The Third Man


  "Was he clever at school?"

  "Not the way they wanted him to be. But what things he did think up. He was a wonderful planner. I was far better at subjects Like History and English than Harry, but I was a hopeless mug when it came to carrying out his plans." He laughed: he was already beginning, with the help of drink and talk, to throw off the shock of the death. He said, "I was always the one who got caught."

  "That was convenient for Lime."

  "What the hell do you mean?" he asked. Alcoholic irritation was setting in.

  "Well, wasn't it?"

  "That was my fault, not his. He could have found someone cleverer if he'd chosen, but he liked me. He was endlessly patient with me." Certainly, I thought, the child is father to the man, for I too had found him patient.

  "When did you see him last?"

  "Oh, he was over in London six months ago for a medical congress. You know he qualified as a doctor, though he never practised. That was typical of Harry. He just wanted to see if he could do a thing and then he lost interest. But he used to say that it often came in handy." And that too was true. It was odd how like the Lime he knew was to the Lime I knew: it was only that he looked at Lime's image from a different angle or in a different light. He said, "One of the things I liked about Harry was his humour." He gave a grin which took five years off his age. "I'm a buffoon. I like playing the silly fool, but Harry had real wit. You know, he could have been a first class light composer if he had worked at it."

  He whistled a tune—it was oddly familiar to me. "I always remember that. I saw Harry write it. Just in a couple of minutes on the back of an envelope. That was what he always whistled when he had something on his mind. It was his signature tune." He whistled the tune a second time, and I knew then who had written it—of course it wasn't Harry. I nearly told him so, but what was the point? The tune wavered and went out. He stared down into his glass, drained what was left and said, "It's a damned shame to think of him dying the way he did."

  "It was the best thing that ever happened to him," I said.

  He didn't take in my meaning at once: he was a little hazy with the drinks. "The best thing?"

  "Yes."

  "You mean there wasn't any pain?"

  "He was lucky in that way, too."

  It was my tone of voice and not my words that caught Martins' attention. He asked gently and dangerously—I could see his right hand tighten, "Are you hinting at something?"

  There is no point at all in showing physical courage in all situations: I eased my chair far enough back to be out of reach of his fist. I said, "I mean that I had his case completed at police headquarters. He would have served a long spell—a very long spell—if it hadn't been for the accident."

  "What for?"

  "He was about the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city."

  I could see him measuring the distance between us and deciding that he couldn't reach me from where he sat. Rollo wanted to hit out: but Martins was steady, careful. Martins, I began to realise, was dangerous. I wondered whether after all I had made a complete mistake: I couldn't see Martins being quite the mug that Rollo had made out. "You're a policeman?" he asked.

  "Yes."

  "I've always hated policemen. They are always either crooked or stupid."

  "Is that the kind of books you write?"

  I could see him edging his chair round to block my way out. I caught the waiter's eye and he knew what I meant—there's an advantage in always using the same bar for interviews.

  Martins said gently and brought out a surface smile: "I have to call them sheriffs."

  "Been in America?" It was a silly conversation.

  "No. Is this an interrogation?"

  "Just interest."

  "Because if Harry was that kind of racketeer, I must be one too. We always worked together."

  "I daresay he meant to cut you in—somewhere in the organisation. I wouldn't be surprised if he had meant to give you the baby to hold. That was his method at school—you told me, didn't you? And, you see, the headmaster was getting to know a thing or two."

  "You are running true to form, aren't you? I suppose there was some petty racket going on with petrol and you couldn't pin it on anyone, so you've picked a dead man. That's just like a policeman. You're a real policeman, I suppose?"

  "Yes, Scotland Yard, but they've put me into a Colonel's uniform when I'm on duty."

  He was between me and the door now. I couldn't get away from the table without coming into range, I'm no fighter, and he had six inches of advantage anyway. I said, "It wasn't petrol."

  "Tyres, saccharin... why don't you policemen catch a few murderers for a change?"

  "Well, you could say that murder was part of his racket."

