Authors: David Lagercrantz
Ivan Galinov looked down at the journalist on the stretcher. What a fighter. He had not for a long time seen anyone go through this level of pain with such stoicism. But that did not help now. Time was passing and they could wait no longer. The journalist had to die—perhaps in vain, but it no longer mattered. For better or for worse, Galinov thought, here he now was, driven by the shadows of the past. By the fire itself, one could say.
Unlike so many of his colleagues at the GRU, Galinov had not applauded when Zalachenko’s twelve-year-old daughter threw a Molotov cocktail into his car and watched him burn. Instead he had withdrawn, and sworn to go after that girl one day. There was no denying that he had been floored all those years ago when he heard that Zalachenko, his closest friend and mentor, had defected and become the worst of the worst, a traitor to his country.
But later he realized it was not that simple, and they had reconnected, picking up more or less where they left off. They met in secret to exchange information, and they built up Zvezda Bratva together. Nobody, not even his own father, had meant as much to him as Zalachenko. Galinov would always honour his memory, in spite of the fact that he knew Zala had been the author of so much evil, not only in his profession but in other ways too, against his own flesh and blood, for instance. And that was another aspect of the drama that had brought him here.
He would do anything for Kira. He saw in her both Zala and himself, both the traitor and the betrayed, both the victim and the one inflicting the pain, and he had never seen her as distraught as she was after speaking to Blomkvist on the stretcher.
Galinov drew himself up. It was afternoon by now, his body was tired and his eyes were stinging. But here he was and he had to finish off the job. He had never enjoyed this kind of work, not like Kira or Zala. For him it was only a duty.
“Let’s get this over with, Mikael,” he said. “You’ll manage just fine.”
Blomkvist did not reply. He just clenched his jaw and steeled himself. The stretcher he was lying on was soaked in sweat. His feet were badly burned and gashed and there was a steady blaze in the furnace, like a gaping monster in front of him. Galinov had no trouble imagining himself in Blomkvist’s position.
He had himself been tortured and at one point was certain that he was going to be executed. As some sort of comfort both for him and for Blomkvist, he believed there must be a limit to extreme pain, a moment when the body closes down. There was no evolutionary point in limitless suffering, especially when all hope was gone.
“Are you ready?” he said.
“I…have…” the journalist said, but he had evidently reached that limit because nothing more was heard.
Galinov checked that the stretcher would still roll freely and wiped the sweat from his cheeks. He caught a glimpse of himself in the metal frame of the furnace and readied himself.
Blomkvist would have liked to say just about anything, if only to buy himself some respite. But his strength was gone and now memories and thoughts washed over him like a tidal wave. He saw his daughter before him, and his parents and Lisbeth and Erika, it was far more than he could take in, and he felt his back arching. His legs and hips were shaking and he realized, this is it, I am going to burn alive, and he tried to look up at Galinov but everything was blurred.
The whole room seemed hazy, he couldn’t tell if the lights really were starting to blink and go out, or if he was hallucinating. For a while he thought that the darkness was a part of his mortal terror. But then he heard footsteps and voices, and saw Galinov turn and say in Swedish:
“What the hell’s going on?”
Several agitated voices answered. What was it? Blomkvist only knew that there was a sudden commotion in the building, that the electricity seemed to have failed. Everything had gone out except the furnace, which still burned with the same menacing intensity, leaving him one push away from an agonizing death. But all this uproar must mean…that there was hope, surely. He looked around and saw shadowy figures moving in the dark.
Perhaps the police had arrived, and he tried to think and to rise above the pain. Was there anything he could do to frighten them more? Tell them they were surrounded? But no, that might make them shove him into the oven even faster. His throat tightened. He could barely breathe. He looked down at the leather straps across his legs. The heat of the furnace had scorched them, searing them into his skin. A savage pain cut through his throbbing calves. His skin was in shreds, and yet…maybe he could tear himself free? It would be excruciatingly painful. But there was no time to think about that now. He closed his eyes and with difficulty said:
“Holy shit, the ceiling’s coming down!”
