Kayla leaned against her front door for a moment after Tal left. What the hell was that! she thought. What the hell have I done! She raised one hand and passed it over her face. “I must’ve been out of my friggin mind,” she said to her living room.
She heard one of the stairs creak and looked up. Her sister stood poised on the steps. “Is he gone?” Nessa asked.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to intrude, but I had forgotten some paperwork on the counter that I need.”
“It’s okay. How much did you see or hear?”
Nessa beamed. “Enough.”
Kayla covered her face with both lands and Nessa could hear the sound of laughter seeping through her fingers. “Well I’ve gotten myself in a fine dilemma. Oh, Nessa what am I going to do?” Kayla looked at her sister hoping she’d have an answer.
Nessa grabbed the papers she’d come down for staring at her older sister, she smiled. “I’m not sure there’s much you can do. Like he said, it’s more than obvious that you’re attracted to him and he sure as hell is attracted to you.”
“But for crying out loud he’s my boss,” Kayla shouted.
“Yes he is. Look I’m not saying that isn’t an issue. I’ve seen plenty of office romances that didn’t work out but I’ve also seen a few that do.”
“Yes, but not with the boss.” Kayla proceeded to tell Nessa about her first encounter with Tal Reynolds. When she was finished Nessa inhaled sharply.
“Wow!” Nessa exclaimed. “You have had quite a day. But seems to me the attraction started before he even knew who you were or you him. Just because he’s your boss won’t make him less attractive or any less attracted to you. He seems like he’s willing to try to get to know you. You have to ask yourself will if it be better for you to step back or step forward and see where this leads?”
“I…I just don’t know. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is.”
“You have never been a quitter in your life. If there is something between you two even if it’s just friendship, you owe it to yourself to find out what it is. Besides you might not even be working closely with him, you might only have to see him once in awhile.”
Kayla hadn’t considered that possibility. She knew that the bank’s main headquarters was in Crystal City, Virginia housed over at least ten floors. They might be on entirely different floors; maybe just maybe this could work. She’d have to find out more about her position tomorrow and find out just how much day to day contact she’d have with Tal. One part of her was glad that she might have the opportunity to get to know him better; the other part wanted her to run like crazy in the opposite direction.
The phone rang just as she was turning off her light and climbing into bed.
“Hello,” Kayla said into the transmitter end of her phone.
“Hi, it’s me.”
Kayla could never forget the sound of this man’s voice. No man ever caused bumps to raise and cover her skin the way this man did. Some imp made her not acknowledge she knew who it was.
“Me who?” she asked.
“It’s me, Tal. But I think you already knew that.”
“You are not the only person who calls me.”
“I was just thinking about you. Actually, I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I first saw you this morning. I wanted to let you know that I’m looking forward to spending more time with you tomorrow. In fact, I want to spend as much time as possible with you all week.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow too. But I thought I didn’t have to come into the bank till next week?”
“This isn’t about work at all and you know it. This is about you and me getting to know each other better.”
“Can we? Can we really do that and still work together?”
“I don’t see why not. I’m willing to try if you are. I promise when we are working together I won’t try to take advantage of you.”
“You’d better not. That would be sexual harassment.”
“Only if it weren’t reciprocated, so you are free to take advantage of me all you want, anytime. But don’t worry, I promise I’ll try to behave at the office. It won’t be easy but I do want this to work. I felt something today that I’ve never felt before and I’d like to see where it will take me, take us.”
Kayla gave an unladylike snort. “You don’t really expect me to believe that?”
“It’s true whether you choose to believe it or not. So the rest of the week I want to put aside time for just us. Are you game?”
“What happens next week when I start working for you?”
“You start working for Reynolds Banks, you don’t work for me but with me. And like I said before, after work, is a different story.”
“Oh, and what story would that be?”
“Are you game enough to find out?”
Kayla was silent.
“Hello,” Tal said, “are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here. Let’s just take it slow. We’ll start with lunch tomorrow.”
