Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt Today

As Mary Lou entered the food court, it was as busy as she ever remembered seeing it. Of course, over the years she has avoided coming here during the noon hour rush. Not today though. Every table was occupied, almost at capacity. There were a few seats available, here and there, and a few more in out-of-the-way places, if you knew where they were. The noise was louder than ever, the big-screen TV blaring. Lines at all the food vendors places blocked the aisle ways so Mary Lou chose the middle aisle. The smells were multifaceted. Depending upon where you stood, you could make your selection of what you want to eat based upon that smell alone.

She decided to have coffee and let it go at that. If she found Lucia, then she would go sit with her, if there was room, and she would ask her if she wanted anything, and, if she did, then she'd go get it, maybe. The first thing, though, was finding Lucia. Where was that girl? She scanned the area around where she stood. She didn't see her. She walked up the aisle further and scanned again. She still didn't see her. Well, she hadn't seen her right off so Mary Lou decided that she better go to the restroom. The bathroom was probably as busy as it ever got, but sitting there with Lucia would be a lot more comfortable after she had relieved herself.

Mary Lou was lucky though. She didn't have to stand in line to get a stall. She hurried, then wash her hands, and went back down the hall and out into the food court. Now, where was Lucia? Ah, there. She saw Isabel. Isabel was emptying garbage cans. She had one of those big bins she could dump the full plastic bags from the garbage cans into and then push it onto the next station. She couldn't hurried doing it, because there were too many people to get through and she had to be patient. So, if Isabel was there, and she was, then Lucia had to be close by. She started looking through the tables again, trying to find the girl.

There she was. That was why Mary Lou had missed her before. Lucia was sitting at a table that was filled with other people --- a family of four and three young people, maybe college-age. There were no chairs around her available. Lucia was working on a word search.

Well, Mary Lou thought, I'll just go and get my coffee first. Then I'll see if there's a place to sit close to Lucia. Maybe something will open up.

As Mary Lou walked toward the coffee shop she passed right by Isabel and said hello. Isabel looked up at Mary Lou and said hello back, and then recognition flashed across Isabel's face. "Glad to see you, Mary Lou," Isabel said.

Mary Lou was surprised to hear her say anything back to her. "Busy today, isn't it? It seems busier than usual, but I'm not usually hear this time of the day."

"Yes, it's busier," Isabel said. "Are you planning to get something to eat and to sit with my daughter?"

"I was planning to get some coffee; I'm not quite ready to eat yet. Then I was going to sit by Lucia if I could, but right now she is surrounded by other people."

"Yes, I know," Isabel said.

Mary Lou thought Isabel looked worried. "Is anything wrong?"

Isabel looked at Mary Lou as if she was looking inside her, trying to see if she could trust her. "My daughter is not doing too well today," she said. "Maybe you haven't noticed because you have taken an interest in her and almost nobody else does. My daughter, she has the epilepsy. You know, she has these seizures, and sometimes they're worse than other times. But today, it is bad. She didn't have her pills for yesterday or today."

Mary Lou couldn't believe Lucia hadn't had her pills. As caring as Isabel always was, as far as Mary Lou had seen them interacting together, she didn't think that Isabel would jeopardize her daughter's health or safety by not providing her medication if she could help it. Something must be wrong. "Is there anything I can do? Can I give her some pills?"

"Could you just go sit with her? Make sure she's okay, at least while it's so busy in here? Her seizures, they get worse when it is so busy and noisy. That would help me."

"Certainly, I can do that. There must be something else I can do, though? What about her pills? How come she hasn't had them? Is she out of them?"

Isabel looked around. She looked concerned to Mary Lou.

"I can't talk about it right now. If I get some time, I'll come and tell you more about it. For now though, if you could just sit with Lucia and make sure she's okay. You know, while it's so busy in here and so noisy." Isabel hurried off, pushing the bin with the garbage bags in it off to the next station where several more garbage cans stood together in a station. She waited for the people to move away, then lifted the lids off of the cans, and pulling the bags out, she hefted them into the bin, moving as fast as she could go, glancing around as if something were the matter, as if somebody was watching her, and then looking over to where her daughter sat, surrounded by people, strangers, and then looking back at Mary Lou. Isabel's eyes seemed to plead.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt from Sunday 11-23-2009

It was only after she had selected and paid for the new coat that Mary Lou began wondering about Lucia and Isabel. She thought about their circumstances and wondered if they had nice winter coats to wear during the upcoming cold and stormy season. She wondered if they had ever afforded a new coat, purchased on the spur of the moment like Mary Lou had just done. She doubted they had, but maybe they had. In better days possibly. Probably not now, though. The economy had declined and the circumstances for undocumented immigrants had undoubtedly gotten worse too.

Back, before the economic decline, if Mary Lou remembered correctly, nobody much cared about the "invasion" of immigrants into the nation. Oh, there had been a few extremists even then, as there always were, but the fanatics didn't have much impact or influence back then. Most people had seemed quite content. It had been back when almost everybody who wanted a job that they would qualify for could get a job, however. It had been back when there was a bigger pay gap between the jobs for citizens and the jobs for immigrants.

As the higher paying jobs evaporated with a flagging economy, though, the heat had been turned up on the undocumented workers. Citizens who had lost their jobs soon had a lot of time on their hands, a lot of time with too little to do and too little incentive or moxie to do it with, so they had all of their pent-up emotion. Their anxiety had caused them to think defensively about their evolving situation and some of them --- and it seemed more and more of them all the time ---took out their fears and exasperations on the immigrants.

Anyway, Mary Lou hadn't ever contemplated the ethics of purchasing a coat before. She thought about it now. Was it because these two people --- Lucia and Isabel --- both had faces and personalities and she knew them? She was beginning to care about them. There was a whole world of poor people out there, however, hundreds of millions more poor and in worse circumstances than Lucia and Isabel. Mary Lou didn't think the measure of her morality was measured in terms of what needed to be done in the whole wide world, but in what she could reasonably do herself. Of course, a person like her could live a life of greater thrift than they were living in order to give away more to those in need.

As a young adult, Mary Lou had read Pearl Buck's novel, The Good Earth. She remembered its protagonist, Wang Lung, a Chinese peasant, and his wife, O-Lan. Wang Lung had survived hardships and made his way up in the world. Then even more easily he had lost it all.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo Nov 21st

Mary Lou hoped that Mark was as accommodating as he had been up to that point on down the line when things got more convoluted and sticky, as Mary Lou was expecting. They discussed other things she would need and Mark said he expected that they could get everything set up and ready to go by noon, or shortly thereafter.

Mary Lou took her time getting ready. She flipped on the television, which he never did before work, and listen to the news, and then listen to a talk show. It seems so strange having this extra time, these few minutes not to have to rush off to work. She showered, dressed, put on makeup, and even had some breakfast. After messing around all that time, it was only 10:30 AM. She still had an hour and a half before was time to show up at the new office. Maybe she'd go downtown, go into the mall and into the food court and check on Lucia. See if she could see Isabel and make sure that the two of them were okay. Not that she needed to do that, because, she didn't have any expectations that anything would be wrong. But she had this extra time, this extra time she wasn't used to having.

The morning was brisk. After a hard run the briskness would have felt fine. Of course, there had been plenty of time for a brisk run but Mary Lou had not taken it. She put up her collar, put her hands in her pocket and picked up her pace. If she walked faster, she would warm up, perhaps even before she reached the platform, where she would catch the light-rail downtown.

The traffic was heavy, but not as heavy as it would have been earlier. It ran unbelievably busy from about 6 AM to about 9 AM. That's why Mary Lou had chosen the work schedule she had, because the traffic wasn't bad at 10 AM or later in the evening at 9 PM or later. Evening traffic during the normal commute, which run from about 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, was always the worst of the day. She avoided it like the plague.

She stepped onto the train. It wasn't completely empty, but there were very few people on it. She had her selection of seats and found one convenient to look out the window toward the east, into the mountains. Usually she had her e-book reader with her. It contained hundreds of books, nigh onto a thousand. It allowed her to listen to music as she read. It would even read the text out loud. Also, she could cook professionally read books on it to listen to. Most of the time, today, however she just looked out the window, imagining her new office, her new assignment. She also thought about Lucia. Lucia and Isabel.

It was impossible to think about Lucia without thinking about herself. Lucia's situation seemed so tenuous, so fraught with anxiety and danger. Over against that was Mary Lou's situation. It didn't seem to be anything but be anxious about. It didn't seem filled with danger at all. There was, of course, as in every life, some tension and anxiety: most of it with perspective her had to do with her estrangement from her family and her culture and religion. Over against that there was Lucia. She wondered when the girl had come to America. She wondered how old she would have been then. She wondered how long she had gone to school here in the United States and how she had done, particularly with her disabilities. She wondered if the American system had in some way accommodated her relative to her disability, or had they simply cast her off because she was an immigrant without legal documents to be there. There is so much she wished she knew about the girl, and she planned to try and find out more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNoWriMo November 20th

They moved to the dining room. The senator sat on one side of the table, Mark sat on the end of the table, adjacent to the senator, and Mary Lou sat across from the senator.

