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Case IV: Undercover Operations

Chapter 1: Some Interesting Characters

Dudley was just about to leave his room to begin his day when the phone on his desk rang.

Ya at eeh, Doc. How’s my favorite Belagaana?”

“Ray! It is so good to hear your voice. I’m fine. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Doc. The guys have been worried that we haven’t heard from you in a while.”

“How on earth did you ever find me in this place, Ray?”

“My people have excellent tracking skills, in case you forgot, Belagaana.”

“Really?”

“Oh, and Frank Garcia sends his regards.”

“So, maybe your “native tracking skills” had some help!”

“No way! How is it that you know Garcia, anyway? You’re not in any kind of trouble with Albuquerque’s Finest, are you?”

“No, I met him through several unfortunate incidents since I’ve been here at La Vida Aureo and have a great deal of respect for him. How do you know him?”

“I’ve known Frank for many years through the youth program I run. You know that one of my goals in life is to keep as many of the young braves as possible out of the Criminal Justice system and Garcia has been a long-time supporter of my efforts.”

“I know your program has had quite a bit of success and, from what I’ve seen of Frank, I’m sure he shares your passion.”

“Well, the White Man’s system of justice can be unkind to my people, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.”

“Ray, it is really great to hear from you. How are the rest of the guys?”

“They’re fine, but miss having you around to harass. Even old man Guzman was asking about you the other day.”

“How is he and how is his shop doing?”

“He’s fine and has developed some new pastries that you’ve been missing. What do you say I pick you up on Thursday morning and we can all get together? That is, if your security guards will let me in the place. I promise to leave my dress war bonnet at home.”

“That would be great.”

“And Doc, when will you be going home to Cerrillos? We need to get out to Cochiti Lake before other people catch all the fish.”

“Oh, Ray. I’m in the process of selling the place and have decided to stay here at La Vida Aureo.”

“Wow; that’s a big change for you. Save that story for all the guys. I want to see the expression on their faces when you try to explain that one.”

“OK, I’ll see you on Thursday morning, about 10 o’clock.”

Dudley could not wait to share this news with Paloma as he hurried downstairs to the kitchen. “Señora Angostura, I have the most exciting news. I just got a call from one of my dearest friends whom I have not seen the entire time I’ve been here at La Vida Aureo.”

“That is good news, Señor Doc. I sense that you have missed your friends even though you have been busy here.”

“I truly have and we’re all getting together on Thursday for coffee. I’ll need to get my ToDo List projects completed before then so I won’t incur Isabella’s ire!”

Si, and you must tell me the story of your life to not incur mine!” “I guess almost everyone who ended up in New Mexico has an interesting story to tell. But, I must be going now and tend to my Handyman duties. But, I promise to tell you my story.”

On Thursday morning, Isabella noticed Dudley standing in the lobby. As she approached, Ray drove up in a very old, very beat-up pick-up truck.

“Are you sure you want to get into that truck; it’s even in worse shape than OJ’s?”

“Oh yes, Ray is a one of my dearest friends.”

“I see; one of your Curmudgeon Crew, no doubt?”

“Yes, we’re meeting for coffee and I haven’t seen these guys the entire time I’ve been here at La Vida Aureo.”

“Just be careful. I suspect you’re not meeting for coffee at “The Ritz” from the looks of that truck. When you get back from your adventure, I want to discuss a serious matter which could involve a small building project. I’ve discovered some things recently that are really bothering me and I want to review them with you. But, at some point, you must tell me about your “friends”. Knowing more about them will help ease my mind about your excursions with them … I think!”

Warren Jenkins Pearson was born in Midland, Texas where his father Dr. Richard “Rocky” Pearson was a professor of geology at the local Texas A&M University extension. Dr. Pearson’s specific area of expertise was the Permian Basin region of West Texas where several large oilfields had been discovered. He had developed a significant reputation for his ability to study surface geologic formations and predict the presence of oil or gas beneath the surface. As a result, he spent a considerable amount of time traveling in the Middle East as a consultant for major oil companies as they explored new horizons for oil reserves after World War II. It did not take long for Rocky’s wife to become disenchanted with his long absences and he returned from a month-long journey to Libya to find her gone. Rocky learned from a mutual friend that she had apparently run off with a young man who was going to strike it rich in the new discoveries around Artesia, New Mexico and had left young Warren with neighbors prior to her hasty departure.

This event was the beginning of an extended period of travel and adventure for Warren. The demand for his father’s consulting expertise increased and was focused almost exclusively at locations throughout the Middle East. Rocky saw no alternative but to take Warren along with him and arrange for tutors in each of the various countries. Warren never found geology very interesting; it seemed like just a study of a bunch of rocks. He had his mother’s vivid imagination and had always dreamed of one day living in one of the more appropriately-named towns in West Texas like Big Spring, No Trees or Levelland, not in a camp in the “middle of the desert”.

Although Warren was initially hesitant about this nomad-like living arrangement with his father, he soon realized the potential opportunities. It became an exciting time for him as he began to develop many friends throughout the region, including some who would later rise to positions of power and influence as their individual nations benefited from the discovery and development of oil reserves. He kept an extensive journal and recorded virtually everything he and his friends experienced as they grew up together in an exciting place and time in history. As he continued to travel and learn, Warren’s fascination with this entire area and its people deepened. His diary became a series of short stories about the people and places he knew and their various adventures. In his stories, the characters were all fictional and he used them mainly as a means to explore the history and culture of the people and places he visited. His short stories eventually grew into novels and he began to enjoy a modest notoriety. One publisher compared him to James Michener and pushed him to write more, but Warren didn’t have the drive or enthusiasm to achieve that level of success. His father’s considerable consulting income provided a very comfortable life-style, which dampened Warren’s motivation. When his father retired, they moved to Houston. Warren continued to write and began teaching creative writing on an adjunct basis at Rice University. His real passion was to encourage young people to express themselves through writing or just keeping a regular journal to document their feelings and impressions. He never married, but settled into a relaxed and comfortable routine, interrupted only by his father’s death a few years later.

Chapter 2: A Challenge with Unintended Consequences

Pearson was committed to fostering an environment of mutual respect in his classroom. He had seen too many of his colleagues develop an “auto-pilot” attitude after teaching the same material year after year. The students in his creative writing class were typically very bright and he enjoyed interacting with them as they discussed various styles of writing.

One afternoon, something quite unexpectedly happened which started from a relatively simple discussion about choosing topics to write about. Pearson had encouraged the students to draw from their own life experiences and explore topics “you know”. A young man raised his hand and asked tentatively, “Professor Pearson, I’ve read all of your novels, short stories, travelogues, etc. I’ve enjoyed them and learned a great deal.”

“And?” queried Pearson

“I don’t mean to be forward or sound disrespectful, or anything like that”

“But?”

“Some reviews of your books compare you to James Michener and other say they are more like Tom Sawyer or Hardy Boys adventures. But, I believe you’re different. You’ve actually lived with some of the most important people and in some of the most important places during perhaps the most important period in recent history. Following your own advice, Sir, why not write about how those same people, places and events are still “at play” today and having a major impact on world events?”

The expression “you could hear a pin drop” accurately described Pearson’s classroom for what seemed like a very long time, but, in fact, only a few brief moments before another student blurted out, “Yeah, there is no doubt that OIL is the most valuable commodity in the world and you WERE THERE! You SAW it all happen!”

And from another student, “You know all the major players; you grew up with them.”

And another. “The people who took you into their homes and taught you about their land and customs are the ones who are shaping much of what happens throughout the world today. Surely there are LOTS of exciting story lines you could develop!”

The next thirty minutes were perhaps the most exciting and energizing of Warren Pearson’s entire time of teaching at Rice. Every student participated. One student proposed a topic and others joined in to expand and enhance it. Each comment built on the previous ones and the atmosphere was electric. “I imagine your diaries are an untapped source of potential story and plot lines, like some undeveloped oil reservoir in the Middle East.” There were shouts of “Yeah” and “Go for It” and “Just Do It” as the bell rang to signal the end of the class.

