Even if the girl was as nutty as a fruitcake - which she obviously was, according to the newspapers and what he had just seen of her here - their emblem still ought to command respect. And she didn't show the smallest sign of that. This sort of behaviour could not be tolerated, no matter how ridiculous the situation. He glanced at Nieminen.



"I think the dyke needs some cock, Sonny," he said, climbing off the Harley and setting his kickstand. He took two slow steps towards Salander and looked down at her. She did not shift an inch. Lundin shook his head and sighed. Then he lashed out a backhand with the same considerable power with which he had struck Blomkvist on Lundagatan.


He met nothing but thin air. At the instant his hand should have hit her face, she took one step back and stood there just out of his reach.


Nieminen was leaning on the handlebars of his Harley and watching his fellow club member with amusement. Lundin was red in the face and took another couple of swings at her. She backed up again. Lundin swung faster.


Salander stopped abruptly and emptied half the contents of a Mace canister in his face. His eyes burned like fire. The toe of her boot shot up with full force and was transformed into kinetic energy in his crotch with a pressure of about 1,700 pounds per square inch. Lundin dropped gasping to his knees and stayed there at a more comfortable height for Salander. She kicked him in the face, deliberately, as if she were taking a penalty in soccer. There was an ugly crunching sound before Lundin toppled over like a sack of potatoes.


It took a few seconds for Nieminen to realize that something unbelievable had happened before his eyes. He tried to set the kickstand of his Harley, missed, and had to look down. Then he decided to play it safe and started groping for the pistol he had in his vest's inside pocket. As he was pulling down the zipper he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.


When he looked up he saw Salander coming at him like a cannonball. She jumped with both feet and kicked him full force in the hip, which didn't injure him but was hard enough to knock over both him and his motorcycle. He narrowly missed having his leg pinned under the bike and stumbled a few paces backwards before he regained his balance.


When he had her in view again he saw her arm move, and a stone as big as his fist flew through the air. He ducked and it missed his head by about an inch.


He finally got out his pistol and tried to flick off the safety, but when he looked up again Salander was upon him. He saw evil in her eyes and felt for the first time a shocked terror.


"Goodnight," Salander said.


She shoved the Taser into his crotch and fired off 50,000 volts, holding the electrodes against him for at least twenty seconds. Nieminen was transformed into a vegetable.


Salander heard a noise behind her and spun around to see Lundin laboriously getting to his knees. She looked at him with raised eyebrows. He was fumbling blindly through the burning fog of the Mace.


"I'm going to kill you!" he roared.


He was groping around, trying to locate Salander. She watched him circumspectly. Then he said:


"Fucking whore."


Salander bent down and picked up Nieminen's pistol, noticing that it was a Polish P-83 Wanad.


She opened the magazine and checked that it was loaded with the correct 9 mm Makarov. She cocked it. She stepped over Nieminen and went across to Lundin, took aim with both hands, and shot him in the foot. He shrieked in shock and collapsed again.


She wondered if she should bother asking about the identity of the hulk she had seen him with at Blomberg's Cafe. According to Sandstrom, the man had murdered someone in a warehouse with Lundin's help. Hmm. She should have waited to fire the pistol until she had asked her questions.


Lundin did not seem to be in any condition now to carry on a lucid conversation, and there was the possibility that someone had heard the shot. So she ought to leave the area right away. She could always find Lundin at some later date and ask him the question under less stressful circumstances. She secured the weapon's safety, zipped it into her jacket pocket, and picked up her backpack.


She had gone about ten yards down the road when she stopped and turned around. She walked back slowly and studied Lundin's motorcycle.


"Harley-Davidson," she said. "Sweet."


CHAPTER 27


Wednesday, April 6


It was a beautiful spring day as Blomkvist drove Berger's car south towards Nynasvagen. Already there was a hint of green in the black fields, and there was real warmth in the air. It was perfect weather to forget all his problems and drive out for a few days to be at peace in his cabin in Sandhamn.


