Authors: David Lagercrantz
“Only that it was all but impenetrable, full of ghosts and spirits.”
“And nothing about Forsell, our Minister of Defence?”
“I don’t know, all I have is hearsay and I don’t think the centre is going to release its records any time soon.”
“What happened when he didn’t return?”
“They searched for him, of course, in all the places he would usually hang out. But they found no trace at all, except for various reports that his corpse had been seen not far from the Bagmati River, where the dead are cremated. But no body was ever identified as his, and after a year the investigation was wound up. They abandoned hope, and in the end his family held a little memorial ceremony in Namche Bazaar, or maybe more of a…how shall I put it?…a moment of prayer for him. It was very beautiful, apparently. He hadn’t been so well regarded those last years. But that restored his reputation. Nima Rita had been on the summit of Everest eleven times without oxygen. Eleven times! And his climb up Cho Oyu, that was…”
Carson went on animatedly, but Blomkvist was no longer listening quite so intently. He was looking up Nima Rita, and even though quite a lot had been written—there were Wikipedia entries in both English and German—he found only two photographs. In one, Nima Rita was standing with the Austrian star climber Hans Mosel, after their ascent of the North Face of Everest in 2001. In the other, more recent, he was shown in profile in front of a stone house in the village of Pangboche in Khumbu. Like the first picture, it had been taken from a bit too far away—certainly too far for any face-recognition software to be effective. But Blomkvist was in no doubt. He recognized the eyes and the hair, and the patches on the cheeks.
“Are you still there?” Carson said.
“I’m just a bit shocked.”
“I’m not surprised. That’s some mystery you’ve got on your hands now.”
“You can say that again. But honestly, Bob…I can tell that you’ve got supergenes. You’ve been fantastic.”
“My supergenes are for high-altitude climbing, not detective work.”
“I think you should check out your detective genes too.”
Carson gave a tired laugh.
“Can I ask you to be discreet about this for the time being?” Blomkvist said. “It would be bad if anything got out before we know more.”
“I’ve already told my wife.”
“Please keep it in the family, then.”
Afterwards, Blomkvist wrote to Nyman and Bublanski to tell them what he had learned. Then he went on reading the Forsell material, and later in the morning he rang him to see if he could set up an interview.
Forsell had a fire going in the stove. Rebecka could smell it from downstairs in the kitchen, and she heard him pacing back and forth. She did not like the sound of his footsteps and she could not bear his silence and his glassy look. She would have done anything to see him smile again.
Something is wrong,
she thought again,
She was on the point of going upstairs to demand to speak to him when he came down the winding staircase. She was happy at first. He was wearing his training gear and his Nike running shoes, and that should have been a sign that he was getting his spirits back. But there was something about his posture that frightened her. She met him halfway up the stairs and stroked his cheek.
“I love you,” she said.
He gave her such a disconsolate look that she flinched, and there was nothing soothing in his reply:
It sounded like a farewell and she kissed him. But he shook himself free and asked where the bodyguards were. She took a moment before answering. They had two terraces, and the guards were sitting out on the western one, facing the water. They would have to change and accompany him if he was going on a run, and as usual they would struggle to keep up. Sometimes he would run back and forth a bit so as not to exhaust them.
“On the west terrace,” she said, and he hesitated.
He seemed to want to say something. His chest heaved. His shoulders were unnaturally tense, and there were red patches on his throat which she had never seen before.
“What is it?” she said.
“I tried to write you a letter. But I couldn’t.”
“Why on earth would you write me a letter? I’m standing right here.”
She was about to break down, but vowed not to give in before he had told her exactly what was going on. She took hold of his hands and looked into his eyes. But then the worst thing imaginable happened.
He tore himself loose, said “I’m sorry,” and then ran off, not towards the bodyguards but instead across the terrace which faced the forest. In no time at all he was out of sight, so she screamed for her life. When the guards rushed in she was distraught.
“He’s run away from me, he’s run away from me.”
