Chapter 1 - An Eerie Similarity
Anastasiya Voron’s apartment resembled a tidy showroom ready for display. The walls in each room were an alarming white, and the furniture appeared to be barely used. Her small living room had one uncomfortable chair that sat in front of an old television. The voice of the local news reporter echoed against the bare walls.
"The search continues for seventeen-year-old Tom Besson, last seen getting into a dark blue pickup truck near Bertrand Secondary School...”
Anastasiya let out a long yawn as she entered her cubicle of a bathroom. The sink glistened as she held an electric toothbrush in one hand and her cellphone up to her ear with the other. Her voicemail gave her monotoned options into her left ear as her toothbrush vibrated against her tiny teeth and into her right ear. Her hazel eyes looked forward, but no mirror met them. There were no mirrors in her apartment at all. Instead, there was a painting of a tiny dark tree in the distance with light blue water flowing into the foreground.
Ana pressed one on her phone.
"Anastasiya, it’s your mother. I’m making your favorite tonight. Make sure you come by this time. Your father misses you," The voice message ended, and she pressed 7.
"Your message has been deleted.” A robotic voice informed her.
Ana’s hazel eyes stared deeply into the dark tree in the painting. The electric toothbrush buzzed along her teeth, and for a moment, she felt as though the tree was moving closer to her. Specks that resembled birds flew around the tree, but as she watched them travel, she knew it was just an illusion from looking at one place for too long. She also knew she couldn’t stay distracted.
She had a big mess to clean up.
Ana looked down at the dark puddle of blood that had seeped into the pavement outside Lion’s Valley Point. Most of it was absorbed overnight, but the maroon liquid could still be seen on the surface with pieces of cemented brain matter scattered around. She thought for a moment that the puddle was in the shape of a bit of a bird when she craned her head to the right. A person was behind her, watching her in amusement.
“How are you always the first cleaner here?” a familiar voice asked.
Ana turned to see her friend Mariam in her police uniform carrying two cups of coffee.
“Guess I’m just lucky, Officer Fadel,” Ana responded with a small smile, accepting the coffee Mariam was holding out.
Ana wore black steel-toed boots and three layers of gloves that fit under her sunny yellowed lined coverall with the hood up. Across the left side of her suit read ”Le Nettoyeur.” There was a noticeable job difference when the two stood side by side. The height difference was also apparent, with Mariam standing at five foot ten inches and Ana just reaching the top of her shoulder at five foot two.
“How high do you think he fell?” Mariam asked, pointing to the bridge that sat towering above the puddle of dried blood. Cars whizzed by overhead.
“High enough to die,” Ana sighed.
“It’s sad. I wonder what he was thinking.”
“Maybe he thought he didn’t have a choice.”
“I guess life can do that to you,” Mariam said quietly, taking a sip of her bitter coffee.
They stood there for a moment before Ana turned toward her, “Have you heard anything about the Besson case?” she asked.
“As far as I know, it’s been passed to the Missing Persons Squad,” she paused and eyed Ana before continuing, “It’s an eerie similarity. The way he went missing.”
“Yeah, well, hopefully, the ending isn’t similar,” Ana said before downing the rest of her coffee and crushing the plastic cup in her gloved hand.
“By the way, your mom called me. Are you avoiding her?” Mariam sighed.
“You look like her mom!” an irritating male voice shouted. The two women glanced over to see Aeron running toward them, suited up for the cleaning job in his bright yellow suit. He was Le Nettoyeur’s newest crime scene cleaner and the loudest.
Mariam rolled her dark coffee-coloured eyes, “Shut up, Aeron.”
“Now you sound like my mom,” he laughed, but it soon faded when he spotted the dried blood and brain matter close by, “Why are you always the first one here, but I’m the first one to start cleaning?” he groaned at Ana.
“Take some pictures, and I’ll grab the equipment,” Ana directed him. She and Mariam began to head toward the cleaning company’s van that was parked nearby before he could further complain.
“I’m serious, though,” Meriam told her when they reached the white van with the name “Le Nettoyeur” written in bold yellow letters across the side, “Call your mom.”
“I will,” Ana assured her, “It’s just a lot of pressure being around my family sometimes.”
Mariam gave her a look, “If you’re about to tell me your problem is your parents love you too much then I don’t want to hear it,” she laughed.
“No,” Ana smiled, “It’s just tough being the main focus. Veronika used to take center stage.”
“For getting in trouble” Meriam reminded her, but her eyes softened when she looked at Ana, “We’ll find her.”
Ana slowly nodded. She pulled open the side door of the van and began taking out red medical waste bags, indicator bottles, a peroxide-based cleaner, and a heavy-duty sprayer.
“I’ve got to keep this crime scene guest list up to date. Good luck with the mess,” Mariam said with a wave, heading back to stand guard.
“Which one?” Ana asked sarcastically, but Mariam was already gone.
“That’s bad luck,” Aeron reported to Ana halfway through their clean-up. She stopped blasting the area with a foamy peroxide-based cleaner and looked up to the bridge where he was pointing. A pitch-black bird was sitting at the railing of the bridge, and it was peering straight down at them.
“I hate crows,” Aeron frowned.
“It’s a raven,” Ana corrected him.
“Ravens are way bigger, and their beaks are different. How’d you feel being misunderstood just because you look like something else?”
“What are you? A bird expert?” Aeron muttered, taking the spray gun from her hand and continuing to clean up the area. The foam of the chemicals blasted toward the dry blood and uprooted it up from the concrete.
Ana peered back up at the bird, but it had already flown away.
It didn’t take them much longer to remove all the blood from the area, carefully remove their protective gear, and throw away everything in the correct red hazardous waste bag.
They returned to the van when Ana heard her cellphone ringing from inside. She found her bag slumped in the back seat and took out her phone.
The call was coming from an unknown caller.
She gazed over at Aeron, who was busy checking his phone.
“Hello?” Ana answered
"Is it all clear?" an older man’s voice asked her.
“All clear,” Ana replied quietly.
"Any leads on the Besson case?”
"Meet me tonight. Same time, same place,” the man said before ending the call.
Ana turned to find Aeron sitting in the van watching her, “Who was that? Boyfriend?” he teased with a smirk.
“My mom,” Ana told him with a small smile, “She wants me to come over for dinner.”