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.
Gillman’s men threw a little party right there, celebrating their victory. They had taken heavy losses, but the survivors grabbed bottles of dark green wine from the church cellar and sucked it back like their victory was assured. Gillman didn’t have any and neither did I. I sat on one of the pews in the back, staring at the strange ornaments and sculptures of the church.
Outside, darkness had seeped into Innsmouth. Black clouds blotted out the stars, like the whole town was lost in some endless dark abyss. A harsh wind blew in from the sea, rattling the ruined houses and stirring dead leaves in the gutters. A storm was brewing, a big one that would hit Innsmouth soon enough. I had a feeling I’d be stuck in the center of it.
A knocking came at the double doors — just as rain started to pelt down. The rain rattled on the aqua-blue stained glass windows, drumming out a strange staccato beat. Some of Gillman’s boys hurried to the door and pulled it back. Something inhuman stepped inside.
It was a like a frog crossed with a fish and as big as man. It was hunchbacked, moving in sudden hopping jerks, with grey greenish skin, a white belly, and a pair of those big, unblinking, watery Innsmouth eyes. I recognized it from the sculptures and designs in the church. This was a Deep One, which meant that High Priest Hezekiah Gillman’s crazy story about fish-men and ancient gods was probably one-hundred percent true.
I shuddered as the Deep One came forward, speaking in a low guttural whisper. More followed it, the spines on their arched backs bristling as their claws tapped on the stone floor. Gillman watched them, smiling as his reinforcements arrived. He turned to look at me, and must have seen the look on my face. Thunder rolled in the distance, like God himself was shouting in panic.
“Is there a problem, Morton Candle?” High Priest Gillman asked.
“Good god,” I whispered. “It’s true. All of it.”
“Indeed. And soon all the world will know the same.” Gillman turned to the foremost Deep One, who carried something under his arm. Reverently, the Deep One knelt down and offered it to Gillman. It was a book, big as a desk top, and bound in strange brown leather. “The Necronomicon,” Gillman explained. “Bound in human skin and written in blood. From these pages, I will recite the words that end all of existence.”
“You’re crazy,” I muttered.
“No. I’m faithful.” Gillman looked to the door. “Ah. And it seems my hired killer has also chosen to make his appearance.”
Someone stepped inside, rain in his hair and on the shoulders of his salmon pink suit. His eyes scanned the church and settled on me, like an executioner’s axe settling on a victim’s neck. He grinned slowly, though it wasn’t easy for him. It took me a few seconds to recognize him, and once I did, I felt some real panic. Gillman’s hired gun was none other than Joey Verona, a mob hitman I had left for dead in Paradise City, with an army of zombies – and a nuclear warhead – closing in.
“Mort Candle!” he said, giving me a big grin, though that wasn’t easy for him. The left side of his face looked like melted wax. The skin, chalk white with splotches of yellow, drooped on his bones, enlarging his eye and forcing him to talk out of the right corner of his mouth. His formerly blonde hair was now steel gray. His suit was still perfectly creased and sharp as a knife, a white rose in the lapel. “Morty! Been a long time, pal! I been looking forward to our reunion like nothing on earth.”
Gillman looked from Verona to me. “You know each other? I suppose you would, two assassins in the same violent career.”
“Yeah. Except he ain’t an assassin. He’s a shamus, a private dick. And I think he just took the wrong case.” Verona walked over to me, his voice rising in time to his footfalls. “Want to know how I got out of Paradise City? Well, first I killed twenty-nine zombies, with an axe and my hands, and then I hid in a refrigerator that was knocked up from the explosion and landed in the desert. I fought off vultures, Morty! While I was dying of radiation poisoning, they came swarming in to get me!”
I could tell Joey Verona’s sanity was weaker than one of Innsmouth’s rickety houses and crumbling just as fast. He continued, not even checking if I was listening. “Luckily, a nice vacationing family found me, Morty. After I killed them all, I stole their car and headed for Los Angeles, grabbed all the cash I could and headed to Switzerland and the best plastic surgery money could buy. And this is the best they could do, those goddamn Swiss bums!” His manner softened. “But seriously, what are you doing here?”
“Working for Gillman,” I replied.
“Oh no.” Verona pointed at me and shook his head. “This guy’s too much of a straight shooter to work for fish-boys like you, Gillman. I’ll tell you what he’s working – some angle. Let me guess – a shooting war didn’t start until after he came to town. And that little battle in the town today? That was his doing as well.” He let out another sudden laugh, a yipping bark that reminded me a whining, broken-down engine. “He’s playing you!”
Gillman turned on me, suspicion in his bulging eyes. Lightning flashed outside, and I could hear my heart beating. The jig was up and now my neck was on the line. I stepped back, walking towards the double doors of the church. I wished to holy hell that I had listened to Weatherby. “He’s lying,” I said. “Verona’s got a stake against me and—”
“What started this whole thing? The docks going up, right? I bet I know who set those fires.” Joey Verona walked around me, a lopsided grin plastered on his mutated face. “He’s been playing you, and making you pay, Gillman! I’d bet my good looks on it!”
