Case IX: Chapter 6: Progress

 

Chapter 6: Progress

With the identification of the fingerprints on the electric cord, Lt. Garcia knew he was making progress in the murder of Conrad Alexander and Donald Pearsall had become the prime suspect.  Unless Pearsall could provide a credible alibi, the notation in Alexander’s planner placed Pearsall in the apartment at the approximate time of death.  There were a few more details he wanted to be certain of before he attempted to arrest Pearsall, starting with a return to La Vida Aureo to talk with the woman who had discovered the body.  Perhaps she had recovered sufficiently from her initial shock to provide Garcia with some additional details about Alexander’s final movements.  It seemed that the woman trusted Matthew Dudley and Garcia called him to arrange a meeting late that afternoon.

Martina Trujillo was still somewhat upset by the recent event, but Dudley had a calming effect on her.  Garcia decided to proceed slowly.  “Mrs. Trujillo, can you think of anything else about the last time you saw or spoke to Mr. Alexander that might be important regarding his death?”

“No, not really.  Señor Alexander was always very pleasant to me. I did hear a very loud argument coming from his apartment a few days earlier.  It was about the time on my daily schedule that I am supposed to clean and change the linens.   I waited outside for a while.  I did not want to interfere.”

“This is very important, Mrs. Trujillo.  Please think carefully. Can you tell me who was arguing with Mr. Alexander or what they were arguing about?”

“I walked a way down the hall to the next apartment on my schedule.  I knew I could come back later.  I did not see the man who was there with Señor Alexander. I did not hear very much, but I did hear the words “coal” and “future”.  Both men used those words.”

“You are certain that the person with Mr. Alexander was another man?”

“Yes.  I know Señor Alexander’s voice and the other person was also a man with a much deeper voice.  And he was the one whose voice sounded loudest and most angry.”

“Thank you very much, Mrs. Trujillo. You have been very helpful.  I know this has been an awful experience for you.  Can you think of anything else?”

“No. I’m sorry.  Just please catch the man who did this terrible thing as quickly as possible.”

Garcia spent a few minutes talking with Dudley to see if he had learned anything else that would help.  Since Dudley could not add anything, Garcia left and headed downtown to talk further with Graham Wright. Garcia was certain that Wright had not told him everything he knew about the relationship between Alexander and Pearsall and Garcia knew this was a critical aspect of the situation.  He would press Wright a bit more this time.

 

As before, Wright welcomed Garcia to his office.  “Mr. Wright, I appreciate your taking time to see me.  I’m trying to conclude this investigation and I need to ask you a few more questions.  In particular, I’m interested in anything more you can tell me about the relationship between Conrad Alexander and Donald Pearsall.”

“As I believe I mentioned that last time we spoke Lieutenant, Conrad and Don were both senior executives at New Mexico Power & Light and had been with the company for their entire careers.  As is the case in any large and complex organization, there were some professional disagreements. Both were deeply committed to the Company, but had different visions of its future.  I’m curious Lieutenant.  You continue to probe about the relationship between these two.  Is there something you’re not telling me?  I understand this is a police investigation, but if you were a bit more forthcoming, I could be more helpful.”

This was the break Garcia had hoped for.  “Thank you, Mr. Wright.  There are certain facts and statements that I’m trying to verify and your input would be most appreciated.  We have hard evidence placing Mr. Pearsall in Mr. Alexander’s apartment at La Vida Aureo about the time of death.  When I spoke to Mr. Pearsall recently, he claimed that he didn’t know Mr. Alexander very well and had not been to his apartment. But, I find it difficult to accept that statement based on your comments.  Also, we have a witness that says she overheard Mr. Alexander and another man arguing and the words “coal” and “future” were part of that argument.  From that, I would infer that their professional disagreements, you called them, got personal on occasion.  I am obviously not asking you to divulge any corporate secrets; I’m just trying to solve a murder.”

Graham Wright leaned back in his chair and was quiet.  After what seemed like a long time, he got up and walked to the window and looked out at the Albuquerque skyline. Then he turned to face Lt. Garcia and spoke.  “Lieutenant, the situation surrounding Conrad’s death is very disturbing to me.  It is even more disturbing to think that Don Pearsall was somehow involved.  Both men joined the Company at about the same time and worked closely together for many years early in their careers.  I don’t know why Don would claim otherwise.  Although they were both committed to the Company, they had vastly different perspectives for the future, specifically as it related to the choice of fuel.  Don firmly believed that coal should be the Company’s primary, if not only, source of fuel.  By contrast, Conrad wanted the Company to reduce its dependence on what he saw as a “dirty fuel” and move aggressively toward cleaner sources of energy for the State.  That single issue divided them for most of their careers.”

