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.