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Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”

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

“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case III: Damsels, Don Juan, Drama and Death

Case III: Chapter 1: The Queer Quartet

After several months in his new role as La Vida Aureo’s resident Handyman, Dudley had settled into a reasonable daily routine. He had an early morning exercise session with Hans followed by a healthy breakfast in the main dining room. After breakfast, he enjoyed a third cup of coffee while he read the entire Wall Street Journal. Each day, a distinguished gentleman placed the paper in the same spot and nodded to Dudley as he left the room. It was Señora Angostura who told Dudley that this gentleman was a retired senior executive with New Mexico Power and Light Company, the primary utility service in the State. He had no family in the area and opted to live at La Vida Aureo, primarily for the socialization.

After reading the paper, Dudley reviewed his ToDo list of maintenance and repair requests and assigned a priority and level of difficulty to each. He also attempted to accommodate the schedules and personal preferences of the individual residents as well as “grouping” the tasks by type (electrical, plumbing, etc.). Over these past few months, he had become familiar with most of the residents and had learned which ones make legitimate repair requests and which ones simply want to “visit”. He had come to realize that many residents, both men and women, are lonely or adjusting to this new stage in their life. He dids not object to a bit of conversation as long as it doesn’t interfere with his repair work and that it remains “above board”. As Isabella described, there are lonely people, harmless flirts and a few “desperate housewives”. Dudley had become more adept at spotting the differences and the early warning signs.

One particular morning, Dudley had to alter his schedule to urgently repair a rather nasty leaking toilet. As a consequence, he found himself reading the paper and reviewing his ToDo list through lunch. He did not notice the group of four women who had congregated at a table at one end of the room until he overheard them talking. Dudley took his dishes into the kitchen and said gracias to Señora Angostura for accommodating the change in his schedule. “I noticed four women sitting at a table. Do they come in here often?”

“Oh, yes, they are here three or four times a week. They pretend to play cards or dominoes, but they really just sit and talk with each other for several hours. I do not know them personally, but they seem very different from each other. It is none of my business, but they do not seem to like each other very much.”

“What makes you say that?”

“One time, when I went to their table to see if I could get anything for them, I was able to hear a bit of their conversation. It sounded pleasant enough, but I sensed a lot of anger in their voices and on their faces. I do not know if they are angry at each other, or at themselves, but things are not as pleasant as they seem.”

“But, they still continue to meet?”

“Yes, so perhaps I was there at a bad time.”

“Oh well, Señora, I must be on about my chores for this afternoon; buenos dias.”

Dudley decided that Señora Angostura was correct; it was none of his business and he proceeded to one of the casitas to address an electrical problem. The resident called about an hour ago to say that her power had gone out in the kitchen. He hoped that it was only a faulty circuit breaker and nothing more serious.

Over the next few days, Dudley had occasion to stop in the dining room at various times during the afternoon and each time, this same group of four women were situated at the same table. While their voices were not raised, the conversation nevertheless seemed quite animated.

On Tuesday, Dudley stopped by the dining room for a quick lunch before resuming his repair work. He preferred to eat a modest lunch of fruit in the courtyard, but a brief rain shower had forced him inside. The same four women were ensconced at their table playing cards. He glanced up to notice a man walking into the dining room; actually, this man was strutting! Dudley tried not to be obvious and to keep a straight face as he continued to watch this scene unfold. The man was probably in his mid to late 50s with classic Hispanic features of dark hair and bronze complexion. But, it was his clothes, mannerisms and actions that intrigued Dudley. He wore black boots adorned with silver with a two-inch heel and a sleeveless tee shirt that was perhaps two sizes too small. His pants appeared to be painted on and were crowned with a large silver and turquoise belt and matching buckle. As he entered the room, he nodded to everyone, whether they acknowledged him or not. He stopped at several tables, always occupied by women, and leaned over and spoke to them. Dudley noticed that he put his hand on the shoulder of several of the younger women present and seemed to lean even closer to speak.

