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."
The bathroom door closed, as Ruth shed her robe and began dressing.
Ed yawned and glanced up at the clock over the sink. Plenty of time. Not even eight. He sipped more coffee and then rubbed his stubbled chin. He would have to shave. He shrugged lazily. Ten minutes, maybe.
Ruth came bustling out in her nylon slip, hurrying into the bedroom. "I'm late." She rushed rapidly around, getting into her blouse and skirt, her stockings, her little white shoes. Finally she bent over and kissed him. "Goodbye, honey. I'll do the shopping tonight."
"Goodbye." Ed lowered his newspaper and put his arm around his wife's trim waist, hugging her affectionately. "You smell nice. Don't flirt with the boss."
Ruth ran out the front door, clattering down the steps. He heard the click of her heels diminish down the sidewalk.
She was gone. The house was silent. He was alone.
Ed got to his feet, pushing his chair back. He wandered lazily into the bathroom and got his razor down. Eight-ten. He washed his face, rubbing it down with shaving cream, and began to shave. He shaved leisurely. He had plenty of time.
The Clerk bent over his round pocket watch, licking his lips nervously. Sweat stood out on his forehead. The second hand ticked on. Eight-fourteen. Almost time.
"Get ready!" the Clerk snapped. He tensed, his small body rigid. "Ten seconds to go!"
"Time!" the Clerk cried.
The Clerk turned, eyes wide with horror. From the little shed a thick