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Chapter 1: Developments & Changes

It was unusual to find Isabella Duncan sitting in the Main Dining Room, particularly at this time of day.  Matthew Dudley approached somewhat cautiously and sat down across from her.  “I don’t mean to pry, but is everything OK? This is not the typical place to find you in the mornings.”

“Just fine, Doc. In fact, more than “just fine”. I was sitting here enjoying a quiet cup of tea and reflecting on the wonderful celebration we hosted over the weekend.  So many people showed up to help us celebrate the tenth anniversary of La Vida Aureo’s original opening.  So many folks stopped by, even if just to say “Hello”.  And, for the most part, everyone had good news to relate.”

Paloma Angostura came out of the kitchen, smiling as she sat down.  “Bueno dias, Señora Duncan and Señor Doc. May I join you?”

“Certainly, Señora.  Doc and I were talking about the joyous celebration and how wonderful it was to see so many friends and learn of their good fortune. And, I want to especially thank you for all you did to make it such a pleasant afternoon.”

Gracias, Señora, but the thanks must also go to Pablo Guzman and his catering company for providing such delightful food.  I’m sure his Father is most proud of how Pablo has grown his business from such a small beginning.”

“I understand he began as a waiter at Scalo’s and then opened a small food truck before starting his catering business.”

“That’s correct, Doc.  I doubt that Pablo is aware that La Doña Jaramillo provided a helping hand financially to get his business started. And, he probably only suspects that Señora Jaramillo and his Father plan for him to eventually take over Hector’s business.  After all, it is called Saville & Sons!”

 

“While you’re both here”, said Isabella, I want to share some information I received late yesterday afternoon.  It’s one of those “good news, bad news” situations.   I received a call from our good friend Professor Pearson.  He called to apologize directly to me and to you as well as everyone at La Vida Aureo.”

“I can’t imagine that Professor Pearson has anything to apologize for,” remarked Dudley.

Isabella took another sip of her tes and continued.  “Well, the short version is that Professor Pearson won’t be coming to live at La Vida Aureo as planned.”

“That’s obviously the bad news.  What’s the good news?”

“Events have taken a quite unexpected turn for him and he has an opportunity to pursue unique aspects of Southwest history that have always fascinated him.  But, before I give you the whole story, he insisted that I convey his undying gratitude to both of you as well as OJ.”

“That’s very thoughtful, but not really necessary.  After all, he was the one that was so mistreated physically and emotionally.”

“I agree, Doc, but he seems genuinely happy with these developments. He asked that we keep his deposit and put it to good use.  He advised me to not hold a space/casita for him, at least for the short-term.”

“That sounds like more bad news.”

“Well, the Professor did assure me that this new Project could include some trips to New Mexico and he promised me that he would stop by.  Anyway, let me give you the details of our conversation and I hope you’ll agree with me that things have turned out rather well for him. He asked that I record the entire conversation so he could speak to you in his own words.”

 I was wrapping my affairs up at Rice University when I received a call from the Dean and the University’s President. The Dean didn’t provide a lot of details, but apparently the entire Hormuz Conspiracy episode with Homeland       Security eventually made it to the main DHS office in Washington.  It was obviously quite an embarrassment and several senior officers were encouraged to take early retirement so they could spend more time with their families. I guess that’s government-speak for being fired.  The Dean said that DHS had looked into my background (no surprise there!) and felt that I could be of assistance to them and that a representative would be in Houston in a few days to meet with me to discuss a new Project.  Neither the Dean nor the President could provide any additional information and it sounded like this meeting wasn’t really optional.  So, I continued my packing and waited.

I received a phone call the next afternoon and a pleasant-sounding gentleman invited me to dinner at one of my favorite BBQ joints in Houston.  The Project he outlined for me focused on the Federal Government’s relationship with various Native American peoples over the years. Although it wasn’t mentioned specifically, I’m reasonably certain that there was considerable pressure from some individuals in Congress on these matters. Anyway, Homeland Security wants to develop an independent and totally non-political review of the entire situation, including treaties, reservations, etc.  They suggested I focus initially on the Native peoples of the Southwest. Actually, that makes sense since the relations between the Apache and other tribes of the Southwest are the most recent in terms of US history. It is at least a good place to start. Congress, through DHS, has allocated a considerable grant to the University of Arizona in Tucson and asked me to be the Principal Investigator of this Project.  I don’t follow politics, but my sense was that they want to address the subject in an environment far away from Washington.

This all sounded very interesting to me.  As you may recall, my original plan was to be based at La Vida Aureo and explore the notion that the United States was settled, in some measure, from South to North rather than the conventional view of East to West. I wanted to examine the influence of the Spanish, the Church, the Missions, etc.  Clearly, this would have involved a careful analysis of various Native American populations.  So, this new Project potentially provides an opportunity to get some of the facts straight and perhaps clear up some terrible misconceptions. I don’t believe for a minute that the mistakes of the past can be easily corrected, but it may provide some guidance to future policy-makers on a National, State and Local level.

My host never actually explained his position at DHS, but our conversation then took an unexpected turn.  Apparently, there are folks at DHS who believe we could also learn some things about terrorism from the Native Americans.  I am aware of the AIM (American Indian Movement) uprising when they occupied Alcatraz acted much like domestic terrorists.  Some historians have argued they behaved like terrorists in their relationship with white settlers and the Army during periods of western migration and settlement.  From the other perspective, I have seen the tee shirt depicting a band of Native Americans with the caption Providing Homeland Security since 1492.  It seems to me that the struggle for land is often a theme and reason for rebellion/uprising.  The 1540 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico is another example. There are obviously two sides to this story!

I apologize for dragging this story out, but I wanted you all to know that I plan to accept Homeland Security’s offer and move to Tucson and begin work on this exciting Project. I also want you to know I am confident my work on this Project will bring me back to New Mexico and La Vida Aureo, frequently.  I can never fully express my gratitude for everything you folks did for me and I wish you well and hope to see all of you in the not too distant future.

 

Isabella closed the recording and they all sat quietly for a few minutes without saying anything.  It was Paloma who spoke first.  “I know we will all miss not having Professor Pearson around, but it sounds like he is about to embark on an important journey.  I am confident that his honesty and integrity will prevail and he will present an accurate description of the situation.  I will pray for his continued good health and courage.”

“I agree completely,” added Dudley. “I just hope that the politicians will understand and act with honor.  My own understanding of the situation is that our Government has a long history of making and then breaking promises and treaties.”

Paloma rose to leave.  “Thank you for including me in this conversation, Isabella.  I must return to my kitchen.  There is much work to be done.”

