بخش 02

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بخش 02

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CHAPTER Five

“I just don’t understand it,” said Klaus, which was not something he said very often.

Violet nodded in agreement, and then said something she didn’t say very frequently either. “It’s a puzzle I’m not sure we can solve.”

“Pietrisycamollaviadelrechiotemexity,” Sunny said, which was something she had said only once before. It meant something along the lines of “I must admit I don’t have the faintest idea of what is going on,” and the first time the youngest Baudelaire had said it, she had just been brought home from the hospital where she was born, and was looking at her siblings as they leaned over her crib to greet her. This time, she was sitting in the unfinished wing of the hospital where she worked, and was looking at her siblings as they tried to guess what Hal had meant when he had mentioned “the Snicket fires.” If I had been with the children, I would have been able to tell them a long and terrible story about men and women who joined a noble organization only to find their lives wrecked by a greedy man and a lazy newspaper, but the siblings were alone, and all they had of the story were a few pages from the Quagmire notebooks.

It was night, and after working all day in the Library of Records, the Baudelaire orphans had made themselves as comfortable as they could in the half-finished section of Heimlich Hospital, but I’m sorry to say the phrase “as comfortable as they could” here means “not very comfortable at all.” Violet had found a few flashlights designed to be used by builders working in dark corners, but when she arranged them to light up their surroundings, the light only made clear just how filthy their surroundings really were. Klaus had found some dropcloths, designed to be used by painters who did not want to drip paint on the floor, but when he wrapped them around himself and his sisters, the warmth only made clear just how freezing it was when the evening wind blew through the sheets of plastic that were nailed to the wooden boards. And Sunny had used her teeth to chop up some of the fruit in Hal’s bowl, to make a sort of fruit salad for dinner, but each handful of chopped fruit only made clear just how inappropriate it was to be living in such a bare and lonely place. But even though it was clear to the children how filthy, freezing, and inappropriate their new living quarters were, nothing else seemed clear at all.

“We wanted to use the Library of Records to learn more about Jacques Snicket,” Violet said, “but we might end up learning more about ourselves. What in the world do you think is written about us in that file Hal mentioned?”

“I don’t know,” Klaus replied, “and I don’t think Hal knows, either. He said he doesn’t read any of the files.”

“Seerg,” Sunny said, which meant “And I was afraid to ask him any more about it.”

“Me, too,” Violet said. “We simply can’t call attention to ourselves. Any minute now, Hal could learn that we’re wanted for murder, and we’d be dragged off to jail before we learned anything more.”

“We’ve already escaped from one jail cell,” Klaus said. “I don’t know if we could do it again.”

“I thought that if we had a chance to look over these pages from Duncan’s and Isadora’s notebooks,” Violet said, “we would find the answers to our questions, but the Quagmires’ notes are very difficult to read.”

Klaus frowned, and moved a few fragments of the Quagmire pages around as if they were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. “The harpoon gun tore these pages to shreds,” he said. “Look what Duncan has written here: ‘Jacques Snicket worked for V.F.D., which stands for Volunteer—’ and then it’s ripped, right in the middle of the sentence.”

“And on this page,” Violet said, picking up a page I cannot bear to think about, “it reads,

“In photographs, and in each public place, Snicket rarely shows his face.

“Isadora must have written that one—it’s a rhyming couplet.”

“This scrap says ‘apartment,’” Klaus said, “and has what looks like half of a map. That might have to do with the apartment where we lived with Jerome and Esmé Squalor.”

“Don’t remind me,” Violet said, shuddering at the thought of all the misfortune the children had encountered at 667 Dark Avenue.

“Rabave,” Sunny said, pointing to one of the pieces of paper.

“This page has two names on it,” Violet said. “One name is Al Funcoot.”

“That’s the man who wrote that horrible play Olaf forced us to perform,” Klaus said.

“I know,” Violet said, “but the other name I don’t recognize: ‘Ana Gram.’”

“Well, the Quagmires were researching Count Olaf and his sinister plot,” Klaus said. “Maybe Ana Gram is one of Olaf’s associates.”

“It’s probably not the hook-handed man,” Violet said, “or the bald man with the long nose. Ana is not usually a man’s name.”

“It could be the name of one of the whitefaced women,” Klaus said.

“Orlando!” Sunny said, which meant “Or the one who looks like neither a man nor a woman.”

“Or someone we haven’t even met yet,” Violet said with a sigh, and turned her attention to another piece of paper. “This page isn’t ripped at all, but all it has on it is a long list of dates. It looks like something was going on every twelve weeks or so.”

Klaus picked up the smallest piece and held it up for his sisters to see. Behind his glasses his eyes looked very sad. “This piece just says ‘fire,’” he said quietly, and the three Baudelaires looked down sadly at the dusty floor. With any word, there are subconscious associations, which simply means that certain words make you think of certain things, even if you don’t want to. The word “cake,” for example, might remind you of your birthday, and the words “prison warden” might remind you of someone you haven’t seen in a very long time. The word “Beatrice” reminds me of a volunteer organization that was swarming with corruption, and the word “midnight” reminds me that I must keep writing this chapter very quickly, or else I will probably drown. But the Baudelaires had all sorts of subconscious associations with the word “fire,” and none of them were pleasant to think about. The word made the children think of Hal, who had mentioned something about the Snicket fires that afternoon in the Library of Records. “Fire” made the youngsters think of Duncan and Isadora Quagmire, who had lost their parents and their brother, Quigley, in a fire. And, of course, the word “fire” made the Baudelaires think of the fire that had destroyed their home and had begun the unfortunate journey that had led them to the half-finished wing of Heimlich Hospital. The three children huddled quietly together under their dropcloths, getting colder and colder as they thought about all the fires and subconscious associations that were in the Baudelaire lives.

