New chapter! Sorry it took longer! I've been so busy with school (APs are exhausting) and last weekend was homecoming lol. I hope this chapter makes up for it!
Chapter Four: The Mission
As soon I returned from the shopping trip, I hurried to take a shower, something I hadn't been able to do in a few days. Unfortunately, Esmé forbid me from wearing my regular clothes and forced me to put on that uncomfortable pink, shiny bikini. I immediately slid the sundress on over it, much to Esmé's disapproval. She and Carmelita were heading to the rooftop sunbathing salon. Carmelita wanted to go on the wooden boat Olaf had reluctantly purchased for her and Esmé wanted to get a tan. She also mentioned something about watching the skies. Esmé let me stay behind to freshen up a bit as long as I didn't wander off. I suppose wandering off would make Olaf angry and I might be prevented from being one of his henchwoman.
Esmé and I hardly spoke since lunch. Esmé continued to fuss over me and Carmelita continued to envy the attention I was getting. I only muttered short responses every now and then. I suppose I shouldn't be complaining. Afterall, I was the one who wanted to do this so that Esmé would like me. I knew what I was getting myself into when I volunteered. It was my fault for getting my hopes up too high. I shouldn't let myself be so vulnerable. Especially if I wanted to continue being Olaf's associate. Though I was starting to wonder if this is truly the path for me.
A knock on the bedroom door interrupted my thoughts. I frowned in confusion. Who could that be? Should I answer it?
"Open up," the scratchy voice of Count Olaf sounded in my ears from the other side of the door.
I sighed and slid off my bed to answer the door. When I opened it, I found Olaf was not alone. With him was a very tall, skinny man with limbs that seemed to stick out at odd angles and he wore a red staff uniform with the word Manager sewn into it. and another man whom I recognized as the man with a beard but no hair.
"Where's Esmé?" Olaf asked neglecting to add in a greeting of some kind.
"She's at the rooftop bathing salon with Carmelita," I said.
"Why aren't you with her?" he asked, looking irritated.
"Esmé let me stay behind," I said, "I was just about to head up there."
Olaf frowned. "I thought I made myself clear before about wandering around this hotel by yourself," he growled. "You should be glad I found you before something terrible happened to you."
"Yes," the man with a beard but no hair said, giving me a wicked grin. I shuddered. "There are a lot of dangers in such a large and confusing hotel. Something could be lurking right underneath your nose and you might not even notice until it's too late. You never know who you can trust."
"Speaking of trust," Olaf said, "you're not doing a very good job convincing me that you'll be a good henchwoman. Well, I guess now I can tell you about the latest scheme I concocted with my fellow associates while you were out shopping."
He stepped inside the room and I stepped aside so the others could come inside too. I was a little reluctant to do this but I knew I didn't have much of a choice.
"First off," Olaf said, "there's someone I want you to meet, Ernest. This is the orphan I've been telling you about, Jamie Murray."
"She's not just any orphan if she's a Murray," Ernest said. He stepped forward and peered down at me as if I were on display. He reached out and grabbed my face roughly in his hands. He turned it from one side to the other.
"That's certainly her," he said, not letting go of my face. "She looks just like Abigail." He let go and gave me a mocking smile. "I'm one of the managers of the hotel. Ernest Denouement."
"Hello," I replied, trying to be polite. "It's nice to meet you."
"I knew your mother," Ernest said. "We go way back. I admit, I was shocked when I heard the news of your mother's death but when I found out her little daughter managed to survive, I was overjoyed. I knew you'd join us eventually. I just hope you won't disappoint."
"She'd better," the man with a beard but no hair said. He leaned down so that his face was level with mine. "Bad things will happen to you if you betray us. No one likes traitors. Though I shouldn't have to warn you about that. Your mother had to learn the hard way."
I shuddered. "I-I won't," I said. I suppose I really couldn't change sides then without facing dire consequences. "I'm on your side for good."
"Good," Ernest said.
"Now, orphan," Olaf said, "there is a certain item called the sugar bowl that is supposed to arrive by crow this very evening. Your job is simple. You just have to shoot the stupid bird down and we'll take care of the rest."
"But I've never used a gun in my life," I said, "How do you expect me to be able to shoot a crow in the pitch black?"
