The woman who started it all swept into the bank during lunch. In her early forties, she looked like one of those women who’d made it and wanted everyone to know. She wore a woven, gold and brown Chanel suit with simple gold jewelry. It fit her well; she was gracefully slim and her Louboutin shoes added four inches to her height. Her perfectly dyed blond hair was tightly wound in a bun. Her make-up was expertly applied, and her nails sported dark brown polish to complement the suit.
Rachel Foreman, who was covering for the other three lobby managers, absorbed the woman’s presence right away. As she approached she gave Rachel a smile that exuded quiet power and confidence. Rachel, on the other hand, felt a pang of anxiety, the same pang she’d felt about one or two professors in college whose reputations commanded instant respect. Rachel wanted to please this woman.
Rachel flashed what she hoped was a competent smile. “Good afternoon. How can I help you?”
The woman sat at Rachel’s desk. The scent of Chanel Number Five drifted over Rachel. Classy. The woman shrugged off her suit jacket. April in Chicago was iffy, but this morning had been warm and breezy, promising more of the same. It wouldn’t last.
“I’d like to open a new credit card account,” she said.
“I can help you with that,” Rachel said. “Do you have an account with us?”
“Several.” She reeled off a string of numbers. “That’s my checking.”
Rachel scribbled them down. “Just a sec.’” She punched in the numbers and waited. The computer returned an account held by Pamela N. Cannon.
“Ms. Cannon,” Rachel said.
“Your name sounds familiar.”
The woman shrugged. Rachel took it as a sign not to pursue the matter. She punched up another screen on her computer. “We work through a third party, so we’ll need some information from you for the application. The good news is that we can often get approval within minutes.”
The woman nodded.
Rachel asked for her full name, address, phone numbers, date and place of birth. Ms. Cannon replied promptly with all the required information. “I’ll need the numbers of your other accounts with us, but I’ll look them up. She tabbed to other screens, copied what she needed, including the woman’s social security number, and clicked back to the application to fill it in. When she got to approximate income she asked, “Your income, please?”
“Seven million, most of it invested,” the woman replied in a soft voice.
Jesus Christ! Rachel suppressed her reaction. Pamela Cannon was loaded. Who was she? And why did she need yet another credit card? Of course, that was none of her business.
“And the net worth of your investments, if you have any?”
“About thirty. Million.”
Rachel was speechless. It was all she could do to nod. She finished by asking her Social, and her mother’s maiden name.
The woman shifted forward in her chair. “Could I see that you entered the correct Social Security number? You can’t be too careful these days.”
Rachel frowned. Technically, she was not supposed to let customers see their data. Even their own social security numbers. For exactly the same reason the woman had just offered. “I’m sorry, but it’s against policy for just that reason. But you’re welcome to tell me what it is and I’ll verify the number.” She paused. “I have a feeling you’ll be approved in a minute anyway.”
Rachel’s phone rang. She looked around, saw she was still the only manager on the floor. “I’m sorry, I need to get this.” She picked up the phone. “Rachel Foreman.” She frowned. “For me?” She listened to the voice on the phone. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” More silence. “Now? Are you sure?” She sighed. “Okay.”
Rachel minimized her screen and told the woman, “Apparently, there’s a document at the front for me which I need to get right away. I apologize. I’ll be right back.”
“That’s okay,” Pamela Cannon said. “I understand.”
Two minutes later, Rachel returned with a manila envelope. She smiled at her customer and scanned her desk and screen. Everything seemed to be where she had left it. Pamela drummed her polished nails on the arm of the chair.
Rachel finished inputting the information and clicked on ‘submit.’ “All done. Let’s see what happens.”
Within a minute, the screen flashed. “APPROVED.” Rachel smiled. “See? You’ve been approved, ma’am. Your card will be mailed to you in ten business days. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
Ms. Cannon shook her head. “Not today. You’ve been most helpful. Thanks a lot, Rachel Foreman.”
Rachel startled, then realized the woman was reading her name on the corner of her desk.
“Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.”
