Earlier at the Baroness’ Ksar, Dar Chems, Zouheir, an experienced killer, had suspected a trap, argued with young Edar about leaving; argued and procrastinated until it was too late and the police had arrived. They questioned every one again. One of the gardeners identified Zouheir as the man he saw taking money from a Fassi called Youssef. Then Zouheir was taken to the cellar of Dar Chems, and after an hour of pain and humiliation was ready to sign anything. The confession he made stated that about four in the morning he had entered the bedroom of the Baroness and smothered her with a pillow. And that the kid Edar whom they were holding upstairs in the kitchen had been sent to bring him in to Marrakech, to the apartment of a certain Youssef who had paid him to do the job.
The men who conducted the questioning were not satisfied, however, and after speaking with their superiors received permission to offer Zouheir a deal - wanted to know who had hired him, who was behind the plot - wanted absolute proof. They would equip him with a small microphone and transmitter. He would let Edar take him back to Marrakech as if nothing had happened. When they met the one who called himself Youssef he would press a button hidden in his pants pocket and his conversation would be transmitted to a near by police car. For this service, if he completed it successfully, Zouheir’s jail time would be reduced by one half.
He agreed. The terms of the agreement were written out and added to his confession and he was cautioned to say nothing to Edar, only that he had been questioned and released.
And so it was that as soon as Youssef had finished sorting through his papers, destroying some and stuffing others in a small bag, he had donned an old jallaba belonging to his maid’s husband and turned out the lights in his apartment as though he were going to bed. Just then, there was a soft but urgent knock on his door.
He looked at his watch. The time was two in the morning. He turned the lights back on again and opened the door to find Edar and Zouheir standing there. He was immediately suspicious. How had they got past the men outside? ‘So you came at last,’ he said, ‘I think this place is being watched, I am surprised no one stopped you.’
‘We saw no one,’ Edar lied. ‘Here is Zouheir. Give me my money and I will go.’
Youssef withdrew some bills, counted out seven hundred and fifty dirhams and Edar left hurriedly. Meanwhile, Zouheir had been eyeing the small apartment; its disarray, Youssef’s strange costume. ‘You are getting ready to leave this place aren’t you,’ he said, ‘where are you going? Why are you dressed like that?’
‘No, of course not...’ Youssef laughed anxiously, ‘not going anywhere just cleaning up... sorting things out... my maid’s been sick... this old jallaba... it belonged to my grandfather I often wear it when I’m here by myself. I was about to go to sleep. What happened to you? What took you so long?’
‘That kid... he couldn’t find the slip of paper you gave him with your address on it but he thought he remembered it. After some time we found you.’ Zouheir stared at him wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. ‘I need to travel,’ he said at last, ‘I want more money.’
‘More money?’ Youssef asked commandingly. ‘What are you saying? Madame Saadi has already paid you a fortune; you should have more than enough. Go to her if you need more money. It’s not me who hired you.’
‘I will go to her don’t worry, but first I want some money from you... I have debts...’
‘Your debts are not my problem.’ Youssef said dismissively, ‘you must have kept something back as a cushion...’
‘Ayee, Com’mon...’ Zouheir cajoled, ‘you have plenty of money... just now I saw a big roll of bills when you paid Edar - you have at least a brick in your pocket.’
Youssef glared at him. ‘Look. I took the trouble to drive out there and warn you, risked my neck and paid Edar to get you out of there before the police arrived. Now you’re asking me for more money, you kharia. H’mar! GO! I have no more money to give you and neither does Saadi. But when Radouan goes to jail for good there will be a big bonus for you.’
‘Look, I need money NOW,’ Zouheir said menacingly. ‘You give me some money NOW or I will go to the police and tell them everything, all your plots and plans... you and Saadi...’
Youssef clenched his fists, his eyes narrowed. ‘You know what I think? I think maybe you have already talked to the police - that’s why it took you so long to get here... why no one stopped you outside.’ He grabbed Zouheir by his coat collar. ‘ADMIT IT! THE POLICE HAVE ALREADY QUESTIONED YOU.’
‘YES YES, I know it.’ Youssef growled and tightening Zouheir’s collar with one hand began to punch him with his other. Soon he discovered the transmitter inside Zouheir’s shirt and in one Karate move had Zouheir on the floor. ‘You stupid bowl of shit,’ he whispered, ‘you’re nothing. Tell them who hired you, who paid you.’
‘Saadi... Madame Saadi... it was her who paid me,’ Zouheir cried.
In a blind rage Youssef smashed the transmitter and began kicking Zouheir.
‘BUT I DIDN’T KILL HER,’ Zouheir screamed, ‘I WENT TO KILL HER BUT SOMEBODY ELSE HAD ALREADY DONE THE JOB!’
‘Is that what you told the police?’ Youssef asked hoarsely.
‘No no. I said I killed her... they made me say it. That’s what they wanted to hear. Believe me, when they start questioning you you’ll say anything... look they took out one of my toenails.’ He pointed at his foot.
‘DONKEY! STUPID DONKEY!’ Youssef grunted astride the whimpering Zouheir, and began to choke him. ‘Stupid man! IDIOT!’ As his powerful hands tightened on Zouheir’s throat and locked, Youssef gazed at the ceiling and groaned: Adou akil, khayr min sadeek jahil… Idiot, Stupid man... NEVER TRUST A STUPID MAN!’
Moments later, coming to his senses, Youssef eased his grip, shook Zouheir vigorously, checked his heartbeat, his pulse, and listened for his breathing. There was nothing. He had to think fast. Since he destroyed the transmitter the police would have been on the move. There was no time to lose. Getting up, he checked the small bag he had packed, put on a pair of battered sandals, mussed his hair, and within minutes was out in the hall on his way up the staircase to the roof. He had a key to the roof door, opened it and locked it behind him. The roof of his apartment house had three levels. The lowest level looked down on a large vacant lot overgrown with weeds surrounded by a crumbling wall, a favorite haunt of vagrants. He hung over the edge of the roof and dropped twelve feet to the next roof, then again to the last roof and from there into the vacant lot. And just in time too, as he could hear the police above looking for him, whistling and calling to each other.
Crouching under a bush, his heart beating too fast, he waited. Would they invade this lot and start poking around? If they did, he would pretend to be drunk and his disguise would protect him. The sound of sirens and an ambulance approaching rent the still night air; he thought he heard Madame Saadi screaming but could not be sure. Then he waited patiently and after some time the police gave up and went away. By dawn, everything was quiet and he discovered he was sharing the compound with two men and a boy asleep under a nearby tree. ‘Safety in numbers,’ he reflected, ‘lost in the crowd.’ Yes that was it. He would rest there until ten-thirty or eleven in the morning. Then wh ten-thirty or eleven in the morning. Then when the streets were crowded with people and cars he would walk unnoticed to the bus station at Bab Dukala and escape to Fez.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006