Reena hung up the phone. The dreaded day had arrived. Seán O’Neill from BankSys was in reception waiting. She felt a bolt of something run through her. It was not exactly panic. It was like the feeling you get doing the speed limit on a motorway when the car in front unexpectedly taps the brakes. You suddenly reassess what safe distance is. She sat back in her chair, closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She took five minutes like that working her way through how she was going to handle this. She had already arranged a meeting with Joe for this evening. It was here, so that everything looked official. But the agenda she would be discussing with him wouldn’t be. She gathered herself and left the office for reception. As she passed Karen McConville’s desk she stopped briefly. “Karen. I’m on my way down to sign Seán O’Neill in. I hope you’re ready.” Karen nodded, Reena carried on.
When she got to reception Reena looked around. No sign of him. She marched across to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist jumped at the sound of Reena’s acrylic nails rapping the counter top by way of catching her attention. “You told me that there was a visitor here for from BankSys? Can you tell me where they are? Please don’t tell me that I’ve come all the way down here and wasted my time because you can’t get simple details right?”
The receptionist shrank a little in her skin. She pointed towards the seating area where only a woman was sitting. “The visitor from BankSys is just over there Ms McCauley.”
Reena swung her gaze around to where the woman sat. A last minute change to who they’d agreed to send to her? Who did they think they were? Reena strode towards the visitor to find out. “What happened to Mr O’Neill, why couldn’t he come? I was promised the organ grinder not his monkey.”
“I think you mean me” the visitor answered, getting up and extending her hand.
“Mr O’Neill? Mr Séan O’Neill?”
“Sian O’Neill, S - I - A - N. Like the news reader.”
Reena blinked as the penny dropped. “Oh... Well, Miss O’Neill, you’re late. We better get started.”
It was nearly five thirty when Sian left Reena’s office. Her update had been a shock. She’d be using real bank data to prototype, develop and test the improvements. Reena had anticipated at least a month more before any transactions she had to worry about would come under scrutiny. Now it looked like it could happen as early as the next morning. There was a soft knock on the door, and as scheduled, Joe McGrath entered.
Joe took one look at Reena’s face and asked, “How bad is it?”
Reena’s head was lowered. She exhaled a long breath before answering “Very bad. We might be in trouble from as early as tomorrow morning.”
Joe was shocked. “Nothing happens that quickly with software, it couldn’t be.”
Reena looked up. “An extract of the last month’s transactions is being taken as test data. It’ll be used to help verify that the changes are working.”
“Reena, this can’t happen... Do you know what is at stake?”
Sighing, Reena unconsciously pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. “I’ll insist that all account names and numbers are altered, so everything will be disguised. It’ll buy us some time, a week or ten days, depends how quickly BankSys can get through the changes for us, but...”
“But if they manage to get their changes right, our transactions will start to appear as suspicious patterns. Even though Karen won’t be able to see the real account numbers and account owner details, once she sees a pattern she’ll be like a dog with a bone. I’m afraid she’ll find some informal way to look at the real data in the meantime, once she realises that there is something to look for.”
“We can’t let that happen.” Joe was standing in front of Reena’s immaculately tidy desk, shaking his head.
“There is only so much we can do Joe. If I lean too hard and become too obvious, it’ll blow the whole thing.”
Still shaking his head, Joe repeated himself. “We can’t let this happen.”
Snapping out of it, Joe levelled his gaze on Reena. “The last night we all met in Andrew’s, when you went out onto the balcony for a smoke, Bill Murphy asked me if you were the love of my life.”
“Hah!” Reena couldn’t stop herself from laughing.
“He asked because he wanted to know if I was ready for what would be done if you became a weak link.”
Reena’s smile faded. “We all discussed plausible deniability that night. We all agreed to take measures.”
“Reena, their idea of plausible deniability is to remove what links them to you. They’ll remove you. But for the fact that Andrew is my brother, they would remove me.”
“I have a gun.”
“They know that, it won’t stop them.”
Reena was shaken. “What answer did you give?”
“When Bill asked you about what you were prepared to do.”
“I said I was ready.”
“It was what he wanted to hear.” Joe’s gaze fell to the floor. “But I’m not ready.”
Reena inhaled slowly, thinking. “If I can implicate Karen somehow, we can make not finding anything suspicious in her own self-interest.”
Joe chewed it over in his head for a moment. “What if she was covering for me? We’re old flames...”
“Was that Joe?” Karen asked when she entered Reena’s office at six.
Reena said nothing, just looked at Karen, and then stared pointedly at the chair that faced her desk. Karen sat down.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.” Reena began. “It concerns how late you left it to arrange for this visit from BankSys.”
Karen’s brow crinkled. “I badgered you for a week.”
