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Dragan Armansky was born in Croatia fifty-six years ago. His father was an Armenian Jew from Belorussia. His mother was a Bosnian Muslim of Greek extraction. She had taken charge of his upbringing and his education, which meant that as an adult he was lumped together with that large, heterogeneous group defined by the media as Muslims. The Swedish immigration authorities had registered him, strangely enough, as a Serb. His passport confirmed that he was a Swedish citizen, and his passport photograph showed a squarish face, a strong jaw, five-o'clock shadow, and greying temples. He was often referred to as "The Arab," although he did not have a drop of Arab blood.
He looked a little like the stereotypical local boss in an American gangster movie, but in fact he was a talented financial director who had begun his career as a junior accountant at Milton Security in the early seventies. Three decades later he had advanced to CEO and COO of the company.
He had become fascinated with the security business. It was like war games--to identify threats, develop counter-strategies, and all the time stay one step ahead of the industrial spies, blackmailers and thieves. It began for him when he discovered how the swindling of a client had been accomplished through creative bookkeeping. He was able to prove who, from a group of a dozen people, was behind it. He had been promoted and played a key role in the firm's development and was an expert in financial fraud. Fifteen years later he became CEO. He had transformed Milton Security into one of Sweden's most competent and trusted security firms.
The company had 380 full-time employees and another 300 freelancers. It was small compared to Falck or Swedish Guard Service. When Armansky first joined, the company was called Johan Fredrik Milton's General Security AB, and it had a client list consisting of shopping centres that needed floorwalkers and muscular guards. Under his leadership the firm was now the internationally recognised Milton Security and had invested in cutting-edge technology. Night watchmen well past their prime, uniform fetishists, and moonlighting university students had been replaced by people with real professional skills. Armansky hired mature ex-policemen as operations chiefs, political scientists specialising in international terrorism, and experts in personal protection and industrial espionage. Most importantly, he hired the best telecommunications technicians and IT experts. The company moved from Solna to state-of-the-art offices near Slussen, in the heart of Stockholm.
By the start of the nineties, Milton Security was equipped to offer a new level of security to an exclusive group of clients, primarily medium-sized corporations and well-to-do private individuals--nouveau-riche rock stars, stock-market speculators, and dot-com high flyers. A part of the company's activity was providing bodyguard protection and security solutions to Swedish firms abroad, especially in the Middle East. This area of their business now accounted for 70 percent of the company's turnover. Under Armansky, sales had increased from about forty million SEK annually to almost two billion. Providing security was a lucrative business.
Operations were divided among three main areas: security consultations, which consisted of identifying conceivable or imagined threats; counter-measures, which usually involved the installation of security cameras, burglar and fire alarms, electronic locking mechanisms and IT systems; and personal protection for private individuals or companies. This last market had grown forty times over in ten years. Lately a new client group had arisen: affluent women seeking protection from former boyfriends or husbands or from stalkers. In addition, Milton Security had a cooperative arrangement with similar firms of good repute in Europe and the United States. The company also handled security for many international visitors to Sweden, including an American actress who was shooting a film for two months in Trollhattan. Her agent felt that her status warranted having bodyguards accompany her whenever she took her infrequent walks near the hotel.
A fourth, considerably smaller area that occupied only a few employees was what was called PI or P-In, in internal jargon pinders, which stood for personal investigations.
Armansky was not altogether enamoured of this part of their business. It was troublesome and less lucrative. It put greater demands on the employees' judgement and experience than on their knowledge of telecommunications technology or the installation of surveillance apparatus. Personal investigations were acceptable when it was a matter of credit information, background checks before hiring, or to investigate suspicions that some employee had leaked company information or engaged in criminal activity. In such cases the pinders were an integral part of the operational activity. But not infrequently his business clients would drag in private problems that had a tendency to create unwelcome turmoil. I want to know what sort of creep my daughter is going out with . . . I think my wife is being unfaithful . . . The guy is OK but he's mixed up with bad company . . . I'm being blackmailed . . . Armansky often gave them a straightforward no. If the daughter was an adult, she had the right to go out with any creep she wanted to, and he thought infidelity was something that husbands and wives ought to work out on their own. Hidden in all such inquiries were traps that could lead to scandal and create legal problems for Milton Security. Which was why Dragan Armansky kept a close watch on these assignments, in spite of how modest the revenue was.
The morning's topic was just such a personal investigation. Armansky straightened the crease in his trousers before he leaned back in his comfortable chair. He glanced suspiciously at his colleague Lisbeth Salander, who was thirty-two years his junior. He thought for the thousandth time that nobody seemed more out of place in a prestigious security firm than she did. His mistrust was both wise and irrational. In Armansky's eyes, Salander was beyond doubt the most able investigator he had met in all his years in the business. During the four years she had worked for him she had never once fumbled a job or turned in a single mediocre report.
On the contrary, her reports were in a class by themselves. Armansky was convinced that she possessed a unique gift. Anybody could find out credit information or run a check with police records. But Salander had imagination, and she always came back with something different from what he expected. How she did it, he had never understood. Sometimes he thought that her ability to gather information was sheer magic. She knew the bureaucratic archives inside out. Above all, she had the ability to get under the skin of the person she was investigating. If there was any dirt to be dug up, she would home in on it like a cruise missile.
Somehow she had always had this gift.
Her reports could be a catastrophe for the individual who landed in her radar. Armansky would never forget the time he assigned her to do a routine check on a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry before a corporate buyout. The job was scheduled to take a week, but it dragged on for a while. After four weeks' silence and several reminders, which she ignored, Salander came back with a report documenting that the subject in question was a paedophile. On two occasions he had bought sex from a thirteen-year-old child prostitute in Tallinn, and there were indications that he had an unhealthy interest in the daughter of the woman with whom he was currently living.
Salander had habits that sometimes drove Armansky to the edge of despair. In the case of the paedophile, she did not pick up the telephone and call Armansky or come into his office wanting to talk to him. No, without indicating by a single word that the report might contain explosive material, she laid it on his desk one evening, just as Armansky was about to leave for the day. He read it only late that evening, as he was relaxing over a bottle of wine in front of the TV with his wife in their villa on Liding?.
The report was, as always, almost scientifically precise, with footnotes, quotations, and source references. The first few pages gave the subject's background, education, career, and financial situation. Not until page 24 did Salander drop the bombshell about the trips to Tallinn, in the same dry-as-dust tone she used to report that he lived in Sollentuna and drove a dark blue Volvo. She referred to documentation in an exhaustive appendix, including photographs of the thirteen-year-old girl in the company of the subject. The pictures had been taken in a hotel corridor in Tallinn, and the man had his hand under the girl's sweater. Salander had tracked down the girl in question and she had provided her account on tape.
The report had created precisely the chaos that Armansky had wanted to avoid. First he had to swallow a few ulcer tablets prescribed by his doctor. Then he called in the client for a sombre emergency meeting. Finally--over the client's fierce objections--he was forced to refer the material to the police. This meant that Milton Security risked being drawn into a tangled web. If Salander's evidence could not be substantiated or the man was acquitted, the company might risk a libel suit. It was a nightmare.
About the book:
Murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue combine into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel.
Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.