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Chapter 2
Friday, December 20


Dragan Armansky was born in Croatia fifty-six years ago. His father was an Armenian Jew from Belorussia. His mother was a Bosnian Muslim of Greek extraction. She had taken charge of his upbringing and his education, which meant that as an adult he was lumped together with that large, heterogeneous group defined by the media as Muslims. The Swedish immigration authorities had registered him, strangely enough, as a Serb. His passport confirmed that he was a Swedish citizen, and his passport photograph showed a squarish face, a strong jaw, five-o’clock shadow, and greying temples. He was often referred to as “The Arab,” although he did not have a drop of Arab blood.
He looked a little like the stereotypical local boss in an American gangster movie, but in fact he was a talented financial director who had begun his career as a junior accountant at Milton Security in the early seventies. Three decades later he had advanced to CEO and COO of the company.
He had become fascinated with the security business. It was like war games—to identify threats, develop counter-strategies, and all the time stay one step ahead of the industrial spies, blackmailers and thieves. It began for him when he discovered how the swindling of a client had been accomplished through creative bookkeeping. He was able to prove who, from a group of a dozen people, was behind it. He had been promoted and played a key role in the firm’s development and was an expert in financial fraud. Fifteen years later he became CEO. He had transformed Milton Security into one of Sweden’s most competent and trusted security firms.
The company had 380 full-time employees and another 300 freelancers. It was small compared to Falck or Swedish Guard Service. When Armansky first joined, the company was called Johan Fredrik Milton’s General Security AB, and it had a client list consisting of shopping centres that needed floorwalkers and muscular guards. Under his leadership the firm was now the internationally recognised Milton Security and had invested in cutting-edge technology. Night watchmen well past their prime, uniform fetishists, and moonlighting university students had been replaced by people with real professional skills. Armansky hired mature ex-policemen as operations chiefs, political scientists specialising in international terrorism, and experts in personal protection and industrial espionage. Most importantly, he hired the best telecommunications technicians and IT experts. The company moved from Solna to state-of-the-art offices near Slussen, in the heart of Stockholm.
By the start of the nineties, Milton Security was equipped to offer a new level of security to an exclusive group of clients, primarily medium-sized corporations and well-to-do private individuals—nouveau-riche rock stars, stock-market speculators, and dot-com high flyers. A part of the company’s activity was providing bodyguard protection and security solutions to Swedish firms abroad, especially in the Middle East. This area of their business now accounted for 70 percent of the company’s turnover. Under Armansky, sales had increased from about forty million SEK annually to almost two billion. Providing security was a lucrative business.
Operations were divided among three main areas: security consultations, which consisted of identifying conceivable or imagined threats; counter-measures, which usually involved the installation of security cameras, burglar and fire alarms, electronic locking mechanisms and IT systems; and personal protection for private individuals or companies. This last market had grown forty times over in ten years. Lately a new client group had arisen: affluent women seeking protection from former boyfriends or husbands or from stalkers. In addition, Milton Security had a cooperative arrangement with similar firms of good repute in Europe and the United States. The company also handled security for many international visitors to Sweden, including an American actress who was shooting a film for two months in Trollh?ttan. Her agent felt that her status warranted having bodyguards accompany her whenever she took her infrequent walks near the hotel.
A fourth, considerably smaller area that occupied only a few employees was what was called PI or P-In, in internal jargon pinders, which stood for personal investigations.
Armansky was not altogether enamoured of this part of their business. It was troublesome and less lucrative. It put greater demands on the employees’ judgement and experience than on their knowledge of telecommunications technology or the installation of surveillance apparatus. Personal investigations were acceptable when it was a matter of credit information, background checks before hiring, or to investigate suspicions that some employee had leaked company information or engaged in criminal activity. In such cases the pinders were an integral part of the operational activity. But not infrequently his business clients would drag in private problems that had a tendency to create unwelcome turmoil. I want to know what sort of creep my daughter is going out with…I think my wife is being unfaithful…The guy is OK but he’s mixed up with bad company…I’m being blackmailed… Armansky often gave them a straightforward no. If the daughter was an adult, she had the right to go out with any creep she wanted to, and he thought infidelity was something that husbands and wives ought to work out on their own. Hidden in all such inquiries were traps that could lead to scandal and create legal problems for Milton Security. Which was why Dragan Armansky kept a close watch on these assignments, in spite of how modest the revenue was.
