The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium series Book 4) (27 page)

Berger had left the office to have an undisturbed conversation and was now standing in front of Söderbokhandeln, the bookstore on Götgatan, wondering if she had done something stupid. Grane had argued her case so well that Berger could not defend herself. That is no doubt the disadvantage of having intelligent friends: they see straight through you.

Not only had Grane worked out what Berger wanted to talk to her about, she had also persuaded her that she felt a moral responsibility and would never reveal the hiding place, however much that might appear to conflict with her professional duty. She said she had a debt to repay and insisted on helping. She was going to courier over the keys to her summer house on Ingarö and arrange for directions to be sent over the encrypted link which Andrei Zander had set up.

Further up Götgatan a beggar collapsed, scattering two carrier bags full of plastic bottles across the pavement. Berger hurried over but the man, who was soon on his feet again, declined her help so she gave him a sad smile and went back up to the
Millennium
offices.

Blomkvist was looking upset and exhausted. His hair was standing on end and his shirt hung outside his trousers. She had not seen him looking so worn out in a long time. Yet when his eyes shone like that, there was no stopping him. It meant he had entered into that absolute concentration from which he would not emerge until he had got to the heart of the story.

“Have you found a hiding place?” he said.

She nodded.

“It might be best if you say nothing more. We have to keep this to as small a circle of people as possible.”

“That sounds sensible. But let’s hope it’s a short-term solution. I don’t like the idea of Lisbeth Salander being responsible for the boy.”

“Who knows? Maybe they’ll be good for each other.”

“What did you tell the police?”

“Almost nothing.”

“Not a good time to be keeping things under wraps.”

“Not really, no.”

“Maybe Salander is prepared to make a statement, so you can get some peace and quiet.”

“I don’t want to put any pressure on her. She’s in bad shape. Can you get Zander to ask her if we can send a doctor out there?”

“I will. But you know …”

“What?”

“I’m actually coming round to the idea that she’s doing the right thing,” Berger said.

“Why do you say that, all of a sudden?”

“Because I too have my sources. Police headquarters isn’t a secure place right now,” she said, and walked over to Zander with a determined stride.

CHAPTER 19

22.xi, Evening

Bublanski was standing alone in his office. In the end Hans Faste had admitted to keeping Säpo informed, and without even listening to his justification Bublanski removed him from the investigation. But even if that had provided further evidence that Faste was an unscrupulous opportunist, he could not bring himself to believe that the man had also been leaking to criminals. Inevitably there were corrupt and depraved people in the force. But to deliver a small, mentally disabled boy into the hands of a cold-blooded murderer was beyond the pale, and he refused to believe that anyone in the force would be capable of that. Perhaps the information had seeped out by some other route. Their telephones might be tapped or they had been hacked, although he could not think that notes about August’s abilities had been written in any computer. He had been trying to reach the Säpo head, Helena Kraft, to discuss the matter. He had stressed that it was important, but she had not returned his call.

The Swedish Trade Council and the Ministry of Enterprise had been onto him, which was worrisome. Even if it was not said in so many words, their main concern was not for the boy or the shooting on Sveavägen, but rather for the research programme which Frans Balder had been working on, which appeared to have been stolen on the night of his murder.

Several of the most skilled computer technicians in the force and three I.T. experts from Linköping University and the Royal Institute of Technology had been to the house in Saltsjöbaden, but they had found no trace of this research, either on his computers or among the papers which he had left behind.

“So now, on top of everything else, we have an Artificial Intelligence on the loose,” Bublanski muttered to himself. He was reminded of an old riddle his mischievous cousin Samuel liked to put to his friends in synagogue. It was a paradox: if God is indeed omnipotent, is he then capable of creating something more intelligent than himself? The riddle was considered disrespectful, he recalled, even blasphemous. It had that evasive quality which meant that, however you answered, you were wrong. There was a knock at the door, and Bublanski was brought back to the questions at hand. It was Modig, ceremoniously handing over another piece of Swiss orange chocolate.

“Thank you,” he said. “Have you got anything new?”

“We think we know how the killers got Lindén and the boy out of the building. They sent fake emails from our and Professor Edelman’s addresses and arranged a pick-up on the street.”

“Is that possible?”

“Yes, and it’s not even very difficult.”

“Terrifying.”

“True, but that still doesn’t explain how they knew to access the Oden’s Medical Centre computer, or how they found out that Edelman was involved.”

“I suppose we’d better have our own computers checked out,” Bublanski said gloomily.

“Already in hand.”

“Is this how it was meant to be, that we won’t dare to write or say anything for fear of being overheard?”

“I don’t know. I hope not. Meanwhile we have a Jacob Charro out there waiting to be interviewed.”

