Chapter 4: No good deeds...
Steven always planned his crimes as far from home as possible for security reasons. This made the drive to the police station quite long, giving him ample time to reflect on what might have gone wrong.
The only thing that he could think of that would be consistent and might possibly come close to the charge of stolen goods was the IBM laptop that he had given to a friend. He used it for hacking a bank one evening last week, and since he knew his friend Francis was very poor and his family was saving money to buy a computer later that year, he felt that there would be no harm done in giving them the laptop. After all, he knew that Francis’s family were no criminals; both his parents were hard workers, but lacked the education to get high paying jobs and had been definitely not smart enough to have a proportional number of children to match their minimum wage incomes. They had seven kids ranging from six to twenty-four years old. How they managed to be on time to pay their bills and have enough to feed nine members of the family, Steven never understood. But they were honest, law-abiding citizens and the chances the computer’s origin would be discovered were very remote, so this act of generosity had a dual purpose. It was not really stolen; it had been ordered using a cloned credit card. The manufacturer was paid as well as the distributor, and the store that had processed the transaction had received the money in their account after the mandatory three days, enough time for the bank to make an additional profit with the interest. On top of that, the store was charged an additional five percent because Steven had used a Visa Gold card to pay. As for the owner of the card, all he would have to do was to call his credit card company to have the transaction investigated and ultimately cancelled. So, in the end, only the credit card company would be the sucker and the reality was, just ’zeros’ and ’ones’ would be rewritten in a database, that’s how Steven soothed his half guilty conscience.
Unfortunately, Steven later discovered that because of greed, the mother of all evil, Francis had not given the computer to his family as he had promised. Instead, he tried to sell it at the local bar and, as luck would have it, the guy he had pushed it to was an off-duty cop having a beer after work. Steven could always count on his friends to screw things up and that’s why he was committing his crimes alone most of the time.
Steven finally arrived at the police station. He was processed, fingerprinted and photographed, then placed in a rock-walled cell comprised only of a sheet of melamine for a bed, a stainless steel toilet-and-sink combo that smelled like it had not been cleaned for ages, and a camera on the ceiling. Every minute in that cell seemed like hours to him. The tactic, which Steven knew was designed to let the suspect simmer like stew, tenderized him for the interrogation to follow. But as time passed, his spirit was lifting up instead. He took solace in the fact that he was being arrested for a lesser crime than the one he had actually committed and that the money he had taken was likely still safe in his ghost account. The hard drive on the computer had been low-level formatted five times and then one more for luck to ensure that no data remained and that any attempts at recovering the files would prove futile.
He also felt comfortable that during the small interrogation the police made in the car, they did not mention the money he had hacked from the small local community Royal Bank. That single feat of computer hacking which culminated in a few key strokes had taken months to plan. It required tons of phone calls to innocent employees and directors at various banks to learn the lingo and procedures used in internal money transfers. He likely knew more about bank transactions than the bankers at the city branches themselves and had read more books on the subject than most professionals in the industry. He even bought some computers on stolen credit cards and sophisticated eavesdropping equipment to monitor the office and home of the director of the branch he had targeted. He had to spend hours in the rain, hiding behind a tree in the director’s yard that night, tapping the modem line while the director was accessing the bank remotely from home. No Internet made that task easier, banks had not yet cut on with the new online trend and wouldn’t for years he knew. Banks were like NASA, using old IBM PCs that had been tested, retested and proven to be reliable for years; these organizations couldn’t afford to take any chances and see data lost to new, unproven technologies. So, the bank was still using modem-to-modem communication to access data remotely and Steven was ready for that. He purchased a modem-intercepting device which allowed a third party to get his modem to handshake with the two connecting modems without anyone noticing unless they looked for it, and he knew that it was too complicated to sweep for that technology for him to be worried. As soon as the director hung-up, Steven dialled the bank modem number and used the login and password he had just intercepted and transferred 235,000$ to a company account he had opened months earlier using fake IDs. He would have transferred more, but his spying and innocent conversations with the bank employees and support staff had told him that a director of that level couldn’t transfer more than 250,000$ using a modem connection and that above that amount, the transaction needed to be double checked by the head office the next day. After the successful transaction, Steven went to the bank the next morning to withdraw 15,000$ in cash to supposedly buy a truck for the company at an auction. The rest of the money he would take as fast as possible using checks that he would later cash in elsewhere and his debit card at a rate of two times five hundred a day.
As Steven was starting to lie down on what the police called a bed, the door to the cell block opened. Immediately, the guy in the next cell jumped to his feet and started hammering at his door.
“Its mother fuckin time, hav’ been here for hours,” he said.
“Well, you will be here a little longer I’m afraid, Sir,” answered the slightly overweight Constable fiddling his keys to open Steven’s door. “Your stepfather is here; you are free to go on promise to return for your court date or upon summation.”
No formal or signing confession? What was that about? But Steven didn’t wait a second longer to find out and rushed through both open doors into the main office area. Surely enough, sitting at the detective’s desk, Tony, his stepfather was waiting for him. Steven felt a lot of apprehension at seeing Tony there looking back at him. Tony, thirty five years old, was a six-foot-three tall, good-looking guy with a sharp intellect. Even though Tony was a normal worker in a factory, he could have easily been the CEO of a large corporation. He had an uncanny ability for languages and although he didn't formally study them, everybody at work agreed that he was fluent in five of them. Steven felt that the only thing that Tony was missing was ambition and he always promised himself not to be like his stepfather.
