Case XII: Chapter 6: The Curmudgeon Crew Helps Out
As he walked out of the Dining Room, Dudley realized he had not pursued the issue of the grain alcohol in the apartment with Señora Angostura. Perhaps Elena, the young woman who cleaned the apartment, or Frida Savino, would know more. He would ask Paloma to help him talk to the two women in the next day or two. He also thought he understood why a non-drinker like Mrs. Branch would create an afternoon ritual of drinking sherry with Mrs. Aldridge. It was something they could do alone, without potential interference from anyone else, particularly anyone speaking Spanish. It was simply a bribe!
Without be completely aware of it, Dudley found himself walking toward the Navajo Willow in the courtyard. It was a place of respite for him which he needed. Unfortunately, as he sat down, his phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Am I talking to the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes for Senior Citizens?”
Recognizing Ray Little Feather’s booming voice, Dudley responded with a question of his own, “It might be. I assume this is the famous Indian, Chief Thunderthud.”
“My mistake, I think I’ve accidentally reached Phineas T. Bluster!”
“Ray, you can’t imagine how good it is to hear your voice.”
“Having a bad day, are we, Doc?”
“I won’t bore you with the details, but we’ve had another death here a few days ago and I’m concerned that there is more involved here than originally thought.”
“Can’t stop playing detective, can you? Is there anything you want to talk about? Maybe the guys can help you solve this, if it becomes too complicated for your aging brain.”
“Thanks, but I’m not even sure there’s anything here; at least not yet. Anyway, I’m glad you called. I had marked on my calendar that we were all going to get together tomorrow morning. Is that correct?”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that you haven’t lost all of your marbles; at least not yet. I was calling to see if you needed a ride to Guzman’s place.”
“I don’t think so. OJ has to go to the Lumber Yard near Old Town and I can catch a ride with him. I may need a ride home, however.”
“No problem. As long as you feel safe riding in that heap of his. See you in the morning.”
The call from Ray lifted Dudley’s spirits and he put his concerns about Mrs. Aldridge aside and went to his apartment to shower and dress for dinner with Janetta.
The next morning, after Dudley finished reading The Wall Street Journal, he stopped at Isabella’s office to tell her he was leaving for a few hours, but would return by early afternoon.
“I assume you’re going to Saville’s in Old Town to catch up with that group of curmudgeon buddies of yours. There’s not much going on here today and I know how to reach if something comes up. Camille Linderman will be here later to sign a few papers related to her mother’s apartment and badger me about the Death Certificate, which I have yet to receive. I doubt that she’ll want to stay long, but I will try to have her look through the apartment. Not to worry, Doc. I’ve got my Big Girl pants on today and I believe I can handle her alone.”
OJ Torreon dropped Dudley at Saville & Son’s Coffee Shop in Old Town which was near the lumber yard. Dudley’s group of friends, who referred to themselves as his Curmudgeon Crew, were all present when he entered. The group consisted of Redondo (Ray) Little Feather, Absolom (Abe) Goldman, Emilio Sandoval and Hakim El-Fiki. They were already engaged in lively conversation and the main topic of discussion was the recent presidential election. These men had highly divergent backgrounds and life experiences such that their individual perspectives and opinions varied a great deal. Consequently, their discussions were frequently noisy and quite animated. Today was no exception.
As Matthew Dudley entered, the group stopped talking and greeted him warmly. “Let’s ask Doc to settle this, or at least give us the benefit of his years of wisdom”, suggested Emilio.
“Ouch”, replied Dudley. “If you think I’m going to step into the middle of a discussion that’s been going on for some time, you’ve got another thing coming. Besides, I know there’s no such thing as settling anything with you bunch of opinionated old geezers.”
“Well, Good Morning to you as well,” offered Abe. “We were just discussing our new President and what effect he might have on us. Emilio and Hakim think there may even be a chance they could be deported even though they are both citizens.”
“I don’t have any answers or insights into what might or might not happen. I think people voted for him because they thought they wanted something different from our Government and that’s certainly what’s happening. I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with things, at least for a while. I have my concerns just like you and am trying to stay focused on things I can affect or influence. As for you guys getting deported, I really don’t see any way you can be considered immigrants at this point.”
