Case XI: Chapter 4: Dangerous Connections

 

Chapter 4: Dangerous Connections

There were two people sitting at the table when Cruz entered the Conference Room.   The man rose and extended his hand.  “Mr. Carabajal, my name is Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Major Crimes unit and this is Agent Charlotte McGuire from the DEA.  We’d like to talk to you about Jaime Carabado.  We understand he is your cousin.  And, you are aware that it was his body we discovered in the dumpster this morning”

“Yes. But, I don’t know anything about that.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Carabajal. We are investigating his murder and hope that you can provide us some information that will aid us in catching his killer.”

Cruz always assumed that Jaime hung around with some pretty tough-acting guys, but didn’t think any of them capable of such a brutal murder. “OK, but I don’t know how I can help.”

Agent McGuire spoke next.  “Mr. Carabajal, are you familiar with a gang called the Tecolotes?”

“Sure, everybody’s heard of them, but I don’t know anything about them or even who they really are.  I have some friends who say they do, but I think they’re just saying that to sound important.”

“Do you know if Mr. Carabado was associated with them in any way?”

“I don’t think so.  Jaime liked to talk and act like a big shot tough-guy, but I think it was mostly just talk.”

Lt. Garcia tried a different approach.  “Mr. Carabajal, can you tell me a about what you do here at Comanche Aeronautics?”

Cruz got nervous.  He was pretty sure his drone activities with Jaime were not completely above-board and knew he had to be very careful about his answers. “I am an Apprentice and also go to school.  I’m talking math and science courses and hope someday to get a full-time position here.”

“That’s fine and I wish you the best of success.  Can you tell me what kind of projects you work on, specifically?”

“Well, I sort of help out wherever I’m needed.  That way, I can learn a bit about different areas as part of my training here.”

Agent McGuire had personally questioned a number of local drug dealers who claimed to have been put out of business recently, so she decided to press.  “Mr. Carabajal, are you aware that Mr. Carabado, your cousin, was a drug dealer?”

“No!” shouted Cruz. “Jaime may not have been a model citizen and I know he’d been in jail, but I swear he never had anything to do with selling drugs, ever!”

“Well, this may come as a shock to you, Mr. Carabajal, but we are certain that, not only was he a dealer, but that he had become a major player in Albuquerque in recent months.  And, you claim that you are totally unaware of any involvement he might have had?”

“No! No! No! Jaime would never be involved with that!”

Lt. Garcia interjected. “OK, Mr. Carabajal, I think that’s enough for today.  We appreciate your time.  We’ll contact you if we have further questions.  In the mean time, I suggest you concentrate on your studies and your work here.  Thank you.”

Cruz was sweating profusely as he rose from his chair.  Agent McGuire stared at him until he was completely out of the room.  “Why’d you let him off so easy, Garcia?  He knows something, perhaps quite a bit, and you just let him walk.”

“Look Agent McGuire, he’s just a scared kid.  I agree that he’s hiding something or maybe he’s just trying to protect the memory of his cousin, I don’t know.  He’s not going anywhere.  My gut tells me there’s a reason Carabado’s body was dumped here; somebody may want to scare Carabajal.  I believe we should keep an eye on him and maybe our killer will show up.”

Garcia and McGuire spent the next two hours talking to employees at Comanche Aeronautics and asking questions about Cruz Carabajal.  They received consistent information that Cruz was a hard-working kid and well liked throughout the organization.  No one had any information that would connect Cruz to his murdered cousin; no one even knew much him away from work.  Several people suggested that Garcia talk to Marty Shackleford, but he hadn’t shown up for work yet.

When Marty finally dragged himself to work after another sleepless night with his baby daughter, he was unaware of the murder and associated flurry of activity that morning.  He found Cruz sitting in his cubicle just staring at a blank computer screen.  Marty grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down across from Cruz. “Hey, Shadow, what’s up?  You look like a warmed-over burrito.  Can I do anything to cheer you up?”

“Nah, it’s nothing.  I’m OK.”

“Well, you know I’m here for you, buddy.”

As Marty got up to leave, Cruz shouted. “They found my cousin’s body in the dumpster this morning!  The police were here for hours and questioned me about him and his activities and everything.”

“Holy shit, Cruz!  Do they have any idea who killed him?”

“No.  They asked me if I knew anything, but I don’t.  Honest, Marty, I don’t know anything!”

“That’s OK.  The police always try to talk to everybody and since it was your cousin, I guess they figured you might have some useful information.  Why don’t you just get out of here for today?  Just remember that I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.”

