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Part III Chapter 15
PART 3
Mergers
MAY 16 TO JULY 11
Thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship.
 
CHAPTER 15
Friday, May 16–Saturday, May 31


Mikael Blomkvist was released from Rull?ker Prison on Friday, May 16, two months after he was admitted. The same day he entered the facility, he had submitted an application for parole, with no great optimism. He never did quite understand the technical reasons behind his release, but it may have had something to do with the fact that he did not use any holiday leave and that the prison population was forty-two while the number of beds was thirty-one. In any case, the warden—Peter Sarowsky, a forty-year-old Polish exile—with whom Blomkvist got along well, wrote a recommendation that his sentence be reduced.
His time at Rull?ker had been unstressful and pleasant enough. The prison had been designed, as Sarowsky expressed it, for hooligans and drunk drivers, not for hardened criminals. The daily routines reminded him of living in a youth hostel. His fellow prisoners, half of whom were second-generation immigrants, regarded Blomkvist as something of a rare bird in the group. He was the only inmate to appear on the TV news, which lent him a certain status.
On his first day, he was called in for a talk and offered therapy, training from Komvux, or the opportunity for other adult education, and occupational counselling. He did not feel any need at all for social rehabilitation, he had completed his studies, he thought, and he already had a job. On the other hand, he asked for permission to keep his iBook in his cell so that he could continue to work on the book he was commissioned to write. His request was granted without further ado, and Sarowsky arranged to bring him a lockable cabinet so that he could leave the computer in his cell. Not that any of the inmates would have stolen or vandalised it or anything like that. They rather kept a protective eye on him.
In this way Blomkvist spent two months working about six hours a day on the Vanger family chronicle, work that was interrupted only by a few hours of cleaning or recreation each day. Blomkvist and two others, one of whom came from Sk?vde and had his roots in Chile, were assigned to clean the prison gym each day. Recreation consisted of watching TV, playing cards, or weight training. Blomkvist discovered that he was a passable poker player, but he still lost a few fifty-?re coins every day. Regulations permitted playing for money if the total pot did not exceed five kronor.
He was told of his release only one day before. Sarowsky summoned him to his office and they shared a toast with aquavit.
 
Blomkvist went straight back to the cabin in Hedeby. When he walked up the front steps he heard a meow and found himself escorted by the reddish-brown cat.
“OK, you can come in,” he said. “But I have no milk yet.”
He unpacked his bags. It was as if he had been on holiday, and he realised that he actually missed the company of Sarowsky and his fellow prisoners. Absurd as it seemed, he had enjoyed his time at Rull?ker, but his release had come so unexpectedly that he had had no time to let anyone know.
It was just after 6:00 in the evening. He hurried over to Konsum to buy groceries before they closed. When he got home he called Berger. A message said she was unavailable. He asked for her to call him the next day.
Then he walked up to his employer’s house. He found Vanger on the ground floor. The old man raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw Mikael.
“Did you escape?”
“Released early.”
“That’s a surprise.”
“For me too. I found out last night.”
They looked at each other for a few seconds. Then the old man surprised Blomkvist by throwing his arms around him and giving him a bear hug.
“I was just about to eat. Join me.”
Anna produced a great quantity of bacon pancakes with lingonberries. They sat there in the dining room and talked for almost two hours. Blomkvist told him about how far he had got with the family chronicle, and where there were holes and gaps. They did not talk at all about Harriet, but Vanger told him all about Millennium.
“We had a board meeting. Fr?ken Berger and your partner Malm were kind enough to move two of the meetings up here, while Dirch stood in for me at a meeting in Stockholm. I really wish I were a few years younger, but the truth is that it’s too tiring for me to travel so far. I’ll try to get down there during the summer.”
“No reason not to hold the meetings up here,” Blomkvist said. “So how does it feel to be a part owner of the magazine?”
Vanger gave him a wry smile.
“It’s actually the most fun I’ve had in years. I’ve taken a look at the finances, and they look pretty fair. I won’t have to put up as much money as I thought—the gap between income and expenses is dwindling.”
“I talked with Erika this week. She says that advertising revenue has perked up.”
“It’s starting to turn around, yes, but it’ll take time. At first the companies in the Vanger Corporation went in and bought up a bunch of fullpage ads. But two former advertisers—mobile telephones and a travel bureau—have come back.” He smiled broadly. “We’re also doing a little more one-to-one hustling among Wennerstr?m’s enemies. And, believe me, there’s a long list.”
“Have you heard directly from Wennerstr?m?”
“Well, not really. But we leaked a story that Wennerstr?m is organising the boycott of Millennium. That must have made him look petty. A reporter at DN is said to have reached him and got a surly reply.”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Enjoy isn’t the word. I should have devoted myself to this years ago.”
“What is it between you and Wennerstr?m, anyway?”
“Don’t even try. You’ll find out at the end of your year.”




