© 2019 by Hannah Jayne

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The Chronicles of Judy Shade

For the shady class of 2015

“What have we got?”

            The pup cop had his jacket pulled out, covering his nose. Though only half his face was exposed Detective Francois could see the kid was pale and pasty, a thin sheen of sweat breaking out on his forehead. Amateur, Francois thought to himself.

            “It’s bad, Detective. Real bad.” The cop seemed to regain his composure, smoothing his jacket down against his chest but the color didn’t return to his cheeks. He led the detective down the library steps, into the knee-high grass that lined the walk. The city of San Jose was big on re-landscaping all city buildings with drought-tolerant and native grasses. Francois thought the idea was noble, but the grasses looked dead even when they were alive, giving the entire city a Tombstone-meets-tumbleweed kind of vibe.

            “Adult male, approximately eighteen to twenty years old—”

            The detective jutted his chin. “Student here?” he indicated San Jose State, the university adjacent to the school-slash-community library.

            The cop seemed to hesitate and Detective Francois rolled his eyes. “What’s your name, kid?”

            The pup officer cleared his throat. “Redmond. Officer Ron Redmond.”

            “Now what’s going on and what’s so bad about this one? The call didn’t even list probable cause. Murder?”

            “I don’t know how he died. It didn’t—he just—.  The call said ‘a body.’”

            Francois looked around. It was unlikely but not impossible the kid had come out of one of the mile-high library windows. “Jumped? Fell? Come on, Redmond, do your job. A little dead body scare you?”

            Officer Redmond paused for a beat, then unfurled the tarp that covered the body.

            The smell hit Francois first. The sickly sweet smell of death that hangs in your hair, in your nostrils, in your periphery forever. A detective never forgot the smell of death. Even with the thick layer of heat, decomp was moving fast. A fresh body didn’t smell—at least not this badly.

            “Been here awhile, huh? And no one spotted him until today?”

            Redmond shrugged. “People come by here every day. Not a word until the call came in.”

             “You said he was student.” The detective nudged the edge of the tarp with his big boot. “How do you get eighteen to twenty out of this?”

            The body on the tarp was shriveled but not from death, from age. The blue eyes that had probably once been vibrant were milky and cataract covered; the mouth that was hanging open in that unforgettable death grimace was heavily lined on either side, the teeth worn from years of use. The “kid” was bald on top, scalp heavily dotted with liver spots and blank white sunspots, the occasional spray of white hair poking through the near-translucent skin.

            “Your kid is eighty if he’s a day. Who ID’d him?”

            “That’s the thing. At least four people. Kid was well known. And he had his student ID on him. Hasn’t gone through the system yet but the eye witnesses said this is Troy Hastings, a freshman or sophomore.”

            “He’s geriatric.”

            “They described his clothes. This is what Troy was wearing. Same shirt, shorts…”

            “Did they say he was a…late bloomer?”

            Redmond shook his head. “Eighteen to twenty years.”

            “Then you got the wrong guy.”

            Redmond’s face was starting to regain color, his cheeks pinkening and he stuttered. “No, people saw him here, wearing these exact clothes. Hours ago. Everything, down to the FitBit and the flip-flops. He had his wallet on him. No actual ID, but the student body card. People saw him, Detective. He was in one of the private study rooms. And he was young. Not like this. How many eighty year olds wear flip-flops and a FitBit?”

            Francois cocked an eyebrow but didn’t answer. “Anyone interact with him?”

            Redmond pulled a black leather bound notebook from his pocket. “Callie Hart, Elizabeth Shule, Anne something-or-other. They all knew Troy and said hello during the past two hours. They all stated that Troy told them he was studying, writing some big paper.”

            “And?”

            “The only other person he interacted with was the librarian. According to Elizabeth, the librarian set Troy up in one of the private study rooms, brought him a stack of books, and that was the last time the witnesses saw Troy alive. Or…young. Or the librarian for that matter.”

            Detective Francois clapped a hand on his forehead, raked it through his hair. “We got another body?”

