The Third Man


  "I still can't believe... I only saw the face for a moment." He said, "What shall I do?"

  "He won't leave his zone now. The only person who could persuade him to come over would be you—or her, if he still believes you are his friend. But first you've got to speak to him. I can't see the line."

  "I could go and see Kurtz. I have the address."

  I said, "Remember. Lime may not want you to leave the Russian zone when once you are there, and I can't protect you there."

  "I want to clear the whole damned thing up," Martins said, "but I'm not going to act as a decoy. I'll talk to him. That's all."

  14

  SUNDAY HAD laid its false peace over Vienna: the wind had dropped and no snow had fallen for twenty-four hours. All the morning trams had been full, going out to Grinzing where the young wine was drunk and to the slopes of snow on the hills outside. Walking over the canal by the makeshift military bridge, Martins was aware of the emptiness of the afternoon: the young were out with their toboggans and their skis, and all around him was the after-dinner sleep of age. A notice-board told him that he was entering the Russian zone, but there were no signs of occupation. You saw more Russian soldiers in the Inner City than here.

  Deliberately he had given Mr. Kurtz no warning of his visit. Better to find him out than a reception prepared for him. He was careful to carry with him all his papers, including the laissez-passer of the four powers that on the face of it allowed him to move freely through all the zones of Vienna. It was extraordinarily quiet over here on the other side of the canal, and a melodramatic journalist had painted a picture of silent terror: but the truth was simply the wide streets, the greater shell damage, the fewer people—and Sunday afternoon. There was nothing to fear, but all the same in this huge empty street where all the time you heard your own feet moving, it was difficult not to look behind.

  He had no difficulty in finding Mr. Kurtz's block, and when he rang the bell the door was opened quickly, as though Mr. Kurtz expected a visitor, by Mr. Kurtz himself.

  "Oh," Mr. Kurtz said, "it's you, Rollo," and made a perplexed motion with his hand to the back of his head. Martins had been wondering why he looked so different, and now he knew. Mr. Kurtz was not wearing the toupee, and yet his head was not bald. He had a perfectly normal head of hair cut close. He said, "It would have been better to have telephoned to me: you nearly missed me: I was going out."

  "May I come in a moment?"

  "Of course."

  In the hall a cupboard door stood open, and Martins saw Mr. Kurtz's overcoat, his raincoat, a couple of soft hats and hanging sedately on a peg like a wrap, Mr. Kurtz's toupee. He said, "I'm glad to see your hair has grown," and was astonished, in the mirror on the cupboard door, to see the hatred flame and blush on Mr. Kurtz's face. When he turned Mr. Kurtz smiled at him like a conspirator and said vaguely: "It keeps the head warm."

  "Whose head?" Martins asked, for it had suddenly occurred to him how useful that toupee might have been on the day of the accident. "Never mind," he went quickly on, for his errand was not with Mr. Kurtz. "I'm here to see Harry."

  "Harry?"

  "I want to talk to him."

  "Are you mad?"

  I'm in a hurry, so let's assume that I am. Just make a note of my madness. If you should see Harry—or his ghost—let him know that I want to talk to him. A ghost isn't afraid of a man, is it? Surely it's the other way round. I'll be waiting in the Prater by the Big Wheel for the next two hours—if you can get in touch with the dead, hurry." He added, "Remember, I was Harry's friend."

  Kurtz said nothing, but somewhere, in a room off the hall, somebody cleared his throat. Martins threw open a door: he had half expected to see the dead rise yet again, but it was only Dr. Winkler who rose from a kitchen chair, in front of the kitchen stove, and bowed very stiffly and correctly with the same celluloid squeak.

  "Dr. Winkle," Martins said. Dr. Winkler looked extraordinarily out of place in a kitchen. The debris of a snack lunch littered the kitchen table, and the unwashed dishes consorted very ill with Dr. Winkler's cleanness.

  'Winkler," the doctor corrected him with stony patience.

  Martins said to Kurtz: "Tell the doctor about my madness. He might be able to make a diagnosis. And remember the place—by the Great Wheel. Or do ghosts only rise by night?" He left the flat.

