It was a woodshed. There was no gasoline.
At the kitchen table Zalachenko looked up when he heard the sound of the falling crossbar. He pulled the curtain aside and peered out into the darkness. It was a few seconds before his eyes adjusted. The wind was blowing harder now. The weather forecast had predicted a stormy weekend. Then he saw that the door to the woodshed was ajar.
He and Niedermann had brought in wood earlier that afternoon. It had been unnecessary, but its purpose was to provide Salander with confirmation that she had come to the right place and to draw her out.
Niedermann had obviously not set the crossbar in place properly. He could be so phenomenally clumsy. Zalachenko glanced towards the door of the living room, where Niedermann had dozed off on the sofa. He thought of waking him, but decided not to.
To find gasoline Salander would have to go to the barn, where the cars were parked. She leaned against a chopping block, breathing hard. She had to rest. She sat there for about a minute before she heard the halting steps of Zalachenko's prosthesis.
In the dark Blomkvist took a wrong turn at Mellby, north of Sollebrunn. Instead of getting off at Nossebro he had continued north. He realized his mistake just before he got to Trokorna. He stopped and looked at the map.
He cursed and turned back towards Nossebro.
With her right hand Salander grabbed the axe from the chopping block a second before Zalachenko came into the woodshed. She didn't have the strength to lift it over her shoulder, but she swung it with one hand in an upward arc, putting her weight on her uninjured hip and turning her body in a semicircle.
At the same moment that Zalachenko turned on the light switch, the blade of the axe struck him across the right side of his face, smashing his cheekbone and penetrating into his forehead. He didn't know what had happened, but in the next second his brain registered the pain and he howled as if possessed.
Niedermann woke with a start and sat up, bewildered. He heard a screaming that at first he couldn't believe was human. It was coming from outside. Then he realized it was Zalachenko. He got swiftly to his feet.
Salander planted her feet and swung the axe again, but her body was not obeying orders. Her aim was to bury the axe in her father's head, but she had exhausted all her strength and struck him far from the intended target, just below his kneecap. But the weight of the axe head buried it so deep that it stuck and was pulled out of her hands when Zalachenko pitched forward into the shed. He was screaming incessantly.
She bent again to grasp the axe. The earth shook as lightning flashed inside her head. She had to sit down. She reached out her hand and felt his jacket pockets. He still had the gun, and she focused her gaze as the ground swayed.
A Browning .22 calibre.
A fucking Boy Scout pistol.
That was why she was still alive. If she'd been hit with a bullet from Niedermann's Sig Sauer or from a revolver with heavier ammo, she would have a gigantic hole through her skull.
At that moment she heard the stumbling approach of Niedermann, who then filled the doorway of the shed. He stopped short and registered the scene before him with uncomprehending and staring eyes. Zalachenko was wailing like a man possessed. His face was a bloody mask. He had an axe wedged in his knee. A bloody and filthy Salander was sitting on the floor next to him. She looked like something from a horror movie, and far too many of those had already played out in Niedermann's mind.
He, who could feel no pain and was built like a tank, had never liked the dark.
With his own eyes he had seen creatures in the dark, and an indeterminate terror was always lurking, waiting for him. And now the terror had materialized.
The girl on the floor was dead. There was no doubt about that.
He had buried her himself.
Consequently, the creature on the floor was no girl, but a being from the other side of the grave who couldn't be conquered with human strength or weapons known to man.
The transformation from human being to corpse had already begun. Her skin had changed into a lizardlike armour. Her bared teeth were piercing spikes for ripping chunks of meat from her prey. Her reptilian tongue shot out and licked around her mouth. Her bloody hands had razor-sharp claws four inches long. He could see her eyes glowing. He could hear her growling low and saw her tense her muscles to pounce at his throat.
He saw clearly that she had a tail that curled and ominously began to whip the floor.
Then she raised the pistol and fired. The bullet passed so close to Niedermann's ear that he could feel the lash of the wind. He saw her mouth spout flames at him.
