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Case VII

Case VII: Identities Lost and Stolen

That Martha Arthur would die of a heart attack was not a surprise to the residents and staff of La Vida Aureo; this kind and gentle woman had struggled with heart-related illness for many years. But, her good friend Millicent Branch believed otherwise.  She was convinced that Martha had been the victim of foul play and she was certain she knew who was responsible.  She had seen it coming for some time and had tried to warn Martha, but was unable to prevent the inevitable.

 

Chapter 1: New Directions

Matthew Dudley and Isabella Duncan were pleased that La Doña Jaramillo had expressed such enthusiasm for the Community Assist Program.  As she had promised, Isabella introduced Dudley to La Doña and their initial discussions had been better than she had expected.  Isabella presented the general concept of the Community Assist Program and encouraged Dudley to describe the details. La Doña listened carefully and probed several specific aspects of the program with additional questions. La Doña was, above all else, a very pragmatic person and did not see the merit in embarking on a program that was too large or ambitious in scope.  She was committed to helping her community in any way she could, but firmly believed that people should help themselves first.  Because the program that Isabella and Dudley had described was based on providing people with information so that they could help themselves, she would give it her total support.  They all agreed that the most important first step was to select a few individuals to serve as the initial Project Managers as Dudley had described that function.  They also agreed that this initial group should be diverse in background and experience since much of their initial responsibility would be to further define the range of services that the program would provide as well as the populations to be served.  Isabella and La Doña looked at Dudley and it was Isabella who actually spoke for both women. “You really need to come up with a better name for what you are now calling Project Managers.  We will forgive your engineering background.  We total agree with your description of their role, but please try to find a name that is less technical-sounding.”

“I’ll work on that, he replied, smiling. Maybe our first group of Leaders could choose a more appropriate name for themselves.”

“I’d like to raise one final piece of administrative business while we’re together, said Isabella.  I recommend that we form a separate entity for this activity to distinguish it from the basic operation of La Vida Aureo.  I suggest we form an LLC called LVA Community Assist and that the three of us serve as its Board of Directors and that Matthew and I are the only Corporate Officers, if that is acceptable to you, La Doña.”

“That is acceptable for the time being, La Doña responded. But, if this program is as successful as I anticipate, I believe it would be more appropriate if I were not directly involved and that you consider expanding the Board to include more representatives from the community at large.  I doubt that the Church would allow Father Michael’s involvement in an official capacity, but he is an example of the type of person I have in mind.”

“That makes sense to me.  One of the things Matthew and I understand is that this is a new program and we must remain open to adapting it based on what we learn, particularly at this early stage.”

“Thank you, Isabella for this update and Mr. Dudley is everything you described; you are fortunate to have him working with you.”

“I know I am speaking for him when I say that we appreciate you support of this venture and you have our commitment to make it successful.”

On the drive back to La Vida Aureo, Isabella and Dudley began to discuss the type of individuals they wanted to hire as their initial Team. “I agree with La Doña that our first hires should be a relatively diverse group to reflect the population we anticipate serving.  And, we should probably start by identifying someone to serve as the Leader of the Team.  There is a bright young woman I knew from when I did volunteer work at United Way. Her name is Beth Ford and she’s a CPA with a local Accounting firm.  It might be beneficial to have someone with a financial background as we begin to look at organizations we want to partner with or include on our list of “preferred suppliers”.  That’s what she was doing when she volunteered at United Way.  Each Agency applying for a grant had to submit their financial records and it was Beth’s job to evaluate these to determine the viability of the Agency.”

“I agree, Isabella. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone from the State as well.  I think that knowledge of the resources available through the Department of Health would be a valuable addition.”

“Since medication typically represents such a large part of elderly people’s medical expenses, we could use someone with that expertise.  Perhaps we could recruit a young woman who has served as what the pharmaceutical companies call a Detail Person, a representative who calls on physicians.”

“And, since I’m not particularly knowledgeable about all the new forms of communication, we could certainly use a person with those skills.  I think we both agree that communication will be a critical element in anything and everything we do.”

“OK, said Isabella. I think we have a starting point.  I’ll call Beth Ford and see if she can come to La Vida Aureo and meet with us as soon as possible.”

“Let’s concentrate on hiring her.  If she accepts the position of Team Leader, it would be appropriate to include her in any subsequent hiring decisions.”

Beth Ford met with Isabella and Dudley a few days later and quickly became excited about the opportunity.  She said, “I’ve been volunteering at United Way for almost ten years now and have become more frustrated each year with the inefficient approach to serving the community. The individual Agencies seem to be in competition with each other for grant money instead of trying to work together to be able to serve the growing number of people and families in Albuquerque who are in desperate need.  I believe the approach you’ve described could provide more people with the information they need to be self-sufficient. Over time, I can see a situation where the Agencies can focus their resources on only the neediest cases.  Count me in, Isabella!”

Over the next six weeks, Matthew Dudley and Beth Ford were able to identify and recruit their initial Team with Isabella participating in the final interview and ultimate hiring decision.  The three of them then met with La Doña Jaramillo to inform her of their progress. The Team consisted of the following individuals:

Beth Ford, a CPA who would also serve as Team Leader

Janetta “JJ” Johari, a pharmaceutical representative from Merck

Mila Espalin, a Supervisor with the New Mexico Department of Health

Minot Atkinson, a Project Manager with a Public Relations firm in Santa Fe

Dudley and Beth would continue to search for an experienced Social Worker, but agreed that they had a core Team that could get to work. Isabella expressed her satisfaction with the initial group for its complementary mix of backgrounds and skills as well as it diversity.

For their initial Team meeting, Dudley’s goal was to allow the women time to get acquainted and talk about their primary focus. He decided that a story could serve to help the Team understand its mission. “When I worked for the State, I occasionally had to spend time in the office in Santa Fe.  I never particularly cared for being cooped up in an office, so I tried to go for a walk over my lunch hour.  I would take the stairs from the fourth floor to avoid waiting for the elevator which was always crowded at lunchtime.  At the base of the stairwell near the first floor exit there was the required fire-fighting connection and fire hose reel.  One day, I noticed that, on top of the large sign that said FIRE HOSE, someone had placed a sign that said in bold letters, AIM HOSE FIRST.”

“That’s how I would describe my expectation for your initial work with the LVA Community Assist Program.  Before we actually do anything, I challenge you to gather as much information as possible.  To maximize our effectiveness, we need to focus on doing a few things very well rather than lots of things poorly.  Remember that our primary goal, our Mission if you will, is to help people remain independent and self-sufficient for a long as possible.  We want to emphasize preventing people’s lives from declining to maintain their dignity.  For starters, I recommend that you introduce yourselves to Paloma Angostura here at La Vida Aureo and ask her to arrange a meeting with a group she calls her Sopapilla Network.  These are women who are part of the La Vida Aureo staff and were a major influence in the genesis of this initiative.  Most of them have family similar to the population we would serve.  Listen to them talk about their concerns and the type of information that would most useful to them. I encourage each of you to talk to your own sources to gather as much information as possible. Let’s plan to get together in a week or so and we can share what we each learn.”

As Dudley left the small conference room, the women remained behind, engaged in active conversation with an air of excitement.

 

Author’s Note

A number of readers of the Retirement Home Mysteries stories do not live in New Mexico and are unfamiliar with some of the references. Starting with this Case, I will attempt to include links to additional material for those who are interested in learning more about a particular topic.

