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Operating theaters are not nearly as popular as dramatic theaters, musical theaters, and movie theaters, and it is easy to see why. A dramatic theater is a large, dark room in which actors perform a play, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by listening to the dialog and looking at the costumes. A musical theater is a large, dark room in which musicians perform a symphony, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by listening to the melodies and watching the conductor wave his little stick around. And a movie theater is a large, dark room in which a projectionist shows a film, and if you are in the audience, you can enjoy yourself by eating popcorn and gossiping about movie stars. But an operating theater is a large, dark room in which doctors perform medical procedures, and if you are in the audience, the best thing to do is to leave at once, because there is never anything on display in an operating theater but pain, suffering, and discomfort, and for this reason most operating theaters have been closed down or have been turned into restaurants.
I’m sorry to say, however, that the operating theater at Heimlich Hospital was still quite popular at the time this story takes place. As Klaus and Sunny followed Olaf’s two disguised associates through the square metal door, they saw that the large, dark room was filled with people. There were rows of doctors in white coats who were clearly eager to see a new operation being performed. There were clusters of nurses sitting together and whispering with excitement about the world’s first cranioectomy. There was a large group of Volunteers Fighting Disease who seemed ready to burst into song if needed. And there were a great many people who looked like they had simply walked over to the operating theater to see what was playing. The four disguised people wheeled the gurney onto a small bare stage, lit by a chandelier that was hanging from the ceiling, and as soon as the light of the chandelier fell on Klaus and Sunny’s unconscious sister, all of the audience members burst into cheers and applause. The roar from the crowd only made Klaus and Sunny even more anxious, but Olaf’s two associates stopped moving the gurney, raised their arms, and bowed several times.
“Thank you very much!” the hook-handed man cried. “Doctors, nurses, Volunteers Fighting Disease, reporters from The Daily Punctilio, distinguished guests, and regular people, welcome to the operating theater at Heimlich Hospital. I am Dr. O. Lucafont, and I will be your medical host for today’s performance.”
“Hooray for Dr. Lucafont!” a doctor cried, as the crowd burst into applause again, and the hook-handed man raised his rubber-gloved hands and took another bow.
“And I am Dr. Flacutono,” the bald man announced, looking a bit jealous of all the applause the hook-handed man was getting. “I am the surgeon who invented the cranioectomy, and I am thrilled to operate today in front of all you wonderful and attractive people.”
“Hooray for Dr. Flacutono!” a nurse shouted, and the crowd applauded again. Some of the reporters even whistled as the bald man bowed deeply, using one hand to hold his curly wig on his head.
“The surgeon is right!” the hook-handed man said. “You are wonderful and attractive, all of you! Go on, give yourselves a big hand!”
“Hooray for us!” a volunteer cried, and the audience applauded another time. The two Baudelaires looked at their older sister, hoping that the noise of the crowd would wake her up, but Violet did not move.
“Now, the two lovely ladies you see are two associates of mine named Dr. Tocuna and Nurse Flo,” the bald man continued. “Why don’t you give them the same wonderful welcome you gave us?”
Klaus and Sunny half expected someone in the crowd to shout, “They aren’t medical associates! They’re those two children wanted for murder!” but instead the crowd merely cheered once more, and the two children found themselves waving miserably at the members of the audience. Although the youngsters were relieved that they hadn’t been recognized, the butterflies in their stomachs only got worse as everyone in the operating theater grew more and more eager for the operation to begin.
“And now that you’ve met all of our fantastic performers,” the hook-handed man said, “let the show begin. Dr. Flacutono, are you ready to begin?”
“I sure am,” the bald man said. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, as I’m sure you know, a cranioectomy is a procedure in which the patient’s head is removed. Scientists have discovered that many health problems are rooted in the brain, so that the best thing to do with a sick patient is remove it. However, a cranioectomy is as dangerous as it is necessary. There is a chance that Laura V. Bleediotie might die while the operation is being performed, but sometimes one must risk accidents in order to cure illness.”
“A patient’s death would certainly be a terrible accident, Dr. Flacutono,” the hook-handed man said.
“It sure would, Dr. O. Lucafont,” the bald man agreed. “That’s why I’m going to have my associates perform the surgery, while I supervise. Dr. Tocuna and Nurse Flo, you may begin.”
The crowd applauded once more, and Olaf’s associates bowed and blew kisses to each corner of the operating theater as the two children looked at one another in horror.
“What can we do?” Klaus murmured to his sister, looking out at the crowd. “We’re surrounded by people who expect us to saw Violet’s head off.”
Sunny looked at Violet, still unconscious on the gurney, and then at her brother, who was holding the long, rusty knife Esmé had given him. “Stall,” she said. The word “stall” has two meanings, but as with most words with two meanings, you can figure out which meaning is being used by looking at the situation. The word “stall,” for example, can refer to a place where horses are kept, but Klaus knew at once that Sunny meant something more along the lines of “We’ll try to postpone the operation as long as we can, Klaus,” and he nodded silently in agreement. The middle Baudelaire took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to think of something that could help him postpone the cranioectomy, and all at once he thought of something he had read.
When you read as many books as Klaus Baudelaire, you are going to learn a great deal of information that might not become useful for a long time. You might read a book that would teach you all about the exploration of outer space, even if you do not become an astronaut until you are eighty years old. You might read a book about how to perform tricks on ice skates, and then not be forced to perform these tricks for a few weeks. You might read a book on how to have a successful marriage, when the only woman you will ever love has married someone else and then perished one terrible afternoon. But although Klaus had read books on outer-space exploration, ice-skating tricks, and good marriage methods, and not yet found much use for this information, he had learned a great deal of information that was about to become very useful indeed.
“Before I make the first incision,” Klaus said, using a fancy word for “cut” in order to sound more like a medical professional, “I think Nurse Flo and I should talk a little bit about the equipment we’re using.”
Sunny looked at her brother quizzically. “Knife?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Klaus said. “It’s a knife, and—”
“We all know it’s a knife, Dr. Tocuna,” the hook-handed man said, smiling at the audience, as the bald man leaned in to whisper to Klaus.
“What are you doing?” he hissed. “Just saw off the brat’s head and we’ll be done.”
