The detective sat across the table from her. Even in the harsh light of the overhead bulb, he could see she had once been a beauty. But she was beyond that now. Age, too much abuse of her skin by makeup and attempts at regaining her youth, too much smoking, and too much alcohol ... the list. She suffered from what he liked to call "The List".
"The D.A.'s office is going to be here in a little while, Mrs. Berg. Why don't you tell me what happened. Now. Before they get here and throw the book at you."
She stared at him, icily.
"Look. You'd better come clean. You were seen, Mrs. Berg. A neighbor of yours, across the street, saw you fire your gun from the balcony back into your apartment. Then you dropped the gun down onto the street. Did you think 17 floors was gonna destroy that gun? We found it. Ballistics is running a check on the gun right now. As soon as we know the bullets match, you're done. There's no more talking. This is your chance to get your story out, Mrs. Berg. You'd better take it."
"Do you have a cigarette?"
"Sure. Here. Let me light it for you."
"Thanks. Call me Susan, please? Mr. Berg is dead. I haven't felt like "Mrs. Berg" in many years. Just call me Susan."
"So what's the story, Susan? Why'd you shoot that guy?"
She stared at the ash on the end of her cigarette.
"I used to be a beautiful woman, detective. 'Miss Atlantic City, 1926'. Look at this face now. This is what 30 years will do to a beautiful woman."
He just stared at her, his hat on the back of his head, waiting for her to continue.
"I met Mr. Berg almost the moment they put the crown on my head. He was quite a bit older than me, I admit, but he had money and I was dazzled by the bank account. He was, actually, a very nice man and quite devoted to me. I was really sorry when he died. Heart attack. It wasn't even in bed. He was out on the golf course. He was dead before he hit the ground. So there I was. Young, pretty, wealthy beyond reason and a magnet for every weasel in the city."
She paused, staring, again, at the ash on her cigarette.
"Yeah. I remember when your husband died. It was all over the papers. 'Big Time Banker Drops Dead On Course'. That was the day before the stock market crash in '29.
I was a rookie cop, just out of the Academy."
"Yes. And the market crash pushed it all to page two, and in a week it was all forgotten. Even the accusations that I had poisoned him never got to the front page; which is good, I suppose. But that's all over and done with ... years ago now ... I guess I just told you all that so you would understand ... "
"Understand what, Susan?"
"The lies. It's all been lies for so long ... I just got tired of the lies, that's all. You got another cigarette?"
She lit the new cigarette off the stub of the old one - and then dropped the old one on the floor and stepped on it.
"I realized early on that men were coming after me for my money; for a chance at all the money that Mr. Berg left me. And I played them as much as they tried to play me. It was a game, and I was very good at the game. But one day I woke up and looked in the mirror and I SAW myself."
She took a deep drag on her cigarette and blew out a long, thin stream of smoke.
"I wasn't happy with what I saw, detective. I wasn't Pretty, anymore. I wasn't Young, anymore. And it didn't take too long to realize that everyone around me treated me like I WAS Young ... and Pretty. Everyone I knew was lying to me. Everyone I knew wanted something from me and they were willing to LIE to get it."
"I suppose that can be pretty tough."
"You have no idea. It wasn't a game anymore. It was survival. It was looking into every eye, listening to every lie, trying to understand the motive, trying to figure out what they wanted - and then making sure they didn't get it."
"Okay. But what about ..."
"Tonight? What about tonight? I'll tell you 'what about' tonight."
The sudden anger in her voice caught him by surprise. He tried to slow it down a bit. He didn't want her to stop her confession now. Not now. He wanted to understand.
"Take it easy, Susan. I have to ask the question. It's just my job, you know? I'm just doing my job."
"I know. I'm sorry. I know what you want. At least you're honest about it. Not like Robert."
"Robert? Oh. You mean Bobby Perry. That's the guy you shot."
"Yes. His 'public' called him 'Bobby'. But to me, he was Robert. That's what he liked to be called. Robert."
She took another drag, and exhaled the smoke.
"I met Robert a year ago, at a charity ball. He was young and handsome and very, very, attentive. I was somewhat smitten, I admit, even knowing how people were to me, I believed him. I WANTED to believe him. In a very short period of time, we were 'an item'. You may have seen us, me and Robert, in the papers from time to time. The Society Pages. At this function and that. We were everywhere. And I was falling in love. I was thinking about home and family and all those things I had missed all these years. We even talked about getting married and adopting a child, so that we could be a family. A real family."
She took another long drag on her smoke. She closed her eyes and exhaled.
"You have no idea how good this smoke is. It's the first drag off a cigarette I've had that wasn't under a burden of lies. It's like I'm free and tasting stuff for the first time. Anyway. This evening, Robert went down to the doorman to ask him to get us some smokes. When he left the apartment and closed the door, his jacket slipped off the armchair it had been laying on and fell to the floor. I went over, I picked it up, and as I did a letter fell out of the inside pocket. I wasn't going to read it or anything - but I could smell it. Lilac. Perfumed stationery. I looked at the envelope and it was a woman's handwriting. So I opened it and read the letter. It was from his GIRLFRIEND!! She wanted to know how much longer she had to wait - when was he finally going to marry the old bitch so he could get her money. No. She said inherit. INHERIT her money. You know what that means, don't you? He was going to kill me, somehow. After we married. To get my money."
"So that's why you shot him, eh?"
"NO! That wasn't it!!! It was the LIES!!! He LIED to me!!! He came up to the apartment and I threw the letter in his face and he said 'She's crazy. I love you.' But I knew better. I knew what he was up to. I told him to get out. I went out on the balcony, thinking he would leave, but no, he kept insisting she was mistaken, he didn't love her, he loved ME, he wanted to be with ME and then he said it again - he said I was beautiful and that he loved me, and I snatched the gun out of my purse and I turned around and called him LIAR, only then I saw the gun in my hand had gone off and he was lying on the floor. I just dropped the gun over the railing and I went in the apartment and called the doorman and asked him to call the Police. And now? Now here I am. And you know what? Do you know what? I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry and I'd do it again."
She sat there, cigarette in hand, chin up, a defiant look on her face.
"I guess you would. I'm not sure that I would blame you, either."
The detective got up from his chair and walked to the door - and left the room. Susan Berg sat there, a thin cloud of smoke around her head, a thin veneer of faded beauty about her face, under the harsh glare of the single light bulb above her head. She took a drag, and slowly let out the smoke, a satisfied smile on her face.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.