بخش 01

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: آسانسور قلابی / فصل 1

بخش 01

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CHAPTER One

The book you are holding in your two hands right now—assuming that you are, in fact, holding this book, and that you have only two hands—is one of two books in the world that will show you the difference between the word “nervous” and the word “anxious.” The other book, of course, is the dictionary, and if I were you I would read that book instead.

Like this book, the dictionary shows you that the word “nervous” means “worried about something”—you might feel nervous, for instance, if you were served prune ice cream for dessert, because you would be worried that it would taste awful—whereas the word “anxious” means “troubled by disturbing suspense,” which you might feel if you were served a live alligator for dessert, because you would be troubled by the disturbing suspense about whether you would eat your dessert or it would eat you. But unlike this book, the dictionary also discusses words that are far more pleasant to contemplate. The word “bubble” is in the dictionary, for instance, as is the word “peacock,” the word “vacation,” and the words “the” “author’s” “execution” “has” “been” “canceled,” which make up a sentence that is always pleasant to hear. So if you were to read the dictionary, rather than this book, you could skip the parts about “nervous” and “anxious” and read about things that wouldn’t keep you up all night long, weeping and tearing out your hair.

But this book is not the dictionary, and if you were to skip the parts about “nervous” and “anxious” in this book, you would be skipping the most pleasant sections in the entire story. Nowhere in this book will you find the words “bubble,” “peacock,” “vacation,” or, unfortunately for me, anything about an execution being canceled. Instead, I’m sorry to say, you will find the words “grief, “despair,” and “woeful” as well as the phrases “dark passageway,” “Count Olaf in disguise,” and “the Baudelaire orphans were trapped,” plus an assortment of miserable words and phrases that I cannot bring myself to write down. In short, reading a dictionary might make you feel nervous, because you would worry about finding it very boring, but reading this book will make you feel anxious, because you will be troubled by the disturbing suspense in which the Baudelaire orphans find themselves, and if I were you I would drop this book right out of your two or more hands and curl up with a dictionary instead, because all the miserable words I must use to describe these unfortunate events are about to reach your eyes.

“I imagine you must be nervous,” Mr. Poe said. Mr. Poe was a banker who had been put in charge of the Baudelaire orphans following the death of their parents in a horrible fire. I am sorry to say that Mr. Poe had not done a very good job so far, and that the Baudelaires had learned that the only thing they could rely on with Mr. Poe was that he always had a cough. Sure enough, as soon as he finished his sentence, he took out his white handkerchief and coughed into it.

The flash of white cotton was practically the only thing the Baudelaire orphans could see. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were standing with Mr. Poe in front of an enormous apartment building on Dark Avenue, a street in one of the fanciest districts in the city. Although Dark Avenue was just a few blocks away from where the Baudelaire mansion had been, the three children had never been in this neighborhood before, and they had assumed that the “dark” in Dark Avenue was simply a name and nothing more, the way a street named George Washington Boulevard does not necessarily indicate that George Washington lives there or the way Sixth Street has not been divided into six equal parts. But this afternoon the Baudelaires realized that Dark Avenue was more than a name. It was an appropriate description. Rather than street-lamps, placed at regular intervals along the sidewalk were enormous trees the likes of which the children had never seen before—and which they could scarcely see now. High above a thick and prickly trunk, the branches of the trees drooped down like laundry hung out to dry, spreading their wide, flat leaves out in every direction, like a low, leafy ceiling over the Baudelaires’ heads. This ceiling blocked out all the light from above, so even though it was the middle of the afternoon, the street looked as dark as evening—if a bit greener. It was hardly a good way to make three orphans feel welcome as they approached their new home.

“You have nothing to be nervous about,” Mr. Poe said, putting his handkerchief back in his pocket. “I realize some of your previous guardians have caused a little trouble, but I think Mr. and Mrs. Squalor will provide you with a proper home.”

“We’re not nervous,” Violet said. “We’re too anxious to be nervous.”

“‘Anxious’ and ‘nervous’ mean the same thing,” Mr. Poe said. “And what do you have to be anxious about, anyway?”

“Count Olaf, of course,” Violet replied. Violet was fourteen, which made her the eldest Baudelaire child and the one who was most likely to speak up to adults. She was a superb inventor, and I am certain that if she had not been so anxious, she would have tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes while she thought of an invention that could brighten up her surroundings.

“Count Olaf?” Mr. Poe said dismissively. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll never find you here.”

The three children looked at one another and sighed. Count Olaf had been the first guardian Mr. Poe had found for the orphans, and he was a person as shady as Dark Avenue. He had one long eyebrow, a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, and two filthy hands that he hoped to use to snatch away the Baudelaire fortune that the orphans would inherit as soon as Violet came of age. The children had convinced Mr. Poe to remove them from Olaf’s care, but since then the count had pursued them with a dogged determination, a phrase which here means “everywhere they went, thinking up treacherous schemes and wearing disguises to try to fool the three children.”

“It’s hard not to worry about Olaf,” Klaus said, taking off his glasses to see if it was easier to look around the gloom without them, “because he has our compatriots in his clutches.” Although Klaus, the middle Baudelaire, was only twelve, he had read so many books that he frequently used words like “compatriots,” which is a fancy word for “friends.” Klaus was referring to the Quagmire triplets, whom the Baudelaires had met while they were attending boarding school. Duncan Quagmire was a reporter, and was always writing down useful information in his notebook. Isadora Quagmire was a poet, and used her notebook to write poetry. The third triplet, Quigley, had died in a fire before the Baudelaire orphans had the opportunity to meet him, but the Baudelaires were certain that he would have been as good a friend as his siblings. Like the Baudelaires, the Quagmires were orphans, having lost their parents in the same fire that claimed their brother’s life, and also like the Baudelaires, the Quagmires had been left an enormous fortune, in the form of the famous Quagmire sapphires, which were very rare and valuable jewels. But unlike the Baudelaires, they had not been able to escape Count Olaf’s clutches. Just when the Quagmires had learned some terrible secret about Olaf, he had snatched them away, and since then the Baudelaires had been so worried that they had scarcely slept a wink. Whenever they closed their eyes, they saw only the long, black car that had whisked the Quagmires away, and they heard only the sound of their friends shrieking one fragment of the dreadful secret they had learned. “V.F.D.!” Duncan had screamed, just before the car raced away, and the Baudelaires tossed and turned, and worried for their friends, and wondered what in the world V.F.D. could stand for.

“You don’t have to worry about the Quagmires, either,” Mr. Poe said confidently. “At least, not for much longer. I don’t know if you happened to read the Mulctuary Money Management newsletter, but I have some very good news about your friends.”

