Short Story: Dealing with Devils

God damn! Why do they always page me on my night off? My latest playmate breathed a sigh of relief as I set aside my whip. I smiled at her. She cringed away from me as much as her bonds would allow. She wasn’t off the hook and she knew it. This was only a short break. I turned from her and called the office.

Dispater picked up on the first ring. He started speaking before I could open my mouth to ask what this was all about. “Sam, I need you to cover for Gressel tonight.”

“It’s my night off. Can’t Mammon do it?”

“Sorry bud. Your name was up on the duty roster. You know the rules.”

I muttered something that caused my charge to squeal in terror. “You’re all heart.”

“That’s a good one. Pay is above standard so do a good job on this one.”

“Screw you too.”

“That’s the Sam I know.”

I hung up the phone, shifting my attention back to the girl. Damn, just when things were getting interesting. I closed my eyes and let the summons take hold.

***

 I opted for a slow materialization. It gave me time to take in my surroundings before I started the show. The room was lit by cheap scented candles. The furniture had been cleared away to make room for the occult trappings that decorated the room. This wasn’t some wizard’s tower or a demonologist’s laboratory. I was dealing with an amateur.

My summoner stepped closer and into the light. He was young and very inexperienced. His expression was a mixture of fear and triumph. The robes he wore looked like something he might have bought off the internet or from some cheap costume shop. Yeah, this was gonna be fun.

I let loose with a demonic roar and spread my wings as I put on an impressive display of fire and brimstone. “Who dares summon Samael!”

The kid nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard my stage name. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as he stuttered his demands. No surprises here. It was the usual request for fame, fortune and women. I was only half listening as he went into details.

I did my visual inspection. The kid had some potential. He managed to pull off the summoning spell without sacrificing anyone or anything. That was a big check in his favor. It was enough for me to want to cut him some slack. In this business, you find a lot of people who want things but they want some else to foot the bill. Instead of putting extra time and work into their summoning spell, they would rather slit someone’s throat.

Next thing I checked was the protective circle. The magic was up to spec. Some of the symbols were a little sloppy. That would decrease its power and duration. I figured it would hold me for a good five minutes. That’s pretty good. If one of the lesser ranks answered this summoning, they would be in a bad way.

Finally, I looked for any protective charms and talismans the kid might have in case the circle failed. He had zip, nada, nothing. All of his power was invested in the circle and summoning spell. That’s a rookie mistake. This is an unforgiving business for an amateur no matter how gifted. Without a demonic totem or my true name, there was no way he could coerce me into granting his wishes. The ordinary offer of freedom only worked if the circle could hold you indefinitely. That’s why they only let us A-listers handle these types of summons.

I spent the next five minutes listening to him babble on about some girl that he had the hots for. The magic of the circle had been exhausted. Good, now we could move to phase two of the program. I held up a clawed hand and the fire around me disappeared. There was no more need for theatrics. I wanted to salvage the rest of my night off.

I stepped out of the magic circle. Before the kid could scramble back in terror, I picked him up by the scruff of his neck. His hands shook and his eyes filled with fear. “You’re in a lot of trouble kid,” I said.

The tone wasn’t lost on him. I was glad I held him away from me so I didn’t get wet. That would have really put me in a foul mood.

“Oh God, Please! Don’t kill me! Please, don’t kill me!”

I shook the little bed wetter and slapped him around some. “Grow a pair, will ya.”

It took a while for the kid to calm down and stop embarrassing himself. At least he wasn’t a fainter or a screamer. Those were the worst.

“You’re not going to kill me or drag my soul screaming from my body?”

“The night’s still young.” He was about to start begging again when I interrupted him with another violent shake. “Jeez. Where do you people get this stuff from? If we dragged everyone to Hell who summoned a demon or messed with a Ouija board, there wouldn’t be room for the truly deserving.”

He was about to say something when I interrupt him again. “Now shut up. I’ve listened to you longer than I wanted to. If you still want all that stuff you talked about, you’ll have to cut a deal for it. I’ll come by tomorrow during normal business hours to work something out depending on how this turns out.”

“Um… Can’t I just try another spell?”

I slapped Einstein around a little until he got the message.

“Okay, okay. Just don’t hit me anymore. I won’t try any more summonings.”

“You swear?” I asked.

It was the moment of truth. If he was the type willing to keep his word, I would let him off the hook. We liked business associates who deal in in good faith. The rest, we treated harshly. It might seem generous but I was telling the truth when I said space in Hell was a premium. Some of the others, like Ariel and Belial, still maintained estates in the underworld. The rest of us preferred living close to work. It made commuting a lot easier.

“Well? We’re on the clock here.” I said.

The kid nodded in agreement. He wouldn’t be summoning any more demons, but there are rules to follow.

“That’s not good enough, you have to swear it.”

“I swear not to summon any more demons” he said.

“Perfect-o mundo. Clean up and get some rest. I’ll bring a few standard contracts with me and walk you through the process tomorrow. As long as you don’t try to pull anything cute, you’ll get a fair deal.”

I dropped him and departed without fanfare.

