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Case X: Romeo is Dead

 

Chapter 1: Coitus Interruptus

 

Magdalena Torres was satisfied.  It was late in the afternoon and she sat in her easy chair in the sun looking out the large window of her casita.  Perhaps it was the large Manhattan she was sipping.  More likely, it was the post-coital glow from an afternoon of vigorous sex with Cesar Ramirez.

Things were much improved since his involvement in the death of Carmine Felicio (Case III, November, 2014) and the accusations of Dolores Waverly.  Although Magdalena permitted Cesar to see other women, he was, for all intent and purpose, on-call to her whenever she desired his services.  And, she had insisted that Cesar stop chasing that Anglo woman, JoAnne what’s-her-name.   Yes, Magdalena Torres was certainly satisfied with her life at La Vida Aureo.

Her late afternoon reverie was interrupted by a knock on her door. She rose slowly from her chair and was pleased to see Matthew Dudley standing on her patio.

Remembering his previous encounter with Mrs. Torres (Case II, October, 2014), he spoke with some apprehension. “Mrs. Torres, I was on my way back to the main building, but wanted to confirm that I will be here at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning to repair that leaking faucet in your bathroom.”

“Well, Señor Handyman, I will be expecting you.  And, please don’t forget to bring all of your tools with you,” she grinned and took another sip of her drink.   “If you’re going to the main building, perhaps you would walk with me.  It is almost time for dinner and I prefer to not walk alone.  I do not care for the way that so many men here look at me with lecherous eyes.”

Dudley thought to himself that it was the men who should be afraid of Mrs. Torres’ lechery, but said, “I would be glad to accompany you to the Dining Room.”

They had only walked a short distance from Mrs. Torres’ casita when Dudley spotted something on the ground, partially hidden among some decorative bushes along the walkway.  As he moved cautiously forward and knelt for a closer look, Torres pushed past him.

She immediately recognized the highly-polished black boots with extensive silver ornamentation and elevated heels; they had spent much of the afternoon under her bed.  As she moved closer, she saw a man in tight trousers and a colorful silk shirt lying face-down in the grass with a large knife protruding from his back.  “Mi Dios; it is Cesar”, she screamed and stumbled to one side.

Dudley quickly confirmed that the body lying in the grass was indeed Cesar Ramirez; the characteristic outfit was unmistakable.  He quickly dialed 911 and moved to comfort Mrs. Torres.

Lt. Frank Garcia arrived in a few minutes with Tom Bowers, an Assistant Medical Technician.  Dudley greeted Garcia as they approached the body.  “I was walking toward the Main Building with Mrs. Torres when we discovered the body, Lieutenant.  We haven’t touched anything and Mrs. Torres has returned to her casita which is just back this walkway a bit.  Of course, I did not disturb the body, but I’m certain it is Cesar Ramirez.”

“Not the same Ramirez I questioned in regard to that previous case when the woman was found dead in the stairwell?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, it is the same man.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have plenty of potential suspects to interview then!  Please just tell me, Doc, that this isn’t another one of those Kardashian-type Reality Dramas!  Anyway, Tom and I need to get to work.  I assume you need to tell Isabella about this latest incident?  I’ll meet you in her office as soon as I get Tom started here.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant.  I’ll be in Isabella’s office when you are free.”

Lt. Garcia and Tom Bowers began examining the body and surrounding area.  Tom looked up and said, “It looks pretty straight-forward, Lieutenant.  The only thing I see is this large knife in his back. There don’t seem to be any other injuries, but I’ll know more when we get a chance to perform a more complete examination.”

The two men looked around the scene and didn’t see any other evidence that could relate to the crime.  “I’ll trust you to get the body back to the Morgue, Tom. I’m going to stop in the Director’s office and see what else I can learn about our victim.  Let me know when your report is ready.  Thanks.”

Garcia found Matthew Dudley sitting in Isabella Duncan’s office just off of the main Lobby.  He knew Isabella was a highly professional woman and not easily upset, but she seemed visibly shaken by this most recent situation.  “I know this is a difficult time, Isabella, so I’ll try to be brief.  Based on my past experience with Mr. Ramirez, I’m afraid I’ll need to interview quite a few Residents.  I will try to be as unobtrusive as possible and not disturb any more folks than absolutely necessary.   What can either of you tell me about Mr. Ramirez’ most recent “activities”?”

Isabella Duncan gathered her thoughts and emotions before she spoke calmly. “Actually, Lieutenant, things had been relatively quiet since that unfortunate situation with Ms. Felicio.  Mr. Ramirez has pretty much behaved himself and not bothered any other female Residents.  At least, there haven’t been any complaints or rumors that have reached my desk.  Nonetheless, I presume you will want to talk to the same women who were involved before.  I suggest you also interview Mrs. Magdalena Torres.  It is my understanding that Mr. Ramirez was spending most of his time with her and that she kept a pretty tight leash on his “extracurricular activities”.   As it turns out, that situation benefited everyone; it kept two of our more aggressively romantic Residents occupied and basically out of circulation.”

“It was actually Mrs. Torres who initially recognized Mr. Ramirez’ body,” added Dudley. “She and I were walking down the path together when she first spotted his boots sticking out of the shrubbery.  I thought it would be OK if she went back to her casita rather than hang around the crime scene.  I’m sure she will be willing to talk to you.”

