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Chapter 8: Always Something New in Nob Hill

Dudley and Janetta drove to the Nob Hill area where she was able to find a parking spot on a side street. They had agreed to just walk around for a while.  Dudley was always fascinated by the variety of shops located along Central Avenue; there seemed to be something for any possible interest or desire.  Only a few of them were of personal interest to Dudley, but the uniqueness of Nob Hill was helpful to his state of mind.

They had walked along hand in hand for almost an hour without speaking. As they approached the western edge of the Nob Hill area, they crossed Girard Boulevard and were nearing the University of New Mexico campus and Johnson Field.  The Field was a popular place for games and various physical activities, but was relatively quiet this evening.

Dudley noticed a person wandering across the field with no apparent direction. This person appeared to be a woman who was drunk or otherwise under the influence because of the erratic behavior.  The woman turned and began walking toward the sidewalk where Dudley and Janetta stood.

Janetta grabbed Dudley’s are.  “Matthew, Oh my God.  That looks like Esme Orley!  We should do something”

As they approached the woman, she collapsed onto the ground, mumbling, “He’s here.  I know it.  I have to find him.  I know this is the place.”

Janetta knelt down and put her arms around the woman. “It’s OK, Esme. You’re safe.  Let me help you.”

There was no response from the woman.  She started rocking back and forth and continued to mumble, but so incoherently Janetta couldn’t understand.

“Matthew, please get my car.  We can take Esme to my place. She’ll be safe there until we can figure out what’s going on.”

“I can do that, but should we call an ambulance or the police?”

“I believe the best thing we can do for right now is get her off the street.”

“I agree.  I’ll be back as quickly as possible.”

 

Dudley and Janetta got Esme Orley safely to Janetta’s condo and put her on the couch and covered her with a large comforter blanket.  Janetta made some herbal tea and was able to get Esme to drink a bit of it.

“She seems to have calmed down a bit.  Let’s get her into my guest bedroom and see if she can sleep.”

Dudley sat in the large easy chair in the living room and Janetta took the small chair in the guest bedroom. Esme slept fitfully and woke several times during the night, calling out.

Dudley had dozed off and was startled when his phone began buzzing.  He looked at the time and it was 9 o’clock in the morning.  It was a text message from Isabella Duncan, “Where are you? Are you OK?  Please call me ASAP.”

Dudley got out of the chair and walked to the bedroom. Janetta was barely awake, but it appeared that Esme was sleeping soundly.

“What is it, Matthew?  I thought I heard some buzzing.  Was that your phone?”

“Yes.  Isabella is looking for me. I’m going to step outside and call her. Are you sure you’ll be OK?”

Dudley stepped outside to call Isabella, but his phone buzzed again before he could place the call.  Hannah Halverstrom was calling. “Doc, I know it’s early but I have some important news.  A friend of mine told me Dr. Ruehle and George Heck took Esme Orley to Albuquerque yesterday and were keeping her in a hotel downtown. They’ve scheduled another press conference for later this morning.  I don’t know what they’re planning, but I thought you should be aware of their plans.”

“Thank for the call, Hannah.  I don’t know if I should tell you this, but I believe Esme somehow managed to escape and was wandering the near the University last evening. I was walking near there and saw her.  Right now, Esme is with a friend of mine, safe and sound.  I’m not sure exactly what to do next.  I was about to call Isabella when you called.”

“That’s good news, Doc.  I’ve learned a lot more about Dr. Ruehle’s so-called therapies and it seems as though she relies very heavily on a variety of mind-altering drugs.  I suspect they had Esme pretty well out-of-it to be able to transport her to Albuquerque.  I can’t imagine what role she could play in a press conference except to just sit there. Well, whatever you do, keep her away from those crazy people.”

“Right!  Gotta go; it’s Isabella again.”

“Isabella.  I know you’re looking for me.  Let me explain.  I was walking near the University last evening and discovered Esme Orley wandering in Johnson Field.  I suspect she had been drugged because she was really out of it.  Anyway, we took her to Janetta Johari’s place to get her off the street before anyone came looking for her. Right now, she’s just resting and we’re trying to allow her to recover from whatever she’s been given.  Our major concern is that she remain safe.”

“Well, you can imagine that Paloma and I were worried when you weren’t in the Dining Room this morning.  Paloma thought you might have stayed at Janetta’s, but I guess I didn’t realize your relationship had gone that far.   But, that’s a discussion for later.  What about Esme?”

“She’s OK, but I don’t know the extent of any drugs she’s been given.  Hannah just called to say that drugs were a routine part of Dr. Ruehle’s program.  Anyway, she also told me that Heck and Ruehle brought Esme to Albuquerque to hold another press conference.  So, given that, they may alert the police to start looking for her.”

“How do you suggest we proceed from here?  We’re on slippery grounds, you realize.”

Dudley thought a minute.   “My main concern is for Esme’s health and safety.  Would you please ask Mary Watson, La Vida Aureo’s Staff Nurse to come to Janetta’s?  I’d feel better if I knew that Esme was OK and recovering adequately and Mary could at least give us some assurance.  I don’t know what Heck might try in order to locate Esme.  I doubt he has a positive relationship with the Police, but I don’t know and I’m hesitant to get them involved at this point.  Would you also talk to Señora Santiago as soon as possible and bring her up to speed?”

“OK. I call Mary as soon as we hang up.  Should I ask Ms. Santiago to do anything?  She met with Mr. Orley the other day and I haven’t talked to ether of them since. What does this have to do with Esme?”

“I’ve been rolling all of these pieces around in my head and I have a strong suspicion that somehow Esme’s memories have been manipulated so she believes her father abused her.  It is probable that Esme was, in fact, abused, but NOT by her father. It is more likely it was some boy back in high school, but I don’t have any way to prove this.  If my suspicions are correct, then Heck and Ruehle are working together in some sort of fraud and extortion scam. Ms. Santiago needs to tell us how to expose this so that case against poor Don Orley gets thrown out.”

“OK, Doc, but we need to proceed carefully.”

 

Dudley went back inside.  Janetta had come to the kitchen and was making a fresh pot of coffee.  “Are you, OK, Janetta?  I know this has been a terrible shock and I doubt you got much sleep last night.  How are you holding up?”