Chapter 2: What’s in a Name?

Matthew Dudley was pleased with the initial team meeting of the LVA Community Assist Leaders and with their enthusiastic response.  He anticipated that the next meeting would provide further definition of the approach they would take.  He knew the Leaders would learn quite a bit from Paloma’s Sopapilla Network and was expected that their impressions would be somewhat different from his which would only serve to make the program more responsive and effective.

Dudley realized that he could also contribute some additional perspective by discussing this new initiative with his Curmudgeon Crew.  While they were generally well-off, he valued their comments and suggestions, despite the teasing he knew he was in for when he told them about his new responsibilities.  He decided to use the ride to town with Ray Little Feather as a “trial run” before facing the whole group.

Not only was Ray enthusiastic about the overall concept, he had a valuable suggestion. “You say you’re looking for a Social Worker to join your Team, he asked. I know just the person.  There is a woman that helps out with my youth program when she can that would be ideal.  Arnetta Valencia graduated from UNM with a degree in Social Work and has worked all over the State on a free-lance basis for many different organizations.  She knows her stuff and has seen it all.”

“Sounds interesting; what other qualifications does she have?”

“She’s a full-blooded Navajo.  What else do you need to know, Kemosabe?  Besides, she would add to your diversity goal!  Seriously, Doc, my people are in desperate need of the kind of information you’re talking about, but have too much pride to ask for help, particularly from the Outside.  If there were someone that was part of your program, perhaps she could work with the Tribal Health Centers and provide some much needed support.”

“That makes a lot of sense, Ray. Please ask her to call me so I can arrange for her to come to La Vida Aureo and meet Isabella and the other Team members.  Let’s go inside and see what the other guys have been up to since we last met.”

As usual, the conversation among this unique group of friends was lively and interesting.  It must have become a bit “rowdy” because Hector Guzman came over to the table.

“For a bunch of old guys, you sure make a lot of noise, he said.  Try to hold it down so you don’t drive my serious customers away. Even the young kids that stop in here for a pastry don’t cause as much commotion.  I will have to say, however, that for such an odd group, with different religions and backgrounds, you guys never seem to argue and things never really get out of hand.”

“We’ve been friends for a long time, Hector, offered Emilio.  We respect each other and each other’s beliefs and views. There aren’t too many secrets among us anymore.”

“Well, I suppose it’s really just a matter of living by the idea of not doing to someone else that which is hateful to you.  Once you accept that as the whole story, everything else is just commentary.”

Abe Goldman looked up from his coffee and directly at Hector Guzman. “Hector, my friend, I always knew you were an excellent baker, but I never took you for a Biblical Scholar.  I’m pleased that you know the basic wisdom of Rabbi Hillel the Elder.”

“What?  I am not a scholar, biblical or otherwise and I certainly don’t know no Rabbi Hillerman.  That’s just what my abuela used to say to us kids when we were growing up in Mora. She taught us to treat each other with respect and not let petty things get in the way.  That’s all!”

“Regardless, Hector, those are certainly words to live by.  But, one day you and I must talk more about your abuela and about growing up in Mora.  I’m curious about the other things she might have imparted to you.  Are you certain that she said it was the whole story? Could she have said it was the whole Torah?”

“I don’t think so, but my abuela spoke an unusual form of Spanish.  She was often hard to understand, but I thought that was just because she was so old.”

“I would like to talk to you more about this, if it would not be too much trouble or prying too much into your personal life, or for that matter, affect your excellent baking!”

“OK, but not today.  I have a lot of baking to do for my cousin’s daughter’s quinceanera this weekend.”

Hector returned to the kitchen and the others looked at Abe.  “What was that all about?” asked Ray.

Abe began.  ”I have suspected for some time that our good friend Hector Guzman is actually Jewish and that quote makes me more certain.  I believe his ancestors were among those Jews who fled Spain during the Inquisition and pretended to convert to Catholicism to avoid persecution, the so-called Conversos, while continuing to practice their Jewish faith in secret.  Those who eventually came to New Mexico maintained that secrecy and are known as Crypto-Jews. But, over the generations, Hector’s true identity has been lost.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard about this, said Dudley.  It certainly never came up in all my time with the State or with any of the people I’ve ever met in my travels.”

Abe continued. “Before I go any further, I want to talk to a friend of mine who was the State Historian.  He’s worked with many families to piece together stories to try to understand the history of these people and their true identity.  And, I suspect that Emilio and Hakim will be able to contribute to the history of Spain about the time of Columbus. Can we talk about this in more detail in a few weeks?”

As they were leaving, Ray smiled and said, “Abe, just don’t try to tell me that these crypto Jews actually the lost tribe of Israel. I’m kinda sensitive about people claiming to be part of a tribe, particularly when there’s casino money involved!”

Chapter 3: Martha Arthur and Family

It was a typical warm and sunny day in Albuquerque and Martha Arthur and her niece Denise were enjoying lunch together.  Instead of their usual trip to Old Town, Denise had insisted that they venture to the newer shopping area called Albuquerque Uptown.

“Don’t be such an old fuddy-duddy Aunt Martha. There are several very pleasant restaurants here as well as lots of nice shops. Besides, it will do you good to see some new scenery”

“But there aren’t any of the traditional adobe buildings here and it all seems so un-New Mexico.”

“I think that’s the point, Aunt Martha.  I guess the city fathers wanted to create something that felt new and modern for the local residents; Old Town is mostly for tourists.”

“But, you know, Denise, I’ve lived in Albuquerque for such a long time and I’ve grown used to the familiar places.”

“I’m sorry; sometimes I forget.  When did you and Uncle Henry first move here?”

“Well, we didn’t actually move here.  When Henry got discharged from the Air Force, he was stationed here and we just stayed.  He was fortunate to get a job with a small company so quickly which turned out to be a very fortunate thing.”

“If I remember the story, he invented something pretty important while he was working there.”

“Oh, my goodness, yes.  He had been an electronics technician in the Air Force and that’s the kind of things he was working on.  I obviously don’t know the details, but I think it was some sort of device that they put on bombs or missiles to guide them. Almost as soon as he came up with the idea, things got very hush-hush, if you know what I mean.  I don’t know how the word got out, but pretty soon there were all kinds of people from all over the world showing up to talk to him.  It was pretty exciting for me because Henry and I were wined and dined and several of these people brought very expensive gifts for me.  I still have some of the precious gems and jewelry from those days.  But, like the good American he was, Henry convinced the company to keep everything top secret and only work with U.S. firms.  And, from what he told me, that little device and the improvements they made over the next few years is something special and the military really loves it even to this day.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but I assume that invention was the source of all the money that went into the Trust Funds you set up for the family.”

“You know that we didn’t have any children of our own and your Uncle Henry, rest his soul, wanted to make sure that the nieces and nephews got the chance for a good education.  Neither Henry nor I went to college and he knew that would be important for this next generation.  So, after we put aside enough money for me to live on for the rest of my life, we set up three Trust Funds, one for you as the only daughter of my sister Catherine and one for each of Henry’s brother Ross’ children, Charles and Barbara.”

“It’s a shame that everything didn’t work out as you and Uncle Henry planned.”

“Oh, don’t say that.  I was able to buy a Lifetime Contract at La Vida Aureo that takes care of me for the rest of my life.  And, you got a good education and now have a very responsible job at that bank.”

