Case XII: Chapter 8: Dudley Gathers More Information

 

After a sleepless night, Matthew Dudley tried unsuccessfully to resume his daily routine. He was sitting in the Main Dining Room staring at the front page of The Wall Street Journal and watching his cup of coffee grow cold.  He remained troubled by the information he’d heard the previous day, but was a bit unsure exactly how to proceed.  He knew Lt. Garcia now believed Mrs. Aldridge had been murdered and would pursue the investigation in earnest.  Dudley realized he only had a few days in which to do anything on his own.

He used the back of his daily ToDo list to write down what he knew.  Mrs. Aldridge had been poisoned and it appeared the poisoning agent was somehow in her cream sherry.  The results of the analysis that Lt. Garcia described and the information from Emilio indicated that someone had increased the alcohol content of the sherry by adding grain alcohol. It did not explain, however, how the wood alcohol got into the sherry.  It could have been an impurity in the grain alcohol or added separately.  It was possible, Dudley realized, that Mrs. Aldridge was spiking her own sherry and her poisoning was an accident due to the quality of the grain alcohol she may have purchased herself.

The other thing that bothered Dudley was the troubling information about Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law he had received from both Beth Ford and Ray Little Feather. But, as Ray had said, Linderman’s behavior, however disgusting, might not have anything to do with Mrs. Aldridge’s death and certainly wasn’t proof of anything.  According to Isabella, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter didn’t seem to care much for her mother, but that might be no more than a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Dudley decided his most effective course of action was to find out more about Mrs. Aldridge before he tried to learn more about her daughter and son-in-law.  He knew Señora Barela and Mrs. Branch both had relationships with Mrs. Aldridge, but feared talking to either of those women would not be very productive. A less biased and more credible source of information would be Elena, the young woman who saw Mrs. Aldridge in her apartment on a regular basis. If there were aspects of her behavior she kept secret, such as her drinking habits, Elena would undoubtedly be more likely to be aware of it than perhaps anyone else.

Fortunately, many of the general housekeeping staff were on their morning break in a small room off of the Main Dining Room and Dudley was able to catch Elena there.  “Elena, may I talk with you a few minute about Mrs. Aldridge?”

“Certainly, Señor Dudley.  Would it be OK if Señora Angostura and Señora Savino joined us?  I would be more comfortable.”

“No problem at all, Elena. That could be very helpful.”

Dudley and the three women sat around a small table and Dudley began by trying to put everyone at ease.  “We are all saddened by Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  I can only imagine, Elena, how difficult it was for you in particular, finding Mrs. Aldridge that way. I know you have many friends here and I’m sure they have all been very supportive.”

“That is very true, Señor Dudley.  Everyone has been so kind and offered to help me when I am having a bad day. We have become very close, like a family. Frida has been like a big sister and Señora Angostura like a mother these past few days.  I am grateful”

“Elena, I imagine you got to know Mrs. Aldridge very well during the time you were assigned to clean her apartment.  Can you tell me a bit about her, if you would?”

Señora Aldridge was a very quiet lady and did not speak very much to me while I was in her apartment.  It was always my feeling that she was a sad person.”

“Elena often mentioned Mrs. Aldridge’s sadness to me at the end of the day while we were all together”, added Frida.

“Do you have any idea why she was so sad?  Were there particular things or people that upset her?”

“A few weeks ago, her daughter was there when I came in to clean.  I believe they had been arguing, but stopped when I entered.  I thought it best to leave. When I came back later that morning, Mrs. Aldridge was sitting in her chair and appeared to be sleeping. I was very quiet and decided it would be better if I came back another day.  As I was leaving, she started talking, but I don’t think she was talking to me.  She was very loud and I really couldn’t make out any of her words.  She was shaking badly all over and it looked like she was try to stand up, but fell back into her chair and seemed to fall asleep again.  I left quietly and went to talk to Frida.”

“Did you ever notice this kind of behavior again, Elena?”

“Since that day, Mrs. Aldridge seems to be more irritable.  She never used to be cross with me or raise her voice.  One day, I tried to clean up cooking spices which were spilled on the kitchen counter.  Mrs. Aldridge scolded me and told me those weren’t herbs but natural medicine cures her daughter had prescribed for her tremors. She said her daughter runs a clinic and the label on the plastic bag said East Mountain Clinic.”

