Authors: David Lagercrantz
“What was he referring to?”
“An incident with a government minister called Antonsson.”
“The Minister for Trade?”
“That’s it. At the time, in early 2000, Sten Antonsson was recently divorced and feeling a bit lost, and he fell in love with a young Russian woman called Alisa. The poor man was on cloud nine. But during a visit to Saint Petersburg—and I was in the city then—the two of them drank buckets of champagne in his hotel room. In the middle of all the fun, Alisa started fishing for sensitive information, and I think that’s when the penny dropped. Not true love after all, just a good old-fashioned honey trap, and he totally lost it. Started raising hell and his bodyguards came rushing in, and there was complete pandemonium. Someone had the idiotic idea that I should question the woman, so I was summoned up to the room.”
“In I went as swiftly as I could and the first thing I saw was Alisa, wearing lacy knickers and garters and the whole shebang. She was hysterical and I tried to calm her. Then she started yelling that she wanted money, or she’d sue Antonsson for assault. I was caught off guard and, since I had a wad of rubles on me, I gave them to her. Not all that elegant. But it was the only solution I could come up with on the spur of the moment.”
“And you were worried there might be pictures?”
“I was, yes, and Lindberg reminding me of the incident made everything that much more complicated. I thought of Becka and of how much I loved her, and I was terrified that she would think that I was some kind of sleazebag.”
“So you kept quiet about what had happened?”
“I made up my mind to wait, and when I saw that Nima wasn’t talking either, I put it to one side. Anyway, we then started having other problems.”
“What sort of problems?”
“Someone leaked to the GRU that Johannes had tried to recruit Grankin.”
“How could they do that?”
“We thought it was Stan Engelman,” Kowalski said. “That summer and autumn we were getting convincing reports suggesting that he was also a member of Zvezda Bratva. We suspected Engelman of having a mole on the expedition who had told him about the friendship between Johannes and Viktor. We even thought it might be Nima Rita.”
“But it wasn’t?”
“No, yet there was no doubt that the GRU had somehow been informed, even if we didn’t think they knew anything for certain. Nonetheless…a formal complaint was lodged with the Swedish government. It was suggested that pressure from Johannes had aggravated the stress Grankin was suffering on Everest and had cost him his life. As you know, Johannes was deported from Russia.”
“So that’s why?” Lindås said.
“Partly. In fact the Russians were kicking out a great number of diplomats at that time. But yes, that was part of the picture, and it was a tremendous loss for us all.”
“But not for me,” Forsell said. “For me, it was the start of something new and better. I left the military and felt an enormous sense of relief. I was in love and we were married, and I built up my father’s business and had children. I felt life was wonderful again.”
“And that’s dangerous,” Kowalski said.
“Don’t be such a cynic,” Rebecka said.
“But it’s true. A happy man lowers his guard.”
“I grew careless and didn’t put two and two together as I should have,” Forsell said. “In my eyes, Lindberg remained a trusted friend and supporter. I even made him my parliamentary undersecretary.”
“And you think now that was a mistake?” Catrin said.
“To put it mildly—almost immediately after that, things began to catch up with me.”
“You were the victim of a disinformation campaign.”
“That too, but above all, I had a visit from Janek.”
“And what did he want?”
“I wanted to talk about Nima Rita,” Kowalski said.
“Certainly,” Forsell said. “You see, I had stayed in touch with Nima for a long time. I helped him with money and built a house for him in Khumbu. But in the end it made no difference what I did. After Luna died, his entire life collapsed and he became seriously ill. I managed to reach him a few times on the telephone, but I could hardly understand him. He was just rambling. His head was one big mess and no-one could be bothered to listen to him anymore. He was seen as harmless—even by Lindberg. But by the autumn of 2017, the situation had changed. A journalist with
Lilian Henderson, was writing a book about the events on Everest. It was due to be published the year after, to mark the tenth anniversary of the drama. Lilian was exceedingly well informed; not only did she know about the romance between Viktor Grankin and Klara, but also about Stan Engelman’s links to Zvezda Bratva. She had even looked into the rumour that Engelman had wanted to see both his wife and Grankin dead on the mountain.”
“Exactly. And she conducted a hard-hitting interview with Stan Engelman in New York. Stan denied all the accusations, of course, and there were no guarantees that Lilian would be able to produce evidence to back up what she had uncovered. In spite of that, it must have been clear to Engelman that he was in serious trouble.”
“So what happened?” Lindås said.
“Lilian Henderson made the mistake of mentioning that she was going to Nepal to speak to Nima Rita. As I said, under normal circumstances Nima was perfectly harmless, but maybe not in the face of an investigative journalist with enough background knowledge to be able to sort the facts from the madness.”
