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Langdon remained fixated on the soldiers. How did they find us?!
“Robert,” she called more urgently. “Something’s wrong! Help me!”
Langdon turned from the railing, puzzled by her cries for help.
Where did she go?
An instant later, his eyes found both Sienna and Ferris. On the floor in front of the Horses of St. Mark’s, Sienna was kneeling over Dr. Ferris … who had collapsed in convulsions, clutching his chest.
“I think he’s having a heart attack!” Sienna shouted.
Langdon hurried over to where Dr. Ferris lay sprawled on the floor.
The man was gasping, unable to catch his breath.
What happened to him?! For Langdon, everything had come to a head in a single moment. With the soldiers’ arrival downstairs and Ferris thrashing on the floor, Langdon felt momentarily paralyzed, unsure which way to turn.
Sienna crouched down over Ferris and loosened his necktie, tearing open the top few buttons of his shirt to help him breathe. But as the man’s shirt parted, Sienna recoiled and let out a sharp cry of alarm, covering her mouth as she staggered backward, staring down at the bare flesh of his chest.
Langdon saw it, too.
The skin of Ferris’s chest was deeply discolored. An ominous-looking bluish-black blemish the circumference of a grapefruit spread out across his sternum. Ferris looked like he’d been hit in the chest with a cannonball.
“That’s internal bleeding,” Sienna said, glancing up at Langdon with a look of shock. “No wonder he’s been having trouble breathing all day.”
Ferris twisted his head, clearly trying to speak, but he could only make faint wheezing sounds. Tourists had started gathering around, and Langdon sensed that the situation was about to get chaotic.
“The soldiers are downstairs,” Langdon warned Sienna. “I don’t know how they found us.”
The look of surprise and fear on Sienna’s face turned quickly to anger, and she glared back down at Ferris. “You’ve been lying to us, haven’t you?”
Ferris attempted to speak again, but he could barely make a sound. Sienna roughly searched Ferris’s pockets and pulled out his wallet and phone, which she slipped into her own pocket, standing over him now with an accusatory glower.
At that moment an elderly Italian woman pushed through the crowd, shouting angrily at Sienna. “L’hai colpito al petto!” She made a forceful motion with her fist against her own chest.
“No!” Sienna snapped. “CPR will kill him! Look at his chest!” She turned to Langdon. “Robert, we need to get out of here. Now.”
Langdon looked down at Ferris, who desperately locked eyes with him, pleading, as if he wanted to communicate something.
“We can’t just leave him!” Langdon said frantically.
“Trust me,” Sienna said. “That’s not a heart attack. And we’re leaving. Now.”
As the crowd closed in, tourists began shouting for help. Sienna gripped Langdon’s arm with startling force and dragged him away from the chaos, out into the fresh air of the balcony.
For a moment Langdon was blinded. The sun was directly in front of his eyes, sinking low over the western end of St. Mark’s Square, bathing the entire balcony in a golden light. Sienna led Langdon to their left along the second-story terrace, snaking through the tourists who had stepped outside to admire the piazza and the replicas of the Horses of St. Mark’s.
As they rushed along the front of the basilica, the lagoon was straight ahead. Out on the water, a strange silhouette caught Langdon’s eye—an ultramodern yacht that looked like some kind of futuristic warship.
Before he could give it a second thought, he and Sienna had cut left again, following the balcony around the southwest corner of the basilica toward the “Paper Door”—the annex connecting the basilica to the Doge’s Palace—so named because the doges posted decrees there for the public to read.
Not a heart attack? The image of Ferris’s black-and-blue chest was imprinted in Langdon’s mind, and he suddenly felt fearful at the prospect of hearing Sienna’s diagnosis of the man’s actual illness. Moreover, it seemed something had shifted, and Sienna no longer trusted Ferris. Was that why she was trying to catch my eye earlier?
Sienna suddenly skidded to a stop and leaned out over the elegant balustrade, peering down into a cloistered corner of St. Mark’s Square far below.
“Damn it,” she said. “We’re higher up than I thought.”
Langdon stared at her. You were thinking of jumping?!
Sienna looked frightened. “We can’t let them catch us, Robert.”
Langdon turned back toward the basilica, eyeing the heavy door of wrought iron and glass directly behind them. Tourists were entering and exiting, and if Langdon’s estimate was correct, passing through the door would deposit them back inside the museum near the back of the church.
“They’ll have all the exits covered,” Sienna said.
