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Authors: Michael Walsh

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As Time Goes By

BOOK: As Time Goes By
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A
S
T
IME

G
OES
B
Y

A Novel of
Casablanca

M
ICHAEL
W
ALSH

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Time Warner Company

 

 

 

 

For Kathleen, Alexandra, and Clare

 

 

A
S
T
I
ME

G
OES
B
Y

 

P
REFACE

(cue martial music)

 

EUROPE REELS BEFORE THE HUN!

BRITONS HUNKER IN BUNKERS AS BOMBS FALL!

HITLER MASTER OF ALL HE SURVEYS:

CAN ANYONE STOP HIM?

 

(cue voice-over)

War! From the Sahara to the steppes of central Asia, Europe is on fire. Directed from Berlin, Adolf Hitler's legions have overrun Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France;
driven deep into the Soviet Union; and carved off the top of
North Africa. Wehrmacht troops shell Moscow and strut down
the Champs-Elysees, while nightly the Luftwaffe sets the docks
of London ablaze and deadly Nazi U-boats turn the shipping
lanes of the North Atlantic into a watery graveyard.

Suffering Europe casts its eyes to heaven, with one question
on its lips: Can anyone stop the Germans?

Brave men and women are trying. Across occupied Europe
resistance movements have sprung up. From his headquarters
in Brazzaville, General Charles De Gaulle is leading a rearguard
action against the Nazi beast in
la belle France.
In the teeth of
Goering's bombers, Czech and Norwegian patriots have re
grouped in London and plot acts of violence and retribution
against the usurpers of their homelands. Whether by political
action, or outright sabotage and terror, resistance is growing
daily.

But the Wehrmacht's seemingly inexorable march across the
European continent has meant dislocation for millions. A Refu
gee Trail has sprung up: Paris to Marseille—across the Mediter
ranean to Oran—then by train—or auto—or foot—across the
rim of Africa to French Morocco, and finally here, to Casa
blanca.

Casablanca! Its very name evokes magic and mystery. A
windswept place, trapped between ocean and desert, where
anything can happen—and does, every day. Where human beings sell one another like cattle or sheep. Where gold is cheap,
jewelry is worthless, and the only thing of value is an exit visa.
Where the plane to Lisbon is a minor deity and the Clipper
to America is God Himself. A place where desperation rules,
uncertainty is king, and the cast of a die—or the turn of a card,
or the spin of a roulette wheel—can mean the difference between life and death. A place where Spaniard huddles with
Frenchman, where Russian drinks with Englishman, where ex
patriate American matches wits with German. Casablanca, which holds your life in the palm of its hand, and asks only:
What is it worth to you?

Safe behind its two wide oceans, neutral America looks on.
How much longer?

 

THIS IS CASEY ROBINSON

REPORTING
FROM CASABLANCA

 

(bursts of static)

(sounds of French police radio being tuned in)

 

8:00 p.m. Attention,
attention! All units: Czech resistance
leader Victor Laszlo, wanted by the Gestapo for crimes against the Third Reich, has escaped on the Lisbon plane. He is using
the tetters
of transit stolen from German couriers murdered on
the train from Oran three days ago.

8:10 p.m.
Attention, attention! Major Heinrich Strasser of the
Gestapo has been shot at the Casablanca airport! Round up
the usual suspects, on orders of Captain Louis Renault, Prefect
of Police.

8:25 p.m.
All units: Major Strasser has died of his wounds en route to the hospital. Captain Renault, come in, please. Calling
Captain Renault. Where are you?

8:35 p.m. Attention,
all units: Louis Renault has disappeared.
Last seen in the company of M. Richard Blaine, owner of Rick's
Cafe Americain. Has possibly met with foul play. Arrest M.
Blaine at once. He is armed and extremely dangerous. Beware!

8:45 p.m. Attention,
all units: Captain Renault spotted walking with Rick Blaine on the outskirts of the airport. They are to
be apprehended at once. Possibly heading for the Free French
garrison in Brazzaville. Block all roads to the south immediately.

8:46 p.m. Attention,
attention: The German Consul, Herr
Heinze, reports that Gestapo headquarters has dispatched
agents to intercept the fugitives. Matters are now in the hands
of the Germans. That is all.

(radio off)

 

 

 

 

 

C
HAPTER
O
NE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lisbon plane soared away from the dense, swirl
ing fog of Casablanca, up and into the night. Below,
the airport was plunged deep into the North African
darkness, its only illumination the revolving beacon
that perched atop the conning tower. The sirens of the
French colonial police cars had faded into the night.
Everything was quiet but the wind.

