Chapter 37

Chapter 37
"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 second-floor 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 Carnevale?"
"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."


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