بخش 06

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: خطر ماقبل آخر / فصل 6

بخش 06

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CHAPTER Eleven

An old expression, used even before the schism, says that people should not see the creation of laws or sausages. This makes sense, as the creation of sausages involves taking various parts of different animals and shaping them until they are presentable at breakfast, and the creation of laws involves taking various parts of different ideas and shaping them until they are presentable at breakfast, and most people prefer to spend their breakfasts eating food and reading the newspaper without being exposed to creation of any sort whatsoever.

The High Court, like most courts, was not involved in the creation of laws, but it was involved in the interpretation of laws, which is as perplexing and unfathomable as their creation, and like the interpretation of sausages is something that also should not be seen. If you were to put this book down, and travel to the pond that now reflects nothing but a few burnt scraps of wood and the empty skies, and if you were to find the hidden passageway that leads to the underwater catalog that has remained secret and safe for all these years, you could read an account of an interpretation of sausages that went horribly wrong and led to the destruction of a very important bathyscaphe, all because I mistakenly thought the sausages were arranged in the shape of a K when actually the waiter had been trying to make an R, and an account of an interpretation of the law that went horribly wrong, although it would hardly be worth the trip as that account is also contained in the remaining chapters of this book, but if you were at all sensible you would shield your eyes from such interpretations, as they are too dreadful to read. As Violet, Klaus, and Sunny caught a few winks—a phrase which here means “slept fitfully in the closet-sized Room 121”—arrangements were made for the trial, during which the three judges of the High Court would interpret the laws and decide on the nobility and treachery of Count Olaf and the Baudelaires, but the children were surprised to learn, when a sharp knock on the door awakened them, that they would not see this interpretation themselves.

“Here are your blindfolds,” said one of the managers, opening the door and handing the children three pieces of black cloth. The Baudelaires suspected he was Ernest, as he hadn’t bothered to say “Hello.”

“Blindfolds?” Violet asked.

“Everyone wears blindfolds at a High Court trial,” the manager replied, “except the judges, of course. Haven’t you heard the expression ‘Justice is blind’?”

“Yes,” Klaus said, “but I always thought it meant that justice should be fair and unprejudiced.”

“The verdict of the High Court was to take the expression literally,” said the manager, “so everyone except the judges must cover their eyes before the trial can begin.”

“Scalia,” Sunny said. She meant something like, “It doesn’t seem like the literal interpretation makes any sense,” but her siblings did not think it was wise to translate.

“I also brought you some tea,” he said, revealing a tray containing a teapot and three cups. “I thought it might fortify you for the trial.”

By “fortify,” the manager meant that a few sips of tea might give the children some much-needed strength for their ordeal, and the children thought it must be Frank who was doing them such a favor. “You’re very kind,” Violet said.

“I’m sorry there’s no sugar,” he said.

“That’s quite all right,” Klaus said, and then hurriedly flipped to a page in his commonplace book until he found his notes on the children’s conversation with Kit Snicket. “‘Tea should be bitter as wormwood,’” he read, “‘and as sharp as a two-edged sword.’”

The manager gave Klaus a small, unfathomable smile. “Drink your tea,” he said. “I’ll knock in a few minutes to bring you to trial.”

Frank, unless it was Ernest, shut the door, and left the Baudelaires alone.

“Why did you say that about the tea?” Violet asked.

“I thought he might be talking to us in code,” Klaus said. “I thought if we gave the proper reply, something might happen.”

“Unfathomable,” Sunny said.

“Everything seems unfathomable,” Violet said with a sigh, pouring tea for her siblings. “It’s getting so that I can’t tell a noble person from a wicked one.”

“Kit said that the only way to tell a villain from a volunteer is to observe everyone, and make such judgements ourselves,” Klaus said, “but that hasn’t helped us at all.”

“Today the High Court will do the judging for us,” Violet said. “Maybe they’ll prove to be helpful.”

“Or fail us,” Sunny said.

The eldest Baudelaire smiled, and reached to help her sister put on her shoes. “I wish our parents could see how much you’ve grown,” she said. “Mother always said that as soon as you learned to walk, Sunny, you’d be going places.”

“I doubt a closet in the Hotel Denouement was what she had in mind,” Klaus said, blowing on his tea to cool it.

“Who knows what they had in mind?” Violet asked. “That’s one more mystery we’ll probably never solve.”

Sunny took a sip of tea, which was indeed as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a two-edged sword, although the youngest Baudelaire had little experience with metallic weapons or hoary aromatic plants of the composite family, used in certain recreational tonics. “Mama and Poppa,” she said hesitantly, “and poison darts?”

Her siblings did not have time to answer, as there was another knock on the door. “Finish your tea,” called either Frank or Ernest, “and put on your blindfolds. The trial is about to begin.”

The Baudelaires hurried to follow the instructions of either the volunteer or the villain, and took a few quick sips of their tea, tied their shoes, and wound the pieces of cloth around their eyes. In a moment they heard the door of Room 121 open, and heard Frank or Ernest step toward them.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“We’re right here,” Violet said. “Can’t you see us?”

