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“Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful,” Sir said, shaking the cloud of smoke that covered his head.
“Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.”
“I quite agree,” Mr. Poe said, coughing into his handkerchief. “When you called me this morning and described the situation, I thought it was so dreadful that I canceled several important appointments and took the first available train to Paltryville, in order to handle this matter personally.”
“We appreciate it very much,” Charles said.
“Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful,” Sir said again.
The Baudelaire orphans sat together on the floor of Sir’s office and looked up at the adults discussing the situation, wondering how in the world they could talk about it so calmly. The word “dreadful,” even when used three times in a row, did not seem like a dreadful enough word to describe everything that had happened. Violet was still trembling from how Klaus had looked while hypnotized. Klaus was still shivering from how Charles had almost been sliced up. Sunny was still shaking from how she had almost been killed in the swordfight with Dr. Orwell. And, of course, all three orphans were still shuddering from how Dr. Orwell had met her demise, a phrase which here means “stepped into the path of the sawing machine.” The children felt as if they could barely speak at all, let alone participate in a conversation.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sir said, “that Dr. Orwell was really a hypnotist, and that she hypnotized Klaus in order to get ahold of the Baudelaire fortune. Luckily, Violet figured out how to unhypnotize her brother, and he didn’t cause any more accidents.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Charles said, “that Foreman Flacutono grabbed me in the middle of the night, and tied me to that log, in order to get ahold of the Baudelaire fortune. Luckily, Klaus invented something that shoved the log out of the path of the saw just in time, and I only have a small cut on my foot.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Mr. Poe said, after a short cough, “that Shirley was going to adopt the children, in order to get ahold of the Baudelaire fortune. Luckily, we realized her plan, and now she has to go back to being a receptionist.”
At this Violet could keep quiet no longer. “Shirley is not a receptionist!” she cried. “She’s not even Shirley! She’s Count Olaf!”
“Now that,” Sir said, “is the part of the story that is so unbelievable that I don’t believe it. I met this young woman, and she isn’t at all like Count Olaf! She has one eyebrow instead of two, that’s true, but plenty of wonderful people have that characteristic!”
“You must forgive the children,” Mr. Poe said. “They tend to see Count Olaf everywhere.”
“That’s because he is everywhere,” Klaus said bitterly.
“Well,” Sir said, “he hasn’t been here in Paltryville. We’ve been looking out for him, remember?”
“Weleef!” Sunny cried. She meant something along the lines of “But he was in disguise, as usual!”
“Can we go see this Shirley person?” Charles asked timidly. “The children do seem fairly sure of themselves. Perhaps if Mr. Poe could see this receptionist, we could clear this matter up.”
“I put Shirley and Foreman Flacutono in the library, and asked Phil to keep an eye on them,” Sir said. “Charles’s library turns out to be useful at last—as a substitute jail, until we clear up this matter!”
“The library was plenty useful, Sir,” Violet said. “If I hadn’t read up on hypnosis, your partner, Charles, would be dead.”
“You certainly are a clever child,” Charles said.
“Yes,” Sir agreed. “You’ll do wonderfully at boarding school.”
“Boarding school?” Mr. Poe asked.
“Of course,” Sir replied, nodding his cloud of smoke. “You don’t think I would keep them now, do you, after all the trouble they’ve caused my lumbermill?”
“But that wasn’t our fault!” Klaus cried.
“That doesn’t matter,” Sir said. “We made a deal. The deal was that I would try to keep Count Olaf away, and you wouldn’t cause any more accidents. You didn’t keep your end of the deal.”
“Hech!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “But you didn’t keep your end of the deal, either!” Sir paid no attention.
“Well, let’s go see this woman,” Mr. Poe said, “and we can settle once and for all whether or not Count Olaf was here.”
The three grown-ups nodded, and the three children followed them down the hallway to the library door, where Phil was sitting on a chair with a book in his hands.
“Hello, Phil,” Violet said. “How is your leg?”
“Oh, it’s getting better,” he said, pointing to his cast. “I’ve been guarding the door, Sir, and neither Shirley nor Foreman Flacutono have escaped. Oh, and by the way, I’ve been reading this book, The Paltryville Constitution. I don’t understand all of the words, but it sounds like it’s illegal to pay people only in coupons.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” Sir said quickly. “We need to see Shirley about something.”
Sir reached forward and opened the door to reveal Shirley and Foreman Flacutono sitting quietly at two tables near the window. Shirley had Dr. Orwell’s book in one hand and waved at the children with the other.
“Hello there, children!” she called, in her phony high voice. “I was so worried about you!”
“So was I!” Foreman Flacutono said. “Thank goodness I’m unhypnotized now, so I’m not treating you badly any longer!”
“So you were hypnotized, too?” Sir asked.
