It was 9:30 when Zalachenko shone his flashlight around and declared himself satisfied. It took a while longer to find the Sig Sauer in the undergrowth. Then they went back to the house. Zalachenko was feeling wonderfully gratified. He tended to Niedermann's hand. The spade had cut deep and he had to find a needle and thread to sew up the wound - a skill he had learned in military school in Novosibirsk as a fifteen-year-old. At least he didn't need to administer an anaesthetic. But it was possible that the wound was sufficiently serious for Niedermann to have to go to the hospital. He put a splint on the finger and bandaged it. They would decide in the morning.



When he was finished he got himself a beer as Niedermann rinsed his eyes over and over in the bathroom.


CHAPTER 32


Thursday, April 7


Blomkvist arrived at Goteborg Central Station just after 9:00 p.m. The X2000 had made up some time, but it was still late. He had spent the last hour of the journey calling car rental companies. He'd first thought of finding a car in Alingsås and getting off there, but the office was closed already. Ultimately he managed to order a Volkswagen through a hotel booking agency in the city. He could pick up the car at Jarntorget. He decided not to try to navigate Goteborg's confusing local traffic and incomprehensible ticket system and took a cab to the lot.


When he got to the car there was no map in the glove compartment. He bought one in a gas station, along with a flashlight, a bottle of mineral water, and a cup of coffee, which he put in the holder on the dashboard. It was 10:30 before he drove out of the city on the road to Alingsås.


A fox stopped and looked about restlessly. He knew that something was buried there. But from somewhere nearby came the rustle of an unwary night animal and the fox was instantly on the alert for easier prey. He took a cautious step. But before he continued his hunt he lifted his hind leg and pissed on the spot to mark his territory.


Bublanski did not normally call his colleagues late in the evening, but this time he couldn't resist. He picked up the phone and dialled Modig's number.


"Pardon me for calling so late. Are you up?"


"No problem."


"I've just finished going through Bjorck's report."


"I'm sure you had as much trouble putting it down as I did."


"Sonja...  how do you make sense of what's going on?"


"It seems to me that Gunnar Bjorck, a prominent name on the list of johns, if you remember, had Lisbeth Salander put in an asylum after she tried to protect herself and her mother from a lunatic sadist who was working for Sapo. He was abetted in this by Dr. Teleborian, among others, on whose testimony we in part based our own evaluation of her mental state."


"This changes the entire picture we have of her."


"It explains a great deal."


"Sonja, can you pick me up in the morning at 8:00?"


"Of course."


"We're going to go down to Smådalaro to have a talk with Gunnar Bjorck. I made some enquiries. He's on sick leave."


"I'm looking forward to it already."


Beckman looked at his wife as she stood by the window in the living room, staring out at the water. She had her mobile in her hand, and he knew that she was waiting for a call from Blomkvist. She looked so unhappy that he went over and put his arm around her.


"Blomkvist is a grown man," he said. "But if you're really so worried you should call that policeman."


Berger sighed. "I should have done that hours ago. But that's not why I'm unhappy."


"Is it something I should know about?"


"I've been hiding something from you. And from Mikael. And from everyone else at the magazine."


"Hiding? Hiding what?"


She turned to her husband and told him that she had been offered the job of editor in chief at Svenska Morgon-Posten. Beckman raised his eyebrows.


"But I don't understand why you didn't tell me," he said. "That's a huge coup. Congratulations."


"It's just that I feel like a traitor."


"Mikael will understand. Everyone has to move on when it's time. And right now it's time for you."


"I know."


"Have you already made up your mind?"


"Yes. I've made up my mind. But I haven't had the guts to tell anybody. And it feels as if I'm leaving in the midst of a huge disaster." Beckman took his wife in his arms.


Armansky rubbed his eyes and looked out into the darkness.


"We ought to call Bublanski," he said.


"No," Palmgren said. "Neither Bublanski nor any other authority figure has ever lifted a finger to help her. Let her take care of her own affairs."


Armansky looked at Salander's former guardian. He was still amazed by the improvement in Palmgren's condition compared with when he last saw him over Christmas. He still slurred his words, but he had a new vitality in his eyes. There was also a fury about the man that Armansky had never seen before. Palmgren told him the whole story that Blomkvist had pieced together. Armansky was shocked.


"She's going to try to kill her father."


"That's possible," Palmgren said calmly.


"Or else Zalachenko might try to kill her."


"That's also possible."


"So we're just supposed to wait?"


"Dragan...  you're a good person. But what Lisbeth Salander does or doesn't do, whether she survives or whether she dies, is not your responsibility."


Palmgren threw out his arms. All of a sudden he had rediscovered a coordination that he hadn't had in a long time. It was as though the drama of the past few weeks had revived his dulled senses.


"I've never been sympathetic towards people who take the law into their own hands. But I've never heard of anyone who had such a good reason to do so. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, what happens tonight will happen, no matter what you or I think. It's been written in the stars since she was born. And all that remains is for us to decide how we're going to behave towards Lisbeth if she makes it back."


Armansky sighed and looked grimly at the old lawyer.


"And if she spends the next ten years in prison, at least she was the one who chose that path. I'll still be her friend," Palmgren said.


"I had no idea you had such a libertarian view of humanity."


"Neither did I," he said.


***


Miriam Wu stared at the ceiling. She had the nightlight on and the radio was playing "On a Slow Boat to China " at a low volume.


The day before she had woken to find herself in the hospital where Paolo Roberto had brought her. She slept and woke restlessly and went to sleep again with no real grasp of passing time. The doctors told her that she had a concussion. In any case she needed to rest. She had a broken nose, three broken ribs, and bruises all over her body. Her left eyebrow was so swollen that her eye was merely a slit. It hurt whenever she tried to change position. It hurt when she breathed in. Her neck was painful and she was wearing a brace, just to be on the safe side. But the doctors had assured her that she would make a complete recovery.


