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HOME > Classical Novels > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > CHAPTER 25
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CHAPTER 25
Saturday, July 12–Monday, July 14


Blomkvist woke with a start at 5:00 in the morning, scrabbling at his neck to get rid of the noose. Salander came in and took hold of his hands, keeping him still. He opened his eyes and looked at her blearily.
“I didn’t know that you played golf,” he said, closing his eyes again. She sat with him for a couple of minutes until she was sure he was asleep. While he slept, Salander had gone back to Martin Vanger’s basement to examine and photograph the crime scene. In addition to the torture instruments, she had found a collection of violent pornographic magazines and a large number of Polaroid photographs pasted into albums.
There was no diary. On the other hand, she did find two A4 binders with passport photographs and handwritten notes about the women. She put the binders in a nylon bag along with Martin’s Dell PC laptop, which she found on the hall table upstairs. While Blomkvist slept she continued her examination of Martin’s computer and binders. It was after 6:00 by the time she turned off the computer. She lit a cigarette.
Together with Mikael Blomkvist she had taken up the hunt for what they thought was a serial killer from the past. They had found something appallingly different. She could hardly imagine the horrors that must have played out in Martin Vanger’s basement, in the midst of this well-ordered, idyllic spot.
She tried to understand.
Martin Vanger had been killing women since the sixties, during the past fifteen years one or two victims per year. The killing had been done so discreetly and was so well planned that no-one was even aware that a serial killer was at work. How was that possible?
The binders provided a partial answer.
His victims were often new arrivals, immigrant girls who had no friends or social contacts in Sweden. There were also prostitutes and social outcasts, with drug abuse or other problems in their background.
From her own studies of the psychology of sexual sadism, Salander had learned that this type of murderer usually collected souvenirs from his victims. These souvenirs functioned as reminders that the killer could use to re-create some of the pleasure he had experienced. Martin Vanger had developed this peculiarity by keeping a “death book.” He had catalogued and graded his victims. He had described their suffering. He had documented his killings with videotapes and photographs.
The violence and the killing were the goal, but Salander concluded that it was the hunt that was Martin Vanger’s primary interest. In his laptop he had created a database with a list of more than a hundred women. There were employees from the Vanger Corporation, waitresses in restaurants where he regularly ate, reception staff in hotels, clerks at the social security office, the secretaries of business associates, and many other women. It seemed as if Martin had pigeonholed practically every woman he had ever come into contact with.
He had killed only a fraction of these women, but every woman anywhere near him was a potential victim. The cataloguing had the mark of a passionate hobby, and he must have devoted countless hours to it.
Is she married or single? Does she have children and family? Where does she work? Where does she live? What kind of car does she drive? What sort of education does she have? Hair colour? Skin colour? Figure?
The gathering of personal information about potential victims must have been a significant part of Martin Vanger’s sexual fantasies. He was first of all a stalker, and second a murderer.
When she had finished reading, she discovered a small envelope in one of the binders. She pulled out two much handled and faded Polaroid pictures. In the first picture a dark-haired girl was sitting at a table. The girl had on dark jeans and had a bare torso with tiny, pointed breasts. She had turned her face away from the camera and was in the process of lifting one arm in a gesture of defence, almost as if the photographer had surprised her. In the second picture she was completely naked. She was lying on her stomach on a blue bedspread. Her face was still turned away from the camera.
Salander stuffed the envelope with the pictures into her jacket pocket. After that she carried the binders over to the woodstove and struck a match. When she was done with the fire, she stirred the ashes. It was pouring down with rain when she took a short walk and, kneeling as if to tie a shoelace, discreetly dropped Martin Vanger’s laptop into the water under the bridge.
 
When Frode marched through the open door at 7:30 that morning, Salander was at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. Frode’s face was ashen, and he looked as if he had had a cruel awakening.
“Where’s Mikael?” he said.
“He’s still asleep.”
Frode sat down heavily on a kitchen chair. Salander poured coffee and pushed the cup over to him.
“Martin…I just found out that Martin was killed in a car accident last night.”
“That’s sad,” Salander said, taking a sip of her own coffee.
Frode looked up. At first he stared at her, uncomprehending. Then his eyes opened wide.
“What…?”
“He crashed. How annoying.”
“What do you know about this?”
“He drove his car right into the front of a truck. He committed suicide. The press, the stress, a floundering financial empire, dot, dot, dot, too much for him. At least that’s what I suppose it will say on the placards.”
Frode looked as if he were about to have a cerebral haemorrhage. He stood up swiftly and walked unsteadily to the bedroom.
“Let him sleep,” Salander snapped.
Frode looked at the sleeping figure. He saw the black and blue marks on Blomkvist’s face and the contusions on his chest. Then he saw the flaming line where the noose had been. Salander touched his arm and closed the door. Frode backed out and sank on to the kitchen bench.




