The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 46

"What do you mean?"

"Well, after this, Salander is going to be sitting in a psychiatric ward for a long, long time."

"That makes sense."

"Don't worry. Go and enjoy your sick leave in peace and quiet."

But that was exactly what Bjorck was unable to do. Blomkvist had seen to that. He sat at the kitchen table and looked out over Jungfrufjarden as he tried to sum up his own situation. He was being threatened from two flanks.

Blomkvist was going to hang him out to dry as a john. There was a serious risk that he would end his police career by being convicted of breaking the sex-trade law.

But even more serious was the fact that Blomkvist was trying to track down Zalachenko. Somehow he was mixed up in the story too. And Zala would lead him back to Bjorck's front door.

His former boss had apparently been assured that there was nothing among Bjurman's personal effects that could provide a further lead. But there was. The report from 1991. And Bjurman had gotten it from Bjorck.

He tried to visualize the meeting with Bjurman more than three months earlier. They had met in Gamla Stan. Bjurman had called him one afternoon at work and suggested they have a beer. They talked about the shooting club and everything under the sun, but Bjurman had sought him out for a particular reason. He needed a favour. He had asked about Zalachenko...

Bjorck got up and stood by the kitchen window. He had been a little tipsy at the meeting. In fact he was quite drunk. What had Bjurman asked him?

"Speaking of which...  I'm in the middle of doing something for an old acquaintance who's popped up... "

"Oh yeah, who's that?"

"Alexander Zalachenko. Do you remember him?"

"Are you kidding? He's not an easy man to forget."

"Whatever happened to him?"

Technically, it was none of Bjurman's business. In fact there was good reason to put Bjurman under the microscope just for having asked...  but he was Salander's guardian. He said he needed the old report. And I gave it to him.

Bjorck had made a serious mistake. He had assumed that Bjurman had already been informed - anything else would have seemed unthinkable. And Bjurman had presented the matter as though he was only trying to take a shortcut through the plodding bureaucratic procedure in which everything was stamped "confidential" and hush-hush and could drag on for months. In particular anything that had to do with Zalachenko.

I gave him the report. It was still stamped "confidential," but it was for a good and understandable reason, and Bjurman was not someone who would spill the beans. He was stupid, but he had never been a gossip. What could it hurt? It was so many years ago.

Bjurman had made a fool of him. The more Bjorck thought about it, the more convinced he was that Bjurman had chosen his words deliberately, very cautiously.

But what the fuck was Bjurman after? And why would Salander have murdered him?

Blomkvist went to the apartment in Lundagatan four more times on Saturday in the hope of finding Miriam Wu, but she was never there.

He spent a good part of the day at the Kaffebar on Hornsgatan with his iBook, rereading the emails that Svensson had received at his Millennium address and the contents of the folder named. In the weeks before he was murdered, Svensson had spent more and more time researching Zala.

Blomkvist wished he could phone Svensson and ask him why the document about Irina P. was in the folder. The only reasonable conclusion was that Svensson had suspected Zala of murdering her.

At 5:00 p.m. Bublanski called and gave him Miriam Wu's phone number. He didn't know what had made the detective change his mind, but now that he had the number he tried it about once every half hour. Not until 11:00 p.m. did she answer. It was a short conversation.

"Hello, Miriam. My name is Mikael Blomkvist."

"And who the hell are you?"

"I'm a journalist and I work at a magazine called Millennium."

Miriam Wu expressed her feelings in a pithy way. "Ah yes. That Blomkvist. Go to hell, journalist creep."

She broke off the connection before Blomkvist had a chance to explain what he wanted. He directed some bad thoughts at Tony Scala and tried to call back. She did not answer. In the end he sent a text message.

Please call me. It's important.

She never called.

Late that night Blomkvist shut down his computer, undressed, and crawled into bed. He wished he had Berger to keep him company.


PART 4. Terminator Mode

March 24 - April 8

A root of an equation is a number which substituted into the equation instead of an unknown converts the equation into an identity. The root is said to satisfy the equation. Solving an equation implies finding all of its roots. An equation that is always satisfied, no matter the choice of values for its unknowns, is called an identity.

(a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2


Maundy Thursday, March 24 - Monday, April 4

Salander spent the first week of the police hunt far from the drama. She remained in peace and quiet in her apartment on Fiskargatan. Her mobile was turned off and the SIM card taken out. She did not intend to use that phone again. Her eyes grew wide with astonishment as she followed the stories in the online editions of the newspapers and on the TV news programmes.

She was irritated by the passport photograph that appeared everywhere. She looked stupid.

Despite her years of striving for anonymity, she had been transformed overnight into one of the most notorious and talked-about individuals in Sweden. She began to realize that a nationwide alert for a short girl suspected of three murders was one of the year's biggest news stories. She followed the commentary and speculation in the media with amazement, fascinated that confidential documents about her medical history seemed to be accessible to any newsroom that wanted to publish them. One headline in particular awakened buried memories:



A court reporter at TT wire service had scooped his competitors by digging up a medical report that had been written when Salander was arrested for kicking a passenger in the face at Gamla Stan tunnelbana station.

She had been at Odenplan and was on her way back to her foster home in Hagersten. At Rådmansgatan an apparently sober stranger got on the train and immediately focused his attention on her. Later she discovered that he was Karl Evert Norgren, an unemployed former athlete from Gavle. Despite the fact that the carriage was half empty, he sat down next to her and began to bother her. He put his hand on her knee and tried to start a conversation along the lines of "I'll give you two hundred if you come home with me." When she ignored him he got pushy and called her a sour old cunt. The fact that she refused to talk to him and had changed seats at T-Centralen had no effect.

