In another part of the world, the false Youssef, upon whom Prospero would wreak vengeance, had been cooling his heels in the outer office of the largest and most important of the corporations in which the Baroness had shares. In fact, of this particular monolith she owned a stunning fifty-eight percent, a controlling interest that her father had bought in 1939. Now, the false Youssef was there to persuade the management that it would be disastrous for them to allow these shares to fall into the hands of a Moroccan hooligan better suited to the stables, tending horses and camels, than to the exalted boardrooms of their organization.
Back in Marrakech, Youssef the false, had waited in the vacant lot adjoining his apartment building until half past eleven in the morning, passing the time playing cards with drifters who’d been sleeping near him. Having allowed himself to lose money, he finally slipped away and emerged onto the crowded street through a hole in a crumbling perimeter wall, shuffled along in his old jallaba to the bus station, and caught the next local bus going north. No one would imagine that he would use that form of transportation. They would be covering airports, highways, even taxi stands and perhaps, first class express buses, but not the local busses, packed as they were with the sweating bodies of the poor.
In this manner, he made his way, slowly but surely, from Marrakech to Beni Mallal, through Kenifra and Azrau, and two nights and three days later had arrived in Fez where he let himself into his own great house through the servant’s quarters. It was three in the morning. With the aid of a pencil flashlight and stealth, he groped his way through the house hoping that he could get in and out of the place without waking anyone. Once in his own quarters he closed the outer door, silently opened his wall safe and withdrew a few bundles of foreign currency, some gold coins (kefta for the dogs) and an envelope containing five stamps encased in plastic worth well over a million pounds. Closing the safe, he retreated downstairs and exited as he had entered, unseen and unheard.
Outside on the street he had debated about taking a plane to Tangier. He had plenty of money now; his French passport, all his papers and permanent visas acquired over the years for France, Italy, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. Still, he cautioned himself, it might be dangerous to show himself around Fez, and so he had shuffled back to the bus station in his disguise and waited patiently for the next bus out of town.
Twenty-four hours later, he was in Tangier where he got himself a room in a cheap hotel and went out shopping. It was cool there. His brain came alive and his paranoia eased. He bought himself some luggage, some expensive sports clothes and two pairs of shoes. Returning to his hotel room, he shaved off his moustache to conform to the photo in his French Passport, changed into his new clothes, checked out of the hotel and caught the next ferry to Algeciras with no problems at Passport Control on either side. From Algeciras, he had taken another bus to Madrid and flown on to Amsterdam where he checked into an executive’s hotel, ordered two call girls and spent the evening compensating for all the humiliating moments he’d spent over the past few months with Madame Saadi. The following morning he visited the Philatelist who had sold him the five stamps he brought along from Fez. The dealer informed him that since he had purchased them, the stamps had quadrupled in value and were now worth upwards of four million pounds. He decided to sell four of them and keep one in reserve. A few minutes later, a cashier’s check in hand for three million pounds, he walked to one of the more reputable banks of Holland, opened a numbered account, and flown on to Geneva.
Now, looking austerely handsome and business-like in a navy pinstriped suit and a pair of six hundred-pound shoes, he was becoming paranoid. Why had he been kept waiting? Had he walked into a trap? Was someone calling the police, to inform them of his arrival - or maybe even Interpol?
Just as he was about to get up and leave, however, the secretary motioned him to follow her into the office of the CEO, a sumptuous suite filled with expensive antiques overlooking the lake. The CEO’s face, carved out of marble it seemed, reminded him of the handsome Gestapo officers in one of his favorite Hitler films - handsome and evil.
They spoke in French.
‘So tell me what has happened,’ the CEO said pleasantly, ‘we’ve had reports from our people in Marrakech but they are very confused.’
The false Youssef stared at him, half-smiling and wondered how much more this man knew. ‘Zouheir,’ he said at last, ‘the man who is supposed to have murdered my mother the Baroness, he was questioned by the police, signed a confession and made some kind of deal with them to come to my place, wearing a transmitter and get me to say something incriminating. I suspected something was up, so I led him on. The Notaire, Madame Saadi, had hired him to kill the Baroness so I am clear on that point... of hiring the murderer. Zouheir also said, and this is very important, that he only admitted killing her because they were torturing him; and that SHE WAS ALREADY DEAD when he went into her room with the tea tray intending to smother her. That is very important!’
