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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 8: Dudley Gathers More Information

 

After a sleepless night, Matthew Dudley tried unsuccessfully to resume his daily routine. He was sitting in the Main Dining Room staring at the front page of The Wall Street Journal and watching his cup of coffee grow cold.  He remained troubled by the information he’d heard the previous day, but was a bit unsure exactly how to proceed.  He knew Lt. Garcia now believed Mrs. Aldridge had been murdered and would pursue the investigation in earnest.  Dudley realized he only had a few days in which to do anything on his own.

He used the back of his daily ToDo list to write down what he knew.  Mrs. Aldridge had been poisoned and it appeared the poisoning agent was somehow in her cream sherry.  The results of the analysis that Lt. Garcia described and the information from Emilio indicated that someone had increased the alcohol content of the sherry by adding grain alcohol. It did not explain, however, how the wood alcohol got into the sherry.  It could have been an impurity in the grain alcohol or added separately.  It was possible, Dudley realized, that Mrs. Aldridge was spiking her own sherry and her poisoning was an accident due to the quality of the grain alcohol she may have purchased herself.

The other thing that bothered Dudley was the troubling information about Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law he had received from both Beth Ford and Ray Little Feather. But, as Ray had said, Linderman’s behavior, however disgusting, might not have anything to do with Mrs. Aldridge’s death and certainly wasn’t proof of anything.  According to Isabella, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter didn’t seem to care much for her mother, but that might be no more than a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Dudley decided his most effective course of action was to find out more about Mrs. Aldridge before he tried to learn more about her daughter and son-in-law.  He knew Señora Barela and Mrs. Branch both had relationships with Mrs. Aldridge, but feared talking to either of those women would not be very productive. A less biased and more credible source of information would be Elena, the young woman who saw Mrs. Aldridge in her apartment on a regular basis. If there were aspects of her behavior she kept secret, such as her drinking habits, Elena would undoubtedly be more likely to be aware of it than perhaps anyone else.

Fortunately, many of the general housekeeping staff were on their morning break in a small room off of the Main Dining Room and Dudley was able to catch Elena there.  “Elena, may I talk with you a few minute about Mrs. Aldridge?”

“Certainly, Señor Dudley.  Would it be OK if Señora Angostura and Señora Savino joined us?  I would be more comfortable.”

“No problem at all, Elena. That could be very helpful.”

Dudley and the three women sat around a small table and Dudley began by trying to put everyone at ease.  “We are all saddened by Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  I can only imagine, Elena, how difficult it was for you in particular, finding Mrs. Aldridge that way. I know you have many friends here and I’m sure they have all been very supportive.”

“That is very true, Señor Dudley.  Everyone has been so kind and offered to help me when I am having a bad day. We have become very close, like a family. Frida has been like a big sister and Señora Angostura like a mother these past few days.  I am grateful”

“Elena, I imagine you got to know Mrs. Aldridge very well during the time you were assigned to clean her apartment.  Can you tell me a bit about her, if you would?”

Señora Aldridge was a very quiet lady and did not speak very much to me while I was in her apartment.  It was always my feeling that she was a sad person.”

“Elena often mentioned Mrs. Aldridge’s sadness to me at the end of the day while we were all together”, added Frida.

“Do you have any idea why she was so sad?  Were there particular things or people that upset her?”

“A few weeks ago, her daughter was there when I came in to clean.  I believe they had been arguing, but stopped when I entered.  I thought it best to leave. When I came back later that morning, Mrs. Aldridge was sitting in her chair and appeared to be sleeping. I was very quiet and decided it would be better if I came back another day.  As I was leaving, she started talking, but I don’t think she was talking to me.  She was very loud and I really couldn’t make out any of her words.  She was shaking badly all over and it looked like she was try to stand up, but fell back into her chair and seemed to fall asleep again.  I left quietly and went to talk to Frida.”

“Did you ever notice this kind of behavior again, Elena?”

