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Case III: Chapter 2: Cat Scratch Fever

Dudley was unaware of the verbal hissing, scratching and clawing that began as he left the dining room.

“I find that man disgusting,” said Mary Thomas. “I knew him when we both worked at Sandia Labs and he was just as offensive and vulgar toward women then. “

“He’s really harmless”, said Dolores Waverly. “You shouldn’t take him so seriously. I think he’s kinda cute in a funny sort of way.”

“He’s certainly not MY type,” said Carmine Felicio. “I like the “tall, dark and handsome” ones, but he’s way too old for me.”

“From the ones I see following you home, hissed Mary, Cesar is too old two or three times over.”

“I can’t help it if I meet attractive younger men when I go out to jog”, Carmine snipped back.

“Jogging or trolling?”

“I agree with Dolores”, interjected Estelle-Elena Varela Caballo, trying to prevent the situation between Mary and Carmine from escalating. “You have to admit, ladies, that “clothes make the man” and Cesar certainly knows how to dress. I particularly like the way his tight shirt shows off his muscles and his tight pants don’t hide his “main asset” either. I’d like to get my hands on that mucho gordo burrito he carries in his lunchbox, if you know what I mean.”

“That’s rude and crude, Estelle, even for you,” said Carmine.

“Well, I’ve had plenty of chances to compare ever since my first experience the night after my quinceanera. And prom night was pretty good, too. I know what I like.”

“OK, but that was how many years ago and it looks like you’re still wearing your prom dress. Now who’s “trolling”?”

“At least I don’t go out jogging and think that every young guy I pass wants to get into my running shorts!”

“Well, many of them do.”

“Ladies, ladies, ladies,” blushed Dolores.   “Can we get back to our card game? Who’s turn is it, anyway?”

“I think I’ve had enough card playing and “stimulating conversation” for one day”, complained Mary as she pushed herself away from the table and began to wheel toward to door.

As Mary continued her difficult journey to the elevator and back to her room, she was engulfed by a series of emotions, most of them negative. She resented much of the conversation with her “friends”, but they were her only means of socialization and she refused to become totally isolated. The wave of emotions which continued to dominate her mind became increasingly troubling as she entered her room. She decided that a small glass of wine would help her relax and clear her mind. It had the opposite effect, however. The wine made her relax but opened up to her mind to a flood of emotions.

Before her accident, she had actually been everything that these women claimed to be. She was attractive and athletic and had a position of increasing professional responsibility at Sandia Labs. Unlike Carmine’s fantasy, many men in her cycling club had frequently remarked about how well her Spandex fit and complemented her athletic figure. Mary took this all in stride and its primary effect was to strengthen her self-confidence. Despite all of this genuine male attention, Mary remained faithful to her husband. And unlike Estelle’s fantasies, their sex life had been varied and exciting. But everything changed with the accident.

Her injury was truly an accident. No one was at fault. No one did anything stupid or dangerous. Her bike skidded on some loose gravel and she fell. She had fallen many times before and had a few “trophy scars” on her knees and elbows to prove it. This time she landed in an awkward position and had severed her spinal cord. From that moment on she was paralyzed from the waist down. She remained optimistic throughout the early stages of recovery, but soon realized that this was an irreversible condition. Her husband’s support began to fade and she often heard him whispering with her nurse just outside her room. She initially assumed that they were discussing her condition and simply didn’t want her to hear, but soon realized they were making plans to meet secretly. Her husband became more distant and visited less frequently and eventually stopped coming altogether. Ultimately, a lawyer arrived and presented her with a divorce petition. She did not contest the situation and moved into one of the better suites at La Vida Aureo with the proceeds from the divorce. She continued to try to develop a positive outlook but was frequently overcome with anger and frustration.

