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Case XII

Case XII: Chapter 1: A Social Call Interrupted

Matthew Dudley was engaged in his normal daily routine, sitting in the Main Dining Room at La Vida Aureo, enjoying a second cup of coffee and reading The Wall Street Journal.  Paloma Angostura had just returned to the kitchen to begin preparing the noon meal. Dudley didn’t notice Isabella Duncan, La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director as she approached and quietly sat down across the table from him.

“Oh. Good Morning, Isabella. I didn’t see you sneak up on me.”

“Sorry to startle you, Doc. I was out walking and noticed you sitting here.”

“Don’t worry, Isabella, I about finished with my paper and was headed to the Second Floor to look at a leaky faucet in Mrs. Thomas’ apartment.”

“I wasn’t checking up on you, Doc.  You should know by now that I trust you explicitly.  But, before you dash off, I need your input on something.”

“I know, Isabella.  I just didn’t want anyone to complain to you that I was loafing on the job.  I saw Mrs. Branch wandering around this morning and I assume she believes it is her duty to report everything she sees, or suspects, to you.”

“Not to worry. We both have had plenty of interesting and exciting experiences with her and know to take her “helpful input” with a grain of salt.

“Right!  I wanted to review our overall occupancy and readiness situation with you.  I don’t think there are any casitas available, but I believe there may be one or two vacant suites in the Independent Living Wing of the Main Building.  I’d appreciate it if you would let me know if there are any maintenance or repair issues to address before I allow someone new to move in.  Thanks, Doc.  I knew I could count on you.”

 

As Dudley had suspected, Millicent Branch was out and about.  Mrs. Branch had been a La Vida Aureo Resident for a number of years and had taken it upon herself to walk through the campus virtually every day and report her observations to Isabella Duncan. Today, however, she was on a much different mission. She was walking directly to the Second Floor of the Main Building carrying a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry in a brightly-colored gift bag for a social call on Mrs. Harriet Aldridge.  As she approached Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, she noticed Staff Supervisor Frida Savino standing in the doorway.

“I’m here to call on Mrs. Aldridge and would appreciate it if you would move out of my way,” said Mrs. Branch with an air of indignity.

“Oh, Señora Branch, I don’t think you should enter the apartment.  There has been a terrible accident and Mrs. Aldridge appears to be unconscious.  I’ve asked one of the girls to go and get Señora Duncan and Señor Dudley.”

“What are you talking about? I talked to Harriet just a short while ago and she is obviously expecting me.  Please get out of my way!”

“I’m sorry, Señora Branch. I cannot allow you to enter until Señora Duncan arrives.”

Millicent Branch stormed away and met Isabella Duncan at the top of the main staircase.  “That Mexican girl is being very rude to me and won’t let me into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  I expect you to do something about it.”

Isabella Duncan paused only briefly. “Please calm down, Mrs. Branch. It is important that I find out exactly what is going on and I would appreciate it if you would clear the hallway.  The Fire Department and Paramedics will be here any moment.  Thank you.”

 

Just then, Matthew Dudley arrived on the Second Floor leading two Albuquerque Firemen and two Paramedics.  The Paramedics walked quickly into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and immediately started to assess the situation and her condition.  Isabella Duncan stood nearby intensely observing while Matthew Dudley and Frida Savino tried to keep the hallway clear from the gathering group of curious on-lookers.

After working on Mrs. Aldridge for about fifteen minutes, one of the Paramedics stood up and walked over to Isabella and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ms. Duncan. Mrs. Aldridge is dead.  There wasn’t really anything we could do. I’m pretty certain she was dead before we arrived. I’m sorry.”

“Can you tell me anything?  She was fairly active here and I never noticed any signs of illness.  I’d have to check here records to be absolutely certain, but I don’t believe she reported any significant medical conditions.”

“It isn’t typically our role to determine the actual cause of death but I suggest you contact the Police.  We are required to notify them of any unaccompanied deaths like this. I can tell you that there is a large contusion on the back of her head as if she fell and hit the end table next to the sofa.  My guess is that contributed to her death, but I imagine the Police will want to have the Medical Examiner look at the situation in detail and draw their own conclusions.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate your very prompt response and your being straight-forward with me; I’ll handle things with the Police from here.  I’m going to ask someone to escort all of you out of the building so that you don’t get side-tracked by any of our overly curious Residents.”

“Thank you and again I’m sorry about the situation.”

 

Isabella walked into the hallway and approached Dudley and Frida Savino.  “Doc, would you escort the Team get out of the building so they can get on their way?  Then, please meet me in my office. Frida, please securely lock Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and then come to my office.  The Police will be arriving shortly and I’m sure they will want to talk to you.”

Turning to the small group of Residents gathered in the hallway, Isabella said, “There has been an accident and I would appreciate it if you would all go on about your own activities.  As soon as I have more information, I will let everyone know.  Thank you.”

Then, ignoring Millicent Branch who was waving her hand for attention, Isabella turned and went quickly to her office to call Lt. Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Police.

 

Case XII: Chapter 2: Not Another Death at the Old Folks’ Home

Isabella Duncan, Matthew Dudley and Frida Savino were sitting in Isabella’s office when Lt. Garcia arrived a short time later.

“I got your call, Isabella and came as soon as I was able. You said there had been a death of a Resident and that the EMT recommended you call me.  Can you give me a bit more information?  By the way, it is good to see all of you again and I hope this doesn’t develop into an unfortunate situation.”

“It is good to see you as well, Lieutenant, and I share your thought about this situation.”

“Mrs. Harriet Aldridge came here almost three years ago and was a pleasant person with an interesting background.  She was bilingual and seemed to get along with most everyone here, although she tended to keep to herself. I believe she had some sort of relationship with Ynez Barela and I occasionally saw them together in the Dining Room speaking Spanish with one another woman. Señora Angostura may be able to tell you more about that.”

“Good. That will give a reason to visit with Paloma. Did Mrs. Aldridge have any family?”

“Harriet had been a widow for quite some time. I believe she has a daughter who lives here in Albuquerque or maybe somewhere in the East Mountains; I’d have to check the files to be certain.  Anyway, her daughter and son-in-law visit about once-a-month. I don’t believe there is any other family that I’m aware of.”

“OK. I’ll need any contact information you have on file.  Would you like for me to contact the daughter or would you prefer to do it?”

“Let’s wait until you’ve had a chance to look at the situation and we can decide before you leave.”

“That makes sense.  Now, if you could tell me exactly what happened and what you know about the situation.”

“Lieutenant, this is Frida Savino, the Supervisor for that Section of the Independent Living Unit.  She was the one who actually discovered Mrs. Aldridge.  Frida, please tell Lt. Garcia what happened.”