“That file must contain the answers to all these mysteries,” Violet said finally. “We need to find out who Jacques Snicket was, and why he had the same tattoo as Count Olaf.”

“And we need to know why he was murdered,” Klaus added, “and we need to learn the secret of V.F.D.”

“Us,” Sunny said, which meant “And we need to know why there’s a picture of us in the file.”

“We have to get our hands on that file,” Violet said.

“That’s easier said than done,” Klaus pointed out. “Hal told us specifically not to touch any of the files we weren’t working with, and he’ll be right there with us in the Library of Records.”

“We’ll just have to find a way,” Violet replied. “Now, let’s try and get a good night’s sleep, so we can stay alert tomorrow, and get ahold of the file on the Snicket fires.”

Klaus and Sunny nodded in agreement, and arranged the dropcloths into a sort of bed, while Violet turned off the flashlights one by one. The three Baudelaires huddled together for the rest of the night, getting what sleep they could on a filthy floor with a cold wind blowing through their inappropriate home, and in the morning, after a breakfast of leftover fruit salad, they walked to the completed half of Heimlich Hospital and carefully walked down all those stairs, past the intercom speakers and the confusing maps. Hal was already in the Library of Records when they arrived, unlocking the file cabinets with his long loop of keys, and immediately Violet and Klaus got to work filing the information that had come through the chute during the night, while Sunny turned her tooths’ attention to the file cabinets that needed to be opened. But the Baudelaires’ minds were not on filing, or on file cabinets. Their minds were on the file.

Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of “systematically assisting Sisyphus’s stealthy, cystsusceptible sister,” which is easier done than said. But it is frustrating to be reminded of this fact. As Violet filed a piece of paper containing information on cuttlefish under M, for mollusks, she said to herself, “I’ll just walk down the S aisle and look under Snicket,” but Hal was already in the S aisle, filing away paintings of sewing machines, and she could not do what she said. As Klaus filed a survey of thimbles under P, for protection of the thumb, he said to himself, “I’ll just walk down the F aisle and look under F, for ‘fires,’” but by that time Hal had moved to the F aisle, and was opening a file cabinet to rearrange biographies of famous Finnish fishermen. And Sunny twisted her teeth this way and that, trying to open one of the locked file cabinets in the B aisle, thinking that perhaps the file was inside, filed under Baudelaires, but when the lock finally broke just after lunch, the youngest sibling opened the cabinet and saw that it was absolutely empty.

“Nil,” Sunny said, as the three children took a short fruit break in the antechamber.

“Me neither,” Klaus said. “But how can we get ahold of the file, when Hal is always around?”

“Maybe we can just ask him to find it for us,” Violet said. “If this were a regular library, we would ask the librarian for help. In a Library of Records, maybe we should ask Hal.”

“You can ask me anything you want,” Hal said, walking into the antechamber “but first I have to ask you something.” He walked over to the children and pointed at one of the fruits. “Is that a plum or a persimmon?” he asked. “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid.”

“It’s a plum,” Violet said, handing it to him.

“Oh good,” Hal replied, looking it over for bruises. “I was not in the mood for a persimmon. Now, what is your question?”

“We had a question about a certain file,” Klaus began carefully, not wanting Hal to become suspicious. “I know it’s not customary for us to read the files, but if we were very curious, would it be O.K. to make an exception?”

Hal bit into the plum and frowned. “Why would you want to read one of the files?” he asked. “Children should read happy books with bright pictures, not official information from the Library of Records.”

“But we’re interested in official information,” Violet said, “and we’re so busy filing things away that we don’t get a chance to read anything in the files. That’s why we were hoping to take one home with us and read it.”

Hal shook his head. “Paperwork is the most important thing we do in this hospital,” he said sternly. “That’s why the files are only allowed out of the room if there’s a very important reason. For example—”

But the Baudelaires did not get to hear an example, because Hal was interrupted by a voice coming over the intercom. “Attention!” the voice said, and the children turned to face a small square speaker. “Attention! Attention!”

The three siblings looked at one another in shock and horror, and then at the wall where the speaker was hanging. The voice coming over the intercom was not Babs’s. It was a faint voice, and it was a scratchy voice, but it was not the voice of the Head of Human Resources at Heimlich Hospital. It was a voice that the Baudelaires heard wherever they went, no matter where they lived or who tried to protect them, and even though the children had heard this voice so many times before, they had never gotten used to its sneering tone, as if the person talking were telling a joke with a horrible and violent punch line. “Attention!” the voice said again, but the orphans did not have to be told to pay attention to the terrible voice of Count Olaf.

