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It Had To Be You

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Signor Ferrari shows up in the morning, while Sam is making what should be Mr. Richard's first pot of coffee and tells Sam that Mr. Richard is gone and that Signor Ferrari now owns Rick's Café Americain.

Ferrari talks and talks, one those folks who's got a big romance going with the sound of their own voice.

"Yes, apparently there was quite a scene at the airport last night. Double crossings, shots fired. Right out of a penny dreadful, really, right down to the lovers getting away at the end. "

Sam nods, thinking Mr. Richard and Miss Ilsa must have left together. He doesn't think that's a good idea, not after what she did to him, but you can't argue with a man who thinks he's in love and nobody ever thought he was more in love than Mr. Richard.

He's not jealous of course. What happened between him and Mr. Richard, that wasn't something he liked to think about too much, except now that he's gone, it's hard to forget.

#####

Sam had only been in New York a few weeks, playing with Joe Tucker's dance band at The Garden of Joy on Seventh Avenue. His first time in the Big Apple, and he had to admit he was still getting used to being off the chitlin' circuit, still learning his way around city. Mostly he kept his head down and his tempos up and watched as the folks danced up a storm like there was no depression at all.

It was still a little strange to see white folks coming into a club and dance with the coloreds without worrying about some sherriff shutting the joint down. Maybe it was ok as long as no one walked out with the wrong person or tried to get into a hotel they shouldn't be in.

The first time he saw Mr. Richard, Sam felt like he did back home in Hutchinson, when you could smell a twister in the air long before the dark funnel showed up and dragged off a cow or some damn fool who'd stayed out to watch. That was Mr. Richard, a tornado waiting to happen.

At first Sam thought he was running girls, since there was always one on his arm, sometimes white, sometime colored and even a few gals he must have brought up from Chinatown. It didn't trouble Sam none, how the girls made a living, long as the fancy man took care of them ok.

Then some dude tried to make an offer for one of Mr. Richard's girls and got a bloody nose and a trip to the door for his troubles.

"He ain't gonna make much money if he keeps all the best ones for himself," he commented to Bobby the bouncer.

"Nah, man, it ain't like that. Mr. Blaine ain't no pimp. He just likes the ladies."

"Then what's he doing up here all the time."

"He's keeping our joint safe, that's what he's doing. Long as he's here, we ain't gonna get raided or nothing. "

Sam had seen plenty of protection rackets down South, and it didn't look like no man in a dinner jacket, sitting at a table with a pretty girl until closing time then slipping Sam a twenty to play some songs so old it probably had moss on it

Mama always told him about the guy who paid the piper, so he played "Charmaine" and "Dianne" and "Liza" until the names ran out and it was time to go home, but Mr. Richard wouldn't leave. The band was gone and the blonde was gone and it was just them and the piano.

"Play another one. How about "Ramona"?"

It went against his nature, his upbringing and his sense of self-preservation but Sam was tired.

"How about you call it a night and let me go home and get some sleep?" he snapped, and then waited to see if this was the tornado he'd been waiting for and what would happened when it hit.

Mr. Richard seemed taken aback, but then he broke into a smile and that was the moment when Sam felt himself being carried away.

"Fraid I can't do that right now. There's some guys heading up this way and I promised your boss I'd take care of them. Can you handle yourself in a fight?"

"I'm alive, ain't I?" he replied.

"Good. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but I like to know I have a man I can rely on. Now let's hear "Ramona"."

Sam was improvising a little riff on the bridge when he heard the doors open and saw the two men come in. Mr. Richard greeted them with drinks and a suggestion that they'd be wise to keep themselves away from The Garden of Joy if they wanted to see another birthday, and they responded with sneers and guns.

Mr. Richard had his own gun and some moves that Sam had never seen before but he still got himself pinned by a high yellow who looked set to administer a pistol whipping, if not worse. Sam had the feeling the boys weren't expecting him to do anything, but sit there and play the piano, so it was easy enough to get up and pull the thug off Mr. Richard and lay on a beating of his own, including a rough kick to the side of the head that wouldn't be long forgotten.

Neither would the sight of Mr. Richard's bloodied face, or Sam's response, his feeling that he needed to take care of this man.

"You need to get bandaged up," he insisted.

"Not until we get these two mugs far away from here. Can't leave the job half-done." Luckily, there were cabs all night and drivers who were perfectly willing to believe that "our friends had a little too much drink" or at least take as many bills as were necessary to have them dropped off halfway way downtown, in the Bowery. "They're bums," Mr. Richard said with apparent satisfaction, "let them wake up with other bums."

