Faith awoke early Monday morning. Her energy levels were high and she was soon pouring coffee in the kitchen. It was a big day. She had struggled to find a job worthy of her qualifications after graduating college, but she now felt she was finally stepping into the real world. She felt a huge amount of promise for the future.
She had been waiting to put her business degree to some sort of use. After her fortitude had been severely tested, she had finally landed her first real job. This was after spending the bones of a year in jobs as diverse as Burger Assembly Technician in a local chipper, and a stint as a Ceramic Sanitation Supervisor in the kitchen of a hotel.
As it happened, the new job wasn’t a bad one all things considered. She was to be P.A. to the CEO of a smallish charity. They were small, but they had a national reach and they could indeed have been called a household name, with millions passing through their hands every year.
Faith took the bus into town and was in the office at a quarter to nine – keen, but not too keen. All in all, she expected today to be reasonably straightforward. Induction, the ten cent tour, more induction, read this, remember that, don’t go there, and whatever you do, don’t press that button. That sort of thing. But nobody came. Not until half-past nine. She was starting to wonder if she was in the right place at all when she heard a voice. “Would you be Faith?” A perfectly groomed lady had finally arrived in the reception area.
“I am indeed,” Faith answered, far too enthusiastically.
“Then welcome to Goodness Reaches All Believers, or G.R.A.B. for short.”
“It’s so good to be here.” Faith meant it but she couldn’t help thinking, ‘couldn’t they do something about that name.’
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Saffron, the M.D.”
“Nice to meet you too Saffron. Where would you like me to start, training, induction, anything at all?” Saffron smiled, and Faith couldn’t help but notice her perfect teeth, and the fact that her cheek bones and forehead didn’t move.
“Faith was it?”
“There you go Faith.” Saffron pointed to a shoe box on a nearby desk. It was stuffed to overflowing with slips of paper. “Those are Basil’s, the CEOs, receipts and expenses for the past month.”
“Month!” Faith thought.
“You’ll need to sort em’ out, add em’ up, and put em’ in the computer. Will that be ok?”
“I suppose so.” Faith thought it best not to ask too many questions.
“That’s great, good girl. You’re going to do just fine here, I can feel it.” Saffron was obviously pleased.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“Oh, just one more thing. If anyone from the accountants comes by looking for any paperwork, tell them they won’t be done for a month. Ok sweetie?”
Faith was eager to please. “That’s no problem Saffron, but I can have this finished in —”
“A month!” Saffron cut her off.
“No no, I’d say a —”
“No really, more like a —”
She sighed. “A month it is then.”
Saffron was already at the door. “Good girl you are, that’ll be your desk from now on. There’s no password on that PC, or anything else for that matter. I’ll look in on you later. Toodles!”
Feeling all at sea, Faith noticed that another lady had arrived in the office and was heading for a desk. “Hi, I’m Faith. I’m new, nice to meet you.”
“Faith! That’s funny, I’m prudence.”
“Nice to meet you Prudence. That’s a lovely name.” Faith thought she seemed nice.
“By name and by nature. I’m told that’s why they keep me. Nice to meet you too.”
“I never asked Saffron, but what’s the name of the software you guys use for your accounting?”
Prudence was delighted. “That’s no problem Faith. You’re inexperienced. I can tell these things.” She strolled over to Faith’s new desk. “There was no expense spared on I.T. here back in the day. How are you with computers?”
“Not too bad I suppose, about average.” Faith lied.
“I’m not great myself,” said prudence. “But I know a few basics.”
“Thanks for your help.” Faith meant it, “it’s good to have help settling in.”
Prudence cracked her knuckles. “Now, this baby here, she runs on a program called Windows Millennium Edition. It’s very good.”
“Yes, I studied it in history class.” Faith hoped Prudence was making a joke, almost expecting to be sent to the shop for a tub of ‘elbow grease.’
Prudence slowed her speech down for the new girl. “Now, see here on the ‘monitor.’ There’s a thing called a ‘shortcut’ to the ‘program’ right there on….well, this is what we call the ‘desktop.’ See it?”
