بخش 02

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: آسانسور قلابی / فصل 2

بخش 02

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CHAPTER Five

Café Salmonella was located in the Fish District, which was a part of the city that looked, sounded, smelled, and—if you were to kneel down and lick its streets—probably tasted like fish. The Fish District smelled like fish because it was located near the docks of the city, where fishermen sold the fish they had caught each morning. It sounded like fish because the pavement was always wet from the sea breeze, and the feet of passersby made bubbly, splashy sounds that resembled the noises made by sea creatures. And it looked like fish because all of the buildings in the Fish District were made of shiny, silvery scales, instead of bricks or wooden planks. When the Baudelaire orphans arrived at the Fish District and followed Jerome to Café Salmonella, they had to look up at the evening sky to remind themselves that they were not underwater.

Café Salmonella was not just a restaurant, but a theme restaurant, which simply means a restaurant with food and decorations that follow a certain idea. The theme for Café Salmonella—and you can probably guess this from its name—was salmon. There were pictures of salmon on the walls, and drawings of salmon on the menu, and the waiters and waitresses were dressed up in salmon costumes, which made it difficult for them to carry plates and trays. The tables were decorated with vases full of salmon, instead of flowers, and of course all of the food that Café Salmonella served had something to do with salmon. There is nothing particularly wrong with salmon, of course, but like caramel candy, strawberry yogurt, and liquid carpet cleaner, if you eat too much of it you are not going to enjoy your meal. And so it was that evening with the Baudelaire orphans. Their costumed waiter first brought bowls of creamy salmon soup to the table, and then some chilled salmon salad and then some broiled salmon served with salmon ravioli in a salmon butter sauce for a main course, and by the time the waiter brought over salmon pie with a scoop of salmon ice cream on top the children never wanted to have another bite of salmon again. But even if the meal had featured a variety of foods, all cooked deliciously and brought by a waiter dressed in a simple, comfortable outfit, the Baudelaires would not have enjoyed their dinner, because the thought of Gunther spending the evening alone with their guardian made them lose their appetite far more than too much pink, flavorful fish, and Jerome was simply not willing to discuss the matter any further.

“I am simply not willing to discuss the matter any further,” Jerome said, taking a sip from his water glass, which had chunks of frozen salmon floating in it instead of ice cubes. “And frankly, Baudelaires, I think you should be a little ashamed of your suspicions. Do you know what the word ‘xenophobe’ means?”

Violet and Sunny shook their heads, and looked over at their brother, who was trying to remember if he had come across the word in one of his books. “When a word ends in ‘-phobe,’” Klaus said, wiping his mouth with a salmon-shaped napkin, “it usually means somebody who is afraid of something. Does ‘xeno’ mean ‘Olaf’?”

“No,” Jerome said. “It means ‘stranger,’ or ‘foreigner.’ A xenophobe is somebody who is afraid of people just because they come from a different country, which is a silly reason for fear. I would have thought that you three would be far too sensible to be xenophobes. After all, Violet, Galileo came from a country in Europe, and he invented the telescope. Would you be afraid of him?”

“No,” Violet said. “I’d be honored to meet him. But—”

“And Klaus,” Jerome continued, “surely you’ve heard of the writer Junichiro Tanizaki, who came from a country in Asia. Would you be afraid of him?”

“Of course not,” Klaus said. “But—”

“And Sunny,” Jerome continued. “The sharp-toothed mountain lion can be found in a number of countries in North America. Would you be afraid if you met a mountain lion?”

“Netesh,” Sunny said, which meant something like “Of course I would! Mountain lions are wild animals,” but Jerome continued talking as if he hadn’t heard a word she said.

“I don’t mean to scold you,” he said. “I know you’ve had a very difficult time since your parents’ death, and Esmé and I want to do all we can to provide a good, safe home for you. I don’t think Count Olaf would dare come to our fancy neighborhood, but in case he does, the doorman will spot him and alert the authorities immediately.”

“But the doorman didn’t spot him,” Violet insisted. “He was in disguise.”

“And Olaf would dare to go anywhere to find us,” Klaus added. “It doesn’t matter how fancy the neighborhood is.”

Jerome looked uncomfortably at the children. “Please don’t argue with me,” he said. “I can’t stand arguing.”

“But sometimes it’s useful and necessary to argue,” Violet said.

“I can’t think of a single argument that would be useful or necessary,” Jerome said. “For instance, Esmé made reservations for us here at Café Salmonella, and I can’t stand the taste of salmon. I could have argued with her about that, of course, but why would it be useful or necessary?”

“Well, you could have had a dinner that you enjoyed,” Klaus said.

Jerome shook his head. “Someday, when you’re older, you’ll understand,” he said. “In the meantime, do you remember which salmon is our waiter? It’s close to your bedtime, and I’d like to pay the bill and take you home.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another in frustration and sadness. They were frustrated from trying to convince Jerome of Gunther’s true identity, and they were sad because they knew it was no use to keep on trying. They scarcely said another word as Jerome ushered them out of Café Salmonella and into a taxicab that drove them out of the Fish District to 667 Dark Avenue. On the way, the taxicab passed the beach where the Baudelaires had first heard the terrible news about the fire, a time that seemed in the very, very distant past, even though it had not been all that long ago, and as the children stared out the window at the ocean waves rippling along the dark, dark beach, they missed their parents more than ever. If the Baudelaire parents had been alive, they would have listened to their children. They would have believed them when they told them who Gunther really was. But what made the Baudelaires saddest of all was the fact that if the Baudelaire parents had been alive, the three siblings would not even know who Count Olaf was, let alone be the objects of his treacherous and greedy plans. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sat in the taxi and stared mournfully out the window, and they wished with all their might that they could return to the time when their lives were happy and carefree.

“You’re back already?” the doorman asked, as he opened the door of the taxi with a hand still hidden in the sleeve of his coat. “Mrs. Squalor said that you were not supposed to return until your guest left the penthouse, and he hasn’t come down yet.”

Jerome looked at his watch and frowned. “It’s quite late,” he said. “The children should be in bed soon. I’m sure if we’re very quiet, we won’t disturb them.”

