The Third Man

  Perhaps the little man—who bore the name of Koch—had drunk a glass too much of wine, perhaps he had simply spent a good day at the office, but this time, when Rollo Martins rang his bell, he was friendly and quite ready to talk. He had just finished dinner and had crumbs on his moustache. "Ah, I remember you. You are Herr Lime's friend."

  He welcomed Martins in with great cordiality and introduced him to a mountainous wife whom he obviously kept under very strict control. "Ah, in the old days I would have offered you a cup of coffee, but now—"

  Martins passed round his cigarette case and the atmosphere of cordiality deepened. "When you rang yesterday I was a little abrupt," Herr Koch said, "but I had a touch of migraine and my wife was out, so I had to answer the door myself."

  "Did you tell me that you had actually seen the accident?"

  Herr Koch exchanged glances with his wife. "The inquest is over, Use. There is no harm. You can trust my judgment. The gentleman is a friend. Yes, I saw the accident, but you are the only one who knows. When I say that I saw it, perhaps I should say that I heard it. I heard the brakes put on and the sound of the skid, and I got to the window in time to see them carry the body to the house."

  "But didn't you give evidence?"

  "It is better not to be mixed up in such things. My office cannot spare me. We are short of staff, and of course I did not actually see..."

  "But you told me yesterday how it happened."

  "That was how they described it in the papers."

  "Was he in great pain?"

  "He was dead. I looked right down from my window here and I saw his face. I know when a man is dead. You see, it is, in a way, my business. I am the head clerk at the mortuary."

  "But the others say that he did not die at once."

  "Perhaps they don't know death as well as I do."

  "He was dead, of course, when the doctor arrived. He told me that."

  "He was dead at once. You can take the word of a man who knows."

  "I think, Herr Koch, that you should have given evidence."

  "One must look after oneself, Herr Martins. I was not the only one who should have been there."

  "How do you mean?"

  "There were three people who helped to carry your friend to the house."

  "I know—two men and the driver."

  "The driver stayed where he was. He was very much shaken, poor man."

  "Three men..." It was as though suddenly fingering that bare wall his fingers had encountered not so much a crack perhaps but at least a roughness that had not been smoothed away by the careful builders.

  "Can you describe the men?"

  But Herr Koch was not trained to observe the living: only the man with the toupee had attracted his eyes—the other two were just men, neither tall nor short, thick nor thin. He had seen them from far above foreshortened, bent over their burden: they had not looked up, and he had quickly looked away and closed the window, realising at once the wisdom of not being seen himself.

  "There was no evidence I could really give, Herr Martins."

  No evidence, Martins thought, no evidence! He no longer doubted that murder had been done. Why else had they lied about the moment of death? They wanted to quieten with their gifts of money and their plane ticket the only two friends Harry had in Vienna. And the third man? Who was he?

  He said, "Did you see Herr Lime go out?"


  "Did you hear a scream?"

  "Only the brakes, Herr Martins."

  It occurred to Martins that there was nothing—except the word of Kurtz and Cooler and the driver—to prove that in fact Harry had been killed at that precise moment. There was the medical evidence, but that could not prove more than that he had died say within a half hour, and in any case the medical evidence was only as strong as Dr. Winkler's word: that clean controlled man creaking among his crucifixes.

  "Herr Martins, it just occurs to me—you are staying in Vienna?"


  "If you need accommodation and spoke to the authorities quickly, you might secure Herr Lime's flat. It is a requisitioned property."

  "Who has the keys?"

  "I have them."

  "Could I see the flat?"

  "Ilse, the keys."

  Herr Koch led the way into the flat that had been Harry's. In the little dark hall there was still the smell of cigarette smoke—the Turkish cigarettes that Harry always smoked. It seemed odd that a man's smell should cling in the folds of curtains so long after the man himself had become dead matter, a gas, a decay. One light, in a heavily beaded shade, left them in semi-darkness, fumbling for door handles.

