by Joseph Leskey
A sudden darkness enveloped the room as a light switch clicked into inactivity. The glow of a nearly full moon grasped the windows, but seemed to linger there, casting only a small glow onto the many objects nearby. Footsteps resounded on the floor as the guard went by. He carefully inspected the magnificent grand piano, grunting his satisfaction before walking off towards one of the many exits.
It was at that moment that a tall figure crept out from underneath a fenced-in stove. It stealthily stepped over the fence and tiptoed towards the piano. It pulled out a small cylinder, illuminating the area very slightly. The figure’s now apparent features were instantly recognizable. The wide eyes, long nose, and half-smiling mouth, along with the oddly pointed ears and sigh, marked this person as the same man who had previously stared with the same longing at the piano. He sighed three more times before smacking his knuckle into his nose and narrowing his eyes. He pulled some rope from his pocket and grunted, circling the piano slowly.
“Blimey,” he mumbled, “Blinkin’ hard.” He paused, tilting his head quickly. “Blinkin’ hard. I ain’t never heard nae seen anything quite so blinking hard.”
Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. The man leaped underneath the piano as the guard came in.
“Who’s there?” The guard leveled his firearm this way and that. He abruptly leaped and fired a stream of bullets at the floor. A pool of blood and the remains of a rat spread across the previously perfectly clean floor. The guard growled to himself, slinging his gun onto his back and pulling out a device, punching at it with somewhat chubby fingers. He put the thing to his ear as it rang excessively. Finally, some squawks came from it and the guard started shouting. “Hey, Mrs. Gould. You awake?”
“Good. I think that the floor may be a bit mess… oh it’s me. Liam… yep. No. Liam McCoy. Yes. Definitely not. I’m the guard.”
An especially loud squawk.
“The museum, perhaps! Yes. That’s right.” He paused. A steady stream of squawks reached the piano, seeming to continue for quite a while.
“Lady, I don’t speak French. Never did,” said the guard dully. “’Cepting the time I tried to speak Dwarfish… no. In my family you always spell it with f. What? Oh, right. Well, It’s… no, I didn’t drop any… yes. It is. Actually, it’s a rat. Call an exterminator!? I was myself an exterminator. This rat is beyond extermination.” A pause, this time without squawks. Then one small one sounded.
“Yes, dead.” said the guard. “So I need… well, I can throw it out, but it’s rather… bloody. So I need… yes, yes… yes, no, yes. Thank you.” The guard thumped the device and slid it into his clothing.
“Womenfolk. They need us to throw the rats out.” He looked at the rat, his mouth set in a firm line. Then he wildly flailed and made his voice to a ridiculously high pitch. “Oh! Oh! It’s a rat… I can’t touch it. It will kill me… oh, oh! Can you take it out for me Mr. McCoy. Oh, please, Mr. McCoy. You’re so kind, Mr. McCoy. Oh, I can’t bear looking at it… oh! Oh! I swoon!” He waved his body backwards and slipped, smacking his head against a black cube. He didn’t get back up.
“Well, I’ll be…” came the voice of the man under the piano. “He knocked himself out cold.” The man slid across the floor, into view. “Well, bless his heart! Thank’e kindly, mate. There was jolly good form.”
The man grabbed a ladder and moved it against the wall. He climbed up towards the roof, disappearing into the darkness. Soon a rope descended and he climbed back down. “I’d hate for him to wake up… he’d kill me if I so much as took a breath with me olfactory.” He stood, looking at the guard warily. “Oh well. Good job I’m such a stick. Give him but little target.” He lifted and lowered his shoulders before climbing back up into the duskiness above. Three more ropes came down. He climbed back down, going over to the piano and wrapping the ropes around it. He then went to the wall. Suddenly, a strong pressure built up underneath the piano. This almost instantly snapped.
The man mumbled something under his breath and climbed back up towards the roof. Quite instantaneously, a door opened and the lights flicked on. Standing there was an ancient lady, holding a mop and a bucket. She crossed the room to where the rat and guard lay, both very unconscious, and threw a bucketful of water onto the scene.
