Janice and the Commissioner eventually left Club Rose de Sang not too long after watching the security camera footage. Janice had talked to the man who had found the body, listening to him recall wondering if the woman had fallen into a drunken sleep in the men's room and going to wake her only to realize she was laying in a pool of her own blood. He shakily recalled how he had stumbled out of the bathroom, drunk and nauseous—whether it was because of the alcohol or because he had found a dead body, he had been unsure—and screamed for help. Everyone had ignored him, figuring he was high on something and was hallucinating. It took him a while before he stumbled across Aiden himself and told him what he'd seen.
Aiden had shut the club down immediately after.
The Commissioner wanted to interview the girl's family and was planning on sending a couple of officers's over to take statements. Janice figured that would be her perfect opportunity to go as well, telling Commissioner Alistair to make sure his officers touched nothing until she got there. She wanted to see this girl's home in its natural state before it was touched and things were picked up and taken in for evidence.
"Fine," Commissioner Alistair had said. "Go see if you can find anything else. Lewis and Smith could use a fresh set of eyes anyway." Janice frowned slightly as she remembered her last, unpleasant encounter with the two detectives who were studying this case. "They've been looking at this too long. Nothing will be touched. See what you can dig up."
It was as Janice was on the road that it first happened. A car—sleek, black but still somehow inconspicious—began to follow her. Janice's eyes narrowed as she watched the car from her review mirror. The car was sure to stay a couple of cars behind her, trying to maintain its cover but Janice had done this long enough to know when she was being tailed.
Eventually, she pulled into the house of the victim, her eyes still on the review mirror. She watched the car drive by slowly. She couldn't see anything through the tinted windows but as the car crept by, she could feel eyes on her skin.
And those eyes made her skin crawl, her instincts screaming bloody murder. It reminded her a lot of the way her body had reacted when she'd first met Aiden but this was worse. So much worse.
When the car was finally gone, Janice stepped out of her own car. Her legs oddly shaky as a feeling of dread rose in the pit of her stomach. She felt a lot like she had stared death in the face and barely escaped with her life. She wanted so badly to turn tail and run. But again, she imagined the smiling face of a happy, beautiful woman. And they she imagined her corpse. Cold, lifeless, drained completely of blood.
Janice sucked in a deep breath, staring at the scene in front of her as a distraction from the ominous feeling that had formed in her gut. The house was warded off with police tape, of course. A few curious neighbors were openly gawking at the house, no doubt wondering what happened. She saw a few officers talking to the neighbors, no doubt asking questions. What had they seen? Had they noticed that the victim had any enemies? Blah, blah, blah. Janice would have to be sure to ask Commissioner Alistair to send her those reports later.
And then Janice could see two familiar faces talking to a distraught looking woman. The woman was bigger boned with the same dark skin as the victim. This woman was clutching a tissue in one hand and had her other hand clasped over her mouth as her shoulders shook and tears fell down her eyes. So Detective Lewis and Detective Smith must have broken the news to the girl's mother.
Empathy rushed through Janice's veins like a floodgate. She could see herself as a young girl, holding her grandmother's hand as the police explained what happened. She could see the pitying looks Smith and Lewis were wearing turned on her. At the time, Janice remembered being too young to understand fully those looks but somehow they managed to haunt her all throughout her life and even now, as an adult, those pitying looks stayed with her.
As Janice grew closer, Lewis and Smith turned to look at her, their faces twisting in displeasure.
"Detective Lewis. Detective Smith," she greeted them with sarcastic cheerfulness before ignoring them altogether and turning to face the woman's mother. "I'm Janice Cooper, I'm working with the police department. I'm so sorry about your daughter."
And Janice meant that. The girl had looked young like she had just barely hit twenty. For such a young girl to meet her end that way tore Janice apart in ways she didn't think anyone could imagine. Whenever a young life was taken, her mind always went back to the cold, lifeless body from so long ago.
"Janice Cooper," the woman croaked, her voice was thick with tears. She sniffed once and looked at Janice through tear-filled eyes. "You're that detective that solves all those impossible to solve murders, right?"
Janice simply nodded. She wasn't at all surprised that this woman knew who she was, especially since she had taken on this case which was making national news. Since she had accepted this case, she had been trending on Twitter and she was being talked about by news outlets like CNN, ET and even small, local news stations.
"You'll find out who did this to my daughter?" She asked, her voice breaking and her breath hitching. "You'll find out who did this to my little girl?"
"I'll find that son of a bitch," Janice swore solemnly. "That much I can promise you."
