A face to die for, p.33
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       A Face to Die For, p.33

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 

  Click.

  Office of Forensic Instincts

  2:15 p.m.

  The tension that filled the brownstone was palpable.

  So much had happened during the minutes since the Brandos had taken off that everyone’s head was spinning.

  The door had barely shut behind Joseph and Donna when Casey called Patrick, striding back to the sitting room as she did.

  She collided with Lina, who’d been hovering in the hallway, listening. This time, instead of looking devastated, she looked furious.

  Casey held up one finger as she spoke to Patrick, who was parked directly across from the brownstone.

  “The Brandos just left,” she told him, crossing the threshold to the room where everyone waited. “They claimed they were leaving to search for Lina. My gut tells me they’re headed to meet Jimmy. Follow them.” She met Marc’s gaze and tipped her head toward the door, giving him a tacit signal. “Marc’s coming with you, just in case there’s trouble.”

  Marc was out the door before she hung up.

  Casey turned to Lina. “I’m sorry for what you overheard,” she said simply.

  “You have nothing to be sorry about. My parents do.” Lina’s chin was set in an uncompromising line. “I’m confronting them—now,” she announced. “I know what I said a few minutes ago, but the conversation you just had changed everything. My father’s hiding something major. I might not be his natural child, but I know him well. I’m also as stubborn as he is. So whatever information he’s hiding, I’m getting it out of him.” Her gaze met Gia’s and Dani’s. “I’m catching the next ferry to Todt Hill. I’ll wait for my parents there.”

  “Wait.” Casey grabbed her arm. “Let me find John Nickels. He’s probably close by, waiting to give Gia and Dani a ride home. I’d rather you not go to your parents’ place alone, not when I can’t predict Jimmy Colone’s next move.”

  “I’m not worried.”

  “Well, I am.”

  Quickly, Casey called John and explained.

  “I’m a few blocks away having a cup of coffee,” he said. “I’ll get the car and be there.”

  Gia’s and Dani’s anxious gazes were on Lina, and they both stood up and went to her.

  “What can we do?” Gia asked.

  “Just send good vibes my way.” A weak smile touched Lina’s lips. “And be here when I come back. I’m bringing answers. This charade is ending today.”

  “Please be careful,” Dani said. “This Jimmy Colone is dangerous.”

  “Not to me.” Lina sounded almost guilty as she spoke. “That’s why I haven’t been touched. Angelo’s loyalty to me and my family must have extended to his brother, as well. So I’m being spared while the two of you have been through hell. I’m so sorry.”

  Casey’s cell phone rang.

  “I’m back and in my lair,” Ryan reported. “Patrick called to let me know that he and Marc have the Brandos covered. So I’m down here digging up info on Jimmy Colone. I’m getting somewhere. Tell the girls to hang tight.”

  Casey had barely hung up when John Nickels called to say he was right outside the building.

  Lina hugged both her sisters and took off.

  Claire stared after her, her brows drawn and a flicker of apprehension in her eyes.

  “What is it?” Casey asked.

  “I’m not sure that Lina’s really free of danger,” Claire replied. “We’re missing something, something besides Jimmy’s frantic state. A plan, a deception—both.” Claire massaged her temples. “I’m uneasy—no, I’m worried.”

  “Should we be doing something more?” Casey asked.

  A tentative shrug. “Other than that one time I experienced an emotional connection, I’ve never felt in touch with Jimmy Colone. Maybe it’s because he’s cast in a strange web of shadows. Maybe it’s because I never had a personal item of his to hold or touch. But he keeps fading in and out of my awareness. Sometimes I can almost grab on to the feeling, and then it dissipates. He’s there, and then he’s not. It’s frustrating. But I am deeply connected with the girls. So that apprehensive feeling that I have… let’s just say I’m glad Marc and Patrick will be following the Brandos and that John will be with Lina. Because something’s not right.”

  Brooklyn Bridge

  2:20 p.m.

  Donna stared out the passenger seat window of their car, watching the water below and feeling as if her entire world was crumbling around her.

  “Why didn’t you tell Casey Woods the truth?” she blurted out.

  “You know the answer to that.” Joseph was driving home on autopilot, as tormented as his wife about the current crisis. “I’d be admitting to being complicit in events I knew nothing about.”

  “What about those you did? You knew Lina wasn’t our natural child. You knew Angelo made arrangements for us to have her. You knew questionable strings were pulled to make that happen. You knew—and so did I.” Donna dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “But at the time, we didn’t care. We didn’t ask a single question. And now… dear God, we’re paying the dearest of prices. Worse, so is Lina.”

  Joseph’s hands tightened on the wheel. “When Angelo brought Lina to us, we had no idea what Jimmy had done or that she was one of three triplets. So, yes, we leaped at the chance of having a child. Do you remember the depth of your depression before then? You wouldn’t even leave the house except to go to those support group meetings with other women desperate for a child. I was terrified I’d lose you, that’s how bad you were.”

