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Chapter 4
Monday, December 23–Thursday, December 26


Berger stayed over the weekend. They got up only to go to the bathroom or to get something to eat, but they had not only made love. They had lain head to foot for hours and talked about the future, weighing up the possibilities, and the odds. When dawn came on Monday morning it was the day before Christmas Eve and she kissed him goodbye—until next time—and drove home.
Blomkvist spent Monday washing dishes and cleaning the apartment, then walking down to the office and clearing out his desk. He had no intention of breaking ties with the magazine, but he had eventually convinced Berger that he had to be separated from the magazine for a time. He would work from home.
The office was closed for the Christmas holidays and all his colleagues were gone. He was weeding through trays of papers and packing books in cartons to take away when the telephone rang.
“I’m looking for Mikael Blomkvist,” said a hopeful but unfamiliar voice on the line.
“Speaking.”
“Forgive me for bothering you like this unannounced, so to speak. My name is Dirch Frode.” Blomkvist noted the name and the time. “I’m a lawyer, and I represent a client who would very much like to have a talk with you.”
“That’s fine, please ask your client to call me.”
“I mean that he wants to meet with you in person.”
“OK, make an appointment and send him up to the office. But you’d better hurry; I’m clearing out my desk right now.”
“My client would like you to visit him in Hedestad—it’s only three hours by train.”
Blomkvist pushed a filing tray aside. The media have the ability to attract the craziest people to call in perfectly absurd tips. Every newsroom in the world gets updates from UFOlogists, graphologists, scientologists, paranoiacs, every sort of conspiracy theorist.
Blomkvist had once listened to a lecture by the writer Karl Alvar Nilsson at the ABF hall on the anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme. The lecture was serious, and in the audience were Lennart Bodstr?m and other friends of Palme’s. But a surprising number of amateur investigators had turned up. One of them was a woman in her forties who during the Q and A had taken the proffered microphone and then lowered her voice to a barely audible whisper. This alone heralded an interesting development, and nobody was surprised when the woman began by claiming, “I know who murdered Olof Palme.” From the stage it was suggested somewhat ironically that if the woman had this information then it would be helpful if she shared it with the Palme investigation at once. She hurried to reply: “I can’t,” she said so softly it was almost impossible to hear. “It’s too dangerous!”
Blomkvist wondered whether this Frode was another one of the truth-sayers who could reveal the secret mental hospital where S?po, the Security Police, ran experiments on thought control.
“I don’t make house calls,” he said.
“I hope I can convince you to make an exception. My client is over eighty, and for him it would be too exhausting to come down to Stockholm. If you insist, we could certainly arrange something, but to tell you the truth, it would be preferable if you would be so kind…”
“Who is your client?”
“A person whose name I suspect you have heard in your work. Henrik Vanger.”
Blomkvist leaned back in surprise. Henrik Vanger—of course he had heard of him. An industrialist and former head of the Vanger companies, once renowned in the fields of sawmills, mines, steel, metals, textiles. Vanger had been one of the really big fish in his day, with a reputation for being an honourable, old-fashioned patriarch who would not bend in a strong wind. A cornerstone of Swedish industry, one of the twenty-point stags of the old school, along with Matts Carlgren of MoDo and Hans Werthén at the old Electrolux. The backbone of industry in the welfare state, et cetera.
But the Vanger companies, still family-owned, had been racked in the past twenty-five years by reorganisations, stock-market crises, interest crises, competition from Asia, declining exports, and other nuisances which taken together had consigned the name Vanger to the backwater. The company was run today by Martin Vanger, whose name Blomkvist associated with a short, plump man with thick hair who occasionally flickered past on the TV screen. He did not know much about him. Henrik Vanger had been out of the picture for at least twenty years.
“Why does Henrik Vanger want to meet me?”
“I’ve been Herr Vanger’s lawyer for many years, but he will have to tell you himself what he wants. On the other hand, I can say that Herr Vanger would like to discuss a possible job with you.”
“Job? I don’t have the slightest intention of going to work for the Vanger company. Is it a press secretary you need?”
“Not exactly. I don’t know how to put it other than to say that Herr Vanger is exceedingly anxious to meet you and consult with you on a private matter.”
“You couldn’t get more equivocal, could you?”
