A face to die for, p.5
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       A Face to Die For, p.5

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  Normally, Gia would find that an ignorable annoyance. But after a weekend like this one, she could use the diversion. She hadn’t been plugged in to social media all weekend long. Time to see what was going on with her Facebook friends and to kick back and catch up on announcements, recipes, and plain old gossip.

  She dried her hands on the towel she’d strewn over the side of the tub. Then she picked up the phone, raising her knees and stretching the towel across them as a kind of lap desk to cradle the cell and keep it from dropping into the water—every cell phone fanatic’s worst nightmare.

  She tapped the Facebook icon. A slew of notifications greeted her, along with the private message that had just signaled its arrival. Curious, she opened it.

  Her eyebrows arched when she saw who it was from.

  Hi, Gia, Danielle Murano wrote. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but when Sarah told me what happened and showed me your photo, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to do something intrusive like call or email you, or something lame like send you a friend request, so I’m messaging you. Actually, I’m not even sure what to say, except that I couldn’t resist reaching out to someone who looked so much like me. Kindred spirits maybe? If you’re as intrigued as I am, give me a shout. Dani

  Gia had almost forgotten about her Friday afternoon meet-up with Sarah Rosner and the bizarre coincidence that conversation had yielded. At the time, Gia had considered contacting Danielle Murano herself, but then wedding-planner mania had ensued, and all else had been forgotten. So Danielle—Dani—had beaten her to the punch. It was kind of cool that she’d been so proactive about following up. A do-it-now person. Something Gia could definitely relate to.

  She pressed reply and typed:

  Hi, Dani. I’m glad you contacted me. If it hadn’t been such a crazy weekend, I would have done the same right after I left Sarah. How weird is this whole thing? I think we should friend each other, just for fun, and then keep messaging. I’d love to know more about you; I know you’re a veterinarian and that you live in Minneapolis. And you know that I’m a wedding planner and that I live near Manhattan. Let’s see what else we have in common besides our looks: tastes, interests, etc. It should be a great diversion for us both. Share as little or as much as you want to. Hope to hear from you soon, Gia.

  Gia pressed send.

  Offices of Forensic Instincts

  Tribeca, New York

  Emma was sitting at her desk, her brow furrowed as she tried to absorb everything Ryan was explaining to her. But how could she when her brain was fried and on weekend mode? It was ten o’clock on a Sunday night. She should be out with her friends or home watching something cool on Netflix. Instead, here she was, having to process Ryan’s plan for her role in solving Brianna Mullen’s case.

  “Emma, are you listening to me?” Ryan was leaning over her shoulder, looking really pissed. And Emma guessed he had reason to be.

  “Sorry,” she said, feeling especially guilty because she really did want to help Brianna. “My mind wandered. But, yes, I’m listening.”

  “Good. Consider this a training ground. You want to be a full FI investigator. I’m teaching you to be one. So look, listen, and learn.” He pointed at the intricate map of NYU he’d created. It featured a zoomed-in area of buildings that was the Stern School of Business—classrooms as well as professors’ offices, all of which included typed names of the various buildings.

  “Oh, God.” Emma blanched at the intricacy staring back at her.

  “I know it looks overwhelming, but it’s not,” Ryan replied.

  “That’s easy for you to say. You’re a genius.”

  “You don’t have to be a genius to memorize this. I know NYU is a city unto itself, but the Stern grad school isn’t big. There are only eight hundred full-time MBA students covering this small section of buildings near Washington Square. And you’re registered for the summer session for part-timers, which means five hundred students, tops. Forget the student housing; you’re not living there. Forget the undergrads; you’re not going to be one of them. And forget the full-time Stern grad students; they’re not allowed to use summer courses toward their degrees. It’ll just be a small group in a limited environment. Stick to the area I sectioned off.”

  Ryan traced that area with his pencil. “Your class will be held here.” He circled a building. Then, he shifted his pencil point. “And this is where you’ll find Hanover’s office.” Again, he shifted his pencil, circling a second building, just a short distance from the first. “Second floor. Three doors down to the left of the staircase. That’s where I need you to be, several times a day. Check out traffic patterns—times of day when the halls are crowded, when Hanover’s in his office, that kind of stuff.”

  “So I’m just going to stand there like a plant? Repeatedly? No self-respecting pickpocket does that. Someone’s going to spot me.”

  “Uh-uh.” Ryan shook his head. “You give the world entirely too much credit. Even Brianna didn’t remember exactly how many doors down Hanover’s office is when I asked her. She said she just kind of headed down the hall until she found it. People don’t notice things. Not unless it’s in their faces, which you won’t be. You’ll wear different clothes each day. Change the way you wear your hair. Stand in a different place in the hallway. No one will be paying attention to their surroundings except you. And you’ll have this to back up your efforts.”

  He held up a pair of what looked to be small diamond studs.

