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“What’s happening?” the man demanded, looking alarmed. “Is everything okay?”
Langdon took another look at the departing bus and knew it was a gamble, but he had no other choice.
“No, sir,” Langdon replied. “There’s an emergency, and I need your help.” He motioned to the curb, where a valet had just delivered a slick, silver Bentley. “Is that your car?”
“It is, but—”
“I need a ride,” Langdon said. “I know we’ve never met, but something catastrophic is happening. It’s a matter of life and death.”
The turbaned man stared into the professor’s eyes a long moment, as if searching his soul. Finally he nodded. “Then you’d better get in.”
As the Bentley roared away from the curb, Langdon found himself gripping his seat. The man was clearly an experienced driver and seemed to enjoy the challenge of weaving in and out of traffic, playing catch-up with the bus.
It took him less than three blocks to position his Bentley directly behind the otobüs. Langdon leaned forward in his seat, squinting at the rear window. The interior lights were dim, and the only things Langdon could make out were the vague silhouettes of the passengers.
“Stay with the bus, please,” Langdon said. “And do you have a phone?”
The man produced a cell phone from his pocket and handed it to his passenger, who thanked him profusely before realizing that he had no idea whom to call. He had no contact numbers for Sinskey or Brüder, and calling the WHO’s offices in Switzerland could take forever.
“How do I reach the local police?” Langdon asked.
“One-five-five,” the man replied. “Anywhere in Istanbul.”
Langdon dialed the three numbers and waited. The line seemed to ring forever. Finally a recorded voice answered, conveying both in Turkish and English that due to high call volume, he would need to hold. Langdon wondered if the reason for the call volume was the crisis at the cistern.
The sunken palace was now probably in a state of total pandemonium. He pictured Brüder wading out in the lagoon and wondered what he had discovered out there. Langdon had a sinking feeling he already knew.
Sienna had gotten into the water before him.
Up ahead, the bus’s brake lights flashed, and the transport pulled over to a curbside bus stop. The Bentley’s driver pulled over as well, idling about fifty feet behind the bus, providing Langdon a perfect view of the passengers getting on and off. Only three people disembarked—all of them men—and yet Langdon studied each carefully, fully aware of Sienna’s skills for disguise.
His eyes shifted again to the rear window. It was tinted, but the lights inside were now fully illuminated, and Langdon could see the people on board more clearly. He leaned forward, craning his neck, holding his face close to the Bentley’s windshield as he searched for Sienna.
Please don’t tell me I gambled wrong!
Then he saw her.
In the rearmost part of the vehicle, facing away from him, a pair of slender shoulders sloped up to the back of a shaved head.
It could only be Sienna.
As the bus accelerated, the interior lights faded once more. In the fleeting second before it disappeared into darkness, the head turned backward, glancing out the rear window.
Langdon lowered himself down in the seat, into the shadows of the Bentley. Did she see me? His turbaned driver was already pulling out again, tailing the bus.
The road was descending toward the water now, and up ahead Langdon could see the lights of a low-slung bridge that stretched out over the water. The bridge looked completely deadlocked with traffic. In fact, the entire area near its entrance looked congested.
“Spice Bazaar,” the man said. “Very popular on rainy nights.”
The man pointed down to the water’s edge, where an incredibly long building sat in the shadow of one of Istanbul’s more spectacular mosques—the New Mosque, if Langdon were not mistaken, judging from the height of its famed twin minarets. The Spice Bazaar looked larger than most American malls, and Langdon could see people streaming in and out of its enormous arched doorway.
“Alo?!” a tiny voice declared somewhere in the car. “Acil Durum! Alo?!”
Langdon glanced down at the phone in his hand. The police.
“Yes, hello!” Langdon blurted, raising the receiver. “My name is Robert Langdon. I’m working with the World Health Organization. You have a major crisis at the city cistern, and I’m tailing the person responsible. She’s on a bus near the Spice Bazaar, heading for—”
“One moment, please,” the operator said. “Let me connect you with dispatch.”
“No, wait!” But Langdon was on hold again.
The Bentley’s driver turned to him with a look of fear. “A crisis at the cistern?!”
Langdon was about to explain when the driver’s face suddenly glowed red, like a demon.
The driver’s head whipped around and the Bentley skidded to a stop directly behind the bus. The interior lights flickered on again and Langdon could see Sienna as plain as day. She was standing at the back door, yanking repeatedly on the emergency stop cord and banging to get off the bus.