When Blomkvist left Vanger around 9:00 there was a distinct feeling of spring in the air. It was dark outside and he hesitated for a moment. Then he made his familiar circuit and knocked on the door of Cecilia Vanger’s house.
He wasn’t sure what he expected. Cecilia opened her eyes wide and instantly looked uncomfortable as she let him into the hall. They stood there, suddenly unsure of each other. She too asked if he had escaped, and he explained the situation.
“I just wanted to say hello. Am I interrupting something?”
She avoided his eyes. Mikael could sense at once that she wasn’t particularly glad to see him.
“No…no, come in. Would you like some coffee?”
“I would.”
He followed her into the kitchen. She stood with her back to him as she filled the coffeemaker with water. He put a hand on her shoulder, and she stiffened.
“Cecilia, you don’t look as if you want to give me coffee.”
“I wasn’t expecting you for another month,” she said. “You surprised me.”
He turned her around so that he could see her face. They stood in silence for a moment. She still would not look him in the eye.
“Cecilia. Forget about the coffee. What’s going on?”
She shook her head and took a deep breath.
“Mikael, I’d like you to leave. Don’t ask. Just leave.”
 
Mikael first walked back to the cottage, but paused at the gate, undecided. Instead of going in he went down to the water by the bridge and sat on a rock. He smoked a cigarette while he sorted out his thoughts and wondered what could have so dramatically changed Cecilia Vanger’s attitude towards him.
He suddenly heard the sound of an engine and saw a big white boat slip into the sound beneath the bridge. When it passed, Mikael saw that it was Martin Vanger standing at the wheel, with his gaze focused on avoiding sunken rocks in the water. The boat was a forty-foot motor cruiser—an impressive bundle of power. He stood up and took the beach path. He discovered that several boats were already in the water at various docks, a mixture of motorboats and sailing boats. There were several Pettersson boats, and at one dock an IF-class yacht was rocking in the wake. Other boats were larger and more expensive vessels. He noticed a Hallberg-Rassy. The boats also indicated the class distribution of Hedeby’s marina—Martin Vanger had without a doubt the largest and the plushest boat in view.
He stopped below Cecilia Vanger’s house and stole a glance at the lighted windows on the top floor. Then he went home and put on some coffee of his own. He went into his office while he waited for it to brew.
Before he presented himself at the prison he had returned the majority of Vanger’s documentation on Harriet. It had seemed wise not to leave it in an empty house. Now the shelves looked bare. He had, of the reports, only five of Vanger’s own notebooks, and these he had taken with him to Rull?ker and now knew by heart. He noticed an album on the top shelf of the bookcase that he had forgotten.
He carried it to the kitchen table. He poured himself coffee and began going through it.
They were photographs that had been taken on the day Harriet disappeared. The first of them was the last photograph of Harriet, at the Children’s Day parade in Hedestad. Then there were some 180 crystal-clear pictures of the scene of the accident on the bridge. He had examined the images one by one with a magnifying glass on several occasions previously. Now he turned the pages almost absent-mindedly; he knew he was not going to find anything he had not seen before. In fact he felt all of a sudden fed up with the unexplainable disappearance of Harriet Vanger and slammed the album shut.
Restlessly he went to the kitchen window and peered out into the darkness.
Then he turned his gaze back to the album. He could not have explained the feeling, but a thought flitted through his head, as though he were reacting to something he had just seen. It was as though an invisible creature had whispered in his ear, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
He opened the album again. He went through it page by page, looking at all the pictures of the bridge. He looked at the younger version of an oil-soaked Henrik Vanger and a younger Harald, a man whom he had still not met. The broken railing, the buildings, the windows and the vehicles visible in the pictures. He could not fail to identify a twenty-year-old Cecilia in the midst of the onlookers. She had on a light-coloured dress and a dark jacket and was in at least twenty of the photographs.
He felt a fresh excitement, and over the years Blomkvist had learned to trust his instincts. These instincts were reacting to something in the album, but he could not yet say what it was.
 
