One of the first things Salander had done after she came into a very large sum of money and thereby became financially independent for the rest of her life (or for as long as three billion kronor could be expected to last) was to look around for an apartment. The property market had been a new experience for her. She had never before invested money in anything more substantial than occasional useful items which she could either pay for with cash or buy on a reasonable payment plan. The biggest outlays had previously been various computers and her lightweight Kawasaki motorcycle. She had bought the bike for 7,000 kronor - a real bargain. She had spent about as much on spare parts and devoted several months to taking the motorcycle apart and overhauling it. She had wanted a car, but she had been wary of buying one, since she did not know how she would have fit it into her budget.
Buying an apartment, she realized, was a deal of a different order. She had started by reading the classified ads in the online edition of Dagens Nyheter, which was a science all to itself, she discovered:
1 bdrm + living/dining, fantastic loc. nr Sodra Station, 2.7m kr or highest bid. S/ch 5510 p/m.
3 rms + kitchen, park view, Hogalid, 2.9m kr.
2? rms, 47 sq. m., renov. bath, new plumbing 1998. Gotlandsgat. 1.8m kr. S/ch 2200 p/m.
She had telephoned some of the numbers haphazardly, but she had no idea what questions to ask. Soon she felt so idiotic that she stopped even trying. Instead she went out on the first Sunday in January and visited two apartment open houses. One was on Vindragarvagen way out on Reimersholme, and the other on Heleneborgsgatan near Hornstull. The apartment on Reimers was a bright four-room place in a tower block with a view of Långholmen and Essingen. There she could be content. The apartment on Heleneborgsgatan was a dump with a view of the building next door.
The problem was that she could not decide which part of town she wanted to live in, how her apartment should look, or what sort of questions she should be asking of her new home. She had never thought about an alternative to the 500 square feet on Lundagatan, where she had spent her childhood. Through her trustee at the time, the lawyer Holger Palmgren, she had been granted possession of the apartment when she turned eighteen. She plopped down on the lumpy sofa in her combination office/living room and began to think.
The apartment on Lundagatan looked into a courtyard. It was cramped and not the least bit comfortable. The view from her bedroom was a firewall on a gable facade. The view from the kitchen was of the back of the building facing the street and the entrance to the basement storage area. She could see a streetlight from her living room, and a few branches of a birch tree.
The first requirement of her new home was that it should have some sort of view.
She did not have a balcony, and had always envied well-to-do neighbours higher up in the building who spent warm days with a cold beer under an awning on theirs. The second requirement was that her new home would have to have a balcony.
What should the apartment look like? She thought about Blomkvist's apartment - 700 square feet in one open space in a converted loft on Bellmansgatan with views of City Hall and the locks at Slussen. She had liked it there. She wanted to have a pleasant, sparsely furnished apartment that was easy to take care of. That was a third point on her list of requirements.
For years she had lived in cramped spaces. Her kitchen was a mere 100 square feet, with room for only a tiny table and two chairs. Her living room was 200 square feet. The bedroom was a 120. Her fourth requirement was that the new apartment should have plenty of space and closets. She wanted to have a proper office and a big bedroom where she could spread herself out.
Her bathroom was a windowless cubbyhole with square cement slabs on the floor, an awkward half bath, and plastic wallpaper that never got really clean no matter how hard she scrubbed it. She wanted to have tiles and a big bath. She wanted a washing machine in the apartment and not down in some basement. She wanted the bathroom to smell fresh, and she wanted to be able to open a window.
Then she studied the offerings of estate agents online. The next morning she got up early to visit Nobel Estates, the company that, according to some, had the best reputation in Stockholm. She was dressed in old black jeans, boots, and her black leather jacket. She stood at a counter and watched a blond woman of about thirty-five, who had just logged on to the Nobel Estates website and was uploading photographs of apartments. At length a short, plump, middle-aged man with thin red hair came over. She asked him what sort of apartments he had available. He looked up at her in surprise and then assumed an avuncular tone:
"Well, young lady, do your parents know that you're thinking of moving away from home?"