“In your opinion, Mr. Wright, would that long-standing disagreement be sufficient reason for Mr. Pearsall to take any sort of violent action against Mr. Alexander?”

Wright remained deep in thought as he reflected on his conversation with Alexander concerning the apparent sabotage of the demonstration projects and the questionable monies being paid to Pearsall by LRC Industries.  These remained allegations and Garcia had said he wasn’t interested in Company secrets, so Wright decided to avoid a direct answer to the question.  “I certainly would hope that their differences, regardless how substantial, would never result in anything so serious.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, Lieutenant, I really must leave; I have another appointment to attend.”

“You’ve been most helpful Mr. Wright and I appreciate your candid comments.  I hope to wrap up my investigation very soon.”

Garcia now knew for certain that Pearsall had been lying to him about several matters, which further implicated him in the murder. Garcia realized that it was probably too late in the day to approach Pearsall and he wanted to think everything through one more time.   He decided he would go to Pearsall’s office first thing in the morning and it was likely that he would arrest him at that time and charge him with Alexander’s murder.

 

The next morning, Lt. Garcia was met with even more defiance on the part of Donald Pearsall.  Pearsall denied being in Alexander’s apartment, but would only say that he was “in the field” at the time. As expected, he could not give Garcia the name of anyone who saw him to corroborate his version of events.  In reality, Pearsall was at Duke City Wreckage arguing with James Smith.  Pearsall wanted to terminate the arrangement with LRC Industries, but Smith refused.  In fact, he was demanding more money as payment for La Raza Cosmica’s role in the death of Doris Connell and their continued silence regarding Pearsall.  This refusal to cooperate was all Garcia needed to place Pearsall under arrest and charge him with murder.

Manny Vigil arranged for Pearsall’s bail relatively quickly.  Vigil was angry and wanted urgently to talk to Pearsall in person.  “You Idiot,” Vigil began. Everything was going as planned and you had to go screw things up by killing Alexander.  There was no need.  He was out of the way and the Board was about to name you CEO.”

Despite Pearsall’s repeated protest of his innocence, Vigil continued to rant at him for the next thirty minutes.  Finally, he said, “I will recommend that the Board terminate you with prejudice immediately and not provide any sort of legal assistance.  You really screwed up and you deserve to be on your own.  You are so absolutely stupid!”   With that, Vigil stormed off.

 

When the Board of Directors for New Mexico Power & Light held their emergency meeting, it was Manuel Vigil who proposed terminating Donald Pearsall and severing all relations with him.  The general consensus was that, regardless of the eventual outcome, it was not prudent for the Board to have any further association with Donald Pearsall. Once the Board agreed, Vigil next tendered his own resignation and quietly left the room.  The remaining Board members petitioned Graham Wright to assume all of the open executive positions until suitable replacements could be named.

 

Conrad Alexander had moved to the La Vida Aureo retirement community to await his inevitable death.  He realized that, in many ways, this was a selfish act but he could not think of another option at the time.  He was completely distraught and everything he valued in life was gone.  But over time, he began to emerge from the profound state of depression he had entered soon after his wife’s death. Much to his surprise, he found the environment at La Vida Aureo particularly peaceful and highly restorative.  There was something about the facility’s cook, a woman named Paloma Angostura, that lifted his spirits.  It was nothing she said; it was simply her presence.  He felt a sense of kindness and serenity surrounding her which had such a positive effect on him.

Although he was aware that his illness continued its progression in his body, his mind began to clear and he realized that there were certain obligations he had to fulfill before he died.  He had stayed abreast of developments within New Mexico Power & Light and knew that the innovative alternative energy projects that he had championed were now totally shut down.  The Business Section of the paper reported that Donald Pearsall had been named Interim CEO and proclaimed the Company’s long-term commitment to coal as its primary fuel.  Alexander decided to act.

He correctly assumed that the evidence Doris Connell had developed died with her in the traffic “accident”.  He knew that it would be virtually impossible to reconstruct it, particularly without access to the Company’s detailed accounting records.  Realistically, he assumed that Pearsall had been able to erase all traces of his relationship with LRC Industries, particularly the payments he received.  Most critically, Alexander knew that he would not live long enough to initiate a process to prove any allegations against Pearsall much less see it through to conclusion.  There had to be another way to discredit Pearsall in a relatively short period of time.  The hope of being able to accomplish this gave Conrad Alexander renewed strength and the focus his life had been missing.

