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Case XIII: Legends, Lawyers & Lies

 

Chapter 1: Some Closures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“That is good news, Isabella!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabella headed toward her office and Paloma to the kitchen.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 The death of Conrad Alexander remains unsolved.

 

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

Case XII: Chapter 1: A Social Call Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Case XII: Chapter 3: The Spanish Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the role of Señora Barela?”

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

“Mrs. Aldridge?”

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

“A Mogollonita?  I don’t understand.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Case XI: Chapter 1: Dueling Divas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will still pray for him every night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought you said they were getting along?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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 X: Romeo is Dead

 

Chapter 1: Coitus Interruptus

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have my word, Isabella.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand completely, Isabella.”

 

Chapter 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.

 

Chapter 5: Dudley Gathers Information

Matthew Dudley remained concerned after his discussion with Mary Thomas, particularly the relationship between Estelle- Elena Caballo and a member of the La Vida Aureo staff.  Before he said anything to Isabella, he thought it might be better to talk with Paloma Angostura.  As usual, he found her in the kitchen.  “Señora, may I discuss a sensitive subject with you concerning a member of the Staff?  I am concerned, but do not want to trouble Isabella unnecessarily. ”

“You know you can always talk to me, Señor Doc.”

“I recently learned that a Resident and a member of the Staff are engaged in some sort of relationship.  I don’t know its extent and I certainly don’t want to see anyone hurt.  I also don’t want to see a valuable member of the Staff get into trouble or even get fired.”

“Everything is quite appropriate, Señor Doc.  I assume you are talking about Señora Caballo and Frida Savino.  They are just two women who have had similar unfortunate experiences and who have found comfort with each other.  I can assure you that neither woman is taking advantage of the other.”

“There is a serious matter, however, that I want to make you aware of. Recently, several in my Sopapilla Network have been relating instances of highly inappropriate behavior by some of the men in the Memory Care Unit.   I am aware that one of the common effects of dementia is the loss of self-control and inhibitions.  But, some men have begun to act out in a sexual manner, saying vulgar things to the women, particularly the younger ones.  There have even been a few instances where men have tried to touch the girls while they are trying to complete their duties. I only mention this to you because you are often in that Section of the building and there could be a situation where your assistance is needed.  I would like to tell the Staff that you are aware of the potential problems and would be available to intervene, if necessary.”

“Certainly, Señora.  The safety of everyone here is of utmost importance to me and I would be glad to intervene if it ever became necessary.  You may tell the Staff that they can rely on me.”

Gracias, Señor Doc.  Now I must get back to the kitchen to continue preparing the evening meal.”

 

As Dudley headed for the center stairs to attend to some minor repairs on the second floor, he met Isabella coming out of her office.  “Any news from Lt. Garcia, Doc?”

“I haven’t heard from him in a few days, Isabella.  I believe he’s completed his initial interviews and is probably waiting for reports back from the Coroner and the forensic guys.”

“You’ll let me know if you hear anything?”

“Certainly, Isabella.  If you have a minute, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.  It’s kinda sensitive.  Can we step into your office?”

Dudley briefly relayed his conversation with Paloma concerning the inappropriate behavior in the Memory Care Unit.  “I’ve been thinking that, if this is a relatively common situation in people with dementia, should we develop some specific information and training for our Staff as well as for caregivers?”

“That’s an excellent suggestion, Doc.  I’ve heard of instances where the behaviors can get pretty nasty and vulgar.  Why don’t I speak to Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team about the best way to approach this?  And, I agree, we need to consider our own Staff as well as caregivers.  You keep track of Lt. Garcia and I’ll talk to Beth about this.”

 

Matthew Dudley was eager to complete his ToDo List for the day.  Janetta Johari had invited him to dinner at her condo and he was looking forward to another pleasant evening.  Their first dinner a few weeks ago was a bit awkward as they both tried to figure out what to say or do next. After several attempts of trying to let the other person talk first, they both started laughing which broke the tension and they relaxed.  It was after midnight when Dudley finally excused himself for the final time and walked back to La Vida Aureo.

Dudley was lost in his own pleasant thoughts as he walked back toward the Main Building.  He almost didn’t notice a man walking on the grass along the side of the building.  The man appeared to be confused since he was stumbling and kept changing directions as he tried to walk. Dudley went toward the man to offer assistance.  “Excuse me, Sir, can I help you?  I assume you are trying to get back inside.  Why don’t you take my arm and we can walk there together.”

