TALL TAILS: (Formerly: Of Whistle and Song) CHAPTER ONE.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Marina gal sets out to solve the mystery of a phantom voice and whistle.

Submitted: February 13, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 13, 2016




(Formerly: Of Whistle and Song)

A Short Story in Four Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter One

Ah, yuck!, it really stinks in here; all those chemicals I guess—and the bloody noise!

Tall, blonde and twenty-two years old, Alexandra Belinda Masterson was now emphatically sweating; and sneezing; and generally becoming a victim of the acrid stench of bleach and color catchers, in addition to the conflicting miasma of softeners and cleansers—and a little mould—as well as a stench all its own that was girdling the building’s monstrous boiler.

Slightly-smaller-than-a-bus washers whooshed and the big-rig-sized dryers spun with an irritating, grinding whine. Alex’s mouth turned down as if she were sipping carcinogens.

You know, I think his singing started right away—the very first day I moved in, now musing; wondering; grimacing; remembering—at least the whistling did, and she jammed the last of her colorful sports bras, assorted lacy dainties, four jogging jackets, a ton of tees, fourteen pairs of compression running socks and a small pink Teddy Bear into a Peterbilt-sized dryer in the basement of 5550 Ocean Boulevard; a truly grand old lady of twenties architecture; a classic apartment building of seven stories, which rose—with some majesty—from a remarkably high-vaulted lobby (with the posterior section revealing a fine coffered ceiling of reds and greens), to a spot somewhere above the last floor at the roof deck.

The front door of this between-wars masterpiece had been designed by an Arthurian visionary and realized by an absolute whiz at shaping wrought iron; it wasn’t so much a door as a port cullis you could see through. 

On both sides of this grandiose, yet majestic entrance, were ten-foot tall pieces of glass backed by more wrought iron forged from the same days-of-chivalry mind that had hewn the gateway.

The lobby towered above the tallest person, even when carrying a ten-foot bamboo tree; the arched ceiling had been painted with Camelot colors and finished at all the corners with painted scroll moldings.

On either side, clenched to the wall with brackets from Brobdingnag, flared four immense and perfectly spaced beacons surrounded by filigree, patterned in the same design as the pythonicentryway. Just inside, as well as just outside the stupendous gateway, hung enormous lamps enclosed in more of the Arthurian ornamentation.

On a cold summer’s day in San Francisco, the balm in this immense vestibule approached gamy, as though the masters of Longleat had hung a few carcasses about the walls for a fortnight. Some delusional dingbats thought the portal to be older than Camelot.

Crouched behind a superior façade, the pinnacle of this handsome edifice triumphantly joined the skyline of the City.


Alex was tall and very naturally blonde. Moreover, she enjoyed being tall, even loved being tall: tall and slim; that was her mission. Therefore, she ran and biked and pulled and lifted all but two days a week to maintain her striking chassis that had only occasionally been viewed by a very low single-digit (so far) number of men.

Her hazel eyes had that restless summer pond quality which sometimes, between the ripples of grayish-green, revealed flecks of gold. 

A slim and slightly up-turned nose sat just about perfectly placed above a  rounded chin and two enticing lips: a face to launch a thousand tweets.

Besides that, she was damned good-looking.

He, was lean, buffed and clean shaven; and he was always cloaked in a fine tan that blended well with his beaming brown eyes.

His thrice-broken nose took a few curves on the way to its tip but ended up fairly plumb. However, it was his mouth that you noticed first, simply because he was one of those sunny sons of bitches who are always smiling. And, as a logical consequence of this inflated good humor, he was either whistling or belting out a number on just about any occasion and for no special reason; sometimes he didn’t even realize that he was with whistle or song.


Alex, now sweating a slow drizzle, carefully and succinctly cursed the goddamned washing machine company that had hiked the goddamned costs by a usurious goddamned thirty percent for both the Bunyan-sized washers and the goddamned Hummer-sized dryers, and so, saddled with her  temporary anger, she tugged and tossed the last of her multifarious threads, and the bear, into the pro forma giant yellow-latticed plastic basket and stood up.

Exactly how tall she was just depended on her mood; five foot eleven when she stood up straight to answer a question in her music lectures at Cal; five foot six when depression harnessed a hump to her shoulders; and she towered well over six feet in her pink heels when she wanted to both impress and dominate a goggle-eyed boyfriend: this mood was always a period of uncertain sentiments, as she juggled good impressions with not particularly giving a rat’s.


Generally, his singing was heard in the evening—or at least after the sun went down, whereas the whistling could erupt at any time and upon any occasion.

