The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye: Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series (3 page)

“Wasn’t she from the Registry?”

“What’s that?”

“The Registry for the Study of Genetics and Social Environment in Uppsala? I thought I read that somewhere.”

“The name must have been in those new documents,” she said.

“You think so? Perhaps I’m just muddling it all up.”

Perhaps he was. Palmgren had grown old. Yet the information stuck in Salander’s mind. It had gnawed at her while she trained on the speedball in the gym in the afternoons and worked in the ceramics workshop in the mornings. It gnawed away at her now as she stood in her cell looking down at the floor.

Somehow the I.Q. test which lay spread across the concrete no longer seemed irrelevant, but rather a continuation of her conversation with Palmgren. For a moment Salander could not grasp why. Then she remembered that the woman with the birthmark had given her all kinds of tests in those days. They always ended in arguments and eventually with Salander, at the age of just six, escaping into the night.

Yet what was most striking about these memories was not the tests or her running away, but the growing suspicion that there was something fundamental about her childhood she did not understand. She knew she had to find out more.

True, she would soon be outside again and free to do as she wanted. But she also knew she had leverage with Warden Olsen. This was not the first time he had chosen to turn a blind eye to abuses, and the unit he headed, still a source of pride in the prison service, was in a state of moral decay. Salander guessed she could get Olsen to give her access to something no-one else in the prison was allowed – an internet connection.

She listened out for sounds in the corridor. Muttered curses could be heard, along with doors being slammed, keys rattling and footsteps tapping off into the distance. Then silence fell. The only noise came from the ventilation system. It was broken – the air was stifling, unbearable – but still humming away. Salander looked at the papers on the floor and thought about Benito, Faria Kazi and Alvar Olsen – and the woman with the fiery birthmark on her throat.

She bent to pick up the test, sat down at the desk and scribbled out some answers. Then she pressed the intercom button by the steel door. Olsen picked up after a long interval, sounding nervous. She said she needed to talk to him right away.

“It’s important,” she said.


Olsen wanted to go home. He wanted to get away. But first he had to do his shift and deal with his paperwork and call his nine-year-old daughter, Vilda, to say good night. His mother’s sister Kerstin was looking after her and, as always, he had told his aunt to lock the apartment using the extra security lock.

Olsen had been head of the maximum security unit at Flodberga for twelve years and had long been proud of his position. As a young man he rescued his mother from alcoholism. He was a compassionate person who sided with the underdog. So it was no surprise that he joined the prison service and before long made a name for himself. But by now there was very little left of his youthful idealism.

The first major blow came early. His wife left him – and their daughter – to move to Åre with her former boss. But in the end it was Benito who robbed him of his illusions. He used to say that there is some good in every criminal. But although boyfriends, girlfriends, lawyers, therapists, forensic psychiatrists and even a couple of priests had done their uttermost, there was no good to be found in Benito.

She was originally called Beatrice, and later took the name of a certain Italian fascist. These days she had a swastika tattooed on her throat, a crew cut and an unhealthy, pallid complexion. Yet she was by no means hideous to look at. She was built like a wrestler, but there was something graceful about her. Quite a few people were captivated by her imposing manner. Most were simply terrified.

Benito had – so it was rumoured – murdered three people with a pair of daggers she called Keris, and there was so much talk about them that they became part of the menacing atmosphere in the unit. Everyone said the worst that could happen was for Benito to pronounce that she had her dagger pointed at you, because then you were sentenced to death, or already as good as dead. Most of that was bullshit, of course, but even though the knives were a safe distance from the prison, the myths surrounding them spread terror along the corridor. It was a disgrace, a major scandal. Olsen had, in effect, capitulated.

He should have been well equipped to deal with her. He was one metre ninety-two tall, eighty-eight kilos and his body was fit and toned. As a teenager he had beaten up any bastard who tried to get at his mother. But he did have one weak point: he was a single father. A year ago Benito had come up to him in the prison garden and whispered a chillingly accurate description of every passageway and set of stairs Olsen would take each morning when he dropped his daughter in class 3A on the third floor of Fridhemsskolan in Örebro.

“I’ve got my dagger pointed at your little girl,” she said. And that was all it took.

Olsen lost his grip on the unit and the decay spread down the hierarchy. He did not doubt that some of his colleagues – that coward Fred Strömmer, for instance – had become downright corrupt. Things were never worse than now, during the summer, when the prison was full of incompetent, frightened temporary staff. Tension rose in the oxygen-starved corridors. Olsen lost count of the number of times he had vowed to restore order. Yet he succeeded in doing nothing at all. The situation was not helped by the fact that the prison governor Rikard Fager was an idiot. Fager cared only about the façade, which was still nice and shiny, however rotten the inside.

Every afternoon Olsen succumbed to the paralysing effect of Benito’s eyes, and in keeping with the psychology of oppression he became weaker every time he backed down, as if the blood were being drained from him. Worst of all, he was unable to protect Faria.

Faria had been sent to prison for killing her older brother, by pushing him through a large plate-glass window in the Stockholm suburb of Sickla. Yet there was no sign of anything aggressive or violent about her. Most of the time she sat in her cell and read or cried, and she was only in maximum security because she was both suicidal and under threat. She was a human wreck, abandoned by society. She had absolutely no swagger in the prison corridor, no steely look that would command respect, just a fragile beauty which drew the tormentors and sadists. Olsen loathed himself for not doing anything about it.

The only constructive thing he had attempted lately was to connect with the new arrival, Lisbeth Salander. No small task. Salander was a tough bitch and there was just as much talk about her as there was about Benito. Some admired Salander, others thought she was an arrogant little shit, and others still worried about losing their place in the hierarchy. Every muscle in Benito’s body was spoiling for a fight, and Olsen had no doubt she was collecting information on Salander through her contacts outside the prison walls, just as she had done on him and on everybody else of interest to her in the unit.

