بخش 03

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: آبشار یخ زده / فصل 3

بخش 03

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CHAPTER Six

In the very early hours of the morning, while the two elder Baudelaires struggled to find their footing as they climbed up the Vertical Flame Diversion—and I sincerely hope that you did not read the description of that journey—the youngest Baudelaire found herself struggling with a different sort of footing altogether. Sunny had not enjoyed the long, cold night on Mount Fraught. If you have ever slept in a covered casserole dish on the highest peak of a mountain range, then you know that it is an uncomfortable place to lay one’s head, even if you find a dishtowel inside it that can serve as a blanket. All night long, the chilly mountain winds blew through the tiny holes inside the top of the cover, making it so cold inside the dish that Sunny’s enormous teeth chattered all night, giving her tiny cuts on her lips and making such a loud noise that it was impossible to sleep. Finally, when the first rays of the morning sun shone through the holes and made it warm enough to doze, Count Olaf left his tent and kicked open the cover of the dish to begin ordering Sunny around. “Wake up, you dentist’s nightmare!” he cried. Sunny opened one exhausted eye and found herself staring at the villain’s footing, particularly the tattoo on Olaf’s left ankle, a sight that was enough to make her wish her eyes were still closed.

Tattooed on Olaf’s ankle was the image of an eye, and it seemed to Sunny that this eye had been watching the Baudelaires throughout all of their troubles, from the day on Briny Beach when they learned of the terrible fire that destroyed their home. Time after time, Count Olaf had tried to hide this eye so the authorities would not recognize him, so the children were always uncovering it from behind his ridiculous disguises, and the Baudelaires had begun seeing the eye in other places, such as at the office of an evil hypnotist, on the side of a carnival tent, on Esmé Squalor’s purse, and on a necklace owned by a mysterious fortune-teller. It was almost as if this eye had replaced the eyes of their parents, but instead of keeping watch over the children and making sure that they were safe from harm, this eye merely gave them a blank stare, as if it did not care about the children’s troubles, or could do nothing about them. If you looked very closely, you could find the letters V.F.D. half-hidden in the eye, and this reminded Sunny of all the sinister secrets that surrounded the three siblings, and how far they were from understanding the web of mystery in which they found themselves. But it is hard to think about mysteries and secrets first thing in the morning, particularly if someone is yelling at you, and Sunny turned her attention to what her captor was saying.

“You’ll be doing all the cooking and cleaning for us, orphan,” Count Olaf said, “and you can start by making us breakfast. We have a big day ahead of us, and a good breakfast will give me and my troupe the energy we need to perform unspeakable crimes.”

“Plakna?” Sunny asked, which meant “How am I supposed to cook breakfast on the top of a freezing mountain?” but Count Olaf just gave her a nasty smile.

“Too bad your brain isn’t as big as your teeth, you little monkey,” he said. “You’re talking nonsense, as usual.”

Sunny sighed, frustrated that there was no one on top of the Mortmain Mountains who understood what she was trying to say. “Translo,” she said, which meant “Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean that it’s nonsense.”

“There you go, babbling again,” Olaf said, and tossed Sunny the car keys. “Get the groceries out of the trunk of the car and get to work.”

Sunny suddenly thought of something that might cheer her up a little bit. “Sneakitawc,” she said, which was her way of saying “Of course, because you don’t understand me, I can say anything I want to you, and you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.”

“I’m getting quite tired of your ridiculous speech impediment,” Count Olaf said.

“Brummel,” Sunny said, which meant “In my opinion, you desperately need a bath, and your clothing is a shambles.”

“Be quiet this instant,” Olaf ordered.

“Busheney,” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of, “You’re an evil man with no concern whatsoever for other people.”

“Shut up!” Count Olaf roared. “Shut up and get cooking!”

Sunny got out of the casserole dish and stood up, looking down at the snowy ground so the villain would not see she was smiling. It is not nice to tease people, of course, but the youngest Baudelaire felt that it was all right to enjoy a joke at the expense of such a murderous and evil man, and she walked to Olaf’s car with a spring in her step, a phrase which here means “in a surprisingly cheerful manner considering she was in the clutches of a ruthless villain on top of a mountain so cold that even the nearby waterfall was frozen solid.”

But when Sunny Baudelaire opened the trunk of the car her smile faded. Under normal circumstances, it is not safe to keep groceries in the trunk of a car for an extended period of time, because some foods will spoil without being refrigerated. But Sunny saw that the temperatures of the Mortmain Mountains had caused the groceries to become over-refrigerated. A thin layer of frost covered every item, and Sunny had to crawl inside and wipe the frost off with her bare hands to see what she might make for the troupe. There was a variety of well-chilled food that Olaf had stolen from the carnival, but none of it seemed like the makings of a good breakfast. There was a bag of coffee beans beneath a harpoon gun and a frozen hunk of spinach, but there was no way to grind the beans into tiny pieces to make coffee. Near a picnic basket and a large bag of mushrooms was a jug of orange juice, but it had been close to one of the bullet holes in the trunk, and so had frozen completely solid in the cold. And after Sunny moved aside three chunks of cold cheese, a large can of water chestnuts, and an eggplant as big as herself, she finally found a small jar of boysenberry jam, and a loaf of bread she could use to make toast, although it was so cold it felt more like a log than a breakfast ingredient.

