At the bar of Hotel Denouement, a girl with long, black hair is sipping a cocktail. Her dark blue trench coat is taken off and neatly hanged at the coat rack near the entrance, revealing the black sweater originally underneath. She’s wearing a knee length checkered skirt. It isn’t black and white patterned, but for a moment she daydreams about playing chess on it anyway.
The woman meets her gaze and smiles ambiguously, like a chess piece she can’t see the true colors, can’t see the true side.
Kit has never been able to figure out Ellington Feint’s true side.
Loyalty has always been a clear cut concept to Kit. Us and them. Volunteers versus firestarters. You’re either an ally or you’re not. Loyalty doesn’t mean “we’re always right”, but rather “I still choose us even if we’re wrong”. Because it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about us versus them. Because you can’t get trapped in the dilemma of endlessly worrying what’s right and what’s wrong.
It’s about efficiency, about getting things done. It’s about sides.
You’re either one of us or you’re not.
Ellington Feint doesn’t fit neatly into either category of us or them. Doesn’t have a clear side Kit can pinpoint her to. She’s not a white piece nor a black one, she’s several shades of gray that shouldn’t belong on a chessboard where sides of pieces are clear cut.
She’s ambiguous. Unpredictable. She smiles a smile that could’ve meant anything, she gazes at Kit with her green eyes that make Kit get lost in the depth of them, she helps occasionally, but also hinders them sometimes. She’s hard to figure out.
She criticizes VFD and she scoffs scathingly at the other side of the schism and she steals important documents but sometimes shares it with Kit, if it suits her moods. She’s volatile. Which means she’s dangerous, but honestly, isn’t everyone? Kit’s a force of danger herself.
It’s us or it’s them or just irrelevant, but Ellington Feint is not us, is not them, and is certainly never ever irrelevant. Not to Kit, anyway.
“I don’t see what’s ambiguous about her, I don’t see how you can’t ‘figure her out’,” B remarks. “Anyone else doing the same thing you would’ve already labeled them not one of us. It’s not like you gage never gotten involved with an enemy before, you still think of them as an enemy at the same time.” He adjusts his glasses, a pretentious move in Kit’s opinion. “The only reason you consider her ambiguous is that you actually like her and don’t want to label her an enemy.”
“Go away,” Kit says.
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Chapter the Second: The Terrorizing Pteropods (A Series of Unfortunate Debaggings)
“It’s just a few dozen meters below the surface: the mesophotic stratum, also known as the Twilight Zone.”
Violet, Klaus, and the Quagmire triplets sat on stools around a table in a bright but subdued tearoom while listening to Josephine tell her story. This was just down the passage from the antechamber where the Beatrice still lay. Wobbly and narrow, the dark passage they had just traversed was, the Baudelaires assumed, the neck of the beast.
“A little known fact,” continued Josephine, “even among VFD agents, is that the tunnels of Anwhistle Aquatics have many entrances, from the Island to the mouths of Curdled Cave and the Gorgonian Grotto to a whole complex lattice underneath Ike’s and my Lake Lachrymose.”
“Most maps call it Lake Pontchartrain,” clarified Quigley.
“Life’s too short to learn French,” Josephine replied with a dismissive wave. “Besides, their nasal phonemes frighten me.” She shuddered as she sipped her thé à la menthe. “Where was I? Oh, yes: when Olaf pushed me overboard, all I did was doff my life jacket (smeared with a juicy banana peel, of course) and dive to the twilit lake bed where an underwater opening I had constructed years ago lay.”
“According to archival records,” said Duncan, flipping through his commonplace book, “The tunnels of Anwhistle Aquatics were completed not long before we and the Baudelaires were born. And didn’t you mean to use the intransitive form of ‘lay’ just now, which is ‘lie’?’
“I did use the intransitive form: ‘lay’ is also the simple past tense of ‘lie,’ you wily little fox! And yes,” Josephine sighed nostalgically. “that was the golden age of VFD. If only you youngsters could have seen it! Those tunnels are one of the grandest works VFD has ever undertaken! While many in the city, your parents included, helped the expansion of the old catacombs on the south shore, Ike and I spearheaded the construction of multiple tunnels throughout Lake Lachrymose.”
“But how did you find the entrance?” asked Klaus suspiciously. “No matter how many tunnels underlie such a large lake, it’s still statistically improbable.”
“Our trip back to Damocles Dock passed directly overhead one of the largest ones. I directed us that way! I wasn’t taking any chances with Olaf around.” She shuddered. “And at the end of the tunnel was the light of this old submarine! Ike and I used it to explore every crevice of that lake. Those were also the years when we raised our dear son.”
“The best years of our lives,” said Fernald, stepping into the tea room, swinging his hooks.
“But how on Earth did you survive the leeches?” Violet probed further.
“All those rumors of death by leech bite are overblown,” said Fernald with a snort, setting down a sugar bowl.
“Your poor father would beg to differ, Fernald,” said Josephine with a sigh. “I understand why you and Fiona ended up leaving for the Queequeg: my mourning period was nearly interminable.”
