The Third Man

  It must have been about three in the morning when he climbed the stairs to Anna's room. He was nearly sober by that time and had only one idea in his head, that she must know about Harry too. He felt that somehow this knowledge would pay the mortmain that memory levies on human beings, and he would stand a chance with Harry's girl. If one is in love oneself, it never occurs to one that the girl doesn't know: one believes one has told it plainly in a tone of voice, the touch of a hand. When Anna opened the door to him, with astonishment at the sight of him tousled on the threshold, he never imagined that she was opening the door to a stranger.

  He said, "Anna, I've found out everything."

  "Come in," she said, "you don't want to wake the house." She was in a dressing gown: the divan had become a bed, the kind of rumbled bed that showed how sleepless the occupant had been.

  "Now," she said, while he stood there, fumbling for words, "what is it? I thought you were going to keep away. Are the police after you?"


  "You didn't really kill that man, did you?"

  "Of course not."

  "You're drunk, aren't you?"

  "I am a bit," he said sulkily. The meeting seemed to be going on the wrong lines. He said angrily, "I'm sorry."

  "Why? I could do with a bit of drink myself."

  He said, "I've been with the British police. They are satisfied I didn't do it. But I've learned everything from them. Harry was in a racket—a bad racket." He said hopelessly, "He was no good at all. We were both wrong."

  "You'd better tell me," Anna said. She sat down on the bed and he told her, swaying slightly beside the table where her typescript part still lay open at the first page. I imagine he told it her pretty confusedly, dwelling chiefly on what had stuck most in his mind, the children dead with meningitis and the children in the mental ward. He stopped and they were silent. She said, "Is that all?"


  "You were sober when they told you? They really proved it?"

  "Yes." He added, drearily, "So that, you see, was Harry."

  "I'm glad he's dead now," she said. "I wouldn't have wanted him to rot for years in prison."

  "But can you understand how Harry—your Harry, my Harry—could have got mixed up...?" He said hopelessly, "I feel as though he had never really existed, that we'd dreamed him. Was he laughing at fools like us all the time?"

  "He may have been. What does it matter?" she said. "Sit down. Don't worry." He had pictured himself comforting her—not this other way about. She said, "If he was alive now, he might be able to explain, but we've got to remember him as he was to us. There are always so many things one doesn't know about a person, even a person one loves, good things, bad things. We have to leave plenty of room for them."

  "Those children..."

  She said angrily, "For God's sake stop making people in your image. Harry was real. He wasn't just your hero and my lover. He was Harry. He was in a racket. He did bad things. What about it? He was the man we knew."

  He said, "Don't talk such bloody wisdom. Don't you see that I love you?"

  She looked at him in astonishment. "You?"

  "Yes, me. I don't kill people with fake drugs. I'm not a hypocrite who persuades people that I'm the greatest... I'm just a bad writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls..."

  She said, "But I don't even know what colour your eyes are. If you'd rung me up just now and asked me whether you were dark or fair or wore a moustache, I wouldn't have known."

  "Can't you get him out of your mind?"


  He said, "As soon as they've cleared up this Koch murder, I'm leaving Vienna. I can't feel interested any longer in whether Kurtz killed Harry—or the third man. Whoever killed him it was a kind of justice. Maybe I'd kill him myself under these circumstances. But you still love him. You love a cheat, a murderer."

  "I loved a man," she said. "I told you—a man doesn't alter because you find out more about him. He's still the same man."

  "I hate the way you talk. I've got a splitting headache, and you talk and talk..."

  "I didn't ask you to come."

  "You make me cross."

  Suddenly she laughed. She said, "You are so comic. You come here at three in the morning—a stranger—and say you love me. Then you get angry and pick a quarrel. What do you expect me to do—or say?"

  "I haven't seen you laugh before. Do it again. I like it."

  "There isn't enough for two laughs," she said.

  He took her by the shoulders and shook her gently. He said, "I'd make comic faces all day long. I'd stand on my head and grin at you between my legs. I'd learn a lot of jokes from the books on After-dinner Speaking."

  "Come away from the window. There are no curtains." '

  "There's nobody to see," but automatically checking his statement, he wasn't quite so sure: a long shadow that had moved, perhaps with the movement of clouds over the moon, was motionless again. He said, "You still love Harry, don't you?"


  "Perhaps I do. I don't know." He dropped his hands and said, "I'll be pushing off."

  He walked rapidly away: he didn't bother to see whether he was being followed, to check up on the shadow. But passing by the end of the street he happened to turn and there just around the corner, pressed against a wall to escape notice, was a thick stocky figure. Martins stopped and stared. There was something familiar about that figure: perhaps, he thought, I have grown unconsciously used to him during these last twenty-four hours: perhaps he is one of those who have so assiduously checked my movements. Martins stood there, twenty yards away, staring at the silent motionless figure in the dark side-street who stared back at him. A police spy, perhaps, or an agent of those other men, those men who had corrupted Harry first and then killed him: even possibly the third man?

