Chapter 5: Visits with Old Friends
Hannah Halverstrom came to La Vida Aureo one afternoon to sign the final sale contract for Matthew Dudley’s house in Cerrillos. The Steward and several of his assistants were in the main dining room setting up for the day’s lesson. While waiting for Dudley to return from a repair job, Hannah listened as Steward began his lesson. “He is certainly charismatic”, Hannah mused to herself. As she continued to listen, an image formed in her mind of another young man from her past who was just as captivating. She gasped as she recognized Stuart as a younger version of James Montgomery from her time at Tawapa years before. “Oh, my God!”
Matthew Dudley had quietly walked up behind Hannah as she stood in the doorway. “Are you OK?”
“Oh, Doc. For a moment, I thought I saw a ghost, but realized that it is a real, flesh and blood person. I’m certain that the young man speaking must be the son of someone I knew when I lived in Placitas many years ago.”
“That can’t necessarily be a bad thing, Hannah.”
“Well, if you believe that an apple doesn’t fall from the tree, it could be. I assume that all those young girls are here with him? If so, it could spell trouble.”
“My understanding from Isabella is that Millicent Branch invited him here to talk about nature. I listened to part of one of his lectures a few days ago and it seemed relatively harmless. He occasionally adds some biblical references, but it’s mostly about environmental issues and how man is messing things up. The girls, whom he refers to as his Flock, have started coming more recently as the number of residents in attendance has grown.”
“I still have an uneasy feeling about this, particularly after my mistake with Professor Pearson. I do not want to see anyone cause trouble for La Vida Aureo or any of the residents. I think it would be prudent if I talked to his father to get a better understanding of what Stuart is up to.”
“That sounds rather ominous, Hannah. Are you sure you’re not over reacting just a bit?”
“I know you’re not a chauvinist, Doc, so I’ll interpret that remark as an expression of your concern. His father works downtown at New Mexico Federated Bank & Trust and I saw him a few years ago while arranging financing for a home I was trying to sell. I was pleased to see that James had turned his life around and was now a responsible member of the community. You’re probably right and it is nothing, but I need to pay him a visit to put my own mind at rest.”
“If that’s what you think is necessary. Anyway, if you’re going to town, could you drop me off at Saville & Sons Coffee on Bellamah Street near Old Town? I am supposed to meet some friends there and OJ is out running errands for Isabella.”
“Sure, Doc. I’m ready to leave if you are. Oh, I almost forgot. I brought the final contract on your house for you to sign. Everything is exactly as we discussed the other day. It is a very good deal for everyone involved.”
“Thank, Hannah. Let me grab a jacket and I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
Hannah entered the lobby of New Mexico Federated Bank & Trust and approached the Information Desk and nodded at the security guard standing there. She handed her business card to the attendant and said, “I’d like to see James Montgomery.”
“He’s very busy, ma’am. Do you have an appointment?”
“I do not, but this is quite important.”
“If you’ll have a seat over there, I’ll see if he’s available”, he said, motioning to a sofa and some chairs across the lobby.
“If you would please tell Mr. Montgomery that I’d like to speak to him about Stuart, I believe he’ll see me.”
As Hannah turned around to sit on the designated sofa, she saw James Montgomery walking briskly toward her. “Hannah! My God, is good to see you.” He opened his arms to embrace her as he neared. Hannah hesitated, not knowing exactly how to react and that was sufficient time for James to engulf her in a vigorous bear hug.
“James, we need to talk, but not here in the bank’s lobby.”
“OK. Let’s go to my private office. What is this about Stuart?”
“I believe I saw Stuart earlier today and he was speaking at an up-scale retirement village near Albuquerque Heights. The Executive Director there is a very good friend of mine and I care a great deal about the residents. I came to see you to inquire what you know about Stuart’s current activities and his environmental movement. I admit that I may be a bit prejudiced by things from our past at Tawapa, but I am also somewhat skeptical when it comes to charismatic, evangelical types.”
