بخش 02

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: خطر ماقبل آخر / فصل 2

بخش 02

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CHAPTER Three

There are places where the world is quiet, but the enormous lobby of the Hotel Denouement was not one of them. On the day the Baudelaires walked up the stairs through the white fog from the funnel and entered the large, curved archway marked —or when reflected in the enormous pond, ENTRANCE—the lobby was bustling with activity. As Kit Snicket had predicted, the Baudelaires were able to pass unnoticed in the hotel, because everyone was far too busy to notice anything. Guests were lined up in front of a huge reception desk—which for some reason had the number 101 emblazoned on the wall above it—so they could check into the hotel and go to their rooms to freshen up. Bellboys and bellgirls were loading piles of luggage onto carts and rolling them toward the elevators—which for some reason had the number 118 emblazoned on their doors—so they could drop off the suitcases in the guests’ rooms and collect their tips. Waiters and waitresses were bringing food and drink to people who were sitting on the chairs and benches of the lobby, waiting for refreshment. Taxi drivers were ushering guests into the lobby to join the line, and dogs were dragging their owners out of the lobby to take walks. Confused tourists were standing around looking quizzically at maps, and rambunctious children were playing hide-and-seek among the potted plants. A man in a tuxedo was sitting at a grand piano emblazoned with the number 152, playing tinkly tunes to amuse anyone who cared to listen, and members of the cleaning staff were discreetly polishing the green wooden floors etched with the number 123, for anyone who cared to see their feet reflected with every step. There was an enormous fountain in one corner of the room, releasing a cascade of water that ran over the number 131 in a shiny, smooth wall, and there was an enormous woman in the opposite corner, standing under the number 176 and shouting a man’s name over and over in an increasingly annoyed tone of voice. The Baudelaires tried to be flaneurs as they walked across the chaos of the lobby, but there was so much to observe, and all of it was moving so quickly, that they wondered how they could even get started on their noble errand.

“I had no idea this place would be so busy,” Violet said, blinking at the lobby from behind her sunglasses.

“How in the world will we be able to observe the impostor,” Klaus wondered, “among all these possible suspects?”

“Frank first,” Sunny said.

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “The first step in our errand should be locating our new employer. If he saw our signal from that open window, he should be expecting us.”

“Unless his villainous brother Ernest is expecting us instead,” Klaus said.

“Or both,” Sunny said.

“Why do you suppose there are so many numbers—” Violet started to ask, but before she could finish her question a man came bounding up to them. He was very tall and skinny, and his arms and legs stuck out at odd angles, as if he were made of drinking straws instead of flesh and bone. He was dressed in a uniform similar to that of the Baudelaires’, but with the word MANAGER printed in fancy script over one of the pockets of his coat.

“You must be the new concierges,” he said. “Welcome to the Hotel Denouement. I’m one of the managers.”

“Frank,” Violet asked, “or Ernest?”

“Exactly,” the man said, and winked at them. “I’m so happy the three of you are here, even if one of you is unusually short, because we’re unusually short-handed. I’m so busy you’ll have to figure out the system for yourself.”

“System?” Klaus asked.

“This place is as complicated as it is enormous,” said Frank, or perhaps Ernest, “and vice versa. I’d hate to think what would happen if you didn’t understand it.”

The Baudelaires looked carefully at their new manager, but his face was utterly unfathomable, a word which here means “blank, so the Baudelaires could not tell if he was giving them a friendly warning or a sinister threat.” “We’ll try our best,” Violet said quietly.

“Good,” said the manager, leading the children across the enormous lobby. “You’ll be at our guests’ beck and call,” he continued, using a phrase which meant that the guests would boss the Baudelaires around. “If anyone and everyone staying here asks for assistance, you’ll immediately volunteer to help them.”

“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted one of the bellboys. He was holding a suitcase in each hand and wearing a confused expression on his face. “This luggage arrived in a taxi, but the driver said the guest wouldn’t arrive until Thursday. What should I do?”

“Thursday?” said Frank or Ernest with a frown. “Excuse me, concierges. I don’t suppose I have to tell you how important this is. I’ll be right back.”

The manager followed the bellboy into the crowd, leaving the Baudelaires standing alone next to a large, wooden bench marked with the number 128. Klaus ran his hand along the bench, which was etched with rings, from people setting down glasses without using coasters. “Do you think we were talking to Frank,” Klaus said, “or Ernest?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said. “He used the word ‘volunteer.’ Maybe that was some sort of a code.”

