February 29th, 2008
Title: Mount Fraught Syndrome: Chapter 9
Summary: Violet's looking for evidence against Olaf, and finds out more than she bargained for.
Author's Notes: ...and I promise not to take another month to resolve this one. :-< I've had a. computer problems and b. a massive bout of writer's block about this whole story, but I think I have a clearer idea of where I'm going with it now.
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight
Violet crept along the corridor, back pressed against the wall, barely lifting her feet. Move one leg. Pause. Put your weight on that foot slowly, then move the other leg. Even such gentle steps made the floorboards creak sometimes, and then she froze, heart racing in her throat, waiting to be discovered. No one ever came.
“No one’s here,” she whispered to herself, lips barely moving, as she stepped, paused, slid along. “No one’s here, no one’s here…”
She was almost there. Olaf’s room was just at the end of this corridor. The walls trembled as she inched closer, and she felt her fingernails scrape at the plaster – it’s all right! It’s all right, nothing’s going to happen to you, he’s not here, nobody’s here. She mouthed the words, letting her breathing slow and her pulse stop echoing in her head. Nobody’s here. She almost believed herself.
Her fingers brushed the edge of the doorframe, and she slumped against the wall, letting out a long, soft gasp. Made it. Now all she had to do was find… well, something. She didn’t know what yet, but she’d made it this far. There was bound to be some sort of evidence. And if there wasn’t, well, she’d just have to look somewhere else, and eventually…
No… oh no, you can’t still… you can’t possibly…
Violet’s body froze, electric current shooting through her limbs. She couldn’t breathe, and with the fraction of her mind that could still think rationally she realised that was a blessing, because if she breathed she’d scream, and if she screamed she’d go mad and she’d never be able to stop until his fingers were round her throat and what had she done, what had she been thinking? Olaf was there, right there, only separated from her by a few inches of wood and crumbling plaster and she couldn’t move and how could she have been so stupid again and…
And who was he talking to?
It was a woman. Violet didn’t recognise her voice, but something about it grated on her ears, irritating even in the grip of her panic. “What’s wrong with it? I told you, facial scarves are in right now.”
“Esmé, I look like a bank robber.”
“That’s the idea. It’s the romance of the criminal underworld…”
“We’re part of the criminal underworld, we can’t afford to go around looking like it.”
Violet slowly let herself breathe out. I’m safe for the moment, she reminded herself. Think – he’s in the room, I’m outside. He’ll never know I was here, all I have to do is go back.
Yes, that was logical. All she had to do was make herself move.
“Esmé, I’m not going to wear the damn thing! Understand?”
“So.” Esmé’s voice turned sulky, and even more grating. “You’d rather walk around with that hideous bite on your face than trust your own girlfriend’s fashion sense. I see.”
Girlfriend? Violet blinked. Olaf has a girlfriend? It was almost funny. Girlfriend seemed like such a pleasant, ordinary word, it didn’t belong in the same sentence with someone so terrible.
She slid one leg along the wall.
Olaf sighed. “For the… your fashion sense is great, Esmé. That’s not what…”
“Don’t try to back down. I heard what you said. If you don’t want my help, that’s fine.” There was a clattering sound, which Violet thought might be Esmé throwing things into a bag. “Maybe you don’t need my help at all. Who needs a girlfriend when you already have a wife?”
“You can talk!” A loud bang. “Whose sham marriage came first? And mine’s a lot more of a sham than yours is. You got the eligible bachelor with the penthouse apartment, and I got bitten on the goddamned nose.”
The clattering stopped. “But Violet’s so pretty, isn’t she?”
“Damn it, Esmé! All right, she’s pretty, but she’s theirs! Anyway…” Olaf’s voice dropped. “She’s fourteen, that’s practically still a kid.”
Practically? Violet actually did laugh, she couldn’t stop herself, a short, bitter “Hah!” that was swallowed before it could really be heard. So I’m only “practically a kid”? I suppose that makes you feel better?
Another step. Her head felt much clearer now. Probably after so many shocks, the mind got used to functioning while scared.