Pearson’s head was literally bursting with thoughts and emotions as entered his home and walked to the usual sanctity of his den. Typically, he would enjoy a small glass of sherry and settle into his easy chair to read for the evening. But not tonight; he was too alive as vivid memories rushed into his consciousness. He rummaged through the kitchen cabinets and found the Arabic coffee he had received as a gift years before. He took out the dallah (pot) and put in some of the ground beans and regional spices that distinguished this blend and began to brew. He savored the aroma as he poured some into the traditional finjaan (cup) and sat down at his desk, staring at a blank computer screen. All of a sudden, he began to type and soon lost track of time. By the time the sun came up announcing another sub-tropical day in Houston, he had completed the outline of an entire novel. His students were correct; there were untapped and unexplored story lines hidden, not too deeply, among the pleasant memories of his youth. He realized that many of his childhood friends were now some of the most influential people in the world of oil. He also knew that within this group, there were examples of ”the good, the bad and the ugly”.

Over the next several weeks, he wrote and re-wrote his basic outline, adding more detail with each editing. He dedicated a portion of each class to engage his student in the overall process. They made substantial suggestions about plot and characters and encouraged him to explore the “darker” side of the world of oil. The development of significant oil reserves in many Middle Eastern countries had resulted in improved basic living conditions for many people. But, the vast amount of money involved had also brought out the worst behaviors in some organizations and individuals, resulting in numerous instances where greed was excessive and rampant. Pearson sadly recalled how his father had blamed greed for his mother’s sudden departure.

Finally, Pearson settled on a basic theme and story arc that involved a group of individuals who devised a complex scheme to profit from fluctuations in the world price of oil. This group consisted of oil traders, OPEC staff personnel and a few royal family relatives based in key locations around the world. These individuals referred to themselves simply as The Group and reasoned that, if they knew in advance which direction the price would move, they could create significant profits with each movement. They realized that much of the short-term price movement was based on rumor and emotion, primarily fear. Their basic strategy, therefore, was to create the means to influence the emotions of other oil traders in key oil commodity trading markets. And, there was no better way to influence emotion, primarily fear, than through the actions of a previously unknown terrorist group. The primary targets of these terrorists were major oil transportation facilities. They would claim that Saddam was “foolish” to attack individual oil wells as he did in Kuwait.   By attacking oil shipping terminals and maybe even a few tankers, they could achieve a much larger effect on entire economies by disrupting world supply networks. The Group realized that they could orchestrate this entire charade through the Internet and various Social Media platforms and developed a comprehensive “back story” for a new terrorist group known as The New World Order. NWO were not religious extremists and not affiliated with any previous terrorist organizations. Their basic Objective was to “punish” those western countries that had exploited the peoples of the oil-producing nations to support their decadent and immoral life styles. The Group was technically very sophisticated and was able to disguise the ultimate source of everything by routing the Internet activity through a myriad of hosting sites around the world. Similarly, The Group developed a series of sophisticated trading algorithms that would execute trades almost instantaneously and without ever disclosing the ultimate trader. As the NWO threats and rhetoric rose and fell, oil prices would move in concert and The Group would always be on the “right” side of the movement.

Warren Pearson presented this story synopsis to his class and was rewarded with a standing ovation. “My next step is to submit this synopsis to my Publisher. I have some concern about whether she will accept this significant departure from all my previous work, but I guess we’ll know soon enough. Regardless, I want to express my sincere appreciation for the help and support you have all provided. In particular, I knew virtually nothing about the Internet and Social Media and your explanations of how these work and what was possible to do were invaluable. At the beginning f the semester I was just “an analog guy lost in a digital world”! And, for your information, I’ve selected a working title of The Hormuz Conspiracy.”

“Wow, Professor Pearson, how quickly you moved from James Michener to Tom Clancy! I can even see a major movie deal in the not too distant future, something like Gordon Gecko meets ARGO.”

“OK, OK, Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My Publisher may reject this completely and force me to write another Hardy Boys mystery, as you call it. They’ve made a lot of money from that format, you know.”

“Let’s all be serious for just a moment. We’ve come to the end of the semester and should consider what we’ve all learned over the past few months. And, I do mean all of us. From my perspective, I am indebted to you for making this perhaps the most enjoyable class I’ve ever taught and you’ve restored my faith in young people. You have my commitment to keep all of you apprised of what develops with this project. I also commit to share whatever commercial success may ensue with you. You deserve more than simply a mention in the Acknowledgements.”

 

Aaron and Miriam Bulloch were idealistic and ambitious recent college graduates living in Manhattan. Both had recently taken jobs with prestigious firms and were eager to make their mark on the world. Miriam had graduated from Vassar with a degree in Journalism and had been at Random House Publishing less than month when all of the Senior Editors left for summer vacation in the Hamptons. In their haste to depart, they had simply told her to familiarize herself with office procedures and “read a few manuscripts”. With virtually no one else available to sign for the FedEx package from Houston, Warren Pearson’s manuscript landed on Miriam’s desk. She thought she could impress her new employer by reading this latest offering from one of their more successful authors and preparing a professional assessment for their review. She put the FedEx envelope in her briefcase and went home to start reading. She was about a quarter of the way through when her husband arrived home from his new job as a junior analyst at Homeland Security.

“Miri, I‘m home. Where are you?” It wasn’t a very large apartment and it didn’t take long to find her sitting on the floor beside the bed, deeply engrossed in a stack of papers. Aaron was unable to get Miriam’s attention until he knelt down beside her on the floor.

“Look at this.” she said, excitedly. “You have to read this.”

“What is it?”

“It is a manuscript from Warren Pearson, one of our best-selling authors.”

“So? What’s the big deal?”

”Pearson has written many things for Random House over the years and they are typically adventure-type stories based on his youth growing up in the Middle East. This is different. It’s about a major terrorist threat to world oil markets and economies.”

“But, it’s another fictional adventure story, isn’t it?

“I don’t think so. What made Pearson’s stories so captivating was that he actually knew most of the important and influential people in the Middle East because they grew up together. That gave his stories a genuine sense of realism.”

“I still don’t see why you seem so excited.”

“Look, Aaron, if Pearson based this story on actual people, he could be talking about an actual terrorist plot that could have far-reaching effects. I don’t think it is just a fictional story. Or, if it is fiction, it is based on actual facts and events. We can’t just ignore this.”

“Well, you can share your concerns with the management of Random House and let them decide what to do.”

“They’re all gone until after Labor Day and I think we should do something NOW.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Is there someone at your office that you could talk to and tell them about this? Is there someone that would be willing to read this manuscript?”

“I don’t know.”

“Please, Aaron, there is an urgency here and we need to say something; we can’t remain silent.”

“OK, OK, I think I know someone I can talk to.”

The next morning, Aaron Bulloch took Pearson’s manuscript to work and asked his immediate Supervisor to “have a quick look at it”. “My wife got his at her work and thinks there is something serious involved. Personally, I think she wants to make a good impression on her Boss and is making more out of this than it deserves. But, I’ll catch Hell at home if I don’t at least play along.”

For the next few days, Aaron was bombarded with text messages from Miriam asking “if he’s heard anything” and “what does Homeland Security think?” He did not want to be seen as harassing his Supervisor and kept making excuses to Miriam. Late one afternoon, his Supervisor came to his cubicle and said. “You were right, Aaron. There is really nothing here. We’ve checked out this Pearson guy and he’s just a harmless professor who writes interesting fiction. I’m sorry your wife got so concerned. Why don’t you kids go out to a nice dinner as a “Thank You” from me and put it on your expense account? You can return this manuscript to your wife and get back to your other analysis projects tomorrow morning.”

