The Third Man

  The wind had risen again, but it had brought no snow: it came icily off the Danube and in the little grassy square by the caf? it whipped up the snow like the surf on top of a wave. There was no heating in the caf? and Martins sat warming each hand in turn on a cup of ersatz coffee—innumerable cups. There was usually one of my men in the caf? with him, but I changed them every twenty minutes or so irregularly. More than an hour passed: Martins had long given up hope and so had I, where I waited at the end of a phone several streets away, with a party of the sewer police ready to go down if it became necessary. We were luckier than Martins because we were warm in our great boots up to the thighs and our reefer jackets. One man had a small searchlight about half as big again as a car headlight strapped to his breast and another man carried a brace of Roman candles. The telephone rang. It was Martins. He said, "I'm perishing with cold. It's a quarter past one. Is there any point in going on with this?"

  "You shouldn't telephone. You must stay in sight."

  "I've drunk seven cups of this filthy coffee. My stomach won't stand much more."

  "He can't delay much longer if he's coming. He won't want to run into the two o'clock patrol. Stick it another quarter of an hour, but keep away from the telephone."

  Martins' voice said suddenly, "Christ, he's here. He's—" and then the telephone went dead. I said to my assistant: "Give the signal to guard all manholes," and to my sewer police: "We are going down."

  What had happened was this. Martins was still on the telephone to me when Harry Lime came into the caf?. I don't know what he heard, if he heard anything. The mere sight of a man wanted by the police and without friends in Vienna speaking on the telephone would have been enough to warn him. He was out of the caf? again before Martins had put down the receiver. It was one of those rare moments when none of my men was in the caf?. One had just left and another was on the pavement about to come in. Harry Lime brushed by him and made for the kiosk. Martins came out of the caf? and saw my men. If he had called out then it would have been an easy shot, but it was not, I suppose, Lime, the penicillin racketeer who was escaping down the street; it was Harry.

  He hesitated just long enough for Lime to put the kiosk between them: then he called out "That's him," but Lime had already gone to ground.

  What a strange world unknown to most of us lies under our feet: we live above a cavernous land of waterfalls and rushing rivers, where tides ebb and flow as in the world above. If you have ever read the adventures of Allan Quartermain and the account of his voyage along the underground river to the city of Milosis, you will be able to picture the scene of Lime's last stand. The main sewer, half as wide as the Thames, rushes by under a huge arch, fed by tributary streams: these streams have fallen in waterfalls from higher levels and have been purified in their fall, so that only in these side channels is the air foul. The main stream smells sweet and fresh with a faint tang of ozone, and everywhere in the darkness is the sound of falling and rushing water. It was just past high tide when Martins and the policeman reached the river: first the curving iron staircase, then a short passage so low they had to stoop, and then the shallow edge of the water lapped at their feet. My man shone his torch along the edge of the current and said, "He's gone that way," for just as a deep stream when it shallows at the rim leaves an accumulation of debris, so the sewer left in the quiet water against the wall a scum of orange peel, old cigarette cartons and the like, and in this scum Lime had left his trail as unmistakably as if he had walked in mud. My policeman shone his torch ahead with his left hand, and carried his gun in his right. He said to Martins, "Keep behind me, sir, the bastard may shoot."

  "Then why the hell should you be in front?"

  "It's my job, sir." The water came halfway up their legs as they walked: the policeman kept his torch pointing down and ahead at the disturbed trail at the sewer's edge. He said, "The silly thing is the bastard doesn't stand a chance. The manholes are all guarded and we've cordoned off the way into the Russian zone. All our chaps have to do now is to sweep inwards down the side passes from the manholes." He took a whistle out of his pocket and blew, and very far away here and again there came the notes of the reply. He said, "They are all down here now. The sewer police I mean. They know this place just as I know the Tottenham Court Road. I wish my old woman could see me now," he said, lifting his torch for a moment to shine it ahead, and at that moment the shot came. The torch flew out of his hand and fell in the stream. He said, "God blast the bastard."

  "Are you hurt?"

  "Scraped my hand, that's all. Here, take this other torch, sir, while I tie my hand up. Don't shine it. He's in one of the side passages." For a long time the sound of the shot went on reverberating: when the last echo died a whistle blew ahead of them, and Martins' companion blew an answer.

  Martins said, "It's an odd thing—I don't even know your name."

  "Bates, sir." He gave a low laugh in the darkness: "This isn't my usual beat. Do you know the Horseshoe, sir?"


  "And the Duke of Grafton?"


  "Well, it takes a lot to make a world."

  Martins said, "Let me come in front. I don't think he'll shoot at me, and I want to talk to him."

  "I had orders to look after you, sir, careful."

  "That's all right." He edged round Bates, plunging a foot deeper in the stream as he went. When he was in front he called out, "Harry," and the name set up an echo, "Harry, Harry, Harry!" that travelled down the stream and woke a whole chorus of whistles in the darkness. He called again, "Harry. Come out. It's no use."

  A voice startlingly close made them hug the wall. "Is that you, old man?" it called. "What do you want me to do?"

  "Come out. And put your hands above your head."

  "I haven't a torch, old man. I can't see a thing."

  "Be careful, sir," Bates said.

