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.
Selena turned to me as soon as they were gone. “Mr. Candle, we have to—”
“I know,” I said. “She wants out – that means a boat. There’s some docks near the hotel. That’s where she’s going.” I headed outside into the hall, pulling out both pistols. Selena stayed close to me. We made for the elevators. Taking the stairs down from the top floor would take too long, especially after Tanya had a head start.
I punched the key on the elevator. That’s when I saw it was already coming up, straight to the top floor. “Fancy Freddy’s boys,” I said. “That must be them.” I stepped back and leveled my pistols at the doors. Soon as they opened, I planned to give Fancy Freddy Flynn a welcoming he wouldn’t soon forget. Or at least, I was until Selena grabbed my hand.
“Please,” she said. “Do you have to kill anybody?”
I glowered at her. Taking these punks alive meant more risk. But Selena Stein was my partner’s sister. I didn’t want to let her down. With a grumble, I holstered my automatics. The elevator was two floors away. I thought fast, and spotted the fire extinguisher on the wall. I wrenched it off, and pulled it back. The elevator rang. The doors rolled open.
Fancy Freddy Flynn didn’t look as handsome with a bandage on his nose and a black eye. Four of his men stood with him, two armed with shotguns, the other packing Thompsons. Fancy Freddy had a second to look at me before I swung the fire extinguisher straight into his face. I knocked him against the back of the elevator, and then stepped inside. I swung the fire extinguisher around, cracking it against skulls and chest until the red metal was full of dents. That’s when I dropped it.
One of the thugs raised his shotgun, and I grabbed the barrel and pulled it away. I racked it, slammed it under Freddy’s chin and rested a finger on the trigger.
“A secretary by the name of Tanya has your pay-off,” I explained. “She’s heading for the docks. We’re going after her.” I pressed the shotgun’s muzzle closer. “Selena, get in and press the button for the ground floor. We’re going all the way down.” I smiled at Fancy Freddy. “That jake with you, Flynn?”
“Y-you got it,” he whispered.
Selena stepped gingerly into the elevator and hit the button for the bottom floor. The doors slammed shut and we headed down. Flynn’s other thugs came weakly to their feet. They clutched their heaters, but as long as I had a twelve-gauge against their boss’s head, they couldn’t do a damn thing. Everybody stayed silent. It was a relief when the bell rang and the door opened.
All of us dashed through the lobby, heading outside. The tropical moon hung full and bright over Oahu. We stepped through the sands, running for the thin strip of a wharf leading away from the beach and into the ocean. Several speedboats were stationed there, ready for rental and all unattended. Selena and I took the lead. Getting the tar beat out of them slowed Flynn’s boys down.
“No!” Selena pointed at the end of the dock. A motorboat was leaving the docks, zooming away into the dark water and leading a swirling arc behind it. “Morton, she’s taking him away! He’s my baby brother, my family, and she’s taking him away.”
I grabbed her shoulder and faced her. “We’ll catch her,” I said. “I used to run booze into Manhattan in a craft like this when I was in short pants. We’ll take after her and get your brother back. But you can’t panic. Your parents didn’t – not even at the end. And Weatherby never did either. We can’t let him down.”
Selena straightened up. Her sobs ended. I felt a spark of admiration for her. She was an ordinary American student – worried about grades, and boys and clothes and all the mundane things that a college girl should be worried about. She hadn’t been through any war, hadn’t seen the scum that clings to the underside of the country. But here she was, ready to face it all for her baby brother.
“Let’s go,” she said, and we ran to the docks. I picked out a snow white motorboat and stepped inside. The octopus’s tentacle had been rough on my skin, and I felt trickles of blood on my collar. My vision was still blurry, and I wanted to close my eyes and pass out. But I gunned the engine instead, while Selena sat in the prow, and set off after Tanya and Weatherby.
The engine rumbled and started speeding forward. The water went white behind us as we shot out over the moonlit bay. I kept my eyes forward, on the cherry red speedboat Tanya had taken. Like I expected, she wasn’t good at managing the boat. I gained distance quickly. The shotgun rested in the middle of the speedboat, and I pulled out one of my automatics. She had Weatherby, and that gave her all the cards. I had nothing up my sleeve but a cold .45.
We got close enough, and I could see them. Weatherby sat at the end of the boat, the luger held to his chin. Tanya was working the motor, but her boat was wiggling its nose back and forth, rocking in the waves. I swung our boat nearby.
“Get Weatherby,” I told. “I’ll keep Tanya busy. Kill her if I have to. Don’t bother flapping your gums and telling me not to.”
“No,” Selena said. “I understand the severity of the situation.”
“Swell.” I gunned the motor for everything it had. The burst of speed sent us sliding alongside Tanya’s boat. I swung the pistol to reach her, but she fired first. I ducked low, hearing the shell whine over my head, and splash into the ocean behind me.
While we exchanged gunfire, Selena crawled into Tanya’s boat, reaching out for Weatherby with a cautious hand. Tanya was glaring at me, a hellcat snarl on her fine features. She wasn’t paying any attention at all to Weatherby and Selena. The boy grabbed for his sister’s arm, his fingers inches away from her. For a few seconds, I thought everything would be okay.
