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Chapter 5
Thursday, December 26


For the first time since he began his monologue, the old man had managed to take Blomkvist by surprise. He had to ask him to repeat it to be sure he had heard correctly. Nothing in the cuttings had hinted at a murder.
“It was September 24, 1966. Harriet was sixteen and had just begun her second year at prep school. It was a Saturday, and it turned into the worst day of my life. I’ve gone over the events so many times that I think I can account for what happened in every minute of that day—except the most important thing.”
He made a sweeping gesture. “Here in this house a great number of my family had gathered. It was the loathsome annual dinner. It was a tradition which my father’s father introduced and which generally turned into pretty detestable affairs. The tradition came to an end in the eighties, when Martin simply decreed that all discussions about the business would take place at regular board meetings and by voting. That’s the best decision he ever made.”
“You said that Harriet was murdered…”
“Wait. Let me tell you what happened. It was a Saturday, as I said. It was also the day of the party, with the Children’s Day parade that was arranged by the sports club in Hedestad. Harriet had gone into the town during the day and watched the parade with some of her schoolfriends. She came back here to Hedeby Island just after 2:00 in the afternoon. Dinner was supposed to begin at 5:00, and she was expected to take part along with the other young people in the family.”
Vanger got up and went over to the window. He motioned Blomkvist to join him, and pointed.
“At 2:15, a few minutes after Harriet came home, a dramatic accident occurred out there on the bridge. A man called Gustav Aronsson, brother of a farmer at ?sterg?rden—a smallholding on Hedeby Island—turned on to the bridge and crashed head-on with an oil truck. Evidently both were going too fast and what should have been a minor collision proved a catastrophe. The driver of the truck, presumably instinctively, turned his wheel away from the car, hit the railing of the bridge and the tanker flipped over; it ended up across the bridge with its trailer hanging over the edge. One of the railings had been driven into the oil tank and flammable heating oil began spurting out. In the meantime Aronsson sat pinned inside his car, screaming in pain. The tanker driver was also injured but managed to scramble out of his cabin.”
The old man went back to his chair.
“The accident actually had nothing to do with Harriet. But it was significant in a crucial way. A shambles ensued: people on both sides of the bridge hurried to try to help; the risk of fire was significant and a major alarm was sounded. Police officers, an ambulance, the rescue squad, the fire brigade, reporters and sightseers arrived in rapid succession. Naturally all of them assembled on the mainland side; here on the island side we did what we could to get Aronsson out of the wreck, which proved to be damnably difficult. He was pinned in and seriously injured.
“We tried to prise him loose with our bare hands, and that didn’t work. He would have to be cut or sawed out, but we couldn’t do anything that risked striking a spark; we were standing in the middle of a sea of oil next to a tanker truck lying on its side. If it had exploded we would have all been killed. It took a long time before we could get help from the mainland side; the truck was wedged right across the bridge, and climbing over it would have been the same as climbing over a bomb.”
Blomkvist could not resist the feeling that the old man was telling a meticulously rehearsed story, deliberately to capture his interest. The man was an excellent storyteller, no question. On the other hand, where was the story heading?
“What matters about the accident is that the bridge was blocked for twenty-four hours. Not until Sunday evening was the last of the oil pumped out, and then the truck could be lifted up by crane and the bridge opened for traffic. During these twenty-four hours Hedeby Island was to all intents and purposes cut off from the rest of the world. The only way to get across to the mainland was on a fireboat that was brought in to transport people from the small-boat harbour on this side to the old harbour below the church. For several hours the boat was used only by rescue crews—it wasn’t until quite late on Saturday night that stranded islanders began to be ferried across. Do you understand the significance of this?”
“I assume that something happened to Harriet here on the island,” Blomkvist said, “and that the list of suspects consists of the finite number of people trapped here. A sort of locked-room mystery in island format?”
Vanger smiled ironically. “Mikael, you don’t know how right you are. Even I have read my Dorothy Sayers. These are the facts: Harriet arrived here on the island about 2:10. If we also include children and unmarried guests, all in all about forty family members arrived in the course of the day. Along with servants and residents, there were sixty-four people either here or near the farm. Some of them—the ones who were going to spend the night—were busy getting settled in neighbouring farms or in guest rooms.
“Harriet had previously lived in a house across the road, but given that neither Gottfried nor Isabella was consistently stable, and one could clearly see how that upset the girl, undermined her studies and so on, in 1964, when she was fourteen, I arranged for her to move into my house. Isabella probably thought that it was just fine to be spared the responsibility for her daughter. Harriet had been living here for the past two years. So this is where she came that day. We know that she met and exchanged some words with Harald in the courtyard—he’s one of my older brothers. Then she came up the stairs, to this room, and said hello to me. She said that she wanted to talk to me about something. Right then I had some other family members with me and I couldn’t spare the time for her. But she seemed anxious and I promised I’d come to her room when I was free. She left through that door, and that was the last time I saw her. A minute or so later there was the crash on the bridge and the bedlam that followed upset all our plans for the day.”
