A stir in the courtroom and a call to order signaled the return of the Judges as two officers from the Marrakech police delivered Zouheir’s Confession and the tape to the Public Prosecutor.
Prospero rose and asked the Cadi that Zouheir’s confession be read out and the tape of the conversation between him and Youssef be played before anything further happened. The Cadi agreed and asked the Public Prosecutor where Zouheir was. When the Public Prosecutor replied that Zouheir was dead, although the Cadi threw up his hands in a dramatic gesture of surprise, if not disgust, Pero was sure he knew very well what had happened.
Zouheir’s confession was read out by the Clerk of the court. During the reading Pero’s cell phone beeped. It was one of the men accompanying the false Youssef from Geneva, who said they had landed in Marrakech and gone through Immigration with no problems. Pero advised him to wait there and he would send a car. Then he phoned the driver Abdou who had been waiting outside and sent him to the airport to bring the three men and the false Youssef directly to the court.
As the reading of Zouheir’s confession continued and it became clear it would be difficult to maintain a charge of murder against Radouan, the court dissolved into an angry buzz.
‘Not a mention of Saadi or Youssef,’ Pero whispered, ‘must have been deleted from his statement... Zouheir would never have known the difference.’
Acting on her own behalf as an Avocat, Madame Saadi suddenly rose, requested permission to speak and said that, considering the weight of the new evidence at hand, she thought the court should seriously consider dropping charges against Radouan and the case be closed.
To this suggestion Prospero immediately objected: ‘Everyone knows,’ he replied, ‘that confessions of this kind are very easily obtained. And while it is an important piece of evidence, we have other evidence that this man Zouheir did not act alone and was, in fact, only the tool of others - as we hope to show if we are permitted to play the tape which the police have just delivered.’
Over the objections of the Public Prosecutor, the Cadi nodded agreement and directed the clerk to play the tape. Pero produced a portable tape player which he managed to connect with the courtroom sound system and addressed the judges: ‘This is a tape of a conversation between Zouheir and a man called Youssef who claims to be the son of Baroness Von Schleebruck. It was recorded by the Marrakech police from a transmitter which they attached to Zouheir after he had signed that confession... they offered him a deal if he would wear the transmitter and go back and speak with this Youssef and he accepted.’
An anxious silence spread through the courtroom. The Public Prosecutor and his team looked confused and angry as the clerk turned on the machine:
(G) ‘You’re getting ready to leave this place, where are you going, why are you dressed like that?’
(Y) ‘No no... Of course not... not going anywhere just cleaning up... sorting things out... my maid’s been sick... this old jallaba it belonged to my grandfather... often wear it when I’m here by myself. What happened to you... took you so long?’
(G) ‘That kid... he couldn’t find the slip of paper you gave him... after some time we found you. I need to travel. I want more money.’
(Y) ‘More money! But Saadi has already paid you a fortune... you must have more than enough. Go to her if you want more. It’s not me who hired you.’
(G) ‘I will go to her but first I want something from you... I have debts too...’
(Y) ‘That’s not my problem... you must have kept some back for a cushion.’
(G) ‘Aji. Aji.. Com’on, Com’on, you have plenty of money... just now when you were paying this kid I saw. You have a big roll of bills in your pocket... at least a brick.’
(Y) ‘Look. I took the trouble to drive out there myself and warn you... risked my neck to send that kid to get you out of there before the police decided to question you and now you’re asking me for more money. Kharya! H’mar! GO! I have no more money to give you now and neither does Madame Saadi... but when Radouan... on the day that he is found guilty there will be a big bonus for you...’
(G) ‘Look... I need money now, you give me some money now or I will go to the police and tell everything... all your plans and plots... Madame Saadi and you.’
(Y) ‘You know what I think? I think you have already talked to the police... that’s what I think... that’s why it took you so long to get here, why no one stopped you outside...(sound of struggle) ADMIT IT! The police have already questioned you.’
(G) ‘NO NO NO...’
(Y) ‘YES YES... I’m sure of it (more sounds of struggle). You stupid bowl of shit, you’re nothing... tell them who hired you who paid you...’