Surprisingly enough to Steven, Tony was sitting with a grin on his face, not exactly what one would expect from a man who was forced to drive to the police station to pick up his stepson late in the evening knowing that he would have to get up at five in the morning to go to work the next day. It had taken from morning all the way to late evening for the police to do what? Investigate? Eat donuts? Search his house and that’s why Tony was there? Whatever the process was, Steven had been housed and fed for a day and now was returning home, and that was good enough for him. No need to look for drama where none existed, he thought. That was not the mindless afternoon television shows his mother was a fan of, this was real life.
“Hello big guy, I guess you had a long and tough day, let's talk about it on the way home, shall we?” Tony offered as calm as ever.
On the slow walk to the car, Steven said nothing out of wisdom for not talking in the vicinity of a police station. Upon exiting the building, he felt the cold air and the smell of the fresh spring rain droplet on his face and smiled.
“Full circle,” he said to himself, but apparently loud enough for Tony to hear.
“What do you mean by that?” his stepfather asked.
“Nothing, I just like evenings after it rains.” answered Steven, glad for the respite before the hard questions to follow.
“Like that night you bought these computers using cloned credit cards?” Tony asked tentatively, looking at Steven for a sign of surprise.
Tony got his wish, but for the wrong reasons as Steven’s eyes focused and closed a little. The question puzzled him. The police knew about the cloning? He dwelled on the thought for a moment, but felt relieved that they had no clue about the bank transfer which was really all he cared about. What Tony did not notice was the blood rushing from his face and turning white as they approached the car at the end of the poorly lit parking lot. But being quick on the uptake, he blurred something out.
“How would you know about the cloning?”
“The police told me,” Tony explained. “Well, if you want to be exact, they have very strong suspicion that it is you, but they can’t prove it, so they want to discuss with the people at the fraud division to see if they can’t make you a deal, immunity for all crimes in exchange for your technique and knowledge in the matter.”
“My knowledge about credit card cloning?” Steven asked to make doubly sure.
“Yeah, what else, not sure they care about your French pancake recipe,” answered Tony realizing that Steven had another line of work he didn’t know about, but all he cared was that it wasn’t drugs or anything violent and that was good enough for him.
Steven paused to let Tony handle the guard at the exit of the parking lot. They stopped at the first red light and continued the conversation.
“I have to admit that I'm totally amazed. I was sort of expecting you to be pissed to death mainly because I promised just last year after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had broken in to the apartment and seized all my computers and equipment for operating an illegal bulletin board system, that I would not do anything illegal anymore. Instead, I find you here grinning from ear to ear and telling me that the police believe I cloned credit cards and you are announcing this like you often tell me that your favourite hockey team just won a meaningless off-season match.”
Tony started laughing out loud at the statement, thinking the same thing about why he was feeling proud rather than furious, and wondered if as a parent that would send the wrong message.
“Yeah, I guess I should be pissed after picking your ass up at a police station for the second time in that many years. But I am mainly smiling because the sergeant-detective explained to me that only a handful of people in the world could have done something like that and when they discovered who was behind the credit card cloning and purchases, they were astonished that it was one young adult. They had always been under the impression that it was an organized group of people. He also explained to me that they will contact you soon and if you're willing to explain to them how you did it, not only will they not press any charges, but they will pay you for your trouble. So you see, I sort of have mixed feelings, I'm not exactly happy that you lied to us and finding myself, yet again, in a police station. On the other hand, I like the fact that the closest thing I have to a son is a little genius. Hopefully in the future you will use that genius for other purposes than crimes.”
At that statement, Steven couldn’t help himself from smiling in his turn and thought that he might just count his blessings and change his path since he would soon turn twenty years old and because, after all, they say don't do the crime if you can't do the time. And even though, in Canada, you almost never saw the inside of a prison for fraud, he felt he had enough money aside and some assets to carry him for many years if he was careful, at least until he found something legit to do. He uttered none of that to Tony and Tony didn't notice anything since he was busy driving. Steven also understood that he had been arrested for the sale of a laptop that was ordered using a cloned credit card he made. As Tony had explained, the police likely couldn’t prove it and to save face, they would rather have his input and eventually collaboration to catch bigger fish than charge him with a petty theft that would likely result in a few hours of community service. And for this, Steven would just have to pay a friend to perform on his behalf as he had done the previous year.
“Tony,” Steven asked, lowering the car window as Tony lit another damn smoke. “How would you break the news to your girlfriend?”
“If you're referring to your mother and she is your mother by the way, I think it is best not to tell her. We don't need any more drama and futile arguments.”
“Great, I was also thinking of not telling my father either.”
“And why not, he’s not likely to take it bad.”
“What do you mean Tony? Of course he’ll take it badly, he is likely going to blame you in the process for not providing me with a proper education and God knows what else,” argued Steven, not seeing Tony’s reasoning. “You know how he is.”
“Well, in that case, maybe you should mention to him that he had no problems with your criminal life when he needed a way to call his family long-distance without paying anything or when he wanted to get free software for his new PC. It always amazed me to see how people have selective memories when it suits them,” replied Tony, replaying the many occasions it had happened to him over the years as the relationship with Steven’s mother was slowly tarnishing like silverware that you could never bring back to the original shining state as time went by.
Steven spent the rest of the drive back home thinking that the best education he could ever receive, he had gotten from all those books on computer hacking, networking and all these how-to manuals on a large number of subjects ranging from radio wave communications and eavesdropping to the Chinese first history on espionage and how to discipline the mind. He also felt sad for Tony, knowing that in one minute of typing, he made more money than Tony would see in the next seven years while sweating at the factory.