INFERNO 11 - Welcome to My Woven Words


A QUARTER MILE to the east, Vayentha parked her motorcycle. She had crossed into the old city via the Ponte alle Grazie and then circled around to
the Ponte Vecchio—the famed pedestrian bridge connecting the Pitti Palace to the old city.
After locking her helmet to the bike, she strode out onto the bridge and mixed with the early-morning tourists.
A cool March breeze blew steadily up the river, ruffling Vayentha’s short spiked hair, reminding her that
Langdon knew what she looked like.
She paused at the stall of one of the bridge’s many vendors and bought an AMO FIRENZE baseball cap, pulling it low over her face.
She smoothed her leather suit over the bulge of her handgun and took up a position near the center of the bridge, casually leaning against a pillar and facing the Pitti Palace. From here she was able to survey all the pedestrians crossing the Arno into the heart of Florence.
Langdon is on foot, she told
herself. If he finds a way around the Porta Romana, this bridge is his most logical route into the old city.
To the west, in the direction of the
Pitti Palace, she could hear sirens and wondered if this was good or bad news. Are they still looking for him?
Or have they caught him? As
Vayentha strained her ears for some indication as to what was going on, a new sound suddenly became audible —a high-pitched whine somewhere overhead. Her eyes turned instinctively skyward, and she spotted it at once—a small remotecontrolled helicopter rising fast over the palace and swooping down over the treetops in the direction of the northeast corner of the Boboli Gardens.
A surveillance drone, Vayentha
thought with a surge of hope. If it’s in the air, Brüder has yet to find Langdon.
The drone was approaching fast. Apparently it was surveying the northeast corner of the gardens, the area closest to Ponte Vecchio and Vayentha’s position, which gave her additional encouragement.
If Langdon eluded Brüder, he would definitely be moving in this direction.
As Vayentha watched, however, the drone suddenly dive-bombed out of sight behind the high stone wall. She could hear it hovering in place somewhere below the tree line … apparently having located something of interest.

SEEK AND YE shall find, Langdon thought, huddled in the dim grotto with Sienna. We sought an exit …
and found a dead end.
The amorphous fountain in the center of the cave offered good cover, and yet as Langdon peered out from behind it, he sensed it was too late.
The drone had just swooped down into the walled cul-de-sac, stopping abruptly outside the cavern, where it now hovered at a standstill, only ten feet off the ground, facing the grotto, buzzing intensely like some kind of infuriated insect … awaiting its prey.
Langdon pulled back and whispered the grim news to Sienna.
“I think it knows we’re here.”
The drone’s high-pitched whine was nearly deafening inside the cavern, the noise reflecting sharply off the stone walls. Langdon found it hard to believe they were being held hostage by a miniature mechanical helicopter, and yet he knew that
trying to run from it was fruitless. So
what do we do now? Just wait? His original plan to access what lay behind the little gray door had been a reasonable one, except he hadn’t realized the door was openable only from within.
As Langdon’s eyes adjusted to the grotto’s dark interior, he surveyed
their unusual surroundings, wondering if there was any other exit. He saw nothing promising. The interior of the cavern was adorned with sculpted animals and humans, all in various stages of consumption by the strange oozing walls.
Dejected, Langdon raised his eyes to the ceiling of stalactites hanging ominously overhead.
A good place to die.
The Buontalenti Grotto—so named for its architect, Bernardo Buontalenti —was arguably the most curiouslooking space in all of Florence.
Intended as a kind of fun house for young guests at the Pitti Palace, the three-chambered suite of caverns was decorated in a blend of naturalistic fantasy and Gothic excess, composed of what appeared to be dripping concretions and flowing pumice that seemed either to b e consuming or exuding the multitude of carved figures. In the days of the Medici, the grotto was accented by having water flow down the interior walls, which served both to cool the space during the hot Tuscan summers and to create the effect of an actual cavern.
Langdon and Sienna were hidden in the first and largest chamber behind an indistinct central fountain. They were surrounded by colorful figures of shepherds, peasants, musicians, animals, and even copies of Michelangelo’s four prisoners, all of which seemed to be struggling to break free of the fluid-looking rock that engulfed them. High above, the morning light filtered down through an oculus in the ceiling, which had once held a giant glass ball filled with water in which bright red carp swam in the sunlight.
Langdon wondered how the original Renaissance visitors here would have reacted at the sight of a real-life helicopter—a fantastical dream of Italy’s own Leonardo da Vinci—hovering outside the grotto.