The woman got up, pulled her jacket on, and strolled to the front exit. It was then it came to Rachel. Pamela Cannon was the CEO of Carefill, a major pharmaceutical company headquartered in Chicago. Although the name of the parent company wasn’t well known, they had developed several famous drugs, including the most popular anti-anxiety medication on the market, a pill that eliminated stomach ulcers, and several promising cancer drugs. Carefill was said to be in the same league as Abbott and Baxter. Rachel’s mother, Ellie Foreman, had produced a video for the company several years ago.
Rachel couldn’t wait to tell her mother Pamela Cannon had come into the bank today and what she had done for her. But first, she opened the manila envelope. It was empty. How strange. She turned it over. No return address or name. What the hell was going on?
Rachel’s mood darkened. Something wasn’t right. It happened just when she was inputting Cannon’s social security number. Suspicious by nature—her mother had taught her that, and experience had borne it out—she searched Google for Pamela Cannon and gasped.
* * *
The woman who came into the bank slid into a Mercedes idling at the curb.
“How’d it go?” the driver adjusted his rear view. “You get it?”
The woman smiled. “No squeaky wheel here.”
“Did the call come at the right time?”
“Perfect. Now let’s get out of here.”
The Mercedes pulled around a truck in front of them and sped across Washington Street.
The female CEO in the photo on Carefill’s website was not the woman who came into the bank. They were similar, both with blond hair in a bun, Chanel suits, and modest jewelry, but the real Pamela Cannon looked at least ten years older than the woman who applied for a credit card. The real Pamela Cannon’s face was lined, tired-looking, and thicker.
Rachel couldn’t do any work and spent the rest of the lunch hour tapping her fingers on her desk. As soon as the other managers were back, she headed to her boss’s office. As bosses went, Robert Katz was a pretty good one. He was in his fifties, balding, and wore rimless glasses, which, though they were back in fashion, always slipped from the bridge of his nose. Rachel suspected he had hit the high point of his career and was satisfied with it. In fact, when she knocked at the door, already open a crack, she heard his executive chair squeak as if he’d been leaning back. Napping, perhaps?
He cleared his throat. “Come on in.”
“Hi, Bob. We have a problem.”
* * *
When Rachel finished explaining, Bob cancelled the card online, then told her to follow him. Together they took the elevator up to the Bank Secrecy Act unit, AKA the Fraud Department.
The head of the department, Eric Arnall, a fortyish redhead with glasses and piercing blue eyes that immediately made Rachel feel uncomfortable buzzed his female assistant. They all moved to a conference room where Arnall asked her to walk him through the entire transaction. When she got to the social security number and the emergency package, Arnall stopped her.
“Wait a minute. Let’s go over that again. First, what time was it?”
“I—I’m not sure. About one twenty, I guess.”
“Okay. Now what did she say? Exactly.”
“She asked if she could see it to make sure it was correct.”
“And you said…”
“That it wasn’t possible. But if she wanted to tell me, I’d verify it for her.”
“Okay. Then what happened?”
“I got a call from the front. They said I had a package. I tried to say I’d come in ten minutes but they said it was a priority. I had to come right now.”
“I thought it was a receptionist. Or the guard out front. It was an internal call.”
“Male or female?”
Arnall frowned, and when he did, Rachel saw deep furrows on his brow. “You didn’t ask who it was?”
“It didn’t seem necessary.”
Arnall crossed his arms. “Okay. Then what?”
Now that she was repeating what happened, the timing seemed awfully convenient—too convenient. “I got up and went to the lobby entrance where the package was. The guy behind—”
Arnall cut her off. “You used Control-L, right?”
“I’m sure I did.”
“Really? Think about it. There’s something off. If you did, there shouldn’t be any way she could have seen your screen.”
Rachel bit her lip. “I thought I locked it. Then again, I was only going to be gone for a minute. I use Control-L if I’m going to a meeting or lunch or at the end of the day. But for this, maybe I didn’t…” Rachel’s voice trailed off.
