A face to die for, p.18
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       A Face to Die For, p.18

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 

  “What about your security team?” Gia asked. “When will they start?”

  “Immediately. I’ll call and finalize their posts during our drive to the airport. I’ll arrange for John Nickels, one of my most experienced men, to come to the brownstone ASAP. The whole team knows him, so they can make the introductions. That way, you’ll feel more comfortable going with him when he walks you to your car. He’ll follow right behind you in his car. Don’t worry about losing him; you won’t. Just drive normally and leave the rest to John. As for the other three men, I’ll text you photos and basic specs so you’ll have all the info you need. Wherever you are is where they’ll be. Oh, and Dani, until we figure out your daily routine, either stay inside Gia’s condo or accompany her wherever she goes.”

  “I will,” Dani replied.

  As he finished packing up his case, Marc leveled a steady gaze at Casey. “I’ll call in,” was all he said before he and Patrick left the room.

  Casey heard Marc’s message loud and clear. The team needed to talk, but not while Gia and Dani were there. The elephant in the room could only be addressed when the FI team was alone.

  And that wouldn’t be until John whisked their clients out of there.

  CHAPTER 19

  Thankfully, John arrived twenty minutes later. He introduced himself, chatting a bit with the team and with Gia and Dani, making sure to put the two girls at ease.

  Catching Casey’s eye, he nodded almost imperceptibly. Patrick had filled him in. “Okay, ladies, let’s head up to Rye,” he said to Gia and Dani. “You’ve had a long day. Time to rest.”

  Gia turned to Casey. “You’ll call and tell us when you’re seeing our parents?”

  “The minute we make the arrangements, we’ll reach out to you,” Casey replied. “Expect tomorrow to be an emotional day. But it will also be day one in our information gathering.” Seeing the defensive look flash in both girls’ eyes, she clarified. “I wasn’t implying guilt on their parts. It’s always possible that an innocent person unconsciously knows something. It can only help us if that’s the case.”

  That did the trick. Gia and Dani thanked them, took their Raspberry Pis, and left with John.

  The team waited.

  * * *

  “All parties have left the building,” Yoda informed them a few moments later. “Privacy is ensured. A team meeting can commence.”

  Casey picked up her iPhone, pausing to look at Emma. “You hid your reactions and kept it together. I’m proud of you.” She pressed Marc’s number and tapped on the speaker button while it rang.

  “They left?” Marc asked without preamble.

  “Yes. You’re on speaker.”

  “We’ve got you on our earbuds now,” Patrick replied.

  Marc had fired up Ryan’s custom-made app, which muted the iPhone speaker and patched in any of FI’s earbuds within Bluetooth range.

  Instant team audio conferencing.

  “We shut the partition between us and the driver,” Patrick continued. “He’s listening to music. We can talk freely. I filled Marc in on the missing piece of this bizarre puzzle.”

  “Lina.” Emma blew out a long breath, as if she’d been holding it for hours. “I can’t believe it. I sat here and watched it, but I still can’t believe it.”

  “It must be pretty hard for you to absorb,” Patrick said. “Casey, you’re absolutely sure?”

  “I’m sure. They’re triplets.”

  “I’m sure, as well,” Claire said quietly. “Now I know why I had such a strong pull toward Gia and Dani even before they arrived. Lina. She’s the third piece of the puzzle, and the one I already knew.”

  “Gia’s and Dani’s body language, their gestures, even their intonations—I heard and saw Lina more times than I can count,” Casey said.

  “Even the light-up-the-room smile,” Claire added. “They all have it.”

  “What Gia and Dani don’t have is any idea that Lina exists.” Ryan’s intense tone and expression indicated that his thoughts were rapidly transforming into strategies. “And neither of them knew each other existed until a few weeks ago. Obviously, their adoptive birth certificates were doctored, since they each believe they have different birth dates.”

  “I wonder if their parents knew about that doctoring,” Casey murmured. “The results had to be genuine or the government never would have issued the girls passports.”

  “Right,” Ryan replied, typing some notes to himself into his iPad. “Which means the job was professionally done, with or without their parents’ knowledge. I’m leading with that assumption. But figuring out who did the doctoring isn’t first up on the to-do list. First up is ferreting out the original birth certificates. I’ll have to hack into the New York City Department of Health’s records. No sweat.”

  “Patrick and I will push the Russos and the Muranos,” Casey said. “Hopefully the information they give us will be consistent and just a small part of what they tell us. We have to find out if they’re on the up-and-up.”

  “I’ve already spoken to Dani’s parents,” Patrick said from the other end of the phone connection. “The Muranos were very puzzled as to what case we were investigating that spanned all the way from New York to Minneapolis, but they agreed to see me tomorrow morning at nine o’clock their time.”

  “I’ll call Gia’s folks the instant we hang up,” Casey said. “But putting all our heads together and getting on the same page takes priority.”

