As the days went on, Count Olaf's plan was no clearer than the first day of laps, and the Baudelaires only became sorer and sorer. All they could focus on was the luminous circle that they had to follow, unable to find the energy to speak as they did so. And as the Quagmires watched them, they felt just as terrible, knowing that watching was all they could do to help. Duncan watched his boyfriend struggle to keep running, waiting for the moment Klaus would collapse and he could give Olaf a piece of his mind. But like a brave soldier, Klaus kept going, and Duncan admired that.
During classes, the Baudelaires' grades fell by the wayside. Klaus could barely keep his eyes open, let alone measure.
"What are you doing slacking, Mr. Baudelaire? Pick up that ruler!" Mrs. Bass would say, but Klaus was far too sore and tired to do such a thing. Seeing that Klaus would get in further trouble, Duncan kept asking questions so Mrs. Bass would not see Klaus's mind drifting off. The bell rang, and it was time for lunch.
"Turn in your measurements to me before you leave," Mrs. Bass said, as she did everyday. Klaus sighed. He hadn't measured a single thing. He was halfway out the door when Mrs. Bass said, "Mr. Baudelaire, I would like a word with you." Klaus walked back to his teacher, suppressing an "ouch" with every step. Duncan waited outside the door. "I've noticed that you have not measured anything today."
"I apologize, Mrs. Bass. You see, I've been seeing Coach Genghis for the past few days, and he has me work pretty hard," Klaus explained.
"As he should. You children are weak masses of laziness. But I will tell you now, Mr. Baudelaire, I will not have laziness in my classroom. You will measure whatever is put on your desk, no matter how large or small. As for what happens outside of school, I do not care. You will come to my class prepared to learn, not nap. You have a warning today, but next class if you even blink for more than one second, I will send you to the vice principal's office. Do you hear me?"
"Good. Now, leave. I have good students' papers to grade." Klaus left the classroom without another word.
"I could write down my measurements twice," Duncan suggested as he walked with Klaus, "and put down your name on one of them if you want me to."
"No, I need to do my own work," Klaus sighed.
"It's no trouble, honestly."
"No, Duncan." And that was it of the conversation.
They walked to their table to find Violet struggling to hold her head up, and Sunny asleep on her tray.
"This is getting ridiculous," Isadora said, nudging little Sunny awake. "Look at you, Sunny. It was inappropriate to hire you as an administrative assistant in the first place, and it's simply absurd to have you crawl laps by night and make your own staples by day."
"Don't call my sister absurd or ridiculous!" Klaus cried.
"I'm not calling her ridiculous!" Isadora said. "I'm calling the situation ridiculous!"
"Ridiculous means you want to laugh at it," said Klaus, who was never too tired to define words,"and I don't want you laughing at us."
"I'm not laughing at you," Isadora said, hurt by Klaus's sudden outburst. "I'm trying to help."
"Well, laughing at us doesn't help at all, you cakesniffer."
"Calling me names doesn't help either, Klaus."
"Mumdum!" Sunny shrieked.
"Oh, stop it, both of you," Duncan said. "Isadora, can't you see that Klaus is just tired? And Klaus, can't you see that Isadora is just frustrated?"
Klaus took his glasses off, and laid his head down on his boyfriend's shoulder. "I'm too tired to see anything," he said. "I'm sorry, Isadora. Being tired makes me crabby. In a few days I'll turn as nasty as Carmelita Spats."
Isadora smiled to indicate she forgave him. Duncan took Klaus's hand.
"You'll never be as nasty as Carmelita Spats," he said, kissing Klaus's head.
"Carmelita Spats?" Violet said, lifting her head from her tray. She had dozed through Isadora and Klaus's argument but woken up at the sound of the Special Messenger's name. "She's not coming here again to tell us to do laps, is she?"
"I'm afraid she is," Duncan said ruefully, a word which here means "while pointing at a rude, violent, and filthy little girl."
"Hello, cakesniffers," Carmelita Spats said. "Today I have two messages for you, so I should really get two tips instead of one."
"Oh, Carmelita," Klaus said. "You haven't gotten a tip for the last nine days, and I see no reason to break that tradition." Violet almost chuckled. Even when beaten down by exhaustion, her brother still managed to sass.
