit-card system sticks in my gullet, or rather parts of it do. But I live within the limits of what I think I can accomplish in the way of change, and what I know I can't. The same goes for budget priorities." He touched the manila folder which Wainwright had put down. "Leave it with me. I've already promised I'll do what I can." "If I don't hear, I'll be along to pound the desk."

Alex Vandervoort left but Nolan Wainwright was delayed by a message. It asked the security chief to contact Mrs. D'Orsey, manager of the main downtown branch, at once. I 've spoken to the FBI, " Nolan Wainwright informed Edw ina D'Orsey. "They'll have two special agents here tomorrow." "Why not today?"

He grinned. "We've no dead body; there wasn't even any shooting. Besides, they have a problem over there. A thing called manpower shortage." "Don't we all?" "Then can I let the staff go home?" asked Miles Mastic.

Wainwrigh t answered, "All except the girl I'd like to talk with her again."

It was early evening, two hours since Wainwright had responded to Edwina's summons and taken over investigation of the cash loss. In the meantime he had covered the same ground the branch officers had gone over earlier, interviewi ng the teller, Juanita Nunez, E dwina D'Orsey, Tottenhoe, the operations officer, and young Miles Eastin, the operations assistant.

He had also spoken with other tellers who had been working near the Nunez girl.

Not wanting to be a focus of attention on the platform, Wainwright had taken over a conference room at the rear of the bank. He was there now with Edwina D'Orsey and Miles Eastin.

Nothing new had emerged except that theft appeared likely; therefore, under federal law the FBI must be called in. The law, on such occasions, was not always applied painstakingly, as Wainwright was well aware. First Mercantile American and other banks often labeled thefts of money as "mysterious disappearances" and, that way, such incidents could be handled internally, avoiding prosecution and publicity. Thus a member of the bank's staff suspected of theft might suffer dismissal only ostensibly for some other reason. And since the guilty individuals were not inclined to talk, a surprisingly large number of theft cases were kept secret, even within the bank itself.

But the present loss assuming it to be theft w as too large and flagrant to be concealed.

Nor was it a good idea to wait, hoping for more information. Wainwright knew the FBI would be angry if called in several days after the event to investigate a cold trail. Until the Bureau agents arrived, he intended to do what he could himself.

As Edwina and Miles Eastin left the small office, the operations assistant said helpfully, "I'll send Mrs. Nunez in."

A moment later the small, slight figure of Juanita Nunez appeared at the office doorway. "Come in," Nolan Wainwright instructed. "Shut the door. Sit down."

He made his tone official and businesslike. Instinct told him that phony friendliness would not deceive this girl.

"I want to hear your whole story again. We'll take it step by step."

Juanita Nunez looked sulky and defiant, as she had earlier, but now there were traces of fatigue. With a sudden flash of spirit, though, she objected, "Three times I have already done that. Everything!" "Perhaps you forgot something the other times." "I forgot nothing!"

"Then this time will make a fourth, and when the FBI arrive there'll be a fifth, and maybe after that a sixth." He held her eyes with his own and kept authority in his voice but didn't raise it. If he were a police officer, Wainwright thought, he'd have had to caution her about her rights. But he wasn't, and wouldn't. Sometimes, in a situation like this, private security forces had advantages which police were not allowed.

"I know what you are thinking," the girl said. "You think I will say something different this time, so you can prove that I w as lying." "Are you lying?" "No " "Then why worry about that?"

Her voice quavered. "Because I am tired. I would like to go."

"I would, too. And if it wasn't for a missing six thousand dollars which you admit you had in your possession earlier I'd be finished work for the day and driving home. But the money is gone and we'd like to find it. So tell me about th is afternoon again when you say you first saw something wrong." "It was like I told you twenty minutes after lunch"

He read contempt in her eyes. E arlier, when he began asking questions, he had sensed the girl's attitude as being easier toward him than the others. No doubt because he was black and she was Puerto Rican, she assumed they might be allies or, if not that, that he would be a softer touch. What she didn't know was that where investigative work was concerned he was color-blind. Nor could he concern himself about any personal problems the girl might have. Eldwina D'Orsey had mentioned these, but no personal circumstance, in Wainwright's view, ever justified stealing or dishonesty.

The Nu nez girl had been right, of course, about h is wanting to catch her out in some variation of her story. And it could happen, despite her obvious caution. She had complained of being tired. As an experienced investigator, Wainwright knew that guilty people, when tired, were apt to make mistakes during interrogation, a small one first, then another and another, until they became trapped in a web of lies and inconsistency. Wondering if it would happen now, he pressed on.