“Wake up!” Sunny peeked out of the trunk and saw Count Olaf calling through the door of one of the tents she had assembled. “Wake up and get dressed for breakfast!”

“Can’t we sleep ten minutes more?” asked the whiny voice of the hook-handed man. “I was having a lovely dream about sneezing without covering my nose and mouth, and giving everybody germs.”

“Absolutely not!” Olaf replied. “I have lots of work for you to do.”

“But Olaf,” said Esmé Squalor, emerging from the tent she had shared with Count Olaf. Her hair was in curlers and she was wearing a long robe and a pair of fuzzy slippers. “I need a little while to choose what I’m going to wear. It’s not in to burn down a headquarters without wearing a fashionable outfit.”

Sunny gasped in the trunk. She had known that Olaf was eager to reach the V.F.D. headquarters as soon as possible, in order to get his hands on the rest of some crucial evidence, but it had not occurred to her that he would combine this evidence-grabbing with his usual pyromania, a word which here means “a love of fire, usually the product of a deranged mind.”

“I can’t imagine why you need all this time,” was Count Olaf’s grumpy reply to his girlfriend. “After all, I wear the same outfit for weeks at a time, except when I’m in disguise, and I look almost unbearably handsome. Well, I suppose you have a few minutes before breakfast is ready. Slow service is one of the disadvantages of having infants for slaves.” Olaf strode over to the car and peered in at Sunny, who was still clutching the loaf of bread.

“Hurry up, bigmouth,” he growled at Sunny. “I need a nice hot meal to take the chill out of the morning.”

“Unfeasi!” Sunny cried. By “Unfeasi” she meant “To make a hot meal without any electricity, I’d need a fire, and expecting a baby to start a fire all by herself on top of a snowy mountain is cruelly impossible and impossibly cruel,” but Olaf merely frowned.

“Your baby talk is really beginning to annoy me,” he said.

“Hygiene,” Sunny said, to make herself feel better. She meant something along the lines of, “Additionally, you ought to be ashamed of yourself for wearing the same outfit for weeks at a time without washing,” but Olaf merely scowled at her and walked back into his tent.

Sunny looked at the cold ingredients and tried to think. Even if she had been old enough to start a fire by herself, Sunny had been nervous around flames since the fire that had destroyed the Baudelaire mansion. But as she thought of the fire that destroyed her own home, she remembered something her mother had told her once. They had both been busy in the kitchen—Sunny’s mother was busy preparing for a fancy luncheon, and Sunny was busy dropping a fork on the floor over and over again to see what sort of sound it made. The luncheon was due to start any minute, and Sunny’s mother was quickly mixing up a salad of sliced mango, black beans, and chopped celery mixed with black pepper, lime juice, and olive oil. “This isn’t a very complicated recipe, Sunny,” her mother had said, “but if I arrange the salad very nicely on fancy plates, people will think I’ve been cooking all day. Often, when cooking, the presentation of the food can be as important as the food itself.” Thinking of what her mother had said, she opened the picnic basket in Olaf’s trunk and found that it contained a set of elegant plates, each emblazoned with the familiar eye insignia, and a small tea set. Then she rolled up her sleeves—an expression which here means “focused very hard on the task at hand, but did not actually roll up her sleeves, because it was very cold on the highest peak of the Mortmain Mountains”—and got to work as Count Olaf and his comrades started their day.

“I’ll use these blankets for a tablecloth,” Sunny heard Olaf say in the tent, over the sound her own teeth were making.

“Good idea,” she heard Esmé reply. “It’s very in to dine al fresco.”

“What does that mean?” Olaf asked.

“It means ‘outside,’ of course,” Esmé explained. “It’s fashionable to eat your meals in the fresh air.”

“I knew what it meant,” Count Olaf replied. “I was just testing you.”

“Hey boss,” Hugo called from the next tent. “Colette won’t share the dental floss.”

“There’s no reason to use dental floss,” Count Olaf said, “unless you’re trying to strangle someone with a very weak neck.”

“Kevin, would you do me a favor?” the hook-handed man asked, as Sunny struggled to open the jug of juice. “Will you help me comb my hair? These hooks can make it difficult sometimes.”

“I’m jealous of your hooks,” Kevin replied. “Having no hands is better than having two equally strong hands.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” one of the white-faced women replied. “Having a white face is worse than both of your situations.”

“But you have a white face because you put makeup on,” Colette said, as Sunny climbed back out of the trunk and knelt down in the snow. “You’re putting powder on your face right now.”

“Must you bicker every single morning?” Count Olaf asked, and stomped back out of his tent carrying a blanket covered in images of eyes. “Somebody take this blanket and set the table over there on that flat rock.”

Hugo walked out of the tent and smiled at his new boss. “I’d be happy to,” he said.

Esmé stepped outside, having changed into a bright red snowsuit, and put her arm around Olaf. “Fold the blanket into a large triangle,” she said to Hugo. “That’s the in way to do it.”

“Yes ma’am,” Hugo said, “and, if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s a very handsome snowsuit you are wearing.”

The villainous girlfriend turned all the way around to show off her outfit from every angle. Sunny looked up from her cooking and noticed that the letter B was sewn onto the back of it, along with the eye insignia. “I’m glad you like it, Hugo,” Esmé said. “It’s stolen.”

Count Olaf glanced at Sunny and quickly stepped in front of his girlfriend. “What are you staring at, toothy?” he asked. “Are you done making breakfast?”

