Authors: David Lagercrantz
Blomkvist read Salander’s message and got up from his desk to look out across the water. It was five in the afternoon, and it was becoming increasingly windy out there. A yacht was racing along in the storm further out in the bay. A Sherpa, he thought, a Sherpa. There must be something to that, surely?
Not that he had really believed it was anything to do with the Minister of Defence. But still…one could not ignore the fact that Forsell had climbed Mount Everest in 2008. Blomkvist resolved to get to the bottom of the story. There was no shortage of material about the drama, and that, as he had already concluded, was chiefly down to Klara Engelman.
Engelman was glamour personified, God’s gift to gossip columnists, with her dyed-blond hair and surgically enhanced lips and breasts. She was married to a notorious tycoon, Stan Engelman, who owned hotels and other properties in New York, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Klara was not a society girl but rather a Hungarian former model who had travelled to the United States in her youth and won a Miss Bikini contest in Las Vegas. There she met Stan, a member of the judges’ panel—a detail the tabloids loved.
But in 2008 she was thirty-six years old and mother to the couple’s then twelve-year-old daughter, Juliette. She had a degree in Public Relations from St. Joseph’s College in New York and seemed to want to show that she could accomplish something on her own. Today, more than ten years after the tragedy, it was difficult to understand the indignation she aroused at Base Camp. Her blog for
admittedly featured a number of ridiculously styled photographs of her wearing the latest fashions. But with the benefit of hindsight it was clear that the coverage she got was patronizing and sexist. The reporters made her out to be nothing more than a bimbo, and held her up as the very antithesis to the mountains and an affront to the local population. She was the vulgarity of the wealthy West contrasted with the purity of the mountain’s wide-open spaces.
Klara Engelman was on the same expedition as Johannes Forsell and his friend Svante Lindberg, who was now his parliamentary undersecretary. All three had paid seventy-five thousand dollars to be guided to the summit, and that of course added insult to injury. Everest was said to have become a haunt for the rich, who were there only to boost their egos. The leader of the expedition and owner of the guiding company was Viktor Grankin, a Russian, and in addition to him there were three guides, a Base Camp manager, a doctor and fourteen Sherpas—and the ten clients. This many people were needed to get them to the top.
Could the beggar have been one of those Sherpas? The thought had occurred to Blomkvist right away, and before he looked into the tragedy any further he tried to find out more about them. Was it possible that one of them had ended up in Sweden, or had a special relationship with Forsell? For many of them he drew a complete blank, but for a young Sherpa, Jangbu Chiri, there seemed to be a connection.
He and Forsell met again in Chamonix three years later, and had a beer together. It was perfectly possible that they could have become sworn enemies after that. But in the picture online, they were giving a thumbs-up and looked absurdly happy. As far as Blomkvist could discover, none of the Sherpas on the expedition had a bad word to say about Forsell. There were anonymous accusations—these had surfaced in the current disinformation campaign—that Forsell had contributed to Klara Engelman’s death by delaying or holding back the group on the mountain. But according to many eyewitness accounts, the opposite was the case: It was Engelman herself who slowed the expedition down, and by the time disaster struck, Forsell and Svante Lindberg had already left the others behind and gone on to the summit on their own.
No, Blomkvist did not believe it. Or perhaps he simply didn’t want to. He was always—it was the way he did his job—on his guard against the pitfalls of wishful thinking in his journalistic research, and in this case he found it hard to imagine that the man whom the cyber trolls loved to hate should have been involved in poisoning a poor down-and-out in Stockholm. And yet…what the hell?
He read Lisbeth’s message again, and then documents she had attached about the presumed relative in Colorado, Robert Carson. Although his opinion may have been influenced by the research, Carson struck him as a cheerful and energetic man, not unlike Forsell himself, and without really giving it much thought he dialled the number Salander had supplied.
“Bob speaking,” a voice answered.
Blomkvist introduced himself, and was then unsure how to explain what the call was about. He began with flattery.
“I read online that you have a supergene.”
Carson laughed. “Impressive, don’t you think?”
“Very. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Not at all, I’m reading a boring paper, so I’d much rather talk about my DNA. Is it a science publication you work for?”
“Not exactly. I’m investigating a suspicious death.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s a homeless man, between fifty-four and fifty-six years old, with several fingers and toes amputated. He was found dead in Stockholm just over a week ago. He had the same variant in his
gene as you do. In all likelihood, you and he are third or fourth cousins.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but incredible that you’ve made the connection. What’s his name?”
“That’s just the thing. We don’t know. All we’ve been able to establish is that you and he are related.”
“So how can I help?”
“I don’t honestly know. But my colleague thinks the man may have been a skilled porter on high-altitude expeditions, and that he was involved in some major incident. That would explain how he got his injuries. Are there any Sherpas in your family who fit that description?”
“My God, I should think there are any number of them if we look at the extended family. I think it’s fair to say that we’re pretty extreme.”
“Do you have anything more specific?”
“Give me some time to think about it, then I’ll probably find something. I’ve written up a whole family tree that includes biographical data. Do you have any more details you could send me?”
Blomkvist thought for a moment. Then he said:
“If you promise to treat them confidentially, I can send over the autopsy report and the DNA analysis.”
“I give you my word.”
“I’ll get them to you right away. I’d be very grateful if you could take an urgent look at them.”
Carson was silent for a while.
“Do you know,” he said, “it would be an honour. It feels good to have had a relative in Sweden, although I’m sorry that he had such a hard time.”
“That does seem to have been the case. A friend of mine met him.”
