Detective John Salvo 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 makeup, too much smoking, and too much alcohol ... the list. She suffered from what he liked to call "The List". "The List" of things once beautiful women did in desperate attempts to maintain their once and fading, youth and beauty.
She hadn't said a thing since he entered the Interrogation Room. That was half an hour ago. It was hot in there. He pushed his hat back on his head, loosened his tie and opened the collar of his shirt, now soaked in sweat. The direct approach hadn't worked. Maybe now was the time to change tactics.
"The D.A.'s office is going to have their people here pretty soon, Mrs. Berg. The reporters will be right behind 'em. Why don't you tell me what happened? Now. Before they get here. Save yourself a rough time in front of all those people."
She stared at him. She was sitting ramrod straight in the chair and she seemed to look right through him.
"Look. You were seen. Neighbors of yours, across the street, saw you fire your gun from the balcony back into your apartment. They saw you throw the gun down onto the street. 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."
She closed her eyes for a moment. He heard her exhale, and as she did her shoulders slumped, her lips pursed, and he could see she had made a decision.
"Do you have a cigarette?"
"Sure. Here. Let me light it for you."
He pulled out his Zippo, flipped it open, held it out for her, and snapped it shut after her cigarette was lit.
She took a quick drag on the cigarette and quickly blew out the smoke.
"Call me Susan. Mr. Berg is dead. I haven't felt like "Mrs. Berg" in many years. Just call me Susan."
"If that's what you like, fine. So what's the story, Susan? Why'd you shoot Bobby Perry?"
She stared at the ash on the end of her cigarette.
"I used to be a beautiful woman, Detective. At 20 years old I was 'Miss Atlantic City, 1926'. Look at this face now, in 1956. This is what 30 years will do to a beautiful woman."
He said nothing, 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. He was out on the golf course ... 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 again, all the while staring at 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 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 end of the old one - and then dropped the old one on the floor and ground it out with the tip of her shoe.
"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 face, 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 questions. 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, 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 treating 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. These are the first smokes I've had that weren't under a burden of lies. It's like I'm free and tasting stuff for the first time. Anyway. We had been out for the evening. We had just gotten home, but Robert went down to the doorman to ask him to get us some cigarettes. When he left the apartment and closed the door, his jacket slipped off the chair and fell on the floor. I went over, I picked it up, and as I did a letter fell out of it. 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 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. After we married. To get my money."
"Is that why you shot him?"
"NO! That wasn't it!!! It was the LIES!!! He LIED to me!!! He came back 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 threw the gun over the railing. I don't know why. I just did. I didn't want to shoot him. But he lied. And I am soooo tired of the lies. I went into the apartment ... called the doorman ... 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. Just one question left, Susan. The gun. Why did you have a gun?"
"I've always carried a gun, Detective. I've spent most of my life around some pretty seedy characters. You never know when you're going to need one."
"Have you ever needed one before?"
"I'm going to get a stenographer to take this all down. Is that okay?"
She looked at him, took a drag on her smoke, and nodded her head.
Detective Salvo got up from his chair, walked to the door, and left the room. Susan Berg sat there, a thin blue haze 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.