 
The morning’s topic was just such a personal investigation. Armansky straightened the crease in his trousers before he leaned back in his comfortable chair. He glanced suspiciously at his colleague Lisbeth Salander, who was thirty-two years his junior. He thought for the thousandth time that nobody seemed more out of place in a prestigious security firm than she did. His mistrust was both wise and irrational. In Armansky’s eyes, Salander was beyond doubt the most able investigator he had met in all his years in the business. During the four years she had worked for him she had never once fumbled a job or turned in a single mediocre report.
On the contrary, her reports were in a class by themselves. Armansky was convinced that she possessed a unique gift. Anybody could find out credit information or run a check with police records. But Salander had imagination, and she always came back with something different from what he expected. How she did it, he had never understood. Sometimes he thought that her ability to gather information was sheer magic. She knew the bureaucratic archives inside out. Above all, she had the ability to get under the skin of the person she was investigating. If there was any dirt to be dug up, she would home in on it like a cruise missile.
Somehow she had always had this gift.
Her reports could be a catastrophe for the individual who landed in her radar. Armansky would never forget the time he assigned her to do a routine check on a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry before a corporate buyout. The job was scheduled to take a week, but it dragged on for a while. After four weeks’ silence and several reminders, which she ignored, Salander came back with a report documenting that the subject in question was a paedophile. On two occasions he had bought sex from a thirteen-year-old child prostitute in Tallinn, and there were indications that he had an unhealthy interest in the daughter of the woman with whom he was currently living.
Salander had habits that sometimes drove Armansky to the edge of despair. In the case of the paedophile, she did not pick up the telephone and call Armansky or come into his office wanting to talk to him. No, without indicating by a single word that the report might contain explosive material, she laid it on his desk one evening, just as Armansky was about to leave for the day. He read it only late that evening, as he was relaxing over a bottle of wine in front of the TV with his wife in their villa on Liding?.
The report was, as always, almost scientifically precise, with footnotes, quotations, and source references. The first few pages gave the subject’s background, education, career, and financial situation. Not until page 24 did Salander drop the bombshell about the trips to Tallinn, in the same dry-as-dust tone she used to report that he lived in Sollentuna and drove a dark blue Volvo. She referred to documentation in an exhaustive appendix, including photographs of the thirteen-year-old girl in the company of the subject. The pictures had been taken in a hotel corridor in Tallinn, and the man had his hand under the girl’s sweater. Salander had tracked down the girl in question and she had provided her account on tape.
The report had created precisely the chaos that Armansky had wanted to avoid. First he had to swallow a few ulcer tablets prescribed by his doctor. Then he called in the client for a sombre emergency meeting. Finally—over the client’s fierce objections—he was forced to refer the material to the police. This meant that Milton Security risked being drawn into a tangled web. If Salander’s evidence could not be substantiated or the man was acquitted, the company might risk a libel suit. It was a nightmare.
 
However, it was not Lisbeth Salander’s astonishing lack of emotional involvement that most upset him. Milton’s image was one of conservative stability. Salander fitted into this picture about as well as a buffalo at a boat show. Armansky’s star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, Armansky also saw that she had a dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade. She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers.
She did not in fact have an eating disorder, Armansky was sure of that. On the contrary, she seemed to consume every kind of junk food. She had simply been born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish and fine-limbed with small hands, narrow wrists, and childlike breasts. She was twenty-four, but she sometimes looked fourteen.
She had a wide mouth, a small nose, and high cheekbones that gave her an almost Asian look. Her movements were quick and spidery, and when she was working at the computer her fingers flew over the keys. Her extreme slenderness would have made a career in modelling impossible, but with the right make-up her face could have put her on any billboard in the world. Sometimes she wore black lipstick, and in spite of the tattoos and the pierced nose and eyebrows she was…well…attractive. It was inexplicable.
The fact that Salander worked for Dragan Armansky at all was astonishing. She was not the sort of woman with whom he would normally come into contact.
She had been hired as a jill-of-all-trades. Holger Palmgren, a semi-retired lawyer who looked after old J. F. Milton’s personal affairs, had told Armansky that this Lisbeth Salander was a quick-witted girl with “a rather trying attitude.” Palmgren had appealed to him to give her a chance, which Armansky had, against his better judgement, promised to do. Palmgren was the type of man who would only take “no” as an encouragement to redouble his efforts, so it was easier to say “yes” right away. Armansky knew that Palmgren devoted himself to troubled kids and other social misfits, but he did have good judgement.