“I had very strict instructions,” the doorman said. “Nobody is supposed to enter the penthouse apartment until the guest leaves the building, which he definitely has not done.”

“I don’t want to argue with you,” Jerome said. “But perhaps he’s on his way down now. It takes a long time to get down all those stairs, unless you’re sliding down the banister. So it might be O.K. for us to go up.”

“I never thought of that,” the doorman said, scratching his chin with his sleeve. “All right, I guess you can go up. Maybe you’ll run into him on the stairs.”

The Baudelaire children looked at one another. They weren’t sure which made them more nervous—the idea that Gunther had spent so much time in the Squalor penthouse, or the idea that they might meet him as he came down the stairs. “Maybe we should wait for Gunther to leave,” Violet said. “We don’t want the doorman to get in trouble.”

“No, no,” Jerome decided. “We’d best start the climb or we’ll be too tired to reach the top. Sunny, be sure to let me know when you want me to carry you.”

They walked into the lobby of the building and were surprised to see that it had been completely redecorated while they were at dinner. All the walls were painted blue, and the floor was covered in sand, with a few seashells scattered in the corners.

“Ocean decorating is in,” the doorman explained. “I just got the phone call today. By tomorrow, the lobby will be filled with underwater scenery.”

“I wish we’d known about this earlier,” Jerome said. “We would have brought something back from the Fish District.”

“Oh, I wish you had,” the doorman said. “Everybody wants ocean decorations now, and they’re getting hard to find.”

“There are sure to be some ocean decorations for sale at the In Auction,” Jerome said, as he and the Baudelaires reached the beginning of the stairway. “Maybe you should stop by and purchase something for the lobby.”

“Maybe I will,” the doorman said, smiling oddly at the children. “Maybe I will. Have a good evening, folks.”

The Baudelaires said good night to the doorman, and began the long climb up the stairs. Up and up and up they climbed, and they passed a number of people who were on their way down, but although all of them were in pinstripe suits, none of them were Gunther. As the children climbed higher and higher, the people going down the stairs looked more and more tired, and each time the Baudelaires passed an apartment door, they heard the sounds of people getting ready for bed. On the seventeenth floor, they heard somebody ask their mother where the bubble bath was. On the thirty-eighth floor, they heard the sounds of somebody brushing their teeth. And on a floor very high up—the children had lost count again, but it must have been quite high, because Jerome was carrying Sunny—they heard someone with a deep, deep voice, reading a children’s story out loud. All these sounds made them sleepier and sleepier, and by the time they reached the top floor the Baudelaire orphans were so tired it felt as if they were sleepwalking, or, in Sunny’s case, being sleep-carried. They were so tired that they almost dozed off, leaning against the two sets of sliding elevator doors, as Jerome unlocked the front door. And they were so tired that it seemed as if Gunther’s appearance had been a dream, because when they asked about him, Esmé replied that he had left a long time ago.

“Gunther left?” Violet asked. “But the doorman said that he was still here.”

“Oh, no,” Esmé said. “He dropped off a catalog of all the items for the In Auction. It’s in the library if you want to look at it. We went over some auctioneering details, and then he went home.”

“But that can’t be,” Jerome said.

“Of course it can be,” Esmé replied. “He walked right out the front door.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another in confusion and suspicion. How had Gunther managed to leave the penthouse without being spotted? “Did he take an elevator when he left?” Klaus said.

Esmé’s eyes widened, and she opened and shut her mouth several times without saying anything, as if she were experiencing the element of surprise. “No,” she said finally. “The elevator’s been shut down. You know that.”

“But the doorman said he was still here,” Violet said again. “And we didn’t see him when we walked up the stairs.”

“Well, then the doorman was wrong,” Esmé said. “But let’s not have any more of this somniferous conversation. Jerome, put them right to bed.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another. They didn’t think the conversation was at all somniferous, a fancy word for something that is so boring it puts you to sleep. Despite their exhausting climb, the children did not feel the least bit tired when they were talking about Gunther’s whereabouts. The idea that he had managed to disappear as mysteriously as he had appeared made them too anxious to be sleepy. But the three siblings knew that they would not be able to convince the Squalors to discuss it any futher, any more than they had been able to convince them that Gunther was Count Olaf instead of an in auctioneer, so they said good night to Esmé and followed Jerome across three ballrooms, past a breakfast room, through two sitting rooms, and eventually to their own bedrooms.

“Good night, children,” Jerome said, and smiled. “The three of you will probably sleep like logs, after all that climbing. I don’t mean that you resemble parts of trees, of course. I just mean that once you get into bed, I bet you’ll fall right asleep and won’t move any more than a log does.”

“We know what you meant, Jerome,” Klaus replied, “and I hope you’re right. Good night.”

Jerome smiled at the children, and the children smiled back, and then looked at each other once more before walking into their bedrooms and shutting the doors behind them. The children knew that they would not sleep like logs, unless there were certain logs that tossed and turned all night wondering things. The siblings wondered where Gunther was hiding, and how he had managed to find them, and what terrible treachery he was dreaming up. They wondered where the Quagmire triplets were, since Gunther had time to prey on the Baudelaires. And they wondered what V.F.D. could mean, and if it would help them with Gunther if they knew. The Baudelaires tossed and turned, and wondered about all these things, and as it grew later and later they felt less and less like logs and more and more like children in a sinister and mysterious plot, spending one of the least somniferous nights of their young lives.

CHAPTER Six

Morning is one of the best times for thinking. When one has just woken up, but hasn’t yet gotten out of bed, it is a perfect time to look up at the ceiling, consider one’s life, and wonder what the future will hold. The morning I am writing this chapter, I am wondering if the future will hold something that will enable me to saw through these handcuffs and crawl out of the double-locked window, but in the case of the Baudelaire orphans, when the morning sun shone through the eight hundred and forty-nine windows in the Squalor penthouse, they were wondering if the future would hold knowledge of the trouble they felt closing in around them. Violet watched the first few rays of sunlight brighten her sturdy, tool-free workbench, and tried to imagine what sort of evil plan Gunther had cooked up. Klaus watched the dawn’s rays make shifting shapes on the wall that separated his room from the Squalor library, and racked his brain for a way Gunther could have vanished into thin air. And Sunny watched the emerging sun illuminate all of the unbiteable baby toys, and tried to figure out if they had time to discuss the matter together before the Squalors came to wake them up.