“It’s a date and by the way, we’ve already started. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Tal heard the soft click in his ear as Kayla hung up the phone. He felt like a teenager with his first crush and not the grown up, very experienced male he was. Still, he couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
Tal was running late, he had already called to let her know. Kayla still wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing when her doorbell rang. She looked through her window and saw Tal’s Jag in the driveway.
“Hi,” she said opening the door. The words hadn’t even left her mouth before she was crushed against black leather and her mouth was locked in a mutual suck feast with another’s.
Tal was the first to need to come up for air. “Hi,” he said while rubbing his thumb along her bottom lip. “Mmm—I’ve been thinking about that all night.” He leaned down and kissed her again. Only this time the kiss was softer, tender. “I’m sorry I’m late. Are you ready?”
When Kayla could only nod, Tal grinned. This time she leaned in towards him and locked her mouth around his. Tal groaned.
Kayla pushed herself away from him and smiled. “Now I’m ready.”
Tal opened his eyes, looking slightly dazed. “Huh?”
It was Kayla’s turn to grin. She had made the right decision. It was nice to know that she had the same effect on him that he had on her. “We have a lunch date, remember.”
Tal quickly recovered and pulled her back into his arms. “How about we get take out and eat in, literally.”
Understanding his innuendo Kayla moved out of his embrace. “Oh no, you don’t! You promised to feed me, and there are a few things that we need to talk about.”
“Oh don’t worry, I can feed you just fine right here and we can talk later.”
“Nah ah, you’re not getting out of this, besides I have to go pick up my car.”
Tal smiled holding up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay we’ll go out. And the only reason is because I have to get back to the bank this afternoon. So if we’re going then we better go now and I’ll tell you about what happened at the bank this morning.”
The couple walking into the crowded restaurant was oblivious to the stares that followed after them. They made a stunning couple. Both tall and statuesque, his lightness made for a striking contrast to her dark beauty. Many a man envied him the woman at his side and many a woman wanted to shove her out of the way so she could get a crack at him.
Kayla sat down continuing the conversation that had started in the car. “I can’t believe he did that!”
“Neither could I. He changed your access codes and his own codes, completely locking us out of some of the larger private accounts at the bank.”
“How could he do that? I thought he was just a human resources guy, not a computer tech.”
“It turns out Newington does have a computer technical background. He helped to write some of the very codes that the bank uses, all of when he was eighteen. The sonofabitch was able to circumvent the security system for the bank, completely bypassing all the checks and balances in place because he put them there to begin with.”
“But that’s all still unbelievable. How come he wasn’t in the technical section?”
“He worked for a computer company back then. It just happens this company wrote bank codes, amongst other things. Near as we can figure, from the file his last employer sent us, he stopped working there at twenty. Newington went back to school for a masters in human resources, which just took him a year to get, then he got a job in the HR department of a small bank, and ended up here two years ago. He conveniently omitted part of his work history for us, the part about his designing our codes or even working for the company that did, but it was in his file from his last employer who faxed the information over to us. I was on the phone with them just before I left the bank. He was an average employee, no negative marks from them but while he’s been at this bank he has not been one of the more favorite employees. In fact there had been numerous complaints about him from the staff. Even without the merger he would have probably been fired.”
“Wow!” Kayla replied raising her eyebrows. “I had no idea. I still don’t understand what he hoped to accomplish by locking you out of some accounts. Surely all of the larger accounts are constantly monitored by the account holders, so they would have notified the bank immediately if there was a problem?”
“That’s the beauty of it. He chose personal accounts that are almost exclusively handled electronically and not closely monitored. He stayed away from corporate accounts.”
Kayla nodded in understanding. “That make’s sense because they’re monitored more frequently. The minute he touched any of those accounts red flags would have gone off from the account holders ends.”
“Exactly, personal account holders usually don’t have the safeguards the corporate accounts do because of the volume of transactions.”