Alexander was unable to travel, so it was essential that Pearsall come to La Vida Aureo and Alexander’s apartment.  To accomplish this, Alexander invited Pearsall to visit him under the pretense of “burying the hatchet” and talking about the “good old days” when they were together as young engineers on the Company training program.  Despite his reluctance, Pearsall accepted Alexander’s invitation.  At least, it would give him an opportunity to gloat about the Company’s return to coal and the failure of Alexander’s “pet demonstration projects”.

When he arrived, he found Alexander rearranging furniture, particularly the lamps.  “Hand me that extension cord, will you Don?  Now, would you plug it into that wall socket near the couch?  That’s the one. Thanks.  It helps me read if I can get more light directly overhead.”

Pearsall did as Alexander requested but remained skeptical about why he was here.  Alexander began talking about all the good times and experiences they enjoyed travelling around the State and all the interesting people they had encountered.  Alexander continued this trivial banter for a few minutes without Pearsall ever joining in the conversation.  Suddenly, Alexander’s tone changed.  “You know, Don, I am aware that you are in the pocket of the Coal Companies and have been for years.  I suspect that someone, probably Manny Vigil, arranged that connection for you to secure you as his ally.  I cannot understand why you allowed them to have so much influence over you.  You were certainly paid well enough.  You were perhaps the smartest engineer I knew and could have been a real positive force for the entire organization.  I just don’t understand.”

Pearsall was stunned by Alexander’s abrupt change in behavior.  He had never seen him behave in this manner.  He decided in an instant that the best response to these allegations was to attack.  “Conrad, you’re talking crazy.  Do they have you on a bunch of medications here that have totally screwed up your brain?”

It was critical that Alexander provoke Pearsall. “What about your connection with that LRC Industries outfit?  Were you aware that they are actually a front for the La Raza Cosmica gang, or were you just naïve?  A lot of good people were injured by their actions at Company project sites.”

Pearsall took the bait and began to shout.  “Coal is the future of the Company and none of your half-baked ideas will ever pan out.  People are too stupid to understand how pointless these so-called green technologies are.  People just want cheap electricity and coal is the only way to do that.  As for all this other stuff, you are totally out of your mind!”  With that outburst, Pearsall turned and stormed out of Alexander’s apartment.  He rushed past Martina Trujillo who was standing in the hallway and quickly exited the building.

Martina knocked on the door to Alexander’s apartment and called out. “Señor Alexander. Is everything OK? It is Martina.  May I come in?”  She entered the apartment to find Conrad Alexander sitting quietly in his easy chair.

“Good morning, Martina.  I am quite all right. How are you today?”

“I am fine, Señor Alexander.  I heard shouting and was worried.”

“I appreciate your concern, but everything is fine.”

With that, Martina left the apartment and resumed her normal duties.

 

Alexander smiled to himself and went to his writing desk where he kept a daily planner.  He wrote Donald Pearsall’s name in the planner as an appointment for that morning.  He then turned a few pages and entered Pearsall’s name for a date several days later at about the same time of day. Donning a pair of rubber gloves, he carefully cut the extension cord Pearsall had handled and then stripped approximately two inches of insulation from the end.

Alexander waited patiently for the day that Pearsall’s name would again appear in his planner.  On that morning, he took a small length of rope and rubbed it back and forth on his wrists to create abrasive marks. He placed the rope in the waste basket along with a large amount of used tissue. He rolled his shirt sleeves back down covering the marks. Next, he took a larger-than-normal dose of the pain medication Dr. Collins had prescribed.

He greeted Martina Trujillo warmly when she arrived to clean his apartment later that morning.  They exchanged their normal pleasantries as she went about her chores including carefully emptying all of the waste baskets.  Conrad Alexander spoke to her as she was about to leave.  “Martina, thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness.  I hope your Father’s condition improves. Oh, and would you please turn the lights off as you leave?  I’m expecting a visitor in a while and I’d like to relax a bit before he arrives.”

Using the cuff of his shirt sleeve to cover his fingertips, he carefully placed the exposed wires deep inside his mouth.  He sighed. As requested, Martina moved the light switch to the OFF position as she exited the apartment.

 

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