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HOME > Classical Novels > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > CHAPTER 26
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CHAPTER 26
Tuesday, July 15–Thursday, July 17


Blomkvist flew from Melbourne to Alice Springs. After that he had to choose either to charter a plane or to rent a car for the remaining 250-mile trip north. He chose to go by car.
An unknown person with the biblical signature of Joshua, who was part of Plague’s or possibly Trinity’s mysterious international network, had left an envelope for him at the central information desk at Melbourne airport.
The number that Anita had called belonged to a place called Cochran Farm. It was a sheep station. An article pulled off the Internet gave a snapshot guide.
Australia: population of 18 million; sheep farmers, 53,000; approx. 120 million head of sheep. The export of wool approx. 3.5 billion dollars annually. Australia exports 700 million tons of mutton and lamb, plus skins for clothing. Combined meat and wool production one of the country’s most important industries…
Cochran Farm, founded 1891 by Jeremy Cochran, Australia’s fifth largest agricultural enterprise, approx 60,000 Merino sheep (wool considered especially fine). The station also raised cattle, pigs, and chickens. Cochran Farm had impressive annual exports to the U.S.A., Japan, China, and Europe.
The personal biographies were fascinating.
In 1972 Cochran Farm passed down from Raymond Cochran to Spencer Cochran, educ. Oxford. Spencer d. in 1994, and farm run by widow. Blomkvist found her in a blurry, low-resolution photograph downloaded from the Cochran Farm website. It showed a woman with short blonde hair, her face partially hidden, shearing a sheep.
According to Joshua’s note, the couple had married in Italy in 1971.
Her name was Anita Cochran.
 
Blomkvist stopped overnight in a dried-up hole of a town with the hopeful name of Wannado. At the local pub he ate roast mutton and downed three pints along with some locals who all called him “mate.”
Last thing before he went to bed he called Berger in New York.
“I’m sorry, Ricky, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to call.”
“What the hell is going on?” she exploded. “Christer called and told me that Martin Vanger had been killed in a car accident.”
“It’s a long story.”
“And why don’t you answer your telephone? I’ve been calling like crazy for two days.”
“It doesn’t work here.”
“Where is here?”
“Right now I’m about one hundred twenty-five miles north of Alice Springs. In Australia, that is.”
Mikael had rarely managed to surprise Berger. This time she was silent for nearly ten seconds.
“And what are you doing in Australia? If I might ask.”
“I’m finishing up the job. I’ll be back in a few days. I just called to tell you that my work for Henrik Vanger is almost done.”
 
He arrived at Cochran Farm around noon the following day, to be told that Anita Cochran was at a sheep station near a place called Makawaka seventy-five miles farther west.
It was 4:00 in the afternoon by the time Mikael found his way there on dusty back roads. He stopped at a gate where some sheep ranchers were gathered around the hood of a Jeep having coffee. Blomkvist got out and explained that he was looking for Anita Cochran. They all turned towards a muscular young man, clearly the decision-maker of the group. He was bare chested and very brown except for the parts normally covered by his T-shirt. He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
“The boss is about eighteen miles off in that direction,” he said, pointing with his thumb.
He cast a sceptical glance at Blomkvist’s vehicle and said that it might not be such a good idea to go on in that Japanese toy car. Finally the tanned athlete said that he was heading that way and would drive Blomkvist in his Jeep. Blomkvist thanked him and took along his computer case.
 
