Case VII: Chapter 5: The Prodigal Niece

Chapter 5: The Prodigal Niece

Matthew Dudley walked into the main dining room to begin his daily routine. He would have a cup of coffee and read the paper copy of the Wall Street Journal that was always waiting for him in the same spot and review his Daily List of repairs and maintenance items. On this particular day, the distinguished-looking gentleman who left the Journal had just placed it on the table and was headed toward the door.  Dudley walked quickly over to him and said, “I want to thank you for leaving your copy of the Journal for me each day. I certainly enjoy it.  I’m not much of an investor, but I find their news reporting to be significantly better than what the TV stations call News.”

The gentleman looked at Dudley and smiled. “You strike me as a man who enjoys turning the actual pages of a newspaper rather than flipping through some sort of electronic version.  I’m glad you enjoy it; it’s my pleasure.”

“Extending his hand, Dudley said, “My name is Matthew Dudley, but most people call me Doc.”

Returning a firm handshake, the man simply said, “Conrad Alexander” and turned to continue his exit.

Paloma Angostura walked over and sat down across from Dudley.  “I see you finally met Señor Alexander.  He is such a nice man, but I sense he is carrying a heavy burden. Did you have a chance to talk to him, Señor Doc?”

“No, just to introduce myself and thank him for the newspaper.  I should not be surprised that you knew his name and I did not; you must know everyone, Señora. Why do you say he is carrying a burden?”

“There is such sadness in his eyes, but he puts on such a brave face to hide it.”

“Well, here come two people and even I can tell that they are very happy, maybe even falling in love.”

“Señor Doc.  That is no secret, at least not to anyone who has been watching them lately!”

Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott were headed to the garden for a picnic, but paused long enough to say to Dudley, We just wanted to thank you again for getting us together in the first place.”

“You are certainly welcome.” Glancing toward to dining room door, Dudley said, “I don’t want to be rude, but I should get going before Mrs. Branch and Mrs. Arthur start pestering me about my personal life.”

Mrs. Arthur was smiling broadly as the two women approached.  “I have the most wonderful news,” she said. “I received a letter today from my niece Barbara who lives in Boston.  She said she has moved back to Albuquerque and I am so happy. Even though her situation is rather unpleasant, it will be nice to see her again after so many years.”

“Is there something wrong?” asked Paloma.

“Well, Barbara didn’t give me many details in her letter, but she said she had left her husband and had moved here to get the kind of medical attention her small children needed.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Paloma. “Will she stay with your niece Denise to be close to the doctor and hospital, or maybe come to La Vida Aureo?  You certainly have some room in your casita.”

“No. Barbara said she is staying with a friend in Belen so that her husband can’t find her. She was afraid to stay with me or Denise for that reason.”

“How did she know you lived here, Mrs. Arthur, if you don’t mind saying?” asked Dudley.

“She said something about looking up the information on Denise’s Facebook, whatever that is.  She said that Denise talks about our lunches together and what a nice place La Vida Aureo is for me. Anyway, I must be off; I just wanted to share that good news with you nice people.”

Mrs. Arthur left the dining room while Mrs. Branch remained.  She turned to Dudley and said, “What Martha didn’t bother saying was that Barbara had asked her for money. She said she wanted to give her friend something for groceries, etc. I guess that makes sense, but she also hinted in the letter that she would appreciate it if her “Dear Aunt Martha” would help her with the medical expenses for her children, which could be considerable.  Now, I’m not a suspicious person by nature, but this Barbara is her nephew Charles’ sister and we all know what he’s like.  This just smells a bit fishy to me, particularly the way things have been with Charles recently. Martha is so trusting and I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Come now, Mrs. Branch,” offered Dudley.  “Maybe everything is just as it seems and there is nothing to be concerned about.”

“Nonetheless, I’m going to keep my eyes open and make sure Martha tells me absolutely everything about the situation.  I don’t like it at all.”

Mrs. Branch left the dining room and Dudley turned to Paloma and said with a smile, “I’m pleased to know that Mrs. Branch doesn’t consider herself a suspicious person.  I’m sure she’s being a bit of a busy-body and that everything will be OK. I’m happy for Mrs. Arthur.  Well, I’m off to take care of my responsibilities as Maintenance Man.”

It was only a few days later that Millicent Branch stopped Dudley in the lobby. “I told you this situation with Martha’s niece smelled fishy to me,” she said. “Martha has received several more letters and Barbara is asking for even larger amounts of money.  And, if that weren’t enough, she wants the money sent to her in cash and to a Post Office Box in Belen.  I’ll tell you what I think, Mr. Dudley.  I think that no-good nephew of hers is pretending to be his sister, just to get money.  I’m pretty sure, after that last episode, that I’ve convinced Martha not to send him anything.  I think this is just his way of tricking her once again.  Is there anything you can do?”

“That’s really none of my business, Mrs. Branch, as much as it would be very unfortunate if you are correct.  You could encourage Mrs. Arthur to contact the police if you are concerned.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, she would never do that.  I guess I’ll just try to keep tabs on everything and try to not let Martha get taken.”