“Babs has resigned from Heimlich Hospital,” said the voice, and the siblings felt as if they could see the cruel smile Olaf always had on his face when he was telling lies. “She decided to pursue a career as a stuntwoman, and has begun throwing herself off buildings immediately. My name is Mattathias, and I am the new Head of Human Resources. I will be conducting a complete inspection of every single employee here at Heimlich Hospital, beginning immediately. That is all.”

“An inspection,” Hal repeated, finishing his plum. “What nonsense. They should finish the other half of this hospital, instead of wasting time inspecting everything.”

“What happens during an inspection?” Violet asked.

“Oh, they just come and look you over,” Hal said carelessly, and began walking back to the Library of Records. “We’d better get back to work. There is a lot more information to file.”

“We’ll be along in a moment,” Klaus promised. “I’m not quite done with my fruit.”

“Well, hurry up,” Hal said, and left the anteroom. The Baudelaires looked at one another in worry and dismay.

“He’s found us again,” Violet said, talking quietly so Hal could not hear them. She could barely hear her own voice over the sound of her heart pounding with fear.

“He must know we’re here,” Klaus agreed. “That’s why he’s doing the inspection—so he can find us and snatch us away.”

“Tell!” Sunny said.

“Who can we tell?” Klaus asked. “Everyone thinks Count Olaf is dead. They won’t believe three children if we say that he’s disguised himself as Mattathias, the new Head of Human Resources.”

“Particularly three children who are on the front page of The Daily Punctilio,” Violet added, “wanted for murder. Our only chance is to get that file on the Snicket fires, and see if it has any evidence that will bring Olaf to justice.”

“But files aren’t allowed out of the Library of Records,” Klaus said.

“Then we’ll have to read them right here,” Violet said.

“That’s easier said than done,” Klaus pointed out. “We don’t even know what letter to look under, and Hal will be right in the room with us all day long.”

“Night!” Sunny said.

“You’re right, Sunny,” Violet said. “Hal is here all day long, but he goes home at night. When it gets dark, we’ll sneak back over here from the half-finished wing. It’s the only way we’ll be able to find the file.”

“You’re forgetting something,” Klaus said. “The Library of Records will be locked up tight. Hal locks all of the file cabinets, remember?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Violet admitted. “I can invent one lockpick, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to invent enough lockpicks to work on all those file cabinets.”

“Deashew!” Sunny said, which meant something like “And it takes me several hours to open one cabinet with my teeth!”

“Without the keys, we’ll never get the file,” Klaus said, “and without the file, we’ll never defeat Count Olaf. What can we do?”

The children sighed, and thought as hard as they could, staring in front of them as they did so, and as soon as they stared in front of them they saw something that gave them an idea. The thing they saw was small, and round, and had colorful and shiny skin, and the youngsters could see that it was a persimmon. But the Baudelaires knew that if someone’s eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, it might look like a plum. The Baudelaire orphans sat and stared at the persimmon, and began to think how they might fool someone into thinking one thing was really another.

CHAPTER Six

This is not a tale of Lemony Snicket. It is useless to tell the Snicket story, because it happened so very long ago, and because there is nothing anybody can do about the way it has turned out, so the only reason I could possibly have for jotting it down in the margins of these pages would be to make this book even more unpleasant, unnerving, and unbelievable than it already is. This is a story about Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, and how they discovered something in the Library of Records of Heimlich Hospital that changed their lives forever and still gives me the heebie-jeebies whenever I am alone at night STOP. But if this were a book about me, instead of about the three children who would soon run into someone they had hoped never to see again, I might pause for a moment and tell you about something I did many years ago that still troubles me. It was a necessary thing to do, but it was not a nice thing, and even now, I get a small quiver of shame in my stomach whenever I remember it. I might be doing something I enjoy—walking along the promenade deck of a ship, or looking through a telescope at the aurora borealis, or wandering into a bookstore and placing my books on the highest place in the shelf, so that no one will be tempted to buy and read them—when I will suddenly remember this thing I did, and think to myself, Was it really necessary? Was it absolutely necessary to steal that sugar bowl from Esmé Squalor?

The Baudelaire orphans were experiencing similar quivers that afternoon, as they finished up the day’s work in the Library of Records. Every time Violet put a file in its proper place, she would feel her hair ribbon in her pocket, and get a quiver in her stomach as she thought about what she and her siblings were up to. Klaus would take a stack of papers from the basket in front of the deposit chute, and instead of placing the paper clips in the small bowl, he would keep them hidden in his hand, feeling a quiver in his stomach as he thought about the trick he and his sisters were going to play. And whenever Hal turned his back, and Klaus passed the paper clips to Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire felt a quiver in her stomach as she thought about the sneaky way they were going to return to the Library of Records that night. By the time Hal was locking up the file cabinets for the day with his long loop of keys, the three Baudelaire children had enough quivers in their stomach to attend a Quivery Stomach Festival, if there had been one in the area that afternoon.

“Is it absolutely necessary to do this?” Violet murmured to Klaus, as the three children followed Hal out of the library into the anteroom. She took her hair ribbon out of her pocket and smoothed it out, making sure it didn’t have any tangles. “It’s not a nice thing to do.”

“I know,” Klaus answered, holding his hand out so Sunny could hand back the paper clips. “I have a quiver in my stomach just thinking about it. But it’s the only way we can get our hands on that file.”

“Olaf,” Sunny said grimly. She meant “Before Mattathias gets his hands on us,” and as soon as she was finished with her sentence, Mattathias’s scratchy voice came over the intercom.