“Since that day, Mrs. Aldridge seems to be more irritable.  She never used to be cross with me or raise her voice.  One day, I tried to clean up cooking spices which were spilled on the kitchen counter.  Mrs. Aldridge scolded me and told me those weren’t herbs but natural medicine cures her daughter had prescribed for her tremors. She said her daughter runs a clinic and the label on the plastic bag said East Mountain Clinic.”

“That is very interesting, Elena.  I need to ask you about one more thing and it may be difficult for you.”

“I see a troubled look on you face, Señor Dudley, said Frida, but you must not hesitate to ask. Elena has mentioned this situation to me in the past.”

“Elena, I must ask if you ever noticed that Mrs. Aldridge had been drinking.”

“Oh, Señor Dudley, there were times when the smell of alcohol around Mrs. Aldridge was very, very strong.  I had an Uncle who drank heavily and I know that smell.  It upsets me very much.”

“I know Mrs. Aldridge often had a glass of sherry with Mrs. Branch.  Is that what you noticed?”

“Oh no.  This was a much stronger smell.  One time, when I came in to clean, Mrs. Aldridge was asleep on her couch and the alcohol smell was very strong.  There was an empty glass bottle on the floor next to the couch and I picked it up to throw away.  The waste basket is in pantry and I saw several more bottles on the shelf.  There were two fancy bottles of Cream Sherry and another glass container like the one I found on the floor.  It had a much lighter brown liquid in it.  And there was another bottle with a clear liquid in it.  It looked like the vodka my Uncle used to drink.”

“I know this is difficult, Elena, but did you see Mrs. Aldridge like this often?”

“Several times.  This time was very bad and I wanted to take all of the bottles from the pantry and throw them away so she could not get to them.  But, that would be wrong.  So, I told Frida about Mrs. Aldridge’s condition and what I had found.”

Frida spoke up. “We were all very troubled by this and were trying to figure out the best way to handle things.  Unfortunately, we were too late and Mrs. Aldridge died. I am not a Doctor or a Policeman, Señor Dudley, but I’m pretty sure Mrs. Aldridge’s drinking contributed to her death.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Frida.  It will be for the police to determine, but it doesn’t change the unfortunate fact that Mrs. Aldridge is dead.  Thank you both for your time and honesty.  I know this has been difficult.”

“I hope we have been of some help.  Now, we must return to our duties.”

 

After Frida and Elena left, Dudley sat quietly, trying to process all the two women had told him.  He didn’t notice Paloma until she put a fresh cup of coffee in front of him and sat down across the table from him.

“I’m sorry I didn’t notice you, Señora.  Thank you for the coffee.”

“You are most welcome, Señor Doc.  I noticed your coffee from earlier had not been touched.  Frida and Elena remain upset about Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  It took courage for them to tell you everything they had seen and share their feelings with you.  But, I sense there is more to Mrs. Aldridge’s death than you shared with them and you remain deeply troubled.”

“Once again, Señora, I am unable to hide anything from you.”

“Your face reveals much.”

“It is likely that Mrs. Aldridge’s death was not an accident and that she was poisoned.

Por dios.  That is terrible.  Who could have done such a thing?”

“That’s the problem. Her cream sherry contained poison and it is possible that Mrs. Aldridge may have unknowingly poisoned herself.”

“The only good news is I am certain now that neither Señora Barela nor your sister Deluviña poisoned Mrs. Aldridge with herbs or some such.  Nor did either of them put a curse on her, causing her to die.  Mrs. Branch will be disappointed. “

“Do you think there is anything about the herbs her daughter was supplying?”

“I don’t think so.  I want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

 

Despite his promise to Lt. Garcia, Dudley realized he had to disclose everything to Isabella Duncan.  Since it was becoming more apparent that Mrs. Aldridge’s death was not as straight-forward as initially thought, Isabella needed be aware of the entire situation, including Dudley’s suspicions.

