The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye: Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series (9 page)

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“You have no idea what it was all about?”

“I guessed afterwards that it had something to do with his mother. She died a few days later, and Leo took a leave of absence as you know and disappeared off on those extended travels. I should probably have got in touch and expressed my condolences. But, as you know, my own life then turned into a nightmare. I was working day and night at my new job, and having spectacular rows with my ex-husband in between. And on top of all that I was sleeping with you.”

“Must have been the worst part.”

“Probably was.”

“And you haven’t seen Leo since?”

“Not in the flesh, just in a short clip on T.V. I think I’d forgotten about him, or more likely pushed him from my mind. But when you called today…” Malin hesitated, as if she were searching for words. “… I remembered that scene from the office, and it felt somehow wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It just bothered me. In the end I got so irritated that I tried to call him, but he’s changed his number.”

“Did I mention the psychologist who was killed at an Alfred Ögren hunting party? It happened when Leo was a small boy,” Blomkvist said.

“Er, no, why?”

“His name was Carl Seger.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. What happened?”

“Seger was shot in the stomach twenty-five years ago during an elk hunt, in the forests around Östhammar – probably by accident. The person who fired the gun was Rosvik’s C.F.O., Per Fält.”

“Do you suspect foul play?”

“Not really, at least not yet. But I thought Seger and Leo may have had a close relationship. Leo’s parents were prepared to invest a lot in the boy, weren’t they? Practising for I.Q. tests and so forth. I read that Seger wrote about the importance of self-confidence for young people’s development, so I was wondering—”

“Leo probably had more self-doubt than self-confidence,” Malin said.

“Seger wrote about that too. Did Leo talk often about his parents?”

“Sometimes, but only reluctantly.”

“Doesn’t sound good.”

“I’m sure Herman and Viveka had their qualities, but I believe one of Leo’s tragedies was that he never managed to stand up to them. He was never allowed to go his own way.”

“His becoming a reluctant financier, in other words.”

“Some part of him must have wanted that too. Things are never straightforward. But I’m pretty sure his dream was to break free. Maybe that’s why that scene at his desk troubles me. He almost seemed to be saying farewell – not just to his mother but also to something else, something bigger.”

“You called him a Hamlet.”

“Mainly as a contrast to you, I think. But it’s true, that he dithered about everything.”

“Hamlet turned violent in the end.”

“Ha, yes, but Leo would never …”

“Never what?”

A shadow flitted over Malin’s face, and Blomkvist put a hand on her shoulder.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Well, I did once see Leo lose it completely,” she said.

At 7.29 p.m. Faria felt the first shuddering of the freight train like a fierce pain shooting through her body. Only sixteen minutes to go before locking up. But a lot could happen in that time, she knew that better than anyone. The guards were rattling their keys out in the corridor, voices were raised, and even though she did not catch what was said, she could sense agitation in the hubbub. She had no idea what it was about, only that there was an urgency. And she had heard a rumour that Benito would be leaving. An hour ago it had felt like thunder was on its way. Now the shaking of the train was all that reached them from the outside world.

The walls appeared to be quaking, the inmates were walking back and forth, yet nothing serious seemed to be happening. Perhaps she would be left in peace tonight after all. The guards looked to be more watchful. The warden, Olsen, had been keeping a close eye on her, and he seemed to be working all hours. Maybe he would protect her, finally. Maybe it would be alright, whatever was being whispered out there. She thought about her brothers and her mother, and how once upon a time the sun had shone over the lawns in Vallholmen. But her dreaming was cut short. The sound of shuffling sliders could be heard from some distance, a sound she recognized with fear, and now there could be no doubt. Faria found it hard to breathe. She wished she could smash a hole in the wall and escape along the railway line, or vanish as if by magic, but she was at the mercy of her cell and her bed. She was as vulnerable as she had ever been in Sickla, and she tried to think about Jamal again. But that did not help, there was no solace to be found anywhere. The freight train rumbled past, the footsteps got closer and soon she would smell that sweet perfume again. Within a few seconds she would be slung into the same bottomless pit as ever, and it did not matter how many times she told herself that her life was already ruined, that she had nothing more to lose. She was petrified every time Benito appeared in her doorway and with a winning smile told her that her brothers sent their regards.

