So she was tired and her back ached, but she was satisfied both with the day and with life in general. The accountant's graphs were pointing in the right direction, articles were coming in on time, or at least not unmanageably late, and the staff was happy. After more than a year, they were still on a high from the adrenaline rush of the Wennerstrom affair.
After trying for a while to massage her neck, Berger decided she needed a shower and thought about using the one in the office bathroom. But she felt too lazy and put her feet up on the desk instead. She was going to turn forty-five in three months, and that famous future she had longed for was starting to be a thing of the past. She had developed a network of tiny wrinkles and lines around her eyes and mouth, but she knew that she still looked good. She worked out at the gym twice a week, but she had noticed it was getting more difficult to climb the mast during her long sailing trips. And she was the one who always had to do the climbing - her husband had terrible vertigo.
Berger reflected that her first forty-five years, despite a number of ups and downs, had been by and large successful. She had money, status, a home which gave her great pleasure, and a job she enjoyed. She had a tenderhearted husband who loved her and with whom she was still in love after fifteen years of marriage. And on the side she had a pleasant and seemingly inexhaustible lover, who might not satisfy her soul but who did satisfy her body when she needed it.
She smiled as she thought of Blomkvist. She wondered when he was going to come clean and tell her that he was sleeping with Harriet Vanger. Neither of them had breathed a word about their relationship, but Berger wasn't born yesterday. At the board meeting in August she had noticed a glance that passed between them. Out of sheer cussedness she had tried both of their mobile numbers later that evening, and both were turned off. That was hardly watertight evidence, of course, but after subsequent board meetings Blomkvist was always unavailable in the evening. It was almost comical to watch the way Vanger would leave after dinner with the same excuse - that she had to go to bed early. Berger did not pry, and she was not jealous. On the other hand, she would certainly tease them both about it at some suitable occasion.
She never got involved in Blomkvist's affairs with other women, but she hoped that his affair with Vanger would not give rise to problems on the board. Yet she was not really worried. Blomkvist had all manner of terminated relationships behind him, and he was still on friendly terms with most of the women involved.
Berger was incredibly happy to be Blomkvist's friend and confidante. In certain ways he was a fool, and in others so insightful that he seemed like an oracle. But he had never understood her love for her husband, had never been able to grasp why she considered Greger Beckman such an enchanting person: warm, exciting, generous, and above all without many of the traits that she so detested in most men. Beckman was the man she wanted to grow old with. She had wanted to have children with him, but it had not been possible and now it was too late. But in her choice of a life partner she could not imagine a better or more stable person - someone she could so completely and wholeheartedly trust and who was always there for her when she needed him.
Blomkvist was very different. He was a man with such shifting traits that he sometimes appeared to have multiple personalities. As a professional he was obstinate and almost pathologically focused on the job at hand. He took hold of a story and worked his way forward to the point where it approached perfection, and then he tied up all the loose ends. When he was at his best he was brilliant, and when he was not at his best he was still far better than the average. He seemed to have an almost intuitive gift for deciding which story was hiding a skeleton in the closet and which story would turn into a dull, run-of-the-mill piece. She had never regretted working with him.
Nor had she ever regretted becoming his lover.
The only person who understood Berger's passion for sex with Blomkvist was her husband, and he understood it because she dared to discuss her needs with him. It was not a matter of infidelity, but of desire. Sex with Blomkvist gave her a kick that no other man was able to give her, including her husband.
Sex was important to her. She had lost her virginity when she was fourteen and spent a great part of her teenage years in a frustrated search for fulfilment. She had tried everything, from heavy petting with classmates and an awkward affair with a teacher to phone sex and fetishism. She had experimented with most of what interested her in eroticism. She had toyed with bondage and been a member of Club Xtreme, which arranged parties of the kind that were not socially acceptable. On several occasions she had tried sex with other women and, disappointed, admitted that it simply was not her thing and that women could not excite her even a fraction as much as a man could. Or two. With Beckman she had explored sex with two men - one of them a famous gallery owner - and discovered both that her mate had a strong bisexual inclination and that she herself was almost paralyzed with pleasure at feeling two men simultaneously caressing and satisfying her, just as she experienced a sense of pleasure that was difficult to define when she watched her husband being caressed by another man. She and Beckman had repeated that excitement with the same success with a couple of regular partners.
It was not that her sex life with her husband was boring or unsatisfying. It was just that Blomkvist gave her a completely different experience.
He had talent. He was quite simply so good that it felt as if she had achieved the optimal balance with Beckman as husband and Blomkvist as lover-when-needed. She could not do without either of them, and she had no intention of choosing between them.
And this was what her husband had understood, that she had a need beyond what he could offer her, even in the form of his most imaginative acrobatic exercises in the Jacuzzi.
What Berger liked best about her relationship with Blomkvist was the fact that he had no desire whatsoever to control her. He was not the least bit jealous, and even though she herself had had several attacks of jealousy when they first began to go out together twenty years ago, she had discovered that in his case she did not need to be jealous. Their relationship was built on friendship, and in matters of friendship he was boundlessly loyal. It was a relationship that would survive the harshest tests.
But it bothered her that so many of her acquaintances still whispered about her relationship with Blomkvist, and always behind her back.
Blomkvist was a man. He could go from bed to bed without anyone raising their eyebrows. She was a woman, and the fact that she had a lover, and with her husband's consent - coupled with the fact that she had also been true to her lover for twenty years - resulted in the most interesting dinner conversations.
She thought for a moment and then picked up the phone to call her husband.
"Hi, darling. What are you doing?"
Beckman was not just an artist; he was most of all a professor of art history and the author of several books. He often participated in public debate, and he acted as consultant to several large architecture firms. For the past year he had been working on a book about the artistic decoration of buildings and its influence, and why people prospered in some buildings but not in others. The book had begun to develop into an attack on functionalism which (Berger suspected) would cause a furor.
