A face to die for, p.32
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       A Face to Die For, p.32

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 

  She hung up and turned to Lina. “Your parents are on their way here.”

  CHAPTER 35

  “No.” Lina jumped up, looking around as if to seek sanctuary. “I can’t face them. I won’t face them. Not yet. Not until it’s on my terms. Please, Casey, don’t do this to me.”

  “I have no intentions of it.” Casey exuded calm and control in an effort to tamper Lina’s rising hysteria. “You, Dani, and Gia will stay here with the team. I’ll go out there and speak to your parents.” She paused, then gestured at Lina’s purse. “Check your messages.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I want to see what we’re dealing with.”

  On trembling legs, Lina rose, going over and opening her purse. She pulled out her phone and checked. “I have a half-dozen texts and a ton of voice mails from them,” she reported woodenly. She scanned the texts. “They’re all the same, either begging or demanding that I call them.” She handed the cell to Casey. “You can listen to the voice messages. I’m not.”

  Casey nodded, taking the phone and running through the process quickly, listening to each message. “They’re pretty much the same as the texts, just increasingly desperate.” She looked at Lina. “No matter what happens, I do believe they love you.”

  Lina dragged a hand through her hair. “I don’t know how you can love someone and keep a secret like this. Maybe I’m too upset to even consider their side of things. But that’s the way it is. I need to regroup. Then I’ll talk to them.”

  Another nod. “Obviously, they realize you’ve spoken with us. So I have to tell them we gave you the truth about being a triplet. Otherwise, they’ll know I’m lying and all hell will break loose. And with your permission, I’d like carte blanche about what else I say. Maybe the right provocation will trip them up and make them give something away.”

  Without hesitation, Lina agreed. “Go ahead. I don’t care what you tell them. I’ll be having it out with them soon enough. But in the meantime, just keep them away from me, and from Gia and Dani.” Without realizing it, Lina turned to her sisters for comfort. And also without realizing it, each of them offered it—Dani with a hug and Gia with a supportive stroke of her shoulder and soothing words.

  The moments that followed were tense.

  Finally, the front doorbell sounded—a prolonged ring that meant one of the Brandos was leaning on it.

  “My facial recognition database says that Joseph and Donna Brando are here,” Yoda supplied. “They are highly agitated, judging from their vital signs.”

  “I’m sure they are,” Casey answered, already rising and heading out. “Thanks, Yoda.”

  She went straight to the front door, punched the entry code into the Hirsch pad, and let the Brandos in.

  “Where’s our daughter?” Joseph marched past Casey and planted himself in the hallway, gazing rapidly around. His wife followed suit, her eyes swollen and red from crying.

  “I have no idea,” Casey replied. “Why don’t you call her and ask—or isn’t she speaking to you?”

  Joseph’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Don’t play me, Ms. Woods. Donna and I have left a dozen messages. We’ve also checked in with her friends and stopped off at her apartment. She’s nowhere to be found. Which leads me to believe you’ve filled her in on your theory.”

  Casey folded her arms across her chest. “It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. And, yes, we told her. It was necessary to the investigation we’re conducting. And frankly, she has the right to know.”

  “It was our right to tell her,” Donna shot back. “She’s our daughter.”

  “Donna.” Joseph silenced his wife before she could say anything else incriminating. She’d just admitted that there was something Lina should be told, which was all but admitting that FI’s accusations were true.

  Casey seemed neither surprised nor disturbed by the admission. “It’s not necessary to censor your wife’s words, Mr. Brando. As Marc and I told you earlier, we have concrete DNA evidence. We also have proof that all three girls’ birth records were forged. So, whether or not you discuss the truth, we have it.”

  Joseph bristled. “I’ll repeat my question. Where is our daughter? You obviously communicated with her either by phone or in person to tell her your theory.” He wasn’t going to back down about using that word.

  “We met with her earlier,” Casey said, her own stare telling him that she wasn’t intimidated. “We relayed the facts. She was very upset. My guess is that she needs some time and space to absorb the enormity of what she learned.”

  “Is she all right?” Donna asked, her motherly concern outweighing her discretion. “You say she was upset. How upset? She must have been emotionally crushed.”

  “Lina is a strong young woman,” Casey replied, feeling a twinge of sympathy for Donna Brando. It was unclear how much she knew about Angelo’s involvement in the adoption. But either way, she loved Lina. And Lina loved her. Deception or not, she’d raised and nurtured Lina from infancy to adulthood. She was the only mother Lina had ever known. “Lina will come through this, Mrs. Brando. She has a great support system.”

  “A great support…” Donna caught on to that before Joseph did. “You’re not referring to her friends, are you?”

  “No. I’m not.”