She saw me, Langdon realized. No doubt Sienna had also seen the traffic on Galata Bridge and knew she could not afford to get caught in it.
Langdon opened his door in a flash, but Sienna had already bolted from the bus and was sprinting into the night. Langdon tossed the cell phone back to its owner. “Tell the police what happened! Tell them to surround this area!”
The turbaned man gave a frightened nod.
“And thank you!” Langdon shouted. “Teşekkürler!”
With that, Langdon dashed down the hill after Sienna, who was running directly toward the crowds milling around the Spice Bazaar.
Istanbul’s three-hundred-year-old Spice Bazaar is one of the largest covered marketplaces in the world. Built in the shape of an L, the sprawling complex has eighty-eight vaulted rooms divided into hundreds of stalls, where local merchants zealously hawk a mind-boggling array of edible pleasures from around the world—spices, fruits, herbs, and Istanbul’s ubiquitous candylike confection, Turkish delight.
The bazaar’s entryway—a massive stone portal with a Gothic arch—is located on the corner of Çiçek Pazari and Tahmis Street, and is said to witness the passage of more than three hundred thousand visitors a day.
Tonight, as Langdon approached the swarming entrance, he felt as if all three hundred thousand were here at that very moment. He was still running hard, his eyes never leaving Sienna. She was now only twenty yards ahead of him, racing directly toward the bazaar’s gateway and showing no signs of stopping.
Sienna reached the arched portal and came up hard against the crowd. She snaked through the people, clawing her way inside. The moment she crossed the threshold, she stole a glance backward. Langdon saw in her eyes a frightened little girl, running scared … desperate and out of control.
“Sienna!” he shouted.
But she plunged into the sea of humanity and was gone.
Langdon dove in after her, bumping, pushing, craning his neck until he spotted her weaving down the bazaar’s western hallway to his left.
Burgeoning casks of exotic spices lined the way—Indian curry, Iranian saffron, Chinese flower tea—their dazzling colors creating a tunnel of yellows, browns, and golds. With every step, Langdon smelled a new aroma—pungent mushrooms, bitter roots, musky oils—all wafting through the air with a deafening chorus of languages from around the world. The result was an overwhelming rush of sensory stimuli … set against the unceasing thrum of people.
Thousands of people.
A wrenching feeling of claustrophobia gripped Langdon, and he almost pulled up before gathering himself again and forcing his way deeper into the bazaar. He could see Sienna just ahead, pushing through the masses with adamant force. She clearly was taking this ride to the end … wherever that might be for her.
For a moment Langdon wondered why he was chasing her.
For justice? Considering what Sienna had done, Langdon could not begin to fathom what kind of punishment awaited her if she were caught.
To prevent a pandemic? Whatever had been done was done.
As Langdon pushed through the ocean of strangers, he suddenly realized why he wanted so badly to stop Sienna Brooks.
I want answers.
Only ten yards ahead, Sienna was headed for an exit door at the end of the western arm of the bazaar. She stole another quick glance behind her, looking alarmed to see Langdon so close. As she turned again, facing front, she tripped and fell.
Sienna’s head snapped forward, colliding with the shoulder of the person in front of her. As he went down, her right hand shot out, searching for anything to break her fall. She found only the rim of a barrel of dried chestnuts, which she seized in desperation, pulling it over on top of her and sending a landslide of nuts across the floor.
It took Langdon three strides to reach the spot where she had fallen. He looked down at the floor but saw only the toppled barrel and the chestnuts. No Sienna.
The shopkeeper was screaming wildly.
Where did she go?!
Langdon spun in a circle, but Sienna had somehow vanished. By the time his gaze landed on the western exit only fifteen yards ahead, he knew that her dramatic fall had been anything but accidental.
Langdon raced to the exit and burst out into an enormous plaza, also crowded with people. He stared into the plaza, searching in vain.
Directly ahead, on the far side of a multilane highway, Galata Bridge stretched out across the wide waters of the Golden Horn. The dual minarets of the New Mosque rose to Langdon’s right, shining brightly over the plaza. And to his left was nothing but open plaza … packed with people.
The sound of blaring car horns drew Langdon’s gaze ahead again, toward the highway that separated the plaza from the water. He saw Sienna, already a hundred yards away, darting through speeding traffic and narrowly avoiding being crushed between two trucks. She was headed for the sea.