(G) ‘Saadi... Madame Saadi, it was her who paid me... ‘ (more sounds of struggle, then a crash and... )
In the stunned silence that followed, Prospero addressed the judges. ‘In our opinion this tape speaks for itself,’ he said, ‘but let me review the main points. Assuming it would be an easy matter to place the blame on Radouan who was often at the Baroness’ Ksar, and often left late at night or early in the morning, this woman, Madame Saadi and her boy friend who goes by the name Youssef, persuaded A’hmed, the Baroness’ servant, to hire Zouheir, a notorious criminal character, whom they paid to murder the Baroness. I would ask you to... to consider....’
The shouts and accusations, profanities and maledictions of Madame Saadi’s supporters drowned out his final words. ‘This Youssef,’ someone screamed, ‘whoever he may be, he knew he was being taped and was prompting Zouheir to say these things to implicate Madame Saadi!’
‘How does any one know who made this tape and why? We do not know!’ shouted someone else.
The chamber exploded in an uproar, brought under control finally by shouted warnings of the officers of the court and the persistent pounding of his gavel by the Cadi. Through it all, Madame Saadi, still standing, managed to maintain her perpetual smile. The antipathy of her supporters, however; their rage against Pero, and against the man called Youssef on the tape, played perfectly into Pero’s hand and now, thanks to Toni’s far reaching efforts, he hoped to clinch his case.
Indicating that he thought Madame Saadi might like to sit down, he again requested permission to call a witness and again over the objections of the Public Prosecutor, the request was granted. Pero entered a number on his cell phone, and moments later, although unshaven, still smart looking in his dark business suit, blue shirt, tie and Gucci loafers, the false Youssef, in hand cuffs, was paraded down the isle to the witness box.
Toni watched carefully as the smile on Madame Saadi’s plump lips slowly vanished.
When asked to state his name and occupation he replied that he was Youssef ibn Ali el Idrisi, Avocat.
‘Your reason for coming to Marrakech several months ago, could you tell us your reason?’ Pero asked calmly.
Youssef gazed at the judges. ‘Before answering that question, I would like to point out to the honorable Cadi and judges, that less than twenty-four hours ago I was abducted from my hotel room in Geneva, Switzerland where I was engaged in business of a private matter, and escorted back to Marrakech against my will by the two foreigners who brought me into this court - whom I suspect are British agents. Before I say anything else I would like to know what is going on.’
‘Are you not aware,’ Pero replied, ‘that you are wanted for questioning in this country in connection with the murder of the Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck and of a man called Zouheir, and that a general notice to that effect has been transmitted to Interpol by the Moroccan Ministere d’ Interieur to apprehend you and bring you back here?’
Youssef hesitated. ‘I was not… Any way I am here now. Please feel free to ask me any questions.’
‘Your reasons for coming to Marrakech several months ago, what were they?’
‘I came to Marrakech because several years ago, just before my father died, he confided to me that I was not the son of the maid Latifa but of a woman in Marrakech called the Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck, with whom he’d had a long affair. It was a huge surprise for me. Suddenly I had a real father and a new mother...’
A murmur of sympathy rippled through the chamber. ‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘Only then did I understand why the Patron, my father as it turned out, had showered so much attention on me over the years. When he died, I had finished Law School in Rabat and was studying in France. Later, I returned to Paris to finish my studies and receive my French Law degree. So for a few years I was very busy and had no time to follow up on what he’d told me. Then a few months ago I happened to open a magazine and there was a photo of the Baroness at a party in St Moritz and I thought well... maybe you should go to Marrakech and meet her and find out just what your father was talking about.’
‘Upon arriving here, I called the Baroness from the Mamounia where I was staying and made an appointment with her. She invited me to lunch the next day. I told her the story my father had told me about his romance with her and how she had become pregnant by him and had a child… whom my father had abducted, brought to Fez and raised as the son of his maid Latifa. The Baroness listened intently to my story but said nothing. After lunch I accompanied her to a pavilion near the swimming pool where we were joined by her Notaire, Madame Saadi.’
‘Then what happened?’ Pero asked
‘Mme Saadi was very kind to me and introduced me around in Marrakech. On one occasion she showed me the Baroness’ Testament, and pointed out to me that the Baroness’ entire estate was to be inherited by a gigolo called Radouan. If I was really her son as I claimed, Madame Saadi urged me to make every effort to have my mother change her Testament in my favor. When a few weeks passed and I did not hear again from the Baroness, Madame Saadi urged me to go back and try to see her again... which I did a number of times with no success. Madame Saadi had phoned her many times but never reached her. That’s when Saadi conceived this plan of installing someone at Dar Chems who would kill the Baroness some night just after this Radouan had left. I would then come forward and establish my claim as her rightful heir... we would split her fortune and Radouan would go to Prison where he could be easily disposed of. She told me the Baroness was suffering from some incurable disease and it would be an act of mercy to save her from months of pain.’