This last thing was fairly easy to figure out. The littlest Baudelaire crawled out her bedroom door, fetched her brother, and opened Violet’s door to find her out of bed and sitting at her wooden workbench with her hair tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes.

“Tageb,” Sunny said.

“Good morning,” Violet replied. “I thought it might help me think if I tied my hair up, and sat at my workbench, as if I were inventing something. But I haven’t figured out a thing.”

“It’s terrible enough that Olaf has shown up again,” Klaus said, “and that we have to call him Gunther. But we don’t have the faintest clue what he’s planning.”

“Well, he wants to get his hands on our fortune, that’s for sure,” Violet said.

“Klofy,” Sunny said, which meant “Of course. But how?”

“Maybe it has something to do with the In Auction,” Klaus guessed. “Why would he disguise himself as an auctioneer if it weren’t part of his plan?”

Sunny yawned, and Violet reached down and lifted up her sister so she could sit on her lap. “Do you think he’s going to try to auction us off?” Violet asked, as Sunny leaned forward to nibble on the workbench in thought. “He could get one of those terrible assistants of his to bid higher and higher for us until he won, and then we’d be in his clutches, just like the poor Quagmires.”

“But Esmé said it’s against the law to auction off children,” Klaus pointed out.

Sunny stopped chewing on the workbench and looked at her siblings. “Nolano?” she asked, which meant something like “Do you think the Squalors are working together with Gunther?”

“I don’t think so,” Violet said. “They’ve been very kind to us—well, Jerome has, at least—and anyway, they don’t need the Baudelaire fortune. They have so much money already.”

“But not much common sense,” Klaus said unhappily. “Gunther fooled them completely, and all it took were some black boots, a pinstripe suit, and a monocle.”

“Plus, he fooled them into thinking that he had left,” Violet said, “but the doorman was certain that he hadn’t.”

“Gunther’s got me fooled, too,” Klaus said. “How could he have left without the doorman noticing?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said miserably. “The whole thing is like a jigsaw puzzle, but there are too many missing pieces to solve it.”

“Did I hear someone say ‘jigsaw puzzles’?” Jerome asked. “If you’re looking for some jigsaw puzzles, I think there are a few in the cabinet in one of the sitting rooms, or maybe in one of the living rooms, I can’t remember which.”

The Baudelaires looked up and saw their guardian standing in the doorway of Violet’s bedroom with a smile on his face and a silver tray in his hands.

“Good morning, Jerome,” Klaus said. “And thank you, but we’re not looking for a jigsaw puzzle. Violet was just using an expression. We’re trying to figure something out.”

“Well, you’ll never figure anything out on an empty stomach,” Jerome replied. “I have some breakfast here for you: three poached eggs and some nice whole wheat toast.”

“Thank you,” Violet said. “It’s very nice of you to fix us breakfast.”

“You’re very welcome,” Jerome replied. “Esmé has an important meeting with the King of Arizona today, so we have the whole day to ourselves. I thought we could walk across town to the Clothing District, and take your pinstripe suits to a good tailor. There’s no use having those suits if they don’t fit you properly.”

“Knilliu!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “That’s very considerate of you.”

“I don’t know what ‘Knilliu!’ means,” Esmé said, walking into the bedroom, “and I don’t care, but neither will you when you hear the fantastic news I just received on the phone! Aqueous martinis are out, and parsley soda is in!”

“Parsley soda?” Jerome said, frowning. “That sounds terrible. I think I’ll stick to aqueous martinis.”

“You’re not listening,” Esmé said. “Parsley soda is in now. You’ll have to go out right now and buy a few crates of it.”

“But I was going to take the children’s suits to the tailor today,” Jerome said.

“Then you’ll have to change your plans,” Esmé said impatiently. “The children already have clothing, but we don’t have any parsley soda.”

“Well, I don’t want to argue,” Jerome said.

“Then don’t argue,” Esmé replied. “And don’t take the children with you, either. The Beverage District is no place for young people. Well, we’d better go, Jerome. I don’t want to be late for His Arizona Highness.”

“But don’t you want to spend some time with the Baudelaires before the work day begins?” Jerome asked.

“Not particularly,” Esmé said, and looked briefly at her watch. “I’ll just say good morning to them. Good morning. Well, let’s go, Jerome.”

Jerome opened his mouth as if he had something else to say, but Esmé was already marching out of the bedroom, so he just shrugged. “Have a good day,” he said to the children. “There’s food in all of our kitchens, so you can make yourselves lunch. I’m sorry that our plans didn’t work out after all.”

“Hurry up!” Esmé called, from down the hallway, and Jerome ran out of the room. The children heard their guardians’ footsteps grow fainter and fainter as they made their way to the front door.

“Well,” Klaus said, when they couldn’t hear them anymore, “what shall we do today?”

“Vinfrey,” Sunny said.

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “We’d better spend the day figuring out what Gunther’s up to.”

“How can we know what he’s up to,” Klaus said, “when we don’t even know where he is?”

“Well, we’d better find out,” Violet said. “He already had the unfair advantage of the element of surprise, and we don’t want him to have the unfair advantage of a good hiding place.”

“This penthouse has lots of good hiding places,” Klaus said. “There are so many rooms.”

“Koundix,” Sunny said, which meant something like “But he can’t be in the penthouse. Esmé saw him leave.”

“Well, maybe he sneaked back in,” Violet said, “and is lurking around right now.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another, and then at Violet’s doorway, half expecting to see Gunther standing there looking at them with his shiny, shiny eyes.

“If he was lurking around here,” Klaus said, “wouldn’t he have grabbed us the instant the Squalors went out?”

“Maybe,” Violet said. “If that was his plan.”

The Baudelaires looked at the empty doorway again.

“I’m scared,” Klaus said.

“Ecrif!” Sunny agreed.