"I instructed Mark here, not to tell you anything about what this was about before today, Mary Lou. Other than, of course, what he had to reveal in trying to find somebody he thought was very capable of doing the job and most trustworthy. I must admit that you come most highly recommended from my friend, Bill Telford, and too many others to mention. I guess Bill's your boss?"

Mary Lou nodded. "I guess in a way he's my boss, but I haven't ever worked directly for or with him, since he's now mostly given up the grunt-type work that peons like me do for the firm, and he's mostly into promoting the business these days. He brings in the big clients, though. I'm pretty certain I'd be a failure at that type of work."

"Well, that sounds like the Bill Telford I know," the senator said. "I guess we ought to dive into the reason for our meeting. I am confident your not ignorant of the news about my indictment, so I guess we need to address that issue to some degree today. Sorry we have to do it on the Sabbath. I'll try to keep it brief. Mark, can you give her a condensed version of what you understand is going on."

"All right," Mark said. "The news has been reporting that this involves money laundering and income taxes, I believe. Let me flesh it out a bit for you. What the government accuses the senator of doing is promoting, along with a web of co-conspirators, tax shelters among American citizens and legal residents who belong to Mexican drug cartels. They also say that the senator helped the cartels launder millions of dollars of drug money through various of his constituents' businesses and exempt organizations. That's it in a nutshell. I can give you more details tomorrow, assuming we start working on this together tomorrow."

Mary Lou was confused. "What do you mean, assuming we start working together tomorrow on it? I thought that that was settled."

The senator spoke. "Well, I just wanted to meet with you first to make sure you're okay working on this sensitive and highly public case. So you're okay doing this kind of work?"

"I believe I already indicated to Mark that I was. Of course, I wasn't certain, frankly, who it involved nor the degree of its publicity. I'm not quite certain, even now, exactly what the work entails and, for certain, I'm not at all clued in to what the financial details will reveal about these matters alleged witch Mark has sketched out. That's the nature of accounting and tax work, generally speaking, figuring things out in accordance with policy, principles, and law. You often don't know, as an accountant, what you've got until you dig in and analyze everything there is. But yeah, I'm okay doing accounting and tax work, if that's what's involved here. That's what I do: accounting and tax work. On the other hand, if what you're asking me is, am I willing to bend my findings to be something that they are not, then the answer is, no, I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in anything unlawful or unethical. If that's involved, please find somebody else."

"No, no, we don't want you to do any bending," Mark said. "We want you to analyze the data --- and there is plenty of data to be analyzed --- and after you do so, we want you to make your best assessment to us of what it reveals, but only to us. We don't want anything that isn't objectively analyzed and accurately reported as per your expert opinion as a capable CPA."

"Yes, and I concur one hundred percent," the senator said. "No messing around skirting ethics or the law."

"Well, then, I don't see any problem whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, the chips will fall where they will fall, and that's all that I'll report is exactly how the chips fall. As to what you do with them --- well, that your business, Mark's, as a lawyer, and you Senator Orr, as a public servant."

"That's all fine and good, then" the senator said. "The other matter is about privacy. Nobody can know anything about your work or your findings relative to all of this unless I say so. Is that okay and understood? You're working for me and the information is intended only for me and Mark here."

"That was my understanding, and it is my agreement. You can count on me, as long as what I'm doing is not illegal and it is under the auspices of Mark. Of course if the information reveals you are abusing kids --- well, then that's another matter."

"Well, it's not. All right, then," said the senator.

"Okay, let's dive into this a little deeper," Mark said. "Senator, did you bring those documents we talked about two days ago?"

"That's what I have in my briefcase," the senator said. He lifted the briefcase to the tabletop and opened it. It was crammed full of documents. I hoped we didn't have to go through all that this afternoon. We'd be here all night.

"Let's start with this one," he said. He handed Mark a copy and me a copy, ostensibly of the same thing. If everything in the briefcase was in triplicate, that cut the work down two-thirds right there. I relaxed a little.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NaNoWriMo Nov 19th

The first CPA firm she had worked for hadn't worked out for Mary Lou so well. The proprietor was an overbearing ass, he had expectations that were impossible to for her or anyone else to meet, and he lorded it over everybody, especially the women under his charge. Mary Lou worked hard there, though, anxious to be able to get a positive recommendation from the guy should she need it once she left and started looking for something else.

After six months, she had started looking for something else. When she found a new job through a recommendation of a friend and it looked like it would work out better than the job she had, she made application, and then received an offer to employ her for a third again as much a she had been making. She went back to the overbearing guy she had been working for and told him what the new firm was willing to pay her. "Well, good for you," he said, "but I won't pay that much. You'll probably never make that much working for me." So with him unwilling to match the amount offered she had the excuse she needed and left that first office with its ignorant proprietor and went on to the second job.

The next office worked out much better. Mary Lou stayed there for two years, gaining invaluable experience, but then there was a death in the firm --- its founder had died --- and the managing partners, who were all getting older, decided to downsize and shift some of their work to a neighboring city, where they had a much larger presence, anyway, and Mary Lou was let go. However, the managing partners recommended Mary Lou highly and that's how she got the job with Telford and McDonald.

It wasn't at all uncommon for Mary Lou to write down her thoughts to sort through them. She didn't keep a regular journal --- at least she didn't call it that --- but every few days, sometimes more and sometimes less, she would workthrough her thoughts and feelings on paper. She was an accountant, after all, and it seemed like putting things down in accounts, debits and credits. Doing so in black and white always worked for her. She would just let loose and free write what she was thinking. That exercise would prompt her to go to her computer, boot it up and then do research as she wrote. Anyway, it was all a means to derive some clarity in her thinking and feelings.

The nature of the process was to write down as fast as she could her main thoughts, the ones that had been running around in her mind, causing problems. Then she would analyze what had come out so fast and that she had written down. Then she would amplify upon it. When she didn't know something that she thought she should know, she would go look it up and read about it, at least enough to satisfy her understanding of it. It was an exercise that she had learned just before going off to college. She had continued the process while she had been away from home, and she had continued it on through all of the years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNoWriMo for Wednesday the 18th

Long ago she had given up purchasing almost all types of hard copy books. If she bought books --- and she did in profusion --- she bought electronic ones, except for picture books, which she bought occasionally. She had three e-book readers: one at the office and two at home --- one of them at home had a larger screen and the ability to read PDF files --- not including the capability to read e-books on her computer. Her shelves are lined with thick necks and souvenirs, mostly, and the few picture book she had.

Her condominium had all of the economies you would expect of an accomplished accountant who also happened to be a woman. Compared to her parents' home in the avenues, though, it was modest, too modest to keep up appearances, if you asked Mary Lou's mother, Elizabeth.

Heber James Thompson was Mary Lou's father. He went by Heber, not James, a choice Mary Lou never quite understood. She could, of course, comprehend why he might have gone by Heber if that's what his parents had wanted him to go by as a youngster, but why he hadn't chosen to go by James when he was old enough to make that choice remained a conundrum for Mary Lou.

Heber was a physician with a family practice, and he had worked diligently through the years; there was never any complaining about his ability to provide for the family, at least, in providing for their physical welfare. He had invested well and made connections with the influential throughout the area. By every standard of the valley and city the Heber Thompson family lived in, they lived on the borderline of ostentatious. Elizabeth didn't work --- never had done --- she volunteered. She served on this committee and that exempt organization's board. She belonged to the country club and to her enduring sorority she had joined in college. Both Heber and Elizabeth practiced their religion, which was authoritarian and hierarchical, and they both participated in its laity, and to the degree they thought they could, they required the same of their children.

The house Mary Lou grew up in, which was still occupied by her parents and her youngest sister, the baby of the family, had seven bedrooms: one occupied by Heber and Elizabeth, four of them occupied by each of the children --- Mary Lou was the second one born --- and two were spare bedrooms, intended for guests or projects. Each of the bedrooms had its own individual bathroom and walk-in closet.

Of course, the housework and upkeep of the grounds was too much for the family to do. They had always hired people to come and clean the house and take care of the yard. It had been an effortless existence, for the most part, other than that over the years, especially, as she grew into a young adult and then into a young woman, Mary Lou began to question her parents' values and beliefs.

