The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium series Book 4) (2 page)

CHAPTER 2

20.xi

Mikael Blomkvist had slept for only a few hours, having stayed up late to read a detective novel by Elizabeth George. Not a particularly sensible thing to do. Ove Levin, the newspaper guru from Serner Media, was due to present a strategy session for
Millennium
magazine later that morning and Blomkvist ought really to be rested and ready for combat.

But he had no desire to be sensible. Only reluctantly did he get up and make himself an unusually strong cappuccino with his Jura Impressa X7, a machine which had been delivered to his home a while ago with a note saying, “According to you, I don’t know how to use it anyway”. It stood there in the kitchen now like a memorial to a better time. He no longer had any contact with the person who had sent it.

These days he was hardly stimulated by his work. Over the weekend he had even considered looking around for something new, and that was a pretty drastic idea for a man like Mikael Blomkvist.
Millennium
had been his passion and his life, and many of his life’s best, most dramatic events had occurred in connection with the magazine. But nothing lasts for ever, perhaps not even a love for
Millennium
. Besides, this was not a good time to be owning a magazine dedicated to investigative journalism. All publications with ambitions for greatness were bleeding to death, and he could not help but reflect that while his own vision for
Millennium
may have been beautiful and true on some higher plane, it would not necessarily help the magazine survive. He went into the living room sipping his coffee and looked out at the waters of Riddarfjärden. There was quite a storm blowing out there.

From an Indian summer, which had kept the city’s outdoor restaurants and cafés open well into October, the weather had turned hellish with gusts of wind and cloudbursts, and people hurried through the streets bent double. Blomkvist had stayed in all weekend, but not only because of the weather. He had been planning revenge on an ambitious scale, but the scheme had come to nothing, and that was not like him, neither the former nor the latter.

He was not an underdog, and unlike so many other big media figures in Sweden he did not suffer from an inflated ego which needed constant boosting and soothing. On the other hand, he had been through a few tough years. Barely a month ago the financial journalist William Borg had written a piece in Serner’s
Business Life
magazine under the heading:
MIKAEL BLOMKVIST’S DAYS ARE OVER
.

The fact that the article had been written in the first place and given such prominence was of course a sign that Blomkvist’s position was still strong. No-one would say that the column was well written or original, and it should have been easy to dismiss as yet another attack by a jealous colleague. But for some reason, incomprehensible in retrospect, the whole thing blew up. At first it might have been interpreted as a spirited discussion about journalism, but gradually the debate began to go off the rails. Although the serious press stayed out of it, all kinds of invective was being spewed out on social media. The offensive came not only from financial journalists and industry types, who had reason to set upon their enemy now that he was temporarily weakened, but also from a number of younger writers who took the opportunity to make a name for themselves. They pointed out that Blomkvist was not on Twitter or Facebook and should rather be seen as a relic of a bygone age in which people could afford to work their way through whichever strange old volumes happened to take their fancy. And there were those who took the opportunity to join in the fun and create amusing hashtags like #inblomkvistsday. It was all a lot of nonsense and nobody could have cared less than Blomkvist – or so he persuaded himself.

It certainly did not help his cause that he had not had a major story since the Zalachenko affair and that
Millennium
really was in a crisis. The circulation was still O.K., with 21,000 subscribers. But since advertising revenue was falling dramatically and there was now no longer additional income from their successful books, and since one of the shareholders, Harriet Vanger, was not willing to put up any more capital, the board of directors had, against Blomkvist’s wishes, allowed the Norwegian Serner newspaper empire to buy 30 per cent of the shares. That was not as odd as it seemed, or not at first sight. Serner published weekly magazines and evening papers and owned a large online dating site and two pay-T.V. channels as well as a football team in Norway’s top division, and it ought not to be having anything to do with a publication like
Millennium
.

But Serner’s representatives – especially the head of publications Ove Levin – had assured them that the group needed a prestige product and that “everybody” in the management team admired
Millennium
and wanted only for the magazine to go on exactly as before. “We’re not here to make money!” Levin said. “We want to do something significant.” He immediately arranged for the magazine to receive a sizeable injection of funds.

At first Serner did not interfere on the editorial side. It was business as usual, but with a slightly better budget. A new feeling of hope spread among the editorial team, sometimes even to Blomkvist, who felt that for once he would have time to devote himself to journalism instead of worrying about finances. But then, around the time the campaign against him got under way – he would never lose the suspicion that the Serner Group had taken advantage of the situation – the tone changed and they started to apply pressure.

Levin maintained that of course the magazine should continue with its in-depth investigations, its literary reporting, its social fervour, all of that stuff. But surely it was not necessary for all the articles to be about financial irregularities, injustices and political scandals. Writing about high society – about celebrities and premieres – could also produce brilliant journalism, so he said, and he spoke with passion about
Vanity Fair
and
Esquire
in America, about Gay Talese and his classic piece, “Frank Sinatra has a Cold”, and about Norman Mailer and Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe and heaven knows who else.

Blomkvist did not actually have any objections to that, not at the time. Six months earlier he had himself written a long piece about the paparazzi industry, and as long as he could find a serious angle then he was content to profile just about any lightweight. In fact he always said it isn’t the subject that determines if it’s good journalism, it’s the reporter’s attitude. No, what he objected to was what he sensed was there between the lines: that this was the beginning of a longer-term assault and that, to the group,
Millennium
was just like any other magazine, a publication you can damn well shift around any which way you want until it becomes profitable – and colourless.

