Authors: David Lagercrantz
It troubled her, she said, that young journalists looked upon him as an example to follow. She wrote that he had a tendency to see people as victims. And that his default setting was to take sides against the business establishment. He ought to make more of an effort to identify solutions, not only problems. That was more or less what he would have expected her to say.
He’d known worse, for sure, and she might have had a point or two. But in some ridiculous way, she still alarmed him. He could not help feeling as if one look from her would be enough to reveal that he had not done the washing-up or showered or done up his fly. Or that he drank yoghurt straight from the carton. There was something damning about that look, he thought, a cold streak in her, though it only enhanced her severe beauty.
Yet he could not stop thinking about her confrontation with the beggar—the ice queen and the man in tattered rags. In the end he found her number and called. She did not answer, and perhaps that was just as well. There was nothing there. There was no story, and he should be heading out to Sandhamn now, before it got too late. He took some shirts from the wardrobe and a jacket in case he decided to treat himself at Seglarhotellet. Then his mobile rang. It was Catrin Lindås, and she sounded every bit as severe as she looked.
“What is it?” she began, and he considered saying something nice about her column, to get her to relax. But it was more than he could bring himself to do, so he simply asked if he had got her at a bad moment.
“I’m busy,” she said.
“OK, let’s speak later then.”
“We can speak later if you tell me what it’s about.”
I’m writing a bitchy column about you,
he was tempted to say.
“My colleague Sofie Melker told me that recently you had an unpleasant altercation with a homeless man in Mariatorget.”
“I have many unpleasant altercations,” she said. “It goes with the job.”
“I’m just curious, I’d like to know what the man said.”
“Whatever it was, it was gibberish.”
He took another look at the pictures of Lindås on his screen.
“Are you still at work?” he said.
“Why do you ask?”
“I thought I could drop by for a moment, and we could talk about it. You’re on Mäster Mikaels Gata, aren’t you?”
Reflecting on it afterwards, he could not imagine what had prompted him to suggest such a thing, but he knew that if he was going to find out anything at all, it was not going to happen over the telephone. It was as if there were barbed wire along the line.
“OK, but let’s make it quick,” she said. “In an hour.”
A tram could be heard rattling past the hotel near Nám
stí Republiky in Prague. Salander was drinking too much again, and was once more glued to her computer, behind the screens of her Faraday cage. Yes, there had been moments of relief and oblivion, but she had always got there with the help of alcohol and sex, and afterwards the rage and the frustration had returned.
Some sort of madness was overwhelming her, the past was spinning in her head like a centrifuge.
This is no life,
she often thought to herself.
It’s not possible to go on like this.
She had to take action. It was no good just waiting and listening out for footsteps in the corridors and streets, or running away. So she had tried to regain the initiative. But it wasn’t easy.
The handle Katya Flip, recommended by Plague, was said to be one hell of a badass. To begin with it hadn’t felt like that. She kept on asking for more money and said that no-one messes with that branch of the mafia—especially not now that Ivan Galinov was involved.
There was endless talk about Galinov, and Kuznetsov too, and about some notorious acts of vengeance. Only after lengthy conversations on the dark web had Salander persuaded Flip to hide an IMSI-catcher in a rhododendron a hundred yards from Camilla’s house in Rublyovka, after which she had picked up tracking numbers—IMEI numbers—from the mobile traffic inside. That was something at least. But it gave no guarantees, nor any respite from the past, which was still throbbing and clamouring inside her. Often she would sit as now, eating room service junk food and emptying the minibar of whisky and vodka, and staring down at Camilla’s house via a satellite link she had hacked.
This alone was pure madness. She wouldn’t take any exercise or even go outside, and only when there was a knock at the door did she get up and open for Paulina, who was already chattering away about something. But Salander did not hear a word, not until Paulina burst out:
“—fucked up?” Salander said.
“Something along those lines. Is there anything I can do?”
But instead she went and lay on the bed, and wondered if Paulina would dare to join her.