"That's because you're a stupid orphan," Carmelita Spats said promptly. "In any case, message number one is the usual: meet Coach Genghis on the front lawn right after dinner."
Violet gave a tired groan. "And what's the second message?" she asked.
"The second message is that you must report to Vice Principal Nero's office right away."
"Vice Principal Nero's office?" Klaus asked. "Why?"
"I'm sorry," Carmelita Spats sneered with a nasty smile. "I don't answer questions from nontipping orphan cakesniffers."
A nearby table heard this and started chanting, "Cakesniffing orphans in the orphan's shack!" repeatedly while Carmelita skipped off.
"We'd better go to Nero's," Violet said, after rolling her eyes at the students. "We'll see you later, Duncan and Isadora."
"Nonsense," Duncan said. "We'll walk you. Carmelita Spats has made me lose my appetite, so we'll skip lunch and take you to the administrative building. We won't go inside—otherwise there'll be no silverware between the five of us—but we'll wait outside and you can tell us what's going on."
"I wonder what Nero wants," Klaus said, yawning.
"Maybe he's discovered that Genghis is really Olaf, all by himself," Isadora said, and the Baudelaires smiled back. They knew better than to put their hopes too high, but a little hope wouldn't hurt. They walked at a normal pace to the building, and paused to say goodbye and good luck when they arrived. Duncan had a rush of courage and kissed Klaus on the cheek as he opened the door, not caring about the consequences that were surely to come. Klaus gave Duncan a quick, flushed smile, and Duncan knew his action was worth it.
"Thank you for taking the time out of your busy orphan schedule to see me," Vice Principal Nero said, yanking open his door before they could knock. "Hurry up and come inside. Every minute I spend talking to you is a minute I could spend practicing the violin, and when you're a musical genius like me, every minute counts." The three children walked into the tiny office and began clapping their tired hands together as Nero raised both his arms in the air. "There are two things I wanted to talk to you about," he said when the applause was over. "Do you know what they are?"
"No, sir," Violet replied. "
No, sir," Nero mimicked, although he looked disappointed that the children hadn't given him a longer answer to make fun of. "Well, the first one is that the three of you have missed nine of my violin concerts, and each of you owes me a bag of candy for each one. Nine bags of candy times three equals twenty-nine. In addition, Carmelita Spats has told me that she has delivered ten messages to you, if you include the two she delivered today, and that you've never given her a tip. That's a disgrace. Now, I think a nice tip is a pair of earrings with precious stones, so you owe her ten pairs of earrings. What do you have to say about that?"
The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another with their sleepy, sleepy eyes. They had nothing to say about that. They had plenty to think about that—that they'd only missed Nero's concerts because Coach Genghis had forced them to, that nine bags of candy times three equals twenty-seven, not twenty-nine, and that tips are always optional and usually consist of money instead of earrings—but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too tired to say anything about it at all. This was another disappointment to Vice Principal Nero, who stood there scratching his pigtails and waiting for one of the children to say something that he could repeat in his nasty, mocking voice. But after a moment of silence, the vice principal went on to the second thing. "The second thing," he said, going on,"is that you three have become the worst students Prufrock Preparatory School has ever seen. Violet, Mr. Remora tells me that you have flunked a test. Klaus, Mrs. Bass reports that you can scarcely tell one end of a metric ruler from another. And Sunny, I've noticed that you haven't made a single staple! Mr. Poe told me you were intelligent and hardworking children, but you're just a bunch of cakesniffers!" At this, the Baudelaires could keep quiet no longer.
"We're flunking school because we're exhausted!" Violet cried.
"And we're exhausted because we're running laps every night!" Klaus cried.
"Galuka!" Sunny shrieked, which meant "So yell at Coach Genghis, not at us!" Vice Principal Nero gave the children a big smile, delighted that he was able to answer them in his favorite way.
