About Stein & Candle
For Weatherby Stein and Morton Candle life ain’t easy. They deal with cases that pit them against ferocious demons in the Tokyo underworld, Satan-worshipping teenagers in a seemingly normal suburb and lizard-men in a Lake Tahoe lounge, and they still manage to come out on top. But now one of Weatherby’s ancient ancestors, the villainous Viscount Wagner Stein, has been resurrected – and he’s not alone. Weatherby, Morton and their allies must make a stand to stop the evils of the past from corrupting the future – and not everyone will make it out of the battle alive.
Stein & Candle is a paranormal detective / “zombie noir” serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Sunday.
- Trouble in Tokyo, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
- Teenage Wasteland, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
- Lounge Lizards, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Also by Michael Panush:
Weatherby Stein looked out the window of the Roadmaster, across the green grass and white picket fences, to the rectangular set of buildings, squatting like some geometrically perfect animal in the suburbs. This was Silver Hills High School. Weatherby had ventured into ancient tombs, forbidden jungles and cursed groves with less trepidation than this high school. But his job, a private detective specializing in occult cases, would make him go inside and get to class.
“You sure about this, kiddo?” Weatherby’s partner, Morton Candle, wondered. Mort rested his thick hands on the steering wheel, his half-closed eyes staring straight ahead. “We can figure out some other way to investigate this thing, without you going undercover at the high school. And I bet these parents have their heads up their behinds anyway.”
“It’s all right, Mort.” Weatherby smiled hopefully. “I went to boarding school in England, remember? When I was boy, for several years. I enjoyed my experience, despite the homesickness. I’m certain this will be much the same.”
“Then why are you nervous?” Mort asked.
The question hung in the air, unanswered. Weatherby grabbed his backpack, purchased for the case. “The bell shall ring soon. I’d better get moving. I’ll see you this afternoon, and we’ll discuss what I’ve discovered.” He opened the door of the car and stepped out onto the pavement. Other students were drifting in, and though Weatherby wore a collared checkered shirt and vest to blend in, he could still feel their questioning eyes on him as he headed to class.
The case seemed like a simple matter of reconnaissance. The parents, teachers and reverend of Silver Hills were afraid of their teenagers, but it wasn’t a simple matter of juvenile delinquency. A rash of unexplained occurrences, such as strange lights in the night sky, disappearing pets and sightings of monstrous, goat-like creatures loping down neat suburban avenues, had the adults of Silver Hills convinced that their children were experimenting with Black Magic. They hired Stein and Candle to find out the truth. Now Weatherby was heading to Silver Hills High, enrolled in the school for as long as it took to finish his investigation.
He reached into the pockets of his trousers, pulling out the note with his homeroom class scrawled down. He missed the feeling of his father’s frock coat around his shoulders. That coat seemed to shelter him, wrapping his thin shoulders in a protective hug, and he felt vulnerable and alone without it. Weatherby forced the feeling away, pushing his spectacles off his nose as he hurried to class. He moved quickly through the cream colored hallways, and reached the proper classroom, just as the final bell rang.
The teacher was a thin lady with scraggly gray hair and a hooked nose, resembling a vulture in a floral print dress. She looked at Weatherby as he sat in the back, and motioned for him to come to the front. Weatherby looked around at the other students as he walked up. They were talking amongst themselves, a cluster of girls in skirts and ponytails suppressing giggles while a pair of brawny football players in letterman jackets calmly kept their voices low.
“Class! Class!” The teacher bellowed, her voice a rising shriek that grew until her students fell silent. “Settle down immediately! Now, this our newest student, Weatherby Stein, and I’m sure you’ll all show him a big Silver Hills welcome! Weatherby will be with us for some time, and—”
A big fellow in letterman jacket, his short brown hair a solid, carefully sculpted mass of hair tonic and gel, raised a hand. “He a Jew?” he demanded, to a chorus of sudden laughter from the other students. Weatherby had experienced a little prejudice in boarding school, but only from his strange German accent. Most of the boys there were too young to be truly bigoted, and he soon earned their friendship. But Weatherby had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case in Silver Hills High.
The teacher glared at the catcaller. “Butch Waller, I don’t see how that comment is at all appropriate!”
“I think we got a right to know, don’t you?” Butch asked. He grinned up at Weatherby. “Well? What about it, buddy?”
“On my mother’s side, yes,” Weatherby agreed coldly. “You can insult me all you wish. I’ve already experienced the cruelty of those far worse than you, and survived.”
