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Case XIII: Legends, Lawyers & Lies

 

Chapter 1: Some Closures

It was a quiet morning at La Vida Aureo and Matthew Dudley was enjoying his second cup of coffee as he continued to read The Wall Street Journal.  He had carefully compiled his list of maintenance items for the day and noted that there were no pressing issues.  As he turned the pages, he realized how much he enjoyed the actual printed version and was thankful for the gift of the life-time subscription from Conrad Alexander, a former Resident. The majority of the articles in the Journal dealt with national or international issues of a financial nature, but there were always an article or two of a lighter nature.  He glanced up from his paper when he noticed Paloma Angostura approaching.

Buenos dias, Señor Doc, I am glad you are still here in the Dining Room. I want to share some good news with you.”

“Good morning to you as well, Señora.  I could aways use some good news.  To be honest, I am still not quite able to get Mrs. Aldridge’s murder completely out of my mind.”

“I share your feelings and my good news relates to that most unfortunate incident.  I believe some of the animosity between Mrs. Branch and Señora Barela has passed. You remember that that kind man, Señor Alexander, made a significant donation to modernize the kitchen?  Those improvements have been very helpful as I continue to engage the two ladies to work together.  Mrs. Branch apologized for her unkind comments and both women have agreed to return to my kitchen and plan a festive meal for later in the month.”

“That is certainly a step in the right direction. Once again, your diplomatic skills have produced positive results. I hope Mrs. Branch also apologized to you for her accusations about your sister.  I trust you also have good news about her health.”

“Thank you for asking about Deluviña.  After so many tests, the Doctors at UNM Medical Center finally told her there is no evidence of cancer and that she is in remarkable health for a woman her age, despite a significant amount of osteoporosis in her spine. Fortunately, her mind is still very sharp and she has a large family around her for support. They encouraged her to return for periodic check-ups, but I doubt that will happen.”

“Would it be appropriate to buy a fancy cane for her?  It seems like a small gesture for the unkind things Mrs. Branch said about her. It’s been a while since I talked to Hannah Halverstrom and she knows of a wood-working artisan in Placitas.”

“I’m sure Deluviña would appreciate a cane as long as it doesn’t look like one,” smiled Paloma.

 

Isabella Duncan approached the table where Dudley and Paloma were sitting with a broad smile on her face.   “Good morning, Señora, Doc.  I have some good news that I am eager to share.”

“I received a long e-mail yesterday evening from Warren Pearson stating that he has retired from Rice University and would like to make La Vida Aureo his permanent home.”

“That is good news, Isabella!”

“I agree, Doc.  As you might expect, Dr. Pearson received a very generous settlement from our Homeland Security folks for all the trouble they put him through.   He used a large portion of the money to create a permanent endowment at Rice University to sustain a creative writing program and encourage young authors.  The remainder, which was substantial, will allow him to purchase a life-time contract to remain here comfortably for the rest of his life.  He plans to continue writing and is interested in exploring the history of New Mexico and the Southwest as sort of the next chapter in his life.”

“Well, there are certainly many aspects of New Mexico and its varied history which would be of considerable interest to a man with his writing talents.”

“I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, Doc, but you might want to consider introducing Dr. Pearson to your so-called Curmudgeon Crew at Saville & Sons.”

“Let me think about that, Isabella.  It might be an interesting additional perspective to the group.”

“While the three of us are together, I wanted to mention the effect Mrs. Aldridge’s murder is having on some Residents.  We need to remain positive and grateful that she will have justice.  Are there other things we should be doing as we move forward?”

“We should acknowledge Frida Savino and compliment her for the role she has taken with the Staff.  Perhaps it was her direct involvement with the situation, but she has shown remarkable maturity and continues to be a source of strength.”

“Thank you for mentioning that, Paloma. I will make a point of expressing my personal gratitude to her when I come across her in the building.”

Isabella rose to leave and smiled at Dudley. “Well, Doc, isn’t it about time for you to finish your reading and get to work?  I assume you would rather play House Detective, but there’s probably a leaky faucet somewhere in the complex that’s calling your name.”

“Ouch!  Actually, Isabella, things are in pretty good shape, but I was just about to fold up my paper and look over my ToDo List once more.”

Isabella headed toward her office and Paloma to the kitchen.

 

As Dudley was folding the sections of the paper, he noticed a headline near the bottom of the front page:  Major Shake-Up at New Mexico Power & Light.

Late last year, Donald Pearsall, CEO at NMP&L was charged with First Degree Murder in the death of Conrad Alexander, a former NMP&L Executive. Susan Otero, Bernalillo County Assistant District Attorney was quoted at the time that they had a strong case against Pearsall and would proceed quickly to trial.  The police had identified Pearsall’s fingerprints on the alleged murder weapon and were able to place him in Alexander’s apartment at the approximate time of the murder (Case IX, September 2015). Pearsall has maintained that he was meeting with John Smith, President of LRC Industries, a contractor for NMP&L at the time of Alexander’s death. Sebastian Manzanola, Pearsall’s Defense Attorney, claimed all the evidence against his client was circumstantial and all charges should be dismissed. 

  Albuquerque’s Major Crimes Unit was assigned the responsibility to interview John Smith and corroborate Pearsall’s alibi. When Lt. Frank Garcia went to Duke City Wreckage, he immediately recognized Smith as Manolo Velasquez Hocking, head of the notorious motorcycle gang, La Raza Cosmica. The gang had been under investigation for some time, but the Albuquerque Police had never been able to secure any convictions. Once in police custody, Hocking claimed he had been operating as LRC Industries under the specific direction of Pearsall to sabotage projects associated with NMP&L Clean Energy Initiative. He claimed that Manuel Uribe Vigil of NMP&L’s Board as the initial point of contact with Pearsall.

 Once this new information came to light, Bernalillo County District Attorney suspended the murder charge against Pearsall and subsequently charged him and Vigil with several counts of fraud. Hocking has been charged with numerous felony offenses. The DA is also looking into Hocking’s possible role in the vehicle death of Mrs. Doris Connell.

 NMP&L’s Board acted swiftly to dismiss Vigil from the Board and requested Graham Wright to extend his temporary role as Board Chairman.

 The death of Conrad Alexander remains unsolved.

 

Dudley was stunned by this news, but was confident that Garcia would continue digging until he had uncovered everything.  It pleased him that there would be justice for Conrad Alexander.

Case XII: Chapter 1: A Social Call Interrupted

Matthew Dudley was engaged in his normal daily routine, sitting in the Main Dining Room at La Vida Aureo, enjoying a second cup of coffee and reading The Wall Street Journal.  Paloma Angostura had just returned to the kitchen to begin preparing the noon meal. Dudley didn’t notice Isabella Duncan, La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director as she approached and quietly sat down across the table from him.

“Oh. Good Morning, Isabella. I didn’t see you sneak up on me.”

“Sorry to startle you, Doc. I was out walking and noticed you sitting here.”

“Don’t worry, Isabella, I about finished with my paper and was headed to the Second Floor to look at a leaky faucet in Mrs. Thomas’ apartment.”

“I wasn’t checking up on you, Doc.  You should know by now that I trust you explicitly.  But, before you dash off, I need your input on something.”

“I know, Isabella.  I just didn’t want anyone to complain to you that I was loafing on the job.  I saw Mrs. Branch wandering around this morning and I assume she believes it is her duty to report everything she sees, or suspects, to you.”

“Not to worry. We both have had plenty of interesting and exciting experiences with her and know to take her “helpful input” with a grain of salt.

“Right!  I wanted to review our overall occupancy and readiness situation with you.  I don’t think there are any casitas available, but I believe there may be one or two vacant suites in the Independent Living Wing of the Main Building.  I’d appreciate it if you would let me know if there are any maintenance or repair issues to address before I allow someone new to move in.  Thanks, Doc.  I knew I could count on you.”

 

As Dudley had suspected, Millicent Branch was out and about.  Mrs. Branch had been a La Vida Aureo Resident for a number of years and had taken it upon herself to walk through the campus virtually every day and report her observations to Isabella Duncan. Today, however, she was on a much different mission. She was walking directly to the Second Floor of the Main Building carrying a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry in a brightly-colored gift bag for a social call on Mrs. Harriet Aldridge.  As she approached Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, she noticed Staff Supervisor Frida Savino standing in the doorway.

“I’m here to call on Mrs. Aldridge and would appreciate it if you would move out of my way,” said Mrs. Branch with an air of indignity.

“Oh, Señora Branch, I don’t think you should enter the apartment.  There has been a terrible accident and Mrs. Aldridge appears to be unconscious.  I’ve asked one of the girls to go and get Señora Duncan and Señor Dudley.”

“What are you talking about? I talked to Harriet just a short while ago and she is obviously expecting me.  Please get out of my way!”

“I’m sorry, Señora Branch. I cannot allow you to enter until Señora Duncan arrives.”

Millicent Branch stormed away and met Isabella Duncan at the top of the main staircase.  “That Mexican girl is being very rude to me and won’t let me into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  I expect you to do something about it.”

Isabella Duncan paused only briefly. “Please calm down, Mrs. Branch. It is important that I find out exactly what is going on and I would appreciate it if you would clear the hallway.  The Fire Department and Paramedics will be here any moment.  Thank you.”