“Of course we were!” Shirley cried. She leaned down and patted all three children on the head. “We never would have acted so dreadfully otherwise, not to three such wonderful and delicate children!” Behind her false eyelashes, Shirley’s shiny eyes gazed at the Baudelaires as if she were going to eat them as soon as she got the opportunity.
“You see?” Sir said to Mr. Poe. “No wonder it was unbelievable that Foreman Flacutono and Shirley acted so horribly. Of course she’s not Count Olaf!”
“Count who?” Foreman Flacutono asked. “I’ve never heard of the man.”
“Me neither,” Shirley said, “but I’m only a receptionist.”
“Perhaps you’re not only a receptionist,” Sir said. “Perhaps you’re also a mother. What do you say, Mr. Poe? Shirley really wants to raise these children, and they’re much too much trouble for me.”
“No!” Klaus cried. “She’s Count Olaf, not Shirley!”
Mr. Poe coughed into his white handkerchief at great length, and the three Baudelaires waited tensely for him to finish coughing and say something. Finally, he removed his handkerchief from his face and said to Shirley, “I’m sorry to say this, ma’am, but the children are convinced that you are a man named Count Olaf, disguised as a receptionist.”
“If you’d like,” Shirley said, “I can take you to Dr. Orwell’s office—the late Dr. Orwell’s office—and show you my nameplate. It clearly reads ‘Shirley.’”
“I’m afraid that would not be sufficient,” Mr. Poe said. “Would you do us all the courtesy of showing us your left ankle?”
“Why, it’s not polite to look at a lady’s legs,” Shirley said. “Surely you know that.”
“If your left ankle does not have a tattoo of an eye on it,” Mr. Poe said, “then you are most certainly not Count Olaf.”
Shirley’s eyes shone very, very bright, and she gave everyone in the room a big, toothy smile. “And what if it does?” she asked, and hitched up her skirt slightly. “What if it does have a tattoo of an eye on it?”
Everyone’s eyes turned to Shirley’s ankle, and one eye looked back at them. It resembled the eye-shaped building of Dr. Orwell, which the Baudelaire orphans felt had been watching them since they arrived in Paltryville. It resembled the eye on the cover of Dr. Orwell’s book, which the Baudelaire orphans felt had been staring at them since they began working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. And, of course, it looked exactly like Count Olaf’s tattoo, which is what it was, and which the Baudelaire orphans felt had been gazing at them since their parents had died.
“In that case,” Mr. Poe said, after a pause, “you are not Shirley. You are Count Olaf, and you are under arrest. I order you to take off that ridiculous disguise!”
“Should I take off my ridiculous disguise, as well?” Foreman Flacutono asked, and tore his white wig off with one smooth motion. It did not surprise the children that he was bald—they had known his absurd hair was a wig from the moment they laid eyes on him—but there was something about the shape of his bald head that suddenly seemed familiar. Glaring at the orphans with his beady eyes, he grabbed his surgical mask from his face and removed that, too. A long nose uncurled itself from where it had been pressed down to his face, and the siblings saw in an instant that it was one of Count Olaf’s assistants.
“It’s the bald man!” Violet cried.
“With the long nose!” Klaus cried.
“Plemo!” Sunny cried, which meant “Who works for Count Olaf!”
“I guess we’re lucky enough to capture two criminals today,” Mr. Poe said sternly.
“Well, three, if you include Dr. Orwell,” Count Olaf—and what a relief it is to call him that, instead of Shirley—said.
“Enough nonsense,” Mr. Poe said. “You, Count Olaf, are under arrest for various murders and attempted murders, various frauds and attempted frauds, and various despicable acts and attempted despicable acts, and you, my bald, long-nosed friend, are under arrest for helping him.”
Count Olaf shrugged, sending his wig toppling to the floor, and smiled at the Baudelaires in a way they were sorry to recognize. It was a certain smile that Count Olaf had just when it looked like he was trapped. It was a smile that looked as if Count Olaf were telling a joke, and it was a smile accompanied by his eyes shining brightly and his evil brain working furiously. “This book was certainly helpful to you, orphans,” Count Olaf said, holding Dr. Orwell’s Advanced Ocular Science high in the air, “and now it will help me.” With all his rotten might, Count Olaf turned and threw the heavy book right through one of the library windows. With a crash of tinkling glass, the window shattered and left a good-sized hole. The hole was just big enough for a person to jump through, which is exactly what the bald man did, wrinkling his long nose at the children as if they smelled bad. Count Olaf laughed a horrible, rough laugh, and followed his comrade out the window and away from Paltryville. “I’ll be back for you, orphans!” he called. “I’ll be back for your lives!”
“Egad!” Mr. Poe said, using an expression which here means “Oh no! He’s escaping!”
