Living on Reputation

Alistair Bain

Sometimes, people push their luck, don't they?

The bus hurtled though the wet Glasgow streets; every change of direction, however slight, caused the passengers to be thrown around in the tight three-sided cells of seat backs and windows.

Xavier Rothschild the Third sat, trying to filter his senses, to block everything out and reach that elusive state of peace. Retirement suited him but the city did not. In the good weather he walked. When it rained... well, when it rained he had the bus.

a voice that screamed against nature, a sensation like chewing tinfoil
The couple sitting diagonally ahead with the toddler who wouldn't sit down were testing his calm. They were arguing and letting their foul spawn run rampant in the aisle. Rothschild fought back the temptation to stick his foot out and send the child sprawling. The troublesome toddler stopped, wiped a runny nose on his arm and turned to face him.

'What are you looking at?' he snarled at the boy.

The child stood in the aisle looking up at him, eyes wide, tears forming. Rothschild felt only a moment of regret but that broke when the expression on the boy's face suddenly changed. His expression became slack, the colour draining from his previously ruddy complexion.

'Rothschild,' said the child in a voice that screamed against nature, a sensation like chewing tinfoil. 'I come!'

'What the hell?' said Rothschild as the child shook his head, his colour returning and the rampage resuming. He looked around, trying to gauge the reactions of the others on the bus. No-one else seemed to have noticed the child's behaviour. A challenge? From whom? This was something he hadn't seen in a long time. He was so old and tired, and long out of practice.

'Rothschild,' came a voice from behind. He looked around, to a tracksuit-clad woman of indeterminate age, two rows back. Her eyes were glassy and her jaw slack. 'I come for you...'

'Rothschild', echoed an old man, standing at the front of the bus.

'Rothschild,' chorused the middle-class couple, two rows back and on the right.

'Rothschild,' cried the teenager in the baseball cap, the music from his earphones clearly heard all the way from the back of the bus.

'Rothschild!' An atonal sound, the whole bus now in unison.

'Rothschild!' The bus driver leaning out his cabin, part of the chorus, the bus careering across the lanes.

'Enough!' he bellowed, slamming his fist on the window beside him.

He looked up, suddenly aware of the silence. There was no unholy chorus, there were no otherworldly blank expressions. Just a few of his fellow travellers giving him a sideways look before going back to their business. Not even the arguing couple spared him a moment's glance. He got up and made his way to the front of the bus, ringing the bell to get off. The bus came to a halt in its own good time and he stumbled off, breathing a sign of relief.

'Hello, Rothschild,' said a now-familiar voice. He didn't turn, but he saw a figure out of the corner of his eye. The bus moved off, the grumble of the engine gradually replaced by the steady roar of the rain.

'Do I know you?' he asked casually, fumbling about his pockets for a smoke.

'No, I don't think you do,' said the other man. 'I'm long after your time.'

'Hmm, yes,' Rothschild mused, placing a dog-eared roll-up between his lips and waiting for a moment, eventually frowning.

'A problem?' said the other, smiling broadly.

'A trifle,' Rothschild replied, 'a simple trick, one of the very first.'

'And you can't do it?'

'It doesn't look like it.' Rothschild removed the cigarette and looked hard at the end. 'Odd, it was such a simple trick.'

He glanced over to the other man, who wore a sharper style than his personal, more lived-in look.

'I know your name... Xavier Rothschild the Third,' said the sharply-dressed man, 'And now I know your number.'

'Ah,' said Rothschild simply.

'And I have come for you.'

Rothschild noticed the sky darkening to black and his surroundings, the shelter, the road and passing traffic, all fading to grey. 'Impressive,' he said quietly. 'Planeshifting. Somewhere to leave my remains, I suppose?'

The sharply-dressed man just nodded in response.

'Any chance you could furnish me with your name? In whatever realm I end up spending eternity, it would be good to know who has seen me off.'

'Of course,' said the sharply-dressed man, his ego apparently flattered. 'Lucien Bargo.'

'Lucien Bargo?' Rothschild nodded his acceptance. 'I thank you, Mr Bargo.'

'You're very welcome,' replied Bargo, 'And if you don't mind...' He threw his arms out in a theatrical pose and a pillar of fire erupted around Rothschild, who stood, unflinching, while the inferno raged around him. Bargo gestured simply and the fire ceased. Confusion etched his brow.

Rothschild drew from the now-lit cigarette. He exhaled deeply before finally turning to face the other. 'The simplest of mistakes.' He looked down at the cigarette held between his fingers. 'You do not know my name or my number. You have no power over me.' He paused, smiling a devilish smile. 'But I know your name, Lucien Bargo, and now I know your number.'

Casually he flicked his cigarette at Bargo and as it brushed his sleeve Bargo was engulfed in an identical blaze. Within seconds, Lucien Bargo had been reduced to ash, his scream lost to the wind. Rothschild stood for a moment, flexing muscles he had not used for many years as the world around him returned to normal. It felt good.

The man who called himself Rothschild looked up as the rain started to ease, holes in the cloud layer letting some much-needed sun through. 'This might turn out to be a good day after all.'

© Alistair Bain 2010 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 19:03 Sat 18 Sep 2010
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