Isabell and Dudley remained at the table.  Dudley rose to leave. “Like Señora Angostura, I also have much work to do.”

Isabella rose and placed her hand on Dudley’s arm. “Look, Doc, I am personally disappointed by this development, but we must be happy for the Professor.  We both know that Homeland Security really screwed with him and can never give him back what they took from him.  At least this Project will provide him the freedom and opportunity to continue doing what he does best and we can only hope it has some positive impacts.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right, Isabella.  I was really looking forward to spending time with him and getting to know him better.  I gotta go.”

 

Dudley had only walked a few steps when Isabella called out, “Doc, I almost forgot. I received another phone call yesterday and I would like your input regarding a couple who might want to live here at La Vida Aureo. Let me tell you a bit about them so you can be thinking about it in the meantime. Their name is Fitzsimmons, Bob and Elaine, and they’re from St. Louis.  They’ve been retired for about five years and have been travelling around the country in their RV. I believe he said he had retired from Boeing and she had worked as a bookkeeper all her career. They told me that after several years on the road, they think they may want to settle in one place; I guess they’re just tired of a nomadic life style. I’d like to get your impression of them before I commit to taking them on as Residents.”

“That sounds like a good idea, particularly to get away from St. Louis.  I know Winter can often be nasty and the Summers are typically hot and humid! They sound like interesting people and I’d be glad to visit with them and give you my thoughts. Just give me a day or two’s notice so I can make sure I have enough time to spend with them.  I wouldn’t want to create a bad impression if they caught me sitting around reading the paper!”

“Right!  We have plenty of time before they arrive and I will review our occupancy situation. I’ll get back to you in case there are any maintenance or repair issues to address before someone new moves in.  Thanks, Doc.  I knew I could count on you. If you haven’t forgotten how to use your smart phone, I’ll send you a text when we’re near the end of our tour of the facility.”

“C’mon, Isabella, I’m trying to become a thoroughly modern kinda guy. I’ll wait for your text.”

 

Realizing that he had promised Isabella he would be available to talk with the Fitzsimmons, Dudley called her cell phone assuming she would be on a tour of the facilities.  “Isabella, I’m sorry.  I’m running late.  Things at the Dubois casita were a lot more serious than I expected.  I’ll need to come back in the morning to make a more permanent repair.  I’m sorry.”

“Thanks for calling, Doc, but there’s no rush.  The Fitzsimmons had a flat tire along I-25, south near Isleta Casino. They were able to safely get off the highway and onto the Casino grounds where there’s a large RV park to spend the night. The repair service should be there early tomorrow morning and they hope to be here by 10 o’clock to meet with me. I’d appreciate your talking to them afterward and giving them a brief tour of the grounds.”

“Just text me when you want me, Isabella.”

 

It didn’t take either Isabella or Dudley to reach the same conclusion. The Fitzsimmons were a delightful couple and would be a welcome addition to the La Vida Aureo family. Isabella offered to let them stay in a vacant casita (the one she had been saving for Warren Pearson) for a few days to help them decide if this is the type of place they would like to (eventually) settle.

Elaine Fitzsimmons had worked as a bookkeeper for most of her life and had always managed the family’s finances. She updated the spreadsheet she maintained to analyze their financial situation relative to living at La Vida Aureo.  Over a glass of wine that evening, she reviewed her findings with her husband.  “Bob, I think we both found this place really nice and believe it could be a wonderful home for us. I just don’t see how we could afford it long-term.  Even if we sold the RV, it would put a large hole in our savings and I’m afraid we spend most of our time worrying about every expense.”

“I agree. I made a few back-of-the envelope calculations of my own and reached the same conclusion, unfortunately.  Maybe the best thing for us to do is keep looking.  We’re still healthy and not really in a huge rush.  There are still a number of military installations I want to visit to make contact with all the folks who helped us when I retired. The time we spent recently at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo was really rewarding. I had hoped we could have a similar experience at Kirtland in Albuquerque, but was disappointed. Why don’t we head into Arizona and see what we find? It will give us a chance to stop at Luke near Phoenix and Davis Monthan near Tucson.”

“You’re right, Bob.  I could get used to living here, but don’t want to spend the rest of my living worrying about having enough money to last. It would be fun to head to Arizona, but I doubt we’ll find a less expensive situation around Phoenix!”

“You’re right about that!  We can see what’s available in southern Arizona.  I’ve heard it is significantly less expensive.”

 

The next afternoon, they met with Isabella Duncan and expressed their doubts about their ability to comfortably afford La Vida Aureo for the rest of their lives. She was gracious and understanding, but suggested they meet with Julian Banks, a local Certified Financial Planner. “I doubt it will change your mind, but he is really good at analyzing things and it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Let me tell you a bit about him so you understand his perspective.”

“Julian was born here in Albuquerque and attended Albuquerque Academy and won a scholarship to Harvard where he studied Economics and Finance.  There he became interested in the emerging field of Behavioral Economics and took several courses in Psychology to better understand human behavior, particularly as it affects the way individuals deal with financial and monetary decisions.  He returned to Albuquerque to establish a private practice and developed a considerable client base among the City’s wealthier citizens. He then opened a second office in the Barrio section to provide free financial services to less fortunate families. Julian has also worked with a number of the Residents here and I always get positive feedback. Recently, I convinced him to become an Advisor to our Community Assist Team and support their efforts to assist low income families with budgeting, etc.”

“Well, your Mr. Banks sounds like someone we should meet. That is very thoughtful of you Ms. Duncan and we would appreciate his input.”

 

Later that same afternoon, the Fitzsimmons met with Julian Banks in the Library. He looked over Elaine’s spreadsheet and agreed with her assessment that it would be a serious strain on their finances to move into La Vida Aureo.  He suggested they continue looking for alternative arrangements that would allow them “stretch” their finances and live comfortably and relatively stress-free.

 

The next morning, the Bob and Elaine Fitzsimmons stowed their suitcases in the RV and prepared to depart La Vida Aureo and Albuquerque.  “We cannot begin to express how pleasant you’ve made our short time here.  We promise to send post cards as we continue our journey. Thank you again.”

Matthew Dudley, Isabella Duncan and Paloma Angostura stood on the front patio and watched the Fitzsimmons drive away.  “I wish them well in their new adventure and continuing quest. For us, it has been a very interesting few days, but life at La Vida Aureo goes on.”

 

 

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.