“Ack.” moaned the guard. “Who’s that?” He was suddenly on his feet, reeling, as he pulled out a pistol.
“Why haven’t you thrown out the rat?”
“I was just doing that,” said the guard guiltily. He headed towards the rat and blanched. “Wait just one second! Speaking of rats, I forgot to close the attic vents. Everybody knows that bats are always getting into the museum if the attic vents are open.” He ran out of the room. The old lady muttered to herself, donned some gloves, wrapped the rat in plastic, and followed him. She came back but a few seconds later, humming, and began to clean up the blood. When her task was finished, she hollered, “Are you planning on murdering any other vermin or can I go to sleep?”
“Well,” came the slightly distant voice of the guard. “I saw a bat, so you might want to stick around.”
The lady grunted. “Whatever.” She strolled out of the room, cleaning implements in hand, and deactivated the lights. The instant she left, a section of the ceiling was lifted away and a masked head popped out, wielding a device that produced a vast amount of green light. It looked this way and that, before a rope was thrown down and a body descended. At about halfway down the rope, a cloud of bats burst out of the hole in pursuit of the figure. It shrieked and fell all the way to the floor. The bats spread out across the room and the person ducked quickly behind some crates. A heavy thud announced the destruction of a door as the guard came in, wielding a pistol, club, and flashlight. He shot down two bats, with five bullets each, before throwing his pistol and club at two more. He successively incapacitated one and severely damaged a clear case with shiny objects inside. The guard lifted a very long rifle from his back and began firing continuously at the remaining.
The other door burst open and the cleaning lady ran in with four police officers. The guard hastily discarded the rifle into a chest and drew a revolver before they could turn on the light.
“Good evening, officers!” he exclaimed, shooting the last bat. Everybody watched as it plummeted to the ground, a mess of wings and entrails. “Just killin’ a couple bats. Any problems?”
“Not really. We heard something that sounded almost like a machine gun and we thought we had better investigate,” said a tall woman in their midst.
“Oh, well, no problems here. I’ve got to return to my rounds. Good night!”
“Good night.” The officers walked away.
“I tried telling them it was just you being crazy, but you know…” Mrs. Gould slammed the door.
“I hope machine guns are legal,” muttered the guard. He picked his gun out of the chest, eying it. “Oh well. What I don’t know can’t hurt me.” He marched out of the room.
Instantly, the more recent intruder came from behind the crates and headed into the storage room. The original intruder climbed down from the roof and bound the piano up with an impossible amount of rope. He went back over to the wall. Suddenly, the piano was going up into the air. Soon after it began its slow ascent, a quiet ringing came from the darkness of the room.
“Aw, stow your vibrations, mate,” pleaded the man at the wall. The ringing stopped and the room went silent. Then, an ear near the wall was illuminated and the man was whispering into a device. “Oi, mum! I can’t be too loud… I’m in a quiet place, see. Yes’m. No’m. Yes’m. Well.” he yawned. “I’m… in a library, see… or close… yeah, that’s it–a library. Hm. I like to devou’r some lit-a-tuer before I take me forty winks. Ah, well, bottom of the night to ye, mum. Don’t you worry ’bout ol’ Walter. Yes, mum, sometime I’ll find ’im and call ’im and say, ‘Oi, there, brother dear.’ Yes’m. Night’m.” A faint click sounded, accompanied a sigh of relief. The piano once again began to rise. “Wish I’d gone an’ forgotten me blower at the ’ouse.”
Suddenly, the piano stopped, the top of it banging into a mess of pulleys. At that same moment, an intense alarm came from below and a dull red flashed on the walls and floor. Walter shinnied up some ropes as the guard’s booming footsteps sounded, followed immediately by his uniformly booming voice.
“Who’s there!?” He yelled. A clunk sounded––then a round of gunfire.
“Halt!” said a voice.
“Come out into the light, madame,” snarled the guard.
