"Hi--" the warlock started.
But before he could finish even a word, the demon roared. Smoke and tongues of flame billowed from its gaping maw, and through the black cloud, he could make out the points of gleaming, white fangs. But the circle on the ground burned yellow, and the smoke and fire was all trapped inside with the demon, as if it were standing in a glass tube, rather than in his garage.
He waited a moment, until the demon had roared itself out, then he said, a little loudly, "Hi, uncle Satanel."
The demon squinted down at him with six yellow eyes.
"Oh! Hello, Terrence." It adjusted itself more comfortably inside the circle, tucking its lizard-like tail around its taloned feet. "Beg pardon, I didn't see it was you. Is this a social call, or for work?"
"Work, I'm afraid," said the warlock, a little apologetically. "You work down in the seventh circle, right?"
"Indeed I do. Head torturer with a specialization in burning rain, though don't tell anyone yet," he leaned forward and lowered his voice, "but I've just been bumped up to admin. I was going to let the family know at Halloween dinner, so keep it under your hat."
The warlock grinned. "That's great! Demoted to manager, huh? Well, that's actually perfect. I'm looking for someone, and I want to check if they've wound up in your neck of the woods. Just a few questions, then I'll let you be on your way."
"Lay 'em on me."
The warlock flipped through his clipboard, then turned it so Satanel could see.
"Do you recognize this man?" he said.
The page on the clipboard looked to be some kind of police file, with text covering most of the page, and a picture of a sandy-haired man in the corner.
"I can't tell from here," Satanel said. "I don't have my glasses on me."
"Oh, of course, my apologies."
The warlock handed over the clipboard.
"Hmm. No, can't say I have," said The demon, examining the picture closely. "This guy looks smug. I always remember the smug ones."
"No worries. Go ahead and turn to the next page. How about that one?"
Satanel did. The next page was another file photo, this time of a square-jawed man with a tattoo of tear drops on his cheek bone.
"Ah yes, I know this one. A new arrival, only landed a day or so ago."
"Excellent! Do you happen to know the cause of death?"
The demon smiled at the memory. "Highly ironic. Murdered by his partner. I assume that's the other one?" He held out the clipboard for the warlock.
"Oh, thank you," said the warlock, taking it back. "And yes. We're trying to find them as quickly as possible. I don't suppose I could have a chat with him?"
"Highly unorthodox," said the demon. "I can't just let you do anything."
"Right, right. My mistake. But if I were to, say, have a spirit summoning already prepared and had a mind to use it, would now be an inconvenient time to pull him out? Or should I wait a bit?"
"Now's fine," the demon said. Then, "You know what? If you're going to do it anyway, I may as well save you the time."
"You won't get into trouble?"
"Nah. That's the perk of being manager."
"Excellent! Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it."
The demon vanished in a puff of smoke, and the spectral figure of the man in the file appeared. His eyes were wide, and afraid. He looked around frantically, "what--"
"Hello. Jason Lunger??" said the warlock.
"How did I get here? What's happening?" Then his eyes locked onto Terrence, and he seemed to register the warlock for the first time. He slammed against the barrier of the circle, nose pressed against it and said, "You gotta help me, man. You gotta get me outta here! Please, you gotta--"
"Uh-huh, we can discuss it later. Can you tell me the whereabouts of your partner, Daniel McGahee? "
"Him!" Suddenly the spirit went from fearful to angry. "That son of a--"
"Yes," said Terrence smoothly. "Do you know where he's at? When's the last time you saw him?"
"What do you think? When he was shoving the knife in my back!" The spirit slammed his fist against the barrier. "The fucker shot me, point blank. I've known him since grade school, and he did me dirty like that? I still can't believe it. I'm rolling in my grave!"
"I understand completely," said Terrence in what he hoped was a sufficiently sympathetic manner. "Tell me where it was, and I'll see about bringing him to justice for you."
"Hey now, I ain't no snitch."
Terrence bristled slightly-- a double negative and an ain't? But he pressed on.
"He shot you," he said. "Don't you think that deserves some recompense?"
"Hey man, I never helped a cop my whole life, and I'm not gonna start now just 'cause I'm dead."
"Well then I have some good news. I'm not a cop."
The spirit squinted at him. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Private security. My employer hates cops."
"Oh. Oh, shit. You the dude we robbed?"
"Work for him, yes."
"Aw shit. Okay. Yeah, okay. Fine. It was the Shady Pines Trail. You know, the one up by the golf course? With the hikers and stuff. We were in the parking lot at the start of the trail-- there's like a park there, and a lake 'n shit. We were divvying up the goods, then I got out to take a piss and he shot me by the porta-potty. God. What a way to go."
"That's tough," the warlock agreed.
"So about getting me outta here--"
"Thank you for your help, my colleagues and I greatly appreciate it."
The warlock snapped his fingers, and the spirit vanish, replaced once again with Satanel.
"You get what you need?"
"Hope so. It's a start, at any rate. Thanks again, Uncle Satanel."
"No problem, kiddo. Give your mother my regards."
And with that, the warlock released his hold on the demon. The connection severed, and Satanel vanished, leaving nothing but a charred spot on the concrete to show he'd been there.
That was nice, Terrence thought, gathering the clipboard. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket and started texting his associates McGahey's last known location. I should call that side of the family more.
It would be good to catch up.