بخش 03

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: خطر ماقبل آخر / فصل 3

بخش 03

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CHAPTER Five

When the elevator reached the sixth story, Klaus bade good-bye to Violet and stepped out into a long, empty hallway. The hallway was lined with numbered doors, odd numbers on one side and even numbers on the other, and large ornamental vases, too large to hold flowers and too small to hold spies. On the floor was a smooth, gray carpet that muffled each of the middle Baudelaire’s uncertain steps. Although Klaus had never set foot in the Hotel Denouement before today, walking down the hallway gave him a familiar feeling. It was the feeling he had whenever he entered a library with an important problem to solve, suspecting that somewhere within the library’s collection of books was the perfect answer to whatever question was foremost on his mind. He had this feeling when he and his siblings were living just off Lousy Lane, and he solved the murder of Uncle Monty with crucial information he discovered in a herpetological library. He had this feeling when he and his siblings were deep in the ocean, and he managed to dilute the poison infecting Sunny by finding a significant fact in a mycological library belonging to Fiona, a young woman who had broken Klaus’s heart. And as he stood in the hallway, gazing at all of the numbered doors that stretched out as far as his eyes could see, Klaus Baudelaire had the feeling again. Hidden somewhere in this hotel, he was sure, was something or someone that could answer all the Baudelaires’ questions, solve all of the Baudelaires’ mysteries, and put an end at last to all the Baudelaires’ woes. It was as if he could hear this answer calling to him, like a baby crying at the bottom of a damp well, or an alarm clock ringing underneath a heap of damp blankets.

Without a catalog, however, Klaus had no idea where such a solution might be, so he made his way toward his concierge errand in Room 674, hoping that whatever he would observe as a flaneur might bring him closer to unraveling the Baudelaires’ list of misfortunes. When he stopped in front of the numbered door, however, it appeared that he was only adding another misfortune to this woeful list. Smoke was pouring out of the gap between the door and the floor, spreading out across the hallway like a sinister stain.

“Hello?” Klaus called, knocking on the door.

“Hello yourself,” called back a voice that sounded slightly familiar and utterly unconcerned. “Are you one of those concertinas?”

“I’m a concierge,” Klaus said, not bothering to explain that a concertina is a kind of accordion. “Can I be of assistance?”

“Of course you can be of assistance!” the voice called back. “That’s why I rang for you! Enter at once!”

Klaus, of course, did not want to enter a room that was filled with smoke, but working, even for the purposes of secretly observing the mysteries of a hotel, usually means doing things you do not want to do, so the middle Baudelaire opened the door, releasing an enormous amount of smoke into the hallway, and took a few hesitant steps into the room. Through the smoke he could see a short figure, dressed in a suit of shiny green cloth, standing at the far end of the room, facing the window. Behind his back he held a cigar that was clearly responsible for all the smoke wafting past Klaus into the hallway. But Klaus did not care about the smoke. He hardly even noticed it. He merely stared in dismay at the person standing at the window, a person he had hoped he would never see again.

You have probably heard the tiresome expression “It’s a small world,” which people use to explain a coincidence. For instance, if you walk into an Italian restaurant and encounter a waiter you recognize, the waiter might cry, “It’s a small world!” as if it were unavoidable that the two of you would be at the same restaurant at the same time. But if you’ve ever taken even the shortest of walks, you know the truth of the matter. It is not a small world. It is a large world, and there are Italian restaurants sprinkled all over it, employing waiters who have crucial messages for you and waiters who are trying to make sure you never receive them, and these pairs of waiters are engaged in an argument that began many years ago, when you were so young that it was not safe to feed you even the softest of gnocchi. The world is not small but enormous, and Klaus had hoped that this enormous world was big enough that a guest of the Hotel Denouement employed in the lumber industry and staying in Room 674 would not be the horrid man who had employed him and his sisters at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. During their dreadful stay in Paltryville, the Baudelaires never saw the man’s face, which was always covered by a cloud of smoke from his cigar, and they never learned the man’s real name, which was so difficult to pronounce that he made everyone call him “Sir,” but they learned plenty about his greedy and cruel behavior, and Klaus was not happy to learn that this enormous world was going to treat him to another helping of Sir’s selfishness.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” Sir shouted. “Ask what you can do for me!”

“What can I do for you, Sir?” Klaus asked.

Sir whirled around, and the cloud around his head whirled around, too. “How did you know my name?” he asked suspiciously.