The Thompson's were a tall lot, and that characteristic of the family did not escape Mary Lou. She was close to six foot tall, and in her younger days, had considered it a curse. While her two younger brothers relished being bigger than most of the other boys growing up, Mary Lou didn't like being taller than everybody else, especially the boys when she was a youngster. She had never really gotten over being tall, but she had grown to accept it and not think much about it. She was a couple of inches taller, for example, than Bob Orr.

Up until she had finally separated from her family and, to a great extent the culture in which she had been raised, she had boasted about her practical condominium that she had so well organized over against her parents' monstrosity of a house, although she always did so with some degree of sarcasm, realizing, as she did, that she was far from living totally green or being adequately responsible when it came to protecting the environment or giving to charity.

She now referred to the old house she had grown up in as the castle on the hill whenever she was talking about it with her friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. The one feature of the property the house was on that she liked and had never ridiculed was the land that went with it. It was a substantial tract that went up the mountainside --- some twenty acres worth. She just hoped her parents never sold off that property and allowed anyone to subdivide it. She didn't expect an inheritance. Her parents had more or less disowned her, but if she had had the choice of property --- and their state was substantial and included more land and investments than just the property with the house --- she would've chosen to have the property that went up the mountain. She would have seen to it, also, if she got that property, that was never developed. She wouldn't even bother it to build her own home; she was more than happy right where she was living, in that condominium.

While Mary Lou was estranged from her parents and her siblings, she still visited her grandmother, occasionally, who was now residing in an assisted living center out south in the valley. Her grandmother --- her mother's mother --- remained quite lucid and told interesting stories from her childhood and youth. Sometimes, Mary Lou took a tape recorder and recorded her grandmother talking to her. Mary Lou intended to transcribe at some point in time her grandmother's stories.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NaNoWriMo Nov 16th

Mary Lou was surprised. "So how old were you when you came here?"


"So you were around here to go to school."

"Uh-huh. I graduated from Western High School." Lucia took a bite of her muffin.

Western was the downtown high school, not too far from the mall they were in. The women, Mary Lou thought, must live close by.

Suddenly Mary Lou witnessed what appeared to be the loss of consciousness in Lucia --- not in the sense she went to sleep or anything like that though. The young woman just became quiet and her eyes started blinking quickly, she had a blank stare, her eyes rolled back briefly, and her lips seemed to vibrate, but only very slightly. It frightened Mary Lou because she didn't know what to do. It lasted only half a minute or so, though, and nothing serious happened. When it ended, Lucia merely picked up her muffin, and took another bite. It was as if nothing had happened to her. She was unaware of it having happened to her.

It must have been some kind of seizure, Mary Lou thought. I wonder why she has that happening? I wonder if it's some kind of medical condition; something that goes with her right-sided partial paralysis. She felt inclined to ask Lucia if she was all right, but then didn't. She didn't want to scare or worry the young woman, who must know she had this propensity. Obviously, if there was something that could be done about it, she would be doing it. It was hard to believe, though, that Isabel could leave Lucia here alone knowing she had seizures. Of course, maybe there was no choice.

Mary Lou decided there was a lot about undocumented aliens she didn't know. She needed to get serious about researching. Not only did she need to research, but she needed to figure out for herself what she thought about the whole subject of illegal immigration.

"Do you have any children? Lucia asked Mary Lou.


The girl nodded.

"No. I'm not married."

"How come you're not married?"

"I guess I'm just not the marrying type," Mary Lou said. "So do you and your mother get a day off tomorrow? You know, not have to come to the mall."

"No. We will be here tomorrow, too. Just like other days except the mall has different hours tomorrow. Do you work tomorrow?"

"No, not usually. I have to go to a meeting related to work tomorrow. I probably won't be in the food court tomorrow, though. So I guess I'll see you Monday."

"That'll be nice. I will try to read more of that book you gave me."


Everything was pretty much tied up and done on the transfer of all the cases she couldn't complete and on the cases she could. She was essentially done now and ready to start working for Mark. That would start, she guessed, tomorrow or Monday. She wasn't sure about it starting tomorrow.

Instead of going home early, though, Mary Lou went in the break room and started looking around on the computer in there relative to immigration. She learned that in 2006 it was estimated that there were some twelve million undocumented residents from other countries in the United States, the bulk of them in California, almost one-fourth of them there. Texas was next with about an eighth of the undocumented residents residing there.

Mary Lou wondered if much had changed since 2006. The United States economy had gone sour. It seemed that might have staunched the inflow and maybe even contributed to some of the people going back where they came from. On the other hand, if the economy in the U.S. had gone bad, it probably was worse in the countries south of the border. Additionally, Mary Lou had read how much crime along the border had increased relative to the drug trade and the Mexican drug cartels.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo Sunday November 15th

"Well, mostly I don't blame the people who are here for coming here," he said, "even if they don't have a legal right to be here. I doubt if circumstances were better where they had came from that they would have come here in the first place. Or, if circumstances where they were from had improved, even if only in relation to their being here, it seems like they would have gone back. Would go back. Going back would be only half the problem coming was, I would think. On the other hand, American immigration is a basic problem. Because the countries to the south of us here in the United States generally have fewer resources and less favorable circumstances for meaningful life than we do, or than we think we do, there's a great incentive for them to come here to try to better themselves. Why do you ask?"

"I've been thinking about the situation a lot lately. I hadn't thought about it that much until just recently. I think it's almost too complex to fully understand."

"You've got that right. It's about as complex as analyzing nuclear physics, maybe more so. Our politicians have ignored the situation --- or encouraged its continuance --- for too many years. It has made the situation worse, and the economy now has made it critical."

"The thing that frightens me is that the people who will suffer the most are the ones that can least afford to suffer more. It won't be the wealthy and powerful politicians that ignore their responsibility in correcting the situation who suffer, but the innocent individuals caught in the terrible circumstances that they didn't create."

"Well, for the most part, don't you think most of the individuals created the situations themselves?" Bob took a sip of his wine.

Mary Lou also sipped her drink before she answered him. "Probably," she said after she finished. "The problem is, there are so many individuals caught in the crosshairs now that there has to be a lot of innocent people who will get hurt."

"What all got you thinking about this, anyway?"

Mary Lou thought she would take a chance by telling Bob. She was feeling for some reason good about Bob Orr, and it wasn't just that the food tasted exceptionally good. It was difficult to explain why or how she felt that way, but sometimes you just had to try something out, based upon a feeling, and then see if it worked out. You know, you had to see if the accounts balanced; if the debits and credits canceled out the way they should. "Well, I go to the mall to take a break from work. Sometimes I go just for a break, but usually I go there to eat dinner in the middle of my work day. I go alone; I enjoyed the time by myself. I started observing the young woman while I was there.

"She looked like a Latina. I don't know what she did that attracted my attention, but she seemed to be there whenever I went, and that seemed strange."

"How old would you guess she is?"

"Oh, I don't know, I her late teens --- eighteen or nineteen --- or her early twenties. That's my guess anyway."

"So what does she do? You say she's there all of the time?"

"Yeah, whenever I'm there, and I think to look for her, I have been able to find her someplace there. At first, I thought she was doing nothing. Just sitting there looking around. You know, they have a big screen television there. Sometimes she would just be watching it, but not all the time or even most of the time. Sometimes it seemed as if she was just reading or looking at something in a magazine. I almost thought she might be doing homework or something. But then, she was always there. It didn't look like she was ever anywhere else, like at school. I thought, maybe she does it online. But I never saw her with a computer or anything like it."

"Hmmm, that is curious. So what did you do?"

"Well, I got more observant. Finally, I just walked by her and saw that what she was working on was a word-search puzzle --- you know how you can buy those magazines with hundreds of word-search puzzles in them. And then one day I saw an older woman who also looked like a Latina with the young woman. They were sitting there together, talking with each other. After that, I started looking around for the older woman, too.

"I found out that she was always there in the food court or someplace else in the mall, too. The older woman, however, was always working. Well, almost always working. I'd see her mopping floors, carrying out the garbage, working inside any one of the various businesses there: Wendy's, Burger King, Orange Julius, Taco Maker, etc. Whatever. She was working.

"At first, it wasn't clear who she was working for. I thought maybe she was just working for the mall, that they were paying her to clean up around the food court and whatnot. The more I watched, though, the more apparent it was that she wasn't working for the mall or anyone entity. She was freelancing, working for herself. She wasn't working for any one business or person, but for many different ones. She was picking up whatever work she could get, without being employed. In effect, it seemed as if she was conscientiously trying to reduce the risk of being caught by the government or law enforcement individuals."

"That's a curious situation. What do you think their connection is --- the two women?"

