The Third Man

  Martins could not have said how he got through the rest of the discussion: perhaps Crabbin took the brunt: perhaps he was helped by some of the audience who got into an animated discussion about the film version of a popular American novel. He remembered very little more before Crabbin was making a final speech in his honour. Then one of the young men led him to a table stacked with books and asked him to sign them. "We have only allowed each member one book."

  "What have I got to do?"

  "Just a signature. That's all they expect. This is my copy of The Curved Prow. I would be so grateful if you'd just write a little something..."

  Martins took his pen and wrote: "From B. Dexter, author of The Lone Rider of Santa F?," and the young man read the sentence and blotted it with a puzzled expression. As Martins sat down and started signing Benjamin Dexter's title pages, he could see in a mirror the young man showing the inscription to Crabbin. Crabbin smiled weakly and stroked his chin, up and down, up and down. "B. Dexter, B. Dexter, B. Dexter." Martins wrote rapidly—it was not after all a lie. One by one the books were collected by their owners: little half sentences of delight and compliment were dropped like curtseys—was this what it was to be a writer? Martins began to feel distinct irritation towards Benjamin Dexter. The complacent tiring pompous ass, he thought, signing the twenty-seventh copy of The Curved Prow. Every time he looked up and took another book he saw Crabbin's worried speculative gaze. The members of the Institute were beginning to go home with their spoils: the room was emptying. Suddenly in the mirror Martins saw a military policeman. He seemed to be having an argument with one of Crabbin's young henchmen. Martins thought he caught the sound of his own name. It was then he lost his nerve and with it any relic of commonsense. There was only one book left to sign: he dashed off a last "B. Dexter" and made for the door. The young man, Crabbin and the policeman stood together at the entrance.

  "And this gentleman?" the policeman asked.

  "It's Mr. Benjamin Dexter," the young man said.

  "Lavatory. Is there a lavatory?" Martins said.

  "I understood a Mr. Rollo Martins came here in one of your cars."

  "A mistake. An obvious mistake."

  "Second door on the left," the young man said.

  Martins grabbed his coat from the cloakroom as he went and made down the stairs. On the first floor landing he heard someone mounting the stairs and looking over saw Paine—whom I had sent to identify him. He opened a door at random and shut it behind him. He could hear Paine going by. The room where he stood was in darkness: a curious moaning sound made him turn and face whatever room it was.

  He could see nothing and the sound had stopped. He made a tiny movement and once more it started, like an impeded breath. He remained still and the sound died away. Outside somebody called "Mr. Dexter, Mr. Dexter." Then a new sound started. It was like somebody whispering—a long continuous monologue in the darkness. Martins said, "Is anybody there?" and the sound stopped again. He could stand no more of it. He took out his lighter. Footsteps went by and down the stairs. He scraped and scraped at the little wheel and no light came. Somebody shifted in the dark and something rattled in mid-air like a chain. He asked once more with the anger of fear, "Is anybody there?" and only the click click of metal answered him.

  Martins felt desperately for a light switch first to his right hand and then to his left. He did not dare go farther because he could no longer locate his fellow occupant: the whisper, the moaning, the click had all stopped. Then he was afraid that he had lost the door and felt wildly for the knob. He was far less afraid of the police than he was of the darkness, and he had no idea of the noise he was making.

  Paine heard it from the bottom of the stairs and came back. He switched on the landing light, and the glow under the door gave Martins his direction. He opened the door and smiling weakly as Paine turned back to take a second look at the room. The eyes of a parrot chained to a perch stared beadily back at him. Paine said respectfully, "We were looking for you, sir. Colonel Calloway wants a word with you."

  "I lost my way," Martins said.

  "Yes, sir. We thought that was what had happened."