“I beg your pardon for that. But is there any possibility of convincing you to pay a visit to Hedestad? Naturally we will pay all your expenses and a reasonable fee.”
“Your call comes at rather an inconvenient time. I have quite a lot to take care of and…I suppose you’ve seen the headlines about me in the past few days.”
“The Wennerstr?m affair?” Frode chuckled. “Yes, that did have a certain amusement value. But to tell you the truth, it was the publicity surrounding the trial that caused Herr Vanger to take notice of you. He wants to offer you a freelance assignment. I’m only a messenger. What the matter concerns is something only he can explain.”
“This is one of the odder calls I’ve had in a long time. Let me think about it. How can I reach you?”




Blomkvist sat looking at the disorder on his desk. He could not imagine what sort of job Vanger would want to offer him, but the lawyer had succeeded in arousing his curiosity.
He Googled the Vanger company. It might be in the backwaters but it seemed to be in the media almost daily. He saved a dozen company analyses and then searched for Frode, and Henrik and Martin Vanger.
Martin Vanger appeared diligent in his capacity as CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Frode kept a low profile; he was on the board of the Hedestad Country Club and active in the Rotary Club. Henrik Vanger appeared, with one exception, only in articles giving the background of the company. The Hedestad Courier had published a tribute to the former magnate on his eightieth birthday two years ago, and it included a short sketch. He put together a folder of fifty pages or so. Then finally he emptied his desk, sealed the cartons, and, having no idea whether he would come back, went home.
 
Salander spent Christmas Eve at the ?ppelviken Nursing Home in Upplands-V?sby. She had brought presents: a bottle of eau de toilette by Dior and an English fruitcake from ?hléns department store. She drank coffee as she watched the forty-six-year-old woman who with clumsy fingers was trying to untie the knot on the ribbon. Salander had tenderness in her eyes, but that this strange woman was her mother never ceased to amaze her. She could recognise not the slightest resemblance in looks or nature.
Her mother gave up the struggle and looked helplessly at the package. It was not one of her better days. Salander pushed across the scissors that had been in plain sight on the table and her mother suddenly seemed to wake up.
“You must think I’m stupid.”
“No, Mum. You’re not stupid. But life is unfair.”
“Have you seen your sister?”
“Not in a long time.”
“She never comes.”
“I know, Mum. She doesn’t see me either.”
“Are you working?”
“Yes. I’m doing fine.”
“Where do you live? I don’t even know where you live.”
“I live in your old apartment on Lundagatan. I’ve lived there for several years. I had to take over the payments.”
“In the summertime maybe I can come and see you.”
“Of course. In the summertime.”
Her mother at last got the Christmas present open and sniffed at the aroma, enchanted. “Thank you, Camilla,” she said.
“Lisbeth. I’m Lisbeth.”
Her mother looked embarrassed. Salander said that they should go to the TV room.
 
Blomkvist spent the hour of the Disney special on Christmas Eve with his daughter Pernilla at the home of his ex-wife, Monica, and her new husband in Sollentuna. After discussions with her mother they had agreed to give Pernilla an iPod, an MP3 player hardly bigger than a matchbox which could store her huge CD collection.
Father and daughter spent the time together in her room upstairs. Pernilla’s parents were divorced when she was five, and she had had a new father since she was seven. Pernilla came to see him about once a month and had week-long holidays with him in Sandhamn. When they spent time together they usually got along well, but Blomkvist had let his daughter decide how often she wanted to see him, the more so after her mother remarried. There had been a couple of years in her early teens when contact almost stopped, and it was only in the past two years that she seemed to want to see him more often.
She had followed the trial in the firm belief that things were just as her father said: he was innocent, but he could not prove it.
She told him about a sort-of boyfriend who was in another class, and she surprised him by saying that she had joined a church. Blomkvist refrained from comment.
He was invited to stay for dinner but he was expected with his sister and her family out in the yuppie suburb of St?ket.
That morning he had also had an invitation to celebrate Christmas Eve with the Beckmans in Saltsj?baden. He said no, but thank you, certain that there was a limit to Beckman’s indulgence and quite sure that he had no ambition to find out what that limit might be.
