A diversion

Bixby deftly caught the art deco figurine before it hit the ground.

“Put that down.” Reynolds was standing behind him, holding a tray.

“I’m sorry,” said Bixby. “I just backed into-“

“I saw what you did. It doesn’t matter. Just put it down.”

Bixby closed his mouth, set the figurine back on the little table and went and sat down next to Benjamin on the sofa. Reynolds sat in the chair on the other side of the coffee table, putting the tray down as he did. The tray carried a coffee pot, milk in the bottle, three cups and a handgun.

“Don’t mind the gun,” Reynolds said. “It’s not for you.”

“Forgive me if I stay a little uncertain around it,” said Bixby.

Benjamin leaned forward. “Was it your wife’s?” He looked towards the figurine, her elegant hands reaching up to the sky, her lithe body draped in fluid ceramic cloth.

“Yes.” Reynolds poured the coffee, handed out the cups, sat back in his chair. “But we’re not talking about that now. We’re talking about you, Vasco. Why does nobody call you that?”

“My mother calls me that. When she’s sober enough to remember who I am.”

“And who does she remember?”

“A boy. A boy who didn’t know any better.”


Benjamin frowned. “I’ve come for your help. My girlfriend-“

“Is going to leave you,” Reynolds finished.

Bixby laughed. “Oh they said you were good, man.”

Benjamin stared at him, giving the proper question a chance to bubble up into his lips. “Why do you know that?”


It took only a month to track him down. Bixby had that unnerving knack of knowing just which stones to overturn, and how gently to prod at what was underneath them. They started out with the last known whereabouts, the house Reynolds had shared with his wife before she died. The new occupier was an introverted academic, the kind of woman who would take a carefully leaked fact from a conversation and let her curiosity and imagination run wild. In under five minutes Bixby had the name of the removals company, as well as the company who had handled the forwarding of Reynolds’ mail. The removals company had since tanked, but the forwarding company went from strength to strength, possibly because the merest hint of badge from the Future Bureau made them role over like puppies and hand over the entire file.

That led to another address, out of town, which led to a trip for both of them. Sarah happily agreed to look after Bixby’s dog, unaware that there was anything untoward in Benjamin’s sudden interest in Bixby’s radio controlled helicopter hobby, and the necessity of heading out to the country to fly it.

“I think it’s nice,” she said, caressing the velvet ears of Bixby’s greyhound, both of them watching Bixby head back to the car.

“Nice?” Benjamin faked an interest in the contents of his overnight bag.

“You and Bixby, getting out of town. Buddies.” She teased him with the word he hated. “You’ve been working so hard lately.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Sometimes it gets all -“ He jumbled his hands around in front of his face.

Sarah put out a hand to stop his. “It’s ok. I know. We don’t talk about the future.” She was smiling. They made that joke all the time: theirs was a relationship without a future.

Only now it was true.


You look at him and see only a bus conductor. He seems wise in the ways of drunks at 11.30pm, and mothers on their first outing with a baby at 10am. The worlds never collide except through him, and he brings his cold blue eyes to rest on all of it. He is in his mid fifties now, hair completely white, which he expected, and is grateful to still have hair and not be bald. He rides the bus through London, sweeping along the curve of the river from the west end to the city and back again, scooping up tourists, shoppers, lawyers, bankers and mingling them up on the worn seats of his Routemaster. This is his last summer as a conductor, with the withdrawal of the hop on and off London Bus coming sooner than anyone likes. No more swinging on the pole. No more collecting fares and checking tickets. No more dispensing the freedom of the city from the back of his bus.

It’s not the first time his life has been swiped out from under him. The first time was in ’89, when the stock markets went down and swirled his life around the plughole at the same time. Only just over forty, and slung out onto Gracechurch Street with all the other clueless suits. He didn’t have time to worry about what people would think, with a mortgage over his head, interest rates at fifteen per cent, and Barbara on diazepan. He saw the ad in the Standard on the train home, and thought ‘fuck it’. Applied, got the job, was out of his training before most of his former colleagues had realised their jobs really weren’t coming back and they’d have to find something else to do. Did he miss it? Of course he did. There were holidays in Florida, his Audi, the crisp collar of a hundred quid shirt against his neck, his heart racing in his chest when he made a good trade. The only way he got anywhere near that thrill these days was throwing a cocky, drunk trader off his bus on Cheapside on a Friday night, which, some might say, he did with more regularity than even they deserved.


The thing was they could never prove it. That’s what happens when you’re in the business of messing with the future. Sometimes the records can get lost, or mangled, or manipulated, because under the pretty pictures, it’s all just numbers. It’s so mathematically complicated, that if you’re clever enough with the numbers, then it takes someone just as crazy clever to figure out everything you did. And Reynolds never had his Moriarty.

