INFERNO 13 - Welcome to My Woven Words


THE TRUTH CAN be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.
Sienna repeated the words to herself as she continued to search every inch of Vasari’s brutal battle scene, hoping something might stand out.
She        saw   eyes of     death everywhere.
Which ones are we looking for?!
She wondered if maybe the eyes of death were a reference to all the rotting corpses strewn across Europe by the Black Death.
At least that would explain the plague mask …
Out of the blue, a childhood nursery rhyme jumped into Sienna’s
mind: Ring around the rosie. A pocketful of posies. Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.
She used to recite the poem as a schoolgirl in England until she heard that it derived from the Great Plague of London in 1665. Allegedly, a ring around the rosie was a reference to a rose-colored pustule on the skin that developed a ring around it and indicated that one was infected. Sufferers would carry a pocketful of posies in an effort to mask the smell of their own decaying bodies as well as the stench of the city itself, where hundreds of plague victims dropped dead daily, their bodies then cremated. Ashes, ashes. We all fall
“For the love of God,” Langdon blurted suddenly, wheeling around toward the opposite wall.
Sienna looked over. “What’s wrong?”
“That’s the name of a piece of art that was once on display here. For
the Love of God.”
Bewildered, Sienna watched Langdon hurry across the room to a small glass door, which he tried to open. It was locked. He put his face to the glass, cupping his hands around his eyes and peering inside.
Whatever Langdon was looking for, Sienna hoped he spotted it in a hurry; the custodian had just reappeared, now with a look of deepening suspicion at the sight of Langdon sauntering off to snoop at a locked door.
Sienna waved cheerfully to the custodian, but the man glared at her for a long cold beat and then disappeared.
Lo Studiolo.
Positioned behind a glass door, directly opposite the hidden words cerca trova in the Hall of the Five Hundred, was nestled a tiny windowless chamber. Designed by Vasari as a secret study for Francesco I, the rectangular Studiolo rose to a rounded, barrel-vaulted ceiling, which gave those inside the feeling of being inside a giant treasure chest.
Fittingly, the interior glistened with objects of beauty. More than thirty rare paintings adorned the walls and ceiling, mounted so close to one another that they left virtually no
empty wall space. The Fall of Icarus
… An Allegory of Human Life … Nature Presenting Prometheus with
Spectacular Gems …
As Langdon peered through the glass into the dazzling space beyond, he whispered to himself, “The eyes of death.”
Langdon had first been inside Lo Studiolo during a private secret passages tour of the palazzo a few years back and had been stunned to learn about the plethora of hidden doors, stairs, and passageways that honeycombed the palazzo, including several hidden behind paintings inside Lo Studiolo.
The secret passages, however, were not what had just sparked Langdon’s interest. Instead he had flashed on a bold piece of modern art that he had once seen on display here—For the Love of God—a controversial piece by Damien Hirst, which had caused an uproar when it was shown inside Vasari’s famed
A life-size cast of a human skull in solid platinum, its surface had been entirely covered with more than eight
thousand glittering, pavé-set diamonds. The effect was striking. The skull’s empty eye sockets glistened with light and life, creating a troubling juxtaposition of opposing symbols—life and death … beauty and horror. Although Hirst’s diamond skull had long since been removed from Lo Studiolo, Langdon’s recollection of it had sparked an idea.
The eyes of death, he thought. A skull certainly qualifies, doesn’t it?
Skulls were a recurring theme in Dante’s Inferno, most famously Count Ugolino’s brutal punishment in the lowest circle of hell—that of being sentenced to gnaw eternally on the skull of a wicked archbishop.
Are we looking for a skull?
The enigmatic Studiolo, Langdon knew, had been built in the tradition of a “cabinet of curiosities.” Nearly all of its paintings were secretly hinged, swinging open to reveal hidden cupboards in which the duke had kept strange possessions of interest to him—rare mineral samples, beautiful feathers, a perfect fossil of a nautilus shell, and even, allegedly, a monk’s tibia decorated with handpounded silver.
Unfortunately, Langdon suspected all the cupboard items had been removed long ago, and he had never heard of any skull on display here other than Hirst’s piece.
His thoughts were cut short by the loud slam of a door on the far side of the hall. The brisk click of footsteps approached quickly across the salon.
“Signore!” an angry voice shouted.
“Il salone non è aperto!”
Langdon turned to see a female employee marching toward him. She was petite, with short brown hair. She was also extremely pregnant. The woman moved snappily toward them, tapping her watch and shouting something about the hall not yet being open. As she drew near, she made eye contact with Langdon, and immediately stopped short, covering her mouth in shock.
“Professor Langdon!” she exclaimed, looking embarrassed. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t know you were here. Welcome back!” Langdon froze.
He was quite certain he had never seen this woman before in his life.