 

Chapter 2: Marty Shackleford

Dr. Parker Shackleford was an electronics engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.  He had worked for Sandia his entire career and was considered an expert in his field.  While many of his initial projects had been related to military and defense topics, he was able to apply much of that technology to civilian areas, primarily in the area off energy management.  He led a team that had developed a highly efficient thermostat and energy management system for use in large commercial office buildings which was eventually licensed to Honeywell.  Dr. Shackleford and his wife Elaine lived in a modest split-level home in the Four Hills section of town, near the Labs.  They had been married for almost fifteen childless years when they decided to adopt.  After a long and tedious process, the Shacklefords were able to adopt an infant boy and an infant girl a year later. Parker enjoyed his work and his career was progressing steadily; he and Elaine focused their energies on their new family.

The adopted Shackleford children were what would be considered average. Martin and his sister Fortuna were not exceptional in school, either academically, in sports or socially.  But, the children were happy and Parker would describe his life as contented.

As Martin Shackleford entered his senior year in high school, his father inquired about his interest in college.  The elder Shackleford had always hoped that Martin’s lackluster academic performance was simply due to a lack of interest.  He believed that there would someday be a subject that would spark his interest and ignite a passion for learning, but that hadn’t happened so far.  Martin was content to spend his time playing video games and playing with radio-controlled cars and airplanes.  Dr. Shackleford had long ago given up on any thoughts of his son following his own career path in electronics engineering, certainly not at the caliber conducted at Sandia Laboratories.  He acknowledged that Martin was not his genetic son and accepted him for all that he was.  Martin was a conscientious and highly responsible young man; Parker Shackleford could not ask for more.

One day, as Parker and Martin were on a day hike along one of the many trails on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains, Martin posed a question to his father.  “Look, Dad, I know I will never be a world-class engineer like you and I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.  I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things that interest me and what I want to do with my life.  I know it kinda drives you crazy to see the amount of time I spend with video games and RC-models. But, I’ve been doing some reading and I want to get your thoughts on a possible path forward for me.”

“Certainly, Martin, you know you have my full support.  Just promise me that you don’t want to start a rock ‘n roll band or something!”

“No problem, Dad, nothing that foolish.  You’ve probably noticed that I spend most of my time with a variety of radio-controlled vehicles and some pretty large and complex ones. What you may not have noticed is that I’ve modified most of them to do some things they were probably not intended to do by the manufacturers.  And, I’ve been able to take some of the more sophisticated video games and actually combine them with the RC vehicles.  I have a real interest and, at least in my opinion, a genuine knack for the underlying technology.”

“I’m glad that you find these things interesting, Martin, but I seriously doubt that there is a way for you to make a career out of it, much less support yourself and certainly not a family.”

“I agree completely, Dad. But, I’m convinced that my skills could be developed with the right kind of training and I could get into the new field of unmanned aircraft.  There are several companies right here in New Mexico that are developing unmanned aircraft for all sorts of commercial purposes.  And, I would be willing to bet that the Air Force over at Kirkland has some work going on, either alone or in conjunction with local contractors.  The timing is also in my favor.  I could get in on the ground floor with the right company and make a career out of it.”

“Well, Son, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought and I am proud of you for taking the initiative.  How can I help?”

“Let me do some more research about where I can get the best training.  Perhaps you could talk to some folks at The Labs and see if you could get a recommendation about which companies are working in this field. As I said, I would assume the Air Force has a program but I think I’d rather work for a private company; there would probably be a greater variety of applications, not just military.”

“Martin, that sounds like a great plan. I don’t know enough about these training programs, but it might be worthwhile for you to contact some of these private companies once we identify them.  Since this is such a new field, there might be an opportunity for some sort of internship or apprentice program.  It’s worth a shot.”

Dr. Parker Shackleford asked some his colleagues at Sandia Labs about the general field of unmanned aircraft and which companies were currently active in the field.  He also inquired about certified training programs.  Martin Shackleford spent quite a bit of his time searching the Internet for more information about companies and training programs.  Within just a few short weeks, they had come up with a reasonable plan.

As a first step, Martin Shackleford contacted several companies to request information and was surprised when one company, Comanche Aeronautics, actually invited him to visit their offices.  During the visit, a Supervisor asked Martin a series of in-depth questions to assess his knowledge of aeronautics and specifically about unmanned vehicles.  Excitedly, Martin described his experiences with radio-controlled airplanes and how he had modified some to be controlled from his iPAD using code from a video game.  The Supervisor continued to ask questions of an increasingly technical nature and Martin responded honestly when he didn’t know an answer.  After about an hour, the Supervisor said, “Young man, you seem to have a genuine aptitude for this area.  I’m sure you recognize that you are a bit deficient in some of the technical aspects, but you make up for that in your enthusiasm.  If you have some more time this afternoon, I’d like to invite you to come with me to our fabrication facility to see a few of our actual production and prototype models.”

“That would be fantastic,” Martin responded eagerly. “I do have one question though.  Why is the company named Comanche Aeronautics?  Is it because the Comanches were brave warriors?”

“The Supervisor laughed.  “Actually, it’s because our main fabrication facility is located on Comanche Boulevard, just off the Interstate.  Do you need a ride or can I meet you there in about twenty minutes?”

Martin apologized and said he had his own car and was excited to tour the fabrication facility.

That evening after dinner, Martin asked his father if they could talk privately.  “I want your opinion about something.”

“Certainly, Son; let’s go for a walk.”

“Dad, I really enjoyed my visit to Comanche Aeronautics today.  They are doing some really interesting stuff. As I was leaving their fabrication facility, the Supervisor who showed me around asked me about my plans for the future and school and stuff.  I told him I was still looking and hadn’t made any specific plans as yet.  Then he asked me if I would consider joining Comanche as an Apprentice.  They would require that I went to UNM for a year or two to take some basic courses in math and science.  If my grades were good, they would cover my tuition costs.  At the same time, I would begin a training program to learn about their business and specific technology.  He said that I would start with pretty basic stuff and learn things from the ground up.  Based on my performance, I would be able move on to more advanced tasks.  What do you think?  Should I accept their offer?”

“That all sounds pretty positive, Son, what do you think?  Afterall, it’s your life and career, not mine.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity doing the things I love the most and a real chance to learn even more about it.  But, I wanted to see what you thought.”

“Martin, I think you’ve answered your own question.  I’ve always tried to encourage you to find your own path and you know better than me where your interests lie.  You have my total support.”

“Thanks, Dad.  I told them I would let them know in a few days, but I think I’ll go back over there tomorrow.  I’m so excited.  Let’s go back.  I can’t wait to tell Mom and Fortuna.”

Martin didn’t mention it to his family that evening, but he was also eager to share the exciting news with his girlfriend Debbie Monroe.  The opportunity with Comanche Aeronautics held the promise of stability for the two teens, allowing them to get married in the very near future.

