Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation
As promised, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo the next morning to begin his initial investigation into the murder of Cesar Ramirez. He went to the Main Dining Room where he assumed he could find the Residents he wanted to interview. Paloma Angostura greeted Lt. Garcia warmly, as always, and told him that Señora Torres had not come to the Dining Room this morning for breakfast.
“I guess I am not too surprised,” replied Garcia. “I assume she is still considerably upset by yesterday’s events. I’ll go to her casita; perhaps she’ll be more comfortable to talk there.”
Magdalena Torres answered her door promptly and asked Lt. Garcia to come in. She directed him to a chair in her living room.
“Señora Torres, my name is Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit. I’m in charge of the investigation concerning Señor Ramirez’s death, which we are treating as a homicide. Do you have any questions before we begin?”
“No, Lieutenant. That is fine. I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”
“Thank you, Señora Torres. I understand that you are the one who actually discovered Señor Ramirez’s body. Would you please tell me approximately when that was and whether you were alone when you found him?”
“I nearly tripped over his feet on my way to the Main Dining Room for dinner late yesterday afternoon, at about 5:30. He was lying in some bushes and his boots were visible from the walkway. I was walking with that nice Handyman, Mr. Dudley, at the time.”
“I see. And, had you been walking with Mr. Dudley for very long?”
“No. He had come here to my casita a short while earlier to confirm an appointment to do some plumbing repairs and I asked him to walk to the Dining Room with me. I get uncomfortable walking alone and having so many men stare at me.”
“And, before you discovered Señor Ramirez’s body, when was the last time you saw him?”
“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”
“The entire afternoon? May I ask what you were doing during that time?”
“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”
“Oh, I see. Sorry. While he was here, did he give any indication that he was concerned that someone might want to do him harm?”
“Not really. Look, Cesar wasn’t really involved with very many people here, at least not of late. And, I don’t believe he was afraid of anyone in particular. But, mark my words, Lieutenant, there are some muy loco women here and I know some of them don’t particularly care for him. I can think of several who are not above wanting to hurt him, but none have the courage or strength for murder.”
“Nevertheless, I would like to decide that for myself. Would you be willing to give me the names of these women?”
“You should talk to the Waverly woman and particularly that Anglo puta, JoAnne Elliott. Cesar’s friend Jorge Sandoval might know of others; I don’t.”
Lt. Garcia had not met Jorge Sandoval although his name had come up during the investigation of Carmine Felicio’s death; he was Ramirez’s initial alibi. Garcia would ask Dudley to take him to meet Sandoval. For the time being, he had no more questions for Señora Torres. “Thank you, Señora, for your time. I have no more questions at this time. Once again, I am sorry for your loss. I know Señor Ramirez meant a lot to you.”
“Just find this person who did this horrible thing, and quickly.”
Dudley was in the Main Dining Room reviewing his ToDo list for the day. He had talked to Señora Angostura about Ramirez’s murder and they had discussed potential suspects. Like Lt. Garcia, Dudley asked Paloma about the so-called Queer Quartet of women who had been the focus of so much of Ramirez’s attention. Paloma told Dudley that Ramirez hadn’t bothered them much lately and, in fact, had pretty much stopped his daily stroll through the Dining Room. And, Dudley was personally aware that Ramirez had stayed away from JoAnne Elliott. It was Dudley’s opinion that, despite the potential for several women to be angry with Ramirez, his murder looked more like the work of a man. That led him back to the thought of a jealous husband or boyfriend and possibly someone who was not a Resident. He had shared this opinion with Paloma and she agreed that the murderer was probably not a woman, but wasn’t convinced that an Outsider was involved. “I believe that I would have been told if there was a strange man wandering about the grounds”, she said.
Knowing the extent and efficiency of Paloma’s Sopapilla Network, Dudley was forced to seriously question that particular theory. He remained troubled, however, about Isabella’s less-than-subtle comment that solving this crime was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, not his. Regardless of how unlikely it was, if the killer was indeed a Resident, Dudley believed he was in a better position to unmask him than Lt. Garcia.
Dudley realized that it was time to stop speculating and attend to his responsibilities. As he rose to leave, he noticed Minot Atkinson near the elevators talking with Mary Thomas. Both women were laughing and as the elevator doors opened, Mary Thomas reached up and hugged Minot Atkinson. Minot turned toward the Dining Room and greeted Dudley warmly.
