Authors: Karen Sue Burns
Tags: #romance, #romantic suspense
“How do you determine the value of a piece of land or a stock certificate?”
Excellent question. He was listening while devouring his lunch.
“For real estate we obtain an appraisal. For a stock certificate we use the ending market value on the date of the certificate. Okay so far?” She forked a bite of salad for energy. It was nerve-racking explaining a complicated process in such simple terms.
“Yep, makes sense.” Roddy poked his fork in the air. “Keep going.”
“Development receives the gift, knows its value, records it in their computer system according to its purpose like a scholarship or the annual fund. The cash and checks are walked over to the finance office along with a printed list of the gifts entered that day.”
Roddy scrunched his eyes for a second. “How do you know all the cash and checks received by development are processed and sent to the accounting office?”
Damn. Why the hell did he ask that?
“We assume HCU employees are honest. Donors call if they don't receive an acknowledgment for their charitable tax deduction. The donation received letter is automatically created once a gift is input to development's system.”
He rubbed his chin. “A phone call from a donor is the only verification a gift wasn't received and put in the system?”
The detective wasn't a dummy. His question mirrored an issue she'd struggled with more than once as to the lack of good controls.
“I guess you could say that but we've had very few problems with gifts not being recorded. The â ”
“What problems have you had?” Roddy's smile lost the dimple.
“If you keep interrupting me, we'll be here till midnight.”
“No problem. I get off at five, so then we can order a beer.” He smiled, dimples re-emerging. Then cop mode skidded back into place. “What problems have you had with missing donations?”
“Every once in a while a gift check isn't sent to development. The Finance Office cashier inputs it as something else, usually as a student payment.” Roddy didn't interrupt so she rambled on. “Eventually the error is discovered and the information is sent to Development.”
“I'll accept that for now.” He pushed his chair back, drummed his fingers on the table. “How do you know the Finance Office gets all the cash for gifts entered in the system?”
Quinn's dilemma in answering the question ricocheted between evading it all together and overloading him with detail. She sipped her tea, folded, then unfolded the napkin on her lap. Might as well tell him everything.
“We have a process. One of the accountants receives the checks and the list of gifts from development. The accountant verifies each physical check is on the list and notes the correct bank account. The checks are handed over to the cashier who inputs them to the cash system then deposits them to the bank. Okay so far?”
“Yeah, but that's all?” He munched a chip. “You don't have any other procedures to make sure all the cash is deposited?”
She blew out a breath. Did he think they were all dummies in higher education? She was paranoid about proper accounting procedures but had no control over development, unfortunately. She might as well answer his question directly.
“Sure we have other procedures. At the end of each month, we reconcile gift revenue to the bank deposits. It's performed through our gift suspense accounts. When the gifts and cash are recorded separately, the other side of the transaction is the same gift suspense account. We verify each gift has both a debit from the gift and a credit from the cash deposited to the bank.” Quinn placed the folded napkin on her plate, settled into her role as the HCU point person. This would work out fine. “Remember, debits equal credits. The dollar amount for the gift revenue and the cash deposit must agree. You know how accountants are, everything must tick and tie.”
“I get the picture.” Roddy looked at his watch. “Want dessert? I've got several more questions.”
“No thanks.” She scooted the chair back, crossed her legs. “By the way, I have a couple of questions for you. First, what have you looked at so far â HCU employees, the wire instructions, the bank's involvement? What exactly? And second, do you have a forensics team on the case?”
“Yeah, they always do that on television.” As soon as the words tracked over her lips, Quinn's face heated like a sparkler on the Fourth of July.
Roddy ignored it. He waved to the waiter, who arrived with the check. “You don't need to be one bit concerned about police procedures. That's why I'm here.”
“I want to help you. To do that, I need to understand the full scope of your investigation. I can handle the truth of whatever you uncover.”
“I don't doubt that.” He studied the check, met her gaze. “Truth is, I'm police, you're civilian.” He shrugged. “That's the way the system works.”
“Will you call in the FBI?” she asked.
“That's classified for civilians.” He flashed a grin.
Damn. He refused to answer every question she threw at him. Maybe he did think she was the thief and he was playing with her. Did he already know about the Gregory James email? She wanted to shout she was innocent.
Instead, she lowered her voice. “I understand you have procedures. Give me something to work with. Let me help you.” She leaned over the table. “I can't help the police if I don't have a complete picture of what's going on.”
“That's the way we, meaning the Houston police, work. I ask, you answer.”
Quinn opened her eyes wide and shot him her most earnest face. “Don't forget, I'm the HCU point person.”
Rather than agreeing with her, Roddy doubled over in a fit of laughter. She wondered if he was in pain considering the tears in his eyes. He finally noticed her glare and the clatter of her tapping foot.
“Sorry.” He leisurely wagged a finger in front of her face. “You just looked so damned â¦ forget it.” Silence. He grinned, dimples winking. “Okay, I see your point.”
“Thank you. Can you tell me anything?”
“Yes, ma'am,” he said, stirring his iced tea with a straw. “We have nothing concrete, no major suspects, and no smoking gun. We're in the investigative part of the investigation.”
Quinn could imagine his excuses revving up. He wouldn't say a damned thing to help her. “Are you saying that nothing â ”
“As I was saying, we're basically doing legwork now. Today, we sent a technical team to First National and we're looking into the background of everyone who had prior knowledge of the wire. It's all standard procedure.”
“Glad to hear standard procedure is still in vogue.”
“Don't be snippy, Quinn.”
“Wouldn't think of it, detective.” It was her turn to grin. “Are you looking at the financial background of HCU employees? For instance, has anyone made a large purchase lately?”
“Absolutely.” Roddy stood, threw some bills on the table. “I've got work to do and so do you. Let's go.” He grabbed her elbow, directed her to the door.