“But, it’s not the same for my cousins Barbara and Charles.”

“Denise, they have had a very hard life after Ross and Linda were killed by that drunk driver when they were so young. It must be very traumatic growing up without parents.”

“It wasn’t like they were children; both were in high school if I remember correctly. Charles hasn’t done much with his life since then.  It seems like he’s always in some kind of trouble and usually because he’s been drinking.  I run in to him occasionally downtown and it is embarrassing; he always seems to be drunk even in the early afternoon. I’ve heard he spends most of his time at some seedy bar on Gold Street. And, I always assumed that’s the reason Barbara left Albuquerque after high school and never returned; she didn’t want any part of her brother or his life.”

“You shouldn’t be so hard on him, Denise.  Charles really isn’t such a bad boy; he just hasn’t found his way yet. And, he calls me every now and then which is nice.”

“I apologize, Aunt Martha.  It’s really none of my business. I expect that the only reason he ever calls is to ask for money and he should be responsible for his own life by now.  He’s almost forty, isn’t he?   Just please don’t let Charles ruin your life.”

“Now, now, Denise.  Let’s just enjoy our lunch.  Then you can take me to some of those fancy shops that you dragged me all the way out here to show me.”

 

Charles Arthur was leaning unsteadily against the bar in the Neutron Bar & Grill on Gold Street in downtown Albuquerque. He was considered a “regular”, the jovial guy who often bought drinks for others and bragged about his exploits.  Almost everyone who had frequented the Neutron knew his story.  He didn’t have a regular job but did occasional free-lance writing for The Alibi and Albuquerque Free Press.  He was considered talented and insightful, but inconsistent and somewhat undependable, typically a result of his drinking. This part-time work didn’t pay much and generally went directly toward his bar tab. His real source of income was a Trust Fund that had been established by an Aunt who lived somewhere in Albuquerque, a story he told enthusiastically to any newcomers.  To those who knew him at the bar, he was Chico or even Sir Charles. He had also heard people refer to him as Ellis, but didn’t know the origin of that particular nick-name.  Actually, behind his back he was called The Lucky Sperm and Ellis was simply the short form.

This particular afternoon, Charles was trying to impress two young girls with stories of his adventures and his wealth.  The girls were passing through Albuquerque on their way back to school in Colorado and thought the Neutron Bar looked interesting as they wandered through downtown.  Several people who often came to The Neutron for lunch were sitting at a booth trying to guess when Charles would get to his story about his investigative report that exposed a major crime ring operating out of a Title Loan Company in the neighborhood.  The story was completely fictitious, but became more dramatic and dangerous each time Charles told it.  The young girls seemed to hang on his every word and Charles was loving every minute of it.

Later that same afternoon, Charles Arthur was still at The Neutron and still drinking. He had been talking to a number of people after the two young girls got bored and left.

Charles was now trying to ague the finer point of New Mexico heritage with Jesus Sedillo, who was almost as drunk.  “Give me a break, Jose, there is no such thing as a native New Mexican.  Everyone in this State is part Indian.  Deal with it.”

“Look, wise guy, my name is not Jose; I am a Sedillo and I resent your saying that we New Mexicans are all part Indian.  I can trace my ancestors back to Oñate and the first people who came up the Rio Grande to settle this State.”

“And, you want me to believe that your intrepid macho ancestors didn’t screw any of the women they encountered in all the pueblos they stopped at along the way? Get real.  Look at the numbers. There were what, a few hundred with Oñate and tens of thousands of Indians already here.  And, I’ll bet that many of Onate’s crew already had some Indian blood in them from the tribes in Mexico.  Jose, Whatever true identity you think you have was lost generations ago.”

The situation quickly escalated and words soon gave way to pushing and shoving.  Sedillo pulled a knife from his belt and started for Charles.  Atrisca Dominguez, the bartender shouted, “Knock it off you two assholes before somebody gets hurt. Or, if you insist on being stupid, take it outside to the street and I’ll call the cops to come and get you there.”

“I better not catch you alone in town, Dick Head, or you’ll pay for insulting my family.”

“Yeah, you better bring your whole family, Jose, because that’s what it’ll take.”

Atrisca reached across the bar and grabbed Charles by the shirt collar. “That was really stupid, Numb Nuts. Many of the Sedillos are members of the Tecolote gang and you could wind up dead, or worse.  If you know what’s good for you, you’ll steer way clear of him from now on.  You can only hope he forgets about you when he sobers up and stays in South Valley where he usually hangs out.  I don’t know why he was even in here. Now, why don’t you be a Good Boy and come with me; I want you to lie down in the back and sober up.”

The Neutron Bar had a small office toward the back of the building where the owner kept the Bar’s records as well as some better quality liquor in a locked cabinet.  There was a small desk with a computer where the bookkeeper sat to prepare the monthly reports and the required gross receipts tax filings.  There was a small cot against the wall where Atrisca deposited Charles.  She turned out the overhead light, locked the door from the outside and returned to the main room.

Early that evening, Atrisca returned to check on Charles.  He was sitting at the desk and the computer was on.  “Hey, she shouted. What are you doing?  The owner doesn’t allow anyone except the bookkeeper to touch that computer. You just never seem to learn do you?”

“I was just trying to check my bank balance.  My rent is due and it looks like I’m tapped out. Shit!  Oh well, I’ll just call Aunt Martha in the morning and get her to put some more money in my checking account.”

“You can deal with your problems later.  We need to get going.  My shift is over and the owner will be pissed if he finds you in his office.  Do you have a place to stay?”

“No. My asshole Landlord has put a security lock on my apartment until I come up with the rent.  He just won’t give me a break.”

“My guess is that you are more than a little late with your rent.  You can stay at my place until you sort this out. Let’s go.”

Atrisca assumed Charles was still too drunk to drive so they left his car in The Neutron’s lot and walked the few blocks to her apartment.  Once inside, Atrisca sat Charles down in the living room and said, “Relax.  I’m going to change out of my work clothes into something more comfortable.  Don’t go away.”

“Is there anything to drink in this place?”

“There may be a bottle of whiskey in one of the kitchen cabinets.”

Charles was on his second glass when Atrisca returned.  She had taken off her jeans and heavy boots as well as her flannel shirt and down vest and was now wearing only large T-shirt that had some sort of Club logo on it.  She sat next to him on the couch with her legs tucked underneath.

“Look, he said. I appreciate this.  I’m sure I can tap my Aunt for some cash in the morning.  She keeps a huge wad of cash in her apartment at the fancy retirement home where she lives.  It is no big deal for her to have someone drive her to the bank and put some in my account.  I just have to figure how much I need.”

“Besides you rent, what else do you owe?  And, don’t forget your bar tab.  I’m getting a lot of heat for allowing you to get so far behind.  You say your Aunt just keeps a large amount of cash just lying around?”

“Yeah, I’m sure she thinks it’s well hidden but I suspect it’s in the drawer with her granny panties.  Let’s see.  There’s my rent and phone bill.  And, I had to take out a title loan to cover some expenses.  I’m sure I’ll need some spending money for a while.  You see, I’m working on a big story for The Alibi but I may try to sell it to the Albuquerque Journal instead; they’ll pay more.”

“Don’t forget your bar tab.”

“Oh, yeah and that.”

Atrisca got up.  “Don’t go away. I have plans for you tonight.”  She walked across the room and bent over to pick up something from the floor.