‘As he was speaking to me, I realized he was wearing this transmitter the police had equipped him with so I smashed it. I’m not sure whether the last part about him finding her dead was recorded or not. I lost my head... I am very sorry for that... I should not have smashed the transmitter.’
The CEO tapped his pen on his desk and gazed out at the lake. ‘It would be a pity if that last bit was not recorded...’
‘Yes and there is another problem. Someone from Radouan’s gang concocted a fantastic story… went to Fez and got this old servant of ours to say I am really the son of one of my father’s maids… that I slowly poisoned the Baroness’ real son, Youssef, who was brought to our house when I was barely one year old. They are saying this Youssef was institutionalized as insane... and that I then changed identities with him. When the police decided to go and question this old servant Gamal, the supporters of Radouan had him killed. They also killed the man they say forged all the papers to change my identity.’
The CEO stared at him but remained silent.
‘Look. I need your help,’ Youssef said quietly, ‘your clout as they say if I am to win this case.’
‘Believe me, we are doing everything we can,’ the CEO replied, ‘but I understand this man Zouheir was found dead in your apartment.’
‘The boy who directed him to my place, a young thug called Edar, he wanted money from Zouheir for bringing him there... he was getting money from me and wanting it from Zouheir as well. There was a fight. This Edar grabbed Zouheir’s throat and when he let go Zouheir was dead and Edar was out the door… Really, I think he died of a heart attack brought on by the stress of the torture he'd just endured’
‘You didn’t try to stop them?’
‘Of course I did, but it all happened so fast, by the time I pulled Edar off Zouheir he was dead. Tell me would it be a problem for you to say I’ve been here in Geneva since the week before all this happened?’
‘What about your passport? Won’t it be stamped with all the countries which you’ve passed through on your way here?’
Youssef smiled thinly. ‘No problem. Here in Geneva, everything is possible. I also have two other passports, which are not stamped.’
‘But that same information will be stored in computers...'
‘Of course, but this city happens to be home to some of the world’s greatest hackers, who are connected with hackers in Israel and India. To retrieve this information and change it, or just delete it is not a big problem for them, especially with the amount of money I’m prepared to offer. In fact it’s easier to alter the information in a computer than to forge a passport... so the passport business is not a problem.’
As if realizing for the first time that Youssef might be as clever and deceitful as he was, the CEO stared hard at him and grinned. ‘I have to tell you that the Moroccan authorities are being very careful about all this,’ he said, ‘that’s not to say they are against you, but they want to know exactly what happened... and they are very interested in the inducements we are offering. However, they have been to the psychiatric facility in Casablanca and seen this person you call Moulay. You say he’s the son of a servant?’
‘Yes, of one of the maids called Latifa, and a carpenter also named Youssef who ran away...’
‘They are saying it is you who are the son of the maid. That you poisoned the person they always told you was your younger brother. They say you are Moulay and he is Youssef, son of the Baroness Von Schleebruck. They have taken tissue samples from the person called Moulay at the Psychiatric Hospital in Casablanca and will be comparing his DNA to that of the Baroness whose body lies refrigerated somewhere in Marrakech. Not that we do not believe you, but we feel you should know these things... ’
With great effort, Youssef pulled himself together and sighed, 'I just told you all this a few moments ago. Forgive me, but really I know my country better than you do, sir... tomorrow, yes by tomorrow that tape with Zouheir, and the Gamal tape from Fez, can be misplaced, erased, lost, or stolen; it’s only a question of money. As for the DNA test, there is room for inaccuracy there... and a simple matter to have the final report say what we want... only a question of cash changing hands. For me these changes are as simple as a telephone call,’ he took out his cell phone, ‘shall I start now?’
‘No, no. I believe you…’ the CEO replied...‘at the proper moment.’
Youssef gazed at him earnestly. ‘I tell you, all these details can be taken care of! What you must decide is whether you want to do business with a person like me... a cultured individual with law degrees from the University of Paris and Rabat... or some dirty gigolo from the Marrakech slums. All that is necessary for us to win is to offer larger inducements than this Lady Howard... or what ever she’s called... is able to afford.’
‘She is very rich...’ The CEO observed thoughtfully and raised his eyebrows.
‘Yes,’ Youssef said, ‘but I doubt she has the proper connections to reach the people who actually do these things... the Marrakech police for example. They have the power to do anything they want with Zouheir’s confession and that tape before they are ordered to give it to the Interior Ministry. They can lose it or erase it by mistake; and they hate this person Radouan.’
