The Second Time Around

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Michael watched the Professor fumble with his keys and then lurch into his home from down the block. When the door was closed behind the Professor, Michael pulled out his cell phone and dialed his boss. "Professor's home," He said, and there was a click on the other end of the line.

Michael looked at his partner in the back seat. "Boss's on his way. Keep your eyes open. No one gets close to the house until the Boss gets here."

"That's a problem, then," his partner said, hooking his thumb towards the back. "Stranger coming up the sidewalk. He's got a gray sweatshirt on, hood up, hands in his pockets. You want me to drop him?"

Michael rolled down his window to get a better look at the man approaching through the rear-view mirror. The man was shorter, maybe a little older, and in decent shape. Michael shook his head, "Too noise and too public. Just convince him to walk somewhere else this afternoon. This sidewalk's temporarily closed."

His partner nodded and stepped out of the SUV. He was a large man, more than six feet tall and nearly three hundred pounds. He wore a black leather jacket over a dark blue silk oxford and black dress pants. He stepped up onto the sidewalk and stood, arms relaxed and by his side, but with his massive fingers flexing and curling into fists over and over.

"Sidewalk's closed fo--" But his partner cut off as the stranger stepped quickly forward and stabbed him in the chest with a black-bladed knife just below the ribcage. The blade was angled slightly upward, and it sliced through his diaphragm, clipped a lung, and pierced his heart. The stranger gave the handle of the knife a strong sharp twist, and pulled it out with one smooth motion.

Michael's partner of six years twitched and slumped forward, then began to fall. The stranger moved with blinding speed, drawing the dead man's gun and stepping to the side with one movement. Before Michael could get his forty five out of his shoulder holster, the stranger had the barrel of his gun pressed against Michael's temple.

"I've killed more people than you can imagine," The man whispered in an eerily calm voice. He wasn't even out of breath. "I will not hesitate to pull the trigger right now, got it?"

Michael ground his teeth, but nodded after a moment.

"Good," The stranger continued, "I want you to take out your sidearm very slowly, and drop it outside the car. If you twitch faster than I'm comfortable with, I'll pull the trigger."

Michael very slowly, very carefully dropped his gun outside the car. "Why don't you go ahead? You're gonna kill me eventually anyway. Get it over with."

"You're right," the man said with that same nonchalant tone, "I am going to kill you. But you can delay that by a few more moments if you do what I ask. Doesn't really matter to me either way."

"What's a few more moments breathing like a coward?" Michael grated.

"A few more moments breathing," The stranger whispered, and pressed a little with the pistol. Michael shuddered and nodded again. "Good. Take out your phone again and call your boss. Tell him the Professor's wife his home too. Say anything else, and I'll pull the trigger."

Michael took the cell phone from the center console and dialed the number again. The phone rang four times before his boss answered. "Professor's wife is home too, boss." Michael said.

"Good," Lucky said from the other end of the phone, "Hold them there if they try to leave."

The phone clicked again, and Michael set it down in the console. He briefly considered trying to draw the small snub nose .38 he had duct taped between the console and the driver's seat. There was no way he could get the revolver out before the man pulled the trigger, though. And the cold way he'd taken out Michael's partner with his empty sounding voice made Michael think he wasn't bluffing. The man would just as soon kill him as breathe.

"How many people does Lucky have riding with him today?" The stranger asked.

Instead of answering, though, Michael suddenly pulled the door handle and threw his full weight into the door. The stranger made good on his threat, and pulled the trigger, but a split fraction of a second too late. The bullet, instead of going through Michael's head, tore through the back of his neck, narrowly missing his spine.

Michael clapped his hand to the back of his neck as the stranger fell away from the SUV. Time seemed to slow down as Michael made his move for the.38 between his seat and the console. He got the revolver out, and turned towards the stranger as he hit the ground. Too late, Michael saw that he hadn't knocked the gun out of the man's hand as he'd hoped. Instead, the stranger fired three quick rounds into Michael's chest. The bullets hit him like a sledge hammer, and he felt his knees buckle as a cold wave of shock swept through him.

As he slumped slowly towards the ground on his left, Michael brought his pistol up with his right hand and took shaky aim at the stranger. He squeezed three rounds slowly, deliberately. The first two hit the ground next to him, but the third hit him low on the left side of his gut, a few inches below his ribcage. The stranger grunted hard, and the air rushed out of him.

Michael tried to raise his pistol again, but his arms wouldn't listen. Blackness slowly closed in around him. His last thought was surprise at how much dying hurt.

And then there was nothing.

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