He had agreed with Bjorck that he would be there at 1:00, but he arrived early and stopped in Dalaro to have coffee and read the papers. He did not prepare for the meeting. Bjorck had something to tell him, and Blomkvist was determined that this time he would come away from Sm├ądalaro with concrete information about Zala.


Bjorck met him in the driveway. He looked more self-assured, more pleased with himself than he had two days before. What sort of move are you planning? Blomkvist did not shake hands with him.


"I can give you information about Zala," Bjorck said, "but I have certain conditions."


"Let's hear them."


"I won't be named in Millennium's expose."


"Agreed."


Bjorck looked surprised. Blomkvist had accepted straight off, without argument, the point about which Bjorck was expecting to have a long negotiation. That was his only card. Information about the murders in exchange for anonymity. Blomkvist had agreed, and given up the chance of a strong headline in the magazine.


"I'm serious," Bjorck said. "And I want it in writing."


"You can have it in writing, but a document like that wouldn't be of any use to you. You've committed a crime that I know about and which I'm bound to report to the police. But you know things, and you're using your position to buy my silence. I've thought about the matter and I accept. I won't mention your name in Millennium. Either you take my word for it or you don't."


While Bjorck thought about it, Blomkvist said: "I have some conditions too. The price of my silence is that you tell me everything you know. If I discover that you're hiding something, our agreement is void, and I'll hang your name out to dry on every single news headline in Sweden, just as I did with Wennerstrom."


Bjorck shuddered at the memory.


"OK," he said. "I don't have a choice. I'll tell you who Zala is. But I'm going to need absolute confidentiality."


He reached out his hand. Blomkvist grasped it. He had just promised to assist in covering up a crime, but it didn't trouble him for a moment. All he had promised was that he himself and Millennium magazine would not write about Bjorck. Svensson had already written the whole story in his book. And the book would be published.


The call came through to the police in Strangnas at 3:18 p.m. It came directly to the switchboard and not through the emergency services. A man named oberg, owner of a summer cabin just east of Stallarholmen, reported that he had heard what sounded like a shot and went to see what was going on. He had found two severely wounded men. Well, one of the men may not have been so severely wounded, but he was in a lot of pain. And the cabin they were lying in front of was owned by Nils Bjurman, a lawyer. The late Nils Bjurman, that is - the man there was so much about in the papers.


The Strangnas police had already had an eventful day with an extensive traffic check in the community. During the course of the morning the traffic assignment had been interrupted when a call came in that a middle-aged woman had been killed by her boyfriend at the house they shared in Finninge. At almost the same time a fire had spread from an outhouse into a property in Storgardet. One body was found in the wreckage. And to top it all off, two cars had collided head-on on the Enkoping highway. Accordingly, the Strangnas police force was busy, almost to a man.


The duty officer, however, had been following the developments in Nykvarn that morning, and she deduced that this new commotion must have something to do with that Lisbeth Salander everyone was talking about. Not least since Nils Bjurman was a part of the investigation. She took action on three fronts. She requisitioned the only remaining police van and drove directly to Stallarholmen. She called her colleagues in Sodertalje and asked for assistance. The Sodertalje force was also spread thin since part of their manpower had been sent to dig up bodies around a burned-out warehouse south of Nykvarn, but the possible connection between Nykvarn and Stallarholmen prompted another duty officer in Sodertalje to dispatch two cruisers to Stallarholmen to assist. In the end the duty officer from Strangnas called Inspector Bublanski in Stockholm. She reached him on his mobile.


Bublanski was at Milton Security in a meeting with its CEO, Armansky, and two of his staff, Fraklund and Bohman. Hedstrom was conspicuous by his absence.


Bublanski immediately sent Andersson out to Bjurman's summer cabin and told him to take Faste if he could get hold of him. After thinking for a moment, Bublanski also called Holmberg, who was near Nykvarn and therefore considerably closer to Stallarholmen.


Holmberg had some news for him too. "We've identified the body in the pit."


"That's impossible. How so fast?"


"Everything's simple when the corpse considerately has himself buried with his wallet and laminated ID."


