Then, just before the circled date, there occurred a rapid series of calamitous events in Florence. The provost tried to handle the crisis, but it quickly accelerated out of control. The crisis climaxed with his client’s breathless ascent up the Badia tower.
He jumped off … to his death.
Despite his horror at losing a client, especially in this manner, the provost remained a man of his word. He quickly began preparing to make good on his final promise to the deceased—the delivery to the silver-haired woman of the contents of a safe-deposit box in Florence—the timing of which, he had been admonished, was critical.
Not before the date circled in your calendar.
The provost gave the envelope containing the safe-deposit-box codes to Vayentha, who had traveled to Florence to recover the object inside—this “clever little barb.” When Vayentha called in, however, her news was both startling and deeply alarming. The contents of the safe-deposit box had already been removed, and Vayentha had barely escaped being detained. Somehow, the silver-haired woman had learned of the account and had used her influence to gain access to the safe-deposit box and also to place an arrest warrant on anyone else who showed up looking to open it.
That was three days ago.
The client had clearly intended the purloined object to be his final insult to the silver-haired woman—a taunting voice from the grave.
And yet now it speaks too soon.
The Consortium had been in a desperate scramble ever since—using all its resources to protect its client’s final wishes, as well as itself. In the process, the Consortium had crossed a series of lines from which the provost knew it would be hard to return. Now, with everything unraveling in Florence, the provost stared down at his desk and wondered what the future held.
On his calendar, the client’s wildly scrawled circle stared up at him—a crazed ring of red ink around an apparently special day.
Reluctantly, the provost eyed the bottle of Scotch on the table before him. Then, for the first time in fourteen years, he poured a glass and drained it in a single gulp.
Belowdecks, facilitator Laurence Knowlton pulled the little red memory stick from his computer and set it on the desk in front of him. The video was one of the strangest things he had ever seen.
And it was precisely nine minutes long … to the second.
Feeling uncharacteristically alarmed, he stood and paced his tiny cubicle, wondering again whether he should share the bizarre video with the provost.
Just do your job, Knowlton told himself. No questions. No judgment.
Forcing the video from his mind, he marked his planner with a confirmed task. Tomorrow, as requested by the client, he would upload the video file to the media.
Viale Niccolò Machiavelli has been called the most graceful of all Florentine avenues. With wide S-curves that serpentine through lushly wooded landscapes of hedges and deciduous trees, the drive is a favorite among cyclists and Ferrari enthusiasts.
Sienna expertly maneuvered the Trike through each arching curve as they left behind the dingy residential neighborhood and moved into the clean, cedar-laden air of the city’s upscale west bank. They passed a chapel clock that was just chiming 8 A.M.
Langdon held on, his mind churning with mystifying images of Dante’s inferno … and the mysterious face of a beautiful silver-haired woman he had just seen wedged in between two huge soldiers in the backseat of the van.
Whoever she is, Langdon thought, they have her now.
“The woman in the van,” Sienna said over the noise of the Trike’s engine. “You’re sure it was the same woman from your visions?”
“Then you must have met her at some point in the past two days. The question is why you keep seeing her … and why she keeps telling you to seek and find.”
Langdon agreed. “I don’t know … I have no recollection of meeting her, but every time I see her face, I have an overwhelming sense that I need to help her.”
Very sorry. Very sorry.
Langdon suddenly wondered if maybe his strange apology had been directed to the silver-haired woman. Did I fail her somehow? The thought left a knot in his gut.
For Langdon, it felt as if a vital weapon had been extracted from his arsenal. I have no memory. Eidetic since childhood, Langdon’s memory was the intellectual asset he relied on most. For a man accustomed to recalling every intricate detail of what he saw around him, functioning without his memory felt like attempting to land a plane in the dark with no radar.
“It seems like your only chance of finding answers is to decipher La Mappa,” Sienna said. “Whatever secret it holds … it seems to be the reason you’re being hunted.”
Langdon nodded, thinking about the word catrovacer, set against the backdrop of writhing bodies in Dante’s Inferno.
Suddenly a clear thought emerged in Langdon’s head.
I awoke in Florence …
No city on earth was more closely tied to Dante than Florence. Dante Alighieri had been born in Florence, grew up in Florence, fell in love, according to legend, with Beatrice in Florence, and was cruelly exiled from his home in Florence, destined to wander the Italian countryside for years, longing soulfully for his home.
You shall leave everything you love most, Dante wrote of banishment. This is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first.
As Langdon recalled those words from the seventeenth canto of the Paradiso, he looked to the right, gazing out across the Arno River toward the distant spires of old Florence.
Langdon pictured the layout of the old city—a labyrinth of tourists, congestion, and traffic bustling through narrow streets around Florence’s famed cathedral, museums, chapels, and shopping districts. He suspected that if he and Sienna ditched the Trike, they could evaporate into the throngs of people.