“And what were the facts?”
“The very ones Lilian was interested in, among others,” Kowalski said.
“What do you mean?”
“One of our people at the embassy in Kathmandu read Nima’s manifesto. In among everything else was the information that Engelman had asked Nima to kill Mamsahib on the mountain, although it seems Nima talked about an Angelman, making it sound as if the instructions had been issued by a dark angel from heaven.”
“And you think that’s true?” Lindås asked.
“Yes, we do,” Kowalski continued. “We believe that Engelman had been toying for some time with the idea of using Nima Rita.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Don’t forget that Engelman would have been desperate when he understood that Klara and Grankin were scheming to get him.”
“How did Nima react? Do we know anything about that?”
“He was deeply shaken, as you can imagine,” Forsell said. “Everything he had done, his entire career, had been designed to help people, not take lives, and he refused to listen. But afterwards, when he saw that he had in the end contributed to her death, it simply would not let him go. You can just imagine. He was devastated by guilt and paranoia, and in the autumn of 2017, when Janek came to see me, Nima was desperately trying to confess his sins in Kathmandu. He wanted to tell the whole world.”
“That’s certainly what it looked like,” Kowalski said, “and I told Johannes that the prospect of Nima’s meeting with Lilian Henderson would put him in danger. There was a risk that Engelman and Zvezda Bratva would want to get rid of him, and Johannes said immediately that it was our duty to look after him and give him protection.”
“And you did?”
“How did you go about it?”
“We informed Klas Berg at Must and flew him over here on a British diplomatic flight. We had him admitted to the South Wing in Årstaviken Bay, where sadly…”
“What?” Lindås said.
“He was not particularly well looked after and I…” Johannes faltered.
“I didn’t go to see him as often as I had intended. Not only because I was so busy…it was just too painful to see him in that state.”
“So you went on being happy?”
“I suppose I did, but that didn’t last so long either.”
Salander lowered her head as her motorcycle crashed through the window, and when she raised it again she saw that a man in a leather vest was aiming a pistol at her. She rode straight into him. The impact was so violent that she was thrown from the bike and hit the wall with her body, then landed painfully on an iron beam on the floor. She was on her feet in a second and leaped behind a metal column while her eyes registered the details of the building, the number of people and their weapons, the distances, the obstacles and, further away, the furnace she had seen in the film sequence.
A man in a white suit was standing right next to Blomkvist, wiping his face with a handkerchief, and she realized that she was already hurtling towards them, driven by an irrepressible inner force. A bullet glanced against her helmet. Others whistled around her. She shot back and one of the men by the furnace crumpled and fell, which was something. But she did not really have a plan.
She just charged on ahead and saw that the man in the white suit had taken hold of the stretcher to push Blomkvist into the flames. She fired another shot, but missed, so she ran straight at the man and both of them went crashing to the floor. What happened afterwards was not at all clear.
She only knew that she headbutted him, crushing his nose, then got back on her feet and shot at another shadowy figure. She fumbled to undo the leather strap around one of Blomkvist’s arms, which was a stupid mistake. Yet it seemed necessary to her. He was on a stretcher that was laid on a kind of trolley on rails. One push would have put him inside the furnace, and although it had taken only a few seconds to release the buckle, she had been distracted.
She felt a blow to her back and a bullet hit her arm and she fell forward, unable to parry a kick to her hand that sent her gun flying. Disaster. Before she had time to get up she was surrounded, and was certain they would shoot her right away. But there was confusion and tension, perhaps they were waiting for orders.
She was the one they had been after all along, and she cast about for a means of escape, knowing that two men were down and a third wounded but still standing. That left her alone against three men. And Blomkvist was not going to be able to help. He seemed dazed, and his legs…
She turned away and looked at the thugs again. Her old friends Jorma and Krille from Svavelsjö M.C., and also Peter Kovic, he was the one who had been injured. He was the weak link, and Krille wasn’t in very good shape either. Was he the one she had ridden into?
A little further away there was a blue door leading into an annexe.
There’ll be more of them in there,
she thought, and she could hear the man she had headbutted groaning behind her. That must be Galinov. He hadn’t been put out of action either, and now blood was pumping out of her arm. It became increasingly clear that she was done for. One careless movement and they would shoot her. But she refused to give up. Her brain went into overdrive. What sort of electronics did they have in the place? A camera, of course, and a computer and an internet connection, and maybe also an alarm system. But no…she had no access to all that right now. In any case there was no power.
Her only option was to play for time, and she looked at Blomkvist again. She needed him. She needed all the help she could get, and she needed to think positively now. At least she had saved Blomkvist, even if it was only temporarily. Everything else had been a monumental failure. Ever since her hesitation on Tverskoy Boulevard, she had caused nothing but trouble and suffering, and she berated herself even as her brain searched for solutions.
