He sighed.

Above all he did not appreciate diversions like that Salander girl. She was utterly without interest as far as he was concerned. She represented no profit whatsoever.

He did not like Bjurman, and he could not imagine why they had decided to do what he wanted. But now the ball was rolling. Instructions had been issued, the contract had been awarded to a freelancer from Svavelsjo MC, and he did not like the situation one bit.

He looked out across the dark field, tossing his cigarette butt into the gravel by the gate. He thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and froze. He focused his gaze. There was no light except from a faint crescent moon and the stars, but he could still make out the contours of a black figure creeping towards him about a hundred feet away. The figure advanced, making short pauses.

The man felt a cold sweat on his brow. He hated the creature in the field. For a minute he stared spellbound at its steady approach. When it was close enough that he could see its eyes glimmer in the darkness he spun round and ran to the car. He tore open the door. He felt his panic growing until he got the engine started and turned on the headlights. The creature had come out to the road and at last he could make out features in the beam. It looked like an enormous sting ray slithering along. It had a stinger like a scorpion.

The creature was not of this world. It was a monster from the underworld.

He put the car in gear and screeched off. As he passed the creature he saw it strike, but it did not touch the car. He did not stop shaking until several miles later.

Salander spent the night going over the research that Svensson and Millennium had compiled about trafficking. Gradually she was getting a good overview, even though it was based on cryptic fragments that she had to piece together from their various documents.

Berger sent an email to Blomkvist asking how the confrontations were going; he replied briefly that they could not run the man from the Cheka to earth. Salander took this to mean that one of the people who was going to be hung out to dry worked at Sapo, the Security Police. Eriksson sent a summary of a supplementary research assignment to Svensson with copies to Blomkvist and Berger. Svensson and Blomkvist replied with comments and suggestions. Blomkvist and Svensson exchanged emails a few times each day. Svensson described a confrontation he had had with a journalist, Per-Åke Sandstrom.

From Svensson's emails she also saw that he was communicating with a person by the name of Gulbrandsen at a Yahoo address. It took her a while to realize that Gulbrandsen was a policeman and that their exchange was off the record, using a private email address instead of Gulbrandsen's police address. So Gulbrandsen was a source.

The folder named was disappointingly brief, only three Word documents. The longest of them, just 128 KB, was called [Irina P] and gave a sketch of a prostitute's life, followed by Svensson's summary of the autopsy report, his curt outline of her appalling wounds.

She recognized a phrase in the text that was a word-for-word quotation from Johansson's dissertation. There the woman had been called Tamara, but Irina P. and Tamara had to be one and the same, so she read the interview section of the thesis with great interest.

The second document, [Sandstrom], contained the summary that Svensson had emailed to Blomkvist, showing that the journalist was one of several johns who had abused a girl from the Baltics, and also that he ran errands for the sex mafia in exchange for drugs and sex. Sandstrom, besides producing company newsletters, had written freelance articles for a daily newspaper indignantly condemning the sex trade. One of his revelations was that an unnamed Swedish businessman had visited a brothel in Tallinn.

Zala was not mentioned in either document, but Salander assumed that since both were in a folder named there must be a connection. The last document was, however, named [Zala]. It was short and only in note form.

According to Svensson, the name Zala had turned up in nine cases related to drugs, weapons, or prostitution since the mid-nineties. Nobody knew who Zala was, but sources had variously indicated that he was a Serb, a Pole, or perhaps a Czech. All the information was secondhand.

Svensson had discussed Zala exhaustively with source G. (Gulbrandsen?) and suggested that Zala may have been responsible for the murder of Irina P. There was no saying what G. thought about this theory, but there was a note to the effect that Zala had been on the agenda a year earlier at a meeting with "the special investigative group on organized crime." The name had cropped up so many times that the police had started asking questions, trying to establish whether Zala was a real person, and whether he was still alive.

