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The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest m(-3

Stieg Larsson

  The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest

  ( millennium (en) - 3 )

  Stieg Larsson

  Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.

  Stieg Larsson

  The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest

  The third book in the Millennium series, 2009

  Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland, 2009

  Originally published in Sweden as Luftslottet Som Sprängdes, 2007


  8 – 12.IV

  It is estimated that some six hundred women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here – or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions, and nowhere is that distinction more sharply drawn than in the question of armed combat. (Even today, it can cause controversy having a woman on a typically Swedish moose hunt.)

  But from antiquity to modern times, there are many stories of female warriors, of Amazons. The best known find their way into the history books as warrior queens, rulers as well as leaders. They have been forced to act as any Churchill, Stalin, or Roosevelt: Semiramis from Nineveh, who shaped the Assyrian Empire, and Boudicca, who led one of the bloodiest English revolts against the Roman forces of occupation, to cite just two. Boudicca is honoured with a statue on the Thames at Westminster Bridge, right opposite Big Ben. Be sure to say hello to her if you happen to pass by.

  On the other hand, history is quite reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and played their part in battle on the same terms as men. Hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks.



  Dr Jonasson was woken by Nurse Nicander five minutes before the helicopter was expected to land. It was just before 1.30 in the morning.

  “What?” he said, confused.

  “Rescue Service helicopter coming in. Two patients. An injured man and a younger woman. The woman has a gunshot wound.”

  “Alright,” Jonasson said wearily.

  He felt groggy although he had slept for only half an hour. He was on the night shift in A.&E. at Sahlgrenska hospital in Göteborg. It had been a strenuous evening. Since he had come on duty at 6.00 p.m., the hospital had received four victims of a head-on collision outside Lindome. One was pronounced D.O.A. He had treated a waitress whose legs had been scalded in an accident at a restaurant on Avenyn, and he had saved the life of a four-year-old boy who arrived at the hospital with respiratory failure after swallowing the wheel of a toy car. He had patched up a girl who had ridden her bike into a ditch that the road-repair department had chosen to dig close to the end of a bike path; the warning barriers had been tipped into the hole. She had fourteen stitches in her face and would need two new front teeth. Jonasson had also sewn part of a thumb back on to an enthusiastic carpenter who had managed to slice it off.

  By 12.30 the steady flow of emergency cases had eased off. He had made a round to check on the state of his patients, and then gone back to the staff bedroom to try to rest for a while. He was on duty until 6.00 in the morning, and seldom got the chance to sleep even if no emergency patients came in. But this time he had fallen asleep almost as soon as he turned out the light.

  Nurse Nicander handed him a cup of tea. She had not been given any details about the incoming cases.

  Jonasson saw lightning out over the sea. He knew that the helicopter was coming in in the nick of time. All of a sudden a heavy downpour lashed at the window. The storm had moved in over Göteborg.

  He heard the sound of the chopper and watched as it banked through the storm squalls down towards the helipad. For a second he held his breath when the pilot seemed to have difficulty controlling the aircraft. Then it vanished from his field of view and he heard the engine slowing to land. He took a hasty swallow of his tea and set down the cup.

  Jonasson met them in the emergency admissions area. The other doctor on duty, Katarina Holm, took on the first patient who was wheeled in – an elderly man with his head bandaged, apparently with a serious wound to the face. Jonasson was left with the second patient, the woman who had been shot. He did a quick visual examination: it looked like she was a teenager, very dirty and bloody, and severely wounded. He lifted the blanket that the Rescue Service had wrapped round her body and saw that the wounds to her hip and shoulder were bandaged with duct tape, which he considered a pretty clever idea. The tape kept bacteria out and the blood in. One bullet had entered the outer side of her hip and gone straight through the muscle tissue. Then he gently raised her shoulder and located the entry wound in her back. There was no exit wound: the round was still inside her shoulder. He hoped it had not penetrated her lung, and since he did not see any blood in the woman’s mouth he concluded that probably it had not.

  “Radiology,” he told the nurse in attendance. That was all he needed to say.

  Then he cut away the bandage that the emergency team had wrapped round her skull. He froze when he saw another entry wound. The woman had been shot in the head and there was no exit wound there either.

  Dr Jonasson paused for a second, looking down at the girl. He felt dejected. He had often described his job as being like that of a goalkeeper. Every day people came to his place of work in varying conditions but with one objective: to get help. It could be an old woman who had collapsed from a heart attack in the Nordstan galleria, or a fourteen-year-old boy whose left lung had been pierced by a screwdriver, or a teenage girl who had taken ecstasy and danced for eighteen hours straight before collapsing, blue in the face. They were victims of accidents at work or of violent abuse at home. They were tiny children savaged by dogs on Vasaplatsen, or Handy Harrys, who only meant to saw a few planks with their Black&Deckers and in some mysterious way managed to slice right into their wrist-bones.