“That is very interesting, Elena.  I need to ask you about one more thing and it may be difficult for you.”

“I see a troubled look on you face, Señor Dudley, said Frida, but you must not hesitate to ask. Elena has mentioned this situation to me in the past.”

“Elena, I must ask if you ever noticed that Mrs. Aldridge had been drinking.”

“Oh, Señor Dudley, there were times when the smell of alcohol around Mrs. Aldridge was very, very strong.  I had an Uncle who drank heavily and I know that smell.  It upsets me very much.”

“I know Mrs. Aldridge often had a glass of sherry with Mrs. Branch.  Is that what you noticed?”

“Oh no.  This was a much stronger smell.  One time, when I came in to clean, Mrs. Aldridge was asleep on her couch and the alcohol smell was very strong.  There was an empty glass bottle on the floor next to the couch and I picked it up to throw away.  The waste basket is in pantry and I saw several more bottles on the shelf.  There were two fancy bottles of Cream Sherry and another glass container like the one I found on the floor.  It had a much lighter brown liquid in it.  And there was another bottle with a clear liquid in it.  It looked like the vodka my Uncle used to drink.”

“I know this is difficult, Elena, but did you see Mrs. Aldridge like this often?”

“Several times.  This time was very bad and I wanted to take all of the bottles from the pantry and throw them away so she could not get to them.  But, that would be wrong.  So, I told Frida about Mrs. Aldridge’s condition and what I had found.”

Frida spoke up. “We were all very troubled by this and were trying to figure out the best way to handle things.  Unfortunately, we were too late and Mrs. Aldridge died. I am not a Doctor or a Policeman, Señor Dudley, but I’m pretty sure Mrs. Aldridge’s drinking contributed to her death.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Frida.  It will be for the police to determine, but it doesn’t change the unfortunate fact that Mrs. Aldridge is dead.  Thank you both for your time and honesty.  I know this has been difficult.”

“I hope we have been of some help.  Now, we must return to our duties.”

 

After Frida and Elena left, Dudley sat quietly, trying to process all the two women had told him.  He didn’t notice Paloma until she put a fresh cup of coffee in front of him and sat down across the table from him.

“I’m sorry I didn’t notice you, Señora.  Thank you for the coffee.”

“You are most welcome, Señor Doc.  I noticed your coffee from earlier had not been touched.  Frida and Elena remain upset about Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  It took courage for them to tell you everything they had seen and share their feelings with you.  But, I sense there is more to Mrs. Aldridge’s death than you shared with them and you remain deeply troubled.”

“Once again, Señora, I am unable to hide anything from you.”

“Your face reveals much.”

“It is likely that Mrs. Aldridge’s death was not an accident and that she was poisoned.

Por dios.  That is terrible.  Who could have done such a thing?”

“That’s the problem. Her cream sherry contained poison and it is possible that Mrs. Aldridge may have unknowingly poisoned herself.”

“The only good news is I am certain now that neither Señora Barela nor your sister Deluviña poisoned Mrs. Aldridge with herbs or some such.  Nor did either of them put a curse on her, causing her to die.  Mrs. Branch will be disappointed. “

“Do you think there is anything about the herbs her daughter was supplying?”

“I don’t think so.  I want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

 

Despite his promise to Lt. Garcia, Dudley realized he had to disclose everything to Isabella Duncan.  Since it was becoming more apparent that Mrs. Aldridge’s death was not as straight-forward as initially thought, Isabella needed be aware of the entire situation, including Dudley’s suspicions.

“Isabella, I have been remiss in not keeping up appraised of new information related to Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  I apologize. I promised Lt. Garcia I would not say anything until he had an opportunity to pursue the new information, but it is important you be made aware of things. He has been swamped the past few days and hasn’t had the time to focus on this case.”

“My personal suspicion is that Mrs. Aldridge was a closet alcoholic and was secretly adding grain alcohol to her cream sherry.  When I was looking through her apartment, I discovered unopened bottles of cream sherry as well as a bottle of pure grain alcohol.  There were several bottles or decanters of a lighter-colored liquid which I suspect are cream sherry that had been diluted.”

