Authors: David Lagercrantz
“And what was that?”
“It was to do with GRU defectors and moles, both actual and in the pipeline, and also, I should probably add, imaginary ones, to which we decided to apply our combined wisdom. My group was made aware that a small unit within the Swedish Security Police had got hold of a major asset from the GRU, a man who became far too well known after his death because of somebody you have recently had dealings with.”
“You’re speaking in riddles.”
“I did warn you. I do not find this easy. I’m talking about Mikael Blomkvist, who broke the story of the so-called Zalachenko affair. There has been too much said about that except, perhaps, the most important thing of all, the thing that was being discreetly whispered in our ears at the time.”
“And what was that?”
“Well, um…how should I put this? I need to give you a bit of background first. There was a department in Säpo which protected Alexander Zalachenko—the GRU agent who defected—using any means available, because he was supplying them with what they believed to be unique information on the Russian military intelligence services.”
“That’s right,” she exclaimed. “And he had a daughter, didn’t he, Lisbeth Salander? She had a dreadful time of it.”
“Correct. Zalachenko was given pretty much a free rein. He could do whatever he wanted—mistreat his family and build up a crime empire—as long as he delivered the secrets. It was decency sacrificed for a greater good.”
“I wouldn’t call it anything as noble as that. Rather a sense of exclusivity, of possessing information no-one else had, which a number of gentlemen at Säpo found incredibly exciting. But it’s possible—and this is what my group suspected—that they didn’t even have that.”
“What are you saying?”
“We had reports to the effect that Zalachenko remained loyal to Russia. That he was a double agent until the day he died, and passed back much more to the GRU than he ever let on to Säpo.”
“Oh, my God,” she said.
“That’s exactly how we felt. But at first all we had were suspicions, and we tried to find ways of getting them confirmed. After a time we heard about a man, a lieutenant colonel who was officially a civilian acting as a consultant to the travel industry, but who had in fact worked undercover for GRU internal security and had picked up on a massive case of corruption.”
“To do with what?”
“The links between a number of intelligence agents and the Zvezda Bratva crime syndicate. He was apparently furious that the collaboration should have been allowed to continue, and was said to have resigned his position at the GRU in protest, and in order to pursue his great passion—high-altitude climbing.”
“Are we talking about Viktor Grankin?” Rebecka said.
“We are indeed talking about the late Grankin. An extremely interesting person, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes, absolutely, but—”
“You were his expedition doctor. That surprised us, in fact.”
“It surprised me too,” she said thoughtfully. “But I too had a crazy urge for adventure at the time. I’d been told about Grankin at a conference in Oslo.”
“So go on.”
“Grankin gave the impression of being very down to earth, didn’t he? Straightforward and uncomplicated. But he was, in fact, unbelievably intelligent and complex, a man of deep feeling. He was torn by divided loyalties—between his love of his country and his sense of honour and decency. In February 2008 we began to be fairly certain not only that he knew about Zalachenko’s double-dealing and his cooperation with the mafia, but also that he himself was in danger. That he was frightened of the GRU and in need of protection and new friends. That is what gave me the idea to send Johannes on his expedition to Everest. We thought that an adventure of that calibre would foster camaraderie and closeness.”
“Oh, my God,” she said again, turning to Johannes. “So you were there to recruit him to the West?”
“That was the dream scenario, of course,” Kowalski said.
“But what about Svante Lindberg?”
“Lindberg is the unhappy part of this story,” Kowalski said. “But we didn’t know that then. At the time, his recruitment seemed like a very reasonable request from Johannes. Of course, we would have preferred him to take one of our people instead. But Lindberg knew his Russia, had worked closely with Johannes at Must and, above all, he was an experienced climber. On the face of it he was the perfect companion. Luckily—and we’re very grateful for that now—we didn’t give him the full picture. He never found out my name, or even that it was more of a British than a Swedish operation.”
“I can’t believe it,” she said, as it all began to sink in. “So the whole expedition was an intelligence operation?”
“It turned into an awful lot more, my dear Rebecka. Johannes met you, after all. But yes…he went in the line of duty and we kept a very close eye on it.”
“That’s crazy. I had absolutely no idea.”
“I’m sorry that you should have to hear about it in these circumstances.”
“Well, how did it go?” she said. “I mean…before it all went wrong?”
Forsell shrugged, and once again it was Kowalski who answered.
