Book Jacket

 

rank 5676
word count 87314
date submitted 09.11.2010
date updated 30.08.2011
genres: Fiction, Thriller, Romance, Crime
classification: moderate
incomplete

The Unluckiest Woman in Belfast

Maria Coyle

What do you do when money laundering, blackmail, death, and a troublesome face from the past surface, and you're a stranger in the city?

 

Belfast is a city with a history for Sian O’Neill, so when she is sent there on a business trip, all she wants is to get in, get out, and keep it simple.
Instead she finds evidence of money laundering in the books of her client, Provincial Bank, and witnesses her teenage sweetheart roughing up a suspect during an arrest. This pales into insignificance though, when the manager of the team dedicated to preventing money laundering at Provincial is found dead. Sian finds herself accused of killing her, and only hours after she is interrogated, wakes up in casualty – the victim of a hit and run.
What is at the bottom of the quagmire in Provincial?

 
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tags

1990s, belfast, crime, information technology, ireland, romance, white collar crime

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29

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Taking the Long Way Home

The following morning Sian woke late, when a doorbell rang. She had been very comfortably ensconced in the high thread count sheets of a gigantic double bed, before the doorbell revealed that she had a jackhammer of a hangover. She was delighted shed had the presence of mind the night before to take two pints of water with Alka-Seltzer, and order a room service breakfast for ten forty five, the latest available option for a Sunday morning. She didnt know if shed be able to eat it, but she knew finding out in the privacy of her own room was a much better idea than finding out in the public dining room. The doorbell assaulted her headache again. She got out of bed, dressed in a tee shirt and knickers and made for the door. She was beyond caring if she shocked the porter. She was sure he or she saw worse all the time. She opened the door.

It was breakfast, beautifully presented on a silver tray - carried by Jack Ferguson. He was wearing a black Cuckoo tee shirt this time, but it was worn just as thin as his That Petrol Emotion one, and pleasingly for Sian it was just as clingy.

Breakfast Ms… God you look rough.”

Sian took the tray. “Thank you. Come in. But for that last comment, Id have tipped you… Instead I have to recommend a return to charm school.” She turned and carried the tray back into the room.

Jack followed and looking over her shoulder as discretely as he could manage, checked the bed for more occupants. It was empty. Good. He couldnt help feeling glad about it. “Where were you last night, back at Sugar with Cara and Alison on the cocktails?”

Ah no.” Sian sat the tray on the bed, sat one side of it, removed the lid from her plate cautiously, and waited to see what impact the aroma her fry would have on her hangover. It loved it. “Cocktails are for babies. I went to Auntie Annies with Karen McConville last night, and she was good enough to begin my induction to the black arts of whiskey drinking. I needed a night to let off some steam, so Karen sorted me out.” She buttered a slice of toast and took a bite. “Would you like some?” She pointed to the second slice of toast, guessing that speaking through a mouthful of the first one wasnt good for her diction.

No, no, already fed and watered thanks. I just happened to bump into the guy when he was delivering your tray.”

Dohkay” she managed through a second mouthful.

Well alright, maybe just a slice of toast.” He sat on the bed on the other side of the tray.

Sian proffered the remaining toast, butter and jam to Jack. “I wasnt expecting you this early.”

He smiled and started buttering.

I feel so tired. Belfast has well and truly chewed me up and spat me out, its making me feel old.”

Jack smiled. “Considering the couple of weeks youve just had, Id say thats putting it mildly.”

Mmmm. Hows Mel?”

Shes fine. They kept her overnight for observation and then let her go this morning. Shes shaken, but delighted to be allowed home. I stayed at Mels house with Polly last night, then picked Mel up from casualty this morning and brought her back. When I left them, she and Polly were at the kitchen table eating pancakes and swapping war stories.”

Sian put down her teacup and looked pensively at the last sausage. “I bet I come out really well in that story - after all I stopped Polly from charging to her mothers rescue, and lifted not a finger to help her myself.” 

