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.
The first thing I noticed about Hawaii was the heat. It boiled into me, wrapping around my skin, sliding into my nostrils and down my throat. I stepped down the walkway from the plane, looking out at the airport’s landing strip in Honolulu. It was a small airport in a small town on a small island – but all that was going to change. Tourists liked the heat, they liked the tropics and they liked not having to leave the United States to visit some place exotic. All of that meant Hawaii was as profitable to businessmen as a corpse was to vultures.
And just like it is when the carrion birds have a buffet, business was always accompanied by death. That’s why my teenage partner Weatherby Stein and I had flown out to Hawaii from our hideout in California. Hotel magnate Horace Pepperdine had died a strange death, and no one investigates strange deaths better than Morton Candle and Weatherby Stein, private dicks with too much experience in bizarre cases.
I blinked in the sunlight as I walked down the runway. The sky was bright blue, and the growing buildings raced up to fill the sky like steel skeletons. Palm trees swayed slightly in an island breeze. I wiped sweat from my forehead as Weatherby stood next to me. The kid had been fidgeting during the flight. Something was bothering him.
“What’s eating you, kiddo?” I wondered.
“Nothing really, Mort,” Weatherby replied evenly, pushing his glasses up on his nose. We walked through the airport lobby and out to the street. I moved to wave down a bright yellow cab, but Weatherby shook his head. “No need to do that, actually,” he said. “You see, I have already, well, arranged us conveyance to the Grand Tiki Hotel.”
“Conveyance?” I asked.
A wood-paneled automobile, a broad-nosed Buick, slid to a stop by the curb. A good looking college-age girl was at the wheel, and she gave me a polite smile. She had short dark hair, coming just over her ears, and the same shade as Weatherby’s. Her eyes were bright, and her fingers were thin. She wore a crisp white shirt and jeans, as well as a pair of round sunglasses for the tropical glare. Selena Stein opened the car to embrace Weatherby.
“Your sister,” I said. “Your sister’s giving us a ride.”
“I’d like to do a little bit more than that, Mr. Candle,” Selena Stein explained, as Weatherby hopped into the seat next to her. She wrapped her arm around him, pulling him close. “My baby brother might need some help with this case, and since I’ve got the weekend off from my studies, I think I can help however I can.”
“Uh-huh.” I got into the back as she started pulling away from the curb. “What the hell are you doing here, sister?”
“Well, you know that I’m studying anthropology back east, and I’ve come out here for some research on local customs. I greatly enjoy folklore and local mythology – possibly a result of growing up in Castle Stein, and I’ve been having an absolutely wonderful time meeting with the locals and learning of their beliefs. It’s quite fascinating.”
“Wonderful,” I repeated.
“They’re shamanic in their principals and structure, aren’t they?” Weatherby asked.
Selena nodded. “I’ll have to show you the paper I’m working on, darling. I’m sure that your comments would be just as helpful as any professor’s.”
“Oh, well, I don’t—” Weatherby’s usual irate confidence vanished as soon as Selena opened her mouth. He had been crushed under the boots of the invading Nazis while she was away in America at school, powerless to help. Weatherby saw himself as the man of the family, and figured his duty was to his sister. I guess Selena was just trying to make up for lost time. Either way, I didn’t like it.
I interrupted Weatherby. “Look, you can’t tag along on this case,” I said. “It could be dangerous. We’re dealing with murder, and the telegram said it was a real odd one at that. I’d advise going back to your hotel, Miss Stein, and maybe you can meet with your brother when it’s over.”
“I will not do that, Mr. Candle,” Selena replied. “He is my family, and I’ll stick with him – danger be damned.” She turned the car down a wide avenue, past some the smaller stores and shops that made up Honolulu’s main drag. The Grand Tiki Hotel was out a ways, overlooking the beach.
I was about to respond, when Weatherby shot me a look that would wither grass. I closed my mouth and he nodded slowly. The kid needed to be with his sister, but he didn’t want to be a burden. She wanted to help him in any way she could, and coming along on this case let both of them feel decent and still be around each other.
“All right, all right,” I muttered. “But you keep your nose clean and you don’t do nothing unless I tell you to, you got that, sister?”