“Almost,” Sunny replied.

“That infant never makes any sense,” Hugo said. “No wonder she fooled us into thinking she was a carnival freak.”

Sunny sighed, but no one heard her over the scornful laughter of Olaf’s troupe. One by one, the villain’s wretched employees emerged from the tent and strolled over to the flat rock where Hugo was laying out the blanket. One of the white-faced women glanced at Sunny and gave her a small smile, but nobody offered to help her finish with the breakfast preparations, or even to set the table with the eye-patterned dishes. Instead, they gathered around the rock talking and laughing until Sunny carefully carried the breakfast over to them, arranged on a large eye-shaped tray that she’d found in the bottom of the picnic basket. Although she was still frightened to be in Olaf’s clutches and worried about her siblings, Sunny could not help but be a little proud as Count Olaf and his comrades looked at the meal she had prepared.

Sunny had kept in mind what her mother had said about presentation being as important as the food itself, and managed to put together a lovely breakfast despite the difficult circumstances. First, she had opened the jug of frozen orange juice and used a small spoon to chip away at the ice until she had a large heap of juice shavings, which she arranged into tiny piles on each plate to make orange granita, a cold and delicious concoction that is often served at fancy dinner parties and masked balls. Then, Sunny had rinsed her mouth out with melted snow so it would be as clean as possible, and chopped some of the coffee beans with her teeth. She placed a bit of the ground coffee inside each cup and combined it with more snow she had melted in her own hands to make iced coffee, a delicious beverage I first enjoyed when visiting Thailand to interview a taxi driver. Meanwhile, the youngest Baudelaire had put the chilled bread underneath her shirt to warm it up, and when it was warm enough to eat she put one slice on each plate, and using a small spoon, spread some boysenberry jam on each piece of bread. She did her best to spread the jam in the shape of an eye, to please the villains who would be eating it, and as a finishing touch she found a bouquet of ivy, which Count Olaf had given his girlfriend not so long ago, and placed it in the small pitcher of the tea set used for cream. There was no cream, but the ivy would help the presentation of the food by serving as a centerpiece, a word which here means “a decoration placed in the middle of a table, often used to distract people from the food.” Of course, orange granita and iced coffee are not often served at al fresco breakfasts on cold mountain peaks, and bread with jam is more traditionally prepared as toast, but without a source of heat or any other cooking equipment, Sunny had done the best she could, and she hoped that Olaf and his troupe might appreciate her efforts.

“Caffefredde, sorbet, toast tartar,” she announced.

“What is this?” Count Olaf said suspiciously, peering into his coffee cup. “It looks like coffee, but it’s freezing cold!”

“And what is this orange stuff?” Esmé asked suspiciously. “I want fashionable, in food, not a handful of ice!”

Colette picked up a piece of the bread and stared at it suspiciously. “This toast feels raw,” she said. “Is it safe to eat raw toast?”

“Of course not,” Hugo said. “I bet that baby is trying to poison us.”

“Actually, the coffee isn’t bad,” one of the white-faced women said, “even if it is a little bitter. Could someone pass the sugar, please?”

“Sugar?” shrieked Count Olaf, erupting in anger. He stood up, grabbed one end of the blanket, and pulled as hard as he could, scattering all of Sunny’s hard work. Food, beverages, and dishes fell everywhere, and Sunny had to duck to avoid getting hit on the head with a flying fork. “All the sugar in the world couldn’t save this terrible breakfast!” he roared, and then leaned down so that his shiny, shiny eyes stared right into Sunny’s. “I told you to make a nice, hot breakfast, and you gave me cold, disgusting nonsense!” he said, his smelly breath making a cloud in the chilly air. “Don’t you see how high up we are, you sabertoothed papoose? If I threw you off Mount Fraught, you’d never survive!”

“Olaf!” Esmé said. “I’m surprised at you! Surely you remember that we’ll never get the Baudelaire fortune if we toss Sunny off the mountain. We have to keep Sunny alive for the greater good.”

“Yes, yes,” Count Olaf said. “I remember. I’m not going to throw the orphan off the mountain. I just wanted to terrify her.” He gave Sunny a cruel smirk, and then turned to the hook-handed man. “Walk over to that frozen waterfall,” he said, “and crack a hole in the ice with your hook. The stream is full of Stricken Salmon. Catch enough for all of us, and we’ll have the baby prepare us a proper meal.”

“Good idea, Olaf,” the hook-handed man said, standing up and walking toward the icy slope. “You’re as smart as you are intelligent.”

“Sakesushi,” Sunny said quietly, which meant “I don’t think you’ll enjoy salmon if it’s not cooked.”

“Stop your baby talk and wash these dishes,” Olaf ordered. “They’re covered in lousy food.”

“You know, Olaf,” said the white-faced woman who had asked for sugar, “it’s none of my business, but we might put someone else in charge of cooking. It was probably difficult for a baby to prepare a hot breakfast without a fire.”

“But there is a fire,” said a deep, low voice, and everyone turned around to see who had arrived.

