A face to die for, p.31
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       A Face to Die For, p.31

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “Oh my God,” Lina breathed, rising to her feet. “You’re… We’re… really identical. I… Oh my God.”

  Gia crossed over to her first. “Hi, Lina, I’m Gia,” she managed, her eyes bright with unshed tears as she studied every detail of her sister’s face. “I can’t believe this,” she added in a choked whisper. “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

  Lina’s lips were quivering, as she visibly struggled for—and failed to attain—control. Tears began streaming down her cheeks, and wordlessly, she gave Gia a tight hug. “I can’t believe this is real,” she wept. “But it is. You’re my sister.” She gazed past Gia, her stare locking with Dani’s. “And so are you.”

  Wordlessly, Dani nodded, coming over to join the two of them, also weeping as she joined in the hug.

  For a long moment, the three girls just stood there, crying and alternately hugging each other—finding each other after twenty-seven years.

  The FI team remained respectfully silent, although tears were gliding down everyone’s cheeks, and Marc’s eyes were suspiciously damp. Claire had unobtrusively slipped into a tub chair, recognizing that this moment belonged to Gia, Dani, and Lina.

  Joy pervaded the room, and the ugliness of the past weeks was held at bay.

  But the danger hovered close by, threatening to eclipse that joy.

  Green Hills Cemetery

  Brooklyn, New York

  12:20 p.m.

  “I’m finally here,” Patrick announced into his cell phone. “They’re gone.”

  “Shit. Shit. Shit.” Ryan slammed his fist against the truck’s wall. “Is there anyone around to question? Someone who might have seen them?”

  “Not a soul. I combed the grounds. I didn’t see a single visitor. And the mausoleums are placed so far apart that I doubt anyone would have noticed other visitors anyway.” Patrick blew out a disgusted breath. “We’ll have to find Jimmy Colone another way. This is a dead end.”

  “Oh, we’ll find him.” Ryan was furiously typing again. “I’m working every lead I can find. He’s the key to all this. And he’s not getting away.”

  Todt Hill

  12:25 p.m.

  Joseph pulled into the driveway and jumped out of the car, simultaneously trying Lina’s cell phone for the umpteenth time.

  And like all the previous times, it went straight to voice mail.

  “Dammit,” he muttered, striding into the house and heading straight upstairs to the master bedroom, where he knew he’d find Donna.

  She was sitting on the edge of their bed, holding a photo of Lina, and sobbing aloud as her fingers traced the lines of their daughter’s face. Hearing Joseph enter the room, she looked up, a trace of hope glittering in her eyes. Seeing the anguish written all over her husband’s face, her trace of hope vanished.

  “What did he say?” she asked in a quavering voice.

  “Nothing good.” Joseph relayed the conversation to his wife, desperately trying to soften his words when he had no strength to do so.

  By the time he fell silent, Donna had gone deadly still. “So it’s true,” she whispered. “Lina is a triplet. And with Angelo gone, we have no way of knowing how or why this happened.” She swallowed her tears, seeking and finding a mother’s strength. “We have to tell Lina.”

  Joseph dragged a hand through his hair. “I’ve been trying to call her since I left the cemetery. All I get is voice mail. I’m trying not to think the worst, but…”

  “She knows, Joseph.” Donna spoke with absolute certainty. “God help us, but she knows.”

  “You can’t be sure of that.” Joseph was grasping at straws and he knew it. “She could be in a class or she could be with a guy or she could be—”

  “She could be, but she’s not.” Donna reached for her purse. “We’ve got to find her, to talk to her. It’s the only chance we have of preserving our family—if there’s any chance at all.”

  A hard nod. “I’ll drive.”

  12:40 p.m.

  Brandos’ block

  Todt Hill

  Ryan had been sitting in the back of the landscaping truck, pounding away on his laptop, when, fifteen minutes ago, Joseph’s car had come roaring around the corner and turned into his driveway. Quickly, Ryan had squatted down low, staying that way as the assemblyman jumped out of the car and strode into the house.

  Tightly coiled, Ryan had poised himself to listen to whatever Joseph told his wife. But nothing came. Not a sound from Joseph’s office. In fact, you could hear a pin drop. Which meant that Donna wasn’t in there, and now, neither was Joseph.

  Ryan had sworn under his breath. Obviously, Lina’s parents were talking behind different closed doors. And there was no way in hell that he could get inside the manor to catch that all-important discussion.

  He was racking his brain for a creative solution when the front door flew open again, and Joseph and Donna both exited the manor, climbed into Joseph’s car, and took off.

  Where the hell were they going?

  Scrambling into the front seat, Ryan turned over the ignition, eased the truck away from the curb, and as per what he’d learned from Marc and Patrick, followed close—but not too close—behind the Brandos’ car.

  It was his turn to do the tailing.

  Offices of Forensic Instincts

  12:45 p.m.