It had been less than two hours since Frida discovered Mrs. Aldridge and she was still somewhat shaken by the events.  She took another drink of water and looked directly at Lt. Garcia.  “Actually, it was Elena, the person responsible for the apartment who first noticed Mrs. Aldridge lying on the floor.  She remembered her training and did not touch anything, including Mrs. Aldridge.  Elena immediately came and got me. I was just a few steps down the hallway. When I entered the apartment, I called out to Mrs. Aldridge several times as I moved closer to where she was lying on the floor.  When she did not respond, I immediately sent Elena to notify Señora Duncan and Señor Dudley.  I then stood in the doorway to wait for them and to make sure no one entered the apartment.”

“Very good, Señora Savino.  You did exactly the correct things.  I assume you also did not touch or move any objects that were near the body or in the apartment”?

“No, Sir.  Elena was scheduled to clean the apartment this morning and Mrs. Aldridge often goes for a walk or out with her daughter on those days. Elena entered the apartment and saw Mrs. Aldridge on the floor and immediately came and got me.”

“OK, thank you.  I may have some more questions and will want to talk to you and Elena again after I’ve been to the apartment, but I think that will be enough for now.”

Turning to Matthew Dudley, Garcia said, “Doc, could you take me to the apartment and make sure no one enters while I have a look around?”

 

As the two men walked to the second floor, Garcia put in a call to the Coroner’s office and asked that Dr. George Hernandez come to La Vida Aureo as soon as possible.  He also made arrangements to transport Mrs. Aldridge’s body to the City Morgue.

Dudley opened the apartment door but remained in the doorway to allow Garcia time to examine the scene without interruption.  When Dudley saw that no one was in the hallway, he closed the door and began looking around. Mrs. Aldridge was lying on the floor at one end of the Living Room near the entrance to the Kitchen.  Garcia was kneeling over her body and closely examining the carpet.  As Dudley approached, Garcia looked up.  “I suspect the EMT was right; there appears to be a large and severe contusion on the side of her head which may have been the cause of death.  There is also a glass near her body and some type of spilled liquid.  I’ll have one of the Forensic Techs come over and take some samples.  I’ll wait for Hernandez to have a look; he always seems to come up with ways to make my life more interesting.”

“I agree, Lieutenant.  Whatever was in that glass may not be important, but it’s probably wise to analyze it.  From what I’ve heard, her daughter can get pretty worked up at times and I’d hate to see her make things difficult for you.”

“Thanks for the heads-up, Doc.  I’ve seen too many cases where a family member doesn’t want to accept the simple explanation and becomes unreasonable.  I think I’ll leave any further investigation of the body to the Coroner and look around the rest of the apartment.”

Garcia called Tom Bowers, Senior Forensic Technician and went into the Kitchen and began looking in the cabinets and pantry.  Dudley continued to walk around the Living Room, casually examining the bookshelves and photographs.  He heard a heavy pounding on the apartment door followed by a loud voice.  “Garcia, are you in there?  C’mon, open up if you expect me to do my job.”

Garcia came back into the Living Room and opened the door.  “It’s nice to see you again, too, George.”

“You know how much I look forward to coming to this Old Folks Home where there seems to be no end to the unusual ways these geezers can die.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint you, George, but this looks pretty straight-forward.  I wouldn’t have even bothered to call you, but you know how Department procedures are and how I try to avoid inter-departmental controversy. “

“Yeah, yeah.  Just tell me what we’re looking at, if you don’t mind.”

“It looks like Mrs. Aldridge fell and hit her head on this end table. I noticed a rather large contusion on the side of her head. There’s a glass on the floor and spilled liquid of some sort. I’ve called Tom Bowers to come over and take some samples, etc.  That’s about it.  I had just begun looking around the apartment when you arrived.  Oh, and I assume you remember Matthew Dudley.  He lives here and has been helpful to me in the past.”

“Mr. Dudley, it’s nice to see you again.  It seems like we only meet under unfortunate circumstances.“

Turning back to Lt. Garcia, Hernandez smiled, “Now, Frank, if you’ll be so kind as to let me look at this poor woman’s body.  And, when Bowers arrives, make sure he gets samples from this table; it looks like blood and hair on this upper edge.”

Tom Bowers, the Senior Forensic Technician with the Albuquerque Police Department arrived as Garcia and Dudley were exiting the apartment into the hallway.  Garcia described the situation to Bowers with directions to look closely at the liquid spilled on the carpet, the suspect end table as well as the area around Mrs. Aldridge’s body.  “It appears that this may be a case of an older person falling and hitting her head on a sharp corner of a table, but I know you will use your best judgment and be completely thorough in your investigation.  Please let me know when you have some information for me to review.  Oh, and be careful; Dr. Hernandez is particularly testy today. I think coming here to investigate deaths of these Seniors really upsets him; I know he has an aging mother and this may hit too close to home.”

 

Dudley and Garcia walked back toward the Main Lobby where Isabella Duncan was standing looking out the large front window.  “Thanks for coming so promptly, Lieutenant.  I put a call in to Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter, but had to leave a message.  Please let me know when you have any additional information that I can share with her, particularly when the body can be released.”

“Will do, Isabella. I hope this turns out to be just an unfortunate accident.”  Garcia shook hands with Matthew Dudley and headed to the Visitor’s Parking Lot.

Case XII: Chapter 3: The Spanish Connection

The next morning, Matthew Dudley was in the Main Dining room reading his paper and reviewing his list of maintenance items for the day.  He didn’t notice Paloma Angostura as she walked up and sat down across from him.

Buenos dias, Señor Doc,” she smiled.  “I trust you are well this day after the unfortunate accident yesterday.”

“Good day to you as well, Señora. I am looking over my list of chores and trying not to think about the death of Mrs. Aldridge, but I am having a difficult time concentrating.  I don’t know if you saw Lt. Garcia while he was here, but the investigation is in his very capable hands.”

“Ah, I did not see Francisco.  I’m sure he was very busy.  Is there a reason the police are involved.  I understand that Mrs. Aldridge fell and that was the cause of her death.”

“I believe it is the law that when someone dies and there are no witnesses, the police are required to conduct a routine investigation.  I’m confident the Lieutenant will conclude it was indeed an accident and the matter will be closed.  It is still unfortunate she died.  I understand from Ms. Duncan that Mrs. Aldridge was in good health for her age and there was no indication of any major problems.”

“I agree; it is sad. Hopefully, Francisco will finish his investigation quickly.”

Paloma continued. “I don’t mean to pry Señor Doc, but there have been several evenings that I did not see you for dinner.  I assume you are not on a diet. You must be having your dinner someplace else and I trust you are being well fed.”

Dudley couldn’t hide his embarrassment as he looked at the wide smile on Paloma’s face. Sheepishly, he finally said, “I’m pretty sure your Sopapilla Network keeps close tabs on me and reports back to you.  Yes, I have had dinner with Ms. Johari a few times in the past month.  I could not let her cook each time we got together, so we have gone to a few small restaurants a well.”

Although she was genuinely pleased and happy for Dudley, Paloma could not resist the urge to tease him a bit more. “As long as you realize that you are missing my cooking each time you go out, I guess it is OK.  You know Ms. Johari is always welcome here and you could have her come here any time.”