"It should come naturally to you," Olaf said. "I need you to get a harpoon. One of the concierges should be able to get it for you."
"Won't they be suspicious about a ten-year-old wanting a gun?" I said.
"That's why I need to tell Esmé," he said, "she can convince whoever it is to give it to you."
"The concierges have to do whatever you say," Ernest said, "in fact, I'm meeting my new concierges today. I better go see if they've arrived." He chuckled wickedly as he left.
"I really don't think I can do this," I said, "I'll miss. Why can't Esmé do it or someone else?"
"No," Olaf said, "Esmé's busy planning the cocktail party and my other henchmen are also occupied. Besides, you have to do it if you want to prove that you're really on my side. Don't argue further. You'll do it because I told you to do it. Now let's head to the rooftop."
So Olaf led me to the rooftop. The man with a beard but no hair had to go which I was very relieved about. Esmé was watching Carmelita on her pirate ship with a fond look. She was wearing a bikini…well it wasn't much of anything really. The bikini consisted of three pieces of lettuce taped together. I shuddered. I was suddenly glad that my bikini wasn't that revealing.
"Esmé," Olaf greeted her. She glanced in our direction and she brightened.
"Olaf, darling," she cried. "And Jamie. What's going on?"
"I have something to tell you," he said. "I've formulated a new plan involving Jamie."
"What is it?" Esmé asked.
Olaf explained to her his new plan. Esmé's eyes widened and she looked at me.
"Are you sure we should trust her with a gun?" Esmé said. "She probably doesn't even know how to use one."
"I'm sure she'll be fine," Olaf said, "Abigail rarely had a problem."
"That's because she already knew how to use a gun," Esmé said, "and the first time she got lucky."
"The orphan might get lucky too," Olaf said, "or she'd better hope she is. Now I have to continue scheming for our cocktail party. Don't let the orphan out of your sight unless I tell you to."
"What are you talking about?" Carmelita said, as she wandered over.
Esmé and Olaf explained the plan to her except they left out the part about the sugarbowl.
"In fact," Olaf said, "you can also have a turn at shooting the crow in case Blondie misses."
"Why should I do it?" Carmelita said. "I'm not a crow shooter. I'm a ball-playing cowboy superhero soldier pirate!"
"If you do it," Olaf said, "then I'll teach you how to…spit like a real ball-playing cowboy superhero soldier pirate."
Carmelita looked pleased. "Fine," she said.
Olaf said something about having to plan more treachery and then left. Carmelita went back to her boat. I glanced at Esmé, worriedly.
"I really don't think I can do this," I said, "I-I have no training or anything."
"You'll be fine," Esmé said. "All you have to do is pull the trigger."
"And aim," I said, "I don't think I'll have a good aim especially in the dark."
"That's why I got you sunoculars," Esmé said. "I knew the bird was coming with the sugar bowl. You have to do it if you want to get the sugar bowl. Well, I'll get it since it belongs to me but you can consider this a gift to me. If you help us get the sugar bowl, I'll buy you anything your little heart desires. Now take off that sundress so you can get a proper tan. You're too pale."
I sighed, knowing that nothing would convince Esmé and Olaf not to make me do this. But how could I kill something-even if it was just a crow? I wasn't a killer. Maybe I almost killed Madame Lulu but I never would have gone through with it if the Baudelaire's lives weren't at stake. I knew I couldn't fail. The man with a beard but no hair made it clear that if I didn't follow through, I would be facing dire consequences. If my mother was killed for betraying the villains, I couldn't imagine what would happen to me.
The lobby of Hotel Denouement was a crowded place. Guests were busy checking in. Bellboys and bellgirls loading piles of luggage onto carts and rolling them toward the elevators. Tourists were puzzled as they looked at maps and there were children playing hide-and-seek. Waiters and waitresses were serving food and drink to people who were sitting on the chairs and benches of the lobby, waiting for refreshment. Dogs were heading outside with their owners to take walks. A man in a tuxedo was sitting at a grand piano emblazoned with the number 152, playing a pretty tune and staff members were being cautious as they polished the green wooden floors etched with the number 123. A fountain in one corner of the room released a cascade of water over the number 131 in a shiny, smooth wall. Everywhere numbers were emblazoned, from the elevators to the front desks. As we maneuvered through the frenzied lobby, we tried to make observations but it was difficult when there was so much activity. I began to wonder how we would begin our mission.
