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:
The next morning, Weatherby felt a great weight pressing on his forehead. He sat up and tumbled out of the covers, falling onto the ground. He gripped his forehead. “Good heavens,” Weatherby muttered. He stood up, swaying on his feet. “I can’t hold my liquor at all…”
Mort was there to hand Weatherby a robe and a cold glass of water. “Just get some liquid inside of you, kiddo. That’ll kill the pain. And there’s no shame in being a lightweight. Was that the first taste of alcohol you ever had?”
Weatherby thought for a few moments as he sipped the water. “Well, I think my mother allowed me a sip of wine during a dinner, at my sister’s tenth birthday. It tasted terrible and I spat it back up. I think that was a wise decision.” He looked up at the clock and came to his feet. “Oh, by all the Gods and devils!” Weatherby cried. “My first class starts within the minute!”
“Yeah. I decided you could be a little late and spare yourself some pain.” Mort shrugged. “After all, it ain’t like you’re really enrolled. Soon as we wrap up this case, we’ll move on. You don’t have to worry about good grades or attendance or anything.”
“Y-yes,” Weatherby agreed. “That’s absolutely right. And I thank for your kindness.” He grabbed his frock coat, vest and tie, and hurried into the next room to change. There was no need for a normal student’s clothes. The other kids knew him as himself, and he decided to dress as such.
After changing and having a quick breakfast, Weatherby and Mort left the hotel and went to school. Mort held tightly to the wheel, staring out at the suburban houses like they were enemy bunkers, and they’d soon be spitting machine gun rounds his way. He turned to Weatherby as they neared Silver Hills High School.
“So, what was the kid who has the occult book?” he asked. “Butch, something or other?”
“Butch Waller,” Weatherby said. “He’s quite vicious.” He rubbed the bruise on his face, which was healing well. “What exactly are you going to do?”
“A little sniffing around, maybe.” Mort stopped the car, right in front of the high school. “Here we are, kiddo. You better get to class.”
Weatherby nodded and hopped out of the car. He grabbed his backpack, waved to Mort as he hustled forward and ran to his homeroom. The halls were deserted, and Weatherby passed the lockers and reached the door. He pulled it back carefully and stepped inside.
The teacher looked up at him, putting her hands on her hips. “Ah. Weatherby Stein. Only your second day and you’re already late.”
“I suppose so.” Weatherby looked at the faces of his fellow students. They were all staring up at him expectantly waiting for him to do something. Summoning Orabas had raised him high in their estimation, and he had to keep their confidence. “I mean, that’s right — I can dig it, teach!”
The other students smiled and a few clapped. The teacher removed her glasses in sudden disbelief. Weatherby grinned as he strode to the middle of class, and sat down behind Peggy. Butch wasn’t present, and Weatherby felt a little relief.
After he set down, and the teacher settled into her dull routine, Peggy turned around smiled at Weatherby. “Last night – did you like it?” she asked.
Weatherby nodded, one eye on the teacher.
“Well, there’s this little dance after school tonight. It’s called the Silver High Hop. Would you like to go?” She paused for a second, and Weatherby felt his pulse quicken. “With me?”
The boy had been to a few formal events when he was younger, always with his parents. They were always strange gatherings, where the bizarre friends of his father, in stylized opera masks and elaborate costumes, pinched his cheek and whispered half-true prophecies as they got drunk on absinthe. But Weatherby knew anything with Peggy involved couldn’t be bad.
“Of course,” he said. She nodded and turned back to the blackboard. Weatherby leaned back in his chair, feeling like he was sitting on a cloud, high in the heavens, and looking down at the world.
The day passed quickly. Weatherby paid almost no attention to the lessons, preferring to tap his pencil idly on the desk in a happy tune, as he imagined dancing slowly across a marble floor with Peggy, she in a shining white gown, he in a snappy black tuxedo. He didn’t think about Mort, or the case, or even his parents. He was just like any other teenage schoolboy, lovesick and happy.
Soon enough, the final bell rang, and Weatherby met Peggy outside. Weatherby kept an eye on the road, waiting for Mort to show up. He’d have to tell Mort not to pick him up, but the crimson Roadmaster wasn’t there. Weatherby wasn’t too worried. After all, Mort Candle could take care of himself. He was probably working on some other angle of the case, and the boy had more important things to worry about.