Aaron was much relieved with this outcome and looked forward to a pleasant dinner with Miriam. Neither of them could imagine the unintended consequences of their actions or the series of events they had set in motion.

A few days later, two agents from Homeland Security, a “Mr. Smith” and a “Mr. Jones” arrived in Houston and “escorted” Warren Pearson to a secure government house outside Mexia, Texas to begin an intensive interrogation process.

Chapter 3: Multiple Dilemmas

Dudley was still laughing when Ray drove through the gate at La Vida Aureo.   He had really enjoyed seeing his friends after such a long absence. Their discussions were always lively and stimulating and he realized how much he missed the companionship. He had promised them that he would find a way to get together more often even though they had chided him about living in an “Old Folks’ Home”. Dudley had only hinted about his role as La Vida Aureo’s resident Handyman and, despite Ray’s persistent questioning, mentioned nothing about also becoming the House Detective. But, he knew Ray’s curiosity was aroused and that he would talk to Frank Garcia at his earliest convenience. Dudley was not too surprised to find Isabella in the lobby when he entered the main building. “Her project must be more important that I realized earlier, he thought to himself. I guess I’d better let her tell me what’s on her mind.”

“Let’s go to my office, said Isabella without bothering to say Hello.”

Dudley followed Isabella into her office and she closed the door before sitting down at her desk. “I’ve been going over the monthly expenses for La Vida Aureo and identified some rather disturbing trends.”

Still in a buoyant mood, Dudley said something he quickly regretted. ”So, all those years studying to get your MBA paid off?”

“Look, Doc, this is serious.”

“Sorry. Please continue.”

“Remember, one of the main reasons Señora Jaramillo hired me was precisely because of my analytical skills. Too many non-profit organizations fail or are constantly struggling because a well-meaning Executive Director doesn’t “mind the store”. Too many EDs are afraid of the numbers or think that financial management is a “dirty business” and should not be part of a non-profit organization. One of my MBA professors often reminded us that if an organization, even a non-profit, doesn’t consistently achieve a profit margin, they will be unable to achieve their Mission, no matter how noble. In fact, there was a sign over his desk that said “No Margin, No Mission”. Initially, I thought that was a pretty cold-hearted view, but I now realize the value of that perspective.”

“It appears, from my analysis, that we are spending an increasing amount of money each month on durable medical supplies, everything from diapers and bedsheets to oxygen tanks and some diabetes-related supplies. So far, it has been mostly small stuff, but it adds up and the total keeps increasing. Some of these items are charged directly to individual residents, but some are part of our General Supplies. Regardless, we need to get a handle on this and I could use your help because the financial data are not timely enough. By the time everything gets posted in our financial system and I receive the necessary expense reports, another month has gone by. If I am to take any type of corrective action, I can’t wait that long.”

“I’m sorry for trying to be clever. Of course you have my total support. What can I do to help?”

“I’m not sure, but I was thinking that perhaps you could construct some sort of supply cabinet that made it easier to see, or count the amount of each item we had on hand at any time. Right now, all our supplies are kept in one main Store Room and lots of people have access to it. I don’t want to keep everything locked up; that would send the wrong message to our Staff. So, I was thinking that some sort of cabinet or shelving that was calibrated would allow the Shift Supervisors to take inventory more often by just looking at the shelves and provide me with up-to-date information.”

“Do you suspect that someone is actually stealing supplies?

“I don’t know and I obviously don’t want to accuse someone without considerable proof. It troubles me deeply to think that one of our staff would consider stealing. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many other plausible explanations. I am growing increasingly anxious and want to resolve this matter before one of our Residents complains that they are being over-charged for supplies. Regardless, it is not good for business”.

“I think I understand what you want and let me give some thought to how that would look. I have some preliminary ideas, but want to make some sketches for you to look at before I start building anything.”

“I appreciate it, Doc, and I’m confident that you share my sense of urgency and concern.”

“Certainly, Isabella, you have my total support.”

A few days later, Dudley showed Isabella some sketches for a modular shelving system that could be installed easily in the main Store Room. There was a basic module for each major type of supply and, within each module there was a calibrated marking resembling a tape measure to indicate the quantity present. “I’ve used thin pieces of wood to further separate the nodules so that each “pigeon hole” will only hold a few items. That way, a Supervisor can quickly take a rough inventory by simply looking at the shelving units.”

“This looks great, Doc. I knew I could count on you. How soon can you get started installing these, at least for the specific items that we use the most of and seem to be most troubling to me, like diapers?”

“I’ll have a “diaper module” installed by the end of the week, if that’s OK. You’ll need to talk to the Supervisors about their new responsibility and I’ll explain how the system works and prepare some sort of log sheet for their use.”

The basic concept of La Vida Aureo was to provide a continuum of care with apartments and casitas for totally independent living through stages with increasing support to full-time staff support for residents who could no longer care for themselves.   All levels of Assisted Living were housed in the main building, separated into floors and wings. The design of the physical structure incorporated significant flexibility so that the respective space allotted for each level of care could be modified as the composition of La Vida Areo’s resident population changed over time. The sections designated for assisted living and the memory care units were highly self-sufficient with their own utilities, laundry and some food preparation capabilities. This design element provided a higher level of security for the residents as well as more timely support.

Martina Trujillo had worked as a housekeeper at La Vida Aureo for over two years in the Assisted Living Section. Recently, she was also working additional hours in the Memory Care Section to earn extra money. She always found the work interesting as she observed the variation in mental acuity of the residents in these parts of the complex. Some in the Assisted Living Section had full metal capability, but needed some assistance with basic physical activities. Others were physically fit, but had varying degrees of deteriorating mental capacity. And, these conditions could change on a daily basis with some Residents; one day they were perfectly alert and pleasant and withdrawn or sullen the next. All of these conditions and variations were more pronounced in the Memory Care Section. Her observations were important to Martina as they gave her perspective on her own parents. She was painfully aware that both her father and mother seemed to be declining a little bit each time she visited them.

Her twin brother, Martin, was a driver at their Uncle’s commercial laundry, Los Compadres Laundry. Los Compadres currently had the contract for laundry for La Vida Aureo’s Assisted Living and Memory Care Units. The in-house laundry facilities were for small personal items. Towels, bed linens and other heavy-duty materials that were often soiled due to “accidents” from some residents went to Los Compadres Laundry.

Martina and Martin knew just how important the jobs at La Vida Aureo were to their lives and support of their families. They understood and deeply respected the fact that they were part of La Doña Jaramillo’s commitment to providing opportunities for the community.

Recently, Martina’s visits to her parents’ home had become more frequent and now she found herself stopping almost every evening on her way home from work. One evening, she discovered that her father had soiled his clothes and seemed unaware of the situation. When Martina asked her mother about it, she began to sob and said, “I tried to mention it to him, but he just gets angry. And, I am too weak to do anything about it myself.”

Martina was able to persuade her father to get out of his soiled clothes which she put in a large plastic bag to take home with her. “Don’t worry, Mama, I will think of something.”

“This has happened before, mi hija, but he hides his dirty pants in the trash. He refuses to talk about it and he refuses to go out of the house. He just sits there all day watching TV. He won’t even go to church with me anymore, not even to the Senior Center.”

As Martina drove home, she realized that the situation would only get worse as her mother could soon be in a similar condition to her father. At the present, her mother was still mentally sharp but age had taken its toll on her physically. She knew it would become increasingly burdensome but she could not neglect her own small children. After a restless night, she took the bag of soiled clothes and linens to her brother at work and asked him if he could include these few items with a larger load. “Just this once, Martin, she pleaded. I feel so overwhelmed and Papa and Mama are getting so helpless.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but don’t say anything to Tio Sanchez; I don’t want to get on his bad side.”

