Authors: David Lagercrantz
Blomkvist was no longer on very good terms with his mobile and should have got himself a private number long ago. But he was reluctant to do so. As a journalist he did not want to make himself inaccessible to members of the public. And yet he suffered from the endless calls he received, and he felt that something had changed in the course of the past year.
The tone had become rougher. People insulted him and shouted at him, or came to him with the craziest tip-offs. He had all but given up answering calls from unknown numbers. He simply let his mobile vibrate and ring, and if he ever did pick up, as now, he often found himself pulling a face without intending to.
“Blomkvist,” he said, grabbing another beer from the refrigerator.
“Apologies,” said a woman’s voice. “Shall I call back later?”
“No, don’t bother,” he answered in a milder tone. “What’s it about?”
“My name is Fredrika Nyman, I’m a doctor at the National Board of Forensic Medicine in Solna.”
He was struck by fear.
“Nothing’s happened, other than the stuff that always happens, and I’m sure that’s got nothing to do with you. But we’ve had a body in—”
“A woman?” he interrupted.
“No, no, very definitely a man. Well, very definitely…that’s a strange way of putting it, isn’t it? But it is a man, maybe in his sixties or a bit younger, who’s clearly been to hell and back. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Would you mind getting to the point?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you. I don’t think it’s likely you knew him. He was a down-and-out, and right at the bottom of the pecking order even in those circles.”
“So what has he got to do with me?”
“He had your mobile number in his pocket.”
“Lots of people do,” Blomkvist said, irritated. Immediately he felt he had been tactless.
“I do understand,” Fredrika Nyman went on. “You must be bombarded with calls. But this is something I feel strongly about.”
“In what way?”
“I believe that even the worst wrecks among us deserve some dignity in death.”
“Of course,” he said, to make up for his lack of sympathy a moment ago.
“Precisely,” she said, “and Sweden has always been a civilized country in that respect. But with each passing year we receive more and more bodies we don’t manage to identify, and that really upsets me. Everyone’s entitled to an identity in death. To a name, and a history.”
“True,” he said, but he had already lost his concentration and almost without being aware of it he went over to the laptop on his desk.
“Sometimes I’m sure there have been genuine difficulties,” the woman said. “But often it’s just down to a lack of resources or time, or worse, a lack of will, and I have a nasty feeling that may be the case with this body.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The fact that there have been no hits in any database, and because the man looks like someone without any significance at all. The lowest of the low. The sort we normally look away from and simply forget.”
“Very sad,” he said.
He searched through the files he had created over the years for Salander.
“With any luck I’m wrong,” Fredrika Nyman said. “I’ve just sent off my samples, and soon we may know more about this man. Now I’m at home, and I thought I could try and speed things up a bit. You live on Bellmansgatan, don’t you? It’s not that far from where he was found, you might have bumped into each other. Maybe he’s even called you?”
“So where was he found?”
“Beside a tree in Tantolunden. You would remember if you’d seen him. His face was dark brown and dirty, with deep furrows. Sparse beard. He’s almost certainly been exposed to strong sunshine and severe cold. His body bears the marks of frostbite and he’s missing most of his fingers and toes. His muscle attachments show signs of extreme exertion. I would guess that he comes from somewhere in Southeast Asia. He may have been quite handsome once upon a time. His features are clean, even though his face is ravaged. Yellowish skin due to liver damage. There are black patches on his cheeks, signs of necrosis. It’s always hard to determine age at this early stage, as I’m sure you know. But I would guess that he was getting on for sixty, as I said, and for a long time he’d been on the verge of dehydrating. He was short, a little under five feet.”
“I’m not sure. Doesn’t ring any bells,” Blomkvist said.
He was searching for messages from Salander among his files, but found none. She didn’t even appear to be hacking him these days, and this made him more and more worried. He could almost feel in his bones that she was in danger.
“I’m not done yet,” Fredrika Nyman said. “I haven’t mentioned the most noticeable thing about him, his down jacket.”
“What was so special about that?”
“It was so large and warm that it ought to have been pretty conspicuous in this heat.”
“As you say, I would have remembered it.”
He closed the computer and looked out over Riddarfjärden. Once again he thought it was probably sensible of Salander to have sold her apartment.
“But you don’t, right?”
“No…” he said hesitantly. “You don’t have a picture you could send me?”
“I don’t think that would be ethical.”
“How do you think he died?”
He was not fully focused.
