She couldn’t believe it. Karen McConville was at her desk looking pale. When her manager died suddenly, the last thing she expected to add to the shock was this. She kept trying to start work, but her concentration would break and she’d find herself going over it again and again. It had been bad enough when Reena McCauley had shown up as the new sales team manager two months ago. That was bearable because she could avoid her, but this morning she’d come into work to a nasty surprise. Karen’s team was one of many that looked after compliance to various different legal, financial and industry regulations in Provincial. All of the teams reported to one overall compliance manager. When he died, Karen had assumed that there would be the usual replacement process. Unfortunately, Provincial had introduced a hiring ban for the second half of their financial year, and as a result finding a permanent replacement had been postponed. Instead, the top brass had decided that splitting responsibility for the compliance teams among their senior managers until the new financial year, was the perfect way to promote awareness of its importance. That morning Reena McCauley was given responsibility for the anti-money laundering team. It wasn’t just Karen who was surprised by the choice.
Of all the department heads that whinged and complained about having to adhere to regulatory compliance, Reena was the most vocal. She saw much of it as an obstacle between her and a profit. She couldn’t believe that now she was lumbered with responsibility for some of it. To add to the annoyance, she now had the pleasure of having to work with Karen McConville. Harry’s protégé, Joe’s ex, how could it get any worse? She arranged a meeting with Karen to find out what she was doing, and what important projects were coming up. When Karen ran through what she had underway, and what her plans were, Reena wished she hadn’t. Apparently the anti-money laundering procedures the bank had in place just met the minimum legal requirement, and needed improvement. Karen needed more money spent on software to achieve this. Sometime in the next three months they would have to get in contact with BankSys, the supplier of their software package, to get its functionality extended. Reena decided to long finger it. She told Karen she’d get back to her about the budget. Karen emphasised that it needed to be done quickly or the bank would receive a reprimand or worse.
Joe had déjà vu going back to the old office. He had to pick up Reena that night. They were meeting Andrew to talk about business, and he was looking forward to it like a hole in the head. He picked up a visitor’s pass at reception, explained to the security guard, who remembered him, that he was expected and went up to the fourth floor. He entered the open office and walked towards Reena’s door. As he did a familiar head popped up from a desk. Karen was packing up to go home. He’d heard about Reena taking over as her manager at lunchtime. He knew that the announcement must have stung Karen. She hadn’t seen him enter. He hadn’t seen her since his leaving drinks when he dumped her. She looked stressed. Good. He couldn’t suppress a slow smile. She looked up and saw him. He continued smiling, she wouldn’t know why he was doing it. “Hi Karen.”
“Joe! What are you doing here?” Karen’s day was not improving. She had to do her Christmas shopping when she left – a job she hated. Her new boss was her ex’s girlfriend. She was going to be a bitch to work with, and now Joe had shown up in person. It was the staff reunion from hell. It crossed her mind that he might have come to witness her discomfort in person.
“What – no welcome back for your old colleague?” Joe was all smiles.
Karen gathered her composure and recovered a bit. “Of course, I’m sorry Joe. It’s lovely to see you again. Congratulations on the promotion by the way.” She held out her hand to him with a weak smile.
He took the hand beaming, and embraced her in a big hug. “It’s great to see you too.”
He was just pulling away, leaving her with a peck on the cheek, when Karen heard a door close with a bang behind her.
“Ah!” said Jack. “There’s my date. I hear she’s your new boss... I’m just here to pick her up. I’ll catch you around.” He left Karen and went to meet Reena, who was already walking down the aisle towards Karen’s desk. Joe met her half way and gave her a peck on the cheek, which was received with a stony glare. As they passed her desk on the way out, Reena delivered the same one to Karen.
Safely ensconced in Joe’s Audi on the journey home, Reena asked what his exchange with Karen was all about, when they stopped at traffic lights. Joe knew what Reena was getting at, but decided not to tell her what she wanted to hear.
“It was just a friendly hello between old colleagues.” He felt her posture stiffen.
“So you greet all your old colleagues like that?” She was having trouble controlling her tone.
“Well... Maybe Karen and I were a bit closer than most colleagues.” He let the implication hang.
Reena snorted. “Do you think that’s news to me Joe? I knew it the first night I saw the two of you at Harry’s retirement drinks. You were transparent.” Two calculated insults, one to omit the fact that that night had also been his celebration, and one to imply he was unsophisticated.