  Donna swallowed hard. “You’re talking about the other two girls you claim are her sisters. Does that mean she’s met them?”

  “A short while ago, yes. She could very well be with them right now. They have a lot to share and to catch up on.”

  Donna had begun to cry. “Can you tell us about them?” She shot her husband a look that said I’m doing this. “Whether or not your claim about them being triplets is true, I need to know.”

  “And I need to know about this supposed investigation you’re conducting that led you to Lina in the first place,” Joseph said.

  “Our investigations are confidential—as are the identities of the other parties involved.” Casey gestured toward a nearby anteroom. “But in this case, interviewing you is critical. So let’s talk.” A quick glance at Joseph. “We’re not the enemy, Mr. Brando. We’re actually protecting your daughter from possible danger.”

  “Danger?” He looked alarmed, which was exactly the reaction Casey was hoping for. Like his wife, he loved Lina. “What danger?”

  Donna was already halfway to the anteroom. “Joseph, let’s hear what Ms. Woods has to say. If Lina is in danger, we need to know how and why.”

  The three of them sat down in the leather chairs. Casey didn’t insult them by offering them refreshment. This wasn’t a social call.

  “What do you know about a man named Anthony Ponti and his wife, Carla?” Casey purposely didn’t give them time to think. The first reaction was usually the real one.

  Both the Brandos looked blank.

  “Who?” Joseph asked.

  Casey repeated the names.

  Again, blank.

  “We have no idea. Tell us who they are and why you’re asking,” Joseph said.

  “They were a young couple who lived in Brooklyn. They were shot and killed in their own home. The killer was never found.”

  “T
hat’s horrible,” Donna said. “But what does it have to do with Lina?”

  Casey sidestepped the question. “Anthony worked for your friend, Angelo Colone. He handled collections for Colone’s construction company.” A pause, during which time Casey angled her head in Joseph’s direction. “You do represent that company, correct?”

  For the first time, Joseph shifted in his seat. “My firm does, yes. Neil is the attorney of record. I handle Angelo’s estate and I handled his personal affairs. I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that he and I were childhood friends.”

  “I’m also not surprised to hear you separated yourself from his questionable businesses. Any hint of impropriety, either then or especially now that your career goals are so much loftier, would put an end to your political future.”

  Joseph’s eyes narrowed. “Are you threatening me, Ms. Woods?”

  “I’m reminding you that being forthcoming is in your best interests.”

  “If Joseph won’t, I will,” Donna surprised her by saying. “But please, tell us where you’re headed with this story about the murdered couple. Are you suggesting that Angelo had something to do with their deaths?”

  “Donna.” Joseph cut her off again. “Let’s listen, not ask questions.”

  For the moment, Donna complied.

  “Since you and Angelo grew up together, I assume you knew Jimmy Colone, as well.”

  “Of course I did,” Joseph replied. Casey could see the pulse at his neck beat a little faster. “He was Angelo’s kid brother. He followed us around, always trying to please Angelo. And Angelo was always protective of him. Jimmy took off when he was a teenager. There’s nothing else to say.”

  “So you have no idea where he is?”

  “None. Why would I?”

  “Interesting about his disappearance,” Casey said thoughtfully. “He vanished a month after the Pontis were killed. That was twenty-seven years ago. Oh, and I neglected to mention one key point. The Pontis had triplets. Three identical baby girls. They were kidnapped from the murder scene.”

  “Oh dear God.” Donna swayed in her seat. “Are you saying those are the triplets… that Lina…”

  “Donna,” Joseph snapped, although his own face had gone sheet white.

  “I’m only stating the facts,” Casey replied. “And the final fact is that, as of a few weeks ago, physical threats have been made against two of the triplets. I have no reason to believe that Lina won’t be next. Unless you can think of a reason why she’d be spared?”

  “Joseph…” Donna began, staring at her husband.

  “We’re leaving.” Joseph came to his feet. “We have to find our daughter, to make sure she’s safe.”

  “Very well.” Casey rose, too, closing with a bomb that had just occurred to her. “If that’s the way you want to play it, fine. But let me leave you with one parting thought, Mr. Brando. I’d follow your wife’s lead on this one. Because for twenty-seven years, there’s been a killer out there, and an unsolved murder case that I’m sure the NYPD would be glad to close. The girls want closure, as well. So, with their testimony, the tampered birth records we’ve uncovered, and the DNA evidence we have, I’m sure we can get a court order to exhume the Pontis’ bodies.”

  Donna gasped, but this time, Casey ignored it, determined to drive home her point.

  “One test would prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Anthony and Carla Ponti were the girls’ natural parents. At which point, the girls would be well within their rights to reopen the case. So think about it while you’re searching for Lina. Cooperate and you’re merely a man who was so desperate to adopt a baby that he didn’t ask questions about the paperwork involved. Fight us and you could be found complicit in a double homicide.”