As they were approaching Gamla Stan he put his arms around her from behind and pushed them up inside her sweater, whispering in her ear that she was a whore. She replied with an elbow to his eye and then grabbed one of the upright poles, lifted herself up, and kicked him with both heels across the bridge of his nose, which prompted heavy bleeding.

She was dressed as a punk and had blue-dyed hair, so she had little chance to melt into the crowd when the train stopped at the platform. A friend of law and order had grappled with her and held her down on the ground until the police arrived.

She cursed her gender. Nobody would have dared attack her if she had been a man.

She hardly made any attempt to explain why she had kicked Karl Evert Norgren in the face. She didn't think it was worth trying to explain anything to uniformed authorities. She refused on principle to respond when psychiatrists tried to determine her mental state. As luck would have it, several other passengers had observed the whole course of events, including a persistent woman from Harnosand who happened to be a member of parliament for the Centre Party. The woman testified that Norgren had assaulted Salander before the violence broke out. When it later turned out that Norgren had been convicted for sexual offences twice before, the prosecutor decided to drop the case. But that did not mean that the social welfare report on Salander was set aside. Not long afterwards the district court declared her incompetent, and she ended up under the guardianship of Holger Palmgren, and later Nils Bjurman.

Now all of these intimate and confidential details were on the Net for public consumption. Her personal record was supplemented with colourful descriptions of how she had come into conflict with people around her since elementary school, and how she spent her early teens in a children's psychiatric clinic.


The diagnoses of Salander in the press varied depending on which edition and which newspaper was doing the reporting. Sometimes she was described as psychotic and sometimes as schizophrenic or paranoid. All the papers subscribed to the view that she was mentally handicapped - after all, she hadn't been able to finish school. The public should have no doubt that she was unbalanced and inclined to violence.

When it was discovered that Salander was friends with the lesbian Miriam Wu, a frenzy broke out in certain papers. Wu had appeared in Benita Costa's show at the Gay Pride Festival, a provocative performance in which she was photographed topless wearing leather chaps with suspenders and high-heeled patent-leather boots. She had also written articles for a gay newspaper that were widely quoted, as were the interviews she had given in connection with her appearance in various shows. The combination of mass murder and titillating S&M sex was evidently doing wonders for circulation figures.

Since Wu hadn't surfaced during that first dramatic week, there was speculation that she too might have fallen victim to Salander's violence or that she could have been an accomplice. These speculations, however, were restricted for the most part to the unsophisticated Internet chat room "Exile." On the other hand, several newspapers floated the theory that since Mia Johansson's thesis dealt with the sex trade, this might be Salander's motive for the murders, on the grounds that - according to the social welfare agency - she was a prostitute.

At the end of the week the media discovered that Salander also had connections to a group of young women who flirted with Satanism. They called themselves Evil Fingers, and this caused an older male cultural columnist to write about the rootlessness of youth and the dangers that lurk in everything from skinhead culture to hip-hop.

When all the media assertions were put together, the police appeared to be hunting for a psychotic lesbian who had joined a cult of Satanists that propagandized for S&M sex and hated society in general and men in particular. Because Salander had been abroad for the past year, there might be international connections too.


In only one case did Salander react with any great emotion to the media uproar:


She threatened to kill us,

say teacher and schoolmates

The person making this statement was a former teacher, now a textile artist, named Birgitta Miåås.

Salander had been eleven on the occasion in question. She remembered Miåås as an unpleasant substitute math teacher who time after time had tried to get her to answer a question that she'd already answered correctly, even though the answer key in the textbook said she was wrong. In fact, the textbook was wrong, and as far as Salander was concerned that should have been obvious to everyone. But Miåås had grown more and more obstinate, and Salander became less and less willing to discuss the matter. She sat there pouting until Miåås, out of sheer frustration, grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her to get her attention. Lisbeth responded by throwing the textbook at Miåås' head, which started a big hullabaloo. She spat and hissed and kicked when her classmates tried to hold on to her.

The article ran as a feature in an evening paper, and allowed space for a sidebar with some quotes and a photograph of a former classmate posing in front of the entrance to her old school. This was David Gustavsson, who now called himself a financial assistant. He claimed that the students were afraid of Salander because "she threatened to kill somebody once." Salander remembered Gustavsson as one of the biggest bullies in school, a powerful brute with the IQ of a stump, who seldom passed up an opportunity to dish out insults and punches in the hallway. Once he had attacked her behind the gym during lunch break, and as usual she had fought back. From a purely physical standpoint she didn't have a chance, but her attitude was that death was better than capitulation. The incident deteriorated when a large number of her schoolmates gathered in a circle to watch Gustavsson knock her to the ground over and over again. It had been amusing up to a point, but the stupid girl did not seem to understand what was good for her and refused to back down. She didn't even cry or beg for mercy. Finally he gave Salander two serious punches that split her lip and knocked the wind out of her. Her schoolmates left her in a miserable heap behind the gym and ran away laughing.

Salander had gone home and licked her wounds. Two days later she came back carrying a bat. In the middle of the playground she slugged Gustavsson in the ear. As he lay there in shock she bent down, pressed the bat to his throat, and whispered in his ear that if he ever touched her again she would kill him. When the teachers discovered what had happened, Gustavsson was taken to the school nurse while Salander was sent to the head teacher for punishment, further comments in her record, and more social welfare reports.

Salander had not thought about either Miåås or Gustavsson for at least fifteen years. She made a mental note to check out what they were up to these days when she had some spare time.

The result of all this press attention was that Salander had become both famous and infamous to the entire Swedish population. Her background was charted, scrutinized, and published down to the most minute detail, from her outbursts in elementary school to her being committed to St.Stefan's Psychiatric Clinic for Children, outside Uppsala, where she spent more than two years.

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