The book opens with Violet Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire running away from the village of V.F.D. They were framed for murdering someone who people thought was Count Olaf (the villain) in the previous book. However the person killed was not Count Olaf, and the Baudelaires did not kill him.
They are looking for a place to hide from the authorities who are now looking for them. The area they are in is a flat desert, so it is even more important to find some place to go as it is very easy to see them from far away. The children finally come across a place called the Last Chance General Store.
The man who runs the store is very kind to them, and he even lets them use his telegram device for free. The store is pretty far away from anything, and the children learn that he hasn’t seen the latest newspaper which accuses the Baudelaires of murdering the man who was supposedly Count Olaf.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny decide that they should send a telegram to Mr. Poe the Banker who is in charge of finding new guardians for the Baudelaires if something goes wrong. Unfortunately Mr. Poe never sends a telegram in reply. After waiting a very long time the newspaper arrives at the store, and the shopkeeper thinks that the children are murderers.
The shopkeeper chases them, but they get out of the store and run to a vn they see in the distance. The people who own the van call themselves the volunteers fighting disease. Their name gives the Baudelaires hope because they know that something to do with V.F.D. can clear their names and prove Count Olaf Guilty.
The Volunteers fighting disease think that they are new volunteers and offer to take them to a place called Heimlich Hospital. The children accept the offer and climb into the van. The whole way there the volunteers sing a song about what they do at the hospital, and the children learn that they sing to patients at the hospital to try and make them feel better.
They arrive at the hospital and find that oddly enough only half of it is finished. Part of it is very nice, and the other is just a frame. When they enter the hospital they hear a voice on the intercom saying that three volunteers are wanted to work in the library of records. Violet, CLause, and Sunny decide that should be them because they might be able to find something on V.F.D in there.