Dudley sat down and focused on his fresh coffee and pastry. The discussion started up again and this time centered on immigration and immigrants. Everyone agreed that immigrants had made valuable contributions over many years and couldn’t understand how the national discussion had become so distorted. There were comments about how there was so much false information out there, who was at fault and suggestions about how to address the situation. The intensity of the discussion continued to grow until Ray Little Feather stood up with a very serious look on his face and waved his arms for everyone to be quiet.
“I believe that you are missing one important point. You are ALL immigrants in MY country!”
There was a brief moment of silence as everyone realized Ray had a point. Everyone at the table started laughing.
The Curmudgeon Crew turned their energies to community service, a subject with which they had much in common. These men were active in their respective communities, each in his own way according to his abilities and interests.
This behavior confounded the many younger patrons of Saville & Sons who simply could not understand how these men with such strongly-held opinions could just stop a seemingly highly-charged discussion moments before it certainly deteriorated into an argument or even fisticuffs. “It’s like there’s a Pause Button,” said one young man who was standing at the counter getting his latte.
Hector Guzman-Gomez, the shop’s Owner, just smiled. “Do not underestimate how strongly each of those gentlemen believes in his position. But, there is also an overriding sense of maturity and respect. Each realizes that another has a different perspective and something might be learned if he allows that man to speak. You learn nothing while you’re screaming. I don’t remember; it might have been El-Fiki quoting the Koran or Goldman quoting the Torah. But, he said, “God gave Man two ears and one mouth so that he might hear twice as much as he says”.”
“Wow, I never thought I’d get a philosophy lesson at a coffee shop in Old Town. And, it’s not even a Starbucks.”
“I suggest you read a book entitled Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal which will help you understand the historical significance of what you witnessed in my humble establishment.”
After a short while, the group broke up; each had a volunteer commitment that afternoon. Dudley walked over to where Ray and Emilio were standing. “Ray, I need to ask Emilio some questions. Can you wait to give me a ride back to La Vida Aureo?”
“No problem, Doc. I wanted to try to catch Frank Garcia and talk about some changes I’d like to make to our Youth Program. I’ll swing back here when I’m finished.”
“Can I help you with something, amigo?
“Emilio, can you tell me a bit about sherry?”
“Do you mean the Frankie Valli song or the Spanish liqueur?”
“Now it is you showing his age, my friend. I would like to know a bit more about the alcoholic beverage. I won’t bother you with the details, but it is connected to something that recently happened at La Vida Aureo.”
“Ah, one of the ladies got too deep into the bottle, I suppose.”
“Perhaps something like that. I just don’t know.”
“No problem, Doc, let me bore you with a bit of historical background and then tell you about the liqueur.”
“Sherry is a fortified wine made from white Palomino grapes grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain, Andalusia. Jerez has been a center of wine-making since it was introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians in about 1100 BC and carried on by the Romans when they took control of Iberia. When the Moors later conquered the region, the town was called Sherish from which the words Sherry and Jerez are derived. The word Sherry is an anglicisation of Xeres or Jerez.”
“As part of its colorful history, it is said that Christopher Columbus brought sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more on sherry than on weapons!”
“Sherry is produced in a several styles, ranging from light versions called Fino, to darker and heavier versions such as Amontillado and Oloroso. Fino is much like a dry white wine while Amontillado can be more like a dessert wine. The alcohol content also varies, from about 15 percent in Fino to over 20 percent in Amontillado. You may have heard of Cream Sherry which is a sweetened version of Oloroso with a higher alcohol content.”
“If I understand you correctly, each of these varieties has a slightly different color and alcohol content.”
“That is correct.”
“So the lighter-color one, I believe you called it Fino, has a lower alcohol content while the cream sherry is darker and is higher in alcohol?”
“Yes. It is none of my business, Doc, but I sense you are trying to understand something. Perhaps, if you gave me a bit more information, I could be of more help.”
“You might have been correct, Emilio, when you suggested that one of the ladies got too deep into the sherry bottle. Recently, a female Resident was found dead in her apartment and there was a spilled glass nearby. So far, her death has been ruled an accident because it appears she hit her head when she fell. But, as I was looking through her apartment, I came across several bottles of cream sherry. That wasn’t much of a surprise because I knew she and another Resident often shared a glass in the afternoon. I was surprised, however, to find an unlabeled decanter filled with a lighter liquid that also looked like sherry. I also came across a bottle of clear liquid which I believe is grain alcohol. This caused me to wonder if the cream sherry was being diluted with the grain alcohol.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Doc, and I do not believe dilution is the correct description of what is happening. Adding grain alcohol would certainly give cream sherry a lighter color, depending on the amount added, and increase the alcohol content considerably, again depending on how much was added. I’m not sure I understand the purpose unless it was only to increase the alcohol content. I’m certain it would significantly alter the taste and, in my opinion, make it much worse.”
