A Prescription for Murder (#2)
To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
A Prescription for Murder
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
Part 3: Ambergris Caye and the Morgue
Everyone had already gone into town by the time Anthony Celine knocked on Karen’s bedroom door. “I’ll be down in a minute,” she replied when he insisted that she give him an opinion about the weather.
After having only three hours of sleep, she dressed and came downstairs. Anthony took her arm and guided her outside. “The sun, as you can see – I’m not making this up! – is shining. You need sun glasses.” He pulled a pair of aviator sunglasses from his pocket. “These are a woman’s size – for when I go out in drag. I’ll let you borrow them if you promise you won’t tell anyone where you got them.”
She laughed at him and put the glasses on. “They fit!” she said, surprised.
“Actually I borrowed them from the chambermaid. I wanted to get you out of the house and while I know that as a physician you’re used to unpleasant things, I thought I’d try to dangle something nice before your eyes.” He jokingly corrected himself. “Dangle may not have been the best word.” He pointed at a little marina half a mile down the beach. “My brother keeps the Beaglette, a small Bermuda sloop in a slip there. He collects barnacles for a hobby. He doesn’t sail. He just likes barnacles.” He laughed and she smiled at his joke. “Which is why,” he continued, “I got up at 6 a.m. to hire someone to get the Beaglette’s hull out of the water and do a little scraping. She’s fit to sail across to any one of the outlying islands, most of which belong to Belize. But if they don’t care, why should we?”
“Ah,” she demurred. “I don’t know that I’m up for sailing.”
“Sure you are. Marc and Agnes have gone to see a lawyer today. And so did Dan and I guess that means Ramona. You don’t want to stay home with me after I got up so early to get that beautiful sloop ready. The little galley is weighed down with croissants and coffee. So go get your bathing suit.”
“That’s fine for me, but I have to go into town to buy some baby formula for Clara’s little son.”
“No need for that. After I told them to clean the hull, I bought a case of baby formula and half a dozen bottles with nipples and diapers, too. They’ve already been delivered and I refuse to do it again. I even got some Poly-vi-sol with iron. And since the grocer said the baby was big enough to eat canned food, I got him a case… a variety of fruits and vegetables. Trust me when I tell you that sending flowers would have cost more.”
“You’re one hell of a doctor’s assistant,” Karen said. “I hope you sail as well.”
Anthony called the house and talked to José. “Because of the death in the household, you and the staff can finish your chores and take the rest of the day off. Just be back by six o’clock to get dinner ready. The doctor and I are going sailing,” he said, “and we don’t expect to be back before the 8 p.m. dinner. Doña Agnes and Don Marco can fend for themselves if they return early.”
“Why is it a ‘death in the house’?” Karen asked, as they returned to get her bathing suit.
“The chambermaid Louisa is Clara’s sister. Clara used to work at The Beagle, too. A few years ago. Marc and Agnes treated them as family.”
“The relationships around here are rather confusing. Tell me, are you and Marc full brothers? He’s blonde and brown eyed and you have the more traditional Roman look… dark eyes and hair. Nice grey at the temples. You have that distinguished Roman nose, his is shaped differently… smaller.”
“You are the first woman I’ve met who has seen Marc and hasn’t recognized bleached hair. He gets it touched up every two weeks. As to the Roman nose, a little rhinoplasty took care of that.
He didn’t like the Italian look. He prefers Nordic or Hellenic or something. I’ll give him this: he’s stayed with the same look for the last quarter century.”
She smiled. “To keep my date with the handsome Tony Celine I had my hair dyed ash blonde, a variation of my own natural color – the grey was covered, free of charge. So I don’t know my way around hair salons. In my line of work they take up too much time. So, nope, I didn’t realize that his hair was bleached.”
“He spends plenty to have it look natural. If you look closely you’ll see that it’s slightly darker at the crown… as a natural blonde’s would be. The waves and curls are real. Oh, he recites poetry in French and the ladies go nuts.”
Karen stuffed her bathing suit into a large make-up bag and finding many things to giggle about walked down the beach with Tony Celine. “Make sure your phone and all that GPS stuff is on,” Tony advised. “I may look like Jack Sparrow, but I’m really just a landlubber with delusions of grandeur. Normally, I’d say, ‘Turn the damned things off. The telephone is an instrument of torture.’ But… my sailing skills being what they are…” He helped her to board the sloop Beaglette.