  The living room was completely bare—it seemed to Martins too bare. The chairs had been pushed up against the walls: the desk at which Harry must have written was free from dust or any papers. The parquet reflected the light like a mirror. Herr Koch opened a door and showed the bedroom: the bed neatly made with clean sheets. In the bathroom not even a used razor blade indicated that a few days ago a living man had occupied it. Only the dark hall and the cigarette smell gave a sense of occupation.

  "You see," Herr Koch said, "it is quite ready for a newcomer. Use has cleaned up."

  That, she certainly had done. After a death there should have been more litter left than this. A man can't go suddenly and unexpectedly on his longest journey without forgetting this or that, without leaving a bill unpaid, an official form unanswered, the photograph of a girl. "Were there no papers, Herr Koch?"

  "Herr Lime was always a very tidy man. His waste-paper basket was full and his brief case, but his friend fetched that away."

  "His friend?"

  "The gentleman with the toupee."

  It was possible, of course, that Lime had not taken the journey so unexpectedly, and it occurred to Martins that Lime had perhaps hoped he would arrive in time to help. He said to Herr Koch, "I believe my friend was murdered."

  "Murdered?" Herr Koch's cordiality was snuffed out by the word. He said, "I would not have asked you in here if I had thought you would talk such nonsense."

  "All the same your evidence may be very valuable."

  "I have no evidence. I saw nothing. I am not concerned. You must leave here at once please. You have been very inconsiderate." He hustled Martins back through the hall: already the smell of the smoke was fading a little more. Herr Koch's last word before he slammed his own door to was "It's no concern of mine." Poor Herr Koch! We do not choose our concerns. Later when I was questioning Martins closely I said to him, "Did you see anybody at all on the stairs, or in the street outside?"

  "Nobody." He had everything to gain by remembering some chance passer-by, and I believed him. He said, "I noticed myself how quiet and dead the whole street looked. Part of it had been bombed, you know, and the moon was shining on the snow slopes. It was so very silent. I could hear my own feet creaking in the snow."

  "Of course it proves nothing. There is a basement where anybody who had followed you could have hidden."


  "Or your whole story may be phony."


  "The trouble is I can see no motive for you to have done it. It's true you are already guilty of getting money on false pretences. You came out here to join Lime, perhaps to help him..."

  Martins said to me, "What was this precious racket you keep on hinting at?"

  "I'd have told you all the facts when I first saw you if you hadn't lost your temper so damned quickly. Now I don't think I shall be acting wisely to tell you. It would be disclosing official information, and your contacts, you know, don't inspire confidence. A girl with phony papers supplied by Lime, this man Kurtz..."

  "Dr. Winkler..."

  "I've got nothing against Dr. Winkler. No, if you are phony, you don't need the information, but it might help you to learn exactly what we know. You see our facts are not complete."

  "I bet they aren't. I could invent a better detective than you in my bath."

  "Your literary style does not do your name
sake justice." Whenever he was reminded of Mr. Crabbin, that poor harassed representative of the British Cultural Relations Society, Rollo Martins turned pink with annoyance, embarrassment, shame. That too inclined me to trust him.

  He had certainly given Crabbin some uncomfortable hours. On returning to Sacher's Hotel after his interview with Herr Koch he had found a desperate note waiting for him from the representative.

  "I have been trying to locate you all day," Crabbin wrote. "It is essential that we should get together and work out a proper programme for you. This morning by telephone I have arranged lectures at Innsbruck and Salzburg for next week, but I must have your consent to the subjects, so that proper programmes can be printed. I would suggest two lectures: "The Crisis of Faith in the Western World' (you are very respected here as a Christian writer, but this lecture should be quite unpolitical) and 'The Technique of the Contemporary Novel.' The same lectures would be given in Vienna. Apart from this there are a great many people here who would like to meet you, and I want to arrange a cocktail party for early next week. But for all this I must have a few words with you." The letter ended on a note of acute anxiety. "You will be at the discussion tomorrow night, won't you? We all expect you at 8:30 and, needless to say, look forward to your coming. I will send transport to the hotel at 8:15 sharp."