As far as Svensson could discover, the name Zala had first appeared in connection with the holdup of a security van in orkelljunga in 1996. The robbers had gotten away with more than 3.3 million kronor, but they had so dramatically botched their getaway that after only twenty-four hours the police were able to identify and arrest the gang members. The following day another arrest was made. It was Nieminen, a member of Svavelsjo MC, whose role had been to supply the weapons used in the holdup.

A week after the robbery in 1996, three more people were arrested. The ring thus included eight people, of whom seven had refused to talk to the police. The eighth, a boy of nineteen named Birger Nordman, had broken down and confessed everything he knew during questioning. The trial turned into a runaway victory for the prosecution. One consequence was (Svensson's police source suspected) that Nordman was found two years later buried in a sandpit in Varmland after running away during temporary leave from prison.

According to G., the police believed that Nieminen had been the catalyst behind the whole gang. They also believed that Nordman had been killed on contract by Nieminen, who was regarded as dangerous and ruthless, but there was no evidence. While in prison he had apparently had dealings with the Aryan Brotherhood, a Nazi prison organization that in turn was linked to the Wolfpack Brotherhood and to ex-con Hell's Angels clubs around the world, as well as to other cretinous violent Nazi organizations such as the Swedish Resistance Movement.

What interested Salander, however, was something else entirely. Nordman had admitted to police that the weapons used in the robbery had come from Nieminen, and that he in turn had got them from a Serb not known to Nordman whom he named as "Sala."

Svensson had taken him for an anonymous figure in the criminal scene and reckoned that "Zala" was a nickname. But he warned that they might be dealing with a particularly cunning criminal who operated under an alias.

The last section contained Sandstrom's information on Zala, such as it was. Sandstrom had once talked on the telephone to someone using that name. The notes did not say what the conversation had been about.

At around 4:00 in the morning Salander shut down her Power-Book and sat on her window seat looking out at Saltsjon. She sat quietly for two hours, smoking one cigarette after another, thinking. She had a number of strategic decisions to make - and she had to do a risk assessment.

She had to find Zala and settle their accounts once and for all.

On Saturday evening the week before Easter, Blomkvist visited an old girlfriend on Slipgatan in the Hornstull neighbourhood. He had, for once, accepted an invitation to a party. She was married now and not remotely interested in Blomkvist as anything more than a friend, but she worked in the media and had just finished a book that had been in gestation for ten years, which dealt with the image of women in the mass media. Blomkvist had contributed to the book, which was why he was invited.

His role had been to do research on one question. He had chosen to examine the equal opportunity policies which the TT wire service, Dagens Nyheter, the TV show Rapport, and a number of other media ostentatiously promoted. Then he checked off how many men and women were in each company's management above the level of editorial assistant. The results were embarrassing: CEO-man; chairman of the board - man; editor in chief - man; foreign editor - man; managing editor - man...  et cetera, until eventually the first woman turned up.

The party was at the author's house and the people there were mostly those who had helped her with the book. It was a high-spirited evening with good food and relaxed conversation. Blomkvist had meant to go home reasonably early, but many of the guests were old acquaintances he seldom saw. Besides, no-one jabbered on too much about the Wennerstrom affair. The party went on until around 2:00 on Sunday morning.

Blomkvist saw the night bus drive past before he could make it to the bus stop, but the air was mild and he decided to walk home instead of waiting for the next one. He followed Hogalidsgatan to the church and turned up Lundagatan, which instantly awakened old memories.

Blomkvist had kept the promise he'd made in December to stop visiting Lundagatan in the vain hope that Salander might appear. Tonight he stopped on the other side of the street from her building. He longed to ring the doorbell, but he knew how unlikely it was that she would want to see him, let alone at this time of night with no warning.

He shrugged and kept walking towards Zinkensdamm. He had gone about sixty yards when he heard a door open and turned, and then his heart skipped a beat. It was impossible to mistake that skinny body. Salander had just walked out to the street and away from him. She stopped at a parked car.

Blomkvist opened his mouth to call to her when his voice caught in his throat. He saw a man get out of another of the cars parked along the curb. He moved rapidly up behind Salander. Blomkvist could see that he was tall and had a pony tail.