“But I don’t understand, the account holder can still just check the account on-line, surely they’d notice any discrepancies?”
“Normally yes, but remember we’re dealing with the person who designed the safeguards. If an account was checked on-line, the information the account holders accessed was what they expected to see but it wasn’t accurate. It’s not what was really in the account. We’re still trying to figure things out. My tech people have been working all morning on breaking his codes and accessing the frozen accounts. As far as we can tell, he set it up so any withdrawals that come in, as far as the account holder is concerned, are seemingly honored, but the electronic transfers are not getting to the party doing the withdrawing. The transaction is either considered received and on hold or not responded to from our end and any deposits made aren’t going to the account holder’s account. Both are being re-routed to another account.”
Tal paused and shook his head. “Newington must be some kinda genius. A crooked genius but still a genius. This has all the markings of something that took a lot of advanced planning maybe even as far back as when he first designed the codes. He must have left himself some sort of back door.”
“Have we been able to identify all of the affected accounts?”
“We’re pretty sure we’ve caught them all. While we can’t access them yet, neither can he now. No more transactions are being allowed to those accounts. Thankfully these aren’t very active accounts. We’ve rerouted them and given the account holders a line of credit until we can sort it all out. We are having each transaction approved by the account holders before we release any funds. But Newington had direct access to them for hours yesterday, so who knows how much money he was able to electronically transfer before we shut him down.”
“But he could have been at this all night long.”
“No. From what we could tell it required the use of one of the computers physically located at the bank. But that still left him with plenty of time to access over ten accounts.”
“My God! What a mess. With that kind of access he could have stolen millions.”
“Exactly, and so far his link has been impossible to trace, we need to unfreeze the accounts. We’ve contacted the company that he used to work for, the same company who designed the system and they’re sending someone over later this afternoon along with the FBI, which is why I have to get back sooner than I’d planned.”
“Of course! Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. It’s okay if you want to cancel lunch. I can get something to go then pick my car up.”
“No. Absolutely not. I want to spend as much time with you as possible, even if it’s only for an hour.”
“Alright, I’ll just order a chicken salad.” Kayla liked the fact that he still wanted to have lunch with her, that in the middle of a crisis he still had time for her and treated her with enough respect to discuss the problems at the bank. Maybe he was worth getting to know. She had already decided to take the rest of the week and try to get to know him a little. Hopefully, by the time she started work again next week she’d be surer of her feelings and of him.
“Would you like me to go back to the office with you?” Kayla couldn’t believe she’d just offered to do that. “Maybe I can help.”
“Thanks, not that I wouldn’t love to have you around, but it’s really not necessary. I’m even superfluous right now. I’ve personally contacted the account holders involved and we’ve done all that we can do. But I do have to be there when the programmer and the FBI arrive. Besides, I promised you the rest of the week off and I’m a man of my word.”
In spite of Tal’s dire news Kayla still enjoyed lunch. She had more insight into Tal’s character and so far, she liked what she saw both on the inside and out. After lunch Tal dropped her at her mechanic’s. As she was driving home she realized she had completely forgotten to ask him about some of the specifics of her job, would she be working directly with him? No harm done, she’d ask him later. She still couldn’t believe that she’d agreed to see him after work. He said he’d call her to let her know about what time she should expect him, he would take her to a late dinner. She knew he was moving fast. But she read somewhere once that, it takes a minute to find a special person and an hour to appreciate them. It was more than twenty-four hours for her and he was already special.
Tal returned to the bank to find the owner and founder of Computer Tec, Zachary North already there. Newington used to work for Computer Tec.
The two men shook hands silently sizing each other up, literally. Tal thought Zach, that’s what he told him to call him, was younger than he expected. At least a few years younger than his thirty-eight, but then again most people found Tal to be younger than expected. Both he and Zach headed up major companies and physically they were about the same height and built. And this guy was as far from the typical nerd as you could get, for one thing he didn’t wear the trademark glasses. Although, he did wear his blond hair long and pulled back in a ponytail and he wore jeans with a long sleeve Polo shirt that had no pocket.
