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Case II: Passion, Physical Therapy and Profit

Case II: Chapter 1: An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

If Dudley were being honest with himself, he knew that living alone was not the best for him. There were too many memories of happier times in that home and it was important for him to move on with his life. His wife, Margarita, would have wanted that way. He knew that becoming actively involved with Isabella Duncan in the operation and future planning for La Vida Aureo was the mental stimulation he needed. He also had to admit that he really enjoyed helping Garcia solve the murder of the Maintenance Man. He prided himself in his problem solving abilities and he found that mystery exciting.

As he was nearing retirement with the state, he thought about starting a second career but never was able to settle on an alternative that appealed to him. This situation at La Vida Aureo might just be what he had been searching for and being in Albuquerque did have some advantages. Despite the fact that that they probably were curmudgeons, he did have some longtime friends in town and he would enjoy being able to be with them more often.

He wanted to think this situation through more thoroughly and had always found that being outdoors helped to clear his mind. He believed that he made better decisions than if he were sitting at a desk trying to think. Another advantage of being in Albuquerque was the proximity to the Sandia Mountains and the many trails that were readily available.

But first, Dudley needed to go to the kitchen to seek advice of Paloma Angostura. He found her busily preparing lunch for the main dining room. “Señora Angostura, I have an important decision to make and would like to discuss it with you.”

“Señor Dudley, I am honored and would be happy to talk with you but right now I am preparing lunch. Please come back at 2:00 o’clock and we can spend the afternoon talking.”

Dudley would have preferred to go for a long walk to think, but had to settle for sitting on a bench in the shade of a large Navajo willow tree in the far eastern section of the extensive grounds.

When Dudley returned to the kitchen, Paloma suggested he sit at a small table in the corner where they could talk in quiet. He was only mildly surprised when she placed in large plate of carne adovada in front of him. The young girl Maria came to his table with a large smile on her face and a stack of fresh tortillas in her hand.

Gracias, muchas gracias, Maria” Dudley said in his halting, poorly pronounced Spanish. “You are too kind. And Señora Angostura, I cannot decide whether this is flattery or bribery. It was a situation almost identical to this that got me to move to New Mexico permanently, but that is the story for another time. Today I seek your advice about accepting Señora Duncan’s offer to live here permanently and become the Maintenance Man for the entire La Vida Aureo complex.”

“Ah, Señora Isabella mentioned this to me and asked me to encourage you to accept her most gracious offer. I believe you could be of great service to this place as well as to her. For my part, I believe you and I have many things to talk about and it would be much easier if you were here.”

The next morning, Dudley made an appointment to call Isabella Duncan and accept her offer. He knew it was the right decision. There were so many positive aspects of living here and he felt he could make a positive contribution. “Ms. Duncan, I’ve considered your offer to work as Handyman and am looking forward to working with you in the future planning of this facility. But first, I need to settle my affairs in Cerrillos. And my doctor has insisted I complete my physical therapy program.”

“Mr. Dudley, or Doc, I am thrilled that you made that decision and look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with you. I will work with you to expedite resolving your affairs in Cerrillos. I know a real estate agent who specializes in that area and she should be able to help you sell your home quickly.”

“If you think you’re up to it, there are a number of small repair jobs that need attention at your earliest convenience. They are mostly minor plumbing issues, such as leaky faucets in some of the individual independent living units on the west side of the property. I can give you more details when you’re ready to start.”

Case II: Chapter 2: Oh, Mrs. Torres

Later that afternoon, Dudley went to the utility room and retrieved the Maintenance Man’s toolbox to attend to the minor in repairs that Isabella Duncan had requested. At La Vida Aureo, some of the independent living facilities consisted of cottages or casitas and his first task was to fix a “small plumbing problem” in the casita occupied by Mrs. Torres.

He knocked on the door and introduced himself when Mrs. Torres answered. “Mrs. Torres, my name is Matthew Dudley and I’ve been asked to look at your plumbing; I understand you have a leaky faucet.”

“Come right in. I must say that you are certainly much easier on the eyes than the previous Maintenance Man. The leaking faucet is in the kitchen sink.”

Dudley sat down the toolbox, got out his flashlight and reached into the cabinet area under the kitchen sink to shut off the water. Once the water was shut off, it was a simple matter to replace the worn faucet washer. He decided to replace the washer for both the hot and cold sides; it might save him a second trip. He got on his knees and reached under the sink to turn the water back on so that he could test the new washers. It had only taken a few moments for this relatively simple repair job and Dudley felt a sense of accomplishment.

“That should do it, Mrs. Torres. You should not have any more problems with a dripping faucet.”

When he turned around, he was taken aback by what he saw. Mrs. Torres was standing in the middle of the kitchen with a cocktail in her hand. She was wearing what appeared to Dudley as a silk robe, like a Japanese kimono, but it was completely open.

“Well, Mr. Handyman, can you stay a while? I’m sure I can find some other projects for you to work on.”

Dudley suddenly felt trapped and highly embarrassed by Mrs. Torres’ inappropriate behavior. “Ah-er, ah-er, I really must be going. I have to check on an ah-er electrical problem in Mrs. Wilson’s apartment.”

He knew he had to get past Mrs. Torres and out of the casita as quickly as possible. Fortunately, she took a sip of her cocktail and stepped aside so he was able to exit without incident.

“Do hurry back and please bring all of your tools next time. I like a man with good tools, you know.”

He didn’t want to offend anyone, or cause trouble, particularly on his first day as Handyman, but he knew he had to mention this to Isabella as soon as possible. “To say that I was shocked Isabella, is an understatement. I’m just not used to that kind of behavior.”

