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HOME > Classical Novels > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > CHAPTER 18
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Wednesday, June 18

Salander awoke with a start from a dreamless slumber. She felt faintly sick. She did not have to turn her head to know that Mimmi had left already for work, but her scent still lingered in the stuffy air of the bedroom. Salander had drunk too many beers the night before with the Evil Fingers at the Mill. Mimmi had turned up not long before closing time and come home with her and into bed.
Salander—unlike Mimmi—had never thought of herself as a lesbian. She had never brooded over whether she was straight, gay, or even bisexual. She did not give a damn about labels, did not see that it was anyone else’s business whom she spent her nights with. If she had to choose, she preferred guys—and they were in the lead, statistically speaking. The only problem was finding a guy who was not a jerk and one who was also good in bed; Mimmi was a sweet compromise, and she turned Salander on. They had met in a beer tent at the Pride Festival a year ago, and Mimmi was the only person that Salander had introduced to the Evil Fingers. But it was still just a casual affair for both of them. It was nice lying close to Mimmi’s warm, soft body, and Salander did not mind waking up with her and their having breakfast together.
Her clock said it was 9:30, and she was wondering what could have woken her when the doorbell rang again. She sat up in surprise. No-one had ever rung her doorbell at this hour. Very few people rang her doorbell at all. She wrapped a sheet around her and walked unsteadily to the hall to open the door. She stared straight into the eyes of Mikael Blomkvist, felt panic race through her body, and took a step back.
“Good morning, Fr?ken Salander,” he greeted her cheerfully. “It was a late night, I see. Can I come in?”
Without waiting for an answer, he walked in, closing the door behind him. He regarded with curiosity the pile of clothes on the hall floor and the rampart of bags filled with newspapers; then he peered through the bedroom door while Salander’s world started spinning in the wrong direction. How? What? Who? Blomkvist looked at her bewilderment with amusement.
“I assumed that you would not have had breakfast yet, so I brought some filled bagels with me. I got one with roast beef, one with turkey and Dijon mustard, and one vegetarian with avocado, not knowing your preference.” He marched into her kitchen and started rinsing her coffeemaker. “Where do you keep coffee?” he said. Salander stood in the hall as if frozen until she heard the water running out of the tap. She took three quick strides.
“Stop! Stop at once!” She realised that she was shouting and lowered her voice. “Damn it all, you can’t come barging in here as if you owned the place. We don’t even know each other.”
Blomkvist paused, holding a jug and turned to look at her.
“Wrong! You know me better than almost anyone else does. Isn’t that so?”
He turned his back on her and poured the water into the machine. Then he started opening her cupboards in search of coffee. “Speaking of which, I know how you do it. I know your secrets.”
Salander shut her eyes, wishing that the floor would stop pitching under her feet. She was in a state of mental paralysis. She was hung over. This situation was unreal, and her brain was refusing to function. Never had she met one of her subjects face to face. He knows where I live! He was standing in her kitchen. This was impossible. It was outrageous. He knows who I am!
She felt the sheet slipping, and she pulled it tighter around her. He said something, but at first she didn’t understand him. “We have to talk,” he said again. “But I think you’d better take a shower first.”
She tried to speak sensibly. “You listen to me—if you’re thinking of making trouble, I’m not the one you should be talking to. I was just doing a job. You should talk to my boss.”
He held up his hands. A universal sign of peace, or I have no weapon.
“I’ve already talked to Armansky. By the way, he wants you to ring him—you didn’t answer his call last night.”
She did not sense any threat, but she still stepped back a pace when he came closer, took her arm and escorted her to the bathroom door. She disliked having anyone touch her without her leave.
“I don’t want to make trouble,” he said. “But I’m quite anxious to talk to you. After you’re awake, that is. The coffee will be ready by the time you put on some clothes. First, a shower. Vamoose!”
Passively she obeyed. Lisbeth Salander is never passive, she thought.
She leaned against the bathroom door and struggled to collect her thoughts. She was more shaken than she would have thought possible. Gradually she realised that a shower was not only good advice but a necessity after the tumult of the night. When she was done, she slipped into her bedroom and put on jeans, and a T-shirt with the slogan ARMAGEDDON WAS YESTERDAY—TODAY WE HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.
After pausing for a second, she searched through her leather jacket that was slung over a chair. She took the taser out of the pocket, checked to see that it was loaded, and stuck it in the back pocket of her jeans. The smell of coffee was spreading through the apartment. She took a deep breath and went back to the kitchen.