“Thursinterest,” Sunny said, which meant “He knew that Thursday was important.”

“That’s true,” Klaus said, “but is it important to him because he’s a volunteer or a villain?”

Before either Baudelaire sister could hazard a guess, a phrase which here means “attempt to answer Klaus’s question,” the tall, skinny manager reappeared at their sides. “You must be the new concierges,” he said, and the children realized that this was the other brother. “Welcome to the Hotel Denouement.”

“You must be Ernest,” Violet tried.

“Or Frank,” Sunny said.

“Yes,” the manager said, although it was not at all clear with whom he was agreeing. “I’m very grateful you three are here. The hotel is quite busy at the moment, and we’re expecting more guests to arrive on Thursday. Now, you’ll be stationed at the concierge desk, number 175, right over here. Follow me.”

The children followed him to the far wall of the lobby, where a large wooden desk sat under the number 175, which was painted over an enormous window. On the desk was a small lamp shaped like a frog, and out the window, the children could see the gray, flat horizon of the sea. “We’ve got a pond on one side of us,” said Ernest, unless of course it was Frank, “and the sea on the other side. It doesn’t sound very safe, and yet some people think this is a very safe place indeed.” Frank, unless it was Ernest, looked around hurriedly and lowered his voice. “What do you think?”

Once again, the manager’s face was unfathomable, and the children could not tell if his reference to a safe place made him a volunteer or a villain. “Hmm,” Sunny said, which is often a safe answer, even though it is not really an answer at all.

“Hmm,” Frank or Ernest said in response. “Now then, let me explain how this hotel is organized.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said a bellgirl, whose face could not be seen behind the pile of newspapers she was carrying. “The latest edition of The Daily Punctilio has arrived.”

“Let me see,” said either Ernest or Frank, plucking a copy from the top of the pile. “I heard that Geraldine Julienne has written an update on the Baudelaire case.”

The Baudelaire orphans froze, scarcely daring to look at one another, let alone the volunteer or villain who was standing beside them reading the headline out loud. “‘BAUDELAIRES RUMORED TO RETURN TO THE CITY,’” he said. “‘According to information recently discovered by this reporter when opening a cookie, Veronica, Klyde, and Susie Baudelaire, the notorious murderers of renowned actor Count Omar, are returning to the city, perhaps to commit more vicious murders or to continue their recent hobby of arson. Citizens are advised to watch for these three bloodthirsty children, and to report them to the authorities if they are spotted. If they are not spotted, citizens are advised to do nothing.’” The manager turned to the Baudelaires, his face as unfathomable as ever. “What do you think of that, concierges?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Klaus replied, which is another very safe answer.

“I’m glad you find it interesting,” Ernest or Frank replied, which was an equally safe answer to Klaus’s safe answer. Then he turned to the bellgirl. “I’ll show you the newsstand in Room 168,” he said, and disappeared with the newspapers into the crowd, leaving the Baudelaires alone, standing at the desk and staring out to sea.

“I think that was Ernest,” Violet said. “His comment about the hotel’s safety sounded very sinister.”

“But he didn’t seem alarmed by the story in The Daily Punctilio,” Klaus said. “If Ernest is an enemy of V.F.D., he’d be on the watch for us. So that man was probably Frank.”

“Maybe he just didn’t recognize us,” Violet said. “After all, few people recognize Count Olaf when he’s in disguise, and his disguises aren’t much better than ours. Maybe we look more like concierges than Baudelaires.”

“Or maybe we don’t look like Baudelaires at all,” Klaus said. “As Kit said, we’re not children anymore.”

“Nidiculous,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “I think I’m still a child.”

“That’s true,” Klaus admitted, smiling down at his sister, “but the older we get, the less likely it is that we’ll be recognized.”

“That should make it easier to do our errands,” Violet said.

“What do you mean by that?” asked a familiar voice, and the Baudelaires saw that either Frank or Ernest had returned.

“What my associate meant,” Klaus said, thinking quickly, “is that it would be easier for us to start our work as concierges if you explained how the hotel is organized.”

“I just said I would do that,” said Frank in an annoyed voice, or Ernest in an irritated one. “Once you understand how the Hotel Denouement works, you’ll be able to perform your errands as easily as you would find a book in a library. And if you can find a book in a library, then you already know how this hotel works.”

“Expound,” Sunny said.