“A real doctor would never perform a new operation without explaining everything,” Klaus whispered back. “We have to keep talking, or we’ll never fool them.”
Olaf’s associates looked at Klaus and Sunny for a moment, and the two Baudelaires got ready to run, dragging Violet’s gurney with them, if they were recognized at last. But after a moment’s hesitation, the two disguised men looked at each other and nodded.
“I suppose you’re right,” the hook-handed man said, and then turned to the audience. “Sorry for the delay, folks. As you know, we’re real doctors, so that’s why we’re explaining everything. Carry on, Dr. Tocuna.”
“The cranioectomy will be performed with a knife,” Klaus said, “which is the oldest surgical tool in the world.” He was remembering the section on knives in A Complete History of Surgical Tools, which he had read when he was eleven. “Early knives have been found in Egyptian tombs and Mayan temples, where they were used for ceremonial purposes, and mostly fashioned out of stone. Gradually bronze and iron became the essential materials in knives, although some cultures fashioned them out of the incisors of slain animals.”
“Teeth,” Sunny explained.
“There are a number of different types of knives,” Klaus continued, “including the pocketknife, the penknife, and the drawing knife, but the one required for this cranioectomy is a Bowie knife, named after Colonel James Bowie, who lived in Texas.”
“Wasn’t that a magnificient explanation, ladies and gentlemen?” the hook-handed man said.
“It sure was,” one of the reporters agreed. She was a woman wearing a gray suit and chewing gum as she spoke into a small microphone. “I can see the headline now: ‘DOCTOR AND NURSE EXPLAIN HISTORY OF KNIFE.’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”
The audience applauded in agreement, and as the operating theater filled with the sound of cheers and clapping, Violet moved on her gurney, ever so slightly. Her mouth opened a little wider, and one of her limp hands stirred briefly. The motions were so small that only Klaus and Sunny noticed them, and they looked at one another hopefully. Could they keep stalling until the anesthesia completely wore off?
“Enough talk,” the bald man whispered to the children. “It’s lots of fun fooling innocent people, but we’d better get on with the operation before the orphan wakes up.”
“Before I make the first incision,” Klaus said again, continuing to address the audience as if the bald man hadn’t spoken, “I would like to say a few words concerning rust.” He paused for a moment and tried to remember what he had learned from a book entitled What Happens to Wet Metal, which he had received as a gift from his mother. “Rust is a reddish-brown coating that forms on certain metals when they oxidize, which is a scientific term for a chemical reaction occurring when iron or steel comes into contact with moisture.” He held up the rusty knife for the audience to see, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Violet’s hand move again, just barely. “The oxidation process is integral to a cranioectomy due to the oxidative processes of cellular mitochondria and cosmetic demystification,” he continued, trying to use as many complicated words as he could think of.
“Clap!” Sunny cried, and the audience applauded once more, although not as loudly this time.
“Very impressive,” the bald associate said, glaring at Klaus over his surgical mask. “But I think these lovely people will understand the process better once the head has actually been removed.”
“Of course,” Klaus replied. “But first, we need to tenderize the vertebrae, so we can make a clean cut. Nurse Flo, will you please nibble on Viol—I mean, on Laura V. Bleediotie’s neck?”
“Yes,” Sunny said with a smile, knowing just what Klaus was up to. Standing on tiptoe, the youngest Baudelaire gave her sister a few small nibbles on the neck, hoping that it would wake Violet up. As Sunny’s teeth scraped against her skin, Violet twitched, and shut her mouth, but nothing more.
“What are you doing?” the hook-handed man demanded in a furious whisper. “Perform the operation at once, or Mattathias will be furious!”
“Isn’t Nurse Flo wonderful?” Klaus asked the audience, but only a few members of the crowd clapped, and there was not a single cheer. The people in the operating theater were clearly eager to see some surgery rather than hear any more explanations.
“I believe you’ve bitten her neck enough,” the bald man said. His voice was friendly and professional, but his eyes were gazing at the children suspiciously. “Let’s get on with the cranioectomy.”
Klaus nodded, and clasped the knife in both hands, holding it up over his helpless sister. He looked at Violet’s sleeping figure and wondered if he could made a very small cut on Violet’s neck, one that could wake her up but wouldn’t injure her. He looked at the rusty blade, which was shaking up and down as his hands trembled in fear. And then he looked at Sunny, who had stopped nibbling on Violet’s neck and was looking up at him with wide, wide eyes.
“I can’t do it,” he whispered, and looked up at the ceiling. High above them was a square intercom speaker that he had not noticed before, and the sight of the speaker made him think of something. “I can’t do it,” he announced, and there was a gasp from the crowd.
The hook-handed man took a step toward the gurney, and pointed his limp, curved glove at Klaus. The middle Baudelaire could see the sharp tip of his hook, poking through the finger of the glove like a sea creature emerging from the water. “Why not?” the hook-handed man asked quietly.
Klaus swallowed, hoping he still sounded like a medical professional instead of a scared child. “Before I make the first incision, there’s one more thing that has to be done—the most important thing we do here at Heimlich Hospital.”
“And what is that?” the bald man asked. His surgical mask curled down as he gave the children a sinister frown, but Sunny’s mask began to curl in the opposite direction as she realized what Klaus was talking about, and began to smile.
“Paperwork!” she said, and to the Baudelaires’ delight, the audience began to applaud once more.
“Hooray!” called a member of V.F.D. from the back of the operating theater, as the cheering continued. “Hooray for paperwork!”
Olaf’s two associates looked at one another in frustration as the Baudelaires looked at one another in relief. “Hooray for paperwork indeed!” Klaus cried. “We can’t operate on a patient until her file is absolutely complete!”
“I can’t believe we forgot about it, even for a moment!” a nurse cried. “Paperwork is the most important thing we do at this hospital!”
“I can see the headline now,” said the reporter who had spoken earlier. “‘HEIMLICH HOSPITAL ALMOST FORGETS PAPERWORK!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”
“Somebody call Hal,” suggested a doctor. “He’s in charge of the Library of Records, so he can solve this paperwork problem.”
