Polly was wearing pale make up and heavy black eyeliner and mascara. Her black hair was short at the back, but a long sharp bob came over her forehead and ran to the bottom of her chin. It obscured one eye and most of one side of her face. Having picked her up, the unlikely trio were headed towards Jack’s office. Jack sat in the front passenger seat, Polly in the back as Sian drove. Jack was explaining as they went.
“This is Sian O’Neill, Polly. She’s an old friend from home.”
Sian looked up from the road to her rear view mirror to see Polly in the back seat. “Hi Polly, nice to meet you.”
Polly didn’t reply.
“Sian lived a couple of miles from our garage” Jack continued. “We were in the same class at school. But then she went to college in Dublin, and I came up here. She’s been doing some work for the bank that Joe works for actually.”
Sian nodded - flicking the briefest of glances at the rear view mirror again, and catching a look of disgust cross Polly’s face.
“Lucky you.” Her tone dripped with an icy sarcasm.
Sian picked up Jack’s disapproving expression in response to the sarcasm, but he said nothing.
“Why do you have to go in today Daddy? We were meant to go to the cinema.”
Daddy. Sian nearly choked. The sarcasm had left Polly’s tone. Earnestness replaced it reminding Sian that Polly was far from an adult yet. There was vulnerability in the voice. It stirred déjà vu in her mind of when her self-confidence was undermined by the slightest of things. Today, Sian could hear, Polly’s self-confidence was being undermined because her father couldn’t make visiting day. Jack tensed in the passenger seat. It was an involuntary response to the tone. He spoke softly to his daughter.
“It’s an emergency Polly. Someone dangerous we were following has disappeared. We need to find him. As soon as I know where he is, I’ll come pick you up. We can try for a later showing, or just go for something to eat if you prefer.”
Polly didn’t make a fuss. She just nodded. “Text me and let me know if I should expect you.”
“I will. Do you have a key pet? I can’t get Mammy on her mobile, she must have gone out to do the shopping and forgotten it.”
Polly nodded, “Yes.”
Sian pulled in beside Jack’s office. He turned to Polly in the back seat. “I’m sorry love, I’ll call around as soon as I can - I’ll text first.”
“Okay.” Polly leant forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I understand.”
Then he turned back to Sian. “Thanks for this Sian - I really appreciate it. Drive carefully, and safe home.” Discretely he placed his hand on Sian’s for an instant, then got out of the car, waved and went into the station.
“You’ll have to direct me from here.” Sian said to the rear view mirror, where she saw Polly returning a hard look her way.
“Straight up to the lights and then left. Just keep going then until I tell you to turn off.”
Sian felt the look remain on her as she pulled out and drove off.
“So how did you come to bump into Daddy on a Saturday morning?”
“I’ve been here since Thursday, I work for a company that makes software to prevent money laundering. It’s a long story, but what look like suspicious transactions are showing up in some new reports I designed for Provincial bank, and we think now that they are related to a case Jack is working on.” The gaze in the mirror never wavered. Sian had felt it before. It was uncanny, it could have been either Polly’s Auntie Sandra or her granny in the back seat. “You know, you’re definitely a Ferguson Polly. I can see both your Auntie Sandra and your Granny in you.”
Polly snorted. “Take the next right up here please. We’re half way down that avenue - it’s a cul-de-sac, but there’s plenty of room to turn at the end.”
Sian hit her indicator.
“What happened to your face?” Polly inquired.
“I got tossed by a car Thursday night. Hit and run.”
“A car hit you!”
“Wow.” Polly seemed impressed. “And you’re back on your feet already!”
“There’s no lasting damage done. I’m a quick healer.” Sian turned into the avenue Polly had directed her to. She dropped her speed to crawling as she drove into the residential road.
“Half way down on the right.” Polly reiterated from the back.
“Okay, maybe I’ll just drive down the end and turn first.”
“What’s he doing here!” As they passed her gate half way down the road Polly had spotted a man walking up their drive.
“Who?” Sian had been watching the road and hadn’t seen him.
“Joe McGrath.” Polly’s voice was indignant.
Sian stiffened. “I thought he didn’t come around to your mum’s house.”
“He doesn’t. I can’t stand him.”