Just after 1 p.m. as they reached Ambergris Caye and dropped anchor in an inlet, Karen changed into her bathing suit and Tony took several photos of her and a selfie of the two of them. “Let’s not bother with the dinghy,” Tony said. Karen agreed and they swam to shore.
Clouds were already forming on the eastern horizon as they walked along the beach. When it started to rain they ran to an empty shack for cover. A minute later an English couple bolted into the shack and they all laughed and talked about the weather. The couple had two full decks of cards with them which they sorted into a pinochle deck and, after clearing a place on the dirt floor, they played a few rollicking men-against-women pinochle games.
At 2:30 p..m., inside the shack, the couple invited them to ride down the coast with them in their cabin cruiser for some Belizean food. They accepted the invitation, but when they stepped out onto the beach, they were startled to see how bad the weather had gotten while they were having fun playing cards. The wind had begun to blow again and the sky from horizon to horizon was like a dark grey water-filled balloon just waiting to be pierced by lightning. The Beaglette sat nervously in a sea that was growing more turbulent. “Jesus,” Tony said, seeing the ship so much farther from shore than they had anchored it. “We’re not supposed to have much tidal change around the half-moon but a northerly wind must be pushing the water into the peninsula. Maybe we ought to pass on the Belizean food.”
Everyone said goodbye and exchanged addresses and phone numbers and then Karen and Tony entered the water and began to swim to the ship. They climbed the rope ladder and boarded the vessel, shivering with the sudden chill. Karen checked her phone while Tony went below deck to change his clothes. “Marc called,” she shouted. “Agnes is sick.” By the time she listened to all of her voice-mail messages, Tony was on deck, preparing to raise the anchor.
“What’s wrong with her?” he asked.
“I’m calling Marc back now. He left six messages. He’s hard to understand when he gets excited.”
Marc answered. “You’ve got to come back right away. Agnes isn’t well at all.”
“What are her symptoms?” .
“She can’t keep anything down. She’s even thrown up the medicine. Just plain nausea, I guess. We’ve tried everything. She says she’s tired and won’t get out of bed.”
“Is she feverish?”
“Not that I can tell. She seems cool to the touch. But what do I know?”
“I think you should take her into the hospital immediately. Tony’s raising the sails now. I can’t tell how long it will take us to get home from wherever it is we are on Ambergris Caye.” She called to Tony, “How long before we get home?”
“I’m no expert. I guess a few hours. Three maybe. But I’m no good in a storm.”
“Tony guesses three hours,” she told Marc. “When did Agnes start to get sick?”
“She had eaten huevos rancheros for breakfast. And some special jalapeño bread. We ate before 8 a.m. and left to keep an appointment with the lawyer. But right away, the breakfast didn’t sit well with her. She chewed a few antacid tablets in the car, but in the lawyer’s office she started to get some serious heartburn, so we stopped at the drugstore on the way back–-I don’t understand this! We all ate the identical breakfast. Nobody else got sick.”
“All right,” she said, “take her to the hospital. Take any medication you gave her with you and give the doctor as complete a history as you can. If he has questions, call me from the hospital.”
Karen changed her clothes and gave them enough time to get to the hospital before she called again. Marc said that his wife had finally fallen asleep and he did not want to disturb her.
“You didn’t take her to the hospital?” Karen asked, alarmed. “Take her pulse!”
“Why should I disturb her? I’m not medically trained.”
“Any human being can take a person’s pulse. You have a watch with a second hand sweep. Lightly touch her wrist… just above the heel of her hand and when you feel the beat start counting for fifteen seconds and then multiply that by four. Do it and I’ll call back in five minutes.”
Five minutes later when she tried to reach him, her call went to voice mail. It was 3:45 p.m. She looked at Tony. “This makes no sense. She was sick all morning but his first voicemail didn’t come in until 1:46.”
“He no doubt didn’t want to mess up our date. He knew how I felt about you.” He held the wheel with one hand and pulled Karen to him with the other. He kissed the top of her head. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. Marc tends to be dramatic.”
The winds were mostly favorable and they returned to the marina just after 6 p.m.. They tied down the ship and ran to the house. Karen, taking the stairs two at a time, rushed to Agnes’s bedroom. The chambermaid came into the foyer and shouted as she followed Karen upstairs, “He already took her to the hospital!” Karen, startled by the similarity that the maid’s voice had to Clara’s, looked back as she opened the door to the master bedroom, a room she had not seen before.
