The following excerpt is unedited and comes from Mark Wilson’s upcoming novel On The Seventh Day, which can pre ordered at Amazon Now:
Nick took in the room, his top lip curling into a sneer. It was just His kind of place, all thin veneer, expensive wines and whiskies and coke in the bathrooms. Ordering a gin and tonic for himself and a double Auchentoshan for Stewart, Nick slipped his smartphone from his pocket and reminded himself of a few key details in his notes.
Ten years at level Two,
Four years at Level Three.
Further education programme complete.
Dedicated and enthusiastic approach demonstrated consistently by the candidate.
All phases of training complete.
Recommend promotion to Level One.
Nick didn’t really need to read the notes, he had committed the candidates’ details to memory, it comforted him to read the words, settled his nerves. The gin helped also. She was ready, no doubt about it, but Stewart had the final say, and he’d take some convincing, despite the candidate’s exemplary performance. He always did need convincing, but particularly when the candidate was a woman.
Spotting Stewart passing the restaurant’s window. Nick took a belt from his gin and relaxed his face into business mode, ridding it of any signs of anxiousness or enthusiasm. Stewart was best approached calmly.
Never one to make an understated entrance, Stewart crashed through the doors, barking loudly at the Maître D who’d rushed to greet him, reaching for his jacket.
“Get tae fuck, son. Make yourself useful and bring me a double Macallan ’39.”
Stewart strode around the bar to the rear left corner of the room. Hair, long, curled, blonde and mulleted, dressed in denims, expensive cowboy boots, leather jacket-unzipped to show a the art of his T-shirt- a nun fingering herself and the legend Jesus is a cunt- Stewart looked like an expensively-dressed red-neck. His accent was all Lanarkshire.
That fucking accent.
He yanked the seat back and snorted loudly, into his nose. The gurgling, crackling movement of thick phlegm being dragged from his nostrils into his mouth threatened to break Nick’s composure before a word had passed between them.
Grabbing the back of his heavy, leather-padded chair, Stewart screeched it a few feet away from the table. Nick watched as his boss flicked his eyes up to drill into his own. As Stewart’s eye’s danced with cruel amusement, he let a long tail of yellow-green gunge slide from his lips into the glass of Auchentoshan on the table below.
Watching the deposit bob and swirl around for a second, he took his chair, shoving the glass over to Nick.
“Get that shite off the table, Nick. Fuck sake.”
The Maître D arrived, Stewart’s Macallan swirling in a heavy-bottomed glass and an ice bucket on a silver tray.
Unacknowledged he silently slid the glass and the ice within reach of Stewart, who snatched the glass up and drained its contents.
Stewart slammed the class onto the table-top.
“Keep them, coming,” he said.
Nick nodded at the Auchentoshan-nasal deposit mixture, which the Maître D scooped up. “I’d have drank that, Stewart.”
“Fuck all stopping ye, son,” Stewart said, fishing his lighter and cigarettes from his jacket pocket. He scanned Nick’s face, waiting for a come-back. None came.
Nick watched as Stewart, went through the little series of gestures and rituals he performed when having a cigarette. Tap the end on the table, smooth the filter and rotate it on the moist lips for a second. He caught sight of the upside down lucky fag in the packet as Stewart tapped and licked his chosen tab.
“No smoking in here, Stewart.”
“What they gonnae dae?” he asked touching the petrol flame to the end of his cigarette.
Nick sighed. “Do we have to do this again?”
Stewart’s eyebrow lifted as he considered whether or not he could bothered winding the cunt up. Finally, his head cocked a little to the side in acquiescence.
“Look, Nick. These cunts in here won’t say a word, I guarantee it.”
Nick gave him a nod.
“Fine,” he said, happy that his boss would take care of the smoking issue discretely for once.
Taking a long drag on his first Regal King- size Stewart regarded Nick, amusement dragging the corners of his mouth into a tight, snide grin.
“Where is this cow, then?” Stewart asked, enjoying Nick’s discomfort.
