A face to die for, p.27
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       A Face to Die For, p.27

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “It’s about time you got here,” Aidan greeted Marc, sliding a glass of wine over to him. “It’s not Joseph Phelps Insignia, but it’s a decent cab. Oh, and here.” He slapped a folded piece of drawing paper into Marc’s hand. “It’s yours. And Abby’s got real talent, except for her perception of size.”

  Marc grinned, unfolding the paper. Definitely him, Maddy, and Abby. His adorable niece had drawn a little girl with a mop of dark hair and a party dress, a petite woman with light brown hair and a big smile, and a broad-shouldered man with a sort-of smile and dark eyes, who towered over both females.

  “I’d say she got it spot-on,” he told Aidan, refolding the paper and slipping it into his pocket. “I’ll text you both tonight. My text will include high praise for Abby’s skill, loving thanks from Maddy and me, and a big photo of us flanking the drawing on our fridge.”

  “Good.” Aidan took a sip of his Cabernet Sauvignon, propping his elbow on the end of the bar. The party was loud enough so that no one could hear them. “So what do you need?”

  “Lab results. Yesterday.”

  One dark brow rose in amusement. “That long. What are you looking for?”

  “Triplet zygosity.”

  That captured Aidan’s attention. “Now that’s a new one.”

  “We like to keep you on your toes.” Marc picked up his glass of wine and drank as he surveyed the room. This conversation had to look casual and brotherly. There were way too many eyes in the room.

  “Do you have DNA samples for me?” Aidan asked.

  “Ryan emailed you the results of a twin zygosity test while we were driving. So you have a baseline and we have proof that two of the girls are identical. I’ll have an envelope for you with a DNA sample from the third girl before you leave the party. That’ll give us the confirmation we need that we’re dealing with identical triplets. And, Aidan, we can’t wait days for the results. We need them rushed through.”

  “Yeah, I got that. But there’s a certain amount of analysis time for, you know, things called accuracy and reliability.”

  “Fine. How soon?”

  “I’ll get my contacts to work overtime. I’m guessing a day.” Aidan took another thoughtful sip of wine, studying his brother. “Just how do you plan on getting me that third DNA sample in the middle of a party?”

  “Let me worry about that. Just know that when Emma slips an envelope into your jacket pocket, be careful with it. That’s your sample.”

  Aidan looked amused. “Will I even feel it happen, given that it’s Emma the pickpocket supplying it?”

  “She’ll make sure you know it’s there. Just take care of it.”

  “Done. And, Marc, make that text happen before Abby’s bedtime.”

  “You mean before your bedtime,” Marc corrected. “Abby tucks you in when she gets her second wind. But not to worry. You’ll get your text.”

  “And you’ll get your answers.”

  * * *

  After fifteen minutes of chichat, Casey had the distinct feeling that Joseph was keeping this conversation clean. He hadn’t once alluded to knowing about any ongoing cases, nor had he made further reference to sisters and Lina in the same sentence. He seemed genuinely intrigued by FI’s different team members’ talents, but not in a digging-for-information way. In short, he either had no idea that Lina had identical siblings out there or he was biding his time before he so much as hinted at the situation without implicating himself. Also, it was difficult to keep talking one-on-one, since everyone at the party wanted a piece of Joseph, and Neil was constantly interrupting to bring someone new into the fold.

  Still, Casey’s instincts were rarely wrong. And they were reinforced at the conclusion of the conversation, when Joseph apologized for the ongoing distractions and concluded with:

  “I guess this isn’t the best time for a closed group discussion. Donna and I would love to have your team over for dinner one night. Then I could ask all my groupie questions.” A broad smile that enveloped the room. “We’ll call your office and set something up for next week if that works for you.”

  Oh, you’ll be seeing us a lot sooner than that, Mr. Brando, once we have those test results, Casey thought, even as she answered, “Of course. We’d enjoy that very much.”

  Not so much after you hear what we have to say.

  * * *

  Emma was in her glory.

  It was so cool hanging out with Lina, Brianna, and the five other friends Lina had invited. One of the guys was so hot that Emma had to remind herself of her mission so she didn’t get off track and try to hook up with him. Still, once her job was done, she might find a way to give him her cell number.

  In the meantime, she was glad that three of the five friends were male. That eliminated them as contenders for the bathroom. Men had bladders like camels, and Emma always lamented the fact that there were long lines outside every ladies’ room in the world and none outside the men’s rooms. Men’s rooms should be reduced in number. Ladies’ rooms should be doubled.

  She’d already scouted out the party arena and spotted two bathrooms—a small powder room just inside the front entranceway and a large bathroom in a vestibule off the living room. That one was her target. A powder room attracted a single occupant who just wanted to get in and out. A spacious bathroom invited schmoozing and reapplying makeup, which meant going in pairs—something women were famous for.