That was too much.
He stopped thinking.
He spun around and ran for his life. She fired another shot that missed him but that seemed to give him wings. He hopped over a fence and was swallowed up by the darkness of the field as he sprinted towards the main road.
Salander watched in astonishment as he disappeared from view.
She shuffled to the doorway and gazed into the darkness, but she couldn't see him. After a while Zalachenko stopped screaming, but he lay moaning in shock. She opened the pistol, checked that she had one round left, and considered shooting him in the head. Then she remembered that Niedermann was still there, out in the dark, and she had better save it. She would need more than one .22 bullet for him. But it was better than nothing.
It took her five minutes to put the crossbar in place. She staggered across the yard and into the house and found the telephone on a sideboard in the kitchen. She dialled a number she hadn't used in two years. The answering machine clicked in.
Hi. This is Mikael Blomkvist. I can't answer right now, but please leave your name and number and I'll call you as soon as I can.
"Mir-g-kral," she said, and heard that her voice sounded like mush. She swallowed. "Mikael. It's Salander."
Then she did not know what to say.
She hung up the receiver.
Niedermann's Sig Sauer lay disassembled for cleaning on the kitchen table in front of her, and next to it Sonny Nieminen's P-83 Wanad. She dropped Zalachenko's Browning on the floor and lurched over to pick up the Wanad and check the magazine. She also found her Palm PDA and dropped it in her pocket. Then she hobbled to the sink and filled an unwashed cup with cold water. She drank four cups. When she looked up she saw her face in an old shaving mirror on the wall. She almost fired a shot out of sheer fright. What she saw reminded her more of an animal than a human being. She was a madwoman with a distorted face and a gaping mouth. She was plastered with dirt. Her face and neck were a coagulated gruel of blood and soil. Now she had an idea what Niedermann had encountered in the woodshed.
She went closer to the mirror and was suddenly aware that her left leg was dragging behind her. She had a sharp pain in her hip where Zalachenko's first bullet had hit her. His second bullet had struck her shoulder and paralyzed her left arm. It hurt.
But the pain in her head was so sharp it made her stagger. Slowly she raised her right hand and fumbled across the back of her head. With her fingers she could feel the crater of the entry wound.
As she fingered the hole in her skull she realized with sudden horror that she was touching her own brain, that she was so seriously wounded she was dying or maybe should already be dead. She couldn't comprehend how she could still be on her feet.
She was suddenly overcome by a numbing weariness. She wasn't sure if she was about to faint or fall asleep, but she made her way to the kitchen bench, where she stretched out and laid the unwounded right side of her head on a cushion.
She had to regain her strength, but she knew that she couldn't risk sleeping while Niedermann was still at large. Sooner or later he would come back. Sooner or later Zalachenko would manage to get out of the woodshed and drag himself to the house. But she no longer had the energy to stay upright. She was freezing. She clicked off the safety on the pistol.
Niedermann stood, undecided, on the road from Sollebrunn to Nossebro. He was alone. It was dark. He had begun to think rationally again and was ashamed that he had run away. He didn't understand how it could have happened, but he came to the logical conclusion that she must have survived. Somehow she must have managed to dig herself out.
Zalachenko needed him. He ought to go back to the house and wring her neck.
At the same time he had a powerful feeling that everything was over. He had had that feeling for a long time. Things had started to go wrong and kept going wrong from the moment Bjurman had contacted them. Zalachenko had changed beyond recognition when he heard the name Lisbeth Salander. All the rules about caution and moderation he had preached for so many years had been blown away.
Zalachenko needed to be looked after.
If she hadn't already killed him.
That meant there would be questions.
He bit his lower lip.
He had been his father's partner for many years. They had been good years. He had money put away and he also knew where Zalachenko had hidden his own fortune. He had the resources and the skill required to drive the business forward. The sensible thing would be to walk away from all this and not look back. If there was one thing that Zalachenko had drummed into him, it was always to retain the ability to walk away, without sentimentality, from a situation that felt unmanageable. That was a basic rule for survival. Don't lift a finger for a lost cause.
