Bjurman had spent the summer and the autumn in helpless, furious brooding. And then, in December, he pulled himself together and went on a vacation to France. While there, he consulted a specialist at a clinic for cosmetic surgery outside Marseilles about how best to remove the tattoo.
The specialist had examined his abdomen with ill-concealed astonishment. At last he recommended a course of action. One way would be laser treatment, he said, but the tattoo was so extensive and the needle had penetrated so deeply that he was afraid the only realistic solution was a series of skin grafts. It would be expensive and would take time.
In the past two years Bjurman had seen Salander on only one occasion.
On the night she attacked him and established control over his life, she had taken the spare set of keys to his office and apartment. She would be watching him, she had told him, and when he least expected it she would drop in. He had almost begun to believe it was an empty threat, but he had not dared to change the locks. Her warning had been unmistakable - if she ever found him in bed with a woman, Salander would make public the ninety-minute video that documented how he had raped her.
In January a year ago he had woken at 3:00 a.m., not sure why. He turned on his bedside light and almost howled in fright when he saw her standing at the foot of his bed. She was like a ghost suddenly there. Her face was pale and expressionless. In her hand she held her fucking Taser.
"Good morning, Mr. Advokat Bjurman," she said. "So sorry for waking you this time."
Good God, has she been here before? While I slept?
He could not tell whether she was bluffing. Bjurman cleared his throat and was about to speak. She cut him off with a gesture.
"I woke you for one reason only. I'm going to be away for a long time quite soon. Keep writing your reports every month, but don't post copies to me. Send them to this hotmail address."
She took a folded paper from her jacket pocket and dropped it on the bed.
"If the Guardianship Agency wants to get in touch with me, or anything else comes up that might require my being here, write me an email at this address. Is that understood?"
He nodded. "I understand... "
"Don't speak. I don't want to hear your voice."
He clenched his teeth. He had not dared to try to reach her, since she had threatened to send the video to the authorities if he did. Instead he had thought for months what he would say to her when eventually she contacted him. He really had nothing he could say in his defence. All he could do was appeal to her humanity. He would try to convince her - if she would only give him a chance to speak - that he had done it in a fit of insanity, that he was utterly sorry for it and wanted to make amends. He would grovel if that would convince her, if he could only somehow defuse the threat that she posed.
"I have something to say," he said in a pitiful voice. "I want to ask your forgiveness... "
She listened in silence to his plea. Then she put one foot on the bottom of the bed and stared at him in disgust.
"Now you listen, Bjurman: you're a pervert. I have no reason to forgive you. But if you keep yourself clean, I'll let you off the hook the day my declaration of incompetence is rescinded."
She waited until he lowered his gaze. She's going to make me crawl.
"There's no change to what I said a year ago. You fail, and the video goes to the agency. You contact me in any way other than I tell you to, then I make the video public. I die in an accident, the video will be made public. You ever touch me again, I will kill you."
He believed her.
"One more thing. The day I set you free, you can do as you like. But until that day you will not set foot again in that clinic in Marseilles. If you begin treatment, I will tattoo you again, and this time I'll do it on your forehead."
How the fucking hell did she find out about the clinic?
The next moment she was gone. He heard a faint click as she turned the front-door key. It was as if a ghost had paid him a visit.
At that instant he began to loathe Lisbeth Salander with an intensity that blazed like red-hot steel in his brain and transformed his life into an obsession to crush her. He fantasized about killing her. He toyed with fantasies of having her crawl at his feet and beg him for mercy. But he would be merciless. He would put his hands around her throat and strangle her until she gasped for air. He wanted to tear her eyes from their sockets and her heart from her chest. He wanted to erase her from the earth.
Paradoxically, it was at this same moment that he felt as though he had begun to function again, and he discovered in himself a surprising emotional balance. He was obsessed with the woman and she was on his mind every waking minute. But he had begun to think rationally again. If he was going to find a way of destroying her, he would have to get his head in order. His life settled on a new objective.
He stopped fantasizing about her death and began planning for it.
Blomkvist passed less than six feet behind Advokat Bjurman's back as he navigated with two scalding glasses of caffè latte to editor in chief Erika Berger's table at Cafe Hedon. Neither he nor Berger had ever heard of Nils Bjurman, so neither was aware of his being there.
Berger frowned and moved an ashtray aside to make room for her glass. Blomkvist hung his jacket over the back of his chair, slid the ashtray over to his side of the table, and lit a cigarette. Berger detested cigarette smoke and gave him a furious look. He turned his head to blow the smoke away from her.
"I thought you gave up."
"I'm going to stop having sex with guys who smell of smoke," she said, smiling sweetly.
"No problem. There are plenty of girls who aren't so particular," Blomkvist said, smiling back.
Berger rolled her eyes. "So what's the problem? I'm meeting Charlie at the theatre in twenty minutes." Charlie was Charlotta Rosenberg, a childhood friend.
"Our intern bothers me," Blomkvist said. "I don't mind her being the daughter of one of your girlfriends, but she's supposed to be in editorial for another eight weeks and I don't think I can put up with her that long."
"I've noticed the hungry glances she's been casting your way. Naturally I expect you to behave like a gentleman."
"Erika, the girl's seventeen and has a mental age of ten, and I may be erring on the generous side."
"She's just impressed. Probably a little hero worship."
"At 10:30 last night she rang the entry phone on my building and wanted to come up with a bottle of wine."
"Oops," Berger said.
"Oops is right. If I were twenty years younger I might not have even hesitated. I'm going to be forty-five any day now."
"Don't remind me. We're the same age."
