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Chapter 6
Thursday, December 26


The time limit set by Blomkvist had been exceeded by a good margin. It was 4:30, and there was no hope of catching the afternoon train, but he still had a chance of making the evening train at 9:30. He stood by the window rubbing his neck as he stared out at the illuminated facade of the church on the other side of the bridge. Vanger had shown him a scrapbook with articles from both the local newspaper and the national media. There had been quite a bit of media interest for a while—girl from noted industrialist’s family disappears. But when no body was found and there was no breakthrough in the investigation, interest gradually waned. Despite the fact that a prominent family was involved, thirty-six years later the case of Harriet Vanger was all but forgotten. The prevailing theory in articles from the late sixties seemed to be that she drowned and was swept out to sea—a tragedy, but something that could happen to any family.
Blomkvist had been fascinated by the old man’s account, but when Vanger excused himself to go to the bathroom, his scepticism returned. The old man had still not got to the end, and Blomkvist had finally promised to listen to the whole story.
“What do you think happened to her?” he said when Vanger came back into the room.
“Normally there were some twenty-five people living here year-round, but because of the family gathering there were more than sixty on Hedeby Island that day. Of these, between twenty and twenty-five can be ruled out, pretty much so. I believe that of those remaining, someone—and in all likelihood it was someone from the family—killed Harriet and hid the body.”
“I have a dozen objections to that.”
“Let’s hear them.”
“Well, the first one is that even if someone hid her body, it should have been found if the search was as thorough as the one you described.”
“To tell you the truth, the search was even more extensive than I’ve described. It wasn’t until I began to think of Harriet as a murder victim that I realised several ways in which her body could have disappeared. I can’t prove this, but it’s at least within the realm of possibility.”
“Tell me.”
“Harriet went missing sometime around 3:00 that afternoon. At about 2:55 she was seen by Pastor Falk, who was hurrying to the bridge. At almost exactly the same time a photographer arrived from the local paper, and for the next hour he took a great number of pictures of the drama. We—the police, I mean—examined the photographs and confirmed that Harriet was not in any one of them; but every other person in town was seen in at least one, apart from very small children.”
Vanger took out another album and placed it on the table.
“These are pictures from that day. The first one was taken in Hedestad during the Children’s Day parade. The same photographer took it around 1:15 p.m., and Harriet is there in it.”
The photograph was taken from the second floor of a building and showed a street along which the parade—clowns on trucks and girls in bathing suits—had just passed. Spectators thronged the pavements. Vanger pointed at a figure in the crowd.
“That’s Harriet. It’s about two hours before she will disappear; she’s with some of her schoolfriends in town. This is the last picture taken of her. But there’s one more interesting shot.”
Vanger leafed through the pages. The album contained about 180 pictures—five rolls—from the crash on the bridge. After having heard the account, it was almost too much to suddenly see it in the form of sharp black-and-white images. The photographer was a professional who had managed to capture the turmoil surrounding the accident. A large number of the pictures focused on the activities around the overturned tanker truck. Blomkvist had no problem identifying a gesticulating, much younger Henrik Vanger soaked with heating oil.
“This is my brother Harald.” The old man pointed to a man in shirtsleeves bending forward and pointing at something inside the wreck of Aronsson’s car. “My brother Harald may be an unpleasant person, but I think he can be eliminated from the list of suspects. Except for a very short while, when he had to run back here to the farm to change his shoes, he spent the afternoon on the bridge.”
Vanger turned some more pages. One image followed another. Focus on the tanker truck. Focus on spectators on the foreshore. Focus on Aronsson’s car. General views. Close-ups with a telephoto lens.
“This is the interesting picture,” Vanger said. “As far as we could determine it was taken between 3:40 and 3:45, or about 45 minutes after Harriet ran into Falk. Take a look at the house, the middle second floor window. That’s Harriet’s room. In the preceding picture the window was closed. Here it’s open.”
“Someone must have been in Harriet’s room.”
“I asked everyone; nobody would admit to opening the window.”
“Which means that either Harriet did it herself, and she was still alive at that point, or else that someone was lying to you. But why would a murderer go into her room and open the window? And why should anyone lie about it?”
Vanger shook his head. No explanation presented itself.
“Harriet disappeared sometime around 3:00 or shortly thereafter. These pictures give an impression of where certain people were at that time. That’s why I can eliminate a number of people from the list of suspects. For the same reason I can conclude that some people who were not in the photographs at that time must be added to the list of suspects.”
