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.