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:
We looked outside the window, as Tokyo came alive. The street below us was soon choked with traffic. New skyscrapers were growing up, and their steel skeletons reached out to pierce the heavens, getting bigger and bigger every day. The neon glow continued in daylight, providing a second sun for the city.
I pointed at the skyscraper with my fork. “They’re rebuilding pretty quickly.”
“Everyone is, sergeant,” Tiny said. “I been to London, recently, doing business with the Kray Bros. You remember how it was all blown to Hell by the Blitz? They’re putting it back together, building it up even bigger than before. Same with Berlin, Stalingrad, and all them cities on the continent. They’re repairing them, covering them the scars that the war made.” Tiny paused. “People are moving on too. Sometimes I think the only thing not getting rebuilt is me.”
I looked up at him. “Yeah,” I muttered. “I know what you mean. All too well.” We had lived in the War, we had fought together and died together and did things no man should. And when it was all over, maybe we weren’t quite ready to go home and forget about it.
The War had even affected Weatherby, and thousands like him, for the indiscriminate cruelty touched unlucky civilians as well as soldiers. But the kid looked up at Tiny and me as he finished his eggs. “That might be so,” he said. “But all we can do is attempt to live with it, and do some good in this fragile, unfortunate world.” He turned to me, pushing his glasses up on his nose, like he was trying to seem older than he was. “What did Lieutenant Sakai say?”
“The ninjas may be hiding in a bombed-out section of Tokyo. I suggest we have a look, after this wonderful meal.” I had another bite.
We finished quickly, and headed downstairs to Tiny’s pick-up. He hadn’t bothered to unload the guns from the back. I didn’t really want him to. Tiny started the engine and we rumbled off, heading to the last ruined section of Tokyo, in search of a group that wanted to set the whole city on fire again. The journey wasn’t too long, as the traffic thinned out before we reached our destination. Nobody else was going to the ruins.
It was easy to see why when we entered the ruined section of the city. The few structures that stood were burned out skeletons, the wood and steel still charred by Allied firebombing. Piles of rubble, not yet shoveled away, lay in the street and the alleys, and we had to get out and walk soon after we arrived. The whole place was deathly quiet. It was like the bombs had silenced every noise like they’d demolished every building. Our footsteps crunched on ash and dust as we walked.
We were prepared for anything the ninjas threw at us. I had my .45s and a tommy gun borrowed from Tiny’s truck. He had his Browning Automatic Rifle and a Bowie knife that could rival a sword for size. Both of us had our guns in our hands and were aching to put them to use.
Weatherby looked around the ruins, his dark eyes flashing to the charred remains of an apartment building. “What exactly are we looking for?” he asked. “The ninjas are renowned for their ability to remain unseen, even in broad daylight. It would seem foolhardy to try and locate them.”
I shrugged. “I’m not too worried about that. If we come tramping around their headquarters, they’ll pop up to say hello. They won’t be able to resist it.”
A second after I spoke, Tiny pointed to the second floor the apartment building. “There!” he cried. “A dozen of the coullions!” He brought the BAR up and started firing. I saw the ninjas springing downwards, leaping from the apartment building and soaring for us like swooping ravens. Their swords gleamed in their hands, and they touched down on the ground without breaking a sweat. They moved towards us, springing easily between the ruins.
I raised my tommy gun and started shooting. Our bullets kicked up dust and chewed through rubble — but that was about all they did. Every time I swung the chopper to cut down a ninja, I was firing at the space where they had just been. They danced around the shots like we were throwing bowling balls instead of bullets.
They came closer, one leaping into the air with his sword above his head. This time, he was too close to miss. My shots burned through his chest, cutting him easily to the ground. Another ninja came behind him, and tried to take off my head, but Tiny’s BAR blasted apart his skull before he got the chance. I thanked the gunner with a nod.
Then something seemed to bite my shoulder. I gasped as I looked down and saw a pointed throwing star wedged in the flesh, causing blood to spill over my arm. I grabbed the throwing star and wrenched it out, stifling a cry as I tossed it away. More ninjas were stayed around us, their swords held high, waiting for a chance to strike.
I looked over to Tiny. “You think we bit off more than we can chew?”
“I don’t know, sarge,” he said. “You got a pretty big mouth.” He raised his gun, as another ninja leapt towards us. The ninja did a spinning kick in midair, striking the BAR from his hands. The gun hit the burnt pavement, as the ninja somersaulted towards me, sword poised. The ninja was faster than my sub-gun, putting the tip of his blade to my throat before I could reach for the trigger. In another second, he’d strike the head from my shoulders.
“Toshi!” A familiar voice called from the ruins. “Uh-uh. Not this one.” The voice was annoyingly self-confident, and I knew the bastard it belonged to. I saw him walking out from the shadow of one of the ruined buildings, his crimson Hawaiian shirt looking strangely bright compared to the black ninja uniforms. His brown hair was shaggy and his beard was unkempt. This was Bobby Belasco, a CIA spook with a penchant for insanity and destruction.