He was still at the kitchen table at 11:00, staring one by one again at the photographs when he heard the door open.
“May I come in?” It was Cecilia Vanger. Without waiting for an answer she sat down across from him at the table. Blomkvist had a strange feeling of déjà vu. She was dressed in a thin, loose, light-coloured dress and a greyish-blue jacket, clothes almost identical to those she was wearing in the photographs from 1966.
“You’re the one who’s the problem,” she said.
Blomkvist raised his eyebrows.
“Forgive me, but you took me by surprise when you knocked on the door tonight. Now I’m so unhappy I can’t sleep.”
“Why are you unhappy?”
“Don’t you know?”
He shook his head.
“If I tell you, promise you won’t laugh.”
“Promise.”
“When I seduced you last winter it was an idiotic, impulsive act. I wanted to enjoy myself, that’s all. That first night I was quite drunk, and I had no intention of starting anything long-term with you. Then it turned into something else. I want you to know that those weeks with you as my occasional lover were some of the happiest in my life.”
“I thought it was lovely too.”
“Mikael, I’ve been lying to you and to myself the whole time. I’ve never been particularly relaxed about sex. I’ve had five sex partners in my entire life. Once when I was twenty-one and a debutante. Then with my husband, whom I met when I was twenty-five and who turned out to be a bastard. And then a few times with three guys I met several years apart. But you provoked something in me. I simply couldn’t get enough. It had something to do with the fact that you’re so undemanding.”
“Cecilia, you don’t have to…”
“Shh—don’t interrupt, or I’ll never be able to tell you this.”
Blomkvist sat in silence.
“The day you left for prison I was absolutely miserable. You were gone, as though you had never existed. It was dark here in the guest house. It was cold and empty in my bed. And there I was, an old maid of fifty-six again.”
She said nothing for a while and looked Blomkvist in the eyes.
“I fell in love with you last winter. I didn’t mean to, but it happened. And then I took stock and realised that you were only here temporarily; one day you’ll be gone for good, and I’ll stay here for the rest of my life. It hurt so damn much that I decided I wasn’t going to let you in again when you came back from prison.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. When you left tonight I sat and cried. I wish I had the chance to live my life over again. Then I would decide on one thing.”
“What’s that?”
She looked down at the table.
“That I would have to be totally insane to stop seeing you just because you’re going to leave one day. Mikael, can we start again? Can you forget what happened earlier this evening?”
“It’s forgotten,” he said. “But thank you for telling me.”
She was still looking down at the table.
“If you still want me, let’s do it.”
She looked at him again. Then she got up and went over to the bedroom door. She dropped her jacket on the floor and pulled her dress over her head as she went.
 
Blomkvist and Cecilia Vanger woke up when the front door opened and someone was walking through the kitchen. They heard the thud of something heavy being put down near the woodstove. Then Berger was standing in the bedroom doorway with a smile that rapidly changed to shock.
“Oh, good Lord.” She took a step back.
“Hi, Erika,” Blomkvist said.
“Hi. I’m so sorry. I apologise a thousand times for barging in like this. I should have knocked.”
“We should have locked the front door. Erika—this is Cecilia Vanger. Cecilia—Erika Berger is the editor in chief of Millennium.”
“Hi,” Cecilia said.
“Hi,” Berger said. She looked as though she could not decide whether to step forward and politely shake hands or just leave. “Uh, I…I can go for a walk…”
“What do you say to putting on some coffee instead?” Blomkvist looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Just past noon.
Berger nodded and pulled the bedroom door shut. Blomkvist and Cecilia looked at each other. Cecilia appeared embarrassed. They had made love and talked until 4:00 in the morning. Then Cecilia said she thought she’d sleep over and that in the future she wouldn’t give a tinker’s cuss who knew she was sleeping with Mikael Blomkvist. She had slept with her back to him and with his arm tucked around her breasts.
“Listen, it’s OK,” he said. “Erika’s married and she isn’t my girlfriend. We see each other now and then, but she doesn’t care at all if you and I have something…She’s probably pretty embarrassed herself right now.”
When they went into the kitchen a while later, Erika had set out coffee, juice, lemon marmalade, cheese, and toast. It smelled good. Cecilia went straight up to her and held out her hand.
“I was a little abrupt in there. Hi.”
“Dear Cecilia, I’m so sorry for stomping in like an elephant,” said a very embarrassed Erika Berger.
“Forget it, for God’s sake. And let’s have breakfast.”
 
After breakfast Berger excused herself and left them alone, saying that she had to go and say hello to Vanger. Cecilia cleared the table with her back to Mikael. He went up and put his arms around her.
“What’s going to happen now?” Cecilia said.
“Nothing. This is the way it is—Erika is my best friend. She and I have been together off and on for twenty years and will probably be, on and off, together for another twenty. I hope so. But we’ve never been a cou............
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