بخش 02

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: مدرسه سختگیر / فصل 2

بخش 02

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CHAPTER Six

Prufrock Preparatory School is now closed. It has been closed for many years, ever since Mrs. Bass was arrested for bank robbery, and if you were to visit it now, you would find it an empty and silent place. If you walked on the lawn, you would not see any children running around, as there were the day the Baudelaires arrived. If you walked by the building containing the classrooms, you would not hear the droning voice of Mr. Remora telling a story, and if you walked by the building containing the auditorium, you would not hear the scrapings and shriekings of Vice Principal Nero playing the violin. If you went and stood beneath the arch, looking up at the black letters spelling out the name of the school and its austere—a word which here means “stern and severe”—motto, you would hear nothing but the swish of the breeze through the brown and patchy grass.

In short, if you went and visited Prufrock Preparatory School today, the academy would look more or less as it did when the Baudelaires woke up early the next morning and walked to the administrative building to talk to Nero about Coach Genghis. The three children were so anxious to talk to him that they got up especially early, and as they walked across the lawn it felt as if everyone else at Prufrock Prep had slipped away in the middle of the night, leaving the orphans alone amongst the tombstone-shaped buildings. It was an eerie feeling, which is why Violet and Sunny were surprised when Klaus broke the silence by laughing suddenly.

“What are you snickering at?” Violet asked.

“I just realized something,” Klaus said. “We’re going to the administrative building without an appointment. We’ll have to eat our meals without silverware.”

“There’s nothing funny about that!” Violet said. “What if they serve oatmeal for breakfast? We’ll have to scoop it up with our hands.”

“Oot,” Sunny said, which meant “Trust me, it’s not that difficult,” and at that the Baudelaire sisters joined their brother in laughter. It was not funny, of course, that Nero enforced such terrible punishments, but the idea of eating oatmeal with their hands gave all three siblings the giggles.

“Or fried eggs!” Violet said. “What if they serve runny fried eggs?”

“Or pancakes, covered in syrup!” Klaus said.

“Soup!” Sunny shrieked, and they all broke out in laughter again.

“Remember the picnic?” Violet said. “We were going to Rutabaga River for a picnic, and Father was so excited about the meal he made that he forgot to pack silverware!”

“Of course I remember,” Klaus said. “We had to eat all that sweet-and-sour shrimp with our hands.”

“Sticky!” Sunny said, holding her hands up.

“It sure was,” Violet agreed. “Afterward, we went to wash our hands in the river, and we found a perfect place to try the fishing rod I made.”

“And I picked blackberries with Mother,” Klaus said.

“Eroos,” Sunny said, which meant something like “And I bit rocks.”

The children stopped laughing now as they remembered that afternoon, which hadn’t been so very long ago but felt like it had happened in the distant, distant past. After the fire, the children had known their parents were dead, of course, but it had felt like they had merely gone away somewhere and would be back before long. Now, remembering the way the sunlight had shone on the water of Rutabaga River and the laughter of their parents as they’d made a mess of themselves eating the sweet-and-sour shrimp, the picnic seemed so far away that they knew their parents were never coming back.

“Maybe we’ll go back there,” Violet said quietly. “Maybe someday we can visit the river again, and catch fish and pick blackberries.”

“Maybe we can,” Klaus said, but the Baudelaires all knew that even if someday they went back to Rutabaga River—which they never did, by the way—that it would not be the same. “Maybe we can, but in the meantime we’ve got to talk to Nero. Come on, here’s the administrative building.”

The Baudelaires sighed and walked into the building, surrendering the use of Prufrock Prep’s silverware. They climbed the stairs to the ninth floor and knocked on Nero’s door, surprised that they could not hear him practicing the violin. “Come in if you must,” Nero said, and the orphans walked in. Nero had his back to the door, looking at his reflection in the window as he tied a rubber band around one of his pigtails. When he was finished, he held both hands up in the air. “Ladies and gentlemen, Vice Principal Nero!” he announced, and the children began applauding obediently. Nero whirled around.

“I only expected to hear one person clapping,” he said sternly. “Violet and Klaus, you’re not allowed up here. You know that.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Violet said, “but all three of us have something very important we need to discuss with you.”

“All three of us have something very important we need to discuss with you,” Nero replied in his usual nasty way. “It must be important for you to sacrifice your silverware privileges. Well, well, out with it. I have a lot of rehearsing to do for my next concert, so don’t waste my time.”

“This won’t take long,” Klaus promised. He paused before continuing, which is a good thing to do if you’re choosing your words very, very carefully. “We are concerned,” he continued, choosing his words very, very carefully, “that Count Olaf may have somehow managed to get to Prufrock Prep.”

“Nonsense,” Nero said. “Now go away and let me practice the violin.”

“But it might not be nonsense,” Violet said. “Olaf is a master of disguise. He could be right under our very noses and we wouldn’t know it.”

“The only thing under my nose,” Nero said, “is my mouth, which is telling you to leave.”

“Count Olaf could be Mr. Remora,” Klaus said. “Or Mrs. Bass.”

“Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass have taught at this school for more than forty-seven years,” Nero said dismissively. “I would know if one of them were in disguise.”

“What about the people who work at the cafeteria?” Violet asked. “They’re always wearing those metal masks.”

“Those are for safety, not for disguises,” Nero said. “You brats have some very silly ideas. Next you’ll be saying that Count Olaf has disguised himself as your boyfriend, what’s-his-name, the triplet.”

Violet blushed. “Duncan Quagmire is not my boyfriend,” she said, “and he’s not Count Olaf, either.”

But Nero was too busy making idiotic jokes to listen. “Who knows?” he asked, and then laughed again. “Hee hee hee. Maybe he’s disguised himself as Carmelita Spats.”

“Or me!” came a voice from the doorway. The Baudelaires whirled around and saw Coach Genghis standing there with a red rose in his hand and a fierce look in his eye.

“Or you!” Nero said. “Hee hee hee. Imagine this Olaf fellow pretending to be the finest gym teacher in the country.”

Klaus looked at Coach Genghis and thought of all the trouble he had caused, whether he was pretending to be Uncle Monty’s assistant Stefano, or Captain Sham, or Shirley, or any of the other phony names he had used. Klaus wanted desperately to say “You are Count Olaf!” but he knew that if the Baudelaires pretended that Coach Genghis was fooling them, they had a better chance of revealing his plan, whatever it was. So he bit his tongue, a phrase which here means that he simply kept quiet. He did not actually bite his tongue, but opened his mouth and laughed. “That would be funny!” he lied. “Imagine if you were really Count Olaf! Wouldn’t that be funny, Coach Genghis? That would mean that your turban would really be a disguise!”

“My turban?” Coach Genghis said. His fierce look melted away as he realized—incorrectly, of course—that Klaus was joking. “A disguise? Ho ho ho!”

“Hee hee hee!” Nero laughed.

Violet and Sunny both saw at once what Klaus was doing, and they followed suit. “Oh yes, Genghis,” Violet cried, as if she were joking, “take your turban off and show us the one eyebrow you are hiding! Ha ha ha!”

“You three children are really quite funny!” Nero cried. “You’re like three professional comedians!”

“Volasocks!” Sunny shrieked, showing all four teeth in a fake smile.

“Oh yes,” Klaus said. “Sunny is right! If you were really Olaf in disguise, then your running shoes would be covering your tattoo!”

“Hee hee hee!” Nero said. “You children are like three clowns!”

“Ho ho ho!” Count Olaf said.