Fortunately, the next day was busy at work and Martina’s was able to put her problems aside for a while. In mid-afternoon, her Supervisor asked her to come to the Memory Care Section to help with a major clean up situation. A resident had suffered a total loss of control and there were soiled clothes strewn throughout the small apartment.   When the clean up was completed and Martina was relaxing with a cup of coffee, she was suddenly overcome with the realization that this episode could have easily been her own parents, particularly her father. And, there was no housekeeping staff to deal with the situation, just her. In desperation and without much hesitation, she went to the Store Room and took as many adult diapers as she could conceal under her smock and headed for the parking lot. She placed the diapers in the trunk of her car and hurried back inside before anyone noticed her absence.

She stopped at Los Compadres on the way home and was disappointed to learn that Martin had been unable to get their parents’ laundry done. “It was crazy-busy here today, he said. I’ll try to get it taken care of tomorrow, I promise.”

Martina had intended to only stay a few minutes at her parents’ house, but found the situation much like the previous day. She was able to get her father cleaned up and, over his very strenuous objections, into a clean diaper for the evening. She put the soiled clothes into a plastic bag to drop off with Martin on her way to work in the morning. She placed all of the additional diapers in the bathroom with strict instructions to put on a clean one before going to bed.

This became a routine for Martina over the next few weeks. Her father’s condition remained about the same and his “accidents” were less frequent. She was able to provide an adequate supply of diapers by stealing a few at a time from the Store Room and hiding them in her car. One day, she also took a set of rubberized bed sheets.

Martina Trujillo remained terribly upset and plagued with a horrible sense of guilt. She knew it was a sin to steal and another to conceal her actions from everyone, her parents, her brother and even her husband. She was painfully aware that the situation with her parents would continue to deteriorate and they would soon be unable to care for themselves. There was a limit to what she could do without jeopardizing the well being of her own small children. There was nothing like La Vida Aureo in her neighborhood and, even if there were, the family simply could not afford the kind of constant care her parents would require.   Her mother never asked about the source of the diapers. Martina assumed that her mother believed Martina was purchasing them someplace, or more likely, that they were given to her at the place she worked.

When she arrived at her parents’ home one evening, a woman friend of her mother’s from church was visiting. They two women were sitting on the front porch, holding hands and both were crying softly. “Martina, her mother said, you remember Celesta Solis, my good friend from church?”

“Yes. Mama. Señora Solis, how are you? Why are you both crying?”

“We are sad because both of our husbands are sick.”

“Mama, Papa is not sick; he is just getting older. And so are both of you.”

“Yes, Martina, but we do not have those “accidents” like our men do.”

“I know, Mama, but I am taking care of that for you.”

“Bless you, my child. I do not know how I could manage without your help. I’ve been telling Celesta about all that you do for your poor Papa. “

“I wonder, Martina, said Señora Solis, if you could find it in your heart to ask for a few of those diapers for my poor Juan?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your Mama was just telling me how that fancy place where you work has so many of these that they allow you to take a few home for your poor Papa.”

Martina didn’t want to embarrass her mother in front of her friend and was trying to think of something to say when her mother said, “It is alright, Martina, I gave Celesta a few diapers from the ones we have. I knew you wouldn’t mind. You can just bring a few extra next time.”

Martina was trapped and simply nodded her head.

After this relatively innocent episode, the situation escalated. Too often, when she stopped at her parents’ house, there was another friend sitting on the porch with her mother, deep in troubled conversation. Each of these friends had been given a few diapers with the promise that there were more available whenever needed. Martina was no longer able to just hide a few diapers under her smock and began carrying a backpack to conceal her theft.

Chapter 5: An Innovative Approach to a Troubling Situation

Martina Trujillo was busy with her routine duties when she noticed Matthew Dudley installing some new type of shelving in the Store Room. Later that day, she learned that the Supervisors from the Assisted Living and Memory Care units had a meeting with Isabella about something. She had continued stealing diapers and other small items for her mother and her mother’s friends which was causing increased guilt and sleepless nights for her. She lived in constant fear that she would be caught and, at the very least, lose her job. Martina just knew that the new shelving was proof that someone suspected her. She decided to seek out Father Lopez, her priest at Our Lady of the Valley church.

Martina decided that she must bare her soul and tell Father Lopez the entire story and ask for forgiveness and guidance. She was only able to say, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” when Father Lopez interrupted.

“My Child, I have heard how you are caring for your parents, particularly your father. It is a wonderful thing and our Holy Father is proud of you. I believe you have been called by God to do His Work and help those in our community who are less fortunate.”

“Oh, Father Lopez, it is all I can do to care for my own parents and my own small children. I don’t see how I could possibly do much more.”

Father Lopez placed his hand on Martina’s forehead and said, “Bless you, my child. You can do more. I’m sure that fancy place would not miss a few more diapers and other things that would be so helpful to my flock. You work in a place with many resources for its wealthy residents. I ask you, in God’s name, to use your position there to help. Jesus will guide and protect you. Help the less fortunate as He did.”

Martina was unaware that Father Lopez had spread the word at the local Senior Center which was actually a room in the basement at the Our Lady of the Valley parish church. He gave Martina a shopping list that included more of the basic items and some specific supplies such as oxygen tanks and nutrition supplements; there was also a need for supplies to monitor diabetes.

Martina was shocked and terrified. She had gone to Father Lopez for comfort and with the hope that he could provide a way out of this very difficult situation. Instead, she found herself in much deeper than before. She needed to talk to someone and tell them what was happening. She was very close to her brother; maybe he could help. Martina went to Los Compadres to talk to Martin about what she was doing and how bad she felt. “You can’t stop now, Martin said. These people are our neighbors and extended family and we must stick together. And, Father Lopez promised that Jesus would guide and protect you. How can I help?”

Martin suggested that Martina use one of the large laundry carts to smuggle even more supplies out of the building. She would simply package the items in large plastic bags and place them toward to bottom of the cart among the soiled bedsheets. When the Los Compadres van arrived at the loading dock, Martin would be present to sort the laundry and move the designated cart to the rear of the van. At the Laundry, the supplies would be retrieved and delivered to the church.

The operation had become more complex and a greater variety of supplies were taken from La Vida Aureo. Martina developed a routine of taking a few supplies from a number of residents’ rooms. She chose those residents who were least aware of their surroundings or who had supplies on hand only for emergencies. She was careful to not take too much from a single resident or not too often. She stopped taking things directly from the main Store Room because she had seen Dudley in there and knew he would be suspicious of her. Her fear of discovery grew.

One afternoon, Dudley watched Martina carry an armload of diapers from the Store Room. He thought that somewhat unusual, but decided to just observe what she did next. Martina went into a series of residents’ rooms and left a few in each room. By the time she reached the end of the hallway, she had delivered all the diapers she had originally taken from the Store Room. Dudley chided himself for being suspicious and jumping to conclusions about her actions.

Later in that week, Dudley was working in the bathroom of one of the apartments repairing a leaking toilet. Martina entered the apartment but did not see him because the bathroom door was partially closed. As he rose to leave, he noticed that Martina had brought the laundry cart into the apartment. He thought that unusual because he had watched her carry supplies into each apartment in her arms and then carry any soiled sheets out into the hall. As he continued to watch from behind the partially closed door, Martina took a handful of clean diapers and a rubber bedsheet and placed them in a large black plastic bag and put it deep in the laundry cart.

Toward the end of the day, Dudley related this observation to Isabella who was deeply upset. “Martina has been with us for some time and her supervisor always speaks highly of her and her commitment to the residents. I am reluctant to act in haste, particularly with an employee that has such an excellent record. Would you please continue to observe her movements as well as the other housekeepers in that section? Let’s just see what happens and whether there are any others involved.”

“There are always minor repairs to be done and I can spend more time during the day working throughout that section.”