"The older woman is the younger woman's mother. I know that now. I sat down one day recently with the younger woman and introduced myself. Later, I had occasion to meet the older woman, too. The other day, you know, when we went out for a drink, and I had you walk with me through the food court --- in fact insisted upon it --- it was because, earlier that day, I had seen the two women together. Both of them had been in tears, as if something catastrophic had happened to them. Of course, that was before I had introduced myself, And now that I have, I am trying to make friends. Maybe I can find out what happened that caused them such grief that day."

"Are you sure that you want to get involved in all of this yourself? Isn't that just opening yourself up to potential heartache, too?"

"Well, doesn't that just go back to the original problem? Nobody wants to do anything about the problem, do they? Nobody wants to feel bad or have enough empathy to do anything for these individuals. Our politicians have let things slide and now the bottom has fallen out of the economy. And now that the you-know-what is hitting the fan, everything is a crisis. Anybody with any power and authority at all wants to wash their hands of the immigrant situation; they don't want anything to do with it. It's a political hot potato.

"The zealots out there are like Hitler over against the Jews, the handicapped, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. They just want the people who were here without proper documentation and legal authority to go back to wherever they came from, even if that is now, for all practical purposes, virtually impossible."

Bob Orr chewed on his steak.

It seemed to Mary Lou to be a steak more tough than this upscale of a restaurant ought to have. "What would you do if you had seen a girl like that, Bob? Before you tell me though, let me tell you one more piece of this puzzle. The girl is handicapped. It looks to me like she has some sort of paralysis on her right side. Additionally, sometimes it looks like she blanks out. I don't know what that is. Maybe she's having some kind of seizure or something. It scares me. So what would you do?"

"Well. I don't know. Probably, I am too insensitive to even have recognized it like you did. But now that you've told me about it, it makes my heart ache just thinking about it. What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. For one thing, I guess, I'd like to get a little more information. You know, find out where they come from. How long they've been here. Where they're staying. I have 1 million questions. Maybe I can help them some way.

"I gave the girl a book."

"You gave her a book?" Bob said.

"I did. It's a Newbery award-winning book. It's one I love. I don't know if it will have any meaning to the young woman or not. I don't know if it'll have any impact whatsoever, however. Or, for that matter, I don't know if she'll even read clear through it.

NaNo etc for November 14th

Bob had the radio on. If it had been tuned to talk radio --- anything with Hannity, Beck, or Limbaugh --- she would've gotten right back out of the car and left. Even though she was conservative, she wasn't a complete idiot and she didn't intend spending time she could spend otherwise with one --- a person tagged as liberal listening to such drivel. It wasn't, however, tuned to idiocy. Bob had it tuned to soft music on some station or had it playing music from some other source --- a CD, a MP3 player, whatever. When Bob climbed in, he turned the volume down and asked her how her day had gone.

Mary Lou wasn't about to give him a detailed recitation of how her day had gone. That wasn't his business, and she didn't know yet what his motive was in taking her out to eat anyway. "It went fine," she said. She looked over at him and said, "How about you? How did your day go?" She would see if he was any more responsive than her. Most of all she was interested in what he might have to say about his father's indictment, if anything. He had mentioned it before when they had gone for a drink, and she was anxious to see if they had anything more to say about it. Before, all he had said was that he doubted he would learn anything from his father about it, thereby confirming that the two of them were on the out and out.

"Not too bad. I've been working hard today. Had a lot of calls from customers and had to have a meeting with my people about the possibility of another upcoming layoff again. I've still been trying to find out more about my father's indictment. Unfortunately, there's not much news out there; I guess he's successfully muffled. And, like I told you the other night, it's not likely he's going to be sharing any information about it with me. But then, I didn't invite you out to dinner for us to discuss any of that."

"Well then," Mary Lou said, "let me ask you this question? Why did you ask me out?" It was a stupid question to ask, but when it came to such matters Mary Lou decided to be stupid.

"I just wanted to. I enjoyed having a drink with you the other night after a hard day --- especially with the news of my dad and all --- and I thought I'd enjoy your company again, just for the fun of it."

"Hmmm, so what did you find in our conversation that was so enjoyable?"

"I don't know. Maybe that you listened, seemed, at least, to hear what I was saying. Your responses suggested that you had listened to what I was saying. You didn't seem at all evasive when I asked you questions, and you seemed more than willing to communicate with me. I guess it seemed like you were not trying to hide anything."

"I'm so boring that I don't have anything to hide."

He laughed. "I bet there is something."

She looked out the window as they drove along and noticed that the wind had picked up, and it looked like a storm was blowing in. She hoped it wasn't going to snow. She didn't like the snow, especially in November before the snow was ever deep enough to go skiing. Besides, it was just too early to snow. Thanksgiving wasn't for a couple of weeks. That'd be soon enough for snow.

"Have you heard the weather report? Is it supposed to snow?"

Friday, November 13, 2009

NaNoWriMo November 13th (Friday the 13th)

She wanted to get done with her work and spend some time researching, trying to figure out the real facts --- if the real facts could be figured out --- and make some sense of the entire matter for herself above and beyond the opinion she had held for so long. One thing for sure, she couldn't get out of her mind the movie of watching the young woman in the food court have those blank outs or whatever they were and wondering what would happen if the young woman didn't have her mother to depend upon, wondering what would happen if some day things went awry and the young woman had to be all alone and on her own. She also wondered how long the young woman had been in the United States and under what circumstances she had come here with her mother. She also wondered what ICE would do with a handicapped person like Lucia, if they would simply export her back to where she came without a second thought.

Mary Lou hurried through the files, sorting, pausing long enough to complete whatever work was necessary to complete them if completing them was even possible, or otherwise stacking them and getting them ready for Clark Porter.

In the early afternoon she received an unexpected telephone call. Of course, as an accountant, her telephone was always ringing. Some client was always calling to clarify some matter of importance to them: wondering if this or that expenditure could be totally written off or had to be depreciated to somehow protect them from taxes they would otherwise have to pay this year, and whether or not some representation they gave of a transaction would favorably impact their financial statements, and so on and so forth. Almost all of the calls that Mary Lou received pertained to work. It was rare and an exception for her to receive a social telephone call at work. Her social world was small, the smallest planet in the constellation of her life. Therefore, when Bob Orr called to ask her if she wanted to have dinner that night, it was a complete surprise.

"How would you like to go out to you with me tonight?" Bob asked as soon as he identified who he was.

Of course, it hadn't been necessary for him to identify himself to Mary Lou. She knew the moment she heard his voice who it was. His voice was distinctive, low-pitched and even-toned. "This is a surprise," she said. "What do you have in mind?"

"Just a simple dinner together is all," he said, "to talk some more. I'm thinking the Beaumont Grill sounds good to me. On the other hand, since I'm asking you to go out with me, it's totally your decision where we go, and I'm totally open if you have something else in mind. Anyplace is fine with me, really. I like food. What I'm most interested in, is talking to you again. You know, just visiting."

Well, this seemed peculiar, Bob Orr wanting to go out with her and just visit. What was going on with that? Wasn't Bob Orr married again now? Hadn't she heard that? Well, no point in asking herself. "Didn't I hear that you were married again?" Mary Lou asked him. If anything, Mary Lou was quite straightforward. Well, straightforward when it came to dealing with matters like this.

"No, I'm not." He cleared his throat. "You are mistaken. I haven't married again. I'm single and free."

"Oh," she said, "I'm sorry, I just thought I had heard that you had remarried."

"Well, it's true at one point there --- I guess to be honest, you'd have to say I was on the verge of it. But then, I got to thinking that it wasn't the right thing for me to do so soon again. Not at that point, anyway. When I told my fiancé I wasn't ready to get married again, she said, 'Fine, I'll be seeing you later then.' That was a couple of months ago. And I haven't been seeing anyone since then. Then, after we had lunch the other day, I thought I'd give you a call and see if you'd go out with me."

Bob Orr knew her. He knew that she didn't date; that she never had. Surely, he knew the rumors, the speculation. What possessed him to ask her out, anyway? She couldn't help but think there was some ulterior motive to his asking her to go out with him. Could it in some way have something to do with his father, with the indictment of his father, the Senator? Him knowing that somehow she might have something to do with his father's defense --- if that was even true. Well, that would have to be sorted out as things played out. For now though, she would agree to go out with him, although she wasn't inclined to go with him to the Beaumont Grill. "How about we go to the Colorado Cave Mine instead?" The Colorado Cave Mine was a nice, conservative, but also somewhat upscale restaurant not too far from downtown where she worked. "And how about if we go Dutch?"

"Well, that's not necessary, but whatever you say. Say 7 PM?"


"Yeah, tonight."

"How about 9 PM? That way I can clear some more of this work out that I've got to get done and finished before Monday."

"Sure. Nine PM is fine. Should I pick you up at home or at the office?"

"At the office, please. Just wait out there in the car in front. You know, there on City Creek, by the main entrance to the mall there."

