Authors: David Lagercrantz
“But my wife, Rebecka, who will soon have heard it all, insists that I do. So I don’t see how I can get out of it.”
“I understand,” Blomkvist said.
“I’m not sure that you do. But dare I ask if I can read what you write before you publish?”
Blomkvist set off towards the bridge across to Kungsträdgården, turning the words over in his mind.
“You can alter your quotes until you feel comfortable with them, and you can check my facts. You’re even welcome to try and persuade me that I should be writing my article differently. But I don’t promise to do as you say.”
“That sounds reasonable.”
“We’ll stand by, then.”
“Right you are.”
Forsell thanked him again and handed the phone back to the other man. He and Blomkvist agreed what to do next. Then Blomkvist sent over Catrin Lindås’s number and quickened his pace. His heart was pounding. His thoughts were racing. What was going on? He should have asked more questions. Why was Forsell no longer at the Karolinska? Surely it was unwise of him to leave the hospital so soon, seeing that he had been in such a bad way—and who was the Englishman who had called?
Blomkvist knew nothing except that it was probably all to do with Nima Rita and Everest, but he was certain there were other cards in play that he had no idea about, maybe a Russian trail—the whole of Forsell’s life suggested Russia—or connections to Engelman in Manhattan?
Time would tell. He would no doubt find out soon and he felt a tremendous excitement.
This is big,
But in truth he was not even sure about that. He needed to keep a cool head. He took out his mobile to send Catrin a message via Signal:
Then he remembered the message that had come in just before the telephone call. He read it and thought, this is odd. It was almost like an answer to his questions, and he wondered if it had anything to do with the conversation he had just ended or if, on the contrary, it might be something from the other side, if indeed there were sides in this affair.
There are no official sources, but with your experience I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding out that his CV is a fake, no more than a façade. I happen to be in Stockholm right now, staying at the Grand Hôtel. I’d be happy to meet you and tell you what I know, I have documentary evidence.
I stay up late, a bad habit of mine, I’m afraid. Plus jet lag.
Charles? Who the hell was Charles? This smacked of U.S. intelligence. But equally it could be something wildly different, a trap even. It was troubling that the man should be staying at the Grand Hôtel, just across the water from where he was standing, and very close to the Lydmar. Then again, nearly all rich or important foreigners stay at the Grand—Ed the Ned from the NSA was a case in point, so perhaps there was nothing suspicious about that coincidence.
But still he did not feel comfortable about it. No, Mr. Charles would have to wait. What had happened was more than enough for him to deal with and he felt bad about Catrin, so he hurried past the Grand to the Lydmar and raced up the stairs.
August 27–28, Night
Rebecka Forsell had no idea what she had set in motion or what the consequences would be for her and the boys, but she saw no other way forward. It was no longer possible to remain silent, not about this.
Now she was sitting with a glass of wine in the brown armchair, deep in contemplation, aware of her husband and Kowalski whispering away in the kitchen. Was more that was crucial being kept from her? She was pretty sure it was, and she even doubted whether all that she had heard was true. But she did feel that she now understood what had happened on Everest. There was an irrefutable logic to the story and she thought about how little they had really known, not only then at Base Camp but also afterwards, when the witness statements were collected.
She knew that Nima Rita had climbed up twice to bring down Mads Larsen and Charlotte Richter, but not that he had gone up a third time, a fact which he never once mentioned during the interviews or the subsequent investigation. It did, however, explain why Susan Wedlock, the head of their group at Base Camp, was not able to get hold of him that evening.
According to Forsell’s account, it would by then have been past eight in the evening. Darkness was not far off and the cold, ferocious conditions were soon to deteriorate further. But Nima walked straight back into it, in a desperate attempt to bring down Klara Engelman. He was himself already in a bad way. The figure Forsell saw emerging from the fog and the snow was stumbling along with his head bent against the storm, as ever without an oxygen mask; all he had was a headlamp whose light darted about in the snow. His cheeks were frostbitten. He did not see Forsell and Lindberg until he was almost upon them. To them he was a godsend, once it dawned on them that it really was him in the flesh. Forsell could hardly stand upright. He was about to become the third victim on the mountain that evening. But Nima Rita paid no attention to that. “Must get Mamsahib” is all he said. “Must get Mamsahib.” Lindberg shouted to him that it was pointless, that she was dead. But Nima would not listen, not even when Lindberg bellowed:
“Then you’ll be killing us. You’re saving a dead person instead of us—we’re alive!”