Sian had reached the end of the road. Slowly she turned her car in the half moon crescent provided, and now facing back out of the cul-de-sac took a good look back up the street. Half way up, now on her left she saw Joe McGrath leaning against a navy blue Passat. A sensation of pure coldness washed down through Sian’s body.
“Is that his car, do you know Polly?” Sian was shocked at how difficult it was to get the words out. Her mouth and throat seemed to have suddenly dried up.
“If it is, he’s traded down. Last time I saw him, he had a cool looking Audi. His brother runs a garage I think. Maybe the Audi needed a service, and they gave him that one instead while it’s in… What are we waiting for?”
Sian hadn’t moved forward an inch from the safety of the crescent at the end of the road. She had a sick feeling, a dreadful sense of unease. On another occasion, she’d have guessed Mel had Joe round when Polly was out of the house, and she wasn’t expecting her back. But the car… Sian put the car back in first, and started to inch back up the road. Joe wasn’t looking at them, he was distracted, looking back at the front door of the house. As they got closer, Sian watched him turn and walk back towards the door. In the back, Polly followed his progress too.
A woman appeared at the open door. Mel, Sian guessed. Then, behind her another man appeared. Sian knew Andrew instantly. He shoved Mel out the door. Her face looked terrified. She looked pleadingly at Joe as he approached her. He took his hand out of his jacket pocket as he got to the door, and in it Sian saw a gun. It looked just like the one she’d seen in Reena’s office, the one issued to all Provincial branch managers. He made a shallow arcing gesture with it, indicating to them to come on, and Sian saw Mel’s eyes widen at the sight of the gun. The two men bundled her into the back of the Passat. Sian stopped the car under the shade of a tree, beside the entrance of a different house. As he slammed the back door shut on Mel and climbed into the passenger seat, Sian saw that Joe’s face had the same high colour as it had the first time she saw him. Just like the night Reena died, he looked like a gargoyle. Andrew hurried around to the driver seat and got in.
“Mammy!” Polly began to understand what was happening before her eyes. She lurched for the door handle.
“Polly no!” Sian hit the central locking just in time to stop her.
“What are you doing? Let me out!” Polly vainly tugged on the door handle trying to open it.
Sian was frantically looking for her phone, she couldn’t find it. “Do you have a mobile Polly? We need it, ring your dad right away!” Polly barely heard her - she was still tugging at the door handle. The Passat pulled out of the drive and turned left. It drove up the street away from them, fan belt squealing as it went. Sian wheeled around in her seat. “Polly! Stop that right now - I’m not going to let you out. Find your phone and ring your father. Now!” Polly looked at Sian. She was terror struck. “Tell him exactly what we just saw, and tell him we’re on our way straight back to him.” Polly seemed to break out of her trance and she took a phone from her bag, hit a speed dial and waited for the network to connect.
When Sian got back to Jack’s office, he was already waiting for them on the front steps. Kate was with him. He ran to the car as soon as it was stationary. Sian had released the central locking as soon as the blue Passat had disappeared from view, so Polly was able to jump out and run to meet Jack. Sian got out after her, locked the doors and walked towards the huddled pair. Jack had Polly in an embrace. He didn’t say anything to Sian when she approached, instead he just grasped her hand as she passed and squeezed it for a moment, before returning it to encircle the weeping Polly’s shoulders. Sian looked at Kate. “What’s happening?”
“While Polly was ringing in what you saw, another of our stations took a call from Joe McGrath. He claimed he’d been the victim of a tiger kidnapping. He said that Mel had been taken this morning, and that he’d been brought to his branch and forced to allow the gang take every penny in cash they had there.”
“But we saw him and Andrew snatch Mel!”
Kate nodded. “He said that he was still at the branch, that we should meet him there.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Think of it from his point of view. It’s a diversion, if we’re busy at the branch he has longer to get further away. He doesn’t realise we already know about the blue Passat, and who’s in it with him.” Kate stopped when her phone buzzed. She answered it. “Jack?” She hailed her partner after a moment when she hung up. “They got to the branch. They found Joe’s Audi outside and the security guard locked in his office. They’re trying to work out how much is gone. It’s too early to say - but they think between ten and twenty thousand. Apparently he didn’t take everything.”
