A face to die for, p.28
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       A Face to Die For, p.28

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “I already thought of that,” Marc replied. “Joseph will want some time to discuss all this with his wife and to decide together how they’re going to approach Lina and what to tell her. So we’ll beat them to the punch. We’ll call Lina before we leave for Todt Hill and ask her to meet us at the brownstone for a late lunch.”

  “A thank-you get-together for the great time we had on Sunday,” Casey agreed. “Good idea, I like it. She’ll get here right after we get back from seeing her parents, who, as you just said, will be figuring out what to say to her.” A pause. “They might ask us not to talk to Lina until after they do. In which case, we’ll lie. We’re talking to Lina right away. She’s a grown woman with two sisters she deserves to know about.”

  “Agreed. But remember, Dani and Gia have to be told first.” Marc slowed Casey down, saying what had to be said. “The two of them are our clients. Lina is just our friend. I know that sounds hard, but it’s true.”

  “You’re right—it does sound hard.” Casey struggled, realizing that what Marc was saying was accurate, and unable to combat her emotions enough to be objective. “You’re the one who suggested getting Lina here ASAP. So how do you suggest we handle this?”

  “Other members of the FI team need to go to Rye while you and I are in Todt Hill,” Marc replied. “They need to fill Dani and Gia in, find out what they want Lina to be told, and ask if they want to meet their sister—which I’m sure they will.”

  “I’ll send Claire and Emma,” Casey said without hesitation. “They’ve got a great rapport with the girls. They’ll do what has to be done, and we’ll have our answers by the time Lina gets here. That’ll lay out the course of our conversation.”

  “Once Lina is ready—and assuming all parties want to meet—Emma and Claire can drive Gia and Dani to the brownstone,” Marc added.

  “Once Lina is ready,” Casey reiterated Marc’s words. “She’s going to need some time to process what we tell her. Even though it’s going to be a shocker for Gia and Dani, it’s going to completely upend Lina’s life. The poor girl is completely in the dark. Not only is she going to find out she’s a triplet, she’s going to find out her parents have been lying to her all her life. And if it turns out that those lies were told for any reason other than because the Brandos wanted her to think she was their biological child, Lina is going to go to pieces. I don’t blame her. I would, too.”

  Pausing, Casey picked up her cell and forwarded Aidan’s email to the rest of the team. “Last I heard, everyone’s in-house, working late tonight. I want them to see the lab results. That’ll get them in the conference room fast so we can share our plan.”

  Sure enough, not three minutes later, the door flew open, and Ryan burst into the room, with Emma and Patrick close behind. Claire entered a few minutes later, wearing her yoga clothes and looking a little out of it.

  “At last—a lucky break,” Ryan said. “I’ve been digging into Brando all night—his campaign supporters, his law firm, his personal life—and so far, I’ve come up empty. Now we’ve got what we need to get the truth out of him.”

  “Assuming there’s a criminal truth to tell,” Patrick reminded him. “He could be innocent of everything except lying to his daughter. We have to tread carefully.”

  “Great. More diplomacy.” Ryan was clearly disgusted.

  “Patrick’s right.” Claire’s dazed expression, accompanied by that faraway look in her eyes, said her words were based on more than just opinion. “Taking a confrontational approach with Joseph Brando is a bad idea. He’s going to clam up quickly even if we soft-pedal it. We need to find out what he knows in a backdoor way.”

  “That’s easy,” Ryan responded, looking at Marc. “We’ll get the information after you guys leave Brando’s house.”

  “You want me to plant a bug?”

  “Damn straight. I’ll have one ready to go with you in the morning. And I’ll rent myself a nice, unobtrusive gardening truck to park outside the grand manor—close enough to monitor whatever’s said inside. Who knows what we’ll find out?”

  “It might not be what you think,” Claire replied.

  Casey regarded her soberly. “Judging from your comments, you think Joseph is innocent?”

  “No. And yes.” Claire rubbed her forehead. “I’m picking up mixed energy when it comes to Lina’s father. He’s involved in some way. But there’s a dark corner of his life that he’s both aware of and unaware of. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I just know that this situation is complicated.” She met Casey’s gaze. “And Lina… she has to be brought up to speed—right away. That poor girl. She’s so full of life and love, and this is going to shatter her.”

  “We want to fill her in tomorrow.” Casey told Claire what she and Marc had discussed as a plan.

  Claire nodded. “Good. Emma and I will go talk to Gia and Dani. They’ll be stunned, but by this time, they’re pretty much braced for anything. It’s Lina I’m worried about. I wish I could be here when you talk to her.”

  “Me, too,” Emma said.

  “You’ll be here when the three girls meet,” Casey replied. “In some ways, that’s more important. Emotions are going to run high. Emma, they’ll need your friendship, and we’ll all need Claire’s insights.”