  “Yeah,” Marc agreed. “And clearly this one runs deep.”

  “Can we address a key component here?” Emma blurted out. “What are we going to do about Lina? Tell her? Tell them? They’re identical triplets. Don’t they have the right to know that?”

  “Yes—but not yet.” Casey had clearly thought this one through. “Gia and Dani are in danger. It’s possible that Lina’s ignorance of the truth is the only thing keeping her safe. We have to figure out who’s doing this and why. Until we have some handle on what’s going on, we can’t drop a bomb like this on them—or Lina.”

  “Casey is right,” Claire said. “We have too many facts to assimilate before we say something that might increase the risk.” Her gaze grew misty. “Whatever’s going on is like a minefield we have to cross. Years of lies and deceit. Darkness and death. Terrible danger. There’s so much buzz in my head right now I can’t absorb it all, much less break it down. But we have to move forward with what we’ve got, not add Lina to the mix. That will come, but not until it’s time.”

  “So we’re not talking to Lina’s parents?” Emma asked.

  “Eventually,” Casey replied. “We’ll need their help in keeping their daughter safe. And, yes, they have the right to know what’s going on. But not until we’re ready to add Lina to the equation.”

  “Lina’s not in danger right now,” Claire stated. “She doesn’t know about her sisters and they don’t know about her. Still,” she added thoughtfully, “I do think we should touch base with her again, just in case.”

  “I was about to suggest the same thing,” Casey concurred.

  “But you just said…” Emma looked confused.

  “I said let’s keep this in
vestigation contained for the time being. Let’s start with the Muranos and the Russos, plus getting the personal items we need from Dani’s apartment. I said we should keep this situation from Lina for the time being. I didn’t say we shouldn’t keep an eye on her to see where her head is and to make sure she’s blissfully ignorant of what’s going on and that she hasn’t received even the slightest threat to her well-being.”

  “And how do we do that?” Emma asked.

  “That’s where you come in.” Casey’s lips curved as she watched Emma snap to attention, her eyes bright with curiosity. “Tomorrow you’re going to be a busy girl. First, I need you to keep Dani and Gia engaged and in check. Give them a call first thing in the morning and tell them you’re on your way to Rye along with breakfast for all of you. They’ll be on edge waiting to hear from me so they can rush over to the Russos’. Put them at ease. You’re the most social person I know. Use that ability. Maybe you’ll learn a tidbit or two, or maybe you’ll just keep them distracted so they don’t fall apart.”

  “Okay, consider it done,” Emma responded. “What about Lina?”

  “Lina is part two of your social agenda. Touch base with her. Find a way to meet her later in the day, for drinks or to hang out at her place and talk. You two had no problems monopolizing the conversation at brunch the other day. Claire and I could barely get a word in edgewise. So do a repeat performance. Talk clothes, shoes, guys—whatever you want. Just get a feel for what’s going on in her life and see if there’s anything we should worry about.”

  “No problem.” Emma grinned. “I love this part of my job.”

  “I never would have guessed,” Casey replied dryly. “But Emma…”

  “I won’t mention anyone to anyone,” Emma finished for her. “Not a word about Lina to Gia and Dani, and not a word about them to Lina. I promise.”

  “Good.” Casey was convinced. “So we’re all in sync? Claire and I will check in after we talk to the Russos and give Gia a brief heads-up. Patrick will do the same after he talks to the Muranos and gives Dani a call. No details, just some bare-bones facts, quick reassurances, and a promise to discuss everything as soon as you get home. Agreed?”

  “Yup,” Marc said at the other end of the phone. “That’ll give the team a chance to get our stories straight and filter what we need to before Gia and Dani show up at our doorstep the minute we get back from the airport.”

  “Exactly. Then that’s it for now.” Casey glanced at her watch. “I want to call Gia’s parents before it gets too late. Safe flight, guys.”

  CHAPTER 20

  Just before seven a.m., Casey watched the house numbers ascend as she drove the FI van up the block. It was a quiet street in suburban New Rochelle, lined with split-level homes, the driveways filled with cars, bicycles, and an occasional tricycle or scooter. A few cars were pulling out, presumably to head off for work. There was something homey and personal about the area, a kind of Donna Reed Show sense of family and security.

  A peaceful security that Casey and Claire were about to disrupt.

  “There.” Claire pointed at a white shingled house with gray shutters and a sweeping maple tree out front. “That’s number fifty-five.”

  Nodding, Casey pulled over and parked along the curb. She turned off the ignition and took a deep breath. “This is going to be difficult.”

  “I know. I’m already feeling a sense of irrevocable change and pain,” Claire replied. “The Russos are a close family. They’re going to be badly thrown, especially since we’re catching them totally off guard. They have no idea that the case we’re here to discuss with them involves Gia and her… situation.”

