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Chapter 3 London Calling

Her last view of Casablanca was of Ricks place. In the sky above Morocco, on that dark December night in 1941, there were tears in Ilsa’s eyes.

She touched her husbands arm. “I didn’t know Rick was in Casablanca. How could I? Are you upset about Rick and me? In Paris I had nothing, not even hope.”

She started to cry again, but she was not sure why. “Then I learned that you were alive, and that you needed me to help you in your fight against the Nazis—your fight for the freedom of Europe. Now I understand why you kept our marriage a secret from our friends. You didn’t want the Gestapo to suspect that I was your wife.” She managed to look over at Victor, but he was staring straight ahead, lost in thought. “Tell me . . . tell me you aren’t angry with me.”

For a time they sat together in silence. Then Victor said, “I choose to live without anger or jealousy. My work is too important. And, my dear, when we get to Lisbon, I want you to do exactly what I tell you. It will be very dangerous. I haven’t told you about the plans because I haven’t been able to tell anyone. I don’t even know all the details myself yet. I’m sure you understand.”

“I’m sure I do,” said Ilsa quietly. She admired Victor’s calm certainty. Would she ever experience that herself?

“This is more dangerous than anything I have ever done before. But I know we’re doing the right thing when even a man like Rick can see the difference between us and the Germans.”

He smiled at her.

“What do you mean?” said Ilsa.

“Rick has taken years to realize that there are more important things in life than his own happiness. He gave us those exit visas instead of keeping them for himself. He knew I had to escape from Casablanca.”

Victor said nothing more until they arrived in Lisbon.

When Ilsa woke the next morning, in the Hotel Aviz, Victor wasn’t in bed. On the other side of the bedroom door, she could hear whispers:”… British . . . danger . . . alive . . . der Henker . . . Prague . . . as soon as possible …”

She heard a door shut softly, and she jumped back into bed when she heard the turn of the key in the lock. “Is that you, Victor?” She pretended to be sleepy.

“Yes, my dear. I went out for a morning walk.” Ilsa opened her eyes. “And, there’s some wonderful news. The Americans will have to join the war now.”

Ilsa sat up. “Why?” she asked.

“Because the Japanese have bombed American ships in Pearl Harbor. Most of the ships were destroyed, and many men were killed. Don’t you understand? It will take time, but Germany’s finished. Now we can act. We must pack our clothes immediately.” Victor was almost shouting now.

Ilsa got up quickly and began to pack. “I’ve always wanted to see New York,” she said.

“We aren’t going to New York now.”

“Then where are we going?”

“To London. We’re going to plan our fight in London. Lots of Czech people live there. Some were in the government in Prague before the Germans arrived.”

Ilsa suddenly remembered Rick. She had asked him to follow her. Now she must tell him where to go. She wrote a message (To London . . . Der Henker . . . Danger . . . Prague . . . come quickly …) She asked the man at the hotel desk to give it to Mr. Richard Blaine.

In an hour, they were in another airplane.

“Victor,” Ilsa whispered, “let me help you this time.”

Victor looked straight ahead. His mind was not on the present, but the future.

Victor arrived in England to a hero’s welcome, but a secret one. At the airport they wore their collars up and their hats down. A car took them to a house in a quiet London street.

There, two men spoke to Victor, but too softly for Ilsa to hear.

After a few minutes, Victor asked Ilsa to go upstairs to rest, but although she was tired, she couldn’t sleep. She had been in this situation many times before (meetings in the middle of the night, strange men with hidden faces), and she was always asked to leave the room. She was proud of Victor, but she wanted to work with him and be a real member of the Resistance group.

She also wondered if Rick had seen her messages, and if he was following. Rick had given her something that she had never had before, a closeness and excitement. She realized for the first time that her feelings for Rick were exactly the same as Victor’s feelings for his work. She knew she loved Rick, but her place had to be beside her husband.

At that moment, the door opened and Victor came in.

“Victor, there’s something that I need to say to you.” She sat up and faced her husband. “I don’t know why we’re here, or what you’re planning …”

“That’s for your own safety.”

“But I want to be part of the Resistance, part of your work. I want to share it with you. Please,” she said.

“That’s impossible.”

“It isn’t. I can do much more. I want the same as you.”

“You’re certain?” He could see she was serious.

They went downstairs.

“Gentlemen,” said Victor, “this is my wife,” and he introduced the British Secretary of War and Major Miles to Ilsa. “She has something to say to you.”

“Yes,” began Ilsa. “I’ve talked to my husband. I understand all the dangers. I’ve lived through so much in the last two years, with and without my husband—at one point I thought he was dead. I want to take part in your activities . . . I mean, our activities.”

Major Miles looked at Victor, who smiled. “Well, this is wonderful, Mr. Laszlo.You’re a very lucky man.”

Victor smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “You can see that we’re both ready to die for our beliefs, like our two friends here . . . My dear, I forgot to introduce you to these two men. This is Jan Kubiš and this is Josef Gabčík. They’re from Czechoslovakia.

They’re helping us with plans for the fight against the Germans in their country.”

When the meeting finished, Ilsa sat and thought about her past. She thought about her early life in Norway and her student days at the Sorbonne in Paris. She was a star student; she had studied Slavic languages, and was especially good at Russian. In 1939, she had met Victor. She loved to remember his first words to her: “Miss Lund, they told me that you are the most beautiful girl in Paris. They were lying. You are the most beautiful girl in Europe!”

Victor’s work had always been dangerous, and when they got married, not even their friends knew about it. Victor continued to work for the Resistance, and then he told Ilsa that he had to return home to Czechoslovakia. Ilsa didn’t want him to go. (“Ilsa, I must go. How can I ask others to do what I won’t do myself?”) In Prague, the Gestapo were waiting for him. A few days later, his death was reported.

Ilsa continued to study, but she also worked for the Resistance because she felt she was continuing Victor’s work. Some months later, she met Rick.

She thought about them, Rick and Victor. Was it possible to love two men at the same time? Victor had taught her about love of her country, for other people, and for freedom. Rick had brought her back to life. When she was with Rick, she felt like a woman. She felt important, and he loved her. And then, Victor came back from the dead.

Ilsa’s mind was full of different emotions and impossible decisions. “Victors my husband,” she thought. “His work for Czechoslovakia, and for everybody in Europe, is the most important …” But tears came to her eyes. She wondered if Rick was in London.

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