“It is good to see you, too, Miss Atkinson. I saw you with Mrs. Thomas a moment ago and was unaware that you knew her.”
“Oh, Mr. Dudley, our initial meeting was quite an accident. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stuck my nose in her business the way I did, but I think everything turned out really well, particularly for her.”
“I’m pleased to hear that. In my previous experience with Mrs. Thomas, she was a very troubled person. But, from what I just witnessed, she seems to be much happier.”
“Allow me to share a confidence with you. About a month ago, I was here in the Lobby and I noticed Mrs. Thomas wheeling herself toward the elevators. I went over to press the UP button for her and noticed a book in her lap that was some sort of Self-Help clap-trap. I guess it is just my nature and I struck up a conversation with her about what she was seeking in that particular text. As we talked, she opened up a bit and my sixth sense told me that there might be a simple solution to her anger and frustration. Without embarrassing you with the details, I suggested she call a friend of mine who works at the Women’s Self-Serve Resource Center in town.
That must have worked. I got a text message from my friend Emily saying that she had talked with Mrs. Thomas at length and made some suggestions to deal with her frustration and pent-up emotions. I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Thomas now has other ways to release her anxieties than that bottle of whiskey she used to rely on.”
“There’s no need to tell me any more than that, Minot. I’m just glad that Mrs. Thomas is happy and I agree that almost any solution is better than the bottle. Thank you for being so considerate. I’ll catch up with the Team in the next few days. Have a pleasant rest of the day.”
Dudley turned toward an Exit when he noticed Lt. Garcia heading in his direction.
”Say, Doc. Can you direct me to a Jorge Sandoval? I remember that he was one of Ramirez’s few male friends and I’d like to talk to him. Mrs. Torres seemed to think that he could shed some light on the situation. It was her opinion that it was an angry woman who murdered Ramirez, but, based on what I saw of the scene, I don’t think that’s very likely. Anyway, maybe Sandoval has some less biased information.”
A thought occurred to Dudley. He would take Garcia up to Sandoval’s apartment on the third floor which would give him an excuse to call on Mary Thomas. Even though he agreed that the killer was most likely a man, he had to satisfy his curiosity about the past women in Ramirez’s life to eliminate that possibility. In his mind, a jealous boyfriend or past lover was still a possibility, however remote.
Dudley was pleased when Jorge Sandoval opened the door to his apartment to notice that his large-screen TV was filled with a soccer match. Dudley introduced Lt. Garcia and turned to leave. “Señor Doc, it is much better to watch the football on my TV now, don’t you agree,” said Sandoval with a large grin.
“Señor Sandoval”, began Garcia, I have a few questions about your friend Cesar Ramirez.”
“Certainly, Lieutenant, anything I can do to help you catch this person who did this terrible thing to my good friend Cesar.”
“Thank you, Señor Sandoval. We did not talk when Señor Ramirez was involved in the situation surrounding the unfortunate death of Ms. Felicio, but I understand that you were aware of all of his relationships with various women here at La Vida Aureo. I am led to believe that he had given up most of those activities and was loyal, if I can use that word, to Señora Torres. Is that correct?”
“Oh, yes. Cesar discovered that Señora Torres could be quite satisfying, if you see my meaning. Even though he still flirted with other women on occasion, he spent most of his time with Señora Torres.”
“Did she not object? I find it somewhat hard to believe that a woman like her would not be jealous.”
“She is quite a remarkable person. I once heard her tell Cesar that she didn’t care where he got his appetite as long as he came to her for what she called the “main course!”
“Oh, er, I see. Anyway, given Señor Ramirez’s numerous past affairs, is it possible that there could be a jealous husband, former husband or boyfriend that wanted to do him harm?”
“I guess that is always possible, but Cesar was no fool. He may have flirted with many, many women, but he was very careful and particular about who he actually spent real time with. You must understand, Lieutenant, it was much more about the appearance of his activities than the reality. He loved his reputation and did everything he could to build himself up, particularly in the eyes of women. For Cesar, it was always the show that mattered! ”
“Gracias, Señor Sandoval, for your time. If you think of anything that could help, please call me. Here is my card.”