“Isabella, I have been remiss in not keeping up appraised of new information related to Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  I apologize. I promised Lt. Garcia I would not say anything until he had an opportunity to pursue the new information, but it is important you be made aware of things. He has been swamped the past few days and hasn’t had the time to focus on this case.”

“My personal suspicion is that Mrs. Aldridge was a closet alcoholic and was secretly adding grain alcohol to her cream sherry.  When I was looking through her apartment, I discovered unopened bottles of cream sherry as well as a bottle of pure grain alcohol.  There were several bottles or decanters of a lighter-colored liquid which I suspect are cream sherry that had been diluted.”

“Let me add another piece to the puzzle for you, Doc.  I had a suspicion about Mrs. Aldridge’s drinking based on comments Frida Savino made to me on several occasions.  I presumed her drinking was a form of self-medication to address her loneliness and the trauma of her difficult youth.  Cream sherry was a way to drink socially and no one knew about the added alcohol.  I believe her daughter was also aware of it and was frequently the brunt of an outburst of anger when she visited.”
“That might explain why her visits were so infrequent and why she seemed so unmoved by her mother’s death.”

“You are probably right, Doc.  I was really encouraged when she started spending time with Señora Barela and Paloma’s sister. Both of those women had difficult youths and the three of them were able to talk openly in Spanish and it was becoming a form of group therapy.  I believe Mrs. Aldridge was making progress until the last visit from her daughter and son-in-law.  Something must have upset her terribly for her to go on a drinking binge that resulted in her death.”

“Based on tests at the Police labs, Garcia knows that Mrs. Aldridge had an extremely high blood alcohol level when she died and her cream sherry had an alcohol content far greater than it should have.  His lab subsequently identified the presence of wood alcohol in the sample of sherry. As you probably know, wood alcohol is a poison which could certainly contributed to Mrs. Aldridge’s death.  The issue, as I see it, comes back to the grain alcohol.  How did the wood alcohol get there?  If someone deliberately added it, we’re potentially looking at murder.  If it was present, then the supplier is liable.

I do not want to think that, but I am certain that Garcia will ask that same question.”

“This is obviously not good news, Doc.  I appreciate your playing detective, but we really need to let Lt. Garcia handle this.”

“I hate to ask this, Isabella, but is it possible that Mrs. Aldridge added the poison herself as a means to commit suicide?”

“I’m sure that’s a possibility, but I would consider it highly unlikely.  There are less painful options if a person wants to do that.”

“Sorry, Isabella, you are right. I am just upset that this unfortunate situation has taken a potentially ugly turn.”

“I agree, Doc, but our best course of action is to help Lt. Garcia?”

“If I can play detective a bit longer, I believe fingerprints would provide the most useful information.  There are undoubtedly fingerprints on the bottles in Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry which would identify anyone who handled the bottles.  Garcia will also want to talk to Frida and Elena and take their prints. Personally, based on things that I’ve heard, particularly about the son-in-law, I think it would be wise to include him as well as the daughter in Garcia’s investigation.”

“OK, Doc, it sounds like you haven’t told me the results of all your so-called detective work.  What’s this about Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law?’

“Oh, I’m sorry, Isabella.  All the individual pieces of this situation have been tumbling around in my head like a jig-saw puzzle.  Let me start at the beginning and tell you about what I learned from my friend Emilio Sandoval about sherry which is what started me questioning things.  Subsequently, Ray Little Feather and then Beth Ford told me a bit about Roger Linderman, Mrs. Aldridge’s son-in-law, which is why I would encourage Lt. Garcia to interview him.”

 

Over the next thirty minutes, Dudley shared everything he had learned that led him to his current perspective about Mrs. Aldridge’s death.

When he finished, Isabella smiled and said, “Well, Doc, as usual, you have been very busy.  It will be easy for Garcia to interview Frida and Elena and get their fingerprints.  But, you know as well as I, that neither of them would do anything to harm a Resident. I suppose, that leaves us with the daughter and son-in-law and I assume you’ve come to the same conclusion.”

