The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 14

Three heads nodded. Vanger lifted her pen and signed. She shoved the cheque back across the table, and Blomkvist tore it up.

The partners of Millennium had dinner together at Samir's Cauldron on Tavastgatan. It was a quiet party - to celebrate the new arrangement - with good wine and couscous with lamb. The conversation was relaxed, and Vanger was noticeably dazed. It felt a little like an uncomfortable first date: something is going to happen, but no-one knows exactly what it might be.

Vanger had to leave at 7:30. She excused herself by saying that she had to go to her hotel and get an early night. Berger was heading home to her husband and walked with her some of the way. They parted at Slussen. Blomkvist and Malm stayed on for a while before Malm excused himself and said that he too had to get home.

Vanger took a taxi to the Sheraton and went straight to her room on the eighth floor. She got undressed and had a bath and put on the hotel's robe. Then she sat at the window and looked out towards Riddarholmen. She took a pack of Dunhills from her bag. She smoked three or four cigarettes a day, so few that she could consider herself a nonsmoker and still enjoy it without a guilty conscience.

At 9:00 there was a knock at the door. She opened it and let Blomkvist in.

"You scoundrel," she said.

He smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"I really thought you guys were going to kick me out."

"We never would have done it like that. Do you understand why we wanted to rewrite the contract?"

"Of course. It makes perfect sense."

Blomkvist opened her robe and put a hand on her breast, caressing it cautiously.

"You scoundrel," she said again.

Salander stopped at the door with a nameplate that said WU. She had seen a light from the street, and now she could hear music coming from inside. So Miriam Wu still lived here in the studio apartment on Tomtebogatan near St.Eriksplan. It was Friday evening, and Salander had half hoped that Mimmi would be out having fun somewhere. The only questions that remained to be answered were whether Mimmi still wanted to have anything to do with her and whether she was alone and available.

She rang the bell.

Mimmi opened the door and her eyebrows lifted in surprise. Then she leaned against the doorjamb and put her hand on her hip.

"Salander. I thought you were dead or something."

"Or something."

"What do you want?"

"There are many answers to that question."

Miriam Wu looked around the stairwell before she again fixed her eyes on Salander.

"Try one."

"Well, I just wanted to see whether you're still single and might want some company tonight."

Mimmi looked astonished for a few seconds and then laughed out loud.

"I know only one person who would even dream of ringing my bell after a year and a half's silence to ask me if I wanted to fuck."

"Do you want me to leave?"

Mimmi stopped laughing. She was quiet for a few seconds.

"Lisbeth...  Jesus, you're serious."

Salander waited.

Finally Mimmi sighed and opened the door wide.

"Come on, then. I can at least offer you a coffee."

Salander followed her in and sat on one of two stools by a small table in the hall. The apartment was about 250 square feet: one cramped room and a hall. The kitchen was little more than a niche for cooking in a corner of the hall. Mimmi had fixed a hose to the sink from the bathroom.

Mimmi's mother was from Hong Kong, her father from Boden. Salander knew that her parents lived in Paris. Mimmi was studying sociology in Stockholm, and she had an older sister studying anthropology in the States. Her mother's genes were visible in Mimmi's raven black hair, cut short, and her slightly Asian features. Her father had given her the clear blue eyes. She had a wide mouth and dimples that did not come from either of her parents.

Mimmi was thirty-one. She liked to dress up in leather and go to clubs where they did performance art - sometimes she appeared in the shows. Salander had not been to a club since she was sixteen.

Besides her studies, Mimmi had a job one day a week as a sales clerk at Domino Fashion on a street off Sveavagen. Customers desperate for outfits such as a rubber nurse's uniform or black leather witch's garb frequented Domino, which both designed and manufactured the clothes. Mimmi was part owner of the boutique with some girlfriends, and the shop provided a modest supplement to her student loan of a few thousand kronor each month. Salander had first seen Mimmi when she performed in a show at the Gay Pride Festival a couple of years before and then ran into her in a beer tent later that night. Mimmi had been dressed in an odd lemon yellow plastic dress that revealed more than it concealed. Salander saw nothing erotic about the outfit, but she had been drunk enough to suddenly want to pick up a girl dressed like a lemon. To Salander's great surprise the citrus fruit had taken one look at her, laughed out loud, kissed her without embarrassment, and said You're the one I want. They had gone back to Salander's place and had sex all night long.

"I am what I am," Salander said. "I ran away from everything and everybody. I should have said goodbye."

"I thought something had happened to you. Not that we had been in touch that much in the last months you were here."

"I was busy."

"You're such a mystery. You never talk about yourself. I don't even know where you work or who I could have called when you didn't answer your mobile."

"I'm not working anywhere right now, and besides, you're just like me. You wanted sex but you weren't particularly interested in a relationship. Or were you?"

"That's true," Mimmi said at last.

"And it was the same with me. I never made any promises."

"You've changed," Mimmi said.

"Not a lot."

"You look older. More mature. You have different clothes. And you've stuffed your bra with something."

Salander said nothing. Mimmi had seen her naked - of course she would notice the change. In the end she lowered her eyes and mumbled, "I had a boob job."

"What did you say?"

Salander looked up and raised her voice, unaware that it had taken on a defiant tone.

"I went to a clinic in Italy and had breast implants. That's why I disappeared. Then I just kept on travelling. Now I'm back."

"Are you joking?"

Salander looked at Mimmi, expressionless.

"Stupid of me. You never joke about anything, Mr. Spock."

"I'm not going to apologize. I'm just being honest. If you want me to leave, just say the word."

Mimmi laughed out loud. "Well, I certainly don't want you to leave without letting me see how they look. Please."