The ninjas froze, though I could tell they didn’t want to. They all looked at Toshi, who I guessed was the fellow holding a blade to my throat. The hatred in Toshi’s eyes wasn’t for me, but for Belasco. He sheathed his sort sword and faced Belasco. “Let me spill his blood, Belasco-San!” he cried, his voice dark and promising murder. This was the kind of guy who killed as easy as taking a breath. “They were fighting alongside the Yamoto-Gumi. They are enemies of the Ninja Clan!”
“That may be so, but I’m afraid I can’t have you wasting American citizens.” Belasco brushed past Toshi and stood in front of me. “Mort Candle. You show up wherever you’re not wanted, you know? You’re like a bad rash.”
“I do my best.” I nodded to Weatherby and Tiny. “We’ve been hired to find out who’s behind the summoning of demons and the massacre of Yakuza families. I’d say we found him.”
“Guilty as charged.” Belasco turned around, waving his hands. “Come on, you crazy kids,” he said, walking towards the ruined apartment building. “Let’s get inside, have a drink, and discuss this thing like civilized human beings.”
He led us over the blackened earth, to the ground floor of the burned out, ruined apartment building, and then down to a basement, where he had made his command post. More ninjas stood around, their arms folded and their eyes facing forward, like mannequins in a department store that only sold black clothes. Toshi was the only one who moved, walking next to Belasco like a dog that wanted to be let off the leash. I got the feeling he was impatient to get to the killing. Magical supplies — jewels, charms, bones, and stranger elements – sat neatly on shelves, waiting to be used. Belasco took us to a room in the corner of the basement and pulled over a chair. He folded his legs and grinned up at me.
“Okay,” he said. “Now, this might seem a little weird—”
“You could say that.” I looked up at Toshi, and he returned my gaze. “Why are you using magic and ninjas for wetwork, instead of good old fashioned marines? And since when does the Company care about who runs the Japanese underworld?”
“Since the Cold War, buddy-boy!” Belasco grinned. “You might not have heard about it, but the commies are growing in power. They’ve got China, half of Korea, they’re working on Vietnam – we got big plans for that place – and it’s only a matter of time before they show up here. Matter of fact, Moscow and Mao are probably already working on it. So we’re getting ready.”
“By destroying the Japanese criminal families?” Weatherby asked. “Why not gain their support, and use them as a bulwark against the communists? That seems distasteful enough for your organization.”
“We tried to. Boy, did we try.” Belasco pulled open his Hawaiian shirt. I saw a halfhearted dragon tattoo, etched on his chest. It was bright and colorful, and Bobby Belasco covered it quickly. “But the Yakuza just didn’t want to play ball. I suggested offering them more money, but some bright spark in Langley didn’t want to go over our budget, so he sent me back to Japan, to do what I do best – find some other group of maniacs and start giving them the allocated money – just the right amount — and support to fight the commies.”
“And that’s where the ninjas come in?” I asked.
“You got it.” Belasco patted Toshi’s shoulder, like he was old pals with the ninja leader. “Toshi here runs the last clan of Ninjas in Japan. They’ve been out of business since the Meiji Restoration, and they were aching for a chance to get back in the game. They work for peanuts, and with their help – and all of these magical ingredients I bought – I can clean out the Yakuza mobs and replace them with something a little more willing to make deals. What do you think? Pretty brilliant, huh?”
I looked at Toshi, and his dark eyes flashed. “Like a hole in the head. These ninja boys will turn on you the first chance they get. They don’t give a damn about communism or helping out their Uncle Sam. They want blood, and by the gallon. Cut them loose, Belasco. Bury this whole thing and move on.”
But I could tell it wouldn’t work. Belasco nodded to Toshi, who drew his sword and pointed it at me. I raised my arms, and Belasco pulled out my pistols. He took the Bowie knife from Tiny and moved to the door. “Sorry, Morton – no dice. You and your girlfriends can stay here until the business is finished. It’ll only be a couple more days. Sorry, but that’s the way it’s gotta be.”
He and Toshi moved to the door. They slammed it and locked us, leaving us alone and unarmed. I sat down on the floor and looked to my boot. Belasco was right to be sorry. He had forgotten about the Ka-Bar in my boot. I waited for the door to slam shut and the locks to turn, and then yanked out the blade.
“What do you think, kiddo?” I asked, giving Weatherby a grin. “You ready to say sayonara just yet?”
“Not quite, Mort,” Weatherby agreed. “What’s our plan?”
“We convince Bobby Belasco to get another.” I moved to the door and started cutting at the locks. I weakened them with the Ka-Bar, and started jimmying the door. “That shouldn’t be too hard. He’s a coward, deep down. And I can be real persuasive.” I kept working at the lock, but it wouldn’t budge. I grunted and cursed.
Tiny put a hand on my shoulder. “Let me try, Sergeant.” He took a few steps back, and then ran towards the door with all of his strength, slamming his thick shoulder into the wood. It crumpled like cardboard, falling forward and landing on the blackened floor. Tiny stood up and wiped his hands. “What now?”