A Simple Clerical Error

“Originally, we were called ‘Practical Movers’ but, over time, we came to realize that ‘Precision Movers’ was a more accurate appellation.”

“Hunh.”

The second voice came from a face that looked like it had been hit with a two-by-four. Mop of hair concealed by a plaid, felt hat. Eyes that could really only be described as hollow, inset against a wide nose that had been broken more than once. Big ears and an expression that appeared worn and tired. Stubble, like eager moss coating a pair of sunken cheeks. Overall, not a pleasant impression.

Contrast that to the first voice, matronly in tone, belonging to a nondescript woman in her early forties. A thin but not fragile body, dark wavy hair pulled back in a conservative bun, with a very piercing brown-eyed gaze. Her clothing, opposed to the jeans and collared shirt on the hulk across from her, could be defined as vaguely anachronistic. No buttons. Odd cut colored a muted gray. Hands well-manicured.

Both of them in a small room. A single brown table. Two chairs, cheap fluorescent lighting. Over in one corner, a coffee-pot maker bubbling merrily away, a stack of cups next to it, sugar both fake and real, tiny containers of cream, wooden stirrers in an overturned cup. Bare plaster walls.

“We are looking for people with a very singular skill set. People who have a meticulous attention to detail that borders on the… well, let us describe it simply as unusual. Perhaps even extraordinary.” The woman sighed. “Excuse me, but am I boring you?”

The mountain of flesh across from her scrunched its shoulders up, released some tension and then just snorted. He flexed his hands, cracking the knuckles loudly. “Sorry.” He grunted. “It’s just you use these three-bite words. You called me, right? There’s a job?”

The woman wrinkled her nose, took a moment to straighten her suit jacket. “Yes. There is a job. And you came highly recommended. We checked your references. You have one of the finest two-person moving companies in the state. And we’d like to buy you out. All of it.”

“Wait. Buy me out? The company?”

“Yes.”

“What would I do?”

“You and your partner would work for us. If you pass the test.”

The big man frowned. “A test.”

“It simply tests your ability to fully appreciate and apply spatial dynamics.” There was that brow motion on the man again. The woman rubbed her head. “It’s a simple test.”

“Like what?”

The woman pulled out a pen from her breast pocket and set it down on the table. She turned it lateral and then moved it about an inch towards him.

“How far did I move that pen?”

The man puzzled it out and then shrugged, defeated. The woman watched him carefully. “I need it moved three inches to the left and oriented to 13 degrees southwest.”

Without hesitation, the man moved it. Exactly three inches. Oriented southwest.

“2.54 centimeters south, oriented west six degrees.”

Again, moved without thinking. The woman nodded as she saw it land. “That’s what we heard. And your partner is equally talented?”

“He’d better be.” The man replied.

“I’m going to send in a proctor to administer the test. It should take no more than an hour. Then we will continue our discussion.”


In contrast to the interview room, the main office was wide and brightly lit. Windows on three sides; the fourth side, a series of doors. The floor space was set with rows of identical desks, with identical chairs and identical office sets except each desk top was individualized. A small fake palm tree here, a set of toy knights over there. Rows of workers, dressed in muted grays and browns, serious but not without personality.

The woman walked until she found the 14th row, third desk, and that’s where she threw down her file.

“Em.” said the squirrelly, tall man sitting behind the desk.

“Q.” replied Em. “Seriously? These are the candidates?”

Q popped open a drawer, pulled out a ledger and confronted his notes. In the meantime, Em turned a plastic dinosaur towards the nearest window and moved a stapler an inch to the left. Q cleared his throat with a hint of disapproval. Em shrugged. “The ledger shows an adjustment made in 1952. The contact number was generated in ‘88.”

“He just seems a bit… thick compared to our usual recruits.”

“A period of adjustment is pretty standard. I seem to recall a young women with quite the reputation as a bookworm when she was first recruited.”

Em blushed slightly. “A lifetime ago. And I’ve heard stories about you…”

Q threw up his hands. “I’m never been anything but a model of perfection.”

Em laughed. “Liar.”

A blonde popped up, with an admiration only the young seem to pull off. “Were you thinking of getting lunch?” he asked.

Em nodded thoughtfully. “Thai would be fine.” She gave him an off-hand smile. The young man skittered off.

“That’s not really fair, is it?” Q said. “He’s got quite the crush on you.”

“He needs to pay more attention.” Em responded.

“He needs to be more precise.” Q agreed, returning dinosaur and stapler back to their original position.

The proctor appeared at the far end of the room and nodded. “It looks like he passed the test.” Em noted. “We might get a new mover out of this after all.”

Q looked please as he pulled out a package and handed it to Em. “Good luck.” He said. “I hope the close of the deal is as easy as the rest of it.”


Em laid a package down on the table. “Let’s talk the terms of your employment, Mr. Gein.” He took the envelope from her. “Once we have the signatures from you and your partner, we will contact our legal team and complete the transaction. There will be a significant period of re-training. After that, you’ll become one of the staff. Is that acceptable?”

Mr. Gein spent a moment looking at paperwork. “I don’t understand half of it.” Em frowned. “But I figure I can hire folks who will. When do I start?”

Em smiled. “As soon as you get your signature and your partner’s.”

Mr. Gein smiled. “Hell, that works just great! He’s waiting outside.”

Em was pleased. “Your partner’s outside? Can I talk to him?”

Mr. Gein shrugged. “Don’t figure he’s going anywhere without me.”

Em shook hands with the man and the two of them walked out the door.

At the far end of the parking lot, was a moving truck. Old, on its last legs, Wisconsin plates. The name ‘Wilhelmine Trucking’ on the side. “Momma’s maiden name.” Mr. Gein said. “Seemed to fit.”

Em noticed a smell as she walked past the trailer towards the cab. Odd vinegary smell. Reminded her of rotten meat. She ignored it. “Your partner’s in the cab?”

“My brother, yeah.”

Em noted that with pleasure. “There’s a bonus for family members.” She said and Mr. Gein smiled. She reached the cab and pulled herself up to look inside.

There was a dead man in the cab.

Details taken in: bruised face, broken hyiod, likely strangulation. Dead recently. Gein, at the edge of her vision, was not surprised. He was smiling.

His hands were on her throat. “I’m going to be…” he swallowed. Having a hard time breathing, he was so excited. “I’m going to be the best killer ever.” He forced her to her knees. “Everybody’s going to know me.”

Em was angry. Not like this.

She was on the ground. He was killing her. She was also behind him. He took a moment to register confusion before the Emily behind him touched him on the shoulder and he vanished. The Emily on the ground was there only a fraction of a second before she vanished, closing the loop.

Only one Em in the lot when Q came running up. “Em, oh Em!” He said, catching his breath. “Damnit… I’m so sorry. We didn’t know.”

“Not your fault.” Em said. “It’s hard enough to find people obsessive enough to be time travelers. Let alone mess with probability. He fit the profile.”

“We need a better system.”

“We need a better system.” Em agreed.

“Take the afternoon off.” Q suggested. “We’ll take care of this.” He pointed to the truck. “Make some adjustments so he doesn’t appear again. Where did you send him?”

“Cretaceous. The K-T extinction event.”

“We’ll have to pick him up before the asteroid hits.”

“That’s up to you. I’m getting lunch. Thai food.”

“You know, you really shouldn’t have done that.”

Em smiled. “With the kid? Q, we release butterflies to make hurricanes in time. I don’t see why I can’t use sometimes to get a free lunch.”

“I… just…” he tried to retort.

She glared at him. He wisely shut up.

She turned and walked away. Free Thai was waiting. And after that? Something different.

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