Yeah, thats the way Polly tells it.” Jack reached over the tray and covered Sians hand with his own. “But its not the way Mel or I hear it. We hear that you kept Polly from harm, and did the only thing you could in the circumstances to help Mel… Thank you Sian, I dont know how well ever repay that.” 

Sian could see that he was in absolute earnest. She didnt know what to say. She shook her head gently. “Dont mention it. It was done before I had time to think of what I was doing.” The serious mood felt awkward to her. “Is that all you came to say to me?”

Jack nodded.

God - How disappointing. These days when I meet a policeman I expect an interrogation, or at least a summons to appear in court. This is alarmingly normal I must say.” 

Jack swiped the last sausage from the breakfast plate, and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Well, so far I have established that you were out drinking with one Karen McConville all last night, that you returned home alone at a late hour in a drunken state, and slept it off till just now.”

Sian opened her mouth to interrupt, but Jack held up a hand to stop her.

I also know that wherever Karen brought you served good whiskey, because you got hangover drunk but your stomach is fine. You also expect to be back in Belfast, as you said that this was just the start of your induction into whiskey drinking. So you must be planning more lessons… All this and you didnt even realise Id interrogated you? I think Im pretty slick.”

Sian smiled wryly. “To be fair, with all that happened yesterday, it seems obvious that Ill have to come back to testify to what I saw.”

Jack nodded. “Of course. I wouldnt have wished any of this on you, but I cant say Im disappointed youll be back.”

Sians smile shrank a little. “Careful what you wish for.”

Jack nodded. “Okay. Whats your plan? Check out and hit the road?”

Pretty much. Cara and Alison are meeting me here to get a lift home.” She stood up. “I have to shower and pack up.” 

He nodded. “Hurry up and we can go for a walk. The Botanic Gardens are a stones throw away.”

Twenty minutes later Sian was almost ready to go. She couldnt find her mobile phone. After she and Jack had checked everywhere for a third time, she finally gave up. “I must have lost it, or left it somewhere last night” she said. “Ive got to check out now anyway.” Jack suggested that she leave a message at reception, in case housekeeping turned it up.

When they got downstairs, Karen McConville was waiting in the lobby, the missing phone in her hand. Sian was delighted. “Thank you so much! I only discovered I lost it when I was packing.”

I found it on the floor of the cab after we dropped you. I guessed youd be a last minute check out after last night.” Karen answered smiling. “So I figured Id catch you here, or post it back to you in BankSys tomorrow morning.”

That was good of you” Jack said. “You must be Karen. Im Jack Ferguson.” He held out his hand.

Oh, Im sorry.” Sian said hurriedly. “Where are my manners?”

Dont worry about it” Karen replied, smiling and shaking Jacks hand. “Karen McConville. Nice to meet you. You must be exhausted after yesterday. I hope everyone was okay, and things worked out.”

Thanks Karen. Mel is fine, and we have the McGraths in custody. Thanks to all the evidence you gathered from Provincials systems for us, we have plenty to hold them for. If you want to walk down to the Botanics with us, Ill fill you in...”

Karen nodded. “If you dont mind. Its been an unsettling few weeks.”

Sian nodded. “Im with you on that.” She checked out at reception and put her stuff into the boot of her car. Then they walked away from the city centre past the theological college and for the first time Sian realised how close to Queens University she was staying. “Isnt this near where you stayed?” she asked Jack.

Hah... yes, a lifetime ago.”

Sian smiled for a second, then got down to business. “So what happened with the McGraths?”

Andrew has been charged with money laundering, kidnap, and organising crime.” 

Sian nodded.

Joe has been charged with kidnapping Mel, conspiring to launder money with Andrew, and the theft of almost twenty thousand pounds in cash from Provincial.” Jack paused a moment. “Were also charging him with reckless driving endangering the public.”

Sian felt a sting of anger. “It was him Thursday night? He tried to kill me and hes being charged with dangerous driving?”

Jack nodded and continued. “Stan noticed that the Passat had a busted passenger side indicator and headlamp. He took it, the broken glass recovered from Provincials car park where you were hit, and the glass he found embedded in your laptop bag and tried putting it all together like a jigsaw. Its not perfect but a lot of it fits. Its enough to show that you were struck by that car. When we put it to him he admitted he was the driver.”