Instead he was knocking on the door where Annika Blomkvist, now Annika Giannini, lived with her Italian-born husband and their two children. With a platoon of her husband’s relatives, they were about to carve the Christmas ham. During dinner he answered questions about the trial and received much well-meaning and quite useless advice.
The only one who had nothing to say about the verdict was his sister, although she was the only lawyer in the room. She had worked as clerk of a district court and as an assistant prosecutor for several years before she and three colleagues opened a law firm of their own with offices on Kungsholmen. She specialised in family law, and without Blomkvist having taken stock of its happening, his little sister began to appear in newspapers as representing battered or threatened women, and on panel discussions on TV as a feminist and women’s rights advocate.
As he was helping her prepare the coffee, she put a hand on his shoulder and asked him how was he doing. He told her he felt as low as he had in life.
“Get yourself a real lawyer next time,” she said.
“It probably wouldn’t have helped in this case. But we’ll talk it all the way through, Sis, some other time when all the dust is settled.”
She gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek before they carried out the Christmas cake and the coffee. Then Blomkvist excused himself and asked to use the telephone in the kitchen. He called the lawyer in Hedestad and could hear there too the buzz of voices in the background.
“Merry Christmas,” Frode said. “Dare I hope you have made up your mind?”
“I really don’t have any immediate plans and I am curious to know more. I’ll come up the day after Christmas if that suits you.”
“Excellent, excellent. I am incredibly pleased. You will forgive me, I’ve got children and grandchildren visiting and can hardly hear myself think. Can I call you tomorrow to agree on a time? Where can I reach you?”
 
Blomkvist regretted his decision before even he left for home, but by then it was too awkward to call and cancel. So on the morning of December 26 he was on the train heading north. He had a driver’s license, but he had never felt the need to own a car.
Frode was right, it was not a long journey. After Uppsala came the string of small industrial towns along the Norrland coast. Hedestad was one of the smaller ones, a little more than an hour north of G?vle.
On Christmas night there had been a big snowstorm, but the skies had now cleared and the air was ice-cold when Blomkvist alighted at Hedestad. He realised at once that he wasn’t wearing enough clothes for winter in Norrland. Frode knew what he looked like and kindly collected him from the platform and led him straight to the warmth of his Mercedes. In the centre of Hedestad, snow clearing was in full swing, and Frode wove his careful way through the narrow streets. High banks of snow presented a picturesque contrast to Stockholm. The town seemed almost like another planet, yet he was only a little more than three hours from Sergels Torg in downtown Stockholm. He stole a glance at the lawyer: an angular face with sparse, bristly white hair and thick glasses perched on an impressive nose.
“First time in Hedestad?” Frode said.
Blomkvist nodded.
“It’s an old industrial town with a harbour. Population of only 24,000. But people like living here. Herr Vanger lives in Hedeby—at the southern edge of the town.”
“Do you live here too?”
“I do now. I was born in Sk?ne down south, but I started working for Vanger right after I graduated in 1962. I’m a corporate lawyer, and over the years Herr Vanger and I became friends. Today I’m officially retired, and Herr Vanger is my only client. He’s retired too, of course, and doesn’t need my services very often.”
“Only to scrape up journalists with ruined reputations.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. You’re not the first one to lose a match against Hans-Erik Wennerstr?m.”
Blomkvist turned to Frode, unsure how to read that reply.
“Does this invitation have anything to do with Wennerstr?m?” he said.
“No,” said Frode. “But Herr Vanger is not remotely in Wennerstr?m’s circle of friends, and he followed the trial with interest. He wants to meet you to discuss a wholly different matter.”
“Which you don’t want to tell me about.”
“Which it isn’t my place to tell you about. We have arranged it so that you can spend the night at Herr Vanger’s house. If you would rather not do that, we can book you a room in the Grand Hotel in town.”
“I might be taking the evening train back to Stockholm.”
The road into Hedeby was still unploughed, and Frode manoeuvred the car down frozen tyre ruts. The old town centre consisted of houses along the Gulf of Bothnia, and around them larger, more modern homes. The town began on the mainland and spilled across a bridge to a hilly island. On the mainland side of the bridge stood a small, white stone church, and across the street glowed an old-fashioned neon sign that read SUSANNE’S BRIDGE CAFé AND BAKERY. Frode drove about a hundred yards farther and turned left on to a newly shovelled courtyard in front of a stone building. The farmhouse was too small to be called a manor, but it was considerably larger than the rest of the houses in the settlement. This was the master’s domain.