 

Just then, Matthew Dudley arrived on the Second Floor leading two Albuquerque Firemen and two Paramedics.  The Paramedics walked quickly into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and immediately started to assess the situation and her condition.  Isabella Duncan stood nearby intensely observing while Matthew Dudley and Frida Savino tried to keep the hallway clear from the gathering group of curious on-lookers.

After working on Mrs. Aldridge for about fifteen minutes, one of the Paramedics stood up and walked over to Isabella and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ms. Duncan. Mrs. Aldridge is dead.  There wasn’t really anything we could do. I’m pretty certain she was dead before we arrived. I’m sorry.”

“Can you tell me anything?  She was fairly active here and I never noticed any signs of illness.  I’d have to check here records to be absolutely certain, but I don’t believe she reported any significant medical conditions.”

“It isn’t typically our role to determine the actual cause of death but I suggest you contact the Police.  We are required to notify them of any unaccompanied deaths like this. I can tell you that there is a large contusion on the back of her head as if she fell and hit the end table next to the sofa.  My guess is that contributed to her death, but I imagine the Police will want to have the Medical Examiner look at the situation in detail and draw their own conclusions.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate your very prompt response and your being straight-forward with me; I’ll handle things with the Police from here.  I’m going to ask someone to escort all of you out of the building so that you don’t get side-tracked by any of our overly curious Residents.”

“Thank you and again I’m sorry about the situation.”

 

Isabella walked into the hallway and approached Dudley and Frida Savino.  “Doc, would you escort the Team get out of the building so they can get on their way?  Then, please meet me in my office. Frida, please securely lock Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment and then come to my office.  The Police will be arriving shortly and I’m sure they will want to talk to you.”

Turning to the small group of Residents gathered in the hallway, Isabella said, “There has been an accident and I would appreciate it if you would all go on about your own activities.  As soon as I have more information, I will let everyone know.  Thank you.”

Then, ignoring Millicent Branch who was waving her hand for attention, Isabella turned and went quickly to her office to call Lt. Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Police.

 

Case XII: Chapter 3: The Spanish Connection

The next morning, Matthew Dudley was in the Main Dining room reading his paper and reviewing his list of maintenance items for the day.  He didn’t notice Paloma Angostura as she walked up and sat down across from him.

Buenos dias, Señor Doc,” she smiled.  “I trust you are well this day after the unfortunate accident yesterday.”

“Good day to you as well, Señora. I am looking over my list of chores and trying not to think about the death of Mrs. Aldridge, but I am having a difficult time concentrating.  I don’t know if you saw Lt. Garcia while he was here, but the investigation is in his very capable hands.”

“Ah, I did not see Francisco.  I’m sure he was very busy.  Is there a reason the police are involved.  I understand that Mrs. Aldridge fell and that was the cause of her death.”

“I believe it is the law that when someone dies and there are no witnesses, the police are required to conduct a routine investigation.  I’m confident the Lieutenant will conclude it was indeed an accident and the matter will be closed.  It is still unfortunate she died.  I understand from Ms. Duncan that Mrs. Aldridge was in good health for her age and there was no indication of any major problems.”

“I agree; it is sad. Hopefully, Francisco will finish his investigation quickly.”

Paloma continued. “I don’t mean to pry Señor Doc, but there have been several evenings that I did not see you for dinner.  I assume you are not on a diet. You must be having your dinner someplace else and I trust you are being well fed.”

Dudley couldn’t hide his embarrassment as he looked at the wide smile on Paloma’s face. Sheepishly, he finally said, “I’m pretty sure your Sopapilla Network keeps close tabs on me and reports back to you.  Yes, I have had dinner with Ms. Johari a few times in the past month.  I could not let her cook each time we got together, so we have gone to a few small restaurants a well.”

Although she was genuinely pleased and happy for Dudley, Paloma could not resist the urge to tease him a bit more. “As long as you realize that you are missing my cooking each time you go out, I guess it is OK.  You know Ms. Johari is always welcome here and you could have her come here any time.”

“Oh, I’m not ready for that!  The tongues would certainly wag!  And, Mrs. Branch would be at the front of the line!  But, you are very kind and perhaps in time.”

Dudley realized he needed to get on about his chores before Paloma pressed him for more details about his “love life”.  As he rose to leave, he asked Paloma, “I’ve noticed a diminutive woman dressed all in black sitting with Señora Barela at a small table in the back of the Dining Room.  I’ve never seen her here before.  Can you tell me who she is?”

“That is my older sister, Deluviña. I’m sorry for not mentioning it to you sooner, since I knew you would have noticed her.  She lives outside of Las Cruces and comes to Albuquerque periodically for tests at the UNM Medical Center.  The doctors there suspect she has some form of cancer, but have been unable to agree on a specific diagnosis, so they keep asking her to return for more tests.  As you can imagine, the entire process and its uncertainty are quite upsetting to her.  She has a relatively low opinion of doctors in general and their lack of answers has not helped.  She is very stubborn and would not have come at all, but the priest convinced her that it would be best.”

“Thank you.  I hope everything turns out OK for her.  Remembering some of the things you’ve told me about your family, I would assume coming to a doctor was not her first choice.”

“You are correct. But, the old priest and her curandera had essentially exhausted all of their approaches with no improvement in how she felt.  It was the new young priest who encouraged her to seek modern medical advice.”

“And the role of Señora Barela?”

“She has been a great comfort to Deluviña.  My sister speaks little English and being able to share her feelings with Señora Barela has been a great support.  You probably hadn’t noticed that Mrs. Aldridge occasionally joined the two of them.”

“Mrs. Aldridge?”

“Oh, yes. She was a Mogollonita long before she became Mrs. Aldridge.  She had travelled to Mexico and Spain many times and the three women would spend hours reminiscing about their families and the Old Days.  It was wonderful to see Deluviña laugh which helped her deal with her pain and frustration.”

“A Mogollonita?  I don’t understand.”

“It is a story for another time, perhaps.  Right now, I have much work to do.”

“I understand completely.  I also have a number of things to attend to.  But, I am curious and will return to hear the entire story.  Buenos dias.”

 

Dudley was walking out of the Dining Room on his way to complete some minor repairs in one of the casitas in the eastern portion of the La Vida Aureo grounds. He hadn’t quite reached the door when Isabella Duncan stopped him. “Doc, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter returned my call from yesterday concerning her mother’s death.  It’s probably my perception, but she didn’t seem too upset by the news.  Maybe she was just in shock with the news, but, I thought I heard her say, “Finally!”  It was a short phone conversation and she said she would call me back after she talked with her husband. I understand not all family situations are ideal, but it upset me.”

“Maybe your right, Isabella.  Perhaps it was just a shock to get the news and her comment didn’t mean what it sounded like.  Was Mrs. Aldridge in any kind of pain such that her death might have been a relief to those closest to her?”

“Not that I’m aware of and you may be right. I may be reading too much into what I thought I heard.  Nonetheless, I expect I will be hearing from her again and I’ll try to keep an open mind in the meantime.  That reminds me; I need to call Lt. Garcia to see if he has an update from the Coroner about when Mrs. Aldridge’s body can be released for the funeral.  Thanks for listening, Doc.  I didn’t mean to interrupt you on your chores.”

“No, problem, Isabella, I was on my way to check on the Dubois’ casita about a minor plumbing problem.  Please let me know what Garcia has to say and don’t hesitate to call if I can help in any way with Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter.”

Isabella added in what Dudley heard as a suggestive tone, “You are free to leave and I hope you have a pleasant dinner this evening.”

With that, Dudley continued on his way out of the building.  He mused to himself, “I guess everyone knows about my visiting Janetta. Maybe, it’s only Isabella and Paloma.  I hope so.  I guess they’re only teasing me.  I know they have my best interests at heart and neither is a gossip.  I just hope Millicent Branch doesn’t start to get too nosey; that could be a disaster!”

 

The minor plumbing problem at the Dubois’ casita turned out to be more serious than Dudley anticipated.  Fortunately, he was able to quickly install a temporary patch to stop the leaking and assured Mr. and Mrs. Dubois he would return in the morning to complete the repair properly and permanently.

Case XI: Chapter 1: Dueling Divas

Matthew Dudley was sitting in the Main Dining Room with Isabella Duncan discussing all the recent events that had such a major impact on everyone.  Paloma Angostura was busy in the kitchen but made time to join them as often as she could.  All three remained committed to the success of La Vida Aureo and to the safety and well-being of the Residents.  But the murder of Cesar Ramirez by another Resident on the grounds of the community made them realize that there were some major modifications that were necessary.  The most obvious improvement that needed to be made was to make the entire facility and its surroundings significantly more secure.  “I absolutely do not want this place to have the feel of a prison,” said Isabella. “I have always prided myself in creating an environment that was pleasant and supportive.  The Residents should never feel as though we’re restricting them in any way.”

“I agree, Isabella,” added Dudley.  “But, at the same time, we must realize that we have Residents here who really do need to be restricted for their own safety. I mean, we have people who are quite capable of living independently and in their own detached casita. At the same time, most of the folks in our Memory Care Unit are certainly not able to move about freely and safely.  And, then there are the Residents in Assisted Living who represent all of the conditions between these two extremes.  I think you would agree that it would be unfair to apply the same conditions to everyone.”

