Authors: Karen Sue Burns
Tags: #romance, #romantic suspense
“That's it?” Skepticism flickered across his face.
“Yes, that's it.” She didn't blame Roddy for doubting her logic. The reasoning sounded lame to her as well. “I don't blame you if you I think I'm nuts. My gut tells me something is weird with those two. Won't you at least consider they might have more than a working relationship?”
“I'll think about it.” He stood. “Gotta go. I need to visit my mother on my way home.”
She followed him to the garage. “Please call my cell if you have any news.”
He pulled his car in the driveway to turn around. After he backed out, he stuck his head out the window.
“Lynne Jenkins thinks I'm hot, huh?” He winked and drove off.
Men and their egos.
The phone was ringing when she returned to the townhouse.
“Mom, it's me. I'm finally home.”
“Jane, how was your trip? Did you do any sightseeing?” Twin daughter number two was finally home from D.C.
“It was fine, tiring and boring. Training isn't one of my favorite things. And, yes, we managed to do a couple of tours on Saturday, the White House and the Capitol.”
“Wonderful. D.C. is still on my travel list.” In fact, Quinn had quite the list of cities, both domestic and international, that she hoped to visit on future vacations.
“You'd love it. I heard about the big theft at the university. It was in the local papers.”
“We made the news in Washington? Not the best kind of publicity.” She doubted Scooter or Dr. Arnold would be happy HCU's problems were news outside of Houston.
“There's no such thing as bad publicity any more,” Jane said with a laugh. “Has anyone been arrested?”
“No arrests, no suspects. I'm working with the police for HCU. Interesting stuff so far.”
She heard a typical Jane sigh.
“If you guys would use Texas South Bank rather than First National this probably wouldn't have happened.”
“I've told you a million times, we're not changing banks. The Board will never consider it.”
“Don't forget we have a more updated computer system. First National hasn't upgraded for at least five years. Maybe they were negligent in some way, considering they're so far behind, system-wise that is.”
“Who knows? That's up to the police to figure out.” She wanted to know about her daughter's life. “What else is going on? Dating anyone I should meet?”
“Stop asking me that.”
As usual, she didn't learn a single thing about Jane's love life and she wasn't even that nosy. A mother had the right to ask questions of her children. Jane rarely disclosed anything about her private life while Liz talked nonstop. How could identical twins be so different?
After the call ended, Quinn went to the study to check her email. The HCU security chief had sent the list of employee addresses. She printed it out, intending to research the appraised values of homes owned by Rebecca, Scooter, and Bill. After accessing the Harris County appraisal district website, she entered the first home address for a property record search. Rebecca apparently rented as her name wasn't listed on the record for her home address.
Quinn pulled a jackpot with the value of Scooter's home, almost a million dollars. The value topped what she suspected he could afford based on his salary. He'd worked at HCU for years so she doubted he'd received a windfall from a corporate severance package. Maybe his wife came from money or maybe they spent beyond their means. Hopefully, Roddy would know the answer.
$ $ $
A few minutes after ten, Quinn slid between the sheets on her bed and clicked on the television. She hadn't heard the news since that morning. Nothing was new, same old stories on bad weather, bad politicians, and bad criminals. She dozed off for a few minutes then woke up to a story on internet viruses carried by emails.
Turning up the volume, she concentrated on the newscaster's words.
“The Blaster Worm has again made its way through corporate America. Email servers have been shut down across the country, stifling electronic communication and frustrating IT professionals. It's expected that more than 500,000 computers will be impacted before the worm runs its course. In other news â ”
A worm? Bingo. She jumped out of bed and began pacing in front of the television.
A worm â¦ of course. An article she'd read a couple of weeks ago described these nasty things as a computer virus triggered when an attachment to an email message opened. Usually the virus screwed up the client computer it was received on, along with any servers the computer was networked with. It spread like a spider web crack in a car's windshield.
Quinn conjectured that a worm developed for the HCU theft would have a different purpose. When the attachment opened, a virus could have been sent through the server to the system managing wire transfers. The sole purpose would have been to alter the instructions and change the destination of the funds.
She stopped pacing, clenched her fists, felt a shiver along her spine. My god, a message could have been sent several days before the actual transfer. Then waited for the Bridge Foundation's wire instructions to enter the system.
She sat on the edge of the bed. This was what Ruthie had been talking about. A mole, she said. Quinn looked at the bedside clock; too late to call anyone. First thing in the morning she'd contact Lynne at First National and ask her about recent emails from HCU employees.
She needed evidence, not a hunch or a great idea, before she'd talk to Roddy about this. She'd already played the hunch card with her suspicions about Bill and Rebecca. Her first step was talking to Ruthie about her theory and whether there was the remotest chance it could be true.
Quinn knew she was close to discovering the “how” part of the theft equation. However, the “who” part remained open and would require the full extent of her detective skills. Scratch that, the “who” would require the full extent of her skills to be nosy and a obstinate pain in the ass. Somehow those skills would lead to an answer. That was the number one goal, regardless of where it might take her.
First thing on Wednesday morning, waiting for the coffee to finish, Quinn checked her HCU email, hoping for a follow-up message from Rebecca. Nothing. Time to increase the pressure. She sent another message referring to the previous one, and advising Rebecca's input was critical to the ongoing police investigation. Bill and Scooter were copied for good measure. If she didn't respond by the end of the day, then a third message would be sent to Dr. Arnold and most likely, the Pope.
The phone rang as Quinn headed back to the kitchen.
“Mom, I forgot to ask you something last night.”
“Sure, Jane, what is it?”
“Are you free for dinner on Friday?” She hesitated a fraction of a second. “There's someone I'd like you to meet.”
“You want me to meet someone?” Quinn's heart performed a loop-de-loop. Jane wanted her to meet a man friend.
