Outlaw’s Mind “cold opening”

As I mentioned previously, here is the draft of the “cold opening” to Outlaw’s Mind, to see what everyone thinks, so far.  Please, feel free to give feedback below if you’re interested.

I want to point out that, right after this, we go back in time to Timothy’s youth, and only work our way to this stage of the story gradually.  In fact, I haven’t written that far yet.  So, maybe, if readers show interest, I’ll soon post some of the subsequent portions of the draft.  Let me know what you think, please.

Outlaw’s Mind


Robert Elessar

Timothy Outlaw was quite surprised when he saw flashing lights and heard a brief siren through the front window of the upstairs apartment in which he lived.  His was a quiet neighborhood, not truly middle-class perhaps, but certainly not poverty-stricken, and every family or individual he knew on the street was a solid, sensible, positive part of the community…at least as far as he knew.

When he first saw the lights, looking up from the laptop in front of him on his kitchen table, Timothy worried that some neighbor might have suffered a heart attack.  But then a second, and then a third set of lights appeared, he heard the very brief boop of a siren, as of some emergency vehicle prodding someone else out of its way, and he thought he heard voices, one of which seemed to come from a two-way radio.

He walked to his front window, which looked down onto the front lawn of the duplex in which he lived, and he saw, to his astonishment, three police cars and an ambulance, pulled rather haphazardly into and around the property next door.

The ambulance he could just barely consider expectable.  The couple who lived in the house next door—much smaller than the formerly one-family dwelling in which Timothy lived—were retired, albeit recently.  Health problems were more common as people got older, and Timothy thought he’d heard that heart attacks were particularly frequent among the recently retired, though he couldn’t be sure that was right.  But police cars?  Maybe one police car, they often came along with an ambulance, at least until it was clear what had happened.  But three?  Three police cars?  At the Rosencrantz’s house?

Timothy didn’t like to associate himself even in a peripheral way with troubling events, but this was too much, too close to home.  He wanted to see at least generally what was going on.  The weather was still warm enough that he didn’t think he needed a jacket, so he simply went to the side door that opened on to the long stairway down to the side of the house.  This was on the other side from the Rosencrantz’s place, but he could still see the multiple blinking flares from the emergency vehicles, reflecting off windows and the sides of houses in the early night.

As he came around to the front of the house on the narrow concrete walkway, he saw that his downstairs neighbor, Bernice, was walking back into the yard, a sweater pulled around her shoulders.  She hunched, rather theatrically, against what seemed to Timothy to be a mild and rather pleasant breeze.  Then again, maybe she was hunched against something else.

She saw Timothy even as he saw her, and she nodded.  She appeared to try to give a greeting smile, but it came out as a grimace.

“Hi, Tim,” she said.

“Hi,” Timothy responded.  He didn’t really like the shortened version of his name, but he strove never to make much of it.  “What’s going on?”

“Oh, nothing,” Bernice replied, coming closer to him and standing at an angle, where she could converse with him while watching the lights and vehicles and people in the neighboring yard.  “I thought I’d go over and see if there was anything I could do to help, but I guess it’s too late for that.”  Bernice was a recently divorced LPN, with long ER and ICU experience, so it wasn’t unreasonable of her to offer to assist even trained EMTs and police officers.  But that hadn’t really been the substance of Timothy’s inquiry.

“But what happened?” he asked.  “Are Mr. and Mrs. Rosencrantz all right?”

“Ah,” Bernice said, though Timothy honestly couldn’t see how she couldn’t have known what his question was about.  “That.  Well…I guess I would have to say no on both counts.”

Irritated by her evasiveness, but able to keep it under good control thanks to recently acquired practices and habits, Timothy said, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Bernice said, sounding both weary and sad, with a hint of the cynical undertone that so many career nurses developed, “from what I can gather, it looks like Mrs. Rosencrantz is dead…and Mr. Rosencrantz is the one who killed her.”

“What?” Timothy said.  “Are you…you can’t be serious.”  He knew, though, that no matter how jaded she might be, Bernice would never joke about such a thing.