When she awoke towards evening, Paolo Roberto was sitting next to her bed. He grinned and asked how she felt. She wondered if she looked as awful as he did.


She asked questions and he answered them. For some reason it didn't seem at all odd that he was a good friend of Salander's. He was a cocky devil. Lisbeth liked cocky devils, just as she detested pompous jerks. There was only a subtle difference, but Paolo Roberto belonged to the former category.


She now had an explanation for why he had suddenly sprung out of nowhere into the warehouse, but she was surprised that he'd decided so stubbornly to pursue the van. And she was frightened by the news that the police were digging up bodies in the woods around the warehouse.


"Thank you," she said. "You saved my life."


He shook his head and sat quietly for a while.


"I tried to explain it to Blomkvist. He didn't really get it. But I think you might understand since you box yourself."


She knew what he meant. No-one who hadn't been there would ever know what it was to fight a monster who couldn't feel pain. She thought about how helpless she'd been.


After that she had just held his bandaged hand. They didn't speak for a long time. There was nothing more to say. When she woke up, he was gone. She wished that Lisbeth would get in touch. She was the one Niedermann had been after.


Miriam was afraid that he would catch her.


Salander couldn't breathe. She had no sense of time, but she knew that she had been shot, and she realized - more by instinct than by rational thought - that she was buried underground. Her left arm was unusable, she couldn't move a muscle without waves of pain shooting through her shoulder, and she was floating in and out of a foggy consciousness. I have to get air. Her head was bursting with a throbbing pain the likes of which she had never felt before.


Her right hand had ended up underneath her face, and she began instinctively to nudge the earth away from her nose and mouth. It was sandy and relatively dry. She managed to create a space the size of her fist in front of her face.


How long she had been lying there buried she had no idea. But finally she formulated a lucid thought and it gripped her with panic. He buried me alive. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't move. A vast weight of soil held her bound to the primal rock.


She tried to move a leg, but she could scarcely tense her muscles. Then she made the mistake of trying to get up. She pressed down with her head to try to raise herself and the pain flew like an electric charge through her temples. I can't throw up. She sank back into muddled consciousness.


When she could think again, she felt carefully to determine which parts of her body were functional. The only limb she could move an inch or two was her right hand, the one in front of her face. I have to get air. The air was above her, above the grave.


Salander began to scratch. She pressed down on her elbow and managed to make a little room to manoeuvre. With the back of her hand she enlarged the area in front of her face by pressing the dirt away from her. I need to dig.


She discovered that she had a cavity within her fetal position, between her elbows and her knees. That was where most of the air that was keeping her alive had been trapped. She began desperately twisting her upper body back and forth and felt how the soil ran into the space beneath her. The pressure on her chest lifted a little. She could move her arm.


Minute by minute she worked in a semiconscious state. She scratched sandy earth from her face and pressed handful after handful into the cavity beneath her. Gradually she managed to free her arm so that she could shift the soil away from the top of her head. Inch by inch she enlarged the space around her head. She felt something hard and was suddenly holding a small root or stick in her hand. She scratched upwards. The soil was still full of air and not very compact.


The fox paused by Salander's grave on the way back to his den. He had found two field mice and was feeling satisfied when suddenly he sensed another presence. He froze and pricked up his ears. His whiskers and nose were quivering.


Salander's fingers emerged like something dead from beneath the earth. Had there been any human watching, he would probably have reacted like the fox. He was gone like a shot.


Salander felt cool air stream down her arm. She could breathe again.


It took her half an hour more to free herself from the grave. She found it odd that she couldn't use her left hand, but mechanically went on scratching at the dirt and sand with her right.


She needed something else to dig with. She pulled her arm down into the hole, got to her breast pocket and worked the cigarette case free. She opened it and used it as a scoop. She scraped soil loose and flicked it away. And then at last she could move her right shoulder and managed to press it upwards through the earth above her. Then she scraped more sand and dirt and eventually was able to straighten her head. She now had her right arm and head above the ground. When she had released part of her upper body she could start squirming upwards an inch at a time until the ground suddenly released its grip on her legs.


She crawled from the grave with her eyes closed and didn't stop until her shoulder hit a tree trunk. Slowly she turned her body so that she had the tree to lean on and wiped the dirt from her eyes with the back of her hand before she opened them. It was pitch-black around her and the air was icy cold. She was sweating. She felt a dull pain in her head, in her left shoulder, and in her hip, but didn't spend any energy wondering why. She sat still for ten minutes, breathing. Then it came to her that she couldn't stay there.


She struggled to her feet as the world swirled around her.


She felt instantly sick and bent over to vomit.


Then she started to walk. She had no idea which direction she was going. The pain in her left hip was excruciating and she kept stumbling to her knees. Each time an even greater pain shot through her head.


She didn't know how long she'd been walking when she saw a light out of the corner of her eye. She changed direction. It was only when she was standing by the woodshed in the yard that she realized she had walked straight back to Zalachenko's farmhouse. She swayed like a drunk.


Photo cells on the driveway and in the clearing. She had come from the other direction. They would not have noticed her.


She was confused. She knew that she was in no condition to take on Niedermann and Zalachenko. She looked at the white farmhouse.


Click. Wood. Click. Fire.


She fantasized about a gasoline can and a match.


With enormous effort she turned towards the shed and staggered over to a door that was secured with a crossbar. She managed to lift it by putting her right shoulder under it. She heard the noise when the crossbar fell to the ground and hit the side of the door with a bang. She took a step into the darkness and looked around.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com