Read The Girl Who Lived Twice Online
Authors: David Lagercrantz
Kira was in bed in the large house in Rublyovka to the west of Moscow when she received the message that her chief hacker, Jurij Bogdanov, wanted to talk to her. He would have to wait, she replied. For good measure she threw a hairbrush at her housekeeper Katya, and pulled the duvet over her head. It had been a night from hell. The memory of the commotion at the restaurant, her sister’s determined stride and silhouette, would not leave her, and she kept touching her shoulder, still aching from the impact of her fall to the pavement: It was not the pain so much as a presence which she simply could not shake off.
Why could it not end? She had worked so hard and achieved so much. But the past kept coming back, again and again, and each time it seemed in a new guise. There had been nothing good about her childhood, yet there had been parts which in her way she had loved. Now even those were being torn from her, one by one.
As a child, Camilla had longed to get out and away, far from Lundagatan, and away from life with her sister and mother, leaving behind the poverty and vulnerability. From an early age she knew that she deserved better. She had a distant memory of being in the Ljusgården atrium at the NK department store. A woman wearing a fur coat and patterned trousers was laughing, and she was so incredibly beautiful that she seemed to belong to another world entirely. Camilla moved closer until she was standing right by her legs, and then an equally elegant friend arrived and kissed the woman on both cheeks.
“My goodness, is that your daughter?” she said.
The first woman turned and looked down, seeing Camilla for the first time. “I wish it were,” she answered in English with a smile.
Camilla did not understand, but she could tell that it was meant to be flattering. As she walked away she heard the woman continue in Swedish: “Such a pretty girl. Shame that her mother doesn’t dress her better,” and those words left a gash in her. She stared at Agneta—even then she called her mother Agneta—who was looking at the Christmas window display with Lisbeth, and she saw the yawning gulf. These two women were radiant, as if life was laid out for their enjoyment alone, whereas Agneta was stooped and pale, dressed in worn and ugly clothes. A searing sense of injustice flared within her.
I’ve ended up in the wrong place,
There were many such moments in her childhood, times when she felt both elated and damned: elated because people would call her as pretty as a little princess, damned because she was part of a family which lived on the margins, in the shadows.
It was true that she began to steal things to be able to buy clothes and barrettes. It wasn’t much, not at all, coins mostly, then a few notes, an old brooch of her grandmother’s, the Russian vase on the bookshelf. But it was also true that she was accused of much more than that, and it became clear to her that Agneta and Lisbeth were ganging up against her. She often felt like a stranger in her own home, a changeling who was being kept under supervision, and matters did not improve when Zala came to visit and threw her aside like a mongrel.
At times like those she was the loneliest person in the world. She would dream of running away and finding someone else to look after her, someone who was more deserving of her. But slowly light began to seep in, a false sheen perhaps. But it was all there was. It started with her noticing small things—a golden wristwatch, wads of money in trouser pockets, a commanding tone over the telephone—tiny indications that there was more to Zala than his violence. Gradually she began to see the self-confidence, the authority, the urbane and forceful nature—the power that he radiated.
Above all it was the way that
began to look at
He would take his time to look her up and down, and sometimes he would smile and there was no way she could resist that. Usually he never smiled, which made this so powerful, as if a searchlight had been turned on her, and at some point she stopped dreading his visits and even began to fantasize that it was
who would take her away from there to a richer, more beautiful place.
One evening, when she was eleven or twelve years old and Agneta and Lisbeth were out, her father was in the kitchen, drinking vodka. She joined him there and he stroked her hair and offered her a drink which he had mixed with juice. “A screwdriver,” he said, and he told her how he had grown up in a children’s home in Sverdlovsk in the Urals, where he had been beaten every day, but that he had fought his way to power and wealth, to having friends all over the world. It sounded like something out of a fairy tale, and he put his finger to his lips and whispered that it was a secret. She shivered, and it was then that she plucked up the courage to tell him how mean Agneta and Lisbeth were to her.
“They’re jealous. Everybody envies people like you and me,” he said, and he promised that he would see to it that they were nicer to her. After that life at home changed.
With Zala’s visits, the big wide world was also there, and she loved him not only because he was her saviour. It was also that nothing could ruffle him. Not the serious men in grey coats who sometimes visited them, nor even the policemen with broad shoulders who knocked on the door one morning. But
She could get him to be gentle and considerate, and for a long time she did not realize the price she was paying, still less that she was fooling herself. She saw it simply as the best time of her life. At last someone was paying attention to her, and she was happy. Her father was visiting more and more often, and furtively giving her presents and money.