“I’m scared, too,” Violet admitted, “but if he’s here in the penthouse, we’d better find out. We’ll have to search the entire place and see if we find him.”

“I don’t want to find him,” Klaus said. “Let’s run downstairs and call Mr. Poe instead.”

“Mr. Poe is in a helicopter, looking for the Quagmire triplets,” Violet said. “By the time he returns it may be too late. We have to figure out what Gunther is up to—not only for our sake, but for the sake of Isadora and Duncan.”

At the mention of the Quagmire triplets, all three Baudelaires felt a stiffening of their resolve, a phrase which here means “realized that they had to search the penthouse for Gunther, even though it was a scary thing to do.” The children remembered how hard Duncan and Isadora had worked to save them from Olaf’s clutches back at Prufrock Preparatory School, doing absolutely everything they could to help the Baudelaires escape Olaf’s evil plan. The Quagmires had sneaked out in the middle of the night and put themselves in grave danger. The Quagmires had put on disguises, risking their lives in order to try to fool Olaf. And the Quagmires had done a lot of researching, finding out the secret of V.F.D.—although they had been snatched away before they could reveal the secret to the Baudelaires. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny thought about the two brave and loyal triplets, and knew they had to be just as brave and loyal, now that they had an opportunity to save their friends.

“You’re right,” Klaus said to Violet, and Sunny nodded in agreement. “We have to search the penthouse. But it’s such a complicated place. I get lost just trying to find the bathroom at night. How can we search without getting lost?”

“Hansel!” Sunny said.

The two older Baudelaires looked at one another. It was rare that Sunny said something that her siblings couldn’t understand, but this seemed to be one of those times.

“Do you mean we should draw a map?” Violet asked.

Sunny shook her head. “Gretel!” she said.

“That’s two times we don’t understand you,” Klaus said. “Hansel and Gretel? What does that mean?”

“Oh!” Violet cried suddenly. “Hansel and Gretel means Hansel and Gretel—you know, those two dim-witted children in that fairy tale.”

“Of course,” Klaus said. “That brother and sister who insist on wandering around the woods by themselves.”

“Leaving a trail of bread crumbs,” Violet said, picking up a piece of toast from the breakfast tray Jerome had brought them, “so they don’t get lost. We’ll crumble up this toast and leave a few crumbs in every room so we know we’ve already searched it. Good thinking, Sunny.”

“Blized,” Sunny said modestly, which meant something like “It’s nothing,” and I’m sorry to say she turned out to be right. For as the children wandered from bedroom to living room to dining room to breakfast room to snack room to sitting room to standing room to ballroom to bathroom to kitchen to those rooms that seemed to have no purpose at all, and back again, leaving trails of toast crumbs wherever they went, Gunther was nowhere to be found. They looked in the closets of each bedroom, and the cabinets in each kitchen, and even pulled back the shower curtains in each bathroom to see if Gunther was hiding behind them. They saw racks of clothes in the closets, cans of food in the cabinets, and bottles of cream rinse in the shower, but the children had to admit, as the morning ended and the Baudelaires’ own trail of crumbs led them back to Violet’s room, that they had found nothing.

“Where in the world can Gunther be hiding?” Klaus asked. “We’ve looked everywhere.”

“Maybe he was moving around,” Violet said. “He could have been in a room behind us all the time, jumping into the hiding places we already checked.”

“I don’t think so,” Klaus said. “We surely would have heard him if he was clomping around in those silly boots. I don’t think he’s been in this penthouse since last night. Esmé insists that he left the apartment, but the doorman insists that he didn’t. It doesn’t add up.”

“I’ve been thinking that over,” Violet said. “I think it might add up. Esmé insists that he left the penthouse. The doorman insists that he didn’t leave the building. That means he could be in any of the other apartments at 667 Dark Avenue.”

“You’re right,” Klaus said. “Maybe he rented one of the apartments on another floor, as a headquarters for his latest scheme.”

“Or maybe one of the apartments belongs to someone in his theater troupe,” Violet said, and counted those terrible people on her fingers “There’s the hook-handed man, or the bald man with the long nose, or that one who looks like neither a man nor a woman.”

“Or maybe those two dreadful powder-faced women—the ones who helped kidnap the Quagmires—are roommates,” Klaus said.

“Co,” Sunny said, which meant something like “Or maybe Gunther managed to trick one of the other residents of 667 Dark Avenue into letting him into their apartment, and then he tied them up and is sitting there hiding in the kitchen.”

“If we find Gunther in the building,” Violet said, “then at least the Squalors will know that he is a liar. Even if they don’t believe he’s really Count Olaf, they’ll be very suspicious if he’s caught hiding in another apartment.”

“But how are we going to find out?” Klaus asked. “We can’t simply knock on doors and ask to see each apartment.”

“We don’t have to see each apartment,” Violet said. “We can listen to them.”

Klaus and Sunny looked at their sister in confusion for a moment, and then began to grin. “You’re right!” Klaus said. “If we walk down the stairs, listening at every door, we may be able to tell if Gunther is inside.”

“Lorigo!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

“Not so fast,” Klaus said. “It’s a long trip down all those stairs, and we’ve already done a lot of walking—and crawling, in your case, Sunny. We’d better change into our sturdiest shoes, and bring along some extra pairs of socks. That way we can avoid blisters.”

“And we should bring some water,” Violet said, “so we won’t get thirsty.”

“Snack!” Sunny shrieked, and the Baudelaire orphans went to work, changing out of their pajamas and into appropriate stair-climbing outfits, putting on their sturdiest shoes, and tucking pairs of extra socks into their pockets. After Violet and Klaus made sure that Sunny had tied her shoes correctly, the children left their bedrooms and followed their crumbs down the hallway, through a living room, past two bedrooms, down another hallway, and into the nearest kitchen, sticking together the whole time so they wouldn’t lose one another in the enormous penthouse. In the kitchen they found some grapes, a box of crackers, and a jar of apple butter, as well as a bottle of water that the Squalors used for making aqueous martinis but that the Baudelaires would use to quench their thirst during their long climb. Finally, they left the penthouse apartment, walked past the sliding elevator doors, and stood at the top of the curving stairway, feeling more like they were about to go mountain climbing than downstairs.

