The name was Ronald Niedermann.
She looked through the folders on the shelf above the computer. One of them had the label IDENTIFICATION printed neatly on it. She took the folder down and paged through to Ronald Niedermann. When he rented the car in January he had given his passport as ID, and Refik Alba had made a photocopy. She recognized the blond hulk at once. According to the passport he was German, thirty-five years old, born in Hamburg. The fact that Alba had made a copy from the passport showed that Niedermann was just a customer, not a friend.
At the bottom of the page Alba had written a mobile number and a P.O. box address in Goteborg.
Salander replaced the folder and turned off the computer. She looked around and found a rubber doorstop next to the front door. She picked it up and went back to the closet and knocked on the door with the barrel of her gun.
"Can you hear me in there?"
"Do you know who I am?"
He'd have to be blind not to recognize me.
"OK. You know who I am. Are you afraid of me?"
"Don't be afraid of me, Herr Alba. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm almost finished here. I'm sorry for putting you to this trouble."
"Have you got enough air to breathe in there?"
"Yes... what do you want, anyway?"
"I wanted to see whether a certain woman had hired a car from you two years ago," she lied. "I didn't find what I wanted, but it's not your fault. I'll be leaving in a few minutes. I'm going to put the doorstop under the closet door here. The door is thin enough for you to break your way out, but it will take a while. You don't have to call the police. You'll never see me again, and you can open up as usual today and pretend that this never happened."
The chances of him not calling the police were pretty remote, but it did not hurt to give him the option to think about. She left the garage and walked to the Toyota Corolla around the corner, where she swiftly changed into Irene Nesser.
She was annoyed not to have found a street address for Ronald Niedermann in the Stockholm area, just a P.O. box address on the other side of Sweden. But it was the only lead she had. So, to Goteborg.
She made for the E20 and turned west towards Arboga. She turned on the radio, but she had just missed the news and got some commercial station. She listened to David Bowie singing "putting out fire with gasoline." She didn't know the name of the song, but she took the words as prophetic.
Thursday, April 7
Blomkvist looked at the entrance door of Fiskargatan 9. It was one of Stockholm's most exclusive addresses. He put the key in the lock and it turned perfectly. The list of residents in the lobby was no help. Blomkvist assumed it would be mostly corporate apartments, but there seemed to be one or two private residences among them. It hardly surprised him that Salander's name was not listed, yet it still seemed unlikely that this would be her hideout.
He walked up floor by floor, reading the nameplates on the doors. None of them rang a bell. Then he got to the top floor and read
Blomkvist slapped his forehead. He had to smile. The choice of name may not have been intended to make fun of him personally; it was more likely some private ironic reflection of Salander's - but where else should Kalle Blomkvist, nicknamed for an Astrid Lindgren character, look for her than at Pippi Longstocking's Villa Villekulla?
He rang the doorbell and waited a minute. Then he took out the keys and unfastened the dead bolt and the bottom lock.
The instant he opened the door, the burglar alarm device was activated.
Salander's mobile began beeping. She was near Glanshammar just outside orebro. She braked and pulled onto the shoulder. She took her Palm from her jacket pocket and plugged it into her phone.
Fifteen seconds earlier someone had opened the door to her apartment. The alarm was not connected to any security company. Its only purpose was to alert her that someone had broken in or had opened the door in some other way. After thirty seconds an alarm bell would go off and the uninvited visitor would get an unpleasant surprise in the form of a paint bomb hidden in a fake fuse box next to the door. She smiled in anticipation and counted down the seconds.
Blomkvist stared in frustration at the alarm display by the door. For some reason he hadn't even thought that the apartment might have an alarm. He watched the digital clock counting down. Millennium's alarm was triggered if someone failed to key in the correct four-digit code within thirty seconds, and shortly thereafter a couple of muscular guys from a security company would come through the door.
His first impulse was to close the door and make a quick exit from the building. But he just stood there, frozen to the spot.
Four digits. Impossible to guess the code at random.
Damned Pippi Long...
What code would you use?
He felt his panic growing.
Then he raised his hand and desperately punched in the only number he could think of: 9277. The numbers that corresponded to the letters W-A-S-P on the keypad.
To his astonishment the countdown stopped with six seconds to go. Then the alarm beeped one last time before the display was reset to zero and a green light came on.
Salander opened her eyes wide. She thought she had to be seeing things and actually shook her PDA, which she realized was irrational. The countdown had stopped six seconds before the paint bomb was supposed to explode. And a second later the display reset to zero.
No other person in the world knew the code.
How could it be possible? The police? No. Zala? Inconceivable.
She dialled a number on her mobile and waited for the surveillance camera to connect and begin to send low-resolution images through.
The camera was hidden in what looked like a smoke detector in the hall ceiling, and it took a low-res photograph every second. She played back the sequence from zero, the moment the door was opened and the alarm activated. Then a lopsided smile spread across her face as she looked down at Mikael Blomkvist, who for half a minute acted out a jerky pantomime before he finally punched in the code and then leaned on the doorjamb looking as though he had just avoided having a heart attack.
Kalle Fucking Blomkvist had tracked her down.
He had the keys she had dropped on Lundagatan. He was smart enough to remember that Wasp was her handle on the Net. And if he had found the apartment, then he had probably also worked out that it was owned by Wasp Enterprises. As she watched he began to move jerkily down the hall and disappeared from the camera's view.
Shit. How could I have been so predictable? And why did I drop those keys?... Now her every secret lay open to Blomkvist's prying eyes.