  “I remember. I also remember that that’s how we managed to invent that story about my high risk pregnancy confining me to bedrest for a huge chunk of my term.”

  “It worked. And because of it and thanks to Angelo, we got Lina. And given the circumstances, we were desperate to protect her.”

  “So we lied.” Donna wasn’t putting on blinders anymore. “We told her she was our natural child. We invented a beautiful lie about her birth.”

  “Okay, fine,” Joseph snapped. “We looked the other way. We latched onto our opportunity. We brought Lina up believing she was our biological child. We’re not the first set of parents to do that, and it’s a choice, not an illegality. So that’s the extent of our guilt. But confessing to the adoption would bring us under investigation for a double homicide. I can’t allow that—not for my political future, but mostly not for Lina.”

  “That’s out of our hands now, Joseph, and you know it. Casey Woods says she has DNA evidence, and I believe her. So the investigation Forensic Instincts is conducting will bring the truth to light.”

  Joseph pressed down on the gas pedal. “The only way to extricate ourselves from the allegations of murder and kidnapping is to get Jimmy to admit the truth. And he’s about to—if I have to beat it out of him.”

  Three cars behind them, Patrick turned onto the BQE and followed as they headed for the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island.

  CHAPTER 37

  The Brando house

  2:50 p.m.

  “I don’t want you going in alone,” John Nickels told Lina as they pulled into her parents’ driveway.

  Lina turned
to him, a resolute expression on her face.

  “I appreciate that, Mr. Nickels,” she said. “But these are my parents, and I’m handling this on my own. They’re certainly not going to hurt me. If anything, they’ve gone to extremes to protect me. So I’m not in danger. You can wait out here if it makes you feel better. But I am going in alone.”

  John looked uneasy, but he didn’t argue. He’d stay put and keep his eyes wide open. Any sign of trouble, he’d be all over it.

  Lina got out of the passenger side and leaned in the car window. “I truly appreciate your concern, Mr. Nickels. But I’ll be fine. And thank you for getting me here.”

  With that, she turned and marched up to the front door.

  2:55 p.m.

  Marc and Patrick waited until Joseph’s car turned into the driveway before parking the van in a quiet alcove diagonally across the street. An average vehicle in this neighborhood would be too ho-hum to give a second glance to.

  “Brando must be meeting Jimmy here,” Marc said, double-checking to make sure his pistol was loaded and ready. “We’d better start prowling around, in case our target got here first.”

  As Patrick reached for his gun, his cell phone rang.

  “Yeah, John.” His brows went up. “Already? That’s not good. I’ll explain later. Just stay where you are. I’ll call if I need you.” He hung up and turned to Marc. “Lina’s here. John dropped her off right before we drove up. He’s parked in the driveway. No need for concealment, since he’s her driver. And he’s on standby, just in case.”

  “That still doesn’t make me happy,” Marc replied, already out of the van. “None of us know what Lina is walking into.”

  “We’d better change that now.”

  Office of Forensic Instincts

  3:05 p.m.

  Ryan’s eyes narrowed on his computer screen. He was getting really pissed.

  Much as he’d try to dig into Jimmy Colone’s background, all he could find was what he’d already told Casey. Nothing further about his personal life, no family photos—not even of him and Angelo—nothing. It was as if he were deliberately being kept under the radar. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Angelo had found the right members of the press to separate Jimmy from him and from the mob. But the extent to which he’d gone was beyond extreme. And Ryan’s hands were somewhat tied, since Jimmy had disappeared over twenty-seven years ago, when there were no social media avenues to explore. He’d hit a fucking dead end.

  Or had he?

  Ryan sat up straight, his mind going a mile a minute. Angelo Colone had grown up in Brooklyn. The odds were that whatever high school he’d attended, Jimmy had attended, too.

  Based on Joseph Brando’s age, Ryan quickly figured out the years that Angelo would be in grades nine through twelve. Then, as quickly as his fingers could fly across the keyboard, Ryan hacked into the New York City Board of Education office.

  Brooklyn High School. That was Angelo’s high school alma mater. He’d graduated in 1982.

  That meant Jimmy would have graduated in 1989.

  No more hacking necessary. Ryan logged into e-yearbook.com and called up the 1980 Brooklyn High School edition. Exactly what he needed appeared. Pages of all the graduates, their nicknames, career goals, and photos.

  He scanned through the pages until he got to the C’s. Several pages to get to Colone. But there he was—James “Jimmy” Colone. Baseball player with the goal of becoming a lawyer.

  Ryan blinked. The kid looked familiar—too familiar.

  An eerie feeling crawled up his spine.