Salander gave him a stone-cold glare until he stopped chuckling.
"I want an apartment," she said.
He cleared his throat and glanced appealingly at his colleague on the computer.
"I see. And what kind of apartment did you have in mind?"
"I think I'd like an apartment in Soder, with a balcony and a view of the water, at least four rooms, a bathroom with a window, and a utility room. And there has to be a lockable area where I can keep a motorcycle."
The woman at the computer looked up and stared at Salander.
"A motorcycle?" the thin-haired man said.
"May I know... uh, your name?"
Salander told him. She asked him for his name and he introduced himself as Joakim Persson.
"The thing is, it's rather expensive to purchase a cooperative apartment here in Stockholm... "
Salander did not reply. She had asked him what sort of apartments he had to offer; the information that it cost money was irrelevant.
"What line of work are you in?"
Salander thought for a moment. Technically she was a freelancer; in practice she worked only for Armansky and Milton Security, but that had been somewhat irregular over the past year. She had not done any work for him in three months.
"I'm not working at anything at the moment," she said.
"Well then... I presume you're still at school."
"No, I'm not at school."
Persson came around the counter and put his arm kindly around Salander's shoulders, escorting her towards the door.
"Well, you see, Ms. Salander, we'd be happy to welcome you back in a few years' time, but you'd have to bring along a little more money than what's in your piggy bank. The fact is that a weekly allowance won't really cover this." He pinched her good-naturedly on the cheek. "So drop in again, and we'll see about finding you a little pad."
Salander stood on the street outside Nobel Estates for several minutes. She wondered absentmindedly what little Master Persson would think if a Molotov cocktail came flying through his display window. Then she went home and booted up her PowerBook.
It took her ten minutes to hack into Nobel Estates' internal computer network using the passwords she happened to notice the woman behind the counter type in before she started uploading photographs. It took three minutes to find out that the computer the woman was working on was in fact also the company's Net server - how dim can you get? - and another three minutes to gain access to all fourteen computers on the network. After about two hours she had gone through Persson's records and discovered that there were some 750,000 kronor in under-the-table income that he had not reported to the tax authorities over the past two years.
She downloaded all the necessary files and emailed them to the tax authorities from an anonymous email account on a server in the USA. Then she put Master Persson out of her mind.
She spent the rest of the day going through Nobel Estates' listed properties. The most expensive one was a small palace outside Mariefred, where she had no desire to live. Out of sheer perversity she chose the next most expensive, a huge apartment just off Mosebacke Torg.
She scrutinized the photographs and floor plan, and in the end decided that it more than fulfilled her requirements. It had previously been owned by a director of the Asea Brown Boveri power company, who slipped into obscurity after he got himself a much-discussed and much-criticized golden parachute of several billion kronor.
That evening she telephoned Jeremy MacMillan, partner in the law firm MacMillan&Marks in Gibraltar. She had done business with MacMillan before. For a fee even he thought generous he had set up P.O. box companies to be owners of the accounts that administered the fortune she had stolen a year ago from the corrupt financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.
She engaged MacMillan's services again, instructing him to open negotiations with Nobel Estates on behalf of Wasp Enterprises to buy the apartment on Fiskargatan near Mosebacke Torg. It took four days, and the figure finally arrived at made her raise her eyebrows. Plus the 5 percent commission to MacMillan. Before the week was out she had moved in with two boxes of clothes and bed linens, a mattress, and some kitchen utensils. She slept on the mattress in the apartment for three weeks while she investigated clinics for plastic surgery, straightened out a number of unresolved bureaucratic details (including a nighttime talk with a certain lawyer, Nils Bjurman), and paid in advance for the rent at her old place, as well as the electricity bills and other monthly expenses.
Then she had booked her journey to the clinic in Italy. When the treatments were done and she was discharged, she sat in a hotel room in Rome and thought about what to do next. She should have returned to Sweden to get on with her life, but for various reasons she could not bear to think about Stockholm.
