Excerpt: 'Bag Lady Papers' by Alexandra Penney

One woman says, "I have only a small bank account left. I can't live on it. What should I do?" Of course Lee Richards doesn't answer. He tells us there is to be some sort of motion in federal court downtown this afternoon; Bernard Madoff will make an appearance before the judge.

I called my internist's office the minute it was open for business this morning. Now, after being sent away from the MF's lobby, I race to pick up my prescription for tranquilizers. At the Madison Avenue pharmacy I've been going to since my son was a baby, I wait a few minutes for my prescription, and while I wait, by habit, I check out the newest Chanel shades. From now on, I think grimly, I won't be able to afford even generic lipsticks at Duane Reade. When I was the Beauty Editor at Glamour magazine for a couple of years after college, I became infatuated with the expensive brands that messengers dropped off at our offices by the bagful, even though I quickly learned it was mostly chic packaging and seductive advertising that made them so costly and so 'luxurious.' To this day, buying a new lipstick at a department store has been a good pick-me-up when the world seems slightly out of whack. Now, obviously, I need something more potent.

Twenty minutes after I've left the drugstore, I'm staring at portraits of stern, WASPY, white-shoe founding partners on the paneled walls of my attorney's reception area. My father was a lawyer, and I've always thought of most lawyers as boring or on the make for new clients. But who can resist Michael? He does uncanny Goofy imitations while reviewing a will or advising on tax matters. There's no laughing Michael today though; instead, he is poring carefully over the MF's papers.

"It doesn't look good" he concludes, "These numbers don't match up." He says he'll talk to his colleagues who deal with securities fraud. There is an organization called Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) which maintains a special reserve insurance fund authorized by Congress to help investors at failed brokerage firms.

"Am I eligible for the SIPC fund?" I ask, for a moment allowing myself a smidgen of hope.

"There's no way of telling yet," he says, and I reach into my bag for a tranquilizer.

My mind is flooding with panic again as I race-walk back home to pick up my Blackberry which I forgot in my rush to get out of the house. I need to be connected to my lawyer and to Paul and to my son and to my friends.

The phone is ringing as I walk into the door. It's Mr. W from the US Treasury! I'm speechless. The US Treasury has called me – twice in 24 hours!

Mr. W is polite and perhaps a bit sorrowful as he says, "I'm calling to say that I haven't been able to locate a website where you might find out who bought the bills from that offering." I'm astounded by the phone call. But it tells me absolutely nothing.

Before I leave for the courthouse, where I will spend the afternoon waiting, fruitlessly, for the MF to appear, I call Ed Victor, the literary agent. He's represented me before and he's a good friend. One thing I know for sure is that I need work. Work and activity keep me sane, and will prevent me from wallowing in self-pity or fear. I haven't written professionally for over a decade at least, but maybe Ed can come up with something for me to do. I think of all the jobs I've had over the years, all the money I made that has vaporized in just one day. Oh my God, how am I ever going to make money now?

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