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Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation

 

As promised, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo the next morning to begin his initial investigation into the murder of Cesar Ramirez.  He went to the Main Dining Room where he assumed he could find the Residents he wanted to interview.  Paloma Angostura greeted Lt. Garcia warmly, as always, and told him that Señora Torres had not come to the Dining Room this morning for breakfast.

“I guess I am not too surprised,” replied Garcia. “I assume she is still considerably upset by yesterday’s events.  I’ll go to her casita; perhaps she’ll be more comfortable to talk there.”

Magdalena Torres answered her door promptly and asked Lt. Garcia to come in.  She directed him to a chair in her living room.

“Señora Torres, my name is Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit.  I’m in charge of the investigation concerning Señor Ramirez’s death, which we are treating as a homicide.    Do you have any questions before we begin?”

“No, Lieutenant.  That is fine.  I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”

“Thank you, Señora Torres. I understand that you are the one who actually discovered Señor Ramirez’s body.  Would you please tell me approximately when that was and whether you were alone when you found him?”

“I nearly tripped over his feet on my way to the Main Dining Room for dinner late yesterday afternoon, at about 5:30.  He was lying in some bushes and his boots were visible from the walkway.  I was walking with that nice Handyman, Mr. Dudley, at the time.”

“I see.  And, had you been walking with Mr. Dudley for very long?”

“No. He had come here to my casita a short while earlier to confirm an appointment to do some plumbing repairs and I asked him to walk to the Dining Room with me.  I get uncomfortable walking alone and having so many men stare at me.”

“And, before you discovered Señor Ramirez’s body, when was the last time you saw him?”

“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”

“The entire afternoon?  May I ask what you were doing during that time?”

“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”

“Oh, I see. Sorry. While he was here, did he give any indication that he was concerned that someone might want to do him harm?”

“Not really.  Look, Cesar wasn’t really involved with very many people here, at least not of late.  And, I don’t believe he was afraid of anyone in particular.  But, mark my words, Lieutenant, there are some muy loco women here and I know some of them don’t particularly care for him.  I can think of several who are not above wanting to hurt him, but none have the courage or strength for murder.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to decide that for myself. Would you be willing to give me the names of these women?”

“You should talk to the Waverly woman and particularly that Anglo puta, JoAnne Elliott.  Cesar’s friend Jorge Sandoval might know of others; I don’t.”

Lt. Garcia had not met Jorge Sandoval although his name had come up during the investigation of Carmine Felicio’s death; he was Ramirez’s initial alibi.  Garcia would ask Dudley to take him to meet Sandoval.  For the time being, he had no more questions for Señora Torres.  “Thank you, Señora, for your time. I have no more questions at this time.  Once again, I am sorry for your loss.  I know Señor Ramirez meant a lot to you.”

“Just find this person who did this horrible thing, and quickly.”

 

Dudley was in the Main Dining Room reviewing his ToDo list for the day.  He had talked to Señora Angostura about Ramirez’s murder and they had discussed potential suspects.  Like Lt. Garcia, Dudley asked Paloma about the so-called Queer Quartet of women who had been the focus of so much of Ramirez’s attention.  Paloma told Dudley that Ramirez hadn’t bothered them much lately and, in fact, had pretty much stopped his daily stroll through the Dining Room.  And, Dudley was personally aware that Ramirez had stayed away from JoAnne Elliott.  It was Dudley’s opinion that, despite the potential for several women to be angry with Ramirez, his murder looked more like the work of a man.  That led him back to the thought of a jealous husband or boyfriend and possibly someone who was not a Resident.  He had shared this opinion with Paloma and she agreed that the murderer was probably not a woman, but wasn’t convinced that an Outsider was involved.  “I believe that I would have been told if there was a strange man wandering about the grounds”, she said.

Knowing the extent and efficiency of Paloma’s Sopapilla Network, Dudley was forced to seriously question that particular theory. He remained troubled, however, about Isabella’s less-than-subtle comment that solving this crime was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, not his.  Regardless of how unlikely it was, if the killer was indeed a Resident, Dudley believed he was in a better position to unmask him than Lt. Garcia.

Dudley realized that it was time to stop speculating and attend to his responsibilities.  As he rose to leave, he noticed Minot Atkinson near the elevators talking with Mary Thomas. Both women were laughing and as the elevator doors opened, Mary Thomas reached up and hugged Minot Atkinson.  Minot turned toward the Dining Room and greeted Dudley warmly.

