Authors: Lemony Snicket
children and spoke to them in a frightening whisper. "What in the world are you doing?" he asked them. "You're going to ruin everything!" "I think Dr. Tocuna is right," another doctor said. "That's the policy here." The crowd applauded again, and Klaus and Sunny looked at one another. The two Baudelaires, of course, had no idea what the hospital's policy was concerning surgical paperwork, but they were beginning to see that the crowd would believe just about anything if they thought it was being said by a medical professional. "Hal is on his way," the nurse announced, reentering the room. "There's apparently been some problem at the Library of Records, but he'll come as quickly as he can and settle this matter once and for all." "We don't need Hal to settle this matter once and for all," a voice said from the far end of the theater, and the Baudelaires turned to see the slender, tottering figure of Esme Squalor, walking straight toward them in her stiletto-heeled shoes, with two people trailing dutifully behind her. These two people were both dressed in medical coats and surgical masks just like the Baudelaires'. Klaus and Sunny could see just a bit of their pale faces above the masks and knew at once that they were the two powder-faced assistants of Olaf. "This is the real Dr. Tocuna," Esme said, pointing to one of the women, "and this is the real Nurse Flo. The two people up on this stage are impostors." "No we're not," the hook-handed man said angrily. "Not you two," Esme said impatiently, glaring over her surgical mask at the two henchmen. "I mean the other two people on the stage. They fooled everyone. They fooled doctors, nurses, volunteers, reporters, and even me-- until I found the real associates of Dr. Flacutono, that is." "In my medical opinion," Klaus said, "I believe this woman has lost her mind." "I haven't lost my mind," Esme said with a snarl, "but you're about to lose your heads, Baudelaires." "Baudelaires?" the reporter from The Daily Punctilio asked. "The same Baudelaires who murdered Count Omar?" "Olaf," the bald man corrected. "I'm confused," whined a volunteer. "There are too many people pretending to be other people." "Allow me to explain," Esme said, stepping up on the stage. "I am a medical professional, just like Dr. Flacutono, Dr. O. Lucafont, Dr. Tocuna, and Nurse Flo. You can see that from our medical coats and surgical masks." "Us, too!" Sunny cried. Esme's surgical mask curled up in a wicked smile. "Not for long," she said, and in one swift gesture she ripped the masks off the Baudelaires' faces. The crowd gasped as the masks fluttered to the ground, and the two children saw the doctors, nurses, reporters, and regular people in the crowd look at them in horror. Only the Volunteers Fighting Disease, who believed that no news was good news, did not recognize the youngsters. "They are the Baudelaires!" a nurse exclaimed in astonishment. "I read about them in The Daily Punctilio!" "Me, too!" cried a doctor. "It's always a pleasure to hear from our readers," the reporter said modestly. "But there were supposed to be three murderous orphans, not two!" another doctor said. "Where's the oldest one?" The hook-handed man hurriedly stepped in front of the gurney, shielding Violet from view. "She's already in jail," he said quickly. "She is not!" Klaus said, and brushed Violet's hair out of her eyes so that everyone could see she was not Laura V. Bleediotie. "These terrible people disguised her as a patient, so they could cut her head off!" "Don't be ridiculous," Esme said. "You're the one who was trying to cut her head off. Look, you're still holding the knife." "That's true!" the reporter cried. "I can see the headline now: 'murderer attempts to murder murderer.' Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see this!" "Tweem!" Sunny shrieked. "We're nor murderers!" Klaus translated frantically. "If you're not murderers," the reporter said, holding out her microphone, "then why have you sneaked into a hospital in disguise?" "I think I can explain that," said another familiar voice, and everyone turned to see Hal enter the operating theater. In one hand he was clutching the ring of keys the Baudelaires had made from paper clips and Violet's hair ribbon, and with the other hand he was pointing angrily at the children. "Those three Baudelaire murderers," he said, "pretended to be volunteers in order to come to work in the Library of Records." "They did?" a nurse said, as the audience gasped. "You mean they're murderers and phony volunteers?" "No wonder they didn't know the words to the song!" a volunteer cried. "Taking advantage of my poor eyesight," Hal continued, pointing at his glasses, "they made these fake keys and switched it with the real one, so they could sneak into the library and destroy the files about their crimes!" "We didn't want to destroy the file," Klaus said, "we wanted to clear our names. I'm sorry we tricked you, Hal, and I'm sorry that some of the file cabinets were knocked over, but--" "Knocked over?" Hal repeated. "You did more than knock over cabinets." He looked at the children and sighed wearily, and then turned to face the audience. "These children committed arson," he said. "The Library of Records is burning as we speak."