“Of course not,” the manager replied. “I’m also wearing a blindfold. Reach for my hand, and I’ll lead you to the trial.”

The eldest Baudelaire reached out in front of her and found a large, rough hand awaiting hers. Klaus took Violet’s other hand, and Sunny took Klaus’s, and in this way the children were led out of Room 121. The expression “the blind leading the blind,” like the expression “Justice is blind,” is usually not taken literally, as it simply refers to a confusing situation in which the people in charge know nothing more than the people following them. But as the Baudelaires learned as they were led through the lobby, the blindfolded leading the blindfolded results in the same sort of confusion. The children could not see anything through their blindfolds, but the room was filled with the sounds of people looking for their companions, bumping up against one another, and running into the walls and furniture. Violet was poked in the eye by someone’s chubby finger. Klaus was mistaken for someone named Jerry by a man who gave him an enormous hug before learning of his mistake. And someone bumped into Sunny’s head, assumed she was an ornamental vase, and tried to place an umbrella in her mouth. Above the noise of the crowd, the Baudelaires heard the clock strike twelve insistent Wrong! s, and realized they had been sleeping quite some time. It was already Wednesday afternoon, which meant that Thursday, and the arrival of their noble friends and associates, was quite close indeed.

“Attention!” The voice of Justice Strauss was also quite close indeed, and rang out over the crowd, along with the repeated banging of a gavel, a word which refers to the small hammer used by judges when they want someone’s attention. “Attention everyone! The trial is about to begin! Everyone please take your seats!”

“How can we take our seats,” a man asked, “when we can’t see them?”

“Feel around with your hands,” Justice Strauss said. “Move to your right. Further. Further. Further. Furth—”

“Ow!”

“Not that far,” the judge said. “There! Sit! Now the rest of you follow his lead!”

“How can we do what he did,” asked someone else, “if we can’t see him?”

“Can we peek?” asked another person.

“No peeking!” Justice Strauss said sternly. “Our system of justice isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one we have. I remind you that all three judges of the High Court are bare-eyed, and if you peek you will be guilty of contempt of court! ‘Contempt,’ by the way, is a word for finding something worthless or dishonorable.”

“I know what the word ‘contempt’ means,” snarled a voice the children could not recognize.

“I defined the word for the benefit of the Baudelaires,” Justice Strauss said, and the children nodded their thanks in the direction of the judge’s voice, although all three siblings had known the meaning of “contempt” since a night long ago when Uncle Monty had taken them to the movies. “Baudelaires, take three steps to your right. Three more. One more. There! You’ve reached your bench. Please sit down.”

The Baudelaires sat down on one of the lobby’s wooden benches and listened to the footsteps of the manager as he left them alone and stumbled back into the settling crowd. Finally, it sounded as if everyone had found a seat of some kind or another, and with another few bangs of the gavel and calls for attention, the crowd quieted down and Justice Strauss began the trial.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” she said, her voice coming from right in front of the Baudelaires, “and anyone else who happens to be in attendance. It has come to the attention of the High Court that certain wicked deeds have gone unpunished, and that this wickedness is continuing at an alarming rate. We planned to hold a trial on Thursday, but after the death of Mr. Denouement it is clear we should proceed earlier, in the interests of justice and nobility. We will hear what each witness has to say and determine once and for all who is responsible. The guilty parties will be turned over to the authorities, who are waiting outside, making sure that no one will try to escape while the trial is in progress.”

“And speaking of guilty parties,” Count Olaf added, “when the trial is over, everyone is invited to a very in cocktail party, hosted by me! Wealthy women are particularly welcome!”

“I’m hosting it,” snarled the voice of Esmé Squalor, “and fashionable men will be given a free gift.”

“All gifts are free,” said either Frank or Ernest.

“You’re out of order,” Justice Strauss said sternly, banging her gavel. “We are discussing social justice, not social engagements. Now then, will the accused parties please stand and state their names and occupations for the record?”

The Baudelaires stood up hesitantly.

“You too, Count Olaf,” Justice Strauss said firmly. The wooden bench crackled beside the Baudelaires, and they realized the notorious villain had also been sitting on the bench, and was now standing beside them.

“Name?” the judge asked.

“Count Olaf,” Count Olaf replied.

“Occupation?”

“Impresario,” he said, using a fancy word for someone who puts on theatrical spectacles.

“And are you innocent or guilty?” asked Justice Strauss.

The children thought they could hear Olaf’s filthy teeth slide against his lips as he smiled. “I’m unspeakably innocent,” he said, and murmuring spread through the crowd like a ripple on the surface of a pond.

“You may be seated,” Justice Strauss said, banging her gavel. “Children, you are next. Please state your names.”

“Violet Baudelaire,” said Violet Baudelaire.

“Klaus Baudelaire,” said Klaus Baudelaire.

“Sunny Baudelaire,” said Sunny Baudelaire.

The children heard the scratching of a pen, and realized that the judge was writing down everything that was being said. “Occupations?”