  So Dr Jonasson was the goalkeeper who stood between the patient and Fonus Funeral Service. His job was to decide what to do. If he made the wrong decision, the patient might die or perhaps wake up disabled for life. Most often he made the right decision, because the vast majority of injured people had an obvious and specific problem. A stab wound to the lung or a crushing injury after a car crash were both particular and recognizable problems that could be dealt with. The survival of the patient depended on the extent of the damage and on Dr Jonasson’s skill.

  There were two kinds of injury that he hated. One was a serious burn case, because no matter what measures he took it would almost inevitably result in a lifetime of suffering. The second was an injury to the brain.

  The girl on the gurney could live with a piece of lead in her hip and a piece of lead in her shoulder. But a piece of lead inside her brain was a trauma of a wholly different magnitude. He was suddenly aware of Nurse Nicander saying something.

  “Sorry. I wasn’t listening.”

  “It’s her.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “It’s Lisbeth Salan
der. The girl they’ve been hunting for the past few weeks, for the triple murder in Stockholm.”

  Jonasson looked again at the unconscious patient’s face. He realized at once that Nurse Nicander was right. He and the whole of Sweden had seen her passport photograph on billboards outside every newspaper kiosk for weeks. And now the murderer herself had been shot, which was surely poetic justice of a sort.

  But that was not his concern. His job was to save his patient’s life, irrespective of whether she was a triple murderer or a Nobel Prize winner. Or both.

  Then the efficient chaos, the same in every A.&E. the world over, erupted. The staff on Jonasson’s shift set about their appointed tasks. Salander’s clothes were cut away. A nurse reported on her blood pressure – 100/70 – while the doctor put his stethoscope to her chest and listened to her heartbeat. It was surprisingly regular, but her breathing was not quite normal.

  Jonasson did not hesitate to classify Salander’s condition as critical. The wounds in her shoulder and hip could wait until later with a compress on each, or even with the duct tape that some inspired soul had applied. What mattered was her head. Jonasson ordered tomography with the new and improved C.T. scanner that the hospital had lately acquired.

  Dr Anders Jonasson was blond and blue-eyed, originally from Umeå in northern Sweden. He had worked at Sahlgrenska and Eastern hospitals for twenty years, by turns as researcher, pathologist, and in A.&E. He had achieved something that astonished his colleagues and made the rest of the medical staff proud to work with him; he had vowed that no patient would die on his shift, and in some miraculous way he had indeed managed to hold the mortality rate at zero. Some of his patients had died, of course, but it was always during subsequent treatment or for completely different reasons that had nothing to do with his interventions.

  He had a view of medicine that was at times unorthodox. He thought doctors often drew conclusions that they could not substantiate. This meant that they gave up far too easily; alternatively they spent too much time at the acute stage trying to work out exactly what was wrong with the patient so as to decide on the right treatment. This was correct procedure, of course. The problem was that the patient was in danger of dying while the doctor was still doing his thinking.

  But Jonasson had never before had a patient with a bullet in her skull. Most likely he would need a brain surgeon. He had all the theoretical knowledge required to make an incursion into the brain, but he did not by any means consider himself a brain surgeon. He felt inadequate but all of a sudden realized that he might be luckier than he deserved. Before he scrubbed up and put on his operating clothes he sent for Nurse Nicander.

  “There’s an American professor from Boston called Frank Ellis, working at the Karolinska hospital in Stockholm. He happens to be in Göteborg tonight, staying at the Radisson on Avenyn. He just gave a lecture on brain research. He’s a good friend of mine. Could you get the number?”

  While Jonasson was still waiting for the X-rays, Nurse Nicander came back with the number of the Radisson. Jonasson picked up the telephone. The night porter at the Radisson was very reluctant to wake a guest at that time of night and Jonasson had to come up with a few choice phrases about the critical nature of the situation before his call was put through.

  “Good morning, Frank,” Jonasson said when the call was finally answered. “It’s Anders. Do you feel like coming over to Sahlgrenska to help out in a brain op.?”

  “Are you bullshitting me?” Ellis had lived in Sweden for many years and was fluent in Swedish – albeit with an American accent – but when Jonasson spoke to him in Swedish, Ellis always replied in his mother tongue.

  “I’m sorry I missed your lecture, Frank, but I hoped you might be able to give me private lessons. I’ve got a young woman here who’s been shot in the head. Entry wound just above the left ear. I badly need a second opinion, and I don’t know of a better person to ask.”

  “So it’s serious?” Ellis sat up and swung his feet out of bed. He rubbed his eyes.

  “She’s mid-twenties, entry wound, no exit.”

  “And she’s alive?”

  “Weak but regular pulse, less regular breathing, blood pressure is 100/70. She also has a bullet wound in her shoulder and another in her hip. But I know how to handle those two.”