“The Hotel Denouement is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System,” Frank or Ernest explained. “That’s the same way books are organized in many libraries. For instance, if you wanted to find a book on German poetry, you would begin in the section of the library marked 800, which contains books on literature and rhetoric. Similarly, the eighth story of this hotel is reserved for our rhetorical guests. Within the 800 section of a library, you’d find books on German poetry labeled 831, and if you were to take the elevator up to the eighth story and walk into Room 831, you’d find a gathering of German poets. Understand?”

“I think so,” said Klaus. All three Baudelaires had spent enough time in libraries to be familiar with the Dewey Decimal System, but even Klaus’s vast experience in research did not mean he had committed the entire system to memory. It is not necessary, of course, to memorize the Dewey Decimal System in order to use a library, as most libraries have catalogs, in which all of the books are listed on cards or on a computer screen to make them easier to find. “Where can we find the catalog for the Hotel Denouement’s services?”

“Catalog?” repeated either Frank or Ernest. “You shouldn’t need a catalog. The entire 100 section of a library is dedicated to philosophy and psychology, and so is the first story of our hotel, from the reception desk, which is labeled 101 for the theory of philosophy, to the concierge desk, which is labeled 175 for the ethics of recreation and leisure, to the couches over there, which are labeled 135, for dreams and mysteries, in case our guests want to take a nap or conceal something underneath the sofa cushions. The second story is the 200s, for religion, and we have a church, a cathedral, a chapel, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, a shrine, a shuffleboard court, and Room 296, which is currently occupied by a somewhat cranky rabbi. The third story is the social sciences, where we have placed our ballrooms and meeting rooms; the fourth story is dedicated to language, so most of our foreigners stay there. The 500s are dedicated to mathematics and science, and the sixth story is dedicated to technology, from the sauna in Room 613, which stands for the promotion of health, to Room 697, which is where we keep the controls for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Now, if the seventh story stands for the arts, what do you think we would find in Room 792, which stands for stage presentations?”

Violet wanted to tie her hair up in a ribbon to help her think, but she was afraid of being recognized. “A theater?” she said.

“You’ve obviously visited a library before,” the manager said, although the children could not tell if he was complimenting them or getting suspicious. “I’m afraid that’s not true of all of our guests, so when they are in need of any of our services, they ring for a concierge instead of wandering around the hotel by themselves. In the next day or so, you’ll probably walk through every section of the hotel, from the astronomy observatory in Room 999 to the employees’ quarters in the basement, Room 000.”

“Is that where we sleep?” Klaus asked.

“Well, you’re on duty twenty-four hours a day,” Ernest said, or perhaps it was Frank. “But the hotel gets very quiet at night, when the guests go to sleep, or stay up all night reading. You can nap behind the desk, and when someone rings for you it will serve as an alarm clock.”

Frank stopped talking, or perhaps it was Ernest, and quickly looked around the room before leaning in close to the Baudelaires. The three siblings nervously looked back at Ernest through their sunglasses, or maybe it was Frank. “Your positions as concierges,” he said in his unfathomable tone, “are excellent opportunities for you to quietly observe your surroundings. People tend to treat the hotel staff as if they are invisible, so you will have the chance to see and hear quite a lot of interesting things. However, you should remember that you will also have many opportunities to be observed. Do I make myself clear?”

This time it was Violet who needed to give a safe answer. “Hmm,” she said. “That’s an interesting question.”

Either Frank or Ernest narrowed his eyes at the oldest Baudelaire, and seemed about to say something when the Baudelaires suddenly heard some loud, piercing ringing sounds. “Aha!” the manager cried. “Your work has begun!”

The siblings followed Ernest or Frank around to the other side of the desk, and Frank or Ernest pointed to a vast network of tiny bells, each no larger than a thimble, which lined the back of a desk where knobs for drawers might otherwise be. Each bell had a number on it, from 000 to 999, with one extra bell that had no number at all. This extra bell was ringing, along with the bell numbered 371 and the bell numbered 674.

“Ring!” cried either Ernest or Frank. “Ring! I shouldn’t have to tell you the bell’s your signal. We can’t keep our guests waiting for even an instant. You can tell which guest is ringing by the number on the bell. If the number written on the bell was 469, for example, you would know that one of our Portuguese guests required assistance. Are you paying attention? The bell marked 674 indicates our associates in the lumber industry, as the number 674 means lumber processing or wood products in the Dewey Decimal System. We can’t make enemies out of important guests! The number 371 indicates educational guests. Please be nice to them, too, although they’re much less important. Respond to all of our guests whenever you hear that ring!”