I am alone this evening, and I am alone because of a cruel twist of fate, a phrase which here means that nothing has happened the way I thought it would. Once I was a content man, with a comfortable home, a successful career, a person I loved very much, and an extremely reliable typewriter, but all of those things have been taken away from me, and now the only trace I have of those happy days is the tattoo on my left ankle. As I sit in this very tiny room, printing these words with this very large pencil, I feel as if my whole life has been nothing but a dismal play, presented just for someone else's amusement, and that the playwright who invented my cruel twist of fate is somewhere far above me, laughing and laughing at his creation. It is not pleasant to feel this way, and it is doubly unpleasant if the cruel twist of fate happens to you when you are actually standing on a stage and there is actually someone, far above you, laughing and laughing, as it was with the Baudelaire children in the operating theater of Heimlich Hospital. The children had scarcely heard Hal's accusation that they had burned down the Library of Records when they heard rough and familiar laughter coming out of the intercom speaker above them. The siblings had heard this laughter when Mattathias had first captured the Quagmire triplets, and when he had trapped the Baudelaires in a locked Deluxe Cell. It was the triumphant laughter of someone who has cooked up a fiendish plot and succeeded, although it always sounded like the laughter of someone who has just told an excellent joke. Because he was laughing over the scratchy intercom, Mattathias sounded as if he had a piece of aluminum foil over his mouth, but the laughter was still loud enough to help wear off the anesthesia, and Violet murmured something and moved her arms. "Oops," Mattathias said, interrupting his laughter as he realized the intercom was on. "This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources, with an important announcement. There is a terrible fire in Heimlich Hospital. The fire was set in the Library of Records by the Baudelaire murderers, and has spread to the Sore Throat Ward, the Stubbed Toe Ward, and the Accidentally Swallowed Something You Shouldn't Have Ward. The orphans are still at large, so do everything you can to find them. After the murdering arsonists have been captured, you might want to rescue some of the patients who are trapped in the fire. That is all." "I can see the headline now," the reporter said. '"baudelaire murderers torch paperwork.' Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see this!" "Somebody tell Mattathias we've captured the children," a nurse cried in triumph. "You three brats are in big trouble. You're murderers, arsonists, and spurious doctors." "That's not true," Klaus said, but as he looked around he feared that no one would believe him. He looked at the spurious key ring in Hal's hands, that he and his siblings had used to sneak into the Library of Records. He looked at his medical coat, which he had used to disguise himself as a doctor. And he looked at the rusty blade in his own hands, which he had just been holding over his sister. Klaus remembered when he and his sisters were living with Uncle Monty, and brought several objects to Mr. Poe as evidence of Olaf's treacherous plot. Because of these small objects, Olaf was placed under arrest, and now Klaus was afraid that the same thing would happen to the Baudelaires. "Surround them!" the hook-handed man called, pointing at the children with one curved glove. "But be careful. The bookworm still has the knife!" Olaf's associates spread out in a circle and slowly began walking toward the youngsters at all angles. Sunny whimpered in fright, and Klaus picked her up and put her on the gurney. "Arrest the Baudelaires!" a doctor cried. "That's what we're doing, you fool!" Esme replied impatiently, but when she turned her head to the Baudelaires they saw her wink above her surgical mask. "We're going to capture only one of you," she said, in a quiet voice so the audience wouldn't hear her. With two long fingernailed hands she reached down to her stiletto heels. "This in footwear isn't just useful for making me look glamorous and feminine," she said, removing the shoes and pointing them at the children. "These stilettos are perfect for slitting children's throats. Two bratty little Baudelaires will be killed while trying to escape from justice, leaving one bratty little Baudelaire to give us the fortune." "You'll never get your hands on our fortune," Klaus said, "or your shoes on our throats." "We'll see," Esme said, and swung her left shoe at Klaus as if it were a sword. Klaus ducked quickly and felt the whoosh! of air as the blade swept over him. "She's trying to kill us!" Klaus shouted to the audience. "Can't you see? These are the real murderers!" "No