It was not clear whether Benito had ever met Bashir and Ahmed or was even in touch with them. The greeting was like a deadly threat, and it was always followed by Benito slapping and caressing her, touching her breasts and between her legs, calling her a slut and a whore. But the fondling and the insults weren’t the worst of it. It was the feeling that this was all a preparation for something far more terrible. Sometimes she expected to see a glint of steel in Benito’s hand.

Benito owed her notoriety to a pair of Indonesian knives. She was rumoured to have forged them herself while uttering a stream of oaths. It was said that just having the knives pointed at a person was a death sentence. The myths accompanied Benito along the prison corridors like an evil aura that mingled with her perfume. Faria had often imagined what would happen if Benito came at her with knives. Some days she thought she would welcome it.

She listened out for sounds in the unit, and for a moment her hopes lifted. There was no longer shuffling. Had Benito been stopped? No, the feet were on the move again, and Benito had company. Now the smell of perfume was mixed with an acrid stench of sweat, and peppermints. Tine Grönlund, Benito’s stooge and bodyguard. Faria knew that this was no reprieve, but rather an escalation. It was going to be bad.

Benito’s painted toenails were now visible in the doorway, her pale feet sticking out of standard-issue plastic sliders. She had rolled up her shirtsleeves to expose her snake tattoos. She was sweaty, and made up, and cold-eyed. Yet she was smiling. Nobody had as unpleasant a smile as Benito. She was followed by Grönlund, who closed the cell door behind them – even though only the guards were allowed to close doors.

“Greta and Lauren are right outside. So we don’t need to worry about being disturbed,” Grönlund said.

Benito took a step towards Faria, fingering something in her trouser pocket. Her smile narrowed to a thin line, a mere suggestion. New furrows formed on her pale forehead. A drop of sweat appeared on her lip.

“We’re in kind of a hurry,” she said. “The screws want to send me away, have you heard? So we have to come to a decision right now. We like you, Faria. You’re a looker, and we like beautiful girls. But we like your brothers too. They’ve made a very generous offer, and now we’d like to know …”

“I don’t have any money,” Faria said.

“A girl can pay in other ways, and we have our preferences, our own currency, don’t we, Tine? I’ve got something for you, Faria, which might make you a little more cooperative.”

Again Benito’s hand went to her pocket and she gave a broad smile. A smile that contained an icy certainty of victory.

“What do you think I’ve got here?” she said. “What could it be? It’s not my Keris, so you don’t need to worry about that. But it’s still something valuable to me.”

She pulled a black object from her pocket with a metallic click. Faria could not breathe. It was a stiletto knife. She went so rigid with terror that she had no time to react when Benito grabbed her by the hair and forced her head back.

Slowly the blade came closer to her throat until it was pointed at her carotid artery, as if Benito was demonstrating where to make the deadliest cut. Benito hissed and spat about atoning for one’s sins in blood and making the family happy again. Faria felt the sweet perfume in her nostrils and inhaled a breath which was sour with tobacco, as well as something stale, sickly. She was incapable of any further thought and shut her eyes, and so did not understand why a sudden flutter of alarm had spread through the cell. But then she realized that the door behind her had opened and closed again.

Someone else was in the room. At first, Faria could not make out who. But from the corner of her eye she saw Salander. She looked strange, vacant and lost in thought, as if she didn’t know where she was. She didn’t even flinch when Benito came towards her.

“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she said.

“Goddamn right you are. Who the hell let you in?”

“The girls you left out there. They didn’t make much of a fuss.”

“Idiots! Can’t you see what I have here,” Benito hissed, brandishing her stiletto.

Salander glanced at the knife but did not react to that either. She looked absently at Benito.

“Fuck off, you slut, or I’ll cut you up like a pig.”

“I’m afraid you won’t have time for that,” Salander said.

“You don’t think so?”

A wave of hatred rippled through the cell and Benito lunged towards Salander, knife raised. Faria never understood what happened next. A punch was thrown, an elbow jabbed, and it was as if Benito had run into a wall. Paralysed, she fell onto her face on the concrete floor, not even breaking her fall with her hands. And then there was silence, only the freight train clattering by outside.

