بخش 03

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: مدرسه سختگیر / فصل 3

بخش 03

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CHAPTER Eleven

If you’ve ever dressed up for Halloween or attended a masquerade, you know that there is a certain thrill to wearing a disguise—a thrill that is half excitement and half danger. I once attended one of the famed masked balls hosted by the duchess of Winnipeg, and it was one of the most exciting and dangerous evenings of my life. I was disguised as a bullfighter and slipped into the party while being pursued by the palace guards, who were disguised as scorpions. The moment I entered the Grand Ballroom, I felt as if Lemony Snicket had disappeared. I was wearing clothes I had never worn before—a scarlet cape made of silk and a vest embroidered with gold thread and a skinny black mask—and it made me feel as if I were a different person. And because I felt like a different person, I dared to approach a woman I had been forbidden to approach for the rest of my life. She was alone on the veranda—the word “veranda” is a fancy term for a porch made of polished gray marble—and costumed as a dragonfly, with a glittering green mask and enormous silvery wings. As my pursuers scurried around the party, trying to guess which guest was me, I slipped out to the veranda and gave her the message I’d been trying to give her for fifteen long and lonely years. “Beatrice,” I cried, just as the scorpions spotted me, “Count Olaf is

I cannot go on. It makes me weep to think of that evening, and of the dark and desperate times that followed, and in the meantime I’m sure you are curious what happened to the Baudelaire orphans and the Quagmire triplets, after dinner that evening at Prufrock Prep.

“This is sort of exciting,” Duncan said, putting Klaus’s glasses on his face. “I know that we’re doing this for serious reasons, but I’m excited anyway.”

Isadora recited, tying Violet’s ribbon in her hair,

“It may not be particularly wise, but it’s a thrill to be disguised.”

“That’s not a perfect poem, but it will have to do under the circumstances. How do we look?”

The Baudelaire orphans took a step back and regarded the Quagmires carefully. It was just after dinner, and the children were standing outside the Orphans Shack, hurriedly putting their risky plan into action. They had managed to sneak into the cafeteria and steal a Sunny-sized bag of flour from the kitchen while the metal-masked cafeteria workers’ backs were turned. Violet had also snitched a fork, a few teaspoons of creamed spinach, and a small potato, all of which she needed for her invention. Now they had just a few moments before the Baudelaires—or, in this case, the Quagmires in disguise—had to show up for S.O.R.E. Duncan and Isadora handed over their notebooks so the Baudelaires could study for their comprehensive exams, and switched shoes so the Quagmires’ laps would sound exactly like the Baudelaires’. Now, with only seconds to spare, the Baudelaires looked over the Quagmires’ disguise and realized instantly just how risky this plan was.

Isadora and Duncan Quagmire simply did not look very much like Violet and Klaus Baudelaire. Duncan’s eyes were of a different color from Klaus’s, and Isadora had different hair from Violet’s, even if it was tied up in a similar way. Being triplets, the Quagmires were the exact same height, but Violet was taller than Klaus because she was older, and there was no time to make small stilts for Isadora to mimic this height difference. But it wasn’t really these small physical details that made the disguise so unconvincing. It was the simple fact that the Baudelaires and the Quagmires were different people, and a hair ribbon, a pair of glasses, and some shoes couldn’t turn them into one another any more than a woman disguised as a dragonfly can actually take wing and escape the disaster awaiting her.

“I know we don’t look much like you,” Duncan admitted after the Baudelaires had been quiet for some time. “But remember, it’s quite dark on the front lawn. The only light is coming from the luminous circle. We’ll make sure to keep our heads down when we’re running, so our faces won’t give us away. We won’t speak a word to Coach Genghis, so our voices won’t give us away. And we have your hair ribbon, glasses, and shoes, so our accessories won’t give us away, either.”

“We don’t have to go through with this plan,” Violet said quietly. “We appreciate your help, but we don’t have to try and fool Genghis. My siblings and I could just run away right now, tonight. We’ve gotten to be pretty good runners, so we’d have a good head start on Coach Genghis.”

“We could call Mr. Poe from a pay phone somewhere,” Klaus said.

“Zubu,” Sunny said, which meant “Or attend a different school, under different names.”

“Those plans don’t have a chance of working,” Isadora said. “From what you’ve told us about Mr. Poe, he’s never very helpful. And Count Olaf seems to find you wherever you go, so a different school wouldn’t help, either.”

“This is our only chance,” Duncan agreed. “If you pass the exams without arousing Genghis’s suspicion, you will be out of danger, and then we can focus our efforts on exposing the coach for who he really is.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Violet said. “I just don’t like the idea of your putting your lives in such danger, just to help us.”

“What are friends for?” Isadora said. “We’re not going to attend some silly recital while you run laps to your doom. You three were the first people at Prufrock Prep who weren’t mean to us just for being orphans. None of us have any family, so we’ve got to stick together.”

“At least let us go with you to the front lawn,” Klaus said. “We’ll spy on you from the archway, and make sure you’re fooling Coach Genghis.”

Duncan shook his head. “You don’t have time to spy on us,” he said. “You have to make staples out of those metal rods and study for two comprehensive exams.”

“Oh!” Isadora said suddenly. “How will we drag this bag of flour along the track? We need a string or something.”

