The Fourth Man
I never forget a face. I always had trouble with names — who doesn’t? — but never faces. Not even now, here, where half the nurses have names I still can’t pronounce after they tell me how. I know which of them is which, and that’s all I need. Like I said, I never —
Ah. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve got that disease, Al’s something? My mind’s going? No. They can’t say what’s wrong with me. That’s because there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just older than anyone’s ever been, and they don’t know how to treat that. Gently, I say, and they laugh and treat me gently. Which suits me fine.
Now, where was I? Faces. Faces! Yes. Back in the old days, when I was a young man, my face was famous. Not my real face, it was an actor playing me, but he was damn close. They made a point of that, all the actors had to look like their originals. They wanted verisimilitude, they said. And then they shot the movie with crazy angles and weird lighting and put jingly-jangly music all over it! I told them, that ain’t verisimilitude, I never heard a zither in Vienna, and they said this is what makes it Art.
And maybe they were right, because verisimilitude or not, the movie did unbelievable business all over the world. So my name was famous, which did my sales no harm, but my face was close enough that I had to keep it hid for most of its life. Not just me, all of us: Anna, Harry of course, even that Brit major, Callahan or Calloway. He had an arm’s length of enemies who only knew his name, now all of a sudden he’s ten feet high on a screen for all to see! He had to go to ground real fast!
I holed up in Florida. Nice climate, nobody bothering me. I lived carefully on my royalties ever since. Anna was safe enough in Paris. She died a few years later, natural causes according to what I heard. I’d tried to get her out of Vienna — well, you’ll know, that part’s in the movie, except in real life it took longer to reach the inconclusion. Callahan fixed her visa again. Nice of him. And Harry —
You know, the movie’s always on some cable channel or other if you want to watch it. I recommend it if you have a couple of hours spare. When it’s on here, I don’t tell anyone that the Holly Martins in the story is the Holly Martins sitting alongside them. Anyway, half of them don’t know their own names, so why would they notice mine? They think it’s fiction.
But the only fiction in the movie is how people interpret the ending. They think I shot Harry, the callous, murdering black-marketeer who was my oldest friend, and that was the end of him. Granted, the next scene is a funeral, with Anna furious at me and Calloway gloating. But you don’t see me shoot him. You don’t see him dead. You see his funeral again and people mourning him again, just like you saw two hours before. You know he was a practised manipulator. You know he was hiding in the Russian sector for most of the first hour. Where do you think he is now?
Yeah, sometime, when you have the time, you do that. Anyway. Faces! I was going to tell you about —
A couple weeks ago, there was a shooting nearby here. Terrible thing. Kids, in a school. Makes you cry. Makes me cry, and I saw the results of Harry’s fake-penicillin operation first-hand. Some of the wounded got brought here for treatment. And the next thing you know, we’re all getting shaken down because the President’s coming to visit these kids.
Now, I never cared much for politics. The last President I could recognise was that actor, Reagan, and the guy who played me would have done better, but after him it was all nonentities from either side. So I don’t vote. Don’t care. Who’s going to make the oldest man in the country a priority? To hell with ’em all!
But I think, President, why not? Let him come and wave, and if he waves at me I’ll wave back. So I’m sitting on the veranda as the helicopter lands and the secret service jumps out and then — well, like I say, I never forget a face. And I know how faces age. So I got just one question.
How did Harry Lime get to be the fricken President?