“I have been aware that there are certain people here who act out inappropriately. Many of the women here have lost husbands at a young age which has affected them. Many are simply lonely and seeking companionship, some are just harmless flirts but some are truly horny and desperate. In some cases, the early stages of dementia results in a loss of control and the onset of inappropriate behaviors. And some women are definitely on the prowl and things can sometimes get out of hand. We must remain vigilant at all times. We have to recognize that these people are adults but we cannot let the situation jeopardize any individual resident. My advice to you as you’re working around the complex as a handyman is “to keep your tools in your toolbox.””

Case II: Chapter 3: Physical Therapy with Arnold, Jr.

As he left Isabella’s office, he felt only partially relieved by the conversation. He was glad that she was aware of the situation but somewhat concerned with her apparent laissez-faire attitude. He decided that as he worked around the facility he would have to remain alert and recognize the signs of potentially inappropriate behavior and not get trapped by any particular situation.

Dudley was still somewhat shaken by Mrs. Torres’ behavior when he walked into the physical therapy room that afternoon for his scheduled appointment. He had reluctantly convinced himself that the physical therapy was doing him some good, particularly to strengthen his cardiovascular system which may have been the source of his mild heart attack.

As he entered the room, he noticed a number of people engaged in various forms of physical therapy. Some were doing cardio work and others were on machines that focused on stretching or strengthening specific muscles. For the older residents, there were numerous programs to help them maintain mobility and keep them ambulatory for as long as possible. He was aware that a number of these people were not residents, but were paying to come to this facility to recuperate from hip or knee replacement surgeries, some sports injuries and other specific types of physical therapy. La Vida Aureo maintained a state-of-the-art facility with highly trained physical therapists. Although the original intent was to serve only residents, more and more doctors in the Albuquerque area were sending patients here. Some were covered by so-called “Cadillac insurance programs” and some were private or self-pay. Isabella Duncan quickly realized the opportunity and had expanded the facility with additional equipment and staff.

As an integral part of this expansion of La Vida Aureo’s physical therapy capabilities, she had worked closely with the exercise equipment companies to incorporate sophisticated computer monitoring. Each potential new patient was given a battery of tests on several exercise machines to characterize their mobility and range of motion. The machine’s computer would create a “trace” of the motion on a display screen to be observed by the therapist. With a specific type of injury, there would be a “break” in the trace at a point characteristic of the particular injury. Failure to repeat this trace, including the break, was an indication of potential fraud. As the reputation for La Vida Aureo’s physical therapy program grew, there were more cases of people trying to “scam” the system. But, the sophisticated monitoring system had been able to quickly detect these various attempts so that the current participants in La Vida Aureo’s physical therapy and rehabilitation programs were “legitimate”.

Matthew Dudley was soon to learn that there was another reason for the growing popularity of the facility among certain Albuquerque physicians and orthopedists.

As he continued to look around the room, Dudley noticed a young female therapist that he hadn’t seen before. Dudley didn’t think he was staring, but her highly affected mannerisms caught his eye.

Someone walked up behind Dudley and said quietly to him, “That is not part of your regular cardio exercises and it is probably not good for your heart.”

Dudley turned around and looked up into the smiling face of Hans Werner, his physical therapist. He was somewhat embarrassed and knew that he had “been caught”. He felt that it was useless to try to convince Hans that he wasn’t staring, but he sensed that there was more going on that was apparent. “I just couldn’t help but notice that she seems to be awfully close to the patients while she’s talking to them and seems to touch a lot.”

“That young woman has been here a few months and perhaps you just hadn’t noticed; you’re probably only man who comes in here that hasn’t! Her name is Ekaterina Bubolsky but many of the male patients simply refer to her as Betty Boop! Maybe it’s her short skirt or her out-going manner; I don’t know. She was recommended by a prominent orthopedic surgeons group in Albuquerque and seems to be quite popular with many of the patients.”

“I’m certain her popularity has to do with her physical therapy skills rather than her physical appearance”, remarked Dudley cynically.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Dudley, are you ready to begin your session with me?”

“I guess so, Hans, but you have to be patient with me today it as I’ve had a rather unsettling experience this morning which may affect my heart rate; and, NOT this one!”

“It is no problem. We can start slow and build up. If you’ll just let me know how you’re feeling and I’ll keep checking the heart rate monitors, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

As Dudley began his first exercise on a recumbent bicycle, he realized how much better he felt with even a small amount of exercise. It was further evidence to him that, if he were to live alone, he would probably deteriorate. As the exercise proceeded, he seemed to feel stronger and his mind was less unsettled by the events of the morning.

“Well, Hans, I certainly appreciate your encouraging me to get started and I feel much better once I get moving and get some additional oxygen to my brain.” Dudley completed his entire therapy session, thanked Hans and decided to return to his room for a nap.

Case II: Chapter 4:TLC With Betty Boop

A few days later, he was back at physical therapy and began to observe Betty Boop’s behavior a little more carefully. He couldn’t help but notice that her actions seem to be quite a bit more deliberate and dramatic than necessary for physical therapy. He noticed, for example, that she seemed to be brushing her breasts against the arms and shoulders of some male patients. And when she moved away, she seemed to make a conscious effort of bending over longer than necessary.

He remarked to Hans, “She’s either just an exhibitionist or there is something more complicated and potentially sinister going on.”

“Well, the patients she works with seem to generally be happy but I have noticed that they seem to have much longer rehabilitation programs. Even when she’s not here, they seem to be progressing much more slowly than other patients. The ones that I have worked with also seem to complain more about the residual pain associated with their surgeries. I’m certain that I don’t provide the same level of attention and TLC that she does but our goal here is to try to help patients recover and return to normal activities as quickly as possible.”

