A face to die for, p.4
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       A Face to Die For, p.4

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 
Sipping her latte, Casey gazed up and down the street. A light stream of pedestrian traffic and an even lighter stream of cars. Brick buildings all in a row. And lots and lots of bicycles, some with riders and many more chained up along the sidewalk.

  Somehow—based on Brianna’s iPhone photo—Casey didn’t visualize Lina as a bike rider. So she kept her scrutiny on the pedestrians. She wanted to spot Lina as soon as she arrived.

  Sure enough, at twelve ten, a young woman with straight, shiny, almost-waist-length dark hair hurried to the front door and stepped into Joe’s. Casey had time for a quick assessment, which only confirmed what she’d noted in the photo Brianna had shown them. Lina was one put-together girl. She wore expensive, trendy clothes—a black silky rag & bone top and designer AG Jeans—and sunglasses that were worthy of Rodeo Drive. When she pulled them off to scan the coffee shop, Casey could see that her makeup was impeccably applied and that her nails were professionally manicured.

  Definitely not a poor girl.

  “Lina?” Casey stood, beckoning her over.

  Lina walked over to the table. “Hi. You must be Casey.”

  “I am indeed.” Casey shook her hand. “I really appreciate you meeting me. Why don’t you get coffee and one of these unbelievable chocolate croissants and then we can talk.”

  Lina smiled, one of those face-lighting smiles that was pure sunshine. “How did you know my weakness? And they are unbelievable. I’ll be right back.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton handbag and pulled out a ten-dollar bill, then leaned across the table to drop her bag alongside Casey’s.

  “Could you watch this for me?” she asked.

  “Sure.”

  “Great, thanks.” Lina turned and walked over to the counter.

  Casey eyed the handbag. It was the real deal, not a fake. It cost almost two thousand dollars. And the casual way Lina handled it—this girl was used to money. Her family must be loaded. That explained how she could afford a one-bedroom apartment located at the university’s doorstep.

  A few minutes later, Lina returned to the table carrying a replica of Casey’s order.

  “I love their lattes,” she said, taking her seat. “And as for their croissants, I’d be an elephant if I ate here more often. I limit myself to once a month.”

  “Smart move.” Casey took her first bite. “M-m-m, this is decadent.”

  “Told you so.” Lina bit into her own pastry, then put it down, used a napkin to wipe her fingers, and picked up her latte. “I’m glad Brianna took my advice and came to you. Forensic Instincts has a great reputation. And Brianna is really losing it—not that I blame her. Even I’m getting more and more freaked out by this psycho-stalker, and I’m not his target.”

  Casey set down her cup. She liked the fact that this girl seemed to cut straight to the chase, no bullshit. “Do you mind if I tape this conversation?” she asked. “It’ll make it easier to focus on what you’re saying, rather than my being distracted by note-taking.” Not to mention it will give me the ability to watch your face and read your body language.

  “Sure,” Lina agreed at once. She waited while Casey scrolled to the right app on her iPhone, placed the phone on the table, and pressed the record icon.

  “All set.” Casey continued to sip her latte, keeping her body relaxed and her actions casual. No point in freaking out the poor girl. To a novice, these recorded meetings could feel like a police interrogation. “Let’s start by keeping our voices low and not using any real names, not while we’re in public. Refer to the man in question as Joe. That name is used in here every five seconds, given where we are. So no one will be looking up to see who Joe is and why he’s being discussed. As for your friend…” Casey avoided using Brianna’s name again. “… she’ll be Anne.”

  “Good point.” Lina nodded. “Okay. Tell me what you want to know. Anne is my best friend. Anything I can do to help her, I will.”

  “Loyal friends are hard to come by,” Casey replied. “Anne is fortunate to have you. And, please remember, no matter how probing my questions might seem, we’re all on the same side. I just need your take on things, partly because it will be less biased than Anne’s and partly because I want to know what you saw firsthand rather than what Anne told you.”

  “Shoot.”

  First came establishing credibility. That’s where Casey’s behavioral analysis skills and gut instincts came in. The combination would tell her a lot about Brianna’s best friend. Was she as much of a straight shooter as she appeared to be? Or was she an exaggerator? A half-truth teller? An evader? How much could they call upon her during this investigation? Was she reliable? Shrewd? As loyal to Brianna as she appeared to be? And how much face-to-face knowledge did she have or could she acquire?

  Time to start the process of finding out.

  “You and Anne met in an economics class?” Casey asked.

  “The first week of our first semester,” Lina replied. “We hit it off right away.”

  Casey digested that and then went on to get a better insight into what made Lina tick. “I know that Anne went the corporate route in between her BS and her MBA. What about you?”

  Lina’s grin was rueful. “When I graduated from FIT, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to apply my education. I’ve always had a business head. My mom owns a boutique in SoHo. She suggested I come on as her buyer. That really appealed to me. So I dived right in. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go into product development and marketing at a luxury brand—you know, like LVMH—so I applied to Stern and got in. I’ll be getting my MBA in marketing with a specialization in luxury marketing.”