As if guided by some sort of macho radar, the man headed toward the table where the four women sat. They had obviously noticed his entrance, but continued their card game without looking beyond their respective hands. Despite their apparent lack of interest, they were unable to deter his inevitable approach. As he stood near their table, he seemed to stand a bit taller and puff out his chest to extend his area of influence. He spoke to each of the women in turn as he placed his hand on their shoulder. With one of the women, his hand seemed to linger a bit longer and he leaned closer and spoke to her ear. There was no reaction on her part. Apparently satisfied that he had paid homage to the assembled women, or at least the ones he had chosen to bestow his charms on, he turned and began to walk back across the dining room. Dudley ducked his head in order to avoid eye contact. He was afraid that he would not be able to keep a straight face as this man strolled past. But, to no avail; the man not only stopped, but sat down across the table from Dudley.

“You must be the new Maintenance Man. My name is Cesar Ramirez.”

Dudley stifled a smile and remembered his manners. “My name is Matthew Dudley and I am the resident Handyman. Most people call me Doc.”

When he got a closer look, it was apparent that Ramirez had put considerable effort into his grooming before making his entrance. Dudley was no expert, but the man’s hair looked too black to be natural and the silver streaks seemed a bit too perfect. But, it was hard to tell for certain because of the amount of what looked like 10W-30 motor oil he used to construct the slicked-back, pompadour style. Elvis had NOT left the building!

“I come in here nearly every day to visit the ladies, but haven’t seen you here before.”

“I usually eat my lunch in the courtyard, but the rain forced me inside today.”

“My day wouldn’t be complete without taking time to say something pleasant to all the ladies and this is the best place to catch them all.”

“I noticed. You seemed to pay particular attention to that group of four ladies over there.” Dudley decided he would satisfy his own curiosity a bit.

“Oh, those four are my favorites; I call them The Queer Quartet because they are so different. The “perky” one next to the window, that’s Dolores, but she’s certainly not dolorosa; she is always happy and sees the brighter side of every situation.   Sitting across from her is Mary, the one in the wheelchair. I knew her before her biking accident. She was a real beauty then, but the accident changed her completely. And, after her husband deserted her and ran off with a much younger woman, she basically gave up. The fact the he ran off with her nurse made it that much more painful. My favorite of the four is Carmine, my Italian spice. We both have that “hot Latin blood” and she’s really something, but she always plays hard-to-get with me. Finally, the one dressed up like a beauty queen across from Carmine is Estelle-Elena. She’s a real flirt and I know she’s crazy about me from all the suggestive remarks she makes. I just don’t want to be one of her conquests; I have my pride, you know.”

“The four of them meet here two or three times a week. They pretend to play mah-jongg or dominoes or cards, but it is really just a hen-fest. They could not be more different in every way and I wouldn’t call them friends, but they seem to really need each other. I guess that’s why they continue to meet.”

That was really more information than I want or needed, Dudley thought to himself. “Well, I thank you for your time and the description of those ladies. It always helps me be a better Handyman if I know a bit more about the residents and guests.”

“No problem. I’m just trying to do my part to help out. I must be going. I go to the physical therapy room every afternoon to work out. Got to stay in shape and look my best for all the ladies. They depend on me, you know. Well, adios, amigo; I hope to see you again.”

“I’m sure.” said Dudley as he got up to leave and attend to his ToDo list. He assumed that Cesar was relatively harmless and provided a bit of entertainment and levity for many of the residents.

Case III: Chapter 3: Paloma’s Story

Dudley had a very successful day, completing a series of minor repairs, including refinishing an antique table for Mrs. Vigil. He was pleased with how well he was adapting to his new “career” and his life at La Vida Aureo. He had also rediscovered his joy of reading and there were plenty of classic novels available in the library.

On this morning, his ToDo list was relatively short and he decided to try to talk in more depth with Paloma Angostura. “Buenos dias, Señora Angostura. Como esta? I trust you are well on this beautiful morning. “

Hola, Señor Dudley. Muy bien. I am quite well, gracias.”

“I have been busy adapting to my new life here at and to my new responsibilities, but enjoying every minute. It has been an honor to know your children, and, if I am not being too forward, I would like to learn more about how you came to be at La Vida Aureo.”

“Certainly, my son and daughter always ask after you now that they know you are here under my watchful eye. They send their regards. My life has been a journey and I would be happy to share my story with you. Another coffee?”