  Rollo Martins read the letter and without bothering any further about Mr. Crabbin went to bed.


  AFTER TWO DRINKS Rollo Martins' mind would always turn towards women—in a vague, sentimental, romantic way, as a Sex, in general. After three drinks, like a pilot who dives to find direction, he would begin to focus on one available girl. If he had not been offered a third drink by Cooler, he would probably have not gone quite so soon to Anna Schmidt's house, and if... but there are too many "ifs" in my style of writing, for it is my profession to balance possibilities, human possibilities, and the drive of destiny can never find a place in my files.

  Martins had spent his lunchtime reading up the reports of the inquest, thus again demonstrating the superiority of the amateur to the professional, and making him more vulnerable to Cooler's liquor (which the professional in duty bound would have refused). It was nearly five o'clock when he reached Cooler's flat which was over an ice-cream parlour in the American zone: the bar below was full of G. I.'s with their girls, and the clatter of the long spoons and the curious free uniformed laughter followed him up the stairs.

  The Englishman who objects to Americans in general usually carried in his mind's eye just such an exception as Cooler: a man with tousled grey hair and a worried kindly face and long-sighted eyes, the kind of humanitarian who turns up in a typhus epidemic or a world war or a Chinese famine long before his countrymen have discovered the place in an atlas. Again the card marked "Harry's friend" was like an entrance ticket. His warm frank handclasp was the most friendly act that Martins had encountered in Vienna.

  "Any friend of Harry is all right with me," Cooler said. "I've heard of you, of course."

  "From Harry?"

  "I'm a great reader of Westerns," Cooler said, and Martins believed him as he did not believe Kurtz.

  "I wondered—you were there, weren't you?—if you'd tell me about Harry's death."

  "It was a terrible thing," Cooler said. "I was just crossing the road to go to Harry. He and Mr. Kurtz were on the sidewalk. Maybe if I hadn't started across the road, he'd have stayed where he was. But he saw me and stepped straight off to meet me and this jeep—it was terrible, terrible. The driver braked, but he didn't stand a chance. Have a Scotch, Mr. Martins. It's silly of me, but I get shaken up when I think of it." He said as he splashed in the soda, "I'd never seen a man killed before."

  "Was the other man in the car?"

  Cooler took a long pull and then measured what was left with his tired kindly eyes. "What man would you be referring to, Mr. Martins?"

  "I was told there was another man there."

  "I don't know how you got that idea. You'll find all about it in the inquest reports." He poured out two more generous drinks. "There were just the three of us—me and Mr. Kurtz and the driver. The doctor, of course. I expect you were thinking of the doctor."

  "This man I was talking to happened to look out of a window—he has the next flat to Harry's—and he said he saw three men and the driver. That's before the doctor arrived."

  "He didn't say that in court."

  "He didn't want to get involved."

  "You'll never teach these Europeans to be good citizens. It was his duty." Cooler brooded sadly over his glass. "It's an odd thing, Mr. Martins, with accidents. You'll never get two reports that coincide. Why, even I and Mr. Kurtz disagreed about details. The thing happens so suddenly, you aren't concerned to notice things, until bang crash, and then you have to reconstruct, remember. I expect he got too tangled up trying to sort out what happened before and what after, to distinguish the four of us."

  "The four?"

  "I was counting Harry. What else did he see, Mr. Martins?"

  "Nothing of interest—except he says Harry was dead when he was carried to the house."

  "Well, he was dying—not much difference there. Have another drink, Mr. Martins?"

  "No, I don't think I will."

  "Well, I'd like another spot. I was very fond of your friend, Mr. Martins, and I don't like talking about it."

  "Perhaps one more—to keep you company."

  "Do you know Anna Schmidt?" Martins asked, while the whisky still tingled on his tongue.

  "Harry's girl? I met her once, that's all. As a matter of fact, I helped Harry fix her papers. Not the sort of thing I should confess to a stranger, I suppose, but you have to break the rules sometimes. Humanity's a duty too."

