Marta Alvarez trembled before the empty display cabinet. She hoped the tightness spreading through her abdomen was panic and not labor pains.
The Dante death mask is gone!
The two security guards were now on full alert, having arrived in the andito, seen the empty case, and sprung into action. One had rushed to the nearby video control room to access security-camera footage from last night, while the other had just finished phoning in the robbery to the police.
"La polizia arriverà tra venti minuti!" the guard told Marta as he hung up with the police.
"Venti minuti?!" she demanded. Twenty minutes?! "We've had a major art theft!"
The guard explained that he had been told most of the city police were currently handling a far more serious crisis and they were trying to find an available agent to come and take a statement.
"Che cosa potrebbe esserci di più grave?!" she ranted. What can be more serious?!
Langdon and Sienna shared an anxious glance, and Marta sensed that her two guests were suffering from sensory overload. Not surprising. Having simply stopped by for a quick look at the mask, they were now witnessing the aftermath of a major art theft. Last night, somehow, someone had gained access to the gallery and stolen Dante's death mask.
Marta knew there were far more valuable pieces in the museum that could have been stolen, so she tried to count her blessings. Nonetheless, this was the first theft in this museum's history. I don't even know the protocol!
Marta felt suddenly weak, and she again reached out to one of the stanchions for support.
Both gallery guards appeared mystified as they had recounted to Marta their exact actions and the events of last night: At around ten o'clock, Marta had entered with il Duomino and Langdon. A short while later, the threesome had exited together. The guards had relocked the doors, reset the alarm, and as far as they knew, nobody had been in or out of the gallery since that moment.
"Impossible!" Marta had scolded in Italian. "The mask was in the cabinet when the three of us left last night, so obviously somebody has been inside the gallery since then!"
The guards showed their palms, looking bewildered. "Noi non abbiamo visto nessuno!"
Now, with the police on the way, Marta moved as rapidly as her pregnant body permitted in the direction of the security control room. Langdon and Sienna fell into step nervously behind her.
The security video, Marta thought. That will show us precisely who was in here last night!
Three blocks away, on the Ponte Vecchio, Vayentha moved into the shadows as a pair of police officers filtered through the crowd, canvassing the area with photos of Langdon.
As the officers neared Vayentha, one of their radios blared-a routine all-points bulletin from dispatch. The announcement was brief and in Italian, but Vayentha caught the gist: Any available officer in the area of the Palazzo Vecchio should report to take a statement at the palazzo museum.
The officers barely flinched, but Vayentha's ears pricked up
Il Museo di Palazzo Vecchio?
Last night's debacle-the fiasco that had all but destroyed her career-had occurred in the alleyways just outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
The police bulletin continued, in static-filled Italian that was mostly unintelligible, except for two words that stood out clearly: the name Dante Alighieri.
Her body instantly tensed. Dante Alighieri?! Most certainly this was not coincidence. She spun in the direction of the Palazzo Vecchio and located its crenellated tower peeking over the rooftops of the nearby buildings.
What exactly happened at the museum? she wondered. And when?!
The specifics aside, Vayentha had been a field analyst long enough to know that coincidence was far less common than most people imagined. The Palazzo Vecchio museum ... AND Dante? This had to relate to Langdon.
Vayentha had suspected all along that Langdon would return to the old city. It only made sense-the old city was where Langdon had been last night when everything had started to come undone.
Now, in the light of day, Vayentha wondered if Langdon had somehow returned to the area around the Palazzo Vecchio to find whatever it was he was seeking. She was certain Langdon had not crossed this bridge into the old city. There were plenty of other bridges, and yet they seemed to be impossibly far on foot from the Boboli Gardens.
Beneath her, she noticed a four-man crew shell skimming across the water and passing under the bridge. The hull read SOCIETÀ CANOTTIERI FIRENZE / FLORENCE ROWING CLUB. The shell's distinctive red-and-white oars rose and fell in perfect unison.
Could Langdon have taken a boat across? It seemed unlikely, and yet something told her the police bulletin regarding the Palazzo Vecchio was a cue she should heed.
"All cameras out, per favore!" a woman called in accented English.
Vayentha turned to see a frilly orange pom-pom waving on a stick as a female tour guide attempted to herd her brood of duckling tourists across the Ponte Vecchio.
"Above you is Vasari's largest masterpiece!" the guide exclaimed with practiced enthusiasm, lifting her pom-pom into the air and directing everyone's gaze upward.
Vayentha hadn't noticed it before, but there appeared to be a second-story structure that ran across the top of the shops like a narrow apartment.
"The Vasari Corridor," the guide announced. "It's nearly one kilometer long and provided the Medici family with a secure passageway between the Pitti Palace and the Palazzo Vecchio."
Vayentha's eyes widened as she took in the tunnel-like structure above her. She'd heard of the corridor, but knew very little about it.
It leads to the Palazzo Vecchio?
"For those rare few with VIP connections," the guide continued, "they can access the corridor even today. It's a spectacular art gallery that stretches all the way from the Palazzo Vecchio to the northeast corner of the Boboli Gardens."
Whatever the guide said next, Vayentha did not hear.
She was already dashing for her motorcycle.