  Casey’s brows rose. “That sounds impressive.”

  “I doubt it’ll be impressive when I’m working sixteen-hour days,” Lina replied dryly. “But hopefully I’ll love it enough not to mind.”

  “That’s how it is with me. My career is much more than a job. It’s a huge part of who I am. Sometimes it sucks me dry. But it’s worth every drop of lost sleep.” Casey took another bite of her croissant and a sip of her latte and then returned to the matter at hand. “So you and Anne became fast friends. That’s great. And clearly you built trust. Also great. When her problems with Joe began, did she immediately confide in you or did she keep it to herself for a while?”

  “She didn’t wait a second. She ran straight to me from the first time that prick came on to her. She was totally freaked out. I was furious. If it had been up to me, I would have gone to the dean—after I kicked Joe in the balls. But I’m a hothead. Anne knew better. We had nothing concrete to report. And that bastard knew it.”

  “Do you know him personally?”

  “I wasn’t registered in any of his classes, if that’s what you mean. But he’s pretty brilliant when it comes to marketing. He sometimes gave extra workshops, which were open to the entire student body. I attended a bunch of those. And he showed up at school functions, so I’ve seen him outside the classroom, too. I hear that he’s teaching a digital marketing course this summer to the part-time MBA students. All in all, I certainly know who he is. Then again, most of the female grad students do.”

  The disdainful note in Lina’s last sentence wasn’t lost on Casey. “Are you implying he has a reputation for this kind of behavior?”


  “Let’s put it this way. His reputation is based only on rumors—but there are way too many of them to be bogus. No woman has actually come forward, probably for the same reasons Anne hasn’t. But hey, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

  “How much fire? Has there ever been any talk about rape?”

  “Not that I’ve heard. Besides, he’s too smart to flush his career down the toilet from an accusation like that.”

  Mentally, Casey had to agree. “Anything consensual?” she asked.

  “Again, not from what I’ve heard. But I doubt a student would publicize her affair with a professor. So who knows?”

  “Does he seem to have a type he focuses on?”

  Lina shrugged. “Pretty. Guileless. Other than that, he’s an equal opportunity perv.”

  No surprise there. Ryan’s research had shown much the same pattern—or lack thereof.

  “Okay, give me a rundown on what Anne told you—from the come-ons to the gift deliveries.”

  The story Lina relayed was totally in line with what Brianna had said—only less emotional. That was exactly the tenor Casey was hoping to establish. Now she could build on it and move on. “Now tell me what things you actually saw, not the things Anne told you.”

  Lina didn’t look surprised. She was a bright girl. She knew where this was headed. “I saw the gifts,” she replied. “I was with Anne a few of the times she discovered them on her doorstep. I was also with her when she got those creepy phone calls—all breathing and hanging threats, no words spoken. But what you really want to know is, did I see Joe that night outside her apartment building. And the answer is yes.”

  Casey’s brow furrowed. There was a note of absolute certainty in Lina’s voice that puzzled her. “You sound as if you’re positive the man you saw was Joe. Did you actually see his face? Make out his features?”

  “Neither. It was dark. And we weren’t close enough to distinguish facial details.”

  “Then how can you be sure it was Joe?”

  Lina looked Casey straight in the eye. “Part of the reason I’m such a good buyer is because I’m a very visual person. Just as I know the lines and styles of clothing, I know the lines of the human body. I can make out body types, stances, and distinct gestures.”

  Casey processed that. Lina wasn’t a behaviorist. This was a reach, one she couldn’t blindly buy into.

  “Let’s say that’s possible,” she said. “Wouldn’t it only work if you’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly study someone? You just told me you’ve only seen Joe at a podium in a crowded auditorium, or occasionally around campus.”

  “Until all this went down with Anne that was true. But since then I’ve watched him like a hawk. Trust me, I can pick him out in the dark, even from a short distance.” Lina counted off on her fingers, supplying Casey with the proof she needed. “He’s tall and lean, but he has a bit of a gut. He plants his feet apart but leans slightly to the right. He paces back and forth, and he keeps his left arm folded across his chest. He smokes—which the guy outside Anne’s apartment was doing—and he holds his cigarette in his right hand. Everyone who smokes has a specific style—his is taking slow, long drags and then exhaling in an upward stream, almost like a rhythm. And he’s very neat about disposing of his cigarette butts. He grinds them under his heel and then picks them up and tosses them in the trash. I guess that, besides being a perv, he’s an environmentalist.”

  Casey did a mental double take. She was surprised and more than a little impressed. This was no spoiled little rich girl. This was one damned smart woman. “Maybe you should come work for us.”

  Lina laughed. “Doubtful. That’s where my talents end. I can’t pick up on people’s thoughts or their emotions. Just their physical stuff.”