But at the very moment when something new, something great seemed about to be hers, Lisbeth took it all away, and since then she had loathed her sister with a vengeance, with a hatred that had become her most enduring and defining characteristic. Now she wanted to destroy Lisbeth, and she was not about to waver just because her sister happened to be one step ahead.
After the night’s rain, the sun was beating down beyond the curtains. She heard the sound of lawn mowers and distant voices, and she closed her eyes and thought about the footsteps in the night, approaching their room on Lundagatan. Then she clenched her right fist, kicked off her duvet and got up.
She was going to retake the initiative.
Jurij Bogdanov had been waiting for an hour. But he had not been idle. He had been hard at work with his laptop on his knees, and only now did he cast a worried look onto the terrace and the large garden outside. He had no good news to share, and he expected only abuse and more hard work, but still, he felt strong and motivated, and he had mobilized his entire network. His mobile rang. Kuznetsov again. Stupid, hysterical, bloody Kuznetsov. He declined the call.
It was 11:10 and the gardeners were having an early lunch outside. Time was racing on and he looked down at his shoes. These days Bogdanov was rich and wore made-to-measure suits and expensive watches. But the gutter never altogether left him. He was an old junkie who had grown up on the streets, and that life had left traces in his demeanour and his movements that would never go away.
He had an angular, pockmarked face, and was tall and lean with narrow lips and amateur tattoos on his arms. But even though Kira would not want to show him off in stylish society, he continued to be invaluable to her, and that gave him strength now as he heard her heels echoing along the marble floor. Here she came, as ethereally lovely as ever, wearing a light-blue suit and a red blouse buttoned all the way up, and she sat down in the armchair next to him.
“So, what have you got?” she said.
“Let’s hear them.”
“We don’t have confirmation of that yet, but yes, it has to be her, mainly because of the sophistication of the attack. Kuznetsov is so paranoid about his IT systems that he has them checked by experts from every possible angle. He’d been given assurances that they were impossible to penetrate.”
“That was clearly wrong.”
“It was, and we still don’t know how she went about it, but the operation itself—once she was inside—was relatively straightforward. She connected to Spotify, and to the speakers which had been set up for the evening, and put on that rock song.”
“But people were driven nearly crazy by it.”
“There was an equalizer there too, which unfortunately was both digital and parametric, and connected to the WiFi.”
“Use words that I can understand.”
“The equalizer adjusts the volume, gets the base and treble just right, and Lisbeth—let’s just say it was her—connected her mobile up to that and created the worst kind of sound shock. Horrific, in fact, to the point where it could be felt in the heart. Apparently that’s why so many people were clutching their chests. They had no idea it was sound that was doing the damage.”
“So her objective was to create chaos.”
“Above all she wanted to send a message. The song’s called ‘Killing the World with Lies,’ by the Crazy Sisters. You know, that hard rock protest band.”
“Those red-haired whores?”
“The very ones,” Bogdanov said, without admitting that he thought the band were pretty cool. “The song was written about the killings of gays in Chechnya, but in fact it’s not about the murderers themselves, or even the machinery of state, but about the person who orchestrated the hate campaign on social media which led to the violence.”
“Kuznetsov himself, in other words?”
“Exactly, but the thing is—”
“—that nobody on the outside is supposed to know about it.”
“No-one’s even meant to know that he’s behind the information agencies.”
“So how did Lisbeth find out?”
“We’re looking into that, and trying to reassure all those involved. Kuznetsov is wild. He’s wasted and scared witless.”
“How come? It’s not as if it’s the first time he’s pitted people against each other.”
“No indeed, but it all got out of hand in Chechnya. People were buried alive,” he said.
“That’s Kuznetsov’s own fucking problem.”
“It is. But what worries me…”
“Salander’s main target probably isn’t Kuznetsov at all. We can’t rule out that she knows about our own involvement in the information agencies. Don’t you think her vengeance might be directed at you, not him?”
“We should have killed her a long time ago.”
“There’s one more thing I haven’t mentioned.”
Bogdanov knew that there was no point in putting it off any longer.
