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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.

Case III: Chapter 7: Dudley Digs into the Drama

Dudley had completed his morning routine of reading the Wall Street Journal and planning his day’s activities. He decided to wait for the UPS delivery of the two cables from Amazon before attacking his ToDo list. He was troubled by the events surrounding Ms. Felicio’s death. It was certainly possible that it was just an unfortunate accident, but there just seemed to be other forces in motion that might somehow be connected, including Mr. Ramirez’s behavior and Ms. Waverly’s request to Paloma.

When he assumed the responsibilities of Handyman for the facility, Dudley had prepared a site plan for the entire complex to designate where each individual resident lived. He retrieved the floor plan for the main building from his tool box and laid it out on the table. He noted that he had discovered Ms. Felicio’s body on the first floor at the bottom of the stairs at the west end of the building. Her apartment was only a few doors down the hall from that point. Mr. Ramirez also lived on the first floor, but closer to the center of the building. Dolores Waverly lived at the west end of the building, on the second floor at the top of the stairs where he found Ms. Felicio’s body. Mary Thomas lived on the third floor across from the elevator at the top of the center stairwell. Millicent Branch lived on the first floor near the center of the building. He noted each of these locations on his floor plan and continued to stare at it hoping that something would be revealed.

He was abruptly interrupted when the UPS delivery woman walked up to him. “I have a package for a Matthew Dudley and didn’t see anyone in the reception area. Can you tell me where I might find someone?”

“I can do better than that. I’m Matthew Dudley and I’ve been expecting you. Thank you.”

Dudley opened the package from Amazon with the two cables and started for the third floor to install them for Mr. Sandoval. Millicent Branch stopped Dudley in the hallway. “You know, she says, I’ve been thinking about Ms. Felicio and I believe she committed suicide by throwing herself down the stairs. She was never happy, always complaining about something. Or maybe one those young boys she is always inviting to her room did it. I’m certain it was not an accident; it was suicide or murder.”

“Thank you, as always, Mrs. Branch, for your most helpful suggestions. I’ll be sure to mention it to Lt. Garcia the next time I see him.”

Dudley opted to walk to the third floor instead of taking the elevator. As he reached the landing on the third floor, Dudley noticed damage to one of the wooden railing posts and black scuff marks on the floor tiles. Mary Thomas’ apartment was directly across from the landing and her door was ajar. Dudley knocked on the door and called out, “Mrs. Thomas, it’s Matthew Dudley. Is everything OK?”

There was no response and Dudley gently pushed the door open and looked inside. Mary was sitting in her wheelchair by the window and was sobbing heavily. As he neared, he heard her saying, “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

“Mrs. Thomas. Are you OK? Can I get you something, a glass of water, perhaps? I didn’t mean to barge in on you, but your door was open and I was concerned.”

“No, no, I’m fine. Just leave me alone, please.”

Dudley noticed that Mary’s wheelchair appeared damaged with deep scratches on one armrest and abrasions on the main wheels. He also noticed two nearly empty wine glasses on the table and a broken chair.

“Mrs. Thomas, is there something you want to talk about? It is obvious that you are upset and I am here to listen.”

“I didn’t mean for her to die. I just wanted to teach that ungrateful bitch a lesson.”

“Mrs. Thomas, maybe you had better start from the beginning. Let me get you that glass of water. I think it will help.”

“I invited Carmine to my room for a glass of wine, telling her that I wanted to apologize for my nasty remarks. I put a large dose of muscle relaxant pills in her wine so she would feel what it is like to be numb from the waist down. I wanted to make it so that she couldn’t jog and appreciate how I feel trapped in this wheelchair. At the very least, I wanted some sympathy from Carmine. But I would not have been at all upset if Carmine fell and was severely injured so that she was confined to a wheelchair like me.”

“We had words, so Carmine gulped her wine and stood up to leave. She fell against that chair and broke its leg. She got up and staggered toward the door. At the top of the stairs Carmine lost her balance almost fell down the steps. I reached out to grab her, dragging my wheel chair to the edge, leaving skid marks on the tiles and damage to the wooden railing.”

“I feel guilty because the drugs I gave Carmine are somehow involved in her death. But, after I grabbed her, I sat there to make sure she made it down the stairs and started down the second floor hallway. As I turned to go back into my apartment, I saw Cesar Ramirez leaving an apartment and walking down the third floor hallway, toward the west stairs.”

“But, you are certain that Ms. Felicio was OK when she left here?”

“She was a bit wobbly, but OK. She must have been able to get all the way to the other end of the building. I feel so bad. At first, I really wanted to hurt her, but I just couldn’t do that to anyone.”

“Can you tell me which apartment you saw Mr. Ramirez came out of?” “It is just two or three doors down the hall. I believe it’s his buddy Sandoval’s place.”

“Mrs. Thomas, I don’t know how all this fits into Ms. Felicio’s death, but you understand that I will have to tell Lt. Garcia. He will no doubt ask you to repeat your story to him in detail.”

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Dudley for listening to me. I just had to tell someone.”

Despite the fact that he was about to do something that was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, Dudley realized that he had a perfect excuse to talk to Jorge Sandoval. Maybe Sandoval could explain why Ramirez was on the third floor and where he was going when he left.

Sandoval’s apartment was three doors to the west of Mary’s. Dudley planned to use the excuse of returning to fix the computer to inquire about Ramirez. Dudley knocked on the door and, after a few minutes, Sandoval opened it. It was apparent that Dudley had interrupted something.