  “Yoda, I need you to run this photo through your facial recognition software,” he said. “But first, morph him into a forty-five-year-old. The guy would be twenty-seven years older now than he was then.”

  “Facial recognition software search underway,” Yoda replied. A short while later, he announced, “Facial recognition complete after age enhancement applied. Photos printing now.”

  Ryan hung over the printer until the photos came through. He took one look at them and then raced for the stairs, taking them two at a time.

  He burst into the room where the rest of his teammates, and Gia and Dani, were waiting for news of any kind.

  “Casey.” He shoved the photos at her. “I know where Jimmy Colone disappeared to. Photo one is a graduation picture. Photo two is Jimmy Colone today—sans his broken nose and a few other cosmetic tweaks.”

  Casey’s gaze darted from one picture to the other. Then she raised her head, her expression utterly stunned.

  “My God,” she breathed. “Jimmy Colone is Neil Donato.”

  CHAPTER 38

  The Brando gazebo

  3:05 p.m.

  Joseph arrived at the white lattice structure to find his campaign manager already waiting for him. He was standing, feet planted, clearly ignoring the bench, and poised and ready for whatever confrontation Joseph had in mind. Oddly, he exuded an air of calm that Joseph hadn’t expected.

  Then again, he had no idea how much Joseph knew.

  “I assume this isn’t about the campaign,” Neil began as Joseph stalked up to him.

  “No. It’s not.”

  “Then it’s about Lina.” An irritated sigh. “I told you everything.”

  “That’s a crock of shit.” Joseph’s eyes were blazing. “What you told me is that you had no clue where the triplets came from. I’ll refresh your memory. They came from their natural parents, Anthony and Carla Ponti, the couple you shot to death in Brooklyn twenty-seven years ago.”

  Neil’s head jerked back in surprise, but Joseph didn’t wait for a denial.

  “You brought those babies to Angelo, and he split them up and turned the world upside down to protect you. You, you son of a bitch. You. My long-term legal associate, my family friend, my campaign manager. I gave you your first job, took you under my wing, and made you a part of my family.”

  “What do you want, Joseph?” Neil demanded, abandoning all pretense. “I love your family. I kept you all out of this, not just because Angelo wanted it that way but because I did.”

  “You did this to save your own ass. It’s why you had to vanish so quickly, not because Angelo was keeping you away from the mob the way he told me but because he was keeping you out of jail. What do I want? I want you to look me in the eye and admit the truth. I want you to provide the authorities with a full confession. I want you to flush yourself down the toilet and exonerate me of any wrongdoing.”

  “Now who’s saving his own ass?” Neil shot back. “Plus, you’re crazy. You want me to look you in the eye and admit that everything you just said is true? Fine, consider it done. I killed the Pontis and took their three kids. But you’re insane if you think I’m turning myself in. Prison? After all these years? No fucking way.”

  “Fine. Then I’ll do it.” Joseph reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. “The voice recorder app—a wonderful tool.” He tapped the icon and played a few sentences back to Neil. “I’ll be playing this for the cops and the FBI—who I’m calling right now.” He opened the phone app to press 9-1-1.

  Neil’s composure snapped.

  “Give me that!
He lunged forward, grabbing for the cell phone.

  Joseph held it out of reach and punched Neil in the gut.

  Neil recovered quickly, groping in his pocket and pulling out a gun. With a shaking hand, he pointed it at Joseph.

  “Don’t make me do this, Joseph,” he said. “Just give me that cell phone and let me walk away. You’ll never see me again.”

  Joseph went still, his stunned gaze fixed on the weapon.

  “You’re not going to shoot me, Jimmy,” he said at last, purposely using Neil’s real name. “You’re no more of a killer now than you were twenty-seven years ago. You screwed it up then and you’ll screw it up now.”

  Neil’s lips thinned. “Don’t call my bluff.”

  “I’ll take my chances.” With lighting speed, Joseph pressed 9-1-1, yelling out, “Help… a gunman is at my home...”

  “Goddamn you!” Neil used the barrel of his gun to knock the phone to the floor, where it rattled just out of reach.

  Joseph went after it. As he bent down to retrieve it, he spotted Lina in the distance, making her way through the thick grove of trees and approaching the gazebo.

  He tried to call out to warn her, but Neil brought the butt of the gun down on his head, striking him as hard as he could.

  Joseph crumpled to the ground, blood oozing from his head.

  * * *

  Through the tree branches, Lina could make out her father and her uncle Neil in the gazebo. She’d known her parents were home; her father’s car was in the garage. Her mother was in the master bath crying, but Lina had purposely avoided her. It was her father she wanted to have it out with. Her mother would be too emotional to provide the hard-core answers she needed.

  She’d searched the whole house, with no sign of her father. So she’d resorted to combing the grounds.

 
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