“I know you’re correct, Doc.  It is a complex situation, but we must not lose sight of one of our principles to treat all residents with respect and dignity.  Perhaps we should not try to solve this issue without some input from the Residents themselves.”

“That makes a lot of sense, Isabella.  Let me talk with the Community Assist Team and get their input as to the best way to approach gathering that input.  Perhaps there is a way to make this a positive experience for everyone involved, particularly the Residents.”

“The other thing that has me very concerned, Doc, is the ease with which Mr. Salazar was able to fool all of us by pretending to have Alzheimer’s.  He was able to claim a loss of memory and use that as an excuse for his behavior.  His behaviors were so convincing and we never thought that it might all be an act.  He could have easily gotten away with murder. I am certainly not an expert in the field, but we’ve got to find a way to never let this happen again.  One of the strengths of La Vida Aureo is that we believe we can accommodate individuals at all stages of life from totally independent to total care.  I realize now that this strength is also a potential major vulnerability.”

“I am painfully aware that I know very little about Alzheimer’s so pardon my simplistic suggestion.  In our Physical Therapy Department, we have established a series of tests that we use, not only for diagnostic purposes, but also to detect fraud.  By repeating and recording a person’s physical tests, we are able to determine more about an injury or if they are simply faking.  I assume there are some sort of mental and maybe physical tests to measure mental capability.  Would it be possible to adapt those somehow similar to what we do in Physical Therapy to at least give some indication?  Maybe it would help us prevent someone trying to become a Resident under fraudulent conditions.”

“I don’t know, Doc.  Let me talk to some medical professionals and the folks at the Alzheimer’s Association and see if that is a possibility.”

Dudley and Isabella were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice that Paloma had joined them at the table.

“Oh!  I’m so sorry, Paloma.  I did not see you.  Doc and I were talking about the deaths of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Salazar and how deeply it affected everyone.  Those incidents also pointed out the need to change some of the things we do here to prevent a similar situation from occurring.”

“It is no problem, Señora Duncan.  The death of both men was a terrible tragedy. I believe we all know that Señor Salazar murdered Señor Ramirez, but his death was most unfortunate.  I guess God works in mysterious ways sometimes.”

“Perhaps,” replied Isabella. “But, it is my opinion that justice would have been better served if he had stood trial and the entire story had been made public. As it was, it just left Lt. Garcia with a mountain of paperwork which wasn’t much of a reward for his efforts.”

“Well, Señora, I know you are deeply concerned for the Residents and they are looking to you to provide guidance.  I’m confident that they will adapt to whatever changes and improvements you decide are necessary.”

“Pardon me for asking, Señora, but you have a very worried look on your face.  Is there anything wrong?”

“Thank you, Señor Doc.  You are most kind.  It is just that I have not heard from Francisco for many days and I worry about him.  He promises me that he is always careful, but I sense something different lately.  The last time we talked, he told me that his Department was trying to solve several recent murders in town that all seemed to be connected.  He said it looked like some kind of battle over territory involving the distribution and sale of drugs.  I worry that, when drugs are involved, people do very crazy things.”

“I’m sure the Lieutenant will be very careful, Señora.”

“I will still pray for him every night.”

Isabella Duncan, Matthew Dudley and Paloma Angostura were the very heart and soul of La Vida Aureo and their sense of responsibility weighed heavily on them at the moment.  They sat there in silence, each occupied with their own thoughts.

Finally, Dudley said, “We should not forget that there are some bright spots in our community.  I’ve noticed recently that two avowed enemies have somehow become best friends.  I believe that should be encouragement and proof to us all that anything is possible!”

This broke the sense of gloom and worry that had been present.  “You’ve noticed that Señora Branch and Señora Barela are friends?” smiled Paloma.

“Yes,” said Dudley. “I don’t know if they are actually friends or if they’ve simply declared a truce. I do know, Señora, you have been instrumental in getting them to this point, whatever it is.”

“It was not too difficult.  I discovered that they are both very interested in cooking and I told them they were welcome in my kitchen as long as they were kind and treated each other with respect.  But, do not be fooled, Señor Doc, both are strong, independent women with very strongly-held opinions and they disagree on many issues.”

“I guess I wasn’t aware of this,” said Isabella. “Are you telling me that Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela are now getting along?  That would be very good news indeed, for everyone one here. I was always afraid that one day they would come to blows here in the Dining Room.  I should complement them on this accomplishment. ”

“That might not be advisable, Isabella,” added Dudley.  “I suggest you might want to just observe and not run the risk of becoming collateral damage during one of their discussions.”

“I thought you said they were getting along?”

“They get along much like the Bickersons did on that old radio program.  I believe underneath it all they have a great deal of respect and care deeply for each other, but it isn’t obvious listening to them. Last week I was sitting here at this very table reading The Wall Street Journal when Mrs. Branch and Ms. Barela sat down a few tables away.  I think Mrs. Branch started the discussion by complaining that the City of Albuquerque had decided to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Mrs. Branch thought it was shameful that the City would stop recognizing the man who discovered America which led to the eventual settlements at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown.  Ms. Barela pointed out that the Spanish had established settlements in New Mexico and California many years before. So, it became a discussion of whether the United States was settled from East to West, as Mrs. Branch maintained, or from South to North which was Ms. Barela’s contention.”

“So, how did it end up?” asked Isabella.

“Oh, I don’t know that it ever ended,” replied Dudley.  “You must realize, Isabella, they each have a totally different view of virtually everything and that defines who they are.  I seriously doubt that any of their discussions will ever change that.  At least, they could agree that Balloon Fiesta was a good thing.”

“I’m happy to hear that.  And, thank you, Señora Angostura, for bringing this truce about.  At least there is peace in some quarters!”

“Don’t get too comfortable, Isabella.  I suspect that we are in for some very lively discussions as October progresses.  Remember that Dia de los Muertos is only a few weeks away and there may be trouble in the air.”

As if on cue, Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela walked into the Dining Room.  The two women were smiling and seemed to be chatting amicably.  They looked around the room and spotting the others, walked over to the table and sat down.

“Good afternoon, Ladies,” said Isabella. “I trust you are both well. I apologize, but I have some important phone calls to make and cannot stay.” As she rose to leave, she smiled toward Dudley as if to say OK, I’m taking your advice and getting out of the way.

Millicent was the first to speak. “Ynez and I were talking about the important holidays in October.  I won’t bother you with how upset I am that the City decided to abandon Columbus Day and call it Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I want to ask Señora Angostura what kind of special dishes we could prepare for Halloween which is only a few weeks away.”

Before Paloma could respond, Ynez Barela spoke up. “Halloween is just a silly commercial day that’s just about candy.  It would be more appropriate if La Vida Aureo recognized Dia de los Muertos, a much more important holiday.  In my culture, we use this time to celebrate and honor those in our family who have passed.  Their spirits come to visit our homes for several days and we go to the cemetery and clean the grave sites and place fresh flowers.”

“What is all this Dia Muertos business,” asked Millicent?  “It sounds like another one of those crazy things you Catholics stole from the Indians.”

“It is true that the celebration of the dead goes back many centuries, to the Aztecs,” responded Ynez.  “But, it was a pagan and barbaric until the Spanish Priests intervened and made it more in keeping with the times.”

“And, I guess these same Priests made it coincide with some Catholic Holiday that was already on the calendar for the same time.”

“The Priests decided that the Indians should celebrate All Saints Day as a more appropriate means to honor the dead.”

“It still sounds like a lot of witchcraft and mysticism mumbo-jumbo if you ask me,” snorted Millicent.

“Whatever!  It still makes more sense than Halloween and handing out candy!”

Dudley had remained quiet to avoid getting involved and being accused of taking sides, which he knew to be a no-win situation.  Paloma was more confident and spoke up.  “Ladies, Señoras. Please, please.  I agree that this time of the year is more important than candy. I believe it is a time to honor those of our families that have passed and I know you both want their spirits or souls to be at peace. We know that many Residents have lost loved ones and some plan to go to the cemetery to visit grave sites and place fresh flowers.  With your help, I believe we can put up some decorations here in the Dining Room for Dia de los Muertos and All Saints Day and place large arrangements of marigolds around the room. Please help me make this a time of celebration.”

“We could place calacas and calaveras around the room as well,” suggested Ynez.

“Not those hideous skeletons and skulls,” argued Millicent.

“For many years, I was the model for La Calavera Catrina, the woman at the center of the celebration,” bragged Ynez.

Paloma decided it was time to speak again before things heated up again.  “Why don’t you both join me and Francisco’s family at the Marigold Parade in South Valley on the last Sunday in October?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Paloma,” added Dudley. “Do you think Lt. Garcia would mind if I joined all of you?”

“He would be delighted to see you, Señor Doc.”

With that, it appeared that the truce had been restored, at least temporarily.  As Dudley rose to begin the tasks on his ToDo list for the day, he hoped that the latter part of October would remain peaceful.

 

 

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.”

 

 

Chapter 6: A Break in the Case

Lt. Garcia remained frustrated by the lack of progress in this murder investigation.  He had welcomed Dudley’s information about the ceremonial knife used as the murder weapon, but was disappointed that Dudley hadn’t uncovered any more information. Garcia was sitting at his desk staring at the image of the knife on his computer screen when Tom Bowers, the forensic technician entered his office.

“I hope you have some good news for me, Tom.”

