A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital (3 page)

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital
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Chapter Four

Whether you have been sent to see the principal of your school for throwing wet paper towels at the ceiling to see if they stick, or taken to the dentist to plead with him to hollow out one of your teeth so you can smuggle a single page of your latest book past the guards at the airport, it is never a pleasant feeling to stand outside the door of an office, and as the Baudelaire orphans stood at the door reading "Office of the Head of Human Resources" they were reminded of all the unpleasant offices they had recently visited On their very first day at Prufrock Preparatory School, before they had even met Isadora and Duncan Quagmire, the Baudelaires had visited the office of Vice Principal Nero and learned about all of the academy's strict and unfair rules. When they worked at Lucky Smells Lumbermill, the siblings had been summoned to the office of the owner, who made clear just how dreadful their situation really was. And, of course, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny had been many, many times to Mr. Poe's office at the bank, where he coughed and talked on the phone and made decisions about the Baudelaires' future that had not proved to be good ones. But even if the children had not had all these unfortunate experiences in offices, it was perfectly understandable that the Baudelaire children had to stand for a few moments in front of the seventeenth door on the left, and gather their courage to knock. "I'm not sure we should take this risk," Violet said. "If Babs has read this morning's edition of The Daily Punctilio, she'll recognize us soon as we walk through the door. We might well be knocking on the door of our jail cell." "But the Library of Records might be our only hope," Klaus said. "We need to find out who Jacques Snicket really was--where he worked, and how he knew us. If we get some evidence, we can convince people that Count Olaf is still alive and that we're not murderers." "Curoy," Sunny added, which meant "Besides, the Quagmire triplets are far, far away, and we have only a few pages of their notebooks. We need to find the real meaning of V.F.D." "Sunny's right," Klaus said. "In the Library of Records, we might even solve the mystery of that underground passageway that led from Jerome and Esme Squalor's apartment to the ashy remains of the Baudelaire mansion." "Afficu," Sunny said. She meant something like "And the only way we'll get into the Library of Records is if we talk to Babs, so it's a risk we have to take." "All right," Violet said, looking down at her sister and smiling. "You've convinced me. But if Babs begins looking at us suspiciously, we'll leave, agreed?" "Agreed," Klaus said. "Yep," Sunny said, and knocked on the door. "Who is it?" Babs's voice called out. "It's three members of Volunteers Fighting Disease," Violet replied. "We're here to volunteer at the Library of Records." "Come in," Babs commanded, and the children opened the door and walked into the office. "I was wondering when someone would show up," the Head of Human Resources continued. "I was just finishing up reading this morning's paper. These three terrible children are running around killing people." The Baudelaires looked at one another and were about to run back out the door when they saw something in the office that changed their minds. The office of the Head of Human Resources at Heimlich Hospital was a small one, with a small desk, two small chairs, and a small window decorated with two small curtains. On the windowsill was a small vase of yellow flowers and on the wall was a small tasteful portrait of a man leading a horse to a small pond of fresh water. But it was not the furnishings, the flower arrangement, or the tasteful artwork that made the three orphans stop. Babs's voice had come from the direction of the desk, which the Baudelaires had expected, but what they hadn't expected was that Babs was not sitting behind the desk, or on the desk or even beneath it. Instead, a small square intercom speaker--just like the ones on the outside of the hospital-had been placed in the middle of the desk, and it was from this speaker that the speaking had been spoken. It was strange to hear speaking from a speaker instead of from the person who was speaking, but the children realized they could not be recognized if Babs could not see them, so they did not run out of the room. "We're three children, too," Violet said to the speaker, trying to be as honest as she could "but we'd much rather volunteer in the hospital than embark on a life of crime." "If you're children, then be silent!" Babs's voice said rudely. "In my opinion, children