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 on-screen 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."
"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 green-eyed 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.