“Attention! Attention!” the voice said, as Hal and the Baudelaires looked up at the square speaker. “This is Mattathias, the new Head of Human Resources. Inspections are over for the day but will continue tomorrow.”

“What nonsense,” Hal muttered, putting the loop of keys down on the table. The Baudelaires looked at one another, and then at the keys, as Mattathias continued his announcement.

“Also,” the speaker said, “if anyone in the hospital has any valuables of any kind, please bring them to the Human Resources office for safekeeping. Thank you.”

“My eyeglasses are somewhat valuable,” Hal said, taking them off, “but I’m not going to bring them to the Human Resources office. I might not ever see them again.”

“That’s probably true,” Violet said, shaking her head at Mattathias’s audacity, a word which here means “attempt to steal valuables from hospital employees, in addition to snatching the Baudelaire fortune.”

“Besides,” Hal said, smiling at the children and reaching for his coat, “nobody’s going to steal anything from me. You three are the only people I see at the hospital, and I trust you absolutely. Now, where did I put my keys?”

“Here they are,” Violet said, and the quiver in her stomach got worse. She held up her hair ribbon, which had been tied into a circle to look like a loop of string. Hanging from the ribbon was a long row of paper clips, which Sunny had fashioned into different shapes with her teeth when Hal wasn’t looking. The result looked something like Hal’s loop of keys, the way a horse looks something like a cow, or a woman in a green dress looks something like a pine tree, but there was no way anyone would look at Violet’s hair ribbon full of chewed-up paper clips and think it was a ring of keys—unless, of course, their eyesight was not what it used to be. The three children waited as Hal squinted at what Violet was holding.

“Those are my keys?” Hal said doubtfully. “I thought I put them down on the table.”

“Oh, no,” Klaus said quickly, standing in front of the table so Hal wouldn’t catch a glimpse of his real keys. “Violet has them.”

“Here,” Violet said, moving them back and forth so they would be even harder to squint at, “why don’t I put them in your coat pocket for you?”

“Thank you,” Hal said, as Violet dropped them into his overcoat pocket. He looked at the Baudelaires, his tiny eyes shining with gratitude. “That’s another way you three have helped me. My eyesight’s not what it used to be, you know, so I’m glad I can rely on such good volunteers. Well, good night, children. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Good night, Hal,” Klaus replied. “We’re just going to have one last piece of fruit here in the anteroom.”

“Don’t spoil your dinner,” Hal said. “It’s supposed to be a very cold evening, so I bet your parents have cooked up a nice hot meal.” Hal smiled and shut the door behind him, leaving the children alone with the real keys to the Library of Records and the quivery feeling still in their stomachs.

“Someday,” Violet said quietly, “we’ll apologize to Hal for playing a trick on him, and explain why we had to break the rules. This wasn’t a nice thing to do, even though it was necessary.”

“And we’ll return to the Last Chance General Store,” Klaus said, “and explain to the shopkeeper why we had to run away.”

“Twisp,” Sunny said firmly, which meant “But not until we get ahold of the file, solve all these mysteries, and prove our innocence.”

“You’re right, Sunny,” Violet said, with a sigh. “Let’s get started. Klaus, see if you can find the right key for the Library door.”

Klaus nodded, and carried Hal’s keys over to the door. Not too long ago, when the Baudelaires had been staying with Aunt Josephine by the shores of Lake Lachrymose, Klaus had been in a situation in which he had to match up a key to a locked door very, very quickly, and since then he had been quite good at it. He looked at the lock of the door, which had a very short and narrow keyhole, and then looked at the loop of string, which had one very short and narrow key, and in no time at all the children were reentering the Library of Records and looking down the dim aisles of file cabinets.

“I’m going to lock the door behind us,” Klaus said, “so that nobody will get suspicious if they happen to walk into the anteroom.”

“Like Mattathias,” said Violet with a shudder. “On the intercom he said that they were stopping the inspections for the day, but I bet he’s really still looking.”

“Vapey,” Sunny said, which meant “Then let’s hurry.”

“Let’s start with the S aisle,” Violet said. “For Snicket.”

“Right,” Klaus said, locking the door with a rattle. The three children found the S aisle and began walking past the file cabinets, reading the labels on them to figure out which one to open. “Sauce to Saxifrage,” Klaus read out loud. “That means that anything that falls alphabetically between the word ‘sauce’ and the word ‘saxifrage’ will be in this cabinet. That would be fine if we wanted the Sawmill file.”

“Or the Sauna file,” Violet said. “Let’s move on.”

The children moved on, their footsteps echoing off the low ceilings of the room. “Scarab to Scavenger,” Klaus said, reading one farther down the aisle. Sunny and Violet shook their heads, and the Baudelaires kept moving.

“Secretary to Sediment,” Violet read. “We’re still not there.”

“Kalm,” Sunny said, which meant “I can’t read very well, but I think this one says ‘Sequel to Serenity.’”

“You’re right, Sunny,” Klaus said, smiling at his sister. “It’s the wrong one.”

“Shed to Sheepshank,” Violet read.

“Shellac to Sherbet,” Klaus read, walking farther down the aisle.

“Shipwreck to Shrimp.”