“Well, I’m certainly not being a voyeur and I am not a suspicious person by nature. Perhaps I’m just imagining things and maybe this is all innocent behavior on her part. I’m sure that the additional attention and TLC is a form of therapy in and of itself. I guess I need to just concentrate on my own program.” he said to Hans.

The next time that he was in the Physical Therapy room, Dudley watched more intently as Betty Boop worked on a middle-aged man who was sitting on a machine used primarily to strengthen leg muscles. Dudley did not recognize this man as a resident of La Vida Aureo; he must have been referred by his orthopedist.

Dudley overheard Betty Boop ask the man how he felt since his knee replacement surgery and how he was progressing with his rehabilitation. He noticed that she began to massage his knee while he continued to exercise and slowly moved up his thigh. This went on for several minutes and the man was obviously enjoying the experience. As the intimate massaging continues, he heard her say, “It’s time for your pain pills.”

The man’s expression changed and he complained, “I don’t like the taste of the pills; they’re bitter.”

Betty continued to massage his thigh, a bit more intensely and a bit further up his leg.

“Your doctor prescribed them for a purpose, but I understand that they are not pleasant. You should try my special protein drink. I can crush those nasty pills and mix them into a delicious and nutritious protein shake that goes down nice and easy.”

“OK. I’m willing to try it if you promise that it will not taste bitter.”

“I promise. Just wait here and I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

The man eased back onto the exercise, closed his eyes and seemed to drift off.

Moments later, Betty returned with a tall glass filled with what looks like an ordinary milkshake. “Drink this and you’ll feel much better”, she said as she placed her hand back on his thigh and pressed her breast into his shoulder. “Now, isn’t that a better way to take those nasty pain meds?”

Betty, I really appreciate all you do for me. I don’t know how I could stand this recovery process if it weren’t for you.”

“Thank you. I’ll see you again on Friday.”

As Dudley was leaving the physical therapy room, he made a point to catch up with this man and casually remarked, “You seem to enjoy your physical therapy sessions a lot more than I do.”

“Absolutely! It is Betty Boop’s special touch as well as the way she administers my pain medications. Her special shake concoction is outstanding! I complain a bit, but I’m trying to stay in this program and around her as long as possible. I think I’ll talk to my doctor about having the other knee replaced as soon as possible. I am not looking forward to the surgery but the rehabilitation program could make it all worthwhile.” He said with a satisfied grin.

Dudley became more suspicious with each additional tidbit of information he heard about Betty Boop’s approach to physical therapy and decided to question this man a bit more.

“I wish I felt the same as you do. I’m here for cardio-rehabilitation after a heart attack and don’t particularly enjoy it at all. Besides, I’m stuck with Arnold Jr. for my exercises. How did you get assigned to that pretty young girl?”

“Her real name is Katerina or Katrina Something or Other; I think she’s Russian. But she reminds me of that cartoon character, Betty Boop, with her cute attitude and the clothes she wears. When my surgeon arranged for me to come to this place for rehab, he also suggested I try to get her as my therapist. I think she specializes in knee and hip replacement jobs. After the surgery, I’m on a lot of pain meds and she seems to have figured out a way to makes them palatable. And, she’s really fun to look at and watch as she walks around. Maybe you should think about getting a knee or hip replaced; you certainly look old enough! By the way, my name is Horace Johnson.” He laughs, slapped Dudley on the back and walked away.

It was apparent that this poor guy was a helpless victim of Ekaterina’s wiles. But Dudley sensed that there was more going on, he just couldn’t figure it out. Or, maybe he was thinking about his experience with Mrs. Torres and was reading too much into something relatively harmless. He decided to put it out of his mind and get back to taking care of his own responsibilities.

Case II: Chapter 5: Back to Cerrillos

Dudley decided that he needed to stop stalling and put his house in Cerrillos up for sale. He recalled that Isabella said she knew a real estate agent who could help. But, first, there were some things he wanted to do at the house, including picking up his hand tools. If he was going to do this handyman job correctly, it would be beneficial to have his own tools. Dudley’s doctor had prohibited him from driving, but he presumed that OJ would be willing to drive him to Cerrillos. OJ had expressed his gratitude for Dudley’s role in clearing his name, but he knew he should check with Isabella first.

A quick phone call assured him that she completely approved and thought it would be a great idea for Dudley to “take OJ under his wing”.

The next morning, OJ brought his pickup around to the front off the building and they were on their way; OJ even brought a breakfast burrito for Dudley. Although Dudley had traveled all over the state in his role with the State’s Water Resources Department, he always hated driving that section of Interstate-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. He referred to most of the drivers as Albu-crazies because they seemed to act particularly reckless and drive at excessive speeds along this 50 mile stretch of highway. Because it was now mid-morning, he had assumed that traffic would be lighter and that the drivers wouldn’t be in such hurry, but that did not seem to be the case. He quickly realized that was even more terrifying to be a passenger in someone else’s vehicle on this road. OJ was a reasonably competent driver but that didn’t seem to calm Dudley’s anxiety. He could not understand why people made the unsafe moves that they did, cutting in and out of traffic. It seemed like an obsession with some drivers to take unnecessary risks just to advance one car length or get in front of someone they felt was driving too slow. Tailgating seemed to be a local “sport” and a means to get people “outta my way”! He never could understand why people seem to be in such an incessant hurry, almost at any time of day; so much for the manana culture of New Mexico!   Even more absurdly, he didn’t realize why the people who lived in Albuquerque and cities to the south and who worked in Santa Fe didn’t avail themselves to the convenience of the Railrunner system.

