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Case XI

Case XI: Chapter 1: Dueling Divas

Matthew Dudley was sitting in the Main Dining Room with Isabella Duncan discussing all the recent events that had such a major impact on everyone.  Paloma Angostura was busy in the kitchen but made time to join them as often as she could.  All three remained committed to the success of La Vida Aureo and to the safety and well-being of the Residents.  But the murder of Cesar Ramirez by another Resident on the grounds of the community made them realize that there were some major modifications that were necessary.  The most obvious improvement that needed to be made was to make the entire facility and its surroundings significantly more secure.  “I absolutely do not want this place to have the feel of a prison,” said Isabella. “I have always prided myself in creating an environment that was pleasant and supportive.  The Residents should never feel as though we’re restricting them in any way.”

“I agree, Isabella,” added Dudley.  “But, at the same time, we must realize that we have Residents here who really do need to be restricted for their own safety. I mean, we have people who are quite capable of living independently and in their own detached casita. At the same time, most of the folks in our Memory Care Unit are certainly not able to move about freely and safely.  And, then there are the Residents in Assisted Living who represent all of the conditions between these two extremes.  I think you would agree that it would be unfair to apply the same conditions to everyone.”

“I know you’re correct, Doc.  It is a complex situation, but we must not lose sight of one of our principles to treat all residents with respect and dignity.  Perhaps we should not try to solve this issue without some input from the Residents themselves.”

“That makes a lot of sense, Isabella.  Let me talk with the Community Assist Team and get their input as to the best way to approach gathering that input.  Perhaps there is a way to make this a positive experience for everyone involved, particularly the Residents.”

“The other thing that has me very concerned, Doc, is the ease with which Mr. Salazar was able to fool all of us by pretending to have Alzheimer’s.  He was able to claim a loss of memory and use that as an excuse for his behavior.  His behaviors were so convincing and we never thought that it might all be an act.  He could have easily gotten away with murder. I am certainly not an expert in the field, but we’ve got to find a way to never let this happen again.  One of the strengths of La Vida Aureo is that we believe we can accommodate individuals at all stages of life from totally independent to total care.  I realize now that this strength is also a potential major vulnerability.”

“I am painfully aware that I know very little about Alzheimer’s so pardon my simplistic suggestion.  In our Physical Therapy Department, we have established a series of tests that we use, not only for diagnostic purposes, but also to detect fraud.  By repeating and recording a person’s physical tests, we are able to determine more about an injury or if they are simply faking.  I assume there are some sort of mental and maybe physical tests to measure mental capability.  Would it be possible to adapt those somehow similar to what we do in Physical Therapy to at least give some indication?  Maybe it would help us prevent someone trying to become a Resident under fraudulent conditions.”

“I don’t know, Doc.  Let me talk to some medical professionals and the folks at the Alzheimer’s Association and see if that is a possibility.”

Dudley and Isabella were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice that Paloma had joined them at the table.

“Oh!  I’m so sorry, Paloma.  I did not see you.  Doc and I were talking about the deaths of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Salazar and how deeply it affected everyone.  Those incidents also pointed out the need to change some of the things we do here to prevent a similar situation from occurring.”

“It is no problem, Señora Duncan.  The death of both men was a terrible tragedy. I believe we all know that Señor Salazar murdered Señor Ramirez, but his death was most unfortunate.  I guess God works in mysterious ways sometimes.”

“Perhaps,” replied Isabella. “But, it is my opinion that justice would have been better served if he had stood trial and the entire story had been made public. As it was, it just left Lt. Garcia with a mountain of paperwork which wasn’t much of a reward for his efforts.”

“Well, Señora, I know you are deeply concerned for the Residents and they are looking to you to provide guidance.  I’m confident that they will adapt to whatever changes and improvements you decide are necessary.”

“Pardon me for asking, Señora, but you have a very worried look on your face.  Is there anything wrong?”

“Thank you, Señor Doc.  You are most kind.  It is just that I have not heard from Francisco for many days and I worry about him.  He promises me that he is always careful, but I sense something different lately.  The last time we talked, he told me that his Department was trying to solve several recent murders in town that all seemed to be connected.  He said it looked like some kind of battle over territory involving the distribution and sale of drugs.  I worry that, when drugs are involved, people do very crazy things.”

“I’m sure the Lieutenant will be very careful, Señora.”

“I will still pray for him every night.”

Isabella Duncan, Matthew Dudley and Paloma Angostura were the very heart and soul of La Vida Aureo and their sense of responsibility weighed heavily on them at the moment.  They sat there in silence, each occupied with their own thoughts.

Finally, Dudley said, “We should not forget that there are some bright spots in our community.  I’ve noticed recently that two avowed enemies have somehow become best friends.  I believe that should be encouragement and proof to us all that anything is possible!”

This broke the sense of gloom and worry that had been present.  “You’ve noticed that Señora Branch and Señora Barela are friends?” smiled Paloma.

“Yes,” said Dudley. “I don’t know if they are actually friends or if they’ve simply declared a truce. I do know, Señora, you have been instrumental in getting them to this point, whatever it is.”

“It was not too difficult.  I discovered that they are both very interested in cooking and I told them they were welcome in my kitchen as long as they were kind and treated each other with respect.  But, do not be fooled, Señor Doc, both are strong, independent women with very strongly-held opinions and they disagree on many issues.”

“I guess I wasn’t aware of this,” said Isabella. “Are you telling me that Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela are now getting along?  That would be very good news indeed, for everyone one here. I was always afraid that one day they would come to blows here in the Dining Room.  I should complement them on this accomplishment. ”

“That might not be advisable, Isabella,” added Dudley.  “I suggest you might want to just observe and not run the risk of becoming collateral damage during one of their discussions.”

“I thought you said they were getting along?”

“They get along much like the Bickersons did on that old radio program.  I believe underneath it all they have a great deal of respect and care deeply for each other, but it isn’t obvious listening to them. Last week I was sitting here at this very table reading The Wall Street Journal when Mrs. Branch and Ms. Barela sat down a few tables away.  I think Mrs. Branch started the discussion by complaining that the City of Albuquerque had decided to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Mrs. Branch thought it was shameful that the City would stop recognizing the man who discovered America which led to the eventual settlements at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown.  Ms. Barela pointed out that the Spanish had established settlements in New Mexico and California many years before. So, it became a discussion of whether the United States was settled from East to West, as Mrs. Branch maintained, or from South to North which was Ms. Barela’s contention.”

“So, how did it end up?” asked Isabella.

“Oh, I don’t know that it ever ended,” replied Dudley.  “You must realize, Isabella, they each have a totally different view of virtually everything and that defines who they are.  I seriously doubt that any of their discussions will ever change that.  At least, they could agree that Balloon Fiesta was a good thing.”

“I’m happy to hear that.  And, thank you, Señora Angostura, for bringing this truce about.  At least there is peace in some quarters!”

“Don’t get too comfortable, Isabella.  I suspect that we are in for some very lively discussions as October progresses.  Remember that Dia de los Muertos is only a few weeks away and there may be trouble in the air.”

As if on cue, Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela walked into the Dining Room.  The two women were smiling and seemed to be chatting amicably.  They looked around the room and spotting the others, walked over to the table and sat down.

“Good afternoon, Ladies,” said Isabella. “I trust you are both well. I apologize, but I have some important phone calls to make and cannot stay.” As she rose to leave, she smiled toward Dudley as if to say OK, I’m taking your advice and getting out of the way.

Millicent was the first to speak. “Ynez and I were talking about the important holidays in October.  I won’t bother you with how upset I am that the City decided to abandon Columbus Day and call it Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I want to ask Señora Angostura what kind of special dishes we could prepare for Halloween which is only a few weeks away.”

Before Paloma could respond, Ynez Barela spoke up. “Halloween is just a silly commercial day that’s just about candy.  It would be more appropriate if La Vida Aureo recognized Dia de los Muertos, a much more important holiday.  In my culture, we use this time to celebrate and honor those in our family who have passed.  Their spirits come to visit our homes for several days and we go to the cemetery and clean the grave sites and place fresh flowers.”

“What is all this Dia Muertos business,” asked Millicent?  “It sounds like another one of those crazy things you Catholics stole from the Indians.”

“It is true that the celebration of the dead goes back many centuries, to the Aztecs,” responded Ynez.  “But, it was a pagan and barbaric until the Spanish Priests intervened and made it more in keeping with the times.”

“And, I guess these same Priests made it coincide with some Catholic Holiday that was already on the calendar for the same time.”

“The Priests decided that the Indians should celebrate All Saints Day as a more appropriate means to honor the dead.”