“But what does that unmarked bell refer to?” Klaus asked. “The Dewey Decimal System doesn’t go higher than 999.”

The manager frowned, as if the middle Baudelaire had given him the wrong answer. “That’s the rooftop sunbathing salon,” he said. “People who sunbathe aren’t usually interested in library science, so they’re not picky about the salon’s location. Now, get moving!”

“But where shall we go first?” Violet said. “Guests have requested assistance in three places at once.”

“You’ll have to split up, of course,” Frank or Ernest replied, as unfathomably as ever. “Each concierge will choose a guest and hurry to their location. Take the elevators—they’re at 118, for force and energy.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said another bellboy, tapping Ernest or Frank on the shoulder. “There’s a banker on the phone who wants to speak to one of the managers right away.”

“I’d better get to work,” the manager said, “and so should you, concierges. Off with you!”

“Off with you” is a phrase used by people who lack the courtesy to say something more polite, such as “If there’s nothing else you require, I must be going,” or “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave, please,” or even “Excuse me, but I believe you have mistaken my home for your own, and my valuable belongings for yours, and I must ask you to return the items in question to me, and leave my home, after untying me from this chair, as I am unable to do it myself, if it’s not too much trouble.” The children were not pleased to be dismissed so rudely, nor were they pleased to learn that their employment as concierges would involve such a complicated organizational method in an immense and confusing hotel. They were not pleased that they had not been able to discern which manager was Frank and which was Ernest, and they were not pleased to learn that The Daily Punctilio was alerting the city’s citizens to the Baudelaires’ arrival, and that someone might recognize them at any moment and have them arrested for crimes they had not committed. But most of all, the Baudelaires were not pleased by the notion of splitting up and doing separate errands in this perplexing hotel. They had hoped to perform their duties as concierges and flaneurs together, and with each step toward the elevators they grew more and more unhappy at the idea of leaving one another behind.

“I’ll go to the rooftop sunbathing salon,” Violet said, trying to be brave. “Klaus, why don’t you take Room 674, and Sunny, you can take Room 371. We’ll all meet up at the concierge desk when we’re done.”

“We’ll be able to observe more this way,” Klaus said hopefully. “With the three of us on three separate stories, we can find the impostor much more quickly.”

“Unsafe,” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of, “I’d rather not find the impostor if I’m all by myself.”

“You’ll be safe, Sunny,” Klaus said. “This hotel is just like a large library.”

“Yes,” Violet said. “And what’s the worst thing that can happen in a library?”

The two younger Baudelaires did not answer her, and the three concierges stood in silence for a few moments, gazing at a small sign posted near the elevators’ sliding doors. When one pair of doors finally opened, the children stepped inside and pressed the appropriate buttons for their guests’ locations, and as the small elevator began to rise, the children remembered the elevator shaft at 667 Dark Avenue, which it had been necessary to climb up and down several times. The Baudelaires had learned the worst thing that could happen in an elevator shaft, which was being thrown down one by a villainous girlfriend. The Baudelaires had learned the worst thing that could happen at a lumbermill, which was being forced to cause a violent accident through the sinister power of hypnotism. And the Baudelaires had learned the worst thing that could happen at a school, which was meeting some dear friends, only to have them dragged away in a long, black automobile. The orphans learned what the worst thing was at a herpetologist’s house, and what the worst thing was in a small town, and at a hospital, and at a carnival, and at the peak of a mountaintop, and in a submarine, and a cave, and within the currents of a rushing stream, and inside the trunk of a car and in a pit full of lions and in a secret passageway and many, many other sinister places they preferred not to think about at all, and throughout all these perils they had encountered, and the countless other perils besides, they had always found a library of some sort or another, where the children managed to discover the crucial information necessary to save their skins, a phrase which here means “keep them alive for the next terrible chapter in their lives.” But now the Baudelaires’ new home was a library—a strange one, of course, but a library nonetheless—and as the elevator took them silently through the library toward their separate destinations, they did not like to wonder what the worst thing was that could happen at a library, particularly after reading the first four words on the small, posted sign. IN CASE OF FIRE, the sign read, and as the Baudelaire orphans went their separate ways, they did not like to think of that at all.

