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Case X

 

Case X: Romeo is Dead

 

Chapter 1: Coitus Interruptus

 

Magdalena Torres was satisfied.  It was late in the afternoon and she sat in her easy chair in the sun looking out the large window of her casita.  Perhaps it was the large Manhattan she was sipping.  More likely, it was the post-coital glow from an afternoon of vigorous sex with Cesar Ramirez.

Things were much improved since his involvement in the death of Carmine Felicio (Case III, November, 2014) and the accusations of Dolores Waverly.  Although Magdalena permitted Cesar to see other women, he was, for all intent and purpose, on-call to her whenever she desired his services.  And, she had insisted that Cesar stop chasing that Anglo woman, JoAnne what’s-her-name.   Yes, Magdalena Torres was certainly satisfied with her life at La Vida Aureo.

Her late afternoon reverie was interrupted by a knock on her door. She rose slowly from her chair and was pleased to see Matthew Dudley standing on her patio.

Remembering his previous encounter with Mrs. Torres (Case II, October, 2014), he spoke with some apprehension. “Mrs. Torres, I was on my way back to the main building, but wanted to confirm that I will be here at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning to repair that leaking faucet in your bathroom.”

“Well, Señor Handyman, I will be expecting you.  And, please don’t forget to bring all of your tools with you,” she grinned and took another sip of her drink.   “If you’re going to the main building, perhaps you would walk with me.  It is almost time for dinner and I prefer to not walk alone.  I do not care for the way that so many men here look at me with lecherous eyes.”

Dudley thought to himself that it was the men who should be afraid of Mrs. Torres’ lechery, but said, “I would be glad to accompany you to the Dining Room.”

They had only walked a short distance from Mrs. Torres’ casita when Dudley spotted something on the ground, partially hidden among some decorative bushes along the walkway.  As he moved cautiously forward and knelt for a closer look, Torres pushed past him.

She immediately recognized the highly-polished black boots with extensive silver ornamentation and elevated heels; they had spent much of the afternoon under her bed.  As she moved closer, she saw a man in tight trousers and a colorful silk shirt lying face-down in the grass with a large knife protruding from his back.  “Mi Dios; it is Cesar”, she screamed and stumbled to one side.

Dudley quickly confirmed that the body lying in the grass was indeed Cesar Ramirez; the characteristic outfit was unmistakable.  He quickly dialed 911 and moved to comfort Mrs. Torres.

Lt. Frank Garcia arrived in a few minutes with Tom Bowers, an Assistant Medical Technician.  Dudley greeted Garcia as they approached the body.  “I was walking toward the Main Building with Mrs. Torres when we discovered the body, Lieutenant.  We haven’t touched anything and Mrs. Torres has returned to her casita which is just back this walkway a bit.  Of course, I did not disturb the body, but I’m certain it is Cesar Ramirez.”

“Not the same Ramirez I questioned in regard to that previous case when the woman was found dead in the stairwell?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, it is the same man.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have plenty of potential suspects to interview then!  Please just tell me, Doc, that this isn’t another one of those Kardashian-type Reality Dramas!  Anyway, Tom and I need to get to work.  I assume you need to tell Isabella about this latest incident?  I’ll meet you in her office as soon as I get Tom started here.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant.  I’ll be in Isabella’s office when you are free.”

Lt. Garcia and Tom Bowers began examining the body and surrounding area.  Tom looked up and said, “It looks pretty straight-forward, Lieutenant.  The only thing I see is this large knife in his back. There don’t seem to be any other injuries, but I’ll know more when we get a chance to perform a more complete examination.”

The two men looked around the scene and didn’t see any other evidence that could relate to the crime.  “I’ll trust you to get the body back to the Morgue, Tom. I’m going to stop in the Director’s office and see what else I can learn about our victim.  Let me know when your report is ready.  Thanks.”

Garcia found Matthew Dudley sitting in Isabella Duncan’s office just off of the main Lobby.  He knew Isabella was a highly professional woman and not easily upset, but she seemed visibly shaken by this most recent situation.  “I know this is a difficult time, Isabella, so I’ll try to be brief.  Based on my past experience with Mr. Ramirez, I’m afraid I’ll need to interview quite a few Residents.  I will try to be as unobtrusive as possible and not disturb any more folks than absolutely necessary.   What can either of you tell me about Mr. Ramirez’ most recent “activities”?”

Isabella Duncan gathered her thoughts and emotions before she spoke calmly. “Actually, Lieutenant, things had been relatively quiet since that unfortunate situation with Ms. Felicio.  Mr. Ramirez has pretty much behaved himself and not bothered any other female Residents.  At least, there haven’t been any complaints or rumors that have reached my desk.  Nonetheless, I presume you will want to talk to the same women who were involved before.  I suggest you also interview Mrs. Magdalena Torres.  It is my understanding that Mr. Ramirez was spending most of his time with her and that she kept a pretty tight leash on his “extracurricular activities”.   As it turns out, that situation benefited everyone; it kept two of our more aggressively romantic Residents occupied and basically out of circulation.”

“It was actually Mrs. Torres who initially recognized Mr. Ramirez’ body,” added Dudley. “She and I were walking down the path together when she first spotted his boots sticking out of the shrubbery.  I thought it would be OK if she went back to her casita rather than hang around the crime scene.  I’m sure she will be willing to talk to you.”

“Thanks, Doc.  Yeah, it was probably best to let her return to her place.  It would have only added to the confusion and distracted us from looking around. But, she is probably the first person I need to interview.  I assume that the other women who were involved with him before are still here at La Vida Aureo.  In addition to them, can you think of anyone else I should talk to?”

“Not off-hand, Lieutenant,” suggested Isabella.  “As I said, Mr. Ramirez had pretty much left other women alone and really never had too much to do with any of the male Residents.  If I think of anyone, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“Thanks Isabella; and you too, Doc.  I’m going to swing by the Kitchen to pay my respects to Señora Angostura and then get back to the Station. I’ll begin my interviews tomorrow morning, if that’s convenient. I’ll certainly keep you posted as to anything we learn from the autopsy as well as the results of my interviews.”

“I know you will try to get this resolved as quickly as possible, Lieutenant.  Thank you.”

“You have my word, Isabella.”

Lt. Frank Garcia made his way to the Main Dining Room in search of Paloma Angostura.  Señora Angostura was the cook for La Vida Aureo and the woman who had essentially raised Garcia and successfully guided him through a difficult youth.  Garcia always made a point of stopping by to pay his respects.  He also knew that Señora Angostura was a valuable source of information about all the happenings at La Vida Aureo through what she referred to as her Sopapilla Network.  Many of the women who were part of La Vida Aureo’s staff would meet in the small room adjacent to the Main Dining Room each afternoon to wait for their ride home.  Angostura would provide a fresh batch of sopapillas and coffee and lemonade for the group. She could then sit quietly and listen as the women discussed the events of the day, which typically revealed the inner goings-on at the facility.  Garcia knew that there wasn’t much that happened that Señora Angostura wasn’t aware of or could readily find out.  This information was often invaluable to him as he sought to understand the motives and behaviors of some of the Residents.

Paloma greeted Garcia as he walked into the kitchen from the Dining Room.  “Francisco, mi hijoComo esta?  Your eyes tell me that you are here with sad news.  I just heard about Señor Ramirez and it is most unfortunate.”

Madre, I know Señor Ramirez was not among your favorite people, but it is indeed a tragedy that he was murdered.   Mrs. Duncan told me that he had been on his “good behavior” recently, but I wanted to also ask you about him.”

“That is true.  I have not seen him strutting about the Dining Room bothering the women for several months.  I believe he spends much of his time with Señora Torres.”

“That is reassuring.  What about that group of women that met in here each day; the group that included Ms. Felicio?”

“Oh, they still come here almost every day, the three.  I’ve noticed that they get along much better since Señora Felicio’s death. They now actually play cards or dominoes and often invite a fourth person to join in.  And the conversation is more respectful than before, but I don’t think they are very open with each other.”

“Have you noticed Mr. Ramirez around any of them?  Do you think that any of them would want to harm him in any way?”

“No.  He does not stop to talk with them whenever he is in here. Señora Waverly was very angry with him some time ago, as you know, but even she seems to ignore him.  I believe she spends time with a man who is not a Resident. “

“Thank you very much, Madre.  I think it would still be wise to talk to the three of them just in case they have any information that would help me find out who murdered Mr. Ramirez.”

“I think that is wise, Francisco.  Please be careful as you go about your duties.  Know that you are always in my prayers. Adios

Dudley had remained in Isabella Duncan’s office after Lt. Garcia left.  “This is a most unfortunate situation, Isabella.  Even though Ramirez had been pretty much on his good behavior of late, I can’t help but think that there were still some Residents who resented him.  Even with that, I find it hard to believe that anyone here was angry enough to want to kill him.  Lt. Garcia didn’t mention it while he was here, but it looked like a rather violent attack to me.  Whoever did this exhibited a significant amount of anger or frustration.  If it’s OK with you, I think I’ll do a bit of investigating on my own.  Maybe someone on the Staff is aware of something that could have precipitated this crime.”

“You’re assuming that it was another Resident who murdered Ramirez?”

“I guess there’s always the possibility that someone from the Outside came in and killed him.  It could be a jealous husband or boyfriend from some affair in Ramirez’ past.  Hopefully a Resident or Staff member would have noticed any outsiders walking around looking for Ramirez.  I would assume that any such person would have to come here several times to be able to plan such an ambush.  There are just too many possibilities in this particular situation, but I feel obligated to help Lt. Garcia as much as possible.”

“That’s fine, Doc, but remember you have a responsibility to ALL of the Residents. And, it would be a shame to neglect the Community Assist Team as they rely on you a great deal.   Ramirez is dead and there is nothing you can do about that fact.  It is really Garcia’s job to find his killer, not yours.”

“I understand completely, Isabella.”