“Gavu?” Sunny asked. Sunny was the youngest Baudelaire orphan, and the smallest, too. She was scarcely larger than a salami. This size was usual for her age, but she had four teeth that were larger and sharper than those of any other baby I have ever seen. Despite the maturity of her mouth, however, Sunny usually talked in a way most people found difficult to understand. By “Gavu,” for instance, she meant something along the lines of “The Quagmires have been found and rescued?” and Violet was quick to translate so Mr. Poe would understand.

“Better than that,” Mr. Poe said. “I have been promoted. I am now the bank’s Vice President in Charge of Orphan Affairs. That means that I am in charge not only of your situation, but of the Quagmire situation as well. I promise you that I will concentrate a great deal of my energy on finding the Quagmires and returning them to safety, or my name isn’t”—here Mr. Poe interrupted himself to cough once more into his handkerchief, and the Baudelaires waited patiently until he finished—“Poe. Now, as soon as I drop you off here I am taking a three-week helicopter ride to a mountain peak where the Quagmires may have been spotted. It will be very difficult to reach me during that time, as the helicopter has no phone, but I will call you as soon as I get back with your young pals. Now, can you see the number on this building? It’s hard for me to tell if we’re at the right place.”

“I think it says 667,” Klaus said, squinting in the dim green light.

“Then we’re here,” Mr. Poe said. “Mr. and Mrs. Squalor live in the penthouse apartment of 667 Dark Avenue. I think the door is here.”

“No, it’s over here,” said a high, scratchy voice out of the darkness. The Baudelaires jumped a little in surprise, and turned to see a man wearing a hat with a wide brim and a coat that was much too big for him. The coat sleeves hung over his hands, covering them completely, and the brim of his hat covered most of his face. He was so difficult to see that it was no wonder that the children hadn’t spotted him earlier. “Most of our visitors find it hard to spot the door,” the man said. “That’s why they hired a doorman.”

“Well, I’m glad they did,” Mr. Poe said. “My name is Poe, and I have an appointment with Mr. and Mrs. Squalor to drop off their new children.”

“Oh, yes,” the doorman said. “They told me you were coming. Come on in.”

The doorman opened the door of the building and showed them inside to a room that was as dark as the street. Instead of lights, there were only a few candles placed on the floor, and the children could scarcely tell whether it was a large room or a small room they were standing in.

“My, it’s dark in here,” Mr. Poe said. “Why don’t you ask your employers to bring in a good strong halogen lamp?”

“We can’t,” the doorman replied. “Right now, dark is in.”

“In what?” Violet asked.

“Just ‘in,’” the doorman explained. “Around here, people decide whether something is in, which means it’s stylish and appealing, or out, which means it’s not. And it changes all the time. Why, just a couple of weeks ago, dark was out, and light was in, and you should have seen this neighborhood. You had to wear sunglasses all the time or you’d hurt your eyes.”

“Dark is in, huh?” Mr. Poe said. “Wait until I tell my wife. In the meantime, could you show us where the elevator is? Mr. and Mrs. Squalor live in the penthouse apartment, and I don’t want to walk all the way to the top floor.”

“Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to,” the doorman said. “There’s a pair of elevator doors right over there, but they won’t be of any use to you.”

“Is the elevator out of order?” Violet asked. “I’m very good with mechanical devices, and I’d be happy to take a look at it.”

“That’s a very kind and unusual offer,” the doorman said. “But the elevator isn’t out of order. It’s just out. The neighborhood decided that elevators were out, so they had the elevator shut down. Stairs are in, though, so there’s still a way to get to the penthouse. Let me show you.”

The doorman led the way across the lobby, and the Baudelaire orphans peered up at a very long, curved staircase made of wood, with a metal banister that curved alongside. Every few steps, they could see, somebody had placed more candles, so the staircase looked like nothing more than curves of flickering lights, growing dimmer as the staircase went farther and farther up, until they could see nothing at all.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Klaus said.

“It looks more like a cave than a staircase,” Violet said.

“Pinse!” Sunny said, which meant something like “Or outer space!”

“It looks like a long walk to me,” Mr. Poe said, frowning. He turned to the doorman. “How many floors up does this staircase go?”

The doorman’s shoulders shrugged underneath his oversized coat. “I can’t remember,” he said. “I think it’s forty-eight, but it might be eighty-four.”

“I didn’t know buildings could be that high,” Klaus said.

“Well, whether it’s forty-eight or eighty-four,” Mr. Poe said, “I don’t have time to walk you children all the way up. I’ll miss my helicopter. You’ll have to go up by yourselves, and tell Mr. and Mrs. Squalor that I send my regards.”

“We have to walk up by ourselves?” Violet said.

“Just be glad you don’t have any of your things with you,” Mr. Poe said. “Mrs. Squalor said there was no reason to bring any of your old clothing, and I think it’s because she wanted to save you the effort of dragging suitcases up all those stairs.”

“You’re not going to come with us?” Klaus asked.

“I simply don’t have the time to accompany you,” Mr. Poe said, “and that is that.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another. The children knew, as I’m sure you know, that there is usually no reason to be afraid of the dark, but even if you are not particularly afraid of something, you might not want to get near it, and the orphans were a bit nervous about climbing all the way up to the penthouse without an adult walking beside them.

“If you’re afraid of the dark,” Mr. Poe said, “I suppose I could delay my search for the Quagmires, and take you to your new guardians.”

“No, no,” Klaus said quickly. “We’re not afraid of the dark, and finding the Quagmires is much more important.”

“Obog,” Sunny said doubtfully.

“Just try to crawl as long as you can,” Violet said to her sister, “and then Klaus and I will take turns carrying you. Good-bye, Mr. Poe.”

“Good-bye, children,” Mr. Poe said. “If there’s any problem, remember you can always contact me or any of my associates at Mulctuary Money Management—at least, as soon as I get off the helicopter.”

“There’s one good thing about this staircase,” the doorman joked, starting to walk Mr. Poe back to the front door. “It’s all uphill from here.”

The Baudelaire orphans listened to the doorman’s chuckles as he disappeared into the darkness, and they walked up the first few steps. As I’m sure you know, the expression “It’s all uphill from here” has nothing to do with walking up stairs—it merely means that things will get better in the future. The children had understood the joke, but they were too anxious to laugh. They were anxious about Count Olaf, who might find them any minute. They were anxious about the Quagmire triplets, whom they might never see again. And now, as they began to walk up the candlelit stairway, they were anxious about their new guardians. They tried to imagine what sort of people would live on such a dark street, in such a dark building, and at the top of either forty-eight or eighty-four flights of very dark stairs. They found it difficult to believe that things would get better in the future when they lived in such gloomy and poorly lit surroundings. Even though a long, upward climb awaited them, as the Baudelaire orphans started walking into the darkness, they were too anxious to believe it was all uphill from here.