He had regretted his decision to hire the girl the moment he met her. She did not just seem difficult—in his eyes she was the very quintessence of difficult. She had dropped out of school and had no sort of higher education.
The first few months she had worked full time, well, almost full time. She turned up at the office now and then. She made coffee, went to the post office, and took care of the copying, but conventional office hours or work routines were anathema to her. On the other hand, she had a talent for irritating the other employees. She became known as “the girl with two brain cells”—one for breathing and one for standing up. She never talked about herself. Colleagues who tried to talk to her seldom got a response and soon gave up. Her attitude encouraged neither trust nor friendship, and she quickly became an outsider wandering the corridors of Milton like a stray cat. She was generally considered a hopeless case.
After a month of nothing but trouble, Armansky sent for her, fully intending to let her go. She listened to his catalogue of her offences without objection and without even raising an eyebrow. She did not have the “right attitude,” he concluded, and was about to tell her that it would probably be a good idea if she looked for employment with another firm that could make better use of her skills. Only then did she interrupt him.
“You know, if you just want an office serf you can get one from the temp agency. I can handle anything and anyone you want, and if you don’t have any better use for me than sorting post, then you’re an idiot.”
Armansky sat there, stunned and angry, and she went on unperturbed.
“You have a man here who spent three weeks writing a completely useless report about that yuppie they’re thinking of recruiting for that dot-com company. I copied the piece of crap for him last night, and I see it’s lying on your desk now.”
Armansky’s eyes went to the report, and for a change he raised his voice.
“You’re not supposed to read confidential reports.”
“Apparently not, but the security routines in your firm have a number of shortcomings. According to your directive he’s supposed to copy such things himself, but he chucked the report at me before he left for the bar yesterday. And by the way, I found his previous report in the canteen.”
“You did what?”
“Calm down. I put it in his in-box.”
“Did he give you the combination to his document safe?” Armansky was aghast.
“Not exactly; he wrote it on a piece of paper he kept underneath his blotter along with the password to his computer. But the point is that your joke of a private detective has done a worthless personal investigation. He missed the fact that the guy has old gambling debts and snorts cocaine like a vacuum cleaner. Or that his girlfriend had to seek help from the women’s crisis centre after he beat the shit out of her.”
Armansky sat for a couple of minutes turning the pages of the report. It was competently set out, written in clear language, and filled with source references as well as statements from the subject’s friends and acquaintances. Finally he raised his eyes and said two words: “Prove it.”
“How much time have I got?”
“Three days. If you can’t prove your allegations by Friday afternoon you’re fired.”
 
Three days later she delivered a report which, with equally exhaustive source references, transformed the outwardly pleasant young yuppie into an unreliable bastard. Armansky read her report over the weekend, several times, and spent part of Monday doing a half-hearted double-check of some of her assertions. Even before he began he knew that her information would prove to be accurate.
Armansky was bewildered and also angry with himself for having so obviously misjudged her. He had taken her for stupid, maybe even retarded. He had not expected that a girl who had cut so many classes in school that she did not graduate could write a report so grammatically correct. It also contained detailed observations and information, and he quite simply could not comprehend how she could have acquired such facts.
He could not imagine that anyone else at Milton Security would have lifted excerpts from the confidential journal of a doctor at a women’s crisis centre. When he asked her how she had managed that, she told him that she had no intention of burning her sources. It became clear that Salander was not going to discuss her work methods, either with him or with anyone else. This disturbed him—but not enough for him to resist the temptation to test her.
He thought about the matter for several days. He recalled Holger Palmgren’s saying when he had sent her to him, “Everyone deserves a chance.” He thought about his own Muslim upbringing, which had taught him that it was his duty to God to help the outcasts. Of course he did not believe in God and had not been in a mosque since he was a teenager, but he recognised Lisbeth Salander as a person in need of resolute help. He had not done much along these lines over the past few decades.
Instead of giving Salander the boot, he summoned her for a meeting in which he tried to work out what made the difficult girl tick. His impression was confirmed that she suffered from some serious emotional problem, but he also discovered that behind her sullen facade there was an unusual intelligence. He found her prickly and irksome, but much to his surprise he began to like her.
Over the following months Armansky took Salander under his wing. In truth, he took her on as a small social project. He gave her straightforward research tasks and tried to give her guidelines on how to proceed. She would listen patiently and then set off to carry out the assignment just as she saw fit. He asked Milton’s technical director to give her a basic course in IT science. They sat together all afternoon until he reported back that she seemed to have a better understanding of computers than most of the staff.