Langdon considered their escape options and arrived at only one. “I think I saw something inside that could solve that problem.”
Barely able to fathom what he was even now considering, Langdon guided Sienna back inside the basilica. They skirted the perimeter of the museum, trying to stay out of sight among the crowd, many of whom were now looking diagonally across the vast open space of the central nave toward the commotion going on around Ferris. Langdon spied the angry old Italian woman directing a pair of black-clad soldiers out onto the balcony, revealing Langdon and Sienna’s escape route.
We’ll have to hurry, Langdon thought, scanning the walls and finally spotting what he was looking for near a large display of tapestries.
The device on the wall was bright yellow with a red warning sticker: ALLARME ANTINCENDIO.
“A fire alarm?” Sienna said. “That’s your plan?”
“We can slip out with the crowd.” Langdon reached up and grabbed the alarm lever. Here goes nothing. Acting quickly before he could think better of it, he pulled down hard, seeing the mechanism cleanly shatter the small glass cylinder inside.
The sirens and pandemonium that Langdon expected never came.
He pulled again.
Sienna stared at him like he was crazy. “Robert, we’re in a stone cathedral packed with tourists! You think these public fire alarms are active when a single prankster could—”
“Of course! Fire laws in the U.S.—”
“You’re in Europe. We have fewer lawyers.” She pointed over Langdon’s shoulder. “And we’re also out of time.”
Langdon turned toward the glass door through which they’d just entered and saw two soldiers hurrying in from the balcony, their hard eyes scanning the area. Langdon recognized one as the same muscular agent who had fired at them on the Trike as they were fleeing Sienna’s apartment.
With precious few options, Langdon and Sienna slipped out of sight in an enclosed spiral stairwell, descending back to the ground floor. When they reached the landing, they paused in the shadows of the stairwell. Across the sanctuary, several soldiers stood guarding the exits, their eyes intently sweeping the entire room.
“If we step out of this stairwell, they’ll see us,” Langdon said.
“The stairs go farther down,” Sienna whispered, motioning to an ACCESSO VIETATO swag that cordoned off the stairs beneath them. Beyond the swag, the stairs descended in an even tighter spiral toward pitch blackness.
Bad idea, Langdon thought. Subterranean crypt with no exit.
Sienna had already stepped over the swag and was groping her way down the spiral tunnel, disappearing into the void.
“It’s open,” Sienna whispered from below.
Langdon was not surprised. The crypt of St. Mark’s was different from many other such places in that it was also a working chapel, where regular services were held in the presence of the bones of St. Mark.
“I think I see natural light!” Sienna whispered.
How is that possible? Langdon tried to recall his previous visits to this sacred underground space and guessed that Sienna was probably seeing the lux eterna—an electric light that remained lit on St. Mark’s tomb in the center of the crypt. With footsteps approaching from above him, though, Langdon didn’t have time to think. He quickly stepped over the swag, making sure he didn’t move it, and then he placed his palm on the rough-hewn stone wall, feeling his way down around the curve and out of sight.
Sienna was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Behind her, the crypt was barely visible in the darkness. It was a squat subterranean chamber with an alarmingly low stone ceiling supported by ancient pillars and brick-vaulted archways. The weight of the entire basilica rests on these pillars, Langdon thought, already feeling claustrophobic.
“Told you,” Sienna whispered, her pretty face faintly illuminated by the hint of muted natural light. She pointed to several small, arched transoms, high on the wall.
Light wells, Langdon realized, having forgotten they were here. The wells—designed to bring light and fresh air into this cramped crypt—opened into deep shafts that dropped down from St. Mark’s Square above. The window glass was reinforced with a tight ironwork pattern of fifteen interlocking circles, and although Langdon suspected that they could be opened from inside, they were shoulder height and would be a tight fit. Even if they somehow managed to get through the window into the shaft, climbing out of the shafts would be impossible, since they were ten feet deep and covered by heavy security grates at the top.
In the dim light that filtered through the wells, St. Mark’s crypt resembled a moonlit forest—a dense grove of trunklike pillars that cast long and heavy-looking shadows across the ground. Langdon turned his gaze to the center of the crypt, where a lone light burned at St. Mark’s tomb. The basilica’s namesake rested in a stone sarcophagus behind an altar, before which there were lines of pews for those lucky few invited to worship here at the heart of Venetian Christendom.
A tiny light suddenly flickered to life beside him and Langdon turned to see Sienna holding the illuminated screen of Ferris’s phone.
