A face to die for, p.20
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       A Face to Die For, p.20

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  Emma heard Casey’s tone and got right down to business. “Gia wept on the phone with her parents before she took off to see them. Dani was a basket case waiting for Patrick to call, which hopefully will be soon. I hung out to keep her company for a while. Then, she got a call from her veterinary practice, so I excused myself and left.” Emma sighed. “I probed for as many childhood memories as I could without sounding like I was interrogating her. I have no idea if any of what I learned is significant, but I’m on my way back to the office and you’ll tell me. Oh, and I’m going to Lina’s place at six thirty for a girls’ night.”

  “Sounds like a good day’s work,” Casey said. “And you talked to Lina out of earshot?”

  “Yes. I went out on the patio when Gia and Dani were talking privately and Gia was preparing herself to talk to her parents. I don’t think they even noticed I was gone. All cool.”

  “Nice job,” Casey praised.

  “Thanks. I’ll be back soon. I’m hopping on the train now.”

  “At least you were smart enough to take it,” Casey muttered under her breath. Then, in a normal voice, she said, “See you here,” and disconnected the call. Immediately, she turned to Ryan. “We’ll fill you in on all the details of our meeting with the Russos when Marc and Patrick call in. There’s no point in repeating the story twice. Instead, you tell us what you found.”

  “It’s more of what I didn’t find,” Ryan replied.

  “Nothing in the New York County Clerk’s office?”

  “That part’s underway. I hacked in, zeroed in on closed adoptions from January to February of twenty-seven years ago, and am slowly isolating the ones that could even remotely fit the bill. We should have an answer soon.”

  “Great.” Casey frowned. “More waiting.”

  “You said that something you didn’t find was important,” Claire interrupted to ask. “What was it?”

  “Constantin Farro. The man doesn’t seem to exist. And believe me, I’ve hacked into every related database, from national birth and death records to the American Bar Association. I traced the name—spelled three different ways, in case the Russos remembered wrong—all the way back to thirty years ago. Zip. Which tells me that whoever the lawyer was who handled the adoption—assuming he even was a lawyer—used a fake name. If that’s not a warning bell that this whole adoption process was illegal, I don’t know what is.”

  “Anything else?”

  “Yeah. While I was waiting for the County Clerk results, I poked around a little into Lina’s life, just in case there was something of interest we should know. As it turns out, I didn’t have to get past page one of a Google search to start the process.”

  Casey’s brows rose. “Why would a grad student generate that level of interest?”

  “Because Lina’s father, Joseph Brando, is a New York City assemblyman who’s running for the US House of Representatives. The primaries are next week. The predictions are that he’s a shoo-in to win, both the primary and the general election.”

  Awareness dawned in Casey’s eyes. “That’s why the name Brando seemed familiar. I thought it was because I associated it with Marlon Brando. But now, I realize I must have read something about the upcoming elections that mentioned his name. What did the articles say about Lina?”

  “The basics, plus a bunch of family stuff that I need to review. There were a few great photos with her father. She’s quoted as saying she’s ready to jump in with both feet to support her father’s campaign. From what I’ve already read, it’s clear that she and her folks are close. I’m going to turn my attention to Joseph. It can’t hurt to be armed with knowledge before we decide to contact him. He’s a powerful man and needs to be approached with care.”

  “Absolutely.” Casey nodded. “Anything we learn will ease our way into that conversation. The timing is good. Lina’s parents will be consumed with the upcoming primaries. We’ll call them the following week. I’m hoping by then we’ll have more data at our disposal.”

  “Count on it.”

  Casey’s cell phone rang again, and once again, she glanced down at the number. “It’s Patrick.” She repeated the process that she had when Emma called, placing her iPhone on the table, speaker button engaged.

  “Hi, Patrick. You’ve got me, Claire, and Ryan. Is Marc with you?”

  “Yup,” Marc replied. “We’re finished. We booked an earlier flight home.”

  “Good. Patrick, how did it go?”

  Patrick sighed deeply. “Painfully. The Muranos were floored. Nora Murano sobbed as if her heart would break. I almost broke down and cried with her.”

  “The Russos were heartbroken, too,” Claire said.

  “Tell us what they knew and what they didn’t know, and whether or not you believe them.” Casey didn’t want to relive the emotions. She wanted to get to the facts. It was the only way they could help their clients.

  Patrick relayed a story that was similar to the one Casey and Claire had experienced. Shock and pain. Reluctant sharing of information and admitting how little they actually knew about the details of the adoption—just the sheer joy of having the precious child they’d always wanted. Same rules and conditions as Gia’s parents had been given.

  “Were they assigned Minneapolis as their new home?”