Dudley had walked a short distance down the hall and knocked on the door to Mary Thomas’ apartment. “Mrs. Thomas, I hope I am not disturbing you. I was on this floor and just wanted to stop in to see how you were doing. I don’t mean to intrude, or if this is an inconvenient time …”
“Oh, no, please come in Mr. Dudley. I’m doing much better. Thank you for asking.”
“I just happened to notice that you were talking to Miss Atkinson downstairs. She is part of our Community Assist Program and has been doing some wonderful things as part of that new effort. She mentioned that she thought you were doing better.”
“Community Assist? That’s funny; although what she did for me was more of a personal assist. Based on her help, I’m doing much, much better. As long as Amazon delivers my monthly supply of batteries, I’ll be JUST FINE!”
“Oh! If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions about the ladies you sit with almost every day, Miss Waverly and Miss Caballo. I’m sure you heard about Mr. Ramirez’s death and I know he had some involvement with at least Miss Waverly in the past. I’m just curious about any recent involvements, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Basically, none of us have had any involvement with Mr. Ramirez since that unfortunate accident. Dolores was the one actually involved with him, but she dumped him almost immediately. Since then, she found a very nice gentlemen at the church she’s been attending someplace in town. To hear her tell the story, this gentleman has helped her discover and experience The Rapture. Personally, I don’t know if that’s a religious thing or not, but Dolores seems very happy and that’s all that matters to me.”
“The situation with Estelle-Elena is a bit more complicated. You may recall that she was always the one who made openly suggestive remarks to every man who happened by and bragged about the long string of lovers she’d had since her Quinceañera and Prom. The truth of the matter is that she was raped on both occasions and hasn’t been with a man since. Her overt behavior was just her way of hiding some very deep and painful feelings from her past. You may have also heard rumors about her carryings-on with some of the young girls on the Staff. Well, Estelle has found a true soul-mate with a woman on the Staff, a mature woman who had tolerated a very abusive husband for many years. Evidently she and Estelle were talking one afternoon and realized that they had much in common and they grew closer from that point. I don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but Estelle is content and has given up her act as a femme fatale.”
Dudley sat quietly for several minutes; he had not expected such a detailed description of the personal lives of these women; he was only asking about Cesar Ramirez. “So, I guess it’s safe to assume that none of you has had much involvement with Mr. Ramirez”?
“We have had NO involvement with him and, frankly I was glad when he gave up coming into the Dining Room each day and acting like “God’s Gift to Women!”
“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Thomas and I’m glad to learn that Miss Atkinson was able to help you in some way.”
“No problem, Mr. Dudley and when you see Miss Atkinson, please thank her again for me. Please tell her that she opened a totally new world for me and that I can take care of all my needs by myself!”
Dudley met Lt. Garcia as both men went downstairs toward the Main Lobby. “I trust your interview with Mr. Sandoval was productive, Lieutenant.”
“Well, he was cooperative, but I didn’t really learn anything new. His comments were pretty consistent with those from Mrs. Torres. Apparently, Ramirez had been on his best behavior for quite some time and neither could think of anyone that would want to harm him, much less kill him. So, at this point, I don’t have any potential suspects and I don’t even have a motive. All I have is the knife from Ramirez’s back that we recovered at the crime scene. I’ve got to admit, Doc, I’m pretty stumped with this one.”
“I guess it is possible that someone from outside this community could have killed him, but that doesn’t seem very likely. I know you’ve talked to Señora Angostura and you’re aware that she has eyes and ears everywhere, so to speak. She claims that there haven’t been any suspicious characters lurking about the grounds in recent weeks. But, from what I observed, that knife was not an ordinary knife, certainly not the kind you see every day.”
“I agree, it looked pretty unusual, like some sort of ceremonial piece or heirloom or something like that. Maybe Dr. Hernandez or the forensic guys have found something that would at least give me a place to start.
“I certainly hope so. Look, Lieutenant, Isabella told me to keep my nose out of this, but I’ve already talked to a few Residents and haven’t learned anything that would help. I’ll keep trying, though.”
“I appreciate it, Doc. And, I promise not to mention anything to Isabella; your secret is safe with me. Well, I’m headed back downtown. ”
With that, the two men shook hands and went their separate ways. Dudley had some important repairs to address and really needed to catch up with Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team. He remained troubled by Mrs. Thomas’s comment that Miss Caballo was involved, perhaps even romantically, with a member of the Staff. He knew he would have to discuss this with Señora Angostura at the first opportunity.