  The initial emotional wave had passed, and Gia, Dani, and Lina had already begun forming the unique bond that identical triplets shared. They’d talked, laughed, and even nibbled at some of the lunch Casey had ordered, celebrating their union with the FI team.

  But now was the time for questions, answers, and a search for the truth—a truth that, with the aid of Forensic Instincts, would free the girls from danger and put whoever was after them behind bars.

  With Gia’s and Dani’s consent, Casey opened her mouth to bring Lina up to speed.

  Her cell phone vibrated—once, twice, then repeatedly, showing no signs of going silent.

  Quickly, Casey glanced at the phone display, saw that the call was from Ryan, and rose. This had to be important or he wouldn’t be calling. He knew what was going on at this end.

  “I really have to take this,” she told the girls. “It’ll be quick. Then I’ll pick up where I left off.”

  She walked off into a corner of the room, keeping her back to the group.

  “Yes, Ryan,” she said quietly into the mouthpiece.

  “Sorry to interrupt,” he said without prelude. “But this couldn’t wait.”

  “Go on.”

  He ran through the events that had occurred since he’d spoken to them in the van. “I’m in the truck, following Joseph and Donna Brando. Obviously, Joseph’s already talked to Jimmy. I have no idea what was said or what Brando now knows. But there’s something you should know. Jimmy Colone disappeared a month after the Pontis’ murders and the triplets’ kidnapping. That can’t be a coincidence.”

  “Disappeared?”

  “As in fell off the face of the earth. There’s no record of him being anywhere, doing anything since he was eighteen. No credit cards. No phone records. No job. No addresses. Nothing.”

 
Casey’s heart was pounding. “You’re thinking he did the hit and Angelo arranged his disappearance to protect him.”

  “Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

  “On all fronts, yes. It would explain why the triplets were separated. Angelo was afraid that keeping them together would alert law enforcement to the coincidental timing of a double homicide and the adoption of the victims’ three missing babies. He was probably terrified that an investigation would lead them to Jimmy. So he split them up and organized three separate adoptions.”

  “Which worked—until now,” Ryan said. “Gia and Dani found each other and Jimmy is freaking out. His big brother’s not around to protect him, there’s no statute of limitations on murder, and he’s fighting for survival.”

  Casey’s fingers tightened on the phone. “Plus he now realizes that Lina’s about to learn the truth. Everything’s unraveling. That’s going to push him closer to doing something drastic.” She sucked in her breath. “Ryan, we’ve got to find Jimmy Colone.”

  “Let’s see where the Brandos are headed,” Ryan replied. “Maybe they’re going back to confront him together. If they do, I’ll be all over it.”

  “Call Patrick. He’s obviously still on the road. Tell him where you are and in what direction you’re headed. He’ll be armed. And he’ll catch up with you. Call me when he does.”

  * * *

  Casey disconnected the call, took a second to clear her head, and then rejoined the group. Time to fill Lina in on everything and to see what Lina might know without realizing that she did. And to that end, time for Casey to reverse her earlier decision not to tell the girls who FI believed their natural parents were, as well as how they’d died. Everything tied to Jimmy Colone, and he was now FI’s number one suspect.

  “I’ll start from the beginning,” Casey told Lina. “First come the facts that led Gia and Dani to hire us, and then the events that followed.”

  Lina listened intently to every word Casey said, until she was up to speed on everything Gia and Dani already knew. She was clearly distraught but equally puzzled by some of the nuances of the story.

  “Why hasn’t anyone come after me?” she asked. “I’ve had no threats on my life, not even a menacing letter or phone call. Is it because I didn’t find Gia and Dani the way they found each other?” A pained pause. “Or is it because you think my father is somehow involved in this and I’m being protected?”

  “Probably both.” Casey leaned forward, her gaze fixed on Lina. “Tell us everything you can about Angelo Colone.”

  Rather than looking surprised, Lina sighed. “Once you said you believed my dad knew more than he was saying, I assumed this would somehow involve Uncle Angelo. I’m not sure what to tell you. I was his goddaughter, I’m named after him, and I loved him very much. But I was also aware of his mob connections. They just never affected me in any way. My only exposure to him was family dinners, birthday parties, lots of presents, hugs, and laughter. The rest…” She shrugged. “I was never privy to it. Nor did I want to be.” Her eyes widened. “Do you think his death incited whoever’s doing this to try to hurt Gia and Dani?”

  “It’s increasing his anxiety,” Claire responded in that quiet, faraway voice that said she was speaking from sensory perception. “But it’s not why he’s going after Gia and Dani. Their finding each other triggered that. And whatever act caused you three to be separated is what’s driving him.”

  “You sound as if you know what that act was.” Perceptive as always, Lina made her assessment while studying Casey’s body language.

  “I believe we do,” Casey said, sparing Claire from having to hedge. “We think this all ties into a double homicide that happened a month after you were born.”