“Well, poisoning finished him off, I would guess, self-inflicted no doubt, first and foremost from alcohol, of course. He reeked of it, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he had something else inside him as well. I’ll hear more on that from the forensics lab in a few days. I’ve requested a drug screening which covers more than eight hundred substances. But the broader picture is of slow and steady organ failure, and an enlarged heart.”
Blomkvist sat on the sofa and emptied his beer, and was clearly silent for too long.
“Are you still there?” the medical examiner said.
“Yes, I’m here. I was just thinking…”
He was thinking about Lisbeth.
“That it may be a good thing he had my number,” he said.
“How do you mean?”
“Maybe he felt he had a story to tell, and I’m sure that’ll encourage the police to try harder. Sometimes, when I’m at my best, I can put the wind up them.”
She gave a laugh.
“I’m sure you can.”
“Sometimes I just annoy them.”
Sometimes I annoy myself,
“Let’s hope it’s the first of those.”
He wanted to end the call. He wanted to be left alone with his thoughts. But the medical examiner wanted to talk some more and he did not have the heart to hang up on her.
“I mentioned that he was the sort of man one normally just wants to forget, didn’t I?” she went on.
“But that’s not entirely true, not for me. It feels like…it feels like his body has a story to tell.”
“In what way?”
“He looks as if he’s gone through both ice and fire. As I said, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it.”
“Yes, maybe. He was tattered, and indescribably dirty. He stank. And yet he had a sort of dignity. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. Something which gave him some respect, notwithstanding all the humiliation. He had fought the good fight.”
“Had he been a soldier?”
“I saw no sign of battle scars, nothing of that sort.”
“Or a man from some primitive tribe?”
“Hardly. He’d received dental care and could evidently write. There’s a tattoo of a Buddhist wheel on his left wrist.”
“I understand that he made you care in some way. I’ll check my voicemail and see if he’s been in touch.”
“Thanks,” she said, and they probably talked a little longer, he wasn’t sure; he was still a little distracted.
When they had hung up, Blomkvist remained sitting, deep in thought. The sounds of cheering and clapping could be heard from the Midnattsloppet on Hornsgatan and he ran his fingers through his hair. It had to be almost three months since he last had it cut. He needed to get a grip on his life. He even needed to
a life, enjoy himself like everyone else and not just work and keep pushing himself to the limits. Maybe also answer his phone and not be so focused on his bloody news stories.
He went into the bathroom, not that that made him feel any better. Clothes were hanging out to dry. There were blobs of toothpaste and shaving foam in the washbasin, and hair in the bathtub. A down jacket, he thought, in the middle of summer? There was something in that, wasn’t there? But he found it hard to focus. Too many thoughts were crowding in, and he wiped the washbasin and the mirror, folded the laundry, and picked up his mobile to check his voicemail.
He had thirty-seven unopened ones. Nobody should have thirty-seven unopened voicemails, for Christ’s sake, and now, with a pained expression, he listened to every one of them. My God, what was it with people? Admittedly there were many who wanted to give him tip-offs, and others who were courteous and respectful. But most were plain angry. You’re lying about immigration, they shouted. Keeping us all in the dark about the Muslims. Protecting the Jews in the financial elite. It was like being sprayed with muck, and he was on the point of ringing off. But he listened on bravely and then finally he heard something which was neither the one nor the other. It was just a moment of confusion.
“Hello…hello,” said a voice in accented English, breathing heavily, and after a short silence it added: “Come in, over.”
It sounded like a call on a walkie-talkie, and was followed by a few more words which Blomkvist could not understand, perhaps in another language? There was desperation and loneliness in the voice. Could it be the beggar? Possible. There was no way of knowing. Blomkvist hung up and went into the kitchen, and considered calling Malin Frode or anyone else who could put him in a better mood. But he resisted the impulse and instead sent off an encrypted text to Salander. What did it matter if she wanted nothing to do with him?
He was and he remained bound to her.
Camilla, or Kira as she called herself these days, was sitting in her limousine on Tverskoy Boulevard, looking admiringly at her long legs. She was wearing a black Dior dress with red Gucci high heels, and a Graff diamond necklace which gleamed with a blueish light just above her neckline.
She was devastatingly beautiful, nobody knew this better than she herself, and often, as now, she would linger in the backseat of her car. She liked to visualize the scene: how the men give a little start when she makes her entrance; how so many of them cannot help staring. She knew from experience that only a few ever have the courage to pay her compliments and meet her gaze. Kira always dreamed of sparkling like nobody else, and now she closed her eyes and listened to the rain drumming against the body of the car. Then she looked out of the tinted glass windows.
