A few days later, after Rupert had come and gone, as he was on his way to lunch at Toni’s flat, he received a call from his sister Fouzia saying he should come straight to his father’s house and help take him to the Clinique du Sud for dialysis.
He phoned Toni and told her the problem but she didn’t believe him and hung up. If this were not enough, when he arrived at his father’s house, his mother informed him his youngest brother had been put in jail for knocking some guy in an argument and he had to get him out. All of which made him more anxious than ever to speak with Delphine. Two weeks had passed since he had waved good bye to her at the Ouarzazate airport, but though he kept trying to reach her, even when he called early in the morning, he got a busy signal. Did he have the wrong number? It was making him crazy.
As soon as he settled his family’s affairs, he drove out to Dar Chems to look in on the Baroness and inform her that he was booked to leave for Paris the following morning. When he arrived there about five that afternoon, however, Mokhtar intercepted him on the drive and told him he’d overheard the new server, Zouheir, speaking to a young gentleman with a Fassi accent who had been to see the Baroness several times. ‘I was with the two other gardeners trimming bushes … they were walking nearby but we could see and hear them. The Fassi was giving the server money, at least a brick (10,000 Dirhams) and telling him the next time you came out here to see the Baroness he should kill her right after you leave.’
‘How long ago was this?’ Radouan asked.
‘This morning about eleven.’
Radouan thought hard. Something clicked in his brain and he thought he remembered Zouheir from years ago… the guy from Benguerir. J. W. had mentioned him! ‘You’re a good boy,’ he said. ‘As I suspected, these people are getting ready to do something very bad.’ He scrutinized Mokhtar thoughtfully. ‘You must promise never to tell anyone what you have just told me... Understand?’
Mokhtar nodded. ‘I promise.’
‘I want you to find the Baroness’ maid and keep her busy. I’ve come to say good bye and don’t want to be disturbed. There is a large walk-in closet in the hall just outside the Baroness’ suite. I want you to hide in there and watch her door. I will be leaving between eleven and midnight. You be in the closet by eleven and stay there through the night. Do you think you can do that without arousing suspicion?’
Mokhtar smiled, ‘It won’t be hard. The maid, Fatima, has been having an affair with this new server Zouheir. But now he’s seeing another girl so Fatima is very angry with him and I’ve been making out with her in that same closet... she will be happy to go there again with me and spy on Zouheir.’
‘You must avoid A’hmed. Do you think you can do that?’
‘I will try... Inch Allah... don’t worry, I will make myself invisible
‘And if you need to leave this place... and you may have to... you have the money I gave you and here is the key to my house... you might have to escape this place... if you do, take the maid with you but do not let her out of your sight and lay low until I get in touch... it could be several weeks. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on the first plane to Paris... be good, habibi, and do exactly as I have said.’
Mokhtar nodded dutifully, and Radouan headed for the house.
The sun was just setting. He went up and found the Baroness in a confused state, furious because she’d lost the opium he’d brought her and thought someone had stolen it. ‘See, what I mean,’ she pleaded desperately, ‘I can’t keep track of anything any more... even I forget what I’m looking for!’
Radouan scoured the room, found the opium and they shared a pipe together. Hoping to distract her, he turned on the sound system and played an old song by Umm Kalthoum. They listened in silence, soothed by the Diva’s voice, savoring all the memories it evoked.
‘A different age,’ the Baroness said with a shrug. ‘I remember sitting in this very room with Jimi Hendrix listening to that same song... he was stunned... later he went to Cairo and visited her.’
Radouan got out the Backgammon board and they played until Zouheir, who seemed startled to see Radouan, arrived with supper. Later Radouan crawled in the big bed with her, closed the curtains and read from a new French translation of The Thousand and One Nights.
She was fretful, inconsolable, and it was almost midnight before he was able to leave.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006