“Who’s he?”

“A footballer, plays for Syrian F.C. And he’s the man who drove the woman and August Balder away from Sveavägen.”

A muscular young man with short dark hair and high cheekbones was sitting in the interview room. He was wearing a mustard-coloured V-neck pullover without a shirt and seemed at once agitated and a little proud.

Modig opened with: “18.35 on November 22. Interview with witness Jacob Charro, twenty-two years old, resident in Norborg. Tell us what happened this morning.”

“Well …” Charro said. “I was driving along Sveavägen and noticed some commotion in the street ahead of me. I thought there’d been an accident, so I slowed down. But then I saw a man come from the left and run across the road. He ran out without even looking at the traffic and I remember thinking he must be a terrorist.”

“Why is that?”

“He seemed to be bursting with this sacred fury.”

“Were you able to see what he looked like?”

“Not really, but since then it’s struck me that there was something unnatural about his face.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like it wasn’t his real face. He was wearing sunglasses which must have been secured around his ears, but his cheeks, it looked as if he had something in his mouth, I don’t know. Then there was his moustache and eyebrows, and the colour of his skin.”

“Do you think he was wearing a mask?”

“Something like that. But I didn’t have time to think too much about it. Before I knew it the rear door of the car was yanked open and then … what can I say? It was one of those moments when everything happens all at once – the whole world comes down onto your head. Suddenly there were strangers in my car and the rear windscreen shattered. I was in shock.”

“What did you do?”

“I accelerated like crazy. The girl who jumped in was shouting at me to drive, and I was so scared I hardly knew what I was doing. I just followed orders.”

“Orders?”

“That’s how it seemed. I reckoned we were being chased, and I didn’t see any other way out. I kept swerving and that, just like the girl told me to, and besides …”

“Go on.”

“There was something about her voice. It was so cold and intense, I found myself hanging on to it, as if it were the only thing that was in control in all the mayhem.”

“You said you thought you recognized the woman?”

“Yes, but not at the time, definitely not. I was scared to death and was busy concentrating on all the weird things that were happening. There was blood all over the place back there.”

“Coming from the boy or the woman?”

“I wasn’t sure at first, and neither of them seemed to know either. But then I heard her say something like ‘Yes!’, like something good had happened.”

“What was that about?”

“The girl realized she was the one bleeding and not the boy, and that really struck me. It was like, ‘Hurray, I’ve been shot,’ and I tell you, it wasn’t some little graze. However she tried to bandage it, she couldn’t staunch the blood. It just kept oozing out, and the girl kept getting paler and paler. She must have felt like shit.”

“And still she was happy that it wasn’t the boy who’d been hit.”

“Exactly. Like a mother.”

“But she wasn’t the child’s mother.”

“No. They didn’t even know each other, she said, and that became more and more obvious. She didn’t have a clue about children.”

“On the whole,” Modig said, “how did you think she treated the boy?”

“Not sure how to answer that, to be honest. I wouldn’t say she had the world’s best social skills. She treated me like a damn servant, but even so …”

“Yes?”

“I reckon she was a good person. I wouldn’t have wanted her to be my babysitter, if you see what I mean. But she was O.K.”

“So you reckon the child is safe with her?”

“She’s obviously fucking crazy. But the little boy … he’s called August, right?”

“That’s correct.”

“She’ll guard August with her life, if it comes to it. That was my impression.”

“How did you part company?”

“She asked me to drive them to Mosebacke torg.”

“Is that where she lives, on the square?”

“I have no idea. She gave me no explanation whatsoever, but I got the feeling she had some other kind of transport from there. She didn’t say more than was necessary. She just asked me to write down my details. She was going to pay for the damage to the car, she said, plus a little extra.”

“Did she look as though she had money?”

“Going by her appearance alone, I’d say she lived in a dump. But the way she behaved … I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was loaded. You could tell that she was used to getting her own way.”

“What happened then?”

“She told the boy to get out of the car.”

“And did he?”

“He just rocked backwards and forwards and didn’t move. But then her tone hardened. She said it was a matter of life and death or something like that, and he tottered out of the car with his arms stiff, as if he was sleepwalking.”

“Did you see where they went?”

“Only that it was to the left – towards Slussen. But the girl …”

“Yes?”

“Well, she was obviously feeling like shit. She was weaving about and seemed on the point of collapse.”

“Doesn’t sound good. And the boy?”

“Probably wasn’t in great shape either. He was looking really odd. The whole time in the car I worried he was going to have some sort of fit. But when he got out he seemed to have come to terms with the situation. In any case he kept asking, ‘Where?’ over and over. ‘Where?’”

Modig and Bublanski looked at each other.

“Are you sure about that?” Modig said.