Dudley was in the basement, retrieving plumbing supplies from the maintenance room when he noticed the Los Compadres van arrive at the loading dock. As he was turning off the light, he saw Martina exit the service elevator pushing a laundry cart. Dudley stepped back into the shadow of the room to see what happened next. A young man jumped out of the van and Martina rushed up to hug him. The two of them worked quickly to remove a large black plastic bag from the laundry cart and place it in an empty cart near the front of the van. They hugged again and Martina quickly disappeared into the service elevator. Moving at a much slower pace, the young man wheeled the remaining full laundry carts into the van, closed the loading bay door and presumably drove away.

Dudley remained in the basement for quite a while, reviewing everything he had witnessed. It appeared to him that the laundry cart was the method being used to remove supplies from La Vida Aureo. He reasoned that Martina was collecting supplies during her rounds, concealing them in a laundry cart and delivering them to the loading dock. He didn’t know who her accomplice was and how Los Compadres Laundry Service was involved, but he knew he had to act. He knew that the most direct approach was to be at the loading dock and confront Martina and her accomplice. But, he remained troubled as to why a trusted employee would be involved in such a flagrant activity.

After a sleepless night, he went to see Isabella and told her all that he had seen. “I believe I know why we seem to be using so many consumable supplies in certain sections of the building, but I am struggling with understand the rationale of Martina’s actions. From everything we know about her, this is totally out of character. I cannot imagine that she would jeopardize her job here much less risk being arrested. With your approval, Isabella, I recommend that you and I together intercept the next exchange and try to understand what is happening.”

“I agree, Doc. This makes no sense to me and I don’t want to ruin someone’s life by having them go to jail. Regardless, her actions are wrong and must stop. I am responsible for this entire facility and that is obviously more important than whatever Martina’s motivation is.

Dudley and Isabella were waiting in the darkened maintenance supply room near the loading dock the next time Martina wheeled the cart in. They watched as the Los Compadres van arrived and Martina and her accomplice began to transfer the cart’s contents to the van. Dudley stepped out of the room and took the cart from Martina and pushed it away from the open door. He emptied the cart onto the floor and found several large plastic bags stuffed with diapers and other supplies.

Isabella was irate but Dudley restrained her from going totally ballistic. She marched Martina and Martin to her office with Dudley following behind. They hung their heads and Martina began to cry. The entire desperate story came out between sobs. “We are sorry. Please. We cannot afford to lose our jobs and cannot afford to care for our parents.” With Isabella’s prodding, Martina reluctantly described how the situation had begun and how it had escalated. “Martin and I know what we were doing was wrong, said Martina through her tears. We never expected things to get so far out of hand. Many of the older people in our neighborhood are suffering and there is nothing available to help.”

Dudley saw that Isabella was moved by Martina’s plight, but knew that her first priority was La Vida Aureo. She was obviously struggling with what to do with this complex situation. Having lived in Albuquerque all of her life, she was painfully aware of the large economic disparities that existed across the City. It was apparent to Dudley that she wanted to help, but there wasn’t an obvious way out. Just as Isabella was about to speak, Dudley said, “Wait. There may be another approach, but we’ll need help from several people to make it work.”

“I assume, he continued, that the companies that manufacture these supplies have some off-spec or seconds-type products that they just throw away because they do not want to include them with their perfect products. In many cases, these seconds are perfectly usable, there is just some minor defect, like the adhesive strip on a diaper is slightly crooked. Is there some way we could intercept these materials and direct them to the people Martina has been trying to help?”

“That’s not a bad idea, Doc”, added Isabella. She had calmed down a bit and was eager to find a reasonable solution to the situation. “My husband still works at Ethicon and I’ll ask him if this approach is even possible; he’ll know the right person to ask. We could have the products shipped here and Martina and Martin could still take them to the church.”

“No, no, no!” Martina sat up in the chair and stopped crying. “I know what I did was wrong and I do not want to be part of this. I don’t want people to think that I am still stealing from La Vida Aureo. This place and the people here are too important to me. Can’t we find another way?”

“And, we must find an appropriate way to deal with Father Lopez’ actions, said Isabella, but that is certainly not my department. I will contact Father Michael at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and ask him how to proceed with this delicate matter. In the meantime, Martina, I need to decide what to do about your stealing. You have been an excellent employee and I would hate to lose you, but I simply cannot ignore what you’ve done.”

“I understand, Señora Duncan. I beg your forgiveness and I will do anything to make up for my sins against you and La Vida Aureo. Just please do not send me away.”

“Let me think about it.”

The next day Isabella met Father Michael for coffee and poured out her heart about the recent episode with Martina and her conflict about what to do next. “At the very least, I ask you to intercede with the Bishop about Father Lopez and his behavior with Martina.”

Father Michael acknowledged that Lopez’ actions were totally inappropriate. “He’s another one of the old school priests that has been at his church far too long. Most of Our Lady of the Valley’s parishioners are elderly and trying to live on a meager pension or with support from their family. They are not prepared for the consequences of aging and Father Lopez does not seem to understand or be of much help. I will speak to the Bishop immediately. If you agree, I will also request that the Bishop ask other churches in more affluent neighborhoods of the Diocese to donate supplies and money to Our Lady of the Valley.”

“Oh, Michael, that is more than I could have asked for.”

“I would encourage you, Isabella, to find it in your heart to forgive Martina. She was placed in an extremely difficult situation by people she loved and trusted.”

Isabella returned to La Vida Aureo with a renewed spirit and the confidence that there was a way forward. Working with Dudley, Father Michael and her husband, they developed a plan to help those in greatest need at Our Lady of the Valley. The Bishop quietly began a search for a new priest while redirecting Father Lopez to learning more about the problems facing the elderly at the Senior Center. Dudley agreed to coordinate the delivery of off-spec and seconds-type supplies directly to the church. Martina did not lose her job and approached her regular duties with an increased sense of purpose and commitment.

Late one afternoon, Isabella turned to Matthew Dudley and said, “Once again, you have been a tremendous help in dealing with another rather complicated and involved situation in a very calm and professional manner. And, we ultimately did some good. It’s nice to have a positive experience around here for a change.”

Chapter 4: A New Guest at La Vida Aureo

Dudley finished installing the first modules in the Store Room and went to report his progress to Isabella. “I installed a “diaper module” in the main Store Room and should have modules for towels and linens completed and installed by the end of the week. I’d like to watch things for a few days and see if any of the Supervisors have suggestions for improvement. I have a number of small repairs in that section f the building so it will be easy to swing by throughout the day.”

“That is simply wonderful, Doc. By the way, Hannah Halverstrom called this morning and wants to stop by later today.”

“Has she sold my house?” Dudley asked expectedly.

“I don’t know. She didn’t mention it. She said she wants to talk about a potential new resident, someone who was referred to her by one of her government friends. I’d appreciate it if you’d sit in with us; it will give you a chance to ask her about any progress on your house.”

Hannah Halverstrom arrived at La Vida Aureo to meet with Isabella concerning a potential new Resident. “By the way, several people have looked at Doc’s house in Cerrillos and I believe one young couple will make an offer. Both are artists and looking for a place to paint. Both have seen interest in their work in Santa Fe so they want to be near the Canyon Road galleries.”

Hannah continued, “A long-time friend of mine, Bob Witherspoon, who claims he is just a Civil Servant for the Federal Government, but I know he’s a section chief for the FBI, is trying to find a suitable place for someone he knows, a Mr. Wilson. He contacted me because this person currently has a home in Algodones that he’s asked me to sell. This person has early stage Alzheimer’s which has progressed to the point where he can no longer live alone. Ultimately, he wants to move back to Texas, probably Houston, so his stay at La Vida Aureo would only be temporary. This Mr. Wilson must have had a really good job with the Government because he has his own full-time doctor. He is getting some medication to slow the progress of the disease and his doctor manages this.”

Isabella said, “I think we have a vacancy in our Memory Care Unit to accommodate this gentleman. We’ll just need to complete some paperwork and prepare the room, but I see no reason why we cannot satisfy your request.”

