The Girl Who Played with Fire

Page 70

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"So it's serious."


Blomkvist nodded.


"You mean he's the one who murdered Dag and Mia?"


"It wasn't him, no. He sent someone. Ronald Niedermann, the monster that Malin has been finding out about."


"Can you prove this?"


"More or less. Some of it is guesswork. But Bjurman was murdered because he asked Zalachenko for help in dealing with Lisbeth."


Blomkvist told her about the DVD Salander had left in her desk.


"Zalachenko is her father. Bjurman worked formally for Sapo in the mid-seventies and was one of those who made Zalachenko officially welcome when he defected. Later Bjurman became a lawyer with his own practice and a full-time crook, doing jobs for an elite group within the Security Police. I would think there's an inner circle that meets now and then in the men's sauna to control the world and keep the secret about Zalachenko. I'm guessing that the rest of Sapo has never even heard of the bastard. Lisbeth threatened to crack the secret wide open. So they locked her up in a children's psychiatric unit."


"That can't be true."


"Oh, but it is," Blomkvist said. "Lisbeth wasn't especially manageable then, nor is she now...  but since she was twelve years old she's been a threat to national security."


He gave her a summary of the story.


"This is quite a bit to digest," Berger said. "And Dag and Mia... "


"Were murdered because Dag discovered the link between Bjurman and Zalachenko."


"So what happens now? We have to tell the police, don't we?"


"Parts of it, but not all. I've copied the significant information onto this disk as backup, just in case. Lisbeth is looking for Zalachenko. I'm going to try to find her. Nothing of this must be shared with anybody."


"Mikael...  I don't like this. We can't withhold information in a murder investigation."


"And we're not going to. I intend to call Bublanski. But my guess is that Lisbeth is on her way to Gosseberga. She's still being sought for three murders, and if we call the police they'll unleash their armed response team and backup weapons with hunting ammunition, and there's a real risk that she would resist arrest. And then anything could happen." He stopped and smiled grimly. "If nothing else, we ought to keep the police out of it so that the armed response team doesn't come to a sticky end. I have to find her first."


Berger looked dubious.


"I don't intend to reveal Lisbeth's secrets. Bublanski will have to figure those out for himself. I want you to do me a favour. This folder contains Bjorck's report from 1991 and some correspondence between Bjorck and Teleborian. I want you to make a copy and offer it to Bublanski or Modig. I'm leaving for Goteborg in twenty minutes."


"Mikael... "


"I know. But I'm on Lisbeth's side through it all."


Berger pressed her lips together and said nothing. Then she nodded.


"Be careful," she said, but he had already left.


I should go with him, she thought. That was the only decent thing to do. But she still hadn't told him that she was going to leave Millennium and that it was all over, no matter what happened. She took the folder and headed for the photocopier.


The box was in a post office in a shopping centre. Salander didn't know Goteborg, nor where in the city she was, but she found the post office and positioned herself in a cafe where she could keep watch on the box through a gap in a window where there was a poster advertising the Svensk Kassatjanst, the improved Swedish postal system.


Irene Nesser wore more discreet makeup than Lisbeth Salander. She had some silly necklaces on and was reading Crime and Punishment, which she had found in a bookshop one street away. She took her time, occasionally turning a page. She'd begun her surveillance at lunch time and had no idea whether anyone came regularly to pick up the mail, whether it might be daily or every other week, whether it had already been collected earlier in the day, or whether anyone ever turned up at all. But it was her only lead, and she drank a caffe latte while she waited.


She was about to doze off when she suddenly saw the door to the box being opened. She glanced at the clock. A quarter to two. Lucky as shit.


She got up quickly and walked over to the window, where she spotted someone in a black leather jacket leaving the area where the boxes were. She caught up with him on the street outside. He was a thin young man in his twenties. He walked round the corner to a Renault and unlocked the door. Salander memorized the licence plate number and ran back to her Corolla, which was parked only a hundred yards away on the same street. She caught up with the car as it turned onto Linnegatan. She followed him down Avenyn and up towards Nordstan.