"Okay then; I'll see you soon."

Mary Lou hung up, but she didn't forget the call from Bob for the rest of the day. She couldn't help but wonder why Bob Orr was calling her up to go out to 'just visit.' It just didn't make much sense.

What was more peculiar, however, was the very next telephone call she got. It was Mark Goodrich, and he wondered if she could meet with him and Senator Calvin Orr on Sunday at his house. "Of course," she said, and she asked Mark for his address and wrote it down. "What time?"

"How about in the afternoon, say 4 PM. Will that work out for you?"

"Yeah, that's perfect."

The rest of the afternoon and then on into the evening it was difficult to think about much else other than those two callss. There was the bewilderment about Bob's invitation to go out to eat and the the meeting with Mark and Senator Orr set for Sunday. She figured the meeting between her and Goodrich and Senator Orr pretty much sewed up who Mark Goodrich's client was and that she would be working with him on the Senator. It seemed awfully coincidental, her getting the two telephone calls, one right after the other like that. It added a certain degree of intrigue to the matter, not that it had lacked intrigue before, but it also created substantial anxiety in her life. She didn't have a lot of experience in working with the rich and powerful --- well, the supposedly rich. But Senator Orr was definitely powerful.

Mary Lou didn't think about much other than her work and the telephone calls for the rest of the day. She didn't even have time or inclination to think about the two women in the mall; that is, she didn't think of them until about 6:30 PM, the normal time when she started to get hungry and her stomach started growling. She finally decided to walk to the mall and get a drink and a pretzel from Orange Julius.

The food court seemed busier than usual. On Fridays, people seemed to go out for lunch more than on weekdays. As she walked into the food court she saw Lucia the very first thing. The young girl was looking right at her, almost as if she had been hoping for her, expecting her to show up. She hurried and ordered and took her tray sit with Lucia.

"Hi Lucia," she said, "do you mind if I join you?"

The young girl smiled, and held up her new book --- Walk Two Moons --- and said, "I started reading it."

Mary Lou put her tray on the table, pulled her chair back and draped her jacket there, and sat down. "Good for you," she said. "I hope you like it. I got to thinking about it, about whether it was appropriate for you after I gave it to you, and about how different Salamanca's life is from yours. I hope the story in the book isn't so different from yours or the stories in your life that you are acquainted with, that you will not want to read it or be interested in. Maybe, if you want we can discuss it as you read it and if you have questions about it, we can talk about them when I come here to have dinner. If that's okay with you and your mother, of course. Here, I got you a drink --- if you'd like one, that is. Is that okay?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NaNoWriMo Again November 12th

Mary Lou found the article most interesting, conservative accountant that she was, but she was even more interested in seeing what the newspaper's readers thought about the situation. Of course, such information wasn't contained in the newspaper, but she knew that almost every newspaper now had an online presence, and many of them permitted readers to participate by commenting online on their articles.

The break room where Mary Lou had gotten her coffee and had seen and then read the article conveniently had a computer terminal intended for the personal use of the employees while they were taking a break or having lunch. Nobody was sitting at the computer at the moment, though, so Mary Lou sat down in front of the display and typed the name of the newspaper and part of the article's title into a Google search engine.

The article came up in a long list of hits, typical of Google searches, and she clicked what appeared to be its direct link. After the article loaded and she saw it was the article she had read, she went to the bottom of the article, where she found another link that enabled her, if she desired it, to read all 112 comments that had been submitted by readers up to that point.

She wanted mostly to get some sense of the readers' opinions about the county's choice to have some of its law enforcement employees assist ICE and it having to pay funds to incarcerate the jailed illegal immigrants so found without a greater reimbursement from the federal government.

The first reader said, in part, "It's the immigration of ILLEGAL ALIENS that's the problem, not the program. The program likely saves ten-fold the cost, because it locks away criminals who would otherwise be driving drunk and killing legal U.S. citizens or selling drugs, kidnapping, or committing other acts of violence." The commenter chided the newspaper, saying it must have outsourced the article's editing to those less hard on undocumented immigrants.

Another commenter said, "San BeanerDino county is now 50% mexican so is riverside county. The city of San BeanerDino itself is half illegals that's what is such a hellhole here." The next commenter said, " the federal government dumps on local government and allows for no enforcement of laws nor do they provide funding. stupid politicians are in it for votes. they don't care about mexicans or canadians or americans. just kissing rear end of the next potential voting block. we don't need reform. we need enforcement of the laws." Commenter called undocumented immigrants, ". . . the 500 pound gorilla in the room, and millions of invading, plundering, welfare loving, prolific breeding, Illegal Aliens taking millions of jobs that should be American jobs and 100,s billions of dollars in social services that should be for American citizens!"

As Mary Lou read down through the entries, it didn't seem to get much better. Another commenter called the politicians traitors.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt November 10th

And these two bigger birds didn't foreclose the others, in particular, the little ones, which included the red-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches with their distinctive per-chick-o-ree, Lincoln's sparrow's, and house finches with their warbled songs.

Mary Lou's hiking shoes crunched along the trail. As she hiked up the trail, her breathing deepened, especially as the grade increased. The effort worked loose kinks and stiffness two consecutive days in the office without any exercise had created. Given the fact that she was going to be able to get rid of her workload and didn't know anything about what the mystery case would require, she found her thinking about personal matters. She thought about Bob Orr. She wondered what his status was a family man. She wondered why he had invited her out to have a drink. She wondered about why she wondered about it.

The higher she climbed, the more out of breath she became. Soon she stopped to catch her breath, and looked back down below her into the valley. The sun was fully up now, illuminating the valley and the city below. Business went on as usual down there. Soon enough she would have to return and go to work. Fall days, however, were among her favorites of any time of year, and she liked to exploit them as much a she could. They were cool and refreshing, often more clear and crisp than any other during the year, like today was.

She started up the trail again, and, as she did, she thought about Lucia and her having been able to sit with Lucia for a few minutes last evening. Now she knew Lucia's mother, Isabel. They had met and exchanged greetings, even if their meeting and exchange of words had only been brief and to the point. Mary Lou had also been able to give Lucia the book that she had bought at the bookstore, Walk Two Moons, along with the word-search book.

Lucia seemed to have had such a twinkle in her eyes upon receiving the gifts from Mary Lou. On the other hand, it was difficult to read any twinkle in Isabel's eyes when Mary Lou had asked her about giving the items to her daughter. Mary Lou didn't know what to think about Isabel's reaction to her sitting there with her daughter there in the food court or about Mary Lou's gifts to Isabel's daughter.

On the lower part of the climb up the mountain, Gambel oak trees predominated. The trail often cut through a dense grove of them. This time of year the ground below them was littered with millions of oak leaves. As she passed through the last of them for a while, she stirred up a group of three deer: two does and a fawn. They frightened her, as well.

Mary Lou slowed her pace. She started thinking about the predicament Isabel and Lucia seemed to be in. Of course, she was assuming things she didn't know for sure: that there were in the United States without legal documentation, but they didn't seem to have anybody else to take care of or support them, that they were stuck in a situation that seemed like a dead end. Mary Lou wondered what would cause a mother to put their child --- any child, let alone a handicapped one --- in such a situation.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt November 8

Isabel put the bag with the food on the table and set the drink beside it. She plopped down into the chair. "I can't stay but just a second this evening," she said to Lucia. "I have some things I've got to do now, and I don't have time to eat with you or to talk long. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine. I finished another word search. Do you want to see?"

"Not now, dear. Maybe later." Isabel took the chili and chicken wrap out of paper bag. She also removed a spoon and the napkins. "I got you the grilled chicken wrap, a small chili and your drink. Will that be okay until later, until quitting time? Then I can get you a treat or something."

"Uh-huh," Lucia said. "Mama? Are you okay? You know, with Papa gone now and all of the problems we have now?"

Isabel didn't feel okay about much of anything today, but she said she was okay. They would work things out.

"Do you sometimes wish I wasn't here?" asked Lucia. "That you just had you to take care of?"

"Of course not. What gets into you to ask such a question?"

"It's just that it seems always so hard for you, Mama. It'd be easier for you without me. I just don't contribute anything, do I?"

"Yes you do! No it would not be easier. You are my daughter, and I love you; we are connected. If I didn't have you, I would not want to live. Not here, not anywhere."

Isabel glared out into the darkness through the window-wall. She thought how it represented their situation in life. Somewhere up there, though, she knew there were stars and the moon.

"Someday maybe it will get better, my daughter. Until then, we need to keep on doing what we've been doing and hope that Papa can get back to us."

"What can I do, Mama? How can I help?" Lucia asked.

