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:
A ripple of laughter moved through the Yakuza. Boss Yamoto threw back his head, laughing louder and harder than any of the others. He looked at Weatherby, his face a grotesque grin. “Ninjas?” he asked. “There have not been ninjas in Japan for centuries! And why would they come out of hiding to battle the Yamoto-Gumi? Truly, you gaijin are amusing, but nothing more. I do not think—”
A feathered arrow slid into the deck between his legs. All of the Yakuza looked up, just in time to see an old-fashioned Japanese barge come pulling out from behind a cargo ship, its deck full of ninjas. They worked paddles on the edge of the barge, drawing it closer to the cruise ship as they opened fire with a withering volley of arrows.
The arrows struck home, and many of the Yakuza went down. I grabbed Weatherby and pulled him behind a bulkhead, drawing out a pistol as Tiny moved to join us. He broke open the box and I saw what he had inside – a .30 caliber machine gun, just like he had wielded in the war. “Give me some covering fire while I set this up, sarge!” he called to me. “Then I’ll make them ninjas wish they wasn’t born! Just like old times, eh?”
“Sure sounds like it.” I drew out my second pistol and waited while the Yakuza panicked and tried to start a defense line. Arrows poured down, but Weatherby was looking at the ocean, holding onto the cucumbers and waiting.
The barge drew closer and then the ninjas made their move. They leapt onto the cruise ship, hurling a flurry of throwing stars and drawing their swords as they flew nimbly through the air. They made their move – and Tiny made his. He finished setting up the .30 cal and opened fire, sending an endless torrent of blaring hot lead into the jumping ninjas. I had seen what the heavy machine gun did to human bodies before. Now I saw black-clad ninjas torn in half by the thick bullets, their bloody pieces tumbling into the ocean or the deck.
The Yakuza started shooting back, as more and more ninjas landed on the deck. Tiny spun his gun around, giving them the rest of the belt and helping the Yakuza. I stood up, an automatic in each hand, eager to do the same. I stepped out of cover, anxious to do some killing, when I saw a green claw with yellow nails reach up and settle on the railing.
A strange scaly creature followed, standing a head shorter than a normal guy and looking like a sea green alligator slammed into a turtle’s shell. Saltwater dripped down its long, pointed snout, which it opened to reveal rows of needle-like teeth. Stubby, short claws slashed through the air, while its little tail swung back and forth like it was an excited dog. This was the kappa, the water imp that Weatherby had mentioned.
I started shooting, as the kappa charged me. More of the creatures followed it onto the deck, using their sharp little claws to clamber straight up the hull of the cruise ship from the ocean waves. I stood my ground and kept spitting bullets, until the kappa slammed into me and knocked me back. It opened its big mouth, about to take a bite out of me that would remove my face. The kappa made a rasping hiss, surprisingly squeaky for something of its size. Its scales and claws felt rough on my skin, and I could smell the saltwater on its breath.
“Weatherby!” I called. “Give this damn turtle something else to snack on!”
Weatherby was ready. He pulled a cucumber from the bag and held it up. Instantly, the kappa stopped trying to dine on my face and looked up. It leapt away from me, the other kappa following. They charged for Weatherby, a dozen slavering monsters eager to take the cucumber from his hands. For a little, I thought they were gonna tear Weatherby apart. But then he hurled the cucumber over the side, and tossed the bag in after it.
The kappa followed the cucumbers into the ocean, their mission of destruction completely forgotten. They thrashed through the water, biting and clawing each other in their desire to grab a cucumber. The water went white as they fought, and then calmed down as they dove under the water, eager to get away and enjoy their vegetable prizes.
I looked at Weatherby and grinned. “Nice job, kiddo,” I said. “You’ve earned your keep.”
“Thank you, Mort,” Weatherby replied, glad of my praise. “It’s a simply a matter of—Mort!” He cried in panic.
He didn’t have time to tell me what had upset him, because it smacked me in the back and flattened me on the deck. It was Toshi. I recognized his eyes. The leader of the Ninja Clan stood over me, his sword in hand, and his foot on my throat.
My pistols were still in my hands, but Toshi could crack my windpipe and cut my head in half before I could fire them. He knew it too, and I saw his lips curling under his mask, forming a dark smile. “You have caused so much trouble, you impudent swine,” he growled. “You are the worst sort of arrogant Westerner!”
“And you talk too much.” I dropped one of my automatics and grabbed his foot. I twisted and he went down, slamming onto the deck next to me. I scrambled for my pistol as he slashed his sword around. The edge of the blade dug into my arm, and then I turned and opened fire, emptying the clip into Toshi’s chest. I crawled forward, the blade falling from my arm in a gout of blood.