The Baudelaires did not know how to answer this question. The word “occupation,” as I’m sure you know, usually refers to a job, but the Baudelaires’ employment was sporadic, a word which here means “consisting of a great number of occupations, held for a short time and under very unusual circumstances.” The word can also refer to how one spends one’s time, but the siblings hardly liked to think of all the dreadful things that had occupied them recently. Lastly, the word “occupation” can refer to the state one is in, such as being a woman’s husband, or a child’s guardian, but the youngsters were not certain how such a term could apply to the bewildering history of their lives. The Baudelaires thought and thought, and finally each gave their answer as they saw fit.

“Volunteer,” Violet said.

“Concierge,” Klaus said.

“Child,” Sunny said.

“I object!” Olaf said beside them. “Their proper occupation is orphan, or inheritor of a large fortune!”

“Your objection is noted,” Justice Strauss said firmly. “Now then, Baudelaires, are you guilty or innocent?”

Once again, the Baudelaires hesitated before answering. Justice Strauss had not asked the children precisely what they were innocent or guilty of, and the expectant hush of the lobby did not make them want to ask the judge to clarify her question. In general, of course, the Baudelaire children believed themselves to be innocent, although they were certainly guilty, as we all are, of certain deeds that are anything but noble. But the Baudelaires were not standing in general. They were standing next to Count Olaf. It was Klaus who found the words to compare the siblings’ innocence and guilt with the innocence and guilt of a man who said he was unspeakably innocent, and after a pause the middle Baudelaire answered the judge’s question.

“We’re comparatively innocent,” he said, and a ripple went through the crowd again. The children heard the scratching of Justice Strauss’s pen again, and the sound of Geraldine Julienne’s enthusiastic voice.

“I can see the headlines now!” she cried. “‘EVERYBODY IS INNOCENT!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

“Nobody is innocent,” Justice Strauss said, banging her gavel. “At least, not yet. Now then, all those in the courtroom who have evidence they would like to submit to the court, please approach the judges and do so.”

The room erupted into pandemonium, a word which here means “a crowd of blindfolded people attempting to give evidence to three judges.” The Baudelaires sat on the bench and heard people stumbling over one another as they all tried to submit their research to the High Court.

“I submit these newspaper articles!” announced the voice of Geraldine Julienne.

“I submit these employment records!” announced Sir.

“I submit these environmental studies!” announced Charles.

“I submit these grade books!” announced Mr. Remora.

“I submit these blueprints of banks!” announced Mrs. Bass.

“I submit these administrative records!” announced Vice Principal Nero.

“I submit this paperwork!” announced Hal.

“I submit these financial records!” announced Mr. Poe.

“I submit these rule books!” announced Mr. Lesko.

“I submit these constitutions!” announced Mrs. Morrow.

“I submit these carnival posters!” announced Hugo.

“I submit these anatomical drawings!” announced Colette.

“I submit these books,” announced Kevin, “with both my left and right hands!”

“I submit these ruby-encrusted blank pages!” announced Esmé Squalor.

“I submit this book about how wonderful I am!” announced Carmelita Spats.

“I submit this commonplace book!” announced either Frank or Ernest.

“So do I!” announced either Ernest or Frank.

“I submit my mother!”

This last voice was the first in a parade of voices the Baudelaires could not recognize. It seemed that everyone in the lobby had something to submit to the High Court, and the Baudelaires felt as if they were in the middle of an avalanche of observations, research, and other evidence, some of which sounded exculpatory—a word which here means “likely to prove that the Baudelaires were innocent”—and some of which sounded damning, a word which made the children shudder just to think of it.

“I submit these photographs!”

“I submit these hospital records!”

“I submit these magazine articles!”

“I submit these telegrams!”

“I submit these couplets!”

“I submit these maps!”

“I submit these cookbooks!”

“I submit these scraps of paper!”

“I submit these screenplays!”

“I submit these rhyming dictionaries!”

“I submit these love letters!”

“I submit these opera synopses!”

“I submit these thesauri!”

“I submit these marriage licenses!”

“I submit these Talmudic commentaries!”

“I submit these wills and testaments!”

“I submit these auction catalogs!”

“I submit these codebooks!”

“I submit these mycological encyclopedias!”

“I submit these menus!”

“I submit these ferry schedules!”

“I submit these theatrical programs!”

“I submit these business cards!”

“I submit these memos!”

“I submit these novels!”

“I submit these cookies!”

“I submit these assorted pieces of evidence I’m unwilling to categorize!”

Finally, the Baudelaires heard a mighty thump! and the triumphant voice of Jerome Squalor. “I submit this comprehensive history of injustice!” he announced, and the lobby filled with the sound of applause and of hissing, as the volunteers and villains reacted. Justice Strauss had to bang her gavel quite a few times before the crowd settled down.

“Before the High Court reviews this evidence,” the judge said, “we ask each accused person to give a statement explaining their actions. You can take as long as you want to tell your story, but you should leave out nothing important. Count Olaf, you may go first.”

The wooden bench crackled again as the villain stood up, and the Baudelaires heard Count Olaf sigh, and smelled his foul breath. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’m so incredibly innocent that the word ‘innocent’ ought to be written on my face in capital letters. The letter I would stand for ‘I’m innocent.’ The letter N would stand for ‘nothing wrong,’ which is what I’ve done. The letter A would stand for—”

“That’s not how you spell ‘innocent,’” Justice Strauss interrupted.