(Klaus would know.)
It sounded as though they’d be arguing for a while. There was plenty of time to get back.
(what did he mean, “theirs”?)
“Look, Esmé…” Olaf was using his most charming voice, or what he probably thought was charming. Violet cringed. “I’m not wearing it all day, but I’ll wear it when we go out this evening. If we go to Café Salmonella everyone’ll be wearing them, right?”
“That’s right, because people with style will be there.”
“Yeah, well, people with style probably won’t be at Mulctuary.”
There was a pause, then Esmé laughed, piercingly. “Good point, darling. I can’t see Arthur Poe appreciating true fashion.”
“Exactly.” Olaf sounded relieved. “So I don’t have to wear it?”
“Not at the bank, no.”
“And I promise I’ll wear it this evening,” Olaf said, in a tone of sincerity which Violet thought was blatantly fake. Although she also suspected he’d end up wearing the scarf. “Of course, if we’re going there you’ll have to pay,” he added, quickly.
“Poe’s still making me fill out forms, it’s not my fault!”
“Ugh,” Esmé groaned. “That man’s so incompetent. People who are entitled to vast sums of money shouldn’t have to wait for them.”
“Yeah. At least we won’t have that problem with the Quagmire fortune.”
Violet paused. The name Quagmire sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. But if Olaf was planning another scheme… she might have the evidence she needed against him, without having to search at all. If she could give Justice Strauss the details of his next plan, he’d be caught in the act.
She pressed herself against the wall, listening hard. Is this what he does? Pretends to be related to dead people to get their money?
“Oh, yes, the dear Quagmires.” Esmé laughed again. “I’d say I’ll miss our important financial breakfast meetings, but really, all the cantaloupe melons in the world couldn’t persuade me to deal with that woman again.”
“I thought the in breakfast was cinnamon bagels.”
“That was last week, Olaf. I wish you’d try to remember these things. I try to keep up with your interests, you know. I let you keep all that gasoline in the third smallest bedroom, and the bundles of wood that they chopped for you, and you wouldn’t believe what I have to go through to keep Jerome from wandering in there…”
Gasoline. Violet felt a chill. Not like the ice-cold panic that she’d known before. This was more like a faint draught, a prickle across her skin. Gasoline… and bundles of wood… The connection was obvious, she knew it already, she was certain, but she couldn’t name it. Didn’t want it to come.
“…not that he’d argue, of course not, have I ever mentioned exactly how annoying that is?”
“A few times,” Olaf said, and then hurriedly added, “but I won’t have to keep that stuff with you much longer, okay? Once Poe stops messing me around I can disappear for a month on ‘honeymoon’, and then once we torch the Quagmire mansion I can move the rest of it back to the tower room and…”
He kept on talking, but Violet couldn’t hear him. There was no trembling or racing heart this time. She almost felt calm. Perfectly calm, and perfectly lucid, and perfectly silent, as the last, worst piece of the mystery finally came clear.
Bundles of wood.
Quagmire fortune. Baudelaire fortune.
I’ll make what happened to the rest of your family look merciful…
Not my siblings, the rest of my family. All my family…
Oh no… Dad, Mom, he… he… he didn’t…
He did it! He killed you too!
She was on the floor again. On the carpet. Worn grey carpet full of holes. How had she got down there? Had she fallen? She couldn’t remember but the carpet was wet, her hands were wet, water was falling from her eyes and she thought she needed to stand up, she needed to go somewhere, but she couldn’t remember why (my parents – it was him, it was always him, all of it was him) and she couldn’t lift herself from the carpet, couldn’t leave, couldn’t think, no hair in her eyes, she had her ribbon but she couldn’t think…
A shadow fell across her.
Violet looked up.
Two metal hooks, gleaming in the darkness.
She didn’t make a sound.
I read and commented on this yesterday on 667, but I thought I'd comment here as well. You are a fantastic writer and one of my favorites. I have been keeping up with this story since the first chapter and am enjoying it very much.
Also, I'm really glad you brought Esme into the story.
Keep up the great work!