            “No, actually. The librarian is gone. Her shift was over.”

            “Name?”

            “Shade, Judy Shade. Approximately 63 years old, degree in library sciences, worked here at the King Library for less than a year.”

            The detective opened his mouth to speak but Redmond rattled on. “She’s not at her house either. Rented a room almost right across the street in one of those old Victorians. Landlord said she was quiet, kept to herself, didn’t have much stuff.”

            “But she’s gone?”

            “Yeah. A little bit weird. Her granddaughter apparently came by, helped move her out,” he shrugged. “I mean, that’s what the landlord said. Said Shade wasn’t there, but the granddaughter was, packing things up.”

            “Name?”

            Redmond looked sheepish. “Didn’t offer one. Didn’t get one. Do you want me to track her down?”

            Francois eyed the corpse again. “Let the coroner take a look at our John Doe. Right now we don’t even know if a crime took place. If you ask me, our student there,” he made air quotes, “looked about ready to keel over anyway. Natural causes you know.”

            “Officers! Officers!” A young woman ran up to the two. She was wringing her hands, her pretty face screwed up with anguish. “Do you know what happened to Troy? Is he—is it—”

            The girl glanced down at the body, aged face exposed before Francois could pull the tarp back to cover him.

            “Ma’am—”

            But it was too late. The girl had dropped to her knees. She pressed one hand over her mouth and nose as she started to cry, her other hand hovering above the body, unwilling to touch. “Troy?”

            “You know this elderly man?”

            The girl looked up, horrified. “He wasn’t—this isn’t—” Immediately, her eyes hardened, narrowed. “She did this.”

            Francois’s eyebrows went up. “She?”

            “Ms. Shade. The librarian. She’s weird. She’s wrong!”

            Redmond looked at the detective, a weird mix of confusion and triumph on his face.

            “Some sort of elderly love triangle?”

            “No!” The girl drove her fists against her thighs. “He didn’t look like this! Judy must have—she—she touched him or something and he—you have to believe me, he wasn’t like this! He’s nineteen! He’s—”

            A second young woman rushed forward, wrapping her arms around the first. “Come on, Callie, it’s okay. You’re hysterical. You’re not helping.”

            “And you are?” Redmond wanted to know.

            “Elizabeth. Callie’s my friend. I’m sorry, she’s just really traumatized… Come on, Callie, come sit down with me.”

            Redmond watched the two girls go, then swung his head toward Francois. “What do you make of that?”

            Francois was staring at his phone. “Drinking. Drugs. Pokémon Go. Whatever kids are using to rot their brains these days.”

            “You don’t think Judy—”

            Francois held out his phone, a picture of a kind, elderly woman with curly gray hair cut close to her head smiling out from the display. “Do I think this 63 year old woman killed Troy Hastings, aged eighteen or eighty? I do not. An old man dropped dead, probably due to the heat. Troy probably slipped out the back to avoid his crazy girlfriend Callie—”

            “But this guy is wearing the same—”

            “He’s wearing a Warrior’s tee shirt and a pair of cargo shorts. Welcome to San Jose. Coroner’s on his way. Next time, wait until a crime has been committed before you waste my time.”

            Judy Shade pushed the lipstick over her full, pouty lips, blotted them, then smiled at her Ravishing Red reflection in the bathroom mirror. He dark eyes sparkled, catching the flecks of gold in her long, honey-colored hair. Not the color she would have chosen but Troy was alone, dark eyed and honey haired and she didn’t have much time. The kiss had almost been nice. She had to catch him by surprise and before he tried to push against her, to pull away, she had tasted the sweet youth on his cherry Chapstick flavored lips. It took longer than she expected for Troy’s years to break into her, to replenish her spent years, to flush humanity and youth and jubilance back into her body, but it was worth it. It was almost sad the way she left him, crumpled and aged and liver spotted, so weak that he stumbled out of the library before dropping to his knees and rolling down the cement steps into the underbrush. Eh, he had had a good life. And now, so would Judy. Again.