But despite development discussions, offers of in-house training, and other forms of enticement, it was evident that Salander had no intention of adapting to Milton’s office routines. This put Armansky in a difficult spot.
He would not have put up with any other employee coming and going at will, and under normal circumstances he would have demanded that she change or go. But he had a hunch that if he gave Salander an ultimatum or threatened to fire her she would simply shrug her shoulders and be gone.
A more serious problem was that he could not be sure of his own feelings for the young woman. She was like a nagging itch, repellent and at the same time tempting. It was not a sexual attraction, at least he did not think so. The women he was usually attracted to were blonde and curvaceous, with full lips that aroused his fantasies. And besides, he had been married for twenty years to a Finnish woman named Ritva who still more than satisfied these requirements. He had never been unfaithful, well…something may have happened just once, and his wife might have misunderstood if she had known about it. But the marriage was happy and he had two daughters of Salander’s age. In any case, he was not interested in flat-chested girls who might be mistaken for skinny boys at a distance. That was not his style.
Even so, he had caught himself having inappropriate daydreams about Lisbeth Salander, and he recognised that he was not completely unaffected by her. But the attraction, Armansky thought, was that Salander was a foreign creature to him. He might just as well have fallen in love with a painting of a nymph or a Greek amphora. Salander represented a life that was not real for him, that fascinated him though he could not share it—and in any case she forbade him from sharing it.
On one occasion Armansky was sitting at a café on Stortorget in Gamla Stan when Salander came sauntering up and sat at a table a short distance away. She was with three girls and a boy, all dressed in much the same way. Armansky had watched her with interest. She seemed to be just as reserved as she was at work, but she had actually almost smiled at a story told by one of her companions, a girl with purple hair.
Armansky wondered how she would react if one day he came to work with green hair, worn-out jeans, and a leather jacket covered with graffiti and rivets. She probably would just smirk at him.
She had been sitting with her back to him and did not turn around once, obviously unaware that he was there. He felt strangely disturbed by her presence. When at last he got up to slink away unnoticed, she suddenly turned and stared straight at him, as though she had been aware all the time that he was sitting there and had him on her radar. Her gaze had come so surprisingly that it felt like an attack, and he pretended not to see her and hurriedly left the café. She had not said hello even, but she followed him with her eyes, he was sure of it, and not until he turned the corner did they stop burning into his neck.
She rarely laughed. But over time Armansky thought he noticed a softening of her attitude. She had a dry sense of humour, to put it mildly, which could prompt a crooked, ironic smile.
Armansky felt so provoked by her lack of emotional response that sometimes he wanted to grab hold of her and shake her. To force his way into her shell and win her friendship, or at least her respect.
Only once, after she had been working for him for nine months, had he tried to discuss these feelings with her. It was at Milton Security’s Christmas party one evening in December, and for once he was not sober. Nothing inappropriate had happened—he had just tried to tell her that he actually liked her. Most of all he wanted to explain that he felt protective towards her, and if she ever needed help with anything, she should not hesitate to come to him. He had even tried to give her a hug. All in friendliness, of course.
She had wriggled out of his clumsy embrace and left the party. After that she had not appeared at the office or answered her mobile. Her absence had felt like torture—almost a form of personal punishment. He had nobody to discuss his feelings with, and for the first time he realised with appalling clarity what a destructive hold she had over him.
 
Three weeks later, when Armansky was working late one evening going over the year-end bookkeeping, Salander reappeared. She came into his office as silently as a ghost, and he became aware that she was standing in the shadows inside the doorway, watching him. He had no idea how long she had been there.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked. She handed him a cup from the espresso machine in the canteen. Mutely he accepted it, feeling both relief and terror when she shoved the door closed with her foot. She sat down opposite his desk and looked him straight in the eye. Then she asked the question in a way that could neither be laughed off nor avoided.
“Dragan, are you attracted to me?”
Armansky sat as if paralysed, while desperately wondering how to answer. His first impulse was to pretend to be insulted. Then he saw her expression and it came to him that this was the first time she had ever uttered any such personal question. It was seriously meant, and if he tried to laugh it off she would take it as an affront. She wanted to talk to him, and he wondered how long it had taken her to get up the courage to ask that question. He slowly put down his pen and leaned back in his chair. Finally he relaxed.
“What makes you think that?” he said.
