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Part IV CHAPTER 24
PART 4
Hostile Takeover
JULY 11 TO DECEMBER 30
Ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police.
 
CHAPTER 24
Friday, July 11–Saturday, July 12


Martin Vanger bent down and went through Mikael’s pockets. He took the key.
“Smart of you to change the lock,” he said. “I’m going to take care of your girlfriend when she gets back.”
Blomkvist reminded himself that Martin was a negotiator experienced from many industrial battles. He had already seen through one bluff.
“Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why all of this?” Blomkvist gestured vaguely at the space around him.
Martin bent down and put one hand under Blomkvist’s chin, lifting his head so their eyes met.
“Because it’s so easy,” he said. “Women disappear all the time. Nobody misses them. Immigrants. Whores from Russia. Thousands of people pass through Sweden every year.”
He let go of Blomkvist’s head and stood up.
Martin’s words hit Blomkvist like a punch in the face.
Christ Almighty. This is no historical mystery. Martin Vanger is murdering women today. And I wandered right into it…
“As it happens, I don’t have a guest right now. But it might amuse you to know that while you and Henrik sat around babbling this winter and spring, there was a girl down here. Irina from Belarus. While you sat and ate dinner with me, she was locked up in the cage down here. It was a pleasant evening as I remember, no?”
Martin perched on the table, letting his legs dangle. Blomkvist shut his eyes. He suddenly felt acid in his throat and he swallowed hard. The pain in his gut and in his ribs seemed to swell.
“What do you do with the bodies?”
“I have my boat at the dock right below here. I take them a long way out to sea. Unlike my father, I don’t leave traces. But he was smart too. He spread his victims out all over Sweden.”
The puzzle pieces were falling into place.
Gottfried Vanger. From 1949 until 1965. Then Martin Vanger, starting in 1966 in Uppsala.
“You admire your father.”
“He was the one who taught me. He initiated me when I was fourteen.”
“Uddevalla. Lea Persson.”
“Aren’t you clever? Yes, I was there. I only watched, but I was there.”
“1964. Sara Witt in Ronneby.”
“I was sixteen. It was the first time I had a woman. My father taught me. I was the one who strangled her.”
He’s bragging. Good Lord, what a revoltingly sick family.
“You can’t have any notion of how demented this is.”
“You are a very ordinary little person, Mikael. You would not be able to understand the godlike feeling of having absolute control over someone’s life and death.”
“You enjoy torturing and killing women, Martin.”
“I don’t think so really. If I do an intellectual analysis of my condition, I’m more of a serial rapist than a serial murderer. In fact, most of all I’m a serial kidnapper. The killing is a natural consequence, so to speak, because I have to hide my crime.
“Of course my actions aren’t socially acceptable, but my crime is first and foremost a crime against the conventions of society. Death doesn’t come until the end of my guests’ visits here, after I’ve grown weary of them. It’s always so fascinating to see their disappointment.”
“Disappointment?”
“Exactly. Disappointment. They imagine that if they please me, they’ll live. They adapt to my rules. They start to trust me and develop a certain camaraderie with me, hoping to the very end that this camaraderie means something. The disappointment comes when it finally dawns on them that they’ve been well and truly screwed.”
Martin walked around the table and leaned against the steel cage.
“You with your bourgeois conventions would never grasp this, but the excitement comes from planning a kidnapping. They’re not done on impulse—those kinds of kidnappers invariably get caught. It’s a science with thousands of details that I have to weigh. I have to identify my prey, map out her life, who is she, where does she come from, how can I make contact with her, what do I have to do to be alone with my prey without revealing my name or having it turn up in any future police investigation?”
Shut up, for God’s sake, Blomkvist thought.
“Are you really interested in all this, Mikael?”
He bent down and stroked Blomkvist’s cheek. The touch was almost tender.
“You realise that this can only end one way? Will it bother you if I smoke?”
“You could offer me a cigarette,” he said.
Martin lit two cigarettes and carefully placed one of them between Blomkvist’s lips, letting him take a long drag.
“Thanks,” Blomkvist said, automatically.
Martin Vanger laughed again.
“You see. You’ve already started to adapt to the submission principle. I hold your life in my hands, Mikael. You know that I can dispatch you at any second. You pleaded with me to improve your quality of life, and you did so by using reason and a little good manners. And you were rewarded.”
Blomkvist nodded. His heart was pounding so hard it was almost unbearable.
 
