Chapter 5: Things Fall Apart
Conrad Alexander was visibly upset when he read about Doris Connell’s death. He was aware that traffic fatalities were not uncommon in Albuquerque and the I-40 east of downtown was notoriously dangerous. But the newspaper indicated that the police were investigating the theory that her crash was not necessarily an accident; that it had actually been caused by a several motorcyclists. Alexander was not given to conspiracy theories, but he found it unsettling that her death occurred on the same day she had made serious allegations about Donald Pearsall and LRC Industries. Alexander needed more information.
Through his involvement in the community, Alexander had occasion to meet and work closely with the Police Commissioner, Gordon Manzanares. Alexander returned to his office and placed the call. “Gordo, it’s Conrad Alexander. I hope I’m not interrupting any important police business. “
“Connie, it’s good to hear from you. You know I’m just a City Bureaucrat and not much of a policeman anymore. How have you been?”
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I need to ask a favor. I’m calling about the woman who was killed in that traffic accident on I-40 last evening, Doris Connell. She works here at New Mexico Power & Light as has been a valuable employee for a long time. I wondered if you could tell me anything more about her accident than was reported in the papers.”
“It was horrible business, Conrad. Apparently, she was run off the road and her car flipped over in the arroyo and then burst into flames. By the time the Fire Department arrived, the car was totally engulfed and there wasn’t much they could do.”
“The paper said that witnesses said that some motorcyclists were involved somehow.”
“That’s the really disturbing part. I typically don’t get involved in day-to-day operations, but this one is of particular interest. My Detectives are still trying to piece the witnesses’ statements together, but I believe they will conclude what I already suspect. This incident has all the markings of the La Raza Cosmica motorcycle gang.”
“I picked up some Spanish while I worked in the field years ago, but did I hear you correctly? This gang calls themselves The Cosmic Race?”
“Yeah, and they are a particularly nasty and violent bunch. Unlike most gangs that are comprised of similar types, like The Black Panthers or Aryan Brotherhood, La Raza Cosmica believes that a greater ethnic diversity makes them more powerful. As best we can tell, the gang is made up of trouble-makers and misfits of all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. from around the entire State. The leader calls himself John Smith. They are believed to have been involved in a series of crimes and we’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for years to arrest and convict them. A few years ago, we thought we could tie them to a string of burglaries involving copper wire and electronics from construction sites, but there was never sufficient evidence. It seemed like all the potential eye-witnesses suddenly couldn’t remember anything. We assumed they were being intimidated, but got nowhere. What’s confusing about this latest incident is that there seems to be no connection to the woman who was killed. You say she worked for you guys?”
“That’s right and I am also at a loss to explain any connection. Not meaning to sound unkind, but Mrs. Connell was just an ordinary woman who worked in our Accounting Department. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that she would have any involvement with a gang of any sort, particularly one this criminal. Anyway, thanks for the information. If your Detectives need anything from our Personnel Department, please ask them to contact me directly.”
“Thanks, Connie. Take care.”
In an uncharacteristic move, Alexander walked down the hall and confronted Donald Pearsall in his office. “Don, I need to ask you again about this LRC Industries outfit. Our Accounting folks have noticed some irregularities in their invoices. Since you are the one signing them, perhaps you could tell me what the Administrative Fee line item is.”
“What’s going on, Conrad? You just can’t come barging into my office and start making accusations.”
“Sorry, I guess I’m upset over the death of Doris Connell.”
“Well, maybe it was just another case of someone drinking too much at some local bar’s Happy Hour and losing control of their car. It happens almost every day.”
“Don, that was a very unkind thing to say. The paper says that some guys on motorcycles caused her to lose control.”
“Well, you know you can’t really trust the newspaper to get things right.”
“I still want to ask you about LRC Industries and what’s really going on with them.”
“I told you before, Conrad, I use them to help out in a lot of places. It’s really no concern of yours.”
“There also seems to be an issue with the money and where it ends up. Can you explain how it seems to be connected with your personal expenses?”
“That’s nonsense. If someone told you that, they are totally mistaken. My guess is that one of those cretins in Accounting got things screwed up, which would not be the first time. Look, Conrad, there is really nothing for you to get upset about. I assure you, everything is on the up-and-up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a meeting to go to.”
With that, Pearsall left his office leaving Alexander standing there, totally frustrated. Pearsall had been able to deflect his questions and shift the focus and blame to others, a tactic he used frequently. Alexander decided that the least he could do was to mention his concerns to Graham Wright and headed for his office.
By the time he reached Wright’s office, he had calmed down a bit and decided to be a bit more tactful in his comments. Instead of directly accusing Pearsall, Alexander simply summarized the apparent irregularities surrounding LRC Industries and their apparent involvement in the failures at the demonstration projects. He tried to imply that there was sabotage without specifically using that word. He also questioned a potential connection to Pearsall. Wright said he understood Alexander’s concerns and would appreciate any additional information as it became available.
Conrad Alexander remained at a loss. The death of Doris Connell was upsetting enough, but he was still struggling to comprehend the things she had told him about Don Pearsall. And Pearsall’s behavior had done nothing to ease Alexander’s mind. It felt like random pieces of both events were circulating in his mind, but he was unable to make any sense of things. He had another relatively unproductive day and decided to go home a bit early. As he drove, he tried to forget all about New Mexico Power & Light and the recent events that troubled him. He wanted to focus on his wife, Mary, who had been to the doctor that afternoon and he was eager to hear what she had learned. But, he was unable to push the thoughts of Doris Connell, LRC Industries and Donald Pearsall from his mind. Suddenly, he realized he was drifting into the next lane and a large Dodge pick-up had to swerve to avoid hitting him. The driver laid on his horn and cursed loudly. Alexander was startled and snapped back to awareness. At that moment, all the pieces came together. What if LRC Industries was really the gang La Raza Cosmica? And, what if Pearsall was using them to disrupt the new technology demonstration projects? That would certainly fit with Pearsall’s long-time opposition to this initiative. Suppose Mrs. Connell had discovered that a portion of the LRC invoice was actually a pay-off to Pearsall? In Alexander’s mind, all these pieces fit together and seemed to explain a great deal, perhaps even Mrs. Connell’s death. Despite the apparent logic of this, Alexander resisted the inevitable conclusion; it sounded too much like some far-fetched conspiracy theory. But, there seemed to be no other explanation.