After thinking about it for a couple of minutes she decided that it no longer made any difference. She had erased the hard drive. That was the important thing. It could even be to her advantage that he was the one to have found her hideout. He already knew more of her secrets than anyone else did. Practical Pig would do the right thing. He would not sell her out. She hoped. She put the car in drive and pressed on, deep in thought, towards Goteborg.
Eriksson ran into Paolo Roberto in the stairwell to Millennium's offices when she arrived at 8:30. She recognized him at once, introduced herself, and let him in. He had a bad limp. She smelled coffee and knew that Berger was already there.
"Hello, Erika. Thanks for agreeing to see me at such short notice," the boxer said.
Berger studied the impressive collection of bruises and lumps on his face before she leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"You look like shit," she said.
"I've broken my nose before. Where are you keeping Blomkvist?"
"He's out somewhere playing detective, looking for leads. As usual it's impossible to get hold of him. Except for a strange email last night I haven't heard from him since yesterday morning. Thank you for... well, thanks."
She pointed to his face.
Paolo Roberto laughed.
"Would you like coffee? You said you had something to tell me. Malin, join us."
They sat in the comfortable chairs in Berger's office.
"It's that big blond fucker I had the fight with. I told Mikael that his boxing wasn't worth a rotten lingonberry. But the funny thing was, he kept assuming the defensive position with his fists and circled around as if he were a boxer. It seemed as if he had actually had some sort of training."
"Mikael mentioned that on the phone yesterday," Eriksson said.
"I couldn't stop thinking about it, so yesterday when I got home I sat down and sent out emails to boxing clubs all over Europe. I described what had happened and gave as detailed a description as I could of the guy."
"Did you have any luck?"
"I think I got a nibble."
He put a faxed photograph on the table in front of Berger and Eriksson. It looked to have been taken during a training session at a boxing club. Two boxers were standing listening to instructions from a heavyset older man in a narrow-brimmed leather hat and tracksuit. Half a dozen people were hanging around the ring listening. In the background stood a large man who looked like a skinhead. A circle had been drawn around him with a marker pen.
"The picture is seventeen years old. The guy in the background is Ronald Niedermann. He was eighteen when the picture was taken, so he should be about thirty-five now. That fits with the giant that kidnapped Miriam Wu. I can't say with 100 percent certainty that it's him. The picture is a little too old and it's poor quality. But I can say that he looks quite similar."
"Where did you get the picture?"
"I got an answer from Hans Münster, a veteran trainer at Dynamic in Hamburg. Ronald Niedermann boxed for them for a year in the late eighties. Or rather, he tried to box for them. I got the email first thing this morning and called Münster before I came here. To sum up what Münster said: Niedermann is from Hamburg and hung out with a skinhead gang in the eighties. He has a brother a few years older, a very talented boxer, and it was through him that he joined the club. Niedermann had fearsome strength and a physique that was almost unparalleled. Münster said that he'd never seen anyone hit so hard, not even among the elite. They measured the weight of his punch one time and he went right off the scale."
"It sounds as though he could have made a career in the ring," Berger said.
Paolo Roberto shook his head. "According to Münster he was impossible, for several reasons. First, he couldn't learn to box. He would stand still throwing haymakers. He was phenomenally clumsy - that fits the guy I fought in Nykvarn - but what was worse, he didn't understand his own strength. Now and then he'd land a punch that would cause a horrible injury during sparring practice. There were broken noses and jaws - a whole series of unnecessary injuries. They just couldn't keep him around."
"So he could box, but not really. Is that it?" Eriksson said.
"Exactly. But the reason for him stopping was medical."
"How do you mean?"
"He was apparently invulnerable. It didn't matter how many punches he took, he just shook them off and kept fighting. It turned out that he suffers from a very rare condition called congenital analgesia. I looked it up. It's an inherited genetic defect that means the transmitter substance in his nerve synapses doesn't function properly. Or in lay terms, he can't feel pain."
"That sounds like a gold mine for a boxer."
Paolo Roberto shook his head once more. "On the contrary. It can be a life-threatening disorder. Most people with congenital analgesia die relatively young, between twenty and twenty-five. Pain is the body's warning system that something's wrong. If you put your hand on a red-hot burner, it hurts and you snatch it away. But if you have this disease you don't do anything until you start smelling burned flesh."
Eriksson and Berger looked at each other.
"Are you serious?" Berger said.
"Absolutely. Niedermann can't feel a thing, and he goes around as if he's had a massive dose of local anaesthesia twenty-four hours a day. He's managed to deal with it because he has another genetic feature that compensates for it. He has an extraordinary build with an extremely strong skeleton, which makes him almost invulnerable. His raw strength is damn near unique. And above all, he must heal easily."
"I'm beginning to understand what an interesting boxing match it must have been."
"It certainly was that. I wouldn't want to do it again. The only thing that made an impression on him was when Miriam Wu kicked him in the balls. He actually fell to his knees for a second... which must be because there's some sort of physical reaction connected to a blow of that type, since he doesn't feel any pain. And believe me - even I would have collapsed if she had kicked me like that."
"So how did you end up beating him?"
"People with this disease can in fact be injured just like anyone else. Forget that Niedermann seems to have bones of concrete. But when I whacked him with a plank on the back of his head he dropped like a rock. He was probably concussed."
Berger looked at Eriksson.
"I'll call Mikael," Eriksson said.
Blomkvist heard his mobile go off, but he was so stunned that he did not answer until the fifth ring.
"Hi, it's Malin. Paolo Roberto thinks he's identified the giant."
"That's good," Blomkvist said absentmindedly.
"Where are you?"
"That's hard to say."
"You sound funny."
"Sorry. What did you say?"
Eriksson summed up Paolo Roberto's story.