“Do you never clean up?” he said.
He had filled the sink with dirty dishes and ashtrays; he had put the old milk cartons into a rubbish sack and cleared the table of five weeks of newspapers; he had washed the table clean and put out mugs and—he wasn’t joking after all—bagels. OK, let’s see where this is heading. She sat down opposite him.
“You didn’t answer my question. Roast beef, turkey, or vegetarian?”
“Roast beef.”
“Then I’ll take the turkey.”
They ate in silence, scrutinising each other. When she finished her bagel, she also ate half of the vegetarian one. She picked up a crumpled pack of cigarettes from the windowsill and dug one out.
He broke the silence. “I may not be as good as you at investigations, but at least I’ve found out that you’re not a vegetarian or—as Herr Frode thought—anorexic. I’ll include that information in my report.”
Salander stared at him, but he looked so amused that she gave him a crooked smile. The situation was beyond all rhyme or reason. She sipped her coffee. He had kind eyes. She decided that whatever else he might be, he did not seem to be a malicious person. And there was nothing in the PI she had done that would indicate he was a vicious bastard who abused his girlfriends or anything like that. She reminded herself that she was the one who knew everything. Knowledge is power.
“What are you grinning at?” she said.
“I’m sorry. I had not in fact planned to make my entrance in this way. I didn’t mean to alarm you. But you should have seen your face when you opened the door. It was priceless.”
Silence. To her surprise, Salander found his uninvited intrusion acceptable—well, at least not unpleasant.
“You’ll have to think of it as my revenge for your poking around in my personal life,” he said. “Are you frightened?”
“Not the least bit,” Salander said.
“Good. I’m not here to make trouble for you.”
“If you even try to hurt me I’ll have to do you an injury. You’ll be sorry.”
Blomkvist studied her. She was barely four foot eleven and did not look as though she could put up much resistance if he were an assailant who had forced his way into her apartment. But her eyes were expressionless and calm.
“Well, that won’t be necessary,” he said at last. “I only need to talk to you. If you want me to leave, all you have to do is say so. It’s funny but…oh, nothing…”
“This may sound crazy, but four days ago I didn’t even know you existed. Then I read your analysis of me.” He searched through his shoulder bag and brought out the report. “It was not entertaining reading.”
He looked out of the kitchen window for a while. “Could I bum a cigarette?” She slid the pack across the table.
“You said before that we don’t know each other, and I said that yes, we do.” He pointed at the report. “I can’t compete with you. I’ve only done a rapid routine check, to get your address and date of birth, stuff like that. But you certainly know a great deal about me. Much of which is private, dammit, things that only my closest friends know. And now here I am, sitting in your kitchen and eating bagels with you. We have known each other half an hour, but I have the feeling that we’ve been friends for years. Does that make sense to you?”
She nodded.
“You have beautiful eyes,” he said.
“You have nice eyes yourself,” she said.
Long silence.
“Why are you here?” she said.
Kalle Blomkvist—she remembered his nickname and suppressed the impulse to say it out loud—suddenly looked serious. He also looked very tired. The self-confidence that he had shown when he first walked into her apartment was now gone. The clowning was over, or at least had been put aside. She felt him studying her closely.
Salander felt that her composure was barely skin-deep and that she really wasn’t in complete control of her nerves. This totally unlooked-for visit had shaken her in a way that she had never experienced in connection with her work. Her bread and butter was spying on people. In fact she had never thought of what she did for Armansky as a real job; she thought of it more as a complicated pastime, a sort of hobby.
The truth was that she enjoyed digging into the lives of other people and exposing the secrets they were trying to hide. She had been doing it, in one form or another, for as long as she could remember. And she was still doing it today, not only when Armansky gave her an assignment, but sometimes for the sheer fun of it. It gave her a kick. It was like a complicated computer game, except that it dealt with real live people. And now one of her hobbies was sitting right here in her kitchen, feeding her bagels. It was totally absurd.
“I have a fascinating problem,” Blomkvist said. “Tell me this, when you were doing your research on me for Herr Frode, did you have any idea what it was going to be used for?”
“The purpose was to find out all that information about me because Frode, or rather his employer, wanted to give me a freelance job.”
“I see.”
He gave her a faint smile.