Debbie had similar good news for Martin when they met the next morning for breakfast at Weck’s Restaurant.  She had just landed a job as an assistant secretary with La Vida Aureo, an up-scale retirement community.  With the potential of two incomes, they dreamed of buying a small house of their own and starting a family.

Over the next three years, things continued to progress positively for Martin Shackleford and Debbie Monroe.  They worked hard and both progressed in their respective jobs. They met one evening after work for dinner and were eager to share exciting news.  Martin had successfully completed his Apprenticeship with Comanche Aeronautics and was offered a full-time position as a Project Engineer with a substantial salary increase and a full benefits package.  Debbie had demonstrated her secretarial and administrative skills and been offered the position of Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director at La Vida Aureo, a Mrs. Isabella Duncan.  Martin and Debbie could hardly contain their happiness and each wanted the other to be first to share their good news.  The next decision facing the young couple was which set of parents to tell first about their wedding plans!

Life was good for the young couple.  Both sets of parents had contributed for a down payment for a small bungalow and some modest furnishings.  As time went by, Martin and Debbie made repairs and redecorated the house to make it truly their own.

Debbie enjoyed her work and the people at La Vida Aureo. Her pleasant disposition and outgoing personality were quickly recognized and she became a favorite among the Residents.  She worked hard to learn people’s name and greeted everyone with a smile.  She really didn’t consider this a job in a conventional sense.  She believed that she was part of something that was providing a positive living experience for older people.

Martin was equally pleased with his position at Comanche Aeronautics. The work was exciting and challenging; the people were highly competent and fun to work with.  He felt as though he was learning more each day and was eager to go to work each morning.  His projects involved not only the design of new unmanned vehicles, buy also developing more sophisticated control technologies.

He was pleased when his Supervisor asked him to work with a new trainee, a co-op student from a local high school.  “He isn’t as far along as you were at this age, but we’d like to see if we can stimulate some interest in science and technology with some of these kids from tougher neighborhoods.  We think that working along side someone closer in age would be less threatening.  This young man’s name is Cruz Carabajal and I’ll bring him by your cubicle tomorrow morning, if that’s OK with you.”

“That would be great, Boss. I know just how fortunate I am and how supportive my adoptive parents have been.  Our work is exciting and just might be the spark to help this young man make good choices about his future.  You can count on me.”

Cruz Carabajal was a pleasant young man, a senior in high school. He expressed genuine enthusiasm for the work and Martin was eager to support him as much as possible. Much of work at Comanche Aeronautics was confidential and based on the company’s proprietary technology.  Some of the projects were part of a military contract and, therefore, highly classified.  Nonetheless, there were other projects that Martin was happy to share with Cruz as a means of encouraging him to further his formal education.  Once Martin explained the different categories of projects, the issue was never raised again.

As the months went by, Cruz continued to show enthusiasm and initiative about the projects and his own personal development.  When the two young men visited the fabrication facility, the engineers and technicians there referred to Cruz as Marty’s Shadow.

One afternoon, Debbie Monroe was sitting at her desk which was located adjacent to Isabella Duncan’s office.  Her phone beeped from inside her purse, signaling an arriving text message. It was from Marty and simply said Come outside. It was time for her afternoon break and she walked out through the lobby and into the main courtyard.

Once outside, another message arrived: Walk toward the Navajo Willow tree.

As Debbie approached the majestic tree, she saw Matthew Dudley sitting there. It looked as though he was eating his lunch and reading; he did not seem to notice her approach. Another message: I can see you.  Sit down and close your eyes. Debbie was a bit startled that she was being observed, but trusted Martin explicitly and obeyed, taking a spot next to Dudley.

Debbie waited with her eyes closed for what seemed like forever. Then she heard what sounded like a computer voice, OK, Now open your eyes.  In front of her on the ground was something that resembled a small helicopter. She was surprised because she hadn’t heard any noise while she waited.  As she looked more closely, attached to the underside of this helicopter was a bouquet of roses and a note.

The note said: I love you and was signed Marty. When Debbie looked up, the helicopter was gone, leaving just as silently as it came. She began to cry softly.

Dudley looked up from his reading to see Debbie sitting there.  “Mrs. Shackleford, Debbie, is everything OK?”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, I’m fine.  In fact, I’m more than fine.  Look at these beautiful flowers and the note from my husband.”

“They are beautiful, Debbie, but how did they get here?  I know I was reading, but I didn’t see or hear anyone approach.”

“My Marty is so clever.  He works at Comanche Aeronautics and is always bragging about how sophisticated his drones are and all the things they can do.  I guess he used one of them to send me text messages to get my outside and then deliver these roses.”

“Well, I have heard a bit about these drone things, but don’t know much about what they can do.”

“Marty can’t discuss a lot of the stuff he does, but he has told me that the guys at his work also play all sorts of games with their drones as a way to relax and have some fun on their breaks.”

“It still seems pretty sophisticated to me.  That drone he used didn’t make any noise at all.”

“And, he was watching me all the way from my desk out here to the tree and sending messages as I walked.  I’d say that’s pretty clever.  Anyway, I’m glad you were here to share this with me.  I can let you in on more good news if you promise not to tell Mrs. Duncan, at least for a while.”

“You can trust me.”

I just found out this morning that I’m pregnant; Marty and I are going to have our first child.  I plan to hand these roses to him at dinner tonight and give him my surprise!”

“I’m very happy for you, Debbie.  I promise not to tell Isabella; I’ll leave that to you.”

With that, Debbie Shackleford returned to her desk. Matthew Dudley returned to his ToDo list for the day, still quite amazed by this drone technology and its capabilities.

 

Case XI: Prelude

 October is always an interesting month in Albuquerque. The month starts with Balloon Fiesta, a colorful and exciting international event.  This year, Albuquerque joined a handful of cities that have abandoned Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.  As October progresses, New Mexico begins to focus on its major Holiday, Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It is a complex celebration of religious and pagan traditions often with sinister activities unlike the candy-filled and highly commercial Halloween.  As the Day approaches, there are strange things afoot at La Vida Aureo.

 

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?”

 

Chapter 2: Information Gathering

Matthew Dudley was walking through the Independent Living Unit a few days later, with no particular direction in mind.  In principle, he was attending to a series of minor repair and maintenance projects, but his mind was elsewhere.  He remained deeply troubled by the apparent murder of Conrad Alexander.  He felt a sense of guilt for not reaching out to Alexander as they passed almost daily in the Dining Room, particularly after Paloma had expressed concern over his sadness.

He was also frustrated that he had not been able to be of any assistance to Lt. Garcia in solving this crime.  Whoever had done this terrible thing had not left any clues in the apartment and Dudley had been back several times to look around.

