The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz exclusive excerpt
David Lagercrantz’s highly-anticipated (and thrillingly good) continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, is almost upon us. Lagercrantz’s Lisbeth Salander saga, which follows our prickly hacker heroine as she and Mikael Blomkvist dodge cybercriminals in pursuit of crucial, classified information that someone is willing to kill for. Lisbeth is taking more risks than we’ve ever seen, and Blomkvist is desperate to get a scoop for Millennium to salvage his journalistic reputation.
Hooked yet? Well, you’re in luck: In advance of the book’s Sept. 1 release, EW presents the U.S. exclusive preview of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Chapter 9.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz
Salander woke up lying straight across the king-size bed and realized that she had been dreaming about her father. A feeling of menace swept over her like a cloak. But then she remembered the start of the evening and concluded that it could as easily be a chemical reaction in her body. She had a terrible hangover. She got up on wobbly legs and went into the large bathroom—with the jacuzzi and the marble and all the idiotic luxuries—to be sick. But nothing happened, she just sank to the floor, breathing heavily.
Then she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, which was not particularly encouraging either. Her eyes were red. On the other hand it was not long after midnight. She must have slept for only a few hours. She took a glass from the bathroom cupboard and filled it with water. But at the same moment the details of her dream came flooding back and she crushed the glass in her hand. Blood dripped to the floor, and she swore and realized that she was unlikely to be going back to sleep.
Should she try to crack the encrypted NSA file she had downloaded? No, that would be pointless, at least for now. Instead she wound a towel around her hand and took from her bookshelves a new study by Princeton physicist Julie Tammet, which described how a big star collapses into a black hole. She lay down on the sofa by the windows overlooking Slussen and Riddarfjärden.
As she began to read she felt a little better. Blood from the towel did seep onto the pages and her head would not stop hurting, but she became more and more engrossed in the book, every now and then making a note in the margin. None of it was new to her. She knew better than most that a star stays alive as a result of two opposing actions, the fusion at its core forcing it outwards and the gravitational pull keeping it together. She saw it as a balancing act, a tug of war from which a victor eventually emerges, once the fuel for the reactions runs out and the explosions weaken.
When gravity gains the upper hand, the celestial body shrinks like a punctured balloon and becomes smaller and smaller. In this way, a star can vanish into nothing. Salander liked black holes. She felt an affinity to them.
Yet, like Julie Tammet, she was not interested in black holes per se, but rather in the process which creates them. Salander was convinced that if only she could describe that process, she would be able to draw together the two irreconcilable languages of the universe, quantum physics and the theory of relativity. But it was no doubt beyond her capabilities, just like the bloody encryption, and inevitably she began again to think about her father.
When she was a child, that revolting specimen had raped her mother over and over again, right up until the time her mother received injuries from which she would never recover. Salander herself, then twelve, hit back with a horrific force. At the time she could have no idea that her father was an important spy who had defected from the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service, nor could she know that a special department within the Swedish Security Police, referred to as the Section, was protecting him at any cost. Yet even then she understood that there was some mystery surrounding the man, a darkness no-one was allowed to approach in any way. That even applied to so simple a thing as his name: Zala, or Alexander Zalachenko, to be more precise.
Other fathers could be reported to the social services and the police. But Zala had forces behind him which were above all that.
It was this and one other thing which for her were true black holes.
The alarm went off at 1:18 a.m. and Balder woke with a start. Was there someone in the house? He felt an inexplicable fear and reached across the bed. August was lying beside him. The boy must have crept in as usual, and now he whimpered with worry, as if the wailing of the siren had made its way into his dreams. My little boy, Balder thought. Then he stiffened. Were those footsteps?
No, he must be imagining things. All you could hear was the alarm. He cast a worried look towards the storm beyond the windows. It seemed to have grown worse. The sea was beating against the jetty and the shore. The windowpanes shook and arched. Could the alarm have been set off by a gust of wind? Perhaps it was as simple as that.
He still had to check to see if that protection Gabriella Grane was organizing had arrived at last. Two men from the regular police were supposed to have been there hours ago. It was a farce. They had been delayed by the storm and by a series of conflicting orders. It was either one thing or another and he agreed with Grane, it seemed hopelessly incompetent.