Having an aura of menace is like having a pet weasel, because you rarely meet someone who has one, and when you do it makes you want to hide under the coffee table. An aura of menace is simply a distinct feeling of evil that accompanies the arrival of certain people, and very few individuals are evil enough to produce an aura of menace that is very strong. Count Olaf, for example, had an aura of menace that the three Baudelaires had felt the moment they met him, but a number of other people never seemed to sense that a villain was in their midst, even when Olaf was standing right next to them with an evil gleam in his eye. But when two visitors arrived at the highest peak of the Mortmain Mountains, their aura of menace was unmistakable. Sunny gasped when she saw them. Esmé Squalor shuddered in her snowsuit. The members of Olaf’s troupe—all except the hook-handed man, who was busy fishing for salmon and so was lucky enough to miss the visitors’ arrival—gazed down at the snowy ground rather than take a further look at them. Count Olaf himself looked a bit nervous as the man, the woman, and their aura of menace drew closer and closer. And even I, after all this time, can feel their aura of menace so strongly, just by writing about these two people, that I dare not say their names, and will instead refer to them the way everyone who dares refer to them refers to them, as “the man with a beard, but no hair” and “the woman with hair, but no beard.”

“It’s good to see you, Olaf,” continued the deep voice, and Sunny realized that the voice belonged to the sinister-looking woman. She was dressed in a suit made of a strange blue fabric that was very shiny, decorated with two large pads, one on each shoulder. She was dragging a wooden toboggan—a word which here means “a sled big enough to hold several people,” which made an eerie scraping sound against the cold ground. “I was worried that the authorities might have captured you.”

“You look well,” said the man with a beard but no hair. He was dressed identically to the woman with hair but no beard, but his voice was very hoarse, as if he had been screaming for hours and could hardly talk. “It’s been a long time since we’ve laid eyes on one another.” The man gave Olaf a grin that made it seem even colder on the mountain peak, and then stopped and helped the woman lean the toboggan against the rock where Sunny had served breakfast. The youngest Baudelaire saw that the toboggan was painted with the familiar eye insignia, and had a few long leather straps, presumably used for steering.

Count Olaf coughed lightly into his hand, which is something people often do when they cannot think of what to say. “Hello,” he said, a bit nervously. “Did I hear you say something about a fire?”

The man with a beard but no hair and the woman with hair but no beard looked at one another and shared a laugh that made Sunny cover her ears with her hands. “Haven’t you noticed,” the woman said, “that there are no snow gnats around?”

“We had noticed that,” Esmé said. “I thought maybe snow gnats were no longer in.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Esmé,” said the man with a beard but no hair. He reached out and kissed Esmé’s hand, which Sunny could see was trembling. “The gnats aren’t around because they can smell the smoke.”

“I don’t smell anything,” said Hugo.

“Well, if you were a tiny insect, you’d smell something,” replied the woman with hair but no beard. “If you were a snow gnat, you’d smell the smoke from the V.F.D. headquarters.”

“We did you a favor, Olaf,” the man said. “We burned the entire place down.”

“No!” Sunny cried, before she could stop herself. By “No!” she meant “I certainly hope that isn’t true, because my siblings and I hoped to reach V.F.D. headquarters, solve the mysteries that surround us, and perhaps find one of our parents,” but she had not planned to say it out loud. The two visitors looked down at the youngest Baudelaire, casting their aura of menace in her direction.

“What is that?” asked the man with a beard but no hair.

“That’s the youngest Baudelaire,” replied Esmé. “We’ve eliminated the other two, but we’re keeping this one around to do our bidding until we can finally steal the fortune.”

The woman with hair but no beard nodded. “Infant servants are so troublesome,” she said. “I had an infant servant once—a long time ago, before the schism.”

“Before the schism?” Olaf said, and Sunny wished Klaus were with her, because the baby did not know what the word “schism” meant. “That is a long time ago. That infant must be all grown up by now.”

“Not necessarily,” the woman said, and laughed again, while her companion leaned down to gaze at Sunny. Sunny could not bear to look into the eyes of the man with a beard but no hair, and instead looked down at his shiny shoes.

“So this is Sunny Baudelaire,” he said in his strange, hoarse voice. “Well, well, well. I’ve heard so much about this little orphan. She’s caused almost as many problems as her parents did.” He stood up again and looked around at Olaf and his troupe. “But we know how to solve problems, don’t we? Fire can solve any problem in the world.”

He began to laugh, and the woman with hair but no beard laughed along with him. Nervously, Count Olaf began to laugh, too, and then glared at his troupe until they laughed along with him, and Sunny found herself surrounded by tall, laughing villains. “Oh, it was wonderful,” said the woman with hair but no beard. “First we burned down the kitchen. Then we burned down the dining room. Then we burned down the parlor, and then the disguise center, the movie room, and the stables. Then we moved on to the gymnasium and the training center, and the garage and all six of the laboratories. We burned down the dormitories and schoolrooms, the lounge, the theater, and the music room, as well as the museum and the ice cream shop. Then we burned down the rehearsal studios and the testing centers and the swimming pool, which was very hard to burn down. Then we burned down all the bathrooms, and then finally, we burned down the V.F.D. library last night. That was my favorite part—books and books and books, all turned to ashes so no one could read them. You should have been there, Olaf! Every morning we lit fires and every evening we celebrated with a bottle of wine and some finger puppets. We’ve been wearing these fireproof suits for almost a month. It’s been a marvelous time.”

“Why did you burn it down gradually?” Count Olaf asked. “Whenever I burn something down, I do it all at once.”

