Nothing ever quite disappointed Henderson as much as discovering that the Devil was an accountant. Years later as he recalled the shiny suit, the neatly trimmed greying hair and the owlish expression, he would remark to friends: “It was as if Hell was one of the blander government departments – Works and Services, or the Ministry for Local Transport – and the Devil had been promoted beyond his competency level to Chief Undersecretary. I really thought I was going to die of boredom, which would have been extremely poor timing given the circumstances.”
The Devil looked up from his desk.”Yours is a very interesting case, Mr Henderson. As I understand it…”. He paused to sort through some documents on his desk with painstakingly slow precision. Henderson idly reached for the box of cigarettes in his pocket, but the lady at reception had been very clear about the regulations. He groaned and stared up at the ceiling, silently composing a cutting witticism for the clubhouse boys about Health and Safety reaching the seventh circle of infernal damnation.
“As I understand it, Mr Henderson, you suffered a series of misfortunes on April 12 of this year and have been suffering the consequences ever since. You would like to relive that day in order to reverse this unfortunate sequence of events,” said the Devil.
“Yes, that’s pretty much it,” said Henderson. “I have it on good authority that you are the chap for the job.”
“Certainly, Mr Henderson. This is one of our most popular services. You do appreciate that there is quite a significant charge?”
Henderson shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Yes, well, after lengthy consideration I have decided that the chance to right these wrongs justifies the, er, losses that I will incur.”
The Devil smiled for the first time. “Excellent, Mr Henderson. My assistant will take you though the paperwork now.”
The assistant led Henderson back out through the waiting room. On the cold benches sat a tall, gaunt woman with her daughter, clearly the Devil’s next customer. Henderson noticed with a chill that the child looked exactly like her mother, like a perfect facsimile in a smaller size. He hurried his step as the assistant lumbered on.
The next day Henderson woke to find that it was once again April 12. He rose, showered and then reached for his shaving kit before remembering just in time and replacing it back on the shelf. One pitfall successfully avoided.
He texted his lover and told her not to call round; something had come up unexpectedly at work and he wouldn’t be able to call in sick. Perhaps some day next week instead?
Before he left the house he cleared out all the empty bottles and fast food boxes from the last few days. As he now knew, his wife would be arriving back in the house at 11.53am, two days earlier than expected after her mother had recovered quickly from her fall, and he could do without the nagging. There was the added benefit that she would also now not walk into her bedroom to find him intimately involved with a much better-looking woman.
He loaded his golf clubs into his car, checking carefully that his new driver was there. He knew that at 2.47pm that afternoon his boss would come striding into the trading pit, booming at the top of his voice that it was too nice a bloody day to be working. Unlike the previous occasion, it would be he, Henderson, and not that priggish oaf Fernandez who would win the fourballs; not only because this time he would have a full complement of clubs but also because he knew that there would be a gust of wind on the tee-box at the fourth and that the fifteenth green was playing much faster than usual. And it would be he, Henderson, who would be flavour of the month as a result, just in time for the visit of the new Korean clients next Thursday.
At 10.43am he had the sexy new PA in stitches with a bon mot that had occurred to him several hours after the last time they had had this conversation. This was a much better outcome than the previous occasion, when he had ended the conversation with a slightly grubby and completely inappropriate comment about her tits.
At 12.03pm he successfully anticipated a market move that earned the company more in one day than for the entire previous quarter. The adulation was incessant and although his colleagues didn’t quite carry him from the field on their shoulders, it was a close-run thing.
At 12.08pm he poured the same curdled milk into his coffee as he had on the previous April 12, prompting the thought that even 20/20 hindsight couldn’t save you from every little mistake.
On the way home, flushed with gin and the memories of sinking a 30-yarder on the eighteenth, he picked up some flowers for his wife, thus putting himself in good standing for next week when he planned to come home very late after some extramarital sex with the new PA.
At 11.43 he went to sleep on the back of a very, very good day having backed the winners of the entire card at the evening meet at Kempton.
The next few weeks were a glorious festival of bragging, fucking and spending as Henderson enjoyed the rewards of his deal with the Devil. He was untouchable at work and unsuspected at home. Really, it couldn’t have gone much better for him and the smugness kept him going when his body began to flag. In fact he was never quite sure when the debauchery changed from being a celebration of a life lived recklessly into a darker, more malevolent mood: a fear of the day he knew would come soon and a desperate attempt to shake off that anxiety with increasingly excessive behaviour.
But change it did, and as October 27 approached Henderson gradually admitted that the great burst of joy had gone and he was now just a lonely drunk chasing his tail. His wife would never leave him – she was much too cowardly for that – but they had moved beyond any pretence of civility in the home (in fact he would have preferred a few rows; maybe chuck some plates against the wall. At least then it would have seemed liked she cared). Having slept with three girls in the office, he was now no longer regarded as a dangerous wild man but just a bit of a prick. The men were not too fond of him either: flushed with success he had overcooked the Billy Big Balls act and the end of the summer had seen his light dim a little as his moods became more erratic, leaving him increasingly isolated.
That gradual fading turned into a swift descent before his day of destiny; as October drew to a close and the date grew nearer, he was so cut through with fear that he could barely function in society at all. Eventually he took some time off work and sat in his den at home, watching sitcom re-runs and refusing food.
“You have an unfortunate mix of vanity and stupidity, Mr Henderson,” said the Devil. “If you were a miniature pedigree hound it would be well suited; prancing around the Eighth Arondissement, oblivious to everything but your own magnificence. As a human being it doesn’t work so well.”
Henderson could see now that he had clearly misjudged his opponent’s character at the beginning. The Devil was relishing every moment of this; the confused and shaken Henderson standing in the same office where only 6 months ago there had been a confident young man, dismissive of the drab surroundings and the Devil’s pencil-pushing demeanour.
He resisted the urge to retort and stuck to his gameplan. The Devil was a bureaucrat; he would respond well to a formal approach.
“On October 27, you were due to assume my corporeal form for 24 hours in exchange for your facilitating my return to April 12,” began Henderson. “We had a contract. I kept up my side; yet you failed to keep yours. I went to bed on October 26 and woke as normal the following day. This disruption of my plans has left me considerably shaken and uncertain. Can you please explain your actions?”
The Devil grinned softly and took off his glasses to clean them.
“Mr Henderson. I’m a little insulted that you thought my department would be so crude as to just turn up, take over your body for a day, start raping and thieving and shatter your reputation forever. It was much more fun to let you destroy yourself with your own anxiety.”
“But…but…that’s diabolical!” The word was out of Henderson’s mouth before he realised what he was saying.
There was a long pause.
“As I said, Mr Henderson, an unfortunate mix.”