“I am the daughter of immigrant farm workers from southern New Mexico and I am named after two cities near where they lived and worked. My father was an early participant in the Bracero Program, instituted during World War II between the American and Mexican governments to provide temporary contract agricultural laborers. For the United States, the program was a convenient way to provide much-needed labor to the agriculture industry during the war. The United States promised good wages and working conditions as well as modest benefits for these contract laborers. It also promised Mexico tighter border security to prevent persons who were not part of the Bracero Program from entering the country illegally. Mexico was concerned that this exodus would harm it own economy. Mexico also benefitted because the laborers returned with enhanced skills. Officially, the program limited the number of workers, but the promise of better wages encouraged many to enter the country illegally. Some American businesses took advantage of these individuals and their treatment and working conditions often was not much better than slavery. But, these workers were reluctant to complain because most had entered the country illegally.”

“My father was initially hired for seasonal work in southern New Mexico and, after several years, was promoted to the position of Foreman because of his skills and dependability. He was treated well by his American employer. He was able to save a portion of his wages to provide for his family who remained in Mexico. As the Bracero program was winding down, his employer offered him the opportunity to stay in New Mexico permanently as a full-time employee. With that support, he received his Green Card and eventually became an American citizen. With this stability, he was able to bring his pregnant wife to America.”

“My parents strongly encouraged me to get in education. Although I finished high school, I foolishly fell for a dashing young man and got pregnant before I could further my education. He left shortly after my second child was born and I dedicated myself to ensuring that my children had access to all the opportunities available to them that I had missed.”

“This experience and my youthful defiance broke my father’s heart and after several years in New Mexico, he died. My mother had been a capable worker and accomplished cook. She was completely adept using the food that was available and enhancing its flavor with natural herbs and spices that were available. My mother’s sister, Tia Luisa, was an accomplished Curandera and passed much of her knowledge about the use and preparation of naturally available plants and herbs. She also nurtured my understanding and appreciation of Mayan culture and tradition.”

“My mother was eventually hired as a cook for the Jaramillo family in Albuquerque. I assisted my mother in the kitchen while caring for my young children and learned much about cooking and the ability to enhance the flavor of almost any dish. Over time, my mother developed a comprehensive knowledge, not only of traditional Mexican foods but also those Castilian Spanish dishes the family preferred as well as many American and French dishes introduced by guests of the family. The Jaramillo family assisted my children to get a complete education, much more than I could afford on my own.”

When she finished, Paloma sat back in her chair and looked at Dudley. “Tell me about your story; I suspect that you are not native to New Mexico, but have an interesting story to tell.”

“I will and remind me to tell you about my own group of friends here in Albuquerque; they are not unlike the four women we were talking about recently, another Queer Quartet! Perhaps another time; I promised Mr. Sandoval that I would look at his computer; I hope it is just a loose connection. I know so very little about these new and complicated machines. I guess I’m just an old fashioned analog guy in an increasingly digital world. Isabella wants me to get a “smart phone” so she can send me messages any time she wants, but I’m resisting.”

Case III: Chapter 4: Revenge on Romeo

Dudley walked out into the courtyard and paused a moment to enjoy the warmth of the late morning sun. His ears picked up a discordant sound and he looked toward a passage way between two buildings. He saw Carmine Felicio and Cesar Romero standing toe-to-toe and apparently arguing about something. Cesar put his hand on Carmine’s shoulder and she forcefully brushed it away. He opened his arms, attempting to embrace her and she slapped him across his face. He didn’t seem fazed and broke into a wide smile. “Just stay away from me”, she shouted and turned to walk away. He reached for her arm and was rewarded with another forceful slap. She stormed away.

Cesar noticed Dudley and casually walked toward him. “My little bit of Italian Spice is having a bad day, amigo. Think nothing of it. Deep in her heart, she desires me. She knows she cannot resist my charms forever; maybe another day.”

“I am certainly not an expert on women, Mr. Ramirez, but when a woman says “No”, she usually means “No!”. It might be better if you left Ms. Felicio alone.”

“Ah, amigo, women with Latin blood are always temperamental. It is that “fire” that attracts me.”