“Of course. Rest assured, Mr. Candle, I’ve got no intention of causing you trouble.” She smiled as she brushed a strand of hair behind her ears. “I can handle myself. Oh! And I bought you boys a present when I heard you were coming. I hope I’ve judged your size correctly, Mr. Candle.” She reached under the dashboard and pulled out a pair of Hawaiian shirts, both a light pink and with a loud floral pattern. “They match!” she exclaimed, as she tossed me the larger shirt. “What do you think?”
Weatherby smiled as he held the loose shirt up to the sunlight. The kid normally wore his father’s Victorian suits, and considered any modern fashion, just like slang, technology or manners, as an affront that bordered on sacrilege. But for his sister, he was delighted.
“They’re marvelous,” he said. “Morton and I will change as soon as we reach the hotel.” He looked back at me, plaintive as a child. “Isn’t that right, Mort?”
“Sure, kiddo,” I muttered, setting the shirt on my stocky knees. “Sure.” I had a feeling it was gonna be a long weekend
We reached the Grand Tiki Hotel after a half an hour of driving along the beach. It was a towering coral white square, dotted with windows for the various suites. Tall pillars shaped like tiki gods, with leering carved faces, held up the roof. The marble floor of the lobby was polished so that I could see my reflection in it. I looked like an idiot wearing a floral shirt under my suit jacket. Weatherby looked happy in his shirt, which hung loosely on his thin shoulders. He hadn’t stayed away from his sister, and they talked endlessly of happier days.
Weatherby, Selena and I approached the receptionist, and I explained our purpose. Our client, the victim’s wife, had us meet her in her husband’s penthouse office. We took the elevator up. Weatherby grinned at the golden interior of the elevator as it sped upwards. “You know, I think one of these installed within Castle Stein would have made visiting the ramparts much easier.”
“Oh, I bet that’s so, darling,” Selena agreed. “I always had just an awful time going up and down those stairs. Do you remember when you were very small and wanted to ride your little wagon down the main staircase into the grand hall? Thank god that I stopped you, or I don’t know what would have happened.” She patted his shoulder. “You were always such a brave little fellow.”
“Well, I don’t if I was brave. Foolish, of course, but I don’t think brave, really¬–” The elevator doors rang as we reached the top, and Weatherby fell silent. We stepped into a small waiting room outside of the penthouse office. Our client was there to meet us.
Carla Pepperdine had the look of a woman who had given up her sense of humor a long time ago, probably in exchange for a good deal of wealth. She was rail thin, with a permanent scowl under short graying hair. She wore a tight dark skirt and a cigarette holder burned between her fingers. She looked me and Weatherby over as she stepped out of the elevator.
“What’s with the glad rags?” she asked. “I thought you boys were professionals.”
“Just some souvenirs we picked up,” I said. “Now, could you please direct me to the crime scene?” I grinned at her. “If you’re not too broken up with grief over your late husband, that is.”
“The stiff’s in his office,” Mrs. Pepperdine replied. “The cops ain’t moved him yet. Come have a look.”
She led us to the end of the hall, where a pretty secretary sat at a mahogany desk. She was blonde and wore something pink and tight. Her eyes were red, and she held a handkerchief to her nose. A band of white pearls flashed on her neck and caught my eye. She looked up at me and smiled slowly. I smiled back.
“They keys to Horace’s office, Tanya,” Carla ordered. “Any time now.”
“Yes, Mrs. Pepperdine.” Tanya opened a drawer and tossed us the keys. “Are these people police?”
“You see any uniforms?” I asked her. Carla coughed, ending our conversation. She took us inside, past the double doors plastered with police tape, and let us have a look at Horace Pepperdine.
He was lying next to his desk, the wide window overlooking the pure white beach and the rolling waves behind him. Horace Pepperdine was balding and had been wearing a double-breasted silver suit. It was now in rags, and Horace’s flesh was in a similar state. I bent down, looking at the several chunks taken out of him, and the blood soaking into the snow white carpet. Selena gasped and turned away at first, and then Weatherby comforted her. They stayed in the corner.
“Bite marks on him,” I said. “That’s weird.”
“What’s weirder is that those are shark bites,” Mrs. Pepperdine explained. “You want to tell me how a bunch of hungry sharks got a couple hundred feet above sea level, Mr. Candle?”
“I could venture a couple guesses,” I muttered. “I doubt you’d like them.”