“Sicily to Sideways.”

“Skylight to Slob.”

“Sludge to Smoke.”

“Snack to Snifter.”

“Snowball to Sober.”

“Sonnet to Spackle.”

“Wait!” Klaus cried. “Back up! Snicket is between Snack and Snifter.”

“You’re right,” Violet said, stepping back to find the right cabinet. “I was so distracted by all the strange file names that I forgot what we were looking for. Here it is, Snack to Snifter. Let’s hope the file we’re looking for is here.”

Klaus looked at the lock on the file cabinet, and found the right key on Hal’s loop on only the third try. “It should be in the bottom drawer,” Klaus said, “close to Snifter. Let’s look.”

The Baudelaires looked. A snifter is a type of glass, usually meant for holding brandy, although it is also the term for a strong wind. Plenty of words are close to “snifter” in the alphabet, and the children found many of them. There was a file on sniffing, which seemed to have many photographs of noses. There was a file on Snell’s Law, which states that a ray of light passing from one uniform medium to another produces an identical ratio between the sine of the angle of incidence and the sine of the angle of refraction, which Klaus already knew. There was a file on the inventor of the sneaker, whom Violet admired very much, and one on snicking, which is something Sunny had done many times with her teeth. But there was not a single scrap of paper marked Snicket. The children sighed in disappointment, and shut the drawer of the file cabinet so Klaus could lock it again.

“Let’s try the J aisle, for Jacques,” Violet suggested.

“Shh,” Sunny said.

“No, Sunny,” Klaus said gently. “I don’t think the H aisle is a good bet. Why would Hal have filed it under H?”

“Shh,” Sunny insisted, pointing at the door, and her siblings knew instantly that they had misunderstood her. Usually when Sunny said “Shh,” she meant something along the lines of “I think the H aisle might be a good place to look for the file,” but this time she meant something more along the lines of “Be quiet! I think I hear someone walking into the anteroom of the Library of Records.” Sure enough, when the Baudelaires listened closely, they could hear the clomping of some odd, teetering footsteps, as if someone were walking on very thin stilts. The footsteps grew closer and closer, and then stopped, and as the three children held their breath, the door to the Library rattled as someone tried to open the door.

“Maybe it’s Hal,” Violet whispered, “trying to unlock the door with a paper clip.”

“Maybe it’s Mattathias,” Klaus whispered, “looking for us.”

“Janitor,” Sunny whispered.

“Well, whoever it is,” Violet said, “we’d better hurry to the J aisle.”

The Baudelaires tiptoed across the lowceilinged room to the J aisle, and walked down it quickly, reading the labels of the file cabinets.

“Jabberwocky to Jackal.”

“Jacket to Jack-o’-Lanterns.”

“Nersai.”

“That’s it!” Klaus whispered. “Jacques will be in Jackline to Jacutinga.”

“We hope,” Violet said, as the door rattled again. Klaus hurried to find the right key, and the children opened the top drawer to look for Jacques. As Violet knew, jackline is a kind of rope used in sailing, and as Klaus knew, jacutinga is a sort of gold-bearing iron ore found in Brazil, and once again there were plenty of files between these two, but although the children found information on jack-o’-lanterns, Jack Russell terriers, and Jacobean drama, there was no file marked “Jacques.”

“Fire!” Klaus whispered, shutting and locking the file cabinet. “Let’s head to the F aisle.”

“And hurry,” Violet said. “It sounds like the person in the anteroom is picking the lock.”

It was true. The Baudelaires paused for a moment and heard a muffled scratching from behind the door, as if something long and thin were being stuck in the keyhole to try to unlock the lock. Violet knew, from when she and her siblings lived with Uncle Monty, that a lockpick can often take a long time to work properly, even if it has been made by one of the world’s greatest inventors, but the children nonetheless moved to the F aisle as fast as their tiptoes could carry them.

“Fabian to Fact.”

“Fainting to Fangs.”

“Fatalism to Faulkner.”

“Fear to Fermat.”

“Ficus to Filth.”

“Fin de Siècle to Fissle—here it is!”

Once more, the Baudelaires hurried to find the proper key, and then the proper drawer and then the proper file. “Fin de siècle” is a term for a time in history when a century is drawing to a close, and “fissle” is a fancy word for a rustling noise, like the one that continued to come from behind the locked door as the children looked frantically for Fire. But the papers went right from Finland to Firmament, without a single word on Fire in between.

“What will we do?” Violet asked, as the door began to rattle again. “Where else could the file be?”

“Let’s try to think,” Klaus said. “What did Hal say about the file? We know it has to do with Jacques Snicket, and with fire.”

“Prem!” Sunny said, which meant “But we looked under Snicket, Jacques, and Fire already.”

“There must be something else,” Violet said. “We have to find this file. It has crucial information about Jacques Snicket and V.F.D.”

“And about us,” Klaus said. “Don’t forget that.”

The three children looked at one another.

“Baudelaire!” Sunny whispered.

Without another word, the orphans ran to the B aisle, and hurried past Babbitt to Babylon, Bacteria to Ballet, and Bamboo to Baskerville, stopping at Bat Mitzvah to Bavarian Cream. As the door continued to fissle behind them, Klaus tried nine keys in a row before finally opening the cabinet, and there, between the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for young women, and the delicious filling of certain doughnuts, the children found a folder marked “Baudelaire.”