“Ha ha ha!” Violet said, who was beginning to feel queasy from faking all this laughter. Looking up at Genghis, and smiling so hard that her teeth ached, she stood on tiptoe and tried to reach his turban. “I’m going to rip this off,” she said, as if she were still joking, “and show off your one eyebrow!”

“Hee hee hee!” Nero said, shaking his pigtails in laughter. “You’re like three trained monkeys!”

Klaus crouched down to the ground and grabbed one of Genghis’s feet. “And I’m going to rip your shoes off,” he said, as if he were still joking, “and show off your tattoo!”

“Hee hee hee!” Nero said. “You’re like three—”

The Baudelaires didn’t get to hear what they were three of, because Coach Genghis stuck out both of his arms, catching Klaus with one hand and Violet with the other. “Ho ho ho!” he said, and then abruptly stopped laughing. “Of course,” he said in a tone of voice that was suddenly serious, “I can’t take off my running shoes, because I’ve been exercising and my feet smell, and I can’t take off my turban for religious reasons.”

“Hee hee—” Nero stopped giggling and became very serious himself. “Oh, Coach Genghis,” he said, “we wouldn’t ask you to violate your religious beliefs, and I certainly don’t want your feet stinking up my office.”

Violet struggled to reach the turban and Klaus struggled to remove one of the evil coach’s shoes, but Genghis held them both tight.

“Drat!” Sunny shrieked.

“Joke time is over!” Nero announced. “Thank you for brightening up my morning, children. Good-bye, and enjoy your breakfast without silverware! Now, Coach Genghis, what can I do for you?”

“Well, Nero,” Genghis said, “I just wanted to give you this rose—a small gift of congratulations for the wonderful concert you gave us last night!”

“Oh, thank you,” Nero said, taking the rose out of Genghis’s hand and giving it a good smell. “I was wonderful, wasn’t I?”

“You were perfection!” Genghis said. “The first time you played your sonata, I was deeply moved. The second time, I had tears in my eyes. The third time, I was sobbing. The fourth time, I had an uncontrollable emotional attack. The fifth time—”

The Baudelaires did not hear about the fifth time because Nero’s door swung shut behind them. They looked at one another in dismay. The Baudelaires had come very close to revealing Coach Genghis’s disguise, but close was not enough. They trudged silently out of the administrative building and over to the cafeteria. Evidently, Nero had already called the metal-masked cafeteria workers, because when Violet and Klaus reached the end of the line, the workers refused to hand them any silverware. Prufrock Prep was not serving oatmeal for breakfast, but Violet and Klaus knew that eating scrambled eggs with their hands was not going to be very pleasant.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Isadora said when the children slid glumly into seats beside the Quagmires. “Here, Klaus and I will take turns with my silverware, and you can share with Duncan, Violet. Tell us how everything went in Nero’s office.”

“Not very well,” Violet admitted. “Coach Genghis got there right after we did, and we didn’t want him to see that we knew who he really was.”

Isadora pulled her notebook out of her pocket and read out loud to her friends.

“It would be a stroke of luck if Coach Genghis were hit by a truck,”

she read. “That’s my latest poem. I know it’s not that helpful, but I thought you might like to hear it anyway.”

“I did like hearing it,” Klaus said. “And it certainly would be a stroke of luck if that happened. But I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Well, we’ll think of another plan,” Duncan said, handing Violet his fork.

“I hope so,” Violet said. “Count Olaf doesn’t usually wait very long to put his evil schemes into action.”

“Kosbal!” Sunny shrieked.

“Does Sunny mean ‘I have a plan’?” Isadora asked. “I’m trying to get the hang of her way of talking.”

“I think she means something more like ‘Here comes Carmelita Spats,’” Klaus said, pointing across the cafeteria. Sure enough, Carmelita Spats was walking toward their table with a big, smug smile on her face.

“Hello, you cakesniffers,” she said. “I have a message for you from Coach Genghis. I get to be his Special Messenger because I’m the cutest, prettiest, nicest girl in the whole school.”

“Oh, stop bragging, Carmelita,” Duncan said.

“You’re just jealous,” Carmelita replied, “because Coach Genghis likes me best instead of you.”

“I couldn’t care less about Coach Genghis,” Duncan said. “Just deliver your message and leave us alone.”

“The message is this,” Carmelita said. “The three Baudelaire orphans are to report to the front lawn tonight, immediately after dinner.”

“After dinner?” Violet said. “But after dinner we’re supposed to go to Nero’s violin recital.”

“That’s the message,” Carmelita insisted. “He said that if you don’t show up you’ll be in big trouble, so if I were you, Violet—”

“You aren’t Violet, thank goodness,” Duncan interrupted. It is not very polite to interrupt a person, of course, but sometimes if the person is very unpleasant you can hardly stop yourself. “Thank you for your message. Good-bye.”

“It is traditional,” Carmelita said, “to give a Special Messenger a tip after she has delivered a message.”

“If you don’t leave us alone,” Isadora said, “you’re going to get a headful of scrambled eggs as a tip.”

“You’re just a jealous cakesniffer,” Carmelita sneered, but she left the Baudelaires and Quagmires alone.

“Don’t worry,” Duncan said when he was sure Carmelita couldn’t hear him. “It’s still morning. We have all day to figure out what to do. Here, have another spoonful of eggs, Violet.”

“No, thank you,” Violet said. “I don’t have much of an appetite.” And it was true. None of the Baudelaires had an appetite. Scrambled eggs had never been the siblings’ favorite dish, particularly Sunny, who much preferred food she could really sink her teeth into, but their lack of appetite had nothing to do with the eggs. It had to do with Coach Genghis, of course, and the message that he had sent to them. It had to do with the thought of meeting him on the lawn, after dinner, all alone. Duncan was right that it was still morning, and that they had all day to figure out what to do. But it did not feel like morning. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sat in the cafeteria, not taking another bite of their breakfast, and it felt like the sun had already set. It felt like night had already fallen, and that Coach Genghis was already waiting for them. It was only morning, and the Baudelaire orphans already felt like they were in his clutches.

CHAPTER Seven

The Baudelaire orphans’ schoolday was particularly austere, a word which here means that Mr. Remora’s stories were particularly boring, Mrs. Bass’s obsession with the metric system was particularly irritating, and Nero’s administrative demands were particularly difficult, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not really notice. Violet sat at her schooldesk, and anybody who did not know Violet would have thought that she was paying close attention, because her hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. But Violet’s thoughts were far, far away from the dull tales Mr. Remora was telling. She had tied her hair up, of course, to help focus her keen inventing brain on the problem that was facing the Baudelaires, and she didn’t want to waste an ounce of her attention on the rambling, banana-eating man in the front of the room.

Mrs. Bass had brought in a box of pencils for her class and was having them figure out if one of them was any longer or shorter than the rest. And if Mrs. Bass weren’t so busy pacing around the room shouting “Measure!” she might have looked at Klaus and thought that perhaps he shared her obsession with measurement, because his eyes were sharply focused as if he were concentrating. But Klaus was spending the morning on autopilot, a word which here means “measuring pencils without really thinking about them.” As he placed pencil after pencil next to his ruler, he was thinking of books he had read that might be helpful for their situation.

And if Vice Principal Nero had stopped practicing his violin and looked in on his infant secretary, he would have guessed that Sunny was working very hard, mailing letters he had dictated to various candy companies complaining about their candy quality. But even though Sunny was typing, stapling, and stamping as quickly as she could, her mind was not on secretarial supplies but on the appointment she and her siblings had with Coach Genghis that evening, and what they could do about it.