Pero was surprised by Youssef’s candor. ‘And how did you react to this?’ he asked.
‘I was horrified!’ Youssef replied, ‘Absolutely refused to go along with it!’
There was a long, deep-throated scream which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth itself as Madame Saadi rose and shook her fist. ‘THIS PERSON IS LYING! YOU ARE A LIAR, YOUSSEF ‘IBN ALI AND YOU KNOW IT!’ Her voice was oracular. ‘It was you who sought me out, you who came to me... We did not meet at the Baroness' ksar, we met at my office. You made an appointment with me by phone from Fez weeks before you arrived here... don’t say we met at her place! And soon after we met you began harassing me to show you her Will and Testament... which I did against my better judgement... and to introduce you to her. And when you met her and she rejected your claim to be her son, then it was you who started thinking of how to get rid of her in a way to make it look like Radouan had done it. It was YOU, NOT ME!’
The false Youssef gestured to the court. ‘How can this woman, this cabbage, how can she stand here letting these fabrications slip from her ugly mouth? It was you who found this person Zouheir.’ He turned and faced her, ‘You who told him what to do, and you who paid him!’
‘Yes, with your money,’ Saadi yelled.
‘Ah, now she is lying again... Madame, it was your money... you who instructed Zouheir to watch and wait. Please, someone, stop her from all these lies...’
‘DJINN! LIAR! YOU ARE THE DEVIL COME TO DESTROY ME. LYING DEVIL,’ Madame Saadi screamed.
‘God is great,’ Toni intoned under her breath, ‘Allah Akbar.’
‘WHY WON’T YOU ADMIT IT, WOMAN?’ Youssef shouted, ‘ZOUHEIR HAS SAID IT. I’M SURE BY NOW YOU MUST HAVE HEARD IT ON THE TAPE THE POLICE MADE. JUST ADMIT YOU PAID HIM TO KILL MY MOTHER.’
‘How do I know? How does anyone know whose voice is on that tape?’ Saadi said soberly, ‘Have we got another recording of Zouheir’s voice to compare it with... and we certainly haven’t got Zouheir because YOU KILLED HIM! Just play that tape again, please,’ she asked the clerk of the court, ‘Whoever made it... whoever it is you are talking with, you are prompting him... everyone here felt it. Like the sly Avocat you are... you with your French law degree... a sly fox that’s what you are. FOX!’
‘No, Madame, sorry. It is you who are the FOX, believe me. I am the son of a Cherif of Fez. I am not lying and I am not the devil. In all of this I was only following the will of my father, his dying wish that I seek out the Baroness, present myself to her, and apologize for his behavior. From the moment you met me at her ksar and I told you I was the Baroness’ son, you immediately put yourself between us... an old trick... as you have done with everyone the Baroness knew or did business with, I’m sure... You tried it with me but you didn’t succeed. What you don’t know is that my mother was in the process of writing a new will... splitting her fortune between me and her gigolo over there - two-fifths for him, three-fifths for me. So why tell me I would have wanted to kill her?’
‘Esteemed judges,’ Madame Saadi sighed, ‘how can I counter these wild claims and accusations? Lie upon lie, layers of lies - inventions of a crooked mind. If the Baroness were making a new Testament, I would have known about it.’
‘Oh no, you would not have,’ Youssef objected. ‘I took great care to see that you didn’t. I even told her of your intentions... how you wanted to use me to get a big fat commission... I told her about your plot against her; to murder her and make it look like her gigolo had done it. I was helping her put her wishes in legal form. The following week they would have been filed in the magistrate’s office here in Marrakech and with her bank in Geneva.’
Prospero intervened, ‘The Baroness’s servant A’hmed has testified that the Baroness received you only once... but after that she made excuses not to see you again.’
‘That is more or less correct. What he doesn’t know is that she came to see me here in the city several times. You must know one thing, that A’hmed is the tool of this scheming woman, Saadi... always has been. That’s why her gigolo hated him... A’hmed was her spy there...’
‘And what about your notes, the various drafts for this new Testament you speak of?’ asked Pero.