  “Just the same, you make one hell of a good witness. The information you supplied will really help. I hope we can continue to count on you, especially since Anne is staying at your place.”

  “Yeah, she and Bandit moved in earlier this week. Anne’s a pleasure; Bandit not so much.”

  Casey felt her lips twitch. “I assume Bandit is the pet ferret.”

  “Destructo-pet,” Lina corrected, rolling her eyes. “He pretends to be cute and cuddly. Meanwhile, he’s taken a liking to my Burberry cashmere scarf. It’s become his toy of choice. I doubt it’ll be part of my winter wardrobe next year.”

  “Maybe he’ll pay for a new one,” Casey suggested, mirth dancing in her eyes.

  “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

  With a hearty laugh, Casey rose, extending her hand again and shaking Lina’s. “Meeting you was a pleasure. I have your number. I’ll be in touch.”

  Lina met Casey’s handshake. “Please do,” she said, her expression growing troubled. “I’m sure I’m not saying anything that you and your team haven’t already thought of, but the fact that Joe is going to such great lengths to continue stalking Anne is really scary. Bad enough that he did it during the school year when they interacted several times a week. But now? When she’s not taking summer classes and she’s working on the Upper East Side? This is serious, Casey. Anne is in real danger.”

  CHAPTER 5

  Thank God that Gia’s last über-wedding that weekend was a Sunday afternoon wedding at a Westchester County country club in Armonk. That meant the festivities were over by seven rather than midnight, not to mention it was only a twenty-minute drive from the club to her townhouse.

  It was a rare event for Gia to be home, in her sweats, and curled up on her living room sofa, eating a Lean Cuisine and watching Dancing with the Stars on her DVR, before nine p.m.

  This weekend had been a killer. The sound system at Saturday afternoon’s wedding had gone on the fritz. The maid of honor in Saturday night’s wedding had gone MIA ten minutes before show time. And at today’s wedding, the hem of a bridesmaid’s dress had gotten caught and mangled in a golf cart.

  Gia to the rescue. She’d paged her sound tech, who was on retainer and at the wedding. He’d found the electronic glitch pronto and fixed it minutes before the procession began. Saturday night’s maid of honor had been located—and swiftly extricated—by Gia, where she’d been hooking up in the coat closet with the groom’s cousin. And Sunday afternoon’s dress had required some quick work on Gia’s part—a shearing scissors, a tube of Krazy Glue, and a patch of material taken from the gown’s underside to cover the visible damage. Then came a quick steam, and the dress looked as good as new. Potential crisis averted.

  Gia tackled each disaster with adrenaline-induced intensity. She didn’t stop to think, just acted totally on autopilot. She held on to that intensity, carrying it from event to event. And at last, when the final task had been completed—and her final bill had been paid—she could crash.

  Tonight was crash night.

  She polished off her Lean Cuisine and glass of Pinot Grigio and then treated herself to a whopping bowl of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. She deserved it. She’d go to the gym tomorrow morning and work it off, before heading into the office and turning in her reports and checks to Ashlyn Cushing, the owner of Shimmering Weddings. Ashlyn was a tough but fair boss, with a pencil-thin figure and the natural blonde beauty of a California Miss America contestant, despite having
just turned forty-five. She made no secret about the fact that she considered Gia to be her star employee—uniquely talented and with a brilliant future ahead of her. She’d even privately hinted about someday giving Gia a small piece of the company.

  Gia wasn’t foolish enough to tell Ashlyn that she had plans of her own—using this experience to someday open her own wedding planning business.

  Someday was a way off. Tonight, she was too exhausted to even think about her dream.

  She contemplated taking a hot bath and wondered if she had the strength to walk upstairs to the master bathroom. Ultimately, her body aches won out over her fatigue, and she took her replenished glass of wine and headed up to turn on the faucets. She hadn’t paid extra for the Jacuzzi; it had just come with her townhouse model. But, damn, did she thank heaven for it, time and time again.

  After stripping off her clothes, she pinned her hair on top of her head, grabbed a bottle of body wash, and paused to place her glass of wine and her cell phone on the bathtub ledge. Pain-in-the-ass cell phone. She wished she were one of those lucky people who could survive without having it as an appendage. She wasn’t. It was partly her job and partly her OCD tendencies, but she had to stay connected twenty-four seven.

  With a sigh, she climbed into the tub, leaned back, and let the jet sprays do their job. The body wash could wait a few minutes. All she wanted was to soak in her steamy tension-cure. She shut her eyes, cracking them open once in a while to reach for her glass and take a small sip of wine. Otherwise, she just languished, wondering if there was such a thing as a Jacuzzi-potato.

  She was about to start the getting-clean process when her phone went br-r-r-ing. It wasn’t the text bing or the email buzz, and it definitely wasn’t the repeated vibrating of an incoming call. Every one of Gia’s functions had a separate and distinct sound. This musical tone was assigned to Facebook—either a message or a comment.

 
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