The man glanced up, but had a vacant look in his eyes.  Dudley didn’t immediately recognize the man and decided to talk to him as they walked.  “My name is Matthew.  What is yours?”

The man continued to stare blankly at Dudley and finally said, “I’m Pedro.”

“Well, Pedro, let’s get you back inside and we can find someone to help you.  Do you know where your Apartment is located?”  Dudley assumed, from the man’s behavior, that he probably lived in the Memory Care Unit and had somehow wandered outside on his own.

The man looked at Dudley again and said, No. I was confused.  My name is Lucero.  What’s yours?”

Dudley guided the man toward the Entrance. “My name is Matthew.  Can you remember where you live?”

“I live in Albuquerque, but I used to live far away.  What is this place?”

“This place is called La Vida Aureo and I think you live here.”

“No. I live in Albuquerque.”

They entered the Main Building and Dudley noticed Frida Savino walking toward the Dining Room. “Ms. Savino, I believe this gentleman belongs upstairs in the Memory Care Unit.  I found him wandering outside.”

She looked at the man and said, “It’s alright, Mr. Salazar, why don’t you sit here for a moment and I’ll take you back to your room.”

Then she took Dudley aside. “Thank you, Señor Dudley. I will take care of him.  Mr. Salazar has only been with us a short while and is still adjusting.  But, he seems to be deteriorating very quickly and we’ve had to go looking for him on more than one occasion.”

Once back in his room, Lucero Salazar looked in the mirror and smiled.  He had practiced his vacant stare and was getting much better at it.  He had also been able to “wander” a bit further with each attempt which had allowed him to observe many of the female Residents and Staff. He had even practiced some inappropriate actions to see if any of these women responded.  His goal was to be able to get completely off the grounds to the strip mall across the major street, perhaps even into the Starbucks.

 

That evening, Janetta greeted Dudley at the door with a brief kiss and a warm embrace.  He felt totally comfortable with this woman and hoped that she would continue to see him.  They had agreed that they would not try to figure out where things were headed; they would just focus on enjoying each other’s company.

After a light dinner, they were sitting together on a small sofa continuing the small talk which was helping them get to know each other from a personal perspective.

“Janetta, I would like your opinion on a subject that has been troubling me lately.”

“Anything, Matthew.”

“I want to clarify something before I ask.  I am not asking you to discuss anything personal or from your past.  I’m just seeking information.”

“Ask away.”

“I am hearing about more instances of abuse toward women which sometimes turns violent.  What troubles me is that some many women I’ve met here seem to just accept this kind of behavior from the men in their lives as part of the culture.  Can you help me understand why this seems so prevalent?  I just don’t see how this can be dismissed as a normal part of things.”

“I can only give you my opinion based on my own experiences; perhaps a psychiatrist or psychologist could explain things better.  The violence has never made any sense to me, either.  There seems to be this constant state of ill-defined anger which lies just below the surface, which can be released by the slightest provocation.  That volatile condition is made much worse by alcohol or drugs.  The counselors I’ve spoken to generally say this fundamental anger stems from a long history of perceived loss and subjugation by outside forces, particularly for men from the northern part of the State.  These men claim that their culture and traditions are based on the land and much of it was taken from them by a series outside forces over the years, destroying the very essence of their lives. They are unable to contemplate a future that holds any promise; their life appears to be controlled by others, all of which reinforces the sense of hopelessness and frustration.  Personally, I see much of it as unnecessary and self-inflicted. In the worst case, it is simply an excuse for men acting macho and behaving badly!”

“So, this anger typically shows itself as abusive behavior toward the women in their lives?”

“Yes, but look at the crime statistics here in Albuquerque and see how many men are beaten or killed by some other guy in a fight with a gun or knife or car.  When the anger really takes over, I guess you just look for the nearest target.  It helps if you see them as weak or defenseless so that you can exercise that control you so desperately need.”

“Thanks for that explanation, Janetta.  I apologize for bringing up such a difficult subject.  Let’s talk about something else.  I don’t want our evening to end on that note.  Tell me about the Alzheimer’s drug trials you’re coordinating.  Are the results still as encouraging as they were?”