Very quickly, Nick’s face shifted from discomfort to flushed anger.
“Christ sake, Stewart. Give her a chance.” Sick of the same old shit, the tired routine, he spat the words across the table.
Stewart blew a cloud of swirling, blue-hazed smoke out the side of his mouth, face rigid with anger of his own.
“Who the fuck are you talking to, Nicholas?”
Nick knew that he should back down. When Stewart got like this, there was little chance of shifting his mind on something. They’d worked together for more years than Nick could recall. Nick, training the candidates, tutoring them to develop the skills and mind-set needed to be promoted, to earn a place upstairs with Stewart’s team. Stewart taking the credit when presenting a new Graduate to his staff.
Christ, it was gruelling and thankless, but without Nick and his department, Stewart would take only those he considered the very best. The people of a certain station and type. He’d always been an elitist prick, but Stewart had got worse, more prejudice with age. His expectations and list of demands for the attributes a successful candidate must possess had become almost impossible to fulfil. Still, that was the point. Stewart wanted Nick’s department fucked, once and for all, leaving him free to decide for himself the criteria for promotion.
Given his own way, Stewart would pass over so many candidates, who’d never have the opportunity to work, develop or improve themselves to the required level.
This was the reason Nick’s department was founded and the reason he took so much shit from Stewart. If not him, then who? Nobody else could take working in effective opposition to Stewart. It helped that they were best-friends and had been their whole lives…out of office hours at any rate.
Nick’s stomach lurched as Stewart glared across the table at him. His apology forming in his vocal cords. Nick pushed it back and listened to the wee part of himself that had got him his department assigned in the first place.
“I’m talking to you, Stewart. Back the fuck off.”
Stewart’s eyebrows creased in the centre, his scowl brought ice to Nick’s heart. Fuck. Wrong choice.
Standing, Stewart’s eyes widened in fury. His eyes tore the air between them, smoke shooting through his nostrils.
“You remember who I am and who the fuck you are.” Stewart stabbed at Nick’s chest, his strong finger, digging deep into the flesh.
“You’re a fucking cog, son. A bureaucrat. By fuck you’re practically my damned secretary. You should be under this table with your overactive lips on my cock. It’s about all you’re good for.”
Shocked into silence, Nick assessed his options for a moment as Stewart glared over the table at him. Relaxing his shoulders, Nick decided to push his luck.
“Yes, well you’d know better than I the qualities in possession of a skilled oralist.”
A beat passed. Stewart’s expression melted.
“Aye, you’re right there, Nick,” He laughed, all anger gone.
Stewart nodded over at the waiter who was making his way to the table.
“Might make that one give me a blowy just now.”
Nick peered across the room, assessing the man.
“He’s a bit lardy for your tastes, is he not?”
“Aye, but he’s a good height. Big laddies like that have always a grand big boaby on them. Who gives a fuck if he’s carrying a bit ay timber round the waist?
Exasperated, Nick shook his head. Stewart had been having a gay phase for years now, which was fine, but recently he’d been a bit too obsessed with girth and length. Pushing ma boundaries, son. He’d said. Nick reckoned that acting the size queen was beneath his boss, but figured that his temporary obsession with big dicks was an improvement from the heroin phase Stewart had thrown himself into some years earlier. The boss got catholic as fuck on the smack; he was more balanced on the cock.
Stewart could have this coked-up big laddie on his knees under the table, his balls resting on the waiter’s chin in two minutes…easy. Such was the power of his persuasion, wealth and status. Just last week he’d had six-foot nine England International gobbling him as we ate at the Twickenham Social club, interviewing another candidate. The poor bastard left the restaurant, Stewart’s spunk still to hit his stomach, wondering how the fuck he’d ended up noshing the old man in full view of the entire restaurant as Stewart sucked back oysters, muttering the odd instruction as he consigned the candidate in front of him to another stint on Level Two.
If Stewart decided he wanted something, it happened. Simple as that.
“Just leave him, Stewart. We’ve better things to do,” Nick said, nodding at the woman making her way to their table.
