That familiar metallic stench of wet tiles and asphalt told her that the mist had turned to rain. Mina Balestra ground to a halt at the interchange and the black shape in her rearview finally came into focus. She picked up her battered Nokia and called Berti.
- You call me on Sunday afternoon for a traffic update, Commissario?
Sarcasm was the last thing she needed. She was already beginning to doubt that she was the right person for the job.
- A guy in a black crossover, he's been with me since Marina.
The same mist-washed vehicle, its shape visible through the drizzle and spray a hundred yards back at most, rippled to a halt as they passed sparkling wet stacks of unsold goods. She opened a window and breathed out smoke, only to be drenched in the brewery's sickly stink, wafting on the breeze all the way from Faenza. She checked her rear-view mirror, but the driver's head was buried in the glove compartment.
- You get a look at him? - Berti asked.
- Not exactly.
She wiped the wet mirror with a gloved hand and finger-flicked the smouldering butt out onto the motorway.
- Sure he's following you?
- Yeah, I'm sure. He was in Marina earlier on, trying to look like he was just out for a walk. Didn't even remember to bring his dog.
- Maybe he really was out for a walk. You don't think you're being paranoid?
- I have every reason to be paranoid.
Her voice was taut. Berti's wasn't.
She paused, about to comment on the madness that had led her to take the statale from Ravenna to Faenza to avoid the traffic only to find herself then railroaded onto the Sunday evening nightmare that was the A14. Then they began moving
- Hang on – she said.
She clamped her mobile to her head and changed gear to trundle forward a couple of hundred yards. She stayed in second and three passenger cars jerked into the gap in front of her. One flashed her as it roared past, the bearded driver glaring sidewise as he did so. She gave him a mouthful through the open window.
- Yeah, fuck you too, mate.
- That's not very ladylike language, Mina - said Berti, trying to sound calm and in control.
She put the phone back to her ear and slipped into neutral. A Slovenian pulling toxic waste pulled up alongside her in the centre lane. The traffic was speeding up now. She held down the button and closed the window.
- You get a look at him now? - he asked.
- Short black hair, sunglasses...
- Yeah, Berti, it's a couple of degrees above zero, visibility is around 80 metres at the most and the asshole in the shiny crossover is wearing sunglasses... where the hell have you been for the past ten years? They won't even sell you a fucking crossover... Yes... sunglasses... huge, mask of Satan, fuck-me sunglasses.
- Anything else you'd like to tell me?
- Stubble or a small beard... nah... forget that. Nix. Can't see a bloody thing, Berti. It's all steamed up here.
She sounded stressed. She knew she sounded stressed. She hated sounding stressed.
- Need a hand out there?
- Thought you'd never ask.
As she said it, the Nokia gave a couple of short beeps and died. She tried to switch it back on but it was gone for good. She chucked it onto the seat behind her, reached into the glove compartment for a fresh packet of Merit, fiddling one-handed with the shrinkwrap for an age. She reached across for her bag and threw in the packet and lighter. Down at the bottom in its lair was the Beretta her father had left her, like a dozing scorpion. One hand on the metal, acrid smoke in her lungs and an eye on the rear view mirror, she slipped in behind the Slovenian. The traffic was clear up ahead. She accelerated northwest towards Bologna.