As he continued down the hallway, he noticed Martina Trujillo sitting on the floor. She had her knees pulled up tightly to her chest and was sobbing softly.  Dudley approached quietly and sat down on the floor next to her.  “I am also very sad, Martina, about Mr. Alexander’s death.”

“Oh, Señor Doc, he was such a kind man.  He reminded me of my own Papa before he got sick.”

Dudley asked, “So, Martina, how is your Papa?  I hope he is well.  And, how is your Mama?”

Dudley’s overture was met with more intense sobbing.  “My Papa is not well at all.  He keeps doing very strange things and he wanders away from home almost every night now.  My Mama is very tired and is unable to handle him any longer.  My brother and I try to help, but we have families of our own to care for.  Some of the neighbors are helping to find him when he goes out at night.  We just don’t know what to do.”

“Have you taken your Father to the doctor?  Maybe he could give you some suggestions.”

“No, my Papa refuses to go to the doctor. One of the older ladies in their neighborhood says that he is simply losing his mind. She told my Mama that this is common with old people, particularly men.”

“Martina, has anyone suggested that your Father may have a disease called Alzheimer’s or did he mention dementia?”

“No, but one of the other girls here at la Vida Aureo mentioned that about her Father when we were all talking after work one day.  Carolina said that the doctor did some tests like you do in school with her Father and then told them that this proved he had Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I am sorry to hear that your Father’s behavior is getting worse.  I know how hard you’ve worked to help him as he’s gotten older and what a burden it is on your whole family.  Would it be OK with you if I asked one of the women in our Community Assist Program to talk to you?  She may be able to give some information that might help.”

“I would like that, Señor Doc. Mila Espalin has talked with a group of us several times after work. She is a very nice lady.”

“I will ask her to make a point of talking to you about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  I’m sure she can give you some information to help you understand your Father and know what to expect.  Now, let’s dry those tears.  There are other Residents here who depend on you.  You have my promise that I am doing everything I can to help the police find out who did this terrible thing to Mr. Alexander.”

Despite his “pep talk” for Martina, Dudley was still struggling with his own emotions. He decided that he would go downstairs where he knew the Community Assist Team was currently meeting.  Hopefully, they were continuing to make progress on their key initiatives which always buoyed his spirits.

The meeting of the Team was in progress when Dudley slipped quietly into the conference room.  The Team had made considerable progress with their initiative for improved home safety.  They had prepared a series of Information Cards with simple things that people could do for themselves to reduce the risk of falls and other in-home injuries.  They had also begun talking with local contractors about doing more complicated modifications.

Minot Atkinson was leading an effort to develop a simple web-site where all of the information could be posted to make it readily available to a wider audience.  Her goal was to reach individuals who could use the information for their families, particularly those with aging parents or relatives.

As the individual Team members went about their Tasks, they continued to uncover additional situations of fraud and abuse within the healthcare system.  Team Leader, Beth Ford, had suggested that the Team hold their findings until near the end of the meeting.  She wanted to focus on all the positive gains and accomplishments.  And, she hoped that Matthew Dudley would attend so that they could discuss the best strategy for handling this information.  When she saw Dudley enter the room, she knew the time was appropriate to address this disturbing issue.  “OK, Team, we are making great progress.  In the few minutes left in today’s meeting, let’s turn our attention to the new things we’ve learned about personal information theft.  Why don’t you start, Mikaylah?”

“Thanks, Beth.  I guess because I’m the Newby, I find this activity particularly disturbing.  We’ve all noticed how there seems to be loads of home health-care agencies popping up all over the City. As I’ve driven around town, I made it a point to stop in several agencies and strike up a casual conversation.  In too many instances, the discussion turns quickly to the Agency’s need for personal information.  When I question that need, the response is typically that’s “the Law or the Regulations require it”.  They all just hide behind that flimsy excuse and will not discuss it further. Personally, I am suspicious.”

Arnetta Valencia spoke next.  “I have several long-time friends who are Nurse Practitioners.  They really enjoy interacting with patients and some have taken jobs doing home visits to perform an annual wellness check-up.  Some of the Insurance Companies have initiated this approach and I think it makes a lot of sense.  It is certainly consistent with our goal of keeping people in their homes longer.  The major part of this wellness survey is collecting information which is entered into a form on the insurance company’s web-site. Anyway, one of my friends told me of a situation where she noticed the same nondescript van at several of the homes she visited recently.  Since she connects to the web-site over a wireless network, she worried that her entries were being intercepted by someone in this van.  After her most recent visit where the same van was present, she approached the van to talk to the driver.  When he saw her coming, he sped away.  She did manage to get the license plate number which she reported to her Supervisor.  It’s an issue we’ve discussed before within the Team.  As more personal information is collected over computer networks, I believe the opportunities for theft will increase dramatically.  This just seems like one more instance where technology can be used for good and evil, almost simultaneously.”

“Thank you, Arnetta, anyone else?”

“I don’t know if this is a problem, or if someone was just to sound more important,” said Mila Espalin.  “One of the women at my church has a job with a small firm that processes health claims.  She told me that her firm is some sort of “middle-man” in the network between the patients, doctors, hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, etc. It is her job to review the claims that are submitted and insure that the proper codes are entered for each procedure.  As I understand it, that code determines who gets reimbursed and for how much.  As I said, I don’t know if she was just trying to impress me or she really acts this way.  She said that, with the Affordable Care Act, there are literally thousands of new code categories and she has to be knowledgeable about all of them.  Then she said that she could mark down any code she wanted and no one would ever know the difference.  She said that, if she’s having a bad day, or if she just feels like it, she can direct money or payment to almost anyone she wants, or make sure that no one gets anything at all.  It just seems to me that this is one more area that could easily be abused if someone had a mind to.”

“Thanks, Mila. Mr. Dudley, you’ve been sitting quietly in the back listening to these reports.  It is certainly not our job to try to correct these potentially harmful situations, but I feel this information needs to get to the proper authorities.  Would that Lieutenant Garcia who spoke to us a while ago be the proper person?”

“I suppose so, Beth.  But, it might make more sense to try to address these issues on a larger scale than through the local police.  It’s probably some combination of local and state, maybe even federal, authority. I don’t know.  I believe I will have an opportunity to talk to Lt. Garcia in the very near and I will mention it to him and ask his opinion.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dudley.  Well, if there is nothing else, I want to thank the Team for another positive meeting and continued progress.  Meeting adjourned!”

Dudley stopped Mila Espalin as they were leaving the conference room.  “Mila, could I ask a favor?”

“Certainly.”

“I believe you know Martina Trujillo who is part of the La Vida Aureo staff.  I understand that her Father’s mental condition continues to deteriorate. I don’t know if he has Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, but Martina and her Mother are struggling with ways to cope with his erratic and potentially dangerous behavior. Could you please talk with her and give her some suggestions?”