Blomkvist shook Catrin Lindås’s hand. Her grip was firm, but she avoided his eyes. Her white blouse was buttoned to the neck, and she wore a skirt and a light-blue blazer with a tartan shawl and black high-heeled shoes. Her hair was up in a bun, and even though her clothes fitted closely and accentuated her figure, she looked as prim as a teacher at the English School. She was apparently the only person left in the office. On the bulletin board above her desk there was a picture of her onstage with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. They looked like mother and daughter.
“Impressive,” he said, pointing at the photograph.
She made no comment, just asked him to take a seat on the sofa and settled into an armchair opposite him, her legs crossed and her back straight. In some absurd way it felt as if a reluctant queen were granting an audience to one of her subjects.
“Good of you to see me,” he said.
“Don’t mention it.”
She eyed him suspiciously, and he felt like asking why she disliked him so much.
“I’m not researching a piece on you, if that’s any comfort,” he said.
“You can write what you like about me.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
He gave a smile. She did not return it.
“In fact I’m on holiday,” he continued.
“Aren’t you lucky.”
He felt an inexplicable urge to needle her.
“I’m curious to hear about that beggar. What did he say to you? He was found dead a few days ago with my telephone number in his pocket.”
You could at least react to the fact that the guy is dead,
“He may have had something he wanted to tell me, so I’m curious to find out what he said to you.”
“Not much. All he did was shout and wave some sort of stick and frighten the life out of me.”
“What was he shouting?”
“The usual rubbish.”
“What do you call ‘the usual rubbish’?”
“That Johannes Forsell is a dodgy character generally.”
“He shouted that?”
“Well, it was something to do with Forsell, but my main concern was to get away. He was pulling at my arm and was violent and unpleasant, so you’ll forgive me for not staying and listening patiently to his conspiracy theories.”
“I understand. I really do,” he said, and he could not help feeling disappointed.
He was fed up with all the garbage being spouted about the Minister of Defence. It was one of the trolls’ favourite topics and the story grew more extravagant by the day. It seemed only a matter of time before they had Forsell running a pizzeria for paedophiles, and that was no doubt partly due to his uncompromising attitude towards right-wing extremists and xenophobes and his stated misgivings about Russia’s increasingly aggressive policies, but also because of his personality. He was well educated and rich, a marathon runner and a cross-Channel swimmer who could sometimes come across as supercilious. Certainly he’d been known to put people’s backs up.
But Blomkvist liked him. Every now and then they would run into each other in Sandhamn and exchange pleasantries. Out of a sense of duty he had followed up the rumours that Forsell had made huge sums from the stock market crash, and might even have been one of the contributing factors. He had not found a shred of evidence to support the claims. Forsell’s assets were managed on a discretionary basis and there had been no transactions either before or during the collapse. What is more, the market falls had most decidedly not strengthened his position. But as of now he was the most hated man in the government. His principal achievement was to have got increased funding for Must, the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service, and MSB, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, so it was hardly surprising under the circumstances.
“I can’t stand all the lies that are being churned out,” she said.
“I don’t much like them either,” he said.
“Then we can agree on one thing, at least.”
“I accept that it’s not easy to talk to a guy who’s shouting and waving a stick,” he said.
“That’s generous of you.”
“But sometimes it’s worth listening even though it doesn’t seem to make sense. There might still be a grain of truth there.”
“And now you’re telling me how to do my job?”
Her tone was infuriating.
“Do you know something?” he said. “It can drive you mad when no-one believes you, or listens to you.”
“Are you serious?”
“To be ignored year after year? Oh yes, that can destroy you.”
“The man became homeless and psychotic because people like me wouldn’t listen to him?” she said.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“It sounded like it.”
“In that case, I apologize.”
“You haven’t had an easy time of it yourself, from what I’ve heard,” he tried.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Nothing, I guess.”
“Well, then. Thank you for coming by,” she said.
“Christ,” he muttered. “What’s the matter with you?”
“What’s the matter with
?” she repeated and got to her feet. For a few seconds they glared at each other.