should be seen and not heard. I'm an adult, so it follows that I should be heard and not seen. That's why I work exclusively over the intercom. You will be working exclusively with the most important thing we do in this hospital. Can you guess what it is?" "Healing sick people?" Klaus guessed. "Be silent!" the speaker commanded. "Children should be seen and not heard, remember? Just because I can't see you doesn't mean you should start babbling about sick people. You're wrong, anyway. The most important thing we do at the hospital is paperwork, and you will be working at the Library of Records, filing paperwork. I'm sure this will be difficult for you, because children never have any administrative experience." "Hend," said Sunny in disagreement. Violet was about to explain that her sister meant something along the lines of "Actually, I worked as an administrative assistant at Prufrock Preparatory School," but the intercom speaker was too busy reproving the Baudelaires, a phrase which here means "shouting 'Be silent!'" at every opportunity. "Be silent!" the speaker shouted. "Instead of chattering away, report to the Library of Records at once. The Library of Records is located in the basement, at the very bottom of the staircase next to this office. You'll go straight there every morning when the van arrives at Heimlich Hospital, and you'll return straight to the van at the end of each day. The van will take you back home. Are there any questions?" The Baudelaires had plenty of questions, of course, but they did not ask them. They knew that if they said even one word, the intercom speaker would command them to be silent, and besides, they were eager to get to the Library of Records, where they hoped to answer the most important questions of their lives. "Excellent!" the speaker said. "You're learning to be seen instead of heard. Now, get out of this office." The children got out of that office and quickly found the staircase the speaker had mentioned. The Baudelaires were glad that the route to the Library of Records was so easy to remember, because Heimlich Hospital seemed like a place where it would be very easy to get lost. The staircase curved this way and that, leading to many doors and corridors, and every ten feet or so, nailed to the wall just below an intercom speaker there was a complicated map of the hospital, filled with arrows, stars, and other symbols the Baudelaires did not recognize. Every so often, the children would see someone from the hospital walking toward them. Although neither the Volunteers Fighting Disease nor the Head of Human Resources had recognized the three children, it was certain that someone in the hospital must have read The Daily Punctilio, and the Baudelaires did not want to be seen or heard, and they would have to turn and face the wall, pretending to consult the map so anyone walking by would not see their faces. "That was close," Violet sighed in relief, when a group of chatting doctors had gone by without even glancing at the youngsters. "It was close," Klaus agreed, "and we don't want it to get any closer. I don't think we should get back on the van at the end of the day--or any other day. Sooner or later we're bound to be recognized." "You're right," Violet said. "We'd have to walk back through the hospital every day, just to get to the van. But where will we go at night? People will think it is odd if three children are sleeping in the Library of Records." "Half," Sunny suggested. "That's a pretty good idea," Violet replied. "We could sleep in the unfinished half of the hospital. Nobody will go there at night." "Sleep all by ourselves, in a half-finished room?" Klaus asked. "It'll be cold and dark." "It can't be much worse than the Orphans Shack at Prufrock Prep," Violet said. "Danya," Sunny said, which meant "Or the bedroom at Count Olaf's house." Klaus shuddered, remembering how terrible it was when Count Olaf had been their guardian. "You're right," he said, stopping at a door which read "Library of Records." "The unfinished wing of the hospital can't be that bad." The Baudelaires knocked on the door, which opened almost immediately to reveal one of the oldest men they had ever met, wearing one of the tiniest pairs of glasses they had ever seen. Each lens was scarcely bigger than a green pea, and the man had to squint in order to look at them. "My eyesight isn't what it used to be," he said, "but you appear to be children. And you're very familiar children, too. I'm certain I've seen your faces somewhere before." The Baudelaires looked at one another in panic, not knowing whether to dash out of the room or to try to convince the man he was mistaken. "We're new volunteers," Violet said. "I don't think we've ever met before." "Babs assigned us to work in the Library of Records," Klaus