It was at that moment that the drone’s shrill whine stopped. It hadn’t faded away; rather, it had just … abruptly stopped.
Puzzled, Langdon peered out from behind the fountain and saw that the drone had landed. It was now sitting idle on the gravel plaza, looking much less ominous, especially because the stingerlike video lens on the front was facing away from them, off to one side, in the direction of the little gray door.
Langdon’s sense of relief was fleeting. A hundred yards behind the drone, near the statue of the dwarf and turtle, three heavily armed soldiers       were now striding purposefully down the stairs, heading directly toward the grotto.
The soldiers were dressed in familiar black uniforms with green medallions on their shoulders. Their muscular lead man had vacant eyes that reminded Langdon of the plague mask in his visions.
I am death.
Langdon did not see their van or the mysterious silver-haired woman anywhere.
I am life.
As the soldiers approached, one of them stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned around, facing backward, apparently to prevent anyone else from descending into this area. The other two kept coming toward the grotto.
Langdon and Sienna sprang into motion again—although probably only delaying the inevitable— shuffling backward on all fours into the second cavern, which was
smaller, deeper, and darker. It, too, was dominated by a central piece of art—in this case, a statue of two intertwined lovers—behind which Langdon and Sienna now hid anew.
Veiled in shadow, Langdon carefully peered out around the base of the statue and watched their approaching assailants. As the two soldiers reached the drone, one stopped and crouched down to tend to it, picking it up and examining the camera.
Did the device spot us? Langdon wondered, fearing he knew the answer.
The third and last soldier, the muscular one with the cold eyes, was still moving with icy focus in Langdon’s direction. The man approached until he was nearly at the mouth of the cave. He’s coming
in. Langdon prepared to pull back behind the statue and tell Sienna it was over, but in that instant, he witnessed something unexpected.
The soldier, rather than entering the grotto, suddenly peeled off to the left and disappeared.
Where is he going?! He doesn’t know we’re here?
A few moments later, Langdon heard pounding—a fist knocking on wood.
The little gray door, Langdon thought. He must know where it
Pitti Palace security guard Ernesto
Russo had always wanted to play European football, but at twenty-nine years old and overweight, he had finally begun to accept that his childhood dream would never come true. For the past three years, Ernesto had worked as a guard here at the Pitti Palace, always in the same closet-size office, always with the same dull job.
Ernesto was no stranger to curious tourists knocking on the little gray door outside the office in which he was stationed, and he usually just ignored them until they stopped. Today, however, the banging was intense and continuous.
Annoyed, he refocused on his television set, which was loudly playing a football rerun—Fiorentina versus Juventus. The knocking only grew louder. Finally, cursing the tourists, he marched out of his office down the narrow corridor toward the sound. Halfway there, he stopped at the massive steel grate that remained sealed across this hallway except at a few specific hours.
He entered the combination on the padlock and unlocked the grate, pulling it to one side. After stepping through, he followed protocol and relocked the grate behind him. Then he walked to the gray wooden door.
“È chiuso!” he yelled through the door, hoping the person outside would hear. “Non si può entrare!” The banging continued.
Ernesto gritted his teeth. New Yorkers, he wagered. They want what they want. The only reason their Red Bulls soccer team was having any success on the world stage was that they’d pilfered one of Europe’s best coaches.
     The     banging     continued,      and
Ernesto reluctantly unlocked the door and pushed it open a few inches. “È
The banging finally stopped, and Ernesto found himself face-to-face with a soldier whose eyes were so cold they literally made Ernesto step back. The man held up an official carnet bearing an acronym Ernesto did not recognize.
“Cosa succede?!” Ernesto demanded, alarmed. What’s going
Behind the soldier, a second was crouched down, tinkering with what appeared to be a toy helicopter. Still farther away, another soldier stood guard on the staircase. Ernesto heard police sirens nearby.
“Do you speak English?” The soldier’s accent was definitely not New York. Europe somewhere?
Ernesto nodded. “A bit, yes.”
“Has anyone come through this door this morning?”
“No, signore. Nessuno.”
“Excellent. Keep it locked. Nobody in or out. Is that clear?”
Ernesto shrugged. That was his job anyway. “Sì, I understand. Non deve
entrare, né uscire nessuno.”
“Tell me, please, is this door the sole entrance?”
