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HOME > Classical Novels > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > CHAPTER 11
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Saturday, February 1–Tuesday, February 18

During the brief hours of daylight on Saturday, Blomkvist and Berger took a walk past the small-boat harbour along the road to ?sterg?rden. He had been living on Hedeby Island for a month, but he had never taken a walk inland; the freezing temperatures and regular snowstorms had deterred him. But Saturday was sunny and pleasant. It was as if Berger had brought with her a hint of spring. The road was lined with snow, ploughed three feet high. As soon as they left the summer-cabin area they were walking in dense fir forest. Blomkvist was surprised by how much higher and more inaccessible S?derberget, the hill across from the cabins, was than it appeared from the village. He thought about how many times Harriet Vanger must have played here as a child, but then he pushed all thoughts of her out of his mind. After about a mile the woods ended at a fence where the ?sterg?rden farmland began. They could see a white wooden structure and red farm buildings arranged in a square. They turned to head back the same way.
As they passed the driveway to the estate house, Vanger knocked on the upstairs window and gestured firmly for them to come up. Blomkvist and Berger looked at each other.
“Would you like to meet a corporate legend?” Blomkvist said.
“Does he bite?”
“Not on Saturdays.”
Vanger received them at the door to his office.
“You must be Fr?ken Berger, I recognise you.” he said. “Mikael didn’t say a word about your coming to Hedeby.”
One of Berger’s outstanding talents was her ability to instantly get on friendly terms with the most unlikely individuals. Blomkvist had seen her turn on the charm for five-year-old boys, who within ten minutes were fully prepared to abandon their mothers. Men over eighty seemed not to be an exception. After two minutes Berger and Henrik Vanger were ignoring Blomkvist as they chattered on. It was as if they had known each other since childhood—well, since Erika’s childhood, at any rate.
Berger started off quite boldly by scolding Vanger for luring her publisher away into the sticks. The old man replied that as far as he could tell—from assorted press reports—she had in fact fired him. And had she not done so, then now might be high time to get rid of excess ballast in the editorial offices. And in that case, Vanger said, a period of rustic life would do young Blomkvist some good.
For five minutes they discussed Blomkvist’s shortcomings in the most irritating terms. Blomkvist leaned back and pretended to be insulted, but he frowned when Berger made some cryptic remarks that might allude to his failings as a journalist but might also have applied to sexual prowess. Vanger tilted his head back and roared with laughter.
Blomkvist was astonished. He had never seen Vanger so natural and relaxed. He could suddenly see that Vanger, fifty years younger—or even thirty years—must have been quite a charming, attractive ladies’ man. He had never remarried. There must have been women who crossed his path, yet for nearly half a century he had remained a bachelor.
Blomkvist took a sip of coffee and pricked up his ears again when he realised that the conversation had suddenly turned serious and had to do with Millennium.
“Mikael has told me that you’re having problems at the magazine.” Berger glanced at Blomkvist. “No, he hasn’t discussed your internal operations, but a person would have to be deaf and blind not to see that your magazine, just like the Vanger Corporation, is in difficulties.”
“I’m confident that we can repair the situation,” Berger said.
“I doubt it,” Vanger said.
“Why is that?”
“Let’s see—how many employees do you have? Six? A monthly magazine with a print run of 21,000, manufacturing costs, salaries, distribution, offices…You need revenues of about 10 million. I think we know what percentage of that amount has to come from advertising revenue.”
“So friend Wennerstr?m is a vengeful and narrow-minded bastard who isn’t going to forget his recent contretemps in a hurry. How many advertisers have you lost in the past six months?”
Berger regarded Vanger with a wary expression. Blomkvist caught himself holding his breath. On those occasions when he and the old man had touched on the future of Millennium, it had always concerned annoying remarks or the magazine’s situation in relation to Blomkvist’s ability to finish his work in Hedestad. But Vanger was now addressing Erika alone, one boss to another. Signals passed between them that Blomkvist could not interpret, which might have had to do with the fact that he was basically a poor working-class boy from Norrland and she was an upper-class girl with a distinguished, international family tree.
“Could I have a little more coffee?” Berger asked. Vanger poured her a cup at once. “OK, you’ve done your homework. We’re bleeding.”
“How long?”
“We’ve got six months to turn ourselves around. Eight months, max. We don’t have enough capital to keep ourselves afloat longer than that.”
The old man’s expression was inscrutable as he stared out of the window. The church was still standing there.
“Did you know that I was once in the newspaper business?” he said, once more addressing them both.
Blomkvist and Berger both shook their heads. Vanger laughed again, ruefully.
“We owned six daily newspapers in Norrland. That was back in the fifties and sixties. It was my father’s idea—he thought it might be politically advantageous to have a section of the media behind us. We’re actually still one of the owners of the Hedestad Courier. Birger is the chairman of the board for the group of owners. Harald’s son,” he added, for Blomkvist’s benefit.
“And also a local politician,” Blomkvist said.
“Martin is on the board too. He keeps Birger in line.”
“Why did you let go of the newspapers you owned?” Blomkvist asked.