“The concierge didn’t know your name,” said another voice patiently, and Klaus saw, through the smoke, a second person he had not noticed, sitting on the bed in a bathrobe with HOTEL DENOUEMENT embroidered on the back. This man was also familiar from the Baudelaires’ days at Lucky Smells, although Klaus did not know whether to be happy to see him or not. On one hand, Charles had always been kind to the children, and although his kindness had not been enough to save them from danger, it is always a relief to discover there is a kind person in the room that you had not noticed previously. On the other hand, however, Klaus was sorry to see that Charles was still partners with Sir, who enjoyed bossing around Charles almost as much as he did the Baudelaires. “I’m sure the concierge calls all the male guests in this hotel ‘sir.’”

“Of course he does!” Sir shouted. “I’m not an idiot! Now then, concertina, we want to be taken to the sauna right away!”

“Yes sir,” Klaus said, grateful that either Frank or Ernest had mentioned that the sauna was in Room 613. A sauna is a room constructed out of wood and kept very, very hot, in which people can sit in steam, which is believed to be beneficial to one’s health, and Klaus would have found it very difficult to find such a room in the Hotel Denouement without a catalog. “The sauna should be down the hall, on the opposite side,” Klaus said. “If you gentlemen will follow me, I’ll take you there.”

“I’m sorry we made you come all the way to our rooms just to take us right down the hall,” Charles said.

“It’s my pleasure,” Klaus said. As I’m sure you know, when people say, “It’s my pleasure,” they usually mean something along the lines of, “There’s nothing on Earth I would rather do less,” but the middle Baudelaire was hoping that he could learn why the Baudelaires’ former guardian and his partner had journeyed from Paltryville to the Hotel Denouement.

“Let’s go this very instant!” Sir shouted, marching out into the hallway.

“Don’t you want to change into a bathing suit?” Charles asked. “If you’re fully clothed, you won’t get the health benefits of the steam.”

“I don’t care about the health benefits of the steam!” Sir shouted. “I’m not an idiot! I just love the smell of hot wood!”

Charles sighed, and followed Klaus out of Room 674 and into the hallway. “I was hoping my partner would relax during our stay here,” he said, “but I’m afraid he’s taking a busman’s holiday.”

“Busman’s holiday” is an expression which refers to when people do the same thing on vacation that they do in their everyday lives, such as plumbers who visit the Museum of Sinks, or villains who disguise themselves even on their days off. But Klaus could not believe that these two men were merely vacationing in the Hotel Denouement, just two days before V.F.D. was to gather. “Are you here on business?” he asked, hoping that Charles would keep talking as they approached the sauna.

“Don’t tell that concertina anything!” Sir cried, continuing to use the word for “accordion” instead of the word for “hotel employee.” “He’s supposed to be at our beck and call, not nosing around in our business like a spy!”

“Forgive me, Sir,” Klaus said, as calmly as he could. “We’ve arrived at the sauna.”

Sure enough, Klaus, Sir, and Charles had arrived at Room 613, which had a mass of steam pouring out of the gap between the door and the floor, like a mirror image of Sir’s cigar smoke pouring out of Room 674. “You can wait outside, concertina,” said Sir. “We’ll shout for you when we’re ready to be escorted back to our room.”

“We don’t need to be escorted,” Charles said timidly, opening the door. Inside, Klaus could see nothing but a mass of whirling steam. “It’s just down the hallway. I’m sure the concierge has enough to do without waiting around for us.”

“But someone has to hold my cigar!” Sir shouted. “I can’t walk into a room full of steam with a head full of smoke! I’m not an idiot!”

“Of course not,” Charles said with a sigh, and walked into the sauna. Sir handed Klaus the cigar and strode into the sauna before the cloud of smoke around his head could clear. Behind him, the door started to close, but Klaus thought quickly and stuck out his foot. The door remained open just a crack, and as quietly as he could he swung the door back open and slipped inside, pausing to balance Sir’s cigar on the rim of one of the ornamental vases. As he suspected, the steam was so thick inside the sauna that he could not see Sir or his partner, which meant the Paltryville citizens could not see him, either, while they sat and talked in the heated room. It was a flaneur’s perfect opportunity to eavesdrop on a private conversation.

“I wish you could be more polite,” Charles said, his voice drifting through the steam. “There was no reason to accuse that concierge of being a spy.”

“I was just trying to be cautious!” Sir said gruffly, a word which here means “in a tone that indicated he had no intention of being more polite.” Klaus heard the crinkle of his shiny suit, and imagined that the lumbermill owner was shrugging. “You’re the one who said enemies might be lurking in this hotel!”

“That’s what I was told in the letter I received,” Charles said. “According to J. S., we must be very cautious if we want to find the Baudelaires.”