CHAPTER Two

In order to get a better sense of exactly how the Baudelaire orphans felt as they began the grueling journey up the stairs to Mr. and Mrs. Squalor’s penthouse apartment, you might find it useful to close your eyes as you read this chapter, because the light was so dim from the small candles on the ground that it felt as if their eyes were closed even when they were looking as hard as they could. At each curve in the staircase, there was a door that led to the apartment on each floor, and a pair of sliding elevator doors. From behind the sliding doors, the youngsters of course heard nothing, as the elevator had been shut down, but behind the doors to the apartments the children could hear the noises of people who lived in the building. When they reached the seventh floor, they heard two men laugh as somebody told a joke. When they reached the twelfth floor, they heard the splashing of water as somebody took a bath. When they reached the nineteenth floor, they heard a woman say “Let them eat cake” in a voice with a strange accent.

“I wonder what people will hear when they walk by the penthouse apartment,” Violet wondered out loud, “when we are living there.”

“I hope they hear me turning pages,” Klaus said. “Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Squalor will have some interesting books to read.”

“Or maybe people will hear me using a wrench,” Violet said. “I hope the Squalors have some tools they’d let me use for my inventing.”

“Crife!” Sunny said, crawling carefully past one of the candles on the ground.

Violet looked down at her and smiled. “I don’t think that will be a problem, Sunny,” she said. “You usually find something or other to bite. Be sure to speak up when you want us to start carrying you.”

“I wish somebody could carry me,” Klaus said, clutching the banister for support. “I’m getting tired.”

“Me too,” Violet admitted. “You would think, after Count Olaf made us run all those laps when he was disguised as a gym teacher, that these stairs wouldn’t tire us out, but that’s not the case. What floor are we on, anyway?”

“I don’t know,” Klaus said. “The doors aren’t numbered, and I’ve lost count.”

“Well, we won’t miss the penthouse,” Violet said. “It’s on the top floor, so we’ll just keep walking until the stairs stop.”

“I wish you could invent a device that could take us up the stairs,” Klaus said.

Violet smiled, although her siblings couldn’t see it in the darkness. “That device was invented a long time ago,” she said. “It’s called an elevator. But elevators are out, remember?”

Klaus smiled too. “And tired feet are in,” he said.

“Remember that time,” Violet said, “when our parents attended the Sixteenth Annual Run-a-Thon, and their feet were so tired when they got home that Dad prepared dinner while sitting on the kitchen floor, instead of standing?”

“Of course I remember,” Klaus said. “We had only salad, because they couldn’t stand up and reach the stove.”

“It would have been a perfect meal for Aunt Josephine,” Violet said, remembering one of the Baudelaires’ previous guardians. “She never wanted to use the stove, because she thought it might explode.”

“Pomres,” Sunny said sadly. She meant something along the lines of “As it turned out, the stove was the least of Aunt Josephine’s problems.”

“That’s true,” Violet said quietly, as the children heard someone sneeze from behind a door.

“I wonder what the Squalors will be like,” Klaus said.

“Well, they must be wealthy to live on Dark Avenue,” Violet said.

“Akrofil,” Sunny said, which meant “And they’re not afraid of heights, that’s for sure.”

Klaus smiled and looked down at his sister. “You sound tired, Sunny,” he said. “Violet and I can take turns carrying you. We’ll switch every three floors.”

Violet nodded in agreement with Klaus’s plan, and then said “Yes” out loud because she realized that her nod was invisible in the gloom. They continued up the staircase, and I’m sorry to say that the two older Baudelaires took many, many turns holding Sunny. If the Baudelaires had been going up a staircase of regular size, I would write the sentence “Up and up they went,” but a more appropriate sentence would begin “Up and up and up and up” and would take either forty-eight or eighty-four pages to reach “they went,” because the staircase was so unbelievably lengthy. Occasionally, they would pass the shadowy figure of someone else walking down the stairs, but the children were too tired to say even “Good afternoon”—and, later, “Good evening”—to these other residents of 667 Dark Avenue. The Baudelaires grew hungry. They grew achy. And they grew very tired of gazing at identical candles and steps and doors.

Just when they could stand it no longer, they reached another candle and step and door, and about five flights after that the stairs finally ended and deposited the tired children in a small room with one last candle sitting in the middle of the carpet. By the light of the candle, the Baudelaire orphans could see the door to their new home, and across the way, two pairs of sliding elevator doors with arrowed buttons alongside.

“Just think,” Violet said, panting from her long walk up the stairs, “if elevators were in, we would have arrived at the Squalor penthouse in just a few minutes.”

“Well, maybe they’ll be back in soon,” Klaus said. “I hope so. The other door must be to the Squalors’ apartment. Let’s knock.”

They knocked on the door, and almost instantly it swung open to reveal a tall man wearing a suit with long, narrow stripes down it. Such a suit is called a pinstripe suit, and is usually worn by people who are either movie stars or gangsters.

“I thought I heard someone approaching the door,” the man said, giving the children a smile that was so big they could see it even in the dim room. “Please come in. My name is Jerome Squalor, and I’m so happy that you’ve come to stay with us.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Squalor,” Violet said, still panting, as she and her siblings walked into an entryway almost as dim as the staircase. “I’m Violet Baudelaire, and this is my brother, Klaus, and my sister, Sunny.”

“Goodness, you sound out of breath,” Mr. Squalor said. “Luckily, I can think of two things to do about that. One is that you can stop calling me Mr. Squalor and start calling me Jerome. I’ll call you three by your first names, too, and that way we’ll all save breath. The second thing is that I’ll make you a nice, cold martini. Come right this way.”

“A martini?” Klaus asked. “Isn’t that an alcoholic beverage?”

“Usually it is,” Jerome agreed. “But right now, alcoholic martinis are out. Aqueous martinis are in. An aqueous martini is simply cold water served in a fancy glass with an olive in it, so it’s perfectly legal for children as well as for adults.”

“I’ve never had an aqueous martini,” Violet said, “but I’ll try one.”

“Ah!” Jerome said. “You’re adventurous! I like that in a person. Your mother was adventurous, too. You know, she and I were very good friends a ways back. We hiked up Mount Fraught with some friends—gosh, it must have been twenty years ago. Mount Fraught was known for having dangerous animals on it, but your mother wasn’t afraid. But then, swooping out of the sky—”

“Jerome, who was that at the door?” called a voice from the next room, and in walked a tall, slender woman, also dressed in a pinstripe suit. She had long fingernails that were so strongly polished that they shone even in the dim light.

“The Baudelaire children, of course,” Jerome replied.

“But they’re not coming today!” the woman cried.

“Of course they are,” Jerome said. “I’ve been looking forward to it for days and days! You know,” he said, turning from the woman to the Baudelaires, “I wanted to adopt you from the moment I heard about the fire. But, unfortunately, it was impossible.”

“Orphans were out then,” the woman explained. “Now they’re in.”