  “Sounds promising,” Ellis said.


  “If somebody has a bullet in their head and they’re still alive, that points to hopeful.”

  “I understand… Frank, can you help me out?”

  “I spent the evening in the company of good friends, Anders. I got to bed at 1.00 and no doubt I have an impressive blood alcohol content.”

  “I’ll make the decisions and do the surgery. But I need somebody to tell me if I’m doing anything stupid. Even a falling-down drunk Professor Ellis is several classes better than I could ever be when it comes to assessing brain damage.”

  “O.K. I’ll come. But you’re going to owe me one.”

  “I’ll have a taxi waiting outside by the time you get down to the lobby. The driver will know where to drop you, and Nurse Nicander will be there to meet you and get you kitted out.”

  Ellis had raven-black hair with a touch of grey, and a dark five-o’clock shadow. He looked like a bit player in E.R. The tone of his muscles testified to the fact that he spent a number of hours each week at the gym. He pushed up his glasses and scratched the back of his neck. He focused his gaze on the computer screen, which showed every nook and cranny of the patient Salander’s brain.

  Ellis liked living in Sweden. He had first come as an exchange researcher in the late ’70s and stayed for two years. Then he came back regularly, until one day he was offered a permanent position at the Karolinska in Stockholm. By that time he had won an international reputation.

  He had first met Jonasson at a seminar in Stockholm fourteen years earlier and discovered that they were both fly-fishing enthusiasts. They had kept in touch and had gone on fishing trips to Norway and elsewhere. But they had never worked together.

  “I’m sorry for chasing you down, but…”

  “Not a problem.” Ellis gave a dismissive wave. “But it’ll cost you a bottle of Cragganmore the next time we go fishing.”

  “O.K., that’s a fee I’ll gladly pay.”

  “I had a patient a number of years ago, in Boston – I wrote about the case in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was a girl the same age as your patient here. She was walking to the university when someone shot her with a crossbow. The arrow entered at the outside edge of her left eyebrow and went straight through her head, exiting from almost the middle of the back of her neck.”

  “And she survived?”

  “She looked like nothing on earth when she came in. We cut off the arrow shaft and put her head in a C.T. scanner. The arrow went straight through her brain. By all known reckoning she should have been dead, or at least suffered such massive trauma that she would have been in a coma.”

  “And what was her condition?”

  “She was conscious the whole time. Not only that; she was terribly frightened, of course, but she was completely rational. Her only problem was that she had an arrow through her skull.”

  “What did you do?”

  “Well, I got the forceps and pulled out the arrow and bandaged the wounds. More or less.”

  “And she lived to tell the tale?”

  “Obviously her condition was critical, but the fact is we could have sent her home the same day. I’ve seldom had a healthier patient.”

  Jonasson wondered whether Ellis was pulling his leg.

  “On the other hand,” Ellis went on, “I had a 42-year-old patient in Stockholm some years ago who banged his head on a windowsill. He began to feel sick immediately and was taken by ambulance to A.&E. When I got to him he was unconscious. He had a small bump and a very slight bruise. But he never regained consciousness and died after nine days in intensive care. To this day I have no idea why he died. In the autopsy report, w
e wrote brain haemorrhage resulting from an accident, but not one of us was satisfied with that assessment. The bleeding was so minor and located in an area that shouldn’t have affected anything else at all. And yet his liver, kidneys, heart and lungs shut down one after the other. The older I get, the more I think it’s like a game of roulette. I don’t believe we’ll ever figure out precisely how the brain works.” He tapped on the screen with a pen. “What do you intend to do?”

  “I was hoping you would tell me.”

  “Let’s hear your diagnosis.”

  “Well, first of all, it seems to be a small-calibre bullet. It entered at the temple, and then stopped about four centimetres into the brain. It’s resting against the lateral ventricle. There’s bleeding there.”

  “How will you proceed?”

  “To use your terminology – get some forceps and extract the bullet by the same route it went in.”

  “Excellent idea. I would use the thinnest forceps you have.”

  “It’s that simple?”

  “What else can we do in this case? We could leave the bullet where it is, and she might live to be a hundred, but it’s also a risk. She might develop epilepsy, migraines, all sorts of complaints. And one thing you really don’t want to do is drill into her skull and then operate a year from now when the wound itself has healed. The bullet is located away from the major blood vessels. So I would recommend that you extract it… but…”

  “But what?”

  “The bullet doesn’t worry me so much. She’s survived this far and that’s a good omen for her getting through having the bullet removed, too. The real problem is here.” He pointed at the screen. “Around the entry wound you have all sorts of bone fragments. I can see at least a dozen that are a couple of millimetres long. Some are embedded in the brain tissue. That’s what could kill her if you’re not careful.”