These thoughts were still racing around in his mind as he reached home. When he entered the house, he called out but there was no response. He found Mary sitting in a large over-stuffed chair in the Study with a cup of tea resting in her lap. From the look on her face, he knew that her Doctor had not given her encouraging news. He sat in a chair near her, took her hands in his and asked, “What did Doctor Collins have to say, Mary?”
She tried, but was unable to hold back her tears. “The cancer has returned and she says it has spread. And, everything was looking so positive. She said that surgery was no longer an option and she couldn’t recommend further radiation or chemo treatments.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. Did she give you any sense of a prognosis?”
“That’s the worst part. She said that the cancer seems to have become more aggressive and the outlook was pretty dim.”
“Oh, Connie, I had to really push her, but eventually she told me that I only had a few weeks to live, maybe two months at best.” With this, Mary Alexander threw her arms around her husband and sobbed uncontrollably.
After a very restless night, Conrad Alexander decided that he would go to Mary’s doctor and hear the prognosis for himself. Although he did not have an appointment, the Receptionist ignored the full waiting room and quickly made time for him. Doctor Anne Collins appeared from one of the examination rooms and ushered Alexander into her office.
“Doctor Collins, I appreciate your taking time to see me. Mary told me about her visit with you yesterday and I just wanted to hear her prognosis for myself.”
Dr. Anne Collins looked directly at Conrad Alexander and the expression on her face told him that he was going to hear more bad news. “Mr. Alexander, I’m glad you came in. The prognosis for Mary is not good. We thought that surgery had removed all of the tumors and that the subsequent radiation treatment had eradicated any questionable areas. To be quite honest, I was shocked to see that her cancer had returned and had become even more aggressive and spread. I was trying to be optimistic when I told her that she had perhaps a couple of months, but I doubt she will last that long. I’m very sorry.”
“Well, Dr. Collins, I appreciate your honesty. At least we know what we’re dealing with and can plan accordingly. Do you think she would be better off in a hospital?”
“No. In my opinion, that would only be a waste of money. I can give you the names of several very good organizations to provide hospice care in your home. I believe that would be the best for her.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I agree. I’m sure Mary would prefer to remain at home.”
As Alexander rose to leave, Dr. Collins reached for a file on her desk and motioned for him to sit down. “I have to apologize for this and I know this is most inappropriate, but there is more bad news and it concerns you, not Mary.”
“Remember, a few weeks ago, we ran a series of tests on you, including a comprehensive series of MRIs on your intestines and digestive system? It seems as though the results got “lost” somewhere in the new computerized record-keeping system we were installing. That’s no excuse for what happened and any apologies would be totally meaningless. I won’t insult you with a bunch of medical double-speak. The short version is that the scans revealed extensive cancer throughout your colon and lower intestines. I’m sorry. The delay in discovering this situation and initiating treatment makes your prognosis less optimistic.”
Conrad Alexander sat quietly in the chair for a few moments gathering his thoughts. “Dr. Collins,” he said finally, “I would appreciate it if you kept this new information to yourself, at least for a while. It is very important to me that I focus on Mary and do everything in my power to make her remaining time as pleasant as possible. I do not want her to be distracted with any concerns other than her own well-being. Can I count on you to do that?”
“But, Mr. Alexander, the sooner we begin treating you, the better chance we have of beating this.”
“I understand completely, Doctor, but this is really my decision, isn’t it?”
“It is against my best medical judgement, Mr. Alexander, but you are correct. It is your decision.”
“OK, as long as we have an understanding. I will take your recommendations and arrange for hospice for Mary. Personally, I will go on with my life as if we never had this conversation. There are more important things to focus on than my own issues.”
Over the next few days, Conrad Alexander made arrangements for the necessary level of hospice for Mary. He also had a brief conversation with Graham Wright during which he asked for Wright’s indulgence while he spent as much time as possible with Mary. As expected, Wright was sympathetic and understanding.
Mary Alexander’s condition deteriorated quickly and she died within the month. A short time after the funeral, Alexander returned to Dr. Collins to discuss his own future. “We ran an additional battery of tests and your condition has worsened to a greater extent than I would have expected. We could begin an extensive regimen of radiation and chemo-therapy and hope for the best outcome. But I would be less than honest with you if I told you that there were any significant prospects for improvement. And it would put you through a considerable amount of pain and discomfort. As an engineer, I’m sure you understand the concept of Risk versus Reward. In your particular case, I cannot say that there is much of a potential reward, regardless of how aggressively we try to treat you.”
“I guess I had a slim hope that the prognosis would be better, but I appreciate your honesty. I ask you once again to keep this conversation confidential. There are some issues I need to address and a discussion of my illness would be a distraction.”
It wasn’t until that evening, when Alexander was alone at home, that the reality of everything hit him. He had lost his wife, the love of his life. The Doctor had just given him his own death sentence. And his entire life’s work at New Mexico Power & Light was being destroyed from within. For the first time in his life, he felt as though his entire life was falling apart.