 

Chapter 2: Las Colitas, New Mexico

New Mexico was primarily settled by Spanish travelling north from Mexico along the Rio Grande River valley.  Although the first Spanish expeditions were primarily Conquistadors, later groups were searching for a new life and focused on establishing a home in this vast new territory known as New Spain.  These were often diverse groups, consisting of Spanish from Spain, Spanish-Indians from Mexico, Jews who had fled the Inquisition in Spain and others.  As these earliest settlers migrated north, they encountered the numerous indigenous pueblo populations who had lived in this area for millennia.  The inevitable intermarriages resulted in a further mixing of cultures as these people continued north.

They passed through Jornada del Muerto, a 100-mile stretch of central New Mexico with searing heat and little or no water.  As they continued north, these early groups encountered beautiful valleys along the smaller streams and rivers and began to establish permanent settlements.  Water was plentiful and soon the valleys were dotted with productive agrarian communities.

An essential tenet of Spain’s colonization of New Spain was to convert the indigenous populations to Catholicism.  To this end, Franciscan Priests were an integral part of each expedition.  The Spanish Monarchy instituted a program of land grants to encourage people to establish permanent residence throughout the new territory. Another critical objective of the land grants was to keep unwanted people from settling in the lands claimed by Spain.  As more people came, this duty was assumed by the Territorial Governor. The size of these grants was designed to support a specific number of people, typically a few families, with farming and livestock.  It was generally no more than a subsistence existence, but the people felt the pride of land ownership and an overwhelming sense of freedom and self-sufficiency.

The physical characteristics of many of these small villages were similar and incorporated much of the pueblo culture.  There was a central plaza which was the center of all daily activity.  The village was typically fortified by walls as a means of defense from the nomadic tribes of Apache and Comanche from the Plains.   The pueblo peoples had developed effective farming techniques based on prudent water use for this difficult environment.  A community water system, called an acequia, was a central and important part of the community. Even with relatively primitive methods, they were able raise sufficient sheep and cattle to provide for the community

The present day city of Española, New Mexico was settled in approximately 1598 by the Spanish military explorer Juan de Oñate as a capital for Spain in the New World.  By 1750, the city was known as La Vega de las Vigiles after the prominent Vigil family who were among the initial settlers.

This situation was typical of New Mexico in those early days. An individual or group of families could petition the Governor and be awarded a section of land for his immediate family and members of his group.  This male became the leader or Padrone (Padrino) of this small community.   There were many reasons for establishing a separate community.  Often, the leader of one family simply could not get along with others and set off with his immediate family to establish a new community.  Communities were often formed to get away from troublesome influences, including an over-zealous Priest or to escape persecution.

These small villages existed for decades without much influence from outside.  They became more insulated.  They were wary of outsiders.   Others came; Pueblo Indians seeking protection from the nomadic Plains Indians, Jews seeking protection from the Inquisition which had followed them to Mexico, French trappers following the rivers south, etc.

By the middle of the 19th century, westward expansion across the United Sates had become a powerful force and Spain and the United Sates eventually went to war over this vast territory.  The railroad was another powerful force at this time and as it pushed westward along the existing Santa Fe Trail, it entered New Mexico.   There was considerable fighting and bloodshed until the United States Army finally prevailed.  The Army then established a network of Forts through the territory, presumably to protect wagon trains heading west, but also to discourage any further uprisings.

Soon after, merchants arrived bringing the latest farming equipment and tools.  Since many of the people in these small communities had operated on a barter or community-based economy for decades, they never had any need for money.  In order to purchase a modern plow or shovel, the merchants accepted a parcel of land in trade.  Because land was plentiful, the communities somewhat willingly participated in this new commercial arrangement.  Soon, much of their traditional land was gone.

Historically, the Padrone would take care of everything and provide for everyone.  But, the young men in the villages became restless and angry and resentful of the new-comers who had “stolen” their land.  This perspective of a legacy of conquest and subjugation began to play itself out in the behavior of the males in the community.  Reliance on the Padrone for everything had a profound unintended consequence.  With a lack of education and training, there were few opportunities and the young men in the community became increasingly frustrated and angry.  Eventually, this would manifest itself in a culture of domestic and sexual violence against women in community, including wives and daughters.

The village of Colitas was typical of many communities in northern New Mexico, established by a few families seeking a greater degree of independence and control over their lives.  The Salazar family was the founding family for the Village of Colitas, having split from the Vigil family in Española. Despite their best efforts to remain isolated, they were frequently drawn into the various conflicts that characterized the State’s history well into the 20th century.  Each episode added to the frustration of the men in Colitas and their sense of being conquered and subjugated by some “outside” power or influence.

The Salazars remained in firm control to the present day and the role of Padrone had been passed from father to first-born son for many generations.  The citizens became accustomed to Padrone Salazar providing for everyone and everything.  Through a vast network, he had powerful political and family connections throughout much of northern New Mexico. In particular, he had powerful connections in Santa Fe which resulted in a considerable amount of Federal and State money flowing into Colitas, all of it through Papa Salazar.  In return, he was able to deliver an entire voting block whenever needed by a particular politician to secure re-election or support for a pet project. In his private moments, Papa Salazar considered himself to be like the Medicis in Florence.

A negative consequence of this concentration of power was that the citizens of Colitas developed the perspective that they were simply entitled to this largesse.  There was really no need for an education or to exert any initiative because a long line of Salazar Padrones had made sure that everyone was provided for. Those who worked at all had jobs with some State Agency where their only requirement was to show up, at least most of the time.

The current head of the Salazar family had three sons, Pedro, Emilio and Lucero.  Pedro had been groomed from an early age to succeed his father and was serving as a member of the City Council.  Emilio was serving a four-year sentence at a prison in Texas for distribution of heroin and methamphetamines. The youngest son, Lucero, was still in High School.  Much to his father’s displeasure, Lucero was a rather passive person, likely in reaction to the domineering personalities of his father and older brothers.

Lucero quickly discovered that his quiet and passive demeanor had its benefits.  Walking home from high school one afternoon, he noticed a young girl sitting on a park bench and she was crying.  His first reaction was to keep moving and not get involved.  But, as he passed near, he recognized her from one of his classes and he could see that her face was swollen more than would be caused by crying.  She softly called his name and her eyes begged him to stop.  When he sat down, she threw her arms around his neck and began sobbing heavily.

“Oh, Lucero, please help me.  Joaquin said he saw me talking to another boy today and he slapped me.  When I said I hadn’t talked to any other boys, he called me a Slut and a Liar and he slapped me again. I tried to get away, but he grabbed me and then hit me with his fist.  I don’t know what to do.  I love Joaquin and don’t want him to be angry with me.”

Lucero Salazar didn’t know what to do.  He knew Joaquin and about his violent temper; he did not want to get on his bad side. But, Maria was desperate and maybe he could just sit with her until she stopped crying.

“Please just hold me a while, Lucero.  I feel so safe with you.”

Lucero absolutely did not want anyone to see him sitting with Maria, much less holding her.  That would get back to Joaquin and he would have to pay the price.  “Wait a minute,” he told himself. “I am a Salazar and no one will mess with me.  My brother and cousins will protect me.  No one is stupid enough to bother me.”

So, he gently put his arms around Maria and held her for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, she stopped crying.

“Oh, Lucero, thank you so very much.  You are so kind. I did not mean to trouble you, but it meant so much to feel safe in your arms.”  As she rose to leave, she leaned over and kissed him.

And, so it began.

Maria lived with the constant conflict of most the young girls in Las Colitas.  There was unrelenting pressure to get married and bear children, one consequence of centuries of living under strict Catholic doctrine.  There was also the peer pressure; no girl of high school age wanted to be known as not having a steady boyfriend.  For these girls, it meant tolerating the abuse which was accepted as “just part of the way things were”.  Most of the women of Las Colitas experienced abuse at some point, by a husband or boyfriend and occasionally by a father or brother.

Maria’s positive and non-violent experience with Lucero Salazar quickly spread among the girls at Las Colitas High. It was whispered that he was safe and not abusive; he would just hold you and let you cry until the immediate hurt passed.

It didn’t take long for the boys to get wind of this new development in the social order of things.  Most did not see Lucero as a threat to their masculinity; he was considered “pretty much of a wimp”.  Regardless, Lucero was a Salazar and no one dared risk the wrath of the Salazar family.  Some of the boys threatened their girlfriends and forbade them to talk to Lucero, but most just ignored the situation.  They remained confident in their ability to dominate and control their women.

For his part, Lucero quickly recognized that his role in the social environment at Las Colitas High School had changed and he relished his new-found status.  His reputation grew and more girls sought him out for solace. He made himself available and began to encourage them.  He knew that most of the girls were used to being physically abused, so he began to gently caress them as part of his comforting words and gestures to which the girls responded positively.  One afternoon, one of Maria’s friends was sitting with Lucero and asked if they could lie together without any clothes.  “I need to feel safe when I am most vulnerable,” she said.  Lucero did not hesitate to accommodate her wishes.

As graduation approached, Lucero’s father told him that he was enrolled at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico where he would study to become certified as a teacher at Las Colitas High School.  There wasn’t anything Lucero could do against his father’s wishes, so he resigned himself to his fate.  When word leaked out that he would be leaving town, Maria and her friends decided to throw a going-away party for him.  Most of the boys had planned to spend the weekend camping in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The girls knew that the boys would be too drunk to return to Las Colinas until late Sunday evening, so they had the weekend free.  Virtually all of the girls that Lucero had comforted over the past year were present and they took turns expressing their appreciation in ways that he could not have possibly imagined!

Lucero wasn’t much of a student and not prepared to do the work required to get an education at Highlands.  He soon discovered that the women in Las Vegas lived in essentially the same abusive conditions as Las Colitas and many other towns and villages in the area. Fortunately for Lucero, his reputation had followed him and he quickly found that he was spending much of his time comforting fellow students and some local women.  By this time, Lucero realized that he could take advantage of most women as long as he played the role of a caring and comforting male.

He was entering his third year of study at Highlands when he decided that he didn’t need an education or degree; he was a Salazar and that would be sufficient to secure his future.  His father wasn’t pleased with his decision to drop out of college, but they reached somewhat of a compromise and Lucero joined the general faculty for Las Colitas Public Schools.

