A face to die for, p.26
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       A Face to Die For, p.26

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 

  “Up until now, we’ve kept Lina in the dark. It’s time that changed,” Marc stated flatly. “We’ve got to talk to her—but not until after we confront Joseph. If we go to Lina first, she’ll run straight to her parents and we’ll lose the element of surprise.” A frown. “Still, we can’t confront Joseph Brando without being supported by ironclad facts. He’s a lawyer. He’ll either clam up or spout some well-rehearsed bullshit at us.”

  Casey sighed. “You’re right. Lina and her parents have to be spoken to. But we do need proof. How do you suggest we get it? Joseph Brando isn’t about to offer up a DNA sample.”

  “We don’t need him to,” Marc replied. “We need to prove the girls are triplets. That will call Lina’s birth certificate into question—along with the claim that she’s an only child—and it will disprove the elaborate story Lina told Emma about her birth. All that will force Joseph’s hand—to be tested or to tell the truth. We already have Gia’s and Dani’s DNA analysis. We just need Lina’s.”

  “And you think she’s just going to open wide and give us a cheek swab, no questions asked?” Ryan asked wryly.

  “Obviously not. We’ll have to figure out another way.”

  “I’ll get her DNA sample,” Emma said.

  Everyone’s head snapped around in surprise, and all eyes were on Emma.

  “Stop looking so stunned,” she responded to their startled expressions. “You keep forgetting how resourceful I am. Pickpockets have deft fingers. Plus, I’ve done my research. Ryan taught me that skill when we worked Brianna’s case.”

  “Go on,” Patrick said.

  “As you know, there are other ways to get a DNA sample. One of those ways is through a strand of hair.”

  “Emma,” Marc said patiently. “I’m impressed by your resourcefulness. But I don’t think you realize what getting a hair sample means. You can’t just pluck a stray hair off Lina’s shirt. You—”

  “Need the hair root,” Emma supplied. “Yes, I know. And I’ll get it.”

  “How?” Now it was Casey who sounded intrigued. “Don’t you think she’ll notice if you pluck an entire strand of hair out of her head? Trust me, it hurts like hell.”

  “Uh-huh.” Emma grinned like the Cheshire cat. “And how would you know that?”

  “Because I’ve done it myself. If I happen to spot a…” Casey’s voice trailed off as realization dawned in her eyes. “You’re going to notice an imaginary gray hair in Lina’s head and do her the great service of getting rid of it.”

  Emma tapped her nose in a spot-on gesture. “One trip to the ladies’ room—which is guaranteed since we’re female—and I’ll get the job done. I’ll drop the hair right in a paper envelope, seal it, and give it to you to send out for lab analysis. I won’t use a Ziploc, since those don’t allow the proper airflow. Envelopes are recommended, so an envelope it is. I know a cheek swab is the best way to go, but this method has a high success rate if handled correctly. So, with a modicum of luck, we’ll have the proof we need.”

  Marc’s brows rose in a rare show of admiration. “Nice research and smart, creative thinking. You’re right—we don’t give you enough credit. We keep forgetting we have our own in-house Artful Dodger.”

  “Terrific plan, Emma,” Casey praised. “Now the only problem will be getting the lab work done faster than ASAP without providing any specifics or raising any red flags. That’s going to require pulling some strings and going to the right facility.”

  “I think I have the answer to that one,” Marc replied.

  Casey held up a palm. “Please don’t suggest Hutch. I can’t compromise him by asking for FBI resources again, not for something like this.”

  Marc arched a brow. “I used to work with Hutch at the BAU, remember? I know the FBI’s rules, and I only ask him to break them in extreme circumstances—like the time when your life was on the line. Hutch is a close friend—one I introduced to you if you recall. No, I wasn’t even thinking of him. The person I was thinking of is Aidan.”

  “Aidan.” Casey was nodding even as she spoke. The choice was logical. Marc’s brother was responsible for troubleshooting the labyrinthine communications infrastructure at Heckman Flax, the largest investment bank in the world. He was also former Marine Special Ops, with specialized training in communication and intelligence. Between the two roles, Aidan had a wealth of contacts worldwide and more resources than Marc could count. If some of those resources seemed outside the box, Marc didn’t ask and Aidan didn’t say. But he’d assisted FI on more than one of their cases, most recently orchestrating a life-threatening rescue.

  “Will Aidan do it?” Casey asked, skipping over the word can, since they all knew Aidan could do pretty much anything. “And is he in the country?”

  “Yes and yes.” Marc’s mind was already on the best way to get Aidan alone long enough to elicit his help. “We’re going to see him in about an hour.”

  Casey blinked. “He’s attending the Brando party?”

  “Not happily, but he’ll be there representing Heckman Flax. They’re big on the philosophy that a strong technology infrastructure is important for business, particularly their business. As a result, they’re big supporters of Joseph’s campaign. One of their high-level execs had to be roped in to be the face of the company. And my lucky brother fit the bill.” Marc whipped out his cell. “Give me a second.” He tapped the Aidan button and put the phone to his ear.