They exited the Interstate at Waldo Canyon Road and proceeded down the dirt road for several miles. Despite his anxiety, they had arrived safely into Cerrillos. Dudley went to the outbuilding behind his house and began to collect those hand tools which he felt would be useful to a handyman. OJ wandered around the outside of the house while Dudley was busy.

“How much do you know about this town of Cerrillos and the surrounding area, OJ?”

“I’ve never been off the highway before. I’ve been to Santa Fe many times and I’ve been to Madrid, but never here.”

“For a time in the late 1800s, Cerrillos was a mining boom town, but there’s not much here now, except for the Park. After I finish collecting my tools, I’d like to show you Cerrillos Hills Park; I think you’ll find it interesting.”

A brief time later, they drove a short distance to the Cerrillos Hills Park. “This area is typical of much of New Mexico’s history. The pueblo artisans first used turquoise from these hills for their pottery. They also used the lead deposits to enhance their pottery glazes. The Spanish weren’t interested in turquoise, but looked here for gold and, like many other places, were disappointed. Later, many of the men who mined for silver in Colorado came here hoping to strike it rich, but often had to settle for iron or other less valuable metals simply to survive. At its peak, there were over 1,000 mining claims in these hills. It was back-breaking pick and shovel work and most of the men were barely able to eke out a living and many starved. Too often, men had their claims stolen from them by more clever people.”

They took a short walk to one of the hand-dug open pit mines and together read the commemorative plaque.

“It seems like many of these hombres were loco gringos,” said OJ”

Dudley laughed to and couldn’t help but agree with OJ’s observation.

“It sounds like what happened to my people in the North when the gringos took their land for a few pots and pans or a rundown plow. “

“Santa Fe County designated this area as an Open Space in about 2003 to preserve it. This site became a State Park in about 2009 and there is a volunteer organization that is responsible for maintenance. This group also conducts tours and provides information on their web-site: www.cerrilloshills.org.”

“I know my Spanish is pretty limited, but even I know that cerrillos means hill, so it always amuses me that someone actually named this area Cerrillos Hills; it’s a bit redundant, don’t you think?”

“Tell you what, OJ, if we can drive back via the Turquoise Road, Highway 14, through Madrid I’ll buy you a full tank of gas. I know it’s longer, but I’ve had enough excitement for one day driving up here on I-25.”

No problemo, Señor Doc.”

Dudley climbed into the truck and they headed back to Albuquerque, stopping in Tijeras for gas. Doc found OJ’s company quite enjoyable and hoped that he would be able to avail himself of OJ’s truck and transportation in the future.

Case II Chapter 6: Millicent Branch Helps Out

On Thursday, Dudley was sitting in the dining room enjoying a cup of coffee and looking over his list of repair projects for the complex. He didn’t notice that Millicent Branch had sat down across from him.

“Well, I see you solved the Maintenance Man’s murder quite nicely. I told you that that Mexican girl was involved.”

“Well, good day to you, too, Mrs. Branch. I appreciate your complement, but it was not a murder. It was a foolish accident caused by the Maintenance Man’s own carelessness. And, for your information, Maria is from Guatemala; she is not from Mexico.”

“Nevertheless, I told you that she was involved and that the Maintenance Man was up to no good. I’m sure I put you on the right path so you were able to get to the bottom of that mess so quickly. I understand that you are going to take the Maintenance Man’s place and become the Handyman for the entire facility.”

“That is correct. Ms. Duncan has asked me to help out, at least on a temporary basis.”

While Dudley was fairly certain that Mrs. Branch did not use the Internet and certainly not Facebook, he continued to be amazed at how she seemed to know everything that was going on and a little bit about everybody’s business. He also assumed that whatever information she did not have, she made up. “Thanks again, Mrs. Branch. I really must be going now and get on with my responsibilities for the day”, he said as he got up to leave. Despite how much she annoyed him, Dudley tried to remain pleasant rather than aggravate her. He knew that she would only cause to more trouble for him if he got on her “bad side”.

Later that week, Dudley went back to physical therapy where he was greeted by Hans.   “Well, I hope you are up for a little more strenuous exercise today, Mr. Dudley. I’ve been looking over your charts and I think we can increase both the length and the intensity of your cardio workout today. Make sure you let me know if at any time you’re feeling tired or lightheaded and we can cut back. Okay with you?”

“I’m feeling much stronger and ready to put up with your abuse for today, Hans.”

Over the next 20 minutes, he was able to keep up with the pace and the intensity of his cardio exercise on the recumbent bicycle. As always, it was difficult to get started, but the longer he went, the better he felt. He was convinced that he was nearing full recovery and would soon be released by his doctor. He had not had the opportunity to communicate with his doctor and tell him about accepting Isabella’s offer to stay on at La Vida Aureo as Handyman. But given the positive response from this workout, he would initiate a conversation. It would also give him an opportunity to challenge the doctor to see if he really had had a mild heart attack or whether the doctor had conspired with his children after all just to get him into a different environment.

While he was resting after the exercise, he noticed the young woman referred to as Betty Boop (Ekaterina Bubolsky) talking to an older woman. He recognized her as Mrs. Martha Arthur, a resident at La Vida Aureo. He assumed that she had not had joint replacement surgery but could be suffering from chronic back pain or something similar. He made a point of trying to walk closer without appearing obvious so that he could listen in on the conversation. Mrs. Arthur was telling Ekaterina about her medications. “My doctor prescribed two different prescriptions for my back pain. One is a muscle relaxant and the other is some sort of pain pill. I’m not really sure how to get the doses right to achieve any benefit. And, I don’t want to take too much medicine.”

Ekaterina reassured her. “I understand how you feel. Some of these prescriptions are pretty strong and can have undesirable side effects. If you’ll let me look at the bottles, I believe I can help you to achieve their relief you desire.”