Forsell ran so fast that his temples were pounding and his mind was filled with the clamour of an entire life. But there was nothing remotely uplifting about it—not even the happiest moments. He tried to think about Becka and their sons. All he could picture was the disappointment and shame in their eyes, and when he heard birdsong in the far distance, as if from another world, he could make no sense of it. How could anyone be singing? How could they want to live?
His whole existence was black and hopeless. Yet he had no idea what he wanted to do. In town, he would have thrown himself in front of a long-distance truck or a tunnelbana train. Here there was only the sea and, although he felt it beckoning, he knew that he was far too good a swimmer, and that amid his despair there was an untameable will to live which he was not certain he could suppress.
So he kept on running, not in his usual way but as if he were trying to run from life itself. It was incomprehensible that it had come to this. He had thought he could cope with anything. He had thought he was as strong as a bear. But he had made a mistake and been drawn into something he knew he could not live with. At first, he had really wanted to hit back, to fight. But they had him. They knew they had him, and here he now was. Birds flew up all around, and further on a startled roe deer leaped into the trees.
That it should be him of all people. There was no logic in it.
He had loved Nima, although that was of course the wrong word, but still…there had been a bond between them, an alliance. Nima had been the first to pick up on the fact that Johannes was stealing into Rebecka’s tent at night at Base Camp, and it had upset him. His Everest goddess was offended by sex on her sacred slopes.
“Makes mountain very angry,” he said, and in the end Johannes could not help pulling his leg. Even though everybody warned him—
That man can’t handle a joke!
—Nima had taken it well and laughed, and the fact that Rebecka and Johannes were both single no doubt helped.
Grankin and Engelman’s case was more problematic because both were married to other people. It was difficult in all sorts of ways, and he remembered Luna, wonderful brave Luna, who sometimes came up with fresh bread, goat’s cheese and yak butter in the mornings, and he recalled his decision to help them, yes, that was probably where it all began. Johannes gave them money—as if paying off a debt that he did not yet know he had.
He kept on running and was drawn inexorably towards the water. Once on the beach he pulled off his shoes and socks and his running shirt and waded into the sea. He began to swim, just as he had been running, wildly and furiously. He noticed that there were white crests on the waves and that the water out here was colder than he had expected. The current was strong, but instead of slowing down, he ploughed on.
He was going to swim and forget.
The bodyguards had sent for backup and, without knowing what else she could do, Rebecka went up to Johannes’s office. She was hoping it might help her understand what had happened. But she found no clues, only that paper had been burned in the stove, and as she leaned on the desk there was a sudden buzz next to her. For an instant she thought it was something she had done.
But it was Johannes’s mobile, with the name Mikael Blomkvist on the display. She let it ring. The last person she wanted to talk to was a journalist. They had poisoned her and Johannes’s lives, and she wanted to scream:
Come back, you old fool. We love you…
She had no idea what happened next, her legs must have given way.
She sat on the floor and prayed, though she had not prayed since she was a little girl, and when the phone buzzed again, she got up on her unsteady legs. Blomkvist again. Blomkvist, she tried to remember, surely he had been on their side? Maybe he knew something. It was not impossible, so on the spur of the moment she picked up and heard the despair in her own voice:
“Johannes’s phone, Rebecka speaking.”
Blomkvist realized at once that something was amiss, but he could have no idea how serious it was. Some kind of row between husband and wife? It could have been anything…
“Is this a bad time?” he said.
He could tell that she was overwrought.
“Shall I call back?”
“He just took off,” she burst out. “Just ran away from his bodyguards. What’s going on?”
“Are you on Sandön?”
“What…? Yes,” she mumbled.
“Have you any idea what’s got into him?”
“I’m terrified that he’s gone and done something stupid,” she said, at which he made some comforting remark about how things would surely sort themselves out.
Then he ran down to the jetty to his boat. It was not a powerful boat, and Sandön was a sizeable island, 133 acres. The Forsell house was a good way off and it would take time to get there. The wind was blowing hard and the boat felt small and light. Water sprayed into his face. What the hell did he think he was doing? He had no answer to that, but this was his way of tackling a crisis: He took action. He pushed the throttle forward and soon heard the rattling sound of a helicopter overhead.
