Clockwork Station is known in these parts for its peculiar atmosphere. Boasting that never in its long history has the station been witness to a late train, nor an early one, it sits at the edge of town and gloats its perfect record by spewing steam so high into the sky that even the birds no longer dare fly overhead. Ask any resident. Clockwork Station's punctuality is toxic.
But to a man like Chase Gillik, punctuality is sacred. To a man like him, being on time is a manner of duty. And so it goes that today, on the eighth of May in the city of Timesveil at three forty five in the afternoon, he awaits a coming train with his trademark hat brimming long over his shoulders and his dog sitting pretty at its tether. Chase reads the paper at the stand near the tracks because he knows the shopkeeper, and the two of them have a particular relationship involving exactitude. Chase's dog does not wag its tail. It sits awaiting its own sort of duty. In four minutes and thirty six seconds the train will arrive as it always does, with one long toot of its horn to alert those awaiting its arrival, and it will be short one passenger. But Chase as yet does not know this. So he waits.
"So who's the lucky one this time?" asks the shopkeeper, who is a balding man whose hairline is receding from something other than age. Lucky one is a technical term in Chase's line of work, an ironic one.
"It goes against our agreement for you to ask questions," says Chase.
The shopkeeper shrugs and accepts Chase's money. Chase pockets the magazine and stares out along the tracks just as the horn blares through the station. The dog at Chase's feet barks only once, and at an expected pitch. It has done this routine many times before, just as Chase has. Both are ready to do it again.
"Should I be wishing you luck instead then?" teases the shopkeeper, but he is half serious. He has never liked Chase but can do nothing about their agreement and even less about the terse relationship that surrounds it.
"Wish no one luck," says Chase absently, his eyes on the platform. He counts feet as they pass. Counts seconds, then minutes. He does not see the person who is supposed to be exiting the train during the moment of opportunity. The dog makes no moves. It does not see the lucky one either. Its nose twitches in the smoky breeze. After three more minutes, it whines. They have missed their chance.
"Is that all then?" asks the shopkeeper as he leans over his stand.
"Yes. That's all."
The shopkeeper smiles.
"Oh, nothing. It's just maybe luck is trickier than timing after all."
The dog stands up and leads Chase away.