“Let me add another piece to the puzzle for you, Doc.  I had a suspicion about Mrs. Aldridge’s drinking based on comments Frida Savino made to me on several occasions.  I presumed her drinking was a form of self-medication to address her loneliness and the trauma of her difficult youth.  Cream sherry was a way to drink socially and no one knew about the added alcohol.  I believe her daughter was also aware of it and was frequently the brunt of an outburst of anger when she visited.”
“That might explain why her visits were so infrequent and why she seemed so unmoved by her mother’s death.”

“You are probably right, Doc.  I was really encouraged when she started spending time with Señora Barela and Paloma’s sister. Both of those women had difficult youths and the three of them were able to talk openly in Spanish and it was becoming a form of group therapy.  I believe Mrs. Aldridge was making progress until the last visit from her daughter and son-in-law.  Something must have upset her terribly for her to go on a drinking binge that resulted in her death.”

“Based on tests at the Police labs, Garcia knows that Mrs. Aldridge had an extremely high blood alcohol level when she died and her cream sherry had an alcohol content far greater than it should have.  His lab subsequently identified the presence of wood alcohol in the sample of sherry. As you probably know, wood alcohol is a poison which could certainly contributed to Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  The issue, as I see it, comes back to the grain alcohol.  How did the wood alcohol get there?  If someone deliberately added it, we’re potentially looking at murder.  If it was present, then the supplier is liable.

I do not want to think that, but I am certain that Garcia will ask that same question.”

“This is obviously not good news, Doc.  I appreciate your playing detective, but we really need to let Lt. Garcia handle this.”

“I hate to ask this, Isabella, but is it possible that Mrs. Aldridge added the poison herself as a means to commit suicide?”

“I’m sure that’s a possibility, but I would consider it highly unlikely.  There are less painful options if a person wants to do that.”

“Sorry, Isabella, you are right. I am just upset that this unfortunate situation has taken a potentially ugly turn.”

“I agree, Doc, but our best course of action is to help Lt. Garcia?”

“If I can play detective a bit longer, I believe fingerprints would provide the most useful information.  There are undoubtedly fingerprints on the bottles in Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry which would identify anyone who handled the bottles.  Garcia will also want to talk to Frida and Elena and take their prints. Personally, based on things that I’ve heard, particularly about the son-in-law, I think it would be wise to include him as well as the daughter in Garcia’s investigation.”

“OK, Doc, it sounds like you haven’t told me the results of all your so-called detective work.  What’s this about Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law?’

“Oh, I’m sorry, Isabella.  All the individual pieces of this situation have been tumbling around in my head like a jig-saw puzzle.  Let me start at the beginning and tell you about what I learned from my friend Emilio Sandoval about sherry which is what started me questioning things.  Subsequently, Ray Little Feather and then Beth Ford told me a bit about Roger Linderman, Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law, which is why I would encourage Lt. Garcia to interview him.”

 

Over the next thirty minutes, Dudley shared everything he had learned that led him to his current perspective about Mrs. Aldridge’s death.

When he finished, Isabella smiled and said, “Well, Doc, as usual, you have been very busy.  It will be easy for Garcia to interview Frida and Elena and get their fingerprints.  But, you know as well as I, that neither of them would do anything to harm a Resident. I suppose, that leaves us with the daughter and son-in-law and I assume you’ve come to the same conclusion.”

“I’m afraid so, which leads me to intentional poisoning. You know I really don’t want to think that, but they both have opportunity and motive.  But, I want to be helpful while not interfering with police work.”

“Doc, you have already interfered.  The question now is how to help Garcia without having him get angry with you. I believe it would be better if I suggested talking to Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter based on my conversations with her.”

“That makes sense, Isabella.  I can ask Ray to get a casino chip that has Roger Linderman’s prints on it and get that to Garcia.  Do you have any suggestions about the daughter, Camille?”
“I have a partially used water bottle from when she was here signing papers related to the apartment and I’m sure has her prints are on it.”

Dudley and Isabella talked for a while longer, trying to determine the best way to provide Lt. Garcia with all the information Dudley had gathered without causing too much trouble.  They concluded the most critical piece of information was the bottles in Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry, including the bottle of grain alcohol and the bottles of altered cream sherry.  They needed to convince Lt. Garcia to analyze all of the bottles for alcohol content and, more importantly, for fingerprints.