Klaus was grateful that his amazed expression was hidden in the steam. The middle Baudelaire could not imagine why the mysterious impostor J. S. was helping Charles find him and his sisters, and if it had not been so hot in the sauna he would have broken out in a cold sweat, a phrase which here means “felt very nervous about the conversation he was observing.”

“I don’t want to find the Baudelaires!” Sir said. “Those orphans were nothing but trouble for the lumbermill!”

“They weren’t the cause of the trouble,” Charles said. “Count Olaf was. Don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember!” Sir cried. “I’m not an idiot! Count Olaf disguised himself as a rather attractive young lady, and worked with that sinister hypnotist to cause accidents in my mill! If the Baudelaires didn’t have that fortune waiting for them in the bank, Olaf never would have done all that mischief! It’s the orphans’ fault!”

“I suppose you’re right,” Charles said, “but I still would like to find them. According to The Daily Punctilio, the Baudelaires are in a heap of trouble.”

“According to The Daily Punctilio,” Sir said, “the Baudelaires are murderers! For all we know, that bookworm with the eyeglasses could sneak up on us right here in the hotel and kill us to death!”

“The children aren’t going to murder us,” Charles said, “although after their experiences at Lucky Smells I could hardly blame them. In fact, if I manage to find them, the first thing I’ll do is give them my sincere apologies. Perhaps I can ask one of the concierges for a pair of binoculars. J. S. said they might be arriving by submarine, so I could watch for a periscope rising from the sea.”

“I wish our room had a view of the pond instead,” Sir said. “When I’m done with a cigar, I like to drop the butt into a calm body of water and watch the pretty ripples.”

“I’m not sure that would be good for the pond,” Charles said.

“What do I care about the pond?” Sir demanded. “I have better things to do than worry about the environment. The Finite Forest is running low on trees, so business is bad for the lumbermill. The last big order we had was for building that horseradish factory, and that was a very long time ago. I’m hoping Thursday’s cocktail party will be an excellent opportunity to do some business. After all, if it weren’t for my lumber, this hotel wouldn’t even exist!”

“I remember,” Charles said. “We had to deliver the lumber in the middle of the night. But Sir, you told me you never heard from that organization again.”

“I didn’t,” Sir said, “until now. You’re not the only one who gets notes from this fellow J. S. I’m invited to a party he’s hosting on Thursday night, and he said I should bring all my valuables. That must mean plenty of rich people will be there—rich people who might want to buy some lumber.”

“Perhaps if the lumbermill becomes more successful,” Charles said, “we could pay our employees with money, instead of just gum and coupons.”

“Don’t be an idiot!” Sir said. “Gum and coupons is a fair deal! If you spent less time reading and more time thinking about lumber, you’d care more about money and less about people!”

“There’s nothing wrong with caring about people,” Charles said quietly. “I care about you, Sir. And I care about the Baudelaires. If what J. S. wrote is true, then their parents—”

“Excuse me.” The door of the sauna swung open, and Klaus saw a tall, dim figure step into the steam.

“Is that my concertina?” Sir barked. “I told you to wait outside!”

“No, I’m one of the managers of the hotel,” said either Frank or Ernest. “We do have a concertina available in Room 786, if you’re interested in musical instruments. I’m sorry to interrupt your afternoon, but I’m afraid I must ask all guests to vacate the sauna. A situation has arisen that requires the use of this room. If you are interested in steam, there’s quite a bit of it in Room—”

“I don’t care about steam!” cried Sir. “I just like smelling hot wood! Where else can I smell hot wood, except in the sauna?”

“Room 547 is dedicated to organic chemistry,” replied the manager. “There are all sorts of smelly things there.”

Klaus quickly opened the sauna door and pretended to walk inside. “I’d be happy to take our guests to Room 547,” he said, hoping to observe the rest of Sir and Charles’s conversation.

“No, no,” the manager said. “You’re needed here, concierge. By a strange coincidence there happens to be a chemist standing in the hallway who would be happy to escort these two gentlemen.”

“Oh, all right!” Sir said, and stomped out of the sauna, where a figure stood in a long, white coat and a mask such as surgeons or chemists wear over their noses and mouths. Sir reached down and picked up his cigar from the ornamental vase, restoring the cloud of smoke to his face just as the cloud of steam evaporated, and without another word he and his partner followed the chemist away from the sauna, leaving Klaus alone with the volunteer or villain.

“Be very careful with this,” said either Frank or Ernest, handing a large, rigid object to Klaus. It was something flat and wide, rolled into a thick tube like a sleeping bag. “When it’s unrolled, the surface is very sticky—so sticky that anything it touches becomes trapped. Do you know what this is called?”