  He pushed the table over with one hand and made a dive at me with the other; the drink confused his calculations. Before he could try again my driver had his arms round him. I said, "Don't treat him roughly. He's only a writer with too much drink in him."

  "Be quiet, can't you, sir," my driver said. He had an exaggerated sense of officer-class. He would probably have called Lime "sir."

  "Listen, Callaghan, or whatever your bloody name is..."

  "? alloway. I'm English, not Irish."

  "I'm going to make you look the biggest bloody fool in Vienna. There's one dead man you aren't going to pin your unsolved crimes on."

  "I see. You're going to find me the real criminal? It sounds like one of your stories."

  "You can let me go, Callaghan, I'd rather make you look the fool you are than black your bloody eye. You'd only have to go to bed for a few days with a black eye. But when I've finished with you you'll leave Vienna."

  I took out a couple of pounds' worth of Bafs and stuck them in his breast pocket. "These will see you through tonight," I said, "and I'll make sure they keep a seat for you on tomorrow's London plane."

  "You can't turn me out. My papers are in order."

  "Yes, but this is like other cities: you need money here. If you change sterling on the black market I'll catch up on you inside twenty-four hours. Let him go."

  Rollo Martins dusted himself down. He said, "Thanks for the drinks."

  "That's all right."

  "I'm glad I don't have to feel grateful. I suppose they were on expenses?"

  "Yes."

  "I'll be seeing you again in a week or two when I've got the dope." I knew he was angry: I didn't believe then that he was serious. I thought he was putting over an act to cheer up his selfesteem.

  "I might come and see you off tomorrow."

  "I shouldn't waste your time. I won't be there."

  "Paine here will show you the way to Sacher's. You can get a bed and dinner there. I'll see to that."

  He stepped to one side as though to make way for the waiter and slashed out at me: I just avoided him, but stumbled against the table. Before he could try again Paine had landed on him on the mouth. He went bang over in the alleyway between the tables and came up bleeding from a cut lip. I said, "I thought you promised not to fight."

  He wiped some of the blood away with his sleeve and said, "Oh no, I said I'd rather make you a bloody fool. I didn't say I wouldn't give you a black eye as well."

  I had had a long day and I was tired of Rollo Martins. I said to Paine: "See him safely into Sacher's. Don't hit him again if he behaves," and turning away from both of them towards the inner bar (I deserved one more drink), I heard Paine say respectfully to the man he had just knocked down, "This way, sir. It's only just around the corner."

  3

  WHAT HAPPENED next I didn't hear from Paine but from Martins a long time afterwards, reconstructing the chain of events that did indeed—though not quite in the way he had expected—prove me to be a fool. Paine simply saw him to the head porter's desk and explained there, "This gentleman came in on the plane from London. Colonel? alloway says he's to have a room." Having made that clear, he said, "Good evening, sir," and left. He was probably a bit embarrassed by Martins' bleed
ing lip.

  "Had you already got a reservation, sir?" the porter asked.

  "No. No, I don't think so," Martins said in a muffled voice holding his handkerchief to his mouth.

  "I thought perhaps you might be Mr. Dexter. We had a room reserved for a week for Mr. Dexter."

  Martins said, "Oh, I am Mr. Dexter." He told me later that it occurred to him that Lime might have engaged him a room in that name because perhaps it was Buck Dexter and not Rollo Martins who was to be used for propaganda purposes. A voice said at his elbow, "I'm so sorry you were not met at the plane, Mr. Dexter. My name's Crabbin."

  The speaker was a stout middle-aged young man with a natural tonsure and one of the thickest pairs of horn-rimmed glasses that Martins had ever seen.

  He went apologetically on, "One of our chaps happened to ring up Frankfurt and heard you were on the plane. H. Q. made one of their usual foolish mistakes and wired you were not coming. Something about Sweden but the cable was badly mutilated. Directly I heard from Frankfurt I tried to meet the plane, but I just missed you. You got my note?"

  Martins held his handkerchief to his mouth and said obscurely, "Yes. Yes?"