“I wish I wasn’t,” she said.  “But I know one of the cops, there…he’s come into the ER when I’ve been working a couple of times.  He said they got a call from Mr. Rosencrantz a little while ago saying that he’d…well, that he’d just lost his temper with his wife over something and had bashed her head in with a metal knife holder.  Didn’t stab her, nothing like that, just beat her in the head with the holder.  Then, I guess, he called 911, but it looks like it’s too late for her.”  She sighed.

“Holy shit,” Timothy said softly.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” Bernice replied, nodding sadly.

Timothy could barely gather his thoughts.  He couldn’t quite comprehend the notion of his neighbor, a small, slightly stout man with a sardonic sense of humor and a comically jaded attitude suddenly losing his temper and beating his wife to death with a blunt object.  The two had occasionally bickered, even within the range of Timothy’s hearing, but it had been almost a theatrical kind of bickering.  It had always seemed to Timothy that, on those occasions when the Rosencrantz’s were fighting, they were doing so mainly out of a sense of obligation, as if it were a required part of being a recently retired couple, but not because they disagreed about anything of any depth.

And Mr. Rosencrantz looked like a man who had more likely been the target of bullying in his young life—and perhaps even in his adult life—than to be the instigator of violence, even if he were provoked severely by a sharp-tongued wife…which had not been a very accurate description of Mrs. Rosencrantz.

It wasn’t that Timothy couldn’t imagine people being violent, even to those closest to them.  Quite the contrary, he knew of such things only too well.  But he thought that there were certain types of people who were the ones who might one day lash out destructively, and other types who simply were not.  It appeared he had mis-classified Mr. Rosencrantz.

He watched for a bit, Bernice standing silently next to him.  He saw the two EMTs come out through the front door of the small house, a stretcher rolling between them, on which lay a small figure in a black plastic bag.  Timothy hadn’t ever really noticed just how tiny and frail Mrs. Rosencrantz had been—her physical presence had always been one of great energy, so one never felt that she was anything but large—but seeing what was clearly her form lying on the stretcher, pushed easily by the two emergency workers, who didn’t even need to make any special maneuvers to bring their burden down the few stairs from the front porch, that point was driven home.

With that, he felt a wave of anger begin, a judgmental contempt for Mr. Rosencrantz.  It was such the mark of a bully, for someone who was small and weak in one way or another to seek out those who were smaller and weaker to victimize.  Who knew, perhaps Mr. Rosencrantz had committed spousal abuse many times over the years but had been able to keep it contained and hidden enough that he didn’t get caught.  Timothy hated such a thought.  Poor Mrs. Rosencrantz, trapped in her marriage by tradition and fear, might never have said or done anything to stop it.  Timothy had no disdain for her, or for anyone in such a situation.  He understood how the threat of violence, how someone else’s rage, could be so frightening as to rob one even of rational self-preservation.

No, the blame was—always—on the perpetrator.  Timothy had no patience, no pity, no sympathy for people who committed acts of violence upon others.  This was not because he couldn’t understand their actions.  He could understand them only too well.  He had demons of his own that would surely have caused little Mr. Rosencrantz, the victimizer of a littler, frailer woman, to jump back in terror, and possibly flee screaming, if they were made manifest before him.

They were trying to manifest themselves now.  Timothy recognized it, the surging heat in his head, the decreased focus of his thoughts, the ache of his own fists, which wanted to bunch into cudgels and beat little Mr. Rosencrantz until he couldn’t move, couldn’t even be recognized, for his horrible crime and betrayal.

But Timothy recognized those feelings, and he knew what to do.  Without even needing to close his eyes anymore, he embraced his emotions, his anger, his hatred, cuddled them like a big, lovable pet, solidified them…and then, with the words “scatter to the winds,” he lifted them up through the top of his head and let them do just that.  The physical aspects of his anger—the tension, the faster heartbeat, the widened pupils—would take a few moments to re-settle, but his anger itself, the emotion, the thought of it, behaved just as though it had been a bag of leaves torn open in a gale.  Timothy could almost see little autumn shapes, sculpted from unnecessary emotion, fluttering and swirling about one another, reduced to impotent, disorderly remains, to decay on the lawns of the neighborhood.

