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  • It was Christmas and night had just fallen. Some friends were visiting, the adults inside the warm house while the children played in the snow and dark woods. It was as cold as it should have been for late December, around 10° F.

    I was working in the kitchen, watching both groups, when my son rushed inside. "There are people coming up the driveway! I think they need help!"

    Naturally I stepped out onto the porch and peered up our snowy, graveled drive. There were indeed two people, young adults, dressed not for Vermont winter but for... a fancy party, it seemed: elegant shoes, a light dress, a casual jacket. They looked uninjured yet slightly confused as they made their way closer to the house.

    "Hello!" I called. "Can we help you? Do you need assistance?"

  • A curious thing happened. The man paused, and the woman actually stepped behind him, hiding, it seemed. "No, we're ok," he said, standing there dressed for a party in the snow. "But could we use your phone?"

    "Of course!" I shooed them inside. Again with the gendered walking, the woman using the man as, what, a shield? "Would you like something hot to drink - coffee, tea, hot chocolate, perhaps soup?"

    "No, we're good. Thanks." He was polite, walking across the kitchen to our landline phone, smiling at my wife and our adult friends.

    Then he placed the call, and changed.

  • "Hello? Yes! Of course it's me! And I need your help.

    "A ride. A pull. God damnit, of course! Come up here. NOW."

    He turned his head to one side, face furious: "What do you mean you can't? What the hell? Fuck! God DAMN it! Damn you!"

    He stopped shouting, put the phone down, and turned to me, all Dr. Jekyll after his Hyde interlude "I'm really sorry to trouble you, but could we ask you for a ride down to Middlebury? Our car is dead and we can't catch a ride."

    I looked to my wife, who nodded. "Sure. Give us a couple of minutes to warm up a car. Are you sure we can't get you anything warm? We have Christmas dinner..."

    "No, we're good." The two of them stood there in our kitchen while my wife headed outside, shivering a little bit as they warmed up, talking very quietly to each other. What was going on?

  • Who was the person he'd shouted at? What had happened to them? Why were they so retiring?

    I found a way in. The woman's voice was lowered, but I was able to detect a trace of an accent from her words. "Excuse me," I asked, "sorry to intrude, but are you Armenian?"

    Her face lit up with a broad, surprised smile. Now her voice reached conversational level: "Why, yes! How could you tell?"

    "Ah, I used to study eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The accent is distinctive..." Now we three were friendly, it seemed.

    From outside came the sound of our car's engine roaring to life. Good.

    I had to ask: "Forgive me for intruding, but might I ask you folks what you do for a living?

  • Strangely, these well-dressed young people dropped their gazes to my floor. "We're... bankers," they muttered.

    "No! Where do you work?"

    One mumbled "Goldman Sachs"; the other, "J. P. Morgan."

    My friend E___ cracked an evil grin. Recall that this happened within a year of the financial crash and giant federal banking bailout. Memories were fresh. Aha, I thought to myself. Arrogant, well-paid finance people, probably based in New York City, now caught by surprise on a very rural roadside. They must be experiencing culture shock, fearing my family would skin and eat them. My long hair and bushy beard reinforced the impression.

    As they thanked me and headed out to the car, I asked Twitter what I should do with a pair of wayward bankers.

  • Responses came quickly. "Kill them!" "Demand a ransom." "Turn them into stew." Not a lot of sympathy for the banksters.

    But my wife and I were kind instead. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit. Perhaps these two were simply too... fragile, even pathetic. Our world-straddling financial overlords brought low.

    I talked this over with our friends, both in the house and online, as my wife drove the bankers down the mountain to the nearest town. You should have exacted vengeance! was the general sense. Cannibalism was a popular theme.

    Then my wife came back, alone in the car, and laughing.

  • The bankers were impressed by me, it seems. "You're so articulate!" they had exclaimed. Apparently the tiny wooden house in the woods convinced them we were hicks.

    Who had the young man called and sworn at? His father or brother, it seemed.

    Where was their car? They hadn't said, and we never found out. The pair thanked us but never returned nor called nor sent email. They vanished from our lives as swiftly as they had entered, like snowflakes or money in the night.

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