Case XII: Chapter 5: Dudley Gets a History Lesson

Case XII: Chapter 5: Dudley Gets A History Lesson


Dudley reflected on his sense of sadness about Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and his discovery of the grain alcohol apparently hidden in the pantry. He decided to share his feelings with Paloma Angostura which might help him make sense of the situation.

Paloma welcomed him with a warm smile. “Señor Doc, your face tells me you are troubled by something.  I can only assume it is the untimely death of another dear Resident. It must weigh heavy on you.”

Paloma’s warmth and grace immediately touched Dudley and he realized he could share all of his thoughts with her.  “That is certainly the case, Señora, but there is more.  It started when Isabella asked me to go through Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  I was struck by a sense of sadness; I did not see any photographs or mementoes of her life.  More upsetting was what I found in her pantry.  There were several bottle of sherry, which I will tell you about in a minute, but I also discovered a partially-full bottle of grain alcohol. That would indicate to me that perhaps Mrs. Aldridge had a serious drinking problem.  It was all very sad.”

“And to make matters worse, Mrs. Branch stopped me in the hallway to give me her version of these recent unfortunate events. Mrs. Branch told me that she and Mrs. Aldridge would often share a social glass of sherry in the afternoon, which would explain the sherry in the pantry.  Mrs. Branch went on to tell me she is convinced that Mrs. Aldridge was poisoned.  She believes it was your sister, whom she refers to as “that Mexican Witch” who is responsible.  She has seen Señora Barela and your sister sitting together in the Dining Room with Mrs. Aldridge.  She does not know that woman is your sister, but Mrs. Branch is convinced there is something sinister going on that she is not privy to. It has been a bit much to digest in one afternoon.”

Paloma smiled and then her face turned serious.  “Señor Doc, I will tell you what I know.  Then, we must try to figure out if there are other things happening.”

“You are aware that Señora Branch and Señora Barela have been working together with me in the kitchen for some time and everything seemed to be running smoothly.  These two former enemies were cooperating and we had organized several special meals which the Residents seemed to enjoy.  Then, one day at the lunch meal, Señora Aldridge and Señora Barela happened to be standing next to each other and, quite accidentally, discovered they both spoke Spanish as their native language. The two women spent the next several hours sitting together talking. It was delightful to watch; I had never seen either woman so expressive or happy.  Unfortunately, Señora Branch observed the situation and stormed out of the Dining Room.  When we got together to plan another event, Señora Branch was quite rude to Señora Barela which I saw as pure jealousy.  I believe Señora Branch is now competing for Señora Aldridge’s attention and Señora Barela is the enemy.”

“So, you believe that much of Mrs. Branch’s behavior is simple jealousy because she feels that Mrs. Aldridge now favors Señora Barela?  Does that explain why she makes these ugly comments about what she refers to as Mexicans?

Si. The fact that Spanish is spoken makes Señora Branch feel excluded.  There is much about Señora Aldridge that Señora Branch and most of the other Residents do not know.”

“Does this have to do with why you said she was a mogollonita, or something like that?”

“Si. Señora Aldridge often claimed her family was among the earliest residents in southwestern New Mexico and that she was a direct descendant of Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon.  Señor Mogollon was the Spanish Governor for large parts of New Mexico and Arizona; the mountains are named after him.  It was said he fathered many children with many women and those children became known as the mogollonita, the little ones from Governor Mogollon.  Before she became Harriet Aldridge she was known as Enriqueta Mogollita.  Perhaps as a payment, Señora Aldridge’s grandfather was given a rather large grant of land to farm.  When silver and gold were discovered, there was a rush to claim ownership for much of the land.  In order to protect the family’s land, it was arranged for young Enriqueta to be married to a much older Anglo man named Aldridge who also had sizeable land holdings.”

“Mrs. Branch told me that Mrs. Aldridge’s husband died a short time later and she moved to Silver City with her daughter. They eventually moved to Albuquerque.  I assume that Mrs. Branch is unaware of the details of Mrs. Aldridge’s earlier life.  She only knows that Mrs. Aldridge’s good fortune came somehow from mining which is similar to her own background.”

“That is correct. It is none of my business, but I believe Señora Aldridge only shares her true story with very few people and only those who can hear the story in Spanish.”

“That makes perfect sense to me.  Please help me understand how Mrs. Branch has come to believe that your sister Deluviña is a witch and is somehow involved in poisoning Mrs. Aldridge.”

Paloma grinned broadly.  “I believe, Señor Doc, that Señora Branch’s imagination has gotten the better of her.”

“I agree, but where would the idea of a witch even come from?”

“I can only guess that it is because Deluviña is now a very small woman who dresses all in black and is terribly bent with age.  To some, she may look much like the picture of a witch in a child’s storybook.”

“That makes sense.”

Señor Doc, there are many stories and legends in my culture of witches, or brujas. Most are really just an important part of storytelling by the family matriarch or abuela and are designed to teach children a moral lesson while sending a chill down their backs. You remember Señora Barela talking about La Llorona, the Crying Woman?  That is an example of one such enchanting and scary tale.  Stories of evil spells, curses, supernatural forces and such are folk lore, nothing more. If I am correct, many of the Grimm Tales in your culture were also quite scary in their original form. I suggest you read Bless Me, Ultima, a book by Rudolfo Anaya, to learn more about brujas and this aspect of the Spanish culture.”

Gracias, Señora Angostura.  Thank you very much. I appreciate your taking the time to explain these things to me.  And, I will make a point of locating a copy of the book and read it with interest.  I’m certain that Mrs. Branch has not given up on her theory of poisoning and I will no doubt hear from her again.  It is not necessary to talk about Mrs. Aldridge’s past, but I might be able to convince her that your sister is not a witch here to do harm to La Vida Aureo and its Residents.”


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