“Flypaper,” Klaus said, remembering a book he had read about the adventures of an exterminator. “Is the hotel having an insect problem?”

“Our problem is not with insects,” the manager said. “It’s with birds. This is birdpaper. I need you to attach one end to the windowsill of this room, and dangle the rest outside, over the pond. Can you guess why?”

“To trap birds,” Klaus said.

“You’re obviously very well-read,” said Ernest or Frank, although it was impossible to tell whether he was impressed or disgusted with this fact. “So you know that birds can cause all sorts of problems. For instance, I’ve heard about a swarm of eagles that recently stole a great crowd of children. What do you think of that?”

Klaus gasped. He knew, of course, exactly what he thought of the great swarm of eagles who kidnapped a troop of Snow Scouts while the Baudelaires were living on Mount Fraught. He thought it was horrid, but the face on the volunteer or villain was so unfathomable that the middle Baudelaire could not tell if the manager thought so, too. “I think it’s remarkable,” Klaus said finally, carefully choosing a word which here means either wonderful or horrible.

“That’s a remarkable answer,” replied either Frank or Ernest, and then Klaus heard the manager sigh thoughtfully. “Tell me,” he said, “are you who I think you are?”

Klaus blinked behind his glasses, and behind the sunglasses that lay on top of them. Deciding on a safe answer to a question is like deciding on a safe ingredient in a sandwich, because if you make the wrong decision you may find that something horrible is coming out of your mouth. As Klaus stood in the sauna, he wanted nothing more than to decide on a safe answer, such as “Yes, I’m Klaus Baudelaire,” if he were talking to Frank, or “I’m sorry I don’t know what you’re talking about,” if he were talking to Ernest. But he knew there was no way to tell if either of those answers was safe, so he opened his mouth and uttered the only other answer he could think of.

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

“I see,” said Frank or Ernest, as unfathomable as ever. “I’m grateful for your assistance, concierge. Not many people have the courage to help with a scheme like this.”

Without another word, the manager left, and Klaus was alone in the sauna. Carefully, he walked through the steam and felt his way to the window, which he managed to unlatch and open, swinging a shutter marked out over the pond. As will happen when a very hot room is exposed to cold air, the steam raced through the window and evaporated. With the steam gone, Klaus could see the wooden walls and benches that comprised the sauna, and he only wished that everything were as clear in his own head as it was in Room 613. In silence, he attached one end of the birdpaper to the windowsill, his head spinning with his mysterious observations as a flaneur and his mysterious errand as a concierge, and in silence he dangled the rest outside, where it curved stiffly over the pond like a slide at a playground. In silence he gazed at this strange arrangement, and wondered which manager had requested such an odd task. But before he could leave the sauna, Klaus’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 he turned away from the sauna’s open window and walked back down the hall toward the elevator doors, Klaus Baudelaire felt as if the clock were scolding him for his efforts at solving the mysteries of the Hotel Denouement. Wrong! He had tried his best to be a flaneur, but hadn’t observed enough to know exactly what Sir and Charles were doing at the hotel. Wrong! He 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—he had performed his errand as a concierge, and now a strip of birdpaper was dangling out of the Hotel Denouement, where it would serve some unknown, sinister purpose. With each strike of the clock, Klaus felt wronger and wronger, and as he stepped inside the small elevator, he frowned in thought. He dearly hoped his two siblings had found more success in their errands, for as he walked through the sliding doors and pressed the button to return to the lobby, all the middle Baudelaire could think was that everything was wrong, wrong, wrong.

CHAPTER Six

When the elevator reached the third story, Sunny bid good-bye to her siblings and stepped out into a long, empty hallway. Numbered doors lined the hallway, odd numbers on one side and even numbers on the other, as well as large, ornamental vases that were taller than Sunny but not nearly as charming. The youngest Baudelaire walked on the smooth, gray carpet in nervous, uncertain steps. Pretending to be a concierge in order to be a flaneur, in the hopes of unraveling a mystery unfolding in an enormous, perplexing hotel, was a difficult enough task for her older siblings, but it was particularly difficult for someone just growing out of babyhood. Over the past few months, Sunny Baudelaire had improved her walking abilities, adopted a more standard vocabulary, and even learned how to cook, but she was still unsure whether she could successfully pass for a hotel professional. As she approached the guests who had rung for a concierge, she decided that she would adopt a taciturn demeanor, a phrase which here means “only communicate when absolutely necessary, so as not to call attention to her youth and relative inexperience in employment.”