“Did Don Marco take her pulse?” she asked, pulling up the mosquito netting. She examined the pillows and sheets.
“He tried but couldn’t find it, he said. So he put her in the Lincoln and José drove them to the hospital. I didn’t notice the time.”
Tony stood at the top of the staircase. “Come on. I’ve got keys to Marc’s Buick. We can go to the hospital.”
“Try to get them on the phone. She needs a cardiologist. She may also need atropine in case there’s nobody qualified on duty.” She circled the bed to look at a bottle of pills that were on Agnes’s side of the bed. It was an old prescription of Marc’s for codeine that a doctor in Phoenix had ordered. As Karen returned it to the bedside table, the maid saw the corner of a piece of paper sticking out from under the disturbed bed cover. She picked it up and looked at it quizzically. She read “Cerb-e or a,” and handed the paper to Karen.
“Do you understand the word?” Karen asked.
“No,” the maid shook her head and quickly turned away.
“We’ll figure it out later,” Karen said, stuffing the paper in her pocket as she ran after Tony who was barking orders in Spanish to someone on the phone.
At the hospital reception desk Tony asked for Agnes Celine and was directed to the morgue. Karen gasped and slumped against Tony. “This is insane,” she said.
Tony supported her as he received directions to the morgue that was located at the rear of the hospital’s ground floor. There was no body on the laboratory table. Marc was not there; but the medical examiner, an elderly doctor named Cardenas, was sitting at a desk filling out papers.
“We’re here about Agnes Celine. Her doctor is here.”
“I’m Señora Celine’s cardiologist.”
The doctor looked up at her and assumed a dismissive attitude. “Have you talked to the police?”
“Then why are you here?”
“I can give you some patient history. I have no files with me but I can easily have them faxed to you, if you require them. Señora Celine had an old history of arrhythmia… specifically, bradycardia. It was under control.”
Dr. Cardenas sneered. “Then why would you prescribe flecainide acetate for a patient with bradycardia? And at a lethal dosage? There’s no mistake. She had your prescription filled at a pharmacy in Chetumal this morning.” He continued to mumble in Spanish.
Karen looked at Tony. “What is he talking about?”
“The prescription of yours that was filled at the pharmacy here.”
“What? The antibiotics for Paolo?”
“No… the one you wrote for Agnes.” Anthony Celine put his hand up, indicating that Karen should not say another word. He then spoke almost apologetically to the Medical Examiner as Karen listened with open-mouthed incredulity. Finally he turned to Karen. “He says you prescribed a medicine for slowing the heart rate of a heart patient who has a history of bradycardia, that is to say, a dangerously slow heart rate condition. This, in his opinion, constitutes gross negligence or some kind of ‘medical misadventure.'”
“What is he talking about?” Still confused, Karen again insisted, “I never prescribed such a drug for Agnes! I ordered antibiotics and a syringe for an injured man.”
Anthony tried to explain. “Not him... not the Indian man. He says you wrote a prescription in Phoenix which Agnes had filled here in Chetumal on her way back from the lawyer’s office this morning. The pharmacist gave the prescription paper to the detective – the cop you met last night. Marc gave the detective the actual bottle of pills, too. She clearly took the pills. They sent an attendant back to The Beagle to pick up the basin she vomited in. A few of the pills evidently were still intact in the vomit.”
“This is insane!” Karen groaned. “I haven’t written Agnes a prescription in months.”
Anthony spoke to the doctor again in Spanish. This time, Karen tried to listen closely to what he said. She didn’t get the question but Anthony answered, “The doctor and I went sailing.”
The doctor asked at what time they had left the hacienda. Anthony looked at Karen. “When did we leave the house this morning?”
Anthony repeated this in Spanish. Then he added, “I don’t know. That’s when I saw her. My opinion is that since she was up so late last night, she slept late and the others were all gone before she got up. I had gone to the pharmacy early to buy some baby formula. I was there when it opened at 8 a.m. and was home before 9.”
“What did you have for breakfast?”
“Typica,” Anthony said. “Steak, eggs, salsa, tortillas, coffee. I ate in the hacienda’s kitchen.”
While they spoke, Detective Inspector Juan Ruiz-Montoya entered the room. The prescription bottle was inside a police-taped evidence envelope. “We meet again,” he nodded to Karen. “I heard the last part of your conversation.”
“Agnes never talked to me about eating chile,” Anthony said in Spanish to the doctor. “My brother said that she had spoken to Karen about eating spicy food before she came down here. She had longed to eat huevos rancheros and some spicy entrees but she was extremely afraid of heartburn. She told him she had consulted Karen before they left Phoenix. That’s all I know.”