“We couldn’t have burned down the entire headquarters at once,” said the man with a beard but no hair. “Someone would have spotted us. Remember, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

“But if you burned the headquarters down room by room,” Esmé said, “didn’t all of the volunteers escape?”

“They were gone already,” said the man, and scratched his head where his hair might have been. “The entire headquarters were deserted. It was as if they knew we were coming. Oh well, you can’t win them all.”

“Maybe we’ll find some of them when we burn down the carnival,” said the woman, in her deep, deep voice.

“Carnival?” Olaf asked nervously.

“Yes,” the woman said, and scratched the place where her beard would have been, if she had one. “There’s an important piece of evidence that V.F.D. has hidden in a figurine sold at Caligari Carnival, so we need to go burn it down.”

“I burned it down already,” Count Olaf said.

“The whole place?” the woman said in surprise.

“The whole place,” Olaf said, giving her a nervous smile.

“Congratulations,” she said, in a deep purr. “You’re better than I thought, Olaf.”

Count Olaf looked relieved, as if he had not been sure whether the woman was going to compliment him or kick him. “Well, it’s all for the greater good,” he said.

“As a reward,” the woman said, “I have a gift for you, Olaf.” Sunny watched as the woman reached into the pocket of her shiny suit and drew out a stack of paper, tied together with thick rope. The paper looked very old and worn, as if it had been passed around to a variety of different people, hidden in a number of secret compartments, and perhaps even divided into different piles, driven around a city in horse-drawn carriages, and then put back together at midnight in the back room of a bookstore disguised as a café disguised as a sporting goods store. Count Olaf’s eyes grew very wide and very shiny, and he reached his filthy hands toward it as if it were the Baudelaire fortune itself.

“The Snicket file!” he said, in a hushed whisper.

“It’s all here,” the woman said. “Every chart, every map and every photograph from the only file that could put us all in jail.”

“It’s complete except for page thirteen, of course,” the man said. “We understand that the Baudelaires managed to steal that page from Heimlich Hospital.”

The two visitors glared down at Sunny Baudelaire, who couldn’t help whimpering in fear. “Surchmi,” she said. She meant something along the lines of, “I don’t have it—my siblings do,” but she did not need a translator.

“The older orphans have it,” Olaf said, “but I’m fairly certain they’re dead.”

“Then all of our problems have gone up in smoke,” said the woman with hair but no beard.

Count Olaf grabbed the file and held it to his chest as if it were a newborn baby, although he was not the sort of person to treat a newborn baby very kindly. “This is the most wonderful gift in the world,” he said. “I’m going to go read it right now.”

“We’ll all read it together,” said the woman with hair but no beard. “It contains secrets we all ought to know.”

“But first,” said the man with a beard but no hair, “I have a gift for your girlfriend, Olaf.”

“For me?” Esmé asked.

“I found these in one of the rooms of headquarters,” the man said. “I’ve never seen one before, but it has been quite some time since I was a volunteer.” With a sly smile, he reached into his pocket and took out a small green tube.

“What’s that?” Esmé asked.

“I think it’s a cigarette,” the man said.

“A cigarette!” Esmé said, with a smile as big as Olaf’s. “How in!”

“I thought you’d enjoy them,” the man said. “Here, try it. I happen to have quite a few matches right here.”

The man with a beard but no hair struck a match, lit the end of the green tube, and offered it to the wicked girlfriend, who grabbed it and held it to her mouth. A bitter smell, like that of burning vegetables, filled the air, and Esmé Squalor began to cough.

“What’s the matter?” asked the woman in her deep voice. “I thought you liked things that are in.”

“I do,” Esmé said, and then coughed quite a bit more. Sunny was reminded of Mr. Poe, who was always coughing into a handkerchief, as Esmé coughed and coughed and finally dropped the green tube to the ground where it spewed out a dark green smoke. “I love cigarettes,” she explained to the man with a beard but no hair, “but I prefer to smoke them with a long holder because I don’t like the smell or taste and because they’re very bad for you.”

“Never mind that now,” Count Olaf said impatiently. “Let’s go into my tent and read the file.” He started to walk toward the tent but stopped and glared at his comrades, who were beginning to follow him. “The rest of you stay out here,” he said. “There are secrets in this file that I do not want you to know.”

The two sinister visitors began to laugh, and followed Count Olaf and Esmé into the tent, closing the flap behind them. Sunny stood with Hugo, Colette, Kevin, and the two white-faced women and stared after them in silence, waiting for the aura of menace to disappear.

“Who were those people?” asked the hook-handed man, and everyone turned to see that he had returned from his fishing expedition. Four salmon hung from each of his hooks, dripping with the waters of the Stricken Stream.

“I don’t know,” said one of the white-faced women, “but they made me very nervous.”

“If they’re friends of Count Olaf’s,” Kevin said, “how bad could they be?”

The members of the troupe looked at one another, but no one answered the ambidextrous person’s question. “What did that man mean when he said ‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire’?” Hugo asked.

“I don’t know,” Colette said. A chilly wind blew, and Sunny watched her contort her body in the breeze until it looked almost as curvy as the smoke from the green tube Esmé had dropped.

“Forget those questions,” the hook-handed man said. “My question is, how are you going to prepare this salmon, orphan?”