“Good news, bad news, Lieutenant.  I was able to lift several prints from the knife.  Some are really very old, so I focused on the newest ones and those are essentially complete prints.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that I have been unable to find a match in any of our databases.  It’s possible that our killer has never been arrested and printed, which is pretty unusual these days.”

“Is it possible, Tom, there’s some reason we can’t find a match?  I can’t imagine that this guy hasn’t been in trouble before.  Suppose he got in trouble as a minor and any arrest records are sealed.  Would those show up?”

“Probably not.  But, I didn’t look into that possibility.  That might require a court order to gain access to that category of records.”

“Damn it, Tom, this is a murder inquiry and the knife is all we have to go on at the present.  You get started on the search and I’ll have the paperwork on your desk within the hour.”

Garcia went to see Judge Fajardo in his chambers and was told to return in twenty minutes for the order.  He went back to his office and continued to stare at the computer screen.  Sergeant Bernadette Armijo arrived a few minutes later with papers in her hand and a big smile on her face.  “I assume you’re looking for this.  I’ll take it to Bowers and come right back. I see you’ve had that picture of a knife on your screen all morning.  I assume that’s the murder weapon.”

“Yeah, and I’m hoping Bowers can identify the prints he lifted from it. He wasn’t able to find a match in the normal databases so the court order you delivered will let him have limited access to any records that are sealed.  I just can’t believe that our killer hasn’t been in trouble in the past.”

“It looks like some kind of ceremonial knife,” commented Sgt. Armijo, trying to placate or distract Garcia until Bowers returned.

“That’s what I heard from Doc Dudley and Ray Little Feather.  But, Doc also told me that there aren’t any Native Americans currently living at La Vida Aureo.  So, that would make our killer an outsider and the other facts don’t support that theory.”

Tom Bowers could hardly hide the smug look on his face as he sauntered into Garcia’s’ office.  “I got a match, Lieutenant!  You were correct.  The match was contained in a sealed case, but it wasn’t a minor like you suspected.  It’s kinda strange.”

“Just tell me, Tom, before I come across my desk to rip that sheet of paper out of your hands!”

“OK, OK.  The prints belong to a guy named Lucero Salazar and the case had to do with the alleged rape of a minor a few years ago.  The case was in the small town of Las Colitas up north some place.  Salazar was put on probation and that’s all that’s in the file.”

“I’ve heard of the Salazar family,” added Sgt. Armijo.  “If it’s the same family, they are major power brokers in State politics.  They operate mostly behind the scenes, but their name shows up in the Journal from time to time. And, if I remember, Las Colitas is one of those towns like Española that was founded a long time ago.”

Garcia was thrilled.  Now, he had a name, but he still had to locate Salazar and find some way to place him at La Vida Aureo at the time of the murder.  After a few minutes, he slapped himself in the forehead. “Stupid”, he said out-loud. “Why don’t I just call Isabella Duncan and ask if Salazar is a Resident?  I might just get lucky. Besides, if that doesn’t work, I have other ways to find him.”

Garcia’s euphoria was temporary.  Isabella Duncan told him that Lucero Salazar was indeed a Resident, but he was in the Memory Care Unit and was experiencing severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Garcia decided that this was his best and only solid lead and, after briefly describing the fingerprint match, asked Isabella to arrange a meeting with Salazar as soon as possible.  Isabella suggested that Dudley also be present since he had retrieved Salazar from wandering the grounds and that might make the interview appear less threatening.

The interview took place that afternoon and was one of the most frustrating experiences of Garcia’s career.  Through the session, Lucero Salazar never once actually looked at Garcia.  Instead, he stared off at a point on the wall.  Salazar claimed he couldn’t recall ever meeting anyone named Cesar Ramirez.  Garcia showed Salazar the knife and Salazar remarked that “it was pretty”, but couldn’t recall ever seeing it before.  Garcia told Salazar that his prints were found on the knife and Salazar’s eyes just wandered toward the ceiling with no verbal response.  Garcia repeatedly tried to engage Salazar, but to little or no avail.  His infrequent responses were irrelevant to the questions asked.  In frustration, Garcia finally produced a fingerprint kit and retook Salazar’s prints.  He could compare these fresh prints with those lifted from the knife; he wouldn’t have to relay of records that were years out-of-date.

Dudley escorted Salazar back upstairs to the Memory Care Unit.  He found Lt. Garcia in the Dining Room nursing a cup of coffee.  “I guess that went pretty poorly, Lieutenant.  It didn’t sound to me like you got any useful information or even a mild response from Salazar.  And, on several occasions, you went at him pretty hard, but got nothing.”

“Yeah, well at least I got a fresh set of prints.  What do you think, Doc?  The little bit of evidence we have points directly to him.  It’s hard for me to imagine that he was mentally competent enough to plan and execute a savage murder just a short while ago and now be a total mental case and claim to have no memory at all.”

“I agree, Lieutenant.” Recalling the comments that Emilio Sandoval had made, Dudley said, “I guess it’s possible for him to be faking this whole thing, but I have to admit, he’s pretty convincing.  I did notice one thing, however.  You asked him the names of several people here at La Vida Aureo, to see if you got any reaction. I may be imagining this, but I believe I saw him actually focus his eyes when you mentioned Mrs. Torres. It’s probably a long shot, but she may be the connection between Salazar and Ramirez.  I suppose jealousy could be an incentive for murder.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Doc.  I’ll try to talk to her while I’m here.  It can’t be any less frustrating.  But, before I let go of Salazar as a suspect, I’m going to have him thoroughly examined by one of our doctors. I just don’t buy his act.”

 

Mrs. Magdalena Torres greeted Lt. Garcia abruptly.  “Well, have you found Cesar’s killer yet?  It’s been almost a month now.”

“We’re following up on some leads, Mrs. Torres.  If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions that might help in our investigation.”

“I’m sorry for being so abrupt, Lieutenant.  I really miss Cesar and the thought of a killer running around loose makes me uncomfortable.  Please come in and ask your questions.  I assume you believe it was some jealous woman who did this horrible thing.”

“You know I can’t discuss the case with you, Mrs. Torres, but we’re pretty certain that the killer was not a woman.  Anyway, if I could ask you if you know a man here at La Vida Aureo named Lucero Salazar.”

Magdalena Torres’ reaction surprised Garcia.  “Oh, I know him alright!  Despite all of my efforts to avoid him and repeatedly telling him to stop bothering me, he just wouldn’t take No for an answer. He kept following me around and showing up here at my casita. Finally, I asked Cesar to speak to him. Cesar told me that he tried to convince Salazar that there were plenty of other women here and to leave me alone.”

“Do you know if that helped?”

“No. It only made things worse.  If I know Cesar, he probably bragged to Salazar about me and how fortunate he was to have me all to himself.  Afterwards, Salazar showed up and tried to convince me that he was a much better catch and how foolish I was to be wasting my time with a loser like Cesar.  He got pretty worked up about it and stormed out of here when I told him to get lost and never bother me again.”

“That’s very interesting, Mrs. Torres.  In any of your encounters with Mr. Salazar, did he ever appear to have any memory problems or any other indications of mental illness?”

“Well, if you want my opinion, I think he was totally loco!”

“I’m sure.  But did he ever seem like he couldn’t remember things or appear confused?”

“Look, Lieutenant, that guy was very insistent and very clear about what he wanted.  I don’t think he was the least bit confused, about anything!”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Torres, you’ve been most helpful.”

“Like I said before, Lieutenant, just get Cesar’s killer, the sooner, the better.”

 

Lt. Garcia spent the next few days trying to think through the case.  He was not at all surprised that the new set of prints matched those taken from the murder weapon exactly.  He was more convinced than ever that Lucero Salazar had murdered Cesar Ramirez in a fit of jealousy, likely over the affections of Mrs. Torres. He just couldn’t figure out a way to break through Salazar’s act of Alzheimer’s.  Garcia knew he had to proceed carefully to avoid Salazar getting away with murder because of his purported mental illness.  The first step was to have Salazar examined by one or more competent physicians that were not under the influence of the powerful Salazar family.

 

Later that afternoon, Lt. Garcia went to the office of Assistant District Attorney Susan Otero to outline his approach and get her fully prepared to prosecute Salazar for murder.  ADA Otero did not agree with Garcia’s approach and questioned whether he had sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.  “Look, Lieutenant, you are aware that the Police are still under investigation by the Department of Justice for that case involving the homeless man who was severely mentally ill.  We simply cannot afford any more negative publicity.  Before you do anything rash like locking Salazar up on some unfounded suspicion, why don’t we arrange a comprehensive battery of tests to see if your suspect is faking it or not.”

Garcia was not pleased, but at least this seemed like a reasonable next step.  In his gut, he didn’t trust Salazar.  He feared that Salazar was a dangerous person and he cared too much for the people at La Vida Aureo to have him walking around loose as a potential threat to women.

Despite her promise to act quickly, ADA Otero had major misgivings about this case.  It was not just the current problems of the Albuquerque Police, it was much closer to home.  Otero’s own father had been exhibiting these same symptoms for several months, but her entire family was in denial.  They simply could not accept that he had Alzheimer’s and consequently refused a formal diagnosis.

Garcia waited and waited, growing more impatient and frustrated as the days passed without any word from ADA Otero.  His calls were not returned, nor were his emails.  She never seemed to be in her office.  He knew he could not act without having her on board, so he just waited.

