A face to die for, p.19
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       A Face to Die For, p.19

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  The Russos exchanged a nervous glance. “It was a private adoption,” Maria said. “No agency, at least not that we know of. A lawyer handled everything.”

  “What was that lawyer’s name? We’d like to speak with him.”

  Maria looked like a bird that wanted to take flight. “His name was Constantin Farro.”

  “Can you spell that for me please?” Casey waited for Maria to do so and quickly scribbled down the name. She’d have Ryan run it ASAP, along with every detail about the man that he could find.

  “Can you describe him?” Casey asked.

  “Average height and weight,” Nick replied. “Curly brown hair. Light eyes, maybe blue. A pointy nose. I don’t know what else to say. It was twenty-seven years ago. He showed us his credentials. He had a lot of experience with adoptions.”

  “That’s very helpful.” Casey jotted that down.

  “We followed all the legal steps he explained to us.” Maria was unraveling. “I don’t understand why this is coming up now.”

  “You wanted a child very badly,” Claire said with gentle certainty. “You’d tried every agency you could find. The waiting list was unbearable. This was your opportunity. So you didn’t look too deeply. You just accepted the blessing that was being handed to you.”

  Maria stared at Claire through her tears. “Exactly. How did you know?”

  There was no need to go into Claire’s abilities. “I didn’t know,” she replied. “But it wasn’t a reach. As long as you had legal adoption papers, you didn’t care who did what to make it happen.” Claire took a purposeful bite of biscotti and smiled at the flavor. “The only thing I don’t understand is how you found this lawyer.”

  “We didn’t,” Nick admitted. “He found us. Apparently he had business relationships with some of the adoption agencies we’d applied to—business that allowed him access to their files. He saw from the reams of paperwork we filled out time and time again how desperate we were. So when Gia was due to arrive, he spoke to the birth mother and approached us. As you just said, we weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Besides the legalities, we had a few rules to follow. We promised to do so. In return, Gia was ours.”

  “Rules?” Casey’s antennae went up. “What rules?”

  “We had to be part of a close-knit Italian family. We had to move to an area of the country where people were kinder and the air was clean. Bozeman, Montana, was suggested to us. We agreed to move there. We didn’t care where we lived if we could adopt Gia. It was required that we live in Bozeman until Gia was at least of kindergarten age. We were prohibited from moving to New York City or Minneapolis, where the birth father lived at various points in time. We asked about New Rochelle since our entire extended family lives here. It was approved for a later move because it was only a suburb of New York City. But like I said, we had to stay in Bozeman until Gia was in elementary school.”

  “Does Gia know all this?”

  Nick fiddled with his coffee cup. “We never went into these specifics, no. All Gia needed to know was the most important truth—that she was wanted and loved more than any child ever could be. That has never changed.” He met Casey’s gaze, his brows drawn in question. “Now that we’ve shared more details with you than we ever have with anyone else, it’s time you told us what this is about. We talked to you for Gia’s sake. Is there some loophole in the adoption we don’t know about? Because Gia is ours. She always will be.”

  Despite all the information Claire and she had acquired, Casey felt sick at what she was about to do to the Russos.

  “I don’t doubt how much you love Gia,” she said. “Neither does she. But there’s definitely an inconsistency, with her date of birth and the facts you were given. We’re not sure how deep this deception goes or who orchestrated it—or why. But it’s fact, not conjecture, and it’s illegal.”

  Maria’s lips quivered. “How do you know that?”

  There were no easy words to use. So Casey just told them as gently as she could. “Because Gia has an identical twin.” No mention of the word triplet. “They’ve been DNA-tested and there’s no room for error. Plus, given what you just told us, someone is trying to keep them apart. Her twin was also adopted and was raised in Minneapolis—one of the places you were forbidden to live.”

  Both the Russos recoiled in shock, their faces turning sheet white. If ever there was a doubt that they’d been kept in the dark about Dani’s and Lina’s existence, that possibility was annihilated by their reaction.

  “Dear God,” Maria whispered, pressing her palms to her cheeks. “A twin? How can that be? It was just Gia. We would have been told if…”

  She broke down and started to sob.

  Nick rose, walking over to stand beside his wife. He placed his hand on her shoulder in a show of comfort. But his hand was shaking violently as he held her. “The birth records are sealed. All we have are the reissued ones, with Gia’s adoptive birth certificate naming us as her parents. We don’t know anything more.”

  “We realize that,” Claire replied. “But the girls have met and have been talking. According to them, their birthdays are a month apart. Which means those are the dates you were given, which would make the idea of an identical twin an impossibility. There might have been other tampering done on the sealed birth records. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to hide the truth.”

  “Why? Why?” Nick’s eyes glistened with tears.