Stewart grunted non-committedly, assessed the waiter for a full, uncomfortable second, and then waved the lad away.
“Just more drinks, son. We’ll order in half an hour,” he said.
The red-haired woman, impeccable suit, hair tight in a bun, heels like stilts, walked elegantly towards them. She had dressed perfectly and displayed all the physical cues and mannerisms Nick had spent so many hours teaching her. A good start. He thought.
Taking the blonde man’s hand, I smile at him broadly and look deep into his eyes. Nick warned me of the effect his eyes and voice would have on me, he was right. The eyes are lagoon-blue; warm and hard at once they search your soul and pull you into his influence which seems to fill the room. His voice is seductively brutal as he welcomes me gruffly. I feel my pulse race and I remind myself of Nick’s words- everything depends on this man’s decision. You’ll have perhaps five minutes, maybe ten maximum– and steel myself.
I take a moment to flip through the various buzzwords and phrases we’ve practiced. Despite, Him, His presence and the overwhelming desire to flee, the nerves aren’t showing. The burns from the ligatures on my wrists and ankles and the gouges in my thigh sharpen my focus and keep me in the moment.
I almost feel proud of myself, but catch the stray thought. No pride. He hates pride and arrogance. Nick pulls a chair for me. I look to Him for permission. Without looking at me, he makes an offhand gesture that I should sit and lights his next cigarette from the smouldering butt of the last.
Pulling myself towards the table, I remind myself to sit straight, to look him directly in the eye at all times and to never, ever forget that He will decide what future I’ll have.
She was doing well so far, remembering all the little mannerisms he’d taught her. She’d displayed contrition, enthusiasm, respect and confidence, all in the first thirty seconds of meeting Stewart. She’d dressed well, blue-grey business suit, not too pissy, not too slutty. She carried herself well, in control, professional but hungry to work. A poppy seed sized speck of hope began to germinate. The last seven had been total failures, sent back downstairs within three minutes of meeting the boss. It had been a prolonged bad run, one that would fuel Stewart’s justification for having Nick’s department buried. He needed a win here tonight. So far Stewart seemed to have decided to consider the girl.
Stewart took a long draw on a Regal, eyeballing her as he inhaled. Nick clenched his arse cheeks, recognising Stewart’s let’s bury this bitch face.
“Mary. How do expect to make it to Level One when you’re such a fucking heartless little bitch?” Stewart’s voice was gentle, kind even. He genuinely wanted to know.
To her credit, Mary didn’t flinch.
“Sir, I know the mistakes I’ve made and I’ve worke…”
“Piiiiiish!” Stewart bellowed at the top of his voice. The waiter looked over, but checked away instantly not wishing to offend the spending customer.
Stewart jabbed a finger at Mary. “That’s a load ay pish, hen and ye fuckin’ know it.”
Softening his face, the kindly uncle-figure emerged and he placed a hand gently on Mary’s which rested on the table.
“Look, Mary-hen. Work isn’t an excuse to leave yer weans in fucking nursery all day. Or impose upon your poor fuckin’ parents. Seventy-eight years old and worked every day of their miserable lives, just at the point where they can fuck off tae a tiny villa on the coast of whichever slightly-sunny, shitehole they can still afford after spunking their money on you and your siblings over thirty years. And you? You have the fuckin’ cruelty in you to land them with a screaming, shitey-arsed infant so you can develop your career?” Stewart makes quote marks with his fingers in the air.
“That’s cold as fuck, hen.”
Nick barely manages to keep his expression neutral. He’s certain that Mary will snap and give the usual justifications.
Providing for my child.
Working every hour spare to have a better future.
My parents support me, they raised an educated woman for a reason.
Single mothers working hard enough for two parents.
Stewart would tear through that bullshit in the blink of a Jap’s-eye. She was fucked if she bit back.