A few days later, a large, black SUV arrived at La Vida Aureo and a doctor, an orderly and a patient in a wheelchair disembarked. Isabella Duncan was waiting for them as they entered the lobby. The doctor introduced himself as Dr. Chilton and his patient as Harry Wilson. “Mr. Wilson is suffering from an advanced case of Alzheimer’s as well as some other complications that affect his behavior. Lately, he has experienced a series of paranoid episodes where he believes that there are people intent on doing him harm. I’ve been treating him with a series of medications by injection to alleviate these major symptoms. Over the next week or so, I plan to switch his medication to pills which should be easier for your Staff to monitor. I intend to stop in every other day to check on his condition and adjust his medication as necessary. All I require is that you prepare meals for him and deliver them to his room. The Agency he worked for is arranging a more permanent location so he should be here only a few weeks. I trust those arrangements are satisfactory with you. If so, perhaps we could complete any necessary paperwork; I have other patients I must tend to this afternoon.”

“This is somewhat unusual, replied Isabella, but you come highly recommended and we are glad to provide whatever assistance you need, Dr. Chilton.”

The trio followed Isabella to a deluxe suite in the Memory Care section. She left them to settle Mr. Wilson in his new surroundings and went to meet with the Section Supervisor to review the unusual requests of their new resident, or guest.

 

Chapter 6: A Conspiracy Revealed

Over a month had passed since Mr. Wilson first arrived at La Vida Aureo. Based on what little he knew of the situation, Dudley was quite surprised to find Wilson sitting alone under the Navajo willow tree in the courtyard. Dudley was unsure of exactly how to proceed and decided the safest approach was to attempt pleasant conversation.  Wilson seemed hesitant at first but quickly warmed to Dudley and they were soon engaged in a lively discussion.  Wilson asked about La Vida Aureo, where it was located and other general information.

Dudley shared this experience with Isabella later that afternoon while they were reviewing the latest data from the supply inventory, which had returned to normal. “That is most curious.  But, reminded Isabella, some Alzheimer’s patients have periods of clarity and lucidness.  I would not get my hopes up that he is this way all the time.  Remember, he is under constant care by his own physician and is only here temporarily.”

Dr. Chilton came less frequently and Mr. Wilson spent more time in the courtyard. Dudley made a point of trying to engage him in conversation each time he saw him and  Wilson began to tell Dudley about himself and about growing up in the Middle East. Dudley had done some reading about Alzheimer’s and knew that people suffering from this disease often can recall many details about the past, but little or nothing from the present.

One afternoon, Wilson seemed particularly anxious when he saw Dudley approach.  “My doctor gave me these pills to take every few hours, but I ran out several days ago.  I noticed that the pills made me feel all foggy, but things seem much clearer now that I’ve stopped taking them.  My doctor hasn’t been back and I have no way to get this prescription refilled.”

“I’ll check with Isabella and see if we have some way to contact your doctor. I’m sure he’s just been busy.”

“No. Wait.  Didn’t you tell me your name was Doc?  I need to talk to someone I can trust.  I feel as though there is something going on.  I’ve been remembering more and more these past few days since I ran out of these pills.  Something terrible is happening to me and I think it has something to do with my new book.”

Dudley grew concerned that maybe Mr. Wilson was having some sort of a serious delusion and that he should call someone. He rose to leave.

“No. Wait.  I’m perfectly fine.  Please let me tell you what I remember.  My name is Warren Pearson and I’m a writer and a professor at Rice University in Houston.  A few months ago, some men who said they were from The Government came to my home and told me that my life was in grave danger because I had exposed some international plot concerning oil markets in my latest book.  I tried to tell them that my writing was entirely fiction, but to no avail. They took me to a small house somewhere where they said I would be safe. They said a group of religious fundamentalists had issued a fatwa on me and there were agents searching to kill me. They started giving me drugs that they said were for my nerves and to help with my anxiety.  I repeatedly tried to tell them that the manuscript was pure fiction and that I had written it entirely by myself.

“Everything gets really confused after that.  I remember these agents telling me that I was no longer safe anywhere in Texas and they looked for someplace more isolated.  They moved me to another house and I think I remember them saying something about New Mexico. Then I arrived here somehow.”

Dudley listened carefully to the story. Despite Wilson’s apparent clarity, Dudley remained uncertain about what to do.  He gradually excused himself and went looking for Isabella.  “Isabella, I don’t know what to believe. I know very little about Alzheimer’s and cannot tell whether Mr. Wilson is delusional or not.  But, even if any of his story is true, we have to do something.”

“I agree, Doc.  Let’s do this.  You continue to engage Mr. Wilson in pleasant conversation and I’ll get Hannah in here to talk.  Maybe she can shed some light on Mr. Wilson from the guy who got her involved.  I remember she said he worked for some government agency.  In the meantime, I’ll see if there is a “Warren Pearson” on the Internet and if he’s anything like our Mr. Wilson.”

Hannah arrived at La Vida Aureo early the next morning and went directly to Isabella’s office where she and Doc were waiting. Dudley briefly reviewed his conversations with Mr. Wilson. Isabella added, “I’ve checked out “Warren Pearson” on the Internet and he has lots of books, etc. for sale on Amazon.  And, the picture certainly looks like our Mr. Wilson although he seems to have aged quite a bit.”

Hannah asked, “So do you think this story about a fatwa is true? Is he in some kind of witness protection program? Remember Salmon Rushdie and what he went through with the Ayatollah?

“OK, but it looks like he’s being drugged and by people from our own Government. What is that all about?”

“I don’t like the smell of this, said Isabella. We must do something to protect Mr. Wilson or Pearson until we get to the bottom of this.  Doc, can you and OJ take him to Cerrillos for a few days and away from here?”

Then, Isabella turned to Hannah and said, “Hannah, I think it’s time for you to put on your Hard-ass Hat and talk to your government buddy Witherspoon and see what he knows about all of this.”

Robert Witherspoon agreed to meet Hannah for coffee and she briefed him on the recent revelations at La Vida Aureo concerning Mr. Wilson. “Look, Bob, I sense that something is terribly wrong here.  I’m talking to you because you were the one who brought Mr. Wilson to me in the first place with the sale of the house in Algodones as bait.  You always been straight with me in the past and I’m asking you to at least talk to this guy who claims his name is actually Warren Pearson and get to the bottom of this.”

“OK, OK, Hannah.  I’ll talk to him, but I’m just a middle man on this one.  I was doing a favor for the local Homeland Security guys.  They kept me in the dark about the details, but that’s not unusual for them.  But, if half of what you’re telling me is true, I really should meet this Mr. Wilson or Pearson.  Can you arrange that?”

“Yes and I won’t even blindfold you to take you there.”

“Isn’t he still at La Vida Aureo?”

“No. We thought it best that his personal doctor not be able to visit him for a while and give him more medicine.  It’s not too far a drive if you’re up for the excitement of driving toward Santa Fe on I-25.”

“Let’s get going.”

Hannah Halverstrom and Robert Witherspoon braved the afternoon traffic on I-25 heading north toward Santa Fe. They drove the gravel Waldo Canyon Road into Cerrillos and parked behind the adobe house with a For Sale sign in the front yard.  Matthew Dudley was waiting in the living room when they entered.  “Doc, this is a friend of mine, Robert Witherspoon, with the FBI. Bob, this is Matthew Dudley the person at La Vida Aureo that your Mr. Wilson confided in.”

“It’s certainly a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dudley. I don’t want to appear rude, but I really need to talk to Mr. Wilson as soon as possible.  Is he here?”

“He and OJ are in the out building. I’ll go and get them.”