“It still sounds like a lot of witchcraft and mysticism mumbo-jumbo if you ask me,” snorted Millicent.

“Whatever!  It still makes more sense than Halloween and handing out candy!”

Dudley had remained quiet to avoid getting involved and being accused of taking sides, which he knew to be a no-win situation.  Paloma was more confident and spoke up.  “Ladies, Señoras. Please, please.  I agree that this time of the year is more important than candy. I believe it is a time to honor those of our families that have passed and I know you both want their spirits or souls to be at peace. We know that many Residents have lost loved ones and some plan to go to the cemetery to visit grave sites and place fresh flowers.  With your help, I believe we can put up some decorations here in the Dining Room for Dia de los Muertos and All Saints Day and place large arrangements of marigolds around the room. Please help me make this a time of celebration.”

“We could place calacas and calaveras around the room as well,” suggested Ynez.

“Not those hideous skeletons and skulls,” argued Millicent.

“For many years, I was the model for La Calavera Catrina, the woman at the center of the celebration,” bragged Ynez.

Paloma decided it was time to speak again before things heated up again.  “Why don’t you both join me and Francisco’s family at the Marigold Parade in South Valley on the last Sunday in October?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Paloma,” added Dudley. “Do you think Lt. Garcia would mind if I joined all of you?”

“He would be delighted to see you, Señor Doc.”

With that, it appeared that the truce had been restored, at least temporarily.  As Dudley rose to begin the tasks on his ToDo list for the day, he hoped that the latter part of October would remain peaceful.

 

Chapter 2: Marty Shackleford

Dr. Parker Shackleford was an electronics engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.  He had worked for Sandia his entire career and was considered an expert in his field.  While many of his initial projects had been related to military and defense topics, he was able to apply much of that technology to civilian areas, primarily in the area off energy management.  He led a team that had developed a highly efficient thermostat and energy management system for use in large commercial office buildings which was eventually licensed to Honeywell.  Dr. Shackleford and his wife Elaine lived in a modest split-level home in the Four Hills section of town, near the Labs.  They had been married for almost fifteen childless years when they decided to adopt.  After a long and tedious process, the Shacklefords were able to adopt an infant boy and an infant girl a year later. Parker enjoyed his work and his career was progressing steadily; he and Elaine focused their energies on their new family.

The adopted Shackleford children were what would be considered average. Martin and his sister Fortuna were not exceptional in school, either academically, in sports or socially.  But, the children were happy and Parker would describe his life as contented.

As Martin Shackleford entered his senior year in high school, his father inquired about his interest in college.  The elder Shackleford had always hoped that Martin’s lackluster academic performance was simply due to a lack of interest.  He believed that there would someday be a subject that would spark his interest and ignite a passion for learning, but that hadn’t happened so far.  Martin was content to spend his time playing video games and playing with radio-controlled cars and airplanes.  Dr. Shackleford had long ago given up on any thoughts of his son following his own career path in electronics engineering, certainly not at the caliber conducted at Sandia Laboratories.  He acknowledged that Martin was not his genetic son and accepted him for all that he was.  Martin was a conscientious and highly responsible young man; Parker Shackleford could not ask for more.

One day, as Parker and Martin were on a day hike along one of the many trails on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains, Martin posed a question to his father.  “Look, Dad, I know I will never be a world-class engineer like you and I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.  I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things that interest me and what I want to do with my life.  I know it kinda drives you crazy to see the amount of time I spend with video games and RC-models. But, I’ve been doing some reading and I want to get your thoughts on a possible path forward for me.”

“Certainly, Martin, you know you have my full support.  Just promise me that you don’t want to start a rock ‘n roll band or something!”

“No problem, Dad, nothing that foolish.  You’ve probably noticed that I spend most of my time with a variety of radio-controlled vehicles and some pretty large and complex ones. What you may not have noticed is that I’ve modified most of them to do some things they were probably not intended to do by the manufacturers.  And, I’ve been able to take some of the more sophisticated video games and actually combine them with the RC vehicles.  I have a real interest and, at least in my opinion, a genuine knack for the underlying technology.”

“I’m glad that you find these things interesting, Martin, but I seriously doubt that there is a way for you to make a career out of it, much less support yourself and certainly not a family.”

“I agree completely, Dad. But, I’m convinced that my skills could be developed with the right kind of training and I could get into the new field of unmanned aircraft.  There are several companies right here in New Mexico that are developing unmanned aircraft for all sorts of commercial purposes.  And, I would be willing to bet that the Air Force over at Kirkland has some work going on, either alone or in conjunction with local contractors.  The timing is also in my favor.  I could get in on the ground floor with the right company and make a career out of it.”

“Well, Son, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought and I am proud of you for taking the initiative.  How can I help?”

“Let me do some more research about where I can get the best training.  Perhaps you could talk to some folks at The Labs and see if you could get a recommendation about which companies are working in this field. As I said, I would assume the Air Force has a program but I think I’d rather work for a private company; there would probably be a greater variety of applications, not just military.”

“Martin, that sounds like a great plan. I don’t know enough about these training programs, but it might be worthwhile for you to contact some of these private companies once we identify them.  Since this is such a new field, there might be an opportunity for some sort of internship or apprentice program.  It’s worth a shot.”

Dr. Parker Shackleford asked some his colleagues at Sandia Labs about the general field of unmanned aircraft and which companies were currently active in the field.  He also inquired about certified training programs.  Martin Shackleford spent quite a bit of his time searching the Internet for more information about companies and training programs.  Within just a few short weeks, they had come up with a reasonable plan.

As a first step, Martin Shackleford contacted several companies to request information and was surprised when one company, Comanche Aeronautics, actually invited him to visit their offices.  During the visit, a Supervisor asked Martin a series of in-depth questions to assess his knowledge of aeronautics and specifically about unmanned vehicles.  Excitedly, Martin described his experiences with radio-controlled airplanes and how he had modified some to be controlled from his iPAD using code from a video game.  The Supervisor continued to ask questions of an increasingly technical nature and Martin responded honestly when he didn’t know an answer.  After about an hour, the Supervisor said, “Young man, you seem to have a genuine aptitude for this area.  I’m sure you recognize that you are a bit deficient in some of the technical aspects, but you make up for that in your enthusiasm.  If you have some more time this afternoon, I’d like to invite you to come with me to our fabrication facility to see a few of our actual production and prototype models.”

“That would be fantastic,” Martin responded eagerly. “I do have one question though.  Why is the company named Comanche Aeronautics?  Is it because the Comanches were brave warriors?”

“The Supervisor laughed.  “Actually, it’s because our main fabrication facility is located on Comanche Boulevard, just off the Interstate.  Do you need a ride or can I meet you there in about twenty minutes?”

Martin apologized and said he had his own car and was excited to tour the fabrication facility.

That evening after dinner, Martin asked his father if they could talk privately.  “I want your opinion about something.”

“Certainly, Son; let’s go for a walk.”

“Dad, I really enjoyed my visit to Comanche Aeronautics today.  They are doing some really interesting stuff. As I was leaving their fabrication facility, the Supervisor who showed me around asked me about my plans for the future and school and stuff.  I told him I was still looking and hadn’t made any specific plans as yet.  Then he asked me if I would consider joining Comanche as an Apprentice.  They would require that I went to UNM for a year or two to take some basic courses in math and science.  If my grades were good, they would cover my tuition costs.  At the same time, I would begin a training program to learn about their business and specific technology.  He said that I would start with pretty basic stuff and learn things from the ground up.  Based on my performance, I would be able move on to more advanced tasks.  What do you think?  Should I accept their offer?”

“That all sounds pretty positive, Son, what do you think?  Afterall, it’s your life and career, not mine.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity doing the things I love the most and a real chance to learn even more about it.  But, I wanted to see what you thought.”

“Martin, I think you’ve answered your own question.  I’ve always tried to encourage you to find your own path and you know better than me where your interests lie.  You have my total support.”

“Thanks, Dad.  I told them I would let them know in a few days, but I think I’ll go back over there tomorrow.  I’m so excited.  Let’s go back.  I can’t wait to tell Mom and Fortuna.”

Martin didn’t mention it to his family that evening, but he was also eager to share the exciting news with his girlfriend Debbie Monroe.  The opportunity with Comanche Aeronautics held the promise of stability for the two teens, allowing them to get married in the very near future.

Debbie had similar good news for Martin when they met the next morning for breakfast at Weck’s Restaurant.  She had just landed a job as an assistant secretary with La Vida Aureo, an up-scale retirement community.  With the potential of two incomes, they dreamed of buying a small house of their own and starting a family.