Sir stepped quickly to the window, and peered out after Count Olaf and the bald man, who were running as fast as their skinny legs could carry them. “Don’t come back here!” Sir yelled out after them. “The orphans won’t be here, so don’t return!”
“What do you mean, the orphans won’t be here?” Mr. Poe asked sternly. “You made a deal, and you didn’t keep your end of it! Count Olaf was here after all!”
“That doesn’t matter,” Sir said, waving one of his hands dismissively. “Wherever these Baudelaires go, misfortune follows, and I will have no more of it!”
“But Sir,” Charles said, “they’re such good children!”
“I won’t discuss it anymore,” Sir said. “My nameplate says ‘The Boss,’ and that’s who I am. The boss has the last word, and the last word is this: The children are no longer welcome at Lucky Smells!”
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at one another. “The children are no longer welcome at Lucky Smells,” of course, is not the last word, because it is many words, and they knew, of course, that when Sir said “the last word” he didn’t mean one word, but the final opinion on the situation. But their experience at the lumbermill had been so very dreadful that they didn’t care much that they were leaving Paltryville. Even a boarding school sounded like it would be better than their days with Foreman Flacutono, Dr. Orwell, and the evil Shirley. I’m sorry to tell you that the orphans were wrong about boarding school being better, but at the moment they knew nothing of the troubles ahead of them, only of the troubles behind them, and the troubles that had escaped out the window.
“Can we please discuss this matter later,” Violet asked, “and call the police now? Maybe Count Olaf can be caught.”
“Excellent idea, Violet,” Mr. Poe said, although of course he should have thought of this idea earlier himself. “Sir, please take me to your telephone so we can call the authorities.”
“Oh, all right,” Sir said grumpily. “But remember, this is my last word on the matter. Charles, make me a milkshake. I’m very thirsty.”
“Yes, Sir,” Charles said, and limped after his partner and Mr. Poe, who were already out of the library. Halfway out the door, however, he stopped and smiled apologetically at the Baudelaires.
“I’m sorry,” he said to them. “I’m sorry that I won’t be seeing you anymore. But I guess Sir knows best.”
“We’re sorry too, Charles,” Klaus said. “And I’m sorry that I caused you so much trouble.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Charles said kindly, as Phil limped up behind him.
“What happened?” Phil asked. “I heard breaking glass.”
“Count Olaf got away,” Violet said, and her heart sank as she realized it was really true. “Shirley was really Count Olaf in disguise, and he got away, just like he always does.”
“Well, if you look on the bright side, you’re really quite lucky,” Phil said, and the orphans gave their optimistic friend a curious look and then looked curiously at one another. Once they had been happy children, so content and pleased with their life that they hadn’t even known how happy they were. Then came the terrible fire, and it seemed since then that their lives had scarcely had one bright moment, let alone an entire bright side. From home to home they traveled, encountering misery and wretchedness wherever they went, and now the man who had caused such wretchedness had escaped once more. They certainly didn’t feel very lucky.
“What do you mean?” Klaus asked quietly.
“Well, let me think,” Phil said, and thought for a moment. In the background, the orphans could hear the dim sounds of Mr. Poe describing Count Olaf to somebody on the telephone. “You’re alive,” Phil said finally. “That’s lucky. And I’m sure we can think of something else.”
The three Baudelaire children looked at one another and then at Charles and Phil, the only people in Paltryville who had been kind to them. Although they would not miss the dormitory, or the terrible casseroles, or the back-breaking labor of the mill, the orphans would miss these two kind people. And as the siblings thought about whom they would miss, they thought how much they would have missed one another, if something even worse had happened to them. What if Sunny had lost the swordfight? What if Klaus had remained hypnotized forever? What if Violet had stepped into the path of the saw, instead of Dr. Orwell? The Baudelaires looked at the sunlight, pouring through the shattered window where Count Olaf had escaped, and shuddered to think of what could have happened. Being alive had never seemed lucky before, but as the children considered their terrible time in Sir’s care, they were amazed at how many lucky things had actually happened to them.
“It was lucky,” Violet admitted quietly, “that Klaus invented something so quickly, even though he’s not an inventor.”
“It was lucky,” Klaus admitted quietly, “that Violet figured out how to end my hypnosis, even though she’s not a researcher.”
“Croif,” Sunny admitted quietly, which meant something like “It was lucky that I could defend us from Dr. Orwell’s sword, if I do say so myself.”
The children sighed, and gave each other small, hopeful smiles. Count Olaf was on the loose, and would try again to snatch their fortune, but he had not succeeded this time. They were alive, and as they stood together at the broken window, it seemed that the last word on their situation might be “lucky,” the word that had caused so much trouble to begin with. The Baudelaire orphans were alive, and it seemed that maybe they had an inordinate amount of luck after all.
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