To Langdon’s left, on the banks of the Golden Horn, a transportation hub bustled with activity—ferry docks, otobüses, taxis, tour boats.
Langdon sprinted hard across the plaza toward the highway. When he reached the guardrail, he timed his leap with the oncoming headlights and safely bounded across the first of several two-lane highways. For fifteen seconds, assaulted by blinding headlights and angry car horns, Langdon managed to advance from median to median—stopping, starting, weaving, until he finally vaulted over the final guardrail onto the grassy banks of the sea.
Although he could still see her, Sienna was a long way ahead, eschewing the taxi stand and idling buses and heading directly for the docks, where Langdon saw all manner of boats moving in and out—tourist barges, water taxis, private fishing boats, speedboats. Out across the water, city lights twinkled on the western side of the Golden Horn, and Langdon had no doubt that if Sienna reached the other side, there would be no hope of finding her, probably ever.
When Langdon finally reached the waterfront, he turned left and dashed along the boardwalk, drawing startled looks from tourists who were queued up waiting to board a flotilla of gaudily decorated dinner barges, complete with mosquelike domes, faux-gold flourishes, and blinking neon trim.
Las Vegas on the Bosporus, Langdon moaned, powering past.
He saw Sienna far ahead, and she was no longer running. She was stopped on the dock in an area cluttered by private powerboats, pleading with one of the owners.
Don’t let her aboard!
As he closed the gap, he could see that Sienna’s appeal was directed at a young man who stood at the helm of a sleek powerboat that was just preparing to pull away from the dock. The man was smiling but politely shaking his head no. Sienna continued gesticulating, but the boater appeared to decline with finality, and he turned back to his controls.
As Langdon dashed closer, Sienna glanced at him, her face a mask of desperation. Below her, the boat’s twin outboards revved, churning the water and moving the craft away from the dock.
Sienna was suddenly airborne, leaping off the dock over the open water. She landed with a crash on the boat’s fiberglass stern. Feeling the impact, the driver turned with an expression of disbelief on his face. He yanked back the throttle, idling the boat, which was now twenty yards from the dock. Yelling angrily, he marched back toward his unwanted passenger.
As the driver advanced on her, Sienna effortlessly stepped aside, seizing the man’s wrist and using his own momentum to launch him up and over the stern gunwale. The man plunged headlong into the water. Moments later, he rose to the surface, sputtering and thrashing wildly, and shouting a string of what were no doubt Turkish obscenities.
Sienna seemed detached as she tossed a flotation cushion into the water, moved to the helm of the boat, and pushed the dual throttles forward.
The engines roared and the boat sped off.
Langdon stood on the dock, catching his breath as he watched the sleek white hull skimming away across the water, becoming a ghostly shadow in the night. Langdon raised his eyes toward the horizon and knew that Sienna now had access not only to the distant shores, but also to an almost endless web of waterways that stretched from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Nearby, the boat’s owner climbed out of the water, got to his feet, and hurried off to call the police.
Langdon felt starkly alone as he watched the lights of the stolen boat growing faint. The whine of the powerful engines was growing distant as well.
And then the engines faded abruptly to silence.
Langdon peered into the distance. Did she kill the motor?
The boat’s lights seemed to have stopped receding and were now bobbing gently in the small waves of the Golden Horn. For some unknown reason, Sienna Brooks had stopped.
Did she run out of gas?
He cupped his hands and listened, now able to hear the faint thrum of her engines idling.
If she’s not out of gas, what is she doing?
Ten seconds. Fifteen seconds. Thirty seconds.
Then, without warning, the engines revved up again, reluctantly at first, and then more decidedly. To Langdon’s bewilderment, the boat’s lights began banking into a wide turn, and the bow swung around toward him.
She’s coming back.
As the boat approached, Langdon could see Sienna at the wheel, staring blankly ahead. Thirty yards away, she throttled down and eased the boat safely back to the dock it had just left. Then she killed the engines.
Above her, Langdon stared down in disbelief.
Sienna never looked up.
Instead, she buried her face in her hands. She began trembling, her shoulders hunched and shuddering. When she finally looked at Langdon, her eyes were overflowing with tears.
“Robert,” she sobbed. “I can’t run away anymore. I have nowhere left to go.”