‘Unfortunately, the night I decided to leave Marrakech, I destroyed them, burned them in the bathtub of my apartment. Perhaps the police noticed the tub was full of ashes... it was a foolish thing to have done...’
‘DEVIL! SHAITAN! LIAR!’ screamed Madame Saadi.
‘Shaitan. Shaitan. Shaitan,’ echoed her supporters as the courtroom again dissolved in chaos.
‘He comes across as a credible witness,’ Toni whispered over the uproar. ‘I’m surprised... very clever isn’t he, very smart... good actor. You can see the judges are tempted to believe him...’
‘We’ll soon fix that,’ Pero muttered defiantly.
The false Youssef was conducted to a seat, order was finally restored, and the Cadi spoke directly to Pero.
‘Please tell us,’ he said in a kindly voice that reminded Pero of one of his law school professors, ‘I understand you visited Fez and discovered certain things there. Could you acquaint us with the history of this affair?’
'Honorable Cadi and Judges, thank you for the opportunity to make my case,’ Prospero replied. ‘Ever since the Baroness told him her story, Radouan and I have been discussing what might have happened, hoping we could find her lost son. Radouan’s idea was that the child must have been abducted by its father and brought to live in his palace in Fez as the illegitimate son of some servant girl. Several weeks passed and our theory remained just that, a theory. But when I learned there was a person in Marrakech claiming to be the Baroness’s lost son, I took it upon myself to go to Fez, and see if I could discover more about this man who calls himself Youssef Idrisi and claims to be the Baroness’ son. I can tell you now He is not her son... Not the real Youssef.’
The courtroom exploded again. The Cadi pounded his desk until quiet was restored.
‘In this regard I would like to ask permission to play a tape recording I made in Fez.’ Pero continued, ‘The Idrisi house in Fez is very large; you might say it’s a Palace. The tape recording I am about to play is of an old servant, one Gamal by name, who lived forgotten in the Servants’ Quarters of the palace, and was over eighty at the time. He had worked for the Idrisi family since he was twenty years old and many people thought he’d been dead for some time. My meeting him was God’s Will, for he almost never left the house and I had almost given up learning anything when I came upon him on one of his rare outings. Almost blind, he had lost his way, and asked me to give him a hand getting back to his room. When we reached there he insisted on making tea for me, one thing led to another and he began to tell me his story which I recorded over a period of about three days.’
The Public Prosecutor strongly objected that this was second hand evidence, which could not be verified, and asked for an adjournment until the following day. But the Cadi turned down the request with a wave of his hand and said he wanted to hear what Monsieur Prospero Serfati had recorded. As a seasoned Judge, it was obvious he was fascinated by the skillfulness with which the young Avocat was presenting his case. Or had word come down from on high that Radouan was to be spared?
The clerk put Prospero’s tape in the machine and turned up the volume.
‘(Prospero) Salaam Alaykoum, Labas...
(Gamal) Alaykoum ’salaam...
(P) Your name is Gamal?
(G) Yes tha's right. Gamal ibn Abdallah al-Ghalib...
(P) Lucky I found you like that in the street. I was about to ask for directions. I was lost...
(G) And I too. But together we managed to get here. Our meeting was auspicious. It is God’s will.
(P) I would never have found you here...
(G) There is no power and no strength save in God the Almighty the Compassionate. I come out only once a month on the full moon. It gives me Baraka, the moon.
(P) What was your work here?
(G) I was the chief gardener. I came to Fez from Lebanon. Before that my family came from Damascus and had settled in Andalusia... we are followers of the great Sufi Abu’l-Fayd Thawba’n ibn Ibrahim Dhu’l Nun. He of the Fish.
(P) When did the Patron engage you?’
(G) In the year 1930. I remember it well because we both celebrated our twentieth birthdays that year. His father had just died and so had the Chief Gardener. I was doing the gardens for one of his cousins so I was given to him in sympathy… there is a very large garden here in the center of the riad, a small park attached to the Douirya, many other courtyards and roof gardens. Now, no one cares about them and I am too old so they have gone to weeds - like me. All my work of fifty years, my life’s work... it is very sad for me.’
(P) So... you must have known the Patron’s son Youssef since he was born.
(G) Let me tell you something (lowers his voice) It is a very big secret around here and almost everyone who knows it is gone. The one you know as Youssef, he is not the real Youssef. A maid called Latifa who was also a midwife brought the real Youssef here. The Patron, he trusted her and sent her to Marrakech to get his son from its mother who had refused to marry him and couldn’t keep the babe. After a few weeks Latifa arrived back with a beautiful boy... only a few weeks old but zween … very zween.