Trying to be nice, Faith kept it to, “I do.”
Prudence reached the pinnacle of her lesson. “The program is called……Excel.” Faith’s mouth fell open. “Have you heard of it?” Prudence asked.
“Ah, I have actually.” Faith was starting to realise that it was not in fact a joke.
“So to open it you ‘click’ on the ‘shortcut’ with this thing here called the ‘mouse.’” She had a thought. “Oh, and you’ll have to ‘click it’ twice, really really fast. That’s what we call a ‘double-click.’ Took me ages to get the hang of it.” Unknown to Prudence, Faith’s hand was now closed into a tight fist and a vein was protruding from her forehead.
“Anyway, it’s only on this computer I think.” Prudence said. “And it’s not connected to the internet or nothing, for security purposes I’m told. They take security and privacy very seriously around here so they do.”
Faith couldn’t help herself. “Do you mind if I say Prudence, there are a lot better programs out there for this sort of thing, and they’re not expensive or anything.”
“Really, is there?” She was gobsmacked. “I guess I really have been here too long. I can barely even remember my in…in” Faith watched her struggled with the word. “My in…doc….”
“Induction?” Faith tried to help.
“Ahhhh, thanks, but that’s not what they called it back in my day.”
“Oh no, in my day it was called, indoctrination.”
‘Why am I not surprised? Faith thought, her face giving away nothing, instead she said, “there is, far better programs, do you think I should suggest it to —”
“Oh God no, please don’t do that.”
“Really! Why ever not?”
“Saffron and Basil, the CEO….oh, he’s Saffron’s husband by the way. Well they like it.” Prudence slowed down again as she remembered the words. “And that’s all there is to say.” She seemed satisfied that this subject was closed. Faith was not.
“Seriously, that’s hard to fathom.”
“And it’s not just them, it’s the other board members too.” Prudence took a deep breath. “There’s Saffron and Basil. Then there’s Saffron and Basil’s kids, Sorrel and Ginger. And their cousins, aunts and uncles, late grandparents, neighbours and friends.” Faith thought it would never end, and it didn’t. “You’d like them, they’re a happy bunch, real relaxed. There’s even one director whose name is listed as ‘Rover’ if you can believe such a thing. Do you think that’s a nickname?”
‘Sounds more like a piss-take,’ Faith thought. She was close to falling over.
Prudence tried again to bring it to a close. “Well, they like excel. They like it a lot in fact. And that’s all there is to say.”
“Beats me, they won’t let me near it, said I’ll launch the nukes or something. Hahahahaaha.” Her laugh was like a Tommy gun. “But seriously,” she said when she stopped laughing, “it was something about the lack of a paper trail being a good thing.”
“That’s usually not a good thing in accounting terms.” Faith came back, cautiously.
“I overheard Saffron say one time that, let me see, ‘it’s dead easy to manipulate,’ or something like that.”
“Oh yeah, apparently a monkey could do it.” She was pleased with her recollection. “But I wouldn’t know, cos’ like I said, they won’t let me near it.”
‘Riiiight, Faith thought. What the hell have I got myself into?
Resigned to the fact that she would have to get on with it, Faith sat down and (double) clicked on the shortcut. As she waited the five minutes for it to get started, she plucked a receipt at random from the box, it had a flier attached. The receipt was from Barry Gorman Electrical. It was for a total of €2,499 and was for a 65 inch, 4K, Ultra HD, LED, LCD TV. The flier said it was an attractive, super slim and super smart television. They called it the Carol Vorderman.
“Is there a new TV in the board room or something, it sounds fab?”
“Don’t know, why don’t you have a look, it’s right there and it’s empty.”
Faith got up and went over. She tried the door, it wasn’t locked exactly, rather it was stuck. She pushed harder, no good. She used her shoulder, the door suddenly jerked inwards leaving a cloud of dust, paint flakes and previously unknown bacteria to fill the gap where it had been. Faith stuck her head in. Inside she found a room that eighteenth-century pulp novelists would have adored.
