A face to die for, p.25
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       A Face to Die For, p.25

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “You okay?” Gia asked, touching her sister’s arm.

  “Yeah. Great.” Dani gave Gia’s hand a squeeze to soften her biting reply. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be bitchy, especially not to you. I didn’t get much sleep last night. And I guess I’m still pretty much a wreck.”

  “Don’t apologize. Finding out what Gabe was doing was a major blow.”

  Frowning, Gia sipped at her own Pinot Grigio. She was worried about Dani. She’d taken this whole Gabe thing very hard. From what Dani had told her, the initial confrontation had been more of a pained confession and a plea for understanding from Gabe than a knock-down-drag-out fight between two furious lovers.

  Like Gia, Dani was stubborn and proud. She’d heard Gabe out, accepted the pretense they’d have to put on, but the real relationship? That she’d ended firmly and finally. There’d be no forgiveness—not for something of this magnitude. Dani had informed Gia that Gabe badly needed a therapist, and she wasn’t playing that role. As for pressing charges, that wasn’t something she was ready to do, not with the investigation on the line. But later? That decision was up for grabs.

  Dani had been stoic. But Gia had heard her weeping far into the night.

  And now she had to contend with yet another visit from the scumbag just so Gabe’s sicko boss believed that she and Gabe were bonding and that she was spilling her guts to him.

  Forensic Instincts had gotten Gabe a room—which he shared with his assigned security detail—at the local inn. They’d instructed him to inform Carp that he’d made these arrangements so that he and Dani could have the privacy he needed to get her talking. He sure as hell couldn’t do that at her sister’s place.

  What a crock of shit. And what a heavy weight for Dani to carry.

  “I’ll be fine, Gia,” Dani said now, turning to give her sister a stoic smile. “But I’m glad Marc is here. Otherwise, this room would be deadly silent. Plus, there’s something calming about his presence.” “Glad to hear that,” Marc said as he walked into the room. “I’ll keep things under control. Meanwhile, I wanted to let you know that the car just arrived. This way you can steel yourself.” Marc was clearly trying to ease Dani’s way. “Gabe will stay only an hour or so, just enough to keep up the pretense of him meeting your sister. The hard part will come later when you have to go to the inn. But I’ll be there, too.”

  Dani turned to face him. “How much longer does this whole charade have to go on?”

  “Hopefully, today will be it. Once you’ve had your alleged bleeding-heart visit, Gabe can call Carp and relay the story we conjured up. You’re cracking under the pressure. Yours and Gia’s parents are shattered. Everyone is terrified. All you want is to be safe and to go back to your normal, secure life. You and Gia are twins, so you’ll stay in touch, but from your respective cities. Anything more than that—including this investigation—isn’t worth the risk. You’ll be spending this weekend with Gia and then heading home. Once Gabe reports all that to Carp, he’ll be appeased and the immediate danger will be held at bay. Meanwhile, it’ll give Ryan enough time to trace the phone number for Carp that Gabe gave us. That’s a giant step closer to our answers. It’s almost over, Dani. You’ve got this. And so do we.”

  Dani nodded. “What happens to Gabe after that?”

  “He’ll go back to Cleveland to keep up pretenses. But we’ll have full-time security on him, not only to keep him from running but to see if Carp shows up in person. We’re going to get this guy any way we have to and find out the name of his boss—the son of a bitch who’s threatening your lives.”

  Green Hills Cemetery

  Brooklyn, New York

  Joseph sat on the edge of the white bench, facing the exquisitely crafted marble mausoleum that bore the name ANGELO COLONE in gold block letters. The structure was extravagant, made entirely of solid white marble with gilded touches and twin marble columns flanking it. The land on which it sat was peaceful and undisturbed—all green manicured lawns and gently sloping hills. It was an idyllic spot for eternal rest, one that bespoke the power and importance of those who resided there.

  Angelo was the epitome of that definition.

  He’d always been bigger than life, even as a boy with a legion of loyal followers—other kids standing behind him, playing stickball in the street. As a grown man, he kept that legion, expanded upon it, and climbed the ladder in a major organized crime family, a capo with a team of soldiers who did his bidding. Still, while the direction his power had taken him had been dark, his loyalty to and love for his friends and family had been indisputable and unwavering.

  Joseph was the living example of that.

  A songbird trilled in the tree overhead, and Joseph looked up, smiling as he felt Angelo’s presence. He’d planned this particular visit for the past few days, but he’d pictured it in his head since the day Angelo had passed. And now that the initial pandemonium of the primary win had quieted down, with only Donna’s and Lina’s frantic last-minute party planning as center stage, it was time to make this moment a reality.

  Time ticked by as Joseph sat, head bent, paying his respects to the man who’d been his closest friend since childhood and who’d gifted him with his greatest blessings: his family, his career, and now his future.