Sian was surprised at how bitter she felt. But she still didnt understand why he wanted to kill her. It made little sense. “Did he say why?”

It wasnt meant to be you.” Jack paused for a second, looking towards Karen, who looked back inquiringly. “Actually Karen, he says it was meant to be you.”

Me?”

Jack nodded. “He came back at five, knowing that you normally leave at five thirty. He didnt realise that you were already gone. You left early that day after being interviewed. When he didnt see you leave, he assumed you were working late. Youre about the same height and weight as Sian, so when she left the building he thought it was you. He claims that when he got close enough to see it wasnt, he tried to swerve away.”

Sian shook her head. “Thats bullshit, he didnt swerve.” Jack said nothing. “So why was he trying to hit Karen then?”

He claims he was just trying to scare her off. He didnt know how far along the new software was, but he knew he was going to be discovered when it went live. Reena was already dead. He thought that if Karen was incapacitated or taken out of the picture, hed have enough time to do a tidy up.”

So he killed Reena too, for the same reason?” Karen asked.

Jack shook his head. “I believe he did. But he flat denies it.”

But he stood to benefit.” Sian argued. “It was Reena that okayed the budget for the software in the first place. She was the one paying to expose what he was doing.”

Except that she was also exposing herself. Remember the transaction patterns you saw in Joes branch started before he became manager. Reena was still in charge.”

That doesnt mean she knew what was happening. And even if she did, it doesnt mean that they wouldnt kill her if they thought she was a threat to their interests.” 

I agree, but the money Andrew moved yesterday morning went into a couple of Spanish accounts. Rebecca has already found earlier transfers to the same ones. Apparently hes a property owner over there. He owns some apartments and a nice house near the coast in a golf resort. Funnily enough William Murphy, Joe and Reena also have houses at the same resort.” He waited a second for that news to sink in.

Theyd reached the middle of the gardens, and Sian checked her watch. “Weve got to head back - the girls will be waiting.” They turned back the way they came. “Could she have legitimately afforded that on her bank salary?” Sian asked.

Were looking into it, but it doesnt seem likely. One of the apartments yes, she could have managed, but the house...”

Karen was shaking her head. “No, I dont think so.”

Well if she couldnt, that means that Joe couldnt either?”

Jack nodded. “Thats right. It looks like they either bought the property using kickbacks they received from Andrew for turning a blind eye to what he was doing, or maybe the houses were the kickback.”

Sian let out a long breath. “Thats a lot of money.” 

It is. Its the kind of scale that would provide a motive to kill Reena. Thats why I think he did it. He had too much to lose. He says she was still in on it, but who knows? Maybe they cut her out of the kickback loop when he dumped her. Maybe she wound him up that night, told him what the new software would do and said she wasnt going to stop it unless he made it worth her while. She might have demanded a fee, or a continuous cut… And Joe just decided he wasnt going to pay it. Its so much cash, and it was such a sweet setup, theres any number of reasons. By last Friday morning he knew that the software upgrade had already taken place. Worse again, Stan and Rebecca were all over it because hed hit you by mistake and it was the only thing that could have been a motive for why. He knew that their number was up.” 

So he showed up in court to get Andrew out.” Sian reasoned. “How were they going to get away?”

It looks like he and Andrew decided to stage the tiger kidnapping of Mel, to get some cash together to fund their trip. We found train tickets to Limerick on Andrew. Maybe he has connections in the gangs there he wanted to talk to before leaving, who knows. He had a flight to Alicante booked from Shannon. Joe on the other hand, had ferry tickets to France from Rosslare. He was probably going to go overland and meet up with Andrew in Spain.”

Sian was shaking her head. “And Mel, what was he going to do with her?”

Leave her by the side of the road - alive, he says now that weve got him. But considering his form, Reena, hitting you…” Jacks face darkened.

It doesnt bear thinking of.” Karen said.

Sian felt an involuntary shiver. “No. How about the wage accounts? Are the owners real?”

