The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye: Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series (8 page)

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As she sat in her prison cell, Faria remembered the evening Hassan Ferdousi, the imam from Botkyrka, had paid an unexpected visit to their home. Faria was fond of the imam and she had been longing to talk to him. But Ferdousi had not come on a social call. From the kitchen she heard him say in an angry voice:

“You misunderstand Islam. If you go on like this, things will end badly – very badly.”

After that evening she believed so herself. Her two oldest brothers, Ahmed and Bashir, exuded a grim hatred that seemed increasingly unhealthy. It was they, and not her father, who insisted she wear her niqab even to go round the corner to buy milk. If they had their way she would sit at home and rot. Her brother Razan was not as categorical, nor was he particularly involved. He had other interests, although he tended to follow Ahmed and Bashir’s lead. But that did not make him an ally; he too kept an eye on her.

Despite the supervision, Faria managed to find occasional windows of freedom, though it involved lying and being inventive. She was able to keep her laptop and one day she saw on the net that Hassan Ferdousi himself would be taking part in a debate at Kulturhuset with a rabbi called Goldman on the religious oppression of women. It was the end of June. She had just graduated from Kungsholmen high school and she had not been outside for ten days. She was so longing to get away it almost killed her. Her aunt Fatima was a cartologist and single, and she was Faria’s last ally in the family. It was not easy to convince her. But Fatima could tell how desperate Faria was and eventually she agreed to say that she and Fazi would be meeting for a simple dinner. The brothers believed the story.

Fatima greeted Faria at her apartment in Tensta, but she allowed her to head straight into town. Faria had to be back at 8.30 p.m., when Bashir would come to collect her, but she had a bit of time. Her aunt had lent her a black dress and a pair of high-heeled shoes. That was perhaps overdoing it a little – she wasn’t going to a party, she was attending a debate on religion. But being nicely dressed gave her a sense of occasion. In fact, she hardly remembered the discussion, she was far too caught up by just being there and seeing all the people in the audience and once or twice she even found herself moved, for no apparent reason.

After the debate there were questions, and somebody in the auditorium asked why it was that, whenever men establish a religion, it is always the women who end up suffering. Hassan Ferdousi answered rather darkly:

“It is deeply sad when we use the greatest being of all as an instrument for our own smallness.”

She was reflecting on those words as people around her got to their feet. A young man in jeans and a white shirt came towards her. She was so unused to meeting a boy her own age without wearing a niqab or hijab that she felt naked and exposed. But she did not run away. She remained seated and observed him discreetly. He was around twenty-five years old and not especially tall, and although he did not look confident, his eyes shone. There was a lightness in his step which contrasted with the serious, even sombre look about him, and he also seemed shy, which she found reassuring. He addressed her in Bengali.

“You’re from Bangladesh, aren’t you?” he said.

“How can you tell?”

“I just know. From where?”

“Dhaka.”

“Me too.”

He smiled so warmly that she could not help smiling back. Their eyes met and her heart leapt. Afterwards all that Faria could recall was how they strolled out onto Sergels torg, talking quite openly from the outset. Before they had properly introduced themselves he was telling her about the blog he had contributed to in Dhaka which promoted free speech and human rights. The bloggers had ended up on Islamists’ hit lists and had been targeted for murder, one after the other. They were butchered with cleavers, and the police and the government did nothing, “absolutely nothing”, he said. And so he had been forced to leave Bangladesh and his family, to seek asylum in Sweden.

“Once when it happened, I was right there. My best friend’s blood was all over my jumper,” he said. Even though she did not fully understand, at least not then, still she sensed a sorrow in him which was greater than her own, and she felt a closeness which she should not reasonably have been able to feel on so brief an acquaintance.

His name was Jamal Chowdhury. She took his hand and they wandered towards Riksdagshuset. She was having difficulty swallowing. It was the first time in ages that she had felt completely alive. But the feeling did not last long. She became anxious and imagined Bashir’s black eyes. When they reached Gamla Stan she went her own way. But during the days and weeks that followed she sought comfort in the memory of their meeting. It was like a secret treasure chamber.