Karen understood enough Spanish to object. “She never spoke to me about food! Not in Phoenix. Not in Mexico. And heartburn comes from an abundance of stomach acid. Chile would have been good for it. She never complained of heartburn. If she had a gastric problem she’d have seen another specialist.”
The detective took Karen by the arm and led her into the hall. He spoke softly to her. “This is what they claim: the prescription which bore your signature and was written on your prescription pad was dated on September 30th and filled this morning at 9:30 a.m. here in Chetumal. She had eaten chile salsa for breakfast and had some stomach distress which she called heartburn. In the morning you were asleep and she didn’t want to awaken you because you had been up so late… as I personally can attest to. About an hour after eating she felt worse – they were in the lawyer’s office at the time – and so they stopped at the pharmacy to get your prescription filled. Dan and Ramona Duran substantiated this. The druggist asked them if they knew you as a physician and Marc spoke glowingly about your ability and said that you were Agnes’ physician for many years.” He let Karen look at the prescription bottle through the clear plastic evidence bag.
“I never wrote this prescription! It is so contra-indicated! Never! Never would I have written it.”
“I have to ask you not to leave town,” the detective said. “But I’ll drive out to the hacienda this afternoon. We can talk then.”
Near collapse, Karen whined, “What is happening?” She had during the course of her training made many mistakes… mostly omissions… that caused embarrassment for her and discomfort or inconvenience for the patient. But nothing like this. She had heard horror stories about Mexican corruption, the bribery that was necessary to get an American out of their legal system. “Oh, God,” she said, “this is a nightmare. I need to wake up.”
“We’ll talk later,” Ruiz-Montoya said, trying to calm her. He guided her back into the laboratory.
“Where is my brother?” Tony asked him.
“He’s upstairs with the hospital administrator and then he’ll probably go to police headquarters. If you want to be with him, don’t worry about Dr. Breiton. I’ll see that she gets home.”
“I brought her and I can take her home.”
“I’d like to see my patient,” Karen said, taking a step toward Tony.
Ruiz shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. They won’t let you touch the body; and if Marc Celine comes in and in his grief and confusion starts to shout insults at you, you will reap no benefit. I saw her. There’s not a mark on her… nothing to see.”
“I still want to see her.”
“Then I’ll take you back inside. After that I have a few official questions to ask. I can conduct at least part of my interview in the car, driving back to The Beagle.” He turned to Tony. “Your chivalry aside, this is a police matter. I can interview you there or at police headquarters, whatever you wish.”
“Karen has my number. When you’re ready for me just call.” He pulled Karen to him and whispered in her ear, “Do you want me to get a lawyer for you? I don’t like where any of this is going.”
“No, I’ll be fine, although I may change my mind about that lawyer.”
Tony tightened his grip around her waist and kissed her on the cheek.
Part 4: The Interrogation
Agnes Celine lay on a metal slab that the attendant pulled from a refrigerated compartment. The medical examiner pulled back the sheet that covered her naked body and indicated that Karen was not to touch the body. Traces of eye makeup that Agnes had put on in the morning were still present.
“She looks asleep,” Ruiz-Montoya said.
Karen tugged at his arm. “There’s nothing we can do here. I assume she’ll be given a full autopsy?”
The medical examiner said, “Ruiz, por favor.” He detained the detective and dismissed Karen, pointing to the door and telling her to wait outside in the corridor. Angry and uncomprehending, she left the lab, pushing the lab’s swinging doors so hard that as she walked down the hall, they continued to sweep back and forth.
Before the doors had stopped swinging, Ruiz came into the hall. “Doctor!” he called.
Karen raised her hands and gestured wildly. “What is going on?”
“Calm. Stay calm. There will not be an autopsy. After they left the lawyer’s office, Agnes got the medicine and by the time they arrived home, she had started to experience nausea as well as the heartburn that Marc had said she had earlier. They didn’t want to disturb your day out with Tony. Agnes lay on her bed and asked the maid Louisa to bring a basin so that if she needed to vomit she wouldn’t have to get up. The maid put the basin beside her bed on the floor and left the room. At some later time Agnes did vomit into the basin and continued to retch. Louisa didn’t want to remove the basin to empty and clean it for fear that while she was doing that, Agnes might throw up again. So she just left it there.” He shrugged and grinnned. “Technically, she had been given the day off.
