“The Green Tower” Hard-Boiled PI Short Fiction By Steve Buccellato

“The Green Tower”: Hard-Boiled PI Short Fiction By Steve Buccellato

Steve Buccellato, author of The Green Tower, is a freelance Creative Director and Illustrator specializing in graphic novels and their forms of visual storytelling, working under the auspices of his virtual studio LEGENDHAUS.

*****

“You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.”

–– Albert Einstein

I FELL HARD.

That’s the only excuse I can come up with for my behavior this week. Ever since I drove past that crazy stone tower and heard that goddamn siren song. Her name was Rapunzel if you can believe that. She could have been named ‘Re-Pustule’ and it wouldn’t have mattered one lick to me. The second I turned my lamps on her I couldn’t see anyone else.

Didn’t want to.

Her name was Rapunzel if you can believe that. She could have been named ‘Re-Pustule’ and it wouldn’t have mattered one lick to me.

I was on the job, following the latest in a long line of unfaithful husbands to his love den in the slummy part of town. Another uninspired tryst among the swinish multitude. It’s mind-numbing work, but it keeps the lights on and my side-bar stocked, so that’s okay by me.

This guy I was following was a real piece of work. Beady little eyes, crooked teeth jutting out of his maw, and thick black hair growing out of his goddamned ears longer than the scruff on top of his head. Looked like an honest-to-Hoyle rat.

Cassanova knocked three times and a haggard-looking woman-child cracked open the rusty iron door. She showed off her rotting grill by way of “hello,” and the drooling man-vermin scurried inside. Good night sweet prince.

I got everything I needed on film, so I was done for the day. Trading my rig with the telephoto lens for the fifth of Jameson stashed in my glove box, I eased my machine into slow-moving traffic and took a long pull to get myself straight.

Oldtown is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and stygian alleyways that materialized haphazardly, back before anyone had ever heard of ‘urban planning.’ Or common sense, I guess. To me it always looked like someone took a real city, threw it in a sack, shook it up like dice in a cup, spilled it out over a huge shitpile and decided to call it ‘home.’ That’s my opinion, but what the hell do I know?

Anyway, I was cruising along and thinking about getting paid when I first heard the singing.

I could not make out the words, but the melody reached out through the air like sonic tendrils that forced their way into my ear holes and glommed onto my very soul. Without thinking, I slammed the brakes and ran out to see where the bewitching sound was coming from.

Behind a ridiculously high chain link fence covered in ivy, a slim stone tower of quartzite rose up high over the roofs of the surrounding tenements. My eyes followed my ears, higher and higher, noting that the peculiar green structure had no windows except at the very top. That’s where the song emanated from. An unseen angel was there, singing behind a shabby curtain.

I hurried to retrieve my lens to get a better look. No luck. Mr. Jameson and I would have to wait until after dark to try to get a glimpse of the hidden seductress.

So we did.

Three hours and four lovely fifths later, the cul-de-sac had grown dark and quiet. I was camped out in the passenger’s seat of my Mustang, parked with a killer view of the strange stone erection. The singing had stopped some time earlier but I remained enchanted by the silhouette of the singer passing behind the illuminated curtain, back and forth. The flickering light must have been playing tricks on my eyes, because the woman’s profile didn’t make any sense to me. The back of her head looked like an enormous undulating wave flowing and following her around the room. If only she would open up the curtain so I could get a better look.

Squeeeeek!

The sudden wail of rusty grinding metal made me jump in my seat, and I dropped my camera. Through the windshield I saw an old crone carrying an antique oil lamp, struggling to open the ivy sheathed gate. It dragged painfully along the cement inches at a time until the opening was wide enough for her to squeeze through, and she slammed it shut behind her.

As quietly as I could, I tripped my way across the street and buried my face in a gap in the ivy to see what she would do. Maybe the tower had a hidden door?

No, the old bird was standing at the base of the tower, looking up toward the single window. She pulled a ratty old army-issue walkie-talkie out from under her hooded cloak and, holding down a button with her talon-like thumb, she croaked:

“Big Mamma to Rapunzel, do you copy?”

“Ten-four, Big Mama. Over.”

“Let down your hair, child. Over.”

“Roger that, Big Mama. Over and out.”

A second later I saw my angel leaning out of the window, and lowering a mass of thick, braided golden rope down the length of the tower. The crazy thing was that the twisted strands seemed to be attached to her head — It was her hair!

When the braid hit the ground, the old woman put down her lantern and grabbed on tightly with both hands, twisting one of her pointy feet into the tangled tresses for support. And then, suddenly, she was airborne and the braid yanked her up and into the open window.

What the actual fuck?

I don’t know how long I stood there with my face in the ivy, but at some point I felt something rubbing against my legs. I looked down at a scruffy black cat with holes in its ears and scars from countless street fights visible through patches of missing fur. It looked up at me quizzically with its one good eye glowing at me in the darkness.

It purred loudly.

I kicked it into the street and lumbered back to my car.

I wanted to get home. I had to think about this.

But first I stopped at O’Malley’s on Hillside. Like I had a choice. From the neon-stained sidewalk I could hear Patsy purring to me from the old juke. It was that song I like about the sobbing tree or whatever. Ancient peanut shells crunched and squelched beneath my feet as sidled to my preferred spot at the bar. Tonight Gene was pouring. He said:

“Hey Lou, another late one? How are you doing tonight?”

“Can the jibber-jabber, asshole. Gimme what I need.”

With a grunt and a look that managed to convey both amusement and a strong desire to knock my teeth down my throat, Gene served up a highball glass filled generously with my old friend James Beam. He left me and the bottle alone to ruminate and marinate.