  “They were,” Patrick replied. “And they were told never to visit Bozeman or Manhattan because—”

  “Because the anonymous father lived or worked in those places,” Casey finished for him.

  “Exactly.”

  “What about Dani’s birth? Was she a preemie?”

  “Actually, she was a week late in her arrival.”

  “Interesting. Gia was premature.” Casey processed that bit of data. “What about adoption papers?”

  Again, Patrick gave them a report that was a mirror image of their own.

  “They shared the few documents they did have with me. I took photos.”

  “Send them to me.” Ryan jumped in. “Casey and Claire sent me photos of Gia’s papers. I want to compare the two and work with what I’ve got.”

  “Will do.”

  “How did Dani take it when you called her?” Claire asked softly, in a voice that said she already knew the answer to her question.

  “She fell apart. I told her only the basics, but I assured her that her parents loved her deeply and that they were waiting to hear from her. They understood why she was in New York, but they plan to fly here to be part of this. They won’t venture into Manhattan. They’ll fly to Westchester County Airport and go straight to Rye.”

  “I can’t blame them for coming,” Casey murmured. “The only thing worse than hearing about this is not being with their daughter to share it. We’re going to have to up security, Patrick. I have a feeling that the Muranos and the Russos are going to want to meet, my guess is at the Russos’ house. Gia and Dani are being watched. This can only up the danger.”

  “Already being arranged,” Patrick responded. “One of my guys will be meeting the Muranos at the airport and driving them to Rye. No taxis or Ubers. Too much risk.”

  “Smart move. Also, I’m going to need one or two of your guys glued to
Gia and Dani tonight. They’re going to the Russos’ for dinner.”

  “I’ll take care of it as soon as we hang up.”

  “What time does your flight get in?”

  “Five forty into La Guardia,” Marc replied.

  “Great. Rush hour.”

  “Not a problem. I asked the car service for a driver who’s heavy on the gas pedal and knows Queens like the back of his hand. I figure the Grand Central Parkway will be a parking lot. It’s his job to skirt that. I promised to make it very worth his while.”

  Casey began to laugh. “Only you would think of that. So we’ll be seeing you ten minutes after landing time?”

  “Very funny. You’ll be seeing us a hell of a lot earlier than you would have without my clever tactics.”

  Claire wasn’t feeling their levity. “Marc, did you get the items I need?”

  “All taken care of.”

  With that, Casey glanced from Claire to Ryan to her cell phone. “Anyone have additional questions or info before we hang up? Otherwise, catch that flight, hop into your Batmobile, and come home.”

  CHAPTER 22

  Emma arrived at Lina’s apartment at six thirty, wine in hand. She was pissed at herself for not having provided anything from her visit to Rye that was of major importance to the team. She had no intention of letting that happen again.

  Subtle she would be. But tonight, she’d find out not only that Lina wasn’t in danger but also something about her and her family.

  The door flew open before she could knock, and Lina hugged her in the hallway. “It’s so good to see you! Come on in.”

  “It’s great to see you, too.” Emma grinned, walking in and handing over the bottles of wine. “Red and white, as promised.”

  “Perfect.” Lina put the bottles on her kitchen counter and then scooped up a pile of takeout menus. “We can go through these and decide what we want to eat.” She handed the stack to Emma, whose grin widened.

  “I see you love cooking as much as I do.”

  Lina wrinkled her nose, a gesture Emma had seen Dani make. “I’d say that no one in their right mind loves cooking, but actually my mom is an awesome cook and she relishes her time doing it. I’d probably starve to death without her humongous doggie bags. Now let’s go into the living room and catch up.” She pointed, and Emma followed her lead.

  “I love your place.” Emma plunked the menus on the coffee table and took in the fuzzy white love seat, butterfly chairs, and bright aqua and hot pink accents. “It’s super cool and it’s very you.” Quickly, she scanned the wall of family photos, looking for a resemblance between Lina and her parents. Same coloring, same petite build as her mother, but nothing else that jumped out at her. She’d try to study the photos more closely later.

  Meanwhile, Lina looked puzzled. “I don’t understand. You’ve been here already.”

  “Nope. That was just Casey and Claire.”

  “You’re right.” Lina brightened right up. “Well, then, I’m doubly glad you suggested this. My living room is home base for all my friends who need to chill. Flop down on the fluff-couch. It’s the best.”

  Emma did just that. “This is awesome. No wonder your friends never want to leave.”

  Lina nodded, settling herself next to Emma so they could pore over the menus together. “I like having my place be the center of things. I guess that’s what happens when you’re raised in a tight Italian family. Now let’s order so you can fill me in on the latest excitement at Forensic Instincts.”

  * * *

  Half an hour later, the coffee table was filled with cartons of Chinese food and a tray of sushi, and the girls were settled on the fluff-couch, glasses of wine in hand, ready to chow down and talk.