“My wife is always very attentive to what’s in and what’s out,” Jerome said. “I don’t care about it much, but Esmé feels differently. She was the one who insisted on having the elevator removed. Esmé, I was just about to make them some aqueous martinis. Would you like one?”

“Oh, yes!” Esmé cried. “Aqueous martinis are in!” She walked quickly over to the children and looked them over. “I’m Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor, the city’s sixth most important financial advisor,” she announced grandly. “Even though I am unbelievably wealthy, you may call me Esmé. I’ll learn your names later. I’m very happy you’re here, because orphans are in, and when all my friends hear that I have three real live orphans, they’ll be sick with jealousy, won’t they, Jerome?”

“I hope not,” Jerome said, leading the children down a long, dim hallway to a huge, dim room that had various fancy couches, chairs, and tables. At the far end of the room was a series of windows, all with their shades drawn so that no light could get in. “I don’t like to hear of anybody getting sick. Well, have a seat, children, and we’ll tell you a little bit about your new home.”

The Baudelaires sat down in three huge chairs, grateful for the opportunity to rest their feet. Jerome crossed to one of the tables, where a pitcher of water sat next to a bowl of olives and some fancy glasses, and quickly prepared the aqueous martinis. “Here you go,” he said, handing Esmé and the children each a fancy glass. “Let’s see. In case you ever get lost, remember that your new address is 667 Dark Avenue in the penthouse apartment.”

“Oh, don’t tell them silly things like that,” Esmé said, waving her long-nailed hand in front of her face as if a moth were attacking it. “Children, here are some things you should know. Dark is in. Light is out. Stairs are in. Elevators are out. Pinstripe suits are in. Those horrible clothes you are wearing are out.”

“What Esmé means,” Jerome said quickly, “is that we want you to feel as comfortable here as possible.”

Violet took a sip of her aqueous martini. She was not surprised to find that it tasted like plain water, with a slight hint of olive. She didn’t like it much, but it did quench her thirst from the long climb up the stairs. “That’s very nice of you,” she said.

“Mr. Poe told me about some of your previous guardians,” Jerome said, shaking his head. “I feel awful that you’ve had such terrible experiences, and that we could have cared for you the entire time.”

“It couldn’t be helped,” Esmé said. “When something is out, it’s out, and orphans used to be out.”

“I heard all about this Count Olaf person, too,” Jerome said. “I told the doorman not to let anyone in the building who looked even vaguely like that despicable man, so you should be safe.”

“That’s a relief,” Klaus said.

“That dreadful man is supposed to be up on some mountain, anyway,” Esmé said. “Remember, Jerome? That unstylish banker said he was going away in a helicopter to go find those twins he kidnapped.”

“Actually,” Violet said, “they’re triplets. The Quagmires are good friends of ours.”

“My word!” Jerome said. “You must be worried sick!”

“Well, if they find them soon,” Esmé said, “maybe we’ll adopt them, too. Five orphans! I’ll be the innest person in town!”

“We certainly have room for them,” Jerome said. “This is a seventy-one-bedroom apartment, children, so you will have your pick of rooms. Klaus, Poe mentioned something about your being interested in inventing things, is that right?”

“My sister’s the inventor,” Klaus replied. “I’m more of a researcher myself.”

“Well, then,” Jerome said. “You can have the bedroom next to the library, and Violet can have the one that has a large wooden bench, perfect for keeping tools. Sunny can be in the room between you two. How does that sound?”

That sounded absolutely splendid, of course, but the Baudelaire orphans did not get an opportunity to say so, because a telephone rang just at that instant.

“I’ll get it! I’ll get it!” Esmé cried, and raced across the room to pick up the phone. “Squalor residence,” she said, into the receiver, and then waited as the person spoke on the other end. “Yes, this is Mrs. Squalor. Yes. Yes. Yes? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She hung up the phone and turned to the children. “Guess what?” she asked. “I have some fantastic news on what we were talking about!”

“The Quagmires have been found?” Klaus asked hopefully.

“Who?” Esmé asked. “Oh, them. No, they haven’t been found. Don’t be silly. Jerome, children, listen to me—dark is out! Regular light is in!”

“Well, I’m not sure I’d call that fantastic news,” Jerome said, “but it will be a relief to get some light around this place. Come on, Baudelaires, help me open the shades and you can get a look at our view. You can see quite a bit from so high up.”

“I’ll go turn on all the lamps in the penthouse,” Esmé said breathlessly. “Quickly, before anybody sees that this apartment is still dark!”

Esmé dashed from the room, while Jerome gave the three siblings a little shrug and walked across the room to the windows. The Baudelaires followed him, and helped him open the heavy shades that were covering the windows. Instantly, sunlight streamed into the room, making them squint as their eyes adjusted to regular light. If the Baudelaires had looked around the room now that it was properly illuminated, they would have seen just how fancy all the furniture was. The couches had pillows embroidered with silver. The chairs were all painted with gold paint. And the tables were made from wood chopped away from some of the most expensive trees in the world. But the Baudelaire orphans were not looking around the room, as luxurious as it was. They were looking out of the window onto the city below.

“Spectacular view, don’t you think?” Jerome asked them, and they nodded in agreement. It was as if they were looking out on a tiny, tiny city, with matchboxes instead of buildings and bookmarks instead of streets. They could see tiny colored shapes that looked like various insects but were really all the cars and carriages in town, driving along the bookmarks until they reached the matchboxes where the tiny dots of people lived and worked. The Baudelaires could see the neighborhood where they had lived with their parents, and the parts of town where their friends had lived, and in a faint blue strip far, far away, the beach where they had received the terrible news that had begun all their misfortune.

“I knew you’d like it,” Jerome said. “It’s very expensive to live in a penthouse apartment, but I think it’s worth it for a view like this. Look, those tiny round boxes over there are orange juice factories. That sort of purplish building next to the park is my favorite restaurant. Oh, and look straight down—they’re already cutting down those awful trees that made our street so dark.”

“Of course they’re cutting them down,” Esmé said, hurrying back into the room and blowing out a few candles that were sitting on the mantelpiece. “Regular light is in—as in as aqueous martinis, pinstripes, and orphans.”

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked straight down, and saw that Jerome was right. Those strange trees that had blocked out the sunlight on Dark Avenue, looking no taller than paper clips from such a great height, were being chopped down by little gardener dots. Even though the trees had made the street seem so gloomy, it seemed a shame to tear them all down, leaving bare stumps that, from the penthouse window, looked like thumbtacks. The three siblings looked at one another, and then back down to Dark Avenue. Those trees were no longer in, so the gardeners were getting rid of them. The Baudelaires did not like to think of what would happen when orphans were no longer in, either.