  “Yeah,” Aidan answered, seeing his brother’s name flash on his screen.

  “You sound bored,” Marc said. “I guess you’re already at the party.”

  “Good guess. Where are you guys?”

  “On our way. Listen, I need you for five minutes as soon as we’ve said our hellos.”

  “No problem. I have a picture to give you from Abby, anyway. It’s of you, Maddy, and her, and she made you about ten feet tall since she hero-worships you. So you’d better hang it on your fridge tonight and text us a photo of that or I’ll be forced to beat the shit out of you.”

  Marc chuckled. “I’d do it without the threat. Anything for our little princess. So you’ll be available?”

  “I’ll meet you at the bar.”

  “See you there.” He punched off. “Done,” he told the team.

  “Great.” Casey picked up her purse, then squatted down to snap on Hero’s leash. “Time to get going. We’ve got a lot to accomplish in a few short hours. And the clock is ticking.”

  CHAPTER 29

  The Brandos’ house

  Todt Hill, Staten Island

  The iron gates marking the entranceway to the manor were slightly ajar, and there were two security guards flanking either side of them, holding clipboards with lengthy “subject-to-verification” guest lists. Marc pulled the van up to one of the uniformed men, and the entire team proceeded to produce various forms of photo IDs until they’d satisfied the necessary requirements. At that point, the gates swung open, and Marc drove up the endless serpentine driveway until he reached the front of the house.

  “Geez,” Emma said in amazement. “This place is a palace. I can’t believe Lina grew up here and she’s not a total spoiled brat.”

  As she spoke, a uniformed guy in his early twenties ca
me around and assisted them all out of the van. He took Marc’s valet key and handed him a coin with the name “Brando” etched on it as a receipt. He flashed them a courteous smile, hopped into the driver’s seat, and drove off to park the van.

  “It’s a good thing they have valet parking,” Ryan noted, gazing around and wrapping Hero’s leash around his hand. “Otherwise we’d be walking a mile. There are at least fifty cars parked on the outside blacktop, and a ton more around back where those garages are. The grounds are massive. Talk about rich.”

  Casey was already leading the way to the front door. She’d seen this kind of wealth before, with some of FI’s clients. And it didn’t impress her.

  Claire glanced around but remained silent. She’d grown up in this kind of wealth, and she knew it didn’t buy happiness. Her childhood in Grosse Point had been painful, with parents who didn’t understand or encourage her gift and who were more than a little relieved when Claire had taken the hint and gone her separate way, relieving them of the burden of explaining their eccentric daughter who didn’t fit the mold. It was a childhood that Claire didn’t discuss much, not with anyone. But it had definitely left its emotional scars.

  The front door was open, and the whole team congregated in the lobby, waiting to be either announced or frisked. Instead, a squealing Lina rushed over to them. She looked exquisite, in a red cap-sleeve bandage dress that must have cost a fortune.

  “You’re here!” She gave each of them a hug—even those of them she hadn’t yet met—and then squatted down to stroke Hero’s ears.

  “You’re such a handsome boy,” she praised him. “My aunt and uncle have a golden retriever named Frisbee who’s here today. There’s a fenced-in portion of the yard for you guys to play in and lots of gourmet dog treats for you to eat. I even hired a doggie sitter to supervise you so we know you’ll be safe.” She raised her head and gazed quizzically at Casey. “I hope that’s okay?”

  “Are you kidding?” Casey laughed. “Hero will probably want to move in.”

  “I’ll head out and play ball with them for a while, too,” Ryan said. “The exercise will do me good. And besides,” he said with a grin, “I’d love an excuse to unknot this tie—even for a half hour.”

  Lina’s smile was infectious. “My dad feels the same way. He’ll probably go with you if he can slip out for a bit.”

  Everybody chuckled.

  An attractive woman in a stunning Valentino embroidered-tulle cocktail dress hurried over to greet them. “You must be the wonderful investigative team Lina keeps raving about.” Emma recognized her immediately from the photo in Lina’s apartment. “I’m Donna Brando,” she said. “Welcome to our home.”

  “Thank you for having us, Mrs. Brando.” Casey shook her hand. “I’m Casey Woods. Congratulations on your husband’s victory.”

  “Hopefully, one of many to come.” Introductions and handshakes all around, plus a gentle pat for Hero. “And please call me Donna. Mrs. Brando is my mother-in-law.”

  She gestured toward a wing of the house, one that was jammed with guests, all dressed like something out of a designer catalog, all talking and laughing in full party mode. Uniformed servers were weaving their way through the crowd with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. And the champagne was flowing.

  “Come in and meet Joseph,” Donna urged. “He’ll be delighted to put faces to the names Lina talks so much about.”

  “Yes, Dad will be thrilled to meet you.” Lina was nodding vigorously. “While you’re chatting with him, I’ll get Hero settled with the techs and Frisbee. After that, I’ll introduce you around. Once you’ve gotten through the formalities, it’ll be party time. You can eat, drink, and hang out with me and my friends. Brianna’s here. She can’t wait to see you. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the sous chefs you’ll catch a glimpse of in the kitchen. Mom cooked almost everything herself. So it’s all homemade and it’s all amazing. If it weren’t for Dad’s insistence, Mom would be serving on her own, too.”