“Oh, yes.  It is very interesting and the people I’m working with are some of the most competent and conscientious I’ve ever met.  What’s most exciting is that they believe they have a totally new approach.  I understand there’s still some debate about the cause of Alzheimer’s, but most of the effort is focused on these deposits that form in the brain called plaque.  Most research to date has been directed at preventing the build-up of this material.  My company believes they can oxidize this material, burn it off, so-to-speak.  If they are correct, it would allow treatment of people who already have some of this plaque material in their brain, which would be a major development.”

“That really is exciting, Janetta.  I don’t think I ever heard the name of the company.”

“Habanero Pharmaceuticals”

“Habenero?  Like the pepper?

“Yes, the folks who started the company thought that would be appropriate since they are trying to burn away the plaque.  Pretty clever, don’t you think?”

“On that very positive note, I think it’s time for me to get back to La Vida Aureo.  I have a very busy day tomorrow.  I have one more question before I go.”

“Yes?”

“Can I see you again? And, when?”

“Matthew, that’s two questions and the answers are a Definite Yes!  and As soon as you like!”

With that, Dudley reached out and took Janetta in his arms.  “I can’t tell you how much this time with you means to me.”  And, this time, it was Dudley who kissed Janetta.

 

Despite a very pleasant evening with Janetta, Dudley had a troubled night without much sleep.  The murder of Cesar Ramirez was still very much on his mind.  There had been no news from Lt. Garcia and that was not a good sign.  There were several seemingly unrelated thoughts roaming in the back of Dudley’s mind which he was trying to force into a coherent pattern, but with little success.  He decided he would seek additional input.

OJ was more than happy to give Dudley a ride into town and drop him at Saville & Sons the next morning.  “Thanks, OJ. I’ll convince someone to give me a ride back.”

As he entered the bakery, he noticed his friend Emilio Sandoval sitting at a table with a group of young people who seemed intent on listening to whatever Emilio was saying.  Dudley joined the rest of his Curmudgeon Crew at their regular table and helped himself to a fresh pastry. After a few minutes, Emilio joined them.  Ray was the first to notice that Emilio was wearing a brand new Star Wars tee shirt which celebrated the long history of the saga. “C’mon, Emilio, isn’t that stuff for kids?”

“It is serious business, Ray.  In fact, I was just telling those young people over there about the connections between Star Wars and New Mexico.  I also had to educate them that New Mexico was in the “space business” long before George Lucas ever thought about The Force.  I informed them that it was our own Dr. Lovelace who developed the medical tests for the original Mercury Astronauts back in the late 1950s.  I encouraged them to visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum near Las Cruces where Lucas recorded some of the sounds they used in the first movies.  There’s even an official Darth Vader helmet there which was a gift from Lucas.”

The Crew was aware of Emilio’s background and that he had spent his entire career working in the Lovelace Medical System, starting out as an Orderly and eventually becoming a Physician’s Assistant.  He had retired from that position just a few years earlier.

Ray continued to chide Emilio.  “I’m sure you told these impressionable young people how you helped Dr. Lovelace design those tests for the astronauts and how your scores were better than any of those initial candidates.”

“No, it is obvious that I was much too young at that time.  I was just starting at the hospital, but I did have the opportunity to meet some of them on one occasion.”

The Crew knew the whole story but had too much respect for Emilio and how he had overcome obstacles in his early life to become a very capable Physician’s Assistant.

Emilio’s parents worked for a cleaning company and were assigned to the Lovelace Medical Center on the night shift.  Young Emilio was hanging out with a bunch of guys who were all caught stealing hub caps.  Fortunately, the arresting policeman knew Emilio’s family and dragged the young boy to meet his parents as they were coming home the next morning.  The policeman and Emilio’s father knew that Emilio could have a bright future if he stayed out of trouble so they came up with a plan to help him.  For the next six months, Emilio joined his parents each evening as they went to work.  He was given the responsibility for collecting, emptying and cleaning all the bed pans from the facility.  It didn’t take Emilio long to get the message. From this rather auspicious beginning, he began a life-long career with Lovelace. He progressed rapidly through positions of increasing responsibility and eventually completed all the necessary education to become a fully-qualified Physician’s Assistant.

Once the Crew was all seated and Hector had delivered a plate of fresh pastries, Dudley spoke.  “I know you have been trying to convince me for some time that I need your assistance in dealing with some of the incidents at La Vida Aureo.  Well. I’m here this morning to ask for your help with a recent murder.”

“Murder? Surely not in the old folks place you live?” Abe and Ray asked almost simultaneously.

Dudley took a deep breath and continued.  This is most definitely murder, not an accident.  And, I am becoming more certain that it was committed by a Resident; the victim was also a Resident.”