"Look into the darkness. Try to find the stars and the moon up there." Isabel looked again out into the night, pointing her finger in that direction, indicating for Lucia to look out there too. "There is light out there, up in the dark sky. It is a long way off, but it is there." Isabel wobbled to her feet. "I have to go back to work now. You stay here, okay. Do you have more puzzles to do?"

"Uh-huh," Lucia said. "Besides that, I have the big dark sky to look up into. I need to find the light up there. We need to find the light, Mama. And bring it closer to us."

Isabel hulked away. Lucia watched her go and then turned her gaze back to the window in the dark sky.


Mary Lou called Steve Benson. She thought she could finish his case and be done with it with one simple bit of information from him. That would make one less case to debrief Clark Porter on. Benson answered his telephone.

"Steve, this is Mary Lou," she explained. "I'm trying to finish up this matter about your payment to Alta Financial Group, and how the payment, assuming you made it, should be treated on your upcoming tax return. Do you have a minute?"

"Yeah, I guess, if it doesn't take too long."

"No. It'll just take a minute."

She asked Benson for the information, and Benson started giving her a response.

If it didn't take too long? Mary Lou thought. What kind of response was that? What did that mean, anyway? It was pretty vague, but typical of what she had come to experience from many of her clients, who wanted the best advice and representation they could get without being too responsive or having to pay too much for it.

Sometimes, the whole process was very tiring, and Mary Lou wondered whether she had made the correct decision to enter into the field of accounting instead of doing something else --- something like investigative reporting, which she had considered doing for a while ---, something without the stigma attached to it being an accountant had. But she had been at Telford and McDonald for seven years now, doing this type of work and advancing up the line in the firm. She couldn't very well give up on it now, even though sometimes she dreamed of doing just that. She guessed it was pretty typical, though, of anybody working in accounting.

It was not the sexiest occupation, or the one that paid the most money. Now, because of its mendacity, she was looking forward to working with Mark Goodrich, doing something different. More and more, she was hoping that the unnamed friend of William Telford was Senator Orrin Orr, Bob Orr's father.

Now, that could be exciting.

She finished the Benson case and opened the next file.

It was one she would have to give to Clark Porter. It was too complicated for her to complete in the remaining time she had.

She picked up the next file. Same thing.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt November 7th

So it had all been decided.

Mary Lou would start working for Mark Goodrich next Monday. By then, he promised to have her in an office somewhere in the building she was in or someplace close by.

Until then, she would get busy, finishing up the work on clients she had been dealing with if it was possible to finish the work by then, or if not, briefing Clark Porter, a colleague, on the work of clients she could not finish by Monday. It would be a grind trying to bring everything to a conclusion, but not so much so, she decided, that she wouldn't sometime that afternoon take a break and go to the mall to check on the young woman.

Goodrich still hadn't told her the name of the person whose case she'd be working on, although it seemed from what he told her more and more likely that it was Senator Orr, Bob's father. She had kidded Goodrich about his secrecy. "What difference does it make if you tell me now or then? Is this some kind of game to you?"

"No, it isn't a game. Don't even say that. It's anything but a game, I assure you. It's just . . . I don't know, I guess I just want to use discretion and care. Who knows what could happen between now and Monday?"

"You mean like something could happen to me? I could get sick or die? Or to him?"

"Something could happen to either one of you, or to me," he said. "The world could end."

She laughed, and after she laughed, she thought maybe she should be more judicious and careful in what she said to him. She didn't want to spoil her chances for this opportunity, which seemed mysterious and had some unexplainable intrigue. It seemed to have greater appeal all the time.

"Yeah, I guess that's possible. But something could happen to anyone of us at any time, even after you've told me. But it doesn't matter. I'm good with waiting to know who it is. I have plenty to concentrate on the rest of this week and on into the weekend to finish up by Monday with what I need to get done so I don't leave the firm in the lurch with the work I've been doing here."

So it had gone with Mark Goodrich.

Mary Lou spent the rest of the morning and on into the early afternoon getting her files organized and finishing a few telephone calls to clarify certain facts and asking various clients to send in documentation that would address particular problems on cases she had been and was dealing with. Once she had gathered the open files together, she organized them into stacks of cases she felt she could complete by Monday, cases she didn't think she could complete by Monday, and cases she wasn't sure she could complete by Monday.

After that, she decided to take a break, and she walked to the food court for some coffee and a bagel. And, of course, to look for that young woman.

It was well past lunchtime, nigh onto 3:30 PM., too late for most people to be eating lunch and not late enough for almost anyone to be eating dinner already.

The food court wasn't as crowded as it usually was when she got there --- it was rare for her to come at this time of the day. Typically, she just got her coffee from the pot in the office and made some toast if she needed a snack.

Today she stopped at The Coffee Bar, which was located just before she entered the food court proper, and ordered. Then, with her tray in hand, she stepped into the big, open area, where the tables were arranged all over the place with several chairs scattered around them. The big screen television blared, as usual. Dr. Phil reruns.

She glanced around. Not more than a fourth of the seating was occupied, possibly even less than that. However, against the far wall, the north one, the wall made of glass, she saw the girl sitting alone. It looked like the young woman had her word search magazine in front of her, and she was concentrating on it, trying to figure out its words.

Mary Lou sat down where she could watch the girl but at the same time look around for her older counterpart. The older woman must be there somewhere, working. That was her mode of operation: to come here to the mall to work, to a place where she could earn some money and, at the same time, provide a safe place for the young woman to be, a place where the older woman could while she worked keep an eye on the younger one while she did her word searches or watched television.

What was certain was that Mary Lou didn't need the older woman thinking that Mary Lou was somehow stalking the younger woman. The younger woman was in all probability the older woman's daughter. They looked a lot alike. They even had some of the same mannerisms: they both seemed to chew gum incessantly, they both had the habit of running their left hand through their short hair every so often, and they both had the same appealing smile that was slightly canted to the right side.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NaNoWriMo November 6th

That meant, after today, Lucia only had three more days of medication left.

It was amazing how well Lucia kept track of her medicine. Once Isabel obtained it, and put it in the cabinet above the microwave in their small room, Lucia took care of it until it was almost gone, and then she told her mother she would need more. Isabel would then ask for money from her husband, Hector, who would give her some money for it from what he had earned. Now Hector was gone, caught by the police and put in jail, where he would be until he served his time or they turned him over to immigration and he got sent back to Mexico.

As they turned to go into the food court, Isabel sighed out loud and Lucia asked her if something was the matter.

"Life is just hard," Isabel said. "It is always so hard."

"Why do you say that? Because Papa is gone?"

"Yes, that and a hundred other things. It is a constant struggle." She sighed again.

Lucia, laboring to walk there beside her mother, reached up with her left hand and patted Isabel's back. "But last night you told me not to worry; you said it would all work out. You mean it won't work out?"

"It's got to," Isabel said. "What other choice is there?"

A thousand things kept going through Isabel's mind, though, including where she was going to get enough money to pay for the medicine Lucia needed starting Sunday.

It had been hard enough the last time they hadn't had enough money to take Lucia to the doctor, who insisted on seeing her first before renewing her prescriptions, and her medicine had run out. They always told him to leave, perhaps, things have changed, and Lucia wouldn't be medicine anymore. The partial paralysis was enough of a burden without the epilepsy, and they didn't think God would go on making Lucia suffer so much with seizures on top of everything else.

Then, after a while, when Lucia eventually did go into a seizure, despite their hopes and beliefs, and it went on and on and wouldn't stop and couldn't be controlled, they had taken her to the emergency room at the hospital --- which had been a trial in and of itself in trying to get her there on the bus without somebody calling the police. They're the medical attendants and doctors finally got Lucia's seizure under control and gave Lucia a prescription that could be filled.

Of course, as soon as things were under control, the hospital discharged Lucia, because Isabel and Hector had no money to pay, and they didn't have any insurance, either. Besides, the hospital said they were not in the United States with documentation that permitted them to be there or get anything more than emergency medical care.

The mall in the food court opened at 10 AM and closed at 9 PM. Isabel always showed up a half-hour to an hour early, and they were always there at least a half hour to an hour after closing. It made for a long day, but there were worse things than living in a mall half of your day. They had all they needed there for all those hours: shelter --- which included warmth in the winter and air conditioning in the summer ---, restrooms, food --- more than they could ever consume ---, entertainment, and security --- not only security and general, but the mall was a good place for Isabel to be able to work and at the same time keep track of Lucia while Lucia was safe and had things to do. On the other hand, it came at the price of Isabel's hard work. During the 11 to 12 hours Isabel worked there, she worked as hard as she possibly could, always worried that she would be criticized and let go from some or all of her assignments except for the few minutes when she took time to check on Lucia during the day or to eat with her.