“The way you look at me, and the way you don’t look at me. And the times you were about to reach out your hand and touch me but stopped yourself.”
He smiled at her. “I reckon you’d bite off my hand if I laid a finger on you.”
She did not smile. She was waiting.
“Lisbeth, I’m your boss, and even if I were attracted to you, I’d never act on it.”
She was still waiting.
“Between us—yes, there have been times when I have felt attracted to you. I can’t explain it, but that’s the way it is. For some reason I don’t really understand, I like you a lot. But it’s not a physical thing.”
“That’s good. Because it’ll never happen.”
Armansky laughed. The first time she had said something personal and it was the most disheartening news a man could imagine receiving. He struggled to find the right words.
“Lisbeth, I understand that you’re not interested in an old man of fifty plus.”
“I’m not interested in an old man of fifty plus who’s my boss.” She held up a hand. “Wait, let me speak. You’re sometimes stupid and maddeningly bureaucratic, but you’re actually an attractive man, and…I can also feel…But you’re my boss and I’ve met your wife and I want to keep my job with you, and the most idiotic thing I could do is get involved with you.”
Armansky said nothing, hardly daring to breathe.
“I’m aware of what you’ve done for me, and I’m not ungrateful. I appreciate that you actually showed yourself to be greater than your prejudices and have given me a chance here. But I don’t want you for my lover, and you’re not my father.”
After a while Armansky sighed helplessly. “What exactly do you want from me?”
“I want to continue working for you. If that’s OK with you.”
He nodded and then answered her as honestly as he could. “I really do want you to work for me. But I also want you to feel some sort of friendship and trust in me.”
She nodded.
“You’re not a person who encourages friendship,” he said. She seemed to withdraw, but he went on. “I understand that you don’t want anyone interfering in your life, and I’ll try not to do that. But is it all right if I continue to like you?”
Salander thought about it for a long time. Then she replied by getting up, walking around the desk, and giving him a hug. He was totally shocked. Only when she released him did he take her hand.
“We can be friends?”
She nodded once.
That was the only time she ever showed him any tenderness, and the only time she ever touched him. It was a moment that Armansky fondly remembered.
After four years she had still vouchsafed hardly a detail about her private life or her background to Armansky. Once he applied his own knowledge of the pinder’s art on her. He also had a long talk with Holger Palmgren—who did not seem surprised to see him—and what he finally found out did not increase his trust in her. He never mentioned a word about this to her or let her know that he had been snooping into her life. Instead he hid his uneasiness and increased his watchfulness.
 
Before that strange evening was over, Armansky and Salander had come to an agreement. In future she would do research projects for him on a freelance basis. She would receive a small monthly income whether she did any assignments or not. The real money would be made when she was paid per assignment. She could work the way she wanted to; in return she pledged never to do anything that might embarrass him or risk subjecting Milton Security to scandal.
For Armansky this was a solution that was advantageous to him, the company, and Salander herself. He cut the troublesome PI department down to a single full-time employee, an older colleague who handled routine jobs perfectly well and ran credit checks. All complicated or tricky assignments he turned over to Salander and a few other freelancers who—in the last resort—were independent contractors for whom Milton Security had actually no responsibility. Since he regularly engaged her services, she earned a good salary. It could have been much higher, but Salander worked only when she felt like it.
Armansky accepted her as she was, but she was not allowed to meet the clients. Today’s assignment was an exception.
 
Salander was dressed for the day in a black T-shirt with a picture on it of E.T. with fangs, and the words I AM ALSO AN ALIEN. She had on a black skirt that was frayed at the hem, a worn-out black, mid-length leather jacket, rivet belt, heavy Doc Marten boots, and horizontally striped, green-and-red knee socks. She had put on make-up in a colour scheme that indicated she might be colourblind. In other words, she was exceptionally decked out.
Armansky sighed and shifted his gaze to the conservatively dressed guest with the thick glasses. Dirch Frode, a lawyer, had insisted on meeting and being able to ask questions of the employee who prepared the report. Armansky had done all he civilly could to prevent the meeting taking place, saying that Salander had a cold, was away, or was swamped with other work. The lawyer replied calmly that it made no difference—the matter was not urgent and he could easily wait a couple of days. At last there was no way to avoid bringing them together. Now Frode, who seemed to be in his late sixties, was looking at Lisbeth Salander with evident fascination. Salander glowered back with an expression that did not indicate any warm feelings.