  "May I say at once, Mr. Dexter, how excited I am to meet you?"

  "Good of you."

  "Ever since I was a boy, I've thought you the greatest novelist of our century."

  Martins winced! It was painful opening his mouth to protest. He took an angry look instead at Mr. Crabbin, but it was impossible to suspect that young man of a practical joke.

  "You have a big Austrian public, Mr. Dexter, both for your originals and your translations. Especially for The Curved Prow, that's my own favourite."

  Martins was thinking hard. "Did you say—room for a week?"

  "Yes."

  "Very kind of you."

  "Mr. Schmidt here will give you tickets every day, to cover all meals. But I expect you'll need a little pocket money. We'll fix that. Tomorrow we thought you'd like a quiet day—to look about."

  "Yes."

  "Of course any of us are at your service if you need a guide. Then the day after tomorrow in the evening there's a little quiet discussion at the Institute—on the contemporary novel. We thought perhaps you'd say a few words just to set the ball rolling, and then answer questions."

  Martins at that moment was prepared to agree to anything, to get rid of Mr. Crabbin and also to secure a week's free board and lodging, and Rollo, of course, as I was to discover later, had always been prepared to accept any suggestion—for a drink, for a girl, for a joke, for a new excitement. He said now, "Of course, of course," into his handkerchief.

  "Excuse me, Mr. Dexter, have you got a toothache? I know a very good dentist."

  "No. Somebody hit me, that's all."

  "Good God. Were they trying to rob you?"

  "No, it was a soldier. I was trying to punch his bloody colonel in the eye." He removed the handkerchief and gave Crabbin a view of his cut mouth. He told me that Crabbin was at a complete loss for words: Martins couldn't understand why because he had never read the work of his great contemporary, Benjamin Dexter: he hadn't even heard of him. I am a great admirer of Dexter, so that I could understand Crabbin's bewilderment. Dexter has been ranked as a stylist with Henry James, but he has a wider feminine streak than his master—indeed his enemies have sometimes described his subtle complex wavering style as old maidish. For a man still just on the right side of fifty his passionate interest in embroidery and his habit of calming a not very tumultuous mind with tatting—a trait beloved by his disciples—certainly to others seems a little affected.

  "Have you ever read a book called The Lone Rider to Santa F??"

  "No, don't think so."

  Martins said, "This lone rider had his best friend shot by the sheriff of a town called Lost Claim Gulch. The story is how he hunted that sheriff down—quite legally—until his revenge was completed."

  "I never imagined you reading Westerns, Mr. Dexter," Crabbin said, and it needed all Martins' resolution to stop Rollo saying: "But I write them."

  "Well, I'm gunning just the same way for Colonel Callaghan."

  "Never heard of him."

  "Heard of Harry Lime?"

  "Yes," Crabbin said cautiously, "but I didn't really know him."

  "I did. He was my best friend."

  "I shouldn't have thought he was a very—literary character."

  "None of my friends are."

  Crabbin blinked nervously behind the horn-rims. He said with an air of appeasement, "He was interested in the theatre though. A friend of his—an actress, you know—is learning English at the Institute. He called once or twice to fetch her."

  "Young or old?"

  "Oh, young, very young. Not a good actress in my opinion."

  Martins remembered the girl by the grave with her hands over her face. He said, "I'd like to meet any friend of Harry's."

  "She'll probably be at your lecture."

  "Austrian?"'

  "She claims to be Austrian, but I suspect she's Hungarian. She works at the Josefstadt. I wouldn't be surprised if Lime had not helped her with her papers. She calls herself Schmidt. Anna Schmidt. You can't imagine a young English actress calling herself Smith, can you? And a pretty one, too. It always struck me as a bit too anonymous to be true."

  Martins felt he had got all he could from Crabbin, so he pleaded tiredness, a long day, promised to ring up in the morning, accepted ten pounds' worth of Bafs for immediate expenses, and went to his room. It seemed to him that he was earning money rapidly—twelve pounds in less than an hour.

