"If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle."
~ Lemony Snicket

Prologue: The Sparrow in the Shrubs

In a city called Stonetown, on the east coast of Massachusetts, there was a house. It was not a humble house – it towered over the rest in the area, and boasted intricate antique designs – but it was homely. This house was surrounded by an iron fence and gate, which was in turn lined with rosebushes. One of these bushes, the largest of them all, had a bird's nest in it, over which a sparrow was busily fluttering about. The bird was preparing to fly south, for it was getting colder every day in Stonetown. The first snow was predicted for tomorrow.

The sparrow stood on her nest and began fluffing her feathers. She would sleep tonight, and begin the journey tomorrow. She did not glance down into the bush, and she was not expecting any kind of danger.

Without warning, a yellow object zoomed up from inside the rosebush, so fast that it was a blur, and missed the sparrow by millimeters. Chirping in alarm, it took to the air and fled.

"Damn," said Crawlings. "I almost had it!"

His business partner frowned. "You just wasted a perfectly good pencil on that bird," he said. "What if you need it later?"

"Oh, don't be such a worrywart, McCracken! It was only a bit of sport. Besides, we've got a dozen of those pencils."

McCracken turned his cold eyes back to the woman who stood guard in front of the house. "And what if you need a dozen and one?"

Crawlings didn't answer. "Look," he said. "She's not even watching! Why don't we just go in through that window?"

The other man shook his head. "Security. Silent alarms. Milligan. I told you, we have to wait until Bane is guarding the front yard."

"But—!"

"Calm down! He'll take care of everything tomorrow night. When he gives the signal – and only then – we move in."

"Yes, I know that, but why all these preparations? Why not just go in through the window tonight and take them?"

"Because Milligan is in there tonight. If the alarm is raised, we'll have no chance of shaking him off – we'll give away Mr. Curtain's position! Now do your job, and scout."

They were both silent for a while as they surveyed the property, analyzing doors, windows, shadowy places. Then Crawlings snorted to himself. "Pff…Bane…" he scoffed. "How does Curtain know he can trust that little weasel, anyway? He's a coward, a rat. If he's willing to double-cross Benedict, then why not us?"

"You're right, he doesn't have any real loyalty – he just goes along with the highest bidder – but his being a coward also works to our advantage. He's got no fear of Benedict. Benedict would never harm anybody. But he knows that we might snap him like a twig, so he doesn't want to disappoint us." McCracken cracked his knuckles. "All the same, I'd like to get a crack at him at some point or another."

"Can we go back now? It's freezing out here."

"Alright, fine – but remember, be back here at ten o'clock sharp tomorrow night, and don't forget to bring the g—"

"Who's there?" said Ms. Plugg warily. She moved toward the brush.

"Damn," said Crawlings again, and the two men melted away into the darkness.

"Something wicked this way comes."
~ William Shakespeare