“After barging into you last night, she stumbled,” he said. “The impact made her lose her balance and she tumbled forward—that’s what it looked like anyway. She had to catch herself with her hand against your limousine, just above the rear wheel. At first I thought it looked pretty natural. But then I ran the surveillance footage over and over, and came to the conclusion that it might not have been a fall after all. Rather than steadying herself, she was in fact pressing something against the bodywork. Here it is.”
He held up a small rectangular box.
“What is it?”
“A GPS transmitter that followed you all the way here.”
“So now she knows where I live?” Camilla forced out the words through clenched teeth and tasted blood in her mouth.
“I’m afraid so,” Bogdanov said.
“Idiots,” she spat.
“We’ve taken all precautions,” Bogdanov went on, increasingly nervous. “We’ve stepped up protection, especially of the IT system, obviously.”
“So we’re on the defensive now, is that what you’re saying?”
“No, no, not at all. I’m just telling you.”
“Just make sure you find her, then.”
“That’s not so easy, unfortunately. We’ve checked all the surveillance cameras in the area. We don’t see her anywhere, and we’ve not been able to trace her via any mobiles or computers.”
“Search the hotels then. Report her as missing. Turn everything upside down and inside out, everything you see and hear.”
“We’re working on it, I’m convinced we’ll crush her.”
“Just don’t underestimate that witch.”
“I don’t underestimate her for one second. But I think she’s missed her chance—the advantage has shifted to us.”
“How the hell can you say that when she knows where I live?”
Bogdanov hesitated, fumbling for words.
“You said you thought she would kill you, right?” he said.
“I was certain of it. But she must be planning something worse.”
“I think you’re wrong there.”
“How do you mean?”
“I think she really did want to shoot you. I can’t see why else she would have attacked. Sure, she scared the shit out of Kuznetsov. But apart from that, what did she gain? Nothing. All she did was expose herself.”
“So what you’re suggesting…” She looked out at the garden, and wondered where the hell the gardeners had got to.
“I’m suggesting that she hesitated and couldn’t bring herself to do it. That she hasn’t got it in her. That she’s not so strong after all.”
“That’s a comforting thought,” Kira said.
“I think it’s true. Otherwise it doesn’t add up.”
She suddenly felt a little better.
“And I suppose she has people she cares about,” she said.
“She has her girlfriends.”
“And she has her Blomkvist. More than anything, she has her Mikael Blomkvist.”
Blomkvist was in Gondolen restaurant at Slussen, dining with Dragan Armansky, the founder of Milton Security. He was slightly regretting it now. His legs and back hurt after his run in Årstaviken, and on top of that he was rather bored. Armansky was droning on about opportunities for developing his business in the East, or maybe it was the West, and then in the middle of it all there was an anecdote about a horse which had managed to get into a festival tent on Djurgården:
“…and then those idiots pushed the grand piano into the swimming pool.”
Blomkvist was not sure if that had anything to do with the horse. But he was not listening all that carefully. Furthest away from them was a group of colleagues from
among them Mia Cederlund with whom he had had an unhappy affair, and over there was Mårten Nyström, the Royal Dramatic Theatre actor, who had not been shown in a flattering light in
’s investigation into misuse of power in the theatre world. None of them looked all that pleased to see him, and Blomkvist kept his eyes on the table, drank his wine, and thought of Lisbeth Salander.
She was his and Armansky’s only point in common. Armansky was the only employer she had ever had, and he had never really got over her, which was perhaps not so surprising. Long ago Armansky had given her a job as some sort of a social welfare project, and she turned out to be the most brilliant colleague he had ever had. For a while he may even have been in love with her.
“Sounds wild,” Blomkvist said.
“You can say that again, and the piano—”
“So you had no idea either that she was going to move?” he interrupted.
Armansky was reluctant to change the subject, and perhaps it upset him that Blomkvist was not more amused by his story. After all, a grand piano in a swimming pool…But then he quickly became serious.
“I shouldn’t really be telling you this,” he began.
Blomkvist thought that sounded like a good start and he leaned forward.
Lisbeth had had a nap and a shower and was sitting at her computer in her Copenhagen hotel room when Plague—her closest contact in Hacker Republic—sent an encrypted message. It was only a short, routine question, but it still disturbed her.
It’s all fucked up,
she thought. She answered:
She felt like going out on the town, to forget everything. She wrote:
Bye bye, Plague,
she thought. She wrote:
“Never you mind,” she muttered.
