A face to die for, p.13
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       A Face to Die For, p.13

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  Again, Gia nodded. “My parents would fall to pieces if they even set eyes on you, much less knowing our plan. I’ll go to them if and only if there’s something for us to discuss.” She polished off her own beer and then tossed her napkin on the table, leaving half her burger untouched. “Sorry. I’ve kind of lost my appetite.”

  “So have I.” Dani pushed aside her pizza. “Why don’t we call it a night?”

  Seeing the expression on Dani’s face, Gia felt a pang of regret. They’d planned two days of fun and bonding, and instead they were dealing with a sober, life-altering matter.

  “Dani.” Gia’s innate calming skills kicked in. “We’ll take the test. But whatever our answers are, we won’t know them for days, after which, we’ll deal with whatever we have to. In the meantime, let’s not waste this mini-vacation of yours. Let’s walk out of that testing center, take a deep breath, and go do all the things we talked about—from the shopping and sightseeing to dinner and a club. And let’s do it like carefree kids.”

  Gia’s words put a smile back on Dani’s face. “You’re good, Ms. Wedding Planner. I feel better already. So, you’re on. We’ll take care of business and then give the Big Apple and our credit cards a run for their money.”

  * * *

  The man pulled his baseball cap down low on his forehead as he watched them leave the Pub, climb into Gia’s car, and drive away. He turned over his ignition and followed at a respectable distance. Seeing where they were headed, he made his phone call.

  “Dinner’s over and they’re heading back to her apartment,” he reported. “Tonight’s a bad idea. Suburb is way too quiet. That means too many nosy neighbors vying to be Good Samaritans on TV news. Tomorrow, they’ll be in the city, swallowed up by the crowds and urban indifference. I’ll take care of it then.”


  Doing the DNA tests had taken far less time than Gia’s convincing the center to accommodate them without an appointment.

  Ultimately, the technician at the center had caved. Between Dani’s appeal that she was returning to Minneapolis tomorrow and Gia’s pointing out that they could have had three DNA tests done in the amount of time they were pleading their case, the technician had sought approval and gotten it.

  After presenting several forms of personal ID, filling out a gazillion forms, and finally getting the necessary doctor’s prescription for the multiple tests being run, Gia and Dani had gotten their cheeks swabbed. The technician explained to them that notification containing the results would be accessible by email and by phone using the file number assigned to them along with a secure password. So there’d be no problem accessing the results confidentially from two different cities. And since Gia and Dani had opted for express delivery, they’d have their answers two to three days from now.

  After leaving the testing center, it took Gia and Dani awhile to recapture their enthusiasm over the day ahead. But two lattes and a Fifth Avenue shopping spree later, they were in a poorer but far happier state of mind and ready to embrace the city.

  They were oblivious to the man watching every step they took.

  Green Lawn Cemetery

  Brooklyn, New York

  It was hard to believe this was Brooklyn, he thought, just as he did each time he visited the mausoleum. The city felt far away, like it was a separate world, far removed from the plush green hills and utter sense of peace that surrounded him. Silence, broken only by the occasional chirp of a bird, made it easy to focus on where he was and why.

  He knelt down at the foot of the marble crypt bearing a plaque that read:

  Angelo Colone

  July 1962 – March 2017

  “Hey, Angelo,” he whispered.

  He placed the flower arrangement against the cold stone wall. He bowed his head, tears seeping from his eyes. He stayed that way a long time, feeling the same deep sense of loss, coupled with the surreal sense that this was all a bad dream, that any minute now, Angelo would walk up behind him, slap the back of his head, and tell him to stop crying like a baby.

  That wasn’t going to happen.

  He sat back on his heels and wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands.

  “I still can’t believe you’re gone,” he said. “You always had my back—always.” He swallowed hard. “But you wouldn’t have stood for this crying shit. You’d tell me to be strong, to be the man you taught me to be.”

  He pictured Angelo as he’d last seen him—on his death bed, weak and still, his breathing shallow as death drew near. Powerful Angelo, barely there and yet still a presence. He’d called him over, whispered something in his ear.

  Only Angelo could have made him smile through his tears.

  With that vivid memory, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar, turning it over in unsteady hands. “I still can’t get over that, for all these years, you knew I’d stolen your lucky coin and you never said a word. I thought I’d really put one over on you. Then, as you were slipping away, when you told me to keep the coin but to never forget that you were always smarter than me… I…” He squeezed his eyes shut again. “I fucked up, Angelo. I created a big problem. You and I both know it. And now, with you gone, I’ve got to fix this myself. And I will. You have my word.”

  A lonely silence was his only reply.