“Thanks, Doc.  Yeah, it was probably best to let her return to her place.  It would have only added to the confusion and distracted us from looking around. But, she is probably the first person I need to interview.  I assume that the other women who were involved with him before are still here at La Vida Aureo.  In addition to them, can you think of anyone else I should talk to?”

“Not off-hand, Lieutenant,” suggested Isabella.  “As I said, Mr. Ramirez had pretty much left other women alone and really never had too much to do with any of the male Residents.  If I think of anyone, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“Thanks Isabella; and you too, Doc.  I’m going to swing by the Kitchen to pay my respects to Señora Angostura and then get back to the Station. I’ll begin my interviews tomorrow morning, if that’s convenient. I’ll certainly keep you posted as to anything we learn from the autopsy as well as the results of my interviews.”

“I know you will try to get this resolved as quickly as possible, Lieutenant.  Thank you.”

“You have my word, Isabella.”

Lt. Frank Garcia made his way to the Main Dining Room in search of Paloma Angostura.  Señora Angostura was the cook for La Vida Aureo and the woman who had essentially raised Garcia and successfully guided him through a difficult youth.  Garcia always made a point of stopping by to pay his respects.  He also knew that Señora Angostura was a valuable source of information about all the happenings at La Vida Aureo through what she referred to as her Sopapilla Network.  Many of the women who were part of La Vida Aureo’s staff would meet in the small room adjacent to the Main Dining Room each afternoon to wait for their ride home.  Angostura would provide a fresh batch of sopapillas and coffee and lemonade for the group. She could then sit quietly and listen as the women discussed the events of the day, which typically revealed the inner goings-on at the facility.  Garcia knew that there wasn’t much that happened that Señora Angostura wasn’t aware of or could readily find out.  This information was often invaluable to him as he sought to understand the motives and behaviors of some of the Residents.

Paloma greeted Garcia as he walked into the kitchen from the Dining Room.  “Francisco, mi hijoComo esta?  Your eyes tell me that you are here with sad news.  I just heard about Señor Ramirez and it is most unfortunate.”

Madre, I know Señor Ramirez was not among your favorite people, but it is indeed a tragedy that he was murdered.   Mrs. Duncan told me that he had been on his “good behavior” recently, but I wanted to also ask you about him.”

“That is true.  I have not seen him strutting about the Dining Room bothering the women for several months.  I believe he spends much of his time with Señora Torres.”

“That is reassuring.  What about that group of women that met in here each day; the group that included Ms. Felicio?”

“Oh, they still come here almost every day, the three.  I’ve noticed that they get along much better since Señora Felicio’s death. They now actually play cards or dominoes and often invite a fourth person to join in.  And the conversation is more respectful than before, but I don’t think they are very open with each other.”

“Have you noticed Mr. Ramirez around any of them?  Do you think that any of them would want to harm him in any way?”

“No.  He does not stop to talk with them whenever he is in here. Señora Waverly was very angry with him some time ago, as you know, but even she seems to ignore him.  I believe she spends time with a man who is not a Resident. “

“Thank you very much, Madre.  I think it would still be wise to talk to the three of them just in case they have any information that would help me find out who murdered Mr. Ramirez.”

“I think that is wise, Francisco.  Please be careful as you go about your duties.  Know that you are always in my prayers. Adios

Dudley had remained in Isabella Duncan’s office after Lt. Garcia left.  “This is a most unfortunate situation, Isabella.  Even though Ramirez had been pretty much on his good behavior of late, I can’t help but think that there were still some Residents who resented him.  Even with that, I find it hard to believe that anyone here was angry enough to want to kill him.  Lt. Garcia didn’t mention it while he was here, but it looked like a rather violent attack to me.  Whoever did this exhibited a significant amount of anger or frustration.  If it’s OK with you, I think I’ll do a bit of investigating on my own.  Maybe someone on the Staff is aware of something that could have precipitated this crime.”

“You’re assuming that it was another Resident who murdered Ramirez?”

“I guess there’s always the possibility that someone from the Outside came in and killed him.  It could be a jealous husband or boyfriend from some affair in Ramirez’ past.  Hopefully a Resident or Staff member would have noticed any outsiders walking around looking for Ramirez.  I would assume that any such person would have to come here several times to be able to plan such an ambush.  There are just too many possibilities in this particular situation, but I feel obligated to help Lt. Garcia as much as possible.”

“That’s fine, Doc, but remember you have a responsibility to ALL of the Residents. And, it would be a shame to neglect the Community Assist Team as they rely on you a great deal.   Ramirez is dead and there is nothing you can do about that fact.  It is really Garcia’s job to find his killer, not yours.”

“I understand completely, Isabella.”

 

Case X: Romeo is Dead

Magdalena Torres immediately recognized the boots; they had spent much of the afternoon under her bed.  The highly-polished black boots with extensive silver ornamentation and elevated heels protruded from under the bushes along the walkway.  As she looked closer, she saw a man in tight trousers and a colorful silk shirt lying face-down in the grass with a large knife protruding from his back.  She was certain that it was Cesar Ramirez.

Chapter 2: New Residents

For the past several months, everything seemed to be running smoothly for Matthew Dudley. This was a very welcome relief after the tragic incidents related to the presence of Stuart Montgomery, the so-called Steward and his Flock of young assistants. The death of two residents had seriously shaken La Vida Aureo and most of the residents were only just now beginning to feel comfortable and secure. Dudley had tried to do his part by spending time with as many residents as possible as he went about his routine maintenance and repair activities. He reassured each person he talked with that all of the problems were temporary and had been the result of what he called outside influences. He spoke of Isabella Duncan’s capabilities and her commitment to the health and well being of the entire La Vida Aureo community. Matthew Dudley believed this himself and had spent many hours talking with Isabella over these past few months about how to reestablish a high level of confidence among the staff and residents.