The Wennerstrom affair had given Blomkvist a certain celebrity. Over the past year he had received invitations to the most improbable places, parties, and events. He was greeted with air kisses from all sorts of people he had hardly shaken hands with before. They were not primarily media people - he knew all of them already and was on either good or bad terms with them - but so-called cultural figures and B-list celebrities now wanted to appear as though they were his close friends. Now it was the thing to have Mikael Blomkvist as your guest at a launch party or a private dinner. "Sounds lovely, but unfortunately I'm already booked up," was becoming a routine response.
One downside of his star status was an increasing rash of rumours. An acquaintance had mentioned with concern that he heard a rumour claiming that Blomkvist had been seen at a rehab clinic. In fact Blomkvist's total drug intake since his teens consisted of half a dozen joints and one experiment with cocaine fifteen years earlier with a female singer in a Dutch rock band. As to alcohol, he was only ever seriously intoxicated at private dinners or parties. In a bar he would seldom have more than one large, strong beer. He also liked to drink medium-strong beer. His drinks cabinet at home had vodka and a few bottles of single malt Scotch, all presents. It was absurd how rarely he indulged in them.
Blomkvist was single. The fact that he had occasional affairs was known both inside and outside his circle of friends, and that had led to further rumours. His long-lasting affair with Erika Berger was frequently the subject of speculation. Lately it had been bandied about that he picked up any number of women, and was exploiting his new celebrity status to screw his way through the clientele of Stockholm's nightspots. An obscure journalist had once even urged him to seek help for his sex addiction.
Blomkvist had indeed had many brief relationships. He knew he was reasonably good-looking, but he had never considered himself exceptionally attractive. But he had often been told that he had something that made women interested in him. Berger had told him that he radiated self-confidence and security at the same time, that he had an ability to make women feel at ease. Going to bed with him was not threatening or complicated, but it might be erotically enjoyable. And that, according to Blomkvist, was as it should be.
Blomkvist's best relationships had been with women he knew well and whom he liked a lot, so it was no accident that he had begun an affair with Berger twenty years earlier, when she was a young journalist.
His present renown, however, had increased women's interest in him to a point that he found bizarre. Most astonishing were the young women who made impulsive advances in unexpected circumstances.
But Blomkvist was not turned on by teenagers with miniskirts and perfect bodies. When he was younger his women friends had often been older than he - in some cases considerably older - and more experienced. Over time the age difference had evened out. Salander had definitely been a step in the other direction.
And this was the reason for his hastily called meeting with Berger.
Millennium had taken on a media school graduate for work experience, as a favour to one of Berger's friends. This was nothing unusual; they had several interns each year. Blomkvist had said a polite hello to the girl and rapidly discovered that she had only the vaguest interest in journalism beyond that she "wanted to be seen on TV" and that - Blomkvist suspected - at present it was quite a coup to work at Millennium.
She did not miss an opportunity to be in close contact with him. He pretended not to notice her blatant advances, but that only induced her to redouble her efforts. Quite simply, it was becoming tiresome.
Berger burst out laughing. "Good Lord, you're being sexually harassed at work."
"Ricky, this is a drag. There's no way I want to hurt or embarrass her. But she's no more subtle than a mare in heat. I'm worried what she might come up with next."
"She's got a crush on you and she's too young to know how to express herself."
"You're wrong. She knows damned well how to express herself. There's something warped about how far she goes, and she's getting annoyed that I'm not taking the bait. I don't need a new wave of rumours making me out to be some lecherous rock-star type on the hunt for a nice lay."
"OK, but let me get to the nub of the problem. She rang your doorbell last night - is that the extent of it?"
"With a bottle of wine. She said she'd been to a party at a friend's house close by and tried to make it look like pure chance that she found herself in my building."
"What did you tell her?"
"I didn't let her in, obviously. I said that she'd come at an awkward time, that I had a friend there."
"How did she take that?"
"She was really upset, but she did leave."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Get her off my back. I'm thinking of having a serious talk with her on Monday. Either she lays off or I'll kick her out of the office."
Berger thought for a moment. "Let me have a talk with her. She's looking for a friend, not a lover."
"I don't know what she's looking for, but... "
"Mikael. I've been through what she's going through. I'll talk to her."
Like everyone else who had watched TV or read an evening paper in the past year, Bjurman had heard of Mikael Blomkvist. But he did not recognize him in Cafe Hedon, and in any case he had no idea that there was a connection between Salander and Millennium.
Besides, he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to pay attention to his surroundings.
Ever since the lifting of his mental paralysis, he had been continuously circling round and round the same conundrum.
Salander had in her possession a video of his assault on her which she had recorded with a hidden camera. She had made him watch the video. There was no room for favourable interpretations. If it ever got to the Guardianship Agency, or, God forbid, if it ended up in the hands of the media, his career, his freedom, and his life would be over. He knew the penalties for aggravated rape, exploitation of a person in a subordinate position, abuse and aggravated abuse; he reckoned he would get at least six years in prison. A zealous prosecutor might use one section of the video as the basis for a charge of attempted murder.
He had all but asphyxiated her during the rape when he had excitedly pressed a pillow over her face. He devoutly wished he had finished the job.
They would not accept that she was the whole time playing a game. She had enticed him with her cute little-girl eyes, had seduced him with a body that looked like a twelve-year-old's. She had provoked him to rape her. They would never see that she had in fact put on a performance. She had planned...
The first thing he would have to do was to gain possession of the video and make sure somehow that there were no copies. That was the crux of the problem.
There was no doubt in his mind that a witch like Salander would have made enemies over the years. Here Bjurman had an advantage. Unlike anyone else who might try to get at her, he had access to all her medical records, welfare reports, and psychiatric assessments. He was one of the very few people in Sweden who knew her secrets.