Lisbeth Salander told him succinctly what had happened during the night. She told him what Martin Vanger’s chamber of horrors looked like and how she had found Mikael with a noose around his neck and the CEO of the Vanger Corporation standing in front of his naked body. She told him what she had found in the company’s archives the day before and how she had established a possible link between Martin’s father and the murders of at least seven women.
Frode interrupted her recitation only once. When she stopped talking, he sat mutely for several minutes before he took a deep breath and said: “What are we going to do?”
“That’s not for me to say,” Salander said.
“But…”
“As I see it, I’ve never set foot in Hedestad.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Under no circumstances do I want my name in any police report. I don’t exist in connection with any of this. If my name is mentioned in connection with this story, I’ll deny that I’ve ever been here, and I’ll refuse to answer a single question.”
Frode gave her a searching look.
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to understand.”
“Then what should I do?”
“You’ll have to work that out for yourself. Only leave me and Mikael out of it.”
Frode was deathly pale.
“Look at it this way: the only thing you know is that Martin Vanger died in a traffic accident. You have no idea that he was also an insane, nauseating serial killer, and you’ve never heard about the room in his basement.”
She put the key on the table between them.
“You’ve got time—before anyone is going to clean out Martin’s house and discover the basement.”
“We have to go to the police about this.”
“Not we. You can go to the police if you like. It’s your decision.”
“This can’t be brushed under a carpet.”
“I’m not suggesting that it should be brushed anywhere, just that you leave me and Mikael out of it. When you discover the room, you draw your own conclusions and decide for yourself who you want to tell.”
“If what you say is true, it means that Martin has kidnapped and murdered women…there must be families that are desperate because they don’t know where their children are. We can’t just…”
“That’s right. But there’s just one problem. The bodies are gone. Maybe you’ll find passports or ID cards in some drawer. Maybe some of the victims can be identified from the videotapes. But you don’t need to decide today. Think it over.”
Frode looked panic-stricken.
“Oh, dear God. This will be the death blow for the company. Think of how many families will lose their livelihood if it gets out that Martin…”
Frode rocked back and forth, juggling with a moral dilemma.
“That’s one issue. If Isabella Vanger is to inherit, you may think it would be inappropriate if she were the first one to light upon her son’s hobby.”
“I have to go and see…”
“I think you should stay away from that room today,” Salander said sharply. “You have a lot of things to take care of. You have to go and tell Henrik, and you have to call a special meeting of the board and do all those things you chaps do when your CEO dies.”
Frode thought about what she was saying. His heart was thumping. He was the old attorney and problem-solver who was expected to have a plan ready to meet any eventuality, yet he felt powerless to act. It suddenly dawned on him that here he was, taking orders from a child. She had somehow seized control of the situation and given him the guidelines that he himself was unable to formulate.
“And Harriet…?”
“Mikael and I are not finished yet. But you can tell Herr Vanger that I think now that we’re going to solve it.”
 
Martin Vanger’s unexpected demise was the top story on the 9:00 news on the radio when Blomkvist woke up. Nothing was reported about the night’s events other than to say that the industrialist had inexplicably and at high speed crossed to the wrong side of the E4, travelling south. He had been alone in the car.
The local radio ran a story that dealt with concern for the future of the Vanger Corporation and the consequences that this death would inevitably have for the company.
A hastily composed lunchtime update from the TT wire service had the headline A TOWN IN SHOCK, and it summed up the problems of the Vanger Corporation. It escaped no-one’s notice that in Hedestad alone more than 3,000 of the town’s 21,000 inhabitants were employed by the Vanger Corporation or were otherwise dependent on the prosperity of the company. The firm’s CEO was dead, and the former CEO was seriously ill after a heart attack. There was no natural heir. All this at a time considered to be among the most critical in the company’s history.
 