“Later, as Marc began to lift Agnes to take her to the hospital, his foot pushed the basin under her bed. The medical examiner sent an attendant to pick it up, and there were the tablets you supposedly prescribed in the vomit. Apparently she had taken at least four tablets. The prescription called for one tablet, twice a day. Agnes, therefore, had a certain degree of culpability. Anyway, the druggist identified the medication. Marc said that her pulse had been nearly undetectable. He had to hold a mirror up to her nose to determine that she was still breathing. That’s when he picked her up and took her to the hospital. She was moribund. They did everything they could. But the officially listed time of death was 4:32 p.m.”
“He should have acted much earlier. I told him to take her to the hospital while we were leaving Ambergris Caye. He didn’t want to disturb her because he said she was finally sleeping. I insisted. Marc had said that she threw up earlier, but he assumed that this was just simple nausea. When I called again my call went to voice-mail.”
“Did he ever mention the basin?”
“No. I knew nothing about a basin until two minutes ago.”
“At this point, Marc doesn’t want an autopsy and there really is no reason to conduct one. No one suspects foul play. Marc speaks well of the care you’ve given Agnes and you are her physician of record… the recent prescription proves that. The stomach contents contained undigested tablets of flecainide.”
“But I didn’t prescribe flecainide!”
“Doctor, I’ve heard you deny that. Let’s say I believe you. Do yourself a favor and don’t continue to deny it.” He led her outside and opened the pickup-up’s door. “Buckle up.”
He began to drive out of the hospital parking lot. “Now, I’m going to put my digital recorder on the dashboard. When I turn it on, I’ll ask you questions and you won’t go into a rant about that prescription. You’ll just be sad… concerned… humble. Do you understand? I’m not going to question you about the prescription.”
Karen doubted that the detective’s solicitousness was intended to accrue to her benefit. “Maybe we should wait until Tony Celine is here.”
“This is a police interview not a public relation’s social. The interview will be conducted in private. Now do as I tell you.”
“At least I ought to have a lawyer representing me when I’m officially interviewed – in a truck or in an office.”
“I’m not asking you to trust me. I’m telling you to trust me. I want your statement and I want it now and in just the way I described… sad… concerned… humble. Don’t give me a hard time. Decisions are being made now. Help to make them in your favor!” He slowed the car, removed a digital recorder from his jacket pocket, turned it on and announced the name of the deceased, the date, time, place, his name and the name of the person he was questioning.
By answering his questions without benefit of counsel Karen felt that she would one day be the old, wrinkled victim of one of those “wrong conviction” cases that were often reviewed on television shows. Twenty years later someone would discover that she had been set up all because she was naive enough to speak to the police and simply give a truthful but easily twisted account of her part in the event being investigated. She clamped her teeth together and glared at him, wagging her head negatively.
Ruiz-Montoya began, asking the question first in Spanish and repeating it in English. “Your place and date of birth, Doctor.”
She refused to answer. He pulled over onto the road’s shoulder and reached across to pinch her nose shut. “It’s all right, Doctor,” he said gently. “The microphone is very sensitive. You can answer in your normal voice.” He released her nose.
Wide-eyed and furious, Karen tried to be sad, concerned, and humble. “I was born in Phoenix, Arizona on October 28, 1967.”
He repeated her answer in Spanish. “I require a few more personal details. Are you married?”
“I’m a widow. My husband was Henri Breiton. We were married in l987. He was, by nationality, French. We married when I was a freshman in medical school. We have one child, a daughter, Amalie who lives in France. She’s married.”
“What is your relationship with Anthony Celine?”
“I have none. He’s from Phoenix. Years ago I met him and his late wife once at a hospital fund-raising party. Agnes and Marc also attended, but we were not friends.”
“You didn’t get along?”
“No! I’m Agnes’ physician. I make it a rule not to socialize with my patients. And next you’ll ask, ‘Why then are you here?’ Anthony suggested that Agnes invite me to attend a seminar or to make an even number of men to women at the dinner table. I don’t know why. It was strictly a casual arrangement. The seminar was about coffee. That’s all I know.”
“Would you give me your academic background, including medical school and residency and any professional organizations of which you are a member?”
Again, she answered, trying to sound rational. He asked, “Have you ever been sued for malpractice or been subjected to censure of any kind… reprimand… fine… probationary term… in association with the exercise of your profession?”
“No! Never!” She had forgotten to be humble.
