‘twas the sixteenth night before Christmas.
December 9th is the ninth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Olivetti's Day, the day that St Olivetti performed a miracle by getting a computer to work for a whole day without it crashing, we shall now tell another story of an unexpected tale involving computers.
It was a cold winter's night that was so deep in New York City in December '94. The economy was still flat and the bank that she worked for was as cold-hearted as the falling snow outside. Their lending department had made loans to people and now they were busily foreclosing those loans and evicting people from their houses. Not that it made much difference to the salespeople who had negotiated the loans in the first place, as they had made their commissions years ago and kicking families into the street was not their responsibility. That was always the way in banking: some people made tremendous amounts of money but the people who really paid for it all, were completely unknown to them.
Gloria hated her job. She hated having to phone people to make demands to pay; she hated having to hear when they couldn't; she hated having to report to her bosses if she couldn't collect the outstanding debts fast enough; and she hated that she had to hear so many people crying because they were about to lose everything they had. Everything about her job was either disgusting, disheartening, disappointing or dehumanising and at every step along the way, she knew it.
This particular Christmas was more awful than most. Every year always saw at least the odd protester out the front of the bank but this year saw several at once. There was a family of five who had erected a tent on the steps of the bank a few days ago but they had been moved on by the NYPD. Where they were moved on to was unknown but it was possible that in a city that moved so fast that a "New York Minute" was a metaphor for a minutely small amount of time, that they had been thrown off the merry-go-round of life and under a bridge; the amount of time that the city of New York would have for them would be that same New York Minute.
While working back late one evening, because her boss had given her a month's worth of work to do in three days, Gloria noticed that as the majority of the office lights were switched off, there was still a remaining glow from many people's terminals. Where once had been the unforgiving light of fluorescent tubes, there was now leaking orange light from monochrome computer screens. Their combined power gave some of the darker parts of the office a jaundiced look that was reminiscent of the city's famed taxi fleet.
At an hour when the shows on Broadway were already in full swing, Gloria got up to go to the kitchen to replenish her work juice. She was convinced that at various times throughout the day, more caffeine flowed through her veins than blood. She got her coffee and walked over to the window to look out at the street below. To her surprise, she saw the same family of five whom she had foreclosed on only a few days ago, and they were huddled around a gas burner which was sitting on the hood of their station wagon. She noticed that the back of the car was packed as full as it possibly could be and there was a great pile of stuff tied down under a tarpaulin on the roof. Gloria desperately wanted to reach out to this family but given that they would probably be gone by the morning, it was a hopeless idea.
As she walked back to her own terminal, coffee cup in hand, Gloria happened to see that one terminal in the lending sales department was still on and bizarrely, it was still logged in. Evidently the user was one of those lazy types who didn't bother to log out when they went home.
She sat down at the terminal and also happened to see that there were far more options available to this user than were available to her normally. She also saw that this user, whoever they were, also had the option to change the date and time of any transaction that they wanted and that by the look of things, they also had the authority to approve loans and declare payments.
Using one of her favourite set of keyboard shortcuts, she was able to see the last twenty transactions that this person had made. This is where things became very interesting indeed. This user had set up a shadow account and had been diverting funds to it. She presumed that she had stumbled upon what basically amounted to sophisticated larceny and a brief check to see who this was revealed that this was one of the same salespeople who had been raking in a seven figure salary and been collecting bonuses as well.
Gloria didn't care. She was an opportunity to do some good in the world even if it meant doing something illegal and immoral. She remembered the account details of the family who had been foreclosed on and were now living in their car and she wired half a million dollars into their bank account through the shadow account that this salesperson had set up. To further obfuscate the paper trail, she dated the transaction for 1983; which placed it well before any of the dated transactions in the terminal and we'll before the statutory date that records are legally required to be kept. Nobody would ever have to know.
The user of the terminal hadn't gone home. He had been standing behind her for quite some time and had seen practically everything.
"I've seen everything. I know why it is that you've done what you've done as well."
Sensations of fear, dread, shame and guilt shot through Gloria all at once. The ground could have opened up and swallowed her for all she cared. It was a stupid thing to do and now she was potentially out on her ear; out in the snow with that same family.
"I'm going to have to do something that you won't like."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," was all that Gloria could say as the salesperson motioned for her to get out of his chair.
"No one need know of this. It is Christmas. Now run along," he said.
Gloria went back to her desk and continued back at her work. She worked like a machine and finished everything that had been given to her. On her way out, she noticed that the salesperson had gone and that his terminal had been switched off.
Christmas came and went and nothing was said. New Year's Day came and went and nothing was said. She never saw the salesperson ever again. When she asked around the office to find out what had happened to him, nobody could recall such a person ever having worked there. Worse, nobody could recall anyone matching his description ever having worked there. It would remain a mystery.
In June, Gloria received a card from someone called the Agostini family who were living in upstate New York, inviting her to spend the Fourth of July with them. The card explained that they had received a kindness when half a million dollars mysteriously just appeared in their bank account and not long after, a man in a business suit arrived at the house that they had just bought in cash, to explain that she had pulled the strings to make it all possible; even though she really hadn't done so.