“I don’t think spelling counts,” Count Olaf grumbled.

“Spelling counts,” the judge said sternly.

“Well, ‘innocence’ should be spelled O-LA-F,” Count Olaf said, “and that’s the end of my speech.”

The bench crackled as Olaf sat down.

“That’s all you have to say?” Justice Strauss asked in surprise.

“Yep,” Count Olaf said.

“I told you not to leave out anything important,” the judge reminded him.

“I’m the only important thing,” Count Olaf insisted, “and I’m very innocent. I’m sure there’s more in that enormous pile of evidence that proves me innocent than there is that proves me guilty.”

“Well, all right,” the judge said uncertainly. “Baudelaires, you may now tell us your side of the story.”

The Baudelaires stood up unsteadily, their legs trembling in nervous anticipation, but once again they did not quite know what to say.

“Go on,” Justice Strauss said kindly. “We’re listening.”

The Baudelaire orphans clasped hands. Although they had just been notified about the trial a few hours ago, the children felt as if they had been waiting forever to stand and tell their story to anyone who might listen. Although much of their story had been told to Mr. Poe, and noted in Klaus’s commonplace book, and discussed with the Quagmire triplets and other noble people they had met during their travels, they had never had the opportunity to tell their entire tale, from the dreadful day at Briny Beach when Mr. Poe gave them the terrible news about their parents, to this very afternoon, as they stood at the High Court hoping that all of the villains in their lives would at last be brought to justice. Perhaps there had never been enough time to sit and tell their story just as they wanted to tell it, or perhaps their story was so unhappy that they dared not share all of the wretched details with anyone. Or perhaps the Baudelaires had simply not encountered anyone who listened to them as well as their parents had. As the siblings stood before the High Court, they could picture the faces of their mother and father, and the expressions they wore when listening to their children. Occasionally, one of the Baudelaires would be telling their parents a story, and there would be an interruption of some kind—the ringing of the phone, or the loud noise of a siren outside, or even a remark from one of the other siblings. “Hush,” the Baudelaire parents would say to the interruption. “It’s not your day in court,” they would say, and then they would turn back to the Baudelaire who was talking, and give them a nod to indicate that the story should continue. The children stood together, as the wooden bench creaked behind them, and started to tell the story of their lives, a story they had waited their lives to tell.

“Well,” Violet said, “one afternoon my siblings and I were at Briny Beach. I was dreaming up an invention that could retrieve a rock after you skipped it into the ocean. Klaus was examining creatures in tidepools. And Sunny noticed that Mr. Poe was walking toward us.”

“Hmm,” Justice Strauss said, but it wasn’t a thoughtful kind of “hmm.” Violet thought perhaps that the judge was saying “hmm” the way she had said “hmm” to either Frank or Ernest, as a safe answer.

“Go on,” said a low, deep voice that belonged to one of the other judges. “Justice Strauss was merely being thoughtful.”

“Mr. Poe told us that there had been a terrible fire,” Klaus continued. “Our home was destroyed, and our parents were gone.”

“Hmm,” Justice Strauss said again, but it wasn’t a sympathetic kind of “hmm.” Klaus thought perhaps that the judge was taking a sip of tea, to fortify herself as the siblings told their story.

“Please continue,” said another voice. This one was very hoarse, as if the third judge had been screaming for hours and could hardly talk. “Justice Strauss was merely being sympathetic.”

“Bildungsroman,” said Sunny. She meant something along the lines of, “Since that moment, our story has been a long, dreadful education in the wicked ways of the world and the mysterious secrets hidden in all of its corners,” but before her siblings could translate, Justice Strauss uttered another “hmm,” and this one was the strangest of all. It was not a thoughtful “hmm,” nor did it sound like a safe answer, and it certainly wasn’t sympathetic, or the noise someone might make while taking a sip of tea. To Sunny the “hmm” sounded like a noise she’d heard a long time ago, not long after the day on Briny Beach the children were describing. The youngest Baudelaire had heard the same noise coming from her own mouth, when she was dangling outside Count Olaf’s tower room in a bird cage with a piece of tape covering her mouth. Sunny gasped, recognizing the sound just as Klaus recognized the voice of the second judge, and Violet recognized the voice of the third. Blindly, the Baudelaires reached out their hands to clutch one another in panic.

“What shall we do?” Violet whispered, as quietly as possible.

“Peek,” Sunny whispered back.

“If we peek,” Klaus whispered, “we’ll be guilty of contempt of court.”

“What are you waiting for, orphans?” asked the low, deep voice.

“Yes,” said the hoarse one. “Continue your story.”

But the Baudelaire orphans knew they could not continue their story, no matter how long they had been waiting to tell it. At the sound of those familiar voices, they had no choice but to remove their blindfolds. The children did not care if they were guilty of contempt of court, because they knew that if the other two judges were who they thought they were, then the High Court was indeed something they found worthless or dishonorable, and so without any further discussion they unwound the pieces of black cloth that covered their eyes, and the Baudelaire orphans peeked.