 

Case XII: Chapter 9: Lt. Garcia On The Case

 

It was no surprise when Lt. Garcia called Isabella Duncan early the next morning and requested a meeting with her and Matthew Dudley.  “Isabella, our forensic labs have concluded additional tests on items from Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and I’d like to discuss these finding with you and Dudley.  If it’s convenient, I’m on my way to La Vida Aureo right now.”

“That would be fine, Lieutenant.  Doc stopped by a few minutes ago and said he thought you might call.  He was somewhat evasive, but I detected that you learned some things about Mrs. Aldridge’s death that indicate that it might not be an accident after all.”

“That’s correct, Isabella.  I talked with Doc a few days ago. I apologized for not getting back to both of you sooner, but it’s been a bit crazy here the past few days.”

“No need to apologize, Lieutenant.  The local TV stations have done their usual job of over-dramatizing the details of every crime in the City and I can see why you have been so busy.  I can only imagine how much pressure you’ve been under.”

 

It was only a few minutes later before Lt. Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo and he went straight to Isabella Duncan’s office.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, Ms. Duncan, but I would really like to get to the bottom of this situation.  I believe now that Mrs. Aldridge’s fatal fall was caused, at least in part, by poisoning.  I still have a great many questions, but want to go back to her apartment because I believe the answer may be there. I would also appreciate it if you could tell me who had access to her apartment.

“Certainly, Lieutenant.  Doc and I want to help you in any way we can.  We are also eager to understand what happened.  To the best of my knowledge, two women on our Staff, Frida Savino and Elena Vargas, were the only ones who would have been in Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  Oh, and Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter comes by on occasion to visit her mother.”

“Thank you, Isabella.  I appreciate your support and cooperation.  While I look around the apartment, could you please arrange for those two women to meet me here in your office?  I know I talked to them briefly when Mrs. Aldridge’s body was first discovered, but I need to talk them in greater detail.  I will want to take their fingerprints.  Please advise them of that.  We can discuss the daughter when I’m finished with your Staff members.”

Turning to Dudley, Garcia said, “Doc, would you walk with me to Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment?  I think I remember the way, but it would be potentially less threatening to some Residents if you were with me.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant.”

 

As they walked up the hallway toward Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, Garcia looked at Dudley.  “OK, Doc, I’m sure you’ve done some snooping on your own; what else can you tell me?”

“You know, Lieutenant, I don’t mean to interfere, but …”

“C’mon, Doc.  You have a much better sense of what goes on here and are familiar with most of the Residents.  I appreciate your insights.  Besides, I know you couldn’t just let the circumstances of this death go.”

“Well, there are two things. First, I imagine you’ve concluded there are some suspicious aspects to the sherry that Mrs. Aldridge was drinking.  Your lab said they found an unusually high alcohol content in her blood which should not be the case for cream sherry.  In her pantry, I discovered a bottle of grain alcohol which I believe she was adding to her sherry.  I can show you several decanters which illustrate this point. It is also possible that the wood alcohol your lab detected came from that grain alcohol.”

“So, you’re telling me that this sweet Old Lady was spiking her sherry.”

“Yes.  Your lab results pretty much prove this. And, Isabella told me she was aware that Mrs. Aldridge had a drinking problem, at least at some point in the recent past.”

“Well, that at least helps to explain the unusually high alcohol content we found.  But, tell me Doc, how did the poison get in the grain alcohol she was using?”

“It could have been in the grain alcohol when she bought it.”

“Or, someone could have put it there to poison her.”

“Now, you’re talking like a Policeman.”

“It’s my job, Doc.  You said there were two things.  What’s the second?”

“Well, there’s another theory to explain poisoning.   Mrs. Branch, you remember her, believes there is a bruja here at La Vida Aureo and that so-called witch put a curse on Mrs. Aldridge and poisoned her with special herbs.”

“Oh, great!  If it’s OK with you, Doc, we’ll ignore your resident Agatha Christie for the time being and focus on the wood alcohol and try to figure out how it got in Mrs. Aldridge’s cream sherry.”

 

Once they were in the apartment, it only took a short time for Dudley to show Lt. Garcia the pantry and the assortment of bottles and decanters. He explained what he had learned about the color of sherry which was an indication of dilution with grain alcohol.  As expected, Garcia placed each bottle in a secure evidence bag.