I appeared back in my condo. My playmate was trying to make another escape attempt. She might have more talent than I gave her credit for. Morganna was halfway out of her bonds. I spoiled her moment of victory as I picked up the whip. “So, where were we?” I asked.

Right on cue, she started screaming again – life is good.

 ***

 There are days when I love my job – this wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t being confronted by a wizard looking to get the better of me. That I could handle. In all my years on the job, only one wizard had managed to pull a fast one on me. Instead, I was being buried under an avalanche of paperwork. Many of the forms and reports confronting me were ones that I had filled out weeks ago that had been returned for some reason. Until I cut through the infernal tape, I wouldn’t be able to do any field work.

As I worked, Morganna slept in the other room. I thought about waking her up but I decided against it. She needed her rest especially after last night. It was a shame. I could have used a second set of eyes to weed through all of this garbage. Maybe it was for the best. She knew a lot about the ins and outs of magic as well as who the major players were but computers were after her time. One of these days, I would have to look at her file to see exactly what she did to get thrown into the Pit of Burning Hooks and Sharp Claws. I only saw her resume when I started my hunt for an assistant.

At the rate I was going, I wouldn’t be able to see the kid. Someone else would have to handle the deal. It got me thinking about something Dispater said last night. The pay was above standard. That’s something usually reserved for established names and famous celebrities, not talented amateurs. The more I thought about it, the more things didn’t seem right.

I checked my account first to see how much I’d be getting for answering the summons. The number of zeroes was enough to give me a boner. It was like winning the lottery. It was a shame I couldn’t negotiate and close the deal. I would make even more case. That’s when I remembered my earlier thought. Maybe someone was out to get me. If they were, this was the perfect way to make sure I was distracted.

I decided to call Dispater. His assistant, Brax, a minor demon, picked up.

“Hey, Sammy. What can I do for you?”

“Where is Dispater at? I need to talk to him about something.”

“Sorry, Sam. He’s out of the office today. Maybe I can help you.”

I’m naturally suspicious. It comes from spending a lot of time with the worst that humanity has to offer. I’m already using my powers to search out where the summons took me last night. “Yeah, Brax.” I said. “Who’s handling the contract for that job I did last night?”

“What job? There’s nothing in the database about needing a contract negotiation.”

By the time Brax finished speaking, I was already phasing out of existence and traveling to the kid’s place.

***

I heard Dispater’s voice before I materialized fully. “Just fill in what you want on that line, son,“ he said.

The room was much the same as it was last night. A table and two chairs had been set up. Seated at the table was the kid, with Dispater leaning over his shoulder. Unlike me, my co-worker preferred a more human form. He would have been able to pass for a shyster if it wasn’t for his medeval style robes and cloven hooves.

“You lousy, backstabbing piece of crap!” I yelled as I reached out with a clawed hand to grab Dispater by the neck. “I thought we were friends.”

Unperturbed by my anger, he said “Grow up, Sam. Beings like us don’t have friends.”

In a way, he was right. I was fooling myself thinking of him or anyone else in the business as a friend. Is it a crime to think there’s more to life than screwing people over? It might cost me but I wasn’t going to let it cost the kid. He had dealt in good faith with me. I didn’t know what kind of off-the-books nonsense Dispater was up to but the kid deserved better.

“Kid, don’t sign that thing.”

Dispater broke my hold on him using magic instead of brute force to force open my fingers. “You’re too late. It’s a done deal.”

From experience, I knew Dispater was a very shrewd bargainer. Although he would honor the letter of the agreement, he didn’t have the kid’s best interest at heart. Neither did I but I wasn’t going to bend him over a pool table unless he had it coming.

“Tell me, you didn’t sign it.”

The kid smiled at the two of us as he said, “I did, but I changed my mind about what I wanted.”

Dispater grabbed the contract and read it. His shit-eating grin vanished. He opened his mouth and roared in anger, spitting flames and cursing humanity. “You fool! I’ll never be able to collect or get paid for this.”

With a curse, Dispater hurled the contract down before he vanished. There was a popping noise as air rushed to fill the void he had left behind.

“Kid, what did you ask for?”

“I have a name, you know.”

Actually, I didn’t know his name. I hadn’t bothered to look it up or read his file. I would rectify that the moment I got home.

“Yeah, kid. I know. Now, what the hell did you ask for?”

“I asked for you to be my friend.”

I blinked as if someone had hit me between the eyes with a wrecking ball. “You did what?”

“Having a friend is better than money, girls and being famous. You proved that by looking out for me.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it. If he wanted to be that naïve then there was no way I would be able to convince him otherwise. Course, I would have plenty of time to try. I would have to make my best efforts to be his friend, which was impossible. I repeated Dispater’s words.

“Beings like us don’t have friends.”

“Then I have nothing to worry about, Samael.”

I laughed, thinking about how Dispater must be feeling right now. This was going to be real interesting. “Okay, kid, but call me Sam.”

 

Commentary: I submitted this story to Jim Baen’s Universe a while back. I still don’t know why it was passed over but that’s life. I decided to turn it into a series of short stories. Like the Incarnates, it uses the same setting as the Count Albritton series.  I’ll be releasing the other stories in the series along with some other material in the near future. Enjoy.

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