The Third Man

"You were telling me about Kurtz," I said.

  It appeared that Kurtz was sitting there, making a great show of reading The Lone Rider from Santa F?. When Martins sat down at his table he said with indescribably false enthusiasm, "It's wonderful how you keep the tension."

  "Tension?"

  "Suspense. You're a master at it. At the end of every chapter one's left guessing..."

  "So you were a friend of Harry's," Martins said.

  "I think his best," but Kurtz added with the smallest pause in which his brain must have registered the error, "except you of course."

  "Tell me how he died."

  "I was with him. We came out together from the door of his flat and Harry saw a friend he knew across the road—an American called Cooler. He waved to Cooler and started across the road to him when a jeep came tearing round the corner and bowled him over. It was Harry's fault really—not the driver's."

  "Somebody told me he died instantaneously."

  "I wish he had. He died before the ambulance could reach us though."

  "He could speak then?"

  "Yes. Even in his pain he worried about you."

  "What did he say?"

  "I can't remember the exact words, Rollo—I may call you Rollo, mayn't I? he always called you that to us. He was anxious that I should look after you when you arrived. See that you were looked after. Get your return ticket for you." In telling me Martins said, "You see I was collecting return tickets as well as cash."

  "But why didn't you cable to stop me?"

  "We did, but the cable must have missed you. What with censorship and the zones, cables can take anything up to five days."

  "There was an inquest?"

  "Of course."

  "Did you know that the police have a crazy notion that Harry was mixed up in some racket?"

  "No. But everyone in Vienna is. We all sell cigarettes and exchange schillings for Bafs and that kind of thing."

  "The police meant something worse than that."

  "They get rather absurd ideas sometimes," the man with the toupee said cautiously.

  "I'm going to stay here till I prove them wrong."

  Kurtz turned his head sharply and the toupee shifted very very slightly. He said, "What's the good? Nothing can bring Harry back."

  "I'm going to have that police officer run out of Vienna."

  "I don't see what you can do."

  "I'm going to start working back from his death. You were there and this man Cooler and the chauffeur. You can give me their addresses."

  "I don't know the chauffeur's."

  "I can get it from the coroner's records. And then there's Harry's girl..."

  Kurtz said, "It will be painful for her."

  "I'm not concerned about her. I'm concerned about Harry."

  "Do you know what it is that the police suspect?"

  "No. I lost my temper too soon."

  "Has it occurred to you," Kurtz said gently, "that you might dig up something—well, discreditable to Harry?"

  "I'll risk that."

  "It will take a bit of time—and money."

  "I've got time and you were going to lend me some money, weren't you?"

  "I'm not a rich man," Kurtz said. "I promised Harry to see you were all right and that you got your plane back..."

  "You needn't worry about the money—or the plane," Martins said. "But I'll make a bet with you—in pounds sterling—five pounds against two hundred schillings—that there's something queer about Harry's death."

  It was a shot in the dark, but already he had this firm instinctive sense that there was something wrong, though he hadn't yet attached the word "murder" to the instinct. Kurtz had a cup of coffee halfway to his lips and Martins watched him. The shot apparently went wide; an unaffected hand held the cup to the mouth and Kurtz drank, a little noisily, in long sips. Then he put down the cup and said, "How do you mean—queer?"

  "It was convenient for the police to have a corpse, but wouldn't it have been equally convenient perhaps for the real racketeers?" When he had spoken he realised that after all Kurtz had not been unaffected by his wild statement: hadn't he been frozen into caution and calm? The hands of the guilty don't necessarily tremble: only in stories does a dropped glass betray agitation. Tension is more often shown in the studied action. Kurtz had finished his coffee as though nothing had been said.

  "Well," he took another sip, "of course I wish you luck, though I don't believe there's anything to find. Just ask me for any help you want."

  "I want Cooler's address."

  "Certainly. I'll write it down for you. Here it is. In the American zone."

  "And yours?"

  "I've already put it—underneath—in the Russian zone."