Bob, Arnall, and the female assistant stared at her, disapproval washing across their faces. Every employee was taught to use Control-L if they ever had to leave their desks for any amount of time. But most employees, if they were going to the wash room, or to get a cup of coffee, just minimized their screens. It was easier.
Except, Rachel realized with sudden terror, the woman had somehow walked around to her computer, unminimized her screen, and stolen Pamela Cannon’s social security number. Rachel’s stomach clenched. She’d screwed up big time. She started to feel nauseous.
Arnall confirmed her blunder with a sigh. “So, that’s how it happened.”
Rachel kept her mouth shut. What could she possibly say? Guilt and shame poured over her.
“Okay. Bob, you call Cannon. Tell her what happened. Tell her it’s important for her to file a police report.”
“Is that really necessary? I cancelled the transaction. The card won’t be coming through.”
“But someone has her social security number.”
“Someone has everybody’s number these days,” Bob said. Rachel knew he was trying to defend her. She wasn’t sure he should.
Arnall shook his head. “Cannon’s a valued customer. What if she pulls out of the bank altogether?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Bob continued. “Maybe it’s not necessary.”
“And what if the thieves are caught and admit they got the number from our bank? From a careless bank employee who couldn’t be bothered to Control-L her screen? We can’t take that chance.”
“Wait a minute,” Bob said. “That’s not fair, Eric. Rachel only did what most employees do. I’ve even done it once or twice.”
“Well, then, perhaps it’s time for a new training program. That kind of thing just can’t happen.”
“There’s something else. You know over fifty per cent of people whose information is hacked don’t bother to file police reports. They don’t think it will make a damn bit of difference. A woman like Pamela Cannon probably doesn’t think it’s worth her time. I’m not sure I do, either, since there was no dollar loss.” Bob pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I’ll offer her a year of credit monitoring, of course.”
“She probably already has it. But she’s an important VIP. What else can we do?” Arnall glanced around the room. No one answered.
“OK. Let’s think about it. Please, Bob. Try to get her to file a police report.” He turned to his assistant. “You get the tapes and we’ll take a look. Maybe we’ll see something before we hand them over to CPD.” He pointed to Rachel. “You can leave.” He turned to Bob. “Find out who her personal banker is and have him come up here.”
Arnall was businesslike. He wasn’t unkind, and Bob didn’t think it was a big deal. But the knot in the pit of her stomach told Rachel there would be hell to pay.
When Pamela Cannon got Bob Katz’s phone call, she was in the middle of an executive meeting. She had told Kelly, her assistant, not to interrupt her unless it was an emergency. Kelly put the call through.
“This is Pamela Cannon.”
“Ms. Cannon, this is Robert Katz from Midwest Mutual Bank. I have some potentially bad news.” He explained the situation. “We want you to know we have cancelled the transaction, and there will be no dollar loss at all, but there is the remote chance that someone now has your social security number.” He further explained that they would offer her a year’s worth of monitoring through Kroll. If someone tried to use her social, she would know instantly. “So. Even though the situation has been managed, we strongly encourage you to file a police report.”
“A police report?” She scoffed. ‘I’ll think about it, but we both know they’re not going to find anything. And they have a lot more important things to do, anyway.”
“Well, without a police report, we can’t really do much more than we have. If you file one, we can be more pro-active. So can the police. Scanning videos, getting prints, widening their investigation.”
“Tell me something, Mr. Katz. If this happened to you, and you were me, would you file a report?”
He hesitated. “Yes. I would.”
“That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. I’m inclined to just let it go. How did you happen to discover it?”
Again Katz hesitated. “After one of our managers took the card information in your name, she compared her to a photo of you on Google and realized it wasn’t you.”
“How enterprising of her.” Pamela chuckled. “Well, please thank her. I appreciate what you’ve done. Hopefully, this will be the end of it.” She hung up and turned to the other two men in her office.
“What was that about a police report?” one of the men asked.
Pamela shrugged, touched her blond hair, and smoothed the skirt of her Michael Kors suit. “Apparently the bank thinks someone tried to apply for a credit card in my name and managed to steal my social security number. Why do you ask, Devin?”
