Authors: David Lagercrantz
“You may be right. Could you check my answers?”
Again Olsen looked at his watch. Surely to God she couldn’t have finished the test already?
“Let’s wait until tomorrow,” he said. “Then you’ll have time to go through your answers more carefully.”
“That would be like cheating, I’d have an unfair advantage,” she said.
“Fine, I’m coming,” he said after a pause.
Why had he agreed? Immediately he wondered if he was being rash. On the other hand, he would regret not going, given how badly he wanted her to find the test stimulating.
He retrieved the marking sheet from his desk’s bottom right-hand drawer and when he was sure he looked presentable he opened the sally port gates leading to the maximum security unit using his chip card and personal code. Walking along the corridor, he glanced up at the black cameras in the ceiling and felt along his belt. Pepper spray and truncheon, his bunch of keys and a radio, plus the grey box with the alarm button. He may have been hopelessly idealistic, but he was not naïve. Prisoners could put on an obsequious, pleading act, only to manipulate the shirt off your back. Olsen was always on his guard.
As he approached the cell door he grew more anxious. Maybe he should have brought a colleague with him, as regulations required. However intelligent Salander might be, she could not possibly have churned out the answers that quickly. She had to have a hidden agenda – he was by now convinced of that. He opened the hatch in her cell door and looked inside. Salander was standing by her desk and gave him a smile, or something close to a smile, which restored his cautious optimism.
“O.K., I’m coming in. Keep your distance.”
He rolled back the locks, still prepared for anything, but nothing happened. Salander was stock still.
“So?” he said.
“Interesting test,” she said. “Can you check it for me?”
“I have the answers here.” He waved the crib sheet, and added: “You did it really fast, so don’t be disappointed if the result isn’t great.”
He tried a tentative grin and she smiled again. But this time it made him uncomfortable. She seemed to be scrutinizing him, and he didn’t like the scheming look in her eye. Was she up to something? It would not surprise him at all if some infernal plan were being hatched. On the other hand she was small and skinny. He was much bigger, armed, and trained to deal with critical situations. There was no danger, surely.
With some apprehension he took the test paper from Salander, smiling awkwardly, and glanced through the answers while keeping a careful eye on her. Perhaps there was nothing to be concerned about after all. She looked expectantly at him, as if to say: Am I good, or what?
Her handwriting was appalling. The test paper was covered in smudged, hurried scrawls. Without lowering his guard, he compared her answers, one by one, with the crib sheet. At first he simply noted that she seemed to have got most of it right. Then he could not help but be utterly amazed. She had correctly answered even the most difficult questions, the ones towards the end, and he had never heard of that before. He was just about to say something effusive when all of a sudden he found himself unable to breathe.
Salander examined Olsen with care. He seemed to be on the alert. He was tall and fit, and had a truncheon, pepper spray and a remote alarm hanging from his belt. He would probably sooner die of shame than let himself be overpowered, but she knew he had his weaknesses.
He had the same weaknesses all men had, and he was burdened with guilt. Guilt and shame – she could take advantage of both. She would hit him, put pressure on him, and Olsen would get what he deserved. She scrutinized his eyes and his stomach. His abdomen was not an ideal target, it was hard and muscular. In fact it was a bloody washboard. But even abs like that can be vulnerable, so she waited and eventually got her reward.
Olsen gasped, perhaps in surprise. As he breathed out, the alertness left his body and at that precise instant Salander punched him in the solar plexus. She punched twice, hard and unerringly, and then she took aim at his shoulder, at the exact point her boxing trainer Obinze had shown her. She struck him again with a wild and brutal force.
She realized at once that she had hit her target. The shoulder was dislocated and Olsen doubled over, panting, unable even to scream. He was struggling to stay on his feet. After only a second or two he toppled and collapsed on the concrete floor with a dull thud. Salander stepped forward. She had to make sure he would not do anything silly with his hands.
