INFERNO 02

I’M IN FLORENCE!?
Robert Langdon’s head throbbed. He was now seated upright in his hospital bed, repeatedly jamming his finger into the call button. Despite the sedatives in his system, his heart was racing.
Dr. Brooks hurried back in, her ponytail bobbing. “Are you okay?”
     Langdon     shook    his     head     in
bewilderment. “I’m in … Italy!?”
“Good,” she   said. “You’re remembering.”
“No!” Langdon pointed out the window at the commanding edifice in the distance. “I recognize the Palazzo
Vecchio.”
Dr. Brooks flicked the lights back on, and the Florence skyline disappeared. She came to his bedside, whispering calmly. “Mr. Langdon, there’s no need to worry. You’re suffering from mild amnesia, but Dr. Marconi confirmed that your brain function is fine.”
The bearded doctor rushed in as well, apparently hearing the call button. He checked Langdon’s heart monitor as the young doctor spoke to him in rapid, fluent Italian— something about how Langdon was
“agitato” to learn he was in Italy.
Agitated? Langdon thought angrily. More like stupefied! The adrenaline surging through his system was now doing battle with the sedatives. “What happened to me?” he
demanded. “What day is it?!”
“Everything is fine,” she said. “It’s early morning. Monday, March
eighteenth.”
Monday. Langdon forced his aching mind to reel back to the last images he could recall—cold and dark— walking alone across the Harvard campus to a Saturday-night lecture series. That was two days ago?! A sharper panic now gripped him as he tried to recall anything at all from the lecture or afterward. Nothing. The ping of his heart monitor accelerated.
The older doctor scratched at his beard and continued adjusting equipment while Dr. Brooks sat again beside Langdon.
“You’re going to be okay,” she reassured him, speaking gently. “ W e ’ v e diagnosed you with retrograde amnesia, which is very common in head trauma. Your memories of the past few days may be muddled or missing, but you should suffer no permanent damage.” She paused. “Do you remember my first name? I told you when I walked in.”
     Langdon     thought     a      moment.
“Sienna.” Dr. Sienna Brooks.
She smiled. “See? You’re already forming new memories.”
The pain in Langdon’s head was almost unbearable, and his near-field vision remained blurry. “What … happened? How did I get here?”
“I think you should rest, and maybe—”
“How did I get here?!” he demanded, his heart monitor accelerating further.
“Okay, just breathe easy,” Dr. Brooks said, exchanging a nervous look with her colleague. “I’ll tell you.”
Her voice turned markedly more serious. “Mr. Langdon, three hours ago, you staggered into our emergency room, bleeding from a head wound, and you immediately collapsed. Nobody had any idea who you were or how you got here. You were mumbling in English, so Dr. Marconi asked me to assist. I’m on sabbatical here from the U.K.”
Langdon felt like he had awoken inside a Max Ernst painting. What the
hell am I doing in Italy? Normally Langdon came here every other June for an art conference, but this was March.
The sedatives pulled harder at him now, and he felt as if earth’s gravity were growing stronger by the second, trying to drag him down through his mattress. Langdon fought it, hoisting his head, trying to stay alert.
Dr. Brooks leaned over him, hovering like an angel. “Please, Mr. Langdon,” she whispered. “Head trauma is delicate in the first twentyfour hours. You need to rest, or you could do serious damage.”
A voice crackled suddenly on the room’s intercom. “Dr. Marconi?”
The bearded doctor touched a
button on the wall and replied, “Sì?”
The voice on the intercom spoke in rapid Italian. Langdon didn’t catch what it said, but he did catch the two doctors exchanging a look of surprise. Or is it alarm?
“Momento,” Marconi replied, ending the conversation.
“What’s going on?” Langdon asked.
Dr. Brooks’s eyes seemed to narrow a bit. “That was the ICU receptionist. Someone’s here to visit you.”
A ray of hope cut through
Langdon’s grogginess. “That’s good news! Maybe this person knows what happened to me.”
She looked uncertain. “It’s just odd that someone’s here. We didn’t have
your name, and you’re not even
registered in the system yet.”
Langdon battled the sedatives and awkwardly hoisted himself upright in his bed. “If someone knows I’m here, that person must know what happened!”
Dr. Brooks glanced at Dr. Marconi, who immediately shook his head and tapped his watch. She turned back to Langdon.
“This is the ICU,” she explained. “Nobody is allowed in until nine A.M. at the earliest. In a moment Dr. Marconi will go out and see who the visitor is and what he or she wants.”
“What about what I want?” Langdon demanded.
Dr. Brooks smiled patiently and lowered her voice, leaning closer. “Mr. Langdon, there are some things you don’t know about last night … about what happened to you. And before you speak to anyone, I think it’s only fair that you have all the facts. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re strong enough yet to—”
“What facts!?” Langdon demanded, struggling to prop himself higher. The IV in his arm pinched, and his body felt like it weighed several hundred pounds. “All I know is I’m in a Florence hospital and I arrived repeating the words ‘very sorry …’ ”
A frightening thought now occurred to him.
“Was I responsible for a car accident?” Langdon asked. “Did I hurt
someone?!”
“No, no,” she said. “I don’t believe so.”
“Then what?” Langdon insisted, eyeing both doctors furiously. “I have a right to know what’s going on!”
There was a long silence, and Dr. Marconi finally gave his attractive young colleague a reluctant nod. Dr. Brooks exhaled and moved closer to his bedside. “Okay, let me tell you what I know … and you’ll listen calmly, agreed?”
Langdon nodded, the head movement sending a jolt of pain radiating through his skull. He ignored it, eager for answers.
“The first thing is this … Your head wound was not caused by an accident.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“Not really. Your wound, in fact, was caused by a bullet.”
Langdon’s heart monitor pinged faster. “I beg your pardon!?”
Dr. Brooks spoke steadily but quickly. “A bullet grazed the top of your skull and most likely gave you a concussion. You’re very lucky to be alive. An inch lower, and …” She shook her head.
Langdon stared at her in disbelief.
Someone shot me?
Angry voices erupted in the hall as an argument broke out. It sounded as if whoever had arrived to visit Langdon did not want to wait. Almost immediately, Langdon heard a heavy door at the far end of the hallway burst open. He watched until he saw a figure approaching down the corridor.
The woman was dressed entirely in black leather. She was toned and strong with dark, spiked hair. She moved effortlessly, as if her feet weren’t touching the ground, and she was headed directly for Langdon’s room.
Without hesitation, Dr. Marconi stepped into the open doorway to block the visitor’s passage. “Ferma!” the man commanded, holding out his palm like a policeman.
The stranger, without breaking stride, produced a silenced handgun. She aimed directly at Dr. Marconi’s chest and fired.
There was a staccato hiss.
Langdon watched in horror as Dr. Marconi staggered backward into the room, falling to the floor, clutching his chest, his white lab coat drenched in blood.