“Nevertheless, I would advise you to stay away.” Dudley did not really want to interfere, but he found this type of macho behavior particularly offensive and it usually ended badly.

“OK, OK, I will. I’m sure there are others here who appreciate what I have to offer.”

“Please be a gentleman. I have found that it is always best to treat all women with respect.”

Still troubled by what he saw, Dudley walked back toward the main building to keep his appointment with Mr. Sandoval and his computer. Ramirez sauntered off toward the main lobby. Although it was none of his business, he shared Isabella’s commitment to the health and well-being of ALL residents. Ramirez’s behavior and attitude was not consistent with that principle and would, Dudley thought, eventually lead to trouble.

The following Monday, the Queer Quartet was once again seated at their regular table and things seemed to be proceeding peacefully, at least until Cesar Ramirez made his “rounds”. He again stopped at their table and spoke to each of them, but paid particular attention to Carmine Felicio. She didn’t respond to his attention and after a short while, he moved on to another table of women.   The four of them appeared to return to their previous activity and not exchange any additional conversation. About mid-afternoon, they all got up to leave, but Dolores sat back down. “You all can go on, I just want to sit here a while and finish my iced tea. I’m fine, really.”

Paloma noticed Dolores sitting alone and wanted to offer some solace, but reminded herself that it is “none of her business”.

Dolores continued to sit alone for quite some time and continued to look in Paloma’s direction as if she wanted to say something.

Finally, Paloma’s curiosity got the better of her and she walked over and sat down across the table from Dolores. “Miss Dolores, please excuse me for disturbing you, but you have a very troubled look on your face. Is there something you wish to talk about?”

“Oh, Señora Paloma, I am worried for my friends. I do not trust that man, Cesar Ramirez. I am afraid he is trying to push himself on poor Carmine. I have heard from other women here at La Vida Aureo that he can be quite insistent and refuses to take “No” for an answer. The way he has been talking to Carmine lately makes me afraid for her safety. He said some very sexually suggestive things to her again today. I don’t mean to bother you with my troubles, Señora, but can you suggest anything I might do to keep Cesar from hurting women and harassing them sexually?”

Paloma did not respond immediately. She certainly did not want to get involved in the affairs of any of the residents. Her role as cook was much too important to her. But, she has seen many men like Ramirez in her lifetime and knows how dangerous they can be and the pain and suffering they can inflict on women. Finally, she looked Dolores in the eye and says, “Tia Luisa taught me about many herbs and their uses. I believe I could offer you something that would “soften him” a bit, if you understand. If you were to put it in some food or drink, it might just make him a bit more humble toward women. ”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Oh, he might be angry and we would have to watch him carefully, but the women would be safe and only have to put up with his charms.”

Dolores accepted the small envelope with a powdery substance in it and thanked Paloma profusely. “I will make sure this gets in some of Cesar’s food or drink as soon as possible.”

“Please be careful, Miss Dolores. Just use a small amount to see how it affects him. We don’t want to simply trade one type of bad behavior for another.”

Dolores struggled to contain her joy as she left the dining room. She had successfully preyed on Paloma’s concern and generosity to get the herb. There were rumors at La Vida Aureo that Paloma was a curandera or maybe even some sort of Mexican witch. But Dolores now had the means to teach Cesar a lesson. Her motivation was NOT to protect Carmine, but to keep Cesar away from Carmine as well as other women. Dolores enjoyed her role as one of Cesar’s “regulars” and wanted to have him exclusively for herself. She always suspected that Cesar had a number of sexual partners at La Vida Aureo and her plan was to confront him with this fact and warn him to stay away from Carmine. Dolores knew that if Cesar took up with Carmine, she would lose him.

Dudley completed looking at Mr. Sandoval’s computer and decided it is just a faulty cable or two. He would order replacements from Amazon, even though he would prefer to give the business to the local Radio Shack. A long-time friend was the owner/franchisee of this store before he retired and Dudley always enjoyed stopping in to visit. But, since he is essentially “stranded” at La Vida Aureo, he knows that Amazon will deliver and he can complete the repairs for Mr. Sandoval.   Dudley went back to the kitchen and asked for a cup of coffee from Paloma. “I am troubled by Mr. Ramirez’s behavior.”

