فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER Twelve

I promise you that this is the last time that I will use the phrase “meanwhile, back at the ranch,” but I can think of no other way to return to the moment when Klaus has just explained to Mr. Poe what Sunny had meant by shouting “Aha!” and now everyone in the Reptile Room was staring at Stephano. Sunny looked triumphant. Klaus looked defiant. Mr. Poe looked furious. Dr. Lucafont looked worried. You couldn’t tell how the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked, because the facial expressions of snakes are difficult to read. Stephano looked back at all these people silently, his face fluttering as he tried to decide whether to come clean, a phrase which here means “admit that he’s really Count Olaf and up to no good,” or perpetuate his deception, a phrase which here means “lie, lie, lie.”

“Stephano,” Mr. Poe said, and coughed into his handkerchief. Klaus and Sunny waited impatiently for him to continue. “Stephano, explain yourself. You have just told us that you are an expert on snakes. Previously, however, you told us you knew nothing of snakes, and therefore couldn’t have been involved in Dr. Montgomery’s death. What is going on?”

“When I told you I knew nothing of snakes,” Stephano said, “I was being modest. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go outside for a moment, and—”

“You weren’t being modest!” Klaus cried. “You were lying! And you are lying now! You’re nothing but a liar and murderer!”

Stephano’s eyes grew wide and his face clouded in anger. “You have no evidence of that,” he said.

“Yes we do,” said a voice in the doorway, and everyone turned around to find Violet standing there, with a smile on her face and evidence in her arms. Triumphantly, she walked across the Reptile Room to the far end, where the books Klaus had been reading about the Mamba du Mal were still stacked in a pile. The others followed her, walking down the aisles of reptiles. Silently, she arranged the objects in a line on top of a table: the glass vial with the sealed rubber cap, the syringe with the sharp needle, the small bunch of folded papers, a card laminated in plastic, the powder puff and the small hand mirror.

“What is all this?” Mr. Poe said, gesturing to the arrangement.

“This,” Violet said, “is evidence, which I found in Stephano’s suitcase.”

“My suitcase,” Stephano said, “is private property, which you are not allowed to touch. It’s very rude of you, and besides, it was locked.”

“It was an emergency,” Violet said calmly, “so I picked the lock.”

“How did you do that?” Mr. Poe asked. “Nice girls shouldn’t know how to do such things.”

“My sister is a nice girl,” Klaus said, “and she knows how to do all sorts of things.”

“Roofik!” Sunny agreed.

“Well, we’ll discuss that later,” Mr. Poe said. “In the meantime, please continue.”

“When Uncle Monty died,” Violet began, “my siblings and I were very sad, but we were also very suspicious.”

“We weren’t suspicious!” Klaus exclaimed. “If someone is suspicious, it means they’re not sure! We were positive that Stephano killed him!”

“Nonsense!” Dr. Lucafont said. “As I explained to all of you, Montgomery Montgomery’s death was an accident. The Mamba du Mal escaped from its cage and bit him, and that’s all there is to it.”

“I beg your pardon,” Violet said, “but that is not all there is to it. Klaus read up on the Mamba du Mal, and found out how it kills its victims.”

Klaus walked over to the stack of books and opened the one on top. He had marked his place with a small piece of paper, so he found what he was looking for right away. “‘The Mamba du Mal,’” he read out loud, “‘is one of the deadliest snakes in the hemisphere, noted for its strangulatory grip, used in conjunction with its deadly venom, giving all of its victims a tenebrous hue, which is ghastly to behold.’” He put the book down, and turned to Mr. Poe. “‘Strangulatory’ means—”

“We know what the words mean!” Stephano shouted.

“Then you must know,” Klaus said, “that the Mamba du Mal did not kill Uncle Monty. His body didn’t have a tenebrous hue. It was as pale as could be.”

“That’s true,” Mr. Poe said, “but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that Dr. Montgomery was murdered.”

“Yes,” Dr. Lucafont said. “Perhaps, just this once, the snake didn’t feel like bruising its victim.”

“It is more likely,” Violet said, “that Uncle Monty was killed with these items.” She held up the glass vial with the sealed rubber cap. “This vial is labeled ‘Venom du Mal,’ and it’s obviously from Uncle Monty’s cabinet of venom samples.” She then held up the syringe with the sharp needle. “Stephano—Olaf—took this syringe and injected the venom into Uncle Monty. Then he poked an extra hole, so it would look like the snake had bitten him.”

“But I loved Dr. Montgomery,” Stephano said. “I would have had nothing to gain from his death.”

Sometimes, when someone tells a ridiculous lie, it is best to ignore it entirely. “When I turn eighteen, as we all know,” Violet continued, ignoring Stephano entirely, “I inherit the Baudelaire fortune, and Stephano intended to get that fortune for himself. It would be easier to do so if we were in a location that was more difficult to trace, such as Peru.” Violet held up the small bunch of folded papers. “These are tickets for the Prospero, leaving Hazy Harbor for Peru at five o’clock today. That’s where Stephano was taking us when we happened to run into you, Mr. Poe.”

“But Uncle Monty tore up Stephano’s ticket to Peru,” Klaus said, looking confused. “I saw him.”

“That’s true,” Violet said. “That’s why he had to get Uncle Monty out of the way. He killed Uncle Monty—” Violet stopped for a minute and shuddered. “He killed Uncle Monty, and took this laminated card. It’s Monty’s membership card for the Herpetological Society. Stephano planned to pose as Uncle Monty to get on board the Prospero, and whisk us away to Peru.”

“But I don’t understand,” Mr. Poe said. “How did Stephano even know about your fortune?”

“Because he’s really Count Olaf,” Violet said, exasperated that she had to explain what she and her siblings and you and I knew the moment Stephano arrived at the house. “He may have shaved his head, and trimmed off his eyebrows, but the only way he could get rid of the tattoo on his left ankle was with this powder puff and hand mirror. There’s makeup all over his left ankle, to hide the eye, and I’ll bet if we rub it with a cloth we can see the tattoo.”

“That’s absurd!” Stephano cried.

“We’ll see about that,” Mr. Poe replied. “Now, who has a cloth?”

“Not me,” Klaus said.

“Not me,” Violet said.

“Guweel!” Sunny said.

“Well, if nobody has a cloth, we might as well forget the whole thing,” Dr. Lucafont said, but Mr. Poe held up a finger to tell him to wait. To the relief of the Baudelaire orphans, he reached into his pocket and withdrew his handkerchief.

“Your left ankle, please,” he said sternly to Stephano.

“But you’ve been coughing into that all day!” Stephano said. “It has germs!”

“If you are really who the children say you are,” Mr. Poe said, “then germs are the least of your problems. Your left ankle, please.”

Stephano—and this is the last time, thank goodness, we’ll have to call him by his phony name—gave a little growl, and pulled his left pants leg up to reveal his ankle. Mr. Poe knelt down and rubbed at it for a few moments. At first, nothing appeared to happen, but then, like a sun shining through clouds at the end of a terrible rainstorm, the faint outline of an eye began to appear. Clearer and clearer it grew until it was as dark as it had been when the orphans first saw it, back when they had lived with Count Olaf.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all stared at the eye, and the eye stared back. For the first time in their lives, the Baudelaire orphans were happy to see it.

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