Over the next three years, things continued to progress positively for Martin Shackleford and Debbie Monroe.  They worked hard and both progressed in their respective jobs. They met one evening after work for dinner and were eager to share exciting news.  Martin had successfully completed his Apprenticeship with Comanche Aeronautics and was offered a full-time position as a Project Engineer with a substantial salary increase and a full benefits package.  Debbie had demonstrated her secretarial and administrative skills and been offered the position of Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director at La Vida Aureo, a Mrs. Isabella Duncan.  Martin and Debbie could hardly contain their happiness and each wanted the other to be first to share their good news.  The next decision facing the young couple was which set of parents to tell first about their wedding plans!

Life was good for the young couple.  Both sets of parents had contributed for a down payment for a small bungalow and some modest furnishings.  As time went by, Martin and Debbie made repairs and redecorated the house to make it truly their own.

Debbie enjoyed her work and the people at La Vida Aureo. Her pleasant disposition and outgoing personality were quickly recognized and she became a favorite among the Residents.  She worked hard to learn people’s name and greeted everyone with a smile.  She really didn’t consider this a job in a conventional sense.  She believed that she was part of something that was providing a positive living experience for older people.

Martin was equally pleased with his position at Comanche Aeronautics. The work was exciting and challenging; the people were highly competent and fun to work with.  He felt as though he was learning more each day and was eager to go to work each morning.  His projects involved not only the design of new unmanned vehicles, buy also developing more sophisticated control technologies.

He was pleased when his Supervisor asked him to work with a new trainee, a co-op student from a local high school.  “He isn’t as far along as you were at this age, but we’d like to see if we can stimulate some interest in science and technology with some of these kids from tougher neighborhoods.  We think that working along side someone closer in age would be less threatening.  This young man’s name is Cruz Carabajal and I’ll bring him by your cubicle tomorrow morning, if that’s OK with you.”

“That would be great, Boss. I know just how fortunate I am and how supportive my adoptive parents have been.  Our work is exciting and just might be the spark to help this young man make good choices about his future.  You can count on me.”

Cruz Carabajal was a pleasant young man, a senior in high school. He expressed genuine enthusiasm for the work and Martin was eager to support him as much as possible. Much of work at Comanche Aeronautics was confidential and based on the company’s proprietary technology.  Some of the projects were part of a military contract and, therefore, highly classified.  Nonetheless, there were other projects that Martin was happy to share with Cruz as a means of encouraging him to further his formal education.  Once Martin explained the different categories of projects, the issue was never raised again.

As the months went by, Cruz continued to show enthusiasm and initiative about the projects and his own personal development.  When the two young men visited the fabrication facility, the engineers and technicians there referred to Cruz as Marty’s Shadow.

One afternoon, Debbie Monroe was sitting at her desk which was located adjacent to Isabella Duncan’s office.  Her phone beeped from inside her purse, signaling an arriving text message. It was from Marty and simply said Come outside. It was time for her afternoon break and she walked out through the lobby and into the main courtyard.

Once outside, another message arrived: Walk toward the Navajo Willow tree.

As Debbie approached the majestic tree, she saw Matthew Dudley sitting there. It looked as though he was eating his lunch and reading; he did not seem to notice her approach. Another message: I can see you.  Sit down and close your eyes. Debbie was a bit startled that she was being observed, but trusted Martin explicitly and obeyed, taking a spot next to Dudley.

Debbie waited with her eyes closed for what seemed like forever. Then she heard what sounded like a computer voice, OK, Now open your eyes.  In front of her on the ground was something that resembled a small helicopter. She was surprised because she hadn’t heard any noise while she waited.  As she looked more closely, attached to the underside of this helicopter was a bouquet of roses and a note.

The note said: I love you and was signed Marty. When Debbie looked up, the helicopter was gone, leaving just as silently as it came. She began to cry softly.

Dudley looked up from his reading to see Debbie sitting there.  “Mrs. Shackleford, Debbie, is everything OK?”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, I’m fine.  In fact, I’m more than fine.  Look at these beautiful flowers and the note from my husband.”

“They are beautiful, Debbie, but how did they get here?  I know I was reading, but I didn’t see or hear anyone approach.”

“My Marty is so clever.  He works at Comanche Aeronautics and is always bragging about how sophisticated his drones are and all the things they can do.  I guess he used one of them to send me text messages to get my outside and then deliver these roses.”

“Well, I have heard a bit about these drone things, but don’t know much about what they can do.”

“Marty can’t discuss a lot of the stuff he does, but he has told me that the guys at his work also play all sorts of games with their drones as a way to relax and have some fun on their breaks.”

“It still seems pretty sophisticated to me.  That drone he used didn’t make any noise at all.”

“And, he was watching me all the way from my desk out here to the tree and sending messages as I walked.  I’d say that’s pretty clever.  Anyway, I’m glad you were here to share this with me.  I can let you in on more good news if you promise not to tell Mrs. Duncan, at least for a while.”

“You can trust me.”

I just found out this morning that I’m pregnant; Marty and I are going to have our first child.  I plan to hand these roses to him at dinner tonight and give him my surprise!”

“I’m very happy for you, Debbie.  I promise not to tell Isabella; I’ll leave that to you.”

With that, Debbie Shackleford returned to her desk. Matthew Dudley returned to his ToDo list for the day, still quite amazed by this drone technology and its capabilities.

 

 

Case XI: Chapter 3: The Uses of Technology

Matthew Dudley had barely entered the Lobby of the main building when Millicent Branch walked quickly toward him with a very agitated look on her face.  “Did you see that?  I saw some sort of UFO flying around the grounds a few minutes ago.  What is going on? What are you going to do about it?”

“Calm down, Mrs. Branch.  It wasn’t a UFO or anything like that.  Mrs. Shackleford’s husband brought her a beautiful bouquet of roses and delivered them with an unmanned helicopter.  He works at a company that makes those things and he used one to surprise his wife.  Personally, I think it was a very clever idea and thoughtful gesture.”

“Well, it looked like some sort of UFO to me.  We certainly don’t need that kind of thing around here.  I mean, things are terrifying enough when we had that murderer running loose. Was this thing also spying on people?”

“Please relax, Mrs. Branch.  There is no cause for alarm. It was totally harmless.  But, if it concerns you, I’ll speak to Mrs. Shackleford about it.  Maybe the next time her husband wants to send flowers, he can do it in person.”

“Well, you just make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.”

“Yes, Mrs. Branch.  I’ll take care of it.”

Dudley had only walked a few steps toward the center staircase when Señora Barela approached.  “Señor Dudley, I am truly blessed. I saw a spirit form outside in the air above a while ago.  I don’t know whose spirit it is, but I am certain that it is a loved one who has passed over recently. I am certain that there will be many more as Dia de los Muertos approaches. Please assure the Residents that they have nothing to fear from these spirit forms; it is a good omen.”  With that, she hurried on reinforced in her belief of visiting spirits.

Dudley made a mental note to talk to Debbie Shackleford and ask her to encourage her husband to be a bit more conventional in the future.  While the drone helicopter carrying the bouquet of roses with the streaming ribbons was a very clever idea, future episodes would be sure to create problems among some of the Residents.  He also was thankful that Paloma Angostura had taken the primary responsibility for working with Mrs. Branch and Señora Barela in such a constructive and diplomatic way.  If that task had fallen to him, he feared that his approach would have resembled the one used by Clyde Beatty!

Without further interruptions, Dudley was able to successfully complete all of the minor repairs on his daily ToDo list.  If he hurried, he thought he might be able to catch the Community Assist Team before they left for the day.  He entered the Conference Room as the Team was gathering their notes and papers and preparing to leave.  “I apologize for barging it at the last minute,” he said apologetically. “I’ve been unexpectedly busy today, but wanted to ask for a few minutes of your time.”

“It’s no problem,” said Beth Ford, the Team Leader.  “We don’t mind hanging around for a while.”

“Thank you, Ladies. Isabella and I would like to have sort of a brain-storming session with all of you in the very near future.  I’m sure you are all aware of the recent murder on the premises.  That incident raised several critical issues that we believe require some changes in our physical facility and our operating procedures.  Before we do anything, we think it advisable to get some input from the Residents.  We would also like to get your input.   If you would look at the schedule for your next several meetings and let Isabella or me know when we could get about an hour of time to talk about what we’re thinking and get your reactions.  Would that be possible?”

“It would obviously not be a problem, Mr. Dudley,” replied Beth. “While our primary focus has been the Community, you know the Team is committed to La Vida Aureo and all the Residents.  We’re scheduled to meet again in two weeks and I’ll make time for you then, if that’s convenient.”