Despite her need to maintain contact with a few women, she found so much of their conversation to be irritating and full of hypocrisy. She knew for example that Estelle’s overt flirting and promiscuous talk was simply a cover up. Estelle may have had sexual experiences with the boys after her Mexican “coming of age” party and her high school prom, but Mary knew that Estelle’s interests were now focused exclusively on women. She didn’t know if these early experiences had been unpleasant or whether Estelle refused to accept a subservient role after having been treated as a princess for much of her youth. Mary learned the truth about Estelle when she overheard two young cleaning maids discuss the situation. Estelle preferred her sexual adventures with women and she liked to seduce the young women working at La Vida Aureo. The two maids openly discussed Estelle’s behavior and giggled about how much fun it was to play “dress up” and enact various fantasy scenarios, always based on Estelle’s quinceanera ceremony or prom. Estelle always played the part of the handsome boy in these fantasies.

Mary noticed that her glass of wine was finished and that her emotions were moving into high gear. She decided it was time to get serious and let her emotions completely loose. She opened the bottle of expensive rye whiskey she kept in her bookcases and poured herself a full glass. It burned as she felt its warmth throughout her body reminding her of more pleasant times before she lost much of the feeling below her waist.

As the whiskey took effect, Mary’s thoughts turned to Dolores. She simply could not figure Dolores out or why she seems to be so happy about everything all the time. Maybe it was just an act on her part. Maybe Dolores spent a lot of time alone with her “electric toothbrush” and that kept her in high spirits. Or, it was possible that Dolores was one of those born-again types who believed she was blessed and that Jesus was taking care of everything for her. She never talked about much of anything or gave any clues and she always had that Cheshire cat grin on her face. It just didn’t make sense; nobody was that happy all the time.

Mary noticed that she had finished her drink and poured herself another. Her emotions were now in full flight and she turned her increasingly intense thoughts to Carmine. That situation was particularly frustrating for Mary because Carmine was living the life Mary enjoyed before her accident. Like Carmine, she had had her pick of men but chose simply to accept their attention and remain faithful to her husband. In her prime, Mary appreciated these compliments rather than being resentful and angry as Carmine was. Despite the fact that she routinely invited young men to spend the night with her (she really was “trolling” when she jogged), Carmine was never satisfied. She remained unfulfilled, always searching for something. Mary was becoming increasingly jealous. Carmine seemed to have everything Mary had lost but did not appreciate just how fortunate she was.

Mary descended into a state of self-pity, drained the last of the whiskey, slumped forward in her wheelchair and fell into a troubling and fitful sleep.

Case III: Chapter 7: Dudley Digs into the Drama

Dudley had completed his morning routine of reading the Wall Street Journal and planning his day’s activities. He decided to wait for the UPS delivery of the two cables from Amazon before attacking his ToDo list. He was troubled by the events surrounding Ms. Felicio’s death. It was certainly possible that it was just an unfortunate accident, but there just seemed to be other forces in motion that might somehow be connected, including Mr. Ramirez’s behavior and Ms. Waverly’s request to Paloma.

When he assumed the responsibilities of Handyman for the facility, Dudley had prepared a site plan for the entire complex to designate where each individual resident lived. He retrieved the floor plan for the main building from his tool box and laid it out on the table. He noted that he had discovered Ms. Felicio’s body on the first floor at the bottom of the stairs at the west end of the building. Her apartment was only a few doors down the hall from that point. Mr. Ramirez also lived on the first floor, but closer to the center of the building. Dolores Waverly lived at the west end of the building, on the second floor at the top of the stairs where he found Ms. Felicio’s body. Mary Thomas lived on the third floor across from the elevator at the top of the center stairwell. Millicent Branch lived on the first floor near the center of the building. He noted each of these locations on his floor plan and continued to stare at it hoping that something would be revealed.

He was abruptly interrupted when the UPS delivery woman walked up to him. “I have a package for a Matthew Dudley and didn’t see anyone in the reception area. Can you tell me where I might find someone?”

“I can do better than that. I’m Matthew Dudley and I’ve been expecting you. Thank you.”

Dudley opened the package from Amazon with the two cables and started for the third floor to install them for Mr. Sandoval. Millicent Branch stopped Dudley in the hallway. “You know, she says, I’ve been thinking about Ms. Felicio and I believe she committed suicide by throwing herself down the stairs. She was never happy, always complaining about something. Or maybe one those young boys she is always inviting to her room did it. I’m certain it was not an accident; it was suicide or murder.”