“Quiet,” she said.
It was an unnecessary command. Olsen was incapable of emitting even a squeak. The air had gone out of him. His shoulder throbbed with pain and he could see a flickering light above him.
“If you behave yourself and don’t touch your belt, I won’t hit you again,” Salander said, and snatched the I.Q. test out of his hand.
Olsen thought he could make out sounds from beyond the cell door. Was it a television in a neighbouring cell? Or some colleagues talking in the corridor? Impossible to tell, he was too dazed. He considered screaming for help. But the pain had invaded his mind, and he could not think straight. He had only a blurred vision of Salander and felt frightened and confused. His hand may have moved towards the alarm, more as a reflex than in any conscious act. But it never got there. There was another blow to his stomach and he curled up in a foetal position and gasped for air.
“You see?” Salander said quietly. “Not a good idea. But I don’t really like hurting you. Weren’t you a little hero once upon a time, who saved his mother or something? That’s what I heard. Now this unit of yours has gone to hell, and you left Faria Kazi in the lurch – again. I have to warn you, I don’t like it.”
He could think of nothing to say.
“That woman has been through enough. It’s got to stop,” she said, and Olsen nodded without really knowing why. “We’re already seeing eye to eye. Did you read about me in the papers?”
He nodded again, now keeping his hands well away from his belt.
“Good. Then you know that I stop at nothing. And I mean nothing. But maybe we can make a deal.”
“What?” He barely managed to utter the word.
“I’ll help you get this place back into shape and make sure Benito and her sidekicks don’t come anywhere near Faria Kazi, and you … you’re going to lend me a computer.”
“No way. You” – he caught his breath – “assaulted me. You’re in serious trouble.”
the one in trouble,” she said. “You don’t lift a finger to stop the bullying and abuse in here. Do you have any idea what a disgrace that is? The pride of the prison service has ended up in the hands of a little Mussolini!”
“Shut it. I’m going to help you to fix this. But first you’re going to take me to a computer with an internet connection.”
happening,” he said in a voice that tried to sound tough. “There are cameras all over this corridor. You’re screwed.”
“Then we’re both screwed and that’s just fine by me,” she said.
At that moment Olsen remembered Mikael Blomkvist. During the short time that Salander had been a prisoner, the famous journalist had already visited her two or three times. The last thing Olsen wanted was Blomkvist digging around in his dirty linen. What should he do? He was in far too much pain for rational thought. Instead he held his shoulder and stomach and said, without really knowing what he meant by it:
“I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Neither can I, so we’re square. Let’s get going.”
“What if we run into another staff member in the admin section?” he said.
“You’ll think of something. The I.Q. test was such an inspired idea, after all.”
He struggled to his feet and lurched to one side. The bulb in the ceiling seemed to be spinning above him. He felt sick. “One minute, I have to …”
She helped him straighten up and smoothed his hair, as if to tidy his appearance. Then she hit him again, scaring him half to death. But this time there was no pain. She had put his shoulder back in place.
“Come on,” she said.
He thought about pressing the alarm and bawling for help. He considered hitting her with his truncheon and using the pepper spray. But instead he walked down the corridor with Salander as if nothing had happened. As he opened the sally port gates, he prayed they wouldn’t meet anybody. But of course they bumped into his colleague Harriet, who was so slippery he could not know whether she sided with Benito or with the authorities. He had the feeling she went with whichever was likely to give her the best opportunity at any given moment.
“Hi,” Olsen managed.
Harriet had her hair in a ponytail and her expression was severe. The days when he had found her attractive seemed far off.
“Where are you going?” she said. He may have been her boss, Olsen realized, but there was no way he could challenge Harriet’s questioning look. He could only mumble:
“We’re going to … We thought we’d …”
Using the I.Q. test as an excuse flashed through his mind, but he knew it would not work.
“… ring Salander’s lawyer,” he said.