Ernesto considered the question. Technically, nowadays this door was considered an exit, which was why it had no handle on the outside, but he understood what the man was asking. “Yes, l’accesso is this door only. No other way.” The original entrance inside the palace had been sealed for many years.
“And are there any other hidden exits from the Boboli Gardens? Other
than the traditional gates?”
“No, signore. Big walls everywhere. This only secret exit.”
The soldier nodded. “Thank you for your help.” He motioned for Ernesto to close and lock the door.
Puzzled, Ernesto obeyed. Then he headed back up the corridor, unlocked the steel grate, moved through it, relocked it behind him, and returned to his football match.
LANGDON AND SIENNA had seized an opportunity.
While the muscular soldier was pounding on the door, they had crawled deeper into the grotto and were now huddled in the final chamber. The tiny space was adorned with rough-hewn mosaics and satyrs. At its center stood a lifesize sculpture of a Bathing Venus, who, fittingly, seemed to be glancing nervously over her shoulder.
Langdon and Sienna had ensconced themselves on the far side of the statue’s narrow plinth, where they now waited, staring back at the single globular stalagmite that climbed the deepest wall of the grotto.
“All exits confirmed secure!” shouted a soldier somewhere outside. He was speaking English with a faint accent that Langdon couldn’t place. “Send the drone back up. I’ll check this cave here.”
Langdon could feel Sienna’s body tighten beside him.
Seconds later, heavy boots were padding into the grotto. The footsteps advanced quickly through the first chamber, growing louder still as they entered the second chamber, coming directly toward them.
Langdon and Sienna huddled closer.
“Hey!” a different voice shouted in the distance. “We’ve got them!” The footsteps stopped short.
Langdon could now hear someone running loudly down the gravel walkway toward the grotto. “Positive ID!” the breathless voice declared. “We just spoke to a couple of tourists. A few minutes ago, the man and the woman asked them
directions to the palace’s costume gallery … which is over at the west end of the palazzo.”
Langdon glanced at Sienna, who seemed to be smiling ever so faintly.
The soldier regained his breath, continuing. “The western exits were the first to be sealed … and confidence is high that we’ve got them trapped inside the gardens.”
“Execute your mission,” the nearer soldier replied. “And call me the instant you’ve succeeded.”
There was a flurry of departing footsteps on gravel, the sound of the drone lifting off again, and then, thankfully … total silence.
Langdon was about to twist sideways in order to peer around the plinth, when Sienna grabbed his arm, stopping him. She held a finger to her lips and nodded at a faint humanoid shadow on the rear wall.
The lead soldier was still standing silently in the mouth of the grotto.
What is he waiting for?!
“It’s Brüder,” he said suddenly. “We’ve got them cornered. I should have confirmation for you shortly.”
The man had placed a phone call, and his voice sounded unnervingly close, as if he were standing right beside them. The cavern was acting like a parabolic microphone, collecting all the sound and focusing it at the rear.
“There’s more,” Brüder said. “I just received an update from forensics. The woman’s apartment appears to be a sublet. Underfurnished. Clearly short term. We located the biotube, but the projector was not present. I repeat, the projector was not present. We assume it’s still in
Langdon’s possession.”
Langdon felt a chill to hear the soldier speak his own name.
The footsteps grew louder, and Langdon realized that the man was moving into the grotto. His gait lacked the intensity of a few moments before and sounded now as if he were simply wandering, exploring the grotto as he talked on the phone.
“Correct,” the man said. “Forensics also confirmed a single outbound call shortly before we stormed the
The U.S. Consulate, Langdon thought, remembering his phone conversation and the quick arrival of the spike-haired assassin. The woman seemed to have disappeared, replaced by an entire team of trained soldiers.
We can’t outrun them forever.
The sound of the soldier’s boots on the stone floor was now only about twenty feet away and closing. The man had entered the second
chamber, and if he continued to the end, he would certainly spot the two of them crouched behind Venus’s narrow base.
“Sienna Brooks,” the man declared suddenly, the words crystal clear.
Sienna startled beside Langdon, her eyes reeling upward, clearly expecting to see the soldier staring down at her. But nobody was there.
“They’re going through her laptop now,” the voice continued, about ten feet away. “I don’t have a report yet, but it is definitely the same machine we traced when Langdon accessed his Harvard e-mail account.”
On hearing this news, Sienna turned to Langdon in disbelief, gaping at him with an expression of shock … and then betrayal.
Langdon was equally stunned.
That’s how they tracked us?! It hadn’t even occurred to him at the time. I just needed information!