“I’m a bit tired, Matthew, but doing OK, considering.  Esme is asleep and seems to be resting more peacefully than last night.   She really appeared out of it when we found her and I have no idea what she’s been through.  I suspect it will take several days for her to regain any sense of normalcy.   How are you doing?  I guess my easy chair is not nearly as comfortable as your own bed.”

Dudley blushed.  “I’m not doing too bad, considering.  That was Isabella on the phone wanting to know where I was.  I told her I was with you and that we rescued Esme Orley last night.   Fortunately, I think she was so interested in Esme she didn’t ask about my being in your place.  I’m sure that will come later.  More importantly, Mary Watson, the La Vida Aureo Staff Nurse will be by later to check Esme out, at least her vital signs.  Our first priority is her health.  I also got a call from Hannah Halverstrom.  She’s a friend who checked out the background on Dr. Ruehle, Esme’s so-called therapist. She said that Ruehle and George Heck brought Esme to Albuquerque and were planning another press conference. I don’t know how, but I assume somehow Esme managed to escape from them. I believe the safest thing to do would be to keep her here, at least until we have more information.”

“I agree and that won’t be a problem.  I’ll text my boss and let him know I won’t be in today.  We can go on a day-to-day basis for a while.”

“That would be great.  I hope it’s not too much of an imposition.”

“C’mon, Matthew, I’ve been trying to get you to spend the night here for some time!”

“Uh, OK, Um, Is the coffee ready?”

“Sure.  Do you have any idea why Esme found her way to Johnson Field?  It sounded like she was looking for something or someone, but, she was pretty incoherent and maybe that’s not what I heard.”

“No idea.  Hopefully, she’ll recover and can tell us a bit more.”

 

Mary Watson arrived while Dudley was finishing his second cup of coffee.  She quietly followed Janetta into the guest bedroom where Esme was stirring.

“Esme.  It’s Janetta. Janetta Johari.  You are safe.  You’re at my place and have had a pretty rough night.  This is my friend Mary.  She’s a nurse and she’s going to check you out a bit.  Is that OK?”

Esme drew back against the headboard, her eyes open wide.  “Janetta?  JJ? From high school? How did I get here?”

“Don’t worry, Esme.  The important thing is that you’re safe.  No one knows you’re here.  Just relax and let Mary have a look at you, please.”

Esme drew back further.  “No pills! No needles!  Stay away from me!”

Mary Wilson had considerable experience dealing with the older Residents at La Vida Aureo, some of whom could be quite cantankerous and difficult to work with.  She approached the bed quietly. “I just want to take your pulse and temperature.  Would it be OK if I held your arm and touched your wrist?”

Esme replied warily. “OK, but no funny stuff.  I’ll scream.”

Mary gently took Esme’s arm and felt for her pulse.  She then placed a thermometer in Esme’s mouth to take her body temperature.  All of that went without incident.  “May I put this wrap around your arm so I can take your blood pressure?”

Esme hesitated but finally consented.

“You will feel a squeeze as I pump up the arm band.  Nothing to worry about.  Then, I’ll decrease the pressure.  I’ll be here with you the whole time.  OK, here we go.”

Things were going smoothly and Esme seemed to be comfortable with Mary. Mary asked if she could listen to Esme’s heart and her breathing with the stethoscope.

“Thank you, Esme.  I appreciate your letting me check your vital signs.  I can tell you that you’re OK, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to get some more fluids and more rest.”

Mary turned to Janetta who was sitting quietly in the corner.  “I’m glad you called, Janetta.  You heard me tell Esme that she could use more fluids and rest. Can we look in your pantry and see what’s available?   I may be able to make some suggestions to help get her strength back.”

Janetta and Mary left the bedroom. Esme slid back under the covers and began breathing evenly.

In the kitchen, Mary turned to Janetta. “I don’t know all she’s been through, but I suspect it has been an ordeal.  I can understand her reaction to needles; her arms show she’s had multiple injections.  She’s weak, but I don’t see any permanent damage, at least no physical damage.  My recommendation is to keep her quiet and continue to reinforce the fact that she is safe. It would be best she see only you and Mr. Dudley for a while.  Let her rest and try to get as much food in her as possible.  If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you so much, Mary.  I agree she’s probably been through quite a bit.  Hopefully, with some rest, she’ll feel like talking with me.”

After Mary left, Janetta looked in on Esme.  Esme had worked her way deeper into the covers and was sleeping soundly.  Janetta closed the bedroom door but left it slightly ajar in case Esme started stirring.  Janetta made herself a cup of tea and sat in the living room. Her phone buzzed and she was pleased to see that it Dudley calling.

“Matthew, how are you?  I hope Isabella wasn’t too upset with you for staying out all night.  I’m teasing. What did you learn? “

“Oh, she wasn’t upset at all, but she couldn’t resist making suggestive remarks about how I had spent last night.  Anyway, there are several things I want to tell you.  Isabela and I met with Señora Santiago and I feel much better about Don Orley’s prospects. Ms. Santiago had one of the investigators in her firm do some serious digging into Dr. Ruehle’s background and counseling activities. And, there’s already plenty of dirt surrounding George Heck.  It will still come down to a situation of “He said, she said” concerning the claims made against Orley. I suggested she get hold of Hannah Halverstrom for her contacts in the Santa Fe community. It is becoming more obvious this entire situation is about extortion.  The fact that Heck has held press conferences complicates things a bit which will have to be dealt with at some point.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  I told her I found Esme Orley near the University and that she was safe somewhere locally. Ms. Santiago saw that as really good news. If it turns out that Esme deliberately escaped, it is a further indication she was being held captive.  We haven’t told Don Orley we have Esme.  Another piece of good news is that his other daughter, Melanie, is driving to Albuquerque from Arizona and she can be a character witness for Don if things ever go that far.  In the meantime, it is comforting to him for her to be here.  I think that’s about everything from here.  How are you? How is Esme?”

“Everything here is fine.  Thank you for sending Mary Watson. She checked Esme over and she’s in pretty good condition, despite whatever she’s been through.  When will I see you?”