At 11:15 Lisbeth Salander drank the rest of the water from her PET bottle as she turned the pages. Unlike Blomkvist, who earlier in the day had choked on his coffee, she didn’t get the water down the wrong way. On the other hand, she did open her eyes wide when she made the connection.
Click!
For two hours she had been wading through the staff newsletters from all points of the compass. The main newsletter was Company Information. It bore the Vanger logo—a Swedish banner fluttering in the wind, with the point forming an arrow. The publication was presumably put together by the firm’s advertising department, and it was filled with propaganda that was supposed to make the employees feel that they were members of one big family.
In association with the winter sports holiday in February 1967, Henrik Vanger, in a magnanimous gesture, had invited fifty employees from the main office and their families to a week’s skiing holiday in H?rjedalen. The company had made record profits during the previous year. The PR department went too and put together a picture report.
Many of the pictures with amusing captions were from the slopes. Some showed groups in the bar, with laughing employees hoisting beer mugs. Two photographs were of a small morning function when Henrik Vanger proclaimed Ulla-Britt Mogren to be the Best Office Worker of the Year. She was given a bonus of five hundred kronor and a glass bowl.
The ceremony was held on the terrace of the hotel, clearly right before people were thinking of heading back to the slopes. About twenty people were in the picture.
On the far right, just behind Henrik Vanger, stood a man with long blond hair. He was wearing a dark padded jacket with a distinctive patch at the shoulder. Since the publication was in black-and-white, the colour wasn’t identifiable, but Salander was willing to bet her life that the shoulder patch was red.
The caption explained the connection. …far right, Martin Vanger (19), who is studying in Uppsala. He is already being discussed as someone with a promising future in the company’s management.
“Gotcha,” Salander said in a low voice.
She switched off the desk lamp and left the newsletters in piles all over the desk—something for that slut Lindgren to take care of tomorrow.
She went out to the car park through a side door. As it closed behind her, she remembered that she had promised to tell the night watchman when she left. She stopped and let her eyes sweep over the car park. The watchman’s office was on the other side of the building. That meant that she would have to walk all the way round to the other side. Let sleeping dogs lie, she decided.
Before she put on her helmet, she turned on her mobile and called Blomkvist’s number. She got a message saying that the subscriber could not be reached. But she also saw that he had tried to call her no fewer than thirteen times between 3:30 and 9:00. In the last two hours, no call.
Salander tried the cottage number, but there was no answer. She frowned, strapped on her computer, put on her helmet, and kick-started the motorcycle. The ride from the main office at the entrance to Hedestad’s industrial district out to Hedeby Island took ten minutes. A light was on in the kitchen.
Salander looked around. Her first thought was that Blomkvist had gone to see Frode, but from the bridge she had already noticed that the lights were off in Frode’s house on the other side of the water. She looked at her watch: 11:40.
She went into the cottage, opened the wardrobe, and took out the two PCs that she was using to store the surveillance pictures from the cameras she had installed. It took her a while to run up the sequence of events.
At 15:32 Blomkvist entered the cabin.
At 16:03 he took his coffee cup out to the garden. He had a folder with him, which he studied. He made three brief telephone calls during the hour he spent out in the garden. The three calls corresponded exactly to calls she had not answered.
At 17:21 Blomkvist left the cottage. He was back less than fifteen minutes later.
At 18:20 he went to the gate and looked in the direction of the bridge.
At 21:03 he went out. He had not come back.
Salander fast-forwarded through the pictures from the other PC, which photographed the gate and the road outside the front door. She could see who had gone past during the day.
At 19:12 Nilsson came home.
At 19:42 the Saab that belonged to ?sterg?rden drove towards Hedestad.
At 20:02 the Saab was on its way back.
At 21:00 Martin Vanger’s car went by. Three minutes later Blomkvist left the house.
At 21:50, Martin Vanger appeared in the camera’s viewfinder. He stood at the gate for over a minute, looking at the house, then peering through the kitchen window. He went up to the porch and tried the door, taking out a key. He must have discovered that they had put in a new lock. He stood still for a moment before he turned on his heel and left the house.
Salander felt an ice-cold fear in her gut.
 
Martin Vanger once again left Blomkvist alone. He was still in his uncomfortable position with his hands behind his back and his neck fastened by a thin chain to an eyelet in the floor. He fiddled with the handcuffs, but he knew that he would not be able to get them off. The cuffs were so tight that his hands were numb.
He had no chance. He shut his eyes.
He did not know how much time had passed when he heard Martin’s footsteps again. He appeared in Blomkvist’s field of vision. He looked worried.
“Uncomfortable?” he said.
“Very,” said Blomkvist.
“You’ve only got yourself to blame. You should have gone back to Stockholm.”
“Why do you kill, Martin?”
“It’s a choice that I made. I could discuss the moral and intellectual aspects of what I do; we could talk all night, but it wouldn’t change anything. Try to look at it this way: a human being is a shell made of skin keeping the cells, blood, and chemical components in place. Very few end up in the history books. Most people succumb and disappear without a trace.”
“You kill women.”
“Those of us who murder for pleasure—I’m not the only one with this hobby—we live a complete life.”
“But why Harriet? Your own sister?”
In a second Martin grabbed him by the hair.
“What happened to her, you little bastard? Tell me.”
“What do you mean?” Blomkvist gasped. He tried to turn his head to lessen the pain in his scalp. The chain tightened round his neck.
“You and Salander. What have you come up with?”
“Let go, for heaven’s sake. We’re talking.”
Martin Vanger let go of his hair and sat cross-legged in front of Blomkvist. He took a knife from his jacket and opened it. He set the point against the skin just below Blomkvist’s eye. Blomkvist forced himself to meet Martin’s gaze.
“What the hell happened to her, bastard?”
“I don’t understand. I thought you killed her.”
Martin Vanger stared at Blomkvist for a long moment. Then he relaxed. He got up and wandered around the room, thinking. He threw the knife on the floor and laughed before he came back to face Blomkvist.
“Harriet, Harriet, always Harriet. We tried…to talk to her. Gottfried tried to teach her. We thought that she was one of us and that she would accept her duty, but she was just an ordinary…cunt. I had her under control, or so I thought, but she was planning to tell Henrik, and I realised that I couldn’t trust her. Sooner or later she was going to tell someone about me.”
“You killed her.”
“I wanted to kill her. I thought about it, but I arrived too late. I couldn’t get over to the island.”
Blomkvist’s brain was with difficulty trying to absorb this information, but it felt as if a message had popped up with the words INFORMATION OVERLOAD. Martin Vanger did not know what had happened to his sister.
All of a sud............
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