A short story prompted by ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’

 

A virtual miracle    

4020 words

 

Poised outside my private bank on the Strand and calming myself, for the encounter, I watched as the peasants streamed by. A stew of humanity, a class less mass, ill mannered and ill bred, all jockeying for the next rung.

“Open the bloody doors and just let me in,” I’d said under my breath. But the solid wooden shutters stood fast, further testing my patience. They should have been open ten minutes ago! Fed up with waiting in the cutting wind I went in search of a coffee and again went over it in my mind. There had to be a rational explanation, another bank cock up no doubt.

But although this problem had only really manifested itself in the last twenty-four hours; it had been brewing, I now realised, for the last twelve days. That first seemingly innocuous e mail, appearing on my inbox on the 26th of December; a Christian message or so it seemed. Not that I believe in all that claptrap. All the same, the subsequent missives about the Lords work - Yes I know it’s Christmas - were just as bland and equally as annoying. Pious bollocks I’d thought- well - all until the last one - that one to be honest, got me worried sick. I don’t know about Gods work, more like the devils hand!

 

Through bleary eyes I had woken to that Boxing Day morn with the excesses of the previous day still much in evidence, irritable stomach and a thick head; dictating my mood.  Though nothing an espresso and a couple of pills, hadn’t sorted out! The shuffle to the kitchen with eyes half closed had taken me past my laptop. I dragged a finger over the pad and it flickered into life.

            “Oh come on!” I’d said incredulously. “Who the hell sends work e mails over Christmas?” I scanned down the list; familiar names had conjured a host of faces in my minds eye; mostly clients, on the surface season’s greetings, but underneath, subliminal messages ensuring it wasn’t just my toes that would be feeling the pressure. Yes I knew them all. All that is except one. Somebody rather annoyingly, just using the initials J.C.  I didn’t even bother to open it.

 

Next day as I remember, the twenty seventh of December I’d got another e-mail and at the time I hadn’t made any connection with the one from the previous day, Halleluiah was the sender. It was only when I’d clicked on it and saw the sender’s signature -  A Jesus Christ, that it fell into place. Busy time for you I acknowledged with a sneer. Evidently the god squad had gone digital. Idly clicking open the e mail from the day before, curiosity a little piqued, I noted the tag line,  ‘and now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,’ and then the inevitable request for donations. The wording had been slickly put together and harrowing pictures of starving children made me feel almost generous. I clicked off both just as quickly as I’d gone on. Don’t get me wrong I like to help out where I can, usually though its home grown stuff, Help for Heroes or the RNLI. My ex wife and I never had kids and so to be honest, those sort of pictures rather washed over me. It hadn’t even occurred to me to look at who had actually sent it, or query as to how they’d got my e mail address. Spam was rife I acknowledged, evading filters like refugees across a border.

Wednesday, I’d been back in work; the holidays for me over. Not so the emails it seemed. With my preview pane on, all e mail content could be viewed without actually committing to opening them. This was really useful in weedling out any unwanted or potentially virus laden messages. Once again, pictures of woe and pleadings for charity. I didn’t fully open it content to just scroll through the preview, life’s too short I thought and high lit the next communication. Not before though I’d noticed the text ‘Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase, followed by the mild threat, give generously or else!

By Thursday the twenty-ninth, and the fourth e-mail, ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;’ I was beginning to wonder why I was still getting them. Why was somebody being so persistent? Was it perhaps, because I hadn’t pledged any money? Not that I could remember seeing any information about where to send donations.

 

The city closed early on Friday heralding a long weekend, thank god! We were destined for a bar in Leicester Square and a club in Soho to follow. As I went to put my secure work station to sleep, I was surprised to see the ‘you’ve got mail’ message flagged. Surprised, because only two seconds ago I’d closed the programme. What inconsiderate bastard was wanting my services, I’d thought sourly, when the floor had ceased trading an hour ago. I debated whether to go back in and open it. It might have been someone from on high chasing budget reports, or my immediate boss just checking up on me. Scouring the floor, I’d immediately felt guilty, many of my work colleagues were still pouring over spreadsheets. The devil in me lost and so guiding the mouse to the relevant icon, opened the company’s mail system.