“I believe these bottles will tell us everything we need to know.  If we find only Mrs. Aldridge’s prints, then it is safe to assume that no one else was involved.  Other prints will tell us that the bottles were tampered with and point to someone.”

 

One the way back to Isabella’s office, Garcia felt he needed to ask Dudley how he learned so much about cream sherry and why the color provided the insight to the actual situation.  “I assume you are still hanging out with Ray Little Feather and that bunch of curmudgeon friends of yours.  Did one of them tell you all about sherry and the colors and such?”

“I have to confess, Lieutenant.  My friend Emilio Sandoval provided much of the background and told me what to look for.  I didn’t hide anything from you or interfere in any way.  I felt it was my responsibility to take you to the pantry.  I knew you would quickly see the same things I noticed.”

“It’s OK, Doc.  I appreciate your help as long as you don’t interfere.  While we’re on the subject, did any of your buddies provide any other insights that I need to know about?”

“There is one other thing.  It pertains to Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law.  Two different people I trust mentioned his name in the context of his being in considerable debt and realizing that his mother-in-law’s estate could be a way out.”

 

When he returned to Isabella’s office, Garcia found Frida Savino and Elena Vargas sitting in the adjacent small conference room. Garcia’s questioning was polite, but thorough.  It did not take long for him to conclude that neither of these women would have deliberately harmed Mrs. Aldridge.  But, to be complete, he had arranged for a forensic technician to be present to take their fingerprints.  Garcia thanked both women and returned to Isabella’s office.

“I appreciate your arranging those interviews, Isabella, but I doubt either of them had anything to do with Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  What can you tell me about her daughter?”

“Not too much, Lieutenant, except I believe they had a difficult relationship.  When she came here to handle her mother’s affairs, she did not show any remorse or sadness. Perhaps she was in shock, but that’s not how she behaved.  She was more than anxious to get her mother’s body released from the Coroner and cremated as quickly as possible.  She refused to have any kind of memorial service, despite my requesting a simple service that some of the Residents could attend.”

“What about her husband, the son-in-law?”

“I don’t know anything about him.  Sorry.”

“Well, it seems to me the daughter and son-in-law are two people I should talk to.  I suppose I could ask them to come to the Station, but there is really no reason for that type of request.”

Isabella looked at Dudley and smiled.  “Well, Lieutenant, we may be able to help.”  Isabella reached into her desk and took out a plastic bag containing a partially-full bottle of mineral water and handed it to Lt. Garcia. “I believe you’ll find a complete set of fingerprints from Camille Linderman on this bottle.”

Isabella then took a second smaller plastic from her desk and handed it to Garcia.  “A mutual friend obtained this chip at Sandia Casino and it should allow you to get a set of Roger Linderman’s prints.”

“I suppose I should not ask any more questions, but get these gifts back to the lab for analysis as quickly as possible.  At the very least, it will give me a reason to ask Mr. and Mrs. Linderman to come to my office, just to talk, you understand.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant,” smiled Isabella Duncan.  “We understand completely.  We’re just trying to be good citizens.”

 

Garcia asked Dudley to walk him to the Visitors’ Parking Lot.  As they neared Garcia’s Police Cruiser, he turned to Dudley. “You know I probably won’t be able to use anything I take from either of these gifts Isabella gave me as real evidence; there isn’t any documentation, much less a valid chain-of-custody for either piece. Even an Albuquerque Public Defender would have these thrown out in a minute.”

“Isabella and I both realize that, Frank. At the very least it could encourage you to handle things according to proper Police procedure and formally request fingerprints from certain individuals. It seems to me that you’re looking for a set of prints that match what you will find on the bottles you took from Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry.”

“You’re correct, Doc.  I suppose you’ll next tell me I might be able to get those prints while those same individuals were at the Station, but you’re not telling me how to do my job are you?”

“That would be convenient, Lieutenant and I wouldn’t think of it!”

“OK, Doc, I’ll put a rush on the lab boys as soon as I get back to the Station.  Oh, and say “Hi!” to Ray when you see him at you Curmudgeon’s Club get-together.  A Casino chip, really, Doc?

Case XII: Chapter 10: Good Police Work

 

The next morning, Lt. Frank Garcia returned to his office in search of some well-needed peace and quiet after the lengthy Morning Briefing with the Chief.  Things had been relatively quiet for the past few days in Albuquerque, at least in terms of the kind of major crime cases that involved Garcia.  Nonetheless, the Chief wanted to initiate a series of new programs aimed at crime prevention and the typically short briefing meeting seemed to drag on.