Jack nodded over Polly’s shoulder, kissed the top of her head, then gently released her. “Split in two, they can carry that out of the country and into most others legally.” He looked to Sian. “Motor tax has confirmed it received change of ownership papers for a blue Passat showing the new owner as Andrews Bikes and Cars, from a previous owner two weeks ago. We have the reg. They’ve probably put false plates on it, but we’re circulating it anyway.”
“Any sign of it?” Sian hadn’t thought to ask about it before.
Kate shook her head. “We’re scanning the feed from every traffic camera in the city. Every patrol car is on the lookout, and we’re watching the ports and airports. It hasn’t surfaced - but it will.”
Sian nodded. Her phone beeped. Checking the number, she was amazed to see it was Rebecca’s desk phone.
“Hi this is Rebecca. Sorry to bother you. But I’m looking at those accounts we were investigating - the ABC car dealership ones... They’re almost empty. Most of the money was moved at midnight last night.”
“This morning, it looks like the last of the money is being withdrawn, or at least transferred.”
“But it’s Saturday.”
“I know… What do you think he’s doing?”
Sian was confounded for a moment. Then a light went on in her head. “Is the money moving in large sums or small ones?”
“Last night it was small regular amounts - to lots of accounts…”
“He’s paying the wages.”
“You said mainly small amounts, are there irregular amounts too?”
“A few. The regular amounts all seem to have gone just after midnight. But just now, I can see what looks like the remaining cash of each account being moved. It looks like it’s being consolidated into two accounts. The account numbers look funny, I don’t think they’re British or Irish…”
“Just now, right now?”
“Rebecca, can you get someone to do a reverse lookup to find out where the IP address of the machine contacting the bank server is located?”
“I can try. Do you want me to ring you back?”
“Yes. Me or Jack Ferguson please.”
“Jack Ferguson… Okay.”
“And can you ask someone to identify the country that the two accounts are located in? There’s a code built into the full length account number, someone should be able to identify it.”
“It’ll tell us where they’re headed.”
“They’re running. How many accounts have they emptied so far, and how many to go?”
“Five down and five to go.”
“There’s ten of them?”
“Yes. Karen kept looking yesterday and found the others after we left. She sent on all the information last night. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Thanks.” Sian hung up.
She looked at Jack and Kate urgently. “I think they’re online. They’re using internet banking to consolidate their remaining cash from the accounts they’ve been using for laundering, back into what sounds like two off shore accounts. They’re trying to do a clean sweep - this is their endgame. Whatever they’ve planned next, it won’t be a return to their day jobs.”
“We’re watching both Joe and Andrew’s houses, they aren’t there.” Kate said.
“Then you’re looking for a public access point. A library or internet café. The Passat would be parked up nearby. Rebecca is doing a reverse lookup to locate the machine that they’re using. Fingers crossed we’ll know where they are in minutes.”
“I won’t even ask what a reverse lookup is” Jack said, as Kate ran back into the building to get an updated message out to focus the search.
Polly had recovered enough to explain patiently to him. “Every PC that logs on to the internet has an IP address. It’s like a phone number. In the same way you can trace a phone number back to its address through the phone company, you can trace an IP address back to its location through the Internet Service Supplier that’s being used.”
Jack listened and nodded. Then he turned to Sian and asked, “What was all that about wages?”
“You said that the out goings from the accounts looked like utility bills and money paid into what looked like current accounts. Last night lots of small regular amounts were moved out of the ABC accounts just after midnight.”
“Oh!” said Polly. “They’re paying wages by EFT.”
Sian nodded. “Exactly - they set up an electronic financial transaction to distribute wages once a week, or once a month - whatever the period is, just like the payroll you and I get paid through. They’re paying people. I’m just guessing - but if you find out who owns those accounts, I’d say you’ll nail a good number of McGrath and Murphy’s gang.”
“They pay them off through the bank?”
“With perfectly laundered money - yes. I bet the recipients don’t declare everything on their tax returns though.”
Jack stared at her, shaking his head slightly. His phone interrupted the silence. “Rebecca… I know, she’s with me… The train station? Okay great, thanks.” He hung up. “It’s the public library, not far from the train station. I’m going to get them.” He ran back inside to update Kate and the search.
Polly and Sian followed Jack because they didn’t know what else to do with themselves. There was a row over whether Jack could go with the team that was going to the library. He insisted he was going, until the commander of the armed unit told him very firmly that he was too closely involved to be anything other than a liability. So he was forced, along with Sian and Polly, to watch what happened over the following few hours, as an armchair spectator.