“It’s here,” Klaus said, taking it out of the drawer with trembling hands.

“What does it say? What does it say?” Violet asked in excitement.

“Look,” Klaus said. “There’s a note on the front.”

“Read it!” Sunny said in a frantic whisper, as the door began to shake violently on its hinges. Whoever was on the other side of the door was obviously getting frustrated with trying to pick the lock.

Klaus held up the file so he could see what the note said in the dim light of the room. “‘All thirteen pages of the Snicket file,’” he read, “‘have been removed from the Library of Records for the official investigation.’” He looked up at his sisters, and they could see that, behind his glasses, his eyes were filling with tears. “That must be when Hal saw our picture,” he said. “When he removed the file and gave it to the official investigators.” He dropped the file on the floor and then sat down beside it in despair. “There’s nothing here.”

“Yes there is!” Violet said. “Look!”

The Baudelaires looked at the file where Klaus had dropped it on the ground. There, behind the note, was a single sheet of paper. “It’s page thirteen,” Violet said, looking at a number typed in a corner of the paper. “The investigators must have left it behind by mistake.”

“That’s why you should keep paper clips on papers that belong together,” Klaus said, “even when you file them. But what does the page say?”

With a long crackle! and a loud bang, the door to the Library of Records was knocked off its hinges, and fell to the floor of the enormous room as if it had fainted. But the children paid no attention. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all sat and looked at page thirteen of the file, too amazed to even listen to the odd, teetering footsteps as the intruder entered the room and began to walk along the aisles of file cabinets.

Page thirteen of the Baudelaire file was not a crowded sheet of paper—there was just one photograph stapled into place, below one sentence of type. But sometimes it takes only a photograph and a sentence to make an author cry himself to sleep even years after the photograph was taken, or to make three siblings sit and stare at a page for a long time, as if an entire book were printed on one sheet of paper.

There were four people in the photograph, standing together outside a building the Baudelaires recognized immediately. It was 667 Dark Avenue, where the orphans had lived with Jerome and Esmé Squalor for a brief time, until it became another place too treacherous for the children to stay. The first person in the photograph was Jacques Snicket, who was looking at the photographer and smiling. Standing next to Jacques was a man who was turned away from the camera, so the children could not see his face, only one of his hands, which was clutching a notebook and pen, as if the obscured man were a writer of some sort. The children had not seen Jacques Snicket since he was murdered, of course, and the writer appeared to be someone they had never seen at all. But standing next to these two people were another two people the Baudelaire children thought they would never see again. Bundled up in long coats, looking cold but happy, were the Baudelaire parents.

“Because of the evidence discussed on page nine,” read the sentence above the photograph, “experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.”

CHAPTER Seven

“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Violet said, and took another look at page thirteen of the file. The Baudelaire parents looked back at her, and for a moment it seemed to Violet her father would step out of the photograph and say, “There you are, Ed. Where have you been?” Ed was short for Thomas Alva Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, and it was a special nickname only used by her father, but the man in the photograph did not move, of course, but only stood smiling in front of 667 Dark Avenue.

“Me neither,” Klaus said. “I never thought we’d see our parents again.” The middle Baudelaire looked at his mother’s coat, which had a secret pocket on the inside. In the secret pocket, she often kept a small pocket dictionary, which she would take out whenever she encountered a word she did not know. Because Klaus was so interested in reading, she had promised that someday she would give the pocket dictionary to him, and now it seemed to Klaus that his mother was about to reach into her coat and put the small, leatherbound book in his hand.

“Neither me,” Sunny said. She looked at her parents’ smiles, and suddenly remembered, for the first time since the fire, a song that her mother and father used to sing together, when it was time for Sunny to go to sleep. The song was called “The Butcher Boy,” and the Baudelaire parents would take turns singing the verses, her mother singing in her breathy, high voice, and her father in his, which was as low and deep as a foghorn. “The Butcher Boy” was the perfect way for Sunny to end the day, safe and cozy in the Baudelaire crib.

“This photograph must have been taken a long time ago,” Violet said. “Look how much younger they look. They aren’t even wearing their wedding rings.”

“‘Because of the evidence discussed on page nine,’” Klaus said, reading the sentence typed above the photograph, “‘experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.’” He stopped, and looked at his sisters. “What does that mean?” he said, in a very faint voice. “Does that mean one of our parents is still alive?”

“Well, well, well,” said a familiar and sneering voice, and the children heard the odd, tottering footsteps walk straight toward them. “Look what we have here.”

The Baudelaire orphans had been so shocked by what they had found that they had forgotten about the person breaking into the Library of Records, and now they looked up to see a tall, skinny figure walking down the B aisle STOP. It was a person they had seen recently, and one they had hoped never to see again. There are many different ways of describing this person, including “Count Olaf’s girlfriend,” “the Baudelaire children’s former guardian,” “the city’s sixth most important financial advisor,” “a former resident of 667 Dark Avenue,” and several phrases that are far too nasty to be placed in a book. But the name she preferred was the one that came snarling out of her lipsticked mouth.