“One of these days you and I should have a discussion about the ethics of snooping into other people’s lives. But right now I have a different problem. The job I was offered, and which inexplicably I agreed to do, is without doubt the most bizarre assignment I’ve ever undertaken. Before I say more I need to be able to trust you, Lisbeth.”
“What do you mean?”
“Armansky tells me you’re 100 percent reliable. But I still want to ask you the question. Can I tell you confidential things without your telling them to anyone else, by any means, ever?”
“Wait a minute. You’ve talked to Dragan? Is he the one who sent you here?” I’m going to kill you, you fucking stupid Armenian.
“Not exactly. You’re not the only one who can find out someone’s address; I did that all on my own. I looked you up in the national registry. There are three Lisbeth Salanders, and the other two weren’t a good match. But I had a long talk with Armansky yesterday. He too thought that I wanted to make trouble over your ferreting around in my private life. In the end I convinced him that I had a legitimate purpose.”
“Which is what?”
“As I told you, Frode’s employer hired me to do a job. I’ve reached a point where I need a skilled researcher. Frode told me about you and said that you were pretty good. He hadn’t meant to identify you, it just slipped out. I explained to Armansky what I wanted. He OK’d the whole thing and tried to call you. And here I am. Call him if you want.”
It took Salander a minute to find her mobile among the clothes that Mimmi had pulled off her. Blomkvist watched her embarrassed search with interest as he patrolled the apartment. All her furniture seemed to be strays. She had a state-of-the-art PowerBook on an apology for a desk in the living room. She had a CD player on a shelf. Her CD collection was a pitiful total of ten CDs by groups he had never heard of, and the musicians on the covers looked like vampires from outer space. Music was probably not her big interest.
Salander saw that Armansky had called her seven times the night before and twice this morning. She punched in his number while Blomkvist leaned against the door frame and listened to the conversation.
“It’s me…sorry…yes…it was turned off…I know, he wants to hire me…no, he’s standing in the middle of my fucking living room, for Christ’s sake…” She raised her voice. “Dragan, I’m hung over and my head hurts, so please, no games, did you OK this job or not?…Thanks.”
Salander looked through the door to the living room at Blomkvist pulling out CDs and taking books off the bookshelf. He had just found a brown pill bottle that was missing its label, and he was holding it up to the light. He was about to unscrew the top, so she reached out and took the bottle from him. She went back to the kitchen and sat down on a chair, massaging her forehead until he joined her.
“The rules are simple,” she said. “Nothing that you discuss with me or with Armansky will be shared with anyone at all. There will be a contract which states that Milton Security pledges confidentiality. I want to know what the job is about before I decide whether I want to work for you or not. That also means that I agree to keep to myself everything you tell me, whether I take the job or not, provided that you’re not conducting any sort of serious criminal activity. In which case, I’ll report it to Dragan, who in turn will report it to the police.”
“Fine.” He hesitated. “Armansky may not be completely aware of what I want to hire you for…”
“Some historical research, he said.”
“Well, yes, that’s right. I want you to help me to identify a murderer.”
It took Blomkvist an hour to explain all the intricate details in the Harriet Vanger case. He left nothing out. He had Frode’s permission to hire her, and to do that he had to be able to trust her completely.
He told her everything about Cecilia Vanger and that he had found her face in Harriet’s window. He gave Salander as good a description of her character as he could. She had moved high up on the list of suspects, his list. But he was still far from believing that she could be in any way associated with a murderer who was active when she was still a young woman.
He gave Salander a copy of the list in the date book: “Magda—32016; Sara—32109; R.J.—30112; R.L.—32027; Mari—32018.” And he gave her a copy of the verses from Leviticus.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I’ve identified the R.J., Rebecka Jacobsson.” He told her what the five-figure numbers stood for. “If I’m right, then we’re going to find four more victims—Magda, Sara, Mari, and R.L.”
“You think they’re all murdered?”
“What I think is that we are looking for someone who—if the other numbers and initials also prove to be shorthand for four more killings—is a murderer who was active in the fifties and maybe also in the sixties. And who is in some way linked to Harriet Vanger. I’ve gone through back issues of the Hedestad Courier. Rebecka’s murder is the only grotesque crime that I could find with a connection to Hedestad. I want you to keep digging, all over Sweden if necessary, until you make sense of the other names and verses.”
Salander thought in expressionless silence for such a long time that Blomkvist began to grow impatient. He was wondering whether he had chosen the wrong person when she at ............
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