“He was very agitated and gabbled something about Johannes Forsell, our current Minister of Defence. He was on an Everest expedition in May 2008.”
“May 2008, you say?”
“Wasn’t that when Klara Engelman died?”
“In what way?”
“I did actually have a relative who was on that expedition, a bit of a legend in fact. But he died three, maybe four years ago.”
“Then he could hardly have turned up in Stockholm.”
“I can send over lists of the Sherpas I know were on the mountain then—that might give you some clues.”
“That would be helpful.”
“Not that I actually think this has anything to do with Everest,” Blomkvist said, more to himself than to Carson. “There’s quite some distance separating this man from the Minister of Defence.”
“You want me to tackle this with an open mind?”
“I guess so. I was fascinated to read your life story.”
“Thanks,” Carson said. “Send the stuff over and I’ll be in touch.”
Blomkvist hung up and thought for a while, and then wrote a thank-you to Salander, telling her about Forsell and Everest, and Mats Sabin, and everything else. She might as well have the whole picture.
Lisbeth saw the e-mail at ten in the evening, but she did not read it. She had other things on her mind. Besides, she was in the middle of a row.
“Can’t you stop staring at your bloody laptop?” Paulina snapped.
Salander stopped staring at her bloody laptop and looked up at Paulina instead. She was standing right by the desk with her long, curly hair loose, and her slanting, expressive eyes full of tears and anger.
“Thomas is going to kill me.”
“But you said you could go to your parents in Munich.”
“He’ll follow me there and soon have them wrapped around his little finger. They love him, don’t ask me why. Or at least they think they do.”
Salander nodded and tried to think clearly. Would it after all be better to wait? No, she decided, no. She could not hold back any longer, and she definitely couldn’t take Paulina with her to Stockholm. She had to go there at once—and by herself. She could not afford to remain passive, stuck in the past. She now had to follow the chase at closer quarters. If not, others would suffer, especially with people like Galinov on the scene.
“Shall I have a word with them?” she said.
“With my parents?”
“Not on your life.”
“Because you’re a social freak, Lisbeth, don’t you see that?” Paulina barked at her. Then she grabbed her handbag and marched out, slamming the door behind her.
Salander weighed up whether or not to run after her, but she remained frozen to the spot by her computer. She decided to try hacking the surveillance cameras around the apartment on Strandvägen, where Camilla apparently still was. But it was slow work. And she was distracted by so much else. Not just Paulina’s outburst, but all sorts of things. Including Blomkvist’s e-mail, although in the circumstances that seemed to be the lowest of her priorities.
Take care and a big thanks to you.
P.S. There was a Mats Sabin, formerly an officer in the coastal artillery and a military historian at the Defence University. He died in Abisko a few years ago. We know he had a huge row with Forsell.>
“Is that so?” she mumbled. “Is that so?” She closed the e-mail and kept working on the surveillance cameras. But her fingers had a life of their own. Within half an hour she had looked up Forsell and Everest and become engrossed in endless reports about a woman called Klara Engelman.
Engelman looked a bit like Camilla, she thought, a cheaper version of her sister with the same charisma—someone who also took it for granted that she was the centre of attention—and Salander was certainly not going to waste any time on her. She had better things to do. She did, however, go on reading, even though her mind was not really on it at all. She sent a message to Plague about the cameras, and called Paulina, who didn’t pick up, but little by little she still managed to piece together a fuller picture, above all of Johannes Forsell’s ascent.
He and his friend Lindberg had reached the summit at one in the afternoon of May 13, 2008. The sky was still clear and they stayed up there for a while, admiring the view. They took photographs and reported back down to Base Camp. But not long after, in the narrow rock passage known as the Hillary Step, on the way down to the South Summit, they started to have problems and time began to run away from them.
At half past three—by which time they had only got as far as the so-called Balcony at 27,500 feet—they began to worry that they would run out of oxygen and would not make it down to Camp IV. Visibility had worsened too, and even though Forsell had no idea what was happening around them, he suspected that something serious had occurred.
He heard desperate voices on his radio. But by then he was too exhausted to fully grasp the situation, as he said later. He just staggered through the void, his legs barely holding him upright.
Soon after that the storm hit the mountain and everything turned into a lashing chaos. The cold was extreme, close to minus seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit, and the two of them were freezing and hardly able to distinguish up from down. It was understandable that neither of them could give a detailed account of how they made it down to the tents on the Southeast Ridge.
But if there was a time that was unaccounted for in all the reports of that day, then it was between seven and eleven in the evening. Even if that was not much to be going on, Salander did spot some discrepancies in their stories, especially with regard to Forsell’s condition and how bad it had really been.
It was as if his crisis had been made to appear less and less serious over time. Personally, she did not think it was all that remarkable, not compared to the real drama that was unfolding on another part of the mountain, where Klara Engelman and her guide Viktor Grankin died that afternoon. It was not so surprising that endless column inches had been devoted to that. Why, of all people, was it the prestige client who lost her life, when there were so many others on the mountain that day? Why did she have to die, she, the subject of so much gossip and vilification?
For a while there was talk that it was all down to envy and class hatred and misogyny. But once the initial furor had died down, it was clear that no effort had been spared to save Engelman, and that right from the start she had been beyond rescue—ever since she collapsed very suddenly in the snow. The assistant guide, Robin Hamill, even said:
“It wasn’t that too little was done to save Klara, but too much. She was considered so important to Viktor and the expedition that we risked the lives of many others in our endeavours,” and that sounded plausible, Salander thought.