He had the ridiculous feeling that they were duelling, or that they were two boxers in a ring, and without quite understanding how it happened they were suddenly very close to each other. He felt her breath and saw her eyes glow and her chest heave. When she inclined her head to one side he kissed her, and for a moment he thought he had done something unforgivably stupid. But she kissed him back, and for a few seconds they looked at each other in astonishment, as if neither could grasp what had happened.
Then she put a hand around his neck and pulled him to her, and within moments it got completely out of hand. They found themselves on the sofa and on the floor, and in the middle of all the madness Blomkvist realized that he had wanted her ever since he first saw her picture online.
Fredrika Nyman was sitting in the laboratory at the Forensic Board thinking about her daughters, and wondering what had gone wrong.
“I don’t get it,” she said to her colleague Mattias Holmström.
“What don’t you get?”
“How I can be so angry at Josefin and Amanda. It’s as if I’m about to explode.”
“What is it that’s making you so angry?”
“They’re so arrogant. They don’t even say hello.”
“Jesus, Fredrika, they’re teenagers. It’s normal. Don’t you remember how you were at that age?”
Nyman did remember. She had been a model child, good at school and good at the flute, volleyball and choral singing. And at being polite and mannerly. She had been one big smile and had said “Yes, Mamma” and “Of course, Pappa” like a happy little trouper. She must have been unbearable in her own way. But heavens…to not even answer when you’re spoken to?
She couldn’t understand it, nor could she help being in a bad mood all the time, losing her temper and yelling at the girls in the evenings. She was simply too tired. She had to get some sleep, and some peace, and of course the obvious thing would be to prescribe herself some sleeping pills. And why not a controlled substance while she was at it? Since she had been such an exemplary teenager, surely she could go off the rails a bit now and, well, why not mix some red wine with the painkillers too? She laughed to herself and when a few perfunctory words to Mattias elicited a warm smile, she felt like screaming at him too.
Then she began to think about the beggar again. His case was the only one at work that really engaged her, and she decided to ignore the fact that the police could not be bothered with it. She had asked for a carbon-14 dating test on the teeth as a matter of high priority. This would show how old the man had been within a tolerance of two years, and a carbon-13 test would reveal his eating habits in childhood, when his teeth were being formed, and indicate their strontium and oxygen content.
Fredrika had also compared the autosomal DNA results with the internationalgenome.org database, and this indicated that the man came in all probability from the southern parts of Central Asia. She was still waiting for the segmental hair analysis to come back. In the worst case, testing a hair sample can take months, and she had been leaning as hard as possible on the forensics lab. She decided to call her medical secretary yet again.
“Gunilla,” she said. “I’m sorry to keep on at you.”
“Don’t worry, you’re the one who nags me least of all. It’s only lately that you’ve upped your game.”
“The results of the hair analysis, have they come in yet?”
“For the unidentified man?”
“The very one.”
“I’ll check with central office.”
Nyman drummed her fingers on the table and looked at the clock on the wall. It was 10:20 in the morning and she was already longing for lunch.
“Well I never,
a surprise,” Gunilla said after a short pause. “They’ve speeded up. It’s already come in. I’ll bring it over to you.”
“Just tell me what it says.”
“It says…wait a moment now.”
Nyman was surprised by her impatience.
“It seems he had long hair. We have all three segments, and they are…all negative. No trace of opiates. Or benzos.”
“So he was no narcoholic.”
“Just an honest-to-goodness alcoholic. No, wait…here…he’s taken aripiprazole in the past, that’s a neuroleptic, isn’t it?”
“Correct, for the treatment of schizophrenia.”
“That’s all I can see.”
Nyman hung up and sat thinking for a while. So the man had not taken any other psychotropic drugs, except for aripiprazole, and that was some time ago. What could that mean? She bit her lip and glared at Mattias, who wore the same silly smile as before. But it was fairly straightforward, wasn’t it? Either the man had suddenly—maybe by chance—got hold of a large number of sleeping pills and swallowed them. Or else somebody had wanted to kill him, and had ground them up and put them in his moonshine. Not that she knew what a mixture of alcohol and eszopiclone might taste like. Presumably not very nice. But she guessed that her man was not all that fussy. On the other hand, why would anybody want to kill him? There was no way of knowing, of course, not yet at least. But assuming that scenario, she could already rule out manslaughter. This was no act committed on the spur of the moment. It takes a measure of sophistication to mix pills into a bottle and then to spike it with opiates. With dextropropoxyphene.
