The Penultimate Peril


Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events Book Twelve, 2005

"You must have thousands of questions, Baudelaires," said Kit Snicket, spinning the steering wheel with her white-gloved hands. Violet, who had adroit technical faculties-a phrase which here means "a knack for inventing mechanical devices"-admired the automobile's purring machinery as the taxi made a sharp turn through a large metal gate and proceeded down a curvy, narrow street lined with shrubbery "I wish we had more time to talk, but it's already Tuesday. As it is you scarcely have time to eat your important brunch before getting into your concierge disguises and beginning your observations as flaneurs."

"Concierge?" Violet asked.

"Flaneurs?" Klaus asked.

"Brunch?" Sunny asked.

Kit smiled, and maneuvered the taxi through another sharp turn. Two books of poetry skittered off the passenger seat to the floor of the automobile-

by Lewis Carroll, and

Violet and Sunny turned to their brother, who was the literary expert in the family. Klaus Baudelaire had read so many books he was practically a walking library, and had recently taken to writing important and interesting facts in a dark blue commonplace book. "I think so," the middle Baudelaire said. "He thinks that good people are more powerful than evil people, even if evil people appear to be winning. Is he a member of V.F.D.?"

"You might say that," Kit said. "Certainly his message applies to our current situation. As you know, our organization split apart some time ago, with much bitterness on both sides."

"The schism," Violet said.

"Yes," Kit agreed with a sigh. "The schism. V.F.D. was once a united group of volunteers, trying to extinguish fires-both literally and figuratively. But now there are two groups of bitter enemies. Some of us continue to extinguish fires, but others have turned to much less noble schemes."

"Olaf," Sunny said. The language skills of the youngest Baudelaire were still developing, but everyone in the taxi knew what Sunny meant when she uttered the name of the notorious villain.

"Count Olaf is one of our enemies," Kit agreed, peering into her rearview mirror and frowning, "but there are many, many more who are equally wicked, or perhaps even more so. If I'm not mistaken, you met two of them in the mountains-a man with a beard, but no hair, and a woman with hair, but no beard. There are plenty more, with all sorts of hairstyles and facial ornaments. A long time ago, of course, you could spot members of V.F.D. by the tattoos on their ankles. But now there are so many wicked people it is impossible to keep track of all our enemies-and all the while they are keeping track of us. In fact, we may have some enemies behind us at this very moment."

The Baudelaires turned to look out of the rear window, and saw another taxi driving behind them at quite a distance. Like Kit Snicket's automobile, the windows of this taxi were tinted, and so the children could not see anything through the darkened glass.

"Why do you think there are enemies in that taxi?" Violet asked.

"A taxi will pick up anyone who signals for one," Kit said. "There are countless wicked people in the world, so it follows that sooner or later a taxi will pick up a wicked person."

"Or a noble one," Klaus pointed out. "Our parents took a taxi to the opera one evening when their car wouldn't start."

"I remember that evening well," Kit replied with a faint smile. "It was a performance of La Forzadel Destino. Your mother was wearing a red shawl, with long feathers along the edges.

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