“That will all be checked. What did you talk about the last time you spoke to Agnes?”
“We were all at dinner. We talked about her father’s exploits, mostly. And a dog they used to have they called ‘Culebra.’ A great dane.” Karen suddenly remembered the note that the maid had found. “Wait!” she said. “Karen may have left a note. It was under a blanket on her bed. The maid saw it and gave it to me.” She pulled the note from her pocket.
The detective began to curse in Spanish and shut off the recorder. “Now we have to do this again!” he said, rewinding and erasing their brief interview. “Why didn’t you mention this sooner? What does it say?”
“Excuse me! I’m being charged with writing a prescription that killed a woman… a prescription that I know nothing about! I had a few things on my mind!” She took a deep breath and looked at the paper. “I don’t know… Cerba or Cerbe. Capital C, lower case e, lower case r, lower case b, and then lower case either a or e. That’s all. The maid didn’t know what it meant.” She showed Ruiz the note. He looked at it and put it in an evidence envelope.
“Tell me more about the dog.”
“It was a dane and very friendly. It wagged its tail so hard that it would cut its tail on the door jambs. So every room’s doorway had these bloody stripes. The English frown on cropping a dog’s ears and tail, but while they didn’t crop the ears, the tail had to go. So they had it surgically removed. What? Were you thinking of Cerberus?”
“Yes.. as a matter of fact. A three headed dog that guards the gods of the underworld.”
“That’s the sort of thing her father would have known about. He had all these exotic plants and native artworks.”
“Did you see any unusual oil paintings?”
“Unusual? No. Awful, Yes. Marc said they were his. In the dining room there were half a dozen oil paintings that illustrated the bland meals I prescribed for Agnes. Frankly, I thought he was mocking them. But maybe that’s just a coincidence. I didn’t see anything that had to do with a three headed dog.” She hesitated a moment. “I don’t mean to be nosy, but how is it that you seem to be the only detective on the force. This town must have a large police force… being a border town and all. Your exclusive involvement in this case seems a bit strange.”
“There’s a problem. We can’t take vacations in the summer when all the tourists are here and the crime rate, and missing persons, and arguments over room rates, and stolen items, and the ‘I just got stung by a jellyfish will I die?’ folks drive us crazy. It’s 24/7. But after your Labor Day, things get quiet. The kids go back to school and we have several four day holiday weekends that the younger officers who have families take as holidays. The old timers have to wait until we can take a week or two off.”
“Are you on duty now?”
“Oh, yes. And you’ve got a serious problem. But let’s get back to Cerba or Cerbe.. Could it mean Cerbatana?”
“Isn’t that a blowgun? Paolo had one in his house. It was used to prop up the mosquito netting around his bed.”
“All the Indian men have them. But they never use them as props for anything. Straightness is indispensable. The wood is hard but often brittle. He probably didn’t use it for shooting game. Nevertheless…” He took out his phone. “Excuse me one moment.” Ruiz-Montoya called the morgue. He asked the Medical Examiner to double-check Agnes’ body for any kind of puncture wound… everything from a snake bite to a poisoned dart or needle injection site.
Before they reached the hacienda, the doctor called back to say that there were absolutely no wounds on Agnes Celine’s body. He began an anti-American diatribe. “Agnes Celine died from heart failure. She was known in the medical community here. She always had an abnormally sluggish heart. The condition was certainly worsened by the ingestion of the flecainide tablets the American genius-doctor prescribed for her. We examined her stomach contents in the basin. There was no question about her having taken the pills. Since there is no criminal intent but just plain American stupidity, there will be no autopsy. Señor Celine doesn’t want his wife subjected to the procedure. Incidentally, he is being very Christian, very civilized, about this mistake. He says that before his wife ever saw Dr. Breiton she had been advised by several physicians that she would not live another year without a pacemaker. Then he took her to Dr. Breiton who managed his wife’s care so perfectly that he got fifteen more years of life and love from her. He speaks highly of Breiton and insists this is merely an accident… negligence perhaps, but without any intent to harm, there’s no crime.”
Ruiz thanked him and disconnected the call. “Could you hear what he said?”
“Yes, I picked up most of it.”
He looked at her. “Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “Don’t make things worse by blaming someone else for writing the prescription since that would indicate intent and therefore constitute a crime. I get it.”
Ruiz shook his head. “Marc the Good Christian. That’ll be the day. He’s a womanizer, a gambler, a swindler, and he’s known to use heroin. Do you remember the story from the Bible about the rich man who wants to follow Jesus?”