  "What was wrong?"

  "She was Hungarian and her father had been a Nazi so they said. She was scared the Russians would pick her up."

  "Why should they want to?"

  "Well, her papers weren't in order."

  "You took her some money from Harry, didn't you?"

  "Yes, but I wouldn't have mentioned that. Did she tell you?"

  The telephone went and Cooler drained his glass. "Hullo," he said. "Why, yes. This is Cooler." Then he sat with the receiver at his ear and an expression of sad patience, while some voice a long way off drained into the room. "Yes," he said once. "Yes." His eyes dwelt on Martins' face, but they seemed to be looking a long way beyond him: flat and tired and kind, they might have been gazing out over across the sea. He said, "You did quite right," in a tone of commendation, and then, with a touch of asperity, "Of course they will be delivered. I gave my word. Goodbye." He put the receiver down and passed a hand across his forehead wearily. It was as though he were trying to remember something he had to do. Martins said, "Had you heard anything of this racket the police talk about?"

  "I'm sorry. What's that?"

  "They say Harry was mixed up in some racket."

  "Oh, no," Cooler said. "No. That's quite impossible. He had a great sense of duty."

  "Kurtz seemed to think it was possible."

  "Kurtz doesn't understand how an Anglo-Saxon feels," Cooler replied.


  IT WAS NEARLY dark when Martins made his way along the banks of the canal: across the water lay the half destroyed Diana baths and in the distance the great black circle of the Prater Wheel, stationary above the ruined houses. Over there across the grey water was the second bezirk in Russian ownership. St. Stefanskirche shot its enormous wounded spire into the sky above the Inner City, and coming up the Kartnerstrasse Martins passed the lit door of the Military Police station. The four men of the International Patrol were climbing into their jeep; the Russian M. P. sat beside the driver (for the Russians had that day taken over the chair for the next four weeks) and the Englishman, the Frenchman and the American mounted behind. The third stiff whisky fumed into Martins' brain, and he remembered the girl in Amsterdam, the girl in Paris: loneliness moved along the crowded pavement at his side. He passed the corner of the stree
t where Sacher's lay and went on. Rollo was in control and moved towards the only girl he knew in Vienna.

  I asked him how he knew where she lived. Oh, he said, he'd looked up the address she had given him the night before, in bed, studying a map. He wanted to know his way about, and he was good with maps.

  He could memorise turnings and street names easily because he always went one way on foot. "One way?"

  "I mean when I'm calling on a girl—or someone."

  He hadn't, of course, known that she would be in, that her play was not on that night in the Josefstadt, or perhaps he had memorised that too from the posters. In at any rate she was, if you could really call it being in, sitting alone in an unheated room, with the bed disguised as divan, and the typewritten part lying open at the first page on the inadequate too fancy topply table because her thoughts were so far from being "in." He said awkwardly (and nobody could have said, not even Rollo, how much his awkwardness was part of his technique): "I thought I'd just look in and look you up. You see, I was passing..."

  "Passing? Where to?" It had been a good half an hour's walk from the Inner City to the rim of the English zone, but he always had a reply. "I had too much whisky with Cooler. I needed a walk and I just happened to find myself this way."

  "I can't give you a drink here. Except tea. There's some of that packet left."

  "No, no thank you." He said, "You are busy," looking at the script.

  "I didn't get beyond the first line."

  He picked if up and read: "Enter Louise. Louise: I heard a child crying."

  "Can I stay a little?" he asked with a gentleness that was more Martins than Rollo.

  "I wish you would." He slumped down on the divan, and he told me a long time later (for lovers talk and reconstruct the smallest details if they can find a listener) that there it was he took his second real look at her. She stood there as awkward as himself in a pair of old flannel trousers which had been patched badly in the seat: she stood with her legs firmly straddled as though she were opposing someone and was determined to hold her ground—a small rather stocky figure with any grace she had folded and put away for use professionally.

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