Just as Garcia was about the take the first sip of his fresh cup of coffee, his phone rang.  An obviously irate woman on the line identified herself as Camille Linderman and immediately lit into Garcia.  “Who do I need to talk to about getting some answers?  I’ve been given the run-around for the past thirty minutes.  I don’t buy the excuse that “everyone’s in a meeting”.  I demand my Mother’s body be released immediately.  I keep getting bounced around between the Police and the Coroner.  Finally, somebody told me you were the person holding things up.  I demand action.”

Garcia had been assured the results from the fingerprint lab would be on his desk today and he hoped they were buried someplace on his desk.  As he desperately shuffled papers on his desk, he tried to calm Mrs. Linderman down while stalling for time.  Just as he heard her take another deep breath in preparation for another verbal onslaught, Tom Bowers walked in waving a piece of paper and mouthed the words, “I think this is what you’re looking for, Frank.”

“Mrs. Linderman, I apologize for any inconvenience.  I know it is of little consolation to you, but I really have been in a meeting with the Chief since I got here this morning.  I understand you are calling about your Mother.  Please accept my sincere condolences. And, I apologize for how long this process has taken; sometimes the communication between Departments gets really screwed up.”

“That’s of little concern to me.  I just want to know when her body will be released.”

“I’ll make the necessary calls as soon as we’re finished and make sure her body gets released by the end of today.  I presume you’ve provided instructions to the Coroner’s office.”

“Yes, I thought I took care of that some time ago.  I signed some papers at the Retirement Home I understood took care of everything.”

“Mrs. Linderman, you’re not going to like this, but those papers pertained only to your Mother’s living arrangements.  Let me do this.  I’ll personally get all the necessary forms and have them here in my office in a few hours.  If you could stop by early this afternoon, I am confident we can finalize everything at that time.  Because you’ve been so inconvenienced, I will authorize the release of your Mother’s body immediately if I can have your word that you’ll come by to sign these final forms today.”

Camille Linderman had calmed down a slight bit.  “I think I can make arrangements to come to your office right after lunch.  I seldom get to Albuquerque, but happen to be meeting my husband for lunch today.”

“Whatever is most convenient for you, Mrs. Linderman.  And, again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Oh, Mrs. Linderman, why don’t you bring your husband along?  I’m not completely familiar with all the Coroner’s forms and there might be one that requires his signature.”

“That could be a problem; he’s a very important person at Wells Fargo. But, neither of us wants this to be delayed any longer.  I’ll make sure he comes with me.”

After Garcia hung up the phone and massaged his ear, he studied all of the lab reports in detail.  Neither Isabella nor Dudley had been very subtle about their suspicions and the role the Lindermans had played in Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  The fingerprint analysis confirmed the worst.  The bottle of grain alcohol found in Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry contained her prints, confirming she had most likely used it to spike her cream sherry.  It was the same bottle that was contaminated with poisonous wood alcohol. The grain alcohol bottle also had prints matching those appearing on the Casino chip, presumably belonging to Roger Linderman.  Garcia realized that all of this analytical information was interesting, but not conclusive; it was circumstantial at best.  He would need proof that one or both of the Lindermans had deliberately poisoned Mrs. Aldridge and that proof would have to come from the Lindermans directly.  Hopefully, their upcoming visit would provide Garcia that opportunity.

 

Matthew Dudley resumed his daily routine and attended to the numerous maintenance requests that had been ignored while he played House Detective.  After over a week with no communication from Lt. Garcia, Dudley could no longer stand the suspense and stopped Isabella Duncan in the hallway near her office.  “Have you heard anything; from Garcia, Camille Linderman, anyone?  I’m eager to know what happened and I assume you are also.”

“As it turns out, Doc, I got a somewhat cryptic text message from Garcia just a few minutes ago.  He said he would be stopping by this afternoon to visit with Paloma and wondered if you and I would have a few minutes.”

“Did he say anything about his investigation?”

“No; his text was brief and I believe he was being deliberately evasive. I suspect it is his way of reminding us that he’s the one in charge!”

