Some time later that evening the phone had roused her and it was Prospero calling to say he’d come back from Fez, where he'd discovered something very important and wanted to see her as soon as possible.

          An hour later, with a cool breeze ebbing down from the mountains, they dined out on the terrace - supper brought over from the Mamounia because she’d sent her eavesdropping maid home. In the western sky the new moon was a crescent and over champagne and cold chicken, Toni briefed Prospero about her lunch with Madame Saadi and Youssef, while he told her about his expedition to Fez.

          Arriving there, he’d changed into an old jallaba and located the palace that Youssef had inherited from his father, the former lover of the Baroness. ‘It was really just luck,’ he went on,  ‘I spent the first day walking around the Quarter making inquiries here and there trying not to arouse suspicion. On the second day I was just giving up hope, when by pure chance, Inch Allah, I happened to strike up a conversation with an old man at a coffee shop where I’d stopped to rest.  When I told him I’d come looking for one Youssef, the son of the owner of the palace, this old man, Gamal by name, seemed to come alive, said he was a servant there and invited me to accompany him to his quarters.’

          ‘Entering through a small door at the rear of an enormous compound he led me through dark corridors to a small room where he said he’d been living quietly since he’d retired many moons ago. In fact he believed most people thought he was dead because he almost never went out.’

          ‘We sat down on some old carpets. He prepared tea on a small stove and began talking. Our conversation which began that day continued over the next few days in more remote parts of the city... someone could have seen me entering the palace and become suspicious.’

Although he now feared for his life because of what he knew, Gamal told me that as he was very old and near death anyway, he wanted to unburden himself.  At first we talked in generalities but when he realized why I’d come, he was very open and direct.

          ‘He began with the maid Latifa who had abducted the Baroness’s son.  As Radouan had guessed, she was sent there by the Patron with instructions to pay off the nurse who looked after the boy and bring them both to Fez.  The nurse later disappeared and was never seen again; Gamal thinks she was probably murdered. Meanwhile Latifa, who already had a year old son, Moulay by name, was instructed to raise the abducted boy as her own. He was to be called Youssef.’

          ‘So these two boys were raised as brothers,’ Toni confirmed. ‘Strange, Youssef never mentioned that at lunch. He said the Patron had two daughters and no other sons’

           Pero nodded his head. ‘Yes, that’s correct... you will soon see why Youssef never told you about Latifa’s own son...’

          ‘Yes, go on... do go on... at last we’re getting some place!’

          ‘Well then,’ Pero continued. ‘When Moulay was about fifteen and Youssef a year younger... the Patron who’d had no sons with his two wives, began focusing his attention on young Youssef.  This aroused strong feelings of jealousy in Moulay’s heart. Why should the Patron begin devoting all his time to his younger brother when he’d never bothered with either of them before?  And worse... why Youssef when it was obvious that Moulay, even though he was darker, was smarter and more resourceful than Youssef would ever be?  The more attention the Patron showered on Youssef, the more willful and arrogant Youssef became.  So after suffering the abuse of his younger brother for about a year, Moulay decided to act.’ 

       ‘At first, everyone thought it was the kif and wine that Youssef had started using. No one but old Gamal, who had seen many such cases in his long life, suspected what was really happening. Gamal actually spied on Moulay and discovered that he was cooking up a poisonous brew of Ch’dak J’mel, Datura, which he would administer little by little in the tea, coffee, wine and soft drinks which Youssef constantly ordered Moulay to serve him.’

          ‘In time, Youssef’s ability to concentrate declined, he began to have hallucinations, became incontinent and by the time he was eighteen, his brain was gone and he appeared to be insane. The Patron was heartbroken.  Youssef was confined to the house and no drugs or alcohol was permitted to reach him, but he did not improve, because of course Moulay was still poisoning him.’

          ‘Then Youssef began to get violent; had episodes in which he would attack Moulay and try to kill him.  The doctors recommended that Youssef be committed to an institution, but until it became clear that there was no hope, the Patron refused. Finally he gave his permission and Youssef was sent to a place in Fez where they care for the insane. You can imagine what that was like!’          

          Toni sighed, ‘So if the real Youssef was institutionalized, Madame Saadi’s boy friend cannot be Minna’s son... I knew it!’

          Pero grinned triumphantly: ‘Yes, but wait, there’s more. When the Patron recovered from the shock of seeing his only son go mad, he began focusing all his attention on Moulay, sent him abroad to study, helped him until he became a fully qualified Avocat and secretly adopted him as his heir! The year Moulay passed his bar examinations in Rabat the Patron died. In his Testament he provided money for Youssef’s care and left substantial sums to his surviving wife and daughters who immediately went to live in France.  But the bulk of his estate including money in foreign banks, land holdings, the Palace in Fez and everything else, went to Moulay...’