  “I wish I had something concrete to tell them from my end.” Ryan made a sound of disgust and frustration. “Not only have I come up empty on the birth certificates but that Carp guy who’s been Gabe’s contact trashed his phone—probably as soon as he realized Gabe was with Dani and therefore vulnerable. So far Carp hasn’t resurfaced with a new cell number. So I’ve got nothing.”

  “Oh, you’ve got something—and it’s huge. But I don’t want to share it with the girls,” Casey said firmly. “No showing them the article about the Pontis’ murders and the missing triplets. We can’t drop that bomb on them right now. It would be total emotional overload.”

  “Yeah, I know. I wasn’t even thinking about going there.” Ryan began pacing around the conference room. “Actually I was trying to dig deeper into Angelo Colone, to see where he fits into the bigger picture. Because I just have this feeling that he does.”

  “Your feeling is right,” Claire said abruptly. “He has a crucial role in all this.”

  “Has?” Ryan reiterated. “He’s dead.” A pause. “Although none of the threats to the girls occurred until after his death. Was he in on something with Brando—something Brando has to clean up now?”

  Claire shut her eyes, visibly struggling to make sense out of what she was sensing. “All I know is that there’s a part of Angelo Colone left behind. I don’t know what that something is or if Joseph Brando is directly involved. It’s tied to Lina… and maybe to Gia or Dani, as well. I just can’t get a firm grip on this. Too many conflicting images in my mind. Somehow, in some way, Colone was there from the start. I just don’t know how.”“Yeah, well, neither do I.” Ryan and uncertainty were not a good combo. “So while I’m monitoring things from the gardening truck, I’ll be digging away on all things Angelo Colone, just as I’m digging away on Brando. So far, everything involving Brando’s legal representation of Colone—his construction company, his estate—is on the up-and-up. Every damn thing I dig up about their relationship—both business and personal—shows Joseph to be clean as a whistle.”
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  “Either that or it’s been scrubbed to look that way,” Casey said. “If there were a single hint that Brando has mob ties, he wouldn’t be headed for Congress.” She considered that for a moment. “Ryan, have you checked out Neil Donato? If anyone had the motive to make Joseph look squeaky clean, it would be him.”

  “I did an in-depth search on the guy from the start,” Ryan supplied. “He looks like a Boy Scout. City College, Fordham Law School—all with honors. Passed the Bar on the first try. Applied for a job at Brando’s law firm and was hired as an associate right away. He actually handles a good chunk of the Colone construction company legal work—probably an extra precaution to keep Brando’s name from being too closely associated. But there’s not the slightest hint of anything dirty going on. Donato appears to be an excellent lawyer, a well-liked, well-organized guy, and, given how put-together and PC he is, the perfect choice for a campaign manager. But not to worry. I never count anyone out. I’ve got eyes on everyone.”

  “I know you do.” Casey gave a weary sigh. “Go take care of your bug. And let’s all get ourselves mentally primed. It’s going to be a long, emotional—and hopefully informative—day.”

  CHAPTER 31

  Todt Hill

  10:00 a.m.

  Joseph Brando himself greeted Casey and Marc at the door. He was wearing a pin-striped, open-necked sports shirt and perfectly creased navy slacks—clearly ready for a day in the campaign trenches.

  “Good morning.” He gave them that warm, practiced smile of his. “I’m so glad you made the trip. Please, come on in.” He stepped aside and waited while they did just that.

  “Thank you for seeing us on such short notice,” Casey said.

  “Of course. I’m delighted that it happened sooner rather than later.” He glanced behind them. “It’s just the two of you?”

  Casey nodded. “Given how busy we are, it’s impossible to get our whole team in one place at one time. Your party was the exception.”

  “Then I’m honored.” Joseph was already leading the way down a hall that was in the opposite direction of the living room. “We’ll talk in my office. The Nespresso is on and ready, and there’s a plate of Donna’s addictive cinnamon buns on the coffee table. Unfortunately, she had a morning commitment and couldn’t join us. So she made extra pastries to make up for it. We can enjoy and talk at the same time.”

  “That was thoughtful of her.”

  They followed him through the hall, turned a few corners, and crossed the threshold of a huge paneled office with rich mahogany furniture, an oriental carpet, twin love seats, and lots of family photos—most of them of Lina. Off to one side of the room was a credenza with the Nespresso machine and a wide variety of coffees and teas. To the other side, nestled between the plush love seats, was a carved mahogany coffee table set with a tray of incredible-smelling pastries, as well as the necessary china and silverware.

  Casey wondered just how big a check Joseph was expecting from them.

  “Please.” He gestured toward one of the love seats. “Sit down and relax. What can I get you?”

  There was no point in pretending this was a social call complete with a campaign contribution. Tact was important, but pretense was insulting.

  “Actually, much as we appreciate it, what we’d really like to do is talk.” For the first time, it was Marc who spoke up. He lowered himself to the sofa cushion, bent one leg at the knee, and crossed it over the other—keeping his tone and expression nondescript.

