some cursing, that's all.

Cheating Death

For Dave And for my brother.

Today is all we have.

 

Keller sat in the car, his eyes locked on the two men sitting in the blue and white Ford truck across the street. The two men exchanged words, then the passenger door opened and a young man with curly hair hopped out. Keller smiled. This was going to be way too easy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Okay, I'll see you at five. Thanks for the ride, Jim," Blair said, slamming the truck's door.

Jim winced. "Go easy on her, Chief, will ya?"

Blair grinned apologetically, giving the door an affectionate pat. "Sorry," he said. Then spun around and headed across the street toward the anthropology building.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keller turned the ignition key, stepping on the accelerator, smiling in anticipation. The kid was such an easy target. The engine revved smoothly. Keller slammed the car into gear, and, unexpectedly, the car lurched backward, colliding with the black BMW parked several feet behind it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sandburg spun around at the sound of screeching metal. Several yards away he spotted a grey cadillac, the back end of which seemed to have merged with the front end of what had surely been a gorgeous BMW five seconds before. Sandburg took a few steps toward the car, hoping the driver wasn't hurt. Jim, however, ran ahead of him, and Blair, knowing he was already late for class, decided his partner could handle the minor accident on his own. The driver seemed to be unharmed, anyway, as he was in the process of stepping out of the vehicle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keller stormed up to the desk, a scowl plastered on his face. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! He was so damn used to driving the Mercedes, and the fucking gear shifts were totally opposite. So, like a moron, he'd thrown the stupid-fucking-piece-of-shit caddy into reverse by accident. Way to go, idiot. Nice way to keep a low profile. You managed to make your identity known to every college kid in Cascade, not to mention announcing your presence to Ellison and that hippie partner of his.

"I need a car," he snapped at the young woman behind the counter. "And I want a Mercedes." This time he'd do it right.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was almost two in the morning, and Blair walked out of the club with his date, Jennifer. He slipped an arm around her waist and headed toward the Volvo, which was parked a couple of blocks down. Parking was impossible downtown on Friday nights, and he was lucky to have found a spot that close to the club. Jim, of course, would probably lecture him about the dangers of walking the streets at two a.m.... if he knew, that was... which he didn't - and wouldn't.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keller watched the young couple walking along the sidewalk and reached over to the back seat, grabbing the high-powered rifle from beneath the pile of blankets. Moving as gracefully as a cat, he opened the driver side door and slid out, swinging the rifle over the roof of the car. Quickly, he took aim, focusing the cross hairs on the head of the curly-haired anthropologist.

Bye, Bye, he silently bade the young man, then, with a predatory smile, pressed the trigger.

What the...?  He looked down at the gun, unable to believe that the damn thing was frozen. Of all the...! I can't FUCKING believe this?! With a curse, he tossed the rifle into the backseat and was just about to reach under his jacket for his side arm when something hard hit him on the back of the head, sending him into unconsciousness

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair eased the loft door open, carefully placing his keys in the basket. Slowly, he closed the door, taking care not to make noise. The loft was dark, and he knew Jim was asleep upstairs. Blair figured his partner had probably already been woken by his arrival, but there was no need to disturb the older man any more than necessary. Deciding to leave the lights off, he headed straight for his room, walking slowly as he navigated through the darkness.

With a tired yawn, he walked into his room and deposited his backpack next to the door. Quickly, he slipped out of his clothes and fell into bed. He was asleep less than a minute later.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Keller woke to pain... specifically, to a throbbing agony in his skull. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Fluorescent lights above sent slivers of pain into his brain. He clenched his eyelids closed and released a miserable moan.

"Mr. Simons? Can you hear me?"

Who? Sim-- Oh, yeah. He had so many fake ID's, he couldn't keep track of them all.

"Can you hear me, Sir," the female voice repeated.

Slowly, he nodded.

"Good. That's good. You're in a hospital. Do you remember what happened?"

No, he had no idea.

"You were mugged, apparently. You were found on the side of the street in downtown early this morning."