  “That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Claire said softly. She was almost as pale as the Russos, and her voice quavered as she spoke. “I’m so sorry.”

  “Mr. Russo,” Casey pressed gently, “were you at the hospital when Gia was born?”

  He shook his head. “We were told the biological mother wanted some time alone with the baby she was about to give up. Plus, Gia was a preemie. She had to stay in the hospital until her lungs were fully developed. She was brought to our home three weeks later.”

  “By the attorney,” Casey said.

  “Yes.”

  “Gia’s… twin,” Maria stumbled over the word. “What’s her name?”

  “Danielle Murano,” Casey replied. “She’s here visiting now, and she’s staying at Gia’s townhouse. Gia is going to come by soon—to your house or your deli, that’s up to you. She wants to talk. And she was hoping to bring Dani to dinner tonight so you can meet her.”

  “Of course.” Maria’s head bobbed up and down emphatically. “Do they really look exactly alike?” A hard swallow. “I want to prepare myself.”

  “They’re identical.” Claire knew that this was her territory. “But you’re Gia’s parents. I’m sure you’ll see and sense differences that we don’t. Mannerisms and obviously speaking voices. As we told you, Danielle is from Minneapolis.” She paused. “Do you have any questions for us, or should we leave now so you can talk to Gia?”

  “We need to talk to our daughter,” Nick said.

  “Do you have a business card so that we can be a part of this process?” Maria asked.

  “Of course.” Casey rose and gave them each a card. “Call us anytime. Our job is to help Gia find her answers. Excluding her parents is the last thing we want to do.” She went on, treading carefully. “Ar
e the adoption papers here or in a safety deposit box?”

  “They’re here. We keep them in our home safe,” Nick replied. “Why? Do you need to see them?”

  “I’d like to take photos of them, if I may. The information there might help us in our investigation.”

  “I’ll get them now.” He left the room, returning moments later with a large envelope marked: Gia. “Here,” he said, handing it to Casey.

  Swiftly, Casey removed the documents and whipped out her iPhone, taking photos of each page. “Thank you, Mr. Russo.” She handed the envelope back to him. “We truly appreciate your cooperation. We’ll be on our way now so that you can talk to Gia.”

  Claire had already risen to her feet. Her gaze met Maria’s. “Gia loves you very much,” she said softly. “She’s desperate to protect you. She knows what a shock this is. She was equally shocked. So never doubt her feelings for you, nor the fact that she regards you and only you as her parents.”

  “Thank you, Ms. Hedgleigh,” Maria whispered.

  “It’s the truth. Remember that when you talk to her.”

  CHAPTER 21

  “That went as well as could be expected,” Claire said the minute they climbed into the van.

  Casey nodded, looking a lot less stressed than she had before their meeting with the Russos. “Thanks for picking up the conversation at all the right times.”

  Claire gave her a small smile. “That’s what I’m here for.”

  “In addition to softening the blow, you also helped me get a decent amount of information. Let’s run with it. I’ll email these photos to Ryan. But before I do, I want to call Gia now.”

  “They were telling the truth.”

  “I know.” Casey pulled away from the curb and pressed the touchpad numbers as she drove. The Bluetooth would put them on speakerphone.

  “Hello?” Gia had obviously pounced on her burn phone the minute it gave its first chirp.

  “It’s me,” Casey said. She could hear Dani’s and Emma’s voices in the background—voices that stilled the minute Gia started to speak. “Claire and I just left your parents’ house.”

  “How did they take it?”

  “With emotion and strength.” Casey laid out the bare-bones bullet points of the meeting, holding off on informational details so Gia’s parents could have first crack at sharing them with their daughter—and so the FI team could weave their stories together before having a choreographed discussion with the girls. “They have a lot to tell you. Once they do, and once Patrick has reached out to Dani after his meeting with her parents, you and the FI team will get together and field any questions you have—probably tomorrow, given your plans for today and tonight. But you need to call them now. They’re good people and good parents who’ve been thrown for a loop. They’re waiting on pins and needles—to see you and later to meet Dani.”

  “I’ll call them right away.” Gia’s voice was strung tight, and she was clearly struggling with a question. “Is there anything I should be prepared for?” she finally blurted out.

  “Not in the way you mean.” Casey read between the lines, understanding fully what Gia was terrified to ask. “They had no knowledge of Dani’s existence or of any illegalities. All they wanted was their daughter. That hasn’t changed.”

  “Thank you,” Gia said, her relief coming through loud and clear. “I’ll go call them.”

  The minute Casey ended that conversation, she called Ryan.

  “Hey, boss, how did it go?” he answered.

