“Haaaaaave you met Ted?” It seemed innocuous enough at the start. He was a pretty blonde thing, overconfident and brash, but harmless enough. She could see immediately that all he thought about was having a good time. Though his expensive suit clashed with a partyboy mentality. From experience, Lisbeth knew that the rich were less friendly than this. Her eyes slid over to the darker one, the one called Ted. Shy. Reserved. Clearly embarrassed by his friend’s antics.
“You’re obviously interrupting her, Barney. Also, I hate this game.” His mannerisms were polite, but Lisbeth could feel the pressure of his eyes on the side of her face. She had not looked up from her laptop, which might have been the most precious thing she owned at this very moment. The wifi in the pub had been extremely easy to break into, so even though it wasn’t for public use, she was online and doing research on a company called Altrucell.
“Do I look as if I have been interrupted? I have the intellectual capacity to do two things at once.” The words were said low and mostly to herself. She wouldn’t have answered normally, but the goofy one was being nice and it bit at her to have her intelligence questioned.
Curiosity got the better of him, and Ted sidled forward, doing his best to not be in a position where he might accidentally see her computer screen. His hands were in his pockets. “What are you working on? In a pub, I mean. Normally when you see people with computers in this place they’re … well, to be honest, we don’t normally see people with computers in this place.”
“But why a pub? Why not the library? Or… home?”
Lisbeth turned slightly in her seat and looked at him, not caring about if he saw her screen. Nothing on it would look like what he was used to seeing, he wouldn’t be able to tell anybody what she’d been doing. “You’re very curious about a stranger.”
“I like peoples’ stories.” Ted shrugged, Barney stood some distance away, speaking to a young lady. Lisbeth thought she heard him say something about being a bullfighting astronaut, but that couldn’t have been right. There wasn’t a big enough idiot in the world who would fall for a line like that, and it seemed to her that Barney was doing okay. “And hell, Barney already made it awkward with that stupid game of his, so it can’t get any worse, right?”
“It could always get worse.” Lisbeth, the optimist. She didn’t let Ted speak, just continued. “I am here doing this because this was the first wifi spot I found after I left my hotel, which is not a very nice place to stay. I have work I need to get done, and I see no point in hunting down a library when I can do it right here.”
“In town for work? What’s your name? I’m Ted.” Ted was oblivious to the fact that the wifi was not public knowledge. His smile was genuine, but Lisbeth did not want to encourage him to think something was going to happen here. She needed to put a stop to that really fast.
“Obviously you’re Ted. I am Irene. Yes, I am in town for work.” Her brain sorted through an idea quickly. “I am here to interview for a company. Altrucell. I am working on my resume. We are not going to have sex, Ted.”
“Whoa. Nobody said anything about sex.” His hands were held up to show he meant no harm, but Lisbeth detected a touch of disappointment at the corners of his mouth. One of his hands motioned toward Barney. “He works for them, so maybe he can help?”
Lisbeth’s eyes slid back to the blonde one. His expensive suit made sense now. “Ted. Get me Barney.”
It wasn’t long at all between the time that Ted left her side and when he brought back his friend. She’d managed to order them all shots of rum by that time, and placed one in front of each man without asking if they wanted it. Hers was gone without a word to it, and she waved for more. The pair were looking at her a little shocked, but the shock in Barney was a pleased one. He squeezed himself between Ted and the bar and leaned on it with an elbow.
“You wanted to know about my work?” His smile was large and his eyebrow cocked high.
“Yes, but first, more drinks.” She nodded at his glass and he immediately downed it. Just as she’d hoped, he was a man ready to match her drink for drink. He would be easier to get information from if his lips were loosened by liquor.
“I’m out.” Ted said. “You two have fun. I see nothing good coming from this.”
With that, Barney slid onto the stool beside Lisbeth. He motioned for the bartender and instructed that the whole bottle be left. This made Lisbeth smile. Barney was going to take that wrong, but that was okay. It would work in her favor. She didn’t close the laptop, or even make to hide it. She would need it, more than likely, and again, she doubted that he would know what any of it meant.
She watched where Ted went, to see if he would be a problem. There were other people at a table with him, and they all looked at Barney as if this were not a new thing. Good. They would have time alone to speak, and perhaps she could get information that would be useful to her.
Barney was a drinker, but he had his limit. Lisbeth noted the time as he began to slouch, and fed him two more drinks. The conversation was not great, but she supposed she’d endured more painful ones in her lifetime. She had to stray away from those things that interested her most, as she could see his eyes begin to glaze over when she got too close. He needed her to be a certain kind of woman, and she could play a part to get what she needed. Though it was not within her wheelhouse to play stupid, she could fake interest in trivial things.
He was explaining American football to her in a fairly amusing way when she decided it was time to bring up his work. She slid into the conversation easily, transitioning to it by saying football should be his line of work instead of what he did. She told him that she was looking to apply for a position in his job, and if he had any pointers for her. She did not, however, bat her eyelashes at him or act like a helpless twit. The very thought of it made her want to gag.
“You don’t want to work for us.” Barney shook his head.
“I have come all this way…” She furrowed her brow for effect.
“Listen to me, Irene.” He was suddenly serious, no games, no silly boy trying to impress a girl. Well, no. That was still there, she saw now. She supposed it always was. He wanted her to know something, though. So she listened.
In twenty minutes, Lisbeth had lots of information she was sure she could have gotten through her regular means. In thirty, she had some she knew she would have had to dig deeper for. At the forty five minute mark, he’d told her things that she was sure even her client didn’t know about. And an hour later, Lisbeth Salander had more than enough to take down the entire company. She was confindent that she would have been able to without Barney’s help, but now she was armed with the most powerful weapon in the world: knowledge. Insider knowledge that would guide her through to the heart of the beast so she could slay it.
She slowly closed the laptop and stood up. “You have given me great insight. I will reconsider my desire to work at Altrucell.”
“It’s really for the best.”
Lisbeth packed her things up, ready to find the building this company resided in and see if she couldn’t get herself hooked up to their network and pull up the proofs for what Barney had told her. By morning, the CEO would be in jail, the CFO would probably be on the run, and all of Altrucell would cease to exist as a viable company. If she’d believed in things like fate, Lisbeth might have felt like this encounter with Barney and his friend Ted had been destined. She left without saying goodbye to either of them.
“Did the great Barney Stintson strike out?” she heard a voice behind her ask. Not Ted.
“I guided a poor, innocent guppy out of the shark waters. She would have been eaten alive at Altrucell. I couldn’t let that happen.” Lisbeth stopped to watch through the clouded glass, her ears telling her much more than her eyes.
“She didn’t want anything to do with you, did she?” A woman. Lisbeth couldn’t make out her face. She was sarcastic and witty. Maybe they would have gotten along. Maybe this one would have been threatened by Lisbeth, though.
“Not even a little bit.” They all laughed.
“I think maybe she would have eaten you alive.” Ted. Lisbeth smiled a little.
“I was a little scared. But I liked it.” Another laugh. Lisbeth left. She felt a little sliver of hope grow in her chest, Barney seemed like an alright guy, maybe he wouldn’t get caught up in the shitstorm that was about to come down from on high. Of course, this was not going to stop her from going forward. Altrucell needed to be taken out. Their illegal practices had impacted a powerful man, and revenge was Lisbeth’s favorite flavor.