There were advantages to his role as an Assistant Coach in the Athletic Department and as a Guidance Counselor. The high school girls who were in difficult relationships frequently came to his office to pour out their hearts and seek comfort.  Lucero was always more than willing to oblige.  After only a few years, it was not uncommon for the mothers of the young girls to seek him out as well.  Lucero realized that he would never be Padrone for the Village, but he was living a comfortable and gratifying life and thought he was set for life.  It would be several years before his actual behavior came into question and he would face serious legal action.

Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation

 

As promised, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo the next morning to begin his initial investigation into the murder of Cesar Ramirez.  He went to the Main Dining Room where he assumed he could find the Residents he wanted to interview.  Paloma Angostura greeted Lt. Garcia warmly, as always, and told him that Señora Torres had not come to the Dining Room this morning for breakfast.

“I guess I am not too surprised,” replied Garcia. “I assume she is still considerably upset by yesterday’s events.  I’ll go to her casita; perhaps she’ll be more comfortable to talk there.”

Magdalena Torres answered her door promptly and asked Lt. Garcia to come in.  She directed him to a chair in her living room.

“Señora Torres, my name is Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit.  I’m in charge of the investigation concerning Señor Ramirez’s death, which we are treating as a homicide.    Do you have any questions before we begin?”

“No, Lieutenant.  That is fine.  I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”

“Thank you, Señora Torres. I understand that you are the one who actually discovered Señor Ramirez’s body.  Would you please tell me approximately when that was and whether you were alone when you found him?”

“I nearly tripped over his feet on my way to the Main Dining Room for dinner late yesterday afternoon, at about 5:30.  He was lying in some bushes and his boots were visible from the walkway.  I was walking with that nice Handyman, Mr. Dudley, at the time.”

“I see.  And, had you been walking with Mr. Dudley for very long?”

“No. He had come here to my casita a short while earlier to confirm an appointment to do some plumbing repairs and I asked him to walk to the Dining Room with me.  I get uncomfortable walking alone and having so many men stare at me.”

“And, before you discovered Señor Ramirez’s body, when was the last time you saw him?”

“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”

“The entire afternoon?  May I ask what you were doing during that time?”

“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”

“Oh, I see. Sorry. While he was here, did he give any indication that he was concerned that someone might want to do him harm?”

“Not really.  Look, Cesar wasn’t really involved with very many people here, at least not of late.  And, I don’t believe he was afraid of anyone in particular.  But, mark my words, Lieutenant, there are some muy loco women here and I know some of them don’t particularly care for him.  I can think of several who are not above wanting to hurt him, but none have the courage or strength for murder.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to decide that for myself. Would you be willing to give me the names of these women?”

“You should talk to the Waverly woman and particularly that Anglo puta, JoAnne Elliott.  Cesar’s friend Jorge Sandoval might know of others; I don’t.”

Lt. Garcia had not met Jorge Sandoval although his name had come up during the investigation of Carmine Felicio’s death; he was Ramirez’s initial alibi.  Garcia would ask Dudley to take him to meet Sandoval.  For the time being, he had no more questions for Señora Torres.  “Thank you, Señora, for your time. I have no more questions at this time.  Once again, I am sorry for your loss.  I know Señor Ramirez meant a lot to you.”

“Just find this person who did this horrible thing, and quickly.”

 

Dudley was in the Main Dining Room reviewing his ToDo list for the day.  He had talked to Señora Angostura about Ramirez’s murder and they had discussed potential suspects.  Like Lt. Garcia, Dudley asked Paloma about the so-called Queer Quartet of women who had been the focus of so much of Ramirez’s attention.  Paloma told Dudley that Ramirez hadn’t bothered them much lately and, in fact, had pretty much stopped his daily stroll through the Dining Room.  And, Dudley was personally aware that Ramirez had stayed away from JoAnne Elliott.  It was Dudley’s opinion that, despite the potential for several women to be angry with Ramirez, his murder looked more like the work of a man.  That led him back to the thought of a jealous husband or boyfriend and possibly someone who was not a Resident.  He had shared this opinion with Paloma and she agreed that the murderer was probably not a woman, but wasn’t convinced that an Outsider was involved.  “I believe that I would have been told if there was a strange man wandering about the grounds”, she said.

Knowing the extent and efficiency of Paloma’s Sopapilla Network, Dudley was forced to seriously question that particular theory. He remained troubled, however, about Isabella’s less-than-subtle comment that solving this crime was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, not his.  Regardless of how unlikely it was, if the killer was indeed a Resident, Dudley believed he was in a better position to unmask him than Lt. Garcia.

Dudley realized that it was time to stop speculating and attend to his responsibilities.  As he rose to leave, he noticed Minot Atkinson near the elevators talking with Mary Thomas. Both women were laughing and as the elevator doors opened, Mary Thomas reached up and hugged Minot Atkinson.  Minot turned toward the Dining Room and greeted Dudley warmly.

“It is good to see you, too, Miss Atkinson.  I saw you with Mrs. Thomas a moment ago and was unaware that you knew her.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, our initial meeting was quite an accident.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have stuck my nose in her business the way I did, but I think everything turned out really well, particularly for her.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.  In my previous experience with Mrs. Thomas, she was a very troubled person.  But, from what I just witnessed, she seems to be much happier.”

“Allow me to share a confidence with you. About a month ago, I was here in the Lobby and I noticed Mrs. Thomas wheeling herself toward the elevators. I went over to press the UP button for her and noticed a book in her lap that was some sort of Self-Help clap-trap. I guess it is just my nature and I struck up a conversation with her about what she was seeking in that particular text.  As we talked, she opened up a bit and my sixth sense told me that there might be a simple solution to her anger and frustration.  Without embarrassing you with the details, I suggested she call a friend of mine who works at the Women’s Self-Serve Resource Center in town.

That must have worked.  I got a text message from my friend Emily saying that she had talked with Mrs. Thomas at length and made some suggestions to deal with her frustration and pent-up emotions.  I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Thomas now has other ways to release her anxieties than that bottle of whiskey she used to rely on.”

“There’s no need to tell me any more than that, Minot.  I’m just glad that Mrs. Thomas is happy and I agree that almost any solution is better than the bottle.  Thank you for being so considerate.  I’ll catch up with the Team in the next few days.  Have a pleasant rest of the day.”

Dudley turned toward an Exit when he noticed Lt. Garcia heading in his direction.

”Say, Doc.  Can you direct me to a Jorge Sandoval?  I remember that he was one of Ramirez’s few male friends and I’d like to talk to him.   Mrs. Torres seemed to think that he could shed some light on the situation.  It was her opinion that it was an angry woman who murdered Ramirez, but, based on what I saw of the scene, I don’t think that’s very likely. Anyway, maybe Sandoval has some less biased information.”

A thought occurred to Dudley.  He would take Garcia up to Sandoval’s apartment on the third floor which would give him an excuse to call on Mary Thomas.  Even though he agreed that the killer was most likely a man, he had to satisfy his curiosity about the past women in Ramirez’s life to eliminate that possibility.  In his mind, a jealous boyfriend or past lover was still a possibility, however remote.

Dudley was pleased when Jorge Sandoval opened the door to his apartment to notice that his large-screen TV was filled with a soccer match.  Dudley introduced Lt. Garcia and turned to leave.  “Señor Doc, it is much better to watch the football on my TV now, don’t you agree,” said Sandoval with a large grin.

“Señor Sandoval”, began Garcia, I have a few questions about your friend Cesar Ramirez.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant, anything I can do to help you catch this person who did this terrible thing to my good friend Cesar.”

“Thank you, Señor Sandoval.  We did not talk when Señor Ramirez was involved in the situation surrounding the unfortunate death of Ms. Felicio, but I understand that you were aware of all of his relationships with various women here at La Vida Aureo.  I am led to believe that he had given up most of those activities and was loyal, if I can use that word, to Señora Torres.  Is that correct?”

“Oh, yes.  Cesar discovered that Señora Torres could be quite satisfying, if you see my meaning.   Even though he still flirted with other women on occasion, he spent most of his time with Señora Torres.”

“Did she not object?  I find it somewhat hard to believe that a woman like her would not be jealous.”

“She is quite a remarkable person.  I once heard her tell Cesar that she didn’t care where he got his appetite as long as he came to her for what she called the “main course!”

“Oh, er, I see.  Anyway, given Señor Ramirez’s numerous past affairs, is it possible that there could be a jealous husband, former husband or boyfriend that wanted to do him harm?”

“I guess that is always possible, but Cesar was no fool.  He may have flirted with many, many women, but he was very careful and particular about who he actually spent real time with.  You must understand, Lieutenant, it was much more about the appearance of his activities than the reality.  He loved his reputation and did everything he could to build himself up, particularly in the eyes of women. For Cesar, it was always the show that mattered! ”

“Gracias, Señor Sandoval, for your time.  If you think of anything that could help, please call me.  Here is my card.”

 

Dudley had walked a short distance down the hall and knocked on the door to Mary Thomas’ apartment.   “Mrs. Thomas, I hope I am not disturbing you.  I was on this floor and just wanted to stop in to see how you were doing.  I don’t mean to intrude, or if this is an inconvenient time …”

“Oh, no, please come in Mr. Dudley.  I’m doing much better.  Thank you for asking.”

“I just happened to notice that you were talking to Miss Atkinson downstairs.  She is part of our Community Assist Program and has been doing some wonderful things as part of that new effort. She mentioned that she thought you were doing better.”

“Community Assist?  That’s funny; although what she did for me was more of a personal assist.  Based on her help, I’m doing much, much better.  As long as Amazon delivers my monthly supply of batteries, I’ll be JUST FINE!”