           Toni stared at him: ‘Unbelievable!  Are you absolutely sure your Gamal isn’t making up all this?’

          ‘Yes, absolutely. You will meet him.  He’s a devout Muslim of the old school; obviously an honest man... but let me go on.  A few years later Moulay’s mother, the maid Latifa, got sick; and as she lay dying confessed to Moulay the story of Youssef. How she had been sent to Marrakech with another maid to steal baby Youssef and ordered to raise him as her own. How the Patron was really Youssef’s father and his mother a wealthy Baroness in Marrakech. Knowing nothing of Moulay’s treachery, Latifa begged him to go to the Baroness and inform her about Youssef; maybe have him transferred to her care.’ 

‘After Latifa died, however, Moulay did some research, discovered how rich the Baroness was and that he now had the money and legal expertise to further his own interests in a huge way. Large amounts of cash changed hands and in the records of Fez and Rabat, all references to Moulay were changed to Youssef and all the documents pertaining to or mentioning Youssef’s name were changed to Moulay. At the same moment Youssef was transferred from Fez to a psychiatric hospital at Casablanca where he arrived as Moulay!  Fait accompli!  It was now someone called Moulay who had gone crazy and was locked up!’

          Toni gazed at Pero through narrowed eyes. ‘So, he’s a very accomplished liar, I thought so... but what about all the people who must have known the real Moulay in Rabat and Fez? It seems inconceivable...’

           Prospero interrupted. ‘First of all Moulay, now the false Youssef, let most of the servants go and hired new ones who knew him only as Youssef... all but two who’ve been paid well for following orders and keeping quiet. As for the townspeople and people in Rabat, he wasn’t too worried about them, told them his second name had always been Youssef and that now he’d decided to take it as his first name, because, of course, Moulay was not a real name at all.  Also, as he’d been away for long periods of time, people in Fez didn’t really remember him that well and in Rabat he hadn’t been a very sociable person.’

Pero smiled, ‘Really, he thought the Baroness would accept him.  A desperate old woman living alone, he thought she would be only too happy to recognize him as her son... didn’t reckon on having to deal with Radouan.’  

           Toni shook her head ‘So the Moulay in the Hospital is really Youssef and the one who passes for Youssef is really Moulay...?’


          ‘How is this possible?’

          ‘As I said, it happens all the time here. The Patron’s Testament was entirely rewritten, as were many other documents.  Even Moulay’s university records and degrees were changed, all the signatures forged.  Only one man who specializes in these things, who works in the government records department... only he knew what was going on.  His name is Amran.’

          ‘Can all this be proven in court?  I mean, if all the signatures have been changed and no original signature of the Patron still exists... but this must be impossible... certainly there are letters somewhere.  We must find this man Amran and confront him.’

          ‘Yes, of course, that’s what I’m trying to do, but he’s retired and I’m having difficulty locating him.  I have Radouan’s friend Omar up there looking for him right now.  He could have left the country, we don’t know. Other signatures of the Patron there may be. The Baroness may have letters of his somewhere but her house has been sealed pending the outcome of the investigation so we can’t... we’d have to have a court order to go in there and look... which I will try to get if I can. After I talked with Gamal, I visited the so-called psychiatric facility there, in Fez. That’s how I discovered the real Youssef is not there any more... searched their records and discovered that about the time all the documents were forged, a patient mentioned as Youssef was moved to a psychiatric hospital in Casablanca were he was admitted, on the same day, as Moulay! The descriptions are the same and there is a note that the patient was moved from Fez on that day. So that’s what I’ve found.’

Pero smiled and folded his hands, ‘I’m sure there must be other documents that were overlooked by this fellow Amran, but it will take time to discover them.  I think you will find Gamal’s testimony most persuasive. I had him speak into my tape recorder. He is very old and could die at any moment.  Really, it’s my opinion at this point it’s important we get some outside help.’

          ‘You mean international attorneys...’

          ‘Yes, to act as my advisors... men of experience and influence in Morocco...  if you can manage it. The case will have to be presented by me, but I need expert advice. We can’t trust any investigations by the Public Prosecutor here or any of the Judges. They will work together, believe me, to benefit them selves and squeeze as much as possible out of this case.  Everyone knows the stakes are very high, and the police hate Radouan because over the years he’s caused them too much pain and embarrassment to be let off so easily.’