Emilio was shocked. “Do you have any clues?  What are the police doing?”

“The police, Lt. Garcia, a friend of Ray’s, are stumped as well.  The only clue or evidence we have is the actual murder weapon.” Dudley took out his smart phone and displayed the picture of the knife that was taken from Cesar Ramirez’s back.

As the Crew passed the phone around, everyone quickly acknowledged that this was no ordinary knife.  When the phone reached Ray Little Feather, he looked directly at Dudley.  “I recognize this knife. It is rare. It is a ceremonial piece and it is very old.  It is not Navajo, but closely related.  Most likely one of the tribes from here in New Mexico related to the Tewa people. I have to ask you, Doc, are there any Native Americans living at your place?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Then I can only conclude that this knife was stolen from a place of honor.  It could also be possible that the knife was given as a gift of significant importance. For someone outside the tribe to receive this as a gift, they must have done something truly memorable.”

“Well, that’s more information than we currently have.  I’ll pass it on to Lt. Garcia this afternoon.  Thanks, Ray.”

“Make sure you tell Frank I said Hello.”

 

Hakim had been quiet throughout this entire exchange.  “Doc, I don’t know if this has anything to do with your murder investigation, but something rather strange happened in one of my counseling groups a few months ago that may just be relevant.”

The Crew knew that Hakim El-Fiki was a professional counselor with a sterling reputation.  His family has fled Syria in the mid-1960s after a military coup when emergency law was imposed and personal rights were suspended.  Hakim’s father became an advisor to other Syrian refugees and Hakim followed a similar career path.  He worked with soldiers returning from war as well as private patients.  Over the past few years, he volunteered with the Bernalillo County Probation Department and directed a series of domestic violence classes for men and women.

“The people attending the classes I run for Bernalillo County are there as a requirement of their probation.  A typical program lasts about six months, some as long as one year.  Anyway, there was a man in one of my classes recently who was not from Bernalillo County, but somehow got into their program.   The strange thing is that he stopped coming after about six weeks.  Naturally, I reported this so that the appropriate Probation Officer could deal with the situation.  A few weeks later, I inquired about this man and was told that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and would not be back.  I found that a bit suspicious since he had not exhibited any symptoms while in my class.  I would have normally just ignored this, figuring he had found a way to scam the system. The Officer showed me the Doctor’s report which indicated that this man had moved into the facility at La Vida Aureo.  Doc, it may be nothing and may not be related to your murder, but I thought you ought to know where he is.”

“Wow.  Thanks, Hakim.  I didn’t think you could fake Alzheimer’s.”

“I’m not an expert.  Maybe Emilio can shed some light on this.”

“I guess it’s possible,” said Emilio.  Typically, the initial diagnosis is with a cognitive test to assess the person’s mental capabilities.  I assume it’s much like other tests and that you could prepare somehow for it to get enough “wrong” answers to demonstrate a diminished mental capacity.  You’ve all read about murder cases in the news where a person has to be declared mentally fit to stand trial, for example.  In the case of Alzheimer’s, the only 100 percent method is to examine a person’s brain during an autopsy.  There are newer diagnostic methods being developed, but there’s nothing like that available in Albuquerque at the present.”

“If I understand what you guys are telling me, a person could essentially hide out in a place like La Vida Aureo to avoid a harsher situation.”

“Oh, we had a couple of guys at Lovelace a few years back who claimed to have serious memory loss, but it was mostly an act so that they could get away with stupid stuff.  One guy was always trying to get his hands on the nurses and then claiming he had no memory of it when we caught him.”

“This may sound far-fetched, Doc, but I guess you have to assume that it’s possible, just to be on the safe side. And, if this guy went to that much trouble, I suspect there’s a serious reason he’s hiding.”

“You guys have been a great help.  I’ve got to get back. Can one of you give me a ride? Oh, and before I forget, what was this guy’s name, Hakim?”

“His name is Lucero Salazar.  C’mon, I’ll give you a ride and we can talk some more on the way.”

 

Chapter 6: A Break in the Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know if that helped?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for the call, Lieutenant.”

 

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

“George, I need to ask a favor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you still prefer single-malt scotch?”

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

 

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

“What about the condition of his brain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Case IX: Chapter 1: Crime Scene Investigation

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will try.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“No problemo, Boss.”

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

 

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

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

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

“What do you make of all that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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