“This is Detective Mason Clement, interviewing person of interest Ronald Atkins regarding case number 6761240. Today is Tuesday, May 4th, 2018, 11:47 AM. Sergeant Paolo Alvarez also in attendance. For the record, Mr. Atkins has waived his right to counsel at this time. Is that still correct, Mr. Atkins?”
“Yes sir. No point wasting anybody’s time on me.”
“Mr. Atkins, are you aware that this morning at approximately 8:50 AM, construction workers discovered a body at the site on the corner of West 116th and Lenox?”
“I am. I saw it from my window.”
“You live across the street from the site, is that correct?”
“Yes. Third floor. Number 307.”
“What did you see, exactly?”
“Mr. Atkins? What did you see from your third floor window?”
“Listen, Detective. Let’s cut with all the questions. I’ve seen enough cop shows to know how this works. You need me to give you details only the killer could know, and all that. That’s fine. I’ll tell you everything. Won’t leave nothing out. Just let me do it my own way. Then you ask me anything else you like when I’m finished, but let an old man have his say.”
“All right, then. Tell me everything you know about the body forensics is busy digging up across the street from your apartment.”
“Person. Not a body. A person. Her name was Darlene. Darlene Jorgensen.”
“I’ll run it down.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Atkins. For the record, Sergeant Alvarez is leaving the interview at this time. Do you still wish to continue, Mr. Atkins?”
“Fine, fine. Bring in the whole department if you like. Or I’ll talk to an empty room and a tape recorder. Doesn’t matter to me.”
“All right. Continue.”
“I met her in 1983. I believe it was in the spring, but it’s to remember exactly, now. Around then. She came on as a temp to fill in for one of our office girls. I had small advertising firm in those days. Atkins Agency Creatives. You can look that up. Just me and my little brother Alan, and a couple of office girls to answer the phones and bring us coffee and make us feel like big shots.
“Anyhow, the office girl never came back–I think Alan said she ran off with some guy–so Darlene just stayed on. Bright girl. Nice smile. Came from Ohio or Iowa, I think. One of those corn states. Wore her hair in a big, curly perm like folks did in those days.
“Darlene starts off doing filing. Shit-work, really, but she did the job, did it right, and never complained. After a while I had her proofing ad copy. One time, she re-wrote–well, maybe that’s a strong word. She tweaked–an ad we did for Macy’s for their big July 4th sale, and back then Macy’s was our biggest client. Snuck in her changes right as we were sending it to press. I damn near fired her when I saw the ad in the Times.”
“But you didn’t?”
“I didn’t. I stormed in the morning, hell-bent on doing it. Called her into my office, told her to close the door, all that. Read her the riot act on changing my copy. I expected her to break down in tears and beg for forgiveness, but she didn’t. She cocked her hand on her hip and looked me square in the eye and said I ought to be glad she did. Hers was better.
“Truth is, it was, and I knew it. So I just told her to ask first next time. Macy’s loved it too, and when the new year rolled around they called us in for a meeting and said they wanted us for a two year contract. Biggest money anybody ever dangled in front of us. Only they said they had to have the person who wrote that ad. So I said it was me, you see–Darlene wasn’t at the meeting, and I don’t think Alan ever learned what had happened–and we got the money and I moved my wife and me into the apartment on Lenox. It was a new building back then. Really posh.”
“Anyhow, I promoted Darlene to copy writer, told her Macy’s loved her stuff. From then on, she worked with me on all the Macy’s ads. I’d come up with the concept, she’d write the copy. Macy’s paid the bills. It was good. Comfortable. Shelly and I didn’t have any kids, but Alan appreciated not worrying so much anymore about paying for braces and college and all that.
“Well, fall comes around and a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I get a call from Ed Cardin–he was Macy’s marketing head in those days. Nice guy. Drank too much, but he shared–saying they’ve decided they want something special for the parade. A huge billboard in Times Square for some new lingerie line. I told him that was cutting it mighty fine, and he said ‘so charge me a rush fee. just get it done.’ He was like that.