First Andrew was picked up. He was still at his PC in the public library making the final money transfers when the PSNI arrived. Unarmed, he co-operated, but protested loudly to anyone who cared to listen that his arrest was harassment. He only realised the gravity of his situation later that evening, when Rebecca presented him and his ever reasonable defender Mr Wilkinson with the money trail that she’d unearthed by then.
The blue Passat was spotted a couple of streets away from the library. Joe was still with it, but alarmingly Mel could not be seen. Joe was waiting on Andrew’s return. As he’d already been seen armed that day, a cautious approach was adopted. An armed team was dispatched to pick him up, but knowing that Andrew had been arrested, and that Joe’s delay would be longer than he anticipated, they hung back and waited him out. Eventually he got out of the car to stretch his legs. They let him walk to a nearby pub, where a plain clothes officer followed him to the gents.
While he was away from the car, more officers secured it. There was no sign of the gun inside, but they discovered Mel in the boot. She was in shock. Quickly they got her out, wrapped her in a blanket and got medical assistance. If the gun wasn’t in the car, it had to be assumed Joe had it on him. When Joe emerged from the front door of the pub, the rest of the armed team rushed him. He turned to go back into the pub, but was met by the plain clothes man who was covering off his rear escape route. He surrendered. When he was searched, the gun was found in his jacket pocket, the same one Sian had seen him withdraw it from earlier. He was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car to be taken back to Jack’s station. Mel was put in an ambulance to be brought to casualty.
Kate took Sian aside. “Can you get him out of here? If he is here when the McGraths arrive, I don’t know what he’ll do.”
Sian nodded, “I’ll look after it.”
She walked back to where Jack was sitting with Polly, car keys in hand.
“Polly. If you direct me, I’ll bring you to meet your mother at casualty. I’m sure she needs you to be there for her, and the further away from these guys I am, the safer I feel.”
Jack stood. He looked at Polly. “That’s a great idea pet. I don’t want you here longer than needs be, and Mel will be relieved to see you, and have you near.”
“You too Jack” Sian said firmly.
He looked at her in surprise. “No, I want to stay here.”
Sian shook her head. “You have to go with Polly. She’s not eighteen, she needs you to deal with the hospital and get her home safely afterwards. What’s she meant to do? I don’t know, and in any case I can’t help, I’m not family.”
For a second Jacks face was torn with indecision. Sian could sense how badly he wanted to be here to greet the McGraths when they arrived.
“Come on Daddy, she’ll be there soon.” Polly broke the silence, and with it Jack’s resistance.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
They said goodbye to Kate as they left. She thanked Sian for all her help as they did.
Sian needed minimal help to find her way back to casualty. She pulled up just as the ambulance carrying Mel arrived. Without fanfare, Polly leapt out of the car. Jack paused as he exited and turned to her.
“Don’t go home tonight I need to talk to you first.”
“I don’t have a hotel.”
He fished a card out of his pocket. “Go here and tell the manager I asked her to look after you.”
Sian looked at the card. ‘Knaves @ Queens’.
“Please, you’ll like it, very stylish. I’ll meet you there in the morning. I’ve got to go now.”
It was raining, but as Sian watched through her windscreen, it made no difference to Polly or Jack as they rushed to Mel’s stretcher. The nuclear family reunited. They followed the ambulance crew as they wheeled Mel into the building, and disappeared from sight.
Sian looked at the clock on her dashboard. It read six. The light had faded. She was too wired to just spend another wasted night by herself in a hotel room. She knew that she’d feel way too guilty if she tagged along with Cara and Alison again. She’d discovered missed calls and a text from Cara in the station while she’d been waiting. She’d texted her back to say she was fine, but hadn’t gotten away as early as she’d been hoping. She took out her phone now and ran through the numbers. There it was - Karen McConville. She rang it. Karen was surprised to hear from her. Sian explained that she was unexpectedly in Belfast for another night, and asked if she knew anywhere that served comfort food, comfort drink and ideally had a good band on a Saturday night. When Karen said she did, Sian asked if she wanted to join her to blow off some steam for a couple of hours. Karen said she’d be delighted.