“Oh, I’m not ready for that!  The tongues would certainly wag!  And, Mrs. Branch would be at the front of the line!  But, you are very kind and perhaps in time.”

Dudley realized he needed to get on about his chores before Paloma pressed him for more details about his “love life”.  As he rose to leave, he asked Paloma, “I’ve noticed a diminutive woman dressed all in black sitting with Señora Barela at a small table in the back of the Dining Room.  I’ve never seen her here before.  Can you tell me who she is?”

“That is my older sister, Deluviña. I’m sorry for not mentioning it to you sooner, since I knew you would have noticed her.  She lives outside of Las Cruces and comes to Albuquerque periodically for tests at the UNM Medical Center.  The doctors there suspect she has some form of cancer, but have been unable to agree on a specific diagnosis, so they keep asking her to return for more tests.  As you can imagine, the entire process and its uncertainty are quite upsetting to her.  She has a relatively low opinion of doctors in general and their lack of answers has not helped.  She is very stubborn and would not have come at all, but the priest convinced her that it would be best.”

“Thank you.  I hope everything turns out OK for her.  Remembering some of the things you’ve told me about your family, I would assume coming to a doctor was not her first choice.”

“You are correct. But, the old priest and her curandera had essentially exhausted all of their approaches with no improvement in how she felt.  It was the new young priest who encouraged her to seek modern medical advice.”

“And the role of Señora Barela?”

“She has been a great comfort to Deluviña.  My sister speaks little English and being able to share her feelings with Señora Barela has been a great support.  You probably hadn’t noticed that Mrs. Aldridge occasionally joined the two of them.”

“Mrs. Aldridge?”

“Oh, yes. She was a Mogollonita long before she became Mrs. Aldridge.  She had travelled to Mexico and Spain many times and the three women would spend hours reminiscing about their families and the Old Days.  It was wonderful to see Deluviña laugh which helped her deal with her pain and frustration.”

“A Mogollonita?  I don’t understand.”

“It is a story for another time, perhaps.  Right now, I have much work to do.”

“I understand completely.  I also have a number of things to attend to.  But, I am curious and will return to hear the entire story.  Buenos dias.”

 

Dudley was walking out of the Dining Room on his way to complete some minor repairs in one of the casitas in the eastern portion of the La Vida Aureo grounds. He hadn’t quite reached the door when Isabella Duncan stopped him. “Doc, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter returned my call from yesterday concerning her mother’s death.  It’s probably my perception, but she didn’t seem too upset by the news.  Maybe she was just in shock with the news, but, I thought I heard her say, “Finally!”  It was a short phone conversation and she said she would call me back after she talked with her husband. I understand not all family situations are ideal, but it upset me.”

“Maybe your right, Isabella.  Perhaps it was just a shock to get the news and her comment didn’t mean what it sounded like.  Was Mrs. Aldridge in any kind of pain such that her death might have been a relief to those closest to her?”

“Not that I’m aware of and you may be right. I may be reading too much into what I thought I heard.  Nonetheless, I expect I will be hearing from her again and I’ll try to keep an open mind in the meantime.  That reminds me; I need to call Lt. Garcia to see if he has an update from the Coroner about when Mrs. Aldridge’s body can be released for the funeral.  Thanks for listening, Doc.  I didn’t mean to interrupt you on your chores.”

“No, problem, Isabella, I was on my way to check on the Dubois’ casita about a minor plumbing problem.  Please let me know what Garcia has to say and don’t hesitate to call if I can help in any way with Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter.”

Isabella added in what Dudley heard as a suggestive tone, “You are free to leave and I hope you have a pleasant dinner this evening.”

With that, Dudley continued on his way out of the building.  He mused to himself, “I guess everyone knows about my visiting Janetta. Maybe, it’s only Isabella and Paloma.  I hope so.  I guess they’re only teasing me.  I know they have my best interests at heart and neither is a gossip.  I just hope Millicent Branch doesn’t start to get too nosey; that could be a disaster!”

 

The minor plumbing problem at the Dubois’ casita turned out to be more serious than Dudley anticipated.  Fortunately, he was able to quickly install a temporary patch to stop the leaking and assured Mr. and Mrs. Dubois he would return in the morning to complete the repair properly and permanently.

Case XII: Chapter 4: New Evidence

 

Lt. Frank Garcia was sitting in his office in the midst of his least favorite aspect of his job; paperwork.  Ever since the Department of Justice Review of the Albuquerque Police Department’s activities, the volume of required documentation had increased significantly.  Garcia tended to put off this responsibility until the very last thing he did each day. He was nearly finished when Dr. George Hernandez walked in with a highly disgruntled look on his face.  He dropped wearily into a chair and looked at Garcia.

“You know, Frank, I tend to give you a boat-load of grief on occasion, but I hope you understand that it is just my way of breaking the tension at a crime scene.”

“Yeah, I’m aware that some of the scenes we experience are not the most pleasant ways to spend the day.  Of course, I would never admit it to you in front of anyone, but I respect your professionalism and admire the way you handle things around here. What brings you here at the end of the day looking like someone ran over your favorite puppy?”

“It’s just these past few days, after the weekend.  We’ve had a huge influx of bodies, staring early Sunday morning, far more than I can remember in all my years in this position.”

“It was my days off, but I’m not aware of any major accident.  What’s going on?”

“It’s disgusting, Frank. All of these fatalities, in my opinion, are unnecessary.  With one or two exceptions, they were either drug or drunk-driving fatalities or shooting deaths from some sort of domestic violence.  I realize this is Albuquerque and we typically have one or two of each over the weekend, but nothing like this. As Coroner, I’m typically on the ass-end of things, but I’ve come here, not only to express my frustration, but to ask if there’s anything the Police can do.  I know it’s not Chicago, but I hope this isn’t a trend or the way things are going to be in the future.  I’m holding up, but some of my younger assistants are really struggling with the number of bodies, mostly young people, piling up in our labs.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, George.  I know it’s got to be rough on you, not to mention your younger assistants.  I noticed, in the stack of e-mails I got today, that the Chief has called an emergency meeting for later in the week.  I have to assume you’re not the only one who has seen what occurred over this past weekend.  I suspect the TV stations are reporting this, which puts pressure on the Mayor, which obviously puts pressure on the Chief.  And, since crap flows downhill, the Chief will share his feelings with the rank-and-file as soon as possible.”

“At least there is some awareness of the problem.  I know you prefer to keep your head down and avoid the political elements of the Department, but I would really appreciate it if you would at least raise the point that we cannot allow this to become the so-called new normal.  Knowing that someone is willing to speak up would help me and allow me to convey that message to my Staff.”

“I will certainly do that, George.  And, before the meeting, I will gather some factual information so I can be prepared during the meeting.  I suspect that others in the Department would just as soon allow certain people in our community to kill each other and argue that we just let that happen.  You and I know that’s just plain wrong.”

“Thanks, Frank.  I apologize for coming in here at the end of the day and dumping on you like this.  I appreciate your listening.”

“No problem.  Any time.”