“I’ll call Hal right now!” announced a nurse, walking out of the operating theater, and the crowd clapped in support of her decision.
“There’s no need to call Hal,” said the hook-handed man, holding up his hooked gloves to try to calm the crowd. “The paperwork has been taken care of, I promise you.”
“But all surgical paperwork has to be verified by Hal,” Klaus said. “That’s the policy of Heimlich Hospital.”
The bald man glared down at the children and spoke to them in a frightening whisper. “What in the world are you doing?” he asked them. “You’re going to ruin everything!”
“I think Dr. Tocuna is right,” another doctor said. “That’s the policy here.”
The crowd applauded again, and Klaus and Sunny looked at one another. The two Baudelaires, of course, had no idea what the hospital’s policy was concerning surgical paperwork, but they were beginning to see that the crowd would believe just about anything if they thought it was being said by a medical professional.
“Hal is on his way,” the nurse announced, reentering the room. “There’s apparently been some problem at the Library of Records, but he’ll come as quickly as he can and settle this matter once and for all.”
“We don’t need Hal to settle this matter once and for all,” a voice said from the far end of the theater, and the Baudelaires turned to see the slender, tottering figure of Esmé Squalor, walking straight toward them in her stiletto-heeled shoes, with two people trailing dutifully behind her. These two people were both dressed in medical coats and surgical masks just like the Baudelaires’. Klaus and Sunny could see just a bit of their pale faces above the masks and knew at once that they were the two powder-faced assistants of Olaf.
“This is the real Dr. Tocuna,” Esmé said, pointing to one of the women, “and this is the real Nurse Flo. The two people up on this stage are impostors.”
“No we’re not,” the hook-handed man said angrily.
“Not you two,” Esmé said impatiently, glaring over her surgical mask at the two henchmen. “I mean the other two people on the stage. They fooled everyone. They fooled doctors, nurses, volunteers, reporters, and even me—until I found the real associates of Dr. Flacutono, that is.”
“In my medical opinion,” Klaus said, “I believe this woman has lost her mind.”
“I haven’t lost my mind,” Esmé said with a snarl, “but you’re about to lose your heads, Baudelaires.”
“Baudelaires?” the reporter from The Daily Punctilio asked. “The same Baudelaires who murdered Count Omar?”
“Olaf,” the bald man corrected.
“I’m confused,” whined a volunteer. “There are too many people pretending to be other people.”
“Allow me to explain,” Esmé said, stepping up on the stage. “I am a medical professional, just like Dr. Flacutono, Dr. O. Lucafont, Dr. Tocuna, and Nurse Flo. You can see that from our medical coats and surgical masks.”
“Us, too!” Sunny cried.
Esmé’s surgical mask curled up in a wicked smile. “Not for long,” she said, and in one swift gesture she ripped the masks off the Baudelaires’ faces. The crowd gasped as the masks fluttered to the ground, and the two children saw the doctors, nurses, reporters, and regular people in the crowd look at them in horror. Only the Volunteers Fighting Disease, who believed that no news was good news, did not recognize the youngsters.
“They are the Baudelaires!” a nurse exclaimed in astonishment. “I read about them in The Daily Punctilio!”
“Me, too!” cried a doctor.
“It’s always a pleasure to hear from our readers,” the reporter said modestly.
“But there were supposed to be three murderous orphans, not two!” another doctor said. “Where’s the oldest one?”
The hook-handed man hurriedly stepped in front of the gurney, shielding Violet from view. “She’s already in jail,” he said quickly.
“She is not!” Klaus said, and brushed Violet’s hair out of her eyes so that everyone could see she was not Laura V. Bleediotie. “These terrible people disguised her as a patient, so they could cut her head off!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Esmé said. “You’re the one who was trying to cut her head off. Look, you’re still holding the knife.”
“That’s true!” the reporter cried. “I can see the headline now: ‘MURDERER ATTEMPTS TO MURDER MURDERER.’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see this!”
“Tweem!” Sunny shrieked.
“We’re not murderers!” Klaus translated frantically.
“If you’re not murderers,” the reporter said, holding out her microphone, “then why have you sneaked into a hospital in disguise?”
“I think I can explain that,” said another familiar voice, and everyone turned to see Hal enter the operating theater. In one hand he was clutching the ring of keys the Baudelaires had made from paper clips and Violet’s hair ribbon, and with the other hand he was pointing angrily at the children.
“Those three Baudelaire murderers,” he said, “pretended to be volunteers in order to come to work in the Library of Records.”
“They did?” a nurse said, as the audience gasped. “You mean they’re murderers and phony volunteers?”
“No wonder they didn’t know the words to the song!” a volunteer cried.
“Taking advantage of my poor eyesight,” Hal continued, pointing at his glasses, “they made these fake keys and switched it with the real one, so they could sneak into the library and destroy the files about their crimes!”
“We didn’t want to destroy the file,” Klaus said, “we wanted to clear our names. I’m sorry we tricked you, Hal, and I’m sorry that some of the file cabinets were knocked over, but—”
“Knocked over?” Hal repeated. “You did more than knock over cabinets.” He looked at the children and sighed wearily, and then turned to face the audience. “These children committed arson,” he said. “The Library of Records is burning as we speak.”
I am alone this evening, and I am alone because of a cruel twist of fate, a phrase which here means that nothing has happened the way I thought it would. Once I was a content man, with a comfortable home, a successful career, a person I loved very much, and an extremely reliable typewriter, but all of those things have been taken away from me, and now the only trace I have of those happy days is the tattoo on my left ankle. As I sit in this very tiny room, printing these words with this very large pencil, I feel as if my whole life has been nothing but a dismal play, presented just for someone else’s amusement, and that the playwright who invented my cruel twist of fate is somewhere far above me, laughing and laughing at his creation.