  “Difficult but productive.” Casey handed her cell phone to Claire as she continued to speak on Bluetooth. “I’m driving back to the office now, so I’ll bring you up to speed there. In the meantime, Claire is about to email you Gia’s adoption papers. It was a closed adoption. The Russos confirmed that, to their knowledge, Gia was born in Manhattan. Constantin Farro was the attorney who handled the adoption. That’s C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N F-A-R-R-O. Both those facts should give you a leg up. Start digging.”

  Ryan whistled. “Nice job, ladies. I’ll get on it ASAP.”

  “Any word from Patrick or Marc?”

  “Not yet. And not a surprise. It’s barely eight o’clock in Minneapolis. Their meeting with the Muranos isn’t scheduled until nine o’clock central, ten o’clock our time. I’ll text you if anything changes and they call in. Otherwise, let’s see what I can accomplish in the next hour while you two brave rush hour.”

  * * *

  Tactfully, Emma excused herself from Gia’s living room. Gia and Dani needed a few moments together, and Gia needed privacy to call her parents.

  It was the perfect time for Emma to make her own phone call.

  She walked to the rear of the townhouse, eased open the sliding glass door, and stepped out onto the patio, making sure to close the slider behind her.

  Pulling out her iPhone, she scanned her contact info and tapped the necessary name.

  “Hello?” Lina sounded a little sleepy.

  “Hi, Lina. It’s Emma. Did I wake you?”

  “Emma!” All the fatigue vanished from Lina’s voice. “It’s so good to hear from you!”

  “I left you a message last night. Didn’t you get it?”

  “What? Oh, no, I’m so sorry. I was doing some work for my independent study. I researched until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Then I crawled into bed and collapsed. I never checked my messages.”

  “No problem,” Emma said. “I’ve been thinking about you, and I decided to see if you had any time today or tonight to get together and catch up. Drinks, dinner, whatever works for you.”

  “I’d love that!” Bubbly Lina was back in full force. “Why don’t you come over to my place? We’ll order in and have a girls’ night.”

  Emma couldn’t contain her grin. People told her she was exuberant? Lina was like a burst of colorful fireworks. “Sounds great. What time?”

  “Does six thirty work?”

  “I’ll be there,” Emma replied. “With a bottle of red and a bottle of white, so we’re covered no matter what food we order.”

  “Perfect. See you then.”

  Emma considered calling Casey with an update but decided to wait. Gia would be rushing off any minute to see her parents, after which she had a bunch of clients she needed to see before tonight’s dinner. And that would leave Dani here alone, anxiously waiting for a call from Patrick. Emma’s heart went out to her. She’d keep her company—and, in doing so, maybe gain more insight into Dani and her childhood that could help FI’s investigation.

  Offices of Forensic Instincts

  “I didn’t think we’d ever see home base again,” Casey muttered, grateful to see a parking spot right across from the brownstone. After a two-plus hours’ drive from New Rochelle, most of it spent in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, she was practically leaping out of her seat. Relinquishing control was not something Casey did willingly.

  “Me, either.” Claire stretched in her seat. She had a lot more patience than Casey did, and even she was on edge. “We should have taken the train.”

  “In retrospect, you’re right. I thought driving was the better choice. Never again. I can
t believe that all those commuters do this every day. I’d implode.” Casey turned off the ignition, simultaneously unbuckling her seat belt and reaching for the door handle. “Let’s see what Ryan’s accomplished.”

  The instant Ryan heard Yoda announce Casey’s and Claire’s arrival, he loped up the stairs from his lair, Hero at his heels.

  “Hey, when you called in to say there was traffic, I didn’t think you meant a standstill.”

  “Yeah, well, things went from bad to worse,” Casey said, tossing down her handbag and squatting to scratch Hero’s ears. “So let’s not waste time discussing lousy roadwork and obnoxious drivers.” She rose. “What’s happening here?”

  Ryan heard the impatient tone loud and clear. “I did some digging and have preliminary results. Where do you want to talk?”

  “Main conference room.” No surprise there. That was Casey’s favorite place to work. “Claire and I will head up there right after we hit the ladies’ room. You go grab your notes. In the meantime, I’ll try to calm down. I might even drink a cup of Claire’s herbal tea and do some deep breathing—that’s how revved up I am.”

  “Gotcha, boss.” Ryan gave her a sympathetic nod. “Be there in a few minutes.” He retraced his steps, hurrying back down to his lair.

  They’d just settled themselves around the expansive oval table, Hero lying beside Casey’s chair, notes spread across the table, tablets poised and ready, when Casey’s cell phone rang.

  She glanced at the number, then pressed the answer button, followed by the speaker button, and placed her phone on the table. “Hi, Emma.”

  “Hi.” Emma’s voice was tentative. “Is it a good time? Today is such a crazy day.”

  “It’s fine. I’m at the office with Claire and Ryan. I just put you on speaker. What’ve you got for us?”

 
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