Mary nodded respectfully at Stewart. “You’re absolutely right, sir. I made far too many mistakes. I really believed with all of my heart that my son would benefit from a strong mother, who provided for him and gave him a hard-working, determined and courageous role-model. I truly believed that.”
Mary bowed her head in a genuinely contemplative, penitent gesture.
“My son did well for himself; he’s a lawyer, pro-bono. He helps so many people. We…we were close, but he lives so far away now. I guess we just sort of got used to being separate.”
Stewart nodded along as she spoke.
“My kid, I’m so proud of him. He’s a great father, never puts anything before his kids.”
Stewart leaned back, tugging hard on his cig. Blowing the smoke across the table, he winked at Nick.
“You don’t deserve this chance. You’re a selfish little bitch whose only contribution to life has been a nice pair of heels, punctuality and a fucking clean house. Your kid has learned how not to be a parent form you, Mary. That’s the fuckin’ truth of it.”
All pretence of nonchalance was gone from Nick’s face and his body language. This was the fatal blow that Stewart delivered to propel each candidate to anger. Make them feel hard done by. Reveal any lingering pride or false justifications they hid behind and force them to show their true colours.
Nick was unashamedly desperate for Mary to take the hit, to accept that Stewart was an unmatched cunt of epic proportions, but that he was the gateway. And that ultimately the cunt was right.
She needed to forgive herself and swallow back on any injustice she felt. She needed desperately to forgive herself for something she considered to be a good choice when she’d made it. She needed to forgive Him for dragging her painfully over the sword she’d forged in her own lifetime.
Mary closed her eyes taking the long seconds she needed to compose herself. Nick sagged in his seat, waiting for the usual outburst. The rant, the litany of excuses and justifications and outrages, candidates resorted to. Stewart sipped on his Macallan and fought to hide a grin.
Mary…..Mary simply opened her eyes and spoke softly. Her voice was small, but strong, firm but respectful. Like an angel’s. All of Nick’s lessons were meaningless in this moment.
“I know. I don’t deserve the glory of your Kingdom, my Lord. But I forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made. I accept who I am and I see you for the absent parent of a Creator that you are and forgive you for that also. All mistakes are my own. All pain, deserved. Do with me as you will.”
Nick’s heart sang.
Stewart downed a double Macallan and scowled. Mary simply bowed her head, closed her eyes and spread her arms in acceptance of His judgement.
Mary vanished in a startling cacophony of light her entire being swept and propelled upwards, bathed in heavenly radiance and warmth.
“You’re a fucking jammy cunt, Nick,” Stewart spat across the table.
Nick’s mouth hung open in disbelief but only for a beat.
“Yes, well. Even our heavenly Creator has a bad day every once in a while, Stewart.”
Business-mode vanished and Stewart’s face stretched into a wide, self-satisfied grin.
“Where’d you find her? How’d you pull that off, ya snidey basturd?”
“You know how it goes. They come to me down in Sheol, angry, disillusioned, indignant and in disbelief of a God who could be so cruel. So heartless. I torture and burn and brutalise them. I force them to relive each and every cruelty. I teach them to forgive you for being an uncaring God. An almighty deity who allows suffering and persecution and hate and disease to run rampant through the human race.”
Stewart glared at his adversary and best-friend.
“You magnify my glory by sending me pure souls, more able to embrace the grand experiment I’ve set in motion.”
Nick regarded his creator. The being who’d created him, and set him as his adversary after he’d argued that the humans had the capacity to long, strive and reach for Heaven. After he’d convinced the Almighty that humankind were out of nature, capable of attaining the spiritual heights of the very Angels He had fashioned in his own image.
Stewart’s face began to shine the radiance that all of his Angels, even the fallen ones craved…required to sustain themselves.
“Light-Bringer…Nick. You were the most diligent of my Angels, my most trusted friend… and then you fell in love with the humans. What a fuckin’ wasted career you’ve had, son.”
Nick regarded the drink in his hand for several moments, then leaned across table six. Taking his best-friend’s hand he whispered quietly.
