Mr. Brown's Retirement Plan

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

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Mystery

Everyone, no matter how ordinary they might seem, has at least one extraordinary story to tell. Take the case of an ordinary man named Mr. Brown, a retired truck driver from a quiet New England town. Mr. Brown spent decades driving produce all over the country until his company took him to dinner at a moderately priced restaurant, handed him a gold-plated watch and showed him the door. Since then he’s spent his days watching golf on TV, feeding the ducks in the park, and plotting to kill his wife.   

  

Mr. Brown wanted to kill his wife for one very simple reason: he wanted to be free. Free of her nagging, her snoring, her runny scrambled eggs, her squeaky voice, her no smoking in the house rule, her chewing with her mouth open, her fluffy pink bath towels, her Hummel figurine obsession, and the dozens of other things that had been pecking away at him little by little, like a determined chicken with a granite beak, for nearly forty years. He would have killed her a long time ago if it wasn’t for the job, which used to take him away from home for days or even weeks at a time. But now, if he was to enjoy his golden years drinking, smoking, and eating chili out of the can anywhere he damn well pleased, he had to plan the perfect murder. 

 

He knew that perfect plans required research, so every night after Mrs. Brown had retired to a noisy slumber dreaming of new ways to be insufferable, Mr. Brown grabbed his notebook and turned on the crime channel. After watching hours of jealous boyfriends, angry housewives, and resentful teenagers shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, strangling, and poisoning their problems away, he’d retreat to the basement with notes in hand and get to work. 


Mr. Brown soon discovered that he had three things working in his favor. The first was that cops were idiots; even with all of the advanced technology at their disposal, it sometimes took years, even decades, for them to catch the killer. The second was the lack of an obvious motive. Most men killed their wives for money, or to be with another woman; Mr. Brown did not stand to profit from his wife’s death, as there was no inheritance or life insurance to collect, and he wasn’t ridding himself of one useless nag just to saddle himself with another. 


However, as the prime suspect the cops were sure to question family and friends as to the state of their marriage, a potential problem which to his great luck turned out to be the third advantage. They had no family to speak of, save for a cousin of Mr. Brown’s who sent a Christmas card every year, and at their age most of their friends were either in Florida or in the ground. Mrs. Brown used to play bridge with some ladies from church, but they had a nasty falling out over allegations of cheating and that a certain banana nut bread was store bought instead of homemade, and hadn’t spoken since. As for Mr. Brown, he spent more time with the ducks in the park than he did with people, and they weren’t about to talk to the police. 

    

Night after night he sat hunched over his workbench until 2 a.m., when he burned the trash, hid his notebook and went to bed. As the days passed Mr. Brown grew increasingly tired and frustrated; it seemed the perfect murder would be forever out of his reach, much like happiness and a fulfilling sex life. Then one night, just as he was about to give up all hope of getting it like he had with sex, it happened. It was a piece of yellow lined paper with numerous eraser markings and the uneven scrawl of a weary hand, but Mr. Smith stared at it as if it he’d just discovered the cure for cancer. He checked it against his notes again and again until his eyeballs began to ache from the strain of darting back and forth. He created a narrative like the ones from the murder shows in his head, only the guy portraying him was younger and had more hair, and carefully turned over every step of the plan. He tried to find a flaw, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that could send him to prison but he couldn’t. Finally he leaned back and exhaled as if he’d been holding his breath for hours. He’d done it. He’d crafted the perfect murder.


At this point one might be curious as to what ingredients make the recipe for a perfect murder, but such details are unimportant to both this story and to those with only a passing curiosity, as we hopefully assume of our readers. We will focus instead on the effect this recipe had on the cook. He felt a rush of exhilaration one normally gets from the smell of freshly baked bread or cocaine, as if the weight of his very existence had slid off his shoulders. He hardly felt his feet touch the ground as he walked upstairs to bed; there he slept soundly despite the rumblings of the lump next to him, dreaming of a world made from soft plaid fabric where the sky was thick with grey cigarette smoke and chili flowed like water. 


Mr. Brown woke up the next morning feeling more rested than he had in years, cementing his determination to carry out the murder that very night. Until then it was important that he carry on with his normal routine, as per the first step of the plan. He went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet, scanning the prescription bottles until he found what he was looking for. He reached up next to Mrs. Brown’s sleeping pills and grabbed the dental floss, then rattled the box and smiled. Floss, check. 


At breakfast the usual icy silence did nothing to damper his mood. He casually asked his wife if she had bought chunky peanut butter that week. She looked at him like he was the biggest idiot she’d ever seen, a look he knew all too well, and replied that of course she had, it was on the list like it was every week, she wasn’t stupid. Then she went back to slurping her coffee and eating like a cow chewing cud. Mr. Brown smiled to himself and stabbed a glob of runny scrambled eggs with his fork. Chunky peanut butter, check.  


