‘There is no power and no strength, save in God, the Almighty, the Magnificent,’ Radouan began intoning under his breath, ready to powder them, who ever they were, ready to fight and kill! But then, to his surprise, inside his head he suddenly heard a voice, 'CHILL OUT, CHILL OUT, CHILL OUT', the voice of Delphine, yes it was her commanding him restraining him from insulting the policemen in the thousand and one ways he knew he could. Instead, smiling at the thought of her, he found himself asking them politely what they had in mind.
They in turn were equally polite, which unnerved him because most Moroccan police were not. Quietly they identified themselves as officers of the DST, one of the highest security units in the country, and let him know that they were armed and expected him to come with them without making a scene.
In a small office nearby, presided over by the officer in charge of immigration, the Chief of Airport Security entered, asked Radouan to sit down and offered him a cigarette, which he declined. He was resisting the instinct to fight and run; their guns would be useless against the speed at which he could act.
Then 'CHILL OUT' Delphine’s voice again like a Muezzin from the sky and he sat down and crossed his legs like a gentleman revealing a new pair of expensive Armani socks and Gucci shoes he’d picked up in Rome.
After some time, while they all looked at each other and nothing happened, an older man in a tweed jacket and khaki pants who identified himself as an officer of The Criminal Brigade and looked more European than Moroccan, appeared and sat on the edge of a desk facing him. ‘We expected you’d put up a fight,’ he said quietly in the Arabic of Fez, ‘you seem to have a reputation as a fighter.’
‘You’ve been checking up on me why? Tell me why I’m here.’
‘The name Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck... does it mean anything to you?’
‘Yes, of course,’ Radouan replied, ‘we’ve been friends for many years... over twenty, since I was sixteen. Why do you ask?’
‘Could I ask you exactly when you last saw her?’
With great effort Radouan mastered his anxiety. ‘Yes, of course. I’ve been abroad for ten days, in Paris and in Rome. So I saw her the night before I left for Paris... had dinner with her... told her stories and put her to bed.’
‘Did you spend the night out there?’
‘No, I drove back to Marrakech.’
‘At what time did you arrive back in Marrakech?’
‘You have a witness that you returned by that hour.’
‘Yes, of course, my wife.’
The officer looked mildly surprised. ‘Your wife? We didn’t know you were married. When did you get married?’
‘About a month ago...’
‘Here in Maroc...’
‘No, in London. We plan to have a Muslim wedding here very soon.’
‘Your wife is British?’
‘Yes, her name is Lady Antonia Howard, or was before she married me.’
The man studied him for some time. ‘So she can verify that you were here in Marrakech by around twelve o’clock of the night before you went to Paris.’
‘I think so...she was asleep when I got home. I woke her up. She looked at her watch and yelled at me. Then she went right back to sleep again. Ask her, I’m sure she will remember.’
‘And it takes how long to drive from the Baroness’ place to Marrakech?’
‘At that time of night about half an hour; why are you asking me all this?’
‘The Baroness is dead,’ the officer said quietly, ‘In her bed... she was found dead in the early morning hours. There is a servant A’hmed who says he saw you leaving her Ksar around five thirty in the morning of the day you flew to Paris. The Baroness left a Testament making you her sole heir. The document is with her Notaire Madame Saadi. Do you know about this Testament?’
‘No, I don’t,’ Radouan dissembled coolly.
The officer cleared his throat. ‘We have a Mandat d’Arret to detain you for the murder of Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck signed by the Wakil al Malik. Will you come with us peacefully or must we cuff you?’
‘Who is the complainant?’ Radouan gestured, ‘By God, there must be some mistake!’
‘We do not know about such things as complainants,’ the man sighed, ‘we are only here to take you in.’
‘Take me in to where?’ This is crazy! She was my best friend in this world.’
‘First to Jemaa el-Fna. You’ve lived here all your life, you must know the system. You will be held there while the investigation proceeds... at least twenty-four hours maybe more. You are permitted to call your wife and your Avocat if you have one.’
Radouan clenched his fists and closed his eyes. For one who had known only good luck and clear sailing, it was like a terrible storm had suddenly battered him. All his life, the jails of Marrakech had been the great nightmare, constantly held up by everyone as the final solution for bad boys. All Marrakchis they lived in fear of them: the holding tank at Jemaa el-Fna, and Boulmaraz prison where men were packed together like sardines. After thirty years of narrowly escaping their confines, that he should now be jailed for the murder of his beloved Minna was soukhrya, a supreme irony!
He called Toni’s number on his new cell phone but got her answering machine. He couldn’t blame her for not being there; or not taking his call. If he’d bothered to call her from Paris, she would have known of Minna’s death and he could have avoided all this. Or could he? Why had there been no mention of it on TV or in the French papers? He felt like throwing his phone on the floor and grinding it under foot.
'CHILL OUT,' - Delphine’s commanding voice again and instead, speaking very quickly in English, he left a message: ‘hello it’s me I jus' arrived from Paris and was arrested at the airport... they’re sayin’ I murdered Minna the night before I left for Paris which is crazy because I was back in Marrakech by midnight in bed with you. Remember? I need to see you. Please call Pero.’
Then he called Prospero and got his answering service as well. ‘Hello, Pero, it’s me,’ he said, ‘they’ve just arrested me at the airport for the murder of Baroness Minna... I have to see you... Congratulations…I guess I’ll be your first client...I’ll be at Jemaa el-Fna for a while, then maybe Boulmaraz. Please contact my wife Lady Antonia... Salaam.’
His exit from the terminal through a side door to a waiting police van was discreetly managed, and the drive to the temporary lock-up at Jemaa el-Fna uneventful. The following morning there was a hearing at which he was told the evidence against him was so strong he would be remanded to Boulmaraz - just across the street from the disco where he used to carouse late on Saturday nights. Boulmaraz - end of the world.
At the hearing, Pero had turned up. ‘Because the charge is murder,’ Pero told him quietly, ‘that’s why they’re sending you to Boulmaraz. At the end of one week, there will be another hearing at which I will be asked to come forward and refute the evidence against you. If I cannot refute it to the satisfaction of the Public Prosecutor, you will have to wait longer, perhaps a month or so, until you are able to appear before the Judges of the Appeals Court. Of course there is no question of bail. Maybe we can pay some money and have you moved to another facility where it's cleaner and the food is better... but don't worry, I will find your wife and bring her to see you as soon as possible. Sella maktouaa, you are being sent in a torn bag, my friend, railroaded... we need all the help she can give us!’
But where was Toni, Radouan asked himself and felt his muscles tighten as though he’d suddenly aged ten years? God’s punishment for his sins he supposed… and what if Toni had gone back to England and divorced him, what would he do then?
Arriving at Boulmaraz that afternoon, the great prison gates, like the jaws of hell, closed behind him and after he was processed he was escorted to the small foul smelling cell which he would have to share with forty other men. It was like being swallowed alive.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006