“You didn’t answer my question about how you think the body was removed. I realise, of course, that there must be some plausible explanation. Some sort of common old illusionist’s trick.”
“There are actually several very practical ways it could have been done. Sometime around 3:00 the killer struck. He or she presumably didn’t use any sort of weapon—or we would have found traces of blood. I’m guessing that Harriet was strangled and I’m guessing that it happened here—behind the wall in the courtyard, somewhere out of the photographer’s line of sight and in a blind spot from the house. There’s a path, if you want to take a shortcut, to the parsonage—the last place she was seen—and back to the house. Today there’s a small flower bed and lawn there, but in the sixties it was a gravelled area used for parking. All the killer had to do was open the boot of a car and put Harriet inside. When we began searching the island the next day, nobody was thinking that a crime had been committed. We focused on the shorelines, the buildings, and the woods closest to the village.”
“So nobody was checking the boots of cars.”
“And by the following evening the killer would have been free to get in his car and drive across the bridge to hide the body somewhere else.”
“Right under the noses of everyone involved in the search. If that’s the way it happened, we’re talking about a cold-blooded bastard.”
Vanger gave a bitter laugh. “You just gave an apt description of quite a few members of the Vanger family.”
 
They continued their discussion over supper at 6:00. Anna served roast hare with currant jelly and potatoes. Vanger poured a robust red wine. Blomkvist still had plenty of time to make the last train. He thought it was about time to sum things up.
“It’s a fascinating story you’ve been telling me, I admit it. But I still don’t know why you wanted me to hear it.”
“I told you. I want to nail the swine who murdered Harriet. And I want to hire you to find out who it was.”
“Why?”
Vanger put down his knife and fork. “Mikael, for thirty-six years I’ve driven myself crazy wondering what happened to Harriet. I’ve devoted more and more of my time to it.”
He fell silent and took off his glasses, scrutinising some invisible speck of dirt on the lens. Then he raised his eyes and looked at Blomkvist.
“To be completely honest with you, Harriet’s disappearance was the reason why gradually I withdrew from the firm’s management. I lost all motivation. I knew that there was a killer somewhere nearby and the worrying and searching for the truth began to affect my work. The worst thing is that the burden didn’t get any lighter over time—on the contrary. Around 1970 I had a period when I just wanted to be left alone. Then Martin joined the board of directors, and he had to take on more and more of my work. In 1976 I retired and Martin took over as CEO. I still have a seat on the board, but I haven’t sailed many knots since I turned fifty. For the last thirty-six years not a day has passed that I have not pondered Harriet’s disappearance. You may think I’m obsessed with it—at least most of my relatives think so.”
“It was a horrific event.”
“More than that. It ruined my life. That’s something I’ve become more aware of as time has passed. Do you have a good sense of yourself?”
“I think so, yes.”
“I do too. I can’t forget what happened. But my motives have changed over the years. At first it was probably grief. I wanted to find her and at least have a chance to bury her. It was about getting justice for Harriet.”
“In what way has that changed?”
“Now it’s more about finding the bastard who did it. But the funny thing is, the older I get, the more of an all-absorbing hobby it has become.”
“Hobby?”
“Yes, I would use that word. When the police investigation petered out I kept going. I’ve tried to proceed systematically and scientifically. I’ve gathered all the information that could possibly be found—the photographs, the police report, I’ve written down everything people told me about what they were doing that day. So in effect I’ve spent almost half my life collecting information about a single day.”
“You realise, I suppose, that after thirty-six years the killer himself might be dead and buried?”
“I don’t believe that.”
Blomkvist raised his eyebrows at the conviction in his voice.
“Let’s finish dinner and go back upstairs. There’s one more detail before my story is done. And it’s the most perplexing of all.”
 
Salander parked the Corolla with the automatic transmission by the commuter railway station in Sundbyberg. She had borrowed the Toyota from Milton Security’s motor pool. She had not exactly asked permission, but Armansky had never expressly forbidden her from using Milton’s cars. Sooner or later, she thought, I have to get a vehicle of my own. She did own a second-hand Kawasaki 125, which she used in the summertime. During the winter the bike was locked in her cellar.
She walked to H?gklintav?gen and rang the bell at 6:00 on the dot. Seconds later the lock on the street door clicked and she went up two flights and rang the doorbell next to the name of Svensson. She had no idea who Svensson might be or if any such person even lived in that apartment.
“Hi, Plague,” she said.