“We could just kick it around the circle,” Duncan said.

“No, no, no,” Klaus said. “If Coach Genghis thinks you’re kicking your baby sister, he’ll know something is up.”

“I know!” Violet said. She leaned forward and put her hand on Duncan’s chest, running her fingers along his thick wool sweater until she found what she was looking for—a loose thread. Carefully, she pulled, unraveling the sweater slightly until she had a good long piece of yarn. Then she snapped it off and tied one end around the bag of flour. The other end she handed to Duncan. “This should do it,” she said. “Sorry about your sweater.”

“I’m sure you can invent a sewing machine,” he said, “when we’re all out of danger. Well, we’d better go, Isadora. Coach Genghis will be waiting. Good luck with studying.”

“Good luck with running laps,” Klaus said.

The Baudelaires took a long look at their friends. They were reminded of the last time they saw their parents, waving good-bye to them as they left for the beach. They had not known, of course, that it would be the last moment they would spend with their mother and father, and again and again, each of the Baudelaires had gone back to that day in their lives, wishing that they had said something more than a casual good-bye. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at the two triplets and hoped that this was not such a time, a time when people they cared for would disappear from their lives forever. But what if it were?

“If we never see—” Violet stopped, swallowed, and began again. “If something goes wrong—”

Duncan took Violet’s hands and looked right at her. Violet saw, behind Klaus’s glasses, the serious look in Duncan’s wide eyes. “Nothing will go wrong,” he said firmly, though of course he was wrong at that very moment. “Nothing will go wrong at all. We’ll see you in the morning, Baudelaires.”

Isadora nodded solemnly and followed her brother and the bag of flour away from the Orphans Shack. The Baudelaire orphans watched them walk toward the front lawn until the triplets were merely two specks, dragging another speck along with them.

“You know,” Klaus said, as they watched them, “from a distance, in the dim light, they look quite a bit like us.”

“Abax,” Sunny agreed.

“I hope so,” Violet murmured. “I hope so. But in the meantime, we’d better stop thinking about them and get started on our half of the plan. Let’s put our noisy shoes on and go into the shack.”

“I can’t imagine how you’re going to make staples,” Klaus said, “with only a fork, a few teaspoons of creamed spinach, and a small potato. That sounds more like the ingredients for a side dish than for a staple-making device. I hope your inventing skills haven’t been dulled by a lack of sleep.”

“I don’t think they have,” Violet said. “It’s amazing how much energy you can have once you have a plan. Besides, my plan doesn’t only involve the things I snitched. It involves one of the Orphan Shack crabs and our noisy shoes. Now, when we all have our shoes on, please follow my instructions.”

The two younger Baudelaires were quite puzzled at this, but they had learned long ago that when it came to inventions, Violet could be trusted absolutely. In the recent past, she had invented a grappling hook, a lockpick, and a signaling device, and now, come hell or high water—an expression which here means “using a fork, a few teaspoons of creamed spinach, a small potato, a live crab, and noisy shoes”—she was going to invent a staple-making device.

The three siblings put on their shoes and, following Violet’s instructions, entered the shack. As usual, the tiny crabs were lounging around, taking advantage of their time alone in the shack when they wouldn’t be frightened by loud noises. On most occasions, the Baudelaires would stomp wildly on the floor when they entered the shack, and the crabs would scurry underneath the bales of hay and into other hiding places in the room. This time, however, Violet instructed her siblings to step on the floor in carefully arranged patterns, so as to herd one of the grumpiest and biggest-clawed crabs into a corner of the shack. While the other crabs scattered, this crab was trapped in a corner, afraid of the noisy shoes but with nowhere to hide from them.

“Good work!” Violet cried. “Keep him in the corner, Sunny, while I ready the potato.”

“What is the potato for?” Klaus asked.

“As we know,” Violet explained as Sunny tapped her little feet this way and that to keep the crab in the corner, “these crabs love to get their claws on our toes. I specifically snitched a potato that was toe-shaped. You see how it’s curved in a sort of oval way, and the little bumpy part here looks like a toenail?”

“You’re right,” Klaus said. “The resemblance is remarkable. But what does it have to do with staples?”

“Well, the metal rods that Nero gave us are very long, and need to be cut cleanly into small, staple-sized pieces. While Sunny keeps the crab in the corner, I’m going to wave the potato at him. He—or she, come to think of it, I don’t know how to tell a boy crab from a girl crab—”

“It’s a boy,” Klaus said. “Trust me.”

“Well, he’ll think it’s a toe,” Violet continued, “and snap at it with his claws. At that instant, I’ll yank the potato away and put a rod in its place. If I do it carefully enough, the crab should do a perfect job of slicing it up.”

“And then what?” Klaus asked.

“First things first,” Violet replied firmly. “O.K. Sunny, keep tapping those noisy shoes. I’m ready with the potato and rod number one.”

“What can I do?” Klaus asked.

“You can start studying for the comprehensive exam, of course,” Violet said. “I couldn’t possibly read all of Duncan’s notes in just one night. While Sunny and I make the staples, you need to read Duncan’s and Isadora’s notebooks, memorize the measurements from Mrs. Bass’s class, and teach me all of Mr. Remora’s stories.”