Before Langdon could convey an apology, Sienna had turned away, her expression going blank.
“That’s correct,” the soldier said, arriving at the entrance to the third chamber, a mere six feet from Langdon and Sienna. Two more steps and he would see them for certain.
“Exactly,” he declared, taking one step closer. Suddenly the soldier paused. “Hold on a second.”
Langdon froze, bracing to be discovered.
“Hold on, I’m losing you,” the soldier said, and then retreated a few steps into the second chamber. “Bad connection. Go ahead …” He listened for a moment, then replied. “Yes, I agree, but at least we know who we’re dealing with.”
With that, his footsteps faded out of the grotto, moved across a gravel surface, and then disappeared completely.
Langdon’s shoulders softened, and he turned to Sienna, whose eyes burned with a mixture of fear and anger.
“You used my laptop?!” she demanded. “To check your e-mail?”
“I’m sorry … I thought you’d understand. I needed to find out—”
“That’s how they found us! And now they know my name!”
“I apologize, Sienna. I didn’t realize …” Langdon was racked by guilt.
Sienna turned away, staring blankly at the bulbous stalagmite on the rear wall. Neither one of them said anything for nearly a minute. Langdon wondered if Sienna remembered the personal items that had been stacked on her desk—the playbill from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and press clippings about her life as a young prodigy. Does she
suspect I saw them? If so, she wasn’t asking, and Langdon was in enough trouble with her already that he was not about to mention it.
“They know who I am,” Sienna repeated, her voice so faint that Langdon could barely hear her. Over the next ten seconds, Sienna took several slow breaths, as if trying to absorb this new reality. As she did so, Langdon sensed that her resolve was slowly hardening.
Without warning, Sienna scrambled to her feet. “We should go,” she said. “It won’t take long for them to figure out we’re not in the costume gallery.”
Langdon stood up with her. “Yes, but go … where?”
“Vatican City?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I finally figured out what you meant before … what Vatican City has in common with the Boboli Gardens.” She motioned in the direction of the little gray door. “That’s the entrance, right?”
     Langdon      managed      a       nod.
“Actually, that’s the exit, but I figured it was worth a shot. Unfortunately, we can’t get through.” Langdon had heard enough of the guard’s exchange with the soldier to know this doorway was not an option.
“But if we could get through,” Sienna said, a hint of mischief returning to her voice, “do you know what that would mean?” A faint smile now crossed her lips. “It would mean that twice today you and I have been helped by the same Renaissance artist.”
Langdon had to chuckle, having had the same thought a few minutes
ago. “Vasari. Vasari.”
Sienna grinned more broadly now, and Langdon sensed she had forgiven him, at least for the moment. “I think it’s a sign from above,” she declared, sounding half serious. “We should go through that door.”
“Okay … and we’ll just march right past the guard?”
Sienna cracked her knuckles and headed out of the grotto. “No, I’ll have a word with him.” She glanced back at Langdon, the fire returning to her eyes. “Trust me, Professor, I can be quite persuasive when I have to be.”
The pounding on the little gray door had returned.
Firm and relentless.
Security guard Ernesto Russo grumbled in frustration. The strange, cold-eyed soldier was apparently back, but his timing could not have been worse. The televised football match was in overtime with Fiorentina a man short and hanging by a thread.
The pounding continued.
Ernesto was no fool. He knew there was some kind of trouble out there this morning—all the sirens and soldiers—but he had never been one to involve himself in matters that didn’t affect him directly.
Pazzo è colui che bada ai fatti altrui.
Then again, the soldier was clearly someone of importance, and ignoring him was probably unwise. Jobs in Italy were hard to find these days, even boring ones. Stealing a last glance at the game, Ernesto headed off toward the pounding on the door.
He still couldn’t believe he was paid to sit in his tiny office all day and watch television. Perhaps twice a day, a VIP tour would arrive outside the space, having walked all the way from the Uffizi Gallery. Ernesto would greet them, unlock the metal grate, and permit the group to pass through to the little gray door, where their tour would end in the Boboli Gardens.
Now, as the pounding grew more intense, Ernesto opened the steel grate, moved through it, and then closed and locked it behind him.
“Sì?” he shouted above the sounds of pounding as he hurried to the gray door.
No reply. The pounding continued.
Insomma! He finally unlocked the door and pulled it open, expecting to see the same lifeless gaze from a moment ago.
But the face at the door was far more attractive.