  I HAD KEPT A very careful record of Martins' movements from the moment I knew that he had not caught the plane home. He had been seen with Kurtz, and at the Josefstadt Theatre: I knew about his visit to Dr. Winkler and to Cooler, his first return to the block where Harry had lived. For some reason my man lost him between Cooler's and Anna Schmidt's flats: he reported that Martins had wandered widely, and the impression we both got was that he had deliberately thrown off his shadower. I tried to pick him up at Sacher's Hotel and just missed him.

  Events had taken a disquieting turn, and it seemed to me that the time had come for another interview. He had a lot to explain.

  I put a good wide desk between us and gave him a cigarette: I found him sullen but ready to talk, within strict limits. I asked him about Kurtz and he seemed to me to answer satisfactorily. I then asked him about Anna Schmidt and I gathered from his reply that he must have been with her after visiting Cooler: that filled in one of the missing points. I tried him with Dr. Winkler, and he answered readily enough. "You've been getting around," I said, "quite a bit. And have you found out anything about your friend?"

  "Oh yes," he said. "It was under your nose but you didn't see it."


  "That he was murdered." That took me by surprise: I had at one time played with the idea of suicide, but I had ruled even that out.

  "Go on," I said. He tried to eliminate from his story all mention of Koch, talking about an informant who had seen the accident. This made his story rather confusing, and I couldn't grasp at first why he attached so much importance to the third man.

  "He didn't turn up at the inquest, and the others lied to keep him out."

  "Nor did your man turn up—I don't see much importance in that. If it was a genuine accident, all the evidence needed was there. Why get the other chap in trouble? Perhaps his wife thought he was out of town: perhaps he was an official absent without leave—people sometimes take unauthorised trips to Vienna from places like Klagenfurt. The delights of the great city, for what they are worth."

  "There was more to it than that. The little chap who told me about it—they've murdered him. You see they obviously didn't know what else he had seen."

  "Now we have it," I said. "You mean Koch."


  "As far as we know you were the last person to see him alive." I questioned him then, as I've written, to find out if he had been followed to Koch's by somebody who was sharper than my man and had kept out of sight. I said, "The Austrian police are anxious to pin this on you. Frau Koch told them how disturbed her husband was by your visit. Who else knew about it?"

  "I told Cooler." He said excitedly, "Suppose immediately I left he telephoned the story to someone—to the third man. They had to stop Koch's mouth."

  "When you told Cooler about Koch, the man was already dead. That night he got out of bed, hearing someone, and went downstairs...."

  "Well, that rules me out. I was in Sacher's."

  "But he went to bed very early. Your visit brought back the migraine. It was soon after nine that he got up. You returned to Sacher's at 9:30. Where were you before that?"

  He said gloomily, "Wandering round and trying to sort things out."

  "Any evidence of your movements?"


  I wanted to frighten him, so there was no point in telling him that he had been followed all the time. I knew that he hadn't cut Koch's throat, but I wasn't sure that he was quite so innocent as he made out. The man who owns the knife is not always the real murderer.

  "Can I have a cigarette?"


  He said, "How did you know that I went to Koch's? That was why you pulled me here, wasn't it?"

  "The Austrian police..."

  "They hadn't identified me."

  "Immediately you left Cooler's, he telephoned to me."

  "Then that lets him out. If he had been concerned, he wouldn't have wanted to tell you my story—to tell Koch's story, I mean."

  "He might assume that you were a sensible man and would come to me with your story as soon as you learned of Koch's death. By the way, how did you learn of it?"

  He told me promptly and I believed him. It was then I began to believe him altogether. He said, "I still can't believe Cooler's concerned. I'd stake anything on his honesty. He's one of those Americans with a real sense of duty."

  "Yes," I said, "he told me about that when he phoned. He apologised for it. He said it was the worst of having been brought up to believe in citizenship. He said it made him feel a prig. To tell you the truth Cooler irritates me. Of course he doesn't know that I know about his tyre deals."

  "Is he in a racket, too, then?"

  "Not a very serious one. I daresay he's salted away twenty-five thousand dollars. But I'm not a good citizen. Let the Americans look after their own people."