He would have to deal with that in due course. Now he had to make a call. But August was beginning to wake up and a hysterical child banging his body against the headboard was the last thing Balder needed right now. The earplugs, it occurred to him, those old green earplugs he had bought at Frankfurt airport.
He took them from the bedside table and gently pushed them into his son’s ears. Then he tucked him in and kissed him on the cheek and stroked his curly, tousled hair, straightened the collar on the boy’s pyjamas, and made sure that his head was resting comfortably on the pillow. Balder was frightened and should have been in a hurry, or had every reason to be. Yet he took his time and fussed over his son. Perhaps it was a sentimental moment in the midst of a crisis. Or he wanted to put off confronting whatever awaited him out there. For a moment he wished he did have a weapon. Not that he would have known how to use it.
He was a programmer, for heaven’s sake, who had developed some paternal instinct in his old age, that was all. He should never have gotten into this mess. To hell with Solifon and the NSA and all criminal gangs! But now he had to get a grip. With stealthy, uncertain steps he went into the hallway, and before doing anything else, before even looking out at the road, he turned off the alarm. The racket had set his nerves on edge and in the sudden silence which followed he stood stock-still. Then his mobile rang and even though it startled him he was grateful for the distraction.
“Yes,” he said.
“Hello, this is Jonas Anderberg, I’m on duty tonight at Milton Security. Is everything all right?”
“What, well… I think so. My alarm went off.”
“I know that and, according to our instructions, when this happens you’re supposed to go down to a special room in the cellar and lock the door. Are you down there?”
“Yes,” he lied.
“Good, very good. Do you know what’s happened?”
“No idea. The alarm woke me up. I have no clue what set it off. Could it have been the storm?”
“Unlikely… One moment please.” Anderberg’s voice sounded a bit unfocused. “What is it?” Balder said nervously.
“For God’s sake, tell me what’s going on.”
“Sorry, just take it easy, take it easy… I’m going through the picture sequence from your cameras, and it does look as if…”
“As if what?”
“As if you’ve got a visitor. A man, well, you can see for yourself later, a lanky man with dark glasses and a cap has been prowling around your property. He’s been there twice, as far as I can see, but as I said… I’ve only just noticed it now. I’d have to look at it more closely to be able to say more.”
“What sort of person is it?” “Well, it’s hard to say.”
Anderberg seemed to be studying the picture sequences again.
“But maybe… I don’t know… no, it’s too soon to be speculating,” he said.
“Go on, please go on. I need something specific. It would make me feel better.”
“OK, in that case there’s at least one reassuring thing I can tell you.” “And what’s that?”
“His walk. The man walks like a junkie—like a guy who’s just taken a load of speed. There’s something cocky and stilted about the way he moves, and that could be a sign that he’s just an ordinary druggie and petty thief. On the other hand…”
“He’s done a very good job of hiding his face and then…” Anderberg fell silent again.
“Keep going!” “One moment.”
“You’re making me nervous, you know that?” “Don’t mean to. But you know…”
Balder froze. The sound of a car engine could be heard from his garage drive.
“… you’re getting a visitor.” “What should I do?”
“Stay where you are.”
“OK,” said Balder, more or less paralyzed. But he was not where Anderberg thought he was.
When the telephone rang at 1:58, Blomkvist was still awake. But his mobile was in the pocket of his jeans on the floor and he did not manage to answer it in time. In any case the call was from a withheld number, so he swore and crawled back into bed and closed his eyes.
He could really do without another sleepless night. Ever since Berger had fallen asleep a little before midnight, he had been tossing and turning and thinking about his life. Not much of it felt right, not even his relationship with Berger. He had loved her for many years, and there was every reason to think that she felt the same way about him. But it was no longer as simple as it had once been. Perhaps Blomkvist had started to feel some sympathy for Greger. Greger Beckman was Erika’s husband, an artist, and he could not be accused of being grudging or small-minded. On the contrary, when Greger had realized that Erika would never get over Blomkvist or even be able to stop herself from tearing his clothes off, he had not lost his temper. He had made a deal:
“You can be with him—just so long as you always come back to me.” And that’s how it became.
