Case XII: Chapter 9: Lt. Garcia on the Case

Case XII: Chapter 9: Lt. Garcia On The Case

 

It was no surprise when Lt. Garcia called Isabella Duncan early the next morning and requested a meeting with her and Matthew Dudley.  “Isabella, our forensic labs have concluded additional tests on items from Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and I’d like to discuss these finding with you and Dudley.  If it’s convenient, I’m on my way to La Vida Aureo right now.”

“That would be fine, Lieutenant.  Doc stopped by a few minutes ago and said he thought you might call.  He was somewhat evasive, but I detected that you learned some things about Mrs. Aldridge’s death that indicate that it might not be an accident after all.”

“That’s correct, Isabella.  I talked with Doc a few days ago. I apologized for not getting back to both of you sooner, but it’s been a bit crazy here the past few days.”

“No need to apologize, Lieutenant.  The local TV stations have done their usual job of over-dramatizing the details of every crime in the City and I can see why you have been so busy.  I can only imagine how much pressure you’ve been under.”

 

It was only a few minutes later before Lt. Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo and he went straight to Isabella Duncan’s office.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, Ms. Duncan, but I would really like to get to the bottom of this situation.  I believe now that Mrs. Aldridge’s fatal fall was caused, at least in part, by poisoning.  I still have a great many questions, but want to go back to her apartment because I believe the answer may be there. I would also appreciate it if you could tell me who had access to her apartment.

“Certainly, Lieutenant.  Doc and I want to help you in any way we can.  We are also eager to understand what happened.  To the best of my knowledge, two women on our Staff, Frida Savino and Elena Vargas, were the only ones who would have been in Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  Oh, and Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter comes by on occasion to visit her mother.”

“Thank you, Isabella.  I appreciate your support and cooperation.  While I look around the apartment, could you please arrange for those two women to meet me here in your office?  I know I talked to them briefly when Mrs. Aldridge’s body was first discovered, but I need to talk them in greater detail.  I will want to take their fingerprints.  Please advise them of that.  We can discuss the daughter when I’m finished with your Staff members.”

Turning to Dudley, Garcia said, “Doc, would you walk with me to Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment?  I think I remember the way, but it would be potentially less threatening to some Residents if you were with me.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant.”

 

As they walked up the hallway toward Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, Garcia looked at Dudley.  “OK, Doc, I’m sure you’ve done some snooping on your own; what else can you tell me?”

“You know, Lieutenant, I don’t mean to interfere, but …”

“C’mon, Doc.  You have a much better sense of what goes on here and are familiar with most of the Residents.  I appreciate your insights.  Besides, I know you couldn’t just let the circumstances of this death go.”

“Well, there are two things. First, I imagine you’ve concluded there are some suspicious aspects to the sherry that Mrs. Aldridge was drinking.  Your lab said they found an unusually high alcohol content in her blood which should not be the case for cream sherry.  In her pantry, I discovered a bottle of grain alcohol which I believe she was adding to her sherry.  I can show you several decanters which illustrate this point. It is also possible that the wood alcohol your lab detected came from that grain alcohol.”

“So, you’re telling me that this sweet Old Lady was spiking her sherry.”

“Yes.  Your lab results pretty much prove this. And, Isabella told me she was aware that Mrs. Aldridge had a drinking problem, at least at some point in the recent past.”

“Well, that at least helps to explain the unusually high alcohol content we found.  But, tell me Doc, how did the poison get in the grain alcohol she was using?”

“It could have been in the grain alcohol when she bought it.”

“Or, someone could have put it there to poison her.”

“Now, you’re talking like a Policeman.”

“It’s my job, Doc.  You said there were two things.  What’s the second?”

“Well, there’s another theory to explain poisoning.   Mrs. Branch, you remember her, believes there is a bruja here at La Vida Aureo and that so-called witch put a curse on Mrs. Aldridge and poisoned her with special herbs.”

“Oh, great!  If it’s OK with you, Doc, we’ll ignore your resident Agatha Christie for the time being and focus on the wood alcohol and try to figure out how it got in Mrs. Aldridge’s cream sherry.”

 

Once they were in the apartment, it only took a short time for Dudley to show Lt. Garcia the pantry and the assortment of bottles and decanters. He explained what he had learned about the color of sherry which was an indication of dilution with grain alcohol.  As expected, Garcia placed each bottle in a secure evidence bag.