Peggy took him by the hand and they walked to her house, just across the street from Silver Hills High School. Weatherby politely greeted her mother, receiving a warm smile at his extreme formalities, and then waited as Peggy changed. She came out in a white dress, held up by only two thin straps. She smiled as she turned around, letting Weatherby see how well it clung to her. Weatherby sputtered and pushed up his glasses.
“What do you think?” she asked with a giggle.
“M-marvelous. I have beheld many things in my short life, but never such simple beauty.” He looked over his shoulder, back at the school. It was getting dark, the shadows falling on the cement structures. “Should we head to the dance now?”
“Yeah. Remember to take your shoes off. They don’t want us to scuff up the floors.”
They left Peggy’s house and crossed the street. Students were being dropped off by their parents, or getting out of their own cars, and making their way to the gymnasium in the center of Silver Hills High. The boys wore tuxedoes of various pastel shades, and the girls wore long dresses. Weatherby felt a little odd in his frock coat, but that was not a new feeling.
The tiled floor and walls of the gym were the color of cream. Low light cast long shadows around the gym, as the couples got together and started to dance. Refreshments, including a large bowl of cherry red punch, sat in the corner. A full Negro band in matching blue tuxedoes played in the corner. It was something slow with a warm melody, and Weatherby felt his heart beat faster as he looked at Peggy. He gulped as she took his hands and put them around her.
“Just follow my lead, Weatherby,” she said. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
“T-thank you,” Weatherby replied. They weaved to the middle of the dance floor, and Weatherby stared into her eyes, losing himself in their depths. He barely heard the footsteps outside, and the gym doors slamming open.
Slowly, Weatherby turned. He saw Butch Waller standing in the doorway, flanked by his usual two football player friends. Butch looked straight at Weatherby and Peggy, his lips curling back like an angry dog. He carried a silver suitcase in both hands.
Butch pointed at Weatherby, as the flustered chaperones hurried to the door. “I knew it!” he shouted. “I knew it! This little runt stole my girl! He stole my girl and all of your just let it happen! You turned your back on me, just when he did a slick little magic trick. Well, I’ll show you. I’ll show you a real magic trick, and just how pathetic he is!”
“Butch, don’t—” Peggy started, but Butch shook her head.
“Shut up. You’re a little slut. I should have realized it sooner.” He patted the suitcase and moved his hand to the clasp. “You want a new boyfriend? Fine. I got a bunch right here. Why don’t you get better acquainted?”
Before the chaperone could stop him, he undid the clasp. The suitcase fell open, revealing nothing but darkness inside. Weatherby couldn’t see the back of the suitcase. It was like Butch held the square entrance to some shadowy cave in his hands, which was far bigger than the suitcase could possibly contain.
A bright neon blue arm reached out of the suitcase, followed by a grinning face with a long nose and pointed ears. The creature tumbled out, leaping onto the floor and emitting a chattering hiss of malevolent joy. The creature was the size of a monkey, with long claws, beady eyes and pointed teeth in a permanent smile. Weatherby recognized it instantly. This was an imp, angry lower demons who were the most brutalized creatures in the Pit – and loved to take out their frustration on others.
With a chattering howl, the imp leapt into the dancing students, slashing out with his iron claws and tearing the fabric of dresses and tuxedoes. Butch tossed down his suitcase, and more and more imps poured out of it like smoke from a fire. They leapt around the room, screaming and laughing as they overturned chairs, chased students, and broke the instruments of the band. Smoke rose in thin ribbons from their iron claws, which grew red hot whenever they struck.
Butch nodded to Weatherby and Peggy as he closed the gym doors. “I’ll just leave you two alone,” he said, and slammed the door shut.
“Weatherby!” Peggy screamed as an imp came bounding towards them. Weatherby thought quickly, already reaching through his pockets. The imp leapt into the air, its claws poised. Peggy’s foot lashed out, the tip of her high heel striking the demon in the throat. The imp fell writhing on the ground.
“Come on,” Weatherby said, grabbing Peggy’s arm and pulling her to the refreshments table. “I might have a way to stop these little devils.” He pulled a leather pouch of tiny pebbles. “These are from Europe, from soil that minor saints have walked on.” Weatherby spotted the punch bowl and ran for it.