As the woman looked into Janice's unsmiling eyes, she couldn't help but believe her. That was an expression of a woman who was out for blood.
"Did you see your daughter last night?" Janice asked, keeping her voice as gentle as possible.
The woman nodded, sniffing. Detective Lewis and Detective Smith were both incredibly annoyed at the fact that Janice was on this case at all, and they were even more annoyed that she was taking it upon herself to interrogate their lead.
"Her name is..." The woman shook her head, taking an unsteady breath. "Was Ayana. She had been staying here with me after things with her boyfriend got bad."
"Got bad how?" Detective Smith wondered before Janice had a chance to ask that same question.
"He was abusive," Ayana's mother admitted, an edge of steel in her tone. "On top of the abuse, he cheated on Ayana all the time. The night Ayana showed up at my doorstep, she found him in bed with another woman. He hit her the worse he had ever hit her and that's when she realized what a monster he was. That's why she came here. She wanted to be somewhere she felt safe. She was trying to find a place as quickly as she could. She hated feeling like she was a charity case. Even though she wasn't. Not to me." Her voice broke and she shook her head, the action made her thoughts clear: she couldn't believe her daughter was gone.
"What was this boyfriend's name?" Detective Lewis asked.
"Tre Daniels. The last I heard, he lived over in Brooklyn somewhere."
"Did Ayana ever say she and her boyfriend might possibly reconcile?" Janice inquired. In her mind, she remembered the look on Ayana's face right before she had gone into that bathroom and met her fate. The way her eyes had lit up with excitement.
"No," the woman shook her head. "Ayana was done with Tre. She hated the idea of going back to him." The woman paused for a moment, a spark flashed in her eyes as she remembered something. "But Ayana did mention something about a job. She'd said someone had hired her to find someone and she would be paid an extensive amount if she succeeded."
That was unexpected. So, someone had hired the girl to find someone. Maybe that excited gleam in her eyes had nothing to do with her seeing someone she wanted to see romantically, but the fact might have been that she had found the person she had been hired to find. The gleam in her eyes was excitement over this "extensive" payday she thought she would be receiving.
But, why had she followed this guy into the men's room? Why hadn't she just waited for him to come out? Did the guy know Ayana would be looking for him? Had he ushered her to follow him inside? Questions swirled around in Janice mind and all she wanted was answers.
"Do you mind if I take a look inside?" Janice asked.
The woman nodded her consent and Janice began walking toward the brownstone.
"We've already done a check of the house," Detective Smith called out to Janice's retreating back. "There isn't much to go on there."
"I'll be the judge of that," Janice called back, shoving her now frozen fingers into her jacket pockets and she climbed the stairs quickly and ducked underneath the yellow tape that was blocking any passerbys from sneaking in.
It was warm inside. That was the first thing that Janice really noticed. The house smelled like cinnamon and it brought forth an old memory of a five-year-old Janice, a Christmas tree and her family when it was still whole. Janice's heart twisted painfully in her chest, but she ignored that and continued walking down the narrow foyer and into the actual home itself.
It was tastefully decorated. More than being spacious, it was homey, comfortable. Something that Janice had not had in a long time. There were a couple of officers taking pictures and packing things up into evidence. Janice's lips twisted in annoyance. She knew the Commissioner had told them to hold off on packing things up, but she was sure that Detectives Smith and Lewis had given them the go-ahead.
Sighing in annoyance, Janice just shook her head and made her way up the stairs, deciding she should try to go find Ayana's room. She got the feeling that the things these officers were packing away for evidence wasn't anything of importance.
Upstairs, it actually wasn't hard to find Ayana's room at all. On one of the white-painted wood doors, Ayana's name was scribbled in the clumsy hand-writing of a child. Janice then realized this must have been the home where Ayana grew up. She felt even worse for Ayana's poor mother. No doubt she would see that scribble and be able to remember the day Ayana scribbled it in perfect detail.
Janice pushed the door open and walked into the room. The room was decorated in shades of yellow. Ayana's room was bright, sunny and it matched the dressed she wore the night of her murder distinctly well. The twin bed was pushed in the corner of the room and it was dressed up in yellow sheets and a yellow blanket on top. Across the room, was a computer that Janice saw a couple of police officers getting ready to carry off.
"I'm investigating right now," she said, stopping them in their tracks. "Hit the road."
The two officers looked at each other, then Janice's annoyed face before they exited the room, leaving everything as it was. They handed Janice a pair of latex gloves on their way out to ensure that she wouldn't disturb any evidence.