  For an hour he waited, walking up and down to keep warm, inside the enclosure of the Great Wheel: the smashed Prater with its bones sticking crudely through the snow was nearly empty. One stall sold thin flat cakes like cartwheels, and the children queued with their coupons. A few courting couples would be packed together in a single car of the Wheel and revolve slowly above the city surrounded by empty cars. As the car reached the highest point of the Wheel, the revolutions would stop for a couple of minutes and far overhead the tiny faces would press against the glass. Martins wondered who would come for him. Was there enough friendship left in Harry for him to come alone, or would a squad of police arrive? It was obvious from the raid on Anna Schmidt's flat that he had a certain pull. And then as his watch hand passed the hour, he wondered: was it all an invention of my mind? are they digging up Harry's body now in the Central Cemetery?

  Somewhere behind the cake stall a man was whistling and Martins knew the tune. He turned and waited. Was it fear or excitement that made his heart beat—or just the memories that tune ushered in, for life had always quickened when Harry came, came just as he came now, as though nothing much had happened, nobody had been lowered into a grave or found with cut throat in a basement, came with his amused deprecating take-it-or-leave-it manner—and of course one always took it.

  "Harry."

  "Hullo, Rollo."

  Don't picture Harry Lime as a smooth scoundrel. He wasn't that. The picture I have of him on my files is an excellent one: he is caught by a street photographer with his stocky legs apart, big shoulders a little hunched, a belly that has known too much good food too long, on his face a look of cheerful rascality, a geniality, a recognition that his happiness will make the world's day. Now he didn't make the mistake of putting out a hand—that might have been rejected, but instead just patted Martins on the elbow and said, "How are things?"

  "We've got to talk, Harry."

  "Of course."

  "Alone."

  "We couldn't be more alone than here."

  He had always known the ropes, and even in the smashed pleasure park he knew them, tipping the woman in charge of the Wheel, so that they might have a car to themselves. He said, "Lovers used to do this in the old days, but they haven't the money to spare, poor devils, now," and he looked out of the window of the swaying rising car at the figures diminishing below with what looked like genuine commiseration.

  Very slowly on one side of them the city sank; very slowly on the other the great cross girders of the Wheel rose into sight. As the horizon slid away the Danube became visible, and the piers of the Kaiser Friedrich Br? cke lifted above the houses.

  "Well," Harry said, "it's good to see you, Rollo."

  "I was at your funeral."

  "That was pretty smart of me, wasn't it?"

  "Not so smart for your girl. She was there too—in tears."

  "She's a good little thing," Harry said. "I'm very fond of her."

  "I didn't believe the police when they told me about you."

  Harry said, "I wouldn't have asked you to come if I'd known what was going to happen, but I didn't think the police were on to me."

  "Were you going to cut me in on the spoils?"

  "I've never kept you out of anything, old man, yet." He stood with his back to the door as the car swung upwards, and smiled back at Rollo Martins, who could remember him in just such an attitude in a secluded corner of the school quad, saying, "I've learnt a way to get out at night. It's absolutely safe. You are the only one I'm letting in on it." For the first time Rollo Martins looked back through the years without admiration, as he thought: "He's never grown up." Marlowe's devils wore squibs attached to the
ir tails: evil was like Peter Pan—it carried with it the horrifying and horrible gift of eternal youth.

  Martins said, "Have you ever visited the children's hospital? Have you seen any of your victims?"

  Harry took a look at the toy landscape below and came away from the door. "I never feel quite safe in these things," he said. He felt the back of the door with his hand, as though he were afraid that it might fly open and launch him into that iron-ribbed space. "Victims?" he asked. "Don't be melodramatic, Rollo, look down there," he went on, pointing through the window at the people moving like black flies at the base of the Wheel. "Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving—for ever? If I said you can have twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money—without hesitation? or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax." He gave his boyish conspiratorial smile, "It's the only way to save nowadays."

  "Couldn't you have stuck to tyres?"

  "Like Cooler? No, I've always been ambitious. "But they can't catch me, Rollo, you'll see. I'll pop up again. You can't keep a good man down." The car swung to a standstill at the highest point of the curve and Harry turned his back and gazed out of the window. Martins thought: one good shove and I could break the glass, and he pictured the body dropping among the flies. He said, "You know the police are planning to dig up your body: what will they find?"