One afternoon, Dudley had just finished a minor plumbing repair in the casita of Laurence Blackburn, a relatively new arrival. As Dudley was cleaning up the area around the sink and putting his tools away, Blackburn called out, “Say there, Mr. Dudley, have you got a few minutes to visit? I just finished putting some additional photos in my album and I’d like to show them to someone. I promise not to keep you too long or bore you with a bunch my war stories, although most of these photos are from my time in the Army.”

“I certainly do have time, Mr. Blackburn, but I prefer that you call me Doc.”

“You got a deal, Doc, but you’ll have to call me Larry in return.”

“OK, Larry. I’d enjoy seeing your photos and would appreciate hearing the story behind them.”

The two men sat together at the small dining room table as Larry Blackburn opened a rather large photo album. It was readily apparent to Dudley that Blackburn had put considerable effort into organizing his photos and carefully placing them in this loose leaf album. In addition to the photos, there were letters, post cards and newspaper clippings that Dudley assumed pertained to the photographs on that individual page. The first few pages were obviously of Blackburn’s youth. Dudley watched as the obvious pride in Larry Blackburn was tempered by sadness as he studied each page before saying anything.

Blackburn became upset and quietly closed the album. “Some of these are very difficult,” he said. “I know that, in subsequent pictures, some of these guys are missing, and I really need to share this with someone. It would help me to be able to walk through the entire album and talk about each page. For the past few months, I’ve just concentrated on collecting the pieces and organizing them and putting them into the album. I didn’t pay too much attention to any of the individual pictures or letters, etc. But now that everything is in one place, I am able to see the whole story and parts of it are very troubling to me. My mind keeps jumping ahead because I know what happened and some of the future is not very pretty.”

“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, Doc, I’d appreciate it if you could spare the time to accompany me on this journey. I’m fortunate in that I am not plagued by nightmares or that level of trauma; sometimes the sadness is a bit too much, that’s all.

“I can do that and would be honored. If you were experiencing any severe effects, I’d be the first to help you get some professional support. I’m a good listener, but I’m certainly not a shrink.”

“Not to worry. I really feel for so many of those guys that served in Iraq and Afghanistan that are struggling with PTSD. My tour In Vietnam was difficult, but nowhere as tough as some guys had it. The toughest part was reading about the protests back home and the abuse that so many guys took when they returned home.”

“I never was in the Army. I guess I was lucky that my number never came up in the draft during all those years when so many of my friends were called and most went to Vietnam. I have the greatest respect for all of you and would be honored to share in your experience.”

 

One afternoon, Paloma was sitting in the main dining room planning her menus for the upcoming week. She had always considered herself to be a very capable cook and took great pride in the variety of meals she prepared. She was well aware of the challenges of preparing meals for the diverse population of La Vida Aureo and was particularly concerned with the declining sense of taste as people aged. Paloma was concentrating on the task at hand and did not notice the woman sitting just a few tables away. It was not until the woman rose to leave that Paloma was interrupted by the sound of the chair on the hardwood floor. As the woman approached, Paloma stood up to introduce herself. “I am so sorry. I did not notice you sitting there. Please forgive me. My name is Paloma Angostura and I am the cook.”

“That is quite alright. I was lost in my own thoughts and did not notice you either. My name is JoAnne Elliott,” she said as she extended her hand.

“I have not noticed you before in the dining room, offered Paloma. Are you new to La Vida Aureo?”

“I moved here almost three months ago and live in one of the newer casitas on the west side of the village. I prepare most of my own meals and have not taken the opportunity to sample your cooking, which has an excellent reputation.”

“That is most kind of you to say that,” blushed Paloma.

“It has just been convenient for me so far. I spend most of my time as a volunteer at the local VA hospital and my schedule can be a bit unpredictable. But, one of my reasons for coming to the dining room today was to inquire about the meal schedule.”

“Please have a seat. Let me see if there is any fresh coffee in the kitchen and I believe there are still some sopapillas available. I made a large batch just a while ago for the house staff and they won’t miss one or two.”

“Please don’t go to any trouble on my part.”

“It is no trouble and I consider all the La Vida Aureo residents as my extended family. Perhaps you can tell me a bit about yourself, if you are comfortable with that.”

Paloma quickly returned with a small carafe of fresh coffee, two china cups and saucers and a small plate of sopapillas and some honey.

“This is most gracious, Señora Angostura. I haven’t had home-made sopapillas in so long”, beamed JoAnne.

“I will not brag, but many people say mine are the lightest they have ever tasted. But, how do you know sopapillas?”

JoAnne sighed. “This is my home. I grew up in Bernalillo, but have been away for most of my life. When I retired last year, my heart told me that I need to return.”

“It is good that you followed your heart back to your home. Why did you leave? Don’t tell me you left with some dashing young man,” said Paloma before she realized that she was recalling much of her own life’s story.

“Just the opposite. I was in love with a beautiful boy who went into the Army and was killed. I could not bear the loneliness so I went as far away as I could. I buried my pain and hurt in a variety of activities for several years. I was very angry at the very notion of war and the lives it destroys. Eventually, I went back and finished college with a degree in psychology and have spent my entire life working for the VA trying to help young men and women returning from war. In some ways, I guess I see my Eduardo in the face of each of these young people.”