"Who is it?"


"A bit of a celebrity. Kenneth Gustafsson, known as the Vagabond. Does it ring a bell?"


"Are you kidding? Downtown hooligan, pusher, petty thief, and addict? He's lying in a hole in Nykvarn?"


"Yes, that's the man. At least that's the ID in the wallet. Identification will have to be confirmed by forensics, and it's going to be like putting a puzzle together. The Vagabond was chopped into five or six pieces."


"Interesting. Paolo Roberto said that the super heavyweight he was fighting threatened Miriam Wu with a chain saw."


"Could very well have been a chain saw, but I haven't looked that closely. We've just started digging up the second site. They're busy setting up the tent."


"That's good. Jerker - it's been a long day, I know, but can you stay on this evening?"


"Sure, OK. I'll let them get on with it here and head on to Stallarholmen."


Bublanski disconnected and rubbed his eyes.


The armed response team hastily assembled from Strangnas arrived at Bjurman's summer cabin at 3:44 p.m. On the access road they literally collided with a man on a Harley-Davidson, who was wobbling along until he steered right into the oncoming van. It was not a serious collision. The police climbed out and identified Sonny Nieminen, thirty-seven years old and a known killer from the mid-nineties. Nieminen seemed to be in bad shape. When they put the cuffs on him, they were surprised to find that the back of his vest was slashed. A piece of leather about eight inches square was missing. It looked peculiar. Nieminen was unwilling to discuss the matter.


They locked him in the van and drove on two hundred yards to the cabin. They found a retired harbour worker by the name of oberg putting a splint on the foot of one Carl-Magnus Lundin, thirty-six years old and president of the gang that called itself Svavelsjo MC.


The leader of the police team was Inspector Nils-Henrik Johansson. He climbed out, straightened his shoulder belt, and looked at the sorry creature on the ground.


oberg stopped bandaging Lundin's foot and gave Johansson a wry look.


"I'm the one who called."


"You reported shots being fired."


"I reported that I heard a single shot and came over to investigate and found these guys. This one has been shot in the foot and beaten up pretty badly. I think he needs an ambulance."


oberg glanced towards the police van.


"I see you got the other guy. He was out cold when I arrived, but he didn't seem to be wounded. He came to after a while, but he didn't stick around to help his buddy."


Holmberg arrived at the same time as the police from Sodertalje, just as the ambulance was driving away. He was given a brief rundown of the team's observations. Neither Lundin nor Nieminen had been willing to explain how he came to be there. Lundin was hardly in any condition to talk at all.


"So - two bikers in leathers, one Harley-Davidson, one gunshot victim, and no weapon. Have I got it right?" Holmberg said.


Johansson nodded.


"Should we discount that one of these macho heroes rode bitch?"


"I think that would be considered unmanly in their circles," Johansson said.


"In that case, we're missing one motorcycle. Since the weapon is missing too, we may conclude that a third party has left the scene with one motorcycle and one weapon."


"Sounds reasonable."


"And it creates a conundrum. If these two gentlemen from Svavelsjo came on motorcycles, we're also missing the vehicle in which the third party arrived. The third party couldn't have taken both his own vehicle and the bike. And it's a pretty long walk from the Strangnas highway."


"Unless the third party was living in the cabin."


"Hmm," Holmberg said. "But the cabin is owned by the deceased Advokat Bjurman, and he definitely no longer lives here."


"Maybe there was a fourth party who left in a car."


"Then why wouldn't the two have gone in the car together? I'm assuming that this story isn't about the theft of a Harley, no matter how desirable they are."


He thought for a moment and then asked the team to assign two uniforms to look for an abandoned vehicle on the forest roads nearby and to knock on doors in the area to ask if anyone had seen anything unusual.


"There aren't that many cabins inhabited at this time of year," the team leader said, but he promised to do his best.


Holmberg opened the unlocked door to the cabin. He straightaway found the box of files on the kitchen table with Bjurman's reports about Salander. He sat down and began paging through them, his astonishment growing.

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