It was a shocking and upsetting peek that awaited the Baudelaires. Squinting in the sudden light, they peeked straight ahead, where the voices of Justice Strauss and the other judges had come from. The children found themselves peeking at the concierge desk, which was piled with all the evidence the crowd had submitted, including newspaper articles, employment records, environmental studies, grade books, blueprints of banks, administrative records, paperwork, financial records, rule books, constitutions, carnival posters, anatomical drawings, books, ruby-encrusted blank pages, a book alleging how wonderful Carmelita Spats was, commonplace books, photographs, hospital records, magazine articles, telegrams, couplets, maps, cookbooks, scraps of paper, screenplays, rhyming dictionaries, love letters, opera synopses, thesauri, marriage licenses, Talmudic commentaries, wills and testaments, auction catalogs, codebooks, mycological encyclopedias, menus, ferry schedules, theatrical programs, business cards, memos, novels, cookies, assorted pieces of evidence a certain person was unwilling to categorize, and someone’s mother, all of which Dewey Denouement had been hoping to catalog. Missing from the desk, however, was Justice Strauss, and as the Baudelaires peeked around the lobby, they saw that another person was missing, too, for there was no one on the wooden bench, only a few etched rings from people wicked enough to set down glasses without using coasters. Frantically, they peeked through the blindfolded crowd that was waiting impatiently for them to continue their story, and finally they spotted Count Olaf at the far side of the room. Justice Strauss was there, too, tucked in the crook of Olaf’s arm the way you might carry an umbrella if both your hands were full. Neither of Count Olaf’s filthy hands were full, but they were both otherwise engaged, a phrase which here means that one hand was covering Justice Strauss’s mouth with tape, so she could only say “hmm,” and the other was hurriedly pressing the button requesting an elevator. The harpoon gun, with its last hook gleaming wickedly, was leaning against the wall, within easy reach of the treacherous villain.

All this was a shocking and upsetting peek, of course, but even more shocking and upsetting was what the children saw when they returned their gaze to the concierge desk. For sitting at either end, with their elbows on the pile of evidence, were two villains at whom the children had hoped very much they would never get a peek again, villains of such wickedness that it is far too shocking and upsetting for me to write down their names. I can only describe them as the man with a beard, but no hair, and the woman with hair, but no beard, but to the Baudelaire orphans, these two villainous judges were another peek at the wicked way of the world.

CHAPTER Twelve

The man with a beard but no hair stood up from the concierge desk, his knees bumping against the little bells that had sent the Baudelaire orphans on their errands. The woman with hair but no beard pointed a finger at the three children that looked as crooked as she was. The finger had been broken long ago, in a dispute over a game of backgammon, which is another story that would take at least thirteen books to describe, but in the Baudelaires’ story the finger only made this brief appearance as it pointed at the children in alarm.

“The Baudelaires have taken off their blindfolds!” cried the villainous woman in her low, deep voice.

“Yes!” agreed the villainous man, in his hoarse voice. “They’re guilty of contempt of court!”

“We certainly are,” Violet agreed fiercely. “This court is worthless and dishonorable!”

“Two of the judges are notorious villains,” Klaus announced over the gasps of the crowd.

“Peek!” Sunny cried.

“Nobody peek!” ordered the man with a beard but no hair. “Anyone who peeks will be turned over to the authorities!”

“Take off your blindfolds!” Violet begged the crowd. “Count Olaf is kidnapping Justice Strauss this very moment!”

“Hmm!” cried Justice Strauss in agreement, from behind the tape.

“Justice Strauss is enjoying a piece of saltwater taffy!” the woman with hair but no beard said quickly. “That’s why she’s talking in hmms!”

“She’s not enjoying anything!” Klaus cried. “If there are any volunteers in the crowd, take off your blindfolds and help us!”

“The children are trying to trick you!” said the man with a beard but no hair. “Keep your blindfolds on!”

“Yes!” cried the woman with hair but no beard. “They’re trying to get all noble people arrested by the authorities!”

“Real McCoy!” Sunny yelled.

“I think the children might be telling the truth,” Jerome Squalor said hesitantly.

“Those brats are liars!” Esmé snapped. “They’re worse than my ex-boyfriend!”

“I believe them!” Charles said, scratching at his blindfold. “They’ve experienced villainy before!”

“I don’t!” Sir announced. The children could not tell if he was wearing a blindfold underneath the cloud of smoke that still hung over his head. “They’re nothing but trouble!”

“They’re telling the truth!” cried Frank, probably, unless it was Ernest.

“They’re lying!” cried Ernest, most likely, although I suppose it could have been Frank.

“They’re good students!” said Mr. Remora.

“They’re lousy administrative assistants!” said Vice Principal Nero.

“They’re bank robbers!” said Mrs. Bass, whose blindfold was covering her small, narrow mask.

“Bank robbers?” Mr. Poe asked. “Egad! Who said that?”

“They’re guilty!” cried the man with a beard but no hair, although the High Court wasn’t supposed to reach a verdict until all the evidence had been examined.

“They’re innocent!” cried Hal.

“They’re freaks!” screamed Hugo.