“I am sorry to hear about your loss. I can see the compassion in your eyes and I know that you have helped many young people. But, now that you are here, you can become part of the La Vida Aureo community. I know you will meet many truly wonderful people here.”

As Paloma and JoAnne continued to talk, Cesar Ramirez strolled into the dining room. He scanned the room, apparently looking for someone in particular and, spotting JoAnne, walked over to introduce himself. “I have not seen you here before, Pretty Lady; you must be new. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Cesar Ramirez and, if there is ever anything you need, please feel free to call on me. I am at your service.” Then, spotting Paloma’s look of obvious disapproval, Ramirez bowed to JoAnne, turned and quickly walked away.

“That man is not a person you want to know,” frowned Paloma. “He considers himself to be God’s Gift to Women, but he is certainly not a gentleman! Please be very careful around him.”

“Not to worry, replied JoAnne, I’ve learned to read people pretty well over the years and I can tell that he is someone to avoid.”

“On the other hand, here comes one of the most honorable men I know,” said Paloma as she spied Matthew Dudley walking into the dining room. “Let me introduce you.”

“Señor Doc, please sit down and let me introduce you to JoAnne Elliott, a relatively new resident. JoAnne, this is Matthew Dudley.”

“How very nice to meet you Ms. Elliott; welcome to La Vida Aureo. Please call me Doc”

“It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Doc.” JoAnne looked at Paloma and said, “Thank you so much for the coffee and sopapillas. I appreciate your kind words and look forward to spending more time with you in the future. And, you can count on me to show up for regular meals as well.” With that, JoAnne smiled at Paloma and Dudley and left.

Case III: Chapter 4: Revenge on Romeo

Dudley walked out into the courtyard and paused a moment to enjoy the warmth of the late morning sun. His ears picked up a discordant sound and he looked toward a passage way between two buildings. He saw Carmine Felicio and Cesar Romero standing toe-to-toe and apparently arguing about something. Cesar put his hand on Carmine’s shoulder and she forcefully brushed it away. He opened his arms, attempting to embrace her and she slapped him across his face. He didn’t seem fazed and broke into a wide smile. “Just stay away from me”, she shouted and turned to walk away. He reached for her arm and was rewarded with another forceful slap. She stormed away.

Cesar noticed Dudley and casually walked toward him. “My little bit of Italian Spice is having a bad day, amigo. Think nothing of it. Deep in her heart, she desires me. She knows she cannot resist my charms forever; maybe another day.”

“I am certainly not an expert on women, Mr. Ramirez, but when a woman says “No”, she usually means “No!”. It might be better if you left Ms. Felicio alone.”

“Ah, amigo, women with Latin blood are always temperamental. It is that “fire” that attracts me.”

“Nevertheless, I would advise you to stay away.” Dudley did not really want to interfere, but he found this type of macho behavior particularly offensive and it usually ended badly.

“OK, OK, I will. I’m sure there are others here who appreciate what I have to offer.”

“Please be a gentleman. I have found that it is always best to treat all women with respect.”

Still troubled by what he saw, Dudley walked back toward the main building to keep his appointment with Mr. Sandoval and his computer. Ramirez sauntered off toward the main lobby. Although it was none of his business, he shared Isabella’s commitment to the health and well-being of ALL residents. Ramirez’s behavior and attitude was not consistent with that principle and would, Dudley thought, eventually lead to trouble.

The following Monday, the Queer Quartet was once again seated at their regular table and things seemed to be proceeding peacefully, at least until Cesar Ramirez made his “rounds”. He again stopped at their table and spoke to each of them, but paid particular attention to Carmine Felicio. She didn’t respond to his attention and after a short while, he moved on to another table of women.   The four of them appeared to return to their previous activity and not exchange any additional conversation. About mid-afternoon, they all got up to leave, but Dolores sat back down. “You all can go on, I just want to sit here a while and finish my iced tea. I’m fine, really.”

Paloma noticed Dolores sitting alone and wanted to offer some solace, but reminded herself that it is “none of her business”.

Dolores continued to sit alone for quite some time and continued to look in Paloma’s direction as if she wanted to say something.

Finally, Paloma’s curiosity got the better of her and she walked over and sat down across the table from Dolores. “Miss Dolores, please excuse me for disturbing you, but you have a very troubled look on your face. Is there something you wish to talk about?”

“Oh, Señora Paloma, I am worried for my friends. I do not trust that man, Cesar Ramirez. I am afraid he is trying to push himself on poor Carmine. I have heard from other women here at La Vida Aureo that he can be quite insistent and refuses to take “No” for an answer. The way he has been talking to Carmine lately makes me afraid for her safety. He said some very sexually suggestive things to her again today. I don’t mean to bother you with my troubles, Señora, but can you suggest anything I might do to keep Cesar from hurting women and harassing them sexually?”

Paloma did not respond immediately. She certainly did not want to get involved in the affairs of any of the residents. Her role as cook was much too important to her. But, she has seen many men like Ramirez in her lifetime and knows how dangerous they can be and the pain and suffering they can inflict on women. Finally, she looked Dolores in the eye and says, “Tia Luisa taught me about many herbs and their uses. I believe I could offer you something that would “soften him” a bit, if you understand. If you were to put it in some food or drink, it might just make him a bit more humble toward women. ”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Oh, he might be angry and we would have to watch him carefully, but the women would be safe and only have to put up with his charms.”