 

Lucero Salazar was emboldened by the perceived success of his interview with Lt. Garcia.  He was confident that the police would not be able to file any charges against him as long as he exhibited a diminished mental capability.  He decided to treat himself to an extended walk around the grounds, perhaps he would venture across the busy street toward the strip mall.  He had been practicing his helpless-old-man routine which always elicited attention, allowing him to get physically close and put his hands on the unsuspecting female Good Samaritan.

Dudley had called OJ Torreon earlier that morning and asked him to accompany him to Home Depot to purchase some fixtures needed for a few repairs. Dudley enjoyed OJ’s company and his pick-up truck was invaluable on these occasions. As they turned onto the busy street, a man darted out from between two parked cars and into their path.  Neither OJ nor Dudley saw the man and the collision was unavoidable.  They had just started to move and the impact wasn’t that hard; the man was simply knocked to the ground.

Dudley jumped from the truck and ran to the man, calling to OJ to dial 911. The man was lying on his back with his head against the curb. There was no visible blood and Dudley thought the man had just been stunned by the modest impact.  Dudley was surprised as he looked closer; it was Lucero Salazar.  “He must been wandering again and actually left the grounds through the main gate,” thought Dudley.  Dudley felt for a pulse and leaned closely to check for breathing.  Detecting no obvious life signs, Dudley began to administer CPR.  OJ had moved his truck to the curb and ran toward Dudley and the fallen man.  “I called 911 and the police and an ambulance are on their way.”

The police blocked the mid-morning traffic so that the ambulance could park a few feet away.  Dudley and OJ backed away as the EMTs began to administer to Salazar.  Without saying anything, they placed him on a stretcher and in a head restraint, loaded him into the ambulance and sped toward the University Trauma Center.

Dudley and OJ were both shaken by the collision but were able to provide details to the officer in charge of the scene.  Dudley provided Salazar’s identity as well as information about his residence and his apparent mental condition.  “We’ve had previous incidents of Mr. Salazar’s wandering about, but he’s never tried to leave the grounds before.  He must have walked out through the main gate because there is an eight-foot high decorative fence around the entire property.  If you have any further questions, Officer, please come to the Main Building.”

 

Dudley was still sitting in Isabella’s office with OJ describing the recent events when her phone rang.  “Ms. Duncan, it’s Lt. Garcia.  I assume you’ve already heard about the traffic accident involving Doc and OJ?”

“They’re both sitting here in my office, Lieutenant.”

“Well, I have to report that Mr. Salazar was pronounced Dead-on-Arrival when the ambulance reached the Trauma Center. Please tell Doc and OJ that I’ve met with the on-scene officer and there will be no charges filed against them.”

“It is a terrible thing for Mr. Salazar to be killed and I feel a certain responsibility that he was able to get out onto that busy street.  But, I’m relieved that there won’t be any charges against Doc or OJ.  I guess that’s some consolation.  If you need any additional information from our files concerning Mr. Salazar, please let me know.”

“Thank you, Ms. Duncan.  If I need anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you for the call, Lieutenant.”

 

Garcia hung up the phone and went to the Morgue where Salazar’s body was just arriving.  Dr. George Hernandez, the Bernalillo County Chief Medical Examiner was in his office completing the necessary paperwork from a recently-completed autopsy.  “Well, if it isn’t my favorite Policeman.  What brings you to my humble habitat, Señor Investigador?”

“George, I need to ask a favor.”

“Oh, you want me to solve another murder case for you?”

“Not this time.  I’m saving your considerable expertise for a really complex case.  There’s a dead body that just arrived from a traffic accident this morning.”

“Oh, I get it.  A high-speed police chase resulting in a fatality and you want me to show that the police were not at fault?”

“Nothing that sinister. Well, maybe it is.  This guy was hit by a pick-up that probably wasn’t doing five miles-per-hour and, according to witnesses, hit his head on the curb. My guess is that it was the impact with the curb, not the collision with the truck that killed him.”

“Well, if you already know the answer, you can just fill out the paperwork and I can knock off early for a change.”

“C’mon, George, I’m serious and there is something I need to know about this guy. While you’re in his head looking around for the cause of death, would you please note the condition of his brain?”

“No problemo.    You want to tell me why you’re so interested?”

“Do you still prefer single-malt scotch?”

“Go home, Frank.  I’ll be in your office in the morning for coffee.  And, yes I do.”

 

Lt. Frank Garcia waited nervously the next morning, suspecting that Dr. Hernandez was deliberately pulling his chain, by making him wait.  Hernandez entered the office and simply held out his hand.  Garcia reached under his desk and handed Hernandez the brown paper bag containing the decorative box.  “Your guy died of a head injury.  As you suspected, it was not much of a blow.  I’ve seen much, much worse around here. It just caught him in the wrong place.”

“What about the condition of his brain?”

“Oh, yeah, almost forgot. You did mention that you were interested in that.  His brain was in perfect working order as far as I could tell.  No damage, no deterioration, 100 percent there, etc. If you had given me a bit longer, I probably could have told you his IQ!”

“Not necessary.  You’re certain that there was no evidence of deterioration?’

“Frank, look, I even cut a slice off to check, since I assumed you weren’t telling me exactly what you were looking for.  There was no evidence of anything abnormal.”

“Thanks, George.  I have one more favor to ask.  In your formal report, don’t mention that part of your examination, just the analysis to determine the cause of death. OK?”

“Sure, that’s what I’m paid to do. Do you mind telling me why?”

“Let’s just say that he comes from a very important family and I suspect they would be upset if we discovered that he was mentally sound.  I’d really appreciate it.”

“From the label on this box, I’d say you’ve earned that much.  Have a nice day!”

 

There was one more thing Garcia needed to do before he could close the file on Cesar Ramirez’s murder investigation.   Over coffee in the Dining Room at La Vida Aureo, he related the finding of the autopsy to Isabela Duncan, Matthew Dudley and Paloma Angostura.   “I know I can count of your utmost discretion on this matter.  I’m certain Lucero Salazar murdered Cesar Ramirez in a fit of jealousy concerning Mrs. Torres.  I still need to figure out exactly how to complete the paperwork to officially close the case to the satisfaction of the ADA, but that’s my problem.  As always, I appreciate your help in getting to the bottom of this.”

“You’re welcome, Lieutenant,” said Isabella.  For our part, we’re carefully reviewing our own procedures.  We must make the grounds more secure and we must be much more diligent about screening potential new Residents.”

“Well, it looks like we all have some work to do.”

 

 

Case IX: Chapter 1: Crime Scene Investigation

Dr. George Hernandez, the Chief Medical Examiner for Bernalillo County was kneeling beside the body of an elderly man.  “I’ve got to hand it to you Frank, the folks here at La Vida Aureo certainly have a way of making my life more interesting.”

“Skip the commentary, George. Please just give me the basic facts.”

“You won’t believe it, but I think this old geezer was electrocuted, most likely sometime yesterday afternoon.  I’ll know more when I get him on the table.”

Although Paloma Angostura had told Matthew Dudley that the man’s name was Conrad Alexander, Dudley always thought of him as The Wall Street Journal Man.  It was ironic that this man, who was the retired CEO of New Mexico Power & Light would die by electrocution.

 

After the body was removed, Lt. Garcia and Tom Bowers, the Forensic Technician, conducted a thorough search of Conrad Alexander’s apartment.  There really wasn’t much out of the ordinary.  Bowers collected the electrical cord that was found in Alexander’s mouth, but found little else to cause suspicion.  Garcia looked around the modest apartment and discovered a calendar on a small desk, open to the current week.  There were no entries for today, but the name Don Pearson was written in the noon- time space for the previous day.  There were also a few miscellaneous pieces of mail, all addressed to Mr. Conrad Alexander at La Vida Aureo.

Bowers looked over Garcia’s shoulder. “This guy must have really been “old school”.  I haven’t seen one of these paper version Franklin Planners in about a hundred years.  I assume that means we probably won’t find an iPhone lying around in here either.”

“Did you find anything else worth noting in the apartment, Tom?”

“Nada, Lieutenant.  I guess the killer stuck that electrical cord in his mouth and turned on the juice.  He certainly didn’t leave anything else that I could find. I just can’t imagine how you could pull that off. I mean, why would someone sit still with that in his mouth, waiting to get zapped?”

“Thanks for your insight, Tom. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the autopsy to be completed to see if that provides any more information.  Why don’t you take the electrical cord and the Planner back to the lab and see if you can recover any prints from either of them.  I’m going to try to talk to a few witnesses and see if anyone can add to what little we seem to have found.”

Lt. Garcia was eager to talk to the cleaning person who had discovered the body.  Martina Trujillo was sitting on a folding chair in the hallway, just outside Alexander’s apartment. She was sobbing heavily and Matthew Dudley and another woman were with her trying to console her.  “Afternoon, Doc. I assume this is the woman who discovered the body?”

“Yes, Lieutenant.  Her name is Martina Trujillo and she is currently assigned to this area of the Independent Living Unit.  And, this is Frida Savino, Miss Trujillo’s Supervisor.”

“Señora Trujillo, I would like to ask you a few questions if you feel up to it.”

“I will try.”

“Thank you. Can you tell me exactly what you saw when you entered Mr. Alexander’s apartment today?”

