At ten thirty the following morning, after breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, Toni and Pero retired to a conference room where the legal team was waiting. A few minutes later there was a faint knock on the door and two distinguished looking men in dark suits were announced. After being introduced all around by Toni as officials from the Ministry of the Interior, the members of the legal team briefed the two men, setting forth the main points of the case and events which had transpired since Radouan’s arrest.
The two officials were curious about why the false Youssef, if he was in fact false, had not gone directly to the Baroness and revealed himself. Prospero replied that there was, in fact, evidence from some servants that a person answering his description did just that, but after one visit was repeatedly turned away on orders from the Baroness herself - which made the elaborate invention by Madame Saadi about why she hadn’t taken Youssef to see the Baroness sooner seem very strange.
‘And you don’t think your Radouan got wind of all this,’ they asked pointedly, ‘it would be out of character if he hadn’t.’
To which Pero replied that Radouan was busy with other things at the time and only saw the Baroness once a week at most. ‘I have his word that he knew nothing of all this,' Pero said, ‘and if he had, I’m sure he would have been the first one to try to unravel the mystery.’
While the men around her continued their discussion and probed each other’s minds about the shareholders and CEO’s of certain large multinationals allied with Madame Saadi, Toni detected a certain willingness on the part of the MI men to make a deal. Obviously these companies were prepared to offer large incentives for the Government of Morocco to get rid of Radouan. What could she and Radouan offer? Yet from the tone of their conversation she recognized that this was only an opening gambit. In fact the MI would only be ready to negotiate when more cards were on the table, and then, at the last possible moment.
As the men droned on, her mind wandered and she was suddenly very sure the false Youssef must have been brought to see The Baroness by Madame Saadi, at a very early stage, perhaps as early as five months past. And Minna would have reacted exactly as she had: seen through him immediately, then hesitated, given excuses, and finally avoided him. And, of course, this Youssef would have come back and pestered her - wasn’t the type to give up that easily. After all, he was an Avocat. He was tenacious - thought he was a class act. And when Baroness Minna turned him down, in a rage he conceived a plan: had A’hmed hire Zouheir, then sat back and waited for the right moment to trap Radouan - but how to prove all this? How to prove anything?
And there was the contrary possibility that all along Radouan had known about Youssef. She thought Pero’s defense on that point was a little weak. Knowing Radouan as she did, she was sure he would have known Youssef was in Marrakech and bided his time. On the other hand, he might not have known about Zouheir. She reminded herself to call her friend Khalil at the Airport in Marrakech, to see if he could remember whether Radouan was early or late checking in for his Paris flight that morning after the murder.
Prospero was playing the tape on which old Gamal recounted the goings on between Moulay and Youssef. The two men from the MI listened intently but wore blank faces. After the tape was finished they spoke to each other quietly in Arabic. Then one of them asked: ‘What proof do we have this man is telling the truth. Who is he? Perhaps this is a story you have concocted and got some old man to speak it into your tape recorder. In any case, servants’ testimonies are famously unreliable.’
‘The old man is in Fez,’ Pero replied earnestly, ‘the points he brings up seem to check out. Either we can go there ourselves and interview him or he can be brought here... and there are neighbors who are not servants who will verify that he has lived in the Patron's palace and worked there all his life. Moreover, the man who changed the names in the various documents relating to Moulay and Youssef is alive and willing to tell his story if he receives immunity from prosecution. What he did was illegal, certainly, but as we all know, this sort of thing goes on every day... it’s not surprising he thought of it as just another job.’
The two officials consulted again in mumbled Arabic. ‘Where is this so-called false Youssef now?’ they asked.
‘In Marrakech,’ Pero replied, ‘we have people watching him.’
One of the MI men got out his cell phone, called Marrakech and ordered his contact there to place the false Youssef under surveillance. ‘Watch but take no action,’ he said.
Then Pero spoke about the notations he’d discovered in the records of the mental institutions at Fez and Casablanca when the real Youssef was transferred; how he left Fez as Youssef and was admitted to Casablanca as Moulay.
The MI man called Fez and asked them to check out the records in the mental facility there, also to find the old man Gamal and bring him to Rabat, being very careful not to upset him as he was old and might collapse.
When he was finished, Toni spoke for the first time - in flawless Arabic.
The jaws of the two MI men dropped perceptibly and they smiled for the first time. Although impressed as she intended they should be, it was obvious they realized immediately she had probably understood everything they had said between themselves. Continuing on in Arabic, Toni told them she had been an intimate friend of the Baroness for over twenty years; had met this person who called himself Youssef several times, and couldn’t imagine he was her son.
Then, informing them of the van she had at her disposal, she suggested they drive off to Fez immediately and interview Gamal. ‘It’s quite obvious he’s too old to travel,’ she observed. ‘If we try to uproot him and bring him here, we don’t know what might happen... he might have a heart attack on the way. I also think it is extremely important we go to Casablanca and meet the real Youssef... perhaps he’s not even crazy. And if you have the testing facilities here, as I’m sure you do, we must get a tissue sample from him to compare his DNA with that of the Baroness whose body has not yet been buried but lies frozen in Marrakech. You must admit, it would be the simplest way of deciding this whole issue.’
‘Of course,’ the MI men agreed, ‘we will certainly do that. It should prove conclusively who the real Youssef is; there is no question about that. But will it solve the problem of who killed your friend the Baroness? Moreover there is no absolute proof that this Moulay, the maid’s son, poisoned Youssef... nor will there ever be. That Moulay may have assumed Youssef’s name is wrong but certainly does not mean he killed the Baroness or even had a hand in it.’
Just then the cell phone of one of the MI men beeped and after a short conversation he clicked off. ‘ Our men in Fez went to fetch this old Gamal and were told that last night two men dressed in police uniforms (we know they were not police) came and dragged your Gamal off. The other servants and neighbors assumed he was being taken to jail for some reason but nobody really wanted to know why. About forty-five minutes ago his body was discovered floating in one of the town wells.’
For the first time the two MI men seemed to have awakened. ‘Your case is looking brighter,’ one of them said. ‘It’s obvious this is part of something larger... it’s not easy to get police uniforms... it’s expensive.’
'Masterminded by whom?’ Toni wondered aloud.
‘I have learned reliably,’ Pero told the MI men, ‘That A’hmed, the Baroness’ old servant, received a very large sum of money for employing this man Zouheir. I have also learned that A’hmed was told by someone that the Baroness was not going to leave him any money; probably our false Youssef put this into A’hmed’s head as a play to bring him round. I’d like to suggest therefore that a background profile be done on this Zouheir and he be picked up for questioning as soon as possible. I have reason to believe he has a long criminal record.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006