  Casey stared at the house, trying to compose herself as best she could. “Remember, let’s steer clear of the heavy-duty danger and stick to the secret twin angle. Plus, no mention whatsoever of Lina.”

  “Of course,” Claire replied, acknowledging what she already knew. She and Casey had talked through their strategy—the dos and don’ts of what to say during this interview—right after Casey had spoken with Maria Russo and set things up. Still, Claire understood why Casey was now repeating herself. She needed to focus on the aspects of this meeting that she could control. The rest was out of her hands and would be have to be dealt with on the fly. Not optimal for a control freak. But Casey was Casey. No matter how things played out, she’d handle it all like the pro that she was.

  “Let’s go,” she said now, unbuckling her seat belt and glancing over at Claire. “You okay?”

  Claire gave her an encouraging smile. “Yes. And so are you.”

  Casey didn’t even pretend not to know what Claire meant. When it came to picking up on other people’s vibes, Claire rarely guessed. She knew.

  They both got out of the van and made their way up the walk, climbing the three stone steps to the front door and ringing the bell.

  A mid-fiftyish woman, dark-haired and petite, wearing a black and white shirt, black slacks, and a curious expression, opened the door. “Ms. Woods?” she asked.

  “Yes, and you must be Mrs. Russo.” Casey shook her hand and gave her a warm smile. “This is my associate, Claire Hedgleigh.” She waited while the two women exchanged greetings. “We very much appreciate you agreeing to meet with us.”

  “Of course.” Maria Russo opened the door wide and gestured for them to come in. “You have us very curious, but if there’s some way we can help an important investigation of some kind, we want to. The only thing is, we can’t make this longer than an hour. Nick and I own two delis. He needs to run them and I need to supervise the preparation of the hot food for lunch.”

  That explained the seven-a.m. meeting time.

  “No problem,” Casey assured her. “We’ll be out before eight.”

  Maria nodded. “Nick’s in the living room. I brewed some coffee and put out a plate of my homemade biscotti.” There was professional pride in her voice.

  “That sounds wonderful,” Claire replied, rewarded with a beaming smile.

  They walked through the hallway, the walls filled with family photos, the furnishings well-worn but lovingly arranged. The living room was wood-paneled with an upholstered sofa and love seat, two wing-backed chairs, and a coffee table containing a steaming pot of coffee and a large plate of biscotti.

  A man nearing sixty with graying hair and a bit of a belly protruding over his belt rose from one of the chairs. “Hi,” he greeted them. “I’m Nick Russo.” He waited while his wife made the introductions. “Please”—he gestured at the sofa—“have a seat.”

  A few minutes of pouring and fussing commenced, until the Russos were convinced that Casey and Claire were all settled and had the proper refreshments.

  Perched at the edge of his chair, Nick got straight to the point. “So what’s this about? What kind of case are you working and how does our neighborhood factor into it?”

  Casey set down her cup and saucer, meeting Nick’s gaze directly. “This has nothing to do with your neighborhood, Mr. Russo. This has to do with your daughter.”

  Maria nearly leapt from her seat. “Gia? Oh, God, is something wrong?”

  “Not in the way you mean,” Casey answered quickly. “Gia’s fine. We’re just helping her with a personal matter.”

 
Maria crossed herself furiously. “I knew something was wrong. She’s been so evasive. And she hasn’t been here all week. See, Nick, I told you something was wrong!”

  Nick gave his wife a tight nod, his own expression rife with worry. “What personal matter?” he asked Casey.

  “Her birth. What can you tell us about it?”

  Maria hesitated for a second and then turned up her palms in a gesture of non-comprehension. “Do you mean the fact that she’s adopted? Gia’s known that since she was a child.”

  Honesty and elusiveness all at once.

  “Tell us about the adoption.” Clearly, Claire sensed the same mixed message as Casey did, because she was leading the conversation in a specific direction. “Was Gia born in New Rochelle?”

  “No, she was born in Manhattan.”

  “And who handled the adoption?”

  At that, Maria lowered her gaze, fidgeting on the love seat.

  “Why are you asking?” Nick demanded. “It was a legal adoption. We have the papers to prove it. And I don’t understand why Gia isn’t asking us these questions herself. We’ve always been honest with her. She’s the center of our lives. Why is she turning to private investigators to ask these questions? And how do we know for sure that she did?”

  Casey was ready for that challenge. “We have a letter in her handwriting asking you to talk to us.” She passed it across the table to Nick. “As you can see, she’s waiting to speak to you herself. She loves you. She’s worried about you. She just felt it would be better and less emotional if we handled the initial conversation.”

  Nick read the letter thoroughly. Then, he nodded. “Okay, go ahead. Ask your questions.”

  “We need to know the details of the adoption.” Casey wasn’t mincing words. Not once she sensed the Russos were holding something back. “Was it handled by an agency? If so, which one?”

 
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