“I’m afraid so, which leads me to intentional poisoning. You know I really don’t want to think that, but they both have opportunity and motive.  But, I want to be helpful while not interfering with police work.”

“Doc, you have already interfered.  The question now is how to help Garcia without having him get angry with you. I believe it would be better if I suggested talking to Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter based on my conversations with her.”

“That makes sense, Isabella.  I can ask Ray to get a casino chip that has Roger Linderman’s prints on it and get that to Garcia.  Do you have any suggestions about the daughter, Camille?”
“I have a partially used water bottle from when she was here signing papers related to the apartment and I’m sure has her prints are on it.”

Dudley and Isabella talked for a while longer, trying to determine the best way to provide Lt. Garcia with all the information Dudley had gathered without causing too much trouble.  They concluded the most critical piece of information was the bottles in Mrs. Aldridge’s pantry, including the bottle of grain alcohol and the bottles of altered cream sherry.  They needed to convince Lt. Garcia to analyze all of the bottles for alcohol content and, more importantly, for fingerprints.

 

I realize that it has been quite a while since I’ve posted any stories about the goings-on at La Vida Aureo.  I apologize.

That is not to say, however, that there have NOT been any instances of nefarious activity during my absence.  Quite the contrary.

In the next day or two, I will begin posting Chapters from the latest Case, entitled Witches’ Brew., with all Chapters to be posted during June.  As usual, there will be references to New Mexico history and culture as an integral part of the story.  I have several additional stories in various stages of development to be completed and posted in the coming months.  I have also created a Volume 1, containing the first four Cases, and it is available in Kindle form on Amazon.  I hope to have Volume 2, with Cases V through VIII available sometime in June.

Thank you for your interest and I hope you will continue to follow Matthew Dudley and all the Residents at La Vida Aureo and their various escapades.

As always, I welcome any comments. suggestions, story ideas, etc.

Regards,

Gene Davis.

 

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 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.”

 

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?”

 

Case I: The Virgin and the Maintenance Man

Case I: Chapter 1: Introduction

He didn’t want to be here. He really didn’t want to be here. This was not the way he had envisioned this period of his life.

Matthew Dudley was stuck in this “old folks’ home” for rehabilitation after a mild heart attack. His doctor had placed him here so he could recover in a safe and secure environment rather than living alone as he had for the past several years as a widower.

But, La Vida Aureo (The Golden Life) was very different from the environment Dudley had always feared. It was located in an upscale area of Albuquerque and was considered a state-of-the-art facility. It was a large complex which included all levels of care from independent living cottages to a comprehensive skilled nursing wing as well as a so-called memory unit for those individuals suffering from degenerative dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even though these facilities were pleasant and appealing and the majority of the staff was competent, pleasant and very professional, Dudley still felt a significant loss of independence.

Matthew Dudley had retired from a long career working for the state of New Mexico in the Water Resources Department. What he enjoyed most about this position was the ability to frequently get outdoors. He was able to travel and work with local municipalities and organizations to manage the limited water resources so common throughout the state. He enjoyed working alone and really valued his independence. He had retired a few years ago and he and his wife had bought a small rundown home in the rural community of Cerrillos just south of Santa Fe. He enjoyed working on the home and the independence of this rather isolated environment. It was a major tragedy in his life when his wife died suddenly. He was relieved that she did not suffer or succumb to a long period of physical or mental deterioration. But he felt alone even in the small house and the associated stress may have contributed to his mild heart attack. His time in the hospital was brief and he felt that he had recovered fully and would be able to go back to Cerrillos and continue working on his home and other projects. He wasn’t convinced that he actually had a heart attack; it may have just been the stress caused by adjusting to a life alone. However his doctor, who was also a close personal friend, recommended that he spend some time in rehabilitation much to his chagrin. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the doctor and his children had conspired to get him out of the home in Cerrillos and into the more social and secure environment of a retirement home in Albuquerque. Neither of his two adult children lived in New Mexico and they had often encouraged him to move into a more populated area particularly after the death of his wife. Even though his pension from the state was relatively modest, his doctor arranged for him to be in perhaps the most expensive facility in New Mexico. He had argued that he should only be there for a few days but his doctor continued to refuse to sign the papers to indicate he had completed his rehabilitation successfully.