Charles followed her with his eyes as she walked away. He was only mildly surprised when he noticed that she had nothing on under the large T-shirt.  He stood up and approached her from behind, placing his hands on her hips. She turned quickly and dealt him a rapid series of open hand slaps to his head. He fell back into an over-stuffed chair, dazed.  When he looked up, she was standing over him with her fists clenched and poised to strike.  It was only then that he noticed that Atrisca’s T-shirt bore the logo of the Holly Holm Fight Training Club.

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry.” was all he could manage to say.

“Look, Chico. I really want you to do me tonight, but you’re going to do things my way, understand? Now, if you’re not too drunk to get it up, come into the bedroom and I’ll make you forget all about those teenage girls from this afternoon.”

Late the next morning, an exhausted and contrite Charles Arthur got out of bed and went to the kitchen where Atrisca had made a fresh pot of strong coffee and was assembling two breakfast burritos. “You have things to do today, she said, so get your ass in gear.  You’d better call that Aunt of yours before she gives all her money away to some charity.”

“I’m on it.  And, don’t worry; she had more money than you can imagine.  And, she’s always willing to help out her poor nephew.”

Chapter 4: Charles Arthur’s Plan

At their next meeting, Dudley introduced Arnetta Valencia to the group. He then left the room, presumably to get coffee, to allow them time to get acquainted.  When he returned about thirty minutes later, Beth was standing at one of the white-boards and writing furiously as the others shared their experiences and ideas. Arnetta offered her thoughts about how to engage the local pueblo tribes in the Community Assist Program.  It was obvious to Dudley that Ray’s recommendation was right on target and that Arnetta would be an asset, not only to the Team, but to the program in general.

“I hate to interrupt this high-energy conversation, said Dudley, but I’m eager to hear what you have learned in your initial visits.”

“Since I’m standing, offered Beth, I’ll go first because I know we all feel the same about this.  We want to express our appreciation for finding Arnetta; she brings an added perspective to our thinking.  And, thanks also for directing us to Señora Angostura and the Sopapilla Network; what a valuable resource and so accessible.  Wow!  Now I’ll shut up and let the others talk.”

Dudley listened intently as each person talked about how the initial interviews had been informative and broadened their perspectives.  The consensus among the Team was there were various ways to benefit the community, but they needed to think more about the approach they wanted to take. They agreed that there were numerous organizations active in this expanding market with more entering each day. “We are confident that we can provide a valuable service, summarized Beth, and we want to be perceived as an organization with quality and integrity.”

Matthew Dudley left the meeting excited about the progress and the women who comprised the Team.  As he was in the main building, he decided to stop at the kitchen and express his gratitude to Paloma Angostura for her support of the program and for introducing the Team to her so-called Sopapilla Network.  As he entered the dining room, he noticed Millicent Branch sitting at a small table with Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott.  There had been a dramatic change and improvement in Mrs. Branch’s attitude and behavior since the disastrous events surrounding Stuart Montgomery.  She was much more pleasant and tolerant of the other residents.  Her willingness to help Matthew Dudley in his “crime solving” activities had not diminished, however.

Dudley smiled as he passed by the table where the trio was sitting.  He overheard Mrs. Branch asking Larry Blackburn about his interest in mining and telling him about her own experiences with the uranium mines near Grants.  “Grants isn’t that far of a drive west on I-40 and you must visit the Mining Museum there.  I’m sure you’ll find it interesting and get to see another aspect of New Mexico’s mining history.  While you’re out that way, you should really stop and visit the Acoma Pueblo.   It is unlike anything else in the entire pueblo culture.  The battle there against the Spanish always reminded me of the siege at Masada, to compare it to an Old World example.”

Blackburn and Elliott had left the dining room by the time Dudley returned from the kitchen and his conversation with Paloma.  He had hoped to exit through a side door and not get trapped in a conversation with Mrs. Branch, but she was too quick and thwarted his escape.  “Mr. Dudley, she called. Why don’t you come over here and visit a while?”

“I would really like to do that, Mrs. Branch, but I have some rather urgent repair projects to attend to. Perhaps another time.”

“Very well. I just wanted to tell you that I think Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott make such a lovely couple.  I was trying to drop a not-too-subtle hint to them that they ought to move in together.”

“I’m sure they can decide on their own what is best for them, don’t you?  If that is what is meant to be, I’m sure it will happen in their own time.”

“I was just trying to give it a small nudge; no harm in that.  You run along now.  Here comes my good friend Martha.  Perhaps she and I can figure a way to help those nice people out.”

Martha Arthur approached the table to sit down with Millicent Branch which provided Dudley an opportunity to greet Mrs. Arthur as he walked away.  “I was just telling Mr. Dudley what a nice couple Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott make.  Don’t you agree, Martha?  And, while I’m thinking about it, we should find someone for Mr. Dudley.  He seems like such a nice man and his children live so far away.  He says he is proud of them and doesn’t want to interfere in their lives, but I know he feels abandoned.  We should get to work on that.  Perhaps we could interest your niece Denise in him.”

“Oh, Millicent, I don’t think that would be a good idea.  She’s much too young for him and she seems content with her career.  She told me yesterday that she thinks she’s up for a major promotion.”

“Nonsense.  Denise needs a man.  Believe me, I know how it feels to be an Old Maid. You think you’re happy and you keep busy with a job or volunteer work, but you still end up alone in a cold bed every night.”

“That’s embarrassing, Millicent. I’m sure Denise has lots of male friends and ones nearer her own age.  Mr. Dudley is nice but too much older.  I’m sure Denise doesn’t want to spend her best years feeding him and changing his diapers.”

“Well, I’m still going to keep my eyes open for him.  Look how much happier Mr. Blackburn is now that he’s with Ms. Elliott.  I’ve been yakking too much.  How was your lunch with Denise?”

“It was very nice. We didn’t go to Old Town like usual. She took me to a new area called Albuquerque Uptown.  It was a bit too uptown for my tastes and I missed the charm of Old Town.  Millicent, I need to ask a favor.  Could you drive me to the bank?  My nephew called and asked if I would lend him some money.  He said he’s working on a big story and just need a little help until that comes through.”

“Really, Martha? I assume this your nephew Charles, the one who lives here in town.  How often does he call you and it’s always the same story. He says he wants to “borrow” money, but, has he even paid you back anything?”

“He had has a very tough life.  I know I’ve told you that his parents were killed in a car accident and that really affected him.  He really is a good boy.  He just needs a little help now and then.”

But, I thought you and Henry set up Trust Funds for your two nieces and Charles; what happened to that money?”

“I know. I know.  I’m sure he’ll do better this time. Can we please go to the bank?

“Don’t tell me you’re still keeping large amounts of cash in your room.  While you’re at the bank today, why don’t you just open an account? Or, I can introduce you to my banker.  It is foolish to keep that much money lying around.”

“We can talk about it later, Millicent.  I’d just like to take care of this. I got this same lecture from Denise yesterday and I don’t want to think about it or Charles any more today.”

A few days later, Millicent Branch was visiting Martha Arthur and they were enjoying a cup of tea and pleasant conversation when there was an insistent knocking on the door.  It was Charles Arthur.  “I need some more cash, Aunt Martha.  I’ve got a big article almost finished and I have a couple of bills that are due immediately.  The pressure of these people harassing me makes it very difficult to finish this story.  I’ve been struggling a lot lately, thinking about Mom and Dad and how that reckless drunk driver killed them.  It’s really got me down.”