“Oh! If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions about the ladies you sit with almost every day, Miss Waverly and Miss Caballo.  I’m sure you heard about Mr. Ramirez’s death and I know he had some involvement with at least Miss Waverly in the past.  I’m just curious about any recent involvements, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.  Basically, none of us have had any involvement with Mr. Ramirez since that unfortunate accident.  Dolores was the one actually involved with him, but she dumped him almost immediately.  Since then, she found a very nice gentlemen at the church she’s been attending someplace in town.  To hear her tell the story, this gentleman has helped her discover and experience The Rapture.  Personally, I don’t know if that’s a religious thing or not, but Dolores seems very happy and that’s all that matters to me.”

“The situation with Estelle-Elena is a bit more complicated.  You may recall that she was always the one who made openly suggestive remarks to every man who happened by and bragged about the long string of lovers she’d had since her Quinceañera and Prom.  The truth of the matter is that she was raped on both occasions and hasn’t been with a man since.  Her overt behavior was just her way of hiding some very deep and painful feelings from her past.  You may have also heard rumors about her carryings-on with some of the young girls on the Staff.  Well, Estelle has found a true soul-mate with a woman on the Staff, a mature woman who had tolerated a very abusive husband for many years. Evidently she and Estelle were talking one afternoon and realized that they had much in common and they grew closer from that point.  I don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but Estelle is content and has given up her act as a femme fatale.”

Dudley sat quietly for several minutes; he had not expected such a detailed description of the personal lives of these women; he was only asking about Cesar Ramirez.  “So, I guess it’s safe to assume that none of you has had much involvement with Mr. Ramirez”?

“We have had NO involvement with him and, frankly I was glad when he gave up coming into the Dining Room each day and acting like “God’s Gift to Women!”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Thomas and I’m glad to learn that Miss Atkinson was able to help you in some way.”

“No problem, Mr. Dudley and when you see Miss Atkinson, please thank her again for me.  Please tell her that she opened a totally new world for me and that I can take care of all my needs by myself!”

 

Dudley met Lt. Garcia as both men went downstairs toward the Main Lobby. “I trust your interview with Mr. Sandoval was productive, Lieutenant.”

“Well, he was cooperative, but I didn’t really learn anything new.  His comments were pretty consistent with those from Mrs. Torres.  Apparently, Ramirez had been on his best behavior for quite some time and neither could think of anyone that would want to harm him, much less kill him. So, at this point, I don’t have any potential suspects and I don’t even have a motive. All I have is the knife from Ramirez’s back that we recovered at the crime scene. I’ve got to admit, Doc, I’m pretty stumped with this one.”

“I guess it is possible that someone from outside this community could have killed him, but that doesn’t seem very likely.  I know you’ve talked to Señora Angostura and you’re aware that she has eyes and ears everywhere, so to speak. She claims that there haven’t been any suspicious characters lurking about the grounds in recent weeks.  But, from what I observed, that knife was not an ordinary knife, certainly not the kind you see every day.”

“I agree, it looked pretty unusual, like some sort of ceremonial piece or heirloom or something like that. Maybe Dr. Hernandez or the forensic guys have found something that would at least give me a place to start.

“I certainly hope so. Look, Lieutenant, Isabella told me to keep my nose out of this, but I’ve already talked to a few Residents and haven’t learned anything that would help.  I’ll keep trying, though.”

“I appreciate it, Doc.  And, I promise not to mention anything to Isabella; your secret is safe with me.  Well, I’m headed back downtown. ”

With that, the two men shook hands and went their separate ways.  Dudley had some important repairs to address and really needed to catch up with Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team. He remained troubled by Mrs. Thomas’s comment that Miss Caballo was involved, perhaps even romantically, with a member of the Staff. He knew he would have to discuss this with Señora Angostura at the first opportunity.

 

Chapter 4: Too Much of a Good Thing

For several years, Lucero Salazar enjoyed his situation with the Las Colitas Public School System. He had few responsibilities, considerable freedom and was able to move about the entire District with minimal supervision.  His behavior toward women became increasingly aggressive and he began to exert pressure on them to get what he wanted.  Young girls came to him for advice about dealing with an abusive boyfriend or male family member and he acted as though he cared and listened to their stories. Consequently, most of the girls tolerated his “hands-on” approach to counseling.   With some girls that he found particularly appealing, he would pressure them by suggesting that he could influence their grades or help them find a job or get into college.

It was also not unusual for Mothers to seek him out for advice, either about their daughters or their own problems with abusive boyfriends or spouses. Salazar was able to pressure some women using their daughters as leverage or by suggesting that he could help them get a better job in the community, etc.

It did not take Lucero very long to view the entire situation as somewhat of a game.  He was able to manipulate women in a variety of ways, always to his advantage.  His arrogance blinded him to any potential consequences of his actions and he believed that he could continue to do as he pleased.  It was probably inevitable that he would become bored.  There really was no longer any challenge; he could get essentially anything he wanted at virtually any time.

Lucero approached his Father to request a larger and more prestigious role in the community.  Lucero’s eldest brother, Pedro had been elected President of the Colitas City Council as Papa Salazar focused more of his attention larger issues of the County and State.  His brother Emilio had completed his drug-related prison sentence, but was currently under investigation by Federal officials for a Medicare fraud scheme.  Lucero believed that he should be recognized as an important member of the Salazar family and be more prominent in the community.  He was not prepared for the response he received from his father.

“That would normally be the logical progression of things, Lucero. Your brother Emilio has brought too much attention on our family by his foolish ways.  And, so you should take his place in the order of things.  But, your own behavior has caused me to have doubts about how well you would represent the Family if you were to assume a more public role.  Perhaps, with time, you will learn to think more with your Big Head and less with the Little Head that currently guides your actions.  It is totally unnecessary for you to be involved with so many women and girls.  I don’t understand why you could not have settled down with one woman and begun to raise your own family.  For a Salazar, you are being very irresponsible.”

Lucero protested. “But, what about Emilio, Father?  I think being in prison is also very irresponsible.”

“Your brother was set up by some people who have been trying to attack the Salazar family for years.  The drugs were planted on him and others were coerced to provide false information in return for much less serious charges.  The current investigation into his activities will amount to nothing. I’ve spoken to people in the appropriate offices and have been assured that the entire matter will soon be dropped.  Emilio will then follow Pedro to extend our influence in Las Colitas.”

“I still think this is all very unfair.  I’ve been patiently waiting for my turn.”

“Perhaps, but, Lucero, your carryings-on around town have come to the attention of too many people.  Most do not approve of your actions, particularly with those who are still in High School.  Mark my words, one day there will be trouble and there is only so much I can do to protect you.  My advice is that you seriously consider your actions and how they reflect so negatively on the family.”

With that, Papa Salazar stood and walked out of his office, leaving Lucero sitting there, stunned and angry.   Lucero realized that there was little he could do to change his father’s mind.   His anger overwhelmed him and he wanted to do something in defiance.  He looked around his father’s spacious office and his eyes settled on the glass display case in the corner which contained numerous items reflecting the Salazar Family’s history in New Mexico and in the village of Las Colitas in particular.  On an upper shelf of the case was a large ornamental knife that had been given to Junipero Salazar, the founder of Las Colitas, by Black Cloud the head of the Tewa people at the time.  Many in the Tewa community were vulnerable to the marauding bands of Apaches from the Plains and Junipero Salazar had granted them refuge in the new community of Las Colitas.  The knife with the ornate bone handle had been given to Salazar in appreciation for his action.  It was a simple act of defiance, but it helped assuage Lucero’s anger.  He tucked the knife into his shirt and left his father’s office.

A few weeks later, Las Colitas’ Police Chief stopped Lucero as he was walking from his condo to his car in the morning.  “I’m sorry to have to do this, Lucero, but I’m here to arrest you.  A young woman and her mother came to the Station yesterday afternoon and filed a detailed complaint against you.  They allege that you raped this young girl on several occasions and these rapes occurred on school property.  I’m required to bring you in for questioning so that we can get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.  And, I should not tell you this, but since the girl is just fourteen, the charge may end up as statutory rape involving a minor.  I’m sorry, Lucero, but I have to do this.”

Lucero was shocked!  As he quickly thought back over the numerous instances where he had taken sexual advantage of young girls in the community, he was convinced that all these had been totally consensual.  Besides, he was not responsible for the way they dressed like whores and flaunted their sexuality.   As the Chief directed him toward the police cruiser, Lucero could not shake the feeling that his father was somehow involved. At the station, Lucero was processed, formally charged and finger-printed before he was released on his own recognizance with specific orders not to leave the City.

The old women of Las Colitas circulated these events throughout the community although nothing ever appeared in the local newspaper.  And the number of young girls that Lucero had raped increased with each retelling of the story.

In fact, Papa Salazar had nothing to do with these events.  The Police Chief recognized the elder Salazar’s role as Padrone and had informed him of these allegations the previous afternoon.  The Chief had apologized, but Papa Salazar understood and instructed the Chief to exercise his responsibility.  Salazar thought that this might be the situation to scare Lucero into getting his act together.  The publicity would be an embarrassment to the family, but perhaps things would turn out better in the long run, providing Lucero stopped this irresponsible behavior. As soon as the Chief left his office, Papa Salazar called Tito Ulibarri and asked him to represent Lucero and defend him against these serious charges.

 

The principle church in Las Colitas was Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, referred to by most local people as The Big IC.  The Church sponsored a Support Group for women in the parish who were victims of domestic abuse and violence.  The Priest counseled the women that, as good Catholics, they should honor their husbands and obey his wishes.  The Priest often encouraged these women to have another child as a way to bring them closer to their husbands and secure the marriage.  Any discussion of divorce was severely discouraged.

After one particularly frustrating session, three women were talking in the parking lot.  “What the Priest is telling us is total BS,” said Consuela Lopez.  “He refuses to even acknowledge that any abuse is occurring.  If he thinks I want to bring another child into an already difficult household, he’s totally crazy!”

“I agree with you, Consuela,” added Lupita. “I love my husband, but when he drinks, he gets rough with me.  It’s like that Loretta Lynn song: Don’t come home a-drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind.  I just wish there was someplace I could just talk about things instead of getting another lecture from the Priest about being a Good and Faithful Wife”.

”I have an idea,” said Estelle. “Why don’t we meet at that other church, Iglesias’ Bar, and we can be our own support group?”