The Quagmires were curiously absent from lunch, so the Baudelaires were really forced to eat with their hands this time, but as they picked up handfuls of spaghetti and tried to eat them as neatly as possible the three children were thinking so hard that they barely spoke. They knew, almost without discussing the matter, that none of them had been able to guess Coach Genghis’s plan, and that they hadn’t figured out a way to avoid their appointment with him on the lawn, an appointment that drew closer and closer with every handful of lunch. The Baudelaires passed the afternoon in more or less the same way, ignoring Mr. Remora’s stories, Mrs. Bass’s pencils, and the diminishing supply of staples, and even during gym period—one of Carmelita’s bratty friends informed them that Genghis would start teaching the next day, but in the meantime they were to run around as usual—the three children raced around the lawn in utter silence, devoting all of their brainpower to thinking about their situation.

The Baudelaires had been so very quiet, and thinking so very hard, that when the Quagmires sat down across from them at dinnertime and said in unison, “We’ve solved your problem,” it was more of a startle than a relief.

“Goodness,” Violet said. “You startled me.”

“I thought you’d be relieved,” Duncan said. “Didn’t you hear us? We said we’ve solved your problem.”

“We’re startled and relieved,” Klaus said. “What do you mean, you’ve solved our problem? My sisters and I have been thinking about it all day, and we’ve gotten nowhere. We don’t know what Coach Genghis is up to, although we’re sure he’s up to something. And we don’t know how we can avoid meeting him after dinner, although we’re sure that he’ll do something terrible if we do.”

“At first I thought he might simply be planning to kidnap us,” Violet said, “but he wouldn’t have to be in disguise to do that.”

“And at first I thought we should call Mr. Poe after all,” Klaus said, “and tell him what’s going on. But if Count Olaf can fool an advanced computer, he’ll surely be able to fool an average banker.”

“Toricia!” Sunny said in agreement.

“Duncan and I have been thinking about it all day, too,” Isadora said. “I filled up five and a half pages of my notebook writing down possible ideas, and Duncan filled up three.”

“I write smaller,” Duncan explained, handing his fork to Violet so she could take her turn at the meat loaf they were having for dinner.

“Right before lunch, we compared notes,” Isadora continued, “and the two of us had the same idea. So we sneaked away and put our plan into action.”

“That’s why we weren’t at lunch,” Duncan explained. “You’ll notice that there are puddles of beverages on our tray instead of glasses.”

“Well, you can share our glasses,” Klaus said, handing his to Isadora, “just like you’re letting us share your silverware. But what is your plan? What did you put into action?”

Duncan and Isadora looked at one another, smiled, and leaned in close to the Baudelaires so they could be sure no one would overhear.

“We propped open the back door of the auditorium,” Duncan said. He and Isadora smiled triumphantly and leaned back in their chairs. The Baudelaires did not feel triumphant. They felt confused. They did not want to insult their friends, who had broken the rules and sacrificed their drinking glasses just to help them, but they were unable to see how propping open the back door of the auditorium was a solution to the trouble in which they found themselves.

“I’m sorry,” Violet said after a pause. “I don’t understand how propping open the back door of the auditorium solves our problem.”

“Don’t you see?” Isadora asked. “We’re going to sit in the back of the auditorium tonight, and as soon as Nero begins his concert, we will tiptoe out and sneak over to the front lawn. That way we can keep an eye on you and Coach Genghis. If anything fishy happens, we will run back to the concert and alert Vice Principal Nero.”

“It’s the perfect plan, don’t you think?” Duncan asked. “I’m rather proud of my sister and me, if I do say so myself.”

The Baudelaire children looked at one another doubtfully. They didn’t want to disappoint their friends or criticize the plan that the Quagmire triplets had cooked up, particularly since the Baudelaires hadn’t cooked up any plan themselves. But Count Olaf was so evil and so clever that the three siblings couldn’t help but think that propping a door open and sneaking out to spy on him was not much of a defense against his treachery.

“We appreciate you trying to solve our problem,” Klaus said gently, “but Count Olaf is an extremely treacherous person. He always has something up his sleeve. I wouldn’t want you to get into any danger on our behalf.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Isadora said firmly, taking a sip from Violet’s glass. “You’re the ones in danger, and it’s up to us to help you. And we’re not frightened of Olaf. I’m confident this plan is a good one.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another again. It was very brave of the Quagmire triplets not to be frightened of Olaf and to be so confident about their plan. But the three siblings could not help but wonder if the Quagmires should be so brave. Olaf was such a wretched man that it seemed wise to be frightened of him, and he had defeated so many of the Baudelaires’ plans that it seemed a little foolish to be so confident about this one. But the children were so appreciative of their friends’ efforts that they said nothing more about the matter. In the years to come, the Baudelaire orphans would regret this, this time when they said nothing more about the matter, but in the meantime they merely finished their dinner with the Quagmires, passing silverware and drinking glasses back and forth and trying to talk about other things. They discussed other projects they might do to improve the Orphans Shack, and what other matters they might research in the library, and what they could do about Sunny’s problem with the staples, which were running out quite rapidly, and before they knew it dinner was over. The Quagmires hurried off to the violin recital, promising to sneak out as quickly as they could, and the Baudelaires walked out of the cafeteria and over to the front lawn.

The last few rays of the sunset made the children cast long, long shadows as they walked, as if the Baudelaires had been stretched across the brown grass by some horrible mechanical device. The children looked down at their shadows, which looked as flimsy as sheets of paper, and wished with every step that they could do something else—anything else—other than meet Coach Genghis alone on the front lawn. They wished they could just keep walking, under the arch, past the front lawn, and out into the world, but where could they go? The three orphans were all alone in the world. Their parents were dead. Their banker was too busy to take good care of them. And their only friends were two more orphans, who the Baudelaires sincerely hoped had snuck out of the recital by now and were spying on them as they approached the solitary figure of Coach Genghis, waiting for them impatiently on the edge of the lawn. The waning light of the sunset—the word “waning” here means “dim, and making everything look extra-creepy”—made the shadow of the coach’s turban look like a huge, deep hole.

“You’re late,” Genghis said in his scratchy voice. As the siblings reached him, they could see that he had both hands behind his back as if he were hiding something. “Your instructions were to be here right after dinner, and you’re late.”

“We’re very sorry,” Violet said, craning her neck to try and catch a glimpse of what was behind his back. “It took us a little longer to eat our dinner without silverware.”

“If you were smart,” Genghis said, “you would have borrowed the silverware of one of your friends.”

“We never thought of that,” Klaus said. When one is forced to tell atrocious lies, one often feels a guilty flutter in one’s stomach, and Klaus felt such a flutter now. “You certainly are an intelligent man,” he continued.

“Not only am I intelligent,” Genghis agreed, “but I’m also very smart. Now, let’s get right to work. Even stupid children like yourselves should remember what I said about orphans having excellent bone structure for running. That’s why you are about to do Special Orphan Running Exercises, or S.O.R.E. for short.”

“Ooladu!” Sunny shrieked.

“My sister means that sounds exciting,” Violet said, although “Ooladu!” actually meant “I wish you’d tell us what you’re really up to, Genghis.”

“I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic,” Genghis said. “In certain cases, enthusiasm can make up for a lack of brainpower.” He took his hands from behind his back, and the children saw that he was holding a large metal can and a long, prickly brush. The can was open, and an eerie white glow was shining out of the top. “Now, before we begin S.O.R.E., we’ll need a track. This is luminous paint, which means it glows in the dark.”