“How did she die?”
“It’s more complicated than that, and I have to tell the story in chronological order. When the accident occurred, people dropped whatever they were doing and ran to the scene. I was…I suppose I took charge and was feverishly occupied for the next few hours. Harriet came down to the bridge right away—several people saw her—but the danger of an explosion made me instruct anyone who wasn’t involved in getting Aronsson out of his car to stay well back. Five of us remained. There were myself and my brother Harald. There was a man named Magnus Nilsson, one of my workers. There was a sawmill worker named Sixten Nordlander who had a house down by the fishing harbour. And there was a fellow named Jerker Aronsson. He was only sixteen, and I should really have sent him away, but he was the nephew of Gustav in the car.
“At about 2:40 Harriet was in the kitchen here in the house. She drank a glass of milk and talked briefly to Astrid, our cook. They looked out of the window at the commotion down at the bridge.
“At 2:55 Harriet crossed the courtyard. She was seen by Isabella. About a minute later she ran into Otto Falk, the pastor in Hedeby. At that time the parsonage was where Martin Vanger has his villa today, and the pastor lived on this side of the bridge. He had been in bed, nursing a cold, when the accident took place; he had missed the drama, but someone had telephoned and he was on his way to the bridge. Harriet stopped him on the road and apparently wanted to say something to him, but he waved her off and hurried past. Falk was the last person to see her alive.”
“How did she die?” Blomkvist said again.
“I don’t know,” Vanger said with a troubled expression. “We didn’t get Aronsson out of his car until around 5:00—he survived, by the way, although he was not in good shape—and sometime after 6:00 the threat of fire was considered past. The island was still cut off, but things began to calm down. It wasn’t until we sat down at the table to have our longdelayed dinner around 8:00 that we discovered Harriet was missing. I sent one of the cousins to get Harriet from her room, but she came back to say that she couldn’t find her. I didn’t think much about it; I probably assumed she had gone for a walk or she hadn’t been told that dinner was served. And during the evening I had to deal with various discussions and arguments with the family. So it wasn’t until the next morning, when Isabella went to find her, that we realised that nobody knew where Harriet was and that no-one had seen her since the day before.” He spread his arms out wide. “And from that day, she has been missing without a trace.”
“Missing?” Blomkvist echoed.
“For all these years we haven’t been able to find one microscopic scrap of her.”
“But if she vanished, as you say, you can’t be sure that she was murdered.”
“I understand the objection. I’ve had thoughts along the same lines. When a person vanishes without a trace, one of four things could have happened. She could have gone off of her own free will and be hiding somewhere. She could have had an accident and died. She could have committed suicide. And finally, she could have been the victim of a crime. I’ve weighed all these possibilities.”
“But you believe that someone took Harriet’s life. Why?”
“Because it’s the only reasonable conclusion.” Vanger held up one finger. “From the outset I hoped that she had run away. But as the days passed, we all realised that this wasn’t the case. I mean, how would a sixteen-year-old from such a protected world, even a very able girl, be able to manage on her own? How could she stay hidden without being discovered? Where would she get money? And even if she got a job somewhere, she would need a social security card and an address.”
He held up two fingers.
“My next thought was that she had had some kind of accident. Can you do me a favour? Go to the desk and open the top drawer. There’s a map there.”
Blomkvist did as he was asked and unfolded the map on the coffee table. Hedeby Island was an irregularly shaped land mass about two miles long with a maximum width of about one mile. A large part of the island was covered by forest. There was a built-up area by the bridge and around the little summer-house harbour. On the other side of the island was the smallholding, ?sterg?rden, from which the unfortunate Aronsson had started out in his car.
“Remember that she couldn’t have left the island,” Vanger said. “Here on Hedeby Island you could die in an accident just like anywhere else. You could be struck by lightning—but there was no thunderstorm that day. You could be trampled to death by a horse, fall down a well, or tumble into a rock crevice. There are no doubt hundreds of ways to fall victim to an accident here. I’ve thought of most of them.”
He held up three fingers.
“There’s just one catch, and this also applies to the third possibility—that the girl, contrary to every indication, took her own life. Her body must be somewhere in this limited area.”
Vanger slammed his fist down on the map.
“In the days after she disappeared, we searched everywhere, crisscrossing the island. The men waded through every ditch, scoured every patch of field, cliff, and uprooted tree. We went through every building, chimney, well, barn, and hidden garret.”