Dudley was shocked by what he saw on Sandoval’s large screen TV. He glared at Sandoval and said, “I’m like that judge who said, “I don’t know the definition of pornography, but I’ll know it when I see it.” The images on your TV screen are certainly pornography. I thought your computer was inoperative.”

”It is. Look, my computer is over there on the desk and still does not work. This is my friend Cesar’s laptop that we connected to my TV.”

“Sure, the Devil made you do it? You know this use of the facility’s Internet connection is prohibited. So, before I report this to Isabella, perhaps you can tell me what’s really going on and how Mr. Ramirez is involved.”

Señor Dudley, it is just therapy, really. Before you tell Isabella; please hear me out. My good friend Cesar was having some major “man-problems”. You see, he provides regular service to a number of ladies here at La Vida Aureo, but recently was unable to perform, if you know what I mean. So, I suggested that he watch some high quality pornography to, you know, put some “lead back in his pencil”. We were using his laptop because, as you know, my computer wasn’t working and this situation was desperate. Also, by using his laptop, I could mark some of the better websites for his future use.”

“That’s very admirable of you, Mr. Sandoval; you are a true gentleman and a friend! But, I have a few questions that might be of more benefit to Mr. Ramirez than what you’ve done so far.”

“Anything I can do to help.”

“First, when was he here with you?”

“He was here all day last Sunday. We watched the football game in the afternoon and then spent the evening watching various “therapy programs” until almost midnight.”

“And, he was here with you the entire time?”

“He went back to his apartment to get one of those flash drives, but he was only gone a few short minutes.”

“About what time was that?”

“I think it was after the football game, so late afternoon, early evening.”

“OK. And, I probably don’t really want to know this, but can you please tell me the names of Mr. Ramirez’s “regulars”.”

“Certainly. He sees Miss Waverly on Tuesday and Mrs. Flores on Friday, but I don’t know who he sees on Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. Quite a variety, if I say so myself. I understand that it was Mrs. Flores who was really upset with Cesar’s, how do you say it, inability to perform. She must have really yelled at him to make him so anxious to do something about his condition.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Flores would be most upset. Do you mean Dolores Waverly?’

Si, si. She was the first, I believe.”

“Well, Mr. Sandoval, I must be going. I will think about whether I need to talk to Isabella, but suggest you be a bit more discreet with your viewing habits. I’d disconnect the big screen TV, for example.”

Gracias, but, Señor Dudley, would you fix my computer before you go?”

“OK, that is the reason I came.”

Dudley was totally shocked to learn that Dolores Waverly was one of Ramirez’s “regulars” and even more that she was likely the first. That piece of information, plus the critical location of her apartment convinced him that he must talk to her immediately. She may have some critical pieces to the mystery surrounding Carmine Felicio’s death.

Dolores Waverly did not appear particularly eager to see Dudley when he knocked on her door. “Ms. Waverly, I think it would best for everyone if we talked. I believe you have some information about your friend Carmine’s death that you haven’t shared. You can talk with me, or I can ask Lt. Garcia to come to your apartment if you prefer.”

“I had nothing to do with her accident!”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, Ms. Waverly. I am just saying that I believe you have some information that could be helpful to understand exactly what happened.”

“OK, I’ll try.” She realized that she is much better off telling Dudley what she witnessed. Under the best of circumstances, she will be able to place the blame for Carmine’s death on Cesar and really get even with him.

“I was standing in the doorway of my apartment when I saw Carmine coming down the hallway. She must have been confused because her apartment is actually on the first floor. As she reached the end of the hallway, I saw Cesar coming down the stairs from the third floor. I knew then that Carmine wasn’t confused at all, but had arranged to meet Cesar and go to her apartment. At the top of the stairs, they had their arms around each other in an embrace. Then, I saw Cesar push Carmine, causing her to fall backward, head first down the stairs landing on her head. He walked down the stairs and I guess he realized that she wasn’t breathing and was probably dead. Then, he just took off down the hall.”

“Do you know if he saw you standing there at any time?”

“I doubt it, the two of them were so wrapped up in each other, I don’t think they would have noticed anything.”

“That is helpful, Ms. Waverly. Now, perhaps you could tell me about your relationship with Cesar Ramirez.

“There is no “relationship”, besides, that is really no concern of yours, Mr. Dudley.”

“I don’t mean to be indelicate, Miss Tuesday, but it really does pertain to this situation.”

Dolores was taken about by Dudley’s calling her “Miss Tuesday”, but realized that she must proceed carefully with what she reveals.”

“I ordered some “herbs” on the Internet to stop Ramirez from his rude behavior with women. I figured if he were rendered impotent, that might make him be more respectful.”

Dudley’s first thought was relief that Dolores had not indicated Paloma as the source of these “herbs”. “I understand, but, Miss Tuesday, personal jealousy could be another explanation for your wanting to make Mr. Ramirez impotent, couldn’t it?”

“OK, I totally freaked when I found out he had a string of women that he was seeing regularly and wanted to teach him a lesson. So, I also ordered “a ton of Viagra” from the same website. My plan was to make that bastard impotent with the women he saw on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday. Then, I would “load him up” with Viagra when he came here on Tuesday. That would make him think that I was the only one he could get it up with and he would stay away from those other women.”

“I understand how his actions could be very hurtful. Jealousy is a powerful emotion and can lead to dangerous behaviors. Are you certain that it is not jealousy that is influencing your version of events regarding Cesar and Carmine outside your apartment? Were you afraid that Cesar would replace you with her?”

“No, no no! He pushed her down the stairs. I’m sure of that.”

“I will leave you alone with your conscience for now, Miss Waverly. But, if after you reflect on things, you would like to talk some more, please call me.”