“Ciao,” a pretty blond woman said, smiling sweetly at him. She held out a folded piece of paper, which he instinctively reached out to accept. In the instant he grasped the paper and realized it was nothing but a piece of trash off the ground, the woman seized his wrist with her slender hands and plunged a thumb into the bony carpal area just beneath the palm of his hand.
Ernesto felt as if a knife had just severed his wrist. The slicing stab was followed by an electric numbness. The woman stepped toward him, and the pressure
increased exponentially, starting the pain cycle all over again. He staggered backward, trying to pull his arm free, but his legs went numb and buckled beneath him, and he slumped to his knees.
The rest happened in an instant.
A tall man in a dark suit appeared in the open doorway, slipped inside, and quickly closed the gray door behind him. Ernesto reached for his radio, but a soft hand behind his neck squeezed once, and his muscles seized up, leaving him gasping for breath. The woman took the radio as the tall man approached, looking as alarmed by her actions as Ernesto was.
“Dim mak,” the blond said casually to the tall man. “Chinese pressure points. There’s a reason they’ve been around for three millennia.”
The man watched in wonder.
“Non vogliamo farti del male,” the woman whispered to Ernesto, easing the pressure on his neck. We don’t
want to hurt you.
The instant the pressure decreased, Ernesto tried to twist free, but the pressure promptly returned, and his muscles seized again. He gasped in pain, barely able to breathe.
“Dobbiamo passare,” she said. We need to get through. She motioned to the steel grate, which Ernesto had thankfully locked behind him. “Dov’è
la chiave?”
“Non ce l’ho,” he managed. I don’t have the key.
The tall man advanced past them to the grating and examined the mechanism. “It’s a combination lock,” he called back to the woman, his accent American.
The woman knelt down next to Ernesto, her brown eyes like ice.
“Qual è la combinazione?” she demanded.
“Non posso!” he replied. “I’m not permitted—”
Something happened at the top of his spine, and Ernesto felt his entire body go limp. An instant later, he blacked out.
When he came to, Ernesto sensed he had been drifting in and out of consciousness for several minutes. He recalled some discussion … more stabs of pain … being dragged, perhaps? It was all a blur.
As the cobwebs cleared, he saw a strange sight—his shoes lying on the floor nearby with their laces removed. It was then that he realized he could barely move. He was lying on his side with his hands and feet bound behind him, apparently with his shoelaces. He tried to yell, but no sound came. One of his own socks was stuffed in his mouth. The true moment of fear, however, came an instant later, when he looked up and saw his television set playing the football match. I’m in my office … INSIDE the
In the distance, Ernesto could hear the sound of running footsteps departing along the corridor … and then, slowly, they faded to silence. Non è possibile! Somehow, the blond woman had persuaded Ernesto to do the one thing he was hired never to do—reveal the combination for the lock on the entrance to the famed Vasari Corridor.
DR. ELIZABETH SINSKEY FELT the waves of nausea and dizziness coming faster now. She was slumped in the backseat of the van parked in front of the Pitti Palace. The soldier seated beside her was watching her with growing concern.
Moments earlier, the soldier’s radio
had blared—something about a costume gallery—awakening
Elizabeth from the darkness of her mind, where she had been dreaming of the green-eyed monster.
She had been back in the darkened room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, listening to the maniacal ravings of the mysterious stranger who had summoned her there. The shadowy man paced at the front of the room— a lanky silhouette against the grisly projected image of the naked and dying throngs inspired by Dante’s Inferno.
“Someone needs to fight this war,” the figure concluded, “or this is our future. Mathematics guarantees it. Mankind is hovering now in a purgatory of procrastination and indecision and personal greed … but the rings of hell await, just beneath our feet, waiting to consume us all.” Elizabeth was still reeling from the monstrous ideas this man had just laid out before her. She could stand it no longer and jumped to her feet.
“What you’re suggesting is—”
“Our only remaining option,” the man interjected.
“Actually,” she replied, “I was going to say ‘criminal’!”
The man shrugged. “The path to paradise passes directly through hell. Dante taught us that.”
“You’re mad!”
“Mad?” the man repeated, sounding hurt. “Me? I think not. Madness is the WHO staring into the abyss and denying it is there. Madness is an ostrich who sticks her head in the sand while a pack of hyenas closes in around her.”
Before Elizabeth could defend her organization, the man had changed the image on the screen.
“And speaking of hyenas,” he said, pointing to the new image. “Here is the pack of hyenas currently circling humankind … and they are closing in fast.”