Things only got worse for Cruz Carabajal.  For the next several days, he was aware that someone followed him all the way to work and was there waiting whenever he left to go to class.  Finally, a car pulled up beside of him as he walked.  “Get in, Cruz.  We need to have a little talk.”

Cruz hesitated. He noticed a man walking toward him and another coming from behind.  Cruz realized he had no choice and got in the large SUV with heavily-tinted windows.

“Cruz Carabajal, my little genius, you’ve been avoiding me,” said the heavily-tattooed man seated in the back seat next to him.  You cousin made promises to me and then reneged; that wasn’t a very smart move. I don’t like it when people make promises and then don’t honor their word. But, he told me something very interesting before he died.  He told me that you were the one who was actually building the drones for us.  At first, he wouldn’t tell me where he got them, so I had to use a harsher way of convincing him to tell me everything. Unfortunately, he died.  Now, I assume you’re a smart kid and don’t want to end up like your unfortunate cousin.  So, I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do and I don’t want any excuses.”

Cruz was terrified.  He guessed that these were the bad people Jaime had sold a few drones to and probably the same ones who had threatened and eventually killed him.  Cruz understood why Jaime was in such a panic.  He wished he could have helped, but it was too late.  Cruz now found himself in a similarly dangerous situation.  He would try to bargain his way out of it.  “Look, I don’t know what Jaime told you, but I don’t know how to build what you want.  The first drones were pretty simple stuff and that’s all I know how to do.  I really can’t help you.  Please let me go.  I won’t say anything to anybody.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Little Cousin.  I want these drones and you’re the person who’s going to get them for me.  I don’t really care what you know or don’t know.  What about that guy I see you hanging around with all the time; does he know how to build what I want?”

Cruz needed a way out. He realized that he had to deliver the drones or he would end up in the dumpster like his cousin.  But, he really didn’t have the skills and wasn’t sure Marty did either. In a panic, Cruz whispered, “I think he does.”

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Now, you just get to work and get your buddy to help you.  I need at least one drone in about ten days.  Do you remember everything I want the drone to do, or do I have to prod your memory a bit?”

“No, I remember. Please don’t hurt me.  I’ll get your drone. I promise.”  Cruz could only think about getting out of the car and getting away from these guys as quickly as possible.

“OK, Little Cousin.  You can go, but remember we’ll be watching … all the time.”

Enrique Cortez was not one to leave anything to chance.  He hadn’t risen to be Leader of the Tecolotes by overlooking even the smallest detail.  He selected a few gang members to monitor Cruz’s activities and never let him of their sight, even for a moment. He also realized that he would have to make sure that this other person provided Cruz everything he needed to get the drone built and delivered on time. Even Jaime Carabado had said that Cruz needed help on this larger drone. Cortez had a specific plan in mind for this guy Cruz referred to as Marty.  That evening, he spoke privately with Eva Vasquez and explained how important it was for Cruz to have Marty’s full cooperation.  “I want use his wife as leverage to make sure I get what I need.  Locate her and make it obvious that she is being watched.  Create fear in her mind with your presence. Find ways to create more pressure through her if it becomes necessary.”

After a sleepless night, Cruz Carabajal realized that he had to tell Marty Shackleford everything.  He had dragged Marty into this dangerous situation to save his own skin and, in the process, put him at equal risk. At the very least, he had to warn Marty about the very dangerous people Jaime had dealt with and about what Cruz knew was happening with the drones.  Cruz tried several times to initiate the conversation, but Marty was preoccupied with a new project he’d been assigned. Finally, Cruz just blurted it all out. “Marty, I’m in a world of trouble.  It has to do with my cousin and the drones we made for that lawyer. You’ve got to help me.  I don’t know what to do.  They want more drones and I can’t build them.  If I don’t, they’ll kill me like they did Jaime.”

“Whoa, slow down, Cruz.  What are you talking about?  What drones?  What lawyer?   Sit down and close the door.  What’s going on?”

Cruz tried to recount the entire story in logical order, but he kept coming back to the guy in the car who had threatened him.  With some prodding from Marty and making Cruz repeat the key points several times, Marty was able to get a reasonable understanding of the situation.  “So, let me get this straight.  Your cousin roped you into building a few drones for a lawyer that he subsequently sold to a local gang to support their drug business.  Is that about it?”

“Yeah, and now these guys want a really sophisticated drone for some other purpose.  It has to do all sorts of things.  And, they told me if I don’t deliver it, I’ll end up in the dumpster like Jaime.”