James Montgomery sighed and the practiced bank executive demeanor left his face as he slumped back in his over-stuffed leather office chair. “Oh, Hannah, he began. I’ve tried repeatedly to connect with Stuart, but he refuses to have anything to do with me. I had heard through some friends from the old days that his mother had died a rather horrible death some years ago and I tried to contact Stuart, but was unable to. Then, a few years ago, he just walked into the bank and said he wanted to talk to me. Hannah, I tried, but he was so confused and wasn’t making much sense in anything he said. I encouraged him to stay in Albuquerque and allow me to help him get a fresh start. But he is still filled with anger and resentment. I also believe that he is heavily influenced by that woman he lives with and she has convinced him that anyone who is part of the business world is inherently evil and should be avoided. And, I’m afraid that too many years using various mind-altering drugs have affected his thinking. I have been led to believe that, as Stuart wandered from California back toward New Mexico, he lived for a short time with probably every drug-using group along the way and picked up some rather nasty habits. I told him I would help him in any way possible, but he had to first go through a serious rehab program, including an assessment of his brain condition to determine how much damage is permanent. He has repeatedly refused any offer of help and I am at a loss for what to do.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, James.”
“Look, Hannah, I know I did some pretty stupid things in my life and that I cannot change the past. I’ve tried to be a responsible person and use my position here at the bank to help as many people as I can. But, I have been unable to help someone who means so much to me.”
“I appreciate your saying that, James. What do you know about this Environment First movement or Cause that Stuart seems so passionate about?”
“Not much really. I understand that he shows up in the Old Town Plaza frequently and speaks to anyone who will stop to listen, sort of a soap box thing. I’m not sure how he supports himself beyond some meager donations and I think he also sells some pamphlets about his environmental philosophy. One of the tellers here at the bank brought one back with her several months ago. From what I read, Stuart believes that if people were more educated about the environment, they would stop doing so much harm. There are some religious or biblical references included, but it’s pretty general stuff.”
“Do you know anything about the people he lives with?”
“No. I’ve heard that they all live in some sort of farm or compound north of town, but I’m not sure exactly where, but I have a strong suspicion that he has returned to the old Tawapa site.”
“Well, James, I appreciate your seeing me and I am truly sorry about the situation with Stuart. I imagine it must be painful to talk about it. If I learn anything from the retirement village that could help, I will let you know.”
“Thank you, Hannah. Perhaps we could have lunch the next time you’re in town.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea, James. As I said, if I learn anything, I’ll give you a call or something. Thanks again for your time and your candid comments.”
As Hannah exited the bank building into the parking lot, the warmth of the afternoon sun was not able to completely revive her spirits. She thought back to her days at Tawapa and the handsome and charismatic young James Montgomery. Despite his considerable charm and powers of persuasion, Hannah had successfully avoided all of his repeated advances. Even in an environment that espoused free love, she refused to be just another one of Jumpin’ Jimmy’s conquests. Nonetheless, she felt a deep sense of sadness for him and his nonexistent relationship with his son.
Across town, Matthew Dudley was enjoying time with his so-called Curmudgeon Crew. He was always glad to see his friends, but today he was particularly excited to show off the new smart phone that Isabella purchased for him and insisted he carry with him at all times. His friends were sitting down at a table in the corner when Hector Guzman walked up to greet them. “Ah, if it isn’t Los Viejos”, he said loudly.
“But, none of us is as old as you, amigo, replied Abe.”
“Speaking of old ones, Doc, asked Hakim. What is this business about you leaving Cerrillos and moving into an Old Folk Home?”
“It is NOT an Old Folk Home, countered Dudley. It is a retirement village and a very up-scale one at that! As far as leaving Cerrillos, I am the victim of a major conspiracy between my doctor and my kids to get me out of living alone. It wasn’t my idea at all.”