Something about that made her suspicious. The dextropropoxyphene made the cocktail just a little too good. As if it had been made up by a pharmacist, or someone who had consulted a doctor. She felt a certain excitement again, and wondered what to do next. She could ring Hans Faste and be treated to yet another lecture on the habits of weirdos. But instead she finished off her report and called Mikael Blomkvist. Since she had already begun to talk out of turn, she might as well continue.
Catrin Lindås was sitting in Blomkvist’s cabin out at Sandhamn, trying to put together a short editorial for
It was not going well. She felt uninspired and was fed up with deadlines. She was even tired of having opinions. In fact she was altogether bored with everything except Mikael Blomkvist, and that was the very last thing she needed. But there was nothing she could do about that. She ought to go home and see to her cat and her plants, and demonstrate that she had some independence.
But she stayed put. It was as if she could not tear herself away from him. It was so strange, they had not argued at all, just made love and talked for hours. Maybe it was because she had had a thing for him hundreds of years ago, like every other young female journalist at the time. But it was more likely the fact that she had been taken completely by surprise—the power of the totally unexpected. She had been certain that he despised her and wanted to score points off her, which had made her defensive and arrogant, as she often was under pressure. She had been wanting to get him out of her office when she saw something quite different in his eyes, a hunger, and then it had spiralled out of control. She had become the very antithesis of everything people believed about her, and she didn’t even care that one of her colleagues might turn up in her office at any moment. She had thrown herself at him with a passion which surprised her even now, and afterwards they had gone out and had far too much wine. Normally she never had far too much of anything.
They had arrived in Sandhamn by taxi boat late at night and tumbled into his cabin. They spent the next few days in each other’s arms in bed, or sitting in the garden, or out in the little motorboat—more of a dinghy with an outboard—he’d bought the year before. They simply watched the days go by. Yet she refused to believe that it was anything serious, and so far she had not said a single word about the one truly permanent feature of her life, the terror that never left her. She kept saying she would go home tomorrow, or maybe even that evening. But she had stayed on, and now it was ten-thirty on Monday morning. There was a wind out on the water and she looked up at the sky. A green kite swooping erratically in the wind. There was a sudden buzz next to her.
It was Blomkvist’s mobile. He was out running and she had certainly not offered to look after his phone. Nevertheless she checked the display. Fredrika Nyman. That must be the medical examiner he had been talking about, so she picked up.
“Mikael’s mobile?” she said.
“Is he there?”
“He’s out running. Can I take a message?”
“Please ask him to call me,” the doctor said. “Tell him I’ve got the results of a test back.”
“Is this about the beggar in the down jacket?”
“I met him, you know,” she said.
“You did?” Catrin heard the curiosity in her voice. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“I’m Catrin, a friend of Mikael’s.”
“He accosted me in Mariatorget one morning, shouted at me.”
“What did he want?”
She already regretted having said anything. She recalled the feeling of something bad from the past coming back to hit her, like a chill wind.
“He wanted to talk about Johannes Forsell.”
“Forsell, the Minister of Defence?”
“He probably wanted to bad-mouth him, like everyone else does. But I got away from there as quickly as I could.”
“Did you get any sense of where he might have come from?”
Catrin thought she had a pretty good idea.
“No, I don’t,” she said. “What test results were you talking about?”
“I think I’d better discuss that with Mikael.”
“Fine, I’ll get him to call you.”
She hung up and felt the fear creep back again, and she thought of the beggar; how he had been kneeling by the statue in Mariatorget and her sense of déjà vu, and how it had taken her back to her childhood travels. Maybe she had given him a slightly nervous smile, the kind she always used to give to all the poor broken wretches back then. At any rate the man must have felt he was being acknowledged. He sprang to his feet and grabbed a stick which lay next to him, and came hobbling towards her, shouting:
“Famous lady, famous lady.”