When it was time for his daily walk to the park to feed his feathered friends, he left the house through the garage to make sure one very important item was still where it was supposed to be and sure enough, it was in the same place it had been for years. Box of doll heads, check. Everything was ready for tonight. By this time tomorrow he would be a free man.


Mr. Brown walked the six blocks to the convenience store and bought a loaf of bread from the middle-aged Korean couple, as usual. While the husband rang up his purchase he looked down at the glass counter, where the rows of instant win lottery tickets beckoned fools to part with their money by implying, with their bright colors, clever wording, and doodles of money bags, that instant wealth lay just beneath the scratch-off latex. He never gambled, but today he was feeling lucky. He asked the husband to add one “Pot O’ Gold” lottery ticket to his purchase. No sooner had they completed their transaction the wife shouted something in Korean and the husband hurried off. Mr. Brown smiled and shook his head, wondering if that man would ever come to his senses like he did.

He moved away from the counter to a small area covered in latex shavings and dashed hopes, where he read the instructions and scratched away the top layer. He blinked in disbelief, read the instructions again, then looked at the small doodles again. There were two shamrocks, two harps, one gold coin, one rainbow, and three pots of gold. Three. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the implications seeped through his skull and made its way into his brain; after a few moments it finally hit. A million dollars. He’d just won a million dollars.  

Suddenly it felt as though some invisible strings above his head had been cut, causing his legs to buckle. He leaned against the counter trying to control the little tremors rippling through his body. The world around him seemed surreal, as if he’d fallen into some dreamlike state that could disappear at any minute and drop him back into a reality where he wasn’t rich. He rallied himself and walked out the door to clear his head. As he walked down the street surrounded by sunshine and cool, crisp air, the shock slowly wore off and he basked in the joy of his newfound wealth. He was free! Free to have or to do anything he wanted! As soon as his wife was dead, he would...

Suddenly a horrifying realization hit with such force it knocked the wind, along with the joy, right out of him. The lottery ticket wasn’t the key to his freedom, but rather the key to a lifelong jail sentence; what he held in his hand was the perfect motive for murder. 

Somehow, perhaps by instinct, he made it to his usual park bench underneath the weeping willow, where he sat in dazed silence for over an hour. A sizable group of ducks swam the edge of the pond and quacked impatiently, but Mr. Brown just stared out at the water clutching the plastic bag of bread in one hand and the lottery ticket in the other. The ducks soon gave up their hopes of a free meal and swam away, leaving him with his thoughts tumbling around in his brain like a clothes dryer on the hot setting.  

Obviously if he were to kill his wife as planned, he couldn’t cash the ticket. While he had up to a year to cash it, no matter how long he waited, the minute word got out he had a million dollars he’d find himself in an unwelcome spotlight. Nosy neighbors, gold diggers, charities, and other freeloaders would all come out of the woodwork trying to find out more about him, his life, and inevitably his dead wife...

He considered taking the money and running off to a tropical island, leaving Mrs. Brown alive but stuck with the house and the bills. He liked the idea of her being forced to get a job for once in her life but soon dismissed it. He would have to cash the ticket before he left, which meant the press would find out, which meant the public would find out, which included his wife. Then he would have to watch her spend the money on all the things she’d always wanted but could never have because she married, in her words, a loser, while he continued to drive a beat-up chevy and watch basic cable...

His head fell into his hands in despair. All he ever wanted was to be free. Free and rich. Was that so wrong? Was he doomed to live in one sort of prison or another for the rest of his life? He tried desperately to think of other options. Looking out at the ducks, his thoughts turned as dark as the water they paddled in. Soon winter would arrive and the pond would be covered in a thin layer of ice, too thin to support a man. Maybe he’d go for a late night stroll and “accidentally” walk out there, when there was no one around to help him...

Suddenly a high pitched squeal assaulted his ears, nearly giving him a small heart attack. He looked over and spotted two small children about fifty feet away, and standing in between them was their haggard mother. Each child held a piece of a toy robot in their hand. The larger child was crying while the smaller one’s faced was bright red and scrunched up like a ball of wadded paper. The mother snatched the pieces and threw them in the trash, all the while saying things that Mr. Brown couldn’t quite make out. Judging from the look on her face, it was anything but motherly. 

As he reflected upon how grateful he was that he’d never had any kids, Mr. Brown was struck by an epiphany. He was being just as greedy and stupid as they were, as was every killer featured on those true crime shows. Greed was always their undoing; no matter how good their plans were, in their quest to have everything they ended up with nothing. He may have fallen into the same trap, but he still had a chance to escape.  