She had no real profession. She could see for herself no future at Milton Security. It was not Armansky's fault. In all probability, he would have liked her to work full-time and turn herself into an efficient cog in the company machine, but at the age of twenty-five she lacked the education, and she had no wish to find herself pushing fifty and still plodding away doing investigations of crooks in the corporate world. It was an amusing hobby - not a lifetime career.
Another reason she was reluctant to return to Stockholm was Blomkvist. In Stockholm she would risk running into Kalle Fucking Blomkvist, and at the moment that was just about the last thing she wanted to do. He had hurt her. She acknowledged that this had not been his intention. He had behaved rather decently. It was her own fault that she had fallen "in love" with him. The very phrase was a contradiction when it came to Lisbeth Fucking Bitch Salander.
Blomkvist was known for being a ladies' man. At best she had been an amusing diversion, someone on whom he had taken pity at a moment when he needed her and there was no-one better available. But he had quickly moved on to yet more amusing company. She cursed herself for lowering her guard and letting him into her life.
When she came to her senses again she cut off all contact with him. It had not been easy, but she had steeled herself. The last time she saw him she was standing on a platform in the tunnelbana at Gamla Stan and he was sitting in the train on his way downtown. She had stared at him for a whole minute and decided that she did not have a grain of feeling left, because it would have been the same as bleeding to death. Fuck you. He had noticed her just as the doors closed and looked at her with searching eyes before she turned and walked away as the train pulled out.
She didn't understand why he had so stubbornly tried to stay in contact with her, as if she were some fucking welfare project he had taken on. It annoyed her that he was so clueless. Every time he sent her an email she had to force herself to delete the message without reading it.
Stockholm did not seem in the least attractive. Apart from the freelance work for Milton Security, a few discarded bed partners, and the girls in the old rock group Evil Fingers, she hardly knew anyone in her hometown.
The only person she had any respect for now was Armansky. It was not easy to define her feelings for him. She had always felt a mild surprise that she was attracted to him. If he had not been quite so married, or quite so old, or quite so conservative, she might have considered making an advance.
So she took out her diary and turned to the atlas section. She had never been to Australia or Africa. She had read about but never seen the Pyramids or Angkor Wat. She had never ridden on the Star Ferry between Kowloon and Victoria in Hong Kong, and she had never gone snorkelling in the Caribbean or sat on a beach in Thailand. Apart from some quick business trips when she had visited the Baltics and neighbouring Nordic countries, as well as Zurich and London, of course, she had hardly ever left Sweden. As a matter of fact, she had seldom been outside Stockholm.
In the past she could never afford it.
She stood at the window of her hotel room overlooking Via Garibaldi in Rome. The city was like a pile of ruins. Then she made up her mind. She put on her jacket and went down to the lobby and asked if there was a travel agent in the vicinity. She booked a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv and spent the following days walking through the Old City in Jerusalem and visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall. She viewed the armed soldiers on street corners with distrust, and then she flew to Bangkok and kept on travelling for the rest of the year.
There was only one thing she really had to do. She went to Gibraltar twice. The first time to do an in-depth investigation of the man she had chosen to look after her money. The second time to see to it that he was doing it properly.
It felt quite odd to turn the key to her own apartment on Fiskargatan after such a long time.
She set down her groceries and her shoulder bag in the hall and tapped in the four-digit code that turned off the electronic burglar alarm. Then she stripped off her damp clothes and dropped them on the hall floor. She walked into the kitchen naked, plugged in the refrigerator, and put the food away before she headed for the bathroom and spent the next ten minutes in the shower. She ate a meal consisting of a Billy's Pan Pizza, which she heated in the microwave, and a sliced apple. She opened one of her moving boxes and found a pillow, some sheets, and a blanket that smelled a little suspect after having been packed away for a year. She made up her bed on the mattress in a room next to the kitchen.