“I am Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor,” said Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor, as if the Baudelaires would ever forget her, no matter how hard they tried. She stopped walking and stood in front of the Baudelaires, who saw immediately why her footsteps had been so odd and tottering. For as long as the children had known her, Esmé Squalor had been a slave to fashion, a phrase which here means “dressed in incredibly expensive, and often incredibly absurd, outfits.” This evening she was wearing a long coat made from the fur of a number of animals that had been killed in particularly unpleasant ways, and she was carrying a handbag shaped like an eye, just like the tattoo her boyfriend had on his left ankle. She wore a hat with a small veil that hung in front of her face, as if she had blown her nose with a black lacy handkerchief, and then forgotten to remove it, and on her feet she had a pair of shoes with stiletto heels. A stiletto is a small, slender knife resembling a dagger, such as might be carried by a carnival performer or a murderer, and the word “stiletto” has been used to describe a woman’s shoe with a very long and narrow heel. In this case, however, the phrase “shoes with stiletto heels” actually refers to a pair of shoes made with a small, slender knife where each heel should be. The stilettos were pointing straight down, so that Esmé viciously stabbed the floor of the Library of Records with each step, and occasionally the stilettos stuck, so the wicked woman had to pause and yank them out of the floor, which explained why her footsteps were so odd and tottering. These shoes happened to be the absolute latest fashion, but the Baudelaires had more important things to do than leaf through magazines describing what was in and what was out, so they could only stare at Esmé’s shoes and wonder why she was wearing footwear that was so violent and impractical.

“This is a pleasant surprise,” Esmé said. “Olaf asked me to break in here and destroy the Baudelaire file, but now we can destroy the Baudelaires as well.”

The children looked at each other in shock. “You and Olaf know about the file?” Violet asked.

Esmé laughed in a particularly nasty way, and, from behind her veil, smiled a particularly nasty smile. “Of course we know about it,” she snarled. “That’s why I’m here—to destroy all thirteen pages.” She took one odd, tottering step toward the Baudelaires. “That’s why we destroyed Jacques Snicket.” She took another stabbing step down the aisle. “And that’s why we’re going to destroy you.” She looked down at her shoe and shook her foot wildly to get the blade out of the library floor. “Heimlich Hospital is about to have three new patients,” she said, “but I’m afraid it’ll be too late for any doctor to save their lives.”

Klaus stood up, and followed his sisters as they began to step away from the slave to fashion who was moving slowly toward them. “Who survived the fire?” he asked Esmé, holding up the page from the file. “Is one of our parents alive?”

Esmé frowned, and teetered on her stiletto heels as she tried to snatch the page away. “Did you read the file?” she demanded in a terrible voice. “What does the file say?”

“You’ll never find out!” Violet cried, and turned to her siblings. “Run!”

The Baudelaires ran, straight down the aisle past the rest of the B files, rounding the corner past the cabinet that read “Byron to Byzantine” and around to the section of the library where all of the C files were stored.

“We’re running the wrong way,” Klaus said.

“Egress,” Sunny agreed, which meant something along the lines of, “Klaus is right—the exit is the other way.”

“So is Esmé,” Violet replied. “Somehow, we’ll have to go around her.”

“I’m coming for you!” Esmé cried, her voice coming over the top of the file cabinets. “You’ll never escape, orphans!”

The Baudelaires paused at the cabinet reading “Conch to Condy’s Fluid,” which are a fancy seashell and a complex chemical compound, and listened as Esmé’s heels clattered in pursuit.

“We’re lucky she’s wearing those ridiculous shoes,” Klaus said. “We can run much faster than she can.”

“As long as she doesn’t think of taking them off,” Violet said. “She’s almost as clever as she is greedy.”

“Shh!” Sunny said, and the Baudelaires listened as Esmé’s footsteps abruptly stopped. The children huddled together as they heard Olaf’s girlfriend mutter to herself for a moment, and then the three youngsters began to hear a terrifying sequence of sounds. There was a long, screechy creak, and then a booming crash, and then another long, screechy creak, and another booming crash, and the pair of sounds continued, getting louder and louder. The youngsters looked at one another in puzzlement, and then, just in the nick of time, the oldest Baudelaire figured out what the sound was.

“She’s knocking over the file cabinets!” Violet cried, pointing over the top of Confetti to Consecration. “They’re toppling over like dominos!”

Klaus and Sunny looked where their sister was pointing and saw that she was right. Esmé had pushed over one file cabinet, which had pushed over another, which had pushed over another, and now the heavy metal cabinets were crashing toward the children like a wave crashing on the shore. Violet grabbed her siblings and pulled them out of the path of a falling file cabinet. With a creak and a crash, the cabinet fell to the floor, right where they had been standing. The three children breathed a sigh of relief, having just narrowly avoided being crushed beneath files on congruent triangles, coniferous trees, conjugated verbs, and two hundred other topics.

“I’m going to flatten you!” Esmé called, starting on another line of cabinets. “Olaf and I are going to have a romantic breakfast of Baudelaire pancakes!”

“Run!” Sunny cried, but her siblings needed no urging. The three children hurried down the rest of the C aisle, as the cabinets creaked and crashed all around them.

“Where can we go?” Violet cried.

“To the D aisle!” Klaus answered, but changed his mind as he saw another row of cabinets begin to topple. “No! The E aisle!”

“B?” Violet asked, finding it difficult to hear over the sounds of the cabinets.