said. "Well, you've come to the right place," the old man said with a wrinkled smile. "My name is Hal, and I've worked here in the Library of Records for more years than I'd like to count. I'm afraid my eyesight isn't what it used to be, so I asked Babs if some volunteers could help me." "Wolick," Sunny said. "My sister says we're very happy to be of assistance," Violet said, "and we are." "Well, I'm glad to hear that," Hal said. "Because there's a lot of work to be done. Come on in and I'll explain what you have to do." The Baudelaires walked through the door and found themselves in a small room with nothing much in it but a small table that held a bowl of fresh fruit. "This is the library?" Klaus said "Oh no," the man said. "This is just an antechamber, a small room I'm using to store my fruit. If you get hungry during the day, you may help yourself to something out of that bowl Also, this is where the intercom is, so we'll have to report here whenever Babs makes an announcement." He led them across the room to a small door and took a loop of string out of the pocket of his coat. On the loop of string were hundreds of keys, which made tiny clanging noises as they jostled one another. Hal quickly found the right key to unlock the door. "This," he said with a small smile, "is the Library of Records." Hal ushered the children inside a dim room with very low ceilings--so low that Hal's gray hair almost brushed against the top. But although the room was not very tall, it was enormous. The Library of Records stretched out so far in front of the Baudelaires that they could scarcely see the opposite wall, or, as the children looked from side to side, the right and left walls. All they could see were big metal file cabinets, with neatly labeled drawers describing the files contained inside. The file cabinets were placed in row after row, as far as the eye could see. The rows were placed very close together, so that the siblings had to walk behind Hal in single file as he gave them the tour of the room. "I've organized everything myself," he explained. "The Library of Records contains information not only from Heimlich Hospital, but from all over the area. There's information about everything from poetry to pills, from picture frames to pyramids, and from pudding to psychology--and that's just in the P aisle, which we're walking down right now." "What an amazing place," Klaus said. "Just think of everything we can learn from reading all these files." "No, no, no," Hal said, shaking his head sternly. "We're supposed to file this information, not read it. I don't want to see you touching any of these files except when you're working with them. That's why I keep all these file cabinets locked up tight. Now, let me show you exactly where you'll be working." Hal led them to the far wall and pointed out a small rectangular hole, just wide enough for Sunny or maybe Klaus to crawl through. Beside the hole was a basket with a large stack of paper in it, and a bowl filled with paper clips. "Authorities deposit information into the information chute, which begins outside the hospital and ends right here," he explained, "and I need two people to help me file these deposits in the right place. Here's what you do. First, you remove the paper clips and put them in this bowl. Then you glance at the information and figure out where it goes. Remember, try to read as little as possible." He paused, unclipped a small stack of paper, and squinted at the top page. "For instance," he continued "You only have to read a few words to see that these paragraphs are about the weather last week at Damocles Dock, which is on the shore of some lake someplace. So you would ask me to unlock cabinets in aisle D, for Damocles, or W, for weather, or even P, for paragraphs. It's your choice." "But won't it be difficult for people to find that information again?" Klaus asked. "They won't know whether to look under D, W, or P." "Then they'll have to look under all three letters," Hal said. "Sometimes the information you need is not in the most obvious place. Remember, paperwork is the most important thing we do at this hospital, so your job is very important. Do you think you can file these papers correctly? I'd like you to start right away." "I think we can," Violet said. "But what will the third volunteer do?" Hal looked embarrassed and held up the loop of string with all the keys on it. "I lost some of the keys to the file cabinets," he admitted, know why you three seem so familiar." Hal continued to lead Sunny down another aisle of file cabinets to show her where her teeth could be handy, so his voice floated over to the two older Baudelaires as if he were speaking on an intercom. "I didn't read it, of course, but there was some information about you in the file about the Snicket fires."