  "Harbin," Harry replied with simplicity. He turned away from the window and said, "Look at the sky."

  The car had reached the top of the Wheel and hung there motionless, while the stain of the sunset ran in streaks over the wrinkled papery sky beyond the black girders.

  "Why did the Russians try to take Anna Schmidt?"

  "She had false papers, old man."

  "I thought perhaps you were just trying to get her here—because she was your girl? Because you wanted her?"

  Harry smiled. "I haven't all that influence."

  "What would have happened to her?"

  "Nothing very serious. She'd have been sent back to Hungary. There's nothing against her really. She'd be infinitely better off in her own country than being pushed around by the British police."

  "She hasn't told them anything about you."

  "She's a good little thing," Harry repeated with complacent pride.

  "She loves you."

  "Well, I gave her a good time while it lasted."

  "And I love her."

  "That's fine, old man. Be kind to her. She's worth it. I'm glad." He gave the impression of having arranged everything to everybody's satisfaction. "And you can help to keep her mouth shut. Not that she knows anything that matters."

  "I'd like to knock you through the window."

  "But you won't, old man. Our quarrels never last long. You remember that fearful one in the Monaco, when we swore we were through. I'd trust you anywhere, Rollo. Kurtz tried to persuade me not to come but I know you. Then he tried to persuade me to, well, arrange an accident. He told me it would be quite easy in this car."

  "Except that I'm the stronger man."

  "But I've got the gun. You don't think a bullet wound would show when you hit that ground?" Again the car began to move, sailing slowly down, until the flies were midgets, were recognisable human beings. "What fools we are, Rollo, talking like this, as if I'd do that to you—or you to me." He turned his back and leant his face against the glass. One thrust... "How much do you earn a year with your Westerns, old man?"

  "A thousand."

  "Taxed. I earn thirty thousand free. It's the fashion. In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings, Governments don't, so why should we? They talk of the people and the proletariat, and I talk of the mugs. It's the same thing. They have their five year plans and so have I."

  "You used to be a Catholic."

  "Oh, I still believe, old man. In God and Mercy and all that. I'm not hurting anybody's soul by what I do. The dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils," he added with that odd touch of genuine pity, as the car reached the platform and the faces of the doomed-to-be-victims, the tired pleasure-hoping Sunday faces, peered in at them. "I could cut you in, you know. It would be useful. I have no one left in the Inner City."

  "Except Cooler? And Winkler?"

  "You really mustn't turn policeman, old man." They passed out of the car and he put his hand again on Martins' elbow. "That was a joke, I know you won't. Have you heard anything of old Bracer recently?"

  "I had a card at Christmas."

  "Those were the days, old man. Those were the days. I've got to leave you here. We'll see each other—some time. If you are in a jam, you can always get me at Kurtz's." He moved away and turning waved the hand he had had the tact not to offer: it was like the whole past moving off under a cloud. Martins suddenly called after him, "Don't trust me, Harry," but there was too great a distance now between them for the words to carry.

  15

  ANNA WAS AT the theatre," Martins told me, "for the Sunday matinee. I had to see the whole thing through a second time. About a middle-aged pianist and an infatuated girl and an understanding—a terribly understanding—wife. Anna acted very badly—she wasn't much of an actress at the best of times. I saw her afterwards in her dressing-room, but she was badly fussed. I think she thought I was going to make a serious pass at her all the time, and she didn't want a pass. I told her Harry was alive—I thought she'd be glad and that I would hate to see how glad she was, but she sat in front of her make-up mirror and let the tears streak the grease paint and I wished after that she had been glad. She looked awful and I loved her. Then I told her about my interview with Harry, but she wasn't really paying much attention because when I'd finished she said, I wish he was dead.'

  "He deserves to be."

  "I mean he would be safe then—from everybody."

  I asked Martins, "Did you show her the photographs I gave you—of the children?"

  "Yes. I thought it's got to be kill or cure this time.

  She's got to get Harry out of her system. I propped the pictures up among the pots of grease. She couldn't avoid seeing them. I said, 'The police can't arrest Harry unless they get him into this zone, and we've got to help!'

