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.
“He patched me up,” Tiny said, suddenly reaching for the .30 cal. He raised it, the ammo belt swinging as he lashed the string of bullets around his arm. “He took the shot and kept working until his hands went still. Until his hands went still!” He turned around to face the Waffen-SS soldiers and leapt to the top of the firing trench, the .30 cal blazing to life like a sudden storm.
There was no stopping him. Tiny didn’t bother with bursts. He kept shooting in an endless stream until the charging Nazi soldiers were ripped to pieces and turned to run, and he gunned them down before they could reach the cover of the woods. He shot the corpses, and shot the wounded. He kept shooting until the belt was gone and the heavy machine gun clicked empty and he was still squeezing the trigger.
Candle grabbed Tiny’s arm and pulled him back to the church. He got him inside and wrenched the gun from his hand, then gave him a long glare. Their eyes burned into each other. Tiny lowered his head. Newt and Dutch came back, carrying Charlie with them. They laid him down on one of the pews.
“Sarge!” It was Elkins. “Sarge, they’re falling back! They’re going into the woods!”
Slowly, Sergeant Candle turned around and risked a look out the stone window. He saw the SS infantry hurrying back, leaving their dead and the smoking remains of the Tiger tank behind. He sighed and looked back to his squad. “They’re licking their wounds,” he said. “We ought to lick ours. Go out there and get all the spare clips and guns we can find.” He looked at his Thompson. It was on its last magazine. “And don’t go far.”
They listened to him, hurrying outside in furtive crouches. Elkins came down from the steeple, his rifle slung over his shoulder. “We got them good, Sarge!” Elkins laughed. “You should have seen them Krauts run, they were—”He saw Charlie and fell silent. “Ah Hell,” he muttered.
“Yeah,” Mort muttered.
The tent under the altar stirred. Weatherby poked his head out and saw Charlie. The boy started to run out, but Mort stepped in his way and caught him. “Don’t leave your tent, kiddo,” he said, carrying Weatherby back. “You stay there and rest. Save up your strength you’ll need it.”
“C-Charlie?” Weatherby asked. “Mr. Candle, what happened—”
“He’s gone. He’s gone and you still need to rest, because you’ve got to move later.” Sergeant Candle set the boy down, inside the tent. “So just stay there and rest. Okay?”
“A-all right.” Weatherby’s voice quivered. “Okay.” He wrapped himself in the soldier’s coat and lay down. A shudder ran through his small body.
Candle turned away. He looked at Charlie and shook his head. There’d be no time to bury him. He took off the medic’s dog tags and pocketed them. That was all they’d be able to carry. He looked out through the archway and into the forest. One attack had knocked out one member of their squad, and the German ranks were still going strong. At this rate, they’d be dead by nightfall.
He stepped outside and helped his men collect fallen weapons. There was nothing to do but grab all the Kraut guns and ammo he could find, hold out, and wait for the end.
In the later afternoon, just as the sun was going down and shadows thickened under the boughs and branches of the Black Forest, Von Koch’s troops came again. This time they started with mortar strikes, with several teams scattered under the cover of the trees. Sergeant Candle heard their whine when he was carrying a heavy German rapid-firing rifle and several clips back to the church.
“Mortars!” he cried, seconds before the first round struck the side of the church, blasting aside ancient stone bricks and clumps of dirt. “Get to cover!” He jumped into the nearest trench and stayed down, waiting as more shells streamed from the sky. Another blasted into the church’s roof, rocking the structure. Faded stain glass shattered and tumbled down. A sliver went into Mort’s hand, and he wrenched it out with a stifled cry. It was worse than any storm, the kind of downpour that would herald the end of the world.
The church steeple took a shot and rocked backwards, the stone groaning as it tumbled down over the roof. It bounced twice, and came to a sudden crashing stop in the dirt. Candle looked through the dust and fire. That was Elkins’ post. The poor Okie hadn’t stood a chance.
“Sarge!” But then he saw that Elkins was running back to the trench, his rifle swinging on his back. “They got the sniper’s nest!” He hadn’t been up there. It was luck, and only that, which had saved the sniper’s life.
“Doesn’t matter!” Mort stepped aside, and Elkins joined him. Dutch and Newt were there, and Tiny hurried to grab his BAR. The .30 cal was out of belts, and the BAR was down to its last two clips. Candle looked down at them. “All right,” he said. “We fight. We hold out. We give Patton time to get closer. Then we blow this joint and run like hell to the Third Army. We take Weatherby with us. No matter what happens, the kid makes it. Any questions, ladies?”