“Thank you, as always, Mrs. Branch, for your most helpful suggestions. I’ll be sure to mention it to Lt. Garcia the next time I see him.”

Dudley opted to walk to the third floor instead of taking the elevator. As he reached the landing on the third floor, Dudley noticed damage to one of the wooden railing posts and black scuff marks on the floor tiles. Mary Thomas’ apartment was directly across from the landing and her door was ajar. Dudley knocked on the door and called out, “Mrs. Thomas, it’s Matthew Dudley. Is everything OK?”

There was no response and Dudley gently pushed the door open and looked inside. Mary was sitting in her wheelchair by the window and was sobbing heavily. As he neared, he heard her saying, “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

“Mrs. Thomas. Are you OK? Can I get you something, a glass of water, perhaps? I didn’t mean to barge in on you, but your door was open and I was concerned.”

“No, no, I’m fine. Just leave me alone, please.”

Dudley noticed that Mary’s wheelchair appeared damaged with deep scratches on one armrest and abrasions on the main wheels. He also noticed two nearly empty wine glasses on the table and a broken chair.

“Mrs. Thomas, is there something you want to talk about? It is obvious that you are upset and I am here to listen.”

“I didn’t mean for her to die. I just wanted to teach that ungrateful bitch a lesson.”

“Mrs. Thomas, maybe you had better start from the beginning. Let me get you that glass of water. I think it will help.”

“I invited Carmine to my room for a glass of wine, telling her that I wanted to apologize for my nasty remarks. I put a large dose of muscle relaxant pills in her wine so she would feel what it is like to be numb from the waist down. I wanted to make it so that she couldn’t jog and appreciate how I feel trapped in this wheelchair. At the very least, I wanted some sympathy from Carmine. But I would not have been at all upset if Carmine fell and was severely injured so that she was confined to a wheelchair like me.”

“We had words, so Carmine gulped her wine and stood up to leave. She fell against that chair and broke its leg. She got up and staggered toward the door. At the top of the stairs Carmine lost her balance almost fell down the steps. I reached out to grab her, dragging my wheel chair to the edge, leaving skid marks on the tiles and damage to the wooden railing.”

“I feel guilty because the drugs I gave Carmine are somehow involved in her death. But, after I grabbed her, I sat there to make sure she made it down the stairs and started down the second floor hallway. As I turned to go back into my apartment, I saw Cesar Ramirez leaving an apartment and walking down the third floor hallway, toward the west stairs.”

“But, you are certain that Ms. Felicio was OK when she left here?”

“She was a bit wobbly, but OK. She must have been able to get all the way to the other end of the building. I feel so bad. At first, I really wanted to hurt her, but I just couldn’t do that to anyone.”

“Can you tell me which apartment you saw Mr. Ramirez came out of?” “It is just two or three doors down the hall. I believe it’s his buddy Sandoval’s place.”

“Mrs. Thomas, I don’t know how all this fits into Ms. Felicio’s death, but you understand that I will have to tell Lt. Garcia. He will no doubt ask you to repeat your story to him in detail.”

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Dudley for listening to me. I just had to tell someone.”

Despite the fact that he was about to do something that was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, Dudley realized that he had a perfect excuse to talk to Jorge Sandoval. Maybe Sandoval could explain why Ramirez was on the third floor and where he was going when he left.

Sandoval’s apartment was three doors to the west of Mary’s. Dudley planned to use the excuse of returning to fix the computer to inquire about Ramirez. Dudley knocked on the door and, after a few minutes, Sandoval opened it. It was apparent that Dudley had interrupted something.

Dudley was shocked by what he saw on Sandoval’s large screen TV. He glared at Sandoval and said, “I’m like that judge who said, “I don’t know the definition of pornography, but I’ll know it when I see it.” The images on your TV screen are certainly pornography. I thought your computer was inoperative.”

”It is. Look, my computer is over there on the desk and still does not work. This is my friend Cesar’s laptop that we connected to my TV.”

“Sure, the Devil made you do it? You know this use of the facility’s Internet connection is prohibited. So, before I report this to Isabella, perhaps you can tell me what’s really going on and how Mr. Ramirez is involved.”