When the Earnst and Young Financial Services logo had finished cavorting on screen it cleared the way for a functional overview of my personal folders: Calendar, to do list and amongst others, my Inbox. There was one message and as the computer tripped silently to open it, I seemed to have a premonition as to what this was about. But that wasn’t possible. Sure enough, the friend I seemed to have in Jesus was back. Only, he shouldn’t have been there, not on my hyped up, over filtered and so say virus free work computer. My personal laptop, with its laissez-faire free protection system, I could understand. This guy had to be good to find his way through all the company’s firewalls and identity protection software. However, I remember thinking, sod it, as I allowed the proffered message, ‘let the spirit of Christmas be upon you’, to do just that - and went to the pub. 

            So when Saturdays arrived, timed I noticed, as were all the others, at one second past midnight of the new day, I opened it with the intention to unsubscribe. There was enough vacuous correspondence turning up on my inbox without these. But try as I did, to find a hyperlink for that request from the sender, there was none. Somewhat frustrating I thought, if not a little unethical, particularly for one who purports such high morals! And this particular missive seemed almost personal, as if he was admonishing me for my night of drunken debauchery, for it read, ‘Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.’ Get lost I cursed, as remembering rather pleasantly that there’d been nothing feeble in the piece of skirt I’d hooked up with. Like a bloody gymnast as I recall. And from out of know where I shot back a quote of my own; ‘A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.’ Proof if needed, that a Roman Catholic schooling had left its scars.

 

‘This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ Yes Sundays little gem had arrived. I’m not really sure why I had bothered to check. I had been doing some online research on companies that might be good investments, never hurt to be ahead of the pack at work, but all the time the annoying flashing mail alert drew my eye. It could have been any number of things in the myriad of messages that were patiently waiting, but a fatalistic curiosity had got the better of me. Fortunately, an invitation to Sunday lunch with the usual crowd had meant I was out of my Knightsbridge apartment, well one of Ma and Pa’s properties that I’d commandeered, by 11.00am. The distracting thoughts of Chateaubriand and a bloody good claret, quickly removing such trivia from my mind. Besides it was New Years Eve and I was ready to party.

  Ordinarily Mondays are not something I look forward to. Four cups of coffee and a quick snort of something exotic, usually has me ready for action by eleven. There in physical form if nothing else; and I wouldn’t be the only one at the office mourning the weekend’s loss. But the start of this week had been a bank holiday and, as I hadn’t been to bed yet, was still, at nine-thirty, on a bit of a high. There’d been three of us sitting round the breakfast bar I seem to recall. On offer champagne, orange juice and coffee; depending on bodily status. We’d been clubbing until five am and had spent a fortune on wine, women and song; well it wasn’t the New Year every day, was it? My laptop had been in reach, so I slid it towards me with the intention of checking face book post’s and messages from friends wishing happiness for the year ahead.

As the page loaded I could see there had been a good deal of activity and many had still been on line. I flicked through the entries slowly, giving a running commentary to the others; “one or two status changes I notice” and we’d all laughed. The reality was that when you partied hard around the capital there were just so many chicks, it was hard not to have a fling, much to the chagrin of current girl fiends. Relationships therefore, flashing on and off at the click of a button.   “Well if you’re stupid enough to get caught,” was my argument. The merry faces around the table hadn’t disagreed.

“Hello, this one looks good,” I’d said viewing a thumbnail of a gorgeous girl that I didn’t recognise. It was her opening line, the beginnings of a rant by the look if it, which had caught my eye. “God almighty” was all I could see with out having clicked on it. Encouraged by the others to find out who this beauty was, I moved the mouse and double clicked.

In the nano-second it had taken to form I’d known what it was and, exasperation on full, said “Oh I don’t believe it, he’s on my facebook as well!” as the message sprung into life. ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’. As I had read it, I began to wonder, did this bloke know me, was it some one taking the piss, because some of the meanings behind each ‘thought for the day’ seemed, some might have said, hand picked for me!

I waited for the others to drift off to their respective homes before having another look at the message. A comment by Johno before he’d left making me suspicious of even my friends. What was strange though was, as I’d tried to open the properties of the sender’s details, in an effort to find out their I.P. address, the screen went blank. I remember being a little shocked, worried that this might be the precursor for some sort of virus attack. I hit the escape button and all returned to normal. It struck me as weird, I could understand some hacker not wishing his information to be viewed and traced. But surely if it really was the God squad legitimately seeking donations then why would they hide. With the night’s exertions catching up with me, I’d decided to hit the hay; my final thoughts, that none of it made any sense, accompanying me to sleep.