As Dr. Hernandez rose to leave, he looked at Lt. Garcia and said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve sent blood samples of that woman, Mrs. Aldridge I believe, off to the lab for analysis.  Given the mess from the weekend, I’m afraid it may be a while before I get results back.  But, I think I can safely conclude that her cause of death was a blunt force trauma to her head, most likely caused by impact with the table we observed.  Your forensic guys should confirm that from their samples.  My best guess is that she stumbled or tripped and fell.  While it is possible she had a heart attack or stroke resulting in her fall, the table is the main culprit. Given the back-up of bodies in my lab, I suggest not performing a more comprehensive autopsy.  My recommendation is to release her body to her family without waiting for the blood test results. I hope you understand I’m not neglecting my responsibilities.  It is my opinion is any additional testing would not alter the outcome. However, if the family wants further testing or a complete autopsy, I am more than willing to comply. I’d appreciate it if you’d let the folks at the Old Folks Home know that piece of information.”

“Thanks, George.  I tend to agree with you.  I’ll talk to the folks at La Vida Aureo and get back to you with their response.”

 

Early the following morning, Lt. Garcia called Isabella to inform her that Mrs. Aldridge’s body could be released by the Coroner and the family could make whatever funeral arrangements they desire.  He decided not to relay the details of his conversation with Dr. Hernandez. “Isabella, all of the lab work, including blood tests, etc. have not been completed due to the large volume of deaths arriving at the Albuquerque Morgue over the weekend, but Dr. Hernandez is certain the cause of death was a fall and hitting her head on the table.  The Death Certificate will state the actual cause of death was blunt force trauma and should be available in a few days.  Dr. Hernandez apologizes for the delay with the lab work, but I agree with his recommendation.  I’ll try to have the Death Certificate sent to La Vida Aureo so the family can tie up any estate issues as quickly as possible.”

“Thanks for the call, Frank.  I will certainly miss Mrs. Aldridge, but I do not look forward to dealing with her daughter.  She doesn’t seem too concerned or upset about her mother’s death.  She said she just wants to get this over with and I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear the body can soon be released.  I don’t mean to complain, Lieutenant, I just wish her daughter showed a little more respect.”

“Well, if there’s a problem, Isabella, Dr. Hernandez said he would be willing to perform a complete autopsy on Mrs. Aldridge, if that’s what her family wants.  Just let me know if we can do anything else on this end.”

“Thank, Lieutenant.  I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for all of us, particularly when we have these unfortunate incidents.”

“No problem, Isabella.  Coming to La Vida Aureo always gives me an opportunity to stop and pay my respects to Señora Angostura.”

Isabella put her personal feelings aside and called Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter, Camille Linderman. “Mrs. Linderman, this is Isabella Duncan, Executive Director at La Vida Aureo.  I have an update from the Police concerning your mother.  The Coroner can authorize your mother’s body to be released in a few days so you and your husband can make appropriate funeral arrangements.  My understanding is there are a few blood tests results have not been completed and the Coroner is willing to conduct any further analyses you desire.”

“Well, I suppose I appreciate that information.  I plan to have my mother’s body cremated and I’ll make the necessary arrangements with a local funeral home.”

“Will there be any type of memorial service?  I suspect some of the Residents would like to attend and pay their respects.”

“No. I just want to get all of this behind me. What about the Death Certificate?  When will I receive it? I want to settle my mother’s estate as quickly as possible.”

“It should be available in a few days.  I’ve asked it be mailed here to my attention.”

“Why?  Is that necessary? Why can’t it be mailed to me?”

“There are a few papers that require your signature concerning your mother’s apartment and I thought it would be more convenient to have the Death Certificate here for you at the time.  I was just trying to simplify things for you at what I assumed would be a difficult time for you.”

“I live and work in Cedar Crest in the East Mountains and coming into Albuquerque is not particularly convenient.  Could my husband handle this?  He works downtown at Wells Fargo.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Linderman, but you are listed as the next-of-kin on the lease and your signature is required.  Have you decided what you would like to do with your mother’s possessions?  It is a furnished unit, but I assume there are clothes and other personal effects that you would like to have.”

“Oh, this is all such a hassle.  I really don’t want any of her things.  My husband has hired some guys he knows to clean out the apartment and take everything to Goodwill.”

Isabella was able to contain her personal feelings and responded in a professional manner.  “You have my assurances, Mrs. Linderman, that we at La Vida Aureo will do our best to support you during these difficult times.  Please just let me know when it is convenient for you to come here and ask for me personally.”

 

Isabella sat quietly in her office for the next few minutes to calm her emotions.  Despite her frustration with Camille Linderman, she needed to turn her attention to other pressing matters.  She left her office to find Matthew Dudley to ask him to be present when the guys the Lindermans hired came to clean out the apartment.

As expected, she found Dudley in the Main Dining Room, reviewing his ToDo list of repairs and general maintenance issues for the facility.  He typically organized his day’s work according to the nature of the project, plumbing, electrical, etc. as well as those which would require a professional contractor. “Good afternoon, Doc, I see there are still numerous items remaining on your list. I hope you realize how much I appreciate all you do and that things haven’t become too much for you.”

“Good afternoon to you as well, Isabella.  Thank you for that comment, but I know my own limitations and call for help whenever necessary.  I just try to make sure I’m holding up my end of our arrangement and earning my keep.”

“Oh, Doc, you certainly are!  And, I certainly cannot underestimate the importance of your being my eyes and ears for anything that goes on around here that I might miss.”

“You give me too much credit, Isabella.  The real source of accurate information about La Vida Aureo and its Residents is Paloma’s Sopapilla Network.  The Community Assist Team also spends a lot of time talking to Residents and I try to stay in contact with both groups as much as possible.  I don’t mean to pry, but why the troubled look on your face?  Is there something you want to talk about?”

“It is nothing really. I mentioned I had some difficulties relating to Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter the first time I spoke to her.  I figured it was just the shock of learning of her mother’s death.  But, I spoke to her a short while ago and I can’t detect any sense of remorse or sadness.  It shouldn’t, but it upsets me.”

“I understand.  Maybe the two women had a very difficult relationship that we are unaware of.  It’s certainly not uncommon between mothers and daughters, you know.”

“You may be right, Doc.  Anyway, Camille Linderman, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter, said she doesn’t want any of her mother’s belongings and has hired some people to come and take everything to Goodwill.  It is a furnished apartment and should be relatively straight-forward to remove clothes, etc.  But, I don’t know these guys and, just to be on the safe side, I would appreciate it if you would be present while they’re on the premises.”

“No problem, Isabella.  Just let me know when they’ll be here and I’ll make sure everything goes smoothly.”

“As soon as I hear back from Mrs. Linderman, I’ll let you know. “

 

Dudley looked at his ToDo list and realized he had a few minutes to spare and decided he would look into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment to familiarize himself with the situation before the people arrived to remove her possessions.  As he entered the main corridor heading for the central stairs, Millicent Branch abruptly stopped him.