“I have one or two small projects to do here and then I’ll walk over.  I can watch things and you can get some well-deserved rest.  I should be there in about an hour.”

“Don’t forget your toothbrush, Matthew!”

 

 

Chapter 10: All’s Well …

The next several days were a flurry of activity.  Dudley knew Mercedes Santiago from her reputation handling La Vida Aureo’s affairs, but had never had any direct dealing with her.  Isabella had arranged for the three of them to meet in her personal conference room. After only a few minutes into their first meeting, he understood why Isabella had recommended her to handle Orley’s situation.

“Mr. Dudley, I’m not going to ask you the current whereabouts of Ms. Orley.  I trust she is in good hands and safe.  I also won’t bore with the legal details of my recent meeting with Assistant District Attorney Susan Otero.  Suffice it to say that she has convinced Mr. Heck to withdraw his suit against Mr. Orley.  Esme Orley will not have to appear or provide a formal statement.  As it turns out, she never personally claimed anything.  Heck’s ill-advised strategy was simply to present her as the victim and rely on Dr. Ruehle’s testimony to prove the alleged abuse had actually occurred.  I believe Heck never intended to go to trial; he assumed Mr. Orley would settle rather than be subjected to public scrutiny and embarrassment. There will be some additional paperwork to complete, but I suspect everything will be completed by week’s end. There is nothing further required of you.”

“That is very good news, Ms. Santiago.  What about Dr. Ruehle?  Will she face any charges?”

“Ah, yes; most certainly.  ADA Otero is preparing fraud and extortion charges related to her so-called counseling activities.  Because of the amount of money involved, there may also be racketeering charges.  I want to thank you for facilitating the contact with Ms. Halverstrom in Santa Fe.  Through her many connections, several other persons have come forward to provide additional information regarding Dr. Ruehle’s methods.  I don’t know if any of the money she extorted over the years can be recovered, but it certainly affects the severity of the charges.”

“What about Heck?”

“He will be named a co-defendant in the extortion cases.  It appears that he and Dr. Ruehle had been working together for some time. It is unclear at this time exactly which one of them came up with the overall scheme. That’s not really my concern; things are in ADA Otero’s very capable hands. My last involvement was to file a petition requiring Heck to remove all of his advertising billboards from around town.  At the very least, we should be rid of that eye sore!”

 

A few days later, Matthew Dudley was sitting in the Dining Room reading The Wall Street Journal when Don Orley walked in.  “Mr. Dudley, I wonder if I could ask a favor?”

“Certainly, Don.”

“Do you think Mrs. Duncan would mind if I used the Library for a while one afternoon later this week?”

“I’m sure she would approve.  Why don’t you just ask her?  I think she’s in her office.”

“Well, I’d like to have a little get-together and I’d like you and Mrs. Duncan to attend.  My daughters and I would like to thank everyone for all they’ve done.  Melanie, Esme and I had our own private family reunion a few days ago and we want to acknowledge all of you.  Esme has insisted that Ms. Johari attend and I would appreciate it if Mrs. Duncan could invite Ms. Santiago as well.”

“That is a very nice gesture, Don, but I’m sure we all know how much your family appreciates the support.”

“I understand, but we would really like to say Thank You in public.”

“I’ll talk to Isabella.  If I could make a suggestion, I think it would be better to use Isabella’s small Conference Room rather than the Library. It’s is a more private setting and away from the other Residents.”

“Whatever you suggest.  Thanks for helping me set this up.”

 

About a week later, Dudley saw Orley in the Main Lobby.  “Don, you look particularly happy this morning. I hope you have more good news to tell me.”

“Doc, things are working out even better than I could have ever expected.  Mrs. Duncan arranged for Esme to work with a very reputable counselor locally and she will be moving to half-way home nearby so we can visit often.  Her spirits are good and she has been making plans for the next stage of her life. She approached the local United Way and is exploring several volunteer opportunities.  It seems as though there are several local non-profit organizations offering a variety of services to support women. Esme has also been talking to Miss Valencia to help her decide which situation would be best for her. Esme’s goal is to gain a full-time position.”

“That is really good news, Don.  Arnetta Valencia has considerable experience and can be a big help to Esme.”

“I’ve offered to make a significant donation to provide financial support to the Agency Esme joins.  It seemed like the very least I could do.  I’m just so happy Esme has finally developed some positive direction in her life.  She has been through some really rough times; I never realized all she’d been through.”

“Good for you, Don.  If there is ever anything I can do, just let me know.”

“Well, now that the worst is behind me, Larry and I plan to get back to looking for lost gold mines!  I’m sure one of us will be calling on you soon.”

 

Dudley headed toward the main staircase when Isabella motioned to him.  “OK Doc, your vacation is over.  You need to get back to being our resident Handyman.”

“Ouch!

Then, in an attempt to prevent any further teasing from Isabella, Dudley tried to change the subject.  “I guess I lost track of things, but I forgot to ask you about your meeting with La Doña Jaramillo.  I can only assume she was quite upset that La Vida Aureo would be dragged through the dirt by George Heck.”

“Let’s just say that I’ve had more pleasant meetings with her. She was primarily concerned about the reputation of La Vida Aureo which she has spent much of her life developing.  I learned one other thing about this remarkable woman, but only after I received the sternest lecture of my professional career.”

“I assume you still have your job, so she must have forgiven you!”

“Very funny, Doc.  I learned to never underestimate her influence in this town.  A few well-placed phone calls essentially prevented any unfavorable information making the TV or newspapers.  The fact that Heck and Ruehle held their initial press conference in Santa Fe also helped.  Many people in Albuquerque are skeptical of almost anything that originates in The City Different!  And, George Heck’s sleazy reputation didn’t help the credibility of the entire situation.”

“Well, the fact that Esme had been carefully hidden made it much less likely for Heck and Ruehle to hold a press conference.  I mean, without their Star Witness, they really didn’t have much reason to go public.”

“True, but you don’t actually think I was going to mention that to La Doña, do you? Besides, when I first spoke to her, we didn’t know where Esme was. We had to assume Heck would produce her at the Albuquerque press conference.”

“Anyway, Isabella, I’m glad you are still in Señora Jaramillo’s good graces.  It would be quite different without you around here.”