“Roger,” Klaus said. As you probably know, the middle Baudelaire was not referring to anybody named Roger. He was saying a man’s name to indicate that he understood what Violet had said and would act accordingly, and over the course of the next two hours, that’s exactly what he did. While Sunny used her noisy shoes to keep the crab in the corner and Violet used the potato as a toe and the crab’s claws as clean cutters, Klaus used the Quagmire notebooks to study for the comprehensive exams, and everything worked the way it should. Sunny tapped her shoes so noisily that the crab remained trapped. Violet was so quick with the potato and metal rods that soon they were snipped into staple-sized pieces. And Klaus—although he had to squint because Duncan was using his glasses—read Isadora’s measuring notes so carefully that before long he had memorized the length, width, and depth of just about everything.

“Violet, ask me the measurements of the navy blue scarf,” Klaus said, turning the notebook over so he couldn’t peek.

Violet yanked the potato away just in time, and the crab snipped off another bit of the metal rods. “What are the measurements of the navy blue scarf?” she asked.

“Two decimeters long,” Klaus recited, “nine centimeters wide, and four millimeters thick. It’s boring, but it’s correct. Sunny, ask me the measurements of the bar of deodorant soap.”

The crab saw an opportunity to leave the corner, but Sunny was too quick for it. “Soap?” Sunny quizzed Klaus, tapping her tiny noisy shoes until the crab retreated.

“Eight centimeters by eight centimeters by eight centimeters,” Klaus said promptly. “That one’s easy. You’re doing great, you two. I bet that crab’s going to be almost as tired as we are.”

“No,” Violet said, “he’s done. Let him go, Sunny. We have all the staple-sized pieces we need. I’m glad that part of the staple-making process is over. It’s very nerve-wracking to tease a crab.”

“What’s next?” Klaus said, as the crab scurried away from the most frightening moments of his life.

“Next you teach me Mr. Remora’s stories,” Violet said, “while Sunny and I bend these little bits of metal into the proper shape.”

“Shablo,” Sunny said, which meant something like “How are we going to do that?”

“Watch,” Violet said, and Sunny watched. While Klaus closed Isadora’s black notebook and began paging through Duncan’s dark green one, Violet took the glob of creamed spinach and mixed it with a few pieces of stray hay and dust until it was a sticky, gluey mess. Then she placed this mess on the spiky end of the fork, and stuck it to one of the bales of hay so the handle end of the fork hung over the side. She blew on the creamed-spinach-stray-hay-and-dust mixture until it hardened. “I always thought that Prufrock Prep’s creamed spinach was awfully sticky,” Violet explained, “and then I realized it could be used as glue. And now, we have a perfect method of making those tiny strips into staples. See, if I lay a strip across the handle of the fork, a tiny part of the strip hangs off each of the sides. Those are the parts that will go inside the paper when it’s a staple. If I take off my noisy shoes”—and here Violet paused to take off her noisy shoes—“and use the metal ends to tap on the strips, they’ll bend around the handle of the fork and turn into staples. See?”

“Gyba!” Sunny shrieked. She meant “You’re a genius! But what can I do to help?”

“You can keep your noisy shoes on your feet,” Violet replied, “and keep the crabs away from us. And Klaus, you start summarizing stories.”

“Roger,” Sunny said.

“Roger,” Klaus said, and once again, neither of them were referring to Roger. They meant, once again, that they understood what Violet had said, and would act accordingly, and all three Baudelaires acted accordingly for the rest of the night. Violet tapped away at the metal strips, and Klaus read out loud from Duncan’s notebook, and Sunny stomped her noisy shoes. Soon, the Baudelaires had a pile of homemade staples on the floor, the details of Mr. Remora’s stories in their brains, and not a single crab bothering them in the shack, and even with the threat of Coach Genghis hovering over them, the evening actually began to feel rather cozy. It reminded the Baudelaires of evenings they had spent when their parents were alive, in one of the living rooms in the Baudelaire mansion. Violet would often be tinkering away at some invention, while Klaus would often be reading and sharing the information he was learning, and Sunny would often be making loud noises. Of course, Violet was never tinkering frantically at an invention that would save their lives, Klaus was never reading something so boring, and Sunny was never making loud noises to scare crabs, but nevertheless as the night wore on, the Baudelaires felt almost at home in the Orphans Shack. And when the sky began to lighten with the first rays of dawn, the Baudelaires began to feel a certain thrill that was quite different from the thrill of being in disguise. It was a thrill that I have never felt in my life, and it was a thrill that the Baudelaires did not feel very often. But as the morning sun began to shine, the Baudelaire orphans felt the thrill of thinking your plan might work after all, and that perhaps they would eventually be as safe and happy as the evenings they remembered.

CHAPTER Twelve

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make—bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake—if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.

The morning of the comprehensive exams, however, the Baudelaire orphans were so tired, not only from staying up all night studying and making staples but also from nine consecutive nights of running laps, that they made plenty of assumptions, and every last one of them turned out to be incorrect.

“Well, that’s the last staple,” Violet said, stretching her tired muscles. “I think we can safely assume that Sunny won’t lose her job.”

