Chapter 5: Dudley Gathers Information
Matthew Dudley remained concerned after his discussion with Mary Thomas, particularly the relationship between Estelle- Elena Caballo and a member of the La Vida Aureo staff. Before he said anything to Isabella, he thought it might be better to talk with Paloma Angostura. As usual, he found her in the kitchen. “Señora, may I discuss a sensitive subject with you concerning a member of the Staff? I am concerned, but do not want to trouble Isabella unnecessarily. ”
“You know you can always talk to me, Señor Doc.”
“I recently learned that a Resident and a member of the Staff are engaged in some sort of relationship. I don’t know its extent and I certainly don’t want to see anyone hurt. I also don’t want to see a valuable member of the Staff get into trouble or even get fired.”
“Everything is quite appropriate, Señor Doc. I assume you are talking about Señora Caballo and Frida Savino. They are just two women who have had similar unfortunate experiences and who have found comfort with each other. I can assure you that neither woman is taking advantage of the other.”
“There is a serious matter, however, that I want to make you aware of. Recently, several in my Sopapilla Network have been relating instances of highly inappropriate behavior by some of the men in the Memory Care Unit. I am aware that one of the common effects of dementia is the loss of self-control and inhibitions. But, some men have begun to act out in a sexual manner, saying vulgar things to the women, particularly the younger ones. There have even been a few instances where men have tried to touch the girls while they are trying to complete their duties. I only mention this to you because you are often in that Section of the building and there could be a situation where your assistance is needed. I would like to tell the Staff that you are aware of the potential problems and would be available to intervene, if necessary.”
“Certainly, Señora. The safety of everyone here is of utmost importance to me and I would be glad to intervene if it ever became necessary. You may tell the Staff that they can rely on me.”
“Gracias, Señor Doc. Now I must get back to the kitchen to continue preparing the evening meal.”
As Dudley headed for the center stairs to attend to some minor repairs on the second floor, he met Isabella coming out of her office. “Any news from Lt. Garcia, Doc?”
“I haven’t heard from him in a few days, Isabella. I believe he’s completed his initial interviews and is probably waiting for reports back from the Coroner and the forensic guys.”
“You’ll let me know if you hear anything?”
“Certainly, Isabella. If you have a minute, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you. It’s kinda sensitive. Can we step into your office?”
Dudley briefly relayed his conversation with Paloma concerning the inappropriate behavior in the Memory Care Unit. “I’ve been thinking that, if this is a relatively common situation in people with dementia, should we develop some specific information and training for our Staff as well as for caregivers?”
“That’s an excellent suggestion, Doc. I’ve heard of instances where the behaviors can get pretty nasty and vulgar. Why don’t I speak to Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team about the best way to approach this? And, I agree, we need to consider our own Staff as well as caregivers. You keep track of Lt. Garcia and I’ll talk to Beth about this.”
Matthew Dudley was eager to complete his ToDo List for the day. Janetta Johari had invited him to dinner at her condo and he was looking forward to another pleasant evening. Their first dinner a few weeks ago was a bit awkward as they both tried to figure out what to say or do next. After several attempts of trying to let the other person talk first, they both started laughing which broke the tension and they relaxed. It was after midnight when Dudley finally excused himself for the final time and walked back to La Vida Aureo.
Dudley was lost in his own pleasant thoughts as he walked back toward the Main Building. He almost didn’t notice a man walking on the grass along the side of the building. The man appeared to be confused since he was stumbling and kept changing directions as he tried to walk. Dudley went toward the man to offer assistance. “Excuse me, Sir, can I help you? I assume you are trying to get back inside. Why don’t you take my arm and we can walk there together.”
The man glanced up, but had a vacant look in his eyes. Dudley didn’t immediately recognize the man and decided to talk to him as they walked. “My name is Matthew. What is yours?”
The man continued to stare blankly at Dudley and finally said, “I’m Pedro.”
“Well, Pedro, let’s get you back inside and we can find someone to help you. Do you know where your Apartment is located?” Dudley assumed, from the man’s behavior, that he probably lived in the Memory Care Unit and had somehow wandered outside on his own.