(P) And did she raise him up as her own son?
(G) Yes she did... that was the whole idea. She already had a son of her own, Moulay, who was not quite a year old when she brought baby Youssef back. It was said Moulay’s father was a local carpenter who ran away when Latifa got pregnant, but the father of Moulay could have been any number of men on whom she generously bestowed her favors in those days... our Patron for example... even me! (Chuckles). But no man could live with her. She was too strong minded... had a terrible temper...
(P) And then?
(G) Then? Yes. So Moulay and Youssef grew up as brothers. From the beginning Moulay was told he was Youseff’s older brother. But when they were about thirteen and fourteen respectively, we began to notice the Patron was favoring Youssef rather than Moulay. With his two wives he had only daughters so he would come and visit Youssef and Moulay and play with them. Slowly he became attached to Youssef... seeking him out, calling him into the house for long talks... it wasn’t normal. This bothered Moulay, as it was obvious to all us servants that Moulay was smarter than Youssef - and he was the eldest! Then Youssef began drinking wine and smoking kif and hashish and would often become abusive and try to provoke Moulay in to fighting with him.’
(P) You mean Youssef was drinking and smoking at fourteen?
(G) Yes, can you believe it? And the more the Patron favored him, and probably gave him money, the more arrogant and willful became Youssef... even though he was younger by almost a year, he was bigger and fairer than Moulay and would often beat him. About that time, I began to notice, all of us did, that Youssef was becoming strange. Sometimes he would sit for hours looking at a wall or gazing off into space. Other times he would want to fight or start smashing things. At first we thought it was the effect of the liquor and kif he was taking, but as his condition grew worse I began to watch closely what he was eating and what he was drinking. Another maid, Rachida by name, I told her to watch also. By this time Youssef had made Moulay into his servant. Moulay was afraid of him. But then we discovered that when he thought no one was looking Moulay would pour something from a small bottle into whatever Youssef was drinking, wine, beer, tea or coffee... just a few drops every time. Sometime later Rachida came to me and said she had found a large quantity of Ch’dak J’mel in Moulay’s room; not only the dried pods, but the fresh plant too which is far more dangerous.’
‘A few days later, Rachida took me to a hiding place where we watched Moulay prepare a liquid from the plant and also make sweets with the ground up seeds and almonds and spices to smother the taste of the Ch’dak J’mel. These he would arrange on a plate with other sweets and give to Youssef at teatime. I should have gone to the Patron at once, but I said nothing and told Rachida if she opened her mouth I would kill her. It wasn’t our business. Then, to be sure, I had her bring me one of those sweets and I ate it. For almost a day I sat unable to move and seeing many visions... some quite awful and at night I could see in the dark. It was very amazing to me so I went to one woman I knew... a maji she was and I gave her one of the sweets and she ate it and afterwards she agreed that it was Ch’dak J’mel ...tha's how I found out how Moulay was slowly poisoning Youssef...
(P) And you say Youssef was how old at the time?
(G) Sixteen I would say and Moulay was almost seventeen by then.
(P) Did either of the boys know anything about their father?
(G) No. I don’t think so. All they knew was that Latifa was their mother and that their father had run away... tha's all they knew... unless the Patron had said something to Youssef and tha's why he became so arrogant...
(P) Then what happened?
(G) Then slowly... little by little Youssef became crazier and more silent. He would sit in a chair talking and fighting with something inside him self and not move at all; or he would swing in a swing hour after hour. Then he lost control of his bowels and began having difficulty seeing; needed the full time attention of someone to follow him around and clean up after him... which became Moulay’s job, of course... looking after his sick brother who everyone felt sorry for. Youssef’s brain was tres malade. People thought it was the effect of alcohol and hashish.
(P) Why did you not try to stop Moulay? You didn’t need to tell the Patron to do that.
(G) Now I bow my head in shame. That is why I am confessing all this now. In those days we did not think it was our place to interfere in the lives of our superiors. We saw many terrible things. If we got involved we could get killed. Really, only the Almighty could interfere...
(P) And then?