Pero shook his head grimily, ‘Now they’ve got him they’ll do everything possible to see him suffer. Moreover, I’ve just learned that certain executives of companies in which the Baroness had a large stake checked into the Mamounia yesterday. Obviously they don’t want to see some “crazy Arab” getting control of these.  One of them is the world’s largest food corporation with income larger than the annual budget of this country. So they would view this... they do view it... as an Islamic invasion of their territory and their financial network. Believe me; these men are far more dangerous to us than the Moroccan officials. They will offer the government huge financial inducements to see that Radouan goes down... to locate factories here, highways even power plants.’

          Toni shook her head. ‘As a matter of fact, I was so nervous last night I called London... couldn’t stop worrying... couldn’t sleep.  So I called my ex-husband Rupert who is pretty crazy but like many mad people often does become quite sane in an emergency. Even though we’re divorced, he’s still very fond of Radouan and absolutely horrified by what’s happening.  Right now, as we speak, he’s putting together a team of British and French Avocats... some investigators too.’

          ‘I’m not sure we need investigators,’ Pero replied thoughtfully, ‘they will only cause trouble, we have our own methods... but the Avocats are essential. A show of force is always impressive…’ he smiled, ‘our minds, they seem to run along the same paths - that’s very good.  I think we should meet your team in Casablanca, and take them up to Rabat and Fez to meet Bayed... I worry we may lose him. Do you have any influence in Rabat? I mean it’s really very important that this whole thing should be moved to the ministerial level... Ministry of the Interior, if possible or even higher.’

          ‘I’ve been living here for twenty years, what do you think?’  Toni smiled conspiratorially.

          ‘We never know,’ Pero laughed, ‘some people don’t want to know anybody, others they know everyone.’

          ‘Really, I should have acted much sooner but I did not trust my own judgment.  Now I’ll get started right away... meanwhile, I have to tell you that horrible man at the jail, M. Larbi, the one we call the Chauffeur, has agreed to move Radouan to the Psychiatric... Ah, but you don’t know, do you...’

          ‘Know what?’

          ‘While you were away in Fez he started fighting again.’

          ‘I was afraid of that...’

          ‘Yes... well it happened.  They put him in something they call an isolation cell. I think it’s very dangerous for him.  Now they can do anything to him...  anything!  Le Chef says he can have him moved. Radouan says the price is too high.’

          ‘What’s he asking?’

          ‘Three hundred thousand dirhams.  But now he’s charging a thousand dirhams a minute to just to see him, I don’t see it makes much difference. The problem is Radouan can’t stop bargaining, it’s in his blood.’

            Pero shook his head.  ‘If they had a noose around his neck he’d try to bargain with the hangman. Move him. Pay the money and move him at once.  How much will visits to the Psychiatric hospital cost?’

          ‘No charge.’ Toni lit a cigarette. ‘I’ll arrange it first thing tomorrow.’ She heaved a sigh of relief, ‘Oh, and one other thing... I haven’t told you about my lunch with Madame Saadi and her friend the false Youssef.  Of course, Saadi protested, I mean really vehemently protested her innocence. “It’s not my fault this,” and, “It’s not my fault that.” She sounded like a duck.... I wanted to ring her neck… and that Youssef… I sat there listening to him slurp his soup and you know I just could not imagine him being related to Minna in any way’

          ‘Well, you were right,’ Pero replied, ‘nevertheless he’s telling everyone who will listen he’s her son… and some people are believing him because how else would he know all the details. I’m sure he’s gained access to all Saadi’s affairs by screwing her night and day... that’s what her servants are saying.’

           Toni giggled. ‘And all these years I thought she was a lesbian.... I must say she looked very well... radiant in fact...’

          ‘Moreover, for the past five months this Youssef, he’s had a spy out at the Baroness’ place who may have committed the murder. His name is Zouheir.’

          ‘But this... this is too fantastic,’ Toni stared at him wide eyed, ‘You’ve been really busy!  How did you come by this information?  And, oh... did you happen to find that orphan Radouan keeps talking about?’

          ‘Yes, Mokhtar...’ Pero said, ‘A friend of ours, Omar’s brother Mahjoub, found him in the Medina.  Mokhtar said he and one of the other servants, the maid Fatima, saw this Zouheir enter and leave the Baroness’ suite after Radouan left.'

