In his Marrakech apartment the call confirming that Gamal no longer existed had not eased the false Youssef’s mind. No. There was the recording the old man might have made; tapes didn’t die, in fact they had a way of multiplying. All the secrets Gamal had known, and what he might have said, how careless to have forgotten about him. The palace in Fez was so large one was never sure who was there and who was not, especially in the old Servants’ Quarters which he never visited. A fatal error perhaps, but now with Gamal gone, there was no proof his story wasn’t a fabrication and not the voice of Gamal at all.
‘So much for him,’ Youssef muttered to himself, ‘but what about Amran, what to do about the arch forger?’
Retrieving his cell phone, he spoke rapidly to someone in Fez and beeped off. This one will be expensive, he thought, but absolutely necessary. And now, yes, now the problem of Zouheir... THE BIG PROBLEM... take care of Zouheir, but how? Drive out to the Baroness’ Ksar, find him and get him out of there? Of course, the police must have already questioned Zouheir but his something told him they hadn’t really ‘questioned’ him. Somehow he must reach Zouheir before that could happen, but how?
The Baroness’ place would be full of police. There was no way he could go out there without being noticed. Yet maybe, yes maybe there was a way. Couldn’t he drive to that village a few kilometers beyond and find some boy who would take a message to Zouheir, warn him to get out of there and bring him in to Marrakech? Of course!
Walking from his apartment house to his car, which he kept a block away in front of Madame Saadi’s villa, he passed a parked car with two men inside and was certain they were up to something. Every villa and apartment house in Marrakech had its gardien, every gardien a potential spy. And sure enough, when he reached his car and drove off, the car pulled out behind him.
Heading for the Medina he entered through Bab Dukala, and after a circuitous passage through narrow streets and derbs, managed to lose his pursuers and came out on the far side of the Kasbah, through Bab Roub on to the road leading to Ouarzazate. A few kilometers further on he pulled off the road and waited. No one was following him. But now he knew he had to hurry because something was up. The police communication systems were excellent. There was no time to lose.
Reaching a small village not far beyond the turn off to the Baroness’ place, he settled down in a disreputable looking roadside cafe, ordered a tajine and some coffee and waited. Soon a churlish looking young tough came by selling cigarettes and Youssef asked him if he would like to make some extra money, maybe big money. The youth, Edar by name, nodded hesitantly as Youssef explained he had a friend he had to rescue because the police might be after him. Told Edar he would let him off at the servants’ entrance of a big Ksar down the road where he must go in and ask to see a server called Zouheir. As soon as he found Zouheir, Edar should tell him to come with him to Marrakech immediately because the police were looking for him and his life was in danger.
Edar would then escape with Zouheir through the back roads to Ourika where they could catch a ride back to Marrakech and come straightaway to a certain address Youssef had printed out on a scrap of paper. If he completed this mission, he told Edar, there would be five hundred dirhams waiting for him.
Edar stared at him suspiciously and said: ‘If the police are involved five hundred is not enough, it has to be more, at least two thousand.’ Finally they settled on fifteen hundred; seven fifty then, and seven fifty when Edar delivered Zouheir to Youssef’s apartment in Marrakech. In his car, Youssef counted out seven hundred fifty dirhams, drove back to the servants’ entrance of Dar Chems, dropped off Edar and continued on toward Marrakech.
A few miles down the road, several police cars sped by travelling in the opposite direction toward the Baroness’ Ksar Instinctively, Youssef knew they were on their way to pick up Zouheir and wondered whether this kid Edar would just pocket the money and run, or would have found Zouheir in time to get him out of there. At the very least, the police would have already questioned A’hmed. Maybe he had told them how Zouheir happened to be employed there. But what could make them think Zouheir had anything to do with the Baroness’ murder? A’hmed had said very clearly he saw Radouan leaving that morning and never mentioned Zouheir. Yet someone suspected Zouheir, someone high up and if they questioned him he would cave in!
For the first time in his life Youssef panicked. His heart leapt to his throat and losing control of his car he zigzagged down the highway narrowly missing some oncoming cars. By the time he arrived back in Marrakech, however, parked his car in front of Madame Saadi’s villa in Gueliz and walked back down the street to his own apartment, he had regained his composure, yet this episode had convinced him that very soon he must leave Morocco. Yes, the time had come to get out.
Idly gazing out the window of his darkened apartment, as if to confirm his decision, he suddenly noticed instead of the usual one or two gardiens lounging in the shadows of the old Jacaranda trees below, now there were three or four more and they were not gardiens! Absolutely, he had to leave at once, but how when all his foreign currency and other valuables were in Fez?
Just then his phone rang and it was Madame Saadi wondering what had become of him. Why hadn’t he called her? ‘I happened to see you just now when you parked your car,’ she cooed ‘where have you been?’
‘Driving around, a few errands in the Medina,’ Youssef replied.
‘Why didn't you come up?’
‘Just now, silly, when you parked your car. I miss you. I need my pleasure. You know, I think you have the hardest beard in Maroc.’
‘Are you speaking on your cell phone?’
‘Maybe we can talk then... it’s so easy to intercept cell phone conversations... things have been happening… someone discovered an old servant of my father’s in Fez who has given... really I thought the man was dead. He hates me because I would never give him my zouk. Now he’s given out some preposterous story to someone that could be damaging to our case...’
‘To whom did he give this story...?’
‘I don’t know, but I know he spoke it into a tape recorder.’
‘Certainly this person knows nothing of recent events... of the Baroness’ death...’
For a moment Youssef considered telling Saadi everything but thought better of it. ‘There is something else, something more threatening, which is happening. I think the police...’
‘Did you say police?’ Saadi asked unsteadily.
‘Yes police... maybe from Rabat. At this very moment I think they may be questioning your Zouheir...’