(G) Then the Patron, he began thinking that Youssef had been invaded by a djinn, and took him on a trip around the country visiting holy men, healers and exorcists. For a time Youssef got better because Moulay was not along. But as soon as they returned Youssef became worse. Sometimes Moulay would stop and Youssef would improve. Then he would start up again. It was terrible. At Youssef’s hands Moulay had suffered greatly, but not enough to justify what Moulay was doing. There is no cure for Ch’dak J’mel! Youssef could never be brought back. I knew it.
‘The Patron, he became very sad and shed many tears. Finally he had to send Youssef to a mental institution here in Fez, not a nice place either, but he had become too difficult. After Youssef was sent away, the Patron slowly improved and began paying more attention to Moulay, sent him to good schools, invited him to his private quarters for meals and long talks, and because of the attention he was getting, then Moulay became tender. Everyone liked him spoke about how devoted he had been to Youssef, how much time he had spent caring for him always visiting him, making tea, and bringing him sweets. But Moulay, he was really two persons; one very smart and well behaved the other very dangerous.
‘Then after Moulay finished school here in Fez and learned both English and French, the Patron sent him to study at Georgetown University in America. After that the studied Law in Rabat and went on to the University in Paris where he received a law degree and passed an examination to practice Law in France. The year Moulay received his degree from Paris, the Patron died of a heart attack here in the garden of the riad... had a seizure that killed him. May God bless and protect him. But knowing he was a sick man he made a Testament setting up a trust that was supposed to pay out generous sums of money to Youssef for his care; to the Patron’s wife and daughters and to many other relatives. He mentioned everyone so that no one could say they were left out and attack his Testament. But most of his wealth, he left to Moulay; this Palace, other properties in Fez, houses and palaces in other places, foreign bank accounts. Everything went to Moulay. There were attacks against the Patron’s Testament by members of the family who were angry that the Patron had left so much to the son of a maid when some of their own sons were hardly mentioned. Being an Avocat, Moulay, fought them off and never forgot how they had treated him. Moulay was made Trustee of the Trust the Patron had commanded for poor Youssef, which soon became worthless because of the bad investments Moulay made. What no one knew was that Moulay had received huge kickbacks to make those bad investments and doubled his money.’
(P) How do you know all this?
(G) You forget I grew up with the Patron... we were lifelong friends and companions... he had a keen interest in plants and gardening...
(P) So the Youssef, who came to Marrakech to meet the Baroness saying he was her son... this Youssef, cannot be the real Youssef.
(G) That is right, he is Moulay. Be patient and I will explain you. A year before the Patron died Moulay’s mother Latifa became sick and on her deathbed she told Moulay the real story of Youssef. How the Patron had sent her to Marrakech and how she and the child’s nurse had taken Youssef away in the night and brought him here to Fez. Because he was really the son of the Patron and a woman in Marrakech, a German woman they called The Baroness who was probably still alive. Latifa also told Moulay that his father might be the Patron; there had never been a carpenter who ran away, but there were other men she saw during that time too, so she couldn’t be sure. She said the Patron had favored Youssef because his mother was a great lady while she Latifa was just a maid... Latifa died and by the end of that year the Patron my dearest friend was also dead. People, they began to exhaust me so I just disappeared... most people thought I was dead. But I knew what Moulay was doing because one of his most trusted men was a very good friend to me.’
‘From him I learned when Moulay began working on a plan to become Youssef. His biggest problem was the servants who remembered him as Moulay. In the town; he had been away for so long in America, in Rabat, in France, they had forgotten him, but here in the Palace there was a problem. Slowly Moulay picked three men who were paid very well to do his bidding and keep quiet about it, my friend was one of them and slowly one by one the other servants were dismissed. That was his first step. My friend came and told me all these things and would ask my advice.’
(P) And your advice was?
(G) To keep quiet and not to interfere... it was God’s will.
(P) And then?
(G) Then he began the second part of his plan. He found a fellow here in Fez who worked in the place where they keep all the recorded documents... Testaments, Lineage's, Land titles and so on. So Moulay he found this fellow, Amran by name, famous in certain circles as one who can get hold of documents wherever they may be, even in Rabat... find them and make new ones or copies with new signatures. He isn’t a bad man; really he’s like an artiste who is proud of his fine work (laughs). Every one uses him...really he’s very talented. My friend saw him in the street one day and spoke with him about what he was doing for Moulay. Then my friend, he came to me and wanted my opinion. I said I didn’t have any because I wanted to remain tranquil - in one’s old age that’s what one wants. So I stayed out of it. But now, now that I am close to death and feel God’s will bearing down on me I am telling you these things.’