He really couldn’t complain because this facility was among the best in Albuquerque and had excellent physical therapy capabilities. Nonetheless, he was bored and frustrated and continued to believe that he didn’t belong here. He understood why many of the residents referred to this facility as The Golden Corral. He felt trapped and restricted and unable to do a lot of things that were part of his very active life

But Matthew Dudley’s life was about to change and the boredom and frustration end when La Vida Aureo’s Maintenance Man was found dead in the Utility Room with a large screwdriver stuck in his chest.

 

Case I: Chapter 2: The Local Police Arrive

The body of the Maintenance Man was discovered early in the afternoon by an employee known as Odd Job, a large, tough-looking Hispanic man, covered in tattoos and with a surly disposition. He frequently assisted the Facility’s Maintenance Man and performed other miscellaneous duties around the complex. When he discovered the body, he went immediately to La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director who quickly called 911.

Lt. Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Major Crime Unit arrived about the same time as an emergency medical technician who promptly called the City’s Medical Examiner.

George Hernandez, the Chief Medical Examiner, looked at Garcia and said, “Even you could probably figure this one out. It looks like the Maintenance Man died from a stab wound to the chest caused by this large screwdriver. I suspect he was killed by a strong person, as the screwdriver was thrust into the chest up to the hilt which would require a considerable amount of force. There is some bruising on the back of his head, but I imagine it occurred when he fell backwards. If I discover any additional information during the autopsy, I’ll let you know.”

“Well, George, it’s always nice to see you too and I appreciate your solving this crime for me. I think I’ll just have a look around the room to see if there are any vital clues you might have missed.”

Garcia spent a few minutes examining the scene, but had to agree that this looked pretty straight forward. All that remained was to find out who had stabbed the Maintenance Man so violently. There wasn’t much else to do and the body was promptly removed, but the Utility Room was placed off-limits by standard police yellow tape.

As Lt. Garcia was leaving the facility, he stopped by the kitchen to pay his respects to Paloma Angostura, the cook. He had known her all his life and she had been instrumental in keeping him out of trouble and setting him on a more constructive course for his life. Lt. Garcia had been friends with her son and had spent much of his youth in their home.

“Francisco, it is so nice to see you. What brings you here, mi hijo?”

“Bad things. querida Madre, a man has been killed and I’m here to investigate his murder.”

Mi Dios, I heard about it. This is such a beautiful, peaceful place.” she said.

Garcia knew that “she had heard about it” was an understatement; there was probably very little that happened at La Vida Aureo that she didn’t know about.   He knew that she would be a source of important information as his investigation proceeded.

Garcia remembered his manners and inquired about Señora Angostura’s children. “How are Antonio and Marisa?”

“They are well, but so far from here.”

As he left the dining room, Lt. Garcia was stopped by Millicent Branch, an older woman and long time resident. “I know who murdered the Maintenance Man, she said. He was an evil person, always trying to touch the young Mexican girls who work here. I saw one of those girls coming up from the utility room earlier today and she was crying.”

Garcia thanked Mrs. Branch for her comments as he thought to himself, “just what I need, help from an old biddy who thinks she’s Agatha Christy.”

 

Case I: Chapter 3: Initial Murder Investigation

Based on the Medical Examiner’s initial assessment, Lt. Garcia felt that he was looking for a male as the prime suspect for this murder. He initiated a process of collecting fingerprints from delivery people and other service people for the facility such as gardeners etc. In the back of his mind, Garcia felt that Odd Job was the most likely candidate for the crime. He had known many people like this in Albuquerque and was familiar with many of the gangs and unsavory characters who roamed the city. He decided that he would go back to the retirement home to go through the utility room once more looking for additional evidence and clues. He would also visit with the Executive Director to inquire about Odd Job in greater detail as well as trying to understand the recent activities of the Maintenance Man.