  “How are things with you?” Emma asked, watching Lina’s face. “When we had brunch, you didn’t mention your summer plans. Are you getting a chance to chill out, maybe hang out with Brianna and your other friends, or are you working at your mom’s boutique?”

  “Mostly working at the boutique,” Lina replied, looking distracted and giving the briefest answer she could. Clearly, she was eager to end this part of the conversation and to get to the happenings at Forensic Instincts. “I love to keep busy. I’m not good at lying around. So life is good.”

  Excellent, Emma thought silently. No signs of worry or danger. The tsunami has yet to crash over Lina’s life.

  “So what’s going on at FI?” Lina quickly changed the subject, preventing Emma from asking another question. “I know you can’t get into details, but anything cool you want to share with me?”

  “The cool stuff is what I can’t share.” Emma would give Lina the update she wanted. But that was it. She was determined to keep this conversation on track. “Let’s just say that we don’t get much sleep and our lives are crazy.”

  “Well, I know firsthand how awesome you all are. How’s Casey? Claire? Everyone?”

  “Busy. Our caseload is way high. Marc’s back from his honeymoon and Patrick’s back from his family vacation, so they’re both frenetically bringing themselves up to speed. Ryan’s working on some new techno-gadgets. Hero’s being enrolled in an additional training course. All I know about it is that it’s cutting-edge, which is good because Hero always needs a challenge. And you know all the latest from Casey and Claire. We’re quite the diverse but always loyal family.” Emma made the smooth segue. “I’m sure you understand. You said your family is tight.”

  “We’re like this.” Lina held up two crossed fingers, evidently content with what she’d learned about FI. “When I was younger, I felt a little smothered and overprotected. My parents have always been very much there, my mom being the head of every school committee, my dad interrogating every guy I ever dated. It was overwhelming and embarrassing for a teenager. But now that I’m grown, I get it. It’s all about love.”

  Emma nodded. “My parents were protective, too. They died when I was just a kid. I still miss them.”

  “You poor thing.” Lina reached out to squeeze her hand. “I’m sorry if what I said brought up painful memories.”

  “Don’t be. I’m okay now, especially since I became part of the FI team.” Emma inclined her head. “Did you like being an only child, or did you ever wish you had sisters or brothers?”

  “I’m a brat,” Lina said without a drop of self-censure. “I’d hate sharing my mom and dad with anyone. So it’s good that things turned out the way they did. I sometimes wonder if they would have wanted other kids. But my mom’s pregnancy was tough. It was high risk, so she was on complete bedrest for four months. It was touch and go, so everyone was holding their breath. I suspect the doctors were pessimistic that I’d make it. I was kind of a miracle baby.”

  Emma dove into that entrée. “No wonder they’re so protective of you. They must have been terrified they’d lose you.”

  Lina nodded. “They don’t discuss it much. I think it’s still too painful for them to relive. My mom shared the story with me when I was old enough to understand and not to be freaked out. My dad got all emotional and hugged me for five minutes. I felt very lucky, but also guilty that I caused them so much pain.”

  “I’m sure their happiness ov
ershadowed their pain and worry.” Emma took a sip of her wine. “Did your mom make it anywhere close to full term?”

  “She did. I was born a week early—which apparently astounded everyone, since their idea of the best-case scenario was for my mom to carry me seven months tops.”

  “That’s pretty amazing. Are you a winter, spring, summer, or fall baby?”

  “Winter. That was another part of the saga. I was born on February third. There was a big snowstorm that day. Of course, being the troublemaker that I am, that’s when I decided to make my grand debut. When my mom went into labor, my dad went into command-and-control mode. He called his friend the police chief and got a line of police cars to lead the way. They blasted through the snow ahead of the ambulance. I was born a half hour after the hospital arrival.”

  “Wow.” Emma’s eyes widened. “Was the hospital at least close by?”

  “Not really. It was Mount Sinai. From what I heard, my dad broke the land speed record. Not to mention fighting the traffic and the snowstorm.” Lina grinned. “My dad makes the impossible happen.”

  “And you certainly know how to make an entrance,” Emma teased. She set down her glass and nibbled on a spare rib. She had to come across as interested but not interrogative. The last thing she needed was to arouse Lina’s suspicions.

  “Was your mom okay afterwards? It must have been a tough recovery.”

  “Actually, my dad says she was back to herself in no time. I guess she had to rise to the challenge of raising me.” Lina gave an impish grin, and the two girls laughed.

  “You wanted to hear about the excitement at FI?” Emma teased. “That story rivals it all. Any other over-the-top life events you want to share?”

  Lina’s eyes lit up. “I just realized you don’t know.”

  “Know what?”

 
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