“We’ll have to tiptoe,” Violet said, “so that we can hear Gunther, but he can’t hear us.”

“And we should probably whisper,” Klaus whispered, “so that we can eavesdrop, without people eavesdropping on us.”

“Philavem,” Sunny said, which meant “Let’s get started,” and the Baudelaires got started, tiptoeing down the first curve of the stairway and listening at the door of the apartment directly below the penthouse. For a few seconds, they heard nothing, but then, very clearly, they heard a woman talking on the phone.

“Well, that’s not Gunther,” Violet whispered. “He’s not a woman.”

Klaus and Sunny nodded, and the children tiptoed down the next curve to the floor below. As soon as they reached the next door, it flung open to reveal a very short man in a pinstripe suit. “See you later, Avery!” he called, and, with a nod to the children, shut the door and began walking down the stairs.

“That’s not Gunther either,” Klaus whispered. “He’s not that short, and he’s not calling himself Avery.”

Violet and Sunny nodded, and the children tiptoed down the next curve to the floor below the floor below. They stopped and listened at this door, and heard a man’s voice call out, “I’m going to take a shower, Mother,” and Sunny shook her head.

“Mineak,” she whispered, which meant “Gunther would never take a shower. He’s filthy.”

Violet and Klaus nodded, and the children tiptoed down the next curve, and then the next, and the next and plenty more after that, listening at each door, whispering briefly to one another, and moving on. As they walked farther and farther down the stairway, they began to grow tired, as they always did when making their way to or from the Squalors’ apartment, but this time they had additional hardships as well. The tips of their toes grew tired from all that tiptoeing. Their throats grew hoarse from all that whispering. Their ears were aching from listening at all those doors, and their chins drooped from nodding in agreement that nothing they heard sounded like Gunther. The morning wore on, and the Baudelaires tiptoed and listened, whispered and nodded, and by the time they reached the lobby of the building, it seemed that every physical feature of the Baudelaire orphans was suffering in some way from the long climb.

“That was exhausting,” Violet said, sitting down on the bottom step and passing around the bottle of water. “Exhausting and fruitless.”

“Grape!” Sunny said.

“No, no, Sunny,” Violet said. “I didn’t mean we didn’t have any fruit. I just meant we didn’t learn anything. Do you think we missed a door?”

“No,” Klaus said, shaking his head and passing around the crackers. “I made sure. I even counted the number of floors this time, so we could double-check them on the way up. It’s not forty-eight, or eighty-four. It’s sixty-six, which happens to be the average of those two numbers. Sixty-six floors and sixty-six doors and not a peep from Gunther behind any of them.”

“I don’t understand it,” Violet said miserably. “If he’s not in the penthouse, and he’s not in any of the other apartments, and he hasn’t left the building, where could he be?”

“Maybe he is in the penthouse,” Klaus said, “and we just didn’t spot him.”

“Bishuy,” Sunny said, which meant “Or maybe he is in one of the other apartments, and we just didn’t hear him.”

“Or maybe he has left the building,” Violet said, spreading apple butter on a cracker and giving it to Sunny. “We can ask the doorman. There he is.”

Sure enough, the doorman was at his usual post by the door, and was just noticing the three exhausted children sitting on the bottom step. “Hello there,” he said, walking up to them and smiling from beneath the wide brim of his hat. Sticking out of his long sleeves were a small starfish carved out of wood, and a bottle of glue. “I was just going to put up this ocean decoration when I thought I heard someone walking down the stairs.”

“We just thought we’d have lunch here in the lobby,” Violet said, not wanting to admit that she and her siblings had been listening at doors, “and then hike back up.”

“I’m sorry, but that means that you’re not allowed back up to the penthouse,” the doorman said, and shrugged his shoulders inside his oversized coat. “You’ll have to stay here in the lobby. After all, my instructions were very clear: You were not supposed to return to the Squalor penthouse until the guest left. I let you go up last night because Mr. Squalor said that your guest was probably on his way down, but he was wrong, because Gunther never showed up in the lobby.”

“You mean Gunther still hasn’t left the building?” Violet asked.

“Of course not,” the doorman said. “I’m here all day and all night, and I haven’t seen him leave. I promise you that Gunther never walked out of this door.”

“When do you sleep?” Klaus asked.

“I drink a lot of coffee,” the doorman answered.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Violet said.

“Sure it does,” the doorman said. “Coffee contains caffeine, which is a chemical stimulant. Stimulants keep people awake.”

“I didn’t mean the part about the coffee,” Violet said. “I meant the part about Gunther. Esmé—that’s Mrs. Squalor—is positive that he left the penthouse last night, while we were at the restaurant. But you are equally positive that he didn’t leave the building. It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to have a solution.”

“Every problem has a solution,” the doorman said. “At least, that’s what a close associate of mine says. Sometimes it just takes a long time to find the solution—even if it’s right in front of your nose.”

The doorman smiled at the Baudelaires, who watched him walk over to the sliding elevator doors. He opened the bottle of glue and made a small globby patch on one of the doors, and then held the wooden starfish against the glue in order to attach it. Gluing things to a door is never a very exciting thing to watch, and after a moment, Violet and Sunny turned their attention back to their lunch and the problem of Gunther’s disappearance. Only Klaus kept looking in the direction of the doorman as he continued to decorate the lobby. The middle Baudelaire looked and looked and looked, and kept on looking even when the glue dried and the doorman went back to his post at the door. Klaus kept facing the ocean decoration that was now firmly attached to one of the elevator doors, because he realized now, after a tiring morning of searching the penthouse and an exhausting afternoon of eavesdropping on the stairs, that the doorman had been right. Klaus didn’t move his face one bit, because he realized that the solution was, indeed, right in front of his nose.