Armansky sighed and looked once more at the folder she had placed on his desk labelled CARL MIKAEL BLOMKVIST. The name was followed by a social security number, neatly printed on the cover. He said the name out loud. Herr Frode snapped out of his bewitched state and turned to Armansky.
“So what can you tell me about Mikael Blomkvist?” he said.
“This is Ms. Salander, who prepared the report.” Armansky hesitated a second and then went on with a smile that was intended to engender confidence, but which seemed helplessly apologetic. “Don’t be fooled by her youth. She is our absolute best researcher.”
“I’m persuaded of that,” Frode said in a dry tone that hinted at the opposite. “Tell me what she found out.”
It was clear that Frode had no idea how to act towards Salander. He resorted to directing the question to Armansky, as if she had not been in the room. Salander blew a big bubble with her gum. Before Armansky could answer, she said, “Could you ask the client whether he would prefer the long or the short version?”
There was a brief, embarrassed silence before Frode finally turned to Salander and tried to repair the damage by assuming a friendly, avuncular tone.
“I would be grateful if the young lady would give me a verbal summary of the results.”
For a moment her expression was so surprisingly hostile that it sent a cold shiver down Frode’s spine. Then just as quickly her expression softened and Frode wondered whether he had imagined that look. When she began to speak she sounded like a civil servant.
“Allow me to say first that this was not a very complicated assignment, apart from the fact that the description of the task itself was somewhat vague. You wanted to know ‘everything that could be dug up’ about him, but gave no indication of whether there were anything in particular you were looking for. For this reason it’s something of a potpourri of his life. The report is 193 pages long, but 120 pages are copies of articles he wrote or press clippings. Blomkvist is a public person with few secrets and not very much to hide.”
“But he does have some secrets?” Frode said.
“Everyone has secrets,” she replied neutrally. “It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.”
“Let’s hear.”
“Mikael Blomkvist was born on January 18, 1960, which makes him forty-two years old. He was born in Borl?nge but has never lived there. His parents, Kurt and Anita Blomkvist, were around thirty-five when the child was born. Both have since died. His father was a machinery installer and moved around a good deal. His mother, as far as I could see, was never anything but a housewife. The family moved house to Stockholm when Mikael started school. He has a sister three years younger named Annika who is a lawyer. He also has some cousins, both male and female. Were you planning to serve coffee?”
This last was directed at Armansky, who hastily pumped three cups of coffee from the thermos he had ordered for the meeting. He motioned for Salander to go on.
“So in 1966 the family lived in Lilla Essingen. Blomkvist went to school first in Blomma and then to prep school on Kungsholmen. He had decent graduating marks—there are copies in the folder. During his prep school days he studied music and played bass in a rock band named Bootstrap, which actually put out a single that was played on the radio in the summer of 1979. After prep school he worked as a ticket collector in the tunnelbana, saved some money, and travelled abroad. He was away for a year, mostly bumming around Asia—India, Thailand—and a swing down to Australia. He began studying to be a journalist in Stockholm when he was twenty-one, but interrupted his studies after the first year to do his military service as a rifleman in Kiruna in Lapland. It was some sort of macho unit, and he left with good marks. After military service he completed his journalism degree and has worked in the field ever since. How detailed do you want me to be?”
“Just tell what you think is important.”
“He comes off a little like Practical Pig in The Three Little Pigs. So far he has been an excellent journalist. In the eighties he had a lot of temporary jobs, first in the provincial press and then in Stockholm. There’s a list. His breakthrough came with the story about the Bear Gang—the bank robbers he identified.”
“Kalle Blomkvist.”
“He hates the nickname, which is understandable. Somebody’d get a fat lip if they ever called me Pippi Longstocking on a newspaper placard.”
She cast a dark look at Armansky, who swallowed hard. On more than one occasion he had thought of Salander as precisely Pippi Longstocking. He waved for her to get on with it.
“One source declares that up to then he wanted to be a crime reporter—and he interned as one at an evening paper. But he has become known for his work as a political and financial reporter. He has primarily been a freelancer, with one full-time position at an evening paper in the late eighties. He left in 1990 when he helped start the monthly magazine Millennium. The magazine began as a real outsider, without any big publishing company to hold its hand. Its circulation has grown and today is 21,000 copies monthly. The editorial office is on G?tgatan only a few blocks from here.”
“A left-wing magazine.”