There were only a handful of men and women shivering out there under their umbrellas, and they seemed barely interested to see who would be emerging from the car. She cast a bored glance at the restaurant. Throngs of guests were toasting each other, laughing and chattering. A few musicians were standing on a small stage further in. And there was Kuznetsov, dragging himself outside with his piggy eyes and fat belly—what a sight! He really was a clown. She felt like getting out of the car and slapping his face. But she had to keep her composure, her regal aura, and not betray with the slightest expression her recent sense of having fallen into an abyss. They had not yet been able to locate her sister, and she was furious. She had thought it would be easy once they had cracked her address and cover. But they could find no trace of her. Not even Kira’s contacts at the GRU—not even Galinov himself—had been able to track her down. They knew that there had been sophisticated hacker attacks against Kuznetsov’s troll factories and other targets. They might be linked to her, but it was not certain how much of this could be down to Lisbeth. Whatever, it now had to stop. Kira needed peace at last.
Thunder could be heard in the distance. A police car drove by and she took out a mirror and smiled at herself, as if to bolster her courage. When she looked up she saw Kuznetsov squirming and fiddling with his bow tie and collar. The idiot was nervous and that was a good thing. She wanted him to sweat and tremble, and she didn’t want to hear any of his dreadful jokes.
“Now,” she said. Sergei got out and opened the back door.
Her bodyguards stepped out but she took her time, waiting for Sergei to open the umbrella. Then she placed one foot on the pavement and expected to hear the usual sigh, the gasp, the “Ooh!” But there was nothing, nothing other than the rain and the string instruments of the musicians in the restaurant, the hum of voices. She would be cold and aloof, she thought, and hold her head high, and she just registered Kuznetsov lighting up with anticipation and anxiety, throwing out his arms in welcome, when she felt something else too: sheer, pure terror, cutting into her.
She could sense something over her right shoulder, a little way along the front of the building, something elusive, and she glanced in that direction. A dark figure seemed to be coming directly towards her with one hand inside its jacket. She wanted to scream at her bodyguards or throw herself onto the pavement, but instead she froze in total concentration, as if realizing that right now, even the slightest movement could cost her her life. Perhaps she knew already who it was, although she could not distinguish anything beyond an outline, a shadow coming closer.
But something in the way the figure moved, the resolute stride, gave Kira a terrible premonition, and before she had time even to grasp its full impact she knew she was lost.
Had there ever been a chance for the two of them to come together, to be anything other than enemies? Perhaps not altogether inconceivable. After all, there was a time when they shared one vital thing: their hatred of their father, Alexander Zalachenko, and their fear that he would beat their mother Agneta to death.
At the time, the sisters were living in a cubbyhole of a room in an apartment on Lundagatan in Stockholm, and when their father showed up, usually reeking of alcohol and tobacco, and dragged their mother into the bedroom to rape her, they could hear every scream, every blow and gasp. Sometimes Lisbeth and Camilla would seek comfort in an embrace, that was all they had, but at least…there was a shared terror, a common vulnerability. Then even that was taken from them.
It escalated when they were twelve. Not only the degree of violence, but its frequency. Zalachenko began to live with them on and off, and then he would beat Agneta night after night. At the same time a change also crept into the relationship between the sisters, not obvious at first, but it was betrayed by the excited gleam in Camilla’s eyes, a fresh spring in her step as she walked to greet her father at the door. And that was the tipping point.
Just as the conflict was about to become lethal, they chose different sides in the war, and after that there was no chance of a reconciliation. Not after Agneta was beaten within an inch of her life on the kitchen floor and suffered irreversible brain damage, and Lisbeth threw a Molotov cocktail at Zalachenko and watched him burn in the front seat of his Mercedes. Ever since then it had been a matter of life and death. Since then, the past had been a bomb waiting to explode, and now, years later, as Salander slipped out of the doorway on Tverskoy Boulevard, those days at Lundagatan flashed by in a series of lightning sequences.
She was in the here and now. She had identified the gap through which she would shoot and knew exactly how she would escape afterwards. But those memories of the past were more present than she realized, and she moved slowly, slowly. It was only when Camilla stepped onto the red carpet in her high heels and black dress that Lisbeth began to move faster, although she was still in a crouch and didn’t make a sound.
Laughter and string music and clinking glasses poured through the open door of the restaurant, and all the time the rain fell. A police car drove through the puddles, and she stared at it and at the row of bodyguards, wondering when they would be alert to her again. Before she fired, or after? There was no way of knowing. But so far she was OK. It was dark and misty, and all eyes were on Camilla.
