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The Second Time Around

By DWMcAliley All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Scifi


Doctor Samuel Mathis turned the page of his newspaper slowly, enjoying the anticipation of the next story, the next headline that would reach out and grab his attention.  He steadfastly refused to turn on the news or check the internet before he read his paper in the morning.  A cup of black Columbian medium roast coffee sat steaming in front of him, untouched.  He never interrupted reading with coffee before the page 4A. 

A muffled cough came from the other side of Dr. Mathis' paper, and he lowered the edge with a deep frown.  Across the small table sat a young man with two days of stubble and deep, dark bags beneath his eyes.  His face was lean, bordering on gaunt, and his hair was slightly disheveled.  He looked to be in his mid twenties, but the years sat heavily on his shoulders.

Dr. Mathis folded the paper carefully, and sat it down on the table to his left.  He picked up his cup of coffee, blew lightly across the lip, and sipped slowly.  After a moment, the young man leaned forward with a slight smile, "I never get tired of seeing your face in that moment when you look up and can't figure out just how I managed to take my seat without you hearing me."

"I'm sorry, young man," Dr. Mathis said, "But is there something I can do for you?  My coffee's getting cold and my paper's getting older by the minute.  Twenty years ago that wouldn't have been a problem, but in the world wide age of cell phones and what not, it means a great deal more."

"You don't recognize me," The young man said with a small nod.  He dropped his eyes to the table, and began picking at it with his thumb.  "I don't blame you.  I slept through a third of your class, and skipped another third.  But the times I was there, I was totally there.  May not have seemed like it, but I was.  Still, I didn't give you much to remember, I guess.  You made an impression on me, though.  It's why I'm here."

"I didn't say I didn't recognize you," Dr. Mathis said, somewhat stiffly.  "You're Gregory Paite.  An exceptionally bright, if equally exceptionally lazy young man with unbelievable potential.  You applied yourself at examination time, and thanks to my somewhat overly generous grading structure, you excelled in my grade book.  If you had actually given a damn, you might have excelled in the class as well.  Now, Mr. Paite what can I do for you?"

Gregory smiled a wry smile.  "Well, I guess I made an impression after all," He said.  "You're right, I didn't really apply myself in your class.  Then again, for the most part, I didn't really have to, no offense.  I'm glad you remember me, cause I sure remember you.  There was a fire in your lectures, and a passion.  Something I'd rarely seen before, and that's why I'm here right now."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Dr. Mathis said honestly, his frown deepening.  "But, you've interrupted my morning, and now I have to go or I'll be late for my first lecture.  I'd hate to deprive the students of my fire and passion."

Gregory reached out as Dr. Mathis started to rise, and caught his wrist in a hard grip so instantly cold that Dr. Mathis cried out in shock.  Immediately, Gregory pulled his hand back and held both of them up, palms out.  "I'm sorry, Professor," he said quickly, "Just give me a few more minutes."

"Your hands are colder than ice," Dr. Mathis hissed, looking at the vibrant red marks the young man's fingers had made on his skin.  "I've never felt anything that cold in my life!  Are you well Mr. Paite?"

Gregory barked a short laugh.  "I really wish I knew how to answer that, Professor."  The young man reached in his back pocket as he and Dr. Mathis sat back in their respective seats.  "I'm as good as can be expected, I guess.  I don't have much time, okay.  You said you were going to lecture this morning.  You're going over Entropy and how it relates to quantum uncertainties.  Trust me, the students could use another day or two to soak up what they must have read last night."

"How did you know what I was lecturing on?"  Dr. Mathis demanded.

"Not much time," Gregory answered shaking his head slowly.  He slid a small folded piece of paper across the table, and held it with a finger for a moment.  "You were right, Professor.  One day, you said that time was a characteristic of the universe rather than a force.  You said it was intricately tied to motion and to change.  You were right--but there's so much more to it."

Gregory closed his eyes for a moment, and a brief look of pain flashed across his face.  It was gone in an instant, but it worried Dr. Mathis.  "Mr. Paite, if you're unwell, I can take you to the hospital.  Or to my doctor, if you prefer."

Gregory smiled wanly.  "I always did like you, Professor Mathis.  Listen, I need you to do something for me, so you'll understand.  In your paper, page 12C, on the bottom right corner.  There's a classified ad that's just a phone number.  That's an off the books bookie that takes bets on horse races, and there's a race today.  I want you to call and place a twenty dollar bet on the number four race, number six horse, to place first."

Dr. Mathis frowned again.  "I don't gamble, Mr. Paite," he said stiffly.

Gregory chuckled softly, and broke down in a fit of violent coughing.  "It isn't a gamble, Professor.  Trust me."  He tapped the paper on the table hard with his index finger.  "Be at this address at two in the morning if you want to see something amazing.  Just tell them you're my guest, and they'll let you in.  Two AM sharp."

Dr. Mathis glanced down at the folded paper, and when he raised his eyes again Gregory was gone. 

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