Archive

Tag Archives: Mrs. Torres

 

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 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 X: Romeo is Dead

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

Case II: Chapter 2: Oh, Mrs. Torres

Later that afternoon, Dudley went to the utility room and retrieved the Maintenance Man’s toolbox to attend to the minor in repairs that Isabella Duncan had requested. At La Vida Aureo, some of the independent living facilities consisted of cottages or casitas and his first task was to fix a “small plumbing problem” in the casita occupied by Mrs. Torres.

He knocked on the door and introduced himself when Mrs. Torres answered. “Mrs. Torres, my name is Matthew Dudley and I’ve been asked to look at your plumbing; I understand you have a leaky faucet.”

“Come right in. I must say that you are certainly much easier on the eyes than the previous Maintenance Man. The leaking faucet is in the kitchen sink.”

Dudley sat down the toolbox, got out his flashlight and reached into the cabinet area under the kitchen sink to shut off the water. Once the water was shut off, it was a simple matter to replace the worn faucet washer. He decided to replace the washer for both the hot and cold sides; it might save him a second trip. He got on his knees and reached under the sink to turn the water back on so that he could test the new washers. It had only taken a few moments for this relatively simple repair job and Dudley felt a sense of accomplishment.

“That should do it, Mrs. Torres. You should not have any more problems with a dripping faucet.”

When he turned around, he was taken aback by what he saw. Mrs. Torres was standing in the middle of the kitchen with a cocktail in her hand. She was wearing what appeared to Dudley as a silk robe, like a Japanese kimono, but it was completely open.

“Well, Mr. Handyman, can you stay a while? I’m sure I can find some other projects for you to work on.”

Dudley suddenly felt trapped and highly embarrassed by Mrs. Torres’ inappropriate behavior. “Ah-er, ah-er, I really must be going. I have to check on an ah-er electrical problem in Mrs. Wilson’s apartment.”

He knew he had to get past Mrs. Torres and out of the casita as quickly as possible. Fortunately, she took a sip of her cocktail and stepped aside so he was able to exit without incident.

“Do hurry back and please bring all of your tools next time. I like a man with good tools, you know.”

He didn’t want to offend anyone, or cause trouble, particularly on his first day as Handyman, but he knew he had to mention this to Isabella as soon as possible. “To say that I was shocked Isabella, is an understatement. I’m just not used to that kind of behavior.”

“I have been aware that there are certain people here who act out inappropriately. Many of the women here have lost husbands at a young age which has affected them. Many are simply lonely and seeking companionship, some are just harmless flirts but some are truly horny and desperate. In some cases, the early stages of dementia results in a loss of control and the onset of inappropriate behaviors. And some women are definitely on the prowl and things can sometimes get out of hand. We must remain vigilant at all times. We have to recognize that these people are adults but we cannot let the situation jeopardize any individual resident. My advice to you as you’re working around the complex as a handyman is “to keep your tools in your toolbox.””