Zach had gotten up from the computer consul to shake Tal’s hand, but sat down again to continue working.
“Well Tal,” Zach said, “so far from what I can tell this is something that Newington planned a long time ago. There’s code in the original programming that shouldn’t be there. It’s going to take me awhile but I’m sure I’ll be able to break it and unfreeze the accounts.”
“That’s great news. Once we unfreeze them then we can trace them.”
“Yes, but you realize that the money will no longer be wherever he first transferred it to. Enough time has passed that he will have been able to cover his electronic tracks, he’s that good.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“The guy is brilliant but he had a definite attitude problem. Not that programmers, like myself haven’t been known to be idiosyncratic. But this guy was even too weird for us, which is why we had to let him go. But the good news is I can guess where the funds will end up, so instead of tracking him we can go directly to the end point and see if we can back track from there.”
Tal had a thoughtful frown on his face. “Can you do that?”
“Sure!” Zach replied with confidence.
“Where do you think the money will end up?”
“I think I can answer that,” a voice said from the doorway.
Two pair of eyes raised above the computer at the sound of the feminine voice.
A woman stood poised in the doorway; before either man could say anything she pulled out a wallet flipping it open to display her badge.
She was short, some would even say petite. She looked just like a miniature doll, all big blue eyes and short bobbed blond hair.
“Talbert Reynolds,” she said, watching Tal with a speculative gleam in her eyes. “I’m Marla Patrosky. I’ve been assigned to this case.” She nodded her head in the direction of the programmer. “Zach.”
Zach returned his eyes to the computer screen, “Hi Marla, I see you got my email.” Tal looked at them both. “Ah…I guess you two know each other.”
Marla’s answer was flippant and final. “In another life. But that’s not why I’m here. And yes, I received your email. As I was saying Zach thinks the money’s either going to end up in Switzerland or the Caymans. My money’s on the Caymans.”
“That’s the first place I’m going to look,” Zach replied. “Ah hah! Bingo! Got ya!” Zach finally looked up from the computer screen, with a look of such glee on his face that Tal couldn’t help but grin back at him.
“Did you trace the account?”
“No, I just unlocked the code to free them. I’ll let your people know they can start checking to see how much was moved, just a little while longer and I’ll be able to figure out if my hunch is right as to where the money’s been moved to.”
“Meanwhile,” Marla said, “do you mind if I ask you a few questions, Mr. Reynolds? I’ve already got this guys profile and an APB is out on him, but I’ve got a few questions.”
“Of course, let’s go to the office next door and leave Zach to work in peace.”
“Until he’s got that puzzle figured out,” she said, “he’s not even going to know we’re here.”
“I heard that remark,” Zach said before becoming absorbed in the universal language of computer codes known and comprehended by a few.
Marla rolled her eyes as she followed Tal to the office next door. “As you can tell we’ve worked together before. Anyway, here’s what we know so far.” Marla proceeded to recap all of what Tal already knew and he told her that.
“So what’s your question?” he asked.
“We don’t think he was working alone.”
A surprised Tal exclaimed, “What! I don’t understand.”
“He had to get the information about the accounts from someone. Even if he was able to override the security systems in place, he had to understand banking enough to be able to fool the system. He had to have known which accounts to monitor, which ones to freeze without setting off immediate alarms. He wasn’t working blindly on random accounts. He had to know in advance which accounts were venerable, how to set it up so it looked like transactions were being placed in the accounts that they should have gone to. I just don’t see how a guy that worked in the HR department would know that much about specific banking accounts.”
“But he had access to the banks database, and someone like him would have been able to get through the firewalls without help from anyone.”
“Maybe, except the accounts hit would have been more random and originated from more than one bank location, instead they were accounts that had all been specifically set up from this location.”