But, Garcia was a thorough investigator and could not ignore Mrs. Branch’s comments, however unreasonable. The Medical Examiner had said that the murderer had to be a very strong person in order to drive the screwdriver so deeply into the Maintenance Man’s chest. He was able to remove some fingerprints from the screwdriver but found no other evidence or forensic information at the scene.

La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director, Isabella Duncan, told Lt. Garcia that there had been problems with the heating and air-conditioning system and a number of residents had complained about the temperature in their in their rooms and in the common areas. She had asked the Maintenance Man to check this out.

“What can you tell me about Odd Job and his role at the facility?”

“The man’s name is Orlando Juan Torreon and people call him OJ. This quickly became “Odd Job” because of his various activities around the facility. I personally hired him and can vouch for his integrity. He made some bad choices earlier in his life but is trying to live a clean and law-abiding life. I am his sponsor in his local support group and am trying to help him gain the skills necessary for a more permanent job. It seems unlikely that he would attack the Maintenance Man since they seemed to get along reasonably well.”

As Lt. Garcia was leaving the building, Millicent Branch stopped him once again and insisted that he talked to “Maria”, a young girl who worked in the kitchen. This is the same person that she had mentioned and accused earlier, but had referred to her simply as “that Mexican girl”. “I think she knows something about the murder and you should talk to her. Maybe she even did it!”

Garcia went back into the kitchen and asked Señora Angostura specifically about Maria. “Maria is a hard worker and a conscientious young woman. She has only been at La Vida Aureo a short time and is struggling to improve her English. I noticed today that Maria seemed upset and was crying quite a bit.”

Case I: Chapter 6: Dudley Visits the Crime Scene

Dudley waited for an opportunity and went downstairs to utility room unnoticed where he began to carefully look around. The police tape had been removed but the room remained off-limits to all residents. It appeared like a typical utility room containing a large steam boiler and associated water treatment equipment. There was also a large heating and air conditioning system for the main building. It consisted of several compressed air refrigeration units and two large blowers to circulate cold air throughout the building. As he examined the HVAC system more closely, he noticed that the cover was off the fan belt and pulley assembly of the larger fan blower unit. This was an unsafe condition and he was tempted to replace the cover, but realized that the police probably still consider this an active crime scene. As he turned to walk away, a small piece of debris fell onto the fan belt and it was immediately “launched“ across the room. Dudley also noted a safety switch and interlock system connected to the main power breaker located near the door.

He struggled with his observations over a restless night. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary in the utility room that would offer a different explanation than a simple stabbing. The next morning at breakfast, he asked Paloma to have Maria accompany him to the Utility Room.

“Maria, I assume the silver cross the police found on the floor belongs to you. That means you were in this room at some point. Please start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened while you were here.”

Si, the cross is mine. I was in this room with the Maintenance Man, but I did not kill him. I will try to tell you all that I remember. The Maintenance Man stopped me in the hallway and asked me to help him with some repairs. When I got into the room, it was dark and he began to say bad things to me. He asked me to hand him a tool, I think it was a screwdriver. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward him. He put the tool down and tried to put his hands on me. When I tried to pull away from him, he grabbed at me and broke the chain around my neck and my cross fell to the floor. I went to pick it up and he grabbed at me again. I moved toward the door and he was calling me names. I felt trapped and called out loudly to The Virgin to protect me. I think that frightened him. He continued to call me names. He said I should go. He told me to turn the lights on and get out. I pushed the light switch near the door. Then, the large tool just flew across the room and struck him in the chest. I knew that The Virgin had answered my prayers and protected me from this evil man. I ran out of the utility room crying and back to the safety of the kitchen.”

“Can you show me where he laid the screwdriver and where it was sitting before it flew across the room?”

“It was sitting here on this large wheel. I think he put it there when he reached out to touch me.”