It had clearly never seen a meeting. It was dark and dusty and there were cobwebs everywhere. There were plants that had long since died and there were plants that had yet to be discovered. There was moss growing on what carpet Faith could see. In the centre there was a once fashionable Formica table surrounded by four Formica chairs. Everything was covered in old document boxes. She didn’t dare step in, but she didn’t need to. She could see that on the wall beyond the once fashionable Formica table there was a PyE, 14 inch, Black & White, portable television. It had one of those curved screens that you don’t see any more. It had real buttons, big ones that you’d have to get up off you arse to press. It had a knob for changing the channels – Faith decided that was going to be named Basil.
It was the type of TV that she had rarely ever seen except in her parent’s old photos and old sci-fi movies. There were tufts of grass growing from the back of it and ‘My Favourite Martian’ style antennae sticking out the top. Growing nervous, Faith decided she had seen enough. As she closed the door she could have sworn that she heard a kookaburra but she put it down to her imagination. She went back to her desk. “Ahh, Prudence?”
“Where would a new TV have been put?”
“New TV? Oh yeah, d’you know what? I saw Saffron have a few of the lads from the massage parlour put a TV into her car a few weeks ago, box n’ all.”
Prudence smiled. “Oh yeah, very helpful they are. And easy to find too.” She thought for a very short moment. “Across the street, down the lane, fourth door on the right, up two flights of stairs, out the door, across the roof, in the door, down the fireman’s pole, third door. Did you get all that?”
“You’ll find it I’m sure. It’s the only door that’s red. Oh, and after you knock, the password is mezzo-soprano.” Prudence enjoyed the moment until, “sorry, what were we talking about?”
“A television,” Faith grumbled.
Prudence fell into a trance as she remembered, “Yeah, it was perfect, lovely curves. You could gaze at it all night so you could.” She snapped out of it. “Anyway, it went home in the car with Saffron”
“In the car?”
“Yeah, the nine-eleven”
“Yeah, the pink 911 convertible, did you not see it on the way in?”
“No, I took the bus.”
“Well, if you stay here and work hard, some day you’ll have a 99 Octavia too. Just like me.”
“Reeeeally?” Faith was no longer trying.
“Yeah, it’s nothing too fancy now, but money’s scarce around here, so they keep telling me.”
Faith plucked another receipt – Armani.
Another – Waterford Crystal.
Another – a flight to Australia.
Another – a Brazilian Wax. She hoped it was for Basil.
And on it went. Weekends, hotels, jewelry, fine dining and on, and on and on. By lunchtime, Faith was distraught. She ate out in case anyone asked any questions that she didn’t want to answer. She knew what she had to do. And she’d do it that very day. But first she had to copy some files.
She bought a cheap USB stick on the way back from lunch. She was already out the door of the shop when she realised it wouldn’t do. She went back inside and asked the shop assistant for a three-and-a-half-inch Floppy Disk. After the counter staff and several customers had finally stopped laughing, the manager asked her to leave when he realised she was serious, saying, “get out and don’t be wasting our time.”
She finally found one at an antique store.
The lady there was reluctant to sell such a rare remnant of the twentieth century but Faith persisted. She told the lady that it was to be a present for her Grandfather, saying he used to work with them. The lady immediately handed it over on hearing this, saying, “God, he must be ancient, was he a code breaker during the war or something?”
Once the purchase was made, Faith went for a few stiff drinks, ‘temperance be damned.’
She was back at her desk at two. No one else would be back until half-past two, that’s what Prudence had said. “In at half-nine, tea from ten to half-ten, lunch from half-twelve to half-two, tea from half-three to four, possibly a smoke at half-four but only if you really needed it. Out the gap at five. Absolutely wrecked.”
