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:
I looked into the darkness. More ninjas must be around the basement, standing watch for any escape. I’d have to play this carefully. “Stay here and get heeled. Wait for the sound of gunshots. That’s when you show up.” I saw our weapons lying in a pile near the door, and grabbed my pistols. I wanted my hands free, so I put the tommy gun on its strap around my shoulder and stuck with the automatics.
I walked forward, moving around the piles of rubble and fallen chunks of the building. I stuck to the shadows, keeping my eyes peeled for the ninjas. I didn’t see any. Maybe they wanted it that way. Each second, I expected a sharpened sword to plunge into my back, skewering my heart and killing me instantly – and painfully. But nothing happened. I guessed the ninjas were busy.
I walked out of the basement, back to the first floor of the apartment building. I heard Belasco’s exasperated voice, arguing with Toshi. He sounded like he was getting more and more pissed off with each word. I crouched low, behind a pile of rubble, and drew out one of my .45s. I crept forward, listening for any clue to the ninjas’ next move.
“Look, I know you want some action – I sympathize with you, I really do!” Belasco cried. “But you’ve got to let the demons do the work! I paid good money for those dried out turtle husk things. The kappa will slaughter all the Yakuza at the meeting, and then you boys can boys can move in and take over this damn city!”
“No. It is not the way of the ninja to let demons take the kill. The blood of our opponents must be ours.” Toshi wasn’t listening. “You have been good to us, Belasco-San. But you are not master here. I am, and I say that we shall fight alongside the kappa in Tokyo Bay, and slaughter our enemies!”
“Yeah, and that worked out so well at the tea house, didn’t it?” Belasco asked. “Your boys got noticed. One gave up our hideout! If you go heavy in Tokyo Bay, people will start asking about all the ninjas flying around and killing people. The whole ‘covert’ thing is pretty damn important for ‘covert ops,’ you know, Toshi?” He sighed. Then his voice quickened, becoming panicked. “What…what are you doing?”
“I am killing you, Belasco-San. I am doing what I should have done the moment I met you.”
I risked a glance. I saw that Toshi had drawn his sword. The ninjas around him had done the same. They pointed their blades at Belasco. I saw the CIA agent’s bravado drift away, as he looked from blade to blade. They didn’t see me. I took careful aim.
“Come on, Toshi!” Belasco whined. “We can talk this through! We can negotiate!”
“You are a slimy worm, Belasco-San. I am a warrior. There is nothing more to say.” He pulled back his sword. That’s when I popped up.
I started shooting, emptying the clip of the .45 at the ninjas. I gunned down two of them before they knew what was happening. The others ran for cover, so I raised the tommy gun and let them have a taste of that. The sub-gun chattered away, pumping its thick slugs into the ninjas and tearing them apart. Their limbs tore and their bodies split. I had chosen my cover well. A throwing star clanged off of the rubble near me, but that was as close as they got to taking me out.
They started to run, following Toshi out of the apartment building. They flipped and leapt through the air, moving like living shadows across the ruined cityscape, and disappearing into the rubble. Except for the four dead ninjas they left behind, they had disappeared completely in a matter of seconds.
I stepped over the rubble and approached Belasco. He knelt on the blackened floor, his hands on his head. He turned to me and smiled. “Mort Candle!” he said. “I sure am glad to see you!”
I kicked him in the chest, knocking him flat onto his back. I let him eyeball the muzzle of the tommy gun, keeping it inches from his head. His eyes went wide and white. “Funny,” I said. “The feeling ain’t mutual.” Behind me, I heard Tiny and Weatherby pounding up from the basement. They had their heaters in their hands, and kept Belasco covered. “What were you and Toshi jawing about? What’s happening at the bay?”
Belasco whimpered and smiled weakly. “Come on, Mort,” he whispered. “How about letting your old pal Bobby keep his state secrets, huh? You’d be surprised what a friend in high places can do for you.”
“You’ll never be anyone’s friend. What’s going on at Tokyo Bay?”
His smile vanished. “All right. All right. My contacts in the Tokyo rackets told me that the three big Yakuza groups — the Hasegawas, the Nagasakos, and the Yamotos – are having a get-together on a private cruise ship. They’ll take it out in Tokyo Bay, and discuss what to do about the attacks. All of those gangsters. All in one place. It’s too big a target to pass up.”
“And the goddamn ninjas will take over what’s left.” I swore. “We’ve got to get down there and stop it.”
“Not just ninjas, buddy!” Belasco warned. “I’ve arranged to have another army of kappa water imps, released into sea around the boat. The Yakuza will be hit from all sides.”
I took my boot off of Belasco’s chest. “We’ve got to get down to the waterfront. We’ve got to warn Sakai. And we’ve got to find some way to take out the kappa.” I turned away from Belasco and headed out of the apartment building. Belasco stayed behind. He didn’t bother getting up, knowing I’d just put him back down again. Tiny and Weatherby stayed close to me, as we hurried outside. I turned to Weatherby. “Any ideas on the kappa, kiddo?” I asked. “Like, what the hell they are?”
“Vengeful water spirits, lustful for human flesh,” Weatherby explained. We broke into a run as we headed for Tiny’s pick-up. “They enjoy eating women and children. They are scaly and strong, almost invincible in the water.”
“Which is where we’ll be fighting them. Any ideas?” I asked as we reached the pick-up. Tiny slid into the driver’s seat, and Weatherby and I followed him, squeezing together in the passenger seat.
Weatherby nodded. “I do actually. We need to stop at a market on the way to the docks, or any place that sells vegetables.”