Almost lost in the mist, two men were walking to
gether, away from the airport, away from the city, and
into an uncertain future.

"... of a beautiful friendship," said Richard Blaine,
tugging on a cigarette as he walked. His hat was pulled
down low on his forehead, and his trench coat was
cinched tightly against the damp. Rick felt calmer than
he had in years. In fact, he tried to remember when he
had felt this certain of what he had just done, and what
he was about to do.

The shorter man walking beside him nodded. "Well,
my friend, Victor Laszlo and Ilsa Lund are on their way
to Lisbon," said Louis Renault. "I might have known
you'd mix your newfound patriotism with a little lar
ceny." He fished in his pocket and came up with ten
thousand francs.

"That must have been very difficult for you, Ricky,"
he said. "Miss Lund is an extremely beautiful woman.
I don't know that I should have been so gallant, even with money at stake."

"I guess that's the difference between me and you,
Louie," Rick replied.

Ilsa Lund! Had it been only two days ago that she
had walked back into his life? It seemed like a year.
How could a woman change a man's fate so much so
fast? Now his duty was to follow that fate, no matter where it might lead him.

"Anyway, you were gallant enough not to have me
arrested, even though I'd just given the letters of transit
to the most wanted man in the Third Reich and shot a Gestapo officer. By rights I ought to be in your hoose-
gow, getting ready to face a firing squad. Why the sud
den change of heart? I never let you win that much at
roulette."

The little man, smart and well turned out in his black
colonial policeman's uniform, trod so softly beside
Rick Blaine that even in the stillness his footfalls were
inaudible. Over the years, Louis Renault had found it
preferable to leave as little a mark on his surroundings as possible.

"I don't know," Renault replied. "Maybe it's because I like you. Maybe it's because I didn't like the
late Heinrich Strasser. Maybe it's because you've
cheated me out of the favors of two lovely ladies who
were in dire need of my services in obtaining exit visas,
and I insist on proper retribution. Maybe it's because
you won our bet, and I'd like a chance to get my money
back."

"And maybe it's because you're cheap," said Rick. "What difference does it make? You lost, fair and
square." He finished his cigarette and sent the glowing
butt sparking across the tarmac. He searched the sky,
but her plane was long gone. "So did I."

Abruptly, Renault halted and grabbed Rick by the
arm. "I was right: you are a rank sentimentalist," he exclaimed. "You're still in love with her, aren't you?"

"Why don't you mind your own business?" retorted
Rick.

"This
is
my business—indeed, my two favorite busi
nesses: money and women," answered Renault. "A less charitable man than I might claim he'd been
cheated. You knew all along that you were going to give those letters of transit to Victor Laszlo and his
wife. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the lady knew it,
too."

"It's hard to know what women know, isn't it?"
Rick replied, starting to walk again and picking up the
pace. "It's even harder to know how they know it be
fore we do."

Their path was taking them deeper into the darkness.
"Where are we going, if you don't mind my asking?"
asked Renault. His complicity in the death of Major
Strasser was so spontaneous that he had little more than
the clothes on his back and the francs in his wallet. He
hoped his friend knew what he was doing. "If we really
want to go to the Free French garrison at Brazzaville,
we'd better think about commandeering a transport
flight out before the Germans wake up. It's a long way
to the Congo—three thousand miles, at least."

Rick scuffed the ground with his shoe. "Forget Braz
zaville. I've got a better use for your money." His eyes
stabbed the darkness. There it was! In the distance, he
could make out the dimly defined shape of a large auto
mobile parked at the far end of the airfield. Sacha and
Sam, right in place and right on time.

Louis nodded appreciatively as Rick's Buick 81C
convertible came more clearly into view. He tugged
at his kepi and smoothed down his dark uniform. In
Renault's opinion, to look anything other than one's
best ill suited a Frenchman. Especially a newly Free
Frenchman. Especially a really free Frenchman. "You leave nothing to chance, do you? Tell me, did you plan
to kill Major Strasser all along, or was that just inspired
improvisation?"

"Let's just say I got lucky when he drew first," replied Rick, opening the automobile's back door and
climbing in.

"Where did you learn to handle a gun like that, if
you don't mind my asking? One might think you had
some wartime experience."

"I was in a lot of little wars around New York," said Rick.

"You weren't really going to shoot me back there,
were you, Ricky?"

