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Case XII: Chapter 3: The Spanish Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the role of Señora Barela?”

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

“Mrs. Aldridge?”

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

“A Mogollonita?  I don’t understand.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Case XI: Chapter 1: Dueling Divas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will still pray for him every night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought you said they were getting along?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Case X: Romeo is Dead

 

Chapter 1: Coitus Interruptus

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have my word, Isabella.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand completely, Isabella.”

 

Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”

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

“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5: Dudley Gathers Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. I live in Albuquerque.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Anything, Matthew.”

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

“Ask away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Habanero Pharmaceuticals”

“Habenero?  Like the pepper?

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

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

“Yes?”

“Can I see you again? And, when?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not as far as I know.”

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

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

“Make sure you tell Frank I said Hello.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?”

 

 

Epilogue

Things did not go well for Donald Pearsall.  Even though the case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence, he remained unable to provide an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Alexander’s death.  He refused to disclose his association with La Raza Cosmica for fear that it would also implicate him in the death of Doris Connell. Pearsall had retained a capable defense team, but they were quickly running out of legal maneuvers to delay a trial.

The Albuquerque Police Department remained unsuccessful in their attempts to bring any members of La Raza Cosmica to justice.  Lt. Frank Garcia was among those who believed that, if they could bring serious charges against one member of the gang, they could convince him to provide evidence about many unsolved crimes in the State.  But that goal continued to be elusive.

There was a major restructuring in the Board of Directors at New Mexico Power & Light.  With Manny Vigil’s resignation, Graham Wright recruited several new Board members who could lead the Company in a more progressive direction.  The majority of the new technology demonstration projects were restarted under the direction of one of the original Project Managers and early results were very promising for several of the projects.  The Board also authorized a significant increase in spending for Energy Conservation training and education programs.

Isabella Duncan received an unexpected phone call from Serafino Huerfano who asked if could come to her office to discuss several provisions of Conrad Alexander’s Estate that related to La Vida Aureo.  Huerfano began by telling Isabella that the majority of Alexander’s Estate went to establish a Trust at New Mexico Tech to support engineering studies in the areas of energy efficiency and clean technologies for power generation.  “You folks here had a profoundly positive effect on Conrad at a time when he most needed it and he made several stipulations in his Will to say “Thank You”.  First, there is a large amount to be used to upgrade its kitchen and dining facilities.  Conrad wanted to express his appreciation to Paloma Angostura for her kindness.  While we’re talking about the Dining Room, a life-time subscription to the Wall Street Journal has been made in the name of someone called “Doc”. Finally, Conrad made funds available for Martina Trujillo so that she could provide for her parents for the remainder of their lives.  And, I want to add my appreciation to Conrad’s.”

Isabella was stunned.  “I do not have the words to express how much we appreciate Mr. Alexander’s generosity. Everyone here who met him realized what a true gentleman he was.  We will miss him.”

Later that day, Isabella asked Matthew Dudley to conduct a comprehensive maintenance review of Alexander’s former apartment in the Independent Living Section in order to make it available for a future Resident.  Dudley knew enough about Alexander’s behavior and did not expect that much would be required.  After a thorough inspection, the only item requiring attention was the main light switch by entrance door. For some unexplained reason, the ON/OFF switch positions had been reversed.  Dudley quickly made the minor repair and reported to Isabella that the apartment was ready for a new Resident.

 

Case VIII: Chapter 1: A Path Forward

Matthew Dudley was sitting in the main dining room with the Wall Street Journal and a cup of coffee in front of him.  The coffee was cold and he’d been staring at the same unread page for quite some time.  He remained deeply troubled.  In his short time at La Vida Aureo there had been several deaths.  The deaths of the Maintenance Man (Case I, September, 2014) and Ms. Carmine Felicio (Case III, November, 2014) were accidents, but he was struggling with the murder of Martha Arthur.

He was most concerned with the fact that personal information had so easily been stolen and used in that situation. The concept of identity theft was relatively new to him and he had this gnawing sense in his gut that he had not seen its full extent nor the variety of nefarious actions that could result.