“This is the Vanger farm,” Frode said. “Once it was full of life and hubbub, but today only Henrik and a housekeeper live there. There are plenty of guest rooms.”
They got out. Frode pointed north.
“Traditionally the person who leads the Vanger concern lives here, but Martin Vanger wanted something more modern, so he built his house on the point there.”
Blomkvist looked around and wondered what insane impulse he had satisfied by accepting Frode’s invitation. He decided that if humanly possible he would return to Stockholm that evening. A stone stairway led to the entry, but before they reached it the door was opened. He immediately recognised Henrik Vanger from the photograph posted on the Internet.
In the pictures there he was younger, but he looked surprisingly vigorous for eighty-two: a wiry body with a rugged, weather-beaten face and thick grey hair combed straight back. He wore neatly pressed dark trousers, a white shirt, and a well-worn brown casual jacket. He had a narrow moustache and thin steel-rimmed glasses.
“I’m Henrik Vanger,” he said. “Thank you for agreeing to visit me.”
“Hello. It was a surprising invitation.”
“Come inside where it’s warm. I’ve arranged a guest room for you. Would you like to freshen up? We’ll be having dinner a little later. And this is Anna Nygren, who looks after me.”
Blomkvist shook hands with a short, stout woman in her sixties. She took his coat and hung it in a hall cupboard. She offered him a pair of slippers because of the draught.
Mikael thanked her and then turned to Henrik Vanger. “I’m not sure that I shall be staying for dinner. It depends on what this game is all about.”
Vanger exchanged a glance with Frode. There was an understanding between the two men that Blomkvist could not interpret.
“I think I’ll take this opportunity to leave you two alone,” said Frode. “I have to go home and discipline the grandkids before they tear the house down.”
He turned to Mikael.
“I live on the right, just across the bridge. You can walk there in five minutes; the third house towards the water down from the bakery. If you need me, just telephone.”
Blomkvist reached into his jacket pocket and turned on a tape recorder. He had no idea what Vanger wanted, but after the past twelve months of havoc with Wennerstr?m he needed a precise record of all strange occurrences anywhere near him, and an unlooked-for invitation to Hedestad came into that category.
Vanger patted Frode on the shoulder in farewell and closed the front door before turning his attention to Blomkvist.
“I’ll get right to the point in that case. This is no game. I ask you to listen to what I have to say and then make up your mind. You’re a journalist, and I want to give you a freelance assignment. Anna has served coffee upstairs in my office.”
 
The office was a rectangle of more than 1,300 square feet. One wall was dominated by a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf thirty feet long containing a remarkable assortment of literature: biographies, history, business and industry, and A4 binders. The books were arranged in no apparent order. It looked like a bookshelf that was used. The opposite wall was dominated by a desk of dark oak. On the wall behind the desk was a large collection of pressed flowers in neat meticulous rows.
Through the window in the gable the desk had a view of the bridge and the church. There was a sofa and coffee table where the housekeeper had set out a thermos, rolls, and pastries.
Vanger gestured towards the tray, but Blomkvist pretended not to see; instead he made a tour of the room, first studying the bookshelf and then the wall of framed flowers. The desk was orderly, only a few papers in one heap. At its edge was a silver-framed photograph of a dark-haired girl, beautiful but with a mischievous look; a young woman on her way to becoming dangerous, he thought. It was apparently a confirmation portrait that had faded over the years it had been there.
“Do you remember her, Mikael?” Vanger said.
“Remember?”
“Yes, you met her. And actually you have been in this room before.”
Blomkvist turned and shook his head.
“No, how could you remember? I knew your father. I hired Kurt first as an installer and machinist several times in the fifties and sixties. He was a talented man. I tried to persuade him to keep studying and become an engineer. You were here the whole summer of 1963, when we put new machinery in the paper mill in Hedestad. It was hard to find a place for your family to live, so we solved it by letting you live in the wooden house across the road. You can see it from the window.”
Vanger picked up the photograph.
“This is Harriet Vanger, granddaughter of my brother Richard. She took care of you many times that summer. You were two, going on three. Maybe you were already three then—I don’t recall. She was thirteen.”