CHAPTER Three If you were to take a plastic bag and place it inside a large bowl, and then, using a wooden spoon, stir the bag around and around and bowl, you could use the expression “a mixed bag” to describe what you had in front of you, but you would not be using the expression in the same way I am about to use it now. Although “a mixed bag” sometimes refers to a plastic bag that has been stirred in a bowl, more often it is used to describe a situation that has both good parts and bad parts. An afternoon at a movie theater, for instance, would be a mixed bag if your favorite movie were showing, but if you had to eat gravel instead of popcorn. A trip to the zoo would be a very mixed bag if the weather were beautiful, but all of the man-and woman-eating lions were running around loose. And, for the Baudelaire orphans, their first few days with the Squalors were one of the most mixed bags they had yet encountered, because the good parts were very good, but the bad parts were simply awful.

One of the good parts was that the Baudelaires were living once more in the city where they were born and raised. After the Baudelaire parents had died, and after their disastrous stay with Count Olaf, the three children had been sent to a number of remote locations to live, and they sorely missed the familiar surroundings of their hometown. Each morning, after Esmé left for work, Jerome would take the children to some of their favorite places in town. Violet was happy to see that her favorite exhibits at the Verne Invention Museum had not been changed, so she could take another look at the mechanical demonstrations that had inspired her to be an inventor when she was just two years old. Klaus was delighted to revisit the Akhmatova Bookstore, where his father used to take him as a special treat, to buy an atlas or a volume of the encyclopedia. And Sunny was interested in visiting the Pincus Hospital where she was born, although her memories of this place were a little fuzzy.

But in the afternoons, the three children would return to 667 Dark Avenue, and it was this part of the Baudelaires’ situation that was not nearly as pleasant. For one thing, the penthouse was simply too big. Besides the seventy-one bedrooms, there were a number of living rooms, dining rooms, breakfast rooms, snack rooms, sitting rooms, standing rooms, ballrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and an assortment of rooms that seemed to have no purpose at all. The penthouse was so enormous that the Baudelaire orphans often found themselves hopelessly lost inside it. Violet would leave her bedroom to go brush her teeth and not find her way back for an hour. Klaus would accidentally leave his glasses on a kitchen counter and waste the whole afternoon trying to find the right kitchen. And Sunny would find a very comfortable spot for sitting and biting things and be unable to find it the next day. It was often difficult to spend any time with Jerome, simply because it was very difficult to find him amid all the fancy rooms of their new home, and the Baudelaires scarcely saw Esmé at all. They knew she went off to work every day and returned in the evenings, but even at the times when she was in the apartment with them, the three children scarcely caught a glimpse of the city’s sixth most important financial advisor. It was as if she had forgotten all about the new members of her family, or was simply more interested in lounging around the rooms in the apartment rather than spending time with the three siblings. But the Baudelaire orphans did not really mind that Esmé was absent so often. They much preferred spending time with one another, or with Jerome, rather than participating in endless conversations about what was in and what was out.

Even when the Baudelaires stayed in their bedrooms, the three children did not have such a splendid time. As he had promised, Jerome had given Violet the bedroom with the large wooden bench, which was indeed perfect for keeping tools, but Violet could find no tools in the entire penthouse. She found it odd that such an enormous apartment would have not even a socket wrench or one measly pair of pliers, but Esmé haughtily explained, when Violet asked her one evening, that tools were out. Klaus did have the Squalor library next to his bedroom, and it was a large and comfortable room with hundreds of books on its shelves. But the middle Baudelaire was disappointed to find that every single book was merely a description of what had been in and out during various times in history. Klaus tried to interest himself in books of this type, but it was so dull to read a snooty book like Boots Were In in 1812 or Trout: In France They’re Out that Klaus found himself spending scarcely any time in the library at all. And poor Sunny fared no better, a phrase which here means “also became bored in her bedroom.” Jerome had thoughtfully placed a number of toys in her room, but they were the sort of toys designed for softer-toothed babies—squishy stuffed animals, cushioned balls, and assorted colorful pillows, none of which were the least bit fun to bite.

But what really mixed the Baudelaire bag was not the overwhelming size of the Squalor apartment, or the disappointments of a tool bench without tools, a library without interesting books, or nonchewable items of amusement. What really troubled the three children was the thought that the Quagmire triplets were undoubtedly experiencing things that were much, much worse. With every passing day, their worry for their friends felt like a heavy load on the Baudelaires’ shoulders, and the load only seemed heavier, because the Squalors refused to be of any assistance.

“I’m very, very tired of discussing your little twin friends,” Esmé said one day, as the Baudelaires and the Squalors sipped aqueous martinis one evening in a living room the children had never seen before. “I know you’re worried about them, but it’s boring to keep blabbing on about it.”

“We didn’t mean to bore you,” Violet said, not adding that it is terribly rude to tell people that their troubles are boring.

“Of course you didn’t,” Jerome said, picking the olive out of his fancy glass and popping it into his mouth before turning to his wife. “The children are concerned, Esmé, which is perfectly understandable. I know Mr. Poe is doing all he can, but maybe we can put our heads together and come up with something else.”

“I don’t have time to put my head together,” Esmé said. “The In Auction is coming up, and I have to devote all of my energy to making sure it’s a success.”

“The In Auction?” Klaus asked.

“An auction,” Jerome explained, “is a sort of sale. Everyone gets together in a large room, and an auctioneer shows off a bunch of things that are available for purchase. If you see something you like, you call out how much you’d be willing to pay for it. That’s called a bid. Then somebody else might call out a bid, and somebody else, and whoever calls out the highest price wins the auction and buys the item in question. It’s terribly exciting. Your mother used to love them! I remember one time—”

“You forgot the most important part,” Esmé interrupted. “It’s called the In Auction because we’re selling only things that are in. I always organize it, and it’s one of the most smashing events of the year!”

“Smashi?” Sunny asked.

“In this case,” Klaus explained to his younger sister, “the word ‘smashing’ doesn’t mean that things got smashed up. It just means ‘fabulous.’”

“And it is fabulous,” Esmé said, finishing her aqueous martini. “We hold the auction at Veblen Hall, and we auction off only the innest things we can find, and best of all, all the money goes to a good cause.”

“Which good cause?” Violet asked.

Esmé clapped her long-nailed hands together with glee. “Me! Every last bit of money that people pay at the auction goes right to me! Isn’t that smashing?”

“Actually, dear,” Jerome said, “I was thinking that this year, perhaps we should give the money to another good cause. For instance, I was just reading about this family of seven. The mother and father lost their jobs, and now they’re so poor that they can’t even afford to live in a one-room apartment. We might send some of the auction money to people like them.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Esmé said crossly. “If we give money to poor people, then they won’t be poor anymore. Besides, this year we’re going to make heaps of money. I had lunch with twelve millionaires this morning, and eleven of them said they were definitely going to attend the In Auction. The twelfth one has to go to a birthday party. Just think of the money I’ll make, Jerome! Maybe we could move to a bigger apartment!”

“But we just moved in a few weeks ago,” Jerome said. “I’d rather spend some money on putting the elevator back in use. It’s very tiring to climb all the way up to the penthouse.”

