Authors: David Lagercrantz
Engelman was such a major celebrity that nobody had dared to send her down while there was still time. The whole expedition was held up as she dragged herself along, and after she tore off her oxygen mask in confusion and desperation, just before one in the afternoon, she only became weaker.
She collapsed on her knees and toppled forward onto the snow. Panic broke out and Grankin, who was clearly not his usual robust self that day, shouted at everybody to stop. Significant efforts were made to bring her down at that point. But not long afterwards the weather deteriorated, and the snowstorm slammed into them. Many others in the group—in particular Mads Larsen, a Dane, and Charlotte Richter, a German—found themselves in a critical condition, and for a few hours it looked as if they were heading for a full-scale catastrophe.
But the expedition Sherpas, above all their Sirdar, Nima Rita, worked ceaselessly in the storm and led people down on ropes or steadied them as they descended. By evening, all had been rescued, all except for Klara Engelman and Viktor Grankin. He had refused to leave Engelman, rather like a captain staying on his sinking ship.
In the weeks and months that followed there was an extensive investigation of the drama, and by now most of the questions seemed to have been answered. The only thing that was never fully explained—although it was assumed to have been caused by the powerful jet stream at those altitudes—was that Engelman was found half a mile further down, even though all witnesses said that she and Grankin had died together, side by side in the snow.
Salander thought about this, and about all the other bodies left up there on the slopes, year after year, without anybody being able to bring them down and bury them. As the hours went by she scrutinized the various accounts until it seemed that there was perhaps something not quite right with the story after all. She even read about Mats Sabin—Blomkvist had mentioned him—and then drifted into the gossip threads on the internet. At some point an entirely different thought struck her, but that was as far as she got.
The door flew open and Paulina came in, quite drunk, and tore into her for being a total monster. Salander gave as good as she got, until they threw themselves over each other and made frenzied love, united in a feeling of despair and loneliness.
Mikael ran a full six miles along the water’s edge and back that morning, and when he got home to the cabin the telephone was ringing. It was Erika Berger. The next issue of
was going to press the following day. She was not altogether happy with it, but she was not unhappy either.
“We’re back to normal,” she said, and asked him what he was up to.
He said he was breathing some fresh air and had started running again, but also that he was doing some research into the Minister of Defence and the campaign against him, which Berger said was funny.
“Sofie has that in her story.”
“In what way?”
“She’s written about the aggression shown towards Forsell’s kids, and the policemen having to patrol outside the Jewish school.”
“I read about that.”
He was disturbed to hear the pensive tone in her voice. That was how she always sounded when she had an idea for a story.
“If you really don’t want to pursue your report about the stock market crash, maybe you can do a profile on Forsell instead, and show him in a more sympathetic light. I remember that you got on well together.”
His eyes scanned the water.
“I think we probably did.”
“So what do you say? You could also help our readers by doing a spot of fact-checking.”
“Not such a bad idea,” he said.
He was thinking about the Sherpa and the Everest expedition.
“I’ve just been told that Forsell has taken an extra week’s holiday himself. Doesn’t he have a place near you?”
“On the other side of the island.”
“Well, then,” she said.
“I’ll think about it.”
“You used not to think so much. You used to just get on with it.”
“I’m on holiday too, you know,” he said.
“You’re never on holiday. You’re way too much of a guilt-ridden old workaholic to get the whole holiday thing.”
“So there’s no point in even trying, you mean?”
“No,” she said, and laughed, and then he felt he had to laugh too. He was relieved that she hadn’t suggested coming out to see him.
He did not want to complicate things with Catrin, so he said good luck and goodbye to Erika. He was thoughtful as he watched the storm whipping up the waves. What should he do? Show her that he did get the whole holiday thing after all? Or keep working?
He came to the conclusion that a meeting with Forsell was a good idea, but first he would have to read his way through more of the filth that had been written about him, and after moaning and grumbling to himself and taking a long shower, he got down to work. At the beginning it was depressing and nauseating, as if he had climbed back down into the same quagmire as when he was investigating the troll factories.
But slowly he became absorbed, and he put a great deal of effort into tracing the original sources of all the allegations and mapping out how they had spread and been distorted. He was gradually getting closer to the events on Everest once more when his mobile rang, startling him. This time it was Bob Carson from Denver.
Carson sounded excited.
Charlie Nilsson was sitting with a furrowed brow on a bench outside the Prima Maria Addiction Centre, or the Spin Dryer, as he called it. He did not like talking to the police, and he especially did not want his friends seeing him do it. But the woman, whose name was Moody or something, frightened him, and he did not want any grief.