It is not pleasant to feel this way, and it is doubly unpleasant if the cruel twist of fate happens to you when you are actually standing on a stage and there is actually someone, far above you, laughing and laughing, as it was with the Baudelaire children in the operating theater of Heimlich Hospital. The children had scarcely heard Hal’s accusation that they had burned down the Library of Records when they heard rough and familiar laughter coming out of the intercom speaker above them. The siblings had heard this laughter when Mattathias had first captured the Quagmire triplets, and when he had trapped the Baudelaires in a locked Deluxe Cell. It was the triumphant laughter of someone who has cooked up a fiendish plot and succeeded, although it always sounded like the laughter of someone who has just told an excellent joke. Because he was laughing over the scratchy intercom, Mattathias sounded as if he had a piece of aluminum foil over his mouth, but the laughter was still loud enough to help wear off the anesthesia, and Violet murmured something and moved her arms.
“Oops,” Mattathias said, interrupting his laughter as he realized the intercom was on. “This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources, with an important announcement. There is a terrible fire in Heimlich Hospital. The fire was set in the Library of Records by the Baudelaire murderers, and has spread to the Sore Throat Ward, the Stubbed Toe Ward, and the Accidentally Swallowed Something You Shouldn’t Have Ward. The orphans are still at large, so do everything you can to find them. After the murdering arsonists have been captured, you might want to rescue some of the patients who are trapped in the fire. That is all.”
“I can see the headline now,” the reporter said. “‘BAUDELAIRE MURDERERS TORCH PAPERWORK.’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see this!”
“Somebody tell Mattathias we’ve captured the children,” a nurse cried in triumph. “You three brats are in big trouble. You’re murderers, arsonists, and spurious doctors.”
“That’s not true,” Klaus said, but as he looked around he feared that no one would believe him. He looked at the spurious key ring in Hal’s hands, that he and his siblings had used to sneak into the Library of Records. He looked at his medical coat, which he had used to disguise himself as a doctor. And he looked at the rusty blade in his own hands, which he had just been holding over his sister. Klaus remembered when he and his sisters were living with Uncle Monty, and brought several objects to Mr. Poe as evidence of Olaf’s treacherous plot. Because of these small objects, Olaf was placed under arrest, and now Klaus was afraid that the same thing would happen to the Baudelaires.
“Surround them!” the hook-handed man called, pointing at the children with one curved glove. “But be careful. The bookworm still has the knife!” Olaf’s associates spread out in a circle and slowly began walking toward the youngsters at all angles. Sunny whimpered in fright, and Klaus picked her up and put her on the gurney.
“Arrest the Baudelaires!” a doctor cried.
“That’s what we’re doing, you fool!” Esmé replied impatiently, but when she turned her head to the Baudelaires they saw her wink above her surgical mask.
“We’re going to capture only one of you,” she said, in a quiet voice so the audience wouldn’t hear her. With two long fingernailed hands she reached down to her stiletto heels. “This in footwear isn’t just useful for making me look glamorous and feminine,” she said, removing the shoes and pointing them at the children. “These stilettos are perfect for slitting children’s throats. Two bratty little Baudelaires will be killed while trying to escape from justice, leaving one bratty little Baudelaire to give us the fortune.”
“You’ll never get your hands on our fortune,” Klaus said, “or your shoes on our throats.”
“We’ll see,” Esmé said, and swung her left shoe at Klaus as if it were a sword. Klaus ducked quickly and felt the whoosh! of air as the blade swept over him.
“She’s trying to kill us!” Klaus shouted to the audience. “Can’t you see? These are the real murderers!”
“No one will ever believe you,” Esmé said in a sinister whisper, and swung her right shoe at Sunny, who moved away just in time.
“I don’t believe you!” shouted Hal. “My eyesight might not be what it used to be, but I can see your phony medical coat.”
“I don’t believe you, either!” a nurse cried. “I can see that rusty knife!”
Esmé swung both shoes at the same time, but they collided in midair instead of hitting the children. “Why don’t you surrender?” she hissed. “We’ve finally trapped you, just as you trapped Olaf all those other times.”
“Now you know what it feels like to be a villain,” the bald man chuckled. “Move closer, everyone! Mattathias told me that whoever grabs them first gets to choose where to go for dinner tonight!”
“Is that so?” the hook-handed man asked. “Well, I’m in the mood for pizza.” He swung a rubber-gloved hook at Klaus, who fell back against the gurney, rolling it out of the evil man’s reach.
“I feel more like Chinese food,” one of the powder-faced women said. “Let’s go to that place where we celebrated the Quagmire kidnapping.”
“I want to go to Café Salmonella,” Esmé snarled, disentangling her shoes.
Klaus pushed against the gurney again, wheeling it in the other direction as the circle of associates closed in. He held the rusty knife up for protection, but the middle Baudelaire did not think he could use a weapon, even on people as wicked as these. If Count Olaf had been trapped, he would not have hesitated to swing the rusty blade at the people who were surrounding him, but despite what the bald man had said, Klaus did not feel like a villain. He felt like someone who needed to escape, and as he pushed against the gurney again, he knew how he was going to do it.
“Get back!” Klaus cried. “This knife is very sharp!”
“You can’t kill all of us,” the hook-handed man replied. “In fact, I doubt you have the courage to kill anyone.”
“It doesn’t take courage to kill someone,” Klaus said. “It takes a severe lack of moral stamina.”
At the mention of the phrase “severe lack of moral stamina,” which here means “cruel selfishness combined with a love of violence,” Olaf’s associates laughed in delight. “Your fancy words won’t save you now, you twerp,” Esmé said.
“That’s true,” Klaus admitted. “What will save me now is a bed on wheels used to transport hospital patients.”
Without another word, Klaus tossed the rusty knife to the floor, startling Olaf’s associates into stepping back. The circle of people with a severe lack of moral stamina was spread out a little more, just for a moment, but a moment was all the Baudelaires needed. Klaus jumped onto the gurney, which began to roll quickly toward the square metal door they had come in. A cry rose from the audience as the Baudelaires sped past Olaf’s associates.
“Get them!” the hook-handed man cried. “They’re getting away!”
“They won’t get away from me!” Hal promised, and grabbed the gurney just before it reached the door. The gurney slowed to a halt, and for a second Sunny found herself face-to-face with the old man. Butterflies fluttered in the youngest Baudelaire’s stomach as he glared at her from behind his tiny glasses. Unlike Olaf’s associates, Hal was not an evil person, of course. He was merely someone who loved the Library of Records and was trying to capture the people he believed had set it on fire, and it pained Sunny to see that he thought she was an evil criminal, instead of an unlucky infant. But she knew she did not have time to explain to Hal what had really happened. She scarcely had time to say a single word, and yet that is precisely what the youngest Baudelaire did.