“I am sorry, but I don’t have the least recollection of what you’re telling me.” Blomkvist could not even be sure that Vanger was telling the truth.
“I understand. But I remember you. You used to run around everywhere on the farm with Harriet in tow. I could hear your shrieks whenever you fell. I remember I gave you a toy once, a yellow, sheet-metal tractor that I had played with myself as a boy. You were crazy about it. I think that was the colour.”
Blomkvist felt a chill inside. The yellow tractor he did remember. When he was older it had stood on a shelf in his bedroom.
“Do you remember that toy?”
“I do. And you will be amused to know that the tractor is still alive and well, at the Toy Museum in Stockholm. They put out a call for old original toys ten years ago.”
“Really?” Vanger chuckled with delight. “Let me show you…”
The old man went over to the bookshelf and pulled a photograph album from one of the lower shelves. Blomkvist noticed that he had difficulty bending over and had to brace himself on the bookshelf when he straightened up. He laid the album on the coffee table. He knew what he was looking for: a black-and-white snapshot in which the photographer’s shadow showed in the bottom left corner. In the foreground was a fair-haired boy in shorts, staring at the camera with a slightly anxious expression.
“This is you. Your parents are sitting on the garden bench in the background. Harriet is partly hidden by your mother, and the boy to the left of your father is Harriet’s brother, Martin, who runs the Vanger company today.”
Blomkvist’s mother was obviously pregnant—his sister was on the way. He looked at the photograph with mixed feelings as Vanger poured coffee and pushed over the plate of rolls.
“Your father is dead, I know. Is your mother still alive?”
“She died three years ago,” Blomkvist said.
“She was a nice woman. I remember her very well.”
“But I’m sure you didn’t ask me to come here to talk about old times you had with my parents.”
“You’re right. I’ve been working on what I wanted to say to you for several days, but now that you’re actually here I don’t quite know where to begin. I suppose you did some research, so you know that I once wielded some influence in Swedish industry and the job market. Today I’m an old man who will probably die fairly soon, and death perhaps is an excellent starting point for our conversation.”
Blomkvist took a swallow of black coffee—plainly boiled in a pan in true Norrland style—and wondered where this was going to lead.
“I have pain in my hip and long walks are a thing of the past. One day you’ll discover for yourself how strength seeps away, but I’m neither morbid nor senile. I’m not obsessed by death, but I’m at an age when I have to accept that my time is about up. You want to close the accounts and take care of unfinished business. Do you understand what I mean?”
Blomkvist nodded. Vanger spoke in a steady voice, and Blomkvist had already decided that the old man was neither senile nor irrational. “I’m mostly curious about why I’m here,” he said again.
“Because I want to ask for your help with this closing of accounts.”
“Why me? What makes you think I’d be able to help you?”
“Because as I was thinking about hiring someone, your name cropped up in the news. I knew who you were, of course. And maybe it’s because you sat on my knee when you were a little fellow. Don’t misunderstand me.” He waved the thought away. “I don’t look to you to help me for sentimental reasons. It was just that I had the impulse to contact you specifically.”
Mikael gave a friendly laugh. “Well, I don’t remember being perched on your knee. But how could you make the connection? That was in the early sixties.”
“You misunderstood me. Your family moved to Stockholm when your father got the job as the workshop foreman at Zarinder’s Mechanical. I was the one who got him the job. I knew he was a good worker. I used to see him over the years when I had business with Zarinder’s. We weren’t close friends, but we would chat for a while. The last time I saw him was the year before he died, and he told me then that you had got into journalism school. He was extremely proud. Then you became famous with the story of the bank robber gang. I’ve followed your career and read many of your articles over the years. As a matter of fact, I read Millennium quite often.”
“OK, I’m with you, but what is it exactly that you want me to do?”
Vanger looked down at his hands, then sipped his coffee, as if he needed a pause before he could at last begin to broach what he wanted.
“Before I get started, Mikael, I’d like to make an agreement with you. I want you to do two things for me. One is a pretext and the other is my real objective.”
“What form of agreement?”
“I’m going to tell you a story in two parts. The first is about the Vanger family. That’s the pretext. It’s a long, dark story, and I’ll try to stick to the unvarnished truth. The second part of the story deals with my actual objective. You’ll probably think some of the story is…crazy. What I want is for you to hear me out—about what I want you to do and also what I am offering—before you make up your mind whether to take on the job or not.”