  It was not the face that was familiar, for he could not make out so much as the angle of the jaw: nor a movement, for the body was so still that he began to believe that the whole thing was an illusion caused by shadow. He called sharply. "Do you want anything?" and there was no reply. He called again with the irascibility of drink. "Answer, can't you?" and an answer came, for a window curtain was drawn petulantly back by some sleeper he had awakened and the light fell straight across the narrow street and lit up the features of Harry Lime.


  DO YOU BELIEVE in ghosts?" Martins said to me.

  "Do you?"

  "I do now."

  "I also believe that drunk men see things—sometimes rats, sometimes worse."

  He hadn't come to me at once with his story—only the danger to Anna Schmidt tossed him back into my office, like something the sea washed up, tousled, unshaven, haunted by an experience he couldn't understand. He said, "If it had been just the face, I wouldn't have worried. I'd been thinking about Harry, and I might easily have mistaken a stranger. The light was turned off again at once, you see, I only got one glimpse, and the man made off down the street—if he was a man. There was no turning for a long way, but I was so startled I gave him another thirty yards' start. He came to one of those newspaper kiosks and for a moment moved out of sight. I ran after him. It only took me ten seconds to reach the kiosk, and he must have heard me running, but the strange thing was he never appeared again. I reached the kiosk. There wasn't anybody there. The street was empty. He couldn't have reached a doorway without my meeting him. He'd simply vanished."

  "A natural thing for ghosts—or illusions."

  "But I can't believe I was as drunk as all that!"

  "What did you do then?"

  "I had to have another drink. My nerves were all to pieces."

  "Didn't that bring him back?"

  "No, but it sent me back to Anna's."

  I think he would have been ashamed to come to me with his absurd story if it had not been for the attempt on Anna Schmidt. My theory when he did tell me his story was that there had been a watcher—though it was drink and hysteria that had pasted on the man's face the features of Harry Lime. Th
at watcher had noted his visit to Anna and the member of the ring—the penicillin ring—had been warned by telephone. Events that night moved fast. You remember that Kurtz lived in the Russian zone—in the second bezirk to be exact, in a wide empty desolate street that runs down to the Prater Platz. A man like that had probably obtained his influential contacts. The original police agreement in Vienna between the allies confined the military police (who had to deal with crimes involving allied personnel) to their particular zones, unless permission was given to them to enter the zone of another power. I only had to get on the phone to my opposite number in the American or French zones before I sent in my men to make an arrest or pursue an investigation. Perhaps forty-eight hours would pass before I received permission from the Russians, but in practice there are a few occasions when it is necessary to work quicker than that. Even at home it is not always possible to obtain a search warrant or permission from one's superiors to detain a suspect with any greater speed.

  This meant that if I wanted to pick up Kurtz it would be as well to catch him in the British zone.

  When Rollo Martins went drunkenly back at four o'clock in the morning to tell Anna that he had seen the ghost of Harry, he was told by a frightened porter who had not yet gone back to sleep that she had been taken away by the International Patrol.

  What happened was this. Russia, you remember, was in the chair as far as the Inner Stadt was concerned, and the Russians had information that Anna Schmidt was one of their nationals living with false papers. On this occasion, halfway through the patrol, the Russian policeman directed the car to the street where Anna Schmidt lived.

  Outside Anna Schmidt's block the American took a hand in the game and demanded in German what it was all about. The Frenchman leant against the bonnet and lit a stinking Caporal. France wasn't concerned and nothing that didn't concern France had any genuine importance to him. The Russian dug out a few words of German and flourished some papers. As far as they could tell, a Russian national wanted by the Russian police was living there without proper papers. They went upstairs and found Anna in bed, though I don't suppose, after Martins' visit, that she was asleep.

  There is a lot of comedy in these situations if you are not directly concerned. You need a background of general European terror, of a father who belonged to a losing side, of house searches and disappearances before the fear outweighs the comedy. The Russian, you see, refused to leave the room: the American wouldn't leave a girl unprotected, and the Frenchman—well, I think the Frenchman must have thought it was fun. Can't you imagine the scene? The Russian was just doing his duty and watched the girl all the time, without a flicker of sexual interest: the American stood with his back chivalrously turned: the Frenchman smoked his cigarette and watched with detached amusement the reflection of the girl dressing in the mirror of the wardrobe, and the Englishman stood in the passage wondering what to do next.

  I don't want you to think the English policeman came too badly out of the affair. In the passage, undistracted by chivalry, he had time to think, and his thoughts led him to the telephone in the next flat. He got straight through to me at my flat and woke me out of that deepest middle sleep. That was why when Martins rang up an hour later, I already knew what was exciting him—it gave him an undeserved but very useful belief in my efficiency. I never had another crack from him about policemen or sheriffs after that night.

  When the M. P. went back to Anna's room a dispute was raging. Anna had told the American that she had Austrian papers (which was true) and that they were quite in order (which was rather stretching the truth). The American told the Russian in bad German that they had no right to arrest an Austrian citizen. He asked Anna for her papers and when she produced them, the Russian took them.

  "Hungarian," he said, pointing at Anna. "Hungarian," and then flourishing the papers, "bad bad."