Si, I have noticed as well. What will you do?”

“It is not my place to interfere, but, I’m afraid if I wait, someone will be hurt. And, I don’t want to mention anything to Isabella; she already has her hands full.”

“Señor Doc, I should tell you that Miss Dolores talked to me earlier this afternoon with exactly those same concerns. She was particularly worried that Señor Ramirez would cause trouble for her friend Miss Carmine.”

“Her concern may be warranted. I saw Ramirez and Carmine arguing in the courtyard and it ended with Carmine slapping him quite hard.”

“Then, I probably did the right thing. I gave Dolores some herbs that should slow Ramirez’s desires and inappropriate behavior toward women.”

“Given his actions lately, that should help. I will make a point of keeping an eye on him over the next few days to see if there is any change in his behavior.”

“That would be helpful. I really cannot get away from the kitchen and you are able to move about. I will keep my ears open for any conversation I hear in the dining room.”

“Together, we may be able to prevent an unfortunate situation.”

“And, help Isabella at the same time.”

Dolores was Miss Tuesday (“Señorita de Martes”) with Cesar. She had always suspected that there were other women, but it was a conversation she overheard at the La Vida Aureo beauty parlor that shocked her into reality. Two women were comparing Cesar’s sexual techniques and judging his most recent performance. They freely admitted that they were sharing him on consecutive evenings, but felt a sense of justice because they kept that knowledge from Cesar. They played along with his romantic notions that each of them was “his only true love”. Cesar had given them each a “romantic pet name” which was actually a play on words for their respective day of the week! It hadn’t taken too much effort to deduce the real meaning which made their part of the charade more enjoyable. Both women also acknowledged that there were certainly other women in Cesar’s “regular schedule”, but they were appreciative for his attention regardless how preposterous it was!

Cesar arrived at Dolores’ apartment the following Tuesday evening, per usual. After rather enjoyable sex, she poured him a celebratory glass of sangria and dumped the drugs in. “The trap is set for that arrogant bastard,” she mused confidently to herself.

The remainder of the week presented Cesar with considerable challenge. He failed to perform with Ms. Wednesday, Ms. Thursday and Ms. Friday. Ms. Thursday tried to reassure him by telling him that “things happen” and “not to worry”. She told him that her late husband had similar problems, particularly as he got older. Her intended comforting words only served to infuriate Cesar. As each day passed, he became more irritated and frustrated and his foul mood was evident as he attempted his typical “parade” through the dining room. By Saturday, he was beside himself and he confided in his friend, Jorge Sandoval, who suggested that he needs some spicy porn to revive his interest and maybe learn some new techniques. “Come by my apartment on Sunday afternoon and I’ll show you some stuff on the Internet that will get your motor running again, my friend. Oh, and bring your laptop computer; my computer is down for repairs. That way, I can also place a “bookmark” for the best sites on your computer for your use at any time.”

Case III: Chapter 5: Death in the Stairwell

Monday morning, on his way to the second floor, Dudley discovered Carmine lying in the stairwell, at the bottom of a flight of a dozen stairs between the second and first floors.   She appeared hurt. Dudley called her name with no response. He decided to check for a pulse and discovered that Carmine was actually dead. Millicent Branch, who was coming down the stairs, noticed Dudley knelt over Carmine’s body, screamed and fainted.

Dudley quickly called Lieutenant Garcia to report the accident. Garcia asked Dudley to remain with the body and make sure that nothing was disturbed at the scene. “I will remain here but I need to notify Isabella as soon as possible. And, Mrs. Branch has fainted here as well. ”

After what seemed like a very long time, Frank Garcia arrived and was followed shortly by George Hernandez, the Medical Examiner.

Garcia shook his head and turned to Dudley, who was standing a few feet away so as to not interfere. “I can’t figure it, Doc. I certainly hope this turns out to be another accident. It is difficult to think about multiple deaths and that business with the drugs here at La Vida Aureo. I had always planned to try to get my aunt in here when we were no longer able to care for her at home. This is troubling.”

“I agree, Lieutenant.