Elizabeth was surprised to see the familiar image before her. It was a graph published by the WHO the previous year delineating key environmental issues deemed by the WHO to have the greatest impact on global health.
The list included, among others:
Demand for clean water, global surface temperatures, ozone depletion, consumption of ocean resources, species extinction, CO2 concentration, deforestation, and global sea levels.
All of these negative indicators had been on the rise over the last century. Now, however, they were all accelerating at terrifying rates.

Elizabeth had the same reaction that she always had when she saw this graph—a sense of helplessness. She was a scientist and believed in the usefulness of statistics, and this graph painted a chilling picture not of the distant future … but of the very
near future.
At many times in her life, Elizabeth Sinskey had been haunted by her inability to conceive a child. Yet, when she saw this graph, she almost felt relieved she had not brought a child into the world.
This is the future I would be giving my child?
“Over the last fifty years,” the tall man declared, “our sins against Mother         Nature       have grown
exponentially.” He paused. “I fear for t he soul of humankind. When the WHO published this graph, the world’s politicians, power brokers, and environmentalists held emergency summits, all trying to assess which of these problems were most severe and which we could actually hope to solve. The outcome? Privately, they put their heads in their hands and wept. Publicly, they assured us all that they were working on solutions but that these are
complex issues.”
“These issues are complex!”
“Bullshit!” the man erupted. “You know damned well this graph depicts t h e simplest of relationships—a function based on a single variable! Every single line on this graph climbs in direct proportion to one value—the value that everyone is afraid to
discuss. Global population!”
“Actually, I think it’s a bit more—”
“A bit more complicated? Actually, it’s not! There is nothing simpler. If you want more available clean water per capita, you need fewer people on earth. If you want to decrease vehicle emissions, you need fewer drivers. If you want the oceans to replenish their fish, you need fewer people eating fish!”
He glared down at her, his tone becoming even more forceful. “Open your eyes! We are on the brink of the end of humanity, and our world leaders are sitting in boardrooms commissioning studies on solar power, recycling, and hybrid automobiles? How is it that you—a highly educated woman of science— don’t see? Ozone depletion, lack of water, and pollution are not the disease—they are the symptoms. The disease is overpopulation. And unless we face world population head-on, we are doing nothing more than sticking a Band-Aid on a fastgrowing cancerous tumor.”
“You perceive the human race as a cancer?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Cancer is nothing more than a healthy cell that starts replicating out of control. I realize you find my ideas distasteful, but I can assure you that you will find the alternative far less tasteful when it arrives. If we do not take bold action, then—”
“Bold?!” she sputtered. “Bold is not the word you’re looking for. Try
“Dr. Sinskey,” the man said, his voice now eerily calm. “I called you here specifically because I was hoping that you—a sage voice at the World Health Organization—might be willing to work with me and explore a possible solution.”
Elizabeth stared in disbelief. “You think the World Health Organization is going to partner with you …
exploring an idea like this?”
“Actually, yes,” he said. “Your organization is made up of doctors, a nd when doctors have a patient with gangrene, they do not hesitate to cut off his leg to save his life. Sometimes the only course of action
is the lesser of two evils.”
“This is quite different.”
“No. This is identical. The only difference is scale.”
Elizabeth had heard enough. She stood abruptly. “I have a plane to catch.”
The tall man took a threatening step in her direction, blocking her exit. “Fair warning. With or without your cooperation, I can very easily explore this idea on my own.”
“Fair warning,” she fired back. “I consider this a terrorist threat and will treat it as such.” She took out her phone.
The man laughed. “You’re going to report me for talking in
hypotheticals? Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to make your call. This room is electronically shielded. Your phone won’t have a signal.”
I don’t need a signal, you lunatic. Elizabeth raised her phone, and before the man realized what was happening, she clicked a snapshot of his face. The flash reflected in his green eyes, and for a moment she thought he looked familiar.
“Whoever you are,” she said, “you did the wrong thing by calling me here. By the time I reach the airport, I will know who you are, and you will be on the watch lists at the WHO, the CDC, and the ECDC as a potential bioterrorist. We will have people on you day and night. If you try to purchase materials, we will know about it. If you build a lab, we will know about it. There is nowhere you can hide.”

The man stood in tense silence for a long moment, as if he were going to lunge at her phone. Finally, he relaxed and stepped aside with an eerie grin. “Then it appears our dance has begun.”

Dan Brown

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