  "She said, 'I thought he was your friend.' I said, 'He was my friend.' She said, 'I'll never help you to get Harry. I don't want to see him again, I don't want to hear his voice. I don't want to be touched by him, but I won't do a thing to harm him.'

  "I felt bitter—I don't know why, because after all I had done nothing for her. Even Harry had done more for her than I had. I said, 'You want him still,' as though I were accusing her of a crime. She said, 'I don't want him, but he's in me. That's a fact—not like friendship. Why, when I have a love dream, he's always the man.'"

  I prodded Martins on when he hesitated. "Yes?"

  "Oh, I just got up and left her then. Now it's your turn to work on me. What do you want me to do?"

  "I want to act quickly. You see it was Harbin's body in the coffin, so we can pick up Winkler and Cooler right away. Kurtz is out of our reach for the time being, and so is the driver. We'll put in a formal request to the Russians for permission to arrest Kurtz and Lime: it makes our files tidy. If we are going to use you as our decoy, your message must go to Lime straight away—not after you've hung around in this zone for twenty-four hours. As I see it you were brought here for a grilling almost as soon as you got back into the Inner City: you heard then from me about Harbin: you put two and two together and you go and warn Cooler. We'll let Cooler slip for the sake of the bigger game—we have no evidence he was in on the penicillin racket. He'll escape into the second bezirk to Kurtz and Lime will know you've played the game. Three hours later you send a message that the police are after you: you are in hiding and must see him."

  "He won't come."

  "I'm not so sure. We'll choose our hiding place carefully—when he'll think there's a minimum of risk. It's worth trying.
It would appeal to his pride and his sense of humour if he could scoop you out. And it would stop your mouth."

  Martins said, "He never used to scoop me out—at school." It was obvious that he had been reviewing the past with care and coming to conclusions.

  "That wasn't such serious trouble and there was no danger of your squealing."

  He said, "I told Harry not to trust me, but he didn't hear."

  "Do you agree?"

  He had given me back the photographs of the children and they lay on my desk: I could see him take a long look at them. "Yes," he said, "I agree."

  16

  ALL THE FIRST arrangements went to plan. We delayed arresting Winkler, who had returned from the second bezirk, until after Cooler had been warned. Martins enjoyed his short interview with Cooler. Cooler greeted him without embarrassment and with considerable patronage. "Why, Mr. Martins, it's good to see you. Sit down. I'm glad everything went off all right between you and Colonel Calloway. A very straight chap Calloway."

  "It didn't," Martins said.

  "You don't bear any ill will, I'm sure, about my letting him know about you seeing Koch. The way I figured it was this—if you were innocent you'd clear yourself right away, and if you were guilty, well, the fact that I liked you oughtn't to stand in the way. A citizen has his duties."

  "Like giving false evidence at an inquest."

  Cooler said: "Oh, that old story. I'm afraid you are riled at me, Mr. Martins. Look at it this way—you as a citizen, owing allegiance..."

  "The police have dug up the body. They'll be after you and Winkler. I want you to warn Harry..."

  "I don't understand."

  "Oh, yes, you do." And it was obvious that he did. Martins left him abruptly. He wanted no more of that kindly tired humanitarian face.

  It only remained then to bait the trap. After studying the map of the sewer system I came to the conclusion that a caf? anywhere near the main entrance of the great Sewer which was placed in what Martins had mistakenly called a newspaper kiosk would be the most likely spot to tempt Lime. He had only to rise once again through the ground, walk fifty yards, bring Martins back with him, and sink again into the obscurity of the sewers. He had no idea that this method of evasion was known to us: he probably knew that one patrol of the sewer police ended before midnight, and the next did not start till two, and so at midnight Martins sat in the little cold caf? in sight of the kiosk drinking coffee after coffee. I had lent him a revolver: I had men posted as close to the kiosk as I could, and the sewer police were ready when zero hour struck to close the manholes and start sweeping the sewers inwards from the edge of the city. But I intended if I could to catch him before he went underground again. It would save trouble—and risk to Martins. So there, as I say, in the caf? Martins sat.

 
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