She looked around, she had the place to herself as expected. On the PC, after she had cleared the cobwebs, she found the slot for the disk and slipped it in. Immediately the computer started grinding so loud that Faith thought they would hear it two floors up. Finally, after much waiting and wondering if the computer would even survive the process, Faith managed to perform a copy & paste. ‘I’ve got you now,’ she thought. On the screen, the status indicator took the form of a cute little file which floated from one yellow folder to another. It had a happy, smiling face. Underneath it said: ‘36% copied. 59 seconds remaining. Thank you for your patience.’
“I said I’d check in on you.” Saffron’s voice.
“How are you getting on with the accounts?” She was in the door and getting close. On the screen, ominously: ‘63% copied. 40 seconds remaining. Thank you for your patience.’
Faith watched the punchable little goddamn face float slowly – but happily – across the screen. She stepped out to block Saffron’s view – but nothing could drown out the noise. “Oh hi Saffron, nice to see you,” She was far too wholesome to be good, and far too loud.
“I’m fine, how have you been settling in?”
“Great.” Faith looked at the screen. ‘90% Copied. 12 seconds remaining. Thank you for your patience.’
Saffron looked around. “Whatever is that noise from the computer?”
“Oh, I, ah, pressed a few too many keyboard shortcuts. I’m afraid I’ve overworked it and it’s trying hard to catch up. But it’ll be alright in a second. I swear. You don’t need to see.”
“Do you know a lot about computers?” Saffron seemed nice.
“A little.” Faith had to stop herself saying any more. “Anyway, I’ve been settling in great, prudence has been very helpful.” She looked at the screen again.
‘90% Copied. 12 seconds remaining. Thank you for your patience.’
The little face was frozen in the centre of the screen, looking out at Faith as if to say: ‘Still want to punch me?’ In actual fact, the face on the screen, with its toothy grin and wide eyes, resembled Faith’s own face at that precise moment, Saffron’s too.
‘Shiiiiiiit!’ She needed to keep talking. “And I’m getting to know my way around. And I love the office.”
“You do?” Saffron sounded puzzled.
“Oh yeah, the minimalist look, I’m all for it.” Faith began to reach for straws. “The bare desks, the plastic chairs, the yellow paint.”
“That’s white.” Saffron pitched in.
Cringing, and getting increasingly desperate, Faith started to blurt out….anything.
“And so many shredders.” Saffron took a step closer. “I’ve never seen so many shredders in one place before in my whole entire life. Hee-hee-hee.” Saffron came closer. “The Turtles would be terrified if they ever stepped in here, so they would. Hahahahaha.” She laughed like a Tommy gun. Saffron came closer. Faith frantically waved her arms. “Cowabunga!”
She said it so loud that Saffron jumped back in fright. Faith looked at the screen.
‘3, 2, 1.’ The box disappeared and the computer went quiet. ‘Phew!‘
That instant, Saffron leaned over. Only excel to be seen. “That’s great,” Saffron said. “Glad you’re settling in. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I have to pop across the street now for a quick massage. For the stress you know?”
‘How little you know,’ Faith thought, satisfied with herself. As Saffron reached the door, huge relief came over her. ‘Thank Go —,’
An alarm went off in her computer and around the office. Red lights began to flash. They were so loud, and oh so bright. Faith thought there were red lights flashing outside the building too but she couldn’t really be sure because of the black paint on the windows. On the screen, a bloody big dialogue box had appeared. Then the computer started speaking the words displayed.
Saffron ran back. “Get out of my way,” she barked.
‘Alert! Alert!’ Faith could only oblige. ‘Alert! Alert!’
Saffron clicked around for a few seconds. The noise stopped. “Oh my God. You’ve done something to the accounting file. These aren’t right! What the hell have you done to our accounts?”
“I haven’t done anything to you accounts.”
“You’ve ruined them!” Saffron said, a little too calmly. “Good Lord! Now we’ll never pass tomorrow’s Government Financial Audit.”
“It had nothing to do with me.”
“Oh well,” Saffron said, “they’ll just have to come back next year. That’ll give us plenty of time to sort it out, won’t it?” Faith was aghast, and Saffron went on. “I’ll let them know what you’ve done. It’s a pity to have to blame the new girl, but that’s justice for you.”