The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 4

"I could tell they're Americans, but what are they doing here? Is he a GP?"

"No, not that kind of doctor. He's here for the Santa Maria Foundation."

"What's that?"

"They support education for talented children. He's a fine man. He's discussing a proposal for a new high school in St.George's with the Ministry of Education."

"He's a fine man who beats his wife," Salander said.

Ella gave Salander a sharp look and went to the other end of the bar to serve some local customers.

Salander stayed for ten minutes with her nose in Dimensions. She had known that she had a photographic memory since before she reached puberty, and because of it she was very different from her classmates. She had never revealed this to anyone - except to Blomkvist in a moment of weakness. She already knew the text of Dimensions in Mathematics by heart and was dragging the book around mainly because it represented a physical link to Fermat, as if the book had become some kind of talisman.

But this evening she could not concentrate on Fermat or his theorem. Instead she saw in her mind Dr. Forbes sitting motionless, gazing at the same distant point in the sea at the Carenage.

She could not have explained why she knew that something was not right.

Finally she closed the book, went back to her room, and booted up her PowerBook. Surfing the Internet did not call for any thinking. The hotel did not have broadband, but she had a built-in modem that she could hook up to her Panasonic mobile phone and with that setup she could send and receive email. She typed a message to [email protected] /* */ :

No broadband here. Need info on a Dr. Forbes with the Santa Maria Foundation, and his wife, living in Austin, Texas. $500 to whoever does the research. Wasp.

She attached her public PGP key, encrypted the message with Plague's PGP key, and sent it. Then she looked at the clock and saw that it was just past 7:30 p.m.

She turned off her computer, locked her door, and walked four hundred yards along the beach, past the road to St.George's, and knocked on the door of a shack behind the Coconut.

George Bland was sixteen and a student. He intended to become a lawyer or a doctor or possibly an astronaut, and he was just as skinny as Salander and only a little taller. Salander had met him on the beach the day after she moved to Grand Anse. She had sat down in the shade under some palms to watch the children playing football by the water. She was engrossed in Dimensions when the boy came and sat in the sand a few yards away from her, apparently without noticing she was there. She observed him in silence. A thin black boy in sandals, black jeans, and a white shirt.

He too had opened a book and immersed himself in it. Like her, he was reading a mathematics book - Basics 4. He began to scribble in an exercise book. Five minutes later, when Salander cleared her throat, he jumped up with a start. He apologized for bothering her and was on the brink of being gone when she asked him if what he was working on were complicated formulas.

Algebra. After a minute she had shown him an error in his calculation. After half an hour they had finished his homework. After an hour they had gone through the whole of the next chapter in his textbook and she had explained the trick behind the arithmetical operations as though she were his tutor. He had looked at her awestruck. After two hours he told her that his mother lived in Toronto, that his father lived in Grenville on the other side of the island, and that he himself lived in a shack a little way along the beach. He was the youngest in the family, with three older sisters.

Salander found his company surprisingly relaxing. The situation was unusual. She hardly ever began conversations with strangers just to talk. It was not a matter of shyness. For her, a conversation had a straightforward function. How do I get to the pharmacy? or How much does the hotel room cost? Conversation also had a professional function. When she worked as a researcher for Dragan Armansky at Milton Security, she had never minded having a long conversation if it was to ferret out facts.

On the other hand, she disliked personal discussions, which always led to snooping around in areas she considered private. How old are you? Guess. Do you like Britney Spears? Who? What do you think of Carl Larsson's paintings? I've never given them a thought. Are you a lesbian? Piss off.

This boy was gawky and self-conscious, but he was polite and tried to have an intelligent conversation without competing with her or poking his nose into her life. Like her, he seemed lonely. He appeared to accept without puzzlement that a goddess of mathematics had descended onto Grand Anse Beach, and with pleasure that she would keep him company. They got up as the sun sank to the horizon. They walked together towards her hotel, and he pointed out the shack that was his student quarters. Shyly he asked if he might invite her to tea.

The shack contained a table that was cobbled together, two chairs, a bed, and a wooden cabinet for clothes. The only lighting was a desk lamp with a cable that ran to the Coconut. He had a camp stove. He offered her a meal of rice and vegetables, which he served on plastic plates. Boldly he even offered her a smoke of the local forbidden substance, which she also accepted.

Salander could not help noticing that he was affected by her presence and did not know how he should treat her. She, on a whim, decided to let him seduce her. It developed into a painfully roundabout procedure in which he certainly understood her signals but had no idea how to react to them. Finally she lost patience, pushed him roughly onto the bed, and took off her shirt and jeans.

It was the first time she had shown herself naked to anyone since the operation in Italy. She had left the clinic with a feeling of panic. It took her a long while to realize that no-one was staring at her. Normally she didn't give a damn what other people thought, and she did not worry about why she felt nervous now.

Young Bland had been a perfect initiation for her new self. When at last (after some encouragement) he managed to unfasten her bra, he immediately switched off the lamp before undressing himself. Salander could tell that he was shy, and she turned the lamp back on. She watched his reactions closely as he began to touch her clumsily. Only much later did she relax, certain that he thought her breasts were natural. On the other hand, it was unlikely he had much to compare them to.

She had not planned to get herself a teenage lover on Grenada. It had been an impulse, and when she left him late that night she didn't consider going back. But the next day she ran into him on the beach and realized that the clumsy boy was pleasant company. For the seven weeks she lived on Grenada, George Bland became a regular part of her life. They did not spend time together during the day, but they spent the hours before sundown on the beach and the evenings alone in his shack.

She was aware that when they walked together they looked like two teenagers. Sweet sixteen.

He evidently thought that life had become much more interesting. He had met a woman who was teaching him about mathematics and eroticism.

He opened the door and smiled delightedly at her.