“That would be a great deal of help to be. I would rather not be taking any medicines at all, but without them, I am unable to get around. I do not want to be cooped up in my room.”

She handed the prescription bottles to Ekaterina who studied them carefully. Ekaterina looked at Mrs. Arthur and said, “If I could make a suggestion, I think the proper combination of these two medications would do the trick. I would recommend that you only use half of each pill and use them more frequently. I’ve worked with other women about your age with similar pain and I think there might be an easier way to go about this. I would also like to change some of your exercises that would build up your strength in addition to the way you are taking your medications.”

“That would be wonderful.”

“You just sit here and make yourself comfortable for a few minutes. I’m going to take these medicines and make them up into the smoothie for you to drink.”

Dudley felt somewhat embarrassed after hearing this conversation. It sounded like Ekaterina was really trying to help Mrs. Arthur. Maybe he had been reading too much into the previous situation and not giving her credit for her expertise as a competent physical therapist. He thanked Hans for pushing him a little harder with his exercises today and decided to go back his room and get a shower and think about some of the repair jobs on his ToDo list.

Ekaterina returned with a thick smoothie and handed it to Mrs. Arthur. “I hope you like strawberry, she said.

“That would be wonderful. I do like strawberry and it would be so much more refreshing than simply trying to take these pills with a glass of water.”

“Just sit here and drink it slowly and I’ll check back with you in a few minutes. By the way, I noticed that there were only one or two pills left in each of your prescriptions. Would you like for me to have them refilled at the pharmacy for you? Your pharmacy is on my way to work and I would be happy to do that.”

“Thank you, Ekaterina. I would appreciate it if you could pick up my prescriptions for me. This sounds like a big improvement in my program and I’m looking forward to getting much better soon.” Mrs. Arthur finished her strawberry shake and left the physical therapy room with a large smile on her face. She couldn’t wait to tell some of her other friends about this wonderful experience.

Case II: Chapter 7: A Real Real Estate Experience

Later that afternoon, Dudley stopped in to see Isabella Duncan to ask about the real estate agent that she had mentioned previously. As each day had passed, he realized more and more that he should not delay selling his home in Cerrillos.

“I’m glad you’ve made this decision, Doc. I know it will be hard to leave the home you shared with you late wife, but it really is for the best. Let me call Hannah to see if she can meet with you later this week. She is very familiar with that area and can provide you good advice.”

Dudley was sitting in an easy chair in the lobby when an attractive, well-dressed woman who appeared to be about his age walked directly over to him and says, “I presume you are Matthew Dudley. I’m Hannah Halverstrom and Isabella Duncan suggested that I talk with you.” She extends her hand to greet him.

“Yes, I’m Matthew Dudley and I presume you’re the real estate agent Isabella recommended to me.”

“That is correct.” She handed him her business card.

Dudley looked at the bright yellow card which read:

Picture1

Dudley was surprised at the card’s appearance because it seemed inconsistent with the professional looking woman standing in front of him in an expensive, well tailored business suit.

The look on his face telegraphed his obvious surprise and Hannah said, “Sorry, wrong card. She handed him a second business card from her briefcase which read:

Picture2

“It’s a long story. Perhaps we could go someplace quiet to talk about your needs can I can explain the two business cards and help alleviate some of your very obvious apprehension.”

They went into the dining room and found a small table in a corner where they had some privacy to talk. Dudley went to the service counter and poured two cups of coffee from the carafe and returned to the table. A broad smile covered Hannah Halverstrom’s face and she said, “Isabella told me you are an old-fashioned gentlemen. I certainly appreciate a man with those kinds of courtesies. Thank you very much. Let me begin by explaining the confusion caused by my business cards so that we can begin discussing your needs.”

“I grew up in an upper middle-class family in Baltimore and became captivated by the freedom movements in the early 1960s. I was young and very foolish and ran away from home and wandered around until I ended up in Tawapa, one of the growing communes near Albuquerque in the Sandia Mountains foothills in a place called Placitas. Over the next year or so literally hundreds of young people from around the country came into this area and the population of these communities grew. For a while everyone was idealistic and worked together to build a healthy alternative lifestyle. But as time passed, I realized that too many of the men who came to these peaceful communities did not share the idealistic values of the community and were only there for the drugs and “free love”. It became increasingly dangerous and I knew that it was time for me to get out and grow up. I moved to into a very small apartment in Albuquerque and enrolled in the University of New Mexico. By the time I finished my degree in Business I had also made up and repaired the most of the damage I had caused with my family. But, I had grown to love this area and decided to stay. Over the years I worked in a number of different areas but always remained attracted to the community of Placitas and its ties to the history and cultures of New Mexico. It became apparent to me that my life mirrored much of the life in and around New Mexico and that I could help other people find their way through real estate. There are many people who came here to escape something or someone. There are people who came here as artists and craftsmen because of the incredible light and the scenery. Those people are searching for something on an emotional or spiritual level and I feel connected to those people. Spirit and Light Realtors works with those people in search of some more fundamental meaning to find a location and an environment where they feel free to paint or write or otherwise express themselves. On the other hand, because of the history of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, there is also a significant amount of government-funded military and related industrial activity. Those people are generally looking for a more practical approach to real estate and are turned off by the “hippie, artsy-fartsy” approach. They are the typical client of HHH Realty. I hope that gives you a better understanding of who I am and alleviates some of your apprehension.”

“That is certainly an interesting story and I suspect that you are not the only person who came here to run away and stayed for other reasons. My own story is not quite as exciting but is also not too dissimilar. I presume that HHH stands for Hannah Something Halverstrom. I’m curious; what does that middle H stand for?”