“How interesting,” Klaus said, although he’d known what the word “luminous” means for two and a half years.

“Well, if you find it so interesting,” Genghis said, his eyes looking as luminous as the paint, “you can be in charge of the brush. Here.” He thrust the long, prickly brush into Klaus’s hands. “And you little girls can hold the paint can. I want you to paint a big circle on the grass so you can see where you are running when you start your laps. Go on, what are you waiting for?”

The Baudelaires looked at one another. What they were waiting for, of course, was Genghis revealing what he was really up to with the paint, the brush, and the ridiculous Special Orphan Running Exercises. But in the meantime, they figured they’d better do as Genghis said. Painting a big, luminous circle on the lawn didn’t seem to be particularly dangerous, so Violet picked up the paint can, and Klaus dipped the brush into the paint and began making a big circle. For the moment, Sunny was something of a fifth wheel, a phrase which means “not in a position to do anything particularly helpful,” but she crawled alongside her siblings, offering moral support.

“Bigger!” Genghis called out in the dark. “Wider!” The Baudelaires followed his instructions and made the circle bigger and wider, walking farther away from Genghis and leaving a glowing trail of paint. They looked out into the gloom of the evening, wondering where the Quagmire triplets were hiding, or if indeed they had managed to sneak out of the recital at all. But the sun was down now, and the only thing the orphans could see was the bright circle of light they were painting on the lawn and the dim figure of Genghis, his white turban looking like a floating skull in the night. “Bigger! Wider! All right, all right, that’s big and wide enough! Finish the circle where I am standing! Hurry up!”

“What do you think we’re really doing?” Violet whispered to her brother.

“I don’t know,” Klaus said. “I’ve only read three or four books on paint. I know that paint can sometimes be poisonous or cause birth defects. But Genghis isn’t making us eat the circle, and you’re not pregnant, of course, so I can’t imagine.”

Sunny wanted to add “Gargaba!” which meant “Maybe the luminous paint is serving as some sort of glowing signal,” but the Baudelaires had come full circle and were too close to Genghis to do any more talking.

“I suppose that will do, orphans,” Genghis said, snatching the brush and the can of paint out of their hands. “Now, take your marks, and when I blow my whistle, begin running around the circle you’ve made until I tell you to stop.”

“What?” Violet said. As I’m sure you know, there are two types of “What?” in the world. The first type simply means “Excuse me, I didn’t hear you. Could you please repeat yourself?” The second type is a little trickier. It means something more along the lines of “Excuse me, I did hear you, but I can’t believe that’s really what you meant,” and this second type is obviously the type Violet was using at this moment. She was standing right next to Genghis, so she’d obviously heard what had come out of the smelly mouth of this miserable man. But she couldn’t believe that Genghis was simply going to make them run laps. He was such a sneaky and revolting person that the eldest Baudelaire simply could not accept that his scheme was only as evil as the average gym class.

“What?” Genghis repeated in a mocking way. He had obviously taken a page out of Nero’s book, a phrase which here means “learned how to repeat things in a mocking way, in order to make fun of children.” “I know you heard me, little orphan girl. You’re standing right next to me. Now take your marks, all of you, and begin running as soon as I blow my whistle.”

“But Sunny is a baby,” Klaus protested. “She can’t really run, at least not professionally.”

“Then she may crawl as fast as she can,” Genghis replied. “Now—on your marks, get set, go!”

Genghis blew his whistle and the Baudelaire orphans began to run, pacing themselves so they could run together even though they had different-sized legs. They finished one lap, and then another, and then another and another and then five more and then another and then seven more and then another and then three more and then two more and then another and then another and then six more and then they lost track. Coach Genghis kept blowing his whistle and occasionally shouted tedious and unhelpful things like “Keep running!” or “Another lap!” The children looked down at the luminous circle so they could stay in a circle, and the children looked over at Genghis as he grew fainter and then clearer as they finished a lap, and the children looked out into the darkness to see if they could catch a glimpse of the Quagmires.

The Baudelaires also looked at one another from time to time, but they didn’t speak, not even when they were far enough away from Genghis that he could not overhear. One reason they did not speak was to conserve energy, because although the Baudelaires were in reasonably good shape, they had not run so many laps in their lives, and before too long they were breathing too hard to really discuss anything. But the other reason they did not speak was that Violet had already spoken for them when she had asked the second type of “What?” Coach Genghis kept blowing his whistle, and the children kept running around and around the track, and echoing in each of their minds was this second, trickier type of question. The three siblings had heard Coach Genghis, but they couldn’t believe that S.O.R.E. was the extent of his evil plan. The Baudelaire orphans kept running around the glowing circle until the first rays of sunrise began to reflect on the jewel in Genghis’s turban, and all they could think was What? What? What?

CHAPTER Eight

“What?” Isadora asked.

“I said, ‘Finally, as the sun rose, Coach Genghis had us stop running laps and let us go to bed,’” Klaus said.

“My sister didn’t mean that she didn’t hear you,” Duncan explained. “She meant that she heard you, but she didn’t believe that’s really what you meant. And to tell you the truth, I can scarcely believe it myself, even though I saw it with my own eyes.”

“I can’t believe it either,” Violet said, wincing as she took a bite of the salad that the masked people had served for lunch. It was the next afternoon, and all three Baudelaire orphans were doing a great deal of wincing, a word which here means “frowning in pain, alarm, or distress.” When Coach Genghis had called last night’s activities S.O.R.E., he had merely used the name as an acronym for Special Orphan Running Exercises, but the three children thought that the name S.O.R.E. was even more appropriate than that. After a full night of S.O.R.E., they’d been sore all day. Their legs were sore from all their running. When they’d finally entered the Orphans Shack to go to sleep, they had been too tired to put on their noisy shoes, so their toes were sore from the claws of the tiny territorial crabs. And their heads were sore, not only from headaches, which often occur when one doesn’t get enough sleep, but also from trying to figure out what Coach Genghis was up to in making them run all those laps. The Baudelaire legs were sore, the Baudelaire toes were sore, the Baudelaire heads were sore, and soon the muscles on the sides of the Baudelaire mouths would be sore from wincing all day long.

It was lunchtime, and the three children were trying to discuss the previous evening with the Quagmire triplets, who weren’t very sore and not nearly as tired. One reason was that they had been hiding behind the archway, spying on Genghis and the Baudelaires, instead of running around and around the luminous circle. The other reason was that the Quagmires had done their spying in shifts. After the Baudelaires had run the first few laps and there was no sign of them stopping, the two triplets had decided to alternate between Duncan sleeping and Isadora spying, and Duncan spying and Isadora sleeping. The two siblings promised each other that they would wake up the sleeping one if the spying one noticed anything unusual.

“I had the last shift,” Duncan explained, “so my sister didn’t see the end of S.O.R.E. But it doesn’t matter. All that happened was that Coach Genghis had you stop running laps and let you go to bed. I thought that he might insist on getting your fortune before you could stop running.”

“And I thought that the luminous circle would serve as a landing strip,” Isadora said, “for a helicopter, piloted by one of his assistants, to swoop down and take you away. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why you had to run all those laps before the helicopter showed up.”

“But the helicopter didn’t show up,” Klaus said, taking a sip of water and wincing. “Nothing showed up.”

“Maybe the pilot got lost,” Isadora said.

“Or maybe Coach Genghis became as tired as you did, and forgot to ask for your fortune,” Duncan said.

Violet shook her sore head. “He would never get too tired to get our fortune,” she said. “He’s up to something, that much is for sure, but I just can’t figure out what it is.”

