Skirting the Rothaar mountains, the BMW glided on the road like a prowling huntress. "Two kilometres from your destination," the satnav told Lina as they approached the Achenbach estate.
The auto-drive in control, she gazed at the jagged canopy of trees. The tranquil moonlit silhouette worked with the neural blockers she had taken, making her feel dreamy. She embraced the trance-like state. Without the pills, she'd be in convulsions travelling this road again. The memories of that night eight months ago never far below the surface.
In that foggy gloom, the Boss's limousine had come to a sharp halt not far from the estate. The Boss had said nothing, but Lina got out. She had wrapped her jacket around herself tightly and went to investigate the blocking silver roadster.
"Hello, Ms Kot," the greasy haired Asian contractor who got out greeted her. He was one of the Boss's men, used for the dirtiest of jobs. Backing away, Lina had peered at the tinted windows of her ride. Her face contorted in fear as she tried the locked door. Sudden blows to the back of the head and she was down in a stupefied state of pain and nausea. Beaten and bound, they drove her back to the estate, where she had worked for the Boss. Brutalised for two days, she was then discarded in nearby Münster.
"We are arriving at your destination," the BMW's smooth male voice told her. Lina pulled the Beretta out of the glove box and checked the magazine. With the gun snug inside her bra, she turned the car headlights off and took manual control.
Parking near the gate, she picked up a small leather rucksack and steadied herself as she got out. Her pulse loud in her ear, she made a ragged swipe of her sweaty forehead and approached the gate. Screwing open the control box, she manipulated the wires. The ornate bars pulled apart and she slipped through the gate.
She dashed across to the cottage where the gardener lived. Lina breathed in the sweet-smelling air, a mixture of grass cuttings and floral perfume. Out of a sense of respect, she avoided the banks of well-groomed flowerbeds. Vague memories of the gardener's soft-spoken greetings every morning when she arrived for work. Breaking in, she pulled at the drawers in the kitchen before finding what she wanted. She could hear the ticklish snore of the middle-aged gardener as she left.
The stolen passcard in hand, she darted towards the mansion, opening the backdoor with a quick swipe. Creeping upstairs, she reached the landing with the door to the library. The passcard was of no use here. She slipped a tablet computer out of her rucksack, pressing the screen against the door's keypad. A sequence of blue and green flashes, then the hiss of hydraulic release as the door opened.
With a measured pace, she walked past the walls of the library decorated with red-leather bound books. No one who lived here had ever opened a single volume. The Boss liked to scoff, "They should write books about me!"
She rounded the corner to face the reading desk with its high woven iron legs and aged teak surface. Her prize hung behind it: a very tiny picture of a red-chested bird with spiky black crest. It measured less than ten centimetres squared. Fetching two-and-a-half million euros last time it sold at Sotheby's, it was worth a lot more to the Boss.
As a young man busking tables, the Boss had served the painting's previous owner drinks at the Kaiserhof. When the Prussian industrialist complained about his Armand de Brignac, the Boss had taken the flute and sampled it. "Why you insolent Yekke!" the old man had screamed, "How dare you put your filthy lips on my glass!"
The Boss clung to the memory with furious possession. Lina remembered how he had licked his lips as he had told her about his revenge years later: had bankrupted his unsuspecting enemy, first by riling up the unions and then by muscling out his customers. He'd displayed a single-minded pursuit in the matter, going out of his way to put the old aristocrat out of business. But as with many a sadist, that had not been enough.
The canvas safe in her rucksack, Lina left. The thought of the Boss's face contorted in rage at the loss looped like a showreel in her mind. The car's engine roared as a huntress sated. She didn't slow down until she was high up in the mountains again. Opening a window, she threw the painting and watched the red bird twirl in the winds as it descended to the bottom of the cragged pits.