Dudley was on his way to a meeting of the Community Assist Team which was already in progress.  Things were progressing nicely and Dudley was confident that he could step back a bit and allow the women to move forward. Beth Ford acknowledged him warmly when he entered the meeting room and said, “We were just finishing up, Mr. Dudley.  Is there anything you’d like to say to the Team?”

“I want to thank you all again for being part of this program and to tell you what a great job Isabella and I think you’re doing.  My only advice to you, if I can offer one suggestion, is to stay focused and remember that we can’t be everything to everybody.  Let’s focus on achieving some small-scale successes to build our credibility; we can always expand and grow the program.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dudley. I can assure you we are on the same page.  In fact, that was the main topic of today’s meeting.  We have a short list of things we want to undertake and have set our priorities.”

“Thank you once again, ladies. Please let me know if there is anything you need from Isabella or me.   Oh, Beth, could I talk to you a minute?  I have a question about Facebook.

“Certainly, but let me get Minot; she’s the real Facebook expert.”

Dudley, Beth Ford and Minot Atkinson sat back down at the conference table.  “There is a situation here with one of the residents that may be related to Facebook somehow.   I believe my question relates to security or privacy.  Would it be possible for someone to look at another person’s Facebook information or pretend to be that other person?”

Minot said, “Under normal circumstances, a person can establish their own privacy and only allow certain other people to read whatever they post. But, there have been numerous cases where a person’s account has been hacked and their information stolen.  It all depends on how careful a person is about setting up their page.”

“Thank you.  This really isn’t my business and I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what develops.”

“If you would be comfortable giving me the names of the people involved, I’d be glad to look into this on my own time,” offered Minot.

“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask.  Again, this may be nothing.  Anyway, the situation involves our Mrs. Martha Arthur and her two nieces, Denise Harris who lives here in Albuquerque and Barbara Arthur Wilkerson, who used to live in Boston.  Barbara recently contacted her Aunt and said she learned everything from Denise’s Facebook page.  Mrs. Arthur’s friend believes someone is posing as Barbara to essentially steal money from her.  I hope that isn’t too confusing.”

“Give me a few days and I’ll have something for you.”

Dudley wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing by getting involved, but it was too late now.

Minot Atkinson was very knowledgeable about social media systems and had some experience with hacked accounts.  But, she knew someone who was far more capable regarding the more devious aspects and uses of the Internet.

Minot drove to downtown Albuquerque and walked into a retail store with the unusual name of the Self-Help Resource Center. She waited until one employee finished with a middle-age woman customer and then approached her. “I need your help, Emily,” she said quietly.

Emily Chang turned to face Minot and embraced her warmly.  “You know that will cost you, my love?”

“I was hoping you’d say that.  Can I come to your place this evening to tell you what I need?”

Emily smiled even more. “I know what you need, my love.  But, if you wear something very pretty and bring a very nice bottle of wine, we can talk about all of your needs.  I’m sure I can take care of everything for you.”

Minot Atkinson and Emily Chang had been lovers on a casual basis for many years, but had not spent the night together recently; their careers had gotten in the way. Emily had been recruited by Google while still in high school and had become one of their most capable security analysts.  The last time they spoke, Emily had become disenchanted with her work. “All they ask me to do now is to hack into Facebook accounts.  Google executives were concerned that Facebook was becoming too much of a competitor, so my job was to gather as much competitive information as possible. I felt that I was invading innocent people’s privacy so I decided to bail.  At the Self-Help Resource Center, I know I’m helping women everyday and I’m proud of what I do now.”

But, Minot also knew that Emily retained her strong sense of justice and often used her considerable technical skills to expose suspicious and criminal activity on the Internet.   It didn’t take Emily long to get into the Facebook account of Denise Harris and Barbara Arthur Wilkerson.  The two accounts were similar in that most of the information could only be read by the few people who had been “invited” to the respective account. It was a relatively simple matter for Emily to gain complete access and she quickly determined that someone had indeed hacked into this information to learn a great deal about both women. Following the trail, Emily was able to determine that both accounts had been hacked from a local computer and the address pointed to The Neutron Bar & Grill.

Emily shared her observations with Minot that evening.  “The Barbara Niece seems to have a very happy life far from here and has no interest in ever returning. I can’t find any evidence that she’s ever had any contact with Denise Harris. Someone has been using a computer at The Neutron Bar downtown to read about both women, I assume to pose as one of them.”

“Minot, this wasn’t much of a challenge; the privacy settings were easy to circumvent. I had hoped for something a bit more exciting.  But, I will continue to monitor this particular computer and let you know if anything interesting develops. Now, that’s done, why don’t you open that bottle of wine?”

The next morning, Minot stopped Dudley in the hallway and related what she had learned, making sure to not mention Emily or any other details.  “I hope that helps.”

“Yes. Thank you, Minot.  I’m not sure what all this means, but maybe Mrs. Branch’s suspicions have some merit.  Thanks again.”  Dudley seemed deep in thought as he walked away.

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