  The American, whose name was O'Brien, said, "Give the goil back her papers," which the Russian naturally didn't understand. The American put his hand on his gun, and Corporal Starling said gently, "Let it go, Pat."

  "If those papers ain't in order we got a right to look."

  "Just let it go. Well see the papers at H. Q."

  "The trouble about you British is you never know when to make a stand."

  "Oh, well," Starling said—he had been at Dunkirk, but he knew when to be quiet.

  The driver put on his brakes suddenly: there was a road block. You see I knew they would have to pass this military post. I put my head in at the window and said to the Russian, haltingly, in his own tongue: "What are you doing in the British zone?"

  He grumbled that it was "Orders."

  "Whose orders? Let me see them." I noted the signature—it was useful information. I said, "This tells you to pick up a certain Hungarian national and war criminal who is living with faulty papers in the British zone. Let me see the papers."

  He started on a long explanation. I said, "These papers look to me quite in order, but I'll investigate them and send a report of the result to your colonel. He can, of course, ask for the extradition of this lady at any time. All we want is proof of her criminal activities."

  I said to Anna: "Get out of the car." I put a packet of cigarettes in the Russian's hand, said, "Have a good smoke," waved my hand to the others, gave a sigh of relief and that incident was closed.


  WHILE MARTINS told me how he went back to Anna's and found her gone, I did some hard thinking. I wasn't satisfied with the ghost story or the idea that the man with Harry Lime's features had been a drunken illusion. I took out two maps of Vienna and compared them: I rang up my assistant and keeping Martins silent with a glass of whisky asked him if he had located Harbin yet. He said no: he understood he'd left Klagenfurt a week ago to visit his family in the adjoining zone. One always wants to do everything oneself: one has to guard against blaming one's juniors. I am convinced that I would never have let Harbin out of our clutches, but then I would probably have made all kinds of mistakes that my junior would have avoided. "All right," I said, "go on trying to get hold of him."

  "I'm sorry, sir."

  "Forget it. It's just one of those things."

  His young enthusiastic voice (if only one could still feel that enthusiasm for a routine job: how many opportunities, flashes of insight one misses simply because a job has become just a job), his voice tingled up the wire: "You know, sir, I can't help feeling that we ruled out the possibility of murder too easily. There are one or two points..."

  "Put them on paper, Carter."

  "Yes, sir. I think, sir, if you don't mind my saying so (Carter is a very young man) we ought to have him dug up. There's no real evidence that he died just when the others said."

  "I agree, Carter. Get on to the authorities."

  Martins was right! I had made a complete fool of myself, but remember that police work in an occupied city is not like police work at home. Everything is unfamiliar: the methods of one's foreign colleagues: the rules of evidence: even the procedure at inquests. I suppose I had got into the state of mind when one trusts too much to one's personal judgement. I had been immensely relieved by Lime's death. I was satisfied with the accident. I said to Martins: "Did you look inside the newspaper kiosk or was it locked?"

  "Oh, it wasn't exactly a newspaper kiosk," he said. "It was one of those solid iron kiosks you see everywhere plastered with posters."

  "You'd better show me the place."

  "But is Anna all right?"

  "The police are watching the flat. They won't try anything else yet."

  I didn't want to make a fuss and stir in the neighbourhood with a police car, so we took trams—several trams, changing here and there, and came into the district on foot. I didn't wear my uniform, and I doubted anyway after the failure of the attempt on Anna, whether they would risk a watcher. "This is the turning," Martins said and led me down a side street. We stopped at the kiosk. "You see he passed behind here and simply vanished—into the ground."

  "That was exactly where
he did vanish to," I said.

  "How do you mean?"

  An ordinary passer-by would never have noticed that the kiosk had a door, and of course it had been dark when the man disappeared. I pulled the door open and showed to Martins the little curling iron staircase that disappeared into the ground. He said, "Good God, then I didn't imagine him..."

  "It's one of the entrances to the main sewer."

  "And anyone can go down?"


  "How far can one go?"

  "Right across Vienna. People used them in air raids: some of our prisoners hid for two years down there. Deserters have used them—and burglars. If you know your way about you can emerge again almost anywhere in the city through a manhole or a kiosk like this one. The Austrians have to have special police for patrolling these sewers." I closed the door of the kiosk again. I said, "So that's how your friend Harry disappeared."

  "You really believe it was Harry?"

  "The evidence points that way."

  "Then whom did they bury?"

  "I don't know yet, but we soon shall, because we are digging him up again. I've got a shrewd idea, though, that Koch wasn't the only inconvenient man they murdered."

  Martins said, "It's a bit of a shock."


  "What are you going to do about it?"

  "I don't know. You can bet he's hiding out now in another zone. We have no line now on Kurtz, for Harbin's blown—he must have been blown or they wouldn't have staged that mock death and funeral."

  "But it's odd, isn't it, that Koch didn't recognize the dead man's face from the window."

  "The window was a long way up and I expect the face had been damaged before they took the body out of the car."

  He said thoughtfully, "I wish I could speak to him. You see, there's so much I simply can't believe."

  "Perhaps you are the only one who could speak to him. It's risky though, because you do know too much."

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