  "I'm damned." He said thoughtfully, "Is that the kind of thing Harry was up to?"

  "No. It was not so harmless."

  He said, "You know this business—Koch's death has shaken me. Perhaps Harry did get mixed up in something pretty bad. Perhaps he was trying to clear out again, and that's why they murdered him."

  "Or perhaps," I said, "they wanted a bigger cut off the spoils. Thieves fall out."

  He took it this time without any anger at all. He said, "We won't agree about motives, but I think you check your facts pretty well. I'm sorry about the other day."

  "That's all right." There are times when one has to make a flash decision—this was one of them. I owed him something in return for the information he had given me. I said, "I'll show you enough of the facts in Lime's case for you to understand. But don't fly off the handle. It's going to be a shock."

  It couldn't help being a shock. The war and the peace (if you can call it peace) let loose a great number of rackets, but none more vile than this one. The black marketeers in food did at least supply food, and the same applied to all the other racketeers who provided articles in short supply at extravagant prices. But the penicillin racket was a different affair altogether. Penicillin in Austria was only supplied to the military hospitals: no civilian doctor, not even a civilian hospital, could obtain it by legal means. As the racket started, it was relatively harmless. Penicillin would be stolen and sold to Austrian doctors for very high sums—a phial would fetch anything up to?.70. You might say that this was a form of distribution—unfair distribution because it benefited only the rich patient, but the original distribution could hardly have a claim to greater fairness.

  This racket went on quite happily for a while. Occasionally someone was caught and punished, but the danger simply raised the price of penicillin. Then the racket began to get organised: the big men saw big money in it, and while the original thief got less for his spoils, he received instead a certain security. If anything happened to him he would be looked after. Human nature too has curious twisted reasons that the heart certainly knows nothing of. It eased the conscience of many small men to feel that they were working for an employer: they were almost as respectable soon in their own eyes as wage-earners: they were one of a group, and if there was guilt, the leaders bore the guilt. A racket works very like a totalitarian party.

  This, I have sometimes called stage two. Stage three was when the organisers decided that the profits were not large enough. Penicillin would not always be impossible to obtain legitimately: they wanted more money and quicker money while the going was good. They began to dilute the penicillin with coloured water, and in the case of penicillin dust, with sand. I keep a small museum in one drawer in my desk, and I showed Martins examples. He wasn't enjoying the talk, but he hadn't yet grasped the point. He said, "I suppose that makes the stuff useless."

  I said, "We wouldn't worry so much if that was all, but just consider. You can be immunised from the effects of penicillin. At the best you can say that the use of this stuff makes a penicillin treatment for the particular patient ineffective in the future. That isn't so funny, of course, if you are suffering from V. D. Then the use of sand on a wound that requires penicillin—well, it's not healthy. Men have lost their legs and arms that way—and their lives. But perhaps what horrified me most was visiting the children's hospital here. They had bought some of this penicillin for use against meningitis. A number of children simply died, and a number went off their heads. You can see them now in the mental ward."

  He sat on the other side of the desk scowling into his hands. I said, "It doesn't bear thinking about very closely, does it?"

  "You haven't showed me any evidence yet that Harry..."

  "We are coming to that now," I said. "Just sit still and listen." I opened Lime's file and began to read. At the beginning the evidence was purely circumstantial, and Martins fidgeted. So much consisted of coincidence—reports of agents that Lime had been at a certain place at a certain time: the accumulation of opportunities: his acquaintance with certain people. He protested once, "But the same evidence would apply against me—now."

  "Just wait," I said. For some reason Harry Lime had grown careless: he may have realised that we suspected him and got rattled. He held a quite distinguished position and a man like that is the more easily rattled. We put one of our agents as an orderly in the British Military Hospital: we knew by this time the name of our go-between, but we had never succeeded in getting the line right back to the source. Anyway I am not going to bother the reader now, as I bothered Martins then, with all the stages—the long tussle to win the confidence of the go-between—a man called Harbin. At last we had the screws on Harbin, and we twisted them until he squealed. This kind of police work is very similar to secret service work: you look for a double agent whom you can really control, and Harbin was the man for us. But even he only led us as far as Kurtz.