NOT A CHAPTER

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of the history of the Baudelaire orphans is organized sequentially, a word which here means “so that the events in the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are related in the order in which they occurred.” In the case of the next three chapters, however, the story is organized simultaneously, which means that you do not have to read the chapters in the order in which they appear. In chapter four, you may find the story of Violet Baudelaire’s journey up to the rooftop sunbathing salon, and the unpleasant conversation she had occasion to overhear. In chapter five, you may read about Klaus’s experience with certain members of the lumber industry, and a sinister plot that was devised right in front of his nose. And in chapter six, you may see the result of my research into Sunny’s dreadful visit to Room 371 and to a mysterious restaurant located on the ninth story. But because all of them occur at the very same time, you need not read the chapters in the sequence four-five-six, but can read them in any order you choose. Or, more sensibly, you could simply skip all three chapters, along with the seven chapters that follow them, and find some other sequential or simultaneous thing with which to occupy your time.

CHAPTER Four

When the elevator finally reached the roof, and the doors slid open to allow her to exit, Violet Baudelaire had two reasons to be grateful that her concierge disguise included sunglasses. For one thing, the rooftop sunbathing salon was very, very bright. The morning fog, so thick when the Baudelaires arrived on Briny Beach, had disappeared, and the rays of the afternoon sun beat down on the entire city, reflecting off every shiny object, from the glistening waters of the sea, which splashed against the opposite side of the hotel, to the surface of the pond, which had settled since Violet had thrown the stone. All along the edge of the roof were large, rectangular mirrors, tilted like the hotel itself, catching the blinding light of the afternoon sun and bouncing it onto the skin of the sunbathing guests. Ten sunbathers, their bare skin coated in thick, sticky lotion, lay without moving on shiny mats arranged around a heated swimming pool, which was so warm that clouds of steam were floating up from the surface. In a corner was an attendant, his eyes covered in green sunglasses and his body covered in a long, baggy robe. He was holding two enormous spatulas, such as might be used to flip pancakes, and from time to time he would reach out with a spatula and flip over one of the sunbathers, so that their bellies and backs would be the same shade of brown. The spatulas, like the mirrors and the mats and the pool, reflected the light of the sun, and Violet was glad her eyes were shielded.

But there was another reason the eldest Baudelaire was grateful for the sunglasses, and it had to do with the person who was waiting impatiently by the doors to the elevator. This person was also wearing sunglasses, although these were much more unusual. Instead of lenses, there were two large cones sticking out from the eyes, getting wider and wider until they stopped, as wide as dinner plates, several feet in front of the person’s face. Such a pair of glasses might have concealed the identity of the person who was wearing them, but they were so ridiculous that Violet knew there could be only one person so obsessed with being fashionable that she would wear such ridiculous eyewear, and Violet was grateful that her own identity was concealed.

“Here you are at last,” said Esmé Squalor. “I thought I’d never see you here.”

“Pardon me?” Violet asked nervously.

“Are you deaf, concierge?” Esmé demanded. Her scornful frown was lined with silver lipstick, as if she had been drinking molten metal, and she pointed an accusing finger with a long, silver nail. The nails had been filed into individual shapes, so that each hand spelled “E-S-M-É,” with the thumbnail carved into the familiar symbol of an eye. The letters were painted to match Esmé’s sandals, which had long, frilly straps that ran around and around the notorious girlfriend’s bare legs like centipedes. The rest of Esmé’s outfit, I regret to say, consisted of three large leaves of lettuce, attached to her body with tape. If you have ever seen the bathing garment known as the bikini, then you can guess where these pieces of lettuce were attached, and if you cannot guess then I advise you to ask someone of your acquaintance who is not as squeamish as I am about discussing the bodies of villainous women. “Glamorous people like myself don’t have time to be nice to the deaf,” she snarled. “I rang the concierge bell more than two minutes ago, and I’ve been waiting the entire time!”

“I can see the headline now,” crowed another voice. “‘UNBELIEVABLY GLAMOROUS AND BEAUTIFUL WOMAN COMPLAINS ABOUT HOTEL SERVICE!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

Violet was so relieved not to be recognized that she hadn’t noticed who was standing next to Count Olaf’s treacherous girlfriend. Geraldine Julienne was the irresponsible journalist who had printed so many lies about the Baudelaires, and she wasn’t happy to see that the reporter had become one of Esmé’s sycophants, a word which here means “people who enjoy flattering people who enjoy being flattered.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Violet said, in as professional a tone as she could muster. “The concierges are particularly busy today. What is it you require?”

“It’s not what I require,” Esmé said, “it’s what the adorable little girl in the pool requires.”