So, Consuela, Lupita and Estelle began meeting for several hours each Wednesday afternoon at Iglesias’ Bar to discuss their personal lives, referring to themselves as Las Desperadas, like the Desperate Housewives TV show.  They agreed that they wanted to be married and have a family; they enjoyed sex with their husbands; it was the abuse that was unacceptable.  Their husbands were typical of their culture with their macho attitude and belief that they were the master in their home. Whenever these men felt that their manhood had been threatened or challenged, they took out their frustration on their families.

The weekly meetings were generally helpful and the women became more open with each other, revealing details about their personal lives.  One afternoon, Lupita said she wanted to share a major secret with the others.  “Several months ago, I went to the High School to meet with a Counselor who had been talking to my daughter, Lucy, about the troubles she was having.  Lucy told me that this man was very kind and gentle and had convinced her that it was possible to have sex without any of the rough stuff she was experiencing with her boyfriend.  Juan was like most of the high school boys; he didn’t know anything about sex and often drank to get up his courage. Then, he would just emulate the abusive behavior he had witnessed at home. I realized that it was probably in Lucy’s best interest to know that things could be different. That was, until Lucy told me how this man, he’s one of the Salazars, explained things.  He had sex with her, right there in his office!  So, I went to the school to confront him.  I hate to admit this, but Lucy was right about him and before you know it, we were doing it!”

Consuela and Estelle were initially stunned, as much by Lupita’s actions as by her admission. Then, they began to ask questions, prodding Lupita to reveal all of the details of her encounter.

“I guess it was his approach that really got to me,” began Lupita. “He spoke softly and fed me a line of romantic BS.  He didn’t just jump me like my Pablo does.  I knew what he was doing and I guess I was hornier than I thought.  So, I just let him think he was seducing me and went along for the ride.  He was really gentle and it was actually pretty good.”

Consuela and Estelle listened to Lupita’s story.  Both women smiled and then began to laugh out loud.  Estelle said, “Your secret is safe with me, Lupita.  Do you think he would try the same thing with me?

“I’m sure.  You may have to cry a bit and make up some sob story about how you are mistreated at home, but he really doesn’t need much encouragement!”

Consuela promised to keep Lupita’s secret, but was unsure about her actions. Not going to church and meeting at this bar to talk was one thing, but she was concerned that Lupita had gone too far.  It was certainly not setting a good example for her daughter and there was always the risk of being discovered.

The three women continued to meet on a regular basis and the discussions about problems at home were always beneficial if not therapeutic. But, Consuela began to notice that Lupita and Estelle were spending more of their time together comparing their encounters with Lucero Salazar. She became increasingly jealous.

Consuela’s daughter was fourteen and was rather awkward and homely.  Although she had gone to this same counselor on several occasions to ask for help in dealing with difficult social situations at school, he had never tried to seduce her.  This perceived rejection only served to further frustrate Consuela Lopez and she decided to act.  If Lucero was not interested in her daughter, she would see to it that he was unavailable to everyone.

Consuela told her daughter, Conchita , that Lucero Salazar was an evil man and that his behavior was inappropriate.  She said that he was pretending to be kind, but was really just trying to seduce her.  Ultimately, Consuela convinced her daughter that it was up to the two of them to put a stop to this.  The two women developed and rehearsed a story for Conchita, then selected the appropriate clothes to wear to appear like a virginal fourteen year old, which she actually was.  Mother and daughter then went to the Las Colitas police to file a formal complaint and a charge of rape.

When Tito Ulibarri met with Lucero Salazar, he outlined an approach for Lucero’s defense.  The basic strategy was for Lucero to claim that he could not recall any of the events that were being alleged.  Ulibarri wanted to avoid a situation of “he said, she said” because he realized that would probably not go in Lucero’s favor. Despite Lucero’s protests, he advised him that this approach was preferable to lying and opening himself to potential charges of perjury.  Although Ulibarri did not mention it to Lucero at this point, he planned to try to settle everything out-of-court and avoid the negative publicity of a trial.  He also feared that any publicity would encourage other women to come forward and the case against Lucero could take on a much more serious tone.

Significant legal and political maneuverings took place over the next few months during which time Lucero was placed on administrative leave by the Las Colitas School Board.  He kept a very low profile and kept pretty much out of sight.  He ceased his sexual activities, despite being approached by several women and girls from the community.  Ulibarri had warned him that any one of these overtures could be a potential trap.  Papa Salazar was more explicit. “Just keep it in your trousers, Lucero, and try not to embarrass the Family any more than you already have.”

Eventually, Lucero and Ulibarri appeared before a local magistrate; Consuela and Conchita Lopez were not present. Lucero had practiced his act as well.  He repeatedly claimed not to recall any of the instances of misconduct, etc.  Under Ulibarri’s coaching, Lucero was able to act befuddled and confused as the justification for his lack of memory.  Ulibarri even hinted at some form of traumatic stress or potentially an early onset of dementia as the cause for Lucero’s loss of memory.  Separately, Consuela Lopez agreed to settle out-of-court if there was some form of punishment for Salazar.  Accordingly, the Magistrate placed Lucero on one year’s probation and required him to enter a counseling program and attend classes for Domestic Violence in addition to formally resigning from the school system. At the conclusion of the hearing, Ulibarri was able to have all of these proceedings, including the initial arrest report and fingerprints, sealed from the public.

Afterward, Lucero met with his Father and Tito Ulibarri.  He was reminded just how fortunate he was that Papa was the Padrone and that things could have been much worse.  The elder Salazar decided that it was in the Family’s best interest for Lucero to leave Las Colitas.  He was able to arrange a job in Albuquerque with the Albuquerque Public School System and enrolled him in a Domestic Violence program as required by the court.  “Perhaps it would be better if you were not seen in Las Colitas for several years.  Maybe some of these young girls will graduate from high school, get married, have families and forget about you.”

In the meantime, I’ve asked Señor Ulibarri to continue to work with you and secure the necessary resources to help you perfect your act of memory loss and stress-induced dementia; it may come in handy in the future if you cannot learn to control your behavior.

A few days later, Lucero reported to the APS Athletic Department and was assigned to assist in programs with only males. Things were quiet for several months and Lucero stayed away from young girls.  Unfortunately, Lucero soon decided that he just had to have one of the APS teachers he saw on a daily basis. Carol Winston was an attractive woman in her late 40s and Lucero was convinced that she was giving him encouraging and inviting looks. He approached her one afternoon in a secluded area of the main APS Administrative Building.  When he reached out to touch her, she slapped him and said, “You creep. Stay away from me or I’ll call the APS cops!  In fact, I think I just stop in their office down the hall and report you, just in case.”

Lucero realized that, if she actually did report him, he would probably end up in jail, at least for probation violation. In a panic, he called Ulibarri. “You’ve got to get me out of here immediately.  I need to be someplace where no one can find me.”

The next morning, Ulibarri arranged for a local doctor who was a close friend of the Salazar Family to prepare a diagnosis claiming that Lucero Salazar was suffering from dementia and potentially an early onset of Alzheimer’s and needed to be placed in a facility with a comprehensive memory care capabilities.  Within the week, Lucero Salazar became a Resident at La Vida Aureo and placed in the Memory Care Unit.

 

Chapter 5: Dudley Gathers Information

Matthew Dudley remained concerned after his discussion with Mary Thomas, particularly the relationship between Estelle- Elena Caballo and a member of the La Vida Aureo staff.  Before he said anything to Isabella, he thought it might be better to talk with Paloma Angostura.  As usual, he found her in the kitchen.  “Señora, may I discuss a sensitive subject with you concerning a member of the Staff?  I am concerned, but do not want to trouble Isabella unnecessarily. ”

“You know you can always talk to me, Señor Doc.”

“I recently learned that a Resident and a member of the Staff are engaged in some sort of relationship.  I don’t know its extent and I certainly don’t want to see anyone hurt.  I also don’t want to see a valuable member of the Staff get into trouble or even get fired.”

“Everything is quite appropriate, Señor Doc.  I assume you are talking about Señora Caballo and Frida Savino.  They are just two women who have had similar unfortunate experiences and who have found comfort with each other.  I can assure you that neither woman is taking advantage of the other.”

“There is a serious matter, however, that I want to make you aware of. Recently, several in my Sopapilla Network have been relating instances of highly inappropriate behavior by some of the men in the Memory Care Unit.   I am aware that one of the common effects of dementia is the loss of self-control and inhibitions.  But, some men have begun to act out in a sexual manner, saying vulgar things to the women, particularly the younger ones.  There have even been a few instances where men have tried to touch the girls while they are trying to complete their duties. I only mention this to you because you are often in that Section of the building and there could be a situation where your assistance is needed.  I would like to tell the Staff that you are aware of the potential problems and would be available to intervene, if necessary.”

“Certainly, Señora.  The safety of everyone here is of utmost importance to me and I would be glad to intervene if it ever became necessary.  You may tell the Staff that they can rely on me.”

Gracias, Señor Doc.  Now I must get back to the kitchen to continue preparing the evening meal.”

 

As Dudley headed for the center stairs to attend to some minor repairs on the second floor, he met Isabella coming out of her office.  “Any news from Lt. Garcia, Doc?”

“I haven’t heard from him in a few days, Isabella.  I believe he’s completed his initial interviews and is probably waiting for reports back from the Coroner and the forensic guys.”

“You’ll let me know if you hear anything?”

“Certainly, Isabella.  If you have a minute, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.  It’s kinda sensitive.  Can we step into your office?”

Dudley briefly relayed his conversation with Paloma concerning the inappropriate behavior in the Memory Care Unit.  “I’ve been thinking that, if this is a relatively common situation in people with dementia, should we develop some specific information and training for our Staff as well as for caregivers?”

“That’s an excellent suggestion, Doc.  I’ve heard of instances where the behaviors can get pretty nasty and vulgar.  Why don’t I speak to Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team about the best way to approach this?  And, I agree, we need to consider our own Staff as well as caregivers.  You keep track of Lt. Garcia and I’ll talk to Beth about this.”