  At this point, all three girls were sitting up straight, staring at Casey as they waited for answers.

  “We don’t have hard-core evidence, but the coincidence of those murders is too great to ignore.” Casey took out a copy of the tiny article Ryan had produced and leaned forward to hand it to the girls. “The couple that was killed were Anthony and Carla Ponti. All signs point to the fact that they were your biological parents.”

  Three audible gasps as, with a trembling hand, Lina took the article, and the three girls huddled together, poring over every word.

  “The Pontis were shot to death in their home in Bay Ridge, Queens, and their infant triplets were kidnapped from the crime scene,” Lina read aloud. “No suspects have been identified, no murder weapon has been found, and there were no witnesses on the scene.” Her voice cracked. “Our parents,” she whispered.

  “There’s no other explanation.” Dani pressed her hands to her face, the realization as crushing as Casey had known it would be.

  Gia was practically vibrating with shock. “What else do you know?” she demanded.

  “We know that Anthony Ponti worked for Angelo Colone’s construction company,” Casey replied. “He made collections for him.”

  The implication sank in.

  “You think it was a mob hit,” Lina said. “You think that Unc… that Angelo Colone had the Pontis killed and had us kidnapped.”

  “But why take us?” Gia spoke up before Casey could respond. “I get the mob hit. Anthony Ponti probably helped himself to some extra cash that he wasn’t entitled to. So he and his wife were killed. But why take three infants? Why not just leave us in our cribs? We weren’t exactly what you’d call witnesses. Plus, three babies would be a huge burden for an escaping killer to juggle. It doesn’t make sense.”

  “My guess?” Casey replied. “We know that Angelo and Lina’s father were best friends. If the Brandos were desperate for a child, Joseph might very well have shared that fact with Angelo.”

  “After which Angelo provided them with one?” Lina looked ill. “I was a commodity that was exchanged out of goodwill and friendship?” Bitterness laced her tone. “Given how tight the two of them were, why wouldn’t Angelo just have turned over all three of us? My parents could have struck gold three times over.”

  Casey hurt deeply for Lina’s pain. But she pushed on, because it had to be done. “That’s not the way Angelo wanted it. He wanted to split the three of you up. So he made careful plans for three separate adoptions—adoptions that would keep you three from ever finding each other.”

  “Why go to all that trouble?”

  “My opinion? Angelo was protecting his hitman.”

  Again, all three girls startled.

  “You know who killed the Pontis?” Dani asked, turning up her palms. “Why are Gia and I first hearing about this?”

  “Because we only figured it out three minutes ago,” Casey replied. “That phone call I just took from Ryan fit the pieces together.” She sidestepped the oncoming questions to ask Lina one of her own. “What do you know about Angelo’s brother, Jimmy?”

  Lina stared. “Not much. Is that who killed our… parents?”

  “It looks that way. So please, try to think of anything—anything—Angelo might have said about his brother.”

  Frowning, Lina racked her brain. “I know Angelo was all about family, and Jimmy was the only blood tie he had. I know he had a soft spot in his heart for Jimmy—he’d tell us how smart he was, how successful
he’d be. And I know that Jimmy moved away when I was an infant, so I never met him.”

  “So Angelo spoke of him in the present tense—like he was alive and thriving somewhere other than New York?”

  “I guess so, yes.” Lina gave a definitive shake of her head. “This doesn’t make sense. The way Angelo talked—he was super-protective of Jimmy. Why would he put him in danger by making him a hitman?”

  “He didn’t.” It was Claire who answered the question, a spark of awareness in her faraway gaze. She was connecting with Jimmy via his high level of panic—both then and now. “Jimmy did this on his own, a way to impress his big brother. It all went wrong. Only Anthony was supposed to be killed. The shot that killed Carla was meant for him. Jimmy freaked out, just like he’s freaking out now. That recurring emotion—that’s what I’m sensing. His world was falling apart then. It’s falling apart again now.”

  “The mob has rules,” Marc murmured. “No women, no children.”

  Claire nodded. “Having broken those rules, all Jimmy could think about was Angelo’s reaction. He’d be livid. So he tried to make amends. Rather than abandoning three orphaned infants, he took the three of you and brought you to Angelo. After that…” The veil over Claire’s eyes lifted. “You know the rest.”

  At that moment, Casey’s cell phone vibrated again, Ryan’s number flashing on her screen. She gave a quick glance at her watch, surprised to see that almost forty minutes had passed since his last call.

  This time she answered right where she was. “What’s happening?”

  “Patrick and I are both on the move together. I’m right behind him. The Brandos just left Lina’s apartment. They’re clearly trying to find her. And as a quick heads-up, it looks like they’re headed for Tribeca.”

  “Then we’ll be ready,” Casey replied. “Thanks. When you get here, you and Patrick stay put outside the building. I’ll handle this.”

 
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