Olaf’s henchman was looking down at Sunny, but the youngest Baudelaire did not answer for a moment. Sunny was thinking, and her siblings would have been proud of her for the way she was thinking. Klaus would have been proud, because she was thinking about the phrase “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” and what it might mean. And Violet would have been proud, because she was thinking about the salmon that the hook-handed man was holding, and what she might invent that would help her. Sunny stared at the hook-handed man and thought as hard as she could, and she felt almost as if both siblings were with her, Klaus helping her think about a phrase and Violet helping her think about an invention.

“Answer me, baby,” the hook-handed man growled. “What are you going to make for us out of this salmon?”

“Lox!” Sunny said, but it was as if all three of the Baudelaires had answered the question.

CHAPTER Seven

An associate of mine once wrote a novel called Corridors of Power, which told the story of various people discussing how the world has become a corrupt and dangerous place and whether or not there are enough people with the integrity and decency necessary to keep the entire planet from descending into despair. I have not read this novel in several years, because I participate in enough discussions on how the world has become a corrupt and dangerous place and whether or not there are enough people with the integrity and decency necessary to keep the entire planet from descending into despair without reading about it in my leisure time, but nevertheless the phrase “corridors of power” has come to mean the hushed and often secret places where important matters are discussed. Whether or not they are actual corridors, the corridors of power tend to feel quiet and mysterious. If you have ever walked inside an important building, such as the main branch of a library or the office of a dentist who has agreed to disguise your teeth, then you may have experienced this feeling that accompanies the corridors of power, and Violet and Klaus Baudelaire experienced it as they reached the end of the Vertical Flame Diversion, and followed the mysterious sweatered scout as he climbed out of the secret passageway. Even through their masks, the two siblings could sense that they were in an important place, even though it was nothing more than a dim, curved hallway with a small grate on the ceiling where the morning light was shining through.

“That’s where the smoke escapes from the Snow Scouts’ fire,” whispered the mysterious scout, pointing up at the ceiling. “That leads to the very center of the Valley of Four Drafts, so the smoke is scattered to the four winds. V.F.D. doesn’t want anyone to see the smoke.”

“Where there’s smoke,” Violet said, “there’s fire.”

“Exactly,” the scout said. “Anyone who saw smoke coming from this high up in the mountains might become suspicious and investigate. In fact, I found a device that works exactly according to this principle.” He reached into his backpack and drew out a small rectangular box filled with small green tubes, exactly like the one that Sunny had seen the man with a beard but no hair give to Esmé Squalor.

“No thank you,” Violet said. “I don’t smoke.”

“I don’t, either,” the scout said, “but these aren’t cigarettes. These are Verdant Flammable Devices. Verdant means ‘green,’ so when you light one, it gives out a dark green smoke, so another volunteer will know where you are.”

Klaus took the box from the scout and squinted at it in the dim light. “I’ve seen a box like this before,” he said, “in my father’s desk, when I was looking for a letter opener. I remember thinking it was strange to find them, because he didn’t smoke.”

“He must have been hiding them,” Violet said. “Why was he keeping them a secret?”

“The entire organization is a secret,” the scout said. “It was very difficult for me to learn the secret location of the headquarters.”

“It was difficult for us, too,” Klaus said. “We found it in a coded map.”

“I had to draw my own map,” the scout said, and reached into a pocket in his sweater. He turned on the flashlight, and the two Baudelaires could see he was holding a notebook with a dark purple cover.

“What’s that?” Violet asked.

“It’s a commonplace book,” the scout said. “Whenever I find something that seems important or interesting, I write it down. That way, all my important information is in one place.”

“I should start one,” Klaus said. “My pockets are bulging with scraps of paper.”

“From information I read in Dr. Montgomery’s book, and a few others,” the scout said, “I managed to draw a map of where to go from here.” He opened the purple notebook and flipped a few pages until he reached a small but elegant rendering of the cave, the Vertical Flame Diversion, and the hallway in which they were standing now. “As you can see,” he said, running his finger along the hallway, “the passageway branches off in two directions.”

“This is a very well-drawn map,” Violet said.

“Thank you,” the scout replied. “I’ve been interested in cartography for quite some time. See, if we go to the left, there’s a small area used for sled and snowsuit storage, at least according to a newspaper article I found. But if we go right, we’ll arrive at the Vernacularly Fastened Door, which should open onto the headquarters’ kitchen. We might walk in on the entire organization having breakfast.”

The two Baudelaires looked at one another through their masks, and Violet put a hand on her brother’s shoulder. They did not dare to say out loud their hope that one of their parents might be just around the corner. “Let’s go,” Violet whispered.

The scout nodded silently in agreement, and led the Baudelaires down the hallway, which seemed to get colder and colder with every step. By now they were so far from Bruce and the Snow Scouts that there was no need to whisper, but all three children kept quiet as they walked down the dim, curved hallway, hushed by the feeling of the corridors of power. At last they reached a large metal door with a strange device where the doorknob should have been. The device looked a bit like a 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. Even in her excitement to see the headquarters, Violet’s inventing mind was interested in such a device, and she leaned closer to see what it was.

“Wait,” the sweatered scout said, reaching his arm out to stop her. “This is a coded lock. If we don’t operate it properly, we won’t be able to get into the headquarters.”

“How does it work?” Violet said, shivering slightly in the cold.

“I’m not sure,” the scout admitted, and took out his commonplace book again. “It’s called the Vernacularly Fastened Door, so—”

“So it operates on language,” Klaus finished. “Vernacular is a word for ‘a local language or dialect.’”