“Oh, Charles! Didn’t I just give you a few thousand dollars last week?  I know I put it in the bank, isn’t that right Millicent?”

Charles had not noticed Millicent Branch sitting in the living room, intently watching the entire scene.  “Just stay out of this.  It has nothing to do with you.  Mind your own business.”

“Look, young man, you should treat your Aunt with a bit more respect than to show up here demanding money.  Besides, you act like you’re drunk.  I think you should just go.”

“I said stay out of this”.  Charles stepped closer to his Aunt. “How about it, Aunt Martha? I really just need a few thousand to take care of some important business.”

“Well, I don’t know, Charles.”

Charles grabbed Martha by the shoulders and shook her forcefully.  “Look, I really need that money.  Are you going to help me or not?”

Martha Arthur fainted.

“Millicent Branch was on her feet and moving quickly toward Charles. “Get out of here before I call the cops, you ungrateful toad.”

As Charles turned and started to run, Millicent called after him. “I will call my lawyer immediately and have a Restraining Order issued against you.  I’ll bet you know what that is!  And, while he’s at it, I’m going to have him get Martha to change her Trusts and cut you off altogether.  You’re just using her to support your worthless life.  It’s time you took some responsibility!”  Millicent continued to shake her fist long after Charles had turned the corner and continued running toward the parking lot.

Martha Arthur was still unconscious in the hallway of her casita.  Millicent called for the on-duty Nurse who responded within a few minutes. She helped Martha into a chair as she began to recover.  The Nurse checked Martha’s pulse and blood pressure, both of which were dangerously elevated. “Is he gone?” asked Martha as she became more aware of her surroundings.  “Please don’t fuss over me.  I’ll be alright.”

The Nurse looked toward Millicent who shrugged her shoulders and said, “That man will be the death of her.  She doesn’t have the constitution to put up with his continued crap.  Each time he calls, I can see her blood pressure jump. It’s just a very bad situation.”

Then turning to Martha, Millicent said, “Look, Martha, you need to do something to protect yourself from that crazy person.  I’ll make an appointment with my lawyer to get a Restraining Order against him to keep him away from La Vida Aureo and at least ten blocks away when you’re out and about.  We’ll go there first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, Millicent. Charles isn’t a bad boy. He’s had a difficult time since his folks died.  I’m only trying to help him till he gets on his feet.”

“Nonsense! It’s bad enough that he uses you, but there is absolutely no excuse for this physical stuff.  You think about it, but you need to do something.”

The Nurse removed the blood pressure cuff from Martha’s arm and said, “You know I have to report this incident to Ms. Duncan.  I can’t interfere with your personal life, but I can tell you that another highly stressful incident like this could be very bad for your health.  I’ve seen you around here many times and you are a delightful lady. I wouldn’t want you to have a stroke or heart attack which could force you out of being able to live on your own in this beautiful casita.  But that’s just one nurse’s medical opinion.”

As promised, the Resident Nurse dutifully reported the incident to Isabella Duncan and entered it into the Facility’s Medical Records Journal.  Also, as expected, Millicent Branch reported the incident to Isabella and Matthew Dudley, but with far more background and detail.  Despite Millicent’s dramatic account of the incident, Isabella and Dudley were alarmed and genuinely concerned about Martha Arthur’s well being.

 

Chapter 5: The Prodigal Niece

Matthew Dudley walked into the main dining room to begin his daily routine. He would have a cup of coffee and read the paper copy of the Wall Street Journal that was always waiting for him in the same spot and review his Daily List of repairs and maintenance items. On this particular day, the distinguished-looking gentleman who left the Journal had just placed it on the table and was headed toward the door.  Dudley walked quickly over to him and said, “I want to thank you for leaving your copy of the Journal for me each day. I certainly enjoy it.  I’m not much of an investor, but I find their news reporting to be significantly better than what the TV stations call News.”

The gentleman looked at Dudley and smiled. “You strike me as a man who enjoys turning the actual pages of a newspaper rather than flipping through some sort of electronic version.  I’m glad you enjoy it; it’s my pleasure.”

“Extending his hand, Dudley said, “My name is Matthew Dudley, but most people call me Doc.”

Returning a firm handshake, the man simply said, “Conrad Alexander” and turned to continue his exit.

Paloma Angostura walked over and sat down across from Dudley.  “I see you finally met Señor Alexander.  He is such a nice man, but I sense he is carrying a heavy burden. Did you have a chance to talk to him, Señor Doc?”

“No, just to introduce myself and thank him for the newspaper.  I should not be surprised that you knew his name and I did not; you must know everyone, Señora. Why do you say he is carrying a burden?”

“There is such sadness in his eyes, but he puts on such a brave face to hide it.”

“Well, here come two people and even I can tell that they are very happy, maybe even falling in love.”

“Señor Doc.  That is no secret, at least not to anyone who has been watching them lately!”

Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott were headed to the garden for a picnic, but paused long enough to say to Dudley, We just wanted to thank you again for getting us together in the first place.”

“You are certainly welcome.” Glancing toward to dining room door, Dudley said, “I don’t want to be rude, but I should get going before Mrs. Branch and Mrs. Arthur start pestering me about my personal life.”

Mrs. Arthur was smiling broadly as the two women approached.  “I have the most wonderful news,” she said. “I received a letter today from my niece Barbara who lives in Boston.  She said she has moved back to Albuquerque and I am so happy. Even though her situation is rather unpleasant, it will be nice to see her again after so many years.”

“Is there something wrong?” asked Paloma.

“Well, Barbara didn’t give me many details in her letter, but she said she had left her husband and had moved here to get the kind of medical attention her small children needed.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Paloma. “Will she stay with your niece Denise to be close to the doctor and hospital, or maybe come to La Vida Aureo?  You certainly have some room in your casita.”

“No. Barbara said she is staying with a friend in Belen so that her husband can’t find her. She was afraid to stay with me or Denise for that reason.”

“How did she know you lived here, Mrs. Arthur, if you don’t mind saying?” asked Dudley.

“She said something about looking up the information on Denise’s Facebook, whatever that is.  She said that Denise talks about our lunches together and what a nice place La Vida Aureo is for me. Anyway, I must be off; I just wanted to share that good news with you nice people.”

Mrs. Arthur left the dining room while Mrs. Branch remained.  She turned to Dudley and said, “What Martha didn’t bother saying was that Barbara had asked her for money. She said she wanted to give her friend something for groceries, etc. I guess that makes sense, but she also hinted in the letter that she would appreciate it if her “Dear Aunt Martha” would help her with the medical expenses for her children, which could be considerable.  Now, I’m not a suspicious person by nature, but this Barbara is her nephew Charles’ sister and we all know what he’s like.  This just smells a bit fishy to me, particularly the way things have been with Charles recently. Martha is so trusting and I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Come now, Mrs. Branch,” offered Dudley.  “Maybe everything is just as it seems and there is nothing to be concerned about.”

“Nonetheless, I’m going to keep my eyes open and make sure Martha tells me absolutely everything about the situation.  I don’t like it at all.”

Mrs. Branch left the dining room and Dudley turned to Paloma and said with a smile, “I’m pleased to know that Mrs. Branch doesn’t consider herself a suspicious person.  I’m sure she’s being a bit of a busy-body and that everything will be OK. I’m happy for Mrs. Arthur.  Well, I’m off to take care of my responsibilities as Maintenance Man.”