  “Earrings?” Emma blinked. Unable to help herself, she reached over and snatched them. “I get diamonds as a bribe? Wow, I…” She paused, studying the stones. “Wait. These are cubic zirconia. Cheap substitutes.” She shot Ryan a dirty look. “Are we taking a page out of the Ryan McKay book of seduction? You give women fake diamonds they think are real and they hop into bed with you? Boy, I’m glad this is a business bribe and that I know my real jewels from my fakes.”

  Ryan was clearly not amused. “They’re not a bribe, they’re an investigative tool. To do what you get paid for. As for my sex life, that’s off-limits to you, brat.”

  Emma stuck her tongue out at him.

  “Now, do you want to stop acting like a two-year-old and listen to me?” he asked.

  A grudging nod. “Yeah, go ahead.”

  Ryan took the studs from Emma, indicating their centers. “I planted mini cameras in each of these. They’ll take a video of everything you’re seeing. I purposely picked earrings because they’re pretty close to eye level and completely inconspicuous. So the visuals between the cameras and your reports will be similar.”

  “Cool.” Emma’s interest was, once again, piqued. “Okay, so I’m using these to cruise the halls and get a handle on when the traffic around there is light—and when Hanover is least apt to be in his office. What else?”

  “You’re a brand-new student and you’re pretty. Good combo. Go up to Hanover and request a meeting with him to explain some material you don’t understand in his class. I want you inside that office—just once. Your job is to locate items of Hanover’s that can be used to make scent pads for Hero.”

  “And what do we do with those scent pads?”

  “For starters, we let Hero tell us if Hanover left those gifts for Brianna. We’ll also have him sniff outside h
er apartment to see if Hanover has recently been there. Most of all, we have him memorize Hanover’s scent. Because logic tells us that the psycho’s pursuit of Brianna will soon become more tactile.”

  “You mean he’ll stop the gifts and just attack her?” Emma looked horrified.

  “It won’t get that far,” Ryan assured her. “Our security team would intervene in a heartbeat. But if he so much as touches her, he’ll leave his scent behind, and Hero will recognize it. Between that and the accompanying report filed by our security guys, there’d be enough to capture the NYPD’s attention.”

  “Okay.” Emma still looked a little green, but she nodded. “I’ll get into Hanover’s office and pick out the right items.”

  “And if he comes on to you, just sidestep it,” Ryan said, intentionally lightening the mood. “That means no kicking him in the balls.”

  Emma responded with a smile. “Gee, you take all the fun out of things.” As she spoke, she glanced back down at Ryan’s diagrams and her eyebrows knit. “Ryan, all this is very well planned. But if this is a limited summer school program, how do we know that Hanover is even teaching? He could be taking the summer months off.”

  “Nope. I checked it out. He’s teaching one consumer behavior course and one digital marketing course. The first is on Monday and Wednesday nights and the second is on Saturdays. You’ll be registered in the Monday-Wednesday consumer behavior course—sizing people up is your forte. You’d drown in digital marketing. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be hanging around campus on Saturday mornings. Hanover will be there. And so will you. Go to the library, get something to eat, whatever. Just time it all with Hanover’s schedule and his comings and goings. We’re covering all bases, trying to predict all his actions—including those that involve stalking Brianna. She may not be taking summer classes, but that clearly hasn’t lessened his obsession with her. Plus, he’s a sexual predator whose targets are his students. NYU is his hunting ground. He’ll be hanging around campus even when he’s not teaching.”

  Groaning, Emma dropped her head onto her folded arms. “The Saturday part’s fine. But as for the rest, do I have to remind you that I barely got through high school? No college. No interest in the classroom. No academic experience. And consumer behavior? I was a pickpocket. I sized up those consumers so I could steal from them. So, fine, you’ll get me into the class. But I’ll be tossed out on day one. I don’t know shit.”

  “Ah, but Kate Lowe does.”

  “Who the hell is…?” Emma’s question died on her lips, and her head came up as Ryan placed some documents on the desk: a driver’s license, credit card, college transcript, and student ID—all in the name of Kate Lowe—and all authentic, right down to the photos of Emma on the driver’s license and student ID.

  “Meet your better half,” he said.

  Emma picked up each item, studying them and shaking her head. “This is great,” she said dryly. “I now have a new name, a college degree, and a 4.0 GPA. Enter Kate Lowe. That’s fine. I can pull off any alias, no problem. But what happens the first time I’m asked to participate in something I don’t have the first clue about?”

  Ryan grinned. “That what earbuds are for. As of today, you’ll do some speed-reading—I got you some good equivalents of Cliffs notes so you’ll know the basics. The rest I’ll feed to you during class on a need-to-speak basis. Not to worry. Like you said, I’m a genius. And whatever I don’t know, Casey will. You’ll be fine.”

  “Why do I doubt that?”

  “Emma.” Ryan was clearly trying to be patient. “You only have to do this for two weeks, tops. That’s four classes. Maybe less, depending on how quickly our plan moves. You already missed the first week, so coming off as being a bit lost is to be expected. Just use that sharp con-artist mind of yours to pull this off. Go into Hanover’s classroom all enthusiastic about his class and eager to understand more. Play to his ego.”