The mortar strikes roared down around them. Candle knew they couldn’t pound them into oblivion, for fear of killing Weatherby. They were trying to soften the Screaming Eagles up, to demoralize them and make them panic. It wouldn’t work. He gritted his teeth and treated the mortar shells like rain. All he had to do was wait for them to stop.
When they did, the Germans sent in their infantry. Now the paratroopers opened fire with stolen German rifles and submachine guns. Candle had his rifle out and emptied clip after clip as he brought down the charging Nazis. They took cover in the corpses of their allies, and around the smoldering Tiger Tank. Grenades flushed them out, and gunfire finished them.
But more troops came from the woods, backed up by heavy machine gun teams, and even a few soldiers with Panzerfausts. Rockets blasted into the dirt and the hastily dug trench, and Candle tasted the burns and smelled the gunfire. Smoke formed strange structures in the air in front of them. The Nazis were throwing men into the gun sights of the Americans, trying to overwhelm them. It appeared to be working.
“Back to the church!” Candle shouted. “Fall back and regroup!” He stood up, as his gun finally clicked empty. He tossed it down and then drew his Colt automatics as he turned to run. Not many soldiers could pack a pistol in each hand, but Mort could and he was proud of it.
He ran through the archway, with Newt and Dutch with him. Newt pitched forward and hit the ground. Mort saw flesh and blood in his left leg, and he dragged it as he came to his feet. “Damn it to Hell!” Newt cried. “Can’t run! Can’t run for nothing!”
Elkins and Tiny got inside, both turning around to keep the infantry away from the doors. They held the line, forcing the Nazis back to just over the trench. Tiny’s BAR held them back, until it finally ran out of shells, and then it was finished.
“Jeez Louise!” Dutch cried, helping up Newt. “They’re throwing everything at us!”
“Everything they got,” Tiny said. He lowered the empty BAR and grabbed an MP40 sub-gun from the pile. It seemed tiny in his massive hands, like a child’s pop gun. “They want the boy bad, Sarge. They’re willing to throw lives away to get him.”
“Fine by me.” Candle bent down and looked at Newt’s wound, tying it off and stopping the bleeding as best he could. He looked up at the soldier with weary eyes. Newt couldn’t run. Newt couldn’t leave the church and make it to Patton’s ranks. They all knew that the wound was a death sentence. “It’s bad,” he said.
Newt nodded. “Feels that way,” he agreed.
Before they could say another word, they heard Weatherby scream. Sergeant Candle looked to the altar and saw a figure that was gray and spindly and had knives for fingers dragging Weatherby out of the little tent, a long silver blade poised to slit the boy’s throat.
Weatherby’s scream ended. “M-Mr. Candle?” he asked, and Mort could hear his whisper over the sound of the gunshots and the screams. “I need help!”
“Don’t worry, kiddo,” Mort said. “I’ll be right there.” He dropped the pistols, pulled the Ka-Bar from his boot and jumped to meet the monster.
The battle was short and messy. One second, Sergeant Candle was slashing his knife into the upper chest of the strange pale creature, though no blood flowed from the wound. Then the creature was on top of him, reaching down with long claws to skewer his eyeballs. It wasn’t breathing, and he could smell sterile chemicals and formaldehyde, almost overpowering. He gritted his teeth and pushed the monster’s wrist back, then brought up his knife. The big blade went into the living corpse’s neck, and he didn’t stop until he had taken off its head.
Sergeant Candle came to his feet. He looked at the dead thing at his feet. “It was dead,” he said. “It was dead and it was still moving and it didn’t stop until I took off the head.” He looked up at Weatherby. “Have you seen these things before?”
“H-he called them Draugr, Mr. Candle. My father, I mean,” Weatherby said, unable to take his eyes off the monster. “He didn’t want to make them, but the Nazis, they were forcing him. I guess they had other people, other laboratories, working on producing more Draugr. General Von Koch, he believed they could win the war for him.”
The soldiers exchanged a glance. “Von Koch is throwing everything’s he got at us,” Dutch said. “He’s getting desperate.”