He groaned as the memory returned to him. Sandburg. He'd been trying to complete the hit on that miserable kid. Jesus Christ, what the hell was it with that punk? Did he have some kind of a guardian angel, or was there some deity out there trying to make Keller's life a living hell. He's just a stupid kid, for chrissakes! I've taken out mob bosses, gangsters, and even ex-cia agents. Why the hell can't I kill one clueless anthropologist? Maybe I oughtta just start with the damn cop... screw the instructions. He took a deep breath. No, he'd do the job, and he'd do it right. The kid first. Then Ellison. He'd kill that puny brat if he had to rip out the kid's heart with his bare hands.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stupid elevator would have to be out, Blair thought as he jogged up the stairs. He only had to go up two stories, so it wasn't THAT bad, but his backpack was REALLY heavy. He glanced at his watch. His appointment with Dr. Corrins was in five minutes and... Damn! He suddenly realized he'd forgotten his notes. Stupid! Stupid! His notebook was sitting on the corner of his desk back down on the first floor. With a sigh, he spun around, flying down the stairs like bullet. He rounded the corner, grabbing onto the railing to keep his balance, and found himself colliding with a large object.

"Ooomph!" Blair bounced off the man and slammed into the wall. "Oh I'm... Oh no!"

The man released a surprised exclamation and toppled backward, rolling down the flight of stairs and landing with a hard crunch at the bottom.

"Oh no. No. No. No." Blair rushed down the stairs, falling on his knees next to the crumpled figure. "Sir, can you hear me?"

The man groaned, turning his head to look up at Blair. Suddenly, his face contorted into an expression of rage. "You! You... You... "

Blair shook his head. "No, don't talk." Quickly, he reached into his backpack and withdrew his cell phone, dialing 9-1-1.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair paced the waiting room, occasionally glancing at Jim.
"Come on, Chief, it was an accident."

"It was stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" He slammed the palm of his hand repeatedly against his forehead. "I should never have been running down those stairs. I could have killed him!"

Jim sighed. "Just calm down, Blair. The doc says he's only got a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder. Yeah, you were running down the stairs, but it WAS an accident. These things happen."

Blair shook his head wildly. "No, it was stupid. I can't believe this happened."

Jim sighed. "Have you seen him yet?"

Blair shook his head. "No, I tried to get some info from them a few minutes before you got here, but all they would tell me was what they told you... only they hadn't been sure of his leg at that time." Tiredly, Blair sank into the chair next to Jim. "God, I am SO stupid."

Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "You've said that a hundred times, Chief. I believe you already," he said, a small smile on his lips.

Blair threw the detective an annoyed glare. "This isn't funny, man."

Immediately, Jim sobered. "Sorry. I know it isn't."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Keller opened his eyes at the sound of a door opening. He looked over to see...

I don't believe this. Have I died and gone to hell?

The pain-in-the-neck-head-leg-shoulder anthropologist walked into the room, walking hesitantly over to Keller's bedside. The young man kept his head low, his eyes barely raised enough to look at Keller.

"Uh... Mr. Simons?"

Keller narrowed his eyes. He didn't want the kid anywhere near him. The runt was a walking liability... a health hazard.

When Keller didn't respond, Sandburg took another step toward the bed. Keller's heartrate skyrocketed. Oh christ, he's coming closer.

"Stay right there," Keller croaked.

"Huh?" Sandburg stopped in his tracks, looking like a deer caught in headlights.

"Just turn around kid and get the hell away from me."

Sandburg paled visibly, lowering his gaze to the floor. "Uh.. okay. Sorry to bother you, Sir. I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

Keller almost choked on his saliva. Sorry? The kid is sorry? Oh this is too unreal. I've made three attempts on his life, and ended up with injuries all three times... with two hospital visits! The car accident had left him with an aching neck, but he hadn't sought out medical attention. Hell, in his entire life he'd been to the doctor only once... to have his appendix out when he was ten. Now the jinxed anthropologist had somehow made that number climb to three.