‘Because of the money offered, this Amran he changed everything. All the old records concerning Moulay were changed to Youssef and all those referring to Youssef were changed to Moulay. When this work was completed... it went on for a year or so... Moulay had Youssef transferred from the place here in Fez to some place in Casablanca. If anyone questioned Moulay, anyone here in Fez where he had set up an office as Youssef, he would say that Youssef was his real name and he had dropped the Moulay part, which was anyhow just a lakab kenia (nickname). He was the Patron then so everyone had to accept what he said. What happened happened a long time ago and nobody could remember it. And so it was that everyone forgot about the real Youssef.’
(P) Then, as Youssef, did Moulay go to see the Baroness in Marrakech?
(G) No, not immediately. Moulay... The clever thing about him is that he is never in a hurry - unlike the Patron who was always in a hurry. This is why I never believed the Patron could be his father. They were too different. Moulay, he poisoned Youssef slowly, dismissed the servants here slowly; slowly he had all the documents changed... slowly... slowly. Moulay, a mathematician he is... a mind that is always calculating... no one could ever beat him in chess or backgammon. I always felt sorry for what happened between Youssef and Moulay, but if you start with a lie you get a lie! I always believed Moulay could have solved his problems with Youssef another way but, Inch Allah, it was not to be.’ Gamal sighed, a long exhausted exhalation. ‘Now that I have told you these things I’m sure you will use this information and someone will find out and kill me. Maybe that is why I have told you. I am very old. I want to go. Let happen what will... Inch Allah.’
The recording ended and except for an occasional cough and the shuffling of papers at the public prosecutor’s table, the courtroom was silent.
Then Madame Saadi stood up, waddled to the well of the court and shouted at the judges, ‘You see, he’s an impostor,’ she turned and pointed at the false Youssef, ‘a fake... YOU’RE A FAKE! How can any one believe a word that comes from your mouth? We have all heard the voice of this devout old man, how it rings true. Let us bring him into this chamber as soon as possible and listen to him... Where is he?’
Standing up, Prospero replied, ‘Two weeks ago in Fez he was found dead. People say two policemen came in the night and took him away but the police deny it.’
Madame Saadi paced back and forth, stopped, and faced the Cadi and the Judges, ‘Gentlemen, I want to say something important, please permit me...’
The Cadi nodded assent.
‘I want to admit that Youssef here, or maybe he’s Moulay... this young man here is right in one thing... he’s telling the truth when he says I found and hired Zouheir and introduced them. I also paid him, but with this young man’s money, to do this thing. It was very wrong of me I know, but I knew the Baroness was dying and wanted to be put out of her misery... believe me I know it was wrong but it wasn’t murder. We women, we are weak, a weak race, everyone knows this... our Holy Books say it. Gentlemen I am a victim of Ishk. This young man made love to me and I thought it was real because I had never been with a real man ‘till then.’
‘LOOK AT HER,’ shouted the false Youssef from his seat, ‘just look at you, you ugly spinster. I ask you gentlemen, is it likely someone young and zween like myself would make love to that? This is her fantazia... a frustrated woman’s fantazia; she was only in it for the money!’
‘Don’t believe him.’ Saadi cried, ‘He wanted to meet the Baroness too much, that’s why he did it... made love to me, weakening my resistance and my resolve.’
‘I had already met the Baroness on my own,’ Youssef yelled, ‘you tried to come between us and you hated the gigolo Radouan because he knew all your tricks and could beat you at your own game. Just observe your position in relationship to him right now, you foolish witch!’
‘Don’t,’ Saadi hissed, ‘... Gentlemen DO NOT listen to this man’s words! He is a swindler like all the rest of them. He had not met our dear Baroness. I was waiting to introduce him to her until I knew him better.’ She turned toward the false Youssef, ‘... then you became romantic with me... yes... you were so tender then... until you got what you wanted... until I took you out there and introduced you to her.’ She addressed the judges. ‘After that he went out to see her many times but she did not think he was her son... told me she remembered all the fuss about the fake Anastasias who appeared claiming they were the daughters of the Russian Czar Nicholas, and refused to see him.’