  “That part’s a piece of cake. I’ll be your grad school Barbie and your Bond girl all rolled into one. Not to worry.”

  “Good. In the meantime, Casey and Claire are coiled and ready to strike. Once you give us the info we need, they’ll break into Hanover’s office, get their hands on the personal items you’ve located, and make scent pads for Hero. They’ll do it right there in Hanover’s office so they can return the items to their proper places without him ever missing them.”

  Emma grinned. “They’re stealing Marc’s job. He’s our breaking-and-entering guy. He’ll be so pissed.”

  “I doubt that. Not when he’s in Aruba with his new wife. Besides, he’s the one who taught Casey how to pick a lock. He’ll be proud.”

  “Okay, so in a nutshell, I’m stalking the stalker.”

  “You got it. The more frequently touched items will yield the best results.”

  Once again, Emma’s brow furrowed. “Knowing you, this is probably a stupid question. You said I’ll be registered for the Consumer Behavior course. Have you already enrolled me? Or do I have to do something?”

  “You’re all set. The admissions office knows that the reason you’re coming in late is because you just moved here from San Francisco, after graduating from Stanford.” With that, Ryan slapped a few pages in front of her. “Here’s your full bio. Know it like the inside of your hand.”

  “That I can do.” Emma glanced at the fact sheets and then slid the pages into her tote bag. “I’ll print a few extra copies of this before I go home.”

  “Good idea. And just so you know, I also put the bio on your laptop and your iPad if you need to access the details without reaching for paper. Just do everything very stealthily.”

  “Stealth is what pickpockets do best.”

  “Just one more sheet of hard copy, also installed on your laptop and iPad.” Ryan placed a page in front of Emma titled: Dr. Thomas Hanover. It had a full-color photo and comprehensive bio. “Here’s our target. So you have a basic rundown and visual.”

  Emma picked up the page and studied it. “Not bad-looking for a middle-aged guy with a dated goatee and creepy eyes.” She skimmed the data. “Solid credentials. Too bad they don’t list psychopath in the background description.”

  “They tend to be unaware of those personality traits,” Ryan returned dryly.

  “Yeah, well, we’re not.” Emma added the new sheet of paper to the others in her tote bag, thinking about how much memorization and reading she had to do. She’d cram as best she could, be prepared to start in as little as a week. Ryan wasn’t the patient type and time was of the essence. Plus, she knew the extreme measures he was taking were, in part, a test of her abilities. Well, she intended to pass that test with flying colors.

  “When do I officially begin my charade?” she asked.

  “Wednesday.”

  Emma’s jaw dropped. “This Wednesday? Are you crazy? That gives me three days to get all my shit together.”

  “Yup.” Ryan reached over to an end table, picked up some books, and plopped them down on Emma’s desk, adding to the pile of stuff she’d be taking with her. “Here are your ‘Cliffs notes.’”

  For the first time, Emma was slapped in the face by the enormity of what she had to do, and a wave of something she rarely felt swept through her—self-doubt. “Ryan,” she s
aid quietly. “This is too much. I don’t think I can pull it off.”

  “And I know you can.” Ryan didn’t look the slightest bit ruffled by her insecurity. “Tonight you’ll be a wreck. By three a.m., you’ll be giving tentative glances at the material. By breakfast, you’ll be reading. And in a couple of days, you’ll be your cocky self, armed and ready for battle.”

  “Ya think?”

  “I know.” Ryan produced another tote bag and shoved all Emma’s goodies inside. “Your ego is as over-the-top as mine. Now go home and do your thing, Kate.”

  CHAPTER 6

  Nine fifteen on Monday morning, Gia blew through the double glass doors of the private office building in White Plains. Her heels clicked on the parquet floor, and she shot a wave at Marsha Comstock, the flawlessly made-up middle-aged receptionist who sat behind the mahogany desk and screened people as they arrived.

  Marsha waved back. “Busy weekend?” she asked.

  “Three weddings and a hot bath,” Gia replied, heading toward the double set of elevators.

  A smile curved Marsha’s glossy lips. “At least you got the bath.”

  Grinning, Gia stepped into the elevator and pressed two. She should feel guilty. She should be taking the stairs. But after the vigorous workout she’d just completed at the gym, her entire body was screaming for comfort. So the elevator it was.

  She emerged on the second floor, the entirety of which belonged to Shimmering Weddings. The moment a pampered bridal client stepped out of the elevator, she was enveloped in a plush waiting room that Ashlyn herself had designed—one that looked more like the living room of a Victorian mansion than a reception area. Polished oak floors. A warm rose and gold décor. Four club chairs, upholstered in rose brocade, situated in pairs around a gilded coffee table, with end tables flanking them. All curved around a fireplace that remained lit from the onset of the day until the last person left the office.

 
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