Witherspoon had asked everyone to leave so that he and Pearson could speak privately, but Pearson insisted that Dudley remain.  Dudley sat across the room, but was able to hear Pearson repeat essentially the same story to Witherspoon as he had revealed under the Navajo willow in the courtyard. For the next hour, Robert Witherspoon listened intently as Warren Pearson told the story of his recent manuscript and the subsequent events involving Homeland Security.  By now, it had been over a week since Pearson had any drugs and his recollection of things was even more detailed. When Pearson finished his story and answered a series of follow-up questions, Witherspoon asked everyone to come back into the house.  “Mr. Wilson, or should I say Professor Pearson, has related a very fascinating and troubling series of events.  I cannot promise anything except that I will make some inquiries immediately and get back to you as quickly as possible, hopefully in a few days.  In the meantime, I believe it is prudent for Professor Pearson to remain here and away from Albuquerque and La Vida Aureo.  Is that possible?”

Dudley spoke up, “This is actually my house and he can stay here until you advise differently.  I’m sure OJ and I can manage.”

Hannah and Witherspoon drove back to Albuquerque in silence. She knew him well enough to provide him space to contemplate everything he had heard from Pearson.  He retrieved his car from the La Vida Aureo Guest parking lot and drove straight to his office. When he arrived, Agent Manny Apodaca from Homeland Security was sitting in his office and he didn’t look very happy.  He spoke before the door had closed completely.

“Where’s Wilson?” Apodaca demanded.  “Our doctor showed up at the retirement place this afternoon and he was gone.”

“It’s nice to see you too.” quipped Witherspoon.  “How should I know?  Didn’t you tell me he had an advanced case of Alzheimer’s?  Maybe he wandered off someplace.”

“We’ve set up a search grid and have people out looking for him as we speak.  But, I decided to come here and see what you knew, or maybe that real estate friend of yours.”

“Sorry, I can’t help you. I just arranged for him to get into that retirement place like you asked me to do and for someone to sell the house in Algodones.”

“I hope you’re not screwing with me, Bob.  Wilson is a very valuable Homeland Security resource as we need to locate him ASAP.”

“I’m sure your guys will find him someplace nearby, but if I hear anything, I’ll be sure to call.”

Witherspoon’s professional curiosity had been raised a full notch by the agent’s visit.  He immediately booked the next flight to Houston and then on to New York. He had time to quickly search the Internet and print as much material as he could find about Warren Pearson, including all his publications, for reading on the plane.

At Rice University, he was able to talk to the Dean in Professor Pearson’s department who also arranged a meeting with a few students from Pearson’s most recent creative writing class.  These students described the evolution of The Hormuz Conspiracy manuscript, including their challenge to Pearson that had started it all.  Witherspoon was unprepared to answer when they asked about Pearson’s current whereabouts and why the FBI was involved.  Witherspoon heard himself tell them, “Professor Pearson has been travelling and doing research for his next project.  Some of the background material is a bit sensitive and had to be cleared through us.”  He hoped that would suffice because these students looked too sharp to be fooled for very long.

In New York, he went directly to the offices of Random House to inquire about the manuscript Pearson had submitted.  Witherspoon used the same premise regarding the FBI’s interest as he had used in Houston. A Senior Editor informed Witherspoon that Random House had published quite a few of Pearson’s novels and short stories and that his most recent manuscript was being reviewed.  He remained polite and vague in his questions; his main information objective was simply to confirm the existence of Pearson’s Hormuz Conspiracy manuscript and that it had come to Random House.  His visit was brief; he thanked the Editor for her time and cooperation and left.

It did not take long for the water cooler telegraph at Random House to begin discussing the visit from an FBI agent and his interest in Warren Pearson’s latest manuscript. Miriam Bulloch nervously called her husband to inform him of the visit. Witherspoon was still in a taxi on his way to La Guardia when Aaron notified his supervisor that an FBI agent had showed up at Random House to inquire about the Pearson manuscript.

By the time Bob Witherspoon arrived at his office in Albuquerque the next morning, he had a pretty good understanding of how this entire misunderstanding happened and believed that it should be relatively easy to clear up.  He was surprised to find TWO Homeland Security agents waiting for him, Agent Apodaca and his Regional Director, Agent Richard Canfield.

“Look, Witherspoon, said Canfield abruptly, what were you doing in Houston and New York?  You told me that you didn’t know anything about this situation or about Mr. Wilson.”

“I was just trying to gather more pieces of this puzzle.  It looks to me like you guys really overreacted.  I see this as a terrible misunderstanding and that you’ve really trampled on Professor Pearson’s rights.  Oh, yeah, I know “Wilson’s” real name is Warren Pearson.”

“Get real. Bob, these international terrorist activities are serious business and this is totally outside your jurisdiction.”

“Yeah, but there is no terrorist plot.  Pearson’s work is fiction, pure and simple.”

“Let me lay out the reality for you. The United Sates can’t remain safe from terrorist attacks unless it remains vigilant and pro-active.  We know that we have to act quickly and aggressively if there is even a whiff of something.”

“True enough; I agree, but this is FICTION.  Didn’t you guys do any background checking on Pearson?”

“But the situation he described could be true and then we’d really have a mess on our hands.”

“Wait a minute.  Don’t tell me that you guys actually believed it.  I just hope you haven’t been telling other people that this scenario IS true!”

“You know that the general public is squeamish and lacks the courage to assert the United States’ rightful role in the world. They want to see the United States retreat from its role as global superpower toward a policy of isolationism. We believe that another America First movement like the 1930s and 40s could develop, which almost cost us the War. What we’re doing is far better than waiting for another Pearl Harbor or 9-11 to act.”

“What exactly did you guys do?”

“We modified the Pearson story line a bit and met with a number of key Congressmen and outlined a comprehensive program of action. We told them that we had discovered this international terrorist activity against the world-wide oil markets through some solid undercover work and some surveillance drones. There was no need to mention Pearson; we just had to keep him out of circulation. The timing was perfect.  With its increased oil production, the United States can exert significant influence throughout the world without too many boots on the ground. It didn’t take too much persuasion for these Congressmen to jump at the unique opportunity we provided.”

“So, your plan was to keep Pearson drugged up and in a retirement home … forever?”

“It was for the greater good.”

“Well, gentlemen, your plan failed.  Pearson has recovered a bit and I have his version of what happened, including what you told him.  The reason I went to Houston and New York was to verify his version of events and fill in some of the missing pieces.”

“What are you going to do?”

“This is outrageous and Homeland Security has really gone too far.  But, the public already distrusts all government intelligence agencies, not to mention their opinion of Congress.  Here’s my proposal.  Your official story will be a major misunderstanding and we’ll keep the details of your actions between us.  I’ll leave it to you to unravel the mess you created with your Congressional buddies.  Tell them you already broke up The Group and killed off the head of NWO. Whatever.  Just don’t get TOO clever. Remember, the Air Force is still answering questions about Roswell!  And, you need to do something for Pearson.  I’ll be glad to deliver it, but it needs to come from you.  Finally, I’ll take care of the folks at the retirement home.”

Agents Canfield and Apodaca were definitely not pleased with this outcome, but Canfield was quick to realize that there were other options … always. He motioned to Apodaca that it was time to leave, nodded to Witherspoon and left his office.

Once in their car, Canfield began to lay out how they would proceed despite this minor set-back. “Look, our basic concern is that an isolationist movement is gaining traction.  Our strategy to counteract this internal threat calls for the United States to use oil as a strategic weapon to significantly expand its role as the world’s ONLY Superpower.  The recent increase in domestic oil and gas provides a unique opportunity to influence world affairs through non-military means, primarily through economic forces.  The bad guys described in Pearson’s book provided a perfect rationale for our strategy. We can still assert that we secured sensitive documents from The Group and that the terrorist group known as NWO actually exists; we just have to come up with new names for them. Remember, our strategy had significant resonance with that small group of Congressmen when we first presented it. We chose a few liberal Democrats who do not trust the oil companies and some Conservative Republicans who believe that the United Sates should have a presence of force in every region of the world. They also readily accepted our premise that it was necessary to expand covert operations and spying on domestic and International oil companies.  Look, we basically included something for everyone!  Let’s get back to the office.  We have a war to win.”