“And you seem to know every detail of Mr. Remora’s stories as well as I know all of Mrs. Bass’s measurements,” Klaus said, rubbing his tired eyes, “so I think we can safely assume that we won’t be expelled.”

“Nilikoh,” Sunny said, yawning her tired mouth. She meant something like “And we haven’t seen either of the Quagmire triplets, so I think we can safely assume that their part of the plan went well.”

“That’s true,” Klaus said. “I assume if they’d been caught we would have heard by now.”

“I’d make the same assumption,” Violet said.

“I’d make the same assumption,” came a nasty, mimicking voice, and the children were startled to see Vice Principal Nero standing behind them holding a huge stack of papers. In addition to the assumptions they had made out loud, the Baudelaires had made the assumption that they were alone, and they were surprised to find not only Vice Principal Nero but also Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass waiting in the doorway of the Orphans Shack. “I hope you’ve been studying all evening,” Nero said, “because I told your teachers to make these exams extra-challenging, and the pieces of paper that the baby has to staple are very thick. Well, let’s get started. Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass will take turns asking you questions until one of you gets an answer wrong, and then you flunk. Sunny will sit in the back and staple these papers into booklets of five papers each, and if your homemade staples don’t work perfectly, then you flunk. Well, a musical genius like myself doesn’t have all day to oversee exams. I’ve missed too much practice time as it is. Let’s begin!”

Nero threw the papers into a big heap on one of the bales of hay, and the stapler right after it. Sunny crawled over as quickly as she could and began inserting the staples into the stapler, and Klaus stood up, still clutching the Quagmire notebooks. Violet put her noisy shoes back on her feet, and Mr. Remora swallowed a bite of banana and asked his first question.

“In my story about the donkey,” he said, “how many miles did the donkey run?”

“Six,” Violet said promptly.

“Six,” Nero mimicked. “That can’t be correct, can it, Mr. Remora?”

“Um, yes, actually,” Mr. Remora said, taking another bite of banana.

“How wide,” Mrs. Bass said to Klaus, “was the book with the yellow cover?”

“Nineteen centimeters,” Klaus said immediately.

“Nineteen centimeters,” Nero mocked. “That’s wrong, isn’t it, Mrs. Bass?”

“No,” Mrs. Bass admitted. “That’s the right answer.”

“Well, try another question, Mr. Remora,” Nero said.

“In my story about the mushroom,” Mr. Remora asked Violet, “what was the name of the chef?”

“Maurice,” Violet answered.

“Maurice,” Nero mimicked.

“Correct,” Mr. Remora said.

“How long was chicken breast number seven?” Mrs. Bass asked.

“Fourteen centimeters and five millimeters,” Klaus said.

“Fourteen centimeters and five millimeters,” Nero mimicked.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Bass said. “You’re actually both very good students, even if you’ve been sleeping through class lately.”

“Stop all this chitchat and flunk them,” Nero said. “I’ve never gotten to expel any students, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

“In my story about the dump truck,” Mr. Remora said, as Sunny began to staple the pile of thick papers into booklets, “what color were the rocks that it carried?”

“Gray and brown.”

“Gray and brown.”

“Correct.”

“How deep was my mother’s casserole dish?”

“Six centimeters.”

“Six centimeters.”

“Correct.”

“In my story about the weasel, what was its favorite color?”

The comprehensive exams went on and on, and if I were to repeat all of the tiresome and pointless questions that Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass asked, you might become so bored that you might go to sleep right here, using this book as a pillow instead of as an entertaining and instructive tale to benefit young minds. Indeed, the exams were so boring that the Baudelaire orphans might normally have dozed through the test themselves. But they dared not doze. One wrong answer or unstapled piece of paper, and Nero would expel them from Prufrock Preparatory School and send them into the waiting clutches of Coach Genghis, so the three children worked as hard as they could. Violet tried to remember each detail Klaus had taught her, Klaus tried to remember every measurement he had taught himself, and Sunny stapled like mad, a phrase which here means “quickly and accurately.” Finally, Mr. Remora stopped in the middle of his eighth banana and turned to Vice Principal Nero.

“Nero,” he said, “there’s no use continuing these exams. Violet is a very fine student, and has obviously studied very hard.”

Mrs. Bass nodded her head in agreement. “In all my years of teaching, I’ve never encountered a more metric-wise boy than Klaus, here. And it looks like Sunny is a fine secretary as well. Look at these booklets! They’re gorgeous.”

“Pilso!” Sunny shrieked.

“My sister means ‘Thank you very much,’” Violet said, although Sunny really meant something more like “My stapling hand is sore.” “Does this mean we get to stay at Prufrock Prep?”

“Oh, let them stay, Nero,” Mr. Remora said. “Why don’t you expel that Carmelita Spats? She never studies, and she’s an awful person besides.”

“Oh yes,” Mrs. Bass said. “Let’s give her an extra-challenging examination.”

“I can’t flunk Carmelita Spats,” Nero said impatiently. “She’s Coach Genghis’s Special Messenger.”

“Who?” Mr. Remora asked.

“You know,” Mrs. Bass explained, “Coach Genghis, the new gym teacher.”

“Oh yes,” Mr. Remora said. “I’ve heard about him, but never met him. What is he like?”

“He’s the finest gym teacher the world has ever seen,” Vice Principal Nero said, shaking his four pigtails in amazement. “But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself. Here he comes now.”