  He rose, giving one of his studied Viennese smiles, the charm carefully painted in with a fine brush in the little lines about the mouth and eyes. "Keep in touch," he said, "and if you need help... but I still think you are very unwise." He picked up The Lone Rider. "I'm so proud to have met you. A master of suspense," and one hand smoothed the toupee, while another passing softly over the mouth brushed out the smile, as though it had never been.

  5

  MARTINS SAT on a hard chair just inside the stage door of the Josefstadt Theatre. He had sent up his card to Anna Schmidt after the matinee, marking it "a friend of Harry's." An arcade of little windows, with lace curtains and the lights going out one after another showed where the artists were packing up for home, for the cup of coffee without sugar, the roll without butter to sustain them for the evening performance. It was like a little street built indoors for a film set, but even indoors it was cold, even cold to a man in a heavy overcoat, so that Martins rose and walked up and down, underneath the little windows. He felt, he said, a little like a Romeo who wasn't sure of Juliet's balcony.

  He had had time to think: he was calm now, Martins not Rollo was in the ascendant. When a light went out in one of the windows and an actress descended into the passage where he walked, he didn't even turn to take a look. He was done with all that. He thought: Kurtz is right. They are all right. I'm behaving like a romantic fool: I'll just have a word with Anna Schmidt, a word of commiseration, and then I'll pack and go. He had quite forgotten, he told me, the complication of Mr. Crabbin.

  A voice over his head called "Mr. Martins," and he looked up at the face that watched him from between the curtains a few feet above his head. It wasn't beautiful, he firmly explained to me, when I accused him of once again mixing his drinks. Just an honest face with dark hair and eyes which in that light looked brown: a wide forehead, a large mouth which didn't try to charm. No danger anywhere, it seemed to Rollo Martins, of that sudden reckless moment when the scent of hair or a hand against the side alters life. She said, "Will you come up, please? The second door on the right."

  There are some people, he explained to me carefully, whom one recognises instantaneously as friends. You can be at ease with them because you know that never, never will you be in danger. "That was Anna," he said, and I wasn't sure whether the past tense was deliberate or not.

  Unlike most actress's rooms this one was almost bare; no wardrobe packed with clothes, no clutter of cosmetics and grease paints: a dressing gown on the door, one sweater he recognised from Act II on the only easy chair, a tin of half used paints and grease. A kettle hummed softly on a gas ring. She said, "Would you like a cup of tea? Someone sent me a packet last week—sometimes the Americans do, instead of flowers, you know, on the first night."

  "I'd like a cup," he said, but if there was one thing he hated it was tea. He watched her while she made it, made it, of course, all wrong: the water not on the boil, the teapot unheated, too few leaves. She said, "I never quite understand why English people like tea so."

  He drank his cupful quickly like a medicine and watched her gingerly and delicately sip at hers. He said, "I wanted very much to see you. About Harry."

  It was the dreadful moment: he would see her mouth stiffen to meet it.

  "Yes?"

 
; "I had known him twenty years. I was his friend. We were at school together, you know, and after that—there weren't many months running when we didn't meet..."

  She said, "When I got your card, I couldn't say no. But there's nothing really for us to talk about, is there?—nothing."

  "I wanted to hear..."

  "He's dead. That's the end. Everything's over, finished. What's the good of talking?"

  "We both loved him."

  "I don't know. You can't know a thing like that—afterwards. I don't know anything any more except—"

  "Except?"

  "That I want to be dead too."

  Martins told me, "Then I nearly went away. What was the good of tormenting her because of this wild idea of mine? But instead I asked her one question. 'Do you know a man called Cooler?'"

  "An American?" she asked. "I think that was the man who brought me some money when Harry died. I didn't want to take it, but he said Harry had been anxious—at the last moment."

  "So he didn't die instantaneously?"

  "Oh, no."

  Martins said to me, "I began to wonder why I had got that idea so firmly into my head, and then I thought it was only the man in the flat who told me so... no one else. I said to her, 'He must have been very clear in his head at the end—because he remembered about me too. That seems to show that there wasn't really any pain.'"