“What happened to my friend Harriet?  I was on my way to visit her and one of those Mexican girls said I couldn’t go into her apartment.   Then I saw the Firemen and EMTs arrive. What’s going on?  Why hasn’t anyone told me what happened?”

“Please calm down, Mrs. Branch.  If you give me a minute, I’ll tell you what I know.  My understanding is Mrs. Aldridge fell and hit her head on a table and the impact from the fall was enough to kill her. I don’t have any additional information at this time.”

“That’s not possible. I know she had some health problems and was plagued with tremors, but certainly not enough to kill her.”

“I don’t know anything more about Mrs. Aldridge’s health.  The Police said she hit her head and that likely killed her.”

“Why are the Police involved?  Is there a crime?”

“I don’t believe that’s the case.  It is my understanding it is the standard procedure when there is what the police call an unattended death.”

“That just shows how little they know.  You mark my words, Mr. Dudley, she was poisoned.  It was poison that caused her to be unsteady and fall.  It may have been a fall that actually killed her, but poison is at the root of this.  And, furthermore, I know who poisoned her.  Harriet complained to me about not feeling well on numerous occasions and I know that Mexican woman tricked her into taking some of those herbal cures which led to her death.”

“Just what Mexican woman are you talking about, Mrs. Branch?”

“That old woman, the one dressed all in black.  I’ve seen her many times in the Dining Room with Ynez Barela and my friend Harriet.  They talk Spanish all the time.  I know those old Mexican women are witches or whatever they’re called and they believe they have healing powers.  I know she gave her some herbs and put a curse on Harriet.  It’s disgraceful; those people are trying to turn this place into a Spanish mission.”

“Now, Mrs. Branch, I think that’s pretty far-fetched.  I’m not aware of Mrs. Aldridge’s health, but I assume she would have gone to her personal doctor to discuss any unusual symptoms.  And, I don’t personally know the woman you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any witches here.”

“Well, Mr. Know-It-All, I know about these things from all the years I’ve spent in New Mexico and there are witches, or those who claim to be.  They have all sorts of strange practices, usually based on herbal cures and such things.  My guess is that Ynez and that other Mexican woman persuaded Harriet to try something and it eventually poisoned her.”

Dudley realized this conversation wasn’t going anywhere and it was pointless to try to argue with Mrs. Branch.  He decided the best strategy was to extricate himself and tend to his responsibilities.  “Mrs. Branch, you have my word that if I learn anything more about the situation surrounding Mrs. Aldridge’s death, I promise to tell you.”

 

Dudley continued to Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  The Police tape had been removed and he used his Master Key to enter the apartment.  For those Residents who chose Independent Living, La Vida Aureo provided several options for furnishings; this particular Unit was completely furnished.   As he casually walked around the apartment, Dudley was struck by how few personal effects he noticed.  In particular, there were no photographs with the exception of what he assumed was her wedding picture on the nightstand in the bedroom.

Dudley opened the closets which contained personal clothing and there wasn’t much else in any of the other rooms.  Everything appeared to be in good condition which would certainly please the folks at Goodwill.  He walked into the kitchen and opened the pantry where he found a variety of breakfast cereals and a few energy and snack bars.  He reminded himself to check with Paloma to see if any of these items could be used or whether they should be taken to RoadRunner Food Bank.  There were also several unopened bottles of Cream Sherry in the pantry which was not a surprise.  Many of the Residents kept a bottle of Sherry or Port to serve as a night cap before retiring. Behind the unopened bottles, he found several glass decanters which looked similar to the Cream Sherry only lighter in color.  He decided it would be prudent to remove these bottles rather than leave them for the guys who were supposed to clean out the apartment.  He noticed one other partially-full bottle at the very rear of the pantry and when he removed the cap, he was instantly struck by the strong odor of alcohol.  The label had been almost completely removed, but enough remained for Dudley to realize it contained pure 90 percent grain alcohol. Dudley was never a drinker, but remembered his college days when he knew guys who would mix grain alcohol, which they called “ever-clear”, with fruit punch for a cheap way to get drunk. Dudley put all of the bottles and decanters in a large grocery bag and headed downstairs.

 

As he was nearing the Lobby, he had the untimely experience of encountering Millicent Branch again.  He thought he could use this encounter to his advantage.  “Mrs. Branch, I believe I was a bit rude to you when we spoke a while ago.  I apologize.  Since you were such a close friend of Mrs. Aldridge, perhaps you could spare a few minutes to tell me a bit about her.”

“We had so much in common and our life experiences were so similar.  You are probably not aware of this but Harriet was from southwest New Mexico, near the present town of Glenwood and her family was one of the original settlers in that area.  A great many people came there when gold and silver were first discovered.  Her grandfather owned a great deal of land, including an interest in the famous Little Fannie Mine. She told me once that it was her grandfather who developed the practice of using a water spray to reduce the dust. He later became ill from what was called miner’s consumption from the dust and sought to solidify their land holding position before he died. He feared the fortune hunters and lawyers would find ways to steal the land from its original and rightful owners. So, Harriet was forced into an arranged marriage with a wealthy family.  As time passed, large copper deposits were discovered and their land became even more valuable.”

“Harriet wouldn’t talk too much about it, but I gather it was not a happy marriage. Not long after, her husband was killed in a gun fight near Los Altos and Harriet became a wealthy widow at a rather young age.  She and her new-born daughter moved into a modest home in Silver City where she remained until her daughter married and moved to Albuquerque.”

“As you can see, Mr. Dudley, her story is much like my own and my experience with the uranium mines in Grants.  After she moved here to La Vida Aureo, we discovered that we had much in common and would spend hours talking over a simple glass of cream sherry.“

“Thank you, Mrs. Branch, for that story.  I can see how much Mrs. Aldridge meant to you and how you must have enjoyed the time you spent together.  Perhaps it is your reaction to her death that leads you to think she was poisoned.”

“It is not my emotions at all, Mr. Dudley.  You should know by now that I am a very rational person not given to flights of fancy.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Branch.  I certainly did not mean to imply you were being irrational.  If you would, tell me more about the cream sherry.”

“Sherry is very sophisticated drink and civilized people have shared for centuries.  It was the English nobles that really perfected the practice and raised it to an art form. Harriet’s favorite was Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and we would share a glass in the late afternoon as a fitting end to the day.”

Thinking about what he had discovered in Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, Dudley wanted to learn more about this afternoon social habit and just how much sherry was typically consumed.  However, he knew that Mrs. Branch was a strict tea-totaller and would be offended if he pressed the issue.  Instead, he took the more prudent approach of wishing Mrs. Branch good afternoon and continuing on his way.

 

Case XII: Chapter 5: Dudley Gets A History Lesson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That makes sense.”