“Sorry,” Sunny said to Hal, and gave him a small smile. Then she opened her mouth a little wider, and bit Hal’s hand as gently as she could, so that he would let go of the gurney without getting hurt.
“Ow!” Hal said, and let go. “The baby bit me!” he shouted to the crowd.
“Are you hurt?” a nurse asked.
“No,” Hal replied, “but I let go of the gurney. They’re rolling out the door!”
The Baudelaires rolled out the door, with Violet’s eyes flickering open, Klaus steering the gurney, and Sunny hanging on for dear life. The children rolled down the hallways of the Surgical Ward, dodging around surprised doctors and other medical professionals.
“Attention!” announced Mattathias’s voice over the intercom. “This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources! The Baudelaire murderers and arsonists are escaping on a gurney! Capture them at once! Also, the fire is spreading throughout the hospital! You might want to evacuate!”
“Noriz!” Sunny shouted.
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Klaus cried, dangling his legs over the side of the gurney to scoot it along. “Violet, wake up, please! You can help push!”
“I’m try…ing….” Violet muttered, squinting around her. The anesthesia made everything seem faint and foggy, and it was almost impossible for her to speak, let alone move.
“Door!” Sunny shrieked, pointing to the door that led out of the Surgical Ward. Klaus steered the gurney in that direction and rode past Olaf’s fat associate who looked like neither a man nor a woman, who was still dressed as a spurious guard. With a terrible roar, it began to give chase, walking in huge, lumbering steps, as the Baudelaires raced toward a small group of Volunteers Fighting Disease. The bearded volunteer, who was playing some very familiar chords on his guitar, looked up to see the gurney wheel past them.
“Those must be those murderers Mattathias was talking about!” he said. “Come on, everyone, let’s help that guard capture them!”
“Sounds good to me,” another volunteer agreed. “I’m a bit tired of singing that song, if you want to know the truth.”
Klaus steered the gurney around a corner, as the volunteers joined the overweight associate in pursuit. “Wake up,” he begged Violet, who was looking around her in a confused way. “Please, Violet!”
“Stairs!” Sunny said, pointing to a staircase. Klaus turned the gurney in the direction his sister indicated, and the children began to roll down the stairs, bouncing up and down with each step. It was a fast, slippery ride that reminded the children of sliding down the bannisters at 667 Dark Avenue, or colliding with Mr. Poe’s automobile when they were living with Uncle Monty. At a curve in the staircase, Klaus scraped his shoes against the floor to stop the gurney, and then leaned over to look at one of the hospital’s confusing maps.
“I’m trying to figure out if we should go through that door,” he said, pointing at a door marked “Ward for People with Nasty Rashes,” “or continue down the staircase.”
“Dleen!” Sunny cried, which meant “We can’t continue down the staircase—look!”
Klaus looked, and even Violet managed to focus enough to look down where Sunny was pointing. Down the staircase, just past the next landing, was a flickering, orange glow, as if the sun was rising out of the hospital basement, and a few wisps of dark black smoke were curling up the staircase like the tentacles of some ghostly animal. It was an eerie sight that had haunted the Baudelaires in their dreams, ever since that fateful day at the beach when all their trouble began. For a moment, the three children were unable to do anything but stare down at the orange glow and the tentacles of smoke, and think about all they had lost because of what they were looking at.
“Fire,” Violet said faintly.
“Yes,” Klaus said. “It’s spreading up this staircase. We’ve got to turn and go back upstairs.”
From upstairs, the Baudelaires listened to the associate roar again, and heard the bearded volunteer reply.
“We’ll help you capture them,” he said. “Lead the way, sir—or is it madam? I can’t tell.”
“No up,” Sunny said.
“I know,” Klaus said. “We can’t go up the stairs and we can’t go down. We have to go into the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes.”
Having made this rash decision, Klaus turned the gurney and wheeled it through the door, just as Mattathias’s voice came through on the intercom. “This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources,” he said hurriedly. “All associates of Dr. Flacutono, continue to search for the children! Everyone else, gather in front of the hospital—either we will catch the murderers as they escape, or they’ll be burned to a crisp!”
The children rolled into the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes and saw that Mattathias was right. The gurney was racing down a hallway, and the children could see another orange glow at the far end of it. The children heard another roar behind them as the overweight associate lumbered down the stairs. The siblings were trapped in the middle of a hallway that led only to a fiery death or to Olaf’s clutches.
Klaus leaned down and stopped the gurney. “We’d better hide,” he said, jumping to the floor. “It’s too dangerous to be rolling around like this.”
“Where?” Sunny asked, as Klaus helped her down.
“Someplace close by,” Klaus said, grabbing Violet’s arm. “The anesthesia is still wearing off, so Violet can’t walk too far.”
“I’ll…try….” Violet murmured, stepping unsteadily off the gurney and leaning on Klaus. The children looked around and saw that the nearest door was marked “Supply Closet.”
“Glaynop?” Sunny asked.
“I guess so,” Klaus said doubtfully, opening the door with one hand while balancing Violet with the other. “I don’t know what we can do in a supply closet, but at least it’ll hide us for a few moments.”
Klaus and Sunny helped their sister through the door and locked it behind them. Except for a small window in the corner, the closet looked identical to the one where Klaus and Sunny had hidden to decipher the anagram in the patient list. It was a small room, with only one flickering lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, and there were a row of white medical coats hanging from hooks, a rusty sink, huge cans of alphabet soup, and small boxes of rubber bands, but as the two younger Baudelaires looked at these supplies, they did not look like devices for translating anagrams and impersonating medical professionals. Klaus and Sunny looked at all these objects, and then at their older sister. To their relief, Violet’s face was a bit less pale, and her eyes were a bit less confused, which was a very good sign. The eldest Baudelaire needed to be as awake as she could be, because the items in the closet were looking less and less like supplies, and more and more like materials for an invention.