Señor Dudley, it is just therapy, really. Before you tell Isabella; please hear me out. My good friend Cesar was having some major “man-problems”. You see, he provides regular service to a number of ladies here at La Vida Aureo, but recently was unable to perform, if you know what I mean. So, I suggested that he watch some high quality pornography to, you know, put some “lead back in his pencil”. We were using his laptop because, as you know, my computer wasn’t working and this situation was desperate. Also, by using his laptop, I could mark some of the better websites for his future use.”

“That’s very admirable of you, Mr. Sandoval; you are a true gentleman and a friend! But, I have a few questions that might be of more benefit to Mr. Ramirez than what you’ve done so far.”

“Anything I can do to help.”

“First, when was he here with you?”

“He was here all day last Sunday. We watched the football game in the afternoon and then spent the evening watching various “therapy programs” until almost midnight.”

“And, he was here with you the entire time?”

“He went back to his apartment to get one of those flash drives, but he was only gone a few short minutes.”

“About what time was that?”

“I think it was after the football game, so late afternoon, early evening.”

“OK. And, I probably don’t really want to know this, but can you please tell me the names of Mr. Ramirez’s “regulars”.”

“Certainly. He sees Miss Waverly on Tuesday and Mrs. Flores on Friday, but I don’t know who he sees on Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. Quite a variety, if I say so myself. I understand that it was Mrs. Flores who was really upset with Cesar’s, how do you say it, inability to perform. She must have really yelled at him to make him so anxious to do something about his condition.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Flores would be most upset. Do you mean Dolores Waverly?’

Si, si. She was the first, I believe.”

“Well, Mr. Sandoval, I must be going. I will think about whether I need to talk to Isabella, but suggest you be a bit more discreet with your viewing habits. I’d disconnect the big screen TV, for example.”

Gracias, but, Señor Dudley, would you fix my computer before you go?”

“OK, that is the reason I came.”

Dudley was totally shocked to learn that Dolores Waverly was one of Ramirez’s “regulars” and even more that she was likely the first. That piece of information, plus the critical location of her apartment convinced him that he must talk to her immediately. She may have some critical pieces to the mystery surrounding Carmine Felicio’s death.

Dolores Waverly did not appear particularly eager to see Dudley when he knocked on her door. “Ms. Waverly, I think it would best for everyone if we talked. I believe you have some information about your friend Carmine’s death that you haven’t shared. You can talk with me, or I can ask Lt. Garcia to come to your apartment if you prefer.”

“I had nothing to do with her accident!”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, Ms. Waverly. I am just saying that I believe you have some information that could be helpful to understand exactly what happened.”

“OK, I’ll try.” She realized that she is much better off telling Dudley what she witnessed. Under the best of circumstances, she will be able to place the blame for Carmine’s death on Cesar and really get even with him.

“I was standing in the doorway of my apartment when I saw Carmine coming down the hallway. She must have been confused because her apartment is actually on the first floor. As she reached the end of the hallway, I saw Cesar coming down the stairs from the third floor. I knew then that Carmine wasn’t confused at all, but had arranged to meet Cesar and go to her apartment. At the top of the stairs, they had their arms around each other in an embrace. Then, I saw Cesar push Carmine, causing her to fall backward, head first down the stairs landing on her head. He walked down the stairs and I guess he realized that she wasn’t breathing and was probably dead. Then, he just took off down the hall.”

“Do you know if he saw you standing there at any time?”

“I doubt it, the two of them were so wrapped up in each other, I don’t think they would have noticed anything.”

“That is helpful, Ms. Waverly. Now, perhaps you could tell me about your relationship with Cesar Ramirez.

“There is no “relationship”, besides, that is really no concern of yours, Mr. Dudley.”

“I don’t mean to be indelicate, Miss Tuesday, but it really does pertain to this situation.”

Dolores was taken about by Dudley’s calling her “Miss Tuesday”, but realized that she must proceed carefully with what she reveals.”

“I ordered some “herbs” on the Internet to stop Ramirez from his rude behavior with women. I figured if he were rendered impotent, that might make him be more respectful.”