“I would be glad to.  In these situations, information is the key.  If Martina and her Mother knew what to expect and what behaviors are typical, perhaps they would be better able to cope with him.  I have some pamphlets from the local Alzheimer’s Association and I’m certain there are more available.  I will also give her the name of a support group that meets in her neighborhood, probably at the local library.  That should be another source of strength and encouragement.”

“Thank you, Mila.  I know Martina will be most appreciative.”

Lieutenant Garcia had continued his investigation and decided his first interview would be with Conrad Alexander’s lawyer, Serafino Huerfano.  Señor Huerfano was a partner in the prestigious Albuquerque law firm of Rothschild, Epstein, Schwartz and Huerfano with offices on the top three floors of the Wells Fargo Bank building downtown.   Garcia expected to be treated with minimal respect when he entered through the firm’s large oak doors. But, the receptionist greeted him warmly and said that he was to be taken to Mr. Huerfano immediately.

As Garcia entered the office, Huerfano rose from his large desk and walked to greet Garcia with an outstretched hand.  He directed Garcia to two large arm chairs in a corner of the spacious office. “Let’s sit over here where we can be more comfortable. Can I get you a coffee or water?  I presume you are here about my good friend Conrad Alexander.”

“Yes. I believe you are aware that you are listed as Mr. Alexander’s Emergency Contact at La Vida Aureo.  I understand that he has no other family and I was hoping that you could provide me with some general background information.”

“Certainly.  Conrad and I were friends for many years.  We first met when he was a young engineer trainee with the Power Company, working in southern New Mexico, near my home.  Over the years, as we each pursued our lives and careers, we remained in contact and established what you might call a tradition of meeting for a simple dinner on each other’s birthday.  Conrad was a many of exceptional integrity and vision and a true friend.”

“I am sorry for your loss, Señor Huerfano.  As his friend and lawyer, what do you know of his health issues?”

“Sadly, yes.  Conrad and his late wife were always conscientious about their affairs. He came to me after his wife’s death to update his personal will and estate planning.  It was at that time that he revealed to me just how serious his own health was and that the doctors had not given him very long to live.  It speaks to the character of the man that he put aside his own health concerns to care for his wife during her last and most difficult months.  In hindsight, I believe that may have exacerbated his own condition, but he would not have had it any other way.   I am named Executor of his estate and will perform my duties in a few weeks.

“Can you tell me anything about his career at New Mexico Power & Light or his civic activities?”

“I doubt that I can tell you much more than you could learn from various public sources.  There weren’t any secrets in Conrad’s life and, as an executive at the Power Company, most everything is a matter of public record.  The same probably holds for his civic and charitable work. You could talk to Graham Wright who was the former CEO and Board Chairman at the Company and Conrad’s mentor for much of his career.  He has an office on the tenth floor of this bldg.”

“Thanks, I’ll follow up with Mr. Wright.  I think you’ve already implied this, but can you think of anyone who would want to kill Mr. Alexander?”

“Absolutely not!  In all the years I knew Conrad, I never heard him speak against anyone.  I’m sure there were people he didn’t particularly care for, but he kept those feelings to himself.”

“Thank you once again for your time, Señor Huerfano.  Just one more question.  Does the name Donald Pearsall mean anything to you?”

“Not anything in particular, but I believe he is with the Power Company.  Graham could probably tell you if that is correct.”

Garcia decided, since he was in the building, he would see if he could talk with Graham Wright.  The sign on the door said simply Graham Wright and Garcia entered and was greeted by a receptionist/secretary.  Garcia presented his APD card and asked if Mr. Wright was available.  “No,” said the Secretary.  “You just missed him. He is at a luncheon meeting with the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce and should return later this afternoon.  I assume you’re here in connection with Mr. Alexander’s death.  It is such a tragedy.  He visited Mr. Wright on occasion and was always the perfect gentleman.  Shall I call you when Mr. Wright is available?”

“Thank you. I would appreciate that very much.  I will make myself available whenever is convenient with Mr. Wright.”

Garcia knew that an investigation of this sort would evolve slowly, but was frustrated that he hadn’t learned any new information so far.  New Mexico Power & Light’s corporate offices were only a few blocks away and Garcia decided to attempt to interview Donald Pearsall.  It was Pearsall’s name in Alexander’s calendar-planner that told Garcia that this interview would be different from the pleasantness with Señor Huerfano and probably Graham Wright.  Garcia realized that Pearsall might be the last person to see Alexander alive and, for that reason alone, was a potential suspect, or at least a “person of interest”.  For that reason, Garcia knew that he had to approach this interview cautiously and be alert to Pearsall’s voice and body language.

Pearsall’s suite of offices were on the top floor of the NMP&L building and Garcia was somewhat taken aback by its appearance.  Whereas Huerfano’s and Wright’s offices were understated elegance, Pearsall’s could only be described as ostentatious. “Early King Tut-style, thought Garcia. No wonder my electric bill keeps going up!” After presenting his card and stating his purpose, he was instructed to take a seat and the Receptionist said she would see if Mr. Pearsall was available.

About cooling his heels for about thirty minutes, Garcia was escorted down a long hallway to a large Conference Room where Donald Pearsall was in the final stages of loudly reprimanding someone over a speaker phone. The Secretary was apparently used to this behavior and simply waited until Pearsall abruptly ended the call.  “Mr. Pearsall, this is Lieutenant Garcia from the Albuquerque Police.”  She turned and quickly left the room, quietly closing the door behind her.

“I presume you’re here about Alexander’s death.  I am afraid I can’t help you.  It’s been a while since I saw Conrad, particularly after he moved to that Old Folk’s Home.   The paper said he was electrocuted.  How the Hell did that happen?”

Garcia decided to proceed slowly with Pearsall, realizing that there was nothing to be gained by provoking him, at least at this point.  In his mind, this was only Round One. “Thank you for taking time to see me, Mr. Pearsall.  I know you’re very busy.  I just have a few questions.  That is correct. It appears that Mr. Alexander was electrocuted and we’re treating it as a homicide.”

“What?  That makes no sense.  Are you sure Old Conrad didn’t just decide to do himself in?  I imaging he was pretty depressed.  I mean, his wife had died recently and he was living like a hermit in that place.”

“We’re looking at several possibilities at this time.  Can you tell me what your relationship was with Mr. Alexander?”

“Well, we obviously worked together here at NMP&L for most our careers, which I’m sure is general public knowledge, but we were usually in different Departments or locations.  I took over as CEO when he retired about the time his wife died.”