On the stairs, he'd been running after Sandburg, figuring that the stairwell provided him the perfect opportunity to put two slugs in the kid. Fortunately, he'd dropped the unregistered gun when Sandburg had barreled into him. If someone found it, there was no way it would be traced to him... though he supposed someone like Ellison might get suspicious about an unregistered gun being found in the same stairwell that Keller had been pushed down; but, that, in and of itself, wasn't enough for an arrest. However, if the detective did pry, and somehow managed to run his fingerprints, Keller would be made. Fortunately, when he'd run into the BMW, Ellison had simply taken the info from his alternative ID and called in to find out about the owner of the BMW. There'd been no need for Keller to go to the station.

"I really am, sorry, Sir. I didn't see you. I know I shouldn't have been running down the stairs, but I forgot my notes and I was almost late for an appointment. I just wasn't thinking, not that that's an excuse, I realize, but I really didn't mean to hurt you and--"

"Shut up."

Sandburg clamped his mouth closed, looking like a puppy that had just been kicked.

"Get out," Keller commanded, his voice low but firm.

With a sad, apologetic nod, Sandburg turned and walked out of the room, his shoulders hunched.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim leaned against the wall, tuning his hearing to the conversation. His jaw clenched when he heard Mr. Simons tell Sandburg to leave. There was something familiar about the man's voice, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He stiffened when he saw Sandburg walking down the hall toward him. Jim's heart dropped to his feet when he saw the expression on his partner's face.

Damn. Pushing himself away from the wall, he met Sandburg halfway. "You okay?" Stupid Question, Ellison.

Blair shrugged, his eyes focused on the white tile floor. Jim swung an arm around Sandburg's shoulder, guiding his partner toward the elevator. Ellison didn't quite know what to say, and figured any words would prove useless, anyway. Simons had already said enough, and now Jim was left to deal with Blair's guilt.

Blair glanced up at Jim. "Uh, why don't you go down and get the truck? I'm gonna head to the restroom."

Jim nodded, recognizing the unspoken plea in his partner's voice. Blair wanted to be alone for a few minutes. "Okay, Chief," he said, giving his partner a pat on the shoulder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keller hated hospitals. They were places for the sick and dying. He was neither, and he was determined not to let a few injuries and a string of bad luck stop him from completing his assignment. With a grunt, he got out of bed. The cast on his leg had dried over half an hour ago, so he had the use of only one good leg. To top it off, his left arm was strapped to his torso, effectively immobilizing his recently-dislocated shoulder.

Keller hobbled over to the bureau a few feet away from his bed, casting a brief glance at the sleeping man in the other bed. Quickly, he pulled open the top drawer, grabbing his jacket and reaching into the pocket to withdraw the swiss army knife he always kept handy. He smiled. Oh the things he could do with his trusty swiss army knife. With one swift motion, he tore off the sling. Then he set about unwrapping his arm. Once the bandages were off, he slowly tested his shoulder, rolling it back and forth. It hurt like hell, but at least it worked.

He turned his attention back to the knife. His fingers wrapped around the cool metal, and he hobbled over to the door, peaking his head into the hallway. He saw only a nurse and an orderly in the hallway. Damn, the kid left already. At that point, Keller didn't care how he killed the kid. He just wanted the brat dead. A part of his mind told him he was getting too emotional... becoming careless... but he didn't care. He'd had enough, and it was time to finish the job. First Sandburg, then Ellison. Who would have thought killing one puny anthropologist would be so damn hard?

The door to the men's restroom opened and Sandburg stepped out, his face etched with deep worry lines. Keller smiled, relieved to realize that the kid hadn't left. Sandburg walked toward the elevator, but was intercepted by the young blond nurse on duty. The young man stopped near the stairwell, exchanging words with the pretty nurse, though he didn't look particularly interested in the conversation. The woman, however, seemed very interested in the long-haired anthropologist. Oh please, Keller thought.

The nurse pulled a pad out of her pocket and scribbled something on the top sheet. She tore off the paper and handed it to Sandburg, smiling brightly as she turned to walk down the hall. Keller saw his chance. Sandburg's back faced Keller, and the nurse had disappeared down the hall. The orderly, thank Jesus, was sleeping soundly behind the desk. As quietly as he could, Keller hobbled toward Sandburg, flicking the swiss army knife open.