 

Matthew Dudley was eager to complete his ToDo List for the day.  Janetta Johari had invited him to dinner at her condo and he was looking forward to another pleasant evening.  Their first dinner a few weeks ago was a bit awkward as they both tried to figure out what to say or do next. After several attempts of trying to let the other person talk first, they both started laughing which broke the tension and they relaxed.  It was after midnight when Dudley finally excused himself for the final time and walked back to La Vida Aureo.

Dudley was lost in his own pleasant thoughts as he walked back toward the Main Building.  He almost didn’t notice a man walking on the grass along the side of the building.  The man appeared to be confused since he was stumbling and kept changing directions as he tried to walk. Dudley went toward the man to offer assistance.  “Excuse me, Sir, can I help you?  I assume you are trying to get back inside.  Why don’t you take my arm and we can walk there together.”

The man glanced up, but had a vacant look in his eyes.  Dudley didn’t immediately recognize the man and decided to talk to him as they walked.  “My name is Matthew.  What is yours?”

The man continued to stare blankly at Dudley and finally said, “I’m Pedro.”

“Well, Pedro, let’s get you back inside and we can find someone to help you.  Do you know where your Apartment is located?”  Dudley assumed, from the man’s behavior, that he probably lived in the Memory Care Unit and had somehow wandered outside on his own.

The man looked at Dudley again and said, No. I was confused.  My name is Lucero.  What’s yours?”

Dudley guided the man toward the Entrance. “My name is Matthew.  Can you remember where you live?”

“I live in Albuquerque, but I used to live far away.  What is this place?”

“This place is called La Vida Aureo and I think you live here.”

“No. I live in Albuquerque.”

They entered the Main Building and Dudley noticed Frida Savino walking toward the Dining Room. “Ms. Savino, I believe this gentleman belongs upstairs in the Memory Care Unit.  I found him wandering outside.”

She looked at the man and said, “It’s alright, Mr. Salazar, why don’t you sit here for a moment and I’ll take you back to your room.”

Then she took Dudley aside. “Thank you, Señor Dudley. I will take care of him.  Mr. Salazar has only been with us a short while and is still adjusting.  But, he seems to be deteriorating very quickly and we’ve had to go looking for him on more than one occasion.”

Once back in his room, Lucero Salazar looked in the mirror and smiled.  He had practiced his vacant stare and was getting much better at it.  He had also been able to “wander” a bit further with each attempt which had allowed him to observe many of the female Residents and Staff. He had even practiced some inappropriate actions to see if any of these women responded.  His goal was to be able to get completely off the grounds to the strip mall across the major street, perhaps even into the Starbucks.

 

That evening, Janetta greeted Dudley at the door with a brief kiss and a warm embrace.  He felt totally comfortable with this woman and hoped that she would continue to see him.  They had agreed that they would not try to figure out where things were headed; they would just focus on enjoying each other’s company.

After a light dinner, they were sitting together on a small sofa continuing the small talk which was helping them get to know each other from a personal perspective.

“Janetta, I would like your opinion on a subject that has been troubling me lately.”

“Anything, Matthew.”

“I want to clarify something before I ask.  I am not asking you to discuss anything personal or from your past.  I’m just seeking information.”

“Ask away.”

“I am hearing about more instances of abuse toward women which sometimes turns violent.  What troubles me is that some many women I’ve met here seem to just accept this kind of behavior from the men in their lives as part of the culture.  Can you help me understand why this seems so prevalent?  I just don’t see how this can be dismissed as a normal part of things.”

“I can only give you my opinion based on my own experiences; perhaps a psychiatrist or psychologist could explain things better.  The violence has never made any sense to me, either.  There seems to be this constant state of ill-defined anger which lies just below the surface, which can be released by the slightest provocation.  That volatile condition is made much worse by alcohol or drugs.  The counselors I’ve spoken to generally say this fundamental anger stems from a long history of perceived loss and subjugation by outside forces, particularly for men from the northern part of the State.  These men claim that their culture and traditions are based on the land and much of it was taken from them by a series outside forces over the years, destroying the very essence of their lives. They are unable to contemplate a future that holds any promise; their life appears to be controlled by others, all of which reinforces the sense of hopelessness and frustration.  Personally, I see much of it as unnecessary and self-inflicted. In the worst case, it is simply an excuse for men acting macho and behaving badly!”

“So, this anger typically shows itself as abusive behavior toward the women in their lives?”

“Yes, but look at the crime statistics here in Albuquerque and see how many men are beaten or killed by some other guy in a fight with a gun or knife or car.  When the anger really takes over, I guess you just look for the nearest target.  It helps if you see them as weak or defenseless so that you can exercise that control you so desperately need.”

“Thanks for that explanation, Janetta.  I apologize for bringing up such a difficult subject.  Let’s talk about something else.  I don’t want our evening to end on that note.  Tell me about the Alzheimer’s drug trials you’re coordinating.  Are the results still as encouraging as they were?”

“Oh, yes.  It is very interesting and the people I’m working with are some of the most competent and conscientious I’ve ever met.  What’s most exciting is that they believe they have a totally new approach.  I understand there’s still some debate about the cause of Alzheimer’s, but most of the effort is focused on these deposits that form in the brain called plaque.  Most research to date has been directed at preventing the build-up of this material.  My company believes they can oxidize this material, burn it off, so-to-speak.  If they are correct, it would allow treatment of people who already have some of this plaque material in their brain, which would be a major development.”

“That really is exciting, Janetta.  I don’t think I ever heard the name of the company.”

“Habanero Pharmaceuticals”

“Habenero?  Like the pepper?

“Yes, the folks who started the company thought that would be appropriate since they are trying to burn away the plaque.  Pretty clever, don’t you think?”

“On that very positive note, I think it’s time for me to get back to La Vida Aureo.  I have a very busy day tomorrow.  I have one more question before I go.”

“Yes?”

“Can I see you again? And, when?”

“Matthew, that’s two questions and the answers are a Definite Yes!  and As soon as you like!”

With that, Dudley reached out and took Janetta in his arms.  “I can’t tell you how much this time with you means to me.”  And, this time, it was Dudley who kissed Janetta.

 

Despite a very pleasant evening with Janetta, Dudley had a troubled night without much sleep.  The murder of Cesar Ramirez was still very much on his mind.  There had been no news from Lt. Garcia and that was not a good sign.  There were several seemingly unrelated thoughts roaming in the back of Dudley’s mind which he was trying to force into a coherent pattern, but with little success.  He decided he would seek additional input.

OJ was more than happy to give Dudley a ride into town and drop him at Saville & Sons the next morning.  “Thanks, OJ. I’ll convince someone to give me a ride back.”

As he entered the bakery, he noticed his friend Emilio Sandoval sitting at a table with a group of young people who seemed intent on listening to whatever Emilio was saying.  Dudley joined the rest of his Curmudgeon Crew at their regular table and helped himself to a fresh pastry. After a few minutes, Emilio joined them.  Ray was the first to notice that Emilio was wearing a brand new Star Wars tee shirt which celebrated the long history of the saga. “C’mon, Emilio, isn’t that stuff for kids?”

“It is serious business, Ray.  In fact, I was just telling those young people over there about the connections between Star Wars and New Mexico.  I also had to educate them that New Mexico was in the “space business” long before George Lucas ever thought about The Force.  I informed them that it was our own Dr. Lovelace who developed the medical tests for the original Mercury Astronauts back in the late 1950s.  I encouraged them to visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum near Las Cruces where Lucas recorded some of the sounds they used in the first movies.  There’s even an official Darth Vader helmet there which was a gift from Lucas.”

The Crew was aware of Emilio’s background and that he had spent his entire career working in the Lovelace Medical System, starting out as an Orderly and eventually becoming a Physician’s Assistant.  He had retired from that position just a few years earlier.

Ray continued to chide Emilio.  “I’m sure you told these impressionable young people how you helped Dr. Lovelace design those tests for the astronauts and how your scores were better than any of those initial candidates.”

“No, it is obvious that I was much too young at that time.  I was just starting at the hospital, but I did have the opportunity to meet some of them on one occasion.”

The Crew knew the whole story but had too much respect for Emilio and how he had overcome obstacles in his early life to become a very capable Physician’s Assistant.

Emilio’s parents worked for a cleaning company and were assigned to the Lovelace Medical Center on the night shift.  Young Emilio was hanging out with a bunch of guys who were all caught stealing hub caps.  Fortunately, the arresting policeman knew Emilio’s family and dragged the young boy to meet his parents as they were coming home the next morning.  The policeman and Emilio’s father knew that Emilio could have a bright future if he stayed out of trouble so they came up with a plan to help him.  For the next six months, Emilio joined his parents each evening as they went to work.  He was given the responsibility for collecting, emptying and cleaning all the bed pans from the facility.  It didn’t take Emilio long to get the message. From this rather auspicious beginning, he began a life-long career with Lovelace. He progressed rapidly through positions of increasing responsibility and eventually completed all the necessary education to become a fully-qualified Physician’s Assistant.

Once the Crew was all seated and Hector had delivered a plate of fresh pastries, Dudley spoke.  “I know you have been trying to convince me for some time that I need your assistance in dealing with some of the incidents at La Vida Aureo.  Well. I’m here this morning to ask for your help with a recent murder.”

“Murder? Surely not in the old folks place you live?” Abe and Ray asked almost simultaneously.

Dudley took a deep breath and continued.  This is most definitely murder, not an accident.  And, I am becoming more certain that it was committed by a Resident; the victim was also a Resident.”

Emilio was shocked. “Do you have any clues?  What are the police doing?”

“The police, Lt. Garcia, a friend of Ray’s, are stumped as well.  The only clue or evidence we have is the actual murder weapon.” Dudley took out his smart phone and displayed the picture of the knife that was taken from Cesar Ramirez’s back.

