The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 2

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In Salander's case, such advice normally fell on deaf ears. However, she had avoided making the acquaintance of the criminal element on Grenada by falling in love with Grand Anse Beach, just south of St.George's, a sparsely populated beach that went on for miles. There she could walk for hours without having to talk to or even encounter another living soul. She moved to the Keys, one of the few American hotels on Grand Anse, and stayed for seven weeks, doing little more than walking on the beach and eating the local fruit, called chin-ups, which reminded her of sour Swedish gooseberries - she found them delightful.


It was the off season, and barely a third of the rooms at the Keys Hotel were occupied. The only problem was that both her peace and quiet and her preoccupation with mathematical studies had been disturbed by the subdued terror in the room next door.


***


Mikael Blomkvist rang the doorbell of Salander's apartment on Lundagatan. He did not expect her to open the door, but he had fallen into the habit of calling at her apartment every week or so to see whether anything had changed. He lifted the flap on the mailbox and could see the same heap of junk mail. It was late, and too dark to make out how much the pile might have grown since his last visit.


He stood on the landing for a moment before turning on his heel in frustration. He strolled leisurely to his own apartment on Bellmansgatan, put on some coffee, and looked through the evening papers before the late TV news Rapport came on. He was irritated and depressed not to know where Salander was. He felt stirrings of unease and wondered for the thousandth time what had happened.


He had invited Salander to his cabin in Sandhamn for the Christmas holidays. They had gone for long walks and calmly discussed the repercussions of the dramatic events in which they had both been involved over the past year, when Blomkvist went through what he came to think of as an early midlife crisis. He had been convicted of libel and spent two months in prison, his professional career as a journalist had been in the gutter, and he had resigned from his position as publisher of the magazine Millennium more or less in disgrace. But at that point everything had turned around. A commission to write a biography of the industrialist Henrik Vanger - which he had regarded as an absurdly well-paid form of therapy - had turned into a terrifying hunt for a serial killer.


During this manhunt he had met Salander. Blomkvist unconsciously stroked the faint scar that the noose had left beneath his left ear. Salander had not only helped him to track down the killer - she had saved his life.


Time and again she had amazed him with her odd talents - she had a photographic memory and phenomenal computer skills. Blomkvist considered himself virtually computer illiterate, but Salander handled computers as if she had made a pact with the Devil. He had come to realize that she was a world-class hacker, and within an exclusive international community devoted to computer crime at the highest level - and not only to combatting it - she was a legend. She was known online only as Wasp.


It was her ability to pass freely into other people's computers that had given him the material which transformed his professional humiliation into what was to be "the Wennerstrom affair" - a scoop that a year later was still the subject of international police investigations into unsolved financial crimes. And Blomkvist was still being invited to appear on TV talk shows.


At the time, a year ago, he had thought of the scoop with colossal satisfaction - as vengeance and as rehabilitation. But the satisfaction had soon ebbed. Within a few weeks he was sick and tired of answering the same questions from journalists and the financial police. I'm sorry, but I can't reveal my sources. When a reporter from the English-language Azerbaijan Times had come all the way to Stockholm to ask him the same questions, it was the last straw. Blomkvist cut the interviews to a minimum, and in recent months he had relented only when the woman from She on TV4 talked him into it, and that had happened only because the investigation had apparently moved into a new phase.


Blomkvist's cooperation with the woman from TV4 had another dimension. She had been the first journalist to pounce on the story, and without her programme on the evening that Millennium released the scoop, it might not have made the impact it did. Only later did Blomkvist find out that she had had to fight tooth and nail to convince her editor to run it. There had been massive resistance to giving any prominence to "that clown" at Millennium, and right up to the moment she went on air, it was far from certain that the battery of company lawyers would give the story the all clear. Several of her more senior colleagues had given it a thumbs-down and told her that if she was wrong, her career was over. She stood her ground, and it became the story of the year.


She had covered the story herself that first week - after all, she was the only reporter who had thoroughly researched the subject - but some time before Christmas Blomkvist noticed that all the new angles in the story had been handed over to male colleagues. Around New Year's Blomkvist heard through the grapevine that she had been elbowed out, with the excuse that such an important story should be handled by experienced financial reporters, and not some little girl from Gotland or Bergslagen or wherever the hell she was from. The next time TV4 called, Blomkvist explained frankly that he would talk to them only if "she" asked the questions. Days of sullen silence went by before the boys at TV4 capitulated.


Blomkvist's waning interest in the Wennerstrom affair coincided with Salander's disappearance from his life. He still could not understand what had happened.


They had parted two days after Christmas, and he had not seen her for the rest of the week. On the day before New Year's Eve he telephoned her, but there was no answer.


On New Year's Eve he went to her apartment twice and rang the bell. The first time there had been lights on, but she had not answered the door. The second time there were no lights. On New Year's Day he called her again, and still there was no answer, but he did get a message from the telephone company saying that the subscriber could not be reached.


He had seen her twice in the next few days. When he could not get hold of her on the phone, he went to her apartment and sat down to wait on the steps beside her front door. He had brought a book with him, and he waited stubbornly for four hours before she appeared through the main entrance, just before 11:00 at night. She was carrying a brown box and stopped short when she saw him.


"Hello, Lisbeth," he said, closing his book.


She looked at him without expression, no sign of warmth or even friendship in her gaze. Then she walked past him and stuck her key in the door.


"Aren't you going to offer me a cup of coffee?" he said.


She turned and said in a low voice: "Get out of here. I don't want to see you ever again."


Then she shut the door in his face, and he heard her lock it from the inside. He was bewildered.