"Not if you didn't make me," replied Rick. "I try
not to make a habit of killing my friends. I don't always
succeed."

"Everything okay, Mister Rick?" Sam inquired anx
iously from the driver's seat.

"Everything's just ducky," said Rick. "Now step on
it. We've got to make Port Lyautey before daybreak"

"Right, boss," said Sam, and floored it.

Port Lyautey, north of Rabat, was about two hundred
miles away. Founded by the French in 1912 when they
established the protectorate, the city on the Sebou
River was a major transportation hub, with a seaport at
Mehdia, a railroad, and, best of all, an airfield. Come
hell or high water, they were going to follow Victor
Laszlo and llsa Lund to Lisbon.

Unfortunately, each and every one of those two hun
dred miles was bad road. Well, that's why God built
Buicks and charged so much for them, thought Rick:
shipped over from the States and smuggled into Casa
blanca, his had cost more than $2,000.

Sam Waters hit the accelerator so hard, Rick and
Louis were thrust back into the leather rear seats as if they were in an airplane. In the front passenger seat,
Sacha Yurchenko laughed and fondled the .38 Smith &
Wesson that Rick had given him as a bonus the year
before.

"You want I should shoot him, boss?" shouted
Sacha, the big Russian bartender at Rick's place. Except for Yvonne, the girlfriend he had inherited from
Rick, Sacha didn't much like the French. In truth,
Sacha didn't much like anybody, and the feeling was
mutual.

"Not yet," said Rick. "Maybe later. Maybe never. It
all depends."

"Awww," said Sacha, disappointed.

Renault let out a long breath. Time to exhibit some
of that famous French savoir faire.

"A beautiful car is like a beautiful woman, don't you
think, Ricky?" he said. "The lines, the curves, the hid
den power under the hood." Renault admired American cars, which was a good thing, since the European
automakers had long since switched to war production.
"So many exit visas, so little time." He gave a little
shake of his head in regret.

"Speaking of which," said Rick, "we're going to
need a few of those ourselves. Think you can help
out?"

"I believe I still carry some authority in these parts," said Renault, reaching into the breast pocket of his uni
form. Long ago he had learned that one should never travel without a valid ticket to safety secreted some
where upon one's person. "Here they are: two exit
visas."

"Make it three."

"Three?"

"One for me, one for you, and one for Sam."

"I see," said Renault. He counted them out as if they
were legal tender, except more valuable. "All they re
quire is an authorized signature, which fortunately—
for the time being, at least—is mine." He scratched his name with a flourish, three times.

From his pocket Rick produced a flask of bourbon,
took a tug on it, and offered it to Renault. The little
Frenchman savored the liquor appreciatively. Rick
didn't offer one to Sam. He knew better. Sam didn't
drink with the customers, and Sam didn't drink with
Rick. Sam didn't even drink with himself very often.

"Let's hope" your John Hancock's good until tomor
row morning," said Rick.

Inside the Buick it was warm and dry. Renault could
feel the night's chill starting to disperse. He had never liked Morocco all that much anyway. He wouldn't be
sorry to leave it. "Things are becoming clearer to me
now. You and Laszlo knew the end of the script before
either of you said a line back there." He wished he had something to smoke. "When did you hatch this plan?"

"When you had Laszlo in the holding pen, of
course." Rick lit another cigarette and offered the cap
tain one as well. "After you'd arrested him for being
at the Underground meeting. I told you that you
couldn't hold him very long on that petty charge."

"And you promised that you'd entrap him for me by
handing over the letters of transit," interrupted Re
nault.

"The setup was perfect for you," Rick continued.
"When you saw Laszlo and Ilsa walk into my cafe, you
must have thought you were in seventh heaven, because
they were in the one place in the world where you had the power of life and death over them. I gave you the chance to nab Laszlo and make yourself a hero with Strasser, and you fell for it like a ton of bricks."

"I did indeed," admitted Renault. "There's one
thing I don't understand, though. Why did you give the
letters of transit to Laszlo and his wife? Why did you
change your mind about helping him escape Casa
blanca for Lisbon and America? You, who always
prided yourself on sticking your neck out for no man.
Surely there must have been more in it for you than the
relatively trifling sum of ten thousand francs."

Rick looked out the window, at nothing. "You might
say I liked the potential payday. Or you might say I
was tired of looking for the waters in Casablanca and
coming up with nothing but sand." He took a deep drag
on his Chesterfield and exhaled. "Or you just might
say that destiny finally caught up with me."

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