VICTOR BROWN AWOKE at his usual time and began going about his day just as he had every day since Marga had died. He arose from his full-size bed, which he promptly made with military precision, used the bathroom, and brushed his teeth. He made breakfast; two eggs, ham and whole-wheat toast because Marga had told him it was healthier than white, and he’d live longer. That meant little to him now, but he liked to live right by her memory. After breakfast, Victor retrieved The Wall Street Journal from his front stoop and retreated to his favorite chair. He sipped hot tea, because coffee gave him heartburn, and spent the next hour combing the gritty pages, digesting the articles and storing talking points for his morning rounds.
When he was finished, he folded the paper just so and put it in the recycling bin. He took a quick shower, never one to waste water, shaved and combed the wisps of white hair that still clung stubbornly to his scalp. He donned his trademark three-piece suit, tying a double Windsor knot in his tie and picked out a complementing felt fedora. Today, the suit was light gray; the tie was baby blue, and the fedora was black with a baby blue band. It was the last ensemble Marga had picked out, and she had always had a keen eye for a bolder sense of style. Victor checked himself meticulously in the mirror, his faded blue eyes straining in the morning light. He needed glasses but refused to wear them: those old eyes could still see what was right in front of them.
Satisfied, Victor left his single-story home with the unfinished basement and the failing yard because gardening had always been Marga’s thing. He walked down the front steps, down the concrete path and out the waist-high picket fence, latching the gate carefully behind him. He turned left at the street and made his way towards the park. He had the gait of a man that’d always taken care of himself. His steps were sure and his shoulders back. Only the sag of his cheeks and the wrinkled skin around his eyes spoke to his advanced age.
He entered the park and joined a group of fellow seniors around the chess tables. They chatted about the weather, their grandchildren and made jokes only people who’d lived through the 1940s would understand. When angry, dark clouds rolled in they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Victor made his way to the store, bought ingredients for dinner, and waited out the storm with another hot cup of tea. He made idle conversation with the teenager behind the counter before the rain slowed and he made his way home.
He walked through the open front gate. Hadn’t he latched that? His feet slowed as he picked his way between smudges of dark mud dotting the concrete path. Who’d made those? He slowly made his way to the front steps, casting a wary glance around him before climbing up them. He fumbled in his pocket for the house keys, his eyes going wide as the blurry reflection of a masked man appeared in the glass panel of the door.
A loud bang ripped through the quiet neighborhood, followed by the sound of breaking glass. A few neighbors rushed to their windows, but the majority were unaware anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
Mrs. Kozłowski rang the police, complaining about what sounded like a gunshot, and she’d know because she’d grown up in Soviet era Poland and witnessed enough bloodshed to last a lifetime. The operator on duty assured her they’d send a unit and Mrs. Kozłowski assured them she’d be waiting.
True to her word, Mrs. Kozłowski was waiting as the patrol car rolled up. She practically jumped off the curb to flag the cruiser down and the two officers inside sighed loudly. They’d been hoping to just drive through the quiet neighborhood and confirm all was well, but they should’ve known better.
And so, the officers exited the patrol car and greeted Mrs. Kozłowski. She assured them that she’d heard a gunshot, no way she was mistaken. Sounded like it came from the Browns’ place. She’d heard breaking glass too, she sure did. The officers assured her they’d check it out and that she should go inside where it was warm. They’d come talk to her before they left.
With hands relaxed over the butts of their guns, unlocked just in case and ready for action, the two officers made their way through the broken front gate, swinging in the wind on one hinge, up the muddy walk, new smudges running the opposite of the old, and to the front steps, a river of blood running down them, still steaming in the cool air.
And so, Victor’s corpse was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound to the back of his head.