She studied the men’s body language and measured the distance to the hole in the window and her motorcycle and an iron rod, a glassblowing tool which was lying on the floor. She considered and rejected various plans of action. It was as if she were photographing every detail of the building, and she listened for sounds and anything that stood out, but also felt a strange premonition. A moment later, the blue door flew open and an all-too-familiar figure came towards her, footsteps resounding with triumph, but also with hopelessness. Tension and gravity filled the air, and behind her a weary voice said in Russian:
“For Christ’s sake, Kira, are you still here?”
SEPTEMBER 30, 2017, KATHMANDU
Nima Rita was squatting on his haunches in a backstreet not far from the Bagmati River, where the dead are cremated, and he was sweating in his down jacket, the same one he had worn the last time he saw Luna in the crevasse up on Cho Oyu. He could see her there in front of him; how she had been lying on her stomach with arms spread wide as if she were flying, calling from beyond the world of the living:
“Please, please don’t leave me!”
Her cry sounded the same as Mamsahib’s. She was just as desperate, and the thought of it was unbearable. Nima Rita downed his beer. Not that the alcohol silenced the cries—nothing could—but it did dampen them, and the world would sing a softer tune. Looking down, he saw that he had three bottles left and that was good. He would drink them. And then go back to the hospital to meet Lilian Henderson, who had travelled all the way from the United States to see him, and that was something really big, probably the only thing in ages that had given him hope, although of course he was afraid that she too would end up turning away from him.
He had been struck by a curse. Nobody listened to him now. His words just whirled away, as the ash is blown from the riverside. He was like a disease people shunned. Someone stricken by the plague. Yet he prayed to the gods on the mountain that someone like Lilian would understand. And he knew exactly what he wanted to tell her. He was going to say that he had been wrong, Mamsahib was not a bad person. The bad people were those who had said that she was, Sahib Engelman and Sahib Lindberg, the ones who wanted her dead, who had tricked him and whispered terrible words in his ears. It was they who were evil, not she, that is what he was going to say—but would he be able to? He was ill. He knew that himself.
It was getting muddled, all of it. It felt as if he had not only left Mamsahib to die in the snow but also his Luna, and therefore he had to grieve for and love Mamsahib in the same way that he grieved for and loved Luna, every day, and that made his unhappiness twice as great. A hundred times greater. But he would steel himself and try to distinguish between the voices and not get them all mixed up and risk frightening Lilian, the way he had frightened off the others, and so he drank his beer, quickly and methodically and with his eyes shut. The smell of spices and sweat was all around him. Crowds of people were milling about, but now he could hear footsteps coming very close and he looked up. He saw two men, an older and a younger one. And they said, in English with a British accent:
“We are here to help you.”
“Have to tell Mamsahib Lilian,” he said.
“You’ll have your chance to talk,” they said.
He was not sure what happened after that, only that he found himself in a car on the way to the airport, and that he never did meet Lilian Henderson. Nobody found out what really happened, and it did not matter how many times he prayed to the gods for forgiveness. He was lost.
He would die a doomed man.
Catrin Lindås leaned forward and looked Forsell in the eye.
“If Nima wanted to speak to journalists, how come he wasn’t allowed to?”
“It was decided that his condition was too poor.”
“You said that he got lousy care. That he spent most of his time locked up. Why didn’t somebody help him sort out his story?”
Forsell looked down. His lips moved nervously. “Because—”
“—because you didn’t really want him to,” she interrupted, sounding sharper than she had intended. “You didn’t want anything to spoil your happiness, did you?”
“For heaven’s sake,” Kowalski said. “Have some mercy. Johannes is not the villain in this piece and, as we know, his happiness did not last all that long.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” she said. “Keep going.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” Forsell said. “It’s true that my behaviour was deplorable. I put Nima out of my mind, and I had my hands full dealing with my own life and my work.”
“That whole wave of hatred?”
“It never affected me all that badly. I saw it for what it was—bluff and disinformation. No, the disaster came only a few weeks ago.”
“I was in my office at the Ministry. I had known for some days that Nima Rita had disappeared from the South Wing, and I was worried and thinking about it when Lindberg came in. Something was obviously wrong. You see, I had never told him that we brought Nima over here. Never mentioned it. Those were the orders from Janek here, and his group. But then I just couldn’t contain myself. Even though I knew perfectly well how manipulative he could be, in times of crisis I relied on him for support. It was something I had taken with me from Everest, and so I told him everything. It just came out.”
“What was his reaction?”