NaNoWriMo Excerpt from November 5th

The elevator doors opened, and he let her go first and followed behind her. She headed out toward the mall with him catching up and walking beside her, stride for stride. Most of the people were gone now --- there were a few older people walking their routes around the perimeter of the mall to keep in shape --- and some of the businesses were shutting down.

"So how's the life of an accountant, anyway?" he asked. "Do you like it? I once considered doing that, but I think I'm more of a salesman type of a person. I have to keep myself connected with people."

"It's okay." She didn't see salesman as people types, but what does she know? "I'm an accountant. I suppose the stereotype fits in my case. I've never considered myself much of a people person. Or, for that matter, much of a family person. My personality is not like that. I like the notion of tallying numbers and the accurate reporting of them. I'm not opposed to trying to ferret out mistakes or overcoming the tendency of businessmen to try to overstate their net worth or hide their income for nefarious reasons. I also like keeping track of the funding and expenditures of exempt organizations, governmental entities, and, at times, even estates and trusts."

They rounded the corner of the bookstore --- it was closed now, so there was no cutting through it, like Mary Lou usually did. They headed down the hall toward the food court. Hardly anyone was out and about. A lot of the businesses were dark, their security gates down.

"You do any reading?" Bob asked, spurred on Mary Lou guessed by the books on display in the window of the bookstore. "Anything besides accounting books?" he laughed.

"Oh yeah, I do. How about you?"

"Yeah, I like easy reading. For a while, I read everything John Grisham wrote. I'm not much of a fan of Stephen King, though. You?"

"I like mysteries. Sue Grafton. Robert B. Parker. A few of Dean Koontz's books. Others too. Joyce Carol Oates if I'm feeling more intellectual, which isn't that often."

The food court was coming into view. Mary Lou scanned it quickly with her eyes. The big-screen TV kept blaring away, even though nobody was there watching it.

She didn't see the young woman anywhere. They walked on and Mary Lou glanced over into an alcove and there they were, both the older and younger women, eating some food on two trays from one of the fast food restaurants, talking with each other without the stress and strain their faces and eyes that had been there earlier. They clearly looked happier than they had when she had seen them earlier that evening. Something must've happened to them; they must've gotten some bad news or something.

Bob asked me if I had read Life of Pi, and I told him I hadn't, but that everybody had told me I should read it. I asked him what it was about and he gave me an elevator summary. We continued on, walking all the way through the mall and out the doors onto City Creek Boulevard.

"Do you mind if we go to Club Orion?" Bob asked.

"That's fine," Mary Lou answered. She didn't really care where they went. She had never been to Club Orion, although she had heard of it. She wasn't a social individual, she didn't like to drink, and she only got out occasionally and then usually only when she had to in order to meet the expectations of somebody else, like now. She was a homebody. It was as simple as that. In fact, she wasn't sure why she was accompanying Bob to Club Orion now, other than he seemed to need her to go with him. He hadn't said so in so many words, but there was something in his demeanor that made her think he really needed her there to talk to. It probably wasn't a good idea, especially because it might be his father's case she would be working on with Goodrich, but she had accepted his invitation and they were on their way. Wasn't he married now? Hadn't she heard that? What the hell was she doing? What the hell was he?

It was chilly out. The day had been beautiful, the dark blue autumn sky, cloudless, a gentle wind stirring up a few fallen leaves that hadn't been raked up and hauled off.

"It's just up here," Bob said, "on the right, in University Excelsior Hotel."

"Good," she said with a shiver, "I'm getting cold."

"Well, they know how to fix that up," he said and opened the door for her, and she passed through it. He led the way to a table; she set her purse and the folder she had brought with her to take home down on it. He helped her with her jacket, putting it on the chair back and pulling the chair out for her to sit down.

"So what are you working on?" he asked. "Anything interesting?"

She laughed, thinking how ironic it would be if she ended up working with Goodrich on Senator Orr. "Well, right now I'm helping manage an audit on one of the big public utilities in town --- can't say which one, for privacy's sake --- and trying to keep up with a few smaller clients, who always seem to need some direction relative to income taxes. One client's being audited by the wonderful Internal Revenue Service, and I have to represent them. The usual stuff. What about you?"

"Unfortunately, these days in my business there's been a big drop-off in the number of clients we are getting."

That didn't seem like a surprise with the economy in a shambles.

"And the firm has had to lay off a lot of people. I've had to tell a few people in my crew they were being laid off. It's kind of hard to do that, telling guys and gals whose families rely on them to bring home the bacon that they are being laid off.

"Also, the firm has cut my pay and, at the same time, expected me to work more hours. It's this whole damned economy thing. Damn Republicans! They ran the economy into the ground, them and their greedy constituency on Wall Street and in the towers of corporate self-indulgence in the financial sectors back east."

"Sounds like you're doing quite well for yourself, though, with that firm. I think we are the same age, aren't we? And whether we are or not, it seems to me like you've done quite well to have your own crew already, in a management position already. Not bad."

"It's more luck than anything else."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt from Yesterday

Mary Lou had already decided on fish for today's meal, so she headed for Skipper's, planning to order a few strips of deep-fried breaded halibut and a salad.

"Do you want a drink with it?" the attendant asked as she ordered.

"Yes," Mary Lou said, "I want a small Diet Coke, and I want it for here."

"You don't want it to go?"

"No thank you." She grabbed some napkins, a straw, and some tartar sauce to and put it on her tray. She hadn't seen the young girl yet, so she started looking around. One section of the eating area had a big screen TV for people to watch who didn't have anything better to do as they ate their fast food. Sometimes, the young girl would be sitting there, watching something on the television, her book of word searches set aside, but not usually. Typically, the television was on and tuned to the news or some talk show fanatic on Fox or a cable station. She had noticed that, if the girl was watching the television, it was usually tuned to something other than the news or a talk show. Sean Hannity was on now though, so it was unlikely the young woman would be sitting there watching him.

Skipper's finished her order, and she took her tray and started walking around the perimeter of the food court, looking for the young woman. She went all the way around, but she didn't see her. She started around again. She walked more slowly this time, scanning up and down the aisles, looking at every table. The young woman usually wasn't this hard this to spot. Mary Lou went all the way around again, but she still didn't see the young woman. She thought it was weird that the girl wasn't anywhere around. That had never happened before whenever she'd looked for the girl.

There was a corridor that led to another entryway with not much else along it, which the mall had used to extend the food court area, placing a few tables here and there. Mary Lou had never noticed the girl sitting there before, though, but she decided that she would check to make certain she wasn't there and started walking in that direction. She kept going, looking, but not seeing the girl. Then finally, she saw her, but she wasn't alone. She was sitting there with the older woman, and they were both crying.

Mary Lou decided to stay off at a distance. Somewhere where she could watch them, but that wasn't too close to disturb them or make them get up and leave. She wondered what could be wrong with the two women. Something must've happened to make them cry like that. It made Mary Lou feel so badly. She didn't know exactly why she felt that way, however. The young girl didn't really mean anything to Mary Lou --- she wasn't related to her in any meaningful way; she was just somebody at the mall every day, like Mary Lou was. Well, not really, not at all like Mary Lou was. Of course, Mary Lou felt sorry for the girl. Her life looked miserable and unhappy. The girl was handicapped --- seriously handicapped --- and the food court seemed to be the girl's prison. Her minimum security prison. Mary Lou was interested, because the girl seemed to be always present there, waiting while the older woman worked, doing her word searches or, on occasion, watching the mall television. And yesterday, for the first time, Mary Lou had talked to the girl. And the girl had seemed so sweet.

The breaded and deep-fried fish didn't taste as good as it usually did. The green salad seemed to wilt before her eyes, and the ranch dressing on it seemed grainy. She fed it to herself, but all she wanted to focus on where the two women down the way mopping up their tears with paper towels from the public bathroom, trying to comfort each other's sorrows.

Mary Lou wondered how long the pair of women stayed in the mall every day. It seemed as if there were always there whenever Mary Lou was around, but Mary Lou also realized that she hadn't been observing the situation with the two women closely until just lately. Maybe after work today, she would come back here to see if the two were still here in the food court after nine o'clock. If they were, maybe she would see then if there was an opportunity to sit down beside the young woman and get her name. Maybe she should stop by the bookstore on the way back to the office and buy a new book of word searches for the young woman. Maybe she would like that.

It was time to return to the office. When she got there, she would check with Bill Telford's secretary to see if he was available, to find out if she would be working for Mark Goodrich. If Goodrich had agreed to Mary Lou's condition, she would remain nearby, perhaps, even remain in the same building but up a few floors. That would be nice.

She gathered the refuse from her meal carefully onto a tray, picked it up, and took it to the garbage can and dumped it. She placed the tray on top of the garbage can, glanced around one more time to see the two women sitting at the table back there, then turned and walked away.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo Excerpt from Yesterday

It seemed to her rather rapid for him to suggest that they were now friends. Well, even if they weren't friends yet, what could it hurt to comply with his request? "Okay, Bill," she said. "What's this all about? Tell me?"