Dolores accepted the small envelope with a powdery substance in it and thanked Paloma profusely. “I will make sure this gets in some of Cesar’s food or drink as soon as possible.”

“Please be careful, Miss Dolores. Just use a small amount to see how it affects him. We don’t want to simply trade one type of bad behavior for another.”

Dolores struggled to contain her joy as she left the dining room. She had successfully preyed on Paloma’s concern and generosity to get the herb. There were rumors at La Vida Aureo that Paloma was a curandera or maybe even some sort of Mexican witch. But Dolores now had the means to teach Cesar a lesson. Her motivation was NOT to protect Carmine, but to keep Cesar away from Carmine as well as other women. Dolores enjoyed her role as one of Cesar’s “regulars” and wanted to have him exclusively for herself. She always suspected that Cesar had a number of sexual partners at La Vida Aureo and her plan was to confront him with this fact and warn him to stay away from Carmine. Dolores knew that if Cesar took up with Carmine, she would lose him.

Dudley completed looking at Mr. Sandoval’s computer and decided it is just a faulty cable or two. He would order replacements from Amazon, even though he would prefer to give the business to the local Radio Shack. A long-time friend was the owner/franchisee of this store before he retired and Dudley always enjoyed stopping in to visit. But, since he is essentially “stranded” at La Vida Aureo, he knows that Amazon will deliver and he can complete the repairs for Mr. Sandoval.   Dudley went back to the kitchen and asked for a cup of coffee from Paloma. “I am troubled by Mr. Ramirez’s behavior.”

Si, I have noticed as well. What will you do?”

“It is not my place to interfere, but, I’m afraid if I wait, someone will be hurt. And, I don’t want to mention anything to Isabella; she already has her hands full.”

“Señor Doc, I should tell you that Miss Dolores talked to me earlier this afternoon with exactly those same concerns. She was particularly worried that Señor Ramirez would cause trouble for her friend Miss Carmine.”

“Her concern may be warranted. I saw Ramirez and Carmine arguing in the courtyard and it ended with Carmine slapping him quite hard.”

“Then, I probably did the right thing. I gave Dolores some herbs that should slow Ramirez’s desires and inappropriate behavior toward women.”

“Given his actions lately, that should help. I will make a point of keeping an eye on him over the next few days to see if there is any change in his behavior.”

“That would be helpful. I really cannot get away from the kitchen and you are able to move about. I will keep my ears open for any conversation I hear in the dining room.”

“Together, we may be able to prevent an unfortunate situation.”

“And, help Isabella at the same time.”

Dolores was Miss Tuesday (“Señorita de Martes”) with Cesar. She had always suspected that there were other women, but it was a conversation she overheard at the La Vida Aureo beauty parlor that shocked her into reality. Two women were comparing Cesar’s sexual techniques and judging his most recent performance. They freely admitted that they were sharing him on consecutive evenings, but felt a sense of justice because they kept that knowledge from Cesar. They played along with his romantic notions that each of them was “his only true love”. Cesar had given them each a “romantic pet name” which was actually a play on words for their respective day of the week! It hadn’t taken too much effort to deduce the real meaning which made their part of the charade more enjoyable. Both women also acknowledged that there were certainly other women in Cesar’s “regular schedule”, but they were appreciative for his attention regardless how preposterous it was!

Cesar arrived at Dolores’ apartment the following Tuesday evening, per usual. After rather enjoyable sex, she poured him a celebratory glass of sangria and dumped the drugs in. “The trap is set for that arrogant bastard,” she mused confidently to herself.

The remainder of the week presented Cesar with considerable challenge. He failed to perform with Ms. Wednesday, Ms. Thursday and Ms. Friday. Ms. Thursday tried to reassure him by telling him that “things happen” and “not to worry”. She told him that her late husband had similar problems, particularly as he got older. Her intended comforting words only served to infuriate Cesar. As each day passed, he became more irritated and frustrated and his foul mood was evident as he attempted his typical “parade” through the dining room. By Saturday, he was beside himself and he confided in his friend, Jorge Sandoval, who suggested that he needs some spicy porn to revive his interest and maybe learn some new techniques. “Come by my apartment on Sunday afternoon and I’ll show you some stuff on the Internet that will get your motor running again, my friend. Oh, and bring your laptop computer; my computer is down for repairs. That way, I can also place a “bookmark” for the best sites on your computer for your use at any time.”

Case III: Chapter 5: Death in the Stairwell

Monday morning, on his way to the second floor, Dudley discovered Carmine lying in the stairwell, at the bottom of a flight of a dozen stairs between the second and first floors.   She appeared hurt. Dudley called her name with no response. He decided to check for a pulse and discovered that Carmine was actually dead. Millicent Branch, who was coming down the stairs, noticed Dudley knelt over Carmine’s body, screamed and fainted.

Dudley quickly called Lieutenant Garcia to report the accident. Garcia asked Dudley to remain with the body and make sure that nothing was disturbed at the scene. “I will remain here but I need to notify Isabella as soon as possible. And, Mrs. Branch has fainted here as well. ”

After what seemed like a very long time, Frank Garcia arrived and was followed shortly by George Hernandez, the Medical Examiner.

Garcia shook his head and turned to Dudley, who was standing a few feet away so as to not interfere. “I can’t figure it, Doc. I certainly hope this turns out to be another accident. It is difficult to think about multiple deaths and that business with the drugs here at La Vida Aureo. I had always planned to try to get my aunt in here when we were no longer able to care for her at home. This is troubling.”