"I had no idea this place would be so busy," Violet said, blinking at the lobby from behind her sunglasses.
"How in the world will we be able to observe the impostor," I wondered, "among all these possible suspects?"
"Frank first," Sunny said.
"Sunny's right," Violet said. "The first step in our errand should be locating our new employer. If he saw our signal from that open window, he should be expecting us."
"Unless his villainous brother Ernest is expecting us instead," I said.
"Or both," Sunny said.
"Why do you suppose there are so many numbers—" Violet started, but a man came towards us and interrupted her. He was very thin and towered over us, and his arms and legs stuck out at peculiar angles. His uniform looked similar to ours except that he had the word MANAGER embroidered in fancy script over one of the pockets of his coat.
"You must be the new concierges," he said. "Welcome to the Hotel Denouement. I'm one of the managers."
"Frank," Violet asked, "or Ernest?"
"Exactly," the man said, and winked at us. "I'm so happy the three of you are here, even if one of you is unusually short, because we're unusually short-handed. I'm so busy you'll have to figure out the system for yourself."
"System?" Klaus asked.
"This place is as complicated as it is enormous," said Frank, or perhaps Ernest, "and vice versa. I'd hate to think what would happen if you didn't understand it."
I studied him carefully, though his face was nearly impossible to read.
"We'll try our best," Violet said quietly.
"Good," said the manager, leading us across the enormous lobby.
"You'll be at our guests' beck and call," he continued. "If anyone and everyone staying here asks for assistance, you'll immediately volunteer to help them."
"Excuse me, sir," a bellboy interrupted. He held a suitcase in his hands and looked confused. "This luggage arrived in a taxi, but the driver said the guest wouldn't arrive until Thursday. What should I do?"
"Thursday?" said Frank or Ernest with a frown. "Excuse me, concierges. I don't suppose I have to tell you how important this is. I'll be right back."
Frank or Ernest went away with the bellboy into the crowd, leaving us standing near a huge wooden bench with the number 128 etched into the wood. I trailed my fingers along the bench, noticing the rings where people must have put down their glasses without a coaster underneath. "Do you think we were talking to Frank," I said, "or Ernest?"
"I don't know," Violet said. "He used the word 'volunteer.' Maybe that was some sort of a code."
"Thursinterest," Sunny said, which meant, "He knew that Thursday was important."
"That's true," I said, "but is it important to him because he's a volunteer or a villain?"
There was no time for any of my sisters to speak because the skinny man who was also very tall came toward us. "You must be the new concierges," he said, and we realized that this was the other brother. "Welcome to the Hotel Denouement."
"You must be Ernest," Violet tried.
"Or Frank," Sunny said.
"Yes," the manager said, though we were still confused about whom he was agreeing. "I'm very grateful you three are here. The hotel is quite busy at the moment, and we're expecting more guests to arrive on Thursday. Now, you'll be stationed at the concierge desk, number 175, right over here. Follow me."
We tagged along as he led us to the far wall of the lobby in which sat a large wooden desk below the number 175, painted on a large window, which displayed the dark, flat horizon of the sea. There was a frog shaped lamp perched on the desk. "We've got a pond on one side of us," said Ernest, though it could be Frank, "and the sea on the other side. It doesn't sound very safe, and yet some people think this is a very safe place indeed." The manager glanced quickly around and then lowered his voice. "What do you think?"
His expression was once more unfathomable, and I could not tell whether his reference implied he was good or evil.
"Hmm," Sunny said.
"Hmm," Frank or Ernest replied. "Now then, let me explain how this hotel is organized."
"Excuse me, sir," said a bellgirl, whose face was hidden by the stack of newspapers that she carried. "The latest edition of The Daily Punctilio has arrived."
"Let me see," said either Ernest or Frank, picking up a copy. "I heard that Geraldine Julienne has written an update on the Baudelaire case."