The old man looked away from Blomkvist and stared into the darkness outside the window. His voice grew lower and more intimate.
“The whole autumn I looked for her, even after the search parties stopped and people had given up. When I wasn’t tending to my work I began going for walks back and forth across the island. Winter came on and we still hadn’t found a trace of her. In the spring I kept on looking until I realised how preposterous my search was. When summer came I hired three experienced woodsmen who did the entire search over again with dogs. They combed every square foot of the island. By that time I had begun to think that someone must have killed her. So they also searched for a grave. They worked at it for three months. We found not the slightest vestige of the girl. It was as if she had dissolved into thin air.”
“I can think of a number of possibilities,” Blomkvist ventured.
“Let’s hear them.”
“She could have drowned, accidentally or on purpose. This is an island, and water can hide most things.”
“True, but the probability isn’t great. Consider the following: if Harriet met with an accident and drowned, logically it must have occurred somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the village. Remember that the excitement on the bridge was the most sensational thing that had happened here on Hedeby Island in several decades. It was not a time when a sixteen-year-old girl with a normal sense of curiosity would decide to go for a walk to the other side of the island.
“But more important,” he said, “there’s not much of a current here, and the winds at that time of year were out of the north or northeast. If anything falls into the water, it comes up somewhere along the beach on the mainland, and over there it’s built up almost everywhere. Don’t think that we didn’t consider this. We dragged almost all the spots where she could conceivably have gone down to the water. I also hired young men from a scuba-diving club here in Hedestad. They spent the rest of the season combing the bottom of the sound and along the beaches…I’m convinced she’s not in the water; if she had been we would have found her.”
“But could she not have met with an accident somewhere else? The bridge was blocked, of course, but it’s a short distance over to the mainland. She could have swum or rowed across.”
“It was late September and the water was so cold that Harriet would hardly have set off to go swimming in the midst of all the commotion. But if she suddenly got the idea to swim to the mainland, she would have been seen and drawn a lot of attention. There were dozens of eyes on the bridge, and on the mainland side there were two or three hundred people along the water watching the scene.”
“A rowing boat?”
“No. That day there were precisely thirteen boats on Hedeby Island. Most of the pleasure boats were already in storage on land. Down in the small-boat harbour by the summer cabins there were two Pettersson boats in the water. There were seven eka rowing boats, of which five were pulled up on shore. Below the parsonage one rowing boat was on shore and one in the water. By ?sterg?rden there was a rowing boat and a motorboat. All these boats were checked and were exactly where they were supposed to be. If she had rowed across and run away, she would have had to leave the boat on the other side.”
Vanger held up four fingers.
“So there’s only one reasonable possibility left, namely that Harriet disappeared against her will. Someone killed her and got rid of the body.”
 
Lisbeth Salander spent Christmas morning reading Mikael Blomkvist’s controversial book about financial journalism, The Knights Templar: A Cautionary Tale for Financial Reporters. The cover had a trendy design by Christer Malm featuring a photograph of the Stockholm Stock Exchange. Malm had worked in PhotoShop, and it took a moment to notice that the building was floating in air. It was a dramatic cover with which to set the tone for what was to come.
Salander could see that Blomkvist was a fine writer. The book was set out in a straightforward and engaging way, and even people with no insight into the labyrinth of financial journalism could learn something from reading it. The tone was sharp and sarcastic, but above all it was persuasive.
The first chapter was a sort of declaration of war in which Blomkvist did not mince words. In the last twenty years, Swedish financial journalists had developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically. He drew this conclusion because time after time, without the least objection, so many financial reporters seemed content to regurgitate the statements issued by CEOs and stock-market speculators—even when this information was plainly misleading or wrong. These reporters were thus either so naive and gullible that they ought to be packed off to other assignments, or they were people who quite consciously betrayed their journalistic function. Blomkvist claimed that he had often been ashamed to be called a financial reporter, since then he would risk being lumped together with people whom he did not rate as reporters at all.
He compared the efforts of financial journalists with the way crime reporters or foreign correspondents worked. He painted a picture of the outcry that would result if a legal correspondent began uncritically reproducing the prosecutor’s case as gospel in a murder trial, without consulting the defence arguments or interviewing the victim’s family before forming an opinion of what was likely or unlikely. According to Blomkvist the same rules had to apply to financial journalists.
The rest of the book consisted of a chain of evidence to support his case. One long chapter examined the reporting of a famous dot-com in six daily papers, as well as in the Financial Journal, Dagens Industri, and “A-ekonomi,” the business report on Swedish TV. He first quoted and summarised what the reporters had said and written. Then he made a comparison with the actual situation. In describing the development of the company he listed time after time the simple questions that a serious reporter would have asked but which the whole corps of financial reporters had neglected to ask. It was a neat move.