“OK; I guess we do deserve a bit of reprimanding for interfering, but we were only trying to help.  I’ll be around all afternoon; please just call me the minute he arrives.”

 

Dudley was on the third floor when he noticed Garcia drive into the Visitors’ parking lot and walk casually into the main building.  He rushed to the center stairwell only to watch Garcia head straight to the kitchen.  It was almost twenty minutes later when Dudley’s phone buzzed with a brief text from Isabella, “He’s here”.

For the first ten minutes when they were all together in Isabella’s office, Garcia talked about the weather and his visit with Paloma and other nonessential topics. Finally, he decided he had tormented them long enough and a big grin broke out across his face.  “I wonder if you would like to know how my investigation into Mrs. Aldridge’s death is going.”

“C’mon, Frank, you’ve toyed with us long enough. Please tell us what is happening.”

“OK, Doc.  I guess it I can share a bit of confidential police information with the two of you.  First of all, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your help in determining the actual cause of Mrs. Aldridge’s death. As you both suspected, her death was not an accident as it first appeared; she was definitely poisoned.  We will probably never know the exact details, but I think it is reasonable to assume the poison in her sherry was at least partly responsible for her fall which was ultimately the cause of death.  And, you were also correct to believe that her daughter and son-in-law played an active role in her poisoning.  When I was here last, you presented me with those surprising little gifts which just happened to contain their fingerprints.  I assume you realized I could not use those as conclusive evidence for several reasons, but it did point me in a direction to follow.  Almost coincidentally, Mrs. Linderman called and demanded some action. So, I took that opportunity to invite both of them to come in and talk.  Sergeant Bernadette Armijo and I were able to conduct interviews that same afternoon.”

“I assume you did the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine with them to get the truth.”

“No, Doc, that wasn’t really necessary.  As Mr. and Mrs. Linderman entered Police Headquarters, Sgt. Armijo diverted Roger Linderman into a separate interview room while I guided Camille Linderman into another.  Bernie began her discussion with Roger by expressing her concern for his wife and all the stress she must be experiencing related to her mother’s untimely death. That was basically all it took. Roger Linderman went on a tirade about what he referred to as his wife’s stupid witchcraft practice and her obsession with roots and herbs and their supposed powers. He laughed when he described how she had unsuccessfully used various potions to control her mother and then tried to poison her out of total frustration.”

“So, you think it was Camille Linderman who poisoned her own mother?”

“Probably not, despite trying, repeatedly.  We’re convinced it was the wood alcohol that was the actual poisoning agent.  And, that takes me to my interview with Camille. When I tried to express my sympathy about her mother’s death, she went off on her husband.  She claimed her potions were having the desired effect, but that Roger would not give her sufficient time.  She complained that he never respected her knowledge and expertise.  She said that he became increasingly impatient because of mounting gambling debts and decided to act on his own to poison Mrs. Aldridge by altering her sherry. It didn’t take much encouragement to get signed statements from both Lindermans and they have been formally charged in the death of Mrs. Aldridge.”

 

Matthew Dudley remained in Isabella Duncan’s office for a while after Lt. Frank Garcia left.  “Although it upsets me a great deal to reflect on Mrs. Aldridge’s death, I am glad we were able to help Lt. Garcia get to the bottom of things.”

“So, Mrs. Branch wasn’t too far off the mark.  There was witchcraft involved.  It just wasn’t Señora Angostura’s sister. I’m pleased to know there aren’t any brujas living or visiting here,” said Isabella.

 

I realize that it has been quite a while since I’ve posted any stories about the goings-on at La Vida Aureo.  I apologize.

That is not to say, however, that there have NOT been any instances of nefarious activity during my absence.  Quite the contrary.

In the next day or two, I will begin posting Chapters from the latest Case, entitled Witches’ Brew., with all Chapters to be posted during June.  As usual, there will be references to New Mexico history and culture as an integral part of the story.  I have several additional stories in various stages of development to be completed and posted in the coming months.  I have also created a Volume 1, containing the first four Cases, and it is available in Kindle form on Amazon.  I hope to have Volume 2, with Cases V through VIII available sometime in June.

Thank you for your interest and I hope you will continue to follow Matthew Dudley and all the Residents at La Vida Aureo and their various escapades.

As always, I welcome any comments. suggestions, story ideas, etc.

Regards,

Gene Davis.

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.”