"There will never be any bad feelings. I want you to live here. It feels right to me."


"But with nothing in return? You're nuts."


"You're taking care of my mail. That's the deal."


"That'll take me an average of four seconds a week. Do you intend to come over once in a while to have sex?"


Salander fixed her eyes on Mimmi. She was quiet for a moment.


"I'd like to very much, but it's not part of the contract. You can say no whenever you want."


Mimmi sighed. "And here I was just beginning to enjoy being a kept woman. You know, having somebody who gives me an apartment and pays my rent and comes over now and then to wrestle around in bed."


They sat in silence for a while. Then Mimmi stood up resolutely and went into the living room to turn off the bare bulb in the ceiling fixture.


"Come here."


Salander followed her.


"I've never had sex on the floor of a newly painted apartment with almost no furniture. I saw a movie with Marlon Brando once about a couple in Paris who did it."


Salander glanced at the floor.


"I feel like playing. Are you up for it?" Mimmi said.


"I'm almost always up for it."


"Tonight I think I'll be a dominating bitch. I get to make the decisions. Take off your clothes."


Salander smiled a crooked smile. She took off her clothes. It took at least ten seconds.


"Lie down on the floor. On your stomach."


Salander did as Mimmi commanded. The parquet floor was cool and her skin got goose bumps immediately. Mimmi used Salander's T-shirt with the slogan YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT to tie her hands behind her back.


Salander could not help thinking that this was similar to the way Nils Fucking Slimebag Bjurman had tied her up two years ago.


The similarities ended there.


With Mimmi, Salander felt only lustful anticipation. She was compliant when Mimmi rolled her over on her back and spread her legs. Salander watched her in the dim room as she pulled off her own T-shirt, and was fascinated by her soft breasts. Then Mimmi tied her T-shirt as a blindfold over Salander's eyes. She could hear the rustle of clothes. A few seconds later she felt Mimmi's tongue on her belly and her fingers on the inside of her thighs. She was more excited than she had been in a long time. She shut her eyes tight beneath the blindfold and let Mimmi set the pace.


CHAPTER 8


Monday, February 14 - Saturday, February 19


Armansky looked up when he heard the light knock on the doorjamb and saw Salander in the doorway. She was balancing two cups from the espresso machine. He put down his pen and pushed the report away.


"Hi," she said.


"Hi."


"This is a social call," she said. "May I come in?"


Armansky closed his eyes for a second. Then he pointed at the visitor's chair. He glanced at the clock. It was 6:30 in the evening. Salander gave him one of the cups and sat down. They took stock of each other for a moment.


"More than a year," Armansky said.


Salander nodded.


"Are you mad?"


"Should I be?"


"I didn't say goodbye."


Armansky pursed his lips. He was shocked to see her, but at the same time relieved to discover that at least she wasn't dead. He suddenly felt a strong sense of irritation and weariness.


"I don't know what to say," he said. "You don't have any obligation to tell me what you're working on. What do you want?"


His voice sounded cooler than he had intended.


"I'm not sure. I mostly just wanted to say hello."


"Do you need a job? I'm not going to employ you again."


She shook her head.


"Are you working somewhere else?"


She shook her head again. She seemed to be trying to formulate her words. Armansky waited.


"I've been travelling," she said at last. "I'm only recently back."


Armansky studied her. There was a new kind of...  maturity in her choice of clothes and her bearing. And she had stuffed her bra with something.


"You've changed. Where have you been?"


"Here and there... " she said, but when she saw his annoyance she added, "I went to Italy and kept going, to the Middle East, to Hong Kong via Bangkok. I was in Australia for a while and New Zealand, and I island-hopped my way across the Pacific. I was in Tahiti for a month. Then I travelled through the U.S. and I spent the last few months in the Caribbean. I don't know why I didn't say goodbye."


"I'll tell you why: because you don't give a shit about other people," Armansky said matter-of-factly.


Salander bit her lower lip. "Usually it's other people who don't give a shit about me."


"Bullshit," Armansky said. "You've got an attitude problem and you treat people like dirt when they're trying to be your friends. It's that simple."


Silence.


"Do you want me to leave?"


"You do as you like. You always have. But if you leave now I never want to see you again."


Salander was suddenly afraid. Someone she respected was about to reject her. She did not know what to say.


"It's been two years since Holger Palmgren had his stroke. You haven't once visited him," Armansky went on relentlessly.


Salander stared at Armansky, shocked. "Palmgren is alive?"


"You don't even know if he's alive or dead."


"The doctors said that he -"


"The doctors said a lot about him," Armansky interrupted. "He was in a very bad way and couldn't communicate with anyone. But in the last year he's recovered quite a bit. He doesn't articulate too well - you have to listen carefully to understand what he's saying. He needs help with a lot of things, but he can go to the toilet by himself. People who care about him call in to spend time with him."


Salander sat dumbfounded. She was the one who had found Palmgren after he had his stroke two years earlier. She had called the ambulance and the doctors had shaken their heads and said that the prognosis was not encouraging. She had lived at the hospital for three days until a doctor told her that Palmgren was in a coma and it was extremely unlikely that he would come out of it. She had stood up and left the hospital without looking back. And obviously without checking to find out what had happened.


She frowned. She had had Nils Bjurman foisted on her at the same time, and he had absorbed a lot of her attention. But nobody, not even Armansky, had told her that Palmgren was still alive, or that he was getting better. She had never considered that possibility.


Her eyes filled with tears. Never in her life had she felt like such a selfish shit. And never had she been savaged in such a furious manner. She bowed her head.