“Don't start planning the wedding. This is merely a meet-and-greet. No big deal. Understand?”
“Of course, I understand. Meet and greet. What time and where?” Jane provided the details before ending the call.
Jane had to be serious about this man if she wanted to introduce him to her mother. This was happy news and she would hold off on thoughts about the wedding â¦ until she met the man.
Finally it was after nine o'clock â time to call Ruthie, who was available.
“I have a quick question for you,” Quinn said.
“When we talked yesterday you mentioned that a targeted virus could have been used to change the wire instructions.”
“Yes, that's a possibility.” The clicking of Ruthie's nails on the computer keyboard accompanied her words.
“Could the virus have been launched by opening an email?” Quinn hoped that wasn't a cyber idiot question.
“Sure, but usually something else is involved.”
This was the confirmation of her theory. The pot of coffee had made her stomach queasy. “Could an attachment be used to initiate the virus?”
“That's the most common way. It wiggles its way through the system and finds the target server. Then it carries out its mission,” Ruthie explained. “Fairly simple if you know what you're doing.”
Quinn performed a mental cartwheel then pounded a fist on the counter. This was the “how” part of her speculation.
“My working theory is that the wire instructions were altered by an attachment to an email.”
“Thanks, I'll call you later.”
Quinn basked in the glory of their conversation for less than fifteen seconds. Before executing a happy dance, she called Lynne.
“I need your help with something.”
“Sure,” Lynne laughed. “As long as it's legal.”
“Not to worry. Would you check your email log of received messages during the last week?”
“Won't take a minute. What am I looking for?”
Quinn heard the curiosity in Lynne's voice but she held off on sharing her theory until she had verification of any email attachments. “Look for messages from any HCU employee.”
“Let's see, last Monday there's one from Scooter Taylor, on Thursday one message from Rebecca Holland, one from Dr. Arnold and two from Scooter, then another from Rebecca on Friday. That's it. Why are you asking?”
“Curiosity, mostly. Is there anything strange or odd about the messages?” She looked out the window above her kitchen sink. It was going to be another beautiful day.
“They all related to the gift transfer. Scooter and Rebecca both wanted to make sure the bank was alerted to the transfer. Nothing unusual.”
“Who â ”
“I almost forgot,” Lynne said. “Bill Jenkins's assistant emailed the instructions on Thursday.”
“Did any of the messages have an attachment?”
“Let's see, I'll have to check each one.” Lynne spoke again after several seconds. “The message from Rebecca Holland on Friday had another copy of the wire instructions. That's the only attachment.”
“Hmm, does anyone else routinely receive emails from HCU?” She had to be missing something. “What about your assistant?”
“Hold on a second and I'll go ask her.”
It didn't take more than a minute for Lynne to return. “My assistant received an email from Rebecca last Thursday. It was one of those silly jokes with a picture of a black cat in a pink bikini.”
“Has she received them before from Rebecca?”
“Yes, they both like animals and send jokes back and forth. You know how those things get passed around.”
“Sure do, I've received plenty myself.” Was it possible, even remotely possible, that Quinn had stumbled on how the wire instructions were altered? “Any word yet on the bank's progress?”
“Nothing as of this morning. I hope to hear news later in the day,” Lynne replied.
Quinn ended the call and began to pace from the kitchen to the study, around her desk, and back to the kitchen. Her nerves twitched, beating a steady rhythm against her elation that she may have figured out how the wire instructions were altered. A virus in the wire instructions or black cat attachment might hold the answer. She needed to talk to Roddy.
A greeting stated he was unavailable for the rest of the day. She left a plea for him to call as soon as possible. She itched to take action, then her eye caught the to-do list she had jotted down on Monday. The euphoria bubble burst. She had no proof that an email virus had modified the wire instructions. She had no evidence a message from HCU carried the aforementioned virus. Maybe she should try a new hobby as a writer of crime fiction. Of course, she didn't have a murder victim to add to the plot so the book would be a bust.
$ $ $
Two hours later at the Bridge Foundation, Amanda greeted Quinn by name.
“Mr. Rice is running late this morning. Please have a seat until he's free.”
While she waited on the sofa, her thoughts turned to Logan Rice. She pictured him as conservative, refined, a tad snobbish, and having a nasty temper based on his outburst in Scooter's office. She'd be lucky if she learned anything useful from him about the foundation's role in the transfer. But then again Liz's husband, Dirk said he was a nice guy.
Men were terrible judges of the character of other men. If a man could play hoops and drink beer, they were automatically included in the man club. More than likely Mr. Rice was spoiled by his family's money. She'd allow him an extra point for working with a charitable organization.
Her cell rang and this time it was Dr. Arnold. Uh-oh, this couldn't be good. How'd he get her number?
“Quinn, there are a couple of items I need to discuss with you. Since you're not on campus, could you meet me at Hermann Park? Would one o'clock work?”
“Yes, one is fine. Where in the park should I go?” What was this about? And why meet in the park and not his office?
He provided directions, then ended the call. She was more than curious about the “items” on his mind. She'd rarely been in meetings with him, as that was Scooter's territory. No doubt the meeting related to the theft, as had every breath she'd taken for the last six days.
Five minutes later, Amanda ushered Quinn to the office at the end of the hall with the double doors. She knocked, pushed on the half-open door.
Genuine surprise rarely crawled along Quinn's backbone. Not so today. Her breath momentarily halted, and she struggled to stifle a nervous giggle.
Not five feet from her stood a tall Bozo the clown, complete with orange hair, a red and blue striped blousy costume, floppy black shoes, painted face, and a large red nose in his hand.
“Excuse me.” The first five seconds of shock had passed. “I must be in the wrong office. I'm here to meet Logan Rice and you don't look like him.”