Pilar, an innocent young wife and mother, is abducted during a fake job interview in Mexico City and forced into sex slavery in Houston. Can she survive the horrors of a world—one which many Americans don’t see or ignore—long enough for her brother Diego to find her?
Searching for Pilar breaks open the secretive and dangerous world of sex trafficking, while exploring human nature and our connections to each another. Diego’s guilt transforms him from a rudderless youth into a man of purpose, and courage. While he searches, Pilar finds a strength that could save herself and a young girl who needs her. The themes of family, love, faith and the law intertwine in this action-packed tale of the Bayou City.
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|Publisher:||Greenleaf Book Group, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
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It was not like Alejandro to be late from work. Pilar's husband always walked home at the same time, calling out for his "beautiful ladies." When she heard him, nineteen-year-old Pilar would scoop their baby, Concepción, out of her basket and run to meet him, ready with a kiss. But tonight she had been waiting over an hour past his usual arrival time, with still no sight of him.
Every ten minutes she stepped outside the fence that separated their small blue concrete house from the dust and noise of the street. She saw only a flock of chickens, pecking in the dirt for scraps to eat, and three mangy dogs following them. Two of the hens began vying for something in the dirt, wings flapping, feathers and dust flying. The dogs barked loudly at the squabbling chickens, and then the group hurried on down the street. She didn't see Alejandro.
It was late September 2007. As it had for centuries, life in San José ran like a slow-motion clock. Their church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, presided over the central plaza, the tower bells ringing the Angelus at 6 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m. Men went about their business, women tended their kitchens and gardens, and children were born and grew up and had more children. The Holy Sacraments served as a cause for celebrating and mourning along life's way. Nothing much ever changed.
The town's men mostly worked in pottery manufacturing and ceramics, as they had since their city became a colony of Spain. Generations often lived together or next door their entire lives, fathers handing down their trade to their sons. There were few secrets.
Pilar absently rocked her nine-month-old daughter while she waited. She fingered the delicate silver crucifix her parents had given her as a Confirmation gift. She wore it every day. The sun set in the west, filling the sky with a dusty pink.
Suddenly, she became aware of someone approaching her from behind, footsteps kicking up dust and heavy breathing. "Oh!" Pilar realized Alejandro was standing behind her, silent. She could smell that he had been drinking — probably more than one cerveza. His black hair, always neatly combed, was disheveled. His long black eyelashes almost covered his beautiful brown eyes. Perhaps most surprising, his broad shoulders, where she loved to lay her head at night after they finished sweetly making love, were stooped.
"What's wrong, mi vida?" she asked. She meant it when she said he was her "life." His pain troubled her, so she took his hand in hers. "You don't look well. Why are you so late? Did something happen?"
"Oh, Pilar," Alejandro mumbled.
"Tell me," Pilar urged him. "You scare me. What is it?"
"Señor Jimenez told us at the end of the day that he'd sold our factory. The new owners are moving our tools and designs to China." Alejandro raised his shoulders and dropped them. "I don't know how to do anything except paint pottery."
Pilar helped her husband into the house. The living room, small but tidy, was furnished with hand-me-downs from relatives. A handwoven rug covered most of the floor. Photographs of family members were grouped on a table around a ceramic statue of Mary holding baby Jesús.
Pilar was petite, and Alejandro, a head taller than her, was difficult for her to support. They stumbled into their bedroom. She put him to bed, removing only his shoes. She saw that, even in sleep, distress creased his handsome face. She closed the door quietly, tiptoeing back outside.
Concepción was making soft little cries. She was fair skinned like her mother and had the same full pink lips. Her hair and eyes were very dark brown. She wasn't walking yet but could sit up and amuse her parents enormously by trying to crawl. Pilar picked up the baby and held her close as she carried her inside. "Hush, little one. Everything is going to be all right. Your mami, papi, and guardian angel are watching over you. We will never let anything bad happen to you. I promise."
Pilar sang her the lullaby about Mother Mary, the one her mother had always sung to her, until she fell asleep. When Concepción closed her eyes and drifted off, Pilar sat down and tried to digest Alejandro's news. He has lost his good job at the factory! What will that mean for our family?
Nothing that had happened that day had prepared her for this unexpected turn of events. She thought back, trying to make sense of things.
The day had begun as usual with Pilar on her knees, saying her morning prayers. They always ended with "Thank you, God, for blessing me with so much — a loving family, sufficient food, good work, and bountiful blessings, amen." She'd finished with a quick sign of the cross.
"I smell something delicious," she sang to Alejandro. He stood beside their wooden kitchen table and chairs that he had decorated with turquoise and pink paint, eating the warm tortillas and beans Pilar's mother, Yolanda, had dropped off when she'd picked up Concepción for the day. Pilar reached up and ruffled his thick black hair.
"Here is your café con leche," Alejandro said as he set a mug down. He pulled her closer and kissed her slowly. "Good morning, my love."
"Mmmm, you taste as good as Mama's tortillas.
Probably because you have eaten almost all of them!" Pilar replied.
Alejandro laughed. "I couldn't wait for you. They are best when warm. I am helping you keep that beautiful figure."