'When Saadi drew up the Baroness’ Testament and found Radouan was the beneficiary... I’m sure from that moment on she’s been waiting for an opportunity to cheat him out of it. Then when Moulay, posing as Youssef, came along she realized he would be the means to accomplish her project. So they hatched a plot, bribed A’hmed to hire this man Zouheir and waited... waited for the moment when they could get rid of the Baroness and Radouan in one stroke. Other servants told Mokhtar that Zouheir had been hired about six months ago.  It’s this Zouheir who is saying he saw Radouan leaving the Baroness’ bedroom just before he discovered her body at dawn.  He’s supposed to be a server from Fez and the Baroness was pleased with him, but I’m having him investigated.’

          Toni gazed at Prospero thoughtfully. ‘You know Radouan always disliked A’hmed because he knew all the tricks A’hmed was playing... spoke to him harshly... put A’hmed down many times in front of the Baroness... so A’hmed hates him. Now at last he has a chance to get even.’ 

          ‘Yes,’ Pero agreed. ‘He’s been waiting a long time for this and whether he thinks the person he hired did the murder, or that Radouan did it, doesn’t really matter to him.  He will say Radouan did it.’

          ‘Tell me, why are you doing all this for Radouan?’

           Prospero sighed and shrugged his shoulders, ‘Well he’s my first case, one has to begin somewhere, I suppose, and he’s my oldest friend... we’ve known each other since we were six when my family returned here from Israel where I was born.’

          ‘Born in Israel?’ Toni smiled… ‘Prospero... I love it but it’s not a name one hears in Morocco.’

          ‘My mother and father are both Jewish and so I am Jewish, Sephardim on both sides of the family.’ Pero rolled his eyes, and smiled shyly.  ‘My full name is Prospero Manolo Serfati. My mother’s family name is Afriat and there are other family names like Zafrani, Segrati, Benhamou, Maleh and Bensimon.’

          ‘Originally my father’s family came from Baghdad to Cordoba in the 9th Century to work for the Umayyad who had fled the Abbasid conquest of Damascus and come to Spain. They were scholars and translators, from Greek to Hebrew to Arabic into Latin.  In 1493 we know they were still living in Granada and were kicked out of there by Ferdinand and Isabella and came to Fez. Then sometime in the 17th century when the present Dynasty came to power the family moved to Meknes and began working for the Sultan there and finally landed up in Marrakech.’ 

          ‘I’m told many Jewish families came here in Roman times and before,’ Toni observed.

‘That is true.’ Pero nodded, ‘my mother’s family are descended from Jews who have always been in Morocco, at least from Roman times, and perhaps as far back as the Phoenicians 600 BC.  We think the Afriat name may have been given to them by the Arab rulers of Languedoc with whom they traded from the 10th century AD on.  That’s when the name Prospere began to be used by us. One of my mother’s many uncles was named Prospere and they say there has always been a Prospere in her family. When I came along my mother who is a great fan of Shakespeare changed it to Prospero.’

‘My mother is supposed to be related to the philosopher Musa ibn Maymum, known in Latin as Maimonides. He was a good friend to Ibn Rushd, better known as Averroes who died here in Marrakech in the 13th century after twenty years of house arrest in the reign of the Almohad sultan Abu Ya’qub.  Fleeing south into the realms of the fundamentalist Almohads of Marrakech was preferable to remaining in the increasingly hostile Christian north.’

‘At that time in Andalouse the great debate in all three Religions of the Book was Aristotle with his ideas about doubt, measurement and cause and affect. Were these speculations the work of Shaitan?  Were they not heretical in all three religious of the book? Unfortunately, Islam decided against Aristotle and branded his ideas as Haram:  sinfull, and forbidden.'

          ‘That debate is still going on,’ Toni observed, ‘...these Fundamentalists in all three religions.’

          ‘Yes, it’s becoming very destructive, but in times past in Andalusia, and later in Morocco, Jews were so Arabized and the Arabs were so Hebrewized there were few distinctions made between us and we did not quarrel. Since we are both members of the Semitic race we should be natural allies.  Long before Islam we had lived in peace with the Arabs. There were always a few problems, often we had to pay special taxes, but it was better than living with Christians.  Now, of course, we have real problems. Everywhere these politicians have replaced kings and inflamed the masses.’

‘Pero gazed seriously at Toni, ‘After 1973 it was very difficult in Marrakech, so difficult my family moved to Casablanca. I stayed on because we had property here, and I had many school chums. Many times Radouan stood up and defended me during anti Jewish feeling aroused here by the struggle in Palestine. That’s why I’m standing up for him now and because I know him, how tender he is underneath all his bravado and that he could never have murdered his friend the Baroness.’

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006