Turning to the false Youssef again, Saadi shouted hoarsely and dissolved in tears. ‘That’s when YOU had the idea of finding someone like Zouheir to end her suffering... I told him he should settle down here in Marrakech and get to know people who would help him advance his claim. I admit I made a big mistake telling him about the Baroness’ disease and even worse about her Testament, but he beat me repeatedly and made my life a living hell until I showed it to him.’ She dabbed at her eyes with her headscarf, ‘I am a weak woman, weak and middle aged. I transgressed my professional oath but now I am trusting in the Almighty One, Allah the Compassionate... Allah gha fouroun maheen!, God is forgiving.’
The Cadi drew himself together and intoned: ‘GOD FORGIVES WHOM HE PLEASES... FAVORS WHOM HE WILL...TO MANY HE IS UNFORGIVING.’
‘Please, gentlemen,’ the false Youssef said, regaining his calm, ‘if it please you, as an avocat myself, I would like to say something more on my own behalf. I would like to hear the first tape, the one referred to as a conversation between this man Zouheir and myself... I was not in the chamber when it was played.’
Permission was given and the tape was replayed.
Afterward, Youssef looked shaken, stood up and faced the judges. ‘Let me explain what is happening here.’ he said, ‘Just after I say, “I think you have already told the police”, the young tough who brought Zouheir to my apartment, he begins knocking Zouheir because he wants money for bringing him to me. He is kicking him, has his hands at his throat; then when Zouheir goes down his last words… the very last words on that tape should be “I WENT TO KILL HER BUT SOMEBODY ELSE HAD ALREADY DONE THE JOB”. That should be there on the tape unless someone has altered it. I remember it distinctly because I was so surprised and angry.’
‘You must have smashed the transmitter before that part,’ Pero said, his voiced tinged with irony.
‘I did not smash any transmitter... it must have broken when Zouheir fell.’
‘Anyway we are not talking about that tape,’ Pero said evenly, ‘you are trying to change the subject away from the tape we have just heard: your life story... change it to some invention of what the killer Zouheir may or may not have said after the transmitter went off. The tape clearly ends there. Experts have examined the cassette and the tape. THE SUBJECT OF OUR PRESENT DISCUSSION IS THE TAPE THAT WE HAVE JUST HEARD. We would like to have your response to that.’
‘That tape is nonsense,’ Youssef replied dismissively, ‘a well-crafted, well-rehearsed story which somebody has made up. Probably you wrote the script and found some old man to read it. I’ve never heard of this Gamal and I most certainly would have if he had been my father’s servant. Moreover, I had nothing to do with the Baroness’ murder. There is no evidence to support such an accusation or that I ever poisoned my brother Moulay. I am Youssef ibn Ali el Idrisi the son of my father, a Cherif of Fez, with the Baroness Von Schleebruck.’
There was a commotion at the rear of the chamber. Everyone but Radouan stood up and looked as the real Youssef flanked by his fat smiling nurse from Casablanca, two body guards and several police men, lurched down the aisle and stood there swaying from side to side in front of the Court.
A profound silence descended over the chamber. The real Youssef stood staring vacantly into space. Then Prospero introduced him as the real Youssef ibn Ali el Idrisi.
The false Youssef gestured helplessly at the court and said; ‘It is me who is Youssef, not him! He is Latifa’s son Moulay, a victim of early addiction to alcohol and hashish.’
The real Youssef turned slowly around, squinting, trying to focus on the speaker’s face. Then suddenly, without warning, he bolted from his minders, lurched across to where the false Youssef was standing, clutched his shoulders and sank his teeth into the false Youssef’s neck.
The court erupted in moans and cries as the two went down, the real Youssef’s teeth sinking deeper and deeper into the false Youssef’s neck as his inhuman growls reverberated through the chamber. The guards and the police tried frantically to separate them before Youssef reached Moulay’s jugular, but it was the smiling nurse, reminding him of an important football game coming up, who finally persuaded Youssef to let go and leave peacefully.
Then the false Youssef, Moulay, struggled up into the arms of his British bodyguards and was taken off to a nearby clinic for treatment.
‘Perhaps we shouldn’t have brought him here,’ Toni whispered as she watched the real Youssef hobble out of the courtroom. ‘Poor thing, where will they take him now? What will they do with him?’
‘Back to the Psychiatric Hospital for the time being,’ Pero replied, ‘we have a special room there for him. Don't worry, they won’t harm him. If we win we can move him out to Dar Chems. If we don’t... then we’ll see. You have to admit it was an unforgettable moment...’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006