Mr. Brown got up and headed home, crafting a new plan along the way. He’d cash the ticket, ask his wife for a divorce, split the money and go their separate ways. Sure, it wasn’t going to be as simple as that, and he would end up with considerably less than a million dollars, but he would finally have his freedom. And freedom was priceless. Mr. Brown could feel the spring in his step returning; the minute he got home he’d call his lawyer and set the plan in motion.

When he walked through the door he tried to quietly make his way to the den for some privacy, but Mrs. Brown was in his way; more specifically, she was sprawled across the floor in the hallway just outside the living room, her face blue, her eyes wide open yet showing no signs of awareness. Mr. Brown hurried to her side and shook her shoulders, repeatedly calling her name. Her lips, also blue, were parted but no sound came out. After a minute he sat back and stared at the body. After another minute he got up and dialed 911.

The coroner determined that Mrs. Brown died from choking on a piece of candy, which was confirmed by a box of chocolates found on the coffee table. A few days later, Mr. Brown buried his wife and cashed his lottery ticket. At first it felt strange being able to smoke in the house and eat chili in his favorite armchair, but he quickly got used to it. He spent his days trying to decide what to buy first, occasionally pausing to ponder the strange turn of events that had brought to this point. Had he been rewarded for doing the right thing by rejecting murder, or had she been punished for being such a harpy? Or was it all just an odd coincidence? Then he would shrug it off and return to his catalogs.  

One day his browsing was interrupted by a knock on the door. Anticipating another sad sack with a hard luck tale, he sighed and went to open it. To his surprise, he found himself face to face with a man in a suit and two uniformed policemen.

The man in the suit spoke. “Mr. Brown? I’m Detective Lewis. We have a warrant to search the premises.” 

It seemed that life, or fate if you prefer, had one more unexpected twist in store for Mr. Brown. He had made a careful plan to kill his wife that proved unnecessary, as was his subsequent plan to divorce her. Faced with her actual death, and the fact that he was innocent in the matter, his plan had been to rely on the truth as innocent people tend to do. This turned out to be his undoing, for as he quickly found out, the truth often depends on who you ask.

Detective Lewis, who happened to be up for a promotion, read about Mr. Brown’s winning the lottery immediately following his wife’s passing and found it very suspicious. He obtained the police report and discovered that although Mr. Brown claimed he tried to revive his wife, her body did not show any signs of anyone performing CPR. His investigation then led him to the convenience store, where the husband was happy to tell him about the day Mr. Brown bought the lottery ticket. He confirmed that Mr. Brown never bought lottery tickets, except for the day his wife was found dead. Then the shouts from his own wife caused him to cut the interview short and hurry off.  

All of these seemingly coincidental things were good enough for a judge, who approved a search warrant for Mr. Brown’s house. If you think that there was nothing incriminating for them to find then you’ve forgotten about the murder notebook, as did Mr. Brown. Since no one cares to hear about the long, complicated and boring details of the American justice system, let’s just say that following a sensational trial by a judge, a jury, an ambitious prosecutor and social media, Mr. Brown was found guilty. He is currently serving twenty-five years to life.

Here is where Mr. Brown’s story comes to an end. If you are looking for some kind of closure, such as a moral of sorts, look elsewhere. Morals, like the truth, vary from person to person, so whatever you choose to believe should work just fine. As you may recall our goal was to show you that ordinary people have at least one extraordinary story to tell, which you must admit we have achieved in spades. However, if you are still feeling unsatisfied and wish to revisit this story from another angle, you can catch the dramatization on the crime channel this Saturday night at ten.   

February 06, 2020 03:19

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8 comments

Pamela Saunders
13:27 Feb 09, 2020

Entertaining :)

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Thotsuki Bakuhoe
18:47 May 22, 2020

Dana, that was a great story, I loved it, but who is Mr Smith in paragraph six?

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Carolyn Mc Bride
15:36 Jun 16, 2021

I could hear this as an episode of The Twilight Zone. Good story!

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Margaret Davis
17:49 Jun 07, 2020

I really enjoyed the story. I was not expecting the ending - great job on creating an ending with a twist.

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Maureen Tupaea
17:57 Feb 14, 2020

Hi Dana Nice story but who is Mr Smith in paragraph six?

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Joan Maguire
15:19 Feb 12, 2020

I really enjoyed your story Dana. It was quite pacy and held my attention from the beginning to the end. I like your use of dark humor at times. Definitely an unexpected ending. Well done!

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Helen Van Tol
14:03 Feb 12, 2020

I was riveted. I liked the twist at the end and the humour casually inserted here and there. Well done. Poor Mr. Brown!

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Ola Hotchpotch
16:22 Feb 11, 2020

Nice story.

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