He realized that he had to get his mind back to the present and the best way to do that was to stay busy and actively engaged. He needed to focus on the positive aspects of his life and there was much to be done for the residents. Also, the LVA Community Assist Program was taking shape and he was confident that there would be many positive outcomes from their efforts. He was hopeful that there would not be any surprises as they became more active and involved in the community

The replacement for Janetta Johari was due today. He had recommended to Isabella that they permit Beth Ford and the Team do the actual hiring.  They both realized that team chemistry was critical, particularly at this early stage and the Team had to be comfortable with Janetta’s replacement.  He had promised to sit in on their meeting which was currently in progress.

Dudley heard the laughter before he entered the meeting room. Beth greeted him. “Doc, let me introduce you to Mikaylah Willis who will be taking over Janetta’s responsibilities.  She was just telling us a bit about her background in pharmaceuticals when you came in.  I can assure you that Mikaylah is very well-qualified and the Team is excited about having her join us.  But, some of the details of her previous experience with Pfizer might be a bit embarrassing for an older gentleman like you.”

“Not to worry. I don’t embarrass easily.  I’m eager to meet Ms. Willis and learn about her background.”

“OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Why don’t you continue, Mikaylah?”

“I guess I was a math nerd in high school and one of my teachers recommended me for an intern position with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals doing data analysis for one of their trials of a drug to treat cardiovascular problems.   I was a quiet kid and pretty much stayed in my cubicle working on my assignments, but one day, there was a rather loud discussion going on that I could not help but overhear.  Apparently, the Manager in charge of this study was unhappy with the results.  The study participants were not showing any improvements in their cardiovascular system, but most were refusing to return the unused pills.  The Manager was concerned about Pfizer’s potential liability with this medicine remaining in the public once the trial was officially cancelled.  So, he decided to send a team of research scientists out to interview selective participants, particularly the ones who were most adamant about keeping the remaining pills.  What they learned was so unexpected that the news spread throughout the office and pretty soon everyone was repeating the story, often with much laughter. Today, Pfizer markets that “failed cardiovascular drug” as Viagra and it has been far more profitable than even their most optimistic estimates for the original intended market.”

“I continued to work for Pfizer on a part-time basis throughout college and joined them permanently after graduation.  I had many interesting and challenging assignments and learned a great deal about the pharmaceutical industry.  But, I suspect the remarkable success of Viagra eventually began to affect people’s judgement.  I grew increasingly disillusioned as the marketing focused less on medicine and more about enhancing your lifestyle.  I mean, have you seen some of the ads on TV and in magazines?  Anyway, I eventually left Pfizer and began working with various agencies to help them manage their pharmacy benefit programs.  When JJ called me a few weeks ago and described this program, I jumped at the opportunity.  Prescription medication has become an important part of many people’s lives and I believe it is essential that people have the necessary information about these powerful substances.”

When she finished, it was obvious to Dudley that Mikaylah Willis would be an asset, not only to the Team, but to the program in general. He turned to the entire group, “I’m eager to hear what you have learned in your initial visits.”

Mila Espalin spoke first. “One of the main things I learned was that so many of the people out there that we could help have no access to computers.  I never realized how naïve we were at the State to assume that we could just put information on the Internet and it would be readily available to everyone.  We need to keep that in mind and Minot and I have already been talking about alternative means of communication.”

“One of the things I’ve seen too much of, said Arnetta, is people ending up in the hospital or becoming permanently disabled because of an accident in the home. I believe we could make a huge impact if we provided some information or instructions to make homes safer.  I suspect that the money spent on building a ramp to get a wheelchair into the house could be better spent making a series of simple modifications in the house. Then, maybe the wheelchair wouldn’t be needed in the first place.”

The other Team members joined the discussion, but Dudley missed much of the content. His mind wandered and he began to imagine the amount of good this Program would do in the community.  He realized they were off to a good start.

As the meeting broke up, Dudley stopped Beth Ford and Minot Atkinson to thank them once again for their assistance with the computer theft of Martha Arthur’s nieces’ information and for locating the site where Atrisca tried to sell the jewelry.  “I don’t know exactly how you were able to find out what you did, but it was critical to the investigation.  Thank you once again.  I remain apprehensive about how easy it is to steal information and I hope to never have to call on you again, but I fear that is a distinct possibility.”