“Thank you, Emilio. You have been most helpful. It had occurred to me that was the purpose of adding grain alcohol, but I was hesitant to believe it. I need to do some more checking into Mrs. Aldridge’s habits, but I am not aware of anything to suggest she was an alcoholic.”
“I am always glad to be of help, Doc. I hope this doesn’t affect the conclusion that this poor lady’s death was an accident.”
“I agree; that would be most unfortunate. I see Ray has just pulled up and I’ll have to go before he goes on the warpath. Thanks again.”
Dudley was able to get into Ray’s truck with only a minimal amount of harassment. He decided to initiate the conversation before Ray began asking about his so-called love life.
“So, how is Lt. Garcia? I think it’s a good thing you guys are doing with your youth program.”
“It is hard work trying to keep young men on a constructive path, but still much easier than getting them out of serious trouble. And the Legendary Lieutenant sends his regards.”
“And, I’m sure Lt. Garcia appreciates being compared to the Legendary Lieutenant Leaphorn, Tony Hillerman’s fictional Navajo policeman.”
“He does. Frank also asked me to tell you he has some information about the woman who recently died at your place; lab results, I think he said. He said he’d give you a call later this afternoon. Don’t tell me you had another person die at that fancy resort where you live. You need to do a better job as House Detective, Doc!”
“Thank, Ray, I appreciate the vote of confidence. Anyway, it appears this death was an accident. At least, that’s what I thought initially, but now I’m not so sure.”
They drove along in silence. Dudley was reflecting on his discussion with Emilio and he also didn’t want to distract Ray as he drove north on I-25 from town. There seemed to be more than the usual number of drivers wanting to change lanes or cut in as everyone sped along.
As they neared La Vida Aureo, Ray pulled over. “I don’t want to add to your troubles, Doc, but I may have some important information. My nephew, actually one of my nephews, works at Sandia Casino. Right now, he’s on one of the active clean-up crews, but he’s working to apply for a better-paying opportunity. Late yesterday afternoon, he happened to overhear a guy sitting at a blackjack table who seemed to be losing and this guy mentioned La Vida Aureo. It may be nothing, but I thought you should know.”
“You’re right, Ray. It could be nothing, a simple coincidence. There are at least a dozen reasons why the name could come up. Do you know any more about this guy or why he would mention La Vida Aureo?”
“Not yet. But, I’ll be at my sister’s later and will talk to my nephew and see if I can learn any more. He’s a good kid. He keeps his nose clean, his mouth shut and his ears open. I’ll let you know if there’s anything to this.”
Ray dropped Dudley off at the main entrance to the central building. As he entered, he noticed Beth Ford walking through the lobby and changed his course to meet her. “Ms. Ford, it is good to see you. I apologize for not attending the last meeting of the Community Assist Team, but I’m confident you continue to make progress on all the initiatives.”
“Oh, Mr. Dudley, it is so good to see you, too. We missed you at the last meeting, but you can rest assured we are working hard. I continue to be pleased with the Team and how well everyone works together and how our individual skills complement each other. It is fortuitous I should run into you. There is something that happened recently I wanted to pass on to you.”
“You are aware we have a growing concern about Financial Planners and how some of them target older people. I decided to enroll in a training class for people who want to become certified as a Financial Planner and chose this particular class because it sounded suspicious from its name, Become a Financial Planner and Get Rich. After a few classes, I’ve come to suspect the course doesn’t even qualify a person to actually get certified. There are some shady characters in the class and one guy in particular. He claims to currently be a banker at Wells Fargo, but aspires to get rich as a financial planner and get his hands on his mother-in-law’s assets. This guy’s name is Linderman and I’ve mentioned it to the Team in case anyone comes across him as we work with various people and organizations. This experience has just strengthened my resolve to do as much as we can to help protect vulnerable folks from these predators.”