The man introduced himself as Jeff and said that he was the “studs manager” at the station. Blomkvist asked him to explain what that meant. Jeff gave him a sidelong look and concluded that Blomkvist was not from these parts. He explained that a studs manager was rather the equivalent of a financial manager in a bank, although he administered sheep, and that a “station” was the Australian word for ranch.
They continued to converse as Jeff cheerfully steered the Jeep at about ten kilometres an hour down into a ravine with a 20° slope. Blomkvist thanked his lucky stars that he had not attempted the drive in his rental car. He asked what was down in the ravine and was told that it was the pasture land for 700 head of sheep.
“As I understand it, Cochran Farm is one of the bigger ranches.”
“We’re one of the largest in all of Australia,” Jeff said with a certain pride in his voice. “We run about 9,000 sheep here in the Makawaka district, but we have stations in both New South Wales and Western Australia. We have 60,000 plus head.”
They came out from the ravine into a hilly but gentler landscape. Blomkvist suddenly heard shots. He saw sheep cadavers, big bonfires, and a dozen ranch hands. Several men seemed to be carrying rifles. They were apparently slaughtering sheep.
Involuntarily, he thought of the biblical sacrificial lambs.
Then he saw a woman with short blonde hair wearing jeans and a red-and-white checked shirt. Jeff stopped a few yards away from her.
“Hi, Boss. We’ve got a tourist,” he said.
Blomkvist got out of the Jeep and looked at her. She looked back with an inquisitive expression.
“Hi, Harriet. It’s been a long time,” he said in Swedish.
None of the men who worked for Anita Cochran understood what he said, but they all saw her reaction. She took a step back, looking shocked. The men saw her response, stopped their joking, and straightened up, ready to intervene against this odd stranger. Jeff’s friendliness suddenly evaporated and he advanced toward Blomkvist.
Blomkvist was keenly aware how vulnerable he was. A word from Anita Cochran and he would be done for.
Then the moment passed. Harriet Vanger waved her hand in a peaceful gesture and the men moved back. She came over to Blomkvist and met his gaze. Her face was sweaty and dirty. Her blonde hair had darker roots. Her face was older and thinner, but she had grown into the beautiful woman that her confirmation portrait had promised.
“Have we met before?” she said.
“Yes, we have. I am Mikael Blomkvist. You were my babysitter one summer when I was three years old. You were twelve or thirteen at the time.”
It took a few seconds for her puzzled expression to clear, and then he saw that she remembered. She looked surprised.
“What do you want?”
“Harriet, I’m not your enemy. I’m not here to make trouble for you. But I need to talk with you.”
She turned to Jeff and told him to takeover, then signalled to Blomkvist to follow her. They walked a few hundred feet over to a group of white canvas tents in a grove of trees. She motioned him to a camp stool at a rickety table and poured water into a basin. She rinsed her face, dried it, and went inside the tent to change her shirt. She got two beers out of a cooler.
“So. Talk.”
“Why are you shooting the sheep?”
“We have a contagious epidemic. Most of these sheep are probably healthy, but we can’t risk it spreading. We’re going to have to slaughter more than six hundred in the coming week. So I’m not in a very good mood.”
Blomkvist said: “Your brother crashed his car into a truck a few days ago. He must have died instantaneously.”
“I heard that.”
“From Anita, who called you.”
She scrutinised him for a long moment. Then she nodded. She knew that it was pointless to deny the fact.
“How did you find me?”
“We tapped Anita’s telephone.” Blomkvist did not think there was any reason to lie. “I saw your brother a few minutes before he died.”
Harriet Vanger frowned. He met her gaze. Then he took off the ridiculous scarf he was wearing, turned down his collar, and showed her the stripe left from the noose. It was still red and inflamed, and he would probably always have a scar to remind him of Martin Vanger.
“Your brother had hung me from a hook, but by the grace of God my partner arrived in time to stop him killing me.”
Harriet’s eyes suddenly burned.
“I think you’d better tell me the story from the beginning.”
 
It took more than an hour. He told her who he was and what he was working on. He described how he came to be given the assignment by Henrik Vanger. He explained how the police’s investigation had come to a dead end, and he told her of Henrik’s long investigation, and finally he told her how a photograph of her with friends in J?rnv?gsgatan in Hedestad had led to the uncovering of the sorrows behind the mystery of her disappearance and its appalling sequel, which had ended with Martin Vanger’s suicide.
As he talked, dusk set in. The men quit work for the day, fires were started, and pots began to simmer. Blomkvist noticed that Jeff stayed close to his boss and kept a watchful eye on him. The cook served them dinner. They each had another beer. When he was finished Harriet sat for a long time in silence.
At length she said: “I was so happy that my father was dead and the violence was over. It never occurred to me that Martin…I’m glad he’s dead.”
“I can understand that.”
“Your story doesn’t explain how you knew that I was alive.”
“After we realised what had happened, it wasn’t so difficult to work out the rest. To disappear, you needed help. Anita was your confidante and the only one you could even consider. You were friends, and she had spent the summer with you. You stayed out at your father’s cabin. If there was anyone you had confided in, it had to be her—and also she had just got her driver’s licence.”
Harriet looked at him with an unreadable expression.
“So now that you know I’m alive, what are you going to do?”
“I have to tell Henrik. He deserves to know.”
“And then? You’re a journalist.”
“I’m not thinking of exposing you. I’ve already breached so many rules of professional conduct in this whole dismal mess that the Journalists Association would undoubtedly expel me if they knew about it.” He was trying to make light of it. “One more won’t make any difference, and I don’t want to make my old babysitter angry.”
She was not amused.
“How many people know the truth?”
“That you’re alive? Right now, you and me and Anita and my partner. Henrik’s lawyer knows about two-thirds of the story, but he still thinks you died in the sixties.”
Harriet Vanger seemed to be thinking something over. She stared out at the dark. Mikael once again had an uneasy feeling that he was in a vulnerable situation, and he reminded himself that Harriet Vanger’s own rifle was on a camp bed three paces away. Then he shook himself and stopped imagining things. He changed the subject.
“But how did you come to be a sheep farmer in Australia? I already know that Anita smuggled you off Hedeby Island, presumably in the boot of her car when the bridge re-opened the day after the accident.”
“Actually, I lay on the floor of the back seat with a blanket over me. But no-one was looking. I went to Anita when she arrived on the island and told her that I had to esca............
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