Dudley’s first thought was relief that Dolores had not indicated Paloma as the source of these “herbs”. “I understand, but, Miss Tuesday, personal jealousy could be another explanation for your wanting to make Mr. Ramirez impotent, couldn’t it?”

“OK, I totally freaked when I found out he had a string of women that he was seeing regularly and wanted to teach him a lesson. So, I also ordered “a ton of Viagra” from the same website. My plan was to make that bastard impotent with the women he saw on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday. Then, I would “load him up” with Viagra when he came here on Tuesday. That would make him think that I was the only one he could get it up with and he would stay away from those other women.”

“I understand how his actions could be very hurtful. Jealousy is a powerful emotion and can lead to dangerous behaviors. Are you certain that it is not jealousy that is influencing your version of events regarding Cesar and Carmine outside your apartment? Were you afraid that Cesar would replace you with her?”

“No, no no! He pushed her down the stairs. I’m sure of that.”

“I will leave you alone with your conscience for now, Miss Waverly. But, if after you reflect on things, you would like to talk some more, please call me.”

 

Case III: Chapter 8: A Kardashian Finale

Dudley went to the dining room where Garcia had just completed his second interview with Ramirez. He had decided to take Ramirez to police HQ and formally charge him with interfering with the investigation, hoping that would make him more cooperative.

Dudley motioned to Garcia and asked if he could speak to him for a few moments. “How did your interview with Ramirez go? Did you learn anything new?”

“No, I went over all the information we learned about his time at Sandia Labs and that stirred him up a bit. He claimed that whole incident was just a jealous woman trying to get revenge. He insisted he was totally innocent. I did get him to acknowledge that he had received a large settlement which has him “set for life” in his words. But I wasn’t able to get him to talk about Ms. Felicio at all. He maintained that he barely knew her.”

“Well, we know that’s not true. And, there just may be another jealous woman here who is also after Ramirez. Let me tell you briefly what I’ve learned this morning in discussions with Mary Thomas, Jorge Sandoval and Dolores Waverly.”

“Jesus, Doc! This sounds like some soap opera. Please don’t tell me that one of the Kardashians is hiding around here someplace to turn this into a frickin’ reality TV show!”

“I know, Lieutenant. It sounds bizarre. Maybe if we talk to Ramirez together and share some of this information, his memory might improve dramatically.”

“Sounds like a plan. You’re sure there’s no hidden camera anyplace?”

It didn’t take much encouragement for Cesar to realize that he has been found out and that his best course of action was total honesty. Getting fired is one thing, being accused of murder is an entirely different matter.

“Tell us first about the women, your “regulars”.

Ramirez puffed out his chest and began to brag about his romantic exploits. “With the money I got from Sandia, I had my choice of places to live. I decided on a retirement village because the majority of residents are lonely women, starved for attention. As you know, La Vida Aureo is the best place in town. It also has the distinct advantage that many of the residents are relatively young. I quickly discovered that many of these women are very grateful and it was relatively easy to build a set of regular appointments.“

“That’s just great, Mr. Ramirez. I’m sure you’re quite proud of your accomplishments. We’ll need to know the names of these women so we can determine your exact whereabouts about the time Ms. Felicio died.”

“I’m sure you understand, Lieutenant, a gentleman never “kisses and tells”. These women are very dear to me and I respect their privacy.”

“Let me remind you, Mr. Ramirez, that this may be a murder investigation. Please don’t play coy with me.”

Dudley interjected. “Perhaps you can tell us about your recent activities with your amigo, Mr. Sandoval?”

With that revelation, Ramirez spilled the entire story, naming his regulars and the “problems” he’s been having lately.

“That’s much better, Mr. Ramirez. Suppose I told you that one of your “regulars” gave you drugs that were the cause of your “problems”?”

“I do not believe any of them would do such a thing.”

“What about Dolores Waverly?”

“Why would she do that? She was the first of my regulars”.

“Perhaps she was jealous. Perhaps she thought you would replace her with Ms. Felicio.”

“That is not true. There is always room in my heart for another beautiful lady.”

“A true prince among men. Perhaps you could tell us the truth about your relationship with Ms. Felicio. No games, please. Remember that Doc saw you arguing with her and actually spoke to you directly at the time.”