Hardly surprising then that she clung to it in prison, especially on this evening just before the freight train came thundering by. With Benito’s footsteps approaching, Faria knew in her whole body that this time would be worse than ever.

Olsen was in his office, still waiting for a call from Fager. But time passed and no call came. He swore under his breath and thought about his daughter. Olsen was scheduled to be off today with Vilda at a football tournament in Västerås, but he had cancelled everything because he did not dare to be away from the unit. When he asked his aunt to babysit for the umpteenth time he felt like the worst father ever, but what was he to do?

His efforts to have Benito transferred had backfired. Benito knew all about it and glared threateningly at him. The whole place was seething. Everywhere the prisoners were whispering to each other as if there was about to be a major clash or breakout, and he, in turn, looked pleadingly at Salander. She had promised to deal with the situation, which worried him as much as the problem itself, and he had insisted that he would attempt to resolve it first. Five days had now passed and he had achieved nothing. He was scared to death.

Still, there was one positive outcome. He had believed he would have to face an internal investigation because he was caught on camera going into his office with Salander after lock-up, and staying until the small hours. In the days that followed, he fully expected at any moment to be summoned before the management and made to face the most awkward questions. But it didn’t happen. In the end he could stand it no longer, and on the pretext of needing to check some incidents involving Beatrice Andersson he took himself off to the monitoring centre in B unit. Apprehensively he located footage from the evening of June 12 to the early hours of June 13.

At first he could not take it in. He played the video over and over, but all he saw was a quiet, deserted corridor with no trace of either him or Salander. He was safe. Although he would have loved to believe that, miraculously, the cameras happened not to be working at that precise time, he knew better. He had witnessed Salander hacking into the institution’s server. She must have replaced some of the surveillance footage. It was a huge relief, but it also terrified him. He swore and once again checked his e-mail. Not one word. Was it really so damned difficult for someone to come and take Benito away?

It was 7.15 p.m. Outside the rain was cascading down, and he ought to be checking that nothing unpleasant was happening in Kazi’s cell. He should be out there man-marking Benito and making her life a misery. But he stayed where he was, paralysed. He looked around his office and felt queasy. What could Salander have done yesterday when she was in here? Those hours had been weird. She had gone through those old registers again, this time searching for a Daniel Brolin. That much he knew, but otherwise Olsen had tried to avoid looking. He did not want to get involved. But then he had become involved, after all, whether he liked it or not. Salander had made a telephone call via his computer. The strange thing was that she had sounded like a different person, friendly and thoughtful. During the conversation she asked if any new documents had turned up. And then, immediately afterwards, she had asked to be taken back to her cell.

Twenty-four hours later, Olsen was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and resolved to go out into the unit. He jumped up from his office chair, but got no further. The internal telephone buzzed. It was Fager, finally calling back. Hammerfors Prison in Härnösand could take Benito the next morning. It was excellent news but Olsen was not as relieved as he thought he would be. At first he did not understand why. Then he heard the freight train passing. He hung up without another word and hurried to the cells.

Blomkvist would later say he had been assaulted. But it was one of the more agreeable assaults he had been subjected to for a long time. Malin Frode was in the doorway, soaked from the rain, make-up running down her cheeks, with a wild and determined look in her eyes. Blomkvist was not sure if she was there to punch him or tear his clothes off.

The result was somewhere in between. She pushed him against the wall, grabbed his hips and told him he was going to be punished for being all work and no play, and at the same time sexy as hell. And before he knew it she was straddling him on the bed. She came not once but twice.

Afterwards they lay close to each other, breathing heavily. He stroked her hair and said affectionate things to her. He realized he had really missed her. Sailing boats were criss-crossing on Riddarfjärden. Raindrops drummed on the rooftops. It was a good moment. But his thoughts drifted, and Malin was immediately aware of it.

“Am I boring you already?” she said.

“What? No, no, I’ve been longing for you,” he said, and he meant it. But he was also feeling guilty. Moments after making love with a woman he hadn’t been with for a long time, he shouldn’t be thinking about work.

“When did you last utter an honest word?”

“I do try to, and quite often, actually.”

“Is it Erika again?”

“Well, no. It’s what we talked about on the telephone.”

“The hacker attack?”