“You seem to have your finger on the pulse around here. Is there anything you can tell me? Are there people you think I should talk to? This may turn out to be just an unfortunate accident, but I want to gather as much background information as quickly as possible while things are still fresh in people’s minds.”

“You should certainly talk to her friends. She plays cards with three other women residents almost daily and I think they are all friends. And, I hesitate to say this, but you should probably talk with Cesar Ramirez, another resident. I’m not sure of his relationship with Ms. Felcio, but I saw the two of them arguing just last week. In fact, the argument ended when Ms. Felicio slapped Mr. Ramirez. If you don’t need me here, I’m going to talk to Isabella and let her know what’s going on. I would appreciate it if you would also talk with her before you leave today and let he know what you plan to do.”

“Thanks, Doc, as always. I’ll make a point to talk to those people this afternoon or tomorrow at the latest. I’ll stop to see Isabella on my way out. If you think of anything else, please give me a call.”

Hernandez looked up from the body and said to Garcia, “There don’t appear to be any extraneous marks on her that would indicate foul play. It looks like she fell and landed wrong, broke her neck and likely died instantly, probably sometime yesterday evening. I’ll do an autopsy to see if that tells me anything more and I’ll do a full toxicology screen just to be complete.

“You know, Frank, I’m beginning to have my doubts about this place. I always knew that hospitals are very dangerous places, but I always thought that these fancy retirement facilities were pretty tame. I may have to reconsider my retirement plans; Scottsdale is looking better all the time!”

The next day, Lt. Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo about mid-morning and stopped at Isabella’s office to reiterate his plans for the day regarding interviews. “I plan to talk to Ms. Felicio’s three female friends and to Cesar Ramirez. I thought I’d question the three women at one time and see how that goes. If necessary, I can question them individually in more detail at a later date. Can you tell me anything about this Mr. Ramirez? I understand from Doc that he had a recent argument with Ms. Felicio.”

“That approach sounds reasonable. Mr. Ramirez is our resident Romeo. I’ve heard some rumors about his romantic escapades, but only rumors. I’ve heard nothing about him related to Ms. Felicio. I’m sure you can understand that I am very upset by this development and hope it turns out just to be an accident. I have already called a friend of mine who specializes in preventing falls with older people. If there is something we can do regarding the stairs or railings, etc. to minimize the potential for falls, we’ll do that immediately. Is there anything I can do to help? Are there any results back from the Medical Examiner?”

“I agree, Isabella; I hope this is just an unfortunate accident. No word back yet from the ME, but I’ll let you know if I learn anything significant.”

Garcia entered the dining room and paused briefly to say buenos dias to Señora Angostura. He found Carmine’s three friends, Mary, Dolores and Estelle sitting together at a table in near the window. As expected, they are a sad looking lot.

“Good morning, ladies.” As Garcia tried to open the conversation, he was met with an expected silence, but pressed delicately forward. “I understand you were all close to Ms. Felicio and I am sorry for your loss. I will try to be brief, but would appreciate anything you could tell me about your friend that might shed some light on my investigation.”

“Why is there an investigation?” offers Estelle. “I thought Carmine fell down the stairs and broke her neck.”

“This is only routine procedure. At this point, there is nothing to suggest any other explanation. I’m just trying to be thorough.”

Mary was quiet, but told Garcia that Carmine was a jogger. Dolores added that Carmine took muscle relaxants for the pain so she can run every day and that she got “grumpy” if she missed a day. Estelle sniped something about “a day without a new boy is a day without sunshine” for Carmine. “That’s the real reason she runs, to troll for young boys to bring here to screw.”

“Show a little respect, Estelle”, said Mary, angrily.

“Well, it’s true. And, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of those stallions pushed her down the stairs after discovering that she couldn’t satisfy him; young boys are like that!”

Garcia noted this exchange and could not decide whether there is any truth in it, or just women being “catty”. But, he knew he must follow up on these comments. “Can you tell me where Ms. Felicio typically ran?”

“Up near Albuquerque Academy; I think there is some sort of track or path around the perimeter of the property.”

“Thank you. On another matter, do any of you know of any connection between Ms. Felicio and a man named Cesar Ramirez?”