Tuesday the third of January saw me back at my desk and working my proverbial off. Christmas seemed a lifetime away and with all that had been piling up on my desk and P.C., the weekend couldn’t come quick enough. It wasn’t until Thursday that I’d realise there had been no new epistle’s from you know who! I suppose that had been the rub – I didn’t know and it left me wondering. It wasn’t until I had got home and checked my laptop that evidently I’d not been forgotten.  Tuesdays offering - ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ Was he talking about my bosses, I’d certainly been struggling against them these past few years. Somehow though, I hadn’t thought that’s what he’d meant, more likely, in these post crash enlightened times, there’d be many who felt the huge corporates were the route of all evil and especially the financial institutions. Perhaps it was them – who knew?

January the fourth – Wednesday’s. ‘I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Not sure said financial institutions would have agreed with you on that one, I’d thought, particularly the banks.

 And Thursday’s ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.’ I had no idea what this guy was on about! What the hell did he want? And was I destined to receive these little gems ad infinitum? Well not if I could help it, I summoned the communiqué from its shielding preview out onto the main screen, determined to find the get out button. None of the previous emails had sported an unsubscribe hyperlink and so I had not been expecting much from this one either. I just couldn’t understand how, if this really was the church attempting some sort of media campaign, to market the needs of others, it was going to work. There had been no portals for giving to charity, no downloads of the bible, no online confessionals, what were they trying to achieve? Apart from pissing me off, I’d thought sourly.

But much to my surprise there had been one on this e mail; a splendid shining star, blinking benignly and sitting at the centre of the screen. The words, ‘oh ye of little faith may unsubscribe’ emblazoned upon it. “Well about effing time,” I’ seemed to think I’d said. In a heart beat, I’d sent the little arrow scurrying to the emblazoned orb and double clicked. And it was at that moment when my fears suddenly jumped to the fore. The screen flashed, emitting a searing light. It was so powerful that I’d thought the laptop had blown up. This had only been yesterday and I remembered thinking once the light had gone; leaving the monitor black as night, well that’s knackered that! And pushing it across the desk in disgust I went in search of a drink.

This morning though, as I’d readied myself for work, I gave the laptop a cursory stare. Well I suppose it was worth a try, perhaps nothing untoward had happened to it, so I pressed the power button. To my surprise, it stuttered into life, the weird clicking sounds indicating the internal memories were shifting into work mode. Well, well, I’d thought perhaps there’s some life in the old dog yet. However, encouraging as this electronic workout was, it didn’t necessarily mean all was, ok - yah!

But all had appeared fine, software all up and running and no apparent glitches. Mazing! I tried the e mail programme, it powered up and I held my breath. Had the unsubscribe button worked, or would there be a little message from on high. Surely it would’ve. But as the flickering screen settled, my eyes took in what I guessed was probably the final communiqué. This was another quote Id known and I speed read it.

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’

It had sent a shiver down my spine - What the hell did that mean? What if the other e mails had been pertinent to me, some sort of warning; what exactly was he suggesting I should do?

 

But now, with Latte in hand, I strode back round to the bank. I was calmer now. My worst fears had been somewhat untoward, realising that I’d not read the wording on that last e-mail properly. It had actually said. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life savings for his friends.’ And at the bottom of the screen it announced - thank you for your donation of twenty thousand pounds. The terror and dread disappeared, when I’d read it properly. However, checking my online accounts a seething anger replaced it. One of my accounts had been emptied.

The door to the bank was now open, and I strode in hoping to demand the receptionist call the manager. Jeremy Lloyd had been my manager for some five years now and we’d got on pretty well together; nights out, parties that sort of thing. There was a lot of activity in there today, which struck me as unusual. Unlike the bustling high street banks you could rely on something more serene at Hoare & Co. Britain’s oldest bank. In the lobby, there were others waiting for their turn, and looking none to pleased about it either. Whilst behind closed doors in the various offices, murmurings could be heard, some sounded heated with raised words and indignant tone.

There was a young man out on the reception desk and he became free as I moved closer. I sat down opposite him and noted the name on his lapel.

“Look Brett, I began, “one of my accounts seems to have been cleared out. And before you say anything I can assure you it wasn’t me.”

“How much are we talking about sir?” He asked, fingers already moving over the keyboard. “And what name is on the account?”

“Smethhurst-Brown,” I advised him and lowering my voice added. “Just over Twenty thousand."

I know twenty thou, in this particular institution might very well be regarded as small beer; it was still a significant amount to have been lifted, if indeed that was what had happened. But there was something about the way he’d asked, it was too routine, as if this was a normal event, he should have been looking more concerned. I gave him the account number and we studied the screen together.