"Would you like company?" she said.

Salander left the shack just after two in the morning. She had a warm feeling in her body and strolled along the beach instead of taking the road to the Keys Hotel. She walked alone in the dark, knowing that Bland would be a hundred yards behind.

He always did that. She had never slept over at his place, and he often protested that she, a woman all alone, should not be walking back to her hotel at night. He insisted it was his duty to accompany her back to the hotel. Especially when it was very late, as it often was. Salander would listen to his objections and then cut the discussion off with a firm no. I'll walk where I want, when I want. And no, I don't want an escort. The first time she caught him following her she was really annoyed. But now she thought his wanting to protect her was rather sweet, so she pretended that she did not know he was there behind her or that he would turn back when he saw her go in the door of the hotel.

She wondered what he would do if she were attacked.

She would make use of the hammer she had bought at a hardware store and kept in the outside pocket of her shoulder bag. There were not so many physical threats that could not be countered with a decent hammer, Salander thought.

There was a full moon and the stars were sparkling. Salander looked up and identified Regulus in Leo near the horizon. She was almost at the hotel terrace when she stopped short. She had caught sight of someone near the waterline below the hotel. It was the first time she had seen a living soul on the beach after dark. He was almost a hundred yards off, but Salander knew at once who it was there in the moonlight.

It was the fine Dr. Forbes from room 32.

She took three quick steps into the shadow of a tree. When she turned her head, Bland was invisible too. The figure at the water's edge was walking slowly back and forth. He was smoking a cigarette. Every so often he would stop and bend down as if to examine the sand. This pantomime continued for twenty minutes before he turned and with rapid steps walked to the hotel's beach entrance and vanished.

Salander waited for a few minutes before she went down to where Dr. Forbes had been. She made a slow semicircle, inspecting the sand. All she could make out was pebbles and some shells. After a few minutes she broke off her search and went back to the hotel.

On her balcony, she leaned over the railing and peered in her neighbours' door. All was quiet. The evening's argument was obviously over. After a while she took from her shoulder bag some papers to roll a joint from the supply that Bland had given her. She sat down on a balcony chair and gazed out at the dark water of the Caribbean as she smoked and thought.

She felt like a radar installation on high alert.


Friday, December 17

Advokat Nils Erik Bjurman set down his coffee cup and watched the flow of people outside the window of Cafe Hedon on Stureplan. He saw everyone passing in an unbroken stream, but observed none of them.

He was thinking of Lisbeth Salander. He thought often about Salander.

What he was thinking made him boil with rage.

Salander had crushed him. He was never going to forget it. She had taken command and humiliated him. She had abused him in a way that had left indelible marks on his body. On an area the size of a book below his navel. She had handcuffed him to his bed, abused him, and tattooed him with I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST.

Stockholm's district court had declared Salander legally incompetent. He had been assigned to be her guardian, which made her inescapably dependent on him. From the first time he met her he had fantasized about her. He could not explain it, but she seemed to invite that response.

What he had done - he, a fifty-five-year-old lawyer - was reprehensible, indefensible by any standard. He knew that, of course. But from the moment he'd laid eyes on Salander in December two years earlier, he had not been able to resist her. The laws, the most basic moral code, and his responsibility as her guardian - none of it mattered at all.

She was a strange girl - fully grown but with an appearance that made her easily mistaken for a child. He had control over her life; she was his to command.

She had a record that robbed her of credibility if she ever had a mind to protest. Nor was it a rape of some innocent - her file confirmed that she had had many sexual encounters, could even be regarded as promiscuous. One social worker's report had raised the possibility that Salander had solicited sexual services for payment when she was seventeen. A police patrol had observed a drunken older man sitting with a young girl on a park bench in Tantolunden. The police had confronted the pair; the girl had refused to answer their questions, and the man was too intoxicated to give them any sensible information.

In Bjurman's eyes the conclusion was straightforward: Salander was a whore at the bottom of the social scale. It was risk-free. If she dared to protest to the Guardianship Agency, no-one was going to believe her word against his.

She was the ideal plaything - grown-up, promiscuous, socially incompetent, and at his mercy.

It was the first time he had exploited one of his clients. Previously it had never occurred to him to make advances to anyone with whom he had a professional relationship. To satisfy his sexual needs, he had always turned to prostitutes. He had been discreet and he paid well; the problem was that prostitutes were not serious, they were only pretending. It was a service he bought from a woman who moaned and rolled her eyes; she played her part, but it was as phony as street theatre.

He had tried to dominate his wife in the years that he was married, but she had merely gone along with it, and that too was a game.

Salander had been the perfect solution. She was defenceless. She had no family, no friends: a true victim, ripe for plundering. The opportunity makes the thief.

And then out of the blue she had destroyed him. She had struck back with a power and determination that he had not dreamed she possessed. She had humiliated him. She had tortured him. She had all but demolished him.

During the almost two years since then, Bjurman's life had changed dramatically. After Salander's nighttime visit to his apartment he had felt paralyzed - virtually incapable of clear thought or decisive action. He had locked himself in, did not answer the telephone, and was unable even to keep up contact with his regular clients. After two weeks he went on sick leave. His secretary was deputized to deal with his correspondence at the office, cancelling all his meetings and trying to keep irritated clients at bay.

Every day he was confronted by the tattoo on his body. Finally he took down the mirror from the bathroom door.

He returned to his office at the beginning of summer. He had handed over most of his clients to his colleagues. The only ones he kept for himself were companies for whom he dealt with legal business correspondence without being involved in meetings. His only active client now was Salander - each month he wrote up a balance sheet and a report for the Guardianship Agency. He did very precisely what she had demanded: the reports had not a grain of truth in them and made plain that she no longer needed a guardian. Each report was an excruciating reminder of her existence, but he had no choice.

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