"We're flunking school because we're exhausted!" he squealed. And we're exhausted because we're running laps every night! Galuka! I've had enough of your nonsense! Prufrock Preparatory School has promised you an excellent education, and an excellent education you will get—or, in Sunny's case, an excellent job as an administrative assistant! Now, I've instructed Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass to give comprehensive exams tomorrow—large tests on absolutely everything you've learned so far. Violet, you'd better remember every detail of Mr. Remora's stories, and Klaus, you'd better remember the length, width, and depths of Mrs. Bass's objects, or I will expel you from school. Also, I've found a bunch of papers that need to be stapled tomorrow. Sunny, you will staple all of them, with homemade staples, or I will expel you from your job. First thing tomorrow morning we will have the test and the stapling, and if you don't get As and make enough staples, you'll leave Prufrock Preparatory School. Luckily for you, Coach Genghis has offered to home-school you. That means he'd be your coach, your teacher, and your guardian, all in one. It's a very generous offer, and if I were you I'd give him a tip, too, although I don't think earrings are appropriate in this case."
"We're not going to give Count Olaf a tip!" Violet blurted out. Klaus looked at his older sister in horror.
"Violet means Coach Genghis," Klaus said quickly to Nero.
"I do not!" Violet cried. "Klaus, our situation is too desperate to pretend not to recognize him any longer!"
"Hifijoo!" Sunny agreed.
"I guess you're right," Klaus said. "What have we got to lose?"
"What have we got to lose?" Nero mocked. "What are you talking about?"
"We're talking about Coach Genghis," Violet said. "He's not really named Genghis. He's not even a real coach. He's Count Olaf in disguise."
"Nonsense!" Nero said.
Klaus wanted to say "Nonsense!" right back at Nero, in Nero's own repulsive way, but he bit his exhausted tongue. "It's true," he said. "He's put a turban over his eyebrow and expensive running shoes over his tattoo, but he's still Count Olaf."
"He has a turban for religious reasons," Nero said, "and running shoes because he's a coach. Look here. " He strode over to the computer and pressed a button. The screen began to glow in its usual seasick way, and once again showed a picture of Count Olaf. "You see? Coach Genghis looks nothing like Count Olaf, and my advanced computer system proves it."
"Ushilo!" Sunny cried, which meant "That doesn't prove anything!"
"Ushilo!" Nero mocked. "Who am I going to believe, an advanced computer system or two children flunking school and a little baby too dumb to make her own staples? Now, stop wasting my time! I will personally oversee tomorrow's comprehensive exams, which will be given in the Orphans Shack! And you'd better do excellent work, or it's a free ride from Coach Genghis! Sayonara, Baudelaires!"
All three Baudelaires had never felt more angered. They looked towards the ground and started to exit the office. As Klaus reached for the doorknob, Nero stopped him.
"And Klaus," Nero said, "Public displays of affection are not allowed at this academy. Be sure to pass that along to Mr. Quagmire."
"This is awful!" Duncan cried as the five children trudged across the lawn so they could talk things over in peace. "There's no way you can get an A on those exams, particularly if you have to run laps tonight!"
"This is dreadful!" Isadora cried. "There's no way Sunny can make all those staples, either!"
"Coach Genghis won't homeschool us," Violet said. "He'll do something much, much worse. Don't you see? That's why he's made us run all those laps! He knew we'd be exhausted. He knew we'd flunk our classes, or fail to perform our secretarial duties. He knew we'd be expelled from Prufrock Prep, and then he could get his hands on us."
Klaus groaned. "We've been waiting for his plan to be made clear, and now it is. But it might be too late."
"It's not too late," Duncan insisted. "The comprehensive exams aren't until tomorrow morning. We must be able to figure out a plan by then." Duncan tried to hold Klaus's hand, but Klaus pulled away.
"Plan!" Sunny agreed.
"It'll have to be a complicated plan," Duncan said, a bit bummed from being rejected. "We have to get Violet ready for Mr. Remora's test, and Klaus ready for Mrs. Bass's test."
"And we have to make staples," Isadora said, always remembering Sunny, "And the Baudelaires still have to run laps."
"And we have to stay awake," Klaus said.
Violet tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Klaus polished his glasses and set them on his nose. Sunny scraped her teeth together, to make sure they were sharp enough for any task ahead. And the two triplets took their notebooks out of their sweater pockets. Coach Genghis's evil plan had become clear through the prism of the Baudelaire and Quagmire experiences, and now they had to use their experience to make a plan of their own.