“But â¦ .” She had several more questions. Apparently they would have to wait. He ushered her to his police-issue vehicle and drove quickly back to campus. After dumping her on the sidewalk without a thank you for the information she'd provided or even a good-bye, he roared down the street. At lunch he moseyed along like molasses running down a spoon, and now he was in a hurry? Did their conversation give him a great idea to investigate? An idea he didn't bother to tell her. Damn that cop.
Back at her desk, Quinn stared at a blank computer screen. What was the first step in searching for the missing money? She transitioned from a somewhat confused point person to accounting mode, and pulled out a yellow pad. Her best thinking was always on paper.
She jotted down an initial check list: review wire instructions, obtain phone numbers for donors of missing gifts, research electronic fund transfers, review updated gift suspense analyses, consider who at HCU might be involved, talk to First National and the Bridge Foundation.
She stuffed the paper in her purse, then called Daniel, the nice guy in the development office who performed the daily data entry. As usual, he was as sweet as jelly beans and accessed the phone numbers she needed from the donor records. She jotted them down along with the home addresses he threw in as a bonus. Check one on the to-do list. She was already making progress.
The office phone rang.
“I've been looking into the list of gifts you emailed earlier. It'll take me a couple days to thoroughly review each one. Daniels's researching a couple of items for me.”
“Glad to hear that. Some of these missing checks may be related to the $25 million. You've got to admit, it's quite a coincidence.”
“I hadn't considered they might be related to the theft. I assumed it was a paperwork mistake. But not to worry, we'll get to the bottom of it.” Rebecca sounded sincere. “I'll get back to you as quick as I can.”
“Thanks. The sooner the better for all of us.” Quinn was skeptical of Rebecca acting nice with her. The last couple of days weren't typical of their interactions.
“I'll do my best to have something by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. I know this is important.”
Rebecca was playing with her. She'd never before been concerned about Quinn's convenience in the eight years they'd worked together. Maybe Dr. Arnold or Bill had given her orders about cooperating with the accounting staff â about damned time.
She left a voice mail for Scooter letting him know she'd talked with the detective. She stuffed the campus directory in her purse and headed home. She didn't feel right doing internet research on HCU employees at the office. She'd feel like a traitor even though Scooter had asked her to assist the police. If she uncovered a clue implicating someone she knew, she'd rather be at home, where she could scream at deaf walls.
$ $ $
Quinn poured a glass of iced tea, then fired up the laptop in her study and logged onto the internet. She wasn't all that familiar with the specifics of electronic funds transfers. She needed to know the nitty-gritty of how they were completed, and began with a simple search. After some simple queries, she discovered she didn't know squat about EFTs.
But she did know the transfer from the Bridge Foundation was a wire transfer and the funds were good on the day of the transfer, i.e. ready to be credited to the HCU account at First National Bank. This meant the window of opportunity for interrupting the transfer was narrow.
“I'd make a great detective,” she muttered.
She felt certain her earlier conclusion was correct â the thief had to be at the bank, the foundation, or the brokerage firm.
She continued her online search and learned that certain information was required for a wire transfer: the originating institution's ABA routing number and the sending account number, the receiving bank's ABA number and the recipient's account number, and of course, the dollar amount of the transfer. There was a protocol as to how the originating bank organized all the various pieces of information.
The Bridge Foundation knew all the necessary bits of data as did their brokerage firm.
, her fist thumped the desk. The instructions must have been changed at either the brokerage firm or First National, not at the university. Quinn nearly jumped out of her chair to perform the happy dance.
Her stomached growled but nothing sounded appetizing. She stared at the contents of the refrigerator for a good thirty seconds then pulled out an open bottle of wine. She poured a glass of chardonnay and went to the living room to watch the local news.
A local channel had an update on the HCU theft. Roddy's face appeared on the screen. He looked good on TV. She turned up the volume to hear the interview.
“Detective Phillips, this is a most unusual theft for an institution like Houston Cullen University. When did you start your investigation?” The newscaster shoved a huge microphone in his face.
“Last Friday evening,” he answered.
“Have you determined how the theft was carried out?”
“We're pursuing several leads at this time.” The microphone wiggled beneath Roddy's chin.
“Do you have a list of suspects yet?” The newscaster smiled at the camera, not at Roddy.
“We're pursuing several leads at this time,” he repeated.
“Detective, please tell our viewers about your investigation. Will you be making an arrest soon?”
Amazing that Roddy could remain calm in front of such a nitwit reporter. His rating went up a notch.
“Ma'am, we're in the middle of several things right now and nothing is firm. You'll be the first to know once we're ready to make an arrest.” Roddy smirked to the camera while the interviewer turned away from him and faced the camera alone, ending the spot.
Not for a minute did she believe the police hadn't made progress. They weren't about to tell the news media, or her, what had been discovered. Roddy had been a real zero at lunch. She'd answered all his questions and presented a good review of development and the finance office but he didn't tell her one meaningful thing about the investigation other than that the police were in fact, investigating. Well, duh.
She wondered if he had uncovered any derogatory facts regarding the finances of HCU employees. Quinn knew her own situation wouldn't provide much to keep him amused. What about everyone else, though? She had access to the annual salary of each employee and knew that no one, other than Dr. Arnold, was getting rich working at a private university. Perhaps that alone translated to a motive for grabbing the money â stealing from your employer because you thought your salary was too low. The reasoning seemed lame, but then again, Quinn wasn't a crook.
Comparing a person's salary to their standard of living would require some effort. The easiest approach would be to concentrate on employees who appeared to be living beyond their HCU salary â those with a home in a ritzy neighborhood or owning a fancy car. She'd obtain the house values from the local appraisal district and a list of employee vehicles from campus security.