  Emma didn’t want to waste time. That way, in case her first attempt to get Lina in there failed or the bathroom was occupied, she’d get a second chance. She prepped herself, staying close to Lina’s side without being obvious. Timing was everything. She needed to accomplish this in a swift, whispered request.

  As good luck would have it, two women with freshly applied makeup and perfectly brushed hair emerged from the vestibule bathroom. This was Emma’s shot.

  She turned quickly to Lina.

  “I’m not used to being at such a high-powered party,” she murmured in a small voice. “My nerves are so bad I think my makeup is melting and my hair is stuck to my neck. Would you mind coming with me to the ladies’ room and helping me get it together?”

  “Of course not.” Lina, ever kind and generous, agreed at once. “Although you look great. But let’s go.” She turned to the others with a twinkle in her eye. “Excuse us for a minute. Emma and I are going to get even more beautiful.”

  “As if that’s possible,” Liam Banks, the hot MBA student Emma had her eye on, spoke up. He was responding to Lina’s words, but his gaze was on Emma.

  She smiled at him—a melting, let’s-talk-later smile. She was so going to hook up with this guy. But for now, her attention had to be on the major task she’d volunteered for.

  Lina led the way to the vestibule and into the bathroom, locking the door behind them.

  “Will you redo my makeup?” Emma asked, pulling out her mascara and lip gloss and waiting for Lina’s nod. “I’m all thumbs.” She almost grinned at the irony of that comment. Her fingers were as deft as they came. “Sorry I’m being so immature,” she added, going for a piece of the truth. “But I want to look good for your friends.”

  “Any friend in particular?” Lin
a was grinning as she took the makeup Emma handed her and began reapplying a touch of mascara to Emma’s lashes. “Like Liam, for instance?”

  “Is it that obvious?”

  “On both your sides, yes.” Lina stood back to admire her handiwork. “He’s a great guy. And he’s so into you. Go for it. I’ll do my part to help it along.”

  “Thanks.” Emma’s reply was barely understandable, given that Lina was gliding the lip gloss applicator across her lips. But Lina got it. And she looked very pleased with the opportunity to make this happen.

  “Perfect.” Lina handed Emma her makeup and nodded her approval. “Now I’ll do mine. Then we can brush our hair and get back to fixing you up with Liam.”

  Emma opened her purse, easing the unused envelope to the top and opening the flap as she removed her brush. She glanced over at Lina, who was staring intently into the mirror as she reapplied a dab of color to her cheeks.

  “Uh-oh,” Emma said, frowning as she came up behind Lina and inspected her hair.

  “What is it?” Lina looked up.

  “Nothing serious. Just a pain-in-the-ass gray hair.”

  “A gray hair?” Lina looked appalled. “Are you sure?” She pivoted around, gazing over her shoulder and squinting as she tried to spy the culprit.

  “Yeah, I’m sure. It’s way in the back. You won’t be able to see it.” Emma sighed and rolled her eyes. “It sucks when one of those shows up.”

  “You’ve had gray hair before?” Lina asked incredulously, still trying to get over the horror of it all. “You’re practically a baby.”

  “I’ve had one or two, right in the front, and they stood out enough for me to see even though I’m blonde. Your hair is gorgeous and dark, so it sticks out.” Emma moved in for the task at hand. “Let me get rid of it for you.”

  “Please.” Lina looked ready for battle. “I’m mortified.”

  “If you don’t want it to grow back, I’ll have to pull it from the root. It’ll hurt for a sec, but you won’t have to deal with it again.”

  “I don’t care how much it hurts. Please just get rid of it—all of it,” Lina pleaded.

  “Okay, just stand really still.”

  Lina didn’t budge.

  Carefully, Emma separated strands of hair as if she were focusing in on one in particular. That fact worked in her favor, because it gave her even more time to press right up against the scalp and grab hold of the base of the hair shaft. Here goes, she thought.

  She pulled.

  Lina gave a little squeak, but Emma almost shouted with triumph. The tiny bulb at the end of the hair shaft told her she’d accomplished her goal.

  “All done,” she announced, reaching for her purse while being careful not to touch the hair root. “I’ll give you my little mirror. You can turn around and reassure yourself. It was barely visible before, but it’s all gone now.” Emma realized how irrational that sounded, but she also knew Lina would take the bait. She’d have to convince herself that she was gray-free.

  Sure enough, Lina nodded. “Thank you.”

  The strand was sealed inside the envelope by the time Lina was turning to scrutinize herself. She held up Emma’s mirror and used it to search the back of her head on the wide mirror spanning the bathroom wall.

  “Death by drowning.” Emma used the time to turn on one of the gilded sinks and wash an imaginary hair down the drain.