Nero pointed one of his hairy hands out of the Orphans Shack, and the Baudelaire orphans saw with horror that the vice principal was speaking the truth. Whistling an irritating tune to himself, Coach Genghis was walking straight toward them, and the children could see at once how incorrect one of their assumptions had been. It was not the assumption that Sunny would not lose her job, although that assumption, too, would turn out to be incorrect. And it was not the assumption that Violet and Klaus would not be expelled, although that, too, was a wrong one. It was the assumption about the Quagmire triplets and their part of the plan going well. As Coach Genghis walked closer and closer, the Baudelaires saw that he was holding Violet’s hair ribbon in one of his scraggly hands and Klaus’s glasses in the other, and with every step of his expensive running shoes, the coach raised a small white cloud, which the children realized must be flour from the snitched sack. But more than the ribbon, or the glasses, or the small clouds of flour was the look in Genghis’s eyes. As Coach Genghis reached the Orphans Shack, his eyes were shining bright with triumph, as if he had finally won a game that he had been playing for a long, long time, and the Baudelaire orphans realized that the assumption about the Quagmire triplets had been very, very wrong indeed.

CHAPTER Thirteen

“Where are they?” Violet cried as Coach Genghis stepped into the shack. “What have you done with them?” Normally, of course, one should begin conversations with something more along the lines of “Hello, how are you,” but the eldest Baudelaire was far too distressed to do so.

Genghis’s eyes were shining as brightly as could be, but his voice was calm and pleasant. “Here they are,” he said, holding up the ribbon and glasses. “I thought you might be worried about them, so I brought them over first thing in the morning.”

“We don’t mean these them!” Klaus said, taking the items from Genghis’s scraggly hands. “We mean them them!”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand all those thems,” Coach Genghis said, shrugging at the adults. “The orphans ran laps last night as part of my S.O.R.E. program, but they had to dash off in the morning to take their exams. In their hurry, Violet dropped her ribbon and Klaus dropped his glasses. But the baby—”

“You know very well that’s not what happened,” Violet interrupted. “Where are the Quagmire triplets? What have you done with our friends?”

“What have you done with our friends?” Vice Principal Nero said in his mocking tone. “Stop talking nonsense, orphans.”

“I’m afraid it’s not nonsense,” Genghis said, shaking his turbaned head and continuing his story. “As I was saying before the little girl interrupted me, the baby didn’t dash off with the other orphans. She just sat there like a sack of flour. So I walked over to her and gave her a kick to get her moving.”

“Excellent idea!” Nero said. “What a wonderful story this is! And then what happened?”

“Well, at first it seemed like I’d kicked a big hole in the baby,” Genghis said, his eyes shining, “which seemed lucky, because Sunny was a terrible athlete and it would have been a blessing to put her out of her misery.”

Nero clapped his hands. “I know just what you mean, Genghis,” he said. “She’s a terrible secretary as well.”

“But she did all that stapling,” Mr. Remora protested.

“Shut up and let the coach finish his story,” Nero said.

“But when I looked down,” Genghis continued, “I saw that I hadn’t kicked a hole in a baby. I’d kicked a hole in a bag of flour! I’d been tricked!”

“That’s terrible!” Nero cried.

“So I ran after Violet and Klaus,” Genghis continued, “and I found that they weren’t Violet and Klaus after all, but those two other orphans—the twins.”

“They’re not twins!” Violet cried. “They’re triplets!”

“They’re triplets!” Nero mocked. “Don’t be an idiot. Triplets are when four babies are born at the same time, and there are only two Quagmires.”

“And these two Quagmires were pretending to be the Baudelaires, in order to give the Baudelaires extra time to study.”

“Extra time to study?” Nero said, grinning in delight. “Hee hee hee! Why, that’s cheating!”

“That’s not cheating!” Mrs. Bass said.

“Skipping gym class to study is cheating,” Nero insisted.

“No, it’s just good time management,” Mr. Remora argued. “There’s nothing wrong with athletics, but they shouldn’t get in the way of your schoolwork.”

“Look, I’m the vice principal,” the vice principal said. “I say the Baudelaires were cheating, and therefore—hooray!—I can expel them. You two are merely teachers, so if you disagree with me, I can expel you, too.”

Mr. Remora looked at Mrs. Bass, and they both shrugged. “You’re the boss, Nero,” Mr. Remora said finally, taking another banana out of his pocket. “If you say they’re expelled, they’re expelled.”

“Well, I say they’re expelled,” Nero said. “And Sunny loses her job, too.”

“Rantaw!” Sunny shrieked, which meant something along the lines of “I never wanted to work as a secretary, anyway!”

“We don’t care about being expelled,” Violet said. “We want to know what happened to our friends.”

“Well, the Quagmires had to be punished for their part in the cheating,” Coach Genghis said, “so I brought them over to the cafeteria and put those two workers in charge of them. They’ll be whisking eggs all day long.”

“Very sensible,” Nero agreed.

“That’s all they’re doing?” Klaus said suspiciously. “Whisking eggs?”

“That’s what I said,” Genghis said and leaned so close to the Baudelaires that all they could see were his shiny eyes and the crooked curve of his wicked mouth. “Those two Quagmires will whisk and whisk until they are simply whisked away.”