“Right.  Now wipe that smirk off your face and tell me how things are with Mr. Orley.  I noticed him as he was leaving and he looked very relaxed and happy. Everything continues to look bright for him and his family?”

“Yes.  Don is grateful for your recommending a reputable counselor for Esme.  She seems to be gaining control of her life and is enthusiastic about her future.  All’s well that ends well, then?”

“I believe so. As always, thank for your help, Doc.  Just one thing.  The next time you decide to stay out all night, please let me know.  Leave a sock on your door knob, or something!”

 

Once Dudley was certain he had completed all the items on his ToDo List, he headed to the kitchen where he found Paloma Angostura preparing the evening meal.

“Good evening, Señor Doc. I can only assume the smile on your face tells me you have other plans for dinner this evening.”

“Your powers of observation continue to amaze me, Señora. Yes, I plan to have a quiet dinner with Miss Johari this evening.  It has been a very stressful time for both of us and it will be a pleasant change to just sit quietly and enjoy each other’s company.”

“Bueno!  I have the greatest respect for you and Miss Johari and your kindness has been the reason everything turned out well for the Orley family.  Have a most peaceful evening.  I will take care of Isabella when she comes looking for you. And finally, I do not expect to see you here for breakfast!”   Then, Paloma embraced Dudley.  “Dios te bendiga, Señor Doc, God Bless You!”

 

It was only a short walk to Janetta’s condo and Dudley was unable to sort through the many thoughts in his head.  He cared deeply for Janetta and they certainly had grown closer as they supported Esme Orley.  From their first meeting at the Community Assist Team, he had the utmost respect for her and he admired everything about her.  But, Dudley could not shake the notion that he was simply a “Place Holder” in her life.  Surely this remarkable woman would be happier with a younger man to be her partner for many years to come.

He had not resolved these conflicting thoughts when Janetta opened the door to greet him.  “Matthew, I am so glad to see you!”

Before he could respond, she had embraced him and held him tightly to her.  “Matthew, I missed you so much. I cannot tell you how comforting it is to have you so close to me.”

They held each other tightly for several minutes before Janetta said, “We better go inside before the neighbors start to gossip!”

Janetta had made some light snacks and they sat together and sipped wine but barely touched the food.  There was really no need to discuss Esme Orley and the emotional events of the recent past.  In fact, nothing much needed to be spoken aloud.  There was a deep and mutual understanding of what had happened and they both realized how the intensity of the situation had brought them closer together.  They sat together for several hours and made mostly small talk.  Finally, Janetta smiled and said, “Matthew, you’ve had a second glass of wine and I’m concerned about your walking home in the dark.  I believe your toothbrush is still in the bathroom!”

 

The next morning, as Dudley walked back to La Vida Aureo, he felt a deep sense of warmth and emotional well-being surrounding him and he was certain it was not from the New Mexico morning sun.

 

 

 

Case V: Salvation & Sabotage

 Chapter 1: Dueling Divas

Isabella Duncan met regularly with La Doña Jaramillo, at least once a quarter, typically for a modest lunch at one of several family-owned restaurants near Old Town. Each of these establishments was also a beneficiary of Señora Jaramillo’s community support. Señora Jaramillo never interfered with the day-to-day operation of La Vida Aureo. The primary purpose of these luncheons was simply to serve as a constant reminder to Isabella that La Vida Aureo existed because of Señora Jaramillo’s largesse and that her very high standards of excellence were inviolate.

Isabella knew that she would have to update Señora Jaramillo about all of the recent incidents that had occurred at La Vida Aureo and how she had dealt with them. Isabella had known Señora Jaramillo long enough to assume that she was already aware of many things and Isabella could not leave out any of the major details. She decided to focus on the potential impact of each incident on La Vida Aureo and how, in dealing with it, she had strived to protect the institution and its residents.

Señora Jaramillo was pleased that the death of the Maintenance Man had been an accident and that young Maria had been exonerated (Case I, September 2014). “I know her family quite well and she is an intelligent girl with a bright future. I’m glad that Paloma has taken her under her wing. I expect you to encourage Maria to pursue her education. That drug business was potentially very damaging but you were able to resolve it quickly without any adverse effects on La Vida Aureo (Case II, October 2014). I remain upset about the death of that woman and the complicated circumstances surrounding it and I understand that the District Attorney is still reviewing all the evidence (Case III, November 2014). I am grateful, Isabella, for the way you dealt with Martina Trujillo and her difficult situation. Father Michael has talked to me in depth about the situation at Our Lady of the Valley and enlisted my help. I am confident that we can provide some level of assistance (Case IV, December 2014). Father Michael also mentioned that you have been fortunate to have located a valuable ally among the residents, one Señor Dudley. Tell me about him.”

“Oh, Señora Jaramillo, he has been quite helpful and I appreciate his support more each day that passes. It was actually Paloma who was instrumental in my discovering him. He had known her children before and she was the one who enlisted his help in the death of the Maintenance Man and the accusation of Maria. I’ve asked him to remain at La Vida Aureo and serve as our resident Handy Man. I’ve encouraged him to sell his home with the hope that he will stay indefinitely. He is an interesting man and has many qualities that will benefit the residents and me, but, most importantly, he shares my vision for the future of La Vida Aureo.”

“He has no family?”

“He is a widower and his children live far from here. He has a group of friends locally that he meets occasionally for coffee, but seems to be growing more content in his role at La Vida Aureo.”

“You must suggest that he and his friends try the coffee and pastries at Saville & Sons here in Old Town. The owner, Hector Guzman, is an old friend of mine.”

“I will certainly mention it to him.”

“Isabella, I am pleased with the progress you are making despite these unfortunate incidents. I know you will remain ever vigilant for the safety and wellbeing of all residents. I would like you to start thinking about the future of La Vida Aureo in more detail. I grow a bit more concerned each day about our ageing population and what the future holds for them. I know we cannot accommodate everyone, nor meet every need, but I want you to begin to develop a plan for the future.”

“I agree, Señora, and commit to doing so. That is another benefit of Señor Dudley’s involvement; he has considerable experience in planning and I plan to call upon him for his input.”