Si. Señor Alexander is such a nice gentleman.  He always speaks kindly to me and always asks about my Papa. I came to his apartment this morning, as I do most every day and he was sitting in that big chair by the window.  I said Buenos Dias, Señor Alexander, as I always do when I enter.  He did not answer.  That was unusual, since he is always doing something around the apartment.  When I walked over to the chair, I saw that wire hanging from his mouth.  I screamed and ran out into the hallway.”

“Martina was crying and screaming when I noticed her in the hallway”, added Frida Savino. “She would not go back into the apartment so I did and also saw Mr. Alexander in the chair, just as Martina said.  Señor Dudley must have heard Martina’s scream, because he came into the apartment then.”

“That’s correct, Lieutenant.  I saw Mr. Alexander and immediately dialed 911 and then went to find Isabella.  I returned to this floor and Frida and Martina were sitting in the hallway.  I closed the apartment door and waited for you to arrive.”

“Thanks, Doc.  Can you think of anything else that might help?’

“Not really, Lieutenant.  As Martina said, Mr. Alexander was a gentleman and pretty much kept to himself.  I’m sorry I can’t be of more assistance.”

“Thank you, Señora Trujillo and Señora Savino.  That will be all for now, but I may want to return to talk to you in a few days, if that would be convenient. Thanks, as always, Doc.  I’m going to stop downstairs and talk with Isabella to see what information is in her files about Mr. Alexander.”

 

Lt. Garcia knocked on the door to Isabella Duncan’s office which was normally open.  He found her sitting at her desk crying softly.  “I’m sorry to intrude, Isabella, but I’d like to ask you a few questions about Mr. Alexander, if it’s convenient.”

“Oh, Frank.  This is terrible.  You cannot imagine how this makes me feel. The last thing we need here at La Vida Aureo is another murder.  We’ve been working so hard on our reputation and then this has to happen.  I’m sure this will all end up in the paper and on TV and La Doña Jaramillo will want to know what I’m doing to keep our Residents safe.  I’m sorry, Frank, for being so upset.  How can I help you? I suspect you’ll want to see Mr. Alexander’s file.”

“That would help, Isabella.  And, you have my assurance that we will move as quickly as possible to find out what happened and identify the responsible person.”

“Thank you, Frank.  I got Mr. Alexander’s file out, but I’m afraid there’s not much information in it.  He purchased a two-year lease on one of our apartments in the Independent Living Unit and paid for it up-front; that was about eighteen months ago. His Application simply states that he is Retired, but not much else.  He lists a Serafino Huerfano as his emergency contact; I believe he was Alexander’s lawyer.  The Application states that he was a widower and had no other family.  I know he has talked to Paloma Angostura and to Doc; one of them may be able to tell you more about him.”

“Thanks, Isabella.  I think I’ll go to the Dining Room and see if I can speak with Paloma and maybe catch Doc.  Thanks again and I am truly sorry this had to happen here.”

Garcia meets Dudley as he leaves Isabella’s office. “Doc, can you add anything to what was said upstairs?”

“Sorry, Lieutenant, I only spoke to Mr. Alexander briefly. He left his copy of the Wall Street Journal for me every morning after he had breakfast in the Dining Room.  That was basically my only contact with him.”

“Thanks, Doc, I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d keep your eyes and ears open and let me know if you learn anything that would help with my investigation.”

Paloma Angostura was sitting at one of the tables in the Dining Room, sipping on a cup of tea when Garcia entered.  “Oh, Francisco, I am so sad about what has happened to Señor Alexander.  He was such a kind gentleman.”

“Can you tell me anything else about him, Madre?”

“Only that he tried to hide his sadness.  I sensed that he was carrying a large burden of some kind, but would not discuss it with me, no matter how I tried.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  I don’t know if it has any bearing on his murder, but I appreciate your telling me.  I suspect foul play of some sort, but it’s really too early to tell. I must go now; there is much work to be done.”

“I’ll say a prayer for you, Francisco.”

 

On his way back to Police Headquarters, Lt. Garcia called Sgt. Bernadette Armijo and asked her to come to his office. “Bernie, this man who was apparently murdered at La Vida Aureo, Conrad Alexander, does not appear to me to be just another retired old guy.  The people I spoke to there had only very positive things to say about him.  His name sounds familiar. I would appreciate it if you would see what you can find out from public records, newspapers, TV, that sort of thing.”

“No problemo, Boss.”

Garcia was eager to learn what Dr. Hernandez had discovered with his autopsy and what the forensic guys found on the electrical cord found in Alexander’s mouth. But, that would have to wait until at least tomorrow morning.

 

The next morning, Lt. Frank Garcia was still on his first cup of coffee when Dr. George Hernandez and Forensic Technician Tom Bowers came to his office. Hernandez, being the senior of the two men, spoke first.  “You know, Lieutenant, I am indebted to you for making my otherwise boring life interesting.  Your cases are far more interesting and rewarding than my usual fare.  Here in Albuquerque, I mostly get dead bodies that are the result of stupid, self-inflicted death like drunk drivers, bar fight murders, jealous husband murders, drug overdoses and the like. But, your stiffs tend to brighten my day.”

“C’mon, George, enough of that.  You know how important La Vida Aureo is to me and I really don’t appreciate your feeble attempts at being clever.  What did you learn from Mr. Alexander’s autopsy?”

“OK, OK; don’t be so touchy, Frank. Your Mr. Alexander was definitely electrocuted.  The bare wire in his mouth and the burn marks on his tongue and in his mouth are pretty conclusive.  I estimate the time of death as sometime early afternoon yesterday.  Another thing; there were relatively fresh marks on his wrists that are consistent with being tied with some sort of coarse rope.  When I examined the contents of his stomach, there was evidence of a large quantity of pain killers.  That should be confirmed when the blood work comes back, but I’m pretty certain.”

“What do you make of all that?”

“Well, Frank, not to be too much of a cynic and acknowledging that you’re the detective, I’d say someone drugged him, tied him up, stuck the bare wire in his mouth and turned on the juice.  I just don’t see how anyone could do that to themselves.  I’d say you’re looking at a homicide.”

“You’re probably correct, George. I agree with you that it would be pretty unlikely to be suicide. Damn!”

“What I don’t get, Hernandez continued, is why anyone would go to all the bother for such a complex way to murder someone.  When I opened him up, it was obvious that this guy was dying. His body was full of cancer.  There was no reason to kill him; he probably would have been dead in a few months anyway, at the most.”

“That makes no sense to me.  Maybe the killer didn’t know that Alexander was dying.  Or, maybe there’s something I’m overlooking.  Tom, were you able to find anything on the wire?”

“Not much, Lieutenant.  There were some prints on the wire, but I couldn’t find a match in any of our regular databases; I’m still looking, however.  I compared them to prints I lifted from the Franklin Planner and several items in the apartment and they are definitely not Alexanders.”

“Thanks, guys.  So far, everything points to murder and that someone went to a lot of trouble to pull this off.  I appreciate your promptness.  Let me know if you come across anything else.”

 

Based on his initial observations at the crime scene, the information from Hernandez and Bowers was not a surprise to Garcia.  He had hoped for a different outcome than to have to investigate another murder at La Vida Aureo.  Regardless, he would pursue the investigation rigorously and try to remain detached and objective.  He was determined to find the killer as quickly as possible. He would return and have a longer discussion with Martina Trujillo and maybe Doc had learned something that would help.  He also knew that he would have to locate and interview this Donald Pearsall whose name was in the appointment book at about the time Hernandez placed the time of death.  And, there was the lawyer, Serafino Huerfano, that Alexander had named as his emergency contact.  Garcia knew he had several leads to follow.

Garcia had begun to make a list of people to interview when Sgt. Armijo knocked on his open door.  “Sorry to barge in, Lieutenant, but I was able to find out quite a bit about our Mr. Alexander.  Apparently, he was the former CEO of New Mexico Power & Light and retired a little over two years ago.  The Journal article says he retired for “personal reasons” and I’m sure that’s corporate-speak for something.  Since he was an important figure in the business world, I’m sure there’s a lot more information available.  It also appears that he was very active in the community and involved in quite a bit of charitable work and other notable things. I’ll keep digging. I just wanted to let you know that he wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill old guy at La Vida Aureo.”

“Thanks, Bernie. I appreciate your usual efficiency and energy.”

Frank Garcia sat back in his chair and asked himself, “If Conrad Alexander was such a good guy, why would someone want to kill him?”

 

 

Epilogue

Things did not go well for Donald Pearsall.  Even though the case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence, he remained unable to provide an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Alexander’s death.  He refused to disclose his association with La Raza Cosmica for fear that it would also implicate him in the death of Doris Connell. Pearsall had retained a capable defense team, but they were quickly running out of legal maneuvers to delay a trial.

The Albuquerque Police Department remained unsuccessful in their attempts to bring any members of La Raza Cosmica to justice.  Lt. Frank Garcia was among those who believed that, if they could bring serious charges against one member of the gang, they could convince him to provide evidence about many unsolved crimes in the State.  But that goal continued to be elusive.

There was a major restructuring in the Board of Directors at New Mexico Power & Light.  With Manny Vigil’s resignation, Graham Wright recruited several new Board members who could lead the Company in a more progressive direction.  The majority of the new technology demonstration projects were restarted under the direction of one of the original Project Managers and early results were very promising for several of the projects.  The Board also authorized a significant increase in spending for Energy Conservation training and education programs.