Chapter Five

I just don't understand it," said Klaus, which was not something he said very often. Violet nodded in agreement, and then said something she didn't say very frequently either. "It's a puzzle I'm not sure we can solve." "Pietrisycamollaviadelrechiotemexity," Sunny said, which was something she had said only once before. It meant something along the lines of "I must admit I don't have the faintest idea of what is going on," and the first time the youngest Baudelaire had said it, she had just been brought home from the hospital where she was born, and was looking at her siblings as they leaned over her crib to greet her. This time, she was sitting in the unfinished wing of the hospital where she worked, and was looking at her siblings as they tried to guess what Hal had meant when he had mentioned "the Snicket fires." If I had been with the children, I would have been able to tell them a long and terrible story about men and women who joined a noble organization only to find their lives wrecked by a greedy man and a lazy newspaper, but the siblings were alone, and all they had of the story were a few pages from the Quagmire notebooks. It was night, and after working all day in the Library of Records, the Baudelaire orphans had made themselves as comfortable as they could in the half-finished section of Heimlich Hospital, but I'm sorry to say the phrase "as comfortable as they could" here means "not very comfortable at all." Violet had found a few flashlights designed to be used by builders working in dark corners, but when she arranged them to light up their surroundings, the light only made clear just how filthy their surroundings really were. Klaus had found some dropcloths, designed to be used by painters who did not want to drip paint on the floor, but when he wrapped them around himself and his sisters, the warmth only made clear just how freezing it was when the evening wind blew through the sheets of plastic that were nailed to the wooden boards. And Sunny had used her teeth to chop up some of the fruit in Hal's bowl, to make a sort of fruit salad for dinner, but each handful of chopped fruit only made clear just how inappropriate it was to be living in such a bare and lonely place. But even though it was clear to the children how filthy, freezing, and inappropriate their new living quarters were, nothing else seemed clear at all. "We wanted to use the Library of Records to learn more about Jacques Snicket," Violet said, "but we might end up learning more about ourselves. What in the world do you think is written about us in that file Hal mentioned?" "I don't know," Klaus replied, "and I don't think Hal knows, either. He said he doesn't read any of the files." "Seerg," Sunny said, which meant "And I was afraid to ask him any more about it." "Me, too," Violet said. "We simply can't call attention to ourselves. Any minute now, Hal could learn that we're wanted for murder, and we'd be dragged off to jail before we learned anything more." "We've already escaped from one jail cell," Klaus said. "I don't know if we could do it again." "I thought that if we had a chance to look over these pages from Duncan's and Isadora's notebooks," Violet said, "we would find the answers to our questions, but the Quagmires' notes are very difficult to read." Klaus frowned, and moved a few fragments of the Quagmire pages around as if they were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "The harpoon gun tore these pages to shreds," he said. "Look what Duncan has written here: 'Jacques Snicket worked for V.F.D., which stands for Volunteer--' and then it's ripped, right in the middle of the sentence." "And on this page," Violet said, picking up a page I cannot bear to think about, "it reads, "In photographs, and in each public place, Snicket rarely shows his face. "Isadora must have written that one--it's a rhyming couplet." "This scrap says 'apartment,'" Klaus said, "and has what looks like half of a map. That might have to do with the apartment where we lived with Jerome and Esme Squalor." "Don't remind me," Violet said, shuddering at the thought of all the misfortune the children had encountered at 667 Dark Avenue. "Rabave," Sunny said, pointing to one of the pieces of paper. "This page has two names on it," Violet said. "One name is Al Funcoot." "That's the man who wrote that horrible play Olaf forced us to perform," Klaus said. "I know," Violet said, "but the other name I don't recognize: 'Ana Gram.'" "Well, the Quagmires were researching Count Olaf and his sinister plot," Klaus said. "Maybe Ana Gram is one of Olaf's associates." "It's probably not the hook-handed man," Violet said, "or the bald man with the long nose. Ana is not usually a man's name." "It could be the name of one of the white-faced women," Klaus said. "Orlando!" Sunny said, which meant "Or the one who looks like neither a man nor a woman." "Or someone we haven't even met yet," Violet said with a sigh, and turned her attention to another piece of paper. "This