When Violet Baudelaire was five years old, she won her first invention contest with an automatic rolling pin she’d fashioned out of a broken window shade and six pairs of roller skates. As the judges placed the gold medal around her neck, one of them said to her, “I bet you could invent something with both hands tied behind your back,” and Violet smiled proudly. She knew, of course, that the judge did not mean that he was going to tie her up, but merely that she was so skilled at inventing that she could probably build something even with substantial interference, a phrase which here means “something getting in her way.”
The eldest Baudelaire had proved the judge right dozens of times, of course, inventing everything from a lockpick to a welding torch with the substantial interference of being in a hurry and not having the right tools. But Violet thought she had never had as much substantial interference as the lingering effects of anesthesia as she squinted at the objects in the supply closet and tried to focus on what her siblings were saying.
“Violet,” Klaus said, “I know that the anesthesia hasn’t completely worn off, but we need you to try to invent something.”
“Yes,” Violet said faintly, rubbing her eyes with her hands. “I…know.”
“We’ll help you all we can,” Klaus said. “Just tell us what to do. The fire is consuming this entire hospital, and we have to get out of here quickly.”
“Rallam,” Sunny added, which meant “And Olaf’s associates are chasing us.”
“Open…the window,” Violet said with difficulty, pointing to the window in the corner.
Klaus helped Violet lean against the wall, so he could step over to the window without letting her fall. He opened the window and looked outside. “It looks like we’re on the third floor,” he said, “or maybe the fourth. There’s smoke in the air, so it’s hard to tell. We’re not so high up, but it’s still too far to jump.”
“Climb?” Sunny asked.
“There’s an intercom speaker right below us,” Klaus said. “I suppose we could hang on to that and climb down to the bushes below, but we’d be climbing in front of a huge crowd. The doctors and nurses are helping the patients escape, and there’s Hal, and that reporter from The Daily Punctilio and—”
The middle Baudelaire was interrupted by a faint sound coming from outside the hospital.
“We are Volunteers Fighting Disease, And we’re cheerful all day long. If someone said that we were sad, That person would be wrong.”
“And the Volunteers Fighting Disease,” Klaus continued. “They’re waiting at the entrance to the hospital, just like Mattathias told them to. Can you invent something to fly over them?”
Violet frowned and closed her eyes, standing still for a moment as the volunteers continued singing.
“We visit people who are sick, And try to make them smile, Even if their noses bleed, Or if they cough up bile.”
“Violet?” Klaus asked. “You’re not falling asleep again, are you?”
“No,” Violet said. “I’m…thinking. We need…to distract…the crowd…before we…climb down.”
The children heard a faint roar from beyond the closet door. “Kesalf,” Sunny said, which meant “That’s Olaf’s associate. It sounds like it’s entering the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes. We’d better hurry.”
“Klaus,” Violet said, and opened her eyes. “Open those boxes…of rubber bands. Start to string…them together…to make…a cord.”
“Tra la la, Fiddle dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, Have a heart-shaped balloon.”
Klaus looked down and watched the volunteers giving balloons out to the hospital patients who had been evacuated from the hospital. “But how will we distract the crowd?” he asked.
“I…don’t know,” Violet admitted, and looked down at the floor. “I’m having…trouble focusing my…inventing skills.”
“Help,” Sunny said.
“Don’t cry for help, Sunny,” Klaus said. “No one will hear us.”
“Help,” Sunny insisted, and took off her white medical coat. Opening her mouth wide, she bit down on the fabric, ripping a small strip off the coat with her teeth. Then she held up the strip of white cloth, and handed it to Violet.
“Ribbon,” she said, and Violet gave her a weary smile. With unsteady fingers, the eldest Baudelaire tied her hair up to keep it out of her eyes, using the thin strip of fabric instead of a hair ribbon. She closed her eyes again, and then nodded.
“I know…it’s a bit silly,” Violet said. “I think…it did help, Sunny. Klaus…get to work…on the rubber bands. Sunny—can you open…one of those cans of soup?”
“Treen,” Sunny said, which meant “Yes—I opened one earlier, to help decode the anagrams.”
“Good,” Violet replied. With her hair up in a ribbon—even if the ribbon was spurious—her voice sounded stronger and more confident. “We need…an empty can…as quickly as…possible.”
“We visit people who are ill, And try to make them laugh, Even when the doctor says He must saw them in half.
We sing and sing all night and day, And then we sing some more. We sing to boys with broken bones And girls whose throats are sore.”
As the members of V.F.D. continued their cheerful song, the Baudelaires worked quickly. Klaus opened a box of rubber bands and began stringing them together, Sunny began to gnaw at the top of a can of soup, and Violet went to the sink and splashed water on her face to try to make herself as alert as possible. Finally, by the time the volunteers were singing
“Tra la la, Fiddle dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, Have a heart-shaped balloon.”
Klaus had a long cord of rubber bands curled at his feet like a snake, Sunny had taken the top off a can of soup and was pouring it down the sink, and Violet was staring anxiously at the bottom of the closet door, from which a very thin wisp of smoke was crawling out.
“The fire is in the hallway,” Violet said, as the children heard another roar from the hallway, “and so is Olaf’s henchperson. We have only a few moments.”
“The cord is all ready,” Klaus said, “but how can we distract the crowd with an empty soup can?”
“It’s not an empty soup can,” Violet said, > “not anymore. Now it’s a spurious intercom. Sunny, poke one hole in the bottom of the can.”
“Pietrisycamollaviadelrechiotemexity,” Sunny said, but she did as Violet asked and poked her sharpest tooth through the bottom of the can.
“Now,” Violet said, “you two hold this near the window. Don’t let the crowd see it. They have to think my voice is coming out of the intercom.”
Klaus and Sunny held the empty soup can near the window, and Violet leaned in and stuck her head inside it, as if it were a mask. The eldest Baudelaire took a deep breath to gather her courage, and then she began to speak. From inside the can her voice sounded scratchy and faint, as if she were talking with a piece of aluminum foil over her mouth, which was precisely how she wanted to sound.