FIVE MILES OFF the coast of Italy, the 237-foot luxury yacht The Mendacium motored through the predawn mist that rose from the gently rolling swells of the Adriatic. The ship’s stealth-profile hull was painted gunmetal gray, giving it the distinctly unwelcoming aura of a military vessel.
With a price tag of over 300 million U.S. dollars, the craft boasted all the usual amenities—spa, pool, cinema, personal submarine, and helicopter pad. The ship’s creature comforts, however, were of little interest to its owner, who had taken delivery of the yacht five years ago and immediately gutted most of these spaces to install a lead-lined, military-grade, electronic command center.
Fed by three dedicated satellite links and a redundant array of
terrestrial relay stations, the control room on The Mendacium had a staff of nearly two dozen—technicians, analysts, operation coordinators— who lived on board and remained in constant contact with the organization’s various land-based operation centers.
The ship’s onboard security included a small unit of militarytrained soldiers, two missiledetection systems, and an arsenal of the latest weapons available. Other support staff—cooks, cleaning, and
service—pushed the total number on board to more than forty. The Mendacium was, in effect, the portable office building from which the owner ran his empire.
Known to his employees only as “the provost,” he was a tiny, stunted man with tanned skin and deep-set eyes. His unimposing physique and direct manner seemed well suited to one who had made a vast fortune providing a private menu of covert services along the shadowy fringes of society.
He had been called many things—a soulless mercenary, a facilitator of sin, the devil’s enabler—but he was none of these. The provost simply provided his clients with the opportunity to pursue their ambitions a n d desires without consequence; that mankind was sinful in nature was not his problem.
Despite his detractors and their ethical objections, the provost’s moral compass was a fixed star. He had built his reputation—and the Consortium itself—on two golden rules.
Never make a promise you cannot keep.
And never lie to a client.
Ever.
In his professional career, the provost had never broken a promise or reneged on a deal. His word was bankable—an absolute guarantee— and while there were certainly contracts he regretted having made, backing out of them was never an option.
This morning, as he stepped onto the private balcony of his yacht’s stateroom, the provost looked across the churning sea and tried to fend off the disquiet that had settled in his gut.
The decisions of our past are the architects of our present.
The decisions of the provost’s past had put him in a position to negotiate almost any minefield and always come out on top. Today, however, as he gazed out the
window at the distant lights of the Italian mainland, he felt uncharacteristically on edge.
One year ago, on this very yacht, he had made a decision whose ramifications now threatened to unravel everything he had built. I
agreed to provide services to the wrong man. There had been no way the provost could have known at the time, and yet now the miscalculation had brought a tempest of unforeseen challenges, forcing him to send some of his best agents into the field with orders to do “whatever it took” to keep his listing ship from capsizing.
At the moment the provost was waiting to hear from one field agent in particular.
Vayentha, he thought, picturing the sinewy, spike-haired specialist. Vayentha, who had served him perfectly until this mission, had made a mistake last night that had dire consequences. The last six hours had been a scramble, a desperate attempt to regain control of the situation.
Vayentha claimed her error was the result of simple bad luck—the untimely coo of a dove.
The provost, however, did not believe in luck. Everything he did was orchestrated to eradicate randomness and remove chance.
Control was the provost’s expertise— foreseeing every possibility, anticipating every response, and molding reality toward the desired outcome. He had an immaculate track record of success and secrecy, and with it came a staggering clientele—billionaires, politicians, sheikhs, and even entire governments.

To the east, the first faint light of morning had begun to consume the lowest stars on the horizon. On the deck the provost stood and patiently awaited word from Vayentha that her mission had gone exactly as planned.

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