The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 36

"For my part, I hope that you will devote some time to looking at the possibility that Salander had nothing to do with these killings."

"We will. Next question. Do you happen to know what sort of computer Dag Svensson worked on?"

"He had a secondhand Mac iBook 500, white, with a fourteen-inch screen. Just like mine but with a larger display." Blomkvist pointed to his machine on the table next to them.

"Do you have any idea where he kept it?"

"He usually carried it in a black bag. I assume it's in his apartment."

"It's not. Could it be at the office?"

"No. I've been through his desk and it definitely isn't there."

They sat in silence for a moment.

"Do I take it that Dag's computer is missing?" Blomkvist said at last.

Blomkvist and Eriksson had made a list of the people who might theoretically have had a motive for killing Svensson. Each name had been written on large sheets of paper that Blomkvist taped up on his livingroom wall. All of them were men, either johns or pimps, and they all appeared in the book. By 8:00 that night they had thirty-seven names, of which thirty were readily identified. Seven had been given pseudonyms in Svensson's text. Twenty-one of the men identified were johns who on various occasions had exploited one or another of the girls. The practical problem - from the point of view of whether they should publish the book - was that many of the claims were based on information that only Svensson or Johansson possessed. A writer who knew - inevitably - less about the subject would have to verify the information independently.

They estimated that about 80 percent of the existing text could be published without any great problems, but a good deal of legwork was going to have to be done before Millennium could risk publishing the remaining 20 percent. They didn't doubt the accuracy of the contents, but weren't sufficiently familiar with the detailed work behind the book's most explosive findings. If Svensson were still alive they would have been able to publish without question - he and Johansson could have easily dealt with and refuted any objections.

Blomkvist looked out the window. Night had fallen and it was raining. He asked if Eriksson wanted more coffee. She did not.

"We've got the manuscript under control," she said. "But we aren't any closer to pinpointing Dag and Mia's killer."

"It could be one of the names on the wall," Blomkvist said.

"It could be somebody who doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with the book. Or it could be your girlfriend."

"Lisbeth," Blomkvist said.

Eriksson stole a glance at him. She had worked at Millennium for eighteen months. She joined right in the middle of the chaos of the Wennerstrom affair. After years of temp jobs, Millennium was her first full-time position. She was doing splendidly. Working at Millennium was status. She had a close bond with Berger and the rest of the staff, but she had always felt a little uncomfortable in Blomkvist's company. There was no clear reason for it, but of all the people at Millennium, Blomkvist was the one she found the most reserved and unapproachable.

During the past year he had been coming in late and sitting in his office by himself a lot, or in Berger's office. He had often been away, and during her first few months at the magazine she seemed to see him more frequently on some sofa in a TV studio than in real life. He did not encourage small talk, and from the comments she heard from other staff members, he appeared to have changed. He was quieter and harder to talk to.

"If I'm going to work on trying to figure out why Dag and Mia were shot, I'll have to know more about Salander. I don't really know where to start, if... "

She left the sentence hanging. Blomkvist looked at her. Finally he sat down in the armchair at ninety degrees to her and put his feet up next to hers.

"Do you like working at Millennium?" he said, disconcertingly. "I mean, you've been working for us for a year and a half now, but I've been running around so much that we've never had a chance to get to know each other."

"I like working there a lot," she said. "Are you happy with me?"

"Erika and I have said over and over that we've never had such a valuable managing editor. We think you're a real find. And forgive me for not telling you as much before now."

Eriksson smiled contentedly. Praise from the great Blomkvist was extremely gratifying.

"But that's not what I was actually asking about," she said.

"You're wondering about Lisbeth Salander's links with Millennium."

"You've never said anything, and Erika is pretty tight-lipped about her."

Blomkvist met her gaze. He and Berger might have complete confidence in her, but there were things he just could not discuss.

"I agree with you," he said. "If we're going to dig into the murders, you're going to need more information. I'm a firsthand source, and also the link between Lisbeth and Dag and Mia. Go ahead and ask me questions, and I'll answer them as best I can. And when I can't answer, I'll say so."

"Why all the secrecy? Who is Lisbeth Salander, and what does she have to do with Millennium in the first place?"

"This is how it is. Two years ago I hired her as a researcher for an extremely complicated job. That's the problem. I can't tell you what she worked on for me. Erika knows what it was, and she's bound by confidentiality."

"Two years ago...  that was before you cracked Wennerstrom. Should I assume that she was doing research connected with that case?"

"No, you shouldn't assume that. I'm neither going to confirm or deny it. But I can tell you that I hired Lisbeth for an altogether different project and that she did an outstanding job."

"OK, that's when you were living like a hermit in Hedestad, as far as I've heard. And Hedestad didn't exactly go unnoticed on the media map that summer. Harriet Vanger resurfacing from the dead and all that. Strangely enough, we at Millennium haven't written a word about her resurrection."

"The reason we didn't write about Harriet is that she's on our board. We'll let the rest of the media scrutinize her. And as far as Salander is concerned, take my word for it when I tell you that what she did for me in the earlier project has absolutely no bearing on what happened in Enskede."

"I do take your word for it."

"Let me give you a piece of advice. Don't guess. Don't jump to conclusions. Just accept that she worked for me and that I cannot and will not discuss what it involved. She did something else for me. During that time she saved my life. Literally."

Eriksson looked up in surprise. She had not heard a word about that at Millennium.

"So that means you know her rather well."

"As well as anyone can know Lisbeth Salander, I suppose," Blomkvist said. "She is the most introverted person I've ever met."