“They’re twisted!” shrieked Colette.

“They’re right-handed!” yelled Kevin.

“They’re headlines!” screeched Geraldine Julienne.

“They’re escaping!” said the woman with hair but no beard, and this, at least, was a true statement. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny realized that the crowd was going to do nothing that would stop Count Olaf from dragging Justice Strauss away from the trial, and that the people in the lobby would fail them, as so many noble people had failed them before. As the volunteers and villains argued around them, the children made their way quickly and stealthily away from the bench and toward Justice Strauss and Count Olaf, who was picking up the harpoon gun. If you’ve ever wanted one more cookie than people said you could have, then you know how difficult it is to move quickly and stealthily at the same time, but if you’ve had as much experience as the Baudelaires in dodging the activities of people who were shouting at you, then you know that with enough practice you can move quickly and stealthily just about anywhere, including across an enormous, domed lobby while a crowd calls for your capture.

“We must capture them!” called a voice in the crowd.

“It will take a village to capture the Baudelaires!” shrieked Mrs. Morrow. “We can’t see them through our blindfolds!”

“We don’t want to be guilty of contempt of court!” yelled Mr. Lesko. “Let’s feel our way toward the hotel entrance so they can’t escape!”

“The authorities are guarding the entrance!” the man with a beard but no hair reminded the crowd. “The Baudelaires are running toward the elevators! Capture them!”

“But don’t capture anyone else who happens to be standing near the elevators!” added the woman with hair but no beard, looking hurriedly at Olaf. The sliding doors of an elevator began to open, and the Baudelaires moved as quickly and stealthily as they could through the crowd who were reaching out blindly in all directions.

“Search the entire hotel,” said the villianous man, “and bring us anyone who you find suspicious!”

“We’ll tell you if they’re villains or not,” said the villainous woman. “After all, you can’t make such judgements yourselves!”

“Wrong!”

The enormous clock of the Hotel Denouement, the stuff of legend, announced one o’clock, thundering through the room of the blindfolded leading the blindfolded, just as the three siblings reached the elevators. Count Olaf had already dragged Justice Strauss inside and was hurriedly pressing the button that closes the elevator doors, but Sunny stuck out one of her feet and held them open, which is something only very brave people attempt. Olaf leaned forward to whisper threateningly at the Baudelaires.

“Let me go,” he whispered threateningly, “or I’ll announce to everyone where you are.”

Olaf, however, was not the only person who could whisper threateningly. “Let us in,” Violet whispered threateningly, “or we’ll announce to everyone where you are.”

“Hmm!” Justice Strauss said.

Count Olaf glared at the children, and the children glared back, until at last the villain stepped aside and let the Baudelaires join him and his prisoner in the elevator. “Going down?” he asked, and the children blinked. They had been so intent on escaping the crowd and reaching the judge that they hadn’t considered exactly where they might go afterward.

“We’re going wherever you go,” Klaus said.

“I have a few errands to run,” Olaf said. “Ha! First I’m going down to the basement, to retrieve the sugar bowl. Ha! Then I’m going up to the roof, to retrieve the Medusoid Mycelium. Ha! Then I’m going down to the lobby, to expose the fungus to everyone in the lobby. Ha! And then, finally, I’m going up to the roof, to escape without being seen by the authorities.”

“You’ll fail,” Sunny said, and Olaf glared down at the youngest Baudelaire.

“Your mother told me the same thing,” he said. “Ha! But one day, when I was seven years old—”

The elevator’s doors slid open as it arrived at the basement, and the villain interrupted himself and quickly dragged Justice Strauss out into the hallway. “Follow me!” he called back to the Baudelaires. The children, of course, did not want to follow this horrid man any more than they wanted to put cream cheese in their hair, but they looked at one another and could not think of what else they could do.

“You can’t retrieve the sugar bowl,” Violet said. “You’ll never open the Vernacularly Fastened Door.”

“Can’t I?” Olaf asked, stopping at Room 025. The lock was still stretched securely across the door, as it had been when Sunny left it. “This hotel is like an enormous library,” the villain said, “but you can find any item in a library if you have one thing.”

“Catalog?” Sunny asked.

“No,” Count Olaf replied, and pointed the harpoon gun at the judge. “A hostage.” With that, he turned to Justice Strauss and ripped the tape off her mouth very slowly, so it would sting as much as possible. “You’re going to help me open this lock,” he informed her, with a wicked smile.

“I will do nothing of the sort!” Justice Strauss replied. “The Baudelaires will help me drag you back up to the lobby, where justice can be served!”

“Justice isn’t being served in the lobby,” Olaf growled, “or anywhere else in the world!”

“Don’t be so sure of that!” Justice Strauss said, and reached behind her back. The Baudelaires looked hopefully at what she was holding, but their hopes fell when they saw what it was. “Odious Lusting After Finance,” she read out loud, holding up Jerome Squalor’s comprehensive history of injustice. “There’s enough evidence in here to put you in jail for the rest of your life!”

“Justice Strauss,” Violet said, “your fellow judges on the High Court are associates of Count Olaf. Those villains will never put Olaf in jail.”