“Please show me the light switch you pushed as you ran out of the room.”

Dudley noted that Maria had pointed to the large flywheel for the blower of the air-conditioning system. And, the switch on the wall that Maria pointed to was not a light switch but the safety interlock to turn off the power to the motors.

“Thank you Maria, you helped me understand a great deal. You can go back to your duties in the kitchen now.”

Dudley took a piece of string from his pocket and attached one end to the top of the flywheel and held the other to his chest and backed away to the position where the Maintenance Man was presumably standing when the screwdriver struck him. He concluded that the trajectory of the screwdriver which had been resting on top of the flywheel would have “flown” directly into the chest of the Maintenance Man when Maria accidently turned on the power, thinking it was the light switch. The screwdriver would have been launched so quickly at the Maintenance Man’s chest that he would not have had time to react. Dudley didn’t often believe in divine intervention but Maria’s understanding that The Virgin had interceded on her behalf was easily explained by simple physics. He wanted to repeat the experiment but he was alone in the utility room and that seemed like a dangerous and foolish course of action.

At about that moment, Lt. Garcia entered the room. “So, who are you and who appointed you House Detective? I hope you haven’t touched anything in here. This is a murder crime scene.”

“I haven’t touched anything, Officer. My name is Matthew Dudley and I’m a resident here. Señora Angostura asked me to talk to Maria and get her version of what happened in this room between her and the Maintenance Man.

“I believe that she certainly was here but was trying to fend off unwanted advances from this guy. I think I understand what happened and could use your assistance in confirming my suspicions. But rather than trying to duplicate the actual murder process with a screwdriver, I suggest we use a small piece of wood to see if it is possible that Maria’s description of things is even possible.”

Garcia reluctantly drew a small golf tee from his pocket and placed it on top of the flywheel fan belt where Dudley directed. Then, they both moved to toward the door where the safety switch was located. With both of them at a safe distance and carefully watching the golf tee, Dudley pressed the safety switch. The golf tee immediately shot across the room, directly for the spot where the Maintenance Man had been standing.

“Maria said that, as she left the room she thought she was turning on the light switch as the Maintenance Man had told her to do but she hit the safety switch by mistake. The screwdriver, which was resting on flywheel’s fan belt, flew across the room and into the chest of the Maintenance Man. If our experiment with the golf tee is any indication, the screwdriver must have been travelling at considerable speed. Maria’s understanding of events is that The Virgin caused the screwdriver to “fly” to punish this evil man who had been harassing her. I know that sounds a bit far-fetched, but it makes sense. It is more reasonable, at least to me, than to assume that Maria violently stabbed this jerk.”

Garcia reluctantly conceded that this highly unusual explanation made sense. It confirmed that Maria was in the room as indicated by the presence of her cross on the floor as well as her prints on the screwdriver. He is somewhat relieved, but still has to confirm this story for himself. He also has to decide whether to charge Maria in the presumed accidental death.

He decided to interview Maria to see if she repeats the events consistently. As part of his investigation process, Garcia asked Maria for her identification to conduct a background check.

Garcia listened carefully as Maria repeated her story. It was exactly as she previously told Dudley, including the role of The Virgin.

Over the next few days, Garcia determined that all of her papers were in order and that she was in the country legally. She and her family are actually from Guatemala. He smiled to himself, “So much for Millicent’s powers of observation. She is blinded by a very narrow view of things.” He also talked to a few people at her church who vouch for her integrity and provide glowing descriptions of her character. Based on all of this information, Garcia decided not to bring charges for involuntary manslaughter against Maria. He returned to police headquarters where he documented this case as an accidental death.

Garcia returned to La Vita Aureo to have one last discussion with Isabella Duncan. He apologized for his aggressive treatment of OJ and told her that Matthew Dudley had been a help in solving this case. He also advised her to keep an eye on Millicent and not let her create problems for the complex because she sees everything as a crime and herself as Agatha Christie, determined to solve each case. “She is not a very credible person, much less a witness!”