CHAPTER Seven

When you know someone a long time, you become accustomed to their idiosyncrasies, which is a fancy word for their unique habits. For instance, Sunny Baudelaire had known her sister, Violet, for quite some time, and was accustomed to Violet’s idiosyncrasy of tying her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes whenever she was inventing something. Violet had known Sunny for exactly the same length of time, and was accustomed to Sunny’s idiosyncrasy of saying “Freijip?” when she wanted to ask the question “How can you think of elevators at a time like this?” And both the young Baudelaire women were very well acquainted with their brother, Klaus, and were accustomed to his idiosyncrasy of not paying a bit of attention to his surroundings when he was thinking very hard about something, as he was clearly doing as the afternoon wore on.

The doorman continued to insist that the Baudelaire orphans could not return to the penthouse, so the three children sat on the bottom step of 667 Dark Avenue’s lengthy stairwell, ate food they had brought down with them, and rested their weary legs, which had not felt this sore since Olaf, in a previous disguise, had forced them to run hundreds and hundreds of laps as part of his scheme to steal their fortune. A good thing to do when one is sitting, eating, and resting is to have a conversation, and Violet and Sunny were both eager to converse about Gunther’s mysterious appearance and disappearance, and what they might be able to do about it, but Klaus scarcely participated in the discussion. Only when his sisters asked him a direct question, such as “But where in the world could Gunther be?” or “What do you think Gunther is planning?” or “Topoing?” did Klaus mumble a response, and Violet and Sunny soon figured out that Klaus must be thinking very hard about something, so they left him to his idiosyncrasy and talked quietly to each other until the doorman ushered Jerome and Esmé into the lobby.

“Hello, Jerome,” Violet said. “Hello, Esmé.”

“Tretchev!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “Welcome home!”

Klaus mumbled something.

“What a pleasant surprise to see you all the way down here!” Jerome said. “It’ll be easier to climb all those stairs if we have you three charming people for company.”

“And you can carry the crates of parsley soda that are stacked outside,” Esmé said. “Then I don’t have to worry about breaking one of my fingernails.”

“We’d be happy to carry big crates up all those stairs,” Violet lied, “but the doorman says we’re not allowed back in the penthouse.”

“Not allowed?” Jerome frowned. “Whatever do you mean?”

“You gave me specific instructions not to let the children back in, Mrs. Squalor,” the doorman said. “At least, until Gunther left the building. And he still hasn’t left.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Esmé said. “He left the penthouse last night. What kind of doorman are you?”

“Actually, I’m an actor,” the doorman said, “but I was still able to follow your instructions.”

Esmé gave the doorman a stern look she probably used when giving people financial advice. “Your instructions have changed,” she said. “Your new instructions are to let me and my orphans go directly to my seventy-one-bedroom apartment. Got it, buster?”

“Got it,” the doorman replied meekly.

“Good,” Esmé said, and then turned to the children. “Hurry up, kids,” she said. “Violet and what’s-his-name can each take a crate of soda, and Jerome will take the rest. I guess the baby won’t be very helpful, but that’s to be expected. Let’s get a move on.”

The Baudelaires got a move on, and in a few moments the three children and the two adults were trekking up the sixty-six-floor-long staircase. The youngsters were hoping that Esmé might help carry the heavy crates of soda, but the city’s sixth most important financial advisor was much more interested in telling them all about her meeting with the King of Arizona than in buttering up any orphans. “He told me a long list of new things that are in,” Esmé squealed. “For one thing, grapefruits. Also bright blue cereal bowls, billboards with photographs of weasels on them, and plenty of other things that I will list for you right now.” All the way up to the penthouse, Esmé listed the new in items she had learned about from His Arizona Highness, and the two Baudelaire sisters listened carefully the whole time. They did not listen very carefully to Esmé’s very dull speech, of course, but they listened closely at each curve of the staircase, double-checking their eavesdropping to hear if Gunther was indeed behind one of the apartment doors. Neither Violet nor Sunny heard anything suspicious, and they would have asked Klaus, in a low whisper so the Squalors couldn’t hear them, if he had heard any sort of Gunther noise, but they could tell from his idiosyncrasy that he was still thinking very hard about something and wasn’t listening to the noises in the other apartments any more than he was listening to automobile tires, cross-country skiing, movies with waterfalls in them, and the rest of the in things Esmé was rattling off.

“Oh, and magenta wallpaper!” Esmé said, as the Baudelaires and the Squalors finished a dinner of in foods washed down with parsley soda, which tasted even nastier than it sounds. “And triangular picture frames, and very fancy doilies, and garbage cans with letters of the alphabet stenciled all over them, and—”

“Excuse me,” Klaus said, and his sisters jumped a little bit in surprise. It was the first time Klaus had spoken in anything but a mumble since they had been down in the lobby. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but my sisters and I are very tired. May we be excused to go to bed?”

“Of course,” Jerome said. “You should get plenty of rest for the auction tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Veblen Hall at ten-thirty sharp, so—”

“No you won’t,” Esmé said. “Yellow paper clips are in, Jerome, so as soon as the sun rises, you’ll have to go right to the Stationery District and get some. I’ll bring the children.”

“Well, I don’t want to argue,” Jerome said, shrugging and giving the children a small smile. “Esmé, don’t you want to tuck the children in?”

“Nope,” Esmé answered, frowning as she sipped her parsley soda. “Folding blankets over three wriggling children sounds like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. See you tomorrow, kids.”

“I hope so,” Violet said, and yawned. She knew that Klaus was asking to be excused so he could tell her and Sunny what he had been thinking about, but after lying awake the previous night, searching the entire penthouse, and tiptoeing down all those stairs, the eldest Baudelaire was actually quite tired. “Good night, Esmé. Good night, Jerome.”

“Good night, children,” Jerome said. “And please, if you get up in the middle of the night and have a snack, try not to spill your food. There seem to be a lot of crumbs around the penthouse lately.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another and smiled at their shared secret. “Sorry about that,” Violet said. “Tomorrow we’ll do the vacuuming if you want.”

“Vacuum cleaners!” Esmé said. “I knew there was something else he told me was in. Oh, and cotton balls, and anything with chocolate sprinkles on it, and…”

The Baudelaires did not want to stick around for any more of Esmé’s in list, so they brought their plates into the nearest kitchen, and walked down a hallway decorated with the antlers of various animals, through a sitting room, past five bathrooms, took a left at another kitchen, and eventually made their way to Violet’s bedroom.