“Did you and Mr. Alexander see each other socially, or in any civic or charitable activities?”

“No.  Conrad was big into that kind of stuff, but my focus is on running this company and I have very little time for frivolous things.”

“I see.  Can you think of anyone who might want to harm Mr. Alexander?”

“Not really.  As I said, our paths didn’t cross that often.  But, you don’t get to the top of this Food Chain without pissing a few people off. I can tell you that from personal experience.”

“I know you’re busy, but I have one more question, if you don’t mind, Mr. Pearsall.  Can you tell me the last time you saw Mr. Alexander and where that would have been?’

“I told you, Lieutenant, we didn’t socialize and I didn’t see Conrad much after he left here.  I don’t remember exactly, but it must be a couple of months ago, maybe even more. I suspect it was at some sort of on-site company function.”

“Thank you again for your time, Mr. Pearsall.  If I have any further questions, I presume I can call you?”

“Just call my Secretary to make an appointment, but, as I said, I don’t think I can be of much help.  And Lieutenant, I would look more closely at the suicide angle if I were you.”

Garcia smiled to himself as he headed back toward the Receptionist’s area.  “You can count on seeing me again, you arrogant snob.  For at least Round Two and maybe Three and Four!”

As he walked back to APD Headquarters, a plan began to form in Garcia’s mind.  He was certain that most of what Pearsall had told him was false.  He was obviously hiding something.  The interview with Graham Wright was even more important and he hoped he could learn more about the relationship between Alexander and Pearsall as well as more about Pearsall himself.  He would also challenge Sgt. Armijo to really dig and see what else was available about these two men.  And, he needed to go back to La Vida Aureo and have another discussion with the woman who found Alexander’s body; maybe Doc could help there.

 

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.

 

Chapter 7: With a Little Help from My Friends

Lt. Frank Garcia spent the next several days poring over the files contained on the flash drive he had received “anonymously”.  He had figured out that most, if not all, of the lower-level operations were engaged in collecting detailed personal and financial information. But, it didn’t appear that they were doing anything else.  The records of their operations contained only typical office-related expenses like rent, telephone, internet, etc.  He began to concentrate on the items contained in the upper levels of the “pyramid”.

He skipped to a level in the middle of the pyramid.  There were about a dozen entities listed here and again, each one led to a separate file.  These businesses seemed to be suppliers. Some handled medical devices, simple items like crutches, canes, wheelchairs, etc.  Others were focused on more sophisticated devices, like sleep apnea breathing systems, in-home heart and lung monitoring devices.  Another company handled prescription medications, including insulin injections.  One even provided home security systems that claimed to be inter-linked with a local Emergency Response Team. It appeared that each company in this level specialized in one particular aspect of the overall healthcare field, from the most simple to the very sophisticated.

The picture was becoming clear to Garcia, but he was still unsure how everything fit together and why Marco had chosen to display everything as a pyramid. Then he remembered his initial reaction; it was a large-scale pyramid scheme! He sat back and tried to put all the pieces together in his mind.  He decided to go back to the beginning and examine the list of files on the flash drive.  Near the bottom of the list was another text file named Wiring Diagram. At first he assumed that it was one of those files that came with the drive that prompted you to sign up for Updates and other advertisements.  Frank!  You dummy! Marco was being clever again. It was like Marco to assume no one was as clever or as devious as he was.  He had included this file to show how everything was connected, or wired together.

When he opened the file, it was all there in front of him.  It was indeed a pyramid scheme and a very sophisticated one at that.  Frank got a clean sheet of paper from his desk drawer and began to draw his own picture.  The lowest level organizations were simply collecting information from people. This information was passed to a separate set of clearing house-like organizations which processed the raw data to select and prioritize individual accounts.  Another set of companies then placed orders for various health-related products from a series of manufacturers’ representatives or re-sellers, each specializing in only a few products or product lines.  They would buy direct from the manufacturer and then offer these products for sale with a substantial mark-up. The products would then be sold, typically to an individual and their insurance company would be charged the inflated amount.  A final step was to send a second invoice to Medicare or the insurance company of the original person whose identity had been used to start the process.  It was an example of death by a thousand cuts.  None of the individual invoices was large enough to cause concern, maybe just some grumbling and complaining.  But, by processing thousands of transactions, an enormous amount revenue and profit was generated.  A final look at Marco’s pyramid indicated that all of the diverse and discrete organizations eventually flowed (up) to a single holding company.  Garcia assumed that each organization and each level operated with little or no knowledge of any other part of the scheme.  Some may even have considered themselves legitimate.

Frank sat back, pleased with himself for figuring out this complex scheme. OK, so maybe Marco had left a series of bread crumbs for him to follow.  Now, there was only one problem.  All of this information had been obtained illegally and Garcia certainly could not acknowledge that it was in his possession.  “There goes my lily-white reputation”, he thought.  And, unless it could be shown that these individual organizations were inter-connected, they would appear completely legitimate.

Frank was exhausted and decided to go home for the evening. Frank did not enjoy watching television; he found most of it tedious; he preferred to read. But, tonight he didn’t think he could concentrate, so he opted for what he called the mindless activity of staring at the TV until it was time to go to bed.  It would be a few minutes before the Garcia family sat down for dinner together and the local news was on.  The local news anchor on Channel 9 was about to begin with the lead story which was typically some sensationalized version of a minor event in the City. Frank assumed that it was all the make-up the anchor wore that allowed him to keep a serious face when reading such drivel.

“Our Local Nine News Investigative Team has uncovered a major identity theft ring operating here in Albuquerque. The details are still coming in and our sources tell us that there will be major revelations in the coming days.  For this case, we’re working with an undercover operative from the Albuquerque Journal. Tune in for details at Ten!”

Frank was no longer drowsy and sat bolt upright in his seat.  Well, Marco had warned him that he would be sending information to the Journal.  But, Frank quickly realized that Marco had only provided the Journal with a fraction of the whole story.  It was his way of creating publicity to prompt the Police to open an investigation.  Brilliant!

Even though Garcia got to his office early the following morning, the Commissioner and District Attorney were already seated in his office. The Commissioner spoke first, before Garcia was completely in the door. “I suppose you saw the Channel 9 News and the headlines in this morning’s Journal.”  It really wasn’t a question.  “The Department doesn’t need any more negative publicity or implication that we’re not doing our job.  How quickly can you get up to speed on this identity theft business?”

The District Attorney added. “Look, Lieutenant, I spoke to Judge Wilson last evening and he’s prepared to issue whatever warrants you need. Just give me some names and some reasonable probable causes for search and I’ll have the paperwork in your hands in less than an hour.”