“It stands for Hard-ass!” She laughed. “My clients who are military or business people expect me to get the best price for them as well as meet their other conditions. I guess I earned that nick-name based on my performance.”

“In your case, Mr. Dudley, the area in and around Cerrillos is much like the Placitas area I know so well. The community is comprised primarily of people that I would characterize as “ones who don’t play well with others”. The fact that they chose to live in a small, relatively isolated community says a great deal about their worldview. But there also people from Santa Fe who see Cerrillos as a quaint little community where they can avoid some of the chaos that is Santa Fe. I believe that the ideal buyer for your home will be a unique individual like yourself who is also searching for something. I will take these things into consideration as we develop the appropriate marketing strategy to sell your home quickly and at a fair price. Does that sound like a reasonable approach to you?”

“Absolutely. What can I do to assist you?”

Case II: Chapter 8: Happy Endings with Betty Boop

The next day in physical therapy, Dudley noticed Horace Johnson and Ekaterina having a discussion that appeared to grow increasingly tense. They didn’t appear to be arguing but it was very different than the pleasantness he observed between the two of them previously. The discussion was obviously strained and Horace seemed to be hesitating about something. Horace followed Ekaterina out of the main physical therapy room to an area of where the sauna and individual massage rooms are located. About 30 minutes later, Horace came back into the main exercise room with a large smile across his face. He walked over towards Dudley and said, “Hey, old buddy, are you doing today?”

“I’m doing just fine, thank you. It looks as though you and Ekaterina were having an argument a while ago. I hope that nothing is wrong and that your physical therapy is continuing to go well. The last time we talked, you seem to be quite pleased with her and program the she developed for you.”

“No, no, everything is fine. She just was making some adjustments to my program and I didn’t completely understand. After she explained things better, there was a “happy ending”, if you get my meaning.” As he said this, the grin on Horace’s face seemed to encompass his entire person. He gave Dudley a hearty slap on the back and sauntered out of the exercise room. Dudley thought he heard Horace whistling as he got near the door.

At lunch Monday, Dudley noticed Mrs. Arthur sitting at a nearby table and having an animated conversation with Millicent Branch. Dudley tried to leave unnoticed through another door but to no avail. Millicent Branch called out to him. “Come over here, Mr. Dudley. I want you to hear what my friend Martha has to say. I knew there was something fishy going on in physical therapy with that Russian girl. Martha, tell Mr. Dudley what you were telling me.”

Mrs. Arthur obviously did not want to be put on the spot and hesitated to say anything. She simply waved her hands and shook her head and said, “It’s nothing. I told you, Millicent, it’s nothing at all. Everything is fine.”

“I don’t approve of that girl taking advantage of my friend Martha,” said Mrs. Branch, defiantly. I don’t think it’s proper for someone to pick up her medications for her. And I don’t understand all of this business with the strawberry smoothies at all.”

“Millicent, I told you that I trust Ekaterina and she seems to have my best interest at heart. I’m sure it will take some time to adjust to these new exercises. That’s probably the reason why my back pain doesn’t seem to be improving.”

“Nonsense, Martha. I know that there’s something going on. See here, Mr. Dudley, I want you to figure out what’s going on and why Martha doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

“Perhaps, Mrs. Branch, it may just take some time to adjust to her new program. I’m sure that Ms. Bubolsky has Mrs. Arthur’s interests at heart. Besides, I don’t know what I can do; I’m certainly not a doctor. Mrs. Arthur, have you spoken to Ms. Bubolsky about your concerns?”

“Thank you for asking. Yes, I did speak to her and she said that she would look at the combination of medicines I was taking as well as the dosage. I’m sure it is nothing at all. She seems pleasant and concerned and her strawberry smoothies have made taking my medicine a much better experience. I may even see if she could do the same thing with my heart medicines.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Arthur appreciates your concern, Mrs. Branch, but she seems to be dealing with this in the proper manner. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a frayed electrical cord to replace on the third floor.”

Case II: Chapter 9: The Benefits of Exercise

Dudley tried to maintain a calm and pleasant disposition as he got up to leave. He knew there was nothing he could do about Mrs. Branch’s behavior and her insistence on getting involved in everyone’s business. He would just have to work harder at avoiding her and being dragged into those discussions and her overly suspicious nature.

As Dudley reflected on his meeting with Hannah Halverstrom, he realized how relieved he was that she was a competent person and would aggressively market his home. He realized a bit more everyday that being here at La Vida Aureo was the right decision for him. He was very appreciative that Isabella had reached out to him and offered him this opportunity not only for a good place to live, but also the opportunity to be actively engaged in something worthwhile. He also realized that his health was returning and that his doctor’s and children’s recommendation that he undergo physical therapy was actually a good idea and probably something that he never would have initiated on his own. He realized that the physical exercise was doing him great deal of good, not only physically but also for his entire outlook and general well-being. He would approach Isabella about incorporating an ongoing program into his “total compensation package”.

He decided to ask Hans for his assistance in developing a broader physical exercise program. In addition to continuing to improve his cardiovascular system, Dudley realized that some basic strength building exercises would be of benefit.

With this thought in mind, he went to the main exercise room and found Hans sitting at the small desk provided for the therapists. “Good morning, Hans. If you have a moment, I would like to talk to you about expanding my physical therapy program into a more comprehensive exercise regimen. I know you will be surprised to hear me say this but I believe the exercise is really doing me a world a good and I would like to incorporate some strength training.”

“Well, Mr. Dudley, that may be the smartest thing I’ve heard you say. I’ve always considered you to be a relatively intelligent fellow and figured that eventually you would understand the benefits of a regular exercise program, particularly at your age. I am confident that if we work together, we will be able to come up with something that meets your needs and is not too boring. I can recommend various types of exercises that we can alternate throughout the week that will give you variety and help achieve your goals.”