“Gimme a break, will you?” he said. “I’d never sell a bottle that’s been messed with.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t, would you? So you taste everything first?”
“Funny?” Modig said. “I couldn’t be less funny if I tried.”
“Just lay off,” he said. “Anyone could have given him that booze, couldn’t they? You know what they call this place?”
“No, Charlie, I don’t.”
“The Bermuda Triangle. People go from the Spin Dryer to Systembolaget and the beer joint over there and back again, and they just vanish.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“That there’s a whole lot of shady stuff going on around here. Some fucking weird creatures come along, pushing dodgy booze and funky pills. But those of us who run a serious business, who stand here in the wind and rain, night after night, we can’t afford to pull stunts like that. Unless we deliver quality goods so we can look people in the eye, the next day, we’re fucked.”
“I don’t believe a word of that,” Modig said. “I’m pretty sure you’re not all that fussy. And I’d say you’re in deep shit right now. Do you see the guys in police uniforms over there?”
Charlie had had his eyes on them all along and could feel them glaring at him.
“If you don’t tell us all you know, we’re pulling you in here and now. You said you’d sold to the man,” Modig said.
“I sold to him all right. But I thought he was scary, so I kept as far away as I could.”
“Scary in what way?”
“He had scary eyes, and he had stumps instead of fingers and bloody patches on his face. He was going on about the moon. ‘Luna, luna,’ he kept saying. That’s moon, right?”
“As far as I know.”
“At least he did once. He appeared from Krukmakargatan, limping, and was beating his chest and saying that Luna was alone and calling for him, she and someone whose name was Mam Sabib or whatever the fuck it was, and it frightened me. He was a complete psycho, and I gave him the stuff even though he didn’t have the right money. It didn’t surprise me at all that he turned violent later.”
“In what way violent?”
Shit shit shit,
Nilsson thought. He had promised not to say anything. But it was too late now, he would have to go with it.
“Not with me.”
“And who’s that?”
“A customer, one of my customers who actually has a bit of style. Heikki met the bloke in Norra Bantorget in the middle of the night. At least it must have been him. Heikki described a little Chinaman with fingers missing wearing a huge fucking down jacket. He was going on about having been up in the clouds, and when Heikki wouldn’t believe him he got himself a punch which made his head swim. The Chinaman was as strong as an ox, he said.”
“Where can we find this Heikki Järvinen?”
“Järvinen comes and goes, so you never really know.”
The policewoman made notes and nodded, and asked a few more questions. Then she left him, along with the uniforms, and Nilsson gave a sigh of relief. He had been sure that there was something very odd about the Chinaman, and he took himself off to call Heikki Järvinen before the police got hold of him.
Blomkvist heard at once that Carson’s voice had changed, as if he had been up all night or had come down with a cold.
“It’s a civilized time of day at your end, isn’t it?” he said.
“Very much so.”
“Not here. My head feels as if it’s about to blow apart. You remember I told you I had a relative who was on the mountain in 2008? And you remember I said he was dead?”
“Well, he was. Or at least presumed dead. But I should take it from the top. I called my uncle in Khumbu. He functions as a sort of local information exchange, and we went through the whole list you sent. The only relative we found there was this one person, and I was about to give up. If he was dead then he was dead and couldn’t very well show up in Stockholm and die all over again. But my uncle told me that no body had ever been found. I looked into it all more closely, and I saw that the age was right, and so was the height.
“What’s his name?”
“He was one of the leaders, wasn’t he?”
“He was the Sirdar, the head of the group of Sherpas, and the one who worked hardest on the mountain that day.”
“I know, I know, I read about him…He saved Mads Larsen, and Charlotte somebody.”
“That’s right, and if it hadn’t been for him, there would have been an even worse catastrophe. But he paid a high price. He raced up and down like a galley slave, and afterwards he had bad frost damage to his face and chest. He had to have some of his fingers and toes amputated.”
“So you really do think it’s him?”
“It has to be. He had a tattoo of a Buddhist wheel on his wrist.”
“My God,” Blomkvist said.
“Exactly, it’s all falling into place. Nima Rita is my third cousin, as they call it, so it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that he and I shared that special mutation in the Y chromosome that your researcher colleague pointed out.”
“Can you see any explanation for his having ended up in Sweden?”
“No, I can’t. But there’s a follow-up which is interesting.”
“Tell me. I haven’t had time to acquaint myself with all the details yet.”