But Toshi wasn’t finished. He stood up, blood seeping in half-a-dozen holes down the front of his black suit. He gripped his sword tightly, even as his own blood dripped on the handle and blade. With a final grimace, he raised the sword high and charged towards me.
I dove for the pistol I had dropped. I raised it as he came towards me, looking down the sights and drawing a bead on his face. The sword hovered right over my head. My sights were over his. I fired once. That was all it took. Toshi tumbled back, the sword falling from his hands. It clattered to the deck and Toshi followed, lying still with his brains blown out.
Weatherby ran to my side and offered me a hand. He helped me up, supporting most of my weight on his thin frame. “By all the gods and devils, Mort,” Weatherby muttered. The poor kid was shaking. He was terrified and trying not to show it. “You sure know how to get into dangerous situations.”
“Just get me back to the hotel and patch me up,” I replied. Tiny joined us, the .30 cal resting on his shoulder. All around us, the Yakuza were finishing off the ninjas. Despite their speed and their stealth, they didn’t last long against firearms. The Yakuza tossed the bodies overboard, just as the police arrived in several speedboats to clean up the mess.
As we walked to the railing, I spotted Boss Yamoto standing over the bodies of the ninjas, his katana resting between his hands like an old man’s cane. He looked at me, and extended a brief nod. That was all the thanks I was gonna get out of him and it was enough.
We took our speedboat back to the docks, and Tiny and Weatherby helped me out. As I tossed the keys to the surprised fisherman, I noticed Bobby Belasco standing on the edge of the pier, looking at the boat. He turned to face me and offered a grin.
“Mort Candle!” he said, walking over to me with outstretched arms. “I ought to thank you – I really should. To tell you the truth, I never liked using the ninjas to take over the Japanese underworld. I preferred the Yakuza gangs, and with the ninjas dead, Langley will be forced to think my way.”
“But you said the Yakuza would not bargain with you,” Weatherby pointed out.
“Just cause I didn’t offer them enough cash. Now, Washington will increase the budget of this little project and I’ll be able to pay them what they ask for.” Belasco walked down the pier, briskly stepping past me. “Hate to break it to you, Mort, but the CIA will do whatever it takes to roll back communism. You stop one mad scheme, we’ll just make another.”
“Then we’ll stop that one too.” My words stopped Belasco in his tracks.
His grin vanished. “Take care of yourself, Mort. Next time I see you, I might not be so kind.”
“Likewise,” I agreed. I watched as he hurried away, losing himself in the crowd of onlookers just like the pro he was.
We left the docks as well, and walked back into the shadows of waterfront buildings. Lieutenant Sakai was waiting for us, leaning against a wall. He was watching the bay, looking at the bodies floating in the white water. I wondered if he knew the kind of carnage he was unleashing when he hired us. He certainly got his money’s worth. Sakai approached us, and held out his hand. There was an envelope in it, fat with cash.
“Thanks,” I said, stuffing it into the pocket of my trench coat. “That should cover it. I got some good news and some bad news. The ninjas are defeated. I don’t think you’ll have to deal with them – or their demonic pals – ever again.” I gasped, holding tightly to the wound on my arm. “The bad news is that the Yakuza are here for good. They’re gonna get real powerful soon, probably after making some deals with powerful people in the CIA.”
Sakai sadly nodded. “I suppose it is inevitable.” He removed his glasses and cleaned them on his coat. “Japan has just left a reign of tyranny. I do not know what will follow it.”
“You’ve just got to stay strong, sir,” Weatherby said. “Just refuse to bow to corruption and cruelty, no matter what flag they wrap themselves in, and you will help lead Japan into a new age. This is a grand country and it deserves a fine future.” He held out his hand and Sakai shook it. They exchanged a quick bow, and Sakai headed away, walking towards the dock and the crime scene that he now had to unravel.
Weatherby, Tiny and I walked back to the pick-up. I slumped into the passenger seat as Tiny set the .30 cal in the back. He walked around slowly, his hands in the pockets of his dark suit jacket. “Well, I think we’ll part ways. We got different careers after all. You solve crimes. I sell guns that cause them.” He seemed dejected as he got into the seat, until Weatherby reached out and patted his shoulder.
“No, Mr. Tiny. You saved my life. You are a hero, sir. You could never knowingly cause any evil.” Weatherby’s comforting words made Tiny smile. “You helped us today, and perhaps you will in the future.”
Tiny nodded. He took a card from his pocket, making it look like a toy in his massive hand, and placed it in my pocket. “You think so, sarge?” he asked me. “You wouldn’t mind working with a fellow like me again?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all, Tiny,” I said. “You’re a good man. No matter what you think.”
We drove on, into the crowded streets of Tokyo. The scars from the War remained, in men as well as cities. But maybe, if we worked at it, those wounds could finally heal.