“You’re a liar,” Violet said.

“Insulting your coach,” Nero said, shaking his pigtailed head. “Now you’re doubly expelled.”

“What’s this?” said a voice from the doorway. “Doubly expelled?”

The voice stopped to have a long, wet cough, so the Baudelaires knew without looking that it was Mr. Poe. He was standing at the Orphans Shack holding a large paper sack and looking busy and confused. “What are all of you doing here?” he said. “This doesn’t look like a proper place to have a conversation. It’s just an old shack.”

“What are you doing here?” Nero asked. “We don’t allow strangers to wander around Prufrock Preparatory School.”

“Poe’s the name,” Mr. Poe said, shaking Nero’s hand. “You must be Nero. We’ve talked on the phone. I received your telegram about the twenty-eight bags of candy and the ten pairs of earrings with precious stones. My associates at Mulctuary Money Management thought I’d better deliver them in person, so here I am. But what’s this about expelled?”

“These orphans you foisted on me,” Nero said, using a nasty word for “gave,” “have proven to be terrible cheaters, and I’m forced to expel them.”

“Cheaters?” Mr. Poe said, frowning at the three siblings. “Violet, Klaus, Sunny, I’m very disappointed in you. You promised me that you’d be excellent students.”

“Well, actually, only Violet and Klaus were students,” Nero said. “Sunny was an administrative assistant, but she was terrible at it as well.”

Mr. Poe’s eyes widened in surprise as he paused to cough into his white handkerchief. “An administrative assistant?” he repeated. “Why, Sunny’s only a baby. She should be in preschool, not an office environment.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” Nero said. “They’re all expelled. Give me that candy.”

Klaus looked down at his hands, which were still clutching the Quagmire notebooks. He was afraid that the notebooks might be the only sign of the Quagmires he would ever see again. “We don’t have any time to argue about candy!” he cried. “Count Olaf has done something terrible to our friends!”

“Count Olaf?” Mr. Poe said, handing Nero the paper sack. “Don’t tell me he’s found you here!”

“No, of course not,” Nero said. “My advanced computer system has kept him away, of course. But the children have this bizarre notion that Coach Genghis is actually Olaf in disguise.”

“Count Olaf,” Genghis said slowly. “Yes, I’ve heard of him. He’s supposed to be the best actor in the whole world. I’m the best gym teacher in the whole world, so we couldn’t possibly be the same person.”

Mr. Poe looked Coach Genghis up and down, then shook his hand. “A pleasure to meet you,” he said, and then turned to the Baudelaires. “Children, I’m surprised at you. Even without an advanced computer system, you should be able to tell that this man isn’t Count Olaf. Olaf has only one eyebrow, and this man is wearing a turban. And Olaf has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, and this man is wearing expensive running shoes. They are quite handsome, by the way.”

“Oh, thank you,” Coach Genghis said. “Unfortunately, thanks to these children, they have flour all over them, but I’m sure it’ll wash off.”

“If he removes his turban and his shoes,” Violet said impatiently, “you will be able to see that he’s Olaf.”

“We’ve been through this before,” Nero said. “He can’t take off his running shoes because he’s been exercising and his feet smell.”

“And I can’t take off my turban for religious reasons,” Genghis added.

“You’re not wearing a turban for religious reasons!” Klaus said in disgust, and Sunny shrieked something in agreement. “You’re wearing it as a disguise! Please, Mr. Poe, make him take it off!”

“Now, Klaus,” Mr. Poe said sternly. “You have to learn to be accepting of other cultures. I’m sorry, Coach Genghis. The children aren’t usually prejudiced.”

“That’s quite all right,” Genghis said. “I’m used to religious persecution.”

“However,” Mr. Poe continued, after a brief coughing spell, “I would ask you to remove your running shoes, if only to set the Baudelaires’ minds at ease. I think we can all stand a little smelliness if it’s in the cause of criminal justice.”

“Smelly feet,” Mrs. Bass said, wrinkling her nose. “Ew, gross.”

“I’m afraid I cannot take off my running shoes,” Coach Genghis said, taking a step toward the door. “I need them.”

“Need them?” Nero asked. “For what?”

Coach Genghis took a long, long look at the three Baudelaires and smiled a terrible, toothy grin. “For running, of course,” he said, and ran out the door.

The orphans were startled for a moment, not only because he had started running so suddenly but also because it seemed like he had given up so easily. After his long, elaborate plan—disguising himself as a gym teacher, forcing the Baudelaires to run laps, getting them expelled—he was suddenly racing across the lawn without even glancing back at the children he’d been chasing for such a long time. The Baudelaires stepped out of the Orphans Shack, and Coach Genghis turned back to sneer at them.

“Don’t think I’ve given up on you, orphans!” he called to them. “But in the meantime, I have two little prisoners with a very nice fortune of their own!”

He began to run again, but not before pointing a bony finger across the lawn. The Baudelaires gasped. At the far end of Prufrock Prep, they saw a long, black car with dark smoke billowing out of its exhaust pipes. But the children were not gasping at air pollution. The two cafeteria workers were walking toward the car, but they had taken off their metal masks at last, and the three youngsters could see that they were the two powder-faced women who were comrades of Count Olaf’s. But this was not what the children were gasping at either, although it was a surprising and distressing turn of events. What they were gasping at was what each of the women was dragging toward the car. Each powder-faced woman was dragging one of the Quagmire triplets, who were struggling desperately to get away.