“You must not have fought very hard against this so-called conspiracy, from what I hear, chided Emilio Sandoval. It cannot be too bad if it is called La Vida Aureo, The Golden Life. That sounds pretty cushy to me!”
“Have Doc tell you about becoming the resident House Detective, offered Ray Littlefeather. I suspect that had something to do with his being a willing participant in this conspiracy.”
“House detective?” they all said at once.
“No, no. Ray is exaggerating. I just try to help out when I can to understand some of the unfortunate things that have happened recently.”
“Doc is just being modest, Ray added. What my police buddies tell me, Old Doc here has become a regular Sam Spade.”
“That isn’t true, Ray. I’ve just used regular logic to help solve problems. And many of the residents feel at ease to talk to me. And besides, it’s only temporary.”
“So, maybe you’re the Sherlock Holmes of the retirement home”, suggested Abe.
“C’mon Doc, we know your house in Cerrillos has a For Sale sign out in front. That doesn’t sound temporary to me.”
“I give up with you guys. Alright, I would not have believed it, but I’ve come to actually enjoy living at that place. The people, at least most of them, are nice and I get to help out in a number of ways.”
“OK, Doc, we’ll stop picking on you, at least for today. I guess when you’re as old as you are, this is really the best solution for your golden years.”
“But, I’m learning new things every day unlike the rest of you Luddites. Look, I have this new smart phone and I know how to use it … somewhat. I even have a photo I personally took on the screen. I’ll bet none of you have one as fancy as this!”
“Wow, Doc, we’re really impressed, said Emilio. Pass it around so that we curmudgeons can marvel at this new-fangled technology.”
“I recognize this photo as Georgia O’Keefe’s famous painting entitled “Jimson Weed”, boasted Abe.
Ray was the last to handle Doc’s new phone and he leaned over to Emilio and asked, “What does this look like to you, amigo?”
“Doc, where did you get this picture?” Ray asked in a hesitant tone.
“It’s a rather long story, responded Dudley. We have a new speaker at La Vida Aureo and he has given this beautiful flowering plant to several of our residents. I took a picture with my new phone. Why?”
“Doc, we understand that you are trying to become a modern type guy, but we didn’t think you would take up drugs at this point in your life.”
“What? What are you saying?”
Emilio looked directly at Dudley and said, “Let’s get Hector over here so that he can add to what Ray and I are going to tell you. This is some serious business.”
For the next thirty minutes, Ray, Emilio and Hector talked about the photo of the Angel’s Trumpet flower that Dudley had captured with his phone. “This plant is also known as datura or jimson weed and it is a very dangerous hallucinogen and poison. It is one of the oldest poisons known and there are many references to it in the literature of many cultures over the centuries”, offered Emilio.
Ray and Hector were the most knowledgeable and provided additional detailed comments about the peyote cultures of the Mexicans and Native Americans. “I’ve seen too many young people who have died from this weed, lamented Ray. Kids desperate to get high on the cheap have used this stuff and end up dead. They try to make a tea out of the dried leaves. In very limited amounts, it causes hallucinations, agitated behavior and a very confused mental state. But, most people have no idea that it is also very poisonous and the results can be fatal.”
“We aren’t making these comments to alarm you, Doc, but this plant can be very dangerous. It is pretty to look at, but if you get any of its oil on your skin, the results can be most unpleasant. You might want to alert the residents about this.
Doc was stunned by these revelations and realized that many of the residents at La Vida Aureo had these plants in their rooms and there were several in one of the conference rooms. He realized that he must return to La Vida Aureo as quickly as possible; he had work to do.\
“You guys are invaluable to me as friends and as cohorts in my new responsibilities. Ray, could you drive me back to La Vida Aureo? I don’t know how long my friend Hannah will be in town. “
On the way, Ray asked Dudley, “Should we call Frank Garcia?”
“Not yet. My friend Hannah is checking on Stuart today and that should shed some light on whether this is harmless or there is something more dangerous going on. I am not aware of any problems with this plant or with the new speaker … so far.”