“I ALMOST DIDN’T recognize you, Professor!” the woman gushed in accented English as she approached Langdon. “It’s your clothing.” She smiled warmly and gave Langdon’s Brioni suit an appreciative nod. “Very fashionable. You look almost Italian.”
Langdon’s mouth went bone dry, but he managed a polite smile as the woman joined him. “Good … morning,” he stumbled. “How are you?”
She laughed, holding her belly.
“Exhausted. Little Catalina kicked all night.” The woman glanced around the room, looking puzzled. “Il Duomino didn’t mention you were coming back today. I assume he’s with you?”
Il Duomino? Langdon had no idea who she was talking about.
The woman apparently saw his confusion and gave a reassuring chuckle. “It’s okay, everybody in Florence calls him by that nickname. He doesn’t mind.” She glanced
around. “Did he let you in?”
“He did,” Sienna said, arriving from across the hall, “but he had a breakfast meeting. He said you wouldn’t mind if we stayed to look around.” Sienna enthusiastically extended her hand. “I’m Sienna.
Robert’s sister.”
The woman gave Sienna’s hand an overly official handshake. “I’m Marta Alvarez. Aren’t you the lucky one— having Professor Langdon as a
private guide.”
“Yes,” Sienna enthused, barely hiding the roll of her eyes. “He’s so smart!”
There was an awkward pause as the woman studied Sienna. “Funny,” she said, “I don’t see any family resemblance at all. Except perhaps your height.”
Langdon sensed an impending train wreck. Now or never.
“Marta,”     Langdon    interrupted, hoping he had heard her name
correctly, “I’m sorry to trouble you, but, well … I guess you can probably imagine why I’m here.”
“Actually, no,” she replied, her eyes narrowing. “I can’t for the life of me imagine what you would be doing here.”
Langdon’s pulse quickened, and in the awkward silence that followed, he realized his gamble was about to crash and burn. Suddenly Marta broke into a broad smile and laughed out loud.
“Professor, I’m joking! Of course, I can guess why you returned. Frankly, I don’t know why you find it so fascinating, but since you and il Duomino spent almost an hour up there last night, I’m guessing you’ve come back to show your sister?”
“Right …” he managed. “Exactly.
I’d love to show Sienna, if that’s not … an inconvenience?”
Marta glanced up to the secondfloor balcony and shrugged. “No problem. I’m headed up there now.”
Langdon’s heart pounded as he looked up to the second-story
balcony at the rear of the hall. I was
up there last night? He remembered nothing. The balcony, he knew, in addition to being at the exact same height as the words cerca trova, also served as the entrance to the palazzo’s museum, which Langdon visited whenever he was here.
Marta was about to lead them across the hall, when she paused, as if having second thoughts. “Actually, Professor, are you sure we can’t find
something a bit less grim to show your lovely sister?”
Langdon had no idea how to respond.
“We’re seeing something grim?” Sienna asked. “What is it? He hasn’t told me.”
Marta gave a coy smile and glanced at Langdon. “Professor, would you like me to tell your sister about it, or would you prefer to do so yourself?”
Langdon nearly jumped at the opportunity. “By all means, Marta, why don’t you tell her all about it.”
Marta turned back to Sienna, speaking very slowly now. “I don’t know what your brother has told you, but we’re going up to the museum to see a very unusual mask.”
Sienna’s eyes widened a bit. “What kind of mask? One of those ugly plague masks they wear at
“Good guess,” Marta said, “but no, it’s not a plague mask. It’s a much different kind of mask. It’s called a death mask.”
Langdon’s gasp of revelation was audible, and Marta scowled at him, apparently thinking he was being overly dramatic in an attempt to frighten his sister.
“Don’t listen to your brother,” she
said. “Death masks were a very common practice in the 1500s. It’s essentially just a plaster cast of someone’s face, taken a few
moments after that person dies.”
The death mask. Langdon felt the first moment of clarity he’d felt since
waking up in Florence. Dante’s Inferno … cerca trova … Looking through the eyes of death. The mask!
Sienna asked, “Whose face was used to cast the mask?”
Langdon put his hand on Sienna’s shoulder and answered as calmly as possible. “A famous Italian poet. His name was Dante Alighieri.”