When Sunny reached Room 371 she thought at first there had been some mistake. Down in the lobby, either Frank or Ernest had told the Baudelaires that educational guests were staying in that particular room, but the youngest Baudelaire could not imagine what educational purpose could explain the unearthly sounds coming from behind the door, unless perhaps a teacher was giving a class on how to torture a small animal. Someone—or something—in Room 371 was making dreadful squeaks, strange moans, piercing whistles, irritating shrieks, mysterious mutterings, and, suddenly, a melodic hum or two, and the sounds were so loud that it was a moment before anyone heard Sunny’s gloved fists knocking on the door.

“Who dares interrupt a genius when he’s rehearsing?” said a voice that was loud, booming, and strangely familiar.

“Concierge,” Sunny called.

“Concierge,” the voice mimicked back to Sunny, in a high, squealing tone that the Baudelaire recognized instantly, and to her dismay the door opened and there stood a person she had hoped she would never encounter again.

If you have ever worked someplace and then, later, not worked there, then you know there are three ways you can leave a job: you can quit, you can be fired, or you can exit by mutual agreement. “Quit,” as I’m sure you know, is a word which means that you were disappointed with your employer. “Fired,” of course, is a word which means that your employer was disappointed with you. And “exit by mutual agreement” is a phrase which means that you wanted to quit, and your employer wanted to fire you, and that you ran out of the office, factory, or monastery before anyone could decide who got to go first. In any case, no matter which method you use to leave a job, it is never pleasant to run into a former employer, because it reminds both of you of all the miserable time you spent working together. I once threw myself down a flight of stairs rather than face even one moment with a milliner, at whose shop I quit working after discovering the sinister truth about her berets, only to find that the paramedic who repaired my fractured arm was a man who had fired me from a job playing accordion in his orchestra after only two and half performances of a certain opera. It would be difficult to say whether Sunny ended her brief stint—a word which here means “dreadful period of time”—working as an administrative assistant at Prufrock Preparatory School by quitting, getting fired, or exiting by mutual agreement, as she and her siblings were removed from the boarding school after a scheme of Count Olaf’s almost succeeded, but it was still unpleasant to be face-to-face with Vice Principal Nero after all this time.

“What do you want?” Nero demanded, brandishing the violin that had been making all that dreadful noise. Sunny was not pleased to see that Nero’s four pigtails, which were quite short when she had first made the vice principal’s acquaintance, had grown into long, stringy braids, and that he still liked to wear a necktie decorated with pictures of snails.

“You rang,” Sunny said, as taciturnly as she could.

“You rang,” Nero mimicked immediately. “Well, so what if I did? Ringing for you is no excuse for interrupting me while I’m practicing the violin. I have a very important violin recital on Thursday, and I plan on rehearsing every moment until then.”

“Please, boss,” said another familiar voice, and Nero turned around, his greasy braids swinging behind him. Sunny saw, to her dismay, that Nero was sharing Room 371 with two other figures from the Baudelaires’ past. “You said we could stop for a lunch break,” continued Mr. Remora, who had been Violet’s teacher at Prufrock Preparatory School, although it would be difficult to say exactly what kind of teacher he was, as all he liked to do was tell short, pointless stories, and eat banana after banana, occasionally smearing the yellow pulp all over his mustache, which was as dark and thick as a gorilla’s thumb.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a dekagram of rice,” said Mrs. Bass, who had been Klaus’s teacher. It was clear that her enthusiasm for measuring things according to the metric system had remained the same, but the youngest Baudelaire noticed that her appearance had changed somewhat. On top of her shaggy, black hair was a small blond wig, like a snowcap on the top of a mountain peak, and she was wearing a small, narrow mask with two tiny holes for her eyes. “I’ve heard there’s a wonderful Indian restaurant in Room 954.”

Normally, Sunny would have replied with “Andiamo,” which was her way of saying, “I’d be happy to take you there,” but she was afraid that her manner of speaking would give away her true identity, so instead she continued her taciturn demeanor by giving the three guests a little bow, and gesturing down the hallway with one of her gloves. Vice Principal Nero looked disappointed, but then gave Sunny a simpering glance and mimicked her gestures in an insulting way, proving he could mock someone even if they didn’t speak.

“Don’t you think you should bring your loot, Mrs. Bass?” asked Mr. Remora, pointing to the far wall of Room 371.

“No, no,” Mrs. Bass said quickly, her eyes blinking nervously through the holes in the mask. “It’ll be safer in the room.”