Agent Apodaca listened intently.  While he agreed with everything Canfield said as well as his new plan, he remained troubled by what they had personally done to Pearson.  They had abducted him on the initial assumption that his manuscript was based on actual people and events.  They kept him in a safe house for several weeks and drugged him with some sort of truth serum, but he kept insisting his story was 100 percent fiction.  Ultimately, they concluded that he was telling the truth.  But, some clever people high up in the organization decided that this story represented a significant opportunity. But, they had to deal with Pearson and keep him out of circulation for an indefinite period of time.  So, they told him his life was in danger, changed his medications to mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and stashed him in a small house in Algodones, New Mexico with full-time supervision.  But, they were filming that Wildfire TV show there and feared that someone potentially would recognize him. So they told him that the fatwa had been expanded; they upped his medications and started looking for a reputable Memory Care facility nearby.  After listening to Canfield’s revised plan, he realized that most of what had been done to Pearson was unnecessary, unwarranted and possibly illegal.

Chapter 7: Matthew Dudley

A few days later, FBI Agent Witherspoon was sitting in La Vida Aureo’s Dining Room with Hannah, Isabella and Dudley. “We got Dr. Pearson returned to Houston and Rice was delighted to have him back. We helped him develop a story to tell anyone who asked about his absence. He would simply say that he was away doing research for a new book. As far as the involvement of the Homeland Security folks, they over reacted to things. It looks like it was all started by some overly zealous young junior editor at Random House. Her inexperience led her to believe that Dr. Pearson’s new manuscript was based on actual people and events. She got the Homeland Security people all stirred up and things just sort of spiraled out of control after that. What happened to Dr. Pearson was unfortunate and Homeland Security has apologized profusely. It troubles me that sometimes we get so concerned about our security that we forget that all our citizens have rights. Maybe, if people had been a bit more thoughtful in their actions, this terrible misunderstanding could have been avoided altogether. Anyway, I want to thank all of you for your patience and cooperation in this matter.” He rose and shook everyone’s hand and said, “Good bye” as he left.

They all sat there for a few minutes in silence. Dudley spoke first. “I don’t know. It all sounds too simple to me. It is hard to believe that everything that happened was just a big misunderstanding. It seems like things went much too far.”

Hannah added, “I’ve learned in all my years of dealing with these government types that you are usually better off NOT knowing the full story. A few of the actual stories I’ve been told by Bob over too many cocktails about what our government has actually done are downright frightening!”

Isabella spoke up. “Enough! We did some good here recently with the Missing Diaper Caper and getting Professor Pearson home. So, let’s celebrate that and maybe talk about something less sinister.

“I have some good news, added Hannah. I learned today that the young artist couple I mentioned really do want to buy your house, Doc and I believe you’ll be pleased with their offer.”

“So, there is plenty to celebrate.”

Isabella turned to Dudley and said, “Once again, you have been a tremendous help in dealing with another rather complicated and involved situation in a very calm and professional manner. I know I told you that I checked up on your work history with the State, but I don’t really know that much about you personally. I don’t mean to pry, but I believe hearing your back story is the kind of reaffirming story I need at this time.”

Paloma overheard Isabella’s request and hurried over to where they were sitting. “He promised me some time ago that he would tell me just how he ended up here in New Mexico. There’s a fresh batch of sopapillas cooling in the kitchen and a fresh pot of coffee. I’ll be right back with those and some honey.”

“I know. I promised. I will try to be brief. I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana and went to the University of Indiana. My father was a machinist and worked his entire career at the Coachmen Recreational Vehicle factory and my mother was a schoolteacher. At the end of my junior year in college, I had an opportunity to work for the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque on joint project between Sandia and the State to develop improved methods for monitoring the State’s scarce water resources. Many of the people I met that summer encouraged me to explore their favorite wilderness areas throughout New Mexico. One weekend, I was hiking in the Pecos Wilderness in the southern part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Pecos Baldy Lake. Being from Indiana, I did not appreciate the challenges of hiking at altitude and soon found myself short of breath and developing a considerable headache. I had to turn around and struggle back to Jack’s Creek Campground and my car. A family who was camping there noticed me and came to my assistance. They sat me in a chair in the shade and encouraged me to drink water, but only a sip at a time. After several hours, I began to feel much better and they encouraged me to stay for dinner. Afterwards, I got up to leave but fell back into the chair and fell asleep. The next morning, I discovered they had placed a large blanket over me while I slept. I was embarrassed but the family insisted that I stay for breakfast and fed me a hearty meal of huevos and fresh tortillas. It was during my second helping of huevos that I noticed the family’s young daughter. I had always considered myself a very practical person but was immediately smitten and realized that I had truly experienced love at first sight. I expressed my gratitude to the family and made excuses to leave. They lived in the nearby town of Pecos and invited me to come for dinner. They said that they wanted to check on my health but I believe I saw the daughter whisper something to her parents. I drove slowly back to Albuquerque and before I reached home, I had decided that I would come back to Pecos to visit the family and I would return to New Mexico and marry this young girl. And I did just that.”

“When I graduated from college, I took a job with the State Water Resources Department and moved to a small apartment in Santa Fe. I began to formally court this beautiful young girl from Pecos, Margarita Reyes. We eventually married and bought a small home and began to raise the family. We had two children, Benito Tomas and Morgan Elena. Our son graduated from the University of Indiana in computer science and is now working for company in San Francisco that develops software for business processes. Our daughter graduated from the University of Colorado in education and moved to Chicago where she received her Masters and Ph.D. degrees from DePaul University focusing on curriculum development. She was always called “Little Doc” because her initials were the same as mine. That nickname did not appeal to her, but at least she wasn’t called “Baby Doc” after the Haitian Dictator!”

“Oh, Señor Doc, said Paloma, that is such a sweet story. I always knew you were a true romantic at heart. “

Isabella smiled and said, “I’d also like to hear a bit about this group of friends of yours. I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension when I saw the condition of that pick-up you rode off in.”

Dudley grinned broadly and said, “My group of friends reminds me of the time in Granada, Spain before the Inquisition when Muslim Arabs, Spanish Catholics and Jews all got along and the country flourished. My “curmudgeon crew”, as you call them, is much the same. There’s Redondo (“Ray”) Littlefeather a Native American who is named after the Trail of Tears Bosque Redondo episode. There’s Absalom (“Abe”) Goldman, a Reform Jew, who taught physics at the University of New Mexico and whose father worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Hakim El-Fiki is a Muslim, originally from Syria. Finally, there’s Emilio Sandoval who is Spanish and very Catholic. With the exception of Ray, all are retired and we’ve been meeting for coffee for years. The fact that each of these men has such different backgrounds and experiences makes for some very interesting discussions about topical issues.”

We typically meet at a local coffee shop called Saville & Sons in Old Town; it is definitely NOT a Starbucks. The owner’s name is Hector Guzman-Gomez, who thinks he is a pure New Mexico Hispanic, but we all believe he is actually a Converso whose Jewish family converted to Catholicism generations ago to escape the Inquisition There’s much more I could say about this very special group of people that I can claim as friends, but I’ll save it for another time.”

Matthew Dudley finished his story about the same time as the coffee and sopapillas were gone. He wasn’t certain whether the contented expression on everyone’s face was the result of his story or Paloma’s sopapillas. At the very least, Isabella Duncan and Hannah Halverstrom appeared relaxed and much relieved. Dudley smiled to himself as he recalled Isabella’s often repeated comment that they must all remain vigilant to insure the long-term viability of La Vida Aureo and the continued well-being of all its residents.