Blomkvist had had the option of going to the police in Hedestad and telling them what had happened that night, but Salander had already set a certain process in motion. Since he had not immediately called the police, it became harder to do so with each hour that passed. He spent the morning in gloomy silence, sitting on the kitchen bench, watching the rain outside. Around 10:00 there was another cloudburst, but by lunchtime the rain had stopped and the wind had died down a bit. He went out and wiped off the garden furniture and then sat there with a mug of coffee. He was wearing a shirt with the collar turned up.
Martin’s death cast a shadow, of course, over the daily life of Hedeby. Cars began parking outside Isabella Vanger’s house as the clan gathered to offer condolences. Salander observed the procession without emotion.
“How are you feeling?” she said at last.
“I think I’m still in shock,” he said. “I was helpless. For several hours I was convinced that I was going to die. I felt the fear of death and there wasn’t a thing I could do.”
He stretched out his hand and placed it on her knee.
“Thank you,” he said. “But for you, I would be dead.”
Salander smiled her crooked smile.
“All the same…I don’t understand how you could be such an idiot as to tackle him on your own. I was chained to the floor down there, praying that you’d see the picture and put two and two together and call the police.”
“If I’d waited for the police, you wouldn’t have survived. I wasn’t going to let that motherfucker kill you.”
“Why don’t you want to talk to the police?”
“I never talk to the authorities.”
“Why not?”
“That’s my business. But in your case, I don’t think it would be a terrific career move to be hung out to dry as the journalist who was stripped naked by Martin Vanger, the famous serial killer. If you don’t like ‘Kalle Blomkvist,’ you can think up a whole new epithet. Just don’t take it out of this chapter of your heroic life.”
Blomkvist gave her a searching look and dropped the subject.
“We do still have a problem,” she said.
Blomkvist nodded. “What happened to Harriet. Yes.”
Salander laid the two Polaroid pictures on the table in front of him. She explained where she’d found them. Mikael studied the pictures intently for a while before he looked up.
“It might be her,” he said at last. “I wouldn’t swear to it, but the shape of her body and the hair remind me of the pictures I’ve seen.”
They sat in the garden for an hour, piecing together the details. They discovered that each of them, independently and from different directions, had identified Martin Vanger as the missing link.
Salander never did find the photograph that Blomkvist had left on the kitchen table. She had come to the conclusion that Blomkvist had done something stupid after studying the pictures from the surveillance cameras. She had gone over to Martin Vanger’s house by way of the shore and looked in all the windows and seen no-one. She had tried all the doors and windows on the ground floor. Finally she had climbed in through an open balcony door upstairs. It had taken a long time, and she had moved extremely cautiously as she searched the house, room by room. Eventually she found the stairs down to the basement. Martin had been careless. He left the door to his chamber of horrors ajar, and she was able to form a clear impression of the situation.
Blomkvist asked her how much she had heard of what Martin said.
“Not much. I got there when he was asking you about what happened to Harriet, just before he hung you up by the noose. I left for a few minutes to go back and find a weapon.”
“Martin had no idea what happened to Harriet,” Blomkvist said.
“Do you believe that?”
“Yes,” Blomkvist said without hesitation. “Martin was dafter than a syphilitic polecat—where do I get these metaphors from?—but he confessed to all the crimes he had committed. I think that he wanted to impress me. But when it came to Harriet, he was as desperate as Henrik Vanger to find out what happened.”
“So…where does that take us?”
“We know that Gottfried was responsible for the first series of murders, between 1949 and 1965.”
“OK. And he brought on little Martin.”
“Talk about a dysfunctional family,” Blomkvist said. “Martin really didn’t have a chance.”
Salander gave him a strange look.
“What Martin told me—even though it was rambling—was that his father started his apprenticeship after he reached puberty. He was there at the murder of Lea in Uddevalla in 1962. He was fourteen, for God’s sake. He was there at the murder of Sara in 1964 and that time he took an active part. He was sixteen.”
“And?”
“He said that he had never touched another man—except his father. That made me think that…well, the only possible conclusion is that his father raped him. Martin called it ‘his duty.’ The sexual assaults must have gone on for a long time. He was raised by his father, so to speak.”
“Bullshit,” Salander said, her voice as hard as flint.
Blomkvist stared at her in astonishment. She had a stubborn look in her eyes. There was not an ounce of sympathy in it.
“Martin had exactly the same opportunity as anyone else to strike back. He killed and he raped because he liked doing it.”
“I’m not saying otherwise. But Martin was a repressed boy and under the influence of his father, just as Gottfried was cowed by his father, the Nazi.”
“So you’re assuming that Martin had no will of his own and that people become whatever they’ve been brought up to be.”
Blomkvist smiled cautiously. “Is this a sensitive issue?”
Salander’s eyes blazed with fury. Blomkvist quickly went on.
“I’m only saying that I think that a person’s upbringing does play a role. Gottfried’s father beat him mercilessly for years. That leaves its mark.”
“Bullshit,” Salander said again. “Gottfried isn’t the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn’t give him............
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