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:
“Mort!” Weatherby’s cry distracted me. “Someone’s coming!” I stepped back, away from Yamoto’s blade, and faced the door. I heard the engine of an automobile puttering our way and then cut off. Heavy footsteps walked through the sand of the garden, and then pulled back the door. I saw who stood framed in the doorway, a Browning Automatic Riffle looking like a toy in his hands. I smiled. It’s always good to see old friends.
“Tiny,” I said. “How about giving your sergeant a hand?”
Without another word, Tiny aimed his BAR at the Yakuza. He could sweep the room with that heavy machine gun and slaughter all of them, and they wisely dropped their pistols. Tiny had been the gunner in my squad during the War. He was a hulking Cajun with the friendliness of a puppy, but the temper of a jungle cat. Tiny stood head and shoulders above me, wearing a slick black suit and shirt with a silver tie, with a matching fedora. I had no idea what he was doing in Tokyo.
Yamoto turned to face Tiny. He didn’t lower his katana. “Why do you point your weapon at me? We are your customers! I demand your respect!”
Tiny shrugged. “Demand all you want, but this here is my sergeant. I’d die for him. Nearly did, too many times to count. And he’s a good man. I bet he don’t mean you no trouble now. How about putting down that pig-sticker and talking over your problems nice and easy, eh?” He lowered his BAR, slinging it over his massive shoulder.
With a glare, Boss Yamoto sheathed his sword in a single smooth motion. Weatherby slid his pistol into his frock coat, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” he said. “I truly believed there would be more violence.”
“The night is young,” I muttered. “Tiny, this is Weatherby Stein. I’m sure you remember him.”
“Little Weatherby? Look at you now! All grown up and pretty as a picture. It’s good to see you, boy, it surely is!” Tiny wrapped his arms around Weatherby, giving the kid a big bear hug. Weatherby smiled, gasping for air after Tiny let him go.
He pumped Tiny’s hand. “I must thank you, Mr. Tiny, for your timely arrival now and for saving my life, so many times in the past. Mort and I are partners in a detective agency, investigating supernatural crimes. We’re looking for the source of the demonic attacks. But why are you here?”
Tiny shrugged. “Ah, just doing some arms dealing. That’s my line now, little Weatherby. I buy them cheap in the States and sell them out all over the world. It ain’t God’s business, but it pays the bills, I tell you.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe how tall you are, sonny! You was smaller than my knee last time I saw you!”
Boss Yamoto looked like he was going to explode. “Enough!” he cried, slamming a fist on the table. “You are here to find out if we are summoning demons! We are not! I swear this on all of my honor. Now go, all of you, and leave us in peace!” He turned away.
“You don’t want to buy—” Tiny started.
“Not from you!” Boss Yamoto shot back. “We do not need your weapons! There is no enemy that we cannot defeat with sharpened steel!”
A big bright red fist tore through the paper wall. It was part of a massive three-eyed demon, a muscled tank of a beast, vaguely humanoid, with bright red skin, bristly black hair, curling horns and a heavy iron club held tightly in one clawed hand. It leapt at the Yakuza with a throaty snarl, bashing them like they were bowling pins with a single swing of its heavy club. More of the demons stood behind it, some armed with long broadswords and wide-bladed spears. They alternated between fiery red and electric blue.
“Hate to break it you, Boss Yamoto,” I said, as I drew out both .45s. “But you might’ve spoken too soon.” I started shooting as one of the demons headed our way, smashing flimsy tables out of its way with thrashes of its muscled arms. “What’s the word on these mugs, kiddo?” I asked Weatherby.
“Oni,” he explained. “Tiger-ox demons, renowned for their strength.” He was reaching through the folds of his coat, cursing himself as his thin fingers dove into the varied pockets. “Oni have a few weaknesses…”
“You could have fooled me!” I started tossing lead at the oni heading my way. The bullet cut bloody gouges in its shoulders and chest, but only made the monster madder. I turned away, seconds before its heavy club smashed into the wooden floor at my feet. I fell hard on the ground and rolled over, as the oni pulled back for another deadly swing. More of his pals came to our corner of the tea house, their long tongues winking out over their thick lips.
Tiny opened fire with his BAR, and got off half a clip before a blow from an oni’s club sent him reeling. I pulled him aside, planting a bullet into the oni’s skull. It roared and tumbled backwards, but didn’t go down. Tiny grabbed his gun and kept shooting. So did I. All around us, the Yamoto-Gumi gangsters were falling before the oni like dominos. They slashed at the oni with their swords and pumped bullets into them with their pistols, but it was a waste of time. The oni smashed them around like kids playing rough with toys. The Yakuza did some damage, but not enough.
I started heading backwards, an automatic blazing in both hands as the oni charged me. I took out one of its eyes, but then it wrapped a thick hand around my waist and hauled me into the air. It roared, a low terrible sound like the crash of an ocean wave. It grabbed my head, and started to pull. My neck ached. He was gonna rip me in half.
Weatherby pulled a fistful of something from his frock coat. “Yes!” he cried. “Their weakness – soybeans!” He hurled the soybeans at the oni holding onto me. Those little beans flew through the air and struck the oni’s back, causing the demon to howl even louder. It tossed me over its shoulder.