As Dudley pulled out a chair to sit down at the desk with Hans, he noticed that Ekaterina was talking to someone he had never seen before. He guessed that this new gentlemen had a knee replacement recently as he was using crutches to move around the room. Ekaterina guided him toward one of the leg strengthening exercise machines and helped him position himself in it. Dudley watched as she began her “Betty Boop routine” with this new person. As she was adjusting the backrest on the machine, she made an obvious gesture of pressing her breasts into this man’s upper arm. It was not an accident as she continued to slowly move back and forth pressing herself against him. Then she moved away toward the front of the machine and while facing away from him, bent over to pick up some invisible object on the floor. She must not been able to find it as she stayed bent over for an extended period of time. She stood up and turned around with a smiling face and began to talk to this man, presumably about the exercise he was about to initiate.

Once this initial overture was completed, her actions became less overt and she began to instruct him on the use of the machine. After a few repetitions, she stepped forward and began to massage the muscles around his knee. It did not take long before her hands began moving slowly and deliberately up his thigh. She apparently decided that this initial exploratory phase was sufficient and she left him to continue with his exercise.

A few machines away, Horace Johnson was in the middle of his physical therapy program. Ekaterina approached him with a large smile on her face and placed her hand on his shoulder and gently pressed her breast against him. This action did not have the desired effect as he pulled back and glared at her. “What’s the deal with that new guy? Just what you think you are doing? I thought we had an understanding. “

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, she replied, equally angrily. He is a new patient and I was helping orient him to his first exercises for his knee.”

“Well, I know what I saw.”

Dudley didn’t think he was staring or eavesdropping but could not help but observe this interaction. He must have been, however, because Hans said “It looks like there’s some trouble in Happy Valley. So why don’t we just focus on your exercise program and ignore that little spat.”

“I’m sorry, Hans, I didn’t mean to ignore you and didn’t think I was staring. I still am confused by the whole situation surrounding this young woman, but it’s not my business.”

Hans got out forms and began to indicate some specific exercises for a more comprehensive program. Dudley was interested and very appreciative of this effort but was soon distracted by another heated interchange between Ekaterina and Horace Johnson. He heard Johnson say, “It looks to me like you’re trying to recruit somebody else. What gives?”

“I don’t want to talk about it in the middle of this room in front of other people, she replied. Why do we go into the massage area where we can discuss this in private?”

They left the room together and with some difficulty Dudley was able to focus his attention on Hans and his new exercise program. “It must be that she has some Gypsy blood, said Hans, It seems like she got rather heated pretty quickly.”

“I don’t know. But it’s probably not worth either of us getting involved. I assume you will incorporate one of those Special Protein Shakes in my new regimen so I can bulk up like some of those baseball players I’ve read about!, He said jokingly.”

“If that’s what you’d like, Mr. Dudley, I would be happy to oblige. But, you should realize that there’s no “protein” in her shakes and you won’t look like Barry Bonds, either. It’s really just a clever disguise; she crushes the pain pills and blends them in some relatively harmless stuff to mask the taste. I have to give her credit for the idea and making it part of her “shtick.”

“You know I was just kidding, Hans. I met a woman last week who was another of Ekaterina’s patients who was given a strawberry smoothie for presumably the same purpose. I agree; it’s pretty clever.”

Dudley worked with Hans for the next 20 minutes and was pleased with the results of the program Hans had outlined. He appreciated the fact that there were different kinds of exercises and he would be able to vary his routine over a two week cycle. He thanked Hans and got up to leave. Just then, Horace Johnson came back into the main room and headed toward Dudley on his way to the exit door. He looked at Dudley and said, “Don’t pay any attention to that old stuff at all. It was just necessary for me to clarify a few things with her and I made sure there was a “happy ending” and he hurried towards the door.”

Dudley noticed that Horace had left approximately half of his own “special protein shake” on the floor beside his machine and Dudley retrieved in with the intent of catching up with Horace. But by the time he reached the exit door, Horace was halfway across the parking lot and did not seem to care much about the remainder of his drink. Dudley looked around for trash bin, but another thought came into his mind. “There is something else going on here, he mused. Maybe Horace was just being overly jealous that Ekaterina was showing some attention to another man but I don’t understand why he use the word “recruit” in reference to her actions. She was obviously being overtly sexual towards him that that would seem to explain it all.” The more these conflicting thoughts remained in his head, the longer he hesitated disposing the shake in his hand. “I should not be so suspicious, he chided himself. I don’t approve of her behavior, but that’s really none of my business. She seems to be popular with people who come here for physical therapy and maybe this is just all part of her TLC approach.”

As Dudley reentered the building, he noticed Ekaterina and Martha Arthur standing just outside of the physical therapy room. Mrs. Arthur appeared confused and said to Ekaterina, “I don’t understand why it is necessary to refill with my prescriptions so soon. They always seemed to last for or about a month but it seems like it’s only been two weeks since the last time.”

Ekaterina patted Mrs. Arthur on the arm and said, “There, there, Mrs. Arthur, I think you are slightly mistaken.”

“No, I’m sure about it. I think I should just talk with my friend Millicent Branch. She always helps me keep track of things when I get a bit confused.”

“That will not be necessary, Mrs. Arthur. No need to get anyone else involved. It is a little more frequent than before, but that’s because I’ve been experimenting with the dosages as I promised I would. You know you can trust me, Mrs. Arthur.”

“I remember you telling me what you were going to do. The pain in my back doesn’t seem to be responding to this new approach, however. Are you sure that this will work?”

“Just give it little more time. I’m sure that by the next time we refill your prescriptions, you will be feeling much better.”

