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.
We reached the Grand Tiki right around nightfall. The few guests were all in their rooms, a couple strolling along the pure white beach, but the hotel was mostly empty. Once again, we took that golden elevator up to the penthouse, and met with Carla Pepperdine in her late husband’s office. The police had gotten around to removing the body – but not the bloodstains.
Mrs. Pepperdine listened carefully as I made my report. “Yeah, I think I remember Horace talking about how he had the cabbage to pay back Fancy Freddy. I don’t think he mentioned where he was keeping the money. I already checked the drawers of the desk, and ain’t found bupkis.”
“And you’re not worried about Fancy Freddy coming here to get his money?” Selena wondered.
“Bring that pansy on,” Carla replied. She stood up from her chair. “You fellows have done a good job. You can get back to pounding suspects tomorrow. In the mean time, any suite on the top floor is all yours.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Pepperdine,” I said. We stood up to go, leaving the office and walking down the hall.
Tanya’s desk was at the end of the hall. She stood in front of it, her purse over her arm. She walked forward slowly, her eyes settling on Weatherby. “Solved the mystery yet, little guy?” she asked. “Or maybe I should say little man?”
“We’re doing a d-decent job, ma’am,” Weatherby replied, licking his dry lips.
Selena gave Tanya an angry glare and the secretary smiled back. I guess Selena didn’t like that blonde fox stalking her baby brother. “Come along, Weatherby,” she said. “You need your rest.” She steered him down the hall, leaving me alone with Tanya.
The secretary stepped closer slowly, stopping inches away from me. “What about you, big guy?” she asked. “You got some big sister to keep me away from you?”
“Not that I know of,” I replied.
“Then how about hopping down to my room. Mr. Pepperdine let me keep a suite on the top floor. It’s got all the right furnishings. Very tasteful.” She spoke slowly and softly. I was very interested. She turned and started walking away, giving me quite a show. I followed. We headed down the stairs, and then reached her room.
Like she said, it was an ultra modern room, everything sleek and white. A few Tiki sculptures rested on the nightstand and bookshelves. A pair of sat rested in the corner. I paused to look at them. There were some suitcases lying open on the ground too.
“You planning a trip, sweetheart?” I wondered.
Tanya shrugged. “I don’t think Mrs. Pepperdine likes having me around. So I guess I’ll go out again, just a lonely little girl.” She approached me slowly, her hands on her hips. “All alone in the world.” She reached out a palm and rested it on my chest. “Isn’t that just awful?”
“Yeah,” I said. She was playing me like a piano, and I was glad to be the keys under her fingers.
“Mr. Candle – I don’t want to be alone tonight.” She wrapped her arms my neck and pulled close to me. Her kiss was a promise. She pulled away slowly, and then smiled. “Why don’t you step into the bathroom, while I slip into something more comfortable?”
“I take the bathroom?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I’m a little claustrophobic, Morton. I guess I just don’t like small things.”
“All right.” I went to the small bathroom, in the corner of her room, and closed the door. I leaned against the tiled wall, opposite the toilet and folded my arms. I heard Tanya humming past the door — hopefully as she changed.
Something cut through all my usual thoughts like a knife. It was the gleam of pearls around her neck, which I had seen somewhere before. The answer appeared to me suddenly, just as I noticed the tiki idol resting on top of the crapper. It was an octopus, the tentacles reaching up around a bulbous body. Too late, I realized it was an aumakua of the same variety that had killed Horace Pepperdine.
Before I could get everything straight in my head, the toilet seat flipped open. A long tentacle lashed out, quick as a striking whip, and fastened itself firmly around my throat. It was a big tentacle, glistening and mottled green. The suckers dug into my flesh, each one a tiny mouth trying to swallow me whole. I grabbed the slick surface of the tentacle as the wind left me. It dragged me down, slamming my skull against the porcelain of the toilet seat.
I saw red, my vision blurring as my breath left my body. I fumbled out, grappling with the tentacle as it choked the life out of me. I closed my eyes, seeing only darkness as I tried to grab hold of my automatics or the Ka-Bar in my boot. I doubted I could reach either one in time.
Someone was pounding on the door and shouting. It sounded very far away, and I didn’t realize who it was. Then the door was slammed open, and I opened my eyes to see Weatherby staring at me, Tanya trying to drag him back. Selena was there too, and she grabbed Tanya’s arm and pulled her away. Weatherby reached into his coat.
I saw a spray of some kind of ash leave his hand and reach the tentacle in a gray shower. The tentacle finally released my throat, leaving me to sink to the ground. I gasped as I sucked in air. The tentacle shriveled like a slug hit with salt. It tucked back into the toilet, its prey gone. It vanished in a matter of seconds. I coughed and tried to remember how to breathe, then attempted to make sense out of everything around me.
Selena was holding Tanya’s arm. “What was she doing, Morton?” she demanded. “What the hell was going on?”
I pointed at Tanya. “She did it.” Weatherby offered me a hand, and I came to my feet. “She killed Pepperdine. That necklace – Big Joe Lono had one just like on his arm. She got friendly with him, stole his statues, and used them to kill her boss.”
Tanya shrugged. “Big Joe was a sweet guy – but he’s one dumb darky. I told him about my plan, and he didn’t want any part of it. So I stole his idols and charms and escaped.”
“And she tried to kill us,” I gasped. “The Kupua on the road. Trying to make it look like an accident.” I cleared my throat and reached for my pistols. “It’s over now, Tanya. Can I ask you why?”
“He was gonna go back to his wife. Imagine — picking that old buzzard over me! And I wouldn’t get a cent out of the rube!” Tanya glared at Selena. “And then you and Gidget here started sniffing around.”
“We can smell when something stinks,” I said. I turned to Weatherby. “Kiddo, you couldn’t have heard me getting my head yanked off by that octopus tentacle. Why’d you come in here?”
“It’s Flynn,” Weatherby explained. “He’s coming to look for his money, him and several armed thugs. Mrs. Pepperdine has no idea of the whereabouts of the money owed to Flynn, and she fears a violent result. The island police are slow in responding. We decided to look for you and Selena suspected that you were in Tanya’s room.”
“Oh no,” Tanya whispered. “Not Fancy Freddy. He’ll—he’ll kill me!”
“And why would he want to kill you?” Selena asked.
Tanya responded by slugging Selena in the face, then ramming her elbow into the woman’s throat and pinning her against the wall. She dashed back to her luggage, snapping open a round suitcase. I saw that it was full of money, with a luger pistol on top. This was the dough owed to Fancy Freddy. Tanya had it, and she wanted to keep it.
“Selena!” Weatherby ran to his sister, dashing past me – and running right near Tanya. He didn’t care for the pistol she held in her hand, or the pure madness in her pretty eyes. He just wanted to protect his sister. Tanya took full advantage of the opportunity.
She swung the suitcase with the cash over her shoulder, then grabbed Weatherby’s hand and pulled him away from Selena. She pressed the pistol to the boy’s head. “Another step and I’ll blow out the brat’s brains!” Tanya ordered. “Stay back! I’m leaving this tropical dump!”
“No! Please!” Selena cried, coming to her feet. I took a step towards them, but Tanya jabbed the pistol into Weatherby’s throat and I stopped moving. Selena didn’t move at all, just watching with wide, terrified eyes.
My head was still light from being strangled by the octopus. I couldn’t stop Tanya as she went to the fire escape, then started heading down – with the cash and Weatherby. She closed the balcony door behind her, and pushed a deck chair in front of the doorknob. She gave me a grin as she started going down the fire escape. Weatherby was looking right at his sister, his mouth a grim line.