  He was tired: he realised that when he stretched himself out on his bed in his boots. Within a minute he had left Vienna far behind him and was walking through a dense wood, ankle deep in snow. An owl hooted, and he felt suddenly lonely and scared. He had an appointment to meet Harry under a particular tree, but in a wood so dense as this how could he recognise any one tree from the rest? Then he saw a figure and ran towards it: it whistled a familiar tune and his heart lifted with the relief and joy at not after all being alone. Then the figure turned and it was not Harry at all—just a stranger who grinned at him in a little circle of wet slushy melted snow, while the owl hooted again and again. He woke suddenly to hear the telephone ringing by his bed.

  A voice with a trace of foreign accent—only a trace said, "Is that Mr. Rollo Martins?"

  "Yes." It was a change to be himself and not Dexter.

  "You wouldn't know me," the voice said unnecessarily, "but I was a friend of Harry Lime."

  It was a change too to hear anyone claim to be a friend of Harry's: Martins' heart warmed towards the stranger. He said, "I'd be glad to meet you."

  "I'm just round the corner at the Old Vienna."

  "Wouldn't you make it tomorrow? I've had a pretty awful day with one thing and another."

  "Harry asked me to see that you were all right. I was with him when he died."

  "I thought..." Rollo Martins said and stopped. He was going to say, "I thought he died instantaneously," but something suggested caution. He said instead, "You haven't told me your name."

  "Kurtz," the voice said. "I'd offer to come round to you, only you know, Austrians aren't allowed in Sacher's."

  "Perhaps we could meet at the Old Vienna in the morning."

  "Certainly," the voice said, "if you are quite sure that you are all right till then."

  "How do you mean?"

  "Harry had it on his mind that you'd be penniless." Rollo Martins lay back on his bed with the receiver to his ear and thought: Come to Vienna to make money. This was the third stranger to stake him in less than five hours. He said cautiously, "Oh, I can carry on till I see you." There seemed no point in turning down a good offer till he knew what the offer was.

  "Shall we say eleven then at Old Vienna in the Kartnerstrasse? I'll be in a brown suit and I'll carry one of your books."

  "That's fine. How did you get hold of one?"

  "Harry gave it to me." The voice had enormous charm and reas
onableness, but when Martins had said good-night and rung off, he couldn't help wondering how it was that if Harry had been so conscious before he died he had not had a cable sent to stop him. Hadn't Callaghan too said that Lime had died instantaneously—or without pain, was it? or had he himself put the words into Callaghan's mouth? It was then that the idea first lodged firmly in Martins' mind that there was something wrong about Lime's death, something the police had been too stupid to discover. He tried to discover it himself with the help of two cigarettes, but he fell asleep without his dinner and with the mystery still unsolved. It had been a long day, but not quite long enough for that.

  4

  WHAT I DISLIKED about him at first sight," Martins told me, "was his toupee. It was one of those obvious toupees—flat and yellow, with the hair cut straight at the back and not fitting close. There must be something phony about a man who won't accept baldness gracefully. He had one of those faces too where the lines have been put in carefully, like a make-up, in the right places—to express charm, whimsicality, lines at the corners of the eyes. He was made-up to appeal to romantic schoolgirls."

  This conversation took place some days later—he brought out his whole story when the trail was nearly cold. When he made that remark about the romantic schoolgirls I saw his rather hunted eyes focus suddenly. It was a girl—just like any other girl, I thought—hurrying by outside my office in the driving snow.

  "Something pretty?"

  He brought his gaze back and said, "I'm off that for ever. You know,? alloway, a time comes in a man's life when he. gives up all that sort of thing..."

  "I see. I thought you were looking at a girl."

  "I was. But only because she reminded me for a moment of Anna—Anna Schmidt."

  "Who's she? Isn't she a girl?"

  "Oh, yes, in a way."

  "What do you mean, in a way?"

  "She was Harry's girl."

  "Are you taking her over?"

  "She's not that kind, Calloway. Didn't you see her at his funeral? I'm not mixing my drinks any more. I've got a hangover to last me a life-time."

 
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