‘I’m not sure our stock holders are prepared to match any inducements Lady Howard is ready offer... we’ve already said we’ll build factories, etc...’
‘Look... I’m due to inherit fifty-eight percent of this company, a controlling interest if you will, and I’m certainly ready to spend part of it to defend myself.’
‘Ah then what are you prepared to offer us to get you off the hook?’ The CEO replied. ‘That is the question.’
Youssef stared at him indignantly, ‘Offer! Offer what? To whom?’
‘To this company, to the other share holders...’ the CEO said blandly.
Youssef began to lose it. ‘So, not only Moroccans have to be paid off, but you too!’
‘The world over it is the same, my dear fellow,’ the CEO sighed. ‘These hackers you’ve referred to, the Moroccan police, the Lab technicians... they won’t be that expensive. You can use your own money for that. However, the government will be very expensive. What we want from you in return, in return for saving your skin, we want a percentage of your future stock holdings in this company... half of them to be exact.’
‘You mean half of my fifty-eight percent of this company?’
‘Which would leave me with twenty-nine percent... that's impossible - absolutely impossible!’
‘Really, I don’t think you have much choice,’ the CEO smiled coldly. ‘If we pull out of this you’re dead... and if you think you can conduct this campaign on your own you’re making a big mistake... you couldn’t afford it... and for us, it’s a big risk’
‘Twenty is enough for you,’ Youssef groused, still trying to bargain.
The CEO chuckled, ‘That would still leave you with a controlling interest, my friend. We have grown so large... believe me, to have one individual owning such a big block of stock does not give us the flexibility or the freedom we need to properly operate a company of this size. We do not want any one person to have a controlling interest. No, I am afraid it's twenty-nine percent or nothing. It’s up to you.’
The CEO stared hard at him. ‘You will no longer have a controlling interest, but I shouldn't think that would be much of a problem... you will still be very rich.’
They wanted more control, the better to steal the shareholders money, Youssef reflected, and replied: ‘And for that you’re prepared to do everything necessary to help me win?’
Youssef closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Then I agree,’ he said looking up, ‘whatever you say, no problem...’
‘We are cooperating with several other companies in which your mother, the Baroness, had large holdings,' said the suddenly avuncular CEO, not only do we have people at Marrakech, we also have a team in Rabat who are doing everything possible to see... to present your case favorably at the highest possible levels... please believe me... we want you to come out of this the winner. We certainly do not want to see the control of this company and the others pass into the hands of some illiterate Arab hustler, terrorist, or whatever he really is. As long as you co-operate with us and we can deal with you, you have my word we will back you all the way...’
‘I suppose we should put our agreement... I mean something should be written down...’ Youssef replied.
‘Yes, of course, tomorrow... tomorrow morning... say around eleven. Come back then. The papers will be ready; we will sign a memorandum and have a glass of champagne. Meanwhile I think you’d better find one of those hackers you mentioned and have him cover your tracks.’
Something about the way the interview had ended; the softly arrogant, somewhat dismissive tone of the CEO’s voice as he mentioned hour of their meeting sounded wrong, set off warning signals and raised Youssef’s hackles. So serious was the sudden premonition that as he walked back to his hotel he found himself debating whether to stay in Geneva and bite the bullet. or make a run for it with his three million and start a new life.
And so rather than walking directly to his hotel, instead he took a path beside the lake, which he knew led to a bank with an cash machine, and tried to think, tried to make up his mind. Maybe he would not even return to his hotel room but take the first plane to somewhere like Thailand or Bali.
Deep in thought, trying to calculate all the different angles of his situation, suddenly he noticed a woman, approaching him along the path and as the space between them narrowed, somehow, he knew he was fated to have her. An exceptional Oriental looking beauty surrounded by a halo of iridescent light. Inchallah! It was God’s will. Watching her approach, his feelings of ill omen vanished, his whole body relaxed and after the usual preliminaries he took her back to his hotel, spent a fantastic night with her and fell asleep in her arms secure in the belief that somehow everything would work out.
Later, however, sometime just before dawn as he was about to have a go at her for the third time, two masked men with guns drawn, entered his room, demanded that he get dressed, handcuffed him and escorted him out the rear entrance of the building into a waiting car.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006