"How's it going?"
"Good. It's flowing. How about you?"
"I just finished the latest issue. It's going to the printer on Thursday."
"I'm wiped out."
"It sounds like you've got something in mind."
"Have you planned anything for tonight? Would you be terribly upset if I didn't come home?"
"Say hello to Blomkvist and tell him he's tempting fate," said Beckman.
"He might like that."
"OK. Then tell him that you're a witch who's impossible to satisfy and he'll end up aging prematurely."
"He knows that."
"In that case all that's left for me is to commit suicide. I'm going to keep writing until I pass out. Have a good time."
Blomkvist was at Svensson and Johansson's place in Enskede, wrapping up a discussion about some details in Svensson's manuscript. She wondered if he was busy tonight, or would he consider giving a massage to an aching back.
"You've got the keys," he said. "Make yourself at home."
"I will. See you in an hour or so."
It took her ten minutes to walk to Bellmansgatan. She undressed and showered and made espresso. Then she crawled into bed and waited naked and full of anticipation.
The optimum gratification for her would probably be a threesome with her husband and Blomkvist, and that would never happen. Blomkvist was so straight that she liked to tease him about being a homophobe. He had zero interest in men. Apparently you could not get everything you wanted in this world.
The blond giant frowned in irritation as he manoeuvred the car at ten miles an hour along a forest road in such bad repair that for a while he thought he must have taken a wrong turn. It was just beginning to get dark when the road finally widened and he caught sight of the cabin. He stopped, turned off the engine, and took a look around. He had about fifty yards to go.
He was in the region of Stallarholmen, not far from the town of Mariefred. It was a simple 1950s cabin in the middle of the woods. Through a line of trees he could see a strip of ice on Lake Malaren.
He could not imagine why anyone would want to spend their free time in such an isolated place. He felt suddenly uncomfortable when he shut the car door behind him. The forest seemed threatening, as if it were closing in around him. He sensed that he was being watched. He started towards the cabin, but he heard a rustling that made him stop short.
He stared into the woods. It was dusk, silent with no wind. He stood there for two minutes with his nerves on full alert before, seeing it out of the corner of his eye, he realized that a figure was silently, slowly moving in the trees. When his eyes focused, he saw that the figure was standing perfectly still about thirty yards into the forest, staring at him.
He felt a vague panic. He tried to make out details. He saw a dark, bony face. It appeared to be a dwarf, no more than half his own size, and dressed in something that looked like a tunic of pine branches and moss. A forest troll? A leprechaun?
He held his breath. He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
Then he blinked six times and shook his head. When he looked again the creature had moved about ten yards to the right. There was nobody there. He knew that he was imagining things. And yet he could so clearly make out the figure in the trees. Suddenly it moved and came closer. It seemed to be lurching in a semicircle to get into a position to attack him.
The blond giant hurried to the cabin. He knocked a little too hard on the door. As soon as he heard voices within, his panic subsided. He looked over his shoulder. There was nothing there.
But he did not breathe out until the door opened. Bjurman greeted him courteously and invited him in.
Miriam Wu was panting when she arrived back upstairs after dragging the last trash bag of Salander's possessions down to the recycling room in the cellar. The apartment was clinically clean and smelled of soap, paint, and freshly brewed coffee made by Salander. She was sitting on a stool, gazing thoughtfully at the bare rooms from which curtains, rugs, discount coupons on the refrigerator, and her usual junk in the hall had vanished as if by magic. She was amazed at how much bigger the apartment seemed.
Mimmi and Salander did not have the same taste in clothes, furniture, or intellectual stimulation. Correction: Mimmi had taste and definite views on how she wanted her living quarters to look, what kind of furniture she wanted, and what sort of clothes one should wear. Salander had no taste whatsoever, Mimmi realized.
After she had inspected the apartment on Lundagatan as closely as an estate agent might, they had discussed things and Mimmi had decided that most of the stuff had to go. Especially the disgusting dirt-brown sofa in the living room. Did Salander want to keep any of the things? No. Then Mimmi had spent a few long days as well as several hours each evening for two weeks throwing out bits of old furniture, cleaning cupboards, scrubbing the floor, scouring the bathtub, and repainting the walls in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and hall. She also varnished the parquet floor in the living room.
Salander had no interest in such tasks, but she came several times to watch Mimmi at work, fascinated. Eventually the apartment was empty of everything except for a kitchen table of solid wood, much the worse for wear, that Mimmi intended to sand down and refinish, two stools that Salander had pounced on when an attic in the building was cleared, and a set of sturdy shelves in the living room that Mimmi thought she could repaint.
"I'm moving in this weekend, unless you're going to change your mind."
"I don't need the apartment."
"But it's a great apartment. I mean, there are bigger and better apartments, but it's slap in the middle of Soder and the rent is nothing. Lisbeth, you're passing up a fortune by not selling it."
"I have enough to get by."
Mimmi shut up, not sure how to interpret Salander's brusque dismissal.
"Where are you living now?"
Salander did not reply.
"Could a person come and visit you?"
"Not right now."
Salander opened her shoulder bag, took out some papers, and passed them over to Mimmi.
"I've fixed the agreement with the housing association. The simplest thing is to register you as my roommate and say I'm selling half of the apartment to you. The price is one krona. You have to sign the contract."
Mimmi took the pen and signed the contract, adding her date of birth.
"Is that all?"
"Lisbeth, I've always thought that you were a little weird. Do you realize that you just gave away half of this apartment to me? I'd love to have the apartment, but I don't want to end up in a situation where you suddenly regret it or it causes bad feelings between us."