Galinov looked up, and Blomkvist took a deep breath and yanked his legs out of the straps with a monumental bellow that cut through the air. Without even thinking, he swung the lower half of his body and kicked the man in the stomach, and then everything went skewed and blurry. The last thing he remembered before he blacked out was the sound of voices shouting:
“We need to kill him.”
MAY 14, 2008
It all came back to him the next day, on his way down to Base Camp, those words that had sounded so faint through the storm and the driving snow, the last they heard from Klara, the desperate cries:
“Don’t leave me, please!”
It was more than he could bear, and he knew then that those words would echo within him for the rest of his life. Yet beyond that he was alive, and it was intoxicating. Time and again he prayed to God that he might make it all the way down, so he could fall into Rebecka’s arms once more. He was weighed down by guilt but he also wanted to live, and he felt gratitude too, not only towards Nima Rita but also to Lindberg. Without him he would have died up there. Still, he could not bring himself to look him in the eye, and he concentrated instead on Nima. It turned out that he was not the only one; they were all worried about him.
Nima was a wreck. There was talk of taking him to hospital by helicopter, but he refused to accept any help, least of all from Lindberg and Forsell. He was a potential source of trouble, there was no denying it. What would he have to say once he regained his strength? It worried Forsell. It appeared to worry Lindberg even more, and the atmosphere grew increasingly tense. In the end Forsell decided to let it be. Things would just have to run their course. As he grew weaker and they headed down towards the safety of Base Camp, apathy replaced his will to live, and when finally he did get to take Rebecka in his arms, the feelings he had dreamed of were not there. No sense of security, no sense of achievement in having reached the summit, no yearning for her…only a heavy heart.
He barely wanted to eat and drink. He just slept, for fourteen hours, and when he woke up, he was all but mute. It was as if the whole dizzying mountain landscape had been cloaked in ash and he could not find solace anywhere, not even in Rebecka’s smile. Everything seemed dead. Only one thought filled his mind: he had to say what had happened. But he kept putting it off, and not only because of Lindberg and his anguished looks. Word had gone around camp that Nima Rita’s career as a climber was over. Would he be the one who put the final nail in that coffin? Would he be the one to reveal that the man, who in every other way had been the great hero on the mountain, had left a woman to die in the storm in order to save his, Johannes Forsell’s, life?
It was all but unthinkable. Yet that is probably what would have happened had Lindberg not approached him on the trek down from Base Camp. They were level with Namche Bazaar, not far from a ravine with a brook rippling through it. He was walking on his own. Rebecka was further ahead, looking after Charlotte Richter, who was concerned about the frostbite on her toes. Lindberg put his arm around Forsell’s shoulders and said:
“We can’t say anything about this, not ever, you get that, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, Svante. I’ve got to say something. I can’t live with myself otherwise.”
“I do understand, my friend. Of course I do. But we’re in a bit of a tight spot here,” he said, and in his most obliging voice went on to tell him what the Russians had on them, at which Forsell replied that he might just wait and see, after all.
Perhaps he even saw it as a means of escape, a way out when his inner voice was telling him he had a duty to tell the truth about what happened.
The geography was not obvious. Salander had decided to avoid taking the road, assuming she had identified the right building. She had come skidding along a woodland path and was now standing by her motorcycle in the midst of a clump of blueberry bushes behind a tall fir tree, looking across a field at the building.
At first, she had detected no signs of life, and been convinced that it was all a smokescreen, a way of throwing her off the scent. The brick and stone building was long, like a stable, and showed signs of disrepair. The huge windows looked like they hadn’t been cleaned for a decade. The roof needed mending, the paint was peeling away from the short end wall, and from where she was standing she could not see any cars or motorcycles. But then she noticed smoke coming from the chimney and gave Plague instructions to start their operation.
