Hi sleuth! Why did the woman(disguised as a pretzel vendor) want a picture of the Baudelaires?
Good evening, @yjttdc!
For reference, this woman appears in Lemony’s recollection of the afternoon the Baudelaire family took a bath in the Fountain of Victorious Finance. This happens just a few months before the fire:
With the morning sun blazing overhead, and the sea sparkling at the edge of the coastal shelf, their surroundings seemed as far from trouble and treachery as that afternoon in the Fountain of Victorious Finance. But trouble and treachery are rarely as far away as one thinks they are on the clearest of days. On that faraway afternoon in the banking district, for instance, trouble could be found in the corridors of the towered building, where the Baudelaires’ mother was handed a weather report and a naval map that would reveal, when she studied them by candlelight that evening, far greater trouble than she had imagined, and treachery could be found just past the fountain, where a woman disguised as a pretzel vendor took a photograph of the laughing family, and slipped her camera into the coat pocket of a financial expert who was hurrying to a restaurant, where the coat-check boy would remove the camera and hide it in an enormous parfait glass of fruit that a certain playwright would order for dessert, only to have a quick-thinking waitress pretend that the cream in the zabaglione sauce had gone sour and dump the entire dish into a garbage can in the alley, where I had been sitting for hours, pretending to look for a lost puppy who was actually scurrying into the back entrance of the towered building, removing her disguise, and folding it into her handbag, and this morning on the coastal shelf was no different.
[The End, Chapter Five]
The woman disguised as a pretzel vendor seems to give her photograph to Esme (a financial advisor), who later gave it to playwright Al Funcoot (Count Olaf’s pen name).
As recalled in the un-Authorised Autobiography, V.F.D. is constantly watching the children of its members for future kidnapping/recruiment. This is important as both sides of the Schism frequently steal apprentices from one another (this notably happens in “All The Wrong Questions” and kickstarts the entire plot).
So I would argue that Olaf and Esme were already planning to capture/adopt the Baudelaire children and use them for their own ends. This is heavily implied by Dewey:
“Once there were safe places scattered across the globe, and so orphans like yourselves did not have to wander from place to place, trying to find noble people who could be of assistance. With each generation, the schism gets worse. If justice does not prevail, soon there will be no safe places left, and nobody left to remember how the world ought to be.”
“I don’t understand,” Violet said. “Why weren’t we taken, like you?”
“You were,” Dewey said. “You were taken into the custody of Count Olaf. And he tried to keep you in his custody, no matter how many noble people intervened.”
“But why didn’t anyone tell us what was going on?” Klaus asked. “Why did we have to figure things out all by ourselves?”
“I’m afraid that’s the wicked way of the world,” Dewey said, with a shake of his head.
“Everything’s covered in smoke and mirrors, Baudelaires. Since the schism, all the research, all the observations, even all of the books have been scattered all over the globe. It’s like the elephant in the poem your father loved. Everyone has their hands on a tiny piece of the truth, but nobody can see the whole thing.
[The Penultimate Peril, Chapter Eight]
The fact that Olaf ended up with the children of his worst enemies had everything to do with the organization, allthough instead of brainwashing them into his minions he seemed more concerned about stealing their money. That was his big mistake. To prepare this, he would have needed photographs of the family.