THE MEDITERRANEAN SUN shone brightly on the decks of The Mendacium as it rocked over the Adriatic swells. Feeling weary, the provost drained his second Scotch and gazed blankly out his office window.
The news from Florence was not good.
Perhaps it was on account of his first taste of alcohol in a very long time, but he was feeling strangely disoriented and powerless … as if his ship had lost its engines and were drifting aimlessly on the tide.
The sensation was a foreign one to the provost. In his world, there always existed a dependable compass—protocol—and it had never failed to show the way. Protocol was what enabled him to make difficult decisions without ever looking back.
It had been protocol that required Vayentha’s disavowal, and the provost had carried out the deed with no hesitation. I will deal with her
once this current crisis has passed.
It had been protocol that required the provost to know as little as possible about all of his clients. He had decided long ago that the Consortium had no ethical responsibility to judge them.
Provide the service.
Trust the client.
Ask no questions.
Like the directors of most companies, the provost simply offered services with the assumption that those services would be implemented within the framework of the law. After all, Volvo had no responsibility to ensure that soccer moms didn’t speed through school zones, any more than Dell would be held responsible if someone used one of their computers to hack into a bank account.
Now, with everything unraveling, the provost quietly cursed the trusted contact who had suggested this client to the Consortium.
“He will be low maintenance and easy money,” the contact had
assured him. “The man is brilliant, a star in his field, and absurdly wealthy. He simply needs to disappear for a year or two. He wants to buy some time off the grid to work on an important project.”
The provost had agreed without much thought. Long-term relocations were always easy money, and the provost trusted his contact’s instincts.
As expected, the job had been very easy money.
That is, until last week.
Now, in the wake of the chaos created by this man, the provost found himself pacing in circles around a bottle of Scotch and counting the days until his responsibilities to this client were over.
The phone on his desk rang, and the provost saw it was Knowlton, one of his top facilitators, calling from downstairs.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Sir,” Knowlton began, an uneasy edge in his voice. “I hate to bother you with this, but as you may know, we’re tasked with uploading a video to the media tomorrow.”
“Yes,” the provost replied. “Is it prepped?”
“It is, but I thought you might want to preview it before upload.”
The provost paused, puzzled by the comment. “Does the video mention us by name or compromise
us in some way?”
“No, sir, but the content is quite disturbing. The client appears
onscreen and says—”
“Stop right there,” the provost ordered, stunned that a senior facilitator would dare suggest such a blatant breach of protocol. “The content is immaterial. Whatever it says, his video would have been released with or without us. The client could just as easily have released this video electronically, but he hired us. He paid us. He trusted us.”
“Yes, sir.”
“You were not hired to be a film critic,” the provost admonished. “You were hired to keep promises. Do your job.”
On the Ponte Vecchio, Vayentha waited, her sharp eyes scanning the hundreds of faces on the bridge. She had been vigilant and felt certain that Langdon had not yet passed her, but the drone had fallen silent, its tracking apparently no longer required.
Brüder must have caught him.
Reluctantly, she began to ponder the grim prospect of a Consortium inquiry. Or worse.
Vayentha again pictured the two agents who had been disavowed … never heard from again. They simply
moved to different work, she assured herself. Nonetheless, she now found herself wondering if she should just drive into the hills of Tuscany, disappear, and use her skills to find a new life.
But how long could I hide from them?
Countless targets had learned firsthand that when the Consortium set you in its sights, privacy became an illusion. It was only a matter of time.
Is my career really ending like this?
she wondered, still unable to accept that her twelve-year tenure at the Consortium would be terminated
over a series of unlucky breaks. For a year she had vigilantly overseen the needs of the Consortium’s greeneyed client. It was not my fault he
jumped to his death … and yet I seem to be falling along with him.
Her only chance at redemption had been to outfox Brüder … but she’d known from the start that this was a long shot.
I had my chance last night, and I failed.
As Vayentha reluctantly turned back toward her motorcycle, she became suddenly aware of a distant sound … a familiar high-pitched whine.
Puzzled, she glanced up. To her surprise, the surveillance drone had just lifted off again, this time near the farthest end of the Pitti Palace. Vayentha watched as the tiny craft began flying desperate circles over the palace.
The drone’s deployment could mean only one thing.
They still don’t have Langdon! Where the hell is he?
The piercing whine overhead again pulled Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey from her delirium. The drone is up again? But I
thought …
She shifted in the backseat of the van, where the same young agent was still seated beside her. She closed her eyes again, fighting the pain and nausea. Mostly, though, she fought the fear.
Time is running out.
Even though her enemy had jumped to his death, she still saw his silhouette in her dreams, lecturing her in the darkness of the Council on Foreign Relations.
It is imperative that someone take bold action, he had declared, his green eyes flashing. If not us, who? If
not now, when?
Elizabeth knew she should have stopped him right then when she had the chance. She would never forget storming out of that meeting and fuming in the back of the limo as she headed across Manhattan toward JFK International Airport. Eager to know who the hell this maniac could be, she pulled out her cell phone to look at the surprise snapshot she had taken of him.
When she saw the photo, she gasped aloud. Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey knew exactly who this man was. The good news was that he would be very easy to track. The bad news was that he was a genius in his field —a very dangerous person should he choose to be.
Nothing is more creative … nor destructive … than a brilliant mind with a purpose.
By the time she arrived at the airport thirty minutes later, she had called her team and placed this man on the bioterrorism watch lists of every relevant agency on earth—the CIA, the CDC, the ECDC, and all of their sister organizations around the world.
That’s all I can do until I get back to Geneva, she thought.
Exhausted, she carried her overnight bag to check-in and handed the attendant her passport and ticket.
“Oh, Dr. Sinskey,” the attendant said with a smile. “A very nice gentleman just left a message for you.”
“I’m sorry?” Elizabeth knew of nobody who had access to her flight information.
“He was very tall?” the attendant said. “With green eyes?”
Elizabeth literally dropped her bag.
He’s here? How?! She spun around, looking at the faces behind her.
“He left already,” the attendant said, “but he wanted us to give you this.” She handed Elizabeth a folded piece of stationery.
Shaking, Elizabeth unfolded the paper and read the handwritten note. It was a famous quote derived from the work of Dante Alighieri.
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

Dan Brown

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