“I agree, Lieutenant.

“You seem to have your finger on the pulse around here. Is there anything you can tell me? Are there people you think I should talk to? This may turn out to be just an unfortunate accident, but I want to gather as much background information as quickly as possible while things are still fresh in people’s minds.”

“You should certainly talk to her friends. She plays cards with three other women residents almost daily and I think they are all friends. And, I hesitate to say this, but you should probably talk with Cesar Ramirez, another resident. I’m not sure of his relationship with Ms. Felcio, but I saw the two of them arguing just last week. In fact, the argument ended when Ms. Felicio slapped Mr. Ramirez. If you don’t need me here, I’m going to talk to Isabella and let her know what’s going on. I would appreciate it if you would also talk with her before you leave today and let he know what you plan to do.”

“Thanks, Doc, as always. I’ll make a point to talk to those people this afternoon or tomorrow at the latest. I’ll stop to see Isabella on my way out. If you think of anything else, please give me a call.”

Hernandez looked up from the body and said to Garcia, “There don’t appear to be any extraneous marks on her that would indicate foul play. It looks like she fell and landed wrong, broke her neck and likely died instantly, probably sometime yesterday evening. I’ll do an autopsy to see if that tells me anything more and I’ll do a full toxicology screen just to be complete.

“You know, Frank, I’m beginning to have my doubts about this place. I always knew that hospitals are very dangerous places, but I always thought that these fancy retirement facilities were pretty tame. I may have to reconsider my retirement plans; Scottsdale is looking better all the time!”

The next day, Lt. Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo about mid-morning and stopped at Isabella’s office to reiterate his plans for the day regarding interviews. “I plan to talk to Ms. Felicio’s three female friends and to Cesar Ramirez. I thought I’d question the three women at one time and see how that goes. If necessary, I can question them individually in more detail at a later date. Can you tell me anything about this Mr. Ramirez? I understand from Doc that he had a recent argument with Ms. Felicio.”

“That approach sounds reasonable. Mr. Ramirez is our resident Romeo. I’ve heard some rumors about his romantic escapades, but only rumors. I’ve heard nothing about him related to Ms. Felicio. I’m sure you can understand that I am very upset by this development and hope it turns out just to be an accident. I have already called a friend of mine who specializes in preventing falls with older people. If there is something we can do regarding the stairs or railings, etc. to minimize the potential for falls, we’ll do that immediately. Is there anything I can do to help? Are there any results back from the Medical Examiner?”

“I agree, Isabella; I hope this is just an unfortunate accident. No word back yet from the ME, but I’ll let you know if I learn anything significant.”

Garcia entered the dining room and paused briefly to say buenos dias to Señora Angostura. He found Carmine’s three friends, Mary, Dolores and Estelle sitting together at a table in near the window. As expected, they are a sad looking lot.

“Good morning, ladies.” As Garcia tried to open the conversation, he was met with an expected silence, but pressed delicately forward. “I understand you were all close to Ms. Felicio and I am sorry for your loss. I will try to be brief, but would appreciate anything you could tell me about your friend that might shed some light on my investigation.”

“Why is there an investigation?” offers Estelle. “I thought Carmine fell down the stairs and broke her neck.”

“This is only routine procedure. At this point, there is nothing to suggest any other explanation. I’m just trying to be thorough.”

Mary was quiet, but told Garcia that Carmine was a jogger. Dolores added that Carmine took muscle relaxants for the pain so she can run every day and that she got “grumpy” if she missed a day. Estelle sniped something about “a day without a new boy is a day without sunshine” for Carmine. “That’s the real reason she runs, to troll for young boys to bring here to screw.”

“Show a little respect, Estelle”, said Mary, angrily.

“Well, it’s true. And, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of those stallions pushed her down the stairs after discovering that she couldn’t satisfy him; young boys are like that!”

Garcia noted this exchange and could not decide whether there is any truth in it, or just women being “catty”. But, he knew he must follow up on these comments. “Can you tell me where Ms. Felicio typically ran?”

“Up near Albuquerque Academy; I think there is some sort of track or path around the perimeter of the property.”

“Thank you. On another matter, do any of you know of any connection between Ms. Felicio and a man named Cesar Ramirez?”

“That man is always pestering the ladies and is often quite rude,” offered Dolores. He has shown particular interest in Carmine judging by the way he tries to put his hands on her, even while we’re all sitting here together.”

“Oh, Dolores, you’re just jealous because he pays more attention to her than you”, added Estelle.

“I worked with him at Sandia Labs,” says Mary. He was in a different Department, but there were rumors about him throughout the Labs. I know several women personally who complained about his unwanted advances. He left Sandia rather suddenly and I was quite surprised to see him show up here. I didn’t think he could afford a nice place like La Vida Aureo.”

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, can any of you suggest any kind of physical altercation between Ms. Felicio and Mr. Ramirez?”

“I doubt it. He was too interested in Carmine and was pursuing her quite a bit”, said Dolores with bitterness in her voice.

“Thank you, ladies, for the information. That will be all for now, but I trust I can call on you again if necessary.”

“You’re most welcome, Mr. Policeman, flirted Estelle. Come back any time.”

“Oh, Estelle, stop it,” said Mary.

As Garcia looked for Cesar Ramirez, he realized that Ms. Felicio’s friends had given him several things to follow up on. He definitely wanted to look into Ms. Felicio’s daily running routine and thought he had the ideal way to pursue that topic. The women had also given him some additional insight into this Ramirez character which supported Dudley’s comments. He would have to approach that interview with caution and also see what he could learn about the situation at Sandia Labs.

