Chapter 21 – The Shutters Conspiracy (Part II)

«      »

“It’s not what it looks like,” Shutters finally said with a single long breath. “What we’re doing isn’t illegal—okay—we’ve all had scrapes with the law before, by testing mathematical theory on poker games in Las Vegas. No cops were called, understand. It’s just that what we’ve been testing isn’t totally covered by University policy and if someone were to find out, we might lose our jobs.”

He paused for a very long moment and Toller let him catch his breath.

“I’m sure you know, Whitaker cannot lose his job…his wife, she’s not well,” he finished. “So, if I tell you anything about Harwood and that night, will you keep him out of this?”

Agent Warren extended a hand in sympathy. “We will do what we can,” he said. “If Harwood is blackmailing you or pressured you into something under duress we could offer you some discretion… Our investigation is focused on him.”

Shutters swallowed and shook his head.

“I guess you can’t promise that can you.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Agent Toller said. “Just tell me about what Harwood is up to and we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Let me get another glass of water,” Shutters said.

Toller nodded and he wandered away into the kitchen. A minute later after a long drawn-out pour and the tinkling of ice on glass, the TV turned off and he returned to the agents who waited patiently. Kathy put away her notebook—she had no intent to use it anyway (she had a voice recorder running in her pocket) and together everyone waited for Shutters to begin speaking again.

Warren detected the distinct smell of alcohol from the glass shaking in Shutter’s hand and he suppressed a smirk.

“It all started a year ago,” Shutters began, “the various college heads felt that while we’ve had a good crop of students we’ve been receiving less in grants from particular Federal run funds because their GRE scores have tended to be lower than the national average. Talk about unintended consequences buried in the rule set.  Of course, then we had to soften our acceptance criteria a few years ago because there was a national shortage of postgrad and postdoc students applying to the graduate programs. Now, there’s a few State programs that we could take advantage of but their language is a bit strange…”

He paused for a moment and scratched his chin. “The people who write the laws and policies that regard these things must be insane, the trigger circumstances and structural language makes no sense sometimes but…well, the crux of it is that if you get the right scores with the right people it increases your take.”

Warren nodded. “Okay, so you had to play the political game. How does this skirt legality?”

“Well, we were approached by a benefactor who was willing to give us a computer modeling program that would pick the best applicants and essentially advise all the departments in who to select from the pool and who we should peruse if we could.”

“That doesn’t sound illegal,” Toller said.

Shutters raised a hand and shook his head. “It’s not the program that’s illegal—the thing is really interesting, though, written in obfuscated code and only runs with very peculiar hardware…expensive hardware. Our mysterious benefactor told us that we could pay for the hardware by writing him some equally peculiar code that uses extensive Chaos Theory mathematics—that’s my area—and cutting-edge filtering and post-selection algorithms—that’s Professor Whitaker’s area—as well as extremely advanced matrix processing that’s used in modern supercomputer cloud-cell networking—that’s where Linscott comes in…”

Both Toller and Warren stared dumbly at the man at this point.

“I see I’ve lost you.” He took another drink. “Needless to say, we made the prototype and when we put it to use we were astonished by its capabilities. Except that we built it on University time and with University equipment, but our benefactor wants the code all to himself and has made it clear we are to delete it once we hand the final product over.”

“You used University funds on your project?” Warren said. “I can see where that would catch Harwood’s attention.”

“We couldn’t let him know,” Shutters said. “He’s a bit of a tightwad… If you’ve met the man, you know what I mean. The only problem is that once we got into this project, it was too late for us to get out. We were trapped.”

Toller frowned. “How could this get you trapped?”

“As you can see, our benefactor managed to choose us almost impeccably and he handed us the perfect solution to our problem. That’s when he told us we had to test the prototype system on a virtual currency system to see how effective it was at doing what it did. So all of us bought into Bitcoin, that’s the money in question, and then all of us used the program to determine who to trade with in order to increase returns and limit losses.

“Well, using the program we caused the currency to inflate from just a few dollars a coin to almost thirty-dollars a coin in exchange—in only a matter of a month—but then when the program finished its run it caused a catastrophic crash in the currency and it fell quite far. We lost a lot of money. Well, we lost a lot of money we didn’t really have yet.”

He paused for a moment, made an odd face and gestured with the drink.

“Or, that’s what we suspected, one data-point from an unknown black-box of a program isn’t enough to guess we were able to game an entire monetary market in one go.”

Shutters took another drink. Warren wondered if he should stop the man before he started to become inebriated. His speech already sounded a bit disorganized, and emotion filled his voice. He knew the type, easily excited, ready to play along—and now Shutters found himself confronted by two FBI agents who might get him into a great deal of trouble at his job.

“So how did Harwood find out?” Warren asked.

“Hah, wouldn’t you know it, it’s not like using University resources doesn’t leave a paper trail,” Shutters said. “He started snooping and then he hired a private investigator—a student even.” Shutters shook his head and swallowed again. “I think that we’ve scared them off, but that’s not the problem…

“Whitaker and Linscott have gone missing. I think that they’re trying to prefect the program and use it for themselves. At least, that’s my guess because the program is no longer in the encrypted storage where I kept it and both of them missed classes on Friday.”

«      »

About this entry