“Of course,” Violet said. “See how the wires are curled around the hinges of the door? They’re locked in place, unless you type in the right sequence of letters on that keyboard. There are more letters than numbers, so it would be more difficult for someone to guess the combination of the lock.”

“That’s what I read,” the scout confirmed, looking at a page in his notebook. “You’re supposed to type in three specific phrases in a row. The phrases change every season, so volunteers need to have a lot of information at their fingertips to use this door. The first is the name of the scientist most widely credited with the discovery of gravity.”

“That’s easy,” Violet said, and typed in S-IR-I-S-A-A-C-N-E-W-T-O-N, the name of a physicist she had always admired. When she was finished, there was a muted clicking sound from the typewriter keyboard, as if the device was warming up.

“The second is the Latin name for the Volunteer Feline Detectives,” the scout said. “I found the answer in Remarkable Phenomena of the Mortmain Mountains. It’s Panthera leo.” He leaned forward and typed in P-A-N-T-H-E-RA-L-E-O. There was a very quiet buzzing sound, and the children saw that the wires near the hinges were shaking very slightly.

“It’s beginning to unlock,” Violet said. “I hope I get a chance to study this invention.”

“Let’s get to the headquarters first,” Klaus said. “What’s the third phrase?”

The scout sighed, and turned a page in the commonplace book. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “Another volunteer told me that it’s the central theme of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.”

Violet knew that her brother was smiling, even though she could not see his face through the mask. She was remembering one summer, very long ago, when Klaus was very young and Sunny was not even conceived. Every summer, the Baudelaires’ mother would read a very long book, joking that lifting a large novel was the only exercise she liked to get during the hot months. During the time Violet was thinking of, Mrs. Baudelaire chose Anna Karenina for her summer reading, and Klaus would sit on his mother’s lap for hours at a time while she read. The middle Baudelaire had not been reading very long, but their mother helped him with the big words and would occasionally stop reading to explain what had happened in the story, and in this way Klaus and his mother read the story of Ms. Karenina, whose boyfriend treats her so poorly that she throws herself under a train. Violet had spent most of that summer studying the laws of thermodynamics and building a miniature helicopter out of an eggbeater and some old copper wiring, but she knew that Klaus must remember the central theme of the book he read on his mother’s lap.

“The central theme of Anna Karenina,” he said, “is that a rural life of moral simplicity, despite its monotony, is the preferable personal narrative to a daring life of impulsive passion, which only leads to tragedy.”

“That’s a very long theme,” the scout said.

“It’s a very long book,” Klaus replied. “But I can work quickly. My sisters and I once tapped out a long telegram in no time at all.”

“Too bad that telegram never arrived,” the scout said quietly, but the middle Baudelaire was already pressing the keys on the Vernacularly Fastened Door. As Klaus typed the words “a rural life,” a phrase which here means “living in the country,” the wires began to curl and uncurl very quickly, like worms on a sidewalk after it has rained, and by the time Klaus was typing “the preferable personal narrative,” a phrase which here means “the way to live your life,” the entire door was quivering as if it were as nervous as the Baudelaires. Finally, Klaus typed “T-R-A-G-E-D-Y,” and the three children stepped back, but instead of opening, the door stopped shaking and the wires stopped moving, and the passageway was dead quiet.

“It’s not opening,” Violet said. “Maybe that isn’t the central theme of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.”

“It seemed like it was working until the last word,” the scout said.

“Maybe the mechanism is a little stuck,” Violet said.

“Or maybe a daring life of impulsive passion only leads to something else,” the scout said, and in some cases this mysterious person was right. A daring life of impulsive passion is an expression which refers to people who follow what is in their hearts, and like people who prefer to follow their head, or follow the advice of other people, or follow a mysterious man in a dark blue raincoat, people who lead a daring life of impulsive passion end up doing all sorts of things. For instance, if you ever find yourself reading a book entitled The Bible, you would find the story of Adam and Eve, whose daring life of impulsive passion led to them putting on clothing for the first time in their lives, in order to leave the snake-infested garden where they had been living. Bonnie and Clyde, another famous couple who lived a daring life of impulsive passion, found that it led them to a successful if short career in bank robbery. And in my own case, in the few moments where I have led a daring life of impulsive passion, it has led to all sorts of trouble, from false accusations of arson to a broken cuff link I can never have repaired. But in this case, as the Baudelaires stood at the Vernacularly Fastened Door, hoping to reach the V.F.D. headquarters, rescue their sister, and see if one of their parents was indeed alive, it was not the sweatered scout but the two Baudelaires who were right, because in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a daring life of impulsive passion leads only to tragedy, as Klaus said, and as Violet said, the mechanism was a little stuck, and after a few seconds, the door swung open with a slow and eerie creak. The children stepped through the door, blinking in the sudden light, and stood frozen in their steps. If you have read this far in the Baudelaires’ woeful story, then you will not be surprised to learn that the V.F.D. headquarters in the Valley of Four Drafts in the Mortmain Mountains was no more, but Violet and Klaus, of course, were not reading their own story. They were in their own story, and this was the part of their story where they were sick with shock at what they saw.