***


Blomkvist arrived at Central Station in time to catch the X2000 train at 5:10 p.m. He bought a ticket on board with his credit card, took a seat in the restaurant car, and ordered a late lunch.


He felt a gnawing uneasiness in the pit of his stomach and was afraid he had set off too late. He prayed that Salander would call him, but he knew that she wouldn't.


She had done her best to kill Zalachenko in 1991. Now, after all these years, he had struck back.


Palmgren had delivered a prescient analysis. Salander had experienced personally that it was no use talking to the authorities.


Blomkvist glanced at his laptop bag. He had brought along the Colt that he'd found in her desk. He wasn't sure why he had taken the gun, but he'd felt instinctively that he must not leave it in her apartment. He knew that wasn't much of a logical argument.


As the train rolled across Årstabron he flipped open his mobile and called Bublanski.


"What do you want?" Bublanski said, obviously annoyed.


"To tie up loose ends," Blomkvist said.


"Loose ends of what?"


"This whole mess. Do you want to know who murdered Svensson, Johansson, and Bjurman?"


"If you have information I'd like to hear it."


"The murderer's name is Ronald Niedermann. That's the giant who boxed with Paolo Roberto. He's a German citizen, thirty-five years old, and he works for a scumbag named Alexander Zalachenko, also known as Zala."


Bublanski said nothing for a long time, and then Blomkvist heard him sigh, turn over a sheet of paper, and click his ballpoint.


"And you're sure about this?"


"Yes."


"OK. So where are Niedermann and this Zalachenko?"


"I don't know yet. But as soon as I work it out I'll let you know. In a little while Erika Berger will deliver to you a police report from 1991. In it you'll find all sorts of information about Zalachenko and Salander."


"Like what?"


"That Zalachenko is Lisbeth's father, for example. That he's a hit man who defected from the Soviet Union during the Cold War."


"A Russian hit man?" Bublanski echoed.


"A faction within Sapo has been supporting him and concealing his criminal dealings."


Blomkvist heard Bublanski pull up a chair and sit down.


"I think it would be best if you came in and made a formal statement."


"I don't have time for that. I'm sorry."


"Excuse me?"


"I'm not in Stockholm at the moment. But I'll send word as soon as I find Zalachenko."


"Blomkvist...  You don't have to prove anything. I have doubts about Salander's guilt too."


"But I'm just a simple private investigator who doesn't know the first thing about police work."


It was childish, he knew, but he disconnected without waiting for Bublanski's reply. Instead he called Annika Giannini.


"Hi, Sis."


"Hi. Anything new?"


"I might be needing a good lawyer tomorrow."


"What have you done?"


"Nothing too serious yet, but I might be arrested for obstructing a police investigation. But that's not why I called. You couldn't represent me anyway."


"Why not?"


"Because I want you to take on the defence of Lisbeth Salander, and you can't look after both of us."


Blomkvist gave her a rapid rundown of the story. Giannini was ominously silent. Finally she said, "And you have documentation of all this... "


"I do."


"I'd have to think it over. Lisbeth really needs a criminal lawyer."


"You'd be perfect."


"Micke... "


"Listen, you were the one who was furious with me because I didn't ask for help when I needed it."


When they'd finished their conversation, Blomkvist sat thinking. Then he picked up his mobile and called Holger Palmgren. He didn't have any particular reason for doing so, but he wanted to tell him that he was following up one or two leads, and that he hoped the whole story would be resolved within the next few hours.


The problem was that Salander had leads too.


***


Salander reached for an apple in her backpack without taking her eyes off the farm. She lay stretched out at the edge of the woods with a floor mat from the Corolla as a groundsheet. She had taken off her wig and changed into green tracksuit pants with pockets, a thick sweater, and a midlength windbreaker with a thermal lining.