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

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

 

Case XII: Chapter 6: The Curmudgeon Crew Helps Out

 

As he walked out of the Dining Room, Dudley realized he had not pursued the issue of the grain alcohol in the apartment with Señora Angostura. Perhaps Elena, the young woman who cleaned the apartment, or Frida Savino, would know more. He would ask Paloma to help him talk to the two women in the next day or two.  He also thought he understood why a non-drinker like Mrs. Branch would create an afternoon ritual of drinking sherry with Mrs. Aldridge. It was something they could do alone, without potential interference from anyone else, particularly anyone speaking Spanish.  It was simply a bribe!

Without be completely aware of it, Dudley found himself walking toward the Navajo Willow in the courtyard.  It was a place of respite for him which he needed.  Unfortunately, as he sat down, his phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Am I talking to the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes for Senior Citizens?”

Recognizing Ray Little Feather’s booming voice, Dudley responded with a question of his own, “It might be.  I assume this is the famous Indian, Chief Thunderthud.”

“My mistake, I think I’ve accidentally reached Phineas T. Bluster!”

“Ray, you can’t imagine how good it is to hear your voice.”

“Having a bad day, are we, Doc?”

“I won’t bore you with the details, but we’ve had another death here a few days ago and I’m concerned that there is more involved here than originally thought.”

“Can’t stop playing detective, can you?  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Maybe the guys can help you solve this, if it becomes too complicated for your aging brain.”

“Thanks, but I’m not even sure there’s anything here; at least not yet.  Anyway, I’m glad you called.  I had marked on my calendar that we were all going to get together tomorrow morning.  Is that correct?”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that you haven’t lost all of your marbles; at least not yet.  I was calling to see if you needed a ride to Guzman’s place.”

“I don’t think so.  OJ has to go to the Lumber Yard near Old Town and I can catch a ride with him.  I may need a ride home, however.”

“No problem.  As long as you feel safe riding in that heap of his.  See you in the morning.”

The call from Ray lifted Dudley’s spirits and he put his concerns about Mrs. Aldridge aside and went to his apartment to shower and dress for dinner with Janetta.

 

The next morning, after Dudley finished reading The Wall Street Journal, he stopped at Isabella’s office to tell her he was leaving for a few hours, but would return by early afternoon.

“I assume you’re going to Saville’s in Old Town to catch up with that group of curmudgeon buddies of yours.  There’s not much going on here today and I know how to reach if something comes up. Camille Linderman will be here later to sign a few papers related to her mother’s apartment and badger me about the Death Certificate, which I have yet to receive. I doubt that she’ll want to stay long, but I will try to have her look through the apartment.  Not to worry, Doc. I’ve got my Big Girl pants on today and I believe I can handle her alone.”

 

OJ Torreon dropped Dudley at Saville & Son’s Coffee Shop in Old Town which was near the lumber yard. Dudley’s group of friends, who referred to themselves as his Curmudgeon Crew, were all present when he entered. The group consisted of Redondo (Ray) Little Feather, Absolom (Abe) Goldman, Emilio Sandoval and Hakim El-Fiki.  They were already engaged in lively conversation and the main topic of discussion was the recent presidential election. These men had highly divergent backgrounds and life experiences such that their individual perspectives and opinions varied a great deal. Consequently, their discussions were frequently noisy and quite animated.  Today was no exception.

As Matthew Dudley entered, the group stopped talking and greeted him warmly.  “Let’s ask Doc to settle this, or at least give us the benefit of his years of wisdom”, suggested Emilio.

“Ouch”, replied Dudley.  “If you think I’m going to step into the middle of a discussion that’s been going on for some time, you’ve got another thing coming.  Besides, I know there’s no such thing as settling anything with you bunch of opinionated old geezers.”

“Well, Good Morning to you as well,” offered Abe.  “We were just discussing our new President and what effect he might have on us.  Emilio and Hakim think there may even be a chance they could be deported even though they are both citizens.”

“I don’t have any answers or insights into what might or might not happen.  I think people voted for him because they thought they wanted something different from our Government and that’s certainly what’s happening.  I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with things, at least for a while. I have my concerns just like you and am trying to stay focused on things I can affect or influence.   As for you guys getting deported, I really don’t see any way you can be considered immigrants at this point.”

Dudley sat down and focused on his fresh coffee and pastry.  The discussion started up again and this time centered on immigration and immigrants.  Everyone agreed that immigrants had made valuable contributions over many years and couldn’t understand how the national discussion had become so distorted.  There were comments about how there was so much false information out there, who was at fault and suggestions about how to address the situation. The intensity of the discussion continued to grow until Ray Little Feather stood up with a very serious look on his face and waved his arms for everyone to be quiet.

“I believe that you are missing one important point. You are ALL immigrants in MY country!”

There was a brief moment of silence as everyone realized Ray had a point.  Everyone at the table started laughing.

The Curmudgeon Crew turned their energies to community service, a subject with which they had much in common.  These men were active in their respective communities, each in his own way according to his abilities and interests.

 

This behavior confounded the many younger patrons of Saville & Sons who simply could not understand how these men with such strongly-held opinions could just stop a seemingly highly-charged discussion moments before it certainly deteriorated into an argument or even fisticuffs. “It’s like there’s a Pause Button,” said one young man who was standing at the counter getting his latte.

Hector Guzman-Gomez, the shop’s Owner, just smiled.  “Do not underestimate how strongly each of those gentlemen believes in his position.  But, there is also an overriding sense of maturity and respect.  Each realizes that another has a different perspective and something might be learned if he allows that man to speak.  You learn nothing while you’re screaming.  I don’t remember; it might have been El-Fiki quoting the Koran or Goldman quoting the Torah. But, he said, “God gave Man two ears and one mouth so that he might hear twice as much as he says”.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d get a philosophy lesson at a coffee shop in Old Town.  And, it’s not even a Starbucks.”

“I suggest you read a book entitled Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal which will help you understand the historical significance of what you witnessed in my humble establishment.”

 

After a short while, the group broke up; each had a volunteer commitment that afternoon.  Dudley walked over to where Ray and Emilio were standing. “Ray, I need to ask Emilio some questions.  Can you wait to give me a ride back to La Vida Aureo?”

“No problem, Doc.  I wanted to try to catch Frank Garcia and talk about some changes I’d like to make to our Youth Program.   I’ll swing back here when I’m finished.”

“Can I help you with something, amigo?

“Emilio, can you tell me a bit about sherry?”

“Do you mean the Frankie Valli song or the Spanish liqueur?”

“Now it is you showing his age, my friend.  I would like to know a bit more about the alcoholic beverage.  I won’t bother you with the details, but it is connected to something that recently happened at La Vida Aureo.”

“Ah, one of the ladies got too deep into the bottle, I suppose.”

“Perhaps something like that.  I just don’t know.”

“No problem, Doc, let me bore you with a bit of historical background and then tell you about the liqueur.”

“Sherry is a fortified wine made from white Palomino grapes grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain, Andalusia.  Jerez has been a center of wine-making since it was introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians in about 1100 BC and carried on by the Romans when they took control of Iberia. When the Moors later conquered the region, the town was called Sherish from which the words Sherry and Jerez are derived. The word Sherry is an anglicisation of Xeres or Jerez.”