The man looked at Dudley again and said, No. I was confused. My name is Lucero. What’s yours?”
Dudley guided the man toward the Entrance. “My name is Matthew. Can you remember where you live?”
“I live in Albuquerque, but I used to live far away. What is this place?”
“This place is called La Vida Aureo and I think you live here.”
“No. I live in Albuquerque.”
They entered the Main Building and Dudley noticed Frida Savino walking toward the Dining Room. “Ms. Savino, I believe this gentleman belongs upstairs in the Memory Care Unit. I found him wandering outside.”
She looked at the man and said, “It’s alright, Mr. Salazar, why don’t you sit here for a moment and I’ll take you back to your room.”
Then she took Dudley aside. “Thank you, Señor Dudley. I will take care of him. Mr. Salazar has only been with us a short while and is still adjusting. But, he seems to be deteriorating very quickly and we’ve had to go looking for him on more than one occasion.”
Once back in his room, Lucero Salazar looked in the mirror and smiled. He had practiced his vacant stare and was getting much better at it. He had also been able to “wander” a bit further with each attempt which had allowed him to observe many of the female Residents and Staff. He had even practiced some inappropriate actions to see if any of these women responded. His goal was to be able to get completely off the grounds to the strip mall across the major street, perhaps even into the Starbucks.
That evening, Janetta greeted Dudley at the door with a brief kiss and a warm embrace. He felt totally comfortable with this woman and hoped that she would continue to see him. They had agreed that they would not try to figure out where things were headed; they would just focus on enjoying each other’s company.
After a light dinner, they were sitting together on a small sofa continuing the small talk which was helping them get to know each other from a personal perspective.
“Janetta, I would like your opinion on a subject that has been troubling me lately.”
“I want to clarify something before I ask. I am not asking you to discuss anything personal or from your past. I’m just seeking information.”
“I am hearing about more instances of abuse toward women which sometimes turns violent. What troubles me is that some many women I’ve met here seem to just accept this kind of behavior from the men in their lives as part of the culture. Can you help me understand why this seems so prevalent? I just don’t see how this can be dismissed as a normal part of things.”
“I can only give you my opinion based on my own experiences; perhaps a psychiatrist or psychologist could explain things better. The violence has never made any sense to me, either. There seems to be this constant state of ill-defined anger which lies just below the surface, which can be released by the slightest provocation. That volatile condition is made much worse by alcohol or drugs. The counselors I’ve spoken to generally say this fundamental anger stems from a long history of perceived loss and subjugation by outside forces, particularly for men from the northern part of the State. These men claim that their culture and traditions are based on the land and much of it was taken from them by a series outside forces over the years, destroying the very essence of their lives. They are unable to contemplate a future that holds any promise; their life appears to be controlled by others, all of which reinforces the sense of hopelessness and frustration. Personally, I see much of it as unnecessary and self-inflicted. In the worst case, it is simply an excuse for men acting macho and behaving badly!”
“So, this anger typically shows itself as abusive behavior toward the women in their lives?”
“Yes, but look at the crime statistics here in Albuquerque and see how many men are beaten or killed by some other guy in a fight with a gun or knife or car. When the anger really takes over, I guess you just look for the nearest target. It helps if you see them as weak or defenseless so that you can exercise that control you so desperately need.”
“Thanks for that explanation, Janetta. I apologize for bringing up such a difficult subject. Let’s talk about something else. I don’t want our evening to end on that note. Tell me about the Alzheimer’s drug trials you’re coordinating. Are the results still as encouraging as they were?”
“Oh, yes. It is very interesting and the people I’m working with are some of the most competent and conscientious I’ve ever met. What’s most exciting is that they believe they have a totally new approach. I understand there’s still some debate about the cause of Alzheimer’s, but most of the effort is focused on these deposits that form in the brain called plaque. Most research to date has been directed at preventing the build-up of this material. My company believes they can oxidize this material, burn it off, so-to-speak. If they are correct, it would allow treatment of people who already have some of this plaque material in their brain, which would be a major development.”