Then he wobbled and Sam barely managed to get him back inside.

The boss had an office upstairs, and a first aid kit, usually brought out when the dancers got bloody feet or a hang-over needed attention. Sam did what he could with both gauze and aspirin, but he didn't think Mr. Richard would look or feel very good in the morning.

He thought about getting Mr. Richard into a cab, but had no idea where he lived and he certainly couldn't bring him to his own hotel. Eventually, he decided to just leave him to a night's sleep on the boss's couch, but heard a murmured voice saying his name.

"Sam…"

"You get some sleep Mr. Richard. Boss won't mind. I'm sure he's plenty grateful for you shaking those thugs off his back."

"Play Ramona."

He couldn't leave a delirious man alone.

"No piano here. You get some sleep."

"Sing to me."

This was getting ridiculous.

Ramona, I hear the mission bells above
Ramona , they're ringing out our song of love

He wanted to stop because the song was stupid and he felt stupid singing it in the dark, but he kept going.

I press you, caress you
And bless the day you taught me to care

That was when Mr. Richard reached out a hand and found Sam's in the dark. Sam stopped singing. Stopped breathing for a second. Waited for the twister.

He didn't know if he was pulled or went willingly. He knew exactly how much trouble this would be, for him and for the band if anyone found out. Sure things happened, but only among one's own. Something like this…bad for everyone.

Kisses and hands in the darkness. Trying to take care not to touch the bruises, but he couldn't remember where they were, and Mr. Richard didn't seem to care.

"You like this, Sam, don't you?"

Mr. Richard's voice was somehow sensual and challenging at the same time.

Sam took the challenge and threw it right back at him.

"Yeah, I like it, and it sounds like you do too."

That was the end of the talking and what happened after was what no man talked about, but it was good. Maybe too damn good to leave behind, which was bad. Sam hadn't paid his dues in those shit-houses and made it to New York, just to screw it all up just 'cause a handsome white fellow liked the sweet tea.

Sam figured Mr. Richard must have the same idea, since he didn't show up at the Garden of Joy for over a week. No sweat off anyone's nose then. Farewell and amen, like the song said.

Except he did show up, looking both better and somewhat worse for wear in a way Sam couldn't explain.

"I've got a proposition for you," he said, and Sam didn't think Mr. Richard should be using those kind of words under the circumstances. "How'd you like to go to Paris? I've got a friend named Henri. He's got a nice little place, only he's got some guys from Marseilles who think they like a piece. I'm thinking New York's a little hot right now. "

"It's winter."

"So it is. But I'm going and he's got an opening for you, too. You'd be leading your own ensemble. You wouldn't have to put up with any jokers bugging you for Sweet Adeline."

Paris was Django Reinhardt and Bricktop and Josephine Baker. Paris also turned out to be Ilsa Lund. Compared to what she did to Mr. Richard, the Nazis didn't seem half so bad.

He'll never forget Mr. Richard's tears on that train. Never wants to see anything like that again. No matter how good her husband is or what he's fighting for, there's no need to hurt a man like that. He'd never have done that to someone he loved. No sir.

#####

"And now Captain Renault appears to have gone missing as well. It's all very puzzling, but at least the resistance will have their savior and his fair lady to lead them out of the wilderness. Hopefully not to soon. There's a lot of money still to be made in this war. Including your 25 percent. Rick certainly made sure you were taken care of. Highway robbery of course, but still worth it."

"You said the…savior and…"

Signor Ferrari appears slight shocked to hear any voice other than his own.

"Yes, apparently Mr. Laszlo and Miss Lund have arrived in Lisbon already. "

Sam feels a great relief.

"That's good," he says briefly.

"Yes, I suppose it is. Well anyway, the appropriate bribes have been paid. We should be open for business by this evening. Let Abdul and Carl and Sacha know. "

"I'll tell them."

Signor Ferrari gives him a strange smile.

"Are you satisfied with this arrangement? I'm not in the habit of keeping…well, let's say I want my employees to be here of their own free will. It's dangerous world right now. I'm not sure if you know…the Nazis, if they come here, it could be very bad. I'll understand if you want to leave, or perhaps go looking for Rick."

Now he recognizes the smile. It's a knowing smile. Too knowing about him. He wonders if he'll be expected to do anything besides play the piano, but he's already made the decision to stay in Casablanca and wait for Mr. Richard to come back.

As long as it takes.