  “Hello, Angelo,” he said at last. “You know why I’m here. I’ve been thinking of you ever since the phone call came, and I wish you could have been there to share it with me.” Joseph interlaced his fingers, trying to put his feelings into words. “I’ve visited you here many times since you left us, and yet, this time seems the most humbling and significant—the culmination of all you’ve done for me and for my family.”

  He reached down to open the cooler he’d brought with him, taking out a bottle of Prosecco and two fluted glasses.

  “I’ve celebrated with Donna and Lina, with my campaign team, and with my constituents. But this bottle I saved to share with you. Just the two of us.” Joseph held the bottle up as if for Angelo to see. Then, sensing his friend’s approval, he placed the Prosecco back down on the bench beside him, removed the foil and eased out the stopper, and filled the two fluted glasses. He placed one glass on the smooth stone in front of the mausoleum and gripped the other in his hand.

  “I don’t know how you did it, but somehow everything good that’s ever happened to me had your hand in it. You’ve given me all my dreams, including Tuesday night’s win—and gifts that are so much more precious. Always know that I’m fulfilling my promise to you, Angelo, and doing all you asked. Jimmy is safe and thriving, and I plan to make sure he always will be. But I can never truly repay you. I wish you were here in the flesh to toast with me—I know how much you believed in my success. I miss you, my friend. But a part of you will always be with me.” Joseph lifted his glass. “To you, Angelo. Grazie, amico mio.”

  * * *

  From behind a thick cluster of trees, Jimmy watched and listened.

  He shouldn’t be anywhere near this cemetery. He’d been expunged years ago. But he loved his brother. He needed his brother. And he couldn’t stay away. So he’d crept onto the grounds, choosing a hiding place where he could pay his respects and beg for Angelo’s strength and guidance.

  He hadn’t expected Joseph to be here. Joseph would ream the hell out of Jimmy if he saw him.

 
Still, Jimmy didn’t leave. He remained where he was, listening to everything Angelo’s dearest friend had to say. As the words sank in, Jimmy squeezed his eyes shut, tears seeping out from beneath his closed lids. Safe? Thriving? He was anything but. Day after day, he battled the drowning sensation that threatened to engulf him, drag him under for good.

  Joseph could promise Angelo the world, and God help him, he believed what he was saying. But he didn’t know what he was talking about. Yeah, Angelo had been shrewd enough to keep those fucking girls under surveillance all these years—just in case. But now that “just in case” had happened? Unless Jimmy could make Gia Russo and Danielle Murano go back to their separate lives, the past would become the present, everything would blow up in his face, and his entire world would come crashing down.

  And there was no way he was getting them to back down. Not with that ball-breaking investigative firm on their payroll.

  He’d run out of options. He’d have to get rid of them. It would have to be done carefully, in two separate hits, so there were no glaring red flags about twins being knocked off. And the media coverage, especially the photos, would have to be hidden from Lina. She was Angelo’s godchild and his namesake. She had to be protected at all costs.

  Maybe it was Jimmy’s proximity to the mausoleum that made him feel so close to Angelo. Maybe it was his mind playing tricks on him. But he could actually hear his brother’s voice clearly in his head: Finish what you started, Jimmy. Make things right and make me proud.

  Jimmy would do that, no matter what it cost him. He’d make his brother proud and silence the damage he’d done twenty-seven years ago, the night he’d set this nightmare in motion.

  The night he’d killed Anthony Ponti and his wife.

  CHAPTER 28

  Offices of Forensic Instincts

  Sunday midday

  Hutch was nursing a cup of coffee in Casey’s kitchen when she appeared in the doorway, wearing a fitted, cobalt-blue Armani jersey sheath and matching heels.

  “What do you think?” she asked, turning from side to side. “Appropriate for the Brandos’ social scene?”

  Staring, Hutch let out a long, low whistle. “You look… wow. I’d like to forget the promise I made to my boss to come in for a Sunday workday, call your regrets in to Donna Brando, and peel you out of that dress.”

  Casey laughed. “I take that as a yes.”

  Hutch studied her with that intense expression of his, not sharing her laughter. “I know you told me that Emma is friends with Angelina Brando, Joseph’s daughter, which is why you’re attending this victory party. But I’m not stupid. The fact that you didn’t ask to bring a plus-one and that the whole FI team is going means this isn’t a social appearance for you. If you’re investigating the Brandos for the case you’re working on, be careful. They’re a powerful family, and Joseph Brando represents the interests and estate of Angelo Colone. That hasn’t hurt his campaign, so it probably means nothing other than the fact that the two men were childhood friends. But it does mean you should be careful.”

  Casey blinked in surprise. “I didn’t realize you’d done so much research on Joseph Brando. Pretty impressive, given I haven’t even told you what we’re investigating.”

  “You never do. That doesn’t stop me from being smart.”

  “Or humble.”

  A corner of Hutch’s mouth lifted. “Yeah, or humble.” He rose and went to Casey, threading his fingers through her hair. “Let me know if you need me,” he said quietly. “I love you. And I worry.”

