As Radouan was settling down for another long night with Nick, Francesco Monte, far away in Rome, exultant over the turn of events, was showing Delphine the latest headlines in the London and Paris papers. ‘ARAB TERRORIST ACCUSED OF MURDER MAY INHERIT VAST WEALTH’   ‘TONI HOWARD’S NEW ARAB HUSBAND JAILED FOR MURDER’   ‘ARAB TOYBOY JAILED IN BARONESS VON SCHLEEBRUCK MURDER.’ 

         Her eyes nervously trying to focus, Delphine avidly perused each journal, which Francesco handed her. There were photos of Toni and her ex-husband Rupert, with Radouan dressed for polo, his arms around them both and the caption, ‘HAPPIER DAYS’.

          ‘Alors, and no mention of me!’ she cried shaking her head in disbelief as she stared at the photographs. ‘Not a word,’ and glanced coldly at Francesco her brown eyes boring into him, ‘tell me, am I married to him or was that some kind of faux ceremony we went through?’

          They were standing together in the vast foyer of Francesco’s palatial apartment off the Via Veneto where he had been exploring Delphine’s latent but formidable dramatic talents. Long hours before the cameras, in a series of close encounters with some of Europe’s most attractive men, had left her feeling drained and close to madness. 

       ‘What’s the story?’ she would shout from the set, frantically waving her arms. ‘What am I supposed to be doing?’ And would receive no reply from the great director except an occasional grimace or a smile and a few lines thrown at her; or he would tell her that everything would be revealed in due course, that every great film had a life of its own, etc, etc. 

        Late nights and long days had worn her down and now this sudden news of Radouan was pushing her beyond her limit.

        Up and down a circular staircase, deeply carpeted in imperial purple, she swept, reading aloud from the journals, gesticulating, unable to CHILL OUT; while below in the black and white tiled foyer with its ancient Roman sculptures and other objets d’art, Francesco watched.

          Was she upset because Radouan was in trouble, he wondered, or because her husband had suddenly become so famous?  No matter, the news was having its effect. Gone was the school masters daughter, the intellectual Delphine; gone the psychology student, uptight hooker and skilled Vogue model.  Enter the passionate woman, raw with emotion, Delphine, Queen of Hearts, frantically ascending and descending the staircase, her loins quivering with jealousy, her angry buttocks undulating beneath the fabric of her clinging skirt, as she finally collapsed at the foot of the stairs.

          ‘Ora e vulnerabile finalmente’, Francesco muttered, ‘Now someone, some particularly ugly man, sensual but ugly, perhaps your husband, whom you hate, must approach you and...’ 

           Furious, Delphine pulled herself together and staggered toward him.  Throwing the newspapers at his feet, she picked up a heavy gold box from a table and hurled it at a priceless Venetian chandelier which fell to the floor in a thousand pieces. Another gold box penetrated a view of Venice by Canaletto and a large Faberge egg seriously dented a masterpiece by Veronese.

          As she collapsed on a nearby sofa, Francesco clapped his hands enthusiastically. By this marvelous anger welling up from beneath the various disguises she had worn, the veils of her psyche had finally been rent - or had she learned all these wrathful gestures from watching too much television - whatever.  He was impressed and very pleased. Perhaps he might imagine her as a young dominatrix, the Goddess Amazonia, hiding beneath an haute bourgeois exterior, her husband a handsome saturnine ape.  What do they do?  Perhaps she pimps him among her girl friends bored by husbands too busy and tired to make love... A wicked young woman, yet very amusing, she thrived on controlling men.

          Delphine was weeping now, holding her head in her hands and staring into space. Although she’d been too busy to think much about him since he’d left, this sudden revelation that Radouan was in trouble, and the thought that she might be sharing him with another woman, was causing her acute physical pain.  Her beautiful man, her ‘Paradise’.  He belonged to her!  It was too much! 

Then the hall came into focus and staring at the shards of the chandelier that littered the floor she sighed and closed her eyes. What was happening to her?  Never in her life had she lost it like this - and Francesco there quietly applauding. How she hated him!

          ‘I must fly to Marrakech as soon as possible,’ she sobbed, ‘hand me the phone please, or you... you call your travel agent and have him get me on a plane tomorrow morning. Tell me... how is it possible for him to be married to this... this English woman and to me also?  It’s not possible!  I...’

          ‘My dear young woman have you forgotten?  He’s a Musulman.’ Francesco chuckled. ‘I’m afraid you’ll juss have to prepare yourself... he may take up to four wives.  And, of course, by marrying you he has secured a claim on your earnings, not that he would ever exercise it of course, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to live with it unless you want to divorce him.  I’m sure Toni Howard will be just as surprised as you!’

          ‘And who is this Baroness Von Schlee...whatever her name is?’

          ‘Minna?’ Francesco sighed. Well she’s... was... many things: a famous international personality, before your time, like Hutton or Duke, but smarter, more beautiful, and as it turns out far richer... For many years she was the Queen of international chic, undisputed doyenne of Marrakech... the first to befriend Radouan when he was very young, about fourteen I should say, and they’ve been lovers and friends all these years... absolutely impossible that he could have murdered her!’ Francesco’s eyes glittered. ‘Believe me, he’ll be far richer than any of us could ever dream of being, my dear... you might want to think about that before you quarrel with him.  Of course, there must be many others who have their eyes set on that hoard and will try to see that he goes to jail for good... dies in prison... something like that!’

          Francesco struck his forehead, Dio mio!  Assolutamente!  and called his secretary to book two seats for Marrakech the next day and have the Mamounia prepare his cottage and arrange a suite in the hotel for Delphine.  Then he lifted her into his arms and whispered, ‘For the first time, just now, my darling, you really let go.  If you can remember how that felt and do it again and again in front of cameras, you’ll have the world at your feet.  Yes!  And don't worry... we’ll tell them of your marriage to Radouan, but only at the proper moment. Marvelous publicity! But pas encore, my dear, pas encore.’

          ‘If he doesn’t kill you first...’


          ‘Radouan, because of you and me.’

          ‘No problemo,’ Francesco murmured grimly, ‘he’s locked up!’

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006