“Your accent…” The girl next to Butch raised her hand. She had a blonde pony tail, and wore a cheerleader’s red skirt and striped white sweater. “What is it?” She had wide blue eyes and smiled as she talked. Weatherby’s eyes went from her dainty feet to her chest to her pretty face. She was absolutely beautiful, and he felt a sudden warmth rushing over him.
“A m-mixture of German and English, I think,” Weatherby managed to say. He wiped his forehead. “That’s my ancestry.”
“It’s swell. It makes you sound real sophisticated.” the girl said. “I’m Peggy, by the way. Peggy Browning. Pleased to meet you.”
“P-pleased to make your a-acquaintance, Peggy,” Weatherby said, stifling his stutter. He looked back over the rest of the students. Most of them seemed merely bored. “I’m happy to be here, and I know I can look forward to friendships with every one of you.”
“Don’t count on it, Fritz!” Butch called again. His surrounding friends, all in matching letterman jackets, took up his laugh.
“I won’t dignify that monumentally stupid comment with a response,” Weatherby replied. Butch’s smile faded as Weatherby sat down. The eyes of the brawny football player followed Weatherby, becoming smaller and darker as his thick fingers fastened around the edges of the desk. Weatherby matched his gaze, the smaller boy staring him down with cold confidence.
The teacher pointed to the chalkboard and began the day’s lesson. Weatherby busied himself with taking notes as he looked at the other students. There was a mixture of mathematics, followed by some literature that Weatherby already understood, and finally, some world history. The other students talked and joked amongst themselves, passing notes and eliciting peals of laughter. The teachers droned on, sometimes understood and sometimes not. Butch’s jokes always received large amounts of laughter, and he leaned back in his chair like a king on his throne.
But Weatherby’s eyes kept drifting back to Peggy. He noticed her neck and shoulders, slim and graceful as an egret, and the sheer color of her eyes. Whenever she looked in his direction, Weatherby turned away, finding new interest in his notes. He struggled to keep his mind on the mission.
He hadn’t known many girls his own age. There was Evelyn Dearborn, the wonderful daughter of a globetrotting archaeologist. Weatherby felt the same uneasy happiness looking at her, but she was continents away, and Peggy was here, larger than life and right in front of him. He shook the thoughts from his head. He was a detective, working a case — and nothing more.
The history teacher was talking about the medieval era, only occasionally looking up for his book to make sure the students were listening. “The crusades represent a grand Christian mission to civilize Arabia,” he said. “Now, can anyone tell me how Christian values have helped Western civilization prosper?”
Butch suddenly sniggered. “What, with Jesus? Isn’t he dead? What kind of God is that? Who wants to worship some dead guy?”
The history teacher’s eyes flashed. Weatherby sat up. It was a strange thing for an upper middle class, Protestant football player to say. “What did you say, Mr. Waller?” the history teacher asked. “Did you just question the validity of Christianity?”
“All right, teach. I take it back.” Butch smiled. “Hey, I’m just kidding around. Ask my parents. We go to church every Sunday. You want to be worried about something, watch out for him.” He pointed a thick finger at Weatherby. “That kid’s a Christ-Killer. Said so himself.” Weatherby shivered a little as the eyes of the other students fell upon him. “You ask me, he’s the one you ought to keep an eye on.”
“That’s enough, Mr. Waller.” The teacher continued, but Butch’s words stuck in Weatherby’s mind.
There was a brief break for lunch, and Weatherby ate the sandwich Mort had bought for him at the gas station out of town. He sat alone, in the corner of the lunch room, carefully watching everyone else. He felt like some naturalist watching animals in the wild, unable to do anything but observe. Then Weatherby saw Butch walking into his table, with his arm around Peggy. She was smiling. Weatherby realized that they must be a couple and he almost tore his sandwich in half.
The rest of the day passed quickly enough, and Weatherby headed through the lockers along with the other stream of students to meet Mort in the parking lot. But as he was walking, he felt a heavy hand reach his shoulder. Weatherby turned around and saw Butch staring at him, flanked by a pair of other football players. Peggy stood behind them, holding tightly to her books with her eyes wide.
“Hey there, poindexter,” Butch said. “We’re here to give you a big Silver Hills welcome.” He reached out with both arms, pushing Weatherby against the lockers. The metal clanged, and Weatherby winced as he felt the sudden pain.
“Butch…” Peggy hurried to her boyfriend’s side. “You don’t have to do that! He’s a nice boy, and he didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Oh, I bet he did. That crack about seeing worse than me, what the hell was that?” Butch grabbed Weatherby’s arm and hauled him up. Weatherby felt the pain race up his arm and into his shoulder, but he stayed quiet. He looked at his shoes as Butch balled his hands into his fists. “What’d you mean by that, you little Kraut Jew British geek?”