“Johannes and I have a slightly different view on that. In my opinion, he did an excellent job. He managed to build trust and early on it looked promising. But it’s true that the situation grew more and more tense and we had to put a lot of pressure on Viktor. We took advantage of him at a critical stage, before the climb started. So yes, Johannes is probably right. There was too much at stake. But above all—”
“We were missing some crucial information,” Forsell said.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Kowalski said. “But how could we have known? Nobody in the West suspected it at the time, not even the FBI.”
“What are you talking about?” she said.
“What about him?”
“He had been connected to Zvezda Bratva since he started to build hotels in Moscow in the nineties. Viktor was aware of this, but we were not.”
“How come he knew?”
“It was one of the things he had ferreted out in the course of his work at the GRU, but, as I said, double-dealing was part of his job so he pretended to be close to Stan. Secretly he thought he was despicable.”
“And stole his wife.”
“I think the romance was more of a bonus.”
“Or else it was the trigger factor,” Forsell said.
“Could you please speak in plain English?” Rebecka said.
“I think Johannes is saying that it was the love affair, and the things Klara told him, that prompted Viktor to act,” Kowalski said.
“If he wasn’t going to be able to squeeze his colleagues in the GRU, he could at least damage a massively corrupt American.”
Sometimes Galinov would ask her: “What does he mean to you today? What are your thoughts about him?” Most of the time she did not answer, but once she said: “I remember feeling like I had been chosen,” and it really was true.
There had been a time when her father’s lies were the best thing in her life, and she was long convinced that it was she who wielded the power, that she enchanted him, and not the other way around. It was an illusion that was inevitably snatched from her and replaced by a gaping abyss. And yet…the memory of that special feeling lingered on, and sometimes she would forgive Zala the way you might forgive a wild animal. The only thing that never went away was her hatred of Lisbeth and Agneta, and now, lying in her bed on Strandvägen, she used it to brace herself, the way she had as a teenager, when she was forced to reinvent herself and create a new Camilla, free of all constraints.
The rain was beating down on Strandvägen. Sirens were howling and she could hear footsteps coming closer, rhythmic, confident footsteps. It was Galinov, and she got up and opened the door. He smiled at her. She knew that the two of them shared the hatred and the feeling of being special.
“We may have some encouraging news after all,” he said.
She did not answer.
“Not a big deal in itself,” he said, “but it could be an opening. The woman Blomkvist was seen with out at Sandhamn has just checked in to Hotel Lydmar.”
“Well, she lives here in the city, doesn’t she? So why would she go to a hotel unless she wants to meet someone who’d rather not be seen at her place, or in their own home?”
“Such as Blomkvist?”
“What do you think we should do?”
Galinov ran his fingers through his hair.
“The location isn’t great. There are outdoor cafés and bars, and too many people around in the evening. But Sandström—”
“Is he being difficult?”
“No, no, on the contrary, I’ve got him toeing the line. He says he can have a car waiting around the corner, even the ambulance one of his minions had the bright idea to steal, and I—”
“And you, Ivan?”
“There may be a part for me to play too. It would appear that Blomkvist and I have a common concern, if Bogdanov is to be trusted.”
“What does that mean?”
“We share an interest in the Swedish Minister of Defence and some of his past dealings.”
Camilla felt her energy returning. “Good,” she said. “Then I suggest you get moving.”
Rebecka had not yet managed to digest the information, but she did not allow herself time to do so. She could see that there was worse to come.
“We’ve now understood that Engelman deliberately chose Grankin’s expedition for his wife because he was convinced that Viktor was one of them,” Kowalski went on. “But Grankin had been investigating the syndicate and was by now an angry man. I believe that Johannes, with his talent for building trust, had got him to the point where he wanted to talk: He had sowed the seed, so to speak. I think Klara simply carried on where Johannes left off.”
“What do you mean?”
“Klara got Viktor to share what was on his mind. I think they egged each other on. She told him what a swine her husband was behind closed doors, and Viktor contributed accounts of Stan’s activities in Zvezda Bratva.”
“Love made them want to share,” she said.
“Yes, maybe that’s how it was. At least, that is Johannes’s theory. But it doesn’t in the end matter so much. What was important was that it leaked out and made its way to Manhattan—however careful they tried to be.”
“Did someone spill the beans?”
“Your poor unfortunate Sherpa.”
“Don’t tell me.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Nima would surely never have betrayed them?”