“Look, Cruz, everything you’ve done, from the first simple drone, is a violation of the trust I put in you not to mention the people here at Comanche.  You realize that you’ve put your future here in jeopardy?”

“I know that Marty and I’m really sorry.  At first, it was just fun and I convinced myself that I was using the technology for a good purpose.  I guess I should have not trusted my cousin as much as I did.  But, now things are really serious and I could end up dead.  These are really bad guys my cousin got involved with.  I can’t make the drone they want; I just don’t have the skills.  I know what I did was wrong.  I’m begging you, Marty, you have to help; I’ve got nowhere else to turn.”

“That’s fine, but you’re asking me to be part of something that is undoubtedly illegal and will probably ruin my career as well.  Comanche is everything to me and I can’t just throw it away because you were stupid and tried to impress your cousin.  I don’t know, Cruz.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want any parts of this.  I’m sorry.”

Cruz tried to keep the discussion going, but Marty got up and walked out onto the shop floor and started talking with some other engineers.  Cruz was at a loss.  He didn’t know where he could go and be safe.  After driving around town for a couple of hours, he headed south on I-25.  He had a cousin near Carrizozo and hoped he could stay there a few days.  Maybe Marty would decide to help him.

At dinner that evening, Debbie Shackleford found Marty unusually quiet.  She assumed that the lack of sleep was affecting them both and Marty just needed some peace and quiet.  She went to the nursery to check on the baby and Marty began clearing the table and doing the dishes. Suddenly, she heard a loud crash coming from the kitchen and ran to see what had happened.  Marty had thrown several dinner plates against the wall and was now on his hands and knees trying to pick up the hundreds of sharp pieces.  Debbie was shocked at this uncharacteristic behavior and knelt beside Marty on the floor and put her arms around him.  “Talk to me, Marty.”

Marty’s frustration had subsided and he told Debbie about Cruz’s situation, carefully leaving out the part about a potential death threat.  “You did the right thing, Marty.  You’ve worked too hard to succeed at Comanche and our future depends on it.  Besides, I suspect Cruz is exaggerating his story to avoid telling you the truth.  It sounds to me that he and his cousin got hooked up with some sleaze-bag lawyer and thought they could make some easy money.  He probably made a bunch of promises about what he could do with drones and is now in over his head.  It’s not your problem.  Now, let me hold the waste basket while you sweep up the remaining pieces.  On Saturday, we can go to Target and get some new dishes.”

With a smile on her face, Debbie Shackleford drove to work at La Vida Aureo the next morning with a stop at Los Niños Day Care with her baby daughter.  This was always a difficult part of the day for her, but Los Niños had come highly recommended.  As usual, she would return on her lunch hour to feed the baby and just hold her.  Today, however, Debbie found her baby daughter in the arms of a woman she had never seen before at Los Niños. “Who are you and what are you doing with my baby?” cried Debbie as she approached.  “I’ve never seen you here before.  Please just give me my baby!”

The woman smiled and handed the baby to Debbie.  “She is such a sweet child and is sleeping peacefully.  My name is Eva and I want you to deliver a message to your husband.  Enrique wants him to stop acting like a Boy Scout and help his friend Cruz.  It would be most unfortunate if something were to happen to him or to your beautiful child.”

Debbie was shaken and hurried inside to talk to a Supervisor.  “Who was that woman?  Why did you let her have my baby?  It was wrong! She could have stolen her!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Shackleford.  She told me she was your new Nanny and it was her job to check on the baby while you were at work.  She sounded very convincing; she knew all about you and Marty and the baby and where you both work and everything.  Besides, she was always in my sight and never left the inside courtyard.  I’m terribly sorry if there was something wrong.”
“She is NOT our Nanny!  Do I look like the kind of person who could afford a Nanny?  And, even if I could, I would never hire someone like that.  Did you see all of the tattoos on her arms?” Debbie eventually calmed down a bit and made the Supervisor promise to keep the baby inside the remainder of the day.

Debbie drove back to La Vida Aureo but was still too upset to return to her desk.  Instead, she walked around the main courtyard and sat down on a wooden bench near the Navajo willow tree.  She buried her head in her hands and began to cry, softly at first and then more loudly. “My baby, my baby!” Her daughter was her whole life and represented the very essence of the life she was building with Marty.