  "Get flat against the wall. He won't shoot at me," Martins said. He called, "Harry, I'm going to shine the torch. Play fair and come out. You haven't got a chance." He flashed the torch on, and twenty feet away, at the edge of the light and the water Harry stepped into view. "Hands above the head, Harry." Harry raised his hand and fired. The shot ricochetted against the wall a foot from Martins' head, and he heard Bates cry out. At the same moment a searchlight from fifty yards away lit the whole channel, caught Harry in its beams, Martins, the staring eyes of Bates slumped at the water's edge with the sewage washing to his waist. An empty cigarette carton wedged into his armpit and stayed. My party had reached the scene.

  Martins stood dithering there above Bates' body, with Harry Lime halfway between us. We couldn't shoot for fear of hitting Martins, and the light of the searchlight dazzled Lime. We moved slowly on, our revolvers trained for a chance, and Lime turned this way and that way like a rabbit dazzled by headlights: then suddenly he took a flying jump into the deep central rushing stream. When we turned the searchlight after him he was submerged, and the current of the sewer carried him rapidly on, past the body of Bates, out of the range of the searchlight into the dark. What makes a man, without hope, cling to a few more minutes of existence? Is it a good quality or a bad one? I have no idea.

  Martins stood at the outer edge of the searchlight beam, staring down stream: he had his gun in his hand now, and he was the only one of us who could fire with safety. I thought I saw a movement and called out to him, "There. There. Shoot." He lifted his gun and fired, just as he had fired at the same command all those years ago on Brickworth Common, fired as he did then inaccurately. A cry of pain came tearing back like calico down the cavern: a reproach, an entreaty. "Well done," I called and halted by Bates' body. He was dead. His eyes remained blankly open as we turned the searchlight on him: somebody stooped and dislodged the carton and threw it in the river which whirled it on—a scrap of yellow Gold Flake: he was certainly a long way from the Tottenham Court Road.

  I looked up and Martins was out of sight in the darkness: I called his name and it was lost in a confusion of echoes,
in the rush and the roar of the underground river. Then I heard a third shot.

  Martins told me later: "I walked upstream to find Harry, but I must have missed him in the dark. I was afraid to lift the torch: I didn't want to tempt him to shoot again. He must have been struck by my bullet just at the entrance of a side passage. Then I suppose he crawled up the passage to the foot of the iron stairs. Thirty feet above his head was the manhole, but he wouldn't have had the strength to lift it, and even if he had succeeded the police were waiting above. He must have known all that, but he was in great pain, and just as an animal creeps into the dark to die, so I suppose a man makes for the light. He wants to die at home, and the darkness is never home to us. He began to pull himself up the stairs, but then the pain took him and he couldn't go on. What made him whistle that absurd scrap of a tune I'd been fool enough to believe he had written himself? Was he trying to attract attention, did he want a friend with him, even the friend who had trapped him, or was he delirious and had he no purpose at all? Anyway I heard his whistle and came back along the edge of the stream, and felt the wall end and found my way up the passage where he lay. I said, 'Harry,' and the whistling stopped, just above my head. I put my hand on an iron handrail and climbed: I was still afraid he might shoot. Then, only three steps up, my foot stamped down on his hand, and he was there. I shone my torch on him: he hadn't got a gun: he must have dropped it when my bullet hit him. For a moment I thought he was dead, but then he whispered with pain. I said, 'Harry,' and he swivelled his eyes with a great effort to my face. He was trying to speak, and I bent down to listen. 'Bloody fool,' he said—that was all: I don't know whether he meant that for himself—some sort of act of contrition however inadequate (he was a Catholic)—or was it for me—with my thousand a year taxed and my imaginary cattle rustlers who couldn't even shoot a rabbit clean. Then he began to whimper again. I couldn't bear it any more and I put a bullet through him."

  "Well forget that bit," I said.

  Martins said, "I never shall."


  A THAW SET IN that night, and all over Vienna the snow melted, and the ugly ruins came to light again: steel rods hanging like stalactites and rusty girders thrusting like bones through the grey slush. Burials were much simpler than they had been a week before when electric drills had been needed to break the frozen ground. It was almost as warm as a spring day when Harry Lime had his second funeral. I was glad to get him under earth again: but it had taken two men's deaths. The group by the grave was smaller now: Kurtz wasn't there, nor Winkler—only the girl and Rollo Martins and myself. And there weren't any tears.

  After it was over the girl walked away without a word to either of us down the long avenue of trees that led to the main entrance and the tram stop, splashing through the melted snow. I said to Martins, "I've got transport. Can I give you a lift?"

  "No," he said, "I'll take a tram back."

  "You win, you've proved me a bloody fool."

  "I haven't won," he said. "I've lost." I watched him striding off on his overgrown legs after the girl. He caught her up and they walked side by side. I don't think he said a word to her: it was like the end of a story. He was a very bad shot and a very bad judge of character, but he had a way with Westerns (a trick of tension) and with girls (I wouldn't know what). And Crabbin? Oh, Crabbin is still arguing with the British Cultural Relation Society about Dexter's expenses. They say they can't pass simultaneous payments in Stockholm and Vienna. Poor Crabbin... Poor all of us when you come to think of it.

  The End



  Graham Greene, The Third Man

  (Series: # )




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