It seemed to be a long time before the floor rose up and smacked me in the face. I winced and lay there, then gritted my teeth and started to rise. Weatherby was tossing the few soybeans he had at the oni, and they were running from him, thick jets of colored steam rising from their muscled bodies. Tiny was laughing and I realized I was too. The oni ran away, their roars falling to hisses and finally whimpers. They leapt through the paper walls in their haste to leave.
I put my hands on the floor and pushed. That got me up, and then Weatherby came and gave me a hand. “Thanks, kiddo,” I said. “For that – and for bringing out the beans.”
“I just remembered my father’s teachings,” Weatherby said, his face going a little red. “Nothing more.” He looked out through one of the new gaps in the wall. “You know, whoever summoned those oni may still be around.”
“I know. I’ll go have a look.” The oni had tossed me around and nearly broken me. I needed time to rest before setting off after their master – but that was one thing I didn’t have. I stood up and stumbled outside, getting some of my strength as I stepped into the garden. Weatherby and Tiny followed me.
It was dark, the pools of light from the tea house and the rest of the city not enough to banish the shadows. I looked around, still holding on to my heaters. Back in the tea house, I could hear the Yakuza moaning as they saw to their wounds, but I didn’t pay them any attention. My eyes stuck to the darkness, watching for any movement. It wasn’t long before I saw some.
“There.” I took a step into the darkness, leveling my pistols. “Come on out of there!” I called.
My answer was a spinning kick to the face. I reeled backwards, everything getting blurry as I felt the blow rattle my brains inside my skull. Tiny caught me and we saw a trio of men in tight dark clothes and matching masks springing away, short curved swords on their back and other gleaming weapons on their belts. I raised my pistols and fired, hurrying after them as they ran to the wall and the garden.
Weatherby recognized them. “Ninjas!” he cried, as they leapt over the garden wall. “The unstoppable assassins of ancient Japan!”
“I’ll stop them!” I hissed. I ran to the garden wall and grabbed the top, then pulled myself over. I reached the top and fell, landing on the sidewalk. The ninjas were hurrying away, and I aimed my automatics at them and opened fire. I kept shooting until the clips were empty. At first I thought they could dodge bullets as easily as they moved through the darkness. But then I saw one of them was down, lying on the street with a shattered leg.
I stood up and ran to him, Tiny and Weatherby close behind. I pulled the Ka-Bar from my boot and rolled the ninja over with a kick. He was clutching his bleeding leg. Only his eyes were visible in his mask, but their glowing hate told me all I needed to know. I leaned down, holding the knife close to his eyes.
“Looks like your buddies left you. Pretty harsh treatment, I’d say. So how about squealing about where they’re hiding? I pressed the tip of the blade down, cutting through the fabric of his mask and drawing blood from the tip of his nose. “And you better speak louder than you move – or I’ll have you making a whole lot of noise.”
His eyes narrowed. “Go to the ruins, gaijin” he whispered. “Go to your deaths.” He twisted around, pulling the blade from his back as he sat up. For a second, I thought he was gonna slash his sword across my chest, but then he plunged it into his own gut. He dragged it wide, spilling his innards onto the street.
I stood up and looked at Tiny and Weatherby. The boy was looking away, his face more pale than usual. “Merde…” Tiny whispered. “He just…opened himself up.”
“He believed he failed to uphold the honor of his clan,” Weatherby whispered, still looking away. “So he committed suicide.”
The Ninjas were the worst kind of opponent – the kind that was always there to throw a punch, and never there to take one. They were fanatical enough to kill themselves rather than be taken prisoner, and bold enough to invite me to their hideout to continue our fight. They were lethal, had access to powerful magic, and they were fast. But not fast enough to stop a bullet.
I turned away from the dead ninja. Sirens whined in the distance. Boss Yamoto and his thugs were probably already running away, and we should do the same. “Come on,” I said, heading for the sidewalk. “Tiny, where are you flopping?”
“Hotel, not far from here. Plenty of room for you and the boy, sergeant,” Tiny replied. “I’d be honored if you stayed with me. And I think you fellows need some rest.”
“Good idea,” I agreed. “Let’s go get some shuteye. The ninjas have been around since Ancient Japan, according to Weatherby. I bet they can wait until morning.” Weatherby and I followed Tiny to his pick-up truck. He had several crates in the back, stuffed with weapons and ammunition for his arms dealing business. I had a feeling they’d come in handy.
Tiny was staying in a rundown hotel, not far from the crowded Tokyo bay. Foghorns woke me up, and I stumbled up from the couch where I was sleeping to the bathroom. After putting a couple bandages over my growing bruises, I grabbed the telephone and dialed up Lieutenant Sakai. Weatherby and Tiny made breakfast while I filled him in on what was going on.
“Ninjas?” he asked, a hint of skepticism in his calm voice. “Are you sure?”
“You know any other type of button man that can fly through the air like a plane in black and hits like a truck?” I rubbed my sore chin and continued. “The fellow we captured talked about some place called the ruins, before he killed himself. That ring any bells?”
Sakai considered the question. “There is one section of Tokyo that remains in ruins, following the bombings during the war. The government has not yet gotten around to rebuilding. It is a paradise for squatters, the homeless, and the other refuse of society. If a powerful force of men wished to remain hidden in the city, then perhaps they would go there.”
“Sure. You got a location?” He gave me the address and I said goodbye and set down the phone, then joined Tiny and Weatherby for breakfast. Tiny was a decent cook. During the War, he had made even a K Ration taste decent. Now he was slapping down eggs over easy and sizzling bacon on our plates. I thanked him and started eating.