“Corporate restructuring in the sixties. Publishing newspapers was in some ways more a hobby than an interest. When we needed to tighten the budget, it was one of the first assets that we sold. But I know what it takes to run a publication…May I ask you a personal question?”
This was directed at Erika.
“I haven’t asked Mikael about this, and if you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to. I’d like to know how you ended up in this quagmire. Did you have a story or didn’t you?”
Now it was Blomkvist’s turn to look inscrutable. Berger hesitated only a second before she said: “We had a story. But it was a very different story.”
Vanger nodded, as if he understood precisely what Berger was saying. Blomkvist did not.
“I don’t want to discuss the matter.” Blomkvist cut the discussion short. “I did the research and wrote the article. I had all the sources I needed. But then it all went to hell.”
“You had sources for every last thing you wrote?”
“I did.”
Vanger’s voice was suddenly sharp. “I won’t pretend to understand how the hell you could walk into such a minefield. I can’t recall a similar story except perhaps the Lundahl affair in Expressen in the sixties, if you youngsters have ever heard of it. Was your source also a mythomaniac?” He shook his head and turned to Berger and said quietly, “I’ve been a newspaper publisher in the past, and I can be one again. What would you say to taking on another partner?”
The question came like a bolt out of the blue, but Berger did not seem the least bit surprised.
“Tell me more,” she said.
Vanger said: “How long are you staying in Hedestad?”
“I’m going home tomorrow.”
“Would you consider—you and Mikael, of course—humouring an old man by joining me for dinner tonight? Would 7:00 suit?”
“That would suit us fine. We’d love it. But you’re not answering the question I asked. Why would you want to be a partner in Millennium?”
“I’m not avoiding the question. I just thought we could discuss it over dinner. I have to talk with my lawyer before I can put together a concrete offer. But in all simplicity I can say that I have money to invest. If the magazine survives and starts making a profit again, then I’ll come out ahead. If not—well, I’ve had significantly bigger losses in my day.”
Blomkvist was about to open his mouth when Berger put her hand on his knee.
“Mikael and I have fought hard so that we could be completely independent.”
“Nonsense. No-one is completely independent. But I’m not out to take over the magazine, and I don’t give a damn about the contents. That bastard Stenbeck got all sorts of points for publishing Modern Times, so why can’t I back Millennium? Which happens to be an excellent magazine, by the way.”
“Does this have anything to do with Wennerstr?m?” Blomkvist said.
Vanger smiled. “Mikael, I’m eighty years plus. There are things I regret not doing and people I regret not fighting more. But, apropos this topic—” He turned to Berger again. “This type of investment would have at least one condition.”
“Let’s hear it,” Berger said.
“Mikael Blomkvist must resume his position as publisher.”
“No,” Blomkvist snapped.
“But yes,” Vanger said, equally curt. “Wennerstr?m will have a stroke if we send out a press release saying that the Vanger Corporation is backing Millennium, and at the same time you’re returning as publisher. That’s absolutely the clearest signal we could send—everyone will understand that it’s not a takeover and that the editorial policies won’t change. And that alone will give the advertisers who are thinking of pulling out reason to reconsider. Wennerstr?m isn’t omnipotent. He has enemies too, and there are companies new to you that will consider taking space.”
“What the hell was that all about?” Blomkvist said as soon as Berger pulled the front door shut.
“I think it’s what you call advance probes for a business deal,” she said. “You didn’t tell me that Henrik Vanger is such a sweetie.”
Blomkvist planted himself in front of her. “Ricky, you knew exactly what this conversation was going to be about.”
“Hey, toy boy. It’s only 3:00, and I want to be properly entertained before dinner.”
Blomkvist was enraged. But he had never managed to be enraged at Erika Berger for very long.

She wore a black dress, a waist-length jacket, and pumps, which she just happened to have brought along in her little suitcase. She insisted that Blomkvist wear a jacket and tie. He put on his black trousers, a grey shirt, dark tie, and grey sports coat. When they knocked punctually on the door of Vanger’s home, it turned out that Dirch Frode and Martin Vanger were also among the guests. Everyone was wearing a jacket and tie except for Vanger.
“The advantage of being over eighty is that no-one can criticise what you wear,” he declared. He wore a bow tie and a brown cardigan.
Berger was in high spirits throughout the dinner.
It was not until they moved to the drawing room with the fireplace and cognac was poured that the discussion took on a serious tone. They talked for almost two hours before they had the outline for a deal on the table.
Frode would set up a company to be wholly owned by Henrik Vanger; the board would consist of Henrik and Martin Vanger and Frode. Over a four-year period, this company would invest a sum of money that would cover the gap between income and expenses for Millennium. The money would come from Vanger’s personal assets. In return, Vanger would have a conspicuous position on the magazine’s board. The agreement would be valid for four years, but it could be terminated by Millennium after two years. But this type of premature termination would be costly, since Vanger could only be bought out by repayment of the sum he had invested.
In the event of Vanger’s death, Martin Vanger would replace him on the Millennium board for the remainder of the period during which the agreement was valid. If Martin wished to continue his involvement beyond this period, he could make that decision himself when the time came. He seemed amused by the prospect of getting even with Wennerstr?m, and Blomkvist wondered again what the origin was of the animosity between those two.