“Wasp. You only pop in when you need something.”
As usual, it was dark in the apartment; the light from a single lamp seeped out into the hall from the bedroom he used as an office. The man, who was three years older than Salander, was six foot two and weighed 330 pounds. She herself was four feet eleven and weighed 90 pounds and had always felt like a midget next to Plague. The place smelled stuffy and stale.
“It’s because you never take a bath, Plague. It smells like a monkey house in here. If you ever went out I could give you some tips on soap. They have it at the Konsum.”
He gave her a wan smile, but said nothing. He motioned her to follow him into the kitchen. He plopped down on a chair by the kitchen table without turning on a light. The only illumination came from the street light beyond the window.
“I mean, I may not hold the record in cleaning house either, but if I’ve got old milk cartons that smell like maggots I bundle them up and put them out.”
“I’m on a disability pension,” he said. “I’m socially incompetent.”
“So that’s why the government gave you a place to live and forgot about you. Aren’t you ever afraid that your neighbours are going to complain to the inspectors? Then you might fetch up in the funny farm.”
“Have you something for me?”
Salander unzipped her jacket pocket and handed him five thousand kronor.
“It’s all I can spare. It’s my own money, and I can’t really deduct you as a dependant.”
“What do you want?”
“The electronic cuff you talked about two months ago. Did you get it?”
He smiled and laid a box on the table.
“Show me how it works.”
For the next few minutes she listened intently. Then she tested the cuff. Plague might be a social incompetent, but he was unquestionably a genius.




Vanger waited until he once more had Blomkvist’s attention. Blomkvist looked at his watch and said, “One perplexing detail.”
Vanger said: “I was born on November 1. When Harriet was eight she gave me a birthday present, a pressed flower, framed.”
Vanger walked around the desk and pointed to the first flower. Bluebell. It had an amateurish mounting.
“That was the first. I got it in 1958.” He pointed to the next one. “1959.” Buttercup. “1960.” Daisy. “It became a tradition. She would make the frame sometime during the summer and save it until my birthday. I always hung them on the wall in this room. In 1966 she disappeared and the tradition was broken.”
Vanger pointed to a gap in the row of frames. Blomkvist felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. The wall was filled with pressed flowers.
“1967, a year after she disappeared, I received this flower on my birthday. It’s a violet.”
“How did the flower come to you?”
“Wrapped in what they call gift paper and posted in a padded envelope from Stockholm. No return address. No message.”
“You mean that…” Blomkvist made a sweeping gesture.
“Precisely. On my birthday every damn year. Do you know how that feels? It’s directed at me, precisely as if the murderer wants to torture me. I’ve worried myself sick over whether Harriet might have been taken away because someone wanted to get at me. It was no secret that she and I had a special relationship and that I thought of her as my own daughter.”
“So what is it you want me to do?” Blomkvist said.
 
When Salander returned the Corolla to the garage under Milton Security, she made sure to go to the toilet upstairs in the office. She used her card key in the door and took the lift straight up to the third floor to avoid going in through the main entrance on the second floor, where the duty officer worked. She used the toilet and got a cup of coffee from the espresso machine that Armansky had bought when at long last he recognised that Salander would never make coffee just because it was expected of her. Then she went to her office and hung her leather jacket over the back of her chair.
The office was a 61/2-by-10-foot glass cubicle. There was a desk with an old model Dell desktop PC, a telephone, one office chair, a metal waste paper basket, and a bookshelf. The bookshelf contained an assortment of directories and three blank notebooks. The two desk drawers housed some ballpoints, paper clips, and a notebook. On the window sill stood a potted plant with brown, withered leaves. Salander looked thoughtfully at the plant, as if it were the first time she had seen it, then she deposited it firmly in the waste paper basket.
She seldom had anything to do in her office and visited it no more than half a dozen times a year, mainly when she needed to sit by herself and prepare a report just before handing it in. Armansky had insisted that she have her own space. His reasoning was that she would then feel like part of the company although she worked as a freelancer. She suspected that Armansky hoped that this way he would have a chance to keep an eye on her and meddle in her affairs. At first she had been given space farther down the corridor, in a larger room that she was expected to share with a colleague. But since she was never there Armansky finally moved her into the cubbyhole at the end of the corridor.
Salander took out the cuff. She looked at it, meditatively biting her lower lip.
It was past 11:00 and she was alone on the floor. She suddenly felt excruciatingly bored.