Isabella enjoyed these conversations with Señora Jaramillo and believed that all her comments were intended as constructive. She knew that Señora Jaramillo had confidence in her and her ability to manage La Vida Aureo. Isabella was relieved, nonetheless, that the incident with Warren Pearson (Case IV, December 2014) wasn’t mentioned. That situation just raised many more questions than it answered and Isabella was content to follow Hannah Halverstrom’s advice and let sleeping dogs lie.

At this point, Isabella assumed that the meeting was over, but remained seated out of respect. She knew that Señora Jaramillo would be the one to indicate that the luncheon was over, typically by asking Isabella to give her regards to Isabella’s husband, Edward. Instead, Señora Jaramillo leaned forward and said, “Isabella, I want to ask you to do something for me”

“Of course, Señora, anything.”

“Señora Ynes Tafoya Barela, one of my oldest and dearest friends, has recently suffered some serious health problems and I believe that she would be more comfortable at La Vida Aureo. I would greatly appreciate it if you would take her in as a resident.”

“Certainly. Can you tell me a bit about her and her situation so that I can find the most appropriate arrangements for her?”

“Ynes came to Albuquerque as a young girl when her family fled Spain during the Franco years. In those days, it was not safe for a woman to speak out for women’s rights and Ynes’ mother was quite active in the women’s movement in Madrid. She was arrested while speaking in public many times and imprisoned for over one year and frequently tortured. When she was finally released, she was a broken woman. The family was able to escape the country and eventually made their way to America. Her father decided that New Mexico would be the most suitable place to settle and they came to Albuquerque in the early 1960s. Señor Barela was an educated man and was able to become a lawyer and provide for his family by assisting other Spanish-speaking immigrants as they arrived. Although they had a relatively comfortable life here, Ynes’ mother never fully recovered from the abuse she endured while in prison. She was constantly troubled by nightmares and endured periods of extreme physical duress. She never took any of this out on her young daughter, but remained distant and unable to provide Ynes the love and nurturing a young girl so desperately needs. Ynes gradually withdrew further into herself as a means of protection and grew to be a lonely and often bitter woman. On the outside, Ynes appears strong and confident and a very capable woman and has assumed the persona of a wealthy and privileged Spanish aristocrat. It is my opinion that she has assumed the role that she always wanted for her mother. But, underneath, Ynes is deeply insecure and afraid. She hides this well with her external persona which can be quite irritating at times; one might describe her as haughty and arrogant. Because of this, she has had few friends in her life and certainly no romances that lasted very long. Despite these things, she has always been open with me and I consider her a true friend.”

“Years of living this very rigid life style have taken their toll and her physical health has suffered. She remains quite capable for the present, but I can see that soon she will need more care. Since she is alone without any family, I believe that La Vida Aureo would be the most appropriate living arrangement for her.”

“I understand, Señora Jaramillo and I am certain we can make her comfortable at La Vida Aureo. There are other women there who feel alone and I would hope Señora Barela could eventually develop some friendships, if only just casual ones.”

“Thank you, Isabella. I will make all the necessary arrangements and you can expect her by the end of the month.”

A few weeks later, a limousine arrived at the front door. Isabella had been thoroughly briefed and assumed she was totally prepared to welcome their new resident. But the woman Isabella saw exiting the limo could only be described as “imperious”; “haughty” was not an adequate adjective to capture the total effect of Señora Barela. Despite her years, she was strikingly beautiful in the classic Spanish sense, tall and dark with a fine-featured face. And the way she carried herself!

During her first few weeks at La Vida Aureo, Señora Barela proved to be quite difficult. She treated everyone with disdain, particularly Paloma and any other Spanish-speaking employees or residents. She considered herself an aristocrat from Spain and all of these other people were really not to Spanish; their Spanish blood had been mixed with a variety of peoples from the New World. Although she had been in America most of her life, Señora Barela preferred to speak only in Spanish and in a dialect common to Spain rather than New Mexico. Señora Barela eventually pressured Isabella into inviting a local priest to speak at La Vida Aureo and within short period of time, she had arranged to for a Catholic mass to be held in the chapel several times a week.

Paloma approached Matthew Dudley one day and shared her feelings with him. “I believe, she said, that Señora Barela is really a good person in her heart. I believe that the way she behaves and treats people is really nothing more than her way of keeping people from getting too close to her. I had a brief conversation with Señora Jaramillo to learn a bit more about Señora Barela. I believe much of her unhappiness is because of the loss of her mother when she was still young. She is afraid to let anyone close to her for fear they might die or leave her much as her mother did. I would like your help, Señor Doc, to try to break through that hard exterior shell and find the true person. But I will need you to keep a secret so that we do not upset other residents, particularly ones like Mrs. Branch. I would like to prepare a traditional Spanish dish of paella for Señora Barela and Señora Isabella. Could you help me set up the small conference room next Isabella’s office to serve this meal? It is my hope that this meal would begin to let Señora Barela know that she is welcome here and that she could develop friends. There is nothing for her to fear here.

Dudley thought this was a very positive gesture from Paloma, particularly in light of the way Señora Barela had been treating her. She had referred to Paloma as simply a servant. That had offended Dudley and made him realize what a remarkable woman Paloma Angostura really was to suggest this special meal. Dudley began the necessary preparations, doing most of the work late in the evening after most of the residents had retired. He was particularly careful to avoid the prying eyes of Mrs. Millicent Branch.

Although there was no particular reason for it, Millicent Branch took an immediate dislike to Señora Barela and decided that she would use Matthew Dudley as the focal point for her displeasure. She complained often that La Vida Aureo was becoming too Spanish for her. It further irritated Mrs. Branch that those individuals who spoke Spanish seem to gather and talk together. She began to refer to Isabella as Queen Isabella, just another one of those Spanish bitches. One day she told Dudley that she was concerned that pretty soon everyone would be required to speak Spanish to live at La Vida Aureo. And it will only get worse from there she said, this used to be a place a nondenominational service on Sundays and now it looks like the Catholics are taking over and there won’t be any place for anyone else. “Someone has to do something about this terrible situation”, she said. Dudley realized that Mrs. Branch’s underlying discomfort was that she felt that she was no longer the most important female.