We froze and I was glad our sunglasses would conceal our worried expressions. The manager read the headline out loud "'BAUDELAIRES RUMORED TO RETURN TO THE CITY,'" he said. "'According to information recently discovered by this reporter when opening a cookie, Veronica, Klyde, and Susie Baudelaire, the notorious murderers of renowned actor Count Omar, are returning to the city, perhaps to commit more vicious murders or to continue their recent hobby of arson. Citizens are advised to watch for these three bloodthirsty children, and to report them to the authorities if they are spotted. If they are not spotted, citizens are advised to do nothing.'" The manager looked at us and his face was still impossible to decipher. "What do you think of that, concierges?"
"That's an interesting question," I replied.
"I'm glad you find it interesting," Ernest or Frank replied. Then he turned to the bellgirl. "I'll show you the newsstand in Room 168," he said, leaving us to stare out the window at the sea and the desk.
"I think that was Ernest," Violet said. "His comment about the hotel's safety sounded very sinister."
"But he didn't seem alarmed by the story in The Daily Punctilio," I said. "If Ernest is an enemy of V.F.D., he'd be on the watch for us. So that man was probably Frank."
"Maybe he just didn't recognize us," Violet said. "After all, few people recognize Count Olaf when he's in disguise, and his disguises aren't much better than ours. Maybe we look more like concierges than Baudelaires."
"Or maybe we don't look like Baudelaires at all," I said. "As Kit said, we're not children anymore."
"Nidiculous," Sunny said, meaning, "I think I'm still a child."
"That's true," I admitted, giving Sunny a smile, "but the older we get, the less likely it is that we'll be recognized."
"That should make it easier to do our errands," Violet said.
"What do you mean by that?" a familiar voice and we found that either Frank or Ernest had come back.
"What my associate meant," I said, thinking quickly, "is that it would be easier for us to start our work as concierges if you explained how the hotel is organized."
"I just said I would do that," said Frank or Ernest in an annoyed voice. "Once you understand how the Hotel Denouement works, you'll be able to perform your errands as easily as you would find a book in a library. And if you can find a book in a library, then you already know how this hotel works."
"Expound," Sunny said.
"The Hotel Denouement is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System," Frank or Ernest explained. "That's the same way books are organized in many libraries. For instance, if you wanted to find a book on German poetry, you would begin in the section of the library marked 800, which contains books on literature and rhetoric. Similarly, the eighth story of this hotel is reserved for our rhetorical guests. Within the 800 section of a library, you'd find books on German poetry labeled 831, and if you were to take the elevator up to the eighth story and walk into Room 831, you'd find a gathering of German poets. Understand?"
"I think so," I said. Although I was an experienced research, I had not memorized the Dewey Decimal System since I could use a catalog to better track them down. "Where can we find the catalog for the Hotel Denouement's services?"
"Catalog?" repeated either Frank or Ernest. "You shouldn't need a catalog. The entire 100 section of a library is dedicated to philosophy and psychology, and so is the first story of our hotel, from the reception desk, which is labeled 101 for the theory of philosophy, to the concierge desk, which is labeled 175 for the ethics of recreation and leisure, to the couches over there, which are labeled 135, for dreams and mysteries, in case our guests want to take a nap or conceal something underneath the sofa cushions. The second story is the 200s, for religion, and we have a church, a cathedral, a chapel, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, a shrine, a shuffleboard court, and Room 296, which is currently occupied by a somewhat cranky rabbi. The third story is the social sciences, where we have placed our ballrooms and meeting rooms; the fourth story is dedicated to language, so most of our foreigners stay there. The 500s are dedicated to mathematics and science, and the sixth story is dedicated to technology, from the sauna in Room 613, which stands for the promotion of health, to Room 697, which is where we keep the controls for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Now, if the seventh story stands for the arts, what do you think we would find in Room 792, which stands for stage presentations?"
"A theater?" Violet said.
"You've obviously visited a library before," the manager said. "I'm afraid that's not true of all of our guests, so when they are in need of any of our services, they ring for a concierge instead of wandering around the hotel by themselves. In the next day or so, you'll probably walk through every section of the hotel, from the astronomy observatory in Room 999 to the employees' quarters in the basement, Room 000."
"Is that where we sleep?" I asked.
"Well, you're on duty twenty-four hours a day," Ernest said, or perhaps it was Frank. "But the hotel gets very quiet at night, when the guests go to sleep, or stay up all night reading. You can nap behind the desk, and when someone rings for you it will serve as an alarm clock."