“There you go, talking nonsense again,” Esmé said. “If I’m not listening to my orphans babble about their kidnapped friends, I’m listening to you talk about out things like elevators. Well, we have no more time for chitchat in any case. Gunther is stopping by tonight, and I want you, Jerome, to take the children out for dinner.”

“Who is Gunther?” Jerome asked.

“Gunther is the auctioneer, of course,” Esmé replied. “He’s supposed to be the innest auctioneer in town, and he’s going to help me organize the auction. He’s coming over tonight to discuss the auction catalog, and we don’t want to be disturbed. That’s why I want you to go out to dinner, and give us a little privacy.”

“But I was going to teach the children how to play chess tonight,” Jerome said.

“No, no, no,” Esmé said. “You’re going out to dinner. It’s all arranged. I made a reservation at Café Salmonella for seven o’clock. It’s six o’clock now, so you should get moving. You want to allow plenty of time to walk down all those stairs. But before you leave, children, I have a present for each of you.”

At this, the Baudelaire children were taken aback, a phrase which here means “surprised that someone who was so selfish had purchased gifts for them,” but sure enough, Esmé reached behind the dark red sofa she was sitting on, and brought out three shopping bags that had the words “In Boutique” written on them in fancy, curly script. With an elegant gesture, Esmé handed a bag to each Baudelaire.

“I thought if I bought you something you really wanted,” she said, “you might stop all this chatter about the Quagmires.”

“What Esmé means,” Jerome added hurriedly, “is that we want you to be happy here in our home, even when you’re worried about your friends.”

“That’s not what I mean at all,” Esmé said, “but never mind. Open the bags, kids.”

The Baudelaires opened their presents, and I’m sorry to say that the shopping bags were mixed bags as well. There are many, many things that are difficult in this life, but one thing that isn’t difficult at all is figuring out whether someone is excited or not when they open a present. If someone is excited, they will often put exclamation points at the ends of their sentences to indicate their excited tone of voice. If they say “Oh!” for instance, the exclamation point would indicate that the person is saying “Oh!” in an excited way, rather than simply saying “Oh,” with a comma after it, which would indicate that the present is somewhat disappointing.

“Oh,” Violet said, as she opened her present.

“Oh,” Klaus said, as he opened his.

“Oh,” Sunny said, as she tore open her shopping bag with her teeth.

“Pinstripe suits! I knew you’d be excited!” Esmé said. “You must have been mortified the last few days, walking around the city without wearing any pinstripes! Pinstripes are in, and orphans are in, so just imagine how in you’ll be when you orphans are wearing pinstripes! No wonder you’re so excited!”

“They didn’t sound excited when they opened the presents,” Jerome said, “and I don’t blame them. Esmé, I thought we said that we’d buy Violet a tool kit. She’s very enthusiastic about inventing, and I thought we’d support that enthusiasm.”

“But I’m enthusiastic about pinstripe suits, too,” Violet said, knowing that you should always say that you are delighted with a present even when you don’t like it at all. “Thank you very much.”

“And Klaus was supposed to get a good almanac,” Jerome continued. “I told you about his interest in the International Date Line, and an almanac is the perfect book to learn all about that.”

“But I’m very interested in pinstripes,” said Klaus, who could lie as well as his sister, when the need arose. “I really appreciate this gift.”

“And Sunny,” Jerome said, “was going to be given a large square made of bronze. It would have been attractive, and easily bitable.”

“Ayjim,” Sunny said. She meant something along the lines of “I love my suit. Thank you very much,” even though she didn’t mean it one bit.

“I know we discussed buying those silly items,” Esmé said, with a wave of her long-nailed hand, “but tools have been out for weeks, almanacs have been out for months, and I received a phone call this afternoon informing me that large bronze squares are not expected to be in for at least another year. What’s in now is pinstripes, Jerome, and I don’t appreciate your trying to teach my new children that they should ignore what’s in and what’s out. Don’t you want what’s best for the orphans?”

“Of course,” Jerome sighed. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, Esmé. Well, children, I do hope you like your gifts, even though they don’t exactly match up with your interests. Why don’t you go change into your new suits, and we’ll wear them to dinner?”

“Oh, yes!” Esmé said. “Café Salmonella is one of the innest restaurants. In fact, I think they don’t even let you eat there if you’re not wearing pinstripes, so go change. But hurry up! Gunther is due to arrive any minute.”

“We’ll hurry,” Klaus promised, “and thank you again for our gifts.”

“You’re very welcome,” Jerome said with a smile, and the children smiled back at him, walked out of the living room, down a long hallway, across a kitchen, through another living room, past four bathrooms, and so on and so on and so on, eventually finding their way to their bedrooms. They stood together for a minute outside the three bedroom doors, looking sadly into their shopping bags.

“I don’t know how we’re going to wear these things,” Violet said.

“I don’t either,” Klaus said. “And it’s all the worse knowing that we almost got presents we really want.”

“Puictiw,” Sunny agreed glumly.

“Listen to us,” Violet said. “We sound hopelessly spoiled. We’re living in an enormous apartment. We each have our own room. The doorman has promised to watch out for Count Olaf, and at least one of our new guardians is an interesting person. And yet we’re standing here complaining.”

“You’re right,” Klaus said. “We should make the best of things. Getting a lousy present isn’t really worth complaining over—not when our friends are in such terrible danger. We’re really very lucky to be here at all.”

“Chittol,” Sunny said, which meant something like “That’s true. We should stop complaining and go change into our new outfits.”

The Baudelaires stood together for another moment and nodded resolutely, a phrase which here means “tried to make themselves stop feeling ungrateful and put on the suits.” But even though they didn’t want to seem spoiled, even though they knew their situation was not a terrible one at all, and even though they had less than an hour to change into the suits, find Jerome, and walk down all those hundreds and hundreds of stairs, the three children could not seem to move. They simply stood in front of their bedroom doors and stared into their bags from the In Boutique.

“Of course,” Klaus said finally, “no matter how lucky we are, the fact remains that these pinstripe suits are entirely too big for us.”

Klaus spoke the truth. It was a truth that might help you understand why the Baudelaires were so disappointed with what was in their bags. It was a truth that might help you understand why the Baudelaires were so reluctant to go into their rooms and change into their pinstripe suits. And it was a truth that became even more obvious when the Baudelaires finally went into their rooms, and opened their bags and put on the gifts that Esmé had given them.