“Do you need any type of special experts to do some of the digging for you?” offered the Commissioner.  I will make whatever resources you need available; just let me know.”

Frank Garcia smiled quietly to himself.  On any other occasion, when he had asked for support from either the Police Commissioner or the DA, there had always been a host of reasons why his requests were unreasonable or that he would just have to be patient”.  But now, when their butts were hanging out, he was the one holding up the parade!  “Let me spend an hour or so thinking about the most efficient way to tackle this, Sir. I appreciate your support and believe we can act swiftly and decisively before the Press makes a total mess out of things.”

“That’s the spirit, Lieutenant.  I’ll be in my office waiting for your plan of action.”

“I have to be in court at 9, but will be in my office the remainder of the day.  I have Judge Wilson on speed-dial whenever you’re ready to move.”

Garcia decided he’d let this flurry of activity sink in while he enjoyed a cup of coffee and waited for the clock to reach 8 AM.

He was still savoring his coffee when his computer signaled an incoming e-mail from Matthew Dudley.

Lieutenant, during one of our projects with the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program, we uncovered a number of organizations operating in the City that claim to be authorized agents to sign people up for health insurance.  We’ve concluded among ourselves that most of these are phony. I don’t know if this has anything to do with that article I this morning’s paper, but I thought I pass it along to you just in case.  I’ve attached a file that contains a list of the places we’ve identified.  Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Regards, Doc.”

When Garcia compared Dudley’s list with the names in the lowest level of Marco’s pyramid, he was not surprised to see a complete match.  Garcia now had a legitimate staring point of names and could begin his investigation in earnest.  He could easily incorporate additional names in the search warrants based on Marco’s information while asserting that everything he was doing stemmed from the Community Assist Team’s efforts. As he hurried down the hall to the Commissioner’s office, he knew that he needed to understand why the two lists of names were so similar.  But, that was a matter for a later and quite private discussion with Matthew Dudley.  Right now, he had work to do.

Because he knew exactly where to look for specific organizations and individuals, it did not take Garcia very long to execute a series of arrest warrants and seize large amount of records. For over a week, the local news aired video clips of people being led away in handcuffs and trucks being loaded with boxes and boxes of inventory reports, shipping manifestos, personnel files, etc., etc.  Eventually, Lt. Frank Garcia was able to pursue the top tier of the pyramid. He led the raid on the corporate offices of Tyler Enterprises and personally placed Madison Tyler in handcuffs.  Garcia knew that Mr. Tyler would be out on bail within a few hours and that this was just the beginning of a very long and involved legal process.   Nonetheless, the insurance fraud scheme had been exposed and would not be operating in Albuquerque, at least for a long time.

 

With a great sense of satisfaction, Frank Garcia knew there was still some unfinished business to attend to.  His first stop was at People’s Florist where he purchased a dozen long-stem red roses.  The barista at Humble Coffee expressed surprise when Garcia said the roses were just an expression of appreciation to Humble’s clientele. Garcia just smiled and left with his coffee.

Under the pretense of paying a visit to Señora Angostura, Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo just as Matthew Dudley was finishing his morning ritual of coffee and the Wall Street Journal.  Dudley looked up from his paper. “Lieutenant, what a pleasant surprise.  I hardly expected to see you here. You’ve become quite a celebrity lately.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Doc.  Actually, I just stopped by to pay my respects to Señora Angostura.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen her and I didn’t want any more time to go by.  It would be disrespectful.”

“Well, Lieutenant, you just missed her.  She took two of ladies who live here on a shopping trip.  I understand the three of them are cooking up a special meal for Sunday.  I’ll be sure to tell her you were here and give her your regards.”

“Thanks, Doc. I would appreciate that.  You know, while I’m here, I wanted to ask you about that list of names you sent me a while ago.  I’m sure you realize that most of those organizations were somehow involved in the major insurance fraud operation that’s been in the news.  If you don’t mind my asking, just how did you come up with those names?”

“It wasn’t that complicated,” said Dudley modestly. “Some members of the Community Assist Team were hearing stories that didn’t make sense, so they decided to look into it a bit further.  That’s about it. It was Minot Atkinson, one of the Team, that actually compiled the list I sent you, based on her research.”

“Well, it obviously helped a great deal in our investigation.  Do you think it would be appropriate if I met with the Team, you know, just to say Thank You?’

“No problem. I’m sure they would appreciate it.  If you’re not busy, the Team is scheduled to meet in a few minutes.  Why don’t you come along?”

 

The Team was gathering in the Conference Room when Dudley approached with Lt. Garcia.  They were a bit surprised; Frank Garcia had become somewhat of a local celebrity and the main spokesman for the Police Department.  Everyone took a seat and Dudley introduced Garcia.

“I have known Mr. Dudley, or Doc, for only a short while but consider him a friend and valuable resource for the Police Department and particularly the Major Crime Unit where I work.  Today, I want to express the Department’s appreciation for the valuable work you folks are doing and for your help in uncovering this insurance fraud scheme.   As you continue to work out in the community, please feel free to alert me to any suspicious activities you may encounter.”

Lt. Garcia concluded his remarks to the Team and asked for questions.  There were none, but Beth Ford stood and spoke. “Lieutenant Garcia, we certainly appreciate the time you took to come and talk with our Team.  We are all too aware of the potential for fraud and deception in this large and rapidly expanding field; so many people are vulnerable.  We understand that you have many other responsibilities, but I would like to keep a line of communication open as we continue to explore our role in the community.”

“I heartily agree,” replied Lt. Garcia “and welcome your input.  You may not be aware of it, but I have a personal relationship with La Vida Aureo and am always glad to stop by to visit with Mr. Dudley or Señora Angostura.”

I should have known,” Beth mused to herself.  “Thank you again, Lieutenant.”

 

Frank Garcia had not been able to get the explicit answer to his question about the lists. He knew that Dudley had only told him part of the story.  Perhaps Dudley had told him everything he knew.  But Garcia’s policeman’s intuition told him that the details of the explanation somehow resided with one or more members of the Team.  He was confident that his presence at their meeting had delivered the Thank You message to the appropriate person.

Beth turned to face the Team and said, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.  We should be proud that we played at least some small part in uncovering this criminal activity.  Hopefully, we can get back to our other initiatives in the very near future.  Mr. Dudley, is there anything you’d like to say before we adjourn?”

“Not really, Beth. I think you’ve pretty well covered things.  I would just like to add my congratulations to the Team for all their fine work.”

As he looked around the room, he noticed that all of the Team members had a very pleased and satisfied look on their faces, particularly Minot Atkinson.  She was sitting very much at ease with her arms folded casually across her chest and a look on her face that Dudley could only describe as the cat that ate the canary”.

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.