“I’m not an adorable little girl!” Yet another familiar voice came from the direction of the heated pool, and Violet turned to see Carmelita Spats, a spoiled and unpleasant child the Baudelaires had first encountered at boarding school, who had gone on to join Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor in performing treacherous deeds. “I’m a ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate!” she cried, emerging from a cloud of steam. She was wearing an outfit as ridiculous as Esmé’s, though thankfully it wasn’t as revealing. She had on a bright blue jacket, covered with shiny medals such as are given to people for military service, which was unbuttoned to reveal a white shirt that proclaimed the name of a sports team in curly blue letters. Stapled to the back of her jacket was a long, blue cape, and on her feet were a pair of bright blue boots with spurs, which are tiny wheels of spikes used to urge animals to move more quickly than they might otherwise prefer. She had a blue patch covering one of her eyes, and on her head was a blue triangular hat with a skull and crossbones printed on it—the symbol that pirates use while prowling the high seas. Carmelita Spats, of course, was not on the high seas, but had managed to drag a large, wooden boat to the rooftop sunbathing salon so she could prowl a high swimming pool. On the bow of the boat was an ornately carved figurehead, a word which here means “wooden statue of an octopus attacking a man in a diving suit,” and there was a tall mast, stretching up toward the sky, which held a billowing sail that had the insignia of an eye matching the one on Count Olaf’s ankle. The eldest Baudelaire stared for a moment at this hideous figurehead, but then turned her attention to Carmelita. The last time Violet had seen the unpleasant captain of this boat, she was dressed all in pink, and was announcing herself as a tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian, but the eldest Baudelaire could hardly say whether being a ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate was better or worse.

“Of course you are, darling,” purred Esmé, and turned to Geraldine Julienne with a smile one mother might give another at a playground. “Carmelita has been a tomboy lately,” she said, using an insulting term inflicted on girls whose behavior some people find unusual.

“I’m sure your daughter will grow out of it,” Geraldine replied, who as usual was speaking into a microphone.

“Carmelita Spats is not my daughter,” Esmé said haughtily. “I’d no sooner have children of my own than I would wear modest clothing.”

“I thought you adopted three orphans,” Geraldine said.

“When it was in,” Esmé hurriedly added, using her usual word for “fashionable.” “But orphans are out now.”

“Then what’s in?” asked Geraldine breathlessly.

“Planning cocktail parties in hotels, of course!” crowed Esmé. “Why else would I let a ridiculous woman like yourself interview me?”

“How wonderful!” cried Geraldine, who appeared not to realize she had just been insulted. “I can see the headline now: ‘ESMÉ SQUALOR, THE MOST GLAMOROUS PERSON EVER!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that! When they read about your career as an actress, financial advisor, girlfriend, and cocktail party hostess, they’ll get so excited that some of them will probably have heart attacks!”

“I hope so,” Esmé said.

“I’m sure my readers will want to know all about your stylish outfit,” Geraldine said, holding her microphone under Esmé’s chin. “Will you tell us something about those unusual glasses you’re wearing?”

“They’re sunoculars,” Esmé said, patting her strange eyewear. “They’re a combination of sunglasses and binoculars. They’re very in, and this way I can watch the skies without getting the sun in my eyes—or the moon, if something should happen to arrive at night.”

“Why would you want to watch the skies?” Geraldine asked curiously.

Esmé frowned, and Violet could tell that the stylish woman had let something slip, a phrase which here means “said something she wished she hadn’t.” “Because birdwatching is very in,” she said unconvincingly, a word which here means “clearly telling a lie.”

“Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio hear that!” gasped Geraldine. “Will all the guests at your cocktail party be wearing sunoculars?”

“No matter what the guests are wearing,” Esmé said with a smirk, “they won’t be able to see the surprises we have in store for them.”

“What surprises?” Geraldine asked eagerly.

“If I told you what they were,” Esmé said, “they wouldn’t be surprises.”

“Couldn’t you give me a hint?” Geraldine asked.

“No,” Esmé said.

“Not even a little one?” Geraldine asked.

“No,” Esmé said.

“Pretty please?” Geraldine whined. “Pretty please with sugar on top?”

Esmé’s silver-coated lips curled thoughtfully. “If I give you a hint,” she said, “you’ll have to tell me something, too. You’re a reporter, so you know all sorts of interesting information. Before I reveal my special hors d’oeuvres for Thursday’s cocktail party, I want you to tell me something about a certain guest at this hotel. He’s been lurking around the basement, plotting to spoil our party. His initials are J. S.”