  "Kurtz," Martins exclaimed. "But why haven't you pulled him in?"

  "Zero hour is almost here," I said.

  Kurtz was a great step forward, for Kurtz was in direct communication with Lime—he had a small outside job in connection with relief work. With Kurtz, Lime sometimes put things on paper—if he was pressed. I showed Martins the Photostat of a note. "Can you identify that?"

  "It's Harry's hand." He read it through. "I don't see anything wrong."

  "No, but now read this note from Harbin to Kurtz—which we dictated. Look at the date. This is the result."

  He read them both through twice. "You see what I mean?" If one watched a world come to an end, a plane dive from its course, I don't suppose one would chatter, and a world for Martins had certainly come to an end, a world of easy friendship, hero-worship, confidence that had begun twenty years before... in a school corridor. Every memory—afternoons in the long grass, the illegitimate shoots on Brickworth Common, the dreams, the walks, every shared experience was simultaneously tainted, like the soil of an atomised town. One could not walk there with safety for a long while. While he sat there, looking at his hands and saying nothing, I fetched a precious bottle of whisky out of a cupboard and poured out two large doubles. "Go on," I said, "drink that," and he obeyed me as though I were his doctor. I poured him out another.

  He said slowly, "Are you certain that he was the real boss?"

  "It's as far back as we have got so far."

  "You see he was always apt to jump before he looked."

  I didn't contradict him, though that wasn't the impression he had before given of Lime. He was searching round for some comfort.

  "Suppose," he said, "someone had got a line on him, forced him into this racket, as you forced Harbin to doublecross..."

  "It's possible."

  "And they murdered him in case he talked when he was arrested."

  "It's not impossible."

  "I'm glad they did," he said. "I wouldn't have liked to hear Harry squeal." He made a curious little dusting movement with his hand on his knee as much as to say, "That's that.
" He said, "I'll be getting back to England."

  "I'd rather you didn't just yet. The Austrian police would make an issue if you tried to leave Vienna at the moment. You see, Cooler's sense of duty made him call them up too."

  "I see," he said hopelessly.

  "When we've found the third man..." I said.

  "I'd like to hear him squeal," he said. "The bastard. The bloody bastard."


  AFTER HE left me, Martins went straight off to drink himself silly. He chose the Oriental to do it in, the dreary smoky little night club that stands behind a sham Eastern facade. The same semi-nude photographs on the stairs, the same half-drunk Americans at the bar, the same bad wine and extraordinary gins—he might have been in any third rate night haunt in any other shabby capital of a shabby Europe. At one point of the hopeless early hours the International Patrol took a look at the scene. Martins had drink after drink: he would probably have had a woman too, but the cabaret performers had all gone home, and there were practically no women left in the place, except for one beautiful shrewd-looking French journalist who made one remark to her companion and fell contemptuously asleep.

  Martins moved on: at Maxim's a few couples were dancing rather gloomily, and at a place called Chez Victor the heating had failed and people sat in overcoats drinking cocktails. By this time the spots were swimming in front of Martins' eyes, and he was oppressed by a sense of loneliness. His mind reverted to the girl in Dublin, and the one in Amsterdam. That was one thing that didn't fool you—the straight drink, the simple physical act: one didn't expect fidelity from a woman. His mind revolved in circles—from sentiment to lust and back again from belief to cynicism.

  The trams had stopped, and he set out obstinately on foot to find Harry's girl. He wanted to make love to her—just like that: no nonsense, no sentiment. He was in the mood for violence, and the snowy road heaved like a lake, and set his mind on a new course towards sorrow, eternal love, renunciation.

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