“Put them in the back seat!” Genghis called. “I’ll drive! Hurry!”

“What in the world is Coach Genghis doing with those children?” Mr. Poe asked, frowning.

The Baudelaires did not even turn to Mr. Poe to try and explain. After all their S.O.R.E. training sessions, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny found that their leg muscles could respond instantly if they wanted to run. And the Baudelaire orphans had never wanted to run more than they did now.

“After them!” Violet cried, and the children went after them. Violet ran, her hair flying wildly behind her. Klaus ran, not even bothering to drop the Quagmire notebooks. And Sunny crawled as fast as her legs and hands could carry her. Mr. Poe gave a startled cough and began running after them, and Nero, Mr. Remora, and Mrs. Bass began running after Mr. Poe. If you had been hiding behind the archway, spying on what was going on, you would have seen what looked like a strange race on the front lawn, with Coach Genghis running in front, the Baudelaire orphans right behind, and assorted adults huffing and puffing behind the children. But if you continued watching, you would have seen an exciting development in the race, a phrase which here means that the Baudelaires were gaining on Genghis. The coach had much longer legs than the Baudelaires, of course, but he had spent the last ten nights standing around blowing a whistle. The children had spent those nights running hundreds of laps around the luminous circle, and so their tiny, strong legs—and, in Sunny’s case, arms—were overcoming Genghis’s height advantage.

I hate to pause at such a suspenseful part of the story, but I feel I must intrude and give you one last warning as we reach the end of this miserable tale. You were probably thinking, as you read that the children were catching up to their enemy, that perhaps this was the time in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans when this terrible villain would finally be caught, and that perhaps the children would find some kind guardians and that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny would spend the rest of their lives in relative happiness, possibly creating the printing business that they had discussed with the Quagmires. And you are free to believe that this is how the story turns out, if you want. The last few events in this chapter of the Baudelaire orphans’ lives are incredibly unfortunate, and quite terrifying, and so if you would prefer to ignore them entirely you should put this book down now and think of a gentle ending to this horrible story. I have made a solemn promise to write the Baudelaire history exactly as it occurred, but you have made no such promise—at least as far as I know—and you do not need to endure the wretched ending of this story, and this is your very last chance to save yourself from the woeful knowledge of what happened next.

Violet was the first to reach Coach Genghis, and she stretched her arm out as far as she could, grabbing part of his turban. Turbans, you probably know, consist of just one piece of cloth, wrapped very tightly and in a complicated way around someone’s head. But Genghis had cheated, not knowing the proper way to tie a turban, because he was wearing it as a disguise and not for religious reasons. He had merely wrapped it around his head the way you might wrap a towel around yourself when getting out of the shower, so when Violet grabbed the turban, it unraveled immediately. She had been hoping that grabbing his turban would stop the coach from running, but all it did was leave her with a long piece of cloth in her hands. Coach Genghis kept running, his one eyebrow glistened with sweat over his shiny eyes.

“Look!” Mr. Poe said, who was far behind the Baudelaires but close enough to see. “Genghis has only one eyebrow, like Count Olaf!”

Sunny was the next Baudelaire to reach Genghis, and because she was crawling on the ground, she was in a perfect position to attack his shoes. Using all four of her sharp teeth, she bit one pair of his shoelaces, and then the other. The knots came undone immediately, leaving tiny, bitten pieces of shoelace on the brown lawn. Sunny had been hoping that untying his shoes would make the coach trip, but Genghis merely stepped out of his shoes and kept running. Like many disgusting people, Coach Genghis was not wearing socks, so with each step his eye tattoo glistening with sweat on his left ankle.

“Look!” Mr. Poe said, who was still too far to help but close enough to see. “Genghis has an eye tattoo, like Count Olaf! In fact, I think he is Count Olaf!”

“Of course he is!” Violet cried, holding up the unraveled turban.

“Merd!” Sunny shrieked, holding up a tiny piece of shoelace. She meant something like “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you.”

Klaus, however, did not say anything. He was putting all of his energy toward running, but he was not running toward the man we can finally call by his true name, Count Olaf. Klaus was running toward the car. The powder-faced women were just shoving the Quagmires into the back seat, and he knew this might be his only chance to rescue them.

“Klaus! Klaus!” Isadora cried as he reached the car. Klaus dropped the notebooks to the ground and grabbed his friend’s hand. “Help us!”

“Hang on!” Klaus cried and began to drag Isadora back out of the car. Without a word, one of the powder-faced women leaned forward and bit Klaus’s hand, forcing him to let go of the triplet. The other powder-faced woman leaned across Isadora’s lap and began pulling the car door closed.

“No!” Klaus cried and grabbed the door handle. Back and forth, Klaus and Olaf’s associate tugged on the door, forcing it halfway open and halfway shut.

“Klaus!” Duncan cried, from behind Isadora. “Listen to me, Klaus! If anything goes wrong—”

“Nothing will go wrong,” Klaus promised, pulling on the car door as hard as he could. “You’ll be out of here in a second!”