Nima just walked on, up the face. He vanished into the storm with his down jacket flapping, and that was what did it. Forsell collapsed and was unable to get up, either by himself or with Lindberg’s help. He had no idea what happened next or how long it took, only that darkness fell and he was freezing, and Lindberg was yelling:
“For Christ’s sake, Johannes, I don’t want to leave you. But I have to, I’m sorry, otherwise we’ll both die.”
Lindberg laid a hand on his head, and stood up. Forsell realized that he was going to be abandoned. He would freeze to death. But then he heard the shouts, those inhuman howls. As he told her this, Rebecka thought,
It’s not so bad after all.
It was not pretty, but it was a human response and the usual rules did not apply up there. There were different standards on the mountain and Forsell had done nothing wrong, not then.
He had been too exhausted even to grasp what was going on, and that was why, regardless of what happened later, she wanted him to talk to a reporter like Blomkvist, someone who was capable of burrowing deep into the story, following all of its meandering paths and plumbing its psychological depths. But maybe that was a mistake. Maybe there were things which she was not aware of yet, things which were even worse.
She could not rule it out, especially with Johannes whispering so agitatedly in the kitchen and Kowalski shaking his head and throwing his arms out. Christ, what an idiot she had been. Perhaps they should try to bury the whole affair, keep their mouths shut—for the sake of the boys. For her sake. Oh, God help them, and she cursed her husband.
How could he have got them into this predicament?
How could he?
Blomkvist listened to Catrin muttering in her sleep. It was late and he was dead tired, but it was impossible to drift off. His head was filled with thoughts and his heart was pounding.
What the hell’s the matter,
I’m not exactly new to this game.
And yet he was as excited as a cub reporter working on his very first scoop. As he tossed and turned he thought back to what Catrin had said to him:
“Don’t you think Grankin was a soldier too?”
“Why do you say so?”
“He looked like one,” she said, and, thinking back, that really did seem right.
There was something about the way he held himself that suggested a senior officer, and normally Blomkvist would not have given it a second thought. People can give an impression of being one thing and then turn out to be something quite different. But now he had received that message from the mysterious “Charles,” and it pointed in the same direction. Grankin would also seem to be one of the reasons for Forsell’s expulsion from Russia. He would need to follow up on that.
It was what Blomkvist had believed all along, and he had been planning to follow it up in the morning, before his meeting with the Forsells. But since he couldn’t sleep anyway, why not just get up? So long as he did not wake Catrin. He was already feeling guilty on that front. He got up slowly and carefully and tiptoed into the bathroom with his mobile.
He had been a fool not to run a more thorough check on him before now. But then it had never occurred to him that Grankin was anything other than an Everest guide, and that that was where his part in the story ended; just a poor bastard who had fallen in love with a married woman and made some bad decisions on the mountain, and lost his life as a result. But yes indeed, the background information on him was a little too tidy and unspecific.
He had without doubt been a distinguished climber who had conquered many of the toughest summits in the world—K2, the Eiger, Annapurna, Denali, Cerro Torre…and then, of course, Everest. But there was little else in the way of hard information, only over and again the fact that he had worked as a consultant for adventure holidays. What exactly did that entail? Blomkvist did not find much, but eventually came across an old picture of Grankin together with the Russian businessman Andrei Koskov. Didn’t that name ring a bell?
Yes, of course, damn it. Koskov was a businessman and whistle-blower in exile who in November 2011 had exposed connections between the Russian intelligence services and organized crime. Not long after that, in March 2012, he dropped dead while out walking in Camden, in London, and at first the police found nothing suspicious. Three months later, however, traces of
were detected in samples taken from his blood. Blomkvist found that this Asian dicotyledon plant is sometimes known as heartbreak grass—in concentrated form it can make the heart stop—and it was by no means an unknown poison. In 1879, none other than Arthur Conan Doyle had written about it in the
British Medical Journal.
But for a long time there was no mention of the plant in historical records or on the news until it shot to prominence again in 2012 when it was detected in the body of a defector, a GRU agent by the name of Igor Popov, in Baltimore, Maryland. Now Blomkvist was on the alert. Military intelligence, suspected deaths through poisoning, claims that Forsell had systematically investigated the activities of the GRU and been thrown out of the country…
Was this another misleading coincidence, like the one with Mats Sabin, the military historian? After all, it was nothing more than a picture of Grankin posing with someone who had died in mysterious circumstances. But still…there could be no harm in checking with the confounded “Charles” and asking him what he knew. He sent off a text:
It was ten minutes before he got an answer:
Not that he took this at face value for one second. Nor would he until he knew who he was communicating with.