“For a week, while I was finding my feet. But you had how many months before that to arrange the appointment?”
“No one knew how busy they’d be. I didn’t realise that I needed to contact them earlier.” Karen looked at Reena quizzically, not knowing what else to say. Reena looked unhappy.
“You know, Karen, this group has to be above reproach.”
“Yes.” Karen nodded.
“We have to be blameless, and seen to be blameless.”
“If an individual behaves unacceptably, the reputation of the whole department could be compromised. Do you agree?”
Karen nodded, wondering what Reena was going to try accusing her of.
“And for that reason, someone whose performance is less than flawless could very easily lose their career.”
Karen stiffened in her chair, bolt upright now, waiting for Reena to cut to the chase.
“All of which brings me back to this delay...” Reena drummed her thumb on the top of her desk. “Tell me Karen, when we finally get this software upgrade, am I going to find anything that will make me wonder about the reason for this delay?”
Karen was amazed. “No! What are you implying?”
“I’m implying that if we find anything suspicious, and if for any reason it is linked to you, I’m going to come down on you like a ton of bricks.”
“Because your delay leaves us exposed to negative scrutiny. I have to protect the whole department, its workings, and Provincial’s reputation. If something surfaces to call your actions or inactions into question, I will not hesitate to sack you, if you do not go by yourself. Do you understand me?”
Sack her? Karen was stunned into silence. The nature of the work was that no one would or could hire her if her reputation was compromised. She’d be finished. Why was Reena pointing accusations at her like this? Was something going on that Reena had seen, but she’d missed? Why was she talking to Joe McGrath before she came in? “Why were you talking to Joe earlier? You don’t think that there’s something going on that involves him do you? I mean if there was...” Karen stopped, realising how bad that would be. She was his ex and if she was seen to have delayed calling BankSys about the upgrade, they’d investigate her for attempting to conceal a crime for him.
“No. I most certainly do not think that he is involved in anything.” Reena interjected.
Karen’s brow furrowed. There was something nervy about the speed of Reena’s response. “Good. If there was, it would look very bad for me, being his ex and everything...” Karen followed the train of thought to its end. “Of course, it would look every bit as bad for you, because you could also be accused of helping him...” Karen’s mouth froze, suspended half open in surprise, as realization dawned for her. Reena had helped him. She shifted her gaze to Reena, looking for signs of guilt. Her face was a picture of fright, her eyebrows two inverted 'u's over wide eyes, her mouth an 'o'.
Reena closed her mouth, replacing the ‘o’ with a level horizontal line to match her eyebrows as she relaxed them. Karen was still staring at her, taking in every move she made. Reena tilted her head back a little, so that she was literally looking down her nose at Karen. She spoke in a slow and calculated manner. “You will find nothing that suggests anything illegal Karen. I’m confident of it. I have every faith that your competence and honesty would ensure that we’d have found anything there was to worry about before now. I’d be amazed if something turned up that undermined my high opinion of your professional abilities.”
“Of course you would” Karen replied. She felt sick. She wanted out of this office.
“Tomorrow morning, you will mask the account and branch details of any test data you supply to BankSys, so that no amount of reverse engineering will be able to identify the true owners and origins of those accounts.” Reena was speaking slowly and quietly now, closely observing Karen’s reactions. Karen had retreated into herself, and appeared shrunken in her chair. She nodded silently. “Good” Reena said. “Then we fully understand each other. There’s nothing more for us to discuss.”
Karen walked out of the office, blood draining from her face. Her stomach was in free fall as the gravity of her predicament began to sink in. Reena had all the advantages. Whatever was going on, she knew the full extent of it. Karen had no idea. She didn’t know whether it was something she should have caught, or something no one could have caught. She knew that it involved Joe McGrath, and that the changes BankSys were making threatened to expose it. Reena’s leverage was that the inadvertent delay she had caused by leaving it so late to set up the visit from BankSys, would look as bad for her as Reena. It would appear that she was protecting herself or covering up for a friend. Joe was the only one who made sense. If she didn’t play along, and pointed out any suspicious patterns the new software found, Reena was going to implicate her first, and then sack her. But if she did play along, she incriminated herself and Reena would know it. After that, Karen knew, she would be completely at Reena’s mercy. It was Hobson’s choice. There had to be another way out. Karen couldn’t accept this. She barely even noticed Sian when she got back to her desk.
“Are you okay?” Sian asked seeing Karen’s colour.
She wasn’t. She felt like she needed to retch. “Yes. Just a bit tired. Come on and I’ll walk you out. I’ll run the stored procedure to mask the accounts in the morning. Let’s forget about it until then.”
Sian nodded. “Sure. I could do with an early night to make up for the five o’clock start this morning.”