“It is good to see you, too, Miss Atkinson.  I saw you with Mrs. Thomas a moment ago and was unaware that you knew her.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, our initial meeting was quite an accident.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have stuck my nose in her business the way I did, but I think everything turned out really well, particularly for her.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.  In my previous experience with Mrs. Thomas, she was a very troubled person.  But, from what I just witnessed, she seems to be much happier.”

“Allow me to share a confidence with you. About a month ago, I was here in the Lobby and I noticed Mrs. Thomas wheeling herself toward the elevators. I went over to press the UP button for her and noticed a book in her lap that was some sort of Self-Help clap-trap. I guess it is just my nature and I struck up a conversation with her about what she was seeking in that particular text.  As we talked, she opened up a bit and my sixth sense told me that there might be a simple solution to her anger and frustration.  Without embarrassing you with the details, I suggested she call a friend of mine who works at the Women’s Self-Serve Resource Center in town.

That must have worked.  I got a text message from my friend Emily saying that she had talked with Mrs. Thomas at length and made some suggestions to deal with her frustration and pent-up emotions.  I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Thomas now has other ways to release her anxieties than that bottle of whiskey she used to rely on.”

“There’s no need to tell me any more than that, Minot.  I’m just glad that Mrs. Thomas is happy and I agree that almost any solution is better than the bottle.  Thank you for being so considerate.  I’ll catch up with the Team in the next few days.  Have a pleasant rest of the day.”

Dudley turned toward an Exit when he noticed Lt. Garcia heading in his direction.

”Say, Doc.  Can you direct me to a Jorge Sandoval?  I remember that he was one of Ramirez’s few male friends and I’d like to talk to him.   Mrs. Torres seemed to think that he could shed some light on the situation.  It was her opinion that it was an angry woman who murdered Ramirez, but, based on what I saw of the scene, I don’t think that’s very likely. Anyway, maybe Sandoval has some less biased information.”

A thought occurred to Dudley.  He would take Garcia up to Sandoval’s apartment on the third floor which would give him an excuse to call on Mary Thomas.  Even though he agreed that the killer was most likely a man, he had to satisfy his curiosity about the past women in Ramirez’s life to eliminate that possibility.  In his mind, a jealous boyfriend or past lover was still a possibility, however remote.

Dudley was pleased when Jorge Sandoval opened the door to his apartment to notice that his large-screen TV was filled with a soccer match.  Dudley introduced Lt. Garcia and turned to leave.  “Señor Doc, it is much better to watch the football on my TV now, don’t you agree,” said Sandoval with a large grin.

“Señor Sandoval”, began Garcia, I have a few questions about your friend Cesar Ramirez.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant, anything I can do to help you catch this person who did this terrible thing to my good friend Cesar.”

“Thank you, Señor Sandoval.  We did not talk when Señor Ramirez was involved in the situation surrounding the unfortunate death of Ms. Felicio, but I understand that you were aware of all of his relationships with various women here at La Vida Aureo.  I am led to believe that he had given up most of those activities and was loyal, if I can use that word, to Señora Torres.  Is that correct?”

“Oh, yes.  Cesar discovered that Señora Torres could be quite satisfying, if you see my meaning.   Even though he still flirted with other women on occasion, he spent most of his time with Señora Torres.”

“Did she not object?  I find it somewhat hard to believe that a woman like her would not be jealous.”

“She is quite a remarkable person.  I once heard her tell Cesar that she didn’t care where he got his appetite as long as he came to her for what she called the “main course!”

“Oh, er, I see.  Anyway, given Señor Ramirez’s numerous past affairs, is it possible that there could be a jealous husband, former husband or boyfriend that wanted to do him harm?”

“I guess that is always possible, but Cesar was no fool.  He may have flirted with many, many women, but he was very careful and particular about who he actually spent real time with.  You must understand, Lieutenant, it was much more about the appearance of his activities than the reality.  He loved his reputation and did everything he could to build himself up, particularly in the eyes of women. For Cesar, it was always the show that mattered! ”

“Gracias, Señor Sandoval, for your time.  If you think of anything that could help, please call me.  Here is my card.”

 

Dudley had walked a short distance down the hall and knocked on the door to Mary Thomas’ apartment.   “Mrs. Thomas, I hope I am not disturbing you.  I was on this floor and just wanted to stop in to see how you were doing.  I don’t mean to intrude, or if this is an inconvenient time …”

“Oh, no, please come in Mr. Dudley.  I’m doing much better.  Thank you for asking.”