“That depends on how you define the concept ‘left-wing.’ Millennium is generally viewed as critical of society, but I’m guessing the anarchists think it’s a wimpy bourgeois crap magazine along the lines of Arena or Ordfront, while the Moderate Students Association probably thinks that the editors are all Bolsheviks. There is nothing to indicate that Blomkvist has ever been active politically, even during the left-wing wave when he was going to prep school. While he was plugging away at the School of Journalism he was living with a girl who at the time was active in the Syndicalists and today sits in Parliament as a representative of the Left party. He seems to have been given the left-wing stamp primarily because as a financial journalist he specialises in investigative reporting about corruption and shady transactions in the corporate world. He has done some devastating individual portraits of captains of industry and politicians—which were most likely well deserved—and caused a number of resignations and legal repercussions. The most well-known was the Arboga affair, which resulted in the forced resignation of a Conservative politician and the sentencing of a former councillor to a year in prison for embezzlement. Calling attention to crimes can hardly be considered an indication that someone is left-wing.”
“I understand what you mean. What else?”
“He has written two books. One about the Arboga affair and one about financial journalism entitled The Knights Templar, which came out three years ago. I haven’t read the book, but judging from the reviews it seems to have been controversial. It prompted a good deal of debate in the media.”
“Money?” Frode said.
“He’s not rich, but he’s not starving. Income tax returns are attached to the report. He has about 250,000 SEK in the bank, in both a retirement fund and a savings account. He has an account of around 100,000 kronor that he uses as cash for working expenses, travel and such. He owns a co-op apartment that’s paid off—700 square feet on Bellmansgatan—and he has no loans or debts. He has one other asset—some property in Sandhamn out in the archipelago. It’s a cottage of 270 square feet, furnished as a summer cabin and by the water, right in the most attractive part of the village. Apparently an uncle of his bought it in the forties, when such things were still possible for normal mortals, and the cabin ended up in Blomkvist’s hands. They divided things up so that his sister got the parents’ apartment in Lilla Essingen and Blomkvist got the cabin. I have no idea what it might be worth today—certainly a few million—but on the other hand he doesn’t seem to want to sell, and he goes out to Sandhamn fairly often.”
“Income?”
“He’s part owner of Millennium, but he only takes out about 12,000 in salary each month. The rest he earns from his freelance jobs—the total varies. He had a big year three years ago when he took in around 450,000. Last year he only made 120,000 from freelance jobs.”
“He has to pay 150,000 in taxes in addition to lawyer’s fees, et cetera,” Frode said. “Let’s assume that the total is rather high. He’ll also be losing money while serving his gaol term.”
“Which means that he’s going to be cleaned out,” Salander said.
“Is he honest?”
“That’s his trust capital, so to speak. His image is to appear as the guardian of robust morality as opposed to the business world, and he is invited pretty regularly to pontificate on television.”
“There probably isn’t much left of that capital after his conviction today,” Frode said.
“I don’t want to claim that I know exactly what demands are made on a journalist, but after this setback it will probably be a long time before Master Detective Blomkvist wins the Grand Prize for Journalism. He’s really made a fool of himself this time,” Salander said. “If I may make a personal comment…”
Armansky opened his eyes wide. In the years Salander had worked for him, she had never made a single personal comment in an investigation of an individual. Bone-dry facts were all that mattered to her.
“It wasn’t part of my assignment to look at the question of fact in the Wennerstr?m affair, but I did follow the trial and have to admit that I was actually flabbergasted. The thing felt wrong, and it’s totally…out of character for Mikael Blomkvist to publish something that seems to be so off the wall.”
Salander scratched her neck. Frode looked patient. Armansky wondered whether he might be mistaken or whether Salander really was unsure how to continue. The Salander he knew was never unsure or hesitant. Finally she seemed to make up her mind.
“Quite off the record, so to speak…I haven’t studied the Wennerstr?m affair properly, but I really think that Mikael Blomkvist was set up. I think there’s something totally different in this story than what the court’s verdict is indicating.”
The lawyer scrutinised Salander with searching eyes, and Armansky noticed that for the first time since she began her report, the client was showing more than a polite interest. He made a mental note that the Wennerstr?m affair held a certain interest for Frode. Correction, Armansky thought at once, Frode was not interested in the Wennerstr?m affair—it was when Salander hinted that Blomkvist was set up that Frode reacted.
“How do you mean, exactly?” Frode said.
“It’s speculation on my part, but I’m convinced that someone tricked him.”
“And what makes you think so?”
