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 spent the rest of the afternoon at the motel. Mort cleaned the bruise on his face and slapped a quick bandage over it. Weatherby sat on the couch and had a sandwich for dinner, while Mort lay on the bed opposite the blaring TV, carefully assembling and cleaning his pistols. Neither of them said much, and Weatherby’s eyes continuously flashed to the clock in the corner. It was time soon enough.
They headed downstairs and drove away from the motel, going to the address that Butch had given Weatherby. They passed more of the identical suburban houses, painted various shades of robin’s egg blue or alabaster white, until they reached the proper one. Several cars packed the curb and the driveway, and the lights were on. Loud music — fast and rhythmic rock and roll –blared out from the windows.
Mort stared at the house. “Negro music,” he muttered. “You wouldn’t think to hear it here.”
“I suppose it’s just another form of rebellion from the world of their parents,” Weatherby said. He had chosen to wear his father’s frock coat, and he rested his hands in the comfortable pockets. “Similar to delving into arcane spells.”
“Yeah. Except listening to jungle bop won’t get your soul devoured.” Mort stopped the car. “Have fun, kiddo. I gotta say, it’s kind of nice to see you hanging out with kids your own age. I don’t know why exactly, but dropping you off at school, preparing a lunch, asking how your day was – it’s kind of nice.”
“Thank you, Mort. Come by again in about two hours, and I should be finished. I’ll meet you back out here.” Weatherby gave Mort a quick smile, and then stepped out of the car. He crossed the lawn and approached the door.
Weatherby waited until Mort drove away, and then rapped on the door. It squeaked open, and a freckle-faced kid in a collared shirt grinned at him. Behind him, Weatherby saw a pair of teenagers vigorously kissing and cuddling each other, pressed against the wall of the living room. Another pair were on the couch. Everyone seemed to have a cool bottle of beer in their hand. It was another world, far different from the conservative parents Weatherby had met when they got the case.
“Hey-hey!” the freckle faced kid laughed. “I’m Russell. This is my place – all weekend long, at least. You want to come in? Butch brought a couple six-packs. And a cat! Butch is so wild. We just don’t know what he’s gonna do next, you dig?”
“I ‘dig,’ quite well,” Weatherby said, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. “In fact, I ‘dig’ that Butch is going to get everyone in this house, this neighborhood, and perhaps this part of the country, killed by his idiocy. Where he is to begin the summoning?”
Russell thought for a few moments, staying close to Weatherby as he walked through the crowded hallways of the house. “Out back, by my dad’s grill. That’s where he’s got the cat. I think he wants to do it later, when some more people show up. Butch likes an audience, if you know what I mean.” He waved his bottle at Weatherby, nearly whacking the thin boy in the head with the chilled glass. “Say, you wanna drink, buddy?”
“That horrid libation shall not touch my lips.” They reached the back porch and stepped outside. A green lawn stood near the tall white fence, with rose bushes and carefully tended flowerbeds, now crushed by the shoes of the teenage guests. A large charcoal grill stood near a cement counter. It was polished with a reverence reserved for pagan altars. Russell’s dad clearly liked his barbeque.
Butch stood next to it, surrounded by his football player pals in their Letterman jackets. Butch held a black cat in his arms, a long butcher knife resting on the grill, next to a thick book. Weatherby approached carefully. Peggy was next to Butch, looking at the cat. She was biting her tongue, and when the cat reached out to press its furry head to her palm, she pulled her hand away quickly.
“Come on, baby!” Butch cried, holding tightly to the cat. “It’s just some mangy cat. And if we make contact with some powerful demons, we’ll get all the breaks. It’s just a matter of reading the right spells and saying everything properly.” He patted the book. It was bound in black leather, with a silver pentagram gleaming on the cover.
“I know, I know.” Peggy didn’t take her eyes off the cat. “It just seems so…so….”
“Pointless.” Weatherby cleared his throat. Butch watched him walk down from the porch. The other teens stopped chatting, and turned to stare Butch and Weatherby. Silence fell over the party like a passing wind. The rock and roll music blared on. Weatherby reached out and grabbed the cat, pulling it away from Butch before the football player could do anything. Weatherby held the cat close to him, stroking its back carefully. “There, there,” Weatherby said. “You’re in no danger. Run along home, now.” He set the cat down and it sprang away, lithely leaping over the fence.
“What the hell was that?” Butch demanded. “You try to steal my girl and now you steal my cat!”
“He didn’t mean any harm!” Peggy cried. “Damn it, Butch, you don’t have to be so defensive.”
Butch grabbed Peggy’s arm. “Don’t you use language like that to me! You know what my dad does to my mom whenever she gives him lip? You want to know?” He raised his hand. “I’ll show you! I’ll show you, you little—”
“Butch!” Weatherby cried, and Butch and Peggy turned to face him. Weatherby cleared his throat. He tried to force down his nerves. Everything depended on him at least appearing confident. “I freed that cat because there was no need to harm it. Major demons may give you boundless power – but there’s always a price. Minor demons are preferable.” He walked to the grill and switched on the flame, waving his hands as it glowed blue. “Let me show you.”
Even the couples making out came from the house to watch Weatherby work. He reached into his frock coat and found a couple of crushed herbs, which he dropped in the flame to make it leap and dance. Then he closed his eyes and started to chant. “Orobas, most dependable of Satan’s servants, Orabas, most loyal of Lucifer’s legions, Orabas, friend to the worshipper and blessing to the conjurer, Orabas, Great Prince of Hell and ruler of twenty armies of demons – come forth!”