Blomkvist sighed. Obviously Vanger was not going to let him go in time to catch the afternoon train. He was sure that if he called Frode to ask for a lift to the station, the car would somehow refuse to start in the cold.
The old man must have thought long and hard how he was going to hook him. Blomkvist had the feeling that every last thing that had happened since he arrived was staged: the introductory surprise that as a child he had met his host, the picture of his parents in the album, and the emphasis on the fact that his father and Vanger had been friends, along with the flattery that the old man knew who Mikael Blomkvist was and that he had been following his career for years from a distance…. No doubt it had a core of truth, but it was also pretty elementary psychology. Vanger was a practised manipulator—how else had he become one of Sweden’s leading industrialists?
Blomkvist decided that Vanger wanted him to do something that he was not going to have the slightest desire to do. He had only to wrest from him what this was and then say no thank you. And just possibly be in time to catch the afternoon train.
“Forgive me, Herr Vanger,” he said, “I’ve been here already for twenty minutes. I’ll give you exactly thirty minutes more to tell me what you want. Then I’m calling a taxi and going home.”
For a moment the mask of the good-natured patriarch slipped, and Blomkvist could detect the ruthless captain of industry from his days of power confronted by a setback. His mouth curled in a grim smile.
“I understand.”
“You don’t have to beat around the bush with me. Tell me what you want me to do, so that I can decide whether I want to do it or not.”
“So if I can’t convince you in half an hour then I wouldn’t be able to do it in a month either—that’s what you think.”
“Something along that line.”
“But my story is long and complicated.”
“Shorten and simplify it. That’s what we do in journalism. Twenty-nine minutes.”
Vanger held up a hand. “Enough. I get your point. But it’s never good psychology to exaggerate. I need somebody who can do research and think critically, but who also has integrity. I think you have it, and that’s not flattery. A good journalist ought to possess these qualities, and I read your book The Knights Templar with great interest. It’s true that I picked you because I knew your father and because I know who you are. If I understood the matter correctly, you left your magazine as a result of the Wennerstr?m affair. Which means that you have no job at the moment, and probably you’re in a tight financial spot.”
“So you might be able to exploit my predicament, is that it?”
“Perhaps. But Mikael—if I may call you Mikael?—I won’t lie to you. I’m too old for that. If you don’t like what I say, you can tell me to jump in the lake. Then I’ll have to find someone else to work with me.”
“OK, tell me what this job involves.”
“How much do you know about the Vanger family?”
“Well, only what I managed to read on the Net since Frode called me on Monday. In your day the Vanger Corporation was one of the most important industrial firms in Sweden; today it’s somewhat diminished. Martin Vanger runs it. I know quite a bit more, but what are you getting at?”
“Martin is…he’s a good man but basically he’s a fair-weather sailor. He’s unsuited to be the managing director of a company in crisis. He wants to modernise and specialise—which is good thinking—but he can’t push through his ideas and his financial management is weak too. Twenty-five years ago the Vanger concern was a serious competitor to the Wallenberg Group. We had forty thousand employees in Sweden. Today many of these jobs are in Korea or Brazil. We are down to about ten thousand employees and in a year or two—if Martin doesn’t get some wind into his sails—we’ll have five thousand, primarily in small manufacturing industries, and the Vanger companies will be consigned to the scrap heap of history.”
Blomkvist nodded. He had come to roughly this conclusion on the basis of the pieces he had downloaded.
“The Vanger companies are still among the few family-held firms in the country. Thirty family members are minority shareholders. This has always been the strength of the corporation, but also our greatest weakness.” Vanger paused and then said in a tone of mounting urgency, “Mikael, you can ask questions later, but I want you to take me at my word when I say that I detest most of the members of my family. They are for the most part thieves, misers, bullies, and incompetents. I ran the company for thirty-five years—almost all the time in the midst of relentless bickering. They were my worst enemies, far worse than competing companies or the government.
“I said that I wanted to commission you to do two things. First, I want you to write a history or biography of the Vanger family. For simplicity’s sake, we can call it my autobiography. I will put my journals and archives at your disposal. You will have access to my innermost thoughts and you can publish all the dirt you dig up. I think this story will make Shakespeare’s tragedies read like light family entertainment.”