It was only a few days later that Millicent Branch stopped Dudley in the lobby. “I told you this situation with Martha’s niece smelled fishy to me,” she said. “Martha has received several more letters and Barbara is asking for even larger amounts of money.  And, if that weren’t enough, she wants the money sent to her in cash and to a Post Office Box in Belen.  I’ll tell you what I think, Mr. Dudley.  I think that no-good nephew of hers is pretending to be his sister, just to get money.  I’m pretty sure, after that last episode, that I’ve convinced Martha not to send him anything.  I think this is just his way of tricking her once again.  Is there anything you can do?”

“That’s really none of my business, Mrs. Branch, as much as it would be very unfortunate if you are correct.  You could encourage Mrs. Arthur to contact the police if you are concerned.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, she would never do that.  I guess I’ll just try to keep tabs on everything and try to not let Martha get taken.”

Dudley was on his way to a meeting of the Community Assist Team which was already in progress.  Things were progressing nicely and Dudley was confident that he could step back a bit and allow the women to move forward. Beth Ford acknowledged him warmly when he entered the meeting room and said, “We were just finishing up, Mr. Dudley.  Is there anything you’d like to say to the Team?”

“I want to thank you all again for being part of this program and to tell you what a great job Isabella and I think you’re doing.  My only advice to you, if I can offer one suggestion, is to stay focused and remember that we can’t be everything to everybody.  Let’s focus on achieving some small-scale successes to build our credibility; we can always expand and grow the program.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dudley. I can assure you we are on the same page.  In fact, that was the main topic of today’s meeting.  We have a short list of things we want to undertake and have set our priorities.”

“Thank you once again, ladies. Please let me know if there is anything you need from Isabella or me.   Oh, Beth, could I talk to you a minute?  I have a question about Facebook.

“Certainly, but let me get Minot; she’s the real Facebook expert.”

Dudley, Beth Ford and Minot Atkinson sat back down at the conference table.  “There is a situation here with one of the residents that may be related to Facebook somehow.   I believe my question relates to security or privacy.  Would it be possible for someone to look at another person’s Facebook information or pretend to be that other person?”

Minot said, “Under normal circumstances, a person can establish their own privacy and only allow certain other people to read whatever they post. But, there have been numerous cases where a person’s account has been hacked and their information stolen.  It all depends on how careful a person is about setting up their page.”

“Thank you.  This really isn’t my business and I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what develops.”

“If you would be comfortable giving me the names of the people involved, I’d be glad to look into this on my own time,” offered Minot.

“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask.  Again, this may be nothing.  Anyway, the situation involves our Mrs. Martha Arthur and her two nieces, Denise Harris who lives here in Albuquerque and Barbara Arthur Wilkerson, who used to live in Boston.  Barbara recently contacted her Aunt and said she learned everything from Denise’s Facebook page.  Mrs. Arthur’s friend believes someone is posing as Barbara to essentially steal money from her.  I hope that isn’t too confusing.”

“Give me a few days and I’ll have something for you.”

Dudley wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing by getting involved, but it was too late now.

Minot Atkinson was very knowledgeable about social media systems and had some experience with hacked accounts.  But, she knew someone who was far more capable regarding the more devious aspects and uses of the Internet.

Minot drove to downtown Albuquerque and walked into a retail store with the unusual name of the Self-Help Resource Center. She waited until one employee finished with a middle-age woman customer and then approached her. “I need your help, Emily,” she said quietly.

Emily Chang turned to face Minot and embraced her warmly.  “You know that will cost you, my love?”

“I was hoping you’d say that.  Can I come to your place this evening to tell you what I need?”

Emily smiled even more. “I know what you need, my love.  But, if you wear something very pretty and bring a very nice bottle of wine, we can talk about all of your needs.  I’m sure I can take care of everything for you.”

Minot Atkinson and Emily Chang had been lovers on a casual basis for many years, but had not spent the night together recently; their careers had gotten in the way. Emily had been recruited by Google while still in high school and had become one of their most capable security analysts.  The last time they spoke, Emily had become disenchanted with her work. “All they ask me to do now is to hack into Facebook accounts.  Google executives were concerned that Facebook was becoming too much of a competitor, so my job was to gather as much competitive information as possible. I felt that I was invading innocent people’s privacy so I decided to bail.  At the Self-Help Resource Center, I know I’m helping women everyday and I’m proud of what I do now.”

But, Minot also knew that Emily retained her strong sense of justice and often used her considerable technical skills to expose suspicious and criminal activity on the Internet.   It didn’t take Emily long to get into the Facebook account of Denise Harris and Barbara Arthur Wilkerson.  The two accounts were similar in that most of the information could only be read by the few people who had been “invited” to the respective account. It was a relatively simple matter for Emily to gain complete access and she quickly determined that someone had indeed hacked into this information to learn a great deal about both women. Following the trail, Emily was able to determine that both accounts had been hacked from a local computer and the address pointed to The Neutron Bar & Grill.

Emily shared her observations with Minot that evening.  “The Barbara Niece seems to have a very happy life far from here and has no interest in ever returning. I can’t find any evidence that she’s ever had any contact with Denise Harris. Someone has been using a computer at The Neutron Bar downtown to read about both women, I assume to pose as one of them.”

“Minot, this wasn’t much of a challenge; the privacy settings were easy to circumvent. I had hoped for something a bit more exciting.  But, I will continue to monitor this particular computer and let you know if anything interesting develops. Now, that’s done, why don’t you open that bottle of wine?”

The next morning, Minot stopped Dudley in the hallway and related what she had learned, making sure to not mention Emily or any other details.  “I hope that helps.”

“Yes. Thank you, Minot.  I’m not sure what all this means, but maybe Mrs. Branch’s suspicions have some merit.  Thanks again.”  Dudley seemed deep in thought as he walked away.

Chapter 6: The Death of Martha Arthur

When Millicent Branch arrived at Martha Arthur’s casita for tea, she noticed that the door was ajar. Upon entering, she discovered the body in the bedroom.  The Resident Nurse arrived quickly and said that Mrs. Arthur appeared dead.  She called 911 and the EMT Team placed Mrs. Arthur in the ambulance and sped toward the UNM Medical Center Emergency Room where she was pronounced Dead on Arrival.  The Attending Physician listed the probable cause of death as a heart attack based on Mrs. Arthur’s medical records.  He reported his conclusion to Denise Arthur and Millicent Branch who were sitting in the Waiting Room.

Denise was visibly shaken by the news, but rationalized the situation with the knowledge of her Aunt’s long history of heart trouble.  Millicent Branch, on the other hand, was outraged.  “This is all Charles’ doing.  I am certain of it!”

“Please calm down, Mrs. Branch.  You know Aunt Martha had a weak heart.  You’ve seen the bottles of heart medicine she had.  Let’s be thankful that she died quickly and without suffering.  It is much better this way.”

 

Chapter 7:  Dudley’s Discovery

The funeral for Martha Arthur was held about a week later with only Martha’s close family and Millicent Branch in attendance.  A few days later, Denise Harris came to La Vida Aureo to deal with her Aunt’s possessions.  Isabella Duncan and Matthew Dudley greeted Denise and expressed their deepest sympathy and said what a loss to the entire La Vida Aureo community Martha’s death was.  Denise thanked them and indicated that she had been designated Executor of her Aunt’s will and would be available to deal with any paperwork associated with her Life Time contract.  Denise stated that it was her Aunt’s wish that the possessions in her casita be donated to La Vida Aureo. Isabella said that Dudley would accompany Denise to the casita and assist her with anything she needed.