“Yeah.” Mort felt the blood leaking from the cuts on his hands and shoulders. He looked down at Weatherby. “And so are we.” He heard something clicking, like steel claws on ancient stones. It sounded almost like toe nails on a tiled bathroom floor. Sergeant Candle looked up, grabbing both his pistols. There were more Draugr above them, climbing almost silently amongst the ancient stones and statues of gargoyles and saints.
The Draugr’s pale skin barely stood out against the ancient stone. They seemed like some variety of ferocious medieval statue, brought to life by dark wizardry. For all Sergeant Candle knew, that’s exactly what they were. He raised his pistols and gritted his teeth. He had been cut in at least four places, but he still had the strength to keep going.
“Incoming!” he bellowed, and started shooting, along with the others. His automatics roared in his hands, spitting out lead and bringing down the Draugr as they leapt down. The creatures were lithe and fast, but Mort’s bullets were faster by seconds. A dead Draugr landed heavily in the stone aisle, its claws rattling on the floor. Another came pouncing for Mort, but he blasted off its head in mid-leap, and it collapsed raggedly into the pews.
Tiny’s MP40 thundered next to him, the distinctive gunshots like a loud blaring roar. Newt leaned against the wall, a captured German rifle firing steadily in his hands. Dutch was next to him, now wielding the old shotgun he always carried on missions. It was steady and reliable, just like him. Elkins kept his sniper rifle shooting, and when a Draugr got too close, he swung the butt around and smashed it into the monster’s mouth, knocking out teeth and shattering skull like it was eggshell. There was real strength in Elkins’ long arms, and Sergeant Candle never forgot it.
Weatherby stood next to Mort, his hands at his sides and his eyes focused on his dirty dress shoes, shivering in terror. When the last bullet was fired and the Draugr were finished, Weatherby looked like he was going to cry. Sergeant Candle wouldn’t know what to do if that happened.
But the boy didn’t cry. Instead, he looked up at Sergeant Candle. “Thank you,” he said. “You saved my life. Again. Thank you.”
Sergeant Candle smiled. Weatherby was tougher than he looked. “You’re welcome, kiddo,” he replied.
“Sarge?” It was Dutch. He went to the door and pointed outside. “Bad news. The infantry are coming in now. There’s too many of them, and they got good cover. If they bring in some heavier weapons – or another Panzer – we’re good and screwed.”
“So now’s the time to start running,” Candle said. “We’ll break out, go to the woods. We’ve given Old Blood and Guts and the Third plenty time. We’ll link up with them, no problem.” But he had spoken too soon. He looked at Newt and the wounded leg.
But Newt didn’t disagree. He merely nodded and sat down on a pew. “You leave me here, Sarge,” he said. “With a rifle and all the ammo you can spare. And enough of our explosives to blast this church to rubble. You’ll hear me when I go – and take a hundred Germans screaming with me into Hell.”
“No!” Weatherby piped up, his voice shrill and terrified. “Please, Charlie — and my parents — have already died, and I don’t want anybody more – I don’t want anyone else to die because of me!” He couldn’t face Newt, and looked away.
Newt leaned closer to the boy. He put his hand on Weatherby’s shoulder. “Son,” he said. “I’m finished either way. But I’ll make a deal with you. You go out there and survive, and you get home. And you live a full life, and a good one. And you do good and help people, and don’t give in to any temptations, and you take care of your fellow man. You promise me, you’ll do that, and I’ll die happy.”
Weatherby slowly nodded. His eyes were wet. “Yes, s-sir,” he said. “Yes, Mr. Newt.”
“It’s no trouble.” Newt put an arm around the boy and gave him a quick hug. Sergeant Candle always figured Newt lived for two things – killing Nazis and making plans to kill Nazis. But he was kind as could be to Weatherby. Newt looked up to Candle and nodded. The sergeant put his arm and Weatherby’s shoulder, and gently led him away.
Dutch was busy with the explosives. He set them quickly, and handed the plunger to Newt. The two friends didn’t say anything. Newt took off his dog tags and handed them to Candle, who pocketed them without a word.
Sergeant Candle, Tiny, Elkins, Dutch and Weatherby went to the side exit to the church. They had grabbed every spare weapon they could carry, and were ready to leave. Candle turned around and looked at Newt, who sat down next to the plunger for the dynamites. He snapped off a salute. “Give them hell, soldier!” he called.
Newt nodded. “You got it, sarge.”
That was all they needed to say.