Emily, from the fourth floor, had asked him if solar positioning had anything to do with his repertoire; she was a member of theRosicrucians, and Ra was one of her favorite deities; thus her borderline-lunatic curiosity of all things sunish.

He had a hell of a time extricating himself from Emily and her ceaseless imbecilic questions, but he was always the gentleman; very polite, but insistent.


When Alex had first mentioned the whistling vocalist—who abided somewhere up or down the air shaft that serviced fourteen apartment bathrooms—to her flatmate Samantha Sanders, the latter froze in mid-brush of her soppy teeth.

“You what?” she asked through a dentifrice foam of white-out intensity while holding her buzzing blue electric toothbrush at a right angle from her full head of silver-highlighted dark brown hair.

“Yeah; I listened for about—well, the first time, when I thought I’d just listen until the end of one tune—that first time, I was sitting there,” and she nodded her rich blonde tresses toward the pink throne.


Because he especially liked to cut loose with the notes while using the head, his fellow tenants would receive their gigs while doing their business.

There were velvet whistlings to rival Burl Ives (and all his Christmas songs), damn good counterfeits of Dean Martin.; even the high-note challenges of David Whitfield.

Whistling erupted, in the main, when he had a theme going; military marches; Gilbert and Sullivan; Willie Nelson; The Wizard of Oz; war movie instrumentals; musicals (and especially The Music Man) Swan Lake; opera; (especially Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma); classics like the 1812 Overture; a snatch of Tannhauser; all of Gershwin; Bill Walsh’s Funeral requests; Queen. However, occasionally there was a very dour program—perhaps a dirge or two leaked out, but a sprightly number customarily postdated them.


“Why the hell did you do that for?” gurgled Samantha through rushing and rinsing water. Then she spit.

“Well, it was weird to begin with; I mean, this air shaft, or light well, or whatever you call it, means our bathroom is just up the road—or down—from thirteen other apartments; I counted them, and—well, it just felt like I was in his apartment; listening to him.”

“You mean in his bathroom—and how can you tell he’s a he just from a whistle?” She briskly rubbed her face with a pink hand towel.

“Well, he sang some too—not that first time I don’t think—and I really didn’t know that he was also the singer until a couple of nights ago, because he started singing –really great voice—and then he suddenly started to whistle and I knew it was him; the same guy.” 

Samantha, who now had a lipstick en route to her sensual lips, once again stayed her hand and stood still, looking at Alex, trying to decipher the odd look on her friend’s face; a look, which to Sam, resembled that of someone smitten by either extreme curiosity or nascent love; neither of which Sam thought for a moment, inhabited the shapely head of her best friend.

 “You mean he—it’s a he, right?” Alex nodded. “could be listening,” and she dramatically lowered her voice, “to us—like—right now, right?” 

Alex raised her eyebrows, and in a normal voice. “Yeah . . . I guess so.” 

Samantha continued to speak just above a whisper. “That’s creepy Alex—I’m getting out of here.” and she moved past Alexandra through the bathroom doorway and into the hall connecting the other five rooms.

Depending on the elements, even the inmates squirreled away in the adjoining buildings gave wondering ear to his melodious benefactions.

Mutt-owners, supervising the peeing and pooping of their curs at stops along the avenue, would hear him on those occasions when a vicious offshore wind was whipping west down the high-rise canyon of their four-lane high street.

Everyone would know when he was off tripping somewhere because their visits to the lav (or out walking the mastiff) would not begin and conclude with a commanding musical accompaniment.


Alex gave a slight “hunh” and stepped closer to the window.

She hoped that he had been listening; she wanted him to know how thrilling it was to listen to his singing—and even his whistling.

She had never paid much attention to whistling, or even the musical genre of whistling, but as a graduate student at Berkeley’s Department of Music, she was open to any new instruments or presentations of sound—sackbuts; piris; clavichords; bladder pipes; slug horns; oil drums—the expression of joy and tragedy through some form of instrument was the subject of her thesis.

But now she was wondering if she should sack the sackbuts et al, and go with the whistling.

Another “hunh” slipped between her two exquisite lips. She began to lean out into the air shaft and caught sight of her image in the large mirror (with five special make-up bulbs and a highly polished chrome frame).

 Looking back at her were the contours, the bone structure, and the silky sheen of an extremely beautiful young woman. Perhaps her nose was a bit short; the hazel eyes overly coruscating. Nevertheless, her neck was long and graceful, and above her full real breasts, there was no hint of ribs or sternum.



End of Chapter One

© Copyright 2019 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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