On the short walk to the casita, Denise apologized regarding her aunt’s funeral. “My aunt wanted her funeral to be a quiet affair with only family attending.  I hope no one here is offended by that.  Mrs. Branch came, of course, and said a few words about how Martha was loved by everyone here and how happy she was to be part of this family.”

“She was certainly a lovely person, said Dudley.  I’m sure she will be missed. At least you were together as a family, including your cousin Barbara. Martha was so happy when she first heard from her after such a long time apart.”

“Our family hasn’t been close for a long time, replied Denise, particularly since our parents died.  Barbara didn’t mention anything about making contact; perhaps it was just the emotions of the funeral.  Charles’ presence makes it difficult for everyone. Anyway, she didn’t stay in town very long and took an early flight back to Boston this morning.”

That’s odd, thought Dudley.  I was certain that Martha said that her niece Barbara had moved back to New Mexico and was staying with a friend in Belen.  I must have misunderstood, or this might relate to that Facebok business.

Denise spent only a few minutes looking around the casita. She turned to Dudley and said, “There really isn’t anything here for me.  I would appreciate it if you would make whatever arrangements are necessary to donate the contents to charity or give them to the next person who occupies this unit.”

“I will take care of everything”, replied Dudley.

As Denise was leaving, Millicent Branch walked up and spoke softly to Denise.  “Your Aunt Martha was my dearest friend and I will miss her.  Please take care of yourself, Denise, and know that I am always available should you need anything.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Branch.  I appreciate your thoughts.  As you know, my aunt provided very well for me and I’m sure I’ll be fine.  I have my work and that keeps me pretty busy.  You don’t have to worry about me.”

Dudley was sitting on the couch in the casita and Millicent came in and took the easy chair facing him.  “Mrs. Branch, this is probably none of my business, but Denise said that her cousin Barbara was at the funeral.  Did you have a chance to talk to her at all?  I assume she’s the same niece that recently contacted Mrs. Arthur about moving back to New Mexico with her children.”

“No. I didn’t have a chance to talk to her.  I felt like an odd duck anyway since I’d made such a fuss over that no-good nephew Charles when he was here.  Mark my words, Mr. Dudley, he was involved in Martha’s death, heart attack or not.  I just said my piece at the funeral and left before I said something very un-Christian.”

“OK. It was just something Denise said that confused me.  She seems like a very responsible young woman who cared deeply for her aunt.”

“She did.  I hope while she was here she took all that fancy jewelry Martha had; I know Martha had always intended for her to have it. Martha showed everything to me once a few years ago.  It was pretty gaudy stuff, if you ask me. I understood that some King or Sheik gave it to her trying to get that thingamabob her Henry had invented. But, Martha suspected that they would sell it to the Russians or Chinese and convinced Henry to turn it over the U.S. military. I doubt that it would have been Denise’s style, but it was worth a lot and she could have sold it for a bundle. I was just glad that that bum Charles never got his hands on any of it.”

“Denise didn’t stay very long and really didn’t look around.  Are you sure she knew about this jewelry?”

“I always assumed Martha had mentioned it to her, but maybe she wasn’t very clear about her intentions.  She was sort of scatter-brained about some things.  I tried to get her to put those valuables and all the cash she kept here in a bank, but I doubt that she ever did. Why don’t you and I look around?  I can always call Denise and give her what we find.”

“Where would Mrs. Arthur have kept such things?  You say she also kept a lot of cash here?”

“I don’t know why she didn’t trust banks, but she didn’t.  Knowing Martha, the first place I would look is in the dresser and in the drawer where she kept her unmentionables.”

“Why don’t you look there and I’ll look in the bedroom closet?”

Dudley was still rummaging through what looked like a large pile of dirty laundry in the back of the closet when Millicent came into the bedroom.  “That’s really odd”, she said.  “There is nothing in her dresser drawers.  I mean nothing. No money, no jewelry, nothing.  And, it looks like a tornado went through the whole dresser which doesn’t make sense.  Martha was very neat, neat to a fault in my opinion.  But, there is no sign of any of the things I’m certain were there.”

“I’ll keep looking through the entire casita. Maybe she decided on a different hiding place.”

“That is possible.  After that incident with Charles, I urged her to take some actions to protect herself and maybe she got smart and did something.  I assumed she would have mentioned it to me.  Anyway, Mr. Dudley, I have some business of my own to tend to in town and I have to go.  I’ll be back this afternoon and you be sure to let me know what you find.”

Mrs. Branch left and Dudley continued to dig into the pile of clothes and what he believed was dirty laundry.  Near the bottom of the pile he found some bed sheets and a pillow case and noticed a small dark stain. When he held it up to the light, he realized that he was looking at a blood stain.  He emptied the remaining contents of the closet and discovered a large pillow stuffed at the bottom of a hanging clothes bag, the type used to store large out-of-season items like overcoats.  Dudley knew at once that he should not disturb the contents of the closet further. Instead, he immediately dialed Lt. Garcia’s number and asked the Lieutenant to come to La Vida Aureo as quickly as possible and to bring a forensic team with him. Dudley was convinced that he was in the middle of a crime scene.

While he was waiting for the police to arrive, Dudley went to Isabella’s office to notify her.  “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, he said, but I suspect Mrs. Arthur may have been the victim of foul play. There was that recent incident with her nephew that turned rather nasty, but I am not aware of anything that might have happened subsequently.  Mrs. Arthur didn’t mention anything; I’m not sure she would have.  Mrs. Branch, on the other hand, would certainly have made it known if something had happened.  I guess we’ll just have to wait for the police and see what they have to say.”

“Let’s keep this under our hat for the time being, responded Isabella.  No need causing a panic until we know more.  I think it advisable, however, for you to secure the casita and keep any of our resident busybodies for interfering.  Things will be difficult enough once we have police swarming all over the grounds.”

“I understand.  I asked Lt Garcia to be mindful of the residents and not attract any more attention than necessary.  He agreed and plans to show up with only one forensic technician at least until he determines that a larger effort is necessary.”

“Good. Please keep me informed.  This is very unfortunate, but we must find out what happened.  If indeed a crime has been committed, assure Lt. Garcia that he has our full cooperation.”

A few minutes later, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived with a young technician.  They went directly to Mrs. Arthur’s casita where Matthew Dudley was waiting.  He had placed a several orange traffic cones outside and a sign that read Caution: Closed for Repairs.

“Greetings, Doc.  Show me and Tom here what you found.”

Dudley led the two men into the casita and into the bedroom.  He had placed the suspect pillow and pillow case on the floor without touching them any more than was necessary. “This is all I found, Lieutenant. I found the pillow case stuffed in the back of this closet and the pillow in this large garment storage bag.  When I found these, I stopped, and haven’t touched anything else.  I thought I’d better call you instead.”

“As usual, Doc, you did the right thing.  I presume this is the casita where the woman who recently died of a heart attack lived. Have you touched anything in any of the other rooms?”

“Yes. Her niece and I looked around earlier this morning and then Mrs. Branch and I took a more thorough look later.”

“And?  Did you or your “resident Agatha Christie” discover any important clues?”