I saw High Priest Gillman reaching for one of his curved daggers, and knew it was time to run. I reached into my coat, trying to drag out my automatics, but Verona’s fist took me first. I saw a flash of whiteness behind my eyes. I tried to square my shoulders and take the blow, but then one of the Deep Ones tackled me.
It knocked me to the ground, opening its mouth to reveal rows of teeth, each thin as a needle and twice as sharp. The claws rested on my neck, ready to rip me to shreds. Verona bent down and pulled out my pistols. He pointed them at me. “Oh, god, Morty,” he said. “I’m gonna take my time with you!”
“No.” High Priest Gillman stepped next to Verona and looked down at me. “He will die a traitor’s death – right after he sees us complete the ritual that ends the world. Tie him up and take him along. We shall march against Marsh and crush him into the dust – then go into the hills and complete the ceremony.”
The situation had gone from a good way to make a fast buck to a one-way trip to the end of the world. I tried to break free, landing a punch on a Deep One that knocked out several of his sharp teeth, but they were too many and too strong. They forced my arms behind me and wrapped a tight silken cord around my chest. They stepped away, and Verona got to work. He slugged me again and again, grinning all the while as he nearly pounded my face into mush and my chest into hamburger.
“Verona!” I muttered, after he finally stepped back. I had a black eye, my nose was bleeding, and I could feel blood from my face running down to my neck and soaking into my collar. “Gillman’s a nut! He’ll end the world, Joey! He’ll destroy everything!”
Joey Verona paused. He rested a hand on his mutated cheek. “You know, Morty,” Joey mused. “That sounds A-okay to me.” He gave me another kick in the side, and then hauled me to my feet. “Come on, pal!” he said, as the double doors slammed open. “Let’s go for a walk.”
We headed outside, through the double doors of the church and into the street. Gillman’s army marched around us, his Deep Ones hopping at the front. High Priest Gillman held up the Necronomicon, starting to read as the rain pounded down. The words were insane utterances, each sounding like it took three tongues and a half to pronounce. The storm seemed to get worse with each word Gillman said.
I kept blinking in and out of things, the pain finally settling to a dull, burning agony behind my eyes. The rain drenched the brim of my fedora, soaking my shoulders and trench coat. Each drop stung my bruised frame. Joey Verona walked with me, and finally gave me a slap on the back. “Hey, hey, Morty!” he cried. “We’re here!”
I looked up and saw Marsh’s mansion. The windows were alive with gunfire, and more of Gillman’s men dropped. But then the Deep Ones charged forward, leaping over the cobblestones and lawn like scaly wolves. A few of Marsh’s thugs ran out to meet them – and got filleted by the long claws of the Deep Ones. Joey Verona watched, firing occasionally with one of his long barreled revolvers. My pistols were in his pockets. They were right next to me but they might as well have been miles away.
Marsh’s manor caught fire, casting flickering shadows into the dark street. Gillman stood in front of it, holding the Necromicon high and continuing his endless, manic chant. Verona leaned close to me, whispering in his ear. “You don’t know what he can pull out his little magician’s hat, do you, Morty? It ain’t no white rabbit, I’ll tell you that much! He can whisk up a shoggoth. You know what that is? Don’t worry. You will.”
Finally, the Deep Ones hauled poor Mayor Marsh out of his house and brought him before High Priest Gillman. The priest slammed the Necronomicon shut and leered down at Marsh. “Malachi!” he roared. “You would forsake the old ways! You would deal with the mammals and make them your friends!” He raised his dagger high. “Now it has come time to suffer the consequences!”
Mayor Marsh stared up at the dagger. He had time to make a single frightened croak before Hezekiah Gillman slashed down and opened his throat, and then his chest. Marsh tumbled backwards, his blood spraying into the dirt around his manor. Everything smelled like salt water, fish and blood. Above him, his manor burned, sending dark clouds billowing up into the darkened sky.
Gillman looked back at his troops, who let out a shrieking gurgle of victory. “So perish the enemies of the true gods!” Gillman cried, with the shrieking sincerity of the true fanatic.
“You’re a regular Billy Sunday, Gillman!” Verona laughed. “Where to next?”
“The cliffs around town – the marsh country.” Gillman stared into the distance, his tongue sliding across his flat lips. “There, we shall bring the world to its knees.” He paused to look at me. “And the traitor shall watch.”
“Sounds good!” Verona clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Morty. I’ll be sure we get ringside seats.”
“Swell,” I muttered. It was a struggle to stay conscious, but I would. I had to get free, put a stop to the raising of evil gods – and get some vengeance on Joey Verona before he could do the same to me.