They set up an unconventional arrangement with Berger mostly sleeping at home with her husband in Saltsjöbaden, but sometimes here with Blomkvist on Bellmansgatan. Over the years Blomkvist had thought that it really was an ideal solution, one which many couples who lived under the dictatorship of monogamy ought to have adopted. Every time Berger said
“I love my husband more when I can also be with you,” or when at some cocktail party Beckman put his arm around him in a brotherly embrace, Blomkvist had thanked his lucky stars for the arrangement.
Yet he had lately begun to have doubts, perhaps because he had had more time to think and it had occurred to him that an agreement is not necessarily always agreeable to all.
On the contrary, one party might advance their self-interest under the guise of a common decision, and in the long run it often becomes clear that someone is suffering, despite assurances to the contrary. Berger’s call to her husband that evening evidently had not been well received. Who knows, maybe Beckman was also lying awake right now.
Blomkvist tried to put it out of his mind. For a little while he even tried daydreaming. But that did not help much, and in the end he got up, determined to do something more useful. Why not do some reading on industrial espionage or, better still, sketch out an alternative funding plan for Millennium? He got dressed, sat down at his computer, and checked his in-box.
Most of it was rubbish as usual, even if some of the e-mails did give him a bit of a boost. There were shouts of encouragement from Malm and Eriksson, also from Andrei Zander and Harriet Vanger in the light of the coming battle with Serner, and he answered them with more of a fighting spirit than he actually felt. After that he checked Salander’s document, without expecting to find anything there. But then he lit up. She had answered. For the first time in ages she had given a sign of life:
Blomkvist smiled and thought of the last time they had met at Kaf- febar on St. Paulsgatan. It took a while before he noticed that her message contained two questions, the first one a friendly little jibe which perhaps regrettably contained a grain of truth. What he had written in the magazine lately had lacked intelligence and genuine newsworthiness. Like so many journalists, he had just been plugging away, occasionally trotting out clichés. But that’s how it was for the moment and he was much keener to ponder Salander’s second question, her riddle, not so much because in itself it interested him especially, but because he wanted to think of some clever response.
If we create a machine that is cleverer than we ourselves are, he thought, what happens then? He went to the kitchen, opened a bottle of Ramlösa mineral water, and sat at the kitchen table. Downstairs Fru Gerner was coughing rather painfully, and in the distance amid the hubbub of the city an ambulance wailed away in the storm. Well, he mused, then we get a machine that can do all the clever things which we ourselves can do, plus a little bit more, for example… He laughed out loud and understood the point of the question. A machine like that could go on to produce something more intelligent than itself in turn, and then what happens?
The same would be true of the next machine and the next one and the next one, and soon the very source of it all, man himself, would be no more interesting to the latest computer than a lab rat. An explosion of intelligence beyond all control, as in the Matrix films. Blomkvist smiled and went back to his computer and wrote:
After that he sat looking out through the window, insofar as one could see anything beyond the swirling snow. Every now and then he looked through the open door at Berger, who was sleeping soundly and who knew nothing about machines more intelligent than human beings, or at least was not concerned about that right now.
He thought he heard his mobile give a ping, and sure enough: he had a new voicemail. That worried him, he was not sure why. Apart from ex-girlfriends who call when they’re drunk and want to have sex, you usually only get bad news at night. The voice in the message sounded harried:
My name is Frans Balder. I know it’s rude to call this late. I apologize for that. But my situation has become somewhat critical, at least that’s how I see it. I’ve just discovered that you were looking for me, which is really a strange coincidence. There are a few things I’ve been wanting to tell you about for some time now, I think they might interest you. I’d be grateful if you could get in touch as soon as possible. I have a feeling that this might be a bit urgent.
Balder left a telephone number and an e-mail address and Blomkvist jotted them down and sat still for a while, drumming his fingers on the kitchen table. Then he dialed the number.
Balder was lying in bed, agitated and scared. Yet he was feeling a little calmer now. The car coming up his drive had been the police guard arriving at long last. Two men in their forties, one tall and one quite short, both looking cocky and with the same short, trendy haircut. But they were perfectly polite and apologized for the delay in taking up their post.