Garcia caught up with Cesar Ramirez in the main lobby. “Mr. Ramirez, my name is Lieutenant Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit. I’m looking into the recent death of Carmine Felicio and would like to ask you a few questions. Perhaps we could we sit at that small table over by the window?”

“Certainly, Lieutenant. I would be happy to help. I was upset to hear about her accident.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez. Let’s start with how you came to know Ms. Felicio.”

“I first met her here at La Vida Aureo, probably in the dining room with her friends. They gather almost every day and that’s probably where I first met her, with them.”

“I just had the opportunity to meet those ladies myself. They seem like a congenial bunch, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I really don’t know that much about any of them, except to say “Hello” in the dining room.”

“I see. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Ms. Felicio; were you friends or just acquaintances?”

“As I said, Lieutenant, I really don’t know any of them very well, including Ms. Felicio. We may have exchanged words about the weather, or some such, but really nothing more.”

“OK, just one more question. Can you tell me where you were on Sunday evening, say, after dinner time until about midnight?”

“I had dinner in the dining room and then went straight to my room and watched TV alone until I went to bed about 10 o’clock.”

“Can anyone confirm that you spent the evening alone in your room?”

“No. Are you implying that Ms. Felicio’s death was NOT an accident or that I had anything to do with it?

“Certainly not, Mr. Ramirez. I’m just trying to do my job and be thorough about gathering information. One final question, if you don’t mind. I’ve started looking into retirement places for my aunt and am considering La Vida Aureo. Can you tell me how you came to choose this place over all the other ones available in Albuquerque?”

“OK. I’ll consider your question just part of being a good cop. For your other question, I chose La Vida Aureo because it absolutely has the best facilities around. ”

“I’ve heard it has an excellent reputation, but that it’s also very expensive.”

“It is expensive, but as a former senior manager at Sandia Labs, I have a good pension. And, they offered me a nice package to take retirement early, which allowed me to move here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez for your time and the information. I assume that if I have any additional questions, I can easily find you here?”

“I’m always here, but I doubt if I can add anything else.”

Garcia stopped at Isabella’s office on his way out. Dudley was there. “Doc, I’m glad you suggested I talk to Mr. Ramirez. He was very evasive in his comments and cannot account for his time for much of yesterday evening; he says he was alone watching TV. He also said he barely knew Ms. Felicio, which is different from what you told me, Doc. He told me he moved to La Vida Aureo after his early retirement from Sandia Labs where he was some sort of mid-level manager and I’ll need to check that out.”

“I can help there, offered Isabella. I know the Human Resources Director at Sandia and I’ll call here to see what I can learn about our Resident Romeo’s time there, particularly whether there were any complaints about his behavior. If she’ll tell me, I’ll also see what I can learn about the situation surrounding his “early retirement.”

 

Case III: Chapter 6: Los Stupid Boys

Based on his initial interview with Ms. Felicio’s women friends, Garcia realized that he must look into her daily jogging routine. If the comment about bringing young men back to her room was correct, it was possible that one of them might be able to shed light on her recent movements around the time of her death. Garcia knew that there was a more effective way to gather information from a group of guys hanging around a popular jogging place and sent Sergeant Bernadette Armijo to the Albuquerque Academy grounds.

After Bernadette had only run a lap and one half, a group of young men wearing running gear were standing along the fence and spoke to her as she jogged past. “Hola, mamacita, como esta? Would you like some company as you run along? We could protect you?”

Bernie pretended to ignore them, but gave them a look that encouraged them to follow along. She stopped a few yards away and turned to face these young men. “My friend Carmine told me this was a good place to jog because of the scenery and the local “talent”. You guys wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

They all smiled and one particularly handsome and muscular guy said, “Ah, we know Carmine. She’s a great lady.” He did not try to hide the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” gesture he shared with his buddies.

While they were talking, Bernadette had maneuvered the group into an area along the fence where they were essentially cornered. As soon as she had them all “boxed in”, she made her move. It looked as though she was reaching to adjust the headphones on the iPhone she wore on her belt when she produced her APD badge. The guys’ eyes grew suddenly much wider as they tried to process her unexpected move. “Look, honchos, I just want to ask some questions. But, I will interpret a run as an indication of something approaching guilt. So, let’s just have a friendly little chat. What do you say?”

The guy who appeared to be the leader spoke first. “Look, we haven’t done anything. Carmine comes here almost every day and does her jog around the perimeter of the grounds. Nothing interferes with that. On her “cool down” lap, she typically walks up to one of us and starts a conversation. It usually ends up with her inviting that guy to come to her place for the evening. I was the first guy she approached and I went there a couple of times. Then she asked me if any of my amigos would be similarly interested. So, like the good friend I am, I began to turn my “homies” on to this action. That’s it; no harm, no foul is the way I see it.”

“Where does she take you Romeos?”

“She lives in an apartment that’s part of that retirement village a few blocks from here, La Vida Something.”

“And then what happens?

“Well, you know. She didn’t invite me there to discuss world politics.”

“You’re telling me this woman just invites a stranger back to her place for what? Sex?”

“Yeah. What’s wrong with that? I mean, look at us. We’re pretty awesome guys; we’re certainly better equipped to satisfy her than the old farts at her retirement home!”