“Transparent, really? So is that what attracts you?” He managed to keep an edge out of his voice, but Reena could tell she’d hit a nerve by the way he was revving the engine impatiently.
“Oh Joe. Don’t take it so personally. To answer your question, yes I do prefer to keep it simple. You’re five years younger than me. Just about everything you do is going to seem transparent to me. It’s not your fault.”
Joe said nothing. The lights changed and he took off with a squeal of rubber. He felt a blush develop, and was glad it wouldn’t be visible in the darkness. “Do you really think that you can afford that high and mighty tone with me?”
Reena ignored his question. “Why did you pick me up tonight?”
“We have to meet Andrew and Murph tonight. Andrew says he has something he wants us to hear.”
“Joe’s dealer is coming? Why is he coming?”
“It’s a private meeting in Andrew’s apartment.”
“I don’t want to be in the same room as Murphy. He’s a drug dealer.”
Joe looked at her disdainfully. “Don’t play the innocent Reena. He’s Andrew’s business partner and you know it. That makes him our partner.”
“Listen Joe, I’m a senior corporate manager in a respected institution. You are a branch manager in the same organization. Do you know what this gives us?” She waited but Joe’s jaw was set. “It gives us respectability. The police don’t come to call on the likes of us to ask questions, they come when called by the likes of us to answer our questions. We’re above suspicion, practically invisible to them. Unless of course, we make ourselves visible by doing something stupid like socialising with drug dealers.”
Joe looked dead ahead. “It isn’t my call. Andrew has something he wants to discuss. He wants us all in one room.”
Reena was livid. “If Murphy so much as looks at me sideways, I’ll leave.”
Andrew’s apartment was high up, in a new block that looked out on the water. When they arrived, he and Murphy were already waiting. They had a bottle of Jameson and a bottle of ginger ale open. Andrew introduced Murphy to Reena. “Reena, this is William Murphy my business partner.”
Murphy held out his hand to Reena. “Please call me Bill. William is far too formal.”
Reena shook his hand limply, with a begrudging smile. “Reena McCauley.”
Murphy couldn’t avoid picking up on her distaste. She was looking at him like he was something she’d normally scrape off her shoe.
“Great”, Andrew said breezily. “Now we all know one another. Reena, Joe can I offer you a drink?”
Murphy picked up the Jameson, offering to pour. Joe accepted, but Reena refused, asking Andrew if he had any wine. Andrew said he did and left the room to get a bottle. Murphy made a crack about a proper drink for a lady. Reena made a thin lipped half smile and walked to the floor to ceiling window overlooking the docks, leaving Joe to make small talk with Bill. Murphy barely noticed what Joe was saying. He was directing a slow assessing gaze at Reena’s back. He felt nothing for her, good or bad. He was a business man. He believed in what was good for business, and so far she’d been good for business. They didn’t have to like each other. Andrew returned with the wine. He uncorked it, poured a glass for Reena and handed it to her.
The main living area of Andrew’s apartment was made up of an open plan kitchen living room. It was a corner unit, with views of the docks and city. At night, with the city lights dancing on the water, it was stunning. The four were standing in the middle of the living area, glasses in hand. Andrew raised his. “Firstly, to us. We’ve never had better business than the last few months. On the operations side, trade has been soaring, and cash is buoyant.” He paused and tilted his glass in Murphy’s direction. Then he turned and he tilted his glass to Joe and Reena, “And on the business side, we’ve never been able to clean so much of that cash so quickly before.” He smiled broadly, and saluted everyone. They returned his salute and toasted themselves.
Reena was becoming more uncomfortable by the minute. Andrew put down his glass and made his way over to a desk that faced the view. His briefcase was beside it. He reached inside and withdrew some envelopes. He returned and distributed one to each of his guests, keeping the last. “We’re all well tutored in the dangers of large amounts of cash, so hopefully his will suffice instead.” Reena looked at her envelope. It had her name on it. She opened it and folded out the top of the document inside. It told her that she was now the proud owner of a house in Marbella. She looked up slightly shocked. She saw smiles on Joe and Murphy’s faces. Andrew looked around at his colleagues, satisfied with the reaction he’d seen. “Each of these properties is in a gated compound that delivers high rental yields, and even higher sale values. You can count on them being worth more in ten years time than they are now. How you draw down your dividend is entirely up to you.”
Reena carefully slid the document back into its envelope. She couldn’t help the genuine smile that spread across her face. Andrew was raising his glass again. “To the fruits of our labours...” he toasted.
“The fruits of our labours” all three answered.