Salander heard a sound and saw a movement out of the corner of her eye just as she was putting the key in the door of the Honda. He was approaching at an angle behind her, and she spun around two seconds before he reached her. She identified him instantly as Carl-Magnus Lundin of Svavelsjo MC, who several days ago had met the blond hulk at Blomberg's Cafe.

She gauged him as aggressive and weighing over 265 pounds. She used her keys as brass knuckles and didn't hesitate a millisecond before, with a movement as swift as a lizard, she slashed a deep wound in his cheek, from the bottom of his nose to his ear. He was flailing at the air as Salander then seemed to sink through the ground.

Blomkvist saw Salander lash out with her fist. At the instant she struck her attacker she dropped to the ground and rolled beneath the car.

Seconds later Salander was up on the other side of the car, ready for fight or flight. She met the enemy's gaze across the hood and decided on the latter option. Blood was pouring from his cheek. Before he even managed to focus on her she was away across Lundagatan, running towards Hogalid Church.

Blomkvist stood paralyzed, his mouth agape, when the attacker suddenly dashed after Salander. He looked like a tank chasing a toy car.

Salander took the steps to upper Lundagatan two at a time. At the top of the stairs she glanced over her shoulder and saw her pursuer reaching the first step. He was fast. She noticed the piles of boards and sand where the local authority had dug up the street.

Lundin was almost up the steps when Salander came into view again. He had time to register that she was throwing something, but he did not have time to react before the sharp-edged cobblestone hit him on the temple. The stone was thrown with considerable force, and it ripped another wound on his face. He could feel himself losing his footing and then the world spun as he fell backwards down the stairs. He managed to break his fall by grabbing the railing, but he had lost several seconds.

Blomkvist's paralysis dissolved when the man disappeared up the stairs. He started yelling for him to fuck off.

Salander was halfway across the churchyard when she heard Blomkvist's voice. What the hell? She switched directions and looked over the railing of the terrace. She saw Blomkvist ten feet below her. She hesitated a tenth of a second before she took off again.

At the same time as Blomkvist began to run towards the steps he noticed that a Dodge van was starting up outside Salander's front door, behind the car she had tried to get into. The vehicle swung out from the curb and passed Blomkvist, going in the direction of Zinkensdamm. He caught a glimpse of a face as it passed. It was too dark to read the licence plate.

Blomkvist caught up with Salander's pursuer at the top of the steps. The man had stopped and stood motionless, looking around.

Just as Blomkvist got to him he turned and gave him a powerful backhand across the face. Blomkvist was completely unprepared. He tumbled headlong down the steps.

Salander heard Blomkvist's stifled cry and almost stopped. What the hell is going on? But when she turned she saw Lundin only a hundred feet from her. He's faster. Shit, he's going to catch me.

She turned left and ran up several steps to the terrace between two buildings. She reached a courtyard that did not present the least cover and ran as fast as she could to the next corner. She turned right and realized just in time that she would be heading into a blind alley. As she reached the end of the next building she saw Lundin arrive at the top of the steps to the courtyard. She kept running - out of his sight - for another few yards and dived headfirst into a rhododendron bush alongside the building.

She heard Lundin's heavy footsteps, but she could not see him. She held her breath, pressing herself into the soil beneath the bush.

Lundin passed her hiding place and stopped. He hesitated for ten seconds before jogging around the courtyard. A minute later he came back. He stopped at the same place as before. This time he stood still for thirty seconds. Salander tensed her muscles, poised for instant flight if she were discovered. Then he moved again, passing less than six feet from her. She listened to his steps fade away across the courtyard.

Blomkvist felt pain in his neck and jaw as he got laboriously to his feet, feeling dizzy. He tasted blood from a split lip.

He made his way unsteadily to the top of the steps and looked around. He saw the man with the ponytail running a hundred yards further down the street. The man stopped and peered between the buildings, and then ran across Lundagatan and climbed into the Dodge van. The vehicle sped off towards Zinkensdamm.

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