She had been surprised to be recognized. But then he came up close and she saw the stumps of his fingers and the dark patches on his yellowish skin. There was desperation in his eyes, and she felt paralyzed. Only when he took hold of her jacket and started to shout about Johannes Forsell did she manage to tug herself free and escape.
“Can’t you remember a single thing of what he said?” Blomkvist had asked.
She had said it was the usual rubbish. But maybe it was more than that, after all. The words came back to her and now she no longer found them incomprehensible, or thought they were the sort of thing people always said about Forsell. Now they suggested something entirely different.
Mikael was nearing home, exhausted and sweaty. He looked around him, but there was no-one, and again he thought:
I’m just imagining things, this is absurd.
In recent days he had begun to suspect that he was being followed, and felt he was bumping into a man with a ponytail and beard and tattoos on his arms rather too often. The man was dressed as a holidaymaker, but there was something altogether too watchful about him. He did not look like a person off duty.
Not that he really believed the man had anything to do with him, and most of the time he devoted himself to Catrin and managed to forget the world out there. But every so often, as now, he felt a stab of anxiety, and then he almost always thought of Salander. He imagined the most terrible scenes…
Still catching his breath, he looked up. There were no clouds in the sky. They’d said that the heat wave was to continue, but that it would turn windy overnight and there might be a storm. He stopped outside his gate, and his garden with the two currant bushes which he ought to have pruned. Breathing heavily, he looked out at the water and the swimmers as he bent forward, his hands on his knees.
Then he went indoors, expecting an enthusiastic reception. Catrin had spoiled him by greeting him like a returning soldier if he popped out even for ten minutes. But now she just sat there stiffly on the bed, looking grim, and he was worried. His thoughts immediately went back to the man with the ponytail.
“Has anything happened?”
“What…no,” she said.
“And no-one’s come to visit?”
“Were you expecting someone?” she said, and that reassured him a little. He stroked her hair and asked her how she was feeling.
Catrin said she was fine, but he did not believe her. It was not the first time he had noticed this gloomy streak in her. But it had always vanished as quickly as it appeared, and when she told him that the medical examiner had called, he decided to leave her be and went to ring Nyman to hear about the hair test.
“So what conclusions do you draw?” he asked her.
“To be honest, I’ve been twisting and turning this every which way. And it still seems suspicious,” she said.
Blomkvist looked at Catrin, who was sitting with her arms across her stomach. He smiled and she gave a forced smile in return, and he looked out of the window. There were whitecaps as far out as he could see. His outboard motor was bobbing up and down on the waves. He would have to pull it up properly later.
“What does Faste say now?”
“He doesn’t know yet, but I’ve put it in my report.”
“You have to let him know.”
“I will. Your friend said that the beggar was talking about Forsell.”
“The man’s a kind of virus,” he said. “Every nutcase has him on the brain.”
“I had no idea.”
“A little like the Palme assassination back then, which seemed to creep into every little psychosis. I’m inundated with absurd conspiracy theories about Forsell.”
He looked at Catrin, who got up and went into the bathroom.
“I don’t think you ever know,” he said. “Certain public figures just seem to wind up people’s imaginations. But in this case it can only have been planted, in revenge for the fact that Forsell identified Russia’s involvement in the stock market crash at a very early stage, and generally took an uncompromising line against the Kremlin. There’s more than a suspicion that he’s been targeted by a disinformation campaign.”
“Isn’t he also a bit of a risk taker? An adventurer?”
“I think he’s OK, actually. I had a good look at his affairs,” he said. “Do you still not know where the beggar came from?”
“No more than what the carbon-13 analysis reveals, that he probably grew up in extreme poverty, but I’d already guessed that much. He seems to have eaten mostly vegetables and grains. Perhaps his parents were vegetarians.”
He looked towards the bathroom.
“Isn’t it all a bit odd?” he said.
“In what way?”
“That the man just pops up one day out of nowhere, and is then found dead with a cocktail of lethal poisons inside him?”
“Yes, it is,” she said.
A thought struck him.