one will ever believe you," Esme said in a sinister whisper, and swung her right shoe at Sunny, who moved away just in time. "I don't believe you!" shouted Hal. "My eyesight might not be what it used to be, but I can see your phony medical coat." "I don't believe you, either!" a nurse cried. "I can see that rusty knife!" Esme swung both shoes at the same time, but they collided in midair instead of hitting the children. "Why don't you surrender?" she hissed. "We've finally trapped you, just as you trapped Olaf all those other times." "Now you know what it feels like to be a villain," the bald man chuckled. "Move closer, everyone! Mattathias told me that whoever grabs them first gets to choose where to go for dinner tonight!" "Is that so?" the hook-handed man asked. "Well, I'm in the mood for pizza." He swung a rubbergloved hook at Klaus, who fell back against the gurney, rolling it out of the evil man's reach. "I feel more like Chinese food," one of the powder-faced women said. "Let's go to that place where we celebrated the Quagmire kidnapping." "I want to go to Cafe Salmonella," Esme snarled, disentangling her shoes. Klaus pushed against the gurney again, wheeling it in the other direction as the circle of associates closed in. He held the rusty knife up for protection, but the middle Baudelaire did not think he could use a weapon, even on people as wicked as these. If Count Olaf had been trapped, he would not have hesitated to swing the rusty blade at the people who were surrounding him, but despite what the bald man had said, Klaus did not feel like a villain. He felt like someone who needed to escape, and as he pushed against the gurney again, he knew how he was going to do it. "Get back!" Klaus cried. "This knife is very sharp!" "You can't kill all of us," the hook-handed man replied. "In fact, I doubt you have the courage to kill anyone." "It doesn't take courage to kill someone," Klaus said. "It takes a severe lack of moral stamina." At the mention of the phrase "severe lack of moral stamina," which here means "cruel selfishness combined with a love of violence," Olaf's associates laughed in delight. "Your fancy words won't save you now, you twerp," Esme said. "That's true," Klaus admitted. "What will save me now is a bed on wheels used to transport hospital patients." Without another word, Klaus tossed the rusty knife to the floor, startling Olaf's associates into stepping back. The circle of people with a severe lack of moral stamina was spread out a little more, just for a moment, but a moment was all the Baudelaires needed. Klaus jumped onto the gurney, which began to roll quickly toward the square metal door they had come in. A cry rose from the audience as the Baudelaires sped past Olaf's associates. "Get them!" the hook-handed man cried. "They're getting away!" "They won't get away from me!" Hal promised, and grabbed the gurney just before it reached the door. The gurney slowed to a halt, and for a second Sunny found herself face-to-face with the old man. Butterflies fluttered in the youngest Baudelaire's stomach as he glared at her from behind his tiny glasses. Unlike Olaf's associates, Hal was not an evil person, of course. He was merely someone who loved the Library of Records and was trying to capture the people he believed had set it on fire, and it pained Sunny to see that he thought she was an evil criminal, instead of an unlucky infant. But she knew she did not have time to explain to Hal what had really happened. She scarcely had time to say a single word, and yet that is precisely what the youngest Baudelaire did. "Sorry," Sunny said to Hal, and gave him a small smile. Then she opened her mouth a little wider, and bit Hal's hand as gently as she could, so that he would let go of the gurney without getting hurt. "Ow!" Hal said, and let go. "The baby bit me!" he shouted to the crowd. "Are you hurt?" a nurse asked. "No," Hal replied, "but I let go of the gurney. They're rolling out the door!" The Baudelaires rolled out the door, with Violet's eyes flickering open, Klaus steering the gurney, and Sunny hanging on for dear life. The children rolled down the hallways of the Surgical Ward, dodging around surprised doctors and other medical professionals. "Attention!" announced Mattathias's voice over the intercom. "This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources! The Baudelaire murderers and arsonists are escaping on a gurney! Capture them at once! Also, the fire is spreading throughout the hospital! You might want to evacuate!" "Noriz!" Sunny shouted. "I'm going as fast as I can!" Klaus cried, dangling his legs over the side of the gurney to scoot it along. "Violet, wake up, please! You can help push!" "I'm try ... ing...." Violet muttered, squinting around her. The anesthesia made everything seem faint and foggy, and it was almost impossible for her to speak, let alone move. "Door!" Sunny shrieked, pointing to the door that led out of the Surgical Ward. Klaus steered the gurney in that direction and rode past Olaf's fat associate who looked like neither a man nor