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Home > Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(24)

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(24)
Author: Dan Brown

“Very well.” The provost lifted his pen to make notes. “And to whom shall I deliver it?”

“To the silver-haired devil.”

The provost glanced up. “A gift for your tormentor?”

“More of a thorn in her side.” His eyes flashed wildly. “A clever little barb fashioned from a bone. She will discover it is a map … her own personal Virgil … an escort to the center of her own private hell.”

The provost studied him for a long moment. “As you wish. Consider it done.”

“The timing will be critical,” the man urged. “The gift should not be delivered too soon. You must keep it hidden until …” He paused, suddenly lost in thought.

“Until when?” the provost prodded.

The man stood abruptly and walked over behind the provost’s desk, grabbing a red marker and frantically circling a date on the provost’s personal desk calendar. “Until this day.”

The provost set his jaw and exhaled, swallowing his displeasure at the man’s brazenness. “Understood,” the provost said. “I will do nothing until the circled day, at which time the object in the safe-deposit box, whatever it may be, will be delivered to the silver-haired woman. You have my word.” He counted the days on his calendar until the awkwardly circled date. “I will carry out your wishes in precisely fourteen days from now.”

“And not one day before!” the client admonished feverishly.

“I understand,” the provost assured. “Not a day before.”

The provost took the envelope, slid it into the man’s file, and made the necessary notations to ensure that his client’s wishes were followed precisely. While his client had not described the exact nature of the object in the safe-deposit box, the provost preferred it this way. Detachment was a cornerstone of the Consortium’s philosophy. Provide the service. Ask no questions. Pass no judgment.

The client’s shoulders softened and he exhaled heavily. “Thank you.”

“Anything else?” the provost had asked, eager to rid himself of his transformed client.

“Yes, actually, there is.” He reached into his pocket and produced a small, crimson memory stick. “This is a video file.” He laid the memory stick in front of the provost. “I would like it uploaded to the world media.”

The provost studied the man curiously. The Consortium often mass-distributed information for clients, and yet something about this man’s request felt disconcerting. “On the same date?” the provost asked, motioning at the scrawled circle on his calendar.

“Same exact date,” the client replied. “Not one moment before.”

“Understood.” The provost tagged the red memory stick with the proper information. “So that’s it, then?” He stood up, attempting to end the meeting.

His client remained seated. “No. There is one final thing.”

The provost sat back down.

The client’s green eyes were looking almost feral now. “Shortly after you deliver this video, I will become a very famous man.”

You are already a famous man, the provost had thought, considering his client’s impressive accomplishments.

“And you will deserve some of the credit,” the man said. “The service you have provided has enabled me to create my masterpiece … an opus that is going to change the world. You should be proud of your role.”

“Whatever your masterpiece is,” the provost said with growing impatience, “I’m pleased you have had the privacy required to create it.”

“As a show of thanks, I’ve brought you a parting gift.” The unkempt man reached into his bag. “A book.”

The provost wondered if perhaps this book was the secret opus the client had been working on for all this time. “And did you write this book?”

“No.” The man heaved a massive tome up onto the table. “Quite to the contrary … this book was written for me.”

Puzzled, the provost eyed the edition his client had produced. He thinks this was written for him? The volume was a literary classic … written in the fourteenth century.

“Read it,” the client urged with an eerie smile. “It will help you understand all I have done.”

With that, the unkempt visitor had stood up, said good-bye, and abruptly departed. The provost watched through his office window as the man’s helicopter lifted off the deck and headed back toward the coast of Italy.

Then the provost returned his attention to the large book before him. With uncertain fingers, he lifted the leather cover and thumbed to the beginning. The opening stanza of the work was written in large calligraphy, taking up the entire first page.

INFERNO

Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

for the straightforward pathway had been lost.

On the opposing page, his client had signed the book with a handwritten message:

My dear friend, thank you for helping me find the path.

The world thanks you, too.

The provost had no idea what this meant, but he’d read enough. He closed the book and placed it on his bookshelf. Thankfully, his professional relationship with this strange individual would be over soon. Fourteen more days, the provost thought, turning his gaze to the wildly scrawled red circle on his personal calendar.

In the days that followed, the provost felt uncharacteristically on edge about this client. The man seemed to have come unhinged. Nonetheless, despite the provost’s intuition, the time passed without incident.

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