It was bright morning. The sun shone down on the damp lawns and sidewalks, reflecting off the sparkling parked cars. The Clerk came walking hurriedly, leafing through his instructions, flipping pages and frowning. He stopped in front of the small green stucco house for a moment, and then turned up the walk, entering the back yard.
The dog was asleep inside his shed, his back turned to the world. Only his thick tail showed.
“For heaven’s sake,” the Clerk exclaimed, hands on his hips. He tapped his mechanical pencil noisily against his clipboard. “Wake up, you in there.”
The dog stirred. He came slowly out of his shed, head first, blinking and yawning in the morning sunlight. “Oh, it’s you. Already?” He yawned again.
“Big doings.” The Clerk ran his expert finger down the traffic-control sheet. “They’re adjusting Sector T137 this morning. Starting at exactly nine o’clock.” He glanced at his pocket watch. “Three hour alteration. Will finish by noon.”
“T137? That’s not far from here.”
The Clerk’s thin lips twisted with contempt. “Indeed. You’re showing astonishing perspicacity, my black-haired friend. Maybe you can divine why I’m here.”
“We overlap with T137.”
“Exactly. Elements from this Sector are involved. We must make sure they’re properly placed when the adjustment begins.” The Clerk glanced toward the small green stucco house. “Your particular task concerns the man in there. He is employed by a business establishment lying within Sector T137. It’s essential that he be there before nine o’clock.”
The dog studied the house. The shades had been let up. The kitchen light was on. Beyond the lace curtains dim shapes could be seen, stirring around the table. A man and woman. They were drinking coffee.
are,” the dog murmured. “The man, you say? He’s not going to be harmed, is he?”
“Of course not. But he must be at his office early. Usually he doesn’t leave until after nine. Today he must leave at eight-thirty. He must be within Sector T137 before the process begins, or he won’t be altered to coincide with the new adjustment.”
The dog sighed. “That means I have to summon.”
“Correct.” The Clerk checked his instruction sheet. “You’re to summon at precisely eight-fifteen. You’ve got that? Eight-fifteen. No later.”
“What will the eight-fifteen summons bring?”
The Clerk flipped open his instruction book, examining the code columns. “It will bring A Friend with a Car. To drive him to work early.” He closed the book and folded his arms, preparing to wait. “That way he’ll get to his office almost an hour ahead of time. Which is vital.”
“Vital,” the dog murmured. He lay down, half inside his shed. His eyes closed. “Vital.”
“Wake up! This must be done exactly on time. If you summon too soon or too late – “
The dog nodded sleepily. “I know. I’ll do it right. I always do it right.”
Ed Fletcher poured more cream in his coffee. He sighed, leaning back in his chair. Behind him the oven hissed softly, filling the kitchen with warm fumes. The yellow overhead light beamed down.
“Another roll?” Ruth asked.
“I’m full.” Ed sipped his coffee. “You can have it.”
“Have to go.” Ruth got to her feet, unfastening her robe. Time to go to work.”
“Sure. You lucky bum! Wish I could sit around.” Ruth moved toward the bathroom, running her fingers through her long black hair. “When you work for the Government you start early.”
“But you get off early,” Ed pointed out. He unfolded the Chronicle, examining the sporting green. “Well, have a good time today. Don’t type any wrong words, any double-entendres.”