But so far nothing had happened, not even when Salander had been given permission, despite her high-security classification, to work in the garden and the ceramic workshop. Her ceramic vases were the worst he had ever seen. She was not exactly sociable either. She appeared to be living in a world of her own and ignored any looks or remarks that came her way, including furtive shoving and punches from Benito. Salander shook them off as if they were dust or bird droppings.

The only one she looked out for was Faria Kazi. Salander kept a close eye on her and probably understood how serious the situation was. This could lead to some sort of confrontation. Olsen could not be sure. But it was a constant anxiety.

Olsen was proud of the programmes he had drawn up for each inmate. No-one was automatically put to work. Each prisoner got her own schedule – depending on her individual problems and needs. Some inmates studied full- or part-time and were offered vocational guidance, others were in rehabilitation programmes and had sessions with psychologists and counsellors. Judging by Salander’s file, they should be giving her a chance to complete her education. She had not been to secondary school or even finished primary school and, except for a brief spell working for a security company, she did not seem to have held any real job. She had had a string of run-ins with the authorities, although this was her first prison sentence. In fact it would be easy to dismiss her as an idler, but that was clearly not an accurate picture. Not just because the evening papers described her as some sort of action hero. It was her general appearance, and one incident in particular, that stuck in his mind.

That episode was the only positive, surprising thing that had happened in the unit for the past year. It had taken place a few days before, in the dining hall after the early dinner. It was 5.00 p.m. and rain was falling outside. The prisoners had cleared their plates and glasses, washed and tidied the dishes, and Olsen had been sitting by himself in a chair next to the sink. He really had no business being there; he took his meals with the staff in another part of the prison and the inmates looked after the dining hall themselves. Josefin and Tine – allies of Benito’s – were given the privilege of looking after the catering. They had their own budget, ordered supplies, kept the place clean and saw to it that there was enough food for everyone. In prison, food means power, and it was inevitable that people like Benito got more while others got less. Which was why Olsen liked to keep an eye on the kitchen. The unit’s only knife was stored there too. It was not sharp and it was attached to a steel wire, but it could still cause damage. On that particular day he kept looking over at it while trying to do some work.

Olsen badly wanted to get away from Flodberga. He wanted a better job. But for a man without a college education who had only ever worked in the prison service, there were not so many options. He had signed up for a correspondence course in business administration and – with the smell of potato pancakes and jam still hanging in the air – now began to read up on the pricing of stock options in the security markets, even if he could not understand much and had no clue how to do the exercises in the teaching manual. That was when Salander came in to help herself to more food.

She was looking down at the floor and seemed sulky and detached. Since Olsen had no desire to make a fool of himself with yet another failed attempt at establishing contact, he kept working at his calculations. He was rubbing things out and scribbling revisions, and this obviously irritated her. She came closer and glowered, which embarrassed him. It was not the first time he had felt embarrassed around her. He was about to get up and go back to his office when Salander seized his pencil and scrawled some figures in his book.

“Black-Scholes equations are over-rated crap when the market is as volatile as it is now,” she said and walked off as if he didn’t exist.

It was later in the evening, as he sat by his computer, that he realized not only had she given the right answers to his exercises in no time at all, she had also with a natural authority rubbished a Nobel prize-winning model for the valuation of financial derivatives. This was different from the humiliation and defeat he normally suffered in the unit. His dream was that this would be the beginning of a connection between the two of them, maybe even a turning point in her own life where she would recognize how talented she was.

He thought for a long time about his next move. How could he boost her motivation? Then an idea came to him – an I.Q. test. There was a stack of old test papers in his office; various forensic psychiatrists had used them to assess the degree of psychopathy and alexithymia and narcissism – and whatever else – they thought Benito might be suffering from.

Olsen had tried a number of the evaluations himself, and concluded that someone who solved mathematical problems as easily as Salander could reasonably be expected to do well on the test. Who knows, it might actually come to mean something to her. And so he had waited for her in the corridor at what he thought was a good time. He even imagined he could see a new openness in her face, and paid her a compliment. He felt sure he had got through to her.

She took the test paper from him. But then the train came clanging by and as her body stiffened and a dark look came into her eyes all he could do was stammer and let her turn away. He ordered his colleagues to lock the cells, while he went into his office behind a massive glass door in the so-called administration section. Olsen was the only member of staff with his own room. Its windows overlooked the exercise yard with its steel fence and grey concrete wall. It was not much larger than the cells and no more pleasant either, but it did have a computer with an internet connection and a couple of C.C.T.V. monitors, as well as a few bits and pieces which made the room feel cosier.

It was 7.45 p.m. The cells were locked. The train was gone, racing towards Stockholm, and his colleagues were sitting in the coffee room chatting. He himself was writing in the diary he kept about life in the prison. It did not make him feel any better; his diary entries were no longer entirely truthful. He looked over at the bulletin board, at the pictures of Vilda and of his mother who had been dead for four years now.

Outside, the garden lay like an oasis in the barren prison landscape. There was not a cloud in the sky. He looked at his watch. It was time to call home and say good night to Vilda. He was just picking up the telephone when the intercom alarm went off. The display showed that the call came from cell number seven, Salander’s, which both intrigued him and made him anxious. The inmates knew they were not to disturb the staff unnecessarily. Salander had never before used the alarm. Nor did she strike him as someone quick to complain. Could something have happened?

He spoke into the intercom. “What’s the matter?”

“Come here. It’s important.”

“What’s so important?”

“You gave me an I.Q. test, didn’t you?”

“Right, I thought you’d be good at it.”

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