“As part of its colorful history, it is said that Christopher Columbus brought sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more on sherry than on weapons!”

“Sherry is produced in a several styles, ranging from light versions called Fino, to darker and heavier versions such as Amontillado and Oloroso.  Fino is much like a dry white wine while Amontillado can be more like a dessert wine. The alcohol content also varies, from about 15 percent in Fino to over 20 percent in Amontillado.   You may have heard of Cream Sherry which is a sweetened version of Oloroso with a higher alcohol content.”

“If I understand you correctly, each of these varieties has a slightly different color and alcohol content.”

“That is correct.”

“So the lighter-color one, I believe you called it Fino, has a lower alcohol content while the cream sherry is darker and is higher in alcohol?”

“Yes. It is none of my business, Doc, but I sense you are trying to understand something.  Perhaps, if you gave me a bit more information, I could be of more help.”

“You might have been correct, Emilio, when you suggested that one of the ladies got too deep into the sherry bottle.  Recently, a female Resident was found dead in her apartment and there was a spilled glass nearby. So far, her death has been ruled an accident because it appears she hit her head when she fell.  But, as I was looking through her apartment, I came across several bottles of cream sherry.  That wasn’t much of a surprise because I knew she and another Resident often shared a glass in the afternoon.  I was surprised, however, to find an unlabeled decanter filled with a lighter liquid that also looked like sherry.  I also came across a bottle of clear liquid which I believe is grain alcohol.  This caused me to wonder if the cream sherry was being diluted with the grain alcohol.”

“That doesn’t make sense, Doc, and I do not believe dilution is the correct description of what is happening.  Adding grain alcohol would certainly give cream sherry a lighter color, depending on the amount added, and increase the alcohol content considerably, again depending on how much was added.  I’m not sure I understand the purpose unless it was only to increase the alcohol content.  I’m certain it would significantly alter the taste and, in my opinion, make it much worse.”

“Thank you, Emilio.  You have been most helpful.  It had occurred to me that was the purpose of adding grain alcohol, but I was hesitant to believe it.  I need to do some more checking into Mrs. Aldridge’s habits, but I am not aware of anything to suggest she was an alcoholic.”

“I am always glad to be of help, Doc.  I hope this doesn’t affect the conclusion that this poor lady’s death was an accident.”

“I agree; that would be most unfortunate.  I see Ray has just pulled up and I’ll have to go before he goes on the warpath.  Thanks again.”

 

Dudley was able to get into Ray’s truck with only a minimal amount of harassment.  He decided to initiate the conversation before Ray began asking about his so-called love life.

“So, how is Lt. Garcia?  I think it’s a good thing you guys are doing with your youth program.”

“It is hard work trying to keep young men on a constructive path, but still much easier than getting them out of serious trouble.  And the Legendary Lieutenant sends his regards.”

“And, I’m sure Lt. Garcia appreciates being compared to the Legendary Lieutenant Leaphorn, Tony Hillerman’s fictional Navajo policeman.”

“He does.  Frank also asked me to tell you he has some information about the woman who recently died at your place; lab results, I think he said.  He said he’d give you a call later this afternoon.  Don’t tell me you had another person die at that fancy resort where you live.  You need to do a better job as House Detective, Doc!”

“Thank, Ray, I appreciate the vote of confidence.  Anyway, it appears this death was an accident.  At least, that’s what I thought initially, but now I’m not so sure.”

They drove along in silence.  Dudley was reflecting on his discussion with Emilio and he also didn’t want to distract Ray as he drove north on I-25 from town.   There seemed to be more than the usual number of drivers wanting to change lanes or cut in as everyone sped along.

As they neared La Vida Aureo, Ray pulled over.  “I don’t want to add to your troubles, Doc, but I may have some important information.  My nephew, actually one of my nephews, works at Sandia Casino.  Right now, he’s on one of the active clean-up crews, but he’s working to apply for a better-paying opportunity.  Late yesterday afternoon, he happened to overhear a guy sitting at a blackjack table who seemed to be losing and this guy mentioned La Vida Aureo.  It may be nothing, but I thought you should know.”

“You’re right, Ray. It could be nothing, a simple coincidence.  There are at least a dozen reasons why the name could come up. Do you know any more about this guy or why he would mention La Vida Aureo?”

“Not yet.  But, I’ll be at my sister’s later and will talk to my nephew and see if I can learn any more.  He’s a good kid.  He keeps his nose clean, his mouth shut and his ears open.  I’ll let you know if there’s anything to this.”

 

Ray dropped Dudley off at the main entrance to the central building.  As he entered, he noticed Beth Ford walking through the lobby and changed his course to meet her.  “Ms. Ford, it is good to see you.  I apologize for not attending the last meeting of the Community Assist Team, but I’m confident you continue to make progress on all the initiatives.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, it is so good to see you, too.  We missed you at the last meeting, but you can rest assured we are working hard.  I continue to be pleased with the Team and how well everyone works together and how our individual skills complement each other.   It is fortuitous I should run into you.  There is something that happened recently I wanted to pass on to you.”

“You are aware we have a growing concern about Financial Planners and how some of them target older people. I decided to enroll in a training class for people who want to become certified as a Financial Planner and chose this particular class because it sounded suspicious from its name, Become a Financial Planner and Get Rich.  After a few classes, I’ve come to suspect the course doesn’t even qualify a person to actually get certified. There are some shady characters in the class and one guy in particular. He claims to currently be a banker at Wells Fargo, but aspires to get rich as a financial planner and get his hands on his mother-in-law’s assets.  This guy’s name is Linderman and I’ve mentioned it to the Team in case anyone comes across him as we work with various people and organizations.   This experience has just strengthened my resolve to do as much as we can to help protect vulnerable folks from these predators.”

“That’s good work, Beth.  I would just caution you to not put yourself at risk in any of these shady or suspicious situations.  Please be careful.”

“Not to worry.  And, I really didn’t mean to carry on about this guy.  Take care and I’ll make sure to let you know when we’re having our next Team meeting.  Have a good evening.”

 

Dudley hadn’t walked more than a few steps when his phone buzzed.  “Doc, it’s Frank Garcia.  Have you got a minute?”

“Sure, Lieutenant.  Ray Little Feather warned me you might call.”

“Ray is a great guy and I’m pleased we both know him.  I heard from the lab boys and wanted to pass on what they had to say.  They called me this morning with the results of Mrs. Aldridge’s blood tests; turns out that her blood alcohol level was extremely high.  It was significantly over what we consider legally impaired, much too high to be driving, even in New Mexico!”

“So, it’s possible that she was impaired enough to cause her to fall?”

“At the level they found, she certainly would have been seriously unstable and probably unable to walk steady.”

“That pretty much says her death was an unfortunate accident.”