“Calm, collected. He was surprised, to be sure. But I didn’t notice anything alarming. He just nodded and left, and I thought everything would be all right. By then I had already been in touch with Klas Berg, who had promised he would find Nima and take him back to the hospital. But nothing happened. It wasn’t until Sunday, August 16, that Lindberg called. He was in his car outside our home in Stocksund and needed to talk. He said not to bring my mobile, so I gathered it was something sensitive. He had loud music playing inside the car.”
“So what did he say?”
“That he’d found Nima Rita and discovered he’d been putting up his screed describing what had happened on Everest. He’d been trying to contact journalists. ‘We can’t afford to let that sort of information get out now,’ Lindberg said, ‘not now that we’re in such a precarious position.’ ”
“What was your answer?”
“I don’t honestly know. I just remember him saying he’d taken care of things, and I didn’t need to worry any longer. I hit the roof and demanded that he tell me exactly what he had done, to which he calmly replied: ‘I’d be happy to talk about it, but then you’d also be involved. That would make two of us,’ and I screamed at him. ‘I don’t give a fuck,’ I said. ‘I want to know what you’ve been up to.’ And then the bastard gave me the whole story.”
“What did he tell you?”
“That he’d found Nima Rita at Norra Bantorget and handed over a doctored bottle without Nima recognizing him, and that he died peacefully in his sleep the next day. Those were his words, ‘died peacefully in his sleep,’ to which he added that no-one would ever imagine it had been anything other than a natural death or an overdose. ‘The guy looked like shit,’ he said, ‘shit.’ And then I got mad, I really lost it. I said I would report him and get him locked up for life. But he just looked at me calmly, and that’s when I understood it all. It all became clear, as if I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. Who he was and what he was capable of. So much became obvious that I hardly know where to begin. But I remember thinking about the blueberry soup on Everest.”
“Blueberry soup?” Catrin Lindås sounded surprised.
“Lindberg had got himself sponsored by a company in Dalarna which produced a particularly nourishing blueberry soup, and of course you know that’s very Swedish. But on Everest he spoke so warmly of the soup that everyone on our expedition was drinking it, and as we sat there in the car it came back to me how in Camp Four he had handed out bottles just before we set out for the summit. Our Sherpas had carried them up there. I remember him giving Viktor and Klara one each, and I was thinking about how lethargic they became afterwards, and then I realized—”
“That he’d doctored bottles before.”
“It’s not something I can prove, and he certainly didn’t admit to it. But I realized that’s the way it was done. He put something into their drink that weakened them, and possibly also a sleeping drug. He must have planned it with Engelman. The two of them were working to protect themselves and Zvezda Bratva.”
“But you didn’t dare to report them?”
“No, and that’s what really broke me.”
“What did Lindberg have on you?”
“He had the pictures of me giving the money to Antonsson’s mistress for a start. That was bad enough, but it was by no means everything. There were various reports that I’d hired prostitutes and been violent with women. He claimed there was a whole file on me, and it was so absurd that I just sat there gasping for breath. I’ve never laid a finger on a woman in that way, as you know, Becka. But it was written all over him, and it was as if I were seeing it for the first time.”
“That to him it didn’t matter one little bit that it was all trumped up. And our friendship was of no importance either. He would destroy me if it suited him, and I’ll never forget that he even threatened to nail me for murdering Nima Rita if I picked a fight with him. I was terrified, frankly. I could see us facing disaster, Becka, and I couldn’t cope. Instead of doing something, I took a week’s leave and went out to Sandön and the rest you know. I couldn’t live with it, and I ran into the sea.”
“What an evil swine,” Lindås said.
“Unspeakable,” Rebecka said.
“What about the file Lindberg mentioned? Does it exist, or was he bluffing?”
“It does exist, unfortunately,” Kowalski said with a new depth to his voice. “But maybe you’d better deal with that too, Johannes, and I’ll fill in if you need me to.”
Kira was about to enjoy what she had been looking forward to for her entire adult life, yet it felt…what?…in truth, mostly anticlimactic. Not just because then it would all be over, and she would no longer be able to dream of it. But because the triumph was not quite as glorious as she had imagined. Because the hurry and the worry in the air had taken the shine off this great moment. Above all, because of Salander herself.
Salander looked nothing like what she had been hoping for—neither crushed nor frightened. She was indescribably dirty and skinny as she lay there on her stomach, with blood running from her arm. Yet somehow she still managed to look like a feline about to pounce. She was propped on her elbows, as if getting ready for an attack. Her black eyes looked straight past them all towards the door leading out of the building, and that alone—the feeling of not even being registered—made Kira furious.
Look at me, sister,
she wanted to shout.
Look at me.
But she must not show any sign of weakness.