“Of course you can’t figure it out,” Duncan said. “You’re exhausted. I’m glad Isadora and I thought of spying in shifts. We’re going to use all our spare time to investigate. We’ll go through all of our notes, and do some more research in the library. There must be something that can help us figure it out.”

“I’ll do research, too,” Klaus said, yawning. “I’m quite good at it.”

“I know you are,” Isadora said, smiling. “But not today, Klaus. We’ll work on uncovering Genghis’s plan, and you three can catch up on your sleep. You’re too tired to do much good in a library or anywhere else.”

Violet and Klaus looked at each other’s tired faces, and then down at their baby sister, and they saw that the Quagmire triplets were right. Violet had been so tired that she had taken only a few notes on Mr. Remora’s painfully dull stories. Klaus had been so tired that he had incorrectly measured nearly all of Mrs. Bass’s objects. And although Sunny had not reported what she had done that morning in Nero’s office, she couldn’t have been a very good administrative assistant, because she had fallen asleep right there in the cafeteria, her little head on her salad, as if it were a soft pillow instead of leaves of lettuce, slices of tomato, gobs of creamy honey-mustard dressing, and crispy croutons, which are small toasted pieces of bread that give a salad some added crunch. Violet gently lifted her sister’s head out of the salad and shook a few croutons out of her hair. Sunny winced, made a faint, miserable noise, and went back to sleep in Violet’s lap. “Perhaps you’re right, Isadora,” Violet said. “We’ll stumble through the afternoon somehow and get a good night’s sleep tonight. If we’re lucky, Vice Principal Nero will play something quiet at tonight’s concert and we can sleep through that as well.”

You can see, with that last sentence, just how tired Violet really was, because “if we’re lucky” is not a phrase that she, or either of her siblings, used very often. The reason, of course, is quite clear: the Baudelaire orphans were not lucky. Smart, yes. Charming, yes. Able to survive austere situations, yes. But the children were not lucky, and so wouldn’t use the phrase “if we’re lucky” any more than they would use the phrase “if we’re stalks of celery,” because neither phrase was appropriate. If the Baudelaire orphans had been stalks of celery, they would not have been small children in great distress, and if they had been lucky, Carmelita Spats would not have approached their table at this particular moment and delivered another unfortunate message.

“Hello, you cakesniffers,” she said, “although judging from the baby brat you’re more like saladsniffers. I have another message for you from Coach Genghis. I get to be his Special Messenger because I’m the cutest, prettiest, nicest little girl in the whole school.”

“If you were really the nicest person in the whole school,” Isadora said, “you wouldn’t make fun of a sleeping infant. But never mind, what is the message?”

“It’s actually the same one as last time,” Carmelita said, “but I’ll repeat it in case you’re too stupid to remember. The three Baudelaire orphans are to report to the front lawn tonight, immediately after dinner.”

“What?” Klaus asked.

“Are you deaf as well as cakesniffy?” Carmelita asked. “I said—”

“Yes, yes, Klaus heard you,” Isadora said quickly. “He didn’t mean that kind of ‘What?’ We have received the message, Carmelita. Now please go away.”

“That’s two tips you owe me,” Carmelita said, but she flounced off.

“I can’t believe it,” Violet said. “Not more laps! My legs are almost too sore to walk, let alone run.”

“Carmelita didn’t say anything about more laps,” Duncan pointed out. “Maybe Coach Genghis is putting his real plan into action tonight. In any case, we’ll sneak out of the recital again and keep an eye on you.”

“In shifts,” Isadora added, nodding in agreement. “And I bet we’ll have a clear picture of his plan by then. We have the rest of the day to do research.” Isadora paused, and flipped open her black notebook to the right page. She read,

“Don’t worry Baudelaires, don’t feel disgrace—The Quagmire triplets are on the case.”

“Thank you,” Klaus said, giving Isadora a tired smile of appreciation. “My sisters and I are thankful for all your help. And we’re going to put our minds to the problem, even though we’re too exhausted to do research. If we’re lucky, all of us working together can defeat Coach Genghis.”

There was that phrase again, “if we’re lucky,” coming out of the mouth of a Baudelaire, and once again it felt about as appropriate as “if we’re stalks of celery.” The only difference was that the Baudelaire orphans did not wish to be stalks of celery. While it is true that if they were stalks of celery they would not be orphans because celery is a plant and so cannot really be said to have parents, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not wish to be the stringy, low-calorie vegetable. Unfortunate things can happen to celery as easily as they can happen to children. Celery can be sliced into small pieces and dipped into clam dip at fancy parties. It can be coated in peanut butter and served as a snack. It can merely sit in a field and rot away, if the nearby celery farmers are lazy or on vacation. All these terrible things can happen to celery, and the orphans knew it, so if you were to ask the Baudelaires if they wanted to be stalks of celery they would say of course not. But they wanted to be lucky. The Baudelaires did not necessarily want to be extremely lucky, like someone who finds a treasure map or someone who wins a lifetime supply of ice cream in a contest, or like the man—and not, alas, me—who was lucky enough to marry my beloved Beatrice, and live with her in happiness over the course of her short life. But the Baudelaires wanted to be lucky enough. They wanted to be lucky enough to figure out how to escape Coach Genghis’s clutches, and it seemed that being lucky would be their only chance. Violet was too tired to invent anything, and Klaus was too tired to read anything, and Sunny, still asleep in Violet’s lap, was too tired to bite anything or anybody, and it seemed that even with the diligence of the Quagmire triplets—the word “diligence” here means “ability to take good notes in dark green and pitch-black notebooks”—they needed to be lucky if they wanted to stay alive. The Baudelaires huddled together as if the cafeteria were extremely cold, wincing in soreness and worry. It seemed to the Baudelaire orphans that they wanted to be lucky more than they had in their entire lives.

CHAPTER Nine

Occasionally, events in one’s life become clearer through the prism of experience, a phrase which simply means that things tend to become clearer as time goes on. For instance, when a person is just born, they usually have no idea what curtains are and spend a great deal of their first months wondering why on earth Mommy and Daddy have hung large pieces of cloth over each window in the nursery. But as the person grows older, the idea of curtains becomes clearer through the prism of experience. The person will learn the word “curtains” and notice that they are actually quite handy for keeping a room dark when it is time to sleep, and for decorating an otherwise boring window area. Eventually, they will entirely accept the idea of curtains, and may even purchase some curtains of their own, or venetian blinds, and it is all due to the prism of experience.

Coach Genghis’s S.O.R.E. program, however, was one event that didn’t seem to get any clearer at all through the Baudelaire orphans’ prism of experience. If anything, it grew even harder and harder to understand, because Violet, Klaus, and Sunny became so utterly exhausted as the days—and, more particularly, the nights—wore on. After the children received their second message from Carmelita Spats, they spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what Coach Genghis would make them do that evening. The Quagmire triplets wondered along with them, so everyone was surprised—the Baudelaires, who met Genghis out on the front lawn after dinner again, and the Quagmires, who tiptoed out of the recital and spied on them, in shifts, from behind the archway again—when Genghis began blowing his whistle and ordered the Baudelaire orphans to begin running. The Baudelaires and Quagmires thought that surely Genghis would do something far more sinister than more laps.

But while a second evening of running laps might have lacked in sinisterity, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too exhausted to notice. They could scarcely hear the shrieks of Genghis’s whistle and his cries of “Keep running!” and “Another lap!” over the sound of their own desperate panting for breath. They grew so sweaty that the orphans thought they would give up the entire Baudelaire fortune for a good long shower. And their legs grew so sore that the children forgot, even with their prism of experience, what it felt like to have legs that didn’t ache from thigh to toe.