“O.K., Klaus,” Violet said to her brother, when the three children had found a comfortable corner for their discussion. “I know you’ve been thinking very hard about something, because you’ve been doing that unique habit of yours where you don’t pay a bit of attention to your surroundings.”

“Unique habits like that are called idiosyncrasies,” Klaus said.

“Stiblo!” Sunny cried, which meant “We can improve our vocabulary later—tell us what’s on your mind!”

“Sorry, Sunny,” Klaus said. “It’s just that I think I’ve figured out where Gunther might be hiding, but I’m not positive. First, Violet, I need to ask you something. What do you know about elevators?”

“Elevators?” Violet said. “Quite a bit, actually. My friend Ben once gave me some elevator blueprints for my birthday, and I studied them very closely. They were destroyed in the fire, of course, but I remember that an elevator is essentially a platform, surrounded by an enclosure, that moves along the vertical axis via an endlessly looped belt and a series of ropes. It’s controlled by a push-button console that regulates an electromagnetic braking system so the transport sequence can be halted at any access point the passenger desires. In other words, it’s a box that moves up or down, depending on where you want to go. But so what?”

“Freijip?” Sunny asked, which, as you know, was her idiosyncratic way of saying “How can you think of elevators at a time like this?”

“Well, it was the doorman who got me thinking about elevators,” Klaus said. “Remember when he said that sometimes the solution is right under your nose? Well, he was gluing that wooden starfish to the elevator doors right when he said that.”

“I noticed that, too,” Violet said. “It looked a little ugly.”

“It did look ugly,” Klaus agreed. “But that’s not what I mean. I got to thinking about the elevator doors. Outside the door to this penthouse, there are two pairs of elevator doors. But on every other floor, there’s only one pair.”

“That’s true,” Violet said, “and that’s odd, too, now that I think of it. That means one elevator can stop only on the top floor.”

“Yelliverc!” Sunny said, which meant “That second elevator is almost completely useless!”

“I don’t think it’s useless,” Klaus said, “because I don’t think the elevator is really there.”

“Not really there?” Violet asked. “But that would just leave an empty elevator shaft!”

“Middiow?” Sunny asked.

“An elevator shaft is the path an elevator uses to move up and down,” Violet explained to her sister. “It’s sort of like a hallway, except it goes up and down, instead of side to side.”

“And a hallway,” Klaus said, “could lead to a hiding place.”

“Aha!” Sunny cried.

“Aha is right,” Klaus agreed. “Just think, if he used an empty elevator shaft instead of the stairs, nobody would ever know where he was. I don’t think the elevator has been shut down because it’s out. I think it’s where Gunther is hiding.”

“But why is he hiding? What is he up to?” Violet asked.

“That’s the part we still don’t know,” Klaus admitted, “but I bet you the answers can be found behind those sliding doors. Let’s take a look at what’s behind the second pair of elevator doors. If we see the ropes and things you were describing, then we know it’s a real elevator. But if we don’t—”

“Then we know we’re on the right track,” Violet finished for him. “Let’s go right this minute.”

“If we go right this minute,” Klaus said, “we’ll have do it very quietly. The Squalors are not going to let three children poke around an elevator shaft.”

“It’s worth the risk, if it helps us figure out Gunther’s plan,” Violet said. I’m sorry to say that it turned out not to be worth the risk at all, but of course the Baudelaires had no way of knowing that, so they merely nodded in agreement and tiptoed toward the penthouse’s exit, peeking into each room before they went through to see if the Squalors were anywhere to be found. But Jerome and Esmé were apparently spending the evening in some room in another part of the apartment, because the Baudelaires didn’t see hide or hair of them—the expression “hide or hair of them” here means “even a glimpse of the city’s sixth most important financial advisor, or her husband”—on their way to the front door. They hoped the door would not squeak as they pushed it open, but apparently silent hinges were in, because the Baudelaires made no noise at all as they left the apartment and tiptoed over to the two pairs of sliding elevator doors.

“How do we know which elevator is which?” Violet whispered. “The pairs of doors look exactly alike.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Klaus replied. “If one of them is really a secret passageway, there must be some way to tell.”

Sunny tugged on the legs of her siblings’ pants, which was a good way to get their attention without making any noise, and when Violet and Klaus looked down to see what their sister wanted, she answered them just as silently. Without speaking, she reached out one of her tiny fingers and pointed to the buttons that were next to each set of sliding doors. Next to one pair of doors, there was a single button, with an arrow printed on it pointing down. But next to the second pair of doors, there were two buttons: one with a Down arrow, and one with an Up arrow. The three children looked at the buttons and considered.

“Why would you need an Up button,” Violet whispered, “if you were already on the top floor?” and without waiting for an answer to her question, she reached out and pressed it. With a quiet, slithery sound, the sliding doors opened, and the children leaned carefully into the doorway, and gasped at what they saw.

“Lakry,” Sunny said, which meant something like “There are no ropes.”

“Not only are there no ropes,” Violet said. “There’s no endlessly looped belt, push-button console, or electromagnetic braking system. I don’t even see an enclosed platform.”

“I knew it,” Klaus said, in hushed excitement. “I knew the elevator was ersatz!”

“Ersatz” is a word that describes a situation in which one thing is pretending to be another, the way the secret passageway the Baudelaires were looking at had been pretending to be an elevator, but the word might as well have meant “the most terrifying place the Baudelaires had ever seen.” As the children stood in the doorway and peered into the elevator shaft, it was as if they were standing on the edge of an enormous cliff, looking down at the dizzying depths below them. But what made these depths terrifying, as well as dizzying, was that they were so very dark. The shaft was more like a pit than a passageway, leading straight down into a blackness the likes of which the youngsters had never seen. It was darker than any night had ever been, even on nights when there was no moon. It was darker than Dark Avenue had been on the day of their arrival. It was darker than a pitch-black panther, covered in tar, eating black licorice at the very bottom of the deepest part of the Black Sea. The Baudelaire orphans had never dreamed that anything could be this dark, even in their scariest nightmares, and as they stood at the edge of this pit of unimaginable blackness, they felt as if the elevator shaft would simply swallow them up and they would never see a speck of light again.