“Yes you can see here,” he said rather matter-of-factly and, pointing at the lower half of the digital page, “close of play yesterday you had, as you say, twenty two thousand pounds give or take a few bob. And now this morning,” he scrolled the page down, “nothing.”

Before he had a chance to carry on I shot him a couple across the boughs “Any ideas what’s happened? And what are you intending to do about it?”

Half expecting him to bluster some ill conceived apology, he’d stared me straight in the eye.

“I’m afraid sir we are having some major problems this morning, and if I’m honest we don’t yet know what’s going on.”

“What sort of problems I demanded?”

He looked decidedly sheepish now, but still held a certain composure. “It’s rather difficult to say, I’m afraid, but” he hesitated as if unsure whether to come clean or not. But he was used to dealing with the ‘old moneyed few’ and knew they were sharp, especially when it came to their fortunes. “Look I’m sorry to say but the banks security appears to have been breached and many accounts have been tampered with.”

“Good God,” I said. “How the hell did you let that happen? I expect nothing more than the highest security here.”

“Well that’s just it sir, we have the best software and engineers in the country and their flummoxed.”

“So you’ve been hacked, trace them for god sake!”

“But that’s the problem;” he said looking exasperated, “There is no trace. You see normally, a cyber attacker will route through hundreds of I.P. addresses to hide their identity. But if you’re patient and follow the trail, you get some where; albeit too late when you get there physically. But there is a perpetrator at the end of it, with an e-mail address.”

I gave him a look - this wasn’t a full explanation. “But surely you can follow the money see where it’s gone?”

“But that’s it sir we can’t,” he looked like he was about to burst into tears. “One moment there’s money and the next nothing. And that’s the trouble it doesn’t go anywhere, no alternative account in Switzerland or the Caymans, so effectively there’s no transaction; it just disappears. It’s not even as if someone here at the bank accessed the accounts and pressed delete, or substituted the figures for zeros.

I looked at the man aghast. Even though I used computers all day to make transactions, I couldn’t really grasp what he was saying, there had to be an audit trail showing where the money came in from and went out to; that was basic. The bank was warming up and not just temperature wise, all the staff seemed a little hot under the collar. They were moving more quickly than usual and looked flustered. The agitation suggested a crisis, wild eyed looks met with shrugs and bewilderment, as if nobody had any answers. Telephones were ringing almost constantly.

“Those bloody e-mails,” I said, half to myself, rather than any body else.

Brett looked unnerved, “you’ve had them too – religious ones?”

“Yes, the last twelve days,” I looked at him in astonishment; “not just me then?

Bretts desk phone rang, adding to the mayhem. He listened for sometime, his forehead becoming a mass of wrinkles. His answers were short and clipped, “Good grief - how many – when?”

            “More bad news,” I asked scathingly, as he put the receiver in the cradle.

            “Er, yes, well no - depending on your viewpoint,” he said, looking uncomfortable again, at seemingly making light of the situation. “It’s just that the media are reporting that various organisations, charities that sort of thing and some individuals have woken up to minor windfalls in their bank accounts. Nobody, it seems, knows from where or how.”

            “It seems to me,” I growled, “You banks have been had, by some would be on-line Robin Hood. You’d better find out how their doing it, I have other accounts with much more in it than that.”

“You and others sir; but that’s the strange thing they haven’t wiped any body out, just removed a portion of it.”

“Check my other accounts, I demanded.” I’m not happy with this at all.” We both turned back to the computer which by now was displaying the banks screen saver. Brett pressed the escape button waking the machine from its energy efficient state. On screen still was my emptied account. Brett moved to close it and open another. “

Hang on,” I said. “What the hells that,” and pointing at the text at the bottom of the column. “That wasn’t there earlier?”

We both read the entry ‘Thank you for your donation.’  Beneath it there was another saying from the bible, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.’

As we were both taking this in, a further line of text beneath, slowly emerged before our eyes; seeping onto the page as if it was blotting paper. As the signitory’s name registered, our eyes locked in awe and bewilderment; its golden capitals disclosing not just a name but a revelation;

from the 

Greatest On-line Deity

“©” Copyright James Donnelly 2014

Scriblings so far: - Un-natural selection (book) - Holding out for a Hero (book project) - Passport to Sanity (short story) - A virtual miracle (short story) -

The Pool of Peace (short story)