The reply came right back.
Within five minutes a photograph arrived showing an ID card for none other than Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Alexeievich Grankin, bearing the emblem used by the GRU at the time, the red five-leaf clover on a black background. It seemed like solid information, for all that Blomkvist could tell.
“Bloody hell,” Blomkvist muttered out loud.
Was he being careless? He knew nothing about this man, save that he was well informed, and Blomkvist would need as many facts as possible before the meeting tomorrow morning. Surely a one-minute walk to the Grand Hôtel was a risk worth taking? It was 1:58 a.m. and there were still voices out in the street. The city was awake. There were always taxis waiting outside the Grand at night, as far as he could recall, and no doubt there were doormen too. No, surely, there could be no danger. He dressed quietly, left the room and took the lift to the lobby, then the curved stairs down to ground level. The street outside was wet from the downpour, but the dark sky was clearing.
It was good to get out. Lights were shining in the Royal Palace across the water and further away, in Kungsträdgården, there was life still and pockets of people. He was relieved to see a few individuals on the quay too, a young couple walking by. A waitress was clearing glasses from the outside tables, and a man in a white linen suit was still seated on a chair on the far side of the terrace bar, looking out at the water. All clear, he thought, and he set off. But then he heard a voice:
He turned and saw that it was the man in the white suit who had hailed him, a gentleman in his sixties with grey-white hair, handsome features and a cautious smile, perhaps even a smirk. What had amused him? Was it a quip about Blomkvist’s journalism, or character? If so, it was a quip he never got to share.
He heard steps behind him and felt his body jerk, as if electricity had shot through it. He collapsed and hit his head on the pavement, and the strange thing was, his first reaction was not one of fear or pain, but of anger. And not even anger at his assailant but at himself: How could he have been so bloody stupid? How could he? He tried to move. But another shock made him twitch as if he were having a seizure.
“My God, what’s the matter with him?”
This could have been the waitress.
“Looks like an epileptic fit. We need to call an ambulance.”
The man in the white suit spoke in a perfectly calm voice, and the footsteps faded away. Other people approached and Blomkvist heard the sound of a car engine. Then it all happened very quickly. He was rolled over onto a stretcher and lifted in. A door was shut, the vehicle moved away and he fell off the stretcher onto the floor. He tried to shout, but he was so stunned that he could only groan and not until the vehicle had crossed Hamngatan did he manage to utter the words that now came back to him.
“What are you doing? What are you doing?”
Salander was woken by sounds she could not identify and she fumbled drowsily for her weapon on the bedside table. But as she got hold of the pistol and swept the hotel room with its muzzle, she realized that the sound was coming from her mobile. Had she heard someone calling out?
Oddly it was a second or two before she came to the conclusion that it could only have been Blomkvist, and she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and tried to put her thoughts in some order. “Come on now,” she whispered. “Tell me you only happened to say those words. Come
She turned up the volume on her mobile and listened to the banging and crackling. It could be nothing, just noises from a car or a train. But then she heard him groan, followed by heavy, pained breathing. Was he losing consciousness? She leaped out of bed, cursing, and sat at the desk.
Salander was still at the Nobis Hotel in Norrmalmstorg and had been keeping an eye on the address on Strandvägen all evening, ever since her attack on Conny Andersson. There had been a certain amount of activity and she had seen Galinov leave the building. But she had not been especially worried and had gone to sleep at around one—very recently, it would seem—hoping to have gained another day’s respite. She had been wrong.
On her computer she could see that Blomkvist was being taken north, out of Stockholm, and any minute now they would search his pockets and get rid of his mobile. If Galinov and Bogdanov were involved, they would know exactly how to cover their tracks, so she couldn’t afford to sit there like a fool and follow their progress on the map. She had to act. She rewound the tape and heard Blomkvist call out:
“What are you doing?”
He repeated the words twice and was definitely in a bad way, in shock. All she could hear was his breathing. Had they drugged him? She banged her fist on the desk and registered that the vehicle had been on Norrlandsgatan, not far from where she was now. But that was unlikely to be where they had picked him up, so she wound the recording further back and heard his footsteps and his breathing, and a voice saying “Blomkvist?”—the voice of an older man, she thought. And after that a yelp, an exhalation of breath, and a woman shouting, “My God, what’s the matter with him?”