They sat in silence until Armansky said, "How are you doing?"


Salander shrugged.


"How are you making a living? Do you have work?"


"No, I don't, and I don't know what kind of work I want. But I've got a certain amount of money, so I'm getting by."


Armansky scrutinized her with searching eyes.


"I just came by to say hello...  I'm not looking for a job. I don't know...  maybe I'd do a job for you if you need me sometime, but it would have to be something that interests me."


"I don't suppose you want to tell me what happened up in Hedestad last year."


Salander did not answer.


"Well, something happened. Martin Vanger drove his car into a truck after you'd been back here to borrow surveillance gear, and somebody threatened you. And his sister came back from the dead. It was a sensation, to put it mildly."


"I've given my word I wouldn't talk about it."


"And you don't want to tell me what role you played in the Wennerstrom affair either."


"I helped Kalle Blomkvist with research." Her voice was suddenly much cooler. "That was all. I didn't want to get involved."


"Blomkvist has been looking for you high and low. He's called here once a month to ask if I've heard anything from you."


Salander remained silent, but Armansky saw that her lips were now pressed into a tight line.


"I can't say that I like him," Armansky said. "But he cares about you too. I met him once last autumn. He didn't want to talk about Hedestad either."


Salander did not want to discuss Blomkvist. "I just came to say hello and tell you that I'm back. I don't know if I'll be staying. This is my mobile number and my new email address if you need to get hold of me."


She handed Armansky a piece of paper and stood up. She was already at the door when he called after her.


"Wait a second. What are you going to do?"


"I'm going to say hello to Holger Palmgren."


"OK. But I mean...  what kind of work will you be doing?"


"I don't know."


"But you have to make a living."


"I told you, I have enough to get by."


Armansky leaned back in his chair. He was never quite sure how to interpret her words.


"I've been so fucking angry that you vanished without a word that I almost decided never to trust you again." He made a face. "You're so unreliable. But you're a damned good researcher. I might have a job coming up that would be a good fit for you."


She shook her head, but she came back to his desk.


"I don't want a job from you. I mean, I don't need one. I'm serious. I'm financially independent."


Armansky frowned.


"OK, you're financially independent, whatever that means. I'll take your word for it. But when you need a job... "


"Dragan, you're the second person I've visited since I got home. I don't need your work. But for several years now you've been one of the few people that I respect."


"Everybody has to make a living."


"Sorry, but I'm no longer interested in doing personal investigations. Let me know if you run into a really interesting problem."


"What sort of problem?"


"The kind you can't make heads or tails of. If you get stuck and don't know what to do. If I'm going to do a job for you, you'll have to come up with something special. Maybe on the operations side."


"Operations side? You? But you disappear without a trace whenever you feel like it."


"I've never skipped out on a job that I agreed to do."


Armansky looked at her helplessly. The term operations was jargon, but it meant field work. It could be anything from bodyguard duty to surveillance assignments for art exhibitions. His operations personnel were confident, stable veterans, many of them with a police background, and 90 percent of them were men. Salander was the polar opposite of all the criteria he had set out for personnel in the operations unit of Milton Security.


"Well... " he said dubiously, but she had vanished out the door. Armansky shook his head. She's weird. She's really weird.


The next second Salander was back in the doorway.


"Oh, by the way...  You've had two guys spending a month protecting that actress Christine Rutherford from the nutcase who writes her threatening letters. You think it's an inside job because the letter writer knows so many details about her."


Armansky stared at Salander. An electric shock went through him. She's done it again. She's flung out a line about a case she absolutely cannot know a thing about.


"So... ?"


"It's a fake. She and her boyfriend have been writing the letters as a publicity stunt. She's going to get another letter in the next few days, and they'll leak it to the media next week. They'll probably accuse Milton of leaking it. Cross her off your client list now."


Before Armansky could say anything she was gone. He stared at the empty doorway. She could not possibly have known a single detail of the case. She must have an insider at Milton who kept her updated. But only four or five people apart from himself knew about it - the operations chief and the few people who reported on the threats - and they were all stable pros. Armansky rubbed his chin.


He looked down at his desk. The Rutherford file was locked inside it. The office had a burglar alarm. He glanced at the clock again and realized that Harry Fransson, chief of the technical department, would have finished for the day. He started up his email and sent a message asking Fransson to come to his office the following morning to install a surveillance camera.


Salander walked straight home to Mosebacke. She hurried because she had a feeling it was urgent.


She called the hospital in Soder and after some stalling from the switchboard managed to find out Palmgren's whereabouts. For the past fourteen months he had been in a rehabilitation home in Ersta. All of a sudden she had a vision of appelviken. When she called she was told that he was asleep, but that she was welcome to visit him the next day.


Salander spent the evening pacing back and forth in her apartment. She was in a foul mood. She went to bed early and fell asleep almost at once. She woke at 7:00 a.m., showered, and had breakfast at the 7-Eleven. At 8:00 she walked to the car rental agency on Ringvagen. I've got to get my own car. She rented the same Nissan Micra she had driven to appelviken a few weeks earlier.


She was unaccountably nervous when she parked near the rehabilitation centre, but she gathered up her courage and went inside.


The woman at the front desk consulted her papers and explained that Holger Palmgren was in the gym for therapy just then and would not be available until after 11:00. Salander was welcome to take a seat in the waiting room or come back later. She went and sat in the car and smoked three cigarettes while she waited. At 11:00 she went back to the front desk. She was told to go to the dining hall, down the corridor to the right and then to the left.

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