The five friends sat in the Orphan's Shack, which was improved from its previous state. Since wearing the noisy shoes full-time, the crabs were rarely seen. The salt dried up the fungus. Because the arrival of Coach Genghis had focused their energies on defeating his treachery, the five orphans hadn't done anything about the green walls with the pink hearts on them. It still had a long way to go to be attractive and comfortable living quarters, but for thinking of a plan, it would do in a pinch.
If Violet, Klaus, and Sunny spent one more exhausting night running laps, they would flunk their comprehensive exams and secretarial assignment, and then Coach Genghis would whisk them away from Prufrock Prep, and as they thought of this they could almost feel Genghis's bony fingers pinching the life right out of them. The Quagmire triplets were so worried about their friends that they felt pinched as well, even though they were not directly in danger—or so they thought, anyway.
"I can't believe we didn't figure out Coach Genghis's plan earlier," Isadora said mournfully, paging through her notebook. "I did all this research, and we still didn't figure it out. Although, it would have been nice if Duncan had helped." Duncan looked up from his own notebook.
"I helped!" Duncan argued. Isadora rolled her eyes.
"I suppose you helped when you weren't moping," she said. This made Klaus look up at Duncan.
"Why were you moping?" he asked. Klaus could hardly bear the idea of Duncan being genuinely troubled to the point he couldn't help his sister.
Duncan hesitated, and asked, "Can we speak outside the Shack?" Klaus nodded, and followed Duncan outside. Violet and Isadora rolled their eyes at each other. To even think about chatting at a time like this was absurd, but they let their brothers go anyway.
"You shouldn't be upset," Klaus said when they were out of the girls' earshots, "My sisters and I have had many encounters with Olaf, and it's always difficult to figure out his scheme." Duncan didn't seem to hear him.
"I'm sorry, Klaus," Duncan said. "I knew I shouldn't have confessed my feelings when things are so awful. I fully understand if you wish to not see me."
"I don't understand what you're saying," Klaus said, thoroughly confused. Duncan's face started to match Klaus's. He didn't want to say it, but he had to.
"Y-you don't touch me anymore," Duncan managed to say. "Every time I try to hold your hand, you quickly pull away as if I'll electrocute you. At first I thought it was because of Violet, but even when she's not there, you're stiff around me. It's a silly thing to be troubled by, considering the circumstan- Why are you laughing?"
Klaus had broken out in a fit of giggles. Duncan was starting to feel slightly hurt. Klaus hadn't exactly said he wouldn't laugh at him opening up, but it's close enough to joking. When Klaus had seen Duncan's face, he quickly pulled him into a hug.
"You had me worried for a moment," Klaus said, his tone still light from chuckling.
"Klaus Baudelaire, you are filled with surprises," Duncan smiled. "Would you mind explaining to me why you are suddenly embracing me again?"
"Yes, Mr. Baudelaire," a shrill, unpleasant voice said, "Please explain to us why you are breaking Vice Principal Nero's most important rule."
"We were trying to find out the history of Count Olaf," Isadora said, back inside the shack. "The Prufrock Preparatory library has a pretty good collection of old newspapers, and we thought if we could find out some of his other schemes, we might figure out this one."
"That's a good idea," Violet said thoughtfully. "I've never tried that."
"We figured that Olaf must have been an evil man even before he met you," Isadora continued, "so we looked up things in old newspapers. But it was difficult to find too many articles, because as you know he always uses a different name. But we found a person matching his description in the Bangkok Gazette, who was arrested for strangling a bishop but escaped from prison in just ten minutes."
"That sounds like him, all right," Violet said.
"And then in the Verona Daily News," Isadora continued again, "there was a man who had thrown a rich widow off of a cliff. He had a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, but he had eluded authorities. And then we found a newspaper from your hometown that said—"
"I don't mean to interrupt," Violet said, "but we'd better stop thinking about the past and start thinking about the present. Lunchtime is more than half over, and we desperately need a plan. I think I can invent something to make all those staples Sunny needs. But I can't figure out how I can invent the device and study for the test at the same time. Since S.O.R.E. began, I haven't taken good notes in Mr. Remora's class, so I won't be able to remember his stories."