“Milton Security and Gabriella Grane at the Security Police briefed us on the situation,” one said.
They were aware that a man wearing a cap and dark glasses had been snooping around the property and that they had to be on their guard. Therefore they turned down the offer of a cup of hot tea in the kitchen. They wanted to check out the house and Balder thought that sounded sensible. Otherwise they did not make a hugely positive impression, but then he did not get an overwhelmingly negative impression either. He had taken their telephone numbers and gone back to bed to join August, who was still sleeping, curled up with his green earplugs.
But Balder had not been able to fall asleep again. He was listening for noises out there in the storm and eventually he sat up in bed. He had to do something, or he would go mad. He checked his mobile. He had two messages from Linus Brandell, who sounded bad-tempered and defensive all at the same time. At first Balder felt like hanging up. But then he caught a couple of things which were interesting after all. Linus had spoken to Mikael Blomkvist at Millennium magazine and now Blomkvist wanted to get in touch and Balder began to think. “Mikael Blomkvist,” he muttered.
Is he to be my link with the outside world?
Balder knew very little about Swedish journalists. But he did know who Blomkvist was, and was aware of his reputation as someone who always went right to the heart of his stories, never yielding to pressure. That in itself did not necessarily make him the right man for the job—plus, somehow Balder seemed to recall hearing other, less flattering things—so he called Gabriella Grane again. She knew just about everything there was to know about the media scene and had said that she would be staying up late. “Hello,” she answered right away. “I was about to get in touch. I’m looking at that man on the CCTV. We really ought to move you now, you know.” “But, my God, Gabriella, the police are here—finally. They’re sitting right outside the front door.”
“There’s nothing to suggest that the man will come through the front door.”
“Why would he come back at all? The man from Milton said he looked like an old junkie.”
“I’m not so sure about that. He was carrying some sort of box, some- thing technical. We should play this safe.”
Balder glanced at August lying next to him.
“I’m quite happy to move tomorrow. That might help my nerves. But I’m not going anywhere tonight—your policemen seem professional, professional enough at any rate.”
“If you’re going to be stubborn I’ll see to it that Flinck and Blom make themselves conspicuous and cover the entire property.”
“Fine, but that’s not why I’m calling. You said I ought to go public, remember?”
“Well… yes… That’s not the kind of advice you would expect from the Security Police, is it? I still think it would be a good idea, but first I’d like you to tell us what you know. I’m feeling a little apprehensive about this story.”
“In that case let’s talk tomorrow morning, when we’ve had a good sleep. But one thing, what do you think of Mikael Blomkvist at Millennium? Could he be the right sort of person to talk to?”
Grane gave a laugh.
“If you want my colleagues to have an apoplectic fit, then definitely talk to him.”
“Is it as bad as that?”
“At Säpo people avoid him like the plague. If you find Blomkvist on your doorstep, then you know your whole year is shot, they say. Everybody here, including Helena Kraft, would advise against it in the strongest terms.”
“But it’s you I’m asking.”
“Well, my answer is that your reasoning is sound. He’s a damn fine journalist.”
“Hasn’t he also come in for some criticism?”
“For sure, people have been saying that he’s past his prime and that his writing isn’t positive or upbeat enough, or whatever. But he’s an old- fashioned investigative reporter of the highest caliber. Do you have his contact details?”
“My ex-assistant gave them to me.”
“Good, great. But before you get in touch with him, you must first tell us what you have. Do you promise?”
“I promise, Gabriella. Now I’m going to sleep for a few hours.”
“Do that, and I’ll keep in touch with Flinck and Blom and arrange a safe house for you first thing in the morning.”
After he had hung up he tried again to get some sleep. But it proved as impossible this time as before. The storm made him increasingly restless and worried. It felt as if something evil was travelling across the sea towards him, and he could not help listening anxiously for any unusual sounds.
It was true that he had promised Grane he would talk to her first. But he could not wait—everything he had kept bottled up for so long was throbbing to get out. He knew it was irrational, nothing could be that urgent. It was the middle of the night and, regardless of what Grane had said, he was by any reckoning safer than he had been for a long time. He had police protection and a first-rate security system. But that did not help. He was agitated and so he got out the number Linus had given him and dialed it, but of course Blomkvist did not answer.