"As you know, Mark is a defense attorney with some pretty high-profile clientele. Recently, a friend of mine hired him. You'd recognize my friend's name if I mentioned it, even though you probably don't know him personally or about him through me. He's high profile in the community. Hell, he's high profile in the state and nation. In any event, my friend --- who will remain unnamed here until I determine whether or not you are interested in this project --- hired Mark prospectively. That is, nothing has come out about anything this friend has ever done that would require a defense lawyer. But it is likely to come out in the near future. A lot of it involves issues of accounting and taxation. Mark needs a good accountant, one who doesn't have a recognizable name or some blaring reputation. Somebody who can fly under the radar, so to speak."

The waiter came and took their order. Mary Lou ordered her coffee black. She didn't usually order it that way, but it was looking like black might keep her awake and be more appropriate for this particular conversation. Bill ordered his entrée and then asked Mary Lou if she didn't want a piece of pie or something. She told him the coffee would be enough, for now, but then, as the waiter turned to leave, she said, "How about a muffin? A blueberry one would be nice." The waiter wrote it down and left.

"So I would work for Mark Goodrich and not our firm? In essence, you'd be letting me go? Or would it be an arrangement through our company for him? How would that all work?"

"What we can arrange," Bill Telford said, "is a paid leave of absence from the accounting firm for now, and you would be a freelancer --- self-employed --- in your work for Goodrich. In other words, you would stand to make double what you're making now --- at least double."

"Okay. That sounds okay, as long as I'm not losing my position with the firm, of course, unless you or somebody else in the firm thinks I should. The big thing is, I want some assurance that my work is valued, and that this isn't just an attempt to slough me off."

"No, no, it's not that at all. Everybody here thinks you do great work. That's why I'm coming to you. You're the best person for this project."

Mary Lou still wondered why it was him coming to her and not somebody else in the firm. It seemed peculiar for the head of the firm --- in particular, this man who held all the power and didn't know her that well --- to come to her with this, ah . . . project, especially, since he didn't normally do this kind of stuff anymore. It almost seemed like a personal piece of business. But then again, it seemed apparent that they wanted to keep it out of the spotlight of the media.

"Okay. And it is accounting and tax knowledge that is required? What can you tell me about what I'll be doing?"

"Like I said before, not much. Not much, that is until I get a commitment that this is something that you will do."

"But the devil is in the detail, as you know. How is it possible for me to make a sound decision on such scant information?"

"Look, Mary Lou. I'm the founder and an executive partner in this accounting firm. Under my leadership it has grown and developed into what it is today: one of the most prestigious firms in the Intermountain West. It's me that's coming to you with this proposition, not some underling, not someone less established with the firm. It's me, William Telford. Shouldn't that count for something? I look at it this way: if you feel comfortable and safe working for the firm --- and you have worked here now for a couple of years --- and I'm promising that you will be able to retain your position with the firm and be able to retain even your pay and return here when this other project is finished, why wouldn't you do it? Can't you just place your trust in me? "

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo Is Off

At the last minute, I decided to sign up and this is an excerpt from the end of yesterday's writing. Since one of the major goals of NaNoWriMo is killing the internal editor, the writing won't be that great --- not that it ever is --- because it's just streaming out of my mind without much (any) thought or planning. So, here it is in all its gory detail. (It was written the day after Halloween.)


Now, whenever Mary Lou came to eat, or even when she came just to get coffee or a snack some other time of the day, usually earlier, and whether or not she came alone or not, she looked for the young woman. It was as automatic as coming here was, and it wasn't that hard to spot the young girl now. She was so familiar, and the girl's habits were quite common to Mary Lou now too.

The young woman was seated over by Chick-fil-A today, bent over her magazine, pencil in her hand. The older woman was not in sight.

The two women were Latinas, or so it seemed to Mary Lou. The older one clearly had a Spanish accent when she spoke English. Mary Lou had overheard her speaking to an employee at the Donald's one day. And Mary Lou thought she had heard the older one speak Spanish to the younger one and the younger one speak in Spanish back one day when Mary Lou had encountered them standing up and talking near the entrance to the ladies room when she came out.

The older one was clearly in charge. The younger one seemed to follow the orders of the older one in precise detail. It seemed quite evident.

They both wore their hair very short, in a pageboy style.

The younger one was handicapped.

The older one solicited work and kept busy, right there in the mall, mostly in the food court, but also up and down the entire mall. Even just outside. One day, Mary Lou had observed the older one helping unload a truck just outside the food court entrance. It was always for menial tasks; things she would do for anyone who paid her cash or in kind: taking out the garbage for establishments, running orders here and there --- her own freelance delivery service ---, sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning tables, washing windows, refurbishing condiment stations, whatever.

Meanwhile, the younger one sat at some table, usually with a drink or a bottle of water at hand, and worked word searches; at least, that's what Mary Lou thought they were. Mary Lou had walked past the young woman a couple of times, trying to check things out more closely. It looked like she was working in one of those word search books as she passed behind her.

"I want the orange chicken," she said when she got up to the counter. "I also want a medium Diet Coke."

"Do you want it to go or to stay?"

"To stay."

It only took a few seconds for the attendant to scoop up some rice, cover it with orange chicken, sprinkle it with a few more sesame seeds, and hand it, along with her Diet Coke, to her on a tray. By that time Mary Lou had made a decision. She would go back to the table she had previously selected, grab her book and jacket and move to the table where the younger woman was sitting.

She took the tray. "Thank you," she said.

"You're very welcome."

Mary Lou moved quickly to the old table and gathered her stuff and strode off toward the new table where the young girl was sitting. By then, the food court was alive with hungry people, active, talkative, and noisy. There were no empty tables by then. You had to share if you wanted to sit down. She walked off toward the Chick-fil-A area, looking for the young woman. There she was, and her table was empty, except for her.

It hadn't taken Mary Lou very long after she had started observing the young woman to notice that something was physically wrong with her. That had been a month or so ago, when Mary Lou had made the discovery that something was wrong with the young woman's right side. Mary Lou hadn't been sitting too far away from the young woman that day, and it had been quite easy to observe her.

It was clear that the young woman was left-handed. She only held her pencil in her left hand and never in her right one, which didn't appear to work correctly. Also, the right one was malformed, or it seemed to be. It wasn't that it was missing any of its digits, though, or that there seemed to be scar tissue from an injury or anything like that. It just seemed smaller, less agile, and more curled up. Not as functional.

In subsequent days, Mary Lou had observed that not only was something wrong with the young woman's hand, but also something was wrong with her arm and leg on the same right side. Mary Lou had watched as the young woman's older companion had come over to talk to her, and then watched as the younger woman had stood up and walked to the restroom. There was a distinctive limp as she went. Her foot was canted in and seemed twisted. Her gait was distinctly different than a normal person's.

Not only was something wrong with her body, but something seemed to be wrong with her otherwise. It was as if she was having occasional blackouts. Maybe they were seizures or something akin to. She would blank out mentally at the weirdest times and without any reason or explanation for it. She would be sitting there, working on her word search, or sometimes taking a break from her word search just to look around the mall, when suddenly, she would blank out. Her pencil would drop from her hand, her face would distort, and sometimes she would stiffen and tremble a bit. It would go on a minute or two and then she would be fine. She would pick up a pencil and go back to work on the puzzle.

"May I sit down?" Mary Lou said when she reached the table.

The young woman looked up and nodded at her. "Please do," was all she said. She smiled and looked back at her word-search magazine.

Mary Lou didn't recall ever having seen anyone sitting at a table sitting with the young woman besides her older companion, who only did so occasionally.

"What's that?" Mary Lou said. "Is that some kind of a puzzle book?"

"Uh-huh," said the young woman, "it's a word search. I like to do word searches."

"How does it work?" Mary Lou asked.

The young woman turned the book around to let Mary Lou look at it. "See," the young woman said, "each of the puzzles has a theme. This one I'm working on is kitchen utensils. Here's a list of the kitchen utensil words that might be in this puzzle. So in this here grid of letters" --- and she pointed at it with her left hand --- "you try to find any one of those words and circle it, like this one here." She pointed at the word microwave, which she had circled in the grid. It was spelled out from the bottom to the top, on a diagonal.

"Oh, I see," Mary Lou said. "Interesting. And you like to do that?"

"Uh-huh. It doesn't seem like I ever get tired of it. Well, sometimes, I guess, but not usually."

"Well, my name is Mary Lou. I'm glad that you let me sit here to eat my supper. The food court is kind of crowded today. More than usual. Have you eaten already? I hate to eat in front of you."