As the Crew passed the phone around, everyone quickly acknowledged that this was no ordinary knife.  When the phone reached Ray Little Feather, he looked directly at Dudley.  “I recognize this knife. It is rare. It is a ceremonial piece and it is very old.  It is not Navajo, but closely related.  Most likely one of the tribes from here in New Mexico related to the Tewa people. I have to ask you, Doc, are there any Native Americans living at your place?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Then I can only conclude that this knife was stolen from a place of honor.  It could also be possible that the knife was given as a gift of significant importance. For someone outside the tribe to receive this as a gift, they must have done something truly memorable.”

“Well, that’s more information than we currently have.  I’ll pass it on to Lt. Garcia this afternoon.  Thanks, Ray.”

“Make sure you tell Frank I said Hello.”

 

Hakim had been quiet throughout this entire exchange.  “Doc, I don’t know if this has anything to do with your murder investigation, but something rather strange happened in one of my counseling groups a few months ago that may just be relevant.”

The Crew knew that Hakim El-Fiki was a professional counselor with a sterling reputation.  His family has fled Syria in the mid-1960s after a military coup when emergency law was imposed and personal rights were suspended.  Hakim’s father became an advisor to other Syrian refugees and Hakim followed a similar career path.  He worked with soldiers returning from war as well as private patients.  Over the past few years, he volunteered with the Bernalillo County Probation Department and directed a series of domestic violence classes for men and women.

“The people attending the classes I run for Bernalillo County are there as a requirement of their probation.  A typical program lasts about six months, some as long as one year.  Anyway, there was a man in one of my classes recently who was not from Bernalillo County, but somehow got into their program.   The strange thing is that he stopped coming after about six weeks.  Naturally, I reported this so that the appropriate Probation Officer could deal with the situation.  A few weeks later, I inquired about this man and was told that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and would not be back.  I found that a bit suspicious since he had not exhibited any symptoms while in my class.  I would have normally just ignored this, figuring he had found a way to scam the system. The Officer showed me the Doctor’s report which indicated that this man had moved into the facility at La Vida Aureo.  Doc, it may be nothing and may not be related to your murder, but I thought you ought to know where he is.”

“Wow.  Thanks, Hakim.  I didn’t think you could fake Alzheimer’s.”

“I’m not an expert.  Maybe Emilio can shed some light on this.”

“I guess it’s possible,” said Emilio.  Typically, the initial diagnosis is with a cognitive test to assess the person’s mental capabilities.  I assume it’s much like other tests and that you could prepare somehow for it to get enough “wrong” answers to demonstrate a diminished mental capacity.  You’ve all read about murder cases in the news where a person has to be declared mentally fit to stand trial, for example.  In the case of Alzheimer’s, the only 100 percent method is to examine a person’s brain during an autopsy.  There are newer diagnostic methods being developed, but there’s nothing like that available in Albuquerque at the present.”

“If I understand what you guys are telling me, a person could essentially hide out in a place like La Vida Aureo to avoid a harsher situation.”

“Oh, we had a couple of guys at Lovelace a few years back who claimed to have serious memory loss, but it was mostly an act so that they could get away with stupid stuff.  One guy was always trying to get his hands on the nurses and then claiming he had no memory of it when we caught him.”

“This may sound far-fetched, Doc, but I guess you have to assume that it’s possible, just to be on the safe side. And, if this guy went to that much trouble, I suspect there’s a serious reason he’s hiding.”

“You guys have been a great help.  I’ve got to get back. Can one of you give me a ride? Oh, and before I forget, what was this guy’s name, Hakim?”

“His name is Lucero Salazar.  C’mon, I’ll give you a ride and we can talk some more on the way.”

 

Chapter 6: A Break in the Case

Lt. Garcia remained frustrated by the lack of progress in this murder investigation.  He had welcomed Dudley’s information about the ceremonial knife used as the murder weapon, but was disappointed that Dudley hadn’t uncovered any more information. Garcia was sitting at his desk staring at the image of the knife on his computer screen when Tom Bowers, the forensic technician entered his office.

“I hope you have some good news for me, Tom.”

“Good news, bad news, Lieutenant.  I was able to lift several prints from the knife.  Some are really very old, so I focused on the newest ones and those are essentially complete prints.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that I have been unable to find a match in any of our databases.  It’s possible that our killer has never been arrested and printed, which is pretty unusual these days.”

“Is it possible, Tom, there’s some reason we can’t find a match?  I can’t imagine that this guy hasn’t been in trouble before.  Suppose he got in trouble as a minor and any arrest records are sealed.  Would those show up?”

“Probably not.  But, I didn’t look into that possibility.  That might require a court order to gain access to that category of records.”

“Damn it, Tom, this is a murder inquiry and the knife is all we have to go on at the present.  You get started on the search and I’ll have the paperwork on your desk within the hour.”

Garcia went to see Judge Fajardo in his chambers and was told to return in twenty minutes for the order.  He went back to his office and continued to stare at the computer screen.  Sergeant Bernadette Armijo arrived a few minutes later with papers in her hand and a big smile on her face.  “I assume you’re looking for this.  I’ll take it to Bowers and come right back. I see you’ve had that picture of a knife on your screen all morning.  I assume that’s the murder weapon.”

“Yeah, and I’m hoping Bowers can identify the prints he lifted from it. He wasn’t able to find a match in the normal databases so the court order you delivered will let him have limited access to any records that are sealed.  I just can’t believe that our killer hasn’t been in trouble in the past.”

“It looks like some kind of ceremonial knife,” commented Sgt. Armijo, trying to placate or distract Garcia until Bowers returned.

“That’s what I heard from Doc Dudley and Ray Little Feather.  But, Doc also told me that there aren’t any Native Americans currently living at La Vida Aureo.  So, that would make our killer an outsider and the other facts don’t support that theory.”

Tom Bowers could hardly hide the smug look on his face as he sauntered into Garcia’s’ office.  “I got a match, Lieutenant!  You were correct.  The match was contained in a sealed case, but it wasn’t a minor like you suspected.  It’s kinda strange.”

“Just tell me, Tom, before I come across my desk to rip that sheet of paper out of your hands!”

“OK, OK.  The prints belong to a guy named Lucero Salazar and the case had to do with the alleged rape of a minor a few years ago.  The case was in the small town of Las Colitas up north some place.  Salazar was put on probation and that’s all that’s in the file.”

“I’ve heard of the Salazar family,” added Sgt. Armijo.  “If it’s the same family, they are major power brokers in State politics.  They operate mostly behind the scenes, but their name shows up in the Journal from time to time. And, if I remember, Las Colitas is one of those towns like Española that was founded a long time ago.”

Garcia was thrilled.  Now, he had a name, but he still had to locate Salazar and find some way to place him at La Vida Aureo at the time of the murder.  After a few minutes, he slapped himself in the forehead. “Stupid”, he said out-loud. “Why don’t I just call Isabella Duncan and ask if Salazar is a Resident?  I might just get lucky. Besides, if that doesn’t work, I have other ways to find him.”

Garcia’s euphoria was temporary.  Isabella Duncan told him that Lucero Salazar was indeed a Resident, but he was in the Memory Care Unit and was experiencing severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Garcia decided that this was his best and only solid lead and, after briefly describing the fingerprint match, asked Isabella to arrange a meeting with Salazar as soon as possible.  Isabella suggested that Dudley also be present since he had retrieved Salazar from wandering the grounds and that might make the interview appear less threatening.

The interview took place that afternoon and was one of the most frustrating experiences of Garcia’s career.  Through the session, Lucero Salazar never once actually looked at Garcia.  Instead, he stared off at a point on the wall.  Salazar claimed he couldn’t recall ever meeting anyone named Cesar Ramirez.  Garcia showed Salazar the knife and Salazar remarked that “it was pretty”, but couldn’t recall ever seeing it before.  Garcia told Salazar that his prints were found on the knife and Salazar’s eyes just wandered toward the ceiling with no verbal response.  Garcia repeatedly tried to engage Salazar, but to little or no avail.  His infrequent responses were irrelevant to the questions asked.  In frustration, Garcia finally produced a fingerprint kit and retook Salazar’s prints.  He could compare these fresh prints with those lifted from the knife; he wouldn’t have to relay of records that were years out-of-date.

Dudley escorted Salazar back upstairs to the Memory Care Unit.  He found Lt. Garcia in the Dining Room nursing a cup of coffee.  “I guess that went pretty poorly, Lieutenant.  It didn’t sound to me like you got any useful information or even a mild response from Salazar.  And, on several occasions, you went at him pretty hard, but got nothing.”

“Yeah, well at least I got a fresh set of prints.  What do you think, Doc?  The little bit of evidence we have points directly to him.  It’s hard for me to imagine that he was mentally competent enough to plan and execute a savage murder just a short while ago and now be a total mental case and claim to have no memory at all.”

“I agree, Lieutenant.” Recalling the comments that Emilio Sandoval had made, Dudley said, “I guess it’s possible for him to be faking this whole thing, but I have to admit, he’s pretty convincing.  I did notice one thing, however.  You asked him the names of several people here at La Vida Aureo, to see if you got any reaction. I may be imagining this, but I believe I saw him actually focus his eyes when you mentioned Mrs. Torres. It’s probably a long shot, but she may be the connection between Salazar and Ramirez.  I suppose jealousy could be an incentive for murder.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Doc.  I’ll try to talk to her while I’m here.  It can’t be any less frustrating.  But, before I let go of Salazar as a suspect, I’m going to have him thoroughly examined by one of our doctors. I just don’t buy his act.”

 

Mrs. Magdalena Torres greeted Lt. Garcia abruptly.  “Well, have you found Cesar’s killer yet?  It’s been almost a month now.”

“We’re following up on some leads, Mrs. Torres.  If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions that might help in our investigation.”

“I’m sorry for being so abrupt, Lieutenant.  I really miss Cesar and the thought of a killer running around loose makes me uncomfortable.  Please come in and ask your questions.  I assume you believe it was some jealous woman who did this horrible thing.”

“You know I can’t discuss the case with you, Mrs. Torres, but we’re pretty certain that the killer was not a woman.  Anyway, if I could ask you if you know a man here at La Vida Aureo named Lucero Salazar.”