‘What do you mean MY Zouheir?’ she responded sharply.
Youssef was furious ‘Aren’t you the one who found him! Wasn’t it you who informed me about my mother’s Testament in favor of Radouan, who offered to introduce me to her... let’s get things straight.’
‘You’re sounding very grouchy,’ Saadi said defiantly,’ you need to come... COME! Come over here right now!’
Youssef lowered his voice. ‘My place is being watched; probably your place is too. Right now I am standing by the window and seeing several strange men in the shadows below. I want you to help me. I must go to Fez immediately and see about this old servant. You must dress up like you are going out to dinner – right now. Then go down and get in your car and drive out by the Sheraton. Park it there on Avenue France. Lock it up and place the keys behind the left front tire. If any one is watching you can kick the tire like you think it might be going flat. Then reach down, pretend to feel it and drop the keys behind. Very simple... EASY. Then you check into the hotel, and spend the night. Do not come back to your villa. About three in the morning when these spies are asleep I will escape from here, find your car, drive to Fez, do what I have to do up there and return here in a day or so.’
‘You’re not planning to leave me here to face the police, are you?’ she whispered angrily.
‘Of course not; how could you think like that...? I swear I’ll be back in a few days.’
Saadi’s voice became hard and businesslike. ‘Really, I think you’ll have to think of another way. I mean, you know, it’s so hot... and I’m really tired... I just don’t think I can do all that, it sounds too complicated...’
‘Really you know... right now I would like to come over there and pleasure you...’ Youssef muttered, ‘you know that, don’t you?’
‘I suppose I do,’ she replied sheepishly.
‘Yes, but how can I with all those guys down there in the street? If you do as I say... check into some hotel... drive your car there and call me... I’ll come to see you. I’ll spend the night there with you and drive to Fez tomorrow morning early. My zahp... it wants you...’
‘Right now, I’m standing here in my bedroom with the lights out looking down the street at my car,” Saadi hissed, ‘there is no one around. Why can’t you take your own car?’
‘Because if I do they will follow me...’
‘But there is no one there…’
Youssef interrupted her, ‘You can’t see the whole street. They are sitting in a car in the shadow of that big Jacaranda tree. Even if I evaded them here, no doubt they have an alert out on me and I’d be stopped.’
‘So go buy another license plate.’ Saadi said sarcastically, ‘I can tell you where to get one cheap, open twenty-four hours… really tonight I’m very tired and it’s very confusing what you want me to do. First you say go somewhere and park and kick the tire and hide the key and check in to Sheraton and ... listen, I know every one at Sheraton for years... they will think it’s very strange… why should I be checking in, they will ask themselves?’
‘Tell them your apartment is being painted... whatever,’ Youssef said angrily ‘... you’re just making excuses. Now I can see it’s you who is planning to tat’labbas lia touhma, leave me holding the bag. Anta wallou… You’re NOTHING… Ghabi, STUPID… Kharya! BOWL OF SHIT.’
‘What did you call me?’ Saadi yelled.
‘Shit. You heard me, bowl of shit... sweeper of camel dung that’s what you smell like. Your tina and your mouth, your whole body it smells like that... degoutant... nauseating... you couldn’t get me to fuck you again if you promised me the fortune of Karoun.’
‘What if I just parked my car at the Sheraton and took a taxi over to your place with the keys...’ she said calmly.
‘FOOL!’ Youssef yelled into the phone, ‘You’re a fucking fool. I just told you this place is being watched. I’m trying to keep you out of this... if you can’t go to the Sheraton, go someplace where they don’t know you... some new hotel.’
‘There is no place in Marrakech where I am not known.’ Saadi replied imperiously.
‘Fuck you off!’ Youssef growled. ‘Really, I don’t see how you can call yourself a Notaire when you’re so stupid... even this call is probably being listened in on...’
Slamming down the receiver, he stood looking through a crack between the curtains to the street below, watching and thinking, thinking hard, his heart pumping again. Could he get out the back door of the building unnoticed? - Maybe by wearing an old jallaba and worn out shoes, rubbing some dirt in his hair… maybe but not likely. There were certain things he had to bring with him; a few important documents… couldn’t use his car though, that was certain. But wait! Why not just call the Mamounia, speak to the men representing the companies the Baroness had controlled? After all, he was very important to them. They had to back him up, even if they found out he was not the real Youssef, they had to! He was an educated man. His problem was not the murder of the Baroness at all, but what he did to the real Youssef. With Gamal gone though what could possibly happen? Whoever taped him, whatever Gamal said, there was no proof it was him speaking; the whole thing could have been made up. Yes? The problem now was that someone was watching him. It could be the police. It could also be Radouan’s people waiting to catch him, waiting to torture and kill him! Or it could be both.
H’bel Terbah. He remembered an old saying: ‘Make yourself stupid and you will be the winner,’ and thought, BUS. Yes, of course, that was the solution, the cheapest slowest country bus. No one would think of that. The bus station was a ten-minute walk, but how? Yes. He would wait until three thirty in the morning when everyone was asleep, including the people sent to watch him, and then make his escape. Those spies downstairs, finally they didn’t really give a shit, weren’t getting paid enough to stay awake all night.
Turning on some lights, he made himself a pot of strong coffee and began going through his papers. Either he had to bring them with him, burn them, or flush them down the toilet. At two am he would turn off his lights. If they noticed at all, the men down there would think he’d gone to bed and begin feeling sleepy themselves. After that he would leave, looking like a countryman in an old jallaba under which he could carry what he had to. In the fridge there was a week old package of kefta which he would take along in case of dogs; any dogs who might be wanting to bark at him; human or animal, you always had to have something in your back pocket to shut them up!
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006