“E!” Klaus cried. “E as in Exit!”

The Baudelaires ran down E as in Exit, but when they reached the last cabinet, the row was becoming F as in Falling File Cabinets, G as in Go the Other Way! and H as in How in the World Are We Going to Escape? Before long, the children found themselves as far from the anteroom door as they possibly could be. As the cabinets crashed around them, and Esmé cackled wildly and stabbed the floor in pursuit, the three youngsters found themselves in the area of the Library of Records where information was deposited. As the room creaked and crashed around them, the siblings looked first at the basket of papers, then at the bowl of paper clips, then the mouth of the chute, and finally at one another.

“Violet,” Klaus said hesitantly, “do you think you can invent something out of paper clips and a basket that could help us get out of here?”

“I don’t have to,” Violet said. “That chute will serve as an exit.”

“But you won’t fit in there,” Klaus said. “I’m not even sure I will.”

“You’re never going to get out of this room alive, you imbeciles!” Esmé cried, using a horrible word in her horrible voice.

“We’ll have to try,” Violet said. “Sunny, go first.”

“Prapil,” Sunny said doubtfully, but she went first, crawling easily into the chute and staring out through the darkness at her siblings.

“Now you, Klaus,” Violet said, and Klaus, removing his glasses so they wouldn’t break, followed his sister. It was a tight fit, and it took some manuevering, but eventually the middle Baudelaire worked his way through the mouth of the chute.

“This won’t work,” Klaus said to Violet, peering around him. “It’ll be tough to crawl up through the chute, the way it’s slanted. Besides, there’s no way you’ll fit.”

“Then I’ll find another way,” Violet said. Her voice was calm, but Klaus and Sunny could see, through the hole in the wall, that her eyes were wide with fear.

“That’s out of the question,” Klaus said. “We’ll climb back out, and the three of us will escape together.”

“We can’t risk it,” Violet said. “Esmé won’t catch all of us, not if we split up. You two take page thirteen and go up the chute, and I’ll get out another way. We’ll meet up in the unfinished wing.”

“No!” Sunny cried.

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said. “This is what happened with the Quagmires, remember? When we left them behind, they were snatched away.”

“The Quagmires are safe now,” Violet reminded him. “Don’t worry, I’ll invent a solution.”

The eldest Baudelaire gave her siblings a small smile, and reached into her pocket so she could tie up her hair and put the levers and gears of her inventing mind into motion. But there was no ribbon in her pocket. As her trembling fingers explored her empty pocket, she remembered she had used her ribbon to fool Hal with a fake loop of keys. Violet felt a quiver in her stomach as she remembered, but she had no time to feel bad about the trick she had played. With sudden horror, she heard a creak right behind her, and she jumped out of the way just in time to avoid the crash. A file cabinet labeled “Linguistics to Lions” fell against the wall, blocking the mouth of the chute.

“Violet!” Sunny cried. She and her brother tried to push the cabinet aside, but the strength of a thirteen-year-old boy and his baby sister were no match against a metal case holding files on everything from the history of language to a large carnivorous feline found in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of India.

“I’m O.K.,” Violet called back.

“Not for long you’re not!” Esmé snarled, from a few aisles over.

Klaus and Sunny sat in the dark chute and heard their sister’s faint voice as she called to them. “Leave me here!” she insisted. “I’ll meet you back in our filthy, cold, inappropriate home.”

The two younger Baudelaires huddled together at the entrance of the chute, but it is useless for me to describe to you how desperate and terrified they felt. There is no reason to describe how horrible it was to hear Violet’s frantic footsteps across the Library of Records, or the odd, tottering ones of Esmé as she pursued the eldest Baudelaire in her stiletto heels, creaking and crashing file cabinets with every stabbing step. It is unnecessary to describe the cramped and difficult journey Klaus and Sunny made up the chute, which was slanted so steeply that it felt to the two orphans like they were crawling up a large mountain covered in ice instead of a fairly short chute used for depositing information. It is ineffectual to describe how the two children felt when they finally reached the end of the chute, which was another hole, carved into the outside wall of Heimlich Hospital, and found that Hal was right when he said it was to be a particularly cold evening. And it is absolutely futile—a word which here means “useless, unnecessary, and ineffectual, because there is no reason for it”—to describe how they felt as they sat in the half-finished section of the hospital, with dropcloths wrapped around them to keep them warm and flashlights lit around them to keep them company, and waited for Violet to show up, because Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire were not thinking of these things.

The two younger Baudelaires sat together, clutching page thirteen of the Baudelaire file, as the night grew later and later, but they were not thinking about the noises they heard coming from the Library of Records, or about the journey up the chute or even about the icy breeze as it blew through the plastic sheets and chilled the Baudelaire bones. Klaus and Sunny were thinking about what Violet had said, when she saw the piece of paper they were clutching now.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Violet had said, and her two siblings knew that the phrase was just another way of saying “I’m very surprised” or “I’m extremely flabbergasted” or “This blows my mind beyond belief.” But now, as the two Baudelaires waited more and more anxiously for their sister, Klaus and Sunny began to fear that the phrase Violet used was more appropriate than she ever would have guessed. As the first pale rays of the morning sun began to shine on the unfinished half of the hospital, the Baudelaries grew more and more frightened that their sister would not live to see the day.

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