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you might have thought you heard him saying that because he had a questioning look on his face.”

“Why would I have thought that?”

“Because the boy’s mother says he doesn’t speak at all, has never said a single word,” Modig said.

“Are you joking?”

“No, and it would be odd for him to suddenly start speaking under these very circumstances.”

“I heard what I heard.”

“O.K., and what did the woman answer?”

“‘Away’, I think. ‘Away from here.’ Something like that. Then she almost collapsed, like I said. And she told me to drive off.”

“And you did?”

“Like a bat out of hell.”

“And then you realized who you’d had in your car?”

“I’d already worked out that the boy was the son of that genius who’d been murdered. But the girl … she vaguely reminded me of someone. I was shaking like a leaf and in the end I couldn’t drive any more. I stopped on Ringvägen, by Skanstull, got myself a beer at Clarion Hotel and tried to calm down. And that’s when it hit me. It was the girl who was wanted for murder a few years ago, but then the charges were dropped, and it came out that she’d been through some terrible things in a mental hospital when she was a child. I remember it well – the father of a friend of mine had been tortured in Syria, and he was having more or less the same stuff done to him at the time, electroshock therapy and that sort of shit, because he couldn’t deal with his memories. It was like he was being tortured all over again.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“That he was tortured?”

“No, that it was her, Lisbeth Salander.”

“I looked at all the pictures online and there’s no doubt about it. There were other things that fit too, you know …”

Charro hesitated, as if embarrassed.

“She took off her T-shirt because she needed to use it as a bandage, and when she turned to wrap it around her shoulder I saw that she had a large tattoo of a dragon all the way up her back. That same tattoo was mentioned in one of the old newspaper articles.”

Berger arrived at Grane’s summer house with several shopping bags filled with food, crayons and paper, a couple of difficult puzzles and a few other things. But there was no sign of August or Salander. Salander had not responded, either on her Redphone app or on the encrypted link. Berger was sick with anxiety.

Whichever way she looked at it, this did not bode well. Admittedly Salander was not known for needless communication or reassurance, but it was she who had asked for a safe house. Also she had responsibility for a child, and if she was not answering their calls under those circumstances, she must be in a bad way.

Berger cursed aloud and walked out onto the terrace where she and Grane had been sitting and talking about escaping from the world. That was only a few months ago, but it felt like an age. There was no table now, no chairs, no bottles, no hubbub behind them, only snow, branches and debris flung there by the storm. It was as if life itself had abandoned the place. Somehow the memory of that crayfish party increased the sense of desolation, as if the festivities were draped like a ghost over its walls.

Berger went back into the kitchen and put some microwaveable food into the refrigerator: meatballs, packets of spaghetti with meat sauce, sausage stroganoff, fish pie, potato cakes and a whole lot of even worse junk food Blomkvist had advised her to buy: Billy’s Pan Pizza, piroshki, chips, Coca-Cola, a bottle of Tullamore Dew, a carton of cigarettes, three bags of crisps, three bars of chocolate and some sticks of fresh liquorice. She set out drawing paper, crayons, pencils, an eraser and a ruler and compass on the large round table. On the top sheet of paper she drew a sun and a flower and wrote the word
WELCOME
in four warm colours.

The house was close to Ingarö beach, but you could not see it from there. It lay high up on the rock promontory, concealed behind pine trees. It consisted of four rooms. The kitchen with glass doors onto the terrace was the largest and also the heart of the house. In addition to the round table there was an old rocking chair and two worn, sagging sofas which nonetheless managed to look inviting thanks to a pair of red tartan rugs. It was a cosy home.

It was also a good safe house. Berger left the door open, put the keys in the top drawer of the hall closet, as agreed, and made her way back down the flight of wooden steps flanking the steep, smooth rock slope – the only way to the house for anyone arriving by car.

The sky was dark and turbulent, the wind blowing hard again. Her spirits were low and did not improve during the drive home. Her thoughts turned to Hanna Balder. Berger had not exactly been a member of the fan club – Hanna often played the parts of women who were both sexy and dim-witted, whom all men thought they could seduce, and Berger was disgusted by the film industry’s devotion to that type of character. But none of that was true any longer and Berger regretted that she had been so ungracious at the time. She had been too hard on the woman; it was much too easy to criticize when a pretty girl gets a big break early in her career.

Nowadays, on the rare occasions Hanna Balder appeared in a major production, her eyes tended to reflect a restrained sorrow, which gave depth to the parts she played, and – what did Berger know? – that may have been genuine. She had been through some difficult times, not least the past twenty-four hours. Since morning, Berger had been insisting that Hanna be taken to August. This was surely a situation in which a child needed his mother more than ever.

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