“That really is exciting, Janetta. I don’t think I ever heard the name of the company.”
“Habenero? Like the pepper?
“Yes, the folks who started the company thought that would be appropriate since they are trying to burn away the plaque. Pretty clever, don’t you think?”
“On that very positive note, I think it’s time for me to get back to La Vida Aureo. I have a very busy day tomorrow. I have one more question before I go.”
“Can I see you again? And, when?”
“Matthew, that’s two questions and the answers are a Definite Yes! and As soon as you like!”
With that, Dudley reached out and took Janetta in his arms. “I can’t tell you how much this time with you means to me.” And, this time, it was Dudley who kissed Janetta.
Despite a very pleasant evening with Janetta, Dudley had a troubled night without much sleep. The murder of Cesar Ramirez was still very much on his mind. There had been no news from Lt. Garcia and that was not a good sign. There were several seemingly unrelated thoughts roaming in the back of Dudley’s mind which he was trying to force into a coherent pattern, but with little success. He decided he would seek additional input.
OJ was more than happy to give Dudley a ride into town and drop him at Saville & Sons the next morning. “Thanks, OJ. I’ll convince someone to give me a ride back.”
As he entered the bakery, he noticed his friend Emilio Sandoval sitting at a table with a group of young people who seemed intent on listening to whatever Emilio was saying. Dudley joined the rest of his Curmudgeon Crew at their regular table and helped himself to a fresh pastry. After a few minutes, Emilio joined them. Ray was the first to notice that Emilio was wearing a brand new Star Wars tee shirt which celebrated the long history of the saga. “C’mon, Emilio, isn’t that stuff for kids?”
“It is serious business, Ray. In fact, I was just telling those young people over there about the connections between Star Wars and New Mexico. I also had to educate them that New Mexico was in the “space business” long before George Lucas ever thought about The Force. I informed them that it was our own Dr. Lovelace who developed the medical tests for the original Mercury Astronauts back in the late 1950s. I encouraged them to visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum near Las Cruces where Lucas recorded some of the sounds they used in the first movies. There’s even an official Darth Vader helmet there which was a gift from Lucas.”
The Crew was aware of Emilio’s background and that he had spent his entire career working in the Lovelace Medical System, starting out as an Orderly and eventually becoming a Physician’s Assistant. He had retired from that position just a few years earlier.
Ray continued to chide Emilio. “I’m sure you told these impressionable young people how you helped Dr. Lovelace design those tests for the astronauts and how your scores were better than any of those initial candidates.”
“No, it is obvious that I was much too young at that time. I was just starting at the hospital, but I did have the opportunity to meet some of them on one occasion.”
The Crew knew the whole story but had too much respect for Emilio and how he had overcome obstacles in his early life to become a very capable Physician’s Assistant.
Emilio’s parents worked for a cleaning company and were assigned to the Lovelace Medical Center on the night shift. Young Emilio was hanging out with a bunch of guys who were all caught stealing hub caps. Fortunately, the arresting policeman knew Emilio’s family and dragged the young boy to meet his parents as they were coming home the next morning. The policeman and Emilio’s father knew that Emilio could have a bright future if he stayed out of trouble so they came up with a plan to help him. For the next six months, Emilio joined his parents each evening as they went to work. He was given the responsibility for collecting, emptying and cleaning all the bed pans from the facility. It didn’t take Emilio long to get the message. From this rather auspicious beginning, he began a life-long career with Lovelace. He progressed rapidly through positions of increasing responsibility and eventually completed all the necessary education to become a fully-qualified Physician’s Assistant.
Once the Crew was all seated and Hector had delivered a plate of fresh pastries, Dudley spoke. “I know you have been trying to convince me for some time that I need your assistance in dealing with some of the incidents at La Vida Aureo. Well. I’m here this morning to ask for your help with a recent murder.”
“Murder? Surely not in the old folks place you live?” Abe and Ray asked almost simultaneously.
