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The Virtues of Isolation

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The cabin was in perfect in its isolation; nothing to distract him from sifting through the evidence and finally making sense of it. Mikael Blomkvist sat at the rough-hewn table, a cup of coffee at his elbow, and worked on putting the pieces together. A hunting accident. A group of American dentists. Drowned caribou. A hydroelectric dam. Mikael massaged his temples: he was fairly sure he had discovered a vast environmental conspiracy extending to the very highest reaches of the Canadian government, but he needed more proof. He also needed to make the story compelling: readers of Inquiry, Berger's new international news magazine, might not care about massive flooding in the Northwest Territories. They might not even care about the murder of a member of the RCMP, even one so legendary.

But the caribou. Mikael reached out with his fingertips and pulled over the 8x10 glossy picture of the five dead caribou against the snow. That was a compelling image; that should be the beginning and the end of the piece. Good journalism was only half-research; the rest was art, the ability to turn dry facts and numbers into a story, into something interesting, relevant, satisfying. He made a note to thank the Mountie who had sent him the photograph and put him onto the case—or perhaps a better way to thank him would be to run a sidebar on his murdered father. Could be a good companion piece: bit of colorful local history, lost way of life. All he needed was the right photograph; perhaps the son had one.

He was so lost in thought that he didn't at first hear the hum of the engine. This was an additional benefit of the cabin, as far as Mikael was concerned: it was damned difficult to sneak up on. You could hear everything for miles, and the faint mechanical whine was still low enough that Mikael knew he had time to write another couple of sentences, or perhaps put up a pot of fresh--

He was fooling himself. He pushed back from the table, almost sick with anticipation. It had been four days since he'd gone to town, to Tuktoyaktuk's sole internet cafe, and sent all the relevant names and dates to an anonymous Hotmail account, hoping to get help in tracking the money. He hadn't yet checked for a reply; the trip was arduous enough that he had to combine it with his weekly supply run. But still, he'd expected an e-mail reply. Or had he? He smoothed down his jumper and ran quick fingers through his hair. All right, perhaps he hadn't. Perhaps he had been hoping, just a little.

He put on his coat and went to stand outside in the bright snow. Around him, the landscape was vast, beautiful, utterly still. But the whine was getting louder, and Mikael jammed his hands in his pockets and waited for the vehicle to crest the hill. Finally it did—looking first like an insect, black wings against the snow. Then it resolved itself into a deadly looking snowmobile, long, sleek, with a green-yellow underbelly. The lithe figure riding it was clad in black and wearing what seemed to Mikael to be a glossy, oversized racing helmet. He took a few unthinking steps forward, stopped.

The snowmobile slowed, then pulled up in front of the cabin. Lisbeth dismounted the bike, then unbuckled her helmet and tugged it off, revealing her spiky black hair. She reached into the snowmobile's saddle bag and pulled out a rectangular package tightly wrapped in waterproof plastic. "Here's your evidence," she said, and tossed it to him. "Delivered by pony express. You know," she added, coming closer, "if you'd chosen a cabin just a bit closer to town, you could have gotten the internet by satellite. Here, you're just out of range."

"Oh?" Mikael replied innocently. "Am I?" and for a moment he thought Lisbeth might kick him, but then she put a gloved hand on his arm and leaned up to kiss him, nipping his lower lip instead.