“Why?”
“Why do I want to publish a scandalous history of the Vanger family? Or why do I ask you to write it?”
“Both, I suppose.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t care whether the book is ever published. But I do think that the story should be written, if only in a single copy that you deliver directly to the Royal Library. I want this story to be there for posterity when I die. My motive is the simplest imaginable: revenge.”
“What do you want to revenge?”
“I’m proud that my name is a byword for a man who keeps his word and remembers his promises. I’ve never played political games. I’ve never had problems negotiating with trade unions. Even Prime Minister Erlander had respect for me in his day. For me it was a matter of ethics; I was responsible for the livelihoods of thousands of people, and I cared about my employees. Oddly enough, Martin has the same attitude, even though he’s a very different person. He too has tried to do the right thing. Sadly Martin and I are rare exceptions in our family. There are many reasons why the Vanger Corporation is on the ropes today, but one of the key ones is the short-termism and greed of my relatives. If you accept the assignment, I’ll explain how my family went about torpedoing the firm.”
“I won’t lie to you either,” Blomkvist said. “Researching and writing a book like this would take months. I don’t have the motivation or the energy to do it.”
“I believe I can talk you into it.”
“I doubt it. But you said there were two things. The book is the pretext. What is the real objective?”
Vanger stood up, laboriously again, and took the photograph of Harriet Vanger from the desk. He set it down in front of Blomkvist.
“While you write the biography I want you to scrutinise the family with the eyes of a journalist. It will also give you an alibi for poking around in the family history. What I want is for you to solve a mystery. That’s your real assignment.”
“What mystery?”
“Harriet was the granddaughter of my brother Richard. There were five brothers. Richard was the eldest, born in 1907. I was the youngest, born in 1920. I don’t understand how God could create this flock of children who…” For several seconds Vanger lost the thread, immersed in his thoughts. Then he went on with new decisiveness. “Let me tell you about my brother Richard. Think of this as a small sample from the family chronicle I want you to write.”
He poured more coffee for himself.
“In 1924, now seventeen, Richard was a fanatical nationalist and anti Semite. He joined the Swedish National Socialist Freedom League, one of the first Nazi groups in Sweden. Isn’t it fascinating that Nazis always manage to adopt the word freedom?”
Vanger pulled out another album and leafed through it until he found the page he was looking for. “Here’s Richard with the veterinarian Birger Furug?rd, soon to become the leader of the so-called Furug?rd movement, the big Nazi movement of the early thirties. But Richard did not stay with him. He joined, a few years later, the Swedish Fascist Battle Organisation, the SFBO, and there he got to know Per Engdahl and others who would be the disgrace of the nation.”
He turned the page in the album: Richard Vanger in uniform.
“He enlisted—against our father’s wishes—and during the thirties he made his way through most of the Nazi groups in the country. Any sick conspiratorial association that existed, you can be sure his name was on their roster. In 1933 the Lindholm movement was formed, that is, the National Socialist Workers’ Party. How well do you know the history of Swedish Nazism?”
“I’m no historian, but I’ve read a few books.”
“In 1939 the Second World War began, and in 1940 the Winter War in Finland. A large number of the Lindholm movement joined as Finland volunteers. Richard was one of them and by then a captain in the Swedish army. He was killed in February 1940—just before the peace treaty with the Soviet union—and thereby became a martyr in the Nazi movement and had a battle group named after him. Even now a handful of idiots gather at a cemetery in Stockholm on the anniversary of his death to honour him.”
“I understand.”
“In 1926, when he was nineteen, he was going out with a woman called Margareta, the daughter of a teacher in Falun. They met in some political context and had a relationship which resulted in a son, Gottfried, who was born in 1927. The couple married when the boy was born. During the first half of the thirties, my brother sent his wife and child here to Hedestad while he was stationed with his regiment in G?vle. In his free time he travelled around and did proselytising for Nazism. In 1936 he had a huge fight with my father which resulted in my father cutting him off. After that Richard had to make his own living. He moved with his family to Stockholm and lived in relative poverty.”
“He had no money of his own?”