“I am concerned that, as more people sign up for health insurance with the Affordable Care Act, there will be more opportunities for fraud.  So much information is required and many of the folks signing up are less educated and sophisticated.  I fear that there is an increase in the likelihood of being deceived by a stranger who offers to help them.  I don’t think it’s necessary to mention my concern to the entire Team, but please be on the alert for this kind of activity.  I think it will take many forms.”

Minot said, “I share your concern. Computers have just become another tool for people to conduct criminal activity.  It is something the Team has talked about and you can rest assured that we are all aware of the potential and will remain vigilant.”

As Minot turned to walk away, Janetta Johari approached with a bright smile on her face.  “I’m glad you came to our meeting this morning and had an opportunity to meet Mikaylah.  I’m certain she will fit right in and quickly become a valuable member of the Team.”  Then, touching his arm, she said, “Don’t forget dinner on Thursday.”

 

Dudley returned to the dining room to retrieve his ToDo list that he had left on the table earlier. Paloma Angostura was waiting with the list in her hand as he approached.  She suggested he sit and relax for a few minutes before starting his maintenance and repairs for the day.  He looked toward the door and said to Paloma, “Well, here come two people and even I can tell that they have a secret by the smiles on their faces. Something tells me that they are about to share that secret with us.”

“Señor Doc.  It is no secret, at least not to anyone who has been watching them lately!”

Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott were still smiling broadly when they took the two empty seats at the table with Dudley and Señora Angostura. Larry spoke first. “Doc, I’d like to get your opinion about what I think is a policy issue at La Vida Aureo.  When I moved in here, I surrendered my life insurance policy to purchase what Ms. Duncan referred to as a Lifetime Contract.  My understanding is that the contract allows me to live here for the rest of my life regardless of my health or medical needs.  Right now, I’m living in an apartment that’s part of the Independent Living Unit, but as my situation changes, I’ll be able to move to other areas of the facility.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s correct.  A number of residents have a similar arrangement.”

“What if I wanted to change it?”

“I don’t know.  You’d have to talk to Isabella.  Why? What did you have in mind? I certainly hope you’re not thinking of leaving.”  Dudley felt a sharp kick under the table and noticed that Paloma had an expression on her face that seemed to say, “Are you really that blind?”

JoAnne continued.  “Larry and I want to live together in my casita. We’d like to see if there is some way that Isabella would consider combining our individual contracts so that we could both spend the rest of our lives here, together.”

“Oh. Uh. That would be nice.  I’m certain Isabella would do whatever she can to accommodate your wishes.  Yes, I’m sure she would.”

“Then, we’ll try to see her as soon as possible. Thank you for your support.”

JoAnne added, “And for being instrumental in getting us together in the first place.”

As they got up to leave, JoAnne smiled at Dudley and asked, “Who were all those pretty young women I saw you with earlier?  Is there something about your love life that you’re not telling?”

Dudley was certain that JoAnne had seen Janetta touching his arm and smiling at him.  He tried to think fast. “Ah, er, No,” he stammered. I assume you saw me with one of the women who are part of our Community Assist Program.  In fact, it might be a very good idea if you could spend some time with them talking about your experiences with the VA.  If it’s OK, I’ll have Beth Ford or Minot Atkinson give you a call.”

JoAnne was in such a happy mood, she couldn’t resist teasing Dudley a bit more. “A young French girl, no less?  Are you sure you’re not keeping secrets, Doc?”

It took Dudley a few seconds to recover once he realized that JoAnne was NOT referring to Janetta.  “Uh, I don’t think so.  Minot’s from Albuquerque.  I think her folks are both associated with the Air Force at Kirtland in some capacity.”

“Really?  You might ask her if she was actually born in North Dakota. If so and her folks are with the Air Force, I believe her name is pronounced My-Not rather than Min-Oh.  I suspect she was named after the Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota.  I met lots of vets who were stationed there.  There’s a huge billboard that the local Chamber of Commerce put up that says Why not, Minot?  And some Air Force hotshots added Freezin’s the Reason! in letters just as big.  But, I’ll leave that little bit of trivia for you to deal with as you see fit.  Anyway, we need to see Isabella.”