The Vernacularly Fastened Door did not open onto a kitchen, not anymore. When the Baudelaires followed the mysterious scout through the doorway, they found themselves standing in what at first seemed to be a large field, growing a black and ruined harvest in a valley as cold and drafty as its name. But slowly, they saw the charred remains of the grand and impressive building that had stood where the three children were standing. Nearby was a handful of silverware that had survived the blaze, scattered in front of the remnants of a stove, and a refrigerator stood to one side, as if it were guarding the ashen remains of the rest of the kitchen. To one side was a pile of burnt wood that had probably once been a large dining table, with a half-melted candelabra sticking out of the top like a baby tree. Farther away, they could see the mysterious shapes of other objects that had survived the fire—a trombone, the pendulum of a grandfather clock, what looked like a periscope, or perhaps a spyglass, an ice cream scoop, lying forlornly in a pile of ashes encrusted with burnt sugar, and an iron archway emblazoned with the words “V.F.D. Library,” but there was nothing beyond the archway but piles and piles of blackened remains. It was a devastating sight, and it made Violet and Klaus feel as if they were all alone in a world that had been completely ruined. The only thing they could see that seemed untouched by the fire was a sheer, white wall, beyond the refrigerator, that rose up as far as two siblings could see. It took the Baudelaires a few moments to realize that it was a frozen waterfall, rising up in a slippery slope toward the source of the Stricken Stream on Mount Fraught, so shiny and white that it made the ruined headquarters look even darker.

“It must have been beautiful,” the sweatered scout said, in a quivering voice. He walked toward the waterfall, his feet churning up black dust with every step. “I read that there was a large window,” he said, moving his gloved hand in the air as if it were still there. “When it was your turn to cook, you could look out at the waterfall while you were chopping vegetables or simmering a sauce. It was supposed to be very peaceful. And there was a mechanism just outside the window that turned some of the water from the pool into steam. The steam rose up and covered the headquarters, so it couldn’t be seen through the blanket of mist.”

The Baudelaires walked to where the scout was standing, and looked into the frozen pool at the bottom of the waterfall. The pool branched off into two tributaries, a word which here means “divisions of a river or stream, each twisting off in a different direction past the ruins of the headquarters, and curving around the Mortmain Mountains until they disappeared from view.” Violet and Klaus gazed sadly at the icy swirls of black and gray they had noticed when they were walking alongside the Stricken Stream. “It was ashes,” Klaus said quietly. “Ashes from the fire fell into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, and the stream carried them down the river.”

Violet found that it was easier to discuss a small, specific matter than think about her immense disappointment. “But the pool is frozen solid,” she said. “The stream couldn’t have carried the ashes anywhere.”

“It wouldn’t have been frozen when it happened,” Klaus replied. “The heat from the fire would have thawed the pool.”

“It must have been awful to see,” the sweatered scout said. Violet and Klaus stood with him, imagining the inferno, a word which here means “enormous fire that destroyed a secret headquarters high in the mountains.” They could almost hear the shattering of glass as the windows fell away, and the crackle of the fire as it consumed everything it could. They could almost smell the thick smoke as it floated upward and blackened the sky, and they could almost see the books in the library, falling from the burning shelves and tumbling into ashes. The only thing they could not picture was who might have been at the headquarters when the fire began, running out into the freezing cold to avoid the flames.

“Do you think,” Violet said, “any of the volunteers…”

“There’s no sign that anyone was here,” the scout said quickly.

“But how can we know for sure?” Klaus asked. “There could be a survivor someplace right now.”

“Hello?” Violet called, looking around her at the rubble. “Hello?” She found that her eyes were filling with tears, as she called out for the people she knew in her heart were nowhere nearby. The eldest Baudelaire felt as if she had been calling for these people since that terrible day on the beach, and that if she called them enough they might appear before her. She thought of all the times she had called them, back when she lived with her siblings in the Baudelaire mansion. Sometimes she called them when she wanted them to see something she had invented. Sometimes she called them when she wanted them to know she had arrived home. And sometimes she called them just because she wanted to know where they were. Sometimes Violet just wanted to see them, and feel that she was safe as long as they were around. “Mother!” Violet Baudelaire called. “Father!”

There was no answer.

“Mom!” Klaus called. “Dad!”

The Baudelaires heard nothing but the rush of all four of the valley’s drafts, and a long creak as the Vernacularly Fastened Door blew shut. They saw that the door had been made to look just like the side of the mountain, so that they could scarcely see where they had come from, or the way to get back. Now they were truly alone.

“I know we were all hoping to find people at the headquarters,” the sweatered scout said gently, “but I don’t think anyone is here. I think we’re all by ourselves.”

“That’s impossible!” Klaus cried, and Violet could hear that he was crying. He reached through his layers of clothing until he found his pocket, and pulled out page thirteen from the Snicket file, which he had been carrying with him since the Baudelaires had found it at Heimlich Hospital. The page had a photograph of their parents, standing with Jacques Snicket and another man the Baudelaires had been unable to identify, and above the photograph was a sentence Klaus had memorized from reading it so many times. “‘Because of the evidence discussed on page nine,’” he recited tearfully, “‘experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.’” He walked up to the scout and shook the page in his face. “We thought the survivor would be here,” he said.

“I think the survivor is here,” the scout said quietly, and removed his mask to reveal his face at last. “I’m Quigley Quagmire,” he said, “I survived the fire that destroyed my home, and I was hoping to find my brother and sister.”

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