Frank or Ernest paused and looked around before leaning toward us. I stared back, nervously. "Your positions as concierges," he said in his unfathomable tone, "are excellent opportunities for you to quietly observe your surroundings. People tend to treat the hotel staff as if they are invisible, so you will have the chance to see and hear quite a lot of interesting things. However, you should remember that you will also have many opportunities to be observed. Do I make myself clear?"
"Hmm," Violet said. "That's an interesting question."
Either Frank or Ernest narrowed his eyes at my older sister, and seemed about to speak when the we suddenly heard a loud, piercing ringing sound. "Aha!" the manager cried. "Your work has begun!"
We followed behind Ernest or Frank to the other side of the desk where there was a vast system of tiny bells. Each bell was labeled from 000 to 999. There was another bell without a label, which was currently ringing along with the bell marked 371 and another with 674.
with one extra bell that had no number at all. This extra bell was ringing, along with the bell numbered 371 and the bell numbered 674.
"Ring!" cried either Ernest or Frank. "Ring! I shouldn't have to tell you the bell's your signal. We can't keep our guests waiting for even an instant. You can tell which guest is ringing by the number on the bell. If the number written on the bell was 469, for example, you would know that one of our Portuguese guests required assistance. Are you paying attention? The bell marked 674 indicates our associates in the lumber industry, as the number 674 means lumber processing or wood products in the Dewey Decimal System. We can't make enemies out of important guests! The number 371 indicates educational guests. Please be nice to them, too, although they're much less important. Respond to all of our guests whenever you hear that ring!"
"But what does that unmarked bell refer to?" I asked. "The Dewey Decimal System doesn't go higher than 999."
The manager frowned, as if I had given him the wrong answer. "That's the rooftop sunbathing salon," he said. "People who sunbathe aren't usually interested in library science, so they're not picky about the salon's location. Now, get moving!"
"But where shall we go first?" Violet said. "Guests have requested assistance in three places at once."
"You'll have to split up, of course," Frank or Ernest replied, as unfathomably as ever. "Each concierge will choose a guest and hurry to their location. Take the elevators- they're at 118, for force and energy."
"Excuse me, sir," said another bellboy, tapping Ernest or Frank on the shoulder. "There's a banker on the phone who wants to speak to one of the managers right away."
"I'd better get to work," the manager said, "and so should you, concierges. Off with you!"
His rude dismissal displeased me as well as having to split up to wander around this confusing hotel without a catalog. I wasn't pleased that we couldn't tell which manager was Frank and which was Ernest. The news of The Daily Punctilio alerting citizens of our whereabouts was unsettling.
"I'll go to the rooftop sunbathing salon," Violet said, trying to be brave. "Klaus, why don't you take Room 674, and Sunny, you can take Room 371. We'll all meet up at the concierge desk when we're done."
"We'll be able to observe more this way," I said hopefully. "With the three of us on three separate stories, we can find the impostor much more quickly."
"Unsafe," Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of, "I'd rather not find the impostor if I'm all by myself."
"You'll be safe, Sunny," I said. "This hotel is just like a large library."
"Yes," Violet said. "And what's the worst thing that can happen in a library?"
I wasn't sure how to answer her and we were silent as we waited for the elevator. We stepped inside when one arrived and pushed the buttons for the guests' locations. I was reminded of the dark elevator shaft at 667 Dark Avenue and I knew the worst thing that could happen in an elevator shaft was being thrown down one by a villainous woman. I knew the worst thing that could happen at a lumbermill was being forced to cause a violent accident through hypnotism. I knew the worst thing that could happen at a school was having some close friends stolen away. I knew the worst thing that could happen in a Reptile Room, and in a small village, and in a cave, and at a carnival, and at the top of a mountain, and at a hospital, and in a submarine, and inside the trunk of a car, and in a lion pit, and within the currents of a rushing stream, and in a secret passageway, and many more miserable places I tried not to think about. Throughout our miserable lives, we encountered many libraries that helped save our lives. I did not want to imagine the worst thing that could happen in a library, especially after seeing a sign that read: IN CASE OF A FIRE. I shuddered as the doors of the elevator opened onto the sixth floor.
I really will try to update ASAP!
Btw that new show 666 Park Avenue sounds so much like 667 Dark Avenue lol