Larry and JoAnne walked toward Isabella’s office holding hands.  “I’m happy for them,” said Dudley. “And, I‘m glad they found each other at this point in their lives.”

Paloma gave him an all-knowing look and said, “We all need someone in our life, Señor Doc, even you.”

Dudley didn’t know quite how to respond. He thought his best course of action would be to pick up his List and attend to his responsibilities, which is exactly what he did.

Chapter 9: Wrap Up and A Path Forward

 A few weeks later, Lt. Garcia stopped at La Vida Aureo to once again thank Matthew Dudley and to apologize to Isabella Duncan for the disruption the police had caused to the otherwise peaceful environment of the facility.  “Without too much prompting, Miss Dominguez gave up trying to pin the robbery and murder on Charles Arthur.  The turning point was when she said that he just wasn’t smart enough nor had the guts to do anything like that.  With her confession, the money and jewelry found in her car and the evidence we uncovered at her apartment, the District Attorney believes she can obtain a conviction.”

“What’s going to happen to Charles?” asked Dudley.

“Oh, he’s still at MDC and we seem to have misplaced his paperwork, Garcia smiled.  I guess he’ll be there until we find it which could be several months.”

Frank Garcia made a point of stopping in the kitchen to pay his respects to Paloma Angostura. She told him that she prayed daily for his safety and that he would visit more often under more pleasant circumstances.

 

 

Matthew Dudley was sitting quietly in the main Lobby, thinking about Mrs. Arthur.  He tried to refocus on the positive things that were happening at La Vida Aureo.  He was pleased with the progress the Community Assist Program was making and confident that the Team had the direction and focus to make a positive impact in the community.   Dudley was happy for Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott and their developing relationship. He thought about Millicent Branch and the devastating effect of the murder.  Perhaps he could encourage her to get involved in some activities to aid her dealing with the grief.  He decided to discuss this with Paloma; she would have some helpful suggestions.  Most importantly, he hoped things would be relatively quiet for a while.

 

 

The Community Assist Team meeting had ended but Janetta Johari remained in her seat at the conference table.

“Is there something on your mind, JJ?” asked Beth Ford.

“Just thinking.”

“About some-thing or some-one in particular?  Want to talk?”

“I’m just trying to decide how to proceed, or whether to proceed at all. I certainly don’t want it to appear like I’m chasing him.”

“Well, JJ, if you’re referring to Mr. Dudley, I suspect he may actually want to be caught.”

“What?!”

“C’mon, JJ, it’s been apparent to me and to Minot, for one, that there was something happening between the two of you.  I mean, we’ve been watching the way you’ve been looking at each other, studying each other might be a better description, for some time.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“Oh my, yes.  He’s too much of a gentleman, however, to say anything, much less act.  If you really want to know, you’ll have to initiate the conversation.”

 

 

A new text message interrupted Dudley’s thoughts. “Please meet me in the dining room. I want to ask your advice.” And it was signed “JJ”. Dudley couldn’t imagine what Janetta Johari wanted with him since the Team had met earlier that morning and Beth was assuming greater responsibility for day-to-day activities.   Regardless, he headed toward the dining room.

“Mr. Dudley,” Janetta began, “I would like your opinion on something very important.  One of the local bio-tech companies has presented me with a significant opportunity.  They’ve developed a new drug for Alzheimer’s that has shown quite remarkable results in several small-scale test programs.  The FDA is encouraging them to conduct a much larger-scale test and they’ve chosen New Mexico as the ideal location because of its population diversity.  Anyway, the company wants me to be the Program Manager and oversee the entire evaluation program.  The drug shows great promise and it would help a great many people if successful.  What do you think?”

“Ms. Johari, I am honored that you would ask my opinion.  You are uniquely qualified for that role and I am confident that you will do an outstanding job. My advice would be to seize the opportunity.”

“You’re not concerned about the Community Assist Program?”

“Of course, but I’m sure we can find someone to cover the drug and medication aspects of our programs.  I suspect you’ve already given Ms. Ford a list of potential candidates.”

“I have and I appreciate you’re realizing that I would take that step to continue to support the program.  In the short time that I’ve been part of things, I’ve grown to respect this group of women for their knowledge and dedication.  I will miss them.”