“C’mon Frank, Mrs. Branch has improved significantly in recent months.  And, she was the one who told me that Mrs. Arthur kept a large amount of cash in here as well as some pretty valuable jewelry.”

Just then, Tom the forensic technician spoke up. “Lieutenant, these are both obviously blood stains.  The one on the pillow case seems a bit fresher and really smeared. The one on the actual pillow is pretty concentrated in one spot. I went into the bathroom while you guys were talking and bagged several items so we can run a DNA comparison back at the lab.”

“Thanks, Tom. Good job. Any other observations?”

“There isn’t a lot of blood in either stain so it could be from something like a nosebleed; certainly not a major wound of any kind. From the looks of it, the pillow case might have been used to wipe up blood.”

Lt. Garcia turned back toward Dudley. “OK. So, Doc, maybe we’re looking at a robbery here as well as potential foul play.  What do you think?”

“That would be very unfortunate. Mrs. Arthur’s family just buried her a few days ago. And I assume you’ll have to exhume her body if that’s what the evidence suggests to see what really happened.”

“I’m afraid so. Can you tell me anything about her family?”

“Her only family is a niece and nephew that live in Albuquerque.  There’s another niece that came for the funeral, but I think she lives back East somewhere. I am not aware of any other family.  Mrs. Arthur had a very positive relationship with her niece Denise, but a very stormy one with her nephew.  In fact, there was an incident here a few weeks ago that got rather nasty.  As I understand it, he showed up asking, no demanding, that she give him some money and he got physical with her. Fortunately, Mrs. Branch was here at the time and she pretty much chased him away.  But we had to have the Resident Nurse check Mrs. Arthur out because she was pretty shaken by the incident.”

“That’s good information, Doc.  Do you know this bozo nephew’s name or where he lives?”

“I believe his name is Charles Arthur and he lives near downtown some place.  Sorry I don’t know any more.”

“I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that he’s in our database, probably for domestic violence or abuse or something similar that from your description. I’ll check him out while the lab boys are doing their thing.”

“Thanks for coming so quickly and so quietly, Lieutenant.  Please keep me informed, particularly if you decide you have to exhume Mrs. Arthur’s body.”

As Lt. Garcia turned to leave, Dudley stopped him and said, “Oh, and Lieutenant, there’s one other thing I probably should mention.”  Dudley proceeded to relate what he had learned about someone gaining access to Mrs. Arthur’s nieces’ Facebook accounts from a computer at The Neutron Bar & Grill.

Only a few days had passed when Lt. Garcia called Isabella to inform her about the results of the lab tests.  Dudley was in Isabella’s office when the call came. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Isabella, but the DNA from the blood we found matches DNA samples from a hair brush we took from Mrs. Arthur’s casita.  Again, I don’t want to draw any conclusions prematurely, but this is probably not good news.  The presence of blood and Doc’s description of missing money and jewelry would lead me to think that some kind of robbery took place and Mrs. Arthur tried to prevent it.”

“Unfortunately, that makes sense, said Isabella. Doc and I were just talking about the situation and assume that this will become a full-scale criminal investigation. Is there anything else you can do so that we don’t have to exhume her body?  I don’t think I’m prepared to deal with that.”

“I’ve checked into Mrs. Arthur’s nephew Charles and he was in the Bernalillo County database and, as I suspected, he’s been arrested numerous times, typically for abuse or fighting or just general stupid behavior.  We’re on the way to pick him up right now and we’ll see what he has to say for himself. But, I suggest that you prepare yourself because it looks more and more like we will have to examine Mrs. Arthur’s body to determine whether a crime has been committed.  If we’re lucky, maybe Charles will have a reasonable explanation about the blood stains and the missing property and we can avoid exhumation.”

It didn’t help Charles’ situation that he had been drinking when the police finally located him at The Neutron Bar & Grill. Sgt. Bernadette Armijo had little tolerance for guys like Charles and decided to charge him with Obstructing a Police Officer. Maybe if he spent a night or two in the Metropolitan Detention Center he’d be more cooperative when they questioned him.

Even sober, Charles was uncooperative and argumentative.  “Look, the Old Bitch always gave me a hard time.  She was loaded, but refused to help me out and lend me a bit of money.”

“I understand you got a bit rough with her the last time you visited her at the retirement place,” stated Lt. Garcia.

“Not really. That crazy friend of hers made such a big deal out things; she was screaming and yelling at me.  What a Hag! The whole thing was no big deal.”

“Do you know the kind of things she kept in her room”, pressed Garcia?

“Yeah. I know she kept a bunch of cash and that’s what really pissed me off. She could have given me enough to get by, but she refused.”

“Look, Charles, we’ve studied your bank records and you made regular deposits of cash, typically a few thousand dollars at a time.  Where did that money come from?”

“What gives you the right to look into my business anyhow? I got that money working, writing articles for the papers.”

“Charles, we’re just trying to understand what happened and you’re not being very helpful.  It seems to me that it’s a lot of money for writing an article. Maybe a few more days and nights at MDC will make you more cooperative.”

“Whatever.  I didn’t like the Old Bitch at all, but I didn’t do anything.”

Lt. Garcia felt that he really didn’t have many options at this point.  Charles Arthur was certainly an unlikeable guy, but Garcia couldn’t prove anything.  He didn’t know if there had been foul play or just an accident.  Without further evidence, he couldn’t even prove that a robbery had occurred.  Maybe Mrs. Arthur misplaced the money or had given it to Charles willingly.  And, Mrs. Branch was the only one who claimed to have seen this supposed jewelry and Garcia certainly had his doubts about that. With great reluctance, he arranged to meet with Denise Harris to tell her what the police had discovered in her Aunt’s casita and get permission to exhume the body.  He said that he hoped it would help explain the blood stains and if her aunt had been the victim of foul play.

Surprisingly, Denise was in favor of that difficult course of action.  “I always knew Charles would do something really stupid regarding Aunt Martha.  He always talked big and said that he could get as much money from her as he needed, regardless of what it took.  Mrs. Branch told me about the incident when he shook her so hard that she fainted.  My Aunt never mentioned it, but I assume there were other incidents.  I’m afraid I can’t help you much about the jewelry.  I vaguely remember a story about how some foreign person tried to bribe Uncle Henry, but I never put much credence in that particular memory of hers. I don’t want to be involved in this anymore, Lieutenant Garcia.  You have my approval to exhume her body.  You do whatever you have to do and I hope you can nail that Bastard for all the mean things he’s done.”

It took only a few hours with the body for Dr. George Hernandez, Bernalillo County’s Chief Medical Examiner to call Lt. Garcia with some results.  “You know, Lieutenant, I understand that dealing with the death of a loved one can be very difficult for some people. They are often too anxious to get the funeral over as quickly as possible so that they can get the event behind them. For someone like your Mrs. Arthur, who had a history of heart trouble, it was just too convenient to list the probable cause of death as a heart attack and no one would have questioned it. But, in this particular case, a bit more patience and a closer examination would have revealed that Mrs. Arthur had a broken nose and that there was still blood residue in her nasal cavities.  Tom showed me the pillow you recovered from her apartment and I think you are looking at murder.  Someone put a pillow over her face to suffocate her, breaking her nose in the process.  I suspect the pillow case was then used to wipe up the small amount of blood that ensued. “

“Shit!” was all Garcia could manage.

“I’ll email you my report before I go home this evening.  Have a nice day, Frank.”