Elizabeth Sinskey stood at the bottom of the cistern stairwell and gazed at the void of the evacuated cavern. Her breathing felt strained through the respirator she was wearing. Although she had probably already been exposed to whatever pathogen might be down here, Sinskey felt relieved to be wearing a hazmat suit as she and the SRS team entered the desolate space. They were dressed in bulbous white jumpsuits that locked into airtight helmets, and the group looked like a team of astronauts breaching an alien spacecraft.
Sinskey knew that upstairs on the street, hundreds of frightened concertgoers and musicians were huddling in confusion, many being treated for injuries suffered in the stampede. Others had fled the area entirely. She felt lucky to have escaped with only a bruised knee and a broken amulet.
Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus, Sinskey thought. And that’s fear.
The doors upstairs were now locked, hermetically sealed, and guarded by local authorities. Sinskey had anticipated a jurisdictional showdown with the arriving local police, but any potential conflicts had evaporated instantly when they saw the SRS team’s biohazard gear and heard Sinskey’s warnings of a possible plague.
We’re on our own, the director of the WHO thought, staring out at the forest of columns reflected in the lagoon. Nobody wants to come down here.
Behind her, two agents were stretching a huge polyurethane sheet across the bottom of the stairwell and sealing it to the wall with a heat gun. Two others had found an open area of boardwalk planks and had begun setting up an array of electronic gear as if preparing to analyze a crime scene.
That’s exactly what this is, Sinskey thought. A crime scene.
She again pictured the woman in the wet burka who had fled the cistern. By all appearances, Sienna Brooks had risked her own life in order to sabotage the WHO’s containment efforts and fulfill Zobrist’s twisted mission. She came down here and broke the Solublon bag …
Langdon had chased Sienna off into the night, and Sinskey had still not received word regarding what had happened to either of them.
I hope Professor Langdon is safe, she thought.
Agent Brüder stood dripping on the boardwalk, staring blankly out at the inverted head of Medusa and wondering how to proceed.
As an SRS agent, Brüder had been trained to think on the macro-cosmic level, setting aside any immediate ethical or personal concerns and focusing on saving as many lives as possible over the long term. Threats to his own health had barely registered on him until this moment. I waded into this stuff, he thought, chastising himself for the risky action he had taken and yet knowing he’d had little choice. We needed an immediate assessment.
Brüder forced his thoughts to the task at hand—implement Plan B. Unfortunately, in a containment crisis, Plan B was always the same: widen the radius. Fighting communicable disease was often like fighting a forest fire: sometimes you had to drop back and surrender a battle in hopes of winning the war.
At this point, Brüder had still not given up the idea that a full containment was possible. Most likely Sienna Brooks had ruptured the bag only minutes before the mass hysteria and evacuation. If that were true, even though hundreds of people had fled the scene, everyone might have been located far enough away from the source to avoid contamination.
Everyone except Langdon and Sienna, Brüder realized. Both of whom were here at ground zero, and are now someplace out in the city.
Brüder had another concern as well—a gap in logic that continued to nag at him. While in the water, he had never found the actual breached Solublon bag. It seemed to Brüder that if Sienna had broken the bag—by kicking it or ripping it or whatever she had done—he would have found the damaged, deflated remnants floating somewhere in the area.
But Brüder had found nothing. Any remains of the bag seemed to have vanished. Brüder strongly doubted that Sienna would have carried off the Solublon bag with her, since by this point it would have been no more than a slimy, dissolving mess.
So where did it go?
Brüder had an uneasy sense that he was missing something. Even so, he focused on a new containment strategy, which required him to answer one critical question.
What is the contagion’s current dispersal radius?
Brüder knew the question would be answered in a matter of minutes. His team had set up a series of portable virus-detection devices along the boardwalks at increasing distances from the lagoon. These devices—known as PCR units—used what was called a polymerase chain reaction to detect the presence of viral contamination.
The SRS agent remained hopeful. With no movement of the water in the lagoon, and the passage of very little time, he was confident that the PCR devices would detect a relatively small region of contamination, which they could then attack with chemicals and the use of suction.
“Ready?” a technician called out through a megaphone.
Agents stationed around the cistern gave the thumbs-up.
“Run your samples,” the megaphone crackled.
Throughout the cavern, analysts crouched down and started their individual PCR machines. Each device began analyzing a sample from the point at which its operator was located on the boardwalk, spaced in ever-widening arcs around Zobrist’s plaque.