“That’s good work, Beth. I would just caution you to not put yourself at risk in any of these shady or suspicious situations. Please be careful.”
“Not to worry. And, I really didn’t mean to carry on about this guy. Take care and I’ll make sure to let you know when we’re having our next Team meeting. Have a good evening.”
Dudley hadn’t walked more than a few steps when his phone buzzed. “Doc, it’s Frank Garcia. Have you got a minute?”
“Sure, Lieutenant. Ray Little Feather warned me you might call.”
“Ray is a great guy and I’m pleased we both know him. I heard from the lab boys and wanted to pass on what they had to say. They called me this morning with the results of Mrs. Aldridge’s blood tests; turns out that her blood alcohol level was extremely high. It was significantly over what we consider legally impaired, much too high to be driving, even in New Mexico!”
“So, it’s possible that she was impaired enough to cause her to fall?”
“At the level they found, she certainly would have been seriously unstable and probably unable to walk steady.”
“That pretty much says her death was an unfortunate accident.”
“Well, there’s more. The lab technicians also analyzed the residual liquid in the glass we found. We were told that Mrs. Aldridge liked to have a glass of sherry and we wanted to confirm that. The liquid in the glass had an alcohol content much too high for commercial sherry, almost double, according to the tech guys. So, they went a few steps further and ran a gas chromatography analysis of the liquid. It contained a type of sugar which they expected for cream sherry, but they also detected the presence of methyl or wood alcohol.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Doc, wood alcohol is a poison. Even a small amount is dangerous.”
“You’re saying that Mrs. Aldridge was poisoned?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“That’s terrible. What happens next? I’m sure you’ll have to start some sort of investigation. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You know this isn’t how I wanted this all to turn out, Doc, but, yeah, there needs to be a thorough investigation. Obviously, if someone deliberately put wood alcohol in Mrs. Aldridge’s sherry, then we’re looking for a potential murderer. And, since it happened at La Vida Aureo, I’ll need to start there and could use your help.”
“I’ll do whatever I can, Lieutenant, you can count on me. When do you want to get started?”
“There was a multiple murder last night, probably drug related, that is taking top priority right now. The Mayor put everyone in the entire Department on notice that this needs to be solved immediately and he calls the Superintendent hourly for updates. I’m asking you to keep this quiet for a day or two until I can get some space and be able to concentrate on Mrs. Aldridge. Please don’t even say anything to Ms. Duncan. And, I’m going to put a hold on the Death Certificate and release of her body until I can sort out a few more details.”
“I understand, Lieutenant, but it will be tough to keep Isabella in the dark. She has a unique ability to read me and knows when I’m trying to hide something from her.”
“Just a day or two, Doc, I’ll get on this as quickly as possible, I promise. Crap! Gotta go; the Chief is headed toward my office.”
Dudley had only walked a few steps when his phone rang again. It was Ray Little Feather, calling as he had promised. Doc, I’m sorry to bother you so late, but I’m at my sister’s and wanted to let you know what I learned from my nephew.”
“No problem, Ray. I’m eager to hear what he had to say. It seems like things are getting more complicated by the minute.”
“Well, I’ll be brief. My nephew told me about this guy who is a regular at Sandia Casino and a consistent loser. He said his name is Lindman or Lindberg, or something like that, and he keeps coming back and keeps losing. So, the dealers have taken to calling him Lucky Lindy behind his back. The other afternoon, he was bragging that he had come into a bunch of money from his mother-in-law who just died and how he could cover his sizeable debts. This is the same guy who mentioned La Vida Aureo. That obviously rang a bell with me and I thought you should know.”
“Thanks, Ray. I believe I heard that same name just a short while ago in a slightly different context. If so, it could be very important. Right now, I need some time to think about everything I’ve heard today from several people.”
“OK, Doc, I’ll let you go. If I hear any more, I’ll be sure to give you a call. But, as your friend, I encourage you to relax a bit. I wouldn’t want you to spend so much time thinking that it begins to affect your love life.”
Dudley hoped that Ray was just fishing to see if he would admit to anything. With everything going on, the last thing Dudley needed right now was have to deal with his friends teasing about his so-called love life. Nonetheless, Dudley wished he could share all of these recent revelations with Janetta; he knew she could help him sort out the individual pieces of this puzzle. Instead, he decided it would be better to just be alone and quiet.