Pilar had to smile. Alejandro knew how to tease and compliment her at the same time. He could always make her laugh. She found it impossible to get mad at him.
"This is my favorite time of day, Alejandro — when it is just us."
"It has been just us since I saw you in line on the plaza in your First Holy Communion procession. You were seven, and your brother and I were nine. You were so pretty in your white dress and veil. I told Diego, 'Someday she will stand beside me wearing a wedding veil.'"
When they had eaten all the tortillas and beans, Pilar washed and dried the breakfast dishes. Then she made Alejandro's lunch for the day while he finished getting ready for work. Alejandro said, "Your mama asked me to remind you that your brother's club is playing in the league championship tomorrow. He will be disappointed if we are not there."
"Diego! Fútbol and girls are the only things in his head. I don't think Diego will ever settle down."
"Diego could do anything he set his mind to do. He's just not motivated. But he is your brother and my best friend. We must support him no matter what he does."
Alejandro gave her a quick kiss as he left for work.
Alone, Pilar washed herself. She liked to have everything clean and fresh. She pulled a simple white cotton dress over her head and slipped on a pair of sandals. She ran a comb through her long black hair and twisted it into a neat knot in the back with the silver barrette her parents had given her when Concepción was born. After fastening her crucifix, she took out her mirror and looked at herself. People had told her all of her life that she was beautiful. Her black hair was thick, as were her eyelashes, which framed her dark brown eyes. She had a light complexion, and her facial features were delicate. Her breasts were ample but pert and her waist small. All of the boys in school had tried to get her attention, but her heart had always belonged to Alejandro.
Pilar was secretary to Alberto Mendoza Gomez, the portly patriarch of the family who owned the Mendoza Pottery Factory. It was not large, and she was the only person in the office besides her boss. He liked to tell customers in front of her, "Pilar was born with a beautiful head for numbers," which always made him laugh and her blush. She managed the books and accounts and orders from buyers.
At 2 p.m., Pilar had walked to the house where she had grown up to have dinner with her parents and Concepción as usual. Then she'd returned to work for an uneventful afternoon. Nothing unusual had happened to give her warning of the misfortune to come.
* * *
The Jimenez Pottery Factory had been the largest employer in San José. When it closed, all of the workers sought other employment. Although young, Alejandro had been considered the best pottery decorator at the factory. As a result, Pilar and Alejandro did not think he would be unemployed for long. He looked for work at the other pottery companies in San José. But everywhere he went, the owners told him the same thing: "I regret I have nothing for you. Cheap foreign competition is killing our business. I can barely keep my longtime employees busy. You are young; you should look for another line of work."
"But all I know how to do is paint," Alejandro would reply.
Then one day, Alejandro noticed a belt that Pilar was wearing. It was leather, with red roses embroidered on it. It gave him the idea that he could use his skills to decorate other leather goods. The next village, Santa Cruz, was known for its fine handcrafted leatherwork. Alejandro drew up some designs on paper that could be reproduced on saddles, boots, handbags, and other accessories. Pilar encouraged his idea, suggesting things that could be decorated with flowers or birds, which women might especially like. A cousin had a friend who owned one of the better leatherwork factories in the town and provided Alejandro with an introduction to the owner.
"Your work is beautiful, Alejandro," the proprietor told him. "In another time, I would have hired you immediately. But today buyers don't care about authenticity or beauty. They only want to buy the cheapest product, and they don't care if a Mexican serape is made in Mexico or India. It is a terrible time right now."
After several months, as rejection followed rejection, Pilar watched her husband gradually lose hope that he would find work and be able to support his family. Other craftsmen were digging ditches or doing nothing at all. Now, instead of their house being full of laughter, it was silent — except for when Alejandro lost his temper. Pilar was afraid to say anything to him that might begin an argument. She tried to keep Concepción from crying, because it irritated her father. He had started sleeping on the couch. She knew he was embarrassed and ashamed of his idleness, so she didn't complain when she picked up empty cerveza cans or tequila bottles each morning.
One night when Pilar was exhausted, however, Alejandro complained about having rice again for dinner. She snapped, "I am out working every day to put food on the table, and you are doing nothing!" Then she slammed the door and slowly walked to her mother's house. On the way, her mind kept telling her that she was justified in her frustration and anger. But her heart told her that she loved Alejandro and she needed to be more patient with him. She realized that forces beyond his control had dealt his pride a cruel blow. She decided it would be up to her to find a way out of their predicament.
When Pilar entered her parents' house through the kitchen door, Yolanda saw the state she was in and wrapped her arms around her. She told Pilar to go ahead and cry it out. Yolanda and her daughter had always been close. Pilar told her everything, and now she buried her head in her mother's breast and let the tears fall until there were no more.
Pilar resembled her mother physically, except that Yolanda was a great cook and loved to eat what she prepared. At fifty years old, she was stout, and her black hair was streaked with gray. Still, people would describe her as a handsome woman. She was good-natured and fun loving, but devoutly religious. She and José, Pilar's father, had been doting, if strict, parents to their two sons and Pilar, who came between the boys in age. José owned a store that had belonged to his father. He sold hardware and other supplies to small businesses and farmers. Their family was not wealthy but was relatively well-off compared to families where the men worked as craftsmen or laborers.