“Lurking around the basement?” Geraldine repeated. “But J. S. is—”

“Esmé!” Carmelita screamed from the swimming pool, interrupting at just the worst moment. “That concierge is just standing there, when she’s supposed to be at my beck and call! She’s nothing but a cakesniffer!”

Esmé turned to Violet, who was used to being called a cakesniffer after all this time. “What are you waiting for?” she snarled. “Go get whatever that darling little girl wants!”

Esmé twirled around and marched away, and Violet was glad to see that the villainous girlfriend’s outfit had two more lettuce leaves than had been visible from the front. The eldest Baudelaire was sorry to stop performing her flaneur errands and begin her duties as a concierge, but she stepped to the edge of the swimming pool, walking carefully on the tilted roof of the hotel and peering into the clouds of steam. “What is it you want, miss?” she asked, hoping Carmelita would not recognize her voice.

“A harpoon gun, of course!” Carmelita said. “Countie said that I can’t be a ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate without a harpoon gun.”

“Who’s Countie?” Geraldine asked.

“Esmé’s boyfriend,” Carmelita said. “He thinks I’m the most darling, special little girl in the entire world. He said if I used my harpoon gun properly he would teach me how to spit like a real ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate!”

“I can see the headline now,” Geraldine said into her microphone. “‘BALLPLAYING COWBOY SUPERHERO SOLDIER PIRATE LEARNS TO SPIT!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

“I’ll fetch you a harpoon gun, miss.” Violet promised, ducking to avoid the attendant’s spatula, which was overturning a sunbathing woman.

“Stop calling me ‘miss,’ you cakesniffer!” Carmelita said. “I’m a ballplaying cowboy superhero soldier pirate!”

Fetching objects for people who are too lazy to fetch them for themselves is never a pleasant task, particularly when the people are insulting you, but as Violet walked back to the elevator and pressed the button for it to arrive, she was not thinking about Carmelita’s atrocious behavior. She was too preoccupied, a word which here means “wondering what exactly Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats were doing at the Hotel Denouement.” The two unsavory females knew full well about V.F.D. and the plans for Thursday’s gathering, but the eldest Baudelaire did not believe for a minute that all they were planning was a cocktail party. As the doors slid open and Violet stepped inside, she wondered why Esmé was using her sunoculars to search the skies. She wondered what Carmelita wanted with a harpoon gun. She wondered how Esmé knew about the impostor J. S., who was apparently lurking around the basement of the hotel. But most of all, she wondered where Count Olaf—or, as Carmelita liked to call him, “Countie”—was hiding, and what treachery he was planning.

Violet was thinking so hard about her observations as a flaneur that it was only when the elevator doors shut that she remembered her errand as a concierge, and realized that she had no idea where to find a harpoon gun. Harpoon guns are not part of the usual equipment provided by a hotel, and the only time Violet had seen such a device was in Esmé Squalor’s own hands, back when she was disguised as a policewoman at the Village of Fowl Devotees. Even if the Hotel Denouement had thought to keep such a thing in the building, Violet could not imagine where she might find it in the Dewey Decimal System without a catalog. She wished Klaus were with her, as the only number of the Dewey Decimal System she knew by heart was 621, which labeled her favorite section, applied physics. With a glum sigh, the eldest Baudelaire pressed the button for the lobby.

“You’re asking me for help?” cried either Frank or Ernest, when Violet managed to find him. The lobby of the Hotel Denouement was even more crowded than when the Baudelaires had arrived, and it took Violet a few minutes before she could find the familiar figure of the volunteer or his villainous brother. “I’m the one who needs help,” he said. “An astonishing number of guests have arrived earlier than expected. I have no time to be a concierge helper.”

“I realize that you’re busy, sir,” Violet said. She knew that calling a person “sir” can often help you get what you want, unless of course the person is a woman. “A guest has requested a harpoon gun, and I don’t know where to find one. I wish the Hotel Denouement had a catalog.”

“You shouldn’t need a catalog,” the manager said. “Not if you’re who I think you are.”

Violet gasped, and either Frank or Ernest took one step closer to her. “Are you?” he asked. “Are you who I think you are?”