“It can’t be!” Justice Strauss gasped. “I’ve known them for years! I’ve told them everything that was happening to you children, and they were always very interested!”

“Of course they were interested, you fool,” Count Olaf said. “They passed along all that information to me, so I could catch up with the orphans! You’ve been helping me all along, without even knowing it! Ha!”

Justice Strauss leaned against an ornamental vase, and her eyes filled with tears. “I’ve failed you again, Baudelaires,” she said. “No matter how I’ve tried to help you, I’ve only put you in more danger. I thought justice would be served if you told the High Court your story, but—”

“No one’s interested in their story,” Count Olaf said scornfully. “Even if you wrote down every last detail, no one would read such a dreadful thing. I’ve triumphed over the orphans and over any other person foolish or noble enough to stand in my way. It’s the unraveling of my story, or, as the French say, the noblesse oblige.”

“Denouement,” Sunny corrected, but Olaf acted as though he had not heard, and turned his attention to the lock on the door.

“That idiot sub-sub said the first phrase is a description of a medical condition that all three Baudelaire children share,” he muttered, and turned to Justice Strauss. “Tell me what it is, or prepare to eat harpoon.”

“Never,” Justice Strauss said. “I may have failed these children, but I won’t fail V.F.D. You’ll never get the sugar bowl, no matter what terrible threats you make.”

“I’ll tell you what the first phrase is,” Klaus said calmly, and his siblings looked at him in astonishment. Justice Strauss looked at him in amazement. Even Count Olaf seemed a little puzzled.

“You will?” he asked.

“Certainly,” Klaus said. “It’s just like you said, Count Olaf. Every noble person has failed us. Why should we protect the sugar bowl?”

“Klaus!” Violet and Sunny cried, in simultaneous astonishment.

“No!” Justice Strauss cried, in solitary amazement.

Count Olaf looked a little puzzled again, but then shrugged his dusty shoulders. “O.K.,” he said, “tell me what medical condition you and your orphan siblings share.”

“We’re allergic to peppermints,” Klaus said, and quickly typed A-L-L-E-R-G-I-C-T-O-P-EP-P-E-R-M-I-N-T-S into the lock. Immediately, there was a muted clicking sound from the typewriter keyboard.

“It’s warming up,” Count Olaf said, in a delighted wheeze. “Get out of the way, four-eyes! The second phrase is the weapon that left me an orphan, and I can type that one in myself. P-O-Y-Z—”

“Wait!” Klaus said, before Olaf could touch the keyboard. “That can’t be right. Those letters don’t spell anything.”

“Spelling doesn’t count,” said the count.

“Yes, it does,” Klaus said. “Tell me what the weapon is that left you an orphan, and I’ll type it in for you.”

Count Olaf gave Klaus a slow smile that made the Baudelaires shudder. “Certainly I’ll tell you,” he said. “It was poison darts.”

Klaus looked at his sisters, and then in grim silence typed P-O-I-S-O-N-D-A-R-T-S into the lock, which began to buzz quietly. Count Olaf’s eyes shone brightly as he stared at the wires of the lock, which began to shake as they stretched around the hinges of the laundry room door.

“It’s working,” he said, and ran his tongue over his filthy teeth. “The sugar bowl is so close I can taste it!”

Klaus took his commonplace book from his pocket, and read his notes intently for a moment. Then he turned to Justice Strauss. “Give me that book, please,” he said, pointing to Jerome Squalor’s book. “The third phrase is the famous unfathomable question in the best-known novel by Richard Wright. Richard Wright was an American novelist of the realist school whose writings illuminated the disparities in race relations. It is likely his work is quoted in a comprehensive history of injustice.”

“You can’t read that entire book!” Count Olaf said. “The crowd will find us before you finish the first chapter!”

“I’ll look in the index,” Klaus said, “just like I did at Aunt Josephine’s, when we decoded her note and found her hiding place.”

“I always wondered how you did that,” Olaf said, sounding almost as if he admired the middle Baudelaire’s research skills. Klaus paged to the back of the book, where the index can usually be found. An index, as I’m sure you know, is a list of everything a book contains, and where each item can be found.

“Wright, Richard,” Klaus read aloud. “Unfathomable question in Native Son, page 581.”

“That’s the five hundred and eighty-first page,” Count Olaf explained for no one’s benefit, a phrase which here means “even though that was clear to everyone in the hallway.”

Klaus flipped hurriedly to the proper page and scanned it quickly, his eyes blinking behind his glasses. “I found it,” he said quietly. “It’s quite an interesting question, actually.”

“No one cares about interesting questions!” Olaf said. “Type it in this instant!”

Klaus smiled, and began typing furiously into the typewriter keyboard. His sisters stepped forward, and each of them put a hand on their brother’s shoulder.

“Why do this?” Sunny asked.

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “Why are you helping Olaf get into the laundry room?”

The middle Baudelaire typed the last word into the keyboard, which was “T-O-P-P-L-I-NG,” and then looked at his sisters. “Because the sugar bowl isn’t there,” he said, and pushed open the door.

“What do you mean?” Count Olaf demanded. “Of course the sugar bowl is in there!”