Another chapter dealt with the IPO of Telia stock—it was the book’s most jocular and ironic section, in which some financial writers were castigated by name, including one William Borg, to whom Blomkvist seemed to be particularly hostile. A chapter near the end of the book compared the level of competence of Swedish and foreign financial reporters. He described how serious reporters at London’s Financial Times, the Economist, and some German financial newspapers had reported similar subjects in their own countries. The comparison was not favourable to the Swedish journalists. The final chapter contained a sketch with suggestions as to how this deplorable situation could be remedied. The conclusion of the book echoed the introduction:

If a parliamentary reporter handled his assignment by uncritically taking up a lance in support of every decision that was pushed through, no matter how preposterous, or if a political reporter were to show a similar lack of judgement—that reporter would be fired or at the least reassigned to a department where he or she could not do so much damage. In the world of financial reporting, however, the normal journalistic mandate to undertake critical investigations and objectively report findings to the readers appears not to apply. Instead the most successful rogue is applauded. In this way the future of Sweden is also being created, and all remaining trust in journalists as a corps of professionals is being compromised.

Salander had no difficulty understanding the agitated debate that had followed in the trade publication The Journalist, certain financial newspapers, and on the front pages and in the business sections of the daily papers. Even though only a few reporters were mentioned by name in the book, Salander guessed that the field was small enough that everyone would know exactly which individuals were being referred to when various newspapers were quoted. Blomkvist had made himself some bitter enemies, which was also reflected in the malicious comments to the court in the Wennerstr?m affair.
She closed the book and looked at the photograph on the back. Blomkvist’s dark blond shock of hair fell a bit carelessly across his forehead, as if caught in a gust of wind. Or (and this was more plausible) as if Christer Malm had posed him. He was looking into the camera with an ironic smile and an expression perhaps aiming to be charming and boyish. A very good-looking man. On his way to do three months in the slammer.
“Hello, Kalle Blomkvist,” she said to herself. “You’re pretty pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”
 
At lunchtime Salander booted up her iBook and opened Eudora to write an email. She typed: “Have you got time?” She signed it Wasp and sent it to the address <Plague_xyz_666@hotmail.com> To be on the safe side, she ran the message through her PGP encryption programme.
Then she put on black jeans, heavy winter boots, a warm polo shirt, a dark pea jacket and matching knitted gloves, cap, and scarf. She took the rings out of her eyebrows and nostril, put on a pale pink lipstick, and examined herself in the bathroom mirror. She looked like any other woman out for a weekend stroll, and she regarded her outfit as appropriate camouflage for an expedition behind enemy lines. She took the tunnelbana from Zinkensdamm to ?stermalmstorg and walked down towards Strandv?gen. She sauntered along the central reserve reading the numbers on the buildings. She had almost got to Djurg?rds Bridge when she stopped and looked at the door she had been searching for. She crossed the street and waited a few feet from the street door.
She noticed that most people who were out walking in the cold weather on the day after Christmas were walking along the quay; only a few were on the pavement side.
She had to wait for almost half an hour before an old woman with a cane approached from the direction of Djurg?rden. The woman stopped and studied Salander with suspicion. Salander gave her a friendly smile in return. The lady with the cane returned her greeting and looked as though she were trying to remember when she had last seen the young woman. Salander turned her back and took a few steps away from the door, as though she were impatiently waiting for someone, pacing back and forth. When she turned, the lady had reached the door and was slowly putting in a number on the code lock. Salander had no difficulty seeing that the combination was 1260.
She waited five minutes more before she went to the door. She punched in the code and the lock clicked. She peered into the stairwell. There was a security camera which she glanced at and ignored; it was a model that Milton Security carried and was activated only if an alarm for a break-in or an attack was sounded on the property. Farther in, to the left of an antique lift cage, there was a door with another code lock; she tried 1260 and it worked for the entrance to the cellar level and rubbish room. Sloppy, very sloppy. She spent three minutes investigating the cellar level, where she located an unlocked laundry room and a recycling room. Then she used a set of picklocks that she had “borrowed” from Milton’s locksmith to open a locked door to what seemed to be a meeting room for the condominium association. At the back of the cellar was a hobby room. Finally she found what she was looking for: the building’s small electrical room. She examined the meters, fuse boxes, and junction boxes and then took out a Canon digital camera the size of a cigarette packet. She took three pictures.
On the way out she cast her eye down the list of residents by the lift and read the name for the apartment on the top floor. Wennerstr?m.
Then she left the building and walked rapidly to the National Museum, where she went into the cafeteria to have some coffee and warm up. After about half an hour she made her way back to S?der and went up to her apartment.
There was an answer from <Plague_xyz_666@hotmail.com> When she decoded it in PGP it read: 20.
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