…After midnight… searchin’ for me… Wa-wa-walking…

The joint was empty but for me and Gene, some old-time boozer passed out with his sloppy grey beard taking root on the other end of the bar, and two college kids groping each other behind the pool table. Fuck me. Gotta love gentrification.

It took me a glass or three before I realized that the greybeard was Eric Persimmons. He was an old-time private shamus from back when my old man was still on the force. Guy was a freaking legend. He was the one who found that dead boy’s remains on Juniper Tree Road. He also tracked down the Bloody Chamber Killer back in ‘02. Shot that blue bearded sonafabitch dead in an Oldtown alley. Had to empty eight rounds into him before he’d drop. At least that’s what I heard.

Now look at the poor bastard.

As Patsy’s voice swapped out for the Man in Black’s, I turned my gaze toward the glistening bottles behind the bar, and my own fractured mug staring back at me from the web-cracked mirror. I could barely recognize myself through the mosaic and the five days of grubby stubble. I was well on my way to becoming the grey old-boozer’s twin. Sitting there, we were like bearded bookends, except the bar was holding us up instead of vice-versa.

…one more round… Delia’s gone…

Three hours later I was still looking at my reflection, only now it was in a filthy puddle in the alley behind O’Malley’s. I slowly got up off my knees, wiping the vomit from my chin. I knew what I had to do.

*****

I staked out the tower for three days. Three sixteen-hour days parked inconspicuously but near enough to avoid missing any comings or goings. Three days sober. Or mostly sober. I usually hit the ol’ flask of Jack fifteen minutes before heading home by way of O’Malley’s. But on the job I kept my wits about me for the first time since forever. From 7 am until 10:45 pm I was as dry as Steven Wright performing stand-up on the Bonneville Salt Flats on a July afternoon.

It’s a strange feeling, staying sober all day. I don’t know how the hell Honest Abe managed to do it. Or Gandhi. He was another teetotaler. I guess those guys had a lot of other stuff going on to keep them busy. No time to drink when you’re liberating the oppressed. But that don’t explain Hitler. Maybe he was the exemption that proves the rule or whatever.

But I digress…

After three days, I caught on to the old biddy’s routine. Twice each day she’d show up with her basket and she’d repeat the whole “let down your hair” act. After a half-hour or so, she’d climb back down that crazy braid and be on her way. What was her deal, anyway? Was she some kind of kooky kidnapper or sicko serial killer? Like that crazy cannibal lady who lived out in those Dark Woods past Alvarado. My old man was on the job when that caper blew up in ‘93. Like a lot of parents, he wouldn’t let me out of the house for almost a year after that shitshow. Crazy crazy times.

Well, whatever was going on, I got the feeling that this dame was up to no good in the hood.

Somebody was going to have to do something.

Somebody with brains and guts.

Somebody with fists of granite and a jaw of…granite.

Somebody who Gets The Job Done!

Somebody named Lou Prinze.

(That’s me, you schmuck)

*****

Anyway, on day four I climbed the fence and camped out inside the courtyard waiting to catch “Big Momma” unawares. I got there early and had some time to kill, so I decided to do some pushups to get pumped. Luckily, I had to stop after four because I heard a rattling at the gate.

As soon as she was through with the gate closed, I snuck behind her all quiet-like. It was hard because I was still out of breath from those push-ups, but I grabbed hold of her hooded dome with one mit, and shoved an ether-soaked rag in her face with the other. It was all pretty simple, really. I laid her limp body out in a corner where nobody would see her snoozing, and I rifled through her stuff.

I pocketed the forty six bucks from her wallet, snatched up the basket and stood below the window with the walkie talkie ready. Using my best old lady voice, I held down the PTT button and went for broke:

“AHEM– Big Mamma to Rapunzel, do you copy?”

“Ten-four…. Is that you, Big Mama? Over.”

“Let your hair down, baby. Over.”

“Umm… R-Roger that, Big Mama. Over and out.”

This was it! My time had come! I felt something stir deep within the bowels of my decrepit, bedraggled heart. This would be the defining moment of my heretofore pathetic life.

No more sleazy stakeouts chasing unworthy unfaithful rat-men.

No more late nights crying in puddles of my own vomit.

I still hadn’t even seen Rapunzel yet, but I knew that I was in love. It was batshit crazy, but I was about to rescue an actual, in-the-flesh, damsel-in-distress. I was Prince Charming! I was freakin’ Zorro!

The golden tresses tumbled down from the top of the tower towards me in slow motion. When they landed, I reached into the silky smoothness and felt an electric charge pass though my body. I wrapped a lock around my wrist, gave a soft tug, and held on for dear life.

Suddenly, I was weightless. Some kind of magic. I flew up the side of the tower, and I felt no fear. No doubts. When the window drew close, my face contorted into an unfamiliar shape that must have been a smile. There she was.

My beautiful, golden haired angel.

Screaming bloody murder.

“You’re not Big Momma…Y-you’re… a MAN!”

Faster than a greased weasel, Rapunzel drew a Glock from somewhere beneath her fine, silk gown, and unloaded three slugs into my sorry gut. As my hand released the braid, gravity yanked my body back to hard, unforgiving reality. But my spirit stayed aloft, high up in the sky with my quick-drawing angel of no-mercy.

Before fading into oblivion, I looked down on my broken, bloody corpse and saw the old hag giggling while rifling through my pockets and grabbing my junk. Sly old fox must have been faking. She had my respect. She looked straight up at my disembodied ghost with her bug-eyes and her toothless leer and flipped me the bird. Maybe this was her plan all along. Maybe the ether was no good. Probably should have checked the expiration date. Somebody should have checked mine. Either way, I know I hadn’t been thinking straight. It’s like I said before…

…I FELL HARD.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed The Green Tower, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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