  “Right back at you, SSA Hutchinson,” Casey murmured. “And you know I’ll come to you if I need to. I’ve certainly done so in the past. I don’t see that changing.”

  “Good.” Hutch drew back, tipped up her chin, and gave her a lingering kiss. “Now go catch the bad guys.”

  “Oh, I intend to.”

  * * *

  Downstairs in the conference room, the FI team started gathering, ready to hop into the van for the drive to Todt Hill.

  “I must say that we all clean up nice,” Emma said, twirling around to show off her turquoise and purple swing skirt.

  “Agreed.” Marc was wearing a deep navy suit with a blue silk tie. “Although Claire has been downstairs for fifteen minutes trying to get Ryan to sit still long enough for her to tie his tie. Evidently, he’s come up with some crucial piece of data that he wants to share with us before we leave.”

  “That sounds important,” Casey responded as she entered the room, a shiny, just-brushed Hero at her heels.

  Patrick, in a herringbone suit, smiled. “You look lovely, Casey.”

  “Thanks. So do all of you.” She turned to Marc, brows drawn in question. “Any idea what Ryan’s come up with?”

  “We’re about to find out,” Claire replied, walking in wearing a pale blue silk pantsuit and an exasperated expression. “The man is impossible. It took me four tries to properly knot that damn tie.”

  “Sorry, Claire-voyant.” Ryan strode into the room, stretching his neck to accustom it to the foreign object around it. “I didn’t mean to make your life difficult. But this find is big.” He held up a page that contained what looked to be a printout of a tiny article from an old newspaper.

  “What is it?” Casey demanded.

  “My genius, and a huge find,” Ryan replied. “We were getting nowhere with the birth certificates. Whoever falsified them did a good enough job so the real ones were obviously destroyed and gone. Dead end for us. So I’ve been simultaneously working on another angle. I’ve been researching every regional archived newspaper I could find, looking for missing triplets. Unfortunately, most of the old NYC papers are long gone, and some weren’t even being published in 1990. They were even more historic—like the Brooklyn Eagle, which was gone in the 1950s and is now up and running online just like the current newspapers are.”

  “Ryan, get to the point,” Marc said.

  “Okay, okay.” Ryan rustled the page. “I finally found this tiny clipping in an out-of-print local Bay Ridge paper. The issue was published in March 1990.” He paused, then read aloud, “Anthony and Carla Ponti were found shot to death in their Bay Ridge home last night. The killer is still unknown and at large.” He looked up, his eyes bright with discovery. “The couple’s infant triplets are officially missing and assumed to have been abducted by the killer.”

  Casey reached over and plucked the page from Ryan’s hand. Skimming the short paragraph, she said, “Based on the timing and the circumstances, Anthony and Carla Ponti have to be Lina’s, Gia’s, and Dani’s biological parents. There’s no chance of a coincidence here. Did you find anything else?”

  “Yeah. That there is absolutely no record of Ponti triplets in the Department of Health database. Their births have literally been erased—which is why I couldn’t find anything. Whoever masterminded this did one hell of a job of covering all the bases.”

  “What about the parents?”

  “Carla was a stay-at-home mom. Anthony was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It looks like he had ties to Angelo Colone.”

  “What kind of ties?” Casey wasn’t letting this go.

  Neither was Ryan.

 
“From what I can piece together, he worked for him. He did collections for Colone’s construction business. That’s about all I could find. Not exactly a prominent figure.”

  “He could have been skimming,” Patrick said. “It would certainly explain what got him killed. But even if it was a mob hit, why take the babies? Why not just leave them there?”

  “Maybe because things went wrong,” Claire answered softly. “Maybe the murder didn’t turn out to be just a simple hit. Maybe it became more complicated than that. And maybe Colone capitalized on it by setting in motion a plan that served his needs.”

  “Is that a supposition or a sensory intuition?” Casey asked.

  “More of the latter.” Claire frowned. “Colone definitely factored into Lina’s life. She’s named after him.” An intent pause. “She’s his goddaughter. As for Gia and Dani…” Claire gave a frustrated shake of her head. “There’s too much stimuli pounding at my brain. Now that we’re getting closer to the truth, the three girls’ energies keep converging in my head. I’m having trouble separating the threads.”

  “Don’t force it,” Casey said. “You always tell me that’s the worst thing you can do.”

  “That’s true.” A hint of a smile curved Claire’s lips. “Thanks for reminding me of what I should always remember but don’t.” Her smile faded. “I’m just so desperate to get to the heart of this. The sense of danger surrounding Dani and Gia is weaving in and out in an odd way. It’s as if whoever’s after them is waffling in his approach. He’s panicking. That’s a bad sign. It means he could get impulsive and do something rash.”

  “You said Dani and Gia.” Patrick looked thoughtful. “I notice you didn’t mention Lina. Is she in less danger than her sisters?”

  A shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe her energy is fusing with Gia’s and Dani’s. I can’t be sure.”

 
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