So on Friday afternoon, when he heard that Levin had hired a consultant and commissioned several consumer surveys to present on Monday, Blomkvist had simply gone home. For a long time he had sat at his desk or lain in bed composing various impassioned speeches about why
Millennium
had to remain true to its vision: there is rioting in the suburbs; an openly racist party sits in Riksdagen, the parliament; intolerance is growing; fascism is on the rise and there are homeless people and beggars everywhere. In so many ways Sweden has become a shameful nation. He came up with lots of fine and lofty words and in his daydreams he enjoyed a whole series of fantastic triumphs in which what he said was so relevant and compelling that all of the editorial team and even the entire Serner Group were roused from their delusions and decided to follow him as one.

But when sobriety set in, he realized how little weight such words carry if nobody believes in them from a financial point of view. Money talks, bullshit walks, and all that. First and foremost the magazine had to pay its way. Then they could go about changing the world. He began to wonder whether he could rustle up a good story. The prospect of a major revelation might boost the confidence of the editorial team and get them all to forget about Levin’s surveys and forecasts.

Blomkvist’s big scoop about the Swedish government conspiracy that had protected Zalachenko turned him into a news magnet. Every day he received tips about irregularities and shady dealings. Most of it, to tell the truth, was rubbish. But just occasionally an amazing story would emerge. A run-of-the-mill insurance matter or a trivial report of a missing person could be concealing something crucial. You never knew for sure. You had to be methodical and look through it all with an open mind, and so on the Saturday morning he sat down with his laptop and his notebooks and picked his way through what he had.

He kept going until 5.00 in the afternoon and he did come across the odd item which would probably have got him going ten years ago, but which did not now stir any enthusiasm. It was a classic problem; he of all people knew that. After a few decades in the profession most things feel pretty familiar, and even if something looks like a good story in intellectual terms it still might not turn you on. So when yet another squall of freezing rain whipped across the rooftops he stopped working and turned to Elizabeth George.

It wasn’t just escapism, he persuaded himself. Sometimes the best ideas occur to you while your mind is occupied with something completely different. Pieces of the puzzle can suddenly fall into place. But he failed to come up with anything more constructive than the thought that he ought to spend more time lying around like this, reading good books. When Monday morning came and with it yet more foul weather he had ploughed through one and a half George novels plus three old copies of the
New Yorker
which had been cluttering up his bedside table.

So there he was, sitting on the living-room sofa with his cappuccino, looking out at the storm. He had been feeling tired and listless until he got to his feet with an abrupt start – as if he had suddenly decided to pull himself together and do something – and put on his boots and his winter coat and went out. It was a parody of hell out there.

Icy, heavy, wet squalls bit into his bones as he hurried down towards Hornsgatan, which lay before him looking unusually grey. The whole of Södermalm district seemed to have been drained of all colour. Not even one tiny bright autumn leaf flew through the air. With his head bent forward and his arms crossed over his chest he continued past Maria Magdalena kyrka to Slussen, all the way until he turned right on to Götgatsbacken and as usual he slipped in between the Monki boutique and the Indigo pub, then went up to the magazine on the fourth floor, just above the offices of Greenpeace. He could already hear the buzz when he was in the stairwell.

An unusual number of people were up there. Apart from the editorial team and the key freelancers, there were three people from Serner, two consultants and Levin, Levin who had dressed down for the occasion. He no longer looked like an executive and had picked up some new expressions, among others a cheery “Hi”.

“Hi, Micke, how’s things?”

“That depends on you,” Blomkvist said, not actually meaning to sound unfriendly.

But he could tell that it was taken as a declaration of war and he nodded stiffly, walked on in and sat down on one of the chairs which had been set out so as to make a small auditorium in the office.

Levin cleared his throat and looked nervously in Blomkvist’s direction. The star reporter, who had seemed so combative in the doorway, now looked politely interested and showed no sign of wanting to have a row. But this did nothing to set Levin’s mind at ease. Once upon a time he and Blomkvist had both temped for
Expressen
. They mostly wrote quick news stories and a whole lot of rubbish. But afterwards in the pub they had dreamed about the big scoops and talked for hours of how they would never be satisfied with the conventional or the shallow, but instead would always dig deep. They were young and ambitious and wanted it all, all at once. There were times when Levin missed that, not the salary, of course, or the working hours, or even the easy life in the bars and the women, but the dreams – he missed the power in them. He sometimes longed for that throbbing urge to change society and journalism and to write so that the world would come to a standstill and the mighty powers bow down. Even a hotshot like himself wondered:
Where did the dreams go?

Micke Blomkvist had of course made every single one of them come true, not just because he had been responsible for some of the big exposés of modern times, but also because he really wrote with that passion and power that they had fantasized about. Never once had he bowed to pressure from the establishment or compromised his ideals, whereas Levin himself … Well, really
he
was the one with the big career, wasn’t he? He was probably making ten times as much as Blomkvist these days and that gave him an enormous amount of pleasure. What use were Blomkvist’s scoops when he couldn’t even buy himself a country place nicer than that little shack on the island of Sandhamn? My God, what was that hut compared to a new house in Cannes? Nothing! No, it was he who had chosen the right path.

Instead of slogging it out in the daily press, Levin had taken a job as media analyst at Serner and developed a personal relationship with Haakon Serner himself, and that had changed his life and made him rich. Today he was the most senior journalist responsible for a whole series of newspaper houses and channels and he loved it. He loved the power, the money and all that went with it, yet he was not above admitting that even he sometimes dreamed about that other stuff, in small doses, of course, but still. He wanted to be regarded as a fine writer, just like Blomkvist, and that was probably why he had pushed so hard for the group to buy a stake in
Millennium
. A little bird had told him that the magazine was up against it and that the editor-in-chief, Erika Berger, whom he had always secretly fancied, wanted to keep on her two latest recruits, Sofie Melker and Emil Grandén, and she would not be able to do so unless they got some fresh capital.

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