“Ah, my sweet Carmine. She’s the one who got away. I used my best charms to win her over, but to no avail. I guess, with all of her young lovers, I was just too old for her tastes. I failed, but I would never hurt her, or any other woman for that matter; they are all too precious to me.”

“OK, so you’re a great guy. We have an eye witness who says you were with Carmine and that the two of you struggled before she fell to her death. Please help us understand that sequence of events.”

Cesar broke down and began to sob. “I encountered Carmine on the stairs on Sunday evening. She was coming down the hall and she was having a very difficult time walking. When she got to where I was standing, I reached out my hand to assist her. She sort of fell into me and I tried to hold her up. She shook her head and I guess it was then she realized it was me holding her. She must have thought I was getting fresh because she pushed me away. That caused her to fall backward, head first down the stairs landing on her head. I rushed down the stairs and noticed that she was not breathing and she didn’t have a pulse. I assumed she was dead. I looked up and saw Dolores standing at the top of the stairs, with her hands on her hips. She smiled at me and said something like, “Gotcha! You’re screwed now, you two-timing bastard!””

“I panicked. I didn’t know what to do and I was fearful of what Dolores might do. She could tell people that I pushed Carmine and killed her. So, I just left, leaving Carmine’s body at the foot of the stairs. I walked quickly to the east end of the building, climbed the stairs to the third floor and rushed back to Jorge’s apartment. I said nothing to him about what had happened.”

When he finished, Ramirez looked totally drained. All of his typical swagger and bravado was gone. He just sat there looking completely lost.

Garcia and Dudley weren’t doing much better. Finally, Garcia said, “Thank you, Mr. Ramirez. I don’t think we need anything else from you, at least for a while. You can go, but please keep yourself available in case we need to talk to you again.”

“I certainly will, Lieutenant. Thank you for letting me get all of this off my chest. It has been a great burden.”

After Ramirez had gone, Garcia looked at Dudley and said, “Well. Doc, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think, replied Dudley. We have two versions of the events that occurred at the stairs leading to Ms. Felicio’s fall and death. Any facts are compromised by the jealous motives of several people. Neither Mr. Ramirez nor Ms. Waverly were aware of Mrs. Thomas’ role leading to Ms. Felicio’s highly compromised physical state.   I don’t think anyone was trying to kill Ms. Felicio, although Mrs. Thomas had certainly entertained that thought. But, even her primary objective was severe injury, not murder. The entire situation is a terrible tragedy.”

“I agree and don’t know how it will eventually end up. My first responsibility is to get formal statements from each of the relevant participants in this drama. Then I will prepare my report in as much detail as possible. I would appreciate it if you would look over it before I submit it. Once I’ve given my report to the District Attorney, the next move is hers. I suspect she will call for a Grand Jury hearing and that will determine if anyone faces criminal charges. “

As Garcia got up to leave, he turned to Matthew Dudley and said, “Thanks once again, Doc, for your help in exposing some critical pieces of this situation. I realize that, officially, you are the resident Handyman, but I appreciate the fact that you care so much about this place and its residents. I hope I will never have to call on your “detective skills” in the future.”

But, as Garcia headed toward La Vida Aureo’s lobby, he had the nagging feeling that he would be seeing Matthew Dudley again and it again would be associated with another criminal mystery. As he reached the front door, he called back to Dudley. “I’ll trust you to talk to Isabella and fill her in on all the sorted details of this episode. You can leave out the part about the Kardashians being behind all the drama.”

A few days later, Dudley was sitting in a corner of the dining room relating these events to Paloma. They agreed that Paloma’s giving Dolores some herbs to “tame” Cesar will remain their secret. As it turned out, that aspect of the situation did not have any direct bearing on Carmine’s accidental death, nor on the behavior of Mary or Dolores. The fact that Dolores had deceived Paloma in the first place made their decision much easier to justify for themselves.

Paloma declared that in the future, she will confine her expertise with herbs to improving the taste and appeal of food at La Vida Aureo. She acknowledged that people lose their senses of taste and smell as they age and she has considerable knowledge and expertise of how to make “plain tasting” dishes more appealing.