“At first the assistant guides, Robin Hamill and Martin Norris, were praised for their rescue efforts, to the extent there was any praise going since Engelman and Grankin were dead,” Carson said. “But with the issuing of the more comprehensive reports, it was clear that the decisive role in the drama had been played by Nima Rita and his Sherpas. But I don’t know if that did Nima much good.”
“Because by then he was going through hell already. He had fourth-degree frostbite, which is indescribably painful, and the doctors waited as long as they could before amputating. They knew that his livelihood depended on his being able to climb. For a native of the Khumbu Valley, Nima Rita had earned a lot—although still not much by European standards—but money just ran through his fingers. He drank heavily and had no savings at all. But, worse still, his name was being dragged through the mud. He was plagued by his own demons.”
“In what way?”
“It turned out that he had been paid by Engelman to take special care of Klara—he had of course failed to do that—and afterwards was accused of having worked against her interests. I don’t believe that. Nima Rita was by all accounts an incredibly loyal person. But like many other Sherpas, he was extremely superstitious, and thought of Everest as a living being which punishes climbers for their sins, and Klara Engelman…well, I guess you’ve read about her?”
“I saw the reports at the time.”
“Many of the Sherpas were upset by her. At Base Camp they were complaining that she could jinx the expedition and she must have irritated Nima, too. He certainly went through the tortures of hell afterwards. Apparently he suffered from hallucinations, and that may have been partly neurological. He had sustained brain damage from all the time he’d spent above twenty-six thousand feet, and he became increasingly bitter and behaved strangely. He had lost a number of his friends. No-one wanted anything to do with him. No-one except his wife, Luna.”
“Luna Rita, I presume. And where is she now?”
“That’s just the point. Luna took care of Nima after his operations. She baked bread and grew potatoes, and sometimes went over to Tibet to buy wool and salt which she sold in Nepal. But in the end it wasn’t enough, so she started working on climbing expeditions. She was much younger than Nima, and she was strong. She quickly rose from kitchen help to become a climbing Sherpani. But in 2013 she was part of the Dutch attempt on Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest mountain, and she fell into a crevasse at high altitude. The expedition turned into total chaos. There was an avalanche, a blizzard was blowing, and the climbers had to get off the mountain in a hurry. They left Luna to die in the crevasse. Nima was driven mad with grief, and he took it for an act of racism. He shouted that if it had happened to a Sahib, they would have got him out straightaway.”
“But she was just a poor local woman.”
“I have no idea if that made any difference. I doubt it did. Generally, I have a high opinion of people in the climbing world. But Nima was determined, and he tried to get an expedition going to recover her body from up there and give her a decent burial. There was not one single volunteer so in the end he set off on his own, far too old and apparently not sober either.”
“If you speak to my relatives in Khumbu, that was his greatest achievement, more so than all his ascents of Everest. He got up there and saw Luna down in the crevasse, preserved forever in the ice, and he decided to climb down and lie next to her so they could be reborn together. But then…the mountain goddess whispered to him that he should go out into the world instead and tell her story.”
“…totally crazy, oh yes,” Carson said. “And although he really did go out into the world, or at least to Kathmandu, and told the tale, nobody could make out what he was talking about. He became more and more incoherent, and was sometimes seen crying beneath the flags at the Boudhanath Stupa. Every so often he would go to the shopping districts in Thamel to nail up papers in poor English and even worse handwriting. He was still going on about Klara Engelman.”
“What did he say?”
“By this point he was suffering from severe mental disorder, don’t forget, and it was probably all one big muddle in his head, Luna and Klara and everything else. He was completely shot, and after he launched a diatribe against a British tourist and was locked up for a day, his relatives got him into the Jeetjung Marg mental health centre in Kathmandu. He stayed there on and off until the end of September 2017, and then one day he goes off to get himself some beer and vodka. He was apparently suspicious about the drugs the doctors were giving him and said that the only thing that silenced the voices in his head was alcohol. I think the staff reluctantly let it happen. They allowed him to abscond because they knew he would always come back. But this time he didn’t come back, and they grew concerned at the hospital. They knew he was expecting a visit that he was very excited about.”
“What kind of visit?”
“I don’t know. But it might have been from a journalist. To mark the tenth anniversary of Klara Engelman’s and Viktor Grankin’s deaths, a number of articles and documentaries were being prepared. Nima was apparently very happy that at last somebody wanted to listen to him.”
“But you don’t know anything more about what he wanted to get off his chest?”