“The inheritance he had in the firm was tied up. He couldn’t sell outside the family. Worse than their straitened circumstances, Richard was a brutal domestic. He beat his wife and abused his son. Gottfried grew up cowed and bullied. He was thirteen when Richard was killed. I suspect it was the happiest day of his life up to that point. My father took pity on the widow and child and brought them here to Hedestad, where he found an apartment for Margareta and saw to it that she had a decent life.
“If Richard personified the family’s dark, fanatical side, Gottfried embodied the indolent one. When he reached the age of eighteen I decided to take him under my wing—he was my dead brother’s son, after all—and you have to remember that the age difference between Gottfried and me was not so great. I was only seven years older, but by then I was on the firm’s board, and it was clear that I was the one who would take over from my father, while Gottfried was more or less regarded as an outsider.”
Vanger thought for a moment.
“My father didn’t really know how to deal with his grandson, so I was the one who gave him a job in the company. This was after the war. He did try to do a reasonable job, but he was lazy. He was a charmer and good-time Charlie; he had a way with women, and there were periods when he drank too much. It isn’t easy to describe my feelings for him…he wasn’t a good-for-nothing, but he was not the least bit reliable and he often disappointed me deeply. Over the years he turned into an alcoholic, and in 1965 he died—the victim of an accidental drowning. That happened at the other end of Hedeby Island, where he’d had a cabin built, and where he used to hide away to drink.”
“So he’s the father of Harriet and Martin?” Blomkvist said, pointing at the portrait on the coffee table. Reluctantly he had to admit that the old man’s story was intriguing.
“Correct. In the late forties Gottfried met a German woman by the name of Isabella Koenig, who had come to Sweden after the war. She was quite a beauty—I mean that she had a lovely radiance like Garbo or Ingrid Bergman. Harriet probably got more of her genes from her mother rather than from Gottfried. As you can see from the photograph, she was pretty even at fourteen.”
Blomkvist and Vanger contemplated the picture.
“But let me continue. Isabella was born in 1928 and is still alive. She was eleven when the war began, and you can imagine what it was like to be a teenager in Berlin during the aerial bombardments. It must have felt as if she had arrived in paradise on earth when she landed in Sweden. Regrettably she shared many of Gottfried’s vices; she was lazy and partied incessantly. She travelled a great deal in Sweden and abroad, and lacked all sense of responsibility. Obviously this affected the children. Martin was born in 1948 and Harriet in 1950. Their childhood was chaotic, with a mother who was forever leaving them and a father who was virtually an alcoholic.
“In 1958 I’d had enough and decided to try to break the vicious cycle. At the time, Gottfried and Isabella were living in Hedestad—I insisted that they move out here. Martin and Harriet were more or less left to fend for themselves.”
Vanger glanced at the clock.
“My thirty minutes are almost up, but I’m close to the end of the story. Will you give me a reprieve?”
“Go on,” Blomkvist said.
“In short, then. I was childless—in striking contrast to my brothers and other family members, who seemed obsessed with the need to propagate the house of Vanger. Gottfried and Isabella did move here, but their marriage was on the rocks. After only a year Gottfried moved out to his cabin. He lived there alone for long periods and went back to Isabella when it got too cold. I took care of Martin and Harriet, and they became in many ways the children I never had.
“Martin was…to tell the truth, there was a time in his youth when I was afraid he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was weak and introverted and melancholy, but he could also be delightful and enthusiastic. He had some troubled years in his teens, but he straightened himself out when he started at the university. He is…well, in spite of everything he is CEO of what’s left of the Vanger Corporation, which I suppose is to his credit.”
“And Harriet?”
“Harriet was the apple of my eye. I tried to give her a sense of security and develop her self-confidence, and we took a liking to each other. I looked on her as my own daughter, and she ended up being closer to me than to her parents. You see, Harriet was very special. She was introverted—like her brother—and as a teenager she became wrapped up in religion, unlike anyone else in the family. But she had a clear talent and she was tremendously intelligent. She had both morals and backbone. When she was fourteen or fifteen I was convinced that she was the one—and not her brother or any of the mediocre cousins, nephews, and nieces around me—who was destined to run the Vanger business one day, or at least play a central role in it.”
“So what happened?”
“Now we come to the real reason I want to hire you. I want you to find out who in the family murdered Harriet, and who since then has spent almost forty years trying to drive me insane.”
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