“Ike was the exception,” Fernald explained for the sakes of the orphans. “He was coagulopathic, like me. Coagulopathic is a word which here means--”
“That his blood didn’t clot normally, leading to excessive bleeding?” finished Klaus.
“Why do I even bother explaining my life,” Fernald said contemptuously. “You think you know it better than I do, don’t you, bookworm? Then explain these!” he brandished his hooks menacingly.
“You just told us you were coagulopathic,” reasoned Klaus, “so I surmise your hands had to be amputated by tourniquet after the Anwhistle Aquatics incident, to slow the bleeding?”
“May we please talk about something other than death and injury to my close family?” interjected Josephine desperately.
“I’m sorry, Josephine,” said Klaus. “Where were you in your story? The, uh, ‘deadly’ leeches?”
“I apologize for bringing up the subject,” added Violet hastily, “It’s perfectly understandable if you’d prefer to talk about something more--”
“Oh, I can handle leeches!” interrupted Josephine with a dismissive wave of her hand. “But please, never ask me about... tuna fish,” she shuddered and peered through the submarine window to make sure no tuna were swimming nearby. Then she breathed deeply and launched into her zoological explanation: “Lachrymose leeches are a misnomer, like the Incredibly Deadly Viper, or koala bears. Lachrymose leeches aren’t annelids, sea serpents aren’t reptiles, and the bombinating beast isn’t a mammal. All of them are, in fact, one and the same: a hybrid devised by VFD from highly advanced species of mollusk.”
The phrase “one and the same” of course, is a hackneyed redundancy, but the Baudelaires were too polite to point this out to Josephine in the moment.
“Es-car-go(t)?” said Beatrice, popping out from under the table cloth.
“Oohh! That baby gives me such a start,” cried Josephine. Then she leaned down to Beatrice. “You’re right, Sunny! Snails are mollusks! I see your brother has already taught you taxonomy! And French...” she finished under her breath with a guffaw.
“That’s Beatrice Baudelaire II, actually,” Klaus corrected. “She’s wearing Sunny’s old clothes.”
“Oh, that’s right--Sunny’s with Phil in the kitchen. Then where did this baby... Violet? Klaus?” She eyed the Baudelaires sternly. “Do you have something you’d like to tell your Aunt Josephine?”
“Beatrice is Kit Snicket’s daughter, Josephine,” Violet said hastily. “Her father is Dewey Denouement, we think.”
“What a fortunate woman! And why didn’t Kit come with you, Baudelaires? I know, she must be on a VFD mission herself. That woman has always been the adventurous type! Where is she off to now, Baudelaires?”
Only the bombinating white noise of the submarine filled the air before Klaus finally broke the news. “She’s dead, Josephine.”
“The Medusoid Mycelium killed her,” added Violet in low monotone.
“Oh, good Lord!” wailed Josephine, clutching her heart. “I was wondering why she never sent a single line of Volunteer Factual Dispatch.”
As the Baudelaires recollected the painful and tragic death of Kit Snicket, they couldn’t help breaking into tears, despite a desire to look strong in front of the Quagmires. When others close to you experience or relive unfortunate events, it is only natural for you to feel some of their pain, even if you don’t truly know what they’re going through. Quigley hung his head and shook it slowly in mourning. Isadora appeared melancholy but fulfilled--perhaps already drafting her next sad poem. Even Phil and Sunny came in to investigate the din, a word which here means, “the tears of noble volunteers confronting the ubiquity of evil.” But it was Duncan who sobbed the most uncontrollably. “I don’t even remember what she looked like!”
“And what about Olaf?” demanded Fernald. “Did you orphans kill him, too?” he asked coldly, like a cold-blooded cobra out in the cold with no clothes on, who’d caught a cold, on a night that happened to be unusually cold.
Violet and Klaus exchanged red-eyed glances. “Ishmael did it,” said Sunny. “With a harpoon.”
“He preferred ‘Ish,’“ clarified Klaus.
Fernald drummed the prongs of his hook against the table menacingly. “And you just let it all happen?”
“I suppose we could have done more to help Olaf’s wound,” conceded Violet when pierced by Fernald’s gaze. “But it all happened so fast! And Kit didn’t want the antidote we offered; she sacrificed herself for Beatrice.”
Before anyone could respond, Co-Captain Widdershins made a highly unusual announcement that I hope you, dear reader, have never had the misfortune of making, using a word that I hope you, dear reader, have never had the misfortune of learning. The word, chiefly British, refers to the action of stealthily approaching another person and yanking down their trousers before they have the chance to defensively clutch their waistband. However, a broader definition entails any circumstance yielding a person trouser-free without their free volition. There are many reasons a debagger may perform such a nefarious act. Often, it is performed as a prank among friends. More often, it is performed as a cruel act in an involuntary social venue, such as Prufrock Preparatory School, by an insecure underachieving bully, such as Count Olaf, on a self-righteous rule-abiding victim, such as Bertrand Baudelaire. But in the case of Co-Captain Widdershins, I am sorry to report, this humiliating act was intended as a threat.
“Blasted barrels of barnacles!” came Co-Captain Widdershins’ fuzzy British accent over the submarine’s intercom system. “I’ve been debagged!”