Sunny tilted her head so she could stare past the teacher’s knees, and made her first important observation as a flaneur. Piled on a table in the hotel room, right near a window overlooking the sea, was a large, bulky pile of large, bulky bags, each with the words PROPERTY OF MULCTUARY MONEY MANAGEMENT stamped on them in stern black ink. The youngest Baudelaire could not imagine why Mrs. Bass was in possession of something from the bank where Mr. Poe worked, but with two teachers and one vice principal waiting impatiently in the hallway, she had no time to stop and think. With another taciturn gesture, she quickly led the guests toward the elevator, grateful that Mrs. Bass knew the location of the restaurant. The youngest Baudelaire would have had no idea how to find an Indian restaurant in the Hotel Denouement without a catalog.

“I’m very excited about my recital,” Vice Principal Nero said, as the small elevator began its journey to the ninth story. “I’m sure all of the music critics at the cocktail party will love my performance. As soon as I’m recognized as a genius, I can finally quit my job at Prufrock Prep!”

“How do you know there will be music critics at the party?” Mr. Remora asked. “My invitation just said there’d be an all-you-can-eat banana buffet.”

“Mine didn’t say anything about music critics, either,” Mrs. Bass said. “It just says that there’s a party in celebration of the metric system, and that I should bring as many valuables as possible so they could be measured. As a teacher, I don’t earn enough money to purchase any valuables, so I had to resort to a life of crime.”

“I had to resort to a life of crime,” Nero mimicked. “I can’t believe a genius like myself was invited to the same party as you two. Esmé Squalor and her boyfriend must have accidentally mailed you those invitations.”

Sunny’s eyes narrowed in thought behind her enormous sunglasses. Esmé Squalor’s boyfriend, of course, was none other than Count Olaf. After so much time struggling against his villainous schemes, the youngest Baudelaire was not surprised to hear that Olaf was planning further treachery, but she could not imagine why he was luring her former employer to the hotel. She would have loved to continue her observations as a flaneur, but as the elevator came to a stop, she had to return to her duties as a concierge, and utter at least one taciturn word.

“Nine,” she said.

“Nine,” Nero mimicked, and pushed his way to the front so he could exit the elevator first. Sunny followed, and quickly guided the three guests to the door numbered 954, which she opened with a silent flourish.

“Can I help you?” asked a wavering voice, and Sunny was astonished to recognize yet another person from the Baudelaires’ past. He was a very old man, wearing very tiny glasses, each lens scarcely larger than a green pea. When the children had first met this man, he had not been wearing a hat of any kind, but today he had wrapped a length of cloth around his head and secured it in place with a shiny red jewel. Sunny remembered such a turban on the head of Count Olaf when he had disguised himself as a gym teacher, but she could not guess why such a thing would be worn by the man the Baudelaires had met at Heimlich Hospital.

“Can I help you?” Nero mimicked. “Of course you can help us! We’re starving!”

“I didn’t realize this was a sad occasion,” said Hal, squinting through his glasses.

“It won’t be a sad occasion if you feed us,” Mr. Remora said.

Hal frowned, as if Mr. Remora had given the wrong response, but he quickly ushered the three guests to a wooden table in the otherwise deserted restaurant. “We are proud to serve a wide variety of Indian dishes,” he said, handing out menus and pouring everyone a glass of water. “The culinary history of the region is quite interesting, actually. When the British—”

“I’ll have ten grams of rice,” Mrs. Bass interrupted, “one tenth of a hectogram of shrimp vindaloo, a dekagram of chana aloo masala, one thousand centigrams of tandoori salmon, four samosas with a surface area of ninteen cubic centimeters, five deciliters of mango lassi, and a sada rava dosai that’s exactly nineteen centimeters long.”

Sunny hoped Hal would talk about some of the dishes Mrs. Bass had ordered, so her observations as a flaneur might also improve her cooking skills, but he merely wrote down her order without comment and turned to Mr. Remora, who was frowning at the menu.

“I’ll have forty-eight orders of fried bananas,” he said, after much thought.

“Interesting choice,” Hal commented. “And you, sir?”

“A bag of candy!” Vice Principal Nero demanded. Sunny had almost forgotten that her former employer enjoyed demanding candy from anyone he could.

“Candy is not a traditional Indian dish,” Hal said. “If you’re not sure what to order, allow me to recommend the combination plate.”

“Allow me to recommend the combination plate!” Nero mimicked, glaring at Hal. “Never mind. I won’t eat anything! It’s probably dangerous to eat candy from foreigners!”

Hal did not reply to this bout of xenophobia—a word for a fear or disgust of foreign cultures that Jerome Squalor had taught the Baudelaires a while ago—but merely nodded. “Your lunches will be ready shortly,” he said. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”

“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything,” Nero mimicked immediately, as Hal walked through a pair of swinging doors. With a sigh, he moved his water glass off his placemat and onto the wooden table, where it was sure to leave a ring, and turned to the two teachers. “That foreigner’s head reminds me of that nice man Coach Genghis.”