Sandburg stood stiffly near the stairwell door, staring blankly at the piece of paper in his hand. What an idiot, Keller thought. He's so clueless, it's almost sad. Raising the knife, he closed the distance between him and Sandburg. All it would take was a flick of his knife and Sandburg would be one dead anthropologist.

Keller raised the knife higher, posed to strike. He reached out a hand, intending to grab the kid's hair and yank his head back. It would take him a fraction of a second to cut the jugular.

At the last moment, Sandburg pushed himself away from the wall. Keller's hand closed around air, and, with his cast, he found himself suddenly off balance. Desperately, he reached out, intending to catch his balance on the door, but the damn thing swung open at his touch and he found himself falling into the stairwell.

"Oh shiiiiiiit!!!!" He tumbled down two flights of stairs before finally coming to rest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim, Simon, Blair, and Doctor Karen Cohn stood outside Keller's hospital room, staring at the unconscious man.

"I knew there was something about him," Jim said.

Simon shook his head. "Jarod Keller." He released a low whistle. "The D.A. is going to be VERY happy."

Blair looked up at the two men. "I just can't believe he's a hit man. I mean, why would he want to kill me?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't know, Chief, but we'll find out when he wakes up." He looked at the doctor. "How long, do you think?"

The gray-haired woman shrugged. "Maybe a day. He really messed up his shoulder, and that's going to require surgery. He's also got a concussion and three cracked ribs."

Blair turned to look at the man in the hospital bed. Keller was a graying man with a round face and thin lips. He lay motionless in the bed, his face pale. A brace immobilized his neck, and bandages seemed to cover a good portion of his body.  He was hooked up to several tubes, including an IV.

Blair sighed. "Man, talk about weird... and to think I was feeling guilty."

"You're lucky to be alive, Chief," Jim said. "Simon sent Cassie over to the university, and she found an unregistered gun in the stairwell. It had fallen all the way to the first floor and slid into the corner.. easy to miss."

Keller's eyes fluttered open slowly.

"Looks like he's waking up sooner than you thought, doc," Jim muttered.

Keller's eyes fixed on Sandburg through the glass, and his dark eyes widened with what could only be described as horror. It didn't take sentinel hearing to hear the sudden increase in the beeping of the heart monitor. Simon and Jim both looked at Blair.

"I don't believe it," Simon muttered.

Blair looked up at the Captain. "What?"

Jim slapped a hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "Looks like you've got a notorious hit man scared half out of his wits, Chief," Jim said, chuckling.

Simon burst into laughter, and even the doctor managed a smile. Blair simply lowered his head and offered a sheepish smile. "Yeah, well, keep that in mind next time you decide to 'enforce' another house rule."


The End

Okay, so why the dedication to Dave? Dave was one of my brother's best friends. Not to put a damper on this light-hearted piece, but Dave died on Sunday, October 11th when he fell on two steps leading up to a porch. I must admit to being in a weird mood while writing this story, and I do apologize if it seems a bit off, but after having a rather long and disconnected conversation with my brother, I kind of felt like writing something down. I started out writing a rather bleak story to match my mood, but decided that someone like Dave would probably approve of something with a humorous twist (though I'm not sure how well the humor came off here). I know my brother would appreciate the attempt, as he's feeling a bit down now. Okay, so am I.   Anyway, bumber, eh? I know, and I apologize. Weird story. If it sucks, hey, sue me <grin> I call it therapy. Oh, you want to know why the title? Well, I'll tell you anyway. It seems Dave had cheated death many times in his life. He was always pulling stupid, crazy stunts, but he had a hell of a lot of fun doing them!. He fell forty feet off a tower, dove head-first into rapids with only 1 foot of water (broke his nose), and almost fell off the roof of a car going 70 mph. All that, and he dies at the age of 22 by slipping on two steps leading up to a porch. Makes you realize that we really do only have today. Tomorrow is never certain. Cliché, but true.