About Stein & Candle
A wealthy Hawaiian hotelier is chewed to death by sharks – in his penthouse office. A traveling salesman goes missing – in a shady New England town full of monstrous fishmen. A new casino gets supernaturally good luck in Vegas – thanks to ancient Egyptian magic. These are the cases taken by the Stein & Candle Detective Agency. Morton Candle’s a hardboiled ex-paratrooper turned two-gun shamus. Weatherby Stein – a fourteen-year-old wiz kid and heir to the greatest family of European sorcerers.
Stein & Candle is a paranormal detective / “zombie noir” serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Sunday.
After finishing off Mayor Marsh’s goons and burning his mansion to the ground, Gillman and his boys headed up into the cliffs, with Joey Verona and me to keep them company. Verona stayed behind me all the way, a pistol pressed to the back of my head, just in case the ropes binding me and the brutal beating he had handed out wasn’t enough. Each step on the slippery cliffs set a bolt of pain rocketing through my body. I gritted my teeth and took it, wishing to God that Weatherby hadn’t taken off, and that I had listened to his warnings.
The land around Innsmouth was a mix of jagged cliffs above the roaring sea and marshes fat with fetid water. Gillman selected a wide cliff overlooking the ocean for the ceremony. Standing stones covered in strange curving marks stood in the center of the plains, and the Deep Ones created a small, smoldering fire from dried seaweed and driftwood. They threw some strange coral into the fire, causing the flames to rise green and greasy into the sky.
“Here we are, gents!” Verona said, pushing me down on a fallen log. I sat down heavily, breathing hard as I stared into the fire. “Looks like the perfect atmosphere for a little bit of the old apocalypse rag, eh Morty!” He sat next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. “Ain’t this just great! A couple of old friends watching the world go blam-o!”
“You’ve lost it, Verona,” I rasped. “If you ever had any sense to begin with.”
Joey Verona paused. His merriment strained out of him and he stood up. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe you’re right. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? Soon as old Cthulhu goes wakey-wakey, everyone’s gonna be just as kooky as me, right before the final curtain falls on the whole miserable human race.” He walked away from me, grumbling to himself out of the corner of his mouth.
I looked back at Gillman, who had flipped through to the back of the Necromicon and started to read. A score of his Deep Ones stood behind him, sitting on their haunches and watching the fire intently. One of his remaining, sort-of human guards stood near me, a Browning Automatic Rifle clutched in his hands. Gillman started his chant, a slow mutter that rose in intensity as he continued.
The fire roared higher and higher, rising like a flickering tower into the black sky. Thunder rolled in the distance, and lightning flared off, like the ground under our feet was cracking and splitting open. The ocean roared, waves pounding into the cliffs like angry fists. I slumped my head forward, staring at my boots. There was nothing I could do except wait for the end.
It was all because I wanted dough and revenge for Vernon Partridge. I had gone blood drunk, stupid with my need to inspire more violence. Now it seemed that all of existence would pay the price.
“Mort.” The voice was quiet and came from behind. I looked around. Weatherby crouched in the briars behind the fallen log, trying his best to make himself unseen. The kid was drenched from the rain, with drops of water raining down his round spectacles. He reached over and pulled the knife from my boot, and then used it to cut the bonds.
I looked warily back to the Deep Ones. The fish were too interested in Gillman’s ceremony to pay much attention to me. “Weatherby,” I said. “You came back. Was it for the scheme?”
“It was for you,” Weatherby replied. He looked up at the fire, and then at Gillman. “I remembered my father’s teachings about the Deep Ones and the Elder Gods. I could not leave you in their cursed city, even if you insisted on your insane plan. I wandered around in the hills and cliffs, stumbling through marshes before I realized that I should return. I saw the manor burning, and your present situation. Then I hurried here. Gillman didn’t bother to post sentries.” He handed me the Ka-Bar. “And I’m rather glad I that I’ve arrived to help you.”
“You and me both, kiddo,” I replied. “Joey Verona showed up soon as you left. He saw through me in a second.” I held the knife tightly. I had taken a beating, and there wasn’t an inch of me that didn’t feel bruised and bloodied. It was me against a couple guns, a dozen Deep Ones, Joey Verona and Gillman. And I didn’t have long to make a plan.
“Oh, and take this…” Weatherby reached into his coat and pulled out a thin necklace. A strange pendant hung from the cord, a kind of green star with bent arms and bright yellow eye inside. “The Elder Sign,” Weatherby explained. “I believe it will prove most useful.”
“Thanks.” I stretched my arms, looking at the Innsmouth man with the Browning Automatic Rifle. I had a feeling that his BAR would be even more useful. “Stand back now, okay? It’s gonna get nasty.” I prepared myself, biting my lip as I set the necklace with the Elder Sign around my neck. I gripped the knife tightly and made my move.
The poor bastard with the BAR didn’t see me coming, not until I had buried my blade in the back of his neck. He started gurgling, and I almost gently pulled the BAR from his hands. I rested the knife in my boot. Then I stood up and swung the Browning Automatic Rifle to face Gillman’s men. I had rarely used a BAR in the War, preferring a Thompson, but I didn’t mind. I squeezed the trigger and started firing.
