فصل 13

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فصل 13

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CHAPTER Thirteen

If this were a book written to entertain small children, you would know what would happen next. With the villain’s identity and evil plans exposed, the police would arrive on the scene and place him in a jail for the rest of his life, and the plucky youngsters would go out for pizza and live happily ever after. But this book is about the Baudelaire orphans, and you and I know that these three unfortunate children living happily ever after is about as likely as Uncle Monty returning to life. But it seemed to the Baudelaire orphans, as the tattoo became evident, that at least a little bit of Uncle Monty had come back to them as they proved Count Olaf’s treachery once and for all.

“That’s the eye, all right,” Mr. Poe said, and stopped rubbing Count Olaf’s ankle. “You are most definitely Count Olaf, and you are most definitely under arrest.”

“And I am most definitely shocked,” Dr. Lucafont said, clapping his oddly solid hands to his head.

“As am I,” Mr. Poe agreed, grabbing Count Olaf’s arm in case he tried to run anywhere. “Violet, Klaus, Sunny—please forgive me for not believing you earlier. It just seemed too far-fetched that he would have searched you out, disguised himself as a laboratory assistant, and concocted an elaborate plan to steal your fortune.”

“I wonder what happened to Gustav, Uncle Monty’s real lab assistant?” Klaus wondered out loud. “If Gustav hadn’t quit, then Uncle Monty never would have hired Count Olaf.”

Count Olaf had been quiet this whole time, ever since the tattoo had appeared. His shiny eyes had darted this way and that, watching everyone carefully the way a lion will watch a herd of antelope, looking for the one that would be best to kill and eat. But at the mention of Gustav’s name, he spoke up.

“Gustav didn’t quit,” he said in his wheezy voice. “Gustav is dead! One day when he was out collecting wildflowers I drowned him in the Swarthy Swamp. Then I forged a note saying he quit.” Count Olaf looked at the three children as if he were going to run over and strangle them, but instead he stood absolutely still, which somehow was even scarier. “But that’s nothing compared to what I will do to you, orphans. You have won this round of the game, but I will return for your fortune, and for your precious skin.”

“This is not a game, you horrible man,” Mr. Poe said. “Dominos is a game. Water polo is a game. Murder is a crime, and you will go to jail for it. I will drive you to the police station in town right this very minute. Oh, drat, I can’t. My car is wrecked. Well, I’ll take you down in Dr. Montgomery’s jeep, and you children can follow along in Dr. Lucafont’s car. I guess you’ll be able to see the inside of a doctor’s automobile, after all.”

“It might be easier,” Dr. Lucafont said, “to put Stephano in my car, and have the children follow behind. After all, Dr. Montgomery’s body is in my car, so there’s no room for all three children, anyway.”

“Well,” Mr. Poe said, “I’d hate to disappoint the children after they’ve had such a trying time. We can move Dr. Montgomery’s body to the jeep, and—”

“We couldn’t care less about the inside of a doctor’s automobile,” Violet said impatiently. “We only made that up so we wouldn’t be trapped alone with Count Olaf.”

“You shouldn’t tell lies, orphans,” Count Olaf said.

“I don’t think you are in a position to give moral lectures to children, Olaf,” Mr. Poe said sternly. “All right, Dr. Lucafont, you take him.”

Dr. Lucafont grabbed Count Olaf’s shoulder with one of his oddly stiff hands, and led the way out of the Reptile Room and to the front door, stopping at the doorway to give Mr. Poe and the three children a thin smile.

“Say good-bye to the orphans, Count Olaf,” Dr. Lucafont said.

“Good-bye,” Count Olaf said.

“Good-bye,” Violet said.

“Good-bye,” Klaus said.

Mr. Poe coughed into his handkerchief and gave a sort of disgusted half-wave at Count Olaf, indicating good-bye. But Sunny didn’t say anything. Violet and Klaus looked down at her, surprised that she hadn’t said “Yeet!” or “Libo!” or any of her various terms for “good-bye.” But Sunny was staring at Dr. Lucafont with a determined look in her eye, and in a moment she had leaped into the air and bitten him on the hand.

“Sunny!” Violet said, and was about to apologize for her behavior when she saw Dr. Lucafont’s whole hand come loose from his arm and fall to the floor. As Sunny clamped down on it with her four sharp teeth, the hand made a crackling sound, like breaking wood or plastic rather than skin or bone. And when Violet looked at the place where Dr. Lucafont’s hand had been, she saw no blood or indication of a wound, but a shiny, metal hook. Dr. Lucafont looked at the hook, too, and then at Violet, and grinned horribly. Count Olaf grinned too, and in a second the two of them had darted out the door.