Another imp jumped after them, and Weatherby grabbed a fallen chair and hurled it at the little monster. The metal chair slammed onto the imp’s back, and it howled in rage. They reached the refreshment table, and Weatherby got to work. His hands were shaking as he poured the holy rocks into the punch. Against powerful demons, the charm would be useless, but it might work against the imps.
The imps were running riot in the gym. A few of the students had been savaged by their claws, and lay crying in the corners, while others managed to escape by a small door in the back. The poor chaperone struggled in vain to restore order, until an imp clobbered him with a guitar stolen from the band.
As more and more imps headed towards the refreshment table, Weatherby dipped a finger in the punch and whispered a few words in Latin. “Weatherby!” Peggy cried. “They’re gonna eat us!” The imps were closing in, forming a circle of waving tails and chattering teeth. Their red hot claws clicked across the tiled floor as they approached.
“I am well aware of that.” Weatherby looked up from the bowl. “Right,” he whispered. “Let’s hope this works.” He grabbed the end of the punch bowl and lifted it up. His thin arms strained under the weight and the cut glass felt rough against his fingers, but he eventually got the bowl above his head.
Weatherby turned around and faced the imps. “All right, you demons!” he cried. “Have something to drink!”
He upended the bowl and sent the punch spilling down, washing into the imps like a crimson flood. The holy punch burned through them, and their voices rose in a chorus of high pitched squeals. As the punch washed away, the imps were nothing but piles of soggy ashes. Weatherby stepped carefully around them.
“They’ve been returned to Hell,” he said, walking to the door. Peggy stayed close to him, and Weatherby had a desire to protect and shelter her. “Don’t worry. We’re safe now.”
They reached the door and Weatherby forced it open. He stepped out, blinking in the bright moonlight. While other students ran away in terror, he spotted Butch and his friends standing calmly in the hall, their arms folded. Butch smiled as Weatherby hurried to him.
“You monster!” Weatherby cried, rage rising inside of him. “Innocent people were seriously injured! You played with demons and you could have doomed us all!” He pulled back a fist, about to slam it into Butch’s smug face, when he caught himself. He stepped back, reaching into his coat for the handle of his revolver. He knew how terrible he was with the gun, but perhaps he could use it to frighten Butch, instead of relying on his weak fists.
But Butch merely smiled. “You ain’t seen nothing yet, Jewboy,” he said. He pointed down the street. “Remember yesterday when I said I was planning to summon Astaroth to do my bidding, and you told me he wouldn’t bite unless I gave him a human sacrifice? Well, guess what? I got me a human sacrifice. My parents are out of town, and I’m all set for a major party.”
“Butch, you wouldn’t murder someone just to—”
“Well, why don’t you come to my place and find out?” Butch asked. He grinned at Weatherby. “Unless your new boyfriend is chicken, of course.”
“You’re as fiendish as the devils you wish to deal with!” Weatherby cried. “Take me to your house, then. I’ll do whatever it takes to stop you from harming an innocent.”
“Figured you’d say that. Let’s go.” Butch turned on his heel and started down the street, even as sirens wailed in the distance.
His two friends fell into step behind him, and Weatherby and Peggy followed. They walked down the sidewalk, past the rows of identical suburban palaces. Weatherby thought back to Castle Stein and the Black Forest. Butch’s victim was probably some poor vagrant drifter, a hobo he had captured and tied up in his house. Weatherby couldn’t let whoever it was die. After what he had gone through in Castle Stein, he refused to allow cruelty to go on unopposed.
They reached Butch’s house before Weatherby realized it. Butch made a show of holding the door open for them, and ushering them inside his spacious house. They walked over the hardwood floor to the kitchen. Weatherby kept his hand in his coat, fastened on the handle of his revolver. As soon as he had the opportunity, he would draw the gun and force Butch to release his prisoner, then call the police and put an end to this whole sorry incident.
They crossed the living room and reached the kitchen. Butch pointed to the table and Weatherby gasped, weakness filling his knees and a cold weight settling over his chest. Morton Candle sat in the middle of the kitchen, strong ropes tying him to a high-backed chair and a gag in his mouth. He had a purple bruise on his forehead, and his pistols and knife rested on the kitchen table, along with the pentagram-inscribed book of spells.