Isabella Duncan received an unexpected phone call from Serafino Huerfano who asked if could come to her office to discuss several provisions of Conrad Alexander’s Estate that related to La Vida Aureo.  Huerfano began by telling Isabella that the majority of Alexander’s Estate went to establish a Trust at New Mexico Tech to support engineering studies in the areas of energy efficiency and clean technologies for power generation.  “You folks here had a profoundly positive effect on Conrad at a time when he most needed it and he made several stipulations in his Will to say “Thank You”.  First, there is a large amount to be used to upgrade its kitchen and dining facilities.  Conrad wanted to express his appreciation to Paloma Angostura for her kindness.  While we’re talking about the Dining Room, a life-time subscription to the Wall Street Journal has been made in the name of someone called “Doc”. Finally, Conrad made funds available for Martina Trujillo so that she could provide for her parents for the remainder of their lives.  And, I want to add my appreciation to Conrad’s.”

Isabella was stunned.  “I do not have the words to express how much we appreciate Mr. Alexander’s generosity. Everyone here who met him realized what a true gentleman he was.  We will miss him.”

Later that day, Isabella asked Matthew Dudley to conduct a comprehensive maintenance review of Alexander’s former apartment in the Independent Living Section in order to make it available for a future Resident.  Dudley knew enough about Alexander’s behavior and did not expect that much would be required.  After a thorough inspection, the only item requiring attention was the main light switch by entrance door. For some unexplained reason, the ON/OFF switch positions had been reversed.  Dudley quickly made the minor repair and reported to Isabella that the apartment was ready for a new Resident.

Case VIII: Chapter 3: A Focused Approach

Isabella asked Dudley to come to her office.  “I assume you are aware of the request Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott made?  They make a great couple and I’m glad it happened here; we can certainly use the positive news.  I’d like your input to what I want to propose to them.  I’m concerned that Martha Arthur’s casita may be hard to re-rent because of the potential stigma of the murder.  If Larry & JoAnne will agree to move into that unit, I believe I can work out a fair and equitable arrangement for their respective contracts with La Vida Aureo.  That would open one casita and one apartment in Independent Living which we can easily fill from our Waiting List.  What do you think?”

“Isabella, I think that is an ideal solution; everyone benefits. And, Larry and JoAnne are very mature people who would not have any apprehension about Mrs. Arthur’s casita.”

“I’ll need to talk with Denise Harris to confirm that arrangement, but I don’t see any problem.  My understanding is that something similar was included in Mrs. Arthur’s Will.”

“While we’re talking about ways to help people move forward from that unfortunate incident, continued Dudley, I’d like to discuss Mrs. Branch.”

“I passed her in the hallway the other day and she seemed to be holding up pretty well.”

“But, Isabella, we both know Mrs. Branch well enough to realize that she will put on a brave front rather than let anyone see how much she is actually grieving.”

“You’re probably right, Doc. Do you have any suggestions about how we could help her without it being too obvious what we’re up to?”

“I was thinking about Señora Barela.  She strikes me as another elderly woman who is alone and who could use some companionship.  I suspect she and Mrs. Branch actually have much in common, despite their previous rocky start and that unfortunate episode with the poisonous tea (Case V, January 2015).”

“I agree, but getting the two of them together could be a real challenge!  Is there a way to head off any potential fireworks?”

“I was thinking we could ask Señora Angostura to serve as mediator or facilitator. I imagine she would be very good at setting the right tone and getting things started on a positive note.”

“I hadn’t thought of that approach, but I believe it would work. Once again, Doc, you came up with a clever solution that makes total sense.  Would you talk to Señora Angostura; it would be less official than if I were to ask her?”

“I’ll make a point of it.  I assume you’ll talk to Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott.”

 

Dudley had been thinking about the Community Assistance Program and wanted to share some of his ideas with the Team, but was hesitant to appear to be trying to control their actions.  He decided a casual conversation with Beth Ford would be more appropriate and asked her to meet him for coffee in the Main Dining Room.  He began by talking about his own experiences with the State Water Resources Department.

“When I was involved with planning activities at the State, we sometimes found it helpful to step back and to understand the bigger picture.  We often got too intent on achieving a specific result that we lost sight of things. I’ve been watching the Team and am impressed by their overall enthusiasm and energy and the last thing I want to do is to inhibit that in any way. However, I don’t want us to move too quickly and find ourselves down the wrong path in a few months.  That would be a discouraging development.”

“I understand”, said Beth. “Sometimes, when we’re all together, things get moving pretty fast and I get a feeling that we get caught up in our combined enthusiasm and rush past important details. My goal is to have us focus on accomplishing a few relatively small tasks to establish trust and credibility in the community.  Things are changing very rapidly in the overall healthcare field and I want more than anything for us to be viewed as credible.  I can already see that there are an increasing number of questionable organizations trying to capitalize on the uncertainty of things and people’s general ignorance of how to proceed.”

“I share that same concern, Beth. My sense of things is that the particular conditions here in New Mexico provide too much opportunity for people to be taken advantage of.  So many people are in desperate need of healthcare which makes them easy targets for deception.”

“I have an idea about how our next Team meeting can be structured to decide on a relatively few specific objectives. And, I don’t think we’ve fully capitalized on the unique resource we have available to us through the La Vida Aureo Staff.  We talked to them initially, but it was a more general discussion.  I believe they have individual stories and experiences that would be invaluable to the Team at this point.”

“That is an excellent idea, Beth. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t think so, Doc.  The Staff has been more than willing to work with us and, of course, Señora Paloma is always available should we need her.  She makes sure we arrange our timing so as to not interfere with anyone’s schedule. But I want to emphasize that I’ve found this particular format of your coffee coaching very helpful and suggest we meet on a regular basis. Of course, that should not prevent you from sitting in on Team meetings anytime you wish.  The Team respects your viewpoints and you are always welcome.”

Dudley left the discussion with Beth Ford feeling more confident that he had been able to express his concerns without appearing to inhibit Beth or the Team in any way.  He was able to focus on the numerous maintenance requests that had been piling up in recent weeks.  He knew he had promised Isabella that he would talk to Paloma about Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela, but that could wait for a later time.

The next morning, the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Team met in one of the small meeting rooms near the main lobby.  The women were in good spirits and Mikaylah Willis seemed to be the center of attention. This pleased Beth and assured her that her intuition had been correct; Mikaylah would be a valuable addition to the Team. Once everyone settled into a seat around the table, Beth opened the meeting. “Let’s spend today developing a consensus about the major issues affecting what I will call our potential Market Opportunities.  As we’ve said before, our primary objective is to help people stay independent for as long as possible. To achieve that goal, I believe we should ask ourselves this question: What do people need to remain independent and preferably in their own home?”

There was active discussion of this question for over an hour with each Team member contributing and building on each other’s comments.  Everyone was making notes and Beth was trying to capture major themes on the whiteboard.  When the discussion seemed to pause, Beth said, “Let me try to summarize what we’ve been saying.” She moved to a clean whiteboard on another wall and wrote:

  • Safety in the home.
  • Regular, nutritious, healthy meals
  • Routine medical attention, including any necessary medications
    • Check-ups focused on prevention
  • Socialization, companionship

Beth stepped away from the board. “Is this what we’ve been saying? Are these the keys to personal independence?”

The Team seemed to briefly hesitate that it could be this straight-forward. Then Mikaylah spoke, “Mikey likes it!”  Everyone laughed and joined in with similar expressions of approval.

“OK”, said Beth.  “Can we identify existing organizations that could provide these elements and that we can assure ourselves are reputable and share our goal of achieving and maintaining personal independence?  If we can leverage existing resources, then it becomes a matter of information and education.”

“That should not be difficult”, offered Mila. “I’ve had experience with Meals on Wheels, for example, and that could certainly address the nutrition issue for anyone who has no other source. I know that they have several financial options as well which would be a benefit.”

“Good, Mila. That is exactly the type of organization I’m thinking of.  There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Our role is to make people aware of that type of resource. Now, the second question we should address is: Are there factors in the community that are trying to prevent this?”

Arnetta looked puzzled as she raised her hand. “Are you saying, Beth, that there are people and organizations that don’t want people to remain independent?”

“I know it may sound ridiculous, or like some imagined conspiracy, but that is exactly what I’m asking. If our focus is to help people remain independent through readily available resources, we also need to identify anyone with the opposite goal.  As a very simple example, someone selling wheelchairs would not want us to help a person remain ambulatory with a daily exercise routine.  I’m just suggesting that we be aware of unscrupulous people who see these same conditions as a huge opportunity.

“If I can expand on that, said Mikaylah, there is one potentially shady operation we need to watch carefully.  It seems like every time I drive across town to get here, I see another billboard advertising some sort of in-home health service.  It could be because the most recent one I saw was next to some ambulance-chasing attorney’s flashing billboard, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m not trusting enough, but I can’t believe all of these offer the level of care and quality that we’re advocating.”