Footsteps, she thought, her father’s whispered voice and her own hesitation, her inability to fully understand, and then the silhouette of her sister getting up from the bed and slipping out of the room with Zala, that pig. She answered:
She felt like throwing the computer at the wall. She wrote:
Give me a break,
Mobile interception is child’s play, but who does he know in situ?
Which means she won’t come cheap.
Then she closed her computer and got up to dress. She decided that the black suit would have to do for today too, even though the rain yesterday had crumpled it and there was a grey stain on the right sleeve. And it didn’t look any better for having been slept in. But what the hell, and she had no intention of putting on make-up either. She ran her fingers through her hair, left the room and took the lift down to the ground floor, where she ordered a beer in the bar.
The open spaces of Kongens Nytorv lay outside, and there were a few dark clouds in the sky. But Salander noticed none of this. She was stuck in the memory of the hand that had hesitated on Tverskoy Boulevard, and in the film from the past that kept replaying in her head. She was oblivious to everything else, until a voice close to her ear suddenly asked:
“Are you OK?”
This annoyed her. Why was it anyone’s business? She did not even look up, and then she saw she had a text from Blomkvist.
Armansky leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially:
“In the spring Lisbeth called to ask me to speak to the apartment owners’ association, and see to it that surveillance cameras were installed outside the entrance to her building on Fiskargatan. I thought that sounded like a good idea.”
“So you arranged for it to be done.”
“Well, it’s not something you can fix just like that, Mikael. You need permission from the county council and one thing and another. But it all worked out this time. I had to point out that the level of threat was considerable and Chief Inspector Bublanski produced a report.”
“Hats off to him.”
“We pulled out all the stops and at the beginning of July I sent two guys over to install a couple of remote-controlled Netgears. We took the greatest care over the encryption, believe you me. Nobody else was to be able to view the film sequences, and I told my team at the surveillance centre to keep an eye on the monitors. I was worried about Lisbeth. I was afraid they were going to come for her.”
“We all were.”
“But I wasn’t expecting to be proved right so soon. Six days later, at half past one in the morning, the microphones we had mounted there picked up the sound of motorcycles, and our night-shift operator Stene Granlund was on the point of repositioning the cameras when someone got there before him.”
“Exactly. Stene didn’t even have time to think about it. The bikers were two men in leathers from Svavelsjö Motorcycle Club.”
“Precisely. Lisbeth’s address was no longer quite so secret, and Svavelsjö don’t usually show up with coffee and buns.”
“Not their style.”
“Fortunately the guys turned around and left when they saw the cameras, and of course we immediately contacted the police, who were able to identify the men—one of them was called Kovic, I remember. Peter Kovic. But that didn’t get rid of the problem, of course, so I rang Lisbeth and asked to meet her right away. She agreed, though rather reluctantly. She came to my office, looking the very image of a perfect daughter-in-law.”
“Sounds like a bit of an exaggeration.”
“I mean, by her standards. The studs had gone, her hair was cut short, and she looked respectable, and I thought, my God, I’ve missed this funny person. I couldn’t bring myself to tear into her—obviously I realized that she’d hacked our cameras—so I just warned her to be careful. They’re out to get you, I told her. ‘People have always been out to get me,’ was all she said, and that really made me mad. I told her that she needed to look for help, for protection: ‘Or they’re going to kill you.’ But then something happened that scared me.”
“She looked at the floor and said: ‘Not if I keep one step ahead.’ ”
“What did she mean by that?”
“That’s what I asked myself, and then the story of her father came back to me.”
“Meaning that she defended herself that time by going on the attack, and I had a feeling that she was planning something similar now: by getting her retaliation in first, and that made me very frightened, Mikael. I saw her eyes and then it no longer mattered how neat and tidy she looked. What I saw was lethal. Her eyes were jet black.”
“I think you’re exaggerating. Lisbeth takes no unnecessary risks. She’s normally quite rational.”
“She is rational—in her own crazy way.”
Blomkvist thought about what Salander had said to him at Kvarnen: that she would be the hunter and not the hunted.
“So what happened?”
“Nothing. She just pushed off, and I haven’t heard a word from her since. Every day I’ve been expecting to read somewhere that Svavelsjö’s clubhouse has been blown to smithereens or that her sister’s been found burned to a crisp in a car in Moscow.”