“OK, sure. I can see that you’re a real prize. It that all that’s involved; just sex?   Nothing else, you know, like money, drugs, that kind of stuff?”

“No, just straight sex. The only drugs I’m aware of are some kind of muscle relaxant she says she takes after she runs. She says it keeps her flexible and I can certainly attest to that! She’s a great ride for an older lady, wild, desperate, you know.”

“I’m glad to see that there are still gentlemen in this world, said Bernadette sarcastically. Each of you write down your contact information and then show me some ID to verify the information. I am sure all of you upstanding citizens would tell me the truth, but I just want to be sure.”

“What’s this all about anyway?”

“Carmine was found dead a few days ago and we’re gathering information from everyone she came in contact with during the past few weeks.”

“Holy shit! None of us had anything to do with anything like that. It was always just go to her place, screw and leave.”

Bernadette gathered all the contact information and jogged back to her patrol car which she had parked inconspicuously a few blocks away. She would relate her discussions and comments to Garcia later. These jokers appeared to be so self-absorbed, she doubted anyone of them would contemplate murder. “Sometimes I worry that being a policeman keeps me single, she thought to herself, but not on days like today!”

The next morning, Sgt. Armijo sat in Lt. Garcia’s office to relate her experience with “los stupid boys”. Garcia’s phone rang and it was George Hernandez with the preliminary results from the autopsy and toxicology analyses for Carmine Felicio. “Frank, it is clear that a broken neck was the cause of death and I’m pretty sure that she fell down the stairs backwards because several of her vertebrae are also cracked and there is some bruising on her back consistent with bouncing down the stairs.”

“I assume, George, that “bouncing down the stairs” is a medical term?”

“Well, she didn’t slide! Would you prefer the medical explanation that “she took a header” off the landing?”

“Thanks, George. How about the tox screen?”

“Oh, you’re gonna love this. She had so much muscle relaxant in her that I don’t see how she was able to walk, much less navigate stairs. And, as a kicker, there was also the presence of alcohol, maybe a glass or two of wine. ”

“I know, from talking to her friends and from the interviews Bernie did, that she routinely took muscle relaxants so she could jog regularly”

“Maybe so, but based on the levels I found in her blood, she would have been totally non-ambulatory at the time she fell. That’s a medical term meaning she was “completely wacked out”.”

Garcia was digesting this information and sharing it with Bernadette when his phone rang again. “Lt. Garcia, it’s Isabella Duncan at La Vida Aureo. I have some interesting information about Cesar Ramirez and his time at Sandia.”

“Thanks for following up, Isabella, I’m eager to hear what you’ve learned.”

“Well, our Resident Romeo had a similar reputation at Sandia, but it appears that most of his so-called reputation was just self-promotion. It looks like he was the primary source of the rumors about his numerous conquests. My friend told me that there was one rather nasty incident, however, that resulted in his departure. Apparently, he was actually having an affair with a co-worker, a married woman, but it was likely consensual. A Department Manger discovered this situation and decided that Cesar needed to be punished. She believed the persistent rumors about his numerous affairs and said she didn’t want to see anyone hurt. So, this Manager reported his “inappropriate behaviors” toward her to Human Resources and demanded that he be fired “for cause”. But Cesar had learned through “pillow talk” that this Manager had a long history of affairs with men under her supervision. All of this information was presented to Human Resources, including the true nature of Cesar’s “reputation”, which significantly undermined the Manager’s claims. In the end, the Manager was simply placed on a brief internal probation and Cesar was issued an apology by the Company. Although Cesar’s affair was consensual, it still violated company policy and was cause for termination. Cesar’s pride was wounded and he threatened to sue to expose the hypocrisy related to the Manager’s behavior. To avoid a public relations nightmare, Sandia offered Ramirez a sizeable sum of money in return for his silence. He also agreed that the “official version” of the settlement would be that he received a generous early retirement package for his years of outstanding service to the company.”

“Wow, whistled Garcia. That certainly sheds some light on his behavior. I see now why he was less than cooperative in his initial conversation with me. To be falsely accused like that would certainly make one gun-shy. The monetary settlement probably also explains how he could afford to live at La Vida Aureo,”

“I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask about the amount of the settlement. My friend was already telling me far too much. She did say, however, that it made him much better off than his normal retirement as a technician would have been.”

“A technician? He told me he was a senior manager.”

“Well, Frank, I seriously doubt that settlement required him to give up promoting himself, particularly his overwhelming appeal to the ladies”, chided Isabella.

“You’re probably right. Given that and the fact that he was not honest with me before, I I really need to have a more serious interview with him as soon as possible. I have a feeling that he knows more about the events surrounding Ms. Felicio’s death than he admitted; he claimed that he barely knew her or her friends. But, he gave Doc a very detailed description of all four women and Doc also observed Ramirez arguing with Ms. Felicio. Thank you very much, Isabella. You have my commitment that I will get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.”

“You’re welcome, Lieutenant, please keep me informed and let me know if I can help in any way.”

Lt. Frank Garcia called Cesar Ramirez immediately and asked him be available at 3:00 o’clock that afternoon. “I have some additional questions for you, Mr. Ramirez.”

“I said I told you everything I know. I see no point in any more questions.”

“Mr. Ramirez, it’s your call. We can either talk at La Vida Aureo, or I can have an officer bring you downtown to police headquarters and we can talk here.”

Ramirez was waiting at a small table near the back when Garcia entered the dining room. His arms were folded across his chest and he did not look particularly pleased to see Garcia.

 

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.