Perhaps because his life was conservative in other ways, Ben Rosselli always loved fast cars and drove them as their designers intended with his right foot near the floor.
A speeding summons was routine. Back at First Mercantile American Headquarters he sent it, as usual, to the bank's security department with instructions to have it fixed. For the state's most powerful man of money, many things could be fil ed and often were.
The summons was dispatched by courier next day to the FMA branch manager in the town where it was issued. It so happened that the branch manager was also a local councilman and he had been influential in Nolan Wainwright's appointment as chief of police.
The bank manager-councilman dropped over to police headquarters to have the traffic summons withdrawn. He was amiable. Nolan Wainwright was adamant.
Less amiably, the councilman pointed out to Wainwright that he was new to the community, needed friends, and that non-co-operation was not the way to recruit them. Wainwright still declined to do anything about the summons.
The councilman put on his banker's hat and reminded the police chief of his personal application to First Mercantile American Bank for a home mortgage loan which would make it possible to bring Wainwright's wife and family to the town. Mr. Rosselli, the branch manager added somewhat needlessly, was president of FMA.
Nolan Wainwright said he could see no relationship between a loan application and a traffic summons.
In due course Mr. Rosselli for whom counsel appeared in court, was fined heavily for reckless driving and awarded three demerit points, to be recorded on his license. He was exceedingly angry.
Also in due course the mortgage application of Nolan Wainwright was turned down by First Mercantile American Bank.
Less than a week later Wainwright presented himself in Rosselli's office on the 36th floor of FMA Headquarters Tower, taking advantage of the accessibility on which the bank president prided himself.
When he learned who his visitor was, Ben Rosselli was surprised that he was black. No one had mentioned that. Not that it made any difference to the banker's still simmering wrath at the ignominious notation on his driving record the first of a lifetime. Wainwright spoke coolly. To his credit, Ben Rosselli
had known nothing of the police chief's mortgage loan application or its rejection; such matters were conducted at a lower level than his own. But he smelled the odor of injustice and sent, there and then, for the loan file which he reviewed while Nolan Wainwright waited.
"As a matter of interest," Ben Rosselli said when he had finished reading, "if we don't make this loan what do you intend to do?"
Wainwright's answer now was cold. "fight. I'll hire a lawyer and we'll go to the Civil Rights Commission for a start. If we don't succeed there, whatever else can be done to cause you trouble, that I'll do."
It was obvious he meant it and the banker snapped, "I don't respond to threats."
"I'm not making threats. You asked me a question and I answered it."
Ben Rosselli hesitated, then scribbled a signature in the file. He said, unsmiling, "The application is approved."
Before Wainwright left, the banker asked him, "What happens now if I get caught speeding in your town?"
"We'll throw the book at you. If it's another reckless driving charge, you'll probably be in jail."
Watching the policeman:go, Ben Rosselli had the thought, which he would confide to Wainwright years later: You self-righteous s.o.b.! One day I'll get you. He never had in that sense. But in another, he did.
Two years later when the bank was seeking a top security executive who would be as the head of Personnel expressed it "tenaciousl y strong and totally incorruptibl e," Ben Rosselli stated, "I know of such a man."
Soon after, an offer was made to Nolan Wainwright, a contract signed, a nd Wainwright came to work for F MA.
Prom then on, Ben Rosselli and Wainwright had never clashed. The new head of Security did his job efficiently and added to his understanding of it by taking night school courses in banking theory. Rosselli, for his part, never asked Wainwright to breach his rigid code of ethics and the banker got his speeding tickets fixed elsewhere rather than through Secur ity, believing Wainwright never k new, though usually he did. All the while the friendship between the two grew until, after the death of Ben Rosselli's wife, Wainwright frequently would eat dinner with the old man and afterwards they would play chess into the night.
In a way it had been a consolation for Wainwright, too; for his own marriage had ended in divorce soon after he went to work for FMA. His new responsibilities, and the sessions with old Ben, helped fill the gap.
They talked at such times about personal beliefs, influencing each other in ways they realized and in others of which neither was aware. And it was Wainwright though only the two of them ever knew it who helped persuade the bank pr esident to employ his personal prestige and FMA's money in helping the Forum East development in that neglected city area where Wainwright had been born and spent his adolescent years.
Thus, like many others in the bank, Nolan Wainwright had his private memories of Ben Rosselli and his private sorrow.
Today, his mood of depression had persisted, and after a morning during which he had stayed mostly at his desk, avoiding people whom he did not need to see, Wainwright left for lunch alone. He went to a small cafe on the other side of town which he favored sometimes when he wanted to feel briefly free from FMA and its affairs. He returned in time to keep an appointment with Vandervoort.
The locale of their meeting was the bank's Keycharge credit-card division, housed in the Headquarters Tower.
The Keycharge bank card system had been pioneered by First Mercantile American and now was operated jointly with a strong group of other banks in the U.S., Canada, and overseas. In size, Keycharge ranked immediately after BankAmericard and MasterCharge. Alex Vandervoort, within FMA, had over-all responsibility for the division.
Vandervoort was early and, when Nolan Wainwright arrived, was already in the Keycharge authorization center watching operations. The bank security chief joined him.
"I always like to see this," Alex said. "Best free show in town."
In a large, auditorium-like room, dimly lighted and with acoustic walls and ceilings to deaden sound, some fifty operators predominantly women were seated at a battery of consoles. Each console comprised a cathode ray tube, similar to a TV screen, with a keyboard beneath.
It was here that Keycharge cardholders were given or refused credit.
When a Keycharge card was presented anywhere in payment for goods or services, the place of business could accept the card without question if the amount involved was below an agreed floor limit. The limit varied, but was usuall y between twenty-five and fifty dollars. For a larger purchase, authorization was needed, though it took only seconds to obtain.
Call s poured into the authorization center twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They came from every U.S. state and Canadian province, while a row of chattering Telex machines brought queries from thirty foreign countries including some in the Russian-Communist orbit. Whereas builders of the British Empire once cheered proudly for the "red, white, and blue," creators of the Keycharge economic empire rooted with equal fervor for the "blue, green, and gold" international colors of the Keycharge card. The approval procedures moved at jet speed.
Wherever they were, merchants and others dialed directly through WATS lines to the Keycharge nerve center in PMA Headquarters Tower. Automatically, each call was routed to a free operator whose first words were, "What is your merchant number?"
As the answer was given, the operator typed the figures, which appeared simultaneously on the cathode ray screen; Next was the card number and amount of credit being sought, this too typed and displayed.
The operator pressed a key, feeding the information to a computer which instantly signaled "ACCEPTED" or "DECLINED." The first meant that credit was good and the purchase approved, the second that the cardholder was delinquent and credit had been cut off. Since credit rules were lenient, with banks in the system wanting to lend money, acceptances by far outnumbered turndowns. The operator informed the merchant, the computer meanwhile recording the transaction. On a normal day fifteen thousand calls came in.
Both Alex Vandervoort and Nolan Wainwright had accepted headsets so they could listen to exchanges between callers and operators.
The security chief touched Alex's arm and pointed, then changed headset plugs for both of them. The console Wainwright indicated was carrying a flashi ng message from the computer "STOLE N CARD."