"I've always liked having sex with you, Mimmi. You didn't give a damn what sort of work I did, and if I was busy you found somebody else."

Mimmi nodded. When she was seventeen, after a number of fumbling attempts, she was finally initiated into the mysteries of sex at a party organized in Goteborg by the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights. She had never considered any other lifestyle after that. Once when she was twenty-three she had tried having sex with a man. She mechanically did everything she was expected to do, but it was not enjoyable. She also belonged to the minority within the minority who were not interested in marriage or fidelity or cosy evenings at home.

"I've been home for a few weeks. I needed to know if I had to go out and pick somebody up or if you're still interested."

Mimmi bent down and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"I was thinking of studying tonight."

She unbuttoned the top button of Lisbeth's blouse.

"But what the hell... "

She kissed her again and kept unbuttoning.

"I just have to see this."

She kissed her again.

"Welcome back."


Harriet Vanger fell asleep around 2:00 a.m. Blomkvist lay awake listening to her breathing. After a while he got up and filched a Dunhill from the pack in her handbag. He sat in a chair next to the bed and looked at her.

He had not planned to become Harriet Vanger's lover. Far from it. After his time in Hedestad he wanted more than anything to keep the whole Vanger family at arm's length. He had seen Harriet at board meetings and kept his distance. They knew each other's secrets, but apart from Harriet Vanger's role on Millennium's board, their dealings were at an end.

During the Whitsuntide vacation the year before, Blomkvist had gone to his cabin in Sandhamn for the first time in several months, to have some peace and quiet and sit on the porch and read crime novels. On the Friday afternoon, he was on his way to the kiosk to buy some cigarettes when he ran into Harriet. She had apparently felt a need to get away from Hedestad herself and had booked a weekend at the hotel in Sandhamn. She had not been there since she was a child. She had been sixteen when she left Sweden and fifty-three when she came back. It was Blomkvist who had tracked her down.

After their surprised greetings, Harriet had lapsed into an awkward silence. Blomkvist knew her history, and she was aware that he had compromised his principles in order to cover up the Vanger family's horrific secrets. And in part he had done it for her.

Blomkvist invited her to his cabin. He made coffee and they sat on the porch outside for several hours, talking. It was the first time they had talked at length since her return.

Blomkvist could not resist asking: "What did you do with the stuff in Martin's basement?"

"Do you really want to know?"


"I cleaned it up myself. I burned everything that would burn. I had the house torn down. I couldn't live there, and I couldn't sell it and let someone else live there. For me all its associations were with evil. I'm planning another house to take its place, a small cabin."

"Didn't people raise their eyebrows when you had the house torn down? It was quite luxurious and modern."

She smiled. "Dirch Frode put about the story that there was so much damp in the foundation that it would be more expensive to rebuild than to take it down." Frode was the family's lawyer.

"How is Frode getting on?"

"He's going to be seventy soon. I'm keeping him busy."

They had lunch together, and Blomkvist realized that Harriet Vanger was sitting there telling him the most intimate and private details about her life. When he asked her why, she thought for a moment and said that there really was no-one else in the whole world with whom she could be so open. Besides, it was hard not to open her heart to a kid she had babysat all of forty years ago.

She had had sex with three men in her life. First her father and then her brother. She had killed her father and run away from her brother. Somehow she had survived and met a man with whom she had created a new life for herself.

"He was tender and loving. Dependable and honest. I was happy with him. We had a wonderful twenty years together before he became ill."

"You never remarried? Why not?"

She shrugged. "I was the mother of two children in Australia and the owner of a big agricultural business. I could never get away for a romantic weekend. And I've never missed sex." They sat quiet for a while. "It's late. I should be getting back to the hotel."

Blomkvist made no move to get up.

"Do you want to seduce me?"

"I do," he said.

He stood up and took her hand, leading her into the cabin and up to the sleeping loft. Suddenly she stopped him. "I don't really know how. This is not something I do every day."

They spent the whole weekend together and then one night every three months after the magazine's board meetings. It was not a relationship that could be sustained. She worked around the clock and was very often travelling, and every other month she was in Australia. But she had come to value her occasional rendezvous with Blomkvist.

Mimmi made coffee two hours later as Salander lay naked and sweaty on top of the bedclothes. She smoked a cigarette and watched Mimmi through the doorway. She envied Mimmi's body. She was impressively muscled. She worked out at a gym three evenings a week, one of them doing Thai boxing or some sort of karate shit, and this had given her body an awesome shape.

She was just delicious. Not beautiful like a model, but genuinely attractive. She loved to provoke and flirt. When she dressed up for a party she could get anyone whatsoever interested in her. Salander did not understand why Mimmi cared about a goose like her. But she was glad she did. Sex with Mimmi was so dramatically liberating that Salander just relaxed and enjoyed it, taking what she wanted for herself and giving in return.

Mimmi came back and put two mugs on a stool beside the bed. She crawled onto the bed and leaned over to nibble at one of Salander's nipples.

"They'll do," she said.

Salander said nothing. She looked at Mimmi's breasts. Mimmi's breasts were small too, but they looked completely natural on her body.

"If I'm going to be honest, Lisbeth, you look fantastic."

"That's silly. My breasts don't really make any difference one way or the other, but at least I've got some now."

"You're so hung up about your body."

"You're one to talk, working out like an idiot."

"I work out like an idiot because I like to work out. It's a kick, almost as good as sex. You ought to try it."

"I do some boxing."

"Bullshit - you boxed once a month max. And mostly because you got a buzz out of smacking those snotty guys around. That's not the same as working out to feel good."

Salander shrugged. Mimmi sat straddling her.

"Lisbeth, you're so obsessed. You should know by now that I like having you in bed not because of how you look but because of the way you act. I think you're sexy as hell."

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