Home > Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(30)

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(30)
Author: Dan Brown

Langdon advanced slides to show a detail of the Malebolge and then took the audience down through the ditches one by one. “From top to bottom we have: the seducers whipped by demons … the flatterers adrift in human excrement … the clerical profiteers half buried upside down with their legs in the air … the sorcerers with their heads twisted backward … the corrupt politicians in boiling pitch … the hypocrites wearing heavy leaden cloaks … the thieves bitten by snakes … the fraudulent counselors consumed by fire … the sowers of discord hacked apart by demons … and finally, the liars, who are diseased beyond recognition.” Langdon turned back to the audience. “Dante most likely reserved this final ditch for the liars because a series of lies told about him led to his exile from his beloved Florence.”

“Robert?” The voice was Sienna’s.

Langdon snapped back to the present.

Sienna was staring at him quizzically. “What is it?”

“Our version of La Mappa,” he said excitedly. “The art has been changed!” He fished the projector out of his jacket pocket and shook it as best as he could in the close quarters. The agitator ball rattled loudly, but all the sirens drowned it out. “Whoever created this image reconfigured the order of the levels in the Malebolge!”

When the device began to glow, Langdon pointed it at the flat surface before them. La Mappa dell’Inferno appeared, glowing brightly in the dim light.

Botticelli on a chemical toilet, Langdon thought, ashamed. This had to be the least elegant place a Botticelli had ever been displayed. Langdon ran his eyes down through the ten ditches and began nodding excitedly.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “This is wrong! The last ditch of the Malebolge is supposed to be full of diseased people, not people upside down. The tenth level is for the liars, not the clerical profiteers!”

Sienna looked intrigued. “But … why would someone change that?”

“Catrovacer,” Langdon whispered, eyeing the little letters that had been added to each level. “I don’t think that’s what this really says.”

Despite the injury that had erased Langdon’s recollections of the last two days, he could now feel his memory working perfectly. He closed his eyes and held the two versions of La Mappa in his mind’s eye to analyze their differences. The changes to the Malebolge were fewer than Langdon had imagined … and yet he felt like a veil had suddenly been lifted.

Suddenly it was crystal clear.

Seek and ye shall find!

“What is it?” Sienna demanded.

Langdon’s mouth felt dry. “I know why I’m here in Florence.”

“You do?!”

“Yes, and I know where I’m supposed to go.”

Sienna grabbed his arm. “Where?!”

Langdon felt as if his feet had just touched solid ground for the first time since he’d awoken in the hospital. “These ten letters,” he whispered. “They actually point to a precise location in the old city. That’s where the answers are.”

“Where in the old city?!” Sienna demanded. “What did you figure out?”

The sounds of laughing voices echoed on the other side of the Porta-Potty. Another group of art students was passing by, joking and chatting in various languages. Langdon peered cautiously around the cubicle, watching them go. Then he scanned for police. “We’ve got to keep moving. I’ll explain on the way.”

“On the way?!” Sienna shook her head. “We’ll never get through the Porta Romana!”

“Stay here for thirty seconds,” he told her, “and then follow my lead.”

With that, Langdon slipped away, leaving his newfound friend bewildered and alone.


“Scusi!” Robert Langdon chased after the group of students. “Scusate!”

They all turned, and Langdon made a show of glancing around like a lost tourist.

“Dov’è l’Istituto statale d’arte?” Langdon asked in broken Italian.

A tattooed kid puffed coolly on a cigarette and snidely replied, “Non parliamo italiano.” His accent was French.

One of the girls admonished her tattooed friend and politely pointed down the long wall toward the Porta Romana. “Più avanti, sempre dritto.”

Straight ahead, Langdon translated. “Grazie.”

On cue, Sienna emerged unseen from behind the Porta-Potty and walked over. The willowy thirty-two-year-old approached the group and Langdon placed a welcoming hand on her shoulder. “This is my sister, Sienna. She’s an art teacher.”

The tattooed kid muttered, “T-I-L-F,” and his male friends laughed.

Langdon ignored them. “We’re in Florence researching possible spots for a teaching year abroad. Can we walk in with you?”

“Ma certo,” the Italian girl said with a smile.

As the group migrated toward the police at the Porta Romana, Sienna fell into conversation with the students while Langdon merged to the middle of the group, slouching low, trying to stay out of sight.

Seek and ye shall find, Langdon thought, his pulse racing with excitement as he pictured the ten ditches of the Malebolge.

Catrovacer. These ten letters, Langdon had realized, stood at the core of one of the art world’s most enigmatic mysteries, a centuries-old puzzle that had never been solved. In 1563, these ten letters had been used to spell a message high on a wall inside Florence’s famed Palazzo Vecchio, painted some forty feet off the ground, barely visible without binoculars. It had remained hidden there in plain sight for centuries until the 1970s, when it was spotted by a now-famous art diagnostician, who had spent decades trying to uncover its meaning. Despite numerous theories, the significance of the message remains an enigma to this day.

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