“Nice man?” Mr. Remora asked. “If I remember correctly, he was a notorious villain in disguise.”

Mrs. Bass reached up and nervously adjusted her wig. “Just because someone is a criminal,” she said, “does not mean they’re not a nice person. Besides, if you’re on the run from the law, you’re bound to get cranky from time to time.”

“Speaking of running from the law—” Mr. Remora said, but the vice principal cut off his sentence with a glare.

“We’ll talk about that later,” he said quickly, and then turned to Sunny. “Concierge, go get us some napkins,” he said, clearly inventing an excuse to get the youngest Baudelaire out of earshot. “Just because I’m not eating doesn’t mean I can’t get food on my chin!”

Sunny nodded taciturnly, and walked toward the swinging doors. As a flaneur, she was sorry to halt her observations, particularly when the guests of Room 371 seemed about to discuss something important. But as a budding gourmand—a phrase which here means “young girl with a strong interest in cooking”—she was eager to get a look at a restaurant kitchen. Ever since Justice Strauss had taken the Baudelaires to the market in order to buy ingredients to make puttanesca sauce, Sunny had been interested in the culinary arts, although it was only recently that she had matured enough to develop this interest. If you have never taken a peek inside a restaurant kitchen, it is something you may want to try, because it is full of interesting items and it is usually quite easy to sneak in, providing that you don’t mind being glared at if you are discovered. But when Sunny stepped through the swinging doors, she did not notice a single interesting item in the kitchen. For one thing, the kitchen was swirling with steam, from a dozen pots that were boiling in every corner of the room. The cloudy air made it difficult to see much of anything, but that was not the main reason Sunny was ignoring the culinary equipment. There was a conversation going on between two unfathomable figures in the room, and what was being said was far more interesting than any ingredient or gadget used in preparing traditional Indian dishes.

“I have news from J. S.,” either Frank or Ernest was whispering to Hal. Both men were standing with their backs to Sunny and leaning in toward one another so they could talk as quietly as possible. Sunny maneuvered into the middle of a particularly thick cloud of steam so that she wouldn’t be seen.

“J. S.?” Hal said. “She’s here?”

“She’s here to help,” the manager corrected. “She’s been using her Vision Furthering Device to watch the skies, and I’m afraid she reports that we will all be eating crow.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hal said. “Crow is a tough bird to cook, because the meat is very muscular from all the carrying that crows do.”

Sunny scratched her head with one glove in puzzlement. The expression “eating crow” simply means “enduring humiliation,” and the youngest Baudelaire had learned it from her parents, who liked to tease each other after playing one another at backgammon. “Bertrand,” Sunny could remember her mother saying, tossing the dice to the ground in triumph, “I have won again. Prepare to eat crow.” Then, with a gleam in her eyes, she would pounce on Sunny’s father and tickle him, while the Baudelaire children piled on top of their parents in a laughing heap. But Hal seemed to be discussing the eating of crow as an actual culinary dish, rather than a figure of speech, and the youngest Baudelaire wondered if there were more to this Indian restaurant than she had thought.

“It is a shame,” agreed either Frank or Ernest. “If only there was something that could make the dish a little sweeter. I’ve heard that certain mushrooms are available.”

“Sugar would be better than mushrooms,” Hal said unfathomably.

“According to our calculations, the sugar will be laundered sometime after nightfall,” replied the manager, equally unfathomably.

“I’m glad,” Hal said. “My job’s been difficult enough. Do you know how many leaves of lettuce I’ve had to send up to the roof?”

Frank or Ernest frowned. “Tell me,” he said, in an even more quiet tone of voice. “Are you who I think you are?”

“Are you who I think you are?” replied Hal, equally quietly.

Sunny crept closer, hoping to hear more of the conversation to learn if either Frank or Ernest was referring to the Medusoid Mycelium, which was a type of mushroom, or if Hal was referring to the sugar bowl. But to the youngest Baudelaire’s dismay the floor creaked slightly, and the cloud of steam swirled away, and Hal and Ernest, or perhaps Frank, spun around to gasp at her.

“Are you who I think you are?” said the two men in unison.