“Well, there’s more.  The lab technicians also analyzed the residual liquid in the glass we found.  We were told that Mrs. Aldridge liked to have a glass of sherry and we wanted to confirm that.  The liquid in the glass had an alcohol content much too high for commercial sherry, almost double, according to the tech guys.  So, they went a few steps further and ran a gas chromatography analysis of the liquid.  It contained a type of sugar which they expected for cream sherry, but they also detected the presence of methyl or wood alcohol.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Doc, wood alcohol is a poison.  Even a small amount is dangerous.”

“You’re saying that Mrs. Aldridge was poisoned?”

“That’s what it looks like.”

“That’s terrible.  What happens next?  I’m sure you’ll have to start some sort of investigation.  Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You know this isn’t how I wanted this all to turn out, Doc, but, yeah, there needs to be a thorough investigation.  Obviously, if someone deliberately put wood alcohol in Mrs. Aldridge’s sherry, then we’re looking for a potential murderer.  And, since it happened at La Vida Aureo, I’ll need to start there and could use your help.”

“I’ll do whatever I can, Lieutenant, you can count on me.  When do you want to get started?”

“There was a multiple murder last night, probably drug related, that is taking top priority right now.  The Mayor put everyone in the entire Department on notice that this needs to be solved immediately and he calls the Superintendent hourly for updates.  I’m asking you to keep this quiet for a day or two until I can get some space and be able to concentrate on Mrs. Aldridge.  Please don’t even say anything to Ms. Duncan. And, I’m going to put a hold on the Death Certificate and release of her body until I can sort out a few more details.”

“I understand, Lieutenant, but it will be tough to keep Isabella in the dark.  She has a unique ability to read me and knows when I’m trying to hide something from her.”

“Just a day or two, Doc, I’ll get on this as quickly as possible, I promise. Crap! Gotta go; the Chief is headed toward my office.”

 

Dudley had only walked a few steps when his phone rang again.  It was Ray Little Feather, calling as he had promised.  Doc, I’m sorry to bother you so late, but I’m at my sister’s and wanted to let you know what I learned from my nephew.”

“No problem, Ray.  I’m eager to hear what he had to say.  It seems like things are getting more complicated by the minute.”

“Well, I’ll be brief.  My nephew told me about this guy who is a regular at Sandia Casino and a consistent loser.  He said his name is Lindman or Lindberg, or something like that, and he keeps coming back and keeps losing.  So, the dealers have taken to calling him Lucky Lindy behind his back. The other afternoon, he was bragging that he had come into a bunch of money from his mother-in-law who just died and how he could cover his sizeable debts.  This is the same guy who mentioned La Vida Aureo.  That obviously rang a bell with me and I thought you should know.”

“Thanks, Ray.  I believe I heard that same name just a short while ago in a slightly different context.  If so, it could be very important.  Right now, I need some time to think about everything I’ve heard today from several people.”

“OK, Doc, I’ll let you go. If I hear any more, I’ll be sure to give you a call.  But, as your friend, I encourage you to relax a bit.  I wouldn’t want you to spend so much time thinking that it begins to affect your love life.”

 

Dudley hoped that Ray was just fishing to see if he would admit to anything.  With everything going on, the last thing Dudley needed right now was have to deal with his friends teasing about his so-called love life.  Nonetheless, Dudley wished he could share all of these recent revelations with Janetta; he knew she could help him sort out the individual pieces of this puzzle.  Instead, he decided it would be better to just be alone and quiet.

Case XII: Chapter 7: Trouble at The Lindermans

 

Roger LInderman was in a foul mood when he got home.  The long drive from Sandia Casino to his home in Cedar Crest had done little to soothe his frustration from another afternoon of losing at the blackjack table.

Camille Linderman had only been home a short while and was pacing the living room floor when Roger stormed in.  “OK, I went to that place today and signed a bunch of papers for my mother’s apartment.  They still don’t have the Death Certificate.  It would have been nice if you had been with me instead of wasting another afternoon at the Casino.  I assume your luck hasn’t improved.”

“I’ve just about had enough of your crap, Camille.  If it weren’t for me, you would still have to put up with your mother and I’d have to listen to your bitching every time you saw her.  And look at all the time I’ve wasted in that stupid Financial Planning class and waiting while you tried all of your useless witchcraft potions.”

“Don’t criticize my beliefs, Roger.  How many times have I proved to you I am capable of making potions to cure all sorts of things?  Wasn’t I able to cure that nasty rash you got last summer?”

“My guess is that your magic potion was mostly Calamine lotion that you bought at Walgreens.”

“Not true.  All the women in my coven have been working together to develop several really powerful potions and soon we’ll have a demonstration that will prove our powers once and for all.  The entire community will take notice and give us the respect we deserve.”

“Really, Camille?  Your so-called witches’ coven is just a bunch of old hippie women who think they’re some kind of mystical entities from previous lifetimes with super powers. You sit around talking about how you can use herbs and crystals and other stuff to control people, but it just a hen-fest.”

“You have to admit, Roger, some of the potions I put in my mother’s food and booze had an effect.  If you had just given me a little more time, I’m sure I would have come up with something that would have done the trick.”

“Look, Camille, your witchcraft crap didn’t work and we were running out of time.  The Pit Boss at the Casino threatened me again.  He was about to call some heavy weights to work me over unless I came up with the money I owed them.  I couldn’t wait around for you to try to figure things out.  My solution was much quicker and left no traces.”

“I could have done it, Roger.  You just don’t give me credit for my knowledge of natural systems.  I wanted to do this my way to get back at her for all the abuse she heaped on me over the years.  You never understood the pain I was in and how much it meant to me to watch her suffer over a long period of time and die slowly and painfully.”

“What ever!  I hope once you learn that the Coroner releases her body, you can make arrangements to her cremated immediately.   The sooner, the better.  Once that’s done, there are absolutely no traces and we’re in the clear.”

“I’m not an idiot, Roger.  I tried to take care of all that today, while you were probably getting even deeper in debt.  But, for some reason, those people can’t seem to get anything done.”

“That sucks, but you need to get some cash transferred into my checking account.  I assume you can at least do that?”

“I told you, Roger, I’m not an idiot.  Weeks ago, I went to visit her and took one of my potions and drugged her coffee. She was so out of it, I got her to sign over control of one of her accounts.  Things were going so well with my potions I had her write rather large check to me which I immediately cashed.”

What?  You got cash and didn’t tell me?”

“Relax, Roger.  I can get money for your account tomorrow so you can pay your debts.  I used that initial cash as an investment in the East Mountains Herbal Medicine Center.  The other women really appreciated it and my status in the group has grown.”

“You stupid bitch!  Your so-called Herbal Medicine Center is just a front for what you call the East Mountains White Witches Coven. You left me hanging so you could look more important to that crazy group of hags?”

Camille smiled. “Just so you know, Roger, I set things up so I am the only one who can get access to my mother’s other assets.  She was cooperative enough that afternoon to amend her will and I am the sole Executor of her estate. If you expect me to fund your losing ways at the Casino, you might want to start treating me differently.  And, I suggest you complete that Financial Planners’ Course.  I’m sure there are lots of naïve old people out there you can scam to support your habits.”

Roger slammed the door as he stormed out.