“I really appreciate it, Beth.  Would you please send a note to Isabella to let her know?  And please include me so I don’t forget!”

“Got it.  While you’re here Mr. Dudley, if you have a few minutes, let me tell you about two issues that came up in our meeting today that are a matter of some concern. First of all, we are hearing more and more that many seniors are turning to Financial Advisors to help them manage their finances. That should be a good thing since many seniors are relatively unsophisticated and haven’t planned adequately for their future.  But, we are concerned about some of the stories we’re hearing and the degree to which people have given up control over their sometimes meager savings.  So far, we only have anecdotal evidence, but we want to keep an eye on this.  Some of the so-called Financial Advisors appear pretty shady.  Speaking of shady operations and operators, we have all noticed a significant increase in the number of cars and vans driving around town with some sort of Home Health Care Service logo on the side.  Based on what we’ve already experienced, it is hard to believe that every single one of these is reputable. It’s just an observation at this point, but we want to spend some time on this area in the near future to see if we can provide some guidelines for people before they sign up with one of these Agencies.”

 

Marty Shackleford continued to enjoy his work at Comanche Aeronautics; it remained challenging and he felt that he was learning more each day that passed.  His “Shadow”, Cruz Carabajal, was an eager student and expressed genuine interest in his assignments.  One of the things Marty enjoyed most about the company and its people was their enthusiasm for the technology.  While the majority of their work was confidential or classified, the employees found clever ways to release the tension of this restrictive environment. Most days at lunch many of the project engineers and technicians would gather in the massive parking lot to engage in various competitions with their individual unmanned vehicles.  It was supposed to be just fun, but it had a definite air of serious competition.  The only ground rule was that no none could utilize company proprietary technology, but this rule was typically bent.  There were competition categories of speed, load-carrying, maneuverability, etc.  One group of engineers had created a special category of electronic surveillance to see who could incorporate the most forms of observation and reporting into a single drone. It was one of these drones that Marty had used to deliver flowers to Debbie at work.

Cruz Carabajal had promised his mother that he would use this unique opportunity with Comanche Aeronautics to serve as the basis for a constructive life.  He was painfully aware that many of his contemporaries did not have this opportunity and their lives typically consisted of dead-end jobs and all-too-frequent run-ins with the Bernalillo County criminal justice system..

One Sunday as the Carabajal family gathered for dinner after church, Cruz’s cousin Jaime said that he wanted to talk to him in the backyard.  Cruz had always admired his older cousin even though it seemed as though Jaime was routinely in some sort of trouble with the police.  Once away from the house and the family, Jaime put his arm around Cruz’s shoulders and said, “So, Little Cousin, what have you been up to?  I hear that you got a job with a big company and haven’t been hanging around with your old group of friends.  What gives?  Are you getting too important to be with your Homies anymore?”

“Oh, no, Jaime.  I have a great opportunity and am working with some really cool stuff.”  Excitedly, Cruz told his cousin Jaime Carabado all about his position at Comanche Aeronautics, the kind of projects he was working on and his new friend Marty Shackleford.  He knew he couldn’t talk much about specific projects, so he told stories about the exciting lunch time activities.  He told Jaime about the time Marty delivered flowers to his wife at work, exaggerating the details to make it sound even more mysterious.

Jaime listened intently and asked Cruz a few questions about the drones’ specific capabilities.  “Well, Little Cousin, do you suppose you could borrow one of these drones?  I have an idea how we could make some easy money.”

“I don’t know, Jaime.  All of the guys keep their personal drones locked up, either in their locker or their truck.”

“Could you borrow your buddy Marty’s drone after work one evening?’

“I guess so.  What did you have in mind?  It isn’t anything illegal, is it?’

“Of course not, Cousin.  It would just be helping out a friend of mine. My lawyer handles a lot of divorce cases and it usually involves following the husband or wife to see where they go at night.  It’s a hassle to sit in his car outside of a motel for hours waiting to take a few pictures.  If one of these drones could do that for him, it would save him a lot of time and I’m sure he would pay us mucho dinero.  And, from what you’re saying, it could be done without alerting anyone that it was happening.  What do you think?”

“I’m pretty sure it could be done and I guess it’s the right thing to do.  I really don’t approve of cheating spouses.”

 

A few days later, Jaime Carabado drove his cousin Cruz to meet with Marvin Milagros.  What Jaime hadn’t bothered to tell Cruz was that he owed Milagros money for the last time Milagros bailed him out of jail and represented him in court.  At Milagros’ office, Jaime described what Cruz could do with his drones and how much that would simplify Milagros’ surveillance operations.  Milagros expressed interest and asked if there were a way to program the drone so that he wouldn’t have to sit in his car and wait.

“I’m pretty sure I could set it up to send the camera signal to your office computer and you could watch from here,” bragged Cruz.

“That would be just dandy, young man,”

Over the next few days, Cruz constructed a simple drone of his own.  He had to ask Marty for help several times and used the excuse that he was building a done to be part of the lunch time games.  He proudly showed his drone to Jaime and together they presented it to Marvin Milagros and set up his office computer to receive the signal.” Have to make sure I get the drone back to my locker at work in the morning,” said Cruz.  “If things work out to your satisfaction, I can launch again at another time.”

The first few runs were successful and Milagros said he would like to use this service again, perhaps in a few weeks.  On the way home, Cruz bragged to Jaime that he had watched the video stream on his own personal to make sure everything worked properly. “You should see the kind of stuff that goes on at night, particularly around some of these sleazy motels on Central Avenue. It’s fun watching the Albuquerque cops bust the pimps and drug dealers almost every night.”

“So,” asked Jaime, “You can really monitor everything that goes on?”

“My drone has a limited range, but, yeah, I can see everything in that area.  And, what’s really cool is that no one on the ground can see or hear me as I move around in the air.”

“Do you think you could hook it up so that I could watch on my smart phone, too?”

“Yeah, I can just give you the settings and you can just dial into the video feed from the drone.  Why?”

“Oh, no particular reason.  It might just be something interesting to do at night instead of watching more crappy TV.”

Once Cruz set up Jaime’s phone to receive the drone’s signal, Jaime spent the next several nights watching with particular interest on where the cops regularly patrolled and noting their routine/schedule. Using this information, he was able to conduct his drug sales with little fear of being caught.

After Jaime Carabado paid off his debts to Marvin Milagros, he suggested that the lawyer expand his surveillance and divorce practice. “If you would put up the money, my cousin could build a few more drones and you could monitor even more activities. It would improve your success rate and you could probably raise your fees.”

The idea made sense to Milagros and Jaime went to Cruz with the proposal and a portion of the money.  From Cruz’s perspective, this was a worthwhile cause and he was getting to build more of his own drones and try out additional capabilities.  For Marvin Milagros, it meant an ever-increasing divorce legal practice.  Jaime benefitted the most as he was quickly able to expand his drug dealing to additional parts of town with virtual impunity.

Jaime’s new-found success soon came to the attention of the Tecolote Gang who controlled the majority of the drug trade within the central portion of the City. Up to that point, Jaime Carabado had been a minor player in Tecolote’s overall operations. Now, the Gang wanted to learn how Jaime had been able to so quickly increase sales and his apparent ability to routinely avoid arrest, a most unusual feat. They initially assumed that Jaime was simply paying bribes to a few cops, but other Gang members and informants could not confirm that.  Jaime was brought to a warehouse at the eastern end of Central Avenue where he was hung by his wrists from an overhead girder and tortured until he explained the details of his success.

Using the information from the small fleet of drones, the Tecolotes were able to assume direct control of the retail drug operations, by eliminating most of the small-time dealers.  Some relinquished their territory after a single beating, while it was necessary to dispose of others completely.   Eliminating the middlemen increased Tecolote’s profitability and they soon came to Jaime demanding he provide more drones with enhanced capabilities.  Not only should the drones provide surveillance, they should be able to actually deliver packages of drugs to specific locations on demand.

Jaime was now under severe pressure to deliver and knew what would happen if he failed. He tried to act with his normal level of bravado when he approached Cruz with his request. Despite his respect for his cousin, Cruz was hesitant and initially resisted.  “I’m not sure I have the knowledge to make drones to do everything you ask, Jaime. And, why does the lawyer need so many and with these new capabilities?  I thought he was just spying on cheating spouses.  The last few drones were much more sophisticated than the first one, which seemed to do the job.  I just don’t understand.”

