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.
A second later, they crashed open the door, each soldier hurling a pair of grenades into the Nazi ranks. Morton held Weatherby close to him, and the boy’s legs moved steadily, despite his recent injuries. Soon as the explosions and smoke popped off in the field, they were off. They pounded to the woods. Dutch fired his shotgun as he ran, racking the pump with each step to provide just a hint of covering fire.
They dashed forward, and reached the tree line. Behind them, the Nazis surged into the church. Sergeant Candle didn’t look back, but soon heard a thunderous explosion ripping through ancient stone and dirt. Even from where he stood, he could feel the heat. Newt was gone, but he had gone down fighting. There was no time to stop or mourn, no time to even look at the wreckage.
“Move it!” Mort cried, as the German infantry followed them and started shooting. A bullet banged off his helmet, nearly knocking him down. Sergeant Candle swept up Weatherby, carrying the boy in his arms. He felt another shot slashing past him. They weren’t going fast enough. They needed to cover more ground.
The SS had set up an MG-42 somewhere in the trench. Its familiar roar started up, and it cut through the dirt and the trees. Branches tumbled down, and dark earth went up. But the trees were thick, and the SS was firing blind. Sergeant Candle used to it his advantage, weaving back and forth to gain as much space as possible.
He thought back to before the war, to when he was a little older than Weatherby. He remembered doing this before, dodging through Brooklyn back alleys, an overstuffed billfold in his shaking hands while a fat mobster with a lupara sawed-off shotgun gave chase. This was different, but not by much.
The next shot burned into his side, making the breath leave him and knocking him down. “Mr. Candle!” Weatherby cried. “Mr. Candle! Come on! You have to get up!”
So he did. He stood up and gritted his teeth and turned around, his pistol in his hand. He emptied the clip on the German who had shot him, then started to run again. His breath came in ragged gasps, but he kept moving. He could feel his strength flowing out of him in a river, and could almost count how many steps he could take before he collapsed. Weatherby was light, but with all his guns and equipment, Sergeant Candle was weighed down. He dropped his backpack, and the spare clips, and kept moving.
He put one foot in front of the other, focusing on that and breathing and nothing else. He didn’t hear the shouts of the men next to him, or the bullets flying past him, or the SS running frantically behind. He heard Weatherby’s terrified ragged breath, and his own, and that was enough.
But then he heard something else. It was big and thunderous, striking up the dirt behind him. Mort sank to his knees, realizing that the Germans had brought around another tank, and there was no way they could take it. They were finished, and there was no point in anything anymore. He had let Weatherby down. He gulped in air, and tried to stop his ears from ringing. Elkins was next to him, trying to say something. Mort couldn’t hear him.
He looked up and realized that it wasn’t a Panzer tank, but a Sherman. He couldn’t figure out what a Sherman was doing there, along with the American soldiers in green fatigues next to it, and then his mind snapped back and he realized that this was Patton’s Third Army. Quickly, Candle stood up.
“Don’t shoot for Christ’s sake!” Candle cried. “We’re Americans! We’ve got a kid with us! Don’t shoot!”
The nearest Sherman rolled to a clanking stop. The American infantry fanned out through the trees, exchanging rifle fire and forcing back the Nazis. One of their officers hurried to Mort’s side. Elkins, Tiny and Dutch joined them. The officer looked down at Weatherby as Candle set the kid down.
“Good God,” the officer muttered. “Son, what the hell are you doing here?”
Weatherby stood up and brushed leaves from his suit. “I’m being rescued, sir,” he said. “By the best men in the world.”
The soldiers hauled Sergeant Candle and his squad back to camp. Weatherby didn’t leave Mort’s side, even as they took him to the medical tent and patched him up, and then finally let him rest. Tiny, Elkins and Dutch were there as well. They all had wounds as bad of Mort’s, if not worse. They stayed together, laughing and joking and smoking, and remembering Charlie and Newt. Weatherby didn’t say much, but he sat next to Sergeant Candle and seemed comfortable and happy to be in their presence.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and then an orderly arrived and told Mort that he and Weatherby should go to the general’s quarters. Weatherby was instantly nervous. “What’s going to happen, sir?” he asked Mort as they walked to Patton’s tent. “Is everything going to be all right?”
“No one’s gonna hurt you, kiddo. It’ll be all right. I guarantee it,” Mort replied. Night had fallen, and the Black Forest was swathed in sudden darkness. Moonlight shone on the tall clusters of trees, and it seemed unnaturally quiet in the camp. Even the rumble of army machinery was muted. Sergeant Candle wasn’t sure if he had told the exact truth to Weatherby.
When he reached the general’s tent and saw Patton sitting at his desk with Bobby Belasco hovering over him like a vulture, Mort knew that he had lied to the boy. Belasco knelt down and looked at Weatherby, grinning like a wolf at a lamb. “Hey there, sport!” he said. “Good to see you, champ! You look great! You’re feeling okay? Excellent! We’re gonna be best pals, buddy, best pals!”
“W-who are you?” Weatherby asked, staying near Sergeant Candle.
“Why, I’m your new Uncle Bobby! I’m the greatest friend a boy can have! We’re gonna go back to America, and you’re gonna have all the toys you want, and ice cream for every meal, and everything else a kid could desire. And you’re gonna tell me all sorts of occult secrets that your father taught you.” Bobby Belasco’s head nodded up and down, like he was a broken jack-in-the-box. “Now doesn’t that sound swell?”
“Um, I guess so, sir.” Weatherby turned around. He looked up at Sergeant Candle. “But I’d kind of like to stay with Mr. Candle, and his squad. They saved my life, tons of times, and they’re very kind to me. I’d kind of like to stay with them.”
Before Mort could answer, Bobby Belasco stepped between them. “Well, I’m afraid you can’t do that, buddy! Mr. Candle’s got a war to fight, and he can’t take care of you at all. You just leave that to me. Come on with your Uncle Bobby, sport. We’ll head right out of here and get you to the States!”
Weatherby looked up at Morton. Sergeant Candle knelt down and looked at Weatherby. “He’s right, kiddo,” Sergeant Candle heard himself say. “I’ve got to win the war. I’ve got to stop bad things from happening to innocent people, and go and kick Hitler right in the pants. But I’ll try and look out for you. If you need help, I’ll come and rescue you again.” He embraced the boy, a quick and quiet hug. “Just remember that, kiddo – you’ll always have a friend.”
“T-thank you,” Weatherby whispered. He was crying, just a little. “Thank you, Mr. Candle.” Bobby Belasco put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and steered him away. Candle turned to watch him go. He realized his hands were shaking.
General Patton walked over to stand next to Candle. “It’s rotten, soldier. But it’s the way the world works. You want a drink?” He set out whiskey and a pair of shot glasses without getting Mort’s answer. Patton handed Sergeant Candle a full glass and the sergeant downed it. “So,” Patton said. “He was a good little fellow, then. Didn’t cause any trouble for your mission?”
“No, sir,” Sergeant Candle replied. “He never complained. If he cried, he did it when no one was watching. He was grateful, and good to the men, and we all liked him. He gave us hope.” He looked back at the general, and his voice went soft. “He’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, general. And one of the best.”