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Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(15)
Author: Dan Brown

Instantly, his body tensed.

As a student of iconography, Langdon knew that precious few images had the power to instill instantaneous fear in the human mind … but the symbol before him definitely made the list. His reaction was visceral and immediate; he placed the tube on the table and slid back his chair.

Sienna nodded. “Yeah, that was my reaction, too.”

The marking on the tube was a simple trilateral icon.

This notorious symbol, Langdon had once read, was developed by Dow Chemical in the 1960s to replace an array of impotent warning graphics previously in use. Like all successful symbols, this one was simple, distinctive, and easy to reproduce. Cleverly conjuring associations with everything from crab pincers to ninja hurling knives, the modern “biohazard” symbol had become a global brand that conveyed danger in every language.

“This little canister is a biotube,” Sienna said. “Used for transporting dangerous substances. We see these occasionally in the medical field. Inside is a foam sleeve into which you can insert a specimen tube for safe transport. In this case …” She pointed to the biohazard symbol. “I’m guessing a deadly chemical agent … or maybe a … virus?” She paused. “The first Ebola samples were brought back from Africa in a tube similar to this one.”

This was not at all what Langdon wanted to hear. “What the hell is it doing in my jacket! I’m an art history professor; why am I carrying this thing?!”

Violent images of writhing bodies flashed through his mind … and hovering over them, the plague mask.

Very sorry … Very sorry.

“Wherever this came from,” Sienna said, “this is a very high-end unit. Lead-lined titanium. Virtually impenetrable, even to radiation. I’m guessing government issue.” She pointed to a postage-stamp-size black pad flanking the biohazard symbol. “Thumbprint recognition. Security in case it’s lost or stolen. Tubes like this can be opened only by a specified individual.”

Although Langdon sensed his mind now working at normal speed, he still felt as if he were struggling to catch up. I’ve been carrying a biometrically sealed canister.

“When I discovered this canister in your jacket, I wanted to show Dr. Marconi privately, but I didn’t have an opportunity before you woke up. I considered trying your thumb on the pad while you were unconscious, but I had no idea what was in the tube, and—”

“MY thumb?!” Langdon shook his head. “There’s no way this thing is programmed for me to open it. I don’t know anything about biochemistry. I’d never have anything like this.”

“Are you sure?”

Langdon was damned sure. He reached out and placed his thumb on the finger pad. Nothing happened. “See?! I told—”

The titanium tube clicked loudly, and Langdon yanked his hand back as if it had been burned. Holy shit. He stared at the canister as if it were about to unscrew itself and start emitting a deadly gas. After three seconds, it clicked again, apparently relocking itself.

Speechless, Langdon turned to Sienna.

The young doctor exhaled, looking unnerved. “Well, it seems pretty clear that the intended carrier is you.”

For Langdon, the entire scenario felt incongruous. “That’s impossible. First of all, how would I get this chunk of metal through airport security?”

“Maybe you flew in on a private jet? Or maybe it was given to you when you arrived in Italy?”

“Sienna, I need to call the consulate. Right away.”

“You don’t think we should open it first?”

Langdon had taken some ill-advised actions in his life, but opening a hazardous materials container in this woman’s kitchen would not be one of them. “I’m handing this thing over to the authorities. Now.”

Sienna pursed her lips, mulling over options. “Okay, but as soon as you make that call, you’re on your own. I can’t be involved. You definitely can’t meet them here. My immigration situation in Italy is … complicated.”

Langdon looked Sienna in the eye. “All I know, Sienna, is that you saved my life. I’ll handle this situation however you want me to handle it.”

She gave a grateful nod and walked over to the window, gazing down at the street below. “Okay, this is how we should do it.”

Sienna quickly outlined a plan. It was simple, clever, and safe.

Langdon waited as she turned on her cell phone’s caller-ID blocking and dialed. Her fingers were delicate and yet moved purposefully.

“Informazioni abbonati?” Sienna said, speaking in a flawless Italian accent. “Per favore, può darmi il numero del Consolato americano di Firenze?”

She waited and then quickly wrote down a phone number.

“Grazie mille,” she said, and hung up.

Sienna slid the phone number over to Langdon along with her cell phone. “You’re on. Do you remember what to say?”

“My memory is fine,” he said with a smile as he dialed the number on the slip of paper. The line began to ring.

Here goes nothing.

He switched the call to speaker and set the phone on the table so Sienna could hear. A recorded message answered, offering general information about consulate services and hours of operation, which did not begin until 8:30 A.M.

Langdon checked the clock on the cell. It was only 6 A.M.

“If this is an emergency,” the automated recording said, “you may dial seven-seven to speak to the night duty officer.”

Langdon immediately dialed the extension.

The line was ringing again.

“Consolato americano,” a tired voice answered. “Sono il funzionario di turno.”

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