It was likely to be something to do with Forsell and once again he thought about the wife. It had sounded as if she were shouting at everyone and no-one:
What’s going on?
He had been shaken by the shrill anxiety in her voice.
He kept his eyes on the water ahead and for the time being had the wind at his back, which helped a little. Now he was approaching the southern tip of the island. A speedboat was being driven recklessly towards him, and as it passed, his small boat was pitched from side to side in its wake. He had to struggle not to turn and scream at those testosterone-fuelled kids, but he kept going and scanned the shoreline. There weren’t all that many people about, and no swimmers in the water either. He was considering heading for land and searching the forest when he spotted a tiny dot far out in the channel, bobbing up and down in the waves. He turned the boat towards it and yelled:
“Hey there! Hey!”
The wind had drowned out all noise and Forsell was alone in the world. The punishing muscle strain and the cramp building up in his arms felt almost liberating. His only focus was to forge ahead until he could let go and sink down through the water, away from life. But it was not that simple. He did not want to live. Yet he was not sure he wanted to die either. He knew only that all hope was gone. What remained was shame, and the towering rage which was now an imploding force, a sword thrust inwards, and it was too much. He could take it no longer.
He thought about his sons Samuel and Jonathan. And then it became clear that he could not face the choice that confronted him. To fail them by dying. Or to live and have them see him as a man disgraced. So he swam on, as if the sea would provide an answer. He heard a helicopter overhead and swallowed a mouthful of water. He thought he had been overwhelmed by a wave. But it was his strength ebbing away.
He was struggling to keep his head above the surface and switched to breaststroke. But his legs dragged him down, and in an instant, without knowing quite how, he was under the water. Gripped by panic, he began to flail with his arms. One thing was absolutely certain: Even if he did want to die, he did not want it to be like this. He fought his way up, gasping for breath, then turned towards shore and swam some five or ten yards before sinking again.
Now fear really seized him. He held his breath, but within seconds he swallowed more water and his throat spasmed. He could not breathe at all. His body protected him for as long as it could until his galloping fear of death caused him to hyperventilate. His chest and head were bursting with pain and fear. He lost consciousness briefly, then came to. But he was sinking to the bottom, and to the extent that he could think at all he thought of his family, and of everything and nothing.
The head out there in the waves vanished, then reappeared, and Blomkvist shouted: “Wait for me, I’m coming.” But his boat was too slow and when he looked again, he saw nothing but the sea and a seagull diving, and further off a blue sailing boat. He tried to work out where he had last spotted the figure. Was it there…or there? He had to hope for the best, and in the end he shut off the engine and stared down into the water. It was murky. He had read that this was caused by a combination of rain, flowering algae, chemicals and soil particles. He waved at the helicopter above him—but what good would that do? He took off his shoes and socks and stood for a while in the boat as it rocked in the wind. And then he jumped in.
It was shockingly cold. He swam down below the surface and looked around, but he could not see anything at all. It was hopeless, and after a minute he went back up to the surface and caught his breath. He saw that his boat had already drifted far away, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He dived again, in the opposite direction this time, and caught sight of a body some way off, apparently lifeless and sinking like a pillar. He swam towards it and grabbed the man under his arms. He was as heavy as lead, unwieldy. Blomkvist gave it all he had and kicked hard as he tried to swim, and slowly, inch by inch, he bore the man up. But he had got the physics wrong.
If he could only get the body to the surface, he had thought, everything would be easier. But it felt as if he were carrying a tree trunk. The man was in a bad way and even heavier above water. He was showing no signs of life at all, and Blomkvist realized how far out in the bay he was. He would never make it back to shore with the body. But he couldn’t give up. A long time ago, in his youth, he had been on a life-saving course. He kept trying to change the way he held on to the man, to get a better grip.
But he just felt heavier and heavier, and Blomkvist was struggling hard, beginning to inhale water. His muscles were cramping. That was it. He would have to let the man go, or he himself would be dragged into the depths. One moment he was going to give up, and the next he felt he could not. He struggled on until everything went black.