“Yes. I remember. He’ll do anything that Jesus asks, except give his money to the poor.”
“That’s Marc. Money is the motive. This was not an accident.”
“Is this the normal police protocol used whenever a detective has a vulnerable female suspect at his mercy? Making rash assumptions that she just might be innocent?”
“None of us is completely innocent.” He could have said this in a playful, flirtatious way. But he said it seriously and his tone put her on edge. It seemed cynical, the concluding apologetic utterance of a criminal lawyer’s summation.
Karen protested. “I’m the person who’s asked when someone dies. You’re the person who’s asked when someone’s killed. I can tell you in great detail why Agnes Celine died. It took me years of study and practice to be able to do that. Along with all our other assumptions, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing. He couldn’t have done this alone. So who at the hacienda is his ally?”
Ruiz sighed as he picked up the recorder to reset it. “Even if the prescription is deemed an act of negligence, one that is not criminal in nature, you’ll be liable for the error in civil court back in the U.S. Torts… you know that story. They also kept her vomit. It’s frozen, but in evidence.
“At this stage of the investigation I have no suspects; and you know that I cannot discuss the case with you, so don’t ask. Just go through the interview with me again and this time don’t sound like you’re giving a sermon!”
Before he clicked on the recorder, he said, “Don’t volunteer anything. Just answer my questions… in a humble tone of voice.”
They were only a few miles from the hacienda when he finished the brief interview. He shut off the recorder. Softly, but with definite urgency, he said, “You are not to leave Quintana Roo until you receive official permission. But when you are given permission to go, run – don’t walk – run across the border to Belize and fly home from there. Get the hell out of Mexico. We can continue our conversation in Phoenix. Incidentally, my father had acid-reflux or heartburn or whatever you call it. The local curandero told him to take cayenne peppers, put a dedada... a pinch… inside a little ball of tortilla dough… like a pill. He took them several times a day. I guess Marc didn’t know that. My father lived to be 84. He drowned while fishing at sea. So I get it. Chile is alkaline. It will neutralize acid. I want you to tell me anything else that happened that might have seemed odd to you… from the beginning.”
“Ok… The first thing was the invitation. Tony Celine is apparently well known in Phoenix. His wife died last year – I hadn’t known that. He casually suggested that Agnes invite me. It all seemed so pat to me.”
“You know… so conveniently arranged. Everybody knows that I never see my patients socially… it’s an opportunity for mischief, if you know what I mean. So that Agnes Celine should even invite me down here to sort of be handsome Tony’s date was odd. Why me, of all people?”
“Then at dinner there was the business about Clara having come earlier and being told that the doctor was away from the hacienda but would be returning. Clara spoke perfect English. I could even understand her Spanish. She clearly said, ‘now that the doctor has returned’ which can only mean that she had come looking for me or another physician earlier. But nobody mentioned it. And Marc shut-down the topic at that point.
“Then there was Marc’s glacially slow dressing. You could have dressed a room full of kids to go out to play in the snow before he changed from dinner clothes to his safari outfit. Especially when he knew the woman had come earlier and that her husband was seriously injured, you’d think he’d have hurried and been down in five minutes. It took more than half an hour.
“And another thing… there was no reason that Miguel or José couldn’t have driven the Jeep. Even I can drive a stick shift. I offered to drive Clara myself. But he insisted on going.”
“I’m beginning to understand why you arrived so late at the farmacia.”
“That was nothing compared to the tire. He had a tire that had an inner tube that had evidently been punctured. When it had gotten flat, I don’t know, but I did notice the Jeep earlier in the evening and it had no flat. The right front tire would have been the one that I saw most clearly when I saw the Jeep. It was not flat. But it was a British Jeep and they do things opposite…like the driver sits on the right, and the overhead lights were dimmed by flying insects… so I wasn’t absolutely sure. I mean…. this was life and death and he’s looking for a hole in an inner tube… having Miguel fill a tub with water so that he could submerge the tube to find the leak. There were plenty of tires and inner tubes around. Some were new inner tubes – and they couldn’t have been used for their new cars… new tires are tubeless.”
“Didn’t he have a spare?”
“That’s what I asked! He answered that if he had had a spare he would have used it.”
“And when you got to the farmacia, how did he react?”