“Attention!” Violet announced, before the volunteers could sing the verse about singing to men with measles. “This is Babs. Mattathias has resigned due to personal problems, so I am once again the Head of Human Resources. The Baudelaire murderers and arsonists have been spotted in the unfinished wing of the hospital. We require everyone’s assistance in making sure they do not escape. Please rush over there right away. That is all.”
Violet pulled her head out of the can, and looked at her siblings. “Do you think it worked?” she asked.
Sunny opened her mouth to answer, but she was interrupted by the voice of the bearded volunteer.
“Did you hear that?” the children heard him say. “The criminals are over in the unfinished half of the hospital. Come on, everyone.”
“Maybe some of us should stay here at the front entrance, just in case,” said a voice the Baudelaires recognized as Hal’s.
Violet stuck her head back into the can. “Attention!” she announced. “This is Babs, the Head of Human Resources. No one should stay at the front entrance to the hospital. It’s too dangerous. Proceed at once to the unfinished wing. That is all.”
“I can see the headline now,” said the reporter from The Daily Punctilio. “‘MURDERERS CAPTURED IN UNFINISHED HALF OF HOSPITAL BY WELL-ORGANIZED MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS.’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”
There was a cheer from the crowd, which faded as they walked away from the front of Heimlich Hospital.
“It worked,” Violet said. “We fooled them. We’re as good at tricking people as Olaf is.”
“And at disguises,” Klaus said.
“Anagrams,” Sunny said.
“And lying to people,” Violet said, thinking of Hal, and the shopkeeper at Last Chance General Store and all the Volunteers Fighting Disease. “Maybe we’re becoming villains after all.”
“Don’t say that,” Klaus said. “We’re not villains. We’re good people. We had to do tricky things in order to save our lives.”
“Olaf has to do tricky things,” Violet said, “to save his life.”
“Different,” Sunny said.
“Maybe it’s not different,” Violet said sadly. “Maybe—”
Violet was interrupted by an angry roar coming from just outside the closet door. Olaf’s overweight assistant had reached the supply closet and was now fumbling at the door with its enormous hands.
“We can discuss this later,” Klaus said. “We have to get out of here right now.”
“We’re not going to climb,” Violet said, “not with such a skinny, rubbery cord. We’re going to bounce.”
“Bounce?” Sunny asked doubtfully.
“Plenty of people bounce from high places on long, rubbery cords just for fun,” Violet said, “so I’m sure we can do it to escape. I’ll tie the cord to the faucet with the Devil’s Tongue knot, and we’ll each take turns jumping out the window. The cord should catch us before we hit the ground, and bounce us up, and down, and up, and down, more and more gently each time. Eventually we’ll get to the bottom safely, and then we’ll toss it back up to the next person.”
“It sounds risky,” Klaus said. “I’m not sure the cord is long enough.”
“It is risky,” Violet agreed, “but not as risky as a fire.”
The associate rattled the door furiously, making a large crack right near the lock. Black smoke began to pour through the crack as if the assistant were pouring ink into the closet, as Violet hurriedly tied the cord to the faucet and then tugged on it to make sure it was secure.
“I’ll go first,” she said. “I invented it, so I’d better test it.”
“No,” Klaus said. “We’re not taking turns.”
“Together,” Sunny agreed.
“If we all go down together,” Violet said, “I’m not sure the cord will hold.”
“We’re not leaving anyone behind,” Klaus said firmly. “Not this time. Either we all escape, or none of us do.”
“But if none of us do,” Violet said tearfully, “then there won’t be any Baudelaires left. Olaf will have won.”
Klaus reached into his pocket and brought out a sheet of paper. He unfolded it, and his sisters could see that it was page thirteen of the Snicket file. He pointed to the photograph of the Baudelaire parents and the sentence that was printed below it. “‘Because of the evidence discussed on page nine,’” he read out loud, “‘experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.’ We’ve got to survive, too—so we can find out what happened, and bring Olaf to justice.”
“But if we take turns,” Violet said frantically, “there’s a better chance that one of us will survive.”
“We’re not leaving anyone behind,” Klaus said firmly. “That’s what makes us different from Olaf.”
Violet thought for a moment, and nodded. “You’re right,” she said.
Olaf’s associate kicked at the door, and the crack grew bigger. The children could see a tiny orange light shining in the hallway and realized that the fire and the associate must have reached the door at the same time.
“I’m scared,” Violet said.
“I’m frightened,” Klaus said.
“Sheer terror,” Sunny said, and the associate kicked the door again, forcing a few sparks through the crack in the door. The Baudelaires looked at one another, and each child grabbed the rubber band cord with one hand. With their other hands they clasped one another, and then, without another word, they leaped out of the window of Heimlich Hospital
There are many things in this world I do not know. I do not know how butterflies get out of their cocoons without damaging their wings. I do not know why anyone would boil vegetables when roasting them is tastier. I do not know how to make olive oil, and I do not know why dogs bark before an earthquake, and I do not know why some people voluntarily choose to climb mountains where it is freezing and difficult to breathe, or live in the suburbs, where the coffee is watery and all of the houses look alike. I do not know where the Baudelaire children are now, or if they are safe or if they are even alive. But there are some things I do know, and one of them is that the window of the supply closet in the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes of Heimlich Hospital was not on the third floor or the fourth floor, as Klaus had guessed. The window was on the second floor, so that when the three children dropped through the smoky air, clinging to the rubber band cord for dear life, Violet’s invention worked perfectly. Like a yo-yo, the children bounced gently up and down, brushing their feet against one of the bushes planted in front of the hospital, and after a few bounces it was safe to drop to the ground and hug each other with relief.
“We made it,” Violet said. “It was a close call, but we survived.”
The Baudelaires looked behind them at the hospital, and saw just how close a call it had been. The building looked like a fiery ghost, with great bursts of flame coming from the windows, and oceans of smoke pouring from great gaping holes in the walls. The children could hear glass shattering as the windows burned away, and the crackle of wood as the floors fell through. It occurred to the children that their own house must have looked like this on the day it burned down, and they stepped back from the burning building and huddled together as the air grew thick with ashes and smoke, obscuring the hospital from view.
“Where can we go?” Klaus asked, shouting over the roar of the fire. “Any minute now, the crowd will figure out that we’re not in the unfinished half of the hospital, and return here.”