page isn't ripped at all, but all it has on it is a long list of dates. It looks like something was going on every twelve weeks or so." Klaus picked up the smallest piece and held it up for his sisters to see. Behind his glasses his eyes looked very sad. "This piece just says 'fire,'" he said quietly, and the three Baudelaires looked down sadly at the dusty floor. With any word, there are subconscious associations, which simply means that certain words make you think of certain things, even if you don't want to. The word "cake," for example, might remind you of your birthday, and the words "prison warden" might remind you of someone you haven't seen in a very long time. The word "Beatrice" reminds me of a volunteer organization that was swarming with corruption, and the word "midnight" reminds me that I must keep writing this chapter very quickly, or else I will probably drown. But the Baudelaires had all sorts of subconscious associations with the word "fire," and none of them were pleasant to think about. The word made the children think of Hal, who had mentioned something about the Snicket fires that afternoon in the Library of Records. "Fire" made the youngsters think of Duncan and Isadora Quagmire, who had lost their parents and their brother, Quigley, in a fire. And, of course, the word "fire" made the Baudelaires think of the fire that had destroyed their home and had begun the unfortunate journey that had led them to the half-finished wing of Heimlich Hospital. The three children huddled quietly together under their dropcloths, getting colder and colder as they thought about all the fires and subconscious associations that were in the Baudelaire lives. "That file must contain the answers to all these mysteries," Violet said finally. "We need to find out who Jacques Snicket was, and why he had the same tattoo as Count Olaf." "And we need to know why he was murdered," Klaus added, "and we need to learn the secret of V.F.D." "Us," Sunny said, which meant "And we need to know why there's a picture of us in the file." "We have to get our hands on that file," Violet said. "That's easier said than done," Klaus pointed out. "Hal told us specifically not to touch any of the files we weren't working with, and he'll be right there with us in the Library of Records." "We'll just have to find a way," Violet replied. "Now, let's try and get a good night's sleep, so we can stay alert tomorrow, and get ahold of the file on the Snicket fires." Klaus and Sunny nodded in agreement, and arranged the dropcloths into a sort of bed, while Violet turned off the flashlights one by one. The three Baudelaires huddled together for the rest of the night, getting what sleep they could on a filthy floor with a cold wind blowing through their inappropriate home, and in the morning, after a breakfast of leftover fruit salad, they walked to the completed half of Heimlich Hospital and carefully walked down all those stairs, past the intercom speakers and the confusing maps. Hal was already in the Library of Records when they arrived, unlocking the file cabinets with his long loop of keys, and immediately Violet and Klaus got to work filing the information that had come through the chute during the night, while Sunny turned her tooths' attention to the file cabinets that needed to be opened. But the Baudelaires' minds were not on filing, or on file cabinets. Their minds were on the file. Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of "systematically assisting Sisyphus's stealthy, cyst-susceptible sister," which is easier done than said. But it is frustrating to be reminded of this fact. As Violet filed a piece of paper containing information on cuttlefish under M, for mollusks, she said to herself, "I'll just walk down the S aisle and look under Snicket," but Hal was already in the S aisle, filing away paintings of sewing machines, and she could not do what she said. As Klaus filed a survey of thimbles under P, for protection of the thumb, he said to himself, "I'll just walk down the F aisle and look under F, for 'fires,'" but by that time Hal had moved to the F aisle, and was opening a file cabinet to rearrange biographies of famous Finnish fishermen. And Sunny twisted her teeth this way and that, trying to open one of the locked file cabinets in the B aisle, thinking that perhaps the file was inside, filed under Baudelaires, but when the lock finally broke just after lunch, the youngest sibling opened the cabinet and saw that it was absolutely empty. "Nil," Sunny said, as the three children took a short fruit break in the antechamber. "Me neither," Klaus said. "But how can we get ahold of the file, when Hal is always around?" "Maybe we can just ask him to find it for us," Violet said. "If this were a regular library, we would ask the librarian for help. In a Library of Records, maybe we should ask Hal." "You can ask me anything you want," Hal said, walking into the antechamber "but first I have to ask you something." He walked over to the