The flame rose, stretching out into the darkened sky like a striking serpent. The flame flickered and grew, spreading out to form a wide flat surface, like a door of shimmering blue light. Weatherby stepped back, and watched as the door swung open. Brimstone filled his nose, and something moved out of Hell and landed on the patio.
It was Orabas, with a horse’s powerful hind legs, hooves and tail, a man’s muscled chest and arms the color of blood, and a horse’s snorting head. Orabas knelt down, and Weatherby held out his hand. Orabas gently nuzzled Weatherby’s fingers, emitting a slow whinny.
“M-m-master…” Orabas’s voice was a constant stutter. He was a horse looking for a loyal rider. “What s-s-shall I do f-f-for you?”
Weatherby considered his options. “A little light show. But only make it visible for the people here, and silent too,” he said. He didn’t want the police to be attracted. “Send some plumes of flame into the sky, for about a half hour. Then you may return to the Pit.”
“Y-y-yes.” Orabas waved his arms, volcanic fire blazing up from his fists. They rocketed into the sky, exploding outwards in crimson fireworks. Every teenager looked up at the flashing lights, their eyes wide and their mouths open. Weatherby walked away from Orabas, not even bothering to look at the demon he had summoned.
As the light show finished, the other teens began to applaud, and Weatherby felt a sudden thrill of joy rush through him. He looked back at them and bowed politely, redness creeping into his cheeks. “Please,” he said. “It’s just a matter of following the proper spells…”
Peggy moved to stand next to him. Butch had gone inside when the light show started, and now Peggy was alone. Her face lit up with a smile. “That was very impressive,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything like it. How’d you learn to do something like that?”
“T-thank you,” Weatherby stammered, unable to meet her eyes. He stared at his polished shoes instead. “I just had a unique upbringing, I suppose. But how does Butch know about Black Magic? It seems rather out of place here.”
“Oh, his great aunt was a kooky Satanist cult leader,” Peggy explained. “He found the book when his folks were having a yard sale.” She looked up at the night sky, now split by lines of crimson energy. “They’re real hard on Butch, you know. His parents, I mean. If he doesn’t score well in the football games, if he doesn’t act just like they want him to act– well, they just get upset. It makes him try to be a certain way, to impress people. I hope you don’t mind him.”
Weatherby turned to face Peggy. His gaze met hers. “Does he impress you?” he asked quietly.
Peggy shrugged. “A little,” she said. She reached down, and picked up two bottles from the back porch. “Will you have one with me?” she asked.
Now, Weatherby didn’t even try to refuse. He raised the bottle to his mouth and began to drink. The beer tasted warm and bitter as it seethed down his throat. But he didn’t care. Weatherby drank with Peggy, and they laughed and talked together for the next hour. After Orabas had returned to Hell, the other teenagers came to Weatherby and patted him on the back, congratulating him and telling him he was all right. Weatherby thanked them politely, unsure why his head hurt the way it did, and why everything seemed to swirl around him, and walking to the door was an ordeal.
The two hours passed faster than he realized. He walked to the door, saying goodbye to everyone as he moved through the house. Weatherby made it to the porch before Peggy touched his shoulder. “Wait,” she said. Outside, in the street, Weatherby spotted Mort’s Roadmaster. But he stayed in the hall.
“What…” he asked. “Why are you…”
“Shhhh.” Peggy put her arms on his thin shoulders. She leaned forward. She kissed him slowly, full on the lips. Weatherby licked his lips when she finally pulled back. She smiled and Weatherby smiled back. He turned around, and stumbled to the door. Somehow, he managed to get it open and step outside.
He stumbled across the street and reached the Roadmaster. Weatherby clambered into the seat and grinned at Mort. “Hello, Morton,” he said, still smiling like an idiot. “I had quite a time. It was an exemplary party…”
Mort pointed outside. “He didn’t think so.”
Weatherby saw Butch watching them from the window of the house. Butch’s face seemed wrapped in shade, his eyes glowing with inner hate. Butch didn’t stop watching Weatherby, even as Mort started the auto and they rolled down the seat. Weatherby leaned back in the seat, blinking his eyes and trying to clear his head.
“So what happened?” Mort asked. “Besides throwing back some booze?”
“I only had one!” Weatherby whined.
“And you’re such a lightweight that it went straight to your head. You’ll have a hard time tomorrow.” Mort smiled. “I don’t mind. I was running giggle juice through Brooklyn for mobsters when I was your age, so I can’t complain. But what did you find?”
“Find? Oh, Butch is a failure at casting spells and I am not!” Weatherby smiled. “I summoned a minor demon for them and they loved it! They loved me, Mort! I was a popular hero, and Peggy – she kissed me, Mort! On the lips! It was amazing! It was wonderful!” He leaned back in his seat. “It was like one of my sister’s Jane Austen books. And I was Mr. Darcy — the charming, mysterious and darkly handsome outsider who finds all the local ladies madly in love with him!”
Mort turned to face Weatherby, and he wasn’t smiling. “You’re getting in too deep. You’ve gone dizzy over a dame, and that means you won’t be thinking straight. Getting drunk is one thing, but a broad is something else.” Mort sighed. “I knew this idea stunk. It’s getting personal, and it’s going to end up badly for one of you.”
“I can handle it,” Weatherby retorted. “I just need to stop Butch, get that book away from him…and then everything will be all right…” His smile returned.
“Sure. But you watch yourself, kiddo.” Mort turned the corner, and Weatherby saw the blinking square sign of the motel, glowing above the solid square building and the shallow swimming pool. “You’re dealing with girls and with Black Magic. It’s hard to tell which is more dangerous.”
The words echoed in Weatherby’s ears as Mort helped him out of the car and to their room. They kept on echoing, even as he slumped in the bed and went to sleep.