He sprang to his feet and looked out into the darkness.

"I don't know if you want one, but I think I'll make myself a vodka and lime juice," he said at last.

"Sounds much better than another cup of coffee."

Armansky spent the Easter weekend at his cabin on the island of Blido thinking about Salander. His children were grown up and had chosen not to spend the holiday with their parents. Ritva, his wife of twenty-five years, noticed that he seemed sometimes far away. He would subside into silent brooding and answered absentmindedly when she spoke to him. He drove every day to the nearest shop to buy the newspapers. He would sit by the window on the veranda and read about the hunt for Salander.

Armansky was disappointed that he had so terribly misjudged her. He had known for several years that she had mental problems. The idea that she could be violent and seriously injure someone who was threatening her did not surprise him. The idea that she had attacked her guardian - whom she would without a doubt perceive as someone who meddled in her affairs - was understandable. She viewed any attempt to control her life as provocative and possibly hostile.

On the other hand, he could not for the life of him understand what would have prompted her to murder two people who, according to all available information, were utterly unknown to her.

Armansky kept waiting for a link to be established between Salander and the couple in Enskede. But no such link was reported in the newspapers; instead there was speculation that the mentally ill woman must have had some sort of breakdown.

Twice he telephoned Inspector Bublanski and asked about developments, but not even the director of the investigation could give him a connection. Blomkvist knew both Salander and the couple, but there was nothing to suggest that Salander knew or had even heard of Svensson and Johansson. If the murder weapon had not had her fingerprints on it, and had there not been an unchallengable link to Bjurman, the police would have been fumbling in the dark.

"So let's sum up," Eriksson said. "The assignment is to find out whether Salander murdered Dag and Mia, as the police claim. Where to begin?"

"Look at it as an excavation job. We don't have to do our own police investigation. But we do have to stay on top of what the police uncover and worm out of them what they know. It'll be just like any other job, except that we don't necessarily have to publish everything we find out."

"But if Salander is the killer, there has to be a significant connection between her and Dag and Mia. And the only connection so far is you."

"And in fact I'm no connection at all. I haven't talked to Lisbeth in more than a year. How could she have known that -"

Blomkvist suddenly stopped. Lisbeth Salander: the world-class hacker. It dawned on him that his iBook was full of correspondence with Svensson, as well as various versions of the book and a file containing Johansson's thesis. He couldn't know if Salander was checking his computer. But what possible reason could she have to shoot Svensson and Johansson? What they were working on was a report about violence against women, and Salander should have encouraged them in every way. If Blomkvist knew her at all.

"You look like you've thought of something," Eriksson said.

He had no intention of telling her about Salander's talents with computers.

"No, I'm just tired and going a little off the rails," he said.

"Well, now, your Lisbeth is suspected of killing not only Dag and Mia but also her guardian, and in that case the connection is crystal clear. What do you know about him?"

"Not a thing. I never heard his name; I didn't even know she had a guardian."

"But the likelihood of someone else having murdered all three of them is negligible. Even if someone killed Dag and Mia because of their story, there wouldn't be the slightest reason for whoever it was to kill Salander's guardian as well."

"I know, and I've worried myself sick over it. But I can imagine one scenario, at least, where an outside person might murder Dag and Mia as well as Lisbeth's guardian."

"And what's that?"

"Let's say that Dag and Mia were murdered because they were rooting around in the sex trade and Lisbeth had somehow gotten involved as a third party. If Bjurman was Lisbeth's guardian, then there's a chance that she confided in him and he thereby became a witness to or obtained knowledge of something that subsequently led to his murder."

"I see what you mean," Eriksson said. "But you don't have a grain of evidence for that theory."

"No, not one grain."

"So what do you think? Is she guilty or not?"

Blomkvist thought for a long time.

"You're asking me if she is capable of murder? The answer is yes. Salander has a violent streak. I've seen her in action when... "

"When she saved your life?"

Blomkvist looked at her, then said, "I can't tell you the circumstances. But there was a man who was going to kill me and he was just about to succeed. She stepped in and beat him senseless with a golf club."

"And you haven't told the police any of this?"

"Absolutely not. And this has to remain between you and me." He gave her a sharp look. "Malin, I have to be able to trust you on this."

"I won't tell anyone about anything we discuss. You're not just my boss - I like you too, and I don't want to do anything that would hurt you."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing."

He laughed and then turned serious again. "I'm convinced that if it had been necessary, she would have killed that man to protect me. But at the same time I believe she's quite rational. Peculiar, yes, but completely rational according to her own scheme of things. She used violence because she had to, not because she wanted to. To kill someone, she would have to be exceedingly threatened or provoked."

He thought for a while. Eriksson watched him patiently.

"I can't explain the lawyer. I don't know a thing about him. But I just can't imagine her being threatened or provoked - at all - by Dag and Mia. It's not possible."

They sat quietly for a long time. Eriksson looked at her watch and saw that it was 9:30.

"It's late. I have to be getting home."

"It's been a long day. We can go on sifting tomorrow. No, leave the dishes. I'll take care of it."

On the Saturday night before Easter, Armansky lay awake, listening to Ritva sleeping. He could not make sense of the drama. In the end he got up, put on his slippers and dressing gown, and went into the living room. The air was cool and he put a few pieces of wood in the soapstone stove, opened a beer, and sat looking out at the dark waters of the Furusund channel.

What do I know?

Salander was unpredictable. No doubt about that.

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