Olsen knew this was not very convincing either, and he probably also looked pale and bleary-eyed. All he wanted was to sink to the ground and shout for help, but he pulled himself together and added with unexpected authority:
“He’s flying to Jakarta tomorrow morning.”
He had no idea where Jakarta came from, but it was sufficiently specific and exotic to sound credible.
“O.K., I see,” Harriet said in a tone more appropriate to her status, and she left them. As soon as they could be sure she was out of sight, they continued on their way.
Olsen’s office was sacred ground. The door was always closed and it was off limits to inmates, who were certainly not allowed to make calls from there. But that was where they were heading. Maybe the guys in the control centre had already seen them crossing to the staff side after the doors closed. Any minute now someone would be along to see what was going on. It would not look good, but it might be for the best. He fingered his belt and thought about sounding the alarm. But he was too ashamed and, though he would never admit it, fascinated. Whatever would she think of next?
He unlocked the door and let her into the office, and for the first time it struck him that it was a pretty sad sight. How pathetic to have big photos of his mother pinned to the bulletin board, larger even than the photographs of Vilda. He should have taken them down a long time ago. For that matter he should have resigned and never had anything more to do with criminals. But there he stood. He closed the door as Salander fixed him with a dark, resolute look.
“I have a problem,” she said.
“And what’s that?”
“Why am I the problem?”
“If I send you out, you’ll call for help. But if you stay here, you’ll see what I’m doing.”
“Why, what are you going to do? Something illegal?”
“Probably,” she said.
And then he must have done something wrong again. Either that, or she was completely insane. She punched him in the solar plexus for the third or fourth time and once again he collapsed, gulping for breath, bracing for another blow. But instead Salander bent down and with a swift movement undid his belt and put it on the desk. He drew himself up, in spite of the pain, and glared at her.
It felt as if they might fly at each other. But she disarmed him yet again by glancing over at his bulletin board.
“Is that your mother there in the picture? You saved her, right?”
He did not answer. He was still considering launching himself at her.
“Is that your mum?” she asked again. He nodded.
“Is she dead?”
“But she’s important to you, right? In that case you’ll understand. I have to find some information, and you’re going to let me do it.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you’ve already let things go too far in here. In return, I’ll help you bring down Benito.”
“That woman is ruthless.”
“So am I,” she said.
Salander had a point. He was in over his head. He had allowed her access, and lied to Harriet. He did not have much to lose, so when she asked him for his computer log-in, he simply gave it to her.
Her hands moved at bewildering speed over the keyboard, and he was spellbound by them. For what felt like an age she seemed to be searching aimlessly, skipping through various home pages in Uppsala, those of the University hospital and the University itself. It was only when she came across a site for an antiquated-looking place – the Institute for Medical Genetics – that she paused and keyed in a few commands. Within seconds the screen went totally black. She was motionless, her breathing heavy and her fingers hovering over the keyboard, like a pianist preparing for a difficult piece.
Then she hammered something out with astonishing speed, rows of white numbers and letters on the black screen. Soon after the computer began to write by itself, spewing a flood of symbols, incomprehensible program codes and commands. He could only understand the occasional English word, Connecting database, Search, Query and Response, and then Bypassing security, which was more than a little alarming. She waited, drumming her fingers on the table impatiently. “Shit!” A window had popped up that read
. She tried several more times until at last a ripple went across the screen, disappearing inwards, and then a flash of colour:
. Soon things began to happen which Olsen had not imagined possible. It was as if Salander was drawn in through a wormhole into cyber worlds belonging to another time, a time long before the internet.
She flicked past old, scanned documents and lists of names recorded with a typewriter or ballpoint pen. These were followed by columns of numbers and notes, which looked like test results. Some of the documents were stamped
. He saw her own name among many others, and a whole series of reports. It was as if she had turned the computer into a snake which moved soundlessly through secret archives and sealed vaults. She kept going for hours, on and on.