As is too often the case with people like Millicent Branch, her behavior and its underlying cause, was not that dissimilar from what she found so distasteful in Señora Barela. For generations, the Branch family had lived in rural Oklahoma where they had initially settled as Sooner Pioneers. They were God-fearing people who farmed the land and lived a modest life. The Branch family were not prosperous but were self-sufficient and satisfied with their life-style. But then the rains so necessary for their survival stopped and the winds started to blow with ever increasing frequency and intensity. The crops failed and the family began to struggle. Millicent‘s mother was most affected by the constant wind and the ever-present dust that seemed to be everywhere. Millicent was a young girl at the time and was unable to understand why her mother would just sit for hours and rock back and forth. Often, her mother would go outside and scream at the wind to stop blowing so much dust into her simple prairie house. Finally, Millicent’s father realized that the situation was hopeless and that staying would only further jeopardize his family. So, he packed what few possessions they had and loaded the entire family into his pick-up truck and headed to California with its promise of a new life.

Perhaps it was the prolonged exposure to the blowing dust, but the truck began to falter after just a few days on the road. They had just passed Grants, New Mexico when the truck coughed its final smoke from the engine and died.   Millicent’s father looked around and decided that this open space looked much like Oklahoma and decided to try his luck at farming here rather than attempt to get to California with a worn out family and exhausted truck.

Conditions for farming in Grants were not much better than those they had left behind. It wasn’t so much the wind, but the ground that was more rock than farmable soil. Despite valiant efforts, the Branch family struggled almost from the outset. They bought a few cattle in an attempt to become ranchers as well as farmers, but with little success. Hope was fading and Millicent’s mother had become almost completely withdrawn into a constant state of depression. Her father planned to make another attempt at reaching California when a large deposit of uranium ore was discovered on their property. It was the late 1940s and the United States was soon to embark on its Atoms for Peace programs. Uranium was perhaps more valuable than gold and its discovery changed the Branch’s fortunes forever.

The family became wealthy almost overnight and the fear of survival vanished almost as quickly. Millicent’s father bought more cattle and the feed and supplies necessary to insure their success as ranchers. But this was not necessary to support his family; the royalties from the uranium mining company provided income sufficient to live comfortably. Millicent and her sisters were sent to private boarding schools in Santa Fe while her father stayed in Grants to care for his wife. Millicent’s sisters were hesitant to leave, but Millicent realized that her mother had been essentially gone for many years. Millicent assumed the role of surrogate mother for all of the years that the girls were away at school, forcing her toward adulthood while bypassing those adolescent years that are often so full of joy.

Millicent never married; she felt that she simply did not have time for such frivolous pursuits. To everyone who met her, she was the mature, responsible, intelligent young woman with so much promise. Deep inside, however, Millicent was a lonely little girl who longed for the love and tenderness that her mother was incapable of providing. By the time Millicent’s younger sisters finished school, married and moved away, Millicent had accepted her fate as a woman who would remain alone her entire life. In subsequent years, several young men had shown an interest, but none ever seemed to measure up to her standards. Eventually, she did marry a man from Grants whose family owned the land adjacent to the Branch’s. They met at a public meeting held by the mining company to discuss a series of recent accidents that had occurred at the mine. Millicent considered their union less a marriage based on love than a joining of forces to combat unsafe practices at the mine. Unfortunately, her husband developed terminal cancer soon thereafter and died a painful death. Millicent believed that his death like too many others in the area were the result of the mine’s unsafe practices and she was determined to press for change if not permanent closure of the mine. She fought an unsuccessful battle for several years without success; uranium was just too important a commodity to allow an individual to impede progress.

Eventually, Millicent realized she had been defeated. She sold her interest in the mine and invested the proceeds in companies that she believed were more responsible and respectful of the environment and their employees. She also sold the land and moved to Santa Fe where she became active in social programs. The significant amount of family wealth generated by these careful investments provided a source of income for Millicent and her sisters for their entire life. At some point, she decided that she needed to be in a safer and more secure living arrangement and after some investigation, decided to move permanently to La Vida Aureo.

Chapter 7: Matthew Dudley

A few days later, FBI Agent Witherspoon was sitting in La Vida Aureo’s Dining Room with Hannah, Isabella and Dudley. “We got Dr. Pearson returned to Houston and Rice was delighted to have him back. We helped him develop a story to tell anyone who asked about his absence. He would simply say that he was away doing research for a new book. As far as the involvement of the Homeland Security folks, they over reacted to things. It looks like it was all started by some overly zealous young junior editor at Random House. Her inexperience led her to believe that Dr. Pearson’s new manuscript was based on actual people and events. She got the Homeland Security people all stirred up and things just sort of spiraled out of control after that. What happened to Dr. Pearson was unfortunate and Homeland Security has apologized profusely. It troubles me that sometimes we get so concerned about our security that we forget that all our citizens have rights. Maybe, if people had been a bit more thoughtful in their actions, this terrible misunderstanding could have been avoided altogether. Anyway, I want to thank all of you for your patience and cooperation in this matter.” He rose and shook everyone’s hand and said, “Good bye” as he left.

They all sat there for a few minutes in silence. Dudley spoke first. “I don’t know. It all sounds too simple to me. It is hard to believe that everything that happened was just a big misunderstanding. It seems like things went much too far.”

Hannah added, “I’ve learned in all my years of dealing with these government types that you are usually better off NOT knowing the full story. A few of the actual stories I’ve been told by Bob over too many cocktails about what our government has actually done are downright frightening!”

Isabella spoke up. “Enough! We did some good here recently with the Missing Diaper Caper and getting Professor Pearson home. So, let’s celebrate that and maybe talk about something less sinister.

“I have some good news, added Hannah. I learned today that the young artist couple I mentioned really do want to buy your house, Doc and I believe you’ll be pleased with their offer.”

“So, there is plenty to celebrate.”

Isabella turned to Dudley and said, “Once again, you have been a tremendous help in dealing with another rather complicated and involved situation in a very calm and professional manner. I know I told you that I checked up on your work history with the State, but I don’t really know that much about you personally. I don’t mean to pry, but I believe hearing your back story is the kind of reaffirming story I need at this time.”