It is often difficult to tell if a piece of clothing will fit you or not until you try it on, but the Baudelaire children could tell the instant they first looked into the shopping bags that these clothes dwarfed them by comparison. The expression “dwarfed by comparison” has nothing to do with dwarves, who are dull creatures in fairy tales who spend their time whistling and cleaning house. “Dwarfed by comparison” simply means that one thing seems small when compared to another thing. A mouse would be dwarfed by comparison with an ostrich, which is much bigger, and an ostrich would be dwarfed by comparison with the city of Paris. And the Baudelaires were dwarfed by comparison with the pinstripe suits. When Violet put the pants part of her suit on, the legs of the suit stretched much, much farther than the legs of her body, so it was as if she had two huge noodles instead of feet. When Klaus put the jacket part of his suit on, the sleeves fell far, far past his hands, so his arms looked as if they had shrunk up inside his body. And Sunny’s suit dwarfed her so much by comparison that it was as if she had pulled the covers over her in bed instead of changing her clothes. When the Baudelaires stepped back out of their bedrooms and met up again in the hallway, they were so dwarfed by comparison that they scarcely recognized one another.

“You look like you’re skiing,” Klaus said, pointing at his older sister’s pant legs. “Except your skis are made of cloth instead of titanium alloy.”

“You look like you remembered to put on your jacket, but forgot to put on your arms,” Violet replied with a grin.

“Mmphmm!” Sunny shrieked, and even her two siblings couldn’t understand what she was saying from beneath all the pinstriped cloth.

“Goodness, Sunny,” Violet said, “I thought you were a lump in the carpet. Here, we’d better just tie one of the sleeves of the suit around you. Maybe tomorrow we can find a pair of scissors, and—”

“Nnphnn!” Sunny interrupted.

“Oh, don’t be silly, Sunny,” Klaus said. “We’ve seen you in your underwear hundreds of times. One more time won’t matter.” But Klaus was wrong. He wasn’t wrong about the underwear—if you are a baby, your family will see you in your underwear many times, and there’s no use being embarrassed about it—but he was wrong in thinking that by saying “Nnphnn!” Sunny had been complaining about getting undressed in front of her siblings. Sunny’s oversized suit had muffled the word she was really saying, and it was a word that still haunts me in my dreams as I toss and turn each night, images of Beatrice and her legacy filling my weary, grieving brain no matter where in the world I travel and no matter what important evidence I discover.

It is necessary once more to use the expression “dwarfed in comparison,” in order to refer to what happened after Sunny said that fatal word out loud. For even though Violet and Klaus could not hear what Sunny had said, they learned instantly what their sister had meant. For as Sunny uttered the word, a long shadow was cast over the Baudelaires, and they looked up to see what was blocking the light. And when they looked, they felt everything about their lives become dwarfed in comparison to how trapped they felt, because this word, I’m sorry to say, was “Olaf.”

CHAPTER Four If you are ever forced to take a chemistry class, you will probably see, at the front of the classroom, a large chart divided into squares, with different numbers and letters in each of them. This chart is called the table of the elements, and scientists like to say that it contains all the substances that make up our world. Like everyone else, scientists are wrong from time to time, and it is easy to see that they are wrong about the table of the elements. Because although this table contains a great many elements, from the element oxygen, which is found in the air, to the element aluminum, which is found in cans of soda, the table of the elements does not contain one of the most powerful elements that make up our world, and that is the element of surprise. The element of surprise is not a gas, like oxygen, or a solid, like aluminum. The element of surprise is an unfair advantage, and it can be found in situations in which one person has sneaked up on another. The surprised person—or, in this sad case, the surprised persons—are too stunned to defend themselves, and the sneaky person has the advantage of the element of surprise.

“Hello, please,” Count Olaf said in his raspy voice, and the Baudelaire orphans were too stunned to defend themselves. They did not scream. They did not run away from Olaf. They did not call out for their guardians to save them. They merely stood there, in their enormous pinstripe suits, and stared at the terrible man who had somehow found them once more.

As Olaf looked down at them with a nasty smile, enjoying the unfair advantage of the element of surprise, the children saw that he was in yet another of his nefarious disguises, a phrase which here means that he did not fool them one bit no matter what he was wearing. On Olaf’s feet were a pair of shiny black boots with high tops that almost reached his knees—the sort of boots that someone might wear to ride a horse. Over one of Olaf’s eyes was a monocle, which is an eyeglass for one eye, instead of two—the sort of eyewear that requires you to furrow your brow in order to keep it in place. And the rest of his body was covered in a pinstripe suit—the sort of suit that someone might wear in order to be in at the time when this story takes place. But the Baudelaires knew that Olaf didn’t care about being in, any more than he had imperfect vision in one eye or was about to go horseback riding. The three children knew that Olaf was wearing boots to cover up the tattoo of an eye that he had on his left ankle. They knew he was wearing the monocle so that he could furrow his brow and make it difficult to see that he had only one long eyebrow over his shiny, shiny eyes. And they knew that he was wearing a pinstripe suit so that people would think he was a rich, in person who belonged on Dark Avenue, instead of a greedy, treacherous villain who belonged in a heavily guarded prison.

“You must be children, please,” he continued, using the word “please” incorrectly for the second time. “The name of mine is Gunther. Please excuse the talking of me. Please, I am not fluent in the English language, please.”

“How…” Violet said, and then stopped. She was was still stunned, and it was difficult to finish the sentence “How did you find us so quickly, and how did you get past the doorman, who promised to keep you away from us?” while under the element of surprise.

“Where…” Klaus said, and then stopped. He was as stunned as his sister, and he found it impossible to finish the sentence “Where have you put the Quagmire triplets?” while under the element of surprise.

“Bik…” Sunny said, and stopped. The element of surprise weighed down on the youngest Baudelaire as heavily as it did on Violet and Klaus, and Sunny could not find the words to finish the sentence “Bikayado?” which meant something like “What new evil plan have you cooked up to steal our fortune?”

“I see you are not fluent in the English language either, please,” Count Olaf said, continuing to fake a different way of talking. “Where is the mother and father?”

“We’re not the mother and father,” Esmé said, and the Baudelaires felt another element of surprise as the Squalors walked into the hallway from another door. “We’re the legal guardians. These children are orphans, Gunther.”

“Ah!” From behind his monocle, Count Olaf’s eyes grew even shinier, as they often did when he was looking down on the helpless Baudelaires. The children felt as if his eyes were a pair of lit matches, about to burn them to a crisp. “Orphans in!” he said.

“I know orphans are in,” Esmé said, ignoring Olaf’s improper grammar. “In fact, they’re so in they ought to be auctioned off next week at the big event!”

“Esmé!” Jerome said. “I’m shocked! We’re not going to auction off these children.”

“Of course we’re not,” Esmé said. “It’s against the law to auction off children. Oh, well. Come along, Gunther. I’ll give you a full tour of our apartment. Jerome, take the children to Café Salmonella.”

“But we haven’t even introduced them,” Jerome said. “Violet, Klaus, Sunny—meet Gunther, the auctioneer we were talking about earlier. Gunther, meet the newest members of our family.”

“I am happy to meet you, please,” Olaf said, reaching out one of his scraggly hands.