“The hook-handed man!” Violet shouted. “He’s not a doctor! He’s one of Count Olaf’s henchmen!” Instinctively, Violet grabbed the air where the two men had been standing, but of course they weren’t there. She opened the front door wide and saw the two of them sprinting through the snake-shaped hedges.

“After them!” Klaus shouted, and the three Baudelaires started to run through the door. But Mr. Poe stepped in front of them and blocked their way.

“No!” he cried.

“But it’s the hook-handed man!” Violet shouted. “He and Olaf will get away!”

“I can’t let you run out after two dangerous criminals,” Mr. Poe replied. “I am responsible for the safety of you children, and I will not have any harm come to you.”

“Then you go after them!” Klaus cried. “But hurry!”

Mr. Poe began to step out the door, but he stopped when he heard the roar of a car engine starting up. The two ruffians—a word which here means “horrible people”—had reached Dr. Lucafont’s car, and were already driving away.

“Get in the jeep!” Violet exclaimed. “Follow them!”

“A grown man,” Mr. Poe said sternly, “does not get involved in a car chase. This is a job for the police. I’ll go call them now, and maybe they can set up roadblocks.”

The Baudelaire youngsters watched Mr. Poe shut the door and race to the telephone, and their hearts sank. They knew it was no use. By the time Mr. Poe was through explaining the situation to the police, Count Olaf and the hook-handed man were sure to be long gone. Suddenly exhausted, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny walked to Uncle Monty’s enormous staircase and sat down on the bottom step, listening to the faint sound of Mr. Poe talking on the phone. They knew that trying to find Count Olaf and the hook-handed man, particularly when it grew dark, would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Despite their anxiety over Count Olaf’s escape, the three orphans must have fallen asleep for a few hours, for the next thing they knew, it was nighttime and they were still on the bottom step. Somebody had placed a blanket over them, and as they stretched themelves, they saw three men in overalls walking out of the Reptile Room, carrying some of the reptiles in their cages. Behind them walked a chubby man in a brightly colored plaid suit, who stopped when he saw they were awake.

“Hey, kids,” the chubby man said in a loud, booming voice. “I’m sorry if I woke you up, but my team has to move quickly.”

“Who are you?” Violet asked. It is confusing to fall asleep in the daytime and wake up at night.

“What are you doing with Uncle Monty’s reptiles?” Klaus asked. It is also confusing to realize you have been sleeping on stairs, rather than in a bed or sleeping bag.

“Dixnik?” Sunny asked. It is always confusing why anyone would choose to wear a plaid suit.

“The name’s Bruce,” Bruce said. “I’m the director of marketing for the Herpetological Society. Your friend Mr. Poe called me to come and retrieve the snakes now that Dr. Montgomery has passed on. ‘Retrieve’ means ‘take away.’”

“We know what the word ‘retrieve’ means,” Klaus said, “but why are you taking them? Where are they going?”

“Well, you three are the orphans, right? You’ll be moving on to some other relative who won’t die on you like Montgomery did. And these snakes need to be taken care of, so we’re giving them away to other scientists, zoos, and retirement homes. Those we can’t find homes for we’ll have put to sleep.”

“But they’re Uncle Monty’s collection!” Klaus cried. “It took him years to find all these reptiles! You can’t just scatter them to the winds!”

“It’s the way it has to be,” Bruce said smoothly. He was still talking in a very loud voice, for no apparent reason.

“Viper!” Sunny shouted, and began to crawl toward the Reptile Room.

“What my sister means,” Violet explained, “is that she’s very close friends with one of the snakes. Could we take just one with us—the Incredibly Deadly Viper?”

“First off, no,” Bruce said. “That guy Poe said all the snakes now belong to us. And second off, if you think I’m going to let small children near the Incredibly Deadly Viper, think again.”

“But the Incredibly Deadly Viper is harmless,” Violet said. “Its name is a misnomer.”

Bruce scratched his head. “A what?”

“That means ‘a wrong name,’” Klaus explained. “Uncle Monty discovered it, so he got to name it.”

