Thomas was outrunning a hurricane.
Storm clouds loomed from the south, the outer fringes of hurricane Gustav. He and the other employees at a volunteer center in New Orleans had been mandatorily evacuated a few hours earlier. The battery LED indicator on Thomas’s phone shone red, the battery drained to 1%. He was still a few hours from Hattiesburg, where a couch at his brother’s house was waiting for him.
He heard the phone ring once before the phone died.
He muttered a few expletives and pulled into a StellarCoffee parking lot. The chain had ample outlets, so he grabbed his messenger bag, set up shop in the corner near two old women, and ordered an espresso.
His phone, connected to the wall outlet, powered on after he got his drink. He returned a call from his supervisor, Helena. “Thomas,” she said, “can you remote into the email server? It’s gotten less responsive over the last half-hour.”
Thomas powered on his laptop and tried the server. “I can’t connect. Why is it down? It’s on a UPS. We ran all the updates, correct?”
“. . . I think SoftCo might have pushed a driver update last night.”
And now it’s forcing the email server to restart , Thomas thought. “There’s no one left to turn it back on. We’ve all evacuated.”
“Thomas, we might all be fleeing for high ground right now, but our clients still need their rosters updated!”
“So send me the files from your personal email.”
“It’s not secure!” Thomas recalled her numerous spiels about “hackers” and could gauge Helena’s level of paranoia.
“How about the office FTP server? Just use SSH. That should be secure enough.”
Thomas waited as Helena uploaded the files. Then he signed onto the FTP server, watching as his FTP client listed thousands of files. Thomas never realized how much trivia was transmitted in his office. “Can you read them off to me?”
“Fine,” she snapped. Helena listed twenty or so files and Thomas answered back as they were downloaded onto his laptop.
Thomas said, “Okay, I think--”
“Excuse me, sir.”
Behind Thomas stood a teenage boy in the black StellarCoffee uniform. “I need to ask you to leave,” the teenager said. “You’re saying some very offensive things.”
The two old women nearby turned their backs to Thomas.
Thomas hung up on Helena and turned to the teenager. “Would you care to explain? I’ve just driven for hours to get out of New Orleans, and my boss thinks I’m taking a working vacation instead of an evacuation!”
“I--I’m sorry,” he said. “They told me you said something about ‘excellent sex.’”
“I didn’t say anything like--” Thomas then realized all of the files he recited back to Helena had .xlsx extensions. “They misheard me,” he said, “but I’ll be quiet if you’ll let me finish.”
That seemed to placate the teenager, who walked back behind the counter. Thomas called back Helena.
“Why did you hang up? Those files--”
“--Can wait until I’m at my brother’s house. I think our clients have more important things on their mind. Like inches of rainfall.”
Thomas finished his coffee, packed his things, and headed back to his car, looking forward to a long sleep on his brother’s couch. . . and no elderly eavesdroppers.