“I don’t think he saw it that way,” Kowalski said. “He’d been paid extra to look after Klara and report what she got up to at Base Camp. He probably felt he was doing his job.”
“How much had he found out?”
“We don’t know for sure, but it was enough to put him in danger later on. I’ll get to that. We do know that Engelman somehow heard about the love affair, and that alone aroused a great deal of anger and suspicion, and there were others who obliged with more information so that, in the end, Stan knew exactly what was at stake. Not only his marriage, but also his future as a businessman. Possibly even his days as a free man.”
“Who was responsible for the other leaks?”
“I’m sure you can guess,” Kowalski said. “But you asked about Nima Rita and how he could possibly have passed anything on. Don’t forget that he was worried and angry, like so many other Sherpas that year.”
“Was it to do with his religious beliefs?” she said.
“Yes, and also his wife, Luna. Klara had treated her badly, hadn’t she? Nima had his own reasons for not feeling any loyalty towards her.”
“That’s not fair to him, Janek,” Forsell said. “Nima didn’t have it in for anyone. He was like Viktor. He had divided loyalties. People told him: Do this, do that. He ended up carrying everything on his shoulders and was given orders and counterorders, and in the end it broke him. He had much too heavy a load, and yet it was he and none of the others who suffered pangs of conscience.”
“Sorry, Johannes, I only experienced it at a distance, so to speak. It’s perhaps better if you take over now,” Kowalski said.
“I’m not sure that I want to,” Forsell said, sounding cross.
“You promised,” Rebecka said.
“I did. But I’ll be extremely upset if Nima is made to take the blame for this. He had more than his fair share of pain.”
“There you are, Rebecka. Johannes is a good man, don’t let anyone tell you anything different. He’ll always stand up for the weak,” Kowalski said.
“So your relationship with Nima was really as good as it seemed?” she said.
She could hear how apprehensive she sounded.
“Maybe even too good when it came to the crunch,” he said.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Let me explain,” Forsell said, and he fell silent.
“Well, tell us then.”
“I will,” he said, “and you know most of it already. Maybe I ought to begin by saying that Viktor’s and my relationship had deteriorated by the time we set off for the summit, and I’m pretty sure it had to do with Stan Engelman. I think Viktor was afraid that, by some roundabout route, the connection between us would be leaked to the GRU and Zvezda Bratva. His days would then be numbered for sure, so I kept myself to myself. The last thing I wanted was to worry anybody. We were to be a safe haven, nothing else, and, as you know, Becka, we all set out from Camp Four just after midnight on May 13. The conditions looked perfect.”
“But you were slowed down.”
“Yes, Klara began to struggle and so did Mads Larsen, and maybe Viktor was not a hundred percent either. But that wasn’t really on my mind then. I noticed that Svante was irritable and was pushing me. He wanted us to make for the summit on our own. Otherwise we’d miss our chance, he said, and in the end Viktor let us do it. Maybe he was thankful to be rid of me. We set off, so were unaware of the catastrophe that engulfed our expedition. We simply tramped on and made the summit in good time. But on the climb down from the Hillary Step, I began to have trouble. The sky was still clear then, and there was not too much of a wind. We had plenty of oxygen and fluid. But time was ticking by, and—”
“And suddenly you heard a rumble, a bang.”
“We heard thunder out of a clear blue sky. Then the storm hit us from the north, like a tsunami. We lost visibility in an instant. The temperature plummeted. It was unbearably cold and we staggered along. Several times I sank to my knees, and often Svante came over, reached out a hand and helped me to my feet. But our progress became slower and slower and the hours raced by. It was late afternoon and then evening, and we worried about darkness falling, and I remember collapsing again and thinking it was all over. But just then I saw…something blue and red in front of me, indistinct shapes, and I prayed that it would be the tents in Camp Four, or at least some other climbers who could help us. That gave me hope, and as I got to my feet I saw that it wasn’t anything good, quite the contrary. It was two bodies lying close together in the snow, one smaller than the other.”
“You never told me this.”
