The Second Time Around

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Gregory checked his watch one last time, and hobbled over to the stairs. He climbed them with great difficulty until he reached the landing where they made a full turn and went back up the other direction. He settled into a corner against the wall and braced his arm on the banister to steady his aim. Suddenly there were two loud booms from outside, and the top and bottom hinges went flying across the room in pieces. Heavy footsteps on the stairs followed by a solid thud on the front door and it flew inward and halfway across the living room.

A hulking man in a black jacket stepped in the door with a double barrel shotgun. He flipped the breach down and began to pop two shells in when Gregory squeezed the trigger carefully, slowly. The bullet took the man just behind the ear, and he crumpled. Gregory pulled himself to his feet just as Lucas "Lucky" Aricello himself stepped over the threshold.

"Stop right there, Lucky," Gregory called, his chest burning with the effort of talking. He turned and spat out a mouthful of blood. "One more step and I'll drop you too."

Lucky smiled easily and held his hands out to his sides with an arched eyebrow. "You went through a lot of trouble to draw me out, to bring me here, and now you say it's just to put a bullet in my head? I don't think so."

"I'm here to help a friend," Gregory gasped, "And to make a little money in the process."

"Money?" Lucky said, and he threw his head back and barked a short laugh. "You think I'm going to pay your illegal bet? I hardly think so. I don't even know who you are, beyond the fact that you are most definitely not a quiet little Professor who got lucky."

"You're right," Gregory grated between clenched teeth as he pulled himself back to his feet. "You don't know me. But you are going to pay the bet because you want a few more minutes drawing breath, hoping you can find a way to flip the situation around and get your hands on your ankle holster. Now, there's a slip of paper on the table with a bank code on it. You'll call, now, and transfer the full funds to that account, or I will kill you where you stand."

"And if I do what you ask," Lucky said slyly, "What do I get out of the exchange? Other than a few more breaths, of course."

"I'll let you live," Gregory said, coughing a deep, rasping cough. "You walk out of here a free man."

"Am I supposed to take your word?" Lucky asked, and turned his head to spit.

"It's all I have, I'm afraid," Gregory answered with a small shrug, "But I promise you this, if I think I'm going to pass out before you finish and leave, I will kill you. I've already made corpses of three of your people tonight because you underestimated me. Do you really want to join them?"

Lucky looked about to say something else, but Gregory raised his pistol and the mob boss turned and picked up the paper. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. From Gregory's end, it sounded like a legitimate conversation. Gregory turned and called up the stairs, "Professor, check the account."

"So he is here, then," Lucky growled, and he took a step towards the stairs.

Gregory leveled his pistol at the man, and he stopped in his tracks. "You gave your word, stranger, said I could leave in peace."

"And you can, once I know the money's really there," Gregory answered.

"It's good," Professor Mathis called down, "I'm starting the second transfer now."

Lucky's face twisted into a sour grimace. He started to say something, but stopped with his mouth open, his head cocked to the side. Slowly the realization that he was hearing sirens spread across his face. He turned and spat again. "You said I'd walk out of here a free man, stranger."

Gregory smiled. "I lied," he said.

Lucky moved quickly, one hand darting behind his back while the other flung his cell phone at Gregory. But he wasn't fast enough. Gregory's pistol was already raised, and he squeezed the trigger. Two bullets hit Lucky square in the chest. For a moment, he stopped in mid draw and stared down at the blood running from his chest with wide, confused eyes. His small revolver slipped from his fingers. He tried to speak, but no words came, and he fell forward heavily. He twitched once, and then let out a long, slow breath and was still.

Gregory tried to take a step down the stairs, but his knees buckled and he fell forward. He rolled and tumbled down the half flight. He landed heavily against the wall, pain shooting up his left side as the bullet wound tore open again. He felt a slot trickle of blood run down his side. Gregory tried to get up, but the pain was too much and he nearly blacked out, so instead he lay on his back panting heavily and bleeding all over the Professor's floor.

A feeling like pressure began to grow in his chest, a familiar feeling now. He checked his watch and almost laughed. He was about to snap back to his own present. He tried to call out to the Professor, but even pulling in enough breath made his vision waver and black specks danced in front of his eyes for a moment. As he lay there panting, hovering on the edge of unconsciousness, the pressure building on every inch of his skin seemed to flicker like a candle in a breeze. It waivered, and then suddenly it evaporated and was gone.

Gregory blinked and checked his watch again. The time had passed, and he was still here, in this moment. A chuckle began deep in his belly and grew slowly until it shook his whole body. It burned and felt like it might tear him in half, but he couldn't help it. As the blackness finally rolled over him, Gregory's last thought was he'd finally found a way to cross a temporal event horizon.

And all it cost him was his life.

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