“And other things.”

“And Leo?”

“Him too.”

“Then tell me, for God’s sake. Why the hell are you so interested in him?”

“I’m not sure I
am
. I’m just trying to piece together some things.”

“That’s clear as mud, Kalle Blomkvist.”

“Oh?”

“So there’s something you’re not telling me. Maybe you’re trying to protect your source?” she said.

“Maybe.”

“Bastard!”

“Sorry.”

Her face softened and she brushed back a lock of her hair.

“I did actually think about Leo for a long time after we spoke,” she said.

She drew the duvet closer around her. She was irresistible.

“Did you come up with anything?” he asked her.

“I remembered him promising to tell me what had made him so happy. But then when he was no longer happy it seemed heartless to press him.”

“What made you think of that?”

She hesitated and looked out of the window.

“Probably because I was glad of his happiness, but I worried about it too. It was excessive.”

“Perhaps he was in love.”

“I asked him exactly that and he flatly denied it. We were in the bar at Riche, and that in itself was unusual. Leo hated crowds. But he had agreed to come and we were supposed to be discussing who would be taking over from me. Leo was impossible. As soon as I mentioned some names he changed the subject, he wanted to talk about love and life and he went into a monologue about his music. It was incomprehensible and pretty dull, frankly, something about being born to like certain harmonies and scales. I wasn’t really listening. He was on such a high that I was offended, and like a fool I went at him. ‘What’s going on? You’ve got to tell me.’ But he refused to say anything else. He couldn’t tell me, not yet. All he would say was that he had finally discovered where he belonged.”

“He’d seen the light?”

“Leo hated religion.”

“So what was it?”

“No idea. All I know is that it ended as quickly as it started, a few days later. He totally fell apart.”

“How do you mean?”

“It was just before Christmas a year and a half ago, my last day at Alfred Ögren. I’d had a farewell party at home and Leo hadn’t turned up, and that upset me. After all, we had been close.” She shot Blomkvist a look. “No need to be jealous.”

“It takes more than that to make me jealous.”

“I know. And I hate you for it. You could at least humour me by pretending. Anyway we had a harmless flirtation, Leo and I, around the time I met you. My life was a disaster, what with the divorce and everything, and that’s probably why I was so struck by the immense happiness he had suddenly found. Plus it was so at odds with his character. I had called him in the middle of the night and he was still in the office, which only upset me more. But he apologized so profusely that I forgave him, and when he asked me to come up for a nightcap I ran over there right away. I had no idea what to expect. Leo wasn’t exactly a workaholic, and there was no reason for him to be there that late. That room used to be his father’s office. There’s a Dardel hanging on the wall. A Haupt chest of drawers standing in the corner. Mind-boggling. Sometimes Leo would say he was embarrassed by it, by the obscene luxury. But that evening when I went up there … I can hardly describe it. His eyes glowed, and there was something new, something broken in his voice. He was trying his best to smile and look happy, but his eyes looked lost and sad. There was an empty bottle of burgundy and two used glasses on the chest of drawers. He had obviously had a visitor. We embraced and exchanged pleasantries, drank half a bottle of champagne and promised to stay in touch. But it was obvious his mind was elsewhere. In the end I said: ‘You don’t seem happy anymore.’ ‘I am happy,’ he said. ‘I’ve just …’ He didn’t finish the sentence. He was quiet for a long time. Drained his glass of champagne. Looked upset. Said he was going to make a large donation.”

“To whom?”

“I have no idea, and I wondered if it was a spur of the moment decision. He immediately seemed embarrassed by what he had said, and I decided not to pursue it. It felt too private, and afterwards we just sat there awkwardly. In the end I got up, and he jumped up too, and we hugged again and kissed a little half-heartedly. I told him to take care and went out into the corridor to wait for the lift. A minute later I was getting annoyed and decided to go back. Why was he being secretive? What was he playing at? I wanted to understand. But when I reached his room – I mean, even before I could open my mouth – I realized I was disturbing him. He was sitting, writing on a distinctive-looking sheet of paper, and you could tell that he was taking extra care with each word. His shoulders were tense. He seemed to have tears in his eyes. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt, and he never even noticed me.”

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