The Elevator: second scene, second character:

Isabel Suarez drives the vacuum across the carpet, her hips working to a disco beat as Donna Summer sings in her ears. She maneuvers the machine around the secretary’s chair, then stops to flip the power switch. A candy wrapper has drifted beneath the file drawer, out of the vacuum’s reach.

The secretary, Waveney Forester, according to the name plate, obviously enjoys eating on the job.

Isabel crouches and pulls the crinkled wrapper from its hiding place, then yelps when someone yanks the ear buds from her ears. Her forearms pebble in the sudden silence, but when she peers over the edge of the desk, she finds she is still alone.

The cord has caught on a drawer handle.

Exhaling, Isabel stands and releases the cord, then dumps the secretary’s trash into the receptacle attached to her cleaning cart. A load of printed forms, typed pages, and soft drink cans tumble into the bin, followed by a rainbow of cellophane squares—the secretary’s guilty secret. Every Tuesday and Friday night Isabel finds dozens of empty candy wrappers at the bottom of Waveney Forester’s trash. The sight never fails to make her smile.

Isabel returns the trash can to its hiding place in the desk’s kneehole, then lifts her gaze to the wide windows along the east wall. A sprinkling of lights still sparkles in the skyscrapers of Tampa’s downtown district, a waste of electricity no one seems to mind. The sun has begun to rise , but only a glimmer of light penetrates the cloudy eastern horizon. Carlos warned her to be careful on the way home because a storm is on its way, a huracán.

Because her fellow custodians like to complain about the weather, Isabel knows Florida has suffered many hurricanes in the last few years, along with states called Mis-si-sip-pi and Lou-i-si-ana. She doesn’t know anyone in those other places, but the people she knows in Florida are rich beyond imagining. They complain if their roof leaks—¿por que? At least they have a roof. And homes. And a government that hands out money and food to anyone who asks for it.

She presses her hand to the cool window and feels a shiver run down her spine. America. Home of the blessed and the free. Home to runaways and castoffs and so full of people a girl could get lost forever . . . if she has reason to hide.

A flag on a nearby rooftop snaps in the rising wind, but Isabel can’t feel even a breeze in this fortress of steel and glass. At this daybreak hour, in this towering perch, she can’t help feeling invincible. No one from Mexico can touch her here. Even if her enemy manages to track her to Tampa, she will not surrender. She has Carlos and Rafael, and she would rather die than lose them.

She catches sight of her mirrored reflection, gives herself a smile, and nudges the ear buds back into her ears. Leaving the vista of Tampa behind, she turns on the machine and hums along with Donna Summer as she works hard for the money and vacuums her way toward the executive’s inner office.
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