Jaime tried to make his case with reasons that Cruz found difficult to believe.  “Look, Jaime, I’ve got to get to a class this evening.  It’s a really important one and I can’t afford to miss a single session.”

Finally, Jaime grabbed Cruz by the shoulders and said.  “Cruz, I’m in big trouble with some really bad guys.  I sold a few of the drones that were supposed to go to the lawyer and I don’t know exactly what they’re being used for.  I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure it’s something illegal; I just don’t know what.  Now, these guys have threatened me and demanded I get them more drones with these additional capabilities.  I don’t know what to do.  I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid of what they might do to me if I don’t deliver.”

Cruz Carabajal had always been aware that his cousin was frequently in trouble and that he hung around with a bunch of tough-looking guys.  But, he had repeatedly told himself that Jaime was primarily involved in minor stuff and never any serious criminal activities.  He also knew that Jaime often exaggerated situations to make himself sound more important.  “I don’t know, Jaime.  This sounds pretty dangerous and I’m not sure I want to get involved.  I’ve worked really hard to make a decent future for myself and this doesn’t seem like a very good idea.  I’m really sorry, but you’re just going to have to tell these guys to get what they need from someone else.”

Jaime continued to press his case and Cruz was trying to end the conversation and get to class.  Finally in desperation, Cruz said, “Look Jaime, I really can’t help you.  Not because I don’t want to, but I just don’t have the necessary skills or access to the technology to build what you want.”

Jaime was nearing panic and grabbed Cruz by the shoulders again and shook him. “OK, if you can’t do this, at least tell me who could; give me a name, somebody in one of your classes, somebody you work with, whatever.”

Cruz was now convinced that he had to get away from Jaime before the situation got completely out-of-hand.  “Look, Jaime, I don’t know; maybe one of the guys at work; maybe someone like Marty Shackleford; maybe no one; I don’t know.”  With that, Cruz broke free of Jaime’s grasp and hurried off toward his class.

The Tecolotes were unimpressed by Jaime’s excuses and beat him again to make sure he understood their request. Before the beating stopped, Jaime had promised to try again with his cousin or find someone else, if necessary.

The next few days were difficult for everyone.  The Tecolotes applied pressure to Jaime every night; they were becoming increasingly impatient.  Cruz went to work as usual, but struggled to maintain his focus on his daily assignments. He was worried about his cousin, but hesitant to risk his own situation. Marty Shackleford noticed that something was bothering Cruz and encouraged him to talk, but with no success.  Marty wanted to spend more time with Cruz, but he was exhausted. He was awake most nights with his new baby daughter so that Debbie could get some much needed rest.

Jaime repeatedly tried to talk to Cruz, but Cruz managed to avoid him by staying at work or at school. Now in a total panic, Jaime followed Cruz to work at Comanche Aeronautics and confronted him as Cruz walked toward the office building.  “Look, Cruz, I’m in real danger here.  I need your help.  I’ve got to have some drones.  It’s really, serious, man.”

The bruises on Jaime’s face were obvious. Cruz wanted to help his cousin, but it was clear to him now that Jaime was somehow involved in an activity that Cruz wanted no parts of. “I’ve got to get inside, Jaime.  There’s a meeting starting in a few minutes and I can’t be late.”

Jaime began to shout and grabbed Cruz and shook him violently.  “Cruz, you’ve got to help!”

Cruz broke away and ran into the office building.  Jaime stood in the parking lot, screaming at the top of his voice at Cruz, accusing him of abandoning is family and calling Cruz all sorts of names.  Marty was standing at the entrance and held the door for Cruz as he rushed inside. “Cruz, is everything OK?  Who is that in the parking lot?  What is he yelling at you about?”

“It’s nothing, Marty.  It’s my cousin and it’s just a family squabble.  I’m OK.  Let’s get to the meeting.”

Much to his relief, Cruz did not hear from Jaime for the next two days. When he arrived at work the following morning, the parking lot was full of police cars, two fire trucks and an ambulance.  Marty came up and put his arm around Cruz.  “The maintenance crew discovered a badly beaten body in the dumpster this morning.  You’d better come inside with me.  There’s a police officer in the Conference Room and he wants to talk with you.  The body they found was your cousin.”

 

Chapter 4: Dangerous Connections

There were two people sitting at the table when Cruz entered the Conference Room.   The man rose and extended his hand.  “Mr. Carabajal, my name is Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Major Crimes unit and this is Agent Charlotte McGuire from the DEA.  We’d like to talk to you about Jaime Carabado.  We understand he is your cousin.  And, you are aware that it was his body we discovered in the dumpster this morning”

“Yes. But, I don’t know anything about that.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Carabajal. We are investigating his murder and hope that you can provide us some information that will aid us in catching his killer.”

Cruz always assumed that Jaime hung around with some pretty tough-acting guys, but didn’t think any of them capable of such a brutal murder. “OK, but I don’t know how I can help.”

Agent McGuire spoke next.  “Mr. Carabajal, are you familiar with a gang called the Tecolotes?”

“Sure, everybody’s heard of them, but I don’t know anything about them or even who they really are.  I have some friends who say they do, but I think they’re just saying that to sound important.”

“Do you know if Mr. Carabado was associated with them in any way?”

“I don’t think so.  Jaime liked to talk and act like a big shot tough-guy, but I think it was mostly just talk.”

Lt. Garcia tried a different approach.  “Mr. Carabajal, can you tell me a about what you do here at Comanche Aeronautics?”

Cruz got nervous.  He was pretty sure his drone activities with Jaime were not completely above-board and knew he had to be very careful about his answers. “I am an Apprentice and also go to school.  I’m talking math and science courses and hope someday to get a full-time position here.”

“That’s fine and I wish you the best of success.  Can you tell me what kind of projects you work on, specifically?”

“Well, I sort of help out wherever I’m needed.  That way, I can learn a bit about different areas as part of my training here.”

Agent McGuire had personally questioned a number of local drug dealers who claimed to have been put out of business recently, so she decided to press.  “Mr. Carabajal, are you aware that Mr. Carabado, your cousin, was a drug dealer?”

“No!” shouted Cruz. “Jaime may not have been a model citizen and I know he’d been in jail, but I swear he never had anything to do with selling drugs, ever!”

“Well, this may come as a shock to you, Mr. Carabajal, but we are certain that, not only was he a dealer, but that he had become a major player in Albuquerque in recent months.  And, you claim that you are totally unaware of any involvement he might have had?”

“No! No! No! Jaime would never be involved with that!”

Lt. Garcia interjected. “OK, Mr. Carabajal, I think that’s enough for today.  We appreciate your time.  We’ll contact you if we have further questions.  In the mean time, I suggest you concentrate on your studies and your work here.  Thank you.”

Cruz was sweating profusely as he rose from his chair.  Agent McGuire stared at him until he was completely out of the room.  “Why’d you let him off so easy, Garcia?  He knows something, perhaps quite a bit, and you just let him walk.”

“Look Agent McGuire, he’s just a scared kid.  I agree that he’s hiding something or maybe he’s just trying to protect the memory of his cousin, I don’t know.  He’s not going anywhere.  My gut tells me there’s a reason Carabado’s body was dumped here; somebody may want to scare Carabajal.  I believe we should keep an eye on him and maybe our killer will show up.”

Garcia and McGuire spent the next two hours talking to employees at Comanche Aeronautics and asking questions about Cruz Carabajal.  They received consistent information that Cruz was a hard-working kid and well liked throughout the organization.  No one had any information that would connect Cruz to his murdered cousin; no one even knew much him away from work.  Several people suggested that Garcia talk to Marty Shackleford, but he hadn’t shown up for work yet.

When Marty finally dragged himself to work after another sleepless night with his baby daughter, he was unaware of the murder and associated flurry of activity that morning.  He found Cruz sitting in his cubicle just staring at a blank computer screen.  Marty grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down across from Cruz. “Hey, Shadow, what’s up?  You look like a warmed-over burrito.  Can I do anything to cheer you up?”

“Nah, it’s nothing.  I’m OK.”

“Well, you know I’m here for you, buddy.”

As Marty got up to leave, Cruz shouted. “They found my cousin’s body in the dumpster this morning!  The police were here for hours and questioned me about him and his activities and everything.”

“Holy shit, Cruz!  Do they have any idea who killed him?”

“No.  They asked me if I knew anything, but I don’t.  Honest, Marty, I don’t know anything!”

“That’s OK.  The police always try to talk to everybody and since it was your cousin, I guess they figured you might have some useful information.  Why don’t you just get out of here for today?  Just remember that I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.”