“But this guy was supposed to be brilliant,” Bruce said. He reached into a pocket in his plaid jacket and pulled out a cigar. “Giving a snake a wrong name doesn’t sound brilliant to me. It sounds idiotic. But then, what can you expect from a man whose own name was Montgomery Montgomery?”

“It is not nice,” Klaus said, “to lampoon someone’s name like that.”

“I don’t have time to ask you what ‘lampoon’ means,” Bruce said. “But if the baby here wants to wave bye-bye to the Incredibly Deadly Viper, she’d better do it soon. It’s already outside.”

Sunny began to crawl toward the front door, but Klaus was not through talking to Bruce. “Our Uncle Monty was brilliant,” he said firmly.

“He was a brilliant man,” Violet agreed, “and we will always remember him as such.”

“Brilliant!” Sunny shrieked, in mid-crawl, and her siblings smiled down at her, surprised she had uttered a word that everyone could understand.

Bruce lit his cigar and blew smoke into the air, then shrugged. “It’s nice you feel that way, kid,” he said. “Good luck wherever they put you.” He looked at a shiny diamond watch on his wrist, and turned to talk to the men in overalls. “Let’s get a move on. In five minutes we have to be back on that road that smells like ginger.”

“It’s horseradish,” Violet corrected, but Bruce had already walked away. She and Klaus looked at each other, and then began following Sunny outside to wave good-bye to their reptile friends. But as they reached the door, Mr. Poe walked into the room and blocked them again.

“I see you’re awake,” he said. “Please go upstairs and go to sleep, then. We have to get up very early in the morning.”

“We just want to say good-bye to the snakes,” Klaus said, but Mr. Poe shook his head.

“You’ll get in Bruce’s way,” he replied. “Plus, I would think you three would never want to see a snake again.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another and sighed. Everything in the world seemed wrong. It was wrong that Uncle Monty was dead. It was wrong that Count Olaf and the hook-handed man had escaped. It was wrong for Bruce to think of Monty as a person with a silly name, instead of a brilliant scientist. And it was wrong to assume that the children never wanted to see a snake again. The snakes, and indeed everything in the Reptile Room, were the last reminders the Baudelaires had of the few happy days they’d spent there at the house—the few happy days they’d had since their parents had perished. Even though they understood that Mr. Poe wouldn’t let them live alone with the reptiles, it was all wrong never to see them again, without even saying good-bye.

Ignoring Mr. Poe’s instructions, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny rushed out the front door where the men in overalls were loading the cages into a van with “Herpetological Society” written on the back. It was a full moon, and the moonlight reflected off the glass walls of the Reptile Room as though it were a large jewel with a bright, bright shine—brilliant, one might say. When Bruce had used the word “brilliant” about Uncle Monty, he meant “having a reputation for cleverness or intelligence.” But when the children used the word—and when they thought of it now, staring at the Reptile Room glowing in the moonlight—it meant more than that. It meant that even in the bleak circumstances of their current situation, even throughout the series of unfortunate events that would happen to them for the rest of their lives, Uncle Monty and his kindness would shine in their memories. Uncle Monty was brilliant, and their time with him was brilliant. Bruce and his men from the Herpetological Society could dismantle Uncle Monty’s collection, but nobody could ever dismantle the way the Baudelaires would think of him.

“Good-bye, good-bye!” the Baudelaire orphans called, as the Incredibly Deadly Viper was loaded into the truck. “Good-bye, good-bye!” they called, and even though the Viper was Sunny’s special friend, Violet and Klaus found themselves crying along with their sister, and when the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked up to see them, they saw that it was crying too, tiny shiny tears falling from its green eyes. The Viper was brilliant, too, and as the children looked at one another, they saw their own tears and the way they shone.

“You’re brilliant,” Violet murmured to Klaus, “reading up on the Mamba du Mal.”

“You’re brilliant,” Klaus murmured back, “getting the evidence out of Stephano’s suitcase.”

“Brilliant!” Sunny said again, and Violet and Klaus gave their baby sister a hug. Even the youngest Baudelaire was brilliant, for distracting the adults with the Incredibly Deadly Viper.

“Good-bye, good-bye!” the brilliant Baudelaires called, and waved to Uncle Monty’s reptiles. They stood together in the moonlight, and kept waving, even when Bruce shut the doors of the van, even as the van drove past the snake-shaped hedges and down the driveway to Lousy Lane, and even when it turned a corner and disappeared into the dark.

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