With that reassurance, Mrs. Arthur turned around and walked away.

Ekaterina looked up and noticed Dudley standing there with a half-empty glass in his hand. “Is everything alright, Ms. Bubolsky? I trust that Mrs. Arthur is doing OK. She’s a really sweet old lady and I know that her back pain really upsets her.”

“There is no problem, Mr. Dudley. She just was confused about her prescriptions. I’ve been trying to help but I suspect a lot of her pain is really just her imagination. But I will continue to work with her because that is important to me. By the way, what is that you have in your hand?   I trust that it’s nothing from the physical therapy room like one of my protein shakes. It would be inappropriate for any medications to leave that area.”

“Oh no, I think it’s just something like an iced coffee that someone dropped in the parking lot. I was on my way to the trash bin to discard it.”

“Very well. Good day, Mr. Dudley.” Ekaterina Bubolsky turned and walked toward the physical therapy room. Dudley could not help but notice that she had assumed her characteristic Betty Boop walk as she left.

Case II: Chapter 10: A Questionable Shake

“This seems to get curiouser and curiouser Dudley remarked himself. He quietly lowered his arm so that the drink container was not obvious and headed toward the kitchen. “Maybe I put this into the refrigerator for a while, Maria?”

“Señor Dudley, you may, but I do not understand why you did not finish your drink.”

“It’s just for a short while, Maria. I’ll be back for it before dinner time. It is good to see you again. I hope you’re doing well.”

Muy bueno, Señor Dudley. Adios.”

The events of the afternoon continued to play in his mind as he sat in the shade of the Navajo willow in the courtyard. He finally decided that it was his responsibility to satisfy his curiosity and determine if there was anything behind this odd series of actions. He decided to call Frank Garcia at the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit and ask for his advice. He decided to do this without telling Isabella in case it turned out to be nothing at all. He did not want to start trouble where there wasn’t any nor have Isabella think that he was becoming just another Mildred Branch and playing detective.

While he continued to sit outside, he called Garcia and asked. “Lt. Garcia, this is Matthew Dudley at La Vida Aureo and I need some advice. I want to try to determine if I’m just imagining things or whether there’s something more serious at play.” He explained the situation and his observations briefly without trying to implicate anyone or make things sound more sinister than they probably were.

“If you have some of this suspicious shake left, said Garcia, I can have the lab boys over at drug enforcement have a look at. If it is just a harmless shake used to help people take their medications then we’ll pretend this never happened. If, on the other hand, we find something else then we’ll have to decide what to do. Anyway, I owe you one, Doc. I will be driving past your place on my way back to my office in about an hour and I can see you then.”

“Thanks, Lt. Garcia, I really appreciate this. I know I sound foolish but there is just something about this that I can’t get out of my head. I’ll be out in front to in about an hour.”

Dudley continued to sit under the tree and argue with himself about the appropriateness of this step. An hour past quickly and he went into the kitchen, retrieved the protein shake from the refrigerator and headed toward the front door.

Garcia drove up and Dudley walked outside to meet him. “This is the “special protein shake” that one of the physical therapists is using to help people take their pain medications. I assume there will be a major amount of whatever pain medication this person is on in the shake. I understand that the rest is relatively harmless stuff just to disguise the taste.”

“Well, let’s see what we find. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have some information.” Garcia took the shake, placed in his cup holder, raised the window in his squad car and driving quietly drove away.

Dudley walked back into the lobby and was surprised to see Isabella Duncan standing there. She had her arms folded across her chest and was tapping her foot in a very deliberate manner. It always astounded Dudley how women could wear heels that high and still manage to tap their foot to express dismay. He knew he was in trouble.

“Wasn’t that Frank Garcia you were talking to in our driveway? Is there something I should know about?”

“Ah, no, not really. He just happened to be in the neighborhood and I went outside to say hello.”

“You don’t really expect to be to believe that story do you, Mr. Dudley?”

He knew that when Isabella Duncan called him “Mr. Dudley”, she was probably not pleased. “It’s nothing. I just asked him to check something out for me.”

“Well, if it’s anything that involves this facility or any of our residents or guests, I expect you to tell me about it to without any delay.”

“You have my word, Isabella.”

A few days later, Dudley received a phone call from Frank Garcia. “Doc, the lab boys examined the beverage you gave me, particularly for the family of opioids that are commonly used as prescription pain medication. They found nothing; no pain meds, no protein stuff. I ask them to see what else might be in that concoction and they told me they were only able to find relatively small amounts of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine. I’m no doctor, but I doubt it would do much for pain relief beyond those conventional over-the-counter analgesics. What you think this means?”

“That description certainly does not square with what Ekaterina is telling her patients. I don’t mean to jump to conclusions but I suspect we would find the same thing in the strawberry smoothie that another resident, Mrs. Arthur, has been given by her. Do you think it is possible that Ekaterina is substituting generic analgesics for the prescription medications?”

“That’s certainly is a possibility, but I think it would be foolish to conclude something that serious on the basis of a single sample. I don’t think either one of us want to risk our reputation by accusing someone of a potentially serious crime without further proof.”

“Can you think of a way that we could gather additional information to prove or disapprove things without stirring up too much trouble?”

“Doc, I believe that a reasonable next step would be for you and I to sit down with Isabella and come up with a more comprehensive approach. If there is something nefarious going on at La Vida Aureo, it is essential that we get Isabella involved and pronto.”

“I couldn’t agree more. She’s already suspicious after seeing me talk with you the other day and I certainly don’t want to get on her bad side. Would it be convenient for you to be here with Isabella and me tomorrow morning about 10 o’clock?”

“I’ll see you there.”