Magdalena Torres’ reaction surprised Garcia.  “Oh, I know him alright!  Despite all of my efforts to avoid him and repeatedly telling him to stop bothering me, he just wouldn’t take No for an answer. He kept following me around and showing up here at my casita. Finally, I asked Cesar to speak to him. Cesar told me that he tried to convince Salazar that there were plenty of other women here and to leave me alone.”

“Do you know if that helped?”

“No. It only made things worse.  If I know Cesar, he probably bragged to Salazar about me and how fortunate he was to have me all to himself.  Afterwards, Salazar showed up and tried to convince me that he was a much better catch and how foolish I was to be wasting my time with a loser like Cesar.  He got pretty worked up about it and stormed out of here when I told him to get lost and never bother me again.”

“That’s very interesting, Mrs. Torres.  In any of your encounters with Mr. Salazar, did he ever appear to have any memory problems or any other indications of mental illness?”

“Well, if you want my opinion, I think he was totally loco!”

“I’m sure.  But did he ever seem like he couldn’t remember things or appear confused?”

“Look, Lieutenant, that guy was very insistent and very clear about what he wanted.  I don’t think he was the least bit confused, about anything!”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Torres, you’ve been most helpful.”

“Like I said before, Lieutenant, just get Cesar’s killer, the sooner, the better.”

 

Lt. Garcia spent the next few days trying to think through the case.  He was not at all surprised that the new set of prints matched those taken from the murder weapon exactly.  He was more convinced than ever that Lucero Salazar had murdered Cesar Ramirez in a fit of jealousy, likely over the affections of Mrs. Torres. He just couldn’t figure out a way to break through Salazar’s act of Alzheimer’s.  Garcia knew he had to proceed carefully to avoid Salazar getting away with murder because of his purported mental illness.  The first step was to have Salazar examined by one or more competent physicians that were not under the influence of the powerful Salazar family.

 

Later that afternoon, Lt. Garcia went to the office of Assistant District Attorney Susan Otero to outline his approach and get her fully prepared to prosecute Salazar for murder.  ADA Otero did not agree with Garcia’s approach and questioned whether he had sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.  “Look, Lieutenant, you are aware that the Police are still under investigation by the Department of Justice for that case involving the homeless man who was severely mentally ill.  We simply cannot afford any more negative publicity.  Before you do anything rash like locking Salazar up on some unfounded suspicion, why don’t we arrange a comprehensive battery of tests to see if your suspect is faking it or not.”

Garcia was not pleased, but at least this seemed like a reasonable next step.  In his gut, he didn’t trust Salazar.  He feared that Salazar was a dangerous person and he cared too much for the people at La Vida Aureo to have him walking around loose as a potential threat to women.

Despite her promise to act quickly, ADA Otero had major misgivings about this case.  It was not just the current problems of the Albuquerque Police, it was much closer to home.  Otero’s own father had been exhibiting these same symptoms for several months, but her entire family was in denial.  They simply could not accept that he had Alzheimer’s and consequently refused a formal diagnosis.

Garcia waited and waited, growing more impatient and frustrated as the days passed without any word from ADA Otero.  His calls were not returned, nor were his emails.  She never seemed to be in her office.  He knew he could not act without having her on board, so he just waited.

 

Lucero Salazar was emboldened by the perceived success of his interview with Lt. Garcia.  He was confident that the police would not be able to file any charges against him as long as he exhibited a diminished mental capability.  He decided to treat himself to an extended walk around the grounds, perhaps he would venture across the busy street toward the strip mall.  He had been practicing his helpless-old-man routine which always elicited attention, allowing him to get physically close and put his hands on the unsuspecting female Good Samaritan.

Dudley had called OJ Torreon earlier that morning and asked him to accompany him to Home Depot to purchase some fixtures needed for a few repairs. Dudley enjoyed OJ’s company and his pick-up truck was invaluable on these occasions. As they turned onto the busy street, a man darted out from between two parked cars and into their path.  Neither OJ nor Dudley saw the man and the collision was unavoidable.  They had just started to move and the impact wasn’t that hard; the man was simply knocked to the ground.

Dudley jumped from the truck and ran to the man, calling to OJ to dial 911. The man was lying on his back with his head against the curb. There was no visible blood and Dudley thought the man had just been stunned by the modest impact.  Dudley was surprised as he looked closer; it was Lucero Salazar.  “He must been wandering again and actually left the grounds through the main gate,” thought Dudley.  Dudley felt for a pulse and leaned closely to check for breathing.  Detecting no obvious life signs, Dudley began to administer CPR.  OJ had moved his truck to the curb and ran toward Dudley and the fallen man.  “I called 911 and the police and an ambulance are on their way.”

The police blocked the mid-morning traffic so that the ambulance could park a few feet away.  Dudley and OJ backed away as the EMTs began to administer to Salazar.  Without saying anything, they placed him on a stretcher and in a head restraint, loaded him into the ambulance and sped toward the University Trauma Center.

Dudley and OJ were both shaken by the collision but were able to provide details to the officer in charge of the scene.  Dudley provided Salazar’s identity as well as information about his residence and his apparent mental condition.  “We’ve had previous incidents of Mr. Salazar’s wandering about, but he’s never tried to leave the grounds before.  He must have walked out through the main gate because there is an eight-foot high decorative fence around the entire property.  If you have any further questions, Officer, please come to the Main Building.”

 

Dudley was still sitting in Isabella’s office with OJ describing the recent events when her phone rang.  “Ms. Duncan, it’s Lt. Garcia.  I assume you’ve already heard about the traffic accident involving Doc and OJ?”

“They’re both sitting here in my office, Lieutenant.”

“Well, I have to report that Mr. Salazar was pronounced Dead-on-Arrival when the ambulance reached the Trauma Center. Please tell Doc and OJ that I’ve met with the on-scene officer and there will be no charges filed against them.”

“It is a terrible thing for Mr. Salazar to be killed and I feel a certain responsibility that he was able to get out onto that busy street.  But, I’m relieved that there won’t be any charges against Doc or OJ.  I guess that’s some consolation.  If you need any additional information from our files concerning Mr. Salazar, please let me know.”

“Thank you, Ms. Duncan.  If I need anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you for the call, Lieutenant.”

 

Garcia hung up the phone and went to the Morgue where Salazar’s body was just arriving.  Dr. George Hernandez, the Bernalillo County Chief Medical Examiner was in his office completing the necessary paperwork from a recently-completed autopsy.  “Well, if it isn’t my favorite Policeman.  What brings you to my humble habitat, Señor Investigador?”

“George, I need to ask a favor.”

“Oh, you want me to solve another murder case for you?”

“Not this time.  I’m saving your considerable expertise for a really complex case.  There’s a dead body that just arrived from a traffic accident this morning.”

“Oh, I get it.  A high-speed police chase resulting in a fatality and you want me to show that the police were not at fault?”

“Nothing that sinister. Well, maybe it is.  This guy was hit by a pick-up that probably wasn’t doing five miles-per-hour and, according to witnesses, hit his head on the curb. My guess is that it was the impact with the curb, not the collision with the truck that killed him.”

“Well, if you already know the answer, you can just fill out the paperwork and I can knock off early for a change.”

“C’mon, George, I’m serious and there is something I need to know about this guy. While you’re in his head looking around for the cause of death, would you please note the condition of his brain?”

“No problemo.    You want to tell me why you’re so interested?”

“Do you still prefer single-malt scotch?”

“Go home, Frank.  I’ll be in your office in the morning for coffee.  And, yes I do.”

 

Lt. Frank Garcia waited nervously the next morning, suspecting that Dr. Hernandez was deliberately pulling his chain, by making him wait.  Hernandez entered the office and simply held out his hand.  Garcia reached under his desk and handed Hernandez the brown paper bag containing the decorative box.  “Your guy died of a head injury.  As you suspected, it was not much of a blow.  I’ve seen much, much worse around here. It just caught him in the wrong place.”

“What about the condition of his brain?”

“Oh, yeah, almost forgot. You did mention that you were interested in that.  His brain was in perfect working order as far as I could tell.  No damage, no deterioration, 100 percent there, etc. If you had given me a bit longer, I probably could have told you his IQ!”

“Not necessary.  You’re certain that there was no evidence of deterioration?’

“Frank, look, I even cut a slice off to check, since I assumed you weren’t telling me exactly what you were looking for.  There was no evidence of anything abnormal.”

“Thanks, George.  I have one more favor to ask.  In your formal report, don’t mention that part of your examination, just the analysis to determine the cause of death. OK?”

“Sure, that’s what I’m paid to do. Do you mind telling me why?”

“Let’s just say that he comes from a very important family and I suspect they would be upset if we discovered that he was mentally sound.  I’d really appreciate it.”

“From the label on this box, I’d say you’ve earned that much.  Have a nice day!”

 

There was one more thing Garcia needed to do before he could close the file on Cesar Ramirez’s murder investigation.   Over coffee in the Dining Room at La Vida Aureo, he related the finding of the autopsy to Isabela Duncan, Matthew Dudley and Paloma Angostura.   “I know I can count of your utmost discretion on this matter.  I’m certain Lucero Salazar murdered Cesar Ramirez in a fit of jealousy concerning Mrs. Torres.  I still need to figure out exactly how to complete the paperwork to officially close the case to the satisfaction of the ADA, but that’s my problem.  As always, I appreciate your help in getting to the bottom of this.”

“You’re welcome, Lieutenant,” said Isabella.  For our part, we’re carefully reviewing our own procedures.  We must make the grounds more secure and we must be much more diligent about screening potential new Residents.”

“Well, it looks like we all have some work to do.”

 

Case X: Romeo is Dead

Magdalena Torres immediately recognized the boots; they had spent much of the afternoon under her bed.  The highly-polished black boots with extensive silver ornamentation and elevated heels protruded from under the bushes along the walkway.  As she looked closer, she saw a man in tight trousers and a colorful silk shirt lying face-down in the grass with a large knife protruding from his back.  She was certain that it was Cesar Ramirez.