There was a scuffling noise, followed by the low tones of cautiously angry conversation.
“Whew-eeeeeeee,” murmured Walter. The ropes were jerked and the piano once again came in contact with the pulleys. “Just won’erful, just won’erful. I am sweating profuse and proper, I am. Oi! I needs to shut my cake or someone will ’ear me.” His babbling ceased for a very few seconds, but then he struck up a conversation again. “I wonder if I even could get through the roof.” He groaned for a while. “Well, I think not. May all roofs burn.” He scuttled down the ropes into the darkness, calling back up softly. “’Cept me ol’ mum’s.”
“Where’d you put my phone?” yelled the guard suddenly from the adjoining room.
His captive replied loudly. “Somewhere good and safe.”
“Grr… you give it back or I’ll… I’ll.”
“Call the police? Face it, old tree stump. I hold the cards, in a manner of speaking.”
“I hold the gun.”
“I am protected by the law.”
“I am the law!”
“You are a museum guard. Hardly lawful stuff. Now step aside, so I can steal the… the… actually, I don’t know what I’m stealing. What did the shipment bring in yesterday? I hear it was extremely valuable.”
“None of your business.”
“Actually, I’ve thrown my professional life away so I could become a thief. It’s obviously my business.”
“Well, you come with me. I’m going to take you to the… what was that?”
“What was what?”
“I think I heard something.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Hm. Well then…” suddenly a stream of explosions sounded, scattering pieces of glass about on the floor. “There.”
There had, in reality been a squeaking sound from the darkness below the piano. It was followed by the piano suddenly being lowered to the ground onto a massive flatbed trolley.
“Good job I happen to be in a museum,” said Walter, materializing and petting the piano. “How I get you out the door is the problem. Sounds as if I’ve a guard and a thief to deal with. I ’ate thieves. Stole me mum’s best china from right under me hooter. Ah, great thundering toad legs!” He dived behind a statue as the guard and the thief entered the room, then leaped back out as they exited it.
“Fate an’ fortune is shining brightly on me poor old shoulder blades.” He laughed quickly and preformed a dance. “He’s taken the lady thief to jail. It’s just me and the ol’ cleaning lady left. Now I can take a bit of culture back to me abode.”
“Both are shining brightly all right,” said a voice. “Not necessarily on your shoulder blades.”
“Oi, there! Who said that?”
“Oh, me. Who else?” The voice came from a different section of the room.
“Are you another thief? I mean, really. A museum shouldn’t be this active a’ night when all decent fo’k is abed.”
“Then the place would lack excitement. What dialect do you speak?”
“Wot’s a dialect? Forgive me, but me ol’ mum, she never taught me anything ’bout speaking.”
“Never mind. I see that you are trying to steal the piano.”
“Not steal. I ’ate stealers. Stole me mum’s best china from right under me hooter, one such sliver o’ filth did.”
“So I’ve heard. Really, all that’s in the way of your obtainment of culture is the size of the mainstream exits.”
After a pause, Walter replied, “That’s ’xactly what I figured.”
“You have a strange dialect, potential friend. I’d say break through the wall.”
“Break through the wall? That would be a blinkin’ lot of trouble just t’get me paws on culture.”
“Don’t work, don’t eat,” said the other, sighing loudly.
“That’s what me ol’ mum says, bless ’er dear mum-ish ’eart.” Walter sniffed. “How do I break a hole in the walling fixture?”
“With brute, naturally.” A flash of shiny red clothing shone out from the darkness as the speaker moved.
“I ’magine the wall’s a fair bit thick,” said Walter slowly.
“We’ll get that piano out somehow… or die trying!”
“That’s awfully kind of you, but should we not look for a larger exit first?”
“That would ruin half the fun. What sort of vehicle do you have out there?”
“Me ol’ mum’s brother, me ol’ uncle-fella, he doesn’t believe in vehicles, ruin the jolly ol’ environment.”
“This will ruin the jolly old environment.”
Suddenly, much of the wall imploded, falling in charcoaled remains. Wisps of fire floated in the face of the sudden moonlight.
Walter whispered something, blinking against the glare in his eyes. “Did I just see things?”
A man dressed in long red flannel robes strode into the shaft of light. He winked. “That was fun.”
Walter’s bottom jaw quivered. “You shouldn’t wear flannel in summer. Kill you before the fortnight’s fulfilled. Bad way to pass on, I must say.”
“But it looks good. Now let’s move this piano out before the cleaning lady comes. Wonderful! You’ve already got it on one of the wheely-platform things.”
“I never intended devastation on the museum.” Walter started pushing the piano, wheeling it along towards the makeshift outlet.
“Didn’t your mum ever teach you economics?” the man tutted, before adding. “Think about it.” He lent a hand on the other side of the piano. “People will find the remains of the explosion. People will start snapping pictures and gossiping and buying souvenirs. The news media will report it. This here museum will rise to international renown. They’ll get enough filthy pieces of paper to rebuild this wall ten times over. I just hope they don’t get a skunk. I didn’t think of that.” He relapsed into silence for a short while, in which the scenery changed as they exited the building into the museum’s wide property. “Still, I wish I was here to benefit from my work. Huh. We’re outside.”
“Quite observant of you, old chap.”
“I just don’t know about your dialect.”
“I say, shout, and declare! Look yonder, look right there!” came the other man’s whispered voice.
“Nice poetry,” said Walter. He looked around until he found something noteworthy. The top halves of several dark figures could be seen, scurrying about on the museum’s roof.
“Looks like a whole gang of thieves,” observed Walter.
Both men looked at each other and slunk into the shadows around the building, disappearing from sight. Dawn manifested a bright orange in a passing cloud, then slowly began conquering more of the heavens.
“Now isn’t that a sight?” whispered Walter, chuckling, as he and the other man rose from the lazily dispersing shadows. “D’ye know, good fellow, I’ve never seen the sun rise in me life?”
“Never seen a dawn?” The man, swirled his robes, brighter now in dawn-light. “Now you begin to live. But, no time for that. I’ve got a plan; you’ll get a piano and a good conscience.”
“That’s so?” asked Walter, raising his eyebrows.
“Hm hm.” The man seized the piano and rushed it back into the building, Walter following. “First we need to return this and be quiet. Those thieves would probably make us two percent water and sixty-eight percent ammunition.”
“Ow. Y’didn’t have to go into the details,” said Walter rather loudly.
“Shh. Now we lay a trap. You hide in that fake mummy. I’ll hide inside the printing press. When I hit my head against the wall, you walk out and start playing that grand piano. I’ll do the rest.”
“There isn’t a printing press.”
“Never mind about that.”
“’Kay. Wha’do I call you, anyhows?”
“As in, my name?”
“Sure thing, old thing.”
“Oh. I’m known by the name of Smith. John Smith, that’s me.”
“Hm. I’m Walter Smith. Mayhap we’re relatives.”
John nodded for a while. “Maybe. Hark! Some man comes hither.” He froze. “Hide!” He rushed into the receding darkness. Walter followed suit.
The door burst open and the guard walked in, shouldering a club and holding a pistol. “Alllllll-right! Nobody had better be in here.” He then suddenly halted and held his mouth wide open. “Jumping chimpanzees. Now that’s a hole. GOOOOOOULD!!”
A few seconds later Mrs. Gould came in, tying a cloth belt around her nightgown. She was holding a broom. “What?”
“I mean, I’ve seen cleaning ladies do some things, but never–I say, never–did I see such a hole.”
“Now don’t try to put the blame on me. I always knew those weapons of yours will make you lose your job sometime.”
“You say I did this? I’ll tell you something… hold on.” Suddenly, he twirled around and shot three bullets. He then backed towards the hole and slapped a hand to his nose. “Oh no. Skunk.”
At that moment, the intruders struck. A trio of them rushed through the hole, slamming directly into the guard and two threw themselves in through each door.
The guard flung his assailants off and held his automatic rifle menacingly. “What are you doing here?”
Two thieves took hold of Mrs. Gould. One of them spoke in a very pleasant voice. “Lay down your rifle or this here cleaning lady will have something to say about it.”
“Humph.” Mrs. Gould flung her broom out and flung herself downwards. Her broom handle came up and collided with his skull. He flew backwards and lay still. “Stand and fight, cowards!”
“Now, now, old lady, no need to get your blood up.” The other captor, who had flung himself backwards, aimed his gun. Mrs. Gould knew when she had been beaten.
“All right,” the thief continued, “lay down your arms, guard.”
The guard aimed his rifle. “Release your captive.”
The thief did not expect this. He hesitated, before saying, rather squeakily, “You’ll hit her.” He nodded slightly.
The guard shook his head. “I’ve good aim, she’s short. No problem at all.”
“Oh. Help!” The other man ran back out the door. In the same instant, all the other intruders leaped at the guard and he went down in a glorious brawl.
A loud hollow thump resounded against the wall and Walter immediately came towards the piano. He sat down in the bench and began playing a remarkable piece. Mrs. Gould chose that moment to quickly exit the room, mobile phone drawn.
As the intruders whipped around, small explosions erupted on the floor, flinging them all the ground. The guard lay moaning on the floor. John sneaked out from behind a cabinet and gave Walter a roll of rope. He left the piano and securely bound his new captives. John, meanwhile, poured a bottle of water down the guard’s throat, whereupon the man coughed and sat up.
“Tryin’ to choke me, eh? Wha…t are you?”
“I’m your best friend. Now drink up like a good little feller. My buddy over there fought down all the little thieves. Our debt has you in it.”
“I’m assuring your subconscious of my innocence.”
The guard grunted and got to his feet. “Okay, okay. Now, did anybody think to call the police?”
“I think the good lady did,” replied John, standing up and stretching. “In fact…” Police suddenly poured into the room.
John walked over to one of them and said, “G’day, mate,” before exiting the room.
“What’s going on here?” said one officer.
“Well,” exclaimed the guard. “I came back here from putting that thief into custody and there was a big hole in the wall, then everybody leaped on me.”
“Hm hemm. Who’s this feller?” He pointed a pencil and Walter.
“Blimey, old bean, jolly nice of you to ask, really. Me ol’ mum, bless her kindly mumish heart, denominated me Walter Smith. ’Course, she didn’t give me that surrrah-name. That came from the ancestors, bless their rotted hearts.”
“Hm hemm,” said the officer. “Who tied these scoundrels up?”
“That would be me, sure as sunshine itself, what?” stated Walter.
“Hm hemm.” The officer scribbled in a tiny notebook for some time as the rest of the police organized the criminals. Immediately before he finished writing, all of the members of the museum board came in through the hole in the wall, staring at its edges. Following them was an entire brigade of news reporters. One of them was dressed in a red suit and held a notebook and camera of the same color. He tipped his red fedora at Walter, grinning. Walter waved a greeting.
“Yes, well,” said the policeman, chewing his lip. “Compannnnny,” he turned to the other officers. “Take this rabble away.” They did so. The policeman waved his pencil aimlessly. “There. All your problems are over, save for that hole in the wall over there. Good day!” He exited through the hole.
Everybody turned their attention to the museum board, who were continuing to stare absently at the air where walling used to exist.
Walter ventured talking. “I say, old sports.” He looked at the news reporters. “That lot seem to be daydreaming. Just imagine the jolly good headlines you can make out of this.” The news reporters captured a few pictures. The board remained in their reverie until the guard bodily invaded their personal space. They then snapped into reality.
One of them spoke, waving an arm vaguely towards the sky. “So, did they blow up the wall?” All the news reporters leaped forward for the answer.
“Yes, O Supreme Executive Officer.”
John dived in front of the guard, losing his fedora mid-leap. “Are you sure they did it? Did you see it happen?”