She was as radiant as ever, and Kuznetsov’s eyes shone like those of the boys in the school playground so many years ago. Camilla could bring life to a standstill. It was the power she had been born with, and Salander watched as her sister glided forward. She saw Kuznetsov straighten up, open his arms in a nervous but welcoming gesture, and she saw the guests crowding into the doorway to catch a glimpse. But at that exact moment a voice was heard from the street, one that Salander had been expecting: “
e”—“There, look.” A guard with a boxer’s nose and fair hair had spotted her, and then there was no room for hesitation.
She laid a hand on the Beretta in its holster and felt herself pitched into the same icy cold as when she threw the petrol-filled milk carton at her father. She had time to see Camilla freeze in fear as at least three bodyguards reached for their weapons. She would have to act now, with lightning speed and with no mercy.
Yet she was paralyzed, inexplicably. All she felt was a shadow from her childhood sweep over her once more, and she realized that not only had she missed her chance, she now stood defenceless before a rank of armed enemies. And there was no way out.
Camilla never saw the figure hesitate. There was only her own scream, and the sudden movement of heads and bodies and of weapons being drawn. She had no doubt it was too late, her chest would be ripped open by bullets at any moment. But no assault came and she had time to run towards the entrance and take shelter behind Kuznetsov. For a few seconds all she was aware of was her own heavy breathing and the agitated movements around her.
It was a while before she realized that not only had she escaped unscathed but the situation had now shifted to her advantage. It was no longer she who was in danger of her life. It was that dark figure over there, the one whose face she had not yet seen. The figure bent its head to check something on a mobile. It had to be Lisbeth. With a thirst for blood pounding in her throat, Camilla was desperate to see the figure suffer and die, and, calmer now, she surveyed the chaotic scene.
It looked better than she could have dreamed. While she herself was surrounded by bodyguards in bulletproof vests, Lisbeth stood alone on the pavement with a number of weapons pointed at her. It was fantastic, nothing less. Camilla wanted to prolong the moment, and she could see already that this was a moment she would come back to, over and over again. Lisbeth was finished, she would soon be destroyed, and in case anyone should even think to hesitate, Camilla screamed:
“Shoot! She wants to kill me,” and a second later she even thought she could hear the sound of gunfire mixed with the piercing siren of a police car apparently driving directly at her. She could actually feel the noise and the din booming throughout her body, and although Lisbeth was no longer visible—people were milling around in front of her—she imagined her sister dying in a hail of bullets, falling to the street covered in blood.
But no…there was something wrong. Those were no pistol shots, they were…what?…a bomb, an explosion? A deafening racket that swept towards them from the restaurant, and even though Camilla did not want to miss a single second of Lisbeth’s humiliation and destruction, she stared at the crowd inside. But she could make no sense of what she was seeing.
The violinists had stopped playing and were gaping in terror at the party crowd in front of them. Many of the guests were rooted to the spot, their hands clapped to their ears. Others were clutching at their chests, or screaming in fear. But most were rushing towards the exit in a state of panic, and only when the doors to the restaurant flew open and the first people came running out into the rain did Camilla understand. This was no bomb. It was music, turned up to such an insane volume that it was barely recognizable as sound. This was more like a high-frequency sonic attack.
An elderly bald man was yelling: “What’s going on? What’s going on?” A woman in a short, dark-blue dress, barely twenty years old, fell to her knees with her hands over her head, as if afraid the ceiling was about to collapse on her. Kuznetsov, standing right next to her, mouthed something which was drowned out by the cacophony, and in that instant Camilla realized her mistake. She had allowed her concentration to lapse, and furiously she looked back at the street, past the red carpet, past the police car, and her sister was no longer there.
It was as if the earth had swallowed her and Camilla looked about the pandemonium in desperation, at the guests screaming in confusion, and only just had time to let out a roar of frustration when a savage blow to the shoulder knocked her down. She banged an elbow and her head on the pavement. As her forehead throbbed with pain and her lip bled, and as feet were stamping all around her, she heard an icily familiar voice directly above her—“Just wait, sister, I will have my revenge”—and she was much too dazed to react.
By the time she raised her head and could see properly, there was no sign of Lisbeth, only a stream of people stampeding out of the restaurant. Again she shouted: “Kill her,” but even she no longer believed it.
Vladimir Kuznetsov did not notice Kira falling to the ground. He was all but oblivious to the madness around him. In the midst of all the racket he had picked up something which terrified him more than everything else, a sequence of words bawled out with a pulsating, staccato rhythm, and at first he refused to believe his ears.
He shook his head and muttered “No, no,” trying to dismiss it as a horrible figment of his imagination, a trick played by his fevered fantasy. But it really was that tune—that nightmare tune—and he wanted only to sink into the ground and die.