Paloma overheard Isabella’s request and hurried over to where they were sitting. “He promised me some time ago that he would tell me just how he ended up here in New Mexico. There’s a fresh batch of sopapillas cooling in the kitchen and a fresh pot of coffee. I’ll be right back with those and some honey.”

“I know. I promised. I will try to be brief. I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana and went to the University of Indiana. My father was a machinist and worked his entire career at the Coachmen Recreational Vehicle factory and my mother was a schoolteacher. At the end of my junior year in college, I had an opportunity to work for the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque on joint project between Sandia and the State to develop improved methods for monitoring the State’s scarce water resources. Many of the people I met that summer encouraged me to explore their favorite wilderness areas throughout New Mexico. One weekend, I was hiking in the Pecos Wilderness in the southern part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Pecos Baldy Lake. Being from Indiana, I did not appreciate the challenges of hiking at altitude and soon found myself short of breath and developing a considerable headache. I had to turn around and struggle back to Jack’s Creek Campground and my car. A family who was camping there noticed me and came to my assistance. They sat me in a chair in the shade and encouraged me to drink water, but only a sip at a time. After several hours, I began to feel much better and they encouraged me to stay for dinner. Afterwards, I got up to leave but fell back into the chair and fell asleep. The next morning, I discovered they had placed a large blanket over me while I slept. I was embarrassed but the family insisted that I stay for breakfast and fed me a hearty meal of huevos and fresh tortillas. It was during my second helping of huevos that I noticed the family’s young daughter. I had always considered myself a very practical person but was immediately smitten and realized that I had truly experienced love at first sight. I expressed my gratitude to the family and made excuses to leave. They lived in the nearby town of Pecos and invited me to come for dinner. They said that they wanted to check on my health but I believe I saw the daughter whisper something to her parents. I drove slowly back to Albuquerque and before I reached home, I had decided that I would come back to Pecos to visit the family and I would return to New Mexico and marry this young girl. And I did just that.”

“When I graduated from college, I took a job with the State Water Resources Department and moved to a small apartment in Santa Fe. I began to formally court this beautiful young girl from Pecos, Margarita Reyes. We eventually married and bought a small home and began to raise the family. We had two children, Benito Tomas and Morgan Elena. Our son graduated from the University of Indiana in computer science and is now working for company in San Francisco that develops software for business processes. Our daughter graduated from the University of Colorado in education and moved to Chicago where she received her Masters and Ph.D. degrees from DePaul University focusing on curriculum development. She was always called “Little Doc” because her initials were the same as mine. That nickname did not appeal to her, but at least she wasn’t called “Baby Doc” after the Haitian Dictator!”

“Oh, Señor Doc, said Paloma, that is such a sweet story. I always knew you were a true romantic at heart. “

Isabella smiled and said, “I’d also like to hear a bit about this group of friends of yours. I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension when I saw the condition of that pick-up you rode off in.”

Dudley grinned broadly and said, “My group of friends reminds me of the time in Granada, Spain before the Inquisition when Muslim Arabs, Spanish Catholics and Jews all got along and the country flourished. My “curmudgeon crew”, as you call them, is much the same. There’s Redondo (“Ray”) Littlefeather a Native American who is named after the Trail of Tears Bosque Redondo episode. There’s Absalom (“Abe”) Goldman, a Reform Jew, who taught physics at the University of New Mexico and whose father worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Hakim El-Fiki is a Muslim, originally from Syria. Finally, there’s Emilio Sandoval who is Spanish and very Catholic. With the exception of Ray, all are retired and we’ve been meeting for coffee for years. The fact that each of these men has such different backgrounds and experiences makes for some very interesting discussions about topical issues.”

We typically meet at a local coffee shop called Saville & Sons in Old Town; it is definitely NOT a Starbucks. The owner’s name is Hector Guzman-Gomez, who thinks he is a pure New Mexico Hispanic, but we all believe he is actually a Converso whose Jewish family converted to Catholicism generations ago to escape the Inquisition There’s much more I could say about this very special group of people that I can claim as friends, but I’ll save it for another time.”

Matthew Dudley finished his story about the same time as the coffee and sopapillas were gone. He wasn’t certain whether the contented expression on everyone’s face was the result of his story or Paloma’s sopapillas. At the very least, Isabella Duncan and Hannah Halverstrom appeared relaxed and much relieved. Dudley smiled to himself as he recalled Isabella’s often repeated comment that they must all remain vigilant to insure the long-term viability of La Vida Aureo and the continued well-being of all its residents.

Case II: Chapter 2: Oh, Mrs. Torres

Later that afternoon, Dudley went to the utility room and retrieved the Maintenance Man’s toolbox to attend to the minor in repairs that Isabella Duncan had requested. At La Vida Aureo, some of the independent living facilities consisted of cottages or casitas and his first task was to fix a “small plumbing problem” in the casita occupied by Mrs. Torres.

He knocked on the door and introduced himself when Mrs. Torres answered. “Mrs. Torres, my name is Matthew Dudley and I’ve been asked to look at your plumbing; I understand you have a leaky faucet.”

“Come right in. I must say that you are certainly much easier on the eyes than the previous Maintenance Man. The leaking faucet is in the kitchen sink.”

Dudley sat down the toolbox, got out his flashlight and reached into the cabinet area under the kitchen sink to shut off the water. Once the water was shut off, it was a simple matter to replace the worn faucet washer. He decided to replace the washer for both the hot and cold sides; it might save him a second trip. He got on his knees and reached under the sink to turn the water back on so that he could test the new washers. It had only taken a few moments for this relatively simple repair job and Dudley felt a sense of accomplishment.

“That should do it, Mrs. Torres. You should not have any more problems with a dripping faucet.”

When he turned around, he was taken aback by what he saw. Mrs. Torres was standing in the middle of the kitchen with a cocktail in her hand. She was wearing what appeared to Dudley as a silk robe, like a Japanese kimono, but it was completely open.

“Well, Mr. Handyman, can you stay a while? I’m sure I can find some other projects for you to work on.”

Dudley suddenly felt trapped and highly embarrassed by Mrs. Torres’ inappropriate behavior. “Ah-er, ah-er, I really must be going. I have to check on an ah-er electrical problem in Mrs. Wilson’s apartment.”