“My Lord, I will be your opponent until the legions of souls in Hell are elevated to Heaven. Until I can teach each of the souls who come to me that the path to glory is forgiveness. Forgiveness of your callous disregard of their spirituality and capacity for greatness. Forgiveness for the rape, torture, genocide and hate that you allow to proliferate because you think the humans beasts, like each of those you created to prowl and slither and scutter across the earth .
They are not. They have transcended you and the need for the idea of you. Each and every soul I send to you magnifies your greatness. I will send a torrent of eligible souls to you. I will empty Hell and increase your glory.”
Stewart lit another Regal King-Size and eyed his eternal adversary and best-friend.
“Fancy the calamari, Nicky?” He asked.
Nick grinned. I do, chief. I do.
Nick sat back into the padded leather armchair set in the lounge of the gentlemen’s club they’d moved to after eating. He hated this sort of place, so archaic, but Stewart favoured the range of whiskies they stocked in the bar. Despite the earlier interview and Nick’s little victory, they’d had a cracking night. It’d been centuries since they’d laughed so easily in each other’s company, it felt like old times, back before Nick had taken on his current role.
Despite the moment, Nick scanned his friend’s face and decided to break the spell.
“When will it end Stewart?” He asked.
“Your petty need to deny that humans are out of nature. That they are spiritual entities.”
“For fuck sake, Nick. Again?” Stewart asked.
“Always,” Nick replied.
Stewart bit back on his growing anger, leaned across the little table between them and asked simply, “You’ve given yourself over to serving them for eternity, old friend. Why do you love them so much?”
“Why don’t you?” Nick asked.
“They’re just animals, Nick. They have their place in this world, in nature, not with us.”
“I’ve disproved that many times.”
“No you haven’t,” Stewart snapped. “You’ve sent me a fraction of souls from all the humans who’ve ever existed. These are simply rare abhorrent amongst the species. They are what I created them to be.”
“I’ll never accept that, Stewart.” Nick drained his glass.
“Just look at how they behave, how they treat each other and the planet I gave them. They’re pushing their luck, Nick.” Stewart said.
Screeching his heavy chair back, Nick stood.
“Fuck this. I’m done with this tonight.”
Nick left without looking back at his friend, boss and creator who had begun to work himself up into a fury and was making his way towards the unfortunate barman who would bear the brunt of his anger.
Nick stepped out into the street, changed his mind about heading home and went in search of a late night bar. He didn’t have to walk far, you never did in these Northern towns. Entering the first pub he encountered, Nick felt his shoes attach to the tacky floor as he crossed to the bar.
The barmaid, wiped the rim of a glass with a filthy towel and smiled. “What you after?” she asked.
Nick nodded at a tap. “Pint of Carling and a double Bushmill’s please, love.”
Fetching a glass, she pulled on the lever he’d indicated, sending foaming, amber liquid swirling into the glass.
Nick grinned humourlessly. “Tough eternity, darlin’,” he replied. She looked at him quizzically for a moment, before fetching his whiskey.
An urge to unburden himself and vent to this stranger came over him. This happened to him often in bars. Nick looked around the bar. Aside from a semi-conscious drunk, the place was dead. The barmaid plonked his pint and short on a sodden beermat next to his hand.
“Take one for yourself, love and come join me,” he told her. “”I’ll tell you all about it.”
She smiled at him, looked around the empty bar and poured herself a Grey Goose before sliding over to lean on the bar across from him.
“So long as you’re paying, I’m listening,” she said.
Nick smiled sadly. “Might take a while…”
“Beth,” she said.
Nick nodded. “I’m Nick. Might take a while, Beth.”
Regarding him, Beth took in his appearance, decided that he looked interesting enough, or perhaps that he had deep pockets judging by his expensive suit and reached for a bottle of Grey Goose. Placing it onto the counter she leaned onto the wooden surface and swirled the ice in her vodka around the glass.
“Fire away, Nick.”
Thanks for reading. Mark Wilson’s upcoming novel On The Seventh Day, which can pre-ordered at Amazon Now: