Pipes — A Short Story

pipe organ

By Sir Nicholas Robinson

Lots of people were doing lots of different things on the night of July 29th, 2019. Some people were enjoying time with their families. Some people were waiting in line at the movie theater. Some people, likely, were sleeping. Someone was probably having a birthday. Hopefully they were having a happy one. Me? I was driving a stolen, empty U-Haul truck five miles over the speed limit.

The absurdity of this scenario was not lost on me, but I didn’t really have time to think it over, as I was already nearly late on a schedule that couldn’t get much tighter or else it would snap, sending me and everyone involved plunging to the doom that awaited us. A very specific doom, that happened to take the form of striped uniforms, iron bars, and the loss of big numbers with dollar signs in front of them.

Despite the risks, I accelerated the U-Haul faster. Sure, it’s unusual, and not the type of vehicle you’d expect one to be driving on the way to a heist, but this? This could hardly be considered a normal heist.

* * *

I’ve been on a lot of weird jobs. I’ve been on a lot of strange jobs. Big ones, small ones, when you’re a getaway driver for hire you see a lot of weird crap. Once, a dude literally hired me to help him heist a crate of oranges out of a supermarket. The reason? Dude just didn’t want to pay for his oranges. Were they a type of rare, expensive orange? Nope. Were they the best tasting oranges I’ve ever had? Heck no. Literally just a normal crate of oranges. Unfortunately, he paid me in oranges also. But, for every orange-deprived maniac, there’s some criminal mastermind out to hold up a bank or intercept some drug shipment. Like it says in very small, discreet, hard-to-read letters on a variety of my getaway vehicles, “There ain’t no job too big or small, Blake Cobb’ll speed you from ‘em all.”

So when I got contacted by Carson Sharp, the logical thing to do was take the job. It was a bit of a risky move though, accepting Sharp’s business. The man’s a genius, never gets caught, but hardly anyone knows anything about him. His methods, what he deals with, heck even his real name is a mystery. Well, that’s the general consensus. No idiot uses their real name in the criminal underground. Even worse, the payout for the job could’ve end up being quite low. Word on the street was that Sharp had a bit of a nobility complex, and dashed around stealing from the rich and giving to those in need. To those of you who haven’t done the math on that, if Suzie takes three apples from Mary and gives them to Tom, Suzie has made little to no profit on this quite frankly rather dull transaction, thus raising the question of why she put time and effort into it anyways. Unless the shocking reveal is that Tom has been holding his water pistol up to Suzie on the playground, holding her hostage until she takes Mary’s apples because Mary made Tom play House during recess when he wanted to go play Pokemon with the guyz, Suzie doesn’t benefit in this circumstance. You see now why I worry that I may not profit from this job.

But, the transparent bumper sticker doesn’t lie, and the opportunity to work with Carson Sharp on a heist was intriguing, to say the least, and very appetizing indeed, so I took the job and we scheduled a brief consultation. You know. Like civilized people.

* * *

I brought the U-Haul to a halt outside a Denny’s restaurant and went inside. Towards the back of the establishment, a man sat alone in a booth next to a window, my newly acquired moving vehicle clearly visible through it.

He didn’t look up when I approached, nor when I scooted into the seat opposite him. Upon sitting down, I felt a kick under the table. Looking underneath, I could see that on the bench, next to the man, sat a folded up set of clothes that matched the ones he was wearing. Blue jeans, a white undershirt, a denim vest with a patch on it that read “E. Vylklutsch’s Moving Company” and a baseball cap that read the same.

I tried stretching under the table to grab them, but I couldn’t reach and so re-emerged above the table and looked back at the man, something that earned me another, harder kick. I pointed down under the table and mouthed “I can’t reach.”

The man just looked at me and mouthed, “What?

“I Can’t Reach,” I mouthed again, greatly exaggerating the shape of the words. This just earned another “What??” from the man, also exaggerated.

I facepalmed. I pointed at the uniform, then at myself. The man nodded as if to say that he was following so far. I held my hands up and apart from each other, demonstrating a long distance, then pointed to my left arm and held my hands up representing a short distance, mouthing the words “TOO. FAR.

This time the man facepalmed. “WHAT?!?!?!”

I smacked my head on the table. “I can’t do it Sharp,” I said, “I can’t do this whole silent mysterious thing. It’s too far! I can’t reach!”

“OOOOOOOHHH” exclaimed Sharp. “That makes sense. Y’know, you coulda asked me to give it to you by pointing at it, then me, then you.”

I facepalmed again. The red spot on my forehead by this point was probably making Jupiter turn green with envy. “Just give me the uniform.”

He did, and I got up, went to the bathroom, and changed.

I found him again outside, giving the U-Haul a once-over.

“It was the best I could do at short notice-” I started, but Sharp cut me off.

“Don’t worry about it. This’ll do. This’ll do nicely.”

* * *

I first met Carson down a dark alleyway a few blocks away from my apartment. This wasn’t where we were going to conduct business, obviously, but you don’t give confidential addresses over the phone. It’s just common sense. After getting all the pleasantries out of the way (consisting of pointing a gun at each other, passing codephrases to confirm each other’s identity, passing code codephrases to double-check to ensure one of us wasn’t just an impostor who picked up the phone at the right time, then most importantly performing the secret Heist Handshake), Sharp directed me to his car (a tan 2006 Toyota Camry) and informed me to follow it to his headquarters. So I did. Seemed like a normal job so far.

* * *

It was about a five-minute drive from the Denny’s to our headquarters, and as we pulled up we found the rest of the crew waiting for us outside.

“Where’s Liver?” I asked, noting a member of the lineup to be absent.

“His orders were to hold down the fort,” Sharp said, “just in case it gets compromised.” He winked, and the rest of the crew snickered.

“Enough laughing,” he ordered, “Pile in. Legs and I are up front. Rest of you, in the back. We’ve got a schedule to keep.”

* * *

Upon pulling up, I discovered that Carson Sharp’s headquarters was an old, abandoned warehouse out on the edge of town, like most hideouts. Seriously, if there’s an old abandoned warehouse out on the edge of town, you can bet those bags of money you just stole from the Uptown Bank that it’s not being used for legitimate warehousing. Sharp happened to have gotten a hold of a rather sizable one too. If we were lucky it might actually have a working air conditioning unit. Inside the warehouse were six other people all gathered around a card table playing UNO. It was at this point that I knew I was in good company. A perpetually running game of UNO is the sign of a good heist crew. Two of ‘em were really big, buff, bald dudes with tattoos all over their arms, faces, etc. Both had inordinately large hands, and both seemed like they were ready to flip the table over at any moment. There was a smaller, wimpier dude with glasses, who seemed to be winning, a pair of female twins who appeared to be sharing a hand and were snickering over its contents, and finally a guy who honestly just looked like an average joe. He also had an average number of cards in his hand.

As we walked in, Sharp announced, “Ladies, gentlemen, and less-gentlemen, the final member of our crew has been hired!” The six UNO players all got up and began making their way over.

“Allow me to introduce the rest of the team, Mister Cobb. These two strong, handsome, chrome-domed, tattooed individuals are The Muscles. They go by Muscle Number One and Muscle Number Two. They’re the brawn of this operation.” Somehow, the two buff guys cracked each other’s knuckles. I was sufficiently intimidated.

Sharp continued. “This nerd here is Maxwell. He likes to go by Max, but we call him Brains. He’s the–”

“Brains of the operation?” I interjected

“I prefer the term ‘strategical expert,’” corrected Brains, with a pubescent voice the likes of which should never grace the planet.

“He’s the brains of the operation,” Sharp confirmed, over Brains’s ear-splitting protests. “These two lovely ladies are the Lungs. They go by Left and Right respectively. Stealth is their department. Silent as a breath as well as being skilled acrobats, they’re gonna get us in undetected.”

“What about out?” Part of me didn’t know if I wanted an answer to this question. The Lungs laughed and flipped back to the UNO table.

“Show-offs,” Sharp muttered. “It’s unlikely we’ll be getting out undetected. That’s what you’re here for.”

He turned to address the rest of the crew. “Guys, this is our new getaway driver, Blake Cobb, though you’ll be getting to know him better as Legs. Say hello to Legs, folks!”

There were a variety of grunts from the other crew members, I’m pretty sure the only one who actually said hello was the average joe.

“Who’s that guy?” I asked, pointing him out to Sharp.

“Oh, uh, heh,” Sharp looked embarrassed and started scratching his neck, “That’s Cecil Landers. This is his warehouse we’re working out of.”

“I’m Liver!” said Cecil, grinning and waving.

“It’s because nobody likes him, but we can’t live without him,” Sharp whispered.

“And what about you?” I didn’t know if I wanted an answer to this one either.

“Me?” Sharp grinned. “I’m the Organ Donor.”

Sounded like I got what I signed up for. This job was going to be very interesting.

* * *

Sharp threw open the back hatch of the U-Haul, revealing Brains, The Lungs, and The Muscles, all seated around two piles of cards. Evidently, the UNO game had continued.

“We have arrived at our destination,” I announced, as the five players made their way out of the truck.

“Okay,” Brains announced, “let’s review the plan I designed one more time.”

Everyone groaned. We’d been over the plan that Brains designed more times than we could count.

“Lungs,” Sharp said, “you two are going in through one of the open, upper-story windows.”

“From there we make our way down to the front door and unlock it,” Right continued, “allowing you all to get in.”

“Then we skedaddle on out of here,” chuckled Left. “We’d rather not be around when you get caught.”

“The four of us,” Brains followed, “that’s me, The Muscles, and Mr. Sharp, will then go into the auditorium and locate the elements of our cargo.”

I glanced over at Sharp. Evidently he hadn’t informed the crew of the added, time-consuming step we’d discovered would be required during our stakeout.

“Once we’ve found the cargo,” Sharp picked up, “I’ll radio Legs via our…” He dug around in his denim jacket for a few seconds before pulling out a walkie-talkie, turning it on, and saying, “walkie-talkies” into it, creating a feedback loop because of the close proximity to the walkie-talkie I had strapped onto my belt. Everyone glared at him, but he kept on moving like nothing happened. “… and tell him to come around front so we can begin loading the truck. With our uniforms, we should be inconspicuous enough to avoid drawing too much attention.”

I clapped and rubbed my hands together. “Sounds like a plan.”

“My plan,” added Brains.

We groaned.

“Chop-chop,” said Sharp, looking at The Lungs. “Clock’s a-ticking. It’s go time.”

* * *

It was about 6:00 in the evening when Carson Sharp and I pulled up outside the tall building that was our target: Revive Bible Church. The getaway vehicle I’d chosen for the job was my trusty blue 2009 Honda Accord, license number G3T-AWY.

When I filled Sharp in on this piece of information earlier in the day, he laughed and asked me if I didn’t think that was a little small. When I told him that no, I thought our cargo would fit perfectly fine he laughed again and walked off. Well, I’d find out how big our cargo was in mere minutes, as Sharp and I had made an early trip out to the church to ensure it was still there. The cargo that is. Not the church. The church wasn’t going anywhere, it was about to undergo a massive renovation process, and volunteers had been there all day, packing items into boxes and crates and moving them to the auditorium for moving crews to pick up later that night. Said volunteers were currently out eating dinner, leaving a perfect window open to perform some brief reconnaissance before they returned.

The place was massive, being one of those churches with multiple buildings and stories on each building. Some windows were open on the second floor, probably letting the church air out a bit.

Sharp and I were able to walk right in through the front door, it having been left unlocked since the volunteers planned to come back for an hour or two after dinner. The movers were scheduled to arrive at 9:30, so this gave us anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to pull off this heist.

Upon entering into the auditorium, the first things that caught my eye were the several large piles of boxes stacked around the room. I reeled, it would take ages to find what we were looking for. At this point it occurred to me that no, actually, it wouldn’t, because if anyone actually thought to enact proper preservation procedures, our cargo would be in a cooler or freezer of some kind.

I started moving boxes, checking to see if some cooler or freezer was buried in a pile somewhere, but then I noticed that Sharp wasn’t looking through boxes, but rather up at the stage, hands on his hips. I made my way over to him and followed his gaze, looking up at the object that towered over us, sitting next to more piles of boxes.

“Isn’t she a beauty?” he asked.

It was at this moment that I had a dawning realization. I facepalmed, yet again. “No. No. You’re not serious. You can’t be serious.”

“I’m absolutely serious.”

“Carson freaking Sharp. We’re stealing a pipe organ?

* * *

The first few steps went off without a hitch. The Lungs somehow made it up into the upper story window. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone climb a gutter that fast. They didn’t stick around either, no sooner had they unlocked the front door then they were off, running away into the night, although I was relatively sure I saw them dart into the McDonald’s across the street when they thought they weren’t being watched. Once I saw that everyone made it into the building, I started up the U-Haul again and drove it around back, so as not to attract too much attention until absolutely necessary. I figured I’d be waiting a while, since the crew was going to need to dismantle that pipe organ and that was going to take some time. However, not twenty minutes in, the walkie-talkie on my belt buzzed to life.

“chhk Yo, Legs.”

“Sharp, what’s up? Ready to load her up?”

“chhk Almost, but we need your help first.”

“Okay, hold on, just a second, are you deliberately trying to make the static sound?” “chhk Uh… no?”

I’ll let you guess what I did next. I was definitely going to need some headache medication after all this was over with. “What do you need, Sharp,” I sighed.

“Turns out, a dude from the church is still here, decided to wait for the moving crew to make sure they made it. He hasn’t seen us yet, but he’s going to soon.”

“Then how do you know he’s there?”

“Brains saw him on his way to the bathroom.”

“Wh- you know what I’m not even going to ask. So? Just tell him you’re the moving crew and you can take it from here.”

“We need you to do that.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

“He can’t see us taking the organ apart.”

“Well why not?”

“The moving company isn’t supposed to take the organ.”

It was growing harder and harder to believe that I once thought Carson Sharp was a criminal mastermind.

“So you need me to distract him and get him to leave?”

“Yup. Can you do that for us, Legs?”

“Fine.”

“Thanks Legs. I knee we could count on you.”

I said nothing.

“Legs? Legs? You’re supposed to–”

I turned the walkie-talkie off. I wasn’t willing to dignify that pathetic excuse of a pun with a response.

* * *

“I can’t believe this,” I muttered to myself, “I just can’t believe this.” I sped down the road almost as fast as my mind was reeling, trying to come up with how the heck to transport a literal freaking pipe organ. How would one even go about moving it, let alone stealing it on a heist. After a little while of aimless driving, during which I calmed down a bit, I was able to rationalize things out a little bit more. Obviously you’d need to dismantle the instrument, but then what? How were you supposed to even move the parts around? You’d need a literal truck to transport those, and where was I supposed to get one of those in the next half hour? Then it hit me. The answer was obvious. Need a truck, go to a place where there are trucks in abundance, and also the keys required to start those trucks. I would need to play my cards right, but if I did, and the circumstances aligned, then this operation might just have a chance. Oh yes, I was feeling mighty proud of myself when I pulled into the parking lot of the U-Haul Do It Yourself Moving truck lot. Well, the parking lot of a nearby restaurant. I wouldn’t want to leave my car in the U-Haul lot, not for what I had planned. The only person inside the rental center was a store clerk in his mid-20s. This was a good sign. I figured now was as good a time as any to make my move, so to speak.

As I walked into the store, the dude put his phone down on the counter by the register and said, “Welcome to U-Haul, how can I help you today?”

I put on my best southern accent and replied, “Howdy sir, I’m lookin’ to rent a truck.”

The clerk nodded. “Yes, sir, that’s typically what people do here at U-Haul. What size truck are you looking to rent?”

“I was hopin’ I could grab one o’ them big ‘uns out there on the lot near the road.” I pointed out towards the lot, in such a way that I could have been pointing to any of the multitude of truck sizes that U-Haul had available for rent out on their lot.

“Yes sir, are you referring to our 17 foot trucks, our 20 foot trucks, or our 26 foot trucks?”

Heck, that pipe organ looked massive, I needed the biggest one I could get. “Sir, I think I’m lookin’ for your 26 footer.”

The clerk smiled and fished around under the desk, bringing out a key with a label on it that read “305” and four or five different pieces of paper. “Alright then. If you’ll sign this paperwork for me real quick, we can get you out in your new truck in no time.”

Just then, the dude’s phone started ringing. It was all I could do not to laugh, this was going to be a cinch. And, as the cherry on top, the dude looked at the phone and muttered “Dang it.” To me he said, “That’s my girlfriend, I’m late, I need to go take this. Can you wait here, sir?”

“Absolutely!” Not! The dude went through a door that read employees only, and after a few moments I could hear the sounds of his desperate protests. I was glad I was not him. In a flash, I snatched the key off the desk and ran outside, looking at the numbers labelling each truck’s parking space. “301, 302, 303, 304… 305!” Before I knew it, I was in the truck, the key was in the ignition, and I was speeding down the highway. A quick phone call to set up a rendezvous with Sharp then we were home free.

* * *

Sighing, I got out of the U-Haul and walked around to the front of the church building and went inside. From the foyer I could hear the sounds of grumbling and parts that I assumed were pipe organ related being moved around. If they were attempting to be stealthy, they weren’t doing a particularly good job of it. I wandered around the church for a little while until I found the man in question in the fellowship hall, digging through the refrigerator. He was a younger fellow, bald, and he nearly jumped six feet in the air when I cleared my throat behind him. After looking me over, however, he came to his senses and calmed down a little bit.

“I suppose you’re with the movers?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’m Edward Vylklutsch, it’s nice to meet you.” I extended my hand in greeting, and he took it.

“Chris. Good to meet you too.”

“Heard you were waiting for us, wanted to let you know that we’re here, my guys are working in the auditorium already, and we can take things from here.” Internally I snickered at the thought of referring to Sharp and the others as “my guys,” but externally I tried to retain as calm a composure as possible, hoping I didn’t come off as seeming like I was trying to get Chris out of the building as fast as possible.

“I’m glad to hear that, Edward,” said Chris, “the game’s on tonight and I don’t want to miss any more of it than I already have. Do y’all need anything before I leave?”

This was going very smoothly. I was about to say, “No, I think we’re good,” but before I could get the words out there was an extremely loud, metallic sound from the sanctuary, as well as the sound of a hollered word that was most definitely not holy.

“Y’all sure you got everything handled in there?” Chris asked.

“Yup, yup, we’re fine. One of the guys probably just dropped a… thing.”

“… okay… I’ll leave y’all to it.” And with that, Chris unlocked the back door and headed out, leaving the key with me.

I turned my walkie-talkie back on and said, “Crisis Averted,” then headed back out to the U-Haul to wait until it was time to load the truck.

* * *

The rest of the night was a blur. It didn’t take long to receive the call that Sharp and the others were ready for me to pull around front for them to load the truck. To my surprise, all the pipes and things just barely fit inside the trailer, which at least relieved my fears of driving down the road with the back hatch open and a ton of pipes sticking out. Unfortunately, there was no space for The Muscles or Brains, and when I asked Sharp how we were going to get them back to headquarters, he told me, “Don’t worry about them. Brains’ll call ‘em an Uber or something. It can’t be that uncommon for movers to run out of space in their vans, can it? Besides, we’ve got one last errand to run.”

Sharp gave me directions that wound up leading to a smaller building, out on the edge of town. Examination of the building revealed it to be another church. The front doors of the building were unlocked, and silently Sharp and I unloaded the pieces of the pipe organ out of the U-Haul and moved them inside the church. After the last pipe was placed, Sharp pulled a business card out of his pocket and leaned it up against the keyboard, at which point we got back in the truck.

After we’d both gotten in, I asked him, “Why’d you do it? Why go through all that?”

Sharp looked at me and responded, “You saw that organ before we dismantled it. You saw how beautiful it was. I’ve heard that organ played before, and under the right hands, the music it creates could bring joy to so many people. But back there? They didn’t even use it anymore. It stood there for looks. Nothing else. Why have such an incredible instrument if you’re not going to use it? Here, here is a place it will be appreciated.”

We said nothing else.

* * *

A few days later, I received an email from Sharp informing me that a sizable amount of bitcoin had been deposited to my account (we’re criminals. We use bitcoin.). Apparently, on the Organ Donor business card he’d left at the church, he’d also left a link in case the church wanted to donate funds to him to help him donate more organs. Whether I’ll be a part of that I haven’t decided yet. As of now, I haven’t been contacted again, so he may have decided that for me. At the end of the day, though, my worries were dissuaded and he did profit after all, and in turn, so did I. The moral of this story being always plug yourself, because who knows what’ll happen. So, on that note, if you or someone you know is going to be in a position where they will need someone to speed them away from a location in a discreet, hard to track vehicle, phone me up. I’ve helped people steal oranges, cash, and now, a pipe organ. Literally, no job is too big or too small. Blake Cobb will speed you from them all. Give me a call.


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