  Nonetheless, Joseph seemed taken aback. His gaze flickered from Marc to Casey, who was perched at the edge of her seat, regarding Joseph with quiet intensity. He was an intuitive man. Clearly, he sensed something was up.

  “All right.” Joseph went and made himself a cup of espresso—clearly taking a few moments to try to figure out what was going on. He then crossed over and sat on the adjacent love seat. “I’m all ears,” he said.

  “We need your input on a discovery we just made,” Casey began, intentionally presenting the matter as if they wanted to work with him, not against him. “I’m sorry we misled you about the purpose of this meeting. But we had to explain things in person.”

  “Explain what things?” Joseph set down his cup. “What is this about?”

  “It’s about Lina.”

  “Lina?” He stiffened. “Is she all right? I just spoke to her last night.”

  “She’s fine,” Casey assured him. Definitely a father’s concern—one that wasn’t put on. “She’s just inadvertently involved in a case we’re investigating.”

  “Involved… Is this about Brianna? I thought that case was closed.”

  “This isn’t about Brianna.” Marc took over, just as Casey knew he would. “This is about the fact that your daughter has two biological sisters, and that the three girls are identical triplets.”

  Joseph physically started. He looked as if he’d been punched in the gut.

  More significantly, he looked totally, genuinely shocked.

  “What did you just say?”

  “I think you heard me,” Marc replied.

  “Is this some kind of sick joke?” Joseph still hadn’t recovered from the initial blow. His posture was rigid, but his voice was trembling.

  “We wouldn’t joke about something like this, Mr. Brando.” Casey purposely avoided calling him Joseph. That easy camaraderie no longer existed. “What Marc just told you is a fact.”

  “It’s anything but.” Joseph was regaining his composure—and getting angry in the process. “Lina is an only child.”

  “No, Assemblyman, she’s not. We have DNA evidence to support that. So either your wife gave birth to monozygotic triplets or Lina is adopted and you chose not to tell her. Which is entirely your right,” Casey added quickly. “Except that there are questionable circumstances surrounding the adoption. That’s where we need your cooperation. We have to sort out the truth.”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Lina is our daughter. That’s the only truth there is.”

  “Your natural daughter?” Casey asked quietly.

  “Our daughter in every way.” The politician in him provided the non-answer.

  “Would you be willing to give us a DNA sample to prove that? If you’re so sure we’re wrong, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

  “I’ll do no such thing.” Joseph rose. “And I have nothing further to say. This conversation is over.”

  Casey came to her feet and angled herself in a way that blocked Marc from view. That gave him the seconds he needed to plant the bug underneath the love seat.

  “I notice you didn’t ask to see the evidence,” she said to Joseph. “Is that because you know what we’re saying is true and you’re protecting your relationship with Lina?”

  Or protecting yourself from admitting to a crime? she thought silently.

  “It means I won’t address such outrageous claims. They have no merit. I’ll show you out.”

  * * *

  Two painfully silent minutes later, Casey and Marc found themselves on the front doorstep, the door slammed in their faces.

  “So much for not antagonizing him,”
Marc muttered as they headed to the van. “Although I don’t know how Claire could expect a different outcome. There’s no way Brando was going to greet our announcement with grace. Any way you slice it, we just implied he’s a liar and possibly a criminal.”

  “We handled it as diplomatically as we could,” Casey said, sliding behind the wheel and putting on her sunglasses. “We gave him more than enough outs and more than enough chances to straighten this out amicably. He wasn’t about to make that happen.” She turned on the ignition. “On the flip side, the one thing I’m sure of is that he was blown away by our revelation. He had no idea that Gia and Dani exist. To my way of thinking, that exonerates him of orchestrating the violence against them.”

  “Okay, I’ll buy that.” Marc shut the passenger door and buckled up. “But he’s sure as hell guilty of something. He shut down like a clam as soon as he got over the initial shock. And the DNA test was a no-go. He won’t admit Lina’s not their natural child, but he knows he can’t prove that she is. That smacks of guilt in a situation already rife with illegalities.”

  “I know.” Casey backed up, then shifted into drive and headed up the winding driveway. She flashed her headlights as she pulled away. A short distance down the road, Ryan flashed back. Ensconced in his gardener’s truck, he was all plugged in and ready to go. They’d communicate by phone as soon as there was something to say.

  “I hope Brando chooses to talk to his wife in the office and not another part of the house,” Casey said to Marc, voicing yet another concern that had kept her up last night.

  “The odds are in our favor.”

  A quick sidelong glance. “How can you be so sure?”

  “Human nature. Brando is in shock. He’ll retreat straight to his sanctuary. Donna isn’t home. He’s probably calling her right now, telling her to get back ASAP and to come straight to his office. He’ll pace around the room, probably chuck his coffee and pour himself a drink. His office is private, away from the servants and the flow of traffic. The only other room that has that advantage is the bedroom. And he won’t take the time to drag Donna upstairs. No, they’ll have their talk right where I planted Ryan’s bug.”

 
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