CHAPTER 6

18.vi

Malin Frode and Blomkvist were leaning against the headboard. Blomkvist ran his fingertips across her shoulders and said:

“What happened to send Leo into such a state?”

“Have you got any decent red wine? I could use it.”

“I’ve got some Barolo, I think,” he said and dragged himself off to the kitchen.

When he came back with the bottle and two glasses, Malin was gazing out of the window. Rain was still falling over Riddarfjärden. A light mist lay over the water and there were sirens in the distance. Blomkvist poured the wine and kissed Malin on the cheek and mouth. As she began to talk, he pulled the duvet over them again.

“You know that Alfred Ögren’s son, Ivar, is now the C.E.O., even though he’s the youngest of the children. He’s only three years older than Leo and the two of them have known each other since they were small. But they’re not exactly friends. In fact, they hate each other.”

“How come?”

“Rivalry, insecurity, you name it. Ivar knows Leo is cleverer and can see right through his blustering and lies, and he’s got a complex, not just an intellectual one. Ivar spends his time eating out at expensive restaurants, and even though he’s not yet forty he already looks like a bloated old man, whereas Leo’s a runner and on a good day could pass for twenty-five. On the other hand, Ivar’s more enterprising and forceful, and then …”

Malin pulled a face and drank some wine.

“And then what?”

“I’m embarrassed about this: that I was a part of it. Ivar could be a decent enough guy, maybe a bit full of himself, but O.K. Other times he was a nightmare and it was terrible to witness. I think he was afraid that Leo would take over. Many people, even some on the board, wanted that. During my last week at the company – it was before I saw Leo that night – the three of us had a meeting. We were supposed to be discussing my successor, but inevitably we got onto other topics and, you know, Ivar was irritated right from the word go. I’m sure he picked up on the same thing I did. Leo was ridiculously happy, as if he were floating above everything. Besides, he had hardly been in to work all week and Ivar ripped into him, calling Leo a moralizing idler and a wimp. At first Leo took it well, he just smiled. That drove Ivar crazy and he started saying the most terrible things: racist slurs, like Leo was a gyppo and a pikey. It was so absurd that I thought Leo would ignore the idiot. But he leapt up from his chair and grabbed Ivar by the throat. It was crazy. I threw myself at Leo and pulled him to the floor. I remember him muttering, ‘We’re better, we’re better,’ until finally he calmed down.”

“What did Ivar do?”

“He didn’t move from his chair, just stared at us in shock. Then he leaned forward, looking shamefaced, and apologized. After that he left and there I was on the floor with Leo.”

“And what did Leo say?”

“Nothing, as far as I remember. It was a pretty fucked up way to behave.”

“But wasn’t it fucked up to call him a pikey and a gyppo?”

“That’s Ivar for you. When he gets upset, he becomes a monster. He could just as well have called him a creep, or a pig. I think he’s inherited that narrow-mindednesss from his father. There’s a whole lot of prejudiced crap in that family, and that’s what I mean when I say I’m ashamed. I should never have been working at Alfred Ögren.”

Blomkvist nodded and drained his glass. Probably he should have asked a few more questions, or said something to comfort Malin, but he said nothing. Something was weighing on his mind, and at first he could not grasp it. Then it came to him that Salander’s mother, Agneta, had come from a family of travellers. It was her grandfather’s background, he seemed to recall, and so her name had been listed in registers which had later been made illegal.

“You don’t suppose …” he said at last.

“What?”

“… that Ivar actually sees himself as superior?”

“I’m sure he does.”

“I mean racially superior.”

“That would be odd. Mannheimer’s as blue-blooded as they come. What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not sure.”

Malin looked wistful, and Blomkvist kissed her shoulder. He knew exactly what he needed to check. He would have to go a long way back in time, to the old church records if necessary.

Salander had landed quite a punch – possibly it was
too
hard. She knew it before Benito collapsed, even before she hit her, by the ease of her movements, by the unopposed force. By the way anyone who does explosive sports knows that the more effortless the action, the closer it comes to perfection.

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