Langdon did a double take. “I thought Ferris said his battery was dead!”
“He lied,” Sienna said, still typing. “About a lot of things.” She frowned at the phone and shook her head. “No signal. I thought maybe I could find the location of Enrico Dandolo’s tomb.” She hurried over to the light well and held the phone high overhead near the glass, trying to get a signal.
Enrico Dandolo, Langdon thought, having barely had a chance to consider the doge before having to flee the area. Despite their current predicament, their visit to St. Mark’s had indeed served its purpose—revealing the identity of the treacherous doge who severed the heads from horses … and plucked up the bones of the blind.
Unfortunately, Langdon had no idea where Enrico Dandolo’s tomb was located, and apparently neither did Ettore Vio. He knows every inch of this basilica … probably of the Doge’s Palace, too. The fact that Ettore hadn’t immediately located Dandolo’s tomb suggested to Langdon that the tomb was probably nowhere near St. Mark’s or the Doge’s Palace.
So where is it?
Langdon glanced over at Sienna, who was now standing on a pew that she had moved under one of the light wells. She unlatched the window, swung it open, and held Ferris’s phone out into the open air of the shaft itself.
The outdoor sounds of St. Mark’s Square filtered down from above, and Langdon suddenly wondered if maybe there was some way out of here after all. There was a line of folding chairs behind the pews, and Langdon sensed that he might be able to hoist one up into the light well. Maybe the upper grates unlatch from inside as well?
Langdon hurried through the darkness toward Sienna. He had taken only a few steps when a powerful blow to his forehead knocked him backward. Crumpling to his knees, he thought for an instant that he had been attacked. He had not, he quickly realized, cursing himself for not anticipating that his six-foot frame far exceeded the height of vaults built for the average human height of more than a thousand years ago.
As he knelt there on the hard stone and let the stars clear, he found himself gazing at an inscription on the floor.
He stared at it a long moment. It was not St. Mark’s name in the inscription that struck him but rather the language in which it was written.
After his daylong immersion in modern Italian, Langdon found himself vaguely disoriented to see St. Mark’s name written in Latin, a quick reminder that the dead language was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire at the time of St. Mark’s death.
Then a second thought hit Langdon.
During the early thirteenth century—the time of Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade—the language of power was still very much Latin. A Venetian doge who had brought great glory to the Roman Empire by recapturing Constantinople would never have been buried under the name of Enrico Dandolo … instead his Latin name would have been used.
And with that, a long-forgotten image struck him like a jolt of electricity. Although the revelation had come while he was kneeling in a chapel, he knew it was not divinely inspired. More likely, it was nothing more than a visual cue that sparked his mind to make a sudden connection. The image that leaped suddenly from the depths of Langdon’s memory was that of Dandolo’s Latin name … engraved in a worn marble slab, embedded in an ornate tile floor.
Langdon could barely breathe as he pictured the doge’s simple tomb marker. I’ve been there. Precisely as the poem had promised, Enrico Dandolo was indeed buried in a gilded museum—a mouseion of holy wisdom—but it was not St. Mark’s Basilica.
As the truth settled in, Langdon clambered slowly to his feet.
“I can’t get a signal,” Sienna said, climbing down from the light well and coming toward him.
“You don’t need one,” Langdon managed. “The gilded mouseion of holy wisdom …” He took a deep breath. “I … made a mistake.”
Sienna went pale. “Don’t tell me we’re in the wrong museum.”
“Sienna,” Langdon whispered, feeling ill. “We’re in the wrong country.”
Out in St. Mark’s Square, the Gypsy woman selling Venetian masks was taking a break, leaning against the outer wall of the basilica to rest. As always, she had claimed her favorite spot—a small niche between two metal grates in the pavement—an ideal spot to set down her heavy wares and watch the setting sun.
She had witnessed many things in St. Mark’s Square over the years, and yet the bizarre event that now drew her attention was not transpiring in the square … it was happening instead beneath it. Startled by a loud sound at her feet, the woman peered down through a grate into a narrow well, maybe ten feet deep. The window at the bottom was open and a folding chair had been shoved out into the bottom of the well, scraping against the pavement.
To the Gypsy’s surprise, the chair was followed by a pretty woman with a blond ponytail who was apparently being hoisted from within and was now clambering through the window into the tiny opening.