“It can’t be true, it can’t be true,” he groaned as the chorus blared at him, like the pressure wave from a grenade:
Killing the world with lies.
Giving the leaders
The power to paralyze
Feeding the murderers with hate,
Amputate, devastate, congratulate.
But never, never
No song on earth had petrified him like this one, and compared to that it did not matter that the party he had so been looking forward to had been sabotaged, or that he was likely to be sued by livid oligarchs for bursting their eardrums. All he could think of was the music. That it was being played here, right now, told him that someone had penetrated his darkest secret. He was in danger of being disgraced before the whole world. His chest seized up in panic and he could hardly breathe, but he made every effort to look as if nothing were untoward. When his men finally managed to turn off the racket, he even pretended to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I do beg your pardon,” he announced above the hubbub. “This just goes to show you should never rely on technology. I apologize profusely. But let’s get on with the party. There’ll be no shortage of drinks, or other treats for that matter…”
He looked around for some lightly clad girls, as if an interlude of feminine beauty might rescue the situation. But the only young girls he saw were backed against the walls, scared to death, and he never finished his sentence. His guests could tell that he was falling apart, and since the musicians had now filed past him and out onto the street, most of them seemed anxious only to hurry home. In fact Kuznetsov was quite thankful for that. He wanted to be left alone with his thoughts and his fear.
Now would be the time to ring his lawyers and his contacts in the Kremlin, in the hope of getting a little comfort. He wanted to be told for certain that he would not be named as a pariah and war criminal in the Western press. Kuznetsov had powerful protectors; he was a big shot who had committed appalling crimes without it troubling his conscience. But he was not a strong person for all that, not when “Killing the World with Lies” was being played at his own ostentatious private party.
When things like that happened, he was back to being a cheap nothing, a second-rate criminal who had, thanks to an amazing stroke of good fortune, ended up in the same Turkish bath as two members of the Duma one afternoon, and told them a few tall tales. Kuznetsov had no other talents—no education and no special skills—but he could spin incredible yarns, and that, it seemed, was all it took. Since then he had worked hard to build up a circle of influential friends and these days he had hundreds of employees, most of them significantly more intelligent than he was himself: mathematicians, strategists, psychologists, consultants from the FSB and the GRU, hackers, computer scientists, engineers, AI and robotics experts. He was rich and powerful and, most important of all, nobody on the outside connected him with the information agencies and the lies.
He had skilfully concealed his responsibility and ownership, and lately he had been thanking his lucky stars for that. Not because of his involvement in the stock market crash, quite the opposite (in fact he considered that a feather in his cap), but rather because of the assignments in Chechnya which had exploded in the media, and led to protests and uproar at the United Nations. Worst of all, they had prompted a hard rock protest song which became a worldwide hit.
The track had been played at every bloody demonstration against the murders, and each time he had been terrified that his own name would be associated with them. Only during these last few weeks, while he had been planning his party, had life returned to normal. He could laugh and joke again, and tell his tall tales, and one important guest after the other had shown up tonight. He had squared his shoulders and had been enjoying the experience, when suddenly that song had started to blare out—and so loudly that his head almost burst.
“I beg your pardon?”
A distinguished older gentleman with a hat and cane—in his confusion he could not place him—looked at him disapprovingly. Even though he would have liked to tell the ancient to take a running jump, he was afraid that he might be more powerful than he was himself. So he answered as politely as he could.
“Apologies for my language, I’m just angry.”
“You should check your IT security.”
As if I’ve been doing anything else,
he thought. “It’s got nothing to do with that,” he replied.
“So, what is it then?”
“It was something…electrical,” he said.
Was he totally stupid? Had the wiring simply short-circuited and played “Killing the World with Lies” all by itself? He was embarrassed and looked away, waving pathetically to some of the last guests who were slipping off in taxis. The restaurant was emptying of people and he looked around for Felix, his young chief technician. Where the hell was that useless cretin?
Eventually he found him by the stage, talking into his mobile with his ridiculous goatee and the absurd dinner jacket which hung on him like a sack. He seemed agitated, and so he should be. That moron had promised that nothing could possibly go wrong, and now the sky had fallen on their heads. Kuznetsov gestured at him angrily.
Felix responded with a dismissive wave, which made Kuznetsov want to punch him or bang his head against the wall. Yet when Felix finally ambled over, Kuznetsov reacted quite differently. He sounded helpless.
“Did you hear what song that was?”
“I heard,” Felix said.
“So someone on the outside knows.”
“I guess so.”