Devin McDuff, tall and gangly, looked awkward in a suit and tie. Pamela always pictured her Director of IT and Internal Security as the guy with the pocket protector. Which he was once upon a time. Now he and the other man exchanged a glance.
“What?” She massaged her left wrist with her fingers. Her arthritis was acting up today. “Why are you trading looks?”
“Devin’s right. It’s not a trivial matter,” the other man said. Stan Trollop, Carefill’s COO, looked like a “proper” executive in his bespoke suit, shined shoes, and reading glasses perched on his head. “Especially in light of what we’ve been discussing.”
“Oh, come on, Stan,” Pamela said with a flick of her good hand. “You can’t possibly believe this has something to do with the Project.”
“To be honest, we don’t know,” Devin said. “Still, not a great idea to treat it so casually. Do you know what someone can do with your social?”
Pamela shook her head.
“Well, let’s start with the thief declaring she lost her wallet and showing up at the DMV to get a new driver’s license with her picture and address but your name. Once she has that, she can go to the post office and get your mail redirected to a new address. Then she might apply for a new passport in your name. She could also reroute your bank accounts, after she emptied them. Oh, yes. And she could add a new phone number to the accounts so all the statements would go to her. And that’s just the start.”
Pamela felt the color drain from her face. “I suppose I never thought about it that way.”
“It already has to other people. Do you want me to show you some articles?”
She hesitated, then shook her head. “I believe you. You’re my VP of Security. You would know.”
“Hello?” Ellie Foreman picked up the phone that night.
“Mom? It’s me.” Rachel sipped a glass of white wine.
“Hi, me. What’s going on?”
“You know that woman, Pamela Cannon, at Carefill? You produced a video for a few years ago?”
“I remember,” Ellie said.
“Well, she’s back. And I may get fired because of her.”
Rachel explained what happened at the bank, the meeting with Bob, then Arnall. Ellie listened. When Rachel stopped, Ellie asked, “Did you watch the video they brought back to the conference room?”
“And it wasn’t the real Pamela Cannon.”
“Can you get a copy of it? The surveillance video?”
“Do you want to keep your job?”
“Well, I have an idea that might help.”
“What is it? Your ideas are sometimes pretty weird.”
“Just get a copy of the tape. I’ll tell you later.”
“I’m not senior enough.”
“What about your boss. Bob something or other?”
“I don’t know if he’s senior enough, either.”
“Didn’t you say Bob talked to her, and she seemed okay?”
“Yeah, but I don’t believe it. I screwed up big time when I didn’t Control-L the screen.”
Ellie was quiet for a minute. Then, “Look, honey. You didn’t do anything that anyone else hasn’t. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure this will blow over.”
“I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this. I’ll talk to you later.” Rachel hung up.
Ellie had a bad feeling about it too, but she wouldn’t tell Rachel. Yet.
* * *
Rachel was at her desk the next morning when she saw Eric Arnall and another man go into Bob’s office and close the door. She tensed and waited. It wasn’t long. A few minutes later, Arnall and the man with him exited Bob’s office and disappeared. A moment after that Bob shuffled out and headed towards her.
“Bad news,” Bob said when he was within earshot.
She looked up. “How bad?”
“As bad as it gets.”
“Oh, god.” Her fist swept up to her mouth.
“Cannon thought about it overnight and changed her mind. She filed a police report this morning. And she talked with the president of the bank.” Bob hesitated. “About you.”
Rachel tightened her lips so much they seemed to disappear.
“There was some talk of pressing charges, and—”
“What? Against me? For what?”
“For not following rules. But we talked her out of that. Well, Arnall did.”
“Oh no, Bob.” Rachel’s voice shot up an octave. “Oh no. I’ve never been fired.”
“There’s always a first time. Hey, this isn’t such a great place to work, anyway. Look, they have this form you’re supposed to sign.” He dropped it onto her desk.
Rachel picked it up. “What is it?” She started reading out loud. When she got to “confirms the termination,” she stopped and stared at Bob. “They want to me admit I was fired?”