  Le Bernardin

  155 West Fifty-First Street, Manhattan

  “Wow.” Dani couldn’t stop looking around. She’d certainly heard of Le Bernardin. It was a top-ten NYC restaurant. Its prix fixe dinner cost a small fortune. But she’d gladly charge it and pay it off on her credit card. The dining room was magnificent. It had been recently remodeled, and the traditional French aura had been replaced with a trendier look, probably to attract a younger crowd. From the large triptych of storm-tossed waves hanging on the wall adjacent to their table to the intricate panels of latticework on either side of the painting to the awesome shimmery metal and bamboo window treatments—Dani was hooked. Her mouth was already watering for the red snapper she’d read was one of the chef ’s specialties.

  “Guess I made the right choice,” Gia teased, watching Dani’s fascinated scrutiny of the restaurant.

  “Ya think?” Dani tore her eyes off the painting to meet Gia’s amused gaze. “Standing at the top of the Empire State Building was the best,” she declared. “Seeing Hamilton—I don’t how your contact managed to get tickets when the show is booked for months—that was the best. Strolling all over Central Park was the best. Well, this is definitely up there with all those bests.”

  “I’m so glad—about all the bests.”

  “I’ll say it again, you’re an A-plus event planner. You even arranged for our shopping bags to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel so we can party now and pick up later. Remind me to call you when I get married.”

  Gia laughed. “Will do.”

  “How did you pull this off ?” Dani asked, curious and enthralled at once. “I might not be a New Yorker, but I’ve done my research. Le Bernardin books a full month in advance. Yet here we are.”

  Gia’s eyes twinkled. “I’ve done a number of weddings here.” She pointed upward. “At Bernardin’s Les Salons, just one floor up. The room is stunning—all etched glass, floor-to-ceiling windows. They host elegant, s
mall affairs. So when I explained the last-minute circumstances, the maître d’ was kind enough to accommodate us. Thankfully it’s a weeknight, or we would have been SOL.” She shot Dani an apologetic look. “There’s a small catch. I’m handling a fall wedding here, and the planning stages are heating up. The chef wants a word with me after dinner. Quid pro quo. I’m sorry. It’ll be quick, I promise.”

  “No problem,” Dani assured her. “It’s a beautiful night. While you have your meeting, I’ll stroll down to Rockefeller Center. Google Maps told me it’s a four-minute walk. I’ll hang out there and wait for you.”

  “Perfect.” Gia waited as the uniformed waiter placed a glass of white wine in front of each of them.

  “I’ll be back shortly with your appetizers,” he said before politely vanishing.

  The moment he left, Dani leaned forward, her eyes still filled with an endearing childlike excitement. “What club are we going to? My feet are about to fall off, but I don’t care.”

  “You wanted trendy? Well, we’ll pick a place where the rich, famous, and beautiful people hang out—and where we can get in without a reservation. My professional ties won’t help us. Anyway, we’ll find somewhere we can dance and people watch.”

  “I’ll do a Google search while I wait for you. And if I fall in love with Rockefeller Center, I’m coming back here in December to see the tree, the display of angels, and to go ice skating.” Dani rolled her eyes in self-admonishment. “I sound like a ten-year-old, huh?”

  “You sound like a first-time visitor to the most dynamic city in the world,” Gia replied. “That’s how it should be. Now let’s savor a meal to die for and then work it off on the dance floor.”

  * * *

  Dani strolled past Radio City Music Hall, soaking in the lights, the noise, and even the crowds. She was sure that those same crowds would be annoying as hell during the morning commute. But tonight they were part of a vibrant city, and she was loving every minute of her walk. The pedestrian arcade leading to Rockefeller Center was just ahead, and it would be pleasant not having to deal with traffic but just to be a gawking tourist.

  She never saw him coming.

  In a flash, her purse was yanked violently from her arm, the strap snapping under the strain. She was shoved—hard enough for her to topple forward onto the sidewalk. Dazed, she forced her head around in time to see what looked to be a teenage boy wearing a black hoodie taking off like a bat out of hell, pushing his way through the crowd and vanishing into the night.

  A few people stopped beside her, helping her to her feet and asking if she was all right.

  Reflexively, Dani glanced down at herself, shaking like a leaf as she did. Physically, she seemed fine. Her slacks were torn, and she was covered with dirt and grit from the spalled concrete. And, yeah, her hands were scraped, bleeding a little and throbbing from where she’d hit the ground. But none of that was severe. Her nerves, on the other hand… She was so rattled she could barely focus.

  “I… I guess,” she replied, vaguely aware that, seeing she was basically fine, the bystanders were now dispersing and heading on their way. “I’m just…” She had no idea who she was talking to.

  “Do you need me to call the police?” a female voice asked. “I’m guessing your cell phone is gone with your bag.”

  Dani turned to see a college-aged girl in jeans and a T-shirt squatting down beside her. She looked sympathetic but not particularly surprised. She was the only person still hanging around the scene.