He left the Bureau before they could hire someone to outsmart him. Said he’d had enough of manipulating things, said the technology was infantile and crude. Really it was because he was spooked. She died anyway, four weeks and three days after he’d moved and changed over one thousand four hundred little things to redirect the outcome of that one day. Instead of being hit by the grocery lorry on the corner of her street, her coat was caught in the doors of the subway train, and she’d been dragged along the subway platform into the wall. As if she’d had a marked card. Maybe not that day, but this quarter, or this year. We were trying to prove that there was no fate, no God, no controlling hand, and time and time again, we uncovered these ‘unchangeables’, things that kept playing out in the same way. Was it just maths? You slice a circle and you get pi, every single time. Is it the same? Or is it something else?

No one has any answers, least of all Reynolds, and his desire not to even think about the question anymore is the reason he’s now living in a one room apartment in Soho, under the name of Tom Green, clearing dustbins for a living.


Lenton leant on the doorframe, not in, not out. He looked at Julia’s suitcases in the middle of the living room, one large, one small, and thought of the times they had taken them away, together. He took the small, and she took the large in terms of packing, but when it came to carrying things were reversed. Many things got reversed, he thought. He’d pulled both of them off the carousel after long flights and short flights, but he couldn’t even name any of the places they’d been, except for New York. It was always her idea to go.

As it was again.

The plumbing set up its usual hum when the toilet was flushed. Lenton looked over his shoulder as Julia came down the stairs. She looked like she was off on a business trip, with her neat jacket and tasteful but bold necklace. He looked at her shoes. Weekend shoes for Julia were always converse. She was wearing heels.

“I didn’t know you had to dress up to leave a marriage,” he said.

She stopped on the bottom step, perhaps consciously, since it brought her somewhere close to his height. “Lenton.”

“No, I know. No tasteless remarks. We’re having an amicable split. Yes?” He kept turning those words over in his mind, and sometimes spitting them back at her.

She said his name again, and he suddenly thought it was the rudest thing in the world, to keep on using a person’s name when you’d decided to leave them. A name is personal, and if you withdraw from someone’s life you surely lose your rights to use their name. But he couldn’t say that. He couldn’t say anything because what he wanted was for her to say his name and take his face in her hands, the way she used to, and if he told her not to say his name then she could never do that. Even if he had been so blind as to not see this coming, he wasn’t so stupid as to extinguish the only hope he had.


Benjamin was still staring at the feed on his phone. They were several drinks into melancholy and he still couldn’t stop. Normally he’d have given up, and be singing already. Bixby waved at the bartender for another round, and when the drinks arrived he lifted Benjamin’s wrist up to the chipreader so he could pay. Benjamin didn’t even complain.
“There’s something not right,” said Benjamin. “I just can’t see what it is.”
“She’ll be happier without you?”
“Maybe. But that’s not it.”
“Listen, Benj, whatever it is that makes this an unchangeable thing, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Or a big thing. You know how this works.”
“Yeah, and you know how often an unchangeable thing happens. One spilled cup of coffee here, one missed train there and whole lives rewrite themselves. But that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing it happen on the same day at the same time, no matter what we mess with.”
Bixby’s stomach turned over. He’d been trying not to think about it. “Benj, stop thinking. We collect the data, we run the scripts, we go out and pick up the stray dogs and wotnot that run into roads and cause accidents and bring the city to screeching halt. We go and spill coffee on people’s suits so they miss meetings, and remind them to take their briefcases when they leave trains, all so’s things can run smooth and money can get made. Money that flows quite nicely into our accounts thank you very much, and money that could easily get diverted into someone else’s account while we get diverted into a windowless cell somewhere far away. Underground, most likely. Where people don’t care if you’re screaming. I’m not into the windowless cell thing. I’m a dog catcher. I like being a dog catcher.”
“And you’re good at it, Bix.” Benjamin drained his beer. “You know what we need?”
“What’s that?” Bixby was hoping he was going to say pizza.
“Reynolds. We need Reynolds.”
“Oh no. No. We get clocked seeing that madman, we are fried.”
“He’s the only one who’s ever-”
“And look where it got him.”
Benjamin swung round and looked at Bixby. “Look where we are now, Bix. Look where we’ve got to by playing by the rules. Crappy apartment, crappy paycheck, crappy beer in a crappy bar. No offence.” Benjamin nodded at the bartender, who acknowledged the gesture. “Sarah is the best thing about my life, and apparently it’s vital to the smooth running of the universe that she drops me like a hot potato. On a particular day. At a particular time. Doesn’t that make you just a little bit curious?”