Kind of.” Jack took a second to arrange his thoughts before explaining. “The owners are, but they didnt even know that the accounts existed. Joe took the proof of identity evidence from forty customers in his own branch, and reused it to open those accounts in their names. He used the same correspondence address for all of them though. It doesnt match the residential address of any of the customers whose details he re-used. Were following up on the address and withdrawals from the accounts. We may need more help with it from you Karen.”

Im delighted I can help.” Karen said immediately.

Jack smiled and nodded. “Its slow, but give us a week and well have the whole picture.” 

Theyd reached the hotel again. Karen turned to them. “Look, Sian, I wont keep you any longer. I just wanted to drop you back your phone and wish you all the best.”

Thanks Karen, it was really good of you.”

No problem. It was nice meeting you Jack. If theres any more help I can give you, dont hesitate to call me.” She produced a business card from her bag. “Here you go.”

Jack thanked her and said hed be in touch. She smiled at him and left.

Cara and Alison are already here” Jack said when shed gone. He pointed to a table outside the cafe bar attached to the hotel where the Cara and Alison were sitting and gave them a smile and a wave. He turned to Sian still smiling. “I wont keep you any longer either.” He paused. “Thanks again. I dont know what else to say…” He put a hand on her shoulder. “When you come back up…” His hand fell, and on its way grazed the side of Sians breast.

Sian nodded, held the hand. “Nice city - Im looking forward to it” threw a quick glance at the waiting lunch party. “My therapist awaits… Shes been selflessly working on making me easier to be around for a while now.”

Maybe she can break you.”

I think its getting me back in working order thats the trick.”

He smiled at her ruefully. “I have to go…” 

Sian nodded. She was still holding on to the hand that had grazed her breast. Reluctantly she stepped back releasing him. “Next time.” He smiled and walked back the way theyd come.

Sian made her way to the table where Cara and Alison were waiting. Alison had an approving smile on her face. Caras face was a question waiting to be asked. She opened by saying, “Im confused.”

Why are you confused Cara?” Sian asked as she sat to join them. “Good morning Alison by the way.”

Morning Sian” she smiled back. “That was a touching goodbye.” Her eyebrow arched. “Between two old friends.”

Sian smiled back but said nothing.

Cara looked at them as if they were imbeciles. “No” she said. “That was dispiriting. I was hoping for progress. God Sian, what is about you, Jack and Belfast. Why does having sex with him have to be so hard for you here. Give yourself a break. Let yourself be human.”

A waiter arrived and took their order. When he left again Sian continued. “Who said I wanted to sleep with him?”

Sian.” Cara paused as if preparing to explain something to an incorrigible child. “Dont you know how are transparent you are?”

I am not transparent…” Sian objected, trying to retain some sense of sophistication.

When it comes to him, you are to me. What was with that virginal… schoolgirl goodbye? It should have been full on… enough to make me blush goddamn it. What went wrong?”

Nothing went wrong. I just want to go slow, make sure we both know what were getting into.”

Well dont go too slow. Judging by the amount of flirting that other woman was doing with him, he wont be lonely for long.”

What flirting? I didnt see him flirting.”

Her, not him. Who was she?”

It was Karen. The girl Ive been working with up here.” Sians brow creased.I didnt notice anything - you must be mistaken.”

Caras left brow arched. “No... So did you sleep with him and lay the ghost?”

Cara, were not teenagers…”

Cara was getting wound up. Alison patted her wrist and said, “Relax, she slept with him. Otherwise thered be nothing not to be teenagers about - right Sian?”

Sian refused to comment. Cara beamed.

But the question is more whether you laid him and raised the ghost isnt it?” 

Alisons comment hit a nerve. Caras beam faltered. She studied Sian more closely. She seemed pensive alright.  “I guess weve got the whole way back to Dublin to get the details.”

This is going to feel like taking the long way home, isnt it?” 

Cara nodded.

There may not be time, if you want me to hear everything that happened yesterday.”

No problem, tea and biscuits when you get to our house. Therell be time for everything.”

Chapters

29

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