“I believe these bottles will tell us everything we need to know.  If we find only Mrs. Aldridge’s prints, then it is safe to assume that no one else was involved.  Other prints will tell us that the bottles were tampered with and point to someone.”

 

One the way back to Isabella’s office, Garcia felt he needed to ask Dudley how he learned so much about cream sherry and why the color provided the insight to the actual situation.  “I assume you are still hanging out with Ray Little Feather and that bunch of curmudgeon friends of yours.  Did one of them tell you all about sherry and the colors and such?”

“I have to confess, Lieutenant.  My friend Emilio Sandoval provided much of the background and told me what to look for.  I didn’t hide anything from you or interfere in any way.  I felt it was my responsibility to take you to the pantry.  I knew you would quickly see the same things I noticed.”

“It’s OK, Doc.  I appreciate your help as long as you don’t interfere.  While we’re on the subject, did any of your buddies provide any other insights that I need to know about?”

“There is one other thing.  It pertains to Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law.  Two different people I trust mentioned his name in the context of his being in considerable debt and realizing that his mother-in-law’s estate could be a way out.”

 

When he returned to Isabella’s office, Garcia found Frida Savino and Elena Vargas sitting in the adjacent small conference room. Garcia’s questioning was polite, but thorough.  It did not take long for him to conclude that neither of these women would have deliberately harmed Mrs. Aldridge.  But, to be complete, he had arranged for a forensic technician to be present to take their fingerprints.  Garcia thanked both women and returned to Isabella’s office.

“I appreciate your arranging those interviews, Isabella, but I doubt either of them had anything to do with Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  What can you tell me about her daughter?”

“Not too much, Lieutenant, except I believe they had a difficult relationship.  When she came here to handle her mother’s affairs, she did not show any remorse or sadness. Perhaps she was in shock, but that’s not how she behaved.  She was more than anxious to get her mother’s body released from the Coroner and cremated as quickly as possible.  She refused to have any kind of memorial service, despite my requesting a simple service that some of the Residents could attend.”

“What about her husband, the son-in-law?”

“I don’t know anything about him.  Sorry.”

“Well, it seems to me the daughter and son-in-law are two people I should talk to.  I suppose I could ask them to come to the Station, but there is really no reason for that type of request.”

Isabella looked at Dudley and smiled.  “Well, Lieutenant, we may be able to help.”  Isabella reached into her desk and took out a plastic bag containing a partially-full bottle of mineral water and handed it to Lt. Garcia. “I believe you’ll find a complete set of fingerprints from Camille Linderman on this bottle.”

Isabella then took a second smaller plastic from her desk and handed it to Garcia.  “A mutual friend obtained this chip at Sandia Casino and it should allow you to get a set of Roger Linderman’s prints.”

“I suppose I should not ask any more questions, but get these gifts back to the lab for analysis as quickly as possible.  At the very least, it will give me a reason to ask Mr. and Mrs. Linderman to come to my office, just to talk, you understand.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant,” smiled Isabella Duncan.  “We understand completely.  We’re just trying to be good citizens.”

 

Garcia asked Dudley to walk him to the Visitors’ Parking Lot.  As they neared Garcia’s Police Cruiser, he turned to Dudley. “You know I probably won’t be able to use anything I take from either of these gifts Isabella gave me as real evidence; there isn’t any documentation, much less a valid chain-of-custody for either piece. Even an Albuquerque Public Defender would have these thrown out in a minute.”

“Isabella and I both realize that, Frank. At the very least it could encourage you to handle things according to proper Police procedure and formally request fingerprints from certain individuals. It seems to me that you’re looking for a set of prints that match what you will find on the bottles you took from Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry.”

“You’re correct, Doc.  I suppose you’ll next tell me I might be able to get those prints while those same individuals were at the Station, but you’re not telling me how to do my job are you?”

“That would be convenient, Lieutenant and I wouldn’t think of it!”

“OK, Doc, I’ll put a rush on the lab boys as soon as I get back to the Station.  Oh, and say “Hi!” to Ray when you see him at you Curmudgeon’s Club get-together.  A Casino chip, really, Doc?

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