Martin refilled their glasses. Vanger made a point of leaning towards Blomkvist, and in a low voice told him that this new arrangement had no effect whatsoever on the agreement that existed between them. Blomkvist could resume his duties as publisher full-time at the end of the year.
It was also decided that the reorganisation, in order to have the greatest impact in the media, should be presented on the same day that Blomkvist began his prison sentence in mid-March. Combining a strongly negative event with a reorganisation was, in PR terms, such a clumsy error that it could not but astonish Blomkvist’s detractors and garner optimum attention for Henrik Vanger’s new role. But everyone also saw the logic in it—it was a way of indicating that the yellow plague flag fluttering over Millennium’s editorial offices was about to be hauled down; the magazine had backers who were willing to be ruthless. The Vanger Corporation might be in a crisis, but it was still a prominent industrial firm which could go on the offence if the need arose.
The whole conversation was a discussion between Berger, on one side, and Henrik and Martin Vanger on the other. No-one asked Blomkvist what he thought.
Late that night Blomkvist lay with his head resting on Erika’s breasts, looking into her eyes.
“How long have you and Henrik Vanger been discussing this arrangement?”
“About a week,” she said, smiling.
“Is Christer in agreement?”
“Of course.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why in the world should I discuss it with you? You resigned as publisher, you left the editorial staff and the board, and you went to live in the woods.”
“So I deserve to be treated like an idiot.”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Decidedly you do.”
“You really have been mad at me.”
“Mikael, I’ve never felt so furious, so abandoned, and so betrayed as when you left. I’ve never been this upset with you before.” She took a firm grip on his hair and then shoved him farther down in the bed.
By the time Berger left Hedeby on Sunday, Blomkvist was still so annoyed with Vanger that he did not want to risk running into either him or any other member of his clan. Instead, on Monday he took the bus into Hedestad and spent the afternoon walking in the town, visiting the library, and drinking coffee in a bakery. In the evening he went to the cinema to see The Lord of the Rings, which he had never before had time to see. He thought that orcs, unlike human beings, were simple and uncomplicated creatures.
He ended his outing at McDonald’s in Hedestad and caught the last bus to Hedeby. He made coffee, took out a binder, and sat at the kitchen table. He read until 4:00 in the morning.
There were a number of questions regarding the investigation that seemed increasingly odd the further Blomkvist went through the documents. They were not revolutionary discoveries that he made all on his own; they were problems that had preoccupied Inspector Morell for long periods, especially in his free time.
During the last year of her life, Harriet had changed. In some ways this change could be explained as the change that everyone goes through in one form or another during their teenage years. Harriet was growing up. Classmates, teachers, and several members of the family, however, all testified that she had turned in on herself and become uncommunicative.
The girl who, two years earlier, was a lively teenager had begun to distance herself from everyone around her. In school she still spent time with her friends, but now she behaved in an “impersonal” manner, as one of her friends described it. This word was unusual enough for Morell to have made a note of it and then ask more questions. The explanation he got was that Harriet had stopped talking about herself, stopped gossiping, and stopped confiding in her friends.
Harriet Vanger had been a Christian, in a child’s sense of the word—attending Sunday school, saying evening prayers, and becoming confirmed. In her last year she seemed to have become yet more religious. She read the Bible and went regularly to church. But she had not turned to Hedeby Island’s pastor, Otto Falk, who was a friend of the Vanger family. Instead, during the spring she had sought out a Pentecostal congregation in Hedestad. Yet her involvement in the Pentecostal church did not last long. After only two months she left the congregation and instead began reading books about the Catholic faith.
The religious infatuation of a teenager? Perhaps, but no-one else in the Vanger family had ever been noticeably religious, and it was difficult to discern what impulses may have guided her. One explanation for her interest in God could, of course, have been that her father had drowned the previous year. Morell came to the conclusion that something had happened in Harriet’s life that was troubling her or affecting her. Morell, like Vanger, had devoted a great deal of time to talking to Harriet’s friends, trying to find someone in whom she might have confided.
Some measure of hope was pinned on Anita Vanger, two years older than Harriet and the daughter of Harald. She had spent the summer of 1966 on Hedeby Island and they were thought to be close friends. But Anita had no solid information to offer. They had hung out together that summer, swimming, taking walks, talking about movies, pop bands, and books. Harriet had sometimes gone with Anita when she took driving lessons. Once they had got happily drunk on a bottle of wine they stole from the house. For several weeks the two of them had also stayed at Gottfried’s cabin on the very tip of the island.
The questions about Harriet’s private thoughts and feelings remained unanswered. But Blomkvist did make a note of a discrepancy in the report: the information about her uncommunicative frame of mind came chiefly from her classmates, and to a certain extent from the family. Anita Vanger had not thought of her as being introverted at all. He made a note to discuss this matter with Vanger at some point.
A more concrete question, to which Morell had devoted much more attention, was a surprising page in Harriet’s date book, a beautiful bou............
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