“Everything in Blomkvist’s background shows that he’s a very careful reporter. Every controversial revelation he published before was always well documented. I went to court one day and listened. He seemed to have given up without a fight. That doesn’t accord with his character at all. If we are to believe the court, he made up a story about Wennerstr?m without a shred of evidence and published it like some sort of journalistic suicide bomber. That’s simply not Blomkvist’s style.”
“So what do you think happened?”
“I can only guess. Blomkvist believed in his story, but something happened along the way and the information turned out to be false. This in turn means that the source was someone he trusted or that someone deliberately fed him false information—which sounds improbably complicated. The alternative is that he was subjected to such a serious threat that he threw in the towel and would rather be seen as an incompetent idiot than fight back. But I’m just speculating, as I said.”
When Salander made an attempt to continue her account, Frode held up his hand. He sat for a moment, drumming his fingers on the armrest of his chair before he hesitantly turned to her again.
“If we should decide to engage you to unravel the truth in the Wennerstr?m affair…how much chance is there that you’d find out anything?”
“I can’t answer that. There may not be anything to find.”
“But would you be willing to make an attempt?”
She shrugged. “It’s not my place to decide. I work for Herr Armansky, and he decides what jobs he wants to assign to me. And then it depends what sort of information you’re looking for.”
“Let me put it this way…and I take it that we’re speaking in confidence?” Armansky nodded. “I don’t know anything about this particular matter, but I do know beyond any doubt that in other situations Wennerstr?m has acted dishonestly. The Wennerstr?m case has seriously affected Mikael Blomkvist’s life, and I have an interest in discerning whether there’s anything in your speculations.”
The conversation had taken an unexpected turn, and Armansky was instantly on the alert. What Frode was asking was for Milton Security to poke around in a case that had already been concluded. A case in which there may have been some sort of threat to the man Blomkvist, and if they took this on, Milton would risk colliding with Wennerstr?m’s regiment of lawyers. Armansky was not in the least comforted by the thought of turning Salander loose in such a situation, like a cruise missile out of control.
It was not merely a matter of concern for the company. Salander had made plain that she did not want Armansky to act as some sort of worried stepfather, and since their agreement he had been careful never to behave like one, but in reality he would never stop worrying about her. He sometimes caught himself comparing Salander to his daughters. He considered himself a good father who did not interfere unnecessarily in their lives. But he knew that he would not tolerate it if his daughters behaved like Salander or lived the life she led.
In the depths of his Croatian—or possibly Bosnian or Armenian—heart he had never been able to shed the conviction that Salander’s life was heading for disaster. She seemed the perfect victim for anyone who wished her ill, and he dreaded the morning he would be awakened by the news that someone had done her harm.
“An investigation of this kind could get expensive,” Armansky said, issuing a warning so as to gauge the seriousness of Frode’s inquiry.
“Then we’ll set a ceiling,” Frode said. “I don’t demand the impossible, but it’s obvious that your colleague, just as you assured me, is exceedingly competent.”
“Salander?” Armansky said, turning to her with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m not working on anything else right now.”
“OK. But I want us to be in agreement about the constraints of the job. Let’s hear the rest of your report.”
“There isn’t much more apart from his private life. In 1986 he married Monica Abrahamsson and the same year they had a daughter, Pernilla. The marriage didn’t last; they were divorced in 1991. Abrahamsson has remarried, but they seem to be friends still. The daughter lives with her mother and doesn’t see Blomkvist often.”
Frode asked for more coffee and then turned to Salander.
“You said that everyone has secrets. Did you find any?”
“I meant that all people have things they consider to be private and that they don’t go around airing in public. Blomkvist is obviously a big hit with women. He’s had several love affairs and a great many casual flings. But one person has kept turning up in his life over the years, and it’s an unusual relationship.”
“In what way?”
“Erika Berger, editor in chief of Millennium: upper-class girl, Swedish mother, Belgian father resident in Sweden. Berger and Blomkvist met in journalism school and have had an on-and-off relationship ever since.”
“That may not be so unusual,” Frode said.
“No, possibly not. But Berger happens to be married to the artist Greger Beckman, a minor celebrity who has done a lot of terrible things in public venues.”
“So she’s unfaithful.”
“Beckman knows about their relationship. It’s a situation apparently accepted by all parties concerned. Sometimes she sleeps at Blomkvist’s and sometimes at home. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it was probably a contributing factor to the breakup of Blomkvist’s marriage to Abrahamsson.”
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