Lap after lap the Baudelaires ran, hardly taking their eyes off the circle of luminous paint that still glowed brightly on the darkening lawn, and staring at this circle was somehow the worst part of all. As the evening turned to night, the luminous circle was all the Baudelaires could really see, and it imprinted itself into their eyes so they could see it even when they were staring desperately into the darkness. If you’ve ever had a flash photograph taken, and the blob of the flash has stayed in your view for a few moments afterward, then you are familiar with what was happening to the Baudelaires, except the glowing circle stayed in their minds for so long that it became symbolic. The word “symbolic” here means that the glowing circle felt like it stood for more than merely a track, and what it stood for was zero. The luminous zero glowed in the Baudelaire minds, and it was symbolic of what they knew of their situation. They knew zero about what Genghis was up to. They knew zero about why they were running endless laps. And they had zero energy to think about it.

Finally, the sun began to rise, and Coach Genghis dismissed his orphan track team. The Baudelaires stumbled blearily to the Orphans Shack, too tired to even see if Duncan and Isadora were sneaking back to their dormitory after their last shift of spying. Once again, the three siblings were too tired to put on their noisy shoes, so their toes were doubly sore when they awoke, just two hours later, to begin another groggy day. But—and I shudder to tell you this—this was not the last groggy day for the Baudelaire orphans. The dreadful Carmelita Spats delivered them the usual message at lunch, after they spent the morning dozing through classes and secretarial duties, and the Baudelaires put their heads on the cafeteria table in despair at the idea of another night of running. The Quagmires tried to comfort them, promising to double their research efforts, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too tired for conversation, even with their closest friends. Luckily, their closest friends understood completely and didn’t find the Baudelaires’ silence rude or discouraging.

It seems impossible to believe that the three Baudelaires managed to survive another evening of S.O.R.E., but in times of extreme stress one can often find energy hidden in even the most exhausted areas of the body. I discovered this myself when I was woken up in the middle of the night and chased sixteen miles by an angry mob armed with torches, swords, and vicious dogs, and the Baudelaire orphans discovered it as they ran laps, not only for that night but also for six nights following. This made a grand total of nine S.O.R.E. sessions, although “grand” would seem to be the wrong word for endless evenings of desperate panting, sweaty bodies, and achy legs. For nine nights, the Baudelaire brains were plagued with the symbolic, luminous zero glowing in their minds like a giant donut of despair.

As the Baudelaire orphans suffered, their schoolwork suffered with them. As I’m sure you know, a good night’s sleep helps you perform well in school, and so if you are a student you should always get a good night’s sleep unless you have come to the good part of your book, and then you should stay up all night and let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, a phrase which means “flunk.” In the days that followed, the Baudelaires were much more exhausted than somebody who had stayed up all night reading, and their schoolwork did more than fall by the wayside. It fell off the wayside, a phrase which here has different meanings for each child. For Violet, it meant that she was so drowsy that she did not write down a single word of Mr. Remora’s stories. For Klaus, it meant that he was so weary that he didn’t measure a single one of Mrs. Bass’s objects. And for Sunny, it meant that she was so exhausted that she didn’t do anything Vice Principal Nero assigned her to do. The Baudelaire orphans believed that doing well in school was extremely important, even if the school happened to be run by a tyrannical idiot, but they were simply too fatigued from their nightly laps to do their assigned work. Before long, the circle of luminous paint was not the only zero the Baudelaires saw. Violet saw a zero at the top of her paper when she was unable to recall any of Mr. Remora’s stories for a test. Klaus saw a zero in Mrs. Bass’s gradebook when he was called on to report the exact length of a tube sock he was supposed to be measuring and was discovered to be taking a nap instead. And Sunny saw a zero when she checked the staple drawer and saw that there were zero staples inside.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Isadora said when Sunny updated her siblings and friends at the start of another weary lunch. “Look at you, Sunny. It was inappropriate to hire you as an administrative assistant in the first place, and it’s simply absurd to have you crawl laps by night and make your own staples by day.”

“Don’t call my sister absurd or ridiculous!” Klaus cried.

“I’m not calling her ridiculous!” Isadora said. “I’m calling the situation ridiculous!”

“Ridiculous means you want to laugh at it,” said Klaus, who was never too tired to define words, “and I don’t want you laughing at us.”

“I’m not laughing at you,” Isadora said. “I’m trying to help.”

Klaus snatched his drinking glass from Isadora’s side of the table. “Well, laughing at us doesn’t help at all, you cakesniffer.”

Isadora snatched her silverware from Klaus’s hands. “Calling me names doesn’t help either, Klaus.”

“Mumdum!” Sunny shrieked.

“Oh, stop it, both of you,” Duncan said. “Isadora, can’t you see that Klaus is just tired? And Klaus, can’t you see that Isadora is just frustrated?”

Klaus took his glasses off and returned his drinking glass to Isadora. “I’m too tired to see anything,” he said. “I’m sorry, Isadora. Being tired makes me crabby. In a few days I’ll turn as nasty as Carmelita Spats.”

Isadora handed her silverware back to Klaus and patted him on the hand in forgiveness. “You’ll never be as nasty as Carmelita Spats,” she said.

“Carmelita Spats?” Violet said, lifting her head from her tray. She had dozed through Isadora and Klaus’s argument but woken up at the sound of the Special Messenger’s name. “She’s not coming here again to tell us to do laps, is she?”

“I’m afraid she is,” Duncan said ruefully, a word which here means “while pointing at a rude, violent, and filthy little girl.”

“Hello, cakesniffers,” Carmelita Spats said. “Today I have two messages for you, so I should really get two tips instead of one.”

“Oh, Carmelita,” Klaus said. “You haven’t gotten a tip for the last nine days, and I see no reason to break that tradition.”

“That’s because you’re a stupid orphan,” Carmelita Spats said promptly. “In any case, message number one is the usual: meet Coach Genghis on the front lawn right after dinner.”

Violet gave an exhausted groan. “And what’s the second message?” she asked.

“The second message is that you must report to Vice Principal Nero’s office right away.”

“Vice Principal Nero’s office?” Klaus asked. “Why?”

“I’m sorry,” Carmelita Spats said with a nasty smile to indicate that she wasn’t sorry one bit. “I don’t answer questions from nontipping orphan cakesniffers.”

Some children at the neighboring table laughed when they heard that and began banging their silverware on the table. “Cakesniffing orphans in the Orphans Shack! Cakesniffing orphans in the Orphans Shack!” they chanted as Carmelita Spats giggled and skipped off to finish her lunch. “Cakesniffing orphans in the Orphans Shack! Cakesniffing orphans in the Orphans Shack!” they chanted while the Baudelaires sighed and stood up on their aching legs. “We’d better go to Nero’s,” Violet said. “We’ll see you later, Duncan and Isadora.”

“Nonsense,” Duncan said. “We’ll walk you. Carmelita Spats has made me lose my appetite, so we’ll skip lunch and take you to the administrative building. We won’t go inside—otherwise there’ll be no silverware between the five of us—but we’ll wait outside and you can tell us what’s going on.”

“I wonder what Nero wants,” Klaus said, yawning.

“Maybe he’s discovered that Genghis is really Olaf, all by himself,” Isadora said, and the Baudelaires smiled back. They didn’t dare hope that this was the reason for their summons to Nero’s office, but they appreciated their friends’ hopefulness. The five children handed their scarcely eaten lunches to the cafeteria workers, who blinked at them silently from behind their metal masks, and walked to the administrative building. The Quagmire triplets wished the Baudelaires luck, and Violet, Klaus, and Sunny trudged up the steps to Nero’s office.