“I, I mean we, will miss you, too.  I hope you won’t be leaving Albuquerque.”

“It is a state-wide program and I insisted on staying here instead of moving to Santa Fe.  There is another reason I wanted to talk with you before taking this opportunity.”

Janetta touched Dudley’s arm.  Her expression seemed to warm and she looked directly into his eyes. “I’m not really sure how to say this and I don’t want to appear forward, but I want to get to know you better, as a person.”

“I don’t know what to say.  In many ways, I am flattered. You are a beautiful young woman and I have to admit that I’ve thought about you as well.  But, look, I’m an old man and you ought to …”

“Find someone my own age?  No thank you.”

“But, what about your future? I can’t offer you much in that department.”

“Mr. Dudley, I know there’s no white picket fence and a house full of beautiful children.  I understand the realities of the situation.  But, you have shown me more respect as a woman in the short time I’ve known you than any other man in my life. So, why don’t you come to my place one evening and let me cook a nice dinner for just the two of us?  I’m certainly not going to try and compete with Señora Angostura, but I promise you a pleasant meal and honest conversation.  I own a condo a few blocks from here; you could walk.”

“I would like that very much. But, if we’re going to move forward and just see where it goes, you must stop calling me Mr. Dudley.”

“I will always call you Matthew.  Everyone else can call you Doc, but to me, you are Matthew. In return, you must not call me Miss Johari or JJ. OK?”

“First, you must explain “Janetta” to me.  Is that one of those African tribal names that means Child of the Sunrise, or something?”

She laughed. “Not quite so mysterious or exotic.  My mother wanted to name me January because I was her first child. But, my father was afraid that she would then want the entire calendar.  He was a big Etta James fan so they compromised on Janetta.”

 

As they parted, Paloma Angostura peered out from the kitchen and smiled.

Case VI: War and Remembrance

 Chapter 1: A Twist of Fate

To the casual observer, no two women could be more unlike than Maria Varela Jaramillo Montoya and Paloma Angostura. La Doña Jaramillo was matriarch of one of the founding families of Albuquerque and it was her vision and her generous endowment that created La Vida Aureo. Señora Angostura was the daughter of Mexican immigrants and her mother had been the cook for the Jaramillo family and Paloma was now the cook at La Vida Aureo. It was most likely only a twist of fate that had caused their respective life’s journeys to be so different. Nevertheless, these two women had similar values and shared a common outlook on life which was soon to have a significant effect on the future of La Vida Aureo.

Father Michael was having lunch with Señora Jaramillo to report on the progress within the Diocese to raise awareness and money for the parishioners at Our Lady of the Valley. “Things are going well, La Doña, but we are struggling to keep up. People are living longer and their health declines over a much longer period of time. It was not too many years ago, perhaps just the previous generation, that people simply got old and died. Now, people live longer and they endure many years of declining physical and mental health. In many cases, there is not much that can be done to improve things, but it troubles me to see once vibrant and alive people suffer through so many years of pain.”

“Well, Father, you’ll recall that these are the very reasons that La Vida Aureo was started.”

“Yes, I remember our original conversation. It seems like so long ago that you came to me with your idea.”

“But, the problem grows and there are limits to what we can do. La Vida Aureo is successful and provides a valuable service, but only to a limited few.”

“Even if there were many more La Vida Aureos, the need is growing more quickly. And, with all my respect, La Doña, most of my parishioners could never afford a place like that.”

“I share your concern, Father, and am deeply touched by your compassion. Perhaps it would be wise for us to talk with Isabella and see if she can offer any suggestions. She is a resourceful woman and has a keen business sense. She may be able to help us see a path forward.”

“That is a wonderful idea. Would you like for me to call and invite her to lunch with us?”

“That is kind of you to offer, Father, but she and I had planned to meet early next week for a regular luncheon. Why don’t you join us?”