Soon after that someone looked out the door of the building, a long-haired man wearing dark clothes. She caught only a glimpse of him, but she registered his nervous expression as he scanned the surroundings, and that was good enough for her.
She set up her IMSI-catcher and her mobile base station, and moments later another man peered out, looking very worried too. It had to be them, she was now certain of it. There were probably a number of others as well. Bound to be if they had Blomkvist in there, so she photographed the building and sent the GPS coordinates to Chief Inspector Bublanski in an encrypted message, hoping that would get the police there quickly. Then she approached the house.
Although it was windy and the sky was dark, it was a big risk: There was nowhere to hide in the open area. But she wanted to look in through the tall windows on the long side of the building, which extended all the way to the ground. She moved forward in a crouch, her weapon drawn, but the windows were tinted, she could not see a thing. Sensing danger, she began to back away. She had come too close. Turning abruptly, she checked her phone. An intercepted text:
Looking back on events later, it was difficult to say exactly what happened. To Salander it felt as if she had hesitated, just as she had on Tverskoy Boulevard. But Conny Andersson, who picked her up on the cameras at that very moment, got the impression instead of a fiercely determined figure racing up towards the forest.
Bogdanov spotted her on his screen but, unlike Andersson, he did not raise the alarm. He only looked on in grudging fascination as she disappeared among the trees. For some seconds she was invisible. Then there was the sound of an accelerating engine and he saw it on his screen: She was riding a motorcycle straight at them, at high speed. The bike bounced as it flew across the open space, and he assumed that was the last he would see of her.
He heard gunshots and the sound of breaking glass, and the motorcycle swerved out there in the field. But Bogdanov did not wait to see how it would end. He grabbed the car keys lying on the table next to him and hurried out, feeling an irresistible urge to break free at last, to escape from something that could not possibly end well, either for them or for Wasp.
Blomkvist opened his eyes and saw the blurry figure of a man right in front of him, a bloated, unshaven guy in his forties with long hair, a square jaw and bloodshot eyes. The man’s hands were shaking and he was holding a pistol that was also shaking as he looked nervously at Galinov, who was still trying to catch his breath.
“Do I shoot him?” the man shouted.
“Shoot him,” Galinov said. “We have to get out of here,” and at that Blomkvist began to kick wildly as if he could fend off the bullets with his wounded feet. He had time to see the man’s eyes narrow and the muscles tense in his forearm. He had just shouted, “No, for God’s sake, no!” when he heard the roar of a vehicle approaching at top speed. Then the man spun around.
There was shooting all around, maybe from machine guns, it was impossible to tell. The only certainty was that the vehicle was heading straight for them. There was a crash, and a shower of broken glass flew across the factory floor. A motorcycle came thundering in through a window, and on it sat a skinny figure dressed in black. She drove right into one of the men standing there and was thrown against the wall in the collision.
The gunfire continued and the flabby man with the square jaw was aiming his pistol not at him now, he was aiming it at the figure who had been thrown from her bike. But she was already up and moving. Frantic, hurried footsteps came charging towards him and Blomkvist saw Galinov’s face stiffen with fear or concentration. He heard more shooting and screams before pain and nausea overwhelmed him and he lost consciousness again.
Lindås, Kowalski and the Forsells had eaten an Indian takeaway, having broken off from their work. Now they were sitting in the living room and Lindås was trying to gather her wits once more. She was anxious to get a better understanding of what Lindberg had said to Forsell while they were trekking down from Base Camp.
“I thought that he had my best interests at heart,” Forsell said. “He told me he was worried we’d be hit with other accusations if we told people what had happened, and that it was already touch and go as it was.”
“What did he mean by that?”
“The top people at the GRU knew who we were, obviously. They would be asking themselves if there was some connection between Grankin’s death and our presence on the mountain. Svante went on in the same friendly tone: ‘They’ve been wanting to get you for some time, as I’m sure you know,’ and it’s true, I did know that. The GRU considered me dangerous and an aggravation. Then, in the same damn understanding voice, he reminded me that they probably had