  "That's what I tell myself all the time."

  "Did you see the doctor?"

  "Once. Harry sent me to him. He was Harry's own doctor. He lived nearby, you see."

  Martins suddenly saw in that odd chamber of the mind that constructs such pictures, instantaneously, irrationally, a desert place, a body on the ground, a group of birds gathered. Perhaps it was a scene from one of his own books, not yet written, forming at the gate of consciousness. Immediately it faded, he thought how odd that they were all there, just at that moment, all Harry's friends—Kurtz, the doctor, this man Cooler; only the two people who loved him seemed to have been missing. He said, "And the driver? Did you hear his evidence?"

  "He was upset, scared. But Cooler's evidence exonerated him, and Kurtz's. No, it wasn't his fault, poor man. I've often heard Harry say what a careful driver he was."

  "He knew Harry too?" Another bird flapped down and joined the others round the silent figure on the sand who lay face down. Now he could tell that it was Harry, by the clothes, by the attitude like that of a boy asleep in the grass at a playing field's edge, on a hot summer afternoon.

  Somebody called outside the window, "Fr? ulein Schmidt."

  She said, "They don't like one to stay too long. It uses up their electricity."

  He had given up the idea of sparing her anything. He told her, "The police say they were going to arrest Harry. They'd pinned some racket on him."

  She took the news in much the same way as Kurtz. "Everybody's in a racket."

  "I don't believe he was in anything serious."

  "No."

  "But he may have been framed. Do you know a man called Kurtz?"

  "I don't think so."

  "He wears a toupee."

  "Oh." He could tell that that struck home. He said, "Don't you think it was odd they were all there—at the death? Everybody knew Harry. Even the driver, the doctor..."

  She said with hopeless calm, "I've thought that too, though I didn't know about Kurtz. I wondered whether they'd murdered him, but what's the use of wondering?"

  "I'm going to get those bastards," Rollo Martins said.

  "It won't do any good. Perhaps the police are right. Perhaps poor Harry got mixed up..."

  "Fraulein Schmidt," the voice called again.

  "I must go."

  "I'll walk with you a bit of the way."

  The dark was almost down: the snow had ceased for a while to fall: and the great statues of the Ring, the prancing horses, the chariots and the eagles, were gunshot grey with the end of evening light. "It's better to give up and forget," Anna said. The moony snow lay ankle deep on the unswept pavements.

  "Will you give me the doctor's address?"

  They stood in the shelter of a wall while she wrote it down for him.

  "And yours too?"

  "Why do you want that?"

  "I might have news for you."

  "There isn't any news that would do any good now." He watched her from a distance board her tram, bowing her head against the wind, a little dark question mark on the snow.

  6

  AN AMATEUR detective has this advantage over the professional, that he doesn't work set hours. Rollo Martins was not confined to the eight hour day: his investigations didn't have to pause for meals. In his one day he covered as much ground as one of my men would have covered in two, and he had this initial advantage over us, that he was Harry's friend. He was, as it were, working from inside, while we pecked at the perimeter.

  Dr. Winkler was at home. Perhaps he would not have been at home to a police officer. Again Martins had marked his card with the sesame phrase: "A friend of Harry Lime's."

  Dr. Winkler's waiting room reminded Martins of an antique shop—an antique shop that specialized in religious objets d'art. There were more crucifixes than he could count, none of later date probably than the seventeenth century. There were statues in wood and ivory. There were a number of reliquaries: little bits of bone marked with saints' names and set in oval frames on a background of tin foil. If they were genuine, what an odd fate it was, Martins thought, for a portion of Saint Susanna's knuckle to come to rest in Doctor Winkler's waiting room. Even the high-backed hideous chairs looked as if they had once been sat in by cardinals. The room was stuffy, and one expected the smell of incense. In a small gold casket was a splinter of the True Cross. A sneeze disturbed him.

  Dr. Winkler was the cleanest doctor Martins had ever seen. He was very small and neat, in a black tail coat and a high stiff collar; his little black moustache was like an evening tie. He sneezed again: perhaps he was cold because he was so clean. He said "Mr. Martins?"