Dudley took a deep breath and continued. This is most definitely murder, not an accident. And, I am becoming more certain that it was committed by a Resident; the victim was also a Resident.”
Emilio was shocked. “Do you have any clues? What are the police doing?”
“The police, Lt. Garcia, a friend of Ray’s, are stumped as well. The only clue or evidence we have is the actual murder weapon.” Dudley took out his smart phone and displayed the picture of the knife that was taken from Cesar Ramirez’s back.
As the Crew passed the phone around, everyone quickly acknowledged that this was no ordinary knife. When the phone reached Ray Little Feather, he looked directly at Dudley. “I recognize this knife. It is rare. It is a ceremonial piece and it is very old. It is not Navajo, but closely related. Most likely one of the tribes from here in New Mexico related to the Tewa people. I have to ask you, Doc, are there any Native Americans living at your place?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Then I can only conclude that this knife was stolen from a place of honor. It could also be possible that the knife was given as a gift of significant importance. For someone outside the tribe to receive this as a gift, they must have done something truly memorable.”
“Well, that’s more information than we currently have. I’ll pass it on to Lt. Garcia this afternoon. Thanks, Ray.”
“Make sure you tell Frank I said Hello.”
Hakim had been quiet throughout this entire exchange. “Doc, I don’t know if this has anything to do with your murder investigation, but something rather strange happened in one of my counseling groups a few months ago that may just be relevant.”
The Crew knew that Hakim El-Fiki was a professional counselor with a sterling reputation. His family has fled Syria in the mid-1960s after a military coup when emergency law was imposed and personal rights were suspended. Hakim’s father became an advisor to other Syrian refugees and Hakim followed a similar career path. He worked with soldiers returning from war as well as private patients. Over the past few years, he volunteered with the Bernalillo County Probation Department and directed a series of domestic violence classes for men and women.
“The people attending the classes I run for Bernalillo County are there as a requirement of their probation. A typical program lasts about six months, some as long as one year. Anyway, there was a man in one of my classes recently who was not from Bernalillo County, but somehow got into their program. The strange thing is that he stopped coming after about six weeks. Naturally, I reported this so that the appropriate Probation Officer could deal with the situation. A few weeks later, I inquired about this man and was told that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and would not be back. I found that a bit suspicious since he had not exhibited any symptoms while in my class. I would have normally just ignored this, figuring he had found a way to scam the system. The Officer showed me the Doctor’s report which indicated that this man had moved into the facility at La Vida Aureo. Doc, it may be nothing and may not be related to your murder, but I thought you ought to know where he is.”
“Wow. Thanks, Hakim. I didn’t think you could fake Alzheimer’s.”
“I’m not an expert. Maybe Emilio can shed some light on this.”
“I guess it’s possible,” said Emilio. Typically, the initial diagnosis is with a cognitive test to assess the person’s mental capabilities. I assume it’s much like other tests and that you could prepare somehow for it to get enough “wrong” answers to demonstrate a diminished mental capacity. You’ve all read about murder cases in the news where a person has to be declared mentally fit to stand trial, for example. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the only 100 percent method is to examine a person’s brain during an autopsy. There are newer diagnostic methods being developed, but there’s nothing like that available in Albuquerque at the present.”
“If I understand what you guys are telling me, a person could essentially hide out in a place like La Vida Aureo to avoid a harsher situation.”
“Oh, we had a couple of guys at Lovelace a few years back who claimed to have serious memory loss, but it was mostly an act so that they could get away with stupid stuff. One guy was always trying to get his hands on the nurses and then claiming he had no memory of it when we caught him.”
“This may sound far-fetched, Doc, but I guess you have to assume that it’s possible, just to be on the safe side. And, if this guy went to that much trouble, I suspect there’s a serious reason he’s hiding.”
“You guys have been a great help. I’ve got to get back. Can one of you give me a ride? Oh, and before I forget, what was this guy’s name, Hakim?”
“His name is Lucero Salazar. C’mon, I’ll give you a ride and we can talk some more on the way.”