“I’m afraid Olaf is right,” Justice Strauss said. “You heard what Dewey said. When the crows were shot with the harpoon gun, they fell onto the birdpaper and dropped the sugar bowl into the funnel.”

“So it would appear,” Klaus said slyly.

“Enough nonsense!” Count Olaf shouted, waving his harpoon gun in the air and stomping into the laundry room. In just a few moments, however, it was clear that the middle Baudelaire had spoken the truth. The laundry room of the Hotel Denouement was very small, just large enough to hold a few washing and drying machines, some piles of dirty sheets, and a few plastic jugs of what were presumably some extremely flammable chemicals, just as Dewey had said. A metal tube hung over one corner of the ceiling, allowing steam from the machines to float up the tube and outside, but there was no sign that a sugar bowl had fallen through the funnel and dropped out the metal tube to the wooden floor of the laundry room. With a hoarse, angry roar, Count Olaf opened the doors of the washing and drying machines and slammed them closed, and then picked up the piles of dirty sheets and sent them tumbling onto the floor.

“Where is it?” he snarled, drops of spit flying from his furious mouth. “Where’s the sugar bowl?”

“It’s a secret,” Klaus said. “A secret that died with Dewey Denouement.”

Count Olaf turned to face the Baudelaire orphans, who had never seen him look this frightening. His eyes had never gleamed as brightly, and his smile had never been as peccant, a word which here means “so hungry for evil deeds as to be unhealthy.” It was not unlike the face of Dewey had been as he sank into the water, as if the villain’s own wickedness was causing him great pain. “He won’t be the only volunteer who dies today,” he said, in a terrible whisper. “I’ll destroy every soul in his hotel, sugar bowl or no sugar bowl. I’ll unleash the Medusoid Mycelium, and volunteers and villains alike will perish in agony. My comrades have failed me as often as my enemies, and I’m eager to be rid of them. Then I’ll push that boat off the roof, and sail away with—”

“You can’t push that boat off the roof,” Violet said. “It would never survive the fall, due to the force of gravity.”

“I suppose I’ll have to add the force of gravity to my list of enemies,” Olaf muttered.

“I’ll get that boat off the roof,” Violet said calmly, and her siblings looked at her in astonishment. Justice Strauss looked at her in amazement. Even Count Olaf seemed a little puzzled.

“You will?” he asked.

“Certainly,” Violet said. “It’s just like you said, Count Olaf. Every noble person has failed us. Why shouldn’t we help you escape?”

“Violet!” Klaus and Sunny cried, in simultaneous astonishment.

“No!” Justice Strauss cried, in solitary amazement.

Count Olaf still looked puzzled, but gave the eldest Baudelaire a shrug. “O.K.,” he said. “What do you need?”

“A few of those dirty sheets,” Violet said. “I’ll tie them together and make a drag chute, just like I did in the Mortmain Mountains when I stopped the caravan from falling off the mountain.”

“I always wondered how you did that,” Olaf said, looking at the eldest Baudelaire as if he respected her inventing skills. Violet walked into the laundry room and gathered some sheets into her arms, trying to choose the least dirty of the bunch.

“Let’s go to the roof,” she said quietly. Her siblings stepped forward, and each of them put a hand on their sister’s shoulder.

“Why do this?” Sunny asked.

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said. “Why are you helping Olaf escape?”

The eldest Baudelaire looked at the sheets in her hand, and then at her siblings. “Because he’ll take us with him,” she said.

“Why would I do that?” Olaf asked.

“Because you need more than a one-person crew,” Violet said slyly, “and we need to leave this hotel without being spotted by the authorities.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Olaf said. “Well, you would have ended up in my clutches in any case. Come along.”

“Not yet,” Sunny said. “One more thing.”

Everyone stared at the youngest Baudelaire, who was wearing an expression so unfathomable that even her siblings could not tell what she was thinking. “One more thing?” Count Olaf repeated, staring down at Sunny. “What could that be?”

The two eldest Baudelaires looked at their sister, and felt a cold ripple in their stomachs, as if a stone had somehow been dropped straight into the siblings. It is very difficult to make one’s way in this world without being wicked at one time or another, when the world’s way is so wicked to begin with. When unfathomable situations arose in the lives of the Baudelaires, and they did not know what to do, the children often felt as if they were balancing very delicately on top of something very fragile and very dangerous, and that if they weren’t careful they might fall a very long way into a sea of wickedness. Violet felt this delicate balance when she offered to help Count Olaf escape, even though it meant that she and her siblings could escape, too, and Klaus felt this delicate balance when he helped Olaf unlock the laundry room door, even though the sugar bowl was not to be found inside. And of course, all three Baudelaire orphans felt this delicate balance when they thought about Dewey Denouement, and that terrible instant when the weapon in their hands brought about his death. But as Sunny answered Count Olaf’s question, the clock of the Hotel Denouement struck two Wrong! s, and her siblings wondered if they had lost their balance at last and were tumbling away from all the noble people in the world.

“Burn down hotel,” Sunny said, and all three Baudelaire orphans felt as if they were falling.

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