“Thank you for taking the time out of your busy orphan schedule to see me,” Vice Principal Nero said, yanking open his door before they could knock. “Hurry up and come inside. Every minute I spend talking to you is a minute I could spend practicing the violin, and when you’re a musical genius like me, every minute counts.”

The three children walked into the tiny office and began clapping their tired hands together as Nero raised both his arms in the air. “There are two things I wanted to talk to you about,” he said when the applause was over. “Do you know what they are?”

“No, sir,” Violet replied.

“No, sir,” Nero mimicked, although he looked disappointed that the children hadn’t given him a longer answer to make fun of. “Well, the first one is that the three of you have missed nine of my violin concerts, and each of you owes me a bag of candy for each one. Nine bags of candy times three equals twenty-nine. In addition, Carmelita Spats has told me that she has delivered ten messages to you, if you include the two she delivered today, and that you’ve never given her a tip. That’s a disgrace. Now, I think a nice tip is a pair of earrings with precious stones, so you owe her ten pairs of earings. What do you have to say about that?”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another with their sleepy, sleepy eyes. They had nothing to say about that. They had plenty to think about that—that they’d only missed Nero’s concerts because Coach Genghis had forced them to, that nine bags of candy times three equals twenty-seven, not twenty-nine, and that tips are always optional and usually consist of money instead of earrings—but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too tired to say anything about it at all. This was another disappointment to Vice Principal Nero, who stood there scratching his pigtails and waiting for one of the children to say something that he could repeat in his nasty, mocking voice. But after a moment of silence, the vice principal went on to the second thing. “The second thing,” he said, going on, “is that you three have become the worst students Prufrock Preparatory School has ever seen. Violet, Mr. Remora tells me that you have flunked a test. Klaus, Mrs. Bass reports that you can scarcely tell one end of a metric ruler from another. And Sunny, I’ve noticed that you haven’t made a single staple! Mr. Poe told me you were intelligent and hardworking children, but you’re just a bunch of cakesniffers!”

At this, the Baudelaires could keep quiet no longer. “We’re flunking school because we’re exhausted!” Violet cried.

“And we’re exhausted because we’re running laps every night!” Klaus cried.

“Galuka!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “So yell at Coach Genghis, not at us!”

Vice Principal Nero gave the children a big smile, delighted that he was able to answer them in his favorite way. “We’re flunking school because we’re exhausted!” he squealed. “And we’re exhausted because we’re running laps every night! Galuka! I’ve had enough of your nonsense! Prufrock Preparatory School has promised you an excellent education, and an excellent education you will get—or, in Sunny’s case, an excellent job as an administrative assistant! Now, I’ve instructed Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass to give comprehensive exams tomorrow—large tests on absolutely everything you’ve learned so far. Violet, you’d better remember every detail of Mr. Remora’s stories, and Klaus, you’d better remember the length, width, and depths of Mrs. Bass’s objects, or I will expel you from school. Also, I’ve found a bunch of papers that need to be stapled tomorrow. Sunny, you will staple all of them, with homemade staples, or I will expel you from your job. First thing tomorrow morning we will have the test and the stapling, and if you don’t get As and make enough staples, you’ll leave Prufrock Preparatory School. Luckily for you, Coach Genghis has offered to home-school you. That means he’d be your coach, your teacher, and your guardian, all in one. It’s a very generous offer, and if I were you I’d give him a tip, too, although I don’t think earrings are appropriate in this case.”

“We’re not going to give Count Olaf a tip!” Violet blurted out.

Klaus looked at his older sister in horror. “Violet means Coach Genghis,” Klaus said quickly to Nero.

“I do not!” Violet cried. “Klaus, our situation is too desperate to pretend not to recognize him any longer!”

“Hifijoo!” Sunny agreed.

“I guess you’re right,” Klaus said. “What have we got to lose?”

“What have we got to lose?” Nero mocked. “What are you talking about?”

“We’re talking about Coach Genghis,” Violet said. “He’s not really named Genghis. He’s not even a real coach. He’s Count Olaf in disguise.”

“Nonsense!” Nero said.

Klaus wanted to say “Nonsense!” right back at Nero, in Nero’s own repulsive way, but he bit his exhausted tongue. “It’s true,” he said. “He’s put a turban over his eyebrow and expensive running shoes over his tattoo, but he’s still Count Olaf.”

“He has a turban for religious reasons,” Nero said, “and running shoes because he’s a coach. Look here.” He strode over to the computer and pressed a button. The screen began to glow in its usual seasick way, and once again showed a picture of Count Olaf. “You see? Coach Genghis looks nothing like Count Olaf, and my advanced computer system proves it.”

“Ushilo!” Sunny cried, which meant “That doesn’t prove anything!”

“Ushilo!” Nero mocked. “Who am I going to believe, an advanced computer system or two children flunking school and a little baby too dumb to make her own staples? Now, stop wasting my time! I will personally oversee tomorrow’s comprehensive exams, which will be given in the Orphans Shack! And you’d better do excellent work, or it’s a free ride from Coach Genghis! Sayonara, Baudelaires!”

“Sayonara” is the Japanese word for goodbye, and I’m sure that each and every one of the millions of people who live in Japan would be ashamed to hear their language used by such a revolting person. But the Baudelaire orphans had no time to think such international thoughts. They were too busy giving the Quagmire triplets the latest news.

“This is awful!” Duncan cried as the five children trudged across the lawn so they could talk things over in peace. “There’s no way you can get an A on those exams, particularly if you have to run laps tonight!”

“This is dreadful!” Isadora cried. “There’s no way you can make all those staples, either! You’ll be homeschooled before you know it!”

“Coach Genghis won’t homeschool us,” Violet said, looking out at the front lawn, where the luminous zero was waiting for them. “He’ll do something much, much worse. Don’t you see? That’s why he’s made us run all those laps! He knew we’d be exhausted. He knew we’d flunk our classes, or fail to perform our secretarial duties. He knew we’d be expelled from Prufrock Prep, and then he could get his hands on us.”

Klaus groaned. “We’ve been waiting for his plan to be made clear, and now it is. But it might be too late.”

“It’s not too late,” Violet insisted. “The comprehensive exams aren’t until tomorrow morning. We must be able to figure out a plan by then.”

“Plan!” Sunny agreed.

“It’ll have to be a complicated plan,” Duncan said. “We have to get Violet ready for Mr. Remora’s test, and Klaus ready for Mrs. Bass’s test.”

“And we have to make staples,” Isadora said. “And the Baudelaires still have to run laps.”

“And we have to stay awake,” Klaus said.

The children looked at one another, and then out at the front lawn. The afternoon sun was shining brightly, but the five youngsters knew that soon it would set behind the tombstone-shaped buildings, and that it would be time for S.O.R.E. They didn’t have much time. Violet tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Klaus polished his glasses and set them on his nose. Sunny scraped her teeth together, to make sure they were sharp enough for any task ahead. And the two triplets took their notebooks out of their sweater pockets. Coach Genghis’s evil plan had become clear through the prism of the Baudelaire and Quagmire experiences, and now they had to use their experience to make a plan of their own.