“No, Becka, I haven’t, and this is where the nightmare begins. I still find it hard to describe. I was so exhausted. I simply could not go on. I just wanted to lie down and die and that’s why I had the feeling I was staring at my own fate. But my own fear was more real than what I saw before me, and it never crossed my mind that they might be people I knew, I just assumed they were some of those hundreds of dead lying up there. I stood up, tore off my oxygen mask and said that we had to hurry down, get away, and I started walking, or at least I took a step. But then I was overcome by a strange feeling.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was hundreds of things in a way. We had picked up information on the radio about an emergency in our expedition and perhaps my mind was on that. Then I must have recognized the clothes and other details. But above all, there was something eerie about the smaller of the bodies. I remember bending down and looking into the face, and there wasn’t much you could see. The hood was pulled over the hat and forehead. The sunglasses were still in place. The cheeks, nose and mouth were coated in ice. The whole face was buried under a layer of snow. And yet I knew.”
“It was Klara, right?”
“It was Klara and Viktor. She was half turned on her side, with her arm around his waist, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would be leaving them like that. But that uncanny feeling would not go away. She seemed to be frozen through and through. And yet I thought I detected something about her which was not altogether lifeless, so I pushed her away from Viktor and tried to get the snow off her face. I couldn’t do it. It was too frozen, too hard, and I had no strength in my hands, so in the end I got out my ice axe. It must have looked absurd. I lifted off her sunglasses and hacked at her face. The ice chips went flying and Svante yelled at me to stop and get on down the mountain. But I kept at it manically, and I did try to be careful. But my fingers were frostbitten and I didn’t have proper control. I injured her. I opened up a gash in her lip and chin, and there was a twitch in her face which I took to be movement caused by my hacking, but no sign of life. Still, I took my oxygen mask and put it on her and held it in place for a long time, even though I myself was fighting for breath and not at all hopeful. But suddenly there was an intake of breath. I could see it from the tube and the mask, and I stood up and started yelling at Svante. But he only shook his head and he was right, of course. It didn’t matter that she was breathing. She was as close to death as one can be, and we were at twenty-seven thousand feet. There was no hope. She was beyond rescue. We would never be able to get her down and our own lives were at risk too.”
“But you were shouting for help.”
“We’d been calling out so many times that we’d lost all hope. I just remember putting my oxygen mask back on and then we carried on downhill. We struggled along and slowly I began to lose my grip on reality. I had hallucinations. I saw my father in a bathtub, and my mother in the sauna in Åre. I had all sorts of visions, I’ve told you that, Becka.”
“Yes,” she said.
“But I never told you, did I, how I saw monks too, the same Buddhist monks as in Tengboche, and then another figure who reminded me of them but was somehow completely different. He was walking up the mountain instead of downhill and, unlike the monks, he really existed. It was Nima Rita trudging towards us through the snow.”
Blomkvist was running late and regretted having lured Catrin to Hotel Lydmar. He should have picked another day. But it was not always easy to be rational, especially with women like her, and now he was walking along Drottninggatan in the rain, heading for the hotel on Blasieholmen. He was on the point of sending a text saying “There in ten” when two things happened.
Someone texted him, but he didn’t have time to read it before his mobile rang. He had been trying to get hold of so many people that day—even Svante Lindberg—and he hoped every minute that someone would get back to him. But no such luck; the voice at the other end of the line was that of an elderly man who did not even introduce himself. Blomkvist considered simply hanging up. But it was a friendly voice, speaking Swedish with an English accent.
“Could you repeat that?” he said.
“I’m sitting in my apartment, having tea with a married couple who are in the middle of telling me the most shocking story. They would very much like to share it with you. Preferably as early as tomorrow morning.”
“Do I know this couple?” Blomkvist said.
“You’ve done them a huge favour.”
“Very recently, out at sea.”
He looked up at the sky and at the rain coming down.
“I’d love to meet them,” he said. “Where?”
“Let’s run through the details on another line, if you don’t mind, a mobile that’s not connected to you and has the appropriate functions.”
Blomkvist thought it over. It would have to be Catrin’s mobile and her Signal app.
“I can send you a different number on an encrypted link,” he said. “But first I need confirmation that this couple really are at your place and that they’re doing well.”
“I wouldn’t say they’re well,” the man said. “But they’re here, and of their own free will. You can have a word with the husband.”
Blomkvist closed his eyes and stopped. He was standing on the slope of Lejonbacken, right next to Slottet, the Royal Palace, looking across the water to the Grand Hôtel and the Nationalmuseum. He probably waited for no more than twenty or thirty seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
“Mikael,” a voice eventually said. “I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.”
“How are you?” he said.
“Better than back then.”
“When I was about to drown.”
It was Forsell.
“You want to talk?” Blomkvist said.