Three days later, he had taken the tunnelbana from Slussen to T-Centralen, and when the train stopped in Gamla Stan he looked out the window and she was standing on the platform less than two yards away. He caught sight of her at the exact moment the doors closed. For five seconds she stared right through him, as though he were nothing but air, before she turned and walked out of his field of vision as the train began to move.


The implication was unmistakable. She wanted nothing to do with him. She had cut him out of her life as surgically and decisively as she deleted files from her computer, and without explanation. She had changed her mobile phone number and did not answer her email.


Blomkvist sighed, switched off the TV, and went to the window to gaze out at City Hall.


Perhaps he was making a mistake in going to her apartment from time to time. His attitude had always been that if a woman clearly indicated that she did not want anything more to do with him, he would go on his way. Not respecting such a message would, in his eyes, show a lack of respect for her.


Blomkvist and Salander had slept together. It had been at her initiative, and the relationship had lasted for half a year. If it was her decision to end the affair - as surprisingly as she had started it - then that was OK with Blomkvist. He had no difficulty with the role of ex-boyfriend - if that was what he was - but Salander's total repudiation of him was astonishing.


He was not in love with her - they were about as unlike as two people could possibly be - but he was very fond of her and really missed her, as exasperating as she sometimes was. He had thought their liking was mutual. In short, he felt like an idiot.


He stood at the window a long time.


Finally he made a decision. If Salander thought so little of him that she could not even bring herself to greet him when they saw each other in the tunnelbana, then their friendship was apparently over and the damage irreparable. He would make no attempt to contact her again.


Salander looked at her watch and realized that although she was sitting, perfectly still, in the shade, she was drenched with sweat. It was 10:30. She memorized a mathematical formula three lines long and closed her book, Dimensions in Mathematics. Then she picked up her key and the pack of cigarettes on the table.


Her room was on the third floor, which was also the top floor of the hotel. She stripped off her clothes and got into the shower.


A green lizard eight inches long was staring at her from the wall just below the ceiling. Salander stared back but made no move to shoo it away. There were lizards everywhere on the island. They came through the blinds at the open window, under the door, or through the vent in the bathroom. She liked having company that left her alone. The water was almost ice cold, and she stayed under the shower for five minutes to cool off.


When she came back into the room she stood naked in front of the mirror on the wardrobe door and examined her body with amazement. She still weighed less than ninety pounds and stood four foot eleven. Well, there was not much she could do about that. She had doll-like, almost delicate limbs, small hands, and hardly any hips.


But now she had breasts.


All her life she had been flat-chested, as if she had never reached puberty. She thought it had looked ridiculous, and she was always uncomfortable showing herself naked.


Now, all of a sudden, she had breasts. They were by no means gigantic - that was not what she had wanted, and they would have looked ridiculous on her otherwise skinny body - but they were two solid, round breasts of medium size. The enlargement had been well done, and the proportions were reasonable. But the difference was dramatic, both for her looks and for her self-confidence.


She had spent five weeks in a clinic outside Genoa getting the implants that formed the structure of her new breasts. The clinic and the doctors there had absolutely the best reputation in all of Europe. Her own doctor, a charmingly hard-boiled woman named Alessandra Perrini, had told her that her breasts were abnormally underdeveloped, and that the enlargement could therefore be performed for medical reasons.


Recovery from the operation had not been painless, but her breasts looked and felt completely natural, and by now the scars were almost invisible. She had not regretted her decision for a second. She was pleased. Even six months later she could not walk past a mirror with her top off without stopping and feeling glad that she had improved her quality of life.


During her time at the clinic in Genoa she had also had one of her nine tattoos removed - a one-inch-long wasp - from the right side of her neck. She liked her tattoos, especially the dragon on her left shoulder blade. But the wasp was conspicuous and it made her too easy to remember and identify. Salander did not want to be remembered or identified. The tattoo had been removed by laser treatment, and when she ran her index finger over her neck she could feel the slight scarring. Closer inspection would reveal that her suntanned skin was a shade lighter where the tattoo had been, but at a glance nothing was noticeable. Altogether her stay in Genoa had cost 190,000 kronor.


Which she could afford.


She stopped dreaming in front of the mirror and put on her panties and bra. Two days after she had left the clinic in Genoa she had for the first time in her twenty-five years gone to a lingerie boutique and bought the garments she had never needed before. Since then she had turned twenty-six, and now she wore a bra with a certain amount of satisfaction.


She put on jeans and a black T-shirt with the slogan CONSIDER THIS A FAIR WARNING. She found her sandals and sun hat and slung a black bag over her shoulder.


Crossing the lobby, she heard a murmur from a small group of hotel guests at the front desk. She slowed down and pricked up her ears.


"Just how dangerous is she?" said a black woman with a loud voice and a European accent. Salander recognized her as one of a charter group from London who had been there for ten days.


Freddy McBain, the greying reception manager who always greeted Salander with a friendly smile, looked worried. He was telling them that instructions would be issued to all guests and that there was no reason to worry as long as they followed all the instructions to the letter. He was met by a hail of questions.


Salander frowned and went out to the bar, where she found Ella Carmichael behind the counter.


"What's all that about?" she said, motioning with her thumb towards the front desk.


"Matilda is threatening to visit us."


"Matilda?"


"Matilda is a hurricane that formed off Brazil a few weeks ago and yesterday tore straight through Paramaribo, the capital of Surinam. No-one's quite sure what direction it's going to take - probably further north towards the States. But if it goes on following the coast to the west, then Trinidad and Grenada will be smack in its path. So it might get a bit windy."


"I thought the hurricane season was over."


"It is. It's usually September and October. But these days you never can tell, because there's so much trouble with the climate and the greenhouse effect and all that."


"OK. But when's Matilda supposed to arrive?"


"Soon."


"Is there something I should do?"

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