Things only got worse for Cruz Carabajal.  For the next several days, he was aware that someone followed him all the way to work and was there waiting whenever he left to go to class.  Finally, a car pulled up beside of him as he walked.  “Get in, Cruz.  We need to have a little talk.”

Cruz hesitated. He noticed a man walking toward him and another coming from behind.  Cruz realized he had no choice and got in the large SUV with heavily-tinted windows.

“Cruz Carabajal, my little genius, you’ve been avoiding me,” said the heavily-tattooed man seated in the back seat next to him.  You cousin made promises to me and then reneged; that wasn’t a very smart move. I don’t like it when people make promises and then don’t honor their word. But, he told me something very interesting before he died.  He told me that you were the one who was actually building the drones for us.  At first, he wouldn’t tell me where he got them, so I had to use a harsher way of convincing him to tell me everything. Unfortunately, he died.  Now, I assume you’re a smart kid and don’t want to end up like your unfortunate cousin.  So, I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do and I don’t want any excuses.”

Cruz was terrified.  He guessed that these were the bad people Jaime had sold a few drones to and probably the same ones who had threatened and eventually killed him.  Cruz understood why Jaime was in such a panic.  He wished he could have helped, but it was too late.  Cruz now found himself in a similarly dangerous situation.  He would try to bargain his way out of it.  “Look, I don’t know what Jaime told you, but I don’t know how to build what you want.  The first drones were pretty simple stuff and that’s all I know how to do.  I really can’t help you.  Please let me go.  I won’t say anything to anybody.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Little Cousin.  I want these drones and you’re the person who’s going to get them for me.  I don’t really care what you know or don’t know.  What about that guy I see you hanging around with all the time; does he know how to build what I want?”

Cruz needed a way out. He realized that he had to deliver the drones or he would end up in the dumpster like his cousin.  But, he really didn’t have the skills and wasn’t sure Marty did either. In a panic, Cruz whispered, “I think he does.”

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Now, you just get to work and get your buddy to help you.  I need at least one drone in about ten days.  Do you remember everything I want the drone to do, or do I have to prod your memory a bit?”

“No, I remember. Please don’t hurt me.  I’ll get your drone. I promise.”  Cruz could only think about getting out of the car and getting away from these guys as quickly as possible.

“OK, Little Cousin.  You can go, but remember we’ll be watching … all the time.”

Enrique Cortez was not one to leave anything to chance.  He hadn’t risen to be Leader of the Tecolotes by overlooking even the smallest detail.  He selected a few gang members to monitor Cruz’s activities and never let him of their sight, even for a moment. He also realized that he would have to make sure that this other person provided Cruz everything he needed to get the drone built and delivered on time. Even Jaime Carabado had said that Cruz needed help on this larger drone. Cortez had a specific plan in mind for this guy Cruz referred to as Marty.  That evening, he spoke privately with Eva Vasquez and explained how important it was for Cruz to have Marty’s full cooperation.  “I want use his wife as leverage to make sure I get what I need.  Locate her and make it obvious that she is being watched.  Create fear in her mind with your presence. Find ways to create more pressure through her if it becomes necessary.”

After a sleepless night, Cruz Carabajal realized that he had to tell Marty Shackleford everything.  He had dragged Marty into this dangerous situation to save his own skin and, in the process, put him at equal risk. At the very least, he had to warn Marty about the very dangerous people Jaime had dealt with and about what Cruz knew was happening with the drones.  Cruz tried several times to initiate the conversation, but Marty was preoccupied with a new project he’d been assigned. Finally, Cruz just blurted it all out. “Marty, I’m in a world of trouble.  It has to do with my cousin and the drones we made for that lawyer. You’ve got to help me.  I don’t know what to do.  They want more drones and I can’t build them.  If I don’t, they’ll kill me like they did Jaime.”

“Whoa, slow down, Cruz.  What are you talking about?  What drones?  What lawyer?   Sit down and close the door.  What’s going on?”

Cruz tried to recount the entire story in logical order, but he kept coming back to the guy in the car who had threatened him.  With some prodding from Marty and making Cruz repeat the key points several times, Marty was able to get a reasonable understanding of the situation.  “So, let me get this straight.  Your cousin roped you into building a few drones for a lawyer that he subsequently sold to a local gang to support their drug business.  Is that about it?”

“Yeah, and now these guys want a really sophisticated drone for some other purpose.  It has to do all sorts of things.  And, they told me if I don’t deliver it, I’ll end up in the dumpster like Jaime.”

“Look, Cruz, everything you’ve done, from the first simple drone, is a violation of the trust I put in you not to mention the people here at Comanche.  You realize that you’ve put your future here in jeopardy?”

“I know that Marty and I’m really sorry.  At first, it was just fun and I convinced myself that I was using the technology for a good purpose.  I guess I should have not trusted my cousin as much as I did.  But, now things are really serious and I could end up dead.  These are really bad guys my cousin got involved with.  I can’t make the drone they want; I just don’t have the skills.  I know what I did was wrong.  I’m begging you, Marty, you have to help; I’ve got nowhere else to turn.”

“That’s fine, but you’re asking me to be part of something that is undoubtedly illegal and will probably ruin my career as well.  Comanche is everything to me and I can’t just throw it away because you were stupid and tried to impress your cousin.  I don’t know, Cruz.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want any parts of this.  I’m sorry.”

Cruz tried to keep the discussion going, but Marty got up and walked out onto the shop floor and started talking with some other engineers.  Cruz was at a loss.  He didn’t know where he could go and be safe.  After driving around town for a couple of hours, he headed south on I-25.  He had a cousin near Carrizozo and hoped he could stay there a few days.  Maybe Marty would decide to help him.

At dinner that evening, Debbie Shackleford found Marty unusually quiet.  She assumed that the lack of sleep was affecting them both and Marty just needed some peace and quiet.  She went to the nursery to check on the baby and Marty began clearing the table and doing the dishes. Suddenly, she heard a loud crash coming from the kitchen and ran to see what had happened.  Marty had thrown several dinner plates against the wall and was now on his hands and knees trying to pick up the hundreds of sharp pieces.  Debbie was shocked at this uncharacteristic behavior and knelt beside Marty on the floor and put her arms around him.  “Talk to me, Marty.”

Marty’s frustration had subsided and he told Debbie about Cruz’s situation, carefully leaving out the part about a potential death threat.  “You did the right thing, Marty.  You’ve worked too hard to succeed at Comanche and our future depends on it.  Besides, I suspect Cruz is exaggerating his story to avoid telling you the truth.  It sounds to me that he and his cousin got hooked up with some sleaze-bag lawyer and thought they could make some easy money.  He probably made a bunch of promises about what he could do with drones and is now in over his head.  It’s not your problem.  Now, let me hold the waste basket while you sweep up the remaining pieces.  On Saturday, we can go to Target and get some new dishes.”

With a smile on her face, Debbie Shackleford drove to work at La Vida Aureo the next morning with a stop at Los Niños Day Care with her baby daughter.  This was always a difficult part of the day for her, but Los Niños had come highly recommended.  As usual, she would return on her lunch hour to feed the baby and just hold her.  Today, however, Debbie found her baby daughter in the arms of a woman she had never seen before at Los Niños. “Who are you and what are you doing with my baby?” cried Debbie as she approached.  “I’ve never seen you here before.  Please just give me my baby!”

The woman smiled and handed the baby to Debbie.  “She is such a sweet child and is sleeping peacefully.  My name is Eva and I want you to deliver a message to your husband.  Enrique wants him to stop acting like a Boy Scout and help his friend Cruz.  It would be most unfortunate if something were to happen to him or to your beautiful child.”

Debbie was shaken and hurried inside to talk to a Supervisor.  “Who was that woman?  Why did you let her have my baby?  It was wrong! She could have stolen her!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Shackleford.  She told me she was your new Nanny and it was her job to check on the baby while you were at work.  She sounded very convincing; she knew all about you and Marty and the baby and where you both work and everything.  Besides, she was always in my sight and never left the inside courtyard.  I’m terribly sorry if there was something wrong.”
“She is NOT our Nanny!  Do I look like the kind of person who could afford a Nanny?  And, even if I could, I would never hire someone like that.  Did you see all of the tattoos on her arms?” Debbie eventually calmed down a bit and made the Supervisor promise to keep the baby inside the remainder of the day.

Debbie drove back to La Vida Aureo but was still too upset to return to her desk.  Instead, she walked around the main courtyard and sat down on a wooden bench near the Navajo willow tree.  She buried her head in her hands and began to cry, softly at first and then more loudly. “My baby, my baby!” Her daughter was her whole life and represented the very essence of the life she was building with Marty.