“We have to go down there,” Violet said, scarcely believing the words she was saying.

“I’m not sure I have the courage to go down there,” Klaus said. “Look how dark it is. It’s terrifying.”

“Prollit,” Sunny said, which meant “But not as terrifying as what Gunther will do to us, if we don’t find out his plan.”

“Why don’t we just go tell the Squalors about this?” Klaus asked. “Then they can go down the secret passageway.”

“We don’t have time to argue with the Squalors,” Violet said. “Every minute we waste is a minute the Quagmires are spending in Gunther’s clutches.”

“But how are we going to go down?” Klaus asked. “I don’t see a ladder, or a staircase. I don’t see anything at all.”

“We’re going to have to climb down,” Violet said, “on a rope. But where can we find rope at this time of night? Most hardware stores close at six.”

“The Squalors must have some rope somewhere in their penthouse,” Klaus said. “Let’s split up and find some. We’ll meet back here in fifteen minutes.”

Violet and Sunny agreed, and the Baudelaires stepped carefully away from the elevator shaft and tiptoed back into the Squalor penthouse. They felt like burglars as they split up and began searching the apartment, although there have been only five burglars in the history of robbery who have specialized in rope. All five of these burglars were caught and sent to prison, which is why scarcely any people lock up their rope for safekeeping, but to their frustration, the Baudelaires learned that their guardians didn’t lock up their ropes at all, for the simple reason that they didn’t have any.

“I couldn’t find any ropes at all,” Violet admitted, as she rejoined her siblings. “But I did find these extension cords, which might work.”

“I took these curtain pulls down from some of the windows,” Klaus said. “They’re a little bit like ropes, so I thought they might be useful.”

“Armani,” Sunny offered, holding up an armful of Jerome’s neckties.

“Well, we have some ersatz ropes,” Violet said, “for our climb down the ersatz elevator. Let’s tie them all together with the Devil’s Tongue.”

“The Devil’s Tongue?” Klaus asked.

“It’s a knot,” Violet explained. “It was invented by female Finnish pirates in the fifteenth century. I used it to make my grappling hook, when Olaf had Sunny trapped in that cage, dangling from his tower room, and it’ll work here as well. We need to make as long a rope as possible—for all we know, the passageway goes all the way to the bottom floor of the building.”

“It looks like it goes all the way to the center of the earth,” Klaus said. “We’ve spent so much of our time trying to escape from Count Olaf. I can’t believe that now we’re trying to find him.”

“Me neither,” Violet agreed. “If it weren’t for the Quagmires, I wouldn’t go down there at all.”

“Bangemp,” Sunny reminded her siblings. She meant something along the lines of “If it weren’t for the Quagmires, we would have been in his clutches a long time ago,” and the two older Baudelaires nodded in agreement. Violet showed her siblings how to make the Devil’s Tongue, and the three children hurriedly tied the extension cords to the curtain pulls, and the curtain pulls to the neckties, and the last necktie to the sturdiest thing they could find, which was the doorknob of the Squalor penthouse. Violet checked her siblings’ handiwork and finally gave the whole rope a satisfied tug.

“I think this should hold us,” she said. “I only hope it’s long enough.”

“Why don’t we drop the rope down the shaft,” Klaus said, “and listen to see if it hits the bottom? Then we’ll know for sure.”

“Good idea,” Violet replied, and walked to the edge of the passageway. She threw down the edge of the furthermost extension cord, and the children watched as it disappeared into the blackness, dragging the rest of the Baudelaires’ line with it. The coils of cord and pull and necktie unwound quickly, like a long snake waking up and slithering down into the shaft. It slithered and slithered and slithered, and the children leaned forward as far as they dared and listened as hard as they could. Finally, they heard a faint, faint clink!, as if the extension cord had hit a piece of metal, and the three orphans looked at one another. The thought of climbing down all that distance in the dark, on an ersatz rope they had fashioned themselves, made them want to turn around and run all the way back to their beds and pull the blankets over their heads. The siblings stood together at the edge of this dark and terrible place and wondered if they really dared to begin the climb. The Baudelaire rope had made it to the bottom. But would the Baudelaire children?

“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.

“No,” Sunny answered.

“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. Let’s go.”

Violet tugged one last time on the rope, and carefully, carefully lowered herself down the passageway. Klaus and Sunny watched her disappear into the darkness as if some huge, hungry creature had eaten her up. “Come on,” they heard her whisper, from the blackness. “It’s O.K.”

Klaus blew on his hands, and Sunny blew on hers, and the two younger Baudelaires followed their sister into the utter darkness of the elevator shaft, only to discover that Violet had not told the truth. It was not O.K. It was not half O.K. It was not even one twenty-seventh O.K. The climb down the shadowy passageway felt like falling into a deep hole at the bottom of a deep pit on the bottom floor of a dungeon that was deep underground, and it was the least O.K. situation the Baudelaires had ever encountered. Their hands gripping the line was the only thing they saw, because even as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they were afraid to look anywhere else, particularly down. The distant clink! at the bottom of the line was the only sound they heard, because the Baudelaires were too scared to speak. And the only thing they felt was sheer terror, as deep and as dark as the passageway itself, a terror so profound that I have slept with four night-lights ever since I visited 667 Dark Avenue and saw this deep pit that the Baudelaires climbed down. But I also saw, during my visit, what the Baudelaire orphans saw when they reached the bottom after climbing for more than three terrifying hours. By then, their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and they could see what the bottom of their line was hitting, when it was making that faint clinking sound. The edge of the farthest extension cord was bumping up against a piece of metal, all right—a metal lock. The lock was secured around a metal door, and the metal door was attached to a series of metal bars that made up a rusty metal cage. By the time my research led me to this passageway, the cage was empty, and had been empty for a very long time. But it was not empty when the Baudelaires reached it. As they arrived at the bottom of this deep and terrifying place, the Baudelaire orphans looked into the cage and saw the huddled and trembling figures of Duncan and Isadora Quagmire.

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