The blond woman scrambled to her feet and immediately looked up, clearly startled to see the Gypsy staring down at her through the grate. The blond woman raised a finger to her lips and gave a tight smile. Then she unfolded the chair and climbed onto it, reaching up toward the grate.
You’re far too short, the Gypsy thought. And just what are you doing?
The blond woman climbed back down off the chair and spoke to someone inside the building. Although she barely had room to stand in the narrow well beside the chair, she now stepped aside as a second person—a tall, dark-haired man in a fancy suit—heaved himself up out of the basilica basement and into the crowded shaft.
He, too, looked up, making eye contact with the Gypsy through the iron grate. Then, in an awkward twist of limbs, he exchanged positions with the blond woman and climbed up on top of the rickety chair. He was taller, and when he reached up, he was able to unlatch the security bar beneath the grate. Standing on tiptoe, he placed his hands on the grate and heaved upward. The grate rose an inch or so before he had to set it down.
“Può darci una mano?” the blond woman called up to the Gypsy.
Give you a hand? the Gypsy wondered, having no intention of getting involved. What are you doing?
The blond woman pulled out a man’s wallet and extracted a hundred-euro bill, waving it as an offering. It was more money than the vendor made with her masks in three days. No stranger to negotiation, she shook her head and held up two fingers. The blond woman produced a second bill.
Disbelieving of her good fortune, the Gypsy shrugged a reluctant yes, trying to look indifferent as she crouched down and grabbed the bars, looking into the man’s eyes so they could synchronize their efforts.
As the man heaved again, the Gypsy pulled upward with arms made strong from years of carrying her wares, and the grate swung upward … halfway. Just as she thought they had it, there was a loud crash beneath her, and the man disappeared, plummeting back down into the well as the folding chair collapsed beneath him.
The iron grate grew instantly heavier in her hands, and she thought she would have to drop it, but the promise of two hundred euros gave her strength, and she managed to heave the grate up against the side of the basilica, where it came to rest with a loud clang.
Breathless, the Gypsy peered down into the well at the twist of bodies and broken furniture. As the man got back up and brushed himself off, she reached down into the well, holding out her hand for her money.
The ponytailed woman nodded appreciatively and raised the two bills over her head. The Gypsy reached down, but it was too far.
Give the money to the man.
Suddenly there was a commotion in the shaft—angry voices shouting from inside the basilica. The man and woman both spun in fear, recoiling from the window.
Then everything turned to chaos.
The dark-haired man took charge, crouching down and firmly ordering the woman to place her foot into a cradle formed by his fingers. She stepped in, and he heaved upward. She skimmed up the side of the shaft, stuffing the bills in her teeth to free her hands as she strained to reach the lip. The man heaved, higher … higher … lifting her until her hands curled over the edge.
With enormous effort, she heaved herself up into the square like a woman climbing out of a swimming pool. She shoved the money into the Gypsy’s hands and immediately spun around and knelt at the edge of the well, reaching back down for the man.
It was too late.
Powerful arms in long black sleeves were reaching into the well like the thrashing tentacles of some hungry monster, grasping at the man’s legs, pulling him back toward the window.
“Run, Sienna!” shouted the struggling man. “Now!”
The Gypsy saw their eyes lock in an exchange of pained regret … and then it was over.
The man was dragged roughly down through the window and back into the basilica.
The blond woman stared down in shock, her eyes welling with tears. “I’m so sorry, Robert,” she whispered. Then, after a pause, she added, “For everything.”
A moment later, the woman sprinted off into the crowd, her ponytail swinging as she raced down the narrow alleyway of the Merceria dell’Orologio … disappearing into the heart of Venice.
The soft sounds of lapping water eased Robert Langdon gently back to consciousness. He smelled the sterile tang of antiseptics mixed with salty sea air and felt the world swaying beneath him.
Where am I?
Only moments before, it seemed, he had been locked in a death struggle against powerful hands that were dragging him out of the light well and back into the crypt. Now, strangely, he no longer felt the cold stone floor of St. Mark’s beneath him … instead he felt a soft mattress.
Langdon opened his eyes and took in his surroundings—a small, hygienic-looking room with a single portal window. The rocking motion continued.
I’m on a boat?
Langdon’s last recollection was of being pinned to the crypt floor by one of the black-clad soldiers, who hissed angrily at him, “Stop trying to escape!”
Langdon had shouted wildly, calling for help as the soldiers tried to muffle his voice.
“We need to get him out of here,” one soldier had said to another.