  “Okay, enough doting on me.” Donna was already maneuvering the team through the house and, presumably, toward her husband. “Joseph is in the living room. This is his day, so let’s get you all introduced.”

  Lina took Hero’s leash from Ryan and guided him toward the rear of the house, while Casey and the team followed Donna Brando through the throng of guests.

  “Shit, it’s like seeing another Gia and Dani,” Ryan muttered under his breath to Claire.

  “The resemblance alone is almost proof enough,” Patrick agreed quietly.

  “Visually, yes. Scientifically and legally, no.” Marc, ever-pragmatic, watched Lina walk Hero in the opposite direction. Still, his former BAU training kicked in. “But the stance, the facial expressions, even the walk—not to mention the identical features—I doubt we’ll be surprised by the DNA results.”

  “I can’t wait to get that hair sample,” Emma murmured, tightly gripping her purse. “That’ll clinch it.”

  With a warning glance at her team, Casey put an end to the discussion. Donna was slowing down, then easing into a packed living room. She gestured for them to follow.

  “Joseph is over there with his campaign manager, Neil Donato, and a dozen friends and legal colleagues,” she said, pointing to a tall, charismatic man who was laughing and making easy conversation with the folks gathered around him. Affable, approachable, and dynamic in his power suit and tie, Joseph Brando commanded attention with his presence alone. And the lawyer-looking man with the sharp dark eyes standing beside Joseph, subtly keeping all the attention on his candidate, had to be Neil Donato.

  “The consummate politician and the guy destined to take him to the top,” Ryan muttered again. “I see a presidential run in the future.”

  “Stop, Ryan,” Casey told him. “Save your running commentary for the ride home. We’re on now.”

  Ryan nodded and fell silent just as they reached the man of the hour.

  “Joseph,” Donna said, putting a hand on his sleeve. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’d like you to meet the Forensic Instincts team.” She indicated each of them with a motion of her hand. “Casey Woods, Marc Devereaux, Ryan McKay, Patrick Lynch, Claire Hedgleigh, and Emma Stirling.”

  Joseph turned, a smile on his face as he extended his hand to shake theirs. “It’s great to meet you all. Your reputation speaks for itself, and Lina thinks the world of you.”

  Again, handshakes all around.

  “Congratulations, Assemblyman,” Casey said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

  “Joseph,” he corrected. “Please, no formalities.” He half turned toward Neil. “This is my campaign manager, Neil Donato.” A corner of Joseph’s mouth lifted. “He’s the brains behind the victory.”

  Neil, who looked about as serious as a heart attack, gave what Casey was sure was a rare chuckle. “I like that introduction, even if it is a gross exaggeration. Nice to meet you all.” His brow furrowed as he looked at Marc. “There’s another Devereaux here—an Aidan Devereaux from Heckman Flax. I see a strong resemblance between you. Any relation?”

  “My older brother,” Marc supplied, pleased to have been handed the opportunity he needed. Now he could go say a proverbial hi to his brother without it looking anything but natural.
>
  He scanned the room, pretending not to spot Aidan gazing at him from the bar. “We’re both so busy, we rarely see each other. Do you know where he’s hiding? I’d like to say hello.”

  Neil scanned the room, then gestured toward the bar. “He’s right there.”

  “Ah.” Marc nodded his thanks. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”

  “Of course.” It was Joseph who replied. He turned to Casey. “I’d enjoy chatting with you and your team for a few minutes, hearing more about the workings of Forensic Instincts. I’m fascinated by your abilities. After that, I’ll release you all to go have fun.” He lowered his voice. “But first things first. I want to thank you for what you did for Brianna. She’s like a sister to Lina, and she’s come back to life since you caught that animal who was stalking her.”

  “We were relieved to get that case solved,” Casey replied. She kept it short and sweet since she didn’t intend to get into it. All FI’s cases were strictly confidential, even after they were solved—unless the media got wind of them. Then they had murkier waters to navigate.

  And how ironic that Joseph would use the word “sister.” A coincidence or a fishing expedition?

  It was hard to tell. Joseph’s game face was honed to perfection. If he was aware of—or guilty of—the events that had been taking place, he wasn’t about to show his hand.

  Fair enough. Crowd or not, Casey intended to get a handle on Joseph Brando. And she had a strong feeling he planned to do the same with them.

  Okay, Mr. Congressman. Game on.

  * * *

  Across the room, Aidan watched his brother approach. The two men really did look alike—tall, with straight black hair and the powerful builds of Special Ops. But while Marc had inherited the shape and color of his eyes from their Asian maternal side, Aidan’s eyes were navy blue and round. He had a high forehead and a patrician nose. And as serious and unreadable as Marc looked, Aidan looked even more so, making him chillingly intimidating to everyone he faced.

 
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