“That man is always pestering the ladies and is often quite rude,” offered Dolores. He has shown particular interest in Carmine judging by the way he tries to put his hands on her, even while we’re all sitting here together.”

“Oh, Dolores, you’re just jealous because he pays more attention to her than you”, added Estelle.

“I worked with him at Sandia Labs,” says Mary. He was in a different Department, but there were rumors about him throughout the Labs. I know several women personally who complained about his unwanted advances. He left Sandia rather suddenly and I was quite surprised to see him show up here. I didn’t think he could afford a nice place like La Vida Aureo.”

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, can any of you suggest any kind of physical altercation between Ms. Felicio and Mr. Ramirez?”

“I doubt it. He was too interested in Carmine and was pursuing her quite a bit”, said Dolores with bitterness in her voice.

“Thank you, ladies, for the information. That will be all for now, but I trust I can call on you again if necessary.”

“You’re most welcome, Mr. Policeman, flirted Estelle. Come back any time.”

“Oh, Estelle, stop it,” said Mary.

As Garcia looked for Cesar Ramirez, he realized that Ms. Felicio’s friends had given him several things to follow up on. He definitely wanted to look into Ms. Felicio’s daily running routine and thought he had the ideal way to pursue that topic. The women had also given him some additional insight into this Ramirez character which supported Dudley’s comments. He would have to approach that interview with caution and also see what he could learn about the situation at Sandia Labs.

Garcia caught up with Cesar Ramirez in the main lobby. “Mr. Ramirez, my name is Lieutenant Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit. I’m looking into the recent death of Carmine Felicio and would like to ask you a few questions. Perhaps we could we sit at that small table over by the window?”

“Certainly, Lieutenant. I would be happy to help. I was upset to hear about her accident.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez. Let’s start with how you came to know Ms. Felicio.”

“I first met her here at La Vida Aureo, probably in the dining room with her friends. They gather almost every day and that’s probably where I first met her, with them.”

“I just had the opportunity to meet those ladies myself. They seem like a congenial bunch, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I really don’t know that much about any of them, except to say “Hello” in the dining room.”

“I see. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Ms. Felicio; were you friends or just acquaintances?”

“As I said, Lieutenant, I really don’t know any of them very well, including Ms. Felicio. We may have exchanged words about the weather, or some such, but really nothing more.”

“OK, just one more question. Can you tell me where you were on Sunday evening, say, after dinner time until about midnight?”

“I had dinner in the dining room and then went straight to my room and watched TV alone until I went to bed about 10 o’clock.”

“Can anyone confirm that you spent the evening alone in your room?”

“No. Are you implying that Ms. Felicio’s death was NOT an accident or that I had anything to do with it?

“Certainly not, Mr. Ramirez. I’m just trying to do my job and be thorough about gathering information. One final question, if you don’t mind. I’ve started looking into retirement places for my aunt and am considering La Vida Aureo. Can you tell me how you came to choose this place over all the other ones available in Albuquerque?”

“OK. I’ll consider your question just part of being a good cop. For your other question, I chose La Vida Aureo because it absolutely has the best facilities around. ”

“I’ve heard it has an excellent reputation, but that it’s also very expensive.”

“It is expensive, but as a former senior manager at Sandia Labs, I have a good pension. And, they offered me a nice package to take retirement early, which allowed me to move here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez for your time and the information. I assume that if I have any additional questions, I can easily find you here?”

“I’m always here, but I doubt if I can add anything else.”

Garcia stopped at Isabella’s office on his way out. Dudley was there. “Doc, I’m glad you suggested I talk to Mr. Ramirez. He was very evasive in his comments and cannot account for his time for much of yesterday evening; he says he was alone watching TV. He also said he barely knew Ms. Felicio, which is different from what you told me, Doc. He told me he moved to La Vida Aureo after his early retirement from Sandia Labs where he was some sort of mid-level manager and I’ll need to check that out.”

“I can help there, offered Isabella. I know the Human Resources Director at Sandia and I’ll call here to see what I can learn about our Resident Romeo’s time there, particularly whether there were any complaints about his behavior. If she’ll tell me, I’ll also see what I can learn about the situation surrounding his “early retirement.”