“So me, Alan, and Darlene I holed up in my office to work on concepts. Normally I’d have done it, but there just wasn’t time. Not with lining up printing and all that in time to get it hung by Friday. You forget, it wasn’t all computers and photoshop in those days. That shit took time. We ordered in from the deli on the corner and started kicking ideas around.
“Now, you have to understand. I was sweating. Two days? That was no time for a project like this. We had one shot, and if Cardin didn’t like it, I figured he’d pull our contract for non-fulfillment and trash our name all over town. Darlene, though, she was cool as ice. We tossed around twenty or thirty shit ideas, like always. Nothing’s working. Alan begs out early. He never missed his kids’ bedtime. I always respected that about him.
“It gets late, coffee’s eating a hole in my gut, and we’ve got nothing. The clock pushes eleven and I know Shelly’s going to be pissed for working so late, when Darlene hits one.
“She comes up with this perfect, clever take on Mrs. Claus / Macy’s Claus, with a model showing the lingerie. I know. Sounds dumb when I say it, but she just nailed the whole concept. The image, the play on words. It was gold.
“We were so excited. I knew Cardin was going to eat it up, and I said something about making Darlene a partner and the next thing I know we’re on my office couch and her tongue is down my throat and I don’t really know if it was her or me who started it, but I’m not real worried about my wife being mad anymore.
“And yes, Cardin loved the ad.
“I started telling my wife I had to work late a lot after that. Blew through every penny of that rush fee making it up to her with jewelry and roses. I mean, I was pretty sure she knew, but she didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t going to rock the boat, you know.
“A few of months later, Shelly decides we haven’t had Alan and the kids over in a long time, and it’s almost Easter, so why don’t we make it a nice dinner celebration for the whole firm. Invite all the office staff and even Ed Cardin to thank him, and why not have it catered, since we can afford that now?
“Now I’m sure Shelly knows I’m having an affair, but what am I going to do, say no? So everybody comes over. Shelly does it all up right. I mean, really nice. And in the middle of the meal, she raises her glass to offer a toast to me for coming up with the July 4th ad that landed the big Macy’s contract, and even though I’m working a lot of hours, she knows it’ll be worth it in the long run. The whole time, she’s got her eyes riveted on Darlene down at the other end of the table. Everybody clinks their glasses and Darlene’s sitting there, fuming.
“I know she knows. I took credit for her work, and she knows. She’s there. Shelly’s there. Alan’s there. The whole office is there. Hell, my whole life is in that room, and I know Darlene can destroy it all with a word. She’s staring daggers at me, and I can’t take it. After dinner, I excused myself to the bedroom. I couldn’t take her looking at me that way.
“I sat on the edge of the bed, and I don’t know why, but I slipped my .38 into my pocket. I’d bought it after a couple of break-ins we had in the neighborhood. I remember rubbing the outline of the gun through my slacks, thinking I’d really fucked up this time and maybe I should just use it on myself. Shelly wandered in later and made me rejoin the party, but the mood was pretty much dead by then.
“Well, it gets late. Alan takes the kids home. Ed sticks around for a drink or two, then goes. Darlene says she needs to go too. Asks me to be a dear and walk her downstairs and wait with her for the cab. I knew what she really wanted, but I went anyway. Out on the sidewalk, she asks me, point blank, if I took credit for her idea. The first one, and the Macy’s Claus one. I didn’t need to answer. She could read it in my face.
“I should have known better. She never took shit from anybody. She told me if I didn’t go set the record straight with Cardin and make good on that partnership promise, she would. She’d leave and go start her own firm, and take Macy’s with her. I knew she’d do it, too.
“I grabbed her around the waist and yanked her close. I couldn’t let her do that. She’d be screwing Alan over as much as me, and his kids too. She was mad, though. She got a hand up and slapped me, and I don’t know, my hand just went down into my pocket.