She wasn't supernatural. But she was bad news. She was his half sister.
He had underestimated her.
Niedermann was torn. Part of him wanted to go back and wring her neck. Part of him wanted to keep running through the night.
He had his passport and wallet in his pocket. He didn't want to go back. There was nothing at the farm he needed.
Except perhaps a car.
He was still hesitating when he saw the gleam of headlights approaching from the other side of the hill. He turned his head. All he needed was a car to get him to Goteborg.
For the first time in her life - at least since she had been a little girl - Salander was unable to take command of her situation. Over the years she had been mixed up in fights, subjected to abuse, been the object of both official and private injustices. She had taken many more punches to both body and soul than anyone should ever have to endure.
But she had been able to rebel every time. She had refused to answer Teleborian's questions, and when she was subjected to any kind of physical violence, she had been able to slink away and retreat.
A broken nose she could live with.
But she couldn't live with a hole in her skull.
This time she couldn't drag herself home to bed, pull the covers over her head, sleep for two days and then get up and go back to her daily routine as if nothing had happened.
She was so seriously injured that she couldn't cope with the situation by herself. She was so exhausted that her body refused to listen to her commands.
I have to sleep for a while, she thought. And suddenly she realized that if she closed her eyes and let go there was a good chance she would never wake up again. She analyzed this conclusion and gradually came to understand that she didn't care. On the contrary. She felt almost attracted by the thought. To rest. To not wake up.
Her last thoughts were of Miriam Wu.
Forgive me, Mimmi.
She was still holding Nieminen's pistol, with the safety off, when she closed her eyes.
Blomkvist saw Niedermann in the beam of his headlights from a long way off and recognized him at once. It was hard to mistake a blond behemoth built like an armor-piercing robot. Niedermann was running in his direction, waving his arms. Blomkvist slowed down. He slipped his hand into the outer pocket of his laptop case and took out the Colt 1911 Government he had found on Salander's desk. He stopped about five yards away from Niedermann and turned off the engine before opening the car door and stepping out.
"Thanks for stopping," Niedermann said, out of breath. "I had a... car accident. Can you give me a lift to town?"
He had a surprisingly high-pitched voice.
"Of course. I can see that you get to town," Blomkvist said. He pointed the gun at Niedermann. "Lie down on the ground."
There was no end to the tribulations Niedermann was having to suffer that night. He stared in puzzlement at Blomkvist.
Niedermann was not the least bit afraid of either the pistol or the man holding it. On the other hand, he had respect for weapons. He had lived with violence all his life. He assumed that if somebody pointed a gun at him, that person was prepared to use it. He squinted and tried to take stock of the man behind the pistol, but the headlights turned him into a shadowy figure. Police? He didn't sound like a cop. Cops usually identified themselves. At least that's what they did in the movies.
He weighed his chances. He knew that if he charged the man he could take away the gun. But the man sounded cold and was standing behind the car door. He would be hit by at least one, maybe two bullets. If he moved fast the man might miss, or at least not hit a vital organ, but even if he survived, the bullets would make it difficult and perhaps impossible for him to escape. It would be better to wait for a more suitable opportunity.
"LIE DOWN NOW!" Blomkvist yelled.
He moved the muzzle an inch and fired a round into the ditch.
"The next one hits your kneecap," Blomkvist said in a loud, clear voice of command.
Niedermann got down on his knees, blinded by the headlights.
"Who are you?" he said.
Blomkvist reached his other hand into the pocket in the car door and took out the flashlight he had bought at the gas station. He shone the beam into Niedermann's face.
"Hands behind your back," Blomkvist commanded. "And spread your legs."
He waited until Niedermann reluctantly obeyed the orders.
"I know who you are. If you even begin to do anything stupid I'll shoot you without warning. I'm aiming at your lung below your shoulder blade. You might be able to take me... but it'll cost you."