A few days later when she returned to her flat, now delightfully cool; she received a call from the M. Larbi who apologized for the delay, said he was in the area and asked to see her immediately. It was four in the afternoon and her maid would soon be leaving. Expecting further negotiations, she asked the maid to stay and remain quiet in the kitchen, listening. If she heard Toni cough loudly, she was to come forth immediately with the aspirateur and start vacuuming.
Predictably, when he arrived, Larbi casually mentioned that one hundred twenty thousand dirhams was not going to be enough. ‘More was required...'
Observing his meticulous grooming, and the way he moved confidently around her drawing room, Toni asked herself, ‘more what?’ And soon he let her know that although his superiors were demanding a larger cut, he might be willing to take less. Then as he was about to make a move on her, she managed a coughing fit, and right on cue the clever maid sauntered in and busied herself vacuuming the carpets.
The murderous look in M. Larbi's eyes told Toni she was right about his intentions and she suppressed a giggle. But caution; it would not do to turn him off completely because even if Radouan were moved, she would still have to deal with this man.
‘You say more is required,’ she shouted over the roar of the aspirator and drew him gently to the far end of the room, ‘how much more?’
Her touch inflamed him. He stared at her unblinking; wanting to grab her but not daring. ‘As I have told you,’ he said hoarsely, ‘since the charge is murder and there is every reason to believe your husband is the perpetrator, the price will be thirty kilos - three hundred thousand dirhams.’
‘Well,’ said Toni, venturing into uncharted waters, ‘that’s more than double your last price... is that the final price or will it increase further...’
‘That’s not up to me,’ he replied mysteriously, ‘I’m just the chauffeur ... nothing is ever final.’
Meaning, Toni sensed, if you give him what he really wants it could be less.
‘This is a very large sum,’ she said finally, ‘and it’s actually Radouan’s money so I’m afraid I’ll have to consult him before I can give you anything more... if you could assist me in meeting him tomorrow I’ll discuss the matter with him and let you know the result.’
Le Chef was astonished. He had expected she would yield, send her maid home and invite him to spend the evening with her. How could she not see that a man with his qualifications would be able to satisfy her as no man ever had? His mouth froze in a marginal grin. The sound of the aspirator was driving him crazy. ‘The price of visiting has also gone up,’ he shouted petulantly, ‘even visiting a murderer privately is strictly forbidden, and as more people are coming to know about this case they'll have to be taken care of...’
‘Makayn mouchkil,’ Toni shouted, ‘No problem. What time shall I be there?’
‘Four tomorrow afternoon,’ he barked, ‘and the price will be one thousand dirhams a minute.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006