Suddenly, Weatherby glared up at him. “It means that I have met creatures far more foul and evil than you, Butch Waller. You may have some muscles and sadistic tendencies, but in the grand scheme of things, you are nothing but a childish bully and football player, destined for a life as an accountant or a traveling salesman.”
“You don’t know nothing, geek!” Butch’s arm lashed out, striking Weatherby directly in the face. The blow burned across Weatherby’s skull, knocking him heavily against the wall. “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe! I’ve talked with powers that you can’t even understand! Tonight, there’s gonna be a party at Russell’s house, since his mom and pop are out of town. I’m going to bring my neighbor’s cat over and I’ll show everyone exactly what I can do!”
Peggy ran to Butch, and tried to pull him away, but he simply looked at her and she stood still. Weatherby stared up at Butch. “And what exactly is that?”
Butch was angry, his face red and his fists moving up and down, like he was boxing an invisible opponent. “I’m gonna kill that cat,” he said. “And I’m going to use its blood to summon Astaroth, a demon prince of Hell.” He folded his arms and smiled.
“You really are an idiot, aren’t you?” Weatherby asked. “You can’t use feline’s blood alone to summon Astaroth! He requires a mixture of human blood, and you can’t get that kind of sacrifice here, unless you’re willing to cut yourself and bleed out. No, you’d be better off trying to summon one of the lesser demons. I’d suggest Orabas. He has a horse’s head and is very loyal and simple. My father summoned him once, for the amusement of me and my sister, when we were small.”
Butch’s mouth fell open. He looked at his two friends, like he was making sure they had all heard the same thing. “You’re bluffing,” he said. “You’re just making that up. You don’t know anything about summoning infernal spirits. You’re just trying to make me look bad. And in front of my girl!”
Weatherby shook his head. “I’m doing nothing of the sort. I’m offering you a helpful hint. Astaroth is a capricious and angry demon. He’ll be upset if he doesn’t receive the proper tribute.” He sighed. “Look, why don’t I come to his party of yours and summon Orabas for you? I’ll show you how it’s done, and maybe you could follow my example.”
“Fine. Russell lives on Merry Oak Lane. House number 503. You’d better be there.” He turned around, trying to act like he had already lost interest. “Come on, guys. We’ve got practice.”He started walking away, his pals following him. But Peggy remained.
She looked at Weatherby. “I’m sorry, Weatherby,” she said. “Butch is sweet, but he loses his temper real easily.”
“He doesn’t seem to be much of anything besides a psychopath,” Weatherby replied. “But you don’t have to be sorry for his actions.” He rubbed his cheek. The bruise would come in soon enough. He remembered the blows of his family’s Nazi captors, how they had seemed to hurt him even more because they upset his parents. “And I’ve been through worse.”
“Peggy!” Butch called back to her, his brassy voice echoing across the locker room. “Come on!”
Peggy nodded quickly, already turning away. “See you at the party, Weatherby! It’ll be keen!”
“Yes,” Weatherby agreed. “Utterly keen.” He watched her walk away, his eyes following the way her longs legs moved under her skirt. She was fantastically beautiful. Weatherby stood for a while, just watching her. Finally, he grabbed his fallen backpack and hurried outside.
Mort was waiting for him in the automobile, a block away from the high school, and away from the eyes of the students. Mort stared at Weatherby’s face, his eyes moving over the bruises. His mouth became a grim line. “Christ,” Mort muttered. “Looks like those lousy kids ate you alive.”
Gingerly, Weatherby touched his cheek. “I’ve suffered worse. And I gathered vital information about these teenage occultists. I managed to get myself invited to a gathering tonight, at a fellow named Russell’s house. I believe they intend to engage in black magic.” He left out the part where he had promised to perform a demonic summoning.
“Excellent. You go in, snoop around, and we’ll see what’s really happening.” Mort started the automobile and steered into the neat street. “And they’re not on to you?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Aces. We’ll have this case wrapped up by tomorrow morning.” They headed for the motel at the edge of the suburban sprawl. “And I can’t say I ain’t looking forward to it too. This place gives me the creeps. All of these houses, all lined up neat as graves in a graveyard, everyone inside going about their lives like everything’s peachy and trying their best to forget anything bad ever happened.”
“It’s the future,” Weatherby replied.
“Not mine.” Mort stepped on the gas, speeding through the empty street, past the perfectly groomed lawns behind their white picket fences. Weatherby leaned back in the seat. He’d go to the party tonight, and he wasn’t sure if Peggy’s presence there made him want to go – or to stay as far away as possible.