Matthew Dudley was leaving the Main Building to return to his daily maintenance routine when Lt. Frank Garcia approached.  “Good afternoon, Lieutenant.  I hope there is nothing serious and this is just a social call.”

“Good day to you, Doc.  Yes, I’m just visiting.  I came to see Señora Angostura to receive some of her positive energy to revitalize my spirits.  This latest murder at Comanche Aeronautics is particularly disturbing.  I’m convinced it’s connected to the other drug-related killings, but I can’t figure out the Comanche connection.  Why dump the body there?   I suspect the Tecolote Gang is somehow involved, but we have been unable to make any arrests.  It seems like the dealers know our every move.  Internal Affairs has questioned almost every officer in the Department and are convinced there isn’t an internal leak.  We’re changing our communication protocol every day, but that hasn’t helped either.  To show how desperate we’ve become, the Chief has invited the DEA to assist!”

Dudley had seen the report of the murder at Comanche Aeronautics on the local news.  Like Garcia, the location didn’t make any sense.  He knew that Marty Shackleford worked there, but, that was probably just a coincidence.  “I know you’ll solve this, Lieutenant, particularly after you visit with Señora Angostura.  She has a wonderful way of providing people with strength to continue, even in the most difficult circumstances.  If you’ll excuse me, I have chores to attend to this afternoon.  Good luck.”

As he walked away, Ynez Barela rushed up to Matthew Dudley.  “Señor Dudley, she is here!  I heard her wailing and calling out for her lost children.”

“Calm down, Señora Barela.  Who is here?”
“It is La Llorona, the Woman in White.  She has come for Dia de los Muertos

Dudley tried to placate Señora Barela, telling her not to worry and that he would investigate immediately.  He found Debbie Shackleford sitting by the Navajo willow.  She was still crying and she was dressed in a beige skirt and white blouse.  Dudley sat down next to her and asked softly, “Mrs. Shackleford, is there anything I can do?  Can I get you something?  Can I call your husband, or someone?”
Through her sobs, Debbie related the incident at Los Niños.

“Why would that woman show up to threaten you?”

Debbie continued crying as she told Dudley about the previous evening’s episode with Marty involving Cruz Carabajal and the drones and Comanche Aeronautics.  Dudley listened intently and tried to put the pieces of these seemingly unrelated events in place.  Just as Debbie seemed to be gaining control, OJ Torreon walked up and tried to get Dudley’s attention.  Debbie pointed at him and screamed!

OJ backed away. Dudley held Debbie close to him.  “I’m so sorry, OJ,” she finally said.  “I just saw the tattoo on your arm and it scared me.  I didn’t mean to frighten you, or Mr. Dudley.”

“What was that about, Mrs. Shackleford?  You know OJ and have seen him many times before around here.  What frightened you so much?”

“It’s the tattoo on his arm.  The woman who was holding my baby had one just like it on her upper arm.  What does it mean?”

“It is from my youth,” replied OJ.  “I keep it to remind me how far I’ve come and that there are always bad people out there that I must stay away from.  I’m sorry if I upset you.”

Dudley knew that the tattoo on OJ’s arm was called Ojos de la Tecolote (eyes of the owl), the symbol of the Tecolote Gang.  OJ had shared that information with him on one of their drives to Cerrillos.

The earlier conversation with Lt. Garcia entered Dudley’s mind and he began to recognize connections between individual events.  “Mrs. Shackleford, would you and your husband be my guests at dinner this evening?  I know Señora Paloma has prepared a special dinner to begin the Dia de los Muertos celebration and it would be a nice break for you.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, that would be very nice.  I’m sure Marty would enjoy that and, besides, we’re a little short on dinner plates right now.”

After Debbie left to return to her office, Dudley turned to OJ. “I believe Mrs. Shackleford had some sort of upsetting encounter with someone from the Tecolote Gang today.  She said the woman told her that Enrique was watching her.  Does that name mean anything to you?”
“Oh, Señor Doc, Enrique is the Jefe of the Tecolotes and one very cruel dude.  He is the main reason I got away from them years ago.”

As he continued to sit beneath the Navajo willow, a pattern began to form in Dudley’s mind.  He thought he could visualize the various pieces coming together, but he had to be certain because he also sensed great danger. Inviting the Shacklefords to dinner would provide the opportunity to gather everyone affected by these events, including Lt. Garcia. The challenge for Dudley was to guide the conversation so that Garcia would come to the same conclusion that was gathering in Dudley’s mind.  Then it would be necessary to formulate a plan of action to conclude this situation without increasing the risks to anyone.

 

Chapter 5: Pancho Villa Show Down

 Dinner at La Vida Aureo that evening was a delightful affair.  Paloma Angostura had done her usual job of preparing a range of dishes to appeal to the varied tastes of the Residents. Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the evening was that both Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela put away their on-going rivalry to be the Queen of the Evening to Baby Shackleford. There didn’t seem to be sufficient time for everyone to hold the child.  Debbie was understandably hesitant at first to allow anyone to come near her daughter, but Millicent was relentless.  Of course, Ynez tried to hold the child just a few moments longer than Millicent.  From that beginning, many of the Residents simply had to come over and make endearing comments.  Debbie finally relaxed and beamed with pride.

Dudley was reluctant to spoil the festive mood of the evening, but there was a most urgent and serious matter to address.  He guided Marty Shackleford, Frank Garcia and DEA Agent Charlotte McGuire to a small meeting room near the Main Lobby. He insisted that Debbie remain in the main Dining Room and supervise the Residents who were now vying for the position of First Godmother.

Dudley opened the discussion by re-introducing everyone.  “There are several pieces to this overall story,” he began. “It is important that everyone present have the benefit of all the information available. I suggest Lt. Garcia begin by reviewing their on-going investigation into drug trafficking in Albuquerque.  It would also be helpful to briefly talk about the Tecolote gang and its alleged role in these events. Then, Marty can relate his discussions with Cruz Carabajal and how he provided, perhaps unknowingly, surveillance drones and how they were used to avoid the police.”

After almost an hour of discussion and questions, Agent McGuire leaned forward in her seat.  “Let me see if I understand.  Cruz Carabajal built several drones that his cousin, Jaime Carabado, sold to the Tecolotes.  These drones were able to essentially monitor police activity throughout the City and thereby prevent the police from interfering with their drug selling business.  Is that about it?”

“It isn’t clear yet whether Cruz was totally aware of what his cousin was up to,” added Marty.  “Knowing Cruz, I believe he was just trying to impress his cousin.”

“But, even the initial activity of selling a drone to a lawyer to spy on cheating spouses isn’t legal and surely Cruz knew that,” said Garcia. “C’mon, Marty, Cruz isn’t that stupid. He was stealing from Comanche Aeronautics from the very beginning.”

“That is all in the past now,” interjected Dudley. “There will be plenty of time to decide whether Cruz broke any laws or was just very foolish. Right now, I believe there is a much more pressing issue concerning the Tecolotes’ plans.  Marty, based on what Cruz told you, can you give us some idea of what this new drone is capable of and perhaps what they are intending to do with it?”

“I believe their intent is to use a drone to carry a relatively large shipment of drugs from somewhere in Mexico into the US.  I would assume that the primary goal is to cross the border undetected. So, the source in Mexico probably is pretty close to the border and the same for the intended landing site, most likely in southern part of the State.”

“There ought to be a way to intercept the shipment and arrest the gang,” offered Dudley. “What do you think, Lieutenant?  Can we accomplish all that safely?”

Garcia thought for several minutes and then said, “I believe there should be a way, but it will require some effort on Marty’s part.  Marty, do you think the folks at Comanche Aeronautics would be willing to help?”

“I’m sure they are not happy about their drones being used for criminal purposes.  I believe I could convince them to help.”

“That’s really not your responsibility, Marty,” said Agent McGuire.  “There is a major role for you in this, but Garcia and I will talk to Comanche.  This new drone that the Tecolotes want will have to come from Comanche and you will be the one to build it.  But, I agree with Garcia, we can use the drone to accomplish our objectives.”

For the next hour, Lt. Garcia and Agent McGuire outlined a plan to intercept the drug shipment and arrest the Tecolote gang members.  A primary concern was to insure the safety of Marty and Debbie Shackleford while everything was being put into place.  Debbie and the baby would stay at Isabella Duncan’s home and Debbie would bring the baby to work each day.  Given the reactions at dinner this evening, Dudley knew there would be no shortage of willing baby sitters!

Garcia and McGuire would make confidential arrangements with the management of Comanche Aeronautics to allow Marty to build the drone.  Garcia would also arrange for several undercover officers to be present at all times to insure Marty’s safety.