“Run!” Sunny shrieked.
“But we can’t even see where we’re going!” Violet cried. “The whole area is filling up with smoke!”
“Stay down!” Klaus said, dropping to the ground and beginning to crawl. “In The Encyclopedia of Escaping Arson, the author wrote that there’s more oxygen closer to the ground, so we can breathe more easily. But we need to get to some kind of shelter right away.”
“Where will we find some kind of shelter, in this empty landscape?” Violet asked, crawling behind her brother. “The hospital is the only building for miles, and it’s burning to the ground!”
“I don’t know,” Klaus said, coughing loudly, “but we can’t breathe in this smoke for long!”
“Hurry up!” the Baudelaires heard a voice call out of the smoke. “This way!” A long, black shape emerged from the smoky air, and the children saw it was an automobile, pulling up in front of the hospital. An automobile, of course, is a kind of shelter, but the siblings froze on the ground and dared not crawl an inch farther toward the car.
“Hurry up!” Olaf’s voice said again. “Hurry up or I’ll leave you behind!”
“I’m coming, darling.” From behind them, the Baudelaires heard the reply of Esmé Squalor. “Lucafont and Flacutono are with me, and the ladies are following behind. I had them take all the medical coats we could find, in case we need them for costumes again.”
“Good thinking,” Olaf replied. “Can you see the car in the smoke?”
“Yes,” Esmé said, her voice growing closer. The Baudelaires could hear the odd footsteps of her stiletto-heeled shoes as she strode toward the automobile. “Open the trunk, darling, and we’ll put the costumes in.”
“Oh, all right,” Olaf sighed, and the children saw the tall figure of their enemy step out of the car.
“Wait up, Olaf!” the bald man cried.
“You fool,” Olaf replied. “I told you to call me Mattathias until we leave the hospital grounds. Hurry up and get in the car. The Snicket file wasn’t in the Library of Records, but I think I know where I can find it. Once we destroy those thirteen pages, there’ll be no stopping us.”
“We’ve got to destroy the Baudelaires, too,” Esmé said.
“We would have destroyed them, if all of you hadn’t messed up my plan,” he said, “but never mind that. We have to get out of here before the authorities come.”
“But your largest assistant is still in the Rash Ward, looking for the brats!” the bald man said, and the children heard him open the door of the automobile.
The hook-handed man spoke up, and the children could see his odd shape in the smoke as he got into the car after the bald assistant. “The Ward for People with Nasty Rashes is entirely destroyed,” he said. “I hope the big one got out O.K.”
“We’re not going to wait around to find out if that fool lived or died,” Olaf snarled. “As soon as the ladies can put the costumes in the trunk, we’ll get out of here. It’s been splendid setting this fire, but we’ve got to find the Snicket file as soon as possible, before You-Know-Who does.”
“V.F.D.!” Esmé said with a cackle. “The real V.F.D., that is, not those ridiculous singers!”
The trunk opened with a creak, and the children saw the shadow of the trunk’s lid flip open into the smoky air. The lid was peppered with tiny holes—bullet holes, it looked like, undoubtedly from being pursued by the police. Olaf strode back to the car and continued giving orders.
“Get out of the front seat, you idiots,” Olaf said. “My girlfriend sits in front, and the rest of you can pile in the back.”
“Yes, boss,” the bald man replied.
“We have the costumes, Mattathias.” The voice of one of the powder-faced women was faint in the smoke. “Just give us a few seconds to reach the car.”
Violet leaned as close as she could to her siblings so she could whisper to them without being heard. “We’ve got to go in there,” she said.
“Where?” Klaus whispered in reply.
“In the trunk,” Violet replied. “It’s our only chance to get out of here without getting captured—or worse.”
“Culech!” Sunny said in a horrified whisper, which meant something along the lines of “Getting in the trunk is the same thing as getting captured!”
“We’ve got to get the rest of the Snicket file before Olaf does,” Violet said, “or we’ll never be able to clear our names.”
“Or bring Olaf to justice,” Klaus said.
“Ezan,” Sunny said, which meant “Or find out if one of our parents really survived the fire.”
“The only way we can do all those things,” Violet said, “is to get in the trunk of that car.”
Olaf’s voice floated through the smoke, as deceitful and dangerous as the fire itself. “Get in the car this instant!” he ordered his associates. “I’m going to leave at the count of three.”
The Baudelaires gripped each other’s hands so firmly that it hurt to hang on. “Think of everything we have survived together,” Violet whispered. “We’ve lived through countless unfortunate events, only to find ourselves alone. If one of our parents has survived, it’ll all be worthwhile. We have to find them if it’s the last thing we do.”
Klaus looked at the gaping trunk, which looked like the mouth of some dark and smoky beast, eager to devour him and his siblings. “You’re right,” he murmured finally. “We can’t stay in this smoky air much longer, or we’ll become asphyxiated. The shelter of the trunk is our only hope.”
“Yes!” Sunny whispered.
The Baudelaire children stood up and scurried into the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. The trunk was damp and smelled terrible, but the children crawled deep into its depths so they wouldn’t be seen.
“Wait!” the powder-faced woman called, and the Baudelaires felt the slap of the medical coats being tossed on top of them. “I don’t want to be left behind! I can’t breathe out here!”
“Will we be able to breathe in here?” Violet asked Klaus as quietly as she could.
“Yes,” Klaus said. “Air will come through the bullet holes. This is not the sort of shelter I had in mind, but I guess it might do.”
“Golos,” Sunny said, which meant “It’ll have to do, until something better comes along,” and her siblings nodded.
The trunk slammed closed, leaving them in utter darkness, and their shelter rattled and shook as Olaf started the engine and began to drive across the landscape, which was as flat and desolate as ever. But the children could not see outside, of course. In the blackness of the trunk, they could not see anything at all. They could only hear their long, shivering breaths as the air rushed through the bullet holes, and feel their shoulders tremble as they shivered in fear. It was not the sort of shelter the children had in mind, never in their entire lives, but as they huddled together they guessed it might do. For the Baudelaire orphans—if indeed they were still orphans—the shelter of Count Olaf’s trunk would have to do, until something better came along.
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