“It’s some kind of legal mumbo-jumbo. But you need to sign it. Then—”
“What if I don’t? Will they un-fire me?”
He gave her a half-smile, half-grimace. “No one I know has chosen not to sign.”
Rachel shook her head. “Jeezus.” She scrawled her name on the bottom of the sheet.
“Now, get your things together. They want you out of here in an hour. I’ll walk you out.”
“But, isn’t there someone I can talk to? Can I call Pamela Cannon and explain? Apologize? My mother—”
Bob shook his head. “I’m sorry Rachel.”
He brought her a cardboard box, and Rachel started to pack up her things. She recalled her mother asking about a copy of the bank’s surveillance tape. “Bob, there’s a last favor I need to ask.”
The woman who stole Cannon’s social security number from the bank sipped a glass of wine in a booth at Clyde’s, an upscale bar on Rush Street. It featured a lot of polished wood, gold accents, and a private cigar room in the back for old white men who were pretending they were still powerful.
A man, late forties, she guessed, sat across from her. He was dressed casually in jeans and a hoodie, which made the two an odd pair, since she was all business in a gray St. John’s suit, pearls, and matching bag.
“So where do we go from here?” the man asked.
“Part Two,” the woman replied. “Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.” She laughed. “I always thought it should be two thousand.”
The woman’s smile faded, and she straightened up. “We’ll get a driver’s license in her name. We’ll open a bank account at Chase and slowly transfer funds from her Midwest Mutual account. We’ll get a couple of new credit cards, Vis, AmEx. All perfectly legal, by the way.” She took another sip. “We’re still not sure about the passport.”
“We were thinking we might set up offshore. That would make it harder for the Feds. You know, forcing them to work with foreign law enforcement systems and all. But we haven’t decided yet.” She picked up her bag and rummaged through it. “We have time.”
“Hey,” the man said. “You know I don’t have unlimited resources.”
She pulled out a lipstick. “We understand, Mr. Fields. But remember, we told you the entire project could take six months. You said you could live with that.”
“That’s still the time frame, right?”
She reached into the bag again and pulled out a tiny mirror. “We’re right on schedule. Within a couple weeks we’ll start spending on the cards and pay them off with the new bank account. We don’t want to attract any attention. I’ll be an upstanding law-abiding woman. I mean, she is Pamela Cannon.”
“When do I meet your partner?”
She started to apply the lipstick. “When the time is right.”
“What does that mean?”
“We’re planning to do a dry run of the operation in about a month. We figured you’d want to be a part of it. You’ll meet him then.”
“Tell me about it.”
She blotted her lips and dropped the lipstick and mirror back into her bag. “That’s the fun part. We buy a plane ticket in her name. Make a reservation at a nice hotel. Rent a car. I show up wherever we’ve decided to stage it, but disappear in a hurry a few days later. All hell will break loose.”
“You’re not using fake credit card accounts or anything, right? I read this article about two brothers who—”
Irritation flashed across the woman’s face. “We’re not bush league, Mr. Fields. I told you that.”
“You told me a lot of things, Jennifer.” He shifted. “And please. Call me Don.”
“Well Don, we’re way past skimming card numbers off the dark web.” She sat back in the booth. “Tell me something. Why were you fired from Carefill?”
“How did you know that?”
She flashed him a patronizing glance. “Did you think we didn’t do due diligence on you before we took the assignment?”
He returned her gaze, broke eye contact, and shrugged. “They called it non-performance issues.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’d rather not go into it. It’s none of your business anyway.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong. It is our business. We’re taking a huge risk working with you.”
He squinted and said, “If you already know I got fired, I’ll bet you sure as shit know why.”
Touché. She’d been testing him. She glanced at her phone. “Sorry, I need to go. I’ll be in touch in a week or so about the dry run. Stay cool, my friend.”
“Easy for you to say.”
The woman hesitated for a moment. She hoped her face was unreadable. Then she rose from the booth. “Thanks for the drink.”
Don muttered under his breath. “I know Jennifer’s not your real name.”
She headed toward the door but not before arching an eyebrow at him over her shoulder.