“We’ve met before,” Violet said, happy to see that the element of surprise was fading away and that she was finding the courage to speak up. “Many times before. Jerome and Esmé, this man is an impostor. He’s not Gunther and he’s not an auctioneer. This is Count Olaf.”

“I am not understanding, please, what the orphan is saying,” Olaf said. “Please, I am not fluent in the English language, please.”

“Yes you are,” said Klaus, who also found himself feeling more courageous than surprised. “You speak English perfectly.”

“Why, Klaus, I’m surprised at you!” Jerome said. “A well-read person such as yourself should know he made a few grammatical errors.”

“Waran!” Sunny shrieked.

“My sister is right,” Violet said. “His improper English is just part of his disguise. If you make him take off his boots, you’ll see his tattoo, and if you make him take off his monocle, his brow will unfurrow, and—”

“Gunther is one of the innest auctioneers in the world,” Esmé said impatiently. “He told me so himself. I’m not going to make him get undressed just to make you feel better. Now shake Gunther’s hand, and go off to dinner and we’ll say no more about it.”

“He’s not Gunther, I tell you!” Klaus cried. “He’s Count Olaf.”

“I am not knowing what you are saying, please,” Count Olaf said, shrugging his scrawny shoulders.

“Esmé,” Jerome said hesitantly. “How can we be sure this man is really who he says he is? The children do seem quite alarmed. Perhaps we should—”

“Perhaps we should listen to me,” Esmé said, pointing one long-nailed finger at herself. “I am Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor, the city’s sixth most important financial advisor. I live on Dark Avenue, and I am unbelievably wealthy.”

“I know that, dear,” Jerome said. “I live with you.”

“Well, if you want to continue to live with me, you will call this man by his proper name, and this goes for you three children as well. I go to the trouble of buying you some smashing pinstripe suits, and you start accusing people of being in disguise!”

“It is O.K., please,” Count Olaf said. “The children are confused.”

“We’re not confused, Olaf,” Violet said.

Esmé turned to Violet and gave her an angry glare. “You and your siblings will call this man Gunther,” she ordered, “or you will make me very, very sorry I took you into my glamorous home.”

Violet looked at Klaus, and then at Sunny, and quickly made a decision. Arguing with somebody is never pleasant, but sometimes it is useful and necessary to do so. Just the other day, for example, it was useful and necessary for me to have an unpleasant argument with a medical student, because if he hadn’t let me borrow his speedboat I would now be chained inside a very small, waterproof room, instead of sitting in a typewriter factory typing out this woeful tale. But Violet realized that it was neither useful nor necessary to argue with Esmé, because her guardian had clearly made up her mind about Gunther. It would be more useful and necessary to leave the penthouse and try to figure out what to do about the reappearance of this dreadful villain, instead of standing there and bickering over what name to call him, so Violet took a deep breath and smiled up at the man who had brought so much trouble into the Baudelaire lives.

“I’m sorry, Gunther,” she said, almost choking on her false apology.

“But—” Klaus started to argue, but Violet gave him a look that meant the Baudelaires would discuss the matter later, when there weren’t any adults around. “That’s right,” he said quickly, understanding his sister’s glance at once. “We thought you were someone else, sir.”

Gunther reached up to his face and adjusted his monocle. “O.K., please,” he said.

“It’s so much nicer when no one is arguing,” Jerome said. “Come on, children, let’s go to dinner. Gunther and Esmé have to plan the auction, and they need the apartment to themselves.”

“Let me just take a minute to roll up my sleeves,” Klaus replied. “Our suits are a little big.”

“First you complain that Gunther is an impostor, then you complain about your suits,” Esmé said, rolling her eyes. “I guess it goes to show you that orphans can be in and rude at the same time. Come on, Gunther, let me show you the rest of my glorious apartment.”

“See you later, please,” Gunther said to the children, his eyes shining brightly, and gave them a little wave as he followed Esmé down the hallway. Jerome waved back, but as soon as Gunther was around the corner, he leaned in close to the children.

“That was very nice of you to stop arguing with Esmé,” he said. “I could tell that you weren’t completely convinced you had made a mistake about Gunther. But don’t worry. There is something we can do to set your minds at ease.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another and smiled in relief. “Oh, thank you, Jerome,” Violet said. “What did you have in mind?”

Jerome smiled, and knelt down to help Violet roll up the legs of her suit. “I wonder if you can guess,” he said.

“We could make Gunther take off his boots,” she said, “and we could see if he had Olaf’s tattoo.”

“Or we could make him remove his monocle and unfurrow his brow,” Klaus said, as he rolled up his sleeves, “and we could get a better look at his eyebrow situation.”

“Resyca!” Sunny said, which meant something like “Or you could simply ask him to leave the penthouse, and never return!”

“Well, I don’t know what ‘Resyca!’ means,” Jerome said, “but we’re not going to do those other things. Gunther is a guest, and we don’t want to be rude to him.”

The Baudelaires actually did want to be rude to him, but they knew it was rude to say so. “Then what will set our minds at ease?” Violet asked.

“Instead of climbing down all those stairs,” Jerome said, “we can slide down the banister! It’s great fun, and whenever I do it, it takes my mind off my troubles, no matter what they are. Follow me!”

Sliding down a banister, of course, was not going to make the Baudelaires feel any better about an evil person lurking around their home, but before any of them could say so, Jerome was already leading the way out of the penthouse. “Come on, Baudelaires!” he called, and the children followed him as he walked quickly down the hallway, through four sitting rooms, across a kitchen, past nine bedrooms, and finally out of the apartment. He led the youngsters past the two pairs of elevator doors to the top of the staircase, and sat on the banister with a wide grin.

“I’ll go first,” he said, “so you’ll see how it’s done. Be careful on the curvy parts, and if you’re going too fast you can slow yourself down by scraping your shoes along the wall. Don’t be scared!”

Jerome gave himself a push, and in a second he had slid out of view, his laughter echoing off the stairwell as he raced down toward the lobby. The children looked down the stairway and felt their hearts sink with fear. It was not the fear of sliding down the banister. The Baudelaires had slid down plenty of banisters, and although they had never slid down one that was either forty-eight or eighty-four stories high, they were not scared to try, particularly now that regular light was in so they could see where they were going. But they were afraid nonetheless. They were afraid that Gunther had a clever and nasty scheme to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, and that they didn’t have the faintest idea of what it was. They were afraid that something dreadful had happened to the Quagmire triplets, because Gunther seemed to have time to find the Baudelaires here in their new home. And they were afraid that the Squalors would not be of any assistance in keeping the three children safe from Gunther’s crooked clutches.

Jerome’s laughter grew fainter and fainter as he slid farther and farther away, and as they stood together without a word and looked down the stairway, which curved and curved and curved as far as their eyes could see, the Baudelaire orphans were afraid that it was all downhill from here.

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