After a while she got up and walked to the end of the hall and tried the door to Armansky’s office. Locked. She looked around. The chances of anyone turning up in the corridor around midnight on December 26 were almost nonexistent. She opened the door with a pirate copy of the company’s card key, which she had taken the trouble to make several years before.
Armansky’s office was spacious: in front of his desk were guest chairs, and a conference table with room for eight people was in the corner. It was impeccably neat. She had not snooped in his office for quite some time, but now that she was here…She spent a while at his desk to bring herself up to date regarding the search for a suspected mole in the company, which of her colleagues had been planted undercover in a firm where a theft ring was operating, and what measures had been taken in all secrecy to protect a client who was afraid her child was in danger of being kidnapped by the father.
At last she put the papers back precisely the way they were, locked Armansky’s door, and walked home. She felt satisfied with her day.




“I don’t know whether we’ll find out the truth, but I refuse to go to my grave without giving it one last try,” the old man said. “I simply want to commission you to go through all the evidence one last time.”
“This is crazy,” Blomkvist said.
“Why is it crazy?”
“I’ve heard enough. Henrik, I understand your grief, but I have to be honest with you. What you’re asking me to do is a waste of my time and your money. You are asking me to conjure up a solution to a mystery that the police and experienced investigators with considerably greater resources have failed to solve all these years. You’re asking me to solve a crime getting on for forty years after it was committed. How could I possibly do that?”
“We haven’t discussed your fee,” Vanger said.
“That won’t be necessary.”
“I can’t force you, but listen to what I’m offering. Frode has already drawn up a contract. We can negotiate the details, but the contract is simple, and all it needs is your signature.”
“Henrik, this is absurd. I really don’t believe I can solve the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance.”
“According to the contract, you don’t have to. All it asks is that you do your best. If you fail, then it’s God’s will, or—if you don’t believe in Him—it’s fate.”
Blomkvist sighed. He was feeling more and more uncomfortable and wanted to end this visit to Hedeby, but he relented.
“All right, let’s hear it.”
“I want you to live and work here in Hedeby for a year. I want you to go through the investigative report on Harriet’s disappearance one page at a time. I want you to examine everything with new eyes. I want you to question all the old conclusions exactly the way an investigative reporter would. I want you to look for something that I and the police and other investigators may have missed.”
“You’re asking me to set aside my life and career to devote myself for a whole year to something that’s a complete waste of time.”
Vanger smiled. “As to your career, we might agree that for the moment it’s somewhat on hold.”
Blomkvist had no answer to that.
“I want to buy a year of your life. Give you a job. The salary is better than any offer you’ll ever get in your life. I will pay you 200,000 kronor a month—that’s 2.4 million kronor if you accept and stay the whole year.”
Blomkvist was astonished.
“I have no illusions. The possibility you will succeed is minimal, but if against all odds you should crack the mystery then I’m offering a bonus of double payment, or 4.8 million kronor. Let’s be generous and round it off to five million.”
Vanger leaned back and cocked his head.
“I can pay the money into any bank account you wish, anywhere in the world. You can also take the money in cash in a suitcase, so it’s up to you whether you want to report the income to the tax authorities.”
“This is…not healthy,” Blomkvist stammered.
“Why so?” Vanger said calmly. “I’m eighty-two and still in full possession of my faculties. I have a large personal fortune; I can spend it any way I want. I have no children and absolutely no desire to leave any money to relatives I despise. I’ve made my last will and testament; I’ll be giving the bulk of my fortune to the World Wildlife Fund. A few people who are close to me will receive significant amounts—including Anna.”
Blomkvist shook his head.
“Try to understand me,” Vanger said. “I’m a man who’s going to die soon. There’s one thing in the world I want to have—and that’s an answer to this question that has plagued me for half my life. I don’t expect to find the answer, but I do have resources to make one last attempt. Is that unreasonable? I owe it to Harriet. And I owe it to myself.”
“You’ll be paying me several million kronor for nothing. All I need to do is sign the contract and then twiddle my thumbs for a year.”
“You wouldn’t do that. On the contrary—you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I can offer you something that you can’t buy for any price, but which you want more than anything in the world.”
“And what would that be?”
Vanger’s eyes narrowed.
“I can give you Hans-Erik Wennerstr?m. I can prove that he’s a swindler. He happened, thirty-five years ago, to begin his career with me, and I can give you his head on a platter. Solve the mystery and you can turn your defeat in court into the story of the year.”
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