The next morning, Marty called Cruz into his office. “OK, Cruz, I will help you build this drone, but you have to understand that I’m not happy about it at all.  I just hope we both don’t get fired when Management finds out.  Make sure you get correct information about the specs and plan to be here day and night until the drone is completed.”

Marty and Cruz worked non-stop for the next week building the drone. Over Cruz’s protests, Marty insisted that Cruz would pilot the drone. “I don’t want any part of what happens after this.  I just hope I can keep my job here.”

Enrique Cortez provided very limited information to Cruz about the operation, only that they would operate out of Pancho Villa State Park, outside of Columbus, New Mexico and only a few miles north of the Mexican border.  He told Cruz that he would fly the drone to a specific location in Mexico and then return it to the Park a short time later that same night.  Cruz was to fly at a relatively low level and on an indirect course to avoid the Border Patrol surveillance balloons.

A date was set for the operation and the drone and control panel were loaded into a large cargo van for the drive south.  Cortez directed several of his most trusted lieutenants to ride with the drone and insisted that Cruz ride with him in the dark SUV.  Two more cars filled with Tecolote muscle completed the convoy.

They rendezvoused outside Columbus in a vacant lot late in the afternoon.  Cortez sent one group into Pancho Villa State Park as advance scouts who reported back.  “There are several RVs in the Park, all with out-of-state plates. There are a few old geezers snow bird types sitting around a camp fire, probably from Minnesota or someplace and trying to stay warm.  It looks pretty deserted.”

Enrique Cortez decided that everything was ready. “OK, let’s go! C’mon Little Cousin, it’s time for you to do your thing.” Not one to take chances, Cortez held a gun close to Cruz’s back as they walked toward the cargo van.

Sgt. Bernadette Armijo from the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit was sitting in the Deming offices of the U.S. Border Patrol with Agent Alonzo Rodriguez and Marty Shackleford.  They were in a darkened conference room so that they could clearly watch the images on the large computer screen.  Sgt. Armijo spoke up as the screen began to flicker. “The game is afoot!  I always wanted to say that!”

“I just hope all of the modifications I secretly made to the drone’s control systems perform as designed,” said Marty nervously. “I should be able to take over all the flight controls from this terminal.

“I have the same concerns about my surveillance blimp,” added Agent Rodriguez. “But I’m sure everything will work out.”

Back at the Park, Cruz launched the drone and set it on a straight course into Mexico toward a remote location outside of the city of Paloma.  After about twenty minutes, Cortez received a ping on his cell phone, indicating that the drone had safely arrived at its destination.  “Now we wait.”

Another ping indicated that the drone was loaded and ready for its return trip to Pancho Villa State Park.  “OK, Little Cousin, remember to follow the zig-zag pattern we talked about.  Keep an eye out for that Border Patrol blimp and steer clear of it.”

A few minutes later, one of the Tecolotes who was watching through a set of powerful binoculars, signaled to Cortez that the drone had come into view. The Border Patrol blimp began to move on what appeared to be an intercept course with the drone.  Cortez pressed his gun into Cruz’s back. “Do something!” Before Cruz could regain his composure, the blimp veered away at an increased speed.

Agent Rodriguez was smiling. “Just thought I’d mess with them a bit.  OK, Marty, now it’s your turn.  Bernie, is everything ready in the Park?”

“Yes, I just got the signal from Garcia that the RVs are moving into position.”

Enrique Cortez stood in an open space near the far end of the Park, his gun firmly pressed against Cruz Carabajal’s back. “OK, now bring the drone slowly down over there next to the van where my men are standing.  Nice and easy now.  We don’t want to damage any of the precious cargo.”

Suddenly, the drone began to gain altitude and pick up speed.  Cruz frantically worked the controls, but the drone simply would not respond.  He felt the gun pressing harder in his back and Cortez’s hot breath on his neck.  “What’s going on,” Cortez demanded. “Get that damn drone on the ground, pronto!”

But, Cruz’s continued efforts had no effect.  The drone continued to climb and speed north, away from the Park and the waiting Tecolotes. An angry Cortez shouted to his gang. “Let’s get out of here. Something’s wrong.”  As he turned toward the van, he shot Cruz several times. “That will teach you not to screw with me again, you little bastard!”

The entire parking lot was suddenly flooded with light as all of the RVs were in a tight circle and blocking all exits from the Park.  Garcia was standing between two of the larger RVs with a bull horn. “Police! Everyone drop your weapons!  Face down on the ground! Hands out in front where I can see them! NOW!”

Several of the Tecolotes opened fire with automatic weapons and Cortez began firing toward Garcia’s location with his large hand gun.  The officers returned fire from behind concrete barricades that had been placed between the RVs. A DEA sniper perched atop a large RV shot Cortez and he dropped to the ground.  Two other gang members were also hit and fell. The intense fire fight was over in a matter of minutes as the remaining Tecolotes threw their weapons away and fell to the ground. The officers quickly moved in to disarm and handcuff the remaining and wounded Tecolotes.  Within a few minutes, the scene was secure.  Ambulances arrived to carry the wounded out and the dead were placed in other vehicles.  Agent McGuire found Cruz Carabajal who was still alive, but wounded badly; he had lost a considerable amount of blood.  She had him placed in a helicopter ambulance for transport to the Trauma Center in El Paso.

The drone landed safely in the Border Patrol parking in Deming much to the relief of Marty Shackleford.  Lt. Garcia and Agent McGuire arrived about two hours later to find Shackleford, Sgt Armijo and Agent Rodriguez enjoying a cold beer and a pizza in the Conference Room.  “I have Domino’s on stand-by,” chuckled Rodriguez.  “Tell me what you want and it’ll be here pronto!”

Sgt. Armijo was desperately trying not to laugh at her Boss since he had not completely removed his geezer outfit and the white powder from his normally coal-black hair.  “I assume the disguises were effective,” was all she could manage with a straight face.

“It’s been a long time since I did any undercover work,” smiled Garcia, “but posing as vacationing snow birds with our fancy RVs fooled the gang completely.”

“It helped that they were so focused on the drug shipment,” added Agent McGuire. “And, I’ll bet they were feeling pretty smug that they were using fancy technology to outwit the authorities.  Hubris is a dangerous thing!”

Marty Shckleford had been sitting quietly, relieved that this nightmare was almost over.  “What about Cruz?  Where is he? Did you arrest him?”

Lt. Garcia moved closer. “I’m sorry, Marty, but Cortez shot Mr. Carabajal several times when the drone didn’t land.  He was in pretty bad shape, but we transported him to the Trauma Center in El Paso.  As soon as I receive an update on his condition, I’ll let you know.  Right now, I suggest you call your wife.  She’s with Doc Dudley and I’m certain she’s been worried since you left Albuquerque.  It was a good idea to keep most of the details of this whole operation from her.  I suspect it might have been too much to ask of her to allow you to be here tonight.”

Dudley took the call.  Debbie Shackleford had fallen asleep a short while ago from exhaustion and the anxiety of the past few weeks.  “Don’t worry, Marty, she is fine and the baby is in capable hands, lots of them.”

Sgt. Armijo volunteered to remain in Deming to handle any miscellaneous items that arose and insure that all of the RVs were returned in good condition to the rental agency in Las Cruces.  While in Deming, she hoped there would be time for another enjoyable evening with Agent Rodriguez; she’d make sure of that!

Agent McGuire would be responsible for the captured drugs and the mountains of associated paperwork.  She and Rodriguez would coordinate their efforts to learn more about the drug source.  Paloma, Mexico had not been a major transit route in the past and they wanted to keep it that way.

Lt. Garcia walked over to Marty Shackleford and shook his hand.  “I want to express my thanks for your courage as well as your technical skills.  Without them, I don’t believe we could have accomplished all we did.  Hopefully, this will also put an end to the Tecolotes’ operations in Albuquerque, at least for a while.  Thanks again.  Now, if you’re finished with your pizza, why don’t you ride back to town with me?  If we’re lucky, we might just be in time for breakfast at La Vida Aureo.  I can promise you that Señora Angostura makes the best breakfast burrito you’ve ever had!”

Case XI: Prelude

 October is always an interesting month in Albuquerque. The month starts with Balloon Fiesta, a colorful and exciting international event.  This year, Albuquerque joined a handful of cities that have abandoned Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.  As October progresses, New Mexico begins to focus on its major Holiday, Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It is a complex celebration of religious and pagan traditions often with sinister activities unlike the candy-filled and highly commercial Halloween.  As the Day approaches, there are strange things afoot at La Vida Aureo.