“If anything goes wrong,” Duncan said again, “there’s something you should know. When we were researching the history of Count Olaf, we found out something dreadful!”

“We can talk about this later,” Klaus said, struggling with the door.

“Look in the notebooks!” Isadora cried. “The—” The first powder-faced woman put her hand over Isadora’s mouth so she couldn’t speak. Isadora turned her head roughly and slipped from the woman’s grasp. “The—” The powdery hand covered her mouth again.

“Hang on!” Klaus called desperately. “Hang on!”

“Look in the notebooks! V.F.D.” Duncan screamed, but the other woman’s powdery hand covered his mouth before he could continue.

“What?” Klaus said.

Duncan shook his head vigorously and freed himself from the woman’s hand for just one moment. “V.F.D.” he managed to scream again, and that was the last Klaus heard. Count Olaf, who had been running slower without his shoes, had reached the car, and with a deafening roar, he grabbed Klaus’s hand and pried it loose from the car door. As the door slammed shut, Olaf kicked Klaus in the stomach, sending him falling to the ground and landing with a rough thump! near the Quagmire notebooks he had dropped. The villain towered over Klaus and gave him a sickening smile, then leaned down, picked up the notebooks, and tucked them under his arm.

“No!” Klaus screamed, but Count Olaf merely smiled, stepped into the front seat, and began driving away just as Violet and Sunny reached their brother.

Clutching his stomach, Klaus stood up and tried to follow his sisters, who were trying to chase the long, black car. But Olaf was driving over the speed limit and it was simply impossible, and after a few yards the Baudelaires had to stop. The Quagmire triplets climbed over the powder-faced women and began to pound on the rear window of the car. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny could not hear what the Quagmires were screaming through the glass; they only saw their desperate and terrified faces. But then the powdery hands of Olaf’s assistants grabbed them and pulled them back from the window. The faces of the Quagmire triplets faded to nothing, and the Baudelaires saw nothing more as the car pulled away.

“We have to go after them!” Violet screamed, her face streaked with tears. She turned around to face Nero and Mr. Poe, who were pausing for breath on the edge of the lawn. “We have to go after them!”

“We’ll call the police,” Mr. Poe gasped, wiping his sweaty forehead with his handkerchief. “They have an advanced computer system, too. They’ll catch him. Where’s the nearest phone, Nero?”

“You can’t use my phone, Poe!” Nero said. “You brought three terrible cheaters here, and now, thanks to you, my greatest gym teacher is gone and took two students with him! The Baudelaires are triple-expelled!”

“Now see here, Nero,” Poe said. “Be reasonable.”

The Baudelaires sunk to the brown lawn, weeping with frustration and exhaustion. They paid no attention to the argument between Vice Principal Nero and Mr. Poe, because they knew, from the prism of their experience, that by the time the adults had decided on a course of action, Count Olaf would be long gone. This time, Olaf had not merely escaped but escaped with friends of theirs, and the Baudelaires wept as they thought they might never see the triplets again. They were wrong about this, but they had no way of knowing they were wrong, and just imagining what Count Olaf might do to their dear friends made them only weep harder. Violet wept, thinking of how kind the Quagmires had been to her and her siblings upon the Baudelaires’ arrival at this dreadful academy. Klaus wept, thinking of how the Quagmires had risked their lives to help him and his sisters escape from Olaf’s clutches. And Sunny wept, thinking of the research the Quagmires had done, and the information they hadn’t had time to share with her and her siblings.

The Baudelaire orphans hung on to one another, and wept and wept while the adults argued endlessly behind them. Finally—as, I’m sorry to say, Count Olaf forced the Quagmires into puppy costumes so he could sneak them onto the airplane without anyone noticing—the Baudelaires cried themselves out and just sat on the lawn together in weary silence. They looked up at the smooth gray stone of the tombstone buildings and at the arch with “PRUFROCK PREPARATORY SCHOOL” in enormous black letters and the motto “Memento Mori” printed beneath. They looked out at the edge of the lawn, where Olaf had snatched the Quagmire notebooks. And they took long, long looks at one another. The Baudelaires remembered, as I’m sure you remembered, that in times of extreme stress one can find energy hidden in even the most exhausted areas of the body, and Violet, Klaus, and Sunny felt that energy surge through them now.

“What did Duncan shout to you?” Violet asked. “What did he shout to you from the car, about what was in the notebooks?”

“V.F.D.” Klaus said, “but I don’t know what it means.”

“Ceju,” Sunny said, which meant “We have to find out.”

The older Baudelaires looked at their sister and nodded. Sunny was right. The children had to find out the secret of V.F.D. and the dreadful thing the Quagmires had discovered. Perhaps it could help them rescue the two triplets. Perhaps it could bring Count Olaf to justice. And perhaps it could somehow make clear the mysterious and deadly way that their lives had become so unfortunate.

A morning breeze blew through the campus of Prufrock Preparatory School, rustling the brown lawn and knocking against the stone arch with the motto printed on it. “Memento Mori”—“Remember you will die.” The Baudelaire orphans looked up at the motto and vowed that before they died, they would solve this dark and complicated mystery that cast a shadow over their lives.

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