Then something massive erupted from the underside of Tanya’s boat. A gray snout broke through the wood, sending splinters flying through the air. The snout opened, revealing rows of curved teeth. It was a shark, bigger than I knew they could be, and it wasn’t alone.
More shark fins cut through the water all around us. They started ramming the boats, rearing up to take massive chomping bites out of the air. I saw Selena and Weatherby go into the water, and struggled to find them in the white ocean. Tanya was still intent on killing me. She fired over my shoulder, and then stood up.
“I’ll feed you to these fishes!” she cried, and took careful aim. I fired first, planting one in her shoulder and knocking her back. She looked up at me, the pistol falling from her hand and sinking in the water. Tanya slumped on the railing of her sinking motorboat.
Then I spotted Weatherby and Selena. The Stein kids were in the water, Selena paddling swiftly towards our boat. A shark was coming up behind them, the large gray fin cutting through the water like a knife, then getting bigger as the head and jaws emerged.
I grabbed Tanya’s arm and pulled her close. Her blood trickled into the water. That got the sharks interested. She realized what I was going to do and started to protest.
“No!” she cried. “Morton! Come on – we had something, back in that bedroom! Please!”
“Tell it to the sharks,” I replied, and tossed her in, right in front of the shark going after Weatherby and Selena. It opened its mouth and ploughed into her. The dark waters went scarlet. Tanya was thrashing around, the others sharks swimming in to get their fill.
I turned away, and helped Selena and Weatherby aboard. They didn’t look behind them, too focused on swimming forward to safety. I was glad of that. I didn’t want them to see what I did. I got them aboard and then grabbed the engine, turning the boat around. A shark came after us, reaching out of the water with its mouth open. I grabbed the shotgun with one hand and fired, sending the shark back into the sea.
Selena held tightly to Weatherby, wrapping her arms around his thin shoulders. They were both drenched to the bone, but alive and unharmed. “You guys okay?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” Weatherby agreed, smiling at Selena. “Everything is just fine.”
I sped back to shore. Fancy Freddy Flynn and his gang, Carla Pepperdine, a couple of cops, and a few others – including Big Joe Lono – were there waiting for us. Mrs. Pepperdine waited until I helped Selena and Weatherby into the sand and they got themselves some warm beach blankets before asking her questions.
“Tanya’s the killer,” I said. “Though murder by tiki isn’t exactly a punishable crime. Still, I think she found a little justice.” I looked straight at Big Joe Lono. “You know anything about it, pal?”
He shrugged, fingering the pearl necklace on his wrist. “We had our disagreements. She stole some of my charms. I stole her necklace, letting me set my spells on her. The sharks did the rest.” He pulled off the necklace and tossed it into the ocean. “Sleep well, pretty haole!” he called. “I hope the sharks found you tasty!”
Fancy Freddy Flynn faced me. “And the dough?” he asked.
“Under the water – or in a shark’s belly,” I said. I shrugged. “Nothing I could do about it.”
“You cost me a lot of dough, and a lot of pain,” Flynn muttered. His nose was bleeding again, and I had given his black eye a brother.
“Gee, I’m sorry,” I muttered. “You want to do something about it?” He backed down, soon as I balled my hands into fists.
Mrs. Pepperdine approached me as Fancy Freddy Flynn stormed off. “I’m not quite sure what happened out there,” she said. “But I’m satisfied. My husband’s killer met justice. I’ll have your payment in the morning.” She looked at Weatherby’s Hawaiian shirt. It was drenched in sea water, and even a little blood. “Don’t worry, son,” she said. “Those clean up nicely.”
She headed back to her office. I joined Selena and Weatherby as we walked down the beach. “So, would you fellows like to spend more time with me?” Selena asked. “You can stay with me in my place in the city. It’s very small, but we’ll manage. I’ll go over my per diem from the university, but I can find a way around it, and when my studies are over, Weatherby can come back to me, and live in my dorm and…” she trailed off. “I’ll find some way. I could get another job…”
“No.” Weatherby’s voice was quiet and had a slight tremor to it. He shivered as he took her hand. “I’m the man of the house. The patriarch of the Stein family. And I couldn’t stand to burden you, not now. I’ll keep sending you money from our cases. I’ll take care of you. I won’t have it any other way.”
I kind of suspected Weatherby sent away good portions of the cash he made, but this was the first time I fully realized that it was going to his sister. The events of the war had changed him for good. He couldn’t go back to being a child, even if wanted to.
Selena knew this, and I saw tears suddenly appear in her eyes. She knew he couldn’t stand to live with her, and his childhood was long gone. I reached out and took her hand. “I’ll take care of him,” I said. “I swear on my soul, I’ll take care of him. And no matter what, you’ll always be his big sister.”
“And he’ll always be my baby brother,” Selena repeated, blinking away her tears. She held Weatherby close to her as we walked back up the beach.