The BAR bucked and rumbled in my hands. The recoil made every inch of me ache. I swept the ranks of Gillman’s troops, blasting them apart as they reached for their guns. I turned the gun to face the Deep Ones, opening fire as they charged my way. The heavy bullets of the BAR tore off scaly limbs and ripped open their mottled gray bellies, spreading fish guts on the grass and dirt.
One of the Deep Ones closed the gap between us, leaping into the air with both claws ready to slash me to ribbons. I kept shooting, pumping the last bullets of the Browning Automatic Rifle through his brain. He collapsed, and then I faced Gillman.
The High Priest looked up from his reading. His eyes were bulging, glowing red and blood trickled from his nose and mouth. “Mammalian filth!” he roared. “Verona – finish him!”
“My pleasure.” Joey Verona headed my way, my own pistols in his hands.
I had seconds to figure out how to beat him. I decided to risk everything on a charge. I grabbed the barrel of the empty BAR and charged Verona, swinging it around as he started shooting. A bullet burned past my shoulder. Another grazed my side, drawing blood. And then I swung the heavy rifle into his chest, knocking him to the ground and forcing the guns from his hands.
“You don’t want to die easy, Morty?” Verona grabbed my throat and started squeezing. He forced me to the ground, kneeing me in the gut and making pure white pain flash past my eyes. “Hey, no problem! You know me – anything for an old pal!”
His grip was tight. I tried to move my arms and reach for the knife, but I couldn’t make it. I was gonna lose this – unless I did something nasty. So I poked four fingers into the side of Verona’s face, right where the radiation had melted his cheek. His skin felt like mush, and I kept pushing until I hit something solid that must have been bone. Verona started screaming and pulled back, letting go of my throat.
He came to his feet, holding his face. I had clawed him deeply, and strips of yellow flesh, muscle and bone were visible. “No, no, no, no!” Verona cried, and turned to run. He forgot about Gillman. He forgot about me. All he wanted to do was get out of my sight. I saw the hitman hurrying away, and felt just a little sorry for the bastard. I shook the feeling quickly from my head.
Now High Priest Gillman was all alone. He stared at me as I came shakily to my feet. “Drop the book, and I’ll let you live,” I said. “If you don’t, I’ll kill you where you stand.”
“Oh no,” Gillman replied. “I’ve come too far. I am about to touch the face of a long forgotten god. I cannot stop now.” He raised his hand and opened his mouth wide. “In Dagon’s name, I will see you dead.” He muttered a frenzied whispering chant, and looked back at the fire. The flames danced crazily, and something started to crawl out. “You will be food, Morton Candle – food for the shoggoth!”
It came out of the fire, sliding onto the grass with a hundred clutching tentacles aimed my way. The thing was like a giant blob of Jell-O, but greasy, black and the size of an automobile. It changed its shape constantly, forming blinking eyes, clutching claws, shrieking mouths, and even terribly human faces. It made strange chirps, like demented birdsong. The shoggoth was terrible to look at, and it was coming my way.
I scrambled to dive for my fallen pistols. I brought them up and started shooting. Bullet after bullet rippled through the gelatinous body of the shoggoth, without leaving a mark. It coursed forward, dripping over the ground as it came for me. Both automatics clicked empty in the second before it enveloped me.
Tentacles battered my body, gooey innards pressed against my sides, and claws reached out to slash me open. I closed my eyes, then reached to my throat and grabbed the necklace Weatherby had given me. That little wooden green star was the only thing in the whole world I had left, and I held onto it like a life preserver in a stormy sea.
Slowly, the shoggoth rolled away. It left me lying in the dirt, coated in slime and feeling like I had been thrown into a washing machine. I slowly came to my feet, groaning with each movement. The shoggoth hurried into the hills behind me, running like a beaten dog. I looked up and stared into Gillman’s bulging eyes.
He was confused. “In Yog-Sothoth’s name, how did you—”
I opened my hand, letting him see the Elder Sign. Weatherby stood at the edge of the slaughter, his revolver drawn, watching everything. “I got a friend, Gillman,” I said. “And I owe my life to him.” I nodded to Weatherby. “Look away, kiddo. You shouldn’t see this.”
I ran towards Gillman. He dropped the Necronomicon and went for a dagger, but I was faster. I grabbed his hand and forced the blade from his grasp, then slugged him in the chest. He started gurgling, but I wasn’t done with him yet. I grabbed hold of his shoulders, and then slammed his head into one of the standing stones. One of those bulging eyes popped out, as blood ran across his gray, scaly skin. I was wondering just how to kill him, and then I saw the fire.
Gillman struggled and kicked, but I overwhelmed him. I forced him down, and then pushed him forward, plunging his head into the blaze. Green flames started licking at his skull. He started screaming, and I planted a boot on his chest, keeping him from going anywhere. I thought idly of a fish fry, as Gillman’s writhing ceased and he finally lay still. I tossed the Necronomicon into the fire after him. It seemed like the right thing to do.
When it was done, I felt all the strength I had called up flowing away. I nearly collapsed, but Weatherby caught me. He held me up. Together, we regained my fallen automatics. I took the Elder Sign from my neck and handed it back to him.
“Thanks,” I said. “You saved my life. Innsmouth was an ocean of violence and corruption and darkness. I was drowning in it and you pulled me out.”
“We’re partners, Mort,” Weatherby replied softly. “And that’s what partners do.”
He helped me limp back into town, and out of the driving rain.