  CHAPTER 36

  Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York

  2:05 p.m.

  Jimmy sat down heavily on the edge of his bed, wiping the perspiration off his face, taking deep breaths to steady his nerves.

  His whole life was about to be obliterated—again. And this time, it would be forever.

  He reminded himself that he was a survivor and that, thanks to Angelo’s guidance, he’d learned to do what had to be done. He wasn’t eighteen anymore. He was far older, more mature, and definitely prepared. He’d been making provisions for years now, just in case. He’d set up that offshore account in the Cayman Islands. He’d been stashing large amounts of cash in his home safe. And his passport had been ready and waiting for this one-way trip to Montenegro.

  After his telltale meeting with Joseph today, he’d set the wheels in motion. He’d withdrawn the maximum amount of money from his local bank account and wired the rest to his Cayman Islands account. He’d emptied his home safe of the stacks of cash, his passport, and the antique pistol Angelo had passed down to him from their father—the very pistol that had killed the Pontis and started this snowballing nightmare. He probably should have dumped the weapon a long time ago. But he couldn’t. Partly because he was terrified that the cops would find it and partly because it was a gift from Angelo. And now—it was just as well that he’d kept it, just in case he needed it again.

  He’d chartered a plane from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport to Podgorica Airport, Montenegro—a country that had no extradition policy with the US. The flight plan was filed and the jet was ready to go. And his bags were packed and loaded in the trunk of his car—all but the duffel that contained the items from his safe. That bag was right by his side, where it would remain.

  So, yeah, this time he was ready. He’d followed Angelo’s advice to a tee. His big brother might be gone, but he’d coached Jimmy carefully, reminding him all these years that, given the nature of his crime, he might someday have to truly vanish at a moment’s notice. The escape plan was well thought out, even though both brothers hoped and prayed that it would never have to be implemented. But as they both knew, life happens.

  Well, life had just happened. And it was time to go.

  For the umpteenth time, Jimmy cursed himself for the events of twenty-seven years ago. Why the hell had he taken it upon himself to make that hit? Angelo had already arranged for one of his mob soldiers to do it. But Jimmy had jumped the gun, confident that he could do it faster, better, determined—yet again—to prove himself to Angelo. Instead of coming out the hero, he’d screwed everything up. Rather than making Angelo proud, he’d showed up at his doorstep like a whimpering child, freaked out to the max and juggling three squalling infants in his arms. As if, by giving them to Angelo to shape their lives rather than leaving them for the cops to find, he’d be making up for blowing away their mother.

  What an asshole he’d been.

  He’d poured out the whole story to his brother. And, shit, had Angelo been ripping pissed—especially about the babies he now had to deal with.

  “Why didn’t you leave them there?” he’d snapped. “You’d fucked up enough already. What do I look like, a goddamned wet nurse? What am I supposed to do with them?”

  But in the end, Angelo had calmed down, and he’d known just what to do. He’d called on one of the young lawyers on his payroll to play the part of Constantin Farro, adoption lawyer. The attorney had drawn up the necessary papers, made the necessary visits, and once the job was done,
gotten a fat payment in exchange for fading into the woodwork. Angelo had used his far-reaching connections to doctor records, forge birth certificates, and—most of all—to make provisions for Jimmy’s disappearance.

  Fulfilling Joseph’s and Donna’s dream had been the one thing that had quieted Angelo’s rage. He knew how badly they wanted a child, how long and hard they’d tried to have one, and how heartbroken they were at the lack of results. This was Angelo’s chance to give them one. And he’d made that happen, too. He’d also carefully chosen the other two couples—the Russos and the Muranos-- because they were so desperate to adopt a child that they were willing to accept all conditions without question. Still, in the event that, over time, they “forgot” the rules, he’d put long-term surveillance into place to ensure there were no violations.

  It had all come together. And it would have stayed that way if two of those fucking triplets hadn’t found each other.

  Jimmy rose from the bed. The time for reflection was over. It was time. He had to leave his cushy life behind and run.

  He’d just grabbed his duffel bag when his cell phone rang.

  His iPhone screen told him it was Joseph.

  Jimmy couldn’t ignore him. The risk was too great. Given the precarious state of affairs right now, Joseph would track him down like a hunted deer if he blew him off. And Jimmy had no idea how much more Joseph had learned.

  He had to answer and find out.

  “Hey.” Jimmy wondered if Joseph could hear his heart pounding right through the phone.

  “I’m headed home,” Joseph replied in a voice as hard as stone. “Meet me at the gazebo. Leave now.”

  “Why? What’s going on?”

  “We’ll discuss it when you get there.”

 
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