Why would he? It was far too late. Balder left a voice message instead in a slightly forced, whispered voice so as not to wake August. Then he got up and put on his bedside light. On the bookshelf by the bed there was some literature which had nothing to do with his work, and both absent- minded and worried, he flicked through an old novel by Stephen King, Pet Sematary. But that made him think even more about evil figures travelling through the night. For a long time he just stood there with the book in his hand—then he felt a stab of apprehension, which he might have dismissed as nonsense in broad daylight but which now seemed totally plausible. He had a sudden urge to speak to Farah or better still Steven Warburton at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Los Angeles, who would be certain to be awake, and while imagining all sorts of unpleasant scenarios, he looked out to sea and the night and the clouds scudding across the sky. At that moment his mobile rang, as if it had heard his prayer. But it was neither Farah nor Warburton.
“My name is Mikael Blomkvist,” the voice said. “You’ve been looking for me.”
“Correct. I’m sorry to have called so late.” “No problem. I was awake anyway.”
“Can you talk now?”
“Absolutely, I was actually just answering a message from a person whom I think we both know. Lisbeth Salander.”
“Sorry, maybe I’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. I thought you had hired her to go through your computers and trace a suspected data breach.”
“Yes, my God, she’s a strange girl, that one,” he said. “She never revealed her surname, even though we had a lot of contact for a while. I assumed she had her reasons, and I never pushed her. I met her at one of my lectures at the Royal Institute of Technology. I’d be happy to tell you about it; it was pretty astonishing. But what I meant to ask was… well, you’ll probably think it’s a crazy idea.”
“Sometimes I like crazy ideas.”
“You wouldn’t feel like coming over right now? It would mean a lot to me. I’m sitting on a story which I think could be explosive. I’ll pay for your taxi here and back.”
“Thanks, but I always pick up my own tab. Tell me, why do we have to talk now, in the middle of the night?”
“Because…” Balder hesitated. “Because I have a feeling this is urgent, or actually it’s more than a feeling. I’ve just been told that I’m under threat,.
and an hour or so ago someone was snooping around my property. I’m frightened, to be honest, and I want to get this information off my chest. I no longer want to be the only one in the know.”
“I’ll come—if I can manage to get hold of a taxi.”
Balder gave him the address and hung up, then called Professor War- burton in Los Angeles, and had an intense conversation with him on an encrypted line for about thirty minutes. Then he put on a pair of jeans and a black cashmere polo and went in search of a bottle of Amarone, in case that was the kind of thing Blomkvist might enjoy. But he got no further than the doorway before he started in fright.
He thought he had seen a movement, something flashing past, and looked anxiously towards the jetty and the sea. But it was the same desolate, storm-lashed scene as before, and he dismissed whatever it was as a figment of his imagination, a product of his nervous frame of mind, or at least he tried to. He left the bedroom and walked along the large window on his way towards the upper floor. Suddenly gripped by a new fear, he spun around again and this time he really did glimpse something over by the house next door.
A figure was racing along in the shelter of the trees, and even if Balder did not see the person for more than a matter of seconds, he could make out that it was a powerfully built man with a backpack and dark clothes. The man ran in a crouch and something about the way he moved had a trained look to it, as if he had run like that many times before, perhaps in a distant war.
It took a few moments for Balder to fumble for his mobile, and he tried to work out which of the numbers on his call list belonged to the police- men out there. He had not put their names into his contacts, and now was uncertain. With a shaking hand he tried one which he thought was right. No-one answered, not at first. The ring tone sounded three, four, five times before a voice panted out, “Blom here, what’s up?”
“I saw a man running along the line of trees by my neighbour’s house. I don’t know where he is now. But he could very well be up by the road near you.”
“OK, we’ll check it out.”
“He seemed…” Balder said. “What?”
“I don’t know, quick.”
• Exclusive: “Lisbeth Salander is a riddle,” says David Lagercrantz
WANT MORE EW? Subscribe now to keep up with the latest in movies, television and music.