“Well, goddamn, little Weatherby!” Tiny laughed. “You know just what to do, now don’t you?”
“I s-suppose so,” Weatherby said, a little embarrassed at the praise. “My father taught me well. I simply remember his lessons. I take the skills I know, and try to improve the world. It’s the best I can do.” He smiled at Tiny. “I’m sure you and Mort do the same.”
I wasn’t so sure. But I knew nothing good would come of bloodthirsty ninjas taking over Tokyo’s underworld. If they got real power, they could create an empire that would make Imperial Japan look as peaceful as Switzerland. As Tiny slammed on the gas and we rocketed out of the ruins and into the crowded streets of Tokyo, I had a feeling that this once we were all doing a little good.
We made two stops, and I counted the seconds, knowing that the ninjas were silently moving through the city, heading for the bay and the boatload of their targets. The first stop was at a payphone. I dialed up Lieutenant Sakai and told him the score. He wasn’t surprised.
“Ninjas attacking the Yakuza meeting, along with kappa?” he asked. “I understand. It will take some time to get the police force there to rescue them. And even then, our weapons might prove ineffective against kappa and ninja alike.”
“Don’t worry about that.” I looked at Weatherby, then at the back of the truck. If everything worked out, there should be more than enough weapons to go around. “Just get yourself and as many uniforms as you can to the docks. See about getting some boats and reaching the Yakuza ship. We should already be on it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Candle. This is far beyond what I asked you to do.” There was real gratitude in Sakai’s voice.
“Yeah, well just have my check ready. If I’m still alive to collect it. Sayonara, lieutenant.” I hung up and walked back to the truck. Tiny started the engine and we were off again.
The clock was ticking, but we had one more stop to make. It was Weatherby’s idea, and I’d trust him with my life. So no matter how bizarre it sounded, I had Tiny stop the car next to a little vegetable stand at the corner, poked my head out, and asked the wizened old woman there for every cucumber she had. She stared at me in surprise, and only started moving when I waved a fat roll of American dollars at her. Two c-notes paid for two paper bags, stuffed with cucumbers. I took them from her and set them carefully in the back.
Soon as they were loaded, Tiny hit the gas and we roared off again. I looked back at Weatherby. “You sure this thing will work?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m utterly certain,” Weatherby replied. He looked back at the cucumbers. “Well, more or less. As long as my father was correct in his studies.”
“We’d better hope he is. Because right now, those cucumbers are Tokyo’s only hope.”
I leaned back and waited as Tiny maneuvered the pick-up through dense traffic. He kept us on course, heading for the bay and the long waterfront that made Tokyo a haven for shipping from all over the world. He turned another corner and there it was, spread out like a blue mantle beneath a blue sky. Long docks extended out into the water, while various cargo ships slowly plied the waves. Tiny rode to the nearest pier, before slamming on the breaks and bringing the car to a stop.
We stepped out, and I spotted a fisherman in a straw hat, bringing his little metal motorboat over to the pier. I ran to him, gun in one hand and money in the other. Weatherby followed, struggling to carry both bags of cucumbers, while Tiny brought up the rear, a large crate tucked under his arm. I didn’t ask what was in it.
The little fisherman stared at the .45 in my hand and then the dollars. “Take the dough and let us take the boat, pal,” I said, pushing the money in his direction. “We’ll give it back to you – if we’re still alive.”
He nodded meekly, and took the money.
“Good choice.” I hopped into the motorboat and started the engine. Tiny and Weatherby clambered in next. Tiny’s weight nearly submerged the boat, but it stayed above the waterline and moved when I turned on the engine. The motorboat shot out into the bay, and I looked around to see where the Yakuza gangs were meeting.
They might as well have put up a sign. A massive cruise ship, something that should be shuttling millionaires around off of Miami, was anchored in the center of the bay. Yakuza gunmen stood on the edges of the deck, long rifles in their hands. I spotted their Oyabuns and other high-ranking members on the upper deck, smoking and talking. They had gathered all of their strength into one spot. The poor bastards didn’t know how damn vulnerable they were.
The motorboat crested the waves, right under the cruise ship. I stood up, waving my hands. The Yakuza gangsters spotted me. One dumb mug fired a rifle shot over my head, sending up a splash of salty water.
“I’m here to help, you idiots!” I shouted. “You’re gonna be attacked! You gotta listen to me!”
“Please, we mean no harm!” Weatherby added. He stood up, waving a cucumber in each hand. “I need to get these aboard your ship before it is too late!”
After a while, Boss Yamoto poked his head over the side. He looked at us distastefully, but finally nodded. Ropes were thrown down, allowing us to climb onto the main deck. After getting knocked around last night and being beaten this morning, I was feeling the strength seep out of me with each pull on the rope. I finally got myself to the top and fell over, landing on the deck. Weatherby came after me, the cucumbers held under one arm.
Boss Yamoto stared at the cucumbers. “What is this?” he demanded. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you gaijin amused by this?” He reached for the katana at his side. “You will pay for your presumption!” The other Yakuza heads stood next to him, looking down at me, Weatherby and the cucumbers.
I raised a hand, as Tiny started up the rope. “I seem to remember you singing a different tune, last night at the Cherry Blossom Tea House. Those oni were wiping the floor with you, until my partner tossed some soybeans at them. Well, another batch of demons is headed your way, and he’s got the means to defeat them. So either you listen up, or get used to dying.”
I let my words sink in. Boss Yamoto stroked his chin. “So, you know who is behind these attacks?”
“Ninjas, sir,” Weatherby explained.