Bernice, on the other hand, seemed to have no such technique for assuaging her own emotions.  Not looking away from the two EMTs as they rolled the late Mrs. Rosencrantz up to the rear of their ambulance—which would not be needing its sirens—she said, “I can’t believe that little piece of shit did that.  The piece of shit.  And Mabel was such a sweet lady, too.”

Timothy realized just then that he had never known Mrs. Rosencrantz’s first name.  And though she had not ever struck him as saintly, he didn’t think the word “sweet” was too great an exaggeration, especially at a moment like that.

Sweetness, however, did not seem to be the mode in which Bernice was settled.  As the EMTs lifted their stretcher and its occupant up into the ambulance, she muttered, “I’d like to get that little bastard in one of my ER cubicles, and get some central line kits, and catheters, and suture sets, and everything else.  I’d put him on IV fluids and even intubate him if I had to, but I’d see how long I could keep him alive and wishing he was dead.  Piece of shit.”

Timothy’s mouth dropped.  He’d never heard Bernice talk in such a way, and it shocked him tremendously.  He wondered if Bernice—whose own marriage had ended less than a year before, but had no doubt been deteriorating for a long time before that—had personal experience with spousal abuse.  Surely that was it.  What else could explain such frankly horrific sentiments from a woman whose calling was care and healing?

Timothy felt that he ought to say something to her, but he didn’t know what it should be.  Before he could even mouth something mindless and banal, though, two policemen walked through the front door of the Rosencrantz’s house, with the small form of the man in question—not much bigger than his wife had been—between them, handcuffed, head down, and with tears noticeably streaming down his face, glinting in the porch light and the streetlights.  He certainly looked contrite.  He looked devastated.  Timothy could well believe that the man was as shocked by his own actions as anyone else would be, and that he would never stop feeling their horror for the rest of his life.

Bernice, however, had no apparent sympathy for him, any more than Timothy had at first felt.  As the somber-looking officers guided their charge toward one of the cars, Bernice suddenly yelled out, “You piece of shit!  How could you?  You son of a bitch!”

The officers escorting Mr. Rosencrantz stopped briefly, apparently surprised, despite their usual occupation, at the epithets being hurled.  Mr. Rosencrantz did not look up, but instead lowered his head even further, and sobbed audibly.

Far from being moved by this—at least in any benign direction—Bernice doubled down, yelling, “Yeah, you’d better cry, you shit!  I hope you get raped in prison, you bastard!  I hope you’re made into some big thug’s bitch!”

Timothy, thoroughly caught by surprise in the face of Bernice’s uncharacteristic anger, when she’d seemed merely grim and sad at first, didn’t have any idea what to say.

Now a new person appeared in the doorway of the house, as the officers began to move Mr. Rosencrantz along again.  This was another policeman, but based on his age and his uniform, he must have been of higher rank than the other two.  He looked quite surprised as he came out to stand on the small porch, and he looked first over at Timothy and Bernice, then around the street.  Only when following his gaze did Timothy notice that quite a few other neighbors had come out into the open to watch the proceedings.  One man, the neighbor on the other side of the Rosencrantz’s house, was nodding his head vigorously in response to Bernice’s words, and Timothy thought he heard the man mutter “Damn right.”  In the glow of the streetlamps and the porch lights, the man’s face looked almost demonic.  His expression would not have been out of place on a member of the Spanish Inquisition.  Clearly, he agreed with Bernice’s sentiments.

The new, senior officer, quickly assessing the situation, called out in Timothy’s direction, “Take it easy, Nurse Bernice.  That sort of thing isn’t helping anyone.”

Timothy had time to realize that this must be the cop that Bernice knew from the ER, before the nurse—whom the officer had clearly been trying cleverly to remind of her usual role as a caregiver—spat out, “There’s nothing that can help anyone here!  The only thing I want to help is to help give him a lethal injection!  I’m happy to volunteer!”

The Rosencrantz’s opposite neighbor chuckled evilly in response to this proposal, and more clearly than before, he said, “I’ll be a witness.”