Once they were gone, Janice began looking around the room, trying to gather as much evidence about the vic as possible. Ayana's room was brightly decorated and neat. To the untrained eye, there seemed to be nothing out of ordinary. Everything in this room seemed like it was open like there were no secrets. But Janice knew there were secrets.
She checked the girl's computer—cracking the passcode in no time—and going through her emails even though she knew the police would do that later. She wanted to see if there was anything worth seeing for herself. There was nothing, though. At least, not anything having to do with Ayana accepting a job or any threats of any kind. Janice was cursing herself in her head, wishing she had gotten to Ayana's phone before the police did. Perhaps there had been something in there.
Pushing away from the computer, Janice eyed the room, feeling the lure of secrets calling to her once again. There was something here, something that would give Janice the leverage she needed to find this killer.
Janice was making her way to Ayana's bed, hoping against hope that maybe something was hidden there, when the floorboards creaked underneath her, causing her to pause in surprise. She looked down at the floorboards and shifted backward and forwards, listening to the creek again. This entire house was made of the same wood and none of the floorboards had creaked at all when Janice had made her way to this room.
The fact that these floorboards were creaking could only mean one thing.
Janice knelt down, feeling around until her fingers found what they were seeking: a loose floorboard.
She pulled it up and it obeyed her without any resistance. Inside of the floorboards was an old shoebox. Janice pulled it up, examining the Balenciaga shoe box before opening to study the contents. Inside of the box was a forged passport and a fake ID with Ayana's picture but the name Gemma Smithfield, wads of cash and a list of names—some were crossed out. There were pictures of different men, women, and children—all of these people were clearly unaware they were being photographed and things clicked for Janice. Ayana was either a PI or a hitwoman.
Janice dug further into the box, hoping to find something to pertain to the current investigation. In the end, she was able to find a small black book with dates and notes scribbled into, pieces of torn paper stuffed inside. Feeling like this was important, Janice shoved the little book into her back pocket right as Detective Lewis and Detective Smith rounded the corner.
The two detectives took in the scene with disbelieving eyes.
"Where did you find that?" Detective Lewis wondered. "We searched this entire house."
"You apparently didn't search the floorboards," Janice said, rising from her position, suddenly eager to get home so she could read Ayana's secrets and get one step closer to throwing the son of a bitch who had done this in prison. "I'm done here. You can take it."
Janice walked through the space between Detective Lewis and his partner and hurried out of there, the little black book in her back pocket seemingly weighing a ton.
Janice realized she had yet to go grocery shopping since she had returned from France. She had been shopping when Commissioner Alistair had called her to ask for her help on the case, but she had left her groceries abandoned.
Sighing, Janice decided the little black book would have to wait a little longer. Besides, it was only two in the afternoon, Janice would have time to read it when she returned home. Janice did feel a little jumpy, though, her eyes returning to the review mirror every once in a while, searching for the car that had been tailing her. Her eyes always came up empty, but she couldn't shake the weird feeling that someone was following her and it freaked her out beyond belief.
She pulled into a very full grocery store parking lot and after she had succeeded in securing a parking space, she dug into her back pocket and put Ayana's small black book into her inner coat pocket before she exited her car.
She shopped with ease, picking up things that she needed and decided she'd try making dinner for herself tonight. She needed to learn how to multi-task and she was quite certain ordering takeout every night would have bad repercussions on her figure.
Forty-five minutes later, Janice was pushing her shopping cart out of the grocery store, barely able to hear its rattle over the sound of traffic in the streets. It was as she got to her car that she knew something was wrong. Her instincts—those instincts that had kept her alive and helped her solve thirty unsolvable cases—were screaming at her.
Janice slowed down, reaching into her jacket pocket to get a firm hold on the taser that she carried around with her. In her mind, she was already going through every self-defense technique she had ever learned in her life, going through every scenario.
She swung around the front of her car, pointing the taser gun seriously. It was empty. She pointed the taser from the front seats to the backseats, but those seats were empty, too. Janice hurriedly put the taser away, looking around and feeling relieved to find that no one had seen her.
She walked back to her shopping cart and opened the trunk slowly, half expecting something to jump out at her. But, like the rest of her car, the trunk was empty, too.
To the untrained eye, Janice's car looked untouched. Most people in Janice's position would assume they were losing their mind and that nothing had happened. They'd forget about it and continue on with their lives. But most people weren't Janice and most people weren't currently investigating murders that involved young women—women around Janice's age—ending up drained of blood and missing eyes. Despite how untouched her car may have seemed, Janice knew the truth.
Someone had been in there.