“I just happened to notice that you were talking to Miss Atkinson downstairs.  She is part of our Community Assist Program and has been doing some wonderful things as part of that new effort. She mentioned that she thought you were doing better.”

“Community Assist?  That’s funny; although what she did for me was more of a personal assist.  Based on her help, I’m doing much, much better.  As long as Amazon delivers my monthly supply of batteries, I’ll be JUST FINE!”

“Oh! If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions about the ladies you sit with almost every day, Miss Waverly and Miss Caballo.  I’m sure you heard about Mr. Ramirez’s death and I know he had some involvement with at least Miss Waverly in the past.  I’m just curious about any recent involvements, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.  Basically, none of us have had any involvement with Mr. Ramirez since that unfortunate accident.  Dolores was the one actually involved with him, but she dumped him almost immediately.  Since then, she found a very nice gentlemen at the church she’s been attending someplace in town.  To hear her tell the story, this gentleman has helped her discover and experience The Rapture.  Personally, I don’t know if that’s a religious thing or not, but Dolores seems very happy and that’s all that matters to me.”

“The situation with Estelle-Elena is a bit more complicated.  You may recall that she was always the one who made openly suggestive remarks to every man who happened by and bragged about the long string of lovers she’d had since her Quinceañera and Prom.  The truth of the matter is that she was raped on both occasions and hasn’t been with a man since.  Her overt behavior was just her way of hiding some very deep and painful feelings from her past.  You may have also heard rumors about her carryings-on with some of the young girls on the Staff.  Well, Estelle has found a true soul-mate with a woman on the Staff, a mature woman who had tolerated a very abusive husband for many years. Evidently she and Estelle were talking one afternoon and realized that they had much in common and they grew closer from that point.  I don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but Estelle is content and has given up her act as a femme fatale.”

Dudley sat quietly for several minutes; he had not expected such a detailed description of the personal lives of these women; he was only asking about Cesar Ramirez.  “So, I guess it’s safe to assume that none of you has had much involvement with Mr. Ramirez”?

“We have had NO involvement with him and, frankly I was glad when he gave up coming into the Dining Room each day and acting like “God’s Gift to Women!”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Thomas and I’m glad to learn that Miss Atkinson was able to help you in some way.”

“No problem, Mr. Dudley and when you see Miss Atkinson, please thank her again for me.  Please tell her that she opened a totally new world for me and that I can take care of all my needs by myself!”

 

Dudley met Lt. Garcia as both men went downstairs toward the Main Lobby. “I trust your interview with Mr. Sandoval was productive, Lieutenant.”

“Well, he was cooperative, but I didn’t really learn anything new.  His comments were pretty consistent with those from Mrs. Torres.  Apparently, Ramirez had been on his best behavior for quite some time and neither could think of anyone that would want to harm him, much less kill him. So, at this point, I don’t have any potential suspects and I don’t even have a motive. All I have is the knife from Ramirez’s back that we recovered at the crime scene. I’ve got to admit, Doc, I’m pretty stumped with this one.”

“I guess it is possible that someone from outside this community could have killed him, but that doesn’t seem very likely.  I know you’ve talked to Señora Angostura and you’re aware that she has eyes and ears everywhere, so to speak. She claims that there haven’t been any suspicious characters lurking about the grounds in recent weeks.  But, from what I observed, that knife was not an ordinary knife, certainly not the kind you see every day.”

“I agree, it looked pretty unusual, like some sort of ceremonial piece or heirloom or something like that. Maybe Dr. Hernandez or the forensic guys have found something that would at least give me a place to start.

“I certainly hope so. Look, Lieutenant, Isabella told me to keep my nose out of this, but I’ve already talked to a few Residents and haven’t learned anything that would help.  I’ll keep trying, though.”

“I appreciate it, Doc.  And, I promise not to mention anything to Isabella; your secret is safe with me.  Well, I’m headed back downtown. ”

With that, the two men shook hands and went their separate ways.  Dudley had some important repairs to address and really needed to catch up with Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team. He remained troubled by Mrs. Thomas’s comment that Miss Caballo was involved, perhaps even romantically, with a member of the Staff. He knew he would have to discuss this with Señora Angostura at the first opportunity.

Case III: Chapter 7: Dudley Digs into the Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything I can do to help.”

“First, when was he here with you?”

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

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

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

“About what time was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, that is the reason I came.”

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

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

“I had nothing to do with her accident!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Case III: Chapter 8: A Kardashian Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Dolores Waverly?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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