“Camilla is being protected by the Russian mafia. Lisbeth would never start a war with them.”
“Do you honestly believe that?”
“I don’t know. But I’m certain that she never…”
“Nothing,” he said, and bit his lip. He felt naïve and stupid.
“It’s not over till it’s over, Mikael. That was the feeling I got. Neither Lisbeth nor Camilla will give up until one of them is lying dead.”
“I think you’re making too much of this,” Blomkvist said.
“I hope so,” he corrected himself. He poured them both some more wine and excused himself for a moment.
He picked up his mobile and texted Salander.
To his surprise, he got an answer right away.
was maybe putting it a bit strongly. But Salander’s idea of happiness had to do with relief from pain, and as she knocked back her beer at the bar of the Hôtel d’Angleterre, that is precisely what she felt: a form of release, as if she were only just beginning to register how tense she had been all summer long—how the hunt for her sister had driven her to the edge of madness. Not that she really unwound; her childhood memories still went round and round in her brain. But her field of vision seemed to broaden and she even began to feel a yearning, not necessarily for anything in particular, but simply to get away from everything. It was enough to give her a sense of freedom.
“Are you OK?”
She heard the question again above the noise of the bar, and she turned to find herself looking straight at a young woman standing next to her.
“Why do you ask?” she said.
The woman was perhaps thirty years old, dark and intense, with slanting eyes and long, curly black hair. She wore jeans with a dark-blue blouse and high-heeled boots. There was something both hard and probing about her. Her right arm was bandaged.
“I’m not sure,” the woman said. “It’s just the sort of thing one says.”
“I guess it is.”
“But if you don’t mind my saying, you looked pretty fucked up.”
Salander had heard this many times in her life. People had come up to her and said that she seemed surly, or angry, or precisely that—fucked up—and she always hated it. But for some reason she accepted it now.
“I suppose I have been.”
“But it’s better now?”
“Well, it’s different, in any case.”
“I’m Paulina, by the way, and I’m not in great shape myself.”
Paulina Müller waited for the young woman to introduce herself. But she said nothing, she didn’t even nod. But nor did she tell her to get lost. Paulina had noticed her because of the way she walked, as if she didn’t give a damn about the world and would never bother to ingratiate herself to anyone. There was something strangely appealing about that, and Paulina thought that maybe she had once walked like that too, before Thomas took those strides away from her.
Her life had been destroyed so slowly, so gradually, that she had hardly noticed it. Even though the move to Copenhagen had brought home to her the extent of the damage, the presence of this woman made her feel it even more keenly. The mere fact of standing next to her made Paulina aware of her own lack of freedom. She was drawn to the aura of total independence the woman projected.
“Are you local?” she asked tentatively.
“No,” the woman said.
“We’ve just moved here from Munich. My husband’s been made head of Scandinavia for Angler, the pharmaceutical company,” she continued, and saying it made her feel almost respectable.
“But this evening I ran away from him.”
“OK,” the woman said.
“I was a journalist at
you know, the science magazine, but I quit when we moved here.”
“I see,” the woman said.
“I wrote about medicine and biology, mostly.”
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “But then my husband got this job, and things turned out the way they did. I’ve freelanced a bit.”
She kept answering questions which had never been asked, and the woman just said “I see,” or “OK,” until finally she asked what Paulina was drinking. “Anything, whatever,” Paulina replied, and she got a whisky, a Tullamore Dew with ice, and a smile, or at least the hint of a smile. The woman was wearing a black suit which could have done with some cleaning and a pressing, and a black shirt, and she wore no make-up at all. She looked haggard, as if she had not slept properly for a long time, and there was a dark, unsettling force in her eyes. Paulina tried to make her laugh.
It was not a great success. Except that the woman came closer, and Paulina realized that she liked that. Maybe that was why she looked nervously out into the street, even more afraid now that Thomas would appear, and then the woman suggested that they should go for another drink in her room instead.
She said, “No, no, absolutely no way, no chance. My husband really wouldn’t like that.” Then they kissed and went up to the room and made love, and she could not recall having experienced anything like it before, so full of fury and desire all at once. Then she told the woman about Thomas and the whole tragedy back home, and the woman looked as if she could kill. But Paulina could not tell whether it was Thomas or the whole world she wanted to destroy.