He knew he had to get past Mrs. Torres and out of the casita as quickly as possible. Fortunately, she took a sip of her cocktail and stepped aside so he was able to exit without incident.

“Do hurry back and please bring all of your tools next time. I like a man with good tools, you know.”

He didn’t want to offend anyone, or cause trouble, particularly on his first day as Handyman, but he knew he had to mention this to Isabella as soon as possible. “To say that I was shocked Isabella, is an understatement. I’m just not used to that kind of behavior.”

“I have been aware that there are certain people here who act out inappropriately. Many of the women here have lost husbands at a young age which has affected them. Many are simply lonely and seeking companionship, some are just harmless flirts but some are truly horny and desperate. In some cases, the early stages of dementia results in a loss of control and the onset of inappropriate behaviors. And some women are definitely on the prowl and things can sometimes get out of hand. We must remain vigilant at all times. We have to recognize that these people are adults but we cannot let the situation jeopardize any individual resident. My advice to you as you’re working around the complex as a handyman is “to keep your tools in your toolbox.””

Case I: The Virgin and the Maintenance Man

Case I: Chapter 1: Introduction

He didn’t want to be here. He really didn’t want to be here. This was not the way he had envisioned this period of his life.

Matthew Dudley was stuck in this “old folks’ home” for rehabilitation after a mild heart attack. His doctor had placed him here so he could recover in a safe and secure environment rather than living alone as he had for the past several years as a widower.

But, La Vida Aureo (The Golden Life) was very different from the environment Dudley had always feared. It was located in an upscale area of Albuquerque and was considered a state-of-the-art facility. It was a large complex which included all levels of care from independent living cottages to a comprehensive skilled nursing wing as well as a so-called memory unit for those individuals suffering from degenerative dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even though these facilities were pleasant and appealing and the majority of the staff was competent, pleasant and very professional, Dudley still felt a significant loss of independence.

Matthew Dudley had retired from a long career working for the state of New Mexico in the Water Resources Department. What he enjoyed most about this position was the ability to frequently get outdoors. He was able to travel and work with local municipalities and organizations to manage the limited water resources so common throughout the state. He enjoyed working alone and really valued his independence. He had retired a few years ago and he and his wife had bought a small rundown home in the rural community of Cerrillos just south of Santa Fe. He enjoyed working on the home and the independence of this rather isolated environment. It was a major tragedy in his life when his wife died suddenly. He was relieved that she did not suffer or succumb to a long period of physical or mental deterioration. But he felt alone even in the small house and the associated stress may have contributed to his mild heart attack. His time in the hospital was brief and he felt that he had recovered fully and would be able to go back to Cerrillos and continue working on his home and other projects. He wasn’t convinced that he actually had a heart attack; it may have just been the stress caused by adjusting to a life alone. However his doctor, who was also a close personal friend, recommended that he spend some time in rehabilitation much to his chagrin. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the doctor and his children had conspired to get him out of the home in Cerrillos and into the more social and secure environment of a retirement home in Albuquerque. Neither of his two adult children lived in New Mexico and they had often encouraged him to move into a more populated area particularly after the death of his wife. Even though his pension from the state was relatively modest, his doctor arranged for him to be in perhaps the most expensive facility in New Mexico. He had argued that he should only be there for a few days but his doctor continued to refuse to sign the papers to indicate he had completed his rehabilitation successfully.

He really couldn’t complain because this facility was among the best in Albuquerque and had excellent physical therapy capabilities. Nonetheless, he was bored and frustrated and continued to believe that he didn’t belong here. He understood why many of the residents referred to this facility as The Golden Corral. He felt trapped and restricted and unable to do a lot of things that were part of his very active life

But Matthew Dudley’s life was about to change and the boredom and frustration end when La Vida Aureo’s Maintenance Man was found dead in the Utility Room with a large screwdriver stuck in his chest.

 

Case I: Chapter 3: Initial Murder Investigation

Based on the Medical Examiner’s initial assessment, Lt. Garcia felt that he was looking for a male as the prime suspect for this murder. He initiated a process of collecting fingerprints from delivery people and other service people for the facility such as gardeners etc. In the back of his mind, Garcia felt that Odd Job was the most likely candidate for the crime. He had known many people like this in Albuquerque and was familiar with many of the gangs and unsavory characters who roamed the city. He decided that he would go back to the retirement home to go through the utility room once more looking for additional evidence and clues. He would also visit with the Executive Director to inquire about Odd Job in greater detail as well as trying to understand the recent activities of the Maintenance Man.

But, Garcia was a thorough investigator and could not ignore Mrs. Branch’s comments, however unreasonable. The Medical Examiner had said that the murderer had to be a very strong person in order to drive the screwdriver so deeply into the Maintenance Man’s chest. He was able to remove some fingerprints from the screwdriver but found no other evidence or forensic information at the scene.

La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director, Isabella Duncan, told Lt. Garcia that there had been problems with the heating and air-conditioning system and a number of residents had complained about the temperature in their in their rooms and in the common areas. She had asked the Maintenance Man to check this out.

“What can you tell me about Odd Job and his role at the facility?”

“The man’s name is Orlando Juan Torreon and people call him OJ. This quickly became “Odd Job” because of his various activities around the facility. I personally hired him and can vouch for his integrity. He made some bad choices earlier in his life but is trying to live a clean and law-abiding life. I am his sponsor in his local support group and am trying to help him gain the skills necessary for a more permanent job. It seems unlikely that he would attack the Maintenance Man since they seemed to get along reasonably well.”

As Lt. Garcia was leaving the building, Millicent Branch stopped him once again and insisted that he talked to “Maria”, a young girl who worked in the kitchen. This is the same person that she had mentioned and accused earlier, but had referred to her simply as “that Mexican girl”. “I think she knows something about the murder and you should talk to her. Maybe she even did it!”

Garcia went back into the kitchen and asked Señora Angostura specifically about Maria. “Maria is a hard worker and a conscientious young woman. She has only been at La Vida Aureo a short time and is struggling to improve her English. I noticed today that Maria seemed upset and was crying quite a bit.”