Matthew Dudley was leaving the Main Building to return to his daily maintenance routine when Lt. Frank Garcia approached.  “Good afternoon, Lieutenant.  I hope there is nothing serious and this is just a social call.”

“Good day to you, Doc.  Yes, I’m just visiting.  I came to see Señora Angostura to receive some of her positive energy to revitalize my spirits.  This latest murder at Comanche Aeronautics is particularly disturbing.  I’m convinced it’s connected to the other drug-related killings, but I can’t figure out the Comanche connection.  Why dump the body there?   I suspect the Tecolote Gang is somehow involved, but we have been unable to make any arrests.  It seems like the dealers know our every move.  Internal Affairs has questioned almost every officer in the Department and are convinced there isn’t an internal leak.  We’re changing our communication protocol every day, but that hasn’t helped either.  To show how desperate we’ve become, the Chief has invited the DEA to assist!”

Dudley had seen the report of the murder at Comanche Aeronautics on the local news.  Like Garcia, the location didn’t make any sense.  He knew that Marty Shackleford worked there, but, that was probably just a coincidence.  “I know you’ll solve this, Lieutenant, particularly after you visit with Señora Angostura.  She has a wonderful way of providing people with strength to continue, even in the most difficult circumstances.  If you’ll excuse me, I have chores to attend to this afternoon.  Good luck.”

As he walked away, Ynez Barela rushed up to Matthew Dudley.  “Señor Dudley, she is here!  I heard her wailing and calling out for her lost children.”

“Calm down, Señora Barela.  Who is here?”
“It is La Llorona, the Woman in White.  She has come for Dia de los Muertos

Dudley tried to placate Señora Barela, telling her not to worry and that he would investigate immediately.  He found Debbie Shackleford sitting by the Navajo willow.  She was still crying and she was dressed in a beige skirt and white blouse.  Dudley sat down next to her and asked softly, “Mrs. Shackleford, is there anything I can do?  Can I get you something?  Can I call your husband, or someone?”
Through her sobs, Debbie related the incident at Los Niños.

“Why would that woman show up to threaten you?”

Debbie continued crying as she told Dudley about the previous evening’s episode with Marty involving Cruz Carabajal and the drones and Comanche Aeronautics.  Dudley listened intently and tried to put the pieces of these seemingly unrelated events in place.  Just as Debbie seemed to be gaining control, OJ Torreon walked up and tried to get Dudley’s attention.  Debbie pointed at him and screamed!

OJ backed away. Dudley held Debbie close to him.  “I’m so sorry, OJ,” she finally said.  “I just saw the tattoo on your arm and it scared me.  I didn’t mean to frighten you, or Mr. Dudley.”

“What was that about, Mrs. Shackleford?  You know OJ and have seen him many times before around here.  What frightened you so much?”

“It’s the tattoo on his arm.  The woman who was holding my baby had one just like it on her upper arm.  What does it mean?”

“It is from my youth,” replied OJ.  “I keep it to remind me how far I’ve come and that there are always bad people out there that I must stay away from.  I’m sorry if I upset you.”

Dudley knew that the tattoo on OJ’s arm was called Ojos de la Tecolote (eyes of the owl), the symbol of the Tecolote Gang.  OJ had shared that information with him on one of their drives to Cerrillos.

The earlier conversation with Lt. Garcia entered Dudley’s mind and he began to recognize connections between individual events.  “Mrs. Shackleford, would you and your husband be my guests at dinner this evening?  I know Señora Paloma has prepared a special dinner to begin the Dia de los Muertos celebration and it would be a nice break for you.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, that would be very nice.  I’m sure Marty would enjoy that and, besides, we’re a little short on dinner plates right now.”

After Debbie left to return to her office, Dudley turned to OJ. “I believe Mrs. Shackleford had some sort of upsetting encounter with someone from the Tecolote Gang today.  She said the woman told her that Enrique was watching her.  Does that name mean anything to you?”
“Oh, Señor Doc, Enrique is the Jefe of the Tecolotes and one very cruel dude.  He is the main reason I got away from them years ago.”

As he continued to sit beneath the Navajo willow, a pattern began to form in Dudley’s mind.  He thought he could visualize the various pieces coming together, but he had to be certain because he also sensed great danger. Inviting the Shacklefords to dinner would provide the opportunity to gather everyone affected by these events, including Lt. Garcia. The challenge for Dudley was to guide the conversation so that Garcia would come to the same conclusion that was gathering in Dudley’s mind.  Then it would be necessary to formulate a plan of action to conclude this situation without increasing the risks to anyone.

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