  “You’re clearly from out of town,” the girl explained. “Nobody but a tourist leaves her purse swinging freely on her arm. And nobody strolls around staring at Rockefeller Center like they’re about to start taking pictures. You’re a walking target.”

  “I suppose.” Slowly, Dani was starting to collect herself. “And, yes, I’d appreciate if you’d call the police. Also, one more call—to the friend I came into Manhattan with. She’s just a few blocks away at a meeting.”

  “Sure. No problem.” The girl took out her phone. “I’m Michelle, by the way. And I wish I could say I’d be your witness, but all I saw was a teenage kid in a black hoodie blow through the crowd with your bag. I’ll gladly tell that to the cops, but all they can do is check trash cans for your empty purse. That kid is long gone, and so is anything of value you were carrying.”

  “I’m Danielle, and yeah, I know.” Dani rubbed her arms, cold despite the fact that it was a warm night in early June. She was probably overreacting, but she’d never been mugged before. Not only was the experience miserable but she’d now lost all her cash, her credit cards, her cell phone… the whole thing sucked.

  The girl, Michelle, was kind enough to stay with her until the police showed up. Two minutes later, Gia came bursting onto the scene, visibly thrown by what she’d been told on the phone.

  “Are you okay?” she asked, gripping Dani’s forearms and eyeing her torn clothes and bleeding palms.

  “Fine.” The trembling in Dani’s voice said that she was anything but. “I just want to answer the policeman’s questions, futile as they might be, and get out of here. I have to cancel my credit cards, change my passwords, and God knows what else.”

  “Excuse me, miss?” A middle-aged man made his way over, holding up her tattered purse. “I saw a kid drop this in the trash two blocks down. I was here when he grabbed it. I doubt there’s much left of value inside, but I assumed you’d want it.”

  Dani took it on autopilot. “Thank you so much.” A hint of a smile. “The muggers in New York City are outnumbered by the kind people. I appreciate you retrieving this and bringing it to me.”

  “No problem.” He turned as the cop asked him a couple of questions, all of which he answered with the same ambiguity as Michelle had.

  With Dani’s property having been returned and a report containing what flimsy details there were in his possession, the cop was ready to call it a night. He told Dani he’d contact her if he learned anything and then got in his squad car and drove away.

  Dani muttered a thank you, but the truth was, she was barely listening. Something was off. Her purse was still zipped and it weighed too much to be half-empty.

  She unzipped it and began fumbling inside, her puzzlement increasing as she pulled out one object after another. “My wallet’s still here,” she said in amazement. She went quickly through it. “So is my cash and all my credit cards. They don’t even look touched. And my cell phone is here, too. I don’t get it.”

  Gia peered over her shoulder. “There’s nothing missing?”

  Dani rummaged around again and was about to shake her head when she froze.

  “What is it?” Gia demanded.

  Slowly, Dani’s head came up and there was a freaked-out expression on her face. “The little photo album,” she said. “It’s gone. Gia, it’s the only thing missing.”

  “Are you sure?” Now Gia was going through Dani’s purse. “Maybe the album fell to the bottom. Or maybe it fell out while he was running away?”

  “It’s not there. I went through every nook and cranny of this thing. And it couldn’t have fallen out. The bag was zipped. He had to have unzipped it, taken what he wanted, and re-zipped it before he tossed the bag away. There’s no other explanation
I can think of.”

  By now, Gia had paled. “Who would want pictures of you as a child?”

  “I don’t know. But they obviously wanted them badly enough to mug for them.” Dani raked a hand through her hair. “I don’t feel great.”

  Gia took out her phone and fired up the Uber app. “Car service,” she explained, seeing the questioning look on Dani’s face. “Neither of us is up for a long walk and a train ride. Given what’s happened, a car service is the best alternative. We’ll swing by and get our packages from the hotel, then head back to my place.”

  * * *

  An hour later, Gia turned the lock of her townhouse door and let the two of them into her apartment. They’d barely spoken during the drive home. Both of them were exhausted, creeped out, and in a bit of shock. They’d checked Dani’s purse a few more times, each time confirming what they already knew—that the photo album, and only the photo album, was gone. They’d even checked Gia’s purse to see if it had gotten mixed into Gia’s things, but only her album was there.

  Maybe the plan had been to steal Gia’s photos, too.

  Maybe the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself.

  It was a reach, but it was a scary one—one that wasn’t out of the realm of reality. Did someone else actually have an interest in their physical likenesses?

  The thought was weighing on both their minds as they made their way into Gia’s living room.

  “I’ll get you some Neosporin and a bunch of Band-Aids,” Gia said, tossing aside her purse and shopping bags and eyeing Dani’s knees. “You need to treat your cuts before they become infected.”

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