children and pointed at one of the fruits. "Is that a plum or a persimmon?" he asked. "My eyesight isn't what it used to be, I'm afraid." "It's a plum," Violet said, handing it to him. "Oh good," Hal replied, looking it over for bruises. "I was not in the mood for a persimmon. Now, what is your question?" "We had a question about a certain file," Klaus began carefully, not wanting Hal to become suspicious. "I know it's not customary for us to read the files, but if we were very curious, would it be O.K. to make an exception?" Hal bit into the plum and frowned. "Why would you want to read one of the files?" he asked. "Children should read happy books with bright pictures, not official information from the Library of Records." "But we're interested in official information," Violet said, "and we're so busy filing things away that we don't get a chance to read anything in the files. That's why we were hoping to take one home with us and read it." Hal shook his head. "Paperwork is the most important thing we do in this hospital," he said sternly. "That's why the files are only allowed out of the room if there's a very important reason. For example--" But the Baudelaires did not get to hear an example, because Hal was interrupted by a voice coming over the intercom. "Attention!" the voice said, and the children turned to face a small square speaker. "Attention! Attention!" The three siblings looked at one another in shock and horror, and then at the wall where the speaker was hanging. The voice coming over the intercom was not Babs's. It was a faint voice, and it was a scratchy voice, but it was not the voice of the Head of Human Resources at Heimlich Hospital. It was a voice that the Baudelaires heard wherever they went, no matter where they lived or who tried to protect them, and even though the children had heard this voice so many times before, they had never gotten used to its sneering tone, as if the person talking were telling a joke with a horrible and violent punch line. "Attention!" the voice said again, but the orphans did not have to be told to pay attention to the terrible voice of Count Olaf. "Babs has resigned from Heimlich Hospital," said the voice, and the siblings felt as if they could see the cruel smile Olaf always had on his face when he was telling lies. "She decided to pursue a career as a stuntwoman, and has begun throwing herself off buildings immediately. My name is Mattathias, and I am the new Head of Human Resources. I will be conducting a complete inspection of every single employee here at Heimlich Hospital, beginning immediately. That is all." "An inspection," Hal repeated, finishing his plum. "What nonsense. They should finish the other half of this hospital, instead of wasting time inspecting everything." "What happens during an inspection?" Violet asked. "Oh, they just come and look you over," Hal said carelessly, and began walking back to the Library of Records. "We'd better get back to work. There is a lot more information to file." "We'll be along in a moment," Klaus promised. "I'm not quite done with my fruit." "Well, hurry up," Hal said, and left the anteroom. The Baudelaires looked at one another in worry and dismay. "He's found us again," Violet said, talking quietly so Hal could not hear them. She could barely hear her own voice over the sound of her heart pounding with fear. "He must know we're here," Klaus agreed. "That's why he's doing the inspection--so he can find us and snatch us away." "Tell!" Sunny said. "Who can we tell?" Klaus asked. "Everyone thinks Count Olaf is dead. They won't believe three children if we say that he's disguised himself as Mattathias, the new Head of Human Resources." "Particularly three children who are on the front page of The Daily Punctilio, " Violet added, "wanted for murder. Our only chance is to get that file on the Snicket fires, and see if it has any evidence that will bring Olaf to justice." "But files aren't allowed out of the Library of Records," Klaus said. "Then we'll have to read them right here," Violet said. "That's easier said than done," Klaus pointed out. "We don't even know what letter to look under, and Hal will be right in the room with us all day long." "Night!" Sunny said. "You're right, Sunny," Violet said. "Hal is here all day long, but he goes home at night. When it gets dark, we'll sneak back over here from the half-finished wing. It's the only way we'll be able to find the file." "You're forgetting something," Klaus said. "The Library of Records will be locked up tight. Hal locks all of the file cabinets, remember?" "I hadn't thought of that," Violet admitted. "I can invent one lockpick, but I'm not sure I'll have time to invent enough lockpicks to work on all those file cabinets." "Deashew!" Sunny said, which meant something like "And it takes me several hours to open one cabinet with my teeth!" "Without the keys, we'll never get the file," Klaus said, "and without the file, we'll

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