"Well, you don't have to worry about that," Isadora said, holding up her dark green notebook. "I've written down every one of Mr. Remora's stories. Every boring detail is recorded here in my notebook. And Duncan's written down how long, wide, and deep all of Mrs. Bass's objects are. You can study from my notebook, and Klaus can study from Duncan's."
Isadora looked to where her brother had sat, and realized that the two lovebirds had not yet returned. Isadora sighed in annoyance; they had better be studying out there.
"You can't blame them for searching for a little happiness," Violet said quietly.
"I understand, I honestly do, but at a time like this?" Isadora shook her head. "If we don't use every second of our time towards making certain you three are safe, then Olaf will succeed, and there won't be any room for happiness anymore." Isadora's eyes watered.
"I agree," Violet said. "If we get rid of Olaf, then they'll have plenty of time to argue over who's cuter."
Isadora laughed. "We better go outside and get them."
When Violet and Isadora went outside to check on Duncan and Klaus, they gasped at the empty space in front of them. Their brothers were gone.
"Oh no..." Isadora squeaked. "Duncan!" Isadora's breathing became uneven and jagged. "Do you think Olaf took them?"
"I doubt it," Violet answered. "He wouldn't do it in broad daylight." Violet scanned the yard and spotted a figure dragging two other figures by what seemed to be their ears. Violet pointed towards them to show Isadora. They went to get Sunny, and then walked as fast as they could to catch up to the three figures before they entered the building they were approaching.
"Excuse me, Vice Principal Nero?" Isadora said. Nero let go of Duncan's and Klaus's ears to turn to look at her. The boys look relieved to see their sisters.
"Excuse me, Vice Principal Nero?" he mocked. "What do you three want? I'm dealing with important matters."
"What exactly did Duncan and Klaus do wrong?" Isadora asked as kindly as possible.
"I caught their bodies mingling, that's what Duncan and Klaus did wrong!" Nero snorted. Violet's eyes widened. Surely her brother's relationship hasn't gone that far yet.
"Hugging is hardly a federal offense!" Klaus snapped, which earned him a glare from Isadora. No way they were going to get off easy now.
"Hugging is hardly a federal offense!" Nero snapped back. "Mr. Baudelaire, that is for me to decide, and for me to take care of. You and Tickle-Me-Elmo are going to be serving detention for the next five weeks!" Violet couldn't keep her mouth from dropping in horror. "From now on, straight after school, you will be in Mrs. Bass's room from the time the school day is over to the time my concert begins."
"But how will Klaus study for his exam?" Duncan questioned.
"But how will Klaus study for his exams?" Nero mimicked. "He should have thought of that before he littered my campus with his sexuality!" Nero grabbed the boys' ears once again. "No more of this chatter! I must get to my office to sign two slips. Isadora and Violet, you may come along but you know the consequences if you do, so I suggest not." Without another word, Nero stomped into the building, Duncan and Klaus suffering behind him.
"Isn't this just marvelous," Isadora declared sarcastically. "We should have never let them go outside the shack." She put her head in her hands, feeling utterly defeated. Violet put a hand on Isadora's shoulder to comfort her, even though she knew she was right.
"Hopfa!" Sunny insisted, which meant, "Don't give up hope!"
Violet smiled down sadly at her younger sibling. "There is nothing we can do," she said. "We're doomed."
Sunny put her tiny fists on her hips. "Nunsi!" she shouted, which meant, "Nonsense! There has to be a way for Klaus to still study!" She toddled over to Isadora and grabbed the notebook that was still in her hand. "Delvrement," she said, in this case means, "He can hide this in his pocket and secretly memorize in detention."
"What's she saying?" Isadora finally asked when she saw Violet sincerely smiling.
"She's saying we can sneak in Duncan's notes into Mrs. Bass's classroom. It's a great idea, but I have no idea how to get them to him without Mrs. Bass noticing." Isadora face scrunched into a sly smile.
"We can't get the notebook to Klaus," she grinned, "but maybe a special messenger can." Violet's mouth cringed as she wondered what they would have to do to get Carmelita Spats to do them a favor.