  “It’s gone.” Lina sagged with relief. “I’m so grateful. I never would have known it was there, but I’m sure every female in that room would have noticed it. Thank you, Emma.” She gave her a big hug. “Now I’m doubly determined to make you and Liam happen.”

  Emma grinned. “Okay, but I’ll need something to calm my nerves. How about if I grab a glass of wine and meet you back at the table, fortified and ready for you to work your magic.”

  Lina grinned back. “I’ll get started telling Liam how wonderful you are.”

  “Do you want anything?”

  “Later. I’ll be busy matchmaking.”

  Lina flipped the lock, they stepped out into the vestibule, and Emma gave herself a mental high-five. Phase one complete. On to phase two.

  She walked back into the living room, scanned the area, and spotted Aidan chatting with some unknown but important-looking men. Deep in conversation as he was, Emma had the distinct feeling that Aidan was well aware of her presence. He was one scary-amazing guy, that Aidan. And she’d be forever in his debt—his and Marc’s. They’d saved her life. Literally.

  Pushing aside those terrifying memories, she weaved her way through the crowd until she reached Aidan’s side. By that time she was palming the envelope. She slipped it into his pocket, and, with a light tap on his suit jacket to let him know he had what he needed, she gave him a quick smile and continued on her way. She stopped at the bar and ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio.

  Diagonally across the room, Casey caught Emma’s eye and gave her an imperceptible nod of congratulations. Emma smiled before taking her wine and heading off in the direction of Lina and her friends.

  A job well done. Praise from her boss.

  Emma had earned a date with Liam.

  CHAPTER 30

  It was seven forty-five the next night when Aidan called Marc’s cell.

  “I’ve got the answers you’re looking for,” he said. “I’ll email them to you now.”

  Marc had been sitting with Casey at the conference room table, discussing the investigation and their mutual gut instinct that the key answer was just out of their reach. Now, Marc signaled to Casey that it was Aidan on the phone.

  “I’m in the office,” Marc told his brother. “Casey’s with me. Send it to us both.”

  “Done.”

  “And thanks—I owe you one.”

  “I’ll hold you to that.”

  Marc disconnected the call and waited. Casey perched at the edge of her seat, staring at her cell phone.

  A few seconds later the email with the lab results popped up.

  The DNA test was conclusive. Lina, Gia, and Dani were identical triplets.

  Casey drew in a slow breath. “We have our proof. Now we have the Brandos and Lina to deal with, each in different and separate ways. The Brandos come first. Getting information out of them is crucial to the investigation. We owe that to our clients.”

  “Plus, whatever answers we get will give us more facts to present to Lina when we talk to her.”

  “You mean when we upend her entire world.” A flash of sadness crossed Casey’s face before she got back to the business at hand. “I’ll run the meeting. But in this case, I want you to be my wingman. You’re the best when it comes to intimidation.”

  “I aim to please.” Marc glanced at his watch. “It’s still early. We can call the assemblyman and see how soon he can see us.”

  “It’ll be sooner rather than later—and it won’t be Brando who’ll make it happen.” Casey rummaged around in her purse, extracting a business card. “This is Neil Donato’s card. He practically shoved it at me when he saw how enthused Brando was during our conversation.”

 
“He probably visualizes us as potential campaign donors.”

  “Big-time. He hung on to every word of our conversation. I thought he was going to ask for a check from us on the spot.”

  Marc’s grin was wry. “Donato will probably bump some appointments to fit us in.”

  “Count on it.” Casey picked up her cell and dialed the number on the card.

  Two upbeat minutes later, Forensic Instincts had an appointment at the future congressman’s home for ten a.m. Rush hour would be avoided, and magically, Joseph’s other meetings didn’t begin until eleven.

  “Setup complete,” Casey said after hanging up. “Ten o’clock at Joseph’s home office. Oh, and I think I’m Neil Donato’s new best friend.”

  “I’m sure you are.” Marc tapped his coffee mug thoughtfully. “Brando has no idea what we’re really there to talk about, so his guard will be down. We’ll get an honest reaction.”

  Casey nodded, continuing to think things through. “We’re only going to discuss the reality that Lina is a triplet. No sisters’ names. No cluing Joseph in on the dangers Lina’s sisters are in or how we’re investigating those dangers. And certainly no mention of the fact that we know who the three girls’ real parents were and what happened to them.”

  “Very little talking, a whole lot of listening.” Marc was well-trained in this science. “If Joseph is guilty, maybe our revelation will shake him up enough to blurt out something incriminating.”

  “Whether or not that happens, this is going to be an ugly confrontation. We can handle whatever Brando throws at us. But once we hit him with what we know, he’ll want to talk to Lina, to tell her his version of the truth. We’re going to have to find a way to get to Lina first.”

 
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