“Yes, did you see it?” came the voices of other reporters.
“Ah, well, no, but the evidence…”
“What was the purpose of this violation?” asked one reporter, shoving his microphone at the guard’s mouth.
“Uh… robber…” murmured the guard.
“Please speak a little louder, sir; thank you.”
Another voice came from the reporters. “What was the object of the burglary?”
“We do have a valuable…”
“A valuable what, sir? I didn’t quite hear that,” said John.
“I didn’t quite say it,” grumbled the guard, seething.
“What is the valuable object, sir?” came another voice.
“Some sort of something from India.”
“How did…” This speaker was interrupted by another, who shouted, “How do you suppose the thieves broke through the wall?”
“A bomb, perhaps?”
“Reasonable,” said a reporter. “Will…”
“Leave us,” said one of the board members. He was staring at the sky, transfixed to his place on the floor. He wore a white robe, decorated with golden hieroglyphics. The reporters obeyed his command. Moving naught but his mouth, he continued speaking. “From what I could gather, the invasion overwhelmed our guard and, indeed, the architects thereof had the building at their veritable mercy, until you, sir, saved the situation.” He turned slowly to Walter.
“Tut tut, old thing. Say no more upon the subject, what? Just doing my blinkin’ duty as a citizen of the jolly old world.”
“I see. We should, however, desire to not be within the boundaries of your debt. We must make recompense for your troubles.”
“Ah, about that,” said John, popping through the doorway, swirling a bottle of water. He was clad in red clothing of shades either nearly black or almost white.
“Who are you?” asked another of the museum board.
“Who are you?”
“Francis von Hoff, director of archeology.”
“Hm… I guess you belong here. I suggest you give this man that grand piano over there. He well earned it.”
“Excuse me, sir, but a museum simply does not give away grand pianos.” Francis von Hoff sounded utterly astounded.
“Quite so, but this one might. There is a monstrous crowd outside your museum doors already, waiting for them to be opened. The police are the only thing preventing them from flooding in through yonder hole.” John gestured towards the same. “This will bring you money. You’ll be able to buy eighty grand pianos. Of course, you should be trying to get King Tut’s favorite flute or something, not a grand piano, but each to their own.” John suddenly fell to the ground holding out his hands beseechingly. “Forsooth, O Mighty Council, I say unto you, this will cause a monetary chain reaction. Your economic prospects will make you rich beyond hope. And, anyway, the public will love that you gave this poor fellow something. It just isn’t done these days.”
The man with the robe of hieroglyphs stared impassively at this display. “It is a fine piano,” he stated dully. “Our gift of it to this man will fulfill our debt to him. Its destiny belongs not in slow corruption upon display. Nay, rather, it is better for this man to take and possess it, that the pure art which it guards may be kept forever preserved in this world of motion.”
All the museum board recognized the wisdom of these words and shouted in one voice, “So be it!”
Francis von Hoff shrugged. “Well then. I do suppose that’s that. The piano is yours, uh… what was the name?”
“Walter Smith, sah.”
“Er, rather. How will you get the piano to your abode?”
“I haven’t the foggiest, old chap.”
“Quite. Where has your friend gone? He seems vanished.”
“I am bereft of notion and knowledge,” replied Walter, looking about.
“Ah, well. I must go let the mobs in. Enjoy your instrument.” He walked off.
Walter looked about again, then shrugged, pushed a finger across his eye and came towards the piano. “You belong to Walter Smith now.” A tear appeared on his cheek. “I’ll do you proud, old thing.”
From behind a pillar draped in curtains, John watched, red robes billowing around gray clothing. A small smile appeared on his face and he raised his hand. A small image of Walter appeared, playing a piano, glowing with golden light. He ran his hand through his slightly lengthy black hair. A white dog with dark gray patches bounded into sight. He petted it, then was consumed in brilliant purple light. He was gone, leaving nothing but a small mark on the floor, burning dully with dying flames.
Copyright 2017 Joseph Leskey