Gosseberga Farm lay about four hundred yards from the road. There were four buildings. The main building was about a hundred and twenty yards in front of her, an ordinary white-frame house on two floors, with a shed and a barn seventy yards beyond the farmhouse. Through the barn door she could see the front of a white car. She thought it was a Volvo, but it was too far away for her to be sure.


Between her and the main building there was a muddy field that extended to the right about two hundred yards down towards a pond. The driveway cut through the field and disappeared into a small stand of trees towards the road. Next to the road there was another farmhouse that looked to be abandoned; the windows were covered with plastic sheeting. Beyond the main building was a grove of trees that served to block the view of the nearest neighbour, a clump of buildings almost six hundred yards away. So the farm in front of her was relatively isolated.


She was close to Lake Anten in an area of rounded glacial moraines where fields alternated with small communities and dense woodland. The road map gave no detail, but she had followed the black Renault from Goteborg along the E20 and turned west towards Sollebrunn in Alingsås district. After about forty minutes the car made a sharp turn onto a forest road at a sign that said GOSSEBERGA. She had driven on and parked behind a barn in a clump of trees about a hundred yards north of the access road, then returned on foot.


She had never heard of Gosseberga, but as far as she could tell the name referred to the house and barn in front of her. She had passed the mailbox on the road. Painted on it was P.O. BOX 192 - K.A.BODIN. The name meant nothing to her.


She had made a wide circuit of the buildings and finally selected her lookout spot. She had the afternoon sun at her back. Since she'd gotten into position at around 3:30, only one thing had happened. At 4:00 the driver of the Renault came out of the house. He exchanged some words in the doorway with someone she could not see. Then he drove away and did not come back. Otherwise she had seen no movement at the farm. She waited patiently and watched the building through a pair of Minolta 8x binoculars.


***


Blomkvist drummed his fingers in annoyance on the tabletop in the restaurant car. The X2000 had stopped in Katrineholm and had been standing there for almost an hour. There was some malfunction in one of the carriages that had to be fixed. An announcement apologized for the delay.


He sighed in frustration and ordered more coffee. At last, fifteen minutes later, the train started up with a jerk. He looked at his watch. 8:00 p.m.


He should have taken a plane or rented a car.


He was now even more troubled by the feeling that he had started too late.


At around 6:00 p.m. someone had turned on a lamp in a room on the ground floor, and shortly after that an oil lamp was lit. Salander glimpsed shadows in what she imagined was the kitchen, to the right of the front door, but she could not make out any faces.


Then the front door opened and the giant named Ronald Niedermann came out. He wore dark trousers and a tight T-shirt that emphasized his muscles. She had been right. She saw once more that Niedermann really was massive. But he was flesh and blood like everyone else, no matter what Paolo Roberto and Miriam Wu had been through. Niedermann walked around the house and went into the barn where the car was parked. He came out with a small bag and went back inside the house.


After only a few minutes he appeared again. He was accompanied by a short, thin older man who was using a crutch. It was too dark for Salander to make out his features, but she felt an icy chill creep along the back of her neck.


Daaaddyyy, I'm heeeere...


She watched Zalachenko and Niedermann as they walked up the road. They stopped at the shed, where Niedermann collected some firewood. Then they went back to the house and closed the door.


Salander lay still for several minutes. Then she lowered her binoculars and retreated until she was completely concealed among the trees. She opened her backpack, took out a thermos, and poured some coffee. She put a lump of sugar in her mouth and began to suck on it. She ate a cheese sandwich she had bought earlier in the day on the way to Goteborg. As she ate she thought about the situation.


After she had finished she took out Nieminen's Polish P-83 Wanad. She ejected the magazine and checked that nothing was blocking the bolt or the bore. She did a blind fire. She had six rounds of 9 mm Makarov. That should be enough. She shoved the magazine back in place and chambered a round. She put the safety catch on and slipped the weapon into her right-hand jacket pocket.


Salander began her advance towards the house, moving in a circle through the woods. She had gone about a hundred and fifty yards when suddenly she stopped in mid-stride.

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