“Well he’s been with the company for two years, but as far as I know the first time he’s ever been in this bank was yesterday, and then only for a few hours before I fired him.”
“That’s my point exactly. He had to have had help from someone at this location. Someone familiar with the accounts.”
“I understand that he got into the system through the branch manager’s computer?”
“He wouldn’t have had to hack into it. He fired her this morning, along with the assistant manager, so he would have had complete access to all of their files as well as a way into the system.”
“I’ll need to speak to both of them.”
“Why? I’m sure neither woman had anything to do with this. I don’t think they even knew the guy. Whatever he did he did after he got rid of them.”
“Maybe. Right now I’m just trying to get a clearer picture.”
“Of course. And you should know that, while the assistant manager was slotted to be fired, the branch manager, Kayla Michaels wasn’t. She’s now on leave for the rest of the week. In a couple of weeks she starts a new job at the corporate location as VP of the branch managers of Northern Virginia.”
“Interesting. I am assuming you can still get a hold of both of them?”
“Good, I’ll need that information ASAP and I’ll try to check them out today either before or after I leave here. I also need to talk to all of the other employees who work here. I’ll start interviewing the one’s here right now and try to call the others. Is there an office where I can speak to them privately, that I can use?”
“You can use this one.”
“I’ll also need their personnel files.”
“Unfortunately, those files are still in paper form here and they are already in my office. My company just signed all of the final papers for ownership of this bank a week ago, so yesterday was my first visit here. I’ve been reviewing the records on file for this bank’s personnel, trying to determine who we can continue to use and who has to be let go.”
“Yes it is. So if you don’t mind I’ll have my secretary Mrs. Medcalf, make copies for you.”
“That’s fine. How long will it take?”
“There aren’t that many employees here so it shouldn’t take long. I’ll be right back.” Tal returned to his office and grabbed all of the employee files at this branch, including Kayla’s. He asked Mrs. Medcalf to run off copies for Agent Patrosky and give them to her in the assistant manager’s office.
Tal was returning to the agent when she walked into the hall. “My secretary’s running copies off right now, it’ll take a few minutes. She’ll bring them to you as soon as she’s done.”
“Fine, I’d prefer to have the files in front of me while I’m talking to the employees. But maybe if you can get me the telephone numbers of the manager and her assistant, I can call them and speak to them right now.”
Tal went back to Mrs. Medcalf and got the assistant manager’s home number, and wrote it on a piece of paper for the agent, he pulled his cell out and brought up Kayla’s home number, it was programmed into his phone. He went back to the office and handed the sheet with both numbers to the agent.
“Thank you. Is it alright if I use this phone?” she asked.
“Sure, just dial 9. If you need anything I’m right down the hall in the employee lounge. I’m going to check on Zach and see how he’s doing.”
As Tal turned away he thought about calling Kayla and telling her about what was going on, but there wasn’t anything that she could do anyway. He already knew she had nothing to do with Newington. He stepped into his office to find Zach still hunched over Kayla’s computer screen.
“Any luck?” Tal asked.
“Huh? Oh, it’s you. Yes and no.” Zach got up and stretched. “Is there any coffee around here?”
“Yes. Turn right it’s at the end of the hall.”
“I’ll grab a cup and be right back. Do you want me to bring you some?”
“Thanks, but no. I’m fine.”
“Okay, be right back.”
Tal looked at the computer screen to see what Zach was doing, but it all looked like gibberish to him. He was always amazed that there were people out there who actually understood this. He looked up when he saw his secretary pause in the doorway.
“I’ve finished the copies Mr. Talbert.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Metcalf. Just give them to Agent Patrosky. Oh, and please let everyone know that she will call them in one at the time. Just for routine questioning.
He rubbed his hands across his face. If anyone had told him two days ago, that he would meet a woman who was like something from a dream come to life and his bank would be robbed by an employee all on the same day, he would have laughed his ass off. Now, who’s got the last laugh!