“I’d like to offer another note of caution, added Minot.  So much health-related information is being put on the Internet, including the application forms and other sign-up-related paperwork.  Because many poorer folks don’t have internet access, they need some way to complete the sign-up process. In driving around town, I’m noticing lots of little store-front operations popping up that offer that assistance.  Maybe I’m just a bit suspicious, but I can’t believe that all of these are legitimate. I don’t have any suggestions right now, but I think we need to keep our eyes on this going forward.”

“Again, said Beth, I don’t want to appear paranoid.  We just need to stay alert as we go throughout the community and recognize that some activities may not be in the best interest of the people we’re trying to support.  I think we’ve covered a lot of ground today and I really appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and input.  I think we have identified some short-term actions and I’m eager for our next meet to talk about what we’ve collectively learned.”

Mila turned to Arnetta and said, “Why don’t you and I spend the next few afternoons talking to the Staff when their shift is over and they’re waiting for their rides?  We can ask them about their experiences with their families and neighbors.  I’ll bet some of them have already taken steps to help their parents remain at home.  They probably can expand our understanding of the specific types of services and organizations that are available.”

“That sounds great, Mila.  I’ll stop and talk to Señora Angostura to make sure we’re not interfering and select a time that is most convenient.”

“I still have many friends at Pfizer, said Mikaylah and I’ll see what’s happening with medications these days.  With all the generic drugs that have become available, I’m sure the situation is constantly changing.  And, I want to inquire about the role of these so-called Pharmacy Benefits Managers.  It seems like they are playing an ever-increasing role as middle-men between drug companies, physicians and patients.”

Minot remained quiet and at her seat until everyone had left.  “Is there something troubling you?” asked Beth.

“I didn’t want to say too much in front of the Team, but with all of this personal information being made available, your fears of potential trouble may be the most important aspect of things. I’d like to do some research and see if there’s a way we can gather background information about any organization we recommend or support. I’d hate for us to get blind-sided if an organization shows up on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal with its Owner in handcuffs!”

“I agree, Minot. I want to keep the Team focused on all of the positive things we can do, but I share your concern.  I plan to discuss this issue in depth during my next meeting with Mr. Dudley.”

 

Case VII: Identities Lost and Stolen

That Martha Arthur would die of a heart attack was not a surprise to the residents and staff of La Vida Aureo; this kind and gentle woman had struggled with heart-related illness for many years. But, her good friend Millicent Branch believed otherwise.  She was convinced that Martha had been the victim of foul play and she was certain she knew who was responsible.  She had seen it coming for some time and had tried to warn Martha, but was unable to prevent the inevitable.

 

Chapter 1: New Directions

Matthew Dudley and Isabella Duncan were pleased that La Doña Jaramillo had expressed such enthusiasm for the Community Assist Program.  As she had promised, Isabella introduced Dudley to La Doña and their initial discussions had been better than she had expected.  Isabella presented the general concept of the Community Assist Program and encouraged Dudley to describe the details. La Doña listened carefully and probed several specific aspects of the program with additional questions. La Doña was, above all else, a very pragmatic person and did not see the merit in embarking on a program that was too large or ambitious in scope.  She was committed to helping her community in any way she could, but firmly believed that people should help themselves first.  Because the program that Isabella and Dudley had described was based on providing people with information so that they could help themselves, she would give it her total support.  They all agreed that the most important first step was to select a few individuals to serve as the initial Project Managers as Dudley had described that function.  They also agreed that this initial group should be diverse in background and experience since much of their initial responsibility would be to further define the range of services that the program would provide as well as the populations to be served.  Isabella and La Doña looked at Dudley and it was Isabella who actually spoke for both women. “You really need to come up with a better name for what you are now calling Project Managers.  We will forgive your engineering background.  We total agree with your description of their role, but please try to find a name that is less technical-sounding.”

“I’ll work on that, he replied, smiling. Maybe our first group of Leaders could choose a more appropriate name for themselves.”

“I’d like to raise one final piece of administrative business while we’re together, said Isabella.  I recommend that we form a separate entity for this activity to distinguish it from the basic operation of La Vida Aureo.  I suggest we form an LLC called LVA Community Assist and that the three of us serve as its Board of Directors and that Matthew and I are the only Corporate Officers, if that is acceptable to you, La Doña.”

“That is acceptable for the time being, La Doña responded. But, if this program is as successful as I anticipate, I believe it would be more appropriate if I were not directly involved and that you consider expanding the Board to include more representatives from the community at large.  I doubt that the Church would allow Father Michael’s involvement in an official capacity, but he is an example of the type of person I have in mind.”

“That makes sense to me.  One of the things Matthew and I understand is that this is a new program and we must remain open to adapting it based on what we learn, particularly at this early stage.”

“Thank you, Isabella for this update and Mr. Dudley is everything you described; you are fortunate to have him working with you.”

“I know I am speaking for him when I say that we appreciate you support of this venture and you have our commitment to make it successful.”

On the drive back to La Vida Aureo, Isabella and Dudley began to discuss the type of individuals they wanted to hire as their initial Team. “I agree with La Doña that our first hires should be a relatively diverse group to reflect the population we anticipate serving.  And, we should probably start by identifying someone to serve as the Leader of the Team.  There is a bright young woman I knew from when I did volunteer work at United Way. Her name is Beth Ford and she’s a CPA with a local Accounting firm.  It might be beneficial to have someone with a financial background as we begin to look at organizations we want to partner with or include on our list of “preferred suppliers”.  That’s what she was doing when she volunteered at United Way.  Each Agency applying for a grant had to submit their financial records and it was Beth’s job to evaluate these to determine the viability of the Agency.”

“I agree, Isabella. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone from the State as well.  I think that knowledge of the resources available through the Department of Health would be a valuable addition.”

“Since medication typically represents such a large part of elderly people’s medical expenses, we could use someone with that expertise.  Perhaps we could recruit a young woman who has served as what the pharmaceutical companies call a Detail Person, a representative who calls on physicians.”

“And, since I’m not particularly knowledgeable about all the new forms of communication, we could certainly use a person with those skills.  I think we both agree that communication will be a critical element in anything and everything we do.”

“OK, said Isabella. I think we have a starting point.  I’ll call Beth Ford and see if she can come to La Vida Aureo and meet with us as soon as possible.”

“Let’s concentrate on hiring her.  If she accepts the position of Team Leader, it would be appropriate to include her in any subsequent hiring decisions.”

Beth Ford met with Isabella and Dudley a few days later and quickly became excited about the opportunity.  She said, “I’ve been volunteering at United Way for almost ten years now and have become more frustrated each year with the inefficient approach to serving the community. The individual Agencies seem to be in competition with each other for grant money instead of trying to work together to be able to serve the growing number of people and families in Albuquerque who are in desperate need.  I believe the approach you’ve described could provide more people with the information they need to be self-sufficient. Over time, I can see a situation where the Agencies can focus their resources on only the neediest cases.  Count me in, Isabella!”

Over the next six weeks, Matthew Dudley and Beth Ford were able to identify and recruit their initial Team with Isabella participating in the final interview and ultimate hiring decision.  The three of them then met with La Doña Jaramillo to inform her of their progress. The Team consisted of the following individuals:

Beth Ford, a CPA who would also serve as Team Leader

Janetta “JJ” Johari, a pharmaceutical representative from Merck

Mila Espalin, a Supervisor with the New Mexico Department of Health

Minot Atkinson, a Project Manager with a Public Relations firm in Santa Fe

Dudley and Beth would continue to search for an experienced Social Worker, but agreed that they had a core Team that could get to work. Isabella expressed her satisfaction with the initial group for its complementary mix of backgrounds and skills as well as it diversity.

For their initial Team meeting, Dudley’s goal was to allow the women time to get acquainted and talk about their primary focus. He decided that a story could serve to help the Team understand its mission. “When I worked for the State, I occasionally had to spend time in the office in Santa Fe.  I never particularly cared for being cooped up in an office, so I tried to go for a walk over my lunch hour.  I would take the stairs from the fourth floor to avoid waiting for the elevator which was always crowded at lunchtime.  At the base of the stairwell near the first floor exit there was the required fire-fighting connection and fire hose reel.  One day, I noticed that, on top of the large sign that said FIRE HOSE, someone had placed a sign that said in bold letters, AIM HOSE FIRST.”

“That’s how I would describe my expectation for your initial work with the LVA Community Assist Program.  Before we actually do anything, I challenge you to gather as much information as possible.  To maximize our effectiveness, we need to focus on doing a few things very well rather than lots of things poorly.  Remember that our primary goal, our Mission if you will, is to help people remain independent and self-sufficient for a long as possible.  We want to emphasize preventing people’s lives from declining to maintain their dignity.  For starters, I recommend that you introduce yourselves to Paloma Angostura here at La Vida Aureo and ask her to arrange a meeting with a group she calls her Sopapilla Network.  These are women who are part of the La Vida Aureo staff and were a major influence in the genesis of this initiative.  Most of them have family similar to the population we would serve.  Listen to them talk about their concerns and the type of information that would most useful to them. I encourage each of you to talk to your own sources to gather as much information as possible. Let’s plan to get together in a week or so and we can share what we each learn.”

As Dudley left the small conference room, the women remained behind, engaged in active conversation with an air of excitement.

 

Author’s Note

A number of readers of the Retirement Home Mysteries stories do not live in New Mexico and are unfamiliar with some of the references. Starting with this Case, I will attempt to include links to additional material for those who are interested in learning more about a particular topic.