a woman, who was still dressed as a spurious guard. With a terrible roar, it began to give chase, walking in huge, lumbering steps, as the Baudelaires raced toward a small group of Volunteers Fighting Disease. The bearded volunteer, who was playing some very familiar chords on his guitar, looked up to see the gurney wheel past them. "Those must be those murderers Mattathias was talking about!" he said. "Come on, everyone, let's help that guard capture them!" "Sounds good to me," another volunteer agreed. "I'm a bit tired of singing that song, if you want to know the truth." Klaus steered the gurney around a corner, as the volunteers joined the overweight associate in pursuit. "Wake up," he begged Violet, who was looking around her in a confused way. "Please, Violet!" "Stairs!" Sunny said, pointing to a staircase. Klaus turned the gurney in the direction his sister indicated, and the children began to roll down the stairs, bouncing up and down with each step. It was a fast, slippery ride that reminded the children of sliding down the bannisters at 667 Dark Avenue, or colliding with Mr. Poe's automobile when they were living with Uncle Monty. At a curve in the staircase, Klaus scraped his shoes against the floor to stop the gurney, and then leaned over to look at one of the hospital's confusing maps. "I'm trying to figure out if we should go through that door," he said, pointing at a door marked "Ward for People with Nasty Rashes," "or continue down the staircase." "Dleen!" Sunny cried, which meant "We can't continue down the staircase--look!" Klaus looked, and even Violet managed to focus enough to look down where Sunny was pointing. Down the staircase, just past the next landing, was a flickering, orange glow, as if the sun was rising out of the hospital basement, and a few wisps of dark black smoke were curling up the staircase like the tentacles of some ghostly animal. It was an eerie sight that had haunted the Baudelaires in their dreams, ever since that fateful day at the beach when all their trouble began. For a moment, the three children were unable to do anything but stare down at the orange glow and the tentacles of smoke, and think about all they had lost because of what they were looking at. "Fire," Violet said faintly. "Yes," Klaus said. "It's spreading up this staircase. We've got to turn and go back upstairs." From upstairs, the Baudelaires listened to the associate roar again, and heard the bearded volunteer reply. "We'll help you capture them," he said. "Lead the way, sir--or is it madam? I can't tell." "No up," Sunny said. "I know," Klaus said. "We can't go up the stairs and we can't go down. We have to go into the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes." Having made this rash decision, Klaus turned the gurney and wheeled it through the door, just as Mattathias's voice came through on the intercom. "This is Mattathias, the Head of Human Resources," he said hurriedly. "All associates of Dr. Flacutono, continue to search for the children! Everyone else, gather in front of the hospital--either we will catch the murderers as they escape, or they'll be burned to a crisp!" The children rolled into the Ward for People with Nasty Rashes and saw that Mattathias was right. The gurney was racing down a hallway, and the children could see another orange glow at the far end of it. The children heard another roar behind them as the overweight associate lumbered down the stairs. The siblings were trapped in the middle of a hallway that led only to a fiery death or to Olaf's clutches. Klaus leaned down and stopped the gurney. "We'd better hide," he said, jumping to the floor. "It's too dangerous to be rolling around like this." "Where?" Sunny asked, as Klaus helped her down. "Someplace close by," Klaus said, grabbing Violet's arm. "The anesthesia is still wearing off, so Violet can't walk too far." "I'll ... try...." Violet murmured, stepping unsteadily off the gurney and leaning on Klaus. The children looked around and saw that the nearest door was marked "Supply Closet." "Glaynop?" Sunny asked. "I guess so," Klaus said doubtfully, opening the door with one hand while balancing Violet with the other. "I don't know what we can do in a supply closet, but at least it'll hide us for a few moments." Klaus and Sunny helped their sister through the door and locked it behind them. Except for a small window in the corner, the closet looked identical to the one where Klaus and Sunny had hidden to decipher the anagram in the patient list. It was a small room, with only one flickering lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, and there were a row of white medical coats hanging from hooks, a rusty sink, huge cans of alphabet soup, and small boxes of rubber bands, but as the two younger Baudelaires looked at these supplies, they did not look like devices for translating anagrams and impersonating medical professionals. Klaus and Sunny looked at all these objects, and then at their older sister. To their relief, Violet's face was a bit less pale, and her eyes were a bit less confused,