“I don’t think she knew I had a gun. I don’t think she even saw it. I just raised it up, kind of jammed right between our bodies, and shot.”
“Excuse me. Mr. Atkins, are you saying you intentionally pulled the trigger?”
“I did. I know, I could say some shit about ‘the gun just went off, I didn’t mean it,’ but the thing is I did mean it. In that moment, full of fear and panic, I meant to shoot her and I did. So, for the record: April 22nd, 1984, Easter Sunday, I shot Darlene Jorgensen in the belly because I was scared she was going to ruin my life.
“She didn’t scream. She didn’t cry. She just kind of slumped down a little bit so I was holding her up, pressed to me. Her blood covered my hand, soaked through my shirt, hot against my skin. And she just stared at me, like she couldn’t believe I’d done it but also like she could, because I was the lowest kind of shit to walk the earth and she knew it.
“In a second she was dead weight in my arms, and I was thinking oh, God, what have I done, and I ought to run a block to the bodega and call for help. Throw the gun in the sewer and say it was a mugging or something. But I couldn’t hold her up and as I let her down onto the sidewalk, there was so much blood. I must have hit an artery or something, because there was blood all over her front, all down my slacks. It was chilly that night, and she’d worn a long coat which spread out around her, catching the blood.
“It was Sunday night. Late. There wasn’t anybody around. Nobody came running at the pop of the gun. I remember all I could think about was how I couldn’t let her bleed on the sidewalk because I couldn’t clean that up. I had to stop the blood. I pulled off my tie and poked it in the hole, but by then I don’t think she was bleeding anymore.
“She was gone, and I couldn’t change that, and there was that construction site just across the street. I scooped her up–I remember, I laid the gun down on top of her so I could use both hands–I scooped her up and ran to the site. I found a tarp and a shovel somewhere. Wrapped her up in it with my tie still jammed in her gut and shoved the gun in with her. Then I dug a hole and stuffed her in and pounded the dirt down hard and smoothed it all over. I threw the shovel I’d found in a dumpster because it was covered with my bloody handprints.
“Well, I couldn’t go back home covered in blood and dirt and all. What would Shelly say? What would I say? I didn’t know where to go except my office. I paid some drunk on the street a few bucks to trade me his shirt and pants, and I holed up in the office drinking and crying all night, washing myself up in the bathroom and flushing the bloody paper towels down the toilet.
“In the morning, I hid in my office when the secretary arrived. I called to the dry cleaners to deliver one of my suits, and when it came I had the secretary pass it to me through a crack in my door, then I left without saying a word to Alan or anybody.
“I wandered around on the streets for a long time, my guts tied in knots, expecting at any minute that a cop’s hand would clap me on the shoulder and haul me in, or that somebody had seen and would spot me and shout ‘there he is!’ But nothing happened. I walked, like normal, and everybody ignored me, just like normal.
“When I finally went home, Shelly was gone. Packed her clothes and all that jewelry I bought her. Left a note on the table that said ‘you’re a bastard’.
“She left, and I stayed. I stayed, and watched over that construction site, praying like the son of a bitch I am that they wouldn’t find Darlene down there under the dirt. And they didn’t. The concrete went down just a few days later.
“I thought I could breathe easy then, but I couldn’t. I stopped shaving. Couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. Couldn’t work. I left the firm. Alan was good enough to buy me out, which set me up pretty good. Shelly married some other guy a year later, so I didn’t even have to pay alimony all that long.
“After a while I did a few ad jobs, now and then, but mostly I just stayed in the apartment watching the construction workers building Darlene’s headstone across the street. Thirty years, I’ve been in that apartment, watching that building and knowing what’s hiding underneath.
“But now her headstone is gone and you’ve found her and I am sorry. Oh, Darlene I am so sorry. I’m sorry, but I’m done hiding.
“Now, then, Detective. Do you have any other questions?”