CHAPTER Ten

The three Baudelaire orphans and the two Quagmire triplets sat in the Orphans Shack, which had never looked less unpleasant than it did now. All five children were wearing the noisy shoes Violet had invented, so the territorial crabs were nowhere to be seen. The salt had dried up the dripping tan fungus into a hard beige crust that was not particularly attractive but at least did not plop! drops of fungus juice on the youngsters. Because the arrival of Coach Genghis had focused their energies on defeating his treachery, the five orphans hadn’t done anything about the green walls with the pink hearts on them, but otherwise the Orphans Shack had become quite a bit less mountainous and quite a bit more molehilly since the Baudelaires’ arrival. It still had a long way to go to be attractive and comfortable living quarters, but for thinking of a plan, it would do in a pinch.

And the Baudelaire children were certainly in a pinch. If Violet, Klaus, and Sunny spent one more exhausting night running laps, they would flunk their comprehensive exams and secretarial assignment, and then Coach Genghis would whisk them away from Prufrock Prep, and as they thought of this they could almost feel Genghis’s bony fingers pinching the life right out of them. The Quagmire triplets were so worried about their friends that they felt pinched as well, even though they were not directly in danger—or so they thought, anyway.

“I can’t believe we didn’t figure out Coach Genghis’s plan earlier,” Isadora said mournfully, paging through her notebook. “Duncan and I did all this research, and we still didn’t figure it out.”

“Don’t feel badly,” Klaus said. “My sisters and I have had many encounters with Olaf, and it’s always difficult to figure out his scheme.”

“We were trying to find out the history of Count Olaf,” Duncan said. “The Prufrock Preparatory library has a pretty good collection of old newspapers, and we thought if we could find out some of his other schemes, we might figure out this one.”

“That’s a good idea,” Klaus said thoughtfully. “I’ve never tried that.”

“We figured that Olaf must have been an evil man even before he met you,” Duncan continued, “so we looked up things in old newspapers. But it was difficult to find too many articles, because as you know he always uses a different name. But we found a person matching his description in the Bangkok Gazette, who was arrested for strangling a bishop but escaped from prison in just ten minutes.”

“That sounds like him, all right,” Klaus said.

“And then in the Verona Daily News,” Duncan said, “there was a man who had thrown a rich widow off of a cliff. He had a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, but he had eluded authorities. And then we found a newspaper from your hometown that said—”

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Isadora said, “but we’d better stop thinking about the past and start thinking about the present. Lunchtime is more than half over, and we desperately need a plan.”

“You’re not napping, are you?” Klaus asked Violet, who had been silent for a very long time.

“Of course I’m not napping,” Violet replied. “I’m concentrating. I think I can invent something to make all those staples Sunny needs. But I can’t figure out how I can invent the device and study for the test at the same time. Since S.O.R.E. began, I haven’t taken good notes in Mr. Remora’s class, so I won’t be able to remember his stories.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that,” Duncan said, holding up his dark green notebook. “I’ve written down every one of Mr. Remora’s stories. Every boring detail is recorded here in my notebook.”

“And I’ve written down how long, wide, and deep all of Mrs. Bass’s objects are,” Isadora said, holding up her own notebook. “You can study from my notebook, Klaus, and Violet can study from Duncan’s.”

“Thank you,” Klaus said, “but you’re forgetting something. We’re supposed to be running laps this evening. We don’t have time to read anybody’s notebook.”

“Tarcour,” Sunny said, which meant “You’re right, of course. S.O.R.E. always lasts until dawn, and the tests are first thing in the morning.”

“If only we had one of the world’s great inventors to help us,” Violet said. “I wonder what Nikola Tesla would do.”

“Or one of the world’s great journalists,” Duncan said. “I wonder what Dorothy Parker would do in this situation.”

“And I wonder what Hammurabi, the ancient Babylonian, would do to help us,” Klaus said. “He was one of the world’s greatest researchers.”

“Or the great poet Lord Byron,” Isadora said.

“Shark,” Sunny said, rubbing her teeth thoughtfully.

“Who knows what any of those people or fish would do in our shoes?” Violet said. “It’s impossible to know.”

Duncan snapped his fingers, not to signal a waiter or because he was listening to catchy music but because he had an idea. “In our shoes!” he said. “That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Klaus asked. “How will our noisy shoes help?”

“No, no,” Duncan said. “Not the noisy shoes. I’m thinking about Coach Genghis’s expensive running shoes that he said he couldn’t take off because his feet were smelly.”

“And I bet they are smelly,” Isadora said. “I’ve noticed he doesn’t bathe much.”

“But that’s not why he wears them,” Violet said. “He wears them for a disguise.”

“Exactly!” Duncan said. “When you said ‘in your shoes,’ it gave me an idea. I know you just meant ‘in our shoes’ as an expression meaning ‘in our situation.’ But what if someone else were actually in your shoes—what if we disguised ourselves as you? Then we could run laps, and you could study for the comprehensive exams.”

“Disguise yourselves as us?” Klaus said. “You two look exactly like each other, but you don’t look anything like us.”

“So what?” Duncan said. “It’ll be dark tonight. When we’ve watched you from the archway, all we could see were two shadowy figures running—and one crawling.”

“That’s true,” Isadora said. “If I took the ribbon from your hair, Violet, and Duncan took Klaus’s glasses, we’d look enough like you that I bet Coach Genghis couldn’t tell.”

“And we could switch shoes, so your running on the grass would sound exactly the same,” Duncan said.

“But what about Sunny?” Violet asked. “There’s no way two people could disguise themselves as three people.”

The Quagmire triplets’ faces fell. “If only Quigley were here,” Duncan said. “I just know he’d be willing to dress up as a baby if it meant helping you.”

“What about a bag of flour?” Isadora asked. “Sunny’s only about as big as a bag of flour—nothing personal, Sunny.”

“Denada,” Sunny said, shrugging.

“We could snitch a bag from the cafeteria,” Isadora said, “and drag it alongside us as we ran. From a distance, it would probably look enough like Sunny to avoid suspicion.”

“Being in each other’s shoes seems like an extremely risky plan,” Violet said. “If it fails, not only are we in trouble but you are as well, and who knows what Coach Genghis will do to you?”

This, as it turns out, was a question that would haunt the Baudelaires for quite some time, but the Quagmires gave it barely a thought. “Don’t worry about that,” Duncan said. “The important thing is to keep you out of his clutches. It may be a risky plan, but being in each other’s shoes is the only thing we’ve been able to think of.”

“And we don’t have any time to waste thinking of anything else,” Isadora added. “We’d better hurry if we want to snitch the bag of flour and not be late for class.”

“And we’ll need a string, or something, so we can drag it along and make it look like Sunny crawling,” Duncan said.

“And I’ll need to snitch some things, too,” Violet said, “for my staple-making invention.”

“Nidop,” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of “Then let’s get moving.”

The five children walked out of the Orphans Shack, taking off their noisy shoes and putting on their regular shoes so they wouldn’t make a lot of noise as they walked nervously across the lawn to the cafeteria. They were nervous because they were not supposed to be sneaking into the cafeteria, or snitching things, and they were nervous because their plan was indeed a risky one. It is not a pleasant feeling, nervousness, and I would not wish for small children to be any more nervous than the Baudelaires and the Quagmires were as they walked toward the cafeteria in their regular shoes. But I must say that the children weren’t nervous enough. They didn’t need to be more nervous about sneaking into the cafeteria, even though it was against the rules, or snitching things, even though they didn’t get caught. But they should have been more nervous about their plan, and about what would happen that evening when the sun set on the brown lawn and the luminous circle began to glow. They should have been nervous, now, in their regular shoes, about what would happen when they were in each other’s.

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