The officer, clearly irritated, glowered and looked from Bernice to Timothy.  “Hey, sir,” he said, “why don’t you take Nurse Bernice inside.  This isn’t good, she’s only hurting herself, and the situation’s already bad enough.”

Surprised at being thus addressed, and thoroughly unused to being the calm one in any situation, it took a moment for Timothy even to respond.  Finally, he said, “Right.  Right.”  Turning to Bernice, he tentatively put a hand on her shoulder and said, “He’s right, Bernice.  Let’s go inside.”

Bernice’s gaze snapped up to Timothy with a speed that startled him, and he almost drew his hand away in fear.  He half expected her to begin shouting at him, but she just glared.

“Come on,” Timothy said.  “It’s not worth it.”

This seemed to have some effect, and Bernice’s face calmed just a bit, as she said, “You’re right.  You’re right…he’s not worth it.”

Not bothering to correct Bernice’s slight misquote, Timothy said, “Come on,” and he turned, gently pressuring Bernice to do so also.  She went along, not enthusiastically, and Timothy added, “Do you want to come up to my apartment and have a Coke or something?”  He wished he could have offered her a beer or a glass of wine—or even a shot of whiskey—but he did not use alcohol nor keep it around.

Bernice, trudging along beside Timothy, seemed to consider his offer, but then she said, “No, I don’t think so.  I don’t think I need to be around other people right now.  I feel like I need to hurt somebody, and there’s no point in having a target, especially not a nice guy like you.”

As they drew level with the front door of the house—the entrance to Bernice’s ground-floor apartment—Timothy took his hand away.  Bernice headed for her door but seemed to catch herself.  Her shoulders, her posture, her manner, were all so stiff and tense that Timothy half expected her to loose a barrage of obscenities upon him for pulling her away.  Instead, though, with clear significant effort, she said, “Thank you, though.  I appreciate the offer.”

Relieved, impressed, and rather goofily proud of himself, Timothy said, “You’re welcome.  Any time.”

Bernice seemed about to turn around and head back to the door, but she stopped, looking disturbed and puzzled, though still glowering.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “This really isn’t like me.  I’m just so angry.”

Timothy did not have to lie to respond, “Don’t worry about it.  I understand, believe me.”

Apparently, his thorough sincerity was successfully conveyed, for Bernice looked more relaxed, as well as a bit grateful, as she nodded and said, “Thanks.  Good night.”

She turned and walked into her apartment.  She closed the door with perhaps just a bit more force than was necessary, but only just.

Before rounding the corner to the stairs up to his apartment, Timothy heard a voice call out, “Thank you, sir!”

He turned, surprised, to see the senior officer still standing on the porch, clearly looking at him.  Not used to being on polite, let alone good, terms with members of law enforcement, Timothy stammered, “Pardon?”

The officer chuckled, clearly recognizing Timothy’s discomfort.  “I said, thank you.  That was well done, and it was really helpful.  I appreciate it.”

Timothy, both utterly wrong-footed and remarkably proud in an almost kindergartenish way, said, “It’s my pleasure.  I’m…I’m sure your job must hard enough without…without people making it worse.”

The officer nodded somberly, and he said, “That it is.”  He tipped a two-fingered salute to the brim of his cap, a gesture that made Timothy’s pride and gratitude swell even more than they had so far, then turned and walked into what must be a crime scene investigation.  Though apparently there was no mystery involved in what had happened, Timothy guessed that thoroughness was an absolute requirement, particularly in cases of suburban homicides.

As he almost floated up the stairs to his apartment, Timothy was ashamed of himself for feeling such joy in the face of the terrible tragedy, but he couldn’t help it.  This new technique Dr. Putnam had taught him was the greatest thing he’d ever found in his life.

It was too bad Mr. Rosencrantz hadn’t known it.  If he had, his wife might still have been alive, and he might not have been facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

8 thoughts on “Outlaw’s Mind “cold opening”

  1. Very real. Opening pulls us right into the scene. Then you get me where I’m not sure whether to be horrified or laugh out loud. (To be clear, that’s a feature, not a bug.) Then a couple of tiny notes get me wondering what will happen down the road. Good work. Keep going!

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