Selena and Weatherby walked over to the body. Selena looked away, and I saw her eyes fix on his desk. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I think I might have something.” She reached over to a wooden sculpture, resting on the edge of the broad mahogany desk. It was some native design, resembling an angry shark rearing out of the ocean. “That’s an Aumkua, a native household god. They are supposed to be quite angry, if unappeased. This one is a mano, a shark.”
“You’re saying my husband was eaten by shark spirits?” Carla asked.
“That’s one theory,” I replied. “Made by an amateur.”
Weatherby bristled. “Mort, my sister is quite experienced in these matters. My father taught her everything he knew and her own studies have vastly increased that knowledge.”
I snorted. “Sure, kiddo. If I want to know who’s bringing who to the spring formal, I’ll give her a ring.” I turned back to Carla. “Did Horace have any enemies, Mrs. Pepperdine?”
“Heh.” She let out a dry chuckle. “It would be easier to list the people that didn’t want him dead. There’s Fancy Freddy Flynn, for starters. A mainland wiseguy and big time loanshark. Horace made the mistake of taking his money – and not paying him back.”
“I know Fancy Freddy,” I said. “He’s a tough torpedo, sure. But I don’t think his bite is this bad.”
Carla Pepperdine continued. “Then there’s Big Joe Lono. He’s a native kahuna, and got good and pissed when he learned that Horace was building the Grand Tiki here. It’s some sacred land or whatever, and Big Joe wanted him to stop. We even had to hire mainland workers, when the locals refused to help with construction, and Big Joe’s behind that.” She exhaled sharply. “And then there’s me.”
“You’re saying you’re a suspect, ma’am?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m saying there were many times when I wanted Horace gone. He was a heel, Mr. Candle, and a cheat. Showgirls, waitresses…” Mrs. Pepperdine’s eyes shot to the doorway. “Secretaries. He had his fun with them all, and practically waved it in my face.”
“Then why did you stay with him?” Selena asked, very gently. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
Carla’s eyes blazed. “Because I loved the bastard,” she replied. “And now he’s gone.”
I nodded slowly. “We’ll go see Freddy Flynn and Big Joe Lono, Mrs. Pepperdine. Maybe they’ll have some information we can use. Thanks for your time.” I turned to go, and Weatherby and Selena followed me. We left Carla in the office with her husband.
I let Selena and Weatherby stay together, talking quietly, as I approached Tanya, the secretary. She smiled up at me. “You’re gonna find out who murdered my boss?” she asked, folding her legs and smoothing down her tight pink skirt. She looked like a present waiting to be unwrapped.
“Gonna try,” I replied. “You got the addresses to Fancy Freddy Flynn and Big Joe Lono in that book of yours, sister?”
“Gee, let me look them up,” she said, bending low over the address book as she turned the pages with a long fingernail. I bet Horace Pepperdine had gotten his money’s worth with her.
Tanya stared up at me as she got the addresses, and then jotted them down on the back of an envelope. The pearls around her neck gleamed in the light of her desk lamp. She handed me the envelope, and let her hand brush across mine. “There you go, mister,” she said. “I hope that helps. I really hope you nail whoever killed my boss.”
“We’ll do our best, Miss,” Weatherby announced, a slight tremor in his voice. His sister smiled at his schoolboy bashfulness.
“We gotta hit the road now, sister,” I said. “See you soon.”
She smiled as we headed for the door. “I’ll be right here,” Tanya announced. “When you get back.”
We stepped into the elevator and I punched in the key for the bottom floor. Selena Stein shook her head. “That secretary’s playing you boys,” she said. “I can tell. I bet she was involved with Mr. Pepperdine, and she probably knows a lot more than she lets on, especially with the dumb blonde act.”
“Selena, Mort and I are detectives,” Weatherby said. “We do not get distracted from our case by a pretty face, I can assure you.”
Selena smirked. “You’re a boy, Weatherby, and Mr. Candle is a man. I can assure you of that.” She took the envelope from my hand and examined the addresses. “So, we’re going to see the American gangster first, I suppose?”
“I think so,” I agreed. “If you want to sit this one out—”
“I want to spend as much time with my baby brother as possible,” Selena replied. “And if that means visiting with some ruthless gangster, then so be it.”
She had spirit. I’d give her that. I hoped it wouldn’t be tested.