Violet blinked behind her sunglasses. There are people in this world who say that silence is golden, which simply means that they prefer a calm and peaceful hush to the noise and clutter of the world. There is nothing wrong with such a preference, but sadly there are times when a calm and peaceful hush is simply not possible. If you are watching the sun set, for instance, silence may permit you to be alone with your thoughts as you gaze at the darkening landscape, but it may be necessary to make a loud noise to scare off any grizzly bears that may be approaching. If you are riding in a taxi, you might prefer silence so you can study your map in peace, but the occasion may require you to shout, “Please turn around! I think they’ve driven through those hedges!” And if you have lost a loved one, as the Baudelaires did on the fateful day of a fire, you may wish very dearly for a long period of silence, so you and your siblings can contemplate your puzzling and woeful situation, but you may find yourself tossed from one dangerous situation to another, and another, and another, so that you begin to think you will never find yourself in a calm and peaceful hush. As Violet stood in the lobby, she wanted nothing more than to be silent, so that she might further observe the man standing next to her, and discover if he was a volunteer, to whom she could say, “Yes, I’m Violet Baudelaire,” or a villain, to whom she could say, “I’m sorry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But she knew that she could not not hope for a calm and peaceful hush in the chaos of Hotel Denouement, and so rather than remain silent she answered the manager’s question as best she could.

“Of course I’m who you think I am,” she said, feeling as if she were talking in code, although in a code she did not know. “I’m a concierge.”

“I see,” said Frank or Ernest unfathomably. “And who is requesting the harpoon gun?”

“A young girl on the roof,” Violet said.

“A young girl on the roof,” the manager repeated with a sly smile. “Are you sure a harpoon gun should be given to a young girl on the roof?”

Violet did not know how to answer him, but fortunately this appeared to be one of the times when silence is in fact golden, because at her silence, Frank or Ernest gave the eldest Baudelaire another smile and then turned on his heel—a phrase which here means “turned around in a somewhat fancy manner”—and beckoned Violet to follow him to a far corner of the lobby, where she saw a small door marked 121. “This number stands for epistemology,” he explained, using a word which here means “theories of knowledge” and looking hurriedly around the lobby as if he were being watched. “I thought it would be a good hiding place.”

Frank or Ernest took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door, which swung open with a quiet creak to reveal a small, bare closet. The only thing in the closet was a large, wicked-looking object, with a bright red trigger and four long, sharp hooks. The eldest Baudelaire recognized it from her stay in the Village of Fowl Devotees. She knew it was a harpoon gun, a deadly device that ought not to be in the hands of anyone, let alone Carmelita Spats. Violet did not want to touch it herself, but as the manager stood at the door gazing at her, she could think of no other choice, and carefully removed the device from the closet.

“Be very careful with this,” the manager said in an unfathomable tone. “A weapon like this should only be in the hands of the right person. I’m grateful for your assistance, concierge. Not many people have the courage to help with a scheme like this.”

Violet nodded silently, and silently took the heavy weapon from Frank or Ernest’s hands. In silence she walked back to the elevators, her head spinning with her mysterious observations as a flaneur and her mysterious errand as a concierge, and in silence she stood at the sliding elevator doors, wondering which manager she had spoken to, and what precisely she had said to him in her coded, quiet response. But just before the elevator arrived, Violet’s silence was shattered by an enormous noise.

The clock in the lobby of the Hotel Denouement is the stuff of legend, a phrase which here means “very famous for being very loud.” It is located in the very center of the ceiling, at the very top of the dome, and when the clock announces the hour, its bells clang throughout the entire building, making an immense, deep noise that sounds like a certain word being uttered once for each hour. At this particular moment, it was three o’clock, and everyone in the hotel could hear the booming ring of the enormous bells of the clock, uttering the word three times in succession: Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

As she boarded the elevator, the harpoon gun heavy and sinister in her gloved hands, Violet Baudelaire felt as if the clock were scolding her for her efforts at solving the mysteries of the Hotel Denouement. Wrong! She had tried her best to be a flaneur, but hadn’t observed enough to decode the scheme of Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats. Wrong! She had tried to communicate with one of the hotel’s managers, but had been unable to discover whether he was Frank or Ernest. And—most Wrong! of all—she was now taking a deadly weapon to the rooftop sunbathing salon, where it would serve some unknown, sinister purpose. With each strike of the clock, Violet felt wronger and wronger, until at last she reached her destination, and stepped out of the elevator. She dearly hoped her two siblings had found more success in their errands, for as she walked across the roof, avoiding a spatula as it flipped the guests on their mirrored mats, until at last she could hoist the harpoon gun into Carmelita’s eager and ungrateful hands, all the eldest Baudelaire could think was that everything was wrong, wrong, wrong.

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