 

There was a smaller room adjacent to the main dining room where the La Vida Aureo staff could meet for training and similar activities. It was also a convenient gathering place for the staff to meet at the end of the day while waiting for their ride home. Most days, the conversation among the staff dealt with their recent experiences throughout the facility. Because Isabella Duncan had devoted so much time and effort to the selection and training of the staff, these discussions could not be considered “bitch sessions”. To the contrary, the staff frequently made constructive suggestions to improve the overall functioning of the facility and the well-being of the residents. Today, however, the main topic of discussion was Martina Trujillo and her recent activities to steal diapers and other products for her family. They all knew that what Martina had done was wrong, but readily acknowledged that it was totally consistent with Señora Isabella’s character to find some way to deal with the difficult situation in a constructive manner. But, there was also not a single person present that did not understand the nature of Martina’s dilemma; many were facing similar conditions in their own homes and with their own families.

Because this meeting room was near the kitchen, Paloma Angostura frequently dropped in on these after-work discussions, typically to bring a large tray of fresh sopapillas and honey. Paloma would typically sit quietly and simply observe and listen.   She would later describe these gatherings to Matthew Dudley as her “sopapilla network”, her main source of information about what was really going on at La Vida Aureo.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Carolina. “My parents are aging quickly and so are my husband’s. We are not poor and live a relatively simple life, but we cannot afford the kind of care that they’re going to need and very soon. When I asked my Mama how they handled things with her parents, she said that she stayed home and cared for them as they aged. But, her parents died when they were in their 50s and my Mama never worked outside the home. My parents are already in their late 60s and I think they will live a long time yet.”

“The real problem, said Frida,” is the mental one. “People just used to suffer from “old age” and die before things got too bad. Now, they live a long time and they seem to lose their minds while they are not so bad physically. And, once they can no longer think clearly, caring for them becomes so much more difficult. I have heard about this Alzheimer’s, but don’t understand how it is different from old age. When I was in High School, my abuela was alive and my Mama used to say that old people are just that way. My abuela would not remember me, or she would call me by my mother’s name. But, as I got older, I started hearing about Alzheimer’s and decided that it was very different from old age.”

“I think it is some kind of brain disease, suggested Sofia. I work some shifts in the Memory Care Unit and there are younger people there with it. I guess you don’t have to be old.”

“Many evenings, when I get home from work, said Ana, we have to look all over the neighborhood for my Papa. He used to watch TV, but now he goes for a walk and gets lost, even just a few blocks away. When we find him, he doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t remember leaving the house. And, he often leaves the front door open and then we have to go find the dogs.”

“Don’t forget about the nasty behavior,” added Luna. “Both my Papa and Mama can get really difficult at times. They were so happy together for so many years and now they bark at almost everyone, even the children.”

“I can tell you about being nasty,” giggled Elena. “My abuelo says things, mostly to women.”

“What kind of things?”

“Really nasty things,” continued Elena. “He does not seem to care where he is or who he is talking to, he just says things or tries to touch women. We had to stop taking him to church after one lady slapped him for something he must have said or done.”

“Don’t forget about the accidents”, added Marissa.

“You mean like Martina’s father’s accidents?”

“No. My Papa keeps tripping and falling; I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t drink … anymore, but he keeps banging into things. We’ve rearranged the furniture many times to keep things out of his way, but it doesn’t seem to help. I’m just glad we live in a small house on one floor, with no steps or stairs.”

“I’ll tell you what really scares me,” added Sofia in a desperate voice. “I see the residents in the Memory Care Unit and how difficult daily life is for them. Most of them are in much worse condition than we are describing. But, I fear that my parents will soon be like that. I can’t afford to put them here at La Vida Aureo and, even if I could, I really don’t want to. They are my parents. I love them. They raised me and taught me respect. I will care for them for the rest of their lives. It is just overwhelming some days. I just don’t know what to do.”

After Sofia’s impassioned comments, the room fell silent. Paloma had been sitting quietly in a corner of the room, listening to all these comments. She was deeply troubled by everything she had heard. She finally spoke. “I have listened to your stories and your worries. There are many reasons to be concerned about our loved ones as they age. Each person is different and each family is different. It is obvious that there are many different kinds of problems and, like many of you, I know little about this Alzheimer’s except that it a terrible disease that robs people of their mind. I don’t have any answers for you, but will continue to make this room available so that you can meet and talk. Maybe talking about things and sharing your experiences will help. I certainly hope so.”

“It looks like my husband is here, called Carolina. I’ll see all of you mañana. Maybe things will look better in the morning. At least we can hope.”