  An irresistible desire to sully Dr. Winkler assailed Rollo Martins. He said, "Dr. Winkle?"

  "Dr. Winkler."

  "You've got an interesting collection here."

  Yes.

  "These saints' bones..."

  "The bones of chickens and rabbits." Dr. Winkler took a large white handkerchief out of his sleeve rather as though he were a conjurer producing his country's flag, and blew his nose neatly and thoroughly twice, closing each nostril in turn. You expected him to throw away the handkerchief after one use. "Would you mind, Mr. Martins, telling me the purpose of your visit? I have a patient waiting."

  "We were both friends of Harry Lime."

  "I was his medical adviser," Dr. Winkler corrected him and waited obstinately between the crucifixes.

  "I arrived too late for the inquest. Harry had invited me out here to help him in something. I don't quite know what. I didn't hear of his death till I arrived."

  "Very sad," Dr. Winkler said.

  "Naturally, under the circumstances, I want to hear all I can."

  "There is nothing I can tell you that you don't know. He was knocked over by a car. He was dead when I arrived."

  "Would he have been conscious at all?"

  "I understand he was for a short time, while they carried him into the house."

  "In great pain?"

  "Not necessarily."

  "You are quite certain that it was an accident?"

  Dr. Winkler put out a hand and straightened a crucifix. "I was not there. My opinion is limited to the cause of death. Have you any reason to be dissatisfied?"

  The amateur has another advantage over the professional: he can be reckless. He can tell unnecessary truths and propound wild theories. Martins said, "The police had implicated Harry in a very serious racket. It seemed to me that he might have been murdered—or even killed himself."

  "I am not competent to pass an opinion," Dr. Winkler said.

  "Do you know a man called Cooler?"

  "I don't thi
nk so."

  "He was there when Harry was killed."

  "Then of course I have met him. He wears a toupee."

  "That was Kurtz."

  Dr. Winkler was not only the cleanest, he was also the most cautious doctor that Martins had ever met. His statements were so limited that you could not for a moment doubt their veracity. He said, "There was a second man there." If he had to diagnose a case of scarlet fever he would, you felt, have confined himself to a statement that a rash was visible, that the temperature was so and so. He would never find himself in error at an inquest.

  "Had you been Harry's doctor for long?" He seemed an odd man for Harry to choose—Harry who liked men with a certain recklessness, men capable of making mistakes.

  "For about a year."

  "Well, it's good of you to have seen me." Dr. Winkler bowed. When he bowed there was a very slight creak as though his shirt were made of celluloid. "I mustn't keep you from your patients any longer." Turning away from Dr. Winkler he confronted yet another crucifix, the figure hanging with arms above the head: a face of elongated El Greco agony. "That's a strange crucifix," he said.

  "Jansenist," Dr. Winkler commented and closed his mouth sharply as though he had been guilty of giving away too much information.

  "Never heard the word. Why are the arms above the head?"

  Dr. Winkler said reluctantly, "Because he died, in their view, only for the elect."

  7

  AS I SEE IT, turning over my files, the notes of conversations, the statements of various characters, it would have been still possible, at this moment, for Rollo Martins to have left Vienna safely. He had shown an unhealthy curiosity, but the disease had been checked at every point. Nobody had given anything away. The smooth wall of deception had as yet shown no real crack to his roaming fingers. When Rollo Martins left Dr. Winkler's he was in no danger. He could have gone home to bed at Sacher's and slept with a quiet mind. He could even have visited Cooler at this stage without trouble. No one was seriously disturbed. Unfortunately for him—and there would always be periods of his life when he bitterly regretted it—he chose to go back to Harry's flat. He wanted to talk to the little vexed man who said he had seen the accident—or had he really not said as much? There was a moment in the dark frozen street, when he was inclined to go straight to Cooler, to complete his picture of those sinister birds who sat around Harry's body, but Rollo, being Rollo, decided to toss a coin and the coin fell for the other action, and the deaths of two men.

 
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