"I did not mean to say such an awful thing, Mama. I need to be more patient. He is not himself," Pilar said. "But I feel helpless!"
Yolanda took Pilar's hands in hers. "Yes, it is hard on a man when he can't put food on the table for his family. Alejandro is a proud man. He is talented and has always worked very hard. Until now, that hard work has been appreciated. But thank God you have a job, Pilar. I pray to the Virgin every day to intercede on behalf of you and Alejandro. You are a strong woman, and he is a good man. You will find a way."
Pilar sat down at the table and began to nibble on a tortilla. "Work is slow at my factory too, Mama. I am afraid I may not have a job for long. I see how much money is coming in and going out. Señor Mendoza won't admit it, but we are operating at a loss. I don't know how long that can continue. It is harder for a woman to find work than a man."
Yolanda poured her a cup of café con leche. Then she sat down opposite Pilar. "I can't believe how things are changing since people have stopped buying authentic Mexican pottery," Yolanda said. "The Suarez family moved to Mexico City to live with relatives while Luís looks for a job. Lupe and Anna Jimenez moved in with family in Monterrey."
"Do we have family anywhere else?" Pilar asked.
"No. I think Victor Chavez, one of Alejandro's uncles, lives in the United States, but no one knows where. He left home a long time ago when he was just a boy. He may be dead."
"I just want my family to be safe and happy again." Pilar sighed.
The Mendoza Pottery Factory sat one block off San José's main square. Stacks of handmade plates, bowls, trays, and candleholders, as well as the business offices, took up the first floor. The craftsmen worked on the second floor. In November, two months after Alejandro lost his job, an unfamiliar man entered the office and approached Pilar.
"Good morning, señorita," he said to Pilar with a deferential nod of his head.
"Señora," Pilar corrected him, using the proper term for a married woman.
"Pardon me." He smiled. "You look very young. My name is Enrique Torres Hernandez. I represent a group of department stores in Mexico City. I would like to look at your pottery and perhaps make an order." He handed her his business card.
The man was attractive, clean-shaven, and tall, probably in his late thirties or early forties. He wore a white shirt and an expensive-looking dark blue sport coat. His skin was tanned, and his eyes and gelled hair were brownish black. Pilar detected a faint odor of cologne.
"Our stores are experiencing an increase in the number of tourists who wish to buy authentic Mexican kitchenware. I apologize for not making an appointment, but I was in the area and someone told me about the fine work you produce here."
Pilar was surprised to hear the man say there was a demand for the pottery produced in San José. It went against everything she had recently been hearing. Nevertheless, it was what she wanted to hear, so she was inclined to take the stranger at his word. After all, he was from Mexico City. Perhaps this meant the work would come back to San José and Alejandro would secure a job.
"Por favor, señor, if you would follow me, I will show you the workshop and our inventory," Pilar said to the man. "You can leave your briefcase here if you like."
It was Pilar's duty to show the product to buyers. Señor Mendoza knew that Pilar's beauty and friendly manner made for good marketing. Besides, he was old, overweight, and plagued with gout. He only left his comfortable upholstered chair in his office when it was absolutely necessary.
The stranger appeared genuinely interested as Pilar showed him the work being done by the craftsmen. He picked up and examined some of the pieces in progress. He asked questions of the craftsmen. At the end of the tour, she took him to Señor Mendoza's office.
"I am impressed, señor, and I will report favorably back to my managers," the man said. "You can probably expect a substantial order soon."
"This man could be an angel sent from God," Señor Mendoza whispered to Pilar.
Passing through Pilar's office, the man stopped. "You are obviously a talented young businesswoman," he said. "You should consider moving to Mexico City, where the companies value someone with your skills. You could make a lot more money."
Pilar was surprised that a man she had just met would speak to her so familiarly about such a personal matter. It made her feel a little uneasy. She didn't know how to respond, so she looked down and didn't reply.
The stranger put his briefcase on a chair, opened it, and took out a folded newspaper. "I have finished reading this. If you are ever interested, this paper is a good source to find out what jobs are available in the capital. My wife's cousin is looking for a job, and I noticed a good secretarial position. I was going to give this to her for her cousin, but you take it." Removing a silver pen from his jacket pocket, he casually circled a small ad, gave Pilar the paper, and started to walk to the door. Then he stopped and turned toward her.
"Oh, but please pardon me, señora, I forgot you are a married woman. I meant no impropriety, and of course you would not be interested. I will look forward to seeing you here again on my next visit." The man smiled.
Excerpted from "Searching for Pilar"
Copyright © 2018 Egg Harbor Publishing, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2 The Stranger,
3 Mexico City,
5 San José,
8 The Answer,
9 Across the Rio Grande,
12 The Other Side of the Galleria,
13 Los Arboles,
14 King of Hearts,
15 Pablo's Secret,
16 Telephone Road,
18 Sara Beth,
19 Padre Roberto,
22 Pilar's Dilemma,
26 The Prosecution,
27 The Reckoning,
28 The Trial,
About the Author,