“He didn’t pound on the door. He just stood there. My purpose was to wake the owner up. Thank God the owner called the police. And another thing. Clara insisted on coming with us. She was so anxious about her husband and yet she left the old woman alone with him to apply the hot wet compresses I had ordered to be placed on the wound. And how come Clara lives like a native but speaks English like a lady at the Court of Saint James?”
“That old woman would have gotten help from a neighbor if she needed it. Clara and her sister Louisa – the chambermaid at the hacienda – were raised in an English lady’s house. Chetumal is closer to English-speaking Belize than to any other Spanish city. Cancun didn’t exist in those days. Anyway, their mother was the cook. The English lady spoke Castilian Spanish. I used to get a kick out of speaking with someone who said ‘Thinco’ for five. I myself was born in Madrid and came to Mexico when I was kid and had to learn to speak Spanish.” He grinned at the little joke. “So the two girls were educated with English text books. The lady had two kids and the tutor she hired taught Clara and Luisa at the same time. As teenagers, both went to work at the hacienda, at first just as chambermaids and, when needed, as tour guides for the garden. Marc and Tony came down frequently on business… those investment opportunities… and pleasure, too, but Agnes was so rarely here that I guess the girls acquired a kind of proprietary attitude towards The Beagle. They spoke English and would boss the other servants around.” He looked at her slyly. “You know how bossy English speaking females are.”
Karen relaxed enough to smile. “Ok. Ok. That’s enough from you.”
“The girls still lived with the English lady but when she died, I think the girls assumed they’d inherit some of her property. Maybe she had told them they would leave them something – many landowners use the promise of some kind of inheritance to keep their servants in line. Who knows? When the lady’s relatives from London moved in, the girls were summarily evicted. They continued to work at The Beagle, only now they lived there as well. But two live-in chambermaids were one too many; and Clara was let go. She was pregnant and finally married an indigenous… that’s a term for native Indian… ‘indito’ is the slang… fellow who was suspected of illegally dealing in antiquities.”
“Was there ever any relationship between Clara and Marc?”
“Ahhh. You get right to the point. Well, we’re entering an area of gossip here. There isn’t a wealthy home in the universe in which there aren’t suspected relationships between owners and servants.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“I’m the investigator. I’m not supposed to answer your questions. You’re supposed to answer mine!”
“You have just confirmed that there was a sexual relationship.”
“Marc Celine is a well-known ladies’ man. He gives the impression that he’s the owner of the place. He’s a good-looking man and women seem to want to be immortalized by him as though he were Picasso. You didn’t see any portraits?”
“In the foyer I recall seeing a portrait of a fat old woman sitting in a chair. It wasn’t Whistler’s mother, but it wasn’t as bad as those food paintings.”
“That old woman was probably the grandmother who lived in the house around the time that Agnes and Marc married.”
“Ah, the fat one they got the Lincoln for. Marc mentioned her. What about Anthony? Agnes told me that he was a widower. I rather liked the guy. By the way, how is it that you speak English so well?”
“Ai, yai, yai. Gringas! My father was with Spain’s foreign service. As a kid, I went to a private school in Virginia for several years. When he retired we settled here and became citizens. Incidentally, I’m married, but I live at a men’s club. I’m sort of separated from my wife.”
“I have four children but only the first two are mine – the two oldest ones are grown and live and work in Mexico City.”
“Is this why you’re separated? The younger children that aren’t yours?”
“Are you planning to write my biography? All right. I’ll indulge you just to take a break from this messy prescription business.” He sighed. “I knew the two youngest ones – they’ve just finished high school – weren’t mine, but her lover dumped her right after they were born and she cozied up to me again. Then recently, he came back into her life, and I moved out. Despite this nasty history, I like women… not men. Blue is my favorite color and I’m an Aries. Mozart is my favorite composer and I’m a lousy tennis player.”
“Before you tell me whether you vote liberal or conservative, could you tell me if Tony was also involved in the… let’s say, ‘nefarious’ activities? And is Clara’s baby a Celine? What kind of hornet’s nest did I just fall into?” She suppressed a desire to cry. “When we get back to The Beagle, I’ll call my secretary and ask her to cancel all my appointments for the next week, although it may require much longer than that for me to get my wits back sufficiently to treat someone.”
“You’ll be fine. You’re a woman of experience,” he grinned. “So, near the end of the month will come your birthday. I hope you spend it at home. Will you please not discuss this case with anyone? I’d like to see you turn 47. By the way, what sign is that?”
“Ah! Alacrán! I should have guessed it.”