One of the advantages of being taciturn is that it is rare for your words to get you into trouble. A taciturn writer, for instance, might produce only one short poem every ten years, which is unlikely to annoy anyone, whereas someone who writes twelve or thirteen books in a relatively short time is likely to find themselves hiding under the coffee table of a notorious villain, holding his breath, hoping nobody at the cocktail party will notice the trembling backgammon set, and wondering, as the ink-stain spreads across the carpeting, if certain literary exercises have been entirely worthwhile. If Sunny had decided to adopt a chatty demeanor, she would have had to think of a lengthy reply to the question she had just been asked, and she could not imagine what that reply might be. If she knew that the manager in the kitchen was Frank, she would say something along the lines of, “Sunny Baudelaire please help,” which was her way of saying, “Yes, I’m Sunny Baudelaire, and my siblings and I need your help uncovering the mysterious plot unfolding in the Hotel Denouement, and signaling our findings to the members of V.F.D.” If she knew that it was Ernest who was staring at her, she would say something more like, “No Habla Esperanto,” which was her way of saying, “I’m sorry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The presence of Hal, of course, made the situation even more complicated, because the children had exited their employment at Heimlich Hospital’s Library of Records by mutual agreement, as Hal believed that they were responsible for lighting the Library of Records on fire, and the Baudelaires needed to flee the hospital as quickly as possible, but Sunny had no way of knowing if Hal continued to hold a grudge—a phrase which here means “was an enemy of the Baudelaires”—or if he was working at the hotel as a volunteer. But Sunny had adopted a taciturn demeanor, and a taciturn answer was all that was required.

“Concierge,” she said, and that was enough. Hal looked at Frank, or perhaps it was Ernest, and Ernest, or perhaps it was Frank, looked back at Hal. The two men nodded, and then crossed to a shiny cabinet at the far end of the kitchen. Hal opened the cabinet and handed a large, strange object to either Frank or Ernest, who looked it over and handed it to Sunny. The object was like a large, metal spider, with curly wires spreading out in all directions, but where the head of the spider might have been was the keyboard of a typewriter.

“Do you know what this is?” asked the villain or volunteer.

“Yes,” the youngest Baudelaire said. Sunny had never seen such a device, but her siblings had described the strange lock they had encountered in a secret passageway hidden deep within the Mortmain Mountains. Had it not been for Violet’s knowledge of science and Klaus’s remarkable memory for Russian literature, they might never have opened the lock, and Sunny would still be Count Olaf’s captive.

“Be very careful with it,” said either Frank or Ernest. “When you place this device on the knob of an ordinary door, and press the letters V, F, and D, it will become a Vernacularly Fastened Door. I want you to take the elevator to the basement, and vernacularly fasten Room 025.”

“That’s the laundry room, you know,” said Hal, squinting at Sunny through his glasses. “As with many laundry rooms, there’s a vent, which funnels the steam from all the washing machines to the outside, so the room doesn’t overheat.”

“But if something were to fall from the sky at just the right angle,” said Frank or Ernest, “it might fall down the funnel and into the room. And if that something were very valuable, then the room ought to be locked up tight, so that the item would not fall into the wrong hands.”

Sunny Baudelaire had no idea what these two adults were talking about, and wished that she were still standing unnoticed in the steam, so she could observe the rest of their conversation. But she gripped the strange lock in her gloved hands and knew that it was not time to be a flaneur.

“I’m grateful for your assistance, concierge,” Frank said, or maybe it was Ernest, or maybe the man answering was neither brother. “Not many people have the courage to help with a scheme like this.”

Sunny gave one more taciturn nod, and turned to exit the kitchen. In silence she walked through the swinging doors and across the restaurant, not even pausing to listen to the whispered conversation Vice Principal Nero was having with Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass, and in silence she opened the door to Room 954 and walked down the hallway to the elevator. It was only when she was traveling down to the basement that Sunny’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 walked through the sliding doors of the elevator and down the basement hallway, past the ornamental vases and numbered doors, Sunny 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 discover what two teachers and a vice principal from Prufrock Preparatory School were doing at the hotel. 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, or whether Hal was a volunteer or an enemy. And—most Wrong! of all—she was performing an errand as a concierge, and was now turning the entrance to the laundry room into a Vernacularly Fastened Door for some unknown, sinister purpose. With each strike of the clock, Sunny felt wronger and wronger, until at last she reached Room 025, where a washerwoman with long, blond hair and rumpled clothing was just shutting the door on her way out. With a hurried nod, the washerwoman padded down the hallway. Sunny dearly hoped her two siblings had found more success